JOHN. Didn't I tell you so! There's naught that Jerry cannot do. You'll have a drink for this, my man
ROSE. You may take my word he's had that already, John.
JEREMY. I have, mistress. Whilst they was a packing up the poultry in my basket. Down at the Bull.
ROSE. What sort of a maid is it?
JEREMY. Ah, 'tis for you to tell me that, mistress, when you've had her along of you a bit.
ROSE. And the man?
JEREMY. Much the same as any other male.
ROSE. [Impatiently.] Do you step outside, John, and have a look at them, and if they're suitable bring them in and we'll set them about their work.
[JOHN goes out. KITTY peers through the window.
JEREMY. I reckon I can go off and feed the hilts now. 'Tis the time.
ROSE. Feed the hilts! Indeed you can't do no such thing. O I'm mad with vexation that nothing is well ordered or suitably prepared for Mr. Robert and his fine cousins from Bristol town. Whatever will they say to such a house when they do see it?
JEREMY. I'm sure I don't know.
KITTY. [From the window.] I see the new servants. John is bringing them up the walk. The man's face is hid by his broad hat, but the girl looks neat enough in her cotton gown and sun-bonnet.
[JOHN comes into the room, followed by LUBIN and ISABEL. LUBIN shuffles off his hat, but holds it between his face and the people in the room.
JEREMY. [Pointing to them and speaking to ROSE.] There you are, mistress—man-servant and maid.
ROSE. What do we know about them? Folk picked up by Jerry at the Red Bull.
JEREMY. No, from the roadside.
ROSE. Worser far.
JOHN. No, no, Rose. These young persons were spoken for by Mary Meadows. And 'tis rare fortunate for we to obtain their services at short notice like this.
ROSE. [To ISABEL.] What are you called, my girl?
ISABEL. [Faintly.] Isabel is my name, but I'd sooner you called me Lucy.
ROSE. And that I will. My tongue is used to Lucy. The other is a flighty, fanciful name for a servant.
KITTY. And what is the man called, John?
LUBIN. [Harshly.] I am called William.
KITTY. William and Lucy! Like the ones that ran away this morning.
ROSE. O do not let us waste any more time! Jerry, do you take the man and shew him his work in the back kitchen; and Lucy, come to me and help me with my gown and my hair dressing. We have not a minute to lose.
KITTY. They may be upon us any time now. I'll go out and gather the flowers for the parlour, since you don't want me any more within, Rose.
JOHN. And I'll get and finish Jeremy's work in the yard. 'Tis upside down and round about and no how to-day. But we'll come out of it some time afore next year I reckon.
JEREMY. Don't you ever go for to get married, master. There could never come a worser caddle into a man's days nor matrimony, I count.
[JOHN, on his way to the door, pauses—as though momentarily lost in thought.
JOHN. Was Mary Meadows asked to drop in at any time to-day, Rose?
ROSE. [Who is taking up her gown and ribbons to show to ISABEL, and speaking crossly.] I'm sure I don't know, nor care. I've enough to think about as 'tis.
KITTY. [Taking JOHN's arm playfully.] You're terribly took up with Mary Meadows, John.
JOHN. There isn't many like her, Kitty. She do rear herself above t'others as—as a good wheat stalk from out the rubbish.
[JOHN and KITTY go slowly out.
JEREMY. [As though to himself.] I sees as how I shall have to keep an eye on master—[turning to LUBIN and signing to him.] But come, my man, us has no time for romance, 'tis dish washing as lies afore you now.
[LUBIN jerks his head haughtily and makes a protesting gesture. Then he seems to remember himself and follows JEREMY humbly from the room. ROSE takes up some ribbons and laces.
ROSE. [To ISABEL, who is standing near.] Now, Lucy, we must look sharp; Mister Robert and his cousins from Bristol town will soon be here. I have not met with the cousins yet, but I've been told as they're very fine ladies—They stood in place of parents to my Robert, you know. 'Tis unfortunate we should be in such a sad muddle the day they come.
ISABEL. When I have helped you into your gown, mistress, I shall soon have the dinner spread and all in order. I be used to such work, and I'm considered spry upon my feet.
ROSE. 'Tis more serious that you should be able to curl my hair in the way that Mr. Robert likes.
ISABEL. [Sadly.] I don't doubt but that I shall be able to do that too, mistress.
ROSE. Very well. Take the gown and come with me up to my room.
[They go out together, ISABEL carrying the gown.
ACT II.—Scene 2.
The same room. The table is laid for dinner and ISABEL is putting flowers upon it. LUBIN wearing his hat, enters with large jugs of cider, which he sets upon a side table.
ISABEL. [Looking up from her work.] Shall us ever have the heart to go on with it, Master Lubin?
LUBIN. [Bitterly.] Do not you "Master" me, Isabel. I'm only a common servant in the house where once I was lover and almost brother.
ISABEL. [Coming up to him.] O do not take it so hard, Lubin—Us can do naught at this pass but trust what the young woman did tell me.
LUBIN. [Gloomily.] The sight of Rose has stirred up my love so powerful that I do hardly know how to hold the tears back from my eyes.
ISABEL. [Pressing her eyes with her apron.] What'll it be for me when Robert comes in?
LUBIN. We'll have to help one another, Isabel, in the plight where we stand.
ISABEL. That's it. And perchance as them seeds'll do the rest.
[They spring apart as a sound of voices and laughter is heard outside.
KITTY. [Runs in.] They've come. All of them. And do you know that Robert's cousins are no fine ladies at all, as he said, but just two common old women dressed grand-like.
ISABEL. That will be a sad shock to poor mistress.
KITTY. O, she is too much taken up with Mister Robert to notice yet. But quick! They are all sharp set from the drive. Fetch in the dishes, William and Lucy.
ISABEL. All shall be ready in a moment, Miss Kitty.
[She goes hurriedly out followed by LUBIN. KITTY glances round the room and then stands at the side of the front door. JOHN, giving an arm to each of ROBERT'S cousins, enters. The cousins are dressed in coloured flowered dresses, and wear bonnets that are heavy with bright plumes. They look cumbered and ill at ease in their clothes, and carry their sunshades and gloves awkwardly.
LIZ. [Looking round her.] Very comfortable, I'm sure. But I count as that there old-fashioned grate do take a rare bit of elbow grease.
JANE. Very pleasant indeed. But I didn't reckon as the room would be quite the shape as 'tis.
LIZ. Come to that, I didn't expect the house to look as it do.
JANE. Very ancient in appearance, I'm sure.
JOHN. Ah, the house has done well enough for me and my father and grandfather afore me.
[ROSE, very grandly dressed, comes in hanging on ROBERT'S arm. ROBERT is clothed in the fashion of the town.
ROSE. Please to remove your bonnet, Miss Eliza. Please to remove yours, Miss Jane.
JOHN. [Heartily.] Ah, that's so—'Twill be more homely like for eating.
ROSE. There's a glass upon the wall.
LIZ. I prefer to remain as I be.
JANE. Sister and me have our caps packed up in the tin box.
KITTY. [Bringing the tin box from the doorway.] Shall I take you upstairs to change? Dinner's not quite ready yet.
LIZ. That will suit us best, I'm sure. Come, sister.
[KITTY leads the way out, followed by both sisters.
JOHN. I'll just step outside and see that Jerry's tending to the horse.
[He hurries out, and ROBERT is left alone with ROSE.
ROSE. [Coming towards him and holding out her hands.] O, Robert, is it the same between us as it was last time?
ROBERT. [Looking at her critically.] You've got your hair different or something.
ROSE. [Putting her hand to her head.] The new maid. A stupid country wench.
ROBERT. You've got my meaning wrong. 'Tis that I've never seen you look so well before.
ROSE. O dear Robert!
ROBERT. You've got my fancy more than ever, Rose.
ROSE. O, I'm so happy to be going off with you to-morrow, and I love it down at Bristol. Robert, I'm tired and sick of country life.
ROBERT. We'll make a grand fine lady of you there, Rose.
ROSE. [A little sharply.] Am I not one in looks already, Robert?
ROBERT. You're what I do dote upon. I can't say no more.
[LUBIN and ISABEL enter carrying dishes, which they set upon the table. ROBERT and ROSE turn their backs to them and look out into the garden. The staircase door is opened, and LIZ, JANE and KITTY come into the room. LIZ and JANE are wearing gaudy caps trimmed with violet and green ribbons.
ROSE. We'll sit down, now. John won't be a moment before he's here.
[She sits down at one end of the table and signs to ROBERT to place himself next to her. The sisters and KITTY seat themselves. JOHN comes hurriedly in.
JOHN. That's right. Everyone in their places? But no cover laid for Mary?
ROSE. [Carelessly.] We can soon have one put, should she take it into her head to drop in.
JOHN. That's it. Now ladies, now Robert—'tis thirsty work a- driving upon the Bristol road at midsummer. We'll lead off with a drink of home-made cider. The eating'll come sweeter afterwards.
ROBERT. That's it, Miller.
[LUBIN and ISABEL come forward and take the cider mugs from each place to the side table, where LUBIN fills them from a large jug. In the mugs of ROSE-ANNA and ROBERT, ISABEL shakes the contents of the little packets. Whilst they are doing this the following talk is carried on at the table.
LIZ [Taking up a spoon.] Real plated, sister.
JANE. Upon my word, so 'tis.
ROSE. And not so bright as I should wish to see it neither. I've had a sad trouble with my maids of late.
LIZ. Sister and I don't keep none of them, thank goodness.
JANE. We does our work with our own hands. We'd be ashamed if 'twas otherwise.
ROBERT. [Scowling at them.] I've been and engaged a house-full of servants for Rose-Anna. She shall know what 'tis to live like a lady once she enters our family.
JOHN. Servants be like green fly on the bush. They do but spoil th' home and everything they do touch. All save one.
KITTY. And that one's Jerry, I suppose.
JOHN. You're right there, Kitty, that you are. A harder head was never given to man than what Jerry do carry twixt his shoulders.
[LUBIN and ISABEL here put round the mugs of cider, and everyone drinks thirstily. ISABEL stands behind the chairs of ROSE and ROBERT and LUBIN at JOHN'S side.
ROBERT. [Setting down his mug.] There's a drink what can't be got in foreign parts.
ROSE. [Looking fondly at him.] Let the maid fill your mug again, my dear one.
ROBERT. [Carelessly handing it to ISABEL.] I don't mind if I do have another swill.
[ISABEL fills the mug and puts it by his side.
LIZ. As good as any I ever tasted.
JANE. Couldn't better it at the King's Head up our way.
JOHN. Good drink—plenty of it. Now we'll start upon the meat I reckon.
[He takes up a knife and fork and begins to carve, and LUBIN hands round plates. During this ROBERT'S gaze restlessly wanders about the room, finally fixing itself on ISABEL, who presently goes out to the back kitchen with plates.
ROBERT. The new serving maid you've got there, Rose, should wear a cap and not her bonnet.
ROSE. How sharp you are to notice anything.
ROBERT. A very pretty looking wench, from what I can see.
ROSE. [Speaking more to the cousins than to ROBERT.] O she's but a rough and untrained girl got in all of a hurry. Not at all the sort I've been used to in this house, I can tell you.
[ISABEL comes back with fresh plates and stands at the side table.
LIZ. [To JANE.] A mellower piece of pig meat I never did taste, sister.
JANE. I'm sorry I went and took the poultry.
KITTY. John will carve you some ham if you'd like to try it, Miss Jane.
JANE. I'm sure I'm much obliged.
[JEREMY comes in.]
JEREMY. [Coming to the back of JANE'S chair.] Don't you get mixing of your meats is what I says. Commence with ham and finish with he. That's what do suit the inside of a delicate female.
JANE. [Looking up admiringly.] Now that's just what old Uncle he did used to say.
JEREMY. Old uncle did know what he was a-talking about then.
