Home  »  Three Plays  »  Living-room in the house of Curtis Jayson, Bridgetown, Conn.—an afternoon in early Fall

Eugene O’Neill (1888–1953). Three Plays. 1922.

Act I III. The First Man

Living-room in the house of Curtis Jayson, Bridgetown, Conn.—an afternoon in early Fall

SCENELiving-room of CURTIS JAYSON’S house in Bridgetown, Conn.

A large, comfortable room. On the left, an arm-chair, a big open fireplace, a writing desk with chair in far left corner. On this side there is also a door leading into CURTIS’S study. In the rear, center, a double doorway opening on the hall and the entryway. Bookcases are built into the wall on both sides of this doorway. In the far right corner, a grand piano. Three large windows looking out on the lawn, and another armchair, front, are on this right side of the room. Opposite the fireplace is a couch, facing front. Opposite the windows on the right is a long table with magazines, reading lamp, etc. Four chairs are grouped about the table. The walls and ceiling are in a French gray color. A great rug covers most of the hardwood floor.

It is around four o’clock of a fine afternoon in early fall.

As the curtain rises, MARTHA, CURTIS and BIGELOW are discovered. MARTHA is a healthy, fine-looking woman of thirty-eight. She does not appear this age for her strenuous life in the open has kept her young and fresh. She possesses the frank, clear, direct quality of outdoors, outspoken and generous. Her wavy hair is a dark brown, her eyes blue-gray. CURTIS JAYSON is a tall, rangy, broad-shouldered man of thirty-seven. While spare, his figure has an appearance of rugged health, of great nervous strength held in reserve. His square-jawed, large-featured face retains an eager boyish enthusiasm in spite of its prevailing expression of thoughtful, preoccupied aloofness. His crisp dark hair is graying at the temples. EDWARD BIGELOW is a large, handsome man of thirty-nine. His face shows culture and tolerance, a sense of humor, a lazy unambitious contentment. CURTIS is reading an article in some scientific periodical, seated by the table. MARTHA and BIGELOW are sitting nearby laughing and chatting.

BIGELOW—[Is talking with a comically worried but earnest air.] Do you know, I’m getting so I’m actually afraid to leave them alone with that governess. She’s too romantic. I’ll wager she’s got a whole book full of ghost stories, superstitions, and yellow-journal horrors up her sleeve.

MARTHA—Oh, pooh! Don’t go milling around for trouble. When I was a kid I used to get fun out of my horrors.

BIGELOW—But I imagine you were more courageous than most of us.


BIGELOW—Well, Nevada—the Far West at that time—I should think a child would have grown so accustomed to violent scenes——

MARTHA—[Smiling.] Oh, in the mining camps; but you don’t suppose my father lugged me along on his prospecting trips, do you? Why, I never saw any rough scenes until I’d finished with school and went to live with father in Goldfield.

BIGELOW—[Smiling.] And then you met Curt.

MARTHA—Yes—but I didn’t mean he was a rough scene. He was very mild even in those days. Do tell me what he was like at Cornell.

BIGELOW—A romanticist—and he still is!

MARTHA—[Pointing at CURTIS with gay mischief.] What! That sedate man! Never!

CURTIS—[Looking up and smiling at them both affectionately—lazily.] Don’t mind him, Martha. He always was crazy.

BIGELOW—[To CURTaccusingly.] Why did you elect to take up mining engineering at Cornell instead of a classical degree at the Yale of your fathers and brothers? Because you had been reading Bret Harte in prep. school and mistaken him for a modern realist. You devoted four years to grooming yourself for another outcast of Poker Flat. [MARTHA laughs.]

CURTIS—[Grinning.] It was you who were hypnotized by Harte—so much so that his West of the past is still your blinded New England-movie idea of the West at present. But go on. What next?

BIGELOW—Next? You get a job as engineer in that Goldfield mine—but you are soon disillusioned by a laborious life where six-shooters are as rare as nuggets. You try prospecting. You find nothing but different varieties of pebbles. But it is necessary to your nature to project romance into these stones, so you go in strong for geology. As a geologist, you become a slave to the Romance of the Rocks. It is but a step from that to anthropology—the last romance of all. There you find yourself—because there is no further to go. You win fame as the most proficient of young skull-hunters—and wander over the face of the globe, digging up bones like an old dog.

CURTIS—[With a laugh.] The man is mad, Martha.

BIGELOW—Mad! What an accusation to come from one who is even now considering setting forth on a five-year excavating contest in search of the remains of our gibbering ancestor, the First Man!

CURTIS—[With sudden seriousness.] I’m not considering it any longer. I’ve decided to go.

MARTHA—[Starting—the hurt showing in her voice.] When did you decide?

CURTIS—I only really came to a decision this morning. [With a seriousness that forces BIGELOW’S interested attention.] It’s a case of got to go. It’s a tremendous opportunity that it would be a crime for me to neglect.

BIGELOW—And a big honor, too, isn’t it, to be picked as a member of such a large affair?

