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Title: One Touch O' Nature
Author: George S Beeby
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Language: English
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One Touch O' Nature
A Sketch (In Dialogue)

by

George S Beeby


From: Concerning Ordinary People: Six Plays
Gordon and Gotch Ltd.

*

First published 1923


CHARACTERS.

JAMES ADAMS, a coal miner.
MARTHA ADAMS, his wife.
JAMIE, their son.
JOHNNIE COLEMAN, a coal miner.
GEORDIE WATKIN, do.
SUSAN WATKIN, his wife.
PARSON FENWICK, a Baptist clergyman.


SCENE.

The combined dining-room, kitchen, bath and laundry of JAMES ADAMS' house. JAMES ADAMS, a spare, grizzled coal-miner, of about forty, is sitting in a large tub, vigorously cleaning off the day's accumulation of coal-dust, while his wife, MARTHA, a buxom woman of about the same age, is pouring hot water over his back. The room, without floor-covering, contains the usual furniture of a Lancashire coal-miner's home in New South Wales in the early nineties.

MARTHA ADAMS. Now doant splash all over the floor.

JAMES ADAMS. Well, doant wash the soap all in my eyes.

MARTHA. You're more afeerd of soap than the childer. Hurry, before they get whoam.

JAMES. Johnnie Coleman may be round t' supper.

MARTHA (dropping her dipper and replenishing the fire). A nice time to tell me, with scarce enough in the pot for our own. (In response to a knock at the back door). Coom in. Coom in. (JOHN COLEMAN opens the door, and hesitates a moment on the threshold). Sit ye down. James be about washed now. He brings more coal whoam under his shirt than goes into his skips.

JOHNNIE COLEMAN. That's havin' so many corners in which it can find restin'.

MARTHA. It isn't lack of eatin' that makes the corners. (Taking off her apron and moving towards the door). I must run next door for another bit o' meat. (Exit MARTHA).

JAMES. A'hm just through, Johnnie. This craze of the missus to wash all over every day, instead of stoppin' at the neck, except o' Sundays, always keeps I a bit behind. (Wraps himself in an old blanket and disappears into the adjoining bedroom).

JOHNNIE. I know, James, I know. My missus 'ud make me live in a tub. But, get ye dressed. I'll straighten up a bit. (Carries the tub of water to the back door, returns and sweeps out the room. GEORDIE WATKINS, a next door neighbour, in his working clothes and begrimed with the day's coal dust, enters).

GEORDIE. Hallo, Johnnie, where's Jim?

JOHNNIE. Dressin' hisself.

GEORDIE (calling). What about a day in the open to-morrow, Sunday, Jim, with the dogs?

JAMES. A'hm waitin' for it, Geordie. 'Fore sunrise.

GEORDIE.—I'll be tryin' out my new bitch.

JAMES. Somethin' better than the last one, I'm hopin'.

JOHNNIE. There be a special lodge meetin' to-morrow.

GEORDIE. What's the lodge about, now?

JOHNNIE. You ought to know. Doant you read the notices posted at the Miners' Rest?

GEORDIE. I reads no notices interferin' with the dogs' run o' Sundays.

JOHNNIE. Well, for once, you can forget your dogs and think o' your mates.

GEORDIE. What's the meetin' for?

JOHNNIE. There's delegates from the North to be there—on eight hours and more money.

(MARTHA re-enters, puts on her apron and busies herself adding ingredients to the stew pot).

MARTHA. Hurry along there, James. The new parson be callin' after supper.

(JAMES enters, attired in shirt and trousers, and gropes under the sofa for his boots).

JAMES (putting on his boots). Geordie is quite right, Johnnie—these Sunday lodge meetin's must be stopped.

JOHNNIE. Sunday's the only day no full shift is workin', and all hands can be got together.

MARTHA. Never mind your old lodge. The week's revival mission start's to-morrow wi' a parson from Sydney—comin' to give a special message from the Lord.

GEORDIE. But the last mission be only a few months gone.

JOHNNIE. We ha'e a more important message than can come from any parson.

JAMES, I won't go that far with you, Johnnie.

JOHNNIE. Our meetin' might help us to less hours in the pits, and decent houses, and more money for to spend on the childer.

