As she stepped inside the door she had an immediate impression that the apartment was very like some place she had seen before—and almost instantly she remembered a round-the-corner bakery of her childhood, a bakery full of rows and rows of pink frosted cakes—a stuffy pink, pink as a food, pink triumphant, vulgar, and odious.
And this apartment was like that. It was pink. It smelled pink!
Mrs. Cromwell, attired in a wrapper of pink and black, opened the door. Her hair was yellow, heightened, Roxanne imagined by a dash of peroxide in the rinsing water every week. Her eyes were a thin waxen blue—she was pretty and too consciously graceful. Her cordiality was strident and intimate, hostility melted so quickly to hospitality that it seemed they were both merely in the face and voice—never touching nor touched by the deep core of egotism beneath.
But to Roxanne these things were secondary; her eyes were caught and held in uncanny fascination by the wrapper. It was vilely unclean. From its lowest hem up four inches it was sheerly dirty with the blue dust of the floor; for the next three inches it was gray—then it shaded off into its natural color, which, was—pink. It was dirty at the sleeves, too, and at the collar—and when the woman turned to lead the way into the parlor, Roxanne was sure that her neck was dirty.
A one-sided rattle of conversation began. Mrs. Cromwell became explicit about her likes and dislikes, her head, her stomach, her teeth, her apartment—avoiding with a sort of insolent meticulousness any inclusion of Roxanne with life, as if presuming that Roxanne, having been dealt a blow, wished life to be carefully skirted.
Roxanne smiled. That kimono! That neck!
After five minutes a little boy toddled into the parlor—a dirty little boy clad in dirty pink rompers. His face was smudgy—Roxanne wanted to take him into her lap and wipe his nose; other parts in the of his head needed attention, his tiny shoes were kicked out at the toes. Unspeakable!
"What a darling little boy!" exclaimed Roxanne, smiling radiantly. "Come here to me."
Mrs. Cromwell looked coldly at her son.
"He will get dirty. Look at that face!" She held her head on one side and regarded it critically.
"Isn't he a darling?" repeated Roxanne.
"Look at his rompers," frowned Mrs. Cromwell.
"He needs a change, don't you, George?"
George stared at her curiously. To his mind the word rompers connotated a garment extraneously smeared, as this one.
"I tried to make him look respectable this morning," complained Mrs. Cromwell as one whose patience had been sorely tried, "and I found he didn't have any more rompers—so rather than have him go round without any I put him back in those—and his face—"
"How many pairs has he?" Roxanne's voice was pleasantly curious, "How many feather fans have you?" she might have asked.
"Oh,—" Mrs. Cromwell considered, wrinkling her pretty brow. "Five, I think. Plenty, I know."
"You can get them for fifty cents a pair."
Mrs. Cromwell's eyes showed surprise—and the faintest superiority. The price of rompers!
"Can you really? I had no idea. He ought to have plenty, but I haven't had a minute all week to send the laundry out." Then, dismissing the subject as irrelevant—"I must show you some things—"
They rose and Roxanne followed her past an open bathroom door whose garment-littered floor showed indeed that the laundry hadn't been sent out for some time, into another room that was, so to speak, the quintessence of pinkness. This was Mrs. Cromwell's room.
Here the Hostess opened a closet door and displayed before' Roxanne's eyes an amazing collection of lingerie.
There were dozens of filmy marvels of lace and silk, all clean, unruffled, seemingly not yet touched. On hangers beside them were three new evening dresses.
"I have some beautiful things," said Mrs. Cromwell, "but not much of a chance to wear them. Harry doesn't care about going out." Spite crept into her voice. "He's perfectly content to let me play nursemaid and housekeeper all day and loving wife in the evening."
Roxanne smiled again.
"You've got some beautiful clothes here."
"Yes, I have. Let me show you——"
"Beautiful," repeated Roxanne, interrupting, "but I'll have to run if I'm going to catch my train."
She felt that her hands were trembling. She wanted to put them on this woman and shake her—shake her. She wanted her locked up somewhere and set to scrubbing floors.
"Beautiful," she repeated, "and I just came in for a moment."
"Well, I'm sorry Harry isn't here."
They moved toward the door.
"—and, oh," said Roxanne with an effort—yet her voice was still gentle and her lips were smiling—"I think it's Argile's where you can get those rompers. Good-by."
It was not until she had reached the station and bought her ticket to Marlowe that Roxanne realized it was the first five minutes in six months that her mind had been off Jeffrey.
A week later Harry appeared at Marlowe, arrived unexpectedly at five o'clock, and coming up the walk sank into a porch chair in a state of exhaustion. Roxanne herself had had a busy day and was worn out. The doctors were coming at five-thirty, bringing a celebrated nerve specialist from New York. She was excited and thoroughly depressed, but Harry's eyes made her sit down beside him.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing, Roxanne," he denied. "I came to see how Jeff was doing. Don't you bother about me."
"Harry," insisted Roxanne, "there's something the matter."
"Nothing," he repeated. "How's Jeff?"
Anxiety darkened her face.
"He's a little worse, Harry. Doctor Jewett has come on from New York. They thought he could tell me something definite. He's going to try and find whether this paralysis has anything to do with the original blood clot."
