The Spike or Victoria College Review 1936
The New Firm — A Melodrama
The New Firm
Helmore: A smooth-faced, fair-skinned man of forty-five, still retaining, to his disgust, the ability to blush.
Dreen: A withered, bent little man of sixty, with sharp features, unpleasant or pleasant to suit particular cases. At present, beaming expansively. He is teasing Helmore. Helmore sits at the desk, scrawling on the blotting paper. Dreen sits at his side, his feet upon Helmore's desk. Dreen is discussing Art in general, and his own small nude statuette, which stands on the file cabinet, in particular.
Dreen: Your trouble, old man, is that you haven't a soul for art. Now that naked venus is a beautiful little object. I spend a great deal of time admiring it. Such curves, such artistic languor. It compels my attention.
Helmore: It does mine to this extent—when it's uncovered I go into the outer office to dictate my letters. I wouldn't bring a young woman into here with that thing before her. I couldn't dictate for embarrassment.
Dreen: Well that's just foolishness on your part—if you cared anything about art, you'd simply discuss the thing with her. But you've no eye for the beautiful.
Helmore (idly): Oh, I don't know. I like beautiful things. Good paintings, good sculptures, precious stones . . .
Dreen (curiously): Gems? That's an expensive hobby.
Helmore: Oh, I couldn't afford to buy gems as a hobby. But I often wished I'd set up as a diamond merchant instead of this land agency. It would have been more interesting perhaps. The risk attached to the trade was the only thing that kept me back. I wanted something safer.
Dreen: Why don't you set up on your own later?
Helmore: Set up in business? You know our financial condition as well as I do. I couldn't even draw out of this business what I put into it.
Dreen: True. It's a pity.
Enter Smith with a telegram.
Helmore: For me?
Smith: For the firm sir. (Exit.)
Helmore opens and reads. It flutters from his nerveless fingers.
Dreen stares first at Helmore, then at the telegram on the floor. He leaps to his feet, and his chair crashes to the ground.
Dreen: Quickly—what is it?
Helmore (bitterly): Read it yourself. It explains everything. Everything. It's quite eloquent for a telegram. Must have cost a bit to send.
Dreen has read the telegram. He screams, a thin, miserable scream, like the withered little man he is.
Helmore: Keep quiet. Oh, be quiet.
Dreen lifts his chair and sits down.
Dreen: Helmore, this is ruin.
Helmore: It looks like that.
Dreen: And who's responsible?
The door opens, and Cynning enters. A big man, fond of his voice and everything else attached to him, and very overbearing. He says page 29 nothing, but deposits his hat airily on Dreen's venus, snuffing it. That is his routine joke. He uses no other hat-peg.
Cynning: How very sensational! The outside office is fairly flabbergasted by it. "Mr. Helmore murders Mr. Dreen.. We heard it! He screamed." I shouldn't be surprised if the whole town knows about it now. It's a choice bit of gossip. Screams and crashes from the boss's office. What's wrong, anyway?
Dreen (indicating telegram): Read it.
Cynning (judiciously): And what is the cause of this?
Helmore (miserably): I don't know. I suppose it's my incompetency. I've always blamed myself.
Cynning: Incompetency, rubbish! Large sums of money don't vanish suddenly through incompetency.
Dreen: Then what the devil can it be?
Cynning: Thievery . . . Why blush, Helmore?
Helmore: I can't help it. You know I can't.
Cynning: And Dreen couldn't blush if he tried. You're a fine pair.
Dreen puts his feet on the table and lights a cigarette, puffing furiously. Cynning dons his overcoat and hat.
Helmore (curiously): Where are you going?
Cynning: Why ask? The police of course.
Dreen laughs shortly. "Silly fool."
Cynning: There's a thief somewhere in this office, and I'm going to find out who it is. (At door.) Please don't go away.
Helmore: . . . Cynning!
Cynning: Yes, Helmore?
Helmore: Don't go for the police. It's only incompetency, I'm sure of that.
Cynning: Yes, Helmore. And I'm sure you're a liar. Bye-bye.
