Angela Carter

(Gently fade in cooing of doves and bring into foreground the song of a lark on interior acoustic.)

COUNTESS: (Over.) Can a bird sing only the song it knows or can it learn a new song -

HERO: . . - said the lovely, lonely, lady vampire, running the elegant scalpel of her fmgemail along the bars of the cage in which her pet bird sang.

(The sound of the COUNTESS'S nails against the bars of the cage. The COUNTESS laughs: and her laughter is picked up by a harp which mirrors her laughter - the lark sings; cut short by the screech of a bat. Fade in doves cooing as before. The lark sings, the COUNTESS laughs, and her laughter, as before, is repeated by the harp and is then crossfaded to her fingers running along the bars of the birdcage - in the same key.)

COUNTESS: (Over.) My demented and atrocious ancestors habitually sequestered themselves from the light of the sun in solemn, indeed, lugubrious, heavily curtained apartments; each one, man or woman, was a victim of the most terrible passion.

(A screech from the bat.)

... Ah! - scarcely dare to speak its name. Even the meanest fiend in hell shuns the company of my kind. I am compelled to the repetition of their crimes; that is my life. I exist only as a compulsion, a compulsion...

COUNT: (Thoughts microphone.) In Hungary, in the county of Temesvar, those who fall sick of the fatal lethargy that follows my embraces say that a white spectre follows them, sticking as close to their heels as does a shadow. They track down the dreaded vampire by means of the following ritual. They choose a young boy who is a pure maiden, that is to say, who has not yet known any woman, and set him bareback on a stallion that has not mounted its first mare. The power of these two virgins exists, you understand, only in containment. Like me, like she, they possess the mysterious solitude of ambiguous states . . . they are not linked into the great chain of generation. We are all unnatural. Horse and rider trot towards the village cemetery -

(Bring in exterior acoustic - owls etc. and the clip-clop of a horse - centre.)

- and go in and out among the gravestones while the peasantry follow with spades and scythes and crucifixes and wreaths of garlic. Breathlessly, they creep a little way behind the emissaries of virginity ... until -

(During above bring in murmurs of villagers which end on a gasp.)

BOY: See! He's stopped! He won't budge an inch! (Steps.) Here, here! In this grave, beneath this stone, the vampire lies!

(Shovelling. Clink of spade upon coffin. Creaking: they are opening the coffin.)


(The villagers react to what they see.)

COUNT: (Close.) There the quarry lies, as ruddy in the cheeks as if I had nodded off to sleep in my shroud. I might have been taking a little after-dinner nap, replete, pacific . . . The priest takes up a heavy sword and...

(Sharp blow. Rapid intonation in Greek.)

So they strike off my head and out gush warm torrents of rich, red blood, like melted roses.

(Gasps. Rapid praying.)

Boy: The land is freed from the plague of vampires!

(Cheers and applause. Down behind following and creep in music.)

COUNT: Endlessly, I attend my own obsequies; softly, enormously, across all my funerals, my fatal shadow rises again. .

COUNTESS: But love, true love, could free me from this treadmill, this dreadful wheel of destiny. .

COUNT: My daughter, the last of the line, through whom I now project a modest, posthumous existence, believes herself to be a version of the Flying Dutchman - that she may be made whole by human feeling. That one fine day, a young virgin will ride up to the castle door and restore her to humanity with a kiss from his pure pale lips.

(The COUNTESS sighs dreadfully which cuts music and drily sobs.)

Oh, my little girl, I'd love to see you lie quiet.

(Fade in exterior acoustic - bicycle wheels on a track.)

HERO: (Thoughts microphone.) Night and silence. I never guessed, here in the Carpathians, there would be no stars. No stars, no moon. I am just a little nervous, although no one is here... Is it only a simple twanging of my own nerves that I feel? Yet I am not a timorous man. My colonel assures me I have nerves of steel. But I might almost be prepared to believe this fear no more than a sudden crisis of my own, a revisitation of all the childhood fears of night and silence in my present loneliness, the uncanny dark of this Carpathian tea-time... I would be inclined to believe I was so innocently afraid if I did not possess a strange conviction that terror itself was in some sense imminent in these panicular rocks and bushes. I've never felt such terror in any other place. The North West Frontier, far more barren, far more inimical... damn deserts never scared me so. It is as if terror were the genius loci of the place and only comes out at night. When they told me this morning at the inn I should not stay out beyond the fall of darkness, I did not believe them. But I was not in the least afraid, then.

(Owl hoots, long, lonely sound. The bicycle wheels wobble, click against stone. HERO exclaims.)

Ah! ah, nothing but a nightbird. The cry of a nightbird momentarily startled me, so that I nearly fell.

(Bicycle wheels steady on track.)

They say the owl was a baker's daughter . . . not a bird of the best omens.

(Brisker, less introspective tone.)

To ride a bicycle is in itself some protection against superstitious fears since the bicycle is the product of pure reason applied to motion. Geometry at the service of man! Give me two spheres and a straight line and I will show you how far I can take them. Voltaire himself might have invented the bicycle, since it contributes so much to a man's well-being and nothing at all to his bane. Bicycling is beneficial to the health. The bicycle emits no harmful fumes and permits only the most decorous speeds. It is not a murderous implement. Yet, like all products of enlightened reason, the bicycle has a faint air of eccentricity about it. On two wheels in the Land of the Vampires! A suitable furlough for a member of the English middle classes. My first choice was, the Sahara. But then, I thought, perhaps a more peopled tour would be more fascinating.. Nobody is surprised to see me, they guess at once where I come from. The coarse peasants titter a little behind their hands. Le Monsieur Anglais! But they behave with deference; for only a man with an empire on which the sun never sets to support him would ride a bicycle through this phantom-haunted region.

(Pause. Bring up bicycle slightly.)

A bicycle is a lonely instrument.

(Hoot of owl.)

To ride a bicycle involves a continuous effort of will and hence it is a moral exercise. A purposive retention of the perpendicular in circumstances, such as the presence of great fear, when the horizontal - lying flat on the ground scrabbling helplessly with one's fingers in the soil in order to dig oneself a hole in which to hide - would seem to be by far the more sensible thing to do. Now we approach a rustic bridge.

(The wheels now rattle as they cross the bridge - matching HERO'S mood.)

Something atavistic, something numinous about crossing whirling dark water by no moonlight...

COUNT: (Very softly.) And when he crossed the bridge, the phantoms came to meet him.

(Rattle of the bicycle wheels increased.)

