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Title:      All God'S Chillun Got Wings
Author:     Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953)
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Language:   English
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Date first posted:          January 2004
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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      All God'S Chillun Got Wings
Author:     Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953)




Text as published in The Complete Works (1924)




Characters

JIM HARRIS

MRS. HARRIS, his mother

HATTIE, his sister

ELLA DOWNEY

SHORTY

JOE

MICKEY

WHITES AND NEGROES




Scenes

ACT I

SCENE I:  A corner in lower New York.  Years ago.  End of an
afternoon in Spring.

SCENE II:  The same.  Nine years later.  End of an evening in
Spring.

SCENE III:  The same.  Five years later.  A night in Spring.

SCENE IV:  The street before a church in the same ward.  A morning
some weeks later.


ACT II

SCENE I:  A flat in the same ward.  A morning two years later.

SCENE II:  The same.  At twilight some months later.

SCENE III:  The same.  A night some months later.




All God's Chillun Got Wings



ACT ONE


SCENE ONE


A corner in lower New York, at the edge of a colored district.
Three narrow streets converge.  A triangular building in the rear,
red brick, four-storied, its ground floor a grocery.  Four-story
tenements stretch away down the skyline of the two streets.  The
fire escapes are crowded with people.  In the street leading left,
the faces are all white; in the street leading right, all black.
It is hot Spring.  On the sidewalk are eight children, four boys
and four girls.  Two of each sex are white, two black.  They are
playing marbles.  One of the black boys is Jim Harris.  The little
blonde girl, her complexion rose and white, who sits behind his
elbow and holds his marbles is Ella Downey.  She is eight.  They
play the game with concentrated attention for a while.  People
pass, black and white, the Negroes frankly participants in the
spirit of Spring, the whites laughing constrainedly, awkward in
natural emotion.  Their words are lost.  One hears only their
laughter.  It expresses the difference in race.  There are street
noises--the clattering roar of the Elevated, the puff of its
locomotives, the ruminative lazy sound of a horse-car, the hooves
of its team clacking on the cobbles.  From the street of the whites
a high-pitched, nasal tenor sings the chorus of "Only a Bird in a
Gilded Cage."  On the street of the blacks a Negro strikes up the
chorus of:  "I Guess I'll Have to Telegraph My Baby."  As this
singing ends, there is laughter, distinctive in quality, from both
streets.  Then silence.  The light in the street begins to grow
brilliant with the glow of the setting sun.  The game of marbles
goes on.


WHITE GIRL--(tugging at the elbow of her brother)  Come on, Mickey!

HER BROTHER--(roughly)  Aw, gwan, youse!

WHITE GIRL--Aw right, den.  You kin git a lickin' if you wanter.
(gets up to move off)

HER BROTHER--Aw, git off de eart'!

WHITE GIRL--De old woman'll be madder'n hell!

HER BROTHER--(worried now)  I'm comin', ain't I?  Hold your horses.

BLACK GIRL--(to a black boy)  Come on, you Joe.  We gwine git
frailed too, you don't hurry.

JOE--Go long!

MICKEY--Bust up de game, huh?  I gotta run!  (jumps to his feet)

OTHER WHITE BOY--Me, too!  (jumps up)

OTHER BLACK GIRL--Lawdy, it's late!

JOE--Me for grub!

MICKEY--(to Jim Harris)  You's de winner, Jim Crow.  Yeh gotta play
tomorrer.

JIM--(readily)  Sure t'ing, Mick.  Come one, come all!  (He
laughs.)

OTHER WHITE BOY--Me, too!  I gotta git back at yuh.

JIM--Aw right, Shorty.

LITTLE GIRLS--Hurry!  Come on, come on!  (The six start off
together.  Then they notice that Jim and Ella are hesitating,
standing awkwardly and shyly together.  They turn to mock.)

JOE--Look at dat Jim Crow!  Land sakes, he got a gal!  (He laughs.
They all laugh.)

JIM--(ashamed)  Ne'er mind, you Chocolate!

MICKEY--Look at de two softies, will yeh!  Mush!  Mush!  (He and
the two other boys take this up.)

LITTLE GIRLS--(pointing their fingers at Ella)  Shame!  Shame!
Everybody knows your name!  Painty Face!  Painty Face!

ELLA--(hanging her head)  Shut up!

LITTLE WHITE GIRL--He's been carrying her books!

COLORED GIRL--Can't you find nuffin' better'n him, Ella?  Look at
de big feet he got!  (She laughs.  They all laugh.  Jim puts one
foot on top of the other, looking at Ella.)

ELLA--Mind yer own business, see!  (She strides toward them
angrily.  They jump up and dance in an ecstasy, screaming and
laughing.)

ALL--Found yeh out!  Found yeh out!

MICKEY--Mush-head!  Jim Crow de Sissy!  Stuck on Painty Face!

JOE--Will Painty Face let you hold her doll, boy?

SHORTY--Sissy!  Softy!  (Ella suddenly begins to cry.  At this they
all howl.)

ALL--Cry-baby!  Cry-baby!  Look at her!  Painty Face!

JIM--(suddenly rushing at them, with clenched fists, furiously)
Shut yo' moufs!  I kin lick de hull of you!  (They all run away,
laughing, shouting, and jeering, quite triumphant now that they
have made him, too, lose his temper.  He comes back to Ella, and
stands beside her sheepishly, stepping on one foot after the other.
Suddenly he blurts out)  Don't bawl no more.  I done chased 'em.

ELLA--(comforted, politely)  Tanks.

JIM--(swelling out)  It was a cinch.  I kin wipe up de street wid
any one of dem.  (He stretches out his arms, trying to bulge out
his biceps.)  Feel dat muscle!

ELLA--(does so gingerly--then with admiration)  My!

JIM--(protectingly)  You mustn't never be scared when I'm hanging
round, Painty Face.

ELLA--Don't call me that, Jim--please!

JIM--(contritely)  I didn't mean nuffin'.  I didn't know you'd
mind.

ELLA--I do--more'n anything.

JIM--You oughtn't to mind.  Dey's jealous, dat's what.

ELLA--Jealous?  Of what?

JIM--(pointing to her face)  Of dat.  Red 'n' white.  It's purty.

ELLA--I hate it!

JIM--It's purty.  Yes, it's--it's purty.  It's--outa sight!

ELLA--I hate it.  I wish I was black like you.

JIM--(sort of shrinking)  No you don't.  Dey'd call you Crow, den--
or Chocolate--or Smoke.

ELLA--I wouldn't mind.

JIM--(somberly)  Dey'd call you nigger sometimes, too.

ELLA--I wouldn't mind.

JIM--(humbly)  You wouldn't mind?

ELLA--No, I wouldn't mind.  (an awkward pause)

JIM--(suddenly)  You know what, Ella?  Since I been tuckin' yo'
books to school and back, I been drinkin' lots o' chalk 'n' water
tree times a day.  Dat Tom, de barber, he tole me dat make me
white, if I drink enough.  (pleadingly)  Does I look whiter?

ELLA--(comfortingly)  Yes--maybe--a little bit--

JIM--(trying a careless tone)  Reckon dat Tom's a liar, an' de
joke's on me!  Dat chalk only makes me feel kinder sick inside.

ELLA--(wonderingly)  Why do you want to be white?

JIM--Because--just because--I lak dat better.

ELLA--I wouldn't.  I like black.  Let's you and me swap.  I'd like
to be black.  (clapping her hands)  Gee, that'd be fun, if we only
could!

JIM--(hesitatingly)  Yes--maybe--

ELLA--Then they'd call me Crow, and you'd be Painty Face!

JIM--They wouldn't never dast call you nigger, you bet!  I'd kill
'em!  (A long pause.  Finally she takes his hand shyly.  They both
keep looking as far away from each other as possible.)

ELLA--I like you.

JIM--I like you.

ELLA--Do you want to be my feller?

JIM--Yes.

ELLA--Then I'm your girl.

JIM--Yes.  (then grandly)  You kin bet none o' de gang gwine call
you Painty Face from dis out!  I lam' 'em good!  (The sun has set.
Twilight has fallen on the street.  An organ grinder comes up to
the corner and plays "Annie Rooney."  They stand hand-in-hand and
listen.  He goes away.  It is growing dark.)

ELLA--(suddenly)  Golly, it's late!  I'll git a lickin'!

JIM--Me, too.

ELLA--I won't mind it much.

JIM--Me nuther.

ELLA--See you going to school tomorrow?

JIM--Sure.

ELLA--I gotta skip now.

JIM--Me, too.

ELLA--I like you, Jim.

JIM--I like you.

ELLA--Don't forget.

JIM--Don't you.

ELLA--Good-by.

JIM--So long.  (They run away from each other--then stop abruptly,
and turn as at a signal.)

ELLA--Don't forget.

JIM--I won't, you bet!

ELLA--Here!  (She kisses her hand at him, then runs off in frantic
embarrassment.)