"Oh, I'm sorry," he said jerkily. "I didn't know you expected a consultation. I wouldn't have come. I thought I'd just rock on your porch for an hour—"
"Sit down," she commanded.
"Sit down, Harry, dear boy." Her kindness flooded out now—enveloped him. "I know there's something the matter. You're white as a sheet. I'm going to get you a cool bottle of beer."
All at once he collapsed into his chair and covered his face with his hands.
"I can't make her happy," he said slowly. "I've tried and I've tried. This morning we had some words about breakfast—I'd been getting my breakfast down town—and—well, just after I went to the office she left the house, went East to her mother's with George and a suitcase full of lace underwear."
"And I don't know—"
There was a crunch on the gravel, a car turning into the drive. Roxanne uttered a little cry.
"It's Doctor Jewett."
"You'll wait, won't you?" she interrupted abstractedly. He saw that his problem had already died on the troubled surface of her mind.
There was an embarrassing minute of vague, elided introductions and then Harry followed the party inside and watched them disappear up the stairs. He went into the library and sat down on the big sofa.
For an hour he watched the sun creep up the patterned folds of the chintz curtains. In the deep quiet a trapped wasp buzzing on the inside of the window pane assumed the proportions of a clamor. From time to time another buzzing drifted down from up-stairs, resembling several more larger wasps caught on larger window-panes. He heard low footfalls, the clink of bottles, the clamor of pouring water.
What had he and Roxanne done that life should deal these crashing blows to them? Up-stairs there was taking place a living inquest on the soul of his friend; he was sitting here in a quiet room listening to the plaint of a wasp, just as when he was a boy he had been compelled by a strict aunt to sit hour-long on a chair and atone for some misbehavior. But who had put him here? What ferocious aunt had leaned out of the sky to make him atone for—what?
About Kitty he felt a great hopelessness. She was too expensive—that was the irremediable difficulty. Suddenly he hated her. He wanted to throw her down and kick at her—to tell her she was a cheat and a leech—that she was dirty. Moreover, she must give him his boy.
He rose and began pacing up and down the room. Simultaneously he heard some one begin walking along the hallway up-stairs in exact time with him. He found himself wondering if they would walk in time until the person reached the end of the hall.
Kitty had gone to her mother. God help her, what a mother to go to! He tried to imagine the meeting: the abused wife collapsing upon the mother's breast. He could not. That Kitty was capable of any deep grief was unbelievable. He had gradually grown to think of her as something unapproachable and callous. She would get a divorce, of course, and eventually she would marry again. He began to consider this. Whom would she marry? He laughed bitterly, stopped; a picture flashed before him—of Kitty's arms around some man whose face he could not see, of Kitty's lips pressed close to other lips in what was surely: passion.
"God!" he cried aloud. "God! God! God!"
Then the pictures came thick and fast. The Kitty of this morning faded; the soiled kimono rolled up and disappeared; the pouts, and rages, and tears all were washed away. Again she was Kitty Carr—Kitty Carr with yellow hair and great baby eyes. Ah, she had loved him, she had loved him.
After a while he perceived that something was amiss with him, something that had nothing to do with Kitty or Jeff, something of a different genre. Amazingly it burst on him at last; he was hungry. Simple enough! He would go into the kitchen in a moment and ask the colored cook for a sandwich. After that he must go back to the city.
He paused at the wall, jerked at something round, and, fingering it absently, put it to his mouth and tasted it as a baby tastes a bright toy. His teeth closed on it—Ah!
She'd left that damn kimono, that dirty pink kimono. She might have had the decency to take it with her, he thought. It would hang in the house like the corpse of their sick alliance. He would try to throw it away, but he would never be able to bring himself to move it. It would be like Kitty, soft and pliable, withal impervious. You couldn't move Kitty; you couldn't reach Kitty. There was nothing there to reach. He understood that perfectly—he had understood it all along.
He reached to the wall for another biscuit and with an effort pulled it out, nail and all. He carefully removed the nail from the centre, wondering idly if he had eaten the nail with the first biscuit. Preposterous! He would have remembered—it was a huge nail. He felt his stomach. He must be very hungry. He considered—remembered—yesterday he had had no dinner. It was the girl's day out and Kitty had lain in her room eating chocolate drops. She had said she felt "smothery" and couldn't bear having him near her. He had given George a bath and put him to bed, and then lain down on the couch intending to rest a minute before getting his own dinner. There he had fallen asleep and awakened about eleven, to find that there was nothing in the ice-box except a spoonful of potato salad. This he had eaten, together with some chocolate drops that he found on Kitty's bureau. This morning he had breakfasted hurriedly down town before going to the office. But at noon, beginning to worry about Kitty, he had decided to go home and take her out to lunch. After that there had been the note on his pillow. The pile of lingerie in the closet was gone—and she had left instructions for sending her trunk.
He had never been so hungry, he thought.
At five o'clock, when the visiting nurse tiptoed down-stairs, he was sitting on the sofa staring at the carpet.
"Oh, Mrs. Curtain won't be able to see you at dinner. She's not well She told me to tell you that the cook will fix you something and that there's a spare bedroom."
"She's sick, you say?"
"She's lying down in her room. The consultation is just over."
"Did they—did they decide anything?"
