Libretto list

Albert Herring Libretto

ACT I


(A tall, strong boy of twenty-two, who helps his mother                 
run the greengrocer's. No fool, but his mother's
mixture of contemptuous bullying and adoration of him
have made him extremely shy and awkward - especially
when faced with strange people or situations. Emmie,
Cis and Harry Tiresome village children, aged fifteen,
thirteen and twelve)

Scene 1

(The morning room at Lady Billows' house in Loxford.
Florence, the housekeeper, is clearing away breakfast
things for one on to a tray. She takes the tray out and
comes back with a feather duster)

LADY BILLOWS
(off-stage)
Flo - rence!...

(The text of her instruction is quite
indistinct except for the last three words.)

...tell the midwife!

FLORENCE
(shouting in reply)
Very good, milady!

LADY BILLOWS
She's not to...!

(Florence continues dusting and tidying.)

LADY BILLOWS
Flo - rence!

(No reply)

Flo - rence!

(Florence hurries back to the hall to listen.)

FLORENCE
Here, milady!

LADY BILLOWS
(another indistinct instruction, ending...)
...Make him tear it up!

FLORENCE
Yes, Milady!

LADY BILLOWS
Dust - bin!

FLORENCE
Just on half-past ten.

(She comes back into room, fetches a small household
book and pencil and notes her latest instructions.)

Doctor Jessop's midwife...
mustn't touch illegitimates
advert in chemist's window indecent... tear it up!
Call at Primrose Cottage...
Must stop William making such rude noises,
or else...
Buy a breakfast cup...

(checking back on earlier notes)

Load of logs for Number Six, the Mount...
Mittens for Mr Pilgrim...
Did they say how many
from the almshouse wanted copies
of the Bishop's sermon?
...No more poppies in altar vases...
looks too Roman... Vicar must warn choirboys...
make responses quicker...

(Florence shuts her book in despair)

One lifetime
One brain
One pair of hands
Are all too few
For Lady B.
Each day some
New idea
Makes new demands
Upon her sense
Of charity.
But oh! But oh!...
Sometimes I wish...

(As she is about to expand freely, Florence is interrupted
by a knock at the door. She straightens her cap and
apron and goes to open it. Miss Wordsworth, the
Headmistress; Mr Gedge, the Vicar; Mr Upfold, the
Mayor; and Police Superintendent, Budd, enter)

MISS WORDSWORTH
I hope we're not too early,
Florence?

FLORENCE
Oh no, miss. Her Ladyship's expecting you...

VICAR
Why, this looks almost like a deputation, eh?

FLORENCE
Let me take your hats and sticks.
I'll say you've come.

(Florence takes their things and goes out)

MAYOR
It's just on half-past ten.
We're very punctual by that clock.

VICAR
Come and sit here, Miss Wordsworth.

MISS WORDSWORTH
(moving to the window)
Let me stand
till we're ready to begin.

VICAR
As you will.

(The clock chimes the half-hour.)

SUPERINTENDENT
(checking it by his watch)
Ten seconds fast, I make that.

MAYOR
No, you're slow!
Exactly right by mine.

MISS WORDSWORTH
Oh I find it so refreshing to escape
from school
on a sunny day like this.

VICAR
Playing truant?

SUPERINTENDENT
(shaking his watch)
Funny being slow! Never known it...

MISS WORDSWORTH
Free for a perfect hour or two of liberty.

MAYOR
Wonderful weather for April, Mr Gedge!

SUPERINTENDENT
(continuing his ruminations)
Wants oiling, I expect.
Dust in the works.

MISS WORDSWORTH
Look! That hedge of rosemary
is humming with bumblebees!

VICAR
Quite perfect, Mr Mayor.
Promises a splendid
May and June.

MAYOR
That it does.

SUPERINTENDENT
'In like a lion, out like a lamb!'
That was true of March this year!

MAYOR
It was...

MISS WORDSWORTH
(radiant)
'And lo! the winter is past...

VICAR
(joining in)
'The rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth...

(explaining)

Solomon's Song, you know!

MAYOR
(impatiently)
Well, since we're here...

SUPERINTENDENT
Her Ladyship was very distressed
when she heard about Curtis's daughter.

