The sound of hurried footsteps is heard from off stage and a breathless voice says:
Mother: Oh, I can’t believe how late we are! I shudder to think of what the Atkinsons shall think of us now!
Three people, one man, one woman, and one young girl hastily enter and make towards the front door of a mansion from the 1800s. They are dressed in the fashion of that time as if to go to
a formal party. The man is on the larger side and appears to be in his late forties. The woman, also in her late 40s, is plain looking, perhaps a little worn or wilted. The girl is pale with
freckles, long wavy fair hair and hazel eyes. She is skinny, of average height and eighteen. It is twilight.
As they enter:
Mother: (Continues) I can’t imagine why they invited us at all really. It’s not as if we are their social equals. We are just a humble
Father: We are their neighbors, dear. (Stresses “are” and reaches up to knock on the door) Perhaps they are just being agreeable.
Mother: (While speaking is straightening her mussed hair and clothes from their hasty journey there) I suppose we have been invited to tea a number of
times over the last couple decades but we have never been invited to a formal party and this is the most anticipated party of the season. I can’t bear to imagine how society’s opinion of us shall
fall after tonight. We don’t even have proper formal dresses! (Pauses) Well. In any case, (In a more cheerful tone) I have heard tell that Mr. Ainsley shall be present this
evening. Won’t that be nice Sophia?
Sophia: Oh, Mother . . . (Begins to object but is cut off before she is even given the chance to begin)
Mother: Perhaps this evening won’t be a total loss. He seems quite interested in you, Sophia. Perhaps he shall ask for your hand in marriage! (Is
considerably brightened by the prospect of having her daughter marry, what she believes to be, such a fine man.)
Sophia is about to object, again, when the door is opened and they are waved in by the butler.
Butler: Please come in.
The lights fade to black.
Lights come back up to show a bright, crowded room adjoined to another that appears to be the dining area. The Grangers are led on stage by the butler who, after a curt bow announces to
Butler: A Mister, Misses, and Miss Granger.
The butler gives another curt bow then quickly departs leaving the Grangers feeling very much alone and out of place. Before long, however, a large, happy woman comes to their
Mrs. Atkinson: Mr. and Mrs. Granger! Sophia! How pleased I am to see you have arrived! We were just beginning to wonder if, perhaps, you had gotten lost on the
way over! (Laughs at her joke, the Grangers chuckle nervously)
Mother: I am terribly sorry! Our tardiness is inexcusable . . .
Mrs. Atkinson: Nonsense! Your timing is impeccable! In fact, not a moment ago a young man was inquiring as to your whereabouts, Sophia. (Says with a smile
and mischievous gleam in her eyes) Come, I shall bring you over to him!
Mrs. Granger lights up with a proud smile and looks at Sophia with untold happiness while Sophia looks visibly distressed and not a little annoyed as the family is drawn deeper into the
room toward a small group of people in the corner. Among them is a young man talking enthusiastically to the group before him with his back to the newcomers. There is also an equally enthusiastic,
but superficial, pretty girl hanging on his every word. Meanwhile, a greasy, expensively dressed man notices the additions to the party and, politely excusing himself from the group with whom he
had been conversing, starts making his way over to them.
Mrs. Atkinson: Oh Richie, dear! (Crows happily. The young man turns around toward them)
Richard: (a little annoyed and slightly embarrassed) Please, don’t call me that Mother. I’m not . . . (stops speaking when he notices Sophia and a
look of shock and wonder at her beauty crosses his face as he stares at her. Sophia stops walking when she realizes who it is and a stunned surprised look crosses hers.)
Mrs. Atkinson: (quite pleased with herself and oblivious to the strong reaction of Richard and Sophia continues on like everything was normal) Look who
has just arrived! The Grangers! What perfect timing they have, haven’t they?
Sylvia: Yes, I suppose. (With distain and looks the Grangers up and down with an expression of discuss on her face and her nose in the air as it they
smell) If you consider tardiness in good timing.
Richard: (Is jolted out of his stupor and looks at Sylvia with a frown that clearly shows he thought better of her, then, dismissing it, turns back to
Sophia) Sophia, Mr. and Mrs. Granger, this is Sylvia . . .
Sylvia: I’m his fiancée. (Says snobbishly, instantly against Sophia, sensing there is something between her and Richard. Richard looks to her when she speaks
but only slightly and his head instantly snaps back to Sophia, anxious to see her reaction to this)
Mother: Oh! Congratulations! (Oblivious to the drama playing out around her as a flicker of shock and disappointment passes across Sophia’s face)
Sylvia: Thank you! (Almost sincerely. Turns back towards the couple not yet introduced. They are both tall and proper, dressed in very formal, expensive
clothing. They have their noses pointed up.) These are my parents Edward and Annabelle Campbell.
