Hoodening Play 1974

(The Hoodeners enter. Dobbin is manifestly unwell, he drags his feet, his mouth hangs open, and his head hangs low. During the ensuing speeches, led by the boy, he walks listlessly round the perimeter of the available space. The Hoodeners are also conspicuously enervated)
Allan:
You need not shrink or stagger back in fear
Old Dobbin's only half the horse this year
Those hairy hooves an acre ploughed a day
Moll:
And took young Martin's blighted life away
Joe:
That when the flies annoyed he'd rise and shake
And then crash down and make the roadway quake
Allan:
That in the meadow when in spring he played
Kicked up the turf and rapid thunder made
That from the shrinking flints t'ignite the air
Struck long gold sparks…
Boy:
         … That mounted Shuart's mare
Moll:
Those mighty hooves, once raised a foot or more
Two weary channels in the earth now score
Joe:
You'd think a lodestone buried in the sod
So listless is his slow, lethargic plod
Allan:
And such his aching sinews' nagging pain
You wonder if he'll lift 'em up again
Boy:
So low he carries now his once proud head
You'd think his skull filled up with solid lead
Moll:
And then his coat which like old leather shone
Is dull and dry, its liveliness all gone
Allan:
His coat, his tongue, his eyes all make it clear
He cannot live to shuffle through next year
(They turn and watch sympathetically as the boy leads Dobbin round. His pace, already dead slow, now stops)
Joe:
Old Dobbin stops — dead in his tracks
The muscles of his limbs relax
Moll:
The spark of life in him decays
His mighty bulk unsteady sways
Allan:
The light within his old eye dims
The architecture of his limbs
Disintegrates and falls asunder
Joe:
As Dobbin hits the earth like thunder
Moll:
A tremor passes through the ground
A heaving, almost lifeless mound
Boy:
Like a brown hillock on a plain
He lies there gasping out with pain
Joe:
Well, we can't just leave him there; we must get him up. He'll die if we don't!
Moll:
But how, that's what I'd like to know?
Allan:
We best all try lifting. Perhaps once he sees what we're trying to do he'll help himself
Joe:
Right then, I'll take hold of his head. Allan, and you, Boy, on his back — and you grip his tail, Molly!
All:
We each takes a grip of this massive great horse
Take a grip on ourselves and then use all our force
Boy:
And we grunts and we groans and our brows starts to sweat
Moll:
But prostrate on the ground his huge bulk remains yet
Allan:
And I can't get a grip nor straighten my back
If I lifts any more my old backbone'll crack
Joe:
You ain't trying, mates. Oh, come on, try again
I shall count one — two — three — and then take the strain
You all got a grip? Right then, one — two — three —
Boy:
(gripping his lower abdomen)
Oh, I reckon I've suffered a bad injury
And what should be pliant and slack as a worm
Has almost got lost and gone tiny and firm
Joe:
And the blood in my body's all rushed to my heart
And left incommoded each more distant part
Allan:
And once again this year my old back's got the screws
And this ancient old frame has got painful to use
Joe:
And as to old Molly — well, just take a look
At her old sunken cheeks and her nose like a hook
Boy:
And her rotten old teeth and her scrawny old throat
And her skinny old breasts like an ancient she-goat…
Allan:
Which each hang from her ribs all withered and narrow
Like a frosted cucumber or long veg'table marrow
Joe>
And upward and out point her boney old knees
The rest of the ruin, thank God, nobody sees!
Allan:
Ah, born too soon — that's the trouble with all of us
Boy:
I feel a bit better now; let's try again
Joe:
No, brute force has failed us, Boy, now let's try brain
Allan:
That might well surprise you what thinking can do
So listen, and us three will educate you
Joe:
For ten years the Greeks
Were frustrated at Troy
He grew hair on his face
That weren't there as a boy
Moll:
And year after year
There they camped on Troy's plain
And charged madly at Troy's walls
Again and again

