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                  ACT II

      As before, a little while after. The room is empty when
      the curtain goes up. SOLLERS runs in and paces
      about, but stops short when he catches sight of a
      pot dog on the mantlepiece.

      Sollers
      The pace it is coming down! -- What to do now? --
      My brain has stopt: it's like a clock that's fallen
      Out of a window and broke all its cogs. --
      Where's that old cider, Vine would have us pay
      Twopence a glass for? Let's try how it smells:
      Old Foxwhelp, and a humming stingo it is!
      (To the pot dog)
      Hullo, you! Whaty are you grinning at? --
      I know!
      There'll be no score against me for this drink!
      Of that score! I've drunk it down for a week
      With every gulp of cider, and every gulp
      Was half the beauty it should have been, the score
      So scratcht my swallowing throat, like a wasp in the drink!
      And I need never have heeded it! --
      Old grinning dog! You've seen me happy here;
      And now, all's done! But do you know this too,
      That I can break you now, and never called
      To pay for you?             [Throwing the dog on the floor.
      I shall be savage soon!
      We're leaving all this! -- O, and it was so pleasant
      Here, in here, of an evening. -- Smash!
        [He sweeps a lot of crockery on to the floor.
      It's all no good! Let's make a wreck of it all!
        [Picking up a chair and swinging it.
      Damn me! Now I'm forgetting to drink, and soon
      'Twill be too late. Where's there a mug not shivered?
        [He goes to draw himself cider. MERRICK rushes in.

      Merrick
      You at the barrels, too? Out of the road!
        [He pushes SOLLERS away and spills his mug.

      Sollers
      Go and kick out of door, you black donkey.

      Merrick
      Let me come at the vessel, will you?
        [They wrestle savagely.

      SOllers                                   Keep off;
      I'm the first here. Lap what you've spilt of mine.

      Merrick
      You with your chiselling and screw-driving,
      Your wooden work, you bidding me, the man
      Who hammers a meaning into red hot iron?
        VINE comes in slowly. He is weeping; the two
        wrestlers stop and stare at him, as he sits
        down, and holds his head in his hands,
        sobbing.

    Vine    O this is a cruel affair!

    Sillers                            Here's Vine crying!

    Vine    I've seen the moon.

    Merrick                The moon? 'Tisn't the moon
    That's tumbling on us, but yon raging star.
    What notion now is clotted in your head?

    Vine
    I've seen the moon; it has nigh broke my heart.

    Sollers
    Not the moon too jumping out of her ways?

    Vine
    No, no; -- but going quietly and shining,
    Pushing away a flimsy gentle cloud
    That would drift smoky round her, fending it off
    Wuth steady rounds of blue and yellow light.
    It was not much to see. She was no more
    Than a curved bit of silver rind. But I
    Never before so noted her --

    Sollers                    What he said,
    The dowser!

    Merrick        Ay, about his yellowhammers.

    Sollers
    And there's a kind of stifle in the air
    Already!

    Merrick      It seems to me, my breathing goes
    All hot down my windpipe, but as cider
    Mulled and steaming travels down my swallow.

    Sollers
    And a queer racing through my ears of blood.

    Herrick
    I wonder, is the star come closer still?

    Sollers
    O, close, I know, and viciously heading down.

    Vine
    She was so silver! and the sun had left
    A kind of tawny red, a dust of fine
    Thin light upon the blue where she was lying, --
    Just a curled paring of the moon, amid
    The faint grey cloud that set the gleaming wheel
    Around the tilted slip of shining silver.
    O it did seem to me so safe and homely,
    The moon quietly going about the earth;
    It's a rare place we have to live in, here;
    And life is such a comfortable thing --
    And what's the sense of it all? Naught but to make
    Cruel as may be the slaughtering of it.

    Sollers    It beats my mind!
      [He begins to walk up and down desparately.

