STERLING. And our boy?
BLANCHE. Your blood runs in his veins; your shame and disgrace would be a fearful warning to him. It might kill me; but never mind, if it saved him.
STERLING. Oh, well, I haven't broken my word! So you needn't worry. I've been honest enough.
BLANCHE. [With a long sigh of relief.] Oh! I hope so!
MRS. HUNTER. [Appearing in doorway at back.] The men are in the drawing-room—shall we come here?
BLANCHE. Yes, we'll bring the others, mother. Come, Dick.
[She goes out with MRS. HUNTER at back.
STERLING. [Goes to door Right, opens it, and calls.] Leonard!
[LEONARD enters Right
LEONARD. Yes, sir?
STERLING. Go up to my library at the top of the house, get a railroad guide you will find there, and bring it down and put it on the table in the hall just outside the drawing-room door.
LEONARD. Yes, sir.
STERLING. Then go to my room and pack my bag and dressing case. Do you understand?
LEONARD. Yes, sir.
[The women are heard singing "Follow the Man from Cook's," and gradually coming nearer.
STERLING. Be quick, and say nothing to any one.
LEONARD. Yes, sir.
[He goes out quickly Right. STERLING goes up stage and stands beside the door at back as the women dance in, singing "Follow the Man from Cook's." They are led by CLARA, with MRS. HUNTER on the end. BLANCHE and RUTH follow alone, not dancing. The others dance around the chairs and CLARA jumps on and off one of them; this stops the rest, who balk at it. STERLING goes out at back. The SERVANTS enter Right.
CLARA. I don't care for this dinner party at all. The women are all the time being chased away from the men! I prefer being with Mr. Trotter. Don't you, mama?
MISS SILLERTON. He doesn't seem able to give a dinner party any more without you to chaperone, Mrs. Hunter.
BLANCHE. Mother, how can you?
MRS. HUNTER. Oh, I don't know as it's chaperoning! I like Mr. Trotter very much.
MISS SILLERTON. But he's such a little cad. I tried to give him a lift, but he was too heavy for me.
CLARA. Oh, well, you ought just to pretend it's the money in his pocket makes him so heavy; then you'd find him dead easy.
[Meanwhile the SERVANTS have arranged the table, taken out the extra leaves and made it square, and left the room. They now reenter, bringing in a gorgeously decorated and lighted Christmas tree. There is at once a loud chorus of delighted approval from the women. The SERVANTS place the tree in the centre of the table. The women who are sitting rise and come near to examine the tree.
RUTH. What a beautiful tree, Blanche!
BLANCHE. The boy is to have it to-morrow morning—it's really his tree! [TOMPSON brings in a large basket containing seven small stockings and six small boys' socks—very small stockings and very small socks. They are made of bright and different colors and are stuffed into absurd, bulgy shapes.] There's a name on each one. Come along now!
[Taking out a little sock. The women crowd around the basket and each hangs a sock on the tree, MISS GODESBY and CLARA standing on chairs.
CLARA. [Reading the name on her sock.] Oh! mine's for Mr. Mason. What's in it, Blanche?
BLANCHE. I really can't tell you. I asked the clerk where I bought it what it was for, and he said he didn't know; it was a "Christmas present."
MISS GODESBY. [Laughing.] Oh, I know the kind! Mine's for Howard Godesby. What's his present?
BLANCHE. A silver golf marker.
MISS GODESBY. But he doesn't play golf!
BLANCHE. Well, he ought to; it'll keep him young.
CLARA. It will be all right, anyway, Julia! You can give it away to some one next Christmas.
MISS SILLERTON. What's in Mr. Trotter's?
BLANCHE. Oh, that present has almost been my death! Men are so hard to find things for! I had put in a gold pencil for his key chain, but to-night while we were eating our oysters, I saw him show a beauty that his mother had given him this morning! So I whispered to Jordan between the soup and fish to change Mr. Ryder's name to Mr. Trotter's stocking, and put Mr. Trotter's name on the one that had a cigarette case in it. I sneaked a message down to Dick on my dinner card—was it all right?—and he sent back word during the game that Trotter only smoked cigars; so before the ices were passed I shuffled Mr. Trotter's and Mr. Mason's names,—I'd given Mason the cigar case,—and just as Jordan signalled to me the transfer had been successfully effected, I heard Trotter casually observe he'd been obliged to give up smoking entirely—doctor's orders!
[They laugh punctiliously, rather bored by BLANCHE'S long account.
MRS. HUNTER. Isn't the tree stunning?
CLARA. [Getting down from her chair.] It makes the table look like one of Mr. Trotter's "informal little dinners."
MISS GODESBY. They say he has one of those men who arrange shop windows decorate his dinner table for him!
BLANCHE. The only time I ever dined with him I was really ashamed to go home with my dinner favor—it was so gorgeous! And there were such big bunches of violets in the finger bowls there wasn't room for your little finger.
MISS GODESBY. You never saw such a lot of decoration! The game have ribbon garters on their legs, and even the raw oysters wear corsage bouquets! [To MRS. HUNTER.] I hope you don't mind what we're saying, Mrs. Hunter?
MRS. HUNTER. [Offended.] I must say I do mind very much.—[A pause.]—because—[A second pause.]—well, I am going to marry Mr. Trotter—[All, not believing her, laugh merrily.] You are all very rude!
MISS GODESBY. Not on the level! Not Trotter!
MISS SILLERTON. Not really!
BLANCHE. No, no, of course not!
[She rings bell.
MRS. HUNTER. But I am! And I thought here at my daughter's table, among my own friends (I was allowed to name the guests to-night), I could count on good wishes and congratulations.
[There is a dead silence.
[The musicians, a band of Neapolitan players, enter and take their places in a recess at Left.
BLANCHE. [To the musicians.] You may play. [To JORDAN, who has brought in the Neapolitans.] We are ready, Jordan.
[JORDAN goes out at back.
[RUTH goes to BLANCHE.
[The guitars and mandolins begin a popular song.
MISS GODESBY. [To MRS. HUNTER.] Oh, well, Mrs. Hunter, we were only codding! There's lots of good in Trotter, and I'm sure you'll bring it out. Good luck!
[Shaking her hand.
RUTH. [To BLANCHE, aside.] You won't allow this!
BLANCHE. Certainly not. [BLANCHE crosses to her mother and they go to one side together; BLANCHE speaks in a lowered voice.] You've amazed and shocked me! I will not tolerate such a thing; we'll talk it over to-night.
[She leaves her and returns to her guests, MRS. HUNTER standing where she is left, biting her lips and almost crying with rage and mortification.
MISS GODESBY. [Before the musicians, to BLANCHE as she joins her.] I'm crazy about these men, Mrs. Sterling; they play so awfully well—especially that one with the lovely legs!
[JORDAN pulls aside the curtains at back and all the men reenter except WARDEN. They all join hands and dance around the tree, singing with the musicians; they break, and go up to a side table, where everything to drink is displayed. WARDEN enters at this moment and motions to MASON and leads him down stage.
WARDEN. There was a railway guide in the hall—that's what he went there for; he's going to run away to-night.
MASON. How'll we prevent it?
WARDEN. First, we must break up this party!
WARDEN. I haven't quite thought yet. Go back to the others; send Jordan to me; don't lose sight of Dick. Jordan! [He takes him aside.] I want you to go out of this room for a minute, pretend to go upstairs, then come back and tell Mrs. Sterling, loud enough for the others to hear you, that Master Richard is very ill, and say the maid is frightened.
JORDAN. [Hesitating.] But—
WARDEN. [Quickly and firmly.] Do as I tell you. I am responsible for whatever happens.
[JORDAN goes out at back. The men and women are laughing and talking about the sideboard.
BLANCHE. Come now, everybody! Let's have the presents. Dick, you know you are to be Santa Claus.
[STERLING looks nervously at his watch.
STERLING. Just a minute, dear! Ned! [Takes WARDEN to one side. The women move about the tree, hunting for their own names on the stockings on the table at the foot of the tree.] Ned, I've been suddenly called out of town on business—must catch the eleven-twenty train. I don't want to break up the party, so you empty the tree, and when the time comes for me to go, I'll slip out.
WARDEN. And when your guests go?
STERLING. Oh, then you can explain for me.
[JORDAN enters at back.
JORDAN. [To BLANCHE.] Beg pardon, madam, but Master Richard is very ill.
BLANCHE. [Alarmed.] Richard!
JORDAN. Yes, ma'am, and Droves is very frightened, ma'am.
RUTH. Richard ill?
[All give exclamations of surprise and regret and sympathy.
BLANCHE. My little boy ill? Excuse me, I must go to him.
[She hurries out at back. RUTH speaks to the musicians, who stop playing.
STERLING. [Moved.] My boy ill—why, I can't—I can't—
WARDEN. "Can't" what?
STERLING. How can I go away?
WARDEN. Surely you won't let business take you away from your boy who may be dying.
STERLING. No! I won't go! I'll face it out! I can't leave my boy like this—
RUTH. [Coming to STERLING.] I'm going to take these women away; tell Blanche not to give them a thought. Their evening up to now has been charming.
[During RUTH'S speech, WARDEN has spoken aside with MASON.
WARDEN. [Aside to MASON.] Don't let Miss Hunter go.
RUTH. [To the other guests.] Come to the drawing-room.
MRS. HUNTER. I was crazy to see what was in my stocking.
[All pass out talking, expressing conventional sympathy on account of RICHARD, but evidently resenting the breaking up of the party. STERLING and WARDEN are left alone in the room. STERLING moves to go up to back; WARDEN interrupts him.
WARDEN. [To STERLING.] Where are you going?
STERLING. To my boy and my wife.
WARDEN. Wait a minute; I want to speak to you.
STERLING. Speak to me later; I can't wait now.
BLANCHE. [Off stage, at back, excitedly.] Jordan! [She enters, excited, half hysterical.] Jordan! Where is Jordan? It was a lie! What did he mean? Richard is sleeping sweetly. The maid knows nothing of being alarmed! Where is Jordan?
[She starts to go toward the door Right.
WARDEN. [Stops her.] Mrs. Sterling, he had nothing to do with it! I told Jordan to say what he said.
[BLANCHE turns and looks at WARDEN in astonishment.
STERLING. [Stunned and at once suspicious.] What?
WARDEN. Forgive me for so cruelly alarming you; it was the only way I could think of for getting rid at once of your guests!
STERLING. [Angry.] You'll interfere once too often in the affairs of this house.
BLANCHE. [Indignant.] But what excuse can you make, Mr. Warden?
