The Crumbling Castle, part 7
A Capricious Drama by Thorin N. Tatge


PHILIP: A young man of immense patience, trust, and sleepiness.
SCRUB: A stately scrubberwoman who wields power over the Crumbling Castle.
ANABELLE: An enterprising young woman ready to gently question authority.
RECORDER: A servant in charge of making observations.  Male or female.

PHILIP enters to stage right and sits down.  His speech and movement are sleepy.
PHILIP: What a ridiculous castle this is!  It’s so incredibly ridiculous I wish I could laugh.  But it wouldn’t feel quite right… making any loud noises like that.  (Yawns.)  So… I’m Philip, if you haven’t met me before.  This ridiculous castle is my home now… wasn’t always, I swear it.  It’s only been four weeks… by the gray ceilings, I want to laugh at that.  I keep wanting to laugh.  But I’m just so tired right now.  (Long pause.)  I think I’ll go to sleep now.  It wasn’t a bad evening, but it left me exhausted.
PHILIP lies down.  ANABELLE and SCRUB stroll in, talking.
SCRUB: Yes, and I’ll tell you, another reason the other servants always feel like they’re at the bottom of the heap is that they never seem to get used to their work being undone.  Even the ones who’ve been here all their lives complain about the dirt coming back during the night and the holes popping out in the chairs they’ve just mended.  But it happens every night!  Without fail!  Now, why should anyone keep expecting their work to last when all experience tells them it won’t?  I suppose people just have a natural abhorrence to their work being undone.  It must be in our bones to think we deserve better.  What do you think, Anabelle?
ANABELLE: Well, after all, Mrs. Scrub, I’m very new here.  I don’t know what it’s like.  I … I might even be better able to cope than the servants.  I can tell you that on the farm, whenever anything I’d worked hard at doing fell apart… if a bale of straw fell apart before I had it bound, for instance, or worse, if a whole crop ended up spoiled for some reason… it’s happened now and then… I’d always look at what I’d gained from it.  Instead of dwelling on the waste.  I just like to think of jobs gone wrong like bad deals… a lot of work for a little lesson.  But never a total waste.  Nothing anyone does is ever a total waste.
SCRUB: My word, perhaps you would be able to teach our servants something!  I’m not sure whether I’ve ever thought of it in that way, exactly, but I always accept things as they are whenever I can.  I’ve accepted the castle’s strangeness in much the same way every girl growing up has to accept unexpected things about herself.  It’s in that way I’ve managed to stay on top… by accepting.  And that’s why I’ve always been Mrs. Scrub—I never got discouraged when my scrubbing failed to bring permanent results.
ANABELLE: Isn’t it ironic that by accepting your own powerlessness, you managed to amass the greatest power of anyone in the Crumbling Castle?
SCRUB: It’s only natural, Anabelle.  Everyone has power, if they can see it clearly.
ANABELLE: Hasn’t anyone ever tried to stop the castle’s effects?  What happens if you cover the furniture with wet linen, for example?  Can it still grow dirty overnight?
SCRUB: It grows moldy instead.  My dear, all of those experiments were tried once long ago.  It didn’t work.  When the Physicist was young, he and some of the servants tried to figure out the why and the where of the castle’s dirtiness.  They went through everything you could think of, all to no avail.  The soot simply comes!  It doesn’t come from anywhere.  When you weigh the furniture, the weight slowly increases.  When you cut it open, you find nothing on the inside, but the mess goes on increasing on the outside.  When you watch it, it doesn’t grow, but when you go to check on something else, it grows!  There is no understanding it or stopping it.
ANABELLE: Oh.  But…you said it doesn’t happen while you’re watching?
SCRUB: Indeed not.  The effect is imperceptible because it waits to be unperceived.  Yet there is no way we could watch everything at once, so it doesn’t do us much good.
ANABELLE: Well… how closely does one have to be watching to halt the effect?
