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Six Plays
by Florence Henrietta Darwin
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ANNIE. Do you go off to bed, Steve, you're regular done up, and that's what 'tis. I never hear-ed you take on like this afore.

STEVE. All right, my dear, don't you mind what I've been saying. Very like 'tis a bit unnerved as I be this night. But 'tis a good thought, bain't it, Annie, that come to-morrow at this time, there won't be no more need for us to part?

ANNIE. [As he opens the door.] O, 'tis dark outside!

[They both leave the cottage. MAY throws back her shawl as though stifled. She gets up and first stands bending over VASHTI. Seeing that she is still sleeping heavily, she goes to the door, opens it gently and looks out. After a moment she closes it and walks about the kitchen, examining everything with a fierce curiosity. She takes up the shawl DORRY has been wearing, looks at it hesitatingly, and then clasps it passionately to her face. Hearing steps outside she flings it down again on the chair and returns to the settle, where she sits huddled in the corner, having wrapped herself again in her shawl, only her eyes looking out unquietly from it. STEVE re-enters. He bolts the door, then goes up to the table in front of the fire to put out the lamp.

STEVE. Can I get you an old sack or summat for to cover you up a bit this cold night?

[MAY looks at him for a moment and then shakes her head.

STEVE. All right. You can just bide where you be on the settle. 'Tis warmer within nor upon the road to-night, and I'll come and let you out when 'tis morning.

[MAY raises both her hands in an attitude of supplication.

STEVE. [Pausing, with his hand on the burner of the lamp.] Be there summat as you wants what I can give to you?

[MAY looks at him for a moment and then speaks in a harsh whisper.

MAY. Let I bide quiet in the dark, 'tis all I wants now. [STEVE puts out the lamp.

STEVE. [As though to himself, as he goes towards the door upstairs.] Then get off to your drunken sleep again, and your dreams.

[Curtain.



ACT II.—Scene 4.



The fire is almost out. A square of moonlight falls on the floor from the window. VASHTI still sleeps in the chimney corner. MAY is rocking herself to and fro on the settle.

MAY. Get off to your drunken sleep and to your dreams! Your dreams- -your dreams—Ah, where is it as they have gone, I'd like for to know. The dreams as comed to I when I was laid beneath the hedge. Dreams!

[She gets up, feels down the wall in a familiar way for the bellows— blows up the fire and puts some coal on it gently. Then she draws forward a chair and sits down before it.

MAY. [Muttering to herself.] 'Tis my own hearth when 'tis all said and done.

[She turns up the front of her skirt and warms herself, looking sharply at VASHTI REED now and then.

[Presently VASHTI'S eyes open, resting, at first unseeingly, and then with recognition, on MAY'S face.

VASHTI. So you be comed back, May. I always knowed as you would.

MAY. How did you know 'twas me, then?

VASHTI. 'Cause I knowed. There 'tis.

MAY. I be that changed from the times when I would sit a-warming of myself by this here fire.

VASHTI. Ah, and be you changed, May? My eyes don't see nothing of it, then.

MAY. Ah, I be got into an ugly old woman now, mother, and Steve— Steve, he looked in the face of I and didn't so much as think who 'twas. "Get off to the drunken sleep of you and to your dreams." 'Twas that what he did say to I.

VASHTI. Your old mother do know better nor Steve. Ah, 'tweren't in no shroud as I seed you, May, nor yet with the sod upon the face of you, but stepping, stepping up and down on the earth, through the water what layed on the roads, and on the dry where there be high places, and in the grass of the meadows. That's how 'twas as I did see you, May.

MAY. And I would like to know how 'twas as Steve saw I.

VASHTI. Ah, and there was they as did buzz around as thick as waspes in summer time and as said, "She be under ground and rotting now— that her be." And they seed in I but a poor old woman what was sleeping in the chimney corner, with no hearing to I. "Rotting yourself," I says, and I rears up sudden, "She be there as a great tree and all the leaves of it full out—and you—snakes in the grass, snakes in the grass, all of you! There 'tis.

MAY. [Mockingly.] "It's a good thought, bain't it, Annie, that to- morrow this time there won't be no need for us to part?" And in the days when I was a young woman and all the bloom of I upon me, 'twouldn't have been once as he'd have looked on such as her.

VASHTI. And 'tis full of bloom and rare fine and handsome as you appear now, May, leastways to my old eyes. And when you goes up to Steve and shows yourself, I take it the door'll be shut in the face of the mealy one what they've all been so took up with this long while. I count that 'twill and no mistake. So 'tis.

