A Play in One Act
First performed at the Molesworth Hall, Dublin, February 25th, 1904.
BARTLEY (her son).......... W. G. Fay
CATHLEEN (her daughter).... Sarah Allgood
NORA (a younger daughter).. Emma Vernon
MEN AND WOMEN
—An Island off the West of Ireland. (Cottage kitchen, with nets, oil-skins, spinning wheel, some new boards standing by the wall, etc. Cathleen, a girl of about twenty, finishes kneading cake, and puts it down in the pot-oven by the fire; then wipes her hands, and begins to spin at the wheel. NORA, a young girl, puts her head in at the door.)
NORA [In a low voice.]
Where is she?
CATHLEEN She's lying down, God help her, and may be sleeping, if she's able.
[Nora comes in softly, and takes a bundle from under her shawl.]
CATHLEEN [Spinning the wheel rapidly.]
What is it you have?
NORA The young priest is after bringing them. It's a shirt and a plain stocking were got off a drowned man in Donegal.
[Cathleen stops her wheel with a sudden movement, and leans out to listen.]
NORA We're to find out if it's Michael's they are, some time herself will be down looking by the sea.
CATHLEEN How would they be Michael's, Nora. How would he go the length of that way to the far north?
NORA The young priest says he's known the like of it. "If it's Michael's they are," says he, "you can tell herself he's got a clean burial by the grace of God, and if they're not his, let no one say a word about them, for she'll be getting her death," says he, "with crying and lamenting."
[The door which Nora half closed is blown open by a gust of wind.]
CATHLEEN [Looking out anxiously.]
Did you ask him would he stop Bartley going this day with the horses to the Galway fair?
NORA "I won't stop him," says he, "but let you not be afraid. Herself does be saying prayers half through the night, and the Almighty God won't leave her destitute," says he, "with no son living."
CATHLEEN Is the sea bad by the white rocks, Nora?
[She goes over to the table with the bundle.]
Shall I open it now?
[Coming to the table.]
It's a long time we'll be, and the two of us crying.
She's moving about on the bed. She'll be coming in a minute.
[They put the ladder against the gable of the chimney; Cathleen goes up a few steps and hides the bundle in the turf-loft. Maurya comes from the inner room.]
Isn't it turf enough you have for this day and evening?
[Nora picks up the turf and puts it round the pot-oven.]
He won't go this day with the wind rising from the south and west. He won't go this day, for the young priest will stop him surely.
He's coming now, and he's in a hurry.
Where is the bit of new rope, Cathleen, was bought in Connemara?
Give it to him, Nora; it's on a nail by the white boards. I hung it up this morning, for the pig with the black feet was eating it.
Is that it, Bartley?
I've no halter the way I can ride down on the mare, and I must go now quickly. This is the one boat going for two weeks or beyond it, and the fair will be a good fair for horses I heard them saying below.
[She looks round at the boards.]
Let you go down each day, and see the sheep aren't jumping in on the rye, and if the jobber comes you can sell the pig with the black feet if there is a good price going.
If the west wind holds with the last bit of the moon let you and Nora get up weed enough for another cock for the kelp. It's hard set we'll be from this day with no one in it but one man to work.
[Bartley lays down the halter, takes off his old coat, and puts on a newer one of the same flannel.]
Is she coming to the pier?
I'll have half an hour to go down, and you'll see me coming again in two days, or in three days, or maybe in four days if the wind is bad.
Isn't it a hard and cruel man won't hear a word from an old woman, and she holding him from the sea?
I must go now quickly. I'll ride down on the red mare, and the gray pony'll run behind me. . . The blessing of God on you.
[He goes out.]
He's gone now, God spare us, and we'll not see him again. He's gone now, and when the black night is falling I'll have no son left me in the world.
[Maurya takes up the tongs and begins raking the fire aimlessly without looking round.]
You're taking away the turf from the cake.
The Son of God forgive us, Nora, we're after forgetting his bit of bread.