WARDEN. Will you be so good as to ask Miss Hunter and Mr. Mason to come here? They will explain what I have done, partly, and your husband will tell you the rest when you come back.
[STERLING sneers aloud.
BLANCHE. I don't understand, I don't understand.
[She goes out at back.
STERLING. Well, I do understand, at least enough.
WARDEN. Good! That spares me a very disagreeable speech.
STERLING. No, it doesn't! Come out with it! What is it you want? What is it you've found out?
WARDEN. From betraying a trust, you've come, in less than two years, to an outright embezzlement.
STERLING. Speak out—give us facts!
WARDEN. You've stolen your aunt's fortune.
STERLING. Prove that!
WARDEN. It's her money that's lost in the Hudson Electric Company!
STERLING. PROVE IT!
WARDEN. Easy enough, to-morrow.
STERLING. You've got to excuse your action to-night or be kicked out of my house!
WARDEN. [Strong.] Isn't what I say the truth?
STERLING. [Equally strong.] No! And now get out!
WARDEN. [Looks at his watch.] I'll not leave this house till it's too late for you to take that eleven-twenty.
STERLING. [More ugly.] Yes, you will and mighty—
WARDEN. No, I'll not!
[He is interrupted by the entrance of BLANCHE, RUTH, and MASON.
WARDEN. [To BLANCHE.] I hope you forgive me now—
BLANCHE. [Pathetically.] You did right; I thank you.
STERLING. [Heartbroken.] Blanche—without hearing a word from me!
BLANCHE. No, I've come now to hear what you have to say.
[A deep-toned clock strikes eleven. STERLING, at the second stroke, takes out his watch with a hurried movement.
WARDEN. [Quickly.] Eleven o'clock.
STERLING. I wish Warden to leave the room.
BLANCHE. [Firmly.] And I wish him to stay.
[A short pause.
STERLING. Well, of what am I accused?
WARDEN. Nobody wants to accuse you. We want you to make a clean breast of it.
STERLING. Don't you talk to me; let my wife do the talking if you want me to answer.
BLANCHE. Sit down, Aunt Ruth. [RUTH sits by the table, WARDEN stands at back. STERLING stands at Right and BLANCHE and MASON sit near the centre.] Aunt Ruth asks you to give her a true account of her trust in you. Mr. Mason is here as her friend and my father's.
STERLING. I haven't said I betrayed her trust. I told her she should have the bonds she wants to-morrow.
BLANCHE. But will she? That's what I want to know. I ask you if you haven't her bonds, to tell us here now,—tell us, who have been and must be still the best friends, perhaps the only friends, you can have. Tell us where we all stand—are we the only ones to suffer or are there others who will perhaps be less generous in their treatment of you? Tell us now while there is time perhaps to save us from public scandal, from the disgrace which would stamp your wife as the wife of a thief, and send your boy out into the world the son of a convict cheat. [She breaks down, but in a moment controls herself. There is no answer. STERLING sinks into a chair, his arms on the table, his head on his arms. A moment's silence.] You love me—I know that. I appeal to your love; let your love of me persuade you to do what I ask. I ask it for your sake and for mine! Tell us here the truth now—it will spare me much to-morrow, perhaps—me whom you love—for love of me—
STERLING. [In an agony.] I'm afraid I'll lose you—
BLANCHE. No, I'll promise to stand by you if you'll only tell us all the truth.
STERLING. [In a low, shamed voice.] I'll tell you, but not now—not before all these others.
[BLANCHE looks up questioningly to MASON. MASON shakes his head.
BLANCHE. It must be now, Dick.
STERLING. No! no! I can't look you in the face and tell it! Let me tell it to you alone, later, in the dark.
[BLANCHE looks up questioningly to MASON. He shakes his head.
BLANCHE. It must be now.
STERLING. No, no, I'm too ashamed, I can't face you; in the dark I'll make a clean breast of it—let me tell you in the dark.
[WARDEN moves and puts his hand on the electric-light button beside the doorway at back.
WARDEN. In the DARK, then, tell it!
[He presses the button and all the lights go out. The stage is in complete darkness; only the voices are heard from the different places in which the actors are last seen.
BLANCHE. [Quickly.] Remember, to help you to help ourselves, we must know everything. Go on.
STERLING. It began fourteen months ago, after Ned Warden put me on my feet; I got a little ahead—why not get way ahead? There were plenty of men around me making their fortunes! I wanted to equal them—climb as high as they; it seemed easy enough for them, and luck had begun to come my way. We're all climbers of some sort in this world. I was a climber after wealth and everything it brings—
[He stops a moment.
BLANCHE. [Her voice comes throbbing with pathetic emotion through the darkness.] And I after happiness and all it brings.
STERLING. [Deeply moved, his voice trembles for a moment, but only for a moment.] Don't, Blanche, or I can't finish. Well, I borrowed on some of Aunt Ruth's bonds and speculated—I made a hundred thousand in a week! I put back the bonds. But it had been so easy! I could see those bonds grinning at me through the iron side of the vault box. They seemed to smile and beckon, to beg me to take them out into the air again! They grew to be like living things to me, servants of mine to get me gold—and finally I determined to make one bigger coup than ever! I took Aunt Ruth's bonds out and all the money available in my trust, and put it all into this new company! It seemed so safe. I stood to be a prince among the richest! And, for a day or so, I've known nothing short of a miracle could save me from being wanted by the police! To-night I gave up even the miracle. That's all. It's no use saying I'm sorry.
[A moment's pause.
MASON. Have others suffered besides Miss Hunter?
STERLING. There is some money of Aunt Ruth's left—stock I couldn't transfer. But I used the money of others—Miss Godesby and Ryder's.
MASON. Miss Ruth, a large part of your fortune is gone, used unlawfully by this man. Will you resort to the law?
RUTH. [Very quietly.] No!
BLANCHE. [In a voice broken with emotion and gratitude.] Aunt Ruth!
MASON. We can't hope Miss Godesby and Ryder will be as lenient! You must go to them in the morning—tell them everything, put yourself at their mercy, ask for time and their silence.
STERLING. Never! I couldn't do it.
MASON. It is the only honorable way out of your dishonorable action—the least you can do!
STERLING. Confess to their faces, and probably to no good? Eat the dust at their feet, and most likely be clapped into prison for it? No, thank you!
BLANCHE. Suppose I went to them?
RUTH. No! Why should you!
STERLING. Yes! Why not? They might keep silent for her!
BLANCHE. I would do it for my boy's sake. Yes, I'll go.
STERLING. Yes! You go, Blanche.
RUTH. No, you shan't go—you shan't humiliate yourself in his place!
MASON. Certainly not; and if your husband is willing, we are not willing! He must go.
BLANCHE. But if he won't?
MASON. He must!
RUTH. You must demand his going, Blanche, and I demand it, too, as something due to me.
BLANCHE. Very well. I demand it. Will you go?
[A moment's silence.
WARDEN. Why don't you speak? [He presses the electric button and all the lights come on. STERLING is at the doorway at back, about to steal out. There is an exclamation aloud from all of surprise and disgust. The clock strikes the quarter; WARDEN catches hold of STERLING'S arm.] What's your hurry, Dick? There goes the quarter hour; you could never catch the eleven-twenty.
STERLING. Damn you!
[Facing WARDEN squarely, as
THE CURTAIN FALLS QUICKLY
At "The Hermitage," on the Bronx River, the next afternoon. The house is on the Left, and on the Right and at the back are the green lattice arches. Snow lies thick everywhere, on the benches at the Right and on the little iron table beside it, on the swing between two trees at the Right, in the red boxes of dead shrubs, on the rocks and dried grass of a "rookery" in the centre, and on the branches of the trees. CLARA comes out from the house, followed by TROTTER.
CLARA. Come on and let mama rest awhile—naturally she's excited and tired out, being married so suddenly and away from home. [She stops beside the swing, taking hold of its side rope with her hand.] It isn't every mother who can elope without her oldest child's consent and have her youngest daughter for a bridesmaid.
TROTTER. I hope Mrs. Sterling will forgive me. Perhaps she will when she sees how my money can help your mother and me to get right in with all the smarties!
CLARA. Oh, don't you be too sure about your getting in; it isn't as easy as the papers say! But, anyway, that wouldn't make any difference to Blanche. She was never a climber like mama and me. I suppose that's why she is asked to all sorts of houses through Aunt Ruth that wouldn't let mama and me even leave our cards on the butler!
TROTTER. I thought your mother could go anywhere she liked.
CLARA. Oh, no, she couldn't! if she made you think that, it was only a jolly! Blanche is the only one of us who really went everywhere. Come along, "Poppa," give me a swing! I haven't had one for years!
[She sweeps off the snow from the seat of the swing with her hand.
TROTTER. Your mother certainly did represent—
CLARA. [Sitting in the swing.] Oh, well, now don't blame mama! She couldn't help herself; she always thought you dreadfully handsome! Swing me!
TROTTER. I don't care, anyway. I'm deucedly proud of your mother,—I mean of my wife,—and I'd just as lief throw up the whole society business and go off and live happily by ourselves.
CLARA. O dear! I think mama would find that awfully dull. Go on, swing me! [TROTTER swings her.] Of course, you'll find mama a little different when you see her all the time. You really won't see much more of her, though, than you do now. She doesn't get up till noon, and has her masseuse for an hour every morning, her manicure and her mental science visitor every other day, and her face steamed three times a week! She has to lie down a lot, too, but you mustn't mind that; you must remember she isn't our age!
TROTTER. [Swings her.] She suits me!
CLARA. That's just what I feel! You'll take care of her, and me, too, all our lives, and that's what makes me so happy. I'm full of plans! We'll go abroad soon and stay two years. [He has stopped swinging her.] Go on, swing me!
TROTTER. [Holding the swing still.] Say! if you think you are going to run me and the whole family, you're a Dodo bird! Remember that you're my daughter; you must wait a little if you want to be a mother-in-law.
[Sleigh-bells are heard in the distance, coming nearer.
CLARA. Good gracious! If you ask me, I think mama has got her hands full. What's become of Miss Godesby and her brother?
TROTTER. When you went upstairs with your mother, they went down the road.
CLARA. You know originally the idea was I was to marry you.
CLARA. [Laughingly.] Yes, and mama cut me out.
TROTTER. Oh, well, it can't be helped; we can't marry everybody.
CLARA. [Noticing the bells.] Somebody else arriving! That's queer—nobody comes here in the winter; that's why we chose it, because it would be quiet! Let's play this game.
[Going to an iron frog on a box which stands near the house.
TROTTER. Perhaps it's Mrs. Sterling.
