Harold Brighouse.

Hobson's choice : a Lancashire comedy in four acts online

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HoBSON. I've lifted up my voice and roared at them.

Jim. Beware of roaring at women, Henry. Roaring is mainly
hollow sound. It's like trying to defeat an army with banging
drums instead of cold steel. And it's steel in a man's character that
subdues the women.

HoBsoN. I've tried all ways, and I'm fair moithered. I dunno
what to do. {He scratches his head)

Jim. Then you quit roaring at 'em and get 'em wed. {He rises)

HoBSON. I've thought of that. Trouble is to find the men.

Jim. Men's common enough. Are you looking for angels in
breeches?

HoBSON. I'd like my daughters to wed temperance young men,
Jim.

Jim. You keep your ambitions within reasonable Umits, Henry.
You've three daughters to find husbands for.

HoBSON. Two, Jim, two.

Jim. Two?

HoBSON. Vickey and Alice are mostly window dressing in the
shop. But Maggie's too useful to part with. And she's a bit on
the ripe side for marrying, is our Maggie.

Jim. I've seen 'em do it at double her age. Still, leaving her
out, you've two.

HoBsoN. One'U do for a start, Jim. {He crosses to r) It's a thing
I've noticed about wenches. Get one wedding in a family and it
goes through the lot like measles. {He moves round the chair to up r)

Jim. Well, you want a man, and you want him temperance.
It'll cost you a bit, you know. {He sits in the chair below the l side
of the counter)

HoBsoN {going to him) Eh? Oh, I'll get my hand down for the
wedding all right.

Jim. a warm man like you 'uU have to do more than that.
There's things called settlements.

HoBSON. Settlements?

Jim. Aye. You've to bait your hook to catch fish, Henry.

HoBsoN. Then I'll none go fishing. {He sits)

Jim. But you said

HoBSON. I've changed my mind. I'd a fancy for a bit of peace,



Act I HOBSON'S CHOICE ii

but there's luxuries a man can buy too dear. Settlements indeed!

Jim. I had a man in mind.

HoBSON. You keep him there, Jim. I'U rub along and chance
it. Settlements indeed!

Jim. You save their keep.

HoBsoN. They work for that. And they're none of them big
eaters.

Jim. And their wages.

HoBSON. Wages? Do you think I pay wages to my own
daughters? {He rises and goes to the desk l) I'm not a fool.

Jim. Then it's all off? {He rises)

HoBSON {turning) From the moment that you breathed the word
'settlements' it was dead off", Jim. Let's go to the 'Moonraker's'
and forget there's such a thing as women in the world. {He takes
up his hat and rings the bell on the counter) Shop! Shop!

(Maggie enters from r)

I'm going out, Maggie.

Maggie {remaining by the door) Dirmer's at one, remember.

HoBSON. Dinner will be when I come in for it. I'm master here.
{He moves to go)

Maggie. Yes, father. One o'clock.

HoBSON {disgusted) Come alone, Jim.

(Jim and Hobson go out to the street. Maggie turns to speak inside
the R door)

Maggie. Dinner at half-past one, girls. We'll give him half an
hour. {She closes the door, turns the armchair facing c and moves to the
trap, which she raises) Willie, come here.

{In a moment Willie appears, and stops half-way up)

Willie. Yes, Miss Maggie?

Maggie (l of the trap) Come up, and put the trap down, I want
to talk to you,

(Willie comes, reluctantly)

Willie. We're very busy in the cellar.

(Maggie points to the trap. He closes it)

Maggie. Show me your hands, Willie.

Willie. They're dirty. {He holds them out hesitatingly)

Maggie. Yes, they're dirty, but they're clever. They can shape

the leather like no other man's that ever came into the shop.

Who taught you, Willie?

(Maggie retains his hands)
Willie. Why, Miss Maggie, I learnt my trade here.



12



HOBSON'S CHOICE Act I



Maggie. Hobson's never taught you to make boots the way
you do.

Willie. I've had no other teacher.

Maggie {dropping his hands) And needed none. You're a natural
born genius at making boots. It's a pity you're a natural fool at
all else.

Willie. I'm not much good at owt but leather, and that's a
fact.

Maggie. When are you going to leave Hobson's?