Mr. and Mrs. Campbell: (Nod their heads in acknowledgment)
Father: (Nods back, is almost a bow) It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.
Mr. Campbell: And yours.
The greasy, expensively dressed man comes up behind the group and is about to call attention to his presence when Mrs. Atkinson saves him the trouble.
Mrs. Atkinson: Ah! Mr. Ainsley!
The Grangers turn towards him. Mr. Ainsley makes eye contact with Sophia. She gets flustered and blushes, not from pleasure but more annoyance. Richard notices but misreads her
Mrs. Atkinson: Please forgive me, but have you yet had the pleasure of meeting the Campbells?
Mr. Ainsley: (standing close to Sophia as you would a partner) No! I have not yet had the pleasure and (reaching forward from his possessive
position he had claimed behind Sophia to shake Mr. Campbell’s hand) might I say what a pleasure it truly is. (Superficially, not sarcastically. As if to suck up to him)
Mr. Campbell: Why thank you young man. Our meeting has been quite pleasurable indeed!
The two shake hands and Mr. Ainsley, showing respect by tilting his head to Mr. Campbell, returns to his position behind Sophia.
Mrs. Atkinson: And this is my eldest son Richard. (Richard and Mr. Ainsley give each other curt nods, there is an instant hostility between the two) His
brother, Louis, is conversing with the Burnetts. (Motions to the group of people on the other side of the room.) He is studying to be a lawyer. (Proudly)
Mr. Ainsley: Ah! A man of law! I myself am of that profession. I should very much like to meet him. Sophia, would you care to join me?
Sophia: (Isn’t sure how to respond at first)
Mrs. Granger: Of course she would!
Sophia: (Making it up as she goes along, does not believe what she is saying is true. It’s just an excuse.) I do apologize, but, in truth, I do not
understand all the complicated matters of running a country and would find myself lost in the conversation of it. Please don’t refrain from conversing on your interests on my account,
Mr. Ainsley: Well, then if I may, I shall take my leave of you fine people for the time being. (Shoots Richard a glare as he turns away. Richard, having “won
that round” is brightened)
Mr. Campbell: Well done, my dear. It is not a woman’s place to be involved in the affairs of law.
Sophia: (Biting back an argument, just nods as if to agree)
There is a slight, awkward pause where everyone is staring at each other without speaking.
Mrs. Atkinson: (Noticing the tension, quickly changes the subject and tone) You’re sure to be wondering where Richard has been these past three years.
(Seems kind of embarrassed. Acts as if she is telling some great secret) To tell you the truth, he has been in New Jersey studying to become a teacher. It wasn’t our first choice for him
(directs this statement to Richard almost accusingly) but that is what he wanted to do and we want him to be happy. (Smiles fondly at Richard.)
Mother: (whispers out of the corner of her mouth to Sophia) And of course it has nothing to do with him marrying into the richest family in all of
Father: (Confused, says slowly trying to figure out why she would think otherwise) Yes, we’ve heard.
Mrs. Atkinson: (Surprised.) Oh, really. (“Do tell”)
Father: Richard and Sophia have been corresponding over the past few years. We have heard all about Richard’s adventures far from home. (Pause, still
confused) Didn’t you know?
Everyone, excluding the Grangers who just look confused, turns to Richard and Sophia looking shocked and a little hostile. Neither Richard nor Sophia knows what to say. Sophia shoots
Richard an apologetic look and Richard just looks like he had just been accused of treason.
Mother: (In defense) I’m sure they meant nothing more by it than as friends. They did grow up together after all.
Sophia: (Honestly) Yes, they were about nothing more than our health and daily occupations.
Sylvia: But, of course! (Sarcastically, “as if”)
Sophia: (Sputters) Well . . . I . . .
Sylvia: (Sweetly, as if speaking to a young child) Exactly. You are a nobody. A lowly, mediocre, naïve, little girl who is after the Atkinson’s
Richard is staring at Sylvia as she says this. Shocked that she would say such a thing.
Mrs. Atkinson: Enough! (Turns to Richard and speaks directly to him) Richard, we shall speak of this later. In the meantime I do believe it is about
time to begin sitting to dinner.
Richard: (Lowering his head, shamefully, shows his inability to defy his mother, nods meekly, and begins walking with Sylvia on his arm to the dining hall
without a backward glance at Sophia. The Campbells, Grangers and Mrs. Atkinson walk just behind them.)
