The Straw

by Eugene O'Neill

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Act Two: Scene One

Scene One: Assembly Room of the Main Building at the Sanatorium—A Morning Four Months Later.

The assembly room of the main building of the sanatorium—early in the morning of a fine day in June, four months later. The room is large, light and airy, painted a fresh white. On the left forward, an armchair. Farther back, a door opening on the main hall. To the rear of this door, a pianola on a raised platform. At back of the pianola, a door leading into the office. In the rear wall, a long series of French windows looking out on the lawn, with wooded hills in the far background. Shrubs in flower grow immediately outside the windows Inside, there is a row of potted plants. In the right wall, rear, four windows. Farther forward, a long well-filled bookcase, and a doorway leading into the dining-room. Following the walls, but about five feet out from them a stiff line of chairs placed closely against each other forms a sort of right-angled auditorium of which the large, square table that stands at centre, forward, would seem to be the stage.

From the dining-room comes the clatter of dishes, the confused murmur of many voices, male and female—all the mingled sounds of a crowd of people at a meal.

After the curtain rises, Doctor Stanton enters from the hall, followed by a visitor, Mr. Sloan, and the assistant physician, Doctor Simms. Doctor Stanton is a handsome man of forty-five or so with a grave, care-lined, studious face lightened by a kindly, humorous smile. His grey eyes, saddened by the suffering they have witnessed, have the sympathetic quality of real understanding. The look they give is full of companionship, the courage-renewing, human companionship of a hope which is shared. He speaks with a slight Southern accent, soft and slurring. Doctor Simms is a tall, angular young man with a long sallow face and a sheepish, self-conscious grin. Mr. Sloan is fifty, short and stout, well dressed—one of the successful business men whose endowments have made the Hill Farm a possibility.

STANTON (as they enter). This is what you might see in the general assembly room, Mr. Sloan—where the patients of both sexes are allowed to congregate together after meals, for diets, and in the evening.

SLOAN (looking around him). Couldn't be more pleasant, I must say—light and airy. (He walks to where he can take a peep into the dining-room.) Ah, they're all at breakfast, I see.

STANTON (smiling). Yes, and with no lack of appetite, let me tell you. (With a laugh of proud satisfaction.) They'd sure eat us out of house and home at one sitting, if we'd give them the opportunity. (To his assistant.) Wouldn't they, Doctor?

SIMMS (with his abashed grin). You bet they would, sir.

SLOAN (with a smile). That's fine. (With a nod towards the dining-room.) The ones in there are the sure cures, aren't they?

STANTON (a shadow coming over his face). Strictly speaking, there are no sure cures in this disease, Mr. Sloan. When we permit a patient to return to take up his or her activities in the world, the patient is what we call an arrested case. The disease is overcome, quiescent; the wound is healed over. It's then up to the patient to so take care of himself that this condition remains permanent. It isn't hard for them to do this, usually. Just ordinary, bull-headed common sense—added to what they've learned here—is enough for their safety. And the precautions we teach them to take don't diminish their social usefulness in the slightest, either, as I can prove by our statistics of former patients. (With a smile.) It's rather early in the morning for statistics, though.

SLOAN (with a wave of the hand). Oh, you needn't. Your reputation in that respect, Doctor—— (Stanton inclines his head in acknowledgment. Sloan jerks his thumb towards the dining-room.) But the ones in there are getting well, aren't they?

STANTON. To all appearances, yes. You don't dare swear to it, though. Sometimes, just when a case looks most favourably, there's a sudden, unforeseen breakdown, and they have to be sent back to bed, or, if it's very serious, back to the Infirmary again. These are the exceptions, however, not the rule. You can bank on most of those eaters being out in the world and usefully employed within six months.

SLOAN. You couldn't say more than that (Abruptly.) But—the unfortunate ones—do you have many deaths?

STANTON (with a frown). No. We're under a very hard, almost cruel imperative which prevents that. If, at the end of six months, a case shows no response to treatment, continues to go down hill—if, in a word, it seems hopeless—we send them away, to one of the State Farms if they have no private means. (Apologetically.) You see, this sanatorium is overcrowded and has a long waiting list, most of the time, of others who demand their chance for life. We have to make places for them. We have no time to waste on incurables. There are other places for them—and sometimes, too, a change is beneficial and they pick up in new surroundings. You never can tell. But we're bound by the rule. It may seem cruel—but it's as near justice to all concerned as we can come.

