THE VULTURE : A Tale of modern commerce : by BASSETT KENDALL

Characters in order of their appearance

Pedro Ibanez-agent of the Spanish Communist Government
Magdalena -Señor Cabaño’s housekeeper
Jane Hopton -Señor Cabaño’s private secretary
Esther Conolly -a gypsy – wife of Daniel Conolly
Señor Miguel Cabaño -a Spanish businessman
Williams -his manservant
Sir Harold Vincent -junior partner of Goodbody and Vincent, an armaments firm
Daniel Conolly -proprietor of Conolly’s Fun Fair
Jonah Jordon -skipper of a tramp steamer
Tony Kingdon -of the C.I.D.
Major Luis Batista -agent of the Spanish insurgent forces
Inspector Jenkins -of the Pembrokeshire County Constabulary
Concha -grandmother to José; an aged woman, reputed a witch
José -the keeper of a poor Spanish inn
Ramon -Spaniards, supporting the insurgents

Scene: Library in a country house on the coast of Pembrokeshire temporarily occupied by a Spanish gentleman, Señor Miguel Cabaño. It is a comfortable room. Fireplace down L. French window up RC. Table with typewriter down R. Doors R and L up stage. Decent furniture, but everything a bit dowdy – evidently a house “let furnished” – and not always occupied. It is October 1936.

The room is empty. Then Pedro Ibanez looks in at the window; he investigates cautiously and taps. Magdalena enters L. looks round, sees Pedro, looks off R and opens window. Pedro enters; he is a young man, carelessly dressed; dark and thin. A smouldering fire lurks in his eyes. He is an enthusiastic agent of the Spanish government. Magdalena is Cabaño’s housekeeper; dark and sinister: she never smiles.

Magd. It’s safe for the moment. He’s out.

Ped. Cabaño?

Magd. Cabaño. Who else would I mean?

Ped. Is he straight with us?

Magd. Who knows? He’ll be straight as long as it pays him to be.

Ped. He delivered the goods last month.

Magd. Yes – and charged you nearly double their value. He cares nothing who wins the war; workers and rebels – they’re all the same to him. Let Spain stink with corpses, if only he can fill his pockets.

Ped. I never trusted Cabaño. But we must have arms. He can get them. He’s not let us down yet.

Magd. He will, if he rebels offer a higher price. Pedro – the man’s a devil.

Ped. Mother – he’s not ill-treating you?

Magd. No. But I’m afraid of him – afraid. (Pause.)

Ped. It’s this lonely house. It’s getting on your nerves.

Magd. Wasn’t it lonely in our little house in the Asturian mountains? Haven’t I lived in desolate places all my life?

Ped. But here you’re among strangers. You feel cut off from all you have been used to.

Magd. The people are hospitable and friendly. It’s not that. It’s Cabaño. Why did I ever come here?

Ped. To help the workers of Spain.

Magd. You think that. What does it matter to us, Pedro, whether Spain is ruled by the workers or the army? Weren’t we happy enough, before you got these crazy ideas? All I want is peace – and happiness.

Ped. But you agreed to help us. I told you what we wanted; we were not sure of Cabaño’s loyalty. Someone had to keep an eye on him. When I heard he needed a housekeeper, that was our chance. And you had been in England before; you knew the language. If you care nothing for the workers’ cause, why did you say you’d help us?

Magd. When you were a little child, Pedro, why did I leave my work if you wanted me to play with you. Because you were my son. That’s why I have left my home in the Spanish mountains and come to this house of terror. I believe you are mad, Pedro; but you are still my son. (There is an uncomfortable pause; Pedro gloomy and depressed.)

Ped. It won’t be for long, Mother. If we can get the arms we need we’ll drive the blasted rebels into the sea. Then we can go home – to our Spanish mountains. We have more men than they – but we must have the arms. That’s why we must keep Cabaño.

Magd. He’s playing with you, son. He’s growing rich on the miseries of Spain. Cabaño’s a vulture, gorging himself on the carcasses of the slain. He gloats over the bloodshed; for it is on Spanish blood that he grows fat. It matters nothing to him who kills who – so long as they want more arms.

Ped. But he only sells to us.

Magd. Are you sure of that? (Pause.) Major Batista was here last week.

Ped. Who?

Magd. Batista – General Franco’s agent.

Ped. What was he here for?

Magd. What are you here for?

Ped. If Cabaño is playing us false – he shall die.

Magd. He or you. Don’t quarrel with him, Pedro. (Pedro laughs.) You are no match for him, son. For all your strength and youth, he would outwit you. He has no mercy – no human feeling. He would shoot you in the back, as readily as he would crush a wasp. If you fall foul of him it is not Cabaño who will die; it may be you – it may be me – but not Cabaño.

Ped. I know the man’s a fiend. But we must have guns. We can’t do without him.

Magd. Then keep on good terms with him, Pedro. (Bell rings without. Both start.) Go out of the kitchen door – through there. (Hustles him off L.) I’ll see what it is. (Exit Magd. R. Then re-enter with Jane Hopton. Jane is a girl of 22, nice looking and neatly dressed. She is carrying a despatch case.)

Magd. Señor Cabaño is out at present, Miss. You are the new secretary, I suppose.

Jane. Yes. Can someone take the luggage up to my room. There are only two suitcases.

Magd. The man will see about that, Miss.

Jane. Thank you. It’s a long drive from the station.

Magd. Yes, Miss. We’re a long way from anywhere here. Jane. I suppose there’s a village of some sort?

Magd. yes, miss. About half a mile inland – across the park.