"Yes," said the nurse softly. "Doctor Jewett says there's no hope. Mr. Curtain may live indefinitely, but he'll never see again or move again or think. He'll just breathe."
For the first time the nurse noted that beside the writing-desk where she remembered that she had seen a line of a dozen curious round objects she had vaguely imagined to be some exotic form of decoration, there was now only one. Where the others had been, there was now a series of little nail-holes.
Harry followed her glance dazedly and then rose to his feet.
"I don't believe I'll stay. I believe there's a train."
She nodded. Harry picked up his hat.
"Good-by," she said pleasantly.
"Good-by," he answered, as though talking to himself and, evidently moved by some involuntary necessity, he paused on his way to the door and she saw him pluck the last object from the wall and drop it into his pocket.
Then he opened the screen door and, descending the porch steps, passed out of her sight.
After a while the coat of clean white paint on the Jeffrey Curtain house made a definite compromise with the suns of many Julys and showed its good faith by turning gray. It scaled—huge peelings of very brittle old paint leaned over backward like aged men practising grotesque gymnastics and finally dropped to a moldy death in the overgrown grass beneath. The paint on the front pillars became streaky; the white ball was knocked off the left-hand door-post; the green blinds darkened, then lost all pretense of color.
It began to be a house that was avoided by the tender-minded—some church bought a lot diagonally opposite for a graveyard, and this, combined with "the place where Mrs. Curtain stays with that living corpse," was enough to throw a ghostly aura over that quarter of the road. Not that she was left alone. Men and women came to see her, met her down town, where she went to do her marketing, brought her home in their cars—and came in for a moment to talk and to rest, in the glamour that still played in her smile. But men who did not know her no longer followed her with admiring glances in the street; a diaphanous veil had come down over her beauty, destroying its vividness, yet bringing neither wrinkles nor fat.
She acquired a character in the village—a group of little stories were told of her: how when the country was frozen over one winter so that no wagons nor automobiles could travel, she taught herself to skate so that she could make quick time to the grocer and druggist, and not leave Jeffrey alone for long. It was said that every night since his paralysis she slept in a small bed beside his bed, holding his hand.
Jeffrey Curtain was spoken of as though he were already dead. As the years dropped by those who had known him died or moved away—there were but half a dozen of the old crowd who had drunk cocktails together, called each other's wives by their first names, and thought that Jeff was about the wittiest and most talented fellow that Marlowe had ever known. How, to the casual visitor, he was merely the reason that Mrs. Curtain excused herself sometimes and hurried upstairs; he was a groan or a sharp cry borne to the silent parlor on the heavy air of a Sunday afternoon.
He could not move; he was stone blind, dumb and totally unconscious. All day he lay in his bed, except for a shift to his wheel-chair every morning while she straightened the room. His paralysis was creeping slowly toward his heart. At first-for the first year—Roxanne had received the faintest answering pressure sometimes when she held his hand—then it had gone, ceased one evening and never come back, and through two nights Roxanne lay wide-eyed, staring into the dark and wondering what had gone, what fraction of his soul had taken flight, what last grain of comprehension those shattered broken nerves still carried to the brain.
After that hope died. Had it not been for her unceasing care the last spark would have gone long before. Every morning she shaved and bathed him, shifted him with her own hands from bed to chair and back to bed. She was in his room constantly, bearing medicine, straightening a pillow, talking to him almost as one talks to a nearly human dog, without hope of response or appreciation, but with the dim persuasion of habit, a prayer when faith has gone.
Not a few people, one celebrated nerve specialist among them, gave her a plain impression that it was futile to exercise so much care, that if Jeffrey had been conscious he would have wished to die, that if his spirit were hovering in some wider air it would agree to no such sacrifice from her, it would fret only for the prison of its body to give it full release.
"But you see," she replied, shaking her head gently, "when I married Jeffrey it was—until I ceased to love him."
"But," was protested, in effect, "you can't love that."
"I can love what it once was. What else is there for me to do?"
The specialist shrugged his shoulders and went away to say that Mrs. Curtain was a remarkable woman and just about as sweet as an angel—but, he added, it was a terrible pity.
"There must be some man, or a dozen, just crazy to take care of her...."
Casually—there were. Here and there some one began in hope—and ended in reverence. There was no love in the woman except, strangely enough, for life, for the people in the world, from the tramp to whom she gave food she could ill afford to the butcher who sold her a cheap cut of steak across the meaty board. The other phase was sealed up somewhere in that expressionless mummy who lay with his face turned ever toward the light as mechanically as a compass needle and waited dumbly for the last wave to wash over his heart.
After eleven years he died in the middle of a May night, when the scent of the syringa hung upon the window-sill and a breeze wafted in the shrillings of the frogs and cicadas outside. Roxanne awoke at two, and realized with a start she was alone in the house at last.
After that she sat on her weather-beaten porch through many afternoons, gazing down across the fields that undulated in a slow descent to the white and green town. She was wondering what she would do with her life. She was thirty-six—handsome, strong, and free. The years had eaten up Jeffrey's insurance; she had reluctantly parted with the acres to right and left of her, and had even placed a small mortgage on the house.