VICAR
They tell me that's her third!

MISS WORDSWORTH
Appalling!

SUPERINTENDENT
She won't confess the father, silly girl!

MAYOR
It's happening far too often!

MISS WORDSWORTH
Lily Jarvis is another problem...

SUPERINTENDENT
Twins, if you please!

VICAR
Drunken father, mother a slattern, these things
breed immorality in the young.

MISS WORDSWORTH
Their poor children...

MAYOR
(indignantly)
Something must be done!

SUPERINTENDENT
Hear, hear!

VICAR
A firm stand now
before the evil spreads!

MISS WORDSWORTH
Her Ladyship is all for that!

SUPERINTENDENT
Though she exaggerates occasionally...

MAYOR
Strong measures are essential now!

VICAR, MISS WORDSWORTH
SUPERINTENDENT
Of course they are!
Most essential!
Hear, hear!

VICAR
This Festival idea may help...

MAYOR, MISS WORDSWORTH
SUPERINTENDENT
I'm all for that.
I have great hopes.
Certainly!
Practical measures! Hear, hear!

FLORENCE
(comes in hurriedly)
Hush!
She's here!

MAYOR
Careful now!

MISS WORDSWORTH
Oh! Her Ladyship!

SUPERINTENDENT
Here she comes...

VICAR
Ah, Lady Billows!

(Lady Billows appears at the top of the stairs and
walks heavily and deliberately down. She crosses
unexpectedly to the window and pushes it open. As
she turns to greet her visitors, her eye flickers
accusingly across the Mayor and Superintendent.)

LADY BILLOWS
Stuffy!
Tobacco stink!
Nasty masculine smell!

(shaking hands)

Good morning.

ALL
Good morning, my Lady!

Ensemble

MISS WORDSWORTH, FLORENCE
MAYOR, SUPERINTENDENT, VICAR
This is the tenth of April
The day your Ladyship planned
For our second and final meeting,
We're here to see how we stand;
For the Queen of the May
Must be appointed by us today.

LADY BILLOWS
All very punctual! Glad to see it.
Early worms!

(Lady Billows crosses with heavy deliberation
to the table and seats herself.)

Ensemble

MISS WORDSWORTH, FLORENCE, MAYOR,
SUPERINTENDENT, VICAR
We've made our own investigations
And bring you our nominees
And we're ready whenever you please.

(They seat themselves at the table
around Lady Billows)

LADY BILLOWS
Now then! Notebook, Florence!
All know why we're here.
Only one item on today's agenda
to choose a Queen of the May.
May Queen! May Queen!
There's a lot of simple wisdom
in these old traditions
Like Hallowe'en, Harvest Home,
Chasing the Old Year out of the town
And so on.
Competition to be May Queen,
When I was a girl,
was amazingly keen!
Among the village girls, I mean.
All dressed in white
Met on the Green
At noon on May the first to parade
Before the Squire.
Squire picked the winner
And sat beside her during dinner.
Oh! you're too young to remember
How these things were done!
I'm putting up a prize this year.
Twenty-five sovereigns -
twenty-five! Consider it my duty.
Must make virtue attractive, exciting,
desirable for young people.
Too many goings on!
Dirty things, ugh!
Our birth-rate rises every week:
Poor Doctor Jessop is run off his feet,
Delivering new babies to
Mothers of whom excessively few
Have taken the trouble of visiting you, Vicar!
Shocking business! No! I won't have it!
Town's in a state of complete moral chaos.
Well, then, all in favour signify,
usual manner...

(All raise their hands. The clock strikes the three quarters.)

Unanimous! Good...
Let's have the suggestions.
I'm waiting! First?...

VICAR
(rising)
The first suggestion on my list
Is a charming local girl
Who takes Communion and never missed
A Sunday, Jennifer Searl.

FLORENCE
(consulting her notebook)
...had an affair
with young Tom O'Dare,
last Christmas...

LADY BILLOWS
Case dismissed!

MISS WORDSWORTH
Of all the pupils from the school
It gives me particular pleasure
To recommend Elizabeth Newell
Whose Botany notes are a treasure.

