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Part 13. An Excursion

Having left the Mitre, Boswell and Johnson are in the street in front of Johnson’s door. They are supporting Levet between them.

JOHNSON Good night, Bozzy.  Go home to bed like a respectable citizen.  Good night.

(Johnson goes towards his house with Levet leaning heavily on his shoulder.)

LEVET       (Shouting back as he goes.)  Goodnight Mr Boswell,  Nightie, nightie!

(He leaves with Johnson.)

BOSWELL (To audience) Ah bed!  Johnson will keep us up till all hours of the morning.  Why?  Well, he dreads going home.  He dreads being alone.  Ah, bed! Which way is it?  This way, I hope.

(He leaves, right.)

JOHNSON (He enters left, at home.  He is still supporting Levet.  He shouts up the stairs, not expecting an answer.) 

Goodnight, Miss Williams!

(He fits Levet into a chair.)

Good night, Levet.

Hodge is here, is he?  (He goes to the fireplace to check.)  No, Hodge is out on his rounds, catching somebody else’s mice when he should be catching ours.  Yet nobody else’s cat comes here.  If Hodge hunts elsewhere he should make a reciprocal arrangement with the other cats or we’ll be overrun with mice.  I’ll talk to him about it in the morning.

(He looks around him and sits in the chair near the fireplace.)

Well, goodnight all. They are all asleep and I am alone.  Alone!  This is when my mind can get at me!  Other people manage alright.  I make a joke, just some witticism,  and the whole roomful of people laugh, but they never imagine what I go through at other times.  It doesn’t show.  Of course it doesn’t show.  I hope it doesn’t show.

Oh yes, I can laugh and drink and be brilliant with the best of them, but then sooner or later I have to face myself.  The mind can be entertaining in its time off, but how it can torture when it is on duty.  Pointless worry!  Pointless, did I say? Yes, it is pointless. 

My knees are sore with prayer and my face is creased with worry.  There’s no purpose in it! Ay, there’s the rub.  It is unreasonable.  These fears of death and hell and retribution.  I know they are empty.  Our best is all that’s required of us.  This I know and this I believe, yet my God-given reason goes down one path and my mind goes down another.  I can’t stop it. 

It’s wicked to worry, so I worry about my worries, and that too is worry.  Ad infinitum!  Like the reflection in two mirrors facing each other in a hallway.

Any work anyone else can heap on us is nothing compared to what we inflict on ourselves.

Oh Sam, Sam!

(There is a loud knocking at the street door.)

Who’s that?  Who’s that?  Wake Duncan with thy knocking.  I would thou could’st.   Wake reason with thy knocking! I would thou could’st.  Well, on we go!  Up and on, Sam.  Up and on!

(There is more knocking.  He picks up a poker from the grate, walks over to the window and leans out.)

JOHNSON Who’s there? 

LANGTON (Off stage.  He shouts up from the street.)  Bennet Langton and Topham Beauclerk at your service, Sir.  We have been drinking.

JOHNSON Drinking? 

BEAUCLERK      Beauclerk here, Sir.  Would your lordship condescend to come down and continue our rounds with us?  We are visiting the inns of London.

JOHNSON (To himself.)  At two in the morning?  Why not?

(He shouts down.)  What is it you, you dogs!  Come, I’ll have a frisk with you.

(In the street.)

LANGTON But is it right to be waking him up at this time of the night?

BEAUCLERK      Johnson is equal to anything, if he puts his mind to it. Even to pleasure, and that is harder than work.  We’ll see which of us tires first.  It won’t be him!

(Enter Johnson, pulling on his greatcoat.)

JOHNSON Now, my lads. Here I am.  Where to now?

BEAUCLERK      Just down here there’s an inn that’s bound to be open.  The jam tart!  Follow me! (He goes)

LANGTON (Mystified)  The what?

JOHNSON The jam tart.  The White Hart.  Don’t you understand English, Lanky? That’s where Levet usually drinks.  Come on!

(Johnson leads, and Langton and Beauclerk follow.  They cross and re-cross the stage several times, and begin to sing, at first softly and then louder.)

“And shall Trelawney live?

Or shall Trelawney die? 

Here’s twenty thousand Cornishmen

Shall know the reason why.”

LANGTON  Who was Trelawney. For heaven’s sake?

BEAUCLERK  It doesn’t matter. But he shouldn’t die. Just sing the song!

“And shall Trelawney live?

Or shall Trelawney die? 

Here’s twenty thousand Cornishmen

Shall know the reason why.”

