ASTRAL JOURNEY : A RADIO PLAY
DR. ALEX CURTIS
A middle-aged spinster
ANNOUNCERr: Henry Baring, Crown Prosecutor, is a handsome man - more like a film actor than the very able barrister he is. Tonight, he is sitting in front of his fire, reading, when he should be changing. In a room on the other side of the hall, Sylvia, his wife, twenty years his junior, is changing…and suddenly realising that Henry isn’t…
SYLVIA: (at a distance) Henry, it’s after eight… (Coming closer) Oh, Henry…you haven’t even started…
HENRY: (absently) H’m? …No…I don’t think I'll go…
SYLVIA: You can’t not go, not as late as this. It's not fair to Ruth.
HENRY: I’ll ring Ruth and explain…Don't worry, m'dear, Ruth won't mind.
SYLVIA: I can't go without you, not again…
HENRY: (speaking as he dials the phone) Of course, you can; I don't enjoy these parties…you're much better off without me. Is that you, Ruth? …Yes; look here, m'dear, I’m afraid I'll have to let you down tonight… No, it's work. This case has been a bit of a strain and I'm not as young as I was… Well, that's very good of you...Sylvia! No, she's coming...Yes, that's a good idea; I know the Curtises will be glad to take her...Thanks, Ruth...Have a good time tonight...Yes, yes, goodbye. (Noise of phone being replaced)
SYLVIA: No wonder they call me the grass widow. You don't imagine Ruth believes you, do you? She knows you just don't want to go. If you would only say you don't want to go, I wouldn't accept invitations…It's so humiliating to go by myself...
HENRY: You needn't go by yourself…as a matter of fact, I saw Curtis just before dinner and asked him to pick you up…
SYLVIA: (at the point of explosion) You arranged all this! This would be exasperating if it weren’t so serious. Doesn't it dawn on you that you're taking a big risk forcing me to go about without you…
HENRY: Oh, I don't know. (Easily) I trust you…
SYLVIA: You’re not really a fool, Henry.
HENRY: I’m not being foolish now. You’re a young and very lovely woman and you like to go out, why shouldn't you? But I find something a little ridiculous in a man of my age rushing round to parties…
SYLVIA: It doesn’t matter how ridiculous I look, going to them without you. Supposing I get into mischief, Henry?
HENRY: (Easily) Oh, you won’t; I Know you’d never do anything to damage me.
SYLVIA: I'd love to be as sure of things as you are; all your whites are so white and your black so uncompromisingly black. I could get into a lot of mischief, you know - I could do your reputation quite a lot of harm…
HENRY: (serenely) I can guard my own reputation...
SYLVIA: There are forces outside yourself you can’t control - aren't you ever afraid of them? You Know, Henry, I get a horrible cold fear at times that what I thought was legal veneer is really not a veneer at all, but the whole of you; it frightens me…There's no charity in you…only the law.
HENRY: (dryly) Having disposed of me – don’t you think you'd better finish dressing, my dear?
SYLVIA: (abruptly) are you going to hang whitely?
HENRY: It's not I who will hang him, but the evidence. What makes you so interested?
SYLVIA: We seem so…well, mixed up in it…Alex Curtis giving evidence and it all happening almost outside our own gate. I feel sorry for Whitely; his story might be true…
HENRY: If he’d told it at once…but he didn't; the constable who pulled him up only stopped him because he had only one headlamp alight. The old man’s body wasn’t found until ten minutes or more later.
SYLVIA: Isn’t it circumstantial evidence?
HENRY: The strongest evidence there is at times. If he had produced his story of hitting a floodpost to explain the crumpled mudguard at once, he would have had a better chance of being believed.
SYLVIA: He explained that - he was using the truck without permission. Couldn’t the police see if the floodpost had been hit?
HENRY: They checked that, of course. Every post along that stretch of road has been hit a dozen times. It proves and disproves nothing.
SYLVIA: It might still be the truth. It would be awful if he is telling the truth and some other car coming down Cromer Road just behind him killed the old man. It would be horrible if he suffered for something he hadn’t done. Surely if there’s the slightest doubt…
HENRY: Someone killed that old man…
SYLVIA: (fiercely) Oh, yes, I know. An eye for an eye. I hate that - it’s so grim, uncompromising.
