Home  »  Beyond the Horizon  »  Act II Scene i

Eugene O’Neill (1888–1953). Beyond the Horizon. 1920.

Act II Scene i

SCENE—Same as Act One, Scene Two. Sitting room of the farm house about half past twelve in the afternoon of a hot, sun-baked day in mid-summer, three years later. All the windows are open, but no breeze stirs the soiled white curtains. A patched screen door is in the rear. Through it the yard can be seen, its small stretch of lawn divided by the dirt path leading to the door from the gate in the white picket fence which borders the road.

The room has changed, not so much in its outward appearance as in its general atmosphere. Little significant details give evidence of carelessness, of inefficiency, of an industry gone to seed. The chairs appear shabby from lack of paint; the table cover is spotted and askew; holes show in the curtains; a child’s doll, with one arm gone, lies under the table; a hoe stands in a corner; a man’s coat is flung on the couch in the rear; the desk is cluttered up with odds and ends; a number of books are piled carelessly on the side-board. The noon enervation of the sultry, scorching day seems to have penetrated indoors, causing even inanimate objects to wear an aspect of despondent exhaustion.

A place is set at the end of the table, left, for someone’s dinner. Through the open door to the kitchen comes the clatter of dishes being washed, interrupted at intervals by a woman’s irritated voice and the peevish whining of a child.

At the rise of the curtain MRS. MAYO and MRS. ATKINS are discovered sitting facing each other, MRS. MAYO to the rear, MRS. ATKINS to the right of the table. MRS. MAYO’S face has lost all character, disintegrated, become a weak mask wearing a helpless, doleful expression of being constantly on the verge of comfortless tears. She speaks in an uncertain voice, without assertiveness, as if all power of willing had deserted her. MRS. ATKINS is in her wheel chair. She is a thin, pale-faced, unintelligent looking woman of about forty-eight, with hard, bright eyes. A victim of partial paralysis for many years, condemned to be pushed from day to day of her life in a wheel chair, she has developed the selfish, irritable nature of the chronic invalid. Both women are dressed in black. MRS. ATKINS knits nervously as she talks. A ball of unused yarn, with needles stuck through it, lies on the table before MRS. MAYO.

MRS. ATKINS—[With a disapproving glance at the place set on the table.] Robert’s late for his dinner again, as usual. I don’t see why Ruth puts up with it, and I’ve told her so. Many’s the time I’ve said to her “It’s about time you put a stop to his nonsense. Does he suppose you’re runnin’ a hotel—with no one to help with things?” But she don’t pay no attention. She’s as bad as he is, a’most—thinks she knows better than an old, sick body like me.

MRS. MAYO—[Dully.] Robbie’s always late for things. He can’t help it, Sarah.

MRS. ATKINS—[With a snort.] Can’t help it! How you do go on, Kate, findin’ excuses for him! Anybody can help anything they’ve a mind to—as long as they’ve got health, and ain’t rendered helpless like me, [She adds as a pious afterthought]—through the will of God.

MRS. MAYO—Robbie can’t.

MRS. ATKINS—Can’t! It do make me mad, Kate Mayo, to see folks that God gave all the use of their limbs to potterin’ round and wastin’ time doin’ every thing the wrong way—and me powerless to help and at their mercy, you might say. And it ain’t that I haven’t pointed the right way to ’em. I’ve talked to Robert thousands of times and told him how things ought to be done. You know that, Kate Mayo. But d’you s’pose he takes any notice of what I say? Or Ruth, either—my own daughter? No, they think I’m a crazy, cranky old woman, half dead a’ready, and the sooner I’m in the grave and out o’ their way the better it’d suit them.

MRS. MAYO—You mustn’t talk that way, Sarah. They’re not as wicked as that. Add you’ve got years and years before you.

MRS. ATKINS—You’re like the rest, Kate. You don’t know how near the end I am. Well, at least I can go to my eternal rest with a clear conscience. I’ve done all a body could do to avert ruin from this house. On their heads be it!

MRS. MAYO—[With hopeless indifference.] Things might be worse. Robert never had any experience in farming. You can’t expect him to learn in a day.

MRS. ATKINS—[Snappily.] He’s had three years to learn, and he’s gettin’ worse ’stead of better. He hasn’t got it in him, that’s what; and I do say it to you, Kate Mayo, even if he is your son. He doesn’t want to learn. Everything I’ve told him he’s that pig-headed he’s gone and done the exact opposite. And now look where things are! They couldn’t be worse, spite o’ what you say. Not on’y your place but mine too is driftin’ to rack and ruin, and I can’t do nothin’ to prevent, ’cause Ruth backs him up in his folly and shiftlessness.

