[Transcriber's Note: The dialogue in the play uses spaced contractions such as "I 've." Normal contractions are used in the non-dialogue parts of this book, such as the preface and stage directions.]
A Frightful Comedy of Pirates
By CHARLES S. BROOKS
with pictures by JULIA McCUNE FLORY
music by GORDON HATFIELD
COPYRIGHT, 1922 By HARCOURT, BRACE AND COMPANY, INC.
Special Edition Imprinted for WALTER H. BAKER COMPANY PUBLISHERS—BOSTON
WAPPIN' WHARF All Rights Reserved
Especial notice should be taken that the possession of this book without a valid contract for production first having been obtained from the publisher, confers no right or license to professionals or amateurs to produce the play publicly or in private for gain or charity.
In its present form this play is dedicated to the reading public only, and no performance, representation, production, recitation, or public reading, or radio broadcasting may be given except by special arrangement with Walter H. Baker Company, 41 Winter Street, Boston, Mass., or Playhouse Plays, 14 East 38th Street, New York City.
This play may be presented by amateurs upon payment of a royalty of Twenty-five Dollars for each performance, payable to Walter H. Baker Company, 41 Winter Street, Boston, Mass., or Playhouse Plays, 14 East 38th Street, New York City, one week before the date when the play is given.
Whenever the play is produced the following notice must appear on all programs, printing and advertising for the play: "Produced by special arrangement with Walter H. Baker Company."
Attention is called to the penalty provided by law for any infringement of the author's rights as follows:
"Section 4966: Any person publicly performing or representing any dramatic or musical composition for which copyright has been obtained, without the consent of the proprietor of said dramatic or musical composition, or his heirs and assigns, shall be liable for damages thereof, such damages, in all cases to be assessed at such sum, not less than one hundred dollars for the first and fifty dollars for every subsequent performance, as to the court shall appear to be just. If the unlawful performance and representation be wilful and for profit, such person or persons shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be imprisoned for a period not exceeding one year."—U.S. Revised Statutes: Title 60, Chap. 3.
THE DUKE PATCH-EYE THE CAPTAIN RED JOE DARLIN' BETSY OLD MEG SAILOR CAPTAIN THREE SAILORS
SETTING: For details of Stage Set turn to pages 35-6-7.
A PROLOGUE TO BE SPOKEN BY BETSY
Our scene is the wind-swept coast of Devon. By day there is a wide stretch of ocean far below, and the abutments of our stage arise from a dizzy cliff.
The time is remote, and ships of forgotten build stand out from Bristol in full sail for the mines of India. But we must be loose and free of precise date lest our plot be shamed by broken fact. A thousand years are but as yesterday. We make but a general gesture to the dim spaces of the past.
The village of Clovelly climbs in a single street—a staircase, really—and it is fagged and out of breath half way. But far above, on a stormy crag, clinging by its toes, there stands a pirates' hut. To this topmost ledge fishwives sometimes scramble by day; but when a wind shall search the crannies of the night, then no villager would dare to climb so high.
You will seek today in vain the pirates' cabin. Since the adventure of our play a thousands tempests have snarled across these rocks. You must convince your reason that these pinnacles of yesteryear, toppled down by storm, lie buried in the sea.
We had hoped that our drama's scene might lie on a pirate ship at sea. We had wished for a swaying mast, full-set with canvas—a typhoon to smother our stage in wind. We had hoped to walk a victim off the plank, with the sea roaring in the wings. But our plot deals stubbornly with us. Alas, our pirates grow old and stiff. They have retired, as we say, from active practice and live in easy luxury on shore. Yet we shall see that their villany still thrives.
How shall we select a name for our frightful play? There is a wharf in London that is known as Wapping. In these days that we call the present it has sunk to common use and its rotten timbers are piled with honest unromantic merchandise. But once a gibbet stood on Wapping Wharf, and pirates were hanged upon it. It was the first convenient harborage for inbound ships to dispose of this dirty deep-sea cargo. So it was the somber motif of a pirate's life—his moment of reflection after he had slit his victim's throat.
Tonight, although your beards grow long and Time has marked its net of wrinkles—tonight, the years spin backwards. Only the young in heart will catch the slender meaning of our play.
We are too quick to think that childhood passes with the years—that its fine fancy is blunted with the practice of the world. Too long have we been taught that the clouds of glory fade in the common day. If a man permits, a child keeps house within his heart.
Our prologue outstays its time. Already the captain of our pirates puts on his hook. The evil Duke limps for practice on his wooden leg. Presently our curtain will rise. We shall see the pirates' cabin, with the lighthouse in the distance, Flint's lantern and the ladder to the sleeping-loft. We shall hear a storm unparalleled—thunder, lightning and a rush of wind, if it can be managed.
Then our candles burn to socket. Our pasteboard cabin grows dark. The blustering ocean, the dizzy cliffs of Devon, melt like an unsubstantial pageant. Once again, despite the signpost of the years, we have run on the "laughing avenues of childhood."
BY WAY OF EXPLANATION
Several weeks ago an actor-manager requested me to try my hand at a play for the winter season. The offer was unexpected. "My dear sir," I said, "I am immensely flattered, but I have never written a play." Then I hastened to ask, "What kind of play?" for fear the offer might be withdrawn. He replied with sureness and decision. "I want a play," he said, "with lots of pirates and—no poetry." He stressed this with emphatic gesture. "And at least one shooting," he added. It was a slim prescription. He left me to brood upon the matter.
The proposal was too flattering to be rejected out of hand.
After a furious week upon a plot and dialogue, I was given an opportunity to display my wares. The manager himself met me in the hallway. "Is there a shooting?" he asked, with what seemed almost a suppressed excitement. I was able to satisfy him and he led me to his inner office, where he pointed out an easy chair. The room was pleasantly furnished with bookshelves to the ceiling. Evidently his former ventures had been prosperous, and already I imagined myself come to fortune as his partner. While I fumbled with embarrassment at my papers—for I dreaded his severe opinion—he himself fetched a basket of coal for a fire that burned briskly on the hearth. Then he sat rigidly at attention.
It now appeared that he had summoned to our conference several of his associates—the subordinates, merely, of his ventures—his manager of finance (with a sharp eye for a business flaw), his costumer and designer, and another person who is his reader and adviser and, in emergency, fills and mends any sudden gap that shows itself.
My notion of theatrical managers has been that they are a cold and distant race—the more sullen cousin of an editor. Is it not considered that on the reading of a play they sit with fallen chin, and that they chill an author to reduce his royalty? It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer. I am told that even the best plays are hawked with disregard from theatre to theatre, until the hungry author is out at elbow. They get less civility than greets a mean commodity. Worthless mining shares and shoddy gilt editions do not kick their heels with such disregard in the outer office. Popcorn and apples—Armenian laces, even—beg a quicker audience.
But none of this usual brusqueness appeared. Rather, he showed an agreeable enthusiasm as we proceeded—even an unrestraint, which, I must confess, at times somewhat marred his repose and dignity. Manifestly it was not his intention to depreciate my wares. He exchanged frank glances of approval with his subordinates—with his costumer especially, with whom his relation seems the closest.
In the first act of my play, when it becomes apparent that one of my pirates goes stumping on a timber leg, his eye flashed. And when it was disclosed that the captain wears a hook instead of hand, he forgot his professional restraint and cried out his satisfaction. He was soon wrapped in thought by the mysterious behaviour of the fortune-teller and he said, if she were short and stout, he had the very actress in his mind.
But it was in the second act that he threw caution to the winds. As you will know presently, Red Joe—one of my pirates—seizes his trusty gun and, taking breathless aim, shoots—But I must not expose my plot. At this exciting moment (which is quite the climax of my play) Belasco—or any of his kind—would have squinted for a flaw. He would have tilted his wary nose upon the ceiling and told me that my plot was humbug. What sailorman would mistake a lantern for a lighthouse? Nor were there lighthouses in the days of the buccaneers. He would have scuttled my play in dock and grinned at the rising bubbles. Mark the difference! My manager, ignoring these inconsequential errors, burst from his chair—this is amazing!—and turned a reckless somersault between the table and the fire.
His costumer, who knows best how his eccentricity runs to riot, checked him for this and sent him to his chair. He sobered for a minute and the play went on. Presently, however, when the enraged pirates gathered to wreak vengeance on their victim, I saw how deeply he was moved. His exultant eye sought the bookshelves, and I fancy that he was in meditation whether he might be allowed a handstand with his heels waving against the ceiling. His excited fingers obviously were searching for a dagger in his boot.
You may conceive my pleasure. If his cold and practiced judgment could be so stirred, might I not hope that the phlegmatic pit in shiny shirt-fronts would rise and shout its approval at our opening? And to what reckless license might not the gallery yield? I fancied a burst of somersaults in the upper gloom, and tremendous handsprings—both men and women—down the sharp-pitched aisle. It would be shocking—this giddy flash of lingerie—except that our broader times now give it countenance. Peeping Tom, late of Coventry, in these more generous days need no longer sit like a sneak at his private shutter. He has only to travel to the beach where a hundred Godivas crowd the sands. I saw myself on the great occasion of our opening night bowing in white tie from the forward box.
Our conference was successful. When the reading of the play was finished and the wicked pirates stood in the shadow of the gibbet, he thanked me and excused himself from further attendance by reason of a prior engagement. Under the stress of selection for his theatre he cannot sleep at night, and his costumer wisely packs him off early to his bed. She whispers to me, however, that although he had hopes for a storm at sea and a hanging at the end, his decision, nevertheless, is cast in my favor for a quick production, whenever a worthy company can be assembled.
But we have gone still further toward our opening. The manager has already whittled a dozen daggers and they lie somewhere on a shelf, awaiting a coat of silver paint. On the tip of each he has bargained for a spot of red. Furthermore, he owns a pistol—a harmless, devicerated thing—and he pops it daily at any rogue that may be lurking on the cellar stairs.
All pirates wear pigtails—pirates, that is, of the upper crust (the Kidds and Flints and Morgans)—and at first this was a knotty problem. But he obtained a number of old stockings—stockings, of course, beyond the skill of that versatile person who mends the gaps—and he has wound them on wires, curling them upward at the end and tieing them with bits of ribbon. The pirate captain is allowed an extra inch of pigtail to exalt him above his fellows. When he first adjusted this pigtail on himself, his costumer cried out that he looked like a Chinaman. This was downright stupidity and was hardly worthy of her perception; but ladies cannot be expected to recognize a pirate so instinctively as we rougher men. The stocking, however, was clipped to half its length, and now he is every inch a buccaneer.
As for the captain's hook, he is resourcefulness itself. These things are secrets of the craft, but I may hint that there is a very suitable hook in a butchershop around the corner. Surely the butcher—warmed to generosity by the family patronage—would lend it for the great performance. I have no doubt but that the manager, from this time forward, will beg all errands in his direction and that his smile will thaw the friendly butcher to his purpose. Certainly two legs of lamb, if whispered that the drama is at stake, will consent to hang for one tremendous day upon a single hook. Our hook is to be screwed into a block of wood, and there is something about knuckles and a cord around the wrist and a long sleeve to cover up the joining. Anyway, the problem has been met.
