A Ragged Man.
Scene: Side of a quay in a seaport town. Some posts and chains. A large barrel. Enter three policemen. Moonlight.
(Sergeant, who is older than the others, crosses the stage to right and looks down steps. The others put down a pastepot and unroll a bundle of placards.)
Policeman B: I think this would be a good place to put up a notice. (He points to barrel.)
Policeman X: Better ask him. (Calls to Sergt.) Will this be a good place for a placard?
Policeman B: Will we put up a notice here on the barrel? (No answer.)
Sergeant: There’s a flight of steps here that leads to the water. This is a place that should be minded well. If he got down here, his friends might have a boat to meet him; they might send it in here from outside.
Policeman B: Would the barrel be a good place to put a notice up?
Sergeant: It might; you can put it there.
(They paste the notice up.)[Pg 78]
Sergeant: (Reading it.) Dark hair—dark eyes, smooth face, height five feet five—there’s not much to take hold of in that—It’s a pity I had no chance of seeing him before he broke out of gaol. They say he’s a wonder, that it’s he makes all the plans for the whole organization. There isn’t another man in Ireland would have broken gaol the way he did. He must have some friends among the gaolers.
Policeman B: A hundred pounds is little enough for the Government to offer for him. You may be sure any man in the force that takes him will get promotion.
Sergeant: I’ll mind this place myself. I wouldn’t wonder at all if he came this way. He might come slipping along there (points to side of quay), and his friends might be waiting for him there (points down steps), and once he got away it’s little chance we’d have of finding him; it’s maybe under a load of kelp he’d be in a fishing boat, and not one to help a married man that wants it to the reward.
Policeman X: And if we get him itself, nothing but abuse on our heads for it from the people, and maybe from our own relations.
Sergeant: Well, we have to do our duty in the force. Haven’t we the whole country depending on us to keep law and order? It’s those that are down would be up and those that are up would be[Pg 79] down, if it wasn’t for us. Well, hurry on, you have plenty of other places to placard yet, and come back here then to me. You can take the lantern. Don’t be too long now. It’s very lonesome here with nothing but the moon.
Policeman B: It’s a pity we can’t stop with you. The Government should have brought more police into the town, with him in gaol, and at assize time too. Well, good luck to your watch.
(They go out.)
Sergeant: (Walks up and down once or twice and looks at placard.) A hundred pounds and promotion sure. There must be a great deal of spending in a hundred pounds. It’s a pity some honest man not to be the better of that.
(A ragged man appears at left and tries to slip past. Sergeant suddenly turns.)
Sergeant: Where are you going?
Man: I’m a poor ballad-singer, your honour. I thought to sell some of these (holds out bundle of ballads) to the sailors. (He goes on.)
Sergeant: Stop! Didn’t I tell you to stop? You can’t go on there.
Man: Oh, very well. It’s a hard thing to be poor. All the world’s against the poor!
Sergeant: Who are you?
Man: You’d be as wise as myself if I told you, but I don’t mind. I’m one Jimmy Walsh, a ballad-singer.[Pg 80]
Sergeant: Jimmy Walsh? I don’t know that name.
Man: Ah, sure, they know it well enough in Ennis. Were you ever in Ennis, sergeant?
Sergeant: What brought you here?
Man: Sure, it’s to the assizes I came, thinking I might make a few shillings here or there. It’s in the one train with the judges I came.
Sergeant: Well, if you came so far, you may as well go farther, for you’ll walk out of this.
Man: I will, I will; I’ll just go on where I was going. (Goes towards steps.)
Sergeant: Come back from those steps; no one has leave to pass down them to-night.
Man: I’ll just sit on the top of the steps till I see will some sailor buy a ballad off me that would give me my supper. They do be late going back to the ship. It’s often I saw them in Cork carried down the quay in a hand-cart.
Sergeant: Move on, I tell you. I won’t have any one lingering about the quay to-night.