With her husband's death had come a great physical restlessness. She missed having to care for him in the morning, she missed her rush to town, and the brief and therefore accentuated neighborly meetings in the butcher's and grocer's; she missed the cooking for two, the preparation of delicate liquid food for him. One day, consumed with energy, she went out and spaded up the whole garden, a thing that had not been done for years.
And she was alone at night in the room that had seen the glory of her marriage and then the pain. To meet Jeff again she went back in spirit to that wonderful year, that intense, passionate absorption and companionship, rather than looked forward to a problematical meeting hereafter; she awoke often to lie and wish for that presence beside her—inanimate yet breathing—still Jeff.
One afternoon six months after his death she was sitting on the porch, in a black dress which took away the faintest suggestion of plumpness from her figure. It was Indian summer—golden brown all about her; a hush broken by the sighing of leaves; westward a four o'clock sun dripping streaks of red and yellow over a flaming sky. Most of the birds had gone—only a sparrow that had built itself a nest on the cornice of a pillar kept up an intermittent cheeping varied by occasional fluttering sallies overhead. Roxanne moved her chair to where she could watch him and her mind idled drowsily on the bosom of the afternoon.
Harry Cromwell was coming out from Chicago to dinner. Since his divorce over eight years before he had been a frequent visitor. They had kept up what amounted to a tradition between them: when he arrived they would go to look at Jeff; Harry would sit down on the edge of the bed and in a hearty voice ask:
"Well, Jeff, old man, how do you feel to-day?"
Roxanne, standing beside, would look intently at Jeff, dreaming that some shadowy recognition of this former friend had passed across that broken mind—but the head, pale, carven, would only move slowly in its sole gesture toward the light as if something behind the blind eyes were groping for another light long since gone out.
These visits stretched over eight years—at Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and on many a Sunday Harry had arrived, paid his call on Jeff, and then talked for a long while with Roxanne on the porch. He was devoted to her. He made no pretense of hiding, no attempt to deepen, this relation. She was his best friend as the mass of flesh on the bed there had been his best friend. She was peace, she was rest; she was the past. Of his own tragedy she alone knew.
He had been at the funeral, but since then the company for which he worked had shifted him to the East and only a business trip had brought him to the vicinity of Chicago. Roxanne had written him to come when he could—after a night in the city he had caught a train out.
They shook hands and he helped her move two rockers together.
"He's fine, Roxanne. Seems to like school."
"Of course it was the only thing to do, to send him."
"You miss him horribly, Harry?"
"Yes—I do miss him. He's a funny boy—"
He talked a lot about George. Roxanne was interested. Harry must bring him out on his next vacation. She had only seen him once in her life—a child in dirty rompers.
She left him with the newspaper while she prepared dinner—she had four chops to-night and some late vegetables from her own garden. She put it all on and then called him, and sitting down together they continued their talk about George.
"If I had a child—" she would say.
Afterward, Harry having given her what slender advice he could about investments, they walked through the garden, pausing here and there to recognize what had once been a cement bench or where the tennis court had lain....
"Do you remember—"
Then they were off on a flood of reminiscences: the day they had taken all the snap-shots and Jeff had been photographed astride the calf; and the sketch Harry had made of Jeff and Roxanne, lying sprawled in the grass, their heads almost touching. There was to have been a covered lattice connecting the barn-studio with the house, so that Jeff could get there on wet days—the lattice had been started, but nothing remained except a broken triangular piece that still adhered to the house and resembled a battered chicken coop.
"And those mint juleps!"
"And Jeff's note-book! Do you remember how we'd laugh, Harry, when we'd get it out of his pocket and read aloud a page of material. And how frantic he used to get?"
"Wild! He was such a kid about his writing."
They were both silent a moment, and then Harry said:
"We were to have a place out here, too. Do you remember? We were to buy the adjoining twenty acres. And the parties we were going to have!"
Again there was a pause, broken this time by a low question from Roxanne.
"Do you ever hear of her, Harry?"
"Why—yes," he admitted placidly. "She's in Seattle. She's married again to a man named Horton, a sort of lumber king. He's a great deal older than she is, I believe."
"And she's behaving?"
"Yes—that is, I've heard so. She has everything, you see. Nothing much to do except dress up for this fellow at dinner-time."
Without effort he changed the subject.
"Are you going to keep the house?"
"I think so," she said, nodding. "I've lived here so long, Harry, it'd seem terrible to move. I thought of trained nursing, but of course that'd mean leaving. I've about decided to be a boarding-house lady."
"Live in one?"
"No. Keep one. Is there such an anomaly as a boarding-house lady? Anyway I'd have a negress and keep about eight people in the summer and two or three, if I can get them, in the winter. Of course I'll have to have the house repainted and gone over inside."
"Roxanne, why—naturally you know best what you can do, but it does seem a shock, Roxanne. You came here as a bride."
"Perhaps," she said, "that's why I don't mind remaining here as a boarding-house lady."
"I remember a certain batch of biscuits."
"Oh, those biscuits," she cried. "Still, from all I heard about the way you devoured them, they couldn't have been so bad. I was so low that day, yet somehow I laughed when the nurse told me about those biscuits."
"I noticed that the twelve nail-holes are still in the library wall where Jeff drove them."
It was getting very dark now, a crispness settled in the air; a little gust of wind sent down a last spray of leaves. Roxanne shivered slightly.