CURTIS—[With a smile.] I guess it’s just that they want all the men with considerable practical experience they can get. There are bound to be hardships and they know I’m hardened to them. [Turning to his wife with an affectionate smile.] We haven’t roughed it in the queer corners for the last ten years without knowing how it’s done, have we, Martha?

MARTHA—[Dully.] No, Curt.

CURTIS—[With an earnest enthusiasm.] And this expedition is what you call a large affair, Big. It’s the largest thing of its kind ever undertaken. The possibilities, from the standpoint of anthropology, are limitless.

BIGELOW—[With a grin.] Aha! Now we come to the Missing Link!

CURTIS—[Frowning.] Darn your Barnum and Bailey circus lingo, Big. This isn’t a thing to mock at. I should think the origin of man would be something that would appeal even to your hothouse imagination. Modern science believes—knows—that Asia was the first home of the human race. That’s where we’re going, to the great Central Asian plateau north of the Himalayas.

BIGELOW—[More soberly.] And there you hope to dig up—our first ancestor?

CURTIS—It’s a chance in a million, but I believe we may, myself—at least find authentic traces of him so that we can reconstruct his life and habits. I was up in that country a lot while I was mining advisor to the Chinese government—did some of my own work on the side. The extraordinary results I obtained with the little means at my disposal convinced me of the riches yet to be uncovered. The First Man may be among them.

BIGELOW—[Turning to MARTHA.] And you were with him on that Asian plateau?

MARTHA—Yes, I’ve always been with him.

CURTIS—You bet she has. [He goes over and puts his hand on his wife’s shoulder affectionately.] Martha’s more efficient than a whole staff of assistants and secretaries. She knows more about what I’m doing than I do half the time. [He turns toward his study.] Well, I guess I’ll go in and work some.

MARTHA—[Quietly.] Do you need me now, Curt?

BIGELOW—[Starting up.] Yes, if you two want to work together, why just shoo me——

CURTIS—[Puts both hands on his shoulders and forces him to his seat again.] No. Sit down, Big. I don’t need Martha now. [Coming over to her, bends down and kisses her—rather mockingly.] I couldn’t deprive Big of an audience for his confessions of a fond parent.

BIGELOW—Aha! Now it’s you who are mocking at something you know nothing about. [An awkward silence follows this remark.]

CURTIS—[Frowning.] I guess you’re forgetting, aren’t you, Big? [He turns and walks into his study, closing the door gently behind him.]

MARTHA—[After a pause—sadly.] Poor Curt.

BIGELOW—[Ashamed and confused.] I had forgotten——

MARTHA—The years have made me reconciled. They haven’t Curt. [She sighs—then turns to BIGELOW with a forced smile.] I suppose it’s hard for any of you back here to realize that Curt and I ever had any children.

BIGELOW—[After a pause.] How old were they when——?

MARTHA—Three years and two—both girls. [She goes on sadly.] We had a nice little house in Goldfield. [Forcing a smile.] We were very respectable home folks then. The wandering came later, after—It was a Sunday in winter when Curt and I had gone visiting some friends. The nurse girl fell asleep—or something—and the children sneaked out in their underclothes and played in the snow. Pneumonia set in—and a week later they were both dead.

BIGELOW—[Shocked.] Good heavens!

MARTHA—We were real lunatics for a time. And then when we’d calmed down enough to realize—how things stood with us—we swore we’d never have children again—to steal away their memory. It wasn’t what you thought—romanticism—that set Curt wandering—and me with him. It was a longing to lose ourselves—to forget. He flung himself with all his power into every new study that interested him. He couldn’t keep still, mentally or bodily—and I followed. He needed me—then—so dreadfully!

BIGELOW—And is it that keeps driving him on now?

MARTHA—Oh, no. He’s found himself. His work has taken the place of the children.

BIGELOW—And with you, too?

MARTHA—[With a wan smile.] Well, I’ve helped—all I could. His work has me in it, I like to think—and I have him.

BIGELOW—[Shaking his head.] I think people are foolish to stand by such an oath as you took—forever. [With a smile.] Children are a great comfort in one’s old age, I’ve tritely found.

MARTHA—[Smiling.] Old age!

BIGELOW—I’m knocking at the door of fatal forty.

MARTHA—[With forced gaiety.] You’re not very tactful, I must say. Don’t you know I’m thirty-eight?

BIGELOW—[Gallantly.] A woman is as old as she looks. You’re not thirty yet.

MARTHA—[Laughing.] After that nice remark I’ll have to forgive you everything, won’t I? [LILY JAYSON comes in from the rear. She is a slender, rather pretty girl of twenty-five. The stamp of college student is still very much about her. She rather insists on a superior, intellectual air, is full of nervous, thwarted energy. At the sight of them sitting on the couch together, her eyebrows are raised.]

LILY—[Coming into the room—breezily.] Hello, Martha. Hello, Big. [They both get up with answering “Hellos.”] I walked right in regardless. Hope I’m not interrupting.

MARTHA—Not at all.

LILY—[Sitting down by the table as MARTHA and BIGELOW resume their seats on the lounge.] I must say it sounded serious. I heard you tell Big you’d forgive him everything, Martha. [Dryly—with a mocking glance at BIGELOW.] You’re letting yourself in for a large proposition.

