Plays in Prose and Verse/The Pot of Broth

THE POT OF BROTH




PERSONS IN THE PLAY

john coneely, an elderly man.

sibby coneely, a young or middle-aged woman.

a tramp.




THE POT OF BROTH

Scene: A cottage kitchen. Fire on the hearth; table with cabbage, onions, a plate of meal, etc. Half-open door. A tramp enters, looks about.

tramp. What sort are the people of this house, I wonder? Was it a good place for me to come to look for my dinner, I wonder? What's in that big pot? [Lifts cover.] Nothing at all! What’s in the little pot? [Lifts cover.] Nothing at all! What’s in that bottle, I wonder? [Takes it up excitedly and tastes.] Milk! milk in a bottle! I wonder they wouldn’t afford a tin can to milk the cow into! Not much chance for a poor man to make a living here. What’s in that chest? [Kneels and tries to lift cover] Locked! [Smells at the keyhole.] There's a good smell—there must be a still not far off.

[Gets up and sits on chest. A noise heard outside, shouts, footsteps, and loud frightened cackling.

tramp. What in the earthly world is going on outside? Any one would think it was the Fiannta-h-Eireann at their hunting!

sibby's voice. Stop the gap, let you stop the gap, John. Stop that old schemer of a hen flying up on the thatch like as if she was an eagle!

john's voice. What can I do, Sibby? I all to had my hand upon her when she flew away!

sibby's voice. She's out into the garden! Follow after her! She has the wide world before her now.

tramp. Sibby he called her. I wonder is it Sibby Coneely's house I am in! If that's so it's a bad chance I have of going out heavier than I came in. I often heard of her, a regular slave driver that would starve the rats. A niggard with her eyes on kippeens, that would skin a flea for its hide! It was the bad luck of the world brought me here, and not a house or a village between this and Tubber. And it isn't much I have left to bring me on there. [Begins emptying out his pockets on the chest.] There's my pipe and not a grain to fill it with! There's my handkerchief I got at the coronation dinner! There's my knife and nothing left of it but the handle. [Shakes his pocket out.] And there's a crust of the last dinner I got, and the last I'm likely to get till to-morrow. That's all I have in the world unless the stone I picked up to pelt at that yelping dog a while ago. [Takes stone out of pocket and tosses it up and down.] In the time long ago I usen't to have much trouble to find a dinner, getting over the old women and getting round the young ones! I remember the time I met the old minister on the path and sold him his own flock of turkeys. My wits used to fill my stomach then, but I'm afraid they're going from me now with all the hardship I went through.

[Cackling heard again and cries.

sibby's voice. Catch her, she's round the bush! Put your hands in the nettles, don't be daunted!

[A choked cackle and prolonged screech.

tramp. There's a dinner for somebody anyway. That it may be for myself! How will I come round her, I wonder? There is no more pity in her heart than there's a soul in a dog. If all the saints were standing barefoot before her she'd bid them to call another day. It's myself I have to trust to now, and my share of talk.[Looks at the stone.] I know what I'll do, I know what the tinker did with a stone, and I'm as good a man as he is anyway. [He jumps up and waves the stone over his head.] Now, Sibby! If I don't do it one way I'll do it another. My wits against the world!

There’s broth in the pot for you, old man,
There’s broth in the pot for you, old man,
There’s cabbage for me
And broth for you,
And beef for Jack the journeyman.
 
I wish you were dead, my gay old man,
I wish you were dead, my gay old man,
I wish you were dead
And a stone at your head,
So as I’d marry poor Jack the journeyman.


john's voice [outside]. Bring it in, bring it in, Sibby. You'll be late with the priest's dinner.

sibby's voice. Can’t you wait a minute till I'll draw it?

Enter john.

john. I didn’t know there was any one in the house.

tramp. It’s only this minute I came in, tired with the length of the road I am, and fasting since morning.

jogn [begins groping among the pots and pans]. I'll see can I find anything here for you . . . I don't see much . . . maybe there’s something in the chest.

