by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson
1  2     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

[Transcriber's Note:

In the printed book, all advertising and related matter was placed before the main text; the Epilogue was the final page of the book. Most of this front matter has been moved to the end of the e-text.]

* * * * *



* * * * *

Macmillan And Co., Limited St. Martin's Street, London 1922

Copyright Printed in Great Britain




On the occasion of an obscure dramatic presentation, an early and rudimentary draft of Book I. was published in 1910. It has since been entirely re-written. Book II., written 1919-22, has not been printed hitherto. Though the work was not conceived with a view to stage-production, the author reserves the acting rights.

It may be added that, while "Krindlesyke" is not in dialect, it has been flavoured with a sprinkling of local words; but as these are, for the most part, words expressive of emotion, rather than words conveying information, the sense of them should be easily gathered even by the south-country reader.

W. G.


Four bleak stone walls, an eaveless, bleak stone roof, Like a squared block of native crag, it stands, Hunched, on skirlnaked, windy fells, aloof: Yet, was it built by patient human hands: Hands, that have long been dust, chiselled each stone, And bedded it secure; and from the square Squat chimneystack, hither and thither blown, The reek of human fires still floats in air, And perishes, as life on life burns through. Squareset and stark to every blast that blows, It bears the brunt of time, withstands anew Wildfires of tempest and league-scouring snows, Dour and unshaken by any mortal doom, Timeless, unstirred by any mortal dream: And ghosts of reivers gather in the gloom About it, muttering, when the lych-owls scream.

"From one generation to another."

* * * * *



* * * * *



Krindlesyke is a remote shepherd's cottage on the Northumbrian fells, at least three miles from any other habitation. It consists of two rooms, a but and a ben. EZRA BARRASFORD, an old herd, blind and decrepit, sits in an armchair in the but, or living-room, near the open door, on a mild afternoon in April. ELIZA BARRASFORD, his wife, is busy, making griddle-cakes over the peat fire.

ELIZA (glancing at the wag-at-the-wa'): It's hard on three o'clock, and they'll be home Before so very long now.

EZRA: Eh, what's that?

ELIZA: You're growing duller every day. I said They'd soon be home now.

EZRA: They? And who be they?

ELIZA: My faith, you've got a memory like a milk-sile! You've not forgotten Jim's away to wed? You're not that dull.

EZRA: We cannot all be needles: And some folk's tongues are sharper than their wits. Yet, till thon spirt of hot tar blinded me, No chap was cuter in all the countryside, Or better at a bargain; and it took A nimble tongue to bandy words with mine. You'd got to be up betimes to get round Ezra: And none was a shrewder judge of ewes, or women. My wits just failed me once, the day I married: But, you're an early riser, and your tongue Is always up before you, and with an edge, Unblunted by the dewfall, and as busy As a scythe in the grass at Lammas. So Jim's away To wed, is he, the limb? I thought he'd gone For swedes; though now, I mind some babblement About a wedding: but, nowadays, words tumble Through my old head like turnips through a slicer; And naught I ken who the bowdykite's to wed— Some bletherskite he's picked up in a ditch, Some fond fligary flirtigig, clarty-fine, Who'll turn a slattern-shrew and a cap-river Within a week, if I ken aught of Jim. Unless ... Nay, sure, 'twas Judith Ellershaw.

ELIZA: No, no; you're dull, indeed. It's Phoebe Martin.

EZRA: Who's Phoebe Martin? I ken naught of her.

ELIZA: And I, but little.

EZRA: Some trapsing tatterwallops, I'll warrant. Well, these days, the lads are like The young cockgrouse, who doesn't consult his dad Before he mates. In my—yet, come to think, I didn't say overmuch. My dad and mammy Scarce kenned her name when I sprung my bride on them; Just loosed on them a gisseypig out of a poke They'd heard no squeak of. They'd to thole my choice, Lump it or like it. I'd the upper hand then: And well they kenned their master. No tawse to chide, Nor apron-strings to hold young Ezra then: His turn had come; and he was cock of the midden, And no braw cockerel's hustled him from it yet, For all their crowing. The blind old bird's still game. They've never had his spirit, the young cheepers, Not one; and Jim's the lave of the clutch; and he Will never lord it at Krindlesyke till I'm straked. But this what's-her-name the gaby's bringing ...

ELIZA: Phoebe.

EZRA: A posical name; I never heard the like. She'll be a flighty faggit, mark my words.

ELIZA: She's only been here once before; and now She'll be here all the time. I'll find it strange With another woman in the house. Needs must Get used to it. Your mother found it strange, Likely ... It's my turn now, and long in coming. Perhaps, that makes it harder. I've got set Like a vane, when the wind's blown east so long, it's clogged With dust, and cannot whisk with the chopping breeze. 'Twill need a wrench to shift my bent; for change Comes sore and difficult at my time of life.

EZRA: Ay, you may find your nose put out of joint, If she's a spirited wench.

ELIZA: Due east it's blown Since your mother died. She barely outlived my coming; And never saw a grandchild. I wonder ... Yet, I spared her all I could. Ay, that was it: She couldn't abide to watch me trying to spare her, Another woman doing her work, finoodling At jobs she'd do so smartly, tidying her hearth, Using her oven, washing her cups and saucers, Scouring her tables, redding up her rooms, Handling her treasures, and wearing out her gear. And now, another, wringing out my dishclout, And going about my jobs in her own fashion; Turning my household, likely, howthery-towthery, While I sit mum. But it takes forty years' Steady east wind to teach some folk; and then They're overdried to profit by their learning. And so, without a complaint, and keeping her secrets, Your mother died with patient, quizzical eyes, Half-pitying, fixed on mine; and dying, left Krindlesyke and its gear to its new mistress.

EZRA: A woman, she was. You've never had her hand At farls and bannocks; and her singing-hinnies Fair melted in the mouth—not sad and soggy As yours are like to be. She'd no habnab And hitty-missy ways; and she'd turn to, At shearing-time, and clip with any man. She never spared herself.

ELIZA: And died at forty, As white and worn as an old table-cloth, Darned, washed, and ironed to a shred of cobweb, Past mending; while your father was sixty-nine Before he could finish himself, soak as he might.

EZRA: Don't you abuse my father. A man, he was— No fonder of his glass than a man should be. Few like him now: I've not his guts, and Jim's Just a lamb's head, gets half-cocked on a thimble, And mortal, swilling an eggcupful; a gill Would send him randy, reeling to the gallows. Dad was the boy! Got through three bottles a day, And never turned a hair, when his own master, Before we'd to quit Rawridge, because the dandy Had put himself outside of all his money— Teeming it down his throat in liquid gold, Swallowing stock and plenishing, gear and graith. A bull-trout's gape and a salamander thrapple— A man, and no mistake!

ELIZA: A man; and so, She died; and since your mother was carried out, Hardly a woman's crossed the threshold, and none Has slept the night at Krindlesyke. Forty-year, With none but men! They've kept me at it; and now Jim's bride's to take the work from my hands, and do Things over that I've done over for forty-year, Since I took them from your mother—things some woman's Been doing at Krindlesyke since the first bride Came home.

EZRA: Three hundred years since the first herd Cut peats for that hearth's kindling. Set alow, Once and for all, it's seen a wheen lives burn Black-out: and when we, too, lie in the house That never knew housewarming, 'twill be glowing. Ay! and some woman's tongue's been going it, Like a wag-at-the-wa', in this steading, three hundred years, Tick-tocking the same things over.

ELIZA: Dare say, we'll manage: A decent lass—though something in her eye, I couldn't quite make out. Hardly Jim's sort ... But, who can ever tell why women marry? And Jim ...

EZRA: Takes after me: and wenches buzz Round a handsome lad, as wasps about a bunghole.

ELIZA: Though now they only see skin-deep, those eyes Will search the marrow. Jim will have his hands full, Unless she's used to menfolk and their ways, And past the minding. She'd the quietness That's a kind of pride, and yet, not haughty—held Her head like a young blood-mare, that's mettlesome Without a touch of vice. She'll gan her gait Through this world, and the next. The bit in her teeth, There'll be no holding her, though Jim may tug The snaffle, till he's tewed. I've kenned that look In women's eyes, and mares', though, with a difference. And Jim—yet she seemed fond enough of Jim: His daffing's likely fresh to her, though his jokes Are last week's butter. Last week's! For forty-year I've tholed them, all twice-borrowed, from dad and granddad, And rank, when I came to Krindlesyke, to find Life, the same jobs and same jests over and over.

EZRA: A notion, that, to hatch, full-fledged and crowing! You must have brooded, old clocker.

ELIZA: True enough, Marriage means little more than a new gown To some: but Phoebe's not a fancicle tauntril, With fingers itching to hansel new-fangled flerds. Why she'd wed ...

EZRA: Tuts! Girls take their chance. And you'd Conceit enough of Jim, at one time—proud As a pipit that's hatched a cuckoo: and if the gowk Were half as handsome as I—you ken, yourself, You needed no coaxing: I wasted little breath Whistling to heel: you came at the first "Isca!"

ELIZA: Who kens what a lass runs away from, crazed to quit Home, at all hazards, little realizing It's life, itself, she's trying to escape; And plodging deeper.

EZRA: Trust a wench for kenning. I've to meet the wife who'd be a maid again: Once in the fire, no wife, though she may crackle On the live coals, leaps back to the frying-pan. It's against nature.

ELIZA: Maybe: and yet, somehow, Phoebe seemed different.

EZRA: I've found little difference Betwixt one gimmer and another gimmer, When the ram's among them. But, where does she hail from?

ELIZA: Allendale way. Jim met her at Martinmas fair.

EZRA: We met ...

ELIZA: Ay, fairs have much to answer for.

EZRA: I thought 'twas Judith Ellershaw.

ELIZA: God forbid 'Twas Judith I'd to share with: though Jim fancied The lass, at one time. He's had many fancies: Light come, light go, it's always been with Jim.

EZRA: And I was gay when I was young—as brisk As a yearling tup with the ewes, till I'd the pains, Like red-hot iron, clamping back and thighs. My heart's a younker's still; but even love Gives in, at last, to rheumatics and lumbago. Now, I'm no better than an old bell-wether, A broken-winded, hirpling tattyjack That can do nothing but baa and baa and baa. I'd just to whistle for a wench at Jim's age: And Jim's ...