JIM--(overcome)  Gee!  (Then he turns and darts away, as


The Curtain Falls)



SCENE TWO


The same corner.  Nine years have passed.  It is again late Spring
at a time in the evening which immediately follows the hour of
Scene One.  Nothing has changed much.  One street is still all
white, the other all black.  The fire escapes are laden with
drooping human beings.  The grocery store is still at the corner.
The street noises are now more rhythmically mechanical, electricity
having taken the place of horse and steam.  People pass, white and
black.  They laugh as in Scene One.  From the street of the whites
the high-pitched nasal tenor sings:  "Gee, I Wish That I Had a
Girl," and the Negro replies with "All I Got Was Sympathy."  The
singing is followed again by laughter from both streets.  Then
silence.  The dusk grows darker.  With a spluttering flare the arc-
lamp at the corner is lit and sheds a pale glare over the street.
Two young roughs slouch up to the corner, as tough in manner as
they can make themselves.  One is the Shorty of Scene One; the
other the Negro, Joe.  They stand loafing.  A boy of seventeen or
so passes by, escorting a girl of about the same age.  Both are
dressed in their best, the boy in black with stiff collar, the girl
in white.


SHORTY--(scornfully)  Hully cripes!  Pipe who's here.  (to the
girl, sneeringly)  Wha's matter, Liz?  Don't yer recernize yer old
fr'ens?

GIRL--(frightenedly)  Hello, Shorty.

SHORTY--Why de glad rags?  Goin' to graduation?  (He tries to
obstruct their way, but, edging away from him, they turn and run.)

JOE--Har-har!  Look at dem scoot, will you!  (Shorty grins with
satisfaction.)

SHORTY--(looking down other street)  Here comes Mickey.

JOE--He won de semi-final last night easy?

SHORTY--Knocked de bloke out in de thoid.

JOE--Dat boy's suah a-comin'!  He'll be de champeen yit.

SHORTY--(judicially)  Got a good chanct--if he leaves de broads
alone.  Dat's where he's wide open.  (Mickey comes in from the
left.  He is dressed loudly, a straw hat with a gaudy band cocked
over one cauliflower ear.  He has acquired a typical "pug's" face,
with the added viciousness of a natural bully.  One of his eyes is
puffed, almost closed, as a result of his battle the night before.
He swaggers up.)

BOTH--Hello, Mickey.

MICKEY--Hello.

JOE--Hear you knocked him col'.

MICKEY--Sure.  I knocked his block off.  (changing the subject)
Say.  Seen 'em goin' past to de graduation racket?

SHORTY--(with a wink)  Why?  You int'rested?

JOE--(chuckling)  Mickey's gwine roun' git a good conduct medal.

MICKEY--Sure.  Dey kin pin it on de seat o' me pants.  (They
laugh.)  Listen.  Seen Ella Downey goin'?

SHORTY--Painty Face?  No, she ain't been along.

MICKEY--(with authority)  Can dat name, see!  Want a bunch o' fives
in yer kisser?  Den nix!  She's me goil, understan'?

JOE--(venturing to joke)  Which one?  Yo' number ten?

MICKEY--(flattered)  Sure.  De real K. O. one.

SHORTY--(pointing right--sneeringly)  Gee!  Pipe Jim Crow all
dolled up for de racket.

JOE--(with disgusted resentment)  You mean tell me dat nigger's
graduatin'?

SHORTY--Ask him.  (Jim Harris comes in.  He is dressed in black,
stiff white collar, etc.--a quiet-mannered Negro boy with a
queerly-baffled, sensitive face.)

JIM--(pleasantly)  Hello, fellows.  (They grunt in reply, looking
over him scornfully.)

JOE--(staring resentfully)  Is you graduatin' tonight?

JIM--Yes.

JOE--(spitting disgustedly)  Fo' Gawd's sake!  You IS gittin' high-
falutin'!

JIM--(smiling deprecatingly)  This is my second try.  I didn't pass
last year.

JOE--What de hell does it git you, huh?  Whatever is you gwine do
wid it now you gits it?  Live lazy on yo' ol' woman?

JIM--(assertively)  I'm going to study and become a lawyer.

JOE--(with a snort)  Fo' Chris' sake, nigger!

JIM--(fiercely)  Don't you call me that--not before them!

JOE--(pugnaciously)  Does you deny you's a nigger?  I shows you--

MICKEY--(gives them both a push--truculently)  Cut it out, see!
I'm runnin' dis corner.  (turning to Jim insultingly)  Say you!
Painty Face's gittin' her ticket tonight, ain't she?

JIM--You mean Ella--

MICKEY--Painty Face Downey, dat's who I mean!  I don't have to be
perlite wit' her.  She's me goil!

JIM--(glumly)  Yes, she's graduating.

SHORTY--(winks at Mickey)  Smart, huh?

MICKEY--(winks back--meaningly)  Willin' to loin, take it from me!
(Jim stands tensely as if a struggle were going on in him.)

JIM--(finally blurts out)  I want to speak to you, Mickey--alone.

MICKEY--(surprised--insultingly)  Aw, what de hell--!

JIM--(excitedly)  It's important, I tell you!

MICKEY--Huh?  (stares at him inquisitively--then motions the others
back carelessly and follows Jim down front)

SHORTY--Some noive!

JOE--(vengefully)  I gits dat Jim alone, you wait!

MICKEY--Well, spill de big news.  I ain't got all night.  I got a
date.

JIM--With--Ella?

MICKEY--What's dat to you?

JIM--(the words tumbling out)  What--I wanted to say!  I know--I've
heard--all the stories--what you've been doing around the ward--
with other girls--it's none of my business, with them--but she--
Ella--it's different--she's not that kind--

MICKEY--(insultingly)  Who told yuh so, huh?

JIM--(draws back his fist threateningly)  Don't you dare--!
(Mickey is so paralyzed by this effrontery that he actually steps
back.)

MICKEY--Say, cut de comedy!  (beginning to feel insulted)  Listen,
you Jim Crow!  Ain't you wise I could give yuh one poke dat'd knock
yuh into next week?

JIM--I'm only asking you to act square, Mickey.

MICKEY--What's it to yuh?  Why, yuh lousy goat, she wouldn't spit
on yuh even!  She hates de sight of a coon.

JIM--(in agony)  I--I know--but once she didn't mind--we were kids
together--

MICKEY--Aw, ferget dat!  Dis is NOW!

JIM--And I'm still her friend always--even if she don't like
colored people--

MICKEY--COONS, why don't yuh say it right!  De trouble wit' you is
yuh're gittin' stuck up, dat's what!  Stay where yeh belong, see!
Yer old man made coin at de truckin' game and yuh're tryin' to buy
yerself white--graduatin' and law, for Christ sake!  Yuh're gittin'
yerself in Dutch wit' everyone in de ward--and it ain't cause yer a
coon neider.  Don't de gang all train wit' Joe dere and lots of
others?  But yuh're tryin' to buy white and it won't git yuh no
place, see!

JIM--(trembling)  Some day--I'll show you--

MICKEY--(turning away)  Aw, gwan!

JIM--D'you think I'd change--be you--your dirty white--!

MICKEY--(whirling about)  What's dat?

JIM--(with hysterical vehemence)  You act square with her--or I'll
show you up--I'll report you--I'll write to the papers--the
sporting writers--I'll let them know how white you are!

MICKEY--(infuriated)  Yuh damn nigger, I'll bust yer jaw in!
(Assuming his ring pose he weaves toward Jim, his face set in a
cruel scowl.  Jim waits helplessly but with a certain dignity.)

SHORTY--Cheese it!  A couple bulls!  And here's de Downey skoit
comin', too.

MICKEY--I'll get yuh de next time!  (Ella Downey enters from the
right.  She is seventeen, still has the same rose and white
complexion, is pretty but with a rather repelling bold air about
her.)

ELLA--(smiles with pleasure when she sees Mickey)  Hello, Mick.  Am
I late?  Say, I'm so glad you won last night.  (She glances from
one to the other as she feels something in the air.)  Hello!
What's up?

MICKEY--Dis boob.  (He indicates Jim scornfully.)

JIM--(diffidently)  Hello, Ella.

ELLA--(shortly, turning away)  Hello.  (then to Mickey)  Come on,
Mick.  Walk down with me.  I got to hurry.

JIM--(blurts out)  Wait--just a second.  (painfully)  Ella, do you
hate--colored people?

MICKEY--Aw, shut up!

JIM--Please answer.

ELLA--(forcing a laugh)  Say!  What is this--another exam?

JIM--(doggedly)  Please answer.

ELLA--(irritably)  Of course I don't!  Haven't I been brought up
alongside--Why, some of my oldest--the girls I've been to public
school the longest with--

JIM--Do you hate me, Ella?

ELLA--(confusedly and more irritably)  Say, is he drunk?  Why
should I?  I don't hate anyone.

JIM--Then why haven't you ever hardly spoken to me--for years?

ELLA--(resentfully)  What would I speak about?  You and me've got
nothing in common any more.

JIM--(desperately)  Maybe not any more--but--right on this corner--
do you remember once--?

ELLA--I don't remember nothing!  (angrily)  Say!  What's got into
you to be butting into my business all of a sudden like this?
Because you finally managed to graduate, has it gone to your head?

JIM--No, I--only want to help you, Ella.

ELLA--Of all the nerve!  You're certainly forgetting your place!
Who's asking you for help, I'd like to know?  Shut up and stop
bothering me!

JIM--(insistently)  If you ever need a friend--a true friend--

ELLA--I've got lots of friends among my own--kind, I can tell you.
(exasperatedly)  You make me sick!  Go to the devil!  (She flounces
off.  The three men laugh.  Mickey follows her.  Jim is stricken.
He goes and sinks down limply on a box in front of the grocery
store.)