SCRUB: Any attention paid will halt it.  It really is mysterious.
ANABELLE: And—how long ago did you say they tried to figure it out?  Fifteen years?
SCRUB: More like twenty.
ANABELLE: And no one’s come up with any new ideas since then?
SCRUB: My dear, I fear you don’t understand.  That failure frightened us.  It made us pay for what we tried to find.  We dare not try again.
ANABELLE: Why not?  I don’t see what you mean.
SCRUB: Come this way, and I’ll introduce you to someone.
ANABELLE and SCRUB walk to stage left.
ANABELLE: All right.
SCRUB pulls a bellcord.
SCRUB: Recorder!
After a few minutes, enter RECORDER.
RECORDER: You called for me.
SCRUB: I wanted to discuss old troubles with you, my friend.  Anabelle, (Mr./Ms.) Recorder was the servant in charge of making observations concerning the experiments we discussed.
ANABELLE: Oh…a pleasure to meet you.
RECORDER (to SCRUB): Why do we have to discuss that again?  It was over so long ago.
SCRUB: Anabelle is new here, and she has questions.
ANABELLE: Well, I am curious…how could a failed experiment have been so bad?
RECORDER: The precise question to ask.  In fact, what you probably think of as a “failed experiment” is really only a partial failure.  Even when the object of study doesn’t behave as you hoped it would, you still take away information about its behavior.  With the castle… this was not the case.  The castle was a total failure.  Nothing was gained.
SCRUB: Very much like your own contrast between a bad deal and a total waste, Anabelle.  You said that no action is ever a total waste, but now you see that your philosophy does not always apply within these walls.
ANABELLE: How is it possible, Recorder?
RECORDER: We learned nothing, Anabelle!  We saw things that puzzled us—by now you’re familiar with them—and tried to figure out why they were, and what was wrong about our own beliefs.  Naturally, if we believed it was impossible for cobwebs to appear out of nowhere and lichen to grow overnight on smooth glass, and yet these things happened, then somewhere we must be wrong.  Correct?  And once we had found where we were wrong, we would no longer be wrong in that way, and thus would have grown in knowledge.  Correct?
ANABELLE: Correct!
RECORDER: But it was not so!  Every time we sought a contradiction, we were forced farther back, to question further assumptions.  We tried coating the furniture with wax and with cloth, but the muck grew underneath anyway!  And when we tried to figure out how it had the room to grow, we found that we had misapplied the wax, or mismeasured the furniture.  Even though we had seemed right at the time!  And when we tried it again, watching the measurements carefully each step of the way, it seemed the furniture had shrunk to make room for the muck!  But when we measured it again, it came out the same!  Impossible, it should have been!  And so on, and so on, when we kept trying… and at last we gave in.  We ended up unlearning more than we learned, and hardly any lesson to be gained from the whole mess, except never to try it again!  If we learned anything, that was it!
ANABELLE: Oh, come on.  This is a magical castle, after all.  Did you expect things to be simple here?
RECORDER (somewhat distraught): It’s more than lack of simplicity.  It’s logic.  We traced the road of logic as far back as we could go, looking for a connection…and we found the end of the road blocked.  We could go no farther.  Logic has no throughway here.  We are abandoned.
ANABELLE (to SCRUB): This Recorder certainly is a gloomy one.
SCRUB: (He/she) isn’t to blame.  It was the Physicist’s fault for questioning the castle.  But he has long been forgiven, Anabelle.  He realizes why he was overreaching himself… and I hope now you realize it too.
ANABELLE: It’s very unnerving… I’m sorry, but this isn’t good enough for me.  I need to know more.  Could you answer some questions for me, Recorder?
RECORDER: I can, yes.  If I can help you to understand.
ANABELLE: We’ll take a walk around the first-floor balustrade, if that’s all right, Mrs. Scrub.
SCRUB: Certainly.  I’ll wait here, dear.
