The Harbour Watch

 

 

by Rudyard Kipling

 

 

 

SCENE: Garden of AGG’s cottage on the Ashford Road — a summer morning.

(PYECROFT discovered filling his pipe).

PYE. (shouting down lane): Mornin’, Jenny. Another bright and balmy day for Emanuel, and not a livin’ hand’s turn o’ work to do in it. Why a man spends his leave in towns an’ similar places when he can ruralise like a pig in the country, beats me. (Enter JENNY). I ought to ha’ been a farmer, or a fruiterer or something. . . (nodding over gate).

JENNY (with paper): Mornin’ Mr. Pyecroft. Here’s your paper. It come with our milk.

PYE.: Thank you dear, but being on my well-earned holiday, I don’t much care how the British Navy is conductin’ itself during my absence. How’s your mother?

JENNY: Mother’s taken a turn for the better, the doctor says, but she can’t lift her hand to help herself, and the doctor says any excitement’ll kill her.

PYE.: She ought to live for ever in this place. I’ve spent my leaf the last two or three years here. I’ve never known anything happen that ’ud agitate the feelings of a rosebud, as you might say. You’re looking tired, Jenny.

JENNY: ’Tain’t work that tires a woman. It’s worry. (Nervously) Did Mr. Agg say anything to you about going down to the village this morning?

PYE.: Well, he’s dressed hisself all over with great care. (Pause). Agg’s not a lighthearted person to walk out with, as you might say.

JENNY: Oh, it’s worse than walking out with him —ten times worse. Mr. Pyecroft, can you tell me what’s the punishment for desertion in the Navy?

PYE.: Desertion in the Navy —which o’ your friends has been running up the beach-desertin’-of late?

JENNY: Albert; but he didn’t really mean . . .

PYE.: That’s what they all say. Is Albert the fairhaired youth with the bright blue eye that I’ve seen feeding your pig? I thought his flourish with the swill pail had been learned at loading drill. (Carelessly). Your brother, ain’t he?

JENNY: He’s my cousin, really, but he’s always been the same as a brother to Mother an’ me.

PYE.: Oh, I see!

JENNY: And Albert didn’t really mean to desert. They give him leaf on account o’ Mother’s being sick. She brought him up when his mother died —an’ seeing the state we was in, he would stay on ’till she died or got better. He’s been sitting up night after night with her, and now he tells me his ship’s went to Australia last week.

PYE.: Oh, Australia. What is his ship?

JENNY: The Acolyte. Bert’s half crazy about it. Mr. Agg says they’ll flog him at the gangway.

PYE. (explosively): Flog him at the gangway —for desertion? What does Agg know about the Navy?

JENNY: Hsh! You don’t know Mr. Agg. He lends money. There’s no getting away from him in our village, and for all he’s so old, he’s so quick. I told him about Albert yesterday, I thought he might help, but he says he’ll have Albert took up in the morning if … if … I don’t marry him.

PYE.: You marry Agg? He’s sixty-two. How old are you?

JENNY: I shall be eighteen in four months, but I ain’t very big for my age.

PYE.: The goat! The irreducible old goat!

JENNY: You mustn’t speak like that of Mr. Agg. Hsh, he’s coming.
(Exit JENNY).

(AGG slowly emerges from cottage, brushing down his hat).

PYE. (considering him thoughtfully): Four months short of eighteen! Married to that! (AGG pauses at gate, by PYECROFT). Where are you going?

AGG: I’m stepping down, in my quiet way, to the Three Crows.

PYE. (after glancing at the sun): It’s a shade early for drinks, but in my quiet way, I don’t mind joining you.

AGG: I won’t trouble you. This is dooty, not drinks.

PYE.: Oh!

AGG: Do you happen to know the penalty for desertion from the Navy?

PYE. (cautiously): Penalty for desertion. Ain’t it flogging at the gangway?

AGG: I ’ope so. That’s what a soldier man that I met at the Three Crows told me last night.

PYE.: You’ve met a soldier man at the Three Crows? You never told me.

AGG: I ain’t tellin’ everything I know, but in my quiet way, I think I know enough to settle some people’s hash. (Chuckles).

PYE. (jerking his thumb towards Jenny’s cottage): D’you mean about young Blashford’s desertion?

AGG (suspiciously): ’Oo told you?

PYE.: Oh, I can put two an’ two together as quick as most. Are they cornin’ to arrest young Blashford, then?

AGG: As a taxpayer, I’m takin’ that on myself, in my quiet way. I’ve give instructions to the soldier at the Three Crows to arrest him this morning. He told me last night he was heartbroke to think about the Navy going to the dogs.

PYE.: How kind of him! And him a soldier, you said.

AGG: He had a red coat, but he called himself Marine.

PYE. (enlightened): Marine? Oh! Ah!

AGG: The sort they keep on the boats to prevent you sailors from mutineerin’. He told me so.

PYE.: Of course. It slipped my memory. (With courtesy). ’Tain’t often one meets a taxpayer that knows as much of the service as you do, Mr. Agg.

AGG (gratified at flattery): I’ve always looked after my own property in my quiet way, and just now I’m lookin’ after the Navy. The Marine said that desertion in the Navy was growin’ fraud on the taxpayer, an’ he for one ’ud join ’eart an’ ’and in putting ’is foot down on it. That’s what the Marine said.

PYE. (aside): Then I take it he was an exceptional man.

AGG: I found ’im very openhearted an’ ’elpful, but he did warn me, now I come to think of it, he was different from most of ’em.

PYE.: ’Alf a mo’! Did the Marine shut ’is eyes —like this? (Imitates with slight lurch) an’ say, “That’s where I’m different from all other men”?