HERO: I do believe that now I am so frightened that when the front wheels of my bicycle jolt upon that stone - or is it the skull of a wild beast - that skull or stone I see before me in the tremulous light of my headlamp, I will go flying from my saddle and tumble headlong into the stream, since my fear has so overcome my sense or senses that I can no longer retain the vertical in the face of any unexpected obstacle, however small.

(He gives a sudden cry. A crash, a splash, a moan: the bicycle wheels run on. One wheel spins round more and more slowly until at last it stops. Crossfade to running water. HERO moans as he drags himself ashore. Distantly, a babble of rough voices gradually geting louder. The voices speak an impoverished language full of Ks and Ts. They come across HERO, and begin, curiously inspecting him.)

HERO: I say, gently does it! Can nobody speak English? Not one word? I say, where are you taking me?

(Kindly, firmly they pick him up, exchanging guttural remarks and occasionally pinching him. Their big boots clatter on the track as they lead him away.)

(Over.) Well, I daresay I'll find out where they're taking me soon enough. Could do with a rest. I could do with... a cup of tea. Quite a nasty fall, really -just a little shaken, I must confess. A good, hot cup of tea, now... My God, how English I am! It never ceases to astonish me. Why have they left my bicycle behind, though? Lying where it fell, among the weeds at the side of the bridge, the dew will rust it.

(Footsteps now on cobbles.)

Ah, a light before us. We must be going towards that light. A light, a homestead in this abandoned and desolate region. Yet that light does not console me, it does not make me think of home and hearth and fireside. It is a sinister and flickering light, like marsh-fire . . . By God, a castle! And flambeaux at the gates; great, whirling bouquets of gas, darting hither and thither on the wind!

(Hissing of gas-jets.)

COUNT: (Thoughts microphone.) . . . a vast, ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light and whose broken battlements showed ajagged line... like broken teeth. And at my gate I light the visitor a welcome with fireflowers plucked from hell...

(Dog snarls: a mournful clanging of a bell. Gate creaks open, melodramatically.)

HERO: The gatekeeper, a horn lantern in his horny fist; lighting up constellations of cobwebs...!

(Peasants depart, giggling unpleasantly. Door clangs shut. Footsteps on stone floor.)

I am alone. Dear God, I never heard any portal close behind me with such an emphatic clang. How I'm shivering; these wet clothes. .

GATEKEEPER: (Says something incomprehensible.)

HERO: Good evening. (HERO sits, with a sigh of relief.) Must be the concierge's private quarters. Quite clean, quite comfortable... a bit spartan... guns on the walls. No spik English, eh?

(Grunt from gatekeeper.)

Well, I dare say we'll get on well enough. My, what a fine fire ... (Rubs hands at the crackling blaze.) Ah, a change of clothes, ready laid out for me. . . why -just my size! A nice piece of worsted, that suit, and a fine silk shirt, monogrammed upon the breast ... A Cyrillic delta, indeed... Ready laid out, as if they were expecting me. And a stout pair of shoes. (HERO is changing clothes during speech.) That's better, clean, dry clothes. And judging by the gatekeeper's manoeuvres with that bottle, that glass, I should imagine I'm about to be treated to a little peasant hospitality.

(Bottle emptying into glass.)

Thanks! (Drinks: coughs.) Some kind of vodka, very strong ... warming. I'd certainly not say no to another.

(Another glass is poured. Footsteps and effects in background.)

Now what are you up to! Ah, getting me some black bread, is it?Black bread and cheese. I could do with a bite, I must say. I suppose I'll be lodging here for the night. Only one bed... perhaps I'll doss down on the floor, with the dog. Eh, boy?

(Dog barks excitedly.)

COUNT: (Thoughts microphone.) Down, boy, down!

(Dog whimpers.)

HERO: Backing away from me, now? Oh, come, the English have a traditional affinity for dogs ... but not, perhaps, for such dogs as you, you great, slavering, fanged monster! Yes, wild dog, indeed.

COUNT: (Thoughts microphone.) Red-eyed devil's whelp, many a witless ancient died a ghastly death at the hands of the inquisition for petting in her bosom such a familiar as you ... if you are a good dog and don't bite the carpet or foul the floor, my daughter will throw you a juicy bone, a femur with some scraps of flesh still on it, perhaps.

(Door creaks open.)

HERO: (To himself) What have we here, what apparition in black velvet. A valet, by his obsequiousness, the chatelaine's valet? He's gesturing towards me. Why, he's dumb! ... (Aloud.) Taking me off somewhere, are you? Off to meet the king of the castle? No need to clasp my wrist so tight . . . I'll come quietly.

(Footsteps echo on stone floor.)

COUNT: (Ghostly chuckle disappearing into echoes.)

(Crossfade to MRS BEANE. Fire crackling in background.)

MRS BEANE: (Baleful, humorous - off microphone.)


Fee, fi, fo, fum.
I smell the blood of an Englishman.

Och, it's only my pawky Scots humour that preserves my sanity!

COUNTESS: I am the lady of the castle. My name is exile. My name is anguish. My name is longing. Far from the world on the windy crests of the mountain, I am kept in absolute seclusion, my time passes in an endless reverie, a perpetual swooning. I am both the Sleeping Beauty and the enchanted castle; the princess drowses in the castle of her flesh.

MRS BEANE: Hush, hush my dearie, don't distress yourself.

(Ripple of larksong.)

COUNTESS: (Shivers.) Cold, so cold, Mrs Beane . . . the wind creeps in through the cracks in the old stone and the fire never warms me.

MRS BEANE: (To a child.) Now, you just stop feeling sorry for yourself and eat up your egg. Look, I've cut up your bread and butter into soldiers for you.

COUNTESS: (As child.) Shall I eat up the nice soldiers

MRS BEANE: Like a good girl, now . . . och, your hands are like ice!

COUNTESS: Since a child, so cold. Always cold. I should like to go to a land of perpetual summer and let the petals of a flowering tree fall upon my face as I lie in the warm shade and sleep without the fever of this eternal shivering. But could even Italian summers warm me, when not all the fires of Hell might do so -

MRS BEANE: (Angry.) Countess! Now, just you stop your whining!

COUNTESS: (Almost sulky.) Shunned by fiends...

COUNT: (Thoughts microphone.) Does my beautiful daughter sense her father's posthumous presence or is she indeed a portion of myself.

(Door opens, off)

HERO: (Thoughts microphone.) In the dark, luxurious room, I made out two figures beside the little fire, a craggy dame with pepper and salt hair dragged back in an austere bun, upright as a standing stone, and a young lady, seated. (Out loud; but hesitant.) Good evening.

(Moment's pause.)