"We'd better go in."
He looked at his watch.
"It's late. I've got to be leaving. I go East tomorrow."
They lingered for a moment just below the stoop, watching a moon that seemed full of snow float out of the distance where the lake lay. Summer was gone and now Indian summer. The grass was cold and there was no mist and no dew. After he left she would go in and light the gas and close the shatters, and he would go down the path and on to the village. To these two life had come quickly and gone, leaving not bitterness, but pity; not disillusion, but only pain. There was already enough moonlight when they shook hands for each to see the gathered kindness in the other's eyes.
THE QUINTESSENCE OF QUAINTNESS IN ONE ACT
The Scene is the Exterior of a Cottage in West Issacshire on a desperately Arcadian afternoon in August. MR. ICKY, quaintly dressed in the costume of an Elizabethan peasant, is pottering and doddering among the pots and dods. He is an old man, well past the prime of life, no longer young, From the fact that there is a burr in his speech and that he has absent-mindedly put on his coat wrongside out, we surmise that he is either above or below the ordinary superficialities of life.
Near him on the grass lies PETER, a little boy. PETER, of course, has his chin on his palm like the pictures of the young Sir Walter Raleigh. He has a complete set of features, including serious, sombre, even funereal, gray eyes—and radiates that alluring air of never having eaten food. This air can best be radiated during the afterglow of a beef dinner. Be is looking at MR. ICKY, fascinated.
Silence. . . . The song of birds.
PETER: Often at night I sit at my window and regard the stars. Sometimes I think they're my stars.... (Gravely) I think I shall be a star some day....
ME. ICKY: (Whimsically) Yes, yes ... yes....
PETER: I know them all: Venus, Mars, Neptune, Gloria Swanson.
MR. ICKY: I don't take no stock in astronomy.... I've been thinking o' Lunnon, laddie. And calling to mind my daughter, who has gone for to be a typewriter.... (He sighs.)
PETER: I liked Ulsa, Mr. Icky; she was so plump, so round, so buxom.
MR. ICKY: Not worth the paper she was padded with, laddie. (He stumbles over a pile of pots and dods.)
PETER: How is your asthma, Mr. Icky?
MR. ICKY: Worse, thank God!...(Gloomily.) I'm a hundred years old... I'm getting brittle.
PETER: I suppose life has been pretty tame since you gave up petty arson.
MR. ICKY: Yes... yes.... You see, Peter, laddie, when I was fifty I reformed once—in prison.
PETER: You went wrong again?
MR. ICKY: Worse than that. The week before my term expired they insisted on transferring to me the glands of a healthy young prisoner they were executing.
PETER: And it renovated you?
MR. ICKY: Renovated me! It put the Old Nick back into me! This young criminal was evidently a suburban burglar and a kleptomaniac. What was a little playful arson in comparison!
PETER: (Awed) How ghastly! Science is the bunk.
MR. ICKY: (Sighing) I got him pretty well subdued now. 'Tisn't every one who has to tire out two sets o' glands in his lifetime. I wouldn't take another set for all the animal spirits in an orphan asylum.
PETER: (Considering) I shouldn't think you'd object to a nice quiet old clergyman's set.
MR. ICKY: Clergymen haven't got glands—they have souls.
(There is a low, sonorous honking off stage to indicate that a large motor-car has stopped in the immediate vicinity. Then a young man handsomely attired in a dress-suit and a patent-leather silk hat comes onto the stage. He is very mundane. His contrast to the spirituality of the other two is observable as far back as the first row of the balcony. This is RODNEY DIVINE.)
DIVINE: I am looking for Ulsa Icky.
(MR. ICKY rises and stands tremulously between two dods.)
MR. ICKY: My daughter is in Lunnon.
DIVINE: She has left London. She is coming here. I have followed her.
(He reaches into the little mother-of-pearl satchel that hangs at his side for cigarettes. He selects one and scratching a match touches it to the cigarette. The cigarette instantly lights.)
DIVINE: I shall wait.
(He waits. Several hours pass. There is no sound except an occasional cackle or hiss from the dods as they quarrel among themselves. Several songs can be introduced here or some card tricks by DIVINE or a tumbling act, as desired.)
DIVINE: It's very quiet here.
MR. ICKY: Yes, very quiet....
(Suddenly a loudly dressed girl appears; she is very worldly. It is ULSA ICKY. On her is one of those shapeless faces peculiar to early Italian painting.)
ULSA: (In a coarse, worldly voice) Feyther! Here I am! Ulsa did what?
MR. ICKY: (Tremulously) Ulsa, little Ulsa. (They embrace each other's torsos.)
MR. ICKY: (Hopefully) You've come back to help with the ploughing.
ULSA: (Sullenly) No, feyther; ploughing's such a beyther. I'd reyther not.
(Though her accent is broad, the content of her speech is sweet and clean.)
DIVINE: (Conciliatingly) See here, Ulsa. Let's come to an understanding.
(He advances toward her with the graceful, even stride that made him captain of the striding team at Cambridge.)
ULSA: You still say it would be Jack?
MR. ICKY: What does she mean?
DIVINE: (Kindly) My dear, of course, it would be Jack. It couldn't be Frank.
