The Widow’s House

Characters:

Mrs Comaish – the Widow
Mrs Mylchreest – a neighbour
Jonadab Elisha Corteen – a farmer
Christian Mylchreest – a young girl
Charles Kelly – an Insurance Agent
Ewan Quayle – a travelling tinker

Scene:

A Manx cottage kitchen, small, but comfortable and tidy. Raftered ceiling, flagged floor, almost covered with home-made rag rugs. Fireplace centre back, with large pot of stew on fire and kettle set beside it. Small door (practical) right back, close beside fireplace. Bench with water-crocks and “bumper” left back. Dresser with cupboards and plate shelf furnished with delf, left, and wooden chair down left at end of dresser. Window with plants right, and another door (practical) down right. Wooden settle under window. Round table, covered with red cloth, left centre. Wooden chair at each side of fireplace. The mantleshelf holds an array of brass candlesticks, a tea caddy, a painted biscuit-tin, and a pair of solemn china dogs, one at each end. In the corner between water-crocks and dresser is a grandfather clock. Mrs. Mylchreest and Mrs. Comaish are discovered on the chairs beside the fireplace, knitting.

MRS. MYL: It’s what I’m saying, it’s not the right thing you to be living here alone, woman. A nice jesh body, and not forty years at you yet – can’t I mind you a lil’ spithag going to the Central School the time I was staying in the Booilley-Velt, the very year before I married John Edward.

MRS. COM: Aye one! And me calling for the milk on my way home. I can see you yet, Kitty, coming out of the dairy with the can in one hand and a piece for me in the other, and the meg-lamb pushing at your skirts. I was thinking diamonds of that piece, woman!

MRS. MYL. Aw well, you were a real nice lil’ gell them days, Marget.

MRS. COM: And now I’m a widda-woman. But I don’t know would I wish to be tied again, fond as I was of poor Jim when he was in – not any more tied than I am, anyway. A house is a tie on you, and neighbours and the like. A woman is never free, Kitty, not like a man. And if it comes to that, you are nearly as bad, with your man away in the States these days.

MRS. MYL: Aw well, woman, you never know what’s coming to you in this world (sighs). But I’ve got Christian with me, though how long will I have her it’s hard to say, for the boys is coming around middling thick these days. There’s no person at all at you to be talking to in the house, or looking for to come in on the beginning of the night. Thou are far too much alone, Marget – bless me soul, woman, thou will start taking notions yet, and have to be put up to the Big House, if thou will go on living this way!

MRS. COM: (leaning forward confidentially) Kitty, there’s times it’s coming over me that I’d give anything in the world to get right away from all this, from everything and every person I know, so why would I tie myself to a man again? They’re only boghts of things, anyway, and more trouble till they’re worth. What I would like would be a different life altogether, someway, but still and for all, what can you do? (She withdraws a little and laughs nervously) But I shouldn’t be saying things like this at all, or thou will be thinking I’m taking notions right enough! I suppose I should make myself contended, and be thankful for the comfortable home and easy life that’s at me.

MRS. MYL: (nodding wisely) Aye, it’s what I’m saying, far too much alone with yourself you are, and you should take another man. If it is a trouble itself he would be, you wouldn’t have so much time to be thinking on yourself and your notions if you’d one of your own to look after, and he’d be company, anyway.

MRS. COM: (Getting back to a lighter note) Well, it’s manners to wait till you’re asked, Kitty! I’m not going around on the men to see will they have me, at all.

MRS. MYL: Aw, thou would get asked quick enough if thou would give them a chance – a good-looking woman like you with a nice lil’ house at you, and a bit of a stocking too, it’s like. Haven’t I seen one after another casting his eyes on you, and civil you may be, but cool scandalous with every one of them, the way no person would think you care if they were in the world.

MRS. COM: And maybe I don’t, then! Who is there, anyway?

MRS. MYL: Well, there’s Robert Callow, for one. He’s had a real notion of you this while. A decent man too, and a good trade at him.

MRS. COM: (Tossing her head) A cobbler! Thank you! I’d sooner live by myself than be for ever in the midst of other folks dirty old boots, and have a man that was always hanging around and hammering.

MRS. M: Well, if you don’t like Robert’s trade, what about Jonadab Elisha? A good-living man and a local preacher, and a fine big farm at him, too. Thou would be well off there, Marget. A horse and trap at him driving into Ramsey of a Saturday, and it’s like he would get a motor-car itself if you would take him, the way lots of the farmers is doing now. Taking the preacher on Sundays you would be, and a big woman in the Chapel!

MRS. COM: Aw, I wouldn’t suit Jonadab at all! I’m not a religious woman. And I’m thinking if Jonadab or myself would try for to drive a car we’d be like them two Clucas’ girls that got one thinking they’re were going to be fine. Didn’t they start off to Douglas one day all in style, and when they got to the Whitebridge Hill they couldn’t hold the thing,1 and ones coming on the road were seeing this motor sitting cross-legs on the hedge going “choo-choo-choo-choo”, and the two gels sitting in it shouting awful to the living.

MRS. MYL: (amused, but pruning her subject with determination) How would you like Charles Kelly the Prudential, then? I’m seeing him coming this way middling often, and he’s got a gentleman’s job of it, and a fine big house in Ramsey too. You could keep visitors in the season if you would marry Kelly, one!

MRS. COM: (exasperated) But I’m not wanting to live in Ramsey and keep visitors! And anyway (with meaning glance at Mrs. Myl) I’m thinking Charles Kelly has other notions.