Willie. Leave Hobson's? I — I thought I gave satisfaction.

Maggie. Don't you want to leave?

Willie. Not me. I've been at Hobson's all my life, and I'm not
for leaving till I'm made.

Maggie. I said you were a fool.

Willie. Then I'm a loyal fool.

Maggie. Don't you want to get on. Will Mossop? You heard
what Mrs Hepworth said. You know the wages you get and you
know the wages a bootmaker like you could get in one of the big
shops in Manchester.

Willie. Nay, I'd be feared to go in them fine places.

Maggie. What keeps you here? Is it the — the people?

Willie. I dunno what it is. I'm used to being here.

Maggie. Do you know what keeps this business on its legs?
Two things; one's the good boots you make that sell themselves,
the other's the bad boots other people make and I sell. We're a
pair, Will Mossop.

Willie. You're a wonder in the shop. Miss Maggie.

Maggie. And you're a marvel in the workshop. Well?

Willie. Well, what?

Maggie. It seems to me to point one way.

Willie. What way is that?

Maggie. You're leaving me to do the work, my lad.

Willie. I'll be getting back to my stool, Miss Maggie. {He
moves to the trap)

Maggie {stopping him) You'll go back when I've done with you.
I've watched you for a long time and everything I've seen, I've
liked. I think you'll do for me.

Willie. What way, Miss Maggie?

Maggie. Will Mossop, you're my man. Six months I've
counted on you and it's got to come out some time.

Willie. But I never

Maggie. I know you never, or it 'ud not be left to me to do the
job like this.

Willie. I'll — I'll sit down. {He sits in the armchair, mopping his
brow) I'm feeling queer-like. What dost want me for?

Maggie. To invest in. You're a business idea in the shape of a
man.

Willie. I've got no head for business at all.



Act I HOBSON'S CHOICE 13

Maggie. But I have. My brain and your hands 'uU make a
working partnership.

Willie {getting up, relieved) Partnership! Oh, that's a different
thing. I thought you were axing me to wed you. {He moves up
stage)

Maggie. I am.

Willie {sitting in front of the counter) Well, by gum! And you the
master's daughter.

Maggie. Maybe that's why, Will Mossop. {She moves up stage)
Maybe I've had enough of father, and you're as different from
him as any man I know. {She sits l of him)

Willie. It's a bit awkward-like.

Maggie. And you don't help me any, lad. What's awkward
about it?

Willie. You talking to me like this.

Maggie. I'll tell you something, Will. It's a poor sort of woman
who'll stay lazy when she sees her best chance slipping from her.
A Salford life's too near the bone to lose things through the fear
of speaking out.

Willie. I'm your best chance?

Maggie. You are that. Will.

Willie. Well, by gum! {He rises) I never thought of this.

Maggie. Think of it now.

Willie. I am doing. Only the blow's a bit too sudden to think
very clear. I've a great respect for you. Miss Maggie. You're a
shapely body, and you're a masterpiece at selling in the shop, but
when it comes to marrying, I'm bound to tell you that I'm none
in love with you.

Maggie. Wait till you're asked. {She rises) I want your hand in
mine and your word for it that you'll go through life with me for
the best we can get out of it.

Willie. We'd not get much without there's love between us, lass.

Maggie. I've got the love all right.

Willie. Well, I've not, and that's honest.

Maggie. We'll get along without.

Willie. You're desperate set on this. It's a puzzle to me all
ways. What 'ud your father say?

Maggie. He'll say a lot, and he can say it. It'U make no
difference to me.

Willie, Much better not upset him. It's not worth while.

Maggie. I'm judge of that. You're going to wed me, Will.

Willie. Oh, nay, I'm not. Really I can't do that, Maggie. I
can see that I'm disturbing your arrangements like, but I'll be
obliged if you'll put this notion from you.

Maggie, When I make arrangements, my lad, they're not
made for upsetting.

Willie. What makes it so desperate awkward is that I'm
tokened.



14



HOBSON'S CHOICE Acjt I



Maggik. You're what?

Willie. I'm tokened to Ada Figgins.

Maggie. Then you'll get loose and quick. Who's Ada Figgins?
Do I know her? {She moves l and turns)

Willie. I'm the lodger at her mother's.