BIGELOW—[Displeased but trying to smile it off.] The past is never past for a dog with a bad name, eh, Lily? [LILY laughs. BIGELOW gets up.] If you want to reward me for my truthfulness, Mrs. Jayson, help me take the kids for an airing in the car. I know it’s an imposition but they’ve grown to expect you. [Glancing at his watch.] By Jove, I’ll have to run along. I’ll get them and then pick you up here. Is that all right?


BIGELOW—I’ll run, then. Good-by, Lily. [She nods. BIGELOW goes out rear.]

MARTHA—[Cordially.] Come on over here, Lily.

LILY—[Sits on couch with MARTHAafter a pause—with a smile.] You were forgetting, weren’t you?


LILY—That you’d invited all the family over here to tea this afternoon. I’m the advance guard.

MARTHA—[Embarrassed.] So I was! How stupid!

LILY—[With an inquisitive glance at MARTHA’S face but with studied carelessness.] Do you like Bigelow?

MARTHA.—Yes, very much. And Curt thinks the world of him.

LILY—Oh, Curt is the last one to be bothered by anyone’s morals. Curt and I are the unconventional ones of the family. The trouble with Bigelow, Martha, is that he was too careless to conceal his sins—and that won’t go down in this Philistine small town. You have to hide and be a fellow hypocrite or they revenge themselves on you. Bigelow didn’t. He flaunted his love-affairs in everyone’s face. I used to admire him for it. No one exactly blamed him, in their secret hearts. His wife was a terrible, straitlaced creature. No man could have endured her. [Disgustedly.] After her death he suddenly acquired a bad conscience. He’d never noticed the children before. I’ll bet he didn’t even know their names. And then, presto, he’s about in our midst giving an imitation of a wet hen with a brood of ducks. It’s a bore, if you ask me.

MARTHA—[Flushing.] I think it’s very fine of him.

LILY—[Shaking her head.] His reform is too sudden. He’s joined the hypocrites, I think.

MARTHA—I’m sure he’s no hypocrite. When you see him with the children——

LILY—Oh, I know he’s a good actor. Lots of women have been in love with him. [Then suddenly.] You won’t be furious if I’m very, very frank, will you, Martha?

MARTHA—[Surprised.] No, of course not, Lily.

LILY—Well, I’m the bearer of a message from the Jayson family.

MARTHA—[Astonished.] A message? For me?

LILY—Don’t think that I have anything to do with it. I’m only a Victor record of their misgivings. Shall I switch it going? Well, then, father thinks, brother John and wife, sister Esther and husband all think that you are unwisely intimate with this same Bigelow.

MARTHA—[Stunned.] I? Unwisely intimate—? [Suddenly laughing with amusement.] Well, you sure are funny people!

LILY—No, we’re not funny. We’d be all right if we were. On the contrary, we’re very dull and deadly. Bigelow really has a villainous rep. for philandering. But, of course, you didn’t know that.

MARTHA—[Beginning to feel resentful—coldly.] No, I didn’t—and I don’t care to know it now.

LILY—[Calmly.] I told them you wouldn’t relish their silly advice. [In a very confidential, friendly tone.] Oh, I hate their narrow small-town ethics as much as you do, Martha. I sympathize with you, indeed I do. But I have to live with them and so, for comfort’s sake, I’ve had to make compromises. And you’re going to live in our midst from now on, aren’t you? Well then, you’ll have to make compromises, too—if you want any peace.

MARTHA—But—compromises about what? [Forcing a laugh.] I refuse to take it seriously. How anyone could think—it’s too absurd.

LILY—What set them going was Big’s being around such an awful lot the weeks Curt was in New York, just after you’d settled down here. You must acknowledge he was—very much present then, Martha.

MARTHA—But it was on account of his children. They were always with him.

LILY—The town doesn’t trust this sudden fond parenthood, Martha. We’ve known him too long, you see.

MARTHA—But he’s Curt’s oldest and best friend.

LILY—We’ve found they always are.

MARTHA—[Springing to her feet—indignantly.] It’s a case of evil minds, it seems to me—and it would be extremely insulting if I didn’t have a sense of humor. [Resentfully.] You can tell your family, that as far as I’m concerned, the town may——

LILY—Go to the devil. I knew you’d say that. Well, fight the good fight. You have all my best wishes. [With a sigh.] I wish I had something worth fighting for. Now that I’m through with college, my occupation’s gone. All I do is read book after book. The only live people are the ones in books, I find, and the only live life.

MARTHA—[Immediately sympathetic.] You’re lonely, that’s what, Lily.

LILY—[Drily.] Don’t pity me, Martha—or I’ll join the enemy.

MARTHA—I’m not. But I’d like to help you if I could. [After a pause.] Have you ever thought of marrying?

LILY—[With a laugh.] Martha! How banal! The men I see are enough to banish that thought if I ever had it.

MARTHA—Marriage isn’t only the man. It’s children. Wouldn’t you like to have children?

LILY—[Turning to her bluntly.] Wouldn’t you?

