|[ See also, the Shepherd's Tale
| The Innkeepers Story |
The Soldier's Story]
THE INNKEEPER'S STORY by Michael Buss
Performed by the author in December 1984 to an audience of 600. This is written in double pentameters. Some practice is required to find the correct rhythms within the piece. Directions in bold italics.
(Prologue) Good friends, I pray your kind attention give As for a while I wrack my weary brains To conjure up the mem'ries of those days When Romans roamed the hills of Palestine; And Jewish leaders filled with hatred, swore They never would give in to foreign power. For sometime, somewhere, He would come. The man They called Messiah; the Scriptures' promised one.
A stripling lad was I, no more, when first My father took me from my books to learn The catering trade. An excellent way Best to fulfil a Jew's desire for gain. And few there be who comfort do decline When fires glow warmly in the grate, and wine Flows smoothly from the cup to wet dry lips, And sweet aromas from the kitchen rise.
Enough! Suffice to tell you that the scene Is at my inn, a day's walk, `twas no more, From where Jerusalem's northern gate sends forth The travelers on their way to Galilee.
(Some years earlier) Aha! My guests arrive. "What will you friends? A jug of ale, or pheasant pie just made, With crust renowned and gravy matched by none? Perhaps to stay and rest awhile before You venture forth upon your God-blessed way? But, please, my friends, do make yourselves at home, Whilst I to every need shall well attend."
The story-teller switches his narrative, sometimes talking with his guests and sometimes with us . They settle well. Too tired to mind the noise Of all the locals who their stories tell With belly laughs and droll monotony; A man, a woman, and a well-built boy. Bar-Mitzvah age, I'll give or take a year. "I think you're bound for Galilee. Your speech Tells me that you are strangers in these parts." The parents look surprised. But then they would.
"Forgive me, if mistaken I might be, But were you with the crowd from Nazareth Which when the recent Passover was o'er Was talking of some boy they'd left behind? `Tis not my business. That I freely grant, But bad news travels fast around these parts And country children lost among the crowds Are prone to end in mischief in the town!"
"I see. It's he. The little tike. I'll bet A merry dance he led you both this week. Where was he found? The Temple? I'll be darned! A right religious youngster you have there. Mind you, to see him eating up his pie You'd think for three days he had eaten naught. The Word of God alone will scarce suffice To feed a growing lad from Nazareth!!"
Yet truth to tell - he has a distant look As though he knows we've met somewhere before.
"What's that? Have I lived always in this inn? What matters it? To serve you I am here."
For God alone my history has writ; And he alone shall read it if he will.
"You ask again! What business yours my past? For blood and death have marred the memory Of times gone by when back in Bethlehem I was a boy like you. yet murder came And took its fearful toll upon our clan. My brother, barely two, was hewn to death By Herod's royal guards. `We've come', they said, `To find an infant prince. Not palace born - A young pretender. Some foul, fiendish plot To overthrow our most illustrious king.'
"And in a stable just that very week A baby had been born. We had not room To give accommodation in the house. Yet him - he lived. My baby brother died.
"Yes, bitterness my heart has often felt. But with the passing years the wounds have healed. I seem to sense that God once said to me (Now keep this close ,- I've told the dream to none) That for some purpose yet to be unfurled That child must live if only then to die.
"Excuse me! For my customers have call Upon my time to service their requests. One moment while I clear away the plates And then to mend the fires and air the beds. These April nights still have a winter chill And good must be early on their way."
The chores all done, the evening turned to night. The farmers said Shalom and went off home. But those three folk from Nazareth remained To watch the glowing embers die away. The man, with head now forward on his chest. Seemed utterly asleep. As was the boy. So I was startled when the woman spoke As though I were some distant relative.
"I thought that none had heard when with the boy I shared my recollections of that day When death came swiftly to our Beth'lem home And he, the young pretender, quickly left. But, as I mentioned, bitterness has gone. In fact I cherish treasured memories Of how the whole occasion came about When Caesar called the world to be enrolled.
"A woman, pretty lass, came in that night, And soon to be delivered of a child. They'd traveled long and all the homes were full Of those who claimed to be of David's line. No next of kin was there to take them in And so to us, with desparation filled, They came. They read the sign, NO VACANCIES, Outside The Star, the inn of Bethlehem.
"My dad was busy, mother filled with care Such opportunities had seldom come To make such money and to show the world The hospitality of Bethlehem. No time, had they, when merchants were at board And spending such as we had never seen, To give attention to a pregnant girl Whose husband looked as though he had no cash.
As I recall he said he would repay In kind such kindness as we'd give to them. If only some small space for her be found Where she could lay the child when it came. `Twas then it downed upon my boyish mind That if with animals they'd like to stay The stable was at least with hay replete And though there was no fire, the air was warm.