Maggie. The scheming hussy. It's not that sandy girl who
brings your dinner? {She moves c)

Willie. She's golden-haired is Ada. Aye, she'll be here soon.

Maggie. And so shall I. I'll talk to Ada. I've seen her and I
know the breed. Ada's the helpless sort. {She turns l)

Willie. She needs protecting.

Maggie. That's how she got you, was it? {She turns c) Yes, I can
see her clinging round your neck untU you fancied you were
strong. But I'll tell you this, my lad, it's a desperate poor kind of
a woman that'll look for protection to the likes of you.

Willie. Ada does.

Maggie. And that gives me the weight of her. She's born to
meekness, Ada is. You wed her, and you'll be an eighteen shilling
a week bootmaker all the days of your life. You'll be a slave, and
a contented slave.

Willie. I'm not ambitious that I know of.

Maggie. No. But you're going to be. I'll see to that. I've got
my work cut out, but there's the makings of a man about you.

Willie. I wish you'd leave me alone. {He sits r)

Maggie. So does the fly when the spider catches him. You're
my man, Willie Mossop. {She moves to the desk)

Willie. Aye, so you say. Ada would tell another story, though.

(Ada Figgins enters from the street. She is not ridiculous, but a
weak, poor-blooded, poor-spirited girl of twenty, in clogs and shawl,
with Willie's dinner in a basin carried in a blue handkerchief. She
crosses to him and gives him the basin)

Ada (c) There's your dinner. Will.
Willie. Thank you, Ada. {He rises)

(Ada turns to go, and finds Maggie in her way)

Maggie. I want a word with you. You're treading on my foot,
young woman.

Ada. Me, Miss Hobson? {She looks stupidly at Maggie's feet)

Maggie. What's this with you and him?

Ada {gushing) Oh, Miss 'Obson, it is good of you to take notice
like that.

Willie. Ada, she

Maggie. You hold your hush. This is for me and her to settle.
Take a fair look at him, Ada.

Ada. At Will?

Maggie {nodding) Not much for two women to fall out over, is
there?



Act I HOBSON'S CHOICE 15

Ada. Maybe he's not so much to look at, but you should hear
him play.

Maggie. Play? Are you a musician, Will?

Willie. I play the Jew's harp.

Maggie. That's what you see in him, is it? A gawky fellow that
plays the Jew's harp?

Ada. I see the lad I love, Miss 'Obson.

Maggie. It's a funny thing, but I can say the same.

Ada. You!

Willie. That's what I've been trying to tell you, Ada, and — •
and, by gum, she'll have me from you if you don't be careful.

Maggie. So we're quits so far, Ada.

Ada. You'll pardon me. You've spoke too late. Will and me's
tokened. {She takes his arm)

Maggie. That's the past. It's the future that I'm looking to.
What's your idea for that?

Ada. You mind your own business. Miss 'Obson. Will Mossop's
no concern of thine.

Willie. That's what I try to tell her myself, only she wiU have
it it's no use.

Maggie. Not an atom. I've asked for your idea of Willie's
future. If it's a likelier one than mine, I'll give you best and you
can have the lad.

Ada. I'm trusting him to make the future right.

Maggie. It's as bad as I thought it was. Willie, you wed me.

Ada (weakly) It's daylight robbery. {She moves slightly l)

Willie. Aren't you going to put up a better fight for me than
that, Ada? You're fair giving me to her.

Maggie. Will Mossop, you take your orders from me in this
shop. I've told you you'll wed me.

Willie. Seems like there's no escape. {He sits in the armchair)

Ada {angry) Wait while I get you to home, my lad. I'll set my
mother on to you.

Maggie. Oh, so it's her mother made this match?

Willie. She had above a bit to do with it.

Maggie. I've got no mother. Will.

Willie, You need none, neither.

Maggie. Well, can I sell you a pair of clogs. Miss Figgins?

Ada. No. Nor anything else.

Maggie. Then you've no business here, have you? {She moves
up to the doors and opens them)

Ada {going to him) Will, are you going to see me ordered out?

Willie. It's her shop, Ada.

Ada. You mean I'm to go like this?

Willie. She means it.