MAY. [Fiercely.] Hark you here, Mother, and 'tis to be wed to- morrow as they be! Wed—the both of them, the both of them! And me in my flesh, and wife to Steve! "Can I cover you up with a bit of old sack or summat?" Old sack! When there be a coverlet with feathers to it stretched over where he do lie upstairs. "I'll let you out when 'tis morning." Ah, you will, will you, Steve Browning? Us'll see how 'twill be when 'tis morning—Us'll see, just won't us then!

VASHTI. Ah, 'tis in her place as th' old woman will be set come morning—And that her'll be—I count as 'tis long enough as her have mistressed it over the house. [Shaking her fist towards the ceiling.] You old she fox, you may gather the pads of you in under of you now, and crouch you down t'other side of the fire like any other old woman of your years—for my May's comed back, and her'll show you your place what you've not known where 'twas in all the days of your old wicked life. So 'tis.

MAY. Her han't changed a hair of her, th' old stoat! Soon as I heard the note of she, the heat bubbled up in I, though 'twas chattering in the cold as I had been but a moment afore. "One of they dirty roadsters—I'll learn you to come disturbing of a wedding party, I will." [Shaking her fist towards the ceiling.] No, you bain't changed, you hardened old sinner—but the words out of the cruel old mouth of you don't hurt I any more—not they. I be passed out of the power of such as you. I knowed I'd have to face you when I comed back, but I knowed, too, as I should brush you out of the way of me, like I would brush one of they old maid flies.

VASHTI. Ah, and so I telled she many a time. "You bide till my May be comed home," I says. "She be already put safe to bed and 'tis in the churchyard where her do take her rest," says she. Ah, what a great liar that is, th' old woman what's Steve's mother! And the lies they do grow right out of she tall as rushes, and the wind do blow they to the left and to the right. So 'tis.

MAY. Ah, she han't any more power for to hurt I in the ugly old body of her. I be got beyond she. There be but one or two things as can touch I now—But one or two. And I be struck to the heart, I be, struck to the heart.

[She bends forwards, rocking herself to and fro and weeping.

MAY. [As though speaking to herself.] Back and fro, back and fro— On the dark of the earth and where 'twas light. When 'twas cold and no sound but the steps of I on the road, and the fox's bark; when 'twas hot and the white dust smouldered in the mouth of I, and things flying did plague I with the wings of they—But 'twas always the same thought as I had—"Some day I shall come back to Steve," I did tell me. And then again—"Some day I shall get and hold Dorry in my arms." And now I be comed. And Steve—and Steve—Ah, I be struck deep to the heart, 'tis so. Struck deep!

VASHTI. You get upstairs to Steve, May. Get you up there and take the place what's yours.

MAY. My place, my place! Where's that I want to know! 'Tis another what's got into the nest now, to lie snug and warm within. And 'tis for I to spread the wings of me and to go out into the storm again. So 'tis.

VASHTI. Get you to Steve, May, and let him but look on the form of you and on the bloom, and us'll see what he will do with t'other hussy then. Ah, they sneaking, mealy wenches what have got fattened up and licked over by th' old woman till 'tis queens as they fancies theirselves, you shall tell they summat about what they be, come morning. And your poor old mother, her'll speak, too, what hasn't been let sound her tongue these years gone by. Ah, hern shall know what us do think of they, hern shall squat upon the floor and hear the truth.

MAY. He thought as I was sleeping; but I looked out on her and seed the way his eyes was cast upon the girl. Steve, if you had cast your eyes on me like that but once, in days gone by—maybe, maybe I'd not have gone out and shut the door behind I.

VASHTI. Get you to Steve and let him see you with the candle lit. Her bain't no match for he, the young weasel! 'Tis you as has the blood of me and my people what was grand folk in times gone by, 'tis you, May, as is the mate for he, above all them white-jowled things what has honey at the mouth of they, but the heart running over with poison—Ah, and what throws you the bone and keeps the meat for their own bellies. What sets the skin afore you and laps the cream theirselves. Vipers, all of them, and she-cats. There 'tis.

MAY. Sit you down, Mother, and keep the tongue of you quiet. We don't want for to waken they.

VASHTI. [Sitting down heavily.] But we've got to waken Steve for he to know as how you be comed home again.

MAY. And where's the good of that, when there bain't so much as a board nor a rag, but what's been stole from I?

VASHTI. You go and say to him as 'tis his wife what have come back to her place. And put th' old woman against the chimney there, and let her see you a-cutting of the bread and of the meat, and a-setting out of the food so as that they who be at the table can loose the garments of them when the eating 'tis finished, if they has a mind to, 'stead of drawing they together so not to feel 'tis leer. Ah, 'tis time you be comed, May, 'tis time.

MAY. [Bitterly.] I'm thinking 'tis time!