Sophia watches him go sadly and hears Sylvia.
Sylvia: What disagreeable people. I can’t imagine why you would write to such an uncivilized little girl. (Stands right up against him, and reaches up and
brushes her hand against his cheek while looking up at him adoringly.)
Sophia takes a deep breath and hurries to catch up with her parents.
Lights fade black then come back up in a long dining room. People are milling about and slowly finding their way to their seats. The Campbells are in the process of sitting down at the
far end of the table with Sylvia and Richard. Mr. Ainsley and Louis are seen standing out of the way, near a corner or wall with drinks in their hands talking seriously about, it may be presumed,
law and government. Mr. Ainsley notices Sophia’s entrance and says something unheard to Louis who then turns to a group near him and begins conversing with them. Mr. Ainsley begins to make his way
towards Sophia. Sophia, having entered after her parents and Mrs. Atkinson had not quite met up with them yet and hurried to the afore mentioned group when she saw Mr. Ainsley was coming towards
her. She had almost made it when Mr. Ainsley called her name.
Mr. Ainsley: Miss Granger!
Sophia: (Stops and slowly turns toward him. Formally.) Mr. Ainsley.
Mr. Ainsley: Sophia. I must say you look absolutely stunning this evening. You are by far the most beautify young lady in attendance.
Sophia: Please, don’t . . .
Mr. Ainsley: (Stops her) No! You are too modest! I have been enchanted by you all evening and before that even. For some time now I have been admiring
you and I can no longer contain my love for you. Sophia, you are beautiful, kind, generous, agreeable and many more wonderful traits that many, including myself, shall never achieve. (Goes down
on one knee) Sophia, (Looking up at her) please, will you do me the great pleasure of accepting my hand in marriage?
Sophia: (Stares and him and then is about to say something but Mr. Ainsley cuts in)
Mr. Ainsley: I do not think I could bear to live apart from you a moment longer!
Sophia: I’m sor . . .
Mr. Ainsley: You are the wind beneath my wings. The . . .
Sophia: Oh . . . !
Sophia dramatically falls to the floor in a pretended, yet believable feint. The people nearest her and Mr. Ainsley hurry to her aid, concerned. Mr. Ainsley, is stunned for a moment but
quickly recovers himself and reaches to help lift her. Richard, who had by this point reached his seat stood up in alarm. He is heard yelling her name as the lights fade to black.
Lights come back up with Sophia lying atop her bed covers with her mother sitting beside her, holding her hand. Mr. Ainsley, and another man are just leaving after helping to bring her
upstairs. There is a lit candle on the night table. A few moments after Sophia hears the door close, to be sure to not appear to be faking, she begins to stir. Her mother helps her sit up,
Mother: Oh my dear! What a night! You were out for quite a time there! (Says cheerfully as she helps Sophia up out of the bed and behind her changing wall
and unlaces her) But I am not surprised in the slightest that you got all flustered and light headed when Mr. Ainsley proposed! I myself did the very same thing when your father asked my hand
in marriage! But do not worry Sophia. Mr. Ainsley shall return tomorrow for your answer! He has not been discouraged in the slightest by your overzealous reaction! In fact he seemed to be quite
pleased to have induced such a flutter in your heart! Such a gentleman he is! And sensitive! He wanted to make quite certain that you would be well and did not require a physician.
(Pauses.) Oh! I am all in a fluster over this whole business! (Stresses “am”)
Sophia has now remove her formal dress and she then emerges from behind it in her nightdress.
Mother: There. Now, into bed with you. Tomorrow, we shall have Mr. Ainsley over for tea and you must look your best for him. (Kisses Sophia on the cheek and
gives her a quick, tight hug then disappears through the door.)
Sophia groans and flops down, backwards, onto her bed. She rolls over and pulls out a bundle of letters from under her pillow. She reads through a few of them, her lips moving as she does
Richard: (Says from offstage.)“. . . fact is, I usually detest writing letters but I am so anxious to keep in touch with you . . . your
letter this morning worked wonders. I’m cheerful again! . . . I took a rest and saw visions of blue eyes and a dimple and a little mouth that seems to twitch and tremble at times . . .it’s going to
be awfully difficult to get along with only a few letters . . . don’t know what word to use in closing there are so many that would be fitting . . . Sincerely, Richard. ”
The lights fade to black.
