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    Lascelles Abercrombie

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    The End of the World

                  PERSONS

    HUFF, the Farmer
    SOLLERS, the Wainwright.
    MERRICK, the Smith.
    VINE, the Publician.
    SHALE, the Labourer.
    A DOWSER.
    MRS HUFF.
    WARP, the Molecatcher
    Men and Women of the Village


                  ACT I

    Scene: A public-house kitchen. HUFF the Farmer and SOLLERS the Wainwright talking; another man, a stranger, sitting silent.

    Huff
    Ay, you may think we're well off --

    Sollers                   Now for croaks
    Old toad! who's trodden on you now? -- Go on;
    But if you can, croak us a new tune.

    Huff                   Ay
    You think you're well off -- and don't grab my words
    Before they're spoken -- but some folks, I've heard,
    Pity us, living quiet in the valley.

    Sollers
    Well, I suppose 'tis their affair.

    Huff                 Is it?
    But what I mean to say, -- if they think small
    Of us that live in the valley, mayn't it show
    That we aren't all so happy as we think?
      MERRICK the smith comes in.

    Merrick
    Quick, cider! I believe I've swallowd a coal.

    Sollers
    Good evening. True, the heat's a wonder tonight.          [Smith draws himself cider.

    Huff
    Haven't you brought your flute? We've all got room
    For music in our minds to-night, I'll swear.
    Working all day in the sun do seem to push
    The thought out of your brain.

    Sollers                      O, 'tis the sun
    Had trodden on you? That's what makes you croak?
    Ay, whistle him somewhat: put a tune in his brain;
    He'll else croak us out of pleasure with drinking.

    Merrick
    'Tis quenching, I believe. -- A tune? Too hot?
    You want a fiddler.

    Huff              Nay, I want your flute.
    I like a piping sound, not scraping o' guts.

    Merrick
    This is no weather for a man to play
    Flutes or music at all that asks him spend
    His breath and spittle: you want both yourself
    These oven days. Wait till a fiddler comes.

    Huff
    Who ever comes down here?

    Sellers               There's someone come.
                [Pointing with his pipe to the stranger.

    Merrick
    Good evening, mister. Are you a man for tunes?

    Stranger
    And if I was I'ld give you none to-night.

    Merrick
    Well, no offence: there's no offence, I hope,
    In taking a dummy for a tuneful man.
    Is it for can't or won't you are?

    Stranger
    You wouldn't if you carried in your mind
    What I've been carrying all day.

    Sollers                                What's that?

    Stranger
    You wait; you'll know about it soon; O yes,
    Soon enough it will find you and and rouse you.

    Huff
    Now ain't that just the way we go down here?
    Here in the valley we're like dogs in a yard,
    Chained to our kennels and wall'd in all round,
    And not a sound of the world jumps over our hills.
    And when there comes a passenger among us,
    One who has heard what's stirring out beyond,
    'Tis a grutchy mumchance fellow in the dismals!

    Stranger
    News, it it, you want? I could give you news! --
    I wonder, did you ever hate to feel
    The earth so fine and splendid?

    Huff                 Oh, you're one
    Has stood in the brunt of the world's wickedness,
    Like me? But listen, and I'll give you a tale
    Of wicked things done in this little valley,
    Done against me, will surely make you think
    The Devil here fetcht up his masterpiece.

    Sollers
    Ah, but it's hot enough without you talking
    Your old hell fire about that pair of sinners.
    Leave them alone and drink.

    Huff                        I'll smell them grilling
    One of these days.

    Merrick           But there'll be nought to drink
    When that begins! Best keep your skin full now.

    Stranger
    What do I care for wickedness? Let those
    Who've played with dirt, and thought the game was bold,
    Make much of it while they can: there's a big thing
    Coming down to us, ay, well on its road,
    Will make their ploys seem mighty piddling sport.