SHORTY--I'm going to shoot a drink.  Come on, Joe, and I'll blow
yuh.

JOE--(who has never ceased to follow every move of Jim's with
angry, resentful eyes)  Go long.  I'se gwine stay here a secon'.
I got a lil' argyment.  (He points to Jim.)

SHORTY--Suit yerself.  Do a good job.  See yuh later.  (He goes,
whistling.)

JOE--(stands for a while glaring at Jim, his fierce little eyes
peering out of his black face.  Then he spits on his hands
aggressively and strides up to the oblivious Jim.  He stands in
front of him, gradually working himself into a fury at the other's
seeming indifference to his words.)  Listen to me, nigger: I got a
heap to whisper in yo' ear!  Who is you, anyhow?  Who does you
think you is?  Don't yo' old man and mine work on de docks togidder
befo' yo' old man gits his own truckin' business?  Yo' ol' man
swallers his nickels, my ol' man buys him beer wid dem and swallers
dat--dat's the on'y diff'rence.  Don't you 'n' me drag up togidder?

JIM--(dully)  I'm your friend, Joe.

JOE--No, you isn't!  I ain't no fren o' yourn!  I don't even know
who you is!  What's all dis schoolin' you doin'?  What's all dis
dressin' up and graduatin' an' sayin' you gwine study be a lawyer?
What's all dis fakin' an' pretendin' and swellin' out grand an'
talkin' soft and perlite?  What's all dis denyin' you's a nigger--
an' wid de white boys listenin' to you say it!  Is you aimin' to
buy white wid yo' ol' man's dough like Mickey say?  What is you?
(in a rage at the other's silence)  You don't talk?  Den I takes it
out o' yo' hide!  (He grabs Jim by the throat with one hand and
draws the other fist back.)  Tell me befo' I wrecks yo' face in!
Is you a nigger or isn't you?  (shaking him)  Is you a nigger,
Nigger?  Nigger, is you a nigger?

JIM--(looking into his eyes--quietly)  Yes.  I'm a nigger.  We're
both niggers.  (They look at each other for a moment.  Joe's rage
vanishes.  He slumps onto a box beside Jim's.  He offers him a
cigarette.  Jim takes it.  Joe scratches a match and lights both
their cigarettes.)

JOE--(after a puff, with full satisfaction)  Man, why didn't you
'splain dat in de fust place?

JIM--We're both niggers.  (The same hand-organ man of Scene One
comes to the corner.  He plays the chorus of "Bonbon Buddie The
Chocolate Drop."  They both stare straight ahead listening.  Then
the organ man goes away.  A silence.  Joe gets to his feet.)

JOE--I'll go get me a cold beer.  (He starts to move off--then
turns.)  Time you was graduatin', ain't it?  (He goes.  Jim remains
sitting on his box staring straight before him as


The Curtain Falls)



SCENE THREE


The same corner five years later.  Nothing has changed much.  It is
a night in Spring.  The arc-lamp discovers faces with a favorless
cruelty.  The street noises are the same but more intermittent and
dulled with a quality of fatigue.  Two people pass, one black and
one white.  They are tired.  They both yawn, but neither laughs.
There is no laughter from the two streets.  From the street of the
whites the tenor, more nasal than ever and a bit drunken, wails in
high barber-shop falsetto the last half of the chorus of "When I
Lost You."  The Negro voice, a bit maudlin in turn, replies with
the last half of "Waitin' for the Robert E. Lee."  Silence.  Shorty
enters.  He looks tougher than ever, the typical gangster.  He
stands waiting, singing a bit drunkenly, peering down the street.


SHORTY--(indignantly)  Yuh bum!  Ain't yuh ever comin'?  (He begins
to sing)  "And sewed up in her yeller kimona, She had a blue-
barreled forty-five gun, For to get her man Who'd done her wrong."
(Then he comments scornfully)  Not her, dough!  No gat for her.
She ain't got de noive.  A little sugar.  Dat'll fix her.  (Ella
enters.  She is dressed poorly, her face is pale and hollow-eyed,
her voice cold and tired.)

SHORTY--Yuh got de message?

ELLA--Here I am.

SHORTY--How yuh been?

ELLA--All right.  (A pause.  He looks at her puzzledly.)

SHORTY--(a bit embarrassedly)  Well, I s'pose yuh'd like me to give
yuh some dope on Mickey, huh?

ELLA--No.

SHORTY--Mean to say yuh don't wanter know where he is or what he's
doin'?

ELLA--No.

SHORTY--Since when?

ELLA--A long time.

SHORTY--(after a pause--with a rat-like viciousness)  Between you'n
me, kid, you'll get even soon--you'n all de odder dames he's
tossed.  I'm on de inside.  I've watched him trainin'.  His next
scrap, watch it!  He'll go!  It won't be de odder guy.  It'll be
all youse dames he's kidded--and de ones what's kidded him.
Youse'll all be in de odder guy's corner.  He won't need no odder
seconds.  Youse'll trow water on him, and sponge his face, and take
de kinks out of his socker--and Mickey'll catch it on de button--
and he won't be able to take it no more--'cause all your weight--
you and de odders--'ll be behind dat punch.  Ha ha!  (He laughs an
evil laugh.)  And Mickey'll go--down to his knees first--(He sinks
to his knees in the attitude of a groggy boxer.)

ELLA--I'd like to see him on his knees!

SHORTY--And den--flat on his pan--dead to de world--de boidies
singin' in de trees--ten--out!  (He suits his action to the words,
sinking flat on the pavement, then rises and laughs the same evil
laugh.)

ELLA--He's been out--for me--a long time.  (a pause)  Why did you
send for me?

SHORTY--He sent me.

ELLA--Why?

SHORTY--To slip you dis wad o' dough.  (He reluctantly takes a roll
of bills from his pocket and holds it out to her.)

ELLA--(looks at the money indifferently)  What for?

SHORTY--For you.

ELLA--No.

SHORTY--For de kid den.

ELLA--The kid's dead.  He took diphtheria.

SHORTY--Hell yuh say!  When?

ELLA--A long time.

SHORTY--Why didn't you write Mickey--?

ELLA--Why should I?  He'd only be glad.

SHORTY--(after a pause)  Well--it's better.

ELLA--Yes.

SHORTY--You made up wit yer family?

ELLA--No chance.

SHORTY--Livin' alone?

ELLA--In Brooklyn.

SHORTY--Workin'?

ELLA--In a factory.

SHORTY--You're a sucker.  There's lots of softer snaps fer you,
kid--

ELLA--I know what you mean.  No.

SHORTY--Don't yuh wanter step out no more--have fun--live?

ELLA--I'm through.

SHORTY--(mockingly)  Jump in de river, huh?  T'ink it over, baby.
I kin start yuh right in my stable.  No one'll bodder yuh den.  I
got influence.

ELLA--(without emphasis)  You're a dirty dog.  Why doesn't someone
kill you?

SHORTY--Is dat so!  What're you?  They say you been travelin' round
with Jim Crow.

ELLA--He's been my only friend.

SHORTY--A nigger!

ELLA--The only white man in the world!  Kind and white.  You're all
black--black to the heart.

SHORTY--Nigger-lover!  (He throws the money in her face.  It falls
to the street.)  Listen, you!  Mickey says he's off of yuh for
keeps.  Dis is de finish!  Dat's what he sent me to tell you.
(glances at her searchingly--a pause)  Yuh won't make no trouble?

ELLA--Why should I?  He's free.  The kid's dead.  I'm free.  No
hard feelings--only--I'll be there in spirit at his next fight,
tell him!  I'll take your tip--the other corner--second the punch--
nine--ten--out!  He's free!  That's all.  (She grins horribly at
Shorty.)  Go away, Shorty.

SHORTY--(looking at her and shaking his head--maudlinly)  Groggy!
Groggy!  We're all groggy!  Gluttons for punishment!  Me for a
drink.  So long.  (He goes.  A Salvation Army band comes toward the
corner.  They are playing and singing "Till We Meet at Jesus'
Feet."  They reach the end as they enter and stop before Ella.  The
Captain steps forward.)

CAPTAIN--Sister--

ELLA--(picks up the money and drops it in his hat--mockingly)
Here.  Go save yourself.  Leave me alone.

A WOMAN SALVATIONIST--Sister--

ELLA--Never mind that.  I'm not in your line--yet.  (as they
hesitate, wonderingly)  I want to be alone.  (To the thud of the
big drum they march off.  Ella sits down on a box, her hands
hanging at her sides.  Presently Jim Harris comes in.  He has grown
into a quietly-dressed, studious-looking Negro with an intelligent
yet queerly-baffled face.)

JIM--(with a joyous but bewildered cry)  Ella!  I just saw Shorty--

ELLA--(smiling at him with frank affection)  He had a message from
Mickey.

JIM--(sadly)  Ah!

ELLA--(pointing to the box behind her)  Sit down.  (He does so.  A
pause--then she says indifferently)  It's finished.  I'm free, Jim.

JIM--(wearily)  We're never free--except to do what we have to do.

ELLA--What are you getting gloomy about all of a sudden?

JIM--I've got the report from the school.  I've flunked again.

ELLA--Poor Jim.

JIM--Don't pity me.  I'd like to kick myself all over the block.
Five years--and I'm still plugging away where I ought to have been
at the end of two.