CLARA. No; if she was coming at all, she'd have come in time for the wedding. [She takes up the disks which lie beside the frog.] I should hate to get married like you and mama—no splurge and no presents! Why, the presents'd be half the fun! And think of all those you and she've given in your life, and have lost now a good chance of getting back.
[Throws a disk into the frog's open mouth.
TROTTER. I'll give your mother all the presents she wants. I can afford it; I don't want anybody to give us anything!
CLARA. You talk like Jess! [Throws another disk.] You know Jess earns her own living. She goes around to smart women's houses answering their invitations and letters for 'em. She calls it being a visiting secretary, but I tell her she's a co-respon-dent!
[Throws a disk.
[WARDEN and MASON enter from behind the house quickly, with a manner of suppressed excitement. They are surprised to find CLARA and TROTTER.
WARDEN. Why, here they are!
MASON. No, only Miss Clara and Trotter.
WARDEN. Lucky I met you—you must take me back in your sleigh.
MASON. Yes, the riding's beastly.
TROTTER. Hello! I say, were you invited?
CLARA. Merry Christmas!
WARDEN. We came to see the Godesbys.
CLARA. They've gone down the road.
MASON. Sterling isn't here, is he?
TROTTER. No, haven't seen him.
CLARA. Do you know why we're here?
[MASON and WARDEN are embarrassed.
MASON. Yes—er—er—a—many happy returns, Mr. Trotter.
TROTTER. It's a great day for me, Mr. Mason!
WARDEN. Wish you joy, Trotter!
[Embarrassed and not going near him. TROTTER rushes eagerly to him and grasps his hand warmly.
TROTTER. Thank you, old man! I say! Thank you!
MASON. Miss Clara, would you do me the great favor of going down the road and hurrying the Godesbys back if you see them?
CLARA. Yes, I don't mind; come along, Trotty!
WARDEN. You must excuse Trotter. I want a talk with him if he will give me five minutes.
CLARA. Oh, certainly.
[She goes out Left behind the house.
WARDEN. [To MASON.] Will you see Mrs. Hunter?
TROTTER. I beg your pardon, Mrs. Trotter!
WARDEN. [Politely.] I beg yours. [To MASON.] See Mrs. Trotter.
MASON. [Aside to WARDEN.] You're going to ask him to go on Dick's note for Ryder?
WARDEN. [In a low voice.] Yes.
MASON. You're a wonder! As if he would!
WARDEN. Somebody must, and there's nobody else. That boy and that mother have got to be saved!
MASON. I'm sorry my name's no good for us.
WARDEN. And mine mustn't be used.
MASON. No, indeed! The minute that was done, there'd be a new complication, and more trouble would tumble down on Mrs. Sterling's head. Good luck.
[Shakes his hand and enters the house.
TROTTER. What's up? You haven't come to kick about my wedding, have you? I wouldn't stand for that, you know!
WARDEN. It's not that, Mr. Trotter. Your wife's son-in-law, Sterling, has turned out a blackguard; he has had intrusted to him Miss Ruth Hunter's money and several other people's, and he's used it all for speculation of his own.
TROTTER. Then he's a damned thief!
[He sits on the bench with the manner that he has settled the subject.
WARDEN. So he is, and he's ruined.
TROTTER. Well, prison is the place for him.
WARDEN. We won't argue that, but how about his family—they get punished for what he has done; they must share his disgrace.
TROTTER. Oh, well, my wife is out of all that now—she's Mrs. Trotter.
WARDEN. Yes, but her own daughter suffers.
TROTTER. [On the defensive.] She isn't very chummy with her classy eldest daughter.
WARDEN. Never mind that; you know without my telling you that Mrs. Sterling is a fine woman.
TROTTER. She's always snubbed me right and left, but, by George, I must own she is a fine woman.
WARDEN. That's right! [Clapping him on the back and putting his arm around his shoulder.] Look here—help us save her!
WARDEN. Indorse a note of Sterling's to give Ryder to keep him quiet.
TROTTER. I'd have to ask my wife.
WARDEN. No! Don't start off like that! Keep the reins in your own hands at the very beginning,—make her realize from this very day that you're raised up on the cushion beside her; that she's sitting lower down admiring the scenery, while you do the driving through life!
TROTTER. [Half laughing.] Ha! I guess you're right. Box seat and reins are good enough for me!
WARDEN. Good boy! Then we can count on you to sign this note?
TROTTER. Where's my security?
WARDEN. I can get you security if you want it.
TROTTER. Of course I want it! And I say, where are you? Why aren't you in it?
WARDEN. There are reasons why my name had better not appear; you are in the family. But I'll tell you what I'll do, Trotter; I'll secure you with a note of my own—only you must keep it dark; you mustn't even let Mason know.
TROTTER. All right, perhaps I'm a Dodo bird, but I'll do it. Say, I seem to have married a good many of this classy family!
WARDEN. Trotter, no one's done you justice! And, by George! you deserve a better fate—er—I mean—my best wishes on your wedding day.
[TROTTER shakes his hand delightedly.
TROTTER. Great day for me! What I wanted was style and position, and some one classy who would know how to spend my money for me!
WARDEN. Well, you've got that, surely!
[CLARA comes back from the house.
CLARA. The Godesbys are coming. Trotter, there's skating on the river near here, and they've skates in the house—don't you want a spin?
TROTTER. Yes, I don't mind—if my wife doesn't need me! [CLARA laughs as GODESBY and MISS GODESBY enter from behind the house. TROTTER meets them, with CLARA on his arm.] Excuse us for a little while!
CLARA. Poppa and I're going skating!
[They go out Left.
GODESBY. Hello, Warden.
WARDEN. Good morning, Miss Godesby.
MISS GODESBY. Good morning.
WARDEN. How are you, Godesby? I've come on a matter most serious, most urgent—something very painful.
GODESBY. What is it?
WARDEN. Both of you trusted Dick Sterling.
MISS GODESBY. What's he done?
WARDEN. Misused your funds.
GODESBY. How d'you mean?
WARDEN. I mean that the money you intrusted to him is gone, and I've come to make a proposition to you.
MISS GODESBY. Gone?
[GODESBY and MISS GODESBY are aghast. A second's silence, during which GODESBY and MISS GODESBY look at each other, then back at WARDEN.
GODESBY. Do you mean to say—
WARDEN. The money is gone, every penny of it, and I want you to accept a note from Sterling to cover the amount.
MISS GODESBY. I can't grasp it!
GODESBY. Where is Sterling? Why didn't he come?
WARDEN. He was ashamed.
GODESBY. I should hope so!
WARDEN. Several of us are going to stick by him; we'll manage to put him on his feet again, and we want you to accept his note.
GODESBY. [Incredulous.] Accept his note?
MISS GODESBY. [Also incredulous.] On what security?
GODESBY. [Quickly.] You'll do nothing of the sort, Julia!
MISS GODESBY. I'll see him where he belongs, in State's Prison, first!
WARDEN. That wouldn't bring you back your money.
MISS GODESBY. Neither will his note!
WARDEN. If I get it indorsed?
MISS GODESBY. Rather!
WARDEN. I want your silence to keep it from the public for the family's sake. I've secured a satisfactory indorser for a note to satisfy Ryder's claim.
MISS GODESBY. Why didn't you give him to me instead of Ryder?
WARDEN. I felt you would be willing, out of friendship—
[There are sleigh-bells in the distance, coming nearer.
MISS GODESBY. Huh! you must take me for an idiot!
WARDEN. Out of friendship for his wife.
MISS GODESBY. Blanche Sterling! I never could bear her! She's always treated me like the dirt under her feet!
WARDEN. You dined with her last night.
MISS GODESBY. That was to please her mother. No, if my money's gone, Sterling's got to suffer, and the one slight consolation I shall have will be that Blanche Sterling will have to come off her high horse.
[The sleigh-bells stop.
GODESBY. [To MISS GODESBY.] Ten to one if you agree to sign this note—
WARDEN. And keep silent.
MISS GODESBY. [Satirically.] Oh, yes, of course, the next morning when I wake up Sterling will be gone! Nobody knows where!
WARDEN. I've had it out with Sterling! I am here as his representative. I give you my word of honor Sterling will not run away. It is under such an understanding with him that I am pleading his case in his stead. He will stay here and work till he has paid you back, every cent.
[JESSICA enters hurriedly from the house.
JESSICA. [In great excitement.] Mr. Warden, Mr. Warden, Dick has gone!
WARDEN. Sterling? Gone?
MISS GODESBY. Gone?
GODESBY. That's good!
WARDEN. Don't be a fool, Godesby. How do you mean "gone," Miss Hunter?
JESSICA. I don't altogether know. While I was out this morning, Blanche received a message from mother saying she'd been—
[She hesitates, looking toward GODESBY and MISS GODESBY.
WARDEN. They know. They're your mother's guests here.
JESSICA. She told Blanche they would be glad to have her here at one o'clock for breakfast. Blanche ordered the sleigh at once and went away, leaving word for me I was to open any message which might come for her.
WARDEN. [To GODESBY.] Has she been here?
GODESBY. Not that I know of.
MISS GODESBY. [Eager to hear more.] No, no!
JESSICA. No, they say not. She probably went first to Aunt Ruth's. Before I got back, Dick, who'd been out—
WARDEN. He was at my house.
JESSICA. Yes. He came back, questioned Jordan as to where Blanche was, went upstairs, and then went away again, leaving a note for Blanche, which I found when I came home—
WARDEN. [Eagerly.] Yes?
JESSICA. It simply said, "Good-by. Dick."
MISS GODESBY. [Very angry.] Oh!
GODESBY. [Quickly.] He's taken a train! He's cleared out!
WARDEN. Do you know if he took a bag or anything with him?
JESSICA. No, he took nothing of that sort. Jordan went into his room and found a drawer open and empty, a drawer in which Dick kept—a pistol!—
[She drops her voice almost to a whisper.
WARDEN. Good God, he's shot himself!
JESSICA. Perhaps not—he left the house.
WARDEN. Yes, if he were really determined to shoot himself, why wouldn't he have done it there in his own room?
JESSICA. What can we do? What can we do?
WARDEN. I'll get Mr. Mason; he's with your mother; he must go back to town at once.
[Going to the house.
JESSICA. He can go with me; I'd better be at the house. Some one must be there.
[He goes into the house.
[MISS GODESBY and her brother ignore and apparently forget the presence of JESSICA in their excitement. They both speak and move excitedly.
MISS GODESBY. I ought to have suspected something when Sterling told me he was getting ten per cent for my money,—the blackguard!