AGG: The very words. But don’t run away with the idea he was drunk. ’E wasn’t.

PYE.: No, it all comes of a rush with him. Then might he have said his name was Deadeye? Sergeant Richard Deadeye?

AGG: Just what he did. D’you know him then?

PYE.: Know him? (Guardedly). Not intimate, but it strikes a chord; it strikes a chord. If I’m right, I should ’ave no ’esitation in recom­mendin’ ’im as a man for your purpose, in a quiet way. You’re sendin’ ’im up ’ere to effect the arrest? You can count on ’im —an’ me!

AGG (raising his voice as he goes towards gate): I shall send him up at once to effect young Blashford’s arrest, an’ I’m glad you ’old my views about it.

PYE.: I don’t know what I hold yet. (Makes to open paper, leans his back against back of seat, reads).

JENNY (Enters; to AGG at the gate): Can’t I ’ave a word with you, Mr. Agg? I’ve been waiting since before breakfast.

AGG: Come in, Jenny.

JENNY: Please Mr. Agg, you ain’t ever goin’ to ’ave Albert took up.

AGG: If Albert ’ad been working on his ship, which we pore taxpayers paid him to, he’d ha’ been all right. If Albert chose to desert . . .

JENNY: ’E didn’t mean to. Albert didn’t mean it.

AGG: He can tell all that to the Court. He’ll ’ave a fair trial (chuckles) after he’s arrested and marched down the street before all his friends.

JENNY: It’ll kill Mother—just as she’s getting better. ’Aven’t you thought of that, Mr. Agg?

(AGG approaches her. She shrinks away).

AGG: ’Tis for you to think, Jenny Blashford. You know my terms.

JENNY: Ain’t there no other way?

AGG: There’s two ways. You can see ’em from here. One leads to the Rectory door. Tell me to take that and ask the Rector to put up the banns between us . . .

JENNY: An’ you a widower twice over. Think shame o’ yourself.

AGG: With my ’ouse and free’old, and what I ’ave in the bank? You’re crazy . . . ’tother way (points off)—you can see it from ’ere—goes direct to the Three Crows an’ a Sergeant of Royal Marine Light Infantry is waitin’ to arrest Albert as soon as I tell him. Free an’ fair I give you the choice of these two roads.

(All this time PYECROFT has been listening, the paper open in front of him).

PYE.: An’ I thought I knew somethin’ o’ crime, so to speak.

AGG (to Pyecroft): Wot?

PYE.: Oh, nothin’. The nuse is interesting.

AGG: I’m waitin’ my answer.

JENNY: Not if you was the last man left top of earth instead o’ only the wickedest. An’ Mother would uphold me.

AGG: I’ve other ways o’ dealing with your mother if you’re ’ard- ’earted. I ain’t ’ard-’earted. Perhaps you ’aven’t well thought it over. You’ll ’ave a few minutes yet. Good morning.

(Exit AGG).

JENNY (breaks clown sobbing at gate): ’Tain’t right. ’Tain’t fair. He hadn’t ought to do it.

PYE. (puts down paper): There, there, don’t panic. He won’t. For Gawd’s sake don’t shake like that, child. No one’s going to hurt you.

JENNY: It’s Albert. I don’t mind myself. It’s Albert. He’ll be took up, an’ it’ll kill Mother.

PYE.: Excuse the apparent bruskerie. (Picks her up and carries her bodily into the garden). (Aside). How light! That’s underfed! But . . . (puts her down on seat beneath window) now we can discuss family matters.

JENNY: But the soldier’s cornin’ to take up Bert. Mr. Agg said so.

PYE.: Then Bert must come over here. I say so.

JENNY: But it’s Mr. Agg’s own ’ouse.

PYE.: That’s why. I ’ope you’re too young, my dear, to understand it’s generally darkest under the search lamp. That’s tactics. If Mr. Agg’s patent deserter-catching Marine ’appens to be genuine – of which I ’ave grave doubts—he won’t enter my boudoir without an heated protest from me. If on the other hand, as I anticipate, Mr. Agg’s Marine is an old an’ ’ighly valued friend o’ mine of the name o’ Glass, sometimes known as Deadeye, why then, the situation will be boulversay as we remark in the entente cordiale. That’s strategy. D’you follow me?

JENNY: I don’t, but I believe you’ll help me. I’ll fetch Albert.

PYE.: Not in your present condition, my dear. (Slips arm round her). ’Aven’t I heard you an’ Albert signalisin’ to each other across the currant bushes of an evening? (Whistles). Something like this? I’ve been a signalman, but perhaps I’m not quite on to the code. Will you kindly call him up?

(JENNY whistles twice. ALBERT from cottage answers).

I thought so. That sort o’ Marconi installation is rarely out o’ order. Ah!

(Enter ALBERT)

JENNY: This is Mr. Pyecroft. He’ll help us, Bert. He’ll help us.

PYE.: Not till after a few simple questions. ’Tention! Leading Seaman Albert Blashford, you will now consider yourself on the quarter­deck in the presence of your Maker. Do you mean straight by this girl?

JENNY (bashfully): Oh, it haven’t got as far as that.

PYE. (slightly raising his hand to check her): D’you mean right by this woman, Blashford?

ALBERT: S’help me God, I do.

PYE: – Still! I want to look you over. (Walks round ALBERT looking him over carefully, and occasionally prodding him in back or chest). What makes your hands so disgustin’ lily white?

ALBERT: (sullenly): Dhobeyin’.

JENNY: Yes, and he’s been doin’ our washin’. He’s done everything for us. And he’s sent Mother half his pay for these last three years.

(PYECROFT nods approvingly).