[She comes over to the fire.]
It's destroyed he'll be, surely. There's no sense left on any person in a house where an old woman will be talking for ever.
[Maurya sways herself on her stool.]
Let you go down now to the spring well and give him this and he passing. You'll see him then and the dark word will be broken, and you can say "God speed you," the way he'll be easy in his mind.
Will I be in it as soon as himself?
It's hard set I am to walk.
Give her the stick, Nora, or maybe she'll slip on the big stones.
In the big world the old people do be leaving things after them for their sons and children, but in this place it is the young men do be leaving things behind for them that do be old.
[She goes out slowly. Nora goes over to the ladder.]
She's gone now. Throw it down quickly, for the Lord knows when she'll be out of it again.
The young priest said he'd be passing to-morrow, and we might go down and speak to him below if it's Michael's they are surely.
Did he say what way they were found?
"There were two men," says he, "and they rowing round with poteen before the cocks crowed, and the oar of one of them caught the body, and they passing the black cliffs of the north."
Give me a knife, Nora, the string's perished with the salt water, and there's a black knot on it you wouldn't loosen in a week.
I've heard tell it was a long way to Donegal.
It is surely. There was a man in here a while ago—the man sold us that knife—and he said if you set off walking from the rocks beyond, it would be seven days you'd be in Donegal.
[Cathleen opens the bundle and takes out a bit of a stocking. They look at them eagerly.]
The Lord spare us, Nora! isn't it a queer hard thing to say if it's his they are surely?
[Nora brings it to her and they compare the flannel.]
It's Michael, Cathleen, it's Michael; God spare his soul, and what will herself say when she hears this story, and Bartley on the sea?
It's a plain stocking.
It's that number is in it [crying out.] Ah, Nora, isn't it a bitter thing to think of him floating that way to the far north, and no one to keen him but the black hags that do be flying on the sea?
And isn't it a pitiful thing when there is nothing left of a man who was a great rower and fisher, but a bit of an old shirt and a plain stocking?
Tell me is herself coming, Nora? I hear a little sound on the path.
She is, Cathleen. She's coming up to the door.
We'll put them here in the corner.
[They put them into a hole in the chimney corner. Cathleen goes back to the spinning-wheel.]
[Nora sits down at the chimney corner, with her back to the door. Maurya comes in very slowly, without looking at the girls, and goes over to her stool at the other side of the fire. The cloth with the bread is still in her hand. The girls look at each other, and Nora points to the bundle of bread.]
You didn't give him his bit of bread?
[Maurya begins to keen softly, without turning round.]
[Maurya goes on keening.]
God forgive you; isn't it a better thing to raise your voice and tell what you seen, than to be making lamentation for a thing that's done? Did you see Bartley, I'm saying to you?
My heart's broken from this day.
Did you see Bartley?
God forgive you; he's riding the mare now over the green head, and the gray pony behind him.
The gray pony behind him.
What is it ails you, at all?
I've seen the fearfulest thing any person has seen, since the day Bride Dara seen the dead man with the child in his arms.
[They crouch down in front of the old woman at the fire.]
You did not, mother; it wasn't Michael you seen, for his body is after being found in the far north, and he's got a clean burial by the grace of God.
I'm after seeing him this day, and he riding and galloping. Bartley came first on the red mare; and I tried to say "God speed you," but something choked the words in my throat. He went by quickly; and "the blessing of God on you," says he, and I could say nothing. I looked up then, and I crying, at the gray pony, and there was Michael upon it—with fine clothes on him, and new shoes on his feet.
It's destroyed we are from this day. It's destroyed, surely.
It's little the like of him knows of the sea. . . . Bartley will be lost now, and let you call in Eamon and make me a good coffin out of the white boards, for I won't live after them. I've had a husband, and a husband's father, and six sons in this house—six fine men, though it was a hard birth I had with every one of them and they coming to the world—and some of them were found and some of them were not found, but they're gone now the lot of them. . . There were Stephen, and Shawn, were lost in the great wind, and found after in the Bay of Gregory of the Golden Mouth, and carried up the two of them on the one plank, and in by that door.
