The Audio Drama Show

The Story of Tom Smart

March 15, 2020 Adaptor & Director James Newberry; Sound Engineer, Robbie Burgess Season 1 Episode 1
The Audio Drama Show
The Story of Tom Smart
Chapters
The Audio Drama Show
The Story of Tom Smart
Mar 15, 2020 Season 1 Episode 1
Adaptor & Director James Newberry; Sound Engineer, Robbie Burgess

"Tom Smart" is one of four short stories adapted from Charles Dickens' first major work "The Pickwick Papers".  Originally called "A Tale Told by a Bagman", it is a story of magical transformation.  After a few too many drinks at the inn where he is staying, our hero Tom  notices a strange wooden chair in his bedroom.  What follows is a fantastic encounter that changes Tom's life forever. 

Show Notes Transcript

"Tom Smart" is one of four short stories adapted from Charles Dickens' first major work "The Pickwick Papers".  Originally called "A Tale Told by a Bagman", it is a story of magical transformation.  After a few too many drinks at the inn where he is staying, our hero Tom  notices a strange wooden chair in his bedroom.  What follows is a fantastic encounter that changes Tom's life forever. 

Tales from The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

The Story of Tom Smart, the Widow, and the Wooden Chair

 Cast
Narrator 1 and Tom Smart – Jim Newberry
Narrator 2 and The Widow – Lisa Nightingale
Wooden Chair – Mike Ayris

Text | Voice 

Narrator 1
One stormy winter’s evening just before dusk, a man in a small carriage was urging his tired horse along the road.  He was travelling across the Marlborough Downs in the direction of Bristol.  The wind blew across the road and the carriage jogged along in the middle of it, lonesome and dreary.  Its driver was Tom Smart, a salesman working for the great firm of Bilson and Slum. 

For a moment, the gale would die away and Tom would delude himself that it had quietly laid itself down to rest.  Then on it would come again.  Rushing over the hill-tops, gathering sound and strength.  Until it dashed with a heavy gust against horse and man.  Driving the sharp rain into their ears and its cold damp breath into their bones. 

Narrator 2
The bay mare splashed away through the mud and water with drooping ears.  Now and then tossing her head in disgust at the elements but keeping a good pace.

Tom Smart
Well damn my straps and whiskers, if this ain’t pleasant, blow me! Cheer up, old girl. It won’t do pushing on such a night as this.  The first house we come to we’ll pull up at, so the faster you go the sooner it’s over.    Whoah! 

Narrator 2
The mare had pricked up her ears and started off at speed.  This made the clay-coloured carriage rattle until you’d think every one of its red spokes were going to fly out onto the turf.  Fit as he was, even Tom couldn’t stop or check her pace. 

Finally, she drew up of her own accord before a road-side inn, about a quarter of a mile from the end of the Downs.   Tom cast a hasty glance at the upper part of the house as he threw the reins to the hostler.  It was a comfortable-looking place.  There was a strong, cheerful light in the bar window which shed a bright ray across the road.  A red flickering light in the opposite window indicated that a rousing fire blazed within. 

Narrator 1
He entered and in less than five minutes, he was ensconced in the room opposite the bar, where the fire roared and crackled with a heart-warming sound.  A smartly-dressed girl was laying a very clean white cloth on the table. 

As Tom sat with his slippered feet on the fender, he saw a charming prospect.  It was the bar reflected in the glass over the chimney-piece.  Delightful rows of green bottles and gold labels, together with jars of pickles, preserves, cheeses, boiled hams and rounds of beef.  All arranged on the shelves in a most attractive array.   

Well this was tempting, but it was not all.  Taking tea at the nicest possible table was a buxom widow of eight and forty or thereabouts.  Evidently, the landlady of the house.   There was only one drawback to the beauty of the whole picture.  This was in the shape of a very tall man in a brown coat, bright basket buttons, black whiskers, and wavy black hair.  He was sat at tea with the widow.  It required no great penetration to discover he was in a fair way of persuading her to be a widow no longer. 

Narrator 2
Tom Smart was by no means of an irritable or envious disposition.  But this tall man with the brown coat made him feel extremely indignant.  Particularly, as he could now observe certain little familiarities passing between the tall man and the widow.  Clearly indicating that the man was as high in favour as he was in size. 

Now Tom was very fond of hot punch.  Having seen the mare well-fed and littered down, he ate the nice little dinner which the widow prepared for him with her own hands.  Then he ordered a tumbler of punch.  This first punch was so deliciously adapted to his taste that he immediately ordered a second.  And another.  And another.  The more he drank of the hot punch, the more he thought of the tall man. 

Tom Smart
Confound his impudence!  What business has he in that snug bar?  Such an ugly villain too!  If the widow had any taste she might surely pick some better fellow than that!