MRS. MYL: (rising and folding her knitting) Well! I’ll give you up, Marget Comaish. If none of the men will do you for a husband, it’s live alone you must still, I suppose, unless you’ll get a wooden one made to order. (Laughs, to cover annoyance) I’m thinking it’s too high in yourself you are, and pride is sinful.

MRS. COM: Aw, I’m not proud at all, Kitty, only I don’t see I would be better off with any of them ones till the way I am.

MRS. MYL: Chut, Marget! A woman is always better off with a decent man to her back till living alone – its not natural. Well, I must be making tracks.

MRS. COM: Won’t you stay and take your tea with me? I’ll not be minutes getting it ready. (Rises, kettle in hand)

MRS. MYL: No, I’ll be going my ways, thanks all the same. Christian will be in with the Courier, and I always like to put a sight on the Deaths, for fear any person I know would be gone and me never know.

MRS. COM: Aw well, I’ll not be keeping you at all, if there’s a big hurry on you. So long!

MRS. MYL: So long.

Exit Mrs. Mylchreest.

MRS. COM: (Filling kettle, setting it on the fire, laying table for tea) Aye! a big lip on her that I wouldn’t give in to her notions. Mighty set on her own way she is, too, the same woman, and thinking every person else should bow down to her, but she’ll get leave! Wanting me out of the house, the way Christian might get it when she’d marry, it’s like, and the mother would have her close at hand. Aw, I’m clean worn down with this place, where one person is for ever looking on another and the neighbours would have your whole life set out if you’d let with them! (She clenches her hands for a moment, then relaxes with an impatient shrug, turning again to her task) Aw well, what’s the use, anyway? But thou are not getting me out till I’m ready to go, Mrs Mylchreest, so thou can jaw till the cows come home!

There is a knock at the door, and Corteen enters clumsily. He is a middle-aged farmer, and obviously ill at ease.

CORTEEN: (clearing his throat nervously) Good day, Mrs Comaish. It’s doing fine weather.

MRS. COM: Yes, Mr Corteen, it’s very fine, your crops will be doing well for you this Spring. Won’t you take a seat?

CORTEEN: Thank you, Mistress. (Fumbling in his breast pocket, he produces an old sugar-bag of blue paper, twisted at the top, which he hands to her carefully) I brought you half a dozen fresh eggs along. I was thinking maybe they would come in handy for your tea, and the hens is doing well for me now.

Sits down awkwardly on the settle, removing his hat to mop his forehead with a large red handkerchief, and then setting it far back on his head, which super-imposes a slightly rakish touch upon his appearance of extreme respectability.

MRS. COM: Aw, thank you very much, Mr. Corteen, it’s very kind, and I’m mortal fond of a fresh egg, but you shouldn’t have troubled at all.

CORTEEN: (with an attempt at gallantry) A pleasure, I’m sure, Mrs Comaish, and the hens should be proud to be laying eggs for a good-looking woman like yourself. (Recollects himself) Though indeed we are told that favour is deceitful and beauty is vain.

MRS. COM: Dear me! You’ll be making me vain just now, Mr. Corteen. But I’m sure you’re very kind.

CORTEEN: It’s a wonder you are not keeping a few hens yourself. I’m thinking you would be middling lucky with hens and pigs and the like.

MRS. COM: Well, I’ve been thinking of getting a few, but still, they’re a tie on you, and terrible destructive creatures too. But won’t you stay and take a cup of tea with me, Mr. Corteen? The kettle is just on the boil, and I’ll have it wet in a jiffy.

CORTEEN: (uneasily) Well, I don’t know at all, thank you. I should be at the mill now itself, and the horse and cart is left in the road at me. But (with an obvious effort) the fact is, I was wishing to speak to you, Mrs. Comaish.

MRS. COM: (innocently) Yes, was it anything important?

CORTEEN: (clearing his throat) Well, yes – that is – yes, very important, I might say.

MRS. COM: (seating herself with an air of expectancy) Aw, indeed?

CORTEEN: (Plunging) Yes, I’m been thinking of it for a long time, in fact, as you might say, its been coming over me to do it, and I’ve just been letting with and letting with. But last Sunday it was doing on me in the Chapel itself, till I wasn’t even able to attend to the sermon rightly. And then when I got home, here was all the young lambs had broke into the garden and Janie had gone out and left a cat in the dairy and it with the leavings of the joint on the floor.

MRS. COM: (amused, but sorry for him) Dear, dear! That’s the worst of these flids of gals, and things will always come on you all together, cussed-like.

CORTEEN: (Feeling he is getting on well) Yes, and the fire was let out at her too, and no supper ready. So I said to myself, it’s high time I had a right woman about the place again, I’ll have to get a wife. And I’m thinking thou would do very well. What do you think, woman?

MRS. COM: (Cautiously) Well, now, Mr. Corteen, this is a big surprise to me, and I haven’t any thought of getting married again, it’s a fact; and you will be middling settled in your ways yourself, too, I’m thinking, and you so long without a woman of the house.

CORTEEN: I’m a good-living man, thou knows, and thou would have a comfortable home – I’m not short at all, thank God – and we might do up this house of yours a bit and let it for the summer, if we’d get married soon. I’m thinking it would bring in a nice lil’ bit in rent if we would leave it nearly the way it is, furniture and all, for the visitors is thinking a holiday in a thatch-house is mortal grand. And thou would be a good help to me in the Chapel, and to see to things in the house and on the street. I’m feeling I’d like a bit of home comfort now I’m getting up in years a bit. And maybe after a bit I might put up for the Keys.