MRS BEANE: Good evening to you. May I present you to the Countess -

COUNTESS: (Breaks in in a tumultuous rush.) Welcome, welcome to my castle. It is so lovely to see a new face, I rarely receive visitors and nothing - nothing, I assure you! - animates me half so much as the presence of a stranger. The castle is so lonely; only the village people come here to bring milk and eggs and a little fresh meat... sometimes they bring me a benighted traveller if they should have happened to have stumbled across one. My castle is famed for its hospitality.

(Faint rumble of the COUNT'S posthumous chuckle.)

You must forgive the shadows. .. my eyes. An affliction of the eyes. I can only see clearly in chiaroscuro, a condition my family shares with the cat.

(During the last few lines the COUNTESS sits in rocking chair. All the following is on thoughts microphone with background continuing.)

HERO: At first, in the heavily shaded lamplight, I could hardly make out her features, only her vague shape as it moved a little backwards, a little forwards in a bentwood rocking chair, inexorably as the pendulum of a giant clock; she wears a white muslin dress, she looks like a trapped cloud. But as I grew accustomed to the lack of illumination, I distinguished the shocking harmonies of her face.

(In a brisker, more objective tone.)

The young Countess was so beautiful she might just as well have been hunch-backed; her beauty was so excessive it seemed like a kind of deformity. And I thought, her appearance necessitates her seclusion for even, or perhaps, especially, in her nakedness

(Chord of swooning music, continuing during his next sentence.)

- a condition which appalled me even momentarily to contemplate, oh, God, no! not even in her awe-inspiring nakedness!

(Music ceases abruptly.)

No, even were she to wear only the simplest, most unpretentious, most unbecoming of garments, she would, at any gathering, arrive embarrassingly overdressed. Her beauty was like a dress too good to be worn but, poor girl, it was the only one she had.

COUNT: Her beauty is a symptom of her disorder.

HERO: There was about her not one of those touching little imperfections that reconcile us to the imperfection of the human condition.

COUNT: She is a masterpiece of appearance; she is far too fine an imitation of a woman.

HERO: Her visible inhumanity did not inspire confidence. I had been quite unable to rid myself of the terrible unease that had possessed me since night fell on the Carpathians and, in her lyrical and melancholy presence, I felt it increase to an almost unbearable degree. Too many shadows in the room might conspire to hide she lacks a shadow. Her hair falls down inconsolably as rain.

COUNT: She would like very much to be human but, of course, that's quite impossible.

HERO: She is so beautiful she is pitiful. Her stern, tartan governess has a mouth like a steel trap.

MRS BEANE: (Brisk, objective, autobiographical.) My name is Mrs Beane. Widowed early in life, in the most distressing circumstances, left to fend for myself in the wide world with only my five wits and moral fibre to aid me, I answered an advertisement in the Edinburgh Gazette for a governess to a young lady of aristocratic birth in a far corner of the Carpathians. They offered an unusually high salary; but my attention was particularly attracted by the fact that they offered to pay only the one way fare. That is, the fare out.

My interview took place one winter's evening in the drawing room of a luxurious suite at a sumptuous but discreet hotel. Someone I took to be the Count's personal valet, a deaf-mute in a livery of the most funereal black, ushered me into his presence.

Only a little lamp glowed on a corner table yet, in order to shield his over-sensitive eyes from even those few rays it emitted, the Count had donned a green eye-shade. I was to learn that darkness was the exclusive element of this most unfortunate family.

How pale his face was; livid, I should say. Yet, a perfect gentleman. He offered me a chair, he treated me with extraordinary politeness.

After a few preliminary inquiries, he asked me: did I know the Carpathians well? I answered wi' circumspection.

(Into drawing room. In interview with the COUNT.)

I understand the air is clement. And the mountains generally unfrequented.

COUNT: (Laughs theatrically.) Dark, scarcely tenanted forests, a peasantry rooted, rotted deep in the most degrading superstition, vile practices as old as the human race, older.
In those rank villages, the Devil himself dances in the graveyards on Walpurigisnacht. A bald mountain, a castle half in ruins...

MRS BEANE: (Thoughts microphone.) Had I, he asks, rather than an attraction for his phantom-haunted homeland, perhaps, instead, personal reasons for choosing to exile myself so far away from Scotland.

I thought then, och! he must read the newspapers. Maybe he knows more about me than I well ken.

MRS BEANE: (To the COUNT.) Well, sir, I must reluctantly confess that I do have personal reasons... of the most pressing nature... for wishing to leave Scotland at the first opportunity. And destination, you might say, no object.

COUNT: My daughter, your charge, will not grow up to be... as other women. Already, by an exquisite irony, she shows signs of unusual beauty and yet her soul is already darkened by the knowledge of her fate; she is the last bud of a great tree of darkness, the final child of the oldest, most deeply cursed line in all the fatal Balkans... blood, blood, blood is her patrimony, Mrs Beane!

Father to son, mother to daughter endlessly the taint leaks back in time... the silver bullet, the stake through the heart... (He gasps.) Ohh!

(He pauses to catch his breath and resumes.)

Not one of my house has lain quiet since Vlad the Impaler first feasted on corpses.

MRS BEANE: (Gasps, recovers herself Very brisk.) There's a little taint to every clan, sir. Nobody's perfect. To tell the truth, I guessed there was a snag to the position you have vacant and that's the truth. Such a high salary! And a One-way ticket promised, only the one way. I'd not have answered it had I not been desperate. You see, my husband...

COUNT: ... was recently executed. His crime -

MRS BEANE: I'd never a notion to the nature of his tastes, married so young as I was. He so cold to me. Then that dreadful night when he came back from the graveyard with his fingernails full of earth and a bloated look about him. 'Blood will out,' he said and laughed like a hyena, aptly enough.

COUNT: Necrophagy.

MRS BEANE: Blood will out, the black blood of Sawney Beane, who strewed the beaches outside Edinburgh wi' dead men's bones.

(Skirl of bagpipes. Jaunty. Proud.)

SAWNEY BEANE: (Over.) Times was hard, sheep dying in the field for drought, the landlords grasping, bleeding us white wi' taxes. The Corn took blight and rotted in the fields; the plague came, and hunger, worse than plague. We poor folk dying for lack of a crust, ditches crammed with the corpses of the poor. So I says to my Jeannie, the outlaw's life for us! And she says, aye, Sawney, let's eat them up the way they've eaten us.

(Bagpipes fade; seagulls, waves.)

So Jeannie and I, she being great with child, took ourselves off to the seashore and there we found a cave as high and wide and handsome as the mansion of the Chief Justice and there we lived in comfort. And every passerby on the highroad, first we killed him, then we robbed him and then we ATE HIM UP!