Man: Well, I’ll go. It’s the poor have the hard life! Maybe yourself might like one, sergeant. Here’s a good sheet now. (Turns one over.) “Content and a pipe”—that’s not much. “The Peeler and the goat”—you wouldn’t like that. “Johnny Hart”—that’s a lovely song.
Sergeant: Move on.
Man: Ah, wait till you hear it. (Sings:)[Pg 81]
There was a rich farmer’s daughter lived near the town of Ross;
She courted a Highland soldier, his name was Johnny Hart;
Says the mother to her daughter, “I’ll go distracted mad
If you marry that Highland soldier dressed up in Highland plaid.”
Sergeant: Stop that noise.
(Man wraps up his ballads and shuffles towards the steps)
Sergeant: Where are you going?
Man: Sure you told me to be going, and I am going.
Sergeant: Don’t be a fool. I didn’t tell you to go that way; I told you to go back to the town.
Man: Back to the town, is it?
Sergeant: (Taking him by the shoulder and shoving him before him.) Here, I’ll show you the way. Be off with you. What are you stopping for?
Man: (Who has been keeping his eye on the notice, points to it.) I think I know what you’re waiting for, sergeant.
Sergeant: What’s that to you?
Man: And I know well the man you’re waiting for—I know him well—I’ll be going.
(He shuffles on.)
Sergeant: You know him? Come back here. What sort is he?[Pg 82]
Man: Come back is it, sergeant? Do you want to have me killed?
Sergeant: Why do you say that?
Man: Never mind. I’m going. I wouldn’t be in your shoes if the reward was ten times as much. (Goes on off stage to left). Not if it was ten times as much.
Sergeant: (Rushing after him.) Come back here, come back. (Drags him back.) What sort is he? Where did you see him?
Man: I saw him in my own place, in the County Clare. I tell you you wouldn’t like to be looking at him. You’d be afraid to be in the one place with him. There isn’t a weapon he doesn’t know the use of, and as to strength, his muscles are as hard as that board (slaps barrel).
Sergeant: Is he as bad as that?
Man: He is then.
Sergeant: Do you tell me so?
Man: There was a poor man in our place, a sergeant from Ballyvaughan.—It was with a lump of stone he did it.
Sergeant: I never heard of that.
Man: And you wouldn’t, sergeant. It’s not everything that happens gets into the papers. And there was a policeman in plain clothes, too…. It is in Limerick he was…. It was after the time of the attack on the police barrack at Kilmallock…. Moonlight … just like[Pg 83] this … waterside…. Nothing was known for certain.
Sergeant: Do you say so? It’s a terrible county to belong to.
Man: That’s so, indeed! You might be standing there, looking out that way, thinking you saw him coming up this side of the quay (points), and he might be coming up this other side (points), and he’d be on you before you knew where you were.
Sergeant: It’s a whole troop of police they ought to put here to stop a man like that.
Man: But if you’d like me to stop with you, I could be looking down this side. I could be sitting up here on this barrel.
Sergeant: And you know him well, too?
Man: I’d know him a mile off, sergeant.
Sergeant: But you wouldn’t want to share the reward?
Man: Is it a poor man like me, that has to be going the roads and singing in fairs, to have the name on him that he took a reward? But you don’t want me. I’ll be safer in the town.
Sergeant: Well, you can stop.
Man: (Getting up on barrel.) All right, sergeant. I wonder, now, you’re not tired out, sergeant, walking up and down the way you are.
Sergeant: If I’m tired I’m used to it.
Man: You might have hard work before you to-night yet. Take it easy while you can. There’s[Pg 84] plenty of room up here on the barrel, and you see farther when you’re higher up.
Sergeant: Maybe so. (Gets up beside him on barrel, facing right. They sit back to back, looking different ways.) You made me feel a bit queer with the way you talked.
Man: Give me a match, sergeant (he gives it and man lights pipe); take a draw yourself? It’ll quiet you. Wait now till I give you a light, but you needn’t turn round. Don’t take your eye off the quay for the life of you.