FLORENCE
...was seen in the woods
after dusk with Tom Hood
last Tuesday...

LADY BILLOWS
Cross her name off! No good!

MAYOR
(stands)
There's Winifred Brown
who works in the town
As assistant to Mrs Bell.
I've asked about her, and people concur
She behaves on the average quite well.

FLORENCE
Except she went
With her cousin from Kent
For a trip in a dog-cart one Sunday in Lent!

SUPERINTENDENT
(clearing his throat)
Er-humph! Er-humph!

LADY BILLOWS
Speak up, Budd!

SUPERINTENDENT
I've little to say, my Lady,
So I'll make it short and sweet.
The girl in my mind is a treasure, you'll find.
Her name is Amelia Keats.

FLORENCE
Exposes her ankles
And legs bold as brass.
Her skirt's far too short
For a girl of her class.
None of these four
Seems to me more
Than half up to scratch
As a Queen of the May.

LADY BILLOWS
(irritably)
Won't accept one of them!
Cross them all out!
Can't waste time
buttering parsnips!
Want virgins, not trollops...
More names?

(All are rather flustered by the failure of their
first suggestions. They hasten to make others.)

VICAR
(rising quickly)
I have another name or two
I brought with me in case
The first was not acceptable.
What about Edith Chase?

LADY BILLOWS
(to Florence)
Well, what about her?

FLORENCE
Much too flighty...

VICAR
She attends my Bible group...

FLORENCE
When the postman called
One day, she opened the door in her nightie!

MISS WORDSWORTH
Has anyone thought of the shoemaker's twins,
Joyce Mary and her sister?
Most practical girls at handicrafts...

FLORENCE
(grimly)
I've heard of things from Mr Budd
about them both...

LADY BILLOWS
Both of them?

SUPERINTENDENT
Take my Bible oath!...

FLORENCE
He can't repeat what he caught them at...
You'll pardon him, milady...

VICAR
There's that girl
who works at Piper's farm...

FLORENCE
Was lost one night
and then found in a barn!

MISS WORDSWORTH
Oh, surely there must be one to choose!

MAYOR
The girl from the dairy?

FLORENCE
She won't refuse.
Though not ideal by a long, long chalk.

LADY BILLOWS
(to Mayor)
Then don't suggest her!

SUPERINTENDENT
People talk of Nancy Waters,
but I'm not sure...

FLORENCE
The baker's daughter?
No! Couldn't have her for Queen of the May!

MAYOR
She runs after Sid, who's my assistant,
And him after her:
both very persistent.

VICAR
My mind has scoured the Parish through:
Our lists are finished.

MISS WORDSWORTH
What can we do?
Not even one girl whom we can trust?
Not even one in all the town?

SUPERINTENDENT
I reckon that's true...

MAYOR
It is!

VICAR
And must we cast our hopeful glances down?

MISS WORDSWORTH, MAYOR
SUPERINTENDENT
Unhappy? Sad? Defeated?...
Before our project is completed?

FLORENCE
You've none of you succeeded!

(All sit silent and glum)

Quartet

VICAR
Oh, bitter, bitter is the fruit
Sprung from the seed of sin:
It feeds on poison at the root
And cankers all within.

MISS WORDSWORTH
I teach my pupils they must strive
For moral grace and truth
But they care little for advice
In headstrong days of youth.

MAYOR
How sad to see a decent town
Lose its good name and sin
Slowly, slowly, slowly down
And hover on the brink!

SUPERINTENDENT
Policemen have a ticklish task
In stamping out abuses.
For human flesh is only grass
And darkness has its uses.

(A dismal silence. Florence stands rigid and
tightlipped. Lady Billows begins to simmer
and suddenly rises in anger)

Aria

LADY BILLOWS
(furious)
Is this all you can bring?
Each single name
Reeking impurities,
Exuding moral blame?
Is there no more than this to offer?
Not one thing but stinks
of sensual shame?

FLORENCE
(echoing her mistress)
...but stinks of sensual shame?

LADY BILLOWS
Are Loxford girls all whores?
None clean, none sure?
Lascivious nanny-goats
Each one, each one impure?
I'll curb their passions;
show them with a whip that laws
of morals must endure!

