[Evening. A porch. MARY sits musing on the moon. When she hears steps, she rises quickly. Enter WARREN, carrying groceries.]
WARREN: What is it? What’s wrong?
MARY: [Looking back towards the door.] Shhh!
WARREN: What’s going on?
MARY: He’s back.
WARREN: He’s back?
MARY: Be kind.
WARREN: When was I ever anything but kind to him?
[She takes the market things from Warren’s arms and sets them on the porch, then draws him down to sit beside her on the wooden steps.]
MARY: I know. It’s just that
WARREN: I won’t have him back. I told him so last haying, didn’t I?
MARY: You did.
WARREN: If he left then, I said, that ended it.
MARY: I know, but
WARREN: I can’t keep … I mean, what good is he? At his age
MARY: Who else will harbor him?
WARREN: That’s not our problem. What help he is there’s no depending on. And when I need him most, off he goes every time!
MARY: He thinks he ought to earn a little pay.
WARREN: Oh, does he?
MARY: Just a little. Enough at least to buy tobacco, so he won’t have to beg and be beholden. [Warren sighs and lowers his head. MARY puts a hand on his arm.] It doesn’t have to be much.
WARREN: All right. But I can’t afford to pay any fixed wages.
MARY: I don’t think he expects that this time.
WARREN: I wouldn’t mind his bettering himself if that’s what it was. But you can bet when he starts off like that it’s just someone trying to coax him off with a little pocket-change. Then every winter he comes back. I’m done, I tell you. This is the last
MARY: Shhh! Not so loud. He’ll hear you.
WARREN: Good. I want him to hear. He’ll have to sooner or later.
MARY: Not now. He’s worn out.
WARREN: Where is he?
MARY: Asleep by the stove.
WARREN: By the stove?
MARY: When I came up from Rowe’s I found him here, huddled against the barn-door. He was a miserable sight. It scared me. Don’t smile like thatI didn’t recognize him. I wasn’t looking for him, and he’s changed. Wait till you see.
WARREN: Where did you say he’d been?
MARY: He didn’t say. I practically dragged him to the house, gave him tea and tried to make him smoke. I tried to make him talk about his travels, but nothing would dohe just kept nodding off.
WARREN: Probably drunk.
MARY: I’ve seen him drunk. This was different.
WARREN: And he didn’t say anything?
MARY: Not much.
WARREN: Not much?
MARY: Hardly a word.
WARREN: There’s something you’re not telling me. What is it? [Pause.] Mary, confess. He said he’d come to ditch the meadow for medidn’t he?
WARREN: Did he or didn’t he? I just want to know.
MARY: Of course he did. [WARREN laughs.] What would you have him say? Surely you wouldn’t grudge the poor old man some humble way to save his self-respect.
WARREN: I just thought maybe he’d come up with something new this time.
MARY: He added, if you really care to know, he meant to clear the upper pasture.
WARREN: I’ve heard that one too.
MARY: Warren, I wish you could have heard the way he jumbled everything. It shook me up. I stopped to look two or three times to see if he was talking in his sleep. He ran on and on about Harold Wilsonyou remember Harold? The boy you had haying about four years ago?
WARREN: Sure. I remember.
MARY: He’s finished school and now he’s teaching in some college somewhere.
WARREN: Good for him.
MARY: Silas says you’ll have to have him back.
WARREN: I guess Silas is running the place now.
MARY: He says the two of them will make a fine team for worksays they’ll lay this farm smooth! The way he mixed that in with other things … he seemed so confused.
WARREN: A little rest will cure that.
MARY: He liked young Wilson, I guess.
WARREN: You never would have known it the way they fought all through July in the blazing sun, Silas up on the cart to build the load, and Harold alongside to pitch it on. I took care to keep well out of earshot.
MARY: Well, those days trouble Silas like a dream.
WARREN: Strange how some things linger.
MARY: Harold’s young college-boy assurance, you know, it got under his skin. After so many years, he still keeps finding good arguments he might have used.
WARREN: I sympathize. I know just how it feels to think of the right thing to say too late. Happens every time I argue with you.
MARY: It’s more than that.
WARREN: What do you mean?
MARY: He asked me what I thought of Harold’s saying he studied Latin like the violin because he liked it.
WARREN: Good a reason as any.
MARY: He said he couldn’t make the boy believe he could find water with a hazel prongsaid that proved how much good school had ever done him. He thinks if he could have one more chance to teach him how to build a load of hay
WARREN: I know, that’s Silas’ one accomplishment. He bundles every forkful in its place, then tags and numbers it for future reference, so he can find and easily dislodge it in the unloading. Silas does that well. He takes it out in bunches like big birds’ nests. And you never see him standing on the hay when he’s trying to lift, straining to lift himself.
MARY: He thinks if he could teach him that, he’d be some good perhaps to someone in the worldsays he hates to see a boy the fool of books. He’s so concerned for other folk, and nothing to look backward to with pride.
WARREN: Nothing to look forward to with hope, either.
MARY: His whole life like that. Then, and now, and never any different. [Silence. MARY stares up at the moon.] Warren, I think … I think he’s come home to die. You needn’t be afraid he’ll leave you this time.
WARREN: [Gently mocking.] Home?
MARY: Yes. What else but home?
WARREN: It all depends on what you mean by home, I guess.
MARY: Of course he’s nothing to us, any more than the old hound that came a stranger to us out of the woods, all broken and worn out from the trail. I think home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.
[WARREN leans out and takes a step or twopicks up a little stick and brings it back. He breaks it in his hand and tosses it aside.]
WARREN: Silas has a better claim on us, you think, than on his brother? Just thirteen miles up the road. You can bet he’s walked that far today. Why didn’t he go there? His brother’s rich, director in the bank or something.
MARY: He never told us that.
WARREN: We know it though.
MARY: His brother ought to help, of course. I’ll talk to him if we can’t keep things going.
WARREN: By right, he ought to take him in.
MARY: And he might be willing tohe may be better than appearances. But have some pity on Silas. Do you think if he had any pride in claiming kin or anything he looked for from his brother, he’d keep so still about him all this time?
WARREN: I wonder what’s between them.
MARY: I can tell you. Silas is what he iswe wouldn’t mind himbut he’s just the kind that kinsfolk can’t abide. He never did anything so very bad. And he don’t know why he isn’t quite as good as anyone else. He can’t be made ashamed to please his brother, worthless though he is. He’s got that much pride.
WARREN: You’re right. That’s probably all there is to it. I can’t think Si ever hurt anyone.
MARY: No, but it hurt my heart tonight the way he lay and rolled his old head on that sharp-edged chair-back.
WARREN: He wouldn’t let you put him on the lounge?
MARY: No. Go and see what you can dowould you?
WARREN: All right.
MARY: I made the bed up for him there tonight. [WARREN rises.] You’ll be surprisedhow much he’s broken. His working days are done, I think.
WARREN: Don’t be so quick to say that.
MARY: I haven’t been.
WARREN: He’s a tough old goat.
MARY: Go, looksee for yourself. But, Warren … [WARREN pauses.] Please remember how it is. He’s come to help you ditch the meadow. He has a plan. You mustn’t laugh at him.
WARREN: I won’t.
MARY: He may not speak of it, and then he may.
[WARREN nods, holding the door.]
WARREN: You coming in?
MARY: No. Not yet. I’ll sit here a while and see if that small sailing cloud will hit or miss the moon.
[Exit WARREN. Silence. He returns too soonsits next to MARY, takes her hand and waits.]
[Slow fade to black.]
* * *
Copyright © 2008 by Walter Wykes
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