Dreen: Let him go. He'll show his own foolishness, that's all.
Cynning opens the door, admitting to audibility the hum of excited voices from the outer office, which is hushed as Cynning appears. His large hand, with the two rings on it, disappears from the edge of the door, which closes silently and firmly. Cynning is gone. Dreen stares at the door, laughs sardonically, and lights a cigarette. He puffs noisily, jerkily, defiantly, until Helmore looks up.
Helmore: I wish you'd put that vile thing away, or at least make less row with it.
Dreen snorts, and jabs the cigarette into the ash-tray. Then he rises and begins to dust his statuette. He turns suddenly.
Dreen (forcibly): Come on Helmore. I know all about it. Tell me where the money is, and I'll help you hide it. We can fix it so it will look as if nothing but incompetency has messed up the business. That is, if you'll show me where the money is.
Helmore colours slowly to the roots of his hair. Honest Helmore! He cannot hide his guilt, whether guilty or innocent.
Helmore: I didn't touch the money!
Dreen (gesturing impatiently): Yes, yes. I know. Tell me.
Helmore says nothing. He is dazed.
Dreen: Aha. In your overcoat pocket, you say? A small bag! He stamps across the room. The door bursts open, and Cynning appears. His face is red, but the keyhole is an inconvenient place at which to stand for long intervals. Also, he is aware that the staff have been regarding him with amusement and disgust. But now is his moment of triumph. He stands in the doorway.
Dreen: So-so. Try not to look a fool, even if you find it difficult.
There is a titter from the outside office. Cynning shuts the door abruptly and advances. He picks up Helmore's overcoat and runs his fingers through the pockets. Blank bewilderment passes over his face.page 30
Dreen: Satisfied? Just arranged for your benefit, that was. I could see your coat under the edge of the door. Strikes me you're very anxious to prove someone guilty—anyone but yourself. Did you embezzle the money?
Cynning tries to maintain his dignity, but it has received a heavy blow. Also, he is becoming apprehensive lest the wandering burden of guilt come to rest on him. He empurples, and roars with rage.
Cynning: You wizened little devil!
The majestic, the self-controlled Cynning has lost his temper. Dreen is panic-stricken. He shrinks back against the file cabinet.
Helmore: Look out!
Down comes the cabinet; Dreen jumps nimbly aside. Down comes the naked venus. It splinters. It melts, and from it roll sparkling points of light. Cynning stiffens and glares at them. Then he laughs exultingly, teasingly. Cynning is himself again. Helmore stares at the gems. Stones; his hobby. Evidently also Dreen's. This is the embezzled money.
Cynning: So that's it!
Dreen's old face is agonised, but grimly determined. He jerks out a little black object.
Dreen: Yes, that's it. Keep your distance!
Cynning stops, astonished.
Cynning: You little devil! You wouldn't dare!
Dreen: Try it! I tell you, I love those gems. I've collected them for years—I fondle them when I get the chance. I can't do without them—I couldn't live without looking at them now and again on the sly. I'm an old man, and that's my only zest in life. They're mine, I tell you. (He waves his pistol as Cynning moves.) Keep off, I say.
Cynning is uncertain. Dreen in his sane mind he can overbear. He has done it before. But now Dreen's eyes are glittering. It scares him a little. Perhaps Dreen knew that, and was simulating madness for the purpose. On the other hand—perhaps not. You cannot rely on the cowardice of an unhinged man.
Cynning: You wouldn't dare.
Dreen: Don't experiment.
Cynning laughs. He will walk forward unflinchingly, arrogantly. He will overbear Dreen as he always has.
Cynning laughs and walks forward to his death. Dreen levels the smoking barrel to his temple, but that escape is denied him. He throws the useless pistol out of the window and slumps to the floor, moaning and gibbering. Helmore stands and stares and stares and stares, while from the outer office crowd in a multitude of white-faced workers.
Smith (with a catch in his voice): Sir—the firm?
Helmore (raising his eyes, abstractedly): Yes, Smith, a new firm. V. H. Helmore, Diamond Merchant.