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Young Penn:
ON THE ROAD TO CONVINCEMENT

 

The scene takes place on a road outside Navy Gardens on the outskirts of London in 1665.  There is a high wall along the roadside.  Emma and Hannah, two teenage girls, are walking along the road when suddenly Hannah begins to run.

Emma:  “Hannah!  Slow down!  Where are you going?”

 

Hannah:  “I hear music.  Someone is singing a sea chanty.  Don’t you hear it, Emma?”

 

Emma:  “A sea chanty?  Is that any reason to sprint across town?”

 

Hannah:  “It is if you love music.  I must see where it’s coming from.”  Peers through a hole in the fence.“A-hah.  It’s a man in a naval uniform.  It looks like a garden party.  See for yourself.”

 

Emma:  “Hannah, this is Navy Gardens.”

 

Hannah:  “What of it?”

 

Emma:  “I don’t want to be caught spying in Navy Gardens.  Too many people of influence live here.  We’d better go.”

 

Hannah:  Still peering through the fence.  “Oh my!”

 

Emma:  “Oh, my what?”

 

Hannah:  “THAT one.”

 

Emma:  “Hannah, for heaven’s sake.  Come away from there.  If you’re discovered, we

               could be—arrested.”

 

Hannah:  “Who IS he?  Emma, just one peek, please!  Who is that tall Frenchman?”

 

Emma:  Taking a quick glance.  “You silly goose.  You know him perfectly well.    

             And he’s no Frenchman.  That’s Admiral Penn’s son.  Didn’t you recognize the

             admiral?  He’s the one who’s singing.”

 

Hannah:  “You must be mistaken, Emma.  That young man is too tall and much too—

                  elegant!”

 

Emma:  “It’s the pantalons.”

 

Hannah:  “The who?”

 

Emma:  “Not ‘who.’ ‘What.’  Pantalons.  French for trousers.  The latest style for men in

               Paris.”

 

Hannah:  “I knew he looked French.”

 

Emma:  “Young Penn has just returned from a grand tour of France.  How he loves to

                be in fashion.”

 

Hannah:  “And how fashion becomes him!  I thought he was studying at Oxford.”

 

Emma:  “Not for about 2 years.  He cut his studies short.  His family claimed it was

               illness but he looked perfectly well when he got home.”

 

Hannah:  “He wears a big sword.  Is he a military man like the admiral?” Saluting.

 

Emma:  “Heavens no!  He’s not cut out for battle.  In fact he seems to have no idea what

                he IS cut out for.  He seeks the company of controversial people.  Perhaps that

                explains why he has taken up the study of law.”

 

Hannah:  “Law! How boring!  I’d rather talk about the ladies dancing to the admiral’s

                  music.  Did you see them?  They dance like this.”  Hannah lifts her skirt and

                  begins to dance around.  Meanwhile, Samuel Pepys has been creeping toward

                  the hole in the wall, drawn by the girls’ voices.  Now, he looks through the

                  hole at them, just in time to see Hannah dancing.  He puts his hand over his

                  mouth to muffle his laughing. 

Emma:  “Hannah, you’re impossible!”  Emma is laughing and does not notice Pepys

                when he finds a foothold in the wall and pulls himself up to peer over the top.

Pepys:  “Bravo!  Bravo!”  clapping

Emma:  “Mr. Pepys!”

 

Pepys:  “At your service, Miss.  Your friend here dances much more nicely than the

               ladies in the garden.  Don’t you think?”

 

Emma:  “I’m sure I wouldn’t know, sir.”

 

Pepys:  “No?  You didn’t see the dancing through the chink in the wall?”

 

Emma:  “Oh…I…I only looked quickly to see if the admiral’s son is home from France.”

 

Pepys:  “William?  Yes, he’s here.  In fact his return from the Continent is the purpose for

               our celebration.”

 

Hannah:  “It’s really all my fault, sir.  I insisted that Emma have a look.  I was the one   

                 who was nosy.”

 

Pepys:  “Oh well, my dear.  Your dancing makes up for your over-eager curiosity.  Now,

                what did you think of young William when you saw him?”

 

Hannah:  “He’s…he’s…quite tall.”

 

Pepys:  “Looks older than twenty, doesn’t he?  And what did you think of his clothes?”

 

Hannah:  “Very handsome.”

 

Pepys:  “He’d be pleased to hear that.  In fact, you ladies wait right here while I summon

              the lad.”  Exits stage right

Emma:  “Hannah, run!  Come on, now!”

 

Hannah:  “You can’t be serious.  I’ll never get another opportunity to meet the

                  admiral’s son.”

 

Emma:  “The admiral is known for his fiery temper.  If he learns that we’ve been

                spying on his family, he’ll be furious.”

 

Hannah:  “That man you call ‘Mr. Pepys’ doesn’t seem upset.”