VASHTI. 'Tis the lies of they be growed big as wheat stalks and the hardness of their hearts be worse nor death. But 'tis to judgment as they shall be led, now you be comed home, May, and the hand of God shall catch they when they do crawl like adders upon the earth. "Ah, and do you mind how 'twas you served old Vashti, what never did harm to no one all the life of her," I shall call out to th' old woman in that hour when her shall be burning in the lake. And her shall beg for a drop of water to lay upon the withered tongue of she, and it shall be denied, for other hands nor ours be at work, and 'tis the wicked as shall perish—yes, so 'tis.

MAY. [Who has been bending forward, looking steadily into the fire.] Stop that, Mother, I wants to get at my thoughts.

VASHTI. Be you a-going to set on I, too, May, now that you be comed home. 'Tis poor work for an old woman like I.

MAY. [As though to herself.] And as I was laid beneath the hedge— "'Tis cold as my limbs is, now," I says, "but I shall be warm this night." And the pangs what was in the body of me did fairly quail I- -"'Tis my fill of victuals as I shall soon put within," thinks I. And they was laid a bit. The bleakness of the tempest fell on I, but "I shan't feel lonesome no longer than this hour," I telled me. For to my thinking, Steve, he was waiting all the time till I should be comed back. And Dorry, too. There 'tis. [A long silence.

MAY. I'd have been content to bide with the door shut—so long as it was shut with they two and me inside the room—th' old woman—well, I count I shouldn't have took many thought for she—she could have bided in her place if she'd had a mind—I'd have set me down, when once my clothes was decent and clean, and put my hands to the work and made a tidy wife for Steve, as good nor better than that there dressed-up thing out yonder—And bred Dorry up the right way, too, I would. But 'tis done with now, so 'tis.

VASHTI. [As though to herself.] And when 'tis morning and she gets her down—"There, 'tis my girl as is mistress here, I'll say to her— and 'tis my girl as shall sit cup end of the table—and you get you to the fire corner and bide there, like the poor old woman as you be, spite that you do slip about so spry on the wicked old legs of you."

MAY. And I could set she back in her place, too, that tricked-up, flashy thing over the way. I've but to climb the stairs and clap my hand on Steve—"Get you from your dreams," I have got but to say, "the woman what's yourn be comed home. Her have tasted the cup of death, very near, and her have been a-thirst and an hungered. But her has carried summat for you in her heart all the way what you wouldn't find in the heart of t'other, no, not if you was to cut it open and search it through." And the right belongs to I to shut the door on t'other hussey, holding Steve to I till death divides we.

VASHTI. Going on the road I seed the eyes of they blinking as I did pass by. "And may the light from out the thunder cloud fall upon you," I says to them, "for 'tis a poor old woman as I be what has lost her child; and what's that to you if so be as the shoes on her feet be broken or no? 'Tis naked as the toes of you shall go, that hour when the days of this world shall be rolled by. Ah, 'tis naked and set on the lake of burning fire as the hoofs of you shall run!"

MAY. I could up and screech so that the house should ring with the sound of me, "I be your wife, Steve, comed back after these many years. What's this that you've got doing with another?" I could take hold on him and make him look into the eyes of I, yes, and th' old woman, too. "See here, your 'dirty roadster,' look well on to her." "Why, 'tis May." But the eyes of him would then be cast so that I should see no more than a house what has dead within, and the blind pulled down. And I, what was thinking as there might be a light in the window!

VASHTI. "And you may holler," I says to them, "you may holler till you be heard over the face of all the earth, but no one won't take no account of you." And the lies of them which have turned into ropes of hempen shall come up and strangle they. But me and my child shall pass by all fatted up and clothed, and with the last flick, afore the eyelids of they drop, they shall behold we, and, a-clapping of the teeth of them shall they repent them of their sins. Too late, too late! There 'tis.

MAY. Too late! There 'tis, I be comed home too late.

[She rises and takes up her shawl, wrapping it about her shoulders, and muttering.

MAY. But I know a dark place full of water—'Tis Simon's pool they calls it—And I warrant as any poor wretch might sleep yonder and be in quiet.

VASHTI. Be you a-going up to Steve now?

MAY. No, I bain't. 'Tis out from here that I be going. And back on to the road.

VASHTI. May, my pretty May, you're never going for to leave I, what's such a poor old woman and wronged cruel. You step aloft and rouse up Steve. He'll never have you go upon the roads again once he do know as you've comed back.

MAY. Steve! What's it to Steve whether the like of I do go or bide? What be there in I for to quell the love of she which Steve's got in him? Dead leaves for new. Ditch water for the clear spring.

VASHTI. Give him to drink of it, May.