HENRY: It’s the law.
SYLVIA: The law - your god.
HENRY: Your protection, and mine, Sylvia. It is the law that enables you to walk in safety…
SYLVIA: And therefore you worship it. It’s more important to you than anything else in heaven or earth - much more important than I, for instance.
HENRY: (judicially) Yes, I suppose that’s true.
SYLVIA: This marriage of ours, Henry - it isn’t much of a success, is it? There isn’t room in you for a woman and the law too…I’m getting tired of losing out all the time to something so empty of all humanity…
HENRY: (mildly) Suppose you leave this - er - interesting discussion till some more suitable time, my dear. The Curtises will be here at any moment - and any way, there is someone coming to see me…
SYLVIA: (sarcastically) About the case?
HENRY: Yes, about the case - some fluttery old spinster with a bee in her bonnet. She lives just round the corner – (bell rings) that will probably be her now…
SYLVIA: Why didn’t you tell me…
HENRY: (mildly) I really am quite fond of you, my dear - in my own fashion.
SYLVIA: (fading) It’s hard to believe…
HENRY: (fading in) Won’t you sit down, Miss…Seedon, is it?
SARAH: (breathlessly) Yes, S. E. E. D. O. N. I didn’t know whether I ought…but I couldn’t go to the POLICE…
HENRY: You said something on the phone about evidence…If you have any, the police are the people to tell, you know. I only act on the information they gather for me…
SARAH: Oh, are you going to hang him? Whitely, I mean?
HENRY: Is he a relation of yours, Miss Seedon?
SARAH: Oh, no…I’ve never seen him…at least, that’s what I don’t know…I don’t know…
HENRY: (impatiently) Suppose you tell me what it’s all about…come along now.
SARAH: You see…I live just round the corner from here in Cromer Road…the big bIock of flats...
HENRY: Yes, yes, I know the place.
SARAH: I’m…well, I’m psychic, people keep telling me I have real psychic powers. It was that that made me do it…
HENRY: Do what, Miss Seedon?
SARAH: Separate my astral body from my physical body…
HENRY: (startled) I…beg your pardon.
SARAH: I read about it in a magazine… The astral body is really the soul, you know. You sit in a darkened room, absolutely relaxed, and concentrate. When the astral body leaves the physical, you can send it out on a journey. It must do the journey step by step, just as the physical body would.
HENRY: Just whet is all this leading up to, Miss Seedon?
SARAH: Oh, please - I must tell it my own way; otherwise, you’d never understand…
HENRY: All right, go ahead…in your own way.
SARAH: I’d done it two or three times before, but I'd never been quite certain it wasn’t just imagination.
HENRY: (dryly) I can quite believe that.
SARAH: I wanted real evidence. I determined to go to the home of friends of mine. I knew they'd be sitting in their lounge reading and that they’d tell me if they had been conscious of my presence. It was exactly half-past eight; I looked at the clock as I switched off the light. Then it happened - just, as it had happened before. I could suddenly stand outside myself arid see myself lying there in the armchair, with the smoke curling up from the ashtray on the arm. I went downstairs and out the door, down Cromer Road and turned the corner into this street. It was just as I turned the corner that I saw - the accident. I - I didn't know what to do…
HENRY: (very sarcastically) You should have willed your astral voice to call for help.
SARAH: You’re laughing at me…you don’t believe me…
HENRY: Come, come, Miss Seedon…as though anyone could believe it. It’s amazing the way you women let your imagination run away with you. (He starts to laugh) I can see myself addressing the jury… "Gentlemen of the jury, the witness took an astral journey" (he laughs more and more)
SARAH: (her voice shaking with anger) You’re cruel and wicked…There are more things in heaven and earth, Mr. Baring…
HENRY: Unfortunately, Miss Seedon, the courts require proof…
SARAH: I have no proof…not what you’d call proof. I have only something you wouldn't understand - conviction.
HENRY: I do give you the credit of believing what you say - but imagine what would happen if I tried to put that in as evidence - I’d be the laughing stock of the city...
SARAH: (fading) There’s no more to be said…I’m sorry I wasted your time…
HENRY: (fading in) Come along in to the fire, Madge…Sylvia’s almost ready. Cigarette, Alex?
