The Straw

by Eugene O'Neill

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Act Three

An Isolation Room and Porch at the Sanatorium—An Afternoon Four Months Later.

Four months later. An isolation room at the Infirmary with a sleeping porch at the right of it. Late afternoon of a Sunday towards the end of October. The room, extending two-thirds of the distance from left to right, is, for reasons of space economy, scantily furnished with the bare necessities—a bureau with mirror in the left corner, rear—two straight-backed chairs—a table with a glass top in the centre. The floor is varnished hardwood. The walls and furniture are painted white. On the left, forward, a door to the hall. On the right, rear, a double glass door opening on the porch. Farther front two windows. The porch, a screened-in continuation of the room, contains only a single iron bed, painted white, and a small table placed beside the bed.

The woods, the leaves of the trees rich in their autumn colouring, rise close about this side of the Infirmary. Their branches almost touch the porch on the right. In the rear of the porch they have been cleared away from the building for a narrow space, and through this opening the distant hills can be seen with the tree tops glowing in the sunlight.

As the curtain rises, Eileen is discovered lying in the bed on the porch, propped up into a half-sitting position by pillows under her back and head. She seems to have grown much thinner. Her face is pale and drawn, with deep hollows under her cheek-bones. Her eyes are dull and lustreless. She gazes straight before her into the wood with the unseeing stare of apathetic indifference. The door from the hall in the room behind her is opened, and Miss Howard enters, followed by Bill Carmody, Mrs. Brennan, and Mary. Carmody's manner is unwontedly sober and subdued. This air of respectable sobriety is further enhanced by a black suit, glaringly new and stiffly pressed, a new black derby hat, and shoes polished like a mirror. His expression is full of a bitter, if suppressed, resentment. His gentility is evidently forced upon him in spite of himself and correspondingly irksome. Mrs. Brennan is a tall, stout woman of fifty, lusty and loud-voiced, with a broad, snub-nosed, florid face, a large mouth, the upper lip darkened by a suggestion of moustache, and little round blue eyes, hard and restless with a continual fuming irritation. She is got up regardless in her ridiculous Sunday-best. Mary appears tall and skinny-legged in a starched, outgrown frock. The sweetness of her face has disappeared, giving way to a hang-dog sullenness, a stubborn silence, with sulky, furtive glances of rebellion directed at her step-mother.

MISS HOWARD (pointing to the porch). She's out there on the porch.

MRS. BRENNAN (with dignity). Thank you, ma'am.

MISS HOWARD (with a searching glance at the visitors as if to appraise their intentions). Eileen's been very sick lately, you know, so be careful not to worry her about anything. Do your best to cheer her up.

CARMODY (mournfully). We'll try to put life in her spirits, God help her. (With an uncertain look at Mrs. Brennan.) Won't we, Maggie?

MRS. BRENNAN (turning sharply on Mary, who has gone over to examine the things on the bureau). Come away from that, Mary. Curiosity killed a cat. Don't be touchin' her things. Remember what I told you. Or is it admirin' your mug in the mirror you are? (Turning to Miss Howard as Mary moves away from the bureau, hanging her head—shortly.) Don't you worry, ma'am. We won't trouble Eileen at all.

MISS HOWARD. Another thing. You mustn't say anything to her of what Miss Gilpin just told you about her being sent away to the State Farm in a few days. Eileen isn't to know till the very last minute. It would only disturb her.

CARMODY (hastily). We'll not say a word of it.

MISS HOWARD (turning to the hall door). Thank you.

(She goes out, shutting the door.)

MRS. BRENNAN (angrily). She has a lot of impudent gab, that one, with her don't do this and don't do that! It's a wonder you wouldn't speak up to her and shut her mouth, you great fool, and you payin' money to give her her job. (Disgustedly.) You've no guts in you.

CARMODY (placatingly). Would you have me raisin' a shindy when Eileen's leavin' here in a day or more? What'd be the use?

MRS. BRENNAN. In the new place she's goin' you'll not have to pay a cent, and that's a blessing! It's small good they've done her here for all the money they've taken. (Gazing about the room critically.) It's neat and clean enough; and why shouldn't it, a tiny room and the lot of them nothing to do all day but scrub. (Scornfully.) Two sticks of chairs and a table! They don't give much for the money.

CARMODY. Catch them! It's a good thing she's clearin' out of this, and her worse off after them curin' her eight months than she was when she came. She'll maybe get well in the new place.

MRS. BRENNAN (indifferently). It's God's will, what'll happen. (Irritably.) And I'm thinkin' it's His punishment she's under now for having no heart in her and never writin' home a word to you or the children in two months or more. If the doctor hadn't wrote us himself to come see her, she was sick, we'd have been no wiser.

CARMODY. Whisht! Don't be blamin' a sick girl.

MARY (who has drifted to one of the windows at right—curiously). There's somebody in bed out there. I can't see her face. Is it Eileen?

MRS. BRENNAN. Don't be goin' out there till I tell you, you imp! I must speak to your father first. (Coming closer to him and lowering her voice.) Are you going to tell her about it?

CARMODY (pretending ignorance). About what?

MRS. BRENNAN. About what, indeed! Don't pretend you don't know. About our marryin' two weeks back, of course. What else?

CARMODY (uncertainly). Yes—I disremembered she didn't know. I'll have to tell her, surely.

MRS. BRENNAN (flaring up). You speak like you wouldn't. Is it shamed of me you are? Are you afraid of a slip of a girl? Well, then, I'm not! I'll tell her to her face soon enough.

CARMODY (angry in his turn—assertively). You'll not, now! Keep your mouth out of this and your rough tongue! I tell you I'll tell her.