GEORDIE (lighting his pipe with a live ember and seating himself in front of the fire). That's all very well, Johnnie, for them as worries more about those comin' after them than about theirselves. Things seem to come out accordin' to some plan. They're better for us than when I went into t' pit thirty years about, and I suppose when another thirty years has gone they'll be better still.

JOHNNIE. But why are they better to-day?

GEORDIE. How can I say? It just happens so.

JORNNIE. It just happens so! Why, man, why? Because some o' us does the askin', and asks loud enough to be heard—and backs our askin' with doin'.

GEORDIE. Well, what's to do? I'm none thinkin' that any askin' by me will make much difference.

JOHNNIE. No, but you'll do the takkin' of what comes o' others askin' and doin'.

GEORDIE. I will. That's just me, Johnnie. I take what comes and makes the best o' it.

JOHNN¤E (excitedly). With nowt a thought of them as—

MARTHA (interrupting). Can't you do better nor settin' here talkin' and hinderin' me? The childer will be in one o' these minutes—and no supper ready.

A VOICE OUTSIDE. Is my man in there, Martha?

(As GEORDIE rises hastily SUSAN WATKINS opens the door).

SUSAN. There you be, and your water waitin' this half-hour.

MARTHA. I was just sending him whoam, Susan. Talk—talk—there's no doin' anything with a pack o' men gettin' together.

GEORDIE (as he leaves). We'll talk it later, Jimmie. But I'm for a day wi' the dogs. (Exit GEORDIE and SUSAN).

JAMES. Geordie's gettin' worse every day, thinkin' everything he kennels be a champion.

MARTHA. An' you're as bad as Geordie, thinkin' more and more o' dogs.

JAMES. More o' dogs than his rights.

MARTHA. His rights will keep, but the special message o' the mission will na.

JOHNNIE. Let the parson give his message to women-folk. The men will get it later on, when they come whoam a bit late o' nights.

MARTHA. Keep your jeerin' at religion for your lodge meetin's.

JOHNNIE. I'm not jeerin'. I'm sick o' the way the lodge lags behind.

MARTHA. Well, you just keep the chapel and the union apart. Union's all right in its way, but chapel keeps faith burnin'.

JOHNNIE. Keeps faith burnin'. Those be but words—words—

MARTHA. Be you losin' all faith? How many o' you would go down the shaft, without faith?

JOHNNIE. Faith in what?

JIMMIE. Faith, that if anythin' happens, He will find a way out.

JOHNNIE. Like last year—90 of us buried alive, and nigh 50 killed by odd accidents.

MARTHA. Have you come here to take away our religion, as well as to stir up a pot o' trouble?

JOHNNIE. I'm no takkin' anything away. I add to faith what the Book says itself: "The Lord helps those as helps theirselves."

JAMES. Well, don't let us talk it before supper. There is no correct thinkin' with the smell o' onions comin' from the pot, and me hoongry.

MARTHA. That be so. My hope o' salvation is always weakest when I'm wantin' a bit o' food.

(The door opens and JAMIE, a lanky youth of 15, enters and throws his cap on the sofa).

JAMIE. Ain't there no supper yet?

MARTHA. In a few minutes, boy.

JAMIE. It's always late these days.

JAMES. And what's put your nose out o' joint?

JAMIE. Nothin'.

MARTHA. What's your 'urry, boy?

JAMIE. I'm called for a special night shift. Somethin' wrong in No. 3 roadway.

JOHNNIE. Them workin's is none too safe.

MARTHA. That's it. Frighten the boy before he gets to the cage.

JAMES. You can't frighten Jamie wi' talk.

JAMIE (fiercely). Well, I am afraid—and I hate night-shift. We're all workin' too far from the shaft, and gas is breedin' in th' old workin's.

JAMES. Youm be dreamin' again.

JAMIE. I tell you I hear it sometimes—movin' and whisperin'. One of these days the whisperin' will swell into thunder, and we'll be crushed, or smothered slow—same as hundreds before us...I won't be a coal-miner.

JAMES. That's all because you'll be sleepin' o' Sunday, instead o' skylarkin' with the other lads.

