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A play by A. A. Milne

The Red Feathers: An Operetta In One Act

Title:     The Red Feathers: An Operetta In One Act
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

[In the living-room of a country-house, half farm, half manor, a MOTHER and her DAUGHTER are sitting. It is any year you please--between, let us say, the day when the fiddle first came to England and the day when Romance left it. As for the time of the year, let us call it May. Oh yes, it is certainly May, and about twelve o'clock, and the DAUGHTER is singing at the spinet, while her MOTHER is at her needlework. Through the lattice windows the murmur of a stream can be heard, on whose banks--but we shall come to that directly. Let us listen now to what the DAUGHTER is singing:]

Life passes by.
I do not know its pleasure or its pain--
The Spring was here, the Spring is here again,
The Spring will die.

Life passes by.
The doors of Pain and Pleasure open wide,
The crowd streams in--and I am left outside....
They know; not I.

[You don't like it? Neither did her Mother.]

MOTHER (looking up from her work). Yes, I should call that a melancholy song, dear.

DAUGHTER. It is sung by a melancholy person, Mother.

MOTHER. Why are you that, child?

DAUGHTER (getting up). I want so much that I shall never have.

MOTHER. Well, so do we all.

DAUGHTER (impatiently). Oh, why does nothing ever happen? We sit here all day, and we sing or do our embroidery, and we go to bed, and the next day we get up and do the same things over again, and so it goes on. Mother, is that all there is in the world?

MOTHER. It's all there is in our world.

DAUGHTER. Are we so very poor?

MOTHER. We have the house--and very little else.

DAUGHTER. Oh, I wish that we were _really_ poor--

MOTHER. You needn't wish, child.

DAUGHTER. Oh, but I mean so that it wouldn't matter what clothes we wore; so that we could wander over the hills and down into the valleys, and sleep perhaps in a barn and bathe ourselves in the brook next morning, and--

MOTHER. I don't think I should like that very much. Perhaps I'm peculiar.

DAUGHTER. Oh, if only I were a boy to go out and make my own way in the world. Would you let me go, Mother, if I were a boy?

MOTHER. I don't suppose you'd ask me, dear.

DAUGHTER (sighing). Oh, well! We must make the best of it, I suppose. Perhaps one day something will happen. (She goes back to the spinet and sings again.)

_Lads and lasses, what will you sell,
What will you sell?_

Four stout walls and a roof atop,
Warm fires gleaming brightly,
Well-stored cellar and garnered crop,
Money-bags packed tightly;
An ordered task in an ordered day,
And a sure bed nightly;
Years which peacefully pass away,
Until Death comes lightly.

_Lads and lasses, what will you buy?
What will you buy?_

Here is a cap to cover your head,
A cap with one red feather;
Here is a cloak to make your bed
Warm or winter weather;
Here is a satchel to store your ware,
Strongly lined with leather;
And here is a staff to take you there
When you go forth together.

_Lads and lasses, what will you gain,
What will you gain?_

Chatter of rooks on tall elm-trees
New Spring houses taking;
Daffodils in an April breeze
Golden curtsies making;
Shadows of clouds across the weald
From hill to valley breaking,
The first faint stir which the woodlands yield
When the world is waking.

_Lads and lasses, this is your gain,
This is your gain._

(Towards the end of the song the face and shoulders of the TALKER appear at the open lattice window on the left. He listens with a bland and happy smile until the song is finished.)

TALKER. Brava! Brava! (They turn round towards the window in astonishment.) A vastly pleasing song, vastly well sung. Mademoiselle Nightingale, permit me to felicitate you. (Turning to the Mother) The Mother of the Nightingale also. Mon Dieu, what is voice, of a richness, of a purity! To live with it always! Madame, I felicitate you again.

MOTHER. I must ask you, sir, to explain the meaning of this intrusion.

TALKER. Intrusion? Oh, fie! Madame, not intrusion. My feet stand upon the highway. The road, Madame, is common to all. I can quote you Rex--What does Rex, cap. 27, para. 198, say? _Via_, says Rex, meaning the road; _communis_ is common; _omnibus_ to all, meaning thereby--but perchance I weary you?

DAUGHTER. Mother, who is he?