FLORENCE
(echoing)
...that morals must endure!

LADY BILLOWS
(more quietly)
Is this the town where I have lived and toiled?
A Sodom and Gomorrah,
ripe to be despoiled?
O spawning-ground of horror!
Shame to Loxford:
Sty the female sex has soiled!

FLORENCE
(echoing)
...Sty the female sex has soiled!

LADY BILLOWS and FLORENCE
...Sty the female sex has soiled!

(The clock whirrs and strikes eleven. Lady Billows
sits, exhausted by her own vehemence, among the
unhappy committee. The Superintendent has a
sudden brainwave.)

SUPERINTENDENT
(hesitant)
Begging your pardon
I'd like to say
Has anyone heard
Of a King of the May?

FLORENCE
King of the May?

LADY BILLOWS
Fantastic!

MISS WORDSWORTH
I never did...

VICAR
Not in East Suffolk...

MAYOR
I suppose you'd crown Sid?

SUPERINTENDENT
Maybe it seems a
Rum sort of notion
But it might help us out
Of the present commotion...

LADY BILLOWS
'Rum' it may be; 'helpful' no.
Mere red herring,
Budd!

SUPERINTENDENT
Just so!
Herring's the name
and Herring's the lad!
Fellow we're wanting is there to be had.
Albert Herring!...

ALL
(amazed at this suggestion.)
Albert Herring?...

SUPERINTENDENT
(hurriedly)
... Works for his mother...
Has a greengrocer's shop...
Strong as a horse...
Works 'til he drops...
Bit simple, of course...
but we won't find another.

(with confidence)

Albert Herring's clean as
new-mown hay;
Honest, truthful, keen as
Colman's mustard, as they say!
Never kicks up rough as
most boys do
Albert's real good stuff,
as good as gold, right
through and through!

VICAR
(hesitant)
I know the boy you mean,
but is he quite?...

MAYOR
I've seen him since he was a kid.
He's always lived next door to me...

MISS WORDSWORTH
When he attended school poor Albert
was not bright at lessons,
though quite exceptional for conduct.

VICAR
An inoffensive lad, simple,
of course...

MAYOR
A splendid son to Mrs Herring...

LADY BILLOWS
(scornfully)
What precisely has a grocer's lad
to do with this discussion?
Ridiculous proposal!
I'm certain there are girls
farmer's daughters, maybe...
suitable for us. Florence?...

FLORENCE
Hopeless, milady.
I've been round all the farms and smallholdings.
Shocking results!
Country virgins, if there be such,
Think too little and see too much.

(It looks as if Lady Billows will erupt again.
But the moment passes.)

LADY BILLOWS
I am a very disappointed woman...
Either we abandon the Festival, or...

SUPERINTENDENT
(doggedly)
Albert Herring!

LADY BILLOWS
(with distaste)
Albert Herring!
Vicar?...

VICAR
Virtue, says Holy Writ,
Is... Virtue.
Grace abounding
Whensoever, wheresoever,
Howsoever it exists.
Rarer than pearls...
rubies… amethyst,
Richer than wealth...
wisdom... righteousness!
Is Albert virtuous?
Yes? Or no?
That is all we need to know.

SUPERINTENDENT
What, Albert virtuous?
That I know.
Certainly he
Must be so.

MAYOR
He's very virtuous.
Don't you know everybody thinks him so?

MISS WORDSWORTH
Albert is virtuous.
Yes, I know
He is truly
Truly so!

FLORENCE
They say he's virtuous,
As boys go:
Everybody tells me so.

(After this outburst they all look at Lady Billows,
who appears to be asleep in her chair.)

LADY BILLOWS
Albert... What's his name?

ALL
(gently)
Herring.

LADY BILLOWS
(scarcely audible)
Herring.

(suddenly)

Right!
We'll have him!
May King! That'll teach the girls a lesson!

(all rise)

LADY BILLOWS
May King! May King!
Remarkable position.
Cause a great sensation
On the First of May.

FLORENCE
Let's go and tell him
Announcing our decision;
Warn him to be ready
On the First of May.