ALBERT (sullenly): What else could I ha’ done?

JENNY (wringing her hands): I ’adn’t ought to ha’ wrote to him, but there wasn’t anybody else in the world that cared.

PYE.: Carry on, Leading Seaman Blashford.

ALBERT: Well, I got leaf an’ come to ’elp Jenny. She couldn’t do all the work, so I stayed on, leaf or no leaf. Yes, I’ve done the dhobeyin’ —the washin’ —and I ain’t ashamed of it, an’ I’ve fed that perishin’ pig like a bloomin’ steward.

PYE.: An’ let the Acolyte go to Australia without you last Tuesday.

ALBERT: I’d ha’ let the whole squadron go to hell.

PYE.: How kind of you. Well, leaving out hell and Australia, what’s your next move?

ALBERT: I don’t know; I’ve ’ad that to think of between times. (Groans). I was ‘oping to be torpedo-cox next year. (Wildly). But I’d do it again on the same provocation. What damned business is it of yours, anyway?

PYE. (quite placidly): All these symptoms are largely due to want o’sleep.

GLASS (in lane, singing thickly): “Kind Captain, we’ve important information, Sing ho. . .”. Hie!

(JENNY starts. PYECROFT crosses to ALBERT and guides him to porch).

PYE.: You’d better go up to my room and catch the bird.

JENNY: Catch birds! But he hasn’t had a wink of sleep for two nights past.

PYE.: I thought so. It means the same thing. Go to bye-bye Albert, in my room – the left at the ’ead of the stairs. It’s your watch below now. I’m in charge. (Pushes him off).

(ALBERT nods and at PYECROFT’S sign goes into house. As JENNY runs towards the gate GLASS appears, hangs over it owlishly and sings).

GLASS: “Concerning certain intimate relations …” (Becomes aware of JENNY’ and PYECROFT together). Oh, Pye, Pye! (JENNY recoils). Naughty, naughty, Pye.

PYE.: Edward! Richly—richly gilded.

(PYECROFT crosses to GLASS, shakes hands with him enthusiastically and drags him into garden, thus clearing the road for JENNY, who slips through gate and exits).

Edwardo Glasso! Of all created royal leathernecks. I thought I knew that manly baritone!

GLASS (pained): Basso, you blighter. Basso-profundo. Don’t you remember when we ’ad “Pinafore” on the old Archimandrite at Malta, what a perfectly paralysin’ Dick Deadeye I was?

PYE.: Perfectly paralytic—or vergin’ on it.

GLASS: Granted I may ’ave had a few, but I ’aven’t forgot my manners. That’s where I’m different from all other men. Introduce me to your brother. (Stares behind PYECROFT’S shoulder).

PYE. (looking round): Brother?

GLASS: Known ’im anywhere by likeness. Twins?

PYE. (working arm in circle): Siamese, chum, Siamese.

GLASS: I see! My fault. ’Pologise to both of you. (Wheeling). An’ lil’ sister. (Fretfully). Wasn’t there lil’ sister—triplets?

PYE: – No, Siamese too. (GLASS salutes). Don’t apologise. And what brings you on to this coast? (Leans him towards garden seat).

GLASS (scowling): Dooty! Simple sense of dooty!  (Both sit). (GLASS shuts eyes with awful solemnity, buttonholes PYECROFT, speaking with slow distinctness). Now lis’ me! Bri’sh taxpayer . . . free Crows . . . (Delighted). Didn’t I say that distinctly? (Severely). What did I say?

PYE.: An honest British Taxpayer at the Three Crows. Beautifully you said it.

GLASS (scorning him): You haven’t got my Prishian accent. Honest, British Taxpayer, Three Crows, give me (feels for trouser pocket) half quid address bashful boy for desertion from Bri’sh Navy.

PYE.: To address a bashful boy? I wouldn’t recommend you for this job, Edward.

GLASS: No! No! Qui’ wrong. Gave me half quid arresht bashful boy from Bri’sh Navy. (Returns coin). Addresh bashful boy other pocket. (Rises, feels extensively). I can’t find address. (Tearfully). Careless lil’ devils bashful boys are. (Preparing to take off trousers). Here! You take an’ look.

PYE.: Keep ’em on Edward. (Pulls GLASS on to seat). No sayin’ when you’ll want ’em.

GLASS (with intense admiration): Qui’ ri’. What a man you are, shinks of everything. (Endearingly, arm round PYECROFT’S neck). Wha’s shinkin’ of now, dear? (Smacks PYECROI’T’S face).

PYE.: I’m thinkin’ you ain’t in a condition to arrest anything excep’ the attention of the police.

GLASS: Nonshense! Shimpie commershie transaction. You give me five pounds I’ll arresht whole Bri’sh Board Admiralty. No? You’re old friend o’ mine. I’ll do it for tuppence.

PYE.: Edward! Drop the persiflage. What the ’ell ’ave you been doing?

GLASS: Hush! Mustn’t address me like that! Mine’s a sad story. You know me. Besht seriocomique, besht ba’joist, besht corner man an’ knock-about on whole Bri’sh Fleet. . . deserted . . . deserted … by his own ship. (Nearly weeps).

PYE.: What ship?

GLASS: ACOLYTE! Acolyte! Stinkin’ old Acolyte! (Falls on PYE­CROFT’S chest).

PYE. (pushing GLASS away): You another happy Acolyte left on the beach? What ye goin’ to do?