TALKER. Ah, Mademoiselle Nightingale, you may indeed ask. Who is he? Is he the Pope of Rome? Nay, he is not the Pope of Rome. Is he the Cham of Tartary? Nay, he is not the Cham of Tartary, for an he were the Cham of Tartary--

MOTHER. I beg you, sir, to tell us as shortly as you can who you are and what you want.

TALKER. Madam, by nature I am a taciturn man; Silent John I am named by my friends. I am a glum body, a reserved creature. These things you will have already noticed. But now I will commit to you it secret, known only to my dearest friends. Uncommunicative as I am by nature (he disappears and reappears at the middle window), I am still more so when compelled to hold converse with two such ornaments of their sex (he disappears and reappears at the right-hand window) through a lattice window. Am I getting any nearer the door?

MOTHER (resigned). Pray, sir, come in and tell us all about it. I see that we must have your tale.

TALKER. To be exact, Madame, I have two tails who follow me about everywhere. One is of my own poor sex, a man, a thing of whiskers; the other has the honour to belong to that sex which--have I said it?--you and Mademoiselle so adorn. Have I your ladyship's permission?

DAUGHTER (eagerly). Oh, Mother, let them come.

MOTHER. Well, I suppose I must have you all.

TALKER (with a bow). Madame, I shall never forget this. Though I live to be ninety-three, this will always be engraved upon my memory. My grandchildren climbing upon my knee will wonder sometimes of what the old man is thinking. Little will they know--But I will attend you further within. [He bows and disappears.]

DAUGHTER. Mother, something _is_ going to happen at last.

MOTHER. Oh, child, were you as weary as that?

[The TALKER comes in at the door, followed by the SINGER and the FIDDLER. The SINGER is a pleasant-looking man of middle height, the FIDDLER a tall, silent girl. The TALKER himself is short and round, with a twinkling eye. Each wears a cap with a red feather in it.]

TALKER. Madame, your humble and most devoted servants. I have the honour to present to you her Royal Sweetness the Princess Carissima, His Flutiness the Duke of Bogota, and myself a mere Marquis.

DAUGHTER. Oh, Mother, they're wandering minstrels.

MOTHER. I bid you all welcome, sir.

TALKER. Permit me to expound further. The Princess--a courtesy title bestowed by myself last Michaelmas Day--plays upon the fiddle with an unerring beauty which makes strong men weep. You shall hear her. I pray you have your handkerchers ready. His Flutiness the Duke--the title was granted last Candlemas--has a voice of a rare richness. He is cursed with a melancholy disposition most pleasing. He suffers from a surfeit of rejected love. A most waggish companion withal.

DAUGHTER. Oh, what a shame!

SINGER. You must not believe all that Johannes says, ladies.

MOTHER. I had already learnt that much, sir.

TALKER. For myself, I play upon the pipe. You shall hear. (He plays "cuckoo" with an air.)

SINGER. The only notes he knows, ladies.

TALKER (indignantly). Oh, fie, Sir, fie! I protest, Madame, he maligns me. Have I not a G of surpassing splendour, of a fruitiness rarely encountered in this vale of tears? Madame, you must hear my G. Now, where is it? (He arranges his fingers with great care on the pipe.) I have it. (He blows a G, and bows deeply first to MOTHER and then to DAUGHTER.)

SINGER. Marvellous!

MOTHER (to TALKER). I thank you, Sir.

DAUGHTER. Oh, Mother, isn't he splendid?

TALKER (to MOTHER). Would you like my G again, Madame?

MOTHER. Not just now, I thank you, sir. Doubtless we shall feel more in need of it a little later on. But tell me, Sir, have you no other talent to match the singing and playing of your friends?

FIDDLER. He talks.

MOTHER. I had noticed it.

TALKER. This gift of talking with which her Royal Sweetness is good enough to credit me, irksome though it is to a man of silent habit like myself, a creature, as you will have noticed, of taciturn disposition; this--I--(Frankly) Madame, I have lost that sentence. Have I your gracious permission to begin again?

MOTHER. I think it would be better, Sir.

TALKER. Then, to put it shortly, Madame--

MOTHER. If you could, sir.

TALKER. To be completely frank in this matter, Madame, I--er--go round with the hat. It is a sordid but necessary business.

DAUGHTER (eagerly). Oh, I hope they give you plenty of money.