    Merrick          'Twas bound to come sometime,
    Bound to come, I suppose. 'Tis a poor thing
    For us, to fall plumb in the chance of it;
    But, now or another time, 'twas bound to be. --
    I have been thinking back. When I was a lad
    I was delighted with my life: there seemed
    Naught but things to enjoy. Say we were bathing:
    There'ld be the cool smell of the water, and cool
    The splashing under the trees: but I did loathe
    The sinking mud slithering round my feet,
    And I did love to loathe it so! And then
    We'ld troop to kill a wasp's nest; and for sure
    I would be stung; and if I liked the dusk
    And singing and the game of it all, I loved
    The smart of the stings, and fleeing the buzzing furies.
    And sometimes I'ld be looking at myself
    Making so much of everything; there'ld seem
    A part of me speaking about myself:
    ' You know, this is much more than being happy.
    'Tis hunger of some power in you, that lives
    On your heart's welcome for all sorts of luck,
    But always looks beyond you for its meaning. '
    And that's the way the world's kept going on,
    I believe now. Misery and delight
    Have both had liking welcome from it, both
    Have made the world keen to be glad and sorry.
    For why? It felt the living power thrive
    The more it made everything, good and bad,
    Its own belonging, forged to its own affair, --
    The living power that would do wonders some day.
    I don't know if you take me?

    Sollers                                   I do, fine;
    I've felt the very thought go through my mind
    When I was at my wains; though 'twas a thing
    Of such a flight I could not read its colour.--
    Why was I like a man sworn to a thing
    Working to have my wains in every curve,
    Ay, every teneon, right and as they should be?
    Not for myself, not even for those wains:
    But to keep in me living at its best
    The skill that must go forward and shape the world,
    Helping it on to make some masterpiece.

    Merrick
    And never was there aught to come of it!
    The world was always looking to use its life
    In some great handsome way at last. And now --
    We are just fooled. There never was any good
    In the world going on or being at all.
    The fine things life has plotted to do are worth
    A rotten toadstool kickt to flying bits.
    End of the World? Ay, and the end of a joke.

    Vine    Well, Huff's the man for this turn.

    Merrick                                        Ay, the good man!
    He could but grunt when times were pleasant; now
    There's misery enough to make him trumpet.
    And yet, by God, he shan't come blowing his horn
    Over my misery!
    We are just fooled, did I say? -- We fooled ourselves,
    Looking for worth in what was still to come;
    And now there'a a stop to our innings. Well, that's fair:
    I've been a living man, and might have been
    Nothing at all! I've had the world about me,
    And felt it as my own concern. What else
    Should I be crying for? I've had my turn.
    The world may be for the sake of naught at last,
    But it has been for my sake: I've had that.
      [He sits again, and broods.

    Sollers
    I can't stay here. I must be where my sight
    May silence with its business all my thinking --
    Though it will be the star plunged down so close
    It puffs its flaming vengeance in my face.
      [He goes.

    Vine
    I wish there were someone who had done me wrong,
    Like Huff with his wife and Shale; I wish there were
    Somebody I would like to see go crazed
    With staring fright. I'ld have my pleasure then
    Of living on into the End of the World.
    But there is no one at all for me, no one
    Now my poor wife is gone.

    Merrick                             Why what did she
    To harm you?

    Vine    Didn't she marry me? -- It's true
    She made it come all right. She died at last.
    Besides, it would be wasting wishes on her,
    To be in hopes of her weeping at this.
    She'ld have her hands on her hops and her tongue jumping
    As nimble as a stoat, delighting round
    The way the world's to be terrible and tormented. --
    Ay, but I'll have a thing to tell her now
    When she begins to ask the news! I'll say
    ' You've misst such a show as never was nor will be,
    A roaring great affair of death and ruin;
    And I was there -- the world smasht to sparkles! '
    O, I can see her vext at that!
      MERRICK has been sunk in thought
      during this, but VINE seems to brighten
      at this notion, and speaks quite cheerfully
      to HUFF, who now comes in, looking
      mopish, and sits down

    Vine
    We've all been envying you, Huff. You're well off,
    You with your goodness and your enemies
    Showing you how to relish it with their terror.
    When do you mean the gibing is to start?