When the lights come back up the lighting is different to show the passage of time. The candle that had been left on is now burnt out. Sophia sits up confused, looks around her, and then
realizes she must have fallen asleep where she lay. There is a sharp tap and Sophia starts. A moment later there is another tap, like the sound of a rock hitting the window and Sophia stands up
and, hesitantly walks over to her window. She slightly pulls back the wispy curtain and peeks around it. There, leaning against the large black wrought iron fence to the Atkinsons property is
Richard himself. She gasps and lets the curtain fall back in place. She looks torn and anticipating then, as if overcoming something insider her, pulls the curtain back again. Richard, upon seeing
her, breaks out into a huge lopsided grin and waves. Sophia, suddenly self-conscious, shyly returns a small smile while pushing a stray lock of hair back behind her ear. Richard motions for her to
come down and, after only a moment of hesitation, quickly nods and disappears behind the curtain. Sophia turns toward her room after a small pause begins to panic.
Sophia: Oh! What should I do? Should I go like this? Or get dressed? I can’t go in my nightdress, can I? Why am I getting so worked up over this? I have known
Richard forever! What does it matter what I wear? (And with that she hurried over to her night table, ran a comb through her hair a couple of times, and checked her appearance in the mirror
briefly before running out her door. Seconds later she is out the house and around to the back where Richard is still leaning against the gate. Sophia comes to a halt when she sees him. They stare
at each other.)
Richard: Sophia. (Gently)
Richard walks towards her until there is only a few feet between them.
Richard: (Looks down in guilt.) I’m so sorry. (Sighs then looks back up.) I should have never written to you. (Looks down again in
Sophia: I’m glad you did. (With a small smile.)
Richard: You looked beautiful this evening.
Sophia: (Blushing.) Thank you.
There is a pause where they both seem unsure of what to say.
Richard: (Awkwardly.) So . . . do you plan to accept Mr. Ainsley?
Sophia: (Looks shocked that he has to ask.) Never. My mother is convinced that he is the best suitor for me since he will be able to care
for me, not to mention her, but he is so . . . (Shakes head) I could never.
Richard: (Confused.) But, I thought . . . You don’t love him?
Sophia: Mr. Ainsley? Whatever gave you that idea?
Richard: (Struggles to explain but doesn’t seem to come up with anything.)
There is another awkward pause.
Sophia: (Smiles, changing the subject.) This reminds me of the time we snuck out to see the fireflies in the Burnetts field. Do you remember that? It
was years ago . . .
Richard: (Laughs) Yes. I had just turned eight. My grandma had given me a new night shirt that I’d worn to bed for the first time. By the time we got
back it was ruined and I got in such trouble after!
Sophia: Of course! That was why you couldn’t play for so long after that! (Instantly sobered) It felt kind of like these past three years.
(Pauses) Why did you not tell me you were visiting?
Richard: I don’t know. I . . . I guess I figured I wouldn’t get to see you . . . maybe I didn’t want to face you . . . (Last phrase very quiet)
Sophia: (Turns away) Sylvia. You never told me about Sylvia.
Richard: Forget about her. I only agreed to marry her because my parents said they would support my decision to become a teacher if I married into the Campbell
family. I never felt anything for her . . . and then I saw you tonight . . . and I . . . I can’t do it anymore.
Sophia: (Awkwardly) Oh. Well, how long are you here for?
Richard: Just tonight. I leave in the morning.
Sophia: So soon. (Saddened)
There is another pause in the conversation. Then Richard steps closer to Sophia and takes her hands in his.
Richard: (Quietly as if afraid of the answer) Come with me.
Sophia: (Confused and speechless, takes a step back)
Richard: Come with me. We wouldn’t have much but it would be enough. We could have a little house on the ocean with a small garden and no strict parents to tell
us who to be with and what to do. We would have each other. (Pleading)
Sophia: I don’t know, I . . . my parents would never speak to me again . . . I don’t know if . . . if I . . . (Torn and choked up)
Richard: (Looks directly in her eyes) Please. Sophia . . . I love you.
Sophia: (Looks down, eyes teary, shaking her head)
Richard: Please! I love you! I have always loved you. (His hands are on her shoulders now)
Sophia: (Chokes out) I love you, too.
Richard: Then come away with me! Come away with me, Sophia!
Sophia looks up, searchingly, into Richards eyes. Richard stares back, waiting with bated breath for her answer. She seems to calm down and realize the truth from the sincerity in
Richard’s eyes. Sophia looks down to compose herself before her answer then looks back up at him.
Sophia: I will. (Shakily)
Richards whole entirety seems to light up and a broad smile emerges across his face. Sophia smiles too and laughs with joy as she says:
Sophia: I will!
Richard leans down and kisses her on the lips through his smile. Lights go black.
© Copyright 2016 Threwen Greenleaf. All rights reserved.