Narrator 1
It had long been Tom’s ambition to stand in a bar of his own.  He had often thought how well he could preside in his own room - in the talking way.  And the capital example he could set to his customers in the drinking department. 

As he sat, downing two more tumblers of punch by the roaring fire, he began to feel very justly and properly indignant.   Irritated that the tall man should be well on his way to keeping such an excellent house, while he was as far off as ever from it.   

Narrator 2
Soon he was deliberating whether he hadn’t the perfect right to pick a quarrel with the tall man.  But in the end, he arrived at the satisfactory conclusion that he was…

Tom Smart
(Bit drunk) A very ill-used and persecuted individual.

Narrator 2
…and had better go to bed.  Tom was conducted through a maze of rooms and labyrinth of passages by the smart girl.  She preceded him to the apartment that had been prepared for him, where she bade him goodnight.   

Narrator 1
It was a good, large room with big closets and a bed which might have served for a whole boarding school.  To say nothing of a couple of oak presses that would have held the baggage of a small army.  But what struck Tom’s fancy most was a strange, grim-looking, high backed chair.  This chair was carved in the most fantastic manner, with a flowered silk cushion.     The round knobs at the bottom of its legs were carefully tied up in red cloth, as if it had gout in its toes.   There was something very peculiar about this particular chair, yet he couldn’t tell what it was. 

Narrator 2
He sat down before the fire and stared at the chair for a full half an hour before getting undressed.  He couldn’t take his eyes off it.

Tom Smart
Well, I never saw such a rum concern as that in all my days.  Very odd.

Narrator 2
He got into bed, covered up warm and fell asleep.  But in about half an hour, Tom woke up with a start from a confused dream of tall men and tumblers of punch.

Tom Smart
(Disturbed wake-up) Ah!

Narrator 2
The first object that presented itself to his waking imagination was the strange chair.  He squeezed his eyelids together and tried to persuade himself to go to sleep.   

Tom Smart
(Strained determination) Oooh! I won’t look at it anymore.

Narrator 2
It was no use.  Nothing but odd chairs danced before his eyes.  Kicking up their legs, jumping over each other’s backs, and playing all kinds of antics.

Tom Smart
(Sigh then) I may as well see one real chair as two or three complete sets of imaginary ones. (Opens eyes) Gah!

Narrator 2
All at once, Tom opened his eyes and gazed at the chair.  Suddenly, a most extraordinary change seemed to come over it.   

Tom Smart
Huh? 

Narrator 2
The carving on the back gradually assumed the expression of an old, shrivelled human face.  The silk cushion became an antique, flapped waistcoat.  The round knobs grew into a couple of feet encased in red cloth slippers.  And the whole chair looked like a very ugly old man of the previous century with his arms spread wide.

Wooden Chair
(Deep straining and then relief) Uuuuuh - aaaah!

Tom Smart
Wha?! 

Narrator 2
Tom sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes in disbelief.  The chair remained an ugly old gentleman.  And what was more he was winking at him!   Although he was startled at first, he began to grow rather indignant when he saw the old man continue to wink and leer at him with such an impudent air. 

Tom Smart
What the devil are you winking at me for?!   

Narrator 2
The chair stopped winking.  And began grinning and chuckling like a superannuated monkey. 

Wooden Chair
Heh! Heh! Heh!  Because I likes it Tom Smart.

Tom Smart
(Staggered but pretending not)  How do you know my name, old nut-cracker face?

Wooden Chair
Come, come Tom, that’s not the way to address solid Spanish mahogany.  (Faux fiercely) Damn me, you couldn’t treat me with less respect if I was veneered! 

Tom Smart
(Humbler) I didn’t mean to treat you with any disrespect, sir.

Wooden Chair
Well, well.  Perhaps not, perhaps not. 

Tom Smart
Sir, how did you... 

Wooden Chair
(Interrupting) I know everything about you Tom; everything.  You are very poor, aren’t you?

Tom Smart
I certainly am.  But how came you to know about that?

Wooden Chair
Never mind.  You are also much too fond of punch, Tom.

Tom Smart
(Protesting) But I haven’t touched a drop since my last birthday, six months or more ago and… 

Wooden Chair
(Interrupting again) The widow’s a fine and remarkable woman, eh?

Narrator 2
Here the old fellow screwed up his eyes, cocked up one of his wasted little legs, and looked altogether so unpleasantly amorous that Tom was quite disgusted. 

Tom Smart
(Disgust) “Ahem!”   

Wooden Chair
(Clearing throat to restore respectability) Hem, I am her guardian, Tom.

Tom Smart
(Slightly disbelieving) Are you?

Wooden Chair
I knew her mother and her grandmother.  She was very fond of me and made me this waistcoat and these shoes.

Tom Smart
Did she?