MRS. MAYO—[With a spark of assertiveness.] You can’t say but Robbie works hard, Sarah.

MRS. ATKINS—What good’s workin’ hard if it don’t accomplish anythin’, I’d like to know?

MRS. MAYO—Robbie’s had bad luck against him.

MRS. ATKINS—Say what you’ve a mind to, Kate, the proof of the puddin’s in the eatin’; and you can’t deny that things have been goin’ from bad to worse ever since your husband died two years back.

MRS. MAYO—[Wiping tears from her eyes with her handkerchief.] It was God’s will that he should be taken.

MRS. ATKINS—[Triumphantly.] It was God’s punishment on James Mayo for the blasphemin’ and denyin’ of God he done all his sinful life! [MRS. MAYO begins to weep softly.] There, Kate, I shouldn’t be remindin’ you, I know. He’s at peace, poor man, and forgiven, let’s pray.

MR. MAYO—[Wiping her eyes—simply.] James was a good man.

MRS. ATKINS—[Ignoring this remark.] What I was sayin’ was that since Robert’s been in charge things’ve been goin’ down hill steady. You don’t know how bad they are. Robert don’t let on to you what’s happinin’; and you’d never see it yourself if ’twas under your nose. But, thank God, Ruth still comes to me once in a while for advice when she’s worried near out of her senses by his goin’s-on. Do you know what she told me last night? But I forgot, she said not to tell you—still I think you’ve got a right to know, and it’s my duty not to let such things go on behind your back.

MRS. MAYO—[Wearily.] You can tell me if you want to.

MRS. ATKINS—[Bending over toward her—in a low voice.] Ruth was almost crazy about it. Robert told her he’d have to mortgage the farm—said he didn’t know how he’d pull through ’til harvest without it, and he can’t get money any other way. [She straightens up—indignantly.] Now what do you think of your Robert?

MRS. MAYO—[Resignedly.] If it has to be——

MRS. ATKINS—You don’t mean to say you’re goin’ to sign away your farm, Kate Mayo—after me warnin’ you?

MRS. MAYO—I’ll do what Robbie says is needful.

MRS. ATKINS—[Holding up her hands.] Well, of all the foolishness!—well, it’s your farm, not mine, and I’ve nothin’ more to say.

MRS. MAYO—Maybe Robbie’ll manage till Andy gets back and sees to things. It can’t be long now.

MRS. ATKINS—[With keen interest.] Ruth says Andy ought to turn up any day. When does Robert figger he’ll get here?

MRS. MAYO—He says he can’t calculate exactly on account o’ the Sunda being a sail boat. Last letter he got was from England, the day they were sailing for home. That was over a month ago, and Robbie thinks they’re overdue now.

MRS. ATKINS—We can give praise to God then that he’ll be back in the nick o’ time. I’ve got confidence in Andy and always did have, when it comes to farmin’; and he ought to be tired of travellin’ and anxious to get home and settle down to work again.

MRS. MAYO—Andy has been working. He’s head officer on Dick’s boat, he wrote Robbie. You know that.

MRS. ATKINS—That foolin’ on ships is all right for a spell, but he must be right sick of it by this. Andy’s got to the age where it’s time he took hold of things serious and got this farm workin’ as it ought to be again.

MRS. MAYO—[Musingly.] I wonder if he’s changed much. He used to be so fine-looking and strong. [With a sigh.] Three years! It seems more like three hundred. [Her eyes filling—piteously.] Oh, if James could only have lived ’til he came back—and forgiven him!

MRS. ATKINS—He never would have—not James Mayo! Didn’t he keep his heart hardened against him till the last in spite of all you and Robert did to soften him?

MRS. MAYO—[With a feeble flash of anger.] Don’t you dare say that! [Brokenly.] Oh, I know deep down in his heart he forgave Andy, though he was too stubborn ever to own up to it. It was that brought on his death—breaking his heart just on account of his stubborn pride. [She wipes her eyes with her handkerchief and sobs.]

MRS. ATKINS—[Piously.] It was the will of God. [The whining crying of the child sounds from the kitchen. MRS. ATKINS frowns irritably.] Drat that young one! Seems as if she cries all the time on purpose to set a body’s nerves on edge.

