A Play

By Mrs. Havelock Ellis

Copyright, 1915, by Edith M. O. Ellis.
As Author and Proprietor.

All rights reserved.


Joe Pengilly.
Kezia [Joe Pengilly's wife].
Matthew Trevaskis [a friend of the Pengillys].
The Scene is laid in a Cornish village.
Time: The Present.

The whole action of the play takes place between seven o'clock and nine o'clock on a Saturday evening.


Reprinted from "Love in Danger" by permission of and special arrangements with, Houghton, Mifflin Company.

The professional and amateur stage rights on this play are strictly reserved by the author, to whose dramatic agent, Miss Galbraith Welch, 101 Park Avenue, New York, applications for permission to produce it should be made.


A Play

By Mrs. Havelock Ellis


Scene: Interior of a cottage kitchen in a Cornish fishing village. The walls are distempered a pale blue; the ceiling wooden and beamed. Middle of back wall, a kitchen-range where fire is burning. At back R. is a door opening into an inner room. At back L. small cupboards. At side L. is a large kitchen-table laid for tea under a window facing sea. The floor is red brick. On mantelpiece, white china dogs, clock, copper candlesticks, tea-caddy, stirrups, and bits. On walls, family framed photographs, religious framed pictures. Below table is a door leading into street. Behind door, roller with hanging towel. Usual kitchen paraphernalia, chairs, pots and pans, etc. Cat basket with straw to R. of range. At back R. is a wooden settle with good upright sides. Joe Pengilly is wiping his face and hands, having just come in from the pump outside. He sighs and glances uneasily at Kezia, who has her back turned to him, and is frying mackerel at the stove. He rolls down his sleeves slowly and watches his wife uneasily. He is dressed as a laborer—corduroy trousers, hob-nailed boots, blue-and-white shirt, open throat. He takes down a sleeved waistcoat from a peg behind the door and puts it on. He is a slight man with thin light hair, gentle in manner, but with a strong keen face. Kezia is a little taller than Joe—slender and graceful, with a clean cotton dress fitting well to her figure; a clean apron, well-dressed and tidy hair; good-looking and energetic. Joe smiles to himself and crosses his arms and shuffles his feet as he looks towards Kezia. Kezia turns round suddenly and looks at him sideways, the cooking-fork in one hand and the handle of the frying-pan in the other. Joe sits down at table.]


Kezia. Why didn't thee speak?

Joe. Nothin' to say, my dear.

Kezia. Thee's not much company, for sure.

[Joe laughs and leans his arms on the table as he looks at Kezia; his face beams as he watches her landing the fish from the bubbling fat to a dish. She puts some on a plate in front of Joe, and pours out tea in a large cup. She suddenly looks at him as he begins picking off the tail of his mackerel with his fingers.]

Kezia. Cain't thee answer?

Joe. To what?

Kezia [snappily]. Why, to me, of course.

[Joe takes a long drink of tea and gazes at her over his cup.]

Joe. Thee'rt a great beauty, Kezia, sure enough!

[He puts the cup down and goes on picking his fish with the fingers of one hand, while the other holds bread and butter.]

Kezia. There you are again; always either grumblin' or jeerin' at me.

Joe. I'm not doin' neither, woman. I'm tryin' for to make up for thrawtin' of you this mornin' over they soaked crusties as I gave the cat and ruined the nice clean floor.

Kezia. Now [angrily], just when I were forgettin' all about it, of course you must bring it all up again, and you're tryin' now [pointing at the fish] all thee knows how, to make the tablecloth like a dish-clout with thy great greasy fingers!

[Joe licks his fingers, one by one, and wipes them on his trousers, as he smiles into her cross face.]

Kezia. Gracious! [whimpering] that's thee all over. Thee gives up one dirty trick for another. I believe you only married me to clean and tidy after you.

[Joe laughs heartily and looks up at her.]