Our old gray donkey used to live in there. Good company for theirs, the couple's beast. And many were the times when in the straw I warmed myself beside our old milch cow. `Twas good enough for me. Why not for him - Or her - the baby had not yet been born? At least my mother was a kindly soul, Although pre-occupied as I have said. And so she let me show them round the back And bid me run such errands as they would.
When midnight struck the woman gave a cry. Her body shuddered with the pains of birth. The man, uncertain what to do for best, Came knocking at the kitchen door for help. Some water please. Have you some towels, perhaps? Our baby's nearly due. And then he came. And then the mother wrapped him in my sheet And laid him in the manger by the cow.
I was too young to realize how poor Conditions were within that backyard shed; The stench, the filth, the danger to his health. But when you're young these things don't cross your mind. The whole event would soon have passed away, As ships pass ever onwards into night; For babes are born in fields, and hills and caves, As unremarkable as any day.
But then it happened. This you'll not believe. At one o'clock when all had gone to bed Four shepherds from the hills came into town To see the little baby where he lay. Those scoundrels, they, those crafty thieving men Came sneaking down our alley by the house And stealthy, as their coming, would have gone Unnoticed by the people in the inn, Had it not been that I was still awake And saw their shadows cast upon my wall. With `bated breath I crept out of my room To watch th' unfolding drama in the stall.
Such reverential awe you ne'er have seen On faces lined by years of sin and sweat, As when in adoration low they knelt Like penitents forgiven by a king. The angels told them of the birth, they said, Announcing Peace on earth, goodwill to men. For days to come they spread it far and near. A total transformation of their frame.
Publicity we felt we'd best avoid. The census people took their fees and left. We took the first occasion then to have The couple and the baby in the house. But quietness was there none for many a day As local folk and strangers came to call, And wonder if the story could be true, That this poor babe could be the Lord of all.
One evening when our work was well nigh done Three men of curious origin rode in. The dust of travel thickly on their clothes, Enquiring of the birthplace of a King.
Presaged by astrological intrigue, By ancient manuscript and eastern lore, Via Herod's palace and a guiding star We found them at our inn of Bethlehem. They said but little and with urgent tread Insisted that they now fulfil their quest For tribute had they brought before the babe, Such wealth as gold and frankincense and myrrh!
With eloquence and rapture, down they fell As though before the presence of a King, Yet those there were of us who wondered still If this poor child could be the Lord of all.
`Twas then a ragged messenger brought news That soldiers were dispatched with fell intent To seize the baby if he could be found, And if not then annihilate the rest.
The sages left; the townsfolk hid with fear Their children where they could, but all in vain. And terror stalked the quiet homes where once The laughs of little children echoed round. My mother. Filled with panic, rushed to find The room now vacant where the baby lay. We heard the sound of footsteps in the yard. My father said he heard a donkey bray.
Engulfed in deep oblivion of night They'd gone. To dodge the fierce horrendous sword That would not rest content till death had come And wreaked its mindless vengeance on us all.
We knew no more. We soon forgot to ask `What news, hear you, of him that came as King?' For heavy were our hearts with pain and grief; My brother, you remember - he was slain. What once was bright with hope in dust was laid. If God was God where was the point, the sense? Perhaps one day, yet future, we should see The flowering of that awful providence.
Ah, Sir, I see you're ready for your bed; I should have shown you up there long ago. The water's in the pitcher by the door, A mattress by the window for the boy.
It struck me then as I the story told, What knowing looks the woman seemed to give. And joining us her husband gently asked - "Have we not met before - at Bethlehem?"
Confusion reigned a moment. Then it cleared. By what blind fortune had this meeting come? The jumbled aspirations of the past Were reassembled here before my eyes. But where the boy, on which the hopes of life Would yet depend? Where had he gone whilst we Engrossed with story-telling passed our time? They called him, `Jesus, Jesus, where are you?"
We found him in the kitchen at the sink, His hands were deftly scrubbing at the pans, A happy psalm escaped his boyish lips As filled with blissful joy his work was done.
The plates away, the pewter cups were hung Upon their hooks where ever they were kept. The floor was swept, the lamp was trimmed and low. The dog lay sleeping underneath the chair.
What King was this who in my kitchen late The role of servant played while others talked? A child, a Servant King, a death to die! But thus he paid his debt of gratitude.
He turned and smiled and seemed to read my soul. With voice, as yet unbroken, then he spoke. `Whilst I escaped, your baby brother dies. But when the hour is right, I'll die for you.'
(Epilogue) And now the years are long and I am old, The gift that God once gave has been unwrapped. The light of understanding now has dawned That Infant King became the Lord of all.
For love has lived on earth. And love has died. Yet love shall die no more since God is love. And he whom men despise shall reign as King And those who trust him, see him, crowned above. End of Play If you choose to perform this piece please give credit to the author. [ See also, the Shepherd's Tale | The Innkeepers Story | The Soldier's Story]