TALKER. Enough to support life, Mademoiselle. The hungry look which you observe upon His Flutiness is, as I have explained, due to melancholy.

DAUGHTER. You are going to perform, aren't you?

TALKER. Of a surety, Mademoiselle. Perhaps I should add that for myself I am resting just now, and that my part of the performance will be limited to nothing more than a note or two upon the pipe.

MOTHER (with a friendly smile). Sir, you are generous. We shall be glad to hear your friends.

(The TALKER bows and turns to his company.)

TALKER. A song, good Master Duke, a song which her Royal Sweetness will accompany upon the fiddle. Let it end, I pray you, with a G, so that I may bring the thing to a climax upon the last note.

FIDDLER (to SINGER). Morland Hill.

SINGER. You like that? (She nods.) Very well. (He sings.)

Oh, when the wind is in the North,
I take my staff and sally forth;
And when it whistles from the East
I do not mind it in the least;
The warm wind murmurs through the trees
Its messages from Southern seas;
But after all perhaps the best
Is that which whispers from the West.

Oh let the wind, the wind be what it will,
So long as I may walk on Morland Hill!

The staff which helps to carry me,
I cut it from the Hazel-tree;
But once I had a cudgel torn
Most circumspectly from the Thorn;
I know a fellow, far from rash,
Who swears entirely by the Ash;
And all good travellers invoke
A blessing on the mighty Oak.

Oh let the wood, the wood be what it will,
So long as I may walk on Morland Hill!

Some years ago I gave my heart
To Prue until we had to part;
Then, seeing Susan's pretty face,
I left it with her for a space;
And Susan had my heart until
I wanted it for Mistress Jill;
I think, although I am not clear,
That Chloe's had it this last year.

Oh let the wench, the wench be whom you will,
So long as I may walk on Morland Hill!

(The TALKER comes in proudly on the last note and takes most of the applause.)

DAUGHTER. I'm not sure that I like that last verse.

TALKER. Oh, you mustn't believe all he sings. A cursed melancholy fellow by nature. But waggish--waggish withal.

SINGER (to DAUGHTER). We have to sing what the poets write for us, Mademoiselle. Had I written a song myself, it had been about one woman only.

TALKER. And there would have been a hundred and twenty-five verses to it.

MOTHER. Your song was well sung, sir; I thank you for it. (To the FIDDLER) Will you not play us something now?

FIDDLER. If you wish it.

TALKER. You would wish me to accompany her, of course.

MOTHER (with a smile). It is kind of you, sir, but I think perhaps my daughter--

DAUGHTER (eagerly). Yes, of course, I will if I can. (She goes to the spinet.)

(playing a few notes). Do you know this?

DAUGHTER. Yes, I think so. (She plays. At the end of it the TALKER finds himself bowing to the applause.)

TALKER. And now, Madame, you have had a sample of all our poor talents, save and except that paltry talent of mine which in other company concludes such a performance. I pray you tell me what you think of the entertainment.

MOTHER. I have enjoyed it immensely, good Master Johannes. And if you did wish to exercise that talent of yours, of which so far we have only heard--

TALKER. Nay, nay, Madame, I beg you.

MOTHER. Then, Sir, I offer you my grateful thanks for your entertainment.

DAUGHTER. And I too.

TALKER. Ladies, you are too kind--er--(he hesitates)--er--


TALKER, The fact is, Madame, that now we approach or, so to speak, draw nigh or adjacent--in other words, Madame, we are perilously approximate--

FIDDLER. Tell her straight out.

MOTHER. Tell her what?

FIDDLER. What we've come for.

SINGER. Master Johannes, Madam, is so accustomed when he goes round with the hat to disguise under it flow of words the fact that money is as necessary to an artist as applause, that he has lost the habit of saying anything in less than ten sentences.

TALKER (mournfully). And yet I am a taciturn man.

MOWER. Well, will somebody tell me, for I confess I have been wondering what is behind it all.

FIDDLER. Tell her, Johannes.

TALKER. If you will allow me, Madame. But tell me first, did you notice anything lacking in our performance?

MOTHER (surprised). No; I don't think so.

TALKER (to DAUGHTER). Perhaps you, Mademoiselle?