In the furnace room he has found a heavy sheet of tin for the thunder storm, and I have suggested that he dig in a nearby gravel pit for a basket of rain to hurl against the pirates' window. But hard beans, he says, are better, and he has won the cook's consent. For the slow monotone of water dripping from the roof in our second act, a single bean, he tells me, dropped gently in a pan is a baffling counterfeit.
The lightning seems not to bother him, for he owns a pocket flashlight; but the mighty wind that comes brawling from the ocean was at first a sticker. The vacuum cleaner popped into his head, but was put aside. The fireplace bellows were too feeble for any wind that had grown a beard. His manager of finance, however, laid aside his book one night—a weary tract upon the law—and displayed an ability to moan and whistle through his teeth. The very casement rattled in the blast. He has agreed to sit in the wings and loose a sufficient storm upon a given signal.
Our stage is cramped. Three strides stretch from side to side. "Can this cockpit" you ask, "hold the vasty fields of France?" It is not, of course, the vasty fields of France that we are trying to hold; but we do lack space for the kind of riot the manager has in mind in the final scene. He wants nothing girlish. Sabers and pistols are his demand—a knife between the teeth—and more yelling than I could possibly put down in print. A bench must be upset, the beer-cask overturned, a jug of Darlin's grog spilled, and one stool, at least, must be smashed—preferably on the captain's head, who must, however, be consulted. Patch-Eye and the Duke are not the kind of pirates that lie down and whine for mercy at a single punch.
At first our manager was baffled how the pirates were to ascend a ladder to their sleeping loft. They had no place to go. They would crack their ugly heads upon the ceiling. The costumer was positive (parsimony!) that a hole—even a little hole—should not be cut in the plaster overhead for their disappearance. If the chandelier had been an honest piece of metal they might have perched on it until the act ran out. Or perhaps the candles could be extinguished when their legs were still climbing visibly. At last the manager has contrived that a plank be laid across the tops of two step-ladders, behind a drop so that the audience cannot see. No reasonable pirate could refuse to squat upon the plank until the curtain fell.
We are getting on. Our company has been selected. We need only a handful of actors, but the manager has enlisted the street. The dearest little girl has been chosen for Betsy, and each day she practices her lullaby at the piano with uncertain, questing finger. A gentle rowdy of twelve will speak the Duke's blood-curdling lines. I understand that two quarrelsome pirates have nearly come to blows which shall act the captain. The hero, Red Joe, will be played by the manager himself, for it is he who owns the pistol. Is not the boy who has the baseball the captain of his nine?
I owe an apology to all the mothers of our cast; for the rough language of my lines outweighs their gentler home instruction. Whenever several of our actors meet there is used the vile language of the sea. By the bones of my ten fingers has replaced the anemic oaths of childhood. One little girl has been told she cries as easily as a crocodile. Another little girl was heard to say she would slit her sister's wisdom—a slip, no doubt, for wizen. And Blast my lamps! and Sink my timbers! are rolled profanely on the tongue.
In every attic on the street a rakish craft flies the skull and crossbones, and roves the Spanish Main on rainy afternoons. Innocent victims—girls, chiefly, who will tattle unless a horrid threat is laid upon them—are forced blindfold to walk the plank. If the wind blows, scratching the trees against the roof, it is, by their desire, a tempest whirling their stout ship upon the rocks. What ho! We split! Mysterious chalkings mark the cellar stairs and hint of treasure buried in the coal-hole. At every mirror pirates practice their cruel faces.
And now the daggers are complete, and their tip of blood has been squeezed from its twisted tube. Chests and neighbors have been rummaged for outlandish costumes. From the kindling-pile a predestined stick has become the timber leg of the wicked Duke. The butcher's hook has yielded to persuasion.
Presently rehearsals will begin—
* * * * *
I have been reading lately, and I have come on a sentence with which I am in disagreement. I shall not tell the name of the book (mere mulishness!) but I hope you know it or can guess. It is a tale of children and of a runaway perambulator and of folk who never quite grew up, with just a flick of inquiry—a slightest gesture now and then—toward precious rascals like our Patch-Eye and the Duke. Its author stands, in my opinion, a better chance of our lasting memory than any writer living.
If you have read this book, you have known in its author a man who is himself a child—one from whom the years have never taken toll. And if you have lingered from page to page, you know what humor is, and love and gentleness. I think that children must have clambered on his familiar knee and that he learned his plot from their trustful eyes.
Someone has been reading my very copy of this book, for it is marked with pencil and whole chapters have been thumbed. I would like to know who this reader is—a woman, beyond a doubt—who has dug in this fashion to the author's heart. But the book is from a lending library. She is only a number pasted inside the cover, a date that warns her against a fine.
Her pencil has marked the words to a richer cadence. I like to think that she has children of her own and that she read the book at twilight in the nursery, and that its mirth was shared from bed to bed. But the pathetic parts she did not read aloud, fearing to see tears in her children's eyes. Before her own at times there must have floated a mist. She is a gracious creature, I am sure, with a gentleness that only a mother knows who sits with drowsy children. And now that it is my turn to read the book—for so does fancy urge me—I hear her voice and the echo of her children's laughter among the pages.
It is a book about a great many things—about David and about a sausage machine, about a little dog which was supposed to have been caught up by mistake. But when the handle was reversed out he came, whole and complete except that his bark was missing. A sausage still stuck to his tail, which presently he ate. And it proved to be his bark, for at the last bite of the sausage his bark returned. And David took his salty handkerchief from his eyes and laughed. There is a chapter on growing old—marked in pencil—a subject which the author of this book knew nothing about, never having grown old himself. And there is another chapter about a spinster, also marked. This chapter sings with exquisite melody, but breaks once to a sob for a love that has been lost. But the book is chiefly about children.
There is one particular sentence in this book with which I am not in agreement. "... down the laughing avenues of childhood, where memory tells us we run but once...." I cannot believe that. I cannot believe we run but once. In the heart of the man who wrote the book there lives a child. And a child dwells in the heart of the woman of the lending library.
We are too ready to believe that childhood passes with the years—that its fine imagination is blunted with the hard practice of the world. Too long have we been taught that the clouds of glory fade in the common day—that the lofty castles of the morning perish in the noon-day sun. The magic vista is golden to the coming of the twilight, and the sunset builds a gaudy tower that out-tops the dawn. If a man permits, a child keeps house within his heart to the very end.
And therefore, as I think of those whittled daggers with their spot of blood, of that popping pistol, of the captain's horrid hook, of the black craft flying the skull and crossbones in the attic, I know, despite appearance, that I am young myself. I snap my fingers at the clock. It ticks merely for its own amusement. I proclaim the calendar is false. The sun rises and sets but makes no chilling notch upon the heart. Once again, despite the weary signpost of the years, I run on the laughing avenues of childhood.
My preface outstays its time. Even as I write our audience has gathered. Limber folk in front squat on the floor. Bearded folk behind perch on chairs as on a balcony. Already, behind the scenes, the captain of the pirates has assumed his hook and villainous attire. Patch-Eye mumbles his lines against a loss of memory. Paint has daubed him to a rascal. The evil Duke limps for practice on his timber leg. Presently our curtain will rise. We shall see the pirate cabin, with the lighthouse blinking in the distance, the parrot, Flint's lantern and the ladder to the sleeping loft. We shall hear a storm unparalleled, like a tempest from the ocean—hissed through the teeth. We shall see the pirates in tattered costume and in pigtails made of stockings.
And now to bring this tedious explanation to a close, permit me to hush our orchestra for a final word. I have a most important announcement. It is the sum and essence of all these pages. This play of pirates—doctored somewhat with fiercer oaths and lengthened for older actors—this play and my other play of beggars I dedicate with my love to John Abram Flory, who, as Red Joe, was the most frightful pirate of them all.
ON CHOOSING A TITLE
I find difficulty in selecting a name for my pirate play. Children seem so easy in comparison—John or Gretchen, or Gwendolyn for parents of romantic taste. Gwendolyn I myself dislike, and I have thought I would give it to a cow if ever I owned a farm. But this is prejudice. To name a child, I repeat, one needs only to run his finger down the column of his acquaintance, or think which aunt will have the looser purse-strings in her will.
An unhappy choice, after all, is rare. Here and there a chocolate Pearl or a dusky crinkle-headed Blanche escapes our logic; but who can think of a sullen Nancy? Its very sound, tossed about the nursery, would brighten a maiden even if she were peevish at the start. I once knew an excellent couple of the name of Bottom, who chose Ruby for their offspring; but I have no doubt that the infelicity was altered at the font. The fact is that most of our names grow in time to fit our figure and our character. Margaret and Helen sound thin or fat, agreeable or dull, as our friends and neighbors rise before us; and any newcomer to our affection quickly erases the aspect of its former ugly tenant. I confess that till lately a certain name brought to my fancy a bouncing, red-armed creature; but that by a change of lease upon our street it has acquired an alien grace and beauty. Perhaps a scrawny neighbor by the name of Falstaff might remain inconsequent, but I am sure that if a lady called Messilina moved in next door and were of charming manner, a month would blur the bad suggestion of her name; which presently—if our gardens ran together—would come to sound sweetly in my ears.
But a play (more than a child or neighbor) is offered for a sudden judgment—to sink or swim upon a first impression—and its christening is an especial peril. I have fretted for a month to find a title for my comedy.
My first choice was A Frightful Play of Pirates. In the word frightful lay the double meaning that I wanted. It held up my hands, as it were, for mercy. It is an old device. Did not Keats, when a novice in his art, attempt by a modest preface to disarm the critics of his Endymion? "It is just," he wrote, "that this youngster should die away." Yet my title was too long. I could not hope, if my comedy reached the boards, that a manager could afford such a long display of electric lights above the door. It would require more than a barrel of lamps.
The Pirates of Clovelly was not bad, except for length, but it was too obviously stolen from Gilbert's opera. I could feel my guilty fingers in his pocket.
'S Death was suggested, but it was too flippant, too farcical. 'S Blood, although effective in red lights, met the same objection. The Spittin' Devil, named for our pirate ship, lacked refinement. Certainly no lady in silk and lace would admit acquaintance with so gross a personage.
Darlin' was offered to me—the name of the old lady with one tooth who cooks and mixes the grog for my sailormen. And I still think that with better spelling it would be an excellent title for musical comedy. But it was naught for a pirate play. Its anemia would soften the vigor of my lines. One could as well call the tale of Bluebeard by the name of his casual cook.