(Screaming, wild laughter, cheering, bagpipes again.)

And we grew fat and prospered and the bairnies came clustering about my Jeannie's knee, eight fine, strapping sons and six wonderfully blooming daughters. We dressed in silks and satins we pulled off their bodies - skin 'em alive, cried Jeannie! And, oh, she was jewelled like a queen wi' all the gems of the fine ladies whose corpses we subsequently consumed wi' relish, for every night we dined off the fine flesh of earls, barons, marchionesses and so on. The meat had the flavour of excellent pork and you never saw such crackling.

(Sounds of meat roasting; children laughing and eating.)

In due time, our sons turned to our daughters and knew them and cast new coins from the old moulds while our beaches piled high with dead men's bones. We made our chairs and tables from thigh bones and femurs; we played ducks and drakes with the skulls of the powerful. Our bairnies played five stones wi' vertebrae and learned to count till ten upon phalanges. Och, those were fine days! A great clan of Beanes, seed of my loins, fruit of my Jeannie's womb, roared and ranted through our caves and so we lived and prospered even unto the third generation. And not one child nor one of our children's children ever tasted a scrap of anything but human flesh and flesh of the purest pedigree. Oh, I was a great anthropophagic patriarch, I was!

(Fire burning; seagulls; children's voices; the crunching of bones, fade behind following.)

There's nothing to beat the rich flavour of a fat prelate's thigh baked in sea salt over a driftwood fire.

But after five and twenty glorious years, the King's men came for us and there was a mighty battle.

(Sword-fighting; women screaming; but SAWNEY's voice rises up almost in triumph.)

We fought like tigers all day long, until the light began to fade and their reinforcements came and so they overwhelmed us, quite, and I and my Jeannie and the tribe that called me Father were put to death in Edinburgh, after amazing tortures, amidst scenes of wild rejoicing from the populace.

But we'd eaten more of them than they ever killed of us.

We preyed upon the masters like the wolves upon the flock and so we had our furious triumph!

(Screams, shouts, cheers, bagpipes. Fade into child whimpering.)

CHILD: Mama? (No reply.)



SAWNEY BEANE: (As MRS BEANE's husband.) The curse of the Beanes. The most insatiable hunger in the world...

MRS BEANE: (Brisk. Thoughts microphone.) And so I came to take service with the Count, since I was not unfamiliar with the nature of the family's passions. Och! You'd never believe what a pretty wee thing she was, so trusting. How she would cling to me and beg to go out into the garden...

(Into drawing room.)

COUNTESS AS CHILD: Just this once, Mrs Beane, just this once before sunset...

MRS BEANE: (Younger.) Wait till the dark, my pet, and then we'll venture out together just a wee way...

(Owl hoots, followed by a high, thin, prolonged, inhuman scream. Sobbing.)

MRS BEANE: (Thoughts microphone.) Her condition seemed to me judgement passed on her long ago, before she was born, my poor, pretty dear. My poor pretty...

COUNTESS: (To HERO.) I am condemned to solitude and dark. I do not mean to hurt you, I do not want to cause you pain. But I am both beauty and the beast, locked up in the fleshly castle of exile and anguish, I cannot help but seek to assuage in you my melancholy...

HERO: (Thoughts microphone.) A magnificent apartment. Dark tapestries on the walls, a subdued glitter of gold in the ormolu furniture. Here and there a pretty toy, a satin pierrot doll, a figurine of glass, imported from Paris for her, ordered from a catalogue, I dare say. A heavy scent of incense, like a church. Or like a mortician's parlour, for there is something corpse-like about her stillness, as if she were tranced. Her chair moves backwards and forwards but, for herself, she hardly moves at all.

Velvet curtains heavily shut out the night. The Persian carpets demonstrate luminous geometry upon the floor. In her white muslin dress, with the paisley shawl drawn across her frail shoulders and her long, dark hair in gentle disorder... she...

COUNTESS: (whispers.) Such a fine throat, Mrs Beane, like a column of marble.

MRS BEANE: Hush, hush, child. Calm yourself.

COUNTESS: (Aloud.) My ancestors suffered very much from the direct rays of the sun and all lived all their lives in these solemn apartments, shaded from the daylight - so many centuries since one of my family saw the sunshine! I've never seen the sunshine though, when I was little, I wanted to. Now, I cannot even imagine what sunshine might be like. When I try to do so, I see only a kind of irradiated dark.

(The following on thoughts microphone:)

HERO: On her knee a fluffy kitten and on the little table beside her a jewelled cage.

COUNT: I ordered my daughter a jewelled birdcage from Faberge in Petersburg, for a present on her fifteenth birthday. But when she saw it, she made those signs with her mouth that show how she would like to cry, if only she knew the way.

HERO: In the cage, her pretty bird.

COUNTESS: It is a skylark, its element is morning. But since I've kept it so long in my room, I think it must have grown blind because we keep the curtains drawn all day.

MRS BEANE: You must not give way to self-pity; you are the way you are, a necessary creature of nature, and that's an end to it.

(Skylark sings. Over to drawing room.)

COUNTESS AS CHILD: Can a bird sing only the song it knows or can it learn a new song?

MRS BEANE: (Younger.) The skylark's song was written out for it when it was hatched, my dear, and, without the intercession of, let us call it 'grace' for the sake of argument, may not change its tune by so much as a single sharp or flat.

(The following on thoughts microphone:)

COUNT: A chignonned priest of the orthodox faith staked me at a certain Slavonic crossroad in the year 1905.

(Rapid words in Greek. A blow, a cry.)

So end all the line of Vlad the Impaler!

COUNTESS: My destination chose me before I was born. I exist only as a compulsion to repeat it.

(Over to drawing room.)

MRS BEANE: Have you come far today, young man?

HERO: (Hearty.) From the village in the valley - I fear I can't pronounce it! How unexpected, how splendid! to be amongst English-speakers again! I so much wanted to give the peasants a message about my bicycle but they couldn't make head or tail of what I was saying, of course.

COUNTESS: Please sit down, there... in that deep armchair, beside the fire. Be cosy, please... tea...

(Chink of crockery.)

You are just in time for tea.

HERO: (Thoughts microphone.) A fine silver service, a kettle on a spirit lamp and cups of such fine china her fingernails tap out carillons as she performs the tea ceremony. She is trying to allay my suspicions. She has put on such an innocent look! My suspicions consist only of an apprehension of the uncanny, and are not soothed by her solicitude.

(Drawing room.)

Tea. Yes, milk and sugar, two lumps - thank you.


