The Christmas Rose
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
|ROBBER MOTHER||BISHOP ABSALON|
|PEASANT WOMAN 1||MONK 1|
|PEASANT WOMAN 2||MONK 2|
|ROBBER FATHER||ABBOT HANS|
|LAY BROTHER||NEW ABBOT|
Robber mother and five youngsters, peasant and wife in cottage.
ROBBER MOTHER: (At door of cottage.)
Good day, friends,
It’s plain to see that the world
Has smiled on this house.
Not so on mine,
With five to feed,
And my man unable to work.
There’s much that I have need of:
That loaf, just now, and that cheese,
Only half, of course! would do us well.
Won’t you help an old woman?
PEASANT: Who are you to dare...?
WIFE: (Cutting in.)
Of course, ‘tis little enough to feed five mouths.
But they bake at the cloister today
Knock there, as well, the Brothers
Won’t refuse anyone in need.
Abbot Hans will surely become a saint.
ROBBER MOTHER: Unlikely! They’ll make him a bishop
And his heart will turn to stone
Like that Absalon. But my thanks
For your advice, we’ll take it,
Gadd ahh! (To children.)
PEASANT: Whyst you be giving our hard-earned bread
To those likes?
Are you daft?
A whip would serve her needs....
WIFE: One of us has lost his wits.
That’s Robber Mother and her brood.
Refuse her bread, and like she’ll
Set the barn afire tonight.
As for your whip, one touch,
And her man will cut your throat.
Robber Father has nought to fear
The price on his head is already
Half as big as the Bishop’s purse.
PEASANT: Someday we’ll make an end
Of such thieving trash.
WIFE: Peace, even the Bishop
Has found that beyond his means.
See to your herd.
Robber Mother knocks, bread is passed out through gate, A youngster notices another gate open, shows her, and they all enter through it into herb garden. Lay Brother is walking.
Robber Mother admires the garden.
LAY BROTHER: What’s this? Confound.
I should have shut it tight ....
My good dame, this is no place for you.
Just go straight out the way you came
Before I suffer for your rashness.
(She keeps on. He takes her arm.)
Do you hear me?
ROBBER MOTHER: Man, do you not know who I am?
Robber Mother I am called, from Goinge Forest.
Touch me if you dare!
LAY BROTHER: But do you not know, Robber Mother,
Where you are?
This is a cloister, the dwelling of our Holy Brotherhood.
No woman, even the Queen,
Is allowed within these walls.
Leave now, I beg you
Or I will suffer.
‘Twas I who left the gate open.
ROBBER MOTHER: Presently!
(She walks on, looking. Lay Brother goes, and returns with two monks.)
Unhand me! Touch me and die
Get back. I’ll flatten this wall and
Drive you all out into the cold.
Not me you don’t. See. (Bites.)
At them! (To children.)
Get, get, get!
Monks retreat and Abbot Hans comes to see what the noise is.
LAY BROTHER: Father Abbot, forgive me.
Robber Mother, from Goinge Forest, has got in at the gate.
And all her brood.
We tried to throw her out,
But must have help.
I’ll go and summon it.
ABBOT HANS: “Factum fieri infectum non potest,” my son:
You can’t undo what’s done!
But you needn’t make it worse.
Violence only begets more violence.
Come with me, we’ll see what can be done.
You two go back to your work (To monks.)
LAY BROTHER: But...
ABBOT HANS: Come.
(Going to the garden. Robber Mother is admiring the flowers in a familiar way. Abbot Hans watches her.)
I hope our garden pleases you.
ROBBER MOTHER: (Swinging around, ready for trouble.)
It does. I thought at first
That I had never seen prettier,
But at second glance I see
That it really can’t compare with
One I know of.
(Abbot Hans is skeptical.)
LAY BROTHER: Oh, surely! And now you’ll tell us
That the Bishop’s table serves
All Skane knows that there is not
A more beautiful garden in the land.
Abbot Hans himself has gathered
These plants from far and near.
Don’t attempt to sit in judgment
On something beyond the ken of one
Who lives wild in a forest.
ROBBER MOTHER: I wish to judge neither Abbot Hans
Nor you, I only say
That if you could see
This other garden,
You’d uproot all these flowers
And cast them on the weed heap.
LAY BROTHER: (Laughs.)
Ha! I see it now.
You have made a little garden
In the forest for yourself.
It must be a sight.
I’d wager my eternal soul
You’ve never even entered a herb garden
Until this selfsame hour.
ROBBER MOTHER: (Furious.)
And what of that?
Walls do not make a garden.
You monks call yourself holy men,
Have you not heard that Goinge Forest
Is, every Christmas Eve, transformed
Into a garden, to celebrate our Lord’s birth?
We poor folk who live there
See it every year.
The flowers in that garden
Are so lovely I dare not
Lift my hand to them.
Lay Brother starts to answer, but Abbot Hans silences him.
ABBOT HANS: I have heard this said,
And since my earliest days, I have
Longed to look on such a sight
Have you then seen it often?
(Robber Mother assents; Lay Brother scoffs.)