DAUGHTER (shyly). It seemed to lack a woman's voice, sir.

TALKER (admiringly). What intelligence! What profundity! (To MOTHER) Madam, I felicitate you again on your daughter. Unerringly she has laid her finger on the weak joint in our armour. We have no woman's voice.

MOTHER. Well, Sir, I don't see how I can help you.

TALKER. Madame, you have a nightingale. It has lived in a cage all its life. It looks through the bars sometimes, and sees the great world outside, and sighs and turns back to its business of singing. Madame, it would sing better outside in the open air, with the other birds.

MOTHER. I don't understand you, sir. Are you referring to my daughter?

TALKER (looking towards the window). There is a stream which runs beyond the road, with a green bank to it. We were seated on that bank, I and my two companions, eating our bread and cheese, and washing it down with draughts from that good stream. We were tired, for we had come from over the hills that morning, and it was good to lie on our backs there and watch the little clouds taking shape after shape in the blue, and so to dream our dreams. In a little while the road would take us westward, here through a wood banked with primroses, there across a common or between high spring hedges with the little stream babbling ever at the side of us. And in the evening we would come to an inn, where there would be good company, and we would sing and play to them, and they would reward us. (With a shrug) It is a pleasant life.

DAUGHTER (eagerly). Oh, go on!

MOTHER. Yes, go on, Sir.

TALKER. We were lying on our backs thus, Madame, when we heard the nightingale. "Duke," says I, "it is early yet for the nightingale." His Flutiness removes his cap from his face, takes a squint at the sun, and says "Monstrous early, good Master Johannes," and claps his cap back again. "What says you, Fiddler," says I, "in this matter of nightingales? Is it possible," says I; "the sun being where it is, and nightingales being what they are--to wit, nightingales?" "It's not a nightingale," says Fiddler dreamily, "it's a girl." "Then," says I, jumping up, "it is a girl we want. She must put the red feather in her cap, and come her ways with us." (With a bow) Madame, your humble servant.

DAUGHTER. Oh, Mother, you will let me go, won't you? I must, I must! He is quite right. I'm caged here. Oh, you will let me see something of the world before I grow old!

FIDDLER (suddenly). Yes, let her come. If she feels like that, she ought to come.

SINGER (with a very winning smile). We will take great care of her, Madame, as if she were our own sister.

MOTHER (surprisingly to JOHANNES). What do you think of cider as a drink, Master Johannes?

TALKER (who had not expected it, but is always ready). Cider--ah, there's a drink! Oh, I can talk to you about cider, glum body as I am by nature, having been as it were taciturn from birth. Yet of cider I could talk you--

MOTHER. Ours is considered very good cider. (To her daughter) Take them, child, and give them such refreshment as they want. They have deserved it for their entertainment.

DAUGHTER. Why, of course, Mother. Come this way please.

[She leads the way, and the others follow, the TALKER coming last and murmuring "Cider" to himself.]

MOTHER. Master Johannes. (He turns round.) A word with you, if you please, sir.

TALKER. But certainly, Madame. The cider will be all the better for the expectation.

MOTHER. Sit down, please. (He does so.) Master Johannes, who are you, all of you?

TALKER. I thought I had explained, Madame. Her Royal Sweetness Princess Carissima, His Flutiness the Duke of Bogota, and myself a humble Marquis. We may be referred to collectively as the Red Feathers. For myself I am sometimes called Silent John, being of a close disposition.

MOTHER. Whatever you are called, you are, I think, a man of the world, and you will understand that if I am to trust my daughter to you, for however little a time, I must know something more about you.

TALKER. Madame, I will make a confession to you, a confession I have never yet made to man, woman, or child. I am forty-six years of age; it is, in fact, my birthday. Were I to begin to tell you something about myself, starting from that day, forty-six years ago, when I was born--were I to begin--well, Madame, I am only too ready to begin. It is a subject I find vastly pleasant. But, (looking at her comically) shall I begin?

MOTHER (with a smile). Would you make it so long a story, sir?

TALKER (with a sigh). The tongue is an unruly member, and to one who has but three notes on the pipe, and yet desires to express himself, talking is a great comfort.

MOTHER. I said you were a man of the world, sir. May I say now that I think you must be a man of _our_ world?