ELLA--Why don't you give it up?

JIM--No!

ELLA--After all, what's being a lawyer?

JIM--A lot--to me--what it means.  (intensely)  Why, if I was a
Member of the Bar right now, Ella, I believe I'd almost have the
courage to--

ELLA--What?

JIM--Nothing.  (after a pause--gropingly)  I can't explain--just--
but it hurts like fire.  It brands me in my pride.  I swear I know
more'n any member of my class.  I ought to, I study harder.  I work
like the devil.  It's all in my head--all fine and correct to a T.
Then when I'm called on--I stand up--all the white faces looking at
me--and I can feel their eyes--I hear my own voice sounding funny,
trembling--and all of a sudden it's all gone in my head--there's
nothing remembered--and I hear myself stuttering--and give up--sit
down--They don't laugh, hardly ever.  They're kind.  They're good
people.  (in a frenzy)  They're considerate, damn them!  But I feel
branded!

ELLA--Poor Jim.

JIM--(going on painfully)  And it's the same thing in the written
exams.  For weeks before I study all night.  I can't sleep anyway.
I learn it all, I see it, I understand it.  Then they give me the
paper in the exam room.  I look it over, I know each answer--
perfectly.  I take up my pen.  On all sides are white men starting
to write.  They're so sure--even the ones that I know know nothing.
But I know it all--but I can't remember any more--it fades--it
goes--it's gone.  There's a blank in my head--stupidity--I sit like
a fool fighting to remember a little bit here, a little bit there--
not enough to pass--not enough for anything--when I know it all!

ELLA--(compassionately)  Jim.  It isn't worth it.  You don't need
to--

JIM--I need it more than anyone ever needed anything.  I need it to
live.

ELLA--What'll it prove?

JIM--Nothing at all much--but everything to me.

ELLA--You're so much better than they are in every other way.

JIM--(looking up at her)  Then--you understand?

ELLA--Of course.  (affectionately)  Don't I know how fine you've
been to me!  You've been the only one in the world who's stood by
me--the only understanding person--and all after the rotten way I
used to treat you.

JIM--But before that--way back so high--you treated me good.  (He
smiles.)

ELLA--You've been white to me, Jim.  (She takes his hand.)

JIM--White--to you!

ELLA--Yes.

JIM--All love is white.  I've always loved you.  (this with the
deepest humility)

ELLA--Even now--after all that's happened!

JIM--Always.

ELLA--I like you, Jim--better than anyone else in the world.

JIM--That's more than enough, more than I ever hoped for.  (The
organ grinder comes to the corner.  He plays the chorus of "Annie
Laurie."  They sit listening, hand in hand.)  Would you ever want
to marry me, Ella?

ELLA--Yes, Jim.

JIM--(as if this quick consent alarmed him)  No, no, don't answer
now.  Wait!  Turn it over in your mind!  Think what it means to
you!  Consider it--over and over again!  I'm in no hurry, Ella.  I
can wait months--years--

ELLA--I'm alone.  I've got to be helped.  I've got to help someone--
or it's the end--one end or another.

JIM--(eagerly)  Oh, I'll help--I know I can help--I'll give my life
to help you--that's what I've been living for--

ELLA--But can I help you?  Can I help you?

JIM--Yes!  Yes!  We'll go abroad where a man is a man--where it
don't make that difference--where people are kind and wise to see
the soul under skins.  I don't ask you to love me--I don't dare to
hope nothing like that!  I don't want nothing--only to wait--to
know you like me--to be near you--to keep harm away--to make up for
the past--to never let you suffer any more--to serve you--to lie at
your feet like a dog that loves you--to kneel by your bed like a
nurse that watches over you sleeping--to preserve and protect and
shield you from evil and sorrow---to give my life and my blood and
all the strength that's in me to give you peace and joy--to become
your slave!--yes, be your slave--your black slave that adores you
as sacred!  (He has sunk to his knees.  In a frenzy of self-
abnegation, as he says the last words he beats his head on the
flagstones.)

ELLA--(overcome and alarmed)  Jim!  Jim!  You're crazy!  I want to
help you, Jim--I want to help--


(The Curtain Falls)



SCENE FOUR


Some weeks or so later.  A street in the same ward in front of an
old brick church.  The church sets back from the sidewalk in a yard
enclosed by a rusty iron railing with a gate at center.  On each
side of this yard are tenements.  The buildings have a stern,
forbidding look.  All the shades on the windows are drawn down,
giving an effect of staring, brutal eyes that pry callously at
human beings without acknowledging them.  Even the two tall, narrow
church windows on either side of the arched door are blanked with
dull green shades.  It is a bright sunny morning.  The district is
unusually still, as if it were waiting, holding its breath.

From the street of the blacks to the right a Negro tenor sings in a
voice of shadowy richness--the first stanza with a contented,
childlike melancholy--


Sometimes I feel like a mourning dove,
Sometimes I feel like a mourning dove,
Sometimes I feel like a mourning dove,
I feel like a mourning dove.
Feel like a mourning dove.


The second with a dreamy, boyish exultance--


Sometimes I feel like an eagle in the air,
Sometimes I feel like an eagle in the air,
Sometimes I feel like an eagle in the air,
I feel like an eagle in the air.
Feel like an eagle in the air.


The third with a brooding, earthbound sorrow--


Sometimes I wish that I'd never been born,
Sometimes I wish that I'd never been born,
Sometimes I wish that I'd never been born,
I wish that I'd never been born.
Wish that I'd never been born.


As the music dies down there is a pause of waiting stillness.  This
is broken by one startling, metallic clang of the church-bell.  As
if it were a signal, people--men, women, children--pour from the
two tenements, whites from the tenement to the left, blacks from
the one to the right.  They hurry to form into two racial lines on
each side of the gate, rigid and unyielding, staring across at each
other with bitter hostile eyes.  The halves of the big church door
swing open and Jim and Ella step out from the darkness within into
the sunlight.  The doors slam behind them like wooden lips of an
idol that has spat them out.  Jim is dressed in black.  Ella in
white, both with extreme plainness.  They stand in the sunlight,
shrinking and confused.  All the hostile eyes are now concentrated
on them.  They become aware of the two lines through which they
must pass; they hesitate and tremble; then stand there staring back
at the people as fixed and immovable as they are.  The organ
grinder comes in from the right.  He plays the chorus of "Old Black
Joe."  As he finishes the bell of the church clangs one more single
stroke, insistently dismissing.


JIM--(as if the sound had awakened him from a trance, reaches out
and takes her hand)  Come.  Time we got to the steamer.  Time we
sailed away over the sea.  Come, Honey!  (She tries to answer but
her lips tremble; she cannot take her eyes off the eyes of the
people; she is unable to move.  He sees this and, keeping the same
tone of profound, affectionate kindness, he points upward in the
sky, and gradually persuades her eyes to look up.)  Look up, Honey!
See the sun!  Feel his warm eye lookin' down!  Feel how kind he
looks!  Feel his blessing deep in your heart, your bones!  Look up,
Honey!  (Her eyes are fixed on the sky now.  Her face is calm.  She
tries to smile bravely back at the sun.  Now he pulls her by the
hand, urging her gently to walk with him down through the yard and
gate, through the lines of people.  He is maintaining an attitude
to support them through the ordeal only by a terrible effort, which
manifests itself in the hysteric quality of ecstasy which breaks
into his voice.)  And look at the sky!  Ain't it kind and blue!
Blue for hope.  Don't they say blue's for hope?  Hope!  That's for
us, Honey.  All those blessings in the sky!  What's it the Bible
says?  Falls on just and unjust alike?  No, that's the sweet rain.
Pshaw, what am I saying?  All mixed up.  There's no unjust about
it.  We're all the same--equally just--under the sky--under the
sun--under God--sailing over the sea--to the other side of the
world--the side where Christ was born--the kind side that takes
count of the soul--over the sea--the sea's blue, too--.  Let's not
be late--let's get that steamer!  (They have reached the curb now,
passed the lines of people.  She is looking up to the sky with an
expression of trancelike calm and peace.  He is on the verge of
collapse, his face twitching, his eyes staring.  He calls hoarsely)
Taxi!  Where is he?  Taxi!


(The Curtain Falls)



ACT TWO


SCENE ONE


Two years later.  A flat of the better sort in the Negro district
near the corner of Act One.  This is the parlor.  Its furniture is
a queer clash.  The old pieces are cheaply ornate, navely,
childishly gaudy--the new pieces give evidence of a taste that is
diametrically opposed, severe to the point of somberness.  On one
wall, in a heavy gold frame, is a colored photograph--the portrait
of an elderly Negro with an able, shrewd face but dressed in
outlandish lodge regalia, a get-up adorned with medals, sashes, a
cocked hat with frills--the whole effect as absurd to contemplate
as one of Napoleon's Marshals in full uniform.  In the left corner,
where a window lights it effectively, is a Negro primitive mask
from the Congo--a grotesque face, inspiring obscure, dim
connotations in one's mind, but beautifully done, conceived in a
true religious spirit.  In this room, however, the mask acquires an
arbitrary accentuation.  It dominates by a diabolical quality that
contrast imposes upon it.