LIZ. [Warming and looking less awkward and ill at ease.] 'Twas the gout what kept Uncle so low in his eating, 'twas not th' inclination of him.
JEREMY. Ah 'twouldn't be the gout nor any other disease as would keep me from a platter of good food.
JOHN. Nor from your mug of drink neither, Jerry.
[JEREMY laughs and moves off to the side table.
LIZ. A very pleasant sort of man.
JANE. I do like anyone what's homely.
JOHN. [Calling out heartily.] Do you listen to that, Jerry! The ladies here do find you pleasant and homely, and I don't know what else.
JEREMY. The mugs want filling once more.
[He stolidly goes round the table refilling the mugs. ROSE'S gaze wanders about her.
ROSE. [To ROBERT.] That's not a bad looking figure of a man -
ROSE. Well—the new farm hand.
ROBERT. A sulky looking brute. I'd not let him wear his hat to table if I was master here.
ROSE. He puts me in mind of—well—there, I can't recollect who 'tis. [A knock is heard at the door.
ROSE. [Sharply to ISABEL.] Go and see who 'tis, Lucy.
[ISABEL opens the door, and MARY MEADOWS stands on the threshold, a large nosegay of beautiful wild flowers in her hand.
JOHN. [Rising up in great pleasure.] You're late, Mary. But you're welcome as the—as the very sunshine.
ROSE. Set another place, Lucy.
MARY. Not for me, Rose. I did not come here to eat or drink, but to bring you these few blossoms and my love.
ROSE. [Rises from the table and takes the nosegay.] I'm sure you're very kind, Mary—Suppose we were all to move into the parlour now we have finished dinner, and then we could enjoy a bit of conversation.
LIZ. Very pleasant, I'm sure.
JANE. I see no objection.
KITTY. [Running round to look at the flowers.] And Mary shall tell us how to make charms out of the flowers—and the meanings of the blossoms and all the strange things she knows about them.
JOHN. [Taking a flower from the bunch and putting it into his coat.] Yes, and how to brew tea as'll curl up anyone's tongue within the mouth for a year—and fancy drinks for sheep with foot rot, and powders against the murrain and any other nonsense that you do please.
MARY. Now, John, I'll not have you damage my business like this.
LIZ. Maybe as the young person's got sommat what'll be handy with your complaint, sister.
JANE. Or for when you be took with th' air in your head so bad, Jane.
ROSE. Yes, I reckon that Mary has a charm for every ill beneath the sun. Let's go off to the parlour along of her. You're not coming with us, John, are you?
JOHN. I'd not miss the telling of these things for anything in the world, foolishness though they be.
ROSE. Come along then—all of you.
[They all go out. JEREMY holds the door open for them. As she passes through it LIZ says, looking at him.
LIZ. We shall hope for your company, too.
JANE. To be sure, mister.
JEREMY. [Haughtily.] I bain't one for parlours, nor charms, ma'am. I be here for another purpose.
[They leave the room.
JEREMY. [Having watched the party out, moves towards the cider jug.] Now, my man, now, my wench—us'll see what can be done with the victuals and drink they've been and left. 'Tis a fair heavy feed and drink as I do need. Sommat as'll lift me up through all the trials of this here foolish matrimony and stuff.
[He raises the jug of cider to his mouth as the Curtain falls.
ACT III.—Scene 1.
The next morning. ROBERT'S cousins are standing by the fire-place of the same room.
LIZ. 'Tis powerful unhomely here, Jane.
JANE. And that 'tis. I wish as Robert had never brought us along of him.
LIZ. She's a stuck-up jay of a thing what he's about to wed if ever I seed one.
JANE. That her be. He'll live to wish hisself dead and buried one day.
LIZ. There bain't but one sensible tongue in the whole place to my mind.
JANE. Ah, he's a man to anyone's liking, sister.
LIZ. 'Tis homelike as he do make I to feel among all these strangers.
JANE. Here he comes.
[JEREMY with a yoke and two pails stands at the doorway.
LIZ. Now do you come in, mister, and have a bit of talk along of we.
JANE. Set down them pails and do as sister says, Mister Jeremy.
[JEREMY looks them all over and then slowly and deliberately sets down his pails.
LIZ. That's right, sister and me was feeling terribly lonesome here this morning.
JANE. And we was wishing as we'd never left home to come among all these stranger folk.
LIZ. Not that we feels you to be a stranger, dear Mister Jeremy.
JANE. You be a plain homely man such as me and sister be accustomed to.
JEREMY. Anything more?
LIZ. I suppose you've put by a tidy bit—seeing as you be of a certain age.
JANE. Although your looks favour you well, don't they, sister?
LIZ. To be sure they do.
JANE. And I reckon as you could set up a home of your own any day, mister.
JEREMY. [Pointing through the window.] See that there roof against the mill?
LIZ. Indeed I do.
JEREMY. That's where I do live.
[Both sisters move quickly to the window.
JANE. A very comfortable looking home indeed.
LIZ. I likes the looks of it better nor this great old house.
JANE. [Archly.] Now I daresay there's but one thing wanted over there, Mister Jeremy.
JEREMY. What's that?
JANE. A good wife to do and manage for you.
JEREMY. I never was done for nor managed by a female yet, and blowed if I will be now.
LIZ. [Shaking her finger at him.] Sister an' me knows what comes of such words, don't us, sister? 'Tis an old saying in our family as one wedding do make a many.
JEREMY. Give me a woman's tongue for foolishness. I've heared a saying too in my family, which be—get a female on to your hearth and 'tis Bedlam straight away.
JANE. Now, sister, did you ever hear the like of that?
LIZ. Us'll have to change his mind for him, Jane.
JEREMY. I reckon 'twould take a rare lot of doing to change that, mistress.
JANE. Bain't you a-goin' to get yourself ready for church soon?
JEREMY. Dashed if I ever heard tell of such foolishness. Who's to mind the place with all the folk gone fiddle-faddling out?
LIZ. There's the man William.
JEREMY. I bain't a-goin' to leave the place to a stranger.
JANE. Why, sister, us'll feel lost and lonesome without mister, shan't us, Liz?
LIZ. That us will. What if us stayed at home and helped to mind the house along of he?
JANE. [Slowly.] And did not put our new gowns upon the backs of we after all the money spent?
JEREMY. Ah, there you be. 'Tis the same with all females. Creatures of vanity—even if they be got a bit long in the tooth. 'Tis all the same.
[JANE and LIZ draw themselves up, bridling, but LIZ relaxes.
LIZ. He must have his little joke, sister, man-like, you know.
JOHN. Jerry, and I've been seeking you everywhere. Come you off to the yard. 'Tis as much as we shall do to be ready afore church time. I never knew you to idle in the house afore.
JEREMY. [Taking up his pails, sarcastically.] 'Twas the females as tempted I, master, but 'twon't occur again, so there. [He hurries off, followed by JOHN.
LIZ. [With dignity.] Us'll go upstairs and dress, sister.
JANE. 'Tis time we did so. All them new-fashioned things be awkward in the fastenings.
[They go upstairs.
[ROBERT and ROSE come in from the garden. ROBERT carries a little card-board box in his hand, which he places on the table. ROSE sits down listlessly on a chair leaning her arms on the table.
ROBERT. [Undoing the box.] This is the bouquet what I promised to bring from town.
ROSE. [Her gaze wandering outside.] Well, we might as well look at it afore I go to dress.
[ROBERT uncovers the box and takes out a small bouquet of white flowers surrounded by a lace frill.
ROSE. [Taking it from him carelessly and raising it to her face.] Why, they are false ones.
ROBERT. [Contemptuously.] My good girl, who ever went to church with orange blossom that was real, I'd like to know?
ROSE. [Languidly dropping the bouquet on the table.] I'm sure I don't care. I reckon that one thing's about as good as another to be married with.
ROBERT. [Going to the window and looking out.] Ah—I daresay 'tis so.
ROSE. I feel tired of my wedding day already—that I do.
ROBERT. There's a plaguey, fanciful kind of feel about the day, what a man's hardly used to, so it seems to me.
ROSE. [Wildly.] O, I reckon we may get used to it in time afore we die.
ROBERT. Now—if 'twas with the right -
ROSE. Right what, Robert?
ROBERT. [Confused.] I hardly know what I was a-going to say, Rose. Suppose you was to take up your flowers and go to dress yourself. We might as well get it all over and finished with.
ROSE. [Rising slowly.] Perhaps 'twould be best. I'll go to my room, and you might call the girl Lucy and send her up to help me with my things.
ROBERT. Won't you take the bouquet along of you?
ROSE. No—let it bide there. I can have it later.
[She goes slowly from the room.
[Left to himself, ROBERT strolls to the open door and looks gloomily out on the garden. Suddenly his face brightens.
ROBERT. Lucy, Lucy, come you in here a moment.
LUCY. [From outside.] I be busy just now hanging out my cloths, master.
ROBERT. Leave your dish cloths to dry themselves. Your mistress wants you, Lucy.
LUCY. [Coming to the door.] Mistress wants me, did you say?
ROBERT. Yes, you've got to go and dress her for the church. But you can spare me a minute or two first.
ISABEL. [Going quickly across the room to the staircase door.] Indeed, that is what I cannot do, master. 'Tis late already.
ROBERT. [Catches her hand and pulls her back.] I've never had a good look at your face yet, my girl—you act uncommon coy, and that you do.
ISABEL. [Turning her head away and speaking angrily.] Let go of my hand, I tell you. I don't want no nonsense of that sort.
ROBERT. Lucy, your voice do stir me in a very uncommon fashion, and there's sommat about the appearance of you -
ISABEL. Let go of me, master. Suppose as anyone should look through the window.
ROBERT. Let them look. I'd give a good bit for all the world to see us now.
ISABEL. O, whatever do you mean by that, Mister Robert?
ROBERT. What I say. 'Tis with you as I'd be going along to church this morning. Not her what's above.
ISABEL. But I wouldn't go with you—No, not for all the gold in the world.
ROBERT. Ah, you've changed since yesterday. When I caught your eye at dinner, 'twas gentle as a dove's—and your hand, when it gave me my mug of cider did seem—well did seem to put a caress upon me like.
ISABEL. O there lies a world of time twixt yesterday and to-day, Master Robert.
ROBERT. So it do seem. For to-day 'tis all thorns and thistles with you—But I'm a-goin' to have my look at your pretty face and my kiss of it too.
ISABEL. I shall scream out loud if you touches me—that I shall.
ROBERT. [Pulling her to him.] Us'll see about that.
[He tries to get a sight of her face, but she twists and turns. Finally he seizes both her hands and covers them with kisses as KITTY enters.
KITTY. O whatever's going on! Rose, Rose, John—come you in here quickly, do. [To LUCY.] O you bad, wicked girl. I knew you couldn't be a very nice servant brought in off the road by Jeremy.
[ISABEL, released by ROBERT, goes over to the window arranging her disordered sun-bonnet and trying to hide her tears. ROBERT watches her sullenly.
KITTY. [Goes to the staircase door and calls loudly.] Rose, Rose— come you down as quick as you can run.
ROSE. [Coming down.] What's all this, I'd like to know?
KITTY. It's Lucy, behaving dreadful—O you must send her straight away from the house, Rose.
ROSE. What has she done, then?
KITTY. Going on with Robert. Flirting, Rose, and kissing.
ISABEL. O no, mistress, twasn't so, I do swear to you.
ROBERT. [Brutally.] Yes 'twas. The maid so put me powerful in mind of someone who—who -
ROSE. [Coldly.] I understand you, Robert. Well, 'tis lucky that all this didn't come off an hour or so later.
KITTY. [Tearfully.] O Rose, what do you mean?
ROSE. I mean that what's not broken don't need no mending. Robert can go to church with someone else to-day, he can. And no harm done.
[She takes up the bunch of orange flowers and begins pulling it to pieces and throwing it all about the room.