MRS. COM: Well, thank you for the honour you’re doing me, Mr. Corteen, but I cannot decide a thing like that all in a minute. (Rises) I must have time to think it over.

CORTEEN: (Rising and pulling his hat more firmly down on his head) Well, I hope thou’ll “Yes” woman. I believe we would do very well together. Think it over carefully, now.

MRS. COM: Aw yes, I’ll do that right enough. Call in on your way home from the mill, and maybe I’ll give you your answer then.

CORTEEN: (Making for door) Well, so long!

Exit Corteen.

MRS. COM: So long. (She drops on to a chair by the fire, somewhat overcome) Well! So Kitty was right for all, and it was queer mighty him coming just after her like that. I wouldn’t trust but she had a hand in it some way or the other, trying for to make things come her way. ‘deed I suppose I should be delighted too. It would be a good match for me – but I wouldn’t think he would be very easy to live with at all, and it would be middling coughty to be tied to a man that was for ever making sermons and speeches for the Keys. No! It’s not that sort of thing I’m wanting at all, but freedom! And that’s what a women never gets. I’m thinking, married or single. My song! What a thing it is to be discontented.

She hustles about impatiently with teapot and kettle. Christian Mylchreest puts her head round the outer door and speaks.

CHRISTIAN: Is there any person in?

MRS. COM: Aw, come in, Christian.

She goes to dresser for another cup, saucer and plate, which she sets on the table.

CHRISTIAN: (Sitting on settle) Mother sent me down to see would you give her the lend of that new blouse pattern you were speaking of, Mrs. Comaish. She meant to ask you herself when she was here, but she never thought on it. And she said I was to tell you she would likely be down again this evening yet.

MRS. COM: You’re not in a big hurry are you, child? (Draws another chair to table) Sit down now, and have a cup of tea with me, and I’ll get the pattern after.

CHRISTIAN: (Coming over to table and seating herself, while Mrs. Comaish pours out tea) I mustn’t stay long though. Mother is wishing to cut out that blouse for me, that I’ll have it done for Sunday. I got the stuff in Ramsey this morning, and it’s real pretty, white voile with a lil’ blue flower on it.

MRS. COM: I suppose your mother is sorry she went off in such a skutch, that’s the way she’ll be coming down again this evening. But you can tell her I didn’t think nothing of it,2 for I know she meant well. And she was partly right too, I suppose.

CHRISTIAN: Why? Were you having a lil’ tiff, then?

MRS. COM: Aw, she was giving me advice, and I wasn’t willing to take it. But drink up your tea while it’s hot now, and I’ll give you another cup.

CHRISTIAN: I’m right enough, yet, thanks. I’m enjoying this fresh soda-cake and blackberry jam.

MRS. COM: It’s not often you’re in seeing me these days, child. ‘Deed I was beginning to wonder had I done anything to you.

CHRISTIAN: (confused) Aw, you mustn’t be thinking things like that, Mrs. Comaish. I’ve been kept busy.

MRS. COM: (slyly) And there’s more till me been missing you, girl! I’m seeing Charles Kelly looking middling disappointed when he’ll come here, and never a sight seen of you.

CHRISTIAN: (very uncomfortable) Aw, Charles Kelly isn’t nothing to me these days at all, Mrs. Camaish, nor me to him. It’s mistaken you are.

MRS. COM: Mistaken your grandmother! I know a man making sheep’s eyes at a girl when I see one. I suppose the two of you have had words about some little thing that’s not worth, and thinking you’ll never get over it. Wait till you’re married a year or two! You don’t know you’re born yet for quarrels.

CHRISTIAN: Aw, we haven’t quarrelled at all.

MRS. COM: Well, what’s up with you then? You used to be thick enough.

CHRISTIAN: Well, then, if you will have it, I was told that Charles Kelly was courting you, so I thought I would leave him to you.

MRS. COM: Courting me! Christian Mylechreest, I did think you had a bit of sense. I’d be had up for kidnapping if I would suffer the like, and anyway, the boy hasn’t a notion of it. He hasn’t got eyes for no person but you yourself.

CHRISTIAN: Well, there’s lots getting married that’s more unsuitable in age, and I thought it was right enough. I heard he was thinking you would be a good steady woman to run his big house for him, and he had it all planned out how he would sell this lil’ place of yours and use the money to buy extra furniture and do up his own house for taking visitors, and you could do the cooking and get a couple of girls to help you. Aw yes, it all sounded very nice!

MRS. COM: Of all the things people will say! I suppose this is some more of your mother’s boghnid, but she never got it from me, nor from him either, I’ll warrant. (Appealingly) Child veen, couldn’t thou tell it was thyself he was coming to see?

CHRISTIAN: Me? Well, there was ones had it to say it was me he was wanting, a while back. But it was here he was coming, and I’m hearing there’s lots of talk put out about the two of you.

MRS. COM: Well, he used to be up at your house quite a bit, but your mother wasn’t giving him much encouragement, and always keeping him out of the way if she could, for she was wishing you to marry John Kissack and come to be mistress of the Ballachrink someday. But I was giving the two of you many a chance to be together, you know that if you’ll cast your mind back, and that’s the way he was coming here so much. Lately he’s been here trying for a sight of you, I’m thinking, and middling disappointed when you were never here, too.

