OF EASTERN CAROLINA
BERNICE KELLY HARRIS
FOLK PLAYS OF EASTERN CAROLINA
THE CAROLINA PLAYMAKERS SERIES
Frederick H. Koch, Editor
ii page vignette
Mexican Folk Playsby Josephina Niggli
Folk Plays of Eastern Carolinaby Bernice Kelly Harris
Canadian Folk Playsby Gwen Pharis (in preparation)
Smoky Mountain Comediesby Fred Koch, Jr. (in preparation)
ByBERNICE KELLY HARRIS
Edited, with an Introduction by
FREDERICK H. KOCH
Founder and Director of
THE CAROLINA PLAYMAKERS
title page vignette
Illustrated with photographs by
THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS
A royalty fee is required for each performance of any of these plays either by amateurs or by professionals. Special arrangements must be made for broadcasting.
The amateur acting rights to these plays, with the exception of His Jewels, are controlled by Samuel French, 25 West 45th Street, New York, N. Y., or 811 West 7th Street, Los Angeles, Calif., to whom application should be made for production. The acting rights to His Jewels are owned by Walter H. Baker Company, 178 Tremont Street, Boston, Mass., and 448 South Hill Street, Los Angeles, Calif.
COPYRIGHT, 1940, BY BERNICE KELLY HARRIS PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
PLAYS OF A COUNTRY NEIGHBORHOOD
BERNICE KELLY HARRIS LIVES IN THE LITTLE TOWN OF Seaboard in eastern North Carolina, not far from the Roanoke River.
Here are plays of her own country neighborhood, mostly comedies, of the simple lives and homespun ways of her neighbors and friends. But there is tragedy too, wistful and tender, in the lives of evicted sharecroppers living on the highway, of a poor tenant family seeking shelter in the church-house. But mostly comedies. And a haunting beauty pervading all.
In the seemingly commonplace lives of her neighbors Mrs. Harris has found moments of great excitement and recorded them in their natural rhythms and colorful vernacular—as Edgar Lee Masters did for Spoon River in Illinois and Thornton Wilder did for village life in Vermont.
About the people in her plays Mrs. Harris says: “To write as authors do these days, ‘the characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to living people is purely accidental,’ would be untruthful. It will be strange if resemblance to living persons is not traced, for the plays were written for the most part with an eye on certain people in my experience. Their physical characteristics, their ages and names, their stations in life have been changed to suit the exigencies of the occasion, but they have all breathed the breath of life—in eastern North Carolina.
“Only four are actual prototypes: two of these dear ones are dead, and the other two say they don't mind being
in a book. The situations in which they are placed are basically authentic, though the plots are invented. There are three ‘Virgins’ of fifty, seventy-two, and eighty years (dear ‘Miss Sarah’ has passed on) who live together in a little cabin in Northampton and spend their days spinning, quilting and ‘waiting for a sweetheart.’ There was dear Ca'line who finally had to go to the poorhouse after a lifetime of aversion to the idea and who came back to visit among her folks a little ‘stuck up’ because she was living so much better at the Wake County Home than they were. There was an eviction of tenants along the highway near Seaboard in 1936. Apparently the landlord had plenty of reason on his side, but the evictees were appealing drama none the less as they set up housekeeping along the highway that cold day. The other eviction, in His Jewels, was in the news under another date line, but the Harpers were drawn from a family of white sharecroppers on a Northampton farm. The earthquake of course was not peculiar to eastern North Carolina, but the memory of the terror it brought here still makes dramatic stories out of which other plays might well be written. And I doubt if I left myself out. Maybe I am in the Church Group in His Jewels; perhaps I might have been, under a different set of circumstances, a ‘Miss Ina’ or a Circle Leader in the play.”
Bernice Kelly was a high school teacher of English when she came to Chapel Hill that first summer twenty years ago and “gratefully accepted,” as she puts it, a modest place in the first group of Carolina Playmakers. She returned to her home town of Seaboard impelled to pass on to her boys and girls the new wonder she had found in folk playmaking. “I saw the beauty of a new sort of humanism,” she wrote of that first summer. She was so taken up with the new adventure that she returned to
Chapel Hill the next summer to continue her course in playwriting.
After her marriage to Herbert Harris she continued her teaching in the Baptist Sunday School, but this did not satisfy her. So she assembled a group of town women and formed a playwriting class. “Good friends they were, who humored me,” she says, “although they had no earthly desire to write plays. I taught them the little I had learned, and we wrote plays together.” She tells us that Clara Harris, whose interest was her lovely home and—she insisted—chickens, wrote Son John; Fannie Jones, wife of a small farmer and mother of eight or ten children, wrote with her The ’Lowance; Minnie Harris, the Baptist preacher's wife from Missouri, wrote The Haunted House; Mattie Griffin, matron of the teacherage, wrote (in collaboration with her) The Elopement; Annie Bradley, the ginner's wife, wrote Seliny's Last Dance; Leila Taylor Edwards, young matron with varied interests, wrote (with her) The Evidence; Bertha Parker started Ephriam's Light but gave it to her high school daughter to finish; Minnie Edwards worked on a Negro tenant play; Golia Lassiter wrote from her experiences in a hat shop in Norfolk before she married and settled in Seaboard.
There were difficulties, she tells us, since the class met in her living room and felt free to discuss chickens, gardening, favorite recipes and their children's progress. “It wasn't easy to keep my women on ideas for plays, but we had grand times together, with refreshments by way of incentive for future meetings. I stayed awake nights thinking up ideas, as well as cookies, to serve next day. I even offered the idea which later was developed into Ca'line [included in this volume] to this group, but nobody chose it.”
The plays in the present collection were produced locally with community women and men who made their first appearance on the stage in them. The hotel proprietress, unpracticed at memorizing, pasted her lines on her snuffbox and went through Son John without a hitch. Other lines were written on white apron pockets or on socks in the making; the men pasted their lines on the inside of newspapers and gave the impression that they were inveterate readers. “Here were real folk plays,” Mrs. Harris avers, “plays of farm folk, than whom there are no grander in America!” They caused a great stir in the little town.
But the interest in playwriting waned; the folks would no longer come to her living room, although the refreshments were tempting enough. Then she began playwriting by herself in earnest.
Two of the plays in which she collaborated with women in the group, The Elopement and The Evidence, she directed at Seaboard and brought to the Dramatic Festival at Chapel Hill on April 10, 1930, and March 26, 1931, respectively. The story of Ca'line, which was rejected when she offered it to the group, was written by her and brought to the festival in Chapel Hill on March 31, 1932, along with two other plays. It was the winning play in the original playwriting contest that year. She acted once and “only once have I wanted to die,” she writes of the experience, “just before the curtain rose.”
Then a county-wide organization was formed, the Northampton Players, for the avowed purpose of producing original plays in a county festival. The plays in this volume: Three Foolish Virgins, Judgment Comes to Dan'l, Ca'line, Open House, His Jewels, Pair of Quilts, and Special Rates were all first produced in these fall
festivals of country plays. I attended one of these festivals held in the big auditorium of the high school building at Seaboard. The enthusiasm of the delegations from the competing towns of Conway, Jackson, Woodland, and Seaboard was boundless. It was an assembly of simple, hard-working Northampton County folk: teachers, businessmen, school principals, housewives, farmers, and their children. I remember the chairman of the meeting called on the players from each of the towns represented to stand up in turn. Each delegation was applauded to the echo and a prize was given to the town sending the largest number. Most of the plays presented were written by Mrs. Harris herself, but some of them represented the work of local playwrights from other towns. “The objective was always the State Drama Festival at Chapel Hill,” Mrs. Harris reminded me the other day, “and of course there was no dream of publication then.”
So Bernice Kelly Harris, pioneer Playmaker of that first summer session in Chapel Hill in 1919, cherished the idea of making a native drama of her own country neighborhood. Here are some of the plays she wrote for her neighbors and friends:THREE FOOLISH VIRGINS
Here is a comedy of three bookishly quaint old maiden ladies—relief cases all, who live alone carding cotton, spinning, knitting, and as Miss Sarah would have it, waiting for a cavalier!
The scene is the quaint, cozy sitting room of the Wren sisters. The eyes of a large old-fashioned doll stare down placidly from a high chair. Nearly forty years ago Miss Sarah
expressed her maternal complex by walking eight miles with this newly acquired “baby” in her arms, to the puzzlement of all of her acquaintances. Through the years she kept her doll-baby ever in sight, making its quaint clothes and tending it lovingly. “She don't change much,” Miss Sarah would say consoling herself for the wooden unresponsiveness to so much care—no mean adaptation of the philosophy offered the lover sculptured on the Grecian Urn: “Forever wilt thou love and she be fair.” Miss Sarah is buried just outside the little cabin under the walnut tree she planted herself, “to shade her good,” but she needs no relief now beneath her homemade crowns and crosses.
Explaining the origin of her play, Mrs. Harris writes: “Misses Sarah and Sue Hodges, aged eighty-two and seventy-odd respectively, and their niece, Miss Tommie, aged about fifty, were ‘discovered’ on a visit with a case worker in upper Northampton County about three years ago—surely as quaint a trio as ever lived. An article in a local newspaper suggested the idea for Three Foolish Virgins. There was no Cousin Cling, but Miss Sarah—whose grave I visited last spring—declared she was still waiting for a sweetheart. I gave her one, but the dear soul had a previous rendezvous. How she would have enjoyed this play!”JUDGMENT COMES TO DAN'L
The earthquake referred to in this play came on a fall night in 1886. It so frightened the neighbors, the author says, that they shouldered their guns, left their shaking houses, and sought out old Grandfather Poole, a patriarch
of the neighborhood who was on speaking terms with the “higher powers.” Even he was baffled at first, although he persuaded the neighbors to put up their guns. Mrs. Harris tells me that her mother, a young lady then who had been confined to her bed for many weeks and was quite unable to walk, was so roused that she actually did walk that night.
The explanations of the rural folk were characteristic: It was “dynamiters going through the country to destroy folks; it was rough young pranksters trying to scare everybody; it was ‘higher powers’; it was the Judgment Day; it was one of them earthquakes!” So the truth evolved. John Kelly expressed his fright by shouting, “Come here! Come here!” which the neighbors heard over the night air as “Murder! Murder!” William Johnson prayed. It was a great night—one to frighten credulous colored folk into extravagant confessions and petitions, and white folk into “sickbed” repentance and secret covenants with the Almighty. “At least it brought Judgment to Dan'l—the only heaven he sighed for,” the author avers, “and angel enough for him—in Etta.”
Etta—with her sad songs, her filial responsibilities, her early romance, her drab second-best—is drawn from life; Cynthy and Liza also. If the playwright has placed their beds side by side for dramatic purposes, she has enhanced their “joy of living” by doing so.CA'LINE
The character of Ca'line is an interesting one. She was about sixty-five when the author first knew her, as nearly as could be determined. She knew nothing of her age,
nor could she read and write. She was called “foolish” and “cranky,” but her wit and repartee were often surprising and refreshing. She made her home with any family that would give her board, clothes, and snuff in exchange for her work. She had many homes and was often treated very unfairly, and yet none ever heard of her willingly leaving a place. The family grew tired of her “ways” or no longer needed her services and she was told to “hunt her another place.” On one occasion, when she was turned out of the house to “find her another place,” the old creature's tears were pathetic beyond describing. Her hard life, her horror of the poorhouse, Lam's promise to “keep her as long as she lived and bury her when she died,” the circumstances of her going to the County Home, mentioned in the play, are based on facts.
She was a picturesque character, headstrong, none too truthful, given to exaggeration, blunt, but witty, industrious, and well-meaning according to her light. It is a source of regret that her quaint sayings, her apt names for people and things have not been recorded. One day Lam walked in where she was seated on the floor cutting a nightgown out of flannel, he asked her what she was making. Quick as a flash she said, “A circis [circus] jacket,” (a short close-fitting homemade coat). Many women would have blushed and hesitated at a reply.
The idea for the play is based on Ca'line's changed attitude observed during her visits to “the country” after she had spent some time in the County Home. She liked electric lights, the water system, and steam heat in the poor-house.
Ca'line died in 1928. There were a few flowers—homemade crowns and crosses of flowers from gardens she had tended.
Mrs. Harris has given us a vivid picture of Mrs. Jernigan and her evicted family in Open House in a sketch entitled “The Butterbean Woman”:
“She has a record of hundreds of miles tramped to peddle hundreds of quarts of butterbeans and huckle-berries through this section—a familiar, stooped, wizened creature bent under the weight of her wares, followed by Savannah Inez and Myrtle Virginia with their sacks of garden produce and buckets of blueberries. At home there is a crippled husband and a pale-faced little Jessie William. After peddling all day and trudging the woods to hunt for glass jars discarded by bootleggers, the Butterbean Woman goes home to can vegetables against a gardenless winter. She hoards her nickels and dimes till there is the price of a railroad ticket to High Point where her oldest child, whom she has not seen in nine years, stays in an orphanage.
“Fall comes and she and her children pick cotton, their record being the past year 15,872 pounds. She wrings broomstraw off creek banks and peddles brooms. She is never idle. Even when she is confined to her bed with pellagra, she makes bedquilts, and on the soiled walls around her she pastes pictures cut from old magazines that she has begged, pictures of bright sparkling salads and of colorful vitamins in gay vegetable dishes. Vicariously, they seem to avail, for she gets up again and starts peddling.
“And at last an eviction.
“Three weeks ago the landlord told the Butterbean Woman and her family to vacate for the occupancy of
another tenant. She had nowhere to go. She tramped seven days over a wide territory hunting a house to move in. She could find no place. On Friday in March at three o'clock in the afternoon two officers, dreading their job, evicted her. They placed her three beds, three mattresses, safe, bureau, washstand, stove, chairs, two dogs, five chickens, quilts and clothes by the side of the Seaboard-Gumberry highway. She and her family parked along-side (‘I didn't kick up,’ she declared) where the walls were the evergreen horizon, her roof the blue sky, her pictures still life and landscapes, and her neighbors highway traffic. It was very cold; so she made a fire in the stove, and the smoke ascended without benefit of chimney. The two dogs tied together rested mournfully upon the mattresses along with the children. The grand natural cyclorama dwarfed the properties, and the great spotlight above mercilessly exposed their shabbiness. Two passing motorists, hearing that the evictees had nothing to eat, brought them bread and cheese. The wife toasted it on her tin stove, while the crippled husband leaned against the bureau peeling the last wan potatoes to fry for supper. At seven-thirty o'clock a Seaboard citizen found the evicted family a home for the night, and since then they are staying with relatives until they can find an available house. Meanwhile the Butterbean Woman has a relief job in the local sewing room a part of the week, and on Saturdays she peddles her straw brooms.”HIS JEWELS
A few years ago the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot published a news item about an unemployed and homeless man who established residence in a church-house and maintained it
at the point of a gun. It might have been Ed Harper with his “jewels” to guard. There are many such jewels and a few Ed Harpers in eastern North Carolina, the author informs me. Often evictions are forced on the landlord as well as on the tenant, but not often is there an Ed Harper to accept the “Come unto Me” literally. “Two I've known ‘took up’ in the road,” she says, “but that's as close to Him as they pushed. A Northampton magistrate tells me that in a period of fifteen years he has had between thirty and forty eviction proceedings, which he says is average for this section: ‘In these eviction cases it isn't that the landlords are just hard and unreasonable, but as a rule the tenants are in arrears and won't pay, or are too trifling and won't work, or prove to be so sorry a man just don't want them on his place.’
“A sharecropper said in a recent interview: ‘A one-horse farm is all we've ever been able to tend, situated like we are without any plow hands. We've had to take just such a place as we could get. You never get a decent house to live in on a one-horse share-crop. This is one of the worst we've had—just two little rooms and a kitchen, with such big cracks in the walls you can't get the house warm in the winter.’ ”
There are echoes of his plaint among all the son-less, one-horse tenants, the Ed Harpers. A sick girl-baby complicates an eviction in a womanless household. Still, it will not do for sharecroppers to establish residence in a church-house, to fry meat there, to desecrate the house of God and the Battses. Deacon Batts is right about that. Perhaps if more Ed Harpers chose the desperate alternative of stealing in on God and the Battses, the magistrates would have fewer eviction proceedings, and fewer families would find themselves “traipsin’ the open road.”
Labor falls out under the hot sun; ditchers are overcome by the July humidity, farm women and children suffer in their sharecropper huts through summer nights without ventilation or with mosquitoes. Heat prostrations among laboring groups in the city, supplied inadequately with electric fans, do sometimes arouse public consciousness, and something is done. The Ed Harpers do not ask for air-conditioning.PAIR OF QUILTS
Many years ago peddlers with “Dutch” accents, diamond rings on little fingers, huge canvas packs on shoulders, tramped the countryside. Inside the packs were cologne, needles, pins, fancy combs, thread, fascinators, jewelry. The story is told that one of these peddlers spending a night in a country home, as was the custom of the “traveling men” of the day, stole a quilt from his hostess and sold it back to her. This idea motivated Pair of Quilts, the author tells me.
A few years past the turn of the century, the coming of the peddler was an event in the rural day of not many events. “When he was seen turning the corner at Old Uncle Nat's,” Mrs. Harris says, “we children rushed from the mulberry orchard houseward to persuade Mother to let the peddler open his packs, just to let him open his packs even if nothing was to be bought—knowing full well that something would be bought if the peddler were permitted to go to the trouble of showing his goods, knowing full well, too, the powers of salesmanship in the dapper ‘Dutchman.’ If Mother bought only needles and pins to pay the peddler for his trouble in opening the
packs—Mother, who understood it was important for little girls to see inside peddlers’ packs—at least eager eyes would possess the treasures and keep them against the day brass was brass. It was Alladin's lamp, an adventure in wonderland, a glimpse into the golden-haired prince's palace beside the sea.
“For the rings and things conjured up a way of life that glittered. There was, too, the special smell inside the peddler's pack that little noses would possess and keep: the smell of warm brass, new lace, and wool of fascinators, sweet soap, and perfume, a blend that is wafted nostalgically down the years. The peddler himself, though he wore a derby hat, a striped shirt, and a tan to brown suit, was not so much a person to the children as a symbol, like Santa Claus. If his treasures had glittered less, the peddler might have had eyes, ears, nose, hands, organs. As it was, he had ‘rings and things and fine array.’
“Sometimes now I wish,” the author suggests, “going to answer a knock at the door, a peddler with two canvas packs over his shoulders might be standing there!”SPECIAL RATES
In an eastern Carolina neighborhood two old widowers set up housekeeping together and apparently enjoyed their man's world. Out of this situation grew Special Rates. Many kindred situations and characters have dramatic possibilities. The old maid sister with three bachelor brothers, the five bachelor uncles rearing a young nephew, the three “foolish virgins,” the two old grandmothers whom it took an earthquake to shake, the old husband
and wife sharing the same house but refusing in spite of the good offices of the church conference to make up and speak, the estranged pair who elope from the vigilance of grandchildren.
The emphasis on the pathetic helplessness, on the nostalgic reveries of age, is very well, but among the old there is a gentle hilarity too. They more nearly please themselves then than at any time in life, and while the turn their pleasure takes sometimes has its pathetic overtones there is natural and delightful comedy among them. “Many times the thought of these two widowers of Special Rates—keeping their own shirts, cooking their own breakfasts, hearing always only masculine echoes in the stillness of womanless nights in the big house—was oppressing. It is easy to believe, however, there were ‘special rates’ in their lives—are in the lives of most of them—though no more ‘special’ than a trip to the crossroads store and a coca-cola, a special seat in a special corner at church, a plug of tobacco and all outdoors to spit in, or a golden wedding with a picture in the paper. It is sometimes as special as Gussie.” Not always, though, is so wise a use made of special rates as in Mrs. Harris’ comedy, unless there is a sound, sane, saving Nath in the situation.
Such are Bernice Kelly Harris’ plays—of a country neighborhood in eastern Carolina, plays of the simple lives and homespun ways of her own people.
Frederick H. Koch
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
July 4, 1939
|Plays of a Country Neighborhood, by Frederick H. Koch||v|
|Dramatis Personae, photographic studies by Charles Farrell||xxi|
|Three Foolish Virgins, a Country Comedy||1|
|Judgment Comes to Dan'l, a Country Comedy||41|
|Ca'line, a Country Comedy||75|
|Open House, a Play of an Evicted Family||109|
|His Jewels, a Play of a Sharecropper's Family||159|
|Pair of Quilts, a Country Comedy||197|
|Special Rates, a Country Comedy||231|
|Appendix I, The Carolina Playmakers: A Selected Bibliography||271|
|Appendix II, The Carolina Playmakers: Productions and Tours||288|
|Colloquial Expressions in These Plays||292|
Photographic Studies by
WILLIE MAC: "WHAT'S THAT MAN'S NAME IN CHAPEL HILL?...PROFESSOR KOCH, THAT'S HIT. I HEARD HE ASKED ABOUT THAT TALL LONG MAN THAT WAS SO GOOD IN A PLAY. WE HAD A GOOD TIME GIVIN' 'HIS JEWELS' THE YEAR PROFESSOR KOCH AND ALL THEM CHAPEL HILL FOLKS COME HERE. 'TWA'N'T HARD FOR ME TO LEARN MY PART; ALL I HAD TO SAY WAS, 'SURE SURE.' AND DIDN'T I SAY IT GOOD."
AUTHOR: "WHOM DID YOU VOTE FOR, MRS. JORDAN?"
MRS. JORDAN: "I DON'T VOTE. WHEN I GET READY TO PUT ON BREECHES I'LL VOTE. LAST JUNE THEY SWARMED OVER HERE WORSE'N FLIES 'ROUND A 'LASSES POT, BUT THEY NEVER GOT ME TO GO TO NO POLLS."
"I AIN'T GOIN' TO DECEIVE YOU. MENHASGOT NATURES, BUT...BUT THEY GOT BIBLE FOR IT. IT'S RIGHT." MISS SARAH IN "THREE FOOLISH VIRGINS."
"WE'VE DONE MIGHTY WELL WITHOUT ANY HUSBANDS SO FAR." MISS SUE IN "THREE FOOLISH VIRGINS."
"YOU MUSTN'T OWN A DOLL AND A HUSBAND TOO." TOMMIE TO MISS SARAH IN "THREE FOOLISH VIRGINS."
"YOU'RE THE ONE THAT'S TRAIPSED THROUGH RAIN AND SLEET TO TAKE HIM HOT BISCUITS AND HERB TEAS, WASHED AND IRONED FOR HIM, AND FIXED HIS CLOTHES AND MEDICINE AND POULTICED HIS RISIN'S." TOMMIE TO MISS SARAH IN "THREE FOOLISH VIRGINS."
"MY MOUTH WAS MADE TO TALK, AND I'M A-GWINE TO TALK." CA'LINE IN "CA'LINE."
"I'LL HELP YOU OUT, CA'LINE. I'LL FEED THE PIGS." LAM IN "CA'LINE."
"I FEEL LIKE I WANT TO SING." DAN'L IN "JUDGMENT COMES TO DAN'L."
"LITTLE RASCAL, RUN AFTER PO-LICEMANS IF YOU WANT TO GET IN TROUBLE." JOHN EDWARD IN "OPEN HOUSE."
"BACK TO THE COTTON PATCH RACIN' TILL SUN-DOWN." MRS. JERNIGAN IN "OPEN HOUSE."
"LOOKIN' TO US TO FEED AND CLOTHE 'EM..." BATTS IN "HIS JEWELS."
"I GOT PLENTY CHICKEN ROOSTERS AIN'T FIT FOR NOTHIN' BUT CHICKEN SALAD." MITTIE IN "SPECIAL RATES."
"ME AND SIS SARAH ALWAYS TOOK ALL THE BLUE RIBBONS ON QUILTS." SUDIE IN "PAIR OF QUILTS."
"I'M FIT TO GIVE UP SOMETIMES. SEEMS LIKE 'TAIN'T INTENDED FOR ME TO HAVE NO LUCK." ED HARPER IN "HIS JEWELS."
"I DON'T KNOW NOTHIN' ABOUT YOUR PULLMANS AND SLEEPERS AND DINERS AND MONKEY BUSINESS...BUT WHEN IT COMES TO MAULIN' WOOD!" ALF IN "SPECIAL RATES."
THREE FOOLISH VIRGINS
A COUNTRY COMEDY
The winning play in the Community Drama Contest in Original Plays at the Thirteenth Annual Festival and Tournament of the Carolina Dramatic Association held in The Playmakers Theatre, Chapel Hill, on April 1, 2, 3, and 4, 1936, and included in The Carolina Playmakers Thirty-sixth tour, November 10 to 23, 1939.
|Miss Sarah||Rebie Long|
|Miss Sue||Blanche Gay|
|Gracie Bell||Patty Perry|
|Cousin Cling||T. G. Britt|
The Scene: The sitting room of the Wren sisters. Northampton County, North Carolina.
The Time: 1936: A late afternoon in February.
The room is primly neat. In the center is a wood fire over which is placed a kettle, and on the hearth of which is a wash tin. The lambrequin-covered mantel above the fireplace contains an old-fashioned clock flanked by two tall vases filled with “tickle” grass. In the left corner is a spinning wheel, by which are laid a pair of cards and rolls of carded cotton. Between the spinning wheel and the door downstage at the left, there is a small, round-topped, old tin trunk. Opposite across the room is a baby's worn high chair, from which a large old-fashioned doll stares placidly at the cozy interior. Quite as placidly, old Mr. and Mrs. Wren, enlarged from a tintype, look down from the right wall upon the placid knitting and spinning and gentle chirpings below—placid untilGracie Bellperched herself too near the Wren nest. A chair is near the door; on it hang a fly-bonnet and some coats.
When the curtain rises, Sue Wren, a diminutive gray creature of seventy—gray hair, grayish complexion brightened by sparkling black eyes, gray print dress over which is a black shoulder cape—is standing at the spinning wheel, spinning the carded rolls of cotton into thread. In the right corner of the fireplace sitsMiss Sarah Wren, smaller and a half-hour younger, but quite likeMiss Suein physique and dress. Her chief mannerism is her restless hands. When she is not busied with her sewing or knitting, the gray hands flutter like little birds startled suddenly. Just now her hands are busy finishing a tiny pink dress,
very pink and lacy. But her eyes are heavy, and presently her head nods forward, and the fluttery little hands are idle. As SUE finishes her roll and turns to pick up the cards, she glances toward SARAH and the clock. She watches SARAH nodding and then steps over and ticklesSarah'schin with a piece of cotton.
SUE. Go drop down a minute, Sarah, if you're that bad.
SARAH (startled, her hands fluttering). I...I been dreamin’.
(The dream is still in her eyes. She looks out the window. SUE resumes her seat and cards cotton.)
SUE. You got to quit lyin’ ’wake over Cling Austin and ha'ntin’ the window toward his house.
SARAH (adding final touches to the pink dress). S'pose he was to have another bad spell with his heart ’way in the dead o’ night, and we wouldn't see his light, and he'd lie there and maybe die...alone.
SUE (looking up quickly). Better alone, than with some of the comp'ny he's been a-keepin’ lately.
SARAH. Sis, we got to break him off from Gracie Bell.
SUE. Hain't we told him to quit ’sociatin’ with her—or us one? Jim has too. And I've threatened to foreclose on him if Gracie Bell ain't kep’ away from his place, and it hain't done a bit o’ good.
SARAH. We got to move him over here. I was dreamin’ ’bout it a minute ago.
SUE. A man in the house with three single women?
SARAH. Me and you's seventy, and Tommie's fifty, and—
SUE. No! Ain't no man comin’ here to live—without one of us marries him, and I ain't goin’ to marry Cling, shore.
SARAH. Tommie will. That's been the understandin’ all along. They're what you might call engaged—been.
SUE. You engaged ’em. I don't think Tommie ever aimed to marry nobody.
SARAH. She didn't say nothin’ ’gainst it last night. She agreed to think it over.
SUE. I caught her a-cryin’ in the hen house just now.
SARAH (smoothing the finished dress). A-cryin’? (She rises and goes to the high chair.)
SUE. And last night I heard her a-snubbin’ ’way sometime in the night, and she ain't eat a mou'ful today.
SARAH. Maybe she needs a purgative. (She measures the dress to the doll.)
SUE. Well, Cling's a pill, but I don't think she needs him. None of us does; we've done mighty well without any husbands so far. Course, when we get old enough to study ’bout husbands—
SARAH (returning with the doll in her arms to her chair). Why, Sis, I thought you felt like I did about poor Cousin Cling over there by hisself. (She pours water
from the kettle into the wash tin and bathes the doll as carefully as though it were a baby. It has been her “baby” for thirty years.) Crippled, lonesome, feeble—nobody to do for him, say a word to, since Cousin Addie died, and now (Whispering.) a bad woman after him.
SUE. Cling knows Gracie Bell hain't never had no character. Jim's told him a plenty lately.
SARAH. I know, but Cousin Cling . . . he's a man. They're weak. And Gracie Bell knows just how to handle menfolks.
SUE. She hain't had no luck at handlin’ womenfolks—not me. Come a-steppin’ up to my front door sassy as a house cat, but did she get asked in? Tryin’ to get in with respectable folks this late day, the old rusty middlin’.
SARAH. If only she hadn't perched herself right here under us—and Cousin Cling.
SUE. Well, that door won't never be opened to her, and if Cling's a-mind to take up with such common trash. . . .
SARAH (putting the dress on the doll). I can't stand to see him go astray. He was such a moral young man.
SUE. Moral where ’bouts? Was it moral for Cling Austin to steal my shimmy off'n the clothesline and stick it on that scarecrow in his pa's cornfield? (She slaps the cards vigorously together.) Was that a moral song he busted out with at the candy pullin’?
SARAH (reminiscently). That was a long time ago. (She is lost for an instant.) He was always funnin’ back then. Now. . . . (Reminiscence gives way to realization of the immediacy of the danger toCling, and her voice becomes tremulous.) Sis, I couldn't face Cousin Addie over younder if we didn't try to save Cousin Cling, that's the truth.
SUE (rising). Well, let him do his own facin’ over there. (She hurries to the fireplace for the kettle.) And let me go make a fire in that kitchen stove. (She starts out with the kettle.) When you finish muchin’ up over that doll. . . .
SARAH (her hands fluttering in final appeal). We got to look out for Cousin Cling, Sis. He ain't got nobody else. (Suebustles out at the left, humming her funny little monotone. SARAH looks after her an instant; then she sighs, holds the doll at arm's length, scrutinizes it, and impulsively hugs it close. She speaks to her “baby.”) He could come here, and we could wait on him and do for him, and when he passes away we could close his eyes for him and put him away decent. Last thing we could do for him, ain't it, baby? (She pats the doll gently as she holds it close. She rises and starts toward the high chair.) Come on now, sugar, back to your high chair. I got her all washed with sweet soap and dressed up in her new pink frock and her little black slippers and her pink hood with the white fur, yes I have. (She is about to place the doll in the chair asGracie Bellpushes open the door silently and stands just inside at the right looking around and listening toSarah'swords. Gracieis a stoutish woman of fifty-five with bobbed
henna-ed hair, kinkily permanented, and deeply-rouged cheeks and lips. She wears a red sweater over a sleazy, figured silk dress, which is so short that when she stoops she exposes deep pink lingerie.) And she's all ready for comp'ny, yes, she is.
GRACIE BELL. Speakin’ of angels—(SARAH looks around startled, surprise and anger quickly registering in her face, her hands fluttering helplessly at the intrusion.) here's your company. (She laughs atSarah'sexpression.) How do you do, Miss Wren?
SARAH (unconsciously placing her arm protectingly around the doll and speaking very low). Good evenin’.
GRACIE BELL (advancing toward the doll). Isn't she sweet! I heard you'd bathed your doll and dressed and played with it just like a real baby for thirty years. And I swan, you got a nice line of baby talk. I heard you as I come in.
SARAH (standing defensively in front of the high chair). I didn't hear you knock.
GRACIE BELL. Oh, I didn't knock. Your door was open, so I just walked on in. (She eyes the objects in the room.) I've heard about your antiques. (She steps over to examine the spinning wheel and is loudly exclamatory.) Oh, ain't this darling! I want this.
SARAH. I won't ask you to set down. I know you're in a hurry. (She is motionless in front of the chair.)
GRACIE BELL. Oh, I'm in no special rush. I come to look at your antiques. This is one, ain't it? I'm awful int'rested in old antiques. I bet this spinnin’ jenny would bring a fancy price.
SARAH. It ain't for sale.
GRACIE BELL. And these chairs, too. Cling told me about them. Are they really a hundred years old? (She examines the chair in the corner.) And oh, I want to see your teester beds. I could sell them for you. I got a friend that buys antiques; he's got money, too. Mind showin’ the teester?
SARAH. They ain't for show.
GRACIE BELL. I think I'm goin’ to get a four-poster for my guest room. Me and Cling's goin’ to do our room in this here maple and— (Abruptly facing SARAH.) Cling's told you we're goin’ to get married, I reckon. He said he was goin’ to. I've been studyin’—you know, this maple is so much newer than antiques, and Cling is goin’ to let me trade in his corner cupboard and some more old pieces. (She bends over the chair again. Sueenters and stops at the door, her eyes and mouth open as she recognizes the visitor.) These chairs would bring a fancy price. (Suesteps close to SARAH during the last speech.)
SUE (in a loud whisper). What's she doin’ here?
GRACIE BELL (looking around quickly). Hello there, Miss—it's Miss Sue, ain't it? You two twins favor so much I never could tell you apart.
SUE (stepping militantly forward). What'd you come here for?
GRACIE BELL. Me? Why, callin’, I reckon.
SUE. We don't receive callers.
GRACIE BELL. Really? Well, I do. I'm neighborly. You all come up to see me sometime then, as Mae West says.
SUE. We don't care to 'sociate with you nor Mae West neither, if she's in your crowd.
GRACIE BELL. What's the matter with me? Why ain't I fit to associate with?
SUE. I reckon you know. You'd ought to.
GRACIE BELL. I know you all have tried to keep Cling Austin away from me. I know that.
SUE. We have. He's goin’ to move over here with us. (SARAH looks quickly atSue, her face lighting up.)
GRACIE BELL. Which one of you is after Cling, nohow?
SUE. ’Tain't that. You hain't lived respectable.
GRACIE BELL. Really! (She pronounces it “reely.”)
SUE. And you better go now and not come back.
GRACIE BELL. I will go. I'll pack up and move right over to Cling's before night! (She starts toward the door.)
SUE. You didn't know Cling's house was mortgaged, did you?
GRACIE BELL (turning). Mortgaged? It ain't so. He can give a clear title to the house and farm. He told me so.
SUE. I tell you different. I can show you different. I hold the first mortgage myself. Move in his house if you dare, and I'll foreclose next day, and you'll both find yourselves out o’ doors.
GRACIE BELL. I've got a lawyer friend who'll take care of that for me.
SUE. Woman with . . . friends . . . got no business a-marryin’.
GRACIE BELL. You don't want a husband yourself, do you?
SUE. I don't want no wild life lived in no house I got a claim on.
GRACIE BELL. Wild life! What do you know about wild life? What do you know about Life—you three old maids settin’ up here to yourselves, nu'sin’ doll babies and spinnin’ and cardin’ and chatterin’ to each other—as ignorant of the Facts of Life as that doll there. Believe in Santa Claus, don't you, and that babies is brought in doctors’ satchels?
(SUE in angry dignity crosses to open the door.)
SUE. I'll open the door for you. (She stands in the opened door.)
GRACIE BELL (after a pause). Foreclose all you please. He's got land you can't touch now, nor after he's dead. I'll ’tend to Cling. (Turning to SARAH.) I'll see to his pills and soups and herb teas from now on. And you set over here and nu'se dolls and spin, (ToSue.) and card and wait for Santa Claus—you three foolish old virgins!
(She flings herself angrily out of the room. Suecloses the door, turns, and faces SARAH in silence.)
SUE (after a pause). I feel like I want to wash all over in lye soap.
SARAH (beside her doll). Did you smell anything on her breath?
SUE. Drunk as a b'iled owl, I reckon. And them lips—they'd do to flag a train. (She gets the broom from the corner.) I'm a-goin’ to sweep her out!
(Sweeping from the left-center toward the door, she sweeps vigorously as SARAH moves to the fireplace.)
SARAH. Now you see what we're facin’. (She looks out the window.) She'll move to Cling's tonight.
SUE. She's got us in a tight, shore ’nough.
SARAH. We can't let her toll Cousin Cling off no such way, Sis. (She comes to the right-center of the room.)
SUE. Have to toll him off ourselves, I reckon.
SARAH. That's it. Get him over here tonight, right away, before that woman—
SUE (pausing in her sweeping). Kidnap him, you mean, Sissie?
SARAH. What we don't do to save him tonight won't be done. Tomorrow will be—too late.
SUE (placing the broom in the corner). I don't care so much about savin’ Cling as out-doin’ that Gracie Bell huzzy—a-tellin’ me I don't know where babies come from!
SARAH. And you told her he was goin’ to move over here.
SUE. A fool!
SARAH. Thing to do is beat Gracie Bell over there and make Cousin Cling come back here with you, and bring along a few things, his medicine, and his . . . sleepin’ clothes. . . .
SUE. And sleep here with three single women?
SARAH. I'm goin’ to talk to Tommie. She hain't never said she wa'n’t goin’ to marry Cousin Cling. And they ain't no use to keep on waitin’. Cousin Cling's gettin’ feebler every day. They just as well go on over to Emporia and get it over with.
SUE. Le's study over it.
SARAH. No time to study. Jim can take ’em over to Emporia in his car and get it all fixed up proper. Go get Cousin Cling, Sis. If you don't, Gracie Bell will.
SUE. Well, if you and Tommie wants him, I can shore fetch him to you, if he don't die on the way. (She gets her bonnet from the chair.) But I ain't a-promisin’ to fix him no sugar-tits, nor sleep with him neither. (She puts her bonnet on.)
SARAH. Why, Sis!
SUE (putting on her coat). And, Sissie, if you're marryin’ ’em off short, hand't you better sort o’ prepare Tommie . . . tell her things? (Her tone is serious, but her eyes are twinkling under her bonnet.)
SARAH. Tell her what things, Sis?
SUE. Things about men . . . about married life . . . about the facts of life, didn't that old pullet call it? (She controls her voice.)
SARAH. Why, I don't know. I . . . I could try if you think I'd ought to.
SUE. You better. (Starting out.) And I'll fetch Cling so we can make a honest man out'n him.
SARAH. Be sure to see Jim about takin’ ’em to Emporia.
SUE. I'll tell him to toot his horn when he's ready.
(Sueleaves. SARAH goes to the tin trunk, kneels, and is busy with selecting treasures from the bottom of the trunk whenTommieenters at the right with an armful of wood, which she deposits in the chimney corner. She is a tall woman of about fifty with a pale set face
and graying brown hair drawn in a neat knot on the top of her head. She wears blue overalls over a print dress. After tending the fire, Tommiestarts out at the right.)
SARAH. Oh, Tommie.
(TOMMIEstops and waits for SARAH to continue.)
TOMMIE. You call me, Aunt Sarah?
SARAH. Yes, Tommie, I did. Set down. I...I want to talk to you. (Tommiemechanically obeys. SARAH rises from her kneeling position at the trunk, holding to a garment which she has removed and fingering it nervously.) Tommie, you always done like me and your Aunt Sue thought was best, hain't you?
TOMMIE (tonelessly). I've tried to, Aunt Sarah.
SARAH. We've looked out for you the best we knowed...since your poor mamma died and left you for us to raise. And you hain't never give us a minute's trouble...so far.
TOMMIE. I've tried not to.
SARAH. You always took our advice about things.
SARAH. Well, me and Sis has talked it over, and we decided you and Cousin Cling better get married right away...tonight.
TOMMIE (startled and alert). What?
SARAH. It's been understood a long time you and Cousin Cling was to get married. ’Tain't no use to keep on waitin’.
TOMMIE. Yes, but—
SARAH. Something's happened that makes it necessary—tonight. (Tommiestares silently atSarah. Sarahpauses forTommieto question her. Tommiecontinues staring in silence.) Gracie Bell has just left from over here. (She pauses eloquently.) She said she was goin’ to Cousin Cling's tonight.
TOMMIE. Let her go.
SARAH (reproachfully). How can you say such a thing, Tommie? He couldn't never enter our door again. Sis wouldn't allow it. Folks wouldn't visit him no more. He'd be disgraced. He'd suffer in his last days.
TOMMIE. What can Gracie Bell want with Cling Austin?