Joe. Heart alive! I married you because you are the only woman I've ever met in my life I could never weary of, not even if you tormented me night and day. Love of 'e, my dear, seemly, makes a real fool of me most of my time.

[His face becomes very grave, and Kezia's brow clears as she sits down and begins to eat.]

Kezia. You was always one for pretty talk, Joe, but you're not a bit what you were i' deeds lately.

[Joe hands his cup for more tea.]

Joe. 'Cause you snap me up so.

Kezia. There you are again, tryin' to pick a quarrel.

[Joe pulls his chair away from the table and drags it nearer the grate. He takes his pipe from his pocket and blows into it.]

Kezia. Now, Joe, you know I cain't abide that 'baccy smell: it gives me a headache.

Joe. It gives me a headache to do without 'baccy.

[Joe polishes his pipe-bowl on his sleeve, puts the stem in his mouth, and takes out some shag. Kezia watches him as she removes the tea-things. Joe watches her out of the corner of his eye as he slowly fills his pipe.]

Kezia. I'm fair wore out.

[Joe gets up, puts his pipe on the mantelpiece and his knife and shag in his pocket, and advances towards Kezia. He puts his hands on her shoulders and looks in her eyes.]

Joe. Kiss us, old girl!

Kezia. Don't be so silly. I don't feel like it at all, and I want to be with mother again.

Joe. And married only two years!

Kezia. It seems like six to me.

Joe. What ails thee, lass?

Kezia. Don't keep allus askin' questions and bein' so quarrelsome; I'm mazed at the sight of 'e, sure enough. [She folds the cloth, pokes the fire, goes into the inner room, at back R., and comes in again with her hat and shawl on and a basket in her hand. She looks at Joe, and wipes her eyes.] You can sit there as long as you've a mind to, and smoke insides black and blue. I'm going to market a bit, and then I shall go into Blanch Sally and talk to she. She've got a bit of common sense. It's just on eight o'clock, and I shan't be more nor an hour or so.

[Joe does not stir as Kezia goes out of the front door. Kezia looks back to see if he'll turn, but he does not move. He gazes into the fire with his hands clasped behind his head, and his chair tilted back.]

Joe. I'd as soon be a dog as a man, sure enough! They can sit by the fire and be comfortable. [He jumps up suddenly as he hears a knock at the door.] Come in!

[The street door opens softly, and Matthew Trevaskis comes in very quietly. He is a stout, short man with bushy hair and a beard. He also is dressed as a laborer. He looks at Joe and gives a low whistle.]

Matthew. Hallo, mate!

Joe. Oh! you?

[Joe sits down again, points to another chair, and looks gloomily back into the fire.]

Matthew. Well, brother! Thee looks as if thee'd run out o' speerits and 'baccy both.

Joe. I'm moody, like a thing.

[Matthew laughs and draws his chair up close to Joe. He pulls down his waistcoat, and then puts his fingers in the arm-holes, as he contemplates Joe.]

Matthew. Got the hump, mate? Have 'e?

[Joe shakes his head dolefully from side to side and sighs.]

Matthew. Jaw, I suppose?

[Joe nods.]

Matthew. Thought so. I met the missus as I came along looking a bit teasy. Women's the devil that way; it's in their breed and bone, like fightin' in we. You began all wrong, like me, mate, and females always takes advantage of honeymoon ways, and stamps on we if we don't take 'em in hand at once.

[Joe sighs, crosses his legs and looks at his friend.]

Joe. Drat it all! I never began no different to what I am now. I cain't make things up at all. I'm fairly mazed, never having had dealin's with no female, except mother, who was mostly ill, and never in tantrums.

[Matthew rises, pokes Joe in the ribs and laughs.]

Matthew. Cheer up, brother, there's no bigger fool than a man as is sent crazy with a woman.

Joe. Women is mazy things.

Matthew. There's allus 'baccy for to fortify us against them, thanks be.