MARTHA—[Confused.] But—Lily——

LILY—Oh, I know it wasn’t practicable as long as you elected to wander with Curt—but why not now when you’ve definitely settled down here? I think that would solve things all round. If you could present Father with a grandson, I’m sure he’d fall on your neck. He feels piqued at the John and Esther families because they’ve had a run of girls. A male Jayson! Aunt Davidson would weep with joy. [Suddenly.] You’re thirty-eight, aren’t you, Martha?


LILY—Then why don’t you—before it’s too late? [MARTHA, struggling with herself, does not answer. LILY goes on slowly.] You won’t want to tag along with Curt to the ends of the earth forever, will you? [curiously.] Wasn’t that queer life like any other? I mean, didn’t it get to pall on you?

MARTHA—[As if confessing it reluctantly.] Yes—perhaps—in the last two years.

LILY—[Decisively.] It’s time for both of you to rest on your laurels. Why can’t Curt keep on with what he’s doing now—stay home and write his books?

MARTHA—Curt isn’t that kind. The actual work—the romance of it—that’s his life.

LILY—But if he goes and you have to stay, you’ll be lonesome—[meaningly] alone.

MARTHA—Horribly. I don’t know what I’ll do.

LILY—Then why—why? Think, Martha. If Curt knew—that was to happen—he’d want to stay here with you. I’m sure he would.

MARTHA—[Shaking her head sadly.] No. Curt has grown to dislike children. They remind him of—ours that were taken. He adored them so—he’s never become reconciled.

LILY—If you confronted Curt with the actual fact, he’d be reconciled soon enough, and happy in the bargain.

MARTHA—[Eagerly.] Do you really think so?

LILY—And you, Martha—I can tell from the way you’ve talked that you’d like to.

MARTHA—[Excitedly.] Yes, I—I never thought I’d ever want to again. For many years after they died I never once dreamed of it—. But lately—the last years—I’ve felt—and when we came to live here—and I saw all around me—homes—and children, I—— [She hesitates as if ashamed at having confessed so much.]

LILY—[Putting an arm around her—affectionately.] I know. [Vigorously.] You must, that’s all there is to it! If you want my advice, you go right ahead and don’t tell Curt until it’s a fact he’ll have to learn to like, willy-nilly. You’ll find, in his inmost heart, he’ll be tickled to death.

MARTHA—[Forcing a smile.] Yes, I—I’ll confess I thought of that. In spite of my fear, I—I’ve—I mean—I—— [She flushes in a shamed confusion.]

LILY—[Looking at her searchingly] Why, Martha, what— [Then suddenly understanding—with excited pleasure.] Martha! I know! It is so, isn’t it? It is!

MARTHA—[In a whisper.] Yes.

LILY—[Kissing her affectionately.] You dear, you! [Then after a pause.] How long have you known?

MARTHA—For over two months. [There is a ring from the front door bell in the hall.]

LILY—[Jumping up.] I’ll bet that’s we Jaysons now. [She runs to the door in the rear and looks down the hall to the right.] Yes, it’s Esther and husband and Aunt Davidson. [She comes back to MARTHA laughing excitedly. The MAID is seen going to the door.] The first wave of attack, Martha! Be brave! The Young Guard dies but never surrenders!

MARTHA—[Displeased but forcing a smile.] You make me feel terribly ill at ease when you put it that way, Lily. [She rises now and goes to greet the visitors, who enter. MRS. DAVIDSON is seventy-five years old—a thin, sinewy old lady, old-fashioned, unbending and rigorous in manner. She is dressed aggressively in the fashion of a bygone age. ESTHER is a stout, middle-aged woman with the round, unmarked, sentimentally-contented face of one who lives unthinkingly from day to day, sheltered in an assured position in her little world. MARK, her husband, is a lean, tall, stooping man of about forty-five. His long face is alert, shrewd, cautious, full of the superficial craftiness of the lawyer mind. MARTHA kisses the two women, shakes hands with MARK, uttering the usual meaningless greetings in a forced tone. They reply in much the same spirit. There is the buzz of this empty chatter while MARTHA gets them seated. LILY stands looking on with a cynical smile of amusement. MRS. DAVIDSON is in the chair at the end of table, left, ESTHER sits by MARTHA on couch, MARK in chair at front of table.] Will you have tea now or shall we wait for the others?

ESTHER—Let’s wait. They ought to be here any moment.

LILY—[Maliciously.] Just think, Martha had forgotten you were coming. She was going motoring with Bigelow. [There is a dead silence at this—broken diplomatically by SHEFFIELD.]

SHEFFIELD—Where is Curt, Martha?

MARTHA—Hard at work in his study. I’m afraid he’s there for the day.

SHEFFIELD—[Condescendingly.] Still plugging away at his book, I suppose. Well, I hope it will be a big success.

LILY—[Irritated by his smugness.] As big a success as the brief you’re writing to restrain the citizens from preventing the Traction Company robbing them, eh Mark? [Before anyone can reply, she turns suddenly on her aunt who is sitting rigidly on her chair, staring before her stonily like some old lady in a daguerreotype—in a loud challenging tone.] You don’t mind if I smoke, Aunt? [She takes a cigarette out of case and lights it.]