JAMES. It isn't. It isn't. I hate the pit. I want to die where I can see it comin'—same as other folk. where no coal be gotten.

MARTHA. Now, Jamie, there's nobbut to make the best o' what the Lord provides, and be content.

JAMIE. But I ain't content. I want to work in farm—some place where there is movin', free—nor feelin' my way in dark passages, with, maybe, boggit, round every corner.

MARTHA. There be no boggits, lad, unless evil abide in ye—-

JAMIE. But there be boggits—I seen them—back o' the old tunnel—where Joe North an' his boys were crushed a year come next Eastertide.

JAMES. That's enough o' yer foolishness. Hae some supper and get at work.

MARTHA. The boy is ill, Jim. Why not send word to excuse him the shift?

JAMIE. I'm not ill. But I will na' be a coal-miner. Some day I'll run away like Jack Olden.

MARTHA (placing a plate of stew before him). Have some supper, lad. Maybe it's bein' hungry that makes thee think o' boggits.

JAMES. What's come over lads these days?

JAMIE. Did 'ee want to be a miner, after schoolin' time was over?

JAMES. There was very little schoolin' in my days. I went down t' pit soon after twelfth birthday.

JAMIE. Did ye go willin'?

JAMES. Not at t' start. I thought first time down in th' cage I were fallin' right t' the bottom o' hell. A year come later, it was just part o' the day's work.

JAMIE. Well, I be different. I hate it more each day whistle blows.

MARTHA. Get on with supper, lad.

JAMIE. I doant want supper.

JAMES. You'm boys be talkin' too much together, and I want no more o' your r likin' and dislikin', this and that.

JAMIE. I tell 'ee I be different to you. I ha'e the pluck to keep on sayin' what you only said once—I won't be a coal-miner.

JAMES (angrily). You think it pluck to gie your father back words? Ha'e your supper wi'out more talk.

MARTHA. Now, man, doant be hasty. (To JAMIE) I have a tasty put by for later.

JAMIE. I tell 'ee I doant want supper. (Seizes his cap and slouches from the room).

(JAMES tries to intercept him, but only reaches the door as it is violently slammed).

MARTHA. Let be, man. Let be. The boy has been ailin' a week past.

JAMES. Doant ye think I know that? But sick, or no sick, a hidin' would make him check the sin o' refusin' good food.

MARTHA (putting the plate of stew back in the pot). Choose your time better. A hidin', to a lad in that way o' mind, would be like a naked light in a bad workin' place.

JOHNNIE. Why should he be a miner, feelin' that way about it?

MARTHA. What else can he be? Somebody's to get coal for the world, and who better than those born and bred to it?

(Three young children enter noisily and gather expectantly round the fire, peering into the stew pot).

ALICE. What's for supper?

MARTHA. Where be Millie and John?

ALICE. They're stayin' with Mrs. Moylan for supper.

MARTHA. Doant ye see a visitor? (The children shake hands with JOHNNIE and seat themselves at the table. MARTHA fills each plate with a generous helping of stew). I wish that lad had stayed. Pull yon chairs up there. Wait a minite, you childer. Ask a blessin', James.

JAMES. "For this food, and for all His blessin's the Loard make us truly thankful."

ALL. Amen.

(Curtain to indicate the lapse of two hours. On the rising of the curtain, JOHNNIE COLEMAN and GEORDIE WATKINS and JAMES are sitting at the table smoking. MARTHA is at a small adjoining table, sewing. The REV. FENWICK is sitting back from the table in the one available easy chair).

MARTHA. You're gettin' to be very contrary lately, and you're neglectin' chapel.

JAMES. I'm only sayin' that chapel and lodge meetin's should come after supper o' Sundays.

JOHNNIE. You know we cannot but get full lodge meetin's on Sunday afternoons.

JAMES. Why not Saturday night? All the shift lads are out o' the pit by 6 o'clock.

JOHNNIE. They won't come together those nights.

REV. FENWICK. They would, but for the Miners' Arms. Close up the dram shop and they'd have nothing to do but attend to their lodge meetings.

(ALICE enters with a can of beer and places it on the table).

MARTHA. You were a long time, child.