[He takes key from a hiding-place at back of hearth, opens chest, takes out bottle, takes out a ham bone and is cutting a bit from it when sibby enters, carrying chicken by the neck. john drops the ham bone on a bench.

sibby. Hurry now, John, after all the time you have wasted. Why didn’t you steal up on the old hen that time she was scratching in the dust?

john. Sure I thought one of the chickens would be the tenderest.

sibby. Cock you up with tenderness! All the expense I’m put to! My grand hen I’ve been feeding these five years! Wouldn’t that have been enough to part with? Indeed I wouldn’t have thought of parting with her itself but she had got tired of laying since Easter.

john. Well, I thought we ought to give his Reverence something that would have a little good in it.

sibby. What does the age of it matter? A hen’s a hen when it’s on the table. [Sitting down to pluck chicken.] Why couldn’t the Kernans have given the priest his dinner the way they always do? What did it matter their mother’s brother to have died? It is an excuse they had made up to put the expense of the dinner on me.

john. Well, I hope you have a good bit of bacon to put in the pot along with the chicken.

sibby. Let me alone. The taste of meat on the knife is all that high-up people like the clergy care for, nice genteel people, no way greedy like potato diggers or harvest men.

john. Well, I never saw the man, gentle or simple, wouldn’t be glad of his fill of bacon and be hungry.

sibby. Let me alone, I'll show the Kernans what I can do. I have what is better than bacon, a nice bit of a ham I am keeping in the chest this good while, thinking we might want it for company. [She catches sight of tramp and calls out.] Who is there? A beggar man is it? Then you may quit this house if you please. We have nothing for you. [She gets up and opens the door.]

tramp [comes forward]. It is a mistake you are making, ma'am, it is not asking anything I am. It is giving I am more used to. I was never in a house yet but there would be a welcome for me in it again.

sibby. Well, you have the appearance of a beggar, and if it isn't begging you are what way do you make your living?

tramp. If I was a beggar, ma'am, it is to common people I would be going and not to a nice grand woman like yourself, that is only used to be talking with high-up noble people.

sibby. Well, what is it you are asking? If it's a bit to eat you want, I can’t give it to you, for I have company coming that will clear all before them.

tramp. Is it me ask anything to eat? [Holds up stone.] I have here what is better than beef and mutton, and currant cakes and sacks of flour.

sibby. What is it at all?

tramp [mysteriously]. Those that gave it to me wouldn't like me to tell that.

sibby [to john]. Do you think is he a man that has friends among the Sidhe?

john. Your mind is always running on the Sidhe since the time they made John Molloy find buried gold on the bridge of Limerick. I see nothing in it but a stone.

tramp. What can you see in it, you that never saw what it can do?

john. What is it it can do?

tramp. It can do many things, and what it’s going to do now is to make me a drop of broth for my dinner.

sibby. I’d like to have a stone that could make broth.

tramp. No one in the world but myself has one, ma’am, and no other stone in the world has the same power, for it has enchantment on it. All I'll ask of you now, ma’am, is the loan of a pot with a drop of boiling water in it.

sibby. You're welcome to that much. John, fill the small pot with water.

[john fills the pot from a kettle.

tramp [putting in stone]. There now, that’s all I have to do but to put it on the fire to boil, and it’s a grand pot of broth will be before me then.

sibby. And is that all you have to put in it?

tramp. Nothing at all but that—only, maybe, a bit of an herb for fear the enchantment might slip away from it. You wouldn’t have a bit of Slanlus in the house, ma’am, that was cut with a black-handled knife?

sibby. No, indeed, I have none of that in the house.

tramp. Or a bit of the Fearavan that was picked when the wind was from the north?

sibby. No, indeed, I’m sorry there’s none.

tramp. Or a sprig of the Athair-talav, the father of herbs?

john. There’s plenty of it by the hedge. I’ll go out and get it for you.

tramp. Oh, don’t mind taking so much trouble; those leaves beside me will do well enough. [He takes a couple of good handfuls of the cabbage and onions and puts them in.]

sibby. But where at all did you get the stone?