SLOAN (soberly). I see. (His eyes fall on the pianola in surprise.) Ah—a piano.

STANTON (replying to the other's thought). Yes, some patients play and sing. (With a smile.) If you'd call the noise they make by those terms. They'd dance, too, if we permitted it. There's only one big taboo—Home, Sweet Home. We forbid that—for obvious reasons.

SLOAN. I see. (With a final look around.) Did I understand you to say this is the only place where the sexes are permitted to mingle?

STANTON. Yes, sir.

SLOAN (with a smile). Not much chance for a love affair then.

STANTON (seriously). We do our best to prevent them. We even have a strict rule which allows us to step in and put a stop to any intimacy which grows beyond the casual. People up here, Mr. Sloan, are expected to put aside all ideas except the one—getting well.

SLOAN (somewhat embarrassed). A damn good rule, too, I should say, under the circumstances.

STANTON (with a laugh). Yes, we're strictly anti-Cupid, sir, from top to bottom, (Turning to the door to the hall.) And now, if you don't mind, Mr. Sloan, I'm going to turn you loose to wander about the grounds on an unconducted tour. To-day is my busy morning—Saturday. We weigh each patient immediately after breakfast.

SLOAN. Every week?

STANTON. Every Saturday. You see we depend on fluctuations in weight to tell us a lot about the patient's condition. If they gain, or stay at normal, all's usually well. If they lose week after week without any reason we can definitely point to, we keep careful watch. It's a sign that something's wrong. We're forewarned by it and on our guard.

SLOAN (with a smile). Well, I'm certainly learning things. (He turns to the door.) And you just shoo me off wherever you please and go on with the good work. I'll be glad of a ramble in the open on such a glorious morning.

STANTON. After the weighing is over, sir, I'll be free to——

(His words are lost as the three go out. A moment later, Eileen enters from the dining-room. She has grown stouter, her face has more of a healthy, out-of-door colour, but there is still about her the suggestion of being worn down by a burden too oppressive for her courage. She is dressed in blouse and dark skirt. She goes to the armchair, left forward, and sinks down on it. She is evidently in a state of nervous depression; she twists her fingers together in her lap; her eyes stare sadly before her; she clenches her upper lip with her teeth to prevent its trembling. She has hardly regained control over herself when Stephen Murray comes in hurriedly from the dining-room and, seeing her at his first glance, walks quickly over to her chair. He is the picture of health, his figure has filled out solidly, his tanned face beams with suppressed exultation.)

MURRAY (excitedly). Eileen! I saw you leave your table. I've something to tell you. I didn't get a chance last night after the mail came. You'd gone to the cottage. Just listen, Eileen—it's too good to be true—but on that mail—guess what?

EILEEN (forgetting her depression—with an excited smile). I know! You've sold your story!

MURRAY (triumphantly). Go to the head of the class. What d'you know about that for luck! My first, too—and only the third magazine I sent it to! (He cuts a joyful caper.)

EILEEN (happily). Isn't that wonderful, Stephen! But I knew all the time you would. The story's so good.

MURRAY. Well, you might have known, but I didn't think there was a chance in the world. And as for being good—(With superior air)—wait till I turn loose with the real big ones, the kind I'm going to write. Then I'll make them sit up and take notice. They can't stop me now. This money gives me a chance to sit back and do what I please for a while. And I haven't told you the best part. The editor wrote saying how much he liked the yarn and asked me for more of the same kind.

EILEEN. And you've the three others about the same person—just as good, too! Why, you'll sell them all! (She clasps her hands delightedly.)

MURRAY. And I can send them out right away. They're all typed, thanks to you. That's what's brought me luck, I know. I never had a bit by myself. (Then, after a quick glance around to make sure they are alone, he bends down and kisses her.) There! A token of gratitude—even if it is against the rules.

EILEEN (flushing—with timid happiness). Stephen! You mustn't! They'll see.

MURRAY (boldly). Let them!

EILEEN. But you know—they've warned us against being so much together, already.

MURRAY. Let them! We'll be out of this prison soon. (Eileen shakes her head sadly, but he does not notice.) Oh, I wish you could leave when I do. We'd have some celebration together.

EILEEN (her lips trembling). I was thinking last night—that you'd soon be going away. You look so well. Do you think—they'll let you go—soon?

MURRAY. You bet I do. I'm bound to go now. It's ridiculous keeping me here when I'm as healthy as a pig. I caught Stanton in the hall last night and asked him if I could go.

EILEEN (anxiously). What did he say?