SARAH. Why...why, Cousin Cling's good company; any woman'd want him, I reckon. (Turning toTommie.) Gracie Bell ain't fittin’ for him; she just thinks he's got some property she can get her hands on; then she'll be mean to him. We can't let it happen, Tommie; we just can't. You and him's a-goin’ to get married tonight. It's as good a time as next week or next month or next year. What you both need is a little pushin’. (Very briskly now she hurries to the trunk.) You ain't got
nothin’ to worry over. Sis has gone to notify Cousin Cling, and Jim'll take you over to Emporia and fix everything proper. (At the trunk.) Come here, Tommie. (Tommieautomatically obeys. SARAH stoops over the trunk and begins to remove linen. She hastens toTommieand holds out sheets that are lightly yellowed with age.) Here. (Tommiestands motionless.) Hold out your arms. (Tommiemechanically obeys, and SARAH places the sheets in her arms.) These here's bleachin’ sheets I packed away a while back to be laid out on. I hemstitched ’em when I was a girl. (She strokes the linen wistfully.) I'm goin’ to give ’em to you and Cousin Cling. And this here weddin’ ring quilt, too. ’Tain't got much warmth, but ain't it pretty? They wa'n’t no girl in the county could quilt finer stitches than me. Cousin Cling use’ to praise my quiltin’. (She abruptly takes her hand from caressing the quilt and bustles back to the trunk.) Well, we sure got plenty cover to keep us all warm. (She takes other linen from the trunk and turns toTommie.) This crochetin’. (She holds up an old-fashioned nightgown.) I done it with number seventy, think of it. And these tucks. I put ’em in myself...every stitch I put in by hand, even to the seams, when I was a girl. I'd take fifty stitches and then rest, fifty more and rest; but my eyes wa'n’t ever so strong after all this here tuckin’. I'd set there and tuck and think and think and tuck and think and near ’bout blush my head off....It ain't yellowed much...smells right strong of them lavender sprigs I packed in there. (She puts it inTommie'sarms on top of the other linen.) It's never been slept in. I want you to sleep in it your weddin’ night, Tommie....And here's crochetin’ to match on this here underskirt and this
underwear, and more tucks. This here piece...I suppose it's gone out o’ fashion, but it's got a heap o’ featherstitchin’ on it and trimmin's. (She hangs it over the top of the trunk.) I picked cotton a week to buy it....You run in the shed room now and wash and put on these underthings. Then I got a breast pin and scarf for you. (With these articles she picks up a locket.) This here locket. I can't give it to nobody, Tommie. Not till I'm gone; then I want you to have it. It was give to me a long time ago. And I kept it. (She places the locket in the trunk, musing over it while waiting forTommie'sanswer. At the silence she turns her head.) When I'm gone....(Tommiestands motionless, looking stonily at the linen in her arms. SARAH stares at her in silence, surprised atTommie'sunresponsiveness. Then she suddenly remembers her duty.) Why, Tommie, don't look so condemned. Ain't nothin’ goin’ to hurt you. Why, gettin’ married's no more than...than swallowin’ a pill. I mean it's so quick over with. (She turns to the trunk, picks up a scarf, fumbles with it, her back toTommieas she tries bashfully to unfold the “facts of life.”) I...I ain't goin’ to deceive you. Men has got natures, but...but they got Bible for it; it's right. Thing to do tonight is not to be in a dread; just go on like usual, say your prayers, and I'll fix you off to bed in the comp'ny room, and Sis will hold Cousin Cling in here by the fire till you get fixed. And if you find yourself gettin’ nervous while you're waitin’ for him to come to bed...why, pray or...count sheep, and...and mornin’ will come just like always! (She pauses and then turns towardTommie.) Go get ready, Tommie. Jim's a minute man; he'll be a-blowin’ ’fore you know it. (She advances and givesTommie
a little push toward the door at the right upstage.) Put on your navy blue. (Tommiemoves slowly and mechanically to the door.) And pack away them overalls after now. (She bustles to the trunk.) A married woman should ought to let the man wear the breeches. (Tommiehas stopped in the door. At the last phrase she turns, her face pale and set.)
TOMMIE. I can't do it, Aunt Sarah. I just can't! (Tommiemoves to the trunk, dropping the linen into it.) I can't. I can't! I just can't!
SARAH. Can't what?
TOMMIE. Get married. Never. (She faces SARAH.)
SARAH. It's too late to change your mind now.
TOMMIE. I've changed it.
SARAH. But that's been the understandin’ too long now to back out.
TOMMIE. I'd rather die!
SARAH. What's come over you, Tommie? Here we've done sent for Cousin Cling and Jim to take you—
TOMMIE. I can't go!
SARAH. What you mean lettin’ Cousin Cling set his hopes on you all this time, and now—
TOMMIE. He never give me a thought till you put it into his head. You named me to him. You fixed ever'thing. I just humored you along because you was seein’ so much trouble over Cling's heart and leg and kidneys. I ain't never aimed to marry nobody.
SARAH. But you agreed to it.
TOMMIE. But I made sure he'd have a spell and die, before it come to a showdown.
(SARAH moves dejectedly to the chair by the fire and sits, her shoulders drooping and her hands fluttering helplessly in her lap.)
SARAH. Poor Cousin Cling....
TOMMIE. It's poor Cousin Cling, with his bad heart and crippled leg and high blood pressure and nobody to cook for him and wait on him and nu'se him! But what about poor Tommie that's always gone her ways independent and free and that turns sick on the stomach at the thought of bein’ cooped up with all them floatin’ kidneys and diseased livers and deformed legs—when for all these years I been the man of this house and—
SARAH (in beaten surprise). And I thought you were pleased. I thought anybody'd be pleased.
TOMMIE. Not me. You might. I wa'n’t cut out to be married. I just can't.
SARAH. That means we just turn Cousin Cling over to Gracie Bell.
TOMMIE. Move him on over here. I'll wait on him, cut his wood, make his fires, doctor him—
SARAH. Sis wouldn't allow it. And ’twouldn't be right without one of us married him. (Sighing deeply.)
TOMMIE. Then you marry him.
TOMMIE. You think a heap of him. He does you.
SARAH. I'm too old for Cousin Cling.
TOMMIE. You're seventy. He's seventy-one.
SARAH. He's really seventy-five. He don't own it, but he was twenty-five when I was twenty.
TOMMIE. And me just fifty.
SARAH. But you'd suit him; you—
TOMMIE. You can have my place and welcome.
SARAH. Tommie, please—
TOMMIE. No, if somebody's got him to marry, you marry him yourself.
SARAH. He wouldn't like no swappin’ around.
TOMMIE. He should ought to. You're the one that's listened to his ailments till bedtime every night and then toted his lantern for him to see his way home; and you're the one that's done for him all these months...traipsin’ through rain and sleet and hurricanes to take him hot biscuits and herb teas and soups, and washin’ and ironin’ for him, and fixin’ his clothes and his medicine and poulticin’ his risin's. He should like to swap.
SARAH. That's all so, but— (A curious light has come into her old eyes.)
TOMMIE. I'd be mean to him. Why, I don't never hardly speak to him. I'd throw away his pills and put him to work. I'd be rough. He wouldn't live long.
SARAH (her eyes flashing). You shan't mistreat him while I live.
TOMMIE. Then you marry him.
SARAH. I couldn't, Tommie. Not me. No.
TOMMIE. Not you, no! You don't want him. You wouldn't have him off a Christmas tree...to be cooped up in a room with. But you're tryin’ to put the old dead'ning off on me.
(SARAH has risen and is standing in front of the fireplace facingTommie. Her hands have suddenly ceased their fluttering; her face is calm; her eyes radiate a strange light.)
SARAH. Tommie, a woman that sees seventy years don't have no taste one way or the other for marryin’. But...(She walks over to the trunk, picks up the nightgown and fingers it thoughtfully an instant. Then she looks up atTommie.) Cling is the man I made all these clothes for when I was a girl. Every loop of lace and every tuck was put in for him....I never meant to tell nobody, but...well, I've told you. (She fingers the gown again.) No, I hain't got no distaste for Cling.
TOMMIE. Then...you and him liked each other...one time?
SARAH (nodding). When we was young, just in secret, you understand. We 'spected to get married, and I made up them underclothes. Then we had a little fuss one day. Cling hadn't ought to sung that bad song, but I hadn't ought to walked home from the candy pullin’ and left him blank neither. We was mad and—
TOMMIE. What song, Aunt Sarah?
SARAH. It was bad, bad! I wouldn't have you hear it. But then, if we hadn't been mad and stubborn....Well, a town girl come here visitin’, and Cling...he sort o’ lost his taste for me....And then the town girl left, and he married Cousin Addie....And I...I locked up all these things.
TOMMIE. But you still got a feelin’ left for Cousin Cling?
SARAH. I got feelin’ ’nough left I don't want to see him suffer. (Tommiegoes toward the trunk.)
TOMMIE. Aunt Sarah, go put on these pretty clothes. (SARAH backs a little.) I'm goin’ to fix things, and they're goin’ to be right this time. You get dressed. I'll meet Cousin Cling, and (She takes the linen from the trunk and puts it inSarah'sarms.) he'll be the pleasedest man you ever saw.
SARAH. Why, I...I can't!
TOMMIE. Go put on your black taffeta and be ready when—didn't you say Jim's comin’?
SARAH. Cling would be too put out, Tommie.
TOMMIE. He will not. I'll fix everything agreeable.
SARAH. I...I'm afraid. I...I just can't.
TOMMIE. Then let Gracie Bell have him.
SARAH. No don't.
TOMMIE. That or you get into your black dress like I said.
SARAH. I can put on the black dress just to be tryin’ it on...But that don't mean I think I'm goin’ anywhere.
TOMMIE (pushing her gently toward the door at the right). Put on all them pretty laces and tucks, and I'll fasten you up. (SARAH stands in the door, her hands fluttering again.) I'll put your baby away. (She hurries to the high chair, removes the doll, and goes toward the trunk.) You mustn't own a doll and a husband too.
SARAH. Tommie. (She pauses asTommiestops near the trunk and turns.) I'm so used to her there, you and Sis, too. Put her back, Tommie.
TOMMIE (after a brief hesitation). All right. (She places the doll in the high chair again, then turns back to the trunk.)
SARAH (still in the doorway). Now get my pearl breast pin with the pearl doves out o’ the trunk, and my cashmere shawl, and my lisle stockin's...just to try on. (She goes out. Tommiekneels at the trunk to remove the articles.)
TOMMIE. I'll get ’em all. (She places them on the chair and takes from the trunk the locket. She opens it and sees with interest a picture ofCling, holding it down toward the fire to study it.) He didn't look bad then. (She moves nearer the fire and muses over the pictured face.) Right down good-lookin’...pretty wavy hair...(A hint of wistfulness shows in her face. SARAH reenters, dressed in a long-sleeved nightgown that fastens up high at the throat.)
SARAH (engrossed with herself). Tommie, I want you to tell me the truth. (Tommieturns quickly.) Is this nightgown too low in the neck? Don't mind speakin’ out what you think.
TOMMIE. Why, no.
SARAH. It's pretty, ain't it? I could whip in a piece of lace here.
TOMMIE. The neck's all right. Don't do nothin’ to it. (She hands her the locket and articles from the chair.) Here's your things. And put this locket ’round your neck. Now go ’long and get fixed quick as you can. (SARAH obeys. Tommiecloses the door after her. Then she stands near the fire musing over theCling-that-was.) Soft brown eyes and a real kind smile! That mustache was becoming...and them square shoulders. (She sighs, squaring her own shoulders.) He shore don't look like that now.
(There is a knock at the left door. Tommiehesitates before opening the door as though rehearsing words. She admitsCling Austin, an unimpressive, feeble, palsied old man, with thin white hair and a mustache that seems to vibrate when he talks. Leaning on a walking stick, he drags along a stiff leg and pants under the weight of a small, worn, black bag. His voice is thin and querulous.)
Why, it's Cousin Cling!
CLING. Yes, I...I...(Panting.) walked...on over. (He goes to the right-center of the room.)
TOMMIE. Where's Aunt Sue?
CLING. Gone to get Jim. (He puts his hat and overcoat on a chair at the right.)
TOMMIE (taking the bag from him). You hadn't ought to toted this here suitcase.
CLING (irritably). I ain't helpless yet. (He sinks into a chair, spent.)
TOMMIE (putting the bag by the spinning wheel). But your heart and your blood pressure. . . .
CLING. Well, I tell you, I figgered I better get away before I was kidnapped.
CLING. The women is after me like bees after honey.
CLING. You all, and now Gracie Bell comes over and offers to move over to my house so she can wait on me. (He cackles.) And Gracie ain't no bad lookin’ white woman. She's got as pretty a leg as—(Suddenly noting the “lingerie” left hanging over the trunk.) Look a-there. (He rises and moves toward the trunk.) Does women still wear this here? I hain't seen a shimmy since—(Tommiemoves quickly to the trunk, jerks the article from his hand, puts it in the trunk, and slams the lid shut.) ’Tain't worth while to be bashful ’fore me. I know women folks up and down, in and out, (Cackling.) front and back!
TOMMIE (sarcastically, as she goes toward the spinning wheel). You do?
CLING. Do I? Gracie Bell wears pink bloomers, and—
TOMMIE (checking her disgust). That'll do, Cousin Cling! Say, have you got your medicine along?
CLING. Yeh, in my bag there. The digitalis, ten drops every four hours; Epsom salts, two tablespoons every mornin’ first thing; the red drops before eatin’, and the black mixture twenty minutes after meals; the capsules at bedtime or as needed. You won't have no trouble; it's all marked on the bottles, the dates and hours. You better set it all down on paper to be certain.
TOMMIE. You don't feel like you need no medicine right now nor nothin’, do you?
CLING. Why, I just took a swig out'n that brown bottle. The blue bottle's in my overcoat pocket, but don't start dosin’ me to death now.
TOMMIE (sitting in the left corner). I just didn't want you to get upset nor nothin’. I . . . I got to talk to you confidential.
CLING. Law’, I hope you ain't one of them confidential women, a-wantin’ somethin’ all time.
TOMMIE. Well, I am.
CLING. What is it?
TOMMIE (leaning forward and speaking in a low earnest voice). A long time ago you and Aunt Sarah thought a heap of each other, didn't you?
CLING. I always thought well of Sarah. She had a pretty neck—what I could see of it. Why?
TOMMIE. I know all about you all . . . when you was young. Aunt Sarah's the one for you to marry.
CLING. Me marry Sarah?
TOMMIE. Yes. (Rising.) She's goin’ to take my place. She's dressin’ now. She'll be ready when Jim gets here. She's goin’ to Emporia with you.
CLING. What you talkin’ about?
TOMMIE. I backed out. Aunt Sarah's goin’ to take my place.
CLING. Take your place? What sort o’ to-do is this?
TOMMIE (like a first-reader lesson). I don't want to get married. And you need somebody. And Aunt Sarah'll be good to you. She'll look after you partic'lar.
CLING. Sarah's too old for me to consider.
TOMMIE. You were boys and girls together.
CLING. Yeh, but that was a long time ago.
TOMMIE. ’Twa'n’t so long ago that Aunt Sarah's got over carin’ about you.
CLING. Lord! Another woman after me!
TOMMIE. Drop the other women a minute and le's talk.
CLING. Yeh, le's me and you talk, ’cause I can't rooster the whole neighborhood, can I, Tommie?
TOMMIE (struggling against her impatience). Cousin Cling, you know what Aunt Sarah's been to you since Cousin Addie died . . . a-mendin’ and a-washin’ and a-patchin’ for you, luggin’ hot vittles over to your house, doctorin’ you, stayin’ awake nights watchin’ your house over yonder in the field to see if there's a light ’way in the dead of night—a real mother she's been to you and will be.
CLING (jerking his mustache irritably). I don't want a mother—not to marry. I want somebody younger'n Sarah—like yourself. That was the bargain, wa'n’t it—myself and you?
TOMMIE. I don't want to get married, I told you. It don't suit me. I backed out. Aunt Sarah's took my place.
CLING. It wasn't in the bargain that-a-way. It was I and you.
TOMMIE. I can't. I won't. Aunt Sarah will. We made the change.
CLING. I ain't satisfied with the change—a-switchin’ women on me.
TOMMIE. You just well make yourself satisfied and be thankful too. It's all fixed. Jim will take you and her to Virginia, and I'll cook you up a good supper, and you can sleep in peace tonight knowin’ you got somebody
to look after you good the balance o’ your days. I'll see if Aunt Sarah's ready and tell her you're waitin’. (She starts to the right.)
CLING (rising). No, you don't! I ain't goin’ nary step without you keep your bargain. I won't have Sarah. I want you.
TOMMIE. I won't have you.
CLING. I won't have Sarah. I don't want her. I want you.
TOMMIE (turning upon him angrily). You don't know what you want. You are just a silly, dotey, spoiled, old young'un that we been humorin’ and tryin’ to keep from makin’ a fool of hisself. Seventy-one! You're seventy-five, and you'll never live to see seventy-six! Go back and die in your old chimley corner, and don't you come back here no more with your logic a-workin’ on Aunt Sarah's sympathy! After all these years, takin’ from her, lettin’ her make over you—now you don't care how bad her feelin's will be hurt. (Her fury increases as she draws nearer toCling.) You shan't have Aunt Sarah. You shouldn't have her if I had to stand over her and guard her with a shotgun! And if you come slinkin’ ’round here any more with your floatin’ kidneys, I'll shoot you quick as I would a mink! (She makes a dash for the bag in the corner, seizes it, and throws it violently out the door at the left.) Follow your pills and your salts and your red drops! (She towers aboveCling; he is cowed; his voice is almost teary.)
CLING. I never 'spected to get ordered out o’ Sarah's house.
(Just as he nears the door at the left, SARAH, with a coat on her arm, bustles through the door at the upper right dressed in a black taffeta, lilac shawl, little black bonnet with a bunch of purple violets at the side. She is so engrossed with pinning the breast pin on her bosom that she does not noticeCling.)
SARAH. How do I look, Tommie? (Clingturns and stares atSarah. Tommieglares at him, hoping he will get out the door before SARAH looks up. But he is too illused and too accustomed to turn to SARAH for sympathy.) And I want you to see if my pettiskirt shows—not that I'm goin’ off, as I know of. Does it? (She turns all around, the while appraising her front. Receiving no answer and sensing a disturbing quality in the silence, she looks up. Her eye catchesClingat the door, and she gives a faint exclamation of shocked surprise.) Oh, I didn't know—
TOMMIE. He was just goin’, Aunt Sarah.
SARAH. Goin’ where?
TOMMIE. Back to his chimley corner. (She is willing him back there with all her eyes. He at present has eyes only for SARAH.)
SARAH. What for?
CLING. What for? Sarah, I wisht you had heard that woman—
TOMMIE. Aunt Sarah, I reckon I'll marry Cousin Cling like in the bargain. Don't be mad. I...I changed my mind again. I...I decided he needs somebody like me, able-bodied and strong as a ox. I'll bring him out o’ his kinks; first thing you know he'll be a-maulin’ cord-wood and a-shrubbin’ land. Less mother's salve and more elbow grease is what he needs—and will get. There's a heap o’ work in Cousin Cling yet, and I'll get it out!
CLING. Listen at that, Sarah, and me—you know how I am.
TOMMIE. I'm goin’ on over to Emporia and get hooked up, and tomorrow you'll see him on the woodpile, and by spring a-breakin’ up new grounds. I just throwed away all that mess o’ medicine, and next—
SARAH. But Tommie, wait a minute—
TOMMIE (starting out the right). No time to wait. Let me put on some clean overalls to get married in.
SARAH. Why, child, that won't never do in the world. Put on your navy blue poplin.
TOMMIE. I'm goin’ to wear the breeches at my house. I'll get married in ’em! (She turns back and makes forCling. She sets him roughly in a chair as she would a bad boy.) Set there and wait till I get on my breeches. Don't you budge!
(She dashes out at the right. SARAH looking after her in bewilderment.)
SARAH. What in the world has come over Tommie? (She starts to follow her.)
CLING. Sarah. (She turns at his urgent tone.) I...I can't marry that woman.
CLING. She's full o’ temper. Me and you....
SARAH. Tommie's usually mighty even-tempered. She ain't herself.
CLING. I ain't a-goin’ to marry her. Me and you would o’ suited better.
CLING. I can't marry her. I won't! ’Tain't no use to pretend. Me and her wouldn't get along in no sort.
SARAH. This is terrible. What must I do?
CLING. You can go to Virginia with me, if you want to. That is, if you can put up with my poor health and habits.
SARAH. I'm perfect willin’ to do for you, Cling. But there's Tommie. She'll be put out. She 'spects to go with you. She comes first.
CLING. How come you can't go?
SARAH. I'm willin’. But I...I just don't know.
CLING. I do. I ain't goin’ nowhere with her. I'll suffer and die in my lonesome chimley corner, (His voice quavers.) if you rather not have me. I'll go back to my lonely fireside. (He starts out at the left. At the silence behind him he tries his last trump.) Maybe if you won't, there's others will. Gracie Bell is a peach, too—ripe and wantin’ to be pulled!
SARAH (following him). Oh, wait. I hate to hurt anybody, but whichever way I decide...what must I do? (An automobile horn honks outside.) And now there's Jim. (Tommiedashes out dressed in her navy blue after all.)
TOMMIE. Jim's out yonder in his automobile. (The horn blows insistently. TommieplastersCling'shat on his head not too ungently and hands him his overcoat.) He's blowin’ for us. Come on. (She pins on her hat.) Get your things!
CLING. Sarah's goin’ with me.
TOMMIE. What's that?
CLING. That's right. I want her.
TOMMIE. You do?
SARAH. Honey, don't feel hard toward me. I...I didn't know...he felt that-a-way about me.
CLING (bravely standing by SARAH). I do.
TOMMIE. So it's Aunt Sarah?
CLING. It's Sarah.
TOMMIE. And not me.
SARAH. Honey, I wouldn't hurt you for anything.
TOMMIE (after a brief silence). Well, it's like it is. No while to argue over it. (The horn is sounded impatiently.) Go on to Emporia with him.
SARAH. Step out and tell Jim we're comin’, Tommie.
(TOMMIEgoes out at the left.) Now, Cling.
(She putsClinginto his overcoat.)
CLING. I can't help it if I am old and no-count.
SARAH. Why, Cling, you're heap o’ ’count. And seventy-five ain't old.
CLING. Seventy-one—that's what I am!
SARAH. I meant seventy-one. (She wraps a scarf around his neck.) Le’ me help you.
(Clingnotices the locket aroundSarah's neck.)
CLING. Lord, you still got that locket! I bet I know whose picture's in it. (SARAH silently snaps it open and confirms his “bet.” He looks at theCling-that-was admiringly.) Wa'n’t I a rooster! Look at them tail feathers on my lip. (He turns toward the mirror over the mantel and faces theCling-that-is. He parts with his two fingers the poor, white “tail feathers” that remain, as
SARAH puts on her coat.) Well, I ain't no plug yet, nor string-halt neither, am I?
SARAH. No, Cling.
CLING (putting his hat at an angle almost rakish). I feel frisky enough for a old-timey breakdown. (He grabs SARAH around the waist suddenly.) Le's shake a foot, Sarah. (Singing to the tune of “There'll Be a Hot Time.”) First six months, it's all-l very well. (Shaking a foot, moving SARAH along.) Next six months—
(He breaks away from her even before her reproachful exclamation and staggers dizzily toward a chair holding his side.)
CLING. My kidney!
SARAH (rushing to him). Lean on me, Cling.
(CLINGsteadies himself and recovers immediately.)
CLING. Gi’ me some out'n that blue bottle, Sarah. Overcoat pocket!
(SARAH removes the blue bottle from the pocket and gives it to him. He drinks.)
SARAH. Le’ me get some water—a spoon and—
CLING. No. This ain't my drops. (He puts the bottle into his pocket.) It's to drink reverent! You can set it all down on paper before we go to bed. (He cackles
"WELL, I AIN'T NO PLUG YET, AM I?" CLING (FRED KOCH, JR.) TO MISS SARAH (RIETTA BAILEY) IN THE CAROLINA PLAYMAKERS PRODUCTION OF "THREE FOOLISH VIRGINS."
shakily.) Tell ’em to get the bed right, for me and you is—
SARAH. They're blowin’ for us again!
CLING (takingSarah'sarm). Le's go. What you say?
(CLINGstarts out left with SARAH on his arm, and he looks down possessively at her.)
CLING. Sarah, I declare you're right pretty.
SARAH (radiant). I...I'm all in a whirl!
(They pass out the door at the left asTommiere-enters with the suitcase she tossed out a short time ago. She goes to the fireplace, deposits the bag in the corner, and stands looking into the mirror studying her face. Sueenters. She hangs her bonnet on a chair at the left and goes to the fire to warm her feet. The mirror draws her eyes too. She looks at her face and smooths her hair at its middle part. Her eyes meetTommie'sin the mirror, and she suddenly laughs a little ruefully.)
SUE. ’Tain't no while to stand here lookin’ at ourselves, Tommie. (She turns from the mirror.) Their bed's to fix, and I'm a-goin’ to make him a pie-bed if it floats his kidney all over the plantation!
TOMMIE (turning also). And some sort o’ weddin’ cake's to be stirred up, and the white cloth spread on the table, and the pills to unpack. (Briskly she stoops to remove the medicines fromCling'sbag to the mantel.)
SUE. And this here doll to pack up. (She seizes the doll in her arms and pats it mock-tenderly as she hurries with it to the trunk.) Come on, sonny; we got a big baby now to nu'se. (She lays the doll in the trunk.) Lay still now and don't whimper; sugar-tits for one is enough. Now that high chair—
(On the point of closing the trunk, she abruptly checks her action. She looks toward the high chair and is suddenly almost wistful. Tommiepauses among the bottles and stares at the high chair too, wistfully.)
TOMMIE (after a long pause). Put her back, Aunt Sue. (Sueafter another pause lifts the doll, with no mock tenderness this time, and restores it to the high chair, as at the beginning of the play.)
SUE (turning toTommie, ruefully). Well, Tommie, we're just two foolish old virgins, ain't we?
TOMMIE doesn't answer....
THE CURTAIN FALLS
JUDGMENT COMES TO DAN'L
A COUNTRY COMEDY
The winning play in the Community Drama Contest in Original Plays at the Tenth Annual Festival and Tournament of the Carolina Dramatic Association sponsored by The Carolina Playmakers in their theatre in Chapel Hill on March 30, 31, and April 1, 1933; it was first published inThe Carolina Play-Bookfor September, 1933.
|Etta's paternal “grandmother”||Fannie E. Bullock|
|Etta's maternal “grandma”||Irene Tankard Harris|
|Etta||Bettie Walter Jenkins|
|Minda, the Negro cook||Myrtle Leigh Peacock|
|Dan'l, the hired man||Roland Gay|
The Scene: The bedroom in Cynthy and Liza's farmhouse in Wake County, North Carolina.
The Time: A fall evening in 1886, when eastern North Carolina was visited by an earthquake.
All the appointments of the room are old-fashioned, including the odor of camphor gum and snuff—dominant notes in a symphony of pungent oak-wood, musty bed-furnishings, and invalidism. Two huge top-heavy beds are placed side by side against the rear wall, a small table between them. Over the beds hang enlarged crayon portraits of Perrin and Gaston (departed) in whiskered dignity. A low fire burns in the fireplace at the left. The mantel is ornamented with two families of bottles, two candles, and a tall walnut clock. A rocking chair stands in the left corner, and a low ladder-back chair at the right. A long mahogany sideboard at the right (whichEtta'schildren will some day prize as an antique of their great-great-grandmother), a cot on whichEttasleeps, a “catch-all,” complete the furnishings of the room. A door at the left leads to the front of the house, and a door at the right to the rear.
It is evening. The room is shadowy, unlighted except by the low fire.
Propped up on pillows on the bed at the right is a plump woman of seventy-two wearing a high-necked, long-sleeved nightdress. Her gray hair is braided tightly. Her eyes are sharp and bright above her long thin nose and toothless mouth. Spectacles are pushed up on her forehead. This isCynthy.
LIZA, a thin woman of about seventy, lies on the bed at the left; her back is turned toCynthy. Her graying hair
is partially covered by a nightcap. She wears a gray dressing gown. Her bed is loaded with “crazy” quilts and pillows.
There is a pause andCynthyleans toward the left bed listening. She pulls her spectacles down, peers at the clock on the mantel, looks towardLizaquestioningly, and then impatiently seizes the cane at the head of her bed and pounds vigorously on the floor with it.
LIZA (querulously). Quit that, Cynthy.
CYNTHY. Talk some then.
LIZA (whining). My head hurts.
CYNTHY. It don't do it. You're poutin’.
LIZA. I'm not doin’ no such a thing.
CYNTHY. ’Twa'n’t nothin’ to pout over. ’Tain't your house.
LIZA. I never said it ’twas.
CYNTHY. You said “our” house—so glib.
LIZA. Well, Johnny did fix it so I was to live here, same as you.
CYNTHY. Johnny wa'n’t your child.
LIZA. He married mine and Gaston's child.
CYNTHY. That don't make the house yours.
LIZA. I got a life-right here.
CYNTHY. Humph! You wouldn't know a life-right if you had it to lie with.
LIZA (after a pause, raising herself). Ain't it suppertime?
CYNTHY. Yes, and I wisht Etta would bring on my supper. (Yawning.) It's been a long day.
LIZA. Plenty short for me. I dread the nights.
CYNTHY. I don't. I dream about poor Perrin o’ nights.
LIZA (turning over). I dream a-plenty. I'll have bad dreams tonight. I got a uneasy feelin’. I've had it all day.
CYNTHY (with great relish). They ain't a night passes I ain't with Perrin, talkin’ to him sometimes, sometimes runnin’ to catch up with him...seems like I get lost from him. Last night I was at revival meetin’, and he was there just as plain...a-prayin’ and a-tellin’ everybody it ’twas the end of the world...(With increasing gusto.) and then seems like he took me to the graveyard, and there was two deep, open graves, and he told—
LIZA (nervously). Cynthy! You're just tellin’ that a-purpose!
CYNTHY. I did dream it.
LIZA. You done told it twicet, and it gets worse every time.
CYNTHY. I forgot about them two open graves. I did dream—
LIZA (shivering). Hush, do pray! Can you see the clock?
CYNTHY (raising herself on her elbow). ’Tain't much after six.
LIZA. What's it doin’ so dark?
CYNTHY. Tornado makin’, apt as no. Curi's-looking clouds sailin’ ’round all day, Minda said...red ones and black ones. Watch out—
LIZA (quickly). I want Dan'l to sleep in the house tonight.
CYNTHY (sharply). I don't. You better not.
LIZA. I can't help it ’bout him and Etta. I rather have a man in the house tonight. I feel uneasy...restless sort o’.
CYNTHY. There's Cana's boy—if you're bound to have a man. Since poor Perrin died, I hain't wanted no man in the house myself.
LIZA. You hain't grieved over Perrin no worse'n I have after poor Gaston.
CYNTHY. If you grieve, what you want to be all time so scared for then? If tornadoes...or...or dynamiters
blow you up some night, won't you be with Gaston that much the quicker? I don't care what happens myself, just so it brings me and Perrin back together.
LIZA. You hain't cried as much over him as I have over poor Gaston. You never cry after him.
CYNTHY. You cry when you eat too much and get colicked.
LIZA. I wish just one time you had to go through one nervous like mine.
CYNTHY. ’Tain't nothin’ to my shortness o’ breath. Wisht you could have that one time...and my bad liver.
LIZA. Nervous is worse'n anything you got in your body.
CYNTHY. Nervous! I wouldn't own it. ’Tain't real...decent.
LIZA. It's as decent as hasselin’ for breath...like a fouce dog. Poor Gaston never made little o’ my nervous. He rubbed my back a many a night till daybreak, and rubbed my arms and head.
CYNTHY (looking at Gaston's picture). Yeh, and look at him. You wore him out at it! I reckon (Chuckling.) he'll dread to see you comin’ if they have back-rubbin’ and head-scratchin’ where he's at.
LIZA. Cynthy! You better quit makin’ light o’ the Other World. You could be...struck by lightnin’ quick as
that, or...blowed away! I believe to my soul I feel this house a-shakin’. Don't you? Can you see out?
(Minda, stout Negro of sixty, dressed in bright calico, enters at the right with two tin trays loaded with food, a tin coffeepot on one. Her manner is awed.)
CYNTHY. Minda a-stompin’.
MINDA. Well, s'm, here's yo’ supper.
CYNTHY. It's time. (Taking the tray and beginning to eat.) You hain't brought nothin’. Set my coffee on the coals.
(MINDA takes the other tray toLizaand puts the coffee-pot on the coals at the fireplace.)
MINDA (at the fireplace). Well, s'm, and eat it quick as you can and le’ me git out'n de kitchen. De wind hain't ris’, but dere's somethin’ a-shakin’ dis whole place ev'ry constant.
LIZA. Is it goin’ to storm, Minda?
MINDA (raking the coals). I don't know, s'm, what it fixin’ to do. I knows de elements feels quarer dan I and de chicken-hens ever felt ’em; dey's lef’ deir roost a-cacklin’, same as de eclipse.
LIZA. I felt somethin’ too— jar this house. I know I did. Light some candles, Minda.
(MINDA lights the candles and places them on the mantel.)
CYNTHY. And don't stomp so when you walk; you're enough to jar the elements.
MINDA. A-law! ’Tain't me, Miss Cynthy. It's de Higher Powers!
CYNTHY (holding out her plate). Here! You didn't bring me no fresh meat. You go tell Etta to send me some o’ them cracklin's you just dried out, and a thin hoe-cake, and a sweet potato.
LIZA (holding out her saucer). And you take this here and fill it up with haslet-hash. ’Tain't goin’ to hurt me.
CYNTHY. Don't you do it, Minda! She hain't got no sense about what to leave outside her insides.
LIZA. You ’tend to your insides and I'll ’tend to mine.
MINDA (mumbling). I hain't got no appetite tonight myself.
(MINDA takes up the dishes and continues mumbling indistinctly as she goes out at the right. Lizaturns her back onCynthy. Cynthylooks hard at her.)
CYNTHY. Don't you know you'll be belchin’ all night again? (Lizadoes not answer.) Don't you know how haslet-hash serves you? (Silence.) Did she bring you any johnny bones? Pout then! (Mindare-enters hurriedly with the dishes.) Pour me some coffee. What's Etta doin’?
MINDA. Hookin’ up de waist wid de silk front, I 'speck.
CYNTHY (sharply). What's that? Dan'l's done cut out the hogs and gone, ain't he? He ain't here to yet?
MINDA. He mought o’ washed up, and changed his shu't, and put on a necktie, and got back.
(She takes the coffeepot back to the coals and stands at the fireplace, her back to the fire. Lizaturns and is listening alertly.)
CYNTHY. Got back! What's he comin’ back for?
MINDA. Well, s'm, you have to ast Miss Etta ’bout dat. Dat's mo'n I can tell you.
CYNTHY. Where ’bouts is Etta?
MINDA (dramatically). She's in de pa'lo’!
CYNTHY. In the parlor!
MINDA. In de pa'lo, yes'm.
CYNTHY. What doin’?
MINDA. Makin’ a fire—if she hain't done made it by now.
CYNTHY. A fire! There hain't been a fire in that room since Perrin was a corpse! What's she makin’ a fire in there for?
MINDA. Well, s'm, all I knows is Mr. Dan'l toted de light'ood splinters in dere hisself, and I 'speck he ’lows to set by dat fire tonight.
CYNTHY. Liza, didn't I tell you so?
CYNTHY. Looks like cou'tin’, don't it?
LIZA. Well, it does.
CYNTHY. You lay there and pout, and first thing you know you'll be left by yourself.
LIZA. What we goin’ to do?
CYNTHY. I'm goin’ to get rid of Dan'l like I told you last week and get Cana's boy here.
LIZA. Looks right hard to do that after Dan'l's ’tended our garden patches all these years.
CYNTHY. If Etta goes and takes a husband, it'll be right hard too. He'd get all the waitin’ on. Here I'd lie.
LIZA. Here I'd lie too. I'm opposed to any husbands comin’ here. Etta's got her hands full ’tendin’ to me.
CYNTHY. I'm more opposed than you. I need more waitin’ on, with my heart and liver and shortness of breath.
LIZA. You don't shake like I do. Etta can't have no husband, much rubbin’ as I take.
CYNTHY. You shake a-purpose. I'm the one takes Etta, and they ain't no husband comin’ between her and my poor liver.
LIZA. S'pose when you set down on the husbands Etta was to pick up and leave?
MINDA. She mought. She's tuk to singin’ dem love songs ag'in lately.
CYNTHY (sharply). She won't! She's tied here. She ain't goin’ nowheres. But Dan'l is! I'll turn him off the end of this week sure as my name's what it ’tis. Cana's boy can look after our little patches, and we won't have to be all-time worryin’ about him a-cou'tin’ behind our backs. Here! (She holds out her cup for more coffee. Mindafills it.)
LIZA. Time Dan'l cou'ts till bedtime....Hadn't Minda better go in there and tell Etta ain't one fire enough to set by?
CYNTHY. No, thing to do is to get her out'n the parlor and then put the fire out. Go tell her...le's see...tell her—
LIZA. To come in here and read some more out loud to us.
CYNTHY. No! You tell her...tell her to bring her gui-tar in here and play and sing some. I'll keep her singin’ till bedtime.
LIZA. It'll be just talk-music for him to cou't by.
CYNTHY. I'd like to see him cou't ’round me! Minda, go get Etta, you hear? And you bring Dan'l in this room when he comes; you watch for him now.
MINDA (leaving). Well, s'm, and I'm gwine set here clost to de do’...wid you white folks dis night. (She goes.)
CYNTHY. I thought that foolin’ Etta got ’way back yonder would o’ cured her o’ menfolks.
LIZA. That teacher wa'n’t foolin’, Cynthy. You know that, good as I do.
CYNTHY. She don't know it. She was too young to know what she wanted anyhow.
LIZA. I reckon she was. But Etta hain't never had the right look on her face since...looks like somethin’ cowed...sort o’ waitin’ for another lick.
CYNTHY. S'pose I hadn't broke it up. Where'd you be now? Who'd done for you-toted your vittles, and made your pills, and rubbed you o’ nights, and got the dander off'n your head, and set up with you, and—
LIZA. I know it. It'd be worse now; we'd be ruined if she was to leave us now—both flat o’ our backs.
CYNTHY. I blame you for puttin’ it in her head.
LIZA. I be bound you pack it on me.
CYNTHY. Well, don't you make Etta read them old novel-books out loud to you?
LIZA. Who started it?
CYNTHY. You did. And every page full o’ fancy cou'tin’, and pretty boys, and huggin’ and kissin’—’twa'n’t decent.
LIZA. Well, don't you listen?
CYNTHY. I never. I don't know nothin’ was in ’em.
LIZA. Your mind must be wanderin’ tonight, Cynthy. You just said there was huggin’ and kissin’ and—
CYNTHY. Dispute my word!
MINDA (enters whispering). She didn't much want to come, but she's a-comin’.
CYNTHY (lowering her voice). You put out that fire in the parlor now. And bring Dan'l in here; don't forget to watch.
MINDA. Well, s'm. (She places the trays on the table.) You better say pray.
(MINDA goes out at the left, asEttaenters, carrying a guitar. She is a well-proportioned woman of about thirty-five with a sweet, tired face. She has auburn hair arranged in figure eight with bangs over her forehead, large, wistful, hurt, brown eyes, and rather youthfully flushed cheeks. She wears a navy-blue gored skirt, a basque of the same material with a “front” of red, green, and brown plaid. She never raises her voice; she seldom hurries; she is infinitely patient. She has learned to live calmly and flatly.)
ETTA (toCynthy). You didn't 'specially want me to play tonight, did you, Grandmother?
CYNTHY. Yes, I do. You ain't played none for me in a week.
ETTA (toLiza). Won't it make you nervous, Grandma?
LIZA. Real low won't. It might make me sleepy. Is it goin’ to be a tornado or anything outside?
ETTA (straighteningLiza'scover). I don't know; don't get that on your mind now.
CYNTHY (impatiently). Set down. Play. Sing some. I don't want to dry up if I am down. Hand me my box and spittoom.
LIZA. Give me my as-fidity pills, honey, before you start, and a little water in a glass. Then after a while I'll let you rub my head and try to get me to sleep. (She takes the pills whichEttafetches.)
CYNTHY. You're worse'n a dog with fleas—wantin’ your head all time scratched. Go on now, Etta, I want my music with my snuff.
(She begins dipping. Ettatakes a cuspidor to the side of the bed.)
LIZA. Wrop up my feet in my old jacket. They're like clay.
CYNTHY. Let her set down. She's been in the hog works all day.
ETTA (toLiza). That all right now?
LIZA. Um-humph! Go set down and sing some now.
CYNTHY. Throw my cape ’round my shoulders. That's it. Now set the skillet on the coals. I'm goin’ to let you wash me off presently.
LIZA. Beat up my pillow. It's flat as a pancake. Put the other one on top. That's it.
CYNTHY. Let her set down.
ETTA. Anything else, Grandma?
LIZA. No, I'll take some music now.
(Ettasits in the rocker at the left, plays a few chords and begins singing, “One Little Word.” She has a sweet, low, natural voice with a sad quality in it. The firelight plays on her face; her eyes are on the guitar as she sings.)
Our dream of love is o-ver. To-day we said goodbye; we part-ed not in an-ger, though tears were in our eyes. 'Tis just the same old sto-ry, that love so oft has told. She wed to please her pa-rents, a man with naught but gold. One lit-tle word would have changed our fix-ture]
CYNTHY. One little word nothin’! I don't want no more o’ that. Sing “Baggage Coach”—somethin’ that's got some life to it.
ETTA. I don't know all that by heart. (She strums the guitar, humming, and then sings wistfully the old song, “In the Baggage Coach Ahead.”)
As the train sped on-ward a hus-band sat in tears, thin-king of the hap-pi-ness of just a few short years. Ba-by's face brings pictures of a fond-est hope that's dead. But ba-by's cry...]
LIZA. I shan't sleep a wink tonight if you keep singin’ about dead folks. Sing “Billy Boy,” or somethin’ that's sweet. And hand me the hog's foot oil. My hands is dry. (Ettaobeys. Lizarubs the oil on her hands and forehead.) Now you can sing.
(Ettasings only a line or two of an old song, whenDan'lcomes. Dan'lappears at door, left. He is tall and stooped, has graying hair and mustache, wears baggy, striped trousers and ill-fitting black coat; but he is brave in a starched shirt and pink necktie, and shoes that still creak in spite of the obvious “blackings.” There is something ox-like about his stolid patience ordinarily, but tonight he looks like a man with a purpose.)
DAN'L (at the door). Good evenin’.
CYNTHY and Liza (coldly). Good evenin’.
ETTA (meekly). Have you a seat, Dan'l.
DAN'L (toCynthy and Liza). How you both?
CYNTHY. No better'n usual.
LIZA. Worse, I am.
DAN'L. You look peart. How many potatoes you eat for supper ... and fresh haslet?
CYNTHY (coldly). I eat ’bout like usual.
LIZA. I have to eat to keep up my strength.
DAN'L. That's right! Eat! Eat hearty! I'll be haulin’ you both on the two-horse wagon to revival meetin’ yet.
LIZA. I never 'spect to see the inside no church no more myself.
CYNTHY. It won't be in no two-horse wagon when I go. It'll be in the—(With evident relish.) hearse.
LIZA (shuddering). Cynthy! Do, pray!
DAN'L (laughing). Oh, you're both good for a hundred! If you'd throw them beds out the door and stir ’round—
CYNTHY. I don't want to hear that no more. I know what I can, and what I can't do.
LIZA. If you was nervous and flat o’ your back and couldn't sleep—
DAN'L. Don't let me keep you awake. I...I and Etta can make a fire in the parlor, if Etta wants to sing—
CYNTHY. Ain't one fire enough to set by?
ETTA. You won't mind settin’ in here, will you, Dan'l?
CYNTHY. I ain't goin’ to have no fires in the parlor and if—
DAN'L. W-e-ll, only ... (His budding boldness suddenly flares.) only me and Etta was plannin’ on havin’ us a special talk tonight ... by ourselves.
CYNTHY. What's that for?
DAN'L. We're bound to, that's what. I ain't no fancy talker, but Etta knows how I feel and have for sixteen year, don't you, Etta?