MRS. BRENNAN (satisfied). Let's be going out to her, then. (They move towards the door to the porch.) And keep your eye on your watch. We mustn't miss the train. Come with us, Mary, and remember to keep your mouth shut.

(They go out on the porch and stand just outside the door waiting for Eileen to notice them; but the girl in bed continues to stare into the woods, oblivious to their presence.)

MRS. BRENNAN (nudging Carmody with her elbow—in a harsh whisper). She don't see us. It's a dream she's in with her eyes open. Glory be, it's bad she's lookin'. The look on her face'd frighten you. Speak to her, you!

(Eileen stirs uneasily as if this whisper had disturbed her unconsciously.)

CARMODY (wetting his lips and clearing his throat huskily). Eileen.

EILEEN (startled, turns and stares at them with frightened eyes. After a pause she ventures uncertainly, as if she were not sure hut what these figures might be creatures of her dream). Father. (Her eyes shift to Mrs. Brennan's face and she shudders.) Mrs. Brennan.

MRS. BRENNAN (quickly—in a voice meant to be kindly). Here we are, all of us, come to see you. How is it you're feelin' now, Eileen?

(While she is talking she advances to the bedside, followed by Carmody, and takes one of the sick girl's hands in hers. Eileen withdraws it as if stung and holds it out to her father. Mrs. Brennan's face flushes angrily and she draws back from the bedside.)

CARMODY (moved—with rough tenderness patting her hand). Ah, Eileen, sure it's a sight for sore eyes to see you again! (He bends down as if to kiss her, but, struck by a sudden fear, hesitates, straightens himself, and shamed by the understanding in Eileen's eyes, grows red and stammers confusedly.) How are you now? Sure it's the picture of health you're lookin'.

(Eileen sighs and turns her eyes away from him with a resigned sadness.)

MRS. BRENNAN. What are you standin' there for like a stick, Mary? Haven't you a word to say to your sister?

EILEEN (twisting her head around and seeing Mary for the first time—with a glad cry). Mary! I—why, I didn't see you before! Come here.

(Mary approaches gingerly with apprehensive side glances at Mrs. Brennan, who watches her grimly. Eileen's arms reach out for her hungrily. She grasps her about the waist and seems trying to press the unwilling child to her breast.)

MARY (fidgeting nervously—suddenly in a frightened whine). Let me go! (Eileen releases her, looks at her face dazedly for a second, then falls back limply with a little moan and shuts her eyes. Mary, who has stepped back a pace, remains fixed there as if fascinated with fright by her sister's face. She stammers.) Eileen—you look so—so funny.

EILEEN (without opening her eyes—in a dead voice). You, too! I never thought you—— Go away, please.

MRS. BRENNAN (with satisfaction). Come here to me, Mary, and don't be botherin' your sister.

(Mary avoids her step-mother, but retreats to the far end of the porch where she stands shrunk back against the wall, her eyes fixed on Eileen with the same fascinated horror.)

CARMODY (after an uncomfortable pause, forcing himself to speak). Is the pain bad, Eileen?

EILEEN (dully—without opening her eyes). There's no pain. (There is another pause—then she murmurs indifferently.) There are chairs in the room you can bring out if you want to sit down.

MRS. BRENNAN (sharply). We've not time to be sittin'. We've the train back to catch.

EILEEN (in the same lifeless voice). It's a disagreeable trip. I'm sorry you had to come.

CARMODY (fighting against an oppression he cannot understand, bursts into a flood of words). Don't be talking of the trip. Sure we're glad to take it to get a sight of you. It's three months since I've had a look at you, and I was anxious. Why haven't you written a line to us? You could do that without trouble, surely. Don't you ever think of us at all any more? (He waits for an answer, but Eileen remains silent with her eyes closed. Carmody starts to walk up and down, talking with an air of desperation.) You're not asking a bit of news from home. I'm thinkin' the people out here have taken all the thought of us out of your head. We're all well, thank God. I've another good job on the streets from Murphy and one that'll last a long time, praise be! I'm needin' it surely, with all the expenses—but no matter. Billy had a raise from his old skinflint of a boss a month back. He's gettin' seven a week now and proud as a turkey. He was comin' out with us to-day, but he'd a date with his girl. Sure, he's got a girl now, the young bucko! What d'you think of him? It's old Malloy's girl he's after—the pop-eyed one with glasses, you remember—as ugly as a blind sheep, only he don't think so. He said to give you his love. (Eileen stirs and sighs wearily, a frown appearing for an instant on her forehead.) And Tom and Nora was comin' out too, but Father Fitz had some doin's or other up to the school, and he told them to be there, so they wouldn't come with us, but they sent their love to you, too. They're growin' so big you'd not know them. Tom's no good at the school. He's like Billy was. I've had to take the strap to him often. He's always playin' hooky and roamin' the streets. And Nora. (With pride.) There's the divil for you! Up to everything she is and no holdin' her high spirits. As pretty as a picture, and the smartest girl in her school, Father Fitz says. Am I lyin', Maggie?

MRS. BRENNAN (grudgingly). She's smart enough—and too free with her smartness.

CARMODY (pleased). Ah, don't be talkin'! She'll know more than the lot of us before she's grown even. (He pauses in his walk and stares down at Eileen, frowning.) Are you sick, Eileen, that you're keepin' your eyes shut without a word out of you?

EILEEN (wearily). No. I'm tired, that's all.

CARMODY (resuming his walk). And who else is there, let me think? Oh, Mary—she's the same as ever, you can see for yourself.

EILEEN (bitterly). The same? Oh, no!

CARMODY. She's grown, you mean? I suppose. You'd notice, not seeing her so long?