VICAR
Most satisfactory!
Magnificent solution
For the Coronation
On the First of May.

MISS WORDSWORTH
So encouraging
For all our dear young people!
'Virtue is rewarded
On the First of May.'

MAYOR
Urban District Councillors
All over Eastern Suffolk
Envy little Loxford
On the First of May.

SUPERINTENDENT
Er-humph, er-humph
All the police force
Will have to be on duty,
Keeping things in order,
On the First of May.

Ode

ALL
Rejoice, my friends,
and be exceeding glad!
Virtue has signalled forth
Her champion and defender!
A village lad, a village lad,
Humble in looks, of lowly birth,
Beneath whose apron beats a heart
To conquer Sin, repel Temptation, render
Back to Virtue what she entrusts to him,
without respect of gender,
Her crown of simple and refulgent splendour!

Interlude

Scene 2

(Mrs Herring's greengrocery in Little Street. There
is a large sash-window at the back, filled with fruit,
vegetables and advertisement cards; through this can
be seen the village street. Fruit boxes, baskets, sacks,
price-tickets, etc., are plentifully scattered around the
shop. When the curtain rises, the shop is empty. Three
children, Emmie, Harry and Cis, are outside the shop,
singing as they play ball against the lower half of the
door. The upper half of the door is open.)

Song

EMMIE, CIS, HARRY
Bounce me high
Bounce me low
Bounce me up to Jericho!
Bounce me slow
Bounce me quick
Bounce me to arithmetick!

(claps)

(The ball misses and comes flying in through the top of
the door. The song stops. Three heads peer cautiously
in, looking around.)

EMMIE
Go on, Harry!... the old girl's out!

CIS
She's out!...

EMMIE
We'll help you up. Hold tight!

(The girls help Harry to climb through the door.)

Watch the bell don't ring...

HARRY
Mind my trousers! Ow!...

EMMIE, CIS
All right?

(Harry looks round the shop.)

EMMIE
(whispers)
There it is, by that old box!

HARRY
(finds the ball and throws it to the girls)
Catch!

(He catches sight of a box of apples and takes one.)

CIS
Give us some too, Harry... Taa!

(He passes some out to the girls.)

EMMIE
(dramatic whisper)
Look out! S'pose Albert came?...

HARRY
Silly old fool! Can't catch me!

EMMIE
Ooh! What lovely apples!

CIS
Lovely apples! Some more?

HARRY
Here's some more!

(Sid arrives, scattering the girls as he comes through
the door. He sees Harry and tries to catch him.)

SID
Come out of that, my lad!

EMMIE, CIS
Look out! It's Sid!

SID
(catches Harry, holds him tight and starts emptying his pockets)
I'll teach you to pinch apples!

EMMIE, CIS
Big bully, you!

SID
Little beggar!

HARRY
Ow! Leggo!

SID
Damn good hiding's what you need!

CIS
Nosey-parker, too!

EMMIE
Leave 'im be!

HARRY
Leggo of me!

SID
Empty your pockets!
Is that the lot?
Well then, get out!...

(He throws Harry out of the door.)

HARRY
Ow!

EMMIE, CIS
We'll tell 'is Dad
Sid from the butcher's knocked 'Arry about!

(The children run away. Sid dusts himself off, picks up
the scattered apples and puts them in his own pocket.
Then goes to the inner door and shouts:)

SID
Shop! Hi! Albert!

(Sid comes back into the shop, chooses a good red
apple and takes a bite. There is a dull thud against
the inner door and Albert comes slowly in backwards
carrying a large sack of vegetables.)

There you are!
Just caught young Harry pinching things.
How d'you carry a weight like that alone? Cor...
Must be twenty stone or more!

ALBERT
It's a hundredweight of turnips.

SID
I see! Strong man act!
Can I have three boxes of mixed herbs,
please, chum?

ALBERT
Yes.

SID
Got any sage?

ALBERT
(going behind the counter to serve Sid )
We've some at threepence a box,
same as the mixed.

SID
I'll take three then. That makes six Boxes
at threepence... one and a kick.

ALBERT
That's right.

SID
Toss you... double or quits!

ALBERT
Oh no, Sid, gambling's not in my line.
Mum wouldn't like it...