ETTA (playing chords, very softly). Yes.
DAN'L (boldly). Is they ... any chance for me?
ETTA. I ... I hope so.
DAN'L. You mean you ... you—
CYNTHY. Here! I been wantin’ to say somethin’ for a month or more, and, bein’ as you dropped in tonight, I'd just as well tell you now as any time. I'm goin’ to get Cana's boy to tend my little patches ’round, so you can be lookin’ you another place. I won't need you after today.
DAN'L. What? You mean ...?
LIZA. He could stay on the balance o’ the week, Cynthy, till he finds another place.
CYNTHY (determined). No, I won't need you no more.
DAN'L (stammering). This is mighty sudden. Hain't I give satisfaction?
CYNTHY. Cana's my blood kin, and his boy wants a job.
DAN'L. So I'm turned off ... this time of year?
ETTA (rising). Grandmother, you can't do that.
LIZA. You could try over at Tib Stu'divant's ’cross the creek.
CYNTHY. Or Jim Sanders’ on his river farm. He works white hands and feeds ’em from his table.
DAN'L (crushed). I been here ten year, and it's the first complaint I've heard.
CYNTHY. I ain't complainin’. Cana's boy wants the job, I said.
DAN'L. I'll work for less. I love to stay here. I couldn t hardly stand to leave now.
CYNTHY. You got it to stand. ’Tain't no while to argue. It's settled. This is my farm, and you're turned off.
ETTA. It's your farm, but what sort of farm would it be hadn't been for him? He's slaved like a nigger on this place and built up the land and took a pride in raisin’ the best crops in the neighborhood for you, and the fattest hogs, and the finest gardens and truck patches. He's worked night and day ten years, winter and summer, spring and fall. He has saved, and he has lay awake nights plannin’ how to save more. He's been square and honest and . . . if you turn him off . . . I can't hardly stand to see him leave!
CYNTHY. Hain't we paid him? (ToDan'l.) Do I owe you anything?
DAN'L. No. You. . . .
CYNTHY. Then what you jawin’ about?
DAN'L. I know what ’tis. It's . . . I and . . . her. You've tried to keep her out'n my sight, and—
CYNTHY. I don't want no more words. Dr. Young told me not to get excited. You're turned off. Get on out now!
DAN'L. All right, I'll go. Will you go with me, Etta?
CYNTHY (shrilly). No, she won't.
DAN'L (doggedly). Etta?
CYNTHY. Etta, if you was to leave me, I wouldn't last a week.
LIZA. Etta, it would pure down kill me!
DAN'L. You know how I'm fixed, Etta. I got a little strip o’ land and five hundred dollars saved up to start us a little house . . . nothin’ fancy of course . . . and I . . . (His voice is low and vibrates with feeling.) I ain't never cared for nobody else, and I . . . I never will.
ETTA (bows her head). I wish ’twas so. . . .
CYNTHY. You know you ain't goin’ to leave your old grandmother here to suffer for ’tention her last days.
LIZA. And your poor grandma weak and nervous and flat o’ her back. I can't stand much more o’ this!
ETTA (resigned). I reckon I can't, Dan'l.
DAN'L. I thought maybe you cared a little somethin’ about me. I hoped it.
ETTA. I . . . I do.
DAN'L. Then—go with me!
ETTA. I can't leave them, but if you'd stay on here we could . . . could. . . .
DAN'L. They've turned me off.
ETTA. We could marry and stay. . . .
CYNTHY. I ain't goin’ to have no husbands here neither.
LIZA. No, Etta, your duty to us comes first.
ETTA (stubbornly, for her). I'd still do my duty.
CYNTHY. I know better. I'd lie here neglected, waitin’ for music and medicine and ’tention, while a stinkin’ husband was gettin’ it all.
LIZA. And I'd lie here and shake the house down, and I wouldn't get no rubbin’. A husband would get it all.
CYNTHY (angrily). This is my house, and I won't have no husbands here. Etta, he's just a common field hand. He thinks he'll get Perrin's property!
ETTA. Dan'l, don't notice nothin’ she says.
LIZA. I'm goin’ to pieces! I told you! I'm goin’ to have a spell!
DAN'L (going to the door, right). Etta, let me speak to you . . . out here.
LIZA. Don't leave me, Etta. I'm goin’ to have a nervous!
You know I can't stand excitement. My arms is twitchin’. I'm shakin’! I'm jerkin’ all over. You'll have to rub fast! Hurry!
CYNTHY. And me too! I'm goin’ to have shortness o’ breath. It's comin’! I'm goin’ to have a heart action! Get my drops, Etta. I'm tremblin’ all over! Hurry!
ETTA (quietly). We'll have to give it up I reckon, Dan'l. (Dan'lturns and goes out, left. Ettahurries to the mantel for the medicine bottles and begins ministering alternately to the patients. They, very unconvincingly, are grunting and calling to her to do something for them. She works patiently.)
LIZA. I'm bad! I'm bad!
CYNTHY (shaking). Dr. Young said excitement would bring on heart action. I reckon I'm goin’ to die. Nobody won't care. I'm in the way here. Perrin'll be glad to see me, I reckon.
(Suddenly the pictures on the walls, the articles on the mantel, the chairs and beds quiver. Simultaneously dishes, from off right, rattle. The walls shake.)
LIZA (shaking too). Etta, you'll have to ’tend to me! I've never shook like this before. I'm shakin’ the bed. Look! I can't stop! I could always stop before—a-finally. Rub me! Rub my arms!
CYNTHY (still shaking). It's me! I must have a ague! Etta, I'm rockin’ this bed. Come here! See if I'm cold. Feel of my pulse!
LIZA. Look! I'm pure down shakin’ Gaston! (The portrait of Gaston is shaking on the wall.) Etta, look at your grandpa!
CYNTHY (noticing that Perrin's portrait is shaking too). Perrin's shakin’ too. Look! He's fallin’! Pick him up! To b’ sure I ain't shakin’ the whole house!
(Perrin has fallen to the floor; Cynthyshrinks from him.)
LIZA. It ain't you. I'm shakin’ the whole house myself. I ain't doin’ it a-purpose neither.
CYNTHY. Look here at my bed, Etta. The whole place is in a tremble! And listen at the dishes rattlin’! Reckon the dynamiters . . .?
ETTA. The dishes are rattlin’ sure enough. The whole house is shakin’! I feel it! What's the matter?
LIZA. Don't let me shake myself to death—if ’tis me. Put on more quilts. I ain't never been in such a fix!
MINDA (bursting in, right). It's de Jedgment! It's de Jedgment Day! We's gwine to be destroyed! (She falls on her knees byCynthy'sbed.) De whole passel o’ us in a pile! It's de end o’ time. (She starts a moaning chant.)
CYNTHY (sits bolt upright). Judgment?
LIZA (also sitting upright). Oh, I knowed somethin’ was comin’!
ETTA. Get Dan'l!
(She rushes out of the room, left. A voice is heard in the distance calling “Murder! Murder!”)
MINDA (greatly perturbed). It's de Jedgment! De whole world's in a rock! Git out o’ dem beds! You better git on yo’ knees too. De whole element's in a shake! De black clouds is openin’, and de red fire's showin’ th'u. And don't you hear some of ’em hollerin’ out dere? Listen at ’em. (She chants a low incoherent prayer, her words indistinguishable, her face covered.) Oh, Law’, I's been sinful! I is a low-down sinner! Look down. Look down. Take pity, sakes! I been mean. I is a low-down sinner! I has broke a-loose! Yes I has. Le'me in de ark o’ safety dis time. Please Jesus! Please do, Jesus! Please do!
(CYNTHYandLizaclimb out of their beds and stand clinging to each other. A voice in the distance at intervals calls: “Murder.”)
CYNTHY (in terror). Liza!
LIZA. ’Tain't me, Cynthy. It's the Lord's works!
CYNTHY. What is goin’ to happen to us?
LIZA. I reckon we're goin’ to be destroyed!
MINDA (interrupting her incoherent prayer and uncovering her face). Law’, is He hollerin’ “Minda”? He is hollerin’ atter me! (She continues her prayer, mumbling words never distinguishable.) Please do! I ain't ready to be parted right and left! Take pity sakes! Do Jesus!
LIZA (dropping on her knees). Get down, Cynthy. I reckon our time's come. We won't never lay here and quarrel no more.
CYNTHY (kneeling too). I'll get down to keep you company.
LIZA. I hain't meant no harm by poutin’, Cynthy.
CYNTHY. I hain't neither—by quarrelin’. Where's Etta gone?
LIZA. We both been right hard on poor Etta, hain't we?
CYNTHY. We have put on her right smart. She's a good girl.
LIZA. I don't reckon we ought to put out her fire in yonder tonight.
CYNTHY. I don't reckon maybe we had.
LIZA. Maybe we hadn't ought to have parted Etta and Dan'l.
CYNTHY. I don't reckon we had.
LIZA (plaintively). If we just wouldn't be destroyed—she could have him, couldn't she?
CYNTHY. Yes. I always favored lettin’ Etta have Dan'l, but you was so stomp-down against it.
LIZA. Me? Why, Cynthy. It was you.
CYNTHY. ’Tain't while to put it on me, Liza. Now I ain't quarrelin’, but you know you wouldn't let Etta get married, so she'd always be around handy to rub your nervous.
LIZA. It was your bad liver you wanted rubbed and your shortness of breath. I was willin’—
CYNTHY (her tone still exaggeratedly kind). Face it, Liza. You was just selfish and wanted all the ’tention yourself.
LIZA. It was you that was selfish and wanted—Cynthy, it's gettin’ worse. Worse! Feel that! I reckon I was selfish. (Humbly.) I'll take all the credit on myself. I did want all—
CYNTHY. No, Liza. I'll take my part of the credit. I did think if Etta had a husband she might neglect me. I was selfisher than you.
LIZA. No, Cynthy, you wa'n’t. It was me kept her from marryin’. If this shakin’ would just quit, I'd own up to Etta....
CYNTHY. Well, I'd tell Etta to have Dan'l, if the elements would just settle one more time.
LIZA (humbly). We mustn't complain. We'll just have to wait. It's the will of the Lord.
CYNTHY. I wish we could be spared....
LIZA (humbly). ’Tain't for us to choose.
CYNTHY. I know it....
LIZA (seizingCynthy). Did you feel that? Do you feel that?
CYNTHY (rising). Le's do somethin’!
LIZA. ’Tain't in our power—
CYNTHY (grabbing a quilt from the bed). Le's try to get outside! The house is goin’ to fall down on us if we don't. Wrop a quilt around you and come on. (She assistsLizato her feet, and they wrap themselves in quilts. She speaks gently now toLiza, as to a child.) Come on, Liza. I won't leave you. We'll stay close together. Walk peart as you can. Le's go out the back way. (They hasten out, right. The moaning ofMinda'sprayer continues. Almost immediatelyEttahurries from the left, followed byDan'l. She calls “Grandma,” by way of reassurance before entering. When she sees the beds all empty, she stands amazed, speechless.)
ETTA. Grandmother! (She rushes to the beds, examining the bed coverings. Mindalooks up.) Minda, where's Grandma and Grandmother?
MINDA (surprised). Law, Miss Cynthy and Miss Liza gone? Taken off! It'll be me next! Oh, Lawd Jesus! (She continues mumbling her prayers.)
ETTA. Get up from there! We've got to find them. They...(She is confused, amazed.)
DAN'L. Which way did they go, Minda?
MINDA. Vamished! Vamished! Kneeling right here one minute, and done gone de next!
ETTA. They couldn't get out of bed by theirselves.
MINDA. In de battin’ o’ yo’ eye. Don't de Good Book say ’twould be lak dat at de End o’ Time?
(Ettahurries out, left, returning almost immediately with a lantern, which she lights at the fireplace.)
DAN'L. ’Tain't the End o’ Time, Minda. Leastways, I don't reckon ’tis. It must o’ been a earthquake, like they have ’way out yonder.
MINDA (rising). Earthquake! Earthquakes don't use ’roun’ here. Dat's what it must o’ been—a earthquake lak dey have ’way out yonder—the whole world in a rock! I thought ’twas de Jedgment! Thanky, Jesus! We's spared!
ETTA (starting out, right, with a lantern). I'm afraid they fell and crippled theirselves.
MINDA. Vamished...mo’ lak ha'nts.
(Cynthy'sandLiza'svoices are heard outside, right.)
DAN'L (followingEttaoutside). There they are. They're not hurt.
MINDA (vastly relieved). Dey don't sound lak ha'nts.
(Ettahurries to meet the old women; Dan'lmends the fire; Mindacomposes herself.)
ETTA. Where have you two been?
LIZA. We was scared the house was shakin’ down on us.
CYNTHY (her old self again). You was! You always get scared before you get hurt.
(Ettaleads them to the fireplace.)
LIZA (timidly). Wa'n’t it one o’ them earthquakes, Dan'l?
CYNTHY. I said ’twas a earthquake first.
DAN'L. I reckon that's what it ’twas.
(Ettagoes to the beds and straightens the covers, Mindaassisting her.)
CYNTHY. I knowed it was when I felt the first tremble.
LIZA (at the fireside). You didn't neither, no more'n I did. I felt it first.
ETTA (at the bed). And you got off the bed by yourselves! That's a miracle!
CYNTHY. There wa'n’t no miracle about it. Hain't I got two feet? They was needed, and I used ’em.
ETTA. Come on an’ get back in bed now. I'll heat some irons and... (She sendsMindaout for some irons and the coffeepot.)
CYNTHY (stoutly). I'm up. It feels good to be a-livin’! I'm goin’ to try stirrin’ ’round a little, I believe.
LIZA. I'm thankfuller to be alive than you! And I'm goin’ to set here by the fire and bake out good too. (She does so.) If you'll make yourself and Etta a fire in the parlor, Dan'l....
CYNTHY. You go make ’em a fire, Minda, right now.
(ToMinda, who enters with irons and coffeepot, which she puts at the fire.)
MINDA. In de pa'lo’? Well, s'm.
LIZA (determined). Etta, I've been selfish, wantin’ you to stay single to rub me—
CYNTHY (interrupting). It was me that wanted all the ’tention, Etta. I was selfisher myself.
LIZA. I'm the one that kept you and Dan'l from marryin’. Put it all on me. I—
CYNTHY. Dan'l, you can have Etta. I kept you apart, but now get married and live on here.
LIZA. Etta, you have my consent—
CYNTHY. Go on in the parlor, children, and do all the cou'tin’ you please where I can't hear a word. (She rises and pushesEttaforward. Ettais confused, happy, a little timid.) Go on.
ETTA. Come on, Dan'l.
DAN'L. Le's take the gui-tar. (He does so.) I feel like I want to sing.
(EttaandDan'lstart out left, but turn whenLizaspeaks.)
LIZA. That's how I feel, Etta, since I let you have Dan'l.
(ToDan'l.) I learned Etta “One Little Word.” “One lit-tle word... (She sings, quaveringly.) would have made us man and wife....”
CYNTHY (interrupting). I'm the one that feels like singin’—and dancin’!
(She begins awkwardly to “shake a foot.”Ettarushes toCynthy, really alarmed.)
(CynthyswingsEttaaround. She releasesEttaand pushes her andDan'ltoward the door at the left.)
CYNTHY. Go ’long now. I hope you'll live happy together.
(Dan'landEttago out the door. Liza'swish follows them.)
LIZA (gallantly). I hope you'll live forever and never die.
CYNTHY (getting her snuffbox from the bed). Well, I fixed that. Now I'll dip. I near ’bout forgot how ’tis to spet in the fire.
LIZA. You don't forget to try to take the credit for ever'thing.
CYNTHY (challengingly). For what?
LIZA. The earthquake...and takin’ Dan'l back.
CYNTHY. Can't I take him? Ain't this place mine?
LIZA. I've got a life-right here, I reckon.
CYNTHY. What you know about life-rights? What you care about ’em, with one foot in the grave?
LIZA (reproachfully). Cynthy! I'll dream about graves!
CYNTHY. What if you do? That's somethin’ we all got to do...die. (Lizaturns away.) And be put away in the cold clods. (Liza, pouting, rises, goes to the bed, and gets under the covers.) Oh, set up some. Le's talk. You ain't never told me which black dress you wanted ’em to put on you after you're laid out. You better say.... (Silence. Lizaturns her back onCynthy.) I got everything all fixed myself, and what's to be done with ever’ single thing Perrin left me in his will. You hain't never read a will, have you? You couldn't set down and tell nobody how Gaston's will was fixed, could you?...Pout then!
So they are still at odds as
THE CURTAIN FALLS
A COUNTRY COMEDY
The winning play in the Community Drama Contest in Original Plays at the Ninth Annual Festival and Tournament of the Carolina Dramatic Association sponsored by The Carolina Playmakers in their theatre in Chapel Hill on March 31, April 1 and 2, 1932; it was first published inThe Carolina Play-Bookfor September, 1932.
|Ella Banks, Charlie's second wife||Carter Grant|
|Veola Banks, Charlie's daughter||Mildred Moore|
|Charlie Banks||David Bullock|
|Lam Wilder, Charlie's brother-in-law by his first wife||Marvin Stephenson|
|Ca'line||Annie Belle Cleaton|
|Preacher Young||Roland Gay|
|Johnson and Other Neighbors|
The Scene: The “front-room” of Charlie Banks's farmhouse in eastern Carolina.
The Time: Late afternoon of a raw, cold day in February, 1920.
The “front-room” of Charlie Banks's farmhouse. The “front-room” is a term applied to the best room, before the farmhouse turned city, with its parlor and separate “company room.” It had to serve as a place to entertain Sunday guests and “to sleep the preacher in.” In it were the bed dressed up with its pillow-shams, the enlarged pictures, the family album, the stereoscope, the washstand, and the organ. The door at the left leads to the kitchen; the door at the right, to the front porch. In the rear, center, is a fireplace with a mantel displaying a collection of vases, statuettes, and portraits. To the right of the fireplace is a window with neat white scrim curtains. A washstand, with a porcelain bowl, is midway of right wall. In the left corner is an old-fashioned oak bed unmade, showing the mattress. At the foot of the bed is a small table holding a “rayo” lamp. A rocking chair is at right side of the fireplace, and another at the left.
When the curtain rises, Ellais on her knees at the fireplace, “claying” the hearth from a rusty clay-kettle. She is a short, fat brunette of about fifty. She wears a soiled housedress and a greasy apron. Her hair is dishevelled. She is a loud, fast speaker—very decided and sure of herself. Veolaenters from the kitchen, left, carrying a white pitcher, several clean towels thrown across her arm, and two rugs under her arm. She drops the rugs as she hurries to washstand with the pitcher and towels. She is a robust country girl, a senior at the county high school where she
has developed nonchalance and a hint of sophistication. She wears a cheap, gaudy jersey—the twin of a “two-for-six-ninety-eight.”
ELLA (at the hearth). Veola, shut to that cold door.
VEOLA. All right, in a minute. (She places the towels on the rack.)
ELLA. I ’bout got this hearth clayed. How does it do? (She sits back on her knees, surveying her work.)
VEOLA. It looks all right, Miss Ella. They'll spit on it again anyway.
ELLA. I reckon they will. Wish you'd pour me out some water there in the bowl, Veola.
VEOLA (pouring water from the pitcher). Here you are.
ELLA (rising). I'm sure glad you come this week-end, Veola. Hadn't been for you I'd never got cleaned up in this world.
VEOLA (going to shut the door). It was clean enough (Lowering her voice.)—for who's coming here.
ELLA (washing her hands). Some flowers would just set things off. Wish't I had some flowers.
VEOLA (spreading the rugs). I wouldn't bother.
ELLA (turning from the washstand). I tell you. Go yonder in mine and your papa's room and bring me here them pink paper roses.
VEOLA. Those things!
ELLA (drying her hands on the towel). Yeh, I think they're pretty.
VEOLA (shrugging her shoulder with “Umph! Umph!”, goes out right, returning with the gaudy pink roses). Here!
ELLA. Now you look there in that bottom draw’ and get out some clean sheets and pillow-cases. (Ellaarranges the flowers in a vase on the mantel, whileVeolamoves clean linen from the drawer to a chair.) And le's get Ca'line's and Lam's bed made up. They'll be here sure. (Veolabegins very ungraciously making the bed.)
VEOLA. What have they got to stay here all night for? Why don't they go on to Uncle Lam's?
ELLA (challengingly—toVeola'sback). You don't think much of me and your papa plannin’ this weddin’, do you, Veola?
VEOLA (at the bed). No, I don't—to tell it like it is—it's ridiculous. Ca'line getting married! To Uncle Lam anyhow!
ELLA. ’Tain't no more ridiculous than Lam a-livin’ with her last winter when she was cookin’ and keepin’ house for him. (She crosses to the washstand.) It's right for Lam to have Ca'line, and I'm goin’ to see he does it.
VEOLA. I don't reckon Uncle Lam's the only one that ever turned her out.
ELLA (she has been blowing her breath into the lamp chimney and is now polishing it with a towel). Yeh, but he made her such fair promises. I heard Lam tell Ca'line with my own ears that he'd keep her as long as she lived, and bury her when she died. And that's all the poor soul has ever wanted—all she's ever asked for—just to be kep’ out'n the poorhouse in her old age. Bad as she's always hated the thought of goin’ to the poorhouse, I'd rather seen her laid in her coffin than to been took there, I had.
VEOLA. Well, since she's there now, you better let her stay there.
ELLA (her voice rising). She ought not to be there! Veola, hain't you got no heart? Ca'line's lived hard! She's told me many a time how she's mauled cord-wood in the snow till her feet would get so cold-hurt they'd near ’bout rot off. She's followed the mule and plow reg'lar as a man. She's ditched, she's chopped, she's cleaned manure out'n stables—they ain't nothin’ she ain't done! And the poor soul's never had nothin’, nothin’ but her vittles, and them begrudged to her—and her few cheap rags folks was mint to give her—and nowheres to keep them but in a cracker box—and her little snuff. Smart as she's been all her life, for Lam to pack her off to the poorhouse! It's pitiful! It's pitiful! (Wiping her eyes with her apron as she goes to the washstand with the towel.)
VEOLA. If she has lived hard that's no reason for forcing Uncle Lam into this marriage. I don't know what he's thinking about to let folks influence him—
ELLA (her voice is still rather tearful). Lam is willin’. He said she suited him. He wouldn't turned her out last winter if hadn't been for that bigity Lela comin’ in, and runnin’ Ca'line off, and then leavin’ her pa right there by hisself. (She goes to window and looks out.)
VEOLA. Cousin Lela offered to stay with him.
ELLA (turning). Yeh, she offered till she run Ca'line off to the poorhouse, and then she went right on back to her clerkin’—and her pa there with no help neither. I can't help it if she is your kinfolks, Veola, I—(Veolaturns quickly and is about to interrupt.) Now I didn't work up this here marriage because Ca'line happens to be kin to me. Lam r'ally needs somebody. (Still looking out of the window.)
VEOLA. I'd have to laugh if Uncle Lam changed his mind—after all your plans and preparations.
ELLA (triumphantly). Him and Charlie's a-steppin’ up on the porch right now. He ain't goin’ to back out.
VEOLA (hurrying out, left). Well, if he wants to let folks make a fool of him, it's up to him!
ELLA (following her to the door). Set the ’possum in the stove, Veola—to brown. I'll be out there in a minute. (CharlieandLamenter from the porch. Charlieis
tall and dark and ugly. His hair is black and his mustache red. He wears a white, collarless shirt, dark suit—soiled and baggy—and a wide-brimmed felt hat. He is about sixty-five. He speaks in deep, booming tones. Lamis a neatly dressed man of seventy, with grayish hair and mustache. He wears gold-rimmed spectacles. One arm is stiff at the elbow. He has a rather high-pitched voice and a quick, jerky manner of speaking.)
LAM. Good evenin’, Ella.
ELLA. Heigho, Lam, heigho. Set down. (Indicating chair.)
CHARLIE. You women folks drawed off any 'simmon beer since dinner?
ELLA (starting toward the kitchen). No, but I'll bring you in some.
CHARLIE. Wait! We'll go to the barrel soon's Lam gets warm. Have you a seat, Lam, here in the corner and thaw out.
LAM (sitting). I been chilly all day.
ELLA (hovering over him). You ain't sick?
CHARLIE (slappingLamon the back). Oh, he'll be all right soon as he gets somebody to keep his back warm o’ nights. (A boisterous laugh.)
ELLA (laughing too). Ca'line'll do that. She covers up head and ears when she gets in bed. (Teasingly, as she leaves.) Lam, yours and Ca'line's bed's done fixed.
CHARLIE. You just as well pile on ’bout sixteen quilts.
LAM. There won't be no sixteen quilts on top o’ me! It'll be like I say—’bout quilts and everything else at my house.
CHARLIE (laughing heartily). That's the idea! Rule the roost! Break ’em in young! (He goes over to the kitchen door to get the collar whichEllahas gotten for him.)
LAM (fidgeting and shaking his foot nervously). Young, the dog's foot! That's what I need—somebody young and able to look after me.
CHARLIE (motionsEllaout of the room. He can handleLam). The young'uns ain't a-huntin’ that job. Ca'line's the woman for you, Lam.
LAM. I don't know. If I hadn't jumped into this here so quick—
CHARLIE. Come on, man, you've forgot them fancy hoecakes you been a-makin’.
LAM. No, I ain't forgot them neither.
CHARLIE. They was ragged-lookin’ customers. And Ca'line sure can cook—
LAM. After a fashion. Charlie, you ain't done spoke to the preacher?
CHARLIE. Yes, I have. Everything's all fixed. He'll be here in short.
LAM. I'm fit to back out. If Ca'line wa'n’t such a ugly white woman.
CHARLIE. Yeah, but any woman makes a sight o’ difference in a kitchen, even if she ain't got no pretty face.
LAM. Pretty! Ca'line's right down...hard favored. You know it.
CHARLIE. Oh, come on, man. You said she suited you all right last winter, and you've sure lived hard since she left.
LAM (thinking, stops rocking and shaking his foot). Yeah, I been through somethin’ this winter, for a fact.
CHARLIE (sits, straddling a chair). Layin’ aside all foolishishness, Lam, Ca'line will make you a good woman. She's smart as a briar, and she'll wait on you, and make things easier than it's been since you was left by yourself.
LAM (rocking and shaking his foot). I might o’ found somebody else if you and Ella hadn't been in such a swidget to get me tied to Ca'line.
CHARLIE. You won't find nobody to fit the bill just like her, though. And, like I told you, she won't cost you five dollar a year—outside her rations.
LAM (stops rocking at the word “cost”). There's somethin’ in that, of course.
CHARLIE. Everything in it. (Moving nearer toLam, he lowers his voice.) You take me. I've had two good women, but the second one, (Looks toward the kitchen.) sure will spend if she gets her hands on it. Ca'line won't. She won't spend.
LAM. Ain't no woman goin’ to spend up what I've got.
CHARLIE. Ca'line's savin’. You know it. You know it's so.
LAM. Yeah, she's savin’. If it just wa'n’t for her cranky ways....
CHARLIE. Yeah, she's got her ways, but all you got to do is jes’ be firm and pos'tive with her. The women folks gives way to her too much, but you take me, I wouldn't have a speck of trouble with Ca'line.
LAM. I won't have none. She'll do like I say.
CHARLIE. If she ever tries to get high with you, just threaten to send her back to the poorhouse. That'll quieten her down.
LAM. I aim to keep her ’umble all right.
CHARLIE. That won't be hard. She's learn't her lesson up yonder, and she'll be too thankful to get back down here to God's country!
LAM (rising and going to the door). I don't reckon Johnson will have no trouble ’bout gettin’ Ca'line out'n the poorhouse. I had to fix up some papers to get her in.
CHARLIE. No, I reckon not. Johnson might o’ had car trouble. His ti'es was old.
LAM. I wish they'd come on. I despise to wait.
CHARLIE (joiningLamat the door). You can bet your bottom dollar it ain't Ca'line's fault they're late. She's a-r'arin’ to get here, I know, poor thing.
LAM. How near time is it?
CHARLIE. Oh, Johnson will get her here all right. Set down. Johnson ever tell you ’bout the time he took Ca'line to the poorhouse—that cold, rainy day?
LAM (returning to his chair). He said she cried to come back.
CHARLIE. Un-hunh! He said she raised the rafters! Cried near ’bout a quart. And she begged and she pled for Johnson to bring her back and not leave her up there with all them curi's strangers. It got next to Ella. Johnson cries every time he tells it. And dog if my eyes ain't a-gettin’ watery.
LAM (getting his handkerchief). She thinks somethin’ o’ old Mount Zion Cemetery. (He blows his nose.)
CHARLIE. She does that. And Lam, I reckon the good Lord had a hand in this here, for they ain't nobody but
Him knows what a hard road poor Ca'line's had to travel. And what was it the Sunday School lesson said last Sunday about the sparrows? Well, I reckon—
ELLA (entering, crosses hastily to the front door). A car's a-comin’. I think it's the Johnsons!
CHARLIE (hurrying to the door after her). Yeah, that's Johnson's Ford. They're turnin’ in. Lam, they're here!
ELLA. That's Ca'line on the front seat. Le's go out. (She leaves.)
CHARLIE. Ain't you goin’ out, Lam?
LAM. No, I'll set here. I near ’bout got a chill.
CA'LINE (outside). Whyn't you light some lamps? It's as dark as pitch out here!
CHARLIE. That's her—that's Ca'line!
LAM. It's her all right.
(EnterCa'line, low, thin, and stooped from much hard work. Her face is wrinkled. Her wispy gray hair is drawn to a tight little knot at the back of her head. She wears a black sateen dress, plainly made—her “Sunday best” for eight years. Her wraps are an old cheap coat from Lord-knows-whose-wardrobe, a “fascinator,” a worn sweater, and “circis” jacket. She wears a black straw hat at one side of which is a bunch of faded violets. Altogether she is an odd, quaint figure, though she has a native neatness that has survived the peculiarly
hard circumstances of her life. She speaks in a high, shrill voice.)
CHARLIE. Howd'y’, Ca'line.
CA'LINE. Git out o’ my way, Charlie Banks; I'm near ’bout frozen. Let me have that corner, Lam. Git up! (Lamcrosses to the left of fireplace, Charlieis in front of it, Ca'lineis seated in the warm corner, andEllais standing withCa'line'sbattered old suitcase.)
CHARLIE. How you makin’ it, Ca'line?
CA'LINE. I ain't much. My feet's near ’bout froze off.
ELLA. I'll take your wrops, Ca'line.
CA'LINE (rising). Take this ’ere, Ella! Here Charlie Banks, you take this here. (She removes her hat and peels off her wraps.) And this here, and this here, and this here, and I'll jes’ keep on my circis jacket till I git warm. (Charliestarts towards the bed with the wraps.) Hold on here! I want my box. I'm a-goin’ to have me a dip o’ my snuff. I'm near ’bout perished. (She searches the pockets of her coat.)
ELLA. I believe I'd wait just a little, Ca'line.
CA'LINE. Naw, I ain't. Lord! Where's my bresh? Well, ’tain't no matter, I can lip it. (She “lips it.”)
CHARLIE (starting toward the kitchen). Le's go hunt that beer barrel, Lam. Want some beer, Ca'line?
(They go out.)
CA'LINE. Naw, I don't. I'd take a cocy-coly.
ELLA (crossing to the bed with the suitcase). You're lookin’ good, Ca'line.
(CA'LINEmoves her chair very close to the fire. She pulls her dress above her knees, revealing white hose and high-topped shoes.)
CA'LINE. I'm a-cold. I'm a-gwine to warm my knees.
ELLA. How come you all so late?
CA'LINE. I wa'n’t thar when the Johnson come after me. I and Bet was at the market, and I had a fraction a-walkin’ back.
ELLA. Walkin’? Ain't it about two mile to Raleigh?
CA'LINE. Yeah, hit's every bit o’ two mile, Ella.
ELLA. I didn't know they'd let the in-mates out like that —that far 'specially.
CA'LINE. We c'n go where'bouts we please if we tell the boss man. He don't care. He's jes’ as good and kind as he c'n be. Bet, she's been a-gwine to the market every week. This here was my fu'st trip, and I made me twenty-five cent. (She takes it out of her stocking to show.)
ELLA (sitting). How'd you make it?
CA'LINE. I ast the men on the wagons for it. Bet, she makes about fifty cent a week that-a-way.
ELLA. Who is that “Bet” you talkin’ about?
CA'LINE. Why, Ella, Bet is Bud Peeler's own sister. Bud's Ekie and his wife comes to see Bet ’bout every month and brings her some taters, and some purserves, and some cracklin's, and some freshlets when they kill hogs.
ELLA. Sure ’nough?
CA'LINE. They sure do. I eat so many cracklin's last week I spewed all night long.
ELLA (leaning forward, eagerly). You missed our Native Herb pills then, didn't you?
CA'LINE. Lord, Ella, they've got nu'ses and doctors that gives you medicine a sight better'n Native Yerbs, and they waits on you like you was they own kinfolks.
ELLA (indifferently). They do?
CA'LINE. They sure do. And hit don't cost us a cent. The doctor come in to see Bet t'other night when she didn't have nary thing but the cholery marbus.
ELLA. Good gracious, that's bad enough!
CA'LINE. ’Twon't as bad as I've had hit a many a time when I use’ to stay out here in the country, and not nary drap o’ medicine to take neither. Bet jes’ eat too much fresh shoat—that'll all ailed her.
ELLA (eagerly). You don't get nothin’ fittin’ to eat up there.
CA'LINE (excited). Lord have mercy, Ella! They cook enough vittles for a log-rollin’. If you don't get a-plenty, hit's your own fault. Hit's sure put on the table.
ELLA. You all have it to cook.
CA'LINE. Lord, no, Ella! They got cooks! (Drawls.) Course sometimes we help shell the peas, and peel the I'sh ’taters, and wash the cabbages if we're mint to. We don't have to do it though. I ain't done nary thing this week but set down to my vittles when I was called to hit.
ELLA (rising). Well, you're warmed through now. Come on in yonder and put on another dress. I made you one out o’ that old wu'sted one o’ mine you use’ to beg me for. Want you to see it.
CA'LINE. I got a silk dress thar in that ’ar suitcase. Bet give it to me. Bud's wife give it to her.
ELLA (resentfully). Well, come on—put that on. Come on.
CA'LINE. You got a good fire in thar?
ELLA. No, but it won't take you long to change.
CA'LINE. Well, ain't you got a woodpile out yander?
ELLA. You forget the wood has to be cut and toted in, Ca'line.
CA'LINE. They keeps it hot up yander I can tell you—the rooms, and the halls, and the water closets, and even to the porches is het up.
ELLA. Well, it ain't goin’ to take you long to change. Come on. It's time to get ready.
CA'LINE (getting up and starting off). I got to get me a swallow o’ warter. I'm near ’bout perished.
ELLA (trying to intercept her). Wait! I'll bring you a dipper.
CA'LINE (elbowing her away). Take care! I'm gwine draw me a bucket o’ fresh. (She goes out. Ellanow opens the suitcase to examine its contents. Veolaenters with a copy ofHome and Fireside, sits and reads.)
ELLA (holding up a dress). Well, look here, it's silk!
VEOLA. Umph! Some class. Where's Ca'line gone?
ELLA. She went after a drink o’ water. I declare Ca'line's like a bird out'n a cage when she gets out here in the country. She ain't satisfied nowheres else.
CA'LINE (outside). Drat take such a mess!
ELLA (hastening to door). What's to matter, Ca'line?
CA'LINE (entering hurriedly). My Lord! I'm wet to the hide! That nasty stinkin’ well-chain slipped out'n my hand. I tried to ketch the bucket, and doggoned if the
whole business didn't spill right on my front parts. Everything I got's wet and cold!
ELLA. Take off that wet dress. Quick!
(Ellaturns to the suitcase and gets out some dry linen.)
CA'LINE (hugging the fire). Them's bad ’rangements anyhow—drawin’ water with a old rusty chain. Up yander you don't have nothin’ to do but turn a spicket, and you c'n get warter hot or cold—all you do want.
ELLA (coming to fire with the linen on her arm.) Humph. All town water tastes hot to me.
CA'LINE. Up yander the warter's as cold as ice.
ELLA. Maybe so. I ain't never tasted none at the poor-house.
CA'LINE (excited, angry). Ella, that ain't what they call hit! Hit's the County Home. That's what the town folks calls hit. Ain't hit the County Home, gal?
CA'LINE. Ella don't keep up, does she, gal—way off down here ten mile from nowhere.
ELLA. Shucks! You come on, Ca'line. If you ain't ready when the preacher comes, Lam ain't goin’ to mess with you.
CA'LINE. Le’ me strip right here by this here fire. Hit's cold in yander I know. I done washed my neck and years good this mornin’ afore I went to the market, and I changed my underwear las’ Sad'd’y, and I ain't a-gwine to do no more washin’ till hit turns warmer. Gi’ me here that dress, gal. (She unpins the skirt revealing a gray outing petticoat as the skirt falls to the floor.)
ELLA. You can't dress in here—I hear the menfolks. That's them a-comin’ in!
CA'LINE. I ain't nothin’ but a woman if it ’tis.
ELLA. Veola, take that valise on in yonder. (Veolastarts out, left, with the suitcase; Ellafollows her, with the linen.) Here take these things too.
(Charlieenters with a pitcher of beer and a glass. Lamis with him.)
CHARLIE. Get ready, Ca'line. The preacher's a-comin’.
CA'LINE. I don't care nothin’ ’bout no preacher.
(Ellarushes toCa'line, frantically pulling up the skirt atCa'line'sfeet.)
ELLA. Ca'line, ain't you got no manners? (Then, pinning the skirt up aroundCa'line.) I can't get her away from this fire.
(Ca'lineturns first her “hind parts” and then her front to the fire, twisting all the while. Ellais having a “fraction” pinning on the skirt.)
CA'LINE. Naw, fer time I git het up in front, my hind parts is a-freezin’. I tell you, folkses, this here's a cold
house. You all had oughter git you some little hot-box concerns like they got up yander. I can't call hit, but Bet she can. They jes’ stand up agin’ the wall, and the whole house is het up all day and all night, and not nary stick o’ wood to cut and tote neither.
LAM. Humph! Hot houses ain't healthy!
CA'LINE. What'd you say, Lam?
LAM. I say hot houses ain't healthy. That's what I said.
CA'LINE. I ain't had nary bad cold since I been up yander—not nary one.
ELLA (pushingCa'linetoward the kitchen door). No more o’ your gab, Ca'line. You got to get ready.
CA'LINE (going). I ain't got to do nothin’ but die, and I ain't gwine to do that till I get good and ready.
CHARLIE (offeringLambeer). Better take another little sip, Lam. You didn't drink much at the barrel.
LAM. I got to save room for the ’possum.
CHARLIE. Ella didn't think ’twas just proper to have ’possum at the supper tonight, but good as I knowed you loved ’possum—
LAM (sitting). There ain't nothin’ eats better to me.
CHARLIE. Now here's this beer when you feel like it—right on the table. Help yourself.
LAM. 'simmon beer's somethin’ fittin’ all right.
CHARLIE. You can take you a jugful home in the mornin’ if you want to—for you and the madam.
LAM. Well, I don't care if I do.
(EnterCa'line, half dressed. She has slipped on an old silk dress; her hair is hanging around her shoulders.)
CA'LINE. Gi’ me here a lamp, Charlie Banks. I can't see by that'un in yander. ’Tain't no more ’n a lightnin’ bug. (She goes at once to the fireplace.)
CHARLIE. This-un's a “rayo.” She'll light you up.
CA'LINE. Gi’ me some matches, Lam.
(Ca'lineis holding lamp and chimney awkwardly in one hand. The match flickers out.)
CA'LINE. Hain't you got no matches, nor nothin’?
CHARLIE. Here, Ca'line, here's matches. Let me light it for you.
CA'LINE (elbowingCharlieaway). Git out o’ my way; I'll light it myself. (She strikes several matches, screaming out as she burns her finger.) Drat take sech a mess! (Charliewatches her.)
CHARLIE. Why don't you bob your hair, Ca'line? All the flappers is a-bobbin’. Ain't the style got to the poor-house yet?
(Because of a burned finger, or from exasperation,
Ca'linedrops the lamp on the floor, breaking the chimney. She stoops, and throws broken pieces into the fire.)
CA'LINE. My Lord! Ain't this here a mess? Charlie Banks, you ought to get you some ’lectric lights like they got up yander. Then you wouldn't have no lamp chimbleys to be forever lastin’ a-breakin’—Lord, have mercy! I've stuck a piece o’ glass in my thumb. Here, Charlie Banks, git hit out! (Charlietakes out his knife, and begins probing for the glass.) All you got to do there is jes’ press a little knob on the wall, and the whole room's as light as daytime. And when you gits ready fer bed, you don't have to blow out no lights—jes’ press that little knob, that's all. Bet, she learnt me how.
CHARLIE. I'm a-gittin’ it out. Hurt much?
CA'LINE. Yeah, hit hurts. Them doctors and nu'ses up yander can git glass or splinters out and don't hurt you nary bit. They knows how to take holt.
LAM. And we taxpayers got to pay them doctors and nu'ses. They ain't nothin’ but humbugs. I ain't never had no doctors myself.
CA'LINE. What'd you say, Lam?
LAM. I said doctors is humbugs.
CA'LINE. Country folks don't know nothin’ ’bout doctors. Law’, they can split you wide open and take out and put in a piece nowadays.
LAM. ’Tain't no use to get doctors in your head—you was always tough as a light'ood knot.
CHARLIE. Look! Here ’tis. Here's your splinter o’ glass. Send for me, Dr. Charles Banks, when you need a doctor, Ca'line!
CA'LINE. Now you have to paint cucumber on this here to keep the pizen out.
ELLA (rushing in). Ca'line! What in the world! Come on back and do up your hair. The preacher's drove up! He's a-comin’ in. Come on out right now. What'll he think? (She pushesCa'lineout left.)
CA'LINE. I want you to paint this here, Ella.
ELLA. Go to the door, Charlie.
(Charliegoes to the door to admitPreacher Young. He is a young man, well-dressed and conventional.)
CHARLIE. Dog if Ca'line ain't learnt to put on airs! (At the door.) Come in, come in to the fire, Brother Young.
PREACHER YOUNG. How's Brother Banks this time?
CHARLIE. I'm makin’ out. How are you?
PREACHER YOUNG. Very well, thank you. And Brother Wilder. How are you?