MRS. MAYO—[Wiping her eyes.] It’s the heat upsets her. Mary doesn’t feel any too well these days, poor little child!

MRS. ATKINS—She gets it right from her Pa—bein’ sickly all the time. You can’t deny Robert was always ailin’ as a child. [She sighs heavily.] It was a crazy mistake for them two to get married. I argyed against it at the time, but Ruth was so spelled with Robert’s wild poetry notions she wouldn’t listen to sense. Andy was the one would have been the match for her. I always thought so in those days, same as your James did; and I know she liked Andy. Then ’long comes Robert with his book-learnin’ and high-fangled talk—and off she goes and marries him.

MRS. MAYO—I’ve often thought since it might have been better the other way. But Ruth and Robbie seem happy enough together.

MRS. ATKINS—At any rate it was God’s work—and His will be done. [The two women sit in silence for a moment. RUTH enters from the kitchen, carrying in her arms her two year old daughter, MARY, a pretty but sickly and aenemic looking child with a tear-stained face. RUTH has aged appreciably. Her face has lost its youth and freshness. There is a trace in her expression of something hard and spiteful. She sits in the rocker in front of the table and sighs wearily. She wears a gingham dress with a soiled apron tied around her waist.]

RUTH—Land sakes, if this isn’t a scorcher! That kitchen’s like a furnace. Phew! [She pushes the damp hair back from her forehead.]

MRS. MAYO—Why didn’t you call me to help with the dishes?

RUTH—[Shortly.] No. The heat in there’d kill you.

MARY—[Sees the doll under the table and struggles on her mother’s lap.] Mary wants Dolly, Mama! Give Mary Dolly!

RUTH—[Pulling her back.] It’s time for your nap. You can’t play with Dolly now.

MARY—[Commencing to cry whiningly.] Mary wants Dolly!

MRS. ATKINS—[Irritably.] Can’t you keep that child still? Her racket’s enough to split a body’s ears. Put her down and let her play with the doll if it’ll quiet her.

RUTH—[Lifting MARY to the floor.] There! I hope you’ll be satisfied and keep still. You’re only to play for a minute, remember. Then you’ve got to take your nap. [MARY sits down on the floor before the table and plays with the doll in silence. RUTH glances at the place set on the table.] It’s a wonder Rob wouldn’t try to get to meals on time once in a while. Does he think I’ve nothing to do on a hot day like this but stand in that kitchen washing dishes?

MRS. MAYO—[Dully.] Something must have gone wrong again.

RUTH—[Wearily.] I s’pose so. Something’s always going wrong these days, it looks like.

MRS. ATKINS—[Snappily.] It wouldn’t if you possessed a bit of spunk. The idea of you permittin’ him to come in to meals at all hours—and you doin’ the work! You ought to force him to have more consideration. I never heard of such a thin’. You mind my words and let him go to the kitchen and get his own once in a while, and see if he don’t toe the mark. You’re too easy goin’, that’s the trouble.

RUTH—Do stop your nagging at me, Ma! I’m sick of hearing you. I’ll do as I please about it; and thank you for not interfering. [She wipes her moist forehead—wearily.] Phew! It’s too hot to argue. Let’s talk of something pleasant. [Curiously.] Didn’t I hear you speaking about Andy a while ago?

MRS. MAYO—We were wondering when he’d get home.

RUTH—[Brightening.] Rob says any day now he’s liable to drop in and surprise us—him and the Captain. I wonder if he’s changed much—what he’ll be like. It’ll certainly look natural to see him around the farm again.

MRS. ATKINS—Let’s hope the farm’ll look more natural, too, when he’s had a hand at it. The way thin’s are now!

RUTH—[Irritably.] Will you stop harping on that, Ma? We all know things aren’t as they might be. What’s the good of your complaining all the time?

MRS. ATKINS—There, Kate Mayo! Ain’t that just what I told you? I can’t say a word of advice to my own daughter even, she’s that stubborn and self-willed.

RUTH—[Putting her hands over her ears—in exasperation.] For goodness sakes, Ma!

MRS. MAYO—[Dully.] Never mind. Andy’ll fix everything when he comes.

RUTH—[Hopefully.] Oh, yes, I know he will. He always did know just the right thing ought to be done. [With weary vexation.] It’s a shame for him to come home and have to start in with things in such a topsy-turvy.

MRS. MAYO—Andy’ll manage.

RUTH—[Sighing.] I s’pose it isn’t Rob’s fault things go wrong with him.