[Matthew draws a little black clay pipe out of his waistcoat pocket and points to Joe's pipe on the mantelpiece as he sits down.]

Joe. Kezia 'ates 'baccy in the house.

Matthew. Smoke all the time then; it's the only way.

[Joe smiles and smoothes his thin straight hair.]

Joe. You allus forgets I'm bent on pleasin' of Kezia.

[Matthew stretches out his legs, and his face becomes calm and thoughtful. He speaks very deliberately.]

Matthew. The more thee tries to please women, mate, the more crotchety they becomes. Within bounds I keep the peace in our place like a judge, but she've learnt, Jane Ann have, that I'll put my foot down on any out-of-the-way tantrums. Give them their heads and they'll soon have we by the heels.

Joe. Sometimes I wonder if we give 'em their heads enough. Perhaps they'd domineer less if we left 'em take their own grainy ways.

Matthew. You bet! If I gave in to Jane Ann entirely, where the devil do 'e think I should be at all?

[The two men laugh together and light their pipes and smoke hard.]

Joe. I've no notion.

Matthew. Well! I should be like a cat out in the rain, never certain where to put my feet. As it is, as you do know, I cain't keep no dog for fear of the mess its feet 'ud make on the floor; I cain't have a magpie in a cage 'cause its seed 'ud 'appen fall on the table. I've got to walk ginger like a rooster in wet grass for fear o' disturbin' the sand on the clean floor, and I rubs my feet on the mat afore I goes in to my meals enough to split it in half. I gives in to all things 'cause I was took captive over them, in a manner of speaking, almost afore I'd finished courting, and it takes years to understand women's fancies! It's worse nor any book learnin', is understandin' women; and then, when you think you've learnt 'em off by heart, any man 'ud fail under a first standard examination on 'em. [He gets up and shakes Joe by the shoulder.] Listen to me, mate! Bein' a real pal to thee, Joe, I'm warnin' of 'e now afore it's too late, for thee's only been wed two years, and there's time to alter things yet.

[Joe suddenly gets up and goes to the door to see if it is fastened, and returns to face his friend. He takes off his long-sleeved waistcoat and throws it on a chair, after putting down his pipe.]

Joe. Matthey!

Matthew. Yes?

Joe. Don't you think it is too late even now?

Matthew. Fur what? It's no use speakin' i' riddles, man. Trust or no trust—that's my plan. Thee's the only livin' man or woman, for the matter of that, as I've blackened Jane Ann to, and if it'll ease thy mind to tell what's worritin' of thee, you do know it's as safe as if you'd dropt your secret into the mouth of a mine shaft.

Joe. Done! Give me a hearing and let's have finished with it.

[Matthew cleans out the bowl of his pipe and knocks the ashes out against the grate as he waits for his friend to begin. Joe stands first on one leg and then on the other and gives a long whistle.]

Matthew. Sling along. It won't get no easier wi' keeping.

[Joe wipes his forehead with a red handkerchief, which he takes out of his trouser pocket.]

Joe. Awkward kind o' work, pullin' your lawful wife to bits.

Matthew. It'll get easier as thee goes on, man. I'll help thee. What's the row to-day?

Joe. Crusties.

[Matthew winks at Joe and lights his pipe again.]

Matthew. It's always some feeble thing like that as makes confusion in a house. Jane Ann began just like that. Dirty boots in the best parlor was my first offense, and it raised hell in our house for nigh on a whole day.

Joe. Well, I never! It was just the same thing in a way with me. I soaked the crusties in my tea this mornin' and threw 'em to the cat under the table, and I suppose I must 'ave put my foot in 'em, for Kezia went off like a thing gone mazy. She stormed and said—[he sits down and wipes his forehead again with his handkerchief as he pauses]—as she were a fool to take me, and all sorts, and then she cried fit to kill herself, and when I spoke she told me to hold my noise, and when I didn't speak she said I'd no feelin's, and was worse nor a stone. We scarcely spoke at dinner-time. She said she wished she was dead, and wanted her mother, and that, bein' a man, I was worse nor a devil; and when I kept on eatin' she said she wondered the food didn't choke me, and when I stopped eatin' she said I was never pleased wi' nothin' she'd got ready for me. My head is sore with the clang of the teasy things she drove into me, and I'm not good at replies, as you do know.