Ada. It's cruel hard. {She moves towards the doors)

Maggie. When it comes to a parting, it's best to part sudden
and no whimpering about it.



i6 HOBSON'S CHOICE Act I

Ada. I'm not whimpering, and I'm not parting, neither. But
he'll whimper tonight when my mother sets about him, {Sh£
makes a slight movement back to him)

Maggie. That'll do.

Ada {in almost a scream) Will Mossop, I'm telling you, you'll
come home tonight to a thick ear.

(Ada goes)

Willie {rising) I'd really rather wed Ada, Maggie, if it's all
the same to you.

Maggie. Why? Because of her mother?

Willie. She's a terrible rough side to her tongue, has Mrs
Figgins.

Maggie. Are you afraid of her?

Willie {hesitating, then) Yes.

Maggie. You needn't be.

Willie. Yes, but you don't know her. She'll jaw me till I'm
black in the face when I go home tonight.

Maggie. You won't go home tonight.

Willie. Not go?

Maggie. You've done with lodging there. You'll go to Tubby
Wadlow's when you knock off work and Tubby 'ull go round to
Mrs Figgins for your things.

Willie. And I'm not to go back there never no more?

Maggie. No.

Willie. It's like an 'appy dream. Eh, Maggie, you do manage
things. {He opens the trap)

Maggie. And while Tubby's there you can go round and see
about putting banns up for us two.

Willie. Banns! Oh, but I'm hardly used to the idea yet. {He
takes a step down)

Maggie. You'll have three weeks to get used to it in. Now you
can kiss me, WUl.

Willie. That's forcing things a bit, and all. It's like saying I
agree to everything, a kiss is.

Maggie. Yes.

Willie. And I don't agree yet. I'm

Maggie. Come along.

(Alice, then Vigkey, enter r)

Do what I tell you, Will.

Willie. Now? With them here?

Maggie. Yes.

Willie {pause) I couldn't. {He dives for the trap, runs down, and
closes it)

Alice. What's the matter with Willie?

Maggie. He's a bit upset because I've told him he's to marry
me. Is dinner cooking nicely? {Going to the desk, l)



Act I HOBSON'S CHOICE 17

Alice. You're going to marry Willie Mossop! Willie Mossop!

ViCKEY. You've kept it quiet, Maggie.

Maggie. You know about it pretty near as soon as Willie does
himself.

VicKEY. Well, I don't know!

Alice. I know, and if you're afraid to speak your thoughts, I'm
not. Look here, Maggie — {moving to lg), what you do touches us,
and you're mistaken if you think I'll own Willie Mossop for my
brother-in-law.

Maggie. Is there supposed to be some disgrace in him?

Alice. You ask father if there's disgrace. And look at me. I'd
hopes of Albert Prosser till this happened.

Maggie. You'll marry Albert Prosser when he's able, and
that'll be when he starts spending less on laundry bills and hair
cream. {She goes to r)

(HoBsoN enters from the street)

HoBSON. Well, what about that dinner? {He comes c)

{The positions are Maggie r, Vickey up rc, Hobson up c,
Alice lc)

Maggie. It'U be ready in ten minutes.

HoBSON. You said one o'clock.

Maggie. Yes, father. One for half-past. If you'll wash your
hands it'll be ready as soon as you are.

HoBSON. I won't wash my hands. I don't hold with such
finicking ways, and well you know it. {He sits in front of the counter)

Vickey. Father, have you heard the news about our Maggie?
{Going down rg)

Hobson. News? There is no news. It's the same old tale.
Uppishness. You'd keep a starving man from the meat he earns
in the sweat of his brow, would you? I'll put you in your places.
I'll {He rises)

Maggie. Don't lose your temper, father. You'll maybe need it
soon when Vickey speaks. {She moves down r)

Hobson. What's Vickey been doing?

Vickey. Nothing. It's about Will Mossop, father.

Hobson. Will?

Alice. Yes. What's your opinion of Will?

Hobson. A decent lad. I've nowt against him that I know of.

Alice. Would you like him in the family?

Hobson. Whose family? {He comes down c)

Vickey. Yours.

Maggie. I'm going to marry Wilhe, father. That's what all the
fuss is about.

