Excerpts from
} They called him “Trotty”—
} (to himself) “Trotty, Trotty, here Trotty. . .”
} But his name was Toby. Son of Tobias the son of Tobias, porters all. He was a ticket-porter. A ticketed porter—
} (to himself) As opposed to your unticketed, unlicensed porters, that’s taking away all the work in this Year of Our Lord bloody 1843—
} (to himself) As opposed to your unticketed, unlicensed porters, that’s taking away all the work in this Year of Our Lord bloody 1843—
} And he waited there for jobs.
FIRST GENTLEMAN: What’s he doing, an Irish jig?
SECOND GENTLEMAN: Haven’t you seen him? It’s worth a sixpence. He thinks he’s the fastest porter alive. He trots along about half the speed of a walk, and by spending twice the energy he needs, that weak little old man convinces himself that he’s worth his salt.
FIRST GENTLEMAN: What’s he looking at? Pigeons?
SECOND GENTLEMAN: The Chimes. I’ve seen him look up waiting for them to speak. They’re kin to him, I suppose. They hang there in all weathers, wind and rain—
FIRST GENTLEMAN: Make him a philosopher—
SECOND GENTLEMAN: No, I fancy he simply loves the Chimes. So mysterious. Heard but never seen. High up, far off, so full of deep strong melody, as if to beckon him—
FIRST GENTLEMAN: Save us from poetic ticket-porters.
FIRST GENTLEMAN: “Trotty.” Does he have a real name, do you suppose?
SECOND GENTLEMAN: I have no idea.
TOBY: Here’s last week’s paper now.
Takes the dirty copy from his sleeve, smoothes it. Stomps on his toes to warm them. Then reads the paper, absorbed.
Lord send us a better New Year. We mangled the Old.
Seems we can’t go right. “The Working Poor.” Refers to us. We are working, when there’s work, and the rest goes without saying.
We fill up the papers. We seem to be frightful things. “Sowing Discontent.”
Is there any good in us at all? Or are we born bad? Born bad, maybe so. You’d not see a gentlefolks’ baby come out red-faced, protesting. No, they’re born singing “God Save the Queen.”
We do our best, or some of us does. If we had a better class o’ lower class. I hadn’t schooling enough to make it out.
“Society’s Burden.” “Surplus Population.” Is the problem Society, or is it all the bloody population? If we’re rid of the population, we’re rid of the problem. No business on the face of the earth!
New Year. . . I don’t think I’ve received an invitation.
CUTE: That’ll do. Hello there! Porter! What’s that? Your dinner?
TOBY: Yes sir.
CUTE: Bring it here. Let’s look into this. So this is your dinner, is it? (probing it with the fork) Tugby, this is a sort of animal food commonly known to the labour force by the name of tripe.
TUGBY: Yes, Your Honour—
CUTE: But who eats tripe?
Tripe is without exception the least economical article of consumption the markets of this country can produce. The loss in a pound of tripe, in boiling, is seven-eighths of a fifth more than the loss in any other animal substance.
Tripe is more expensive, proportionally, than caviar. Imagine the expanse of meat on a beef compared to the tiny measure of the great beast’s stomach lining. The waste, the waste!
Who eats tripe?
Toby makes a miserable bow.
You do, do you? Then I’ll tell you something, my friend. You snatch your tripe from the mouths of widows and orphans.
TOBY: I hope not, sir—
CUTE: Divide the volume of tripe by the number of extant widows and orphans, and the result will be one mouthful of tripe to each. Not a shred for you.
Cute absently eats the last piece of tripe.
Look at you. What an object. The Good Old Times! What a porter used to wear in the Old Times! You should be ashamed. What do you say?
TOBY: Aye, sir. Which— Which times was those, Your Honour, sir?
CUTE: Which times! Why, the Old Ones! The times of a Bold Peasantry, that sort of thing. The Good Old Times! The Grand Old Times! When things were Good! When people wore Costumes! Merry Old England, that business! You don’t call these times “Times,” do you? What do you say? What?
See what he says, Tugby? Nothing!