COUNTESS: Will you take a little shortbread? Mrs Beane, my governess, makes it for me herself.

HERO: Shortbread! delicious.


How delicious!

(Thoughts microphone.) So here I am in milady's boudoir, with a cup of tea in my hand - good, strong, Indian tea brewed in a silver teapot, not one of those blasted samovars, and in my hand a piece of home-made shortbread -

(Drawing room.)

MRS BEANE: We Scotswomen can boast a light hand with pastry. 'The land of cakes,' they call Scotland. Scones and petticoat tails and flapjacks and I don't know what, such teas! When the winter evenings gather in, we bring out the three-tiered cakestand piled high with melt-in-the-mouth home-baking...

HERO: (Thoughts microphone.) After the Gothic terrors of the early evening, now I find myself taking late tea in a cunning imitation of an Edinburgh drawing room at five o'clock on a November evening.

How snug. Greenish flames flickering on sweet-smelling apple-logs. How, as the Germans say, gemutlich.

And yet the angel of inquietude stirs her uneasy wings in every corner and I cannot in the least subdue a trembling in my hands. When the tapestry figures shiver in the draught and seem, out of the corner of my eye, to perform the figures of a weird dance, the hairs on my nape helplessly rise..

And when she bites her shortbread biscuit -


- I see how curiously pointed her teeth are. Like the teeth of those Melanesians, or Micronesians, or Polynesian islanders who file their canines to a fine point.

Her teeth are too white, too delicate for human teeth. What little light there is in the room shines through her too white, too delicate fingers... what long, what pointed nails!

(More objective tone.)

When I tell you she was the most touching creature I have ever seen, you must realise that this was because her beauty involved the presence of its own absence, implied its own desolating loss, as if it were an uneasy lending.

She implied her own continuous disappearance.
Like a haunting.
A woman is a lonely instrument...
How I'm shaking! Unease. Disquiet. Fear? Yes... fear.
But not yet...

...quite terrified.

(Over to drawing room. Kitten purrs; leaps upon HERO'S knee. HERO starts.)

COUNTESS: Oh, puss! What an unexpected honour for you, puss scarcely ever takes to strangers...

HERO: (Recovering his self-possession.) Pretty pussy, pretty pussy. (Cat begins to purr.)

COUNTESS: I have two pets, my cat and my bird; and Mrs Beane takes care of me. But, most of the time, I sleep. I sleep during the daytime, you have just caught me as I wake up. Usually I wake about nightfall, that is the dawn for me. We have an affliction of the eyes in my family, the eyes are inverted, you understand, and so we see best at night. I have an affinity for the cat, for all night creatures, owls... beasts that hunt by night.

(Distantly, a long, high, lonely, inhuman scream of rabbit or stoat.)

HERO: (Thoughts microphone.) I thought, perhaps, she was only fifteen or sixteen; but her eyes, the pupils of which were huge as those of all night creatures, contained too much disquiet for so few years. I recognised the high-strung, inbred over-sensitivity, the weakened blood, of an ancient, aristocratic house.

(Drawing room.)

Ah, puss! I see you like having your ears tickled.

(Cat purrs more loudly.)

COUNTESS: Among my terrible forebears, I number the Countess El izabeth Ba'thory; they called her the Sanguinary Countess. She used to bathe in the blood of young girls to refresh her beauty; she believed these lustrations would keep old age at bay. Look! there is her portrait on the wall, don't you see how little it is. All gilded. An abstract formalisation of her rank rather than a description of her person, don't you... that was the style of the time. She looks rather like... an icon.

HERO: (Thoughts microphone.) She spoke the word 'icon' with a cringing temerity, as though the word was usually forbidden her; and her great, sad eyes moved anxiously in her head, as though she were searching for spies in the tapestry, who would be incensed by the word.

I continued to pet the kitten.

(Drawing room. Kitten purring.)

COUNTESS: She looks rather like... an icon... but an icon of unholiness. It shows her looking in a mirror, do you see; but, of course, she couldn't see her own reflection. She is peering and peering in the mirror for her face but she will never find it, never.

(The following on thoughts microphone:)

Such solitude! to live without one's own reflection.

A genealogy of terror, and of solitude.

MRS BEANE: Her loneliness always tormented her and I could do nothing to console her, only try to convince her, by my continual presence and my resolute inviolability, that she was not indeed inimical to everything human although she'd been born with a full set of teeth, wisdom teeth and all, and every tooth most curiously pointed.

(Drawing room.

Cat purrs more and more loudly; ominous. Suddenly it mews loudly and scratches HERO.)

HERO: Naughty pussy, naughty - aaaaagh!

(Swooping noise, as of wings in an enclosed space.)


MRS BEANE: Naughty, naughty -

HERO: (Thoughts microphone.) Like a great, white bird, the girl swooped upon me, she, the Countess, you white nightbird, you white butcherbird, spreading your wings, your muslin sails. She swept across the room to fall at my feet, pressing that delicate wet mouth to the juicy wound with ah! such helpless greed. I felt the needles of her cannibal's teeth. I felt the suction of her tongue.

(Drawing room.)


MRS BEANE: Countess, oh, but you are a naughty wee thing (Thoughts microphone.) The poor, pretty dear, she can't help it any more than the kitten could help it. I've grown used to it. At first, I could hardly bear it... those nightwalks in the woods. She would bound off and come back in a little while with blood on her dress, making those faces she makes when she wants to cry but can't, poor wee thing.

HERO: (Thoughts microphone.) She drinks as deeply as she can. Her face is contorted with avidity. Only now, clenched like a leech to my wrist, does she seem truly alive, truly present. She has come back from wherever it is she goes to and briefly possesses herself.

Then I knew where the fear which inhabits these mountains makes its home; here, in this perfumed boudoir. Lodged in the frail flesh of this beautiful young girl.

She drinks as deeply as she may; then, fainting, slips on to the carpet,

(A gentle moan from COUNTESS and rustle as she falls to floor.)

lapsed into such torpor the Scotswoman can hitch her in her arms as lightly as if the Countess were made all of rags.

(Drawing room.)

MRS BEANE: There, there, my dear. There, my precious.

HERO: (Thoughts microphone.) And I, dizzy, sick, can do nothing but clasp my scratched hand protectively with the whole one and gaze at the governess with wide eyes of wonder.

(Drawing room.)

MRS BEANE: It is her passion. Such has been the dreadful passion of her house since Vlad the Impaler founded the line. Now she will sleep a little; she'll return to her almost habitual trance. The valet will show you to your room.

HERO: (Faintly.) My ... bicycle...