ANABELLE (leaving): Now, Recorder, tell me more about how the dirt doesn’t come when someone is watching…
ANABELLE and RECORDER exit.  SCRUB sits down midstage.  Pause, and then:
SCRUB (to the audience, slowly): Well, now, you’ve vaunted your control over us yet again, you filthy castle, haven’t you?  Filthy, filthy, filthy… you have everything your way.  You were created by human tools, yet having been created, you won’t be changed!  You won’t stand for a simple scrubbing here and there, no, you’re worse than a stubborn toddler when it comes to your baths.  We wash you up and you come right back down in less than twenty-four hours.  The most you allow is for the smartest among us to change with you…and we do.  But you won’t tolerate being changed at all, you won’t.  Why, the Washer is even thinking it might be necessary to find another job!  Something productive!  What will you do when nobody’s washing your walls and friezes?  Well, I expect that’s when we Scrubbers will have to stay busy all the more.  And there’ll be a new Scrubber soon.  I wonder if you realize that, you baleful castle.  I wonder if you’re already plotting how to put me out of control… how to divide my resources and catch me off my guard.  You’re the sort of construction that won’t allow even the most natural processes to be natural.  Well, you’ll pay for your intolerance.  If you don’t let us care for you, you’ll just continue to crumble—and don’t think we’ll turn our backs long enough to let you rebuild!  We may not be able to watch everything within your walls, but we can count your bricks!  And while you may be capable of the cleverest deceptions, there’s no possibility of your regrowing granite that’s fallen under our watch!  As long as that guard continues to count your blocks, you’re under our control, in the grand scheme.  You’ll feel it, eventually… you filthy, filthy castle.
ANABELLE: Mrs. Scrub!  I’ve had a notion!  The Recorder couldn’t answer to it.
SCRUB: A notion?  Anabelle, don’t tell me it’s another experiment you want to perform, despite all our warnings.
ANABELLE: Yes, Mrs. Scrub.  An experiment.  But not one for us to perform!
SCRUB: What do you mean, child?
ANABELLE: I was thinking of how the dirt doesn’t regrow when it’s being watched.  I wanted to know exactly how closely one needs to pay attention to keep it from regrowing… whether the sound of it would do, whether a reflection would prevent it… and I happened to wonder whether you have to know what you’re watching.
SCRUB: I don’t see how it would make any difference.
ANABELLE: It would be something to find out!  It couldn’t be bad to investigate!
SCRUB: So what do you have in mind?  Someone to watch a chair and report anything out of the ordinary, without knowing what to look for?
ANABELLE: I was thinking of a reflection… we could find a piece of white furniture and have the unsuspecting observer watch its image in a semi-reflective surface… without even being told what the furniture is.  Would the image change?
SCRUB: Yes, dear, it sounds interesting, but you must realize everyone here knows about this phenomenon.  You couldn’t make anyone forget about the failure.  Even the ones from outside have been told the story… they won’t be able to help you.
ANABELLE: Then there’s only one choice.  (Points to PHILIP.)
SCRUB (following her indication): Ah.  Your brother.  Well, his health won’t be my responsibility.  You realize that, don’t you?
ANABELLE: I guess so.
SCRUB: Go then, and wake him.  You have my support, but no promises of any kind.
ANABELLE: I understand.
SCRUB: I’ll have the Recorder bring up the cook’s largest serving platter.  It should be reflective enough.
Exit SCRUB.  ANABELLE goes to PHILIP and gently shakes him.
ANABELLE: Philip?  Wake up, brother.
PHILIP: Hzzzmzz…
ANABELLE: We need you for an experiment.  I’m sorry, but you’re the only one.
PHILIP: Humm, what?  Why now?  It’s the middle of the night, Anabelle.
ANABELLE: We have to do it before you find out what it’s about.  If we let you go through one more day, you may learn the purpose of it.  You have to be ignorant for now.  Trust me?
PHILIP: I’ll… I have to trust someone.  Why not you?