KITTY. O Rose, Rose, don't take it so hard. 'Twasn't Robert's fault. 'Twas the girl off the road what led him on. I know it. Tell her to get out of the house. I'll dress you—I'll do the work. Only be just and sensible again; dear Rose.
ROSE. Let the girl bide. It makes no difference to me. There'll be no marrying for me to-day.
[JOHN comes in at the door.
KITTY. [Running to him.] O John, John—do you quiet down Rose and tell her to get upstairs and dress. She's a-saying that she won't marry Robert because of his goings on with the new servant—But, O, you'll talk her into reason again, won't you, dear John?
JOHN. Come, come, what's all this cackle about, Rose?
ROSE. I'm breaking off with Robert, that's all, John.
JOHN. Robert, can't you take and explain a bit what 'tis.
ROBERT. [Sullenly.] A little bit of play 'twixt me and the wench there, and that's about all, I reckon.
JOHN. Now that's an unsensible sort of thing to get doing on your marriage day, to my thinking.
KITTY. 'Twasn't Robert's fault, I know. 'Twas the maid off the road who started it.
[Here ISABEL sinks down on a chair by the window, leaning her arms on the table and bowing her head, in tears.
JOHN. [Going to the door.] Jeremy—Jeremy—come you in here a minute.
[Instead of JEREMY, LUBIN comes in.
JOHN. 'Twas Jeremy I did call—not you.
LUBIN. He's gone off the place for a few minutes.
JOHN. [Vexedly.] Ah, 'tis early for the Red Bull.
LUBIN. Can I—can I do anything for you, master?
JOHN. Not unless you can account for the sort of serving wench off the roadside what Jerry has put upon us.
LUBIN. What is there to account for in her, master?
ROSE. [Passionately.] O I don't particular mind about what's happened. Let her kiss with Robert if she has the mind. 'Tis always the man who commences.
JOHN. 'Tis not. There are some wenches who don't know how to leave anyone alone. Worser than cattle flies, that sort.
ISABEL. [Going across the room to LUBIN'S side.] O you shame me by them words, I bain't that sort of maid—you'll answer for me— William?
[LUBIN silently takes her hand.
ROSE. [Her eyes fixed on LUBIN.] I'll tell you what, John; I'll tell you, Kitty. I wish I'd held me to my first lover and I wish 'twas with Lubin that I was a-going to the church to-day.
ROBERT. [Sullenly.] Then I'll say sommat, Rose. I wish 'twas with Isabel that I was getting wed.
JOHN. Now, now—'Tis like two children a quarrelling over their playthings. Suppose you was to go and get yourself dressed, Rose- Anna—And you too, Robert. Why, the traps will be at the door afore you're ready if you don't quicken yourselves up a bit. Kitty, you go and help your sister.
ROSE. [With a jealous glance at Isabel.] No, I'll have Lucy with me.
JOHN. That's it, you keep her out of mischief
KITTY. I've got my own dress to put on.
JOHN. And Robert, you and me will have a drink after all this caddle. 'Tis dry work getting ready for marriage so it appears.
ROBERT. 'Tis fiery dry to my thinking.
ROSE. [Crossing the room and going up to LUBIN.] I have no flowers to take to church with me, William; go you to the waterside, I have a mind to carry some of the blue things what grow there.
KITTY. Forget-me-nots, you mean!
ROSE. Forget-me-nots, I mean. And none but you to gather them for me, William. Because—because—well, you do put me in thoughts of someone that I once held and now have lost. That's all.
ACT III.—Scene 2.
The same room half an hour later. ISABEL is picking up the scattered orange blossom which she ties together and lays on the window sill. LUBIN comes in with a large bunch of river forget-me-nots.
LUBIN. I didn't think to find you here, Isabel.
ISABEL. O but that is a beautiful blue flower. I will take the bunch upstairs. She is all dressed and ready for it.
LUBIN. [Putting it on the table.] No—do you bide a moment here with me.
[ISABEL looks helplessly at LUBIN who takes her hands slowly in his.
LUBIN. What are we going to do?
ISABEL. I wish as we had never touched the seeds.
LUBIN. O cursed seeds of love—Far better to have left all as 'twas yesterday in the morning.
ISABEL. He has followed me like my shadow, courting and courting me hard and all the time, Lubin.
LUBIN. She sought me out in the yard at day-break, and what I'd have given twenty years of life for yester eve I could have thrown into the stream this morning.
ISABEL [Sadly.] So 'tis with my feelings.
LUBIN. She has altered powerful, to my fancy, in these years.
ISABEL. And Robert be differenter too from what I do remember. [A long silence.
LUBIN. Have you thought as it might be in us two these changes have come about, Isabel?
ISABEL. I was just the maid as ever I was until -
LUBIN. And so was I unchanged, until I started travelling up on the same road as you, Isabel.
[For a few minutes they look gravely into one another's eyes.
LUBIN. [Taking ISABEL'S hands.] So that's how 'tis with you and me.
ISABEL. O Lubin—a poor serving maid like I am.
LUBIN. I'll have no one else in the whole world.
ISABEL. What could I have seen in him, times gone by?
LUBIN. And was it ever true that I did sit through a long Sunday her hand in mine? [Another silence.
ISABEL. But how's us ever to get out of the caddle where we be?
LUBIN. [Gaily.] We'll just run away off to the Fair as t'other servants did.
ISABEL. And leave them in their hate for one another? No—'twould be too cruel. Us'll run to the young mistress what knows all about them herbs. I count as there be seeds or sommat which could set the hearts of them two back in the right places again. Come -
LUBIN. Have it your own way then. But 'twill have to be done very quickly if 'tis done at all.
ISABEL. Us'll fly over the ground like.
[She puts her hand impetuously in LUBIN'S and they go out together. As they do so, ISABEL'S bonnet falls from her head and lies unheeded on the floor.
ACT III.—Scene 3.
A few minutes later. LIZ and JANE wearing gay sprigged dresses and feathered bonnets, come to the room. They carry fans and handkerchiefs in their hands. It is seen that their gowns are not fastened at the back.
LIZ. Such a house I never heard tell of. Ring, ring at the bell and no one to come nigh.
JANE. Being unused to bells, sister, maybe as us did pull them wrong or sommat.
LIZ. I wish we'd had the gowns made different.
JANE. To do up in the front—sensible like.
[They twist and turn in front of the glass on the wall, absorbed in their dress, they do not notice that JEREMY has come in and is watching them sarcastically.
JEREMY. Being as grey as th' old badger don't keep a female back from vanity.
LIZ. O dear, Master Jeremy, what a turn you did give me, to be sure.
JANE. We can't find no one in this house to attend upon we.
JEREMY. I count as you can not. Bain't no one here.
LIZ. We rang for the wench a many time.
JEREMY. Ah, and you might ring.
JANE. We want someone as'll fasten them niggly hooks to our gowns.
JEREMY. Ah, and you may want.
LIZ. Our sight bain't clear enough to do one for t'other, the eyelets be made so small.
JEREMY. Count as you'll have to go unfastened then.
JANE. O now you be a laughing at us. Call the wench down, or we shall never be ready in time.
JEREMY. Man and maid be both gone off. Same as t'others, us'll have to do without service
LIZ. Gone off!
JANE. Runned clean away?
JEREMY. That's about it.
JANE. Well now, sister, us'll have to ask the little Miss to help we.
JEREMY. I've harnessed the mare a many time. Don't see why I shouldn't get the both of you fixed into the shafts like.
LIZ and JANE. [Fanning themselves coyly.] O Master Jeremy -
JEREMY. Come now. Let's have a try. I count as no one have a steadier hand nor me this side of the river, nor a finer eye for seeing as everything be in its place. I'll settle the both of you afore I gets out the horse and trap. Turn round.
[The sisters turn awkwardly, and with very self-conscious airs begin to flutter their fans. JEREMY quickly hooks each gown in succession. As he finishes the fastening of JANE'S dress ROSE, followed by KITTY, comes into the room. She is wearing her bridal gown and veil.
ROSE. [Pausing.] What's this, Jeremy?
JEREMY. The servants be runned away same as t'others—that's all, mistress.
ROSE. Run away?
JEREMY. So I do reckon. Bain't anywhere about the place.
ROSE. [Flinging herself down on a chair by the table, in front of the bunch of forget-me-nots.] Let them be found. Let them be brought back at once.
KITTY. For my part I'm glad they've gone off. The girl was a wild, bad thing. I saw how she went on with Robert.
ROSE. [Brokenly to JEREMY.] You found them. Bring them back, Jerry.
KITTY. No—wait till you and Robert are made man and wife, Rose. Then 'twon't matter quite so much.
ROSE. I'll never wed me to Robert, I'll only wed me to him who gathered these blue flowers here.
KITTY. Good heavens, Rose, 'twas the man William.
[KITTY looks in consternation from ROSE to the cousins and then to JEREMY, who remains impassive and uninterested, sucking a straw. ROSE clasps her hands round the forget-me-nots and sits gazing at them, desolately unhappy. ROBERT enters. He is very grandly dressed for the wedding, but as he comes into the room he sees ISABEL'S cotton bonnet on the floor. He stoops, picks it up and laying it reverently on the table, sinks into a chair opposite ROSE and raising one of its ribbons, kisses this with passion.
ROBERT. There—I'd not change this for a thousand sacks of gold—I swear I'd not.
KITTY. Now Robert—get up, the two of you. Are you bewitched or sommat—O Jerry, stir them, can't you.
LIZ. Robert, 'tisn't hardly suitable—with the young miss so sweetly pretty in her white gown.
JANE. And wedding veil and all. And sister and me hooked up into our new sprigs, ready for the ceremony.
JEREMY. [Looking at them with cold contempt.] Let them bide. The mush'll swim out of they same as 'twill swim off the cider vat. Just let the young fools bide.
KITTY. O this'll never do. Jerry forgetting of his manners and all. [Calling at the garden door.] John, John, come you here quickly, there's shocking goings on. [JOHN, in best clothes comes in.
JOHN. What's the rattle now, Kitty? I declare I might be turning round on top of my own mill wheel such times as these.
KITTY. Rose says she won't wed Robert, and Robert's gone off his head all along of that naughty servant maid.
[JOHN stands contemplating ROSE and ROBERT. ROSE seems lost to the outside world and is gazing with tears at her forget-me-nots, whilst ROBERT, in sullen gloom, keeps his eyes fixed on the sun-bonnet.
JOHN. Come, Rose, 'tis time you commenced to act a bit different. [ROSE does not answer.
JOHN. Come, Robert, if you play false to my sister at the last moment, you know with whom you'll have to reckon like. [ROBERT pays no heed to him.
JOHN. [To JEREMY.] Can you do naught to work upon them a bit, Jerry?
JEREMY. I'd have a jug of cider in, master. 'Twill settle them all. Folks do get 'sterical and vapourish face to face with matrimony. Put some drink afore of them, and see how 'twill act.
LIZ. O what a wise thought, Master Jerry.
JANE. Most suitable, I call it.
[Here MARY MEADOWS comes in, JOHN turns eagerly to her.
JOHN. O Mary—have you come to help us in the fix where we are? [He signs to ROSE and ROBERT.
MARY. What has happened, John?
JEREMY. I'll tell you in a couple of words, mistress.
LIZ. No—do you fetch the cider, dear Mister Jeremy.
JOHN. 'Tis more than I can do with, Mary. Rose is set against Robert, and Robert is set against Rose. Rose—well I'm fairly ashamed to mention it—Rose has lost her senses and would wed the servant William—and Robert is a-courting of the maid.
JEREMY. Ah, let each fool follow their own liking, says I.
LIZ. And sister and me all dressed in our new gowns for the church.
JANE. And Jerry had to do the hooking for we, both of the servants having runned away.
MARY. Well, now I'm here I'll lend a hand. I'll help with the dinner time you're at church. You shall not need to trouble about anything, Mr. John.