Hobson. Marry — you — Mossop! {He moves to her)

Maggie. You thought me past the marrying age. I'm not.
That's all.



i8 HOBSON'S CHOICE Act I

HoBSON. Didn't you hear me say I'd do the choosing when it
came to a question of husbands?

Maggie. You said I was too old to get a husband.

HoBSON. You are. You all are.

ViCKEY. Father!

HoBSON {crossing to c) And if you're not, it makes no matter.
I'll have no husbands here.

(VicKEY R, Alice l of Hobson)

Alice. But you said

HoBSON. I've changed my mind. I've learnt some things since
then. There's a lot too much expected of a father nowadays.
There'll be no weddings here.

Alice. Oh, father!

HoBSON {taking them down) Go and get my dinner served and
talk less. Go on now. I'm not in right temper to be crossed.

(Hobson drives Alice and Vickey before him. They go out protest-
ing loudly. But Maggie stands in his way as he follows and she closes
the door. She looks at him from the stair)

Maggie. You and I 'uU be straight with one another, father.
I'm not a fool and you're not a fool, and things may as well be
put in their places as left untidy.

Hobson. I tell you my mind's made up. You can't have Willie
Mossop. Why, lass, his father was a workhouse brat. A come-by-
chance. {He moves c).

Maggie. It's news to me we're snobs in Salford. I have Willie
Mossop. I've to settle my life's course, and a good course, too, so
think on.

Hobson. I'd be the laughing-stock of the place if I allowed it.
I won't have it, Maggie. It's hardly decent at your time of life,

Maggie. I'm thirty and I'm marrying Willie Mossop. And now
I'll tell you my terms.

Hobson. You're in a nice position to state terms, my lass,

Maggie. You will pay my man. Will Mossop, the same wages
as before. And as for me, I've given you the better part of twenty
years of work without wages. I'll work eight hours a day in future
and you will pay me fifteen shillings by the week,

Hobson. Do you think I'm made of brass?

Maggie. You'll soon be made of less than you are if you let
Willie go. And if Willie goes, I go. That's what you've got to
face.

Hobson. I might face it, Maggie. Shop hands are cheap,

Maggie. Cheap ones are cheap. The sort you'd have to watch
all day, and you'd feel happy helping them to tie up parcels and
sell laces with Tudsbury and Heeler and Minns supping their ale
without you. I'm value to you, so's my manj and you can boast it
at the 'Moonraker's' that your daughter Maggie's made the



Act I HOBSON'S CHOICE 19

strangest, finest match a woman's made this fifty year. And you
can put your hand in your pocket and do what I propose.

HoBSON. I'll show you what I propose, Maggie. {He lifts the trap
and calls) Will Mossop! {He places his hat on the counter and unbuckles
his belt) I cannot leather you, my lass. You're female, and exempt,
but I can leather him. Come up. Will Mossop.

(Willie comes up the trap and closes it)

You've taken up with my Maggie, I hear. {He conceals the strap)

Willie. Nay, I've not. She's done the taking up.

HoBSON. Well, Willie, either way, you've fallen on misfortune.
Love's led you astray, and I feel bound to put you right. {He
shows the strap)

Willie. Maggie, what's this? {He moves down r a little)

Maggie. I'm watching you, my lad.

HoBSON. Mind, Willie, you can keep your job. I don't bear
malice, but we must beat the love from your body, and every
morning you come here to work with love still sitting in you, you'll
get a leathering. {He gets ready to strike)

Willie. You'll not beat love in me. You're making a great
mistake, Mr Hobson, and

HoBSON. You'll put aside your weakness for my Maggie if you've
a liking for a sound skin. You'll waste a gradely lot of brass at
chemist's if I am at you for a week with this. {He swings the strap)

Willie. I'm none wanting thy Maggie, it's her that's after me,
but I'll tell you this, Mr Hobson — {seizing Maggie roughly by the
arm) if you touch me with that belt, I'll take her quick, aye, and
stick to her like glue.

HoBSON. There's nobbut one answer to that kind of talk, my lad.
{He strikes with the belt)

(Maggie shrinks)

Willie. And I've nobbut one answer back. Maggie, I've none
kissed you yet. I shirked before. But, by gum, I'll kiss you now —
{he kisses her quickly, with temper, not with passion, as he quickly leaves
her, to face Hobson) and take you and hold you. And if Mr Hobson
raises up that strap again, I'll do more. I'll walk straight out of
shop with thee and us two 'ull set up for ourselves.