[Joe ends in a weary voice and pokes the fire listlessly. Matthew smokes hard and his eyes are on the ground.]

Matthew. Women be mysteries, and without little uns they'm worse nor monsters. A child do often alter and soften 'em, but a childless woman is as near a wolf as anything I do know.

[Joe's elbows sink on his knees and his hands support his woebegone face. When he next speaks he has a catch in his voice, and he speaks quickly.]

Joe. That's it, is it?

Matthew. Iss, mate! That's the mischief. Unless—[he looks up suddenly at Joe]—perhaps she be goin' to surprise 'e by telling 'e she be going to have a little one. That would account for her bein' teasy and moody.

[Joe laughs sorrowfully.]

Joe. Lor', I should be the first to know that, surely!

Matthew. Not a bit of it. Women loves secrets of that sort.

Joe. No; 'tain't that at all. I only wish it was, if what you say be true of women.

Matthew. True enough, my son. I did the cutest day's work in my life when I persuaded Jane Ann to take little Joe to help we. I watched the two of 'em together and found he caught his tongueing, too, from she, but it had a sort of nestle sound in it as if she were a-cuddlin' of him. She've been gentler wi' me ever since Joe come back again after his long bout at home.

[Joe scratches his head very thoughtfully; a pause, in which he seems to be thinking before speaking again.]

Joe. I don't know of no sister's child to take on for Kezia at all. What's the next remedy, think you?

Matthew. A thrashin'.

[Joe jumps up and stares at Matthew.]

Joe. A what?

Matthew. Wallop her just once.

[Matthew looks on the ground and taps it with his foot, and he does not see that Joe is standing over him with his hands clenched.]

Joe. Shame on thee, mate! I feel more like strikin' thee nor a female. I'm sorry I told thee, if thee can offer no more help than that. I'm not much of a chap, but I've never struck a woman yet.

Matthew. Strike on principle, then.

[He still looks fixedly at the floor, and Joe stands glaring at him.]

Joe. How?

Matthew. Like the Almighty strikes when He've got a lesson for we to learn, which we won't learn without strikes and tears. Nothin' is of no avail to stop His chastisement if He do think it's goin' to work out His plan for He and we, and that's what I'm wanting of you to do by your wife for her sake more than for yours. Wives must learn to submit. [Harshly.] It's Divine Providence as 'ave ordered it, and women be miserable, like ivy and trailers of all sorts, if they've no prop to bear 'em up. Beat her once and it'll make a man of you and be a life-long warnin' to she.

Joe. But I love her, man! [Softly.] The very thought of hurting her makes me creep.

[Joe shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head repeatedly.]

Mathew. Women likes bein' hurt. It's a real fondlin' to 'em at times.

[Joe sits down and folds his arms as he looks humbly at Matthew.]

Joe. Lor', I never heard that afore. How can you be sure of that at all?

Mathew. I've traveled, as you do knaw. I ain't been to Africa for nothin', mate. I've seen a deal o' things, which if I'd happened on afore I courted Jane Ann would have got me through the marriage scrimmage wi' no tiles off of my roof. That's why I'm a warnin' of you afore it's too late. Your woman be worth gettin' i' trim—[with a sigh]—for she's—well—she's—

[Joe's eyes rest on his friend's face and his face suddenly lights up with a smile.]

Joe. She's the best sort of woman a man could 'ave for a sweetheart when her moods is off, and it's only lately her 'ave altered so, and I expect it's really all my fault.