Then Clovelly seemed enough. At the very least—if my publisher were energetic—it ensured a brisk sale of the printed play among the American tourists on the Devon coast, who travel by boat or char-a-banc to this ancient fishing village where we set our plot. For even a trivial book sells to trippers if its story is laid around the corner. Would it not be pleasant, I thought, when I visit the place again, to see them thumbing me as they waited for the steamer—to see a whole window of myself placed in equal prominence with picture postal cards? When I registered at the inn alongside the wharf might I not hope that the landlady would recognize my name and give me, as an honored guest, a front room that looks upon the ocean? Perhaps, as I had my tea and clotted cream on the village staircase, I might mention casually to a pretty tourist that I was the author of the book that protruded from her handbag—and fetch my dishes to her table.
It is so seldom that an obscure author catches anyone flagrante dilicto on his book. Will no one ever read a book of mine in the subway, that I may tap him on the shoulder? Do travelers never put me in their grips? Must everyone read in public the latest novel, and reserve all plays and essays for their solitary hours? At the club I shuffle to the top any periodical that contains my name, but the crowded noon buries me deep again.
At best, maybe, in a lending library, I see a date stamped inside my cover; but, although I linger near the shelf, no one comes to draw me down. I think that hunters must look with equal hunger on the bear's tread. 'T is here! 'T is there! But the cunning creature has escaped. Blackmore's pleasant ghost frequents the shadowy church at Porlock where he married Lorna and John Ridd, or roams the Valley of the Rocks to see the studious pilgrims at his pages. Stevenson haunts the gloomy inlet where the Admiral Benbow stood and where old Pew came tapping in the night. In the flesh I shall join their revels as an equal comrade. Clovelly, however, although its lilt was pleasant to the ear, was an insufficient title.
Skull and Crossbones was too obvious, and my next choice was The Gibbet. But there was the disadvantage of scaring the timid. Old ladies would pass me by. It would check the sale of tickets. My nephew, who is fourteen and not at all timid, was stout in its defense. He pronounces it as if the g were the hard kind that starts off gurgle. Gibbet! He asked me if I had a hanging in the piece. If so, he knew how the business could be managed without chance of accident—an extra rope fastened to the belt behind. I told him that it was none of his business how I ended up the pirates. I would hang them or not, as I saw fit. He would have to pay his quarter like anybody else and sit it through.
He suggested From Dish-Pan to Matrimony—obviously a jest. The sly rogue laughs at me. I must confess, however, that he has given me some of my best lines. "Villainy 's afoot!" for example, and "Sink me stern up!" His peaceful school breeds a wealth of pungent English.
I was in despair. Revenge! Would that have done? I see a maddened father stand with smoking revolver above the body of a silky-whiskered villain. "Doris," the panting parent cries, "the butcher boy knows all and wants you for his bride." And down comes the happy curtain on the lovers. The Wreckers belongs to Stevenson. The Pirates' Nest! It is too ornithological. The Natural History Museum might buy a copy and think I had cheated them.
And then Channel Lights! It sends us sharply to the days of the older melodrama—days when we exchanged a ten-cent piece for a gallery seat and hissed the villain. Do you recall the breathless moment when the heroine implored the villain to give her back her stolen child? For answer the cruel fellow tied the darling to the buzz-saw. Or that darker scene when he tossed the lady to the black waters of the Thames, with the splash of a dipper up behind? Hurry, master hero! Your horse's hoofs clatter in the wings. Gallop, Dobbin! A precious life depends upon your speed. Our dangerous plot hangs by a single thread.
It is quite a task to find a sufficient title. I have wavered for a month.
But now my efforts seem rewarded.
There is a wharf in London below the Tower, not far from the India docks. It has now sunk to common week-day uses, and I suppose its rotten timbers are piled with honest, unromantic merchandise. But once pirates were hanged there. It was the first convenient place for inbound ships to dispose of this dirty, deep-sea cargo. Doubtless hereabout the lanes and building-tops were crowded with an idle throng as on a holiday, and wherries to the bankside and the play paused with suspended oar for a sight of the happy festival. Did Hamlet wait upon this ghastly prologue? Shakespeare himself, unplayed script in hand, mused how tragedy and farce go hand in hand. In those golden days with which our comedy concerns itself, a gibbet stood on Wapping wharf and pirates stepped off the fatal cart to a hangman's jest. We may hear the shouts of the 'prentice lads echoing across the centuries.
I cannot hope that many persons—except dusty scholars—will know of the district's ancient ill-repute, yet Wapping wharf figures often in my dialogue as the somber motif of a pirate's life. It conveys to the plot the sense of mystery. It needs but a handful of electric lamps.
If no one offers me a better title I shall let it stand.
A Frightful Comedy of Pirates
First produced in January, 1922, at the Play House, Cleveland, under the direction of Frederic McConnell. The settings and costumes were designed by Julia McCune Flory. The cast was as follows:
THE DUKE William C. Keough
PATCH-EYE Howard Burns
THE CAPTAIN Ewart Whitworth
RED JOE K. Elmo Lowe
DARLIN' Mary Gilson
BETSY Jeanette Geoghegan
OLD MEG Emma Tilden
SAILOR CAPTAIN Ganson Cook
SAILORS Vance Stewart, Alvin Shulman, Arthur Kraus
A Frightful Comedy of Pirates
Our scene is the wind-swept coast of Devon. By day there is a wide stretch of ocean far below. The time is remote and doubtless great ships of forgotten build stand out from Bristol in full sail for western shores. Their white canvas winks in the morning sun as if their purpose were a jest. They seek a northwest passage and the golden mines of India. But we must be loose and free of date lest our plot be shamed by broken fact. A thousand years are but as yesterday. We shall make no more than a general gesture toward the wide spaces of the past.
The village of Clovelly climbs in a single street—a staircase, really—from the shore to the top of the cliff, and is fagged and out of breath half way. But on a still dizzier crag, storm-blown, clinging by its toes, there stands the pirates' cabin. To this topmost ledge fishwives sometimes scramble by day to seek a belated sail against Lundy's Isle. But after twilight a night wind searches the crannies of the rock and whines to the moon of its barren quest, and then no villager, I think, chooses to walk in that direction. I have visited Clovelly and have kicked a sodden donkey from the wharf to the top of the street, past the shops of Devon cream and picture postal cards, but have sought in vain the pirates' cabin. Since our far-off adventure of tonight ten thousand tempests have snarled across these giddy cliffs and we must convince our reason that these highest crags where we pitch our plot have long since been toppled in a storm. Where yonder wave lathers the shaggy headland, as if Neptune had turned barber, we must fancy that the pinnacles of yesteryear lie buried in the sea.
We had hoped for a play upon the sea, with a tall mast rocking from wing to wing and a tempest roaring at the rail. Alas! Our pirates grow old and stiff. They have retired, as we say, from active practice and live in idle luxury on shore. Yet we shall see that their villainy still thrives.
Our scene is their cabin on the cliff. It is a rough stone building with peeling plaster and slates that by day are green with moss. But it is night and the wind is whistling its rowdy companions from the sea. Until the morning they will play at leap-frog from cliff to cliff. Far below is the village of Clovelly, snug with fire and candles.
We enter the cabin without knocking—like neighbors through a garden—and poke about a bit before our hosts appear. A door, forward at the right, leads to the kitchen. Back stage, also, at the right, a ladder rises to a sleeping loft. On the left wall are a chimney and fireplace with a crane and pot for heating grog, and smoky timbers above to mark the frequent thirst. On a great beam overhead are bags of clinking loot and shining brasses from wrecked ships. Peppers hang to dry before the fire, and a lighted ship's lantern swings from a hook. At the rear of the cabin, to the left, a row of mullioned windows looks at sea and cliffs in a flash of lightning. Below is a seaman's chest. Above, on the broken plaster, is scrawled a ship. In the middle, at the rear, there is a clock with hanging pendulum and weights. A gun of antique pattern leans beside the clock. To the right the cabin is recessed, with a door right-angled in the jog and other windows looking on the sea. A parrot sits on its perch with curbed profanity. The gaudy creature is best if stuffed, for its noisy tongue would drown our dialogue. Like Hamlet's player it would speak beyond its lines and raise a quantity of barren laughter. Our furniture is a table and three stools, and a tall-backed chair beside the hearth. On the table a candle burns, bespattered with tallow. The cabin glows with fire light.
At the lifting of the curtain there is thunder and lightning, and a rush of wind—if it can be managed. Two pirates are discovered, drinking at the table. By the smack of their lips it is excellent grog. One of them—Patch-Eye—has lost an eye and he wears a black patch. His hair curls up in a pigtail, like any sailor before Nelson. It looks as stiff as a hook and he might almost be lifted by it and hung on a peg. But all of our pirates wear pigtails—except one, Red Joe.
The other pirate at the table is called the Duke, for no apparent reason as he is a shabby rogue. We must not run our finger down the peerage in hope of finding him, or think that he owns a palace on the Strand. He has only one leg, with a timber below the knee. He wears a long cloak so that the actor's rusticated leg can be folded out of sight. The Duke has a great red nose—grog and rum and that sort of thing. His whiskers are the bush that marks the merry drinking place.
Patch-Eye is melancholy—almost sentimental at times. He would stab a man, but grieve upon a sparrow. At heart we fear he is a coward, and stupid. The Duke, on the contrary, is shrewd and he does a lot of thinking. He has heavy eyebrows. He is the kind of thinker that you just know that he is thinking. Both pirates are very cruel—and profane, but we must be careful.
And now we hush the melancholy fiddlers. If this comedy can stir the croaking bass-viol to any show of mirth, our work tops Falstaff. Glum folk with beards had best withdraw. Only the young in heart will catch the slender meaning of our play. Let's light the candles and draw the curtain!
PATCH: Darlin'! Darlin'! (He lolls back in his chair and stretches out his legs for comfort.) Darlin'!
(At this a dirty old woman with one tooth appears from the kitchen. She is called Darlin' just for fun, as she is not at all kissable. A sprig of mistletoe, even in the Christmas season, would beckon vainly.)
PATCH: Me friend, the Duke, is thirsty. Will yer fill the cups? Hurry, ol' dear! And squeeze in jest a bit o' lemon. It sets the stomich.
DARLIN': Yer sets yer stomich like it were hen's eggs. Alers coddlin' it.
(She stirs and tastes the pot of grog, and hoists her wrinkled stockings.)
DUKE: There 's no one like Darlin' fer mixin' grog.
DARLIN': Fer that kind word I 'm lovin' yer. (She looks at him with admiration.) Ain 't he a figger o' a man? Wenus was nothin'. Jest nothin' at all.
PATCH: It 's grog beats off the melancholy. As soon as me pipes go dry, I gets homesick fer the ocean. Here we be, Duke, thrown up at last ter rot like driftwood on the shore. No more sailin' off to Trinidad! No tackin' 'round the Hebrides! We is ships as has sprung a leak. It was 'appy days when we sailed with ol' Flint on the Spanish Main.
DUKE: 'Appy days, Patch! (They drink.)
PATCH: Aye! The blessed, dear, ol' roarin' hulk. No better pirate ever lived than Flint. Smart with his cutlass. Quick at the trigger. Grog! A sloppin' pail o' it was jest a sip.