ESTHER—[Smiling.] Lily!

MRS. DAVIDSON—[Fixes LILY with her stare—in a tone of irrevocable decision.] We’ll get you married, young lady, and that very soon. What you need to bring you down to earth is a husband and the responsibility of children. [Turning her glance to MARTHA, a challenge in her question.] Every woman who is able should have children. Don’t you believe that, Martha Jayson? [She accentuates the full name.]

MARTHA—[Taken aback for a moment but restraining her resentment—gently.] Yes, I do, Mrs. Davidson.

MRS. DAVIDSON—[Seemingly placated by this reply—in a milder tone.] You must call me aunt, my dear. [Meaningly.] All the Jaysons do.

MARTHA—[Simply.] Thank you, aunt.

LILY—[As if all of this aroused her irritation—in a nervous fuming.] Why don’t the others come, darn ’em? I’m dying for my tea. [The door from the study is opened and CURT appears. They all greet him.]

CURTIS—[Absent-mindedly.] Hello, everybody. [Then with a preoccupied air to MARTHA.] Martha, I don’t want to interrupt you—but——

MARTHA—[Getting up briskly.] You want my help?

CURTIS—[With the same absent-minded air.] Yes—not for long—just a few notes before I forget them. [He goes back into the study.]

MARTHA—[Seemingly relieved by this interruption and glad of the chance it gives to show them her importance to CURT.] You’ll excuse me for a few moments, all of you, won’t you? [They all nod.]

MRS. DAVIDSON—[Rather harshly.] Why doesn’t Curt hire a secretary? That is no work for his wife.

MARTHA—[Quietly.] A paid secretary could hardly give the sympathy and understanding Curt needs, Mrs. Davidson. [Proudly.] And she would have to study for years, as I have done, in order to take my place. [To LILY.] If I am not here by the time the others arrive, will you see about the tea, Lily——?

LILY—[Eagerly.] Sure. I love to serve drinks. If I were a man, I’d be a bartender—in Mexico or Canada.

MARTHA—[Going toward the study.] I’ll be with you again in a minute, I hope. [She goes in and shuts the door behind her.]

ESTHER—[Pettishly.] Even people touched by a smattering of science seem to get rude, don’t they?

MRS. DAVIDSON—[Harshly.] I have heard much silly talk of this being an age of free women, and I have always said it was tommyrot. [Pointing to the study.] She is an example. She is more of a slave to Curt’s hobbies than any of my generation were to anything but their children. [Still more harshly.] Where are her children?

LILY—They died, Aunt, as children have a bad habit of doing. [Then meaningly.] However, I wouldn’t despair if I were you. [MRS. DAVIDSON stares at her fixedly.]

ESTHER—[Betraying a sudden frightened jealousy.] What do you mean, Lily? What are you so mysterious about? What did she say? What——?

LILY—[Mockingly.] Mark, your frau seems to have me on the stand. Can I refuse to answer? [There is a ring at the bell. LILY jumps to her feet excitedly.] Here comes the rest of our Grand Fleet. Now I’ll have my tea. [She darts out to the hallway.]

ESTHER—[Shaking her head.] Goodness, Lily is trying on the nerves. [JAYSON, his two sons, JOHN and DICK, and JOHN’S wife, EMILY, enter from hallway in rear. JAYSON, the father, is a short, stout, baldheaded man of sixty. A typical, small-town, New England best-family banker, reserved in pose, unobtrusively important—a placid exterior hiding querulousness and a fussy temper. JOHN JUNIOR is his father over again in appearance, but pompous, obstrusive, purse-and-family-proud, extremely irritating in his self-complacent air of authority, emptily assertive and loud. He is about forty. RICHARD, the other brother, is a typical young Casino and country club member, college-bred, good looking, not unlikable. He has been an officer in the war and has not forgotton it. EMILY, JOHN JR.’S wife, is one of those small, mouse-like women who conceal beneath an outward aspect of gentle, unprotected innocence a very active envy, a silly pride, and a mean malice. The people in the room with the exception of MRS. DAVIDSON rise to greet them. All exchange familiar, perfunctory greetings. SHEFFIELD relinquishes his seat in front of the table to JAYSON, going to the chair, right front, himself. JOHN and DICK take the two chairs to the rear of table. EMILY joins ESTHER on the couch and they whisper together excitedly, ESTHER doing most of the talking. The men remain in uncomfortable silence for a moment.]

DICK—[With gay mockery.] Well, the gang’s all here. Looks like the League of Nations. [Then with impatience.] Let’s get down to cases, folks. I want to know why I’ve been summoned here. I’m due for tournament mixed-doubles at the Casino at five. Where’s the tea—and has Curt a stick in the cellar to put in it?

LILY—[Appearing in the doorway.] Here’s tea—but no stick for you, sot. [The MAID brings in tray with tea things.]

JOHN—[Heavily.] It seems it would be more to the point to inquire where our hostess——

JAYSON—[Rousing himself again.] Yes. And where is Curt?

LILY—Working at his book. He called Martha to take notes on something.