CHRISTIAN: Mrs. Comaish, I’m ashamed of myself now! But I really thought it was all gospel. Well, Mother needn’t think I’ll marry John at all, for he’s got a girl in Ramsey, only he’s keeping it dark. Him and me has always been like brother and sister, and that’s the way he told me of it.

Knock at door.

KELLY: (outside) Are you in, Mrs. Comaish?

CHRISTIAN: (springing up, startled, and going to Mrs. Comaish as if for shelter) Mercy on us! That’s him now. What’ll I do at all? I couldn’t face him this minute.

MRS. COM: (Soothingly) Aw, go you in the room and have a hunt for that blouse pattern in my big work-basket, while I let him in. (She pushes Christian through small door by fireplace, leaving it just ajar, and then opens outside door) come in, Mr. Kelly, I was just busy for a minute when you called.

Enter Charles Kelly, a young man of about thirty with a pleasant boyish face. He looks a countryman who has acquired a little town sophistication in dress and manner, but except when talking the stock business phrases of the Insurance Agent, he returns to a speech but slightly modified version of the common country speech when among his own folk.3

KELLY: Good afternoon, Mrs. Comaish, how are you doing?

MRS. COM: I’m doing middling, thank you. I wasn’t expecting to see you here today at all, though, Mr. Kelly.

KELLY: (slightly nervous) Oh, it’s not a business visit this time, Mrs. Comaish. That is, not exactly the usual business.

MRS. COM: Well, anyway, now you’re here you can stay and drink a cup of tea. There’s some on the pot, and it’s not long wet at me.

She gets a clean cup, saucer and plate, removing the used ones, pours out tea, and then sits down with her knitting, while Kelly draws a chair to the table facing her, and eats and drinks.

KELLY: Thank you, I’ll be glad enough of a drink, its a long hill up from Ramsey. But what about yourself?

MRS. COM: Don’t mind me, help yourself to what’s going. I’m just done my tea. And how are you doing yourself? I’m not seeing you this way so much as you were at all, but is like you’re kept busy.

KELLY: (with a touch of the professional manner) Yes, my district is increasing all the time, and I may have to take on an assistant soon.

MRS. COM: Look at that now, the well you’re doing! And I suppose the next we’ll hear will be that you’re getting married.

KELLY: (Nervous again) Oh, I don’t know for that. It’s like no person would have me. But (with an obvious effort) they’re saying it’s not good for man to live alone, and I believe its fully worse for woman. It’s a wonder you’re so long living alone by yourself, now.

MRS. COM: (complacently) Aw, I’ve had my share.

KELLY: Not a right share at all, though, and you left alone so young. I’m thinking you would be far better off with a man.

MRS. COM: (rather shortly – she had heard quite enough of marriage for one day, and is rather uneasy about Christian in the inner room, probably listening) I’m doing very well as I am. But let me give you another cup of tea now and take some more jam, or a pick of cheese.

KELLY: Thank you, I’m doing well.

MRS. COM: (sitting down again and knitting furiously, with a determined air of changing the subject) Will you be out at our Anniversary this year, Mr. Kelly?

KELLY: I hardly know yet, it’ll be all according to, as the saying is. And haven’t you any idea of getting married again someday, then, Mrs Comaish?
MRS. COM: Charles Kelly, if I didn’t know you for a decent lad since you were a lumper, I’d be boxing your ears for you, for your imperence. Let’s have no more of it now.

KELLY: (distressed but persistent) Aw, its not meant for imperence, at all, Mrs. Comaish. I’m real serious. I’m asking you now, wouldn’t you take a decent, kindly man with a good living in his hands, and one that’s thinking a scandalous lot of you too, and steady and respectable and all? A man would be a good comrade to you, and think on the nice and snug you would be with the two of you in the house, far better till living alone.

MRS. COM: Do you mean to tell me you’re trying to propose to me?

KELLY: (much alarmed) Mercy on us, no!

MRS. COM: (piqued) Oh, indeed!

KELLY: (hastily, fearing he has been rude) That is, not for myself at all. But Robert Callow has been wishful to ask you this long time only he’s that shy, the poor fellow, he couldn’t make up his mind to face you at all, so he asked me if I would do a sort of Dooinney Moyllee for him. I don’t know as I am doing it very well at all, but I wish you would give me a good word for Robert, for he’s a real decent sort, and I’m thinking you couldn’t do better than to be taking him.

Mrs. Comaish stares at him in astonishment, then, as he ends his plea, breaks into uncontrollable laughter, rocking herself to and fro and holding her sides. Presently she recovers sufficiently to address Kelly who looks rather crestfallen at this reception of his mission.

MRS. COM: Dear me, heart, what’s come over all the men? Are they butched or what? I don’t know the time I heard of a Dooiney Moyllee doing the proposing for a man, I thought them old habits was all done away with, these days. And you are the last person in the world I would expect to do the like, Charles Kelly, but you never know! Oh dear, oh dear! (laughs again) It’s no use, though, boy, and thou’d best tell Robert Callow I said that if a man hasn’t the pluck to ask a woman himself will she marry him he’s better without her, for he’d never be master in his own house if he was married.

KELLY: Well, I’m very sorry, Mrs. Comaish, very sorry indeed, but I suppose you know your own business best. I think I’d best be going now. (Rises, with an air of relief)

MRS. COM: (Drily) Aye – maybe you had! And don’t forget my message now.

KELLY: (flushing and hesitating) Are – are you ever seeing anything of Christian Mylechreest these days, Mrs. Comaish?