ELIZA: His father's son.

EZRA: He's never had My spirit. No woman's ever bested me. For all his bluster, he's a gaumless nowt, With neither guts nor gall. He just butts blindly— A woolly-witted ram, bashing his horns, And spattering its silly brains out on a rock: No backbone—any trollop could twiddle him Round her little finger: just the sort a doxy, Or a drop too much, sets dancing, heels in air: He's got the gallows' brand. But none of your sons Has a head for whisky or wenches; and not one Has half my spunk, my relish. I'd not trust Their judgment of a ewe, let alone a woman: But I could size a wench up, at a glance; And Judith ...

ELIZA: Ay: but Krindlesyke would be A muckheap-lie-on, with that cloffy slut For mistress. But she flitted one fine night.

EZRA: Rarely the shots of the flock turn lowpy-dyke; Likelier the tops have the spunk to run ramrace; And I think no worse ...

ELIZA: Her father turned her out, 'Twas whispered; and he's never named her, since: And no one's heard a word. I couldn't thole The lass. She'd big cow-eyes: there's little good In that sort. Jim's well shot of her; he'll not Hear tell of her: that sort can always find Another man to fool: they don't come back: Past's past, with them.

EZRA: I liked ...

ELIZA: Ay, you're Jim's dad. But now he's settling down, happen I'll see Bairn's bairns at Krindlesyke, before I die. Six sons—and only the youngest of the bunch Left in the old home to do his parents credit.

EZRA: Queer, all went wild, your sons, like collies bitten With a taste for mutton bleeding-hot. Cold lead Cures dogs of that kidney, peppering them one fine night From a chink in a stell; but, when they're two-legged curs, They've a longer run; and, in the end, the gallows Don't noose them, kicking and squealing like snarled rabbits, Dead-certain, as 'twould do in the good old days.

ELIZA: You crack your gallows-jokes on your own sons— And each the spit of the father that drove them wild, With cockering them and cursing them; one moment, Fooling them to their bent, the moment after, Flogging them senseless, till their little bodies Were one blue bruise.

EZRA: I never larruped enough, But let the varmints off too easily: That was the mischief. They should have had my dad— An arm like a bullock-walloper, and a fist Could fell a stot; and faiks, but he welted me Skirlnaked, yarked my hurdies till I yollered, In season and out, and made me the man I am. Ay, he'd have garred the young eels squirm.

ELIZA: And yet, My sons, as well: though I lost my hold of each Almost before he was off my lap, with you To egg them on against me. Peter went first: And Jim's the lave. But he may settle down. God kens where you'd be, if you'd not wed young.

EZRA: And the devil where you'd be, if we hadn't met That hiring-day at Hexham, on the minute. I'd spent last hiring with another wench, A giggling red-haired besom; and we were trysted To meet at the Shambles: and I was awaiting her, When I caught the glisk of your eye: but she was late; And you were a sonsy lassie, fresh and pink; Though little pink about you now, I'd fancy.

ELIZA: Nay, forty-year of Krindlesyke, and all!

EZRA: Young carroty-pow must have been in a fine fantigue, When she found I'd mizzled. Yet, if she'd turned up In time, poor mealy-face, for all your roses, You'd never have clapped eyes on Krindlesyke: This countryside and you would still be strangers.

ELIZA: In time!

EZRA: A narrow squeak.

ELIZA: If she'd turned up, The red-haired girl had lived at Krindlesyke, Instead of me, this forty-year: and I— I might ... But we must dree our weird. And yet, To think what my life might have been, if only— The difference!

EZRA: Ay, and hers, "if ifs and ans!" But I'm none certain she'd have seen it, either. I could have had her without wedding her, And no mistake, the nickering, red-haired baggage. Though she was merry, she'd big rabbit-teeth, Might prove gey ill to live with; ay, and a swarm Of little sandy moppies like their doe, Buck-teeth and freckled noses and saucer-eyes, Gaping and squealing round the table at dinner, And calling me their dad, as likely as not: Though little her mug would matter, now I'm blind; And by this there'll scarce be a stump in her yellow gums, And not a red hair to her nodding poll— That shock of flame a shrivelled, grizzled wisp Like bracken after a heathfire; that creamy skin, Like a plucked hen's. But she'd a merry eye, The giglet; and that coppertop of hers Was good to think on of a nippy morning: While you—but you were young then ...

ELIZA: Young and daft.

EZRA: Nay, not so gite; for I was handsome then.

ELIZA: Ay, the braw birkie of that gairishon Of menseless slubberdegullions: and I trusted My eyes, and other people's tongues, in those days: And you'd a tongue to glaver a guff of a girl, The devil's own; and whatever's gone from you, You've still a tongue, though with a difference: Now it's all edge.

EZRA: The knife that spreads the butter Will slice the loaf. But it's sharper than my teeth.

ELIZA: Ay, tongues cut deeper than any fang can bite, Sore-rankling wounds.

EZRA: You talk of tongues! I'm deaf: But, for my sins, I cannot be deaf to yours, Nattering me into my grave; and, likely, your words Will flaffer about my lugs like channering peesweeps, When I lie cold.

ELIZA: Yes, I was young, and agape For your wheedling flum, till it fleeched my self from me. There's something in a young girl seems to work Against her better sense, and gives her up, Almost in spite of her.

EZRA: It's nature.

ELIZA: Then Nature has more than enough to answer for. Young, ay! And you, as gallant as the stallion, With ribboned tail and mane, that pranced to the crack Of my father's whip, when first I saw you gaping, Kenspeckle in that clamjamfrey of copers.

EZRA: Love at first sight!

ELIZA: And I was just as foolish As you were braw.

EZRA: Well, we'd our time of it, Fools, or no fools. And you could laugh in those days, And didn't snigger like the ginger fizgig. Your voice was a bird's: but you laugh little now; And—well, maybe, your voice is still a bird's. There's birds and birds. Then, 'twas a cushy-doo's That's brooding on her nest, while the red giglet's Was a gowk's at the end of June. Do you call to mind We sat the livelong day in a golden carriage, Squandering a fortune, forby the tanner I dropt? They wouldn't stop to let me pick it up; And when we alighted from the roundabout, Some skunk had pouched it: may he pocket it Red-hot in hell through all eternity! If I'd that fortune now safe in my kist! But I was a scatterpenny: and you were bonnie— Pink as a dog-rose were your plump cheeks then: Your hair'd the gloss and colour of clean straw: And when, at darkening, the naphtha flares were kindled, And all the red and blue and gold aglitter— Drums banging, trumpets braying, rattles craking; And we were rushing round and round, the music— The music and the dazzle ...

ELIZA: Ay: that was it— The rushing and the music and the dazzle. Happen 'twas on a roundabout that Jim Won Phoebe Martin.

EZRA: And when you were dizzy, And all a hazegaze with the hubblyshew; You cuddled up against me, snug and warm: And round and round we went—the music braying And beating in my blood: the gold aglitter ...

ELIZA: And there's been little dazzle since, or music.

EZRA: But I was merry, till I fetched you home, To swarm the house with whinging wammerels.

ELIZA: You fetched me from my home. If I'd but known Before I crossed the threshold. I took my arles, And had to do my darg. And another bride Comes now. They'll soon be here: the train was due At half-past one: they'd walk it in two hours, Though bride and groom.

EZRA: I wish he'd married Judith. Cow-eyed, you called the wench; but cows have horns, And, whiles, they use them when you least expect. 'Twould be no flighty heifer you'd to face, If she turned mankeen. But, I liked the runt. Jim might do worse.

ELIZA: You liked ... But come, I'll set Your chair outside, where you can feel the sun; And hearken to the curlew; and be the first To welcome Jim and Phoebe as man and wife. Come!

EZRA: Are the curlew calling?

ELIZA: Calling? Ay! And they've been at it all the blessed day, As on the day I came to Krindlesyke. Likely the new bride—though 'twasn't at the time I noticed them: too heedless and new-fangled. She may be different: she may hear them now: They're noisy enough.

EZRA: I cannot catch a note: I'm getting old, and deaved as well as darkened. When I was young, I liked to hear the whaups Calling to one another down the slacks: And I could whistle, too, like any curlew. 'Twas an ancient bird wouldn't answer my call: and now I'm ancient myself—an old, blind, doddering heron, Dozing his day out in a syke, while minnows Play tiggy round his shanks and nibble his toes; And the hawk hangs overhead. But then the blood Was hot, and I'd a relish—such a relish! Keen as a kestrel ... and now ...

ELIZA: It's Jim and Phoebe— The music and the dazzle in their heads: And they'll be here ...

EZRA: I wish he'd married Judith: She's none the worse for being a ruddled ewe.

ELIZA: Nay, God forbid! At least, I'm spared that bildert.

(EZRA rises; and ELIZA carries out his chair, and he hobbles after her. She soon returns, and puts griddle-cakes into the oven to keep hot. Presently a step is heard on the threshold, and JUDITH ELLERSHAW stands in the doorway, a baby in her arms. ELIZA does not notice her for a few moments; then, glancing up, recognizes her with a start.)

ELIZA: You, Judith Ellershaw! I thought 'twas Jim.

JUDITH: You thought 'twas Jim?

ELIZA: Jim and ... To think it's you! Where've you sprung from? It's long since you've shown face In these parts; and we'd seen the last of you, I reckoned, little dreaming—and, least of all, To-day!

JUDITH: And should I be more welcome, then, On any other?

ELIZA: Welcome? I hardly know. Decent folk don't keep open house for your sort At any time. Your foot's not dirtied that doorstone A dozen times in your life: and then, to come, To-day, of all days, just when Jim ... (Breaks off abruptly.)

JUDITH: When Jim?

ELIZA: But, don't stand there. You're looking pale and peaked. It's heavy, traiking the fell-tracks with a baby: Come in, and rest a moment, if you're tired. You cannot bide here long: I'm sorry, lass; But I'm expecting company; and you Yourself, I take it, won't be over-eager For company.

JUDITH: I'm tired enough, God kens— Bone-weary: but we'll not stay long, to shame you: And you can send us packing in good time, Before your company comes.

(She enters, and seats herself on a chair near the door. ELIZA busies herself, laying the table for tea, and there is silence for a while.)

JUDITH: And so, Jim's gone To fetch the company?