MRS. ATKINS—[Scornfully.] Hump! [She fans herself nervously.] Land o’ Goshen, but it’s bakin’ in here! Let’s go out in under the trees in back where there’s a breath of fresh air. Come, Kate. [MRS. MAYO gets up obediently and starts to wheel the invalid’s chair toward the screen door.] You better come too, Ruth. It’ll do you good. Learn him a lesson and let him get his own dinner. Don’t be such a fool.

RUTH—[Going and holding the screen door open for them—listlessly.] He wouldn’t mind. He tells me never to wait—but he wouldn’t know where to find anything.

MRS. ATKINS—Let him go hungry then—and serve him right.

RUTH—He wouldn’t mind that, either. He doesn’t eat much. But I can’t go anyway. I’ve got to put baby to bed.

MRS. ATKINS—Let’s go, Kate. I’m boilin’ in here. [MRS. MAYO wheels her out and off left. RUTH comes back and sits down in her chair.]

RUTH—[Mechanically.] Come and let me take off your shoes and stockings, Mary, that’s a good girl. You’ve got to take your nap now. [The child continues to play as if she hadn’t heard, absorbed in her doll. An eager expression comes over RUTH’S tired face. She glances toward the door furtively—then gets up and goes to the desk. Her movements indicate a guilty fear of discovery. She takes a letter from a pigeon hole and retreats swiftly to her chair with it. She opens the envelope and reads the letter with great interest, a flush of excitement coming to her cheeks. ROBERT walks up the path and opens the screen door quietly and comes into the room. He, too, has aged. His shoulders are stooped as if under too great a burden. His eyes are dull and lifeless, his face burned by the sun and unshaven for days. Streaks of sweat have smudged the layer of dust on his cheeks. His lips drawn down at the corners, give him a hopeless, resigned expression. The three years have accentuated the weakness of his mouth and chin. He is dressed in overalls, laced boots, and a flannel shirt open at the neck.]

ROBERT—[Throwing his hat over on the sofa—with a great sigh of exhaustion.] Phew! The sun’s hot today! [RUTH is startled. At first she makes an instinctive motion as if to hide the letter in her bosom. She immediately thinks better of this and sits with the letter in her hands looking at him with defiant eyes. He bends down and kisses her.]

RUTH—[Feeling of her cheek—irritably.] Why don’t you shave? You look awful.

ROBERT—[Indifferently.] I forgot—and it’s too much trouble this weather.

MARY—[Throwing aside her doll, runs to him with a happy cry.] Dada! Dada!

ROBERT—[Swinging her up above his head—lovingly.] And how’s this little girl of mine this hot day, eh?

MARY—[Screeching happily.] Dada! Dada!

RUTH—[In annoyance.] Don’t do that to her! You know it’s time for her nap and you’ll get her all waked up; then I’ll be the one that’ll have to sit beside her till she falls asleep.

ROBERT—[Sitting down in the chair on the left of table and cuddling MARY on his lap.] You needn’t bother. I’ll put her to bed.

RUTH—[Shortly.] You’ve got to get back to your work, I s’pose.

ROBERT—[With a sigh.] Yes, I was forgetting. [He glances at the open letter on RUTH’S lap.] Reading Andy’s letter again? I should think you’d know it by heart by this time.

RUTH—[Coloring as if she’d been accused of something—defiantly.] I’ve got a right to read it, haven’t I? He says it’s meant for all of us.

ROBERT—[With a trace of irritation.] Right? Don’t be so silly. There’s no question of right. I was only saying that you must know all that’s in it after so many readings.

RUTH—Well, I don’t. [She puts the letter on the table and gets wearily to her feet.] I s’pose you’ll be wanting your dinner now.

ROBERT—[Listlessly.] I don’t care. I’m not hungry. It’s almost too hot to eat.

RUTH—And here I been keeping it hot for you!

ROBERT—[Irritably.] Oh, all right then. Bring it in and I’ll try to eat.

RUTH—I’ve got to get her to bed first. [She goes to lift MARY off his lap.] Come, dear. It’s after time and you can hardly keep your eyes open now.

MARY—[Crying.] No, no, I don’t wanter sleep! [Appealing to her father.] Dada! No!

RUTH—[Accusingly to ROBERT.] There! Now see what you’ve done! I told you not to——

ROBERT—[Shortly.] Let her alone, then. She’s all right where she is. She’ll fall asleep on my lap in a minute if you’ll stop bothering her.