(He can think of nothing else to say, but walks up and down with a restless, uneasy expression.)

MRS. BRENNAN (sharply). What time is it gettin'?

CARMODY (fumbles for his watch). Half-past four, a bit after.

MRS. BRENNAN. We'll have to leave soon. It's a long jaunt down that hill in that buggy.

(She catches his eye and makes violent signs to him to tell Eileen what he has come to tell.)

CARMODY (after an uncertain pause—clenching his fists and clearing his throat). Eileen.


CARMODY (irritably). Can't you open your eyes on me? It's like talkin' to myself I am.

EILEEN (looking at him—dully). What is it?

CARMODY (stammering—avoiding her glance). It's this, Eileen—me and Maggie—Mrs. Brennan, that is—we——

EILEEN (without surprise). You're going to marry her?

CARMODY (with an effort). Not goin' to. It's done.

EILEEN (without a trace of feeling). Oh, so you've been married already?

(Without further comment, she closes her eyes.)

CARMODY. Two weeks back we were, by Father Fitz.

(He stands staring down at his daughter, irritated, perplexed and confounded by her silence, looking as if he longed to shake her.)

MRS. BRENNAN (angry at the lack of enthusiasm shown by Eileen). Let us get out of this, Bill. We're not wanted, that's plain as the nose on your face. It's little she's caring about you, and little thanks she has for all you've done for her and the money you've spent.

CARMODY (with a note of pleading). Is that a proper way to be treatin' your father, Eileen, after what I've told you? Have you no heart in you at all? Is it nothin' to you you've a good, kind woman now for mother?

EILEEN (fiercely, her eyes flashing open on him). No, no! Never!

MRS. BRENNAN (plucking at Carmody's elbow. He stands looking at Eileen helplessly, his mouth open, a guilty flush spreading over his face). Come out of here, you big fool, you! Is it to listen to insults to your livin' wife you're waiting? Am I to be tormented and you never raise a hand to stop her?

CARMODY (turning on her threateningly). Will you shut your gab?

EILEEN (with a moan). Oh, go away, Father! Please! Take her away!

MRS. BRENNAN (pulling at his arm). Take me away this second or I'll go on without you and never speak again to you till the day I die!

CARMODY (pushes her violently away from him—his fist uplifted). Shut your gab, I'm saying!

MRS. BRENNAN. The divil mend you and yours then! I'm leavin' you. (She starts for the door.)

CARMODY (hastily). Wait a bit, Maggie. I'm comin'. (She goes into the room, slamming the door, but once inside she stands still, trying to listen. Carmody glares down at his daughter's pale twitching face with the closed eyes. Finally he croaks in a whining tone of fear.) Is your last word a cruel one to me this day, Eileen?

(She remains silent. His face darkens. He turns and strides out of the door. Mary darts after him with a frightened cry of "Papa." Eileen covers her face with her hands and a shudder of relief runs over her body.)

MRS. BRENNAN (as Carmody enters the room—in a mollified tone). So you've come, have you? Let's go, then? (Carmody stands looking at her in silence, his expression full of gloomy rage. She bursts out impatiently.) Are you comin' or are you goin' back to her? (She grabs Mary's arm and pushes her towards, the door to the hall.) Are you comin' or not, I'm askin'?

CARMODY (sombrely—as if to himself). There's something wrong in the whole of this—that I can't make out. (With sudden fury he brandishes his fists as though defying someone and growls threateningly.) And I'll get drunk this night—dead, rotten drunk! (He seems to detect disapproval in Mrs. Brennan's face, for he shakes his fist at her and repeats like a solemn oath.) I'll get drunk this night, I'm sayin'! I'll get drunk if my soul roasts for it—and no one in the whole world is strong enough to stop me!

(Mrs. Brennan turns from him with a disgusted shrug of her shoulders and hustles Mary out of the door. Carmody, after a second's pause, follows them. Eileen lies still, looking out into the woods with empty, desolate eyes. Miss Howard comes into the room from the hall and goes to the porch, carrying a glass of milk in her hand.)

MISS HOWARD. Here's your diet, Eileen. I forgot it until just now. Sundays are awful days, aren't they? They get me all mixed up in my work, with all these visitors around. Did you have a nice visit with your folks?

EILEEN (forcing a smile). Yes.

MISS HOWARD. You look worn out. I hope they didn't worry you over home affairs?


(She sips her milk and sets it back on the table with a shudder of disgust.)

MISS HOWARD (with a smile). What a face! You'd think you were taking poison.

EILEEN. I hate it! (With deep passion.) I wish it was poison!

MISS HOWARD (jokingly). Oh, come now! That isn't a nice way to feel on the Sabbath. (With a meaning smile.) I've some news that'll cheer you up, I bet. (Archly.) Guess who's here on a visit?

EILEEN (startled—in a frightened whisper). Who?

MISS HOWARD. Mr. Murray. (Eileen closes her eyes wincingly for a moment and a shadow of pain comes over her face.) He just came about the time your folks did. I saw him for a moment, not to speak to. He was going to the main building—to see Doctor Stanton, I suppose. (Beaming—with a certain curiosity.) What do you think of that for news?

EILEEN (trying to conceal her agitation and assume a casual tone). He must have come to be examined.

MISS HOWARD (with a meaning laugh). Oh, I'd hardly say that was his main reason. He does look much thinner and very tired, though. I suppose he's been working too hard. (In business-like tones.) Well, I've got to get back on the job. (She turns to the door calling back jokingly.) He'll be in to see you, of course, so look your prettiest.

