The Straw

by Eugene O'Neill

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Act One: Scene Two

Scene Two: The Reception Room of the Infirmary, Hill Farm Sanatorium—An Evening a Week Later.

The reception room of the Infirmary, a large, high-ceilinged room painted white, with oiled, hard wood floor. In the left wall, forward, a row of four windows. Farther back, the main entrance from the drive, and another window. In the rear wall left, a glass partition looking out on the sleeping porch. A row of white beds, with the faces of patients barely peeping out from under piles of heavy bed-clothes, can be seen. To the right of this partition, a bookcase, and a door leading to the hall past the patients' rooms. Farther right, another door opening on the examining room. In the right wall, rear, a door to the office. Farther forward, a row of windows. In front of the windows, a long dining-table with chairs. On the left of the table, towards the centre of the room, a chimney with two open fire-places, facing left and right. Several wicker armchairs are placed around the fire-place on the left in which a cheerful wood fire is crackling. To the left of centre, a round reading and writing table with a green-shaded electric lamp. Other electric lights are in brackets around the walls. Easy chairs stand near the table, which is stacked with magazines. Rocking chairs are placed here and there about the room, near the windows, etc. A gramophone stands near the left wall, forward.

It is nearing eight o'clock of a cold evening about a week later.

At the rise of the curtain Stephen Murray is discovered sitting in a chair in front of the fireplace, left. Murray is thirty years old—a tall, slender, rather unusual-looking fellow with a pale face, sunken under high cheek bones, lined about the eyes and mouth, jaded and worn for one still so young. His intelligent, large hazel eyes have a tired, dispirited expression in repose, but can quicken instantly with a concealed mechanism of mocking, careless humour whenever his inner privacy is threatened. His large mouth aids this process of protection by a quick change from its set apathy to a cheerful grin of cynical good nature. He gives off the impression of being somehow dissatisfied with himself, but not yet embittered enough by it to take it out on others. His manner, as revealed by his speech—nervous, inquisitive, alert—seems more an acquired quality than any part of his real nature. He stoops a trifle, giving him a slightly round-shouldered appearance. He is dressed in a shabby dark suit, baggy at the knees. He is staring into the fire, dreaming, an open book lying unheeded on the arm of his chair. The gramophone is whining out the last strains of Dvorak's Humoresque. In the doorway to the office, Miss Gilpin stands talking to Miss Howard. The former is a slight, middle-aged woman with black hair, and a strong, intelligent face, its expression of resolute efficiency softened and made kindly by her warm, sympathetic grey eyes. Miss Howard is tall, slender and blonde—decidedly pretty and provokingly conscious of it, yet with a certain air of seriousness underlying her apparent frivolity. She is twenty years old. The elder woman is dressed in the all-white of a full-fledged nurse. Miss Howard wears the grey-blue uniform of one still in training. The record finishes. Murray sighs with relief, but makes no move to get up and stop the grinding needle. Miss Howard hurries across to the machine. Miss Gilpin goes back into the office.

MISS HOWARD (takes off the record, glancing at Murray with amused vexation). It's a wonder you wouldn't stop this machine grinding itself to bits, Mr. Murray.

MURRAY (with a smile). I was hoping the darn thing would bust. (Miss Howard sniffs. Murray grins at her teasingly.) It keeps you from talking to me. That's the real music.

MISS HOWARD (comes over to his chair laughing). It's easy to see you've got Irish in you. Do you know what I think? I think you're a natural born kidder. All newspaper reporters are like that, I've heard.

MURRAY. You wrong me terribly. (Then frowning.) And it isn't charitable to remind me of my job. I hoped to forget all about it up here.

MISS HOWARD (surprised). I think it's great to be able to write. I wish I could. You ought to be proud of it.

MURRAY (glumly). I'm not. You can't call it writing—not what I did—small town stuff. (Changing the subject.) But I wanted to ask you something. Do you know when I'm to be moved away to the huts?