Sergeant: Never fear, I won’t. (Lights pipe. They both smoke.) Indeed it’s a hard thing to be in the force, out at night and no thanks for it, for all the danger we’re in. And it’s little we get but abuse from the people, and no choice but to obey our orders, and never asked when a man is sent into danger, if you are a married man with a family.
As through the hills I walked to view the hills and shamrock plain,
I stood awhile where nature smiles to view the rocks and streams,
On a matron fair I fixed my eyes beneath a fertile vale,
As she sang her song it was on the wrong of poor old Granuaile.
Sergeant: Stop that; that’s no song to be singing in these times.[Pg 85]
Man: Ah, sergeant, I was only singing to keep my heart up. It sinks when I think of him. To think of us two sitting here, and he creeping up the quay, maybe, to get to us.
Sergeant: Are you keeping a good lookout?
Man: I am; and for no reward too. Amn’t I the foolish man? But when I saw a man in trouble, I never could help trying to get him out of it. What’s that? Did something hit me?
(Rubs his heart.)
Sergeant: (Patting him on the shoulder.) You will get your reward in heaven.
Man: I know that, I know that, sergeant, but life is precious.
Sergeant: Well, you can sing if it gives you more courage.
Her head was bare, her hands and feet with iron bands were bound,
Her pensive strain and plaintive wail mingles with the evening gale,
And the song she sang with mournful air, I am old Granuaile.
Her lips so sweet that monarchs kissed….
Sergeant: That’s not it…. “Her gown she wore was stained with gore.” … That’s it—you missed that.
Man: You’re right, sergeant, so it is; I missed[Pg 86] it. (Repeats line.) But to think of a man like you knowing a song like that.
Sergeant: There’s many a thing a man might know and might not have any wish for.
Man: Now, I daresay, sergeant, in your youth, you used to be sitting up on a wall, the way you are sitting up on this barrel now, and the other lads beside you, and you singing “Granuaile”?…
Sergeant: I did then.
Man: And the “Shan Bhean Bhocht”?…
Sergeant: I did then.
Man: And the “Green on the Cape?”
Sergeant: That was one of them.
Man: And maybe the man you are watching for to-night used to be sitting on the wall, when he was young, and singing those same songs…. It’s a queer world….
Sergeant: Whisht!… I think I see something coming…. It’s only a dog.
Man: And isn’t it a queer world?… Maybe it’s one of the boys you used to be singing with that time you will be arresting to-day or tomorrow, and sending into the dock….
Sergeant: That’s true indeed.
Man: And maybe one night, after you had been singing, if the other boys had told you some plan they had, some plan to free the country, you might have joined with them … and maybe it is you might be in trouble now.[Pg 87]
Sergeant: Well, who knows but I might? I had a great spirit in those days.
Man: It’s a queer world, sergeant, and it’s little any mother knows when she sees her child creeping on the floor what might happen to it before it has gone through its life, or who will be who in the end.
Sergeant: That’s a queer thought now, and a true thought. Wait now till I think it out…. If it wasn’t for the sense I have, and for my wife and family, and for me joining the force the time I did, it might be myself now would be after breaking gaol and hiding in the dark, and it might be him that’s hiding in the dark and that got out of gaol would be sitting up where I am on this barrel…. And it might be myself would be creeping up trying to make my escape from himself, and it might be himself would be keeping the law, and myself would be breaking it, and myself would be trying maybe to put a bullet in his head, or to take up a lump of a stone the way you said he did … no, that myself did…. Oh! (Gasps. After a pause.) What’s that? (Grasps man’s arm.)
Man: (Jumps off barrel and listens, looking out over water.) It’s nothing, sergeant.
Sergeant: I thought it might be a boat. I had a notion there might be friends of his coming about the quays with a boat.
Man: Sergeant, I am thinking it was with the[Pg 88] people you were, and not with the law you were, when you were a young man.
Sergeant: Well, if I was foolish then, that time’s gone.