Jane. Rather a curious place for a Spanish gentleman to settle.

Magd. No doubt Señor Cabaño has his reasons,Miss Jane. It must be rather dull for you. You’re Spanish too, aren’t you.

Magd. Yes, Miss.

Jane. You speak wonderfully good English.

Magd. I was in service for five years in England before I married.

Jane. You married an Englishman?

Magd. No, no. I returned to my country to marry the man I had always loved. He was a miner; he was killed five years later in a pit accident.

Jane. (Awkwardly.) How dreadful. (Pause.) And you have no children?

Magd. My only son is grown up. He became a miner, like his father.

Jane. Well, we shall be company for one another in this out-of-the-way place. I hope we shall become good friends, Señora ...

Magd. My name is Magdalena. I am never called Señora. I am Señor Cabaño’s housekeeper.

Jane. Tell me something about our employer, Magdalena. Is he married?

Magd. No, he’s not married. There’s no one in the house but the Señor, his man Williams and myself – and now you.

Jane. Is he a very busy man? Why does he suddenly want a secretary?

Magd. He has a big deal on hand at present. But he has always employed a secretary.

Jane. But why such a sudden engagement? Did the last secretary leave him unexpectedly?

Magd. She died.

Jane. Died?

Magd. Died – quite suddenly – last week.

Jane. Why do you say it like that? What did she die of?

Magd. I can’t tell you; she just died. (Pause.) She was a very inquisitive woman. (Pause.)

Jane. Well – curiosity doesn’t kill people.

Magd. It is unwise to be inquisitive.

(Esther Conolly looks through the window. She is a middle aged woman – gaudily but shabbily dressed.)

Esth. Is the gentleman at home?

Magd. Not yet. What do you want?

Esth. I want one of his fields – to set up a fun fair.

Magd. Fun fairs are not much in my master’s line.

Esth. It’s a very good fun fair. Roundabouts – swing boats – shooting gallery – try-your-strength – Aunt Sally coconut shies – and hoop-la.

Jane. Is the village big enough to make it pay?

Esth. Oh, they come from miles round, when they know Conolly’s are here. We’ve been here the last ten years. Old Mr. Rhys always lent us his field, bless him; and come down to have the first shy at the coconuts, he would. Well, he’s gone to a better world, poor gentleman, and I don’t expect he has any fun fairs there. He’ll be missing Conolly’s I’m thinking. (Dabs eyes.) What’s this new gentleman like? He’s a foreigner, isn’t he?

Jane. Yes – Spanish.

Esth. Well – I hope he’ll let us have the field. It’s the best pitch for miles round.

Magd. You had better try to find another. You don’t know Señor Cabaño.

Esth. Never say die. Me and Daniel will come up later and see him. (She is going; but stops in window.) Tell your fortunes for sixpence, ladies.

Magd. I haven’t sixpence to waste.

Jane. Here’s a bob for both of us. (Esther returns.) What is it? Palmistry?

Esth. That’s it, lady. Give me your left hand.

Jane. This always makes me nervous.

Esth. (Rather rapidly.) You are in deadly danger. You are going to have a narrow escape from death in the next few weeks. You will be rescued by the man you love.

Jane. Well – that’s all very thrilling. The only unfortunate thing about it is that I don’t love any man – particularly.

Esth. But your hand cannot lie.

Jane. Now it’s your turn, Magdalena.

(Esther examines Magd.’s hand. She stops suddenly and looks her in the face.)

Esth. (Very seriously.) I can’t tell this lady’s future.

Jane. Why?

Esth. Don’t ask me why. I won’t say another word. (Hurriedly.) I’ll come round later to see the gentleman.

Magd. I hear my master. You must go. (Exit R.)

Esth. I’ll come later – with Daniel. (She goes to window.)

Jane. Mrs. Conolly. (Esther turns.) Why wouldn’t you tell that lady’s future?

Esth. There was not future to tell. Nothing but a past. (Exit Esther.)

(Señor Miguel Cabaño enters. He is a tall man, dressed entirely in black – black cloak and hat. His face is the incarnation of evil.)

Cab. Miss Hopton, I suppose?

Jane. Yes.

Cab. You found my car at the station?

Jane. Yes, thank you. It was very kind of you to send it. I might not have been able to hire a car to come so far.

Cab. No. It is a remote spot. (He sits.) Sit down, Miss Hopton.

Jane. Thank you.

Cab. You answered my advertisement. Why?

Jane. Well, I was out of a job – and you offered a good salary. My parents are abroad; so it didn’t matter to me where I took a post. Of course I understood that the engagement was subject to your approval at a personal interview.

Cab. There will be a good deal of business correspondence. Are you accustomed to that?

Jane. Most of my experience has been in commercial houses.

Cab. And you realise that the post is only a temporary one?

Jane. Oh quite.

Cab. I might at any moment have to return to Spain. You can speak Spanish fluently, I believe?

Jane. Yes. I spent several years with a family in Burgos.

Cab. Can you keep your mouth shut, Miss Hopton?

Jane. I quite realise that discretion is a private secretary’s first duty.

Cab. Yes. My late secretary was indiscreet. She died last Friday.

Jane. So I understand.

Cab. Ah; Magdalena has been gossiping.

Jane. Oh no, Señor. I asked her why she had left you.

Cab. I see. May I give you a word of caution, Miss Hopton?

Jane. I shall be only too grateful.

Cab. Curiosity is a quality which I do not tolerate. It is a very common feminine failing. I had occasion to remonstrate with your predecessor on that point.

Jane. I suppose I have my natural share of curiosity. But I can promise you it shall not interfere with my work.