    Huff
    This is a fool; or else it's what I think, --
    The world now breeds such crowd that they've no crombie room
    For well-grown sins: they hatch 'em small as flies.
    But you stay here, out of the world awhile,
    Here where a man's mind, and a woman's mind,
    Can fling out large in wickedness: you'll see
    Something monstrous here, something dreadful.

    Strainger
    I've seen enough of that. Though it was only
    Fancying made me see it, it was enough;
    I've seen the folk of the world yelling aghast,
    Scurrying to hide themselves. I want nought else
    Monstrous and dreadful. --

    Merrick           What had roused 'em so?
    Some house fire?

    Huff            A huzzy flogged to death
    For her hard-faced adultery?

    Stranger (too intent to hear them)
           Oh to think of it!
    Talk, do, chatter some nonsense, else I'll think:
    And then I'm feeling like a grub that crawls
    All abroad in a dusty road; and high
    Above me, and shaking the ground beneath me, come
    Wheels of a thundering wain, right where I'm plodding.

    Sollers   Queer thinking, that.

    Stranger                      And here's a queerer thing.
    I have a sort of lust in me, pushing me still
    Into that terrible way of thinking, like
    Black men in India lie them down and long
    To feel their holy wagon crack their spines.

    Merrick
    Do you mean beetles? I've driven over scores,
    They sprawling on their backs, or standing mazed.
    I never knew they liked it.

    Sollers                       He means frogs.
    I know what's in his mind. When I was young
    My mother would catch us frogs and set them down,
    Lapt in a screw of paper, in the ruts,
    And carts going by would quash 'em; and I'ld laugh,
    And yet be thinking, ' Suppose it was myself
    Twisted stiff in huge paper, and wheels
    Bit as the wall of a barn treading me flat! '

    Huff
    I know what's in his mind: just madness it is.
    He's lookt too hard at his fellows in the world;
    Sight of their monstrous hearts, like devils in cages,
    Has jolted all the gearing of his wits.
    It needs a tough brain, ay, a brain like mine,
    To pore on ugly sin and not go mad.

    Stranger
    Madness! You're not far out. -- I came up here
    To be alone and quiet in my thoughts
    Alone in my own dreadful mind. The path,
    Of red sand trodden hard, went up between
    High hedges overgrown of hawthorn blowing
    White as clouds; ay, it seemed burrowed through
    A white sweet-smelling cloud, -- I walking there
    Small as a hare that runs its tunnelled drove
    Thro' the close heather. And beside my feet
    Blue greygles drifted gleaming over the grass;
    And up I climbed to sunlight green in birches,
    And the path turned to daisies among grass
    With bonfires of the broom beside, like flame
    Of burning straw; and I lookt into your valley.
    I could scarce look.
    Anger was smarting in my eyes like grit.
    O the fine earth and fine all for nothing!
    Mazed I walkt, seeing and smelling and hearing:
    The meadow lands all shining fearfully gold, --
    Cruel as fire the sight of them toucht my mind;
    Breathing was all a honey taste of clover
    And bean flowers: I would have rather had it
    Carrion, or the stink of smouldering brimstone.
    And larks aloft, the happy piping fools,
    And squealing swifts that slid on hissing wings,
    And yellowhammers playing spry in hedges:
    I never noted them before; but now --
    Yes, I was mad, and crying mad, to see
    The earth so fine, fine all for nothing!

    Sollers (spits)
    Pst! yellowhammers! He talks gentry talk.
    That's worse than being mad.

    Stranger
    I tell you, you'll be feeling them to-morn
    And hating them to be so wonderful.

    Merrick
    Let's have some sense. Where do you live?

    Stranger                                     Nowhere.
    I'm always travelling.

    Huff               Why, what's your trade?

    Stranger   A dowser.

    Huff            You're the man for me!

    Stranger                                Not I.