ALICE. I stayed a while to listen to Jamies talkin' excited to some other o' the boys.

JAMES (rising hurriedly). Didn't he go to the pit?

ALICE. Oh, he's gone now. He and t'other two boys on the shift went along wi' old Joe Corbett.

JAMES (resuming his seat). That lad wants serious talkin' to, mother.

(ALICE kisses her mother and father good-night, and leaves. MARTHA places heavy china mugs before the men, and filling one for herself places it on the table. The rest of the company, except PARSON FENWICK, help themselves).

GEORDIE. You'd be the better for a mug o' beer, parson. It keeps out the cold, and lets in the milk o' human kindness.

REV. FENWICK. You know I don't touch the poisonous stuff. If you all could only be persuaded to give it up altogether

JAMES. I can't hold with that, parson. I've had my pint on the way home from shift for nigh on thirty years, and a drop for late supper. It's done me no 'arm, and it has na' weakened my service o' the Loard.

MARTHA. Nor mine. It's just a tasty bit o' food to me, a finishin' up o' the day's eatin'.

REV. FENWICK. But what of those who want their three pints on the way home, and waste half their substance at the Miners' Arms?

GEORDIE. Them's the ones you want to talk to, parson.

REV. FENWICK. Those are the ones who never listen to the message.

GEORDIE. But we can't help that. Some's got to be damned, else there'd be no sense in preachin' salvation.

REV. FENWICK. Our Lord will suffer until the last sinner seeks salvation.

GEORDIE. But sinners must always be. There will always be backslidin'. Look at old Corbett. He's been saved a score of times to my reckonin', and 'e's a more cantankerous old sinner now than 'e ever was. Why, only to-day—

JAMES. You've done a bit o' backslidin' yourself, Geordie.

GEORDIE. I know, I know. But I don't set my mind against the message when it comes again.

(Enter MRS. WATKINS).

MARTHA. Come and have a sup, Susan.

SUSAN (seating herself at the sewing table, while MARTHA provides an extra mug of beer from the can). I was just lookin' if Geordie was safe here.

GEORDIE. Didn't I tell 'ee I was comin'?

SUSAN. You did, but you have been known to start for chapel, and finish up at the Miners' Rest.

GEORDIE. Never since I last heeded the call o' grace.

SUSAN. Only three weeks back, Geordie.

JOHNNIE. What be Geordie's longest run in the narrow path?

SUSAN. I disremember, except that they all be too short.

GEORDIE. Once I lasted nigh on six months.

SUSAN. There was little to boast about that, it bein' just after our weddin'. How be it, parson, that some o' the men follow the light steady and sure from the first call to the end o' things, while others slip about like blind pit ponies in a wet tunnel?

GEORDIE. And some of the women, too.

JAMES. Ain't we all a bit that way? For times, doant we, each o' us, forget the Lord's message, listenin' to others within hearin'?

MARTHA. There be but one message. The others are ways the evil one has o' ticklin' our ears.

JAMES. Not all o' them.

PARSON. Every one of them, and there is no salvation unless ye close your ears to all but the call of Him who suffered on the Cross.

JAMES. I think, sometimes, that, if He was here, gettin' coal, He'd look for a day out in God's sun, betimes—perhaps with a dog for company.

MARTHA. That's near to blasphemy, James.

JAMES. I'm far from the unforgivable sin o' blasphemin' the Lord. But I must have my day i' the sun. It's what I live for—what I think alone on when down below...Parson, you don't know what it means to I—to lie on green grass, or in the bracken, lookin' up for hours into light that blinds—with the sweet smell o' fresh earth and growin' things—spittin' out the black dust and drinkin' in the white air—to be for one day out a' the six on the top o' things—not burrowin' like a mole...I love to watch the sun creep up from yon side, wi' his fringe a' all colours, and march like a flamin' torch in the 'ands o' the Lord to t'other side, and then, to slowly fall out o' sight, with his flashin' promise to come again. That's why I say all meetin's o' Sunday should be kept till after supper.

JOHNNIE. But if you backs up the lodge in the new move for betterin' us all, you may have your two days a week in the open.

JAMES. Mebbe so. But I hate wastin' the day in hand for what may come, or as like may not.