MR. ICKY: Frank who?
ULSA: It would be Frank!
(Some risque joke can be introduced here.)
MR. ICKY: (Whimsically) No good fighting...no good fighting...
DIVINE: (Reaching out to stroke her arm with the powerful movement that made him stroke of the crew at Oxford) You'd better marry me.
ULSA: (Scornfully) Why, they wouldn't let me in through the servants' entrance of your house.
DIVINE: (Angrily) They wouldn't! Never fear—you shall come in through the mistress' entrance.
DIVINE: (In confusion) I beg your pardon. You know what I mean?
MR. ICKY: (Aching with whimsey) You want to marry my little Ulsa?...
DIVINE: I do.
MR. ICKY: Your record is clean.
DIVINE: Excellent. I have the best constitution in the world—
ULSA: And the worst by-laws.
DIVINE: At Eton I was a member at Pop; at Rugby I belonged to Near-beer. As a younger son I was destined for the police force—
MR. ICKY: Skip that.... Have you money?...
DIVINE: Wads of it. I should expect Ulsa to go down town in sections every morning—in two Rolls Royces. I have also a kiddy-car and a converted tank. I have seats at the opera—
ULSA: (Sullenly) I can't sleep except in a box. And I've heard that you were cashiered from your club.
MR. ICKY: A cashier? ...
DIVINE: (Hanging his head) I was cashiered.
ULSA: What for?
DIVINE: (Almost inaudibly) I hid the polo bails one day for a joke.
MR. ICKY: Is your mind in good shape?
DIVINE: (Gloomily) Fair. After all what is brilliance? Merely the tact to sow when no one is looking and reap when every one is.
ME. ICKY; Be careful. ... I will-not marry my daughter to an epigram....
DIVINE: (More gloomily) I assure you I'm a mere platitude. I often descend to the level of an innate idea.
ULSA: (Dully) None of what you're saying matters. I can't marry a man who thinks it would be Jack. Why Frank would—
DIVINE: (Interrupting) Nonsense!
ULSA: (Emphatically) You're a fool!
MR. ICKY: Tut-tut! ... One should not judge ... Charity, my girl. What was it Nero said?—"With malice toward none, with charity toward all—"
PETER: That wasn't Nero. That was John Drinkwater.
MR. ICKY: Come! Who is this Frank? Who is this Jack?
DIVINE: (Morosely) Gotch.
DIVINE: We were arguing that if they were deadly enemies and locked in a room together which one would come out alive. Now I claimed that Jack Dempsey would take one—
ULSA: (Angrily) Rot! He wouldn't have a—
DIVINE: (Quickly) You win.
ULSA: Then I love you again.
MR. ICKY: So I'm going to lose my little daughter...
ULSA: You've still got a houseful of children,
(CHARLES, ULSA'S brother, coming out of the cottage. He is dressed as if to go to sea; a coil of rope is slung about his shoulder and an anchor is hanging from his neck.)
CHARLES: (Not seeing them) I'm going to sea! I'm going to sea!
(His voice is triumphant.)
MR. ICKY: (Sadly) You went to seed long ago.
CHARLES: I've been reading "Conrad."
PETER: (Dreamily) "Conrad," ah! "Two Years Before the Mast," by Henry James.
PETER: Walter Pater's version of "Robinson Crusoe."
CHARLES: (To his feyther) I can't stay here and rot with you. I want to live my life. I want to hunt eels.
MR. ICKY: I will be here... when you come back....
CHARLES: (Contemptuously) Why, the worms are licking their chops already when they hear your name.
(It will be noticed that some of the characters have not spoken for some time. It will improve the technique if they can be rendering a spirited saxophone number.)
MR. ICKY: (Mournfully) These vales, these hills, these McCormick harvesters—they mean nothing to my children. I understand.
CHARLES: (More gently) Then you'll think of me kindly, feyther. To understand is to forgive.
MR. ICKY: No...no....We never forgive those we can understand....We can only forgive those who wound us for no reason at all....
CHARLES: (Impatiently) I'm so beastly sick of your human nature line. And, anyway, I hate the hours around here.
(Several dozen more of MR. ICKY'S children trip out of the house, trip over the grass, and trip over the pots and dods. They are muttering "We are going away," and "We are leaving you.")
MR. ICKY: (His heart breaking) They're all deserting me. I've been too kind. Spare the rod and spoil the fun. Oh, for the glands of a Bismarck.
(There is a honking outside—probably DIVINE'S chauffeur growing impatient for his master.)
MR. ICKY: (In misery) They do not love the soil! They have been faithless to the Great Potato Tradition! (He picks up a handful of soil passionately and rubs it on his bald head. Hair sprouts.) Oh, Wordsworth, Wordsworth, how true you spoke!
"No motion has she now, no force; She does not hear or feel; Roll'd round on earth's diurnal course In some one's Oldsmobile."
(They all groan and shouting "Life" and "Jazz" move slowly toward the wings.)
CHARLES: Back to the soil, yes! I've been trying to turn my back to the soil for ten years!
ANOTHER CHILD: The farmers may be the backbone of the country, but who wants to be a backbone?
ANOTHER CHILD: I care not who hoes the lettuce of my country if I can eat the salad!
ALL: Life! Psychic Research! Jazz!