GLASS: Me? (severely; rising and holding on to seat): Goin’ to write papers about it. Prepare to take message. (Head erect, eyes shut). My dear sir, I, Edward Glass, Royal Marine Light Infantry, one in number, have the honour to report Majesty’s two, fifteen four, fif­teen six and a pair’s eight—eight funnelled cruiser Acolyte, one in number—departed from Chatham 11.42 a.m.Tuesday last, bound for Australian station. Light variable winds. Small fine rain. Large pink Marines on quarterdeck headed by Edward Glass, RMLI, who excited universal admiration. Got that down?

PYE.: There’s something floating in his alleged mind. (Wearily). Yes, Edward.

GLASS: Manoeuvred as requisite opposite Ramsgate and similar places to avoid passenger steamers denshly packed with honest Bri’sh Taxpayers, all anxious to see Edward Glass ’oo bore his blushing honours meekly. Got that down? Subsequen’ to which steampipe burst in engine room with sull thickening dud . . . thull dickening sud. (Petulantly). You know what I mean —scaldin’ two stokers which prob’ly did ’em a lot of good, but necessitatin’ im­mediate return to Chatham where am lying at present.

PYE.: Chatham! The Acolyte at Chatham.

GLASS: Yesh! Lots little war canoes lies Chatham.

PYE.: The Acolyte’s broke down an’ put back to Chatham? Are you lyin’? There’s a lot depends on it. Where’s the paper? (Turns to hunt for it in garden as GLASS maunders on).

GLASS: ’Ush! Message continues. Subsequent to which this popular and ’ighly applauded Edward Glass, who was the life an’ soul of the ship—got that down? With commendable agility applied for twenty-four hours leave to soothe dying virgin maiden aunt at Maidstone, which don’t matter in the least, and the unfortunate man ’as not been ’eard of since. (During this monologue PYECROFT has been hunting wildly through morning paper. GLASS suddenly opens eyes and stares reproachfully). Why do you read papers—middle my sad fam’ly history?

PYE. (one hand held up): To check your statements. Why, it’s true. (Reads swiftly). Acolyte cruiser. Departure postponed for a week at least.

GLASS: Hush! Only just recovering from death maiden aunt. Never mind? Poor Aunt never rejoices. (Sits). Pye! Pye! ’Fraid I’ve overstayed my leaf. (Half rises, but collapses, looking affectionately at his legs).

PYE: – So has Albert, but it ain’t desertion. He’s only overstayed his leave. Now how can I work this?

GLASS (rises, falls back in seat. To his legs with deep sympathy). I know it! Good Lord! You ought to be in tights, you two! You’re wasted in trousers. (Whispers). But don’t you try to walk. You keep quiet. They’ll come for you presently. (Pats them). You’re all right. I’ve just been tellin’ large body o’ friends here —take away Edward Glass from Acolyte—take away prop modle Bri’sh drama.

(PYECROIT sits down by GLASS, looking at him).

PYE. (In GLASS’S ear): I want you sober, Edward. You don’t know how sober I want you. (Shakes him). It’s immediate action. Fall in Marines!

GLASS (rising, trying to salute): Regret report magazines tee-tee totally flooded.

(Enter JENNY cautiously).

JENNY: Was it all right about the soldier? (Catches sight of GLASS) Oh, I see it is.

PYE.: Far from it. Agg may be back at any moment. Fetch a bucket o’ water from the scullery. (JENNY nods wisely and scuttles off). Glass! (Shakes him). Here’s a lady to see you . . . (aside) If that doesn’t fetch him, he must be immortally disguised.

GLASS (trying desperately to pull himself together): Lady? Wha’ lady? No! No! Modle Bri’sh beauty, mustn’t see prop modle Bri’sh drama fallen state. What! (Hears bucket clank). Hullo, ’ullo . . . (JENNY enters with bucket and cloth). (Taking off tunic). That’s Siamese lil’ sister. (Ingratiatingly, pointing off). Loo—look at pretty lil’ dicky bird on pretty lil’ trees. Don’t look at me!

JENNY (putting down bucket, sighing): You needn’t mind me, I’m used to it.

GLASS (taking off tunic and staring profoundly into bucket): ’Tis true . . . ’tis pity . . . an’ pity ’tis, ’tis true. (Ducks head; to JENNY as he emerges). Which of ’em?

JENNY (handing PYECROFT wet cloth): My father.

GLASS: Gawd ‘elp yer! (Ducks head again).

JENNY: (as he comes up): But ’e’s dead.

GLASS: (swabbing his head, in more sober voice): Ah, that’s better. (To PYECROFT) We’re emergin’. (Mops face, slips tunic on, and stands erect with change of manner and expression). And now if you’ll make us mutually acquainted, Mr. Pyecroft, we can come to that immediate action you were alluding to.

PYE.: This is Miss Jenny Blashford, actin’ sister to the bashful boy you was comin’ to arrest. Are you sure you’re in an intelligible con­dition, because the local shoals and reefs are intricate and tortuous?

GLASS (with crisp articulation): Local shoals and reefs are intricate and tortuous. What more proof do you want?

PYE.: The said boy, alias Seaman Albert Blashford, is at present in my bedroom under this roof, which I considered the safest place for an alleged deserter.

GLASS: I see. The — boy — is — in — the — bed. (Nods head profoundly, hand on forehead).

PYE.: But it now transpires (turns to JENNY) that Albert ain’t a deserter in a technical sense.

JENNY: Albert no deserter?

PYE.: The Acolyte has had to put back to Chatham for repairs. It’s in the papers. (Hands paper to JENNY)

JENNY: Then he can catch it at Chatham?

PYE.: No doubt about his catchin’ it, (JENNY starts) but not to any vital extent. There’s a difference between lettin’ your ship sail without you, which is aggravated desertion, an’ going for a little walk on the beach while your ship’s bein’ repaired, which . . .