JOHN. O once I do get them to the church and the ring fixed and all I shan't trouble about nothing, Mary. But 'tis how to move them from where they be! That's the puzzle.
ROSE. I'll never move till the hand that gathered these flowers be here to raise me.
ROBERT. I'll sit here to the end of the world sooner nor go along to be wed with Miss over there.
MARY. 'Tis midsummer heat have turned their brains. But I know a cooling draught that will heal them of their sickness. Jeremy, do you step into the garden and bring me a handful of fresh violet leaves, one blossom from the heartsease and a sprig of rosemary.
JEREMY. [Sighing.] What next?
JOHN. Get gone at once, Jerry.
[JEREMY goes to the door—as he does so LIZ and JANE start up and follow him.
LIZ. Sister and me will come along and help you, dear Mr. Jeremy.
JANE. And that us will, if our new gowns bain't hooked too tight for we to bend.
[They follow JEREMY to the garden. KITTY silently leaves the room also. ROSE and ROBERT remain lost in their sorrowful reflections. JOHN and MARY look at them for a moment and then turn to one another.
JOHN. Mary, I never thought to see such a thing as this.
MARY. You take my word for it, John, the storm will soon be blown away.
JOHN. I don't know how I should stand up against the worry of it all, wasn't it for you, Mary.
[A short silence.
JOHN. [Taking MARY'S hand.] 'Twill be a bit lonesome for me here, when they've gone off, Mary.
MARY. You'll have Kitty to do for you then.
JOHN. Kitty be going to live along of them at Bristol too, after a while.
MARY. [Looking round the room.] Then I count as it might feel a bit desolate like in this great house alone.
JOHN. [Taking MARY'S hand.] I cannot face it, Mary. I've loved you many years, you know.
MARY. I know you have, dear John.
JOHN. Can't you forget he what was false to you, days gone by, and take me as your husband now?
MARY. [Doubtfully.] I don't hardly know.
JOHN. You used to sing sommat—the grass that was trampled under foot, give it time, it will rise up again.
MARY. [Drying her eyes.] Ah, it has risen, dear John—and I count it have covered the wound of those past days—my heart do tell me so, this minute.
JOHN. [Holding both her hands.] Then 'tis one long midsummer afore you and me, Mary.
MARY. That's how 'twill be, dear John.
[JEREMY, followed by the cousins, enters. He holds a bunch of leaves towards MARY.
JEREMY. There you be, mistress. Fools' drink for fools. A mug of good cider would have fetched them to their senses quicker.
[MARY takes the bunch, and still holding JOHN'S hand, leads him to the kitchen. JEREMY watches the pair sarcastically.
JEREMY. 'Tis all finished with the master, then.
[The sisters seat themselves on the couch and mop their faces with handkerchiefs.
LIZ. Dear me, 'tis warm.
JANE. I hope my face don't show mottled, sister?
JEREMY. I was saying as how 'twas all finished with the master.
[MARY, followed by JOHN, comes forward carrying two glasses. She gives one to ROSE and the other to ROBERT.
MARY. Now do you take a good draught of this, the both of you. With violet leaves the fever of the mind is calmed, and heartsease lightens every trouble caused by love. Rosemary do put new life to anyone with its sweetness, and cold spring water does the rest.
[She leaves the table and stands far back in the room by JOHN'S side. ROSE slowly lifts her glass and begins to drink. ROBERT does the same. They are watched with anxiety by all in the room. When they have emptied their glasses ROSE dries her tears and pushes the flowers a little way from her. ROBERT shakes himself and moves the cotton bonnet so that it falls unheeded to the floor. Meanwhile KITTY has come quietly to the garden door and stands there watching the scene intently.
LIZ. Bain't we going to get a drink too?
JANE. Seems as though master have been and forgot we.
JEREMY. [Starting up and going to the kitchen.] If I've been and forgot you two old women, I've remembered myself. Be blowed if I can get through any more of this foolishness without a wet of my mouth.
[He goes out.
ROSE. [Speaking faintly.] Does it show upon my face, the crying, Robert?
ROBERT. [Looking at her.] No, no, Rose, your eyes be brighter nor ever they were.
ROSE. [Pushing the forget-me-nots yet further away.] Those flowers are dying. My fancy ones were best.
KITTY. [Coming forward with the orange blossoms.] Here they are, dear Rose.
ROSE. [Taking them.] O how beautiful they do look. I declare I can smell the sweetness coming out from them, Robert.
ROBERT. All the orange blossom in the world bain't so sweet as one kiss from your lips, Rose.
ROSE. Now is that truly so?
ROBERT. Ah, 'tis heavy work a-waiting for the coach, Rose.
JOHN. [Coming forward and taking MARY'S hand.] And yours won't be the only marriage Rose-Anna. Did you never think that me and Mary might -
KITTY. [Running forward.] But I did—O so many times, John. [JEREMY enters with LUBIN and ISABEL.
JEREMY. Servants be comed back. Man was to the Red Bull, I count. Female a-washing and a-combing of herself in the barn.
ROSE. [Coldly.] I don't care whether they be here or not. Set them to work, Jerry, whilst we are to church.
LIZ. That's it, Master Jeremy. I was never so put out in my life, as when sister did keep on ringing and the wench was not there to help us on with our gowns.
[ROSE and ROBERT get up and go towards the door. They pause before LUBIN and ISABEL.
ROSE. The man puts me in mind of someone whom I knew before, called Lubin. I thought I had a fancy for him once—but 'twasn't really so.
ROBERT. And the girl do favour a little servant wench from Framilode.
ROSE. [Jealously.] You never went a-courting with a servant wench, now did you, my heart's dearest?
ROBERT. Never in all my days, Rose. 'Twas but the fanciful thoughts of a boy towards she, that I had.
ROSE. [Putting her arm in ROBERT'S.] Well, we have nothing to do with anything more of it now, dear Robert.
ROBERT. You're about right, my true love, we'll get us off to the church.
JEREMY. Ah, coach have been waiting a smartish while, I reckon. 'Tis on master as expense'll fall.
[ROSE and ROBERT with cold glances at LUBIN and ISABEL, pass out of the door.
JOHN. [Giving his arm to MARY.] Now, Mary—now, Kitty. [They pass out.
LIZ. Now, Jeremy, sister and me bain't going off all alone.
JEREMY. [Offering an arm to each.] No further than the church door, I say. I've better things to do nor a-giving of my arm to females be they never so full of wiles. And you two do beat many what bain't near so long in the tusk, ah, that you does.
[JEREMY goes out with the sisters.
LUBIN. [To ISABEL.] And shall we go off into the meadows, Isabel, seeing that we are quite forgot?
ISABEL. No—'tis through these faithless ones as us have learnt to understand the hearts within of we. Let's bide and get the marriage dinner ready for them first.
[She stretches both her hands towards LUBIN, who takes them reverently in his as the Curtain falls.
THE NEW YEAR
STEVE BROWNING, a Blacksmith, also Parish Clerk. GEORGE DAVIS, a Carpenter. HARRY MOSS, a young Tramp. MAY BROWNING. JANE BROWNING. DORRY BROWNING, aged twelve. ANNIE SIMS. ROSE SIMS. VASHTI REED.
ACT I.—Scene 1.
A country roadside. It is late afternoon and already dusk.
MAY BROWNING with HARRY MOSS come slowly forward. Close to a stile which is a little off the road, MAY stops.
MAY. There, you don't need to come no further with I, Harry Moss. You get on quick towards the town afore the night be upon you, and the snow, too.
HARRY. I don't care much about leaving you like this on the roadside, May. And that's the truth, 'tis.
MAY. Don't you take no more thought for I, Harry. 'Tis a good boy as you've been to I since the day when we fell in together. But now there bain't no more need for you to hold back your steps, going slow and heavy when you might run spry and light. For 'tis home as I be comed to now, I be. You go your way.
HARRY. I see naught of any house afore us or behind. 'Tis very likely dusk as is upon us, or may happen 'tis the fog getting up from the river.
MAY. [Coughing.] Look you across that stile, Harry. There be a field path, bain't there?
HARRY. [Taking a few steps to the right and peering through the gloom.] Ah, and that there be.
MAY. And at t'other end of it a house what's got a garden fence all round.
HARRY. Ah—and 'tis so. And now as I comes to look there be a light shining from out the windows of it, too, though 'tis shining dim-like in the mist.
MAY. 'Tis that yonder's my home, Harry. There's the door where I must stand and knock.
[For a moment she draws the shawl over her face and is shaken with weeping.
HARRY. I wouldn't take on so, if 'twas me.
MAY. And did you say as how there was a light in the window? 'Twill be but fire light then, for th' old woman she never would bring out the lamp afore 'twas night, close-handed old she-cat as her was, what'd lick up a drop of oil on to the tongue of her sooner nor it should go wasted.
HARRY. There, 'tis shining better now—or maybe as the fog have shifted.
MAY. 'Tis nigh to home as I be, Harry.
HARRY. Then get and stand up out of the wet grass there, and I'll go along of you a bit further. 'Twill not be much out of my way. Nothing to take no count of.
MAY. No, no, Harry. I bain't going to cross that field, nor yet stand at the door knocking till the dark has fallen on me. Why, is it like as I'd let them see me coming over the meadow and going through the gate in this? [Holding up a ragged shawl.] In these? [Pointing to her broken shoes.] And—as I be to-day.
[Spreading out her arms and then suddenly bending forward in a fit of anguished coughing.
HARRY. There, there, you be one as is too handy with the tongue, like. Don't you go for to waste the breath inside of you when you'll be wanting all your words for they as bides up yonder and as doesn't know that you be coming back.
MAY. [Throwing apart her shawl and struggling with her cough.] Harry, you take the tin and fill it at the ditch and give I to drink. 'Tis all live coals within I here, so 'tis.
HARRY. You get along home, and maybe as them'll find summat better nor water from the ditch to give you.
MAY. No, no, what was I a-saying to you? The dark must fall and cover me, or I won't never go across the field nor a-nigh the house. Give I to drink, give I to drink. And then let me bide in quiet till all of the light be gone.
HARRY. [Taking out a tin mug from the bundle beside her.] Where be I to find drink, and the frost lying stiff upon the ground?
MAY. [Pointing.] Up yonder, where the ash tree do stand. Look you there, 'tis a bit of spouting as do come through the hedge, and water from it, flowing downwards away to the ditch.
[HARRY goes off with the can. MAY watches him, drawing her shawl again about her and striving to suppress a fit of coughing.
[HARRY returns and holds out the can.
MAY. 'Tis not very quick as you've been, Harry Moss. Here—give it to I fast. Give!
[HARRY puts the can towards her and she takes it in her hands, which shake feverishly, and she drinks with sharp avidity.
MAY. 'Tis the taste as I have thought on these many a year. Ah, and have gotten into my mouth, too, when I did lay sleeping, that I have. Water from yonder spout, with the taste of dead leaves sharp in it. Drink of it, too, Harry.
HARRY. 'Tis no water as I wants, May. Give I summat as'll lie more warm and comfortable to th' inside like. I bain't one for much water, and that's the truth, 'tis. [He empties the water on the ground.
MAY. Then go you out upon your way, Harry Moss, for the dark be gathering on us fast, and there be many a mile afore you to the town, where the lamps do shine and 'tis bright and warm in the places where they sells the drink.
HARRY. Once I sets off running by myself, I'll get there fast enough, May. But I be going to stop along of you a bit more, for I don't care much about letting you bide lonesome on the road, like.
MAY. Then sit you down aside of me, Harry, and the heat in my body, which is like flames, shall maybe warm yourn, too.
HARRY. [Sitting down by her side.] 'Tis a fine thing to have a home what you can get in and go to, May, with a bit of fire to heat the limbs of you at, and plenty of victuals as you can put inside. How was it as you ever came away from it, like?