Wooden Chair
(Bit pompous) But don’t mention it.  I shouldn’t like to have it known that she was so much attached to me.  It might occasion some “unpleasantness” in the family.  I have been a great favourite among the women in my time, Tom.  Hundreds of fine women have sat in my lap for hours on end.  What do you think of that, eh?! (laughter followed by pained coughing).

Tom Smart
(To himself)  Just serves you right, old boy.

Wooden Chair
(Recovering sigh) Ah!  I am a good deal troubled now.  I am getting old, Tom.  I’ve lost nearly all my rails.  (Feeling it) Mmm. I have had an operation performed too – a small piece of wood let into my back.  (Small groan) I found that a severe trial.

Tom Smart
I dare say you did sir.

Wooden Chair
However, that is not the point Tom.  I want you to marry the widow.

Tom Smart
Me sir!

Wooden Chair
You.

Tom Smart
(Sighing & incredulous) Bless your reverend locks, she wouldn’t have me.

Wooden Chair
(Firmly)  Wouldn’t she?

Tom Smart
No, no, there’s somebody else in the wind.  A tall man – a confoundedly tall man – with black whiskers.

Wooden Chair
(Assertive) Tom – she will never have him.

Tom Smart
Won’t she?  If you stood in the bar, old gentleman, you’d tell another story.

Wooden Chair
Pooh, pooh.  I know all about that.

Tom Smart
About what?

Wooden Chair
The kissing behind the door, and all that sort of thing. (Laughter) I know all about that Tom.  In my time, I have seen it done often between more people than I’d like to mention.  But it never comes to anything.

Tom Smart
(Inquisitive) You must have seen some strange things.

Wooden Chair
You may say that, Tom.  (Elegiac) I am the last of my family. 

Tom Smart
Was it a large one?

Wooden Chair
(More elegy) There were twelve of us.  Fine, straight-backed, handsome fellows as you’d wish to see.  None of your modern rubbish.

Tom Smart
And what became of the others?

Wooden Chair
(Sorrowful) Gone, Tom, all gone.  We had hard service and they didn’t all have my constitution.  They got rheumatic about the legs and arms.  Went into kitchens and hospitals.  One of ‘em, with long service and hard usage, lost his mind.  He got so crazy they had to burn him.  Shocking thing that.

Tom Smart
Dreadful! 

Wooden Chair
However, I am wandering from the point.  This tall man is a rascally adventurer.  The moment he married the widow, he would sell off all the furniture and run away.  What would be the consequence?  She would be deserted and reduced to ruin.  And I should catch my death of cold in some pawnbroker’s shop.

Tom Smart
Yes, but...

Wooden Chair
Don’t interrupt me.  Of you Tom, I entertain a different opinion.  For I know that if you once settled yourself in a public house, you would never leave it, as long as there was something to drink.

Tom Smart
I am very much obliged to you for your good opinion, sir.

Wooden Chair
(Dictatorial) Therefore, you shall have her and he shall not.

Tom Smart
(Eagerly)  “What is to prevent it?”

Wooden Chair
This disclosure.  He is already married.

Tom Smart
But how can I prove it?

Wooden Chair
He little thinks that in the right-hand pocket of a pair of trousers in that press, he has left a letter.  A letter begging him to return to his heart-broken wife.  And he has six – mark me – six babes, all of them small ones.

Narrator 2
As the old gentleman solemnly uttered these words, his features grew less and less distinct and his figure more shadowy.  A film came over Tom Smart’s eyes.  The old man seemed to be blending into the chair.  The damask waistcoat resolving into a cushion.  And the red slippers shrinking into little red cloth bags.

The light faded gently away and Tom Smart fell back on his pillow and dropped asleep.       

Tom Smart
Uh!

Narrator 2
Morning aroused Tom.  He sat up in bed and for some minutes vainly tried to recall the events of the previous night.  Suddenly they rushed upon him.  He looked at the chair.  It was a fantastic and grim-looking piece of furniture certainly.  But it must have been a remarkably ingenious and lively imagination that could have discovered any resemblance between it and an old man. 

Tom Smart
How are you old boy?  (Beat)  Miserable morning.

Narrator 2
The chair would not be drawn into conversation.

Tom Smart
Remind me if you would, which press did you point to for that letter? (short pause)  You can tell me that? (pause) It’s not much trouble to open it anyhow.

Narrator 2
He walked up to one of the presses.  The key was in the lock.  He turned it and opened the door.  There was a pair of trousers there.  He put his hand into the pocket.  And drew forth the identical letter the old gentleman had described.   

Tom Smart
(Reading then) Queer sort of thing this.  Very queer.