MURRAY. He only smiled and said: "We'll see if you gain weight to-morrow." As if that mattered now! Why, I'm way above normal as it is! But you know Stanton—always putting you off. But I could tell by the way he said it he'd be willing to consider——

EILEEN (slowly). Then—if you gain to-day—-

MURRAY. He'll let me go. Yes, I know he will. I'm going to insist on it.

EILEEN. Then—you'll leave——?

MURRAY. Right away. The minute I can get packed.

EILEEN (trying to force a smile). Oh, I'm so glad—for your sake; but—I'm selfish—it'll be so lonely here without you.

MURRAY (consolingly). You'll be going away yourself before long. (Eileen shakes her head. He goes on without noticing, wrapped in his own success.) Oh, Eileen, you can't imagine all it opens up for me—selling that story. I don't have to go back home to stagnate. I can go straight to New York, and live, and meet real people who are doing things. I can take my time, and try and do the work I hope to. (Feelingly.) You don't know how grateful I am to you, Eileen—how you've helped me. Oh, I don't mean just the typing, I mean your encouragement, your faith! I'd never have had guts enough to stick to it myself. The stories would never have been written if it hadn't been for you.

EILEEN (choking back a sob). I didn't do—anything.

MURRAY (staring down at her—with rough kindliness). Here, here, that'll never do! You're not weeping about it, are you, silly? (He pats her on the shoulder.) What's the matter, Eileen? You didn't eat a thing this morning. I was watching you. (With kindly severity.) That's no way to gain weight, you know. You'll have to feed up. Do you hear what your guardian commands, eh?

EILEEN (with dull hopelessness). I know I'll lose again. I've been losing steadily the past three weeks.

MURRAY. Here! Don't you dare talk that way! I won't stand for it. Why, you've been picking up wonderfully—until just lately. You've made such a game fight for four months. Even the old Doc has told you how much he admired your pluck, and how much better you were getting. You're not going to quit now, are you?

EILEEN (despairingly). Oh, I don't care! I don't care—now.

MURRAY. Now? What do you mean by that? What's happened to make things any different?

EILEEN (evasively). Oh—nothing. Don't ask me, Stephen.

MURRAY (with sudden anger). I don't have to ask you. I can guess. Another letter from home—or from that ass, eh?

EILEEN (shaking her head). No, it isn't that. (She looks at him as if imploring him to comprehend.)

MURRAY (furiously). Of course, you'd deny it. You always do. But don't you suppose I've got eyes? It's been the same damn thing all the time you've been here. After every nagging letter—thank God they don't write often any more!—you've been all in; and after their Sunday visits—you can thank God they've been few, too—you're utterly knocked out. It's a shame! The selfish swine!

EILEEN. Stephen!

MURRAY (relentlessly.) Don't be sentimental, Eileen. You know it's true. From what you've told me of their letters, their visits—from what I've seen and suspected—they've done nothing but worry and torment you and do their best to keep you from getting well.

EILEEN (faintly). You're not fair, Stephen.

MURRAY. Rot! When it isn't your father grumbling about expense, it's the kids, or that stupid housekeeper, or that slick Aleck, Nicholls, with his cowardly lies. Which is it this time?

EILEEN (pitifully). None of them.

MURRAY (explosively). But him, especially—the dirty cad! Oh, I've got a rich notion to pay a call on that gentleman when I leave and tell him what I think of him.

EILEEN (quickly). No—you mustn't ever! He's not to blame. If you knew—— (She stops, lowering her eyes in confusion.)

MURRAY (roughly). Knew what? You make me sick, Eileen—always finding excuses for him. I never could understand what a girl like you could see—— But what's the use? I've said all this before. You're wasting yourself on a—— (Rudely.) Love must be blind. And yet you say you don't love him, really?

EILEEN (shaking her head—helplessly). But I do—like Fred. We've been good friends so many years. I don't want to hurt him—his pride——

MURRAY. That's the same as answering no to my question. Then, if you don't love him, why don't you write and tell him to go to—break it off? (Eileen bows her head, but doesn't reply. Irritated, Murray continues brutally.) Are you afraid it would break his heart? Don't be a fool! The only way you could do that would be to deprive him of his meals.

EILEEN (springing to her feet—distractedly). Please stop, Stephen! You're cruel! And you've been so kind—the only real friend I've had up here. Don't spoil it all now.