MISS HOWARD. In a few days, I guess. Don't be impatient. (Murray grunts and moves nervously on his chair.) What's the matter? Don't you like us here at the Sanatorium?

MURRAY (smiling). Oh—you—yes! (Then seriously.) I don't care for the atmosphere, though. (He waves his hand towards the partition looking out on the porch.) All those people in bed out there on the porch seem so sick. It's depressing. I can't do anything for them—and—it makes me feel so helpless.

MISS HOWARD. Well, it's the rules, you know. All the patients have to come here first until Doctor Stanton finds out whether they're well enough to be sent out to the huts and cottages. And remember you're a patient just like the ones in bed out there—even if you are up and about.

MURRAY. I know it. But I don't feel as I were—really sick like them.

MISS HOWARD (wisely). None of them do, either.

MURRAY (after a moment's reflection—cynically). Yes, I suppose it's that pipe dream that keeps us all going, eh?

MISS HOWARD. Well, you ought to be thankful. You're very lucky, if you knew it. (Lowering her voice.) Shall I tell you a secret? I've seen your chart and you've no cause to worry. Doctor Stanton joked about it. He said you were too uninteresting—there was so little the matter with you.

MURRAY (pleased, but pretending indifference). Humph! He's original in that opinion.

MISS HOWARD. I know it's hard your being the only one up the week since you've been here, with no one to talk to; but there's another patient due to-day. Maybe she'll be well enough to be around with you. (With a quick glance at her wrist watch.) She can't be coming unless she got in on the last train.

MURRAY (interestedly). It's a she, eh?


MURRAY (grinning provokingly). Young?

MISS HOWARD. Eighteen, I believe. (Seeing his grin—with feigned pique.) I suppose you'll be asking if she's pretty next! Oh, you men are all alike, sick or well. Her name is Carmody, that's the only other thing I know. So there!

MURRAY. Carmody?

MISS HOWARD. Oh, you don't know her. She's from another part of the state from your town.

MISS GILPIN (appearing in the office doorway). Miss Howard.

MISS HOWARD. Yes, Miss Gilpin. (In an aside to Murray as she leaves him.) It's time for those horrid diets.

(She hurries back into the office. Murray stares into the fire. Miss Howard reappears from the office and goes out by the door to the hall, rear. Carriage wheels are heard from the drive in front of the house on the left. They stop. After a pause there is a sharp rap on the door and a bell rings insistently. Men's muffled voices are heard in argument. Murray turns curiously in his chair. Miss Gilpin comes from the office and walks quickly to the door, unlocking and opening it. Eileen enters, followed by Nicholls, who is carrying her suit-case, and by her father.)

EILEEN. I'm Miss Carmody. I believe Doctor Gaynor wrote——

MISS GILPIN (taking her hand—with kind affability). We've been expecting you all day. How do you do? I'm Miss Gilpin. You came on the last train, didn't you?

EILEEN (heartened by the other woman's kindness). Yes. This is my father, Miss Gilpin—and Mr. Nicholls.

(Miss Gilpin shakes hands cordially with the two men who are staring about the room in embarrassment. Carmody has very evidently been drinking. His voice is thick and his face puffed and stupid. Nicholls' manner is that of one who is accomplishing a necessary but disagreeable duty with the best grace possible, but is frightfully eager to get it over and done with. Carmody's condition embarrasses him acutely and when he glances at him it is with hatred and angry disgust.)

MISS GILPIN (indicating the chairs in front of the windows on the left, forward). Won't you gentlemen sit down? (Carmody grunts sullenly and plumps himself into the one nearest the door. Nicholls hesitates, glancing down at the suit-case he carries. Miss Gilpin turns to Eileen.) And now we'll get you settled immediately. Your room is all ready for you. If you'll follow me—— (She turns toward the door in rear, centre.)

EILEEN. Let me take the suit-case now, Fred.