Cab. Very good, Miss Hopton. I mentioned the salary in my advertisement. If you care to accept the post, you can begin your duties at once. I will tell Magdalena to show you to your room. You will work in here – unless I am using the room myself; in which case you can make use of the morning room on the other side of the hall. I will send for you when I want you.

Jane. Thank you very much. (Exit Cab. After a short pause enter Magdalena.)

Magd. I expect you would like to see your room.

Jane. Thank you. Well, I’ve got the job.

Magd. Then God help you. (She moves gloomily to the door. As she is about to exit with Jane, Williams enters, showing in Sir Harold Vincent; Sir H. is a prosperous middle-aged business man, with monocle. Williams has the air of a retired prize fighter.)

Will. I will tell my master you are here, sir.

Sir H. Thank you. (To Jane.) Good afternoon.

Jane. I expect you have an appointment with Señor Cabaño?

Sir H. Yes. He said 3.30.

Jane. Do sit down. I’ve no doubt he’ll be here in a moment.

Sir H. Thank you. (Exeunt Jane and Magd. R.)

(Daniel Conolly looks in at window. He is an elderly gypsy – jaunty in manner and flashily but shoddily dressed.)

Dan. Good afternoon, Sir. The missus told me I should most likely find you in now. Now, Sir, I want to ask you a trifling favour; that’s my card, Sir, “Daniel Conolly. proprietor of Conolly’s world famed Roundabouts and Fun Fair.” Now, Sir, for the last nine years we have had an engagement to visit these parts in October, and poor Mr. Rhys used to lend us the large field next to the Church. Now, Sir, I hope you are going to be good enough to grant us the same privilege on this occasion –

Sir H. My good man –

Dan. One moment, please, Sir. You need have no fear of litter or annoyance. My men have strict orders to clear up every scrap of paper and every piece of broken glass before we leave a pitch. I am myself as enthusiastic about the amenities of the countryside as I am sure you are yourself, Sir.

Sir H. But you are making a mistake –

Dan. Now, Sir, I know you wouldn’t refuse to do a kindness to the village people, Sir. They look forward to the Fun Fair from one year to another; “Conolly’s is coming again,” they say – I’m told, Sir – as early as February or March they begin “Conolly’s is coming again.” Now, Sir, you wouldn’t have the heart to deprive them of their innocent amusement.

Sir H. Do stop talking, man, and listen. I don’t live here at all. The tenant of this house is a Spanish gentleman, Señor Cabaño.

Dan. In that case, please accept my apologies, sir. If you had told me so earlier, it would have spared you so much explanation. Now, sir, is Señor Cab – is the gentleman at home, sir?

Sir H. He is – but he won’t be able to see you yet. I have an important business appointment with him at 3.30. It’s after that now.

Dan. Oh, I shan’t detain him a moment, sir. My business can be explained in a very few words. I’ll wait here if you’ll excuse me, sir.

Sir H. I shouldn’t, if I were you. You are much more likely to get what you want if you call later in the evening. Señor Cabaño is not the kind of man who likes to have his arrangements interfered with.

Dan. Than you for the tip, sir. Now, Sir, perhaps you would have the goodness to give the gentleman that card, Sir, and tell him I’ll do myself the honour of calling on him at 5 o’clock. Or, if he cares to let me have the permission in writing before that hour, sir, it would spare him the necessity of a personal interview.

Sir H. Where are you to be found?

Dan. Well, Sir, my headquarters is the big caravan on the village green, Sir. There are six of our caravans drawn up on the green; my own is the largest, with paintings of the French Revolution on one side and a lion hunt on the other. You can’t mistake it, Sir – though the French Revolution is getting a bit faded. I am thinking of changing it to the Spanish Civil War, Sir – more up to date, if you follow my meaning, Sir, and quite as much bloodshed, so I understand, Sir, which appeals to the public taste.

Sir H. You’ll be at the caravan all the evening?

Dan. Till six o’clock, Sir. Between 6 and 10 I shall probably be at the Green Dragon. I find it a help to business to put in an appearance at some public centre. Good day to you, Sir, and thank you.

(Dan. exit by the window. Sir H. lights cigarette, Cab. enters so silently that when he speaks Sir H. starts.)

Cab. Good afternoon, Sir Harold. Who has been talking to you?

Sir H. A gypsy fellow. He wants permission to set up a fun fair in one of your fields.

Cab. I see. Now, Sir Harold, when will my order be ready for delivery?

Sir H. As soon as you like. Let me see; (takes papers from despatch case) this order is for 500 machine guns, 2000 Enfield rifles; they are all packed up in crates ready for despatch. Then the 20 aeroplane engines only want testing out. That is perhaps a matter of a couple days; let me see: this is Tuesday. We could certainly have your whole consignment ready for despatch from our works by Saturday.

Cab. That is quite satisfactory. The goods are due for delivery in Spain on November 18th; that gives us just over a month

Sir H. I am interested to know which side you are supplying.

Cab. That is surely my own affair, Sir Harold.

Sir H. Just as you please. But when one is turning rather a good thing in the way of machine guns, it would be amusing to read in one’s paper whether they were doing any good to the armies that were using them.

Cab. I prefer to keep that point to myself. Are you having any difficulty in keeping these orders quiet?

Sir H. Not much. My senior partner is an old man and leaves almost all the business in my hands. We are under contract to make the same machine guns and aeroplane engines for the Government’s new defence programme. A few thousand more or less arouses no suspicion among the men. As a matter of fact, I could supply you with considerably more than you have already ordered at the same contact price.