TALKER. I am a man of many worlds. But if it would comfort your mother's heart to know that your daughter will be in good company, I think I can give you that comfort.

MOTHER. Is that all you can give me?

(The TALKER gets up and walks about, frowning to himself. Suddenly he takes out his pipe, plays "cuckoo" to himself very solemnly, and is immensely relieved thereby. He comes back to the MOTHER with a beaming face.)

TALKER. Madame, I will tell you a story. (Holding up his hand to stop any expostulation) No, quite a short one. Once on a time there was a certain noble gentleman, a baron of estates and family. Conceiving himself to be in love, he dared to put it to the touch to win or lose it all. I regret to say that he lost it all. In a fit of melancholy he abjured society, cursed all women and took to the road. A pleasant melancholy gentleman. I made him a duke.

MOTHER (eagerly, indicating the door out of which the duke has just gone). You mean he really is--

TALKER. We will name no names, madame. I doubt not I have no right to speak of him to another. It is just a story. (Putting his pipe to his lips) Cuck-oo!

MOTHER. Poor child, she is not happy here. We live so quietly; we have no neighbours. I have wondered what to do--it seemed that I could do so little. If only I could be sure--(Suddenly) Master Johannes, do you like the look of this house with its little stream opposite, and the green bank running down, on which one may lie on one's back and look up at the sky?

TALKER. Did we not single it out above all others by having our bread and cheese outside it?

MOTHER. Will you all stay with me for a little? I think I can find room for you. Before I can lend my daughter to you, I feel that I must know something of you. I think that is the best way, is it not? (With a very friendly smile) The cider is good, you know.

TALKER (rising and boning). Madame, we need say no more.

[The other three come in. The DAUGHTER has found from somewhere a cap with a red feather in it. They stand in a row opposite the MOTHER, and to the FIDDLER'S accompaniment sing a merry song.]

The cuckoo comes in April,
Sings his song in May,
Changes his tune in the middle of June,
And then he flies away.

The cuckoo comes when April's here--
He is not very good, I fear.
He goes and takes another nest--
Perhaps he does it for the best.
Cuckoo! Cuckoo!...

When April's over he begins
Repenting of his former sins;
From tree to tree he takes his way,
But this is all he finds to say:
Cuckoo! Cuckoo!...

By June he gets a trifle flat,
Which is not to be wondered at,
And critical observers note
A huskiness about the throat.
(Huskily) Cuckoo! Cuckoo!...

Alas! he does not stay for long,
But other birds take up the song
Of summer gently following
The wild and happy days of Spring.

(The TALKER conducts with his pipe in his hand, and hums "La, la, la!" to himself. He pipes the chorus with them. At the conclusion they all bow or curtsey deeply to the MOTHER.)

MOTHER (half laughing, half crying). Oh!

TALKER (suddenly and dramatically, holding up his hand). Listen!


TALKER. Didn't I hear somebody say "cider"?


(It is eight days later when we see them again. The DAUGHTER is at the spinet, playing an accompaniment to the song which she and the SINGER are sharing for the moment.)

He does not know I love him,
He does not care;
The sky is blue above him,
The road is there
For those who dare--
Alas! why should he care?

She does not know I love her,
She does not know;
The sky is blue above her,
The soft winds blow
Where violets grow--
Alas! how should she know?

Yet those who sing
About the Spring
All say it should bring
Two lovers together!
Oh where, oh where
Will you find a pair
So matched as you and I, love?
Come rain or shine,
Come wet or fine,
If you are mine
What matter the weather?
Oh take my hand
And kiss me and
Confess that you are my love.

She does not know I love her--
Ah yes, she knows;
The sky is blue above her,
The buds disclose
The first wild rose--
Ah yes, she knows, she knows!

He cares not that I love him--
Ah yes, he cares;
The sky is blue above him,
A thrush declares
The world is theirs--
Ah yes, how much he cares!

TOGETHER. For those who sing, etc.

DAUGHTER (looking up at him). It is a pretty song.

SINGER. The words, I thought, were good. I liked the words.

DAUGHTER. Who thinks of the words of a song if the tune be pretty?

SINGER. But if the heart of the singer be in the words?

DAUGHTER (suddenly, as, she gets up). Tell me about Chloe.

SINGER (surprised). Chloe?