LAM. First rate. How you?
PREACHER YOUNG (shaking hands all around). All right, thanks. You took me by surprise. I didn't know you were contemplating marriage.
LAM. Well, I....
CHARLIE. He was like myself, he sure needed somebody. Stand up to the fire, Brother Young.
PREACHER YOUNG (removing his overcoat). Fire does feel good today.
CHARLIE. Let me hang it up for you.
PREACHER YOUNG. No, thanks, Brother. I'll just lay it here on this chair. (He looks at his watch). It's six o'clock. That was the hour, wasn't it?
CHARLIE. Yes, that's the hour.
PREACHER YOUNG. I hope I'm not rushing you unduly, but I've got an engagement, and I must hurry.
CHARLIE. Ain't you goin’ to stay for the supper? The women's expectin’ you.
PREACHER YOUNG. I wish I could. Sorry I have this engagement. If I had known earlier....
CHARLIE. The women folks has got it smellin’ good out ’bout the kitchen.
PREACHER YOUNG. I'm sure of that. I can't stay, though. Now, Brother Wilder, if you're ready, suppose we proceed.
LAM. Well, I'm ready. One time's as good as another.
CHARLIE. You want me to go tell ’em all to come in? We just ast two or three o’ the neighbors—they wanted to come.
LAM. I told you not to ast anybody, Charlie.
CHARLIE. It was some o’ Ella's doin's. Just homefolks anyhow. I'll tell ’em to come in.
PREACHER YOUNG. Suppose you do, Brother Banks. In here you say?
CHARLIE. Yes sir, right in here.
PREACHER YOUNG. Have them come then, those who wish to witness the marriage. (Charliestarts out.)
PREACHER YOUNG. Wait! I mean all except Miss...er...the bride!
CHARLIE. Ca'line. Ca'line Davis is her name. Tell her to come too?
PREACHER YOUNG. In just a minute. Brother Wilder, you join her now, and tell the others to assemble here. Then you bring Miss...er...Davis on in. I'll stand just here. Is there any special direction or suggestion before you go?
LAM. Get it over with quick as you can.
PREACHER YOUNG (smiling). Brother Wilder seems a bit nervous for a man who's making his second trip to the altar.
CHARLIE. Oh, he'll steady down soon's the knot's tied.
PREACHER YOUNG. You have the license of course.
CHARLIE. Yes, sure. Here they are.
(Preacher Youngexamines the license.)
PREACHER YOUNG. You and your wife can sign your names here as witnesses.
CHARLIE. I ain't much of a hand at writin’.
(Ellain her Sunday dress, several neighbors, andVeolatip in and solemnly take their places. The faces register interested expectancy; Ella's, smug complacency. There is intense silence which deepens in intensity as the seconds tick off and the bride and groom fail to appear. EllaandCharlieglance toward door left. After three or four minutes of painful waiting, Ellatips out and, after a short wait, Charlietoo. They re-enter, presently, gently pushingCa'linebefore them. Preacher Youngplaces them in formal positions, clears his throat and begins reading the marriage service from his book. The ritual is barely begun whenCa'lineinterrupts.)
CA'LINE. Hold on here now. I ain't had my say out yet, and I'm a-gwine to—yes I am too, Ella.
ELLA. Hush, Ca'line.
CA'LINE. You hushed me in yander, but it's a-comin’ out now. My mouth was made to talk, and I’ a-gwine to talk.
PREACHER YOUNG. Was there something you wanted to know—a question?
CA'LINE. Yeah, I want to know—Oh! I'm a-gwine to talk, Ella, and t'ain't no use to be a-jabbin’ me in the back. (To thePreacher.) Can't I talk if I want to?
PREACHER YOUNG. Why certainly. You wanted to ask something?
CA'LINE. I done ast’ it—in yander, but that Charlie pushed me in here and—
ELLA. Ca'line, what in the world will Mr. Young think o’ you? He don't know you like we do.
CA'LINE. I don't care nothin’ ’bout Young. If he eats me, he sure can't swallow me.
PREACHER YOUNG. Miss...er...Davis, can I help you?
CA'LINE. I got a good place up yander...electric lights, the house het up, good warter, and a-plenty somepin’ t’ eat. I want to live up thar.
ELLA (toCharlie). She ain't got a bit o’ sense. Anybody might a-knowed it'd take her to make a mess of a weddin’ or anything else. (ToCa'line.) Straighten yourself ’round there, Ca'line, and get through. Mr. Young's in a hurry.
CA'LINE. I ain't a-keepin’ him, sure thing. Lam, you ain't said where we's gwine to live.
LAM. You know where I live, Ca'line.
CA'LINE. And that means Ca'line will draw the water, and cut and tote the wood, and wash the lamps, and feed the hogs, and milk the cow, and chop the garden, and cook three meals o’ vittles every day, and—
LAM. Course I'll help you out, Ca'line. I'll feed the hogs.
CA'LINE. This here thing's happened too quick. You didn't give me time to think—
LAM. And I'll milk the cow o’ nights.
CA'LINE. Johnson, he jes’ busted in thar where I and Bet was settin’, and grabbed me up, and pushed me in his circis cart, and shut the door, and cranked up, and didn't hardly give me time to git my breath and—
LAM. I'll give you all the snuff you can dip and the butter-and-egg money.
CA'LINE. You ought not to o’ busted in on me so sudden—
ELLA. You're too near married now to back out, Ca'line.
CA'LINE (rushes to the bed, and puts on her coat). Naw, I ain't married neither. I got me a good place up yander and I'm a-gwine thar. (Ellaremonstrates with her.) Gi’ me my hat, Ella. (She grabs her hat off the bed and claps it on.)
CA'LINE. Gi’ me my jacket, gal.
ELLA. Oh, Ca'line, wait—listen just a minute—
CA'LINE. Git out'n my way ’oman. Lord have mercy! Where ’bouts is my circis jacket? Oh, hit's in yander in the cold storage room. (She darts out of the room, left. Ellais exasperated.)
PREACHER YOUNG (after an ominous silence.) The marriage is...er...postponed, I suppose?
ELLA. I can't do nothin’ with her. Charlie, see what you can do.
CHARLIE (going out after her.) Well. But it looks like her head's set.
ELLA. I don't understand it. I never been so took back in my life.
LAM (going to the fireplace). Wait till she comes back. I'll ’tend to her. I'll tell her—
(CA'LINEre-enters, followed byCharlie. She is carrying her “circis-jacket,” suitcase, and old clothes on her arm. She is finishing putting on her wraps.)
CHARLIE. Now, you look a-here, Ca'line—
CA'LINE. I ain't mad with you, Charlie. I jes’ ain't a-gwine to freeze myself to death out here in the country, and draw warter, and cut and tote wood, and—
CHARLIE. You ought to thought about that sooner.
CA'LINE. I just sort o’ forgot how common you all did live down here. Up yander hit's warm, a-plenty o’ good warter, bright lights, good vittles, and there's Bet and Lucetty and Sudie and—
LAM. Ca'line, you can pile sixteen quilts on us and—
CA'LINE. If the house was het right, you wouldn't need no sixteen quilts, what I'm talkin’ ’bout.
LAM. And you can burn all the lamps you please and eat ham meat, and I'll let it be like you say about everything and—
CA'LINE. Bet give me some ham meat the other night, and I spewed.
CHARLIE. This is all foolishness. Go on, Brother Young. She don't mean nothin’ by all this gab. All right now, Ca'line. Square yourself ’round there. (Charlietries to urge her back into position before thePreacher. Lamgrabs at her arm.)
PREACHER YOUNG. Very well, I'm ready.
CA'LINE. Here, you hold on! (She begins to take something, tied in a handkerchief, from her stocking. All watch intently.) This here's some o’ Bet's hard knots. I'm ’bout to git hit. That's got hit. (She produces a five-cent piece and hands it to thePreacher.) Here, take it.
PREACHER YOUNG (puzzled). What...er...shall I...do with this?
CA'LINE. You c'n have it. Here, Lam, this here's your five-cent. I ain't mad. And here's yourn, Charlie; you c'n divide with Johnson over thar. I ain't got no more, but I c'n make me some more soon's I git back up yander. The men on the wagons will give it to me.
(Preacher Younggoes to the fireplace and takes up his overcoat. Lamlooks on, drooping helplessly.)
CHARLIE. You'll have to get married, Ca'line. Here's your license done paid for!
CA'LINE (gaily). You can have ’em, Charlie.
CHARLIE. Don't you never beg me no more to get you out'n the poorhouse.
ELLA. You see, Ca'line—
CA'LINE (toJohnson). Johnson, you gwine to take me back to Raleigh?
Johnson. Oh, you're not going back tonight....
CA'LINE. I sure am.
Johnson. Oh, no. Wait till tomorrow.
CA'LINE. Johnson, you brought me here; but if you don't want to take me back, I can sure walk.
Johnson. I'm not going to let you walk, of course.
CA'LINE. You better crank up your circis cart then.
Johnson. You spend the night here anyhow, Ca'line, and go back tomorrow.
CA'LINE (starting out). I'm a-gwine back tonight, and I'm a-gwine back right now.
LAM (advancing as if to follow). Ca'line!
CA'LINE. Come on, Johnson. John-son-n! (Johnsonstarts. Ca'lineturns at the door.) You'll see me ’round the market when you come to town. You can bring me ’long some ’taters, and purserves, and some cracklin's, and some freshlets next hog-killin’. I ain't mad. (She goes out, singing triumphantly.) I'm gon-e!
ELLA. Let her stay there. I ain't goin’ to worry myself over her no more.
CHARLIE. Ca'line's gone off to the poorhouse and got the big-head!
ELLA. That's just about the size of it.
All stand amazed as
The Curtain Falls
A PLAY OF AN EVICTED FAMILY
The winning play in the Community Drama Contest in Original Plays at the Fourteenth Annual Festival and Tournament of the Carolina Dramatic Association sponsored by The Carolina Playmakers in their theatre in Chapel Hill on March 24, 25, 26, and 27, 1937.
|Constable||Finlay F. Ferguson|
|Savannah Jernigan||Marjorie Newsomes|
|John Edward Jernigan||Shirley Harris|
|Mrs. Jernigan||Carol Simpson|
|Mr. Jernigan||Curtis Cluff|
|Relief Case||W. B. Jackson|
|Circle Leader Number One||Virginia Harden|
|Circle Leader Number Two||Elizabeth Stephenson|
|Napoleon R. Hicks||J. J. O'Keefe|
|Little Bit and Pink|
The Scene: An open space along the Seaboard-Gumberry highway in eastern North Carolina.
The Time: A late afternoon in February, 1936.
An open space along a highway, with dusky pines merging into a wintry sky beyond. A yellow highway sign, “CURVE RIGHT,” indicates that the road runs parallel with the open space. A scarred bureau and other household furniture at the left. At center a broken high chair, with the paint still new and shiny, lies in ruins. Also a tin heater, a few cooking vessels, a lantern, and four plain chairs piled together. A battered iron bed is set up at the right, with mattress, bed covering, and pillows heaped up on it. The ground is littered with old shoes and clothes, trash, rocks, quilts, a pasteboard box, and other odds and ends of poverty. At the right, down-stage, is placed a quaint old-fashioned cradle, a symbol. The tiny one in the cradle, carefully wrapped in quilts, is not seen by the audience, nor is he heard; he is no whimperer. The poor furnishings are silhouetted against the gloomily grand cyclorama of the pine woods, exposed as a buffeted old lady before her shrouders.
The Constable, a tall man enveloped in a seedy overcoat and worn boots, enters from the right with a mattress slung over his shoulders. He throws it across the iron bed and catches his breath after the exertion in the cold wind.
CONSTABLE. Whew! (Blowing his numb fingers, he draws from his pocket a pair of gloves and puts them on. He stoops to pick up some stray pans and places them by
the stove. A Manin heavy blue uniform, his policeman's cap and badge worn with an air, enters from the left.)
OFFICER. Hey! What's this? (He looks around, theConstablewatching him closely.) What you move their things in the public road for?
CONSTABLE. They ’as hell-bent on it.
OFFICER. Orders from...Headquarters was (Pointing to the right.) back yonder.
CONSTABLE. Orders from old lady Jernigan was...here.
OFFICER (sharply). And who made you constable? (Crosses to the stove.)
CONSTABLE. Well, it shouldn't make no difference to Hicks, just so they are out of his house. And they're out.
OFFICER. May make a difference to your job and mine in the June primary.
OFFICER. Mr. Hicks ordered us to leave their stuff (Savannahsuddenly emerges from the right.) on his land, and—
(He stops dead in his tracks as he seesSavannahmoving slowly down to the stove. She is a scaly-faced, stringy-haired, stooped child of twelve, with an expression alternately defiant and calculatingly cowed.
One hand clutches at the soiled gray coat she wears, and the other at a bucket of water which she carries down to the stove. She pauses, shivering, barefooted, before she starts parading her bare feet in crossing back up right. The men, uncomfortable and awkward, stare at her bare feet and then at each other.)
CONSTABLE. If Hicks wants ’em moved any more, he can move ’em. (With a quick determined stride he crosses to the left.) I'm goin’ to town. (He goes.)
OFFICER. Wait! (He turns to follow theConstable, glancing back after the retreating girl. She, misinter-preting his “Wait,” descends expectantly upon theOfficer, shivering convincingly. Finding her waiting close to him, after perceptible hesitation, theOfficerremoves his glove to search his pocket, a sudden inspiration. He holds out a coin.) Here. (She eagerly reaches for the money.) Buy you some...candy. (Awkwardly pulling at his coat collar, he follows theConstable, turns as though to speak, doesn't know what to say, and hurries out. Savannahties the coin in a dirty handkerchief, which she drops through the neck of her dress. From under her coat she takes out shoes and stockings and, placing a chair, sits to put them on. TheOfficer'scar is heard roaring down the highway.)
JOHN EDWARD (from outside, right, with a note of urgency in his voice). Here! Here! Here! Here! (He rushes in with a mongrel puppy hugged close in his arms. He is a mottle-faced child of ten; his thin legs in torn stockings protrude from the man's coat that envelops
him. Poised, head up, he looks down the highway an instant before speaking. He is a frail child, restless, nervous, violently emotional, and appealing, if there were one to fathom his appeal. From his thin chest there is a frequent, never obtrusive, cough. He gazes down the highway.) Mae West is followin’ the po-liceman.
Savannah (sullenly). If she is, he tolled her off.
JOHN EDWARD. Shan't have Mae West. I'm goin’ to train her to have puppies. (He turns with sudden decisive courage towardSavannahand pushes the puppy into her lap.) Po-licemans or no po-licemans....(He goes out at the left.) Here! Here! Here! Here!
(Savannahun-gently tosses the puppy into the pasteboard box and finishes putting on her shoes.)
Savannah. I wush ’twas run-mad dogs after Hicks's old po-lice and after old man Hicks too, and they'd bite him till he'd slobber and his tongue'd swell up till he couldn't eat and drink no more water.
(With her stooped characteristic stride, she hurries to the bureau, furtively opens the top drawer, and searches eagerly for something. She takes out a bottle of ink, a movie magazine, and finally a small bladder of snuff. Tearing a half page from a magazine, she pours out a liberal helping of the snuff on it, fills her lip, and hides the folded paper in her blouse upon hearing her brother talking to “Mae West” off at the left.)
JOHN EDWARD (outside). Little rascal! (He enters with a puppy in his arms.) Run after po-licemans if you
want to get in trouble. (Looking around.) Where's Max Baer? (Savannahslams the drawer shut without answering. The boy raises his voice.) Savannah! Where's Maxie gone to? (Savannahnods her head toward the box.) Um-hum-m! Been swipin’ Pa's snuff again. (Crossing toward the bureau.)
Savannah (thickly). ’Tain't so—parched flour.
JOHN EDWARD. ’Tain't. I'm goin’ to tell Ma.
Savannah. Tell her and smell her and (She turns away, left.) kick her down and sell her, and when she comes back—(She turns abruptly.) I'll tell on you too. (In a stride she is back at the bureau.)
JOHN EDWARD. You don't know nothin’.
Savannah (seizing the magazine from the bureau). You swiped this book from the schoolhouse with—
JOHN EDWARD (jerking the magazine from her). Yes, and the truck driver tickled you, and you let him.
Savannah. With naked womens in it. (She hurries out at the left to scan the road.)
JOHN EDWARD (toSavannah'sback). Naked womens is prettier'n you. And if you bothered my movie magazine....(Hugging his puppy close, he turns and discovers the torn page.) She's tore my pretty pitcher in two, that's what she's done. (With tragic eyes he stares at the picture.) I'll get even, see if I don't. (Hiding the
book in the bottom drawer, he snatches out a garment and hurries to the pasteboard box.) Um-hum-m! I'll make my dogs a bed out'n her Sunday skirt too.
(He kneels to do this, andMr. Jerniganenters from the right. Mr. Jernigan, partially crippled, carries a crutch. Taking a seat on the bed, he turns up his frayed coat collar against the wind and looks around with dull lifeless eyes.)
JOHN EDWARD (kneeling by his dog-box). I'll wrop you up good, and you'll have to keep each other warm. Goin’ to be a cold night outdoors. Lie down, Mae West. This wind'll take some o’ the frisk out'n you ’fore daylight. (Savannahenters hurriedly from the left, takes a chair and begins to remove her shoes and stockings.) Hush growlin’, Maxie, if you don't I'll box—(Suddenly he noticesSavannah.) What you takin’ off your shoes for?
Savannah. Shan't tell you.
JOHN EDWARD. I know. I bet you somebody's comin’. (Jumping up to look down the road.) Yes, and is! S'pose it was to be Hicks. The po-lice said— No, it's a Pontiac. They're slackin’ up! Lookin’ at us like we was a funny pitcher. (He shrinks back and then advances to read the license plate.) One—aught—three—six—four—aught. Boy, look. She's a-kissin’ him—fifty miles a hour now—Zip-p-p! I got your number, just same, kissers! (Savannah, with one leg bared, picks up a rock and hurls it with all her resentful might after the speeding car. She sits to replace her shoes. John Edwardcrosses to the box.) Still growlin’ for your
supper, hunh? Wait a week. (Searching among the cans at the stove, he finds milk, opens the can, and places it inside the box as he memorizes the new license number.) One—aught—three—six—four—aught. One—aught—three—
(Mrs. Jernigan, tall, straight, and thin, enters from the right, carrying in her arms a heavy load of wood and several bunches of broomstraw. She wears a dark blue dress and coat and a worn black felt hat. At the cradle she pauses, listens intently, then crosses to the stove where she deposits her wood and brooms. Straightening her shoulders, she glances at the sunset before speaking.)
MRS. JERNIGAN. The sun's goin’ down fair, and a peart wind's blowin’ ’crost my new ground yonder. Workin’ weather ahead.
Savannah (turning belligerently from her stooped position). Hicks's new ground.
JOHN EDWARD (bending over his dogs). Hicks's sun too, I reckon.
MRS. JERNIGAN (still musing). Sedge land's beginnin’ to need mellowin’ up, and before many more sunsets—
Savannah (angrily). I got a bellyful of sunsets! I want some vittles!
(Mrs. Jerniganturns and looks at the children.)
MRS. JERNIGAN. Hold up your heads, children. Settin’ there drooped up like you had the cholery. (She crosses to the bed for a quilt.)
Savannah. Your fault if we do have the cholery and the smallpox and the bronchus—for lettin’ Hicks put us outdoors.
MRS. JERNIGAN (going with the quilt to the cradle). What's outdoors? What's any one place, just so your folks is ’round you, and the sun's yonder? (Looking suddenly into the cradle.) He hain't whimpered. (She lays the quilt over the cradle.)
Savannah. Ain't got sense enough to know nothin’.
MRS. JERNIGAN. There's things...he was born...knowin’....He won't whimper.
JOHN EDWARD. Me neither. Only does make you feel so little, so tiny, (Looking from his dogs to the sky.) right out in the open.
MRS. JERNIGAN (crossing to adjust the pipe in the stove). I reckon you have lived in many a open house not to be so choice.
JOHN EDWARD. Not so wide open God could look straight down and see us strip—dirty clothes and all. (He drops his head abruptly and hides his face against the dog-box.)
Savannah. You're the scared-est o’ God and po-licemans.
MRS. JERNIGAN. Hush usin’ the good Lord's name. He'll tend to His works. Le's finish gettin’ straight here. (She places wood in the stove.) You children fix that bed
ready to lie in. (Savannah, mumbling, strides to place the mattress, covers, and pillows on the bed, John Edwardassisting her. Mrs. Jerniganmoves over toMr. Jernigan.) Maybe Jernigan can sell some brooms if they's much passin’ and pick up a few nickels and dimes to help out till I can get another job o’ work. (She lays the brooms across his lap; he nods and resumes his attitude of impassive helplessness.) Now I'll find the kerosene can and get a fire goin’ here. (She searches among the furnishings. John Edwardpauses in his work at the bed and coughs.)
Savannah. Listen there! You done got the bronchus. We'll all be froze and perished stiff by daylight. (Spreading a cover over the bed.)
MRS. JERNIGAN (discovering, in her search, the broken chair). They've broke the little high chair. (She kneels to examine it.) I walked a hundred miles to peddle brooms and truck to pay for this little chair. (Glancing toward the cradle.) For him. (John Edwardmoves over to stare at the ruins, sorrowfully, as at a corpse.) Well, it's broke. (She collects the pieces.)
JOHN EDWARD (tragically). Broke—the pretty little chair. (Savannah, hearing a car off left, stops her work to listen, leaves the bed, places a chair at the right center. But before she can bare a foot theEx-Officerenters from the left. His overweight concentrated around the middle, he is heavily overcoated and gloved. Surveying the tableau, this is what his “sympathetic” eye takes in: A cripple with a crutch at his feet and brooms across his lap; a shivering girl facing the highway; an anemic
woman kneeling on the ground picking up a broken chair; a little boy with a tragic face looking on the ruins; a jumble of shabby old furniture, a bed, and a tin stove.)
Ex-Officer (after the survey). So...Muss-o-liny put you out in the road, did he?
Savannah. Naw, Hicks.
Ex-Officer. I heard he'd put you outdoors. I couldn't hardly believe it. Took it on myself to come and investigate. And here it ’tis...as pitiful a sight as ever I saw. Pitiful! (His face looks cheerful as he muses over the pity of it.) If this don't cost him some votes—(Turns towardSavannah.) Hicks dump your stuff here his-self?
Savannah. He made the po-lice do it.
Ex-Officer. Um-m-m, his new man. (He crosses slowly to the right, examining the scene greedily.) Well, if I had still been policeman—but Hicks turned me out in the last primary.
(Mrs. Jernigancrosses to pour kerosene on the wood and make a fire.)
JOHN EDWARD (sympathetically, following the man). He put you out in the road too?
Ex-Officer. Oh, no! I was policeman, see, as long as I licked Hicks's boots. Then he politic-ed me out, see? (Turning back.) But you wait! (TheJerniganshave
a waiting look.) Believe-you-me, I'm settin’ for him. June primary ain't far. Two can play—(He turns suddenly toMrs. Jernigan, a notebook in his hand.) Say, just what did Hicks put you out for? (John Edwardcrosses to his dogs.)
MRS. JERNIGAN. He was needin’ his house, he said. (Lighting the fire.)
Ex-Officer. Sure, he said. For who?
MRS. JERNIGAN. For a relief family.
Ex-Officer (assuming indignation). And you ain't been put on the relief?
MRS. JERNIGAN. No.
Ex-Officer. And he dumped you in the road to move a relief family in your house when...?
MRS. JERNIGAN. The house was his. (She pours water in the coffeepot.)
Ex-Officer. Sure. Everything's his ’round here. Houses. Land. Folks. He never told you the relief family'll pay him six dollars a month rent from the relief funds he handles—he handles, mind you—did he? I wanted that job. I asked for it. If ’t ’ad been put to the popular vote of the people....But Hicks got it, just to guzzle up everything for his sharecroppers. Pull! Pull, that's what. (Mrs. Jerniganplaces the kettle on the stove.) The whole town, the whole country, ought to see and
witness this scene. That shivering child, (Gazing atSavannah, who renews her shivering.) a cripple, and a little baby. (Waving a fat hand toward the cradle.) I'll report it. And when they come here to see for themselves, you tell ’em how Hicks done you. Ain't that what you want, to show him up and—
MRS. JERNIGAN (pausing in her work at the stove). All I want is a job o’ work.
Ex-Officer. But there ain't nothin’ you can do this time o’ year. Still, (Musing.) you're bound to have some help. If anybody needs relief, looks like you do. There's goin’ to be a nice stink over this relief business yet. Time I send a few interested voters....Doggoned if I don't send Hicks's new preacher here, and if that don't give him something to write to the Observer about besides the Greek word for baptize....(He un-gloves a hand to take a bill from a roll in his wallet.) Here. And you tell all the passin’ folks about this dirty deal.
MRS. JERNIGAN. We ain't that kind o’ folks.
Ex-Officer (astonished). You need it. You're welcome to it.
MRS. JERNIGAN. No.
Ex-Officer. Well, I sure thought folks was over that sort o’ touchiness this day and time. (He takes papers from his pocket.) Well, here's a little readin’ matter anyhow. (Depositing it on the bureau.) And watch
the county paper for more like it. (He turns to leave.) And oh, yes—by the way—you want to register this time, if you haven't. Vote against Hicks. Get back at him, see. Don't let ’em fool you, neither. You can vote—under the grandfather clause, see. And scratch Hicks's name. (Turning to go.) I'll be seein’ you. (He goes out, John Edwardslipping out after him. Mrs. Jerniganleaves the stove an instant to lean over the cradle.)
Savannah. You grudge us ever single solitary thing, ’less it's for that baby.
MRS. JERNIGAN. I grudge you nothin’ that's decent.
Savannah. Relief's decent.
MRS. JERNIGAN (lifting her head from the cradle). Savannah, our folks from the back generations has worked for all they had, and it's in me so deep....
Savannah. ’Tain't in me. I ain't no Avery. (She moves nearer to the stove.)
MRS. JERNIGAN. No, I reckon you ain't. (ToSavannah'sback.) I've tried to learn you how ’tis to feel...satisfied ’way down deep...when you clean the grass out'n a field or house a cotton crop. (She moves over to the stove and stands musing by the fire.) We use’ to get up ’fore day, cook our breakfast and dinner, and be at the lower field by sun-up. Then at twelve o'clock we'd weigh up the cotton to see who had picked the most. Then we'd set under the 'simmon tree and eat our
dinner...fried rabbit, and sweet potatoes, and gunjers, and once in a while wild turkey and store bread. (John Edwardre-enters from the left and listens, fascinated, to his mother's story.) And then we children'd stretch out in the shade and imagine pictures up in the sky that didn't seem no ways off them days. Then back to the cotton patch racin’ till sundown...ridin’ home in the one-horse wagon, fryin’ up some warm supper, stretchin’ out on our beds, and countin’ nine stars for nine nights maybe, and....(Turning toSavannahwho has a sneer upon her face.) Why can't you be like that?
JOHN EDWARD. Fried rabbit and potatoes and gunjers—(He checks the whimper rather valiantly for a hungry little boy as he crosses toward the bed, whistling. Mrs. Jerniganhastily begins peeling the last four white potatoes.)
Savannah (to her brother). Where you been?
JOHN EDWARD. Oh, I just went out to—spit. (Making sure his mother will not see, he flourishes a roll of money at his sister. Savannahsprings toward him, and he dashes to his dog-box in sight of his mother. Savannahglares at him as he rocks the box like a cradle.)
MRS. JERNIGAN (glancing toward the cradle). I reckon he's a-gettin’ hongry. Savannah, open that can of milk and—
Savannah. John Edward give it to the dogs.
MRS. JERNIGAN. Them puppies has got to be killed. (John Edwardhugs the box protectingly.) I can't
feed dogs and children too. And he shan't lack. Make him a sugar-tit, Savannah. (She finds a clean cloth, bread, and sugar.)
Savannah. Aw, they ain't no sugar. (She strides to the bed, wraps herself in a quilt and lies across it.)
JOHN EDWARD (springing into action). I'll scrape the bucket and make a sugar-tit for the little shrimp! (At the bureau he ties the ingredients in a rag and moistens it with coffee, singing and dramatizing action songs he learned at school. Mrs. JerniganmovesMr. Jerniganup to the stove and resumes her work at the fire. John Edwardtakes the sugar-tit to the cradle.) Open your mouth and take your nourishment, little shrimp. (Singsonging.) Just suck your sugar-tit, and it will give you grit....Lazy little rascal won't suck....Asleep.
MRS. JERNIGAN (crossing to the stove). Don't wake him then. Let him sleep his colic off.
JOHN EDWARD (crossing to the stove). Germs. If Pa don't quit chewin’ his vittles for him—
MRS. JERNIGAN. He's chewed for seven of you. (She givesMr. Jerniganbread.)
JOHN EDWARD. Ain't but two left neither. (He suppresses a cough.)
MRS. JERNIGAN (slicing potatoes into the pan). There's...three.
JOHN EDWARD. Aw, Shrimp....
MRS. JERNIGAN. And I'm goin’ to raise him (She looks toward the cradle.) up to be smart, hard-workin’, go-ahead. He's goin’ to be a Avery.
JOHN EDWARD. I'm smart. I know fifty, seventy-five license numbers by heart and—
MRS. JERNIGAN. Too smart. Schoolin’ ruin't you.
JOHN EDWARD. What ruin't Savannah?
MRS. JERNIGAN. Eh, Lawd!
JOHN EDWARD. Took after Pa, didn't she?
MRS. JERNIGAN. Your pa is your pa, and you got him to respect.
JOHN EDWARD. Sh...I hear...I hear a car. (He races to the left to look down the road.) It's a Chevy, I believe. (Savannahsits up in the bed to listen. Furtively she begins to snatch off shoes and stockings, her eye on her mother.) Hicks drives a Chevy.
MRS. JERNIGAN (notingSavannah). Put back on them shoes.
Savannah. Can't I scratch my feet? They're cold-hurt and itch. (She begins scratching her feet.)
MRS. JERNIGAN. They ain't for the public to look at. (She resumes her supper preparations, andSavannahconceals her shoes under the bed.)
JOHN EDWARD. It's a-slackin’ up. ’Tis a Chevy...a-stoppin’! A stranger! (He retreats toward his dogs as thePastorenters from the left.)
(ThePastoris a thin, nervous, wiry man aged about fifty, with a thatch of iron-gray hair above his dark face. He is neatly dressed in a blue suit and a gray overcoat, with a gray felt hat pulled down against the wind.)
Pastor (crossing to the center). Why-uh...what's the trouble here?
Savannah. We was put out in the road, and snow on the ground. (She crosses from the bed to the chair at the center.)
Pastor. I don't understand. Who put you here?
MRS. JERNIGAN. The po-lice.
Pastor. You mean you were evicted?
MRS. JERNIGAN. We're lookin’ for work. I can do any kind—split wood, shrub land, cut stalks, dig stumps or ditches....
Pastor. Why-uh...this is an outrage against Christian charity, women and little barefooted children, and....(Noting the crutch, he advances towardMr. Jernigan.) Are you crippled, my friend?
JOHN EDWARD. He's de'f and dumb.
Pastor. And crippled. Ah! (He meditates upon the sins of the fathers.)
JOHN EDWARD (defensively). He had a pretty head o’ hair when Ma married him.
Pastor (reflectively, after a pause). So this is...an eviction. There ought to be a letter in “The People's Forum”....(He assembles a peroration for a congregation and a letter for the paper.) Why-uh...it's an indictment of our civilization, of our Christian codes, our brotherhood of man...a callous suspension of trust—(Abruptly.) Who had you evicted?
MRS. JERNIGAN. How's that?
JOHN EDWARD (who thinks he knows all the answers). Mr. Hicks!
Pastor. You don't mean...not Brother Hicks?
JOHN EDWARD. Mr. Napoleon Hicks.
(Mrs. Jernigangoes over to the cradle an instant to listen.)
Pastor. Why-uh...I'm perplexed. I've found Brother Hicks to be considerate, liberal. Why, this overcoat, that car out there....(John Edwardsstands close to thePastorand stares into his face with interest. Mrs. Jerniganfinding all quiet at the right, returns to her frying potatoes.) Why did Brother Hicks evict you?
MRS. JERNIGAN. He wanted the house for a relief family.
Pastor (relieved). Oh, I see, I see. I felt sure there was a good reason. (Looking atSavannah'sbare feet and walking around to observe the surroundings.) But aren't you a relief case too?
MRS. JERNIGAN. No.
Pastor. Well, don't worry. I'll use my influence to have your family put on the relief rolls right away. I'll speak to Brother Hicks before I leave for the convention tonight.
Savannah. Let him tell Hicks, Ma.
MRS. JERNIGAN. Relief's quittin’.
Pastor. Why, you don't understand the purpose of relief. It is designed—
MRS. JERNIGAN. I understand the hot sun on my back, the smell of sweat, my two hands makin’ my own bread out'n the sunshine and clean dirt.
Pastor. But relief is designed to make life less hard, to help the downtrodden, the overworked, the—
MRS. JERNIGAN (halting her work to face thePastor). I picked and peddled over a hundred quarts of huckle-berries in the summer and brooms and collards last fall in between my field work. I pick cotton, I hoe, I break up new grounds, shrub lands—anything. I was raised to work outdoors, and—
Savannah (rises to cross to the center, stormily). If I hear that another time! I'm hongry. You goin’ to let us set here and starve? (Turning upon thePastor.) Have we got to perish to death right here in the public road?
Pastor. Why no, you shall not perish....You remember the Lord sent ravens to feed the man, Elijah, in days of old. He still provides. He still provides for His own. I trust you're all Christians. (Savannahturns off, crossing to the bed.)
JOHN EDWARD. No, we're Methodists.
Pastor. Of course it isn't the time or place, (Crossing toward the bed.) but I make it a point never to let an opportunity pass to speak a word—
Savannah (defiant). Shan't never sprinkle me!
Pastor (almost facetiously). I certainly shall not. Sprinkle is not Scriptural. The word used in the New Testament is baptizo, the Greek word for immerse, to put under, to cover with water.
(Mrs. Jerniganturns the potatoes. John Edward, coughing now and then, stands before thePastorlistening with rapt interest, his dirty little face glowing in the hope of a story. Savannahcovers up in the quilt.)
JOHN EDWARD. In the creek?
Pastor (crossing toMrs. Jernigan). I'm coming back and talk to your children about their church affiliations and read some to them....
JOHN EDWARD (at thePastor'sback). Read some now. I love stories.
(Savannahlies across the foot of the bed.)
Pastor (preparing to go). As soon as the weather moderates, I'll call.
John Edward. Aw-w. (Turning off.)
Pastor (toMrs. Jernigan). In the meantime I'll report your case to my missionary circles. They'll do something. Remember the ravens. (Offering his hand toMrs. Jernigan). You shall have my prayers. Tonight I shall take you to a Throne of Grace.
JOHN EDWARD. Take me to a pitcher show.
Pastor (turning reprovingly upon the boy). There's a story about Elisha and a bear that ate some bad little boys.
JOHN EDWARD (challengingly). Tell it.
Pastor. Later. (With dignity he starts out at the left.)
JOHN EDWARD (to his retreating back). Don't believe it. Bears hug.
Pastor. I'll see you later, friends. (He goes out stiffly).
MRS. JERNIGAN. John Edward, I've thrashed you for sassin’ folks. Hard as I have tried to learn you and Savannah to be clean and smart—(John Edwarddrops
down dejectedly at the dog-box. Mrs. JernigannotesSavannahon the bed, crosses quickly, pulls off the covers, and jerks the girl out.) Look at them dirty feet in my clean bed! And that filthy dress I told you to wash this mornin’. Go ’tend to that supper. (She wraps the quilt aroundMr. Jerniganand picks up the water bucket.) Water shan't be no excuse. I'll tote enough water here to soak some o’ the dirt out'n you.
(Savannahsullenly puts on her shoes asMrs. Jerniganhurries out at the right.)
JOHN EDWARD. Would you took them shoes off just for prayers? They don't put nothin’ in your stummick.
Savannah (from the side of the bed). Gi’ me some o’ that money the po-lice give you.
(John Edwardrises from the dog-box, takes the money from his pocket, and begins counting it.)
JOHN EDWARD. That's so. I'm goin’ to buy Ma another pretty little high chair with it.
Savannah (crossing to the stove). She'll beat you, too, for beggin’.
JOHN EDWARD. Four dollars. I thought ’twas eight, but I was countin’ both ends.
Savannah (at the stove). You got to divide. If you don't I'll tell. (Taking potatoes from the pan).
JOHN EDWARD. I may save it and study for a preacher and learn some pretty words like his...“civilization.”
Savannah. Wush I could sprinkle him in carbolic acid.
JOHN EDWARD (imitating thePastor). Why-uh...our civileyezation, our (Eloquently.) galluses and suspenders, our brothers’ hoods and coats and truss. (He lifts his voice, arms, and eyes dramatically as he gathers momentum.) Lijer sent the ravens to feed the poor folks in the road. Look a-yonder, Savannah! (Dropping his arms.) The ravens is a-comin’! (His face lifted, his voice awed.) S'pose that was to be the ravens with vittles for us shore ’nough.
Savannah (looking up). Buzzards...somethin's dead around. (There is a short silence while the children watch the “ravens.”)
JOHN EDWARD (meditatively). Lookin’ mighty straight at me. (Yells up impatiently.) I ain't dead, you old fool! (He hurls a rock upward and continues to gaze, fascinated. He suppresses a cough. The ominous silence is broken by a voice off left.)
Relief Case (offstage, left). What's all this? (Both children look around quickly as a hefty man with a wooden leg limps in.) Hey! Campin’ out, hunh? Took a cold time for it, if you ask me.
JOHN EDWARD. Never took it. It was give to us.
Relief Case (sarcastically). Bright boy, ain't you?
JOHN EDWARD. Ask me some questions.
Relief Case. Care if I warm till I can catch a ride to the wreck up the road?
JOHN EDWARD. The answer's “yes.” (Relief Casegoes to the stove.) Next.
Relief Case (standing by the stove). I heard Hicks had dumped all your stuff out in the road. The news is gettin’ all around and stirrin’ up plenty excitement, if you ask me. (Noticing the figure under the bed quilt.) Who's that?
JOHN EDWARD (crossing to uncover his father.) Want a look? Free!
(Savannahdrops lazily into a chair at the back of the stove. Mr. Jernigan, uncovered, looks up inquiringly.)
Relief Case. Crippled, ain't you?
JOHN EDWARD. Crippled and a little bit de'f.
Relief Case (shouting toMr. Jernigan). Got nothin’ on me. (He taps his leg.) Cut off. Saw mill.
JOHN EDWARD. Have to raise your voice.
Relief Case (sitting at the left of the stove). I want a new leg. The old one split on me about a month ago. Got it wropped ’round with wire now. (He displays it.)
JOHN EDWARD (moving nearer to look). Broke, that's bad.
Relief Case. Bad gettin’ around, if you ask me. I need a new leg, I need it bad.
JOHN EDWARD. Wait. (He takes out his roll of bills, looks at them hesitatingly an instant, and then thrusts them quickly into the man's hand.) Get you a new leg.
Relief Case. Hadn't you better keep your money, boy?
JOHN EDWARD. Naw, you can have it.
Relief Case. Sure, if you insist. Wish ’twas multiplied by fifty. I asked Hicks for the one hundred and twenty-five, but he said legs didn't come under the relief, so I'm goin’ to write to Rooseyvelt again. Say, why'n’t you all write to the President? Keep my name out'n it, and I'll write for you, and he'll sure answer back.
JOHN EDWARD. I can write. (He runs to the bureau for some paper.)
Relief Case. Use ink, if you got any.
JOHN EDWARD (taking a tablet from the drawer and hunting the ink). Sure. Ma always kep’ a little ink on hand to set down when the babies died. (He begins to write asMrs. Jerniganre-enters from the right with a bucket of water.)
MRS. JERNIGAN (stopping abruptly). Good evenin’. (Her tone is challenging.)
Relief Case. Good evenin’. I was just here a-warmin’, sort o’ waitin’ to catch a ride—first passin’—to the wreck up ’bout Gumberry. Man killed I hear.
JOHN EDWARD. I can write the President good as I wrote Santy Claus.
MRS. JERNIGAN (setting the bucket at the stove). Write what?
Relief Case. I was just a-tellin’ him—course to keep my name out'n it—why'n’t you all write the President about the dirty deal Hicks give you? He's for the forgotten man.
MRS. JERNIGAN (sharply, facing him). I ain't no forgotten man! (John Edwardwrites at the bureau.)
Relief Case. Well, I mean the underdog; the folks that can't get work and all.
MRS. JERNIGAN. Can't you get work?
Relief Case. No. Hicks put me to diggin’ pits, but it didn't agree with me. I quit.
MRS. JERNIGAN. So you...quit.
Relief Case. Yeh. It's up to the gover'ment to look out for us. And I been farin’ fine since I left it up to the gover'ment too. Butter now where it was just dry bread; beef, where it was fatback; sugar, where it was just nothin’ with-it; coffee, lard, flour, all you mind to want. And it's comin’ to us, I say.
Savannah (suddenly alert). Sure is.
JOHN EDWARD. And I'm writin’ for it. (He leans on the bureau, his face contorted with the pains he is taking.)
Relief Case. You get warm clothes too, and sheets and blankets.
MRS. JERNIGAN (ominously quiet). You do?
Relief Case (enthusiastically). I just wish you could see that box o’ stuff the case worker brought to my house this mornin’. The greatest sight o’ stuff....
MRS. JERNIGAN. Who brought boxes o’ stuff to your folks before you, and their folks before them?
Relief Case. Gover'ment ought to, hard times as they went through.
MRS. JERNIGAN. What's hard times? Folks use’ to scuffle through ’em without whimperin’ after the gover'ment, and I can too.
Relief Case. Well, if poor folks is a-mind to turn up their noses—
MRS. JERNIGAN. If poor folks was as mind to sweat as they was to eat free butter and beef and flour, and to—warm by somebody else's fire! You can't get work? I'll give you work. (She seizes the axe and offers it to him.) Them broken tree limbs yonder (indicating them.) has got to be chopped and toted here to keep a fire goin’ to warm by. Go cut ’em.
Relief Case (rising). If that's the way you feel—(Crossing to the left.) and me with just one leg....(Turning with injured dignity.) Good day....(He goes out.)
