BIGELOW—[Afraid to believe the obvious answer.] Curt!
CURTIS—Yes. My thought was that the child might be born dead.
BIGELOW—[Repelled—sternly.] Damn it, man, do you know what you're saying? [Relentingly.] No, Curt, old boy, do stop talking. If you don't I'll send for a doctor, damned if I won't. That talk belongs in an asylum. God, man, can't you realize this is your child—yours as well as hers?
CURTIS—I've tried. I cannot. There is some inexorable force in me—
BIGELOW—[Coldly.] Do you realize how contemptible this confession makes you out? [Angrily.] Why, if you had one trace of human kindness in you—one bit of unselfish love for your wife—one particle of pity for her suffering—
CURTIS—[Anguished.] I have—all the love and pity in the world for her! That's why I can't help hating—the cause of her suffering.
BIGELOW—Have you never thought that you might repay Martha for giving up all her life to you by devoting the rest of yours to her?
CURTIS—[Bitterly.] She can be happy without me. She will have this child—to take my place. [Intensely.] You think I would not give up my work for her? But I would! I will stay here—do anything she wishes—if only we can make a new beginning again—together—ALONE!
BIGELOW—[Agitated.] Curt, for God's sake, don't return to that! Why, good God, man—even now—while you're speaking—don't you realize what may be happening? And you can talk as if you were wishing—
CURTIS—[Fiercely.] I can't help but wish it!
BIGELOW—[Distractedly.] For the love of God, if you have such thoughts, keep them to yourself. I won't listen! You make me despise life!
CURTIS—And would you have me love life? [The door in the rear is opened and JAYSON enters, pale and unnerved. A succession of quick, piercing shrieks is heard before he can close the door behind him. Shuddering.] My God! My God! [With a fierce cry.] Will—this—never—end!
JAYSON—[Tremblingly.] Sh-h-h, they say this is the crisis. [Puts his arm around CURT.] Bear up, my boy, it will soon be over now. [He sits down in the chair BIGELOW has vacated, pointedly ignoring the latter. The door is opened again and EMILY, ESTHER, JOHN and SHEFFIELD file in quickly as if escaping from the cries of the woman upstairs. They are all greatly agitated. CURT groans, pressing his clenched fists against his ears. The two women sit on the lounge. MARK comes forward and stands by JAYSON'S chair, JOHN sits by the door as before. BIGELOW retreats behind CURT's chair, aware of their hostility. There is a long pause.]
ESTHER—[Suddenly.] She has stopped—[They all listen.]
JAYSON—[Huskily.] Thank God, it's over at last. [The door is opened and MRS. DAVIDSON enters. The old lady is radiant, weeping tears of joy.]
MRS. DAVIDSON—[Calls out exultantly between sobs.] A son, Curt—a son. [With rapt fervor—falling on her knees.] Let us all give thanks to God!
CURTIS—[In a horrible cry of rage and anguish.] No! No! You lie! [They all cry out in fright and amazement: "CURT!" The door is opened and the NURSE appears.]
NURSE—[Looking at CURTIS, in a low voice.] Mr. Jayson, your wife is asking for you.
BIGELOW—[Promptly slapping CURT on the back.] There! What did I tell you? Run, you chump!
CURTIS—[With a gasp of joy.] Martha! Darling, I'm coming—[He rushes out after the NURSE.]
BIGELOW—[Comes forward to get his hat and coat from the sofa—coldly.] Pardon me, please. [They shrink away from him.]
EMILY—[As he goes to the door—cuttingly.] Some people seem to have no sense of decency!
BIGELOW—[Stung, stops at the door and looks from one to the other of them—bitingly.] No, I quite agree with you. [He goes out, shutting the door. They all gasp angrily.]
JAYSON—[Testily—going to MRS. D., who is still on her knees praying.] Do get up, Aunt Elizabeth! How ridiculous! What a scene if anyone should see you like that. [He raises her to her feet and leads her to a chair by the fire. She obeys unresistingly, seemingly unaware of what she is doing.]
ESTHER—[Unable to restrain her jealousy.] So it's a boy.
EMILY—Did you hear Curt—how he yelled out "No"? It's plain as the nose on your face he didn't want—
JOHN—Well, can you blame him?
EMILY—And the awful cheek of that Bigelow person—coming here—
ESTHER—They appeared as friendly as ever when we came in.
JOHN—[Scornfully.] Curt is a blind simpleton—and that man is a dyed-in-the-wool scoundrel.
JAYSON—[Frightenedly.] Shhh! Suppose we were overheard!