MISS GILPIN (as he is about to hand it to her—decisively). No, my dear, you mustn't. Put the case right down there, Mr. Nicholls. I'll have it taken to Miss Carmody's room in a moment. (She shakes her finger at Eileen with kindly admonition.) That's the first rule you'll have to learn. Never exert yourself or tax your strength. It's very important. You'll find laziness is a virtue instead of a vice with us.

EILEEN (confused). I—I didn't know——

MISS GILPIN (smiling). Of course you didn't. And now if you'll come with me I'll show you your room. We'll have a little chat there and I can explain all the other important rules in a second. The gentlemen can make themselves comfortable in the meantime. We won't be gone more than a moment.

NICHOLLS (feeling called upon to say something). Yes—we'll wait—certainly, we're all right.

(Carmody remains silent, glowering at the fire. Nicholls sits down beside him. Miss Gilpin and Eileen go out. Murray switches his chair so that he can observe the two men out of the corner of his eye while pretending to be absorbed in his book.)

CARMODY (looking about shiftily and reaching for the inside pocket of his overcoat). I'll be havin' a nip now we're alone, and that cacklin' hen gone. I'm feelin' sick in the pit of the stomach. (He pulls out a pint flask, half full.)

NICHOLLS (excitedly). For God's sake, don't! Put that bottle away! (In a whisper.) Don't you see that fellow in the chair there?

CARMODY (taking a big drink). Ah, I'm not mindin' a man at all. Sure I'll bet it's himself would be likin' a taste of the same. (He appears about to get up and invite Murray to join him, but Nicholls grabs his arm.)

NICHOLLS (with a frightened look at Murray who appears buried in his book). Stop it, you—— Don't you know he's probably a patient and they don't allow them——

CARMODY (scornfully). A sick one, and him readin' a book like a dead man without a civil word out of him! It's queer they'd be allowin' the sick ones to read books, when I'll bet it's the same lazy readin' in the house brought the half of them down with the consumption itself. (Raising his voice.) I'm thinking this whole shebang is a big, thievin' fake—and I've always thought so.

NICHOLLS (furiously). Put that bottle away, damn it! And don't shout. You're not in a public-house.

CARMODY (with provoking calm). I'll put it back when I'm ready, not before, and no lip from you!

NICHOLLS (with fierce disgust). You're drunk now. It's disgusting.

CARMODY (raging). Drunk, am I? Is it the like of a young jackass like you that's still wet behind the ears to be tellin' me I'm drunk?

NICHOLLS (half-rising from his chair—pleadingly). For heaven's sake, Mr. Carmody, remember where we are and don't raise any rumpus. What'll Eileen say? Do you want to make trouble for her at the start?

CARMODY (puts the bottle away hastily, mumbling to himself—then glowers about the room scornfully with blinking eyes). It's a grand hotel this is, I'm thinkin', for the rich to be takin' their ease, and not a hospital for the poor, but the poor has to pay for it.

NICHOLLS (fearful of another outbreak). Sssh!

CARMODY. Don't be shshin' at me? I'm tellin' you the truth. I'd make Eileen come back out of this to-night if that divil of a doctor didn't have me by the throat.

NICHOLLS (glancing at him nervously). I wonder how soon she'll be back? The carriage is waiting for us. We'll have to hurry to make that last train back. If we miss it—it means two hours on the damn tram.

CARMODY (angrily). Is it anxious to get out of her sight you are, and you engaged to marry and pretendin' to love her? (Nicholls flushes guiltily. Murray pricks up his ears and stares over at Nicholls. The latter meets his glance, scowls, and hurriedly averts his eyes. Carmody goes on accusingly.) Sure, it's no heart at all you have—and her your sweetheart for years—and her sick with the consumption—and you wild to run away from her and leave her alone.

NICHOLLS (springing to his feet—furiously). That's a——! (He controls himself with an effort. His voice trembles.) You're not responsible for the idiotic things you're saying or I'd—— (He turns away, seeking some escape from the old man's tongue.) I'll see if the man is still there with the carriage. (He walks to the door on left and goes out.)

