The Rules [sample]
by Charles L. Mee
(Overture. A long loud crashing wonderful piece followed by silence. Darkness. The sound of water, as of a trickling stream or little fountain, and the occasional sound of a plucked string or other beautiful musical sound. A scrim fills the back of the stage. The scrim is a delicate pink at the moment. A stuffed deer stands upstage. Through the scrim are projected such rules of civility as these: THE POLITE DINNER GUEST ALWAYS SPEAKS WITH RESTRAINT; THE REFINED SMOKER ASKS PERMISSION BEFORE HE LIGHTS UP; THE GENTLEMAN DANCER IS CONSIDERATE OF HIS PARTNER; THE LADY WHO RIDES SIDE-SADDLE MAY WEAR GREEN IN-FORMALLY; THE WELL-REARED CHILD APPRECIATES THE VALUE OF PROPERTY.
The occasional sound of a croquet match. A Louis XVI chair rises slowly from beneath the stage. Arthur sits on it. Over a loudspeaker, we hear several different voices narrating these stories, speaking very quietly, and very slowly, with very long silences between each sentence:)
I don't know myself whether it was true or not, but Denys always said that Vera had eaten human flesh when she was in Borneo.
I wouldn't know.
(The shriek of a hyrax, the sound of hoopoes and nightjars.)
But I do remember when the Prince of Wales came down for the weekend, and we were having dinner at the Muthaiga Club, and Vera began to bombard him from across the table with big pieces of bread. I remember it quite clearly in fact, because I was sitting right beside him and one of them caught me in the eye and gave me a black eye, and after the meat course she got up and rushed around to our side of the table and overturned his chair and rolled him around on the floor--not in the least amusing, I thought, and stupid to do at the club.
But that was the evening they pitched the records out of the window.
No, that wasn't Vera. That was Alice.
Have I got this all wrong?
Broke all the windows.
And all the records.
Yes, that was Alice. Always bathed in front of her guests.
In that vast bathroom.
No, that was Idina. Bathed and dressed while the guests arrived, and then handed out the keys to the rooms, two keys to each room, handing them out at random, mixing up the couples in all which ways. That was Idina. Oh, but it was fun, though. I've never had such fun.
(Continuing birdsong. The sound of the musical tapping of ground hornbills.)
Of course the staff had to stay up all night, but Joss was extraordinary, I thought, the way he could swear at the servants in Swahili. And of course he was wonderful at telling them about such things, you know, as spitting. You know, it is very ill-mannered, he would say to them, to swallow what should be spat. This can nauseate others, and so you shouldn't abstain entirely from spitting. Nevertheless, you should not become accustomed to spitting too often, and without need. This is not only unmannerly, but disgusts and annoys everyone.
When you are with well-born people, and when you are in places that are kept clean, it is polite to spit into your handkerchief while turning slightly aside. It is even good manners for everyone to get used to spitting into a handkerchief when in the houses of the great and in all places with waxed or parquet floors. But it is far more necessary to acquire the habit of doing so when in church.
After spitting into your handkerchief, you should fold it at once, without looking at it, and put it into your pocket. You should take great care never to spit on your clothes, or those of others. If you notice saliva on the ground, you should immediately put your foot adroitly on it. If you notice any on someone's coat, it is not polite to make it known; you should attempt to remove it without being noticed. For good breeding consists in not bringing to people's attention anything that might offend or confuse them.