EMILY—When Curt leaves we can put her in her proper place. I'll soon let her know she hasn't fooled me, for one. [While she is speaking MRS. D. has gotten up and is going silently toward the door.]
JAYSON—[Testily.] Aunt Elizabeth, where are you going?
MRS. D.—[Tenderly.] I must see him again, the dear! [She goes out.]
ESTHER—[Devoured by curiosity—hesitatingly.] I think I—come on, Emily. Let's go up and see—
EMILY—Not I! I never want to lay eyes on it.
ESTHER—I was only thinking—everyone will think it funny if we don't.
JAYSON—[Hastily.] Yes, yes. We must keep up appearances. [Getting to his feet.] Yes, I think we had better all go up—make some sort of inquiry about Martha, you know. It's expected of us and—[They are all standing, hesitating, when the door in the rear is opened and the NURSE appears, supporting CURT. The latter is like a corpse. His face is petrified with grief, his body seems limp and half-paralyzed.]
NURSE—[Her eyes flashing, indignantly.] It's a wonder some of you wouldn't come up—here, help me! Take him, can't you? I've got to run back!
[JAYSON and SHEFFIELD spring forward and lead CURT to a chair by the fire.]
JAYSON—[Anxious.] Curt! Curt, my boy! What is it, son?
EMILY—[Catching the NURSE as she tries to go.] Nurse! What is the matter?
NURSE—[Slowly.] His wife is dead. [They are all still, stunned.] She lived just long enough to recognize him.
NURSE—[With a professional air.] Oh, it's a fine, healthy baby—eleven pounds—that's what made it so difficult. [She goes. The others all stand in silence.]
ESTHER—[Suddenly sinking on the couch and bursting into tears.] Oh, I'm so sorry I said—or thought—anything wrong about her. Forgive me, Martha!
SHEFFIELD—[Honestly moved but unable to resist this opportunity for Latin—solemnly.] De mortuis nil nisi bonum.
JAYSON—[Who has been giving all his attention to his son.] Curt! Curt! EMILY—Hadn't the doctor better—
JAYSON—Shhh! He begins to recognize me. Curt!
CURTIS—[Looking around him bewilderedly.] Yes. [Suddenly remembrance comes and a spasm of intolerable pain contracts his features. He presses his hands to the side of his head and groans brokenly.] Martha! Gone! Dead! Oh! [He appeals wildly to the others.] Her eyes—she knew me—she smiled—she whispered—forgive me, Curt,—forgive her—when it was I who should have said forgive me—but before I could—she—[He falters brokenly.]
EMILY—[Looking from one to the other meaningly as if this justified all their suspicions.] Oh!
CURTIS—[A sudden triumph in his voice.] But she loved me again—only me—I saw it in her eyes! She had forgotten—IT. [Raging.] Never let me see it! Never let it come near me! It has murdered her! [Springing to his feet.] I hate it from the bottom of my soul—I will never see it—never—never—I take my oath! [As his father takes his arm—shaking him off.] Let me go! I am going back to her! [He strides out of the door in a frenzy of grief and rage. They all stand transfixed, looking at each other bewilderedly.]
EMILY—[Putting all her venomous gratification into one word.] Well!
[The Curtain Falls]
SCENE—Same as Act I. It is afternoon of a fine day three days later. Motors are heard coming up the drive in front of the house. There is the muffled sound of voices. The MAID is seen going along the hall to the front door. Then the family enter from the rear. First come JAYSON and ESTHER with MRS. DAVIDSON—then LILY, DICK and SHEFFIELD—then JOHN and his wife. All are dressed in mourning. The only one who betrays any signs of sincere grief is MRS. DAVIDSON. The others all have a strained look, irritated, worried, or merely gloomy. They seem to be thinking "The worst is yet to come."
JAYSON—[Leading MRS. D., who is weeping softly, to the chair at left of table—fretfully.] Please do sit down, Aunt. [She does so mechanically.] And do stop crying. [He sits down in front of table. ESTHER goes to couch where she is joined by EMILY. MARK goes over and stands in back of them. DICK and JOHN sit at rear of table. LILY comes down front and walks about nervously. She seems in a particularly fretful, upset mood.]
LILY—[Trying to conceal her feelings under a forced flippancy.] What ridiculous things funerals are, anyway! That stupid minister—whining away through his nose! Why does the Lord show such a partiality for men with adenoids, I wonder.
JAYSON—[Testily.] Sshhh! Have you no respect for anything?
LILY—[Resentfully.] If I had, I'd have lost it when I saw all of you pulling such long faces in the church where you knew you were under observation. Pah! Such hypocrisy! And then, to cap it all, Emily has to force out a few crocodile tears at the grave!