There are two windows on the left looking out in the street.  In
the rear, a door to the hall of the building.  In the right, a
doorway with red and gold portires leading into the bedroom and
the rest of the flat.  Everything is cleaned and polished.  The
dark brown wall paper is new, the brilliantly figured carpet also.
There is a round mahogany table at center.  In a rocking chair by
the table Mrs. Harris is sitting.  She is a mild-looking, gray-
haired Negress of sixty-five, dressed in an old-fashioned Sunday-
best dress.  Walking about the room nervously is Hattie, her
daughter, Jim's sister, a woman of about thirty with a high-strung,
defiant face--an intelligent head showing both power and courage.
She is dressed severely, mannishly.

It is a fine morning in Spring.  Sunshine comes through the windows
at the left.


MRS. HARRIS--Time dey was here, ain't it?

HATTIE--(impatiently)  Yes.

MRS. H.--(worriedly)  You ain't gwine ter kick up a fuss, is you--
like you done wid Jim befo' de weddin'?

HATTIE--No.  What's done is done.

MRS. H.--We mustn't let her see we hold it agin' her--de bad dat
happened to her wid dat no-count fighter.

HATTIE--I certainly never give that a thought.  It's what she's
done to Jim--making him run away and give up his fight--!

MRS. H.--Jim loves her a powerful lot, must be.

HATTIE--(after a pause--bitterly)  I wonder if she loves Jim!

MRS. H.--She must, too.  Yes, she must, too.  Don't you forget dat
it was hard for her--mighty, mighty hard--harder for de white dan
for de black!

HATTIE--(indignantly)  Why should it be?

MRS. H.--(shaking her head)  I ain't talkin' of shoulds.  It's too
late for shoulds.  Dey's o'ny one should.  (solemnly)  De white and
de black shouldn't mix dat close.  Dere's one road where de white
goes on alone; dere's anudder road where de black goes on alone--

HATTIE--Yes, if they'd only leave us alone!

MRS. H.--Dey leaves your Pa alone.  He comes to de top till he's
got his own business, lots o' money in de bank, he owns a building
even befo' he die.  (She looks up proudly at the picture.  Hattie
sighs impatiently--then her mother goes on.)  Dey leaves me alone.
I bears four children into dis worl', two dies, two lives, I helps
you two grow up fine an' healthy and eddicated wid schoolin' and
money fo' yo' comfort--

HATTIE--(impatiently)  Ma!

MRS. H.--I does de duty God set for me in dis worl'.  Dey leaves me
alone.  (Hattie goes to the window to hide her exasperation.  The
mother broods for a minute--then goes on.)  The worl' done change.
Dey ain't no satisfaction wid nuffin' no more.

HATTIE--Oh!  (then after a pause)  They'll be here any minute now.

MRS. H.--Why didn't you go meet 'em at de dock like I axed you?

HATTIE--I couldn't.  My face and Jim's among those hundreds of
white faces--(with a harsh laugh)  It would give her too much
advantage!

MRS. H.--(impatiently)  Don't talk dat way!  What makes you so
proud?  (then after a pause--sadly)  Hattie.

HATTIE--(turning)  Yes, Ma.

MRS. H.--I want to see Jim again--my only boy--but--all de same I'd
rather he stayed away.  He say in his letter he's happy, she's
happy, dey likes it dere, de folks don't think nuffin' but what's
natural at seeing 'em married.  Why don't dey stay?

HATTIE--(vehemently)  No!  They were cowards to run away.  If they
believe in what they've done, then let them face it out, live it
out here, be strong enough to conquer all prejudice!

MRS. H.--Strong?  Dey ain't many strong.  Dey ain't many happy
neider.  Dey was happy ovah yondah.

HATTIE--We don't deserve happiness till we've fought the fight of
our race and won it!  (In the pause that follows there is a ring
from back in the flat.)  It's the door bell!  You go, Ma.  I--I--
I'd rather not.  (Her mother looks at her rebukingly and goes out
agitatedly through the portires.  Hattie waits, nervously walking
about, trying to compose herself.  There is a long pause.  Finally
the portires are parted and Jim enters.  He looks much older,
graver, worried.)

JIM--Hattie!

HATTIE--Jim!  (They embrace with great affection.)

JIM--It's great to see you again!  You're looking fine.

HATTIE--(looking at him searchingly)  You look well, too--thinner
maybe--and tired.  (then as she sees him frowning)  But where's
Ella?

JIM--With Ma.  (apologetically)  She sort of--broke down--when we
came in.  The trip wore her out.

HATTIE--(coldly)  I see.

JIM--Oh, it's nothing serious.  Nerves.  She needs a rest.

HATTIE--Wasn't living in France restful?

JIM--Yes, but--too lonely--especially for her.

HATTIE--(resentfully)  Why?  Didn't the people there want to
associate--?

JIM--(quickly)  Oh, no indeedy, they didn't think anything of that.
(after a pause)  But--she did.  For the first year it was all
right.  Ella liked everything a lot.  She went out with French
folks and got so she could talk it a little--and I learned it--a
little.  We were having a right nice time.  I never thought then
we'd ever want to come back here.

HATTIE--(frowning)  But--what happened to change you?

JIM--(after a pause--haltingly)  Well--you see--the first year--she
and I were living around--like friends--like a brother and sister--
like you and I might.

HATTIE--(her face becoming more and more drawn and tense)  You
mean--then--?  (She shudders--then after a pause)  She loves you,
Jim?

JIM--If I didn't know that I'd have to jump in the river.

HATTIE--Are you sure she loves you?

JIM--Isn't that why she's suffering?

HATTIE--(letting her breath escape through her clenched teeth)  Ah!

JIM--(suddenly springs up and shouts almost hysterically)  Why
d'you ask me all those damn questions?  Are you trying to make
trouble between us?

HATTIE--(controlling herself--quietly)  No, Jim.

JIM--(after a pause--contritely)  I'm sorry, Hattie.  I'm kind of
on edge today.  (He sink down on his chair--then goes on as if
something forced him to speak.)  After that we got to living housed
in.  Ella didn't want to see nobody, she said just the two of us
was enough.  I was happy then--and I really guess she was happy,
too--in a way--for a while.  (again a pause)  But she never did get
to wanting to go out any place again.  She got to saying she felt
she'd be sure to run into someone she knew--from over here.  So I
moved us out to the country where no tourist ever comes--but it
didn't make any difference to her.  She got to avoiding the French
folks the same as if they were Americans and I couldn't get it out
of her mind.  She lived in the house and got paler and paler, and
more and more nervous and scarey, always imagining things--until I
got to imagining things, too.  I got to feeling blue.  Got to
sneering at myself that I wasn't any better than a quitter because
I sneaked away right after getting married, didn't face nothing,
gave up trying to become a Member of the Bar--and I got to
suspecting Ella must feel that way about me, too--that I wasn't a
REAL MAN!

HATTIE--(indignantly)  She couldn't!

JIM--(with hostility)  You don't need to tell me!  All this was
only in my own mind.  We never quarreled a single bit.  We never
said a harsh word.  We were as close to each other as could be.  We
were all there was in the world to each other.  We were alone
together!  (a pause)  Well, one day I got so I couldn't stand it.
I could see she couldn't stand it.  So I just up and said:  Ella,
we've got to have a plain talk, look everything straight in the
face, hide nothing, come out with the exact truth of the way we
feel.

HATTIE--And you decided to come back!

JIM--Yes.  We decided the reason we felt sort of ashamed was we'd
acted like cowards.  We'd run away from the thing--and taken it
with us.  We decided to come back and face it and live it down in
ourselves, and prove to ourselves we were strong in our love--and
then, and that way only, by being brave we'd free ourselves, and
gain confidence, and be really free inside and able then to go
anywhere and live in peace and equality with ourselves and the
world without any guilty uncomfortable feeling coming up to rile
us.  (He has talked himself now into a state of happy confidence.)

HATTIE--(bending over and kissing him)  Good for you!  I admire you
so much, Jim!  I admire both of you!  And are you going to begin
studying right away and get admitted to the Bar?

JIM--You bet I am!

HATTIE--You must, Jim!  Our race needs men like you to come to the
front and help--(As voices are heard approaching she stops,
stiffens, and her face grows cold.)

JIM--(noticing this--warningly)  Remember Ella's been sick!
(losing control--threateningly)  You be nice to her, you hear!
(Mrs. Harris enters, showing Ella the way.  The colored woman is
plainly worried and perplexed.  Ella is pale, with a strange,
haunted expression in her eyes.  She runs to Jim as to a refuge,
clutching his hands in both of hers, looking from Mrs. Harris to
Hattie with a frightened defiance.)

MRS. H.--Dere he is, child, big's life!  She was afraid we'd done
kidnapped you away, Jim.

JIM--(patting her hand)  This place ought to be familiar, Ella.
Don't you remember playing here with us sometimes as a kid?

ELLA--(queerly--with a frown of effort)  I remember playing marbles
one night--but that was on the street.

JIM--Don't you remember Hattie?

HATTIE--(coming forward with a forced smile)  It was a long time
ago--but I remember Ella.  (She holds out her hand.)

ELLA--(taking it--looking at Hattie with the same queer defiance)
I remember.  But you've changed so much.