MAY. Ah, and that's what I be asking of myself most of the time, Harry! For, 'tis summat like a twelve or eleven year since I shut the door behind me and went out.
[A slight pause.
MAY. Away from them all, upon the road—so 'twas.
HARRY. And never see'd no more of them, nor sent to say how 'twas with you, nor nothing?
MAY. Nor nothing, Harry. Went out and shut the door behind me. And 'twas finished.
[A long pause, during which the darkness has gathered.
HARRY. Whatever worked on you for to do such a thing, May?
MAY. [Bitterly.] Ah now, whatever did!
HARRY. 'Tweren't as though you might have been a young wench, flighty like, all for the town and for they as goes up and about the streets of it. For, look you here, 'tis an old woman as you be now, May, and has been a twenty year or more, I don't doubt.
MAY. An old woman be I, Harry? Well, to the likes of you 'tis so, I count. But a twelve year gone by, O, 'twas a fine enough looking maid as I was then—Only a wild one, Harry, a wild one, all for the free ways of the road and the lights of the fair—And for the sun to rise in one place where I was, and for I to be in t'other when her should set.
HARRY. I'd keep my breath for when 'twas wanted, if 'twas me.
MAY. Come, look I in the face, Harry Moss, and tell I if so be as they'll be likely to know I again up at home?
HARRY. How be I to tell you such a thing, May, seeing that 'tis but a ten days or less as I've been along of you on the road? And seeing that when you was a young wench I never knowed the looks of you neither?
MAY. Say how the face of I do seem to you now, Harry, and then I'll tell you how 'twas in the days gone by?
HARRY. 'Tis all too dark like for to see clear, May. The night be coming upon we wonderful fast.
MAY. The hair, 'twas bright upon my head eleven years gone by, Harry. 'Twas glancing, as might be the wing of a thrush, so 'twas.
HARRY. Well, 'tis as the frost might lie on a dead leaf now, May, that it be.
MAY. And the colour on me was as a rose, and my limbs was straight. 'Twas fleet like a rabbit as I could get about, the days that was then, Harry.
HARRY. 'Tis a poor old bent woman as you be now, May.
MAY. Ah, Death have been tapping on the door of my body this long while, but, please God, I can hold me with the best of them yet, Harry, and that I can. Victuals to th' inside of I and a bit of clothing to my bones, with summat to quiet this cough as doubles of I up. Why, there, Harry, you won't know as 'tis me when I've been to home a day or two—or may be as 'twill take a week.
HARRY. I count 'twill take a rare lot of victuals afore you be set up as you once was, May.
MAY. Look you in my eyes, Harry. They may not know me up at home by the hair, which is different to what 'twas, or by the form of me, which be got poor and nesh like. But in the eye there don't come never no change. So look you at they, Harry, and tell I how it do appear to you.
HARRY. There be darkness lying atween you and me, May.
MAY. Then come you close to I, Harry, and look well into they.
HARRY. Them be set open wonderful wide and 'tis as though a heat comed out from they. 'Tis not anyone as might care much for to look into the eyes what you've got.
MAY. [With despondence.] Maybe then, as them'll not know as 'tis me, Harry Moss.
HARRY. I count as they'll be hard put to, and that's the truth.
MAY. The note of me be changed, too, with this cold what I have, and the breath of me so short, but 'twon't be long, I count, afore they sees who 'tis. Though all be changed to th' eye like, there'll be summat in me as'll tell they. And 'tis not a thing of shape, nor of colour as'll speak for I—But 'tis summat what do come straight out of the hearts of we and do say better words for we nor what the looks nor tongues of us might tell. You mind me, Harry, there's that which will come out of me as'll bring they to know who 'tis.
HARRY. Ah, I reckon as you'll not let them bide till they does.
MAY. And when they do know, and when they sees who 'tis, I count as they'll be good to me, I count they will. I did used to think as Steve, he was a hard one, and th' old woman what's his mother, hard too—And that it did please him for to keep a rein on me like, but I sees thing different now.
HARRY. Ah, 'tis one thing to see by candle and another by day.
MAY. For 'twas wild as I was in the time gone by. Wild after pleasuring and the noise in the town, and men a-looking at the countenance of I, and a-turning back for to look again. But, hark you here, 'tis powerful changed as I be now.
HARRY. Ah, I count as you be. Be changed from a young woman into an old one.
MAY. I'm finished with the road journeying and standing about in the streets on market days and the talk with men in the drinking places— Men what don't want to look more nor once on I now, and what used to follow if 'twasn't only a bit of eyelid as I'd lift on them, times that is gone.
HARRY. Ah, 'twould take a lot of looking to see you as you was.
MAY. Yes, I be finished with all of it now, and willing for to bide quiet at the fireside and to stay with the four walls round I and the door shut.
HARRY. I reckon as you be.
MAY. And I'm thinking as they'll be rare pleased for to have I in the house again. 'Twill be another pair of hands to the work like. And when I was young, 'twas not on work as I was set much.
HARRY. Ah, I did guess as much.
MAY. But when I gets a bit over this here nasty cough, 'tis a strong arm as them'll have working for they; Steve, th' old woman what's his mother, and little Dorry, too.
HARRY. Dorry? I han't heard tell of she.
MAY. That's my little baby as was, Harry Moss. I left she crawling on the floor, and now I count as she be growed into a rare big girl. Bless the innocent heart of her!
HARRY. Whatever led you to do such a thing, I can't think! You must have been drove to it like, wasn't you?
MAY. 'Twas summat inside of me as drove I, then. 'Twas very likely the blood of they gipsies which did leap in I, so that when I was tied up to Steve, 'twas as if they had got I shut in a box. 'Twas the bridle on my head and the bit in the mouth of I; and to be held in where once I had gone free. [A short pause.
MAY. And I turned wild, Harry, for the very birds seemed to be calling I from the hedges to come out along of they, and the berries tossing in the wind, and the leaves blowing away quick from where they'd been stuck all summer. All of it spoke to I, and stirred I powerful, so that one morning when the sun was up and the breeze running, I comed out into the air, Harry, and shut the door behind I. And 'twas done—so 'twas.
HARRY. And didn't they never try for to stop you, nor for to bring you back, May?
MAY. No, Harry, they did not.
HARRY. And where was it you did go to, May, once you was out and the door shut ahind of you?
MAY. Ah—where! To the east, to the south, every part. 'Twas morning with I in that time, and the heart of I was warm. And them as went along of I on the road, did cast but one look into the countenance of I. Then 'twas the best as they could give as I might take; and 'twas for no lodging as I did want when dark did come falling.
HARRY. And yet, look you here, you be brought down terrible low, May.
MAY. The fine looks of a woman be as grass, Harry, and in the heat of the day they do wither and die. And that what has once been a grand flower in the hand of a man is dropped upon the ground and spat upon, maybe. So 'twas with I.
[She bows her head on her knees, and for a moment is shaken with sudden grief.
HARRY. Don't you take on so, May. Look you here, you be comed to the end of your journeying this day, and that you be.
MAY. [Raising her head.] Ah, 'tis so, 'tis so. And 'tis rare glad as them'll be to see I once again. Steve, he's a hard man, but a good one—And I'll tell you this, Harry Moss, he'll never take up with no woman what's not me—and that he won't—I never knowed him much as look on one, times past; and 'twill be the same as ever now, I reckon. And little Dorry, 'twill be fine for her to get her mammy back, I warrant—so 'twill.
[A slight pause.
MAY. Th' old woman—well—I shan't take it amiss if her should be dead, like. Her was always a smartish old vixen to I, that her was, and her did rub it in powerful hard as Steve was above I in his station and that. God rest the bones of she, for I count her'll have been lying in the churchyard a good few years by now. But I bain't one to bear malice, and if so be as her's above ground, 'tis a rare poor old wretch with no poison to the tongue of she, as her'll be this day—so 'tis.
HARRY. Look you here—the snow's begun to fall and 'tis night. Get up and go in to them all yonder. 'Tis thick dark now and there be no one on the road to see you as you do go.
MAY. Help I to get off the ground then, Harry, for the limbs of me be powerful weak.
HARRY. [Lifting her up.] The feel of your body be as burning wood, May.
MAY. [Standing up.] Put me against the stile, Harry, and then let I bide alone.
HARRY. Do you let me go over the field along of you, May, just to the door.
MAY. No, no, Harry, get you off to the town and leave me to bide here a while in the quiet of my thoughts. 'Tis of little Dorry, and of how pleased her'll be to see her mammy once again, as I be thinking. But you, Harry Moss, as han't got no home to go to, nor fireside, nor victuals, you set off towards the town. And go you quick.
HARRY. There's summat in me what doesn't care about leaving you so, May.
MAY. And if ever you should pass this way come spring-time, Harry, when the bloom is white on the trees, and the lambs in the meadows, come you up to the house yonder, and may be as I'll be able to give you summat to keep in remembrance of me. For to-day, 'tis empty- handed as I be.
HARRY. I don't want nothing from you, May, I don't.
MAY. [Fumbling in her shawl.] There, Harry—'tis comed back to my mind now. [She takes out part of a loaf of bread.] Take you this bread. And to-night, when you eats of it, think on me, and as how I be to home with Steve a-holding of my hand and little Dorry close against me; and plenty of good victuals, with a bed to lie upon warm. There, Harry, take and eat.
[She holds the bread to him
HARRY. [Taking the bread.] I count 'twill all be well with you now, May?
MAY. I warrant as 'twill, for I be right to home. But go you towards the town, Harry, for 'tis late. And God go with you, my dear, now and all time.
HARRY. I'll set off running then. For the night, 'tis upon us, May, and the snow, 'tis thick in the air.
[MAY turns to the stile and leans on it heavily, gazing across the field. HARRY sets off quickly down the road.
ACT II.—Scene 1.
The living room in the Brownings' cottage. The room is divided by a curtain which screens the fireside end from the draught of the principal door.
To the right of the fireplace is a door leading upstairs. Chairs are grouped round the hearth, and there is a table at which JANE BROWNING is ironing a dress by the light of one candle. DORRY leans against the table, watching her.
JANE. [Putting aside the iron.] There, you take and lay it on the bed upstairs, and mind you does it careful, for I'm not a-going to iron it twice.
[She lays the dress carefully across DORRY'S arms.
DORRY. Don't the lace look nice, Gran'ma?
JANE. You get along upstairs and do as I says, and then come straight down again.
DORRY. Couldn't I put it on once, Gran'ma, just to see how it do look on me?
JANE. And get it all creased up afore to-morrow! Whatever next! You go and lay it on the bed this minute, do you hear?
DORRY. [Leaving the room by the door to the right.] I'd like to put it on just once, I would.
[JANE BROWNING blows out the candle and puts away the iron and ironing cloth. She stirs up the fire and then sits down by it as DORRY comes back.
DORRY. Dad's cleaning of himself ever so—I heard the water splashing something dreadful as I went by his door.
JANE. 'Tis a-smartening of hisself up for this here dancing as he be about, I reckon.
DORRY. [Sitting down on a stool.] I'd like to go along, too, and see the dancing up at the schools to-night, I would.
JANE. And what next, I should like to know!
DORRY. And wear my new frock what's ironed, and the beads what Miss Sims gived me.
JANE. [Looking out at the window.] I'm thinking as we shall get some snow by and bye. 'Tis come over so dark all of a sudden.
DORRY. Couldn't I go along of they, Gran'ma, and wear my new frock, and the beads, too? I never see'd them dance th' old year out yet, I haven't.
JANE. Get along with you, Dorry. 'Tis many a year afore you'll be of an age for such foolishness. And that's what I calls it, this messing about with dancing and music and I don't know what.
DORRY. Katie Sims be younger nor me and she's let to go, she is.
JANE. You bain't Katie Sims, nor she you. And if the wedding what's to-morrow isn't enough to stuff you up with nonsense, I don't know what is.