DAUGHTER. Or whatever her name was.

SINGER (hurt). I am not sure that I understand this conversation.

DAUGHTER. I mean the first one.

SINGER. I am not sure that I like this conversation.

DAUGHTER. She was the first, wasn't she--the one who made you renounce the world and take to the road?

SINGER (stiffly). Her name was not Chloe.

DAUGHTER (coaxingly). What was it?

SINGER (annoyed). Why rake up the dead ashes of the past? I was but a boy. It was five months ago. Besides, her name was Penelope.

DAUGHTER. You still remember it, though it was so long ago?

SINGER. I could have pretended to have forgotten, if it would have pleased you better.

DAUGHTER (coldly). I? Oh, I am not interested.

SINGER. Well, _I_ didn't start the subject. Perhaps, as neither of us is interested, I had better withdraw. Since we are to start this afternoon, I have much to see about. (Bowing) With your permission.

DAUGHTER (stopping him). Don't go. I am sorry. I have been unkind.

SINGER (smiling). Shall we practise that other song? Our voices agree, if our--our hearts do not.

DAUGHTER (distressed). Oh, don't say that. We must be friends.

SINGER. Only friends?

DAUGHTER (gently). Tell me about her.

SINGER. There is not much to tell, dear. I thought she loved me. Perhaps that was why I thought I loved her. When I told her, she pretended to be surprised. I don't think she was surprised. She was very pretty. (He pauses.)

DAUGHTER. And hard?

SINGER. It is not for me to say anything against her. It is through her that I came here.

DAUGHTER. When you came here the other day, had you forgotten her?

SINGER (singing). "Oh, let the wench, the wench be whom she will, so long as I can walk on Morland Hill." Didn't I say so on that first day?

DAUGHTER. Of course, I know very little of the world, but I do wonder sometimes if people who sing about the joys of wandering are really enjoying it all the time.

SINGER (looking round at the window). Is Johannes about?

DAUGHTER (surprised). No.

SINGER. Then I will be frank with you. Just lately _I_ have been wondering too.


SINGER (rapidly). I have a house; you would like my house. I have a park; you would like the park. Horses to ride and jewels to wear. I go to London sometimes and see the King; you would like London.

DAUGHTER (tragically). I have never been to London.

SINGER (letting himself go suddenly). Sweetheart, all that I have--(In an ordinary whisper) Be careful, Fiddler just went past the window. (Keeping his arm round her, he breaks into the last line or two of his song. She joins in, as if they were rehearsing.)

[Enter the FIDDLER. ]

SINGER (to DAUGHTER). Yes, I think we have it pretty well now. 'Tis a good song. (Turning round suddenly and seeing the FIDDLER). Ah, Fiddler, are you there? What do you think of it?

FIDDLER. Isn't it time to start?

SINGER. To start? Ah yes, we start this afternoon. Well, we have had a pleasant holiday and must get to work again.

DAUGHTER (eagerly). And I am coming with you.

FIDDLER. It is settled?

DAUGHTER. Oh yes, I think so.

FIDDLER. It is the best life. (TO DAUGHTER) Play something.

[As the DAUGHTER goes to the spinet, the SINGER goes out.]

(They play. When it is over, the DAUGHTER turns round and looks at the FIDDLER, and sighs.)

DAUGHTER. That is all you want? Just you and your fiddle and the open road?

FIDDLER. It is the best life.

[The TALKER appears at the window.]

TALKER. Aha! what did I hear? Did I hear our loquacious Fiddler perorating upon Life? "Life," quoth she, with much argument and circumstantial matter; "Life," she continued, making her points singly and one by one, thus keeping the business in its true perspective; "Life is--" (Lamely) Well, what is life?

FIDDLER. When do we start, Johannes?

[The DAUGHTER goes out.]

TALKER. Are you so eager to be gone?

FIDDLER. We have been here eight days.

TALKER. Eight days! And Troy was besieged for eleven years! Eight days! Why, I could talk for eight days without taking breath, and I am by nature a glum, silent man. Nay, nay, say not to me "Eight days." Eight days will not make a man grow old or a woman lose her beauty. (The MOTHER comes into the room.) Or a woman lose her beauty--Madame, I kiss your hands. Were I of less girth I would flit through the window and fall upon my knees at your feet. (The FIDDLER with a shrug goes out.) As it is, I shall enter by the door in the usual way. I have your permission?