    Huff
    Ho, this is better than a fiddler now!
    One of those fellows who have nerves so clever
    That they can feel the waters of underground
    Tingling in their fingers?
    You find me a spring in my high grazing-field,
    I'll give you what I save in trundling water.

    Stranger
    I find you water now! -- No, but I'll find you
    Fire and fear and unbelievable death.
      VINE the Publician comes in

    Vine
    Are ye all served? Ay, seems so; what's your score?

    Merrick  Two ciders.

    Huff        Three.

    Sollers            And two for me.

    Vine (to Dowser)                                    And you?

    Dowser Naught. I was waiting on you.

    Vine                       Will you drink?

    Dowser
    Ay! Drink! what else is left for a man to do
    Who knows what I know?

    Vine                 Good. What is't you know?
    You tell it out and set my trade a-buzzing.

    Sollers
    He's queer. Give him his mug and ease his tongue.

    Vine
    I had to swill the pigs: else I'd been here;
    But we've the old fashion in this house; you draw,
    I keep the score. Well, what's the worry on you?

    Sollers  Oh he's in love.

    Dowser           You fleering grinning louts,
    I'll give it you now; now have it in your faces!

    Sollers  Crimini, he's going to fight!

    Dowser
    You try and fight with the thing that's on my side!

    Merrick  A ranter!

    Huff          A boozy one then.

    Dowser                     Open yon door;
    'Tis dark enough by now. Open it, you.

    Vine
    Hold on. Have you got something fierce outside?

    Merrick  A Russian bear?

    Sollers         Dowsers can play strange games.

    Huff  No tricks!

    Dowser      This is a trick to rouse the world.
      [He opens the door.
    Look out! Between the elms! There's my fierce thing.

    Merrick
    He means the star with the tail like a feather of fire.

    Sollers.  Comet, it's called.

    Huff        Do you mean the comet, mister?

    Dowser  What do you think of it?

    Huff            Pretty enough.
    But I saw a man loose off a rocket once;
    It made more stir and flare of itself; though yon
    Does better at steady burning.

    Dowser                           Stir and flare!
    You'll soon forget your rocket.

    Merrick                           Tell you what
    I thought last night, now, going home. Says I,
    'Tis just like the look of a tadpole: if I saw
    A tadpole silver as a dace that swam
    Upside-down towards me through black water,
    I'ld see the plain spit of that star and his tail.

    Sollers
    And how does your thought go?

    Dowser                           It's what I know! --
    A tadpole and a rocket! -- My dear God,
    And I can still laugh out! -- What do you think
    Your tadpole's made of? What lets your rocket fling
    Those streaming sparks across the half of night,
    Splashing the burning spray of its haste among
    The quiet business of the other stars?
    Ay, that's a fiery jet it leaves behind
    In such enormous drift! What sort of fire
    Is spouted so, spouted and never quenching? --
    There is no name for that star's fire: it is
    The fire that was before the world was made,
    The fire that all the things we live among
    Remember being; and whitest fire we know
    Is its poor copy in their dreaming trance!

    Huff
    That would be hell fire.

    Dowser           Ay, if you like, hell fire,
    Hell fire flying through the night! 'Twould be
    A thing to blink about, a blast of it
    Swept in your face, eh? and a thing to set
    The whole stuff of the earth smoking rarely?
    Which of you said ' the heat's a wonder to-night' ?
    You have not done with marvelling. There'll come
    A night when all your clothes are a pickle of sweat,
    And, for all that, the sweat on your salty skin
    Shall dry and crack, in the breathing of wind
    That's like a draught come through an open'd furnace.
    The leafage of the trees shall brown and faint,
    All sappy growth turning to brittle rubbish
    As the near heat of the star strokes the green earth;
    And time shall brush the fields as visibly
    As a rough hand brushes against the nap
    Of gleaming cloth -- killing the season's colour,
    Each hour charged with the wasting of a year;
    And sailors panting on their warping ecks
    Will watch the sea steam like broth about them.
    You'll know what I know then! -- That towering star
    Hangs like a fiery buzzard in the night
    Intent over our earth -- Ay, now his journey
    Points straight as a plummet's drop, down to us!