    Huff       There's time enough.

    Vine                      O, do they still hold out?
    If they should be for spiting you to the last!
    You'ld best keep on at them: think out a list
    Of frantic things for them to do, when air
    Is scorching smother and the sin they did
    Frightens their hearts. You'll shout them into fear,
    I undertake, if you find breath enough.

    Huff
    You have the breath. What's all your pester for?
    You leave me be.

    Vine                   Why, you're to do for me
    What I can't do myself. -- And yet it's hard
    To make out where Shale hurt you. What's the sum
    Of all he did to you? Got you quit of a marriage
    Without the upset of a funeral.

    Huff
    Wyy need you blurt your rambling mind at me?
    Let me bide quiet in my thought awhile,
    And it's a little while we have for thought.

    Merrick
    I know your thought. Paddling round and around,
    Like a squirrel working in a spinning cage
    With his neck stretcht to have his chin poke up,
    And silly feet busy and always going;
    Paddling round the story of your good life,
    Your small good life, and how the decent men
    Have jeered at your wry antic.

    Huff                                         My good life!
    And what good has my goodness been to me?
    You show me that! Somebody show me that!
    A caterpillar munching a cabbage-heart,
    Always drudging further and further from
    The sounds and lights of the world, never abroad
    Nor flying free in warmth and air sweet-smelling:
    A crawling caterpillar, eating his life
    In a deaf dark -- that's my gain of goodness!
    And it's too late to hatch out now! --
    I can but fancy what I might have been;
    I scarce know how to sin! -- But I believe
    A long while back I did come near to it.

    Merrick
    Well done! -- O but I should have guesst all this!

    Huff
    I was in Droitwich; and the sight of the place
    Is where they cook the brine: a long dark shed,
    Hot as an oven, full of a grey steam
    And ruddy light that leaks out of the furnace;
    And stirring the troughs, ladling the brine that boils
    As thick as treacle, a double standing row,
    Women -- boldly talking in wicked jokes
    All day long. I went to see 'em. It was
    A wonderful rousing sight. Not one of them
    Was really wearing clothes: half of a sack
    Pinned in an apron was enough for most,
    And here and there might be a petticoat;
    But nothing in the way of bodices --
    O, they knew words to shame a carter's face!

    Merrick
    This is the thought you would be quiet in!

    Huff
    Where else can I be quiet? Now there's an end
    Of daring, 'tis the one place my life has made
    Where I may try to dare in thought. I mind,
    When I stood in the midst of those bare women,
    All at once, outburst with a rising buzz,
    A mob of flying thoughts was wild in me:
    Things I might do swarmed in my brain pell-mell,
    Like a heap of flies kickt into humming cloud.
    I beat them down; and now I cannot tell
    For certain what they were. I can call up
    Naught venturesome and darting like their style;
    Very tame braveries now! -- O Shale's the man
    To smile upon the End of the World; 'tis Shale
    Has lived the bold stiff fashion, and filled himself
    With thinking pride in what a man may do. --
    I wish I had seen those women more than once!

    Vine
    Well, here's an upside down! This is old Huff!
    What have you been in your heart all these years?
    The man you were or the new man you are?

    Huff    Just a dead flesh!

    Merrick          Nay, Huff the good man at least
    Was something alive, though snarling like trapt vermin.
    But this? What's this for the figure of a man?
    'Tis a boy's smutty picture on a wall.

    Huff
    I was alive, was I? Like a blind bird
    That flies and cannot see the flight it takes,
    Feeling it with mere rowing of its wings.
    But Shale -- he's had a stirring sense of what he is.
      Shouting outside. Then SOLLERS walks in
      again, very quiet and steady. He stands
      in the middle, looking down on the floor

    VineWhat do they holla for there?

