For Mafeking And Queen
A One Scene Play
July the Second, 2013
Written for JB Farrell, on his birthday
Historical Note: This is a fictitious account of a conversation had between Robert Badden-Powell and his superior officer Field Marshal Garnet Wolseley, before the infamous 217 day Siege of Mafeking, in the Second Boer War.
Historically, the defence of the town against the siege used all of the ingenuity that the young Colonel could afford, leading to a decisive victory over the Boers and of the elevation of Robert Badden-Powell to a British national hero. Powell went on to start the Scouting movement, for young men, namely in the Boy Scouts.
Field Marshal Garnet Wolseley - played by Sean Connery
Colonel Robert Baden-Powell - played by Russell Crowe
"Jules" - played by Raymond Joseph Teller
Wooden office, partially decorated with war memorabilia and fencing gear window overlooks lush countryside. A desk with papers and maps is stage right. A small stand with a carafe and two stemware is on the opposite side of the stage.
It is late afternoon to sunset, September, 1899.
Field Marshall Garnet Wolseley - played by Sean Connery
Colonel Robert Baden-Powell - played by Russell Crowe
"Jules" - played by Raymond Joseph Teller
(Lord Wolseley sitting in chair behind desk)
(Powell enters in, stage left)
(Powell snaps salute)
Wolseley: At ease, Leftenant!
Powell: Colonel, sir!
Wolseley: What what?
Powell: It's Colonel now, sir. I've got my promotion.
Wolseley: Oh jolly good man. Come sit!
Powell: Thank you, sir.
Wolseley: Eh, have some tea with me?
Powell: Beg pardon, sir?
Wolseley: I say old man, spot of tea or what?
Powell: Oh yes, sir. I'd like that very much sir.
Wolseley: Right. Jules! Tea!
(Jules brings in tea, placing it too close to Wolseley, who grimaces and becomes annoyed.)
Wolseley: Oh bloody hell, Jules. I'll serve it. Be on your way man!
(Jules smiles and nod/bows to both)
Wolseley: One lump or two, eh Colonel?
Powell: None, sir. Just like it the Queen intended.
Wolseley: Ah right, right! Long live the Queen!
Powell: Long live the Queen!
Wolseley: Ah so, now old chap, what do you make of the Afrikaners today eh?
(Wolseley hands Powell tea)
Powell: Oh I'd say that another war is eminent, sir.
Powell: I do believe that I'm quite sick of them sir.
Powell: And frankly sir, I do believe that i'd like to kick them in the teeth sir.
Wolseley: Ahem... Well well. Lets not be hasty then colonel. Plenty of time for that sooner than you think my good man. Plenty of time... Now... Let me ask you this... Ever heard of mafeking?
(Welseley is ruffled, stands and looks off stage as you would look out a window)
Powell: Up north sir? On the border?
Wolseley: The same.
Powell: Well that's Afrikaner territory isn't it?
(Wolseley sits and fidgets for a while then regains composure)
Wolseley: well. Not just yet I don't think. Look. It's ours if we want it at this point. The boys back home won't give us the go ahead to do anything yet. But it's on the horizon I feel it. Yes. We need that town, Colonel. It is vital to the crown! we must have it and I want you to get it for us before the first gunshot is fired in this war that I know will be upon us tomorrow!
(Powell stands and almost drops tea)
Wolseley: Oh pish posh! Not tomorrow. I'm talking figuratively man. Sit, sit, I say and bring yourself together.
(Powell breathes sigh of relief, sits and straightens jacket)
Wolseley: Now. We need that town Colonel but we have to obey orders from home, yes? I just need you to figure out how to do it.
Powell: me sir?
(Powell pauses and thinks, playing with his moustache)
Powell: Well... No... I could... No. Hmmm...
(Wolseley shifts uncomfortably)
Powell: Is there a roundhouse there?
(Wolseley frowns and consults maps on desktop)
Wolseley: No, just a thruway and a mechanic station.