HATTIE--(stirred to hostility by Ella's manner--condescendingly)
Yes, I've grown older, naturally.  (then in a tone which, as if in
spite of herself becomes bragging)  I've worked so hard.  First I
went away to college, you know--then I took up postgraduate study--
when suddenly I decided I'd accomplish more good if I gave up
learning and took up teaching.  (She suddenly checks herself
ashamed, and stung by Ella's indifference.)  But this sounds like
stupid boasting.  I don't mean that.  I was only explaining--

ELLA--(indifferently)  I didn't know you'd been to school so long.
(a pause)  Where are you teaching?  In a colored school, I suppose.
(There is an indifferent superiority in her words that is maddening
to Hattie.)

HATTIE--(controlling herself)  Yes.  A private school endowed by
some wealthy members of our race.

ELLA--(suddenly--even eagerly)  Then you must have taken lots of
examinations and managed to pass them, didn't you?

HATTIE--(biting her lips)  I always passed with honors!

ELLA--Yes, we both graduated from the same High School, didn't we?
That was dead easy for me.  Why I hardly even looked at a book.
But Jim says it was awfully hard for him.  He failed one year,
remember?  (She turns and smiles at Jim--a tolerant, superior smile
but one full of genuine love.  Hattie is outraged, but Jim smiles.)

JIM--Yes, it was hard for me, Honey.

ELLA--And the law school examinations Jim hardly ever could pass at
all.  Could you?  (She laughs lovingly.)

HATTIE--(harshly)  Yes, he could!  He can!  He'll pass them now--if
you'll give him a chance!

JIM--(angrily)  Hattie!

MRS. HARRIS--Hold yo' fool tongue!

HATTIE--(sullenly)  I'm sorry.  (Ella has shrunk back against Jim.
She regards Hattie with a sort of wondering hatred.  Then she looks
away about the room.  Suddenly her eyes fasten on the primitive
mask and she gives a stifled scream.)

JIM--What's the matter, Honey?

ELLA--(pointing)  That!  For God's sake, what is it?

HATTIE--(scornfully)  It's a Congo mask.  (She goes and picks it
up.)  I'll take it away if you wish.  I thought you'd like it.  It
was my wedding present to Jim.

ELLA--What is it?

HATTIE--It's a mask which used to be worn in religious ceremonies
by my people in Africa.  But, aside from that, it's beautifully
made, a work of Art by a real artist--as real in his way as your
Michael Angelo.  (forces Ella to take it)  Here.  Just notice the
workmanship.

ELLA--(defiantly)  I'm not scared of it if you're not.  (looking at
it with disgust)  Beautiful?  Well, some people certainly have
queer notions!  It looks ugly to me and stupid--like a kid's game--
making faces!  (She slaps it contemptuously.)  Pooh!  You needn't
look hard at me.  I'll give you the laugh.  (She goes to put it
back on the stand.)

JIM--Maybe, if it disturbs you, we better put it in some other
room.

ELLA--(defiantly aggressive)  No.  I want it here where I can give
it the laugh!  (She sets it there again--then turns suddenly on
Hattie with aggressive determination.)  Jim's not going to take any
more examinations!  I won't let him!

HATTIE--(bursting forth)  Jim!  Do you hear that?  There's white
justice!--their fear for their superiority!--

ELLA--(with a terrified pleading)  Make her go away, Jim!

JIM--(losing control--furiously to his sister)  Either you leave
here--or we will!

MRS. H.--(weeping--throws her arms around Hattie)  Let's go, chile!
Let's go!

HATTIE--(calmly now)  Yes, Ma.  All right.  (They go through the
portires.  As soon as they are gone, Jim suddenly collapses into a
chair and hides his head in his hands.  Ella stands beside him for
a moment.  She stares distractedly about her, at the portrait, at
the mask, at the furniture, at Jim.  She seems fighting to escape
from some weight on her mind.  She throws this off and, completely
her old self for the moment, kneels by Jim and pats his shoulder.)

ELLA--(with kindness and love)  Don't, Jim!  Don't cry, please!
You don't suppose I really meant that about the examinations, do
you?  Why, of course, I didn't mean a word!  I couldn't mean it!  I
want you to take the examinations!  I want you to pass!  I want you
to be a lawyer!  I want you to be the best lawyer in the country!
I want you to show 'em--all the dirty sneaking, gossiping liars
that talk behind our backs--what a man I married.  I want the whole
world to know you're the whitest of the white!  I want you to climb
and climb--and step on 'em, stamp right on their mean faces!  I
love you, Jim.  You know that!

JIM--(calm again--happily)  I hope so, Honey--and I'll make myself
worthy.

HATTIE--(appears in the doorway--quietly)  We're going now, Jim.

ELLA--No.  Don't go.

HATTIE--We were going to, anyway.  This is your house--Mother's
gift to you, Jim.

JIM--(astonished)  But I can't accept--Where are you going?

HATTIE--We've got a nice flat in the Bronx--(with bitter pride) in
the heart of the Black Belt--the Congo--among our own people!

JIM--(angrily)  You're crazy--I'll see Ma--(He goes out.  Hattie
and Ella stare at each other with scorn and hatred for a moment,
then Hattie goes.  Ella remains kneeling for a moment by the chair,
her eyes dazed and strange as she looks about her.  Then she gets
to her feet and stands before the portrait of Jim's father--with a
sneer)

ELLA--It's his Old Man--all dolled up like a circus horse!  Well,
they can't help it.  It's in the blood, I suppose.  They're
ignorant, that's all there is to it.  (She moves to the mask--
forcing a mocking tone)  Hello, sport!  Who d'you think you're
scaring?  Not me!  I'll give you the laugh.  He won't pass, you
wait and see.  Not in a thousand years!  (She goes to the window
and looks down at the street and mutters)  All black!  Every one of
them!  (then with sudden excitement)  No, there's one.  Why, it's
Shorty!  (She throws the window open and calls)  Shorty!  Shorty!
Hello, Shorty!  (She leans out and waves--then stops, remains there
for a moment looking down, then shrinks back on the floor suddenly
as if she wanted to hide--her whole face in an anguish.)  Say!
Say!  I wonder?--No, he didn't hear you.  Yes, he did, too!  He
must have!  I yelled so loud you could hear me in Jersey!  No, what
are you talking about?  How would he hear with all the kids yelling
down there?  He never heard a word, I tell you!  He did, too!  He
didn't want to hear you!  He didn't want to let anyone know he knew
you!  Why don't you acknowledge it?  What are you lying about?  I'm
not!  Why shouldn't he?  Where does he come in to--for God's sake,
who is Shorty, anyway?  A pimp!  Yes, and a dope-peddler, too!
D'you mean to say he'd have the nerve to hear me call him and then
deliberately--?  Yes, I mean to say it!  I do say it!  And it's
true, and you know it, and you might as well be honest for a change
and admit it!  He heard you but he didn't want to hear you!  He
doesn't want to know you any more.  No, not even him!  He's afraid
it'd get him in wrong with the old gang.  Why?  You know well
enough!  Because you married a--a--a--well, I won't say it, but you
know without my mentioning names!  (Ella springs to her feet in
horror and shakes off her obsession with a frantic effort.)  Stop!
(then whimpering like a frightened child)  Jim!  Jim!  Jim!  Where
are you?  I want you, Jim!  (She runs out of the room as


The Curtain Falls)



SCENE TWO


The same.  Six months later.  It is evening.  The walls of the room
appear shrunken in, the ceiling lowered, so that the furniture, the
portrait, the mask look unnaturally large and domineering.  Jim is
seated at the table studying, law books piled by his elbows.  He is
keeping his attention concentrated only by a driving physical
effort which gives his face the expression of a runner's near the
tape.  His forehead shines with perspiration.  He mutters one
sentence from Blackstone over and over again, tapping his forehead
with his fist in time to the rhythm he gives the stale words.  But,
in spite of himself, his attention wanders, his eyes have an
uneasy, hunted look, he starts at every sound in the house or from
the street.  Finally, he remains rigid, Blackstone forgotten, his
eyes fixed on the portires with tense grief.  Then he groans,
slams the book shut, goes to the window and throws it open and
sinks down beside it, his arms on the sill, his head resting
wearily on his arms, staring out into the night, the pale glare
from the arc-lamp on the corner throwing his face into relief.  The
portires on the right are parted and Hattie comes in.


HATTIE--(not seeing him at the table)  Jim!  (discovering him)  Oh,
there you are.  What're you doing?

JIM--(turning to her)  Resting.  Cooling my head.  (forcing a
smile)  These law books certainly are a sweating proposition!
(then, anxiously)  How is she?

HATTIE--She's asleep now.  I felt it was safe to leave her for a
minute.  (after a pause)  What did the doctor tell you, Jim?

JIM--The same old thing.  She must have rest, he says, her mind
needs rest--(bitterly)  But he can't tell me any prescription for
that rest--leastways not any that'd work.

HATTIE--(after a pause)  I think you ought to leave her, Jim--or
let her leave you--for a while, anyway.

JIM--(angrily)  You're like the doctor.  Everything's so simple and
easy.  Do this and that happens.  Only it don't.  Life isn't simple
like that--not in this case, anyway--no, it isn't simple a bit.
(after a pause)  I can't leave her.  She can't leave me.  And
there's a million little reasons combining to make one big reason
why we can't.  (a pause)  For her sake--if it'd do her good--I'd
go--I'd leave--I'd do anything--because I love her.  I'd kill
myself even--jump out of this window this second--I've thought it
over, too--but that'd only make matters worse for her.  I'm all
she's got in the world!  Yes, that isn't bragging or fooling
myself.  I know that for a fact!  Don't you know that's true?
(There is a pleading for the certainty he claims.)