(She goes out and shuts the door to the porch. Eileen gives a frightened gasp and struggles up in bed as if she wanted to call the nurse to return. Then she lies back in a state of great nervous excitement, twisting her head with eager, fearful glances towards the door, listening, clasping and unclasping her thin fingers on the white spread. As Miss Howard walks across the room to the hall door, it is opened and Stephen Murray enters. A great change is visible in his face. It is much thinner and the former healthy tan has faded to a sallow pallor. Puffy shadows of sleeplessness and dissipation are marked under his heavy-lidded eyes. He is dressed in a well-fitting, expensive dark suit, a white shirt with a soft collar and bright-coloured tie.)

MISS HOWARD (with pleased surprise, holding out her hand). Hello, Mr. Murray.

MURRAY (shaking her hand—with a forced pleasantness). How are you, Miss Howard?

MISS HOWARD. Fine as ever. It certainly looks natural to see you around here again—not that I hope you're here to stay, though. (With a smile.) I suppose you're on your way to Eileen now. Well, I won't keep you. I've stacks of work to do. (She opens the hall door. He starts for the porch.) Oh, I was forgetting—Congratulations! I've read those stories—all of us have. They're great. We're all so proud of you. You're one of our graduates, you know.

MURRAY (indifferently). Oh,—that stuff.

MISS HOWARD (gaily). Don't be so modest. Well, see you later, I hope.

MURRAY. Yes. Doctor Stanton invited me to stay for supper and I may——

MISS HOWARD. Fine! Be sure to!

(She goes out. Murray walks to porch door and steps out. He finds Eileen's eyes waiting for him. As their eyes meet she gasps involuntarily and he stops short in his tracks. For a moment they remain looking at each other in silence.)

EILEEN (dropping her eyes—faintly). Stephen.

MURRAY (much moved, strides to her bedside and takes her hands awkwardly). Eileen. (Then after a second's pause, in which he searches her face and is shocked by the change illness has made—anxiously.) How are you feeling, Eileen? (He grows confused by her gaze and his eyes shift from hers, which search his face with wild yearning.)

EILEEN (forcing a smile). Oh, I'm all right. (Eagerly.) But you, Stephen? How are you? (Excitedly.) Oh, it's good to see you again! (Her eyes continue fixed on his face pleadingly, questioningly.)

MURRAY (haltingly). And it's sure great to see you again, Eileen. (He releases her hand and turns away.) And I'm fine and dandy. I look a little done up, I guess, but that's only the result of too much New York.

(Eileen, sensing from his manner that whatever she has hoped for from his visit is not to be, sinks back on the pillows, shutting her eyes hopelessly, and cannot control a sigh of pain.)

MURRAY (turning to her anxiously). What's the matter, Eileen? You're not in pain, are you?

EILEEN (wearily). No.

MURRAY. You haven't been feeling badly lately, have you? Your letters suddenly stopped—not a line for the past three weeks—and I——

EILEEN (bitterly). I got tired of writing and never getting any answer, Stephen.

MURRAY (shame-faced). Come, Eileen, it wasn't as bad as that. You'd think I never—and I did write, didn't I?

EILEEN. Right after you left here, you did, Stephen. Lately——

MURRAY. I'm sorry, Eileen. It wasn't that I didn't mean to—but—in New York it's so hard. You start to do one thing and something else interrupts you. You never seem to get any one thing done when it ought to be. You can understand that, can't you, Eileen?

EILEEN (sadly). Yes. I understand everything now.

MURRAY (offended). What do you mean by everything? You said that so strangely. You mean you don't believe—— (But she remains silent with her eyes shut. He frowns and takes to pacing up and down beside the bed.) Why have they got you stuck out here on this isolation porch, Eileen?

EILEEN (dully). There was no room on the main porch, I suppose.

MURRAY. You never mentioned in any of your letters——

EILEEN. It's not very cheerful to get letters full of sickness. I wouldn't like to, I know.

MURRAY (hurt). That isn't fair, Eileen. You know I—— How long have you been back in the Infirmary?

EILEEN. About a month.

MURRAY (shocked). A month! But you were up and about—on exercise, weren't you—before that?

EILEEN. No. I had to stay in bed while I was at the cottage.

MURRAY. You mean—ever since that time they sent you back—the day before I left?


MURRAY. But I thought from the cheery tone of your letters that you were——

EILEEN (uneasily). Getting better? I am, Stephen. I'm strong enough to be up now, but Doctor Stanton wants me to take a good long rest this time so that when I do get up again I'll be sure—— (She breaks off impatiently.) But don't let's talk about it. I'm all right. (Murray glances down at her face worriedly. She changes the subject.) You've been over to see Doctor Stanton, haven't you?


EILEEN. Did he examine you?

MURRAY. Yes. (Carelessly.) Oh, he found me O.K. I'm fine and dandy, as I said before.

EILEEN. I'm glad, Stephen. (After a pause.) Tell about yourself—what you've been doing. You've written a lot lately, haven't you?

MURRAY (frowning). No. I haven't been able to get down to it—somehow. There's so little time to yourself once you get to know people in New York. The sale of the stories you typed put me on easy street as far as money goes, so I've felt no need—— (He laughs weakly.) I guess I'm one of those who have to get down to hard pan before they get the kick to drive them to hard work.

EILEEN (surprised). Was it hard work writing them up here? You used to seem so happy just in doing them.

MURRAY. I was—happier than I've been before or afterwards. (Cynically.) But—I don't know—it was a new game to me then and I was chuck full of illusions about the glory of it. (He laughs half-heartedly.) Now I'm hardly a bit more enthusiastic over it than I used to be over newspaper work. It's like everything else, I guess. When you've got it, you find you don't want it.