EMILY—[Indignantly.] When I saw Curt—that's why I cried—not for her!
JAYSON—What a scene Curt made! I actually believe he wanted to throw himself into the grave!
DICK—You BELIEVE he wanted to! Why, it was all Mark and I could do to hold him, wasn't it, Mark? [SHEFFIELD nods.]
JAYSON—Intolerable! I never expected he'd turn violent like that. He's seemed calm enough the past three days.
LILY—Calm! Yes, just like a corpse is calm!
JAYSON—[Distractedly.] And now this perfectly mad idea of going away to-day to join that infernal expedition—leaving that child on our hands—the child he has never even looked at! Why, it's too monstrously flagrant! He's deliberately flaunting this scandal in everyone's face!
JOHN—[Firmly.] He must be brought to time.
SHEFFIELD—Yes, we must talk to him—quite openly, if we're forced to. After all, I guess he realizes the situation more keenly than any of us.
LILY—[Who has wandered to window on right.] You mean you think he believes—Well, I don't. And you had better be careful not to let him guess what you think. [Pointing outside.] There's my proof. There he is walking about with Bigelow. Can you imagine Curt doing that—if he thought for a moment—
DICK—Oh, I guess Curt isn't all fool. He knows that's the very best way to keep people from suspecting.
ESTHER—[Indignantly.] But wouldn't you think that Bigelow person—It's disgusting, his sticking to Curt like this.
SHEFFIELD—Well, for one, I'm becoming quite resigned to Bigelow's presence. In the first place, he seems to be the only one who can bring Curt to reason. Then again, I feel that it is to Bigelow's own interest to convince Curt that he mustn't provoke an open scandal by running away without acknowledging this child.
LILY—[Suddenly bursting forth hysterically.] Oh, I hate you, all of you! I loathe your suspicions—and I loathe myself because I'm beginning to be poisoned by them, too.
EMILY—Really, Lily, at this late hour—after the way Curt has acted—and her last words when she was dying—
LILY—[Distractedly.] I know! Shut up! Haven't you told it a million times already? [MRS. DAVIDSON gets up and walks to the door, rear. She has been crying softly during this scene, oblivious to the talk around her.]
JAYSON—[Testily.] Aunt Elizabeth! Where are you going? [As she doesn't answer but goes out into the hall.] Esther, go with her and see that she doesn't—
ESTHER—[Gets up with a jealous irritation.] She's only going up to see the baby. She's simply forgotten everything else in the world!
LILY—[Indignantly.] She probably realizes what we are too mean to remember—that the baby, at least, is innocent. Wait, Esther. I'll come with you.
JAYSON—Yes, hurry, she shouldn't be left alone. [ESTHER and LILY follow the old lady out, rear.]
DICK—[After a pause—impatiently.] Well, what next? I don't see what good we are accomplishing. May I run along? [He gets up restlessly as he is speaking and goes to the window.]
JAYSON—[Severely.] You will stay, if you please. There's to be no shirking on anyone's part. It may take all of us to induce Curt—
SHEFFIELD—I wouldn't worry. Bigelow is taking that job off our hands, I imagine.
DICK—[Looking out of the window.] He certainly seems to be doing his damnedest. [With a sneer.] The stage missed a great actor in him.
JAYSON—[Worriedly.] But, if Bigelow should fail—
SHEFFIELD—Then we'll succeed. [With a grim smile.] By God, we'll have to.
JAYSON—Curt has already packed his trunks and had them taken down to the station—told me he was leaving on the five o'clock train.
SHEFFIELD—But didn't you hint to him there was now this matter of the child to be considered in making his plans?
JAYSON—[Lamely.] I started to. He simply flared up at me with insane rage.
DICK—[Looking out the window.] Say, I believe they're coming in.
DICK—Yes, they're both making for the front door.
SHEFFIELD—I suggest we beat a retreat to Curt's study and wait there.
JAYSON—Yes, let's do that—come on, all of you. [They all retire grumblingly but precipitately to the study, closing the door behind them. The front door is heard opening and a moment later CURT and BIGELOW enter the room. CURT's face is set in an expression of stony grief. BIGELOW is flushed, excited, indignant.]
BIGELOW—[As CURT sinks down on the couch—pleading indignantly.] Curt, damn it, wake up! Are you made of stone? Has everything I've said gone in one ear and out the other? I know it's hell for me to torment you at this particular time but it's your own incredibly unreasonable actions that force me to. I know how terribly you must feel but—damn it, man, postpone this going away! Face this situation like a man! Be reconciled to your child, stay with him at least until you can make suitable arrangements—
CURTIS—[Fixedly.] I will never see it! Never!