ESTHER—[With a trace of resentment.] She left us as if she were glad of the excuse.

LILY—Stuff, Esther! She knows how much Curt depends on her—and we don’t.

EMILY—[In her quiet, lisping voice—with the most innocent air.] Martha seems to be a model wife. [But there is some quality to the way she says it that makes them all stare at her uneasily.]

LILY—[Insultingly.] How well you say what you don’t mean, Emily! Twinkle, twinkle, little bat! But I’m forgetting to do the honors. Tea, everybody? [Without waiting for any answer.] Tea, everybody! [The tea is served.]

JAYSON—[Impatiently.] Stop fooling, Lily. Let’s get to our muttons. Did you talk with Martha?

LILY—[Briskly.] I did, sir.

JAYSON—[In a lowered voice.] What did she say?

LILY—She said you could all go to the devil! [They all look shocked and insulted. LILY enjoys this, then adds quietly.] Oh, not in those words. Martha is a perfect lady. But she made it plain she will thank you to mind your own business.

ESTHER—[Volubly.] And just imagine, she’d even forgotten she’d asked us here this afternoon and was going motoring with Bigelow.

LILY—With his three children, too, don’t forget.

EMILY—[Softly.] They have become such well-behaved and intelligent children, they say. [Again all the others hesitate, staring at her suspiciously.]

LILY—[Sharply.] You’d better let Martha train yours for a while, Emily. I’m sure she’d improve their manners—though, of course, she couldn’t give them any intelligence.

EMILY—[With the pathos of outraged innocence.] Oh!

DICK—[Interrupting.] So it’s Bigelow you’re up in the air about? [He gives a low whistle—then frowns angrily.] The deuce you say!

LILY—[Mockingly.] Look at our solider boy home from the wars getting serious about the family honor! It’s too bad this is a rough, untutored country where they don’t permit dueling, isn’t it, Dick?

DICK—[His pose crumbling—angrily.] Go to the devil!

SHEFFIELD—[With a calm, judicious air.] This wrangling is getting us nowhere. You say she was resentful about our well-meant word to the wise?

JAYSON—[Testily.] Surely she must realize that some consideration is due the position she occupies in Bridgetown as Curt’s wife.

LILY—Martha is properly unimpressed by big frogs in tiny puddles. And there you are.

MRS. DAVIDSON—[Outraged.] The idea! She takes a lot upon herself—the daughter of a Wild Western coal-miner.

LILY—[Mockingly.] Gold miner, Aunt.

MRS. DAVIDSON—It makes no difference—a common miner!

SHEFFIELD—[Keenly inquisitive.] Just before the others came, Lily, you gave out some hints—very definite hints, I should say——

ESTHER—[Excitedly.] Yes, you did, Lily. What did you mean?

LILY—[Uncertainly.] Perhaps I shouldn’t have. It’s not my secret. [Enjoying herself immensely now that she holds the spotlight—after a pause, in a stage whisper.] Shall I tell you? Yes, I can’t help telling. Well, Martha is going to have a son. [They are all stunned and flabbergasted and stare at her speechlessly.]

MRS. DAVIDSON—[Her face lighting up—joyously.] A son! Curt’s son!

JAYSON—[Pleased by the idea but bewildered.] A son?

DICK—[Smartly.] Lily’s kidding you. How can she know it’s a son—unless she’s a clairvoyant.

ESTHER—[With glad relief.] Yes, how stupid!

LILY—I am clairvoyant in this case. Allah is great and it will be a son—if only to make you and Emily burst with envy among your daughters.



JAYSON—[Testily.] Keep still for a moment, Lily, for God’s sake. This is no subject to joke about, remember.

LILY—Martha told me. I know that.

JAYSON—And does Curt know this?

LILY—No, not yet. Martha has been afraid to tell him.

JAYSON—Ah, that explains matters. You know I asked Curt some time ago—and he said it was impossible.

EMILY—[With a lift of her eyebrows.] Impossible? Why, what a funny thing to say.

SHEFFIELD—[Keenly lawyer-like.] And why is Martha afraid to tell him, Lily?

LILY—It’s all very simple. When the two died years ago, they said they would never have one again. Martha thinks Curt is still haunted by their memory and is afraid he will resent another as an intruder. I told her that was all foolishness—that a child was the one thing to make Curt settle down for good at home here and write his books.

JAYSON—[Eagerly.] Yes, I believe that myself. [Pleased.] Well, this is fine news.

EMILY—Still it was her duty to tell Curt, don’t you think? I don’t see how she could be afraid of Curt—for those reasons. [They all stare at her.]

ESTHER—[Resentfully.] I don’t, either. Why, Curt’s the biggest-hearted and kindest——

EMILY—I wonder how long she’s known—this?

LILY—[Sharply.] Two months, she said.

EMILY—Two months? [She lets this sink in.]

JOHN—[Quickly scenting something—eagerly.] What do you mean, Emily? [Then as if he read her mind.] Two months? But before that—Curt was away in New York almost a month!

LILY—[Turning on EMILY fiercely.] So! You got someone to say it for you as you always do, Poison Mind! Oh, I wish the ducking stool had never been abolished!

