The Straw

by Eugene O'Neill

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Act Two: Scene Two

Scene Two: A Crossroads Near the Sanatorium—Midnight of the Same Day.

Midnight of the same day. A cross-road near the sanatorium. The main road comes down forward from the right. A smaller road, leading down from the left, joins it towards left centre.

Dense woods rise sheer from the grass and bramble-grown ditches at the roadsides. At the junction of the two roads there is a signpost, its arms pointing towards the right and the left, rear. A pile of round stones is at the road corner, left forward. A full moon, riding high overhead, throws the roads into white, shadowless relief and masses the woods into walls of compact blackness. The trees lean heavily together, their branches motionless, unstirred by any trace of wind.

As the curtain rises, Eileen is discovered standing in the middle of the road, front centre. Her face shows white and clear in the bright moonlight as she stares with anxious expectancy up the road to the left. Her body is fixed in an attitude of rigid immobility as if she were afraid the slightest movement would break the spell of silence and awaken the unknown. She has shrunk instinctively as far away as she can from the mysterious darkness which rises at the roadsides like an imprisoning wall. A sound of hurried footfalls, muffled by the dust, comes from the road she is watching. She gives a startled gasp. Her eyes strain to identify the oncomer. Uncertain, trembling with fright, she hesitates a second; then darts to the side of the road and crouches down in the shadow.

Stephen Murray comes down the road from the left. He stops by the signpost and peers about him. He wears a cap, the peak of which casts his face into shadow. Finally he calls in a low voice.

MURRAY. Eileen!

EILEEN (coming out quickly from her hiding-place—with a glad little cry). Stephen! At last! (She runs to him as if she were going to fling her arms about him, but stops abashed. He reaches out and takes her hands.)

MURRAY. At last? It can't be twelve yet. (He leads her to the pile of stones on the left.) I haven't heard the village clock.

EILEEN. I must have come early. It seemed as if I'd been waiting for ages. I was so anxious——

MURRAY. How your hands tremble! Were you frightened?

EILEEN (forcing a smile). A little. The woods are so black—and queer-looking. I'm all right now.

MURRAY. Sit down. You must rest. (In a tone of annoyed reproof.) I'm going to read you a lecture, young lady. You shouldn't ever have done this—running a temp and—— Good heavens, don't you want to get well?

EILEEN (dully). I don't know——

MURRAY (irritably). You make me ill when you talk that way, Eileen. It doesn't sound like you at all. What's come over you lately? Get a grip on yourself, for God's sake. I was—knocked out—when I read the note you slipped me after supper. I didn't get a chance to read it until late, I was so busy packing, and by that time you'd gone to your cottage. If I could have reached you any way I'd have refused to come here, I tell you straight. But I couldn't—and I knew you'd be here waiting—and—still, I feel guilty. Damn it, this isn't the thing for you! You ought to be in bed asleep. Can't you look out for yourself?

EILEEN (humbly). Please, Stephen, don't scold me.

MURRAY. How the devil did you ever get the idea—meeting me here at this ungodly hour?

EILEEN. You'd told me about your sneaking out that night to go to the village, and I thought there'd be no harm this one night—the last night.

MURRAY. But I'm well. I've been well. It's different. You—— Honest, Eileen, you shouldn't lose sleep and tax your strength.

EILEEN. Don't scold me, please. I'll make up for it. I'll rest all the time—after you're gone. I just had to see you some way—somewhere where there weren't eyes and ears on all sides—when you told me after dinner that Doctor Stanton had examined you and said you could go to-morrow—— (A clock in the distant village begins striking.) Sssh! Listen.

MURRAY. That's twelve now. You see I was early.

(In a pause of silence they wait motionlessly until the last mournful note dies in the hushed woods.)

EILEEN (in a stifled voice). It isn't to-morrow now, is it? It's to-day—the day you're going.

MURRAY (something in her voice making him avert his face and kick at the heap of stones on which she is sitting—brusquely). Well, I hope you took precautions so you wouldn't be caught sneaking out.

EILEEN. I did just what you'd told me you did—stuffed the pillows under the clothes so the watchman would think I was there.

MURRAY. None of the patients on your porch saw you leave, did they?

EILEEN. No. They were all asleep.