BIGELOW—How can you keep repeating that—with Martha hardly cold in her grave! I ask you again, what would she think, how would she feel—If you would only consent to see this baby, I know you'd realize how damnably mad and cruel you are. Won't you—just for a second?
CURTIS—No. [Then raging.] If I saw it I'd be tempted to—[Then brokenly.] No more of that talk, Big. I've heard enough. I've reached the limit.
BIGELOW—[Restraining his anger with difficulty—coldly.] That's your final answer, eh? Well, I'm through. I've done all I could. If you want to play the brute—to forget all that was most dear in the world to Martha—to go your own damn selfish way—well, there's nothing more to be said. You will be punished for it, believe me! [He takes a step toward the door.] And I—I want you to understand that all friendship ceases between us from this day. You are not the Curt I thought I knew—and I have nothing but a feeling of repulsion—good-by. [He starts for the door.]
CURTIS—[Dully.] Good-by, Big.
BIGELOW—[Stops, his features working with grief and looks back at his friend—then suddenly goes back to him—penitently.] Curt! Forgive me! I ought to know better. This isn't you. You'll come to yourself when you've had time to think it over. The memory of Martha—she'll tell you what you must do. [He wrings CURT's hand.] Good-by, old scout!
CURTIS—[Dully.] Good-by. [BIGELOW hurries out, rear. CURT sits in a dumb apathy for a while—then groans heart-brokenly.] Martha! Martha! [He springs to his feet distractedly. The door of the study is slowly opened and SHEFFIELD peers out cautiously—then comes into the room, followed by the others. They all take seats as before. CURT ignores them.]
SHEFFIELD—[Clearing his throat.] Curt—
CURTIS—[Suddenly.] What time is it, do you know!
SHEFFIELD—[Looking at his watch.] Two minutes to four.
CURTIS—[Impatiently.] Still an hour more of this!
JAYSON—[Clearing his throat.] Curt—[Before he starts what he intends to say, there is the sound of voices from the hall. ESTHER and LILY help in MRS. DAVIDSON to her former chair. The old lady's face is again transformed with joy. ESTHER joins EMILY on the couch. LILY sits in chair—front right. There is a long, uncomfortable pause during which CURT paces up and down.]
MRS. DAVIDSON—[Suddenly murmuring aloud to herself—happily.] He's such a dear! I could stay watching him forever.
JAYSON—[Testily.] Sshhh! Aunt! [Then clearing his throat again.] Surely you're not still thinking of going on the five o'clock train, are you, Curt?
SHEFFIELD—[Drily.] Then Mr. Bigelow didn't persuade you—
CURTIS—[Coldly and impatiently.] I'm not to be persuaded by Big or anyone else. And I'll thank you not to talk any more about it. [They all stiffen resentfully at his tone.]
JAYSON—[To CURT—in a pleading tone.] You mustn't be unreasonable, Curt. After all we are your family—your best friends in the world—and we are only trying to help you—
CURTIS—[With nervous vehemence.] I don't want your help. You will help me most by keeping silent.
EMILY—[ With a meaning look at the others—sneeringly.] Yes, no doubt.
JAYSON—[Helplessly.] But, you see, Curt—
SHEFFIELD—[With his best judicial air.] If you'll all allow me to be the spokesman, I think perhaps that I—[They all nod and signify their acquiescence. ] Well, then, will you listen to me, Curt? [This last somewhat impatiently as CURT continues to pace, eyes on the floor.]
CURTIS—[Without looking at him—harshly.] Yes, I'm listening. What else can I do when you've got me cornered? Say what you like and let's get this over.
SHEFFIELD—First of all, Curt, I hope it is needless for me to express how very deeply we all feel for you in your sorrow. But we sincerely trust that you are aware of our heartfelt sympathy. [They all nod. A bitter, cynical smile comes over LILY's face.]
ESTHER—[Suddenly breaking down and beginning to weep.] Poor Martha! [SHEFFIELD glances at his wife, impatient at this interruption. The others also show their irritation.]
EMILY—[Pettishly.] Esther! For goodness sake! [CURT hesitates, stares at his sister frowningly as if judging her sincerity—then bends down over her and kisses the top of her bowed head impulsively—seems about to break down himself—grits his teeth and forces it back—glances around at the others defiantly and resumes his pacing. ESTHER dries her eyes, forcing a trembling smile. The cry has done her good.]
