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Title: Ah, Wilderness!
Author: Eugene O'Neill
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Ah, Wilderness!
Author: Eugene O'Neill

*

1933

*

Dedicated to GEORGE JEAN NATHAN--who also, once upon a time, in peg-top
trousers, went the pace that kills along the road to ruin.

*

Ah, Wilderness! was first produced at the Guild Theatre, New York City,
by the Theatre Guild, On October 2, 1933, and closed on June 7, 1934.
Following is the original cast:

NAT MILLER, owner of the Evening Globe . . . . . . . . . . . . George M. Cohan
ESSIE, his wife. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Marjorie Marquis
ARTHUR, their son. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . William Post, Jr.
RICHARD, their son   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Elisha Cook, Jr.
MILDRED, their daughter. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Adelaide Bean
TOMMY, their son . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Walter Vonnegut, Jr.
SID DAVIS, Essie's brother, reporter on the Waterbury Standard Gene Lockhart
LILY MILLER, Nat's sister. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Eda Heinemann
DAVID MCCOMBER, dry-goods merchant . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Richard Sterling
MURIEL MCCOMBER, his daughter. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ruth Gilbert
WINT SELBY, a classmate of Arthur's at Yale. . . . . . . . . . John Wynne
BELLE. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ruth Holden
NORA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ruth Chorpenning
BARTENDER. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Donald McClelland
SALESMAN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . John Butler

*

SCENES

ACT ONE       Sitting-room of the Miller home in a large small-town in
              Connecticut early morning, July 4th, 1906

ACT TWO       Dining-room of the Miller home evening of the same day

ACT THREE
SCENE I       Back room of a bar in a small hotel 10 o'clock, the same night
SCENE II      Same as Act One, the sitting-room of the Miller home, a
              little after o'clock the same night

ACT FOUR
SCENE I       The Miller sitting-room again, about 1 o'clock the following afternoon
SCENE II      A strip of beach along the harbor, about 9 o'clock that night
SCENE III     Same as Scene One, the sitting-room, about 10 o'clock the same night

*

ACT ONE

SCENE Sitting-room of the MILLER home in a large small-town in
Connecticut, about 7:30 in the morning of July 4th, 1906.

The room is fairly large, homely looking and cheerful in the morning
sunlight, furnished with scrupulous medium-priced tastelessness of the
period. Beneath the two windows at left, front, a sofa with silk and
satin cushions stands against the wall. At rear of sofa, a bookcase
with glass doors, filled with cheap sets, extends along the remaining
length of wall. In the rear wall, left, is a double doorway with
sliding doors and portieres, leading into a dark, windowless, back
parlor. At right of this doorway, another bookcase, this time a small,
open one, crammed with boys' and girls' books and the best-selling
novels of many past years, books the family really have read. To the
right of this bookcase is the mate of the double doorway at its left,
with sliding doors and portieres, this one leading to a well-lighted
front parlor. In the right wall, rear, a screen door opens on a porch.
Farther forward in this wall are two windows, with a writing desk and a
chair between them. At center is a big, round table with a green-shaded
reading lamp, the cord of the lamp running up to one of five sockets in
the chandelier above. Five chairs are grouped about the table, three
rockers at left, right, and right rear of it, two armchairs at rear and
left rear. A medium-priced, inoffensive rug covers most of the floor.
The walls are papered white with a cheerful, ugly blue design.

Voices are heard in a conversational tone from the dining-room beyond
the back parlor, where the family are just finishing breakfast. Then
MRS. MILLER'S voice, raised commandingly, "Tommy! Come back here and
finish your milk!" At the same moment TOMMY appears in the doorway from
the back parlor a chubby, sun-burnt boy of eleven with dark eyes, blond
hair wetted and plastered down in a part, and a shiny, good-natured
face, a rim of milk visible about his lips. Bursting with bottled-up
energy and a longing to get started on the Fourth, he nevertheless has
hesitated obediently at his mother's call.

TOMMY (calls back pleadingly). Aw, I'm full, Ma. And I said excuse me
and you said all right. (His FATHER'S voice is heard speaking to his
mother. Then she calls: "All right, Tommy," and TOMMY asks eagerly) Can
I go out now?

MOTHER'S VOICE (correctingly). May I!

TOMMY (fidgeting, but obediently). May I, Ma?

MOTHER'S VOICE. Yes. (TOMMY jumps for the screen door to the porch at
right like a sprinter released by the starting shot.)

FATHER'S VOICE (shouts after him). But you set off your crackers away
from the house, remember! (But TOMMY is already through the screen
door, which he leaves open behind him.)

(A moment later the family appear from the back parlor, coming from the
dining-room. First are MILDRED and ARTHUR. MILDRED is fifteen, tall
and slender, with big, irregular features, resembling her father to
the complete effacing of any pretense at prettiness. But her big, gray
eyes are beautiful; she has vivacity and a fetching smile, and everyone
thinks of her as an attractive girl. She is dressed in shirtwaist and
skirt in the fashion of the period.)

(ARTHUR, the eldest of the Miller children who are still living home,
is nineteen. He is tall, heavy, barrel-chested and muscular, the type
of football linesman of that period, with a square, stolid face, small
blue eyes and thick sandy hair. His manner is solemnly collegiate. He
is dressed in the latest college fashion of that day, which has receded
a bit from the extreme of preceding years, but still runs to padded
shoulders and pants half-pegged at the top, and so small at their
wide-cuffed bottoms that they cannot be taken off with shoes on.)

MILDRED (as they appear inquisitively). Where are you going today, Art?

ARTHUR (with superior dignity). That's my business. (He ostentatiously
takes from his pocket a tobacco pouch with a big Y and class numerals
stamped on it, and a heavy bulldog briar pipe with silver Y and
numerals, and starts filling the pipe.)

MILDRED (teasingly). Bet I know, just the same! Want me to tell you her
initials? E. R.! (She laughs. ARTHUR, pleased by this insinuation at
his lady-killing activities, yet finds it beneath his dignity to reply.
He goes to the table, lights his pipe and picks up the local morning
paper, and slouches back into the armchair at left rear of table,
beginning to whistle "Oh, Waltz Me Around Again, Willie" as he scans
the headlines. MILDRED sits on the sofa at left, front.)

(Meanwhile, their mother and their AUNT LILY, their father's sister,
have appeared, following them from the back parlor. MRS. MILLER is
around fifty, a short, stout woman with fading light-brown hair
sprinkled with gray, who must have been decidedly pretty as a girl in a
round-faced, cute, small-featured, wide-eyed fashion. She has big brown
eyes, soft and maternal--a bustling, mother-of-a-family manner. She is
dressed in shirtwaist and skirt.

(LILY MILLER, her sister-in-law, is forty-two, tall, dark and thin. She
conforms outwardly to the conventional type of old-maid school teacher,
even to wearing glasses. But behind the glasses her gray eyes are
gentle and tired, and her whole atmosphere is one of shy kindliness.
Her voice presents the greatest contrast to her appearance soft and
full of sweetness. She, also, is dressed in a shirtwaist and skirt.)

MRS. MILLER (as they appear). Getting milk down him is like--(Suddenly
she is aware of the screen door standing half open) Goodness, look at
that door he's left open! The house will be alive with flies! (Rushing
out to shut it) I've told him again and again--and that's all the good
it does! It's just a waste of breath! (She slams the door shut.)

LILY (smiling). Well, you can't expect a boy to remember to shut doors
on the Fourth of July. (She goes diffidently to the straight-backed
chair before the desk at right, front, leaving the comfortable chairs
to the others.)

MRS. MILLER. That's you all over, Lily, always making excuses for him.
You'll have him spoiled to death in spite of me. (She sinks in rocker
at right of table) Phew, I'm hot, aren't you? This is going to be a
scorcher. (She picks up a magazine from the table and begins to rock,
fanning herself.)

(Meanwhile, her husband and her brother have appeared from the back
parlor, both smoking cigars. NAT MILLER is in his late fifties, a tall,
dark, spare man, a little stoop-shouldered, more than a little bald,
dressed with an awkward attempt at sober respectability imposed upon
an innate heedlessness of clothes. His long face has large, irregular,
undistinguished features, but he has fine, shrewd, humorous gray eyes.

(SID DAVIS, his brother-in-law is forty-five, short and fat,
bald-headed, with the Puckish face of a Peck's Bad Boy who has never
grown up. He is dressed in what had once been a very natty loud light
suit but is now a shapeless and faded nondescript in cut and color.)

SID (as they appear). Oh, I like the job first rate, Nat. Waterbury's
a nifty old town with the lid off, when you get to know the ropes. I
rang in a joke in one of my stories that tickled the folks there pink.
Water-wagon, Waterbury, Waterloo!

MILLER (grinning): Darn good!

SID (pleased). I thought it was pretty fair myself. (Goes on a bit
ruefully, as if oppressed by a secret sorrow) Yes, you can see life in
Waterbury, all right, that is, if you're looking for life in Waterbury!

MRS. MILLER. What's that about Waterbury, Sid?

SID. I was saying it's all right in its way, but there's no place
like home. (As if to punctuate this remark, there begins a series of
bangs from just beyond the porch outside, as TOMMY inaugurates his
celebration by setting off a package of firecrackers. The assembled
family jump in their chairs.)

MRS. MILLER. That boy! (She rushes to the screen door and out on the
porch, calling) Tommy! You mind what your Pa told you! You take your
crackers out in the back yard, you hear me!

ARTHUR (frowning scornfully). Fresh kid! He did it on purpose to scare
us.

MILLER (grinning through his annoyance). Darned youngster! He'll have
the house afire before the day's out.

SID (grins and sings).
"Dunno what ter call 'im
But he's mighty like a Rosevelt."
(They all laugh.)

LILY. Sid, you Crazy! (SID beams at her. MRS. MILLER comes back from
the porch, still fuming.)

MRS. MILLER. Well, I've made him go out back at last. Now we'll have
a little peace. (As if to contradict this, the bang of firecrackers
and torpedoes begins from the rear of the house, left, and continues
at intervals throughout the scene, not nearly so loud as the first
explosion, but sufficiently emphatic to form a disturbing punctuation
to the conversation.)

MILLER. Well, what's on the tappee for all of you today? Sid, you're
coming to the Sachem Club picnic with me, of course.

SID (a bit embarrassedly). You bet. I mean I'd like to, Nat, that is,
if--

MRS. MILLER (regarding her brother with smiling suspicion). Hmm! I know
what that Sachem Club picnic's always meant!

LILY. (breaks in in a forced joking tone that conceals a deep
earnestness). No, not this time, Essie. Sid's a reformed character
since he's been on the paper in Waterbury. At least, that's what he
swore to me last night.

SID. (avoiding her eyes, humiliated, joking it off). Pure as the driven
snow, that's me. They're running me for president of the W.C.T.U. (They
all laugh.)

MRS. MILLER. Sid, you're a caution. You turn everything into a joke.
But you be careful, you hear? We're going to have dinner in the evening
tonight, you know the best shore dinner you ever tasted and I don't
want you coming home, well, not able to appreciate it.

LILY. Oh, I know he'll be careful today. Won't you, Sid?

SID. (more embarrassed than ever, joking it off melodramatically),
Lily, I swear to you if any man offers me a drink, I'll kill him, that
is, if he changes his mind! (They all laugh except LILY, who bites her
lip and stiffens.)

MRS. MILLER. No use talking to him, Lily. You ought to know better by
this time. We can only hope for the best.

MILLER. Now, you women stop picking on Sid. It's the Fourth of July and
even a downtrodden newspaperman has a right to enjoy himself when he's
on his holiday.

MRS. MILLER. I wasn't thinking only of Sid.

MILLER (with a wink at the others). What, are you insinuating I ever--?

MRS. MILLER. Well, to do you justice, no, not what you'd really
call--But I've known you to come back from this darned Sachem Club
picnic--Well, I didn't need any little bird to whisper that you'd been
some place besides to the well! (She smiles good-naturedly. MILLER
chuckles.)

SID (after a furtive glance at the stiff and silent LILY, changes
the subject abruptly by turning to ARTHUR). How are you spending the
festive Fourth, Boola-Boola? (ARTHUR stiffens dignifiedly.)

MILDRED (teasingly). I can tell you, if he won't.

MRS. MILLER (smiling). Off to the Rands', I suppose.

ARTHUR (with dignity). I and Bert Turner are taking Elsie and Ethel
Rand canoeing. We're going to have a picnic lunch on Strawberry Island.
And this evening I'm staying at the Rands' for dinner.

MILLER. You're accounted for, then. How about you, Mid?

MILDRED. I'm going to the beach to Anne Culver's.

ARTHUR (sarcastically). Of course, there won't be any boys present!
Johnny Dodd, for example?

MILDRED (giggles, then with a coquettish toss of her head). Pooh! what
do I care for him? He's not the only pebble on the beach.

MILLER. Stop your everlasting teasing, you two. How about you and Lily,
Essie?

MRS. MILLER. I don't know. I haven't made any plans. Have you, Lily?

LILY (quietly). No. Anything you want to do.

MILLER. Well, I thought we'd just sit around and rest and talk.

MILLER. You can gossip any day. This is the Fourth. Now, I've got a
better suggestion than that. What do you say to an automobile ride?
I'll get out the Buick and we'll drive around town and out to the
lighthouse and back. Then Sid and I will let you off here, or anywhere
you say, and we'll go on to the picnic.