    Huff  Why, that's the end of the world!

    Dowser                                You've said it now.

    Sollers  What, soon? In a day or two?

    Merrick                           You can't mean that!

    Vine
    End of the World! Well now, I never thought
    To hear the news of that. If you've the truth
    In what you say, likely this is an evening
    That we'll be talking over often and often.
    'How was it, Sollers?' I'll say; ' or you, Merrick,
    Do you mind clearly how he lookt? ' -- And then --
    ' " End of the world " he said, and drank -- like that,
    Solemn! ' -- And right he was: he had it all
    As sure as I have when my sow's to farrow.

    Dowser
    Are you making a joke of me? Keep your mind
    For tippling while you can.

    Vine                   Was that a joke?
    I'm always bad at seeing 'em, even my own.

    Dowser
    A fool's! 'Twill cheer you when the earth blows up
    Like as it were all gunpowder.

    Vine                    You mean
    The star will butt his burning head against us?
    'Twill knock the world to flinders, I suppose?

    Dowser
    Ay, or with that wild, monstrous tail of his
    Smash down upon the air, and make it bounce
    Like water under the flukes of a harpooned whale,
    And thrash it to a poisonous fire; and we
    And all the life of the world drowned in blazing!

    Vine
    'Twill be a handsone sight. If my old wife
    Were with me now! This would have suited her.
    'I do like things to happen!' she would say;
    Never shindy enough for her; and now
    She's gone, and can't be seeing this!

    Dowser                                       You poor fool.
    How will it be a sight to you, when your eyes
    Are scorcht to little cinders in your head?

    Vine
    Whether or no, there must be folks outside
    Willing to know of this. I'll scatter your news.
      He goes.
      A short pause: then SOLLERS breaks out.

    Sollers
    No, no; it woudn't do for me at all;
    Nor for you neither, Merrick? End of the World?
    Bogy! A parson's tale or a bairn's!

    Merrick                                     That's it.
    Your trade's a gift, easy as playing tunes.
    But Sollers here and I, we've had to drill
    Sinew and muscle into their hard lesson,
    Until they work in timber and flowing iron
    As kindly as I pick up my pint: your work
    Grows in your nature, like plain speech in a child,
    But we have learnt to think in a foreign tongue;
    And something must come out of all our skill!
    We shan't go sliding down as glib as you
    Into notions of the End of the World.

    Sollers
    Give me a tree, you may say, and give me steel,
    And I'll put forth my shapely mind; I'll make,
    Out of my head like telling a well-known tale,
    A wain that goes as comely on the roads
    As a ship sailing, the lines of it true as gospel.
    Have I learnt that all for nothing? -- O no!
    End of the World? It wouldn't do at all.
    No more making of wains, after I've spent
    My time in getting the right skill in my hands?

    Dowser
    Ay, you begin to feel it now, I think;
    But you complain like boys for a game spoilt:
    Shaping your carts, forging your iron! But Life,
    Life, the mother who lets her children play
    So seriously busy, trade and craft, --
    Life with her skill of a million years' perfection
    To make her heart's delighted glorying
    Of sunlight, and of clouds about the moon,
    Spring lighting her daffodils, and corn
    Ripening gold to ruddy, and giant seas,
    And mountains sitting in their purple clothes --
    O life I am thinking of, life the wonder,
    All blotcht out by a brutal thrust of fire
    Like a midge that clumsy thumb squashes and smears.