Cab. It may be useful to know that. Thank you.

Sir H. The only real difficulty is the transport. Since the non-intervention conditions came into force, the government are being uncomfortably strict about supervising the sale of armaments. Our last two consignments were safely shipped from Liverpool as you know; but we can’t take such risks as that in future. The conveyance of the crates from our works at Middlesbrough is an extremely awkward matter; I could not undertake to deliver another consignment at any of the larger ports, as I wrote and told you last month.

Cab. That is why I have moved from London to this remote spot. There is splendid anchorage in the cove half a mile from here and I have asked the captain of a tramp steamer to come here for an interview this afternoon. If you can undertake to send the good from your works to Pembrokeshire to be unloaded on to the boat here, I think we shall be able to manage it.

Sir H. But that’s just the difficulty. How can we send lorries of machine guns across half England and Wales without arousing suspicion.

Cab. That is a problem for you to solve, Sir Harold. The contract expressly states that you undertake to deliver the goods to any point of the British Isles which I choose to select. When they are delivered at that place, I hand you my cheque. I think I am right in saying that the amount due for this next order will be £26,500.

Sir H. That’s right.

Cab. You are making a large profit. And you realise that I am only arranging these shipments out of sympathy with the party I support in Spain. I don’t make a penny out of it; in fact I am doing this business at a loss.

Sir H. Quite – quite. But the risk to me is enormous. If this were discovered, it would mean the ruin of my firm – and disgrace and imprisonment for myself. But after all one must take risks in support of one’s political convictions.

Cab. Your political convictions appear to be rather uncertain, Sir Harold. You forget that I have not told you which side I am supplying.

Sir H. No – but – well I feel sure that our views would be the same.. (Hurriedly changing the subject.) Now – about this question of transport? It is clearly impossible for our own lorries to do it. We need a good many, travelling more or less together, without eliciting any curiosity or suspicion.

Cab. Would a Fun Fair excite suspicion? (A pause.)

Sir H. Brilliant, Señor. We must see Mr. (refers to card) Mr. Conolly.

(Cab. rings bell)

Cab. I should be glad of your assistance in interviewing the captain of a tramp steamer. I have arranged with him to come here this afternoon. I have not yet seen the man; but from what I hear of him, I think he may answer our purpose.

(Enter Williams half way through this speech. He speaks when it is finished.)

Will. You rang, sir?

Cab. Yes, Williams. I want you to go down to the Fun Fair – Will. To what, sir?

Cab. Go to the village and ask for Mr. Conolly of the Fun Fair.

Sir H. You’ll find him in the largest caravan on the village green. It has pictures of the French Revolution on one side and a lion hunt on the other.

Will. Very good, sir.

Cab. Ask Mr. Conolly to step up here. Say I wish to see him on a matter of business.

Will. I understand, sir. (Is going.)

Cab. Oh, Williams.

Will. Sir?

Cab. Has Captain Jordon arrived yet?

Will. Yes, sir. He’s waiting in the hall, sir.

Cab. Bring him in.

Will. Very good, sir. (Exit Will.)

Sir H. I should prefer you not to mention my name, if you don’t mind.

Cab. There is no need to.

(Enter Will. and Jordon. Jordon is a rough old seaman, rather down in the mouth,)

Will. Captain Jordon, sir. (Exit Will.)

Cab. Good afternoon, Captain Jordon.

Jor. Arternoon, sir

Cab. This gentleman in interested in my plans, Captain Jordon. You can speak quite freely before him.

Jor. Very good, sir.

Cab. Sit down, Captain.

Jor. Thank you, sir. (Sits on edge of chair.)

Cab. Will you have a cigar?

Jor. Thank you, sir. I don’t mind if I do. (Takes and lights one.)

Cab. I understand you are the owner of a tramp.

Jor. That’s right, sir. The “Pretty Polly.”

Sir H. What’s her tonnage?

Jor. 560 tons, sir.

Cab. Not much doing in the way of shipping, is there?

Jor. There’s not, sir. I’ve not had a freight for the last six months.

Cab. Would you undertake a job that’s a bit out of the ordinary?

Jor. I’d carry a cargo of monkeys to the South Pole, if I were well paid for it.

Cab. There would be some risk in the trip I am suggesting.

Jor. What sort of risk?

Cab. Risk of trouble with the law. (A slight pause.)

Jor. Well, let’s hear what it is.

Cab. It’s understood that we are talking in confidence?

Jor. That’s all right, sir.

Cab. I am anxious to send a consignment of goods to the north coast of Spain.

Jor. Gun-running, eh?

Cab. Precisely.

Jor. Where should you want me to sail from?

Cab. There is good anchorage in Dead Man’s Cove down here, isn’t there.

Jor. Good enough when there’s not too much breeze.

Sir H. Would it be possible to ship a cargo there straight from lorries on the shore?

Jor. Might be done, Sir, round about high tide.

Sir H. And what are your chances of slipping out unobserved?

Jor. Well, sir, that’s not an easy question to answer. There’s no coastguard station within three miles. Give me a good fog and I could do it easy. We should have to weigh anchor at night with the tide just on the ebb – and show no lights till we were well out to sea.

Cab. Then you’ll undertake this trip, Captain?

Jor. Not too fast. What are you going to pay me?

Cab. I suggest £500.

Jor. (Ruminating.) 500 quid. If I gets stopped I loses my boat and gets quodded into the bargain. It’s a big risk. Still, times is bad. I’ll take it on.

Cab. Very good, Captain. Where’s your ship now?