MURRAY. That's all right, then. I wouldn't trust any of that bunch of women. They'd be only too glad to squeal on you. (There is an uncomfortable pause. Murray seems waiting for her to speak. He looks about him at the trees, up into the moonlit sky, breathing in the fresh air with a healthy delight. Eileen remains with downcast head, staring at the road.) It's beautiful to-night, isn't it? Worth losing sleep for.

EILEEN (dully). Yes. (Another pause—finally she murmurs faintly.) Are you leaving early?

MURRAY. The ten-forty. Leave the San at ten, I guess.

EILEEN. You're going home?

MURRAY. Home? You mean to the town? No. But I'm going to see my sisters—just to say hello. I've got to, I suppose. I won't stay more than a few days, if I can help it.

EILEEN. I'm sure—I've often felt—you're unjust to your sisters. (With conviction.) I'm sure they must both love you.

MURRAY (frowning). Maybe, in their own way. But what's love without a glimmer of understanding—a nuisance! They have never seen the real me and never have wanted to—that's all.

EILEEN (as if to herself). What is—the real you? (Murray kicks at the stones impatiently without answering. Eileen hastens to change the subject.) And then you'll go to New York?

MURRAY (interested, at once). Yes. You bet.

EILEEN. And write more?

MURRAY. Not in New York, no. I'm going there to take a vacation, and live, really enjoy myself for a while. I've enough money for that as it is, and if the other stories you typed sell—I'll be as rich as Rockefeller. I might even travel—— No, I've got to make good with my best stuff first. I'll save the travelling as a reward, a prize to gain. That'll keep me at it. I know what I'll do. When I've had enough of New York, I'll rent a place in the country—some old farmhouse—and live alone there and work. (Lost in his own plans—with pleasure.) That's the right idea, isn't it?

EILEEN (trying to appear enthused). It ought to be fine for your work. (After a pause.) They're fine, those stories you wrote here. They're—so much like you. I'd know it was you wrote them even if—I didn't know.

MURRAY (pleased). Wait till you read the others I'm going to do! (After a slight pause—with a good-natured grin.) Here I am talking about myself again! Why don't you call me down when I start that drivel? But you don't know how good it is to have your dreams coming true. It'd make an egotist out of anyone.

EILEEN (sadly). No. I don't know. But I love to hear you talk of yours.

MURRAY (with an embarrassed laugh). Thanks. Well, I've certainly told you all of them. You're the only one—— (He stops and abruptly changes the subject.) You said in your note that you had something important to tell me. (He sits down beside her, crossing his legs.) Is it about your interview with Old Mrs. Grundy this afternoon?

EILEEN. No, that didn't amount to anything. She seemed mad because I told her so little. I think she guessed I only told her what I did so she'd let me stay up, maybe—your last day,—and to keep her from thinking what she did—about us.

MURRAY (quickly, as if he wishes to avoid this subject). What is it you wanted to tell me, then?

EILEEN (sadly). It doesn't seem so important now, somehow. I suppose it was silly of me to drag you out here, just for that. It can't mean anything to you—much.

MURRAY (encouragingly). How do you know it can't?

EILEEN (slowly). I only thought—you might like to know.

MURRAY (interestedly). Know what? What is it? If I can help——

EILEEN. No. (After a moment's hesitation.) I wrote to him this afternoon.


EILEEN. The letter you've been advising me to write.

MURRAY (as if the knowledge of this alarmed him—haltingly). You mean—Fred Nicholls?


MURRAY (after a pause—uncomfortably). You mean—you broke it all off?

EILEEN. Yes—for good. (She looks up at his averted face. He remains silent. She continues apprehensively.) You don't say anything. I thought—you'd be glad. You've always told me it was the honourable thing to do.

MURRAY (gruffly). I know. I say more than my prayers, damn it! (With sudden eagerness.) Have you mailed the letter yet?

EILEEN. Yes. Why?

MURRAY (shortly). Humph. Oh—nothing.

EILEEN (with pained disappointment). Oh, Stephen, you don't think I did wrong, do you—now—after all you've said?

MURRAY (hurriedly). Wrong? No, not if you were convinced it was the right thing to do yourself—if you know you don't love him. But I'd hate to think you did it just on my advice. I shouldn't—— I didn't mean to interfere. I don't know enough about your relations for my opinion to count.