MARTHA. Surely, man, you can give up one day for a special mission.

GEORDIE. I'll tell 'ee what, missus. We'll start at daybreak and be back for afternoon service.

JAMES (eagerly). Back by noon, for sure.

MARTHA. I know 'ee too well, Geordie, and you, James. That means, we'll see naught o' both o' you till long past supper.

JOHNNIE. And you're forgettin' again the lodge nueetin'.

GEORDIE. I'm thinkin' o' the dogs, not maiself.

SUSAN. And you think much more o' them than o' I.

JAMES. Now, if they was real terriers wi' some points about them—

GEORDIE. (opens door and gives a peculiar whistle. In immediate response a handsome fox terrier rushes in and frantically acclaims its master). You have nothin' to come within miles o' that, Jim.

JAMES (contemptuously). That? Put her side by side wi' my last, man. Let those here do a little judgin' on points. (Moves towards door).

MARTHA. Don't you dare bring the dogs in here, Jim; and you, Geordie, flaunting temptation, shameless, like that. Take your dog out o' this.

GEORDIE (opening door and motioning the dog outside). A dog like that is worth a brace o' men.

JAMES. Some dogs might be.

GEORDIE. None o' yours, anyhow.

JAMES. Look here, Geordie...

MARTHA. Cease your dog talk, you two. You forget parson is here.

SUSAN. Parson, the time has come for you to put dogs among the deadly sins. I ha'e no peace since Geordie's last litter.

GEORDIE. Parson knows a good dog when he sees it.

REV. FENWICK. I do, Geordie. I have a couple of terriers in a class of their own.

JAMES. The two I met with ye on the common a month back?

GEORDIE. That's what parson means by a class of their own. No terrier, with "feelin's o' self-respect, would be seen in their company.

REV. FENWICK (indignantly). Both of them were by the Emperor, out of Vixen. There's no breed like that, in these parts.

JAMES. That strain be no good now, parson. Its proved long since that Emperor's granfer was a mongrel.

REV. FENWICK (excitedly). Don't you call my dogs, mongrels. That lie was answered more than a year back. (Produces a book from his tail pocket). Here's Austin's pedigree book. You won't dispute that, will you? Here's a picture of the grandfather, with his history, and a refutation of the slanders on his character. (Opens the book. JAMES and GEORDIE, looking over his shoulder, examine the picture, and read the text, while MARTHA watches them all with, evident disfavor).

GEORDIE. That's not a picture o' Emperor's granfer.

REV. FENWICK. Do you claim to know more about it than the book?

GEORDIE. I saw Emperor's granfer when I was a lad. He hadna' that black patch on the left hind leg.

REV. FENWICK. I'll take the book, before what you remember of thirty years ago.

JAMES. But, book or no book, I remember, like Geordie here, that black patch...

REV. FENWICK. (angrily). It's a wicked concoction, between the two of you, and I'll settle it now. What money will either of you put up? Here's my two pounds, and Johnnie Coleman can hold it.

JOHNNIE (to MARTHA). The parson is human like the rest o' us. He can hear a call outside the gospel.

REV. FENWICK (shamefacedly restoring the book to his pocket). I'm only asking for the truth. I'll defend even a dog against ill-natured slander.

GEORDIE. I'm not blamin' you. So would I—but facts is facts.

REV. FENWICK. Sometimes there's no distinguishing your facts from wilful lies.

JAMES. You know, Geordie, we might a' been mistaken. I'm not too sure—thinkin' again—

MARTHA. Haven't we more serious things to talk about than dogs, with the mission startin' to-morrow?

JOHNNIE. So I think. I want parson to leave out afternoon service and come to lodge to help.

REV. FENWICK. What can I do to help?.

JOHNNIE. Those o' our lads here, whose senses are not choked wi' coal dust, are too full o' religion to help in the big fight that's loomin'. For once, parson, come down to things that be.

REV. FENWICK. My work is to make you think of things to come. If you get all you want in this world you will become too soft and lazy to strive after grace.

GEORDIE. We gets soft and lazy through not usin' the daylight offerin'. I get nearer to religion down by the lake, than in chapel, with the windows closed, and singin' the same hymns time again, an' hearin' the same words spoke.