MOTHER (smiling). You asked my permission a week ago. You do not need to ask it now.

TALKER (still at the window). It has been a happy week. The week has liked me well.

MOTHER. You take the road again this afternoon. Your plan still holds?

TALKER (with a sigh). They say so, lady.

MOTHER. Who say so? Is not Master Johannes the master of his company? Who say so?

TALKER. The birds. I held converse with a cuckoo-bird this morning. "Cuckoo," he said--in this manner (he imitates it on his pipe)--meaning, as I gathered, "O fool!" I bowed low to him, and "Pardon, bird," said I,--"but I would have you tell me why I am a fool." He answered thus in parables--"Cuckoo."

MOTHER. And what did _that_ mean?

TALKER (sighing). It meant, "There's no fool like an old fool."

(She looks away. He waits a little, then sighs again and leaves the window, entering a moment later by the door.)

MOTHER (looking up). Well, Sir?

TALKER. Madame, I am a man of good family, although--although I quarrelled with my good family. I left them many years ago and took to the road. I have seen something of the world since then, but I think I must always have had at the back of my mind some dim picture of what a home was--some ancient memory, perhaps. That memory has been very strong within me these last days.

MOTHER. You have liked my home, Master Johannes?

TALKER. I have liked it well. (He takes out his pipe and plays a melancholy "Cuckoo.") Well, well--we start this afternoon.

MOTHER. You want my daughter?

TALKER (sadly). Not your daughter, Madame.

MOTHER. What is it you want? Are you so backward in asking? It is not like the Master Johannes who came to my house eight days ago.

TALKER (taking his courage in his hands). Madame, though I have wandered about the world, I have saved some pennies in my time. A few trifling coins--enough for middle-age. Since I have had the great honour of knowing you--(He breaks of as the voice of the SINGER to full song is heard approaching.) Oh, God bless that poor young fool! Madame, I entreat you--

MOTHER (rising and moving hastily away). Another time, dear Johannes--(she smiles very fondly at him as she goes out)--another time you must tell me--all.

(The TALKER stares after her, hardly believing. Then, with an air of solemn happiness, he takes out his pipe and dances carefully but cheerfully round the room, piping to himself. The SINGER comes in singing merrily, He joins the TALKER at the end of the room, turns round with hint and trips up and down the room with him, one singing and the other piping.)

TALKER. Friend, we are gay.

SINGER. Very, very gay, Master Johannes. (They turn round and go up and down the room as before.)

TALKER. Something is stirring our middle-aged blood. I feel years younger.

SINGER. I have only just been born.

TALKER (with a wave of the hand): Shall we take another turn?

SINGER. At your pleasure. (They go up and down as before.)

TALKER (looking at the other anxiously out of the corners of his eyes). What do you think has happened to us?

SINGER (with a similar look). I--I wonder.

TALKER (nervously). I suppose the fact that we are going off this afternoon--the joy of returning to our old gay life is--is affecting us?

SINGER. I--I suppose so. (Without enthusiasm) Yes, that must be it.

TALKER. This cauliflower existence, this settled life which even the least enterprising cabbage would find monotonous, we have had more than enough of it, my friend.

SINGER. Yes. (He sighs deeply.) I sigh to think how we have wasted these eight days.

TALKER. Ah! (He sighs still more deeply.) However, Heaven be praised, we are for the road this afternoon.

SINGER (gloomily). Heaven be praised! It is a grand life.

TALKER (carelessly). Of course, if you came to me and said, "Johannes," you said, "I left my home in a fit of melancholy five months agone; the melancholy is cured, I will return home again"--why, I would say, "God bless you, Master Duke; go your way." Well, I can understand such a thing happening to a man of your age, not born to the wandering as I am.

SINGER. Bless you, Johannes, you are a true gentleman.

TALKER (airily). Say no more, say no more.

SINGER. But I cannot accept this sacrifice. I pledged myself to serve you for a year, and I'll keep my pledge.