MRS. MILLER. I'd love it. Wouldn't you, Lily?

LILY. It would be nice.

MILLER. Then, that's all settled.

SID (embarrassedly). Lily, want to come with me to the fireworks
display at the beach tonight?

MRS. MILLER. That's right, Sid. You take her out. Poor Lily never has
any fun, always sitting home with me.

LILY (flustered and grateful). I--I'd like to, Sid, thank you. (Then an
apprehensive look comes over her face) Only not if you come home, you
know.

SID (again embarrassed and humiliated, again joking it off, solemnly).
Evil-minded, I'm afraid, Nat. I hate to say it of your sister. (They
all laugh. Even LILY cannot suppress a smile.)

ARTHUR (with heavy jocularity). Listen, Uncle Sid. Don't let me catch
you and Aunt Lily spooning on a bench tonight, or it'll be my duty to
call a cop!

(SID and LILY both look painfully embarrassed at this, and the joke
falls flat, except for MILDRED who can't restrain a giggle at the
thought of these two ancients spooning.)

MRS. MILLER (rebukingly). Arthur!

MILLER (dryly). That'll do you. Your education in kicking a football
around Yale seems to have blunted your sense of humor.

MRS. MILLER (suddenly, startledly). But where's Richard? We're
forgetting all about him. Why, where is that boy? I thought he came in
with us from breakfast.

MILDRED. I'll bet he's off somewhere writing a poem to Muriel McComber,
the silly! Or pretending to write one. I think he just copies.

ARTHUR (looking back toward the dining-room). He's still in the
dining-room, reading a book. (Turning back scornfully) Gosh, he's
always reading now. It's not my idea of having a good time in vacation.

MILLER (caustically). He read his school books, too, strange as that
may seem to you. That's why he came out top of his class. I'm hoping
before you leave New Haven they'll find time to teach you reading is a
good habit.

MRS. MILLER (sharply). That re-minds me, Nat. I've been meaning to
speak to you about those awful books Richard is reading. You've got to
give him a good talking to (She gets up front her chair) I'll go up and
get them right now. I found them where he'd hid them on the shelf in
his wardrobe. You just wait till you see what (She bustles off, rear
right, through the front parlor.)

MILLER (plainly not relishing whatever is coming, to SID grumblingly).
Seems to me she might wait until the Fourth is over before bringing
up--(Then with a grin) I know there's nothing to it, anyway. When I
think of the books I used to sneak off and read when I was a kid.

SID. Me, too. I suppose Dick is deep in Nick Carter or Old Cap Collier.

MILLER. No, he passed that period long ago. Poetry's his red meat
now-adays, I think love poetry and socialism, too, I suspect, from some
dire declarations he's made. (Then briskly) Well, might as well get
him on the carpet. (He calls) Richard. (No answer louder) Richard. (No
answer then in a bellow) Richard!

ARTHUR (shouting). Hey, Dick, wake up! Pa's calling you.

RICHARD'S VOICE (from the dining room) All right. I'm coming.

MILLER. Darn him! When he gets his nose in a book, the house could fall
down and he'd never--(RICHARD appears in the doorway from the back
parlor, the book he has been reading in one hand, a finger marking
his place. He looks a bit startled still, reluctantly called back to
earth from another world. He is going on seventeen, just out of high
school. In appearance he is a perfect blend of father and mother, so
much so that each is convinced he is the image of the other. He has
his mother's light-brown hair, his father's gray eyes; his features
are neither large nor small; he is of medium height, neither fat nor
thin. One would not call him a handsome boy; neither is he homely. But
he is definitely different from both of his parents, too. There is
something of extreme sensitiveness added--a restless, apprehensive,
defiant, shy, dreamy, self-conscious intelligence about him. In manner
he is alternately plain simple boy and a posey actor solemnly playing
a role. He is dressed in prep school reflection of the college style of
ARTHUR.)

RICHARD. Did you want me, Pa?

MILLER. I'd hoped I'd made that plain. Come and sit down a while. (He
points to the rocking chair at the right of table near his.)

RICHARD (coming forward, seizing on the opportunity to play up his
preoccupation, with apologetic superiority). I didn't hear you, Pa. I
was off in another world.

(MILDRED slyly shoves her foot out so that he trips over it, almost
falling. She laughs gleefully. So does ARTHUR.)

ARTHUR. Good for you, Mid! That'll wake him up!

RICHARD (grins sheepishly all boy now). Darn you, Mid! I'll show you!
(He pushes her back on the sofa and tickles her with his free hand,
still holding the book in the other. She shrieks.)

ARTHUR. Give it to her, Dick!

MILLER. That's enough, now. No more rough house. You sit down here,
Richard. (RICHARD obediently takes the chair at right of table,
opposite his father) What were you planning to do with yourself today?
Going out to the beach with Mildred?

RICHARD (scornfully superior). That silly skirt party! I should say not!

MILDRED. He's not coming because Muriel isn't. I'll bet he's got a date
with her somewheres.

RICHARD (flushing bashfully). You shut up! (Then to his father) I
thought I'd just stay home, Pa, this morning, anyway.

MILLER. Help Tommy set off firecrackers, eh?

RICHARD (drawing himself up, with dignity). I should say not. (Then
frowning portentously) I don't believe in this silly celebrating the
Fourth of July, all this lying talk about liberty, when there is no
liberty!

MILLER (a twinkle in his eye). Hmmm.

RICHARD (getting warmed up). The land of the free and the home of the
brave! Home of the slave is what they ought to call it, the wage slave
ground under the heel of the capitalist class, starving, crying for
bread for his children, and all he gets is a stone! The Fourth of July
is a stupid farce!

MILLER (putting a hand to his mouth to conceal a grin). Hmm. Them are
mighty strong words. You'd better not repeat such sentiments outside
the bosom of the family or they'll have you in jail.

SID. And throw away the key.

RICHARD (darkly). Let them put me in jail. Put how about the freedom of
speech in the Constitution, then? That must he a farce, too. (Then he
adds grimly) No, you can celebrate your Fourth of July. I'll celebrate
the day the people bring out the guillotine again and I see Pierpont
Morgan being driven by in a tumbril! (His father and SID are greatly
amused; LILY is shocked but, raking her cue from them, smiles. MILDRED
stares at him in puzzled wonderment, never having heard this particular
line before. Only ARTHUR betrays the outraged reaction of a patriot.)

ARTHUR. Aw say, you fresh kid, tie that bull outside! You ought to get
a punch in the nose for talking that way on the Fourth!

MILLER (solemnly). Son, if I didn't know it was you talking, I'd think
we had Emma Goldman with us.

ARTHUR. Never mind, Pa. Wait till we get him down to Yale. We'll take
that out of him!

RICHARD (with high scorn). Oh, Yale! You think there's nothing in the
world besides Yale! After all, what is Yale?

ARTHUR. You'll find out what!

SID (provocatively). Don't let them scare you, Dick. Give 'em hell!

LILY (shocked). Sid! You shouldn't swear before--

RICHARD. What do you think I am, Aunt Lily, a baby? I've heard worse
than anything Uncle Sid says.

MILDRED. And said worse himself, I bet!

MILLER (with a comic air of resignation). Well, Richard, I've always
found I've had to listen to at least one stump speech every Fourth. I
only hope getting your extra strong one right after breakfast will let
me off for the rest of the day. (They all laugh now, taking this as a
cue.)

RICHARD (somberly). That's right, laugh! After you, the deluge, you
think! But look out! Supposing it comes before? Why shouldn't the
workers of the world unite and rise? They have nothing to lose but
their chains! (He recites threateningly) "The days grow hot, Oh
Babylon! 'Tis cool beneath thy willow trees!".

MILLER. Hmm. That's good. But where's the connection, exactly?
Something from that book you're reading?

RICHARD (superior). No. That's poetry. This is prose.

MILLER. I've heard there was a difference between 'em. What is the book?

RICHARD (importantly). Carlyle's "French Revolution."

MILLER. Hmm. So that's where you drove the Tumbril from and poured poor
old Pierpont in it. (seriously) Glad you're reading it, Richard, it's a
darn fine book.

RICHARD (with unflattering astonishment) What, You've read it?

MILLER. Well you see, even a newspaper editor can't get by without
reading a book occasionally.

RICHARD. I--I didn't mean--I know you--(Then enthusiastically) Say,
isn't it a great book though? What about Mireau, Marat and Robespierre?

Mrs Miller. (Appears from the front parlour in a flushed state of great
annoyance) Never you mind about Robespierre, young man. Now tell me
this minute where you hid those books. They were on a shelf in your
wardrobe and now you gone and hid them some place else. You go and
bring them to your father. (Richard for a second looks guilty and
crushed, then he bristles defensively).

MILLER (After an understanding glance at him) Never mind him getting
them now. We'll waste the whole morning over those darn books. And
anyway, he has the right to keep his own library to himself, that is,
if they're not too...What books are they, Richard?

MRS. MILLER. I'll tell you if he won't--and you give him a good talking
to. (Then after a glance at RICHARD, mollifiedly) Not that I blame
Richard. There must be some boy he knows who's trying to show off as
advanced and wicked, and he told him about--

RICHARD. No! I read about them myself, in the papers and in other books.

MRS. MILLER. Well, no matter how, there they were on his shelf. Two
by that awful Oscar Wilde they put in jail for heaven knows what
wickedness.

ARTHUR (suddenly--solemnly authoritative). He committed bigamy. (Then
as SID smothers a burst of ribald laughter) What are you laughing at? I
guess I ought to know. A fellow at college told me. His father was in
England when this Wilde was pinched, and he said he remembered once his
mother asked his father about it and he told her he'd committed bigamy.

MILLER (hiding a smile behind his hand). Well then, that must be right,
Arthur.

MRS. MILLER. I wouldn't put it past him, nor anything else. One book
was called the Picture of something or other.

RICHARD. "The Picture of Dorian Gray." It's one of the greatest novels
ever written!

MRS. MILLER. Looked to me like cheap trash. And the second book was
poetry. The Ballad of I forget what.

RICHARD. "The Ballad of Reading Gaol," one of the greatest poems ever
written. (He pronounces it Reading Goal [as in goalpost].)

MRS. MILLER. All about someone who murdered his wife and got hung, as
he richly deserved, as far as I could make out. And then there were two
books by that Bernard Shaw.

RICHARD. The greatest playwright alive today!

MRS. MILLER. To hear him tell it, maybe! You know, Nat, the one who
wrote a play about, well, never mind, that was so vile they wouldn't
even let it play in New York!

MILLER. Hmm. I remember.

MRS. MILLER. One was a book of his plays and the other had a long title
I couldn't make head or tail Of, only it wasn't a play.

RICHARD (proudly). "The Quintessence of Ibsenism."

MILDRED. Phew! Good gracious, what a name! What does it mean, Dick?
I'll bet he doesn't know.

RICHARD (outraged). I do, too, know! It's about Ibsen, the greatest
playwright since Shakespeare!

MRS. MILLER. Yes, there was a book of plays by that Ibsen there, too!
And poems by Swin--something.

RICHARD. "Poems and Ballads" by Swinbume, Ma. The greatest poet since
Shelley! He tells the truth about real love!

MRS. MILLER. Love! Well, all I can say is, from reading here and there,
that if he wasn't flung in jail along with Wilde, he should have been.
Some of the things I simply couldn't read, they were so indecent, All
about--well, I can't tell you before Lily and Mildred.

SID (with a wink at RICHARD, jokingly). Remember, I'm next on that one,
Dick. I feel the need of a little poetical education.

LILY (scandalized, but laughing). Sid! Aren't you ashamed?

MRS. MILLER. This is no laughing matter. And then there was
Kipling--but I suppose he's not so bad. And last there was a poem--a
long one--the Ruby--What is it, Richard?

RICHARD. "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam." That's the best of all!

MILLER. Oh, I've read that, Essie--got a copy down at the office.

SID (enthusiastically). So have I. It's a pippin!

LILY (with shy excitement). I--I've read it, too--at the library. I
like--some parts of it.

MRS. MILLER (scandalized). Why, Lily!

MILLER. Everybody's reading that now, Essie--and it don't seem to do
them any harm. There's fine things in it, seems to me--true things.

MRS. MILLER (a bit bewildered and uncertain now). Why, Nat, I don't see
how you--It looked terrible blasphemous--parts I read.

SID. Remember this one: (He quotes rhetorically) "Oh Thou, who
didst with pitfall and gin beset the path I was to wander in." Now,
I've always noticed how beset my path was with gin in the past, you
understand! (He casts a joking side glance at LILY. The others laugh.
But LILY is in a melancholy dream and hasn't heard him.)

MRS. MILLER (tartly, but evidently suppressing her usual smile where he
is concerned). You would pick out the ones with liquor in them!

LILY (suddenly--with a sad pathos, quotes awkwardly and shyly). I like,
because it's true:

  "The moving finger writes, and having writ,
   Moves on: nor all your piety nor wit
   Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
   Nor all your tears wash out a word of it."

MRS. MILLER (astonished, as are all the others). Why, Lily, I never
knew you to recite poetry before!

LILY (immediately guilty and apologetic). I--it just stuck in my memory
somehow.

RICHARD (looking at her as if he had never seen her before). Good for
you, Aunt Lily! (Then enthusiastically) But that isn't the best. The
best is:

  "A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
   A Jug of Wine, A Loaf of Bread and Thou
   Beside me singing in the Wilderness"

ARTHUR (who, bored to death by all this poetry quoting, has wandered
over to the window at rear of desk, right). Hey! Look who's coming up
the walk, Old Man McComber!