JOHN EDWARD (looking after the man and speaking resentfully to his mother). He ain't able to cut wood, with his wooden leg.
MRS. JERNIGAN. I'm able. I can cut the wood. (She starts out at the right with the axe over her shoulder.) Come on, children. I'll chop, and you all tote. Le's race! (She goes out.)
Savannah. Sha'n’t move a tap. Tote it yourself. Race your bellyful.
JOHN EDWARD (at the bureau). It's ready. Listen: “Dear Rooseyvelt-Punish Napoleon-R-Hicks-for-dirty-deal.”
Savannah. It's Ma, too stubborn to go on relief.
JOHN EDWARD. Hush. (Reading.) “And-give-us-a-nice-house-and-butter-and-beef-and-sugar-and-one-under-dog-and-one-fource-and-Hicks-turned-us-and-civileyezation-from John Edward.” (He folds the paper.) Now.
Savannah. I'm goin’ to eat these ’taters. Ought to be beef, that's what it had.
JOHN EDWARD. Aw, wait. The missionary circus might come.
Savannah (sopping grease from the pan). Do, they'll bring old soup like the free lunches at school. I told ’em it upset my bowels and they had to give me cake and pie.
JOHN EDWARD. If Ma knowed you eat free....(He leaves the bureau and comes to the stove.)
Savannah. If you tell her....
JOHN EDWARD. All you went for—them free lunches.
Savannah. All you went for, to keep out o’ work.
JOHN EDWARD (at the left of the stove). I went to get educated. You don't know the make of a single car. What's “B. O.”? Who's “Pop-eye”? You don't even know “Mae West” from “Dizzy Dean.” You don't know whether “Babe Ruth” is a girl or boy.
Savannah. Don't care if she's a morphydite.
JOHN EDWARD (disgusted). You'll never learn no education. (He is suddenly alert to the sound of a car. He runs to the left.)
Savannah. You'll get so full of it you'll be bound to bust yet.
JOHN EDWARD (gazing down the road). Car's a-comin’. It's a Hudson. (Savannahdrops into the chair at the center to peel off her shoes and stockings again.) Look. (He notes what she is doing.) Your feet gone to itchin’?
Savannah. I can scratch ’em, if I want to.
JOHN EDWARD (at the stove). S'pose I was to take off my shoes and stockin's.
Savannah. You wa'n’t educated enough to think it up.
JOHN EDWARD. I can do it good as you can.
Savannah. Naw, you're a Avery!
JOHN EDWARD. I'll show you. (He drops into a chair bySavannahand begins to remove his shoes, concealing them in the dog-box.) Woman drivin’. (His eye on the road.) Comin’ here too.
Savannah. And womens is sorrier for you than mens. (Tensely to her brother.) Now you hump over. Look cold and hongry. Hide them vittles. (They hide the food in the bureau drawer speedily and resume their seats side by side.)
JOHN EDWARD. Look at that stuff they're takin’ out'n that car. (Suddenly he loses his nerve and hides his feet.)
(With set faceJohn Edwardtakes his place bySavannah. They present a pitiful tableau as two women enter from the left, one wrapped in a fur coat. They are carrying a large box of groceries, which they deposit at the center and survey the scene.)
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER ONE (after an eloquent pause). Isn't this the most pitiful sight you ever witnessed?
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER TWO. Yes.
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER ONE. It's quite as pitiful as we heard.
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER TWO. Quite.
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER ONE (efficiently). We have some groceries here for you from Circle Number One. I'm the leader. (The children turn to exhibit their feet.) This food will tide you over till we can collect—(Noting the bare feet, and shocked.) Children, wrap up your feet. Don't you know you'll catch your death?
Savannah (shivering). We ain't got no shoes and stockings.
JOHN EDWARD (bravely). Poor folks like us has to get used to the cold. (He involuntarily coughs.)
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER ONE. Do pray wrap up in quilts or blankets.
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER TWO. Let's get those blankets and clothes in the car. (She starts out.)
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER ONE (generously, and soLeader Number Twocan hear). She's the leader of Circle Number Two. (Having applied the Golden Rule, she follows the other out left.)
Savannah (eyeing the box of groceries). Bet they ain't nothin’ no ’count.
JOHN EDWARD (easing cautiously to the box). Bet you! Milk, bread, cheese, apples, crackers, soup—SOUP, Savannah! (Mr. Jerniganbends over to look into the box.)
Savannah. I shan't touch it.
JOHN EDWARD (examining his feet). My feet's dirty without my stockin's. I wush I hadn't took off my shoes. (He goes to get his shoes from the box.) Goin’ to slip ’em back on.
John Edward. Aw-w....(He resumes his seat barefooted.) Wush I had washed my feet though.
Savannah. Set on ’em, Avery.
(TheCircle Leadersre-enter with a box of blankets and clothing which they place at the right center.)
Savannah. My feets is cold.
JOHN EDWARD. Mine too.
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER ONE. We'll find you some shoes. (TheCircle Leaderssearch among the clothes.) Here you are, try these. (Leader Number Twohands a pair of shoes to the boy and girl simultaneously.) Now, let's find some coats and dresses and underclothing. We've plenty, in good condition. My circle always responds one hundred per cent.
Savannah (sullenly). These here don't fit.
JOHN EDWARD. These neither.
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER ONE. What size do you take?
Savannah. Don't know till I try at the store. If I had some money....
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER TWO (advancing toward the children). You go to the store (Opening her purse.) and get a fit. (Savannahdeposits the money in her blouse.) That's for both of you.
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER ONE. What will your circle say?
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER TWO. I'm doing this myself. It is my pleasure.
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER ONE. Well, all right. (Just so her circle is still ahead.) But I shall give us credit in our February personal service report though. I listed every item here to hand to the personal service chairman so it will count toward our standard of excellence. We got behind last month.
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER TWO. Keep your feet wrapped up, children. (Leader Number Onecrosses to the cradle asLeader Number Twodeals out blankets to the children.) Here are plenty of blankets.
(Leader Number Onewith a gloved finger opens the quilts in the cradle just enough to discover a baby.)
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER ONE. A baby, too! (Leader Number Twocrosses immediately to the cradle.) Always!
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER TWO. Poor little thing. (She looks down pityingly, and her companion reaches for the bottle she spies in the foot of the cradle.)
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER ONE (holding the bottle). Soothing syrup. Always!
(Circle Leader Number Twoturns to get a blanket from their supply and is spreading it over the cradle whenMrs. Jerniganenters with a turn of driftwood. Leader Number Oneis searching among the food supplies in the box.)
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER TWO (looking up asMrs. Jerniganenters). Good evening. (Mrs. Jernigannods a good evening and deposits her wood by the stove, advancing quickly to the cradle.) This baby's yours, isn't he?
MRS. JERNIGAN. Yes. (She moves nearer to the cradle. Leader Number Twocrosses impulsively over toLeader Number Oneand speaks in a low tone. Mrs. Jerniganpicks up the bottle of soothing syrup.)
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER TWO. Don't you think we'd better send a doctor here?
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER ONE (turning and noting the medicine). Wait there. (She hurries toMrs. Jerniganwith a can of milk.) Open this can, empty it in a clean
saucepan and warm it. (Mrs. Jernigandraws back.) He needs nourishment, not soothing syrups.
MRS. JERNIGAN. I'll get him what he needs. (She turns her back definitely and bends over the cradle. The women look at each other helplessly and shake their heads.)
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER TWO. What can you do?
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER ONE. Nothing. Take care of the...details...afterwards.
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER TWO. Somebody will have to do something. What, I don't know.
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER ONE. Tackle Napoleon Hicks first. He's gone too far with this. (Turning toward the left with sudden resolution.) Come on.
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER TWO (followingCircle Leader Number Oneoff). Let's talk to our pastor. He'll do something. (They go out.)
Savannah. Bet they ain't no hot dogs! (She hurries to the box of groceries and begins to open the cans.)
MRS. JERNIGAN (still bending over the cradle). John Edward, find the painkiller.
(John Edwardgoes to the bureau and begins to search.)
JOHN EDWARD. “Three sixes”—Pa's took that up. “Black Draught”—woman's medicine. “Dr. Parry Davis’ Painkiller.”
killer.” (He hurries with the bottle to his mother and she administers a dose. JoiningSavannahat the box, he begins to open the cans. Mr. Jerniganhelps himself from the opened cans.)
Savannah. Po'k and beans mine.
JOHN EDWARD. S-o-up, SOUP! Yours too, Savannah.
Savannah. My fish roes!
JOHN EDWARD. My salmons! I do love ’em.
(Mrs. Jerniganturns to the stove and notes what the children are doing.)
MRS. JERNIGAN. John Edward! Children!
Savannah (her mouth full). ’Twas give us to eat.
JOHN EDWARD. And I'm hongry. (Holding a can close to his mother's nose.) You just smell!
MRS. JERNIGAN. I've tried to learn you to hold up your heads.
JOHN EDWARD. I can't hold up my head on a empty stummick. It's just a-gnawin’. Feel. (He offers his flat little stomach andMrs. Jerniganturns with her first sigh to the stove and pours coffee for her family. They drink from the saucers, leaving the spoons in the cups. John Edwardpours coffee down his throat.) Swim, good old salmons! You eat too, Ma. (In silenceMrs. Jerniganlights the lantern and places it on the bureau.)
Here comes Niag'ra Falls. (He lets the coffee fall from his saucer over his face, swallowing what he can catch.) Drink out'n your cup, Savannah.
Savannah. Spoon'll poke my eye out too.
JOHN EDWARD. We hain't never had ’nough to eat before to use manners. (He drinks very primly from his cup. Mrs. Jernigangoes out at the right.)
Savannah (placing her opened cans around the stove). Could've. Folks don't want you to starve. (She sits and eats.)
JOHN EDWARD. Cause we have made more today than we ever made in our lives—just a-doin’ nothin’.
(Georgie, a middle-aged colored woman and two ragged little girls enter from the left.)
Georgie. Well, ain't dis a to-do!
JOHN EDWARD (boastfully). We moved again, Georgie.
Georgie. And done fixed up lak’ dis here was a pure house out here in dis cold.
JOHN EDWARD (moving down left center). We like it here. Roomiest place we ever lived in. This here is the bedroom; out there's the parlor; plenty o'bathrooms; and they ain't no leakin’ tops and no cracks in the floor. And a show goin’ on all time—prayin’, and kissin’, and huggin’ just like in books. And maybe a wreck and somebody get killed, like up the road. Set down and—
(He sits asGeorgiecrosses to the right center to look around.)
Georgie. No, I can't set. I jes’ got to thinkin’ ’bout how you all had been turned outdoors and all, and I ’cluded I'd step ’crost de highway and ast you all over to de house. Cou'se I's black, and I ain't got nothin’ to offer you but chairs and a warm fire and a roof to keep out some o’ dis cold wind. But you's welcome to dat.
JOHN EDWARD. And would you tell us some ghost stories, Georgie?
Georgie. I sure will. ’Cause I do feel so sorry for you alls.
JOHN EDWARD (vaguely resentful). How come? Look what we got!
Georgie (advancing to peer into the cans). Whoo-oo-ee! Mo’ vittles'n you ever seen in yo’ life, ain't it, chil'en? (To her daughters.)
JOHN EDWARD. Bet they're hongry.
Georgie. Cou'se. Bo'n dat way. But dey won't perish ’fore nex’ week.
JOHN EDWARD. What's next week?
Georgie. I's goin’ on de relief. Mr. Hicks offered to put me on if I'd quit Miss Carrie and cook for him. Look at dem young'uns mouth-es a-waterin’! Quit lookin’ at dat vittles. Go on home! (She pushes the children to the left.)
JOHN EDWARD. They're cryin’. If they're that hongry....(He fills their arms with groceries.) Take these and fill up.
Georgie. Whoo-oo-ee! Cake, chil'en! (She vigorously bows her thanks.) I thanky! I thanky!
JOHN EDWARD (swallowing his emotion). Ain't their feet cold with them old flaps on?
Georgie. Mr. Hicks promised de relief'd gi’ us clothes, but if you got any extry....(John Edwardnotes thatSavannah'smind is on her cans and that his father, filled, is beginning to nod. He jerks various articles of clothing from a bureau drawer and piles them inGeorgie'sarms.) Thanky! I thanky!
Savannah. You watch out what you give there! (Resuming her beans.)
JOHN EDWARD. Makes me sick at the stummick to see ’em ragged.—You go home now and warm some milk for the children.
Georgie. Sure I will! (Departing.) Little Bit, tell ’em thanky, you and Pink.
Little Bit and Pink. Thanky. (They follow their mother out at the left, their “thanky's” floating back after them.)
JOHN EDWARD (looking after them). When that nigger woman gets on your yeller dress, I'm goin’ to call her
Savannah-Georgie. (He crosses to the missionary clothes and begins to examine them.)
Savannah. This po'k and beans ain't good as the first. (She continues eating to recapture the lost savor.)
JOHN EDWARD (at the clothes box). Look what the circus brought us! (Holding up a garment.) This here's the standard of excellence! (He tries on a turban and a georgette model over his clothes.) I'm the leader of circus number one. (Parading.) You poor, little bare-footed children! That baby's undernur'shed! Get him a white dress with blue forget-me-nots in it! (He is interrupted in his parade by a fit of coughing, which he valiantly suppresses; he sits exhausted with the effort.)
Savannah. I'm full. I'm goin’ to sleep. (She strides to the bed and crawls under the quilts.)
JOHN EDWARD. Better stay ’wake. Might be a wreck and somebody get killed, like up yonder.
Savannah. I don't care nothin’ ’bout seein’ a pa'cel o’ dead folks killed.
(Mrs. Jerniganre-enters from the right, places her load of wood and the axe near the stove, and silently finishes putting her house in order. John Edwardhurries out of his finery.)
JOHN EDWARD. Savannah's crawled in, Ma....You know salmons ain't so good. (He sits by the stove and tries conversation.) I ain't goin’ to lie down....I'm goin’
to stay ’wake with you, Ma....Here, I'll help you get up that trash. (He follows her around trying to help. She pushes him out of her way and continues her work. Rebuffed, he sits at the stove a moment, in silence.) I wush I had somebody to talk to. (Mrs. Jerniganplaces the used cans and trash in a box. With a note of urgency, after a brief silence.) Ma!
MRS. JERNIGAN. What is it?
JOHN EDWARD. N-nothin’ much. (Mrs. Jerniganresumes her work.) Nothin’ ’cept I'm homesick...homesick like when little Toddly died.
MRS. JERNIGAN (turning to look quickly at him a little startled). You just want to whine, that's what. (She hurries out at the right with the box of cans. A car is heard off left.)
JOHN EDWARD. I want somebody to talk to, that's what. (With sudden fierce resolution he strides toward the dog-box.) Goin’ to get my dogs and go over to Georgie's, that's what I am! (While he is kneeling at the box, Hicksenters from the left. He is the stout, unpressed, prosperous landlord. He has the air of having been recently “tackled.”John Edwardstarts, andSavannahraises her head.)
HICKS. Where's your Ma?
JOHN EDWARD. Stepped out.
HICKS. Go tell her to step here. (He advances to the center.) I got to see her right now. (Savannah, seeing
that he will stumble over the precious groceries, springs out of bed and snatches the box away.) Um-m-m! Santy Claus been along?
Savannah. Everybody that's been along has give us!
HICKS. I'll make it unanimous. (Inclined to conciliation now, he selects a bill from among several in his wallet. Savannahinches nearer, Mrs. Jerniganre-enters from the right and stops abruptly. Hicksadvances, extending a bill.) Here.
MRS. JERNIGAN. What is it?
HICKS. Money for rent—rations—I don't care. (Sarcastically.) Buy that boy a gun, or the baby a rattler for what I care; or that missy girl—
MRS. JERNIGAN. You owe me nothin’.
HICKS (impatiently). Take it, just for luck then, and le's talk business and get out o’ this sharp wind.
MRS. JERNIGAN. Talk ahead.
(Savannahstrides back into bed, sullen and resentful. John Edwardelevates his chin and stands by his mother—an Avery!)
HICKS (holding to the money). What did you let them officers move you right out here in the public road for?
MRS. JERNIGAN. To pick up some work or sell some brooms to passin’.
HICKS. My orders was for you and your stuff to be left on my land.
MRS. JERNIGAN. The sun shines warmer here than on your land.
HICKS. The sun's got nothin’ to do with it. Publicity stunt. Exhibitionism! Politics.
John Edwards. Civileyezation!
HICKS (sharply). Smart aleckin’ ain't goin’ to get you nowheres. (FacingMrs. Jerniganand ignoring the boy.) Who put you up to this publicity stuff?
MRS. JERNIGAN. Nobody.
HICKS. Well, it's too public for you here. Who's been along?
MRS. JERNIGAN. Passin’.
HICKS. Who stopped? Name ’em.
JOHN EDWARD. I can. The man who used to be po-lice and licked your boots—
HICKS. Course. Out buyin’ votes. Tryin’ to start talk against me. But don't let nobody fool you. You can't hurt me. You can't vote. You'll never scratch my name, if that's their ticket. (He pockets the money grimly.)
JOHN EDWARD. Can scratch—with grandpa's claws!
HICKS (momentarily nonplussed). You stay out o’ this. Get away from around me! (John Edwardmoves over to take his stand at the bureau—not an Avery.) Set down there, Mrs. Jernigan. (He sits at the center, near the stove. Mrs. Jerniganremains standing opposite the stove.) Er...Mrs. Jernigan...(Conciliatingly.) I come here to move you back. This is no fit place for women and little chuldren.
MRS. JERNIGAN. What about the rent?
HICKS. I'll fix that up. We got to get you away from this public place tonight—folks passin’, starin’ at you, creatin’ talk....
MRS. JERNIGAN. Let ’em stare.
HICKS. Now you don't mean that. Why, I sort o’ took up a idea you come from better stock than....(Looking significantly towardMr. Jernigan. Mrs. Jerniganmoves over quickly to stand by her sleeping husband.)
MRS. JERNIGAN. I come from workin’ folks.
HICKS (holding onto his patience with difficulty). Well, now tell me, Mrs. Jernigan, without relief what do you see ahead for your crowd, settin’ here in the road and no place to go?
MRS. JERNIGAN. I see (Looking out across the fields.) a little place, green truck growin’ ’round it...clean rows o’ cotton and corn, a cow grazin’ ’long the ditchbank, yeller flowers growin’ in the jam's o’ the fences, fat pigs lyin’ in the sunshine—
HICKS (interrupting sarcastically). Well, we all see things at times.
MRS. JERNIGAN. And me doin’ the hoe work, and a steady hand workin’ the cotton—
HICKS. If you think that boy (Looking around to indicateJohn Edward.) will ever in kingdom-come—
JOHN EDWARD (at the bureau). She means Shrimp. I ain't no ’count. (There is no resentment in his tone.)
HICKS. You spoke a mouthful! (FacingMrs. Jernigan.) The only way you will ever have your cow and pigs is to get on relief.
MRS. JERNIGAN. I ain't no reliefer. My folks sweated and ached and knuckled down to it. And I'm a Avery!
HICKS (rising impatiently). You're a stubborn, ignorant, hard-headed—(Checking himself.) You know good and well you can't get no place. Hain't you tried in two counties? What did they tell you in Halifax and Greensville? Nobody'll take you on as sharecropper, with your lazy crowd and no man to work.
MRS. JERNIGAN (struggling against a great anger). No man to work? I picked ten thousand pounds o’ cotton last fall and gave birth to a child. I plow. I chop. I ditch. I haul wood. I cleaned your cow stable. I broadcast compost with these hands. I—
HICKS. Oh, you're smart enough yourself, but your crowd wastes and throws away what you work for and you let ’em.
MRS. JERNIGAN. I've tried to raise ’em. They just ain't got the fight in ’em. But him...(Going to the cradle, lifting her head proudly.) I'm going to raise him up to be smart, hard-workin’, free. He'll scuffle through your hard times. You won't down him with your free butter and gover'ment flour and your dollar bills you hand out just for luck.
HICKS (angrily). You'll never raise that young'un, and it'd be a God's pity if you did. I'm done tryin’ to reason with you. You got to move! You got to move back, do you hear? I've still got commissioners and officers! It's pure downright cussedness in you to set here in the road, in the cuttin’ wind, when yonder's a house on my land—
(Mrs. Jerniganadvances toward him and faces him for a tense moment without speaking. She begins quietly, but gathers momentum as she continues.)
MRS. JERNIGAN. Here's a house! And this ground ain't got a penny o’ yours in it. It's our floor. The furniture's mine, paid for with sweat and backache and blood. Them stars ain't yours. You never put ’em up there, and you can't take ’em down. You're whimperin’ ’cause the wind's cuttin’ into your flesh, but you can't make it quit. And you just well fight against the stars and the wind as tell me I got to move! (She moves closer and speaks with a challenge.) You leave here!
HICKS. Who...who you talkin’ to?
MRS. JERNIGAN. It's my house tonight. And you get out!
HICKS. What do you mean?
MRS. JERNIGAN. That. Take the road.
HICKS (backing away fromMrs. Jernigan'swrath). If you dare to stand there and order me—
MRS. JERNIGAN. Get out o’ my house!
(HICKS, impelled by a force not in his experience, angry and vaguely baffled, gets out. Mrs. Jerniganwatches him down the road and then noticesJohn Edward, who is hiding his face on the bureau. She turns and starts to the cradle, stops abruptly.)
MRS. JERNIGAN (quietly). What's to matter, boy?
JOHN EDWARD. It makes me sick at the stummick!
MRS. JERNIGAN. You're against me. You and Savannah's against me. You fight me. You're against the bread I give you, the clothes I make you, the way I am. You wear their cast-off finery and eat canned charity and turn sick at the stomach when I order insulters—(Her speech is interrupted by the entrance of the twoCircle Leaders. Leader Number Onegoes at once toMrs. Jernigan, whileLeader Number Twogoes over to the cradle and looks down pityingly.)
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER ONE. The baby's better off, Mrs. Jernigan. In time you'll come to see it. (Practically.) I brought these for you. (She lays exquisite baby clothes onMrs. Jernigan'sarm.) The other...details...are being taken care of.
MRS. JERNIGAN. What do you mean?
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER ONE. Your baby's dead, isn't he?
JOHN EDWARD (quickly). Shrimp? Naw.
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER ONE (determined). We heard there was a death along the highway, so naturally we thought....
JOHN EDWARD. ’Twas in a wreck up the road.
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER TWO (at the cradle). He is dead. (She speaks definitely and finally and then turns to spread the blanket over the cradle. Mrs. Jerniganturns quickly, but is stopped byCircle Leader Number One, whose assignment is to comfort.)
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER ONE. No, no. Not yet. Afterwards.
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER TWO (joining her). We'll see to everything.
(Mrs. Jerniganlays the exquisite baby clothes on the woman's arm and goes mechanically to the bureau. From the drawer she takes a little white garment and crosses to the cradle.)
CIRCLE LEADER NUMBER ONE. He's better off, Mrs. Jernigan. We'll see he's put away nicely. And afterwards...we'll arrange to get you on the relief.
MRS. JERNIGAN (turning to them from the cradle). I'll bury him. And we won't be needin’ no relief.
THE CURTAIN FALLS
A PLAY OF A SHARECROPPER'S FAMILY
As originally produced by The Seaboard and Woodland Players of Northampton County in the Community Drama Contest in Original Plays at the Twelfth Annual Festival and Tournament of the Carolina Dramatic Association sponsored by The Carolina Playmakers in their theatre in Chapel Hill on March 27, 28, 29, and 30, 1935.
|Ed Harper, sharecropper||T. G. Britt|
|Garnethis jewels||Mabel Garriss|
|Rubyhis jewels||Betty Walter Jenkins|
|Pearlhis jewels||Tiny Edwards|
|Deacon Batts, landowner||David H. Brown|
|Miss Ina Batts||Marjorie Griffin|
|Nat, church sexton||Wingate Joyner|
|Sam, constable||David Griffin|
|Callie||Mrs. W. J. Griffin|
|The Pageant Players||Members of The Seaboard and Woodland Players|
The Scene: A country church near Rich Acre, in eastern North Carolina.
The Time: A November night, a few years ago.
The interior of a country church house. An elevated platform is in the center of the left wall, with the usual pulpit appointments—desk, three chairs in heavy mission style, and a motto in blue and gold on the wall behind the desk: “AS YE WOULD THAT MEN.” Steps right and left lead from the platform into the auditorium. Entrance to the Philathea and Baraca classrooms at the rear of the platform is gained by a door at the left. In the rear wall are two windows, closely shuttered, between which are lighted oil lamps with tin reflectors. Facing the pulpit are straight-backed benches for straight-backed members. Strips of green carpet run the length of the aisle to the right of the benches. Below the platform at the left sits an organ on which is a vase of faded flowers. A tin stove occupies the center of the right wall.
Sitting on the front bench is a girl of eleven bent overCharity and Children. She is dressed shabbily; her hair is dishevelled and, one suspects, lousy, for now and then she scratches her head. Her face, as well as hands, are mottled, but there is a quick alert animation in her face that is arresting. This isRuby. Garnetstands at the stove, bending over a pan of frying bacon. She is a lifelessly flat girl of thirteen in worn dress and sweater, neater in general appearance thanRuby. Lying on the back bench, apparently asleep, is littlePearl. Garnetdivides her anxious attention betweenPearland the supper she is preparing. The odor of poor ventilation—a
medley of body odor, bad breath, lingering Sunday cologne, hot varnish, musty carpet—is almost submerged in the penetrating “rustiness” of the frying bacon....Pearlcoughs.
GARNET (quietly). Ruby, get the quilts out'n the Philathea room and fix a pallet for Pearl. (She turns the meat.)
RUBY (starting to the left, reading mumblingly). They's some pretty pieces in this here “Charity and Children.” (Rubycontinues mumbling the “pretty piece” as she goes out. Pearlcoughs, andGarnetsends a worried look in her direction. Rubyre-enters with a ragged quilt and a soiled pillow, still reading.) Here, Garnet, you fix the pallet, and le’ me ’tend to the meat. (She dumps the quilt on the floor. Garnethands her the fork.)
GARNET. Don't let it burn. (She spreads the quilt near the stove and gently shakesPearl. Rubyreads while the meat burns.) Pearl, here's a pallet. Pearl!
(Pearlsits up slowly and looks dazed.)
RUBY (offering a thick slice of bacon). And here's a rasher of bacon done. Eat it.
(Pearlturns her head away from the proffered bacon.)
GARNET. She ain't hongry.
(GarnetassistsPearlwho languidly drops on the pallet, coughing. Garnetremoves her sweater, coveringPearlwith it.)
RUBY. Pa won't like it if she don't eat no supper again.
GARNET. She feels hot...feverish-like.
RUBY. And has ever since Miss Prissy-tail Iner Batts got after her last Sunday about her soul. (She scratches her head.)
GARNET. Seems that-a-way.
RUBY. She got after me, and I sassed her. My sole is wore out—both of ’em was wore out when she give ’em to us. Look. (She holds up her ragged shoes alternately, presently laughing at the sorry appearance and the tricks she does with her feet.) Bet old man Batts charged ’em on the books for about three dollars.
GARNET (taking the fork fromRubyand quickly turning the meat). She said she didn't charge nothin’ ’cept for us to go to Sunday School.
RUBY (going toward the organ). Yeh, so she can turn square ’round on the organ stool and tree us every time they sing “Come, Sinners, Come.” (Stands at the organ, fingering the songbooks.) She ain't no angel if she is a-courtin’ the preacher....Let her get after me about my soul any more, and I'll give her this. (She thumbs her nose. Placing a book on the organ, she sits on the stool.) She won't never get me to go up to the front, will she you?
GARNET. I don't know. Miss Iner's give us a heap o’ buttermilk. (She starts to the Baraca room, left.)
RUBY. Us and the hogs! I got a bellyful o’ Batts's old onion-y milk.
GARNET (at the Baraca door). Ru-by!
RUBY (going to the front bench). ’Twa'n’t give nohow. You can bet your life we pay for it—three prices.
GARNET (returning with a bucket of water). We can't help it. We're sharecroppers. (She givesPearla drink from the rusty tin dipper, finishing the waterPearlleaves.)
RUBY (kneeling on the front bench). Where's our share?—Batts got it. (Her angry manner changes and she giggles at her smartness.) Batts got it! Where's Batts? Up in the loft a-knockin’ the weight off'n our cotton! (Garnetplaces the bucket in the aisle.) Sure thing I'm glad he give us movin’ orders, ain't you? (Garnetgoes to the stove to apportion the supper in three tin plates.)
GARNET. I don't know...this here movin’ into the church...a-cookin’ and a-sleepin’ here. It don't seem right to me.
RUBY. Seems right to me (Shivering happily.) just so I don't see ol’ Mis’ Batts's coffin (Moving to perch on a bench at the center.) a-front o’ the pulpit when the lights is out. (Garnetmoves nearerRubyas she looks fearfully toward the window.)
GARNET. You're bound to see them graves out there...and think about Ma a-layin’ way off to herself...and wonder....
RUBY (trying to choke back her easy emotion). I...I...(She slips off her perch and slumps on the bench.) I don't care! (Fiercely she brushes her eyes with her mottled fists.)
GARNET. And when I start to eat, and all them dead folks so close....
RUBY. Shucks, I don't care! We got a soft carpet to walk on (She struts down the aisle.) and nice painted benches to set on, and a good hot stove to warm by, and stuff here to read, and a organ. (She sits on the organ stool and gravely adjusts the stops.)
GARNET (finishing the supper preparation). If Pa don't find us a place by Sunday, I don't know what.
RUBY (turning the pages of the songbook with saliva-ed thumb). I do. We'll just move out till that ’ere pageant's over a-Sunday night, and then....(She turns round suddenly and advances a few steps up the aisle towardGarnet, her eyes round with excitement.) S'posin’ (Stands motionless.) they was to meet here to practice “His Jewels” tonight—the Battses and the Averys and...?
GARNET. And Sam Avery was to put us in jail!
RUBY. If they was just another door to outside but that ’un....(Points to the door, right.)
GARNET. They ain't.
Ruby. Aw, we could hide back there if they was to come here (Indicating the door, right.) and hold our breath. (She turns back to the organ.) I ast to be in that pageant and Miss Iner went and put Mildred Avery in it—can't read as good as I can. (She flings herself upon the organ stool and writhes, lifting her hands high to let them fall noiselessly upon the keys.) Here's Miss Iner!
(With the supper apportioned, Garnetlooks on impassively whileRubytremulos a line or two of “Come, Sinner, Come.” The right door opens andEd Harperappears, standing there a minute listening toRuby. He is a tall gaunt man of forty-five, with a high slanting forehead, sunken mouth for the most part toothless, lifeless graying hair, and dead eyes. He wears dirty blue overalls, a ragged coat, soiled cap, and worn brogans. He is carrying an armful of wood. Rubyglances around to see how the song is affecting the Harpers and seesEdin the door.) Pa!
ED. You all here, gals? (He goes to the stove.)
RUBY. Yes, suh.
ED. It was so dark on the outside I was oneasy. (He deposits the wood near the stove.)
GARNET. The blinds is shut tight like you said to leave ’em.
ED. Um-humph! (Warming his hands as he looks toward the pallet anxiously.) How's Pearl?
GARNET. She's there.
RUBY (joining them at the stove). I got enough to read one time, Pa. They's papers here by the whole-sell and re-tail.
ED. She asleep? (Going over to the pallet.) Did she eat any supper?
GARNET. Well, she was sleepy....
RUBY. Yessuh, she eat a whole rasher o’ meat.
ED. She did? (He searchesRuby'sface and then speaks lifelessly.) Well, ain't that fine?
RUBY. She eat two rashers!
ED. How's them coughin’ spells today?
GARNET. D'rectly after dinner she—
RUBY. Just swallowed wrong. She ain't coughed none.
ED (hoping it's true). Well, now that's a blessin’. A feller needn't expect a blessin’, Miss Iner preaches, without he comes to the house o’ God. (Warming himself by the stove.) Well, I come. We all come, ain't we?
RUBY. And I wish we could stay here all the time.
GARNET. We can't though. Did you find anywheres today?
ED. Not yet. (Garnetturns away toward the pallet. Edspeaks defensively.) I've traipsed fifty miles since
three o'clock this mornin’ a-lookin’ a place. (Looks toward the pallet.) You say she seemed right peart all day?
RUBY. Yessuh, real peart. (Edgoes to a bench at the center and kicks off his shoes.)
ED. That ought to give me a appetite for supper.
(He takes a long drink of water from the bucket in the aisle. Garnethands out the plates. Rubygoes to the organ stool and begins eating. GarnetplacesEd'splate on a bench at the center, and she sits on the back bench, barely tasting her food.)
RUBY (toEdas he drinks). It's some salty side meat. It'll keep you drinkin’ water till you're fit to pop.
ED (facetiously, looking up from the dipper). Side? Why ain't this here some o’ that ham-meat Brother Batts give me for haulin’ cordwood?
RUBY (giggling). Course ’tis—good ole ham-meat from Brother Batts's smokehouse.
GARNET. They ain't even a cracklin’ left o’ that side for breakfast, Pa.
RUBY. Aw, le's have us a fried chicken for breakfast or fresh shoat or tenderl'ins.
ED. Sure! Hand me over another hunk o’ that ’ere pound-cake. (Garnetpasses him the anemic-looking hoecake.)
RUBY. It'll belch you it's so rich.
ED (holding up the bread). Ain't it rich and yaller! Butter and eggs done that....Tell you what, they's some good cooks around here....Garnet, have you some more poundcake.
GARNET. They wa'n’t even no salt to go in that hoe-cake.
ED. Anyhow, it's a clean place to eat in—makes vittles taste better. Like eatin’ in a parlor, ain't it?
RUBY. And Garnet said it made her want to vomick...all them dead folks layin’ so close!
ED. They come here fu'st. They ain't bad neighbors...no cussin’ and movin’ orders from them. (He goes to the stove and sops the grease out of the pan.) Seems like I ain't goin’ to find no place this side o’ Christmas.
GARNET. We got to live some'eres. We can't be choice. (Edsteps out in front of the stove, holding to his plate, but not eating.)
ED. I...I'm fit to give up sometimes. Seems like ’tain't intended for me to have no luck.
RUBY. How come? Didn't we make such a whalin’ big crop last year Ma fell in the field a-tryin’ to help house it all?
ED. W-e-l-l, there was a coffin extry, and your Ma...she had to be laid out sort o’ decent, and I...I just got behind.
RUBY. We'd o’ overpaid out this year, if Batts hadn't ordered us off.
ED. Not much chance to ever pay out with them a-chargin’ such high int'rest. (He takes another drink from the bucket.)
RUBY. They ought to be a law!
ED (looks up from the dipper). The law's on their side—everything is—the ginners a-knockin’ off half our share for dirt, and the merchants a-bookin’ what we ain't bought, and us too ignorant to keep books. (He puts the dipper back in the bucket.)
RUBY. I can read and figger too.
ED. And then...I hain't got no plow hands.
(RUBYplaces her plate on the organ and springs into action.)
RUBY. I'll put on overalls and be a boy and plow. (She seizes imaginary plow lines and runs a furrow up the aisle.) I'll fool ’em. Whoa, mule! Whoa there, you ol’—Batts! (She slaps the line roughly on a suddenly visualized rear more human than mule.) Gee there now, confound you! Now go straight!
(Edgrins wanly at his irrepressible offspring who some day may make unscrupulous landlords go straight.)
ED. Now, if you was a man, I bet you'd hold ’em to a right sharp bargain, gal.
RUBY. I'd cheat ’em bad as they cheated me. I'd have my share, and I'd ast ’em how could four folks live on two dollars a week and medicine to buy.
ED (quickly). Don't say medicine, gal. That's part way how come I to get movin’ orders. (Rubydrinks from the dipper.) ’Twa'n’t huntin’ squirrels so much. Batts knowed I aimed to get out the cotton some time, and he ought to knowed I needed the squirrel meat.—No, ’twa'n’t that. He's a-scared he'd have to pay for doctor's bills and....(Looking towardPearl.)
RUBY (putting the dipper in the bucket). And what?
ED. Other...extries. (He becomes conscious of his plate and quickly passes it toRuby.) Here, I'm done. (He stands musing towardPearlas he picks his tooth with a goose quill.)
GARNET. Pile the things in the Philathea room, Ruby. I'll wash ’em in the mornin’. (She gets the broom from the corner and begins brushing trash under the stove.)
RUBY (starting with the plates, pans, and bucket toward the door, left). Pa, you left some poundcake. (She eats the scraps as she goes.)
GARNET. We better get to sleep now. (ToEd.) You got to rise soon again in the mornin’.
RUBY (re-entering and stopping in the aisle near the front). Pa, right here's where ol’ man Batts sets, ’cept when he hands ’round the money. (Sits prim and still, doubling her chin ludicrously.) Pa, right like this.
ED (picking his tooth and musing). Um-humph!
RUBY. Well, he can't give us movin’ orders out o’ here, can he, Pa?
GARNET. If we don't move out before Sunday....
RUBY. Pearl's heap better here, a-eatin’ and a-sleepin’ good.
ED. Hit's such a warm house...no winder-lights broke out, and carpets on the floor. (He runs his bare feet over the carpet.) Feels like velvet a-squshin’ up ’tween your toes, don't it?
RUBY (kicking off her shoes to “sqush” with him). Sure does!
ED (trying the carpet down the aisle). My mammy had a piece of carpet I use to set on a-front o’ the fireplace...and she'd learn me my A B C's.
RUBY. You can't read.
ED. Use to...a little.
RUBY. Yonder's a book. (She points to the pulpit.) Le's hear you.
ED (going to the platform). Think I can't, huh?
RUBY. I'll help you. (Edascends the platform steps. Garnetplaces the broom in the corner and sits on
the back bench, folding her hands and closing her eyes, opening them at intervals.)
ED. My mammy used to read in a big Bible. It had a brown back and smelt like tea cakes. (He appraises the pulpit appointments, sits in the preacher's chair.) Right here's where the preacher sets, ain't it?
RUBY. ’Cept when he begs ’em to come up. (She is seated on the front bench.) You be the preacher, Pa. (She looks around.) They's a big crowd here tonight—clear to the back bench. Now, preach!
ED (examines the Bible and slips off his cap.) I used to could read a little. (He searches the pages.) But I'm out o’ practice. Big print....
RUBY. Read out loud. I'll pernounce the big words.
ED (reading). “For...I...was...a-h-u-n-g-e-r-e-d”—What's that, Ruby?
RUBY (proudly). Hongry—means for somethin’ to eat.
ED. Reckon they was sharecroppers back in them days?
RUBY. Read on; it'll tell you.
RUBY. Means sharecroppers didn't get ’nough them days neither.
ED. Um-humph. “I...was...t-h-i-r-s-t-y”—(He looks atRuby.)
RUBY. Thirsty—means they wanted water after that side meat.
ED. I was that away today.
RUBY (impatiently). Read on; that's pretty.
RUBY. Strang-er—means to get choked on flour hoe-cake.
ED. No wonder—“And...ye...took...me...not...in...n-a-k, nak-e-d, ed—naked.” Plain talk, ain't it? Stark naked. Let's see what's comin’ next. “I...was...sick—”
RUBY. Sick—like Pearl.
ED (looking anxiously toward the pallet). You say she eat two rashers for supper?
RUBY. Three!—Find some more hard words.
ED. “I was...in...p-r-i-s-o-n”—
RUBY. Prison—jail—where Sam Avery puts you.
ED. Yeh, if Batts tells him to. And he's got Bible for it right here.
RUBY. He'll ketch it Judgment Day. Turn to the Book o’ Jesus and read about the signs whereof.
ED. Signs?—(With sudden interest.) My mammy used to hunt for signs in the brown Bible that smelt like tea cakes.
ED. You shut the Book, and you make a wush, and you open the Book; and if you find, “And it come to pass” right straight it'll be a sign your wush will come to pass.
RUBY. Oh, le's try it.
ED (closing the Bible). You make the first wush, and I'll see if it says “And it come to pass.”
RUBY (standing). I wush...I wush we could live some'eres where there'd be nice carpets, and painted benches, and plenty to read, and ham-meat, and pound-cake, and a organ, and pretty winder-lights—blue and red and yaller—and that's all. Open the Book. Open the Book!
ED (after a brief hesitation). “And it come...to...pass”—right here at the top o’ the page. (He hastily shuts the Bible asRubyruns to the platform.)
RUBY (running up the aisle). Next I'll wush we had wu'sted dresses and trimmin's on our undercoats like Miss Iner's, and striped breeches, and a watch across your bosom like Batts's. (She holds the closed Bible
in her arms ready to find the sign.) Garnet, you can go next—Garnet!
GARNET. I don't know nothin’ to wush.
RUBY. You go then, Pa.
ED. Well, if I had the words, I wush I could stand up to Batts one time—if I just had the words. (Rubyhas tried twice during his wish—in vain. She shuts the Bible with an impatient bang. Edsearches with her.) And if we could find a medium tight house without too many cracks in the floor and leaks in the roof, and if Pearl...now if Pearl could just mend....
(Rubyhas failed several times. Edyawns, feigning in-difference and turns away.)
RUBY. Aw, my finger slips.
ED (leaving the platform). Time to go to bed now, gal. I'm tired. I got to hit the road ’fore day again. I'm sleepy.
RUBY. Pa, I found it! “And...it...come...to...pass”—right here at the top o’ the page!
ED (nearing the stove). That's nice. (Without conviction.) We both got our wushes. (He goes to the pallet, takesPearlin his arms and starts toward the door, left.) She must o’ lay too close to the stove. She feels hot. Garnet, bring on the quilt and then blow out the lamp. Better leave one burnin’, I reckon, ’cause I have to fix some cough syrup durin’ the night. (Near the
door now.) Open the door, Ruby. Le's get to sleep now.
(Edpasses withPearlinto the classroom. Garnetfolds the quilt. Rubybecomes preacher.)
RUBY. You sinners there on the back bench! You come shake hands with me; if you don't you'll wush you had.—And it come to pass! Come, sinner, come! (She imaginesGarnet, approaching with the quilt and pillow, a convert.) That's right, sister, come shake my hand and be saved!
GARNET (ignoring the outstretched hand). I ain't playin’.