tramp. Well, it is how it happened. I was out one time, and a grand greyhound with me, and it followed a hare, and I went after it. And I came up at last to the edge of a gravel pit where there were a few withered furze bushes, and there was my fine hound sitting up, and it shivering, and a little old man sitting before him, and he taking off a hareskin coat. [Looking round at the ham bone.] Give me the loan of a kippeen to stir the pot with. . . . [He takes the ham bone and puts it into the pot.]

john. Oh! the ham bone!

tramp. I didn’t say a ham bone, I said a hare-skin coat.

sibby. Hold your tongue, John, if it’s deaf you are getting.

tramp [stirring the pot with the ham bone]. Well, as I was telling you he was sitting up, and one time I thought he was as small as a nut, and the next minute I thought his head to be in the stars. Frightened I was.

sibby. No wonder, no wonder at all in that.

tramp. He took the little stone then—that stone I have with me—out of the side pocket of his coat, and he showed it to me. 'Call off your dog,' says he, 'and I'll give you that stone, and if ever you want a good drop of broth or a bit of stirabout, or a drop of poteen itself, all you have to do is to put it down in a pot with a drop of water and stir it awhile, and you'll have the thing you were wanting ready before you.'

sibby. Poteen! Would it make that?

tramp. It would, ma’am; and wine, the same as the Clare Miltia uses.

sibby. Let me see what does it look like now. [Is bending forward.]

tramp. Don't look at it for your life, ma'am. It might bring bad luck on any one that would look at it, and it boiling. I must put a cover on the pot, or I must colour the water some way. Give me a handful of that meal.

[sibby holds out a plate of meal and he puts in a handful or two.

john. Well, he is a gifted man!

sibby. It would be a great comfort to have a stone like that. [She has finished plucking the chicken which lies in her lap.]

tramp. And there's another thing it does, ma'am, since it came into Catholic hands. If you put it into a pot of a Friday with a bit of the whitest meat in Ireland in it, it would turn it as black as black.

sibby. That is no less than a miracle. I must tell Father John about that.

tramp. But to put a bit of meat with it any other day of the week, it would do it no harm at all, but good. Look here now, ma’am, I’ll put that nice little hen you have in your lap in the pot for a minute till you'll see. [Takes it and puts it in.]

john [sarcastically]. It's a good job this is not a Friday!

sibby. Keep yourself quiet, John, and don't be interrupting the talk or you'll get a knock on the head like the King of Lochlann's grandmother.

john. Go on, go on, I'll say no more.

tramp. If I’m passing this way some time of a Friday, I'll bring a nice bit of mutton, or the breast of a turkey, and you'll see how it will be no better in two minutes than a fistful of bog mould.

sibby [getting up]. Let me take the chicken out now.

tramp. Stop till I’ll help you, ma’am, you might scald your hand. I'll show it to you in a minute as white as your own skin, where the lily and the rose are fighting for mastery. Did you ever hear what the boys in your own parish were singing after you being married from them—such of them that had any voice at all and not choked with crying, or senseless with the drop of drink they took to comfort them and to keep their wits from going, with the loss of you.

[sibby sits down again complacently.

sibby. Did they do that indeed?

tramp. They did, ma’am, this is what they used to be singing:

Philomel, I’ve listened oft
To thy lay, near weeping willow—

No, that’s not it—it’s a queer thing the memory is—

"T'was at the dance at Dermody’s, that first I caught a sight of her.

No, that’s not it either—ah, now I have it.

My pretty Paistin is my heart’s desire,
Yet I am shrunken to skin and bone.

sibby. Why would they call me Paistin?

tramp. And why wouldn’t they? Would you wish them to put your right name in a song, and your man ready to knock the brains of any man will as much as look your side of the road?

sibby. Well, maybe so.

tramp. I was standing by the man that made the song, and he writing it with an old bit of a carpenter’s pencil, and the tears running down—

My pretty Paistin is my heart’s desire,
Yet am I shrunken to skin and bone
For all my toil has had for its hire
Is drinking her health when lone, alone—

[sibby takes a fork and rises to take out the chicken. tramp puts his hand to stop her and goes on:

 
Oh I would think that I had my fee,
Though I am shrunken to bone and skin,
Could I but drink, my love on my knee
Between two barrels at the inn.