SUSAN (interrupting). Geordie! Agen your backslidin'—you're gettin' as careless as the next door ethodies.

GEORDIE. Can you wonder, parson, that there's so much backslidin' with so many roads to salvation? There's our Baptist chapel—-an' the Methodies—and the Anglicans—and now, a new chapel o' Plymouth Brothers—an' then there's Johnnie Coleman here, with his makin' a religion o' unionism, how can one be sure of salvation? After all, the only place that goes on the same day on is out beyond the lake, an' the only livin' things that seems to ha' no trouble is the dogs, so long as their master treats 'em proper.

REV. FENWICK. So long as the master treats them proper. You just touched the truth there, Geordie. A dog without a master is the unhappiest creature on earth. How much more miserable would we be without our Master?

MARTHA. Dogs is dogs, and human bein's is human bein's. I can't hold with this likenin' us to snappin' little fox terriers.

REV. FENWICK. I was only using Geordie's words as an illustration.

MARTHA. When Geordie and my man get together it's dogs, dogs from first to last. I'm nigh tired o' it. And even when you, parson, and Johnnie Coleman, comes, with messages, the dogs get trippin' up every bit o' talk.

JAMES. Geordie started it, bringin' in that scraggy little pup o' his.

GEORDIE (grinning). Frightened o' her, are you, Jimmie? Thinkin' you'll want to search in a new litter for somethin' to hold a candle to her?

JAMES. Frightened o' nothin'. I've never seen a more promisin' dog

GEORDIE. That's your trouble, Jimmie, promisin'. Your litters doant keep their promises.

MARTHA. There ye be again. I'm thinkin' a hymn oh two, and a prayer, will bring us back to a proper state o' mind. The hymn books are in yon drawwer, James.

GEORDIE (rising hastily). It's time we be gettin' to whoam, Susan.

JOHNNIE (rising). The wife will be wonderin' why I be so late.

MARTHA. Take heed to me, both o' ye. Ye be afeard to join in prayers.

GEORDIE. I be afeared to sing, except in chapel.

JOHNNIE. And I ha' no' much time for prayin'.

MARTHA. Johnnie Coleman, religion and thee is driftin' apart.

JOHNNIE. I've told 'ee before that is not so. But my religion is changin' a bit.

REV. FENWICK. Take heed of that admission, Johnnie. It's easy, very easy, to slide into the blackness of unbelief.

JOHNNIE. I'm holdin' to the truth, parson, never fear.

REV. FENWICK. You're putting the little affairs of this life before those of the world to come.

JOHNNIE. Maybe. But I'm aimin' at gettin' some o' the coal dust out o' our eyes before gettin' to that world.

REV. FENWICK. We will have vision, then, far beyond the range of mortal eyes.

JOHNNIE. I want us to be able to understand...in this life...think and act, as those who live on the top o' the world. We underground men only thinks—underground.

REV. FENWICK. It's not a new way of thinking we want, it's faith, the old faith restored.

JOHNNIE. I'm tired o' arguin', parson. I'll strike a bargain wi' ye. Tell all the lads to come to lodge after mornin' service, and I'll bring them to the mission for week nights.

REV. FENWICK. I cannot bargain with unrighteousness,

(A violent yelping of dogs is heard outside. GEORDIE and JAMES rush to the door, and, standing, watch two terriers in combat).

GEORDIE. Let them be, James! they've got to settle it some day.

JAMES. I don't want your pup to be killed!

GEORDIE. Killed! Five shillings she wins!

JAMES. I'll take it.

SUSAN (hastening to the door). I'll make it six shillings, Geordie.

MARTHA (joining the spectators). That snarlin' little beast o' yours, Geordie, has been seekin' trouble a week past. I'll cover that shillin' o' yours, Susan.

(JOHNNIE COLEMAN joins the audience).

REV. FENWICK (peering over JOHNNIE COLEMAN'S shoulder). Neither o' them knows how to fight. If I only had one of mine here!

JOHNNIE COLEMAN. I'll have a side bet wi' you, parson....half-a-crown on Geordie's! Go it, you beauty!—

CURTAIN.


THE END

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