MRS. COM: (mockingly) And is it for Robert Callow you’re wanting her too? Aw no, not at all, but I’m telling you, my lad, you’d better be careful about doing any more of this Dooinney Moyllee work, or that girl will be getting wrong ideas in her head about you. What would you say, now, if I was to tell you she heard every word you were saying to me just now there?

KELLY: (uneasily) What do you mean?4 Of course I wouldn’t have mentioned such a subject to you when there was any person else there.

MRS. COM: Hold one minute la! (Goes to room door and calls) Christian. I’m thinking thou’d best come out here and give this boy of yours a good telling off.

Kelly shows signs of collapsing, and starts edging towards the outer door.

CHRISTIAN: (Entering from the inner room with a bounce) ‘Deed, and its high time for some person to tell him off! But he’s no boy of mine if it’s a Dooinney Moyllee he’s wishing to be,5 going around making proposals of marriage for all the other men that’s too big boughts for to do it themselves. (Turning on Kelly) Charles Kelly, if there was ever a thoot in this world, it’s you, and if ever I hear any more of such boghnid I’ll not be speaking to you no more, so mind you that!

KELLY: Aw now, Christian, don’t be too hard on me for all! I was only trying for to do a good turn to a poor fellow, and I never dreamt you were in through, hearing all. I haven’t been able to get a sight on you this long time.

CHRISTIAN: No, and you wouldn’t now, only I held my patience till I heard all you said, and found you were a bigger fool than I thought, and needed a good jawing.

KELLY: (meekly) Maybe I’d be doing better if you would jaw me a bit oftener, Christian.

CHRISTIAN: Maybe you would – and maybe you wouldn’t. (She turns to Mrs. Comaish, who has subsided into the background) I must be going now, Mrs. Comaish. I found the pattern, thank you, and I’m sorry if I heard what I shouldn’t, but I couldn’t very well help it, and it will go no further.

MRS. COM: ‘Deed, but I’m mortal glad thou heard all, child, for now thou will know the rights of it.

KELLY: Will you let me walk up the hill with you, Christian?

CHRISTIAN: (tossing her head) I can’t prevent you!

KELLY: Aw, but you musn’t be cross, though.

CHRISTIAN: (laughing) What’s the use of being cross with a thoot? Come on, then, if you want to.

Exit Christian.

KELLY: (At door) Good evening, Mrs. Comaish.

Exit Kelly.

MRS. COM: (following them to the door and looking out) Good evening! I wouldn’t hurry home if I was you, it’s a fine evening for a walk! (She turns and begins to clear the table, tidy the fireplace, etc.) They’ll settle that tonight, I’m thinking, and good luck to them, but I thought it was all up with Christian, though, the soul! Aw, if you wand to find a blind fool, look among the men! (She starts singing to herself as she moves about, and presently sits down to blow the fire, working the bellows to the beat of the tune)6

What road do you go, my little brown girl?
And where are you going, my bonny young lass?
O whither leads your way, my beauty, my lamb?
I’m only going on the hill, said she.

And may I come with you, little brown girl?
May I come your way, o curly-haired lass?
O give me leave to come, my beauty, my lamb!
Come, then, if you will, o man, said she.

The soft “whoo-whoosh” of the bellows grows quiet and irregular and then stops altogether, while Mrs. Comaish sits looking dreamily into the fire. Presently there is the sound of heavy footsteps outside, and the tapping of a stick, and a voice calls.

VOICE: Are ye in Ven-thie?

MRS. COM: (Roused) Who’s that, at all? Come your ways in.

Enter Ewan Quayle, a typical tramp or tinker, of about fifty, with a careless and happy-go-lucky expression. His capacious “poacher” coat bulges with the implements of his trade and also, perhaps, with more illicit cargo. He carries a sack over his shoulder, and a couple of snared rabbits in his hand, exhibiting these to Mrs. Comaish as he enters.

QUAYLE: It’s Ewan Quayle the Tinker, Mistress. Are you wanting any pots mended, or a fine fresh rabbit for your dinner tomorrow?

MRS. COM: (looking at him thoughtfully) No. I’m not wanting a rabbit at all, for there’s one in the pot this minute. Ewan Quayle – I seem to know the name, now. Yes, I remember, wasn’t it yourself was going a-rearing with Betsy Quayle Cronk Creeney when you were a lump of a lad?

QUAYLE: Right enough, Mistress, but that’s a might long time ago, for I’ve been on the roads this twenty years, in the South mostly. Aye, and I mind you well enough, too, now I’m taking a good like at you. Marget Kennish! A good-looking gel you were too, and a real skutcher! ‘Deed, I had more till half a notion of you myself, them days, but I was too wild for to settle and marry, and it’s like you done better.

MRS. COM: Well, I’m married, anyway, and a widda too. Comaish my name is now. But sit you down and I’ll make you a drink of tea before you’ll go the road again.

QUAYLE: (sitting on settle and dumping his sack and the rabbits on the floor) Thankye, Mistress, it’ll be very welcome.

MRS. COM: It would be a poor thing if you would come back to the place you were reared, and not get the offer of so much as a meal’s meat.

QUAYLE: Aw well, a tinker hasn’t no friends to reckon on, any place, and I’m not often coming around these parts, the way I’ll be forgotten like the dead.

MRS. COM: And how are you liking the life? Is it a middling good trade?

QUAYLE: Well, there’s times it’s middling good, and there’s times it middling bad. But I’m liking the life very well, yes, it’s suiting me right enough.