Narrator 2
Tom surveyed the room he passed through on his way downstairs with the scrutinising eye of a landlord.  The tall man was standing in the snug little bar with his hands behind him, quite at home.  He grinned vacantly at Tom.  A casual observer might have supposed that he did it only to show off his white teeth.  But Tom Smart thought that a consciousness of triumph was passing through the place where the man’s mind would have been – if he had any.  The widow entered.

Tom Smart
Good morning ma’am.

The Widow
Good morning, sir.  What will you take for breakfast sir?

Narrator 1
Tom was thinking desperately how he should open proceedings, so he made no answer. 

The Widow
There’s a very nice ham and a beautiful cold-larded fowl.  Shall I send ‘em in sir?

Narrator 1
These words roused Tom from his reflections.  His admiration for the widow had increased as she spoke. 

Tom Smart
Who is that gentleman in the bar, ma’am?

The Widow
(Blushing) His name is Jenkins, sir.   

Tom Smart
He’s a tall man.

The Widow
He is a very fine man, sir, and a very nice gentleman.

Tom Smart
Ahh.

The Widow
Is there anything more you want, sir?

Tom Smart
Why yes, my dear ma’am, will you have the kindness to sit down with me for one moment?

Narrator 1
The widow looked much amazed.  But she sat down and Tom sat down too, close beside her.  Somehow or other, the palm of Tom’s hand fell upon the back of the widow’s.  And remained there while he spoke.   

Tom Smart
My dear ma’am, you deserve a very excellent husband –you do indeed.

The Widow
Lor', sir!

Tom Smart
I scorn to flatter my dear ma’am.  You deserve a very admirable husband and, whoever he is, he’ll be a very lucky man.

Narrator 1
The widow looked puzzled and made an effort to rise.

Tom Smart
Stay.

Narrator 1
Tom gently pressed her hand as if to detain her, and she kept her seat.   

The Widow
(Half-laughing) I am sure I am very much obliged to you, sir, for your good opinion.  If I ever marry again…

Tom Smart
(Wryly) If?... (wry chuckle) If?

The Widow
(Laughing outright) Well, when I do, I hope I shall have as good a husband as you describe. 

Tom Smart
You mean Jenkins.

The Widow
Lor' sir!

Tom Smart
Oh don’t tell me.  I know him.

The Widow
(Bridling) I am sure nobody who knows him has anything bad to say about him.

Tom Smart
  Hem!

The Widow
(Beginning to cry) Do you wish to insult me, sir?  Do you think it gentlemanly to take away the character of another gentleman behind his back?  If you have anything to say, why do you not say it to him, like a man, instead of terrifying me?

Tom Smart
I’ll say it to him fast enough.  Only I want you to hear it first.

The Widow
(Intently) What is it?

Tom Smart
It’ll astonish you.

The Widow
(Defensive) If it is that he needs money I know that already, and you needn’t trouble yourself.

Tom Smart
Pooh, nonsense, that’s nothing.  I need money.  ‘Tain’t that.

The Widow
(Exclaiming) Oh dear, what can it be?

Tom Smart
Don’t be frightened.  You won’t scream?

The Widow
No, no, tell me.

Tom Smart
You won’t go fainting away or any of that nonsense?

The Widow
(Impatiently) No, no.

Tom Smart
And don’t run and blow him out.  Because I’ll do that for you.

The Widow
Yes, yes – tell me!

Tom Smart
(Deep breath then) I will. 

Narrator 1
With these words, Tom Smart drew forth the letter, unfolded it and placed it in the widow’s hand.   

The Widow
(Reading of letter, then major emotional upset)  Oh, the deception and villainy of the man!

Tom Smart
Frightful, my dear ma’am, but compose yourself.

The Widow
(Shrieking) Oh, I can’t compose myself!  I shall never find anyone else I can love so much! (crying that continues)

Tom Smart
(Upset, verge of tears) Oh yes, you will my dear soul, you will!

Narrator 2
In the energy of his compassion, Tom Smart put his arm round the widow.  She, in a passion of grief, clasped Tom’s hand.  She looked up into Tom’s face, and smiled through her tears.  Tom looked down in hers, and smiled through his.  They kissed.   

Narrator 1
Half an hour later, Tom kicked the very tall man out at the front door.   

Tom Smart
And don’t come back!

Narrator 1
Within a month, he had married the widow. 

Narrator 2
His greatest pleasure was to drive about the country in the clay-coloured carriage.  With its red wheels and the lively, fast-paced mare.  Many years after, he gave up the landlording business and went to France with his wife.   

Narrator 1
Eventually, the old house on the edge of the Marlborough Downs was pulled down.  But what of the chair that became an old man?  Well, according to Tom Smart, on the day of the wedding the chair was observed to creak very much.   He could not say for certain whether it was with pleasure.  Or bodily infirmity.     He rather thought it was the latter, though, for the old chair never spoke again.

Ends

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