RUTH—[Hotly.] She’ll not do any such thing! She’s got to learn to mind me, that she has! [Shaking her finger at MARY.] You naughty child! Will you come with Mama when she tells you for your own good?

MARY—[Clinging to her father.] No, Dada!

RUTH—[Losing her temper.] A good spanking’s what you need, my young lady—and you’ll get one from me if you don’t mind better, d’you hear? [MARY starts to whimper frightenedly.]

ROBERT—[With sudden anger.] Leave her alone! How often have I told you not to threaten her with whipping? It’s barbarous, and I won’t have it. That’s got to be understood. [Soothing the wailing MARY.] There! There, little girl! Baby mustn’t cry. Dada won’t like you if you do. Dada’ll hold you and you must promise to go to sleep like a good little girl. Will you when Dada asks you?

MARY—[Cuddling up to him.] Yes, Dada.

RUTH—[Looking at them, her pale face set and drawn.] I won’t be ordered by you! She’s my child as much as yours. A fine one you are to be telling folks how to do things, you—— [She bites her lips. Husband and wife look into each other’s eyes with something akin to hatred in their expressions; then RUTH turns away with a shrug of affected indifference.] All right, take care of her then, if you think it’s so easy. You’ll be whipping her yourself inside of a week. [She walks away into the kitchen.]

ROBERT—[Smoothing MARY’S hair—tenderly.] We’ll show Mama you’re a good little girl, won’t we?

MARY—[Crooning drowsily.] Dada, Dada.

ROBERT—Let’s see: Does your mother take off your shoes and stockings before your nap?

MARY—[Nodding with half-shut eyes.] Yes, Dada.

ROBERT—[Taking off her shoes and stockings.] We’ll show Mama we know how to do those things, won’t we? There’s one old shoe off—and there’s the other old shoe—and here’s one old stocking—and there’s the other old stocking. There we are, all nice and cool and comfy. [He bends down and kisses her.] And now will you promise to go right to sleep if Dada takes you to bed? [MARY nods sleepily.] That’s the good little girl. [He gathers her up in his arms carefully and carries her into the bedroom. His voice can be heard faintly as he lulls the child to sleep. RUTH comes out of the kitchen and gets the plate from the table. She hears the voice from the room and tiptoes to the door to look in. Then she starts for the kitchen but stands for a moment thinking, a look of ill-concealed jealousy on her face. At a noise from inside she hurriedly disappears into the kitchen. A moment later ROBERT reenters. He comes forward and picks up the shoes and stockings which he shoves carelessly under the table. Then, seeing no one about, he goes to the sideboard and selects a book. Coming back to his chair, he sits down and immediately becomes absorbed in reading. RUTH returns from the kitchen bringing his plate heaped with food, and a cup of tea. She sets those before him and sits down in her former place. ROBERT continues to read, oblivious to the food on the table.]

RUTH—[After watching him irritably for a moment.] For heaven’s sakes, put down that old book! Don’t you see your dinner’s getting cold?

ROBERT—[Closing his book.] Excuse me, Ruth. I didn’t notice. [He picks up his knife and fork and begins to eat gingerly, without appetite.]

RUTH—I should think you might have some feeling for me, Rob, and not always be late for meals. If you think it’s fun sweltering in that oven of a kitchen to keep things warm for you, you’re mistaken.

ROBERT—I’m sorry, Ruth, really I am.

RUTH—That’s what you always say; but you keep coming late just the same.

ROBERT—I know; and I can’t seem to help it. Something crops up every day to delay me. I mean to be here on time.

RUTH—[With a sigh.] Mean-tos don’t count.

ROBERT—[With a conciliating smile.] Then punish me, Ruth. Let the food get cold and don’t bother about me. Just set it to one side. I won’t mind.

RUTH—I’d have to wait just the same to wash up after you.

ROBERT—But I can wash up.

RUTH—A nice mess there’d be then!

ROBERT—[With an attempt at lightness.] The food is lucky to be able to get cold this weather. [As RUTH doesn’t answer or smile he opens his book and resumes his reading, forcing himself to take a mouthful of food every now and then. RUTH stares at him in annoyance.]

RUTH—And besides, you’ve got your own work that’s got to be done.

ROBERT—[Absent-mindedly, without taking his eyes from the book.] Yes, of course.

RUTH—[Spitefully.] Work you’ll never get done by reading books all the time.

ROBERT—[Shutting the book with a snap.] Why do you persist in nagging at me for getting pleasure out of reading? Is it because—— [He checks himself abruptly.]