GODESBY. I always told you you were a fool not to take care of your money yourself! You know more about business than most men.
MISS GODESBY. I didn't want to be bothered; besides, there was always something very attractive about Sterling. I don't mind telling you that if he had fallen in love with me instead of the stiff-necked woman he married, I'd have tumbled over myself to get him.
GODESBY. How do you feel about him now?
MISS GODESBY. Now! Thank God, I'm saved such a waking up! It's going to make a big difference with my income, Howard! I wonder if his wife knew he was crooked! I'll bet you she's got a pot of money stowed away all right in her own name.
JESSICA. [Who can bear no more, interrupts.]
Please—please! Remember that you're speaking of my sister and that every word you are saying cuts through me like a knife.
MISS GODESBY. I beg your pardon; I ought to have thought. I like and respect you, Jess, and I've been very rude.
JESSICA. You've been more than that; you've been cruelly unjust to Blanche in all that you've said!
MISS GODESBY. Perhaps I have, but I don't feel in a very generous mood; I've some excuse—so please forgive me.
[WARDEN reenters Left.
WARDEN. [To JESSICA.] Mason is waiting for you with the sleigh. He's going first to my house. Dick may have gone back there to hear the result of my interview with Ryder,—then Mason'll try his own house and Sterling's club.
GODESBY. The police are the best men to find Sterling, whatever's happened.
WARDEN. [To GODESBY.] You wait a minute with me; I haven't finished with you yet. [To JESSICA.] I'll stay here for your sister, in case she comes.
[JESSICA goes out Left.
GODESBY. [To MISS GODESBY.] Don't you give in!
MISS GODESBY. Not for a minute! [To WARDEN.] Don't you think, under the circumstances, the wedding breakfast had better be called off, and my brother and I go back to town?
WARDEN. Not till you've given me your promise, both of you, that you will keep silent about the embezzlement of your bonds for the sake of Mrs. Sterling and her son.
MISS GODESBY. [Half laughs.] Huh!
WARDEN. For the sake of her mother, who is your friend.
[Sleigh-bells start up loud and die off quickly; JESSICA has gone.
MISS GODESBY. Oh, come, you know what sort of friends we are,—for the amusement we can get out of each other. This is the case,—I trusted this man with my affairs. He was very attractive—I don't deny that; business with Dick Sterling became more or less of a pleasure—but that doesn't cut any ice with me; he's stolen my money. To put it plainly, he's a common thief, and he ought to be punished; why should he go scot free and a lot of others not? You know perfectly well his note wouldn't be worth the paper it was written on; and, anyway, if he hasn't gone and sneaked out of the world, I won't lift my little finger to keep him from the punishment he deserves!
GODESBY. Good for you, Julia!
WARDEN. Don't you put your oar in, Godesby; just let this matter rest between your sister and me! She's always been known as the best man in your family.
GODESBY. You don't choose a very conciliatory way of bringing us around!
WARDEN. I'm not choosing any way at all; I'm striking right out from the shoulder. There isn't time for beating round the bush! I'm pleading for the good name and honorable position of a perfectly innocent, a fine, woman, and for the reputation and unimpeded career of her son! And I make that appeal as man to man and woman!
MISS GODESBY. I have nothing to do with any one in this matter but Sterling himself, who has robbed me, and I'll gladly see him suffer for it!
WARDEN. Now look here, Miss Godesby, you belong to a pretty tough crowd in society, but I know at heart you're not a bad sort! What good will it do you? Granted even that you don't care for Mrs. Sterling, still don't tell me you're the kind of woman to take a cruel pleasure in seeing another woman suffer! I wouldn't believe it! You're not one of those catty creatures! You're a clever woman, and I don't doubt you can be a pretty hard one, too, at times; but you're just—that's the point now—you're JUST—
MISS GODESBY. [Interrupting.] Exactly! I'm just, an eye for an eye! Sterling is a thief, let him get the deserts of one!
[She sits on the bench determinedly.
WARDEN. But you can't look at only one side! You can't shut your eyes to his wife's suffering, too, and she doesn't deserve it! Neither does her boy deserve to share his disgrace. [He sits beside her.] Why, you have it in your power to handicap that boy through his whole life by publishing his father a criminal; or you can give that boy a fair show to prove himself more his mother's son than his father's, and to live an honest—who knows—perhaps a noble life!
MISS GODESBY. I refuse to accept such a responsibility. Ryder—
WARDEN. [Rises, interrupting her.] Ryder's word is given to be silent.
MISS GODESBY. Well, that's his lookout.
WARDEN. You'll have many a heart wrench, I'll bet you! You'll have to run across the results of the harm you do to Mrs. Sterling and Richard day in and day out, year after year! I don't believe you realize what it means! Why, I know you can't bear to see a dog suffer! I met you last week on the street carrying a mangy, crippled brute of a little dog in your arms, afraid lest he'd get into the hands of the vivisectionists, and yet here you'll let a boy and his mother—
MISS GODESBY. [Interrupts him, struggling against a tiny emotion which he has stirred.] Stop Stop! I don't want you working on my feelings that way.
[She rises and turns from him
WARDEN. [Follows her.] I'm only knocking at the door of your heart. And now because it's opened just a tiny way, you want to shut it in my face again. Will you leave this woman's name fit for her to use? Won't you make that boy's life worth living to him?
MISS GODESBY. [After a moment's pause, looks straight into WARDEN'S face.] I'll tell you what I'll do. Get me some security, some sort of indorsement of Sterling's note—
WARDEN. If the man's only alive!
MISS GODESBY. And I'll hold my tongue.
WARDEN. How long will you give me?
MISS GODESBY. Oh, come, I can't have any monkey business! You must get me my security to-day.
MISS GODESBY. Yes.
MISS GODESBY. That's my last word.
GODESBY. Stick to that, Julia!
WARDEN. I shan't try to persuade her against that. Will you leave your sister alone with me a moment. Perhaps you'll see about your sleigh being ready to return to town.
GODESBY. I've no objection—if Julia wishes it.
MISS GODESBY. Yes, go on, Howard!
[GODESBY goes out back of house.
WARDEN. [Left alone with MISS GODESBY, goes nearer to her.] Look, here! Will you accept my indorsement? Will I be all right?
MISS GODESBY. [Incredulously.] Certainly.
WARDEN. Then it's settled?
MISS GODESBY. You don't mean it!
WARDEN. I do.
MISS GODESBY. You'd be willing to lose—[A revelation comes to her.] Oh—for Mrs. Sterling! I see!
WARDEN. [Very seriously.] I wouldn't. I wouldn't see.
MISS GODESBY. And she's always been blackguarding me for my affairs with men! And all the time—
WARDEN. [Interrupts strongly.] Don't say any more, please, Miss Godesby! I only wish your brother had said that much instead of you.
MISS GODESBY. [Disagreeably.] So you're in love with Blanche Sterling?
MISS GODESBY. Oh, come, don't tell a lie about it; that will only make it seem worse.
WARDEN. Well, suppose I were in love with her—what of it?
MISS GODESBY. Nothing; only, my dear Warden, that woman—
WARDEN. [Interrupts.] Wait a minute! You've got me in a corner, but knowing half the truth, you mustn't guess the whole. She is even more ignorant of my love for her than you were ten minutes ago! [MISS GODESBY smiles and makes a little satirical exclamation.] You don't believe that, but I'll make you. I'm going to tell you something I've never even told myself. I'm going to put you to a big test, because I've got to. Apparently, I can't help myself; but after all, somehow I believe in the human nature in you, and you've got it in your power to help or hurt the woman I love—I say those words aloud for the first time—the woman I love!
[He has finished his speech in a lowered tone throbbing with controlled feeling.
MISS GODESBY. [Incredulously.] You've never told her?
WARDEN. Never; and you show how little you really know her when you ask that question! She loves her husband.
MISS GODESBY. I'm not so sure about that!
WARDEN. I am, and I love her. But surely the silent love of a man, like mine, is no insult to a good woman—cannot harm her! A love that is never spoken, not even whispered, can't hurt any one, except, perhaps, the one who loves. You must acknowledge even you have never heard a hint; you showed just now your real surprise at what circumstances revealed to you! I'd die sooner than bring the slightest shadow of a scandal on her, and I've hugged my secret tight. Have you any idea what such a love means? How it grows and grows, its strength shut in, held back, doubling and redoubling its powers!—its ideality increasing, the passion suppressed, locked up! Good God! I tremble sometimes when I think—suppose some day it should burst out, break my control, MASTER ME! [A pause.] And here, now, I've told you; I'm sorry, but I had to for her sake again. Will you help me keep my secret?
MISS GODESBY. [After a second's pause.] Yes, because I believe you.
WARDEN. And Mrs. Sterling?
MISS GODESBY. [Slowly, with sincere meaning.] I envy her!
[Her voice breaks and she turns away from him.
WARDEN. No one is to know I indorse Sterling's note?
MISS GODESBY. You needn't sign the note; my brother'd have to see it. I'll take your word for the indorsement.
[She offers him her hand. They shake hands.
WARDEN. What a brick you are! You know you don't do yourself anything like justice in the world!
[GODESBY reenters Left and after him a MAN SERVANT in ordinary clothes, who passes through the archway at back Centre.
WARDEN. [Aside to her.] You can promise his silence about Sterling?
MISS GODESBY. Oh, yes, he's absolutely dependent upon me.
WARDEN. Thank you.
MISS GODESBY. [To NED with a forced gaiety.] Good-by!
WARDEN. [Again shaking her hand] Good-by.
[He looks his thanks at her.
GODESBY. Well? What did you do?
MISS GODESBY. [As they go.] Don't worry; I've taken care of myself for many years, and I still feel up to it!
[They go out Left and at the same time the SERVANT enters from the archway at back Centre carrying some fire logs in his arms. This SERVANT speaks with a slight French accent. As he reaches the house, WARDEN stops him with a question, and the GODESBYS' sleigh-bells start up and quickly die away. The sun begins to set.
WARDEN Have you an empty sitting room?
SERVANT. Yes, sair.
SERVANT. I will soon arrange a fire.
WARDEN I wish you would, please.
SERVANT. Ze big room for ze breakfast is altogether ready and warm; you will be able to go in there now.
WARDEN. No, that wouldn't do. It's all right out here for me, only I am expecting a lady.
[Sleigh-bells are heard in the distance, coming quickly nearer.
SERVANT. Yes, sair.
WARDEN. I hear a sleigh coming. If a lady is in it, ask if her name is Mrs. Sterling, and if she says yes, tell her Mr. Warden is here and would like to speak with her a moment before she goes in to Mrs.—
[He hesitates a second.