Mathew. Certainly it is; you've never shown master yet, and you must this very night.

Joe. [Coughs nervously.] How?

Mathew. You must thrash her before it is too late. Have 'e a cane?

[Joe jumps up, twists round his necktie, undoes it, ties it again—marches up and down the little kitchen, and wheels round on Matthew.]

Joe. You'm a fair brute, Matthew Trevaskis.

Mathew. And you'm a coward, Joe Pengilly. [Matthew clasps his hands round his raised knee and nods at Joe, who sits.] I've given you golden advice, and if only a pal had given it to me years ago I shouldn't be in the place I'm in now, but be master of my own wife and my own chimney-corner.

[Joe puts his hands in his pockets and tilts back his chair as he gazes up at the ceiling as if for inspiration.]

Joe. I cain't stomach the idea at all; it's like murderin' a baby, somehow.

Mathew. Stuff! You needn't lay on too hard to make bruises nor nothin'.

[Joe goes pale and puts his head in his hands for a moment, and he almost whispers.]

Joe. Good Lord! Bruises! Why, man, she've got flesh like a flower!

[Matthew suddenly holds out his hand to Joe, who shakes it feebly.]

Mathew. I almost envies thee, mate. Why, thee's fair daft wi' love still.

Joe. Of course I be! [Sullenly.] She's more nor meat and drink to me; allus have been since the first I took to she.

Mathew. All the more reason to beat her, and at once. [Sternly.] You'll lose her, sure enough, if you don't. It's the only chance for thee now, and I do knaw I'm speaking gospel truth.

[A long pause, in which Joe meditates with a grave face. He suddenly snaps the fingers of his right hand as he says quickly.]

Joe. I'll do it. It'll nearly be the finish of me, but if you're certain sure she'll love me more after it I'll shut my eyes and set my teeth and—and—yes, upon my soul, I'll do it! She'm more to me than all the world, and I'll save she and myself with her. But are you sure it will do any good?

[Matthew wrings Joe's hands and then slaps him on the back.]

Mathew. I swear it, brother. [Solemnly.] I've never once known it fail.

Joe [anxiously]. Never once in all your travels?

[Matthew looks down.]

Mathew. Iss, mate, once, sure enough, but the woman had never cared twopence for the man to start with. After it she left 'un altogether.

Joe [with a groan]. Oh! Good Lord!

Mathew. That was no fair start like a thing. See?

Joe. No, to be sure.

Mathew. Now! [He strikes Joe's shoulder briskly.] Now for it!

[Joe twists round towards the door, and a miserable smile is on his lips.]

Joe. Well, what now?

[Matthew bends down to Joe's ear and whispers.]

Mathew. We must go and buy the cane.

Joe. Sakes!

Mathew. Bear up! It'll all be over by this time to-morrow night, and that's a great stand by, isn't it?

Joe. I suppose it is. [Gloomily.] Who'll be spokesman over the buyin'?

Matthew. Me, my son. How far will 'e go i' price?

[Joe shakes his head and looks wearily at Matthew.]

Joe. It's no odds to me, Matthey; I don't know and don't care!

Matthew. Will sixpence ruin 'e?

Joe. It's all ruin. I'm sweatin' like a bull with fear and shame, and wish I was dead and buried.

[Matthew points to the door and the two men move slowly towards it.]

Matthew. It's just on nine o'clock. Kezia will be back afore we start if we don't mind. Don't stop to think when you come back, but rush right in and set at it at once, and she'll have time to come round before you settle for the night. Bein' Saturday night, all the neighbors be mostly i' town shoppin', and if there should be a scream I'll make up a yarn to any one who comes near as 'll stop all gossip. I shan't be far off till I reckon it's all over.

[Joe's teeth are set and his head down, and he gazes at the door and then at Matthew, irresolutely.]

Matthew. Thee deserves to lose her if thee be real chicken-hearted like this 'ere.