MILLER (irritably). Dave? Now what in thunder does that damned
old--Sid, I can see where we never are going to get to that picnic.

MRS. MILLER (vexatiously). He'll know we're in this early, too. No use
lying. (Then appalled by another thought) That Norah, she's that thick,
she never can answer the front door right unless I tell her each time.
Nat, you've got to talk to Dave. I'll have her show him in here. Lilly,
you run up the back stairs and get your things on. I'll be up in a
second. Nat, you get rid of him the first second you can! Whatever can
the old fool want? (She and LILY hurry out through the back parlor.)

ARTHUR. I'm going to beat it--just time to catch the eight-twenty
trolley.

MILDRED. I've got to catch that, too. Wait till I get my hat, Art! (She
rushes into the back parlor.)

ARTHUR (shouts after her). I can't wait. You can catch up with me if
you hurry. (He turns at the back-parlor door, with a grin) McComber
may be coming to see if your intentions toward his daughter are
dishonorable, Dick! You'd better beat it while your shoes are good! (He
disappears through the back-parlor door, laughing.)

RICHARD (a bit shaken, but putting on a brave front). Think I'm scared
of him?

MILLER (gazing at him, frowning). Can't imagine what, But it's to
complain about something, I know that. I only wish I didn't have to
be pleasant with the old buzzard, but he's about the most valuable
advertiser I've got.

SID (sympathetically). I know. But tell him to go to hell, anyway. He
needs that ad more than you.

(The sound of the bell comes from the rear of the house, off left from
back parlor.)

MILLER. There he is. You clear out, Dick, but come right back as soon
as he's gone, you hear? I'm not through with you, yet.

RICHARD. Yes, Pa.

MILLER. You better clear out, too, Sid. You know Dave doesn't approve
jokes.

SID. And loves me like poison! Come on, Dick, we'll go out and help
Tommy celebrate. (He takes RICHARD'S arm and they also disappear
through the back-parlor door. MILLER glances through the front parlor
toward the front door, then calls in a tone of strained heartiness.)

MILLER. Hello, Dave. Come right in here. What good wind blows you
around on this glorious Fourth?

(A flat, brittle voice answers him: "Good morning," and a moment later
DAVID MC COMBER appears in the doorway from the front parlor. He is a
thin, dried-up little man with a head too large for his body perched on
a scrawny neck, and a long solemn horse face with deep-set little black
eyes, a blunt formless nose and a tiny slit of a mouth. He is about the
same age as MILLER but is entirely bald, and looks ten years older. He
is dressed with a prim neatness in shiny old black clothes.)

MILLER. Here, sit down and make yourself comfortable. (Holding out the
cigar box) Have a cigar?

MC COMBER (sitting down in the chair at the right of table acidly).
You're forgetting. I never smoke.

MILLER (forcing a laugh at himself). That's so. So I was. Well, I'll
smoke alone then. (He bites off the end of the cigar viciously, as if
he wished it were MC COMBER'S head, and sits down opposite him.)

MC COMBER. You asked me what brings me here, so I'll come to the point
at once. I regret to say it's something disagreeable, disgraceful would
be nearer the truth, and it concerns your son, Richard!

MILLER (beginning to bristle, but calmly). Oh, come now, Dave, I'm sure
Richard hasn't--

MC COMBER (sharply). And I'm positive he has. You're not accusing me of
being a liar, I hope.

MILLER. No one said anything about liar. I only meant you're surely
mistaken if you think--

MC COMBER. I'm not mistaken. I have proof of everything in his own
handwriting!

MILLER (sharply). Let's get down to brass tacks. Just what is it you're
charging him with?

MC COMBER. With being dissolute and blasphemous, with deliberately
attempting to corrupt the morals Of my young daughter, Muriel.

MILLER. Then I'm afraid I will have to call you a liar, Dave!

MC COMBER (without taking offense, in the same flat, brittle voice). I
thought you'd get around to that, so I brought some of the proofs with
me. I've a lot more of 'em at home. (He takes a wallet from his inside
coat pocket, selects five or six slips of paper, and holds them out to
MILLER) These are good samples of the rest. My wife discovered them in
one of Muriel's bureau drawers hidden under the underwear. They're all
in his handwriting, you can't deny it. Anyway, Muriel's confessed to me
he wrote them. You read them and then say I'm a liar. (MILLER has taken
the slips and is reading them frowningly. MC COMBER talks on) Evidently
you've been too busy to take the right care about Richard's bringing up
or what he's allowed to read, though I can't see why his mother failed
in her duty. But that's your misfortune, and none of my business.
But Muriel is my business and I can't and I won't have her innocence
exposed to the contamination of a young man whose mind, judging from
his choice of reading matter, is as foul.

MILLER (making a tremendous effort to control his temper). Why, you
damned old fool! Can't you see Richard's only a fool kid who's just
at the stage when he's out to rebel against all authority, and so he
grabs at everything radical to read and wants to pass it on to his
elders and his girl and boy friends to show off what a young hellion
he is! Why, at heart you'd find Richard is just as innocent and as big
a kid as Muriel is! (He pushes the slips of paper across the table
contemptuously) This stuff doesn't mean anything to me, that is,
nothing of what you think it means. If you believe this would corrupt
Muriel, then you must believe she's easily corrupted! But I'll bet
you'd find she knows a lot more about life than you give her credit
for--and can guess a stork didn't bring her down your chimney!

MC COMBER. Now you're insulting my daughter. I won't forget that.

MILLER. I'm not insulting her. I think Muriel is a darn nice girl.
That's why I'm giving her credit for ordinary good sense. I'd say the
same about my own Mildred, who's the same age.

MC COMBER. I know nothing about your Mildred except that she's known
all over as a flirt. (Then more sharply) Well, I knew you'd prove
obstinate, but I certainly never dreamed you'd have the impudence,
after reading those papers, to claim your son was innocent of all
wrong-doing!

MILLER. And what did you dream I'd do?

MC COMBER. Do what it's your plain duty to do as a citizen to protect
other people's children! Take and give him a hiding he'd remember to
the last day of his life! You'd ought to do it for his sake, if you had
any sense, unless you want him to end up in jail!

MILLER (his fists clenched, leans across the table). Dave, I've stood
all I can stand from you! You get out! And get out quick, if you don't
want a kick in the rear to help you!

MC COMBER (again in his flat, brittle voice, slowly getting to his
feet). You needn't lose your temper. I'm only demanding you do your
duty by your own as I've already done by mine. I'm punishing Muriel.
She's not to be allowed out of the house for a month and she's to be in
bed every night by eight sharp. And yet she's blameless, compared to
that--

MILLER. I said I'd had enough out of you, Dave! (He makes a threatening
movement.)

MC COMBER. You needn't lay hands on me. I'm going. But there's one
thing more. (He takes a letter from his wallet) Here's a letter from
Muriel for your son. (Puts it on the table) It makes clear, I think,
how she's come to think about him, now that her eyes have been opened.
I hope he heeds what's inside--for his own good and yours--because if I
ever catch him hanging about my place again I'll have him arrested! And
don't think I'm not going to make you regret the insults you've heaped
on me. I'm taking the advertisement for my store out of your paper, and
it won't go in again, I tell you, not unless you apologize in writing
and promise to punish--

MILLER. I'll see you in hell first! As for your damned old ad, take it
out and go to hell!

MC COMBER. That's plain bluff. You know how badly you need it. So do I.
(He starts stiffly for the door.)

MILLER. Here! Listen a minute! I'm just going to call your bluff and
tell you that, whether you want to reconsider your decision or not, I'm
going to refuse to print your damned ad after tomorrow! Put that in
your pipe and smoke it! Furthermore, I'll start a campaign to encourage
outside capital to open a dry-goods store in opposition to you that
won't be the public swindle I can prove yours is!

MC COMBER (a bit shaken by this threat, but in the same flat tone).
I'll sue you for libel.

MILLER. When I get through, there won't be a person in town will buy a
dishrag in your place!

MC COMBER (more shaken, his eyes shifting about furtively). That's all
bluff. You wouldn't dare (Then finally he says uncertainly) Well, good
day. (And turns and goes out. NAT stands looking after him. Slowly
the anger drains from his face and leaves him looking a bit sick and
disgusted. SID appears from the back parlor. He is nursing a burn on
his right hand, but his face is one broad grin of satisfaction.)

SID. I burned my hand with one of Tommy's damned firecrackers and came
in to get some vaseline. I was listening to the last of your scrap.
Good for you, Nat! You sure gave him hell!

MILLER (dully). Much good it'll do. He knows it was all talk.

SID. That's just what he don't know, Nat. The old skinflint has a
guilty conscience.

MILLER. Well, anyone who knows me knows I wouldn't use my paper for a
dirty, spiteful trick like that, no matter what he did to me.

SID. Yes, everyone knows you're an old sucker, Nat, too decent for your
own good. But McComber never saw you like this before. I tell you you
scared the pants off him. (He chuckles.)

MILLER (still dejectedly). I don't know what made me let go like that.
The hell of skunks like McComber is that after being with them ten
minutes you become as big skunks as they are.

SID. (notices the slips of paper In the table). What's this? Something
he brought? (He picks them up and starts to read.)

MILLER (grimly). Samples of the new freedom, from those books Essie
found, that Richard's been passing on to Muriel to educate her. They're
what started the rumpus. (Then frowning) I've got to do something about
that young anarchist or he'll be getting me, and himself, in a peck
of trouble. (Then pathetically helpless) But what can I do? Putting
the curb bit on would make him worse. Then he'd have a harsh tyrant to
defy. He'd love that, dam him!

SID (has been reading the slips, a broad grin on his face, suddenly
he whistles). Phew! This is a warm lulu for fair! (He recites with a
joking in-tensity)

   "My life is bitter 'with thy love; thine eyes
   Blind me, thy tresses burn me, thy sharp sighs
   Divide my flesh and spirit with soft sound"

MILLER (with a grim smile). Hmm. I missed that one. That must be Mr.
Swinburne's copy. I've never read him, but I've heard something like
that was the matter with him.

SID. Yes, it's labelled Swinburne "Anactoria." Whatever that is. But
wait, watch and listen! The worst is yet to come! (He recites with
added comic intensity)

  "That I could drink thy veins as wine, and eat
   Thy breasts like honey, that from face to feet
   Thy body were abolished ant consumed,
   And in my flesh thy very flesh entombed!"

MILLER (an irrepressible boyish grin coming to his face). Hell and
hallelujah! Just picture old Dave digesting that for the first time!
Gosh, give a lot to have seen his face (Then a trace of shocked reproof
showing in his voice) But it's no joking matter. That stuff is warm,
too damned warm, if you ask me! I don't like this a damned bit, Sid.
That's no kind of thing to be sending a decent girl. (More worriedly) I
thought he was really stuck on her, as one gets stuck on a decent girl
at his age, all moonshine and holding hands and a kiss now and again.
But this looks--I wonder if he is hanging around her to see what he
can get? (Angrily) By God, if that's true, he deserves that licking
McComber says it's my duty to give him! I've got to draw the line
somewhere!

SID. Yes, it won't do to have him getting any decent girl in trouble.

MILLER. The only thing I can do is put it up to him straight. (With
pride) Richard'll stand up to his guns, no matter what. I've never
known him to lie to me.

SID. (at a noise from the back parlor, looks that way, in a whisper).
Then now's your chance. I'll beat it and leave you alone, see if the
women folks are ready upstairs. We ought to get started soon, if we're
ever going to make that picnic. (He is half-way to the entrance to the
front parlour as RICHARD enters from the back parlor, very evidently
nervous about MC COMBER'S call.)

RICHARD (adopting a forced, inno-cent tone). How's your hand, Uncle Sid?

SID. All right, Dick, thanks, only hurts a little. (He disappears.
MILLER watches his son frowningly. RICHARD gives him a quick side
glance and grows more guiltily self-conscious.)

RICHARD (forcing a snicker). Gee, Pa, Uncle Sid's a bigger kid than
Tommy is. He was throwing fire-crackers in the air and catching them on
the back of his hand and throwing 'em off again just before they went
off, and one came and he wasn't quick enough, and it went off almost on
top of--

MILLER. Never mind that. I've got something else to talk to you about
besides firecrackers.

RICHARD (apprehensively). What, Pa?

MILLER (suddenly puts both hands on his shoulders, quietly). Look here,
Son. I'm going to ask you a question, and I want an honest answer. I
warn you beforehand if the answer is "yes" I'm going to punish you and
punish you hard because you'll have done something no boy of mine ought
to do. But you've never lied to me before, I know, and I don't believe,
even to save yourself punishment, you'd lie to me now, would you?

RICHARD (impressed, with dignity) I won't lie, Pa.

MILLER. Have you been trying to have something to do with Muriel,
something you shouldn't, you know what I mean.

RICHARD (stares at him for a moment, as if he couldn't comprehend,
then, as he does, a look of shocked indignation comes over his face).
No! What do you think I am, Pa? I never would! She's not that kind!
Why, I--I love her! I'm going to marry her, after I get out of college!
She's said she would! We're engaged!

MILLER (with great relief). All right. That's all I wanted to know. We
won't talk any more about it. (He gives him an approving pat on the
back.)

