East of Suez: A Play in Seven Scenes
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East of Suez: A Play in Seven Scenes
William Maugham

William Somerset Maugham

East of Suez: A Play in Seven Scenes



George Conway

Henry Anderson

Harold Knox

Lee Tai Cheng

Sylvia Knox



The action of the play takes place in Peking


Scene: A street in Peking

Several shops are shown. Their fronts are richly decorated with carved wood painted red and profusely gilt. The counters are elaborately carved. Outside are huge sign-boards. The shops are open to the street and you can see the various wares they sell. One is a coffin shop, where the coolies are at work on a coffin: other coffins, ready for sale, are displayed; some of them are of plain deal, others are rich, with black and gold. The next shop is a money changer's. Then there is a lantern shop in which all manner of coloured lanterns are hanging. After this comes a druggist where there are queer things in bottles and dried herbs. A small stuffed crocodile is a prominent object. Next to this is a shop where crockery is sold, large coloured jars, plates, and all manner of strange animals. In all the shops two or three Chinamen are seated. Some read newspapers through great horn spectacles; some smoke water pipes.

The street is crowded. Here is an itinerant cook with his two chests, in one of which is burning charcoal: he serves out bowls of rice and condiments to the passers-by who want food. There is a barber with the utensils of his trade. A coolie, seated on a stool, is having his head shaved. Chinese walk to and fro.

Some are coolies and wear blue cotton in various stages of raggedness; some in black gowns and caps and black shoes are merchants and clerks. There is a beggar, gaunt and thin, with an untidy mop of bristly hair, in tatters of indescribable filthiness. He stops at one of the shops and begins a long wail. For a time no one takes any notice of him, but presently on a word from the fat shopkeeper an assistant gives him a few cash and he wanders on. Coolies, half naked, hurry by, bearing great bales on their yokes. They utter little sharp cries for people to get out of their way. Peking carts with their blue hoods rumble noisily along. Rickshaws pass rapidly in both directions, and the rickshaw boys shout for the crowd to make way. In the rickshaws are grave Chinese. Some are dressed in white ducks after the European fashion; in other rickshaws are Chinese women in long smocks and wide trousers or Manchu ladies, with their faces painted like masks, in embroidered silks. Women of various sorts stroll about the street or enter the shops. You see them chaffering for various articles.

A water-carrier passes along with a creaking barrow, slopping the water as he goes; an old blind woman, a masseuse, advances slowly, striking wooden clappers to proclaim her calling. A musician stands on the curb and plays a tuneless melody on a one-stringed fiddle. From the distance comes the muffled sound of gongs. There is a babel of sound caused by the talking of all these people, by the cries of coolies, the gong, the clappers, and the fiddle. From burning joss-sticks in the shops in front of the household god comes a savour of incense.

A couple of Mongols ride across on shaggy ponies; they wear high boots and Astrakhan caps. Then a string of camels sways slowly down the street. They carry great burdens of skins from the deserts of Mongolia. They are accompanied by wild looking fellows. Two stout Chinese gentlemen are giving their pet birds an airing; the birds are attached by the leg with a string and sit on little wooden perches. The two Chinese gentlemen discuss their merits. Round about them small boys play. They run hither and thither pursuing one another amid the crowd.



A small verandah on an upper storey of the British American Tobacco Company's premises, the upper part of which the staff lives in. At the back are heavy arches of whitewashed masonry and a low wall which serves as a parapet. Green blinds are drawn. There is a bamboo table on which are copies of illustrated papers. A couple of long bamboo chairs and two or three smaller arm chairs. The floor is tiled.

On one of the long chairs Harold Knox is lying asleep. He is a young man of pleasing appearance. He wears white ducks, but he has taken off his coat, which lies on a chair, and his collar and tie and pin. They are on the table by his side. He is troubled by a fly and, half waking but with his eyes still closed, tries to drive it away.

Knox. Curse it. [He opens his eyes and yawns.] Boy!

Wu. [Outside.] Ye.

Knox. What's the time?

[Wu comes in; he is a Chinese servant in a long white gown with a black cap on his head. He bears a tray on which is a bottle of whisky, a glass and a syphon.]

Wu. My no sabe.

Knox. Anyhow it's time for a whisky and soda. [Wu puts the tray down on the table. Knox smiles.] Intelligent anticipation. Model servant and all that sort of thing. [Wu pours out the whisky.] You don't care if I drink myself to death, Wu – do you? [Wu smiles, showing all his teeth.] Fault of the climate. Give me the glass. [Wu does so.] You're like a mother to me, Wu. [He drinks and puts down the glass.] By George, I feel another man. The bull-dog breed, Wu. Never say die. Rule Britannia. Pull up the blinds, you lazy blighter. The sun's off and the place is like a oven.

[Wu goes over and pulls up one blind after the other. An expanse of blue sky is seen. Henry Anderson comes in. He is a man of thirty, fair, good-looking, with a pleasant, honest face. His obvious straightforwardness and sincerity make him attractive.]

Harry. [Breezily.] Hulloa, Harold, you seem to be taking it easy.

Knox. There was nothing to do in the office and I thought I'd get in my beauty sleep while I had the chance.

Harry. I thought you had your beauty sleep before midnight.

Knox. I'm taking time by the forelock so as to be on the safe side.

Harry. Are you going on the loose again to-night?

Knox. Again, Henry?

Harry. You were blind last night.

Knox. [With great satisfaction.] Paralytic… Hulloa, who's this? [He catches sight of the Amah who has just entered. She is a little, thin, wrinkled, elderly Chinawoman in a long smock and trousers. She has gold pins in her sleek black hair. When she sees she has been noticed she smiles obsequiously.] Well, fair charmer, what can we do for you?

Harry. What does she want, Wu?

Knox. Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?

Amah. My Missy have pay my letter.

Harry. [With sudden eager interest.] Are you Mrs. Rathbone's amah? Have you got a letter for me?

Amah. My belong Missy Rathbone amah.

Harry. Well, hurry up, don't be all night about it. Lend me a dollar, Harold. I want to give it to the old girl.

[The Amah takes a note out of her sleeve and gives it to Harry. He opens it and reads.

Knox. I haven't got a dollar. Give her a chit or ask Wu. He's the only man I know who's got any money.

Harry. Let me have a dollar, Wu. Chop-chop.

Wu. My go catchee.

[He goes out.The Amah is standing near the table. While Knox and Harry go on talking she notices Knox's pin. She smiles and smiles and makes little bows to the two men, but at the same time her hand cautiously reaches out for the pin and closes on it. Then she secretes it in her sleeve.
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