SHEFFIELD—[Clearing his throat.] I may truthfully say we all feel—as Esther does—even if we do not give vent—[With an air of sincere sympathy.] I know how terrible a day this must be for you, Curt. We all do. And we feel guilty in breaking in upon the sanctity of your sorrow in any way. But, if you will pardon my saying so, your own course of action—the suddenness of your plans—have made it imperative that we come to an understanding about certain things—about one thing in particular, I might say. [He pauses. CURT goes on pacing back and forth as if he hadn't heard.]
JAYSON—[Placatingly.] Yes, it is for the best, Curt.
ESTHER—Yes, Curt dear, you mustn't be unreasonable.
DICK—[Feeling called upon to say something.] Yes, old man, you've got to face things like a regular. Facts are facts. [This makes everybody uneasy.]
LILY—[Springing to her feet.] Phew! it's close in here. I'm going out in the garden. You can call me when these—orations—are finished. [She sweeps out scornfully.]
JAYSON—[Calling after her imperiously.] Lily! [But she doesn't answer and he gives it up with a hopeless sigh.]
CURTIS—[Harshly.] What time is it?
SHEFFIELD—You have plenty of time to listen to what I—I should rather say we—have to ask you, Curt. I promise to be brief. But first let me again impress upon you that I am talking in a spirit of the deepest friendliness and sympathy with you—as a fellow-member of the same family, I may say—and with the highest ideals and the honor of that family always in view. [CURT makes no comment. SHEFFIELD unconsciously begins to adopt the alert keenness of the cross-examiner.] First, let me ask you, is it your intention to take that five o'clock train to-day?
CURTIS—[Harshly.] I've told you that.
SHEFFIELD—And then you'll join this expedition to Asia?
CURTIS—You know that.
SHEFFIELD—To be gone five years?
CURTIS—[Shrugging his shoulders.] More or less.
SHEFFIELD—Is it your intention to return here at any time before you leave for Asia?
SHEFFIELD—And your determination on these plans is irrevocable?
CURTIS—Irrevocable! Exactly. Please remember that.
SHEFFIELD—[Sharply.] That being your attitude, I will come bluntly to the core of the whole matter—the child whose coming into the world cost Martha her life.
CURTIS—[Savagely.] Her murderer! You are right! [They all look shocked, suspicious.]
SHEFFIELD—[Remonstratingly but suspiciously.] You can hardly hold the child responsible for the terrible outcome. Women die every day from the same cause. [Keenly.] Why do you attribute guilt to the child in this case, Curt?
CURTIS—It lives and Martha is gone—But, enough! I've said I never wanted it mentioned to me. Will you please remember that?
SHEFFIELD—[Sharply.] Its name is Jayson. Curt—in the eyes of the law. Will YOU please remember that?
CURTIS—[Distractedly.] I don't want to remember anything! [Wildly.] Please, for God's sake, leave me alone!
SHEFFIELD—[Coldly.] I am sorry, Curt, but you cannot act as if you were alone in this affair.
CURTIS—Why not? Am I not alone—more alone this minute than any creature on God's earth?
SHEFFIELD—[Soothingly.] In your great grief. Yes, yes, of course. We all appreciate—and we hate to—[Persuasively.] Yes, it would be much wiser to postpone these practical considerations until you are in a calmer mood. And if you will only give us the chance—why not put off this precipitate departure—for a month, say—and in the meantime—
CURTIS—[Harshly.] I am going when I said I was. I must get away from this horrible hole—as far away as I can. I must get back to my work for only in it will I find Martha again. But you—you can't understand that. What is the good of all this talking which leads nowhere?
SHEFFIELD—[Coldly.] You're mistaken. It leads to this: Do you understand that your running away from this child—on the very day of its mother's funeral!—will have a very queer appearance in the eyes of the world?
EMILY—And what are you going to do with the baby, Curt? Do you think you can run off regardless and leave it here—on our hands?
CURTIS—[Distractedly.] I'll give it this home. And someone—anyone—Esther, Lily—can appoint a nurse to live here and— [Breaking down.] Oh, don't bother me!
SHEFFIELD—[Sharply.] In the world's eyes, it will appear precious like a desertion on your part.
CURTIS—Oh, arrange it to suit yourselves—anything you wish—
SHEFFIELD—[Quickly. ] I'll take you at your word. Then let us arrange it this way. You will remain here a month longer at least—
SHEFFIELD—[Ignoring the interruption.] You can make plans for the child's future in that time, become reconciled to it—
JAYSON—[Pleadingly.] Curt—please—for all our sakes—when the honor of the family is at stake.
DICK—Yes, old man, there's that about it, you know.