MAY. [Looking upwards to the ceiling.] No, Steve. Hark you here. I bain't a-going to do it. I bain't going to knock over the spoonful of sweet what you be carrying to your mouth. You take and eat of it in quiet and get you filled with the honey. 'Tain't my way to snatch from no one so that the emptiness which I has in me shall be fed. There, 'tis finished now, very nigh, and the sharpness done. And, don't you fear, Steve, as ever I'll trouble you no more.

VASHTI. [Rising.] I be a-going to fetch him down, and that's what I'm a-going for to do.

MAY. [Pushing her back into her chair.] Harken you, Steve, he's never got to know as I've been here.

VASHTI. I tell you, May, I'll screech till he do come!

MAY. [Sitting down by VASHTI and laying her hand on her.] I'll put summat in your mouth as'll stop you if you start screeching, mother. Why, hark you here. 'Tis enough of this old place as I've had this night, and 'tis out upon the roads as I be going. Th' old woman— there's naught much changed in she—And Steve—well, Steve be wonderful hard in the soul of him. "Can I get you an old sack," says he—and never so much as seed 'twas I—Ah—'tis more than enough to turn the stomach in anyone—that it is. [A slight pause.

MAY. I was never a meek one as could bide at the fireside for long. The four walls of this here room have very near done for me now, so they have. And 'tis the air blowing free upon the road as I craves— Ah, and the wind which hollers, so that the cries of we be less nor they of lambs new born.

VASHTI. God bless you, May, and if you goes beyond the door 'tis the mealy-faced jade will get in come morning, for Steve to wed.

MAY. So 'tis. And if I stopped 'twould be the same, her'd be between us always, the pretty cage bird—For look you here on I, Mother, and here—[pointing to her feet]—and here—and here—See what's been done to I what's knocked about in the world along the roads, and then think if I be such a one as might hold the love of Steve.

VASHTI. [Beginning to whine desolately.] O, do not you go for to leave your old mammy again what has mourned you as if you was dead all the years. Do not you go for to leave I and the wicked around of I as might be the venomous beasts in the grass. Stop with I, my pretty child—Stop along of your old mother, for the days of I be few and numbered, and the enemies be thick upon the land.

MAY. Hark you here, Mother, and keep your screeching till another time. I wants to slip out quiet so as Steve and th' old woman won't never know as I've been nigh. And if you keeps your mouth shut, maybe I'll drop in at our own place on the hill one of these days and bide comfortable along of you, only now—I'm off, do you hear?

VASHTI. I can't abide for you to go. 'Tis more nor I can stand. Why, if you goes, May, 'tis t'other wench and th' old woman what'll get mistressing it here again in your place. [Rising up.] No—you shan't go. I'll holler till I've waked them every one—you shan't! My only child, my pretty May! Ah, 'tis not likely as you shall slip off again. 'Tis not.

MAY. Look you here, Mother—bide still, I say. [Looking round the room distractedly.] See here—'tis rare dry as I be. You bide quiet and us'll have a drink together, that us will. Look, th' old woman's forgot to put away the bottle, us'll wet our mouths nice and quiet, mother—she won't hear I taking out the cork, nor nothing. See!

[MAY gets up and crosses the room; she takes the bottle off the shelf where she has just perceived it, and also two glasses; she fills one and hands it to her mother.

VASHTI. [Stretching out her hand.] 'Tis rare dry and parched as I be, now I comes to think on it, May.

MAY. That's right—drink your fill, Mother.

VASHTI. 'Tis pleasant for I to see you mistressing it here again, May.

MAY. Ah, 'tis my own drink and all, come to that.

VASHTI. So 'tis. And the tea what she gived me was but ditch water. I seed her spoon it in the pot, and 'twas not above a half spoon as her did put in for I, th' old badger. My eye was on she, though, and her'll have it cast up at she when the last day shall come and the trumpet sound and all flesh stand quailing, and me and mine looking on at her as is brought to judgment. How will it be then, you old sinner, says I.

MAY. [Re-filling the glass.] Take and drink this little drop more, mother.

[VASHTI drinks and then leans back in her chair again with half closed eyes.

MAY. [Putting away the bottle and glasses.] Her'll sleep very like, now. And when her wakes, I take it 'twill appear as though she'd been and dreamt summat.

VASHTI. Do you sit a-nigh me, May. The night be a wild one. I would not have you be on the roads.