ELIZA: Ay, Jim has gone ...

(She breaks off again abruptly, and says no more for a while. Presently she goes to the oven, takes out a griddle-cake, splits and butters it, and hands it to JUDITH.)

ELIZA: Likely, you're hungry, and could do with a bite?

JUDITH (taking it): I'm famished. Cake! We're grand, to-day, indeed! And scones and bannocks—carties, quite a spread! It's almost like a wedding.

ELIZA: A wedding, woman? Can't folk have scones and bannocks and singing-hinnies, But you must prate of weddings—you, and all!

JUDITH: I meant no harm. I thought, perhaps, Jim might ... Though, doubtless, he was married long ago?

(ELIZA does not answer. JUDITH's baby begins to whimper, and she tries to hush it in an absent manner.)

JUDITH: Whisht, whisht! my little lass! You mustn't cry, And shame the ears of decent folk. Whisht, whisht!

ELIZA: Why, that's no way to hush the teelytoon. Come, give the bairn to me. Come, woman, come! (Taking the child from JUDITH.) I'll show you how to handle babies. There!

JUDITH: And you would nurse my brat?

ELIZA: A bairn's a bairn— Ay, even though its mother ...

(Breaks off abruptly, and stands, gazing before her, clasping the baby to her bosom.)

JUDITH: Why don't you finish? "Ay, even though its mother ..." you were saying.

ELIZA: It's ill work, calling names.

JUDITH: You needn't fear To make me blush by calling me any name That hasn't stung me to the quick already. My pious father had a holy tongue; And he had searched the Scriptures to some purpose.

ELIZA (gazing before her in an abstracted manner): Ay: likely enough.... Poor bairn, poor little bairn— It's strange, but, as you snuggled to my breast, I could have fancied, a moment, 'twas Jim I held In my arms again. I'm growing old and foolish, To have such fancies.

JUDITH: Fancied 'twas Jim, your son— My bastard brat?

ELIZA: Shame on you, woman, to call Your own bairn such, poor innocent. It's not To blame for being a chance-bairn. Yet ... O Jim!

JUDITH: Why do you call on Jim? He's not come home yet? But I must go, before your son brings back ... Give me the bairn ...

ELIZA (withholding the baby): Nay, daughter, not till I learn The father's name.

JUDITH: What right have you ...

ELIZA: God kens ... And yet ...

JUDITH: Give me the bairn. You'll never learn The father's name from me.

ELIZA: Go, daughter, go. What ill-chance made you come to-day, of all days?

JUDITH: Why not to-day? Come, woman, I'd ken that, Before I go. I've half a mind to stay.

ELIZA: Nay, lass, you said ...

JUDITH: I've said a lot, in my time. I've changed my mind. 'Twas Jim I came to see— Though why, God kens! I liked the singing-hinny: Happen, there'll be some more for me, if I stay. I find I cannot thrive on nettle-broth: And it's not every day ...

ELIZA: Judith, you ken.

JUDITH: Ken? I ken nothing, but what you tell me.

ELIZA: Daughter, I'll tell you all. You'll never have the heart ...

JUDITH: The heart!

ELIZA: To stay and shame us, when you ken all.


ELIZA: When you talked of weddings, you'd hit the truth: And Jim brings home his bride to-day. Even now ...

JUDITH: And Jim brings home ...

ELIZA: I looked for them by this: But you've still time ...

JUDITH: The bride comes home to-day. Brides should come home: it's right a man should bring His bride home—ay! And we must go, my wean, To spare her blushes. We're no company For bride and bridegroom. Happen, we should meet them, You must not cry to him: I must not lift My eyes to his. We're nothing now to him. Your cry might tell her heart too much: my eyes Might meet her eyes, and tell ... It isn't good For a bride to know too much. So, we must hide In the ditch, as they pass by, if we should chance To meet them on the road—their road and ours— The same road, though we're travelling different ways. The bride comes home. Brides come home every day. And you and I ...

ELIZA: There's nothing else for it.

JUDITH: There's nothing else?

ELIZA: Nay, lass! How could you bide? They'll soon ... But, you'll not meet them, if you go ...

JUDITH: Go, where?

ELIZA: And how should I ken where you're bound for? I thought you might be making home.

JUDITH: Home—home! I might be making home? And where's my home— Ay, and my bairn's home, if it be not here?

ELIZA: Here? You'd not stay?

JUDITH: Why not? Have I no right?

ELIZA: If you'll not go for my sake, go for Jim's. If you were fond ...

JUDITH: And, think you, I'd be here, If I had not been fond of Jim? And yet, Why should I spare him? He's not spared me much, Who gave him all a woman has to give.

ELIZA: But, think of her, the bride, and her home-coming.

JUDITH: I'll go.

ELIZA: You lose but little: too well I ken How little—I, who've dwelt this forty-year At Krindlesyke.

JUDITH: Happen you never loved.

ELIZA: I, too, was young, once, daughter.

JUDITH: Ay: and yet, You've never tramped the road I've had to travel. God send it stretch not forty-year!

ELIZA: I've come That forty-year. We're out on the selfsame road, The three of us: but, she's the stoniest bit To travel still—the bride just setting out, And stepping daintily down the lilylea. We've known the worst.

JUDITH: But, she can keep the highway, While I must slink in the ditch, among the nettles.

ELIZA: I've kept the hard road, daughter, forty-year: The ditch may be easier going, after all: Nettles don't sting each other.

JUDITH: Nay: but I'm not A ditch-born nettle, but, among the nettles, Only a woman, naked to every sting: And there are slugs and slithery toads and paddocks In the ditch-bottom; and their slimy touch Is worse to bear than any nettle ...

ELIZA: Ay— The pity of it! A maid blooms only once: And then, that a man should ruin ... But, you've your bairn: And bairns, while we can hold them safe in our arms, And they still need the breast, make up for much: For there's a kind of comfort in their clinging, Though they only cling till they can stand alone. But yours is not a son. If I'd only had One daughter ...

JUDITH: Well, you'll have a daughter now. But we must go our way to—God kens where! Before Jim brings the bride home. You've your wish: Jim brings you home a daughter ...

(As she speaks, a step is heard, and EZRA BARRASFORD appears in the doorway. Turning to go, JUDITH meets him. She tries to pass him, but he clutches her arm; and she stands, dazed, while his fingers grope over her.)

EZRA: So Jim's back: And has slipped by his old dad without a word? I caught no footfall, though once I'd hear an adder Slink through the bent. I'm deafer than an adder— Deaf as the stone-wall Johnny Looney built Around the frog that worried him with croaking. I couldn't hear the curlew—not a note. But I forget my manners. Jim, you dog, To go and wed, and never tell your dad! I thought 'twas swedes you were after: and, by gox! It's safer fetching turnips than a wife. But, welcome home! Is this the bonnie bride? You're welcome, daughter, home to Krindlesyke. (Feeling her face.) But, wife, it's Judith, after all! I kenned That Judith was the lucky lass. You said 'Twas somebody else: I cannot mind the name— Some fly-by-the-sky, outlandish name: but I Was right, you see. Though I be blind and deaf, I'm not so dull as some folk think. There's others Are getting on in years, forby old Ezra. Though some have ears to hear the churchyard worms Stirring beneath the mould, and think it time That he was straked and chested, the old dobby Is not a corpse yet: and it well may happen He'll not be the first at Krindlesyke to lie, Cold as a slug, with pennies on his eyes. Aiblains, the old ram's cassen, but he's no trake yet: And, at the worst, he'll be no braxy carcase When he's cold mutton. Ay, I'm losing grip; But I've still got a kind of hold on life; And a young wench in the house makes all the difference. We've hardly blown the froth off, and smacked our lips, Before we've reached the bottom of the pot: Yet the last may prove the tastiest drop, who kens? You're welcome, daughter.

(His hand, travelling over her shoulder, touches the child.)

Ah, a brat—Jim's bairn! He hasn't lost much time, has Jim, the dog! Come, let me take it, daughter. I've never held A grandchild in my arms. Six sons I've had, But not one's made me granddad, to my knowledge: And all the hoggerels have turned lowpy-dyke, And scrambled, follow-my-leader, over the crag's edge, But Jim, your husband: and not for me to say, Before his wife, that he's the draft of the flock. Give me the baby: I'll not let it fall: I've always had a way with bairns, and women. It's not for naught I've tended ewes and lambs, This sixty-year.

(He snatches the baby from JUDITH, before she realizes what he is doing, and hobbles away with it to the high-backed settle by the fire, out of sight. Before JUDITH can move to follow him, steps are heard on the threshold.)

ELIZA: Ah, God: they're at the door!

As she speaks, JIM and PHOEBE BARRASFORD enter, talking and laughing. JUDITH ELLERSHAW shrinks into the shadow behind the door, while they come between her and the settle on which EZRA is nursing the baby unseen. ELIZA stands dazed in the middle of the room.

JIM: And they lived happy ever afterwards, Eh, lass? Well, mother: I've done the trick: all's over; And I'm a married man, copt fair and square, Coupled to Phoebe: and I've brought her home. You call the lass to mind, though you look moidart? What's dozzened you? She'll find her wits soon, Phoebe: They're in a mullock, all turned howthery-towthery At the notion of a new mistress at Krindlesyke— She'll come to her senses soon, and bid you welcome. Take off your bonnet; and make yourself at home. I trust tea's ready, mother: I'm fairly famished. I've hardly had a bite, and not a sup To wet my whistle since forenoon: and dod! But getting married is gey hungry work. I'm hollow as a kex in a ditch-bottom: And just as dry as Molly Miller's milkpail She bought, on the chance of borrowing a cow. Eh, Phoebe, lass! But you've stopped laughing, have you? And you look fleyed: there's nothing here to scare you: We're quiet folk at Krindlesyke. Come, mother, Have you no word of welcome for the lass, That you gape like a foundered ewe at us? What ghost Has given you a gliff, and set you chittering? Come, shake yourself, before I rax your bones; And give my bride the welcome due to her— My bride, the lady I have made my wife. Poor lass, she's quaking like a dothery-dick.

ELIZA (to PHOEBE): Daughter, may you ...

EZRA (crooning, unseen, to the baby):

"Dance for your mammy, Dance for your daddy ..."

JIM: What ails the old runt now? You mustn't heed him, Phoebe, lass: he's blind And old and watty: but there's no harm in him.