Powell: But it's certainly no whistle-stop.
(Powell sits lost in thought)
Powell: May I see the map sir?
Wolseley: Oh just! Here!
(Powell stands and comes to the side of Wolseley's desk. Wolseley points on map)
Wolseley: Main roads are here and here. And we have our patrol shacks here and here and I think... Here.
Powell: Not really a commanding position.
Wolseley: But we make do with what we are given, what what?
(Both are silent for a very long time, then Wolseley shouts and Powell jumps visibly)
Wolseley: Jules! Bring me my pipe!
(Powell picks up map and walks it over to window. Jules enters with pipe and fumbles about with stuffing it and lighting it, humorously)
Wolseley: Dammit man! Just give it to me.
(Jules fumbles about some more and almost spills the tobacco on Wolseley)
Wolseley: Out with you!
(Jules leaves, almost tripping on the rug. Wolseley stuffs and lights his pipe. Powell brings back over the map to the desk and places several different types of markers on it. Wolseley is interested)
Powell: Aha! There it is
Wolseley: What? My ashtray?
Powell: No sir? Ah!
(Powell looks for ashtray, finds it and delivers it)
Wolseley: Thank you. Now, there what is?
Powell: My plan sir.
Powell: right sir. I must presume that the Field Marshall is going to be declaring war very soon and so I must make my assumptions thusly. I cannot hold this town or take this town as it is...
(Wolseley starts to object but Powell’s hand comes up. Wolseley sits back as Powell explains and puffs away dramatically on his pipe with great volumes of smoke. Powell points to various things on the map with great gestures)
Powell: If I may sir... “As it is.” But I may hold it if I am inside and able to control it. The main road in from the north can easily be barricaded. From the inside the main problem is the east-west road. Unless I have a regiment, I cannot see any other way to do it unless I go in with a few men and recruit from within. Another jameson raid will not happen here. We have not the numbers and we are not at war yet.
(Powell begins pacing and using even larger gestures to and from the map while he moves pieces on map)
Powell: Quite. And so we must do to them what the yankees did to us a six score years ago. Attack without attacking under the expectations of the enemy. What I propose sir is that I arrive to town under leisurely circumstances... by train. I then have following me, several men, acting under false pretenses as those would on holiday, to the town, and meet me there. My main goal would be to do a "check up and survey" of all of our supplies there.
Wolseley: You would have to ask the townspeople about that. They aren't too friendly to us now.
Powell: yes. But we already have three men there.
Wolseley: One man. A local.
Powell: Alright. We have one man in the town.
Wolseley: yes. Oh I see. Ha ha! we already have men there. Jolly good. We need not get a foot in the door as we have already left our shoes there!
Powell: Well. Man. But we could inspect him. Inspect the shacks. Get permission to "guard" the shacks... Yes. We could do that. And then when they say "yes" to us. We walk in with a hundred men! and when I say walk in with a hundred, there will already be twenty of "us" there posing as vacationers, just change the clothes on the man. The man remains the same. Where there was one man, there will now be five score!
(Wolseley jumps up from desk and begins pacing as well. Both men are very animated)
Wolseley: Aha! Doing our duty to the Queen whilst appearing otherwise!
Powell: We never fail when we try to do our duty, we always fail when we neglect to do it.
Wolseley: Well put! But how will you convince the people that they are not being over-run or besieged at that point?
Powell: Simply by telling them that.
(Both men consult the map again)
Powell: not so lying sir. Just overstating the truth. We are "guarding our supplies". It just so happens that we need a great plethora of people to guard the supplies. And if we need to guard the supplies then we need to guard the surrounding buildings to the supplies. And if that, then the town that includes those buildings. So, in effect, we are guarding our supplies by occupying the town! Brilliant!
(Hearty pats on the back from both and a good deal of self congratulations then both sit and go back into thinking. Wolseley is casual about his pipe and bides his time while pouring drinks)
Powell: Now... After some time, as it is the custom with occupying forces, the local... People... The ah... Um...
