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
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
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.
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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.
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: 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
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
PHILIP: What do I watch?
Enter RECORDER, pretending to carry a
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
RECORDER: Yes, sir.
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
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!
ANABELLE and SCRUB exit.
PHILIP: It’s nothing more than a white rectangle, Recorder.
Nothing’s changed. I’ve nothing whatever to tell you. I’m
RECORDER: You are not the one to apologize, sir. One does not
apologize for what one perceives. This project was your sister’s
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
PHILIP: All right.
PHILIP stands up. PHILIP and
RECORDER walk to stage left, then right, and halt.
RECORDER: Mrs. Scrub! It is dawn!
Enter SCRUB and ANABELLE.
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
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
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
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.
Exit RECORDER and SCRUB.
ANABELLE: Your turn for sweet dreams, Philip. Thank you for
PHILIP: You’re welcome. And thank you for being worth trusting.
ANABELLE nods and exits. PHILIP
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.