MAY. [Sitting down beside her.] O, the roads be fine on nights when the tempest moves in the trees above and the rain falls into the mouth of you and lies with a good taste on your tongue. And you goes quick on through it till you comes to where the lights do blink, and 'tis a large town and there be folk moving this way and that and the music playing, and great fowls and horses what's got clocks to the inside of they, a-stirring them up for to run, and girls and men a- riding on them—And the booths with red sugar and white, all lit and animals that's wild a-roaring and a-biting in the tents—And girls what's dancing, standing there in satin gowns all over gold and silver—And you walks to and fro in it all and 'tis good to be there and free—And 'tis better to be in such places and to come and to go where you have a mind than to be cooped in here, with th' old woman and all—'Tis a fine life as you lives on the roads—and 'tis a better one nor this, I can tell you, Mother.

VASHTI. [Who has gradually been falling into sleep.] I count 'tis so. 'Tis prime in the freshening of the day. I count I'll go along of you, come morning.

MAY. That's it, Mother, that's it. Us'll take a bit of sleep afore we sets off, won't us? And when morning comes, us'll open the door and go out.

VASHTI. That's it, when 'tis day.

[Her head falls to one side of the chair and she is presently asleep.

[MAY watches her for some moments. Then she gets up softly and wraps her shawl round her. The window shews signs of a gray light outside, MAY goes quietly towards the outer door. As she reaches it, DORRY comes into the room from the staircase.

DORRY. [Going up to VASHTI.] Granny, 'tis the New Year! I'm come down to see to the fire and to get breakfast for Dad and Gran'ma. Why, Granny, you're sleeping still. And where's that poor tramp gone off to? [She looks round the room and then sees MAY by the door.

DORRY. O, there you are. Are you going out on the road afore 'tis got light?

MAY. [In a hoarse whisper.] And that I be. 'Tis very nigh to daybreak, so 'tis.

DORRY. Stop a moment. [Calling up the stairs.] Daddy, the tramp woman, she's moving off already.

STEVE. [From upstairs.] Then give her a bit of bread to take along of she. I don't care that anyone should go an-hungered this day.

DORRY. [Turning to MAY.] There—you bide a minute whilst I cuts the loaf. My Dad's going to get married this day, and he don't care that anyone should go hungry.

[MAY comes slowly back into the room and stands watching DORRY, who fetches a loaf from the pantry and cuts it at the table. Then she pulls aside the curtain and a dim light comes in.

DORRY. The snow's very nigh gone, and 'tis like as not as the sun may come out presently. Here's a piece of bread to take along of you. There, it's a good big piece, take and eat it.

[MAY hesitates an instant, then she stretches out her hand and takes the bread and puts it beneath her shawl.

MAY. And so there's going to be a wedding here to-day?

DORRY. 'Tis my Dad as is to be married.

MAY. 'Tis poor work, is twice marrying.

DORRY. My Dad's ever so pleased, I han't seen him so pleased as I can remember. I han't.

MAY. Then maybe the second choosing be the best.

DORRY. Yes, 'tis—Gran'ma says as 'tis—and Dad, he be ever so fond of Miss Sims—and I be, too.

MAY. Then you've no call to wish as her who's gone should come back to you, like?

DORRY. What's that you're saying?

MAY. You don't never want as your mammy what you've lost should be amongst you as afore?

DORRY. I never knowed my mammy. Gran'ma says she had got summat bad in her blood. And Granny's got the same. But Miss Sims, she's ever so nice to Dad and me, and I'm real pleased as she's coming to stop along of us always after that they're married, like.

MAY. And th' old woman what's your gran'ma, Dorry?

DORRY. However did you know as I was called "Dorry"?

MAY. I heard them call you so last night.

DORRY. And whatever do you want to know about Gran'ma?

MAY. What have her got to say 'bout the—the—wench what's going to marry your dad?

DORRY. O, Gran'ma, she thinks ever such a lot of Miss Sims, and she says as how poor Dad, what's been served so bad, will find out soon what 'tis to have a real decent wife, what'll help with the work and all, and what won't lower him by her ways, nor nothing.

MAY. Look you here—'tis growing day. I must be getting off and on to the road.

DORRY. [Moving to the door.] I'll unbolt the door, then. O, 'tis fine and daylight now.

MAY. [Turning back at the doorway and looking at the room.] I suppose you wouldn't like to touch me, for good luck, Dorry?

DORRY. No, I shouldn't. Gran'ma, she don't let me go nigh road people as a rule. She's a-feared as I should take summat from them, I suppose.

MAY. [Hoarsely, her hand on the door.] Then just say as you wishes me well, Dorry.

DORRY. I'll wish you a good New Year, then, and Gran'ma said as I was to watch as you cleared off the place. [MAY goes out softly and quickly. DORRY watches her until she is out of sight, and then she shuts the door.



ACT III.—Scene 1.



The same room. It is nearly mid-day, and the room is full of sunshine. JANE BROWNING, in her best dress, is fastening DORRY'S frock, close to the window.

DORRY. Dad's been a rare long time a-cleaning of his self up, Gran.

