1400 either more or less or exactly, or about an hour later. An innyard.
RICHARD: Innkeep! Soul!
INNKEEPER: [Opens the window] Not at home!
RICHARD: Body! Oh, what is that line?
Clay! Calculating clay!
INNKEEPER: I said I’m not at home. Do you see the cock
Come creeping out to blazon the air with his soundings?
The small hours are handiwork for the devil.
No, my young cockerel, I’ll not open up for a pair of runaways,
This is a respectable house.
ALIZON: But sir-
RICHARD: We’re wed.
My old priest, one ivory tooth laid to precious rest,
Rousted up in the chill midnight to clasp our hands
In pious matrimony. The service called for a ring
And Alizon offered a golden twist of her hair. But no,
The vicar in place of poor box leavings had an annulet
Of his own. He said it was his mother’s.
INNKEEPER: A pair of penniless runaways. Vagrants, damp as church mice.
RICHARD: I have money.
INNKEEPER: Stolen from your master, the old story –
RICHARD: I’ve stolen more precious than gold fair as barley,
Or stones of periwinkle blue.
ALIZON: [to RICHARD] I’m remade as a new penny.
INNKEEPER: There, where there’s smoke there’s mud below. Or
Do the fires of hell form their own confabulation?
I forget. Good night. [closes the shutters]
[JENNET and THOMAS enter]
THOMAS: Good morning,
The rains do rain on sinner and saint alike,
But here’s an April inundation. It’s a heathen
Kind of sacrament, I expect.
RICHARD: They won’t let us in.
ALIZON: The innkeeper, you see, he has a suspicion
That all is not quite upright and correct.
THOMAS: Upright’s a poor configuration. Look up! Twin stars
Do circle the pole of inconvenienced expectation.
Weeping nymphs hover on the horizon crying
At the turn of the season. The turgid moon
Swells gibbous over footsore pilgrims who seek,
Sighing, the vexed horizontal.
RICHARD: I- I- I-
THOMAS: I meant I’m tired.
ALIZON: Master Mendip, you are a holy sort of beggar,
Who puts my poor Richard quite out of countenance.
THOMAS: What’s this? The milk pale maid has a spine?
ALIZON: She does.
Sir. Richard helped save you from death; I, too,
My own small part of it. That should be worth a single day
Free from taunts while the moon fills with honey
And the gentle humblebee sighs in her nest.
THOMAS: But who will save me from life? There’s the crux
Of it. Sweet maid, I will quit thee:
Three wise men, and countless shepherds,
Not to mention a carpenter’s bone weary mother
Travelled long miles to hear the words:
“No room at the inn.” Perhaps the youth
Of today’s soggy congregation could assay
A similar solution.
RICHARD: Look, Alizon, there’s a window to the barn.
THOMAS: There is a window. Let the newly weds alight:
Escalate, infenestrate and, most importantly, conjugate.
ALIZON: You’re laughing at us.
THOMAS: I am
But in recompense I offer you bended knee
[RICHARD and ALIZON climb through the window]
There, love’s young dream is assembled:
Husband, wife and bridal bed.
Let the fires of youthful innocence beat back
The dreary deluge of April.
[to JENNET] And now you laugh at me, madam.
JENNET: I do. I do. Humid steam you may exhort,
But damp snores I think will be served up instead.
[She sits on a bench] O God, I am tired.
THOMAS: That’s not the personage to apostrophise -
It was the Great Deceiver punctuated our lives.
JENNET: I saw my life disrupted by middle class
Bourgeoisie, not Satan.
THOMAS: Indeed. Venal greed, hypocrisy
And the polite cough were the cause of your undoing.
The gentle pause of a comma has the devil in it.
JENNET: You need a better grammar.
THOMAS: Try to get some sleep, Jennet.
There’s shelter here, and the incessant rains
Of April can pour on another’s head
While we huddle under eaves. Old Noah
May have this to say for our lesser flood:
I do like the smell of it.
[JENNET takes off her cloak and lays it on the bench to dry]
There, you’ve doffed your outer shell.
Let the damp cocoon of musty wool spread wide
Wings. The lady must not get cold -
What guardian would allow that?
JENNET: The inside of me is dry. I’ve already
Sloughed off my borrowed finery,
Not to mention that profusion of poodles, peacocks-
THOMAS: And painted money masquerading as essential gold?
Let the soul of you shine free of carnal flesh.
Carne vale, good bye to meat, sucking pig,
Cranberry tart, jellied eyeballs…
JENNET: The party ended with a fast.
THOMAS: And the fast with a rising.
JENNET: There’s a horror in your eyes…
You should sleep, Thomas Mendip.
THOMAS: I had a plan-
JENNET: You planned to extinguish the precious crown
Of restless intellect. Sorrow sleeps eternal.
THOMAS: I had a starry quilt pulled up to my chin,
Ripped away by courtesy. Night’s pall
Had a comfort all its own, purpled with
Nightmares. Oh, I’m a gimcrack guardian, sweet Jennet,
You’ve run away with a fraud.
JENNET: Life is the first alchemy. The white and the red
Dance in marriage bed; the humours condense,
Distill, expand, crystallise and quench a mother’s wail
And la! there stands a boy, whose only cry is “I am”.
Exhaled into the world, transmuted by books and childhood
Taunts, compressed by soldiery, calcined by war, the dross
Of mundane existence worn away by walking, leaving
To my sight a man who begs “I am not”, despite
The universe’s continued interest in him. I’ll take
The temper of you, my Tom.
THOMAS: O Jennet. [he wrings his hands]
JENNET: Your poor thumbs -
Witch child, scratchèd knee, draggled hair, thou
Abuser of patience and garden walls, the bane
Of rag and bone men from Land’s End to Far Cathay,
You were never so beautiful.
JENNET: Come come, poor Tom, a bed is made for you.
You hesitate, your hands tremble – Poor Tom,
Night’s Terrors are too dreadful
And the pallid flame of virginal Diane
Is no fit nightlight for such as we. The mewling infant,
Milk fed, hushed in arms, might settle for such
Fool’s silver, but Poor Tom’s gone to war. A soldier
Wearied of cold porridge, staled blood, and the tyranny
Of a holed sole in one’s right boot.
The subtle silences of the night are too loud
To bear, one might hear one’s own breath
And the jangle against the eyelids -
THOMAS: I saw
A man burn once; no witch he, a Lollard mumbler.
His skin crackled, and he held his hands, so…
He cried, Jennet, he cried.
JENNET: Phaeton’s Chariot was set in the cobalt dome,
A brighter lamp, for the wilder dreams of one
Well seasoned in the ways of the world.
I see, there, the warning glow of false dawn.
The daylight will warm you soon enough.
Settle here, there is no need to wake
The infants from the first deep sleep of marriage.
Settle here and make yourself a cloak
To cover a girl new naked to the wider creation.
THOMAS: My bottom lip, my left eye; how can I use as pillow
A woman who does not reach my chin?
JENNET: Hush. The children sleep.
[She puts her head on his shoulder. They sleep.]