RICHARD. I don't see how you could think--Did that old idiot McComber
say that about me?

MILLER (joking now). Shouldn't call your future father-in-law names,
should you? 'Tain't respectful. (Then after a glance at RICHARD'S
indignant face, points to the slips of paper on the table) Well, you
can't exactly blame old Dave, can you, when you read through that
literature you wished on his innocent daughter?

RICHARD (sees the slips for the first time and is overcome by
embarrassment, which he immediately tries to cover up with a superior
carelessness). Oh, so that's why. He found those, did he? I told her to
be careful. Well, it'll do him good to read the truth about life for
once and get rid of his old-fogey ideas.

MILLER. I'm afraid I've got to agree with him, though, that they're
hardly fit reading for a young girl. (Then with subtle flattery)
They're all well enough, in their way, for you who're a man, but--Think
it over, and see if you don't agree with me.

RICHARD (embarrassedly). Pa, I only did it because I liked them
and I wanted her to face life as it is. She's so darned afraid of
life--afraid of her Old Man--afraid of people saying this or that about
her--afraid of being in love--afraid of everything. She's even afraid
to let me kiss her. I thought, maybe, reading those things--they're
beautiful, aren't they, Pa? I thought they would give her the spunk to
lead her own life, and not be always thinking of being afraid.

MILLER. I see. Well, I'm afraid she's still afraid. (He takes the
letter from the table) Here's a letter from her he said to give you.
(RICHARD takes the letter from him uncertainly, his expression changing
to one of apprehension. MILLER adds with a kindly smile) You better be
prepared for a bit of a blow. But never mind There's lots of other fish
in the sea. (RICHARD is not listening to him, but staring at the letter
with a sort of fascinated dread.)

(MILLER looks into his son's face a second, then turns away, trouble
and embarrassed) Dam it! I better go upstairs and get rigged out or I
never will get to that picnic. (He moves awkwardly and self-consciously
off through the front parlor. RICHARD continues to stare at the letter
for a moment, then girds up his courage and tears it open and begins
to read swiftly. As he reads his face grows more and more wounded and
tragic, until at the end his mouth draws down at the corners, as if he
were about to break into tears. With an effort he forces them back and
his face grows flushed with humiliation and wronged anger.)

RICHARD (blurts out to himself). The little coward! I hate her! She
can't treat me like that! I'll show her! (At the sound of voices from
the front parlor, he quickly shoves the letter into the inside pocket
of his coat and does his best to appear calm and indifferent, even
attempting to whistle "Waiting at the Church." But the whistle peters
out miserably as his mother, LILY and SID enter from the front parlor.
They are dressed in all the elaborate paraphernalia of motoring at that
period linen dusters, veils, goggles, SID in a snappy cap.)

MRS. MILLER. Well, we're about ready to start at last, thank goodness!
Let's hope no more callers are on the way. What did that McComber want,
Richard, do you know? Sid couldn't tell us.

RICHARD. You can search me. Ask Pa.

MRS. MILLER (immediately sensing something "down" in his manner--going
to him worriedly). Why, whatever's the matter with you, Richard? You
sound as if you'd lost your last friend! What is it?

RICHARD (desperately). I--I don't feel so well, my stomach's sick.

MRS. MILLER (immediately all sympathy, smoothing his hair back from his
forehead). You poor boy! What a shame on the Fourth, too, of all days!
(Turning to the others) Maybe I better stay home with him, if he's sick.

LILY. Yes, I'll stay, too.

RICHARD (more desperately). No! You go, Ma! I'm not really sick. I'll
be all right. You go. I want to be alone! (Then, as a louder bang
comes from in back as TOMMY sets off a cannon cracker, he jumps to his
feet) Darn Tommy and his darned fire-crackers! You can't get any peace
in this house with that darned kid around! Darn the Fourth of July,
anyway! I wish we still belonged to England! (He strides off in an
indignant fury of misery through the front parlor.)

MRS. MILLER (stares after him worriedly, then sighs philosophically).
Well, I guess he can't be so very sick after that. (She shakes her
head) He's a queer boy. Sometimes I can't make head or tail of him.

MILLER (calls from the front door beyond the back parlor). Come along,
folks. Let's get started.

SID. We're coming, Nat. (He and the two women move off through the
front parlor.)

CURTAIN

*

ACT TWO

Scene--Dining room of the miller House. A little after 6 o'clock in
the evening on the same day. The room is much too small for the medium
priced dining room setting, especially now when all the leaves of the
table are in. At left toward rear is a double door with portieres
leading to the back parlor. In the rear is a door leading to the
panttry. At right of the door is a china cabinet with it's display
of the family cut glass and fancy. In the right wall are two windows
looking out onto a side lawn. In front of the window is an ugly heavy
sideboard with three pieces of old silver on it's top. On the left
wall, extreme front is a screen door leading to a side porch. A dark
rug covers most of the floor. A table with a chair at either end,
left and right, three chairs behind, facing forward and two chairs in
frount, with backs to the audience, takes up most of the available
space. The walls are papered with a sombre dark brown and dark red
design. MRS MILLER is supervising the second girl NORAH in setting of
the table. NORAH is a clumsy, heavy-handed, heavy-footed, long-jawed
and beamingly good-natured young Irish girl, a "Green-Horn."

MRS. MILLER. I really think you better put on the lights, Norah. It's
getting so cloudy out, and this pesky room is so dark, anyway.

NORAH. Yes, Mum. (She stretches awkwardly over the table to reach the
chandelier that is suspended from the middle of the ceiling and manages
to turn one light on scornfully) Arrah, the contraption!

MRS. MILLER (worriedly). Careful!

NORAH. Careful as can be, Mum. (But in moving around to reach the next
bulb she jars heavily against the table.)

MRS. MILLER. There! I knew it! I do wish you'd watch!

NORAH (a flustered appeal in her voice). Arrah, what have I done wrong
now?

MRS. MILLER (draws a deep breath then sighs helplessly). Oh, nothing.
Never mind the rest of the lights. You might as well go out in the
kitchen and wait until I ring.

NORAH (relieved and cheerful again). Yes, Mum. (She starts for the
pantry.)

MRS. MILLER. But there's one thing--(NORAH turns apprehensively) No,
TWO things things I've told you over and over, but you always forget.
Don't pass the plates on the wrong side at dinner tonight, and do be
careful not to let that pantry door slam behind you. Now you will try
to remember, won't you?

NORAH. Yes, Mum. (She goes into the pantry and shuts the door behind
her with exaggerated care as MRS. MILLER watches her apprehensively.
MRS. MILLER sighs and reaches up with difficulty and turns on another
of the four lights in the chandelier. As she is doing so, LILY enters
from the back parlor.)

LILY. Here, let me do that, Essie. I'm taller. You'll only strain
yourself. (She quickly lights the other two bulbs.)

MRS. MILLER (gratefully). Thank you, Lily. It's a stretch for me, I'm
getting so fat.

LILY. But where's Norah? Why didn't she?

MRS. MILLER (exasperatedly). Oh, that girl! Don't talk about her!
She'll be the death of me! She's that thick, you honestly wouldn't
believe it possible.

LILY (smiling). Why, what did she do now?

MRS. MILLER. Oh, nothing. She means all right.

LILY. Anything else I can do, Essie?

MRS. MILLER. Well, she's got the table all wrong. We'll have to reset
it. But you're always helping me. It isn't fair to ask you in your
vacation. You need your rest after teaching a pack of wild Indians of
kids all year.

LILY (beginning to help with the table). You know I love to help. It
makes me feel I'm some use in this house instead of just sponging.

MRS. MILLER (indignantly). Sponging! You pay, don't you?

LILY. Almost nothing. And you and Nat only take that little to make me
feel better about living with you. (Forcing a smile) I don't see how
you stand me, having a cranky old maid around all the time.

MRS. MILLER. What nonsense you talk! As if Nat and I weren't only too
tickled to death to have you! Lily Miller, I've no patience with you
when you go on like that. We've been over this a thousand times before,
and still you go on! Crazy, that's what it is! (She changes the subject
abruptly) What time's it getting to be?

LILY (looking at her watch). Quarter past six.

MRS. MILLER. I do hope those met folks aren't going to be late for
dinner. (She sighs) But I suppose with that darned Sachem Club picnic
it's more likely than not. (LILY looks worried, and sighs. MRS. MILLER
gives her a quick side glance) I see you've got your new dress on.

LILY (embarrassedly). Yes, I thought--if Sid's taking me to the
fireworks--I ought to spruce up a little.

MRS. MILLER (looking away). Hmm. (A pause--then she says with an effort
to be casual) You mustn't mind if Sid comes home feeling a bit gay. I
expect Nat to--and we'll have to listen to all those old stories of his
about when he was a boy. You know what those picnics are, and Sid'd be
running into all his old friends.

LILY (agitatedly). I don't think he will, this time, not after his
promise.

MRS. MILLER (avoiding looking at her). I know. But men are weak. (Then
quickly) That was a good notion of Nat's, getting Sid the job on the
Waterbury Standard. All he ever needed was to get away from the rut
he was in here. He's the kind that's the victim of his friends. He's
easily led, but there's no real harm in him, you know that. (LILY keeps
silent, her eyes downcast. MRS. MILLER goes on meaningly) He's making
good money in Waterbury, too--thirty-five a week. He's in a better
position to get married than he ever was.

LILY (stiffly). Well, I hope he finds a woman who's willing, though
after he's through with his betting on horse races, and dice, and
playing Kelly pool, there won't be much left for a wife, even if there
was nothing else he spent his money on.

MRS. MILLER. Oh, he'd give up all that, for the right woman. (Suddenly
she comes directly to the point) Lily, why don't you change your mind
and marry Sid and reform him? You love him and always have.

LILY (Stiffly). I can't love a man who drinks,

MRS. MILLER. You can't fool me. I know darned well you love him. And he
loves you and always has.

LILY. Never enough to stop drinking for. (Cutting off MRS. MILLER'S
reply) No, it's no good in your talking, Essie. We've been over this a
thousand times before and I'll always feel the same as long as Sid's
the same. If he gave me proof he'd--but even then I don t believe I
could. It's sixteen years since I broke off our engagement, but what
made me break it off is as clear to me today as it was then. It was
what he'd be liable to do now to anyone who married him--his taking up
with bad women.

MRS. MILLER. (protests half-heartedly). But he's always sworn he got
raked into that party and never had anything to do with those harlots.

LILY. Well, I don't believe him--didn't then and don't now. I do
believe he didn't deliberately plan to, but--Oh, it's no good talking,
Essie. What's done is done. But you know how much I like Sid--in spite
of everything. I know he was just born to be what he is--irresponsible,
never meaning to harm but harming in spite of himself. But don't talk
to me about marrying him--because I never could.

MRS. MILLER (angrily). He's a dumb fool--a stupid dumb fool, that's
what he is!

LILY (quietly). No. He's just Sid.

MRS. MILLER. It's a shame for you--a measly shame--you that would have
made such a wonderful wife for any man--that ought to have your own
home and children!

LILY (winces but puts her arm around her affectionately, gently). Now
don't you go feeling sorry for me. I won't have that. Here I am, thanks
to your and Nat's kindness, with the best home in the world; and as
for the children, I feel the same love for yours as if they were mine,
and I didn't have the pain of bearing them. And then there are all the
boys and girls I teach every year. I like to feel I'm a sort of second
mother to them and helping them to grow up to be good men and women. So
I don't feel such a useless old maid, after all.

MRS. MILLER (kisses her impulsively, her voice husky). You're a good
woman, Lily--too good for the rest of us. (She turns away, wiping a
tear furtively--then abruptly changing the subject) Good gracious, if
I'm not forgetting one of the most important things! I've got to warn
that Tommy against giving me away to Nat about the fish. He knows,
because I had to send him to market for it, and he's liable to burst
out laughing.

LILY. Laughing about what?

MRS. MILLER (guiltily). Well, I've never told you, because it seemed
sort of a sneaking trick, but you know how Nat carries on about not
being able to eat bluefish.

LILY. I know he says there's a certain oil in it that poisons him.

MRS. MILLER (chuckling). Poisons him, nothing! He's been eating
bluefish for years--only I tell him each time it's weakfish. We're
having it tonight--and I've got to warn that young imp to keep his face
straight.

LILY (laughing). Aren't you ashamed, Essie?

MRS. MILLER. Not much, I'm not! I like bluefish! (She laughs) Where is
Tommy? In the sitting-room?

LILY. No, Richard's there alone. I think TOMMY'S out on the piazza with
Mildred.

(MRS. MILLER hustles out through the back parlor. As soon as she is
gone, the smile fades from LILY's lips. Her face grows sad and she
again glances nervously at her watch. RICHARD appears from the back
parlor, moving in an aimless way. His face wears a set expression of
bitter gloom; he exudes tragedy. For RICHARD, after his first outburst
of grief and humiliation, has begun to take a masochistic satisfaction
in his great sorrow, especially in the concern which it arouses in the
family circle. On seeing his aunt, he gives her a dark look and turns
and is about to stalk back toward the sitting-room when she speaks to
him pityingly)

LILY. Feel any better, Richard?

RICHARD (somberly). I'm all right, Aunt Lily. You mustn't worry about
me.

LILY (going to him). But I do worry about you. I hate to see you so
upset.

RICHARD. It doesn't matter. Nothing matters.