RUBY. Aw, you won't never play! (Now she advances to meet a “brother” and shake his hand pumpingly.) Lord bless you, my brother! Set down on the front bench and cry all you want to. “And it come to pass.” Let the others come while we sing, “Throw out the life lion.” Don't wait. You liable to die this night. And hell's hot! You'll wake up in fire and brimstone and—
GARNET (re-entering and going to the lamps). Time to quit playin’ now, Ruby. Le's get to sleep.
RUBY (to the stubborn sinners). If you won't come shake my hand, go to hell then!
GARNET (turning down the lamp wick). Ruby, the Bad Boy'll get you! (She extinguishes one light.)
RUBY. I don't care. Nobody won't never play no more. (The darkened church gives her a new idea.) Woo-oo-oo!
Don't stumble over Mis’ Batts's coffin! (Giggles asGarnetruns toward the platform.) Oh, I know what, le's play funeral. You be the corpse, and I'll be the mou'ners and— (She seizes the flowers from the pulpit.)
GARNET (seizingRuby). Sh—! (Whispering.) I heard somebody walkin’!
GARNET. Out there. (Both listen intently.)
RUBY. I do, too.
GARNET. S'posin’—it's them! Mr. Batts and Sam Avery and—
RUBY. Le's hide—quick! And hold our breath. (They enter the Philathea room hastily, almost holding their breath. Edis so tired, that he may have dropped off to sleep in two minutes. What is there to keep him wakeful? If he is awake, with no exit except the door, right, silence in the Philathea room is golden. There is silence.
The door at the right opens, and a flashlight searches the interior. Nat, a clumsy man of fifty in semi-Sunday clothes, enters and stands in the aisle listening.)
NAT. Miss Ina? (He walks slowly to the lighted lamp, looking around at potential hiding places.) I don't like this. (He turns up the lamp wick.) I'm hard of hearin’, but it sounded like talkin’ in here to me. (He goes toward the stove.) ’Less ’twas ha'nts. (He puts wood
in the stove.) Ha'nts sure didn't light them lamps and put wood in this here stove. (Mumbles.) I don't like it. (He walks slowly down the aisle.) That play crowd beat me here and hid—tryin’ to scare somebody I reckon. (Nonchalantly to his unseen “church crowd.”) You all better quit your prankin’ and get to practicin’, ’less you want to make a mess a-Sunday night. (He looks at his watch.) Ten to eight. (He moves chairs and the pulpit properties from the platform.
Enter at the right, Miss Ina Batts, well-dressed, perfumed, saccharine, thirty-five; Deacon Battsdressed in a suit with pronounced stripes, a checked topcoat, tan shoes, black derby, his bosom decorated with a gold watch chain and a dotted silk scarf; SamandCalliein semi-Sunday clothes; and thePlayerswearing heavy wraps over their costumes. Miss Inacarries bed sheets and papers, whileBattsfollows with two white standards to which are attached white candles. All raise their voices slightly when addressingNat.)
MISS INA (in door, right). Um-m-m! Smells funny in here. What you been cookin’, Nat? (She walks to the stove, followed by the others.)
CALLIE. You smell me I reckon. I fried ham in this dress for supper.
MISS INA. I see. (Warming her gloved hands, she looks toward the platform raising her voice.) You must have come early, Nat. You have it nice and warm in here.
NAT (sarcastically). Ha'nts made that fire. (He leaves the platform to join the group at the stove.)
MISS INA (laughing). Well, they made a good job of it. It's so warm we can start our rehearsal right away. You girls have on your costumes as I told you to? (ThePlayersnod assent.) All right. Now listen. (She removes her gloves as she steps down the center aisle.) You go to the Baraca room. (ThePlayersmove toward the center door.) Just a minute! (They stop.) You understand you are to enter from the Baraca room and exit into the Philathea. You need not exit into the Philathea room tonight since it's cold in there. I can't risk anybody's taking cold. Now everybody, do your ver-y best! It's our last rehearsal of this episode and of our song. (ThePlayersexit by the center door. CallietakesMildreddown to the front to adjust her ragged costume. Miss Inaspreads the sheets on the platform floor.) After they finish their parts tonight, you all give them a hand. It will encourage them.
BATTS (warming his back at the stove). You mean...clap in the church, daughter?
MISS INA. They “clap,” as you call it, in city churches, Papa. Applause can be an act of worship. Isn't it a joyful noise unto the Lord?
BATTS. Well, y-e-s, that's so...in a way. (He slapsSamon the back.) What you say, Constable?
SAM. Sure! Sure!
CALLIE (through the pins in her mouth). How'd you ever write a play, Miss Ina? I think you're the smartest thing to think of “His Jewels.”
MISS INA. Thank you. It's sweet of you to say so. That sermon Sunday on “Inasmuch” inspired me.
NAT (speaking behind his hand toSam). That sermon or the preacher?
MISS INA (overhearing). Both. You can't tease me, Nat. I do think “Inasmuch as ye did it unto the least of these” is the sweetest verse in the Bible.
CALLIE. ’Tis. Your play's sweet, too. It's grand! Makes me cry. Little orphans does melt one's heart. (She wipes her eye.)
BATTS. It is a touchin’ little piece—mighty touchin’. Ought to bring us in a good collection Sunday, eh, Constable? Our treasury's plenty low.
MISS INA. I just hope it will do some good and increase our Sunday school attendance and boost our six-point record system.
(Callie, having finishedMildred'scostume, leads her to the stove.)
MISS INA. Now Papa, you and Nat bring the standards up here and light the candles so we can try out the effect.
(She leaves the platform and goes to the organ. She strikes hurried notes.)
NAT. I declare, Mildred, you favor Ruby Harper in them rags. (He turns quickly toBattswho is picking up
the standards from the floor.) Say, you hain't heard where Ed Harper went to, have you?
BATTS (moving up the aisle with the standards). ’Cross Swift Creek, I reckon. He hain't been back yet for his stuff...had to throw it out under the shed.
NAT (followingBattstoward the platform). Well, you put up with that crowd longer'n I would.
(CallieandSamsit on the back bench asMildredgoes to the center to join thePlayers.)
BATTS. You don't know nothin’! He ain't been wu'th shootin’ out'n a gun since his old woman died on me last spring. (He places the standards on the platform.) Just knocked off here this fall and took to sports—huntin’ and fishin’. (He andNatlight the candles as they talk.)
NAT (laughing.) Tried to sell me a couple o’ squirrels one day.
BATTS. There you are! Cotton bu'stin’ open in the field, and him a-roamin’ the woods. I saw I was goin’ to have to hire his cotton picked out, and apt as no he'd try to sue me for a settlement.
NAT. Yeh, sharecroppers is gettin’ so smart now'days, and lawyers eggin’ ’em on to sue a feller, and the gover'ment a-makin’ ’em go to school—
BATTS. And we taxed to learn ’em how to out-figger us! They know a plenty. They always get more'n their
half any way you look at it...stealin’ our fertilizer and corn and bootleggin’ our cotton...and us doin’ all the investin’ and runnin’ all the risk, and standin’ all the losses; and them lookin’ to us to feed and clothe ’em and pay ’em out o’ jail whether they make anything or no...and their medicine and doctors’ bills and coffins. Ed Harper will have another coffin for somebody to pay for by spring.
MISS INA (looking up from her writing). If they showed any appreciation! Why, I gave those Harpers milk nearly every day and shoes and dresses and hats good enough to wear to Sunday school, and if that Ruby Harper didn't put them on to pick cotton in!
BATTS (leaving the platform, and coming down the aisle). Don't say Ruby Harper to me. She's a hussy. I weighed her in many a basket o’ cotton before I got onto her tricks.
NAT (following). How was that?
(With the stage all set, Miss Inahurries to the Baraca room to prompt thePlayers. Battsstops in the center aisle.)
BATTS. Well, you see I moved my steelyards up in the barn loft and run a wire through the floor to h'ist the cotton up on, and of course I couldn't see downstairs; and that Ruby set in no tellin’ how many baskets o’ cotton to make ’em weigh heavy before Ina slipped up on her one day.
MISS INA (at the center door). We're ready. You all sit down and we'll begin our practice.
(NatandBattssit on a bench at the center, andInaadvances to the front of the pulpit.)
MISS INA. This is supposed to be a street scene in Jerusalem in the time of Christ. You will see first a Gentile woman who waits the approach of the Master to give Him...jewels. (Inaseats herself at the organ and plays softly, while aGentilein a gorgeous Biblical robe of turquoise ascends the platform.)
The Gentile. All day I have stood here at the gate of the city to look upon the face of one called Jesus when He passeth hence. His enemies pursue Him; they purpose to put Him to death. But I shall save Him; even I, a Gentile within the walls of Jerusalem. For are not these (Holding out pearls.) a King's ransom? How oft have kings looked upon their richness and lusted after them. And now one whose face I have not yet seen, but whom my heart hath acknowledged as king these many days hath need of them, and I shall leave them in His keeping. They shall be His—to save Him from the Roman cross. They told me He would pass this way; yet since morning only the halt, the lame, the blind, the beggars throng this thoroughfare and stretch out their hands to me. But I will close my eyes to them and keep these jewels only for the Master's need. (Inaplays softly as a procession of theBlind, Sick, Lame, aWidow, and aBeggar Childpass before the unheedingGentileand stretch out their hands to her. They move below the platform and out by the door, left.) Yet the Master cometh not. Shall I go hence and seek Him elsewhere? (She turns and sees a white-robedMessengerapproaching from the right. She turns eagerly to theMessenger.)
THE MESSENGER. Thou seekest Jesus?
The Gentile. If only I might find Him.
THE MESSENGER. He came this way.
The Gentile. I saw Him not.
THE MESSENGER. Yet He lifted His hands to thee in appeal.
The Gentile. Then how may I know Him, that I may leave these jewels in His keeping?
THE MESSENGER. He hath jewels He would leave in thy keeping.
The Gentile. Whither?
THE MESSENGER. And art thou blind that thou hast not seen?
The Gentile. I have seen only a ragged child and a beggar and....
The Messengeer (turning to the door, right). Behold His jewels! (She throws the door open. Alarmed by the sound ofEd'sbreathing—the huddled figures are holding their breath—theMessengerscreams and jumps from the platform followed by the otherPlayers.)
MISS INA. What is it?
BATTS. What's the matter?
THE MESSENGER (nearing the stove). A funny fuss—in there!
BATTS (walking warily down the aisle). Imagination.
THE MESSENGER. It's alive!
The Gentile. I heard it too.
BATTS (at the platform steps). Bring your flashlight, Nat.
NAT (joining him). Here.
BATTS. You go ahead, I'll follow.
NAT. Go yourself. I hain't lost nothin’ in there. (Samrises.)
BATTS (ascending the steps, he flashes the light in the Philathea room). Oh, it ’tain't nothin’.
(Edsprings to the door, dazed. He andBattsstare at each other a few seconds.)
BATTS. What in the—Ed Harper!
NAT. Ed Harper. (He goes in disgust to the front bench and sits. ThePlayerssit also.)
BATTS. What are you doin’ here?
BATTS. How come you here? What in the...?
ED. I...I dropped off to sleep.
BATTS. You wake up and explain yourself. How long have you been here, what you come for, and...who else is in that room? (He springs into the door, pushingEd out.) Well, if this ain't a pretty come-off! If this ain't—! (Stoops to pick up a bucket inside the Philathea room.)
MISS INA (rises). What is it, Papa?
BATTS. The Harper young'uns huddled together here in the Philathea room, and that child with tuberculosis, and pots and pans! (He walks to the front of the platform, displaying the pans and plates from the bucket. Edhastily closes the door and stands against it.) And fried meat!
MISS INA. Pots, pans—cooking in the Lord's house!
BATTS (turning toEd). So you took up in our church, you and your young'uns. What's the idea?
ED (sullenly). After you give me movin’ orders, I didn't have nowheres to go.
BATTS. I told you to try ’cross the creek.
ED. I tried. Didn't have no luck. (Battsputs down the bucket on the floor, takes out his handkerchief and scrubs his hands with it.)
BATTS. So you camped in our church!
ED. I come to the house o’ God—yeh.
BATTS (briskly). Well, it won't do, Harper. It won't do. It won't do! (He throws his handkerchief into the bucket.)
ED. I aim to move out soon's I can find a place.
BATTS. You'll move out tonight! Right now! Why, you can't break into a house of worship like this—it's a felony, that's what ’tis—a penitentiary act, if we was a mind to push it. However, we won't prosecute you this time—not if you get right on out peaceable and don't repeat the offense.
ED. Pearl's sick, my baby one. She's got some—
BATTS. T. B. I know. Too bad. But that don't alter the situation none. I can't be party to no such desecratin’ the Lord's house. I'm deacon here. I can't countenance—(He turns to the church group.) Why, every tramp in the country will be breakin’ in, and we'll have arson and larceny and....
BATTS (toEd). No, my church—
ED. Ain't this here the house o’ God?
BATTS (flushing). Now here! ’Tain't no use to start no argument. We—
ED. If you hadn't had nowhere else on God's earth to sleep—
BATTS (roaring). We didn't build this house to sleep in and use—
ED. I ain't used nothin’ but a little firewood I holp maul and split and cord (He steps out from door.) with these here two hands. (Holding out his hands.)
BATTS. Firewood! (Turns to the church group.) Gives me cold chills when I think how near our house of worship's been burnt up! I for one know how this church come. And after I—
ED. I reckon I do too, hard as I sweated loadin’ sand and totin’ cypress logs and haulin’ brick.
BATTS. I put money in it—my money—in these pews, in that carpet, in them classrooms—money—hard cash! (Fervently.) It's a sacred place—sacred to the worship of the Lord Jehovah, and you desecratin’ it with—fried meat!
ED (looking at the pan in the bucket). Ain't fried much.
BATTS (his fervor yielding to calculation). Look here! What you usin’ for rations? (Pointing to the bucket.)
ED. Side meat.
BATTS. Where from?
ED. Your smokehouse.
BATTS. I suspicioned it! Ina, you know our meat's been gettin’ away?
MISS INA. Yes.
ED. I hain't took none. (Indicating the pan in the bucket.) That ’ere's the last o’ your sharecropper's special—tainted to rotten!
BATTS (trembling with wrath). You're askin’ me to knock you down—much as I've took from you—stealin’ my fertilizer and stuff, and destroyin’ my sheds and stables for firewood, and bootleggin’ my cotton, and cheatin’ and lyin’, and...and now, much as I've took from you and your gals the last three years....
(Ed. has gradually been drawing nearerBatts. He now puts his face almost in that ofBatts, and the “words” are found. He has his “wush.”)
ED. Yeh, you took! You've took and took! You took my wife with your leakin’ roofs, and your starvation rations, and your slave drivin’! (Battssteps slightly back with a gasp atEd'stemerity.) You've took the man out of me with your cussin’, and your trickin’ me out of my share, and your oudacious int'rest and—
BATTS. You! You!
ED. And you chargin’ all my summer's hard labor for one pitiful pine coffin that won't wu'th five dollars and —(Natjumps up and starts toward the platform;Samrises and moves to the front.) and you've took the spirit out o’ my gals, and you've learnt ’em to lie and cheat and steal, and now my baby one—(Battsraises his arm to strike. Inascreams.) my little weakly—(Natrushes in between the men in time to prevent the blow intended forEd'shead.)
MISS INA. Papa! Don't! This is the church! Don't, oh, don't strike!
NAT (holding the men apart). No, Mr. Batts, you can't afford to hit him.
SAM. Sure you can't.
NAT. ’Twon't never do. You're deacon here—’twould hurt the church.
SAM. And your influence and—
BATTS (pulling himself together with a great show of self-control). That's so. I can't afford to fight. I am deacon—before the world. (Hunting for a handkerchief, forgetting that he has discarded it.) Forbearance is the motto—bear and forbear. (He wipes moisture from his forehead with the back of his hand.)
NAT. You've bore a lot—more'n most men.
SAM. You have sure.
BATTS. Yeh, I...I...try. (Turning quickly toEd.) Harper! (There is a dramatic pause.) Bad as you've done me, I'm goin’ to offer you a shelter for a day or two—or even longer—in my cotton house—the old one, you know—where you stored them shucks.
ED. Where'll we go after that?
BATTS. Now that ain't my look-out.
ED. Go to shucks, and then to hell so far as you care.
BATTS. Ed Harper, you take yourself and your insolence on out o’ here before I forget I'm in my church and—
ED. So this here's the house o'Batts and God.
BATTS (in a rage). You see that Constable? Unless you vacate in five minutes he's goin’ to arrest you as a disturber of the peace, handcuff you and take you to jail! Constable! (Samsteps towardEd.) Get your handcuffs!
SAM (going toEd). Sure—if he won't accept your offer.
ED (trapped now). I...I'm goin’...(Edgoes into the room at the left. There is a brief pause. Battsstarts to wipe the moisture from his face, andInahurries to him to give him her handkerchief.)
BATTS (mopping his face with her lace-edged handkerchief). Well, ’tain't pleasant. (He leaves the platform and is followed byNatandSam.)
MISS INA. You were magnanimous, Papa! You absolutely turned the other cheek.
NAT. Done him better'n he deserved.
(INAreturns to the organ stool. The three men are standing in front of the platform.)
BATTS. Well, I ain't a hard man, but they simply ain't nothin’ you can do for that mangy crowd.
MISS INA. Not a thing.
BATTS. Except to move their dirt and laziness and impudence out from under us as quick as possible and—(All turn their heads as the door, left, opens. EdwithPearlin his arms stalks down the aisle. Garnetwith bowed head follows with quilts and pillows, tipping. Ruby, bucket on arm, walks out the door and pauses on the platform long enough to return the stares of theChurch Groupand to seize defiantly the bucketBattsset on the floor near the door. She marches down the aisle asEdreaches the door, right. He stops, looks over the heads of theChurch Grouptoward the pulpit, with eyes that actually flash—no longer “dead eyes” since he gotBattstold—above the sick child in his arms.)
ED. Come on, God, ’fore you get movin’ orders!
(He leaves. TheChurch Groupexchange shocked stares. And soRuby'sgood-bye is lost to them. Near the door she turns and thumbs her nose atMiss Ina—a gallant gesture withal, as she walks forth to what is outside. There is an awkward silence. Everybody seems at a loss. Battsand his group do not quite know what to do with the awful thing thatEdhas left with them.)
CALLIE. I can't help feelin’ sorry for them though.
A PLAYER (rising). Let's go home. This church is too cold. I don't want to practice no more.
(The tempo from this point is almost hectic.)
BATTS. Throw on some wood, Nat. Thaw ’em out, eh, Constable? (He slapsSamon the back. NatandSamhasten to put wood in the stove.) Ain't you goin’ to finish practicin’ your play?
MISS INA (rising from the organ stool). Certainly we are! This is the Lord's work! I am putting on this play for the Lord, and I'll see it through! Continue just where you left off. Take your places.
(ThePlayersstand near the door, left. TheGentiletakes her place at the left center. TheMessengertakes her original place near the door.)
MISS INA (while thePlayerstake their places). We cannot let the Lord down.
THE MESSENGER (resuming the cue). Behold his jewels! (Inaleads the song, thePlayersjoining in softly.)
- “When He cometh, when He cometh
- To make up His jewels,
- All His jewels, precious jewels,
- His loved and His own.”
During the final verses of the song
THE CURTAIN DESCENDS SLOWLY
PAIR OF QUILTS
A COUNTRY COMEDY
As originally produced by The Carolina Playmakers in The Playmakers Theatre, Chapel Hill, on the Fifty-second Bill of New Plays on April 20 and 22, 1938.
|Joe Atkins, farmer||Fred Howard|
|Cornie, his second wife||Katherine Moran|
|Dolly, Joe's daughter by his first wife||Betty Hearn|
|Sudie Johnson, his sister-in-law by his first marriage||Annetta Burnett|
|The Peddler||Sam Hirsch|
The Scene: The living room of Joe Atkin's Farm-house in eastern North Carolina.
The Time: A fall morning early in the nineteen hundreds.
The rise of the curtain shows a plainly furnished room with a tall walnut wardrobe in the left corner, a fireplace in which an oak fire is burning at the center, and in the right corner a square table on which an old-fashioned “spool” graphophone is dolefully grinding out “Annie Laurie.” A low unpainted chair by the table and a plain comfortable rocker at the left complete the rather drab furnishings of the room. The only spot of color is a red slat bonnet hanging on the rocker. The usual gadgets are on the mantel above the fireplace: flanking the old clock ornate vases filled with paper lighters, a statue of Santa Claus at one end, and a cup and saucer inscribed “Baby” at the other, a family remedy or two, a tin match box, thread, scissors, and an almanac.
By the table, holding a camphor bottle and listening intently to the “music” sitsDolly, her lips slightly parted and her eyes wide open to the wonder of “Annie Laurie”. Dolly, an anemic girl of fifteen, wears a pale calico dress and large high-topped, patent-tipped shoes which she slipped out of the kitchen to put on when the family went in to breakfast. Having rubbed her aching head with camphor, she now holds the bottle to her nose, inhaling automatically, for her eyes and heart are on the “pretty music.” It stops; the spell is broken. Suddenly her large eyes fill with tears and she bows over the table, an arm thrown lovingly around the graphophone. Her emotion is interrupted by a voice at the right door.
SUDIE (peering around, blinded by the bright sunshine).
Dolly? (Dolly'ssobs increase.) (Sudie Johnsonwalks stridently in. She is a short, plump woman of middle age, dressed this morning in a dark coat over a calico house dress with a gray slat bonnet on her head.)
What's to matter?
DOLLY (sobbing). Oh, Aunt Sudie!
SUDIE (advancing nearer the table). What ails you?
DOLLY (looking around, with tragic face). I can't stand to see this here pretty music took away.
(Sudieremoves her bonnet and squares her fat shoulders. The very bun on the top of her head looks militant.)
SUDIE. Who said it was goin’ to be took away?
DOLLY. Miss Cornie.
SUDIE. How come?
DOLLY. ’Cause we can't spare the money, she says.
SUDIE. ’Cause I sent the agent here—that's how come!
(Sudiestands before the fire, warming her feet, her eyes fixed on the table.)
DOLLY. He'll be back after it this evenin’. (She lays her hand tenderly on the instrument.)
SUDIE. That's so. I promised to have that agent another chicken slick. Slip me a little dish o’ butter before night, Dolly, for supper. The agent's real good comp'ny.
DOLLY. This is real good comp'ny too.
SUDIE (musing). He set and told funny jokes Monday night till I pure hurt. I thought the “Native Herb” man was real entertainin’ with his fast pieces on the fiddle, and the lightnin’ rod agent with han'chief tricks, but the grapherphone man's got ’em all beat with his funny jokes.
DOLLY. When he takes this out, it'll be like a corpse goin’ out the door.
SUDIE (militantly). You just le’ me tackle your pa!
DOLLY. Papa wants it bad as I do.
SUDIE. Well, ha'n’t he got no a'thority ’round here?
DOLLY. You know how Miss Cornie is, Aunt Sudie.
(Dollygoes to the door, left, to make sure there is no one outside listening.)
SUDIE. I know a-plenty. I begged Joe not to bring that stingy, tightfisted—Why, Joe goes around pure a-smell-in’, Cornie's so clost with the sweet soap.
DOLLY (turning back from the door). She ’low'nces our biscuits now.
SUDIE. Afraid my chickens'll get the cold ones—is that it?
(Dollygoes to the end of the mantel and with her hand feels under it.)
DOLLY. Yes'm. She found out.
SUDIE. If poor Sis Sarah had just a-lived till you growed up and married off—
DOLLY. I want to grow up and be a music teacher. I love pretty music.
SUDIE. Well, Sis Sarah's organ's a-settin’ up yonder at my house for you to practice on any time.
DOLLY (giving up her search under the mantel). She's throwed away my sweet-gum again. (She returns to the table and sits dejectedly.)
SUDIE. I got a piece o’ cat tallow at the house, and I want you to chew it right in her face.
DOLLY. I couldn't stick it nowhere she wouldn't find it.
SUDIE. Try the kitchen. Has she ever cooked a meal's vittles since she come here?
DOLLY. She says her knees is too stiff and sore.
SUDIE. Where she sets ought to be sore—if it didn't get so much practice. Don't she turn her hand to a thing yet?
DOLLY (handling the graphophone “spools”). Bed-quilt squares.
SUDIE (alert). Dolly, have you found out for me what sort o’ quilt she's aimin’ to enter in the fair this year?
DOLLY. “Dutch Boy,” she calls it.
SUDIE. I never heard o’ no such quilt. (Leaning forward.) Have you slipped me the pattern?
DOLLY. Can't get it.
SUDIE. Well, I'll see that quilt before I leave here!
DOLLY. She won't show it to nobody till after the fair.
SUDIE. Me and Sis Sarah always took all the blue ribbons on quilts, and she shan't come scrougin’ in with no “Dutch Boys.” I don't need no pattern. Let me just lay my eyes on it. (She rises.) Where's that “Dutch Boy”?
DOLLY. Up in the comp'ny room.
SUDIE (starting). I'm a-goin’ to see it!
DOLLY (quickly). You can't go in the comp'ny room, Aunt Sudie.
SUDIE (turning). How come I can't go anywhere in Sis Sarah's house I—(Striding toward the door, left.)
DOLLY. He might walk in on you.
SUDIE (stopping at the door). Who?
DOLLY. The peddler.
SUDIE. What peddler?
DOLLY. One that stayed here all night.
SUDIE (angrily, turning back). Here?
DOLLY. Yes'm. Miss Cornie took him in...made me kill a chicken and cut the last ham for his supper and breakfast.
SUDIE (furiously). Underminin’ Satan! She knows I've always took all the travelin’ men. (Advancing to the table). What sort o’ peddler?
DOLLY. A Dutch feller, I reckon. He talks like a Dutchman.
SUDIE. Next she'll be after my “Native Herb” man and the lightnin’ rod agent and—(Abruptly.) She'll try to take my grapherphone agent tonight.
DOLLY. She did tell me to leave the bleachin’ sheets on the comp'ny bed sure ’nough.
(Joe Atkinsappears in the door, left.)
(Joeenters and tiptoes his way toward the fireplace. Unconsciously he tips, for he has spent his life on tiptoes—eating, thinking, sleeping. “Sis Sarah” was a querulous invalid who quarreled him into it, andCornie
is a healthy shrew who awes him into it. He is about sixty years old. Today and every day he wears tan corduroy trousers, coarse work shirt, and heavy brogans. Extricating some of the last ham from a lower tooth, he stands in the left corner wiping his goose-quill toothpick on his trousers after each application toothward.)
DOLLY. The dishes ready to wash, Papa?
JOE. Soon's the peddler gets done eatin’ and tellin’ Cornie how pretty she is.
SUDIE. Pretty, my foot!
DOLLY. Maybe she'll let him open his packs, if he talks...nice.
JOE. Oh, she'll have blue eyes and dimples ’fore he quits.
SUDIE. Dimples where? And her eyes is gray as a gander's!
DOLLY (musing). If we couldn't buy nothin’, I'd love to look.
JOE. And smell—I do. Their packs always smells sweet inside, with cologne and truck.
SUDIE (significantly). I think you better buy you a cake or two o’ sweet soap, Joe.
JOE. I sure do need some few little things. (He searches the mantel.)
SUDIE (marching to the right corner of the fireplace to faceJoe). And Dolly needs her pretty music, too. You got to buy her that there grapherphone.
JOE. Wisht I had the money.
SUDIE. Who totes the pocketbook ’round this place?
JOE (looking blankly at the mantel). Where's my bladder o’ snuff, Sook?
DOLLY. Miss Cornie put it in her side o’ the wardrobe.
(Joegoes on tiptoes to the wardrobe, only to find one side locked. He fumbles in “his side” of the wardrobe to deceiveSudie. But her eyes are on him; she knows.)
SUDIE. Locked it up from you! Hides your snuff from you, takes my travelin’ men right out from under me, and now you're goin’ to let her take this poor, motherless child's music—
JOE. I like the music all right. That “Brother Wadkins” piece tickles me so bad.
SUDIE. Then wear the pants! Don't cower down to her and have to beg her for every penny you spend.
JOE. I...I got money.
SUDIE. Then give it here and let me slip it to that agent tonight. That'll settle it.
JOE. It's for something else though. (He crosses to the table to muse over the marvel of the graphophone.)
SUDIE. You ha'n’t got no money...not nary copper cent, not nary one.
JOE. You look there in my Sunday breeches pocket, Sook.
(Dollygoes eagerly to the wardrobe, takes out the brown trousers, and searches their pockets. Joeexamines the “Brother Wadkins” piece.)
JOE (chuckling). “Goodby, Brother Wadkins.” Want you to hear him.
DOLLY (from the brown trousers). “Annie Laurie” is my piece.
SUDIE (walking over to the table). Play “Annie Laurie” for the child! Hard as she works and slaves at this house since poor Sis Sarah went away. If Sis Sarah could just look down—(For effect she glances toward the accustomed place above the mantel whereJoe'sfirst wife placed herself years ago, and is startled to find her gone.) Joe! Where's Sarah?
JOE (not following). Well, I hope she's (He glances timidly upward.) she's up yonder.
SUDIE (not following him). She ain't! (She crosses militantly to the mantel and points to the empty space.) She set here before ever Dolly was borned. What have you done with her?
JOE. Oh. I'm havin’ her enlarged.
SUDIE (approvingly). Well then. I thought to be sure you wouldn't throw away the only picture poor Sarah ever had took.
JOE. No-o. I give her to a agent a month ago to enlarge...and paid him. He was to send her back by mail this week.
DOLLY. Papa, I can't find the money.
JOE. It's there in my brown breeches.
DOLLY (still holding the trousers). No, sir, ’tain't.
(Joecrosses over to assist her.)
JOE. It's bound to be. (He examines the pockets.)
DOLLY. Nothin’ in ’em but a string and a bean-shooter and some nails.
SUDIE (sarcastically from the right corner of the fire-place). Nails rattle like coppers. Maybe you thought—
JOE (stubbornly). There was eight dollars. Barber paid me last night, and I put the money (He searches desperately.) in here and come straight home and took off my Sunday pants and hung ’em up in my side of the wardrobe....
DOLLY (holding hopelessly to one leg of the trousers). The money ain't there.
JOE (starting all over again). Barber paid me for the calf, and I put....
DOLLY. What calf?
JOE (caught, beforeSudie). Oh...Old Bessie's.
DOLLY. That was my calf. I claimed her.
SUDIE. Yes, it was hers. She claimed her.
JOE. I...I was goin’ to fix it.
DOLLY (her eyes filling). My calf gone. And the money....(Dollydrops the trousers sullenly and walks back to the table, her back to the wardrobe.)
SUDIE. You could o’ paid for the grapherphone with that money.
JOE (still clinging to the trousers and his story). I never touched a nickel. Barber paid me, and I come straight home and took off my Sunday pants and hung ’em—
SUDIE (relishing her chance). Maybe the money dropped out in the wardrobe. Look ’ere! (Sudiecrosses to the wardrobe, sails to the open side, noses in the bottom with gusto, her fat posterior pointing eloquently upward.)
JOE (edging out of her way). If ’tain't there....
SUDIE. If ’tain't here somebody's stoled it. Bed-quilt scraps! Look at ’em. (She emerges for an instant to examine the scraps.) These here's some scraps I lent Sis Sarah; here's one like this dress I got on. (She stuffs
all her pockets.) Ain't no “Dutch Boy” goin’ to be made out o’ my scraps. (Turning back to search.) Anybody that would grab customers away from a poor widow woman would take money from a poor motherless—! What's this? (She drags out an enlarged picture from the bottom of the wardrobe and dramatically holds it up.) How's this? Is this what you had Sarah enlarged for—to hide her away ’mongst bed-quilt scraps and old underwear?
JOE. Heigho! Where'd that come from! (He examines the enlargement withSudie. Dollyjoins them, but looks only an instant. It reminds her too forcibly of the waySarahlooked in her coffin. She hurries back to the table and puts a record on the graphophone). Like her, ain't it?
SUDIE. Pine-blank. He ought to o’ made her smile a little. Dolly, come back and see—
DOLLY. No'm. It'll make me have bad dreams. (She hastily starts the “music.”)
SUDIE. Sarah's a-comin’ out o’ there.
JOE. I'm a-wonderin’...Dolly, you know anything ’bout when this here come?
DOLLY. No, sir. Miss Cornie goes to the mailbox every day.
SUDIE. She's the one stuck it away. (From the wardrobe she quickly takes a box of tacks, seizes the nearest chair,
mounts it at the mantel, and removes her shoe.) Well, I'm woman enough to put Sarah back where she belongs!
(With her shoe heel she begins to nail Sarah back in place. Joestands at the wardrobe, futilely going back to search for the money “Barber paid him.”Dollykeeps her back on the scene and listens to “Annie Laurie.” ThenCornieenters at the left. She is a tremendous middle-aged woman, with high waistline and huge hips. She wears a blue percale, confined at the waist by a gray apron. Her compressed lips, protruding lower jaw, and glassy gray-green eyes make her look rather forbidding. Her very walk suggests triumphal marches.)
CORNIE (advancing to the center of the room). What's all this? (The three in the room turn to stare at her. Sudieonly momentarily hesitates, then defiantly continues.) Stop that racket! (She walks over to the table in one stride, pushesDollyout of the way, and turns “Annie Laurie” off and herself on. Then she turns towardSudie. Dollygoes behind the table.) What are you up to? (Sudieapparently does not hear her. Cornieshouts.) What are you doin’?
SUDIE (turning just one instant). My duty.
CORNIE. When I need you to help decorate, I'll send you word. (Advancing.) That ain't goin’ to stay there.
SUDIE. It better. You hid poor Sis Sarah away ’mongst scraps and—
CORNIE. What're you doin’ plunderin’ in my truck?
(Sudiesteps down. They enter the arena.)
SUDIE. I was a-huntin’ of some money that's been stoled.
CORNIE. Whose money?
SUDIE. Dolly's. Her calf money.
CORNIE. That money ain't goin’ to be throwed away.
SUDIE. It's Dolly's; if she wants—
CORNIE. I'll ’tend to the finances without any suggestions—or meddlin’.
SUDIE. Dolly raised Old Bess's heifer by hand, while you set here flat o’ your bustle a-sewin’ bed-quilts.
CORNIE. You and your “poor Sis Sarah” ain't the only one can make pretty quilts.
SUDIE. You ha'n’t never took no prizes on none.
CORNIE. I will this year. You slipped all the fancy quilts out of this house before I took charge here, but I'm puttin’ back prettier ones than was took away.
SUDIE. I took just what belonged to me. And if you say—(Joetips out the door, right. Dolly, in fascinated fright, looks on from behind the table.)
CORNIE. I say you'd o’ took the cover right off'n the beds if I hadn't come here when I did.
SUDIE (turning, very red and angry). Joe, will you just—(ButJoeis gone. Sudieturns to her own defense.) What about you takin’ travelin’ men right out from under me, when all these years—
CORNIE. Well, if gentlemen prefer to stop with me—
SUDIE. Gentlemen! You ha'n’t got nothin’ but a ’Gyptian, a low-bredded peddler, a Dutch! (Sudiecrosses towardCornie.)
CORNIE. He wears more diamonds on him than anybody ever stayed at your house. (She steps forward to meetSudie.)
SUDIE. Wears seven-year-itch on him too, I bet you.
CORNIE. He don't. I bet you he's cleaner and neater from top to toe than anybody ever lay on your bed.
SUDIE. I don't never examine my boarders from top to bottom.
CORNIE. You ha'n’t never had nobody as polite and familiar and mannerly—
SUDIE. I don't carry on familiar with my travelin’ men, and I ain't a married woman neither.
CORNIE. You tried to be, but you got cut out. (Cornieadvances a few steps.)
SUDIE. I didn't want Joe Atkins no such a thing, and I don't want your Dutchmans with their brass and
cologne and diamonds; but if you don't quit takin’ that child's money away from her—
CORNIE. You get out o’ here (She seizesSudie'sbonnet from the chair and thrusts it in her hands.) and don't you come projec'in’ back neither.
SUDIE (standing a little more firmly). I'll get out o’ Sis Sarah's house when I please. (PassingCornieon her way to the table.) Dolly, don't worry. That grapherphone ain't goin’ out o’ this house. I got a calf.
CORNIE (scathingly). Meddlin’ old Grandmammy Hypocrite!
SUDIE (turning back toCornie). Take the grapherphone on up to my house, Dolly. I won't let her hurt you. I'll stand between—
(DOLLYhas rather hesitatingly gathered the machine in her arms, not knowing what to do. Cornie'shand flashes out and resoundingly popsSudie'scheek. It feels so good, she pops again. Sudiedoes not wait for more, but utterly taken back she turns on her heel and quickly rushes out the door, right. Cornieturns just in time to seeDollyeasing out toward the door, left, with the graphophone in her arms.)
CORNIE. Dolly! You Dolly! (Dollystops in the door, left, without turning around. Corniedashes to her and snatches the graphophone from her arms.) I got a graphermofoam you can play. (She hurries to the wardrobe, and taking a key from her apron pocket she unlocks her side and places the machine therein. Dolly
turns and looks on sullenly defiant as she sees her pretty music locked up.) I got several graphermofoams you can play. (Turning toDolly.) Now you go wash up them dishes and sprinkle down the starched clothes and rub up the gourds and water bucket and skim the milk in the churn and set it here by the fire to clabber and get the shuck mat and scrub up the kitchen.
DOLLY (sullenly). Ain't the peddler goin’ to open up his packs?
CORNIE. If he does, they ain't goin’ to be nary ar-ticle bought here, unless maybe some needles and pins. You go ’tend to the kitchen works.
(DOLLYgoes. Corniegets bed-quilt squares from the wardrobe, sits in the rocker at the left, and is wiping perspiration off her forehead with her apron when thePeddlerbreezes in with his packs. He is a short, stout, very dark man. He wears a light brown suit with heavy orange stripes; a silk shirt with purple stripes; a red tie in which a large diamond horseshoe pin flashes; light tan shoes; and a black derby which he removes soon after entering. Diamonds flash on his fingers and shirt front. He looks scented with Hoyt's perfume. On his shoulder he carries a canvas pack and, in his hand, a small canvas telescope valise. His “t's” are pronounced like “d's”, and his accent is typically the ’Syrian Peddler's of the period.)
PEDDLER (depositing his pack on the floor nearCornie.) Busy liddle bee. Don'd you never sdop, Mis’ A'kins? (He seats himself on the telescope at her feet and looks at her work with apparently intent interest.)
CORNIE. They ain't a lazy bone in me.
PEDDLER. When I come in yesded'y you sew quilds, you sew lasd nighd, you sew dis mornin’. I hope I find smard wife like you some day.
CORNIE. I bet you can't guess how many quilts I've made since I been married.
PEDDLER. Oh, couple, maybe.
CORNIE. I've made twenty-five in one year.
PEDDLER. Dwendy-five. My, my!
CORNIE. I just finished one to send to the fair. I aim to get the blue ribbon on it this year.
PEDDLER. Sure you ged dhe blue ribbond. I look in dhe paper one day. I see Mis’ A'kins win de blue ribbon on her quild. Maybe your picdure be dere. I cud id oud. Show id. I say: “Sure, sure I know dad lady. Sure, Mis’ A'kins, nice lady, blue eyes and black hair, one dimple. I know her, sure!”
CORNIE. They won't be no picture of me in the paper.
PEDDLER (removing a newspaper likeness of himself from his pocket). Dhey pud me in dhe “Dimes.” I dell how good dhe linimend is. Dhey pud my picdure in. Id don'd cosd nod a cend.
CORNIE. That ain't it. Joe wasted a pa'cel o’ good money enlargin’ his first wife, and he ha'n’t never had so much as a penny pitcher made o’ me.
PEDDLER. He don'd appreciade you like he should oughd do. Smard wife wu'hd million dollar do man.
CORNIE. If ’twa'n’t for me he wouldn't be worth nothin’ long. I don't throw away money. I have to keep a tight rein on the pocketbook, or he'd throw away every cent, or give it away. (ThePeddlereases off his telescope and kneels as he opens it.) He got to buyin’ from every agent come along—stere'scopes, lightnin’ rods, pills, enlarged pitchers, graphermofoams. ’Tain't wu'th while to open the pack. I can't buy. (Corniestands.)
PEDDLER. Waid! (He takes a small box from the valise and opens it.) I god a presend I give you. See dhis dhimble? I prize dhis; id cosd money. Sderling silver dhimble! (He takes her hand, puts the thimble on her finger and pats her hand tenderly.) See dere! Id jusd fid. Sderling! (Corniesits.)
CORNIE (pleased). Why, much obliged. It...why, it's the first present I've had since I got married.
PEDDLER. You oughd do have presends...ear bobs, breasd pins, rings...I dell you. I god one breasd pin jusd suid you. (He takes a pin from the valise.) Dhese pearl doves widh dhe diamond eyes. Look how de diamonds sparkle. I sell cheap do you—half price. I treat you righd.
CORNIE (looking upon the pin with wistful eyes). I don't reckon I got no use for nothin’ that fancy. Takes a pretty woman to wear such.
PEDDLER. Preddy? Who say you ain'd preddy? You dake dhis pin for sevendy-five cend—cosd me one dollar. Take handsome woman like you do wear id. (He pins the doves on her dress.) Jusd see how id look on your bosom, lady—sparkle like fire!
CORNIE (admiring the effect). I always wanted pearl doves, but...Sudie Johnson's doves ain't got no diamonds in them.
(ThePeddlerspies a mirror on the mantel and quickly seizes it to hold beforeCornie.)
PEDDLER. Look how dhem diamonds sparkle, green and red and yaller. (Cornietakes the mirror.) All dhe womens dry to buy dhat, but I save id for dhe woman id show besd on.
CORNIE. But seventy-five cents....
PEDDLER. Gi'me fifdy cend. You dake me in, treat me good, feed me nice, dhe doves made for you...I gi’ you bargain. I treat you good.
CORNIE. (Taking a purse from her pocket.) Here. (She hands him the money.) I'm going to keep this pin. I need it.
PEDDLER. All preddy womens need preddy jew'lry and fancy combs do decorade dhe hair. You god a fine head of hair, bud you bound do have somedhin’ do sed id off. (He places the fancy comb in her hair.) See dhere? Pud id jusd behind de ball—make you look like de town womens! (ThePeddlergoes around the chair.) Ged
"YOU LOOK LIKE QUEEN VICTORY!" THE PEDDLER (SAM HIRSCH) TO MISS CORNIE (KATHERINE MORAN) IN THE CAROLINA PLAYMAKERS PRODUCTION OF "PAIR OF QUILTS."
de blue ribbon, have you picdure dook wid dhis. Jusd fifdy-five cend. Sdunnin’! Make you look like Queen Vicdory! (He holds the mirror before her.)