    Huff
    Let me but see the show beginning, though!
    You'ld mind me then! O I would like you all
    To watch how I should figure, when the star
    Brandishes over the whole air its flame
    Of thundering fire; and naught but yellow rubbish
    Parcht on the perishing ground, and there are tongues
    Chapt with thirst, glad to lap stinking ponds,
    And pale glaring faces spying about
    On the earth withering, terror the only speech!
    Look for me then, and see me stand alone
    Easy and pleasant in the midst of it all.
    Did you not make your merry scoff of me?
    Was it your talk, that when you shameless pair
    Threw their wantoning in my face like dirt,
    I had no heart against them but to grumble?
    You would be saying that, I know! But now,
    Now I believe it's time for you to see
    My patient heart at last taking its wages.

    Sollers
    Pull up, man! Screw the brake on your running tongue,
    Else it will rattle you down the tumbling way
    This fellow's gone.

    Merrick              And one man's enough
    With brain quagged axle-deep in crazy mire.
    We won't have you beside him in his puddles,
    And calling out with him on the End of the World
    To heave you out with a vengeance.

    Huff                                        What you want!
    Have I not borne enough to make me know
    I must be righted sometime? -- And what else
    Would break the hardy sin in them, which lets
    Their souls parade so daring and so tall
    Under God's hate and mine? What else could pay
    For all my wrong but a blow of blazing anger
    Striking down to shiver the earth, and change
    Their strutting wickedness to horror and crying?

    Merrick
    Be quiet, Huff! If you mean to believe
    This dowser's stuff, and join in his bedlam,
    By God, you'll have to reckon with my fist.
      SHALE comes in. HUFF glares at him speechless, but with wrath evidently working.

    Shale
    Where's the joker? You, is it? Here's hot news
    You've brought us; all the valley's hissing aloud,
    And makes as much of you falling into it
    As a pail of water would of a glowing coal.

    Sollers
    Don't you start burbling too, Shale.

    Shale                                        That's the word!
    Burbling, simmering, ay, and bumpy-boiling :
    All the women are mobbed together close
    Under the witan-trees, and their full minds
    Boil like so many pans slung on a fire.
    Why starlings trooping in a copse in fall
    Could make no scandal like it.

    Merrick                                        What is it, man?

    Shale
    End of the World! The flying star! End of the World!

    Sollers    They don't believe it though?

    Shale                 What? the whole place
    Has gone just randy over it!

    Merrick                                        Hold your noise!

    Sollers    I shall be daft if this goes on.

    Shale                    Ay, so?
    The End of the World's been here? You look as though
    You'd startled lately. And there's the virtuous man!
    How would End of the World suit our good Huff,
    Our old crab-verjuice Huff?

    HUFF (seizing the DOWSER and bring him up in front of Shale
                                 Look at him there!
    This is the man I told of when you
    Were talking small of sin. You made it out,
    Did you, a fool's mere nasty game, like dogs
    That snuggle in muck, and grin and roll themselves
    With snorting pleasure? Ah, but you are wrong.
    'Tis something that goes thrusting dreadfully
    Its wilful bravery of evil against
    The worth and right of goodness in the world:
    Ay, do you see how his face still brags at me?
    And long it has been, the time he's had to walk
    Lording about me with his wickedness.
    Do you know what he dared? I had a wife,
    A flighty pretty linnet-headed girl,
    But mine: he practised on her with his eyes;
    He knew of luring glances, and she went
    After his calling lust: and all since then
    They've lived together, fleering in my face,
    Pleased in sight of the windows of my house
    With doing wrong, and making my disgrace.
    O but wait here with me; wait till your news
    Is not to be mistaken, for the way
    The earth buckles and singes like hot boards:
    You'll surely see how dreadful sin can be
    Then, when you mark these two running about,
    With raging fear for what they did against me
    Buzzing close to their souls, stinging their hearts,
    And they like scampering beasts when clegs are fierce,
    Or flinging themselves low as the ground to writhe,
    Their arms hugging their desperate heads. And then
    You'll see what 'tis to be an upright man,
    Who keeps a patient anger for his wrongs
    Thinking of judgment coming -- you will see that
    When you mark how my looks hunt these wretches,
    And smile upon their groans and posturing anguish.
    O watch how calm I'll be, when the blazing air
    Judges their wickedness; you watch me then
    Looking delighted, like a nobleman
    Who sees his horse winning an easy race.