SERVANT. Yes, sair.
[He goes into the house.
[The sun grows red, and the colors of sunset creep over the sky during the scene which follows. After a moment the SERVANT shows BLANCHE out from the house.
BLANCHE. [Surprised and depressed.] Good morning, Mr. Warden, have you been asked to these funeral baked meats?
WARDEN. No, I'll explain why I am here in a few minutes. Only let me ask you first when you last saw your husband?
BLANCHE. Early this morning.
WARDEN. And you have come just now from where?
BLANCHE. Aunt Ruth's. Of course you know about my mother? When I heard it I started to come here, but my heart failed me and I turned back to my aunt's. She has persuaded me that I ought to come and put the best face on the matter possible, but it seems as if I'd had now a little more than I can bear!
[Her voice breaks and her eyes fill with tears.
WARDEN. [Almost tenderly.] Shall we go inside?
BLANCHE. No, no! Let us stay out in the air; my head would burst in one of these close little rooms. Have you seen mother?
WARDEN. No, not yet.
BLANCHE. Where is Dick? Did he go to Ryder's?
WARDEN. No, but I have some good news to tell you all the same—Ryder has promised silence.
BLANCHE. [With tremendous relief.] Oh! that's too good, too good to be true! To whom did he promise?
WARDEN. I want you not to ask me that.
BLANCHE. I can guess, it was—
WARDEN. [Lying.] No, it was—Mason.
BLANCHE. [Doubting him.] Mr. Mason?
WARDEN. And I've more good news for you, Mrs. Sterling—the Godesbys, too; they will be silent.
BLANCHE. You're sure?
WARDEN. We have their word!
BLANCHE. [Pointedly.] Mr. Mason again?—
[WARDEN bows his head in assent.] He was here?
WARDEN. Some time ago, but only for a minute. He didn't stay; he went to find your husband.
BLANCHE. But the Godesbys? I just met them now on the road going back. How could Mr. Mason, if he didn't stay—[WARDEN is embarrassed, and is silent, searching a way out of it.] Oh, no! no! it wasn't Mr. Mason! I see the whole thing clearly. Dick was too great a coward, and you did it! It was you who won over Ryder! It was you who persuaded the Godesbys!—
[WARDEN shakes his head and makes a movement to deny it. BLANCHE continues speaking, the words rushing to her lips, as her pent-up heart opens and lets all her emotions suddenly free.] Don't try to deny it; you can't make me believe you! It's to you I owe whatever promise the future has for me! It is you who have given me all the happiness I've had for years. It is you who have watched over, taken care of, me—you, the best friend any woman in this world ever had. It is you now who have saved my boy's honor. It is you who lift the weight off my shoulders, the weight off my heart! You!—you!—you!
[She sinks sobbing on the bench. It begins to snow very quietly and slowly.
WARDEN. [All his love bursting out into his face and into his voice, cries.] Blanche! Blanche!
[Leaning over her as if to protect her from her trouble and take her to his breast.
BLANCHE. [Rising and looking straight into his eyes with a suddenly revealed great love in her own.] Ned!—
[They hold this position some moments, gazing into each other's eyes; then finally WARDEN makes a movement towards her, crying out more triumphantly, having read and realized her love for him.
BLANCHE. [Moving a half step back from him.] No—
BLANCHE. Look—look, it's beginning to snow!
WARDEN. [Very softly.] What do you mean?
BLANCHE. [Desperately.] I mean to speak of anything except what is in your thoughts at this moment! Help me not to forget that no matter what he has done, Dick is still my husband.
WARDEN. You don't know all he has done!
BLANCHE. How not "all"? What else? Where is he?
[With a sudden new alarm.
WARDEN. He has left you.
BLANCHE. [Echoes.] Left me?—
WARDEN. Mason is searching for him. He left a note at your house which Jess read; it was only one word "Good-by."
BLANCHE. [Echoes again.] Good-by! [Sleigh-bells are heard in the distance, coming quickly nearer.] What does it mean? You're hiding something from me! Tell me what else you know?
WARDEN. He left the house, but took something with him—something from a drawer in his room.
BLANCHE. [After a second's pause she whispers.] His pistol?
BLANCHE. [Aghast, still whispers.] Has he done it?
WARDEN. I don't know; I'm waiting word from Mason.
[The sleigh-bells stop.
BLANCHE. [Excited.] But we can't wait here doing nothing; we must go, too!
WARDEN. Mason is doing all that can be done; we'd better wait here.
[He takes her hand in sympathy, but without suggesting the passion of a few moments before. STERLING enters hurriedly Left. He is wild with drink and jealousy.
STERLING. Drop my wife's hand!
[They turn in great surprise.
[Fright at his appearance is mingled with her surprise.
WARDEN. [At the same time as BLANCHE.] Sterling!
[They do not drop hands.
STERLING. [Coming nearer, very strong.] Drop my wife's hand! [They do so quickly, not understanding yet.] So I've caught you!
WARDEN. [Angry.] Caught us!
STERLING. Yes, I had my suspicions roused some time ago!
BLANCHE. Of what?
STERLING. I could go to the devil—what did you two care! I could go to State's Prison! All the better—out of your way!
WARDEN. You're speaking like a madman!
STERLING. I went back to my house this morning; my wife was gone—no message left where to! But I questioned the servant. She'd driven here! Why? Ha! [A bitter half laugh; he turns to BLANCHE.] You've come here once too often!
WARDEN. [Very strong.] Sterling!
STERLING. [To WARDEN, but ignoring his exclamation.] Then I went to your house. They knew where you'd gone! You ought to train your servants better! Both here!
WARDEN. If you're not careful, I'll ram your insinuations down your throat.
STERLING. [Jeers.] "Insinuations?" I've caught you! I make no "insinuations." I tell you both you're caught! You're my wife's lover, and she's your damned mis—
WARDEN. [Seizing STERLING by the throat.] Don't you finish!
BLANCHE. Sh!—for Heaven's sake! [To WARDEN.] Let him alone; I'm not afraid of what he says.
[WARDEN leaves STERLING.
STERLING. No, you never were a liar, I'll give you credit for that,—so confess the truth—you're his—
BLANCHE. [Excited beyond her control.] Listen! And you shall have the truth if you want it! These years that he's been befriending me I never dreamed of loving him nor thought of his loving me. [DICK sneers.] Wait! No, not even the day my father was buried, when I learned outright you were dishonest!
STERLING. [Surprised.] What do you mean?
BLANCHE. What I say—I learned it then from a paper of my father's. I shouldn't have kept my knowledge to myself—I see that now; but I did, for your sake, not for love of you—the love went for good that day. But here, a moment ago, I realized for the first time that my old friend did love me, love me with an ideal devotion the noblest woman in the world might be proud of! I didn't tell him then I loved him, but now I take this chance, I take it GLADLY before you!—forced by you! I tell him now, what perhaps he has already guessed, I love him with all my heart—I love him! I LOVE HIM!
STERLING. Damn you both! then it's the end of me!
[He pulls out a pistol and tries to put it to his temple.
BLANCHE. [Cries out.] Ned!
WARDEN. [Seizes STERLING, catches his arm, and wrenches the pistol from him.] So that's what you planned to do, is it—make a wretched scene like that?
[It begins to snow more heavily.
STERLING. [In utter collapse and shame.] Why did you stop me? I'm better out of the world. I'm crazy with shame. First I disgraced and now I've insulted—degraded—the only living thing I care for,—that's my wife.
[A moment's pause.
BLANCHE. [Speaks quietly.] Come back to the house. Mr. Mason is looking for you; he has something to tell you.
STERLING. I know—more bad news.
BLANCHE. No, good.
STERLING. [Echoes.] Good! [Starting to go, he turns at the porch.] I want you to know that I know I'm a rotten beast.
[He goes out Left.
WARDEN. You're going back home?
BLANCHE. "Home!" [With a faint smile.] I should hardly call it that.
WARDEN. [Aside to her.] You're not afraid?
BLANCHE. [Half smiling.] Oh, no! And my boy's there.
[The thick falling snow almost hides them, but they are unconscious of it.
WARDEN. What's to be done?
BLANCHE. Wait; we'll see—we'll see—let it be something we could never regret. Good-by, Ned.
[Giving him her hand.
WARDEN. Good-by, Blanche.
[Kissing her hand very tenderly and almost with a certain kind of awe, as
THE CURTAIN SLOWLY FALLS
The following morning; at the STERLINGS'; the library; a warm, livable, and lovable room, full of pictures, photographs, and books; mistletoe and holly decorate everywhere. In the bow-window at back there is a large bird-cage with half a dozen birds in it. The furniture is comfortable and heavily upholstered. At Left there is a fireplace with logs ready, but the fire is not lit. There a big table near the centre, full of magazines, illustrated papers, and books. A big arm-chair is beside the table, and other chairs conversationally close. There is a table near the door at Right, piled with Christmas gifts, still wrapped in white paper; they are tied with many colored ribbons and bunches of holly. There are doors Right and Left. After the curtain rises on an empty stage, RUTH enters quickly; while she has her buoyant manner, she is, of course, more serious than usual. She carries a bunch of fresh violets in her hand. She looks about the room with a sort of curiosity. She is waiting for some one to appear. She takes up a silver-framed photograph of her brother which stands on a table and speaks aloud to it.
RUTH. I'm glad you're spared this. [With a long-drawn breath she places the photograph back upon the table and turns to greet BLANCHE, who comes in Right.] Good morning, my dear.
[She kisses her.
BLANCHE. Good morning. You've had my note? [RUTH nods.] Thank you. I wanted to see you before I saw any one else. You must help me decide, only you can.
RUTH. Have you seen your husband this morning?
BLANCHE. No. He sent word he was feeling ill, but would like to see me when I was willing.
RUTH. And you?
[They sit near each other.
BLANCHE. I don't want to talk with him till I see more clearly what I am going to do.
RUTH. Mr. Warden told me last night all that happened at "The Hermitage." But on your ride home with Dick?
BLANCHE. We never spoke. [She rises.] Aunt Ruth, I am going to leave him.
RUTH. [Rising.] No!
BLANCHE. [Walking up and down.] Why not? Everybody does.
RUTH. [Going to her.] That's just it. Be somebody! Don't do the easy, weak thing. Be strong; be an example to other women. Heaven knows it's time they had one!
[MRS. HUNTER enters Right. BLANCHE meets her.
MRS. HUNTER. Good morning, my poor dear.
[Going to kiss BLANCHE.
BLANCHE. [Taking MRS. HUNTER'S hand and not kissing her.] Good morning.