CARMODY (following him with his eyes). Go to hell, for all I'm preventin'. You've got no guts of a man in you. (He addresses Murray with the good nature inspired by the flight of Nicholls.) Is it true you're one of the consumptives, young fellow?

MURRAY (delighted by this speech—with a grin). Yes, I'm one of them.

CARMODY. My name's Carmody. What's yours, then?

MURRAY. Murray.

CARMODY (slapping his thigh). Irish as Paddy's pig! (Murray nods. Carmody brightens and grows confidential.) I'm glad to be knowin' you're one of us. You can keep an eye on Eileen. That's my daughter that came with us. She's got consumption like yourself.

MURRAY. I'll be glad to do all I can.

CARMODY. Thanks to you—though it's a grand life she'll be havin' here from the fine look of the place. (With whining self-pity.) It's me it's hard on, God help me, with four small children and me widowed, and havin' to hire a woman to come in and look after them and the house now that Eileen's sick; and payin' for her curin' in this place, and me with only a bit of money in the bank for my old age. That's hard, now, on a man, and who'll say it isn't?

MURRAY (made uncomfortable by this confidence). Hard luck always comes in bunches. (To head off Carmody who is about to give vent to more woe—quickly, with a glance towards the door from the hall.) If I'm not mistaken, here comes your daughter now.

CARMODY (as Eileen comes into the room). I'll make you acquainted. Eileen! (She comes over to them, embarrassed to find her father in his condition so chummy with a stranger. Murray rises to his feet.) This is Mr. Murray, Eileen. I want you to meet. He's Irish and he'll put you on to the ropes of the place. He's got the consumption, too, God pity him.

EILEEN (distressed). Oh, Father, how can you—— (With a look at Murray which pleads for her father.) I'm glad to meet you, Mr. Murray.

MURRAY (with a straight glance at her which is so frankly admiring that she flushes and drops her eyes). I'm glad to meet you. (The front door is opened and Nicholls re-appears, shivering with the cold. He stares over at the others with ill-concealed irritation.)

CARMODY (noticing him—with malicious satisfaction). Oho, here you are again. (Nicholls scowls and turns away. Carmody addresses his daughter with a sly wink at Murray.) I thought Fred was slidin' down hill to the train with his head bare to the frost, and him so desperate hurried to get away from here. Look at the knees on him clappin' together with the cold, and with the great fear that's in him he'll be catchin' a sickness in this place! (Nicholls, his guilty conscience stabbed to the quick, turns pale with impotent rage.)

EILEEN (remonstrating pitifully). Father! Please! (She hurries over to Nicholls.) Oh, please don't mind him, Fred. You know what he is when he's drinking. He doesn't mean a word he's saying.

NICHOLLS (thickly). That's all right—for you to say. But I won't forget—I'm sick and tired standing for—I'm not used to—such people.

EILEEN (shrinking from him). Fred!

NICHOLLS (with a furious glance at Murray). Before that cheap slob, too—letting him know everything!

EILEEN (faintly). He seems—very nice.

NICHOLLS. You've got your eyes set on him already, have you? Leave it to you! No fear of your not having a good time of it out here!


NICHOLLS. Well, go ahead if you want to. I don't care. I'll—— (Startled by the look of anguish which comes over her face, he hastily swallows his words. He takes out his watch—fiercely.) We'll miss that train, damn it!

EILEEN (in a stricken tone). Oh, Fred! (Then forcing back her tears she calls to Carmody in a strained voice.) Father! You'll have to go now. Miss Gilpin told me to tell you you'd have to go right away to catch the train.

CARMODY (shaking hands with Murray). I'll be goin'. Keep your eye on her. I'll be out soon to see her and you and me'll have another talk.

MURRAY. Glad to. Good-bye for the present. (He walks to windows on the far right, turning his back considerately on their leave-taking.)