SID
Never you mind!
Heads or tails? Come on, you call!

ALBERT
No, really I won't, thanks all the same.

SID
But why? Because of Mum?
Won't she let you have any fun?
Did you ever have a pint at the local?

ALBERT
Mum's teetotal...

SID
Or go out with a whippet after rabbits?

ALBERT
Strict in her habits...

SID
Did you never try taking a girl for a walk?

ALBERT
Do stop this talk!

SID
Or dance to the band at the Jubilee Hall?

ALBERT
...I don't like it at all!

SID
You will, once you've broke
the apron-strings.

Song

SID
Tickling a trout,
Poaching a hare,
Flighting wild geese
Is pretty good sport
For a chap to enjoy.
Living without A regular share
Of pleasures like these
Is hard to support
For your kind of a boy.
But courting a girl
is the King of all sports
In a class of its own,
Where there aren't any rules so long as
she's caught and you catch her alone.
Girls mean:
Spring six days a week
And twice on Sundays,
The whole year round
The winter through.
Girls mean:
Games of hide-and-seek
On summer evenings,
When someone's bound
To fall for you!
Girls mean:
Prowling round in bleak
And wintry weather
Whispering, whispering, whispering
'I love you!'

(During this, Albert tries to avoid noticing
Sid's remarks by going about his work.)

ALBERT
Sid, I'm sorry but I've got a lot to do...

SID
Oh, don't you worry!
I'm just off.
I'm busy too.

(Nancy looks in through the top door twenty six,
pretty, big smile.)

NANCY
Good morning, you two!

SID
(opens the bottom door for Nancy to enter. She
carries a shopping basket.)
Why, look who's here!
Good morning, good morning, good morning!

ALBERT
(shyly)
Good morning.

SID
You've just come in time,
We were talking of you.

NANCY
Talking of me?...
You have got a sauce!

SID
It was Albert who started the subject, of course.
You want to watch Albert...
he's a very dark horse!

NANCY
You ought to have something better to do
Than gossiping here. Aren't you working today?

SID
I've been spinning around like a humming top
Since I opened the shop at eight o'clock...
And you know what they say
About work and no play!

NANCY
Well, come and serve me. I'm in a hurry...
I've come for a piece
of best English beef.

SID
(picks up a box of peaches)
There's no need to worry!
Have a nice peach?

NANCY
(taking one)
Oh! May I really?

ALBERT
Those are sixpence each!

SID
Take two... I'll stand the damage.

ALBERT
Two peaches at sixpence...
that's a shilling, please.

SID
I think I can just about manage to squeeze out a bob
from the firm's petty cash.

NANCY
I won't eat them now.
They're so ripe they might splash.

SID
You can bring them tonight
And we'll each take a bite,
To flavour our kisses
With a dash of peach bitters.

NANCY
That sounds just delicious!

Duet

SID
Meet me at quarter past eight
In the street, don't be late
Or I'll whistle
Under your window.

NANCY
Yes! If you promise to wait
In the street, if I'm late
And not whistle under my window.
For Mum will be curious and Dad will be furious
To hear whistling under our window!

Trio

SID
Do try to be there
If you possibly can
For the night will be fine and clear.

NANCY
I'll try to be there if I possibly can
For the night will be fine and clear.

ALBERT
(to himself, uneasily)
I wish they would clear
Right away from our shop
For it's hard not to overhear!
There'll be trouble, I fear,
Should my Mother appear
And discover them flirting here!

(Albert retreats behind the counter, leaving Sid
and Nancy alone.)

SID, NANCY
We'll walk to the spinney
Up over the Common
Arm in arm,
Your (my) hand in my (your) pocket,
Refreshing ourselves in the pleasures of love!
The moon will be shining
The sky will be starry
As we walk,
Your (my) hand in my (your) pocket,
Refreshing ourselves in the pleasures of love!
And if it is raining
We'll share an umbrella
As we walk,
Your (my) hand in my (your) pocket,
Refreshing ourselves in the pleasures of love!

ALBERT
And I shall be sleeping
Alone in my attic
As they walk,
Her hand in his pocket,
Refreshing themselves in the pleasures of love!