Whilst the Trojans inside
Enjoyed normal lives…

Allan:
Even warriors weren't home
Come the dusk to their wives

And perfidious Paris
In safety was dwellin'
And still smiling at Greeks

Joe:
And still knocking off Helen

Homer's word in the Greek is
Aphrodisiatzein
But I have to admit
The translation is mine

Moll:
Until Ulysses said
Allan:
"Mates, we've lost our best man
And been forced back from Troy's wall
Again and again

"And long ere this moment
Troy's walls had been down
And we'd sacked and we'd ravaged
This miserable town…

"Agamemnon and Ajax
As a short plank are thick
But the goddess Athene
Has taught me a trick…"

Well, you know how Troy fell
Scarce a man there escaped

Moll:
They got put to the sword —
Joe:
And the women got raped
Allan:
So let's put by brute force
And try thinking instead
And be like them Greek chaps
And each one use his head
Boy:
His head? I'm not with you
Allan:
For thinking, of course
Forget rapin' the women
And let's shift this horse
Joe:
Given up, that's what he's done. Just like my old grandfather. Fit as a fiddle he was till he was past eighty. Walked to Canterbury market he would — every Friday — and back again if nobody gave him a ride. Then they said they was going to chuck him out of his cottage so as he couldn't do his garden any more, and he just sat down in his chair and died. Weren't nothing wrong with him — doctor said so. He just give up. Wouldn't even stir for his beer
Allan:
What, Boy, would make the vital spark turn bright
And shine before it melted into night
Before the dark its heat and light could quench?
Boy:
Well, c'rect me if I'm wrong. I'd say a wench
Joe:
No, Moll, he's right, and that's the answer, look
for confirmation, read the Holy Book
And there you'll find King David had grown old
and that, despite thick clothes, was very cold
And so they found a damsel very fair
To cherish him and lie beside him there
And set his fading spark again alight
Her name was Abishag, a Shunamite
Allan
'Twas that same David who, when in his prime
Gave Bathsheba, Uriah's wife, the time
So what we needs to stiffen Dobbin's thews
Is see if there's a filly we could use
Moll:
But have you ever heard
Can you ever remember
A filly on heat
In the depths of December
Joe:
No that I cannot
Still I can contrive
And get what we need
To increase Dobbin's drive

For hung in the stable
A full twelve month past
Are some old rotten rags
And some clouts we've off-cast

Allan:
Oh, go on then, Joe
We'll see how it goes
Let's get 'em and wave 'em
Before Dobbin's nose

And pinch him some grub -
A bucket of oats
For none of us thrive
Without food down our throats

(Exit Joe)
Boy:
What do you reckon's wrong with him
That he don't stir nor move a limb?
Allan:
What ails him? Ah, Boy, I can tell ye
No more nor less than empty belly
Moll:
Ah, Boy, they've kept him short of hay
And let him work his life away
From morn to night it's nought but toil
Carting or ploughing up the soil
They try to run him on fresh air
Not like that pampered little mare
That Mrs keeps for riding on -
The finest hay that's fed upon -
And apples, sugar, such like perks
But not for him — he only works!
Boy:
He's just about like us, then
Allan:
Yes, exploted[sic]. That's what we are, boy; and there isn't nothing you can do about it
Boy:
From cradle to grave we are took for a ride
The bosses, the bastards, are on their own side
And sharp they are too, as any pig's scream
For they gives us the skimmed milk and laps up the cream
Allan:
When I was first born and I still hadn't cried
The old nurse held me up, and she whacked my back-side
And ever since then, whether early or late
Whether babe, boy or man, I've been pounded by fate
Boy:
Here's old Joe come back, with a bucket and a load of old rags like he said
Moll:
Hold the bucket right up to his nose… he's starting to munch 'em
Allan:
The level's going down; the bucket's half empty
Joe:
That should do the trick
Boy:
If he swallows it like that he will make himself sick
Allan:
Being sick, don't you know, Boy, is simply not part
Of a horse's digestion…
Joe:
          But yet horses can fart
(Dobbin farts)
So I wouldn't stay there
Allan:
          Too late, Joe, 'tis done
Moll:
'Tis an aid to digestion. Look, the oats is all gone
But still he lies supine and silent and still
Joe:
Then shake out the clothes and let's harden his will
(During the following — which is spoken beautifully to the accompaniment of a tune of surpassing loveliness played upon the fiddle — the boy gently wafts the ancient abandoned garments before Dobbin's nose)
Joe:
Think, Dobbin, of a day in early May
The grass is lush and buttercups are gay
A thousand, thousand shrill or fluted notes
Are flung in the air from the small birds' throats
Allan:
And tiny suns in that sweet morning hour
Shine from the drops from a gentle dawn shower
Moll:
And early you rise and gambol around
Your spritely young hooves scarce touching the ground
Joe:
And then, when you stop, you hear a shrill neigh
Float softly through the limpid air of day -
Allan:
A filly come to add to your delight
You rub and give her first a gentle bite
And then you rear…
Moll:
Look out! He's on his feet
Boy:
And rearing's just what he is doing
Joe:
I thought some life I could instil
And harden Dobbin's feeble will
Well, now he's strong and up and bated
Allan:
You fool, he's over-stimulated!
I'd almost sooner he had died
Moll:
For God's sake get the brute outside
Joe:
No heed old Jeremiah's warning
About fed horses in the morning
Allan:
Look, he's making for the door
Moll:
But our lad's stretched out on the floor