(Goes towards settle.)

Come, dad, and jog your wits, and stir your stumps, And welcome ... What the devil's this? Whose brat ...

EZRA: Whose brat? And who should ken—although they say, It's a wise father knows his own child. Ay! If he's the devil, you're the devil's brat, And I'm the devil's daddy. Happen you came Before the parson had time to read the prayers. But, he's a rum dad ...

(JUDITH ELLERSHAW steps forward to take the child from EZRA.)

JIM: Judith Ellershaw! Why, lass, where ever have ...

(He steps towards her, then stops in confusion. Nobody speaks as JUDITH goes towards the settle, takes the child from EZRA, and wraps it in her shawl. She is moving to the door when PHOEBE steps before her and closes it, then turns and faces JUDITH.)

PHOEBE: You shall not go.

JUDITH: And who are you to stop me? Come, make way— Come, woman, let me pass.

PHOEBE: I—I'm Jim's bride.

JUDITH: And what should Jim's bride have to say to me? Come, let me by.

PHOEBE: You shall not go.

JUDITH: Come, lass. You do not ken me for the thing I am: If you but guessed, you'd fling the door wide open, And draw your petticoats about you tight, Lest any draggletail of mine should smutch them. I never should have come 'mid decent folk: I never should have crawled out of the ditch. You little ken ...

PHOEBE: I heard your name. I've heard That name before.

JUDITH: You heard no good of it, Whoever spoke.

PHOEBE: I heard it from the lips That uttered it just now.

JUDITH: From Jim's? Well, Jim Kens what I am. I wonder he lets you talk With me. Come ...

PHOEBE: Not until I know the name Of your baby's father.

JUDITH: You've no right to ask.

PHOEBE: Maybe: and yet, you shall not cross that doorsill, Until I know.

JUDITH: Come, woman, don't be foolish.

PHOEBE: You say I've no right. Pray God, you speak the truth: But there may be no woman in the world Who has a better right.

JUDITH: You'd never heed A doting dobby's blethering, would you, lass— An old, blind, crazy creature ...

PHOEBE: If I've no right, You'll surely never have the heart to keep The name from me? You'll set my mind at ease?

JUDITH: The heart! If it will set your mind at ease, I'll speak my shame ... I'll speak my shame right out ... I'll speak my shame right out, before you all.

JIM: But, lass!

ELIZA (to PHOEBE): Nay: let her go. You're young and hard: And I was hard, though far from young: I've long Been growing old; though little I realized How old. And when you're old, you don't judge hardly: You ken things happen, in spite of us, willy-nilly. We think we're safe, holding the reins; and then In a flash the mare bolts; and the wheels fly off; And we're lying, stunned, beneath the broken cart. So, let the lass go quietly; and keep Your happiness. When you're old, you'll not let slip A chance of happiness so easily: There's not so much of it going, to pick and choose: The apple's speckled; but it's best to munch it, And get what relish out of it you can; And, one day, you'll be glad to chew the core: For all its bitterness, few chuck it from them, While they've a sense left that can savour aught. So, let the lass go. You may have the right To question her: but folk who stand on their rights Get little rest: they're on a quaking moss Without a foothold; and find themselves to the neck In Deadman's Flow, before they've floundered far. Rights go for little, in this life: few are worth The risk of losing peace and quiet. You'll have Plenty to worrit, and keep you wakeful, without A pillow stuffed with burrs and briars: so, take An old wife's counsel, daughter: let well alone; And don't go gathering grievances. The lass ...

JIM: Ay, don't be hard on her. Though mother's old, She talks sense, whiles. So let the poor lass go.

JUDITH: The father of my bairn ...

JIM: She's lying, Phoebe!

JUDITH: The father of my bairn is—William Burn— A stranger to these parts. Now, let me pass.

(She tries to slip by, but PHOEBE still does not make way for her.)

JIM: Ay, Phoebe, let her go. She tells the truth. I thought ... But I mistook her. Let her go. I never reckoned you'd be a reesty nag: Yet, you can set your hoofs, and champ your bit With any mare, I see. I doubt you'll prove A rackle ramstam wife, if you've your head. She's answered what you asked; though, why, unless ... Well, I don't blame the wench: she should ken best.

PHOEBE: Judith, you lie.

JUDITH: I lie! You mean ...

PHOEBE: To-day, I married your bairn's father.


JIM: Come, lass, I say!

JUDITH: No woman, no! I spoke the truth. Haven't I shamed myself enough already— That you must call me liar! (To ELIZA) Speak out now, If you're not tongue-tied: tell her all you ken— How I'm a byword among honest women, And yet, no liar. You'd tongue enough just now To tell me what I was—a cruel tongue Cracking about my ears: and have you none To answer your son's wife, and save the lad From scandal?

ELIZA: I've not known the lass to lie ... And she's the true heart, Phoebe, true as death, Whatever it may seem.

JIM: That's that: and so ...

(While they have been talking, EZRA has risen from the settle, unnoticed; and has hobbled to where PHOEBE and JUDITH confront one another. He suddenly touches PHOEBE's arm.)

EZRA: Cackling like guinea-fowl when a hawk's in air! I must have snoozed; yet, I caught the gabble. There'll be A clatter all day now, with two women's tongues, Clack-clack against each other, in the house— Two pendulums in one clock. Lucky I'm deaf. But, I remember. Give me back the bairn. Nay: this is not the wench. I want Jim's bride— The mother of his daughter. Judith, lass, Where are you? Come, I want to nurse my grandchild— Jim's little lass.

ELIZA (stepping towards EZRA): Come, hold your foolish tongue. You don't know what you're saying. Come, sit down.

(Leads him back to the settle.)

JIM: If he don't stop his yammer, I'll slit his weasen— I'll wring his neck for him!

EZRA: What's wrong? What's wrong? I'm an old man, now; and must do as I'm bid like a bairn— I, who was master, and did all the bidding. And you, Jim, I'd have broken your back like a rabbit's, At one time, if you'd talked to me like that. But now I'm old and sightless; and any tit May chivvy a blind kestrel. Ay, I'm old And weak—so waffly in arms and shanks, that now I couldn't even hold down a hog to be clipped: So, boys can threaten me, and go unskelped: So you can bray; and I must hold my peace: Yet, mark my words, the hemp's ripe for the rope That'll throttle you one day, you gallows-bird. But, something's happening that a blind man's sense Cannot take hold of; so, I'd best be quiet— Ay, just sit still all day, and nod and nod, Until I nod myself into my coffin: That's all that's left me.

JUDITH (to PHOEBE): You'd weigh an old man's gossip Against my word? O woman, pay no heed To idle tongues, if you'd keep happiness.

PHOEBE: While the tongue lies, the eyes speak out the truth.

JUDITH: The eyes? Then you'll not take my word for it, But let a dotard's clatterjaw destroy you? You ken my worth: yet, if you care for Jim, You'll trust his oath. If he denies the bairn, Then, you'll believe? You'd surely never doubt Your husband's word, and on your wedding-day? Small wonder you'd be duberous of mine. But Jim's not my sort; he's an honest lad; And he'll speak truly. If he denies the bairn ...

PHOEBE: I've not been used to doubting people's word. My father's daughter couldn't but be trustful Of what men said; for he was truth itself. If only he'd lived, I mightn't ...

JUDITH: If Jim denies ...

PHOEBE: If Jim can look me in the eyes, and swear ...

JUDITH: Come, set her mind at ease. Don't spare me, Jim; But look her in the eyes, and tell her all; For she's your wife; and has a right to ken The bairn's no bairn of yours. Come, lad, speak out; And don't stand gaping. You ken as well as I The bairn ... Speak! Speak! Have you no tongue at all?

(She pauses; but JIM hesitates to speak.)

Don't think of me. You've naught to fear from me. Tell all you ken of me right out: no word Of yours can hurt me now: I'm shameless, now: I'm in the ditch, and spattered to the neck. Come, don't mince matters: your tongue's not so modest It fears to make your cheeks burn—I ken that; And when the question is a woman's virtue, It rattles like a reaper round a wheatfield, And as little cares if it's cutting grain or poppies. So, it's too late to blush and stammer now, And let your teeth trip up your tongue. Speak out!

(JIM still hesitates.)

Your wife is waiting; if you don't tell her true, And quick about it, it's your own look-out. I wouldn't be in your shoes, anyway. See, how she's badgered me; and all because ... Come: be a man: and speak.

JIM: The brat's no brat Of mine, Phoebe, I swear ...

(He stops in confusion, dropping his eyes. PHOEBE turns from him, lays one hand on the latch and the other on JUDITH's arm.)

PHOEBE: Come, lass, it's time We were getting home.


PHOEBE: Ay, unless you'd stay? You've the right.

JUDITH: I stay? O God, what have I done! That I'd never crossed the threshold!

ELIZA: You're not going To leave him, Phoebe? You cannot: you're his wife; And cannot quit ... But, I'm getting old ...

JIM: Leave me? Leave me? She's mad! I never heard the like— And on my wedding-day—stark, staring mad! But, I'm your husband; and I bid you bide.

PHOEBE: O Jim, if you had only told the truth, I might, God knows—for I was fond of you, And trusted ...

JIM: Now you're talking sense. Leave me— And married to me in a church, and all! But, that's all over; and you're not huffed now. There's naught in me to take a scunner at. Yet the shying filly may prove a steady mare, Once a man's astriddle her who'll stand no capers. You've got to let a woman learn who's master, Sooner or later: so, it's just as well To get it over, once and for all. That's that. And now, let Judith go. Come, Phoebe, lass: I thought you'd a tender heart. Don't be too hard On a luckless wench: but let bygones be bygones. All's well that ends well. And what odds, my lass, Even if the brat were mine?

PHOEBE: Judith, you're ready?

JIM: Let the lass bide, and sup with us. I'll warrant She'll not say nay: she's a peckish look, as though She'd tasted no singing-hinnies this long while back. Mother, another cup. Draw up your chairs. We've not a wedding-party every day At Krindlesyke. I'm ravenous as a squab, When someone's potted dad and mammy crow. So sit down, Phoebe, before I clear the board.

PHOEBE: Judith, it's time we were getting home.

JUDITH: Home, lass? I've got no home: I've long been homeless: I ...

