A Forest with a Brook running through it. Night. Hounds begin to howl.
Enter HOB, JESS and TILDA up the Brook, wet and shivering, carrying
HOB: Now, that ha’ thrown the bloodhounds off the scent.
We’ll climb out on t’other bank o’ the brook
And get us dry – would we could light a fire,
But ’tis too dangerous, the men would see us.
JESS: I’ll be right glad to get out of this water:
I do be frozen stiff in every joint.
(They climb up the Bank and sit down. The Howls fade away.)
TILDA: ‘Twas only yesterday that we were happy
In our small cottage and our struggling farm,
With naught more pressing than how we would pay
Our dues to … Can I not stop thinking of him?
That raisin-hearted villain at the manor –
We did no harm to him: look what he’s done!
Here we are, homeless on the long cold road:
‘Tis many leagues yet to Purdonium
And we are weary to the very bone.
HOB: Cheer up, my lass, we be not finished yet.
I always had a mind when I were young
To wander through the world and seek my fortune,
And here I be, at a bare moment’s notice
With seven ducats jingling in my pocket,
And here be ye, my dearest wife and daughter
To bear me company: I’ll care for ye
And keep ye safe, the very best I can.
‘Tis not so bad.
JESS: At least we be together,
And that do make up for a host of woes.
TILDA: Aye, mayhap ye are right. But our first night
Shall be a chill one. (A Pipe is heard.) Hark! What was that sound?
(Enter RADIO and his Company of PLAYERS.)
RADIO: Gadzooks, what have we here? Are ye three lost?
HOB: Nay, we be not, but we be on the run
And sheltering from that villain and his bloodhounds:
I beg thee, give us not away to them,
For pity’s sake!
RADIO: Fear not, ye’re safe with us.
What have ye done that ye were forced to flee?
HOB: Nothing of ill nor good. It be the squire
Of Sebum, bad Sir Percy of Malpractice,
Who got the hots for this my little lass,
And threw us out of house and home to get her.
So we be on the road, bound for Purdonium
To try our luck at King Vusillus’ castle:
There’s a man there who’ll maybe give us work.
RADIO: I have good news for ye, for we do fare
Upon the selfsame road. We tried our luck
At th’ town hall in Alluvium: they pelted us
With rancid veg’tables and antique eggs
And we have barely twelve sols from the door.
It was a fine play – ’twas too fine for them,
The lousy yokels. It was called Raimondo:
Say, do ye know the piece?
HOB: Nay, we be yokels
And we ha’ never seen no kind of play.
RADIO: I crave thy pardon, sir, I meant no ill.
We players give ourselves such airs and graces:
Sometimes they’re all we have when things go ill.
All folk are equal when they’re on the road.
HOB: No offence taken, that I do assure thee.
RADIO: Since we are all bound for the selfsame place,
Will ye come with us? Safety lies in numbers.
I’ll give ye small parts in our next performance;
The squire will never guess that ye are with us
When ye are garbed as camels for our play
The Sheikh of Araby – though it were a great pity
To hide thy daughter’s lovely face in sackcloth.
Maybe, when we are farther off, ye can come out.
Say, what’s the lass’s name, and can she sing?
HOB: We thank ‘ee for a very welcome offer
And shall come with ye to Purdonium
Even if we do have to dress like chickens.
RADIO: Only for Gran’s Last Chance – we did that twice;
Nobody laughed. But we still have the costumes.
HOB: My daughter’s name be Tilda, she’s a good girl
But a mite innocent, and all these men …
JESS: I’ll guard her virtue like a porpentine.
But she do sing as fair as th’ nightingale:
We’ll earn our keep, worry thou not at that.
TILDA: I can sing My Way, Bridge over Troubled Waters,
Imagine, though I know not all the words …
RADIO (hastily): I am glad to hear ‘t. I’ll teach thee some more songs:
They may be a shade bawdy for thy taste.
TILDA: I know The Hairs upon Her Icky-Di-Do …
HOB: Where did thou learn that filthy ditty, girl?
TILDA: The carter’s son taught me when we were little.
HOB: Fie, fie, for shame! Yet now I do suppose
We’ve greater worries than a smutty song.
(To RADIO) Thou wilt not make her sing it?
RADIO: Never fear,
We’ve other songs writ special for our plays,
The’re most artistic. Come, let’s be away,
We’ll find a barn and spend the night i’ th’ hay.