HATTIE--Yes, I know she loves you, Jim.  I know that now.

JIM--(simply)  Then we've got to stick together to the end, haven't
we, whatever comes--and hope and pray for the best?  (a pause--then
hopefully)  I think maybe this is the crisis in her mind.  Once she
settles this in herself, she's won to the other side.  And me--once
I become a Member of the Bar--then I win, too!  We're both free--by
our own fighting down our own weakness!  We're both really, truly
free!  Then we can be happy with ourselves here or anywhere.
She'll be proud then!  Yes, she's told me again and again, she says
she'll be actually proud!

HATTIE--(turning away to conceal her emotion)  Yes, I'm sure--but
you mustn't study too hard, Jim!  You mustn't study too awfully
hard!

Jim--(gets up and goes to the table and sits down wearily)  Yes, I
know.  Oh, I'll pass easily.  I haven't got any scarey feeling
about that any more.  And I'm doing two years' work in one here
alone.  That's better than schools, eh?

HATTIE--(doubtfully)  It's wonderful, Jim.

JIM--(his spirit evaporating)  If I can only hold out!  It's hard!
I'm worn out.  I don't sleep.  I get to thinking and thinking.  My
head aches and burns like fire with thinking.  Round and round my
thoughts go chasing like crazy chickens hopping and flapping before
the wind.  It gets me crazy mad--'cause I can't stop!

HATTIE--(watching him for a while and seeming to force herself to
speak)  The doctor didn't tell you all, Jim.

JIM--(dully)  What's that?

HATTIE--He told me you're liable to break down too, if you don't
take care of yourself.

Jim--(abjectly weary)  Let 'er come!  I don't care what happens to
me.  Maybe if I get sick she'll get well.  There's only so much bad
luck allowed to one family, maybe.  (He forces a wan smile.)

HATTIE--(hastily)  Don't give in to that idea, for the Lord's sake!

JIM--I'm tired--and blue--that's all.

HATTIE--(after another long pause)  I've got to tell you something
else, Jim.

JIM--(dully)  What?

HATTIE--The doctor said Ella's liable to be sick like this a very
long time.

JIM--He told me that too--that it'd be a long time before she got
back her normal strength.  Well, I suppose that's got to be
expected.

HATTIE--(slowly)  He didn't mean convalescing--what he told me.  (a
long pause)

JIM--(evasively)  I'm going to get other doctors in to see Ella--
specialists.  This one's a damn fool.

HATTIE--Be sensible, Jim.  You'll have to face the truth--sooner or
later.

JIM--(irritably)  I know the truth about Ella better'n any doctor.

HATTIE--(persuasively)  She'd get better so much sooner if you'd
send her away to some nice sanitarium--

JIM--No!  She'd die of shame there!

HATTIE--At least until after you've taken your examinations--

JIM--To hell with me!

HATTIE--Six months.  That wouldn't be long to be parted.

JIM--What are you trying to do--separate us?  (He gets to his feet--
furiously)  Go on out!  Go on out!

HATTIE--(calmly)  No, I won't.  (sharply)  There's something that's
got to be said to you and I'm the only one with the courage--
(intensely)  Tell me, Jim, have you heard her raving when she's out
of her mind?

JIM--(with a shudder)  No!

HATTIE--You're lying, Jim.  You must have--if you don't stop your
ears--and the doctor says she may develop a violent mania,
dangerous for you--get worse and worse until--Jim, you'll go crazy
too--living this way.  Today she raved on about "Black!  Black!"
and cried because she said her skin was turning black--that you had
poisoned her--

JIM--(in anguish)  That's only when she's out of her mind.

HATTIE--And then she suddenly called me a dirty nigger.

JIM--No!  She never said that ever!  She never would!

HATTIE--She did--and kept on and on!  (a tense pause)  She'll be
saying that to you soon.

JIM--(torturedly)  She don't mean it!  She isn't responsible for
what she's saying!

HATTIE--I know she isn't--yet she is just the same.  It's deep down
in her or it wouldn't come out.

JIM--Deep down in her people--not deep in her.

HATTIE--I can't make such distinctions.  The race in me, deep in
me, can't stand it.  I can't play nurse to her any more, Jim,--not
even for your sake.  I'm afraid--afraid of myself--afraid sometime
I'll kill her dead to set you free!  (She loses control and begins
to cry.)

JIM--(after a long pause--somberly)  Yes, I guess you'd better stay
away from here.  Good-by.

HATTIE--Who'll you get to nurse her, Jim,--a white woman?

JIM--Ella'd die of shame.  No, I'll nurse her myself.

HATTIE--And give up your studies?

JIM--I can do both.

HATTIE--You can't!  You'll get sick yourself!  Why, you look
terrible even as it is--and it's only beginning!

JIM--I can do anything for her!  I'm all she's got in the world!
I've got to prove I can be all to her!  I've got to prove worthy!
I've got to prove she can be proud of me!  I've got to prove I'm
the whitest of the white!

HATTIE--(stung by this last--with rebellious bitterness)  Is that
the ambition she's given you?  Oh, you soft, weak-minded fool, you
traitor to your race!  And the thanks you'll get--to be called a
dirty nigger--to hear her cursing you because she can never have a
child because it'll be born black--!

JIM--(in a frenzy)  Stop!

HATTIE--I'll say what must be said even though you kill me, Jim.
Send her to an asylum before you both have to be sent to one
together.

JIM--(with a sudden wild laugh)  Do you think you're threatening me
with something dreadful now?  Why, I'd like that.  Sure, I'd like
that!  Maybe she'd like it better, too.  Maybe we'd both find it
all simple then--like you think it is now.  Yes.  (He laughs
again.)

HATTIE--(frightenedly)  Jim!

JIM--Together!  You can't scare me even with hell fire if you say
she and I go together.  It's heaven then for me!  (with sudden
savagery)  You go out of here!  All you've ever been aiming to do
is to separate us so we can't be together!

HATTIE--I've done what I did for your own good.

JIM--I have no own good.  I only got a good together with her.  I'm
all she's got in the world!  Let her call me nigger!  Let her call
me the whitest of the white!  I'm all she's got in the world, ain't
I?  She's all I've got!  You with your fool talk of the black race
and the white race!  Where does the human race get a chance to come
in?  I suppose that's simple for you.  You lock it up in asylums
and throw away the key!  (with fresh violence)  Go along!  There
isn't going to be no more people coming in here to separate--
excepting the doctor.  I'm going to lock the door and it's going to
stay locked, you hear?  Go along, now!

HATTIE--(confusedly)  Jim!

JIM--(pushes her out gently and slams the door after her--vaguely)
Go along!  I got to study.  I got to nurse Ella, too.  Oh, I can do
it!  I can do anything for her!  (He sits down at the table and,
opening the book, begins again to recite the line from Blackstone
in a meaningless rhythm, tapping his forehead with his fist.  Ella
enters noiselessly through the portires.  She wears a red
dressing-gown over her night-dress but is in her bare feet.  She
has a carving-knife in her right hand.  Her eyes fasten on Jim with
a murderous mania.  She creeps up behind him.  Suddenly he senses
something and turns.  As he sees her he gives a cry, jumping up and
catching her wrist.  She stands fixed, her eyes growing bewildered
and frightened.)

JIM--(aghast)  Ella!  For God's sake!  Do you want to murder me?
(She does not answer.  He shakes her.)

ELLA--(whimperingly)  They kept calling me names as I was walking
along--I can't tell you what, Jim--and then I grabbed a knife--

JIM--Yes!  See!  This!  (She looks at it frightenedly.)

ELLA--Where did I--?  I was having a nightmare--Where did they go--
I mean, how did I get here?  (with sudden terrified pleading--like
a little girl)  Oh, Jim--don't ever leave me alone!  I have such
terrible dreams, Jim--promise you'll never go away!

JIM--I promise, Honey.

ELLA--(her manner becoming more and more childishly silly)  I'll be
a little girl--and you'll be old Uncle Jim who's been with us for
years and years--Will you play that?

JIM--Yes, Honey.  Now you better go back to bed.

ELLA--(like a child)  Yes, Uncle Jim.  (She turns to go.  He
pretends to be occupied by his book.  She looks at him for a
second--then suddenly asks in her natural woman's voice)  Are you
studying hard, Jim?

JIM--Yes, Honey.  Go to bed now.  You need to rest, you know.

ELLA--(stands looking at him, fighting with herself.  A startling
transformation comes over her face.  It grows mean, vicious, full
of jealous hatred.  She cannot contain herself but breaks out
harshly with a cruel, venomous grin)  You dirty nigger!

JIM--(starting as if he'd been shot)  Ella!  For the good Lord's
sake!

ELLA--(coming out of her insane mood for a moment, aware of
something terrible, frightened)  Jim!  Jim!  Why are you looking at
me like that?

JIM--What did you say to me just then?

ELLA--(gropingly)  Why, I--I said--I remember saying, are you
studying hard, Jim?  Why?  You're not mad at that, are you?

JIM--No, Honey.  What made you think I was mad?  Go to bed now.

ELLA--(obediently)  Yes, Jim.  (She passes behind the portires.
Jim stares before him.  Suddenly her head is thrust out at the side
of the portires.  Her face is again that of a vindictive maniac.)
Nigger!  (The face disappears--she can be heard running away,
laughing with cruel satisfaction.  Jim bows his head on his
outstretched arms but he is too stricken for tears.)