MURRAY (remorsefully). I'm sorry, Eileen. I was only talking. I won't say another word. (Irritably.) Still, someone ought to say or do something to put a stop to——

EILEEN (with a broken laugh). Never mind. Everything will stop—soon, now!

MURRAY (suspiciously). What do you mean?

EILEEN (with an attempt at a careless tone). Nothing. If you can't see—— (She turns to him with sudden intensity.) Oh, Stephen, if you only knew how wrong you are about everything you've said. It's all true; but it isn't that—any of it—any more—that's—— Oh, I can't tell you!

MURRAY (with great interest). Please do, Eileen!

EILEEN (with a helpless laugh). No.

MURRAY. Please tell me what it is! Let me help you.

EILEEN. No. It wouldn't be any use, Stephen.

MURRAY (offended). Why do you say that? Haven't I helped before?

EILEEN. Yes—but this——

MURRAY. Come now! 'Fess up! What is "this"?

EILEEN. No. I couldn't speak of it here, anyway. They'll all be coming out soon.

MURRAY (insistently). Then when? Where?

EILEEN. Oh, I don't know—perhaps never, nowhere. I don't know—— Sometime before you leave, maybe.

MURRAY. But I may go to-morrow morning—if I gain weight and Stanton lets me.

EILEEN (sadly). Yes, I was forgetting—you were going right away. (Dully). Then nowhere, I suppose—never. (Glancing towards the dining-room.) They're all getting up. Let's not talk about it any more—now.

MURRAY (stubbornly). But you'll tell me later, Eileen? You must.

EILEEN (vaguely). Perhaps. It depends——

(The patients, about forty in number, straggle in from the dining-room by twos and threes, chatting in low tones. The men and women with few exceptions separate into two groups, the women congregating in the left right angle of chairs, the men sitting or standing in the right right angle. In appearance, most of the patients are tanned, healthy, and cheerful-looking. The great majority are under middle age. Their clothes are of the cheap, ready-made variety. They are all distinctly of the wage-earning class. They might well be a crowd of cosmopolitan factory workers gathered together after a summer vacation. A hollow-chestedness and a tendency to round shoulders may be detected as a common characteristic. A general air of tension, marked by frequent bursts of laughter in too high a key, seems to pervade the throng. Murray and Eileen, as if to avoid contact with the others, come over to the right in front of the dining-room door.)

MURRAY (in a low voice). Listen to them laugh. Did you ever notice—perhaps it's my imagination—how forced they act on Saturday mornings before they're weighed?

EILEEN (dully). No.

MURRAY. Can't you tell me that secret now? No one'll hear.

EILEEN (vehemently). No, no, how could I? Don't speak of it!

(A sudden silence falls on all the groups at once. Their eyes, by a common impulse, turn quickly towards the door to the hall.)

A WOMAN (nervously—as if this moment's silent pause oppressed her.) Play something, Peters. They ain't coming yet.

(Peters, a stupid-looking young fellow with a sly, twisted smirk which gives him the appearance of perpetually winking his eye, detaches himself from a group on the right. All join in with urging exclamations: "Go on, Peters! Go to it! Pedal up, Pete! Give us a rag! That's the boy, Peters!" etc.)

PETERS. Sure, if I got time.

(He goes to the pianola and puts in a roll. The mingled conversation and laughter bursts forth again as he sits on the bench and starts pedalling.)

MURRAY (disgustedly). It's sure good to think I won't have to listen to that old tin-pan being banged much longer!

(The music interrupts him—a quick rag. The patients brighten, hum, whistle, sway their heads or tap their feet in time to the tune. Doctor Stanton and Doctor Simms appear in the doorway from the hall. All eyes are turned on them.)

STANTON (raising his voice). They all seem to be here, Doctor. We might as well start.

(Mrs. Turner, the matron, comes in behind them—a stout, motherly, capable-looking woman with grey hair. She hears Stanton's remark.)

MRS. TURNER. And take temperatures after, Doctor?

STANTON. Yes, Mrs. Turner. I think that's better to-day.

MRS. TURNER. All right, Doctor.

(Stanton and the assistant go out. Mrs. Turner advances a step or so into the room and looks from one group of patients to the other, inclining her head and smiling benevolently. All force smiles and nod in recognition of her greeting. Peters, at the pianola, lets the music slow down, glancing questioningly at the matron to see if she is going to order it stopped. Then, encouraged by her smile, his feet pedal harder than ever.)

MURRAY. Look at old Mrs. Grundy's eyes pinned on us! She'll accuse us of being too familiar again, the old wench!