MADGE: Why aren't you coming, Henry?
HENRY: Work. This Whitely case should finish tomorrow; I've got to get going on the next one.
MADGE: How did my husband make out in the witness box?
HENRY: Very well indeed - the ideal professional witness.
ALEX: (dryly) Thank you. Queer what a personal feeling there is about this case. I've given evidence dozens of times before, but somehow, I resent this case. It seems too close to home…
MADGE: Whitely seems such an inoffensive lad - and the old man was evidently such a bad lot, it doesn’t seem quite sensible to punish him…
HENRY: (interrupting) If he'd stopped…
MADGE: Oh, let’s forget it. Henry, settle a bet I had with Alex - was that Sarah Seedon coming away from here as we pulled up?
HENRY: Yes. Do you know her?
ALEX: She’s been a patient of mine for years; Madge has had her on Red Cross committees and so on…Surely you’ve struck her round about.
HENRY: (dryly) Not until tonight; and I’m not certain I want to pursue the acquaintance. What sort of a woman would you call her, Alex - would you say she’ s the type to suffer from hallucinations.
ALEX: Not she! She’s sane enough - highly strung, and definitely not one of the world's great brains. She wouldn't have hallucinations - but Madge and I have, about her.
HENRY: You two. What next!
MADGE: We laugh now and try to explain it away. But it was queer.
HENRY: What was?
MADGE: You tell him, Alex.
ALEX: We were sitting in front of the fire reading - you know, Darby and Joan, with the reading lamp between us. Something made me look up and there was Sarah standing just inside the door. She had no hat nor coat on. I said, “Hullo, I didn’t hear you come in, Sarah" and Madge said ''Hullo” or something like that at the same moment. Then, suddenly, we realised she wasn't there at all.
MADGE: I started to cry, it was such a shock. I thought she must have died, or something, Alex tried to make out it was a trick of the shadows or something. But it wasn’t; he’d seen her himself.
HENRY: (believing in spite of himself) When was this?
MADGE: It was the night the old man was killed outside. We were still talking about Sarah, when someone came in for Alex…
HENRY: You are sure of that - you can both swear to it.
MADGE: (wonderingly) Why, of course.
HENRY: (suddenly energetic) Come along - we’re going to call on Miss Seedon.
MADGE: But what about Sylvia - and the party…
HENRY: (fading) Sylvia can come along too…
(Footsteps are heard as they walk along a passage to Sarah’s door)
MADGE: I wish you'd tell us what it's all about, Henry.
SYLVIA: Or alternatively, let us go to Ruth's…
HENRY: You'll know soon enough. Sylvia, keep in the background…
SYLVIA: (dryly) Since when have I been anywhere else?
(Knock on door)
SARAH: (opening door) Oh…Mr. Baring.
HENRY: I want to ask you a question, Miss Seedon.
SARAH: You’d all better come in. Oh, good evening, Doctor.
(Footsteps and door closes)
SARAH: Yes, Mr. Baring?
HENRY: Miss Seedon, that night you took your astral journey - whose home did you go to?
SARAH: Why…Dr. Curtis’s
MADGE: Sarah, we saw you, Alex and I.
SARAH: Then I did make my astral journey! Now will you believe me?
HENRY: What did you see, Miss Seedon?
SARAH: It was just as I turned the corner towards Dr. Curtis's - a car came hurtling along the road - it was coming towards me. Suddenly a man ran out from that big house with the pines. As he passed me, he looked back - to see if he was being followed. If he hadn't looked back, he would have seen the car. It just seemed to pick him up and carry him along; then he fell back into the gutter. The car pulled up and a woman got out. She came back and after a minute, she bent down and turned the old man over…His face looked all greasy in the moonlight - I suppose it was blood - oh, I didn't think of that till now…After a moment or so, she got into the car and drove away. I stood there for a long time, it seemed. I tried to scream but of course, I couldn't. At last, I forced myself to walk on. As I started to cross the road, the truck came past. I waited for it to pass and I remember thinking then, I needn't have waited - I could have walked straight through it. Somehow I got to Dr. Curtis's. You were sitting reading…That's all. When I came to myself, I was sitting in my armchair and the clock was striking nine. I'd been away half an hour.
HENRY: It was an accident.