CORNIE (wondering at the difference in her appearance). Well, don't a little thing make a change in a body's looks?
PEDDLER. Look ad dhem rubies and diamonds and gold leaves; dhey dwinkle like stars in dhat budiful black hair.
CORNIE (handing him the fifty cents). I r'ally need it to keep them scolders off'n my neck.
PEDDLER (holding out a “fascinator”). And you need dhis for your neck. I give you good bargain now for sure ’cause I dake likin’ do you. “Oh, yes, dhat Mis’ A'kins; I know her—nice lady, look like Queen,” I dell dhem all. Dhis cost you sevendy-five cend.
CORNIE (examining the fascinator). What's it for?
PEDDLER. Id's a fascinador do dhrow round your head like dhis. (He demonstrates.) See how dhat pink jusd bring oud the blue in your eyes. When you sdep oud in dhe cold, jusd wrop dhis round your chin and moudh...see?
CORNIE (her voice muffled by the fascinator). I don't get to step out much.
PEDDLER. You will go do dhe fair do see dhe quilds. All dhe womens dhere will wear fascinadors. You must have dhis.
CORNIE (handing him the money). It will come in handy, even if my feet don't let me out much.
PEDDLER. Your feet? Dhad dhink me! (He takes our a pair of bedroom shoes and holds them before her.) Dese is dhe sofdest, warmest dhings you ever pud your feed indo. Id cosd two dollar, but for you...gi’ me one, and dhe shoes is yours.
CORNIE. I reckon not.
PEDDLER. Jusd run your hand in dhis. Feel dhe warm, see dhe rich color.
CORNIE. Even if I could get them, they look too small. (She continues appraising the shoes, while thePeddlerquickly slips off her buttoned shoes before she realizes what has happened.)
PEDDLER. Id don'd cosd nodhing do dry. Dhem too liddle for you? Why, you god liddle foot. (He puts the bedroom slipper on one foot.) See how id fid—like a glove. (He adds the other slipper with many a gentle pat to relieve the pressure and to keep her mind off the tightness.) I bet dhere no womens round here got liddle, small feet like dhese.
CORNIE. Sudie Johnson claims to, but...these don't feel so tight.
PEDDLER (caressing the slippered feet). Mis’ Sudie Johnson buy dhese and dell all ’round dhey too small for you, when I know dhey perfecd fid. Make your foot
look like Cind'rella. “Why dhat Mis’ A'kins, she got one small foot—blue ribbon on dhat doo, same as quild. She can wear number four slipper,” I dell dhem all.
CORNIE. I better not. Money's scarce.
PEDDLER. Dhen Mis’ Sudie Johnson buy dhem, wear dhem ’round.
CORNIE (grimly). Here's the dollar. But I won't buy no more today, I reckon.
(Cornierises and crosses to chair at the right.)
PEDDLER (quickly holding up a ring). Ring, solid gold ring, genuwine ruby! You must have dhis. You know quality; you don'd buy cheap like some womens. See id on your finger.
CORNIE. I reckon my ring days is about over.
PEDDLER (reproachfully). What dhat you say?
CORNIE (wistfully). I said my ring days is about over, I reckon.
PEDDLER. You dhink you geddin’ doo old do wear ring widh ruby? Ha! Ha! Dhad good joke. You young as me. Lood ad my rings. (He flashes them in front of her eyes.) Rings make you feel young. You nod one day over thirdy—nod with dhad complexion, dhad pink cheeks, dhe black hair—nod one day pasd thirdy!
CORNIE. I feel young anyhow.
PEDDLER (holding her hand to slip the ring on). You dhake dhis ring. Id don'd cosd you bud sixdy cend. I treat you righd. (He holds her hand up so that she can see the effect.) See dhad! Look like differend hand. (He pats her hand gently.) You can'd take id off now. I put id on widh a wish. I dell you dhe wish nexd dime I come. Dhen if you don'd like dhe ring, I dake id back. Fair enough?
CORNIE (handing him the money). Well, I r'ally need one ring, I reckon. Every married woman needs one ring. But I won't spend no more today. Shut up your pack now.
(ThePeddlerputs the lid on his telescope and with his back toCorniekneels to undo the canvas pack. While he is talking, Cornielifts the lid of the valise to look wistfully inside, a last look at the finery therein. She is wondering whatSudie Johnsonwill buy when thePeddlerstops at her house. Perhaps if there is something very pretty, she will buy it herself—elseSudiewill flaunt it all over the neighborhood—and beforeJoe.)
PEDDLER (busy at his pack). I god dhings you need, dhings to sew dhe preddy quilds—needles, dhread, buddons, sweed soap, Hamburg laces, han'chiefs, powders, pins, beads, garders, cologne—(He picks up a bottle from the pack, opens it, and turns to findCorniefingering with sudden intent interest in the other pack.) You just smell sweed cologne. You buy—(ButCornie'seyes are glued to an object in the bottom of the valise.)
CORNIE. Ain't that a quilt?
PEDDLER (attempting to put the lid on the valise). No, no. Dhad not for sale! (Cornieholds on to the quilt with a death grip.) Led me shud dhis delescope now, ma'am, if you won'd buy no more. Don'd led me hurt your liddle hand. (He finds thatCornie'shand is not so little now.) I shud dhis, so I go on my rounds.
CORNIE (holding on). Le's just see it anyhow. I'm interested in quilts.
PEDDLER (struggling with her). No, no, no! Not dhis. Dhis not do show. (Corniegaining ground, jerks out a corner.)
CORNIE. Why, if it ain't...if it ain't a “Dutch Boy”! (In her surprise she relaxes her hold, and almost thePeddlersucceeds in closing the pack. But not quite.)
PEDDLER. Sure dhad “Dudch Boy.” My mudder made id. I ged her do make you one. I brink id nexd dime I come dhis way.
CORNIE. I got a “Dutch Boy” upstairs. The quilt I've made for the fair is a “Dutch Boy.”
PEDDLER. Sure, sure. Led me shud—
CORNIE. I'm the only one around here that's got that pattern.
PEDDLER. Dhis done spoke for, but when I come back—
CORNIE (seizing a firmer hold). And I bet you a pretty I know who is goin’ to buy it.
PEDDLER. Dhey don't want nobody do see dheir quild, so I shud dhis—
CORNIE. Sudie Johnson's spoke for that quilt, and you just as well's to own it up.
PEDDLER. I god to go on my rounds, I dell you. You bodher me—
CORNIE (angrily excited). Look a-here! What you take for this quilt?
PEDDLER. Nod for sale—id spoke for! (With all his strength he suddenly tries to pushCornieout of the way. She holds on.)
CORNIE. Well, what are you goin’ to get for it?
PEDDLER (panting). Why dhad quild—I ged den dollar for id. I bound to go now. Turn loose now so I shud—
CORNIE. I'll give you twelve.
PEDDLER. Bud I done promise—
CORNIE. Sudie Johnson sha'n’t see that pattern; if she does the fair this year will be chock-a-block with “Dutch Boys.” I'm goin’ to have this quilt. You ain't goin’ to take it out of this house!
PEDDLER. Bud you see—
CORNIE. I see this “Dutch Boy,” and I'm goin’ to have it. Wrap it up, or just lay it there on the chair, and I'll get the money.
PEDDLER. You say dwelve dollar?
CORNIE. Fifteen! I'll make it fifteen, if it does take all the money on the place. Now what?
PEDDLER (abruptly). Dhe quild's yours. Cound your money, and I wrop id up for you.
CORNIE (triumphant, as she releases her hold on the quilt). That was a near escape. If I hadn't took one more look in that telescope....(She rises to unlock the wardrobe for the rest of the family's finances. ThePeddlerhastily wraps the quilt and ties it securely with strong twine, talking rapidly all the time. As soon as he finishes the package he hurries to fasten his packs “to take off” in an instant.)
PEDDLER. Well, you dhe only lady I ever see make me change my mind. Bud you treat me good, you feed me ham, chicken—I dell all dhe travelin’ mens dhis dhe place do stop. “Mis’ A'kins made me change my mind; yes, I led her oud-talk me one time.” I dell dhem all.
CORNIE (approaching with the purse). Here, help me count it out. (ThePeddlerplaces the quilt on the table and joins her.) This is five, and five's ten, and here's one, two, three, four, and five-ten-fifteen-twenty-five, thirty-five, forty-five, fifty, seventy-five, eighty, ninety, ninety-five and five's a dollar.
PEDDLER. Dhad's righd! Now I god do hurry ’long. (He shoulders the packs and turns to leave.) Dhad jew'lry do look fine on you. Hold up dhe looking glass and see
how preddy id is. I go. Goodbye. Good luck! (He hurries out the right door.)
CORNIE (going to the door). Goodbye...I've had some good luck! Makes me scringe to think how close....(She stands looking after him, musing.) He'll soon be out o’ sight, the rate he's goin’....I don't reckon I ought to made him change his mind; he was so earnest about it....If it hadn't been for Sudie Johnson gettin’ hold of the pattern....(She sighs as she sees the distance between her and her “travelin’ man” increase.) Well, he's a nice boy, I don't care what nobody says. (Reluctantly she turns back to her world. Before it becomes quite everyday, she picks up the mirror to admire her finery before concealing it in her side of the wardrobe.) The comb does look fine! (She sets it up higher, experimentally watches the doves’ eyes sparkle, holds her finger up to her cheek. Joeappears in the door at the right. Cornieis so engrossed in her jewelry that she is momentarily unconscious of the pressure of the “glass slippers” on her corns, much less ofJoe'simminence.)
JOE. What's the peddler in such a hurry for? He's heelin’ it up the path like a streak o’ lightnin’. (He advances toward the fire, looking around hopefully at the purchases.) I sort o’ wanted some little things.
CORNIE (turning abruptly from her mirror). You're old enough for your wants not to cramp you, I reckon. (Cornie, aware of her hurting feet, sits in the rocker at the right to replace her own shoes.)
JOE (still looking hopefully around). I needed a pair o’ galluses and some cuff buttons.
CORNIE. Where's them you ordered from J. Lynn?
JOE. They smell so brassy now, and they done turned green. (His eyes wander over the mantel, without much hope now.) And then...I sure would like to have a little small bladder o’ snuff for my neuralgy.
CORNIE. I thought I had done broke you from spittin’ away money. (She rises to attend now to her quilt. She finds the package very difficult to untie.)
JOE. And Dolly wanted some little truck...with just a little of that calf money. (His disappointment makes him bold—at long last.)
CORNIE. That calf money's invested in somethin’ that's some account. Here help me untie this.
(Joecrosses to her and tries, without much luck.)
JOE. Hard knots all right. Where's the scissors?
CORNIE. There you go. You got a mania for wastin’ somethin’. Save the twine; it'll come in useful.
(They struggle again, and finally open the package. Corniespreads the quilt over the table, and then suddenly her eyes become startled.)
CORNIE (trying to speak casually). Joe, step up them stairs and look in the blue chest and bring me down my “Dutch Boy.”
JOE. Your “Dutch”...! (He stares hard at the quilt on the table, but he changes his mind about expressing an opinion and obeys her instruction. As he goes out left, Dollyenters carrying a stone churn. She places it on the hearth, spreads a clean towel over the top, and tests the heat with her hand in order that the churn may not be too close to the fire. Corniecontinues examining the quilt. Joecalls off stage from the left.)
JOE. ’Tain't in the chest.
CORNIE. It's bound to be.
JOE (at the door). There's your quilt right before your eyes!
CORNIE. I bought this one from the peddler. You ha'n’t half looked.
(CORNIEhurries out the door left, grimly determined to bring her “Dutch Boy” back with her, yet with misgiving dogging her steps.)
DOLLY (whispering to her father). What's she talkin’ about?
JOE. The “Dutch Boy” she made for the fair; it's gone.
DOLLY. That's it right there!
JOE (walking over to the wardrobe). That's one she bought from her Dutchman.
DOLLY. If she did, she bought her own quilt!
JOE (looking at the wardrobe reflectively). Think so?
DOLLY. The peddler slept in the comp'ny room where she keeps the “Dutch Boy,” and he—(Examining the quilt.) Here's a scrap like Mama's percale, and one like this here calico I got on, and one like the streak-ed shirt Aunt Sudie made you. And the peddler's gone.
JOE. And the calf money!
DOLLY. Where was her eyes?
JOE. On that Dutchman.
DOLLY. She's comin’. (She bends over the churn quickly. Joeturns his back on the wardrobe and stands close in the chimney corner at the left. Cornieenters a-tremble. She is almost beside herself with exasperation. Almost she walks around in circles, looking for her bonnet.)
CORNIE. Don't stand there like idiots! (JoeandDollycontinue to look like idiots. She turns upon them.) Help me find my bonnet!
JOE (his eyes and mouth open). Your bonnet?
CORNIE (screaming). Yes! My BONNET!!
(DOLLYgets the red bonnet from the chair and hands it toCornie, keeping her distance.)
JOE. What you goin’ to do, Cornie?
CORNIE (snatching the bonnet fromDolly'shands). I'm a-goin’ after that ’Gyptian! (She dashes out like a whirlwind.)
DOLLY. Why, she can't catch him. (She goes to the door, right, looking after her stepmother.) She's fair lopin’, though.
JOE. Let her lope.
(JOEhas already spied the unlocked wardrobe, and now he noses triumphantly into “her side of the wardrobe.”Dollyturns and seesJoecoming out of the wardrobe with a huge bladder of snuff in one arm and the graphophone in the other. He places the graphophone on the table and sits by it with the bladder of snuff between his knees, preparatory to enjoying life while he may. Dollyturns quickly from the door when she takes in the situation and rushes to the table.)
DOLLY. “Annie Laurie” is my piece. Play “Annie Laurie.”
JOE (now master of his house). I'm a-goin’ to turn on “Brother Wadkins.”
And “Brother Wadkins” it is!Joesettles back comfortably in the rocking chair and dips deep into the bladder of snuff as
THE CURTAIN FALLS
A COUNTRY COMEDY
As originally produced by The Jackson Players of Northampton County at Seaboard, North Carolina, on November 17, 1933; presented at the Eleventh Annual Festival and Tournament of the Carolina Dramatic Association in Chapel Hill in 1934 by a group of Carolina Playmakers.
|Nath Barnes||Marvin Pool|
|Alf Sanders||Sim Boone|
|Mittie, Alf's daughter||Frances Midyette|
|Gussie Batten||Blanche Gay|
The Scene: The farm home of Alf and Nath in eastern North Carolina.
The Time: A winter evening in 1933.
Nath'sroom exhales the odor of stale tobacco. A door at the right downstage leads to the front hall, a door at the left to the rear of the house. In the right corner upstage is a low wooden bed over which is spread a patch-work quilt; by the head of the bed is a little radio, with a cumbersome battery; at its foot a table piled with books, papers, etc. There is a bureau across the left corner, upstage, and two straight-backed chairs by the left wall of the room. There is a fireplace, flanked by low unpainted chairs, in the center of the rear wall, a cozy wood fire in it.
NATH sits at the fireplace near the radio, his back to the mantel so that the light of an oil lamp falls over his shoulder on the songbook he holds an arm's length from his face—he is farsighted. Tall, straight, stiff, very thin, he has graying hair and mustache, high slanting forehead, an earnest—almost sad—countenance, and no upper teeth. His false teeth are in a cup on the mantel. He is dressed in a somewhat baggy suit, blue shirt, stiff white collar, no tie.
Before the curtain rises, his “overture” can be heard. He is revealed beating time and singing notes to “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” the hymn coming over the radio. His voice is slow, drawling.
NATH (singing nasally). La-ti-do-do-do-do-do-ti-la-la-ti-la-la-re-mi
(Alfenters, holding a newspaper open at the radio program. Alfis stooped, stout, red of face, white-haired, with a bristling mustache which he likes to twist when he makes a point. He is slightly palsied, his head and hand never quite steady. Tonight he is dressed almost shabbily in his oldest clothes. He takes his accustomed seat in the left corner and studies the radio program with the paper close to his face—he is nearsighted. AsNathproceeds with his singing, Alflooks up frequently and with wistful exasperation. He is ready to resume diplomatic relations after a dispute withNathearlier in the afternoon. His voice is high-pitched, jerky.)
ALF (looking significantly toward the radio). They's some good speakin’ on tonight. (Nathdoes not notice the comment except to increase the volume of his singing. Alfreads aloud.) Le's see. Seven-thirty, music; seven-thirty, music; eight (Nathlowers his voice to catch the words, though he does not deignAlfa look.) o'clock—it says here a Congress feller from Washin'ton's goin’ to speak on Jay-pan and the Nunited States a-makin’ friends and a-tradin’ together—(Nathturns a page to find another song that has just come on.) Hit's a good time to go to Washin'ton now, special rates and all. (“Up Yonder”—not Washington—engrossesNath.
He hums his notes as he turns the pages of his song-book.) Jim Farley's on at ten. Hooey Long at half past. Smart feller—be wu'th a trip to Washin'ton to see him. A cheap trip too, less'n ten dollars there and back...apiece. It cost five dollars to Morehead City that time.
ALF (turning to a much-read advertisement in his paper). Here it says: “Special rates to the nation's capital.” Less ’n ten dollars round trip. ’Bout six hours’ ride. A man ought to pack up his grip and try one more excursion in his lifetime, clost as I've stuck at home.
NATH (not turning his head from the songbook). And get locked up in the water closet again!
ALF (defensively, as through the years). It said “Men's”!
NATH (still not turning). It said “Women's.”
ALF. It was “M-e-n-s” wrote up there!
NATH. “W-o-m-e-n-s,” plain as pig tracks.
ALF. If you think I don't know how to travel good enough—by myself—
NATH. They's more monkey business about travelin’ on trains now'days. Better stick to your own jamb o’ the fence.
ALF (significantly). There's folks that does know their way around.
NATH (alert now, looking across atAlfquickly). Hm-m. (Almost he speaks a mouthful, but changing his mind suddenly he turns again to his notes.) La-ti-do-do-do-do-do-ti-la-la-ti-la-la-re-mi—
ALF. As good a time as they is in Washin'ton these days. We're goin’ to inflate. We're goin’ off'n the gold standard sure as you born, spite o’ them denominational bankers. (He turns a full blast towardNath.) That means prosperity times for the unforgotten man.
ALF (almost shouting). Means you can get two sacks o’ flour for the price o’ one! (Boastfully he twists his mustache towardNath. Nathswells on “do.”Alfis exasperated.) I wisht you'd take your “do” out o’ here!
NATH (without turning his head). This country'll soon be full o'dough, with all them Demicrat sacks o’ flour. (He hums on.)
ALF. If you don't bu'st your goosel open a-fore you die, hit's made out o’ cast iron.
NATH. Hit's inflated, like the rest of the country. Do, re, mi, do...
ALF. The Methodists is the only sex that sticks to “do, re, mi.” Now'days folks sings like they read—by a-b-c's.
NATH (turning the radio very low). You Babtists is still on your a-b-c's. We Methodists done gone to a higher grade.
ALF. Higher! If I didn't go to conference and protracted meetin's no more'n you—
NATH. My old mule don't go neither, but she's got more religion'n—
ALF. That's ignorance; mules ha'n’t got no souls.
NATH. Some folks ha'n’t neither.
(Alfleaving his paper in the chair, jumps up quickly to seize his Bible from the bureau. He hastily turns the pages.)
ALF. Soul!—when your mule is the plague-taked-est, contrariest varmint—
NATH. I know folks that's too plague-taked contrary to get along with angels.
ALF. Second Kings, the twelfth—(He stops abruptly as the import ofNath'swords registers.) Mittie ain't no angel. (He lays the Bible on the bureau.)
NATH. She's your daughter. Her ma's money paid for your land. Her and Exum done for you.
ALF. And Exum’ pretty near done me, if I hadn't got to checkin’ up close.
NATH. You done him too. And just over a few bags o’ cotton your own blood child can't come home, and you ha'n’t so much as laid eyes on her new babies.
ALF. Babies ain't no rarity to Mittie. (Alfreturns to his chair.)
NATH. Wives ain't neither...to you...with two in the graveyard, and Gussie fixin’ to make her nest here.
ALF. I'm boss here.
NATH. Crow then, while you can, for feathers is goin’ to fly when she gets you tied up and makes a Methodist out'n you.
ALF. Never! I wouldn't send my soul to torment—(Nathrises to put the songbook on the table.) How you ’spect to keep out'n torment and you never been babtized?
NATH (at the table). Methodists don't need wettin’ all over; they ain't that mean.
ALF. Sprinkle ain't in the Scriptures.
NATH. ’Tis. Look up Bartholomew 13:4 and Nicodemus 17:3 and Peter 5:8. If I was as skittish o’ the water as you—
ALF. Peter was a Babtist. Every one of the apostles was a Babtist.
NATH (picking up a history book from the table). Every one of the presidents of the Nunited States was a Methodist.
ALF. Prove it.
NATH (returning to his chair with the book). George Washin'ton, John Adams, The'do’ Rooseyvelt, James Mun-roe, Abraham Lincoln, George Washin'ton, Abraham Lincoln, John Adams, The'do’ Rooseyvelt, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover—no, not him; he was a Babtist.
ALF. All them was Demicrats anyhow. The Republicans ha'n’t never done nothin’ but sweat the poor man, the unforgotten man.
NATH (warming). The Republicans is fu'st in everything. It's the elephant party—fu'st in war, fu'st in peace, fu'st in the hearts of the country men and women. (Opening his history book.) It says so here. They was the fu'st to discover the Indians and independence, the fu'st to sink the Maine, the fu'st to invent steam. Where'd the Demicrats be today without steam? The fu'st to invent ’lectricity and the radio—
ALF (spread-eagling). And to put taxes way up yonder so they could give them big barbecues and get free shaves out'n the people's pockets, and hand out ci-gars and put cotton down to five cents ’cause Wall Street said so. (Nathfor pure contrariness turns on some music.) The Demicrats is the people's party—for the people, by the people, for the people, with the people!
NATH (turning down the music to deliver his). The Republicans has got the brain-ed men, the money-ed men, and if they didn't run this country, grass'd soon grow right over the Constitution and the Bell of Liberty!
(Nathquickly increases the volume of the music. Alf,
trying to answer the oratory, is drowned out by a high soprano. Alfstands it as long as he can.)
ALF (shouting). Cut off that hollerin’ woman! Who paid for that radio no how?
NATH. I holp.
ALF. One fou'th—that's all.
NATH. I'll take my fou'th in music.
ALF (rising). I want some speakin’. They's a Demicrat rally up in Washin'ton tonight. I belong to have some say-so. (Advancing.) Cut off—
NATH. You better go cut off them whiskers, in case Gussie drops in on you again tonight.
ALF. Get Washin'ton.
(Nathgets a station; the “speakin’ ” is almost over.)
RADIO VOICE. “They spent the money of the tax-payer—”
ALF (excitedly). That's hit! (He tiptoes to his seat to enjoy the rally.)
RADIO VOICE. “They wasted the people's money; they practiced bossism; by every test of honesty and decency they forfeited all right to public confidence and trust—”
ALF (sitting forward). That's hit! That's how come them Republicans voted out o’ there.
RADIO VOICE. “Looting Chieftains held together by the cohesive power of public plunder—”
ALF. He's tellin’ it just like it is.
RADIO VOICE. “Log-rolling, hypocrisy, corruption—that is the history of the party.”
ALF. Speakin’ man! Bet he's a Congress feller.
RADIO VOICE. “The forces of decency cannot be deterred or befogged. They have been aroused by arrogant attempts at dictatorship in this municipality—”
ALF. Or maybe Jim Farley.
RADIO VOICE. “An electorate that rises against that sort of government wins a victory for civic righteousness—”
ALF (prancing around on the edge of his chair). What the Demicrats done! Victory!
NATH. You'll bust your breeches.
RADIO VOICE. “Victory for integrity and uprightness and a pledge that the government of the people, by the people, and for the people—”
ALF. Reg'lar orator.
RADIO VOICE. “—has not perished from the earth. I thank you.”*[note]
ALF (joining heartily in the radio applause). Got ’em told, brother! Radio's a great thing. (Wistfully.) I'd love to be up there ’mongst that crowd of fellers. A man ought to take such a trip onc't in a lifetime. See the capitol and Congress and where our money's made—if a feller just knowed how to travel by hisself without gettin’ laughed at—
Radio Announcer: “Ladies and gentlemen: You have just heard an address delivered by the Republican leader—”
ALF (drowning the radio). What? That ain't so. That was a Demicrat speakin’!
Radio Announcer. “—against Democrat control in the city of New York.”
(There is radio music. Alfjumps up and starts toward the radio.)
ALF. You got it turned wrong.
NATH. Wa'n’t he a reg'lar orator? G.O.P.
ALF (peering at the dial). That was Demicrat speakin’—of the people, by the people—
NATH (rising). Set down and pick you up some elephant oratory. (In passing he steps onAlf'sfoot.)
ALF (seizing the injured corn). You done that a-purpose!
NATH (crossing to the left corner with his history book). You stuck your foot out at me a-purpose. (He sits in
Alf'schair. Alfworks at the dial while he nurses his injured toe. Steps are heard at the right.) Go to the door.
ALF (listening openmouthed). Hanh? (He turns off the radio.)
NATH. It's your Gussie, with some more monkey food.
ALF (in a flutter). She wa'n’t to come till in the mornin’—I mean....
NATH (loudly). Come in.
ALF (feeling his mustache). Law’, I ha'n’t shaved ’em off! (He starts hastily toward the door at the left.) I look like a scarecrow.
(ALFhurries out. After a brief interval the right door is opened, andMittielooks in, a little cautiously. Seeing onlyNathshe definitely enters. Mittieis a buxom woman in her late thirties, red-cheeked, hale. Her thick, oily hair is piled high on her head, elevating her Sunday felt hat a little ludicrously. She wears a brown coat over a tan dress, homemade but neat. In her arms she carries two infants, swaddled in blankets, and with her right hand she awkwardly holds a black satchel.)
NATH (looking up astonished). It's Mittie.
MITTIE (advancing). Yes, it's me. (She holds out the satchel to him.) Here. (Nathgingerly takes the satchel and sets it by the bed.) I made up my mind to come if he killed me! (She lays the infants on the bed and turns, lowering her voice.) Where's Pa?
NATH. Shed-room. Exum comin’ too?
MITTIE (tucking her infants under the quilt). No, he's keepin’ Susan Virginia, Swannoa Inez, and Carlotta Belle. Come here and see my two little twins, Uncle Nath.
NATH (peering into the bundle on the bed). Double-header this time, hanh?
MITTIE. This is little sister. I ha'n’t named her yet, but this here one is my little Alf—and Pa ha'n’t been a-near his only grandson. (She bends over to shake the mattress, Nathlooking on doubtfully.) Go to s'eepy now....
NATH. You better take ’em up and rock ’em in a chair.
MITTIE (giving a final examination). This is all right...right here on d'an'pa's bed. Ain't he p'ecious?
NATH. That there's my bed.
MITTIE. They won't hurt nothin’...little innocent things.
(After a final pat and shake she turns towardNathwho retreats to the chair in the left corner.) Now, tell me, Uncle Nath, how near married is Pa?
NATH. I dunno.
MITTIE (advancing). Yes, you do. Now tell me what you know.
NATH. Well, I think he's in yonder a-cuttin’ off his mustache right now, if that—
NATH. And he's took to strippin’ here the middle o’ the week and washin’ all over with sweet soap; and he's quit chewin’ tobacco, and—
MITTIE. Quit chewin’! Many hearths as I've clayed for him to spit on, now to let a bobbed-headed old widow! Why, Uncle Nath, all she's after is to get aholt o’ the home place and the land that belongs to my little girls and little Alf there. I'll change his name! I won't call him after Pa if he lets....(She turns back to the bed as though to negotiate the change immediately.)
NATH. What did you come here tonight for, Mittie?
MITTIE (turning back towardNath). I come to raise a row about my little children gettin’ what belongs to ’em! (She sits in the right corner.) I've been shut in, but just the same I've heard how Gussie Batten has been totin’ jelly and cake here and a-settin’ to get Pa. And I'm goin’ to bu'st it up, or else—
NATH. All them didos you cut up over Victory Hill didn't bu'st nothin’ up, did it? Egged your Pa on, that's what you done.
MITTIE. Well, Miss Victory was bad enough—after I had charge here ever since Ma died—but Gussie Batten is more than I can swallow—more'n I aim to.
NATH. Hold your ’tater, now.
MITTIE. Why, Uncle Nath, Gussie will have papers fixed up that will give her the whole entire rights here, and she'll make Pa sign. Look what she done to old man Batten, and not one cent has his children ever got. I'm goin’ to tackle Pa. (She rises and starts toward the door, left.)
NATH. Come back here, Mittie. (Mittieturns.) Set back down there. (Mittie, after a brief hesitation, obeys.)
MITTIE. I ain't goin’ to take it settin’ down.
NATH. Your pa ain't old man Batten. He's a-goin’ to marry Gussie. The old fool's got my suitcase packed and hid...he thinks. There ain't nothin’ you can do, and nothin’ I can do to keep him from mirin’ up to his head.
MITTIE. I'll show you!
NATH. Wait! Let Gussie have him, but she won't get no land and no money to hurt you none...not unless you jump in and raise a row.
MITTIE. Uncle Nath, do you mean....?
NATH (rising to get a plug of tobacco from the mantel). Since that boy (He indicates the twin.) come, your pa has fixed a new will. Nobody don't know a thing about it but him...he thinks. But if you'll behave yourself....(Nathcuts off a quid of tobacco and chews it with relish.) Since them twins—if the he one there don't get the home place—I know what I know!
MITTIE (subdued). Maybe I better go on back home. (She goes to the bed.)
NATH. No, he's a-comin’. Get out of it the best way you can. (He sits in the chair by the radio and fools with the dial. Alfre-enters, dressed in his Sunday suit—and with his mustache shaved off. He is so much surprised atMittie'spresence that he stands speechless for a few seconds.)
MITTIE (dramatically). Well, Pa.
ALF (looking around forGussie). Where is....?
MITTIE. I come by myself.
MITTIE. What have you done to yourself, Pa?
ALF (defiantly). I cut ’em off.
MITTIE. My little children won't know their grandpa without his mustache.
ALF (sarcastically). They're in yonder on the hearth if you got any use for ’em. (He sits in the left corner.)
MITTIE (conciliatingly). I mean you just don't favor yourself.
ALF. What I favor and who comes here and who I go to see is my business, and I ain't goin’ to have no meddlin’.
MITTIE. Sure, Pa. If you want to go to see a pole-cat—(Nathturns quickly and spits a long and a short, significantly, into the fire.)
ALF (angrily). What you come here for?
MITTIE (sitting on the foot of the bed). Why, Pa, I heard you was fixin’ to get married, and I come to see if I couldn't help you get things ready—maybe to clean out the closets and pantry and smokehouse, and make up your soap grease.
ALF. I made as pretty a pot o’ soap last week as any woman can make.
MITTIE. How about me washin’ up the windows, and sunnin’ the beddin’, and patchin’ and cleanin’ up your clothes, and lookin’ the bedsteads, and scrubbin’ up the floors—so Miss Gussie will find everything nice when she comes here.
ALF (sullenly). Is that what you come for? (He resents her not coming to “raise a row.”)
MITTIE. And me and Exum'll cook you up a weddin’ supper. Miss Gussie likes parties and good times. I got plenty chicken roosters ain't fit for nothin’ but chicken salat, and we could barbecue the little runt pig, much as the children thinks of it. (Rising abruptly.) By the way, Pa, you ha'n’t seen little Alf. (She goes to the head of the bed.)
MITTIE. I and Exum named little brother after you, Pa, and he sure does favor you—got your eyes and nose pine blank. I poured ’em full o’ castoria before I left home, so he won't open his eyes for you. (Bending over the bed.) But come look at him.
ALF. Looks wormy like all the rest, I reckon. (He remains stubbornly seated, in spite of his urge to see his first grandson.)
MITTIE (shaking the mattress). Him do ’ook ’ike he d'an'pa, don't he, p'ecious? (Alfeases toward the bed, unable longer to check the urge to see that first grandson. His falling out withMittiewas more the result of her knack at bearing “she ones” than the “bags of cotton.”)
NATH (uneasily, looking at his bed). Quit jostlin’ of him! (A knock is heard at the door, right. Alfhurries back to his corner. Nathglances furtively atAlfand spits into the fire. Mittiehurries to the door, admittingGussie Battenwith her tray of jelly and cake. She is tall, rather thin, with permanented bobbed hair, rouged cheeks, and wrinkles in spite of tissue creams. She wears a youthfully short dress of rose crepe, pearl ear-bobs, and large beads around her neck. Mittieseizes her hand.)
MITTIE. Heigho, Miss Gussie.
GUSSIE (about to drop the tray). Here, Alfeus. (She holds the tray out toAlf, butMittieintervenes to take it.)
MITTIE (looking over the food). Chocolate cake. I do love it. Pa won't touch chocolate, Miss Gussie. (Mittiehelps herself with relish rather than daintiness.)
GUSSIE. Indeed Alfeus does love my chocolate cake. (She tries to take the tray.) I just want him to try this.
MITTIE (holding on). No, you take off your coat and set down, and I'll pass around the refresh-ments. (She seizes a chair and places it close toAlf'swhileGussieremoves her coat and places it on the foot of the bed.) Set over here by Pa. This is like a party.
(Alfunconsciously jerks his chair a little nearer to the fire asGussiesits close to him. Mittiepasses the tray toNath.)
MITTIE. Here, Uncle Nath.
NATH. Don't choose none. I'm chewin’ my tobacco.
MITTIE. Here, Pa. I want to see you eat some chocolate cake one time.
ALF (sullenly). I ain't hongry.
GUSSIE. You must have some, Alfeus. (She takes a napkin from the tray, spreads it over his lap, and on the napkin places a dish of the “monkey food.”) There.
(Alfeats, glancing furtively atNathto see if he is being watched; he is, furtively byNathand rather curiously byMittieduring her own evident enjoyment of the food. Gussieeats daintily.)
MITTIE. Miss Gussie, don't you like the change in the scenery? (Gussielooks around the room.) I mean in Pa's face. (She sits on the foot of the bed.)
GUSSIE. Why, of course! You look much younger, Alfeus, as I knew you would.
(Nathspits two “shorts.”)
MITTIE. Why, he looks younger'n he did when he had that picture made with Ma. (She points to an enlarged picture.) And right smart younger than with Miss Victory.
GUSSIE. Age is a state of mind.
NATH. And mustache. (He picks up his songbook and presently begins to beat time unobtrusively to a selection. His crack goes unheeded.)
GUSSIE. To prove it, when he gets in a bathing suit at Palm Beach— (Gussiestops in well-simulated embarrassment.)
MITTIE. Palm Beach? Where's that at?
GUSSIE. Why, in the land of sunshine and flowers.
MITTIE. You mean you and Pa is goin’ on a trip?
GUSSIE (coyly). Well, I thought...we thought...Alfeus, tell her.
MITTIE. Oh, I know about you and Pa, Miss Gussie. I'm tickled over it. Tell me your ’rangements.
GUSSIE. Oh, we thought we'd just run down to Florida for a few days while the special rates are on.
MITTIE. Clear to Florida, green as Pa is about travelin’? (Wistfully.) Though he did take we children on a Sunday school excursion to Morehead City on the ocean one time. (She laughs reminiscently.) And got locked up in the ladies’ room on the train, and thought the sail boat was goin’ to turn over and prayed clear across Bogue Sound and—
GUSSIE (reassuringly towardAlf). Oh, I know all about traveling. There'll be no embarrassment whatever.
MITTIE. Well, go on where you please and enjoy your sunshine and flowers and slop in the water all you want to, and—
GUSSIE (turning toAlf). We're glad she feels that way. We were afraid she might object, weren't we, Alfeus?
ALF (defiantly). I didn't care.
(He drops his spoon on the floor andGussiequickly recovers it.)
MITTIE. I might if you had been young, but you're old and settled. (Gussiesquirms.) You tell me what changes you want made here and I'll try to have things all fixed when you get back from Palm Springs.
GUSSIE. Beach! Palm Beach. Yes, there are some changes. I'm glad you mentioned it. We'll have our bedroom upstairs, and I want that lovely old four-poster moved out of the shed-room.
MITTIE. Why, Pa never slept nowheres but in the shed-room.
GUSSIE. He'll like upstairs. (In her enthusiasm she rises.) And this room, with that pretty open fireplace. (Nathspits before he knows what her words are going to be. There is a little pause. Nathis a trifle embarrassed, but he chews on.) I'm going to take this room for the parlor, (Nathpauses in the middle of a chew, his lower jaw hanging from the suspended action.) and I shall move that bed (IndicatingNath'sbed.) in the shed-room—I expect your Uncle Nath will want to stay with you for awhile, anyway—and take the old parlor for a guest room. We'll have to get some new furniture to go in that when we get back. Then I want the dining room moved across the hall, and the back hall made into a bathroom, and the end of the back porch into a breakfast nook, and that room (Indicating the right.) into a comfy little den, and...oh, just a few little minor changes like that....
MITTIE. That ought not to cost so much.
(But there is a trace of anxiety in her voice now. She rises to faceGussie.)
GUSSIE. Substantially under a thousand dollars. I have an estimate. And of course I mean to invest my money in improvements.
MITTIE (visibly relieved). Me and Exum'll kill a shoat and give you a barbecue when you get back. The little girls will love to pass around the plates. That's so, Miss Gussie,
you ha'n’t seen little Alf...little Alfeus...and little sister. I'm going to name her Gussie after you and Pa. Won't you come peep at ’em?
(She places the tray on the bed.)
GUSSIE (crossing to the bed). Certainly.
MITTIE (bending over the bed). Gussie and Alfeus, after dey gwan'ma and d'an'pa. (Gussielooks without much interest.) How do gwan'ma like her little Gushie?
GUSSIE. Very sweet.
(She hurries to resume her chair byAlf. Mittiepats the bundle.)
MITTIE. Dere now. Gwan'ma say ’ittle Gushie's feet.
(She picks up the tray to collect the dishes.) I'll take your plates now. (Going toAlf.) Why, Pa, eat up your chocolate cake.
ALF (shortly). I'm full.
MITTIE. Sure thing I'm goin’ to take it home to the children then. (She hastily puts the remaining cake into the black satchel.) Pa loves “Black Mule” chewin’ tobacco better'n chocolate cake, Miss Gussie. You'll have to break him of that old nasty habit.
GUSSIE. I have. He's quit.
MITTIE. Well, I'll go wash up your dishes on that!
GUSSIE. Don't bother.
MITTIE (starting out at the left). Yes, I will. Uncle Nath, bring on here that lamp.
(She goes, followed byNath. Left alone, the “lovers” are silent an instant. Alflooks as though he is about to seek an exit. Gussiesees it and moves her chair a little nearer to him.)
GUSSIE. Now everything's all right, isn't it, dear?
ALF (starting slightly at the “dear,” not being able to become acclimated to it). All right how?
GUSSIE. Mittie don't object. You didn't say anything, but I could tell you were a little afraid she would.
ALF. I didn't care a straw.
GUSSIE. I came over tonight to see if I could help you about your packing and— (She hurries to the door, right, disappears for an instant, and then re-enters with a leather suitcase. While she is gone, Alfmoves over toward the bed as though to see littleAlfeus, but uponGussie'sentrance he drops down in the chair by the radio.) I thought maybe you didn't have a suitcase you wanted to travel with, so—
ALF. It's packed.
GUSSIE. Not that gray canvas—
ALF. Gray or green, it's packed.
GUSSIE (recognizing a new note in her fiancé). Fine. (She sets the suitcase back by the right wall.) I'll leave this
for you. Open it like this, see. (She demonstrates the process of opening and closing the suitcase.) Just slip your things in here before you retire. You see they don't use telescopes any more; they're like walrus mustaches...out. Poor lamb, without a woman to tell you! (She shuts the suitcase and bravely faces the “poor lamb.”) Alfeus, do you have plenty of shirts and...pajamas?
GUSSIE. Pajamas...to sleep in.
ALF (doubtfully). I...I reckon so....
(He has never heard a nightshirt called that before.)
GUSSIE. And a dressing gown—
ALF. Gowns nothin’! I'll wear the pants.
GUSSIE (patiently). For the Pullman, Alfeus. When you go to the washroom—
ALF. I ain't goin’ to get mixed up in no monkey business now.
GUSSIE. Why, the washroom isn't “monkey business.” The men go there to bathe and shave and...the like.
(She sits oppositeAlf.)
ALF. I won't need no shavin’ and no washin’, in just six hours.
GUSSIE (alert). Six hours? Why it's an overnight trip, Alfeus. You knew that. I have our sleeper reservations.
I had to take an upper berth for you, but you'll sleep all right. (Reassuringly.) And if you want to go to the washroom any time just ring for the porter, and he'll bring a ladder for you.
ALF. If you think I'm goin’ to expose myself before a train-load....
GUSSIE. Everybody'll be asleep.
ALF. Not if I was to get to ringin’ bells and a-climbin’ up and down ladders.
(GUSSIEmoves her chair byAlf.)
GUSSIE (firmly). Alfeus, you've got some sort of a complex about trains. Traveling by Pullman is really very pleasant—comfortable chairs, pillows, magazines, fruit, candy, drinks....
ALF. Burn me up too!
GUSSIE. And the food! They serve the best meals on the train. We'll have breakfast and dinner in the diner and—
ALF. We all took along a snack in a shoe box to More-head City that time—
GUSSIE. That wouldn't do, Alfeus. We couldn't do a thing like that on a Pullman.
(Alfrises from his corner and moves to the chair where his paper is lying, picking it up to scan the much-read page.)
ALF (crossing to the left.) I don't know nothin’ ’bout your Pullmans and sleepers and diners and monkey business, and I ain't—
GUSSIE. Leave it to me. I'll manage everything. I'll get the taxis, check our baggage, tip the porters and the red caps, register at the hotel—I wired for reservations—have the bellboys—
ALF (looking up from his page). All them things got to be done—in Washin'ton too, or anywheres?
GUSSIE. Yes, of course. But I'll attend to it. I'll have the bellboy bring up ice water, serve our meals in bed, have your suit pressed, page us in the lobby, bring the paper—
ALF. Don't all that cost money?