EMILY—Oh, he's impossible!
SHEFFIELD—Perhaps Curt misunderstood me. [Meaningly.] Be reconciled to it in the eyes of the public, Curt. That's what I meant. Your own private feelings in the matter—are no one's business but your own, of course.
CURTIS—[Bewilderedly.] But—I don't see—Oh, damn your eyes of the public!
EMILY—[Breaking in.] It's all very well for you to ignore what people in town think—you'll be in China or heaven knows where. The scandal won't touch you—but we've got to live here and have our position to consider.
CURTIS—[Mystified.] Scandal? What scandal? [Then with a harsh laugh.] Oh, you mean the imbecile busy-bodies will call me an unnatural father. Well, let them! I suppose I am. But they don't know—
EMILY—[Spitefully.] Perhaps they know more than you think they do.
CURTIS—[Turning on her—sharply.] Just what do you mean by that, eh?
JAYSON—[Flurriedly.] Be still, Emily. Let Mark do the talking.
SHEFFIELD—[Interposing placatingly.] What Emily means is simply this, Curt: You haven't even been to look at this child since it has been born—not once, have you?
CURTIS—No, and I never intend—
SHEFFIELD—[Insinuatingly.] And don't you suppose the doctors and nurses—and the servants—have noticed this? It is not the usual procedure, you must acknowledge, and they wouldn't be human if they didn't think your action—or lack of action—peculiar and comment on it outside.
CURTIS—Well, let them! Do you think I care a fiddler's curse how people judge me?
SHEFFIELD—It is hardly a case of their judging—you. [Breaking off as he catches CURT'S tortured eyes fixed on him wildly.] This is a small town, Curt, and you know as well as I do, gossip is not the least of its faults. It doesn't take long for such things to get started. [Persuasively.] Now I ask you frankly, is it wise to provoke deliberately what may easily be set at rest by a little—I'll be frank—a little pretense on your part?
JAYSON—Yes, my boy. As a Jayson, I know you don't wish—
ESTHEE—[With a sigh.] Yes, you really must think of us, Curt.
CURTIS—[In an acute state of muddled confusion.] But—I—you—how are you concerned? Pretense? You mean you want me to stay and pretend—in order that you won't be disturbed by any silly tales they tell about me? [With a wild laugh.] Good God, this is too much! Why does a man have to be maddened by fools at such a time! [Raging.] Leave me alone! You're like a swarm of poisonous flies.
JAYSON—Curt! This is—really—when we've tried to be so considerate—
JOHN—[Bursting with rage.] It's an outrage to allow such insults!
DICK—You're not playing the game, Curt.
EMILY—[Spitefully.] It seems to me it's much more for Martha's sake, we're urging you than for our own. After all, the town can't say anything against us.
CURTIS—[Turning on her.] Martha's sake? [Brokenly.] Martha is gone. Leave her out of this.
SHEFFIELD—[Sharply.] But unfortunately, Curt, others will not leave her out of this. They will pry and pry—you know what they are—and—
EMILY—Curt couldn't act the way he is doing if he ever really cared for her.
CURTIS—You dare to say that! [Then controlling himself a bit—with scathing scorn.] What do know of love—women like you! You call your little rabbit-hutch emotions love—your bread-and-butter passions—and you have the effrontery to judge—
EMILY—[Shrinking from him frightenedly.] Oh! John!
JOHN—[Getting to his feet.] I protest! I cannot allow even my own brother—
DICK—[Grabbing his arm.] Keep your head, old boy.
SHEFFIELD—[Peremptorily.] You are making a fool of yourself, Curt—and you are damned insulting in the bargain. I think I may say that we've all about reached the end of our patience. What Emily said is for your own best interest, if you had the sense to see it. And I put it to you once and for all: Are you or are you not willing to act like a man of honor to protect your own good name, the family name, the name of this child, and your wife's memory? Let me tell you, your wife's good name is more endangered by your stubbornness than anything else.
CURTIS—[Trembling with rage.] I—I begin to think—you—all of you—are aiming at something against Martha in this. Yes—in back of your words—your actions—I begin to feel—[Raging.] Go away! Get out of this house—all of you! Oh, I know your meanness! I've seen how you've tried to hurt her ever since we came—because you resented in your small minds her evident superiority—
EMILY—[Scornfully.] Superiority, indeed!
CURTIS—Her breadth, of mind and greatness of soul that you couldn't understand. I've guessed all this, and if I haven't interfered it's only because I knew she was too far above you to notice your sickening malice—
EMILY—[Furiously.] You're only acting—acting for our benefit because you think we don't—
CURTIS—[Turning on her—with annihilating contempt.] Why, you—you poor little nonentity! [John struggles to get forward but Dick holds him back.]