PHOEBE: That much he told me about you: he spoke the truth So far, at least: but I have still a home, My mother will be glad to see me back— Ay, more than glad: she was loth to let me go; Though, trusting Jim, as she trusted everyone, She said but little: and she'll welcome you, If only for your baby's sake. She's just A child, with children. Unless you are too proud ... Nay! But I see you'll come. We'll live and work, And tend the bairn, as sisters, we who care. Come, Judith.

(She throws the door wide and goes out, without looking back. JIM steps forward to stay her, but halts, bewildered, on the threshold, and stands gazing after her.)

JIM: I'm damned! Nay, lass, I bid you bide: I'd see you straked, before I'd let you go ... Do you hear, I bid ... The blasted wench, she's gone— Gone! I've a mind ... If I don't hang for her ... Just let me get my fingers ... But, I'm betwattled Like a stoorded tup! And this is my wedding-day!

(He stands speechless; but at length turns to JUDITH, who is gazing after PHOEBE with an unrealizing stare.)

JIM: Well ... anyway, you'll not desert me, Judith. Old friends are best: and I—I always liked you. The other lass was a lamb to woo, but wed, A termagant: and I'm well shot of her. I'd have wrung the pullet's neck for her one day, If she'd—and the devil to pay! So it's good riddance ... Yet, she'd a way with her, she had, the filly! And I'd have relished breaking her in. But you Were always easy-going, and fond of me— Ay, fond and faithful. Look, how you stood up To her, the tawpy tauntril, for my sake! We'll let bygones be bygones, won't we, Judith? My chickens have come home to roost, it seems. And so, this is my baby? Who'd have dreamt ... I little looked to harvest my wild oats.

(JUDITH starts, shrinking from JIM: and then, clutching her baby to her bosom, she goes quickly out of the door.)

JUDITH: I'm coming, Phoebe, coming home with you!

(JIM stands on the doorstone, staring after her, dumbfounded, till she is out of sight; then he turns, and clashes the door to.)

ELIZA: Ay, but it's time to bar the stable door.

JIM: I've done with women: they're a faithless lot.

EZRA: I can't make head or tail of all the wrangling— Such a gillaber and gilravishing, As I never heard in all my born days, never. Weddings were merrymakings in my time: The reckoning seldom came till the morrow's morn. But, Jim, my boy, though you're a baa-waa body, And gan about like a goose with a nicked head, You've, aiblains, found out now that petticoats Are kittle-cattle, the whole rabblement. The reesty nags will neither heck nor gee: And they're all clingclang like the Yetholm tinkers. Ay: though you're just a splurging jackalally, You've spoken truth for once, Jim: womenfolk, Wenches and wives, are all just weathercocks. I've ever found them faithless, first and last. But, where's your daughter, Jim? I want to hold The bairn.

JIM: They've taken even her from me.

(ELIZA, who has been filling the teapot, takes EZRA by the hand, and leads him to his seat at the table.)

ELIZA: Come, husband: sup your tea, before it's cold: And you, too, son. Ay, we're a faithless lot.

* * * * *



* * * * *


Midsummer morning. EZRA BARRASFORD sits crouched over the fire. ELIZA BARRASFORD, looking old and worn, and as if dazed by a shock, comes from the ben, or inner room, with a piece of paper in her hand. As she sinks to a chair to recover her breath, the paper flutters to the floor, where she lets it lie, and sits staring before her.

ELIZA: So that's the last.

EZRA: The last? The last of what?

ELIZA: The last of your sons to leave you. Jim's gone now.

EZRA: Gone where, the tyke? After his wife, I'll warrant. 'Twill take him all his time to catch her up: She's three months' start of him. The gonneril, To be forsaken on his wedding-day: And the ninneyhammer let her go—he let her! Do you reckon I'd let a woman I'd fetched home Go gallivanting off at her own sweet will? No wench I'd ringed, and had a mind to hold, Should quit the steading till she was carried, feet-first And shoulder-high, packed snug in a varnished box. The noodle couldn't stand up to a woman's tongue: And so, lightheels picked up her skirts, and flitted, Before he'd even bedded her—skelped off Like a ewe turned lowpy-dyke; and left the nowt, The laughing-stock of the countryside. He should Have used his fist to teach her manners. She seemed To have the fondy flummoxed, till his wits Were fozy as a frosted swede. Do you reckon I'd let a lass ...

ELIZA: And yet, six lads have left you, Without a by-your-leave.

EZRA: Six lads?

ELIZA: Your sons.

EZRA: Ay ... but they'd not the spunk to scoot till I Was blind and crippled. The scurvy rats skidaddled As the old barn-roof fell in. While I'd my sight, They'd scarce the nerve to look me in the eye, The blinking, slinking squealers!

ELIZA: Ay, we're old. The heat this morning seems to suffocate me, My head's a skep of buzzing bees; and I pant Like an old ewe under a dyke, when the sun gives scarce An inch of shade. You harp on sight: but eyes Aren't everything: my sight's a girl's: and yet I'm old and broken: you've broken me, among you. I'd count the pens of a hanging hawk: yet my eyes Have saved me little: they've never seen to the bottom Of the blackness of men's hearts. The very sons Of my body, I reckoned to ken through and through, As every mother thinks she knows her sons, Have been pitch night to me. We never learn. I thought I'd got by heart each turn and twist Of all Jim's stupid cunning: but even he's Outwitted me. Six sons, and not one left; All gone in bitterness—firstborn to reckling: Peter, twelve-year since, that black Christmas Eve: And now Jim ends ...

EZRA: You mean Jim's gone for good?

ELIZA: For good and all: he's taken Peter's road.

EZRA: And who's to tend the ewes? He couldn't go— No herd could leave his sheep to an old wife's care: For this old carcase, once counted the best herd's In the countryside, is a useless bag of bones now. Jim couldn't leave ...

ELIZA: For all I ken or care, He's taken them with him too.

EZRA: You're havering! Your sons aren't common thieves, I trust. And Jim Would scarce have pluck to sneak a swede from the mulls Of a hobbled ewe, much less make off with a flock— Though his forbears lifted a wheen Scots' beasts in their time— And Steel would have him by the heels before He'd travelled a donkey's gallop, though he skelped along Like Willie Pigg's dick-ass. But how do you ken The gawky's gone for good? He couldn't leave ...

ELIZA: I found a paper in the empty chest, Scrawled with a bit of writing in his hand: "Tell dad I've gone to look for his lost wits: And he'll not see me till he gets new eyes To seek me himself."

EZRA: Eyes or no eyes, I'll break The foumart's back, in this world or the next: He'll not escape. He thinks he's the laugh of me; But I've never let another man laugh last. Though he should take the short cut to the gallows, I'll have him, bibbering on his bended knees Before me yet, even if I have to wait Till I find him, brizzling on the coals of hell. But, what do you say—the empty chest—what chest?

ELIZA: The kist beneath the bed.

EZRA: But, that's not empty! How could you open it, when I'd the key Strung safely on a bootlace next my skin?

ELIZA: The key—you should have chained the kist, itself, As a locket round your neck, if you'd have kept Your precious hoard from your own flesh and blood.

EZRA: To think a man begets the thieves to rob him! But, how ...

ELIZA: I had no call to open it. I caught my foot against the splintered lid, When I went to make the bed.

EZRA: The splintered lid! And the kist—the kist! You say 'twas empty?

ELIZA: Not quite: The paper was in.

EZRA: But the money, you dam of thieves— Where was the money?

ELIZA: It wasn't in the box— Not a brass farthing.

EZRA: The money gone—all gone? Why didn't you tell me about it right away?

ELIZA: I wasn't minding money: I'd lost a son.

EZRA: A son—a thief! I'll have the law of him: I'll sprag his wheel: for all his pretty pace, He'll come a cropper yet, the scrunty wastrel. This comes of marrying into a coper's family: I might have kenned: thieving runs in their blood.

ELIZA: I've seen the day that lie'd have roused ... But now, It's not worth while ... worth while. I've never felt Such heat: it smothers me: it's like a nightmare, When you wake with your head in the blankets, all asweat: Only, I cannot wake ... It snowed the night That Peter went ...

EZRA: Blabbering of heat and snow: And all that money gone—my hard-earned savings! We're beggared, woman—beggared by your son: And then, to sit and yammer like a yieldewe: Come, stir your stumps; and clap your bonnet on: Up and away!

ELIZA: And where should I away to?

EZRA: I'll have the law of him: I'll have him gaoled, And you must fetch the peeler.

ELIZA: Policemen throng Round Krindlesyke, as bees about a thistle! And I'm to set the peelers on my son? If he'd gone with Peter, they'd have tracked his hobnails ... It snowed that night ... The snowflakes buzz like bees About the prickling thistles in my head— Big bumblebees ... I never felt such heat.

EZRA: And I must sit, tied to a chair, and hearken To an old wife, havering of bumblebees, While my hard-earned sovereigns lie snug and warm In the breeches' pocket of a rascal thief— Fifty gold sovereigns!

ELIZA: Fifty golden bees— Golden Italian queens ... My father spent A sight of money on Italian queens: For he'd a way with bees. He'd handle them With naked hands. They swarmed on his beard, and hung, Buzzing like fury: but he never blinked— Just wagged his head, swaying them, till they dropped, All of a bunch, into an upturned skep.... My head's a hive of buzzing bees—bees buzzing In the hot, crowded darkness, dripping honey ...

EZRA: You're wandering, woman—maffling like a madpash. Jim's stolen your senses, when he took my gold.

ELIZA: Don't talk of money now: I want to think. Six sons, I had. My sons, you say. You're right: For menfolk have no children: only women Carry them: only women are brought to bed: And only women labour: and, when they go, Only the mothers lose them: and all for nothing, The coil and cumber! If I could have left one son, Wedded, and settled down at Krindlesyke, To do his parents credit, and carry on ... First Peter came: it snowed the night he came— A feeding-storm of fisselling dry snow. I lay and watched flakes fleetering out of the dark In the candleshine against the wet black glass, Like moths about a lanthorn ... I lay and watched, Till the pains were on me ... And they buzzed like bees, The snowflakes in my head—hot, stinging bees ... It snowed again, the night he went.... In the smother I lost him, in a drift down Bloodysyke ... I couldn't follow further: the snow closed in— Dry flakes that stung my face like swarming bees, And blinded me ... and buzzing, till my head Was all ahum; and I was fair betwattled ... I've not set eyes ...