Maggie. Willie! I knew you had it in you, lad. {She puts her
arm round his neck)

Willie is quite unresponsive. His hands fall limply to his sides.
(Hobson stands in amazed indecision)

Curtain



ACT II

A month later. The shop as Act I. It is about midday.

Alice is in Maggie's chair at the desk, some ledgers in front of her, and

ViCKEY is reading behind the counUr. The trap is open and Tubby

stands near the desk by Alice.

Alice. I'm sure I don't know what to tell you to do, Tubby.

Tubby. There's nothing in at all to start on, Miss Alice. We're
worked up.

Alice. Well, father's out and I can't help you.

Tubby. He'U play old Harry if he comes in and finds us doing
nowt in the workroom.

ViCKEY. Then do something. We're not stopping you. {She
rises and moves over r)

Tubby {turning on her) You're not telling me neither. And I'm
supposed to take my orders from the shop.

Alice. I don't know what to tell you. Nobody seems to want
any boots made.

Tubby. The high-class trade has dropped like a stone this last
month. Of course we can go on making clogs for stock if you like.

Alice. Then you'd better.

Tubby. You know what's got by selling clogs won't pay the

rent, let alone wages, but if clogs are your orders, Miss Alice

{He moves towards the trap)

Alice. You suggested it.

Tubby. I made the remark (He starts going down) But I'm not
a rash man, and I'm not going to be responsible to the master with
his temper so nowty and all since Miss Maggie went.

Alice. Oh, dear! What would Miss Maggie have told you to do?

Tubby. I couldn't tell you that, miss, I'm sure. I don't recollect
things being as slack as this in her time.

ViCKEY. You don't help us much for an intelligent foreman.

Tubby. When you've told me what to do, I'll use my intelli-
gence and see it's done properly.

Alice. Then go and make clogs.

Tubby. Them's your orders?

Alice. Yes.

Tubby. Thank you, Miss Alice.

(Tubby goes down the trap and closes it)



Alice (rising and moving up l) I wonder if I've done right?
ViGKEY. That's your look-out.

Alice. I don't care. It's father's place to be here to tell them
what to do.



Act II HOBSON'S CHOICE 21

ViCKEY. Maggie used to manage without him.

Alice. Oh, yes. Go on. Blame me that the place is all at sixes
and sevens {She comes down to the desk)

ViCKEY. I don't blame you. I know as well as you do that it's
father's fault. He ought to look after his business himself instead
of wasting more time than ever in the 'Moonraker's', but you
needn't be snappy with me about it.

AucE. I'm not snappy in myself. {Sitting at the desk) It's these
figures. I can't get them right. What's seventeen and twenty-five?

ViCKEY {promptly) Fifty-two, of course.

AucE. Well, it doesn't balance right. Oh, I wish I was married
and out of it. {She closes the book)

ViCKEY. Same here.

Alice. You! {She rises)

ViCKEY. You needn't think you're the only one.

Alice. Well, you're sly, Vickey Hobson. You've kept it to
yourself.

ViCKEY. It's just as well now that I did. Maggie's spoilt our
chances for ever. Nobody's fretting to get Willie Mossop for a
brother-in-law.

(Maggie enters, followed by Freddy Beenstock and then
Willie. Maggie and Willie are actually about to be married, but
their dress does not specially indicate it. They are not in their older
clothes, and that is all. Freddy is smarter than either, though only in
his everyday dress. He is not at all a blood, but the respectable son of a
respectable tradesman, and his appearance is such as to justify his
attractiveness in Vickey's eyes. Willie, very shy, remains up lc near
the counter.)

Alice. Maggie, you here!

Maggie. I thought we'd just drop in. Vickey, what's this that
Mr Beenstock's telling me about you and him?

Vickey {sullenly) If he's told you I suppose you know.
Freddy (l of the counter; smilingly) She got it out of me, Vickey.
Vickey. I don't know that it's any business of yours, Maggie.


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Online LibraryHarold BrighouseHobson's choice : a Lancashire comedy in four acts → online text (page 2 of 6)