EILEEN. Sssh. You're wrong. She's looking at me, not at us.

MURRAY. At you? Why?

EILEEN. I ran a temperature yesterday. It must have been over a hundred last night.

MURRAY. (with consoling scepticism). You're always looking for trouble, Eileen. How do you know you ran a temp? You didn't see the stick, I suppose?

EILEEN. No—but—I could tell. I felt feverish and chilly. It must have been way up.

MURRAY. Bosh! If it was you'd have been sent to bed.

EILEEN. That's why she's looking at me. (Piteously.) Oh, I do hope I won't be sent back to bed! I don't know what I'd do. If I could only gain this morning. If my temp has only gone down! (Hopelessly.) But I feel—— I didn't sleep a wink—thinking——

MURRAY. (roughly). You'll persuade yourself you've got leprosy in a second. Don't be silly! It's all imagination, I tell you. You'll gain. Wait and see if you don't.

(Eileen shakes her head. A metallic rumble and jangle comes from the hallway. Everyone turns in that direction with nervous expectancy.)

MRS. TURNER (admonishingly). Mr. Peters!

PETERS. Yes, ma'am.

(He stops playing and rejoins the group of men on the right. In the midst of a silence broken only by hushed murmurs of conversation, Doctor Stanton appears in the hall doorway. He turns to help his assistant wheel in a Fairbanks scale on castors. They place the scale against the wall immediately to the rear of the doorway. Doctor Simms adjusts it to a perfect balance.)

DOCTOR STANTON (takes a pencil from his pocket and opens the record book he has in his hand). All ready, Doctor?

DOCTOR SIMMS. Just a second, sir.

(A chorus of coughs comes from the impatient crowd, and handkerchiefs are hurriedly produced to shield mouths.)

MURRAY (with a nervous smile). Well, we're all set. Here's hoping!

EILEEN. You'll gain, I'm sure you will. You look so well.

MURRAY. Oh—I—I wasn't thinking of myself, I'm a sure thing. I was betting on you. I've simply got to gain to-day, when so much depends on it.

EILEEN. Yes, I hope you—— (She falters brokenly and turns away from him.)

DOCTOR SIMMS (straightening up). All ready, Doctor?

STANTON (nods and glances at his book—without raising his voice—distinctly). Mrs. Abner.

(A middle-aged woman comes and gets on the scale. Simms adjusts it to her weight of the previous week, which Stanton reads to him from the book in a low voice, and weighs her.)

MURRAY (with a relieved sigh). They're off. (Noticing Eileen's downcast head and air of dejection.) Here! Buck up, Eileen! Old Lady Grundy's watching you—and it's your turn in a second.

(Eileen raises her head and forces a frightened smile. Mrs. Abner gets down off the scale with a pleased grin. She has evidently gained. She rejoins the group of women, chattering volubly in low tones. Her exultant "gained half a pound" can be heard. The other women smile their perfunctory congratulations, their eyes absent-minded, intent on their own worries. Stanton writes down the weight in the book.)

STANTON. Miss Bailey. (A young girl goes to the scales.)

MURRAY. Bailey looks bad, doesn't she?

EILEEN (her lips trembling). She's been losing, too.

MURRAY. Well, you're going to gain to-day. Remember, now!

EILEEN (with a feeble smile). I'll try to obey your orders.

(Miss Bailey goes down off the scales. Her eyes are full of despondency although she tries to make a brave face of it, forcing a laugh as she joins the women. They stare at her with pitying looks and murmur consoling phrases.)

EILEEN. She's lost again. Oh, I wish I didn't have to get weighed——

STANTON. Miss Carmody.

(Eileen starts nervously.)

MURRAY (as she leaves him). Remember now! Break the scales!

(She walks quickly to the scales, trying to assume an air of defiant indifference. The balance stays down as she steps up. Eileen's face shows her despair at this. Simms weighs her and gives the poundage in a low voice to Stanton. Eileen steps down mechanically, then hesitates as if not knowing where to turn, her anguished eyes flitting from one group to another.)

MURRAY (savagely). Damn!

(Doctor Stanton writes the figures in his book, glances sharply at Eileen, and then nods significantly to Mrs. Turner who is standing beside him.)

STANTON (calling the next). Miss Doeffler.

(Another woman comes to be weighed.)

MRS. TURNER. Miss Carmody! Will you come here a moment, please?

EILEEN (her face growing very pale). Yes, Mrs. Turner.