RUTH—[Coloring.] Because I’m too stupid to understand them, I s’pose you were going to say.

ROBERT—[Shame-facedly.] No—no. [In exasperation.] Oh, Ruth, why do you want to pick quarrels like this? Why do you goad me into saying things I don’t mean? Haven’t I got my share of troubles trying to work this cursed farm without your adding to them? You know how hard I’ve tried to keep things going in spite of bad luck——

RUTH—[Scornfully.] Bad luck!

ROBERT—And my own very apparent unfitness for the job, I was going to add; but you can’t deny there’s been bad luck to it, too. You know how unsuited I am to the work and how I hate it; and I’ve managed to fight along somehow. Why don’t you take things into consideration? Why can’t we pull together? We used to. I know it’s hard on you also. Then why can’t we help each other instead of hindering? That’s the only way we can make life bearable for each other.

RUTH—[Sullenly.] I do the best I know how.

ROBERT—[Gets up and puts his hand on her shoulder.] I know you do. But let’s both of us try to do better. We can both improve. Say a word of encouragement once in a while when things go wrong, even if it is my fault. You know the odds I’ve been up against since Pa died. I’m not a farmer. I’ve never claimed to be one. But there’s nothing else I can do under the circumstances, and I’ve got to pull things through somehow. With your help, I can do it. With you against me—— [He shrugs his shoulders. There is a pause. Then he bends down and kisses her hair—with an attempt at cheerfulness.] So you promise that; and I’ll promise to be here when the clock strikes—and anything else you tell me to. Is it a bargain?

RUTH—[Dully.] I s’pose so.

ROBERT—The reason I was late today—it’s more bad news, so be prepared.

RUTH—[As if this was only what she expected.] Oh! [They are interrupted by the sound of a loud knock at the kitchen door.] There’s someone at the kitchen door. [She hurries out. A moment later she reappears.] It’s Ben. He says he wants to see you.

ROBERT—[Frowning.] What’s the trouble now, I wonder? [In a loud voice.] Come on in here, Ben. [Ben slouches in from the kitchen. He is a hulking, awkward young fellow with a heavy, stupid face and shifty, cunning eyes. He is dressed in overalls, boots, etc., and wears a broad-brimmed hat of coarse straw pushed back on his head.] Well, Ben, what’s the matter?

BEN—[Drawlingly.] The mowin’ machine’s bust.

ROBERT—Why, that can’t be. The man fixed it only last week.

BEN—It’s bust just the same.

ROBERT—And can’t you fix it?

BEN—No. Don’t know what’s the matter with the goll-darned thing. ’Twon’t work, anyhow.

ROBERT—[Getting up and going for his hat.] Wait a minute and I’ll go look it over. There can’t be much the matter with it.

BEN—[Impudently.] Don’t make no diff’rence t’me whether there be or not. I’m quittin’.

ROBERT—[Anxiously.] You’re quitting? You don’t mean you’re throwing up your job here?

BEN—That’s what! My month’s up today and I want what’s owin’ t’me.

ROBERT—But why are you quitting now, Ben, when you know I’ve so much work on hand? I’ll have a hard time getting another man at such short notice.

BEN—That’s for you to figger. I’m quittin’.

ROBERT—But what’s your reason? You haven’t any complaint to make about the way you’ve been treated, have you?

BEN—No. ’Tain’t that. [Shaking his finger.] Look-a-here. I’m sick o’ bein’ made fun at, that’s what; an’ I got a job up to Timms’ place; an’ I’m quittin’ here.

ROBERT—Being made fun of? I don’t understand you. Who’s making fun of you?

BEN—They all do. When I drive down with the milk in the mornin’ they all laughs and jokes at me—that boy up to Harris’ and the new feller up to Slocum’s, and Bill Evans down to Meade’s, and all the rest on ’em.

ROBERT—That’s a queer reason for leaving me flat. Won’t they laugh at you just the same when you’re working for Timms?

BEN—They wouldn’t dare to. Timms is the best farm hereabouts. They was laughin’ at me for workin’ for you, that’s what! “How’re things up to the Mayo place?” they hollers every mornin’. “What’s Robert doin’ now—pasturin’ the cattle in the corn-lot? Is he seasonin’ his hay with rain this year, same as last?” they shouts. “Or is he inventin’ some ’lectrical milkin’ engine to fool them dry cows o’ his into givin’ hard cider?” [Very much ruffled.] That’s like they talks; and I ain’t goin’ to put up with it no longer. Everyone’s always knowd me as a first-class hand hereabouts, and I ain’t wantin’ ’em to get no different notion. So I’m quittin’ you. And I wants what’s comin’ to me.