Oh, look at his head! Cover it up

(They form a group round Dobbin concealing his head from sight)
Moll:
See the poor young lad's life blood
From out his head drains
And his dark gory locks
Are all mixed up with his brains
Allan:
Like a poor dead, squashed hedgehog
That's run down in the road
With its innards spewed out
By the weight of the load
Joe:
A slaughterhouse drain
Blocked with all hair and blood
Is what's most like his head
Allan:
Joe, I don't feel too good
Moll:
Then let's cover him up
In a clean winding sheet
From his pitiful head
To his lifeless young feet
(They wrap up the corpse and stand round it whilst delivering the following lament)
Joe:
Our old boy we had put away
And put this new one on. Today
This new one goes the self same way
Allan:
Alas, his earthly course is done
His mortal race too quickly run
His web of life too quickly spun
Moll:
Now for the grave the boy's arrayed
Get out the mattock and the spade
And let him in the earth be laid
Allan:
Under a full six feet of clay
There lie and wait the judgement day
Alas, what more is there to say?
Joe:
Plant him six feet in the ground
Put over him a green turfed mound
Now let the muffled church bell sound
(The bell is tolled and then with appropriate decorum the body is borne away by Joe and Allan to the strains of the dead march)
Allan:
There's one thing Joe I'll say for sart'in [sic]
He's a damn sight lighter than that Martin
Joe:
Yes, lighter, mate, but not so rigid
It's warm in here — he'll soon be frigid
Meantime he's more inclined to slip
Moll, put your shoulder 'neath his hip
Allan:
No, dump him — get a firmer grip
(The boy's corpse is lowered fairly gently to the ground
Joe:
Allan, have you thought where we're takin' him?
Allan:
Well, home, aren't we?
Joe:
He hasn't got one!
Allan:
Where do he live then?
Joe:
Dunno. Do you know, Moll?
Moll:
Anywheres he can, I think… moment he just sleeps rough in the barn alongside Dobbin. He reckons that keeps him warm
Allan:
Who is he then? Who's his mother and father?
Moll:
Well his mother died when he was a small boy. 'Ousemaid she was, at the Court where they took her in and give her a home. Sweet girl she was, and devoted to him. But who the father was nobody knows and she would never tell anybody
Joe:
Nobody knows, don't they Moll?
Moll & Allan:
Do you know Joe? Go on, tell us!
Joe:
'Tis a score year ago, and he's dead — where's the harm
You remember ol' Jones that kept Chamber's Wall farm?
Moll:
He's a massive great tomb in the church that says "resting"
Joe:
I could tell you from what
Allan:
Well, I finds this arresting
You means that old Jones…
Joe:
Yes boy, he was his dad
Moll:
Well, I know he was mean but never that bad -
At least in that way
Joe:
Well, you listen to me
And I'll open your eyes and then you will see
I went as head waggoner about 1910
He'd come some years before, I can't just say when
Two housemaids he had. They both left in a hurry
One he'd palmed off on the blacksmith at Sturry
And then, as you know, in '14 came the war
Which took off the men, but brought land girls galore
To put their backs to the land. Huh, they did that all right
For if they worked by day, why, then he toiled at night
Whether fair girls or dark ones, tall, fat ones and all
Old Jones did not mind; he'd get each one with foal -
Sometimes in his barn and sometimes in his bed -