EILEEN (looking at him wonderingly—disturbed). But isn't just the writing itself worth while?

MURRAY (as if suddenly ashamed of himself—quickly). Yes. Of course it is. I'm talking like a fool. I'm sore at everything because I'm dissatisfied with my own cussedness and laziness—and I want to pass the buck. (With a smile of cheerful confidence.) It's only a fit. I'll come out of it all right and get down to brass tacks again.

EILEEN (with an encouraging smile). That's the way you ought to feel. It'd be wrong—I've read the two stories that have come out so far over and over. They're fine, I think. Every line in them sounds like you, and at the same time sounds natural and like people and things you see every day. Everybody thinks they're fine, Stephen.

MURRAY (pleased, but pretending cynicism). Then they must be rotten. (Then with self-assurance.) Well, I've plenty more of those stories in my head. Every time I think of my home town there seems to be a new story in someone I've known there. (Spiritedly.) Oh, I'll pound them out some time when the spirit moves; and I'll make them so much better than what I've done so far, you won't recognise them. I feel it's in me to do it. (Smiling.) Darn it, do you know just talking about it makes me feel as if I could sit right down now and start in on one. Is it the fact I've worked here before—or is it seeing you, Eileen. (Gratefully.) I really believe it's you. I haven't forgotten how you helped me before.

EILEEN (in a tone of pain). Don't, Stephen. I didn't do anything.

MURRAY (eagerly). Yes, you did. You made it possible. I can't tell you what a help you were. And since I've left the San, I've looked forward to your letters to boost up my spirits. When I felt down in the mouth over my own idiocy, I used to re-read them, and they always were good medicine. I can't tell you how grateful I've felt, honestly!

EILEEN (faintly). You're kind to say so, Stephen—but it was nothing, really.

MURRAY. And I can't tell you how I've missed those letters for the past three weeks. They left a big hole in things. I was worried about you—not having heard a word. (With a smile.) So I came to look you up.

EILEEN (faintly. Forcing an answering smile). Well, you see now I'm all right.

MURRAY (concealing his doubt). Yes, of course you are. Only I'd a darn sight rather see you up and about. We could take a walk, then—through the woods. (A wince of pain shadows Eileen's face. She closes her eyes. Murray continues softly, after a pause.) You haven't forgotten that last night—out there—Eileen?

EILEEN (her lips trembling—trying to force a laugh). Please don't remind me of that, Stephen. I was so silly and so sick, too. My temp was so high it must have made me—completely crazy—or I'd never dreamed of doing such a stupid thing. My head must have been full of wheels because I don't remember anything I did or said, hardly.

MURRAY (his pride taken down a peg by this—in a hurt tone). Oh! Well—I haven't forgotten and I never will, Eileen. (Then his face clears up as if a weight had been taken off his conscience.) Well—I rather thought you wouldn't take it seriously—afterwards. You were all up in the air that night. And you never mentioned it in your letters——

EILEEN (pleadingly). Don't talk about it! Forget it ever happened. It makes me feel—(with a half-hysterical laugh)—like a fool!

MURRAY (worried). All right, Eileen. I won't. Don't get worked up over nothing. That isn't resting, you know. (Looking down at her closed eyes—solicitously.) Perhaps all my talking has tired you out? Do you feel done up? Why don't you try and take a nap now?

EILEEN (dully). Yes, I'd like to sleep.

MURRAY (clasps her hands gently). I'll leave you then, I'll drop back to say good-bye and stay awhile before I go. I won't leave until the last train. (As she doesn't answer.) Do you hear, Eileen?

EILEEN (weakly). Yes. You'll come back—to say good-bye.

MURRAY. Yes. I'll be back sure.

(He presses her hand and after a kindly glance of sympathy down at her face, tiptoes to the door and goes into the room, shutting the door behind him. When she hears the door shut Eileen struggles up in bed and stretches her arms after him with an agonised sob "Stephen!" She hides her face in her hands and sobs brokenly. Murray walks across to the hall door and is about to go out when the door is opened and Miss Gilpin enters.)

MISS GILPIN (hurriedly). How do you do, Mr. Murray. Doctor Stanton just told me you were here.

MURRAY (as they shake hands—smiling). How are you, Miss Gilpin?

MISS GILPIN. He said he'd examined you, and that you were O.K. I'm glad. (Glancing at him keenly.) You've been talking to Eileen?

MURRAY. Just left her this second. She wanted to sleep for a while.

MISS GILPIN (wonderingly). Sleep? (Then hurriedly.) It's too bad. I wish I'd known you were here sooner. I wanted very much to talk to you before you saw Eileen. You see, I knew you'd pay us a visit some time. (With a worried smile.) I still think I ought to have a talk with you.

MURRAY. Certainly, Miss Gilpin.

MISS GILPIN (takes a chair and places it near the hall door). Sit down. She can't hear us here. Goodness knows this is hardly the place for confidences, but there are visitors all over and it'll have to do. Did you close the door tightly? She mustn't hear me above all. (She goes to the porch door and peeps out for a moment; then comes back to him with flashing eyes.) She's crying! What have you been saying to her? Oh, it's too late, I know! The fools shouldn't have permitted you to see her before I—— What has happened out there? Tell me! I must know.

MURRAY (stammering). Happened? Nothing. She's crying? Why, Miss Gilpin—you know I wouldn't hurt her for worlds.

MISS GILPIN (more calmly). Intentionally. I know you wouldn't. But something has happened. (Then briskly.) We're talking at cross purposes. Since you don't seem inclined to confide in me, I'll have to in you. You noticed how badly she looks, didn't you?

MURRAY. Yes, I did.