DUKE: I used ter tell him that his leg was holler.
PATCH: He was a vat, was Flint—jest a swishin' keg.
DUKE: Grog jest sizzled and disappeared, like when yer drops it on a red-hot seacoal.
PATCH: Fer twenty year and more me and you has seen ol' Flint march his wictims off the plank.
DUKE: "Step lively!" he 'd say. "Does n't yer hear Davy callin' to yer?" There was never a sailorman ever sat in the Port Light at Wappin' wharf which could drink with Flint.
PATCH: Wappin' wharf and gibbets is nothin' ter talk about. Funerals even is cheerfuller.
DUKE: There 's his parrot.
PATCH: She used ter cuss soft and gentle to herself—'appy all the day. She ain 't spoke since Flint was took. Peckin' at yer finger and broodin'.
DUKE: There 's his ol' clock.
PATCH: As hung in the cabin o' the Spittin' Devil.
DUKE: With the pendulum gettin' tangled in a storm. A 'ell of a clock fer a bouncin' ship.
PATCH: She was tickin' peaceful the day Flint was hanged. But she stopped—does yer remember it?—the very minute they pushed him off the ladder.
DUKE: She ain 't ticked since.
PATCH: It makes yer 'stitious. And she won 't never run agin—that 's what Flint alers said—till his death 's revenged.
DUKE: He told us never ter wind her—says she 'd start hisself without no windin' when the right time came.
PATCH: If I was ter look up and see that pendulum swingin'—Horrers! Yeller elephants would be nothin'!
DUKE: Pooh! I 'd give a month o' grog jest ter hear the ol' dear tickin', and ter know that Flint was restin' easy in his rotten coffin—swappin' stories with the pretty angels.
PATCH: I loved Flint like a brother. (He is quite sentimental about this.) It was him knocked this out. (Pointing to his missing eye.) But it was jest in the way o' business. We differed a leetle in the loot. He was very persuasive, was ol' Flint.
DUKE: Yer talks like a woman. They loves yer to cuff 'em. Them was 'appy days, Patch.
PATCH: Blast me gig what 's left, Duke, but me and you has seen a heap o' sights. I suppose I 've drowned meself a hundred men. It 's comfertin' when yer lays awake at night. I feels I ain 't wasted meself. I 've used me gifts. I ain 't been a foolish virgin and put me shinin' talent inside a bushel. But me and you is driftwood now, Duke.
DUKE: Aye. But it ain 't no use snifflin' about it, ol' crocodile. Darlin' is certainly handy at mixin' grog. And we 've a right smart cabin with winders on the sea. Since I stuffed yer ol' shirt in the roof it hardly leaks.
PATCH: My shirt! Next week is me week fer changin'. How could yer ha' done it? I 'm a kinder perticerler dresser. I likes ter wash now and then—if it ain 't too often.
DUKE: Darlin', me friend Patch is thirsty. And a drop meself. (The cups are filled.) Yer a precious ol' lady, and I loves yer.
DARLIN': Yer spoils me, Duke.
(Lightning and a crash of thunder.)
DUKE: It 's foul tonight on the ocean. How the wind blows! It be spittin' up outside. The channel 's as riled as a wampire when yer scorns her. How she snorts!
PATCH: The devil hisself is hissin' through his teeth.
DUKE: There 'll be sailormen tonight what 's booked fer Davy Jones's locker. I 'm not kickin' much ter be ashore. I rots peaceful.
(Patch-Eye has opened the door to consult the night. It slams wide in the wind and the gust blows out the candle.)
DUKE: Hi, there, for'ard! Batten yer hatch! Yer blowin' the gizzard out o' us.
(He hobbles on timber leg to the warm chair by the fire. Patch closes the door and sits. Darlin' relights the candle.)
PATCH: Poor Flint! He was took on jest such a night.
Dropped inter the Port Light fer somethin' wet and warmin'. Jest ter kinder say goodby. Ship all fitted out. He 'd got three new sailormen—fine fellers as had been sentenced ter be hanged fer cuttin' purses, but had been let go, as they had reformed and wanted ter be honest pirates.
DUKE: I remembers the night, ol' sea-nymph. It was rainin' ter put out the fires o' hell—with the leetle devils stoakin' in the sinners. It 's sinners, Patch, as is used fer kindlers, ter keep the devils in a healthy sweat.
PATCH: He was ter sail when the tide ran out. Lord a Goody! How the tide runs down the Thames, as if it were homesick fer the ocean!
DUKE: But someone squealed.
PATCH: Squealers is worse 'n hissin' reptiles. They ketched Flint and they strung him to a gibbet. Poor ol' dear! I never touches me patch, but I thinks o' Flint.
DUKE: This here life is snug and easy. We has retired from practice, like store-keepers does who has made a fortin. Ain 't we settin' here in style and comfert, and jest waitin' fer the treasure ships ter come ter us? We gets the plums without chawin' at the dough. We blows out the lighthouse, and we sets our lantern so as ter fool 'em on the course, and when they smashes on the rocks, well—all we does is stuff our pokes with the treasure that washes up. I prays meself fer fog and dirty weather. Now I lay me, says I, and will yer send it thick and oozy?
PATCH: I ain 't disputin' yer. (He cheers up a bit.) And we robs landlubbers once in a while.
DUKE: Now yer talkin', ol' sea-lion. I 'm tellin' yer it were a good haul we made last night on Castle Crag.
PATCH: Who 's disputin' yer?
DUKE: I 'm tellin' yer. Silver candles! And spoons! Never seen such a heap o' spoons.
PATCH: What 's anyone want more 'n one spoon fer? Yer cleans it every bite agin the tongue.
DUKE: Yer disgusts me, Patch. Yer ain 't no manners. Fer meself I spears me food tidy on me knife.
(The Duke sits looking at the seaman's chest at the rear of the cabin. He is deep in thought.)
DUKE: There 's jest one leetle thing I does n't understand. I asks yer. (He goes to the chest, opens it and draws out a rich velvet garment. He holds it up.) What 's the meaning o' this here loot we took at Castle Crag? I asks yer. Ain 't we been by that castle a hundred times? The Earl, he don 't wear clothes like this. None o' the arstocky does, 'cept when they struts on Piccadilly. I asks yer, Patch. I asks yer who wears a thing like that.
(He puts the garment around Patch's shoulders.)
DARLIN': Yer looks like the Archbishop o' Canterbury.
PATCH: (with strut and gesture). His Grice takin' the air—pluckin' posies.
DUKE: Lookin' like a silly jackass.
PATCH: Yer hurts me feelin's, Duke.
(The Duke folds the cloak and puts it back again in the chest. He sits at the table in meditation.)
DUKE: I does n't like it, Patch. I does n't understand it. And what I does n't understand, I does n't like.
DUKE: Them gay clothes. Who owned 'em, I asks yer, afore we stole 'em.
PATCH: Darlin'! Me friend, the Duke, is thirsty. Yer had better mix another pot. Our cups is low. Yer does n't want ter be a foolish virgin and get ketched without no grog.
DUKE: With this bit o' slop what 's left I drinks to yer shinin' lamps—Wenus's flashin' gigs.
DARLIN': I loves yer, Duke.
(She fills, mixes and stirs the pot. She tastes it like a practiced house-wife. Her apron is maid of all work. It is towel, dust-rag, mop and handkerchief.)
DUKE: What does yer make, ol' Cyclops, o' the new recruit?
PATCH: Red Joe?
PATCH: He 's a right smart pirate, I says. I never seen a feller as could shoot so straight.
DUKE: I says so. But he 's a wee bit nobby—kinder stiff in the nose.
PATCH: Looks as if he knowed he was kinder good.
DUKE: It 's queer how he come ter us. Jest settin' on top his dory on the beach, when we found him. And what he said about his ship goin' down! Blast me ol' stump, but it were queer.
DUKE: Yer said it, Patch. Queerer than mermaids. Did we ever see a stick o' that ship? I 'm askin' yer, Patch.
PATCH: Ain 't I listenin'?
DUKE: Ain 't I tellin' yer? Nary a bit washed in. Did yer ever know a wreck 'long here where nothin' washed in—jest nothin'? I 'm askin' yer.
PATCH: You and me would starve if it happened regular.
DUKE: It 's what we lives by—pickin's on the beach.
PATCH: He 's a right smart pirate, 's Red Joe. The Captain—the most 'ticerler man I know—he took ter him at once. He 's a kinder good-lookin' feller.
DARLIN': (stirring at the pot). He ain 't got whiskers like the Duke.
(She spits—must I say it?—she spits into the fire.)
DUKE: Queer that never a stick washed in.
PATCH: I 'm not denyin' yer, Duke. Where 's Red Joe now? It 's gettin' on. I 'll jest take a look fer him. (He takes the lantern from its hook and stands at the open door.) It ain 't blowin' so hard. Ol' Borealis—I speaks poetical—ain 't strainin' at his waistcoat buttons like he was.
DUKE: Igerence! I pities yer. Borealis ain 't wind. He 's rainbows.
(Patch-Eye goes into the night. The Duke sits to a greasy game of solitaire.)
DUKE: It 's queer, I says. Nary a stick! Jest Red Joe on top his dory! (He sings abstractedly.)
[Music: PIRATE CHANTY]
Bill Bones used ter say, on many a day, When takin' a ship fer its loot, That a blow on the head was quickest dead And safest and best ter boot. But a wictim's end, fer meself I contend— There 's a hundred been killed by me— Is a walk, I 'll be frank, on a slippery plank, And a splash in the roarin' sea.
(He turns and surveys the drawing above the windows. He cocks his head like a connoisseur, critically—with approval.)
DUKE: I 'm the artist o' that there masterpiece. The Spittin' Devil! I done it on a rainy mornin'. Genius is queer. (Then he sings again.)
Ol' Pew had a jerk with a long-handled dirk— His choice was a jab in the dark—
(He is engaged thus, fumbling with his cards, when Darlin', crossing from the fire, interrupts him.)
DARLIN': Duke, will yer have a nip o' grog? It eases yer pipes. Yer sounds as if yer had crumbs in yer gullet.
(The Duke pushes forward his cup.)
DUKE: It 's a lovely tune, and I wrote the words meself. (He continues his song.)
Old Pew had a jerk with a long-handled dirk— His choice was a jab in the dark— And Morgan's crew, 'twixt me and you, Considered a rope a lark. But a prettier end, I repeat and contend— And I 've sailed on every sea— Is a plunge off the side in the foamin' tide. It tickles a sailor like me.
DARLIN': Duke, does yer happen ter have a wife?
DUKE: (deeply engaged). Some tunes is hard, so I jest makes 'em up as I goes along.
Blackbeard had a knife which he stuck in his wife. Fer naggin', says he ter me—
DARLIN': Has yer a wife? A wife as might turn up, I mean.
DUKE: Say it agin, Darlin'.