GLASS (who has been combing his hair with small tooth comb): May happen to the best and wisest of us.

JENNY: Then Albert’ll have to go to Chatham at once. I’ll call him. He will be pleased.

PYE.: Will he? (JENNY, who was about to leave, stops). To think of your being left alone with Agg?

JENNY: I don’t care, as long as Bert’s safe. (Reads paper).

GLASS: Agg? Agg? I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure.

PYE. (reminiscently): He is your Honest British Taxpayer, at the Three Crows. Yes, and this is his house you’re admiring so generous.

GLASS: Oh! An’ Albert is—er—within? (Points to window). I see. That’s strategy.

PYE.: To discuss family matters for the moment, our Mr. Agg has been terrorisin’ this child here by threats of having Albert took up for desertion if she don’t marry him.

(GLASS nods with deepest attention).

JENNY: Oh, that don’t matter, if Bert’s safe.

PYE. (in dry official tone): I omitted to state Albert has been in the habit of sending ’is pay to ’is actin’ mother and actin’ sister, for the last three years. Albert’s an actin’ brother . . .

GLASS (loftily): Ain’t I told you I’m sober. (To JENNY) What does your mother say about your marryin’ my Honest British Taxpayer?

JENNY: She’d uphold me against him if she could speak, but she had a stroke last week and . . . Oh, won’t you take Albert to Chatham and ’ave it all forgot and forgiven?

(PYECROFT puts his arm round JENNY’S neck).

GLASS (meditatively, rubbing chin): What a very nice old gentleman Mr. Agg must be. I feel I’d like to know more about him, Emanuel.

PYE. (dry official tone): I omitted to state that Mr. Agg lends money in his quiet way to the rustics o’ these parts. ’Ence ’is local prestige.

JENNY: There’s no getting away from Mr. Agg in our village. He’s so wicked clever. We’re all afraid of him.

GLASS (abstractedly): He believed I was a Sergeant in my private’s tunic. He believed floggin’ was the punishment for desertion. Why, he believed me! (Laughs). Credulous blighter. (Falls into a muse).

JENNY: You see, we all owe Mr. Agg something.

PYE. (gravely): So we do, Miss Blashford. I’m glad you’ve reminded us. Now, you run along back to your ma. (Exit JENNY) (After a pause). Partner, I leave it to you.

GLASS: (slowly): The — boy — is — in — the — bed — in — the — house — of — Agg. The way Sergeant Richard Sherlock ’Olmes Deadeye looks at it is that Mr. Agg has been harbourin’ the deserter Albert Blashford in yonder ivied bower. (Points to house).

PYE.: What’s the range? Say that again, Sergeant Deadeye.

GLASS: Mr. Agg has been harbourin’ Albert the deserter under his own roof. (Claps PYECROFT on shoulder). Are the sights cornin’ on now?

PYE. (ecstatic): To a hair. Edward Glass, you’re a three way miracle. Of course Agg’s been harbourin’ Albert in his quiet way.

GLASS: Ah! And most probably supplyin’ him with disguises to facilitate his escape, eh?

PYE.: That ’ud naturally foller, wouldn’t it? Meantime o’ course, Al­bert don’t know that he’s been harboured.

GLASS: Then lead on to Albert’s bridal bower and explain it to him. (PYECROFT exits through house. GLASS crosses and stops at porch).

(AGG and JENNY appear in lane).

AGG (to Jenny): But it isn’t Albert this time. It’s something much worse.

GLASS (from porch, cocking ears): He’s terrorisin’ her again.

PYE. (within): The blushing Albert’s fast asleep. In Agg’s bed too.

GLASS: Don’t wake him. I’m coming up. Hsh!

(Goes into house as AGG and JENNY enter gate).

AGG: I ain’t ’ard-’earted. You tell me Albert’s gone away. I say you warned him: but I’m willing to overlook it. ’Twould have disgraced the family to have him marched down the street ’andcuffed. Come into my house.

JENNY: I’ll never cross your doorstep livin’.

AGG: Then we can sit in the garden. They’ll both be yours when you say the word, Jenny.

(JENNY sits on edge of seat. AGG sits).

(GLASS and PYECROET appear at upper window).

Now puttin’ Albert out of the question, I told you in my quiet way I ’ad other means of making you see what’s right. (Feels in pocket and produces greasy note-book). One way an’ another I’ve lent your father and mother (extracts small paper) twenty-eight pounds, fourteen shillings and eleven-pence—without interest. I never re­member pressin’ ’em for interest (with intention) after you began to grow up.

JENNY (horror-stricken): That was while Mrs. Agg was living.

AGG: Yes, while my second wife was alive. But you can’t bind fancy. My loan was a fancy investment. I let the interest on ’em ripen. It’s ripe now. Your mother has often told me she can’t pay. Can you, Jenny?

JENNY: Why do you mock me? You know I can’t. (Weakly). Let me see the paper.

AGG: No, you won’t do that. It’s what they call a promissory note. You might destroy it an’ then there’d be no evidence. (Returns paper to note-book, which he keeps under his hand on the table). I ain’t doin’ nothin’ illegal; but I’m a quiet boy, I know ’ow the law can be worked.

JENNY: Oh, Mr. Agg.

AGG (after a pause): You can’t pay? Are you willin’ to allow your mother to be sold up? Are you?

JENNY (wildly): Say what you mean! Say it right out loud so as God can hear you.

GLASS (with appreciation): That’s good!

AGG: I ain’t ashamed of it. I want you in fair and lawful matrimony and when a man’s as old as I be, what he wants, he wants quick, because he knows his days are drawin’ in. Once I married (hand over brow) to please my youth. Twice I married for money same as my second married me. Now I’m going to marry to please my age, because the days are drawin’ in. You wouldn’t understand. You’re too young.