(The heads of the different groups bend together. Their eyes follow Eileen as they whisper. Mrs. Turner leads her down front, left. Behind them the weighing of the women continues briskly. The great majority have gained. Those who have not have either remained stationary or lost a negligible fraction of a pound. So, as the weighing proceeds, the general air of smiling satisfaction rises among the groups of women. Some of them, their ordeal over, go out through the hall doorway by twos and threes with suppressed laughter and chatter. As they pass behind Eileen they glance at her with pitying curiosity. Doctor Stanton's voice is heard at regular intervals calling the names in alphabetical order: Mrs. Elbing, Miss Finch, Miss Grimes, Miss Haines, Miss Hayes, Miss Jutner, Miss Linowski, Mrs. Marini, Mrs. McCoy, Miss McElroy, Miss Nelson, Mrs. Nott, Mrs. O'Brien, Mrs. Olson, Miss Paul, Miss Petrovski, Mrs. Quinn, Miss Robersi, Mrs. Stattler, Miss Unger.)

MRS. TURNER (putting her hand on Eileen's shoulder—kindly). You're not looking so well lately, my dear, do you know it?

EILEEN (bravely). I feel—fine. (Her eyes, as if looking for encouragement, seek Murray, who is staring at her worriedly.)

MRS. TURNER (gently). You lost weight again, you know.

EILEEN, I know—but——

MRS. TURNER. This is the fourth week.

EILEEN. I—I know it is——

MRS. TURNER. I've been keeping my eye on you. You seem—worried. Are you upset about—something we don't know?

EILEEN (quickly). No, no! I haven't slept much lately. That must be it.

MRS. TURNER. Are you worrying about your condition? Is that what keeps you awake?


MRS. TURNER. You're sure it's not that?

EILEEN. Yes, I'm sure it's not, Mrs. Turner.

MRS. TURNER. I was going to tell you if you were: Don't do it! You can't expect it to be all smooth sailing. Even the most favourable cases have to expect these little setbacks. A few days' rest in bed will start you on the right trail again.

EILEEN (in anguish, although she had realised this was coming). Bed? Go back to bed? Oh, Mrs. Turner!

MRS. TURNER (gently). Yes, my dear, Doctor Stanton thinks it best. So when you go back to your cottage——

EILEEN. Oh, please—not to-day—not right away!

MRS. TURNER. You had a temperature and a high pulse yesterday, didn't you realise it? And this morning you look quite feverish. (She tries to put her hand on Eileen's forehead, but the latter steps away defensively.)

EILEEN. It's only—not sleeping last night. I was nervous. Oh, I'm sure it'll go away.

MRS. TURNER (consolingly). When you lie still and have perfect rest, of course it will.

EILEEN (with a longing look over at Murray). But not to-day—please, Mrs. Turner.

MRS. TURNER (looking at her keenly). There is something upsetting you. You've something on your mind that you can't tell me, is that it? (Eileen maintains a stubborn silence.) But think—can't you tell me? (With a kindly smile.) I'm used to other people's troubles. I've been playing mother-confessor to the patients for years now, and I think I've usually been able to help them. Can't you confide in me, child? (Eileen drops her eyes, but remains silent. Mrs. Turner glances meaningly over at Murray, who is watching them whenever he thinks the matron is not aware of it—a note of sharp rebuke in her voice.) I think I can guess your secret, my dear, even if you're too stubborn to tell. This setback is your own fault. You've let other notions become more important to you than the idea of getting well. And you've no excuse for it. After I had to warn you a month ago, I expected that silliness to stop instantly.

EILEEN (her face flushed—protesting). There never was anything. Nothing like that has anything to do with it.

MRS. TURNER (sceptically). What is it that has, then?

EILEEN (lying determinedly). It's my family. They keep writing—and worrying me—and—— That's what it is, Mrs. Turner.

MRS. TURNER (not exactly knowing whether to believe this or not—probing the girl with her eyes). Your father?

EILEEN. Yes, all of them. (Suddenly seeing a way to discredit all of the matron's suspicions—excitedly.) And principally the young man I'm engaged to—the one who came to visit me several times——

MRS. TURNER (surprised). So—you're engaged? (Eileen nods. Mrs. Turner immediately dismisses her suspicions.) Oh, pardon me. I didn't know that, you see, or I wouldn't—— (She pats Eileen on the shoulder comfortingly.) Never mind. You'll tell me all about it, won't you?

EILEEN (desperately). Yes. (She seems about to go on, but the matron interrupts her.)