EMILY—[Insane with rage—shrilly.] But we know—and the whole town knows—and you needn't pretend you've been blind. You've given the whole thing away yourself—the silly way you've acted—telling everyone how you hated that baby—letting everyone see—
JAYSON—Emily! [The others are all frightened, try to interrupt her. CURT stares at her in a stunned bewilderment]
EMILY—[Pouring forth all her venom regardless.] But you might as well leave off your idiotic pretending. It doesn't fool us—or anyone else—your sending for Bigelow that night—your hobnobbing with him ever since—your pretending he's as much your friend as ever. They're all afraid of you—but I'm not! I tell you to your face—it's all acting you're doing—just cheap acting to try and pull the wool over our eyes until you've run away like a coward—and left us to face the disgrace for you with this child on our hands!
ESTHER—[Trying to silence her—excitedly.] Emily! Keep still, for Heaven's sake! [The others all utter exclamations of caution, with fearful glances at CURT.]
EMILY—[Becoming exhausted by her outburst—more faintly.] Well, someone had to show him his place. He thinks he's so superior to us just because—telling us how much better she was than—But I won't stand for that. I've always had a clean name—and always will—and my children, too, thank God! [She sinks down on the couch exhausted, panting but still glaring defiantly at CURT.]
CURTIS—[An awareness of her meaning gradually forcing itself on his mind.] Bigelow! Big? Pretending he's as much my friend—[With a sudden gasp of sickened understanding.] Oh! [He sways as if he were about to fall, shrinking away from EMILY, all horror.] Oh, you—you—you-filth!
JOHN—[His fists clenched, tries to advance on his brother.] How dare you insult my wife! [He is restrained, held bake by his remonstrating father and DICK.]
MRS. DAVIDSON—[As if suddenly coming out of a dream—frightenedly.] What is the matter? Why is John mad at Curt?
CURTIS—[His hands over his eyes, acting like a person stricken with a sudden attack of nausea, weakly.] So—that's—what has been in your minds. Oh, this is bestial—disgusting! And there is nothing to be done. I feel defenseless. One would have to be as low as you are—She would have been defenseless, too. It is better she is dead. [He stares about him—wildly.] And you think—you all think—
ESTHER—[Pityingly.] Curt, dear, we don't think anything except what you've made us think with your crazy carrying-on.
CURTIS—[Looking from one to the other of them.] Yes—all of you—it's on your faces. [His eyes fix themselves on his aunt.] No, you don't—you don't—
MRS. DAVIDSON—I? Don't what, Curtis? My, how sick you look, poor boy!
CURTIS—You—don't believe—this child—
MRS. DAVIDSON—He's the sweetest baby I ever saw [proudly] and Jayson right to the tips of his toes.
CURTIS—Ah, I know you—[Looking around at the others with loathing and hatred.] But look at them—[With a burst of fierce determination.] Wait! I'll give you the only answer—[He dashes for the door in rear, shakes off his father and DICK, who try to stop him, and then is heard bounding up the stairs in hall. DICK runs after him, JAYSON as far as the doorway. ESTHER gives a stifled scream. There is a tense pause. Then DICK reappears.]
DICK—It's all right. I saw him go in.
JAYSON—[Frightenedly.] But—good God—he's liable—why didn't you follow him?
DICK—The doctor and nurse are there. They would have called out, wouldn't they, if—
MRS. DAVIDSON—[Getting angrier and angrier as her puzzlement has grown greater—in a stern tone.] I understand less and less of this. Where has Curtis gone? Why did he act so sick? What is the matter with all of you?
ESTHER—Nothing, Aunt dear, nothing!
MRS. DAVIDSON—No, you'll not hush me up! [Accusingly.] You all look guilty. Have you been saying anything against Curtis' baby? That was what Curtis seemed to think. A fine time you've picked out—with his wife not cold in her grave!
MRS. DAVIDSON—I never liked that woman. I never understood her. But now—now I love her and beg her forgiveness. She died like a true woman in the performance of her duty. She died gloriously—and I will always respect her memory. [Suddenly flying into a passion.] I feel that you are all hostile to her baby—poor, little, defenseless creature! Yes, you'd hate the idea of Curtis' having a son—you and your girls! Well, I'll make you bitterly regret the day you—[She plumps herself down in her chair again, staring stubbornly and angrily before her.]