EILEEN (hurt). You know all there is to know.

MURRAY. I didn't mean—anything like that. I know you've been frank. But him—I don't know him. How could I, just meeting him once? He may be quite different from my idea. That's what I'm getting at. I don't want to be unfair to him.

EILEEN (bitterly scornful). You needn't worry. You weren't unfair. And you needn't be afraid you were responsible for my writing. I'd been going to for a long time before you ever spoke.

MURRAY (with a relieved sigh). I'm glad of that—honestly, Eileen. I felt guilty. I shouldn't have knocked him behind his back without knowing him at all.

EILEEN. You said you could read him like a book from his letters I showed you.

MURRAY (apologetically). I know. I'm a fool.

EILEEN (angrily). What makes you so considerate of Fred Nicholls all of a sudden? What you thought about him was right.

MURRAY (vaguely). I don't know. One makes mistakes.

EILEEN (assertively). Well, I know! You needn't waste pity on him. He'll be only too glad to get my letter. He's been anxious to be free of me ever since I was sent here, only he thought it wouldn't be decent to break it off himself while I was sick. He was afraid of what people would say about him when they found it out. So he's just gradually stopped writing and coming for visits, and waited for me to realise. And if I didn't, I know he'd have broken it off himself the first day I got home. I've kept persuading myself that, in spite of the way he's acted, he did love me as much as he could love anyone, and that it would hurt him if I—— But now I know that he never loved me, that he couldn't love anyone but himself. Oh, I don't hate him for it. He can't help being what he is. And all people seem to be—like that, mostly. I'm only going to remember that he and I grew up together, and that he was kind to me then when he thought he liked me—and forget all the rest. (With agitated impatience.) Oh, Stephen, you know all this I've said about him. Why don't you admit it? You've read his letters.

MURRAY (haltingly). Yes, I'll admit that was my opinion—only I wanted to be sure you'd found out for yourself.

EILEEN (defiantly). Well, I have! You see that now, don't you?

MURRAY. Yes; and I'm glad you're free of him, for your own sake. I knew he wasn't the person. (With an attempt at a joking tone.) You must get one of the right sort—next time.

EILEEN (springing to her feet with a cry of pain). Stephen!

(He avoids her eyes, which search his face pleadingly.)

MURRAY (mumbling). He wasn't good enough—to lace your shoes—nor anyone else, either.

EILEEN (with a nervous laugh). Don't be silly. (After a pause, during which she waits hungrily for some word from him—with a sigh of despair—faintly.) Well, I've told you—all there is. I might as well go back.

MURRAY (not looking at her—indistinctly). Yes. You mustn't lose too much sleep. I'll come to your cottage in the morning to say good-bye. They'll permit that, I guess.

EILEEN (stands looking at him imploringly, her face convulsed with anguish, but he keeps his eyes fixed on the rocks at his feet. Finally she seems to give up and takes a few uncertain steps up the road towards the right—in an exhausted whisper). Good night, Stephen.

MURRAY (his voice choked and husky). Good night, Eileen.

EILEEN (walks weakly up the road, but, as she passes the signpost, she suddenly stops and turns to look again at Murray, who has not moved or lifted his eyes. A great shuddering sob shatters her pent-up emotions. She runs back to Murray, her arms outstretched, with a choking cry). Stephen!

MURRAY (startled, whirls to face her and finds her arms thrown around his neck—in a terrified tone). Eileen!

EILEEN (brokenly). I love you, Stephen—you! That's what I wanted to tell!

(She gazes up into his eyes, her face transfigured by the joy and pain of this abject confession.)

MURRAY (wincing as if this were the thing he had feared to hear). Eileen!

EILEEN (pulling down his head with fierce strength and kissing him passionately on the lips). I love you! I will say it! There! (With sudden horror.) Oh, I know I shouldn't kiss you! I mustn't! You're all well—and I——

MURRAY (protesting frenziedly). Eileen! Damn it! Don't say that! What do you think I am!

(He kisses her fiercely two or three times until she forces a hand over her mouth.)

EILEEN (with a hysterically happy laugh). No! Just hold me in your arms—just a little while—before——

MURRAY (his voice trembling). Eileen! Don't talk that way! You're—it's killing me. I can't stand it!