MRS. TURNER. Oh, not here, my dear. Now now. Come to my room—let me see—I'll be busy all the morning—some time this afternoon. Will you do that?

EILEEN. Yes. (Joyfully.) Then I needn't go to bed right away?

MRS. TURNER. No—on one condition. You mustn't take any exercise. Stay in your recliner all day and rest and remain in bed to-morrow morning. And promise me you will rest and not worry any more about things we can easily fix up between us.

EILEEN. I promise, Mrs. Turner.

MRS. TURNER (smiling in dismissal). Very well, then. I must speak to Miss Bailey. I'll see you this afternoon.

EILEEN. Yes, Mrs. Turner.

(The matron goes to the rear where Miss Bailey is sitting with Mrs. Abner. She beckons to Miss Bailey, who gets up with a scared look, and they go to the far left corner of the room. Eileen stands for a moment hesitating—then starts to go to Murray, but just at this moment Peters comes forward and speaks to Murray.)

PETERS (with his sly twisted grin). Say, Carmody musta lost fierce. Did yuh see the Old Woman handin' her an earful? Sent her back to bed, I betcha. What d'yuh think?

MURRAY (impatiently, showing his dislike). How the hell do I know?

PETERS (sneeringly). Huh, you don't know nothin' 'bout her, I s'pose? Where d'yuh get that stuff? Think yuh're kiddin' me?

MURRAY (with cold rage before which the other slinks away). Peters, the more I see of you the better I like a skunk! If it wasn't for other people losing weight you couldn't get any joy out of life, could you? (Roughly.) Get away from me! (He makes a threatening gesture.)

PETERS (beating a snarling retreat). Wait 'n' see if yuh don't lose too, yuh stuck-up boob!

(Seeing that Murray is alone again, Eileen starts towards him, but this time she is intercepted by Mrs. Abner, who stops on her way out. The weighing of the women is now finished, and that of the men, which proceeds much quicker, begins.)

STANTON. Anderson!

(Anderson comes to the scales. The men all move down to the left to wait their turn, with the exception of Murray, who remains by the dining-room door, fidgeting impatiently, anxious for a word with Eileen.)

MRS. ABNER (taking Eileen's arm). Coming over to the cottage, dearie?

EILEEN. Not just this minute, Mrs. Abner. I have to wait——

MRS. ABNER. For the Old Woman? You lost to-day, didn't you? Is she sendin' you to bed, the old devil?

EILEEN. Yes, I'm afraid I'll have to——

MRS. ABNER. She's a mean one, ain't she? I gained this week—half a pound. Lord, I'm gittin' fat! All my clothes are gittin' too small for me. Don't know what I'll do. Did you lose much, dearie?

EILEEN. Three pounds.

MRS. ABNER. Ain't that awful! (Hastening to make up for this thoughtless remark.) All the same, what's three pounds! You can git them back in a week after you're resting more. You been runnin' a temp, too, ain't you? (Eileen nods.) Don't worry about it, dearie. It'll go down. Worryin's the worst. Me, I don't never worry none. (She chuckled with satisfaction—then soberly.) I just been talkin' with Bailey. She's got to go to bed, too, I guess. She lost two pounds. She ain't runnin' no temp though.

STANTON. Barnes! (Another man comes to the scales.)

MRS. ABNER (in a mysterious whisper). Look at Mr. Murray, dearie. Ain't he nervous to-day? I don't know as I blame him, either. I heard the doctor said he'd let him go home if he gained to-day. Is it true, d'you know?

EILEEN (dully). I don't know.

MRS. ABNER. Gosh, I wish it was me! My old man's missin' me like the dickens, he writes. (She starts to go.) You'll be over to the cottage in a while, won't you? Me 'n' you'll have a game of casino, eh?

EILEEN (happy at this deliverance). Yes, I'll be glad to.

STANTON. Cordero!

(Mrs. Abner goes out. Eileen again starts towards Murray, but this time Flynn, a young fellow with a brick-coloured, homely, good-natured face, and a shaven-necked haircut, slouches back to Murray. Eileen is brought to a halt in front of the table where she stands, her face working with nervous strain, clasping and unclasping her trembling hands.)

FLYNN (curiously). Say, Steve, what's this bull about the Doc lettin' yuh beat it if yuh gain to-day? Is it straight goods?

MURRAY. He said he might, that's all. (Impatiently.) How the devil did that story get travelling around?