(At each reappearance the two younger men are less and less steady.  Johnson seems to gain strength as the night wears on.  They enter again each from a different side of the stage.)

JOHNSON Ah here we are again!

ALL  Here we are again

Happy as can be

All good friends

And jolly good company!

LANGTON Sometimes I feel we are singing songs that have not yet been written.

JOHNSON That matters not a jot.  Shakespeare talks of a clock in ‘Julius Caesar’.  These things are of no importance, Lanky, no importance at all.

BEAUCLERK      Where are we?  I seem to have lost my bearings. I thought I knew where we were but now I don’t know…where I am.

JOHNSON We are in Covent Garden.  This is the stomach of London. Look it is barely light, and they are bringing the fruit of a thousand gardens to sell here.  Just watch me!  This is how you stack oranges.  (He takes an orange which he places rather unsteadily on top of an enormous pile of oranges.  The whole pile falls to the ground. They run off.)

VOICE       (Off) Hoy!  You there!

(The three reappear, with pewter tankards.  They have been to another inn.)

JOHNSON Look!  The Thames.  Look at her.  “Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.” 

LANGTON Ben Jonson?

JOHNSON Spencer, Lanky.  Edmund Spencer.

Just look at the Thames.  You know, earth has not anything to show more fair… (To Langton, who has produced a pencil.)  No, no, don’t write it down!  You’re as bad as Boswell!  Anyway, it hasn’t been said yet.  We must not be greedy.  We must leave something for the rest of them that come later. 

You know, looking at this great river and all the gallons and gallons of water that flow past each second, I sometimes wonder why it doesn’t just stop!  A final great wall of water, and then nothing. Just dry earth and sand.  It can’t be raining enough anywhere to maintain such a supply. But look at it.  It just flows on and on, all night when we are sleeping, carelessly filling up the ocean.

LANGTON It is getting light.  We should be up and about at this time every morning.  This is better than snoring in bed.

JOHNSON Yet if you saw this scene every day, you would think nothing of it.  People who have to start work at six o’clock every day are not over impressed by the beauty of the morning.  Its attraction is its novelty.  Look, Beauclerk hasn’t seen the light of dawn for years.  He’s very attracted by it.  Now, here is St Pauls.  It’s a noble building. I’ll race you once round St Pauls.

BEAUCLERK      No, something more restful, please.  I suggest a boat trip.   A nice quiet boat trip. So, down the steps to the river.  (To a boatman.) Your rowing boat for half an hour, Sir?  Good.  Here’s you are! We can manage on our own. We are excellent oarsmen! (He gives the boatman money.)

(To Johnson)  Careful now, Sir.  Easy does it. Careful as you step in the boat or we’ll all be in the water!

(They all exit and the boatman appears, contentedly counting some coins.  There is a sound of singing.)

Row, row, row your boat,

Gently down the stream.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily…

(There is a loud splash.)

LANGTON What was that?

BEAUCLERK      One oar gone!

(The boatman groans.)

(Another loud splash)

LANGTON And that?

BEAUCLERK      The other oar gone.

(The boatman groans again, louder this time.)

LANGTON What do we do now?  We are on the Thames at six in the morning and oarless!

JOHNSON Use your hats, gentlemen.  Paddle away.  Use your hats.  There we are.  Back again.

(They reappear, climbing the steps from the river.)

LANGTON (Giving some money to the boatman.)  And this is for the oar.

THE BOATMAN (Counting the money) There were two oars, Sir.

LANGTON Ah yes, so there were.  You are absolutely right.

(He hands over some more money, and the boatman hurriedly leaves to check his boat.)

(Langton puts on his hat and water streams out of it. Seeing this, the other two shake their hats thoroughly before putting them on.)

Well, now I am afraid I must leave you.

JOHNSON (Astounded) Leave us?

BEAUCLERK      Langton has to go and take breakfast with some young ladies.  A previous appointment, apparently. 

JOHNSON Lanky, I am disappointed in you.  You leave our company to take breakfast with a set of un-idea’d girls.

Well, lead on, Beauclerk, lead on.  It is a new day.  There are many things to be done.  There is much to be enjoyed.  Come on!

(Johnson leaves.  Langton sits down on the ground, his back against a pillar.)

BEAUCLERK      (To Langton) You remember what I said when we started? ‘Who will tire first?’ I said.  Look at Johnson!

(He sighs and leaves in pursuit of Johnson.)

LANGTON I must go to that breakfast.  I really must get up and go to that breakfast.  I promised I would go to that…

(He lies down and falls asleep.)

JOHNSON (off) Come on, Beauclerk. Come on!