EZRA: Gather your wits together. There's no one else; and you must go to Rawridge— No daundering on the road; and tell John Steel Jim's gone: and so, there's none to look to the sheep. He must send someone ... Though my money melt In the hot pocket of a vagabond, They must be minded: sheep can't tend themselves.

ELIZA: I'll go. 'Twas cruel to leave them in this heat, With none to water them. This heat's a judgment. They were my sons: I bore and suckled them. This heat's a judgment on me, pressing down On my brain like a redhot iron ...

(She rises with difficulty, and goes, bareheaded, into the sunshine. In a few moments she staggers back, and stumbles, with unseeing eyes, towards the inner room. She pauses a second at the door, and turns, as if to speak to EZRA; but goes in, without a word. Presently a soft thud is heard within: then a low moan.)

EZRA: Who's there? Not you, Eliza? You can't be back already, woman? Why don't you speak? You yammered enough, just now— Such havers! Haven't you gone? What's keeping you? I told you to step out. What's wrong? What's wrong? You're wambling like a wallydraigling waywand. The old ewe's got the staggers. Boodyankers! If I wasn't so crocked and groggy, I'd make a fend To go myself—ay, blind bat as I am. Come, pull yourself together; and step lively. What's that? What's that? I can't hear anything now. Where are you, woman? Speak! There's no one here— Though I'd have sworn I heard the old wife waigling, As if she carried a hoggerel on her shoulders. I heard a foot: yet, she couldn't come so soon. I'm going watty. My mind's so set on dogging The heels of that damned thief, hot-foot for the gallows, I hear his footsteps echoing in my head. He'd hirple it barefoot on the coals of hell, With a red-hot prong at his hurdies to prog him on, If I'd my way with him: de'il scart the hanniel!

(He sits, brooding: and some time has passed, when the head of a tramp, shaggy and unkempt, is thrust in at the door; and is followed by the body of PETER BARRASFORD, who steps cautiously in, and stealing up to the old man's chair, stands looking down upon him with a grin.)

EZRA (stirring uneasily): A step, for sure! You're back? Though how you've travelled So quickly, Eliza, I can't think. And when's John Steel to turn us out, to follow Jim And the other vagabonds? And who's he sending? He's not a man to spare ... But, sheep are sheep: Someone must tend them, though all else go smash. I've given my life to sheep, spent myself for them: And now, I'm not the value of a dead sheep To any farmer—a rackle of bones for the midden! A bitter day, 'twill be, when I turn my back On Krindlesyke. I little reckoned to go, A blind old cripple, hobbling on two sticks. Pride has a fall, they say: and I was proud— Proud as a thistle; and a donkey's cropt The thistle's prickly pride. Why don't you speak? I'm not mistaken this time: I heard you come: I feel you standing over me.

(He pokes round with his stick, catching PETER on the shin with it.)

PETER (wresting the stick from EZRA's grasp): Easy on! Peter's no lad to take a leathering, now. Your time's come round for breeches down, old boy: But don't be scared; for I'm no walloper— Too like hard work! My son's a clean white skin: He's never skirled, as you made me. By gox, You gave me gip: my back still bears the stripes Of the loundering I got the night I left. But I bear no malice, you old bag-of-bones: And where's the satisfaction in committing Assault and battery on a blasted scarecrow? 'Twas basting hot young flesh that you enjoyed: I still can hear you smack your lips with relish, To see the blue weals rising, as you laid on, Until the tawse was bloody. Not juice enough In your geyzened carcase to raise one weal: and I never Could bear the sound of cracking bones: and you're All nobs and knuckles, like the parson's pig. To think I feared you once, old spindleshanks! But I'm not here for paying compliments: I've other pressing business on that brings me To the God-forsaken gaol where I was born. If I make sense of your doting, mother's out: And that's as well: it makes things easier. She'd flufter me: and I like to take things easy, Though I'm no sneak: I come in, bold as brass, By the front, when there's no back door. I'll do the trick While she's gone: and borrow a trifle on account. I trust that cuddy hasn't cropt your cashbox, Before your eldest son has got his portion.

(He starts to go towards the inner room, but stops half-way as he hears a step on the threshold.)

PETER: The devil!

BELL HAGGARD, a tall young tinker-woman, with an orange-coloured kerchief about her head, appears in the doorway with her young son, MICHAEL.

PETER: You, Bell? Lass, but you startled me.

EZRA (muttering to himself): This must be death: the crows are gathering in. I don't feel like cold carrion, but corbies will gather, And flesh their bloody beaks on an old ram's carcase, Before the life's quite out.

PETER (to BELL): I feared 'twas mother. Lucky, she's out; it's easier to do— Well, you ken what, when she's ... But didn't I bid You keep well out of sight, you and the lad?

BELL: You did. What then?

PETER: I thought 'twas better the bairn ...

BELL: You think too much for a man with a small head: You'll split the scalp, some day. I've not been used To doing any man's bidding, as you should ken: And I'd a mind to see the marble halls You dreamt you dwelt in.

PETER: Hearken, how she gammons!

BELL: She—the cat's mother? You've no manners, Peter: You haven't introduced us.

PETER: Only hark! Well, dad, she's Bell—Bell Haggard, tinker-born— She'll tell you she's blood-royal, likely as not— And this lad happens to be hers and mine, Somehow, though we're not married.

BELL: What a fashion To introduce a boy to his grandfather— And such a dear, respectable old sheep's head! (to MICHAEL) Look well on granddad, son, and see what comes Of minding sheep.

MICHAEL: I mean to be a shepherd.

BELL: Well, you've a knack of getting your own way: But, tripe and trotters, you can look on him, And still say that? Ay, you're his grandson, surely— All Barrasford, with not a dash of Haggard, No drop of the wild colt's blood. Ewe's milk you'd bleed If your nose were tapped. Who'd ever guess my dugs Had suckled you? Even your dad's no more Than three-parts mutton, with a strain of reynard— A fox's heart, for all his weak sheep's head. Lad, look well round on your ancestral halls: You'll likely not clap eyes on them again. I'm eager to be off: we don't seem welcome. Your venerable grandsire is asleep, Or else he's a deaf mute; though, likely enough, That's how folk look, awake, at Krindlesyke. I'd fancied we were bound for the Happy Return: But we've landed at the Undertaker's Arms— And after closing time, and all. You've done That little business, Peter—though it's not bulged Your pockets overmuch, that I can see?

PETER: Just setting about it, when you interrupted ...

BELL: Step lively, then. I find this welcome too warm On such a sultry day: I'm choked for air. These whitewashed walls, they're too like—well, you ken Where you'll find yourself, if you get nobbled ...

PETER: It seems There's no one here to nab us; Jim's gone off: But I'd as lief be through with it, and away, Before my mother's back.

BELL: You're safe enough: There's none but sheep in sight for three miles round: And they're all huddled up against the dykes, With lollering tongues too baked to bleat "Stop thief!" Look slippy! I'm half-scumfished by these walls— A weak flame, easily snuffed out: the stink Of whitewash makes me queasy—sets me listening To catch the click of the cell-door behind me: I feel cold bracelets round my wrists, already. Is thon the strong-room?


BELL: Then sharp's the word: It's time that we were stepping, Deadwood Dick.

(As PETER goes into the other room, EZRA tries to rise from his chair.)

EZRA: Help! Murder! Thieves!

BELL (thrusting him easily back with one hand): The oracle has spoken. And so, old image, you've found your tongue at last: Small wonder you mislaid it, in such a mug. Help, say you? But, you needn't bleat so loud: There's none within three miles to listen to you, But me and Peter and Michael; and we're not deaf: So don't go straining your voice, old nightingale, Or splitting your wheezy bellows. And "thieves," no less! Tastes differ: but it isn't just the word I'd choose for welcoming my son and heir, When he comes home; and brings with him his—well, His son, and his son's mother, shall we say, So's not to scandalize your innocence? And, come to think, it's none too nice a word For grandson's ears: and me, his tender mammy, Doing all I can to keep the lamb's heart pure. And as for "murder"—how could there be murder? Murder's full-blooded—no mean word like "thieves": And who could murder a bundle of dried peas-sticks? Flung on the fire, happen they'd crackle and blaze: But I'm hot enough, to-day, without you frizzling. Still, "thieves" sticks in my gullet, old heel-of-the-loaf. Yet I'm not particular, myself, at times: And I've always gathered from your dutiful son Manners were taken for granted at Krindlesyke, And never missed: so I'll overlook the word. You've not been used to talking with a lady, Old scrag-end: still, I'm truly honoured, sir, In making your acquaintance: for I've heard Some pretty things about you from your son.

(EZRA, who has shrunk back, gasping, into his chair, suddenly starts chuckling to himself.)

BELL: You're merry, sir! Will you not share the jest? Aren't you the sparky blade, the daffing callant, Naffing and nickering like a three-year-old? Come, none-so-pretty, cough the old wheeze up, Before it chokes you. Let me clap your back. You're, surely, never laughing at a lady?

(Seizing him by the collar, and shaking him.)

You deafy nut—you gibbet—you rusty corncrake! Tell me what's kittling you, old skeleton, Or I'll joggle your bones till they rattle like castanets.

(Suddenly releasing him.)

Come, Peter: let's away from this mouldy gaol, Before old heeltaps takes a fit. Your son Will be a full-grown shepherd before we leave— And his old mother, trapped between four walls— If you don't put a jerk in it.

(PETER comes slowly from the inner room, empty-handed; and stands, dazed, in the doorway.)

BELL: Well, fumble-fingers? What's kept you this half-year? I could have burgled The Bank of England in the time. What's up? Have you gone gite, now?

EZRA (still chuckling): Thieves cheated by a thief!

BELL: But, where's the box?

PETER: I didn't see the box.

BELL: You didn't see it?

PETER: No; I didn't see it: The valance hangs too low.

BELL: And you're too proud— Too proud a prig to stoop? Did you expect The box to bounce itself into your arms, The moment it heard your step?

PETER: I dared not stoop: For there was someone lying on the bed, Asleep, I think.

BELL: You think?

PETER: I only saw A hunched-up shoulder, poking through the curtain.

BELL: A woman?