DARLIN': Most sailors has wives o' course, strewed here and there from Bristol to Guinea—jest ter make all ports cozy. So 's yer goin' home ter a 'appy family, no matter where yer steers.
DUKE: It 's comfertable, Darlin'—I 'll not deny it—when yer heads ter harbor to see a winkin' candle in a winder on a hill, and know that a faithful wife and a couple o' leetle pirates is waitin' ter hug yer.
DARLIN': I says so, Duke. I 've been a wife meself on and off, with husbands sailin' in and out—kissin' yer and 'oistin' sail. Roundabout, I says, makes 'appy marriages. Has yer a wife, Duke—livin', as yer can remember?
DUKE: Yer a bold, for'ard creature. Are yer proposin' ter me?
(Something like a wink shows in the blush.)
DARLIN': I blush fer yer bad manners, Duke. I 'm a lady and I waits patient fer the 'appy question. I lets me beauty do the pleadin'. I was a flamin' roarer in me time. Lovers was nothin'. Dozens! There was a sea-captain once—(She smiles dreamily, then seems to cut her throat with her little finger.) Positive! Jest 'cause we tiffed. And a stage-coach driver! I had ter cool his passion with a rollin' pin. He brooded hisself inter drink. 'Appy days! (She is lost for a moment in her glorious past, then blows her nose upon her apron and returns to us.) Duke—askin' yer pardon—I was noticin' lately that you was castin' yer eyes on leetle Betsy.
DUKE: As washes the dishes?
DUKE: Go 'long!
DARLIN': And I thought yer might be drawn to her.
DUKE: Darlin', I 'm easy riled.
DARLIN': Yer can have her, Duke, on one condition.
DUKE: She 's a pretty leetle girl.
DARLIN': Yer must set me up in a pub in Bristol—with brass beer-pulls.
DUKE: I 'll not deny I 've given her a thought. Usual, wives is nuisances—naggin' at yer fer sixpences. But sometimes I does get lonesome on a wet night when there are nothin' ter do. I need someone ter hand me down me boots. Betsy 'd make a kinder cozy wife. Could yer learn her ter make grog?
DUKE: I might do worse. And roast pig that crackles?
DARLIN': I could learn her.
DUKE: I might do worser. I 'd marry you, Darlin'—
DUKE: But yer gettin' on. Patch might marry yer. He 's only got one eye.
DARLIN': (with scorn). Patch!
DUKE: I 'll not deny I 've been considerin' leetle Betsy. I was thinkin' about it this mornin' as I was cleanin' me boot. Wives cleans boots. I 'm the sort o' sailorman she would be sure ter like.
DARLIN': And what about the pub?
DUKE: Blast me stump, Darlin', I 'll not ferget yer.
DARLIN': Does I get brass beer-pulls in the tap?
DUKE: Everythin' shiny.
DARLIN': I 'm lovin' yer.
DUKE: Betsy would kinder jump at me. There 's somethin' tender about a young girl's first love—cooin' in yer arms.
DARLIN': Easy, Duke!
DUKE: I alers was a fav'rite with the ladies. I think it 's me whiskers.
DARLIN': 'Vast there, Duke! There 's a shoal ahead. Red Joe 's a right smart feller.
DUKE: Red Joe?
DARLIN': Him. He sets and watches her.
DUKE: What can she see in a young feller like that?
DARLIN': Women 's queer folks. They 're wicious wampires. Jest yer watch 'em together. Red Joe 's snoopin' in on yer.
DUKE: Yer can blast me. He ain 't got whiskers.
DARLIN': I 'm tellin' yer, Duke. If I was you I 'd tumble that Red Joe off a cliff. I 'm hintin' to yer, Duke. Off a cliff! (She sniffs audibly.) It 's the pig. I clean fergot the pig. It 's burnin' on the fire. Off a cliff! I 'm hintin' to yer.
(She runs to the kitchen.)
DUKE: Red Joe! Women 's queer—queerer than mermaids. A snooper! Jest a 'prentice pirate! No whiskers! Nothin'!
(At this moment there is a stamping of feet outside and Patch-Eye enters with Red Joe.
If Red Joe were born a gentleman we might expect silver buckles and a yellow feather to trail across his shoulder, for he bears a jaunty dignity. His is a careless grace—the swagger of a pleasant vagabond—a bravado that snaps its fingers at danger. His body has the quickness of a cat, his eye a flash of humor—kindly, unless necessity sharpens it. As poets were thick in those golden days we suspect that the roar of the ocean sets rhymes jingling in his heart. He is, however, almost as shabby as the other pirates, although he wears no pigtail. His collar is turned up. He wrings the water from his hat.
Patch-Eye throws himself on the seaman's chest and falls asleep at once. He snores an obligato to our scene. Just once an ugly dream disturbs him and we must fancy that a gibbet has crossed the frightful shadow of his thoughts.)
DUKE: Evenin', ol' sea-serpent! Where has you been?
JOE: Up at the lighthouse. It 's as mirky as hell's back door.
DUKE: See Petey?
JOE: I did. He was puttering with his light and meowing to his tabby cat.
DUKE: We 're a blessin' ter ol' Petey. I 'm bettin' me stump he 'd get lonesome up there 'cept fer us. (He points to the window to the right, where the lighthouse shows.) There 's ol' Petey, starin' at the ocean. Yer ain 't never seen a light at that t' other winder, has yer Joe? We waits fer a merchantman which he knows has gold aboard. Then we jest tips a hint ter Petey, and he douses his light. Then we sets up our lantern—ol' Flint's lantern—outside on the rocks, jest where she shows at t' other winder. The ship sticks her nose agin the cliff. Smash!
(At this point, after a few moments of convulsion, Patch-Eye falls off the chest. He sits up and rubs his eyes.)
PATCH: I dreamed o' gibbets!
DUKE: Yer is lucky, ol' keg o' rum, yer does n't dream o' purple rhinoceroses. Go back ter bed. (Then to Joe.) Smash! I says. On comes Petey agin. And we jest as innercent as babies in a crib. It was me own idear. Brains, young feller. Jest yer wait, Joey, till yer sees a light at t' other winder.
(Betsy is heard singing in the kitchen. The Duke stops and listens. A dark thought runs through his head. His shrewd eye quests from kitchen door to Joe.)
DUKE: Darlin'! Darlin'! (She thrusts in her head.)
DUKE: Where 's Betsy?
DARLIN': She 's washin' dishes.
DUKE: I 'm wonderin' if she would lay off a bit from her jolly occerpation, and sing us a leetle song.
DARLIN': (calling). Betsy! I wants yer.
PATCH: I never knowed yer cared fer music, Duke. Usually yer goes outside. Yer jest boohs.
DUKE: I does usual, Patch. Tonight 's perticerler. Red Joe ain 't never heard Betsy sing. Does yer like music, Joe?
JOE: I like the roaring of the ocean. I like to hear the trees tossing in the wind.
PATCH: Wind ain 't music. Yer should hear Betsy. She 's got a leetle song that makes yer feel as good and peaceful as a whinin' parson.
DARLIN': (beckoning at the kitchen door). Betsy! Stop sloppin' with the dishes!
(Betsy enters. She is a pretty girl. Our guess at her age is—but it is better not to guess. We have in our own experience made several humiliating blunders. Let us say that Betsy is young enough to be a grand-daughter. Plainly she is a pirate by accident, not inheritance, for she is clean and she wears a pretty dress.)
DUKE: (as he rises and makes a show of manners). Betsy, yer is welcome ter the parlor. We wants Red Joe ter hear yer sing. That leetle song o' yers.
(He returns to the recess at the rear of the cabin and covertly watches Joe. Patch-Eye is lost in heavenly meditation. Joe's attention is roused before the first stanza of the song is finished. By the third stanza Betsy sings to him alone.)
[Music: Betsy's Lullaby]
[Transcriber's Note: Misspelled "Betsey" in original music title.]
The north wind's cheeks are puffed with tunes: It whistles across the sky. Its song is shrill and rough, until The hour of twilight 's nigh. Rest, my dear one, rest and dream. The winds on tip-toe keep. In the dusk of day they hum their lay, And weary children sleep.
The waves since dawn roared on the rocks: They snarled at the ships on the deep. But at twilight hour they chain their power And little children sleep. Rest, my dear one, rest and dream. The ships in a cradle swing, And sailormen blink and children sink To sleep, as the wavelets sing.
The sun at noon was red and hot: It stifled the east and west. But at even song the shadows long Have summoned the world to rest. Rest, my dear one, rest and dream. The sun runs off from the sky. But the stars, it 's odd, while children nod, Are tuned to a lullaby.
(She sings slowly, to a measure that might rock a cradle. This can be managed, for I have tried it with a chair. Once, Patch-Eye blows his nose to keep his emotions from exposure. But make him blow softly—soto naso, shall we say?—so as not to disturb the song. In Red Joe the song seems to have stirred a memory. At the end of each stanza Betsy pauses, as if she, too, dwelt in the past.)
PATCH: When I hears that song I feels as if I were rockin' babies in a crib—blessed leetle pirates, pullin' at their bottles, as will foller the sea some day.
(He blows his sentimental nose. A slighter structure would burst in the explosion.)
DUKE: Yer ol' nose sounds as if it were tootin' fer a fog. Yer might be roundin' the Isle o' Dogs on a mirky night.
(He goes to the door and stretches out his hand for raindrops.)
DUKE: Joe, you and me has got ter put ile in the lantern. Come on, ol' sweetheart. When yer sees this lantern blinkin' at that there winder, yer will know that willainy 's afoot.
(He comes close to Darlin' and whispers.)
DUKE: Yer said it, Darlin'. Yer said it. Red Joe 's castin' his eye on Betsy. Off a cliff! Tonight! Now! If I gets a chance. Off a cliff! Come on, Joey!
(He goes outdoors with Red Joe, singing Betsy's song. The lullaby fades in the distance. Patch-Eye and Betsy are left together, for the roast pig again calls Darlin' to the kitchen.)
PATCH: Will yer wait a bit, Betsy—askin' yer pardon—while I talks to yer?
BETSY: Of course, Patch.
PATCH: I don 't suppose, dearie, I 'm the kind o' pirate as sets yer thinkin' of fiddles tunin' up, ner parsons. No, yer says. Ner cradles and leetle devils bitin' at their coral. And I don 't suppose yer has a kind o' hankerin' and yearnin'. Yer never sets and listens to me comin'. Course not, yer says. Betsy, if I talk out square you 'll not blab it all 'round the village, will yer? They would point their fingers at me, and giggle in their sleeves. I want ter tell yer somethin' o' a wery tender nater. There 's a leetle word as begins with L. L, I mean, not 'ell. I would n't want yer to think, Betsy, I 'm cussin'. 'Ell is cussin'. That leetle word is what 's ailing me. It 's love, Betsy. It 's me heart. Smashed all ter bits! Jesus, yer asks, what done it? It 's a pretty girl, I answers yer, as has smashed it. Does yer foller, Betsy? A pretty girl about your size, and with eyes the color o' yourn. What does yer say, Betsy? Yer says nothin'.