GLASS (to PYECROFT): – He means it.

JENNY: Why don’t you ask a woman instead of terrifying a pore girl like me? You’d only be taking a torment to yourself for the rest of your days.

AGG: I’ve thought of that too, hours an’ hours, settin’ in my house. And then I’ve thought of you as I think of you. But you wouldn’t understand.

GLASS: Poor devil! He must have been a man thirty years ago.

PYE.: If Albert was listenin’ he’d be a corpse!

GLASS: He has lived. That’s what’s doin’ it.

JENNY (with a shudder): You say you’ll sell up Mother in her bed if I don’t marry you?

AGG: I say that. You can judge whether I am in earnest. And when you are sold up what will you do? What haveyow got to do with? A lace pillow, a little laundry work and a bed-rid mother.

JENNY: I … I don’t eat much. (Drops head on table and sobs).

AGG: You think people’ll help you? Not they. They’ll spend their feelin’s in talking about my hard heart. (Chuckles). I reckon they owe me too much to talk too loud. No! People give you nothin’ un­less you give ’em something you can’t buy again. I’m tellin’ you truth. (Opens hand and neglects pocket-book).

PYE.: We’d better break him now. We might kill ’im later.

GLASS: He ain’t far off the truth.

JENNY (flinging up head): Oh, Gawd can’t let people be so cruel.

AGG: Yes, but He can . . . an’ does. Nobody’s being cruel except you. (Pleadingly). But you won’t go so far as that, Jenny. You’ll see right and reason, an’ we’ll ’ave Mother looked after as careful as money can buy, and there’s worse things than bein’ an old man’s darling, Jenny, and . . . see here, (moves up to her) Jenny, I ain’t blind, but if you care afterwards … if Albert comes and sees you in a quiet way, I won’t say too much.

(JENNY raises head and begins to rise. PYECROFT groans audibly).

GLASS: Christ! That’s touched bottom. Come on! Bring Albert along. (Disappears from window).

JENNY (at full height by table): You wicked . . . wicked . . . wicked! Oh, there’s no name for you. No! No! No! Not if Albert was to be took up this minute before my eyes!

(GLASS in porch, hand on ALBERT’S shoulder).

(ALBERT is half awake and PYECROFT is huddling him into AGG’s ulster).

GLASS: Come on, it’s no use resistin’.

ALBERT (sulkily, as PYECROFT pulls down his collar): What are you making me this fool for? I ain’t resistin’.

PYE. (with final tug): Obey orders! You’re resistin’ desperate. (To GLASS) Don’t forget the promissory note, chum.

(GLASS runs ALBERT from porch into table at which AGG is sitting. Table upsets, pocket-book drops, GLASS puts his foot on it and scrapes it backwards towards PYECROFT who shuffles it into the porch where he deliberately opens it and extracts document).

AGG (recovering himself after stramash): Why, it’s Albert. (To JENNY with vindictive triumph). Now you’ll see him publicly took up for a deserter, after all.

JENNY: He ain’t a deserter really. (To ALBERT) Bert, you ain’t really deserted. (Explains volubly to ALBERT for some time).

AGG: ’Asn’t he? You’ll see ’im walked down the street ’andcuffed just the same. (To GLASS) What do they get for this, Sergeant?

(PYECROFT in porch destroys paper with match).

GLASS: Let that pass. Mr. William Agg, I found this man in your house, on your bed; disguised, if I mistake not, in your clo’es.

AGG: Yes, that’s my ulster . . . ! Of all the wicked impudence. You’ll want me at the trial, Sergeant?

GLASS: William Agg, I arrest you in the King’s name for aiding and abetting Albert Blashford to desert from the Royal Navy.

(Horror of AGG. GLASS winks placidly at JENNY)

AGG (recovering): You talk of arresting me . . . for ’elpin’ . . . ’im! (Stutters with rage).

GLASS: I don’t. I have arrested you. My duty now is to caution you that anything you say may be used in evidence against you.

AGG: Me? You’re out of your mind! Just because that young devil is wearin’ my best coat before my very eyes, and ’as been in my bed under my own roof.

PYE. (loud aside): If you’d only told me, Mr. Agg, you was goin’ to ’elp Albert in your quiet way.

AGG: But I wasn’t. You know I was doin’ my best, in my quiet way, to have him took up.

ALBERT: Oh, it was him, was it?

(ALBERT half moves towards AGG. JENNY goes to him).

JENNY: I didn’t tell you, Bert dear, I was afraid you’d be angry.

AGG (to GLASS): An’ didn’t I give you half sov. at the Three Crows this very mornin’ for the very purpose of arrestin’ him? You’ve got the money in your pocket now.

GLASS: Of course. The money will be produced in Court together with the false address you gave me. (Produces paper). I didn’t find the prisoner where you alleged him to be. I found ’im here. What your motive was in thus misleadin’ me you can explain to the Court. You’ll ’ave a fair trial.

AGG: But this is ridiculous! You can’t get people locked up just as you please.

GLASS: Can’t I? (Feeling inside his tunic; to PYECROFT) – I didn’t expect two of ’em, so I ’aven’t a spare pair of ’andcuffs.

AGG: You can’t do it without a warrant I tell you. Where’s your warrant? I know the law as well as you do.

GLASS: ’E admits knowin’ the law on the subject of desertion. (Turns to PYECROFT). Remember that because you’ll be wanted at the trial.

JENNY (clasping hands with delight): Wanted at the trial. I’ll tell ’em all about him!