And once in a farm cart he took one instead
(He was, he would tell me, as he wrote for more wenches
Redressing the balance upset in the trenches!)
But he slipped up at last, one warm July day
I'd been working till dark in the fields cutting hay
Then, whetting my scythe, placed it down on some straw
In the barn, when old Jones led a wench through the door
He didn't see me. There was giggling — a chuckle
Then a jingling, the sound of his old breeches buckle -
Few grunts, and then a great blood-curdling yell!
Allan:
And what happened then?
Joe:
That was too dark to tell
But I found them next day, all withered and cold…
And that's why it'll be old Jones became holy and old
Moll:
So that's where he came from
Joe:
Yes, him and about twenty others dotted round these parts
Allan:
So what do we do with him? Let the parish bury him?
Joe:
Yes, I suppose so. Unless of course he's got anything on him. Let's have a look
(They go through the boy's pockets, discovering only objects of no value)
Allan:
His knife, a cartridge case, some string
But as for value — not a thing
Nothing of worth has he managed to save
To keep him from having a pauper's grave
Joe:
Obscure his birth, his fortune small
Why stop to bury him at all?
A hospital would buy his body
And who's to worry? Why nobody!
Moll:
I sees the advantage, Allan, but…
Allan:
Oh shut up Moll, you'll get your cut
Come, help me to remove his breeches
And then we'll take him to the leeches
Boy:
(muffled from beneath the sheet)
Leave my breeches alone
(Allan, Joe, Moll, express surprise)
Moll:
He's getting up
Allan:
          He's on his feet
Joe:
How are you Boy?
Boy:
          I feel a treat
How's Dobbin, Joe?
Joe:
          Why, he looks fine
Allan:
And from the pain's that back of mine
Joe:
And my old heart could stand the strain
Of running up hill or courting again
Boy:
And as for old Moll, well she's one of the best
Allan:
And though bony her legs and withered her breast
Underneath its poor yellow, old skin
A heart of pure gold is still flutterin'
Joe:
You could feel if you liked for still the hope lingers
To be felt by another but Time's crooked fingers
Allan:
Come on! That's time we weren't here. Fetch old Dobbin and we'll be off
(They form a group with Dobbin in a central position facing the main body of the audience)
Joe:
Well now 'tis time that we were gone
Moll:
We hope we've pleased you — everyone
Allan:
Once more we've brought to life our boy
Boy:
And told the story of old Troy
Joe:
And Dobbin's light being almost out
Fanned it to life with an old cast clout
Allan:
And, if one word of ours offended
Forgive us, for 'twas not intended
Joe:
Forgive us; we are rough and poor
But none the worse for that, friends, for
Didn't He who ruled the universe
Yet choose a poor man's wife for nurse
Moll:
And choose a manger for his bed
Allan:
And had not where to lay his head?
Joe:
And what would most rejoice His heart
To cheerful Charity. Come, part!
Boy:
Come, every shekel which you save
Must be surrendered at the grave
Moll:
You will own nothing when you're dead
Again, remember what He said
Joe:
That whatsoever things do ye
T'others, ye do them unto me
Allan:
Can you these solemn words ignore?
Don't turn your back, my good friend, for
All:
If ye the Hooden Horse do feed
Throughout the year ye shall not need

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