Jor. Anchored at Milford Haven. I shall have to look about for a crew. When do you want me to sail?

Cab. How many days will it take you from here to the North of Spain?

Jor. Not more than three, given good weather. In dirty weather it might be four.

Cab. Can you have everything ready in three weeks?

Jor. Yes – yes, I can manage that. Could you let me have 100 quid in advance? You see I shall have to lay in stores, and pay the men a day or two before we sail.

Cab. I’ll see to that. £100 a week from today – £200 on the day you sail – and the final 200 when you return – provided that you have safely landed you cargo at its destination.

Jor. That’ll do me fine.

Cab. We can arrange the details later. The same address will find you?

Jor. Yes, sir. 5 Quay Side, Milford Haven.

Sir H. Your men won’t talk?

Jor. I shan’t let them know what we’re taking on board – nor where we are bound for, till we’re at sea. I’ll just sign them on for a fortnight’s voyage.

(Enter Will.)

Will. Mr. and Mrs. Conolly are waiting to see you, sir.

Jor. Well, I’ll be getting on. Good night, sirs.


Sir H. Good night, Captain.

Cab. I’ll see Mr. and Mrs. Conolly, Williams.

Will. Thank you, sir.

(Exeunt Jordon and Williams.)

Cab. I shall leave the arrangements with the Conollys in your hands. That’s your affair.

Sir H. Just as you wish. But let them think at first that you want to see them about the Fun Fair. Give them their permission and you’ll have them in a good temper.

(Enter Will. with Daniel and Esther.)

Will. Mr. and Mrs. Conolly, sir. (Exit Will.)

Cab. Good afternoon.

Dan. Good day to you, sir, I’m sure.

Cab. I understand, Mr. Conolly, that you wish to make use of one of my fields.

Dan. It would be a great privilege, sir.

Esth. You see, sir, poor Mr. Rhys has lent us the field for the last nine years. It is nine years, isn’t it , Daniel?

Dan. There or thereabouts. And though I says it as shouldn’t, sir, there’s not a better or more up-to-date Fun Fair on the roads today.

Cab. Very well, Mr. Conolly. I’ll lend the field –

Esth. I’m sure we’re very much obliged to you, sir, aren’t we, Daniel?

Cab. But there’s a condition attached.

Dan. Oh, I know what you’re going to say, sir, and you needn’t say it. You won’t find a bit of litter on the field after we’ve packed up. Litter is an eyesore to me, sir, that’s what it is, an eyesore.

Esth. We’re always particular about that, sir, you can take my word for it.

Cab. We’ll take that for granted. But there’s another condition; if I lend you the field are you prepared to do me a service in return?

Dan. Anything in our power, sir – that is, within reason.

Cab. You will be well paid. This gentleman will explain.

Sir H. Well,it’s like this, Mr. Conolly. Señor Cabaño and I have just brought off a business deal. I am supplying him with a consignment of – of goods, which he wishes to ship out of the country – without attracting too much attention. (The Conollys exchange glances. There must be a good bit of business in this scene.) Now it occurred to us that you might be willing to carry these goods for us in your lorries. How many have you got?

Esth. Eleven 5-ton lorries, sir – that’s not counting the caravans.

Sir H. That ought to be enough. How long would you take to go from here to Middlesbrough and back?

Dan. Best part of three weeks. What do you say, Esther?

Esth. Might be done in a fortnight, dear.

Dan. Well, say a fortnight to three weeks.

Sir H. We wish to have the goods here not later than three weeks from today. What do you say?

Dan. Might be done, sir. What do you think, Esther?

Esth. It all depends what the gentlemen are willing to pay. You see, sirs, it means loss of our usual business for three weeks; then we should have to cut several engagements we’ve already made.

Sir H. What are your average profits for a week?

Dan. Don’t ask me, sir. The missus does all the business.

Esth. Well, sir, sometimes we take as much as £150 in the week. It all depends on the weather, you see.

Sir H. Would you take on this job for £300.

Esth. I’m afraid it wouldn’t be worth our while, sir. You see, we should have to empty the lorries and leave all our stuff in store. That would cost us a pretty penny.

Dan. You see, sirs, in addition to the Roundabouts – they occupy three of the lorries – there’s the swing boats, shooting gallery, hoop-la, coconut shies, switch-back and Aunt Sally – to say nothing of the menagerie. Now, sirs, I’ve got a friend in Wolverhampton who’d take the stuff for a matter of three weeks. But if the Missus says it couldn’t be done for 300 quid, it couldn’t.

Cab. Well, suggest your own price, Mrs. Conolly.

Esth. We might tackle it for £400, sir.

Cab. Well, let’s call that a bargain. When do you propose to start?

Dan. Wait a jiff, sir. You’ve not told us yet what we’ve got to carry.

Sir H. Does that really matter? It’ll be a load of heavy crates.

Dan. Ah! But what’s in the crates? It’s all to be done on the quiet, you said?

Sir H. Yes.

Dan. Then I have a right to know what I’m agreeing to carry. Might be bombs or machine guns.

Cab. It is.

Dan. Oh – that’s it, is it? Gun-running. Spain, I shouldn’t wonder.

Cab. You have wonderful intuition, Mr. Conolly.

Dan. That’s as may be. Well, gentlemen, I’m not going to run foul of the police. I wouldn’t take on this job – not if you was to cut my hand off. (Rises.) I wish you good-day, gentlemen.

Esth. Wait a bit, Daniel. There’s no call to forget your manners to the gentlemen.

Dan. I’m not forgetting my manners, Esther – but I don’t convey munitions of war half across England. Conolly’s has always been a respectable show, and a respectable show it shall remain.