 

Emma:  “Samuel Pepys is a neighbor of the Penns.  He’s nothing but a gossip.  It’s no

                concern of his if we get in trouble.”

 

Hannah:  “Do as you like, Emma.  I’m staying.”

 

Emma:  “Fine.”  Emma exits stage left.  Hannah peaks through the wall at Pepys and

                          young Penn who are entering stage right.  Hannah sighs, stamps her foot

                         and run off stage left after Emma.

William:  “Mr. Pepys, I’m sure these girls you speak of are perfectly charming, but I’m

                  not in the mood to meet anyone just now.”

 

Pepys:  “Why?  What’s the problem, Will?  You were just clapping along to your father’s

               sea chanties.  What’s gotten into you all of a sudden?”

 

William:  “My mother’s cousin just arrived.  She brought distressing news.  This

                  morning, her maid’s little daughter died from plague.”

 

Pepys:  “What a pity.  Yes, the plague is depressing, all right.  They’ve buried 60,000

               bodies already, and there are dead rats everywhere.”

 

William:  “I heard some news of the epidemic while I was in France, but I had no idea

                  how bad things have gotten here in England.”

 

Pepys:  “We’re still a good distance from infected houses in London proper.  I’m sure

               Navy Gardens is safe.  And, if not, our families will retreat to the countryside

               until the scourge is over.”

 

William:  “That’s not the point.”

 

Pepys:  “Staying alive is not the point?  Just what have they been teaching you in that 

               French school, Will?”

 

William:  “I mean that I feel so insensitive.”

 

Pepys:  “Why?”

 

William:  “Here we are dancing and singing while others are dying.”

 

Pepys:  “People die everyday--plague or no plague.  We must go on with our lives.”

 

William:  “Yes, but perhaps we should try to help those who are dying rather than just

                   celebrating the fact that we’re still alive.”

 

Pepys:  “My, how idealistic we’ve become.  Idealism can get you into trouble, Will.

              Isn’t that what happened at Oxford?”

 

William:  “I couldn’t help it.  The students at Oxford put on solemn faces and go to

                 chapel like little angels.  Then they spend the rest of the day drinking and

                 gambling.  Unless they’re out torturing Quakers and Puritans.  It was

                 disgusting.”

 

Pepys:  “From what I hear, not everyone went to chapel while you were there.”

 

William:  “Well, it’s true.  And my father hit the roof when he found out that I had

                  missed church.  But, I couldn’t stand the hypocrisy.  I found it more fulfilling

                  to talk to Dr. Owens.”

 

Pepys:  “The Puritan?  You skipped church to talk to a Puritan?  No wonder the admiral

               saw red.  Don’t you remember that lunatic Cromwell?”

 

William:  “What’s Cromwell got to do with anything?”

 

Pepys:  “:Cromwell was a Puritan.”

 

William:  “Yes, and what of it?”

 

Pepys:  “What of it?  What of it, Will?  Have you forgotten that Cromwell locked your

               poor father in the Tower of London?  The admiral has every right to distrust

               Puritans, my boy.” While speaking, Pepys peeks through the hole in the wall

               and looks all around.  Then, he steps into the foothold and peers over the wall.

“My pretty birds have flown.”

 

 William:  “It’s just as well, Mr. Pepys.  I’ve lost all desire for polite conversation.

                  In fact, I think I will excuse myself from the party and take a walk.”

 

Pepys:  “Might I tag along?”

 

William:  “Suit yourself.  I’m not very good company.”

 

Pepys:  “I can see that.  I’m hoping to find my shy birds. I’ll keep my chatter to a

              minimum.”

 

William:  “Come along then.  We’ll make our excuses together.  Young Penn and Pepys

                 exit stage right,

ACT TWO

 

 

A shabbily-dressed man emerges from a door at the right side of the stage.  The door has a huge black “X” painted on it.  On the door, the man hangs a sign which reads,  ‘God have mercy on our souls.’  He immediately goes back inside.  Pepys and young Penn enter stage left.

Pepys:  “Whoa, there, Will.  Don’t take another step.  Look, that door has an ‘X’ on it.”

 

William:  “Is that house infected with plague, then?”

 

Pepys:  “That’s right.  No one is allowed to enter or exit.  The authorities are trying to

              contain the disease.   I’m sure my fair lasses are not from this part of town. 

              Let’s back track and try another route.”  Starts to exit.

 

William:  “Wait.  There are two young women coming our way.  There, in the distance.”

                 He points stage right.

Pepys:  Laughing  “Oh, my poor Will.  You’ve been away from civilization longer that I

             I’d realized.”

 

William:  “What do you mean?”

 

Pepys:  “Those drab doves you point at.  They’re QUAKERS.  Look at the way they’re

               dressed.  They’ve been preaching in the churches again, not doubt.”

 

William:  “Quakers are preaching in our churches, now?   Things HAVE changed!”