[Joe makes a dart forward, unlatches the door, rushes out followed by Matthew.]

Matthew [outside]. Go round by the croft and then we shan't meet her coming home.

[After a pause the door slowly opens and Kezia comes in. She has a basket in one hand and a string bag full of parcels in the other. She looks round, puts her parcels on the table and in the cupboards, pokes the fire, and then takes her basket in her hand again, looks at the clock and goes into the inner room. She comes back with her outdoor garments off and a loose dressing-jacket of white and blue linen over her arm. She goes to a drawer in the table and brings out a little comb and brush and stands thinking.]

Kezia. I'll do my hair down here. He cain't be long, and it's cold upstairs. Gone for tobacco, I suppose, and he'll want his tea when he comes in.

[She puts the kettle on the fire. She undoes her hair, facing audience; shakes it about her shoulders, puts on her dressing-jacket and begins to brush and comb her hair before the fire, and near the settle she bends down and warms her hands, singing a lullaby as she does so. She then stands facing the fire, smiling to herself as she sings. So absorbed is she in her thoughts that she does not see the street-door open and the white, scared face of Joe appear. He puts his hands behind his back when he has softly shut the door, and tip-toes towards Kezia, who never sees him till he has sat down swiftly on the settle, the further corner to where she stands. His left hand, with the cane in it, is not visible to Kezia, as it is hidden by the end of the settle. Tying a large plait on one side of her head—the nearest to him—with pink ribbon, she suddenly turns round and sees him, and their eyes meet. She sits down by him. Kezia's face is very sweet and smiling as she tosses the plait over her shoulder.]

Kezia. Seen a ghost, Joey, my dear, or is it Kezia come to her senses at last, think you?

[Joe does not stir. He gazes at Kezia with a puzzled and tender expression.]

Joe. What's come to thee, lass?

Kezia. Guess!

[Kezia clasps her hands behind her head and looks into Joe's face with a happy smile.]

Joe. Cain't at all.

Kezia. Come close, sweetheart.

[She draws nearer to Joe, who does not move, and tries to keep the cane hidden. He suddenly draws her close to him with his right arm, and whispers.]

Joe. Kezia.

Kezia [softly]. Joey, my dear! [She nestles closer to him and puts her head on his shoulder.] He'll be the dearest little thing a woman ever bore.

[Joe laughs softly, kisses Kezia gently on the eyes, brow, and then month, and holds her closely to him.]

Joe. Heaven cain't be more desirable than this.

Kezia. To think there'll be three of us soon. You see now why I've been so teasy lately. Now I'll sing all day long so he'll be a happy boy.

[Joe does not move. He makes furtive attempts to hide the cane behind the settle, and moves a little as he continues to smile at Kezia.]

Kezia. Thee'rt smiling, Joe! Thee and me 'ave both hungered for the same thing. Did thee guess it at all, I wonder? I've kept it from thee a while to make sure. But, lor'! my dear life! whatever be this that you've got here? [She pulls the long cane out of Joe's hands and holds it in hers. They both look at it very solemnly for a few moments, and Joe scratches his head sadly, unable to speak. She bursts into a merry laugh and her lips tremble.] Eh! Joe! lad! [softly.] Thee was always unlike other chaps; that's why I do love thee so. Fancy thee guessing, and going to buy him somethin' right away! [She puts her face in her hands and sobs and laughs together.] Oh! it brings it so near like. Most men would have thought of a cradle or a rattle, but thee! Oh! my dear! [She throws her arms round his neck and kisses him on the mouth.] Thee thought of the first beatin' we should be forced to give him, for, of course, he'll be a lad of tremenjous spirit.

Joe [suddenly, and snatching the cane from Kezia.] So he will. Both his father and mother be folk of great spirit, and—the first time as he dirts the tablecloth or frets his mother, I'll lay it on him as, thanks be, I've never laid it on nobody yet.