ALEX: He'd been prowling round and been disturbed - that came out at the inquest.
HENRY: It was an accident.
SARAH: Yes - yes. He ran out from the shadow of the trees. She hadn't a chance of missing him -
MADGE: But to drive on. How could she be so callous!
ALEX: Probably frightened stiff - too frightened to report it -
HENRY: Too frightened! Thought she could evade the law more likely. But you see the justice of it, Alex…of all the people in the city, you were the only two who could corroborate Miss Seedon's story, and you were the two who came in tonight. Call it coincidence if you like - I call it justice. That woman can be traced…What was the car like, Miss Seedon - would you know it again?
SYLVIA: Or would you know the woman? (Coming forward)
SYLVIA: Yes, I.
ALEX & MADGE: Sylvia.
SYLVIA: Yes, Sylvia - why not?
HENRY: Sylvia…what have you done?
SYLVIA: I tried to tell you tonight, but you wouldn't listen.
HENRY: If you'd only told me at the time. Why didn't you?
SYLVIA: I was terrified - no, not of what had happened - that was an accident. But I thought it might ruin you - if I were involved in anything like that -
HENRY: What happened?
SYLVIA: Just as Miss Seedon said. It was the night of Bothwell’s party; I got halfway there, then decided I just couldn't go without you. So I turned round and was coming home. When - it - happened, I turned back and went on to the party. It was - an alibi, you see.
HENRY: Yes, but the accident?
SYLVIA: He ran out into the road - right into the car. I didn't even see him - just felt the bump...
HENRY: (already busy with the legal aspect) Yes, we'll make the most of the accident aspect. It's the failure to report that's difficult. 'Hit and runs' aren't too popular...
ALEX: But…Henry, you're not going to report this. There were no witnesses…
SYLVIA: There was Miss Seedon. And anyhow, Alex, don't you understand - I've broken the law
MADGE: Henry, what about Whitely?
HENRY: (preoccupied) Whitely - he'd have got off anyhow - It's Sylvia I'm thinking of. Miss Seedon took an astral journey - and saw the truth. It wouldn't be evidence in a court of law, but we five know the truth…
ALEX: It’s safe with us, Henry.
HENRY: Sylvia will have to report it, Alex.
ALEX: But…good god, man - Sylvia's your wife…
SYLVIA: Aren't you asking Henry to… "compound a felony", Alex? To break the law. The law is the bread he eats and the air he breathes. Of course, Henry is right - I'll have to tell the police…It will finish your career, Henry...I'm sorry…
HENRY: My career…isn't so important as all that, Silvia. You can't carry this on your conscience for one rest of your life.
SYLVIA: It was truly an accident, Henry. There is nothing on my conscience -
MADGE: What will happen, if Sylvia goes to the police, Henry?
HENRY: She'll be charged with manslaughter, probably - there has been so much publicity about this case, it's not one that can be hushed up -
MADGE: You mean, a…trial? For Sylvia? Oh, Henry!
ALEX: Don't do it, Henry.
HENRY: (deeply moved) No…it would be…unthinkable. No…you’re right, Alex.
MADGE: Oh, thank goodness.
ALEX: I think you're wise, Henry…
SYLVIA: And nothing will happen about your career, you'll be able to accept the judgeship...
HENRY: That will be out of the question, of course. A judge must be above reproach - at peace with his own conscience.
SYLVIA: There's nothing I can say…I'm sorry, Henry…
HENRY: We can depend on your…discretion, Miss Seedon?
SARAH: I'll…I'll never breathe a word…All I want to do is forget…forget.
HENRY: (heavily) I think we had better go home. This has…upset me.
HENRY: You said tonight there are more things in heaven and earth…I'm sorry I laughed…Come, Sylvia.
SYLVIA: You go on down to the car. I want to talk to Miss Seedon…
MADGE: Shall I stay, Sylvia?
SYLVIA: Yes, do please…
ALEX: (fading) You'd better take a bromide tablet, Sarah, and get to bed.
SARAH: Yes, I will, I will. Oh, I wish I'd never done it…
MADGE: Where are your tablets, Sarah?
SARAH: Here…in my bag. You wanted to ask me something, Mrs. Baring?
SYLVIA: Yes…Miss Seedon, what sort of a dress was I wearing that night?
