I'll be Wiser Next Time

(Jack and Mother enter stage right.  Jack plops down in a chair at the table, slouches, begins to eat.  Mother remains standing.)


Mother:  Jack, you're 20 years old, and never have ye done any good for our family.  It's time for you to be of some use.

Jack:  I'm sorry, mother.  What would you like me to do?

Mother:  Go to Bunclody to buy a billhook to cut the furze.

Jack:  All right, mother.  I'll go, and bring back the billhook.

(Jack crosses and exits stage left)

Mother:  (to audience) And a miracle it'll be, if he comes back with it!

(Mother busies herself cleaning off the table)

(We hear Jack singing offstage)

(Mother notices, stands and looks offstage)

(Jack enters, carrying a billhook.  He is dejected)

Jack: (guiltily)  Hello, mother.

(Mother can tell that something is wrong)

Mother:  What's wrong, Jack?  What happened?

Jack:  (dejected - he's really sorry) Poor little lamb!  I didn't mean to kill it!

Mother:  (sighs)  How did you kill the lamb, Jack?

Jack:   I was just twirling the billhook around and around like this... (starts to twirl the billhook)

Mother:  (interrupting, loudly)  Stop!  Jack!  Don't twirl it!

(Jack stops)

Mother:  (sad, resigned now)  Now I'll have to pay for the lamb!

Jack:  (dejected - he's really sorry he didn't succeed in his task) I'm really sorry, mother.

Mother:  Musha, you fool, couldn't you stick the billhook into a car of hay or straw that any of the neighbours would be bringing home?

Jack:  Well, mother, it can't be helped now.  I'll be wiser the next time.

Mother:  Now, Jack.  Don't be a fool again.  Have some wit about you now and don't get us into a hobble. Go buy me some needles, and fetch them home safe!

Jack:  Never fear, mother! 

(Jack exits)

(Mother continues working)

(pause)

(We hear Jack singing, offstage)

(Jack enters, singing)

Jack: (singing)

I bought the needles
and I killed no lamb!
I bought the needles
and I killed no lamb!

Mother:  Well, Jack, where's the needles?

Jack:  Oh, faith'; they're safe enough. Send any one down to Jan Doyle's.  They're in his haystack!

Mother:  Musha, purshuin to you, jack!  What searching there will be for them in the hay!  Why couldn't you stick them into' the band o' your hat?

Jack:  Sure you said I ought to put any things I was bringing home in a car of hay or straw.  Jan Doyle had a car of hay, and that's where I put the needles.  Anyhow, I'll be wiser next time.

Mother:  Well, go to the neighbor's and get some butter.

<>Jack:  Yes, mother. 

(Jack begins to sing, begins to exit while singing)

Jack:  I'm off to get the butter!  I'm off to get the butter!

(Mother sighs, and resumes working)

(pause)

(we hear Jack singing again, offstage)

Jack:  I'm back home with the butter!  I'm back home with the butter!

(Jack enters.  The butter, which he wrapped in a leaf and stuck in his hat band, has melted all down his hair and onto his clothing.)

Mother:  Jack!  The butter's melted all over your hair, and all down your clothes!

Jack:  (excited) Yes, mother.  I put it in my hat band like you said.  And I brought it back!  But I guess it melted.  Well, I'll be wiser next time.

Mother:  Begone, Jack!  Go wash up in the river!

(Jack exits) (pause) (Jack enters, without the butter)

Mother:  Now take these two chickens to the market and sell them.  Now, don't take the first offer!  Wait until the second offer, at least!

Jack:  (excited)  How much will I get for them, mother?

Mother:  I'd like to get three shillings, but you won't get 'em.

Jack:  (proudly) Mother, I'll take the chickens to market, and sell them, and I'll not take the first offer.

Mother:  I wonder what will happen this time...

(Mother exits stage right)

(Jack crosses to stage left)

(Chicken Buyer enters stage left)

Chicken Buyer:  How do you sell them fowl, honest boy?

Jack:  My mother bid me a three shillings for 'em, but sure herself said I wouldn't get it.

Chicken Buyer:  She never said a truer word. Will you have two shillings?

Jack:  In troth an' I won't; she ordhered me to wait for a second offer.

Chicken Buyer:  And very wisely she acted; here is one shilling.

Jack:  Well, now, I think it would be wiser to take the two shillings, but it is better for me at any rate to go by her bidding, and then she can't blame me.

(Jack takes the shilling, gives the chickens to Chicken Buyer)

(Chicken Buyer takes chickens and exits stage left)

(Jack crosses stage right)

(Mother enters stage right)

Mother:  Back so soon?  Did you sell the chickens?

Jack:  (proudly) Yes, I did, mother.  And I did just as you said.  They offered me 2 shillings, but I waited for a second offer.  Then they offered me one shilling, and here it is!

Mother:  (screams in frustration)

(Jack gets scared)

Mother:  Jack!  Can ye do nothin' right?

Jack:  Well, I did think it would be wiser to take the two shillings.  I'll be wiser next time.

Mother:  Jack!  Take the sheep to market, and I'll have your life if you don't get the highest penny for it!

Jack:  Highest penny, mother?

Mother:  Top money, Jack!  Now take the sheep and go!

Jack:  Yes, mother.

(Mother exits stage right)

(Jack crosses stage left)

(Sheep buyer enters stage left)

Jack:  Hello, do you want to buy my sheep?

Sheep Buyer:  Yes, I can offer you a guinea for it.