FLYNN (with a grin). Wha' d'yuh expect with this gang of skirts chewin' the fat? Well, here's hopin' yuh come home a winner, Steve.

MURRAY (gratefully). Thanks. (With confidence.) Oh, I'll gain all right; but whether he'll let me go or not—— (He shrugs his shoulders.)

FLYNN. Make 'em believe. I wish Stanton'd ask waivers on me. (With a laugh.) I oughter gain a ton to-day. I ate enough spuds for breakfast to plant a farm.


FLYNN. Me to the plate! (He strides to the scales.)

MURRAY. Good luck!

(He starts to join Eileen, but Miss Bailey, who has finished her talk with Mrs. Turner, who goes out to the hall, approaches Eileen at just this moment. Murray stops in his tracks, fuming. He and Eileen exchange a glance of helpless annoyance.)

MISS BAILEY (her thin face full of the satisfaction of misery finding company—plucks at Eileen's sleeve). Say, Carmody, she sent you back to bed, too, didn't she?

EILEEN (absent-mindedly). I suppose——

MISS BAILEY. You suppose? Don't you know? Of course she did. I got to go, too. (Pulling Eileen's sleeve.) Come on. Let's get out of here. I hate this place, don't you?

STANTON (calling the next). Hopper!

FLYNN (shouts to Murray as he is going out to the hall). I hit 'er for a two-bagger, Steve. Come on now, Bo, and bring me home! 'Atta, boy! (Grinning gleefully, he slouches out. Doctor Stanton and all the patients laugh.)

MISS BAILEY (with irritating persistence). Come on, Carmody. You've got to go to bed, too.

EILEEN (at the end of her patience—releasing her arm from the other's grasp). Let me alone, will you? I don't have to go to bed now—not till to-morrow morning.

MISS BAILEY (despairingly, as if she couldn't believe her ears). You don't have to go to bed?

EILEEN. Not now—no.

MISS BAILEY (in a whining rage). Why not? You've been running a temp, too, and I haven't. You must have a pull, that's what! It isn't fair. I'll bet you lost more than I did, too! What right have you got—— Well, I'm not going to bed if you don't. Wait 'n' see!

EILEEN (turning away, revolted). Go away! Leave me alone, please.

STANTON. Lowenstein!

MISS BAILEY (turns to the hall door, whining). All right for you! I'm going to find out. It isn't square. I'll write home.

(She disappears in the hallway. Murray strides over to Eileen, whose strength seems to have left her and who is leaning weakly against the table.)

MURRAY. Thank God—at last! Isn't it hell—all these fools! I couldn't get to you. What did Old Lady Grundy have to say to you? I saw her giving me a hard look. Was it about us—the old stuff? (Eileen nods with downcast eyes.) What did she say? Never mind now. You can tell me in a minute. It's my turn next. (His eyes glance towards the scales.)

EILEEN (intensely). Oh, Stephen, I wish you weren't going away!

MURRAY (excitedly). Maybe I'm not. It's exciting—like gambling—if I win——

STANTON. Murray!

MURRAY. Wait here, Eileen.

(He goes to the scales. Eileen keeps her back turned. Her body stiffens rigidly in the intensity of her conflicting emotions. She stares straight ahead, her eyes full of anguish. Murray steps on the scales nervously. The balance rod hits the top smartly. He has gained. His face lights up and he heaves a great sigh of relief. Eileen seems to sense this outcome and her head sinks, her body sags weakly and seems to shrink to a smaller size. Murray gets off the scales, his face beaming with a triumphant smile. Doctor Stanton smiles and murmurs something to him in a low voice. Murray nods brightly; then turns back to Eileen.)

STANTON. Nathan! (Another patient advances to the scales.)

MURRAY (trying to appear casual). Well—three rousing cheers! Stanton told me to come to his office at eleven. That means a final exam—and release!

EILEEN (dully). So you gained?

MURRAY. Three pounds.

EILEEN. Funny—I lost three. (With a pitiful effort at a smile.) I hope you gained the ones I lost. (Her lips tremble.) So you're surely going away.

MURRAY (his joy fleeing as he is confronted with her sorrow—slowly). It looks that way, Eileen.

EILEEN (in a trembling whisper broken by rising sobs). Oh—I'm so glad—you gained—the ones I lost, Stephen—— So glad! (She breaks down, covering her face with her hands, stifling her sobs.)

MURRAY (alarmed). Eileen! What's the matter? (Desperately.) Stop it! Stanton'll see you!

The Curtain Falls

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