PYE.: Look ’ere, Sergeant, Mr. Agg is ’ighly respected an’ popular in the village. It ’ud break their ’earts to see ’im ’andcuffed in broad daylight.

JENNY (moves to AGG; GLASS stops her): Him popular? Him respected? They’d more like turn out an’ throw stones at him. There ain’t a woman alive ’ud look at you after this.

AGG: I’m not thinking of any woman now, I’m thinking of my little business, my character and my reputation.

GLASS: You’ll have a fair trial. I dare say you’ll be able to live it down, if innocent.

AGG (brokenly): I’m sixty-three. What time ’ave I got? It’ll ruin my business. I ain’t afraid of the truth, but—oh Lord, I’ve used the law in my quiet way, I know how it can be worked; but . . .

GLASS (to AGG): You can communicate your last instructions to your friends. (To lovers). March!

(JENNY and ALBERT move as if about to go off. GLASS is about to follow. AGG and PYECROFT sit together. AGG finds pocket-book, returns it to his pocket).

AGG: Offer him a sovereign.

PYE.: I don’t know what you mean. A sovereign to a man of his position ’ud be an insult. Fifty pounds is nearer the mark.

AGG (almost screaming): Fifty pounds! That’s a strong man’s keep for a year.

JENNY (pleadingly to GLASS): Can’t I tell ’em in the village? They all owe him something.

AGG (groans): Ungrateful young viper! I used to give her sweeties.

PYE.: She seems to have forgotten ’em. Well, as I was saying, with Jenny in the witness box and the village hostile, you won’t stand an earthly. Let alone the nasty pieces in the papers.

AGG (groaning again): I’d forgot that. True or not true, there’ll be them. An’ ’tisn’t as if I’d done anything.

PYE. (soothingly): Of course not. It’s only the talk an’ the scandal an’ the bein’ preached at in Chapel that worries us. I’ll get you your chance to slip away an’ you can slip up to London, an’ I’ll try an’ settle it with the Sergeant for those fifty pounds you offered just now.

AGG: Yes, but . . .

PYE.: It’s a big risk for me . . .

AGG: But you’re only a sailor man and I’m a respectable householder. (Cunningly). If I slip off in my quiet way, I needn’t pay him any­thing, and—look here—I’ll give you thirty shillings.

PYE. (with deep disgust): I wasn’t takin’ these risks for money.

AGG (catching at PYECROFT’s sleeve): Don’t you cast me off, Mr. Pye – croft, I’ll go . . . if you get me the chance.

PYE. (promptly): For fifty—cash.

AGG: I’ll write you a cheque from Lunnon tomorrow.

PYE.: I do believe you’d haggle on the drop of the livin’ gallows. If I can’t settle cash, when you’ve bolted, the Sergeant’ll have you in the Police Gazette—photo, reward an’ all.

AGG: ’Tain’t right nor justice.

PYE.: No, it’s blackmail an’ bribery—but it’s your only chance.

AGG (moving towards house): I don’t believe I have that much money in the house.

PYE. (severely): I’ll ’elp you look. (To GLASS) Prisoner quite ready, Sir, only wishes to pack his little bag. (Salutes).

GLASS (impatiently): Escort prisoner to pack little bag. I ’old you re­sponsible for his safe custody.

PYE. (to AGG): You ’ear that, and I’m betrayin’ his sacred confidence— all for you. (Takes AGG’s arm and leads him to the porch).

AGG (waiting at the porch): If I’d done anything I wouldn’t have grutched the money, and I haven’t done anything.

(AGG disappears into house with PYECROFT)

GLASS (kindly to ALBERT): I think Mr. Agg will want his coat back soon. Wouldn’t you like to give it to him?

ALBERT (with fervour): Shouldn’t I just? (Takes off coat).

(ALBERT exits after them, preparing for action).

GLASS: Come back when you’ve quite finished helping him on with it.

JENNY: What’s Mr. Agg going to get?

GLASS: Plenty. He won’t worry you any more.

JENNY: You don’t know Mr. Agg. He’s that wicked and clever you would not believe. And Mother owes him money.

GLASS: I don’t think she does—now.

JENNY: I know she does. Mr. Agg showed it me, a paper, not five minutes back, over her own hand.

GLASS: Mr. Agg’s unlucky today. I think he’s mislaid that paper. Mind, I’m not sure, but I want you to promise you won’t pay him a penny till he shows you the documents. Promise!

JENNY: I promise. ’Tain’t cheatin’ because we’ve paid it him twice over in interest. (Keenly). Does that mean Mr. Agg’s got no more hold over me?

GLASS: We say so an’ we hope so. (With a burst of genial vanity). Didn’t I do it all beautifully, Jenny? Ah! You’ve seen Edward Glass at his best. (Ruefully, sees bucket). And at his worst, too.

JENNY (softly): I’m used to that. My father, he died of it.

GLASS: So did mine, my dear. So did mine.

JENNY: Gawd knows I’ve seen the ’arm of it all my life.

GLASS: So’ve I, my dear. (PYECROFT appears at porch joyously). Hullo! Excuse me! Lord Charles Beresford is signailin’.

PYE. (aloud): The defeated enemy is navigating towards the station, all funnels sparking briskly, after disastrous collision with Royal Albert.

VOICES (off, in the lane): Hullo! You at the house there! What ship’s that?

PYE. (high falsetto): Oh, there’s nasty common marines in the lane, mum.

GLASS (crosses up to gate): That’s the picket from the Acolyte lookin’ for me. You see she can’t get on without me for more than twenty-four hours at a stretch. (Enter ALBERT, somewhat heated). You’ve caught Mr. Agg then, Albert?