Jack:  Mother says take the top money, the highest penny in the market!

(Sheep Buyer puts penny on cane, holds cane way up high)

Sheep Buyer:  Well, right up here is a penny on top of my cane.  There isn't a higher penny in the market.

Jack:  Just like Mother said.  The highest penny!  I'll take it.

Sheep Buyer:  Here's your penny.

Jack:  Here's your sheep.

(Sheep Buyer exits stage left)

(Jack crosses stage right)

(Mother enters stage right)

Mother:  (suspiciously) Back so soon?  Did you sell the sheep?

Jack:  (proudly) Yes, I did, mother.  And I did just as you said.  I took the top penny.  Here it is!

(Jack gives Mother the penny, then immediately covers his ears, cowering and looking at her)

Mother:  (Screams in frustration)

(Jack is still covering his ears)

(Mother uncovers Jack's ears, then screams again)

Mother:  A penny for a sheep, Jack!

Jack:  I'll be wiser next time, mother.

Mother:  Ah, never mind. Now, Jack, Christmas is coming.  I want some cinnamon, mace and cloves, and half a pound of raisins; will you be able to think o' 'em?

Jack:  Able, indeed, I'll be repatin' 'em every inch o' the way, and that won't let me forget them.  (Begins repeating)

cinnamon, mace and cloves, and half a pound of raisins
cinnamon, mace and cloves, and half a pound of raisins

(Jack crosses stage left, still repeating)

cinnamon, mace and cloves, and half a pound of raisins
cinnamon, mace and cloves, and half a pound of raisins


(Mother exits stage right)

(Jack exits stage left, still repeating)

(We continue to hear Jack repeating from offstage)

cinnamon, mace and cloves, and half a pound of raisins
cinnamon, mace and cloves, and half a pound of raisins

(Jack enters stage left, still repeating)

(Jack crosses to center stage, trips, falls, stops repeating) (Jack rubs his head, shakes his head, gets up to his knees)

Jack:  Oh, I forgot to keep repeating!  (Pauses for 2 seconds, trying to remember) (begins to repeat)

pitch, and tar and turpentine, and half a yard of sacking
pitch, and tar and turpentine, and half a yard of sacking

(Jack exits stage left, still repeating)

(5 second pause)

(Jack enters stage left, holding a bundle)

(Mother enters stage right)

(Jack crosses stage right)

Jack:  Hello, mother!  I got it!  (Holds out bundle to Mother) Pitch, and tar and turpentine, and half a yard of sacking!

Mother:  (Screams in frustration)

(Jack drops bundle and covers his ears)

(Mother uncovers Jack's ears and screams again)

Mother:  Jack!  How am I to make Christmas dinner from this?

Jack:  Ah, well, mother, I only fell and hurt my head.  I'll be wiser next time.

Mother:  You're too dim for anything but a husband, Jack!  I'm taking you to the Black Man right now!  And dinna ye open your mouth till ye have a wife!

(Mother leads Jack by the elbow across stage left)

(Black Man enters stage left)

Black Man:  What can I do for ye?

Mother:  Can ye find a wife for my son?

Black Man:  Is he breathing?

Mother:  Yes, as ye can see.  But he never talks.

Black Man:  I know just the lass for him.  She never shuts up.  I'll marry them, and they'll live happy.

All:  (To audience) And if they didn't live happy, THAT WE MAY!

THE END


Author: 

Leo Heska

Story source:

An old Irish folk tale from the public domain.

Characters:

Jack (male)
Jack's mother (female)
Chicken buyer (male or female) (optional, but you'll need to change the script slightly if you leave 'em out)
Sheep buyer (male or female) (optional, but you'll need to change the script slightly if you leave 'em out)
Black Man (male) (optional, but you'll need to change the script slightly if you leave him out) (note:  a "Black Man" means a priest)

Set:

Stage may be bare except for a table and chair stage right.

Props:

Machete or large knife (the billhook)
Table
2 chairs
Dishes/tableware
Yellow fabric (for the "butter" which melted down Jack's hair and clothes)
A hat for Jack
2 chickens
A sheep (optional)
Cane for Sheep Buyer (or you could use a fishing rod, or anything long)
Burlap bundle

Director's notes:

Chicken Buyer, Sheep Buyer, and Black Man can be played by the same actor/actress.

MATERIAL FOR AUDIENCE/PROGRAM NOTES:

About The Story:

A "Black Man" is a priest.
The word "musha" means "indeed".
The word "car" as used in this play means "cart".

The billhook is a traditional cutting tool used throughout Europe.  Halfway between a knife and an axe, it is often used for cutting thick woody plants such as saplings and small branches and for "snedding" (stripping the shoots from a branch).  In France and Italy it was widely used for pruning of grape vines.  The billhook dates all the way back to the Iron Age, and examples have been found in pre-Roman settlements in several English counties as well as in France and Switzerland.  The billhook has many other names in different parts of Britain including: Bill, Billhook, Hook bill, Hedging bill, Hand bill and Broom hook.

Here is a picture of a billhook:
Photo of a billhook


The theme of the worthless, dim-witted son who lives at home with his mom, supported by her, is common in Irish history and folklore.

At the time of this story, a shilling was worth 20 pence (or pennies), and a guinea was worth 21 shillings, or 420 pence/pennies.

The ending "if they didn't live happy, THAT WE MAY" is a common traditional ending to Irish stories.

RUNNING TIME:

Unknown.

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