BETSY: I never meant to, Patch. I 'm sorry.
PATCH: Course you are. Jest as sorry as the careless feller as nudged Humpty Dumpty off the wall. But it did n't do no good. There he was, broke all ter flinders. And all the King's horses and all the King's men could n't fix him. Humpty Dumpty is me, Betsy. Regularly all split up, fore and aft, rib and keel. I mopes all day fer you, Betsy. And I mopes all night. Last night I did n't get ter sleep, jest fidgettin', till way past 'leven o' clock. And I woke agin at seven, askin' meself, if I loves you hopeless. Yer is a lump o' sugar, Betsy, as would sweeten ol' Patch's life. If we was married I 'd jest tag 'round behind yer and hand yer things. And now yer tells me there ain 't no hope at all.
BETSY: No hope at all, Patch.
PATCH: Yesterday I was countin' the potaters in the pot, sayin' ter meself: She loves me—She don 't love me. But the last potater did n't love me, Betsy. There was jest one too many potaters in the pot. No, yer says, yer could n't love me. Cause why? Cause Patch is a shabby pirate with only one eye.
BETSY: I am sorry, Patch.
(She offers him her hand.)
PATCH: Blessed leetle fingers, as twines their selves all 'round me heart. Patch, yer says, yer sorry. There ain 't no hope at all. Yer nudges him off the wall, but yer can 't fix him. But I never heard that Humpty Dumpty did a lot o' squealin' when he bust. He took it like a pirate. And so does Patch. I does n't sulk. If yer will pardon me, Betsy, I 'll leave yer. Me feelin 's get lumpy in me throat. I 'll take a wink o' sleep in the loft.
(He climbs the ladder, but turns at the top.)
PATCH: There was jest one too many potaters in the pot.
(He disappears through the hole in the wall. Betsy arranges the mugs on the table, then stands listening. Presently there is a sound of footsteps. Red Joe enters at the rear.)
JOE: I slipped the Duke in the dark. I came back to talk with you. (Then bluntly, but with kindness.) How old are you, my dear?
BETSY: I don 't know.
JOE: You don 't know? How long have you lived here?
BETSY: In this cabin? Three years.
JOE: And where did you live before?
BETSY: In the village—in Clovelly.
JOE: Did your parents live there?
BETSY: Y-e-s. I think so. I don 't know. Old Nancy, they called her—she brought me up. But she died three years ago.
JOE: Who was old Nancy?
BETSY: She did washing for the sailormen.
JOE: Was she good to you?
BETSY: Oh yes. I think—I do not know—that she was not my mother.
JOE: And Darlin'?
BETSY: Yes. She has been good to me. And the others, too. I seem to remember someone else. How long have you been a pirate?
JOE: A pirate? Years, it seems, my dear. But I am more used to a soldier's oaths. I have trailed a pike in the Lowland wars. The roar of cannon, and siege and falling walls, are gayer tunes than any ocean tempest. What is this that you remember, Betsy?
BETSY: It is far off. Some one sang to me. It was not Nancy. When Nancy died, Darlin' took me and brought me up. That was three years ago. But last year the Captain and Duke and Patch-Eye came climbing up the rocks. They were sailormen, they said, who had lost a ship. And these cliffs with the sea pounding on the shore comforted them when they were lonely. So they stayed. And Darlin' and I cook for them.
JOE: Do you remember who it was who sang to you?
JOE: That song you just sang—where did you learn it?
BETSY: I have always known it. It makes me sad to sing it, for it sets me thinking—thinking of something that I have forgotten. (She stands at the window above the sea.) Some days I climb high on the cliffs and I look upon the ocean. And I know that there is land beyond—where children play—but I see nothing but a rim of water. And sometimes the wind comes off the sea, and it brings me familiar far-off voices—voices I once knew—voices I once knew—fragments from a life I have forgotten. Why do you ask about my song?
JOE: Because I heard it once myself.
(Betsy sits beside him at the table.)
BETSY: Where? Perhaps, if you will tell me, it will help me to remember.
JOE: I heard the song once when I was a lad—when I was taken on a visit.
BETSY: Were your parents pirates?
JOE: It was a long journey and all day we bumped upon the road, seeking an outlet from the tangled hills. Night overtook our weary horses and blew out the flaming candles in the west; and shadows were a blanket on the sleeping world. Toward midnight I was roused. We had come to the courtyard of a house—this house where I was taken on a visit.
BETSY: Was it like this, Joe—a cabin on a cliff?
JOE: I remember how the moon peeped around the corner to see who came so late knocking on the door. I remember—I remember—(He stops abruptly). Do you remember when you first came to live with Nancy?
BETSY: I dreamed once—you will think me silly—Are there great stone steps somewhere, wider than this room, with marble women standing motionless? And walls with dizzy towers upon them?
JOE: Go on, Betsy.
BETSY: In Clovelly there are naught but cabins pitched upon a hill, and ladders to a loft. And, at the foot of the town, a mole, where boats put in. And I have listened to the songs of the fishermen as they wind their nets. And through the window of the tavern I have heard them singing at their rum. And sometimes I have been afraid. I have stuffed my ears and ran. But the ugly songs have followed me and scared me in the night. The shadows from the moon have reeled across the floor, like a tipsy sailor from the Harbor Light. Joe, are you really a man from the sea?
JOE: Why, Betsy?
BETSY: The sea is never gentle. It never sleeps. I have stood listening at the window on breathless nights, but the ocean always slaps against the rocks. Even in a calm it moves and frets. Is it not said that the ghosts of evil men walk back and forth on the spot where their crimes are done? The ocean, perhaps, for its cruel wreckage, haunts these cliffs. It is doomed through all eternity with a lather of breaking waves to wash these rocks of blood. And the wind whistles to bury the cries of drowning men that plague the memory. Joe—
JOE: Yes, my dear.
BETSY: You are the only one—Patch-Eye, Duke and the Captain—you are the only one who is always gentle. And I have wondered if you could really be a pirate.
JOE: Me? (Then with sudden change.) Me? Gentle? The devil himself is my softer twin.
BETSY: Don 't! Don 't!
JOE: What do you know of scuttled ships, and rascals ripped in fight? Of the last bubbles that grin upon the surface where a dozen men have drowned?
BETSY: Joe! For God's sake! Don 't!
JOE: Is it gentleness to plunge a dagger in a man and watch for his dying eye to glaze?
BETSY: It is a lie. Tell me it is a lie!
JOE: My dear. (Gently he touches her hand.)
BETSY: It is a lie.
JOE: We 'll pretend it is a lie.
(They sit for a moment without speaking.)
BETSY: How long, Joe, have you lived with us?
JOE: Two weeks, Betsy.
BETSY: Two weeks? So short a time. From Monday to Monday and then around again to Monday. It is so brief a space that a flower would scarcely droop and wither. And yet the day you came seems already long ago. And all the days before are of a different life. It was another Betsy, not myself, who lived in this cabin on a Sunday before a Monday.
JOE: It is so always, Betsy, when friends suddenly come to know each other. All other days sink to unreality like the memory of snow upon a day of August. We wonder how the flowering meadows were once a field of white. Our past selves, Betsy, walk apart from us and, although we know their trick of attitude and the fashion of their clothes, they are not ourselves. For friendship, when it grips the heart, rewinds the fibres of our being. Do you remember, dear, how you ran in fright when you first saw me clambering up these rocks?
BETSY: I was sent to call the Duke to dinner and carried a bell to ring it on the cliff. I was afraid when a stranger's head appeared upon the path.
JOE: Yet, when I spoke, you stopped.
BETSY: At the first word I knew I need n't be afraid. And you took my hand to help me up the slope. You asked my name, and told me yours was Joe. Then we came together to this cabin. And each day I have been with you. Two weeks only.
JOE: I shall be gone, Betsy, in a little while.
JOE: I am not, my dear, the master of myself. We must forget these days together.
JOE: May be I shall return. Fate is captain. The future shows so vaguely in the mist. Listen! It is the Duke.
(In the distance the Duke is heard singing the pirates' song.)
JOE: We must speak of these things together. Another time when there is no interruption.
(Gently she touches his fingers.)
BETSY: I shall be lonely when you go.
(There is loud stamping at the door. Betsy goes quickly to the kitchen.
The Captain enters, followed by the Duke. Patch-Eye enters by way of the ladder. The Captain has a hook hand. This is the very hook mentioned in my preface—if you read prefaces—got from the corner butcher. The Captain would be a frightful man to meet socially. I can hear a host saying "Shake hands with the Captain." One quite loses his taste for dinner parties. There is a sabre cut across the Captain's cheek. He is even more disreputable in appearance than his followers, with a bluster that marks his rank.)
CAPTAIN: There 's news! There 's news, me men! I 've brought big news from the village.
(He wrings the water from his hat. He is provokingly deliberate. All of the pirates crowd around.)
CAPTAIN: By the bones of me ten fingers, it 's a blythe night fer our business. It 's wetter than a crocodile's nest. When I smells a fog, I feels good. I tastes it and is 'appy.
PATCH: What 's yer news, Captain?
CAPTAIN: News? Oh yes, the news. I 've jest hearn—I 've jest hearn—blast me rotten timbers! How can a man talk when he 's dry! A cup o' grog!
(Darlin' has slipped into the room in the excitement. Old custom anticipates his desire. She stands at his elbow with the cup, like a dirty Ganymede. The Captain drinks slowly.)
CAPTAIN: There 's big news, me hearties.
DUKE: What 's yer news, Captain? We asks yer.
CAPTAIN: I 'm tellin' yer. It 's sweatin' with curiosity that kills cats. (He yawns and stretches his legs across the hob.) Down in the village I learnt—I was jest takin' a drop o' rum at the Harbor Light. It 's not as sweet as Darlin's. They skimps their sugar. Yer wants ter keep droppin' it in as yer stirs it. I thinks they puts in too much water. Water 's not much good—'cept fer washin'. And washin' 's not much good.
DUKE: Now then, Captain, hold hard on yer tiller agin wobblin', and get ter port.
DARLIN': We 're hangin' on yer lips.
CAPTAIN: Yer need n't keep shovin' me. I kicks up when I 'm riled. They say down in the village—
(It is now a sneeze that will not dislodge. He has hopes of it for a breathless moment, but it proves to be a dud.)
CAPTAIN: There 's Petey—
PATCH: We 're jest fidgettin' fer the news.
CAPTAIN: The news? Oh, yes. Now yer hears it. (He draws the pirates near.) A great merchantman has jest sailed from Bristol. The Royal 'Arry. It 's her. With gold fer the armies in France. She 's a brig o' five hundred ton. This night, when the tide runs out, she slips away from Bristol harbor. With this wind she should be off Clovelly by this time termorrer night.
DARLIN': Glory ter God!
DUKE: And then Petey will douse his glim. And we 'll set up the ship's lantern.