EMILY—[Spitefully.] I fear it will be necessary to tell Aunt—
JAYSON—Sshh! You have made enough trouble with your telling already! [Miserably.] It should never have come to this pass. Curt will never forgive us, never!
ESTHER—[Resentfully to EMILY.] See what not holding your tongue has done—and my children will have to suffer for it, too!
SHEFFIELD—[Severely.] If Emily had permitted me to conduct this business uninterruptedly, this would never have occurred.
EMILY—That's right! All pick on me! Cowards! [She breaks down and sobs.]
DICK—[From the doorway. Coming back into the room.] Sstt! Here he comes!
CURTIS—[Reenters. There is a look of strange exultation on his face. He looks from one to the other of them. He stammers.] Well—my answer to you—your rotten world—I kissed him—he is mine! He looked at me—it was as if Martha looked at me—through his eyes.
ESTHER—[Voicing the general relief. Joyfully.] Oh, Curt! You won't go now? You'll stay?
CURTIS—[Staring at her, then from one to another of the rest with a withering scorn.] Ha! Now you think you have conquered, do you? No, I'm not going to stay! Do you think your vile slander could influence me to give up my work? And neither shall you influence the life of my son. I leave him here. I must. But not to your tender mercies. No, no! Thank God, there still remains one Jayson with unmuddled integrity to whom I can appeal. [He goes to MRS. DAVIDSON.] I will leave him in your care, Aunt—while I am gone.
MRS. DAVIDSON—[Delighted.] It will be a great happiness. He will be—the one God never granted me. [Her lips trembling.] God has answered my prayer at last.
CURTIS—I thank you, Aunt. [Kisses her reverentially.]
MRS. DAVIDSON—[Pleased but morally bound to grumble at him] But I cannot approve of your running away like this. It isn't natural. [Then with selfish haste, fearing her words may change his mind and she will lose the baby.] But you always were a queer person—and a man must do faithfully the work ordained for him.
CURTIS—[Gladly.] Yes, I must go! What would I be for him—or anyone—if I stayed? Thank God, you understand. But I will come back. [The light of an ideal beginning to shine in his eyes.] When he is old enough, I will teach him to know and love a big, free life. Martha used to say that he would take her part in time. My goal shall be his goal, too. Martha shall live again for me in him. And you, Aunt, swear to keep him with you—out there in the country—never to let him know this obscene little world. [He indicates his relatives.]
MRS. DAVIDSON—Yes, I promise, Curtis. Let anyone dare—! [She glares about her. The noise of a motor is heard from the drive. It stops in front of the house.]
CURTIS—I must go. [He kisses his aunt.] Teach him his mother was the most beautiful soul that ever lived. Good-by, Aunt.
MRS. DAVIDSON—Good-by, Curtis! [Without looking at the others, he starts for the door, rear. They all break out into conscience-stricken protestations.]
JAYSON—[Miserably.] Curt! You're not leaving us that way?
ESTHER—Curt—you're going—without a word! [They all say this practically together and crowd toward him. JOHN and EMILY remain sullenly apart. CURT turns to face them.]
LILY—[Enters from the rear.] You're not going, Curt?
CURTIS—[Turning to her.] Yes. Good-by, Lily. [He kisses her.] You loved her, didn't you? You are not like—Take my advice and get away before you become—[He has been staring into her face. Suddenly he pushes her brusquely away from him—coldly.] But I see in your face it's too late.
LILY—[Miserably.] No, Curt—I swear—
CURTIS—[Facing them all defiantly.] Yes, I am going without a word—because I cannot find the fitting one. Be thankful I can't. It would shrivel up your souls like flame, [He again turns and strides to the door.]
JAYSON—[His grief overcoming him.] My boy! We are wrong—we know—but—at least say you forgive us.
CURTIS—[Wavers with his back towards them—then turns and forces the words out.] Ask forgiveness of her. She—yes—she was so fine—I feel she—so you are forgiven. Good-by. [He goes. The motor is heard driving off. There is a tense pause.]
LILY—Then he did find out? Oh, a fine mess you've made of everything! But no—I should say "we," shouldn't I? Curt guessed that. Oh, I hate you—and myself! [She breaks down.]
[There is a strained pause during which they are all silent, their eyes avoiding each other, fixed in dull, stupid stares. Finally, DICK fidgets uncomfortably, heaves a noisy sigh, and blurts out with an attempt at comforting reassurance:]
DICK—Well, it isn't as bad as it might have been, anyway. He did acknowledge the kid—before witnesses, too.
JAYSON—[Testily.] Keep your remarks to yourself, if you please! [But most of his family are already beginning to look relieved.]
[The Curtain Falls]