SIR JOSEPH: Dear Lady Bowley. At this season of the year we should look deeply into our— our accounts. We should feel that every return of this season involves a sacred communion between a man and his— his banker.
LADY BOWLEY: Oh it’s a wretched season. All the charities at the door. Why can’t they have a brighter outlook on life and stay away?
SIR JOSEPH: My dear, there is much suffering. Dyspepsia, gout. The Holidays are times of indulgence, without which the Economy would fail.
LADY BOWLEY: Well you are the Poor Man’s Friend, Sir Joseph. You suffer as he does. For his sake. Otherwise he would not thrive.
SIR JOSEPH: And he does thrive.
LADY BOWLEY: He abounds.
SIR JOSEPH: My Friends, on this great occasion of . . . (Mumbles. Crowd cheers.) As your perpetual Friend and Father. . . (Mumbles. Crowd cheers.) To the Dignity of Labour. . . (Mumbles. Crowd cheers.) The Institution of the Family. . . (Mumbles. Crowd cheers.) The Imperative of the Established Moral Order. . . (Mumbles. Crowd cheers.) And my dearest Lady Bowley!
Will Fern appears.
What is this? Who admitted this man? This is a criminal from prison! Go out and eat your pudding!
WILL FERN: A minute! One minute’s leave to speak! Gentlefolks, you’ve toasted the Labourer. Now look at me!
SIR JOSEPH: Direct from jail.
WILL FERN: Direct from jail. And not for the first time, nor the second, nor the third, nor yet the fourth.
SIR JOSEPH: Four times is over the average.
WILL FERN: Gentlefolks, you see I’m at the worst. The time when you could do me good is gone, like the scent of last year’s clover on the wind.
Now hear the Truth spoke out for once.
SIR JOSEPH: There’s not a man here who—
WILL FERN: Who’d have me speak for’em. Like enough, Sir Joseph. Perhaps that’s a proof of what I say. Gentlefolk, I lived many years in this place. Tis hard, gentlefolk, to grow up decent in a cottage open to cold. That I growed up a man and not a brute says something for me, as I was then. As I am now, I’m past it.
SIR JOSEPH: I am glad this man has entered. It appears to be Ordained. He is a living example to my Friends and Children.
WILL FERN: Now gentlemen, see how your laws are set to trap us.
I tries to live elsewhere. So I’m a vagabond. To jail with him! I comes back here, I gathers nuts in your woods. To jail with him!
I cuts a stick. To jail with him! I eats a rotten apple or a turnip. To jail with him!
The constable finds me anywhere, and I’m looking discontent, to jail with him, for he’s a known vagrant and a jail-bird, and jail’s the home he’s got.
SIR JOSEPH: A very good home too!
WILL FERN: Do I say it to serve myself? Who can give me back my good name, or my niece? My baby? Lilian. . .
But gentlefolk, dealing with other men, begin it right. Give us warmer rooms when we’re a-lying in our cradles; give us better food when we’re a-working for our lives; give us kinder laws to bring us back if we’re going wrong; and don’t set Jail, Jail, Jail, afore us everywhere we turn. We has a patient, peaceful, willing heart, but it’s near to gone. Bring it back, gentlefolk, bring it back!
Bring it back, afore the day comes when even his Bible changes in his mind, and the words seem to read, as they do read to me: “Whither thou goest, I can not go; where thou lodgest, I do not lodge; thy people are not my people; nor thy God my God!”
TOBY: Where does she go? Turn her back!
As the Chimes toll, Meg starts to run through streets, clutching her baby. Shadows echo her flight. Speaker removes cloak.
SPEAKER: To the river, swift and dim, like the last dark thoughts of those who seek lodging there.
Scattered lights on the banks gleamed sullen, red and dull.
He tried to touch her as she passed him. Her fierce and terrible love swept by him like the wind.
He followed her. She came to the brink—
Toby rushes to stop her, falls sprawling. She halts, slowly approaches a distant embankment. Toby reaches out to her, crawls toward her, inches at a time. She halts at the edge.
MEG: It’s a New Year, Lily. Hold tight.