PETER: Ay, my mother, or her fetch. I couldn't take my eyes from that hunched shoulder— It looked so queer—till you called my name.

BELL: You said Your mother was out. But, we've no time to potter. To think I've borne a son to a calf that's fleyed Of a sleeping woman's back—his minney's, and all! Collops and chitterlings, if she's asleep, The job's the easier done. There's not a woman, Or a woman's fetch, would scare me from good gold. I'll get the box.

(She steals softly into the other room, and is gone for some time. The others await her expectantly in silence. Presently she comes out bareheaded and empty-handed. Without a word, she goes to the window, and pulls down the blind; then closes the outer door: PETER and MICHAEL watching her in amazement.)

EZRA: So Jim, the fox, has cheated Peter, the fox— And vixen and cub, to boot! But, he made off Only this morning: and the scent's still fresh. You'll ken the road he'd take, the fox's track— A thief to catch a thief! He's lifted all: But, if you cop him, I'll give you half, although 'Twill scarcely leave enough to bury us With decency, when we have starved to death, Your mother and I. Run, lad: there's fifty-sovereign! And mind you clout and clapperclaw the cull: Spanghew his jacket, when you've riped his pockets— The scurvy scrunt!

BELL: Silence, old misery: There's a dead woman lying in the house— And you can prate of money!

PETER: Dead!

EZRA: Eliza!

BELL: I found the body, huddled on the bed, Already cold and stiffening.

EZRA: I thought I heard ... Yet, she set out for Rawridge, to fetch a man ... I felt her passing, in my very bones. I knew her foot: you cannot hear a step For forty-year, and mistake it, though the spring's Gone out of it, and it's turned to a shuffle, it's still The same footfall. Why didn't she answer me? She chattered enough, before she went—such havers! Words tumbling from her lips in a witless jumble. Contrary, to the last, she wouldn't answer: But crept away, like a wounded pheasant, to die Alone. She's gone before me, after all— And she, so hale; while I was crutched and crippled. I haven't looked on her face for eleven-year: But she was bonnie, when I saw her first, That morning at the fair—so fresh and pink.

BELL: She must have died alone. It's an ill thing To die alone, folk say; but I don't know. She'd hardly die more lonely than she lived: For every woman's lonely in her heart. I never looked on a lonelier face.

PETER: Come, Bell: We'd best be making tracks: there's nothing here: So let's be going.

BELL: Going, Peter, where?

PETER: There's nothing to bide here for: we're too late. Jim's stolen a march on us: there's no loot left.

BELL: And you would leave a woman, lying dead; And an old blind cripple who cannot do a hand's-turn, With no one to look after them—and they, Your father and mother?

PETER: Little enough I owe them: What can we do for them, anyway? We can't Bring back the dead to life: and, sooner or later, Someone will come from Rawridge to see to the sheep: And dad won't hurt, meanwhile: he's gey and tough.

BELL: And you would leave your mother, lying dead, With none but strangers' hands to lay her out— No soul of her kin to tend her at the last?

(She goes to the dresser and looks in the drawers, taking out an apron and tying it round her waist.)

EZRA: I never guessed she'd go, and leave me alone. How did she think I could get along without her? She kenned I could do nothing for myself: And yet she's left me alone, to starve to death— Just sit in my chair, and starve. It wasn't like her. And the breath's scarce out of her body, before the place Is overrun with a plague of thieving rats. They'll eat me out of house and home: my God, I've come to this—an old blind crippled dobby, Forsaken of wife and bairns; and left to die— To be nibbled to death by rats: de'il scart the vermin!

BELL: Time's drawn your teeth, but hasn't dulled your tongue's edge.

PETER: Come, woman: what the devil are you up to? What's this new game?

BELL: Peter, I'm biding here.

PETER: You're biding here?

BELL: And you are staying, too.

PETER: By crikey, no! You'll not catch me: I cannot— With thon in the other room. I never could bear ...

BELL: You'll stop, till Michael's old enough to manage The sheep without your aid: then you may spurt To overtake Jim on the road to the gallows; And race, the pair of you, neck and neck, for hell: But not till I'm done with you.

PETER: Nay, I'll be jiggered ...

BELL: Truth slips out.

PETER: I've a mind ...

BELL: She's gone to earth.

PETER: Just hold your gob, you ...

BELL: Does the daft beast fancy That just because he's in his own calfyard He can turn his horns on me? Michael, my son, You've got your way: and you're to be a herd. You never took to horseflesh like a Haggard: Yet your mother must do her best for you. A mattress Under a roof; and sheep to keep you busy— That's what you're fashioned for—not bracken-beds In fellside ditches underneath the stars; And sharing potluck by the roadside fire. Well, every man must follow his own bent, Even though some woman's wried to let him do it: So, I must bide within this whitewashed gaol, For ever scrubbing flagstones, and washing dishes, And darning hose, and making meals for men, Half-suffocated by the stink of sheep, Till you find a lass to your mind; and set me free To take the road again—if I'm not too doddery For gallivanting; as most folk are by the time They've done their duty by others. Who'd have dreamt I'd make the model mother, after all? It seems as though a woman can't escape, Once she has any truck with men. But, carties! Something's gone topsy-turvy with creation, When the cuckoo's turned domestic, and starts to rear The young housesparrow. Granddad, Peter's home To mind the sheep: and you'll not be turned out, If you behave yourself: and when you're lifted, There'll be a grandson still at Krindlesyke: For Michael is a Barrasford, blood and bone: And till the day he fetches home a bride, I'm to be mistress here. But hark, old bones, You've got to mend your manners: for I'm used To having my own way.

PETER: By gox, she is!

BELL: And there's not room for two such in one house. Where I am mistress, there can be no master: So, don't try on your pretty tricks with me. I've always taken the whiphand with men.

PETER: You'll smart yet, dad.

BELL: You go about your business, Before your feet get frozen to the flagstones: Winter's but six months off, you ken. It's time You were watering those sheep, before their tongues Are baked as black as your heart. You'd better take The lad along with you: he cannot learn The job too soon; so I'll get shot of the sight Of your mug, and have one lout the less to do for. Come, frisk your feet, the pair of you; and go: I've that to do which I must do alone.

(As soon as PETER and MICHAEL are gone, BELL fills a basin with water from a bucket, and carries it into the other room, shutting the door behind her.)

EZRA: To think she should go first, when I have had One foot in the grave for hard on eleven-year! I little looked to taste her funeral ham.


An October afternoon, fifteen years later. There is no one in the room: and the door stands open, showing a wide expanse of fell, golden in the low sunshine. A figure is seen approaching along the cart-track: and JUDITH ELLERSHAW, neatly dressed in black, appears at the door; and stands, undecided, on the threshold. She knocks several times, but no one answers: so she steps in, and seats herself an a chair near the door. Presently a sound of singing is heard without: and BELL HAGGARD is seen, coming over the bent, an orange-coloured kerchief about her head, her skirt kilted to the knee, and her arms full of withered bracken. She enters, humming: but stops, with a start, on seeing JUDITH; drops the bracken; whips off her kerchief; and lets down her skirt; and so appears as an ordinary cottage-wife.

JUDITH: You're Mistress Barrasford?

BELL: Ay; so they call me.

JUDITH: I knocked; but no one answered; so, I've taken The liberty of stepping in to rest. I'm Judith Ellershaw.

BELL: I've heard the name; But can't just mind ... Ay! You're the hard-mouthed wench That took the bit in her teeth, and bolted: although You scarcely look it, either. Old Ezra used To mumble your name, when he was raiming on About the sovereigns Jim made off with: he missed The money more than the son—small blame to him: Though why grudge travelling-expenses to good-riddance? And still, 'twas shabby to pinch the lot: a case Of pot and kettle, but I'd have scorned to bag The lot, and leave the old folk penniless. 'Twas hundreds Peter blabbed of—said our share Wouldn't be missed—or I'd have never set foot In Krindlesyke; to think I walked into this trap For fifty-pound, that wasn't even here! I might have kenned—Peter never told the truth, Except by accident. I did ... and yet, I came. I had to come: the old witch drew me. But, Jim was greedy ...

JUDITH: Doesn't Jim live here, now?

BELL: You're not sent back by the penitent, then, to pay The interest on the loan he took that morning In an absent-minded fit—and pretty tales Are tarradiddles? Jim's not mucked that step In my time: Ezra thought he'd followed you.


BELL: You're Jim's wife—though you've not taken his name— Stuck to your own, and rightly: I'd not swap mine For any man's: but, you're the bride the bridegroom Lost before bedtime?

JUDITH: No, 'twas Phoebe Martin: And dead, this fifteen-year: she didn't last A twelvemonth after—it proved too much for her, The shock; for all her heart was set on Jim.

BELL: Poor fool: though I've no cause to call her so; For women are mostly fools, where men come in. You're not the vanished bride? Then who've I blabbed The family-secrets to, unsnecking the cupboard, And setting the skeleton rattling his bones? I took you For one of us, who'd ken our pretty ways; And reckoned naught I could tell of Jim to Jim's wife Could startle her, though she'd no notion of it.

JUDITH: I took you for Jim's wife.

BELL: Me! I'm a fool— But never fool enough to wear a ring For any man.

JUDITH: Yet, Mistress Barrasford?

BELL: They call me that: but I'm Bell Haggard still; And will be to the day I die, and after: Though, happen, there'll be marriage and giving in marriage In hell; for old Nick's ever been matchmaker. In that particular, heaven would suit me better: But I've travelled the wrong road too far to turn now.

JUDITH: Then you're not the mother of Michael Barrasford?

BELL: And who's the brass to say he's not my son? I'm no man's wife: but what's to hinder me From being a mother?

JUDITH: Then Jim is his father?

BELL: And what's it got to do with you, the man I chose for my son's father? Chose—God help us! That's how we women gammon ourselves. Deuce kens The almighty lot choice has to do with it!

JUDITH: It wasn't Jim, then?

BELL: Crikey! You're not blate Of asking questions: I've not been so riddled Since that old egg-with-whiskers committed me. Why harp on Jim? I've not clapped eyes on Jim, Your worship; though I fear I must plead guilty To some acquaintance with the family, As you might put it; seeing that Jim's brother Is my son's father; though how it came to happen, The devil only kenned; and he's forgotten.

JUDITH: Thank God, it wasn't Jim.