MRS. HUNTER. Clara's gone upstairs to see little Richard. Good morning, Ruth.
[She adds this with a manner of being on the defensive.
RUTH. [Dryly.] Good morning.
MRS. HUNTER. [Sitting by the table and looking at the picture papers.] Isn't it awful! What are you going to do?
BLANCHE. I don't know yet, mother.
MRS. HUNTER. Don't know? Absolute divorce—no legal separation! [To RUTH.] We're staying at the Waldorf.
[BLANCHE sits discouragedly on the sofa.
RUTH. [Sitting beside her.] I shall advise against, and do everything in my power to prevent, Blanche's getting a divorce!
MRS. HUNTER. You don't mean to say you'll carry those ridiculous notions of yours into practice?—now that a scandal has come into our very family?
RUTH. Oh, I know selfish, cynical, and worldly people won't agree with me, and I pity and sympathize with Blanche from the bottom of my heart. [Taking and holding BLANCHE'S hand.] But I want her not to decide anything now; wait till the first blows over, and then—well, then I feel sure she will do the strong, noble thing—the difficult thing—not the easy.
BLANCHE. [Withdraws her hand from RUTH'S.] No, you ask too much of me, Aunt Ruth; I can't do it.
RUTH. I say don't decide now—wait.
BLANCHE. I don't want to wait. I want to decide now and to cut my life free, entirely, from Dick's.
RUTH. You used to agree with me. I've heard you decry these snapshot, rapid-transit, tunnel divorces many a time. I've heard you say when a woman has made her bed, she must lie in it—make the best of her bad bargain.
BLANCHE. I always sympathized with a woman who sought a divorce in this state.
RUTH. Oh, yes, but you can't, can you?
BLANCHE. No, but I'm not strong enough to fight out an unhappy life for the sake of setting an example to other women—women who don't want the example set!
RUTH. Blanche, I counted on you to be strong, to be big—
BLANCHE. [With a voice full of emotion.] But I love Ned Warden. He loves me—life stretches out long before us. Dick has disgraced us all. I don't love him—should I give my happiness and Mr. Warden's happiness for him?
MRS. HUNTER. Absurd! We all have a right to happiness if we can get it. I have chosen; let Blanche follow my example.
BLANCHE. [Disgusted.] Yours? [Rises.] Oh!
RUTH. [Following up the advantage.] Yes, Blanche, do you want to follow your mother's example?
BLANCHE. No! But the cases are not analogous!
MRS. HUNTER. Not what? You needn't fling any innuendoes at Mr. Trotter; it's he who said it was my duty to stand by you, advise you, and all that sort of thing. I'm not here to please myself! Goodness knows, a divorce court isn't a very pleasant place to spend your honeymoon!
BLANCHE. Thank both you and Mr. Trotter, mother; but I ask you to allow Aunt Ruth and me to decide this matter between us.
MRS. HUNTER. Trotter says divorce was made for woman!
RUTH. And what was made for man, please? Polygamy?
MRS. HUNTER. I don't know anything about politics! But I could count a dozen women in a breath, all divorced, or trying to be, or ought to be!
RUTH. And each one of them getting a cold shoulder.
BLANCHE. What of it if their hearts are warm—poor climbers after happiness!
RUTH. Believe me, dear, the chill spreads. You're going to be selfish?
MRS. HUNTER. She's going to be sensible.
[CLARA enters Right.
CLARA. Hello, everybody! I just saw Dick coming out of his room and I cut him dead.
RUTH. [To BLANCHE.] You've taken a certain responsibility upon yourself, and you can't shirk it.
BLANCHE. He isn't what I thought him!
RUTH. The day the sun shone on you as a bride, in God's presence, you said you took him for better for worse—
CLARA. Dear me, is that in it? The marriage service ought to be expurgated!
RUTH. [To CLARA.] I'm ashamed of you.
CLARA. That's nothing new!
BLANCHE. Aunt Ruth, let us talk some other time.
MRS. HUNTER. Oh, if we are in the way, we'll go!
CLARA. Yes, come on, let's go to Atlantic City.
MRS. HUNTER. No, I'd rather go to Lakewood.
CLARA. Oh, pshaw, Lakewood's no fun! I'm surprised you don't say go to Aiken, North Carolina.
MRS. HUNTER. Mr. Trotter says we can't leave town anyway while Blanche is in this trouble.
BLANCHE. Mother, please discuss your affairs somewhere else.
RUTH. And if I may be permitted to suggest, you will find Mr. Trotter's advice always pretty good to follow. That young man has better qualities than we have suspected. I have some thing to thank him for; will you be good enough to ask him to come and see me?
MRS. HUNTER. He will not go to your house with my permission. I shall tell him you have never asked me inside your door.
CLARA. Mother, if you ask me—[MRS. HUNTER interjects "Which I don't," but CLARA continues without paying any attention to the interruption.]—I don't think Mr. Trotter is going to cry himself to sleep for your permission about anything!
MRS. HUNTER. [To BLANCHE.] Good-by, my dear; if you want me, let me know; I'll be glad to do anything I can. I'm staying at the Waldorf.
CLARA. It's full of people from Kansas and Wyoming Territory come to hear the Opera!
RUTH. A little western blood wouldn't hurt our New York life a bit!
CLARA. Ah! Got you there! The west is the place where the divorces come from!
MRS. HUNTER. [Laughs.] What's the matter with Providence? I think Rhode Island tips the scales pretty even for the east!
BLANCHE. Please go, mother; please leave me for a little while.
MRS. HUNTER. Oh, very well, good-by! [LEONARD enters Right with a Christmas parcel, which he places on the table Right.] Dear me, have you had all these Christmas presents and not opened them?
BLANCHE. It is only little Richard in this house who is celebrating Christmas to-day.
MRS. HUNTER. It's a terrible affair; I only hope the newspapers won't get hold of it. [To LEONARD.] If any women come here asking for me who look like ladies, don't let 'em in! They ain't my friends; they're reporters.
[LEONARD bows and goes out.
CLARA. I'm awfully sorry, Blanche, I honestly am; but I think you'll have only yourself to blame if you don't strike out now and throw Dick over. Good-by!
[MRS. HUNTER and CLARA go out Right.
BLANCHE. I wish they wouldn't advise me to do what I want to.
BLANCHE. But who do I harm by it? Surely, it wouldn't be for his good to be brought up under the influence of his father!
RUTH. If he saw you patiently bearing a cross for the sake of duty, can you imagine a stronger force for good on the boy's character? What an example you will set him! What a chance for a mother!
BLANCHE. But my own life, my own happiness?
RUTH. Ah, my dear, that's just it! The watchword of our age is self! We are all for ourselves; the twentieth century is to be a glorification of selfishness, the Era of Egotism! Forget yourself, and what would you do? The dignified thing. You would live quietly beside your husband if not with him. And your son would be worthy of such a mother!
BLANCHE. And I?
RUTH. You would be glad in the end.
RUTH. Surely! Blanche, for twenty years Mr. Mason and I have loved each other.
[BLANCHE is astonished. There is a pause.
[RUTH smiles while she speaks, though her voice breaks.]
You never guessed! Ah, well, your father knew.
BLANCHE. But Mrs. Mason is hopelessly insane; surely—
RUTH. A principle is a principle; I took my stand against divorce. What can you do for a principle if you don't give up everything for it? Nothing! And that is what I mean. To-day I am not sorry—I am happy.
[There is another slight pause. RICHARD is heard upstairs singing a Christmas carol, "Once in Royal David's City," etc.
BLANCHE. [With great emotion.] But if it breaks my heart—if it breaks my heart?
RUTH. Hearts don't break from the pain that comes of doing right, but from the sorrow of doing wrong! [Neither woman speaks for a minute; in the silence RUTH hears RICHARD.] What's that?
BLANCHE. [Hearing now for the first time.] Richard singing one of his carols.
RUTH. I'd forgotten it was Christmas.
[LEONARD enters Left.
LEONARD. Doctor Steinhart is here to see Mr. Sterling. Where shall I show him, madame?
BLANCHE. Here; we'll go—
LEONARD. Yes, madame.
[He goes out.
RUT. Well? What are you going to do?
BLANCHE. I'm thinking—
RUTH. May I come with you, or shall I—
BLANCHE. No, come.
[The two women start to leave the room together Right, with their arms around each other. They meet STERLING, who enters; he starts, they stop.
STERLING. I beg your pardon, I didn't know you were here.
BLANCHE. We are going to my room; I am sorry you are not well.
STERLING. Oh, it's nothing, thank you.
RUTH. If we can do anything, let us know.
STERLING. [Overwhelmed with shame, bows his head.] Thank you.
[The women go out Right. At the same moment DR. STEINHART is shown in by LEONARD Left.
DR. STEINHART. Good morning, Sterling.
STERLING. Good morning, doctor; sit down.
DR. STEINHART. No, thanks, I'm very rushed this morning. What can I do for you?
STERLING. I've been drinking too much for some time; I can't eat—my nerves are all gone to pieces. I've some—some business troubles, and I haven't slept for a week.
DR. STEINHART. Is that all! Brace up, help yourself a little, and we can soon make a man of you.
STERLING. I'm afraid it would take more than a doctor to do that.
DR. STEINHART. Oh, come, we must get rid of melancholy. Come and drive with me to 79th Street.
STERLING. No, I'm too worn out. Look at my hand! [Holds out a trembling hand.] I tell you literally I haven't slept for weeks—I thought you'd give me some chloral or something.
DR. STEINHART. What? Now?
STERLING. Yes; I've tried sulphonal and all that rot; if doesn't have any effect on me. Give me a hypodermic—
DR. STEINHART. Nonsense! Come out into the air!
STERLING. I've been out.
DR. STEINHART. Good! Then try lying down again, and perhaps you'll go to sleep now.
STERLING. Very well, but give me something to take to-night in case I can't sleep then.
DR. STEINHART. [Takes out a note-book and writes with a stylographic pen.] Be careful what you eat to-day. How about this drinking—did your business trouble come after it began, or did the whiskey come after the business trouble?
STERLING. That's it.
DR. STEINHART. Um—[Giving STERLING the paper which he tears out of his note-book.] Look here, I've a busy day before me; but I'll look in to-morrow, and we'll have a good talk.
STERLING. Thank you. I say, what is this?
DR. STEINHART. It's all right. Sulphate of morphia—one-quarter-grain tablets.
STERLING. Isn't that very little?
DR. STEINHART. Oh, no; you try one, and repeat in an hour if it hasn't done its work.
STERLING. But you've only given me two tablets, and I tell you I'm awfully hard to influence!