MRS. COM: (Setting a meal on the table for him) And how are you able to live when the trade is bad? ‘Deed, and I would think there would always be plenty of pot-mending going too.

QUAYLE: Yes, but it’s surprising the lot of tinkers that’s in for all, Ven-thie, and none of them doing much work in the summer, that’s the time they’re taking to the deserts and the mountains – and there’s ways and means of living, aw yes!

MRS. COM: (Placing a chair to the table for him and pouring out tea) What ways?

Quayle comes to the table and eats and drinks heartily, talking as he does so, while Mrs Commaish takes up her knitting again and sits almost opposite, to him, but near the fire.

QUAYLE: Well, now, last summer itself there was a few of us staying up around South Barrule. Some would be going around with a wallad every day on Foxdale and Glen Meay and Dalby, or even as far as Castletown maybe, and you would believe the good food we would gether. And then we were snaring rabbits and hares in the nights, eating some and selling the rest. And when we’d sell a good bunch and there was money in, we would go over to Foxdale for a spree – aw, that was the time, woman!

MRS. COM: (half-scornful, half fascinated) Aye! I suppose you’re drunk most of your time.

QUAYLE: (regretfully) Aw no, we’re not drunk very often, Marget, there isn’t often the money in. But I’m saying still, it’s a good life for them that has the taste for it, and a free life. Walking the roads and the mountains through the day with none to keep reck on you, and spending the fine summer nights lying up in the heather or out the brooighs, with the stars shining down on you, and the moon, and the sound of the tide down under, and it never dark at all hardly, but a sort of green glow in the sky all through the night, away in the north.

MRS. COM: (Fascinated) Aw yes, its sounding fine, fine! Wild and lonesome, and no person to bid you go or stay. Aye, there’s a fine life at you tinkers, right enough.

QUAYLE: There’s wildness enough in them bare, dark mountains of the South, and many a strange thing in. But I wouldn’t give up the life now. I’m feeling mortal contented when I’m lying out on Barrule or the Cronk on a fine evening, with the sun setting away over Ireland, and my supper cooking in an old tin over the bons, and a sweet bit of twist in my pipe. There’s only one thing I’m short, and that’s a mate like most of the boys has got. I was ever too wild and careless to bother with the women, but now and again it’s coming over me that it might be a good thing to have a comrade to travel the land with me and do an odd bit of begging or selling of rabbits or the like. And then, after that, I’m thinking, maybe I’m as well on my own for all.

He sits back and pulls out an old clay pipe, fills and lights it, while Mrs. Comaish clears the table.

MRS. COM: Yes, I would think a woman would do a fine help, and companion to you, too. It’s a wonder you never got married. And how are you faring in the bad weather?

QUAYLE: (smoking placidly) Aw, there’s lots of old tholtans where you’ll get good shelter on a wet night in the summer, and then in the winter we’re travelling on the houses through the Island, doing lil’ snifthers of work for our meat, and lying snug enough o’nights on the straw in some big barn. Bringing the newses of the world to the women we are, too, and getting many a bit of kitchen for the wallad if we’ll tell a good tale.

MRS. COM: Yes, I believe that! (She sits on chair beside dresser, looking out of the outer door, which Quayle has left open)

QUAYLE: Aw, I’m not wondering the women is wishing for every news that’s in, the creatures. Steady man itself, now, he’s getting lots of lil’ jaunts here and there, and meeting ones at his work or at the mart. But week in, week out, washing and sewing and baking and cleaning the house – the wonder they’re jawing the men and childher! I’m wondering the most of them is not gone their ways, and all left.

MRS. COM: Maybe there’s many a one would like to be gone, and has childher and the like to hold her. But a woman with nothing only herself to think on would be as well travelling the land like yourself, I’m thinking.

QUAYLE: Well, now you’re saying it, the tinkers’ women is middling contented, the most of them, or seeming to be, anyway.

MRS. COM: (Rising and facing Quayle across the table) Ewan Quayle! Thou were saying just now thou could do with a comrade on thy travels… Will I do a comrade for thee?

QUAYLE: (Rising also and stepping back in amazement) Is it you? Travel the land with a tinker, and you a respectable woman! Marget Kennish, are thou gone clean crazy?

MRS. COM: Maybe I am! But if thou likes, I’ll come with thee this very day. Respectable! Aye, I’ve been respectable all my days – and I’m sick and tired of it. To have the roads before me, and freedom! Aw, its freedom I’m wanting, like you’ve got.

QUAYLE: But thou wouldn’t like to live the way I do. Thou don’t know the bad side of the life, woman. It’s easy enough for me to spin a yarn to thee and put the best out, but there’s lots of coarseness and misery in the bad weather. No money at you, maybe, and little food, and travelling for days and not a dry stitch on your body.

MRS. COM: There’s good and bad every place and I’d be willing for to take share of both.

QUAYLE: There’s none of your friends would own you if you would go with the tinkers.

MRS. COM: Maybe it wouldn’t be much loss!

QUAYLE: And you would may be take sick and die with the hardships, and it’s no easy death the tinkers is getting, but lying alone in some old tholtan, or maybe without shelter itself. Only last winter I came on old Jinny the Whinny lying stretched in an old quarry at Dalby mountains, and the eyes picked out of her at the wild birds.

MRS. COM: It’s trying to frighten me you are now, Ewan Quayle, but I’m gone past fear, for I’m not caring what way will I get death if I’ll get a taste of the strangeness and wonders of the world while I’m living. If thou don’t want me, I can go myself.