LILY (puts her arm around him sympathetically). You really mustn't let
yourself take it so seriously. You know, something happens and things
like that come up, and we think there's no hope--

RICHARD. Things like what come up?

LILY. What's happened between you and Muriel.

RICHARD (with disdain). Oh, her! I wasn't even thinking about her. I
was thinking about life.

LILY. But then--if we really, really love--why, then something else is
bound to happen soon that changes everything again, and it's all as it
was before the misunderstanding, and everything works out all right in
the end. That's the way it is with life.

RICHARD (with a tragic sneer). Life! Life is a joke! And everything
comes out all wrong in the end!

LILY (a little shocked). You mustn't talk that way. But I know you
don't mean it.

RICHARD. I do too mean it! You can have your silly optimism, if you
like, Aunt Lily. But don't ask me to be so blind. I'm a pessimist!
(Then with an air of cruel cynicism) As for Muriel, that's all dead and
past. I was only kidding her, anyway, just to have a little fun, and
she took it seriously, like a fool. (He forces a cruel smile to his
lips) You know what they say about women and trolley cars, Aunt Lily:
there's always another one along in a minute.

LILY (really shocked this time). I don't like you when you say such
horrible, cynical things. It isn't nice.

RICHARD. Nice! That's all you women think of! I'm proud to be a cynic.
It's the only thing you can be when you really face life. I suppose you
think I ought to be heartbroken about Muriel--a little coward that's
afraid to say her sours her own, and keeps tied to her father's apron
strings! Well, not for mine! There's plenty of other fish in the sea!
(As he is finishing, his mother comes back through the back parlor.)

MRS. MILLER. Why, hello. You here, Richard? Getting hungry, I suppose?

RICHARD (indignantly). I'm not hungry a bit! That's all you think of,
Ma--food!

MRS. MILLER. Well, I must say I've never noticed you to hang back at
meal times. (To LILY) What's that he was saying about fish in the sea?

LILY (smiling). He says he's through with Muriel now.

MRS. MILLER (tartly, giving her son a rebuking look). She's through
with him, he means! The idea of your sending a nice girl like her
things out of those indecent books! (Deeply offended, RICHARD disdains
to reply but stalks woundedly to the screen door at left, front, and
puts a hand on the knob) Where are you going?

RICHARD (quotes from "Candida" in a hollow voice). "Out, then, into the
night with me!" (He stalks out, slamming the door behind him.)

MRS. MILLER (calls). Well, don't you go far, 'cause dinner'll be ready
in a minute, and I'm not coming running after you! (She turns to LILY
with a chuckle) Goodness, that boy! He ought to be on the stage! (She
mimics) "Out--into the night" and it isn't even dark yet! He got
that out of one of those books, I suppose. Do you know, I'm actually
grateful to old Dave McComber for putting an end to his nonsense with
Muriel. I never did approve of Richard getting so interested in girls.
He's not old enough for such silliness. Why, seems to me it was only
yesterday he was still a baby. (She sighs--then matter-of-factly) Well,
nothing to do now till those men turn up. No use standing here like
gawks. We might as well go in the sitting room and be comfortable.

LILY (the nervous, worried note in her voice again). Yes, we might
as well. (They go out through the back parlor. They have no sooner
disappeared than the screen door is opened cautiously and RICHARD comes
back in the room.)

RICHARD (stands inside the door, looking after them--quotes bitterly).
"They do not know the secret in the poet's heart." (He comes nearer the
table and surveys it, especially the cut-glass dish containing olives,
with contempt and mutters disdainfully) Food! (But the dish of olives
seems to fascinate him and presently he has approached nearer, and
stealthily lifts a couple and crams them into his mouth. He is just
reaching oat for more when the pantry door is opened slightly and NORAH
peers in.)

NORAH. Mister Dick, you thief, lave them olives alone, or the missus'll
be swearing it was me at them!

RICHARD (draws back his hand as if he had been stung--too flustered to
be anything but guilty boy for a second). I--I wasn't eating.

NORAH. Oh, no, of course not, divil fear you, you was only feeling
their pulse! (Then warningly) Mind what I'm saying now, or I'll have to
tell on you to protect me good name! (She draws back into the pantry,
closing the door. RICHARD stands, a prey to feelings of bitterest
humiliation and seething revolt against everyone and everything. A
low whistle comes from just outside the porch door. He starts. Then a
masculine voice calls: "Hey, Dick." He goes over to the screen door
grumpily--then as he recognizes the owner of the voice--his own, as he
answers, becomes respectful and admiring.)

RICHARD. Oh, hello, Wint. Come on in. (He opens the door and WINT SELBY
enters and stands just inside the door. SELBY is nineteen, a classmate
of ARTHUR'S at Yale. He is a typical, good-looking college boy of the
period, not the athletic but the hell-raising sport type. He is tall,
blond, dressed in extreme collegiate cut.)

WINT (as he enters warningly, in a low tone). Keep it quiet, Kid. I
don't want the folks to know I'm here. Tell Art I want to see him a
second--on the Q.T.

RICHARD. Can't. He's up at the Rands'--won't be home before ten, anyway.

WINT (irritably). Damn, I thought he'd be here for dinner. (More
irritably) Hell, that gums the works for fair!

RICHARD (ingratiatingly). What is it, Wint? Can't I help?

WINT (gives him an appraising glance). I might tell you, if you can
keep your face shut.

RICHARD. I can.

WINT. Well, I ran into a couple of swift babies from New Haven this
after, and I dated them up for tonight, thinking I could catch Art. But
now it's too late to get anyone else and I'll have to pass it up. I'm
nearly broke and I can't afford to treat them both to drinks.

RICHARD (with shy eagerness). I've got eleven dollars saved up. I could
loan you some.

WINT (surveys him appreciatively) Say, you're a good sport. (Then
shaking his head) Nix, Kid, I don't want to borrow your money. (Then
getting an idea) But say, have you got anything on for tonight?

RICHARD. No.

WINT. Want to come along with me? (Then quickly) I'm not trying to
lead you astray, understand. But it'll be a help if you would just sit
around with Belle and feed her a few drinks while I'm off with Edith.
(He winks) See what I mean? You don't have to do anything, not even
take a glass of beer, unless you want to.

RICHARD (boastfully). Aw, what do you think I am, a rube?

WINT. You mean you're game for anything that's doing?

RICHARD. Sure I am!

WINT. Ever been out with any girls--I mean, real swift ones that
there's something doing with, not these dead Janes around here.

RICHARD (lies boldly). Aw, what do you think? Sure I have!

WINT. Ever drink anything besides sodas?

RICHARD. Sure. Lots of times. Beer and sloe-gin, fizz and Manhattans.

WINT (impressed). Hell, you know more than I thought. (Then
considering) Can you fix it so your folks won't get wise? I don't
want your old man coming after me. You can get back by half-past ten
or eleven, though, all right. Think you can cook up some lie to cover
that? (As Richard hesitates--encouraging him) Ought to be easy--on the
Fourth.

RICHARD. Sure. Don't worry about that.

WINT. But you've got to keep your face closed about this, you hear?--to
Art and everybody else. I tell you straight, I wouldn't ask you to come
if I wasn't in a hole--and if I didn't know you were coming down to
Yale next year, and didn't think you're giving me the straight goods
about having been around before. I don't want to lead you astray.

RICHARD (scornfully). Aw, I told you that was silly.

WINT. Well, you be at the Pleasant Beach House at half-past nine then.
Come in the back room. And don't forget to grab some cloves to take the
booze off your breath.

RICHARD. Aw, I know what to do.

WINT. See you later, then. (He starts out and is just about to close
the door when he thinks of something) And say, I'll say you're a
Harvard freshman, and you back me up. They don't know a damn thing
about Harvard. I don't want them thinking I'm travelling around with
any high-school kid.

RICHARD. Sure. That's easy.

WINT. So long, then. You better beat it right after your dinner while
you've got a chance, and hang around until it's time. Watch your step,
Kid.

RICHARD. So long. (The door closes behind WINT. RICHARD stands for a
moment, a look of bitter, deftant rebellion coming over his face, and
mutters to himself) I'll show her she can't treat me the way she's
done! I'll show them all! (Then the front door is heard slamming, and a
moment later TOMMY rushes in from the back parlor.)

TOMMY. Where's Ma?

RICHARD (surlily). In the sitting room. Where did you think, Bone-head?

TOMMY. Pa and Uncle Sid are coming. Mid and I saw them from the front
piazza. Gee, I'm glad. I'm awful hungry, ain't you? (He rushes out
through the back parlor, calling) Ma! They're coming! Let's have
dinner quick! (A moment later MRS. MILLER appears from the back parlor
accompanied by TOMMY, who keeps insisting urgently) Gee, but I'm awful
hungry, Ma!

MRS. MILLER. I know. You always are. You've got a tapeworm, that's what
I think.

TOMMY. Have we got lobsters, Ma? Gee, I love lobsters.

VIRS. MILLER. Yes, we've got lobsters. And fish. You remember what I
told you about that fish. (He snickers) Now, do be quiet, Tommy! (Then
with a teasing smile at RICHARD) Well, I'm glad to see you've got back
out of the night, Richard. (He scowls and turns his back on her. LILY
appears through the back parlor, nervous and apprehensive. As she does
so, from the front yard sno's voice is heard singing "Poor John!" MRS.
MILLER shakes her head forebodingly--but, so great is the comic spell
for her even in her brother's voice, a humorous smile hovers at the
corners of her lips) Mmm! Mmm! Lily, I'm afraid--

LILY (bitterly). Yes, I might have known.

(MILDRED runs in through the back parlor. She is laughing to herself a
bit shamefacedly. She rushes to her mother.)

MILDRED. Ma, Uncle Sid's (She whispers in her ear.)

MRS. MILLER. Never mind! You shouldn't notice such things--at your age!
And don't you encourage him by laughing at his foolishness, you hear!

TOMMY. You needn't whisper, Mid. Think I don't know? Uncle Sid's soused
again.

MRS. MILLER (shakes him by the arm indignantly). You be quiet! Did I
ever! You're getting too smart! (Gives him a push) Go to your place and
sit right down and not another word out of you!

TOMMY (aggrieved--rubbing his arm as he goes to his place). Aw, Ma!

MRS. MILLER, And you sit down, Richard and Mildred. You better, too,
Lily. Well get him right in here and get some food in him. He'll be all
right then. (RICHARD, preserving the pose of the bitter, disillusioned
pessimist, sits down in his place in the chair at right of the two
whose backs face front. MILDRED takes the other chair facing back, at
his left. TOMMY he's already slid into the end chair at right of those
at the rear of table facing front. LILY sits in the one of those at
left, by the head of the table, leaving the middle one remains vacant.
While they are doing this, The front screen door is heard slamming
and NAT'S and SID'S laughing voices, raised as they come in and for a
moment after, then suddenly cautiously lowered. MRS. MILLER goes to the
entrance to the back parlor and calls peremptorily) You come right in
here! Don't stop to wash up or anything. Dinner's coming right on the
table.

MILLER'S VOICE (jovially). All right, Essie. Here we are! Here we are!

MRS. MILLER (goes to pantry door, opens it and calls). All right,
Norah. You can bring in the soup. (She comes back to the back parlor
entrance just as MILLER totters. He isn't drunk by any means. He is
just mellow and benignly ripened. His face is one large, smiling, happy
beam of utter appreciation of life. All's right with the world, so
satisfyingly right that he becomes sentimentally moved even to think of
it.)

MILLER. Here we are, Essie! Right on the dot! Here we are! (He pulls
her to him and gives her a smacking kiss on the ear as she jerks her
head away. MILDRED and TOMMY giggle.)

(RICHARD holds rigidly aloof and disdainful, his brooding gaze fixed on
his plate. LILY forces a smile.)

MRS. MILLER (pulling away, embarrassedly, almost blushing). Don't, you
Crazy! (Then recovering herself, tartly) So I see, you're here! And if
I didn't, you've told me four times already!

MILLER (beamingly). Now, Essie, don't be critical. Don't be carpingly
critical. Good news can stand repeating, can't it? 'Course it can!
(He slaps her jovially on her fat buttocks. TOMMY and MILDRED roar
with glee. And NORAH, who has just entered from the pantry with a huge
tureen of soup in her hands, almost drops it as she explodes in a merry
guffaw.)

MRS. MILLER (scandalized). Nat! Aren't you ashamed!

MILLER. Couldn't resist it! Just simply couldn't resist it!

(NORAH, still standing with the soup tureen held out stiffly in front
of her, again guffaws.)

MRS. MILLER (turns on her with outraged indignation). Norah! Bring that
soup here this minute! (She stalks with stiff dignity toward her place
at the foot of the table, right.)

NORAH (guiltily). Yes, Mum. (She brings the soup around the head of the
table, passing MILLER.)

MILLER (jovially). Why, hello, Norah!

MRS. MILLER. Nat! (She sits down stiffly at the foot of the table.)

NORAH (rebuking him familiarly). Arrah now, don't be making me laugh
and getting me into trouble!

MRS. MILLER. Norah!

NORAH (a bit resentfully). Yes, Mum. Here I am. (She sets the soup
tureen down with a thud in front of MRS. MILLER and passes around the
other side, squeezing with difficulty between the china closet and the
backs of chairs at the rear of the table.)

MRS. MILLER. Tommy! Stop spinning your napkin ring! How often have I
got to tell you? Mildred! Sit up straight in your chair! Do you want to
grow up a humpback? Richard! Take your elbows Off the table!