DORRY. I wish it was to-morrow now, Gran'ma, I do. Shall you put on your Sunday gown first thing, or wait till just afore we goes to church?
JANE. How your tongue do go! Take and bide quiet a bit, if you knows how.
DORRY. I shall ask Dad if I may go along of him and Miss Sims to the dance, I shall. Dad's got that kind to me since last night—he gived me a sixpence to buy sweets this morning when I hadn't asked. And won't it be nice when Miss Sims comes here to live, and when you has someone to help you in the work, Gran'ma?
JANE. Well—'tis to be hoped as 'twill be all right this time.
DORRY. This time, Gran'ma! Why, wasn't it all right when Dad was married afore, then?
JANE. [Getting the lamp from a shelf.] I don't light up as a rule till 'tis six o'clock, but I count it's a bit of snow coming as have darkened the air like.
DORRY. Gran'ma, isn't Miss Sims nice-looking, don't you think? I'd like to wear my hair like hers and have earrings a-hanging from me and a-shaking when I moves my head, I would.
JANE. [Setting the lamp on the table.] Here, fetch me the matches, do.
DORRY. [Bringing the matches.] Was my mammy nice-looking, like Miss Sims, Gran'ma?
JANE. I'm one as goes by other things nor looks—For like as not 'tis fine looks as is the undoing of most girls as has them—give me a plain face and a heart what's pure, I says, and 'tis not far out as you'll be.
DORRY. Was my mammy's heart pure, Gran'ma? [A moment's silence. JANE lights the lamp. DORRY leans at the table, watching her.
DORRY. Was my mammy's—[A loud knock on the outside door.
JANE. Who's that come bothering round! Run and see, Dorry, there's a good child.
DORRY. It'll be Gran'ma Vashti, I daresay. She do mostly knock at the door loud with her stick.
[DORRY runs to the window and looks out.
DORRY. 'Tis her, and the snow white all upon her.
[DORRY goes to the door to open it.
JANE. [To herself.] Of all the meddlesome old women—why can't her bide till her's wanted.
[DORRY opens the door wide, and VASHTI Comes slowly in to the room, leaning on a big staff.
JANE. Well, Vashti Reed, and what brings you down from the hill to- day? 'Twould have been better had you bid at home, with the dark coming on and the snow.
DORRY. [Who has closed the door.] Sit down, Granny—there, close against the fire, do.
[VASHTI stands in the middle of the room, looking from one to another.
DORRY. Sit down, Granny, by the fire, do.
VASHTI. 'Tis in the house and out of it as I have went. And down to the pool where the ice do lie, and up on the fields where 'tis fog, And there be summat in I what drives I onward, as might the wind. And no where may the bones of me rest this day.
JANE. If 'tis to talk your foolishness as you be come, you'd best have stopped away. Here, sit you down, Vashti Reed, and behave sensible, and maybe as I'll get you summat warm to drink presently.
DORRY. Yes, Grannie, sit you down along of we.
[VASHTI sits stiffly down by the hearth, leaning on her stick. JANE resumes her place, and DORRY puts her little stool between them.
VASHTI. And in the night when I was laid down, against the windowpane it fled a three times. A three time it fled and did beat the pane as though 'twould get in. And I up and did open the window. And the air it ran past I, and 'twas black, with naught upon it but the smell of a shroud. So I knowed.
DORRY. What did you know, Granny?
VASHTI. [Leaning forward and warming her hands at the fire, speaking as though to herself.] Summat lost—summat lost, and what was trying to get safe away.
DORRY. Safe away? From what, Granny?
VASHTI. And there be one what walks abroad in the night time, what holds in the hand of him a stick, greater nor this staff what I holds here, and the knife to it be as long again by twice.
DORRY. O, Granny, I'll be a-feared to go across the garden after dark, I shall.
JANE. What do you want to go and put that there into the child's head for? I'd like for Steve to hear you talking of such stuff.
VASHTI. I sat me down at the table, but the victuals was as sand in the mouth, and the drink did put but coldness within I. And when the door was closed, 'twas as if one did come running round the house and did beat upon it for to be let in. Then I did go for to open it, but the place outside was full of emptiness, and 'twas they old carrion crows what did talk to I out of the storm.
JANE. How you do go on, to be sure! Why don't you speak of summat what's got some sense to it? Come, don't you know as Steve, his wedding day, 'tis to-morrow as ever is.
DORRY. 'Tis the New Year, too, Granny, as well as Dad's marriage.
VASHTI. [Suddenly.] Be this house made ready for a-marrying, then?
DORRY. Why, of course it be, Granny. Don't you see how 'tis cleaned and the new net curtains in the windows, and the bit of drugget 'gainst the door where the old one always tripped me up?
VASHTI. I see naught but what 'tis more like a burial here. So 'tis. And 'tis a burial as I've carried in my heart as I comed down from the hills.
DORRY. [Looking out of the window.] Granny, you'll be forced to bide the night along of we, 'cause the snow be falling thick, and 'twill be likely as not as you'll lose your way if you start for to go home again when 'tis snowing.
JANE. Th' old thing may as well bide the night now she be come. Hark you, Vashti, 'twill save you the journey down to-morrow like, if you bides the night, and the chimney corner is all as you ever wants.
VASHTI. And what should I be journeying down to-morrow for, Jane Browning?
DORRY. Why, Granny, 'tis Dad's wedding day to-morrow, and 'tis a white frock with lace to it as I'm going to wear, and beads what Miss Sims gived me, and the shoes what was new except for being worn to church three times. Shall I fetch them all and show to you, Granny?
JANE. Yes, run along and get them, Dorry; very likely 'twill give her thoughts a turn, looking at the things, seeing as she be in one of her nasty moods to-day when you can't get a word what isn't foolishness out of her. [DORRY runs upstairs.
VASHTI. [Leaning forward.] Was her telling of a marriage?
JANE. Why, yes, Vashti Reed. And you know all about it, only you don't trouble for to recollect nothing but what you dreams of yourself in the night. 'Tis our Steve what's going to marry Annie Sims to-morrow.
VASHTI. Steve Browning?
JANE. I haven't patience with th' old gipsy! Yes—Steve. And 'tis a twelvemonth or more as you'd knowed of it.
VASHTI. Our Steve, what's husband to my May?
JANE. 'Tis a fine thing to fetch up May this evening, that 'tis. May, what went out trolloping along the roads 'stead of she biding at home to mind the house and child! 'Tis how you did breed she up, Vashti Reed, what led her to act as her did. And if you'd have bred her different, 'twould have been all the same; for what's in the blood is bound to out and show; and when you picks a weed and sets it in the room, 'tain't no flower as you must look for.
VASHTI. 'Tis summat like a twelve year since her went. But in the blinking of an eye the latch might be raised, and she come through the door again. God bless the head an feet of she!
JANE. There you are, Vashti, talking so foolish. A bad herb like she, was bound for to meet her doom. And 'twas in the river up London way where the body of her was catched, floating, and the same petticoat to it as I've seed on May a score of times. Don't you recollect how 'twas parson as brought the news to we?
VASHTI. 'Taint with no parsons as I do hold, nor with what may come from the mouths of they, neither.
JANE. And Steve, I knowed what was in his mind when parson was gone out. 'Twas not much as he did say, being a man what hasn't many words to his tongue. But he took and fetched down his big coat what do hang up yonder, and told I to put a bit of black to the sleeve of it. Leastways, he didn't speak the words, but I seed what he was after, and I took and sewed a bit on, and he's wore it ever since till yesterday—And that's eleven year ago it be—so there.
VASHTI. Her be moving about upon the earth, her be. And I seems to feel the tread of she at night time, and by day as well. Her bain't shrouded, nor boxed, nor no churchyard sod above the limbs of she— you take my words—and there shall come a day when the latch shall rise and her be standing among us and a-calling on her child and husband what's forgotten she.
JANE. For goodness sake, Vashti, have done speaking about such things to-night. If Steve was to hear you, why I shouldn't wonder if he was to put you out of the door and into the snow—and 'tis most unfitting for to talk so afore the child.
VASHTI. [Calling out loudly.] Come back to I, May—you come back to I—there bain't no one what thinks on the name of you, or what wants you but your old mother. You come back to I!
JANE. I'll thank you for to shut your mouth, old Vashti! 'Tain't nothing to be proud on as you've got, and 'twould be better if you was to be less free in your hollering. Look, here's Dorry coming.
[DORRY comes into the kitchen; she is wearing her new white frock.
DORRY. See, Granny, I've been and put it on for to show you better. See the lace? Isn't it nice? And the beads, too. I didn't stop for to put on my shoes, nor my new stockings. Nor my hat, what's got a great long feather all round of it.
JANE. You bad, naughty girl, Dorry, you'll crease and tumble that frock so as it's not fit to be seen to-morrow! Whatever did you go to put it on for?
DORRY. So as that Gran should see something pretty, and so as she should come out of her trouble. Gran's always got some trouble in her mind, han't you, Granny?
VASHTI. A twelve year gone by, my child.
JANE. I'll give it you if you starts off again.
VASHTI. A twelve year gone by -
DORRY. A twelve year gone by, what then, Granny?
VASHTI. 'Tis more'n eleven years since her wented out of the door, my child—your poor mammy. Out of the door, out of the door! And likely as not 'twill be feet first as her shall be brought in again.
DORRY. Granny, was my poor mammy, what's dead, nice looking like Miss Sims as is going for to marry Dad, to-morrow?
VASHTI. 'Twas grand as a tree in full leaf and the wind a-moving all the green of it as was your mammy, my dear.
DORRY. And did she have fine things to her, nice gowns and things, like Miss Sims, Granny?
JANE. 'Twas the looks of her and the love of finery and pleasuring what was her undoing, as 'twill be the undoing of you, too, Dorry, if you don't take care. 'Tis she as you favours, and none of your father's people, more's the pity, and 'tis more thoughtful and serious as you'll have to grow if you don't want to come to harm. You take and go right up, and off with that frock, do you hear me?
DORRY. O, I wanted to be let to go to the dancing now I'd got it on, I did.
JANE. Dancing, there you are! Dancing and finery, 'tis all as you do think on, and 'tis plain to see what's got working in the inside of you, Dorry. 'Tis the drop of bad blood as you has got from she what bore you. But I might as well speak to that door for all you cares. Only, hark you here, you'll be sorry one of these days as you han't minded me better. And then 'twill be too late.
[STEVE comes down the stairs, pushes open the door and enters.
STEVE. Well, Mother, what's up now? Gran, you here? Why, Dorry, what be you a-crying for?
DORRY. I wants to be let to go to the dancing, Dad—now that I've got my frock on and all.—O, I wants to be let to go.
STEVE. Well, Mother—what do you say? 'Twouldn't hurt for she to look in about half an hour, and Annie and me we could bring her back betimes.
DORRY. O, Dad, I wants to go if 'twas only for a minute.
STEVE. There, there—you shall go and we'll say no more about it.
JANE. I never knowed you give in to her so foolish like this afore, Steve.
STEVE. Well, Mother, 'tain't every day as a man's married, that 'tain't.
VASHTI. And so you're to be wed come to-morrow, Steve? They tells me as you're to be wed.
STEVE. That's right enough, Gran.
VASHTI. [Rising.] And there be no resting in me to-day, Steve. There be summat as burns quick in the bones of my body and that will not let me bide.—And 'tis steps as I hears on the roadside and in the fields—and 'tis a bad taste as is in my victuals, and I must be moving, and peering about, and a-taking cold water into my mouth for to do away with the thing on my tongue, which is as the smell of death—So 'tis.
JANE. Now she's off again! Come, sit you down, Vashti Reed, and I'll give you summat as'll very likely warm you and keep you quiet in your chair a while. Just you wait till I gets the water boiling.
[She begins to stir up the fire and sets a kettle on it.
DORRY. [From the window.] Here's Miss Sims coming up the path, and Rosie too. O, they're wrapped up all over 'cause 'tis snowing. I'll open, I'll open.