JANE. Will you bide still! However's this frock to get fastened and you moving this way and that like some live eel—and just see what a mark you've made on the elbow last night, putting your arm down somewhere where you didn't ought to—I might just as well have never washed the thing.

DORRY. Granny's sound asleep still—she'll have to be waked time we goes along to the church.

JANE. That her shan't be. Her shall just bide and sleep the drink out of her, her shall. Do you think as I didn't find out who 'twas what had got at the bottle as Dad left on the dresser last night.

DORRY. Poor Gran, she do take a drop now and then.

JANE. Shame on th' old gipsy. Her shall be left to bide till she have slept off some of the nonsense which is in her.

DORRY. Granny do say a lot of funny things sometimes, don't she, now?

JANE. You get and put on your hat and button your gloves, and let the old gipsy be. We can send her off home when 'tis afternoon, and us back from church. Now, where did I lay that bonnet? Here 'tis.

[She begins to tie the strings before a small mirror in the wall. STEVE comes downstairs in his shirt sleeves, carrying his coat.

DORRY. Why, Dad, you do look rare pleased at summat.

STEVE. And when's a man to look pleased if 'tis not on his wedding morn, Dorry?

DORRY. The tramp what was here did say as how 'twas poor work twice marrying, but you don't find it be so, Dad, do you now?

STEVE. And that I don't, my little wench. 'Tis as nigh heaven as I be like to touch—and that's how 'tis with me.

JANE. [Taking STEVE'S coat from him.] Ah, 'tis a different set out altogether this time. That 'tis. 'Tis a-marrying into your own rank, like, and no mixing up with they trolloping gipsies.

DORRY. Was my own mammy a trolloping gipsy, Gran?

JANE. [Beginning to brush STEVE'S coat.] Ah, much in the same pattern as th' old woman what's drunk asleep against the fireside. Here, button up them gloves, 'tis time we was off.

DORRY. I do like Miss Sims. She do have nice things on her. When I grows up I'd like to look as she do, so I would.

STEVE. [To JANE.] There, Mother, that'll do. I'd best put him on now.

JANE. [Holding out the coat for him.] Well, and you be got yourself up rare smart, Steve.

STEVE. 'Tis rare smart as I be feeling, Mother. I'm all a kind of a dazzle within of me, same as 'tis with the sun upon the snow out yonder.

JANE. Why, look you, there's George a-coming up the path already.

DORRY. He's wearing of the flower what Rosie gived him last night.

STEVE. [Opening the door.] Good morning, George. A first class New Year to you. You're welcome, if ever a man was.

JANE. You bide where you do stand, George, till your feet is dry. My floor was fresh wiped over this morning.

GEORGE. [Standing on the door mat.] All right, Mrs. Browning. Don't you fluster. Good morning, Dorry. How be you to-day, Steve?

JANE. Dorry, come you upstairs along with me and get your coat put on, so as your frock bain't crushed.

DORRY. O, I wish I could go so that my nice frock was seen and no coat.

[They go upstairs. GEORGE rubs his feet on the mat and comes into the room, walking up and down once or twice restlessly and in evident distress of mind.

STEVE. [Who has lit a pipe and is smoking.] Why, George, be you out of sorts this morning? You don't look up to much, and that's the truth.

GEORGE. [Stopping before STEVE.] Hark you, Steve. 'Tis on my mind to ask summat of you. Did you have much speech with the poor thing what you took in from the snow last night?

STEVE. No, George, and that I didn't. Her was mostly in a kind of drunken sleep all the time, and naught to be got out from she. Mother, her tried. But 'twas like trying to get water from the pump yonder, when 'tis froze.

GEORGE. Your mother's a poor one at melting ice, Steve, and 'tis what we all knows.

STEVE. Ah, 'twasn't much as we could do for the likes of she—what was a regular roadster. Bad herbs, all of them. And if it hadn't been so as 'twas my wedding eve, this one shouldn't have set foot inside of the house. But 'tis a season when a man's took a bit soft and foolish, like, the night afore his marriage. Bain't that so, George?

GEORGE. And when was it, Steve, as she went off from here?

STEVE. That I couldn't rightly say, George, but I counts 'twas just upon daybreak. And 'twas Dorry what seed her off the place and gived her a piece of bread to take along of her.

GEORGE. And do you think as she got talking a lot to Dorry, Steve?

STEVE. I'm blest if I do know, George. I never gived another thought to she. What's up?

GEORGE. They was getting the body of her from out of Simon's Pool as I did come by. That's all.

STEVE. From Simon's Pool, George?

GEORGE. I count her must have went across the plank afore 'twas fairly daylight. And, being slippery, like, from the snow, and her— her—as you did say.