Esth. Now don’t get so huffy, dearie. The gentleman has made you a fair offer.

Dan. Our show has never been interfered with by the police – and I don’t mean to begin at my time of life.

Esth. Now steady, Daniel. What about the years you spent ...

Dan. You keep your mouth shut. There’s no occasion to be washing our dirty linen in public. That was a private concern – nothing to so with the business.

Sir H. If the police never interfere with your show, the risk can’t be very serious.

Esth. But there is a risk, sir. We couldn’t do it for £400, not if we was carrying an innocent load like tigers or Huntley & Palmer’s biscuits.

Dan. That’s right, Esther.

Esth. But I think my husband might feel different about it if you was to give us £600.

Sir H. What do you say, Mr. Conolly?

Dan. Well, sir, it’s been a wet summer and business has been bad. And 600 quid is not to be sneezed at.

Sir H. Then we may consider that settled, eh?

Dan. What do you say, Esther?

Esth. I should say “Thank you, sir.”

Dan. Oh well – have it your own way. I’ll take on the job,

Sir H. That’s good. Now, you say you have eleven lorries.

Dan. That’s right. We’ll store the stuff.

Esth. There’s only ten we can use, Daniel. You’ve forgotten Rajah – he’s our tiger, sirs, lives in half one lorry and the performing fleas in the other half.

Dan. Ezra could look after the fleas.

Esth. Yes – but we can’t store Rajah.

Sir H. Ten 5-ton lorries will be enough if we pack the things close. (Enter Will.)

Will. (To Cab.) There’s a young man to see you, sir, name of Ibanez.

Cab. I’ll see him in here. (Exit Will.) Sir Harold, perhaps you would finish your business with Mr. and Mrs. Conolly in the next room.

Sir H. Certainly. Come along; I’ll give you £200 on account, Mr. Conolly. That will help for immediate expenses. The rest you’ll get when the goods are safely on board the Pretty Polly.”

Dan. (Jocosely) Well, Esther – what about pinching the gentleman’s 200 quid and then peaching to the police, That would be the safest thing for us.

Cab. If you did give information to the police, Mr. Conolly, you would be far from safe. (An awkward pause.)

Esth. You mustn’t take no notice of him, sir. He was only having his bit of fun.

Cab. If you or he were to breathe a word of this to anyone, then I should have my bit of fun.

Esth. Oh – the gentlemen can depend on us, can’t they, Daniel?

Dan. I’ve never gone back on a pal in my life; that’s Gospel truth, gentlemen.

Cab. Sir Harold will make all arrangements with you.

Esth. Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. (Exeunt Sir H. and Conollys.)

(Will. enters with Pedro.)

Will. Mr. Ibanez. (Exit Will.)

Ped. Good evening.

Cab. Good afternoon. Sit down.

Ped. Now, Señor – when is my order going to be ready for delivery?

Cab. I have just been arranging for the transport. You shall have the consignment in Spain by the date arranged – November 18th.

Ped. And the price, Señor? My government considers your estimate too high.

Cab. £41,000?

Ped. It is a great deal above the usual price for such arms.

Cab. You forget that I have to run a considerable risk in supplying you. It is only from my desire to serve the workers’ cause that I have agreed to help you at all.

Ped. That’s all very well, Señor, but you know we have not the money to burn, like the rebels.

Cab. If your government objects to the price, they can get the arms elsewhere.

Cab. Certainly not, so long as you are willing to abide by our agreement. If you break the contract by refusing payment, I have no doubt I can find another market for the goods.

Ped. Sell them to Franco, eh?

Cab. How I dispose of my belongings is no business of yours.

Ped. So that’s your game, is it? (Rising.) That’s why that scoundrel Batista has been here.

Cab. Who told you that Major Batista had visited me?

Ped. I don’t know – I – I heard it by chance.

Cab. And if I choose to receive my friends, does it prevent my doing business with you?

Ped. Your one idea is the money. You talk of helping us – all you care about is filling your own pockets. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear you were selling to the rebels as well. But understand this, Cabaño; If you are playing a double game with us, we’ll do you in. (Very violently.) Do you hear? We’ll finish you.

Cab. (Covering him with revolver.) I prefer to do business more quietly, Señor Ibanez. Oblige me by putting up your hands. (After a moment’s hesitation Pedro does so.) Thank you. Now we can continue. My price is £41,000 – the money to be paid over in English notes on the day the goods reach the Spanish coast. Do you agree to my terms?

Ped. (Sulkily.) You know you’ve got me. I’m bound to agree.

Cab. Yes, I suspected that. If I am rightly informed, the insurgents have more sources of supply than you have.

(Magd. enters with tray. She looks anxious.)

Magd. Your coffee, Señor.

Cab. Take it into the morning room and call Miss Hopton. I will dictate some letters to her there.

Magd. Very good, Señor. (Exit Mag. with tray.)

Cab. Then that concludes our business, Señor Ibanez. The goods will be shipped from here in three weeks time and will be in your hands on November 8th. They can be landed at the usual place, I suppose?

Ped. If it is still in our hands – yes.

Cab. Should any alteration be necessary, let me know in good time. (Enter Mag.) Magdalena, show Señor Ibanez out. (Exit Cab.)

Ped. I made a fool of myself, Mother. He had me all along the line.

Magd. What was he doing with that revolver?

Ped. I lost my temper – told him I’d do him in, if he didn’t play straight with us. Then he whipped out his gun.

Magd. For heavens sake be careful and don’t be too friendly with him.

Ped. Yes – but I must do what I can for the cause.