Man: Maybe, sergeant, it comes into your head sometimes, in spite of your belt and your tunic, that it might have been as well for you to have followed Granuaile.
Sergeant: It’s no business of yours what I think.
Man: Maybe, sergeant, you’ll be on the side of the country yet.
Sergeant: (Gets off barrel.) Don’t talk to me like that. I have my duties and I know them. (Looks round.) That was a boat; I hear the oars.
(Goes to the steps and looks down.)
O, then, tell me, Shawn O’Farrell,
Where the gathering is to be.
In the old spot by the river
Right well known to you and me!
Sergeant: Stop that! Stop that, I tell you!
Man: (Sings louder)—
One word more, for signal token,
Whistle up the marching tune,
With your pike upon your shoulder,
At the Rising of the Moon.
Sergeant: If you don’t stop that, I’ll arrest you.
(A whistle from below answers, repeating the air.)[Pg 89]
Sergeant: That’s a signal. (Stands between him and steps.) You must not pass this way…. Step farther back…. Who are you? You are no ballad-singer.
Man: You needn’t ask who I am; that placard will tell you. (Points to placard.)
Sergeant: You are the man I am looking for.
Man: (Takes off hat and wig. Sergeant seizes them.) I am. There’s a hundred pounds on my head. There is a friend of mine below in a boat. He knows a safe place to bring me to.
Sergeant: (Looking still at hat and wig.) It’s a pity! It’s a pity. You deceived me. You deceived me well.
Man: I am a friend of Granuaile. There is a hundred pounds on my head.
Sergeant: It’s a pity, it’s a pity!
Man: Will you let me pass, or must I make you let me?
Sergeant: I am in the force. I will not let you pass.
Man: I thought to do it with my tongue. (Puts hand in breast.) What is that?
(Voice of Policeman X outside:) Here, this is where we left him.
Sergeant: It’s my comrades coming.
Man: You won’t betray me … the friend of Granuaile. (Slips behind barrel.)[Pg 90]
(Voice of Policeman B:) That was the last of the placards.
Policeman X: (As they come in.) If he makes his escape it won’t be unknown he’ll make it.
(Sergeant puts hat and wig behind his back.)
Policeman B: Did any one come this way?
Sergeant: (After a pause.) No one.
Policeman B: No one at all?
Sergeant: No one at all.
Policeman B: We had no orders to go back to the station; we can stop along with you.
Sergeant: I don’t want you. There is nothing for you to do here.
Policeman B: You bade us to come back here and keep watch with you.
Sergeant: I’d sooner be alone. Would any man come this way and you making all that talk? It is better the place to be quiet.
Policeman B: Well, we’ll leave you the lantern anyhow. (Hands it to him.)
Sergeant: I don’t want it. Bring it with you.
Policeman B: You might want it. There are clouds coming up and you have the darkness of the night before you yet. I’ll leave it over here on the barrel. (Goes to barrel.)
Sergeant: Bring it with you I tell you. No more talk.
Policeman B: Well, I thought it might be a comfort to you. I often think when I have it in[Pg 91] my hand and can be flashing it about into every dark corner (doing so) that it’s the same as being beside the fire at home, and the bits of bogwood blazing up now and again.
(Flashes it about, now on the barrel, now on Sergeant.)
Sergeant: (Furious.) Be off the two of you, yourselves and your lantern!
(They go out. Man comes from behind barrel. He and Sergeant stand looking at one another.)
Sergeant: What are you waiting for?
Man: For my hat, of course, and my wig. You wouldn’t wish me to get my death of cold?
(Sergeant gives them.)
Man: (Going towards steps.) Well, good-night, comrade, and thank you. You did me a good turn to-night, and I’m obliged to you. Maybe I’ll be able to do as much for you when the small rise up and the big fall down … when we all change places at the Rising (waves his hand and disappears) of the Moon.
Sergeant: (Turning his back to audience and reading placard.) A hundred pounds reward! A hundred pounds! (Turns towards audience.) I wonder, now, am I as great a fool as I think I am?