Wolseley: ‘Barolong Boo Ratshidi...’
Powell: Yes. But we can call them blacks?
Wolseley: Calling them Barlong I would wager would do the trick, what?
Powell: Right. The Barlong will want to either help or rebel. They will choose sides quickly. So we must come with money or supplies ourselves... Surely since it's still an old mercenary town, there are bullets enough? Well. Aha. On second thought.. The men when they come in... In their luggage will be "Survey Equipment" or "Safari Equipment" and the like but it will really be in the likeness of war materials. Radios, rifles! ... And our jackets lined with bullets.
Wolseley: There's never enough bullets for the Dutch.
Powell: And we do pray that the Germanics and our own people of Britain will one day see peace with each other, I do not think that today is that day. Or tomorrow, as you say.
Powell: So. We will buy the town instantly. We will throw a party and invite the entirety of them to join our cause.
Wolseley: Because by defending these three shacks of yours, they defend their own town.
Powell: Precisely. We will enlist the strongest and then enlist the next strongest. We will let them build their own army.
Wolseley: An army of blacks?
Powell: I thought you said to call them Barlong.
Wolseley: All the same. I don't think that the Afrikaans will like that at all. I don't think the Queen will like it.
Powell: Well there is no other way. The people must be made free to fight. We all share the same color blood of this common goal.
Wolseley: So you have some men with you. Recruit the Barlongs, what about the English already there?
(Powell is back to thinking and stands to resume pacing)
Powell: They require no prodding I would wager. As a matter of fact they can be an equal squad of their own. Give the whites the buildings and give the blacks the perimeter. “The Black Watch". They know the land better anyway. It was theirs to begin with.
Wolseley: Yes, but we traded fairly with them for that town. Everyone gets along there.
Powell: All the more reason.
Wolseley: What about defence? You can't just build walls or dig moats in those hills. It’s naught but dust.
Powell: We have long-range sharpshooters. We won't let them near us. Ah. Wait. But a hoard would easily get by that. Barbed wire. Or not barbed wire at all. Hmmm.
Wolseley: Speak plainly man.
(Powell sits in the chair, lunges at the map, sits in the chair again and is silent for several moments. A smile spreads across his face and he comes around the desk to show Wolseley the map from his side. This makes Wolseley very uncomfortable)
Powell: Well it's been my experience that I cannot see barbed wire from a distance.
Wolseley: Hrmmm. Yes? Well, what of it.
Powell: Neither can anyone else.
Powell: No one can. Not unless the gods of invention have created a better spyglass to outwit the mirage.
Wolseley: What are you...
(Powell moves pieces around on the map again)
Powell: No wire! Just the posts for the wire! And then act like there is wire there by ducking underneath when you come between the posts! Ha! It's brilliant! See... I build a perimeter around the entire town. That's only several hundred posts or road ties or anything I can find that will act as a fencepost... And then I do nothing with them. We will have men mimic the wire being there, and from a distance, say, just out of shooting range, they will think that we have circled the entire town about with wire! Under a barrage of sniper fire, no infantry unit wants to assault that!
Wolseley: Aha man! That's wonderful!
Powell: yes! yes! wait. What's this?
Wolseley: that's TNT. We have about twenty kilos of it.
Powell: that should be enough to be effective.
Wolseley: Against two armoured units? What if there's twenty? Or more?
Powell: It's unavoidable. I wouldn't have enough anyway, even if we loaded down an entire boxcar full with it. I need another ruse. Except I will use all of my TNT to build it.
Wolseley: Build a ruse?
Powell: With shipping boxes.
Wolseley: Shipping boxes? No one's afraid of a shipping box!
Powell: they are if you paint it brightly and put "T.N.T." on the outside...