DUKE: Then Petey will light hisself.
PATCH: And we 'll be jest as innercent as babies rockin' in a crib.
DUKE: And lay it on the helmsman fer bein' sleepy.
CAPTAIN: And I 've other news. Down in the village they say—fer a fishin' sloop brought the word—that his 'Ighness, the Prince o' Wales, left London a month ago.
DUKE: And him not givin' me word. I calls that shabby. He was me fag at Eton.
PATCH: Does yer think, Captain, he 'll spend a week-end with us, ridin' to the 'ounds, jest tellin' us the London gossip—how the pretty Duchesses is cuttin' up?
DUKE: I thought he was settin' in Whitehall, tryin' on crowns, so as ter get one that did n't scratch his ears.
CAPTAIN: They say he 's incarnito.
PATCH: What? Is it somethin' yer ketches like wollygogs in the stomich?
DUKE: Igerence. I 'm 'shamed o' yer, Patch. Ain 't yer been ter school? Ain 't yer done lessons on a slate? Ain 't yer been walloped so standin' 's been comfertabler. The Captain and me soils ourselves talkin' to yer. Incarnito is dressed up fancy, so as no one can know him.
DARLIN': Like Cindereller at the party.
DUKE: If yer wants Patch ter understand yer, Captain, yer has got to use leetle words as is still pullin' at their bottles.
DARLIN': When words grow big and has got beards they jest don 't say nothin' to Patch.
CAPTAIN: This here Prince o' Wales is journeyin' down Plymouth way.
DUKE: What 's that ter us? I 'm askin' yer. His 'Ighness cut me when I passed him in Piccadilly. The bloomin' swab! I pulled me hat, standin' in the gutter, but he jest seemed ter smell somethin'.
PATCH: It were n't roses, I 'm tellin' yer.
CAPTAIN: Silence! They say he has sworn an oath to break up the pirate business on the coast.
PATCH: And let us starve? It 's unfeelin'.
DUKE: No pickin's on the beach?
JOE: I 'd like to catch him. I 'd slit his wizen.
DARLIN': I 'd put pizen in the pig I feeds him.
DUKE: I 'd nudge him off the cliff—jest like he were a sneakin' snooper.
CAPTAIN: Well, there 's yer news! I 'm dry. Darlin'! Some grog!
(He crosses to the table and draws the pirates around him.)
CAPTAIN: Here 's to the Royal 'Arry!
DUKE: And may the helmsman be wery sleepy!
DARLIN': And we as innercent as leetle pirates suckin' at their bottles!
ALL: The Royal 'Arry!
(While the cups are still aloft there is a loud banging at the door. An old woman enters—old Meg. We have seen her but a minute since pass the windows. Perhaps she is as dirty as Darlin'. A sprig of mistletoe, even at the reckless New Year, would wither in despair. She is a gypsy in gorgeous skirt and shawl, and she wears gold earrings. Any well-instructed nurse-maid would huddle her children close if she heard her tapping up the street. Meg walks to the table. She sniffs audibly. It is grog—her weakness. She drinks the dregs of all three cups. She rubs her thrifty finger inside the rims and licks it for the precious drop. She opens her wallet and takes from it a fortune-teller's crystal.)
MEG: I tells fortins, gentlemen. Would n't any o' yer like ter see the future? I sees what 's comin' in this here magic glass. I tells yer when ter set yer nets—and of rising storms. Has any o' yer a kind o' hankerin' fer matrimony? I can tell yer if the lady be light or dark. It will cost yer only a sixpence.
CAPTAIN: Yer insults me. Fer better and fer worse is usual fer worse. Does yer think yer can anchor an ol' sea-dog like me to a kennel as is made fer landlubbery lap dogs? I 've deserted three wives. And that 's enough. More 's a hog.
(He retires to the fireplace in disgust.)
DARLIN': Husbands is nuisances, as I was tellin' the sea-captain, jest afore he cut his throat.
DUKE: Thank ye, ol' lady, I does n't need yer. When the ol' Duke is willin', he knows a leetle dear as will come flutterin' to his arms.
PATCH: What can yer do fer an ol' sailorman like me? I 'd like someone with curlin' locks, as can mix grog as good as Darlin's. And I likes roast pig—crackly, as Darlin' cooks it. (He offers his hand.) I has a leetle girl in mind, but she 's kinder holdin' off. What does yer see, dearie? Does yer hear any fiddles tunin' fer the nupshals? Is there a pretty lady waitin' fer a kiss?
MEG: I sees the ocean. And a ship. I sees inside the cabin o' that ship.
PATCH: Does yer see me as the captain o' that ship? Jest settin' easy, bawlin' orders—jest feedin' on plum duff.
MEG: I sees yer in irons.
PATCH: Mother o' goodness! Now yer done it!
MEG: I sees Wappin' wharf. I sees a gibbet. I sees—
MEG: I sees you swingin' on that gibbet—stretchin' with yer toes—swingin' in the wind.
PATCH: Yer makes me grog sour on me.
(He goes to the rear of the cabin and looks disconsolately over the ocean.)
MEG: (as she looks in the glass). I sees misfortin fer everyone here—'cept one—tragedy, the gibbet. Go not upon the sea until the moon has turned. Ha! Leetle glass, has yer more to show? Has yer any comfort? The light fades out. It is dark.
DUKE: Ain 't yer givin' us more 'n a sixpence worth o' misery? Yer gloom is sloppin' over the brim.
MEG: Ah! Here 's light agin at last. There 's a red streak across the dial. It drips! It 's blood!
CAPTAIN: Ain 't yer got any pretty picters in that glass?
PATCH: Graveyards are cheerfuller 'n gibbets.
MEG: Peace! I sees a man in a velvet cloak. It 's him that swings yer to a gibbet. It 's him that strangles yer till yer eyes is poppin'. That man avoid like a pizened snake.
CAPTAIN: Avoid? By the rotten bones o' Flint, if I meets that man in a velvet cloak I hooks out his eye.
DUKE: Captain, yer sweats yerself unnecessary. (Slyly.) Here 's Red Joe, ol' dear. Joe 's a spry young feller. He looks as if he might be hankerin' fer a wife. Hey, Darlin'?
DARLIN': He 's the kind as wampires makes their wictims.
(With a laugh—but unwillingly—Joe holds out his hand.)
MEG: (as she looks in the glass her face brightens). I sees a tall buildin' with gold spires. I hears a shout o' joy and I hears stately music, like what yer hears in Bartolmy Fair arter the Lord Mayor has made his speech. I sees a man in a silk cloak. He swaggers to the music. I sees—I sees—
(She looks long in the glass and seems to see great and unexpected things. Her eyes are as wide as a child's at a tale of fairies. It is no less a moment—but how different!—than when Lady Bluebeard peeped in the forbidden door. Scarcely was Little Red Riding Hood more startled when she touched the strange bristles on her grandmother's chin. But Meg is not frightened. She smiles. She bends intently. She is about to speak. Then she sinks into the chair behind the table.)
MEG: I sees—I sees—nothin'! The glass is blank!
CAPTAIN: Nothin'? Jest nothin' at all?
PATCH: Ain 't there no blood drippin'?
DARLIN': Ner gibbets?
CAPTAIN: Ner sailormen swingin' in the wind?
(Old Meg is visibly affected by what she has seen. The Duke, with a suspicious glance at Red Joe, moves forward to look over her shoulder at the glass. Slyly she sees him. She pushes the crystal forward and it breaks upon the stones. Then she rises abruptly. She lifts a portentous finger. She advances to Red Joe.)
MEG: I sees danger fer yer, Joe. Who can tell whether it be death? 'T is beyond my magic. But beware a knife! Go not near the cliff! (Then, in a lower tone.) You will see me agin. And in your hour o' danger. When yer least expects it.
(She is about to curtsy, but turns abruptly and leaves the cabin. Darlin', with shaken nerves, runs to bolt the door. There is silence except for the monotone of rain.)
PATCH: Nice cheerful ol' lady, I says.
CAPTAIN: Yer can pipe the devil up, but she give me shivers.
JOE: For just a minute I thought some old lady had died and left me her money box.
(The Duke picks up a fragment of the crystal and puts it to his eye. He examines it at the candle, and turns it round and round. He makes nothing of it, and shakes his head.)
PATCH: Yer can dim me gig that 's left, I 'm clean upset.
CAPTAIN: I ain 't been so down in the boots since the blessed angels took Flint ter 'ell.
DUKE: Captain, you and Patch is melancholier 'n funerals. Weepin' widders is jollier. Will yer let a hanted, thirsty, grog-eyed grand-daughter o' a blinkin' sea-serpent upset yer 'appy dispersitions? Stiffen yerself! Keep yer nose up, Captain! We has sea enough. We 're not thumpin' on the rocks.
CAPTAIN: Yer said it, Duke. I sulks unnecessary. There 's ol' Petey shinin' up there. Termorrer night, if the wind holds, we 'll see his starin' eye go out, and our lantern shinin' at t' other winder. (He takes a pirate flag from his boot. He smoothes it with affection. Then he waves it on his hook.) The crossbones as hung on the masthead o' the Spittin' Devil. Ol' Flint's wery flag. Him as they hanged on a gibbet on Wappin' wharf. It was a mirky night like this, with 'prentices gawpin' in the lanterns and Jack Ketch unsnarlin' his cursed ropes. I spits blood ter think o' it.
DUKE: I 'll die easy when I 've revenged his death and the ol' clock is tickin' peaceful and Flint sleepin' 'appy in his rotten coffin.
CAPTAIN: A drink all 'round. We 'll drink the health o' this here flag. You 'll drink with us, Darlin'.
DARLIN': Yer spoils me, Captain.
CAPTAIN: And now we 'll drink confusion to the swab that 's settin' on the English throne.
(All drink except Red Joe. He makes the pretense, but pours his grog out covertly. Our play is nothing if not subtle.)
DUKE: Here 's to ol' Flint!
ALL: Here 's to ol' Flint!
(It is bed-time. They all stretch and yawn. The Captain climbs the ladder to the sleeping loft. Patch follows with the candle, warming the Captain's seat for speed. The Duke comes next, carrying his one boot which he has removed before the fire. Darlin' kisses her hand to the Duke and retires to the kitchen. We suspect that she curls up inside the sink, with a stewpan for a pillow. Red Joe lingers for a moment and stands gazing at the ocean.)
JOE: My memory fumbles in the past. I, too, hear familiar voices—lost for many years. A dark curtain lifts and in the past I see myself a child. There are strange tunes in the wind tonight. Methinks they sing the name of Margaret.
(He climbs the ladder. And now, with an occasional dropping boot, the pirates prepare for bed. Presently we hear the Duke up above, singing—rigorously at first, until drowsiness dulls the tune.)
It is said in port by the sailor sort, As they swig all night at their rum, That a jolly grave is the ocean wave, But a churchyard bell 's too glum. I agrees ter this and ter give 'em bliss— From Pew I learned the trick— I push 'em wide o' the wessel's side And poke 'em down with a stick.