TALKER (considerably upset by this). Wait a moment, Master Duke; I have myself thought of retiring these many months past. Indeed, it was only for your sake--

SINGER. No, no, I cannot allow it. It is only for my sake that you are saying this. We will take the road this afternoon. (Heroically) Indeed, I would infinitely prefer it. I am enamoured of the wandering life.

TALKER. It is a great life. It means everything to me.

(They stand side by side looking gloomily in front of them. Gradually they begin to glance towards each other; they catch each other's eyes--and understand each other thoroughly.)

TALKER (clapping the SINGER heartily on the back). I knew it, I knew it! You and the wandering life!

SINGER (delightedly). You, too, Johannes! You've had enough of it!

(They suddenly turn round and go up and down the room together, piping and singing. A genteel cough is heard outside the window, and the MOTHER is seen for a moment. The TALKER turns round with his pipe to his lips. They go up the room together again, and at the top the TALKER, with a wave of the hand, leaves his companion and goes out. He is seen passing the window.)

[The DAUGHTER comes in.]

SINGER. Sweetheart!

DAUGHTER (going to him). Is it all right?

SINGER. Everything is all right, beloved.

DAUGHTER. You have told him?

SINGER (nodding). It couldn't have fallen out better. He, too, was tired of wandering and wanted to settle down.

DAUGHTER. I told mother. She seemed glad. You know, I think she seems younger about something.

[Enter FIDDLER.]

FIDDLER. Are we starting this afternoon?

DAUGHTER. Oh, Fiddler dear, do you mind very much? (She holds out her hand, and the SINGER takes it.) We aren't coming at all. We--we--

SINGER. We are getting married.

FIDDLER (nodding to herself). I thought so.

DAUGHTER. But you will come and stay with us sometimes. Oh, say you will!

SINGER (smiling at FIDDLER with great friendliness). Of course she will.

(The TALKER and the MOTHER are seen coming least the windows.)

FIDDLER. There's Johannes. I expect we shall be starting this afternoon.

[The TALKER and the MOTHER come in arm-in-arm. He bows to her and takes the floor.]

TALKER. Ladies and gentlemen, companions-in-arms, knights and ladies of the road, comrades all,--I have the honour to make an announcement to you. The wandering company of the Red Feathers is determined from this date, likewise disbanded, or, as others would say, dissolved. "What means this, Master Johannes?" I hear you say. "Who has done this thing?" Ladies and gentles all, I answer you that young Cupid has done this thing. With unerring aim he has loosed his arrows. With the same happy arrow (taking the MOTHER'S hand) he has pierced the hearts of this gracious lady and myself, while yonder gallant gentleman I name no names, but the perspicacious will perceive whom I mean--is about to link his life with the charming maiden who stands so modestly by his side. There is one other noble lady present to whom I have not yet referred--

FIDDLER (holding out her hand to the MOTHER). I think I must go. Good-bye, and thank you.

MOTHER (taking her hand and patting it). Wait a moment, dear.

TALKER (continuing his speech)--noble lady to whom I have not yet referred. I will not hide from you the fact that she plays upon the fiddle with an elegance rarely to be heard. It is the earnest wish of (swelling his chest) my future wife and myself that she should take up her abode with us.

FIDDLER. It's very kind of you, but I don't think--

DAUGHTER (coming across). Mother, she's going to stay with us; she promised.

MOTHER. It's sweet of you to ask her, dear, but I think it would be much more suitable that she should live with _us_.

SINGER. We should love to have her, and she could come and see you whenever she liked.

MOTHER. I was going to suggest that she should live with us and come and see _you_ sometimes.

TALKER (who has been thinking deeply). I have it! What say you to this? For six months, making in all twenty-six weeks of the year, she shall live, reside, dwell, or, as one might say, take up her habitation with us; whereas for the other six months--(They have been so busy discussing the future of the FIDDLER that they have not noticed that she is no longer there. Suddenly the sound of the fiddle is heard.) What's that?

[The FIDDLER comes in, wearing her cap now with the red feather in it. She is playing a wild song, a song of the road. She is content again. She goes up the room, and as she passes them she gives them a little bend of the head and the beginnings of a grave smile. She goes out of the door, still playing; she is still playing as she goes past the windows. They follow her with their eyes. When she is gone they still listen until the music dies in the distance.]

[The end]
A. A. Milne's play: The Red Feathers: An Operetta In One Act