ACT II
Scene III
 

The village green before the churchyard and the yew-trees at the gate. Into the pitch dark under the yews, light comes out through the half-open church door. Figures are lurking, or moving stealthily--people waiting and listening to the sound of a voice speaking in the church words that are inaudible. Excited whispering and faint giggles come from the deepest yew- tree shade, made ghostly by the white faces and the frocks of young girls continually flitting up and back in the blackness. A girl's figure comes flying out from the porch, down the path of light, and joins the stealthy group.

WHISPERING VOICE OF MERCY
Where's 'e got to now, Gladys?

WHISPERING VOICE OF GLADYS
'E've just finished.

VOICE OF CONNIE
Whu pushed t'door open?

VOICE OF GLADYS
Tim Clyst I giv' it a little push, meself.

VOICE OF CONNIE
Oh!

VOICE OF GLADYS
Tim Clyst's gone in!

ANOTHER VOICE
O-o-o-h!

VOICE OF MERCY
Whu else is there, tu?

VOICE OF GLADYS
Ivy's there, an' Old MRS Potter, an' tu o' the maids from th'Hall; that's all as ever.

VOICE OF CONNIE
Not the old grey mare?

VOICE OF GLADYS
No. She ain't ther'. 'Twill just be th'ymn now, an' the Blessin'. Tibby gone for 'em?

VOICE OF MERCY
Yes.

VOICE OF CONNIE
Mr. Burlacombe's gone in home, I saw 'im pass by just now--'e don' like it. Father don't like it neither.

VOICE OF MERCY
Mr. Strangway shoudn' 'ave taken my skylark, an' thrown father out o' winder. 'Tis goin' to be awful fun! Oh!

[She jumps up and dawn in the darkness. And a voice from far in the shadow says: "Hsssh! Quiet, yu maids!" The voice has ceased speaking in the church. There is a moment's dead silence. The voice speaks again; then from the wheezy little organ come the first faint chords of a hymn.]

GLADYS
"Nearer, my God, to Thee!"

VOICE OF MERCY
'Twill be funny, with no one 'ardly singin'.

[The sound of the old hymn sung by just six voices comes out to them rather sweet and clear.]

GLADYS
[Softly] 'Tis pretty, tu. Why! They're only singin' one verse!

[A moment's silence, and the voice speaks, uplifted, pronouncing the Blessing: "The peace of God----" As the last words die away, dark figures from the inn approach over the grass, till quite a crowd seems standing there without a word spoken. Then from out of the church porch come the congregation. TIM CLYST first, hastily lost among the waiting figures in the dark; old MRS Potter, a half blind old lady groping her way and perceiving nothing out of the ordinary; the two maids from the Hall, self- conscious and scared, scuttling along. Last, IVY BURLACOMBE quickly, and starting back at the dim, half-hidden crowd.]

VOICE OF GLADYS
[Whispering] Ivy! Here, quick!

[Ivy sways, darts off towards the voice, and is lost in the shadow.]

VOICE OF FREMAN
[Low] Wait, boys, till I give signal.

[Two or three squirks and giggles; Tim CLYST'S voice: "Ya-as! Don't 'ee tread on my toe!" A soft, frightened "O-o-h!" from a girl. Some quick, excited whisperings: "Luke!" "Zee there!" "He's comin'!" And then a perfectly dead silence. The figure of STRANGWAY is seen in his dark clothes, passing from the vestry to the church porch. He stands plainly visible in the lighted porch, locking the door, then steps forward. Just as he reaches the edge of the porch, a low hiss breaks the silence. It swells very gradually into a long, hissing groan. STRANGWAY stands motionless, his hand over his eyes, staring into the darkness. A girl's figure can be seen to break out of the darkness and rush away. When at last the groaning has died into sheer expectancy, STRANGWAY drops his hand.]

STRANGWAY
[In a loco voice] Yes! I'm glad. Is Jarland there?

FREMAN
He's 'ere-no thanks to yu! Hsss!

[The hiss breaks out again, then dies away.]

JARLAND'S VOICE
[Threatening] Try if yu can du it again.

STRANGWAY
No, Jarland, no! I ask you to forgive me. Humbly!

[A hesitating silence, broken by muttering.]

CLYST'S VOICE
Bravo!

A VOICE
That's vair.

A VOICE
'E's afraid o' the sack--that's what 'tis.

A VOICE
[Groaning] 'E's a praaper coward.

A VOICE
Whu funked the doctor?

CLYST'S VOICE
Shame on 'ee, therr!

STRANGWAY
You're right--all of you! I'm not fit! An uneasy and excited mustering and whispering dies away into renewed silence.

STRANGWAY
What I did to Tam Jarland is not the real cause of what you're doing, is it? I understand. But don't be troubled. It's all over. I'm going--you'll get some one better. Forgive me, Jarland. I can't see your face--it's very dark.

FREMAN'S VOICE
[Mocking] Wait for the full mune.

GODLEIGH
[Very low] "My 'eart 'E lighted not!"

STRANGWAY
[starting at the sound of his own words thus mysteriously given him out of the darkness] Whoever found that, please tear it up! [After a moment's silence] Many of you have been very kind to me. You won't see me again--Good-bye, all!

[He stands for a second motionless, then moves resolutely down into the darkness so peopled with shadows.]

UNCERTAIN VOICES AS HE PASSES
Good-bye, zurr! Good luck, zurr! [He has gone.]

CLYST'S VOICE
Three cheers for Mr. Strangway!

[And a queer, strangled cheer, with groans still threading it, arises.]

CURTAIN.