Performing this Playlet for the first by the Glasgow Clarion Players. The piece was immediately announced in the London Press as Mr. Shaw’s latest, the successor to ‘Saint Joan.’ An error: it was written in an idle moment as a star turn for Mr. Harley Granville-Barker, was mislaid and forgotten by its author until last year when it came to light in his volume entitled ‘Translations and Tomfooleries,’ in which it is the only serious original item.
24 pages with a reading time of ~30 minutes (6241 words), and first published in 1926. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2014.
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In the fifteenth century A.D. Gloaming. An inn on the edge of an Italian lake. A stone cross with a pedestal of steps. A very old friar sitting on the steps. The angelus rings. The friar prays and crosses himself. A girl ferries a boat to the shore and comes up the bank to the cross.
THE GIRL. Father: were you sent here by a boy from–
THE FRIAR [in a high, piping, but clear voice] I’m a very old man. Oh, very old. Old enough to be your great grandfather, my daughter. Oh, very very old.
THE GIRL. But were you sent here by a boy from–
THE FRIAR. Oh yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Quite a boy, he was. Very young. And I’m very old. Oh, very very old, dear daughter.
THE GIRL. Are you a holy man?
THE FRIAR [ecstatically] Oh, very holy. Very, very, very, very holy.
THE GIRL. But have you your wits still about you, father? Can you absolve me from a great sin?
THE FRIAR. Oh yes, yes, yes. A very great sin. I’m very old; but Ive my wits about me. I’m one hundred and thirteen years old, by the grace of Our Lady; but I still remember all my Latin; and I can bind and loose; and I’m very very wise; for I’m old and have left far behind me the world, the flesh, and the devil. You see I am blind, daughter; but when a boy told me that there was a duty for me to do here, I came without a guide, straight to this spot, led by St Barbara. She led me to this stone, daughter. It’s a comfortable stone to me: she has blessed it for me.
THE GIRL. It’s a cross, father.
THE FRIAR [piping rapturously] Oh blessed, blessed, ever blessed be my holy patroness for leading me to this sacred spot. Is there any building near this, daughter? The boy mentioned an inn.
THE GIRL. There is an inn, father, not twenty yards away. It’s kept by my father, Squarcio.
THE FRIAR. And is there a barn where a very very old man may sleep and have a handful of peas for his supper?
THE GIRL. There is bed and board both for holy men who will take the guilt of our sins from us. Swear to me on the cross that you are a very holy man.
THE FRIAR. I’ll do better than that, daughter. I’ll prove my holiness to you by a miracle.
THE GIRL. A miracle!
THE FRIAR. A most miraculous miracle. A wonderful miracle! When I was only eighteen years of age I was already famous for my devoutness. When the hand of the blessed Saint Barbara, which was chopped off in the days when the church was persecuted, was found at Viterbo, I was selected by the Pope himself to carry it to Rome for that blessed lady’s festival there; and since that my hand has never grown old. It remains young and warm and plump whilst the rest of my body is withered almost to dust, and my voice is cracked and become the whistling you now hear.
THE GIRL. Is that true? Let me see. [He takes her hand in his. She kneels and kisses it fervently] Oh, it’s true. You are a saint. Heaven has sent you in answer to my prayer.
THE FRIAR. As soft as your neck, is it not? [He caresses her neck].
THE GIRL. It thrills me: it is wonderful.
THE FRIAR. It thrills me also, daughter. That, too, is a miracle at my age.
THE GIRL. Father–
THE FRIAR. Come closer, daughter. I’m very very old and very very very deaf: you must speak quite close to my ear if you speak low. [She kneels with her breast against his arm and her chin on his shoulder]. Good. Good. Thats better. Oh, I’m very very old.
THE GIRL. Father: I am about to commit a deadly sin.
THE FRIAR. Do, my daughter. Do, do, do, do, do.
THE GIRL [discouraged] Oh, you do not hear what I say.
THE FRIAR. Not hear! Then come closer, daughter. Oh, much much closer. Put your arm round my shoulders, and speak in my ear. Do not be ashamed, my daughter: I’m only a sack of old bones. You can hear them rattle. [He shakes his shoulders and makes the beads of his rosary rattle at the same time]. Listen to the old man’s bones rattling. Oh, take the old old man to heaven, Blessed Barbara.
THE GIRL. Your wits are wandering. Listen to me. Are you listening?
THE FRIAR. Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes. Remember: whether I hear or not, I can absolve. All the better for you perhaps if I do not hear the worst. He! He! He! Well well. When my wits wander, squeeze my young hand; and the blessed Barbara will restore my faculties. [She squeezes his hand vigorously]. Thats right. Tha- a-a-a-ats right. Now I remember what I am and who you are. Proceed, my child.
THE GIRL. Father, I am to be married this year to a young fisherman.
THE FRIAR. The devil you are, my dear.
THE GIRL [squeezing his hand] Oh listen, listen; you are wandering again.
THE FRIAR. Thats right: hold my hand tightly. I understand, I understand. This young fisherman is neither very beautiful nor very brave; but he is honest and devoted to you; and there is something about him different to all the other young men.
THE GIRL. You know him, then!