EILEEN (comes to Carmody and hangs on his arm as they proceed to the door). Be sure and kiss them all for me—Billy and Tom and Nora and little Mary—and bring them out to see me as soon as you can, father, please! And you come often, too, won't you? And don't forget to tell Mrs. Brennan all the directions I gave you coming out on the train. I told her, but she mightn't remember—about Mary's bath—and to give Tom his——

CARMODY (impatiently). Hasn't she brought up brats of her own, and doesn't she know the way of it? Don't be worryin' now, like a fool.

EILEEN (helplessly). Never mind telling her, then. I'll write to her.

CARMODY. You'd better not. Leave her alone. She'll not wish you mixin' in with her work and tellin' her how to do it.

EILEEN (aghast). Her work! (She seems at the end of her tether—wrung too dry for any further emotion. She kisses her father at the door with indifference and speaks calmly.) Good-bye, father.

CARMODY (in a whining tone of injury). A cold kiss! And never a small tear out of her! Is your heart a stone? (Drunken tears well from his eyes and he blubbers.) And your own father going back to a lone house with a stranger in it!

EILEEN (wearily, in a dead voice). You'll miss your train, father.

CARMODY (raging in a second). I'm off, then! Come on, Fred. It's no welcome we have with her here in this place—and a great curse on this day I brought her to it! (He stamps out.)

EILEEN (in the same dead tone). Good-bye, Fred.

NICHOLLS (repenting his words of a moment ago—confusedly). I'm sorry, Eileen—for what I said. I didn't mean—you know what your father is—excuse me, won't you?

EILEEN (without feeling). Yes.

NICHOLLS. And I'll be out soon—in a week if I can make it. Well then,—good-bye for the present. (He bends down as if to kiss her, but she shrinks back out of his reach.)

EILEEN (a faint trace of mockery in her weary voice). No, Fred. Remember you mustn't now.

NICHOLLS (in an instant huff). Oh, if that's the way you feel about——

(He strides out and slams the door viciously behind him. Eileen walks slowly back towards the fire-place, her face fixed in a dead calm of despair. As she sinks into one of the armchairs, the strain becomes too much. She breaks down, hiding her face in her hands, her frail shoulders heaving with the violence of her sobs. At this sound, Murray turns from the windows and comes over near her chair.)

MURRAY (after watching her for a moment—in an embarrassed tone of sympathy). Come on, Miss Carmody, that'll never do. I know it's hard at first—but—getting yourself all worked up is bad for you. You'll run a temperature and then they'll keep you in bed—which isn't pleasant. Take hold of yourself! It isn't so bad up here—really—once you get used to it! (The shame she feels at giving way in the presence of a stranger only adds to her loss of control and she sobs heartbrokenly. Murray walks up and down nervously, visibly nonplussed and upset. Finally he hits upon something.) One of the nurses will be in any minute. You don't want them to see you like this.

EILEEN (chokes back her sobs and finally raises her face and attempts a smile). I'm sorry—to make such a sight of myself. I just couldn't help it.

MURRAY (jocularly). Well, they say a good cry does you a lot of good.

EILEEN (forcing a smile). I do feel—better.

MURRAY (staring at her with a quizzical smile—cynically). You shouldn't take those lovers' squabbles so seriously. To-morrow he'll be sorry—you'll be sorry. He'll write begging forgiveness—you'll do ditto. Result—all serene again.

EILEEN (a shadow of pain on her face—with dignity). Don't—please.

MURRAY (angry at himself—hanging his head contritely). I'm a fool. Pardon me. I'm rude sometimes—before I know it. (He shakes off his confusion with a renewed attempt at a joking tone.) You can blame your father for any breaks I make. He made me your guardian, you know—told me to see that you behaved.

EILEEN (with a genuine smile). Oh, father! (Flushing.) You mustn't mind anything he said to-night.