STEVE. In liquor.

GEORGE. I reckon as her missed her footing, like.

STEVE. Well, upon my word, George, who'd have thought on such a thing!

GEORGE. I count as her had been in the water and below the ice a smartish while afore they catched sight of she.

STEVE. Well, 'tis a cold finish to a hot life.

GEORGE. They took and laid her on the grass, Steve, as I comed by.

STEVE. If it had been me, I'd have turned the head of me t'other side.

GEORGE. There was summat in the fashion her was laid, Steve, as drawed I near for to get a sight of the face of she.

STEVE. Well, I shouldn't have much cared for that, George.

GEORGE. Steve—did you get a look into the eyes of yon poor thing last night?

STEVE. No, nor wanted for to, neither.

GEORGE. There was naught to make you think of -

STEVE. Of what, George?

GEORGE. There—Steve, I can't get it out, I can't.

STEVE. Then let it bide in.

GEORGE. 'Twas the way her was laid, and the long arms of she, and the hands which was clapped one on t'other, as it might be in church.

STEVE. [Looking through the window.] You shut up, George. Here's Annie with Rose a-coming up to the door. Don't you get saying another word about yon poor wretch nor the end of her. I wouldn't have my Annie upset for all the world to-day. 'Tis a thing as must not be spoke of afore they, nor Dorry neither, do you hear?

[He moves towards the door and puts his hand to the latch.

GEORGE. Hold back, Steve, a minute. There's summat more as I've got to say.

STEVE. You take and shut your mouth up, old George, afore I opens the door to the girls.

GEORGE. 'Tis bound for to come from me afore you goes along to church, Steve.

STEVE. I warrant 'twill keep till us do come home again, George.

[He throws the door wide open with a joyous movement. ANNIE and ROSE in white dresses stand outside.

STEVE. Well, Annie, this is a rare surprise, and that's the truth. [ANNIE and ROSE come into the room.

ROSE. Father, he's outside, and Jim and Bill and Katie, and all the rest. We said as 'twould be pleasanter if we was all to go up together along to the church.

STEVE. So 'twould be—so 'twould be—'Twas a grand thought of yourn, Rosie.

ANNIE. Steve -

STEVE. [Taking her hand.] Annie, I'm fair beside myself this day.

ANNIE. O, Steve, there was never a day in my life like this one. [DORRY and JANE come down.

DORRY. O, Miss Sims, you do look nice! Gran'ma, don't Miss Sims look nice? And Rosie, too. O, they have nice gowns and hats on, haven't they, Dad?

STEVE. I don't see no gowns nor hats, and that's the truth. But I sees summat what's like—what's like a meadow of grass in springtime afore the sun's got on to it.

DORRY. Why, Dad, 'tis white, not green, as Miss Sims is wearing.

STEVE. 'Tis in the eyes of her as I finds my meadow.

DORRY. O, let me see, Dad, let me look, too!

ROSE. [Going up to GEORGE, who has been standing aloof and moody in the background.] Come, Mr. Davis, we must have a look, too.

JANE. 'Get along, get along. We han't time for such foolishness. It be close on twelve already.

ANNIE. O, let me be, all of you! I declare, I don't know which way to look, I don't.

STEVE. I'll show you, Annie, then.

ROSE. [To GEORGE.] Well, Mr. Davis, you don't seem over bright this morning.

STEVE. 'Tis with the nerves as he be took!

DORRY. Look at what he's wearing in his buttonhole, Rosie.

ROSE. 'Tis kept beautiful and fresh.

STEVE. Come on, come on, all of you. 'Tis time we was at the church.

ROSE. Hark to him! He's in a rare hurry for to get out of the house to-day.

GEORGE. Bain't the old lady a-coming?

JANE. That she bain't, the old drinking gipsy—'tis at the spirits as her got in the night—and put away very near the best part of a bottle. Now she's best left to sleep it off, she be.

STEVE. Come on, George. Come, Dorry.

DORRY. O, isn't it a pity as Granny will get at the drink, Mr. Davis? And isn't Miss Sims nice in her white dress? And don't Dad look smiling and pleased? I never did know Dad smile like this afore.

GEORGE. [Heavily.] Come on, Dorry—you take hold of me. You and me, we'll keep nigh one to t'other this day, won't us?

ROSE. [Calling from outside.] Come on, Mr. Davis.

[They all go out.



ACT III.—Scene 2.



Nearly an hour later. The cottage room is full of sunlight.

VASHTI REED is awake and gazing vacantly about her from the same chair by the fire. Someone knocks repeatedly at the door from outside.

VASHTI. And 'tis no bit of rest as I gets for my bones, but they must come and hustle I and call I from the dreams which was soft. [The knocking is heard again.