DR. STEINHART. Two's enough; we don't give a lot of drugs to a man in a nervous condition like yours. Don't let them wake you for luncheon if you're asleep. Sleep's best for you. Good-by—pleasant dreams.
[He goes out Left.
STERLING. [Reads off the prescription.] "Two one-quarter-grain tablets sulphate of morphia, Wm. B. Steinhart—" And in ink! Why didn't he write it with a lead-pencil? How can I make it more? Two—wait a minute! Two! [Taking out his own stylographic pen.] What's his ink? [Makes a mark with his pen on his cuff.] Good! the same! Why not make it twelve? [Marking a one before the two.] Just in case—I might as well be on the safe side!
[He rings an electric bell beside the mantel, and waves the paper in the air to dry it. BLANCHE enters Right.
BLANCHE. I heard the doctor go. Is anything serious the matter?
STERLING. If it were my body only that had gone wrong, Blanche!
[LEONARD enters Left.
[To LEONARD.] Take this prescription round the corner and have it put up.
LEONARD. Yes, sir.
STERLING. And bring it to me with a glass of water.
LEONARD. Yes, sir.
[He goes out Left.
[BLANCHE is still standing. STERLING sinks into a chair, and puts his head in his hands, his elbows on the table. He lifts his head and looks at her.
STERLING. I know what you're going to do; you don't have to tell me; of course you're going to divorce me.
[His hands drop to the table; he looks her straight in the face, doubting what he hears.
BLANCHE. [Looking back into his eyes.] No.
STERLING. [Cries.] Blanche!
[In a tone of amazement and joy.
BLANCHE. I give you one more chance, for your sake only as my boy's father. But—don't make it impossible for me—do you understand?
STERLING. Yes! I must take the true advantage of this chance your goodness gives me. I must right myself, so that people need not hesitate to speak of his father in Richard's presence. And this I will do. [With great conviction he rises.] I know I am at the cross-roads, and I know the way; but I don't choose it for your reasons; I choose for my own reason—which is that, unfit as I am, I love you.
[He speaks deliberately and with real feeling, bending over her.
BLANCHE. I tell you truly my love for you is gone for good.
STERLING. I'll win it back—you did love me, you did, didn't you, Blanche?
BLANCHE.. I loved the man I thought you were. Do you remember that day in the mountains when we first really came to know each other, when we walked many, many miles without dreaming of being tired?
STERLING. And found ourselves at sunset at the top instead of below, by our hotel! Oh, yes, I remember! The world changed for me that day.
[He sinks back into the arm-chair, overcome, in his weakened state, by his memories and his realization of what he has made of the present.
BLANCHE. And for me! I knew then for the first time you loved me, and that I loved you. Oh! how short life of a sudden seemed! Not half long enough for the happiness it held for me! [She turns upon him with a vivid change of feeling.] Has it turned out so?
STERLING. How different! Oh, what a beast! what a fool!
BLANCHE. [Speaking with pathetic emotion, tears in her throat and in her eyes.] And that early summer's day you asked me to be your wife! [She gives a little exclamation, half a sob, half a laugh.] It was in the corner of the garden; I can smell the lilacs now! And the raindrops fell from the branches as my happy tears did on father's shoulder that night, when I said, "Father, he will make me the happiest woman in the world!"
STERLING. O God! to have your love back!
BLANCHE. You can't breathe life back into a dead thing; how different the world would be if one could!
STERLING. You can bring back life to the drowned; perhaps your love is only drowned in the sorrow I've caused.
BLANCHE. [Smiles sadly and shakes her head; the smile dies away.] Life to me then was like a glorious staircase, and I mounted happy step after step led by your hand till everything seemed to culminate on the day of our wedding. You men don't, can't realize, what that service means to a girl. In those few moments she parts from all that have cherished her, made her life, and gives her whole self, her love, her body, and even her soul sometimes—for love often overwhelms us women—to the man who, she believes, wants, starves, for her gifts. All that a woman who marries for love feels at the altar I tell you a man can't understand! You treated this gift of mine, Dick, like a child does a Santa Claus plaything—for a while you were never happy away from it, then you grew accustomed to it, then you broke it, and now you have even lost the broken pieces!
STERLING. [Comes to her, growing more and more determined.] I will find them, and put them together again.
BLANCHE. [Again smiles sadly and shakes her head.] First we made of every Tuesday a festival—our wedding anniversary. After a while we kept the twenty-eighth of every month! The second year you were satisfied with the twenty-eighth of April only, and last year you forgot the day altogether. And yet what a happy first year it was!
STERLING. Ah, you see I did make you happy once!
BLANCHE. Blessedly happy! Our long silences in those days were not broken by an oath and a fling out of the room. Oh, the happiness it means to a wife to see it is hard for her husband to leave her in the morning, and to be taken so quickly—even roughly—into his arms at night that she knows he has been longing to come back to her. Nothing grew tame that first year. And at its end I climbed to the highest step I had reached yet, when you leaned over my bed and cried big man's tears, the first I'd ever seen you cry, and kissed me first, and then little Richard lying on my warm arm, and said, "God bless you, little mother." [There is a pause. BLANCHE cries softly a moment. STERLING is silent, ashamed. Again she turns upon him, rousing herself, but with a voice broken with emotion.] And what a bad father you've been to that boy!
STERLING. I didn't mean to! That's done, that's past, but Richard's my boy. I'll make him proud of me, somehow! I'll win your love back—you'll see!
[BLANCHE is about to speak in remonstrance, but stops because of the entrance of LEONARD. He brings a small chemist's box of tablets in an envelope and a glass of water on a small silver tray.
LEONARD. Your medicine, sir.
[He puts it on the table and goes out Right.
STERLING. Thank you, thank you!
[He takes the box of tablets out of the envelope.
BLANCHE. [Going to him.] You don't realize why I've told you all this!
STERLING. [Counting out the tablets.] One, two. To give me hope! To give me hope!
[He empties the other ten tablets into the envelope, twists it up, and throws it in the fireplace.
BLANCHE. No, no, just the opposite!
STERLING. Then you've defeated your end, dear; you will stay here with me.
BLANCHE. [Trying to make him realize the exact position.] Opposite you at the table, receiving our friends, keeping up appearances, yes—but nearer to you than that? No! Never!
STERLING. But you will stay?
[LEONARD enters from Left.
LEONARD. Miss Godesby, Mr. Warden.
[All greet each other. WARDEN nods stiffly to STERLING, barely acknowledging his greeting.
MISS GODESBY. [To STERLING, purposely speaking with good-humored raillery to relieve the tension of the situation.] Well, you're a nice lot, aren't you?
STERLING. I'm so ashamed! I'm so ashamed!
MISS GODESBY. Oh, never mind that now.
BLANCHE. I have no words to thank you with.
MISS GODESBY. Oh, that's all right. The truth is, I've made Warden bring me here, Sterling, for a bit of business. I had an emotional moment yesterday and went off my head a bit. I stand by what I said as to keeping quiet, but—well, I'm like any other old maid who hates dust on her mantelpiece—I'm fidgety not to make some sort of a bluff at putting this thing on a business basis.
WARDEN. Excuse me, Miss Godesby, I think Sterling ought to know the truth.
STERLING. Now what?
MISS GODESBY. Well, the truth is, my fool of a brother has kicked up an infernal row, and refuses to hold his tongue.
STERLING. Then I'm ruined after all!
MISS GODESBY. Wait, I've left him with Mr. Mason. I feel certain I can assure his silence if I can only show him some sort of an agreement to pay, an acknowledgment of the—the—affair, signed and sealed.
BLANCHE. Signed by whom?
MISS GODESBY. Your husband and yourself will do.
STERLING. But both names are worthless.
MISS GODESBY. Not as a point of honor.
STERLING. Ah! no, not my wife's.
MISS GODESBY. Nor yours to me. Come along!
[She goes to the table with STERLING, and unfolding a paper gives it to him. He signs it.
WARDEN. [Aside to BLANCHE, apologizing for his presence.] She made me come—she wouldn't come alone; otherwise I should have waited till you sent for me.
BLANCHE. It's as well—I've decided. Oh, I wonder if I'm doing wrong.
[Looking him straight in the face.
WARDEN. [Looking back searchingly in hers to read the truth, but believing that she will certainly leave her husband.] No, you can't do wrong! But I must warn you of one thing—I'm not any longer the controlled man I was.
MISS GODESBY. Come along now, Mrs. Sterling, brace up and give me your name, and Warden, witness, please. [They do so.] Of course, my dears, I know perfectly well that legally this isn't worth the paper it's written on. [Exchanging a serious and meaning look with WARDEN.] But my idiot of a brother won't realize that, which is the point. One thing more—will you both dine with me next week, Thursday? [There is an embarrassed pause, which, with quick intuition, she understands.] Yes, you will—for silence gives consent! [Laughing.] Now, that's settled!
STERLING. What an awfully good sort you are!
MISS GODESBY. Thanks, not always—I've been a mucker more than once in my life! I must go [Shaking hands with BLANCHE.] and relieve Mr. Mason of my brother, or he'll be accusing me of inhuman treatment; more than one consecutive hour of my brother ought to be prevented by the police.
BLANCHE. You are very, very good.
MISS GODESBY. I think if you and I can get well over this, we'll be real friends, and I haven't many, have you?
BLANCHE. [Takes her hand.] You can count upon me and my boy so long as we live.
[She impulsively but tenderly kisses her.
[MISS GODESBY is very much surprised, but moved.
MISS GODESBY. [Half laughing, half crying, and pulling her veil down to hide her emotion.] By George! I haven't been kissed by a woman for years! Good-by.
[WARDEN starts to go out with MISS GODESBY. BLANCHE stops him.
BLANCHE. Wait one moment—I want to speak alone to Miss Godesby.
[MISS GODESBY goes out Left.
BLANCHE. [Aside to STERLING.] You tell him; I cannot. Tell him the truth.
[She goes out after MISS GODESBY.
WARDEN. I have nothing to say to you, Sterling.
[WARDEN looks away and whistles a tune to show his unwillingness to listen. STERLING speaks clearly so WARDEN shall hear.
STERLING. I have a message for you from my wife. [There is a second's pause. WARDEN stops whistling and turns and looks at STERLING.] She asks me to explain—to tell—to tell you a decision she has come to.
[There is another pause.
[Anxious, at a supreme tension, and now a little alarmed as to the decision.
STERLING. She has decided not to leave my house.
WARDEN. [Adds.] Yet!
WARDEN. [Losing his control.] That's a lie!