    Merrick
    You fool, Huff, you believe it now!

    Huff                                        You fool,
    Merrick, how should I not believe a thing
    That calls aloud on my mind and spirit, and they
    Answer to it like starving conquering soldiers
    Told to break out and loot?

    Shale                                      You vile old wasp!

    Sollers
    We've talkt enough: let's all go home and sleep;
    There might be a fiend in the air about us, one
    Who pours his will into our minds to see
    How we can frighten one another.
    Huff                                        A fiend!
    Shale will soon have the flapping wings of a fiend,
    And flaming wings, beating about his head.
    Ther'll be no air for Shale, very soon now,
    But the breathing of a fiend: the star's coming!
    The star that breathes a horrible fury of fire
    Like glaring fog into the empty night;
    And in the gust of its wrath the world will soon
    Shrivel and spin like paper in a furnace.
    I knew they both would have to pay me at last
    With sight of their damned souls for all my wrong!

    Shale    Somebody stop his gab.

    Merrick (seizing the DOWSER and shaking him)
    Is it the truth we're in the way of the star?

    A crowd of men and women burst in and shout confusedly.
    1. Look out for the star!
               2. 'Tis moving, moving.
    3. Grows as you stare at it.
               4. Bigger than ever.
    1. Down it comes with a diving pounce,
    As though it had lookt for us and at last found us.
    2. O so near and coming so quick!
    3. And how the buring hairs of its tail
    Do seem surely to quiver for speed.
    4. We saw its great tail gwitch behind it.
    'Tis come so near, so gleaming near.
    1. The tail is wagging!
               2. Come out and see!
    3. The star is wagging its tail and eyeing us --
    4. Like a cat huncht to leap on a bird.

    Merrick
    Out of my way and let me see for myself.
      [They all begin to hustle out:
      HUFF speaks in midst of the turmoil.

    Huff
    Ay, now begins the just man's reward;
    And hatred of the evil thing
    Now is to be satisfied.
    Wrong ventured out against me and braved:
    And I'll be glad to see all breathing pleasure
    Burn as foolishly to naught
    As a moth in candle flame,
    If I but have my will to watch over those
    Who injured me bawling hoarse heartless fear.

    They are all gone but HUFF, SHALE and the DOWSER.

    Shale
    As for you, let you and the women make
    Your howling scare of this; I'll stand and laugh.
    But if it truly were the End of the World,
    I'ld be the man to face it out, not you:
    I who have let life go delighted through me,
    Not you, who've sulkt away your chance of life
    In mumping about being paid for goodness.
      [Going.

    Huff (after him)
    You wait, you wait!
      [He follows the rest.

    Dowser (alone)               Naught but a plague of flies!
    I cannot do with noises, and light fools
    Terrified round me; I must go out and think
    Where there is quiet and no one near. O, think!
    Life that has done such wonders with its thinking,
    And never daunted in imagining;
    That has put on the sun and the shining night,
    The flowering of the earth and tides of the sea,
    And irresistible rage of fate itself,
    All these as garments for its spirit's journey --
    O now this life, in the brute chance of things,
    Murder'd, uselessly murder'd! And naught else
    For ever but senseless rounds of hurrying motion
    That cannot glory in itself. O no!
    I will not think of that; I'll blind my brain
    With fancying the splendours of destruction;
    When like a burr in the star's fiery mane
    The crackling earth is caught and rusht along,
    The forests on the mountains blazing so,
    That from the rocks of ore beneath them come
    White-hot rivers of smelted metal pouring
    Across the plains to roar into the sea. . . .

    The curtain is lowered for a few moments only.


On to Act II

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