(Darlin' enters. With a prodigious yawn she sits at the fire. She kicks off her slippers and warms her old red stockings. She comforts herself with grog and spits across the hearth. She sleeps and gently snores. The Duke continues with his song.)
Ol' Flint had a fist and an iron wrist, And he thumped on the nose, it is said, Till a wictim's gore ran over the floor And he rolled in the scuppers dead. But, Patch, there 's a few, I 'm tellin' ter you, Who 's nice and they hates a muss, And a plank, I contend, is a tidier end. No sweepin', nor scrapin', nor fuss.
Captain Kidd, when afloat, put the crew in a boat, And he shoved 'em off fer to starve. On a rock in the sea, says he ter me—on a rock In the sea, says he ter me—on a rock—
(The singer's voice fails. Sleep engulfs him. Silence! Then sounds of snoring. The range of Caucasus hath not noisier winds. Let's draw the curtain on the tempest!)
It is the same cabin on the following night. There is no thunder and lightning, but it is a dirty night of fog—as wet as a crocodile's nest—and you hear the water dripping from the trees. The Duke, evidently, has had an answer to his "Now I lay me." The lighthouse, as before, shows vaguely through the mist.
In this scene we had wished to have a moon. The Duke will need it presently in his courtship; for marvelously it sharpens a lover's oath. 'T is a silver spur to a halting wooer. Shrewd merchants, I am told, go so far as to consult the almanac when laying in their store of wedding fits; for a cloudy June throws Cupid off his aim. What cosmetic—what rouge or powder—so paints a beauty! If the moon were full twice within the month scarcely a bachelor would be left. I pray you, master carpenter, hang me up a moon. But our plot has put its foot down. "Mirk," it says, "mirk and fog are best for our dirty business."
We had wished, also, to place one act of our piece on the deck of a pirate ship, rocking in a storm. Such high excitement is your right, for your payment at the door. It required but the stroke of a lazy pencil. But our plot has dealt stubbornly with us. We are still in the pirates' cabin in the fog.
We hear Darlin' singing in the kitchen, as the curtain rises.
[Music: DARLIN'S SONG]
Oh, I am the cook fer a pirate band And food I never spoil. Cabbage and such, it sure ain 't much, Till I sets it on ter boil. And I throws on salt and I throws on spice, And the Duke, he says ter me, Me Darlin', me pet, I 'm in yer debt, And he sighs contentedlee.
(There is a rattle of tinware. Patch-Eye sings the next stanza in the loft.)
On the Strand, it 's true, I 'm tellin' ter you, The Dukes and the Duchesses dwell. And they dines in state on golden plate— Eatin' and drinkin' like 'ell. But I says ter you, and it 's perfectly true, They stuffs theirselves too much; And a mutton stew, when yer gets it through, Is better than peacocks and such.
(More tinware in the kitchen. And now Darlin' again!)
I 've cooked in a brig to a dancin' jig Which the sea kicks up in a blast. And me stove 's slid 'round until I 've found A rope ter make it fast. But I braces me legs and the Duke, he begs Fer puddin' with sweets on the side. Me Darlin', it 's rough, and I likes yer duff. I 'll marry yer, Darlin', me bride.
(In her reckless joy at this dim possibility she overturns the dishpan. During the song the Duke's legs have appeared on the ladder. He descends, fetching with him a comb and mirror.
He brushes his hair. This is unusual and he finds a knot that is harder than any Gordian knot whatsoever. He smoothes and strokes his whiskers. He goes so far as to slap himself for dust. He puts a sprig of flowers—amazing!—in the front of his cloak. He practices a smile and gesture. He seems to speak. He claps his hand upon his heart. Ah, my dear sir, we have guessed your secret. The wind, as yet, blows from the south, but a pirate waits not upon the spring. His lover's oath pops out before the daffodil. I pray you, master carpenter, hang me up a moon.
And now the Duke stands before us the King of smiles. His is the wooer's posture. He speaks, but not with his usual voice of command. Oberon, as it were, calls Titania to the woodland when stars are torch and candle to the sleeping world.)
DUKE: Betsy! Betsy!
(She appears. The Duke wears a silly smile. But did not Bottom in an ass's head win the fairy princess? A moon, sweet sir! And now—suddenly!—the magic night dissolves into coarsest day.)
DUKE: Would yer like ter be the Duchess?
(This is abrupt and unusual, but nice customs curtsy to Dukes as well as Kings.)
DUKE: I 'm askin' yer, Betsy. Yer ol' Duke is askin' yer. I 'm lovin' yer. Yer ol' Duke is lovin' yer. I 'll do the right thing by yer. I 'll marry yer. There! I 've said it. When yer married yer can jest set on a cushion without nothin' ter do—(reflectively) nothin' 'cept cookin' and washin' and darnin'. Does yer jump at me, Betsy?
(I confess, myself, a mere man, unable to analyze Betsy's emotions. She stands staring at the Duke, as you or I might stare at a hippopotamus in the front hall. I have bitten my pencil to a pulp—the maker's name is quite gone—but I can think of no lines that are adequate. Her first surprise, however, turns to amusement.)
DUKE: Ain 't yer a kind o' hankerin' fer me? Come ter me arms, sweetie, and confess yer blushin' love. I 'm askin' yer. I 'm askin' yer ter be the Duchess.
BETSY: But I do not love you, Duke.
(In jest, however, the little rascal perches on his knee.)
DUKE: Make yerself comfertable. Yer husband 's willin'. When I cramps, I shifts yer. Kiss me, when yer wants.
BETSY: You are an old goose.
DUKE: Did I hear yer? Does yer hold off fer me ter nag yer? The ol' Duke 's waitin' ter fold yer in his lovin' arms.
BETSY: I do not love you, Duke.
(The Captain and Patch-Eye have thrust their heads through the opening above the ladder, and they listen with amusement.)
DUKE: I 'm blowed. I 'm a better man than Patch. I 'm tellin' yer. Is it me stump, Betsy? I has n't a hook hand like the Captain. Yer has got ter be linked all 'round. There 's no fun, I says, in bein' hugged by a one-armed man. Yer would be lop-sided in a week.
BETSY: It 's just that I do not love you, Duke.
DUKE: Yer wounds me feelin's. Does n't I ask yer pretty? Should I have waited fer a moon and took yer walkin'? And perched with yer on the rocks, with the ol' moon winkin' at yer, shovin' yer on? The Duke 's never been refused before. A number o' wery perticerler ladies, arter breakfast even, has jest come scamperin'. 'T ain 't Patch, is it Betsy? A pretty leetle girl would n't love a feller as has one eye. It ain 't the Captain. He ain 't no hand with the ladies. Yer not goin' ter tell me it 's Petey? I would n't want yer ter fall in love with a blinkin' light.
BETSY: You have lovely whiskers, Duke.
DUKE: Yer can pull one fer the locket that yer wears. Are yer makin' fun o' me?
BETSY: I would n't dare.
DUKE: Does yer mean it, Betsy? Are yer relentin'? Are yer goin' ter say the 'appy word as splices us from keel to topsail? Yer ain 't jest a cruel syren are yer, wavin' me on, hopin' I 'll smash meself? Are yer winkin' at me like ol' Flint's lantern—me thinkin' it 's love I see, shinin' in yer laughin' eyes?
BETSY: Why don 't you marry Darlin'?
DUKE: Her with one tooth? Yer silly. I boohs at yer. Ol' ladies with one hoof inside a coffin does n't make good brides. Yer wants someone kinder gay and spry, as yer can pin flowers to.
BETSY: She loves you, Duke.
DUKE: Course she does. So does the ol' lady as keeps the tap at the Harbor Light, and one-eyed Pol as mops up the liquor that is spilt. And youngsters, too. A pretty leetle dear—jest a cozy armful—was winkin' at me yesterday—kinder givin' me the snuggle-up. I pities 'em. It 's their nater, God 'elp 'em, ter love me; but the ol' Duke is perticerler. Yer has lovely eyes, Betsy—blessed leetle mirrors where I sees Cupid playin'. They shines like the lights o' a friendly harbor.
BETSY: Darlin' cooks roast pig that crackles.
DUKE: I sets me heart on top me stomich. Ain 't yer comfertable, settin' on me knee? Shall I shift yer to me stump? Betsy, I calls arter we are married, fetch me down me slipper and lay it on the hearth ter warm. Yer husband 's home. And I tosses yer me boot, all mud fer cleanin'. And then yer passes the grog. And arter about the second cup I limbers up and kisses yer. And then yer sets upon me knee. It will be snug on winter evenin's when the blast is blowin'. And when we 're married yer can kiss me pretty near as often as yer please. And I won 't deny as I won 't like it. The ol' Duke ain 't slingin' the permission 'round general. Darlin' nags me. What yer laughin' at?
BETSY: You silly old man!
DUKE: Yer riles me. Once and fer all, will yer marry me? I 'll not waste the night argyin' with yer. I 'm not goin' ter tease yer. I 've only one knee and it ain 't no bench fer gigglin' girls as pokes fun at their betters. I 'll jolt yer till yer teeth rattles. Is it someone else? Has yer a priory 'tachment? Red Joe? Is it Red Joe, Betsy? Is he snoopin' 'round?
(Betsy rises with sobered mood, and walks away.)
DUKE: There 's somethin' about that young feller I does n't like. He 's a snooper. Betsy, does yer get what I 'm talkin' about? I have offered ter make yer the Duchess. I 'll buy—I 'll steal yer a set o' red beads. I 'll give yer a sixpence—without no naggin'—every time yer goes ter town, jest ter spend reckless. I 'll marry yer. I 'll take yer ter Minehead and get the piousest parson in the town. Would yer like Darlin' fer a bridesmaid—and grog and angel-cake? Me jest settin' ready ter kiss yer every time yer passes it. I 'm blowed! You are wickeder than ol' Flint's lantern. It must be Red Joe. Him with the smirk! There 's a young feller 'round here, Betsy, as wants ter look out fer his wizen.
(But Betsy has run in panic to the kitchen.)
DUKE: I does n't understand 'em. I 'm thinkin' the girl 's a fool. A ninny I calls her. It 's Red Joe. Off a cliff! Yer said it, Darlin'. Off a cliff!
(He removes the sprig of flowers and tosses it into the fire.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer's lease hath all too short a date:—
He retires to the rear of the cabin and strokes the parrot's head. He jerks away his hand for fear of being nipped. The ungrateful world has turned against him.)
DUKE: Yer a spiteful bird. Yer as mean as women. Ninnies I calls 'em. It must ha' been the moon. I should ha' waited fer a moon.
(He sits on the chest at the rear of the cabin and whittles a little ship. Women are a queer lot.
The Captain and Patch-Eye have climbed down the ladder. They burst with jest. The Captain sits on the chair by the fire, mimicing the posture of the Duke. Patch-Eye perches on his knee.)