This then I must see.
Good woman, I implore you,
In the name of Christ our Lord,
Let me visit you this Christmas Eve.
Send one of your youngsters
To guide me, I will ride
With only one companion to help me.
No harm shall come to you, I swear.
Only blessings such as I may entreat.
ROBBER MOTHER: This may not be.
(Lay Brother scoffs again.)
My husband is an outlawed man,
And the forest his only protection.
ABBOT HANS: Upon my soul, no man
Shall know the way of us.
Grant me this wish, I beg you.
It has long lain in my heart.
Some good to you will come of it –
You will see.
LAY BROTHER: My father, do you not see
That it is a ruse.
You will never ....
ROBBER MOTHER: I’ve changed my mind.
I will agree
Upon the condition that
Only one accompanies you.
And you swear upon your orders
That you will not waylay us.
ABBOT HANS: I do so swear.
(Robber Mother turns and goes.)
Not a soul must hear of this, (to Lay Brother.)
I bind you to silence in all.
Now help me to frame a petition
To Bishop Absalon on behalf of Robber Father.
This family must be rejoined to Christian life.
Garden. Bishop Absalon, Abbot Hans, Lay Brother.
ABBOT HANS: This is the lavender I told you of, your Grace, which is found
Nowhere else in Skane but here.
BISHOP: Come now, Father, I see that your mind
For once is not on your garden
That is thyme, not lavender.
Tell me what it is that
Occupies your thoughts so.
ABBOT HANS: Your Grace sees everything.
It is this: In the great
Goinge Forest, not a score of miles from
Where we stand, live a man and wife and five youngsters.
Robber Father is the man’s name.
Since in his youth he killed a fellow
In a drunken brawl,
Now he is forced to live by his wits,
And his staff, taking what he can
From travelers and cottages.
The fear of him greatly affects
All who live in the area.
Give me a letter of ransom for him, that he may
Return to his village and live a
Christian life doing honest work.
As things are now, his children
Will soon grow up to be worse
Malefactors than himself;
You will have a whole gang to deal with.
He has suffered enough.
BISHOP: Abbot Hans, you know plants better than
Any man I know, but less of the world of men.
I know of this Robber Father and his deeds.
He is a wolf; to let him loose
Amongst my sheep would only lead to greater harm.
Let him stay in Goinge Forest,
It is best for all.
He will not change his coat.
ABBOT HANS: My lord, have you heard...
That is...your Grace,
I have heard from one who knows it well
That every Christmas Eve
The great Goinge Forest is transformed
Into a summer garden of indescribable beauty
To celebrate the hour of Christ’s birth.
Every perfect blossom which grows on earth blossoms there,
Where these poor folk live.
If they are not so evil but that God’s glories
Can appear to them, surely they
Will mend their ways if given a chance.
Give me the letter.
BISHOP: Certainly, my good Abbot, certainly.
This I promise you,
Just send me a blossom from this Christmas garden,
And I’ll send you in return letters of ransom
For all the robbers you wish. My word upon it.
Bishop and Lay Brother shake hands.
ABBOT HANS: Thank you, your Grace,
This I shall surely do.
Abbot Hans and Lay Brother follow the Robber youngster to Goinge Forest. They stop in a village where all are preparing for Christmas.
PEASANT WOMAN: (To unseen children.)
Hie there, Carl, Olaf!
Where be ye? The bath house is warm.
In with you, and scrub all the dirt off,
Or you’ll spend your Christmas Eve in the barn
With the ox and ass. Quick now! (To husband.)
The house is swept, man
Bring that clean straw now,
I’ve a lot of cooking to do yet.
HUSBAND: It’s here, it’s here,
And no lack of it.
I’ll just take my bath with the boys...
(Puts straw down by door.)
WIFE: (Taking a skin of wine from under his coat.)
And what’s this?
Soap to bathe with?
Get along with you, bring me the big ham from the smokehouse,
And fetch three loaves of his whitest
From the baker’s.
HUSBAND: It’s only once a year, wife,
And besides, it’s so cold out.
WIFE: (Laughing and giving in to him.)
Get along with you then.
But get me the ham now or you’ll still be eating,
By time to go to mass.
(He goes, she goes in.)
ABBOT HANS: (Who has watched all this.)
Look, how the whole world prepares to celebrate the joyous hour.
Ah, but if they knew of the festivities that await us,
They’d stop it all and come behind.
LAY BROTHER: Abbot Hans, I implore you – stop this foolish journey
While it’s not too late.
What awaits us is more likely a rope and gag at that brigands’ hands,
And weeks before a ransom can be paid.
Let us turn back now, or stop and sup with these good Christians;
They’d be more than grateful for our company.
I beg you, stop!
ABBOT HANS: Come, my son, this trip I will see through to the end.
I have no doubts. You will thank me in the end.
Come, we have a hard road still ahead.
LAY BROTHER: And I doubt we’ll ever see it coming the other way!
ABBOT HANS: Peace!
They go on through forest to cave door.
By Mark Birdsall (Adapted from a Story by S. Lagerlof)