    Sollers                The earth.

    Merrick                         The earth?

    Sollers    The earth's afire.

    Huff            The earth blazing already?
      [Shouts again.
    O, not so soon as this?

    Vine                  What sort of fire?

    SOllers
    The earth has caught the heat of the star, you fool.

    Merrick
    I know: there's come some dazzle in your eyes
    From facing to the star; a lamp would do it.

    Huff
    It will be that. Your sight, being so strained,
    Is flashing of itself.

    Sollers                 Way what you like.
    There's a red flare out of the land beyond
    Looking over the hills into our valley.
    The thing's begun, 'tis certain. Go and see.

    Vine    I won't see that. I will stay here.

    Sollers                                        Ay, creep
    Into your oven. You'll be cooler there. --
    O my God, we'll all be coals in an hour!
      [Shouts again.

    Huff
    And I have naught to stand in my heart upright,
    And vow it made my living time worth more
    Than if my time had been death in a grave!
      Several persons run in.

    The Crown
    1. The river's the place!
    2.                     The only safe place now!
    3. Best all charge down to the river!
    4.                                     For there's a blaze,
    A travelling blaze comes racing along the earth.

    Sollers
    'Tis true. The air's red-hot above the hills.

    The Crown
    1. Ay, but he burning now crests the hill-tops
    In quiver of yellow flame.
    2.                     And a great smoke 
    Waving and tumbling upward.
    3.                                      The river now!
    4. The only place we have, not be be roasted!

    Merrick
    And what will make us water-rats or otters,
    To keep our breath still living through a dive
    That lasts until the earth's burnt out? Or how
    Would that trick serve, when we stand up to gasp,
    And find the star waiting for our plunged heads
    To knock them into pummy?

    Vine                          Scarce more dazed
    I'ld be with that than now. I shall be bound,
    When I'm to give my wife the tale of it all,
    To be divising: more of this to-do
    My mind won't carry.

    Huff                    O ashamed I am,
    Ashamed! -- It needn't have been downright fears,
    Such as the braving men, the like of Shale,
    Do easily, and smile, keeping them up.
    If I could look back to one manful hour
    Of romping in the face of all my goodness! --

    SHALE comes in, dragging Mrs HUFF by the hand.

    Shale
    Huff! Where's Huff? -- Huff, you must take her back!
    You'll take her back? She's yours: I give her up.

    Merrick    Belike here's something bold again.

    Mrs Huff (to SHALE)                                      Once more,
    Listen.

    Shale         I will not listen. There's no time
    For aught but giving you back where you belong;
    And that's with you, Huff. Take her.

    Huff                                        Here is depth
    I cannot see to. Is it your last fling? --
    The dolt I am in these things! -- What's this way
    You've found of living wickedly to the end?

    Shale
    Scorn as you please, but take her back, man, take her.

    Huff
    But she's my wife! Take her back now? What for?

    Mrs Huff
    What for? Have you not known of thieves that throw
    Their robbery down, soon as they hear a step
    Sounding behind them on the road, and run
    A long way off, and pull an honest face?
    Ay, see Shale's eyes practising baby-looks!
    He never stole, not he!

    Shale                           Don't hear her talk.

    Mrs Huff
    But he was a talker once! Love was the thing;
    And love, he swore, would make the wrong go right,
    And Huff was a kind of devil -- and that's true --

    Huff
    What? I've been devilish and never knew?

    Mrs Huff
    The devil in the world that hates all love.
    But Shale said, he'd the love in him would hold
    If the world's frame and the fate of men were crackt.

    Shale    What I said!
    Whoever thought the world was going to crack?

    Mrs Huff
    And now he hears someone move behind him. --
    They'll say, perhaps, ' You stole this! ' -- Down it goes,
    Thrown to the ditry road -- thrown to Huff!

    Shale
    Yes, to the owner.