[She runs to the door and unlatches it. ANNIE and ROSE SIMS come in, shaking the snow from them and unbuttoning their cloaks, which STEVE takes from them and hangs on the door.
ACT II.—Scene 2.
ANNIE. [As STEVE takes off her cloak.] 'Tis going to be a dreadful night. The snow's coming down something cruel.
ROSE. There won't be many to the dance if it keeps on like this, will there?
STEVE. Get you to the fire, both of you, and warm yourselves before we sets out again.
DORRY. Miss Sims, Miss Sims—Miss Rosie—I'm going along with you to the dance, Dad says as I may.
JANE. Bless the child! However her has worked upon her father, and he so strict, I don't know.
ANNIE. Well, you be got up fine and grand, Dorry—I shouldn't hardly know 'twas you. [Turning to VASHTI REED.] Good evening, Mrs. Reed, my eyes was very near blinded when I first got in out of the dark, and I didn't see as you was there.
ROSE. Good evening, Mrs. Reed, and how be you keeping this cold weather?
VASHTI. [Peering into their faces as they stand near her.] What be you a-telling I of?
ANNIE. We was saying, how be you in this sharp weather, Mrs. Reed?
VASHTI. How be I?
ROSE. Yes, Mrs. Reed, how be you a-keeping now 'tis come over such nasty weather?
VASHTI. And how should an old woman be, and her one child out in the rain and all the wind, and driv' there too by them as was laid like snakes in the grass about the feet of she, ready for to overthrow she when her should have gotten to a time of weakness.
JANE. Take no account of what she do say, girls, but sit you down in the warm and bide till I gets the time to take and look on the clothes which you have upon you. [Moving about and putting tea things on the table.] I be but just a-going to make a cup of tea for th' old woman, with a drop of summat strong to it as will keep her from using of her tongue so free till morning time.
ANNIE. [Sitting down.] Poor old woman, 'tis a sad thing when folks do come to such a pass as she.
ROSE. And han't got their proper sense to them, nor nothing. But she's better off nor a poor creature what we saw crouching below the hedge as we was coming across the meadow. "Why," I says to Annie, "it must be bad to have no home to bide in such a night as this!" Isn't that so, Mrs. Browning?
STEVE. Ah, you're right there, you're right.
ROSE. I wouldn't much care to be upon the road to-night, would you, Steve?
VASHTI. And at that hour when th' old year be passing out, and dark on all the land, the graves shall open and give up the dead which be in they. And, standing in the churchyard you may read the face to each, as the corpses do go by. There's many a night as I have stood and have looked into they when them did draw near to I, but never the face I did seek.
[Here JANE, who has been making a cup of tea, and who has poured something in it from a bottle, advances to VASHTI.
JANE. Here, Vashti Reed, here's a nice cup of hot tea for you. Take and drink it up and very likely 'twill warm th' inside of you, for I'll lay as you haven't seen a mouthful of naught this day.
STEVE. Ah, that's it, that's it. When folks do go leer 'tis a powerful lot of fancies as do get from the stomach to the heads of they.
[VASHTI takes the cup and slowly drinks.
DORRY. O, Miss Sims, you do look nice. Look, Gran'ma, at what Miss Sims have got on!
VASHTI. [Putting down her cup and leaning forward.] Which of you be clothed for marriage?
JANE. Get along of you, Gran, 'tis for the dance up at the school as they be come.
VASHTI. Come you here—her what's to wed our Steve. Come you here and let I look at you. My eyes bain't so quick as they was once. Many tears have clouded they. But come you here.
DORRY. Go along to her, Miss Sims, Granny wants to look at your nice things.
ANNIE. [Steps in front of VASHTI.] Here I be, Mrs. Reed.
VASHTI. Be you the one what's going to wed our Steve come New Year.
ANNIE. That's it, Mrs. Reed, that's it.
VASHTI. And be these garments which you be clothed in for marriage or for burial?
STEVE. Come, Granny, have another cup of tea. Annie, don't you take no account of she. 'Tis worry and that as have caused the mind of she to wander a bit, but she don't mean nothing by it.
ANNIE. All right, Steve. She don't trouble me at all. [To VASHTI.] 'Tis to be hoped as I shall make a good wife to Steve, Mrs. Reed.
VASHTI. Steve! What do Steve want with another wife? Han't he got one already which is as a rose among the sow-thistles. What do Steve want for with a new one then?
STEVE. Come on, girls. I can't stand no more of this. Let's off, and call in to George's as we do go by.
ROSE. We did meet Mr. Davis as we was coming along and he said as how 'twouldn't be many minutes afore he joined us here, Steve.
STEVE. That's right, then we'll bide a bit longer till George do call for we, only 'tis more nor I can stand when th' old lady gets her tongue moving.
DORRY. Why, look, Gran's fell asleep! O, Miss Sims, now that Gran's dropped off and can't say none of her foolish things any more, do stand so as Dad and Gran'ma can see the frock which you've got for the dance.
ANNIE. O, Dorry, you're a little torment, that's the truth.
[She gets up and turns slowly round so that all can see what she has on.
ROSE. Well, Steve?
STEVE. Well, Rosie.
ROSE. Haven't you got nothing as you can say, Steve?
STEVE. What be I to say, Rose?
ROSE. Well, something of how you thinks she looks, of course.
STEVE. O, 'tis all right, I suppose.
ROSE. All right! And is that about all as you've seen? Why, bless you, Steve, where have you gone and hid your tongue I should like to know!
STEVE. Well, there bain't nothing wrong, be there?
ROSE. Of course there isn't. But I never did see such a man as you, Steve. Why, I don't believe as you'd know whether Annie haves a pair of eyes to her face or not, nor if they be the same colour one to t'other.
STEVE. I sees enough for me. I sees as Annie is the girl as I've picked out of the whole world. And I know that to-morrow she and I is to be made man and wife. And that be pretty nigh enough for me this night, I reckon.
DORRY. O, Miss Sims, do you hear what Dad is saying? O, I wonder what I should feel if 'twas me that was going to be married!
ROSE. You get and ask Annie how 'tis with her, Dorry. I could tell a fine tale of how as she do lie tossing half the nights, and of the candles that's burned right down to the very end of them, I could.
ANNIE. Don't you go for to listen to her, Dorry, nor Steve, neither. She's that flustered herself about the dance to-night that she scarce do know what she's a-saying of. But suppose you was just to ask her what she's got wrapped so careful in that there paper in her hand.
DORRY. O, Rosie, whatever is it?
STEVE. What's that you've got hold on now, Rosie?
ANNIE. Come, show them all, Rose.
[ROSE slowly unfolds the paper and shows them all a hothouse carnation and a fern.
ROSE. There 'tis, then.
DORRY. O my, Rosie—isn't it beautiful. Be you going to wear it to the dance?
ROSE. No, Dorry, 'tisn't for me.
ANNIE. You just ask her for whom it is, then, Dorry.
DORRY. O, who is it for, Rosie—who is it for?
ROSE. No—I'm not a-going to tell none of you.
[She wraps it up carefully again.
ANNIE. I'll tell then, for you.
ROSE. No, you shan't, Annie—that you shan't!
ANNIE. That I shall, then—come you here, Dorry—I'll whisper it to your ear. [Whispers it to DORRY.
DORRY. [Excitedly.] I know who 'tis—I know—'tis for Mr. Davis— for Mr. Davis! Think of that, Dad—the flower 'tis for George Davis.
ROSE. O, Annie, how you could!
STEVE. George -
VASHTI. [Suddenly roused.] Who named George? There was but one man as was called by that name—and he courted my girl till her was faint and weary of the sound and shape of he, and so on a day when he was come -
DORRY. There's Gran gone off on her tales again.
[JANE crosses the hearth and puts a shawl over the head of VASHTI, who relapses again into sleep.
STEVE. [Sitting down by ROSE.] What's this, Rose? I han't heard tell of this afore. Be there aught a-going on with you and George, then?
ROSE. No, Steve, there isn't nothing in it much, except that George and me we walked out last Sunday in the evening like—and a two or three time before.
STEVE. And is it that you be a-keeping of that flower for to give to George, then?
ROSE. Well—'tis for George as I've saved it out of some what the gardener up at Squire's gived me.
STEVE. [As though to himself.] 'Tis a powerful many years since George he went a-courting. I never knowed him so much as look upon a maid, I didn't since -
ROSE. Well, Steve, I'm sure there's no need for you to be upset over it. 'Tis nothing to you who George walks out with, or who he doesn't.
STEVE. Who said as I was upset, Rose?
ROSE. Look at the long face what you've pulled. Annie, if 'twas me, I shouldn't much care about marrying a man with such a look to him.
ANNIE. What's up, Steve? What's come over you like, all of a minute?
STEVE. 'Tis naught, Annie, naught. 'Twas summat of past times what comed into the thoughts of me. But 'tis naught. And, Rose, if so be as 'twas you as George is after, I'd wish him to have luck, with all my heart, I would, for George and me—well, we too has always stuck close one to t'other, as you knows.
JANE. Ah—that you has, George and you—you and George.
ANNIE. Hark—there's someone coming up now.
DORRY. O, let me open the door—let me open it!
[She runs across the room and lifts the latch. GEORGE stands in the doorway shaking the snow from him. Then he comes into the room.
DORRY. I'm going to the dance, Mr. Davis. Look, haven't I got a nice frock on?
STEVE. Good evening, George, and how be you to-night?
GEORGE. Nicely, Steve, nicely. Good evening, Mrs. Browning. Miss Sims, good evening—Yes, Steve, I'll off with my coat, for 'tis pretty well sprinkled with snow, like.
[STEVE helps GEORGE to take off his overcoat.
ROSE. A happy New Year to you, Mr. Davis.
JANE. And that's a thing which han't no luck to it, if 'tis said afore the proper time, Rosie.
ROSE. Well, but 'tis New Year's Eve, isn't it?
GEORGE. Ah, so 'tis—and a terrible nasty storm as ever I knowed! 'Twas comed up very nigh to my knees, the snow, as I was a-crossing of the meadow. And there lay some poor thing sheltering below the hedge, with a bit of sacking throwed over her. I count 'tis very near buried alive as anyone would be as slept out in such a night.
STEVE. I reckon 'twould be so—so 'twould. But come you in and give yourself a warm; and Mother, what do you say to getting us a glass of cider all round afore we sets out to the dancing.
JANE. What do you want to be taking drinks here for, when 'tis free as you'll get them up at the school?
STEVE. Just a drop for to warm we through. Here, I'll fetch it right away.
JANE. No, you don't. I'll have no one meddling in the pantry save it's myself. Dorry, give me that there jug.
DORRY. [Taking a jug from the dresser.] Here 'tis, Gran'ma, shall I light the candle?
JANE. So long as you'll hold the matches careful.
ANNIE. Well—'tis to be hoped as the weather'll change afore morning.
ROSE. We shall want a bit of sunshine for the bride.
GEORGE. That us shall, but it don't look much as though we should get it.
[JANE BROWNING and DORRY go out of the room.
STEVE. Sit you down, George, along of we. 'Tis right pleased as I be for to see you here to-night.
GEORGE. Well, Steve, I bain't one for a lot of words but I be powerful glad to see you look as you does, and 'tis all joy as I wishes you and her what's to be your wife, to-morrow.
ANNIE. Thank you kindly, Mr. Davis. I shall do my best for Steve, and a girl can't do no more, can she?
ROSE. And so you're going to church along of Steve, Mr. Davis?
GEORGE. 'Tis as Steve do wish, but I be summat after a cow what has broke into the flower gardens, places where there be many folk got together and I among they.
ROSE. O, come, Mr. Davis!
GEORGE. 'Tis with me as though t'were all hoof and horn as I was made of. But Steve, he be more used to mixing up with the quality folks and such things, and he do know better nor I how to carry his self in parts when the ground be thick on them.