MISS GILPIN (gravely). She's been going down hill steadily—(meaningly)—ever since you left. She's in a very serious state, let me impress you with that. We've all loved her, and felt so sorry for her and admired her spirit so—that's the only reason she's been allowed to stay here so long after her time. We've kept hoping she'd start to pick up—in another day—in another week. But now that's all over. Doctor Stanton has given up hope of her improving here, and her father is unwilling to pay for her elsewhere now he knows there's a cheaper place—the State Farm. So she's to be sent there in a day or so.

MURRAY (springing to his feet—horrified). To the State Farm!

MISS GILPIN. Her time here is long past. You know the rule—and she isn't getting better.

MURRAY (appalled). That means——!

MISS GILPIN (forcibly). Death! That's what it means for her!

MURRAY (stunned). Good God, I never dreamed——

MISS GILPIN. With others it might be different. They might improve under changed surroundings. In her case, it's certain. She'll die. And it wouldn't do any good to keep her here, either. She'd die here. She'll die anywhere. She'll die because lately she's given up hope, she hasn't wanted to live any more. She's let herself go—and now it's too late.

MURRAY. Too late? You mean there's no chance—now? (Miss Gilpin nods. Murray is overwhelmed—after a pause—stammering.) Isn't there—anything—we can do?

MISS GILPIN (sadly). I don't know. I should have talked to you before you—— You see, she's seen you now. She knows. (As he looks mystified she continues slowly.) I suppose you know that Eileen loves you, don't you?

MURRAY (as if defending himself against an accusation—with confused alarm). No—Miss Gilpin. You're wrong, honestly. She may have felt something like that—once—but that was long ago before I left the San. She's forgotten all about it since, I know she has. (Miss Gilpin smiles bitterly.) Why, she never even alluded to it in any of her letters—all these months.

MISS GILPIN. Did you in yours?

MURRAY. No, of course not. You don't understand. Why—just now—she said that part of it had all been so silly she felt she'd acted like a fool and didn't ever want to be reminded of it.

MISS GILPIN. She saw that you didn't love her—any more than you did in the days before you left. Oh, I used to watch you then. I sensed what was going on between you. I would have stopped it then out of pity for her, if I could have, if I didn't know that any interference would only make matters worse. And then I thought that it might be only a surface affair—that after you were gone it would end for her. (She sighs—then after a pause.) You'll have to forgive me for speaking to you so boldly on a delicate subject. But, don't you see, it's for her sake. I love Eileen. We all do. (Averting her eyes from his—in a low voice.) I know how Eileen feels, Mr. Murray. Once—a long time ago—I suffered as she is suffering—from this same mistake. But I had resources to fall back upon that Eileen hasn't got—a family who loved me and understood—friends—so I pulled through. But it spoiled my life for a long time. (Looking at him again and forcing a smile.) So I feel that perhaps I have a right to speak for Eileen who has no one else.

MURRAY (huskily—much moved). Say anything to me you like, Miss Gilpin.

MISS GILPIN (after a pause—sadly). You don't love her—do you?

MURRAY. No—I—I don't believe I've ever thought much of loving anyone—that way.

MISS GILPIN (sadly). Oh, it's too late, I'm afraid. If we had only had this talk before you had seen her! I meant to talk to you frankly and if I found out you didn't love Eileen—there was always the forlorn hope that you might—I was going to tell you not to see her, for her sake—not to let her face the truth. For I am sure she continued to hope in spite of everything, and always would—to the end—if she didn't see you. I was going to implore you to stay away, to write her letters that would encourage her hope, and in that way she would never learn the truth. I thought of writing you all this—but—it's so delicate a matter—I didn't have the courage. (With intense grief.) And now Doctor Stanton's decision to send her away makes everything doubly hard. When she knows that—she will throw everything that holds her to life—out of the window! And think of it—her dying there alone!

MURRAY (very pale). Don't! That shan't happen. I can at least save her from that. I have money enough—I'll make more—to send her to any place you think——

MISS GILPIN. That is something—but it doesn't touch the source of her unhappiness. If there were only some way to make her happy in the little time that is left to her! She has suffered so much through you. Oh, Mr. Murray, can't you tell her you love her?

MURRAY (after a pause—slowly). But she'll never believe me, I'm afraid, now.

MISS GILPIN (eagerly). But you must make her believe! And you must ask her to marry you. If you're engaged it will give you the right in her eyes to take her away. You can take her to some private San. There's a small place, but a very good one, at White Lake. It's not too expensive, and it's a beautiful spot, out of the world, and you can live and work near by. And she'll be happy to the very last. Don't you think that's something—the best you have—the best you can give in return for her love for you?

MURRAY (slowly—deeply moved). Yes. (Then determinedly.) But I won't go into this thing by halves. It isn't fair to her. I'm going to marry her—yes, I mean it. I owe her that if it will make her happy. But to ask her without really meaning it—knowing she—no, I can't do that.

MISS GILPIN (with a sad smile). I'm glad you feel that way. It shouldn't be hard now for you to convince her. But I know Eileen. She will never consent—for your sake—until she is well again. And stop and think, Mr. Murray. Even if she did consent to marry you right now the shock—the excitement—it would be suicide for her. I would have to warn her against it myself; and you wouldn't propose it if you knew the danger to her in her present condition. She hasn't long to live, at best. I've talked with Dr. Stanton. I know. God knows I would be the first one to hold out hope if there was any. There isn't. It's merely a case of prolonging the short time left to her and making it happy. You must bear that in mind—as a fact!

MURRAY (dully). All right. I'll remember. But it's hell to realise—— (He turns suddenly towards the porch door.) I'll go out to her now while I feel—that—yes, I know I can make her believe me now.