    Mrs Huff                  It was not such brave thieving
    You did not take me from my owner, Shale:
    There's an old robber will do that some day,
    Not you.

    Vine                      Were you thinking of me then, missis?

    Mrs Huff (still to SHALE)
    You found me lost in the dirt: I was with Huff.
    You lifted me from there; and there again,
    Like a frightened urchin, you're for throwing me.

    Shale    Let it be that! I'm firm
    Not to have you about me, when the thing,
    Whatever it is, that's standing now behind
    The burning of the world, comes out on us.

    Huff
    The way men cheat! This windle-stalk was he
    Would hold a show of spirit for the world
    To study while it ruined! -- Make what you please
    Of your short wrangle here, but leave me out.
    I have my thoughts -- O far enough from this.
      [Turning away.

    Shale (seizing him)
    You shall not put me off. I tell you, Huff,
    You are to take her back now.

    Huff                                Take her back!
    And what has she to do with what I want?

    Shale
    Isn't she yours? I must be quit of her;
    I'll not be in the risk of keeping her.
    She's yours!

    Huff       And what's the good of her now to me?
    What's the good of a woman whom I've married?

    During this, WARP the molecatcher has come in.

    Warp
    Shale and Huff at their old pother again!

    Merrick    The molecather!

    Sollers                      Warp, have you travelled far?
    Is it through frenzy and ghastly crowds you've come?

    Vine
    Have you got dreadful things to tell us, Warp?

    Warp    Why, no.
    But seemingly you'ld have had news for me,
    If I'd come later. Is Huff to murder Shale,
    Or Shale for murdering Huff? One way or 'tother,
    'Tis time 'twas settled surely. -- Mrs Huff
    They're neither of them worth you: here's your health.

      [Draws and drinks.

    Huff
    Where have you been? Are you not new from folk
    That throng together in a pelting horror?

    Warp
    Do you think the whole land hearkens to the flurry
    Of an old dog biting at a young dog's throat?

    Merrick
    No, no! Not their shrill yapping; you've not heard
    The world's near to be blasted?

    Warp                       No mutter of it.
    I am from walking the whole ground I trap,
    And there's no likeness of it, but the moles
    I've turned up dead and dried out of three counties.

    Sollers
    Why, but the fire that's eating the whole earth;
    The breath of it is scarlet in the sky!
    You must have seen that?

    Warp                          But what's taken you?
    You are like boys that go to hunt for ghosts,
    And turn the scuttle of rats to a roused demon
    Crawling to shut the door of the barn they search.
    Fire? Yes, fire is playing a pretty game
    Yonder, and has its golden fun to itself,
    Seemingly.

    Sollers           You don't know what 'tis that burns?

    Warp
    Call me a mole and not a molecatcher
    If I do not. It is a rick that burns;
    And a strange thing I'll count it if the rick
    Be not old Huff's.

    Sollers                That flare a fired stack?

    Huff
    Only one of my ricks alight? O Glory?
    There may be chance for me yet.

    Merrick                                        Best take the train
    To Droitwich, Huff.

    Vine (at the door)        It would be like a stack,
    But for the star.

    Sollers (to WARP)    Yes, as you're so clever,
    You can talk down maybe yon brandishing star!

    Warp
    O, 'tis the star has flickt your brains? Indeed,
    The tail swings long enough to-night for that.
    Well, look your best at it; 'tis off again
    To go its rounds, they tell me, from now on;
    And the next time it swaggers in our sky,
    The moles a long while will have tired themsleves
    Of having their easy joke with me.

      [A pause.

    Merrick                          You mean
    The flight of the star is from us?

    Sollers                              But the world,
    The whole world reckons on it battering us!

    Warp
    Who told you that?

    Sollers              A dowser.

    Merrick                         Where's he gone?

    Warp
    A dowser! say a trampling conjurer.
    You'll believe aught, if you believe a dowser.

    Sollers
    I had it in me to be doubting him.