ALBERT: Not ’arf.

GLASS (kindly): I ’ope he didn’t catch cold.

(ALBERT sits by JENNY).

PYE. (emerging from porch with small bag): Previous to departure, the defeated enemy paid large indemnity in undeniable, unidentifiable gold. (To JENNY). It’s a good little girl’s keep for two years. Catch!

GLASS: ’Ere! Ain’t it more in the nature of a tribute to Sergeant Sher­lock Holmes Deadeye?(PYECROFT throws bag to GLASS). I don’t want the filthy dross ’cause I’d only spend it, but it’s a tribute none the less. (Holds out hand).

PYE.: Yes.

GLASS: Catch! (Throws bag to JENNY). You can buy your Albert’s dis­charge with some o’ that.

JENNY: Buy your discharge? (Turns to ALBERT). Oh, Bert, did you ’ear that?

ALBERT (without too much joy): I ’eard, but… it ’ud mean leavin’ the Service for one thing.

PYE.: Yes, an’ feeding all the little pigs for another.

GLASS: Leave ’im alone. (Pause). Well, Albert?

ALBERT: I was settin’ out to be torpedo-cox next year, and … it ’ud mean leavin’ the service. It’s very temptin’, but (trying to explain) this looks like as if I was tryin’ to hide behind petticoats. It’s her money.

JENNY: No. It’s theirs by rights. (Points to PYECROFT). They’ve give it to me, ’aven’t you? You needn’t ’ave no scruples on that, Bert. (PYECROFT is about to speak. GLASS lays hand restrainingly upon him).

GLASS: Let him alone, chum.

ALBERT (with gulp): I can’t talk very much, but I know it means and . . . and . . . the choice is fair tearin’ me in two . . . but . . . but … if Jenny can stand it for two years, I’d … I’d rather, I’d sooner stay in the Service.

(Pause).

PYE.: Miss Blashford, you’re going to marry what looks very like a man.

JENNY (with gulp and sob): Then . . . then I must try to be a woman, musn’t I? (Gets up and kisses ALBERT). It’s ’ard, Bertie, now you’ve put it so, but . . . but I wouldn’t ’ave it any other way, not if you got down on your knees and pleaded to me. I can’t thank, I can’t bless (turns to PYECROFT and GLASS) you two enough for what you’ve done for me. You ’adn’t any call or reason to do it.

GLASS (laughs): Well, my father drunk himself to death for one thing.

JENNY: Aah! Don’t talk like that, Mr. Glass. You don’t . . . you can’t know what you’ve saved me—yes, and Mother—from. (Sobs).

PYE.: I haven’t done anything. Excep’ a few necessary evolutions which there’s no need to enter in the log-book, bless you! (Puts out hand).

JENNY (to ALBERT): You don’t mind, Bertie, do you? (Kisses PYECROFT).

PYE.: Lord! Am I getting as old as all that? (Kisses her carefully on fore­head). Mor’ver Bertie don’t mind. Look out, Edward!

GLASS (still at gate): I am looking out. That blighted picket has gone right past the gate. (Grunts). Expect me to run after ’em in this water. (Bellows over gate). Hi! (Sings). “If you’re goin’ to marry me, marry me, Bill. It’s no use muckin’ about”. Ha! That fetched ’em—at the double!

PYE. (tenderly to JENNY): You’d better say good-bye to your Albert. He’ll be going back to his ship now.

(ALBERT crosses to JENNY)

JENNY: It’s . . . it’s only for two years, ain’t it, Bert dear? (Flings herself into ALBERT’S arms. They stand absorbed in their leave-taking at the back of the stage).

GLASS (over gate): ’Alt! Dress! A little smarter on the left, if you please, Corporal Walters.

(PYECROFT goes indoors promptly).

WALTERS: Stow it, Glass. We’ve been lookin’ for you.

GLASS: Lookin’? I’ve been howling after you like a pack of blessed beagles. But ’twas ever thus! (Opens gate and admits picket). It a man has private reasons of his own for not being took, you fair get between his legs every minute. If he does want you, you’re like the police—’ard to get an’ useless when caught. Have you (jerks thumb towards JENNY) ever noticed that, Corporal Walters?

WALTERS: Yes. I see.

(JENNY breaks down in ALBERT’S arms. GLASS wheels WALTERS and the picket with their backs to the lovers. Strikes attitude).

GLASS: You’ve noticed it?

“. . . Man, poor man—” That’s me, Corporal Walters.

“—Dressed in a little poor authority—” That’s you, Corporal Walters.

“—Plays such fantarstic tricks before high Heaven—” You might have seen ’em, Corporal Walters.

“—As make the Angels weep!”

(JENNY blinded with tears breaks away and bolts out of the gate behind the picket).

And that’s one of ’em.

WALTERS: We ’eard her cryin’. That’s why we waited.

(PYECROFT emerges from house with beer on a tray).

GLASS: Behold the reward of virtue! (To PYECROFT). I knew I could trust you, Emanuel. I don’t know how you feel, but I’ve earned mine. (GLASS flings himself heavily into garden seat, jerking thumb towards ALBERT who is whistling miserably as he stares after JENNY,).

Leading Seaman Blashford is takin’ a drop o’ bitters strictly on his own. (To PYECROFT). Pass the bubbly.

WALTERS (fascinated by the sight of beer which PYECROFT pours seduc­tively). I don’t mind if I do.

(PYECROFT hands beer to Marines).

PYE. (with brimming glass): Edward, here’s to you. My very best! (Drinks).

GLASS (with glass): Emanuel! Ditto! (Drinks, glass between his knees at the finish). That was damn good!

 

CURTAIN