ROBERT—[Coldly.] Oh, if that’s the case, you can go to the devil.

BEN—This farm’d take me there quick ’nuff if I was fool ’nuff to stay.

ROBERT—[Angrily.] None of your damned cheek! You’ll get your money tomorrow when I get back from town—not before!

BEN—[Turning to doorway to kitchen.] That suits me. [As he goes out he speaks back over his shoulder.] And see that I do get it, or there’ll be trouble. [He disappears and the slamming of the kitchen door is heard.]

ROBERT—[As RUTH comes from where she has been standing by the doorway and sits down dejectedly in her old place.] The stupid damn fool! And now what about the haying? That’s an example of what I’m up against. No one can say I’m responsible for that.

RUTH—Yes you are! He wouldn’t dare act that way with anyone else. They do like they please with you, because you don’t know how to treat ’em. They think you’re easy—and you are!

ROBERT—[Indignantly.] I suppose I ought to be a slave driver like the rest of the farmers—stand right beside them all day watching every move they make, and work them to their last ounce of strength? Well, I can’t do it, and I won’t do it!

RUTH—It’s better to do that than have to ask your Ma to sign a mortgage on the place.

ROBERT—[Distractedly.] Oh, damn the place! [He walks to the window on left and stands looking out.]

RUTH—[After a pause, with a glance at ANDREW’S letter on the table.] It’s lucky Andy’s coming back.

ROBERT—[Coming back and sitting down.] Yes, Andy’ll see the right thing to do in a jiffy. He has the knack of it; and he ought to be home any time now. The Sunda’s overdue. Must have met with head winds all the way across.

RUTH—[Anxiously.] You don’t think—anything’s happened to the boat?

ROBERT—Trust Uncle Dick to bring her through all right! He’s too good a sailor to be caught napping. Besies we’ll never know the ship’s here till Andy steps in the door. He’ll want to surprise us. [With an affectionate smile.] I wonder if the old chump’s changed much? He doesn’t seem to from his letters, does he? Still the same practical hard-head. [Shaking his head.] But just the same I doubt if he’ll want to settle down to a hum-drum farm life, after all he’s been through.

RUTH—[Resentfully.] Andy’s not like you. He likes the farm.

ROBERT—[Immersed in his own thoughts—enthusiastically.] Gad, the things he’s seen and experienced! Think of the places he’s been! Hong-Kong, Yokohoma, Batavia, Singapore, Bangkok, Rangoon, Bombay—all the marvelous East! And Honolulu, Sydney, Buenos Aires! All the wonderful far places I used to dream about! God, how I envy him! What a trip! [He springs to his feet and instinctively goes to the window and stares out at the horizon.]

RUTH—[Bitterly.] I s’pose you’re sorry now you didn’t go?

ROBERT—[Too occupied with his own thoughts to hear her—vindictively.] Oh, those cursed hills out there that I used to think promised me so much! How I’ve grown to hate the sight of them! They’re like the walls of a narrow prison yard shutting me in from all the freedom and wonder of life! [He turns back to the room with a gesture of loathing.] Sometimes I think if it wasn’t for you, Ruth, and—[his voice softening]—little Mary, I’d chuck everything up and walk down the road with just one desire in my heart—to put the whole rim of the world between me and those hills, and be able to breathe freely once more! [He sinks down into his chair and smiles with bitter self-scorn.] There I go dreaming again—my old fool dreams.

RUTH—[In a low, repressed voice—her eyes smoldering.] You’re not the only one!

ROBERT—[Buried in his own thoughts—bitterly.] And Andy, who’s had the chance—what has he got out of it? His letters read like the diary of a—of a farmer! “We’re in Singapore now. It’s a dirty hole of a place and hotter than hell. Two of the crew are down with fever and we’re short-handed on the work. I’ll be damn glad when we sail again, although tacking back and forth in these blistering seas is a rotten job too!” [Scornfully.] That’s about the way he summed up his impressions of the East. Every port they touched at he found the same silly fault with. God! The only place he appeared to like was Buenos Aires—and that only because he saw the business opportunities in a booming country like Argentine.

RUTH—[Her repressed voice trembling.] You needn’t make fun of Andy.