MR. ICKY: (Struggling with himself) I must be quaint. That's all there is. It's not life that counts, it's the quaintness you bring to it....
ALL: We're going to slide down the Riviera. We've got tickets for Piccadilly Circus. Life! Jazz!
MR. ICKY: Wait. Let me read to you from the Bible. Let me open it at random. One always finds something that bears on the situation.
(He finds a Bible lying in one of the dods and opening it at random begins to read.)
"Ahab and Istemo and Anim, Goson and Olon and Gilo, eleven cities and their villages. Arab, and Ruma, and Esaau—"
CHARLES: (Cruelly) Buy ten more rings and try again.
MR. ICKY: (Trying again) "How beautiful art thou my love, how beautiful art thou! Thy eyes are dove's eyes, besides what is hid within. Thy hair is as flocks of goats which come up from Mount Galaad—Hm! Rather a coarse passage...."
(His children laugh at him rudely, shouting "Jazz!" and "All life is primarily suggestive!")
MR. ICKY: (Despondently) It won't work to-day. (Hopefully) Maybe it's damp. (He feels it) Yes, it's damp.... There was water in the dod.... It won't work.
ALL: It's damp! It won't work! Jazz!
ONE OF THE CHILDREN: Come, we must catch the six-thirty.
(Any other cue may be inserted here.)
MR. ICKY: Good-by....
( They all go out. MR. ICKY is left alone. He sighs and walking over to the cottage steps, lies down, and closes his eyes.)
Twilight has come down and the stage is flooded with such light as never was on land or sea. There is no sound except a sheep-herder's wife in the distance playing an aria from Beethoven's Tenth Symphony, on a mouth-organ. The great white and gray moths swoop down and light on the old man until he is completely covered by them. But he does not stir.
The curtain goes up and down several times to denote the lapse of several minutes. A good comedy effect can be obtained by having MR. ICKY cling to the curtain and go up and down with it. Fireflies or fairies on wires can also be introduced at this point.
Then PETER appears, a look of almost imbecile sweetness on his face. In his hand he clutches something and from time to time glances at it in a transport of ecstasy. After a struggle with himself he lays it on the old man's body and then quietly withdraws.
The moths chatter among themselves and then scurry away in sudden fright. And as night deepens there still sparkles there, small, white and round, breathing a subtle perfume to the West Issacshire breeze, PETER'S gift of love—a moth-ball.
(The play can end at this point or can go on indefinitely.)
JEMINA, THE MOUNTAIN GIRL
This don't pretend to be "Literature." This is just a tale for red-blooded folks who want a story and not just a lot of "psychological" stuff or "analysis." Boy, you'll love it! Read it here, see it in the movies, play it on the phonograph, run it through the sewing-machine.
A WILD THING
It was night in the mountains of Kentucky. Wild hills rose on all sides. Swift mountain streams flowed rapidly up and down the mountains.
Jemima Tantrum was down at the stream, brewing whiskey at the family still.
She was a typical mountain girl.
Her feet were bare. Her hands, large and powerful, hung down below her knees. Her face showed the ravages of work. Although but sixteen, she had for over a dozen years been supporting her aged pappy and mappy by brewing mountain whiskey. From time to time she would pause in her task, and, filling a dipper full of the pure, invigorating liquid, would drain it off—then pursue her work with renewed vigor.
She would place the rye in the vat, thresh it out with her feet and, in twenty minutes, the completed product would be turned out.
A sudden cry made her pause in the act of draining a dipper and look up.
"Hello," said a voice. It came from a man clad in hunting boots reaching to his neck, who had emerged.
"Can you tell me the way to the Tantrums' cabin?"
"Are you uns from the settlements down thar?"
She pointed her hand down to the bottom of the hill, where Louisville lay. She had never been there; but once, before she was born, her great-grandfather, old Gore Tantrum, had gone into the settlements in the company of two marshals, and had never come back. So the Tantrums from generation to generation, had learned to dread civilization.
The man was amused. He laughed a light tinkling laugh, the laugh of a Philadelphian. Something in the ring of it thrilled her. She drank off another dipper of whiskey.
"Where is Mr. Tantrum, little girl?" he asked, not without kindness.
She raised her foot and pointed her big toe toward the woods. "Thar in the cabing behind those thar pines. Old Tantrum air my old man."
The man from the settlements thanked her and strode off. He was fairly vibrant with youth and personality. As he walked along he whistled and sang and turned handsprings and flapjacks, breathing in the fresh, cool air of the mountains.
The air around the still was like wine.
Jemina Tantrum watched him entranced. No one like him had ever come into her life before.
She sat down on the grass and counted her toes. She counted eleven. She had learned arithmetic in the mountain school.
A MOUNTAIN FEUD
Ten years before a lady from the settlements had opened a school on the mountain. Jemina had no money, but she had paid her way in whiskey, bringing a pailful to school every morning and leaving it on Miss Lafarge's desk. Miss Lafarge had died of delirium tremens after a year's teaching, and so Jemina's education had stopped.
Across the still stream, still another still was standing; It was that of the Doldrums. The Doldrums and the Tantrums never exchanged calls.
They hated each other.