MILLER (coming to his place at the head of the table, rubbing his hands
together genially). Well, well, well. Well, well, well. It's good to be
home again.

(NORAH exits into the pantry and lets the door slam with a bang behind
her.)

MRS. MILLER (jumps). Oh! (Then exasperatedly) Nat, I do wish you
wouldn't encourage that stupid girl by talking to her, when I'm doing
my best to train--

MILLER (beamingly). All right, Essie. Your word is law! (Then
laughingly) We did have the darndest fun today! And Sid was the life of
that picnic! You ought to have heard him! Honestly, he had that crowd
just rolling on the ground and splitting their sides! He ought to be on
the stage.

MRS. MILLER (as NORAH comes back with a dish of saltines--begins
ladling soup into the stack of plates before her). He ought to be at
this table eating something to sober him, up, that's what he ought to
be! (She calls) Sid! You come right in here! (Then to NORAH, handing
her a soup plate) Here, Norah. (NORAH begins passing soup) Sit down,
Nat, for goodness sakes. Start eating, everybody. Don't wait for me.
You know I've given up soup.

MILLER (sits down but bends forward to call to his wife in a
confidential tone). Essie--Sid's sort of embarrassed about coming--I
mean I'm afraid he's a little bit--not too much, you understand--but he
met such a lot of friends and--well, you know, don't be hard on him.
Fourth of July is like Christmas--comes but once a year. Don't pretend
to notice, eh? And don't you kids, you hear! And don't you, Lily. He's
scared of you.

LILY (with stiff meekness). Very well, Nat.

MILLER (beaming again--calls). All right, Sid. The coast's clear. (He
begins to absorb his soup ravenously) Good soup, Essie! Good soup!

(A moment later SID makes his entrance from the back parlor. He is
in a condition that can best be described as blurry. His movements
have a hazy uncertainty about them. His shiny fat face is one broad,
blurred, Puckish, naughty-boy grin; his eyes have a blurred, wondering
vagueness. As he enters he makes a solemnly intense effort to appear
casual and dead, cold sober. He waves his hand aimlessly and speaks
with a silly gravity.)

SID. Good evening. (They all answer "Good evening," their eyes on
their plates. He makes his way vaguely toward his place, continuing
his grave effort at conversation) Beautiful evening. I never remember
seeing--more beautiful sunset. (He bumps vaguely into LILY'S chair as
he attempts to pass behind her-immediately he is all grave politeness)
Sorry-sorry, Lily-deeply sorry.

LILY (her eyes on her plate-stiffly), It's all right.

SID. (manages to get into his chair at last--mutters to himself). Wha'
was I sayin'? Oh, sunsets. But why butt in? Hasn't sun--perfect right
to set? Mind y'r own business. (He pauses thoughtfully, considering
this--then looks around from face to face, fixing each with a vague,
blurred, wondering look, as if some deep puzzle were confronting him.
Then suddenly he grins mistily and nods with satisfaction) And there
you are! Am I right?

MILLER (humoring him). Right.

SID. Right! (He is silent, studying his soup plate, as if it were some
strange enigma. Finally he looks up and regards his sister and asks
with wondering amazement) Soup?

MRS. MILLER. Of Course, it's soup. What did you think it was? And you
hurry up and eat it.

SID (again regards his soup with astonishment). Well! (Then suddenly)
Well, all right then! Soup be it! (He picks up his spoon and begins
to eat, but after two tries in which he finds--it difficult to locate
his mouth, he addresses the spoon plaintively) Spoon, is this any way
to treat a pal? (Then suddenly comically angry, putting the spoon down
with a bang) Down with spoons! (He raises his soup plate and declaims)
"We'll drink to the dead already, and hurrah for the next who dies."
(Bowing solemnly to right and left) Your good health, ladies and gents.

(He starts drinking the soup. MILLER guffaws and MILDRED and TOMMY
giggle. Even RICHARD forgets his melancholy and snickers, and MRS.
MILLER conceals a smile. Only LILY remains stiff and silent.)

MRS. MILLER (with forced severity). Sid!

SID (peers at her muzzily, lowering the soup plate a little from his
lips). Eh?

MRS. MILLER. Oh, nothing. Never mind.

SID (solemnly offended). Are you--publicly rebuking me before assembled?
Isn't soup liquid? Aren't liquids drunk? (Then considering this to
himself) What if they are drunk? It's a good man's failing. (He again
peers mistily about at the company) Am I right or wrong?

MRS. MILLER. Hurry up and finish your soup, and stop talking nonsense!

SID. (turning to her--again offendedly). Oh, no, Essie, if I ever
so far forget myself as to drink a leg of lamb, then you might
have some--excuse for--just think of waste effort eating soup with
spoons--fifty gruelling lifts per plate--billions of soup-eaters
on globe--why, it's simply staggering! (Then darkly to himself) NO
more spoons for me! If I want to develop my biceps, I'll buy Sandow
Exerciser! (He drinks the rest of his soup in a gulp and beams around
at the company, suddenly all happiness again) Am I right, folks?

MILLER (who has been choking with laughter). Haw, haw! You're right,
Sid.

SID (peers at him blurredly and shakes his head sadly). Poor old Nat!
Always wrong--but heart of gold, heart of purest gold. And drunk
again, I regret to note. Sister, my heart bleeds for you and your poor
fatherless chicks!

MRS. MILLER (restraining a giggle--severely). Sid! Do shut up for a
minute! Pass me your soup plates, everybody. If we wait for that girl
to take them, we'll be here all night. (They all pass their plates,
which MRS. MILLER stacks up and then puts on the sideboard. As she is
doing this, NORAH appears front the pantry with a platter of broiled
fish. She is just about to place these before MILLER when SID catches
her eye mistily and rises to his feet, making her a deep, uncertain
bow.)

SID (raptly). Ah, Sight for Sore Eyes, my beautiful Macushla, my
star-eyed Mavourneen.

MRS. MILLER. Sid!

NORAH (immensely pleased--gives him an arch, flirtatious glance). Ah
sure, Mister Sid, it's you that have kissed the Blarney Stone, when
you've a drop taken!

MRS. MILLER (outraged). Norah! Put down that fish!

NORAH (flusteredly). Yes, Mum. (She attempts to put the fish down
hastily before MILLER, but her eyes are fixed nervously on MRS. MILLER
and she gives MILLER a nasty swipe on the side of the head with the
edge of the dish.)

MILLER. Ouch! (The children, even RICHARD, explode into laughter.)

NORAH (almost lets the dish fall). Oh, glory be to God! Is it hurted
you are?

MILLER (rubbing his head--good-naturedly). No, no harm done. Only
careful, Norah, careful.

NORAH (gratefully). Yes, sorr. (She thumps down the dish in front of
him with a sigh of relief.)

SID. (who is still standing--with drunken gravity). Careful,
Mayourneen, careful! You might have hit him some place besides the
head. Always aim at his head, remember--so as not to worry us.

(Again the children explode. Also NORAH Even LILY suddenly lets out an
hysterical giggle and is furious with herself for doing so.)

LILY. I'm so sorry, Nat. I didn't mean to laugh. (Turning on SID
furiously) Will you please sit down and stop making a fool of yourself!

(SID gives her a hurt, mournful look and then sinks meekly down on his
chair.)

NORAH (grinning cheerfully, gives LILY a reassuring pat on the back).
Ah, Miss Lily, don't mind him. He's only under the influence. Sure,
there's no harm in him at all.

MRS. MILLER. Norah!

(NORAH exits hastily into the pantry, letting the door slam with a
crash behind her. There is silence for a moment as MILLER serves the
fish and it is passed around. NORAH comes back with the vegetables and
disappears again, and these are dished out.)

MILLER (is about to take his first bite--stops suddenly and asks his
wife). This isn't, by any chance, bluefish, is it, my dear?

MRS. MILLER (with a warning glance at TOMMY). Of course not. You know
we never have bluefish, On account of you.

MILLER (addressing the table now with the gravity of a man confessing
his strange peculiarities). Yes, I regret to say, there's a certain
peculiar oil in bluefish that invariably poisons me. (At this, TOMMY
cannot stand it any more but explodes into laughter. MRS. MILLER,
after a helpless glance at him, follows suit; then LILY goes off into
uncontrollable, hysterical laughter, and RICHARD and MILDRED are caught
in the contagion. MILLER looks around at them with a weak smile, his
dignity now ruffled a bit) Well, I must say I don't see what's so
darned funny about my being poisoned.

SID (peers around him--then with drunken cunning). Aha! Nat, I
suspect--plot! This fish looks blue to me--very blue--in fact
despondent, desperate, and--(He points his fork dramatically at MRS.
MILLER) See how guilty she looks--a ver--veritable Lucretia Georgia!
Can it be this woman has been slowly poisoning you all these years? And
how well--you've stood it! What iron constitution! Even now, when you
are invariably at death's door, I can't believe--

(Everyone goes off into uncontrollable laughter.)

MILLER (grumpily). Oh, give us a rest, you darned fool! A joke's a
joke, but--(He addresses his wife in a wounded tone) Is this true,
Essie?

MRS. MILLER (wiping the tears from her eyes--defiantly). Yes, it
is true if you must know, and you'd never have suspected it, if it
weren't for that darned Tommy, and Sid poking his nose in. You've eaten
bluefish for years and thrived on it and it's all nonsense about that
peculiar oil.

MILLER (deeply offended). Kindly allow me to know my own constitution!
Now I think of it, I've felt upset afterwards every damned time we've
had fish! (He pushes his plate away from him with proud renunciation) I
can't eat this.

MRS. MILLER (insultingly matter-of-fact). Well, don't then. There's
lots of lobster coming and you can fill up on that.

(RICHARD suddenly bursts out laughing again.)

MILLER (turns to him caustically). You seem in a merry mood, Richard. I
thought you were the original of the Heart Bowed Down today.

SID (with mock condolence). Never mind, Dick. Let them scoff! What
can they understand about girls whose hair sizzchels, whose lips are
fireworks, whose eyes are red hot sparks?

MILDRED (laughing). Is that what he wrote to Muriel? (Turning to her
brother) You silly goat, you!

RICHARD (surlily). Aw, shut up, Mid. What do I care about her? I'll
show all of you how much I care!

MRS. MILLER. Pass your plates as soon as you're through, everybody.
I've rung for the lobster. And that's all. You don't get any dessert or
tea after lobster, you know.

(NORAH appears bearing a platter of cold boiled lobsters which she sets
before MILLER, and disappears.)

TOMMY. Gee, I love lobster! (MILLER puts one on each plate, and they
are passed around and everyone starts in pulling the cracked shells
apart.)

MILLER (feeling more cheerful after a couple of mouthfuls, determining
to give the conversation another turn, says to his daughter). Have a
good time at the beach, Mildred?

MILDRED. Oh, fine, Pa, thanks. The water was wonderful and warm.

MILLER. Swim far?

MILDRED. Yes, for me. But that isn't so awful far.

MILLER. Well, you ought to be a good swimmer, if you take after me.
I used to be a regular water rat when I was a boy. I'll have to go
down to the beach with you one of these days--though I'd be rusty, not
having been in in all these years. (The reminiscent look comes into his
eyes of one about to embark on an oft-told tale of childhood adventure)
You know, speaking of swimming, I never go down to that beach but what
it calls to mind the day I and Red Sisk went in swimming there and I
saved his life.

(By this time the family are beginning to exchange amused, guilty
glances. They all know what is coming.)

SID. (with a sly, blurry wink around). Ha! Now we--have it again!

MILLER (turning on him). Have what?

SID. Nothing--go on with your swimming--don't mind me.

MILLER (glares at him--but immediately is overcome by the reminiscent
mood again). Red Sisk--his father kept a blacksmith shop where the
Union Market is now--we kids called him Red because he had the
darnedest reddest crop of hair.

SID (as if he were talking to his plate). Remarkable!--the curious
imagination--of little children.

MRS. MILLER (as she sees MILLER about to explode--interposes
tactfully). Sid! Eat your lobster and shut up! Go on, Nat.

MILLER (gives SID a withering look--then is off again). Well, as I
was saying, Red and I went swimming that day. Must have been--let
me see--Red was fourteen, bigger and older than me, I was only
twelve--forty-five years ago--wasn't a single house down there
then--but there was a stake out where the whistling buoy is now, about
a mile out. (TOMMY, who has been having difficulty restraining himself,
lets out a stifled giggle. MILLER bends a frowning gaze on him) One
more sound out of you, young man, and you'll leave this table!

MRS. MILLER (quickly interposing, trying to stave off the story). Do
eat your lobster, Nat. You didn't have any fish, you know.

MILLER (not liking the reminder--pettishly). Well, if I'm going to be
interrupted every second anyway--(He turns to his lobster and chews in
silence for a moment.)

MRS. MILLER (trying to switch the subject). flow's Anne's mother's
rheumatism, Mildred?

MILDRED. Oh, she's much better, Ma. She was in wading today. She says
salt water's the only thing that really helps her bunion.