ROBERT—Perhaps I am too hard on him; but when I think—but what’s the use? You know I wasn’t making fun of Andy personally. No one loves him better than I do, the old chump! But his attitude toward things is—is rank, in my estimation.

RUTH—[Her eyes flashing—bursting into uncontrollable rage.] You was too making fun of him! And I ain’t going to stand for it! You ought to be ashamed of yourself! A fine one you be! [ROBERT stares at her in amazement. She continues furiously.] A fine one to talk about anyone else—after the way you’ve ruined everything with your lazy loafing!—and the stupid way you do things!

ROBERT—[Angrily.] Stop that kind of talk, do you hear?

RUTH—You findin’ fault—with your own brother who’s ten times the man you ever was or ever will be—a thing like you to be talking. You’re jealous, that’s what! Jealous because he’s made a man of himself, while you’re nothing but a—but a—— [She stutters incoherently, overcome by rage.]

ROBERT—Ruth! Ruth! Don’t you dare——! You’ll be sorry for talking like that.

RUTH—I won’t! I won’t never be sorry! I’m only saying what I’ve been thinking for years.

ROBERT—[Aghast.] Ruth! You can’t mean that!

RUTH—What do you think—living with a man like you—having to suffer all the time because you’ve never been man enough to work and do things like other people. But no! You never own up to that. You think you’re so much better than other folks, with your college education, where you never learned a thing, and always reading your stupid books instead of working. I s’pose you think I ought to be proud to be your wife—a poor, ignorant thing like me! [Fiercely.] But I’m not. I hate it! I hate the sight of you! Oh, if I’d only known! If I hadn’t been such a fool to listen to your cheap, silly, poetry talk that you learned out of books! If I could have seen how you were in your true self—like you are now—I’d have killed myself before I’d have married you! I was sorry for it before we’d been together a month. I knew what you were really like—when it was too late.

ROBERT—[His voice raised loudly.] And now—I’m finding out what you’re really like—what a—a creature I’ve been living with. [With a harsh laugh.] God! It wasn’t that I haven’t guessed how mean and small you are—but I’ve kept on telling myself that I must be wrong—like a fool!—like a damned fool!

RUTH—You were saying you’d go out on the road if it wasn’t for me. Well, you can go, and the sooner the better! I don’t care! I’ll be glad to get rid of you! The farm’ll be better off too. There’s been a curse on it ever since you took hold. So go! Go and be a tramp like you’ve always wanted. It’s all you’re good for. I can get along without you, don’t you worry. I’ll get some peace. [Exulting fiercely.] And Andy’s coming back, don’t forget that! He’ll attend to things like they should be. He’ll show what a man can do! I don’t need you. Andy’s coming!

ROBERT—[They are both standing. ROBERT grabs her by the shoulders and glares into her eyes.] What do you mean? [He shakes her violently.] What are you thinking of? What’s in your evil mind, you—you—— [His voice is a harsh shout.]

RUTH—[In a defiant scream.] Yes I do mean it! I’d say it if you was to kill me! I do love Andy. I do! I do! I always loved him. [Exultantly.] And he loves me! He loves me! I know he does. He always did! And you know he did, too! So go! Go if you want to!

ROBERT—[Throwing her away from him. She staggers back against the table—thickly.] You—you slut! [He stands glaring at her as she leans back, supporting herself by the table, gasping for breath. A loud frightened whimper sounds from the awakened child in the bedroom. It continues. The man and woman stand looking at one another in horror, the extent of their terrible quarrel suddenly brought home to them. A pause. The noise of a horse and carriage comes from the road before the house. The two, suddenly struck by the same premonition, listen to it breathlessly, as to a sound heard in a dream. It stops. They hear ANDY’S voice from the road shouting a long hail—“Ahoy there!”]

RUTH—[With a strangled cry of joy.] Andy! Andy! [She rushes and grabs the knob of the screen door, about to fling it open.]

ROBERT—[In a voice of command that forces obedience.] Stop! [He goes to the door and gently pushes the trembling RUTH away from it. The child’s crying rises to a louder pitch.] I’ll meet Andy. You better go in to Mary, Ruth. [She looks at him defiantly for a moment, but there is something in his eyes that makes her turn and walk slowly into the bedroom.]

ANDY’S VOICE—[In a louder shout.] Ahoy there, Rob!

ROBERT—[In an answering shout of forced cheeriness.] Hello, Andy! [He opens the door and walks out as

[The Curtain Falls]