SARAH: (vaguely) I can't remember…
SYLVIA: But you saw my face distinctly enough to recognise it at once.
SARAH: It was the way the light struck it…it looked the same…now I don't know - it's going vague and misty again. I was so sure…but it doesn't seem true, even now…
MADGE: But it is true.
SYLVIA: Is it?
MADGE: Sylvia, what do you mean?
SYLVIA: I must have sounded convincing.
MADGE: But why?
SARAH: Oh, what are you saying - I’m all confused…
SYLVIA: Miss Seedon, why didn't you do something at once that night, as soon as you came back, I mean?
SARAH: I didn’t remember…I knew there was some thing but I couldn't remember. Then in the morning, when I read in the paper about the accident - it just came over me in a flash. I’d been there in the street when it happened…it was as though a curtain had been drawn aside…
SYLVIA: I thought it must be something like that.
MADGE: You mean…all done by imagination, Sylvia?
SARAH: Are you saying I didn't do it then?
SYLVIA: You did something…Madge and Alex thought they saw you, remember? But the accident…no, I'm afraid even your astral body didn't see it, Miss Seedon.
SARAH: Oh, I'm glad, I'm glad. I was feeling I'd set free something violent and horrible…some force I couldn't control…
MADGE: It wasn't the night of the Bothwell's party at all. We were at that…
SYLVIA: It’s only a matter of minutes before Henry remembers that too. I'm afraid I've rocked his foundations, poor darling…You see, Miss Seedon, I married a very brilliant and prominent man nearly double my age…I've never been quite certain why he married me…but now I know I'm more important than his beloved law…I'm sorry I upset you so badly Miss Seedon…but thank God you took your astral journey…
SYLVIA: You’re asking Henry to break the law, Alex - and the law is the bread he eats and the air he breathes. Anyway, it would make you all accessories, or accomplices, or something. (Her voice rises hysterically) Oh, Henry is right - Henry is always right -
HENRY: This will need thinking about -
MADGE: Henry, you must be mad. It is Sylvia you’re talking about.
SYLVIA: You miss the point, Madge. I’m not Sylvia, Henry’s wife, but Sylvia, a criminal - a hit-and-run motorist - That’s so, isn’t it, Henry?
Henry: You don’t understand even now, Sylvia, what a terrible thing it is you have done - - I can’t seem to think -
ALEX: What you need, Henry, is a good stiff whisky - I could do with one myself -
SYLVIA: Take him out and give him one, Alex -
ALEX: I really think he does need one. Come along, Henry -
HENRY: I’ll have to ring Cassidy - he is in charge of the case. What’s his number?
ALEX: Come and get a drink, man - the matter has waited all these weeks; ten minutes more won’t hurt it – come along -
(Exit Alex and Henry)
SARAH: It doesn’t seem true, even now.
MADGE: But it is true.
SYLVIA: Is it?
MADGE: Sylvia, what do you mean?
SYLVIA: Tell me, Miss Seedon - what was I wearing that night?
SARAH: (vaguely) I can’t remember -
SYLVIA: But you saw my face distinctly enough to recognise it at once -
SARAH: It was the way the light struck it - it looked the same - now don’t know - it’s going vague and misty again. But for a minute I was so sure -
MADGE: Sylvia, what have you done? It wasn’t true at all -
SYLVIA: I must have sounded convincing -
MADGE: But why?
SYLVIA: You heard what Henry said. That’s why.
SARAH: I didn’t do it then - oh, I’m glad, glad - I was frightened - I was beginning to feel I’d set something free that was strong - and somehow violent – some force I couldn’t control -
MADGE: It seems that you did -
SYLVIA: It had to come some time - it is something one can't control (She goes over to phone and dials a number)
MADGE: Sylvia, Sylvia, don't do anything you'll regret -
SYLVIA: This is something I should have done more than three years ago, Madge. (Into phone) Is Mr, Merton in, please? - - Tony, will you come and get me? - - Do I? Perhaps because I am different - - (She laughs) I couldn't possibly tell you by phone - - Yes, it’s that kind of thing - - - As quickly as you can, Tony, (She puts down phone but speaks in the same tone of voice as thought she is still speaking into it.) My darling Tony. (As she speaks, the curtain falls slowly)