ANABELLE: That’s the spirit.  Thank you, Philip.  You need to sit in a chair for the rest of the night and watch something.  If it changes, you have to tell the servant who’ll be coming in a moment.
PHILIP: Sit and watch?  But why?  I need my sleep.
ANABELLE: Please… it’s only one night, and it’s important to many people.
PHILIP: Yes… yes, all right.  But don’t make me regret my faith in you, Anabelle.  I don’t have anything else so solid left.
ANABELLE: Come and sit over here, please.
ANABELLE leads PHILIP to midstage and seats him.
PHILIP: What do I watch?
Enter RECORDER, pretending to carry a huge platter.
RECORDER: You watch this.  Isn’t that right, Ms. Anabelle?
ANABELLE: Yes.  Watch the gigantic silver platter.  In a moment, you’ll see something white in it.
PHILIP: A ghost?
ANABELLE: Nothing so extraordinary.  Just an object, but I can’t tell you what.
ANABELLE goes and mimes picking up something and putting it behind PHILIP.  RECORDER stands by and takes out a notepad.
PHILIP: Why in the world?
ANABELLE: I can’t tell, brother.  You’ll know soon enough.  Believe me when I say I want you on equal footing with everyone else… but for now, you have to be left in the dark.
PHILIP: Well… all right.
RECORDER: Do you see a white rectangle, sir?
PHILIP: Yes… yes, it’s pretty clear.  It’s the only thing reflected in the platter.
RECORDER (going and waving a hand behind PHILIP): How about now?  Do you see any change?
PHILIP: Yes, a waving shadow moving past the object.  Is that you?
RECORDER (returning to stage right): Yes.  But I won’t interfere again.  If you see any further change in the image, let me know.  I’ll be waiting here with you.
PHILIP: All right, servant.
RECORDER: Call me the Recorder.
PHILIP: As you wish, Recorder.
ANABELLE: I’ll see you in the morning, Philip.
PHILIP: Until then, sweet dreams, my sister.
ANABELLE holds PHILIP’s hand, and then lets it go, leaving the room.  PHIILP sighs.
RECORDER: Time is passing.  Don’t let it surprise you.  Just keep up your concentration, sir.
PHILIP: Yes, I’m concentrating.  I just hope this won’t be a total waste.
RECORDER: Yes, sir.
Long pause.
PHILIP (to himself): A white rectangle.  A thing of power?  A blank slate on which to write great discoveries?  A bright light to ward off darkness?  A beacon for the hungry and lost?  A window into a daylit world?  A great bar of soap to wash the castle down?
RECORDER: Please concentrate on the image itself, sir, and not on what it might be.
PHILIP: But how can I possibly keep myself from wondering?
RECORDER: Simply take my word for it—the object is nothing important.  Any change you may observe is the important thing.
PHILIP: Right.  I’ll try to empty my mind.
Long pause.  PHILIP relaxes and his eyes glaze over.  Then ANABELLE begins speaking from offstage, first quietly and then louder:
ANABELLE (offstage): A white rectangle.  A white rectangle.  A white rectangle.  A white rectangle.  A white rectangle.
ANABELLE and SCRUB (offstage): A white rectangle!  A white rectangle!  A white rectangle!  A white rectangle!  A white rectangle!
ANABELLE and SCRUB march hither-thither in front of PHILIP, crossing back and forth across stage and chanting:
ANABELLE and SCRUB: A white rectangle!  A white rectangle!  A white rectangle!  A white rectangle!  A white rectangle!  A white rectangle! A white rectangle!  A white rectangle!  A white rectangle!
PHILIP: It’s nothing more than a white rectangle, Recorder.  Nothing’s changed.  I’ve nothing whatever to tell you.  I’m sorry.
RECORDER: You are not the one to apologize, sir.  One does not apologize for what one perceives.  This project was your sister’s idea.
PHILIP: Poor Anabelle, then.  But that’s the whole of the night.  I see the rays of morning in the hallway.  It’s dawn!