[sibby half rises again. tramp puts his hand upon her hand.

tramp. Wait now till you hear the end [sings]:

Nine nights I lay in longing sore
Between two bushes under the rain;

Thinking to meet my love once more
I cried and whistled but vain, all vain.

[He repeats the verse, sibby singing too and beating time with fork.

sibby [to john] I always knew I was too good for you! [She goes on humming.]

john. Well, he has the poor woman bewitched.

sibby [suddenly coming to her wits]. Did you take the chicken out yet?

tramp [taking it out and giving it a good squeeze into the pot.] I did, ma’am. Look at it there.

[He takes it and lays on table.

john. How is the broth getting on?

tramp [tasting it with a spoon]. It’s grand. It’s always grand.

sibby. Give me a taste of it.

tramp [takes the pot off and slips the ham bone behind him]. Give me some vessel till I'll give this sky-woman a taste of it.

[john gives him an egg-cup which he fills and gives to sibby. john gives him a mug, and he fills this for himself, pouring it back and forward from the mug to a bowl that is on the table, and drinking gulps now and again. sibby blows at hers and smells it.

sibby. There’s a good smell on it anyway. [Tasting.] It’s lovely. Oh, I'd give the world and all to have the stone that made that!

tramp. The world and all wouldn’t buy it, ma’am. If I was inclined to sell it the Lord Lieutenant would have given me Dublin Castle and all that’s in it long ago.

sibby. Oh, couldn’t we coax it out of you any way at all?

tramp [drinking more soup]. ‘The whole world wouldn’t coax it out of me except maybe for one thing . . . [looks depressed]. Now I think of it there’s only one reason I might think of parting it at all.

sibby [eagerly]. What reason is that?

tramp. It’s a misfortune that overtakes me, ma’am, every time I make an attempt to keep a pot of my own to boil it in, and I don’t like to be always under a compliment to the neighbours, asking the loan of one. But whatever way it is, I never can keep a pot with me. I had a right to ask one of the little man that gave me the stone. The last one I bought got the bottom burned out of it one night I was giving a hand to a friend that keeps a still, and the one before that I hid under a bush one time I was going into Ennis for the night, and some boys in the town dreamed about it and went looking for treasure in it, and they found nothing but eggshells, but they brought it away for all that. And another one. . . .

sibby. Give me the loan of the stone itself, and I’ll engage I'll keep a pot for it. . . . Wait now till I’ll make some offer to you. . . .

tramp [aside]. I’d best not be stopping to bargain, the priest might be coming in on me. [Gets up.] Well, ma’am, I’m sorry I can’t oblige you. [Goes to door, shades his eyes and looks out, turns suddenly.] I have no time to lose, ma’am, I’m off. [Comes to table and takes his hat.] Well, ma’am, what offer will you make?

john. You might as well leave it for a day on trial first.

tramp [to john]. I think it likely I'll not be passing this way again. [to sibby] Well, now, ma’am, as you were so kind, and for the sake of the good treatment you gave me I'll ask nothing at all for it. Here it is for you and welcome, and that you may live long to use it. But I’ll just take a little bit in my bag that’ll do for my supper, for fear I mightn’t be in Tubber before night. [He takes up the chicken.] And you won't begrudge me a drop of whisky when you can make plenty for yourself from this out. [Takes the bottle.]

john. You deserve it, you deserve it indeed. You are a very gifted man. Don’t forget the kippeen!

tramp. It’s here! [Slaps his pocket and exit. john follows him.]

sibby [looking at the stone in her hand]. Broth of the best, stirabout, poteen, wine itself, he said! And the people that will be coming to see the miracle! I'll be as rich as Biddy Early before I die!

[john comes back.

sibby. Where were you, John?

john. I just went out to shake him by the hand. He’s a very gifted man.

sibby. He is so indeed.

john. And the priest’s at the top of the boreen coming for his dinner. Maybe you’d best put the stone in the pot again.