EILEEN (with soothing tenderness). Listen, dear—listen—and you won't say a word—I've so much to say—till I get through—please, will you promise?

MURRAY (between clinched teeth). Yes—anything, Eileen!

EILEEN. Then I want to say—I know your secret. You don't love me—Isn't that it? (Murray groans.) Sssh! It's all right, dear. You can't help what you don't feel. I've guessed you didn't—right along. And I've loved you—such a long time now—always, it seems. And you've sort of guessed—that I did—didn't you? No, don't speak! I'm sure you've guessed—only you didn't want to know—that—did you?—when you didn't love me. That's why you were lying—but I saw, I knew! Oh, I'm not blaming you, darling. How could I—never! You mustn't look so—so frightened. I know how you felt, dear. I've—I've watched you. It was just a flirtation for you at first. Wasn't it? Oh, I know. It was just fun, and—— Please don't look at me so. I'm not hurting you, am I? I wouldn't for worlds, dear—you know—hurt you! And then afterwards—you found we could be such good friends—helping each other—and you wanted it to stay just like that always, didn't you?—I know—and then I had to spoil it all—and fall in love with you—didn't I? Oh, it was stupid—I shouldn't—I couldn't help it, you were so kind and—and different—and I wanted to share in your work and—and everything. I knew you wouldn't want to know I loved you—when you didn't—and I tried hard to be fair and hide my love so you wouldn't see—and I did, didn't I, dear? You never knew till just lately—maybe not till just to-day—did you?—when I knew you were going away so soon—and couldn't help showing it. You never knew before, did you? Did you?

MURRAY (miserably). No. Oh, Eileen—Eileen, I'm so sorry!

EILEEN (in heart-broken protest). Sorry? Oh, no, Stephen, you mustn't be! It's been beautiful—all of it—for me! That's what makes your going—so hard. I had to see you to-night—I'd have gone—crazy—if I didn't know you knew, if I hadn't made you guess. And I thought—if you knew about my writing to Fred—that—maybe—it'd make some difference. (Murray groans—and she laughs hysterically.) I must have been crazy—to think that—mustn't I? As if that could—when you don't love me. Sshh! Please! Let me finish. You mustn't feel sad—or anything. It's made me happier than I've ever been—loving you—even when I did know—you didn't. Only now—you'll forgive me telling you all this, won't you, dear? Now, it's so terrible to think I won't see you any more. I'll feel so—without anybody.

MURRAY (brokenly). But I'll—come back. And you'll be out soon—and then——

EILEEN (brokenly). Sshh! Let me finish. You don't know how alone I am now. Father—he'll marry that housekeeper—and the children—they've forgotten me. None of them need me any more. They've found out how to get on without me—and I'm a drag—dead to them—no place for me home any more—and they'll be afraid to have me back—afraid of catching—I know she won't want me back. And Fred—he's gone—he never mattered, anyway. Forgive me, dear—worrying you—only I want you to know how much you've meant to me—so you won't forget—ever—after you've gone.

MURRAY (in grief-stricken tones). Forget? Eileen! I'll do anything in God's world——

EILEEN. I know—you like me a lot even if you can't love me—don't you? (His arms tighten about her as he bends down and forces a kiss on her lips again.) Oh, Stephen! That was for good-bye. You mustn't come to-morrow morning. I couldn't bear having you—with people watching. But you'll write after—often—won't you? (Heart-brokenly.) Oh, please do that, Stephen!

MURRAY. I will! I swear! And when you get out I'll—we'll—I'll find something. (He kisses her again.)

EILEEN (breaking away from him with a quick movement and stepping back a few feet). Good-bye, darling. Remember me—and perhaps—you'll find out after a time—I'll pray God to make it so! Oh, what am I saying? Only—I'll hope—I'll hope—till I die!

MURRAY (in anguish). Eileen!

EILEEN (her breath coming in tremulous heaves of her bosom). Remember, Stephen—if ever you want—I'll do anything—anything you want—no matter what—I don't care—there's just you and—don't hate me, dear. I love you—love you—remember! (She suddenly turns and runs away up the road.)

MURRAY. Eileen! (He starts to run after her, but stops by the signpost and stamps on the ground furiously, his fists clenched in impotent rage at himself and at fate. He curses hoarsely.) Christ!

The Curtain Falls


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