(The Curtain Falls)



SCENE THREE


The same, six months later.  The sun has just gone down.  The
Spring twilight sheds a vague, gray light about the room, picking
out the Congo mask on the stand by the window.  The walls appear
shrunken in still more, the ceiling now seems barely to clear the
people's heads, the furniture and the characters appear enormously
magnified.  Law books are stacked in two great piles on each side
of the table.  Ella comes in from the right, the carving-knife in
her hand.  She is pitifully thin, her face is wasted, but her eyes
glow with a mad energy, her movements are abrupt and spring-like.
She looks stealthily about the room, then advances and stands
before the mask, her arms akimbo, her attitude one of crazy
mockery, fear and bravado.  She is dressed in the red dressing-
gown, grown dirty and ragged now, and is in her bare feet.


ELLA--I'll give you the laugh, wait and see!  (then in a
confidential tone)  He thought I was asleep!  He called, Ella,
Ella--but I kept my eyes shut, I pretended to snore.  I fooled him
good.  (She gives a little hoarse laugh.)  This is the first time
he's dared to leave me alone for months and months.  I've been
wanting to talk to you every day but this is the only chance--(with
sudden violence--flourishing her knife)  What're you grinning
about, you dirty nigger, you?  How dare you grin at me?  I guess
you forget what you are!  That's always the way.  Be kind to you,
treat you decent, and in a second you've got a swelled head, you
think you're somebody, you're all over the place putting on airs;
why, it's got so I can't even walk down the street without seeing
niggers, niggers everywhere.  Hanging around, grinning, grinning--
going to school--pretending they're white--taking examinations--
(She stops, arrested by the word, then suddenly)  That's where he's
gone--down to the mail-box--to see if there's a letter from the
Board--telling him--But why is he so long?  (She calls pitifully)
Jim!  (then in a terrified whimper)  Maybe he's passed!  Maybe he's
passed!  (in a frenzy)  No!  No!  He can't!  I'd kill him!  I'd
kill myself!  (threatening the Congo mask)  It's you who're to
blame for this!  Yes, you!  Oh, I'm on to you!  (then appealingly)
But why d'you want to do this to us?  What have I ever done wrong
to you?  What have you got against me?  I married you, didn't I?
Why don't you let Jim alone?  Why don't you let him be happy as he
is--with me?  Why don't you let me be happy?  He's white, isn't he--
the whitest man that ever lived?  Where do you come in to
interfere?  Black!  Black!  Black as dirt!  You've poisoned me!  I
can't wash myself clean!  Oh, I hate you!  I hate you!  Why don't
you let Jim and I be happy?  (She sinks down in his chair, her arms
outstretched on the table.  The door from the hall is slowly opened
and Jim appears.  His bloodshot, sleepless eyes stare from deep
hollows.  His expression is one of crushed numbness.  He holds an
open letter in his hand.)

JIM--(seeing Ella--in an absolutely dead voice)  Honey--I thought
you were asleep.

ELLA--(starts and wheels about in her chair)  What's that?  You
got--you got a letter--?

JIM--(turning to close the door after him)  From the Board of
Examiners for admission to the Bar, State of New York--God's
country!  (He finishes up with a chuckle of ironic self-pity so
spent as to be barely audible.)

ELLA--(writhing out of her chair like some fierce animal, the knife
held behind her--with fear and hatred)  You didn't--you didn't--you
didn't pass, did you?

JIM--(looking at her wildly)  Pass?  Pass?  (He begins to chuckle
and laugh between sentences and phrases, rich, Negro laughter, but
heart-breaking in its mocking grief.)  Good Lord, child, how come
you can ever imagine such a crazy idea?  Pass?  Me?  Jim Crow
Harris?  Nigger Jim Harris--become a full-fledged Member of the
Bar!  Why the mere notion of it is enough to kill you with
laughing!  It'd be against all natural laws, all human right and
justice.  It'd be miraculous, there'd be earthquakes and
catastrophes, the seven Plagues'd come again and locusts'd devour
all the money in the banks, the second Flood'd come roaring and
Noah'd fall overboard, the sun'd drop out of the sky like a ripe
fig, and the Devil'd perform miracles, and God'd be tipped head
first right out of the Judgment seat!  (He laughs, maudlinly
uproarious.)

ELLA--(her face beginning to relax, to light up)  Then you--you
didn't pass?

JIM--(spent--giggling and gasping idiotically)  Well, I should say
not!  I should certainly say not!

ELLA--(With a cry of joy, pushes all the law books crashing to the
floor--then with childish happiness she grabs Jim by both hands and
dances up and down.)  Oh, Jim, I knew it!  I knew you couldn't!
Oh, I'm so glad, Jim!  I'm so happy!  You're still my old Jim--and
I'm so glad!  (He looks at her dazedly, a fierce rage slowly
gathering on his face.  She dances away from him.  His eyes follow
her.  His hands clench.  She stands in front of the mask--
triumphantly)  There!  What did I tell you?  I told you I'd give
you the laugh!  (She begins to laugh with wild unrestraint, grabs
the mask from its place, sets it in the middle of the table and
plunging the knife down through it pins it to the table.)  There!
Who's got the laugh now?

JIM--(his eyes bulging--hoarsely)  You devil!  You white devil
woman!  (in a terrible roar, raising his fists above her head)  You
devil!

ELLA--(looking up at him with a bewildered cry of terror)  Jim!
(Her appeal recalls him to himself.  He lets his arms slowly drop
to his sides, bowing his head.  Ella points tremblingly to the
mask.)  It's all right, Jim!  It's dead.  The devil's dead.  See!
It couldn't live--unless you passed.  If you'd passed it would have
lived in you.  Then I'd have had to kill you, Jim, don't you see?--
or it would have killed me.  But now I've killed it.  (She pats his
hand.)  So you needn't ever be afraid any more, Jim.

JIM--(dully)  I've got to sit down, Honey.  I'm tired.  I haven't
had much chance for sleep in so long--(He slumps down in the chair
by the table.)

ELLA--(sits down on the floor beside him and holds his hand.  Her
face is gradually regaining an expression that is happy, childlike
and pretty.)  I know, Jim!  That was my fault.  I wouldn't let you
sleep.  I couldn't let you.  I kept thinking if he sleeps good then
he'll be sure to study good and then he'll pass--and the devil'll
win!

JIM--(with a groan)  Don't, Honey!

ELLA--(with a childish grin)  That was why I carried that knife
around--(she frowns--puzzled)--one reason--to keep you from
studying and sleeping by scaring you.

JIM--I wasn't scared of being killed.  I was scared of what they'd
do to you after.

ELLA--(after a pause--like a child)  Will God forgive me, Jim?

JIM--Maybe He can forgive what you've done to me; and maybe He can
forgive what I've done to you; but I don't see how He's going to
forgive--Himself.

ELLA--I prayed and prayed.  When you were away taking the
examinations and I was alone with the nurse, I closed my eyes and
pretended to be asleep but I was praying with all my might:  O God,
don't let Jim pass!

JIM--(with a sob)  Don't, Honey, don't!  For the good Lord's sake!
You're hurting me!

ELLA--(frightenedly)  How, Jim?  Where?  (then after a pause--
suddenly)  I'm sick, Jim.  I don't think I'll live long.

JIM--(simply)  Then I won't either.  Somewhere yonder maybe--
together--our luck'll change.  But I wanted--here and now--before
you--we--I wanted to prove to you--to myself--to become a full-
fledged Member--so you could be proud--(He stops.  Words fail and
he is beyond tears.)

ELLA--(brightly)  Well, it's all over, Jim.  Everything'll be all
right now.  (chattering along)  I'll be just your little girl, Jim--
and you'll be my little boy--just as we used to be, remember, when
we were beaux; and I'll put shoe blacking on my face and pretend
I'm black and you can put chalk on your face and pretend you're
white just as we used to do--and we can play marbles--only you
mustn't all the time be a boy.  Sometimes you must be my old kind
Uncle Jim who's been with us for years and years.  Will you, Jim?

JIM--(with utter resignation)  Yes, Honey.

ELLA--And you'll never, never, never, never leave me, Jim?

JIM--Never, Honey.

ELLA--'Cause you're all I've got in the world--and I love you, Jim.
(She kisses his hand as a child might, tenderly and gratefully.)

JIM--(suddenly throws himself on his knees and raises his shining
eyes, his transfigured face)  Forgive me, God--and make me worthy!
Now I see Your Light again!  Now I hear Your Voice!  (He begins to
weep in an ecstasy of religious humility.)  Forgive me, God, for
blaspheming You!  Let this fire of burning suffering purify me of
selfishness and make me worthy of the child You send me for the
woman You take away!

ELLA--(jumping to her feet--excitedly)  Don't cry, Jim!  You
mustn't cry!  I've got only a little time left and I want to play.
Don't be old Uncle Jim now.  Be my little boy, Jim.  Pretend you're
Painty Face and I'm Jim Crow.  Come and play!

JIM--(still deeply exalted)  Honey, Honey, I'll play right up to
the gates of Heaven with you!  (She tugs at one of his hands,
laughingly trying to pull him up from his knees as


The Curtain Falls)



THE END



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