MRS BEANE: Och, you'll no be needing that. I fear you'll never leave the castle, young man. We'll send home to your folks that you met an accident somewhere in the Carpathians. We've got it down to a fine art, now, providing for her tastes, covering up the traces. Over and over again we've done it. Over and over.

Now you must rest in your room. I shall not wish you sweet dreams. When she feels the need, she'll come to you.

(The following on thoughts microphone:)

HERO: The mute in mute's apparel winds me on the little spool of light he carries in his hand through corridors as circuitous as the passages inside the ear. His flame flushes out demented eyes from family portraits along the galleries; monsters, all . . . Underfoot, worn carpets ripple in the draught... a winding staircase of worm-eaten oak... I have been here before, in dreams, in nightmares...

COUNT: There is no end to the ceaseless cortege of my hospitality.

(Key turns in lock.)

HERO: Securely locked in, eh? Pleasant room... good feather bed. A fine candelabra to light my hours of waiting. And a handsome portrait of Gilles de Raie over the fireplace, if you please! Are the whole damn clan related to every vampire that ever lived?

Well, well, here's a to-do. I shall have to call on all my sang froid to deal with the situation.

A species of trance, of course. Interesting medical condition. I wonder what the sawbones back in London would make of it. Haematodypsia, the pathological thirst for blood... an exceedingly rare complaint. Where did I read about haematodypsia... And a touch of nervous hysteria, too... the young girls' disease. I wonder if the family finances could run to a trip to Vienna, to those Jewboy jennies who stretch you out on a couch and let you tell them how you always wanted to murder your father...

Wonder what the governess thinks she's up to. Feudal loyalty, I suppose. Stick to the line of Vlad the Impaler through thick and thin, no matter what... even do the Countess's pimping for her, in spite of her Edinburgh rectitude.

Seen queerer things on the North West Frontier, and that's the truth!

All the same, a pretty pickle.

Yet what a lovely creature! Poor, reclusive girl with her weak eyes, and so beautiful...

And, round about midnight, pale as water, stooping a little beneath her burden of old guilts, the beautiful somnambulist will turn the key in the door and come into my room on suave, silent feet; she will lay me down upon that narrow bed and feast upon me... ah!

(Chord of swooning music.)

And when I think of that, my shudder is not precisely one of pure terror, although the rational bicycle-rider at war with the pulsing, virginal romantic in my heart tells me I must, in my dealings with this lady, beware, above all else, of masochism.

More things in heaven and earth, Horatio. Do you remember the fakir who rose abruptly into the air, stiff as a board, flat on his back, six feet into the air, suspended without visible support... and hung there for fully five minutes, while the crowd wailed?

All to do with breathing...

(Moment's pause. Into COUNTESS's bedroom.)

COUNTESS: Mrs Beane?

MRS BEANE: Just you lie quiet a while.

COUNTESS: Mrs Beane... his kisses, his embraces. His head will fall back, his eyes roll. Stark and dead, poor bicyclist; he has paid the price of a night with the Countess and some think it too high a fee while some do not.

MRS BEANE: I will say this, we shall have to get the kitten put down. My, oh, my, pussy, you really gave the game away, didn't you, now! Too soon, too soon . . . she can't resist it, can't resist it for one moment.

(The following on thoughts microphone:)

COUNT: The sight of blood produces a singular effect on the metabolism of we unfortunates. Not all the jams of paradise spread out upon a table could equal the atrocious appetite the tiniest bead of blood arouses in our febrile senses. Then, only then, do we wake from the curious kind of waking swoon that passes for consciousness amongst us. We seize upon the wound and worry it with our pointed teeth until the liquid life flows down our rabid gullets in torrents, floods... drained, empty as a crushed grape, the victim drops to the floor; the wineskin of his body has been emptied and we are fat and drunk upon his life.

ELIZABETH BA'ATHORY: The Sanguinary Countess laved her white, exquisite body in the blood she tapped from the gross veins of peasant girls who had too much blood for their own requirements. So she kept her wrinkles at bay; she knew how much the preservation of her fabled beauty was worth. Her servants never betrayed her, in spite of torture; they were in such deep complicity with her they urged her to renewed infamies as though her beauty and wickedness were properties of themselves and the more beautiful and wicked she became, the more they, too, were enhanced.

The young girls who became me when they washed me with my awful sponges were as much victims as those whom I immolated. Yet only in their admiring faces could I see the wonderful results of my magic baths for my piercing eye had broken every mirror in the castle.

When I looked at them, I saw how wonderful I was, and how terrifying.

If they had ceased to be afraid of me, I would have ceased immediately to be beautiful.

I was a great lady and my portrait shows me crusted almost entirely in gold.

SAWNEY BEANE: The landlords were eating us alive and I and my Jeannie, why, we set to upon the landlords! But Jeannie and I, at least we had the common decency to kill our prey first before we devoured it... oh, nothing equals a fricassee of Justice of the Peace, served up wi' a fine kelp salad.

HENRI BLOT: Chacun a son gout. Moi, je prefere les cadavres.

(Rustle of outrage in court~room; gavel tapped.)

COUNTESS: (whispering.) Sometimes Death comes in an erotic disguise; she is your bride... she will sheathe you in lilies, I am the darkness and solitude from which you come, to which you will go.

HENRI BLOT: Each to his fancy... Myself, I like corpses.

(Rustle of outrage in court-room; gavel tapped.)

Yes, your honour, yes, your magnanimacy, yes, your serene and objective clemency, yes! An honest corpse, with the clean earth still fresh upon her... what, you shudder? Your gorge rises?

Hypocrite! When your wife lies beneath your repulsive and importunate body and twists involuntarily away her head so you may not suck upon the open wound of her mouth - immolated alive as she is beneath your judicial weight, my Lord, she who was so young and full of life entombed in your cold house with the children born of no hot passion but only the warmed-over remains of yesterday's unreciprocated lusts, conceived in incidental marital propinquacy alone... when you furiously mount the wife whose being you have drained of all fleshly significance, do you not commit a beastly necrophily? A necrophily just as gross as that which I performed upon the dead lilies of the body of Fernande Mery...

CLERK OF THE COURT: Professionally known as Carmanio, a ballet dancer.

(Rustle of papers.)

On the night of March 25, 1886, Henri Blot, aged twenty-six years, scaled a little door leading to the graveyard of St Ouen between the hours of eleven and midnight. He went to one of the trenches where persons not entitled to individual graves were buried and lifted up the boards which held up the earth on the last coffin in the row.