(Nancy and Sid are absorbed in each other. Albert
tries to interrupt them.)

ALBERT
Excuse me...

SID
(taking no notice)
Give us a kiss, Nancy!

NANCY
(breaking away from him)
No, no! Shopping first...
kisses afterwards!

SID
(impatient)
Come on, then! So long, Albert!

NANCY
Goodbye, Albert!

(Sid and Nancy go off gaily together. Albert dashes
out of the shop after them.)

ALBERT
Hi! Sid!... You forgot to pay for the herbs!

(No answer. Albert comes back into the shop.)

He's much too busy
Even to listen
Much less to care
With Nancy there.
I wonder is he
Right when he says
I miss all the fun
Because of Mum?
Yes, Mum's uncommon keen
About the need
Of living chaste and clean
In word and deed.
For what?
Each morning I get up at six
And tidy up the stock,
Enthusiastically fix
Price labels round the shop.
For what?
It's not very thrilling to live
among boxes and baskets
Of vegetables, flowers
and seasonal fruits:
I'm expert at jobs like weighing up
punnets of raspberries
And knowing when root-crops
are likely to shoot.
For what?

(meditatively)

It seems as clear as clear
Can be, that Sid's ideas
Are very much too crude
For Mother to approve.
And yet I'd really like
To try that kind of life,
And see how it compares
With serving customers.

(Emmie rushes in, breathless and in a great hurry.)

EMMIE
Mum wants two penn'orth of potherbs to make
a stew in a hurry, Mister!

ALBERT
Where's your basket?

EMMIE
Haven't got one, bust it! My sister went and lost it!

ALBERT
I'll put 'em in paper.

EMMIE
Taa, that'll be safer than taking them loose.

ALBERT
No school today?

EMMIE
Got extra 'olidays.

ALBERT
Whatever for?

EMMIE
(confidentially)
On account of Miss Weaver
Our Botany teacher
Went camping at Easter,
Got scarlet fever.
She was sharing our tent
When she came out all spotty
So they sent us all home
With a letter explaining
They wouldn't expect us
At school for a week
In case we're infectious.
It sounds a bit potty,
But we're not complaining!

ALBERT
(handing her the parcel )
Tuppence, please! Here you are.

EMMIE
Don't mind farthings, do you?
Thanks, Mister! Taa!

(She dashes off again.)

ALBERT
Oh, maybe soon I'll
Have the chance to get away.
And golly! It's about time…

(He is again interrupted by the arrival of Florence.)

FLORENCE
Good morning, young man.

ALBERT
Good morning, Miss Pike.

FLORENCE
I want if I can
To talk to your Mum.

ALBERT
I'll call her at once
But she's washing the clothes.

FLORENCE
The reason I've come
Is more urgent than those!

(Albert calls through the inner door.)

ALBERT
Mum! You're wanted!

MUM
What? Who is it?

ALBERT
Miss Florence Pike is here on a visit!

(making conversation)

Just drying her hands...
Would you care to sit down?

FLORENCE
No thank you, I'll stand.
I mustn't stay long.

(Mum bustles in, drying her arms on her apron.)

MUM
I'm sorry to keep you
And how do you do?
Nice sunny day
For the time of year, too!

FLORENCE
(formal and important)
Her Ladyship is on her way
With Miss Wordsworth and the Vicar,
Messrs. Budd and Upfold, too
To visit you here...

MUM
What did you say?
Visiting us?
But they can't come in here!
A shop's not the place for people like them!

FLORENCE
We shall get on much quicker
If you will be silent and listen to me...

MUM
And I can't have them into the parlour today!
I'm airing the washing, airing it there...

FLORENCE
The decision
They bring concerns Albert, as they
Will explain for themselves.

MUM
Concerns Albert?

ALBERT
Concerns me, do you say?

MUM
Oh! Don't say that Albert's
in trouble some way?

FLORENCE
Be quiet now!
Are you ready? Here they come!

(Lady Billows crosses the window and enters
accompanied by the Vicar, Mayor, Superintendent
and Miss Wordsworth They take up formal positions
inside the shop to announce their news.)