EMILY—[Growing crimson—falteringly.] I—I didn’t mean——

JOHN—[Furiously.] Where the honor of the family is at stake——

LILY—[Fiercely.] Ssshh, you empty barrel! I think I hear—— [The door from the study is opened and MARTHA comes in in the midst of a heavy silence. All the gentlemen rise stiffly. MARTHA is made immediately self-conscious and resentful by the feeling that they have been discussing her unfavorably.]

MARTHA—[Coming forward—with a forced cordiality.] How do you do, everybody? So sorry I wasn’t here when you came. I hope Lily made proper excuses for me. [She goes from one to the other of the four latest comers with “So glad you came,” etc. They reply formally and perfunctorily. MARTHA finally finds a seat on the couch between EMILY and ESTHER.] I hope Lily—but I see you’ve all had tea.

LILY—[Trying to save the situation—gayly.] Yes. You can trust me an understudy for the part of hostess any time.

MARTHA—[Forcing a smile.] Well, I’m glad to know I wasn’t missed.

EMILY—[Sweetly.] We were talking about you—at least, we were listening to Lily talk about you.

MARTHA—[Stiffening defensively.] About me?

EMILY—Yes—about how devoted you were to Curt’s work. [LILY gives her a venomous glance of scorn.]

MARTHA—[Pleased but inwardly uneasy.] Oh, but you see I consider it my work, too, I’ve helped him with it so long now.

JAYSON—[In a forced tone.] And how is Curt’s book coming, Martha?

MARTHA—[More and more stung by their strained attitudes and inquisitive glances. Coldly and cuttingly.] Finely, thank you. The book will cause quite a stir, I believe. It will make the name of Jayson famous in the big world outside of Bridgetown.

MRS. DAVIDSON—[Indignantly.] The name of Jayson has been——

JAYSON—[Pleadingly.] Aunt Elizabeth!

LILY—Aunt means it’s world famous already, Martha. [Pointing to the sullen JOHN.] John was once a substitute on the Yale Freshman soccer team, you know. If it wasn’t for his weak shins he would have made the team, fancy!

DICK—[This tickles his sense of humor and he bursts into laughter.] Lily wins! [As his brother glares at him—looking at his watch.] Heavens, I’ll have to hustle! [Gets to his feet.] I’m due at the Casino. [Comes and shakes MARTHA’S hand formally.] I’m sorry I can’t stay.

MARTHA—So glad you came. Do come in again any time. We keep open house, you know—Western fashion. [She accentuates this.]

DICK—[Hurriedly.] Delighted to. [He starts for the door in rear.]

LILY—[As if suddenly making up her mind.] Wait a second! I’m coming with you——

DICK—Sure thing—only hurry, darn you! [He goes out.]

LILY—[Stops at the door in rear and catching MARTHA’S eye, looks meaningly at the others.] Phew! I need fresh air! [She makes an encouraging motion as if pummeling someone to MARTHA, indicating her assembled family as the victim—then goes out laughing. A motor is heard starting—running off.]

ESTHER—[With a huge sigh of relief.] Thank goodness, she’s gone. What a vixen! What would you do if you had a sister like that, Martha?

MARTHA—I’d love her—and try to understand her.

SHEFFIELD—[Meaningly.] She’s a bad ally to rely on—this side of the fence one day, and that the next.

MARTHA—Is that why you advised her to become a lawyer, Mr. Sheffield?

SHEFFIELD—[Stung, but maintaining an unruffled front.] Now, now, that remark must be catalogued as catty.

MARTHA—[Defiantly.] It seems to be in the Bridgetown atmosphere. I never was—not the least bit—in the open air.

JAYSON—[Conciliatingly.] Oh, Bridgetown isn’t so bad, Martha, once you get used to us.

JOHN—It’s one of the most prosperous and wealthy towns in the U. S.—and that means in the world, nowadays.

EMILY—[With her sugary smile.] That isn’t what Martha means, you silly. I know what she’s thinking about us, and I’m not sure that I don’t agree with her—partly. She feels that we’re so awfully strict—about certain things. It must be so different in the Far West—I suppose—so much freer.

MARTHA—[Acidly.] Then you believe broad-mindedness and clean thinking are a question of locality? I can’t agree with you. I know nothing of the present Far West, not having lived there for ten years, but Curt and I have lived in the Far East and I’m sure he’d agree with me in saying that Chinese ancestor worship is far more dignified than ours. After all, you know, theirs is religion, not snobbery. [There is a loud honking of an auto horn before the house. MARTHA starts, seems to come to a quick decision, and announces with studied carelessness.] That must be Mr. Bigelow. I suppose Lily told you I had an engagement to go motoring with him. So sorry I must leave. But I’m like Lily. I need fresh air. [She walks to the study door as she is talking.] I’ll call Curt. [She raps loudly on the door and calls.] Curt! Come out! It’s important. [She turns and goes to the door, smiling fixedly.] He’ll be out when he’s through swearing. [She goes out, rear.]

JOHN—[Exploding.] Well, of all the damned cheek!