Magd. Your dead body won’t be able to do much. You’ve not lived in the house with him. You know he’s evil – but – oh, you don’t understand. He’s not human.

Ped. If he’s the devil, I’ve got to buy from him.

Magd. When shall I see you again?

Ped. In three weeks – when the boat sails. Then I shall fly to Spain to be in time for landing the stuff. Goodbye, Mother – keep cheerful.

(Exeunt. After a short pause, enter Jane with papers. She begins typing. Tony looks cautiously in at the window. He is quite a young man with a cheerful and irresponsible manner.)

Tony. Hello! Miss Hopton?

Jane. Yes. Why? (She turns.)

Tony. Good Lord!

Jane. What is it?

Tony. You gave me rather a shock, that’s all,

Jane. A shock?

Tony. I expected you to be middle aged and homely.

Jane. Well?

Tony. Well, you’re not – not a bit.

Jane. I haven’t the foggiest idea who you are. What do you want?

Tony. I want to look after you. No – don’t answer back. Those are my instructions.

Jane. Señor Cabaño’s?

Tony. Señor Chewing-gum! No, my dear girl – the Chief’s – Sir Ronald Burton’s.

Jane. Then you’re one of us?

Tony. Seems like it, doesn’t it? Yes – this morning I was warming my toes in front of the electric heater when the Chief sent for me. I entered his office, saluted and stood smartly to attention. “Kingdon,” he said – you see, my name’s Kingdon – “Kingdon, I want you to go straight down to Dead Man’s Cove, near Milford Haven. We are expecting some dirty work in the shape of gun-running down there. I have sent a Miss Hopton to keep me in touch with what’s going on; she has got a post as private secretary to a Señor Cabaño, who is at the bottom of the show. Now, Kingdon, I want you to keep an eye on Miss Hopton.” So I jumped into my Bugatti – and here I am!

Jane. I see. Am I to make reports to you?

Tony. The Chief didn’t say so. My only orders are “To keep an eye on Miss Hopton.” That oughtn’t to be difficult.

Jane. Do be sensible. What I want to know is, are we to work together?

Tony. Not a question of it, I should say. At any rate, now that I’ve met you, that’s how I mean to interpret my orders.

(Enter Cab., unnoticed.)

Cab. Who is your friend, Miss Hopton?

Tony. Good afternoon, Sir. Having met this lady for the first time exactly one minute ago, I feel doubtful whether she would yet include me among her intimate friends – though of course I should be proud if she would regard me in that light.

Cab. What do you want?

Tony. Well, I don’t actually want anything – except some dinner. And from what I’ve seen of the village pub, I doubt if I shall get any.

Cab. Who are you?

Tony. My name’s Kingdon. I represent the (glancing at typewriter) Remington Company. I came to see if your typewriter was in order. I am just on one of my usual rounds to our clients.

Cab. How did you get in here?

Tony. Now there I feel I owe you an apology, sir. The fact is, I was just making my way round to your front door when I heard a familiar sound. Tap-tap-tap. “That’s a Remington,” I said to myself, and glanced into the window. I saw this lady sitting at the typewriter. “Hullo,” I said, or something to the same effect – and she said “Hullo” – and before I knew where I was, I was inside the room. And then you came in, sir, and – well, here we are.

Cab. My secretary has important work to do. She must not be interrupted.

Tony. Ah, sir. But if you would just allow me to give the machine a once over, all that work would be a pleasure to the lady instead of a labour.

Cab. The machine is in perfectly good order. Isn’t it, Miss Hopton?

Jane. Well, sir, as a matter of fact I should rather like this gentleman to run over it, if it wouldn’t take too long. The t’s and the h’s are a bit stiff.

Cab. This letters must catch the 6.30 post, Miss Hopton.

Tony. Oh, there shouldn’t be any difficulty about that. I’ve no doubt I can locate the trouble in five minutes.

(Enter Williams.)

Will. I beg pardon, sir. Captain Jordon would like to speak to you. He says he won’t keep you a moment.

Cab. Where is he?

Will. At the front door, sir. He said he wouldn’t come in.

Cab. Very well, I’ll come.

(Exeunt Cab. and Will.)

Tony. Let’s have a look at the machine.

Jane. There’s nothing wrong with it, really.

Tony. Of course there isn’t, you owl. But if old chewing-gum comes back I must be doing something about it. (Change places.) Have you discovered anything?

Jane. Nothing yet. But I only arrived half an hour ago. It’s a queer household.

Tony. What’s it consist of?

Jane. Señor Cabaño, the man, Williams, and a housekeeper who seems to be uttering a warning every time she opens her mouth – and looks as if she’d seen a ghost. Then there’s been a visitor – Sir Harold Vincent.

Tony. Not the Vincent of Goodbody & Vincent’s?

Jane. I haven’t the smallest – who are they?

Tony. Big armaments firm, Darlington or Middlesbrough or somewhere.

Jane. That’s rather suggestive, isn’t it?

Tony. Is Sir Harold still here?

Jane. No; he left about a quarter of an hour ago. I think he’s returning to Middlesbrough.

Tony. Find out, if you can, where he keeps his important papers. The great thing is to get evidence in black and white.

Jane. He’s bound to keep them locked up.

Tony. That’s where I come in. I’m not a bad amateur burglar.

Jane. You’ll have to be pretty careful. I don’t fancy Cabaño would have much patience with a burglar.

Tony. No, I expect not. And Mr. Williams looks a bit of a tough, too. Now listen, Miss Hopton – oh hang it, I can’t go on calling you Miss Hopton – if we’re to work together we can’t go on Hoptoning and Kingdoning each other. My name’s Tony: what’s yours?