MRS. MILLER. Mildred! Where are your manners? At the table's no place
to speak of--

MILLER (fallen into the reminiscent obsession again). Well, as I was
saying, there was I and Red, and he dared me to race him out to the
stake and back. Well, I didn't let anyone dare me in those days. I was
a spunky kid. So I said all right and we started out. We swam and swam
and were pretty evenly matched; though, as I've said, he was bigger and
older than me, but finally I drew ahead. I was going along easy, with
lots in reserve, not a bit tired, when suddenly I heard a sort of gasp
from behind me--like this "help." (He imitates. Everyone's eyes are
firmly fixed on their plates, except SID's) And I turned and there was
Red, his face all pinched and white, and he says weakly: "Help, Nat!
I got a cramp in my leg!" Well, I don't mind telling you I got mighty
scared. I didn't know what to do. Then suddenly I thought of the pile.
If I could pull him to that, I could hang on to him till someone'd
notice us. But the pile was still--well, I calculate it must have been
two hundred feet away.

SID. Two hundred and fifty!

MILLER (in confusion). What's that?

SID. Two hundred and fifty! I've taken down the distance every time
you've saved Red's life for thirty years and the mean average to that
pile is two hundred and fifty feet! (There is a burst of laughter from
around the table. SID continues complainingly) Why didn't you let that
Red drown, anywny, Nat? I never knew him but I know I'd never have
liked him.

MILLER (really hurt, forces a feeble smile to his lips and pretends to
be a good sport about it). Well, guess you're right, Sid. Guess I have
told that one too many times and bored everyone. But it's a good true
story for kids because it illustrates the danger of being foolhardy in
the water.

MRS. MILLER (sensing the hurt in his tone, comes to his rescue). Of
course it's a good story, and you tell it whenever you've a mind to.
And you, Sid, if you were in any responsible state, i'd give you a good
piece of my mind for teasing Nat like that.

MILLER (with a sad, self-pitying smile at his wife). Getting old, I
guess, Mother--getting to repeat myself. Someone ought to stop me.

MRS. MILLER. No such thing! You're as young as you ever were. (She
turns on SID again angrily) You eat your lobster and maybe it'll keep
your mouth shut!

SID (after a few chews--irepressibly). Lobster! Did you know, Tommy,
your Uncle Sid is the man invented lobster? Fact! One day, when I was
building the Pyramids--took a day off and just dashed off lobster.
He was bigger'n' older than me and he had the damndest reddest crop
of hair but I dashed him off just the same; Am I right, Nat? (Then
suddenly in the tones of a side-show barker) Ladies and Gents--

MRS. MILLER. Mercy sakes! Can't you shut up?

SID. In this cage you see the lobster. You will not believe me, ladies
and gents, but it's a fact that this interesting bivalve only makes
love to his mate once in every thousand years--but, dearie me, how he
does enjoy it!

(The children roar. LILY and MRS. MILLER laugh in spite of themselves,
then look embarrassed. MILLER guffaws--then suddenly grows shocked.)

MILLER. Careful, Sid, careful. Remember you're at home.

TOMMY (suddenly in a hoarse whisper to his mother, with an awed glance
of admiration at his uncle). Ma! Look at him! He's eating that claw,
shells and all!

MRS. MILLER (horrified). Sid, do you want to kill yourself? Take it
away from him, Lily!

SID. (with great dignity). But I prefer the shells. All famous epicures
prefer the shells--to the less delicate, coarser meat. It's the same
with clams. Unless I eat the shells there is a certain, peculiar oil
that invariably poisons--Am I right, Nat?

MILLER (good-naturedly). You seem to be getting a lot of fun kidding
me. Go ahead, then. I don't mind.

MRS. MILLER. He better go right up to bed for a while, that's what he
better do.

SID (considering this owlishly). Bed? Yes, maybe you're right. (He gets
to his feet) I am not at all well--in very delicate condition--we are
praying for a boy. Am I right, Nat? Nat, I kept telling you all day I
was in delicate condition and yet you kept forcing demon chowder on
me, although you knew full well--even if you were full--that there is
a certain peculiar oil in chowder that invariably--(They are again all
laughing--LILY, hysterically.)

MRS. MILLER. Will you get to bed, you idiot!

SID. (mutters graciously). Immediately, if not sooner. (He turns to
pass behind LILY, then stops, staring down at her) But wait. There
is still a duty I must perform. No day is complete without it. Lily,
answer once and for all, will you marry me?

LILY (with an hysterical giggle). No, I won't--never!

SID (nodding his head). Right! And perhaps it's all for the best. For
how could I forget the pre--precepts taught me at mother's dying knee.
"Sidney," she said, "never marry a woman who drinks! Lips that touch
liquor shall never touch yours!" (Gazing at her mournfully) Too bad! So
fine a woman once--and now such a slave to rum! (Turning to NAT) What
can we do to save her, Nat? (In a hoarse, confidential whisper) Better
put her in institution where she'll be removed from temptation! The
mere smell of it seems to drive her frantic!

MRS. MILLER (struggling with her laughter). You leave Lily alone, and
go to bed!

SID. Right! (He comes around behind LILY'S chair and moves toward the
entrance to the back parlor--then suddenly turns and says with a bow)
Good night, ladies and gents. We will meet bye and bye! (He gives an
imitation of a Salvation Army drum) Boom! Boom! Boom! Come and be
saved, Brothers! (He starts to sing the old Army hymn)

  "In the sweet Bye and bye
   We will meet on that beautiful shore."

(He turns and marches solemnly out through the back parlor, singing)

  "Work and pray While you may.
   We will meet in the sky bye and bye."

(MILLER and his wife and the children are all roaring with laughter.
LILY giggles hysterically.)

MILLER (subsiding at last). Haw, haw. He's a case, if ever there was
one! Darned if you can help laughing at him even when he's poking fun
at you!

MRS. MILLER. Goodness, but he's a caution! Oh, my sides ache, I
declare! I was trying so hard not to but you can't help it, he's so
silly! But I suppose we really shouldn't. It only encourages him. But,
my lands!

LILY (suddenly gets up from her chair and stands rigidly, her face
working jerkily). That's just it--you shouldn't--even I laughed--it
does encourage--that's been his downfall--everyone always laughing,
everyone always saying what a card he is, what a case, what a caution,
so funny--and he's gone on--and we're all responsible--making it easy
for him--we're all to blame and all we do is laugh!

MILLER (worriedly). Now, Lily, now, you mustn't take on so. It isn't as
serious as all that.

LILY (bitterly). Maybe it is--to me or was once. (Then contritely) I'm
sorry, Nat. I'm sorry, Essie. I didn't mean to. I'm not feeling myself
tonight. If you'll excuse me, I'll go in the front parlor and lie down
on the sofa awhile.

MRS. MILLER. Of course, Lily. You do whatever you've a mind to. (LILY
goes out.)

MILLER (frowning a little shamefaced). Hmm. I suppose she's right.
Never knew Lily to come out with things that way before. Anything
special happened, Essie?

MRS. MILLER. Nothing I know--except he'd promised to take her to the
fireworks.

MILLER. That's so. Well, supposing I take her. I don't want her to feel
disappointed.

MRS. MILLER (shaking her head). Wild horses couldn't drag her there now.

MILLER. Hmm. I thought she'd got completely over her foolishness about
him long ago.

MRS. MILLER. She never will.

MILLER. She'd better. He's got fired out of that Waterbury job, told me
at the picnic after he'd got enough Dutch courage in him.

MRS. MILLER. Oh, dear! Isn't he the fool!

MILLER. I knew something was wrong when he came home. Well, I'll find
a place for him on my paper again, of course. He always was the best
news-getter this town ever had. But I'll tell him he's got to stop his
damn nonsense.

MRS. MILLER (doubtfully). Yes.

MILLER. Well, no use sitting here mourning over spilt milk. (He gets
up, and RICHARD, MILDRED, TOMMY and MRS. MILLER follow his example, the
children quiet and a bit awed) You kids go out in the yard and try to
keep quiet for a while, so's your Uncle Sid'll get to sleep and your
Aunt Lily can rest.

TOMMY (mournfully). Ain't we going to set off the skyrockets and Roman
candles, Pa?

MILLER. Later, Son, later. It isn't dark enough for them yet anyway.

MILDRED. Come on, Tommy. I'll see he keeps quiet, Pa.

MILLER. That's a good girl. (MILDRED and TOMMY go out through the
screen door. RICHARD remains standing, sunk in bitter, gloomy thoughts.
MILLER glances at him--then irritably) Well, Melancholy Dane, what are
you doing?

RICHARD (darkly). I'm going out--for a while. (Then suddenly) Do you
know what I think? It's Aunt Lily's fault, Uncle Sid's going to ruin.
It's all because he loves her, and she keeps him dangling after her,
and eggs him on and ruins his life--like all women love to ruin men's
lives! I don't blame him for drinking himself to death! What does he
care if he dies, after the way she's treated him! I'd do the same thing
myself if I were in his boots!

MRS. MILLER (indignantly). Richard! You stop that talk!

RICHARD (quotes bitterly). "Drink! for you know not whance you come nor
why. Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where!"

MILLER (losing his temper--harshly) Now listen here young man, I've had
about all I can stand of your nonsense for one day. You're growing a
lot too big for your size, it seems to me. You keep that damned fool
talk to yourself, you hear me--or you're going to regret it! Mind now!
(He strides angrily away through the back parlour.)

MRS. MILLER. (still indignant) Richard, I'm ashamed of you, that's what
I am. (she follows her husband. Richard stands for a second bitter,
humiliated, wronged, even his father turned enemy, his face growing
more and more rebellious. Then he forces a smile to his lips.)

RICHARD. Ah! What the hell do I care? I'll show them! (He turns and
goes out the screen door).

CURTAIN

*

ACT THREE

Scene--The back room of a bar in a small hotel--a small dingy room
dimly lit by two fly-specked globes in a fly-specked gilt chandelier
suspended for the middle of the ceiling. At left front is the swinging
door leading to the bar. At rear of door, against the wall is a
nickel-in-the-slot piano player. In the rear wall is a door leading
to the "family entrance" and the stairway to the upstairs rooms. In
the middle of the right wall is a window with closed shutters. Three
tables with stained tops, four chairs around each one are placed
in the centre, front, at right toward rear and at rear, centre. A
brass cuspidor is on the floor by each table. The floor is unswept,
littered with cigarette and cigar butts. The hideous saffron coloured
wallpaper is splotched and blotted. It is about 10 o'clock the same
night. RICHARD and BELLE are discovered sitting at the table at centre,
BELLE to the left of it and RICHARD sitting in the next chair at the
middle of the table, facing front. BELLE is twenty, a rather pretty
peroxide blonde, a typical college "tart" of the period, and of the
cheaper variety, dressed with tawdry flashiness. But she is a fairly
recent recrit to the ranks, and is still a bit remorseful behind her
make-up and defiantly careless manner. BELLE has an empty gin-rickey
glass before her, RICHARD a half empty glass of beer. He looks horribly
timid, embarrased and gulity.

BELLE (with an impatient glance at her escort rattling the ice in her
empty glass). Drink up your beer, why don't you? It's getting flat.

RICHARD (embarrassedly). I let it get that way on purpose. I like
it better when it's flat. (But he hastily gulps down the rest of
his glass, as if it were some nasty-tasting medicine. The BARTENDER
chuckles audibly. BELLE glances at him.)

BELLE (nodding at the player-piano scornfully). Say, George, is
"Bedelia" the latest to hit this hick burg? Well, it's only a couple of
years old! You'll catch up in time! Why don't you get a new roll for
that Old box?

BARTENDER (with a grin). Complain to the boss, not me. We're not used
to having Candy Kiddoes like you around--or maybe we'd get up to date.

BELLE (with a professionally arch grin at him). Don't kid me, please.
I can't bear it. (Then she sings to the music from the piano, her eves
now on RICHARD) "Bedelia, I'd like to feel her." (The BARTENDER laughs.
She smirks at RICHARD) Ever hear those words to it, Kid?

RICHARD (who has heard them but is shocked at hearing a girl say
them--putting on a blase' air). Sure, lots of times. That's old.

BELLE (edging her chair closer and putting a hand over one of his).
Then why don't you act as if you knew what they were all about?

RICHARD (terribly flustered). Sure, I've heard that old parody lots of
times. What do you think I am?

BELLE. I don't know, Kid. Honest to God, you've got me guessing.

BARTENDER (with a mocking chuckle). He's a hot sport, can't you tell
it? I never seen such a spender. My head's dizzy bringing you in drinks!

BELLE (laughs irritably--to RICHARD) Don't let him kid you. You show
him. Loosen up and buy another drink, what say?

RICHARD (humiliated--manfully). Sure. Excuse me. I was thinking of
something else. Have anything you like. (He turns to the BARTENDER who
has entered from the bar). See what the lady will have--and have one on
me yourself.

BARTENDER (coming to the table with a wink at BELLE). That's talking!
Didn't I say you were a sport? I'll take a cigar on you. (To BELLE)
What's yours, Kiddo--the same?

BELLE. Yes. And forget the house rules this time and remember a rickey
is supposed to have gin in it.

BARTENDER (grinning). I'll try to--seeing it's you. (Then to RICHARD)
What's yours, another beer?

RICHARD (shyly). A small one, please. I'm not thirsty.

BELLE (calculatedly taunting). Say, honest, are things that slow up
at Harvard? If they had you down at New Haven, they'd put you in a
kindergarten! Don't be such a dead one! Filling up on beer will only
make you sleepy. Have a man's drink!

RICHARD (shamefacedly). All right. I was going to. Bring me a sloe-gin
fizz.

BELLE (to BARTENDER). And make it a real one.

BARTENDER (with a wink). I get you. Something that'll warm him up, eh?
(He goes into the bar, chuckling.)