ESTHER—She shows her breeding, I must say.

EMILY—[With horror.] Oh, how rude—and insulting.

MRS. DAVIDSON—[Rising rigidly to her feet.] I will never set foot in this house again!

JAYSON—[Jumping up to restrain her—worriedly.] Now, Aunt Elizabeth, do keep your head! We must have no scandal of any sort. Remember there are servants about. Do sit down. [The old lady refuses in stubborn silence.]

SHEFFIELD—[Judiciously.] One must make allowances for one in her condition, Aunt.

JAYSON—[Snatching at this.] Exactly. Remember her condition, Aunt [testily] and do sit down. [The old lady plumps herself down again angrily.]

EMILY—[In her lisp of hidden meanings.] Yes, the family mustn’t forget—her condition. [The door from the study is opened and CURT appears. His face shows his annoyance at being interrupted, his eyes are preoccupied. They all turn and greet him embarrassedly. He nods silently and comes slowly down front.]

CURTIS—[Looking around.] Where’s Martha? What’s the important thing she called me out for?

ESTHER—[Forcing gaiety.] To play host, you big bear, you! Don’t you think we came to see you, too? Sit down here and be good. [He sits on sofa.]

EMILY—[Softly.] Martha had to leave us to go motoring with Mr. Bigelow.

ESTHER—[Hastily.] And the three children.

CURTIS—[Frowning grumpily.] Hm! Big and his eternal kids. [He sighs. They exchange meaning glances. CURT seems to feel ashamed of his grumpiness and tries to fling it off—with a cheerful smile.] But what the deuce! I must be getting selfish to grudge Martha her bit of fresh air. You don’t know what it means to outdoor animals like us to be pent up. [He springs to his feet and paces back and forth nervously.] We’re used to living with the sky for a roof— [Then interestedly.] Did Martha tell you I’d definitely decided to go on the five year Asian expedition?

ESTHER—Curt! You’re not!

EMILY—And leave Martha here—all alone—for five years?

JAYSON—Yes, you can’t take Martha with you this time, you know.

CURTIS—[With a laugh.] No? What makes you so sure of that? [As they look mystified, he continues confidentially.] I’ll let you in on the secret—only you must all promise not to breathe a word to Martha—until to-morrow. To-morrow is her birthday, you know, and this is a surprise I’ve saved for her. [They all nod.] I’ve been intriguing my damnedest for the past month to get permission for Martha to go with me. It was difficult because women are supposed to be barred. [Happily.] But I’ve succeeded. The letter came this morning. How tickled to death she’ll be when she hears! I know she’s given up hope. [Thoughtfully.] I suppose it’s that has been making her act so out-of-sorts lately.

JAYSON—[Worriedly.] Hmm! But would you persist in going—alone—if you knew it was impossible for her——?

CURTIS—[Frowning.] I can’t imagine it without her. You people can’t have any idea what a help—a chum—she’s been. You can’t believe that a woman could be—so much that—in a life of that kind—how I’ve grown to depend on her. The thousand details—she attends to them all. She remembers everything. Why, I’d be lost. I wouldn’t know how to start. [With a laugh.] I know this sounds like a confession of weakness but it’s true just the same. [Frowning again.] However, naturally my work must always be the first consideration. Yes, absolutely! [Then with glad relief.] But what’s the use of rambling on this way? We can both go, thank heaven!

MRS. DAVIDSON—[Sternly.] No. She cannot go. And it is your duty——

CURTIS—[Interrupting her with a trace of impatience.] Oh, come! That’s all nonsense, Aunt. You don’t understand the kind of woman Martha is.

MRS. DAVIDSON—[Harshly.] The women I understand prefer rearing their children to selfish gallivanting over the world.

CURTIS—[Impatiently.] But we have no children now, Aunt.

MRS. DAVIDSON—I know that, more’s the pity. But later——

CURTIS—[Emphatically.] No, I tell you! It’s impossible!

MRS. DAVIDSON—[Grimly.] I have said my last word. Go your own road and work your own ruin.

CURTIS—[Brusquely.] I think I’ll change my togs and go for a walk. Excuse me for a second. I’ll be right down again. [He goes out, rear.]

EMILY—[With her false air of innocence.] Curt acts so funny, doesn’t he? Did you notice how emphatic he was about it’s being impossible? And he said Martha seemed to him to be acting queer lately—with him, I suppose he meant.

ESTHER—He certainly appeared put out when he heard she’d gone motoring with Big.

JAYSON—[Moodily.] This dislike of the very mention of children. It isn’t like Curt, not a bit.

JOHN—There’s something rotten in Denmark somewhere. This family will yet live to regret having accepted a stranger——

SHEFFIELD—[Mollifyingly—with a judicial air.] Come now! This is all only suspicion. There is no evidence; you have no case; and the defendant is innocent until you have proved her guilty, remember. [Getting to his feet.] Well, let’s break up. Esther, you and I ought to be getting home. [They all rise.]

JAYSON—[Testily.] Well, if I were sure it would all blow over without any open scandal, I’d offer up a prayer of thanks.

[The Curtain Falls]