STERLING. I couldn't believe it, either, when she told me. It was her first word to me to-day. I said, "You are going to divorce me," and she answered, "No."
WARDEN. She's sacrificing herself for some reason—her boy!
STERLING. Never mind, she won't leave me; I have her promise, and I'll win back her love!
WARDEN. You fool! You can't win her back! She would never have loved me if you hadn't disillusioned, dishonored her! I'm not worthy of her, but I'll never dishonor her, and, please God, never disappoint her, and so I'll keep her love.
STERLING. Well, as to that, she decides to stay, leaving love out of the question.
WARDEN. And you'll accept that sacrifice! You don't even love her. You're only thinking of yourself now. Love, real love, forgets itself. You, after having spoilt half her life, are willing to spoil the rest, for your own sake!
STERLING. No, for the boy's sake, and her sake—to save a scandal—the world—
WARDEN. [Beside himself.] Oh, damn the world! It's heaven and hell you'd better think of. Scandal! It couldn't harm her, and the hurt it would do you is a small price to pay. Those whom God has joined—yes! but it was the devil bound her to you!
STERLING. Here! I've had enough! Look out!
WARDEN. [Moves toward him.] You look out—you shan't rob her of her happiness. You—a drunkard! A forger! A thief!
STERLING. I'd keep her now if only to spite you!
WARDEN. Hah! There spoke the true man in you! Would to heaven the old days of duelling were back!
STERLING. A brave wish, as you know they're not!
WARDEN. They fight in other countries still for their love and honor, and I'm ready here, now, if you are, with any weapons you choose!
Sneer! But will you fight? We'll find a place, and something to fight with, or fists if you'd rather! You wouldn't kill me before I'd got you out of her way for good. Will you fight?
[Coming closer to him.
WARDEN. [Getting more and more enraged.] If you lose, you go away, and set her free of your own will!
WARDEN. [Losing entirely his self-control.] What do you want to make you fight—will that?
[He gives him a stinging blow in the face.
[He springs toward WARDEN as RUTH and MASON enter Left. The two men stand rigid, WARDEN breathing heavily.
RUTH. Blanche, may I bring in—where's Blanche?
STERLING. I don't know.
MASON. Good morning, gentlemen.
[There is no response. WARDEN is with great difficulty restraining himself. His lips are compressed lightly and his hands clenched.
RUTH. What's the trouble?
STERLING. I have just told Warden my wife's decision not to leave me.
RUTH. [Showing her relief and satisfaction in her face, turns to WARDEN.] You won't try to shake that resolve?
WARDEN. [Unable to control himself.] But I will! I will—I tell you all! I hardly know what I say or do! But look out for me, I'm desperate! I'm a torrent that's only let loose since yesterday, and now all of a sudden you try to stop me! But it's too late; I've got my impetus; the repressed passion of years is behind me; nothing can stop me—and God keep me from doing the wrong thing! I am determined to clear him out of the way of the happiness of the woman I love. [To RUTH.] Do you mean to say you approve of her decision? [RUTH turns her head; he turns to MASON.] Do you?
STERLING. [To RUTH, holding out his hand.] You will stand by me, Aunt Ruth, and together we—
RUTH. [Interrupting and refusing his hand.] Oh, no.
STERLING. Don't you think I can win her love back?
STERLING. Won't you help me try?
RUTH. No. It would be useless.
WARDEN. Come with me to Blanche; I must speak with her.
[WARDEN and RUTH go out Right.
MASON. [Alone with STERLING.] Go away and make your wife understand you are never coming back.
STERLING. But the loneliness, the misery, away—alone.
MASON. Kill them with hard work; you have other heavy debts, you know. I came to see you about this business of your acknowledgments to Miss Godesby and Miss Hunter.
STERLING. Later, later. To-morrow I will decide—
[He motions him away. MASON goes to him and puts his hand on his shoulder.
MASON. Decide well—
[He hesitates a moment and then goes out Right.
STERLING. [Watching him go.] There's not one soul in this world who cares for me, and it's my own fault. [RICHARD is heard upstairs again singing "Once in Royal David's City." STERLING lifts his head and listens.] Yes, one little soul loves me, and it would be better for him, too, if I went away. I'll go to sleep and see how I feel about it when I wake up. [He moves the glass of water and takes out the box of tablets. He starts suddenly, but very slightly, and his muscles tighten.]
After all, why not end it all now, at once, without any more bother? [He looks in the box, and glances up questioningly; then he remembers the fireplace where he threw the other tablets and looks across the room at the logs. He rises, goes over, and sees in the fireplace the twisted envelope which holds the other tablets. He bends over to pick it up; he stops short.] No! Why shouldn't I try it, anyway? She, herself, gives me the chance! [He rings the electric bell, and walking away from the fireplace, takes up with a trembling hand the papers left by MASON; he wipes the damp from his forehead with his handkerchief. To JORDAN, who enters Left.] Light the fire quickly; I feel cold.
[He sinks into the arm-chair, weak from the mental strain.
LEONARD. It's very warm in the house, sir.
STERLING. Do as I tell you—light the fire.
LEONARD. [Looking for matches on the mantel, finds the box empty.] There are no matches, sir; I must get one.
STERLING. No, don't go—here—here—
[He gives him a match from his own box. LEONARD notices the trembling hand and suppressed excitement of STERLING, and involuntarily glances up, but quickly looks back to his work and strikes a match. The match goes out.
LEONARD. I shall need another match, please, sir.
STERLING. [With one in his fingers taken from his match-box, he alters his mind.] I have no more. [He puts away his match-box.] Never mind the fire; get me a pint bottle of champagne.
LEONARD. [With a surreptitious side glance of curiosity.] Very well, sir.
[He goes out Left.
STERLING. That was funny; that was very funny! I wonder if it was accident, or if there's such a thing as fatality. [He goes to the fireplace and picks up the twisted envelope.] If not now—perhaps some other time—who knows? [He thrusts the envelope in his vest pocket, and takes up the papers again from the table to look over them.] I can't read these things! [Throwing them down.] The words mean nothing to me!
[There is the sound outside of a cork being drawn. LEONARD enters with the champagne and a glass and places them beside STERLING.
LEONARD. Shall I light the fire now, sir?
STERLING. No, never mind now.
LEONARD. Yes, sir.
[He goes out Left.
[STERLING half fills the glass with champagne. He takes out the box of tablets and counts aloud.
STERLING. One, two, three, four—[He puts all in the glass, dropping them as he counts. He hesitates, then quickly drops in two more and drinks quickly. The glass is empty. He sits by the table thinking a moment, then lakes a piece of paper and makes ready his stylographic pen.] Let me see; can I make it seem accidental; it would be so much less bother and trouble for them! [He thinks a second, then writes.] "I have accidentally taken an overdose of my sleeping draught. I have tried to call some one, but it's no use. I ask only one thing, that you forget all my sins, wipe out their memory with my name. I want my boy to change his name, too." [He hesitates a moment, and then scratches that sentence heavily out.] No, I won't say that. [He waits a moment.] God in heaven, what wouldn't I give for one friendly word just now! Some one to sort of say good-by to me—take my hand—even a servant!
[He looks about him, showing signs of drowsiness. The door Right bursts open. STERLING quickly hides the letter in his inside pocket as WARDEN comes in.
WARDEN. My hat! Where's my hat!
[He looks about for it.
STERLING. [Quietly.] Ned?
WARDEN. My hat, I say! Where's my hat?
[Something in his voice arrests WARDEN'S attention.
WARDEN. What? [He looks at him.] What's the matter—
STERLING. Nothing—I'm half asleep, that's all—the reaction—I'm worn out and I've changed my mind—
WARDEN. How do you mean?
STERLING. I'm going away for good—that's the best I can do; I want you to forgive me—could you? What do you say? Forgive me for everything! For the sake of the old schoolboy days—
WARDEN. When are you going?
STERLING. To-day. Will you say good-by to me and wish me well on my journey?
WARDEN. [Speaks without sympathy.] You can count on me always to help you in any way I can. You can still retrieve a good deal if you're strong enough.
STERLING. I know what a beastly friend I've been, and yesterday was more than any man would stand, but forgive that, too, will you? I've always been a bad lot!
WARDEN. [Goes to him and speaks, with the sympathy of a man for a child coming into his voice.] No, a weak lot; that's been your ruin, Dickie. I'll see you again before you go.
STERLING. No, I'm going to sleep as long as I can now, and I don't want any one to wake me up; but when I do wake, I shall have other things to do. This is good-by.
WARDEN. Well, good luck! [He starts to go. The two men look at each other, and finally STERLING gets the courage to hold out his hand. WARDEN hesitates a moment, then shakes it.] Good luck!
[He goes out Left.
[STERLING, who has been growing more and more drowsy, as soon as he is alone, goes with difficulty to the door and locks it. He is so drowsy that he leans against the door for a moment; then he starts to go back to the table, but is unable to get there and sinks on the sofa half way between the table and the door. His eyes close, but suddenly he starts violently and tries to rise, but cannot, crying out faintly.
STERLING. Good God—the money! I forgot the money—who'll pay my debts? Ah, this is a fitting climax for my life—the weakest, dirtiest thing I've done—[He gets the letter from his pocket and holds it in his hand; the light of the afternoon grows slowly dim, like his fading sight and senses. He murmurs twice in a faint, drowsy voice.] Coward! Coward!
[BLANCHE, in the hall outside Right, calls his name.
[STERLING'S body relaxes and sets. The letter drops from his lifeless hands.
[BLANCHE enters with RUTH, followed by RICHARD, who rides a stick with a horse's head and wears a soldier's cap.
RICHARD. Merry Christmas, father!
BLANCHE. [Going toward the sofa.] Dick!
RICHARD. Merry Christmas, father!
BLANCHE. Sh! Father's asleep.
[They steal back toward the other door when WARDEN enters Right.
WARDEN. Oh, you are here! I went down into the drawing-room where I left you.
[She points to STERLING, who lies apparently asleep. They speak in lowered voices.
WARDEN. Yes, I have a message for you from him.
[Looking at RICHARD and RUTH.
RUTH. [Who understands.] Come, Richard, I haven't seen your tree yet.
[She goes out Right with RICHARD.
WARDEN. [To BLANCHE.] Give me your hand.
[She does so wonderingly.
WARDEN. [Softly, with a man's tenderness in his voice.] He is going away for good.
WARDEN. For good.
BLANCHE. [Slowly, withdrawing her hand.] For good? [She looks over toward STERLING, and then back to WARDEN.] What does he mean?
WARDEN. We will know when he wakes.
THE CURTAIN STEALS SOFTLY DOWN