VASHTI. And I up and says to they, "Ah, and you would hustle a poor old woman what's never harmed so much as a hair out of the ugly heads of you. You would hunt and drive of her till she be very nigh done to death. But there shall come a day when you shall be laid down and a-taking of your bit of rest, and the thing what you knows of shall get up upon you and smite you till you do go screeching from the house, and fleeing to the uttermost part of the land—whilst me and mine -

[The door opens and HARRY MOSS enters.

HARRY. Beg pardon, old Missis, but I couldn't make no one hear me.

VASHTI. Seeing as them be sick of the abomination which was inside of they. [Perceiving HARRY.] Well, and what be you as is comed into this room?

HARRY. 'Tis Moss as I be called, old Missis. And as I was a-going by this place, I thought as I'd look in a moment, just for to ask how 'twas with May.

VASHTI. They be all gone out from the house. All of them. They be in clothes what do lie in boxes most of the time with lumps of white among they. Them be set out in the best as they has, and in grand things of many colours. There 'tis.

HARRY. And be you th' old lady what's Steve's mother?

VASHTI. I be not, sir. 'Tis mother to May as I be. May, what's comed back, and what'll set t'other old vixen in her place soon as they get home.

HARRY. Then May, she be gone out, too, have her?

VASHTI. [Looking round vaguely.] Ah, I counts as her be gone to church along of t'other.

HARRY. To church, Missis?

VASHTI. There's marrying being done down here to-day.

HARRY. Marrying, be there? Well, but I was 'most feared as how it might have been t'other thing.

VASHTI. Ah, that there be—marrying. But there bain't no more victuals got into the house as I knows of. Th' old woman's seen to that.

HARRY. And be May gone out, too, along of them to see the marrying?

VASHTI. Ah, I counts as her be. But her's a-coming back in a little while, and you may sit down and bide till she does.

HARRY. I'd sooner be about and on my way, Missis, if 'tis all the same to you. But I thanks you kindly. And you get and tell May when she do come home, that 'tis particular glad I be for to know as her bain't took worse, nor nothing. And should I happen in these parts again, 'tis very likely as I'll take a look in on she some day.

VASHTI. Ah, her'll have got t'other old baggage set in the right place by then.

HARRY. [Looking round him.] Well, I be rare pleased to think of May so comfortable, like, for her was got down terrible low.

VASHTI. T'other'll be broughted lower.

HARRY. Look you here, old Missis, 'tis a stomach full of naught as I carries. If so be as you has a crust to spare -

VASHTI. [Pointing to a door.] There be a plate of meat inside of that cupboard. You take and fill your belly with it.

HARRY. Thank you kindly, Missis, but I counts I han't the time for heavy feeding this morning.

VASHTI. 'Twould serve she right, th' old sinner, for the place to be licked up clean, against the time when her was come'd back, so 'twould.

HARRY. Well, Missis, you can tell May 'tis a brave New Year as I do wish she.

VASHTI. [Listening to bells which are heard suddenly ringing.] There, there they be! Harken to them! 'Tis with bells as they be coming out. Bells what's ringing. I count 'tis fine as May do look now in her marriage gown. Harken, 'tis the bells a-shaking of the window pane. I be an old woman, but the hearing of me bain't spoiled.

HARRY. I warrant it bain't, Missis. Why, they're ringing wonderful smart. 'Tis enough, upon my word, for to fetch down every stone of the old place.

VASHTI. Get you out upon the garden path and tell I if you sees them a-coming.

HARRY. That's it, old Missis, and so I will.

[He goes outside the house.

VASHTI. [Sitting upright and looking with fixed vacancy before her.] And when they was all laid low and the heads of them bowed. "You would, would you," I says, for they was lifting the ends of their ugly mouths at I. And I passed among they and them did quail and crouch, being with fear. And me and mine did reach the place what was on the top. "See now yourselves," I says, "if so be that you do not go in blindness and in dark." 'Twas May what stood there aside of I. And "Look you," I says, "over the bended necks of you my child shall pass. For you be done to death by the lies which growed within you and waxed till the bodies of you was fed with them and the poison did gush out from your lips." But my little child stood in the light, and the hands of her was about the stars.

HARRY. [Coming in.] Look, they be all a-coming over the meadow, old Missis. But May han't comed with they—May han't come too.

[The wedding party enters the room as the curtain falls.]

Footnotes:

{1} "As I walked Out." From Folk Songs from Essex collected by R. Vaughan Williams. The whole, or two verses can be sung.

{2} "The Seeds of Love," "Folk Songs from Somerset," edited by Cecil J. Sharp and Charles L. Marsden.

THE END

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