MURRAY (thoughtlessly). Yes, he was well lit up. I envied him. (Eileen looks very shame-faced. Murray sees it and exclaims in exasperation at himself.) Darn! There I go again putting my foot in it! (With an irrepressible grin.) I ought to have my tongue operated on—that's what's the matter with me. (He laughs and throws himself in a chair.)

EILEEN (forced in spite of herself to smile with him). You're candid, at any rate, Mr. Murray.

MURRAY. Don't misunderstand me. Far be it from me to cast slurs at your father's high spirits. I said I envied him his jag and that's the truth. The same candour compels me to confess that I was pickled to the gills myself when I arrived here. Fact! I made love to all the nurses and generally disgraced myself—and had a wonderful time.

EILEEN. I suppose it does make you forget your troubles—for a while.

MURRAY (waving this aside). I didn't want to forget—not for a second. I wasn't drowning my sorrow. I was hilariously celebrating.

EILEEN (astonished—by this time quite interested in this queer fellow to the momentary forgetfulness of her own grief). Celebrating—coming here? But—aren't you sick?

MURRAY. T.B.? Yes, of course. (Confidentially.) But it's only a matter of time when I'll be all right again. I hope it won't be too soon. I was dying for a rest—a good, long rest with time to think about things. I'm due to get what I wanted here. That's why I celebrated.

EILEEN (with wide eyes). I wonder if you really mean——

MURRAY. What I've been sayin'? I sure do—every word of it!

EILEEN (puzzled). I can't understand how anyone could—— (With a worried glance over her shoulder.) I think I'd better look for Miss Gilpin, hadn't I? She may wonder—— (She half rises from her chair.)

MURRAY (quickly). No. Please don't go yet. Sit down. Please do. (She glances at him irresolutely, then resumes her chair.) They'll give you your diet of milk and shoo you off to bed on that freezing porch soon enough, don't worry. I'll see to it that you don't fracture any rules. (Hitching his chair nearer hers—impulsively.) In all charity to me you've got to stick awhile. I haven't had a chance to really talk to a soul for a week. You found what I said a while ago hard to believe, didn't you?

EILEEN (with a smile). Isn't it? You said you hoped you wouldn't get well too soon!

MURRAY. And I meant it! This place is honestly like heaven to me—a lonely heaven till your arrival. (Eileen looks embarrassed.) And why wouldn't it be? I've no fear for my health—eventually. Just let me tell you what I was getting away from—— (With a sudden laugh full of a weary bitterness.) Do you know what it means to work from seven at night till three in the morning as a reporter on a morning newspaper in a town of twenty thousand people—for ten years? No. You don't. You can't. No one could who hadn't been through the mill. But what it did to me—it made me happy—yes, happy!—to get out here—T.B. and all, notwithstanding.

EILEEN (looking at him curiously). But I always thought being a reporter was so interesting.

MURRAY (with a cynical laugh). Interesting? On a small town rag? A month of it, perhaps, when you're a kid and new to the game. But ten years. Think of it! With only a raise of a couple of dollars every blue moon or so, and a weekly spree on Saturday night to vary the monotony. (He laughs again.) Interesting, eh? Getting the dope on the Social of the Queen Esther Circle in the basement of the Methodist Episcopal Church, unable to sleep through a meeting of the Common Council on account of the noisy oratory caused by John Smith's application for a permit to build a house; making a note that a tugboat towed two barges loaded with coal up the river, that Mrs. Perkins spent a week-end with relatives in Hickville, that John Jones—— Oh help! Why go on? Ten years of it! I'm a broken man. God, how I used to pray that our Congressman would commit suicide, or the Mayor murder his wife—just to be able to write a real story!

EILEEN (with a smile). Is it as bad as that? But weren't there other things in the town—outside your work—that were interesting?