GUSSIE. Oh, not so awful much, not for value received. Florida is the loveliest spot in America they say. Wait. I ought to have some picture post cards. (She searches in her pocketbook and removes the cards, taking them over to whereAlfsits with his paper.) Here's a scene in Miami. This is like a hotel we'll stay in. I asked for the seventh floor because it will be cheaper, and it don't—
ALF (glancing at the post card she is displaying). I shan't climb all them stair steps in Washin'ton, nor Florida, nor nowheres.
GUSSIE. We'll take the elevator of course. Now here's Palm Beach. Our first night there we'll take a boat ride in the moonlight—
ALF. Is that water deep, like the ocean at Morehead City?
GUSSIE (smiling). Some of the same pond, dear. But in a motor launch, with the moonlight sparkling on the water—
ALF. Don't say water to me. I ain't a-studyin’ Florida nor—
GUSSIE (hastily putting away her post cards and becoming firm). We'll have to use our tickets tomorrow, Alfeus. The twentieth is the last day of the special rates, you know.
ALF (stiffly). I know it.
GUSSIE (why, this will never do!). We'll have to catch the early train for Raleigh. (She moves a chair close to him.) We'll leave our bags in the Union Station and take a taxi uptown to the Methodist parsonage.
ALF. Methodist? I ain't goin’ to have no Methodist a-marryin’ o’ me.
GUSSIE. I've already spoken to the Methodist minister, Alfeus. Otherwise—
ALF. If it can't be a Babtist—I ain't goin’ to send my soul to torment!
GUSSIE. Oh, well, we'll decide after we get to town tomorrow. Must I tell Mittie it's tomorrow?
ALF. Tell her nothin’.
GUSSIE. I'm going to run on back home in a minute. We both ought to get a good night's sleep. (Directly is the best way.) But one thing.
(She gets her pocketbook from under her coat, takes out a paper and hands it to him.)
ALF. What's this here?
GUSSIE. The paper you told me to have fixed up.
ALF (holding the paper close to his eyes to study it.) Paper?
GUSSIE. Of course it's immaterial. Only...you see I wouldn't care to invest my little fortune in improvements here unless I had some hold. You see that, dear?
ALF (shrewdly). You ha'n’t never said how much fortune—
GUSSIE (now is the time!) Oh, not very much, Alfeus—not in dollars and cents. (She playfully seizes his chin and holds his head so that she can look straight into his eyes. His eyes turn glassy.) Unless you figure me in. It's you, not your property, I want, Alfeus. You know that. (She chides him, almost sternly.) The paper is just a protection; it will mean so much to my peace of mind. Then, when we get to Florida....
(She looks promises into his eyes. It's no go. He jerks his chin out of her hand.)
ALF. I told you I didn't want to go to Florida.
GUSSIE. Oh, you needn't mind traveling that far, not with me. I'll manage everything...on the Pullman and in hotels...you shan't be embarrassed. (She hands him a pen from her pocketbook.) Right here is where you sign. You'll love Florida!
ALF (stubbornly). I told you I wanted to go to Washin'ton and see the Senate and the Treasury and the radio fellers and....(Displaying the advertisement.)
GUSSIE. We'll go there next spring, but for our honeymoon—the land of sunshine and flowers! Did you get the tickets?
ALF (grimly). I got...tickets.
GUSSIE. Fine! Now sign the paper, dear, and we'll leave our cares all behind.
(Had I better kiss the old fool?)
ALF (reading). It says: “To my wife, Augusta Sanders.” Who's that?
GUSSIE. Why, dear, that's me, or it will be tomorrow (Coquettishly.) when I become Mrs. Sanders.
ALF. If I was to die or...anything...tonight....
GUSSIE. The paper would be no good, of course, dear. (I'd better try one.) But don't you dare die tonight! (Impulsively she brushes her lips against his cheek lightly, but not lingeringly.) I couldn't bear....
ALF. Gi’ me here the pen.
GUSSIE (it worked!). All right.
(She stands over him.as he puts his name to the paper; then she quickly puts paper and pen in her pocketbook. For that, another one might be in order. She starts this time to his lips, but just as she is about to land, Alfjerks nervously away asMittie'svoice precedes her in.)
MITTIE. Just as well start tonight. (She re-enters withNath, both carrying slats and other parts ofAlf'sfour-poster.) Take it on upstairs, Uncle Nath. This ’stid is all right. I looked it good. (Nathgoes out the door at the right with part of the bed.) Now I want you to go with me upstairs, Miss Gussie, and tell me just where you want this bed set and what changes you want made up there while you're gone, what furniture you want moved and all.
GUSSIE. All right, Mittie. Then I must run home and get some sleep. (Significantly.) And Alfeus must too.
MITTIE (indicating the table). That table matches the bed, if—
GUSSIE. Yes, we'll want that in our room too.
MITTIE. You and Pa tote it on up as you come. I'm a poor hand at ’rangin’ things.
GUSSIE (linking her arm in his as she moves him over to the table). Come on. (Nathre-enters.) It's nice of you, Mittie, to take such an interest.
MITTIE (going out at the right with her part of the four-poster, followed byGussieandAlfwith the table). Uncle Nath, (Turning in the door.) you look after little Alfeus and little sis—little Gussie—if they should wake up.
(The procession files out.)
NATH. I'm goin’ to bed ’fore my ’stid gets toted out in the corn-crib, or some'eres. (Nathdiscards his tobacco, coat, and collar, and drops his suspenders preparatory to removing his trousers, but reconsiders and replaces them over his shoulders.) I better stay fixed, case she wants to swap my cover for a window curtain and expose me. (He sits on the side of the bed to remove his shoes, turns the light low, and then crawls under the cover. He sits in bed an instant looking at the babies.) Well, Gussie, I and you and Alf is goin’ to lie together, seems like. (He eases down under the quilts.) I don't know where we'll wake up. (He turns his back to the babies and lays his head on his pillow.) You all behave yourselves and I'll do the same. (Above is heard the lumbering sound of furniture being shifted around. It continues. Naththinks he hears a feeble cry at his back. He sits up and shakes the mattress.) Don't you cry now. This ain't your mammy. (A loud shift from above, then a lull. Nathlooks upward while the sounds are loudest. Now he looks again at the bundle in the bed.) Alfeus, you listen to me—don't you never let coat-tails come between you and a good chaw o’ tobacco.
(He lies down. There is only temporary silence. The noise above continues. PresentlyAlfenters cautiously at the right, stands in the door for an instant, advances to the bed, looks fixedly atNathwho appears to be sleeping. Then he slips over to the babies, opens their blanket, and stares at young Alfeus.)
ALF (softly). You little mess. You have got my eyes and mouth pine blank. (He reaches up to twist his mustache and realizes his loss. At the sound from above, he jumps, then tiptoes to the door and stands there considering a minute. He tips back toNath, hesitates, and then takes the plunge.) Nath! Nath! (Nathturns and rolls his eyes up at him. There is a heavy lumbering above.) Nath, I'm in the biggest mess to be sure.
NATH. I know it.
ALF. You don't know it all. (He takes slips of paper from his pocket.) Look a-there.
NATH. What's that?
ALF. Tickets...train tickets!
NATH (sitting up). Look a-here. Where's she shippin’ me to?
ALF. It's train tickets to Washin'ton!
NATH (rubbing his eyes as though trying to wake up to reality). Is that the next stop?
ALF. Nath, I bought ’em...they're paid for...tickets to Washin'ton!
NATH. What you buy ’em for?
ALF. I always wanted to go there.
NATH. Go on then, and le’ me go to sleep. (He starts to turn back into his quilt. Alfseizes him.)
ALF. These here's weddin’ tickets...good for eight days!
NATH (dryly). Well, ain't you?
ALF. She don't want to go to Washin'ton.
NATH. Go to Cuby, then, or wherever ’tis she wants.
ALF. I shan't do it! When I and Sue got married we was too poor to go off anywheres, and Victory was as green as I was ’bout travelin’...and I did want to go to Washin'ton one time.
NATH. You ain't a-bound to get married to go to Washin'ton.
ALF. Well, Gussie knows how to do in ho-tels, and trains, and places....
NATH. The po-lice would tell you that, ’thout you gettin’ married.
ALF. Yes, but seems like the women folks is bound I get married! Mittie too, down behind me! Scared she'll have to wait on me in my old age, I reckon.
NATH. I reckon that's hit.
ALF. We was a-makin’ out right good here...I and you. (He sits by the bed.) Had it quiet and all to ourselves.
ALF. Stripped and washed often enough, without women-folks a-tellin’ us when to wash.
NATH (innocently). Or shave.
ALF (Starting slightly). We cooked our vittles to suit ourselves and heard good speakin’ and read and chewed and spit where we pleased and— (There is a lumbering above.) Nath!
ALF. Le's flag that eight-thirty train!
NATH. For what?
ALF. I got two tickets—one for me and one for—you can have t'other one! (They stare at each other in silence. PresentlyNatheases out of the bed, sits on the edge of it, and puts on his shoes.) We can ask the po-lice what to do, where to go. If you don't I'm in the biggest mess to be sure. And me and you get on good together.
(Nathrises from the bed, puts on his coat and collar and hat. Alfwatches him in tense silence.)
NATH. Thirty minutes to make it! Get your hat!
(He fumbles with his tie. Alfwith excited haste goes to the bureau drawer and fills his pocket with handker-chiefs, collars and odds and ends.)
ALF. We can buy us a shirt if these gets too dirty. (He comes across a plug of tobacco, takes a huge bite, and drops the plug in his pocket.) And you can cut off your mustache, if folks does laugh at you.
NATH. Congress will have to pass a law ’fore I do.
ALF (ecstatically). Just think, we'll see the men that makes our laws and coins our money, and the Senators and our great Demicrat President—
NATH. A Demicrat ain't nothin’ to see.
ALF. What's Republicans?
NATH. G. O. P. The Elephant Party, the king o’ beasts!
ALF. The Demicrats is folks—not beasts. Of the people, by the people—
NATH. Donkeys! The Demicrats is the mule party!
ALF. The Republicans is— (A loud lumbering from above, andAlfseizes his umbrella from behind the bureau.) Come on! Come on! (He rushes to the door, right.) We can send word back so Mittie won't advertise after us.
NATH (hurrying to the mantel). Le’ me get my teeth. (He takes the false teeth from the cup on the mantel
and drops them in his pocket as he prepares to followAlf.) Just in case I want to eat me a Demicrat!
(He passesAlfwho has stopped in the door, right.)
ALF. Be smart, Alfeus.
He hurries out afterNath, as
THE CURTAIN FALLS
APPENDIX I THE CAROLINA PLAYMAKERS: A Selected Bibliography
I. PUBLICATIONS OF THE CAROLINA PLAYMAKERS
I. Published Plays: Volumes
American Folk Plays edited with an introduction, “American Folk Drama in the Making,” by Frederick H. Koch. Foreword by Archibald Henderson. Containing twenty one-act plays by native authors from various states. Fifteen full-page illustrations. (New York and London, D. Appleton-Century Company, 1939.)
North Carolina: Nancy Hanks, Bondwoman, a legend of the Great Smoky Mountains, by Janie Malloy Britt.
Tennessee: Davy Crockett, half horse, half alligator, by John Philip Milhous.
South Carolina: Funeral Flowers for the Bride, a comedy of the Blue Ridge Mountains, by Beverley DuBose Hamer.
Georgia: Mourners to Glory, a Negro ritual drama, by Rietta Winn Bailey.
Florida: Traficante, a play of Spanish Florida, by Maxeda von Hesse.
Mississippi: Git Up an’ Bar the Door, a ballad comedy, by Arthur Palmer Hudson.
Oklahoma: Last Refuge, an outlaw comes home, by Noel Houston.
Texas: West From the Panhandle, a tragedy of the Dust Bowl, by Clemon White and Betty Smith.
Mexico: The Red Velvet Goat, a tragedy of laughter and a comedy of tears, by Josephina Niggli.
New Mexico: Stick ’Em Up, a comedy of frontier New Mexico, by Gordon Clouser.
Arizona: Conchita, a romance of a copper mining town, by Rosemary Shirley DeCamp.
California: Day's End, a drama of a mountain woman, by Alice Pieratt.
Utah: Spring Storm, a comedy of a country girl, by Mary Cottam Hatch.
Montana: Montana Night, a drama of the old west, by Robert Finch and Betty Smith.
Canada: Still Stands the House, a drama of the Canadian frontier, by Gwen Pharis.
North Dakota: Sigrid, farm woman of the prairie, by Margaret Radcliffe.
Missouri: Swappin’ Fever, a comedy of the Ozarks, by Lealon N. Jones.
Ohio: His Boon Companions, a small-town temperance comedy, by Lynn Gault.
Massachusetts: Ancient Heritage, a drama of a New England family, by Philip Goddard Parker.
North Carolina: Cottie Mourns, a comedy of sea island folk, by Patricia McMullan.
Carolina Folk Plays, First Series, edited with an introduction, “Folk Playmaking,” by Frederick H. Koch. Containing
five one-act plays by native authors and five full-page illustrations. (New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1922).
When Witches Ride, a play of Carolina folk superstition, by Elizabeth A. Lay.
Peggy, a tragedy of the tenant farmer, by Harold Williamson.
“Dod Gast Ye Both!” a comedy of mountain moonshiners, by Hubert Heffner.
Off Nags Head or The Bell Buoy, a tragedy of the North Carolina Coast, by Dougald MacMillan.
The Last of the Lowries, a play of the Croatan Outlaws of Robeson County, North Carolina, by Paul Green.
Carolina Folk Plays, Second Series, edited with an introduction, “Making a Folk Theatre,” by Frederick H. Koch. Containing five one-act plays by native authors and seven full-page illustrations. (New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1924.)
Trista, a play of folk-superstition, by Elizabeth A. Lay.
The Return of Buck Gavin, the tragedy of a mountain outlaw, by Thomas Clayton Wolfe.
Gaius and Gaius, Jr., a comedy of plantation days, by Lucy M. Cobb.
Fixin's, the tragedy of a tenant farm woman, by Erma and Paul Green.
The Beaded Buckle, a comedy of village aristocracy, by Frances Gray.
Carolina Folk Plays, Third Series, edited with an introduction, “The Carolina Playmaker,” by Frederick H. Koch.
Foreword by Paul Green. Containing six one-act plays by native authors and seven full-page illustrations. (New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1928.)
The Scuffletown Outlaws, a tragedy of the Lowrie gang, by William Norment Cox.
Job's Kinfolks, a play of the mill people, by Loretto Carroll Bailey.
In Dixon's Kitchen, a comedy of a country courtship, by Wilbur Stout.
A Shotgun Splicin’, a mountain comedy, by Gertrude Wilson Coffin.
Lighted Candles, a tragedy of the Carolina highlands, by Margaret Bland.
Quare Medicine, a country comedy of a quack doctor, by Paul Green.
Carolina Folk Comedies, Fourth Series, edited with an introduction, “Adventures in Playmaking: 1918-1931,” by Frederick H. Koch. Foreword by Archibald Henderson. Containing eight one-act plays by native authors and fourteen full-page illustrations. (New York, Samuel French, 1931.)
Magnolia's Man, a mountain comedy, by Gertrude Wilson Coffin.
Ever’ Snitch, a comedy of Carolina fisherfolk, by Irene Fussler.
Agatha, a romance of plantation days, by Jane Toy.
Dogwood Bushes, a comedy of country youth, by Wilbur Stout.
Companion-Mate Maggie, a Negro comedy, by Helen Dortch.
The Lie, a play of revolutionary Carolina, by Wilkeson O'Connell.
Cloey, a play of Winston-Salem folk, by Loretto Carroll Bailey.
The New Moon, a whimsical fantasy drawn from old folkstory, by Telfair Peet.
Folk Plays of Eastern Carolina by Bernice Kelly Harris. (The Carolina Playmakers Series.) Edited with an introduction, “Plays of a Country Neighborhood,” by Frederick H. Koch. Containing seven one-act plays and nineteen full-page illustrations. (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1939.)
Three Foolish Virgins, a country comedy.
Judgment Comes To Dan'l, a country comedy.
Ca'line, a country comedy.
Open House, a play of an evicted family.
His Jewels, a play of a sharecropper's family.
Pair of Quilts, a country comedy.
Special Rates, a country comedy.
Lost Colony, The, by Paul Green. Third Edition. Illustrated. (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1939.)
Mexican Folk Plays by Josephina Niggli. (The Carolina Playmakers Series.) Edited with an introduction, “Playmaker of Mexico,” by Frederick H. Koch. Foreword by Rodolfo Usigli. Containing five one-act plays and seven full-page illustrations. (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1938.)
Tooth or Shave, a Mexican folk comedy.
Soldadera (Soldier-Woman), a play of the Mexican Revolution.
The Red Velvet Goat, a tragedy of laughter and a comedy of tears.
Azteca, a tragedy of pre-conquest Mexico.
Sunday Costs Five Pesos, a comedy of Mexican village life.
Out of the South—The Life of a People in Dramatic Form, by Paul Green. Containing fifteen of Paul Green's plays: The House of Connelly, The No ’Count Boy, Saturday Night, The Field God, Quare Medicine, The Hot Iron, In Abraham's Bosom, Unto Such Glory, Supper for the Dead, Potter's Field, The Man Who Died at Twelve O'clock, White Dresses, Johnny Johnson, Hymn to the Rising Sun, The Lost Colony. (New York, Harper and Brothers, 1939.)2. Plays Published SeparatelySeptember, 1938 to September, 1939*
Barge Incident, a play of the New York water front, by Herb Meadow, The Players Magazine (Peru, Nebraska), November-December, 1938.
Bayou Harlequinade, a folk fantasy of the Bayou country of Louisiana, by Clemon White and Betty Smith, in Twenty[note]
Plays on a Royalty Holiday, (second series), edited by Margaret Mayorga (New York, Samuel French, 1939).
Fun After Supper, a drama of New York City, by Betty Smith, in Twenty Plays on a Royalty Holiday, (second series), edited by Margaret Mayorga (New York, Samuel French, 1939).
Hunger, a tragedy of North Carolina farm folk, by Ella Mae Daniel (Minneapolis, Minnesota, The Northwestern Press, 1938).
Keynote for Christmas, a Christmas play, by Anne Walters (Minneapolis, Minnesota, The Northwestern Press, 1939).
Light and Shadow, a tragedy of North Carolina Negroes, by Jameson Bunn Dowdy (Chicago, T. S. Denison and Company, 1939).
Manana Bandits, a play of the old Southwest, by Betty Smith and Chase Webb, in The Best One-Act Plays of 1938, edited by Margaret Mayorga. (New York, Dodd, Mead Company, 1939.)
Mannequinns’ Maid, a tragedy of New York City, by Betty Smith (Chicago, T. S. Denison and Company, 1939).
Near Closing Time, a comedy drama, by Betty Smith and Robert Finch (Chicago, T. S. Denison and Company, 1939).
Old Man Taterbug, a play for children, by Mary Louise Bolyston (New York, Samuel French, 1939).
Pasque Flower, a play of the Canadian Prairie, by Gwen Pharis, in The Carolina Play-Book (Chapel Hill, North Carolina), March, 1939. (Illustrated.)
Red Velvet Goat, The, a tragedy of laughter and a comedy of tears, by Josephina Niggli (London, Gollancz, 1939).
Road into the Sun, a play in one act, by Foster Fitz-Simons (Chicago, Dramatic Publishing Co., 1939).
Skin Deep, a drama of the Negro problem, by Wieder Sievers, in The Carolina Magazine (Chapel Hill, N. C.), June, 1939.
So Early in the Morning, a folk comedy of North Carolina, by Jameson Bunn Dowdy (New York, Samuel French, 1939).
Sunday Costs Five Pesos, a Mexican folk comedy, by Josephina Niggli (London, Samuel French, 1939).
These Doggone Elections, a comedy of the Great Smoky Mountains, by Fred Koch, Jr., in The Carolina Play-Book (Chapel Hill, North Carolina), September, 1939. (Illustrated.)
This Bull Ate Nutmeg, a Mexican folk comedy, by Josephina Niggli, in Contemporary One-Act Plays, edited by William Kozlenko (New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1938).
This Is Villa, a portrait of a Mexican general, by Josephina Niggli, in The Best One-Act Plays of 1938, edited by Margaret Mayorga. New York, Dodd, Mead Company, 1939.) Also in One-Act Play Magazine (New York), January, 1939.
Wash Carver's Mouse Trap, a Carolina mountain comedy, by Fred Koch, Jr., in The Carolina Play-Book (Chapel Hill, North Carolina), December, 1938. (Illustrated.)
West From the Panhandle, a tragedy of the Texas Dust Bowl, by Clemon White and Betty Smith, in One-Act Play Magazine (New York), February, 1939.
Western Ghost Town, a drama of a Montana ghost town, by Betty Smith and Robert Finch (Chicago, T. S. Denison and Company, 1939).
Youth Takes Over, a comedy of high school days in three acts, by Betty Smith and Robert Finch (New York, Samuel French, 1939).3. The Carolina Play-Book* 1938-1939
September, 1938: Vol. XI, No. 3.
Illustrations: The setting for The Merry Wives of Windsor, and a scene from The Third Night.
“Thomas Wolfe: Playmaker,” by Frederick H. Koch.
The Third Night, a play, by Thomas Wolfe.
“Theatre Fire,” by Frederick H. Koch.
“A Folk Theatre,” by Albert Shaw.
“The Merry Wives of Windsor,” by Betty Smith.
“Forest Theatre Scenery,” by Samuel Selden.
“Twentieth Season,” by Frederick H. Koch.
December, 1938: Vol. XI, No. 4.
Two illustrations: Scene from Wash Carver's Mouse Trap, The Carolina Playmakers on Tour.
“Theatre Rededicated,” by Gwen Pharis.
“Tobacco Road in Chapel Hill,” by Noel Houston.
“Comedy in the Smokies,” by Frederick H. Koch.
Wash Carver's Mouse Trap, a play, by Fred Koch, Jr.
“American Folk Plays,” by Robert Finch.
“Trouping to the North,” by Gwen Pharis.
“One-Act Play Magazine,” by William Kozlenko.
“Mexican Folk Plays,” by Frederick H. Koch.
“New Personnel,” by Frederick H. Koch.
March, 1939: Vol. XII, No. 1.
Illustrations: Two scenes from Pasque Flower; Three[note]
Carolina Playwrights: Donald Muller, Gwen Pharis, Wieder Sievers.
“Canadian Prairie Play,” by Frederick H. Koch.
Pasque Flower, a play, by Gwen Pharis.
“The Dramatic South,” by Paul Green.
“The Sixteenth Festival,” by John W. Parker.
June, 1939: Vol. XII, No. 2.
Four illustrations of The Carolina Playmakers’ production of Andre Obey's Noah in The Forest Theatre; Junior Carolina Playmakers, 1938.
“Drama in the Open,” by Gwen Pharis.
“Noah and the Night,” by Betty Smith.
“The Lost Colony,” by Frederick H. Koch.
“Miracle at Manteo,” by Anthony F. Merrill.
“The Lost Colony and the Greeks,” by Samuel Selden.
“Voice for the Actor,” by Earl Wynn.
“Our Way of Playwriting,” by Frederick H. Koch.
September, 1939: Vol. XII, No. 3.
Illustrations: Scene from These Doggone Elections; Commencement Playwrights: Gwen Pharis and Fred Koch, Jr.
“Folk Drama Defined,” by Frederick H. Koch.
“American Folk Plays,” an Associated Press syndicated review, by John Selby.
“The Native Theatre,” a review of American Folk Plays, by Stephen Vincent Benét.
“A Country Neighborhood,” by Frederick H. Koch.
“Drama Festival,” by Bernice Kelly Harris.
“Politicin’ in the Smokies,” by Frederick H. Koch.
These Doggone Elections, a play, by Fred Koch, Jr.
“American Culture,” by Franklin Roosevelt.
II. REFERENCES IN BOOKS 1938-1939
Anderson, John, The American Theatre. Illustrations: The Carolina Playmakers’ Forest Theatre, scene from Peggy, a tragedy of the tenant farmer, by Harold Williamson. (New York, The Dial Press, 1938).
Carter, Jean and Ogden, Jess, Everyman's Drama (New York, American Association for Adult Education, 1938).
Federal Writers’ Project, North Carolina: A Guide to the Old North State. A summary of the work of The Carolina Playmakers is found on pp. 112-13, 151-53; other references are on pp. 129, 156. Illustrations: The Playmakers Theatre and performance in The Forest Theatre. (Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 1939.)
Kozlenko, William, The One-Act Play Today (New York, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1938).
Lost Colony, The, a souvenir program book containing articles by Paul Green, Frederick H. Koch, Samuel Selden, and others. Published by the Roanoke Island Historical Association, Roanoke Island, North Carolina, 1939.
McCleery, Albert, Glick, Carl, Curtains Going Up (New York, Pitman Publishing Company, 1939).
Mayorga, Margaret, Best One-Act Plays of 1938 (New York, Dodd, Mead and Company, 1938).
Moses, Montrose, Representative American Dramas National and Local (Boston, Little, Brown, and Company, 1933). (Student's edition.)
Rowe, Kenneth Thorpe, Write That Play (New York, Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1939).
III. PERIODICAL REFERENCES TO THE CAROLINA PLAYMAKERS 1938-1939
Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama)
“The Wanderer,” by Lewis Follett, January 31, 1939.
“The South Owes Much to This Group—Carolina Playmakers Bring Pleasure to Wide Area,” by William Peery, February 5, 1939. Illustrations: Scenes from Quare Medicine, On Dixon's Porch, and Job's Kinfolks; also, “Proff” Koch, Playmakers Theatre, Playmakers Loading Bus and Playmakers Making Scenery. (This syndicated article appeared in other Southern newspapers.)
Life (New York)
“College Theatres Do Fine Plays on $1,000,000 Stages.” Illustrations, full page: The Playmakers Theatre at Night, Professor Koch and his dog, scenes from Funeral Flowers for the Bride, Soldadera, and Sharecropper. May 29, 1939.
“Lost Colony play is Carolina Hit.” Illustrations: Four scenes from the play. July 31, 1939.
Magazine of Art (Washington, D. C.)
“Experiment with Music: The Lost Colony,” by Huntington Cairns. Illustrations: Two views of the Waterside Theatre and four scenes from the production. December, 1938.
New Masses (New York)
“Thomas Wolfe,” by Robert Forsythe, September 27, 1938.
New York Times (New York)
Illustration (half page): A Scene from Paul Green's The Lost Colony, July 30, 1939.
Play-Actin’—1938-1939 (Cape Girardeau, Missouri) Edited by Lealon N. Jones.
“An Ideal Drama of the People,” by Lealon N. Jones.
“The Negro ‘Gits Religion,’ ” by John G. Rousseau.
“America's Own Passion Play,” by Gordon Clouser.
“Sea Island Folk of North Carolina,” by Lacy Anderson.
“Dunkard Farm,” by Phoebe Bashore.
“Brooklyn Folk Plays,” by Betty Smith.
Illustrations: Scene from Triflin’ Ways, a Missouri folk play, by Lealon N. Jones.
Popular Educator, The (New York)
“Community, Summer, and Amateur Theatres,” by Walter Prichard Eaton. Illustrations: Interior of The Playmakers Theatre, The Forest Theatre, Lighting Equipment on the Stage of The Playmakers Theatre. November 28, 1938.
Publishers’ Weekly, The (New York)
“Thomas Wolfe,” September 24, 1938.
Southern Literary Messenger (Richmond, Virginia)
“Pride of the South,” by F. Meredith Dietz, June, 1938.
The State (Raleigh, N. C.)
Illustration: Scene from Paul Green's The Lost Colony, August 5, 1939.
Theatre Arts Monthly (New York)
“Making Canadian Drama,” by Edith J. R. Isaacs, December, 1938. (Editorial.)
“A Young Man of Promise,” February, 1939.
“Where Do We Go From Here?” by Edith J. R. Isaacs, July, 1939.
“The Next Twenty-Five Years,” by Lee Mitchell, July, 1939.
“The Town That Is a Theatre,” by Anthony F. Merrill, July, 1939.
“Tributary Tours,” by Rosamond Gilder, July, 1939. Illustration: Scene from The Carolina Playmakers’ Original production of Swappin’ Fever, by Lealon N. Jones.
Wesleyan Alumnae, The (Macon, Georgia)
“Something New in Southern Folk Drama.” Illustration: Scene from Washed in de Blood. May, 1939.2. North Carolina Newspapers (Selected articles)
Durham: Herald-Sun, “Thomas Wolfe's Simple Autobiographical Sketch,” September 18, 1939. “Wolfe's Discouragements Are Outlined by Professor,” by R. W. Madry. Illustration: Thomas Wolfe as Buck Gavin in his own play, The Return of Buck Gavin. September 25, 1938. “Barnstorming in Dixie,” by William Peery. Illustrations: Scenes from Quare Medicine, On Dixon's Porch and Job's Kinfolks; also “Proff” Koch, Playmakers Theatre, Playmakers Loading Bus and Playmakers Making Scenery. January 15, 1939. “A North State Novel—Bernice Kelly Harris Writes an Interesting Tale With an Eastern Carolina Locale,” by A.W.S. May 7, 1939. (Illustrated.)
Winston-Salem Journal, “Wolfe's Greatest Ambition Unfulfilled at His Death,” by R. W. Madry. Illustration: Thomas Wolfe playing title role in his own play, The Return of Buck Gavin. September 25, 1938.
Greensboro: Daily News, “Thomas Wolfe Made Fine Record at the University of North Carolina,” by R. W. Madry. Illustration: Thomas Wolfe as Buck Gavin in his own play, The Return of Buck Gavin. September 25, 1938. “Bernice Kelly Harris Got Real Encouragement to Write Novels,” by Raymond Lowery, May 28, 1939.
Raleigh: News and Observer, “A Cracker Box Poet Grows Up,” by Bernice Kelly Harris, April 23, 1939.
Chapel Hill: The Chapel Hill Weekly, “The University Press's First Novel, Purslane, by Bernice Kelly Harris,” by Joe Jones, May 12, 1939. (Illustrated.) The Daily Tar Heel, “Bernice Harris Expresses Love for University,” by Arthur Link, May 17, 1939.3. Reviews of “American Folk Plays”
Associated Press: A syndicated review published in many American newspapers. “Calls Plays Edited by Koch Most Significant,” by John Selby, Book Editor, the Associated Press, June 25, 1939.
Alumni Review, The (Chapel Hill, North Carolina)
“Folk Play Volume,” by Walter. Spearman, June, 1939.
Dallas Morning Star, The (Dallas, Texas)
“History in Folk Playlets,” by Hilton R. Greer, June 23, 1939.
Dallas Texas Times-Herald (Dallas, Texas)
“Folk Plays by Students Form New Collection,” July 9, 1939.
Herald Tribune—Book Section (New York)
“American Folk Plays,” by Walter Prichard Eaton, July 23, 1939.
Nashville Tennessean, The (Nashville, Tennessee)
“A Flavor of ‘Just Folks,’ ” by O. K. Barnes, June 11, 1939.
National Historical Magazine, published by the Daughters of the American Revolution (Washington, D. C.)
“American Folk Plays,” by Dorothy K. Cleavland, August, 1939.
New York Post (New York)
“A Foreword Which Does Not Help a Volume,” by John Mason Brown, May 25, 1939.
Newark Evening News (Newark, New Jersey)
“American Folk Plays,” June 21, 1939.
News and Courier (Charleston, S. C.)
“Folk Plays From All America,” by R. W. T., June 25, 1939.
Pasadena Star-News (Pasadena, California)
“American Folk Plays,” June 24, 1939.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio)
“American Folk Plays,” June 11, 1939.
Players Magazine (Peru, Nebraska)
“American Folk Plays,” by A. B. Joder, July-August, 1939.
Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah)
“Writers of Rocky Mountain West,” July 2, 1939.
Saturday Review of Literature, The (New York)
“The Native Theatre,” by Stephen Vincent Benét, July 1, 1939 (Illustrated).
Savannah Morning News (Savannah, Georgia)
“American Folk Plays,” June 4, 1939.
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts)
“Two New Books Recommended to Theatre Workers,” by Carl Glick, September 30, 1939.
Sunday Standard Times (New Bedford, Mass.)
“Enthusiasm and Sincerity Characterize Folk Plays,” June 25, 1939.
Telegram (Worcester, Massachusetts)
“On American Folk Drama,” by M. P. (Illustrated).
Theatre Arts Monthly (New York City, New York)
“American Folk Plays,” editorial, September, 1939.
Times, The (Madison, Wisconsin)
“American Folk Plays,” by J. S., July 2, 1939.
Times Literary Supplement, The (London, England)
“Plays Racy of the Soil,” editorial review, September 9, 1939.
Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, Louisiana)
“American Folk Plays,” by R. M. S., July 9, 1939.
Waco Tribune-Herald (Waco, Texas)
“American Folk Plays,” in Sunday Book Corner, by William Stanley Hoole, July 9, 1939.
Youngstown Vindicator (Youngstown, Ohio)
“20 One-Act Plays in Book,” by John Selby, July 2, 1939.
North Carolina Newspapers
Asheville: The Asheville Citizen-Times, “Valuable Contribution to American Drama,” by G. de R. Hamilton, Jr., May 28, 1939.
Chapel Hill: The Daily Tar Heel, “ ‘Proff’ Koch's Classes Edit New American Folk Plays,” by Gladys Best Tripp, May 26, 1939.
Winston-Salem: Journal and Sentinel, “Koch Gathers American Folk Plays,” by Eleanor L. Follin, May 28, 1939.
Durham: Herald-Sun, “Dr. Koch Edits Play Collection,” by Steed Rollins. May 28, 1939. (Illustrated.)
Charlotte: The Charlotte Observer, “Dr. Koch Edits New Book of American Folk Plays,” by Legette Blythe, May 28, 1939. (Illustrated.)
Greensboro: Daily News, “Founder of Playmakers Scores with His American Folk Plays,” by Fritz Raley Simmons, June 4, 1939. (Illustrated.)
“Literary Lantern, The” (Syndicated column) by Caro Green Russell, June 4, 1939.
Raleigh: News and Observer, “Transcontinental Journey,” by Jonathan Daniels, June 4, 1939. (Illustrated.)
APPENDIX II THE CAROLINA PLAYMAKERS: PRODUCTIONS AND TOURS September, 1938, to September, 1939*
I. ORIGINAL PLAYS PRODUCED
Fifty-fourth Bill, March 2, 3, 4, 1939
Twilight Song, a play of religious superstition, by Donald Muller.
Kid Sister, a comedy of adolescence, by Wieder Sievers.
Pasque Flower, a play of the Canadian prairie, by Gwen Pharis.
EXPERIMENTAL PRODUCTIONS OF NEW PLAYS
Fifty-seventh Series, January 11, 1939
Uncle Spence Goes Modern, a play of the North Carolina Highlands, by William Wolff.
The Long Ago, a nostalgic Oklahoma comedy, by Noel Houston.
Bad Yankees, a boarding school comedy of Mississippi, by Antoinette Sparks.
Wash Carver's Mouse Trap, a Carolina mountain comedy, by Fred Koch, Jr.
Fifty-eighth Series, January 27, 1939
Swappin’ Fever, a comedy of the Missouri Ozarks, by Lealon N. Jones.
* For the list of Productions and Tours of the Carolina Playmakers from September, 1918 to September, 1938 see Appendix I of the Second Series of Carolina Folk Plays (Henry Holt and Company), Appendix I of the Third Series of Carolina Folk Plays (Henry Holt and Company), Appendix I of Carolina Folk Comedies (Samuel French), and Appendix II of American Folk Plays (D. Appleton-Century Company).
Runaway, a play of a reform school boy, by Dorothy Lewis.
Design for Stella, a comedy of Manhattan, by Sanford Stein.
Fifty-ninth Series, April 17, 1939
Old Man Taterbug, a play for children, by Mary Louise Boylston.
The Reticule, a comedy of the reconstruction period, by Katherine Moran.
According to Law, a drama of an Oklahoma court, by Noel Houston.
Sixtieth Series, May 24, 1939
Out from New Bedford, a play of the whaling days in old New Bedford, by Frederick G. Walsh.
These Doggone Elections, a comedy of the Great Smoky Mountains, by Fred Koch, Jr.
Texas Forever, a play of the revolt against Mexico, by Emily Polk Crow.
Sixty-first Series, July 15, 1939
Lipstick, a comedy of college life, by Mary Hyde.
Swamp Outlaw, a drama of Henry Berry Lowry, by Clare Marley.
Store-Bought Teeth, a comedy of the Kentucky mountains, by Marie Haass.II. THE PLAYMAKERS TOURS
Thirty-sixth Tour, November 10-23, 1938. North Carolina: Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Rocky Mount. Virginia: Harrisonburg, Waynesboro, Richmond, Hampton. New York: Penn Yan.
Three Foolish Virgins, by Bernice Kelly Harris.
Soldadera (Soldier-Woman), by Josephina Niggli.
Magnolia's Man, by Gertrude Wilson Coffin.
III. OUTDOOR PRODUCTIONS (The Forest Theatre)
Noah, by Andre Obey, May 18-20, 1939.
The Cradle Song, by G. Martinez Sierra, July 8, 1939 (Junior Playmakers).IV. PROFESSIONAL PLAYS PRODUCEDI. Full-Length Plays
Room Service, by John Murray and Allen Boretz, October 21 and 22, 1938.
The Sorcerer, by Gilbert and Sullivan, February 6-8, 1939.
Our Town, by Thornton Wilder, April 11, 13-15, 1939.
Mr. Pim Passes By, by A. A. Milne, July 12, 1939.2. One-Act Plays
Funiculi Funicula, by Rita Wellman, May 15, 1939.
Dance of Death, by W. H. Auden, May 15, 1939.V. OCCASIONAL PERFORMANCES
Fifteenth Annual Caper, May 27, 1939.
Fifteenth Commencement Performances, June 5, 1939: Pasque Flower, by Gwen Pharis; These Doggone Elections, by Fred Koch, Jr.VI. CANADIAN FOLK PLAYS AT BANFF, ALBERTA Banff School of Fine Arts
First Series, August 26, 1937
Thunderbird, a tragedy of the fisherfolk of West Vancouver Island, by Elsie MacCleave.
On to Ottawa, a play of the unemployed, by Mary Ellen Burgess.
The Last Race, a drama of the race track, by Cecil Young.
Rolling Logs, a play of the mining industry in Western Canada, by Jessie M. Robertson.
Second and Third Series, August 24 and 26, 1938
Sterner Stuff, a comedy of a country schoolteacher, by Wesley Oke.
You Got to Do Somethin’, a comedy of the Peace River country, by Jack Cheal.
Their Love, a modern romance, by Betty Sue Snelson.
Mute Company, a comedy of Maine folks, by Helen Brown.
On to Ottawa, a play of the unemployed, by Mary Ellen Burgess.
For Naught, a tragedy of an Alberta farm family, by Milwyn Adams-Davies.
Chris Axelson, Blacksmith, a Canadian folk comedy, by Gwen Pharis.
Catalogue Brides, a comedy of Montana ranch life, by Olive M. Scholz.
Fourth Series, August 24, 1939
Milka-Noups of Inkameep (Young Eagle), a play of the Okanagan Indians, by Anthony Walsh.
Chinook Wind, a tragedy of the Peace River country, by Magdalena Polley.
The Best Laid Plans, a folk comedy of southern Illinois, by L. Louise Stephens.
Down North, a drama of aviation in the Yellow Knife District, by John McLaren.
Red Tape, a play of a Canadian National Park, by T. H. Lonsdale.
Billi be Damned, a comedy of modern youth, by Betty Sue Snelson.
COLLOQUIAL EXPRESSIONS IN THESE PLAYS
A-law, a contraction of “Oh, Lord”
a-maulin’, see maul
a-shrubbin’, see shrub land
a-snubbin’, sobbing, sniffling
atter, after, for
Bigity, haughty, arrogant
breakdown, a shuffling, stamping dance
bresh, a brush made from a twig of a sweet gum tree by chewing it into shreds; it is known as a snuff stick or toothbrush; it is dipped into snuff and then rubbed over the gums and teeth
Chicken slick, chicken stew
circis cart, automobile
circis jacket, a short, close-fitting, homemade coat
cracklin’, a small piece of fat, fried to a brown crisp
Dead'ning, a feeble, aged person
done, cheat or mistreat
done for, took care of
do, pray, an exclamation similar to “For heaven's sake”
Ev'y constant, constantly, continually
Fascinator, a scarf to wrap around the throat and lower part of face
fouce dog, a fice dog
freshlet, tenderloin, sausage, etc.
Goozel, the throat, larynx
gunjer, molasses cookie
gwine, going to
haslet hash, a mixture of the edible viscera of the hog
h'ist, hoist; the “i” is long
hog works, the business of butchering hogs and preparing the meat
In short, soon
Johnny bones, the “sweet bones” found in sausage meat
Knocking weight, the practice of “fixing” the scales to give short weight
Light'ood, lightwood, the resinous core of the pine tree, used in starting fires
lip it, to place a small quantity of snuff between the lower lip and gums
logic, a lot of talk
log-rollin’, a gathering of neighbors to help prepare land for clearing. Like corn-shuckings, log-rollings called for elaborate feasts
Maul wood, to split wood
middlin’, a cheap person; from “middling” or mediocre cotton
mint, willing; the “i” is long
monkey food, cakes, sweet-meats
muchin’ up, making much of, fondling
Nervous, an attack of nervousness
no while, not worth-while
Pa'cel, parcel, group
peart, lively; pronounced as two syllables
pie bed, a bed prankishly filled with water or sand, or with sheets so folded that the feet will go only half way to the foot of the bed
pine blank, exactly
plug, worn-out horse
projec'in’, projecting, interfering
pure down, absolutely, certainly, real
Rayo lamp, a nickel-plated oil lamp with a round wick; it gives a brighter light than the ordinary “coal-oil” lamp
reverent, “straight,” without dilution
risin’, a swelling or boil
Scolders, little ringlets growing low on the neck
shoat, young pig
shrub land, to cut away the undergrowth
’simmon beer, beer made of fermented persimmons
s'm, a respectful contraction of “yes, ma'am”
stomp-down, obstinately determined
string-halt, springhalt, lame horse
sugar tits, sugar in a piece of cloth for pacifying babies
sweet gum, a gum collected from the sweet gum tree and used as a substitute for chewing gum
Teester bed, a four-post bed
tenderl'in, tenderloin steak; the “i” is long
toll, entice, lure on