    Merrick
    The noise you made was like that! But I knew
    You'ld laugh at me, so sure you were the world
    Would shiver like a bursting grindlestone:
    Else I'ld have said out loud, 'twas a fool's whimsy.

    Vine
    Where are you now? What am I now to think?
    Your minds run round in puzzles, like chased hares.
    I cannot sight them.

    Merrick                       Think of going to bed.

    Sollers   And dreaming prices for your pigs.

    Merrick                                        O Warp,
    You should have seen Vine crying! The moon, he said,
    The silver moon! Just like an onion 'twas
    To stir the water in his eyes.

    Sollers                                 He's left
    A puddle of his tears where he was droopt
    Over the table.

    Vine             There's to be no ruin? --
    But what's the word of a molecatcher, to crow
    So ringing over a dowser's word?

    Warp                                        I'll tell you.
    These dowsers live on lies: my trade's the truth.
    I can read moles, and the way they've dug their journeys,
    Where you'ld not see a wrinkle.

    Vine                                        And he knows
    The buried water.

    Warp                        There's always buried water,
    If you prod deep enough. A dowser finds
    Because the whole earth's floating, like a raft.
    What does he know? A twitching in this thews;
    A dog asleep knows that much. What I know
    I've learnt, and if I'd learnt it wrong, I'ld starve.
    And if I'm right about the grubbing moles,
    Won't I be right for news of walking men?

    Merrick
    Of course you're right. Let's put the whole thing by,
    And have a pleasant drink.

    Shale (to Mrs HUFF)                   You must be tired
    With all this story. Shall we be off for home?

    Huff
    You brass! You don't go now with her! She's mine!
    You gave her up.

    Shale                And you made nothing of her.

    (To Mrs Huff)    Come on.

    Mrs Huff    Warp, will you do a thing for me?

    Warp    A hundred things.

    Mrs Huff                            Then slap me these cur-dogs.

    Warp
    I will. Where will I slap them, and which first?

    Mrs Huff
    Maybe 'twill do if you but laugh at them.

    Warp
    I'll try for that; but they are not good jokes;
    Though there's a kind of monkey-look about them.

    Mrs Huff
    They thinking I'ld be near one or the other
    After this night! Will I be made no more
    Than clay that children puddle to their minds,
    Moulding it what they fancy? -- Shale was brave:
    He made a bogy and defied it, till
    He frightened of his work and ran away.
    But Huff! -- Huff was for modelling wickedly.

    Huff    Who told you that?

    Mrs Huff                    I need no one's telling.
    I was your wife once. Don't I know your goodness?
    A stupid heart gone sour with jealousy,
    To feel its blood too dull and thick for sinning. --
    Yes, Huff would figure a wicked thought, but had
    No notion how, and flung the clay aside. --
    O they were gaudy colours both! But now
    Fear has bleacht their swagger and left them blank,
    Fear of a loon that cried, End of the World!

    Huff    Shale, do you know what we're to do?

    Shale                                        I'ld like
    To have the handling of that dowser-man.

    Huff    Just that, my lad, just that!

    Warp                                  And your fired rick?

    Huff
    Let it be blazes! Quick, Shale, after him!
    I'll tramp the nght out, but I'll take the rogue.

    Shale (to the others)
    You wait, and see us haul him by the ears,
    And swim the blatherer in Huff's farm-yard pond.
      [As HUFF and SHALE go out, they see the comet before them.

    Huff    The devil's own star is tha!

    Shale                                   And floats as calm
    As a pike basking.

    Huff                      There shouldn't be such stars!

    Shale
    Neither such dowsers,and we'll learn him that.
      [They go off together.

    Sollers    Why the star's dwindling now, surely.

    Merrick                                       O, small
    And dull now to the glowing size it was.

    Vine
    But is it certain there'll be nothing smasht?
    Not even a house knockt roaring down in crumbles?
    -- And I did think, I'ld open my wife's mouth
    With envy of the dreadful things I'd seen!

              Curtain.

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