Jane. (Laughing.) Jane.

Tony. Good. I Like Jane. Well, listen, Jane. Oh dash! I’ve forgotten what I was going to say. Why did you interrupt? Oh yes, I know. I’m staying at the Green Dragon; Telephone number’s Llangethan 3. Ring me if you want anything. Well, that’s all, I think. Good night, Jane. I’ll keep an eye on you.

(Cab enters.) Sir, I should recommend you to consider the purchase of a new machine. You may have overheard me advising your secretary to keep an eye on the U. I have remedied the T and the H, but the U is very much worn. It’s a very old model, sir. I’ll make a note to send you our up-to-date catalogue. Good evening, sir; good evening, miss. Don’t forget; keep an eye on U. (Exit Tony.)

Cab. A gentleman has called to see me, Miss Hopton. Please finish the letters in the other room.

Jane. Certainly, sir. Shall I bring them to you for signature?

Cab. Not unless I call you. I shall probably be free before the post goes. If not, Williams must take them to Haverfordwest.

(Exit Jane with machine, etc.)

Cab. (Calls off.) Williams. (Will. enters.) Williams, I’ll see Major Batista in here.

Will. Very good, sir. (Exit Will. Then re-enters with Batista. He is formal and military – a gentleman – complete contrast to Pedro.)

Will. Major Batista. (Exit Will.)

Cab. Good evening, Major. Do take a chair.

Bat. (Remains standing.) Señor Cabaño – when I came here a fortnight ago, you were willing to negotiate with me about the sale of arms to my chief, General Franco,

Cab. If you remember, Major, you declined to purchase.

Bat. I did. I thought your terms were exorbitant. It has since come to my knowledge that you are supplying the Communists.

Cab. And why not, Major? Business is business. If one customer refuses to buy, another may purchase the goods.

Bat. I am astonished that a Spaniard of good birth can be a traitor to his country. Now Cabaño, I insist on knowing when and where you are landing these arms for the Reds. (Covers him with revolver.)

Cab. If you will put that thing away, I am quite prepared to discuss matters with you. But as long as you adopt that ridiculously dramatic attitude, I shall say nothing at all.

Bat. If you will not speak, I shoot. And when I shoot, I kill.

Cab. That will not assist me to speak. Major. You will go away as ignorant as you are at present, and in danger of arrest by the British police – not a particularly intelligent body, Major, but probably clever enough for that.

Bat. If I put up my gun, will you give me the information I want?

Cab. Certainly. But let us talk things over comfortably. (Bat. puts up gun.) Do sit down. What precisely do you wish to know?

Bat. What arms are you supplying to the Communists?

Cab. 500 machine guns, 2000 Enfield rifles and 20 aeroplane engines.

Bat. On what date are they to be landed in Spain?

Cab. It would be a breach of confidence to my clients to tell you that.

Bat. I must insist on knowing.

Cab. But is that necessary? I gather that you want these supplies yourself.

Bat. For my Chief.

Cab. Exactly. Well, Major, that can be quite simply arranged, without all this bluster and without your going to the trouble of trying to seize them in Spain. I have not yet signed the contract with the Communist agent. If you care to pay the money down, I can deliver the goods to you.

Bat. How much?

Cab. £46,000.

Bat. I will consult my Chief.

Cab. That will take time, Major. The Communist agent is coming tomorrow morning to complete the purchase. This is your only opportunity of forestalling him.

Bat. You are clever, Cabaño. We need the arms; but more important still, we must prevent the Reds from getting them. They can’t last out three months without further supplies. But your price is too high. I’ll give you £30,000.

Cab. I have named my figure, Major Batista. If you do not accept it, I fancy your friends the Reds will.

Bat. Curse you – you’ve got me in a cleft stick. You can have your money. I’ll write you a cheque.

Cab. I should prefer it in notes – English notes. No doubt you have brought sufficient with you.

Bat. Why won’t you take a cheque?

Cab. A cheque is sometimes an incriminating document, Major.

Bat. Very well. Here’s the money. (Hands over notes.)

Cab. Thank you, Major. (Mag. enters with sherry, and listens.) You have outwitted the Communists. Now where do you want the stuff landed?

Bat. We can arrange that later when I have further instructions.

Magd. Are you taking sherry tonight, Señor.

Cab. You will have a glass, Major?

Bat. Thank you.

Cab. (Pouring sherry.) Magdalena, Major Batista will dine with me.

Bat. I’m afraid I can’t, Señor Cabaño; I have to catch the 7.20 back to London.

Cab. I’m sorry. That’s all, then Magdalena.

Magd. Thank you, Señor. (Exit Mag.)

Cab. I can arrange to have your order delivered at any point you name on the north Spanish coast on November 17th. Here’s to its safe landing. (Sips.)

Bat. (Drinks.) I will give you full instructions later. Good night, Señor Cabaño.

(Exit, followed by Cab.)

Cab. Good night, Major. There are four steps. (Door bangs.)

(Cab speaks before he enters.) Miss Hopton.

(Enter Jane. Cab is drinking sherry.)

Cab. Has the post gone yet?

Jane. No, sir. It’s only just six. Here are your letters.

Cab. Have you your notebook?

Jane. Yes, it’s here on the table.

Cab. Take down this wire and send it over the telephone. “Sir Harold Vincent. Goodbody and Vincent. Middlesbrough. Kindly double my present order and deliver as arranged. Cabaño.”

(He rolls the sherry round his mouth.)