QUAYLE: If thou must come, I’ll take thee with life, for thou were the first woman I ever wanted when I was young before now. But mind thou’ll not jaw me after, if it’s not suiting thee, woman. And what will thou do with they house, at all?

MRS. COM: The house will keep. I’ll lock the door and carry the key with me (calmly). Wait now while I get my wearing coat on me and quench the fire, and then we can go if thou art ready.

QUAYLE: (rather dazed) The fire is low. I can quench it while thou are getting ready. (He rakes out the fire and stamps it out with his feet, then looks around, and finding he is still alone, starts looking) A real snug little house that’s at her. Isn’t it a great wonder she qill leave it to go to rack and take the roads at her age just for a notion, and she so comfortable! But the woman is queer. What can I do with her, at all? I might give her the slip – but not yet at all, she’s a comely woman, and hefty-looking, and it’s right enough I did have a notion of her one time. And I might do a good thing out of this, before the fit will take off of her and she’ll want to go home again. (Looks for plunder) Let’s see what has she got here now? (Sniffs stew and lifts out a hare’s leg) A rabbit, was she saying? A middling long-legged rabbit this one, Mistress! Thou are friendly with the poachers, anyway, it seems. What will I carry it in, now? Yes, the milk-can will do, and then if I’ll come to want a taste of milk I can fill it any night if I’ll find a good cow-house (pours stew into can). Bread and cheese now – a pity the jam is open – let’s see what’s in the dresser (opens cupboards and transfers various eatables to his bag as he talks) Aye! a loaf and some soda-cakes and some full pots of jam – and sugar – and a good pat of butter – and egges – aw yes, middling, middling! (Sees a lump of bacon and some dried herrings hanging on side of fireplace). Yes, that nice lil’ lump of bacon now, and the salt herrings will come in handy. (Examines dresser again, and finds some bank notes in an old tea-pot) Aw, my gough! money and all! My song, but I’m doing well out of this, though! (Counts) One-two-three-four- five pounds! Enough to put the whole crowd of us pallatic for days! ‘Deed but that was a lucky haul. Have I left anything, now? (Looks in cupboards again) Yes, here’s some cake in a tin, aw, we’ll have right supper tonight, and a spree at the Ginger after! (Hears something and turns guiltily; Mrs. Comaish stands in the room doorway watching him in surprise).

MRS. COM: What in the world are thou doing, man?

QUAYLE: (calmly) Seeing what food can I find to take with us… There’s no sense leaving good food wasting and us not knowing where our suppers is coming from.

Voices outside, and Christian & Kelly enter full of the conscious egotism of the newly engaged.

CHRISTIAN: Aw, Mrs. Comaish, we were thinking you would like to be the first to hear our news.

KELLY: I’m going to change her name for her before this time next year.

CHRISTIAN: I don’t know what will Mother say at all!

KELLY: Well, she’ll get leave to say what she likes.

MRS. COM: Well, I’m mightly glad to hear the two of you is taking sense at last, and I wish you every happiness, and all the luck that’s in.

KELLY: (shaking hands vigorously) Thank you Mrs Comaish, thank you!

CHRISTIAN: Yes indeed. (The women kiss)

MRS. COM: But you’re not the only ones. I’ve taken your advice for all, Charles Kelly.

KELLY: Dear me! Well, I hope you’ll be as happy as us ones. And so I can be taking the good word to Robert Callow for all?

MRS. COM: No, no! Not so fast, young man! I’ve made up my mind to take another man, but it’s not Robert Callow. (She points to Quayle, who has drawn back, unnoticed, when the others entered. Now he steps forward a little, towards Mrs. Comaish). There’s the man I’m taking.

KELLY: (looking at Quayle in amazement) What! You marry a tinker? Mrs Comaish, you making gammon of us!

CHRISTIAN: And a stranger! Who is he, at all?

QUAYLE: No more of a stranger till yourself, girl. I was reared at the Cronk Creeney over. But a tinker I am, right ennogh, and this woman is coming the roads with me tonight.

KELLY: No, never! A respectable woman that’s owning her own house and living comfortable, to leave all and go with the tinkers – I’ll not believe it.

CHRISTIAN: It must be butcheraght that’s doing on her! I’ve always heard these tinkers is middling queer ones. She should never have let him in the house.

KELLY: Boughnid! Boghtnid!

MRS. COM: (defiantly) Not boghtnid at all, but the truth! What’s it to you anyway?

Enter Mrs. Mylchreest and Corteen.

MRS. MYL: (Seeing something is wrong) What’s this? What’s this? What’s all the barney about?

CORTEEN: I was just passing and I came to ask you for that message we were speaking of, Mrs Comaish, but I see you’re busy now, so I’ll look in tomorrow.

CHRISTIAN: (almost hysterical) Aw, Mother! Be saying some word to Mrs. Comaish that she’ll take heed to, for she’s butched at the tinker right enough. Saying she’s leaving all and going the roads with him, she is!

MRS. MYL and CORTEEN: What!

MRS. COM: Yes! My mind is made up and I’m going, so let that be the answer to your grand schemes for me and my house.

CORTEEN: But you can’t be serious, woman! Think on what I was asking you just now there! And you a respectable Chapel member! Think what you are doing, and pray to be led right.

MRS. COM: I tell you I’m sick and tired of respectability. Its freedom I’m wanting now, and I’m going where I can get it, and that’s not here, nor in the Chapel neither. I’m going to travel the land and care for no persons’ opinion and do nobody’s bidding.