(Wolseley sits and lights his pipe thinking)
Powell: I only need one, maybe two working models. I have one of the buildings sealed off, build a hundred boxes. Paint them all with "T.N.T." on the outside and fill them all with bricks. Except two.
Wolseley: Then... Then! Great Scot! Then you take those two and say: "Curse you Dutch dogs! I've got a hundred of these!" And you blow one up just to prove your point!
(Wolseley is impressed and stands, arm on the shoulder of Powell, they walk to center stage)
Wolseley: Ahh Colonel my boy... You're one sneaky devil.
Powell: I believe that I should say ‘Thank you sir.’
Wolseley: I must admit that you've got me on the ruse of your defences. So… Now... What about the townspeople? Say you have some sympathizers? Some spies who leak out and tell the enemy?
Powell: I won't let them sir.
Wolseley: How will you stop them?
Powell: The way the Romans did it sir. Games, sports, theatre. It will be paradise on the inside sir for the most foul and the most unhappy of them. I pick out the ringleaders of the movement against us and turn them into the organizers of the activities.
Wolseley: Giving them even more power to rebel?
Powell: False power sir. They would be umpires. Coaches. Playwrights. Rebellion would be replaced with self importance.
Wolseley: Right. Keep a button on that.
(Powell gestures at the map and paces a little. Pours a drink for himself and downs it, all the while seemingly thinking out loud, growing more and more animated)
Powell: And... I was thinking that we could have some of our own spies during this ‘supposed or probably going to happen tomorrow’ war. Many of my own men could spy out the enemy camp dressed as women. We could operate at night this way as well. Dressed in all black clothing. Sort of a camouflage if you will. Why we could even use an abandon train car to snipe at them if they get too close. I would dare say, that if they are unwise enough to camp along the tracks themselves that we could simply push a rail car down to them while they were all asleep and invade that way. Ha! If the tracks are greased properly they would make no sound at all! All that would be heard would be the mewling groans of the enemy being trodden underfoot.
(Wolseley grows more and more uncomfortable at this talk and is almost revolted)
Wolseley: Jolly good... Jolly good.
(Snaps back to reality)
Powell: it's certainly worth a looking into sir.
(Visibly relieved that Powell has ceased talking war tactics)
Wolseley: So! Good man! You'll do it?
Powell: Was there ever any doubt sir?
Powell: Then count me in!
Wolseley: For Mafeking and the Queen!
Powell: For Mafeking and Queen!
Wolseley: ...And a better South Africa.
Powell: Much agreed to that sir.
(A pause, Powell sits, Wolseley sits behind his desk and cleans his pipe)
Wolseley: I wonder what, in all of this, will happen with those troublesome Afrikaners? Pretentious lot that. Calling themselves after the entire continent. Just like those troublesome Yankees. "Americans" Haw haw. Such arrogance.
Powell: Indeed sir.
Wolseley: And I can't help but think that they may yet try to take you on Powell. With all your cunning and deception, you hang on the edge of the knife, as it were. So much riding on ruses and trickery. One wrong move my man, and you lose your position.
Powell: Indeed sir. Yet I must stake my life on it.
Wolseley: And it comes to me that you might not come home.
Powell: Indeed sir. But I do have plans sir. I am always prepared.
Wolseley: Indeed you are. Well.
(Both stand and shake hands)
Wolseley: I guess this is it then Colonel. You leave as soon as you gather your men and your supplies. Hopefully tonight, by tomorrow at the latest. This must be done with post haste! God speed and return victorious!
(Powell snaps salute and Wolseley salutes back)
Wolseley: Don't let anything surprise you out there.
Powell: Don't worry sir! A good soldier is never taken by surprise! He knows exactly what to do when anything unexpected happens.
(Powell exits stage left, Wolseley sits and reminisces)
Wolseley: What a fine young man. A very fine young man indeed. The best scout I have.
(Wolseley has mislaid his pipe and is suddenly very alert)
Wolseley: Jules! Damn it man! Where's my pipe?