MISS GILPIN. You'll tell me—later on?

MURRAY. Yes. (He opens the door to the porch and goes out. Miss Gilpin stands for a moment looking after him worriedly. Then she sighs helplessly and goes out to the hall. Murray steps noiselessly out on the porch. Eileen is lying motionless with her eyes closed. Murray stands looking at her, his face showing the emotional stress he is under, a great pitying tenderness in his eyes. Then he seems to come to a revealing decision on what is best to do for he tiptoes to the bedside and bending down with a quick movement, takes her in his arms and kisses her.) Eileen!

EILEEN (startled at first, resists automatically for a moment). Stephen! (Then she succumbs and lies back in his arms with a happy sigh, putting both hands to the sides of his face and staring up at him adoringly.) Stephen, dear!

MURRAY (quickly questioning her before she can question him). You were fibbing—about that night—weren't you? You do love me, don't you, Eileen?

EILEEN (breathlessly). Yes—I—but you, Stephen—you don't love me. (She makes a movement as if to escape from his embrace.)

MURRAY (genuinely moved—with tender reassurance). Why do you suppose I came up here if not to tell you I did? But they warned me—Miss Gilpin—that you were still weak and that I mustn't excite you in any way. And I—I didn't want—but I had to come back and tell you in spite of them.

EILEEN (convinced—with a happy laugh). And is that why you acted so strange—and cold? Aren't they silly to tell you that! As if being happy could hurt me! Why, it's just that, just you I've needed!

MURRAY (his voice trembling). And you'll marry me, Eileen?

EILEEN (a shadow of doubt crossing her face momentarily). Are you sure—you want me, Stephen?

MURRAY (a lump in his throat—huskily). Yes. I do want you, Eileen.

EILEEN (happily). Then I will—after I'm well again, of course. (She kisses him.)

MURRAY (chokingly). That won't be long now, Eileen.

EILEEN (joyously). No—not long—now that I'm happy for once in my life. I'll surprise you, Stephen, the way I'll pick up and grow fat and healthy. You won't know me in a month. How can you ever love such a skinny homely thing as I am now! (With a laugh.) I couldn't if I was a man—love such a fright.


EILEEN (confidently). But you'll see now. I'll make myself get well. We won't have to wait long, dear. And can't you move up to the town near here where you can see me every day, and you can work and I can help you with your stories just as I used to—and I'll soon be strong enough to do your typing again. (She laughs.) Listen to me—talking about helping you—as if they weren't all your own work, those blessed stories!—as if I had anything to do with it!

MURRAY (hoarsely). You had! You did! They're yours. (Trying to calm himself.) But you mustn't stay here, Eileen. You'll let me take you away, won't you?—to a better place—not far away—White Lake, it's called. There's a small private sanatorium there. Doctor Stanton says it's one of the best. And I'll live near by—it's a beautiful spot—and see you every day.

EILEEN (in the seventh heaven). And did you plan out all this for me beforehand, Stephen? (He nods with averted eyes. She kisses his hair.) You wonderful, kind dear! And it's a small place—this White Lake? Then we won't have so many people around to disturb us, will we? We'll be all to ourselves. And you ought to work so well up there. I know New York wasn't good for you—alone—without me. And I'll get well and strong so quick! And you say it's a beautiful place? (Intensely.) Oh, Stephen, any place in the world would be beautiful to me—if you were with me! (His face is hidden in the pillow beside her. She is suddenly startled by a muffled sob—anxiously.) Why—Stephen—you're—you're crying! (The tears start to her own eyes.)

MURRAY (raising his face which is this time alight with a passionate awakening—a revelation). Oh, I do love you, Eileen. I do! I love you, love you!

EILEEN (thrilled by the depth of his present sincerity—but with a teasing laugh). Why, you say that as if you'd just made the discovery, Stephen!

MURRAY. Oh, what does it matter, Eileen! I love you! Oh, what a blind, selfish ass I've been! I love you! You are my life—everything! I love you, Eileen! I do! I do! And we'll be married——

(Suddenly his face grows frozen with horror as he remembers the doom. For the first time the grey spectre of Death confronts him face to face as a menacing reality.)

EILEEN (terrified by the look in his eyes). What is it, Stephen? What——?

MURRAY (with a groan—protesting half-aloud in a strangled voice). No! No! It can't be——! My God! (He clutches her hands and hides his face in them.)

EILEEN (with a cry). Stephen! What is the matter? (Her face suddenly betrays apprehension, an intuitive sense of the truth.) Oh—Stephen—— (Then with a childish whimper of terror.) Oh, Stephen, I'm going to die! I'm going to die!

MURRAY (lifting his tortured face—wildly). No!

EILEEN (her voice sinking to a dead, whisper). I'm going to die.

MURRAY (seizing her in his arms in a passionate frenzy and pressing his lips to hers). No, Eileen, no, my love, no! What are you saying? What could have made you think it? You—die? Why, of course, we're all going to die—but—Good God! What damned nonsense! You're getting well—every day. Everyone—Miss Gilpin—Stanton—everyone told me that. I swear before God, Eileen, they did! You're still weak, that's all. They said—it won't be long. You mustn't think that—not now.

EILEEN (miserably—unconvinced). But why did you look at me—that way—with that awful look in your eyes——?

(While she is speaking Miss Gilpin enters the room from the corridor. She appears worried, agitated. She hurries towards the porch, but stops inside the doorway, arrested by Murray's voice.)

MURRAY (takes Eileen by the shoulders and forces her to look into his eyes). I wasn't thinking about you then—— No, Eileen—not you. I didn't mean you—but me—yes, me! I couldn't tell you before. They'd warned me—not to excite you—and I knew that would—if you loved me.