The coffin contained the body of a young woman of eighteen years, Fernande Mery, professionally known as Carmanio, a ballet dancer, buried the preceding evening. He removed the coffin from its resting place, opened it, drew out the corpse and carried it to an open space. He removed the paper wrappings from a number of grave bouquets, spread them upon the ground, and rested his knees upon them so as not to soil his trousers.

BLOT: See - what propriety! What concern for appearances! Can't you tell by just this little gesture towards seemliness what a good bourgeois I am?

CLERK OF THE COURT: In this position, he obtained carnal intercourse with the corpse. He then slept and did not wake until nearly dawn. On this occasion, he had sufficient time to leave the cemetery unseen but he did not have time to replace the corpse in its grave.

On June 12, Blot again violated a corpse and subsequently slept. On this occasion, he was discovered drowsing beside the defunct and arrested.

BLOT: Corpses don't nag and never want new dresses. They never waste all day at the hairdressers, nor talk for hours to their girl-friends on the telephone. They never complain if you stay out at your club; the dinner won't get cold if it's never been put in the oven. Chaste, thrifty - why, they never spend a penny on themselves! and endlessly accommodating. They never want to come themselves, nor demand of a man any of those beastly sophistications - blowing in the ears, nibbling at the nipples, tickling of the clit - that are so onerous to a man of passion. Doesn't it make your mouth water? Husbands, let me recommend the last word in conjugal bliss - a corpse.

The perfect wife, your honour. Or so, by what I've seen of your good lady, I take it you yourself believe.

CLERK OF THE COURT: The psychiatrists' reports, your honour.

(Rustle of papers.)

CLERK OF THE COURT: No evidence of insanity...

(Rustle of papers.)

No evidence of insanity...

(Rustle of papers.)

No evidence of insanity...

BLOT: Don't they all agree, I'm perfectly normal? We're all in the same boat together!

You, you bourgeois husband striking the pointed stake between your loins into the moist, vital parts of the being who is dependent on your being... you, you are the necrophile in your clean white graveclothes! And she, then, what is she, who exists only in the shadow of contingency, a little pale spectre who sucks you dry while you perpetrate infamies upon her.

COUNT: The shadow of the fatal Count falls across every marriage bed...

(Into bedroom.)

MRS BEANE: She stirs.

COUNTESS: How handsome he is .. . how the little pulse in his white throat throbs... First, I was content with rabbits or lambs. Then one night, walking in the churchyard, my very sensitive nostrils twitched to sniff the fragrance of a new grave.

(The following on thoughts microphone:)

MRS BEANE: Rising from her catafalque, the Countess wraps her negligee about her.

So delicate and damned, poor wee thing. Quite damned. Yet I do believe she scarcely knows what she is doing.

Only my bred-in-the-bone, good old Scots hypocrisy keeps me in my position without loss of moral face. I'm secure in my own salvation; I can't alter her destination one little jot.

Hell's her destination; all roads lead her there. So off you go, my pet, and play.

COUNT: One by one, I shall blow out the candles for her...

HERO: The little flames flicker and, one by one, go out...

COUNT: The clock whirs...

(Clock whirs.)

HERO: Midnight strikes.

(Midnight begins to chime. Continues softly while HERO speaks.)

Only the last little candle left alight, now, bending, dimming yet still not extinguished... I do think Milady comes...

(Chimes cease. Silence. Key softly in door.)

COUNT: A waft of cold air, like a blast from a freshly opened grave, comes into the room with her. She brings this cold wind in her hair, her garments...

HERO: The final little flame is reflected in those woundable eyes, shows them rolled upwards, fixed; she does not see the light, I think that now she sees nothing. But her nostrils faintly quiver, so beautiful, so touching in her blood-stained negligee of very rare precious lace.

MRS BEANE: She smells the blood of an Englishman, you ken. Her wee nose goes, twitch, twitch, twitch.

COUNT: Into the world she slipped, through one of the interstices between reality and imagination, the last little twiglet of that genealogical Upas Tree that sprang from the loins of Vlad the Impaler and cast its poison shade over the Balkans for an entire millennium... Even the vilest fiends in Hell shun the company of the vampire -

COUNTESS: Who is dead yet not dead, whose bane is an insatiable thirst for life and yet an inability to live!

HERO: Grinning, she lunged towards me.

(Cry from COUNTESS.)

COUNT: Claws and teeth sharpened on several centuries of corpses, sick him, girl, sick him!

(Cry, HERO grunts.)

HERO: I swiftly sidestepped her embrace and caught her by her slender wrist. (Scuffling.) How we struggled! Her strength was more than human. But at last I flung her upon my narrow bed and slapped her face, once, on each cheek, the remedy for hysteria. (Two brisk slaps.) Although it went against the grain to strike a woman.

COUNT: What? Strike her? Raise your hand to my daughter? To the heiress of the regions of ultimate darkness? To -

(But his expostulations are drowned, dwindle away, under the brisk, firm voice of HERO.)

HERO: The shock did indeed break her trance. Her shoulders quaked; slowly, slowly, she raised her head and turned those eyes the shape of tears laid on their sides towards me. Her features twisted. Although her eyes were shaped like tears, she could not weep. Nevertheless, she continued to try to do so. Perhaps her whole life had been a balked attempt at crying.

(Bedroom acoustic.)

COUNTESS: I am not a demon, for a demon is incorporeal; nor a phantom, for phantoms are intangible. I have a shape; it is my own shape, but I am not alive, and so I cannot die. I need your life to sustain this physical show, my self. Please give it to me.

HERO: (Thoughts microphone.) Her rich lips part; she smiles, she raises herself, she beckons.

I felt myself seized by the most powerful erotic attraction; only the exercise of iron self-control prevented me from throwing myself at her little feet.

Yet I, who love the bicycle and the light of common day, cannot, in the final analysis, bring myself to partake in this grisly charade. My reason forbids it.


COUNTESS: My life depends on yours. I am a woman, young and beautiful. Come to me.

HERO: (Thoughts microphone.) And so she folds herself upon the bed with the lace falling about her softly and stretches out her white arms to me, her long hands with those fingernails like mandolin-picks... I blessed the cold showers of my celibacy. (Into bedroom. Addresses COUNTESS.) Countess, keep your talons to yourself.

COUNT: What? What?

HERO: (Thoughts microphone.) When I held her wrists together to keep her murderous hands away from me, she made her weeping face and writhed a little, for she was thwarted, poor, spoiled child. (Into bedroom. Addresses COUNTESS.) When I first saw you tonight, I thought you were an infinitely pitiable creature because of your beauty and your loneliness.