CORTEEN: By gough! It’s a lucky escape I’ve had if that’s the notions you’ve got. The Devil has tempted you with the wicked words of this vagabond, woman, but I’ll pray for you in the Chapel and in private, that you may stay in your home and take sense again.

MRS. COM: You can do what you like.

MRS. MYL: Dear my heart, Marget, this is awful! It’s what I said, you are taking notions through living alone too long, and you don’t know what you’re doing. Wait a day or two, and think it over, and then if you feel you must go away for a bit you might go to the South of the Island for a change of air, and leave your key with me that I could put fire in the house till you come back.

MRS. COM: The fire is out, and let it stay out till I come back to light it again, for I may want shelter here for myself and my comrades in the winter.

CORTEEN: She will make her house a randyboe for tinkers and poachers and thieves, till there will be no rest on the neighbourhood! The woman is possessed of the devil!

MRS. COM: (Ignoring him) I’ll wait no longer. I’m thinking I’ve waited all my life for this day, and never knew it. Why should I stay here for you ones to say what I must do, and make your plans for the house when I’ll be out of it? The house is mine, and so is my own life, and I’ll do what I like with the both of them, so you can all go your ways. From this out, I’m taking my liberty.

CORTEEN: (Walking up to her, furious) Possessed of the devil! I’ll have you denounced in the Chapel, woman!

She faces him calmly, and turns away scornfully as he turns and goes out. Christian whispers to Kelly, and draws him to the door after Corteen, with scared backward glances at Mrs. Comaish. Quayle is gathering his bundles together, uncertain what is going to happen, but hoping to get clear away with his booth. Mrs Mylchreest hesitates, and then goes to Mrs. Comaish and puts a hand on her shoulder.

MRS. MYL: Can’t I stay and help you get ready, Marget, if you must go? I’m thinking awful hard of this, and I’ve got a feeling that it may be my fault partly, for trying to make you change your way of living. But I never thought you would do the like of this. Think it over, woman!

MRS. COM: (Softening a little) It’s not your fault, Kitty, it’s in myself, or if any person showed me what I was wanting, it was him (points to Quayle). But there’s nothing matters to me now only to get free, so you’d best go with the rest.

MRS. MYL: (Going) Well, if you will do this thing in spite of all your friends will say, Marget Comaish, I’m done with you – done with you.

Exit Mrs. Mylchreest. Mrs. Comaish looks after her for a moment and then sighs – is it with relief?

QUAYLE: (Going to door) What did I tell you? You’ll not have a friend left in the world if you’ll go with the tinkers. But if you will come for all, lets’ make tracks. I’m anxious to make Sulby Claddagh tonight.

MRS. COM: (still absorbed in her own thoughts) Go ahead, la, and I’ll lock the door and follow you.

Exit Quayle. Mrs. Comaish rouses herself and puts on an old coat.

MRS. COM: I may as well have them few pounds with me, though I might want the like. (She goes to dresser and brings the teapot over to the table looking into it) Where in the world -? (Looks on floor, fumbles in teapot again, and then realises the notes are gone). He must have taken them – the rascal! Aw, he’s like the rest, seeking his own ends – let him go his ways and whistle for me! A lot of freedom I’d have with the like of him, worked to the bone I would be, I’m thinking, and everything took from me. (She stares out of the open door). Freedom! Is the like in at all, I wonder? Maybe there’s as much of it here as any place else – this is my own house for all, and I’m free in myself. (Suddenly realising what she has said, she pauses and makes a slow gesture, lifting her head proudly, her face alight) Free in myself! Aye! That’s the secret, and now I know it. There’s nothing in this world can bind me ever again! I’ve stood out for freedom – and – I’m free.

CURTAIN.

Notes:

  1. The original manuscript has ‘could’ in this sentence. The context suggests that this was a mistake and that the negative was intended.
  2. The original manuscript has ‘thing’ here, not ‘think.’ This has been assumed to have been a mistake.
  3. The original manuscript has ‘speech’ missing in this sentence. It has been introduced to have the sentence make sense.
  4. The original manuscript has ‘meant.’ This is assumed to be a mistake.
  5. The original manuscript has ‘me.’ This is assumed to be a mistake.
  6. A traditional Manx song, ‘Cre’d tou goll, my Lhiannoo veg Dhone?’

The house is mine, and so is my own life, and I’ll do what I like with the both of them, so you can all go your ways.  From this out, I’m taking my liberty.

What is freedom? Mona Douglas’ 1933 play follows Marget Comaish on her quest to become free. Is it with a new husband, and, if so, who will it be? Or can the travelling tinker offer a different, though contentious, way of living? Or is there another, deeper, truer, form of freedom?

Written by Mona Douglas, a person often described as a ‘visionary,’ The Widow’s House was first performed in October 1933 in the Sulby Hall, with Douglas herself taking the lead role. Although the play’s concentration on a philosophical question leaves the drama feeling somewhat uneven, the play still makes for fascinating reading, not least because it is probably the closest we will ever come to a piece Manx existentialist drama.

Mona Douglas was the main driving force behind the modern revival of Manx culture; we owe to her the existence of Yn Chruinnaght, the survival of Manx dancing, many of the Manx songs popular today and a body of poems, plays and novels that form an essential part of the Island’s literary heritage.

The cast of the 1937 production of The Widow’s House, performed at the Manx Music Festival by the Purt Iern Cushags.