EILEEN (staring at him with frightened amazement). You mean you—you're sick again?

MURRAY (desperately striving to convince her). Yes. I saw Stanton. I lied to you before—about that. It's come back on me, Eileen—you see how I look—I've let myself go. I don't know how to live without you, don't you see? And you'll—marry me now—without waiting—and help me to get well—you and I together—and not mind their lies—what they say to prevent you? You'll do that, Eileen?

EILEEN. I'll do anything for you—— And I'd be so happy—— (She breaks down.) But, Stephen, I'm so afraid. I'm all mixed up. Oh, Stephen, I don't know what to believe!

MISS GILPIN (who has been listening thunderstruck to Murray's wild pleading, at last summons up the determination to interfere—steps out on the porch—a tone of severe remonstrance). Mr. Murray!

MURRAY (starts to his feet with wild, bewildered eyes—confusedly). Oh—you—— (Miss Gilpin cannot restrain an exclamation of dismay as she sees his face wrung by despair. Eileen turns her head away with a little cry, as if she would hide her face in the bedclothes. A sudden fierce resolution lights up Murray's countenance—hoarsely.) You're just in the nick of time, Miss Gilpin! Eileen! Listen! You'll believe Miss Gilpin, won't you? She knows all about it. (Eileen turns her eyes questioningly on the bewildered nurse.)


MURRAY (determinedly). Miss Gilpin, Doctor Stanton has spoken to you since he examined me. He must have told you the truth about me. Eileen doesn't believe me—when I tell her I've got T.B. again. She thinks—I don't know what. I know you're not supposed to, but can't you make an exception—in this case? Can't you tell Eileen the truth?

MISS GILPIN (stunned by being thus defiantly confronted—stammeringly). Mr. Murray! I—I—how can you ask——

MURRAY (quickly). Eileen has a right to know. She loves me—and I—I—love her! (He holds her eyes and speaks with a passion of sincerity that compels belief.) I love her, do you hear?

MISS GILPIN (falteringly). You—love—Eileen?

MURRAY. Yes! I do! (Entreatingly.) So—tell her—won't you?

MISS GILPIN (swallowing hard, her eyes full of pity and sorrow fixed on Eileen). Yes—Eileen—it's true. (She turns away slowly towards the door.)

EILEEN (with a little cry of alarmed concern, stretches out her hands to Murray protectingly). Poor Stephen—dear! (He grasps her hands and kisses them.)

MISS GILPIN (in a low voice). Mr. Murray. May I speak to you for a moment?

MURRAY (with a look of questioning defiance at her). Certainly.

MISS GILPIN (turns to Eileen with a forced smile). I won't steal him away for more than a moment, Eileen. (Eileen smiles happily.)

MURRAY (follows Miss Gilpin into the room. She leads him to the far end of the room near the door to the hall, after shutting the porch door carefully behind him. He looks at her defiantly). Well?

MISS GILPIN (in low agitated tones). What has happened? What is the meaning—I feel as if I may have done a great wrong to myself—to you—to her—by that lie. And yet—something impelled me.

MURRAY (moved). Don't regret it, Miss Gilpin! It has saved her—us. Oh, how can I explain what happened? I suddenly saw—how beautiful and sweet and good she is—how I couldn't bear the thought of life without her—her love—— That's all. (Determinedly.) She must marry me at once and I will take her away—the far West—any place Stanton thinks can help. And she can take care of me—as she thinks—and I know she will grow well as I seem to grow well. Oh Miss Gilpin, don't you see? No half and half measures—no promises—no conditional engagements—can help us—help her. We love too much! (Fiercely, as if defying her.) But we'll win together. We can! We must! There are things your doctors cannot value—cannot know the strength of! (Exultantly.) You'll see! I'll make Eileen get well, I tell you! Happiness will cure! Love is stronger than—— (He suddenly breaks down before the pitying negation she cannot keep from her eyes. He sinks on a chair, shoulders bowed, face hidden in his hands, with a groan of despair.) Oh, why did you give me a hopeless hope?

MISS GILPIN (putting her hand on his shoulder—with tender compassion—sadly). Isn't everything we know—just that—when you think of it? (Her face lighting up with a consoling revelation.) But there must be something behind it—some promise of fulfilment,—somehow—somewhere—in the spirit of hope itself.

MURRAY (dully). Yes—but what do words mean to me now? (Then suddenly starting to his feet and flinging off her hand with disdainful strength—violently and almost insultingly.) What damned rot! I tell you we'll win! We must! Oh, I'm a fool to waste words on you! What can you know? Love isn't in the materia medica. Your predictions—all the verdicts of all the doctors—what do they matter to me? This is—beyond you! And we'll win in spite of you! (Scornfully.) How dare you use the word hopeless—as if it were the last! Come now, confess, damn it! There's always hope, isn't there? What do you know? Can you say you know anything?

MISS GILPIN (taken aback by his violence for a moment, finally bursts into a laugh of helplessness which is close to tears). I? I know nothing—absolutely nothing! God bless you both!

(She raises her handkerchief to her eyes and hurries out to the corridor without turning her head. Murray stands looking after her for a moment; then strides out to the porch.)

EILEEN (turning and greeting him with a shy smile of happiness as he comes and kneels by her bedside). Stephen! (He kisses her. She strokes his hair and continues in a tone of motherly, self-forgetting solicitude.) I'll have to look out for you, Stephen, won't I? From now on? And see that you rest so many hours a day—and drink your milk when I drink mine—and go to bed at nine sharp when I do—and obey everything I tell you—and——

The Curtain Falls


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