Fifty years before old Jem Doldrum and old Jem Tantrum had quarrelled in the Tantrum cabin over a game of slapjack. Jem Doldrum had thrown the king of hearts in Jem Tantrum's face, and old Tantrum, enraged, had felled the old Doldrum with the nine of diamonds. Other Doldrums and Tantrums had joined in and the little cabin was soon filled with flying cards. Harstrum Doldrum, one of the younger Doldrums, lay stretched on the floor writhing in agony, the ace of hearts crammed down his throat. Jem Tantrum, standing in the doorway; ran through suit after suit, his face alight with fiendish hatred. Old Mappy Tantrum stood on the table wetting down the Doldrums with hot whiskey. Old Heck Doldrum, having finally run out of trumps, was backed out of the cabin, striking left and right with his tobacco pouch, and gathering around him the rest of his clan. Then they mounted their steers and galloped furiously home.
That night old man Doldrum and his sons, vowing vengeance, had returned, put a ticktock on the Tantrum window, stuck a pin in the doorbell, and beaten a retreat.
A week later the Tantrums had put Cod Liver Oil in the Doldrums' still, and so, from year to year, the feud had continued, first one family being entirely wiped out, then the other.
THE BIRTH OF LOVE
Every day little Jemina worked the still on her side of the stream, and Boscoe Doldrum worked the still on his side.
Sometimes, with automatic inherited hatred, the feudists would throw whiskey at each other, and Jemina would come home smelling like a French table d'hote.
But now Jemina was too thoughtful to look across the stream.
How wonderful the stranger had been and how oddly he was dressed! In her innocent way she had never believed that there were any civilized settlements at all, and she had put the belief in them down to the credulity of the mountain people.
She turned to go up to the cabin, and, as she turned something struck her in the neck. It was a sponge, thrown by Boscoe Doldrum—a sponge soaked in whiskey from his still on the other side of the stream.
"Hi, thar, Boscoe Doldrum," she shouted in her deep bass voice.
"Yo! Jemina Tantrum. Gosh ding yo'!" he returned.
She continued her way to the cabin.
The stranger was talking to her father. Gold had been discovered on the Tantrum land, and the stranger, Edgar Edison, was trying to buy the land for a song. He was considering what song to offer.
She sat upon her hands and watched him.
He was wonderful. When he talked his lips moved.
She sat upon the stove and watched him.
Suddenly there came a blood-curdling scream. The Tantrums rushed to the windows.
It was the Doldrums.
They had hitched their steers to trees and concealed themselves behind the bushes and flowers, and soon a perfect rattle of stones and bricks beat against the windows, bending them inward.
"Father! father!" shrieked Jemina.
Her father took down his slingshot from his slingshot rack on the wall and ran his hand lovingly over the elastic band. He stepped to a loophole. Old Mappy Tantrum stepped to the coalhole.
A MOUNTAIN BATTLE
The stranger was aroused at last. Furious to get at the Doldrums, he tried to escape from the house by crawling up the chimney. Then he thought there might be a door under the bead, but Jemina told him there was not. He hunted for doors under the beds and sofas, but each time Jemina pulled him out and told him there were no doors there. Furious with anger, he beat upon the door and hollered at the Doldrums. They did not answer him, but kept up their fusillade of bricks and stones against the window. Old Pappy Tantrum knew that just as soon as they were able to affect an aperture they would pour in and the fight would be over.
Then old Heck Doldrum, foaming at the mouth and expectorating on the ground, left and right, led the attack.
The terrific slingshots of Pappy Tantrum had not been without their effect. A master shot had disabled one Doldrum, and another Doldrum, shot almost incessantly through the abdomen, fought feebly on.
Nearer and nearer they approached the house.
"We must fly," shouted the stranger to Jemina. "I will sacrifice myself and bear you away."
"No," shouted Pappy Tantrum, his face begrimed. "You stay here and fit on. I will bar Jemina away. I will bar Mappy away. I will bar myself away."
The man from the settlements, pale and trembling with anger, turned to Ham Tantrum, who stood at the door throwing loophole after loophole at the advancing Doldrums.
"Will you cover the retreat?"
But Ham said that he too had Tantrums to bear away, but that he would leave himself here to help the stranger cover the retreat, if he could think of a way of doing it.
Soon smoke began to filter through the floor and ceiling. Shem Doldrum had come up and touched a match to old Japhet Tantrum's breath as he leaned from a loophole, and the alcoholic flames shot up on all sides.
The whiskey in the bathtub caught fire. The walls began to fall in.
Jemina and the man from the settlements looked at each other.
"Jemina," he whispered.
"Stranger," she answered,
"We will die together," he said. "If we had lived I would have taken you to the city and married you. With your ability to hold liquor, your social success would have been assured."
She caressed him idly for a moment, counting her toes softly to herself. The smoke grew thicker. Her left leg was on fire.
She was a human alcohol lamp.
Their lips met in one long kiss and then a wall fell on them and blotted them out.
When the Doldrums burst through the ring of flame, they found them dead where they had fallen, their arms about each other.
Old Jem Doldrum was moved.
He took off his hat.
He filled it with whiskey and drank it off.
"They air dead," he said slowly, "they hankered after each other. The fit is over now. We must not part them."
So they threw them together into the stream and the two splashes they made were as one.