RECORDER: It is dawn.
PHILIP: May I stand up and go?
RECORDER: Yes.  Yes, we shall both go to fetch Mrs. Scrub and Anabelle.
PHILIP: All right.
PHILIP stands up.  PHILIP and RECORDER walk to stage left, then right, and halt.
RECORDER: Mrs. Scrub!  It is dawn!
SCRUB: It is indeed.  Tell me, then… did Philip see any change in the image he watched?
RECORDER: None, madam.
PHILIP: None.  It was only a white rectangle.
SCRUB: Indeed!  A washbasin, to be more precise.
RECORDER: I must admit I’m floored.  A perfect success, Mrs. Scrub.  Philip never once looked back and I never once looked at the basin.  Yet it was entirely free from grime of any sort when the morning came.
SCRUB: You must be proud, Anabelle.
ANABELLE: I am!  And I wonder why so many people should have feared a simple experiment such as this one.
RECORDER: You were not part of our original effort, Ms. Anabelle.  But perhaps that is what gave us this victory.
PHILIP: What victory?  I don’t understand.
ANABELLE: Brother, we’re trying to find a way to keep the castle clean more than one day at a time.  Now we know that all it takes is an observer, even one who doesn’t know what he’s observing, to keep the grime from coming back by night.
PHILIP: That’s it?  All this was about doing a little summer cleaning?
SCRUB: No, no, no…  It means so much more to us than that, Philip.  If we can do this, it means we have control over the castle.
PHILIP: I—I see.  I think I see.
RECORDER: Yet, what good does it do us?  Surely we can’t have ignorant observers posted at every room any more than we could post informed ones!  We simply can’t watch everything at once.
ANABELLE: Or can we?  What if we were to cut slits in every room and connect them together with tubes lined with mirrors?  We could join them all into a single tube, let the light out onto a wall in an empty room, and let someone watch it through the night!
SCRUB: It isn’t that simple, Anabelle.  I believe something like that may have been suggested before… but there is no way to line up mirrors that precisely.  The images would be distorted and scrambled.  We couldn’t possibly do better than to send a blotch of random light and darkness into the destination room, and the person watching wouldn’t have any idea…what was what.
ANABELLE: That’s exactly what this experiment was for.  It doesn’t matter if we know what’s what, as long as we keep watching!  We just need to make it so that any dirt or mold will change the blotch on the wall.  Just as no dirt grew on Philip’s washbasin, none will grow anywhere if the blotch is always watched!
SCRUB: Do you know…I think she’s right.
PHILIP: You mean something useful came of this?
RECORDER: So it seems.
SCRUB: We can begin work on the mirrored tubes immediately.  I’ll inform the Builder.
PHILIP: But…I hope you don’t want me to be the one who watches this blotch all night!
SCRUB: No, Philip, you’ve done your part.  I know exactly the person for the job.  If my guess is right, our Washer will become a Watcher before a week is up.
ANABELLE: A Watcher instead of a Washer, hm?  It sounds almost the same.
SCRUB: And that is what will make it appealing.  For now, however, I had better see about breakfast for the castle.
PHILIP: Thank you…I don’t think I’ll be joining you at breakfast today.  I’m quite sleepy.
SCRUB: Of course, Philip.  Join us when you have rested.
ANABELLE: Your turn for sweet dreams, Philip.  Thank you for trusting me.
PHILIP: You’re welcome.  And thank you for being worth trusting.
ANABELLE nods and exits.  PHILIP sits down.
PHILIP: What a ridiculous castle this is.  (Yawns.)  Always inspiring everyone to the strangest projects, everyone always talking about the strangest things.  A fellow can’t get a decent night’s sleep around here.
PHILIP yawns again and lies down.
PHILIP (sleepy): Well, at least you never get bored around here… even when you spend the night doing nothing.  Good night… at long last.
PHILIP goes to sleep.  The End.