 

Pepys:  “Oh they take full advantage of the fact that the clergy have left town.”

 

William:  “They have?”

 

Pepys:  “How can you blame them?  They want to live as much as anyone else.”

 

William:  “Isn’t faith supposed to sustain us in times of tragedy?”

 

Pepys:  “Oh,   there’s the idealism again.  Now, see here, Will, are we turning back, or is

               the plague your cure this foul mood you’re in?”

 

William:  “Ssh.  Just tarry a bit longer.”

 

Pepys:  “Whatever for?”

 

William:  “They fascinate me.” In a low voice and facing stage right.

 

Pepys:  “Who?  Those Quakers?  You have no interest in my pretty parakeets but you’ll

               risk exposure to plague for a couple of—plain pigeons?”

              

William:  “Hush, please, Mr. Pepys.  They musn’t  hear your insults.”

 

Pepys:  “Oh, heavens, no.  It would be improper for religious fanatics to have their

               feelings hurt.”  Pepys turns to the audience as he says these lines and two

               young women, in plain dress, enter stage right.  One carries a covered  basket

              and the other, a Bible,  Without seeming to even notice  young Penn and Pepys,

              they approach the door with the ‘X’ and knock.  Young Penn immediately steps

              toward them urgently.

William:  “Stop!  Please ladies.”  The two Quaker women turn toward young Penn and

                Pepys.  “Excuse my shouting, but that house is quarantined.”

 

First woman:  “Yes, Friend, we know.”

 

William:  “Wait!  I don’t think you understand.  Someone inside has the plague.”

 

Second woman:  “That’s no reason for everyone inside to starve.”

 

William:  “Oh, so you’ve brought food.  How charitable.  But you should just leave the

                  basket by the door and come away before someone opens it.”

 

First woman:   “The Lord said,  ‘I was sick and ye visited me.’”  The door opens; they

                        enter and the door closes.

Pepys:  “It’s no use, Will.  Those half-witted Quakers even pray over the bodies of the

               dead.”

 

William:  “You might as well hear this from me, Mr. Pepys.  I’ve developed quite a bit of

                   respect for Quakers.”

 

Pepys;  “Well, naturally. I mean, why not?  As long as you’re rubbing elbows with

                 Puritans, why not throw in a few Quakers for good measure?  I’m sure

                 your father would expect nothing less!”

 

William:  “It might surprise you to know that my father has shown some interest in

                  Quakers, too.”

 

Pepys:  “Live ones or dead ones?”

 

William:  “I’m sure you remember that when I was about 14 our family went away

                  to live in Ireland.  Cromwell was still in power.”

 

Pepys:  “Ah yes.  The poor admiral was dry-docked and beside himself.  He had to get

               away for awhile.”

 

William:  “Did you know that Father invited a Quaker to speak at our house in Ireland?”

 

Pepys:  “Why do all the juicy tidbits happen when I’m not around?”

 

William:  “His name was Thomas Loe.  I shall never forget him.  Even Father seemed

                  quite taken with him.  For awhile I thought we might become Quakers.”

 

Pepys:  “Depression.  Hmm. Does terrible things to the mind.”

 

William:  “I often think that I would like to return to Ireland to hear Thomas Loe preach

                  again.  I’m not sure that I belong in Navy Gardens.  You may mock Quakers if

                  you like, Mr. Pepys, but I have never known hearts so pure.”

 

Pepys:  “Or heads so empty.  Look at these women, for example.  They risk everything

              for what they think is right and give no thought to themselves.”

 

William: “Well said, Mr. Pepys.  Well said.”   Applauding.  “  They are truly living their

                 faith.”

 

Pepys:  “William, my boy, you may linger here and breathe in the plague if you like but I

               am going home.  Perhaps it’s the illness in the air that has made you so

               delusional.”

 

William:  “Perhaps, Mr. Pepys.  But, the truth is that I have never felt so well.  Good day

                  to you, sir.”

 

Pepys:  “And to you, Will.”  Exits stage left.  The door opens and the Quaker women

              emerge with a little girl.  The woman with the basket has a doll under her arm

              and the woman with the Bible leads the child by the hand.

William:  “Ladies, you can’t take this child from the house.  She could spread the

                  disease.”

 

First Woman:  “Everyone else in her family is too ill to care for her and she is too young

                           to care for herself.  We feel we have no choice, Friend.”

 

Second Woman:  “Thee may go and alert the authorities.  Do as thy conscience dictates.”

 

William:  “No.  I understand. I really do.”  As the women and the child begin to exit stage  

                 right, the dolls slips from under the first woman’s arm.  William hesitates and

                 then leans down and picks it up.  “Little girl.”  The women and child stop and

                 turn toward William.  William hands the doll to the child.

Second woman:  “Thank thee, Friend.  Thank thee kindly.”

 

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