BELL: And so say I: Though, kenning only Peter, I'm inclined To fancy Jim may be the better man. What licks me is, what it's to do with you? And why I answer your delicate questions, woman? Even old hard-boiled drew the line somewhere.

JUDITH: I'm the mother of Jim's daughter.

BELL: You're the wench The bride found here—and the mother of a daughter; And live ...

JUDITH: At Bellingham.

BELL: Where Michael finds So often he's pressing business, must be seen to— Something to do with sheep. I see ... To think I didn't guess! Why is it, any man Can put the blinkers on us? But, was I blind, Or only wanting not to see—afraid Of what I've been itching after all these years? Can a hawk be caged so long, it's scared to watch The cage door opening? More to it than that: After all, there's something of the mother in me. Ay: you've found Michael's minney! As for his dad, It's eight-year since he quitted Krindlesyke, The second time, for good.

JUDITH: He left you?

BELL: Hooked it: But, shed no tears for me: he only left me, As a sobering lout will quit the bramble-bush He's tumbled in, blind-drunk—or was it an anthill He'd pillowed his fuddled head on? Anyway, He went, sore-skinned; and gay to go; escaped From Krindlesyke—he always had the luck— Before the bitter winter that finished Ezra: But, I'd to stay on, listening all day long To that old dotard, counting the fifty sovereigns Your fancy man made off with, when he cleaned out The coffers of Krindlesyke, the very day Ananias and I came for our share, too late: And so, got stuck at Back-o'-Beyont, like wasps In a treacle-trap—the gold all gone: naught left But the chink of coins in an old man's noddle, that age Had emptied of wits. He'd count them, over and over— Just stopping to curse Jim, when he called to mind The box was empty: and, often, in the night, I'd hear him counting, counting in the dark, Till the night he stopped at forty-nine, stopped dead, With a rattle—not a breath to whisper fifty. A crookt corpse, yellow as his lost gold, I found him, When I fetched my candle.


BELL: Ay, guttered out— A dip burned to the socket. May chance puff out My flame, while it still burns steady, and not sowse it In a sweel of melted tallow.

JUDITH: Ay, but it's sad When the wits go first.

BELL: And he, so wried and geyzened, The undertakers couldn't strake him rightly. Even when they'd nailed him down, and we were watching By candle-light, the night before the funeral, Nid-nodding, Michael and I, just as the clock Struck twelve, there was a crack that brought us to, Bolt-upright, as the coffin lid flew off: And old granddaddy sat up in his shroud.

JUDITH: God save us, woman! Whatever did ...

BELL: I fancied He'd popped up to say fifty: but he dropped back With knees to chin. They'd got to screw him down: And they'd sore work to get him underground— Snow overnight had reached the window-sill: And when, at length, the cart got on the road, The coffin was jolted twice into the drifts, Before they'd travelled the twelve-mile to the church-yard: And the hole they'd howked for him, chockful of slush: And the coffin slipt with a splash into the sluther. Ay—we see life at Krindlesyke, God help us!

JUDITH: A fearsome end.

BELL: Little to choose, 'twixt ends. So, Michael's granddad, and your girl's, went home To his forefathers, and theirs—both Barrasfords: Though I'd guess your bairn's a gentler strain: yet mine's No streak of me. All Barrasford, I judged him: But, though he's Ezra's stubbornness, he's naught Of foxy Peter: and grows more like Eliza, I'd fancy: though I never kenned her, living: I only saw her, dead.

JUDITH: Eliza, too?

BELL: I was the first to look on her dead face, The morn I came: if she'd but lived a day— Just one day longer, she'd have let me go. No living woman could have held me here: But she was dead; and so, I had to stay— A fly, caught in the web of a dead spider. It must be her he favours: and he's got A dogged patience well-nigh crazes me: A husband, born, as I was never born For wife. But, happen, you ken him, well as I, Leastways, his company-side, since he does business At Bellingham? A happy ending, eh! For our mischances, they should make a match: Though naught that ever happens is an ending; A wedding, least of all.

JUDITH: I've never seen him. Ruth keeps her counsel. I'd not even heard His name, till late last night; and then by chance: But, I've not slept a wink since, you may guess. When I heard "Barrasford of Krindlesyke," My heart went cold within me, thinking of Jim, And what he'd been to me. I'd had no news Of all that's happened since I left the day Jim wedded; and ...

BELL: The nowt felt like a poacher, When keeper's sneaked his bunny, and broken his snare?

JUDITH: I fancied he, perhaps ...

BELL: Ay, likely enough. Jim's wasted a sight of matches, since that day He burnt his fingers so badly: but he's not kindled A hearthfire yet at Krindlesyke. Anyway, For Michael to be his son, I'd need to be Even an older flame of his than you: For Michael's twenty-one.

JUDITH: As old as that? But I could never rest, till I'd made sure. Knowing myself, I did not question Ruth ...

BELL: What's worth the kenning's seldom learned by speiring.

JUDITH: Though, knowing myself, I dreaded what might chance, What might already ...

BELL: You'd no cause to worrit Michael's not that sort: he's respectable— Too staid and sober for his tinker-mother: He'll waste no matches, lighting wayside fires.

JUDITH: Like me, Ruth's easy kindled; hard to quench— A flying spark, and the heather's afire in a gale; And the fell's burned to the rock—naught but black ash, When the downpour comes, too late.

BELL: Ay—but the flare, And crackle, and tossing flames, and golden smoke; And the sting of the reek in the nostrils!

JUDITH: Ruth'll love Once and for all: like me, she's born for marriage: Though, in my eager trustfulness, I missed it. You'll scorn me, as I often scorn myself: But, kenning the worst, in my heart of hearts, I hanker ... Jim meant so much to me once: I can't forget, Or keep from dwelling on the might-have-been. Snow on the felltop, now: but underground Fire smoulders still: and still might burst to flame. Deceived and broken ...

BELL: What's this jackadandy, That you and Phoebe, both—and kenning him!

JUDITH: What's kenning got to do with love? It makes No difference, once you've given ...

BELL: If I've a heart, And it's broken, it's a broken stone, sunk deep In bottomless mosshags, where no heat can touch it, Till the whole world grills, at last, on hell's gridiron.

JUDITH: Nothing you ken of broken hearts, or hell, To talk so lightly. I have come through hell: But you have never loved. What's given in love, Is given. It's something to have loved, at least: And I have Ruth.

BELL: Ay, the green bracken-shoots, Soon push through the black litter of charred heath: And you have Ruth.

JUDITH: Or, had her, till last night: I've lost her, now, it seems.

BELL: You let life hurt you: You shy at shadows; and shrink from the crack of the whip, Before the lash stings: and life loves no sport Like yarking a shivering hide: you ask for it.

JUDITH: I've been through much.

BELL: And so, you should ken better Than to hang yourself, before the judge gives sentence: His honour can put the black cap on for himself, Without your aid. You'll die a thousand deaths, Before your end comes, peacefully in bed. Why should you go half-way to meet your funeral?

JUDITH: Though there's a joy in giving recklessly, In flinging all your faggots on the blaze, In losing all for love—a crazy joy Long years of suffering cannot quench, I'd have Ruth spared that madness: and kenning she's just myself Born over, how could I sleep with the dread upon me? She'd throw herself away; would burn to waste, Suffering as I have ...

BELL: Anyway, you burned: And who's to say what burns to waste, even when The kindled peatstack fires the steading? Far better To perish in a flare, than smoulder away Your life in smother: and what are faggots for, If not for firing? But, you've suffered, woman, More than need be, because you were ashamed. The lurcher that slinks with drooping tail and lugs Just asks for pelting. It's shame makes life bad travelling— The stone in the shoe that lames you. Other folk Might be ashamed to do the things I've done: That's their look-out; they've got no call to do them: I've never done what I would blush to own to: I've got my self-respect. For all my talk, I'm proud of Michael: and you're proud of Ruth, I take it?


BELL: Then, where's the need for shame, Because they were come-by-chances? A mean thief That snivels, because the fruit he relishes Is stolen; and keeps munching it to the core. Married, and so lived happily ever after? A deal of virtue in a wedding-ring: And marriage-lines make all the difference, don't they? Your man and mine were born in lawful wedlock: And sober, honest, dutiful sons they've proved: While our two bastards, Ruth and ...

JUDITH: Never been A better daughter!

BELL: Then, what would you have? You've had her to yourself, without the worrit Of a man to wear your soul out, all these years. If I'd been married, before a week was through, I'd have picked my husband's pocket, to buy rats' bane: Envying the spiders who can gobble up Husbands they've no more use for between meals. But I wasn't born to kick my heels in air For a plaguey husband: and if I'm to dangle, 'Twon't be for that, but something worth putting myself Out of the way for. You say I'll scorn you, woman. Who 'm I, to scorn? You're not my sort: but I ken Too much of life for easy scorn: I've learnt The lessons of the road.

JUDITH: I've known the road, too; And learned its bitter ...

BELL: You didn't relish it? It's meat to me; but then, I like mixed pickles— Life, with an edge, and a free hand with the pepper. You can't make a good hotchpotch with only 'taties: And a good hotchpotch I'm fairly famished for: I've starved on the lean fare of Krindlesyke: My mouth is watering for the old savoury mess— Life, piping hot: for I'm no man-in-the-moon, To sup off cold peaseporridge: and it's the wash Of bitters over the tongue gives bite to the pepper: But you've no taste for bitters, or devilled collops— Roast scrag on Sunday: cold mutton and boiled 'taties The rest of the week, is the most you'd ask of life— Nay, a cup of milky tea by a white hearth— And you're in heaven!

JUDITH: You're not far out.

BELL: I take Mine, laced with rum, by a camp-fire under the stars; And not too dainty to mind the smatch of smoke.

JUDITH: Tastes differ.

BELL: Yet, for all my appetite, At Krindlesyke, I'm a ewe overhead in a drift That's cropped the grass round its feet, and mumbles its wool For nourishment: and that's what you call life! You're you: I'm I. It takes all turns for a circus: And it's just the change and chances of the ring Make the old game worth the candle: variety At all costs: hurly-burly, razzle-dazzle— Life, cowping creels through endless flaming hoops, A breakneck business, ending with a crash, If only in the big drum. The devil's to pay For what we have, or haven't; and I believe In value for my money.

1  2     Next Part
Home - Random Browse