MURRAY (decidedly). No. Never anything new—and I knew everyone and every thing in town by heart years ago. (With sudden bitterness.) Oh, it was my own fault. Why didn't I get out of it? Well, I didn't. I was always going to—to-morrow—and to-morrow never came. I got in a rut—and stayed put. People seem to get that way, somehow—in that town. It's in the air. All the boys I grew up with—nearly all, at least—took root in the same way. It took pleurisy, followed by T.B., to blast me loose.

EILEEN (wonderingly). But—your family—didn't they live there?

MURRAY. I haven't much of a family left. My mother died when I was a kid. My father—he was a lawyer—died when I was nineteen, just about to go to college. He left nothing, so I went to work on the paper instead. And there I've been ever since. I've two sisters, respectably married and living in another part of the state. We don't get along—but they are paying for me here, so I suppose I've no kick. (Cynically.) A family wouldn't have changed things. From what I've seen that blood-thicker-than-water dope is all wrong. It's thinner than table-d'hôte soup. You may have seen a bit of that truth in your own case already.

EILEEN (shocked). How can you say that? You don't know——

MURRAY. Don't I, though? Wait till you've been here three months or four—when the gap you left has been comfortably filled. You'll see then!

EILEEN (angrily, her lips trembling). You must be crazy to say such things! (Fighting back her tears.) Oh, I think it's hateful—when you see how badly I feel!

MURRAY (in acute confusion. Stammering). Look here, Miss Carmody, I didn't mean to—— Listen—don't feel mad at me, please. My tongue ran away with me. I was only talking. I'm like that. You mustn't take it seriously.

EILEEN (still resentful). I don't see how you can talk. You don't—you can't know about these things—when you've just said you had no family of your own, really.

MURRAY (eager to return to her good graces). No. Of course I don't know. I was just talking regardless for the fun of listening to it.

EILEEN (after a pause). Hasn't either of your sisters any children?

MURRAY. One of them has—two of them—ugly, squally little brats.

EILEEN (disapprovingly). You don't like babies?

MURRAY (bluntly). No. (Then with a grin at her shocked face.) I don't get them. They're something I can't seem to get acquainted with.

EILEEN (with a smile, indulgently). You're a funny person. (Then with a superior, motherly air.) No wonder you couldn't understand how badly I feel. (With a tender smile.) I've four of them—my brothers and sisters—though they're not what you'd call babies, except to me. Billy is fourteen, Nora eleven, Tom ten, and even little Mary is eight. I've been a mother to them now for a whole year—ever since our mother died (Sadly.) And I don't know how they'll ever get along while I'm away.

MURRAY (cynically). Oh, they'll—(He checks what he was going to say and adds lamely)—get along somehow.

EILEEN (with the same superior tone). It's easy for you to say that. You don't know how children grow to depend on you for everything. You're not a woman.

MURRAY (with a grin). Are you? (Then with a chuckle.) You're as old as the pyramids, aren't you? I feel like a little boy. Won't you adopt me, too?

EILEEN (flushing, with a shy smile). Someone ought to. (Quickly changing the subject.) Do you know, I can't get over what you said about hating your work so. I should think it would be wonderful—to be able to write things.

MURRAY. My job had nothing to do with writing. To write—really write—yes, that's something worth trying for. That's what I've always meant to have a stab at. I've run across ideas enough for stories—that sounded good to me, anyway. (With a forced, laugh.) But—like everything else—I never got down to it. I started one or two—but—either I thought I didn't have the time or—— (He shrugs his shoulders.)

EILEEN. Well, you've plenty of time now, haven't you?

MURRAY (instantly struck by this suggestion). You mean—I could write—up here? (She nods. His face lights up with enthusiasm.) Say! That is an idea! Thank you! I'd never have had sense enough to have thought of that myself. (Eileen flushes with pleasure.) Sure there's time—nothing but time up here——

EILEEN. Then you seriously think you'll try it?

MURRAY (determinedly). Yes. Why not? I've got to try and do something real some time, haven't I? I've no excuse not to, now. My mind isn't sick.

EILEEN (excitedly). That'll be wonderful!