[She pauses for a moment, the girls start as if they heard something through the door that is half open behind them.]
Did you hear that, Cathleen? Did you hear a noise in the north-east?
There's some one after crying out by the seashore.
There was Sheamus and his father, and his own father again, were lost in a dark night, and not a stick or sign was seen of them when the sun went up. There was Patch after was drowned out of a curagh that turned over. I was sitting here with Bartley, and he a baby, lying on my two knees, and I seen two women, and three women, and four women coming in, and they crossing themselves, and not saying a word. I looked out then, and there were men coming after them, and they holding a thing in the half of a red sail, and water dripping out of it—it was a dry day, Nora—and leaving a track to the door.
[She pauses again with her hand stretched out towards the door. It opens softly and old women begin to come in, crossing themselves on the threshold, and kneeling down in front of the stage with red petticoats over their heads.]
Is it Patch, or Michael, or what is it at all?
[She reaches out and hands Maurya the clothes that belonged to Michael. Maurya stands up slowly, and takes them into her hands. NORA looks out.]
Is it Bartley it is?
[Two younger women come in and pull out the table. Then men carry in the body of Bartley, laid on a plank, with a bit of a sail over it, and lay it on the table.]
What way was he drowned?
[Maurya has gone over and knelt down at the head of the table. The women are keening softly and swaying themselves with a slow movement. Cathleen and Nora kneel at the other end of the table. The men kneel near the door.]
They're all gone now, and there isn't anything more the sea can do to me.... I'll have no call now to be up crying and praying when the wind breaks from the south, and you can hear the surf is in the east, and the surf is in the west, making a great stir with the two noises, and they hitting one on the other. I'll have no call now to be going down and getting Holy Water in the dark nights after Samhain, and I won't care what way the sea is when the other women will be keening. [To Nora]. Give me the Holy Water, Nora, there's a small sup still on the dresser.
[Nora gives it to her.]
It isn't that I haven't prayed for you, Bartley, to the Almighty God. It isn't that I haven't said prayers in the dark night till you wouldn't know what I'ld be saying; but it's a great rest I'll have now, and it's time surely. It's a great rest I'll have now, and great sleeping in the long nights after Samhain, if it's only a bit of wet flour we do have to eat, and maybe a fish that would be stinking.
[She kneels down again, crossing herself, and saying prayers under her breath.]
Maybe yourself and Eamon would make a coffin when the sun rises. We have fine white boards herself bought, God help her, thinking Michael would be found, and I have a new cake you can eat while you'll be working.
Are there nails with them?
ANOTHER MAN It's a great wonder she wouldn't think of the nails, and all the coffins she's seen made already.
[Maurya stands up again very slowly and spreads out the pieces of Michael's clothes beside the body, sprinkling them with the last of the Holy Water.]
NORA [In a whisper to Cathleen.]
She's quiet now and easy; but the day Michael was drowned you could hear her crying out from this to the spring well. It's fonder she was of Michael, and would any one have thought that?
An old woman will be soon tired with anything she will do, and isn't it nine days herself is after crying and keening, and making great sorrow in the house?
They're all together this time, and the end is come. May the Almighty God have mercy on Bartley's soul, and on Michael's soul, and on the souls of Sheamus and Patch, and Stephen and Shawn (bending her head]); and may He have mercy on my soul, Nora, and on the soul of every one is left living in the world.
[She pauses, and the keen rises a little more loudly from the women, then sinks away.]
Michael has a clean burial in the far north, by the grace of the Almighty God. Bartley will have a fine coffin out of the white boards, and a deep grave surely. What more can we want than that? No man at all can be living for ever, and we must be satisfied.
[She kneels down again and the curtain falls slowly.]