LADY BILLOWS
(enthusiastically)
We bring great news to you
Upon this happy day!
Patronage and fame
Applaud your name!

ALL
Declaring you Loxford King of the May!

MUM
They're talking to you, Albert.

ALBERT
I don't quite get their meaning...

FLORENCE
You've been chosen as May King.

ALBERT
Chosen as what?

FLORENCE
As May King!

ALBERT
What, me?

FLORENCE
Yes, you!

MUM
Oh, Albert! Oh, Albert!

FLORENCE
Hush!

LADY BILLOWS
We plan to celebrate by crowning you upon
May Day afternoon: That's fairly soon.

ALL
Not long to wait!
Just till April's gone!

MUM
Excuse my asking...
what's this crowning for?

ALBERT
I'd like to know that too!

VICAR
In honour of your pure, virtuous life.

MISS WORDSWORTH
Reward for chastity!

MAYOR
Official recognition of your modesty!

ALBERT
Well, I'll be blowed!

SUPERINTENDENT
What costume will he wear?

FLORENCE
White like a swan!

VICAR
A royal crown!

MUM
And where will that come from?

ALBERT
Me dressed in white? Oh no!

LADY BILLOWS
We'll see to that all right.

FLORENCE
Bring me his size in shoes
and hats tonight to give the tailor.

MUM
Seems ridiculous to me!

ALBERT
The whole thing's daft!

LADY BILLOWS
Now, Herring, don't be hasty!

VICAR
But before we part
Should we not mention?...

ALL
But of course! The prize!

LADY BILLOWS
When this great day arrives,
Albert will receive, besides his crown,
A prize in golden coins,
Five and twenty pounds,
Yes, five and twenty pounds!

MUM
Twenty-five pounds all of his own!
Albert, say "Thank you!
...as well as a crown?

LADY BILLOWS
In offering this prize,
Our aim is to ensure
Virtue has its just
Reward from us!

ALL
And so goodbye, Albert!
No...au revoir!

(The Committee leaves the shop, escorted to
the door by Mum.)

MUM
Good morning to you all!

(turns back into the shop)

Well, think of that, my lad,
Being King of the May an' all
And the envy of everyone,
King of the May! King of the May!
And twenty-five quid in addition!

ALBERT
But I don't want that kind of position
And I don't think I'm going to accept.

MUM
You won't accept? Why ever not?
You can't refuse!

ALBERT
Oh yes, I can!

MUM
Not while you live with me, young man!
You'll do as you're told!

ALBERT
Now listen, Mum!

MUM
Don't 'listen' me!

ALBERT
Why should they come
And dress me up like a blinking swan,
Make speeches at me
like I was stuffed
Instead of flesh and blood?

MUM
Stop shouting at me and fetch my tape
From the box on the kitchen safe.
I'll measure you up!

ALBERT
Oh no, you won't!

MUM
You heard what I said!

ALBERT
I did, and don't
You think I'm willing, 'cos I'm not.

MUM
(drives Albert across the shop. He dodges her.)
I'll take a strap to you, that's what!

ALBERT
You try it then!

MUM
Young devil!

ALBERT
I'm old enough
To choose for myself!

MUM
I brought you up!

ALBERT
You shut me up in the shop all day!

MUM
Oh!
The wicked ingratitude of it!
You'll pay for this, my boy.

ALBERT
I'm sick and tired of being ordered about!

MUM
(taking hold of Albert and pushing him
across to the inner door)
You little liar! You little liar!
I won't stand here and be attacked
By a kid who wants his bottom smacked!
Go up to bed. Shut the door
And don't you dare to come down before
You're ready to say sorry. Go on!
You devil!
I'll teach you!

(During the quarrel, the three children have collected
outside the shop window, watching with fascination.
As Mum shoves Albert through the door, they begin
chanting a rude variant of their playsong.)

CHILDREN
Albert's Mum took a stick,
Whacked him on the thingmijig!
Albert hopped
Round the shop,
Squeaking like a tillypig!

MUM
(Turns her back and slams the door in their faces.
They run off laughing wildy and Mum follows Albert
upstairs.)
Twenty-five quid!
Twenty-five quid!
Bloody little fool!