MURRAY (confidently). Listen. I've had ideas for a series of short stories for the last couple of years—small town experiences, some of them actual. I know that life—too darn well. I ought to be able to write about it. And if I can sell one—to the Post, say—I'm sure they'd take the others, too. And then—I should worry! It'd be easy sailing. But you must promise to help—play critic for me—read them and tell me where they're rotten.

EILEEN (pleased, but protesting). Oh, no, I'd never dare. I don't know anything——

MURRAY. Yes, you do. You're the public. And you started me off on this thing—if I'm really starting at last. So you've got to back me up now. (Suddenly.) Say, I wonder if they'd let me have a typewriter up here?

EILEEN. It'd be fine if they would. I'd like to have one, too—to practice. I learned stenography at a business college and then I had a position for a year—before my mother died.

MURRAY. We could hire one—I could. I don't see why they wouldn't allow it. I'm to be sent to one of the men's huts within the next few days, and you'll be shipped to one of the women's cottages within ten days. You're not sick enough to be kept here in bed, I'm sure of that.

EILEEN. I—I don't know——

MURRAY. Here! None of that! You just think you're not and you won't be. Say, I'm keen on that typewriter idea. They couldn't kick if we only used it during recreation periods. I could have it a week, and then you a week.

EILEEN (eagerly). And I could type your stories after you've written them! I could help that way.

MURRAY (smiling). But I'm quite able—— (Then seeing how interested she is he adds hurriedly.) That'd be great! It'd save so much time. I've always been a fool at a machine. And I'd be willing to pay whatever—— (Miss Gilpin enters from the rear and walks towards them.)

EILEEN (quickly). Oh, no! I'd be glad to get the practice. I wouldn't accept—— (She coughs slightly.)

MURRAY (with a laugh). Maybe, after you've read my stuff, you won't type it at any price.

MISS GILPIN. Miss Carmody, may I speak to you for a moment, please.

(She takes Eileen aside and talks to her in low tones of admonition. Eileen's face falls. She nods a horrified acquiescence. Miss Gilpin leaves her and goes into the office, rear.)

MURRAY (as Eileen comes back. Noticing her perturbation. Kindly). Well? Now, what's the trouble?

EILEEN (her lips trembling). She told me I mustn't forget to shield my mouth with my handkerchief when I cough.

MURRAY (consolingly). Yes, that's one of the rules, you know.

EILEEN (falteringly). She said they'd give me—a—cup to carry around—(She stops, shuddering.)

MURRAY (easily). It's not as horrible as it sounds. They're only little paste-board things you carry in your pocket.

EILEEN (as if speaking to herself). It's so horrible (She holds out her hand to Murray.) I'm to go to my room now. Good night, Mr. Murray.

MURRAY (holding her hand for a moment—earnestly). Don't mind your first impressions here. You'll look on everything as a matter of course in a few days. I felt your way at first. (He drops her hand and shakes his finger at her.) Mind your guardian, now! (She forces a trembling smile.) See you at breakfast. Good night.

(Eileen goes out to the hall in rear. Miss Howard comes in from the door just after her, carrying a glass of milk.)

MISS HOWARD. Almost bedtime, Mr. Murray. Here's your diet. (He takes the glass. She smiles at him provokingly.) Well, is it love at first sight, Mr. Murray?

MURRAY (with a grin). Sure thing! You can consider yourself heartlessly jilted. (He turns and raises his glass towards the door through which Eileen has just gone, as if toasting her.)

"A glass of milk, and thou

Coughing beside me in the wilderness—

Ah—wilderness were Paradise enow!"

(He takes a sip of milk.)

MISS HOWARD (peevishly). That's old stuff, Mr. Murray. A patient at Saranac wrote that parody.

MURRAY (maliciously). Aha, you've discovered it's a parody, have you, you sly minx! (Miss Howard turns from him huffily and walks back towards the office, her chin in the air.)

The Curtain Falls


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