COUNT: (Thoughts microphone.) Curious... now she seems to wake. Her eyes clear; they settle upon him. How pure and pale his lips are, lips that have never - oh, never! Oh, can it be -


COUNTESS: (To HERO.) My father loved me and brought Mrs Beane over the sea from Scotland to look after me. He taught me how to suck the blood from the young rabbits and crunch so deliciously their little bones as we crouched in the moist undergrowth of the thickets by the churchyard.

But I grew up and then I was not satisfied with the rabbits and the baby lambs and the little calves still wobbling on their newborn legs. No. Now I must have men. And so they come, but never go. All dead.

All dead.

I know I only lodge within my body; I am I and yet not I, as if I haunted my own shape and am condemned to watch with shame and rage its beastly doings.

HERO: Look! She is trying to cry, again.

COUNTESS: My kith's relations with my kind exiles me from daylight. I am a creature of the night, only.

(In a subtly different tone of voice.)

I belong to the night.

HERO: (Thoughts microphone.) One thin, wandering hand muzzles the ribbons of her negligee. She slips succinctly from the garment and relapses upon the coverlet in the most alluring abandon. In my head, I hear all the string orchestras of seduction playing at once together.

So she voluptuously invites me to step into Juliet's tomb.

And I was foolish enough in my rationality to set out upon a bicycle tour of the Carpathians with none of the traditional impedimenta of the vampire hunter about me, no wreath of garlic, no silver bullet... But only the conviction this is a poor, sick girl maintains me in the perpendicular stance of reason when common sense tells me the best thing to do in the circumstances is to fling myself helplessly upon her...

(Chord of swooning music; which breaks off abruptly in the middle. Bedroom. To COUNTESS, briskly but tenderly.)

We should take you away to Vienna, where doctors could examine you. You would stretch out on the therapeutic couch and the stern, quiet, bearded physician would tease from you during the slow intervals of healing time the confused origins of your sickness.

COUNTESS: Why aren't you afraid of me? Why don't you shrink from my murderous fingers?

HERO: What can your governess be thinking of, never to have cut your nails. You fine lady with your Strewelpeter's hands.

COUNTESS: They cripple the feet of Chinese women, as a sign of status. It is the same with me; I may not use my hands as hands. Three inches of horn stick out at the tips, don't you see... useless for anything but gouging.

(The following on thoughts microphone:)

HERO: With an infinitely touching gesture, she tucked her hands away behind her back, as though she were ashamed of them, and smiled at me, tremulously.

COUNT: (Faintly.) My daughter, oh, my daughter! am I losing you?

HERO: With no thought of passion, heaven forbid! Only of consolation, I took her in my arms.

(Bedroom. COUNTESS cries out in surprise; the cry protracts into a sigh.)

COUNTESS: How warm you are, how you warm me...

COUNT: (Thoughts microphone.) I find it... difficult... to breathe. My little girl! Don't you remember me? don't you remember sucking the delicious bones of the baby rabbits?


COUNTESS: I never, in all my life, felt warm till now.

HERO: (Thoughts microphone.) She leans her head upon my shoulder with the most moving simplicity and I gently stroke her disordered hair.


COUNTESS: If I sang you my liebestod, you would not understand it.

HERO: I never liked Wagner. Heavy, decadent stuff. Do you think you could sleep, my dear?

COUNT:... Choking... Airless...

HERO: (Thoughts microphone.) She's rich enough to pay for treatment, in all conscience, Oh, the poor girl. A ghastly affliction.


COUNTESS: I feel... almost a healthy sleepiness come upon me. Will you... would you... could you give a goodnight kiss?

(The following on thoughts microphone: COUNT moans.)

HERO: I was infinitely moved. Softly, with my lips, I touched her forehead, as if I had been kissing a child goodnight.

COUNT: His pure, pale lips on your brow - ah! Fall upon me all at once the consecrated sword, the pointed stake!

(Juicy thud. COUNT screams.)

COUNTESS: I always knew that love, true love would kill me.

COUNT:... aaargh...

HERO: She felt quite limp in my arms, as if after the crisis of a fever. Soon it will be morning; the crowing of the mundane cock and first light will dissolve this Gothic dream with the solvent of the natural. Yes, perhaps I shall take her to Vienna; and we shall clip off her fingernails and take her to a good dentist, to deal with her fangs.

Perhaps, perhaps... one day, when she is cured... mother, want you to meet...

(He is growing sleepy, too. The COUNT moans and gurgles.)

COUNT: Is a millennium of beastliness to expire upon a kiss?

HERO: There are some things that, even if they are true, we must not believe them.

(Moaning fades.)

COUNTESS: I existed only... as a symbolic formula. I was a woman, young and beautiful.

HERO: A little curl dangles over her forehead and moves with her breathing... sweet. So sweet. Oh, I don't believe your silly tales... just the hysteria of a young girl. In this isolated place, at the back of beyond, with only the family portraits for company.

Look, now she sleeps deeply. (Yawns.) Could do with a spot of shut-eye myself. Been a heavy day.

(Yawns again. Silence. Sleeping breathing. Last, faint moan from the COUNT. Cock-crow.)

When I awoke, refreshed, I found I was clasping in my arms only a white lace negligee a little soiled with blood, as it might be from a woman's menses.

(Over to drawing raom. Cage is opened.)

MRS BEANE: Fly away, birdie, fly away!


HERO: (Approaching.) Why, Mrs Beane, you've opened up the curtains! My goodness, what a view!

(Windows are opened.)

MRS BEANE: Let a breath of fresh air into this mausoleum... A glorious morning. I sent a man to look after your bicycle. You'll be wanting to get on with your tour, after you've had your breakfast.

HERO: The Countess...

MRS BEANE: I regret most bitterly you should have visited us at a time of mourning. The last of the line, you understand... they'll say Mass for her in the chapel. I myself, being a freethinker, will not attend. I am well provided for in the will, of course. I shall return to Scotland as soon as the estate has been wound up and open a girls' finishing school, perhaps. Or a boarding house. (Pawky humour.) Not a mutton pie shop, you'll be glad to hear.

HERO: May I see -

(Thoughts microphone.) In the last repose of death, she looked a little older but not much, a good deal uglier since she had lost all her teeth and, because of her loss of allure, for the first time, fully human.

(Bicycle wheels on a stony track. Birdsong.)

So I sped through the purged and rational splendours of the morning; but when I arrived at Bucharest, I learned of the assassination at Sarajevo and returned to England immediately, to rejoin my regiment.

(Drum-beats; above, the COUNT'S dreadful, posthumous chuckle.)

COUNT: The shadow of the Fatal Count rises over every bloody battlefield.

Everywhere, I am struck down; everywhere, I celebrate my perennial resurrection.




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