ANNIE. Very likely 'tis a-shewing of them into their places of a Sunday and a-ringing of the bell and a-helping of the vicar along with the service, like, as has made Steve so easy.
ROSIE. But, bless you, Mr. Davis, you sees a good bit of the gentry, too, in your way, when you goes in to houses, as it might be the Squire's for to put up a shelf, or mend a window, and I don't know what.
GEORGE. Ah, them caddling sort of jobs don't much agree with I, Miss Rose. And when I gets inside one of they great houses, where the maids do pad about in boots what you can't hear, and do speak as though 'twere church and parson at his sermon, I can't think of naught but how 'twill feel for to be out in the open again. Why, bless you, I do scarce fetch my breath in one of they places from fear as there should be too much sound to it, and the noise of my own hammer do very near scare I into fits.
ROSE. Well, Mr. Davis, who would ever have thought it?
[MRS. BROWNING and DORRY come back and the cider is put upon the table, DORRY and ANNIE getting glasses from the dresser.
GEORGE. [Drinking.] Your health, Steve, and yours, too, Miss Sims. And many years of happiness to you both.
STEVE. Thank you kindly, George.
ANNIE. Thank you, Mr. Davis.
DORRY. Hasn't Miss Sims got a nice frock on her for the dance, Mr. Davis?
GEORGE. Well, I'm blessed if I'd taken no notice of it, Dorry.
DORRY. Why, you're worse nor Dad, I do declare! But you just look at Rosie, now, Mr. Davis, and ask her what she's got wrapped up in that there paper in her hand.
ROSE. O, Dorry, you little tease, you!
DORRY. You just ask her, Mr. Davis.
ROSE. [Undoing the parcel.] There, 'tis nothing to make such a commotion of! Just a flower—see, Mr. Davis? I knowed as it was one what you was partial to, and so I just brought it along with me.
GEORGE. That there bain't for I, be it?
ROSE. Indeed 'tis—if so as you'll accept of it.
GEORGE. O, 'tis best saved against to-morrow. The freshness will be most gone from it, if I was to wear it now.
DORRY. No, no, Mr. Davis, 'tis for now! To wear at the dance. Put it on him, Rosie, put it on him.
ROSE. [Tossing the flower across the table to GEORGE.] He can put it on hisself well enough, Dorry.
GEORGE. [After a moment's hesitation.] I don't know so well about that.
ANNIE. Go on, Rosie—pin it into his coat. Come, 'tis getting late.
DORRY. O, pin it in quick, Rosie—come along—and then we can start to the dancing.
ROSE. Shall I, Mr. Davis?
[GEORGE gets up and crosses the room; ROSE takes the flower and DORRY hands her a pin. She slowly pins the flower in his coat.
STEVE. [Stretching out his hand to ANNIE.] You be so quiet like to- night, Annie. There isn't nothing wrong, is there, my dear?
ANNIE. 'Tis only I'm that full of gladness, Steve, as I don't seem to find words to my tongue for the things what I can talk on most days.
STEVE. And that's how 'tis with I, too, Annie. 'Tis as though I was out in the meadows, like—And as though 'twere Sunday, and such a stillness all around that I might think 'twas only me as was upon the earth. But then summat stirs in me sudden and I knows that you be there, too, and 'tis my love for you what has put me right away from the rest of them.
ANNIE. Steve, you've had a poor, rough time, I know, but I'll do my best for to smooth it like for you, I will.
STEVE. See here, Annie—I be comed out of the rain and into the sun once more.
DORRY. [Leading GEORGE forward.] See how fine Mr. Davis do look— see, isn't he grand? O, Miss Sims, see how nice the flower do look what Rosie has pinned in his coat! See, Gran'ma.
JANE. I've enough to do putting away all these glasses which have been messed up. What I wants to know is when I shall get off to bed this night, seeing as 'tis late already and you none of you gone off yet.
DORRY. O, let us be off, let us be off—and what am I to put over my dress, Gran'ma, so as the snow shan't get to it?
JANE. If you go careful and don't drop it in the snow may be as I'll wrap my big shawl around of you, Dorry, what's hanging behind the door.
ROSE. Give me my cloak, Steve—O, how I do love a bit of dancing, don't you, Mr. Davis?
GEORGE. I be about as much use in the ball room as one of they great drag horses, Miss Rose.
ROSE. O, get on, Mr. Davis! I don't believe half what you do say, no more does Annie.
ANNIE. If Mr. Davis don't know how to dance right, you're the one to learn him, Rose. Come, Dorry, you take hold of my hand, and I'll look after you on the way. Good-night, Mrs. Browning. Good-night, Mrs. Reed.
DORRY. Why, Granny's sound asleep, Miss Sims, you know.
JANE. And about time, too. 'Tis to be hoped as we shan't have no more trouble with her till morning.
DORRY. [Her eyes raised to the door latch.] Just look, why the latch is up.
ANNIE. Whoever's that, I wonder?
ROSE. 'Tis very likely someone with a horse what's lost a shoe, Steve.
JANE. I guess as 'tis a coffin wanted sudden, George Davis.
STEVE. I bain't a-going to shoe no horses this time of night, not if 'twas the King hisself what stood at the door.
GEORGE. If 'tis a corpse, I guess her'll have to wait till the dancing's finished, then.
[VASHTI groans in her sleep and turns over in the chair, her face to the fire.
STEVE. [Going to the door and speaking loudly.] Who's there?
GEORGE. Us'll soon see.
[GEORGE unbolts the door and opens it, first a little way, and then wide. MAY is seen standing in the doorway. Her shawl is drawn over head and the lower part of her face.
GEORGE. Here's someone what's missed their way, I count.
ROSE. Why, 'tis like the poor thing we seed beneath the hedge, I do believe.
ANNIE Whatever can she want a-coming-in here at this time of night!
JANE. [Advancing firmly.] 'Tis one of they dirty roadsters what there's too many of all about the country. Here, I'll learn you to come to folks' houses this time of night, disturbing of a wedding party. You take and get gone. We don't want such as you in here, we don't.
[MAY looks fixedly into JANE'S face.
GEORGE. I count 'tis very nigh starved by the cold as she be.
STEVE. Looks like it, and wetted through to the bone.
JANE. Put her out and shut the door, George, and that'll learn the likes of she to come round begging at folks' houses what's respectable.
GEORGE. 'Tis poor work shutting the door on such as her this night.
STEVE. And that 'tis, George, and what's more, I bain't a-going for to do it. 'Tis but a few hours to my wedding, and if a dog was to come to me for shelter I'd not be one to put him from the door.
JANE. 'Tain't to be expected as I shall let a dirty tramp bide in my kitchen when 'tis all cleaned up against to-morrow, Steve.
STEVE. To-morrow, 'tis my day, Mother, and I'll have the choosing of my guests, like. [Turning to MAY.] Come you in out of the cold. This night you shall bide fed and warmed, so that, may be, in years to come, 'twill please you to think back upon the eve afore my wedding.
[STEVE stands back, holding the door wide open. MAY, from the threshold, has been looking first on one face and then on another. Suddenly her eyes fall on ANNIE, who has moved to STEVE'S side, laying her hand on his arm, and with a sudden defiance, she draws herself up and comes boldly into the room as the curtain falls.
ACT II.—Scene 3.
The same room, two hours later. VASHTI REED seems to be sleeping as before by the fireside. On the settle MAY is huddled, her head bent, the shawl drawn over her face. JANE BROWNING moves about, putting away work things, cups and plates, seeing that the window is closed, winding the clock, etc. There is a tap at the outer door and JANE opens it. STEVE, ANNIE and DORRY enter.
JANE. Whatever kept you so late, Steve, and me a-sitting up for to let you all in and not able to get away to my bed?
DORRY. O, Gran'ma, it was beautiful, I could have stopped all night, I could. We comed away early 'cause Miss Sims, she said as the dancing gived her the headache, but the New Year han't been danced in yet, it han't.
JANE. You get and dance off to bed, Dorry, that's what you've got to do—and quickly.
DORRY. All right, Gran'ma. Good-night, Miss Sims; good-night, Dad. O, why, there's Granny! But her's tight asleep so I shan't say nothing to her. O, I do wish as there was dancing, and lamps, and music playing every night, I do!
[DORRY goes towards the staircase door.
JANE. [Calling after her.] I'm a-coming along directly. Be careful with the candle, Dorry.
[JANE opens the door and DORRY goes upstairs. STEVE and ANNIE come towards the fireplace.
STEVE. Was there aught as you could do for yonder poor thing?
JANE. Poor thing, indeed! A good-for-nothing roadster what's been and got herself full of the drink, and that's what's the matter with she. See there, how she do lie, snoring asleep under the shawl of her; and not a word nor sound have I got out of she since giving her the drop of tea a while back.
STEVE. Well, well—she won't do us no harm where she do bide. Leave her in the warm till 'tis daylight, then let her go her way.
JANE. She and Gran' be about right company one for t'other, I'm thinking.
STEVE. Ah, that they be. Let them sleep it off and you get up to bed, Mother.
JANE. That I will, Steve. Be you a-going to see Annie safe to home?
ANNIE. Do you bide here, Steve, and let me run back—'tis but a step—and I don't like for you to come out into the snow again.
STEVE. I'm coming along of you, Annie. Get off to bed, Mother. I'll be back to lock up and all that in less nor ten minutes.
JANE. All right, Steve, and do you cast an eye around to see as I han't left nothing out as might get took away, for 'tis poor work leaving the kitchen to roadsters and gipsies and the like.
[JANE lights a candle and goes upstairs. STEVE takes ANNIE'S hand and they go together towards the outer door. As they pass to the other side of the curtain which is drawn across the room, MAY suddenly rears herself up on the settle, throwing back her shawl, and she leans forward, listening intently.
STEVE. To-morrow night, Annie!
ANNIE. There'll be no turning out into the snow for us both, Steve.
STEVE. You'll bide here, Annie, and 'tis more gladness than I can rightly think on, that 'tis.
STEVE. Well, Annie.
ANNIE. There's summat what's been clouding you a bit this night. You didn't know as how I'd seen it, but 'twas so.
STEVE. Why, Annie, I didn't think as how you'd take notice as I was different from ordinary.
ANNIE. But I did, Steve. And at the dancing there was summat in the looks of you which put me in mind of a thing what's hurted. Steve, I couldn't abide for to see you stand so sad with the music going on and all. So I told you as I'd the headache.
STEVE. O Annie, 'twas thoughts as was too heavy for me, and I couldn't seem to get them pushed aside, like.
ANNIE. How'd it be if you was to tell me, Steve.
STEVE. I don't much care for to, Annie. But 'twas thoughts what comed out of the time gone by, as may be I'd been a bit too hard with—with her as was Dorry's mother.
ANNIE. O, I'm sure, from all I hear, as she had nothing to grumble at, Steve.
STEVE. And there came a fearsome thought, too, Annie, as you might go the same way through not getting on comfortable with me, and me being so much older nor you, and such-like. Annie, I couldn't bear for it to happen so, I could not. For I holds to having you aside of me always stronger nor I holds to anything else in the world, and I could not stand it if 'twas as I should lose you.
ANNIE. There's nothing in the world as could make you lose me, Steve. For, look you here, I don't think as there's a woman on the earth what's got such a feeling as is in my heart this night, of quiet, Steve, and of gladness, because that you and me is to be wed and to live aside of one another till death do part us.
STEVE. Them be good words, Annie, and no mistake.
ANNIE. And what you feels about the days gone by don't count, Steve, 'cause they bain't true of you. You was always a kind husband, and from what I've hear-ed folks say, she was one as wasn't never suited to neither you nor yours.
STEVE. Poor soul, she be dead and gone now, and what I thinks one way or t'other can't do she no good. Only 'tis upon me as I could take you to-morrow more glad-like, Annie, if so be as I had been kinder to she, the time her was here.