BELLE (looks around the room irritably). Christ, what a dump! (RICHARD
is startled and shocked by this curse and looks down at the table) If
this isn't the deadest burg I ever struck! Bet they take the sidewalks
in after nine o'clock! (Then turning on him) Say, honestly, Kid, does
your mother know you're out?

RICHARD (defensively). Aw, cut it out, why don't you--trying to kid me!

BELLE (glances at him, then resolves on a new tack--patting his hand).
All right. I didn't mean to, Deane. Please don't get sore at me.

RICHARD. not sore.

BELLE (seductively). You see, it's this way with me. I think you're one
of the sweetest kids I've ever met and I could like you such a lot if
you'd give me half a chance instead of acting so cold and indifferent.

RICHARD. I'm not cold and indifferent. (Then solemnly tragic) It's only
that I've got a weight on my mind.

BELLE (impatiently). Well, get it off your mind and give something else
a chance to work. (The BARTENDER comes in, bringing the drinks.)

BARTENDER (setting them down with a wink at BELLE). This'll warm him
for you. Forty cents, that is, with the cigar.

RICHARD (pulls out his roll and hands a dollar bill over, with
exaggerated carelessness). Keep the change. (BELLE emits a gasp and
seems about to protest, then thinks better of it. The BARTENDER cannot
believe his luck for a moment, then pockets the bill hastily, as if
afraid RICHARD will change his mind.)

BARTENDER (respect in his voice). Thank you, sir.

RICHARD (grandly). Don't mention it.

BARTENDER. I hope you like the drink. I took special pains with it.
(The voice of the SALESMAN, who has just come in the bar, calls "Hey!
Anybody here?" and a coin is rapped on the bar.) I'm coming. (The
BAR-TENDER goes out.)

BELLE (remonstrating gently, a new appreciation for her escort's
possibilities in her voice). You shouldn't be so generous, Deane. Gets
him in bad habits. A dime would have been plenty.

RICHARD. Ah, that's all right. I'm no tightwad.

BELLE. That's the talk I like to hear. (With a quick look toward
the bar, she stealthily pulls up her dress--to RICHARD'S shocked
fascination and takes a package of cheap cigarettes from her stocking)
Keep an eye Out for that bartender, Kid, and tell me if you see him
coming. Girls are only allowed to smoke upstairs in the rooms, he said.

RICHARD (embarrassedly). All right. I'll watch.

BELLE (having lighted her cigarette and inhaled deeply, holds the
package out to him). Have a Sweet? You smoke, don't you?

RICHARD (taking one). Sure! I've been smoking for the last two years on
the sly. But next year I'll be allowed--that is, pipes and cigars. (He
lights his cigarette with elaborate nonchalance, puffs, but does not
inhale then, watching her, with shocked concern) Say, you oughtn't to
inhale like that! Smoking's awful bad for girls, anyway, even if they
don't.

BELLE (cynically amused). Afraid it will stunt my growth? Gee, Kid,
you are a scream! You'll grow up to be a minister yet! (RICHARD looks
shamefaced. She scans him impatiently, then holds up her drink) Well,
here's how! Bottoms up, now! Show me you really know how to drink.
It'll take that load off your mind. (RICHARD follows her example and
they both drink the whole contents of their glasses before setting them
down) There! That's something like! Feel better?

RICHARD (proud of himself, with a shy smile). You bet.

BELLE. Well, you'll feel still better in a minute, and then maybe you
won't be so distant and unfriendly, eh?

RICHARD. I'm not.

BELLE. Yes, you are. I think you just don't like me.

RICHARD (more manfully). I do too like you.

BELLE. How much? A lot?

RICHARD. Yes, a lot.

BELLE. Show me how much! (Then as he fidgets embarrassedly) Want me to
come sit on your lap?

RICHARD. Yes--I--(She comes and sits on his lap. He looks desperately
uncomfortable, but the gin is rising to his head and he feels proud of
himself and devilish, too.)

BELLE. Why don't you put your arm around me? (He does so awkwardly) No,
not that dead way. Hold me tight. You needn't be afraid of hurting me.
I like to be held tight, don't you?

RICHARD. Sure I do.

BELLE. Specially when it's by a nice handsome kid like you. (Ruffling
his hair) Gee, you've got pretty hair, do you know it? Honest, I'm
awfully strong for you! Why can't you be about me? I'm not so awfully
ugly, am I?

RICHARD. No, you're--you're pretty.

BELLE. You don't say it as if you meant it.

RICHARD. I do mean it, honest.

BELLE. Then why don't you kiss me? (She bends down her lips toward
his. He hesitates, then kisses her and at once shrinks back) Call
that kissing? Here. (She holds his head and fastens her lips on his
and holds them there. He starts and struggles. She laughs) What's the
matter, Honey Boy? Haven't you ever kissed like that before?

RICHARD. Sure. Lots of times.

BELLE. Then why did you jump as if I'd bitten you? (Squirming around on
his lap) Gee, I'm getting just crazy about you! What shall we do about
it, eh? Tell me.

RICHARD. I don't know. (Then boldly) I--I'm crazy about you, too.

BELLE (kissing him again). Just think of the wonderful time Edith and
your friend, Wint, are having upstairs--while we sit down here like
two dead Ones. A room only costs two dollars. And, seeing I like you
so much, I'd only take five dollars from you. I'd do it for nothing,
for you, only I've got to live and I owe my room rent in New Haven
and--you know how it is. I get ten dollars from everyone else. Honest!
(She kisses him again, then gets up from his lap briskly) Come on. Go
out and tell the bartender you want a room. And hurry. Honest, I'm so
strong for you I can hardly wait to get you upstairs!

RICHARD (starts automatically for the door to the bar--then hesitates,
a great struggle going on in his mind--timidity, disgust at the money
element, shocked modesty, and the guilty thought of MURIEL, fighting
it out with the growing tipsiness that makes him want to be a hell
of a fellow and go in for all forbidden fruit, and makes this tart a
romantic, evil vampire in his eyes. Finally, he stops and mutters in
confusion). I can't.

BELLE. What, are you too bashful to ask for a room? Let me do it, then.
(She starts for the door.)

RICHARD (desperately). No--I don't want you to, I don't want to.

BELLE (surveying him, anger coming into her eyes). Well, if you aren't
the lousiest cheap skate!

RICHARD. I'm not a cheap skate!

BELLE. Keep me around here all night fooling with you when I might
be out with some real live Ones--if there is such a thing in this
burg!--and now you quit on me! Don't be such a piker! You've got five
dollars! I seen it when you paid for the drinks, so don't hand me any
lies!

RICHARD. I--Who said I hadn't? And I'm not a piker. If you need the
five dollars so bad--for your room rent--you can have it without--I
mean, I'll be glad to give--(He has been fumbling in his pocket and
pulls out his nine-dollar roll and holds out the five to her.)

BELLE (hardly able to believe her eyes, almost snatches it from his
hand--then laughs and immediately becomes sentimentally grateful).
Thanks, Kid. Gee--oh, thanks--Gee, forgive me for losing my temper and
bawling you out, will you? Gee, you're a regular peach! You're the
nicest kid I've ever met! (She kisses him and he grins proudly, a hero
to himself now on many counts) Gee, you're a peach! Thanks, again!

RICHARD (grandly and quite tipsily). It's nothing--only too glad. (Then
boldly) Here, give me another kiss, and that'll pay me back.

BELLE (kissing him). I'll give you a thousand, if you want 'em. Come
on, let's sit down, and we'll have another drink and this time I'll
blow you just to show my appreciation. (She calls) Hey, George! Bring
us another round--the same!

RICHARD (a remnant of caution coming to him). I don't know as I ought
to--

BELLE. Oh, another won't hurt you. And I want to blow you, see. (They
sit down in their former places.)

RICHARD (boldly draws his chair closer and puts an arm around
her--tipsily). I like you a lot, now I'm getting to know you. You're a
darned nice girl.

BELLE. Nice is good! Tell me another! Well, if I'm so nice, why didn't
you want to take me upstairs? That's what I don't get.

RICHARD (lying boldly). I did want to--Only I--(Then he adds solemnly)
I've sworn off. (The BARTENDER enters with the drinks.)

BARTENDER (setting them on the table). Here's your pleasure. (Then
regarding RICHARD'S arm about her waist) Ho-ho, we're coming on, I see.
(RICHARD grins at him muzzily.)

BELLE (digs into her stocking and gives him a dollar). Here. This is
mine. (He gives her change and she tips him a dime, and he goes out.
She puts the five RICHARD had given her in her stocking and picks up
her glass) Here's how!--and thanks again. (She sips.)

RICHARD (boisterously). Bottoms up! Bottoms up! (He drinks all of his
down and sighs with exaggerated satisfaction) Gee, that's good stuff,
all right. (Hugging her) Give me another kiss, Belle.

BELLE (kisses him). What did you mean, a minute ago when you said you'd
sworn off?

RICHARD (solemnly). I took an oath I'd be faithful.

BELLE (cynically). Till death do us part, eh? Who's the girl?

RICHARD (shortly). Never mind.

BELLE (bristling). I'm not good enough to talk about her, I suppose?

RICHARD. I didn't mean that. You're all right. (Then with tipsy
gravity) Only you oughtn't to lead this kind of life. It isn't right
for a nice girl like you. Why don't you reform?

BELLE (sharply). Nix on that line of talk! Can it, you hear! You can do
a lot with me for five dollars--but you can't reform me, see. Mind your
own business, Kid, and don't butt in where you're not wanted!

RIOHARD. I--I didn't mean to hurt your feelings.

BELLE. I know you didn't mean. You're only like a lot of people who
mean well, to hear them tell it. (Changing the subject) So you're
faithful to your one love, eh? (With an ugly sneer) And how about her?
Bet you she's out with a guy under some hush this minute, giving him
all he wants. Don't be a sucker, Kid! Even the little flies do it!

RICHARD (starting up in his chair angrily). Don't you say that! Don't
you dare!

BELLE (unimpressed--with a cynical shrug of her shoulders). All right.
Have it your own way and be a sucker! It cuts no ice with me.

RICHARD. You don't know her or--

BELLE. And don't want to. Shut up about her, can't you? (She stares
before her bitterly. RICHARD subsides into scowling gloom. He is
becoming perceptibly more intoxicated with each moment now. The
BARTENDER and the SALESMAN appear just inside the swinging door. The
BARTENDER nods toward BELLE, giving the SALESMAN a wink. The SALESMAN
grins and comes into the room, carrying his highball in his hand. He
is a stout, jowly-faced man in the late thirties, dressed with cheap
nattiness, with the professional breeziness and jocular, kid-'em-along
manner of his kind. BELLE looks up as he enters and he and she exchange
a glance of complete recognition. She knows his type by heart and he
knows hers.)

SALESMAN (passes by her to the table at right, grinning genially). Good
evening.

BELLE. Good evening.

SALESMAN (sitting down). Hope I'm not butting in on your party--but my
dogs were giving out standing at that bar.

BELLE. All right with me. (Giving RICHARD a rather contemptuous look)
we got no party on.

SALESMAN. That sounds hopeful.

RICHARD (suddenly recites sentimentally).

  "But I wouldn't do such, 'cause
   I loved her too much,
   But I learned about women from her."

(Turns to scowl at the SALESMAN, then to BELLE) Let's have 'nother drink!

BELLE. You've had enough. (RICHARD subsides, muttering to himself.)

SALESMAN. What is it--a child poet or a child actor?

BELLE. Don't know. Got me guessing.

SALESMAN. Well, if you could shake the cradle-robbing act, maybe we
could do a Little business.

BELLE. That's easy. I just pull my freight. (She shakes RICHARD by the
arm) Listen, Kid. Here's an old friend of mine, Mr. Smith of New Haven,
just come in. I'm going ovex and sit at his table for a while, see. And
you better go home.

RICHARD (blinking at her and scowling). I'm never going home! I'll show
them!

BELLE. Have it your own way, only let me up. (She takes his arm from
around her and goes to sit by the SALESMAN. RICHARD stares after her
offendedly .)

RICHARD. Go on. What do I care what you do? (He recites scornfully)
"For a woman's only a woman, but a good cigar's a smoke."

SALESMAN (as BELLE sits beside him). Well, what kind of beer will you
have, Sister?

BELLE. Mine's a gin rickey.

SALESMAN. You've got extravagant tastes, I'm sorry to see.

RICHARD (begins to recite sepulchrally).

  "Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
   By each let this be heard."

SALESMAN (grinning). Say, this is rich! (He calls encouragement) That's
swell dope, young feller. Give us some more.

RICHARD (ignoring hint--goes on more rhetorically). "Some do it with
a bitter look, Some with a flattering word, The coward does it with a
kiss, The brave man with a sword!" (He stares at BELLE gloomily and
mutters tragically) I did it with a kiss! I'm a coward.

SALESMAN. That's the old stuff, Kid. You've got something on the ball,
all right, all right! Give us another--right over the old pan, now!

BELLE (with a laugh). Get the hook!

RICHARD (glowering at her tragically).

  "'Oho,' they cried, 'the world is wide,
   But fettered limbs go lame!
   And once, or twice, to throw the dice
   Is a gentlemanly game,
   But he does not win who plays with Sin
   In the secret House of Shame!'"

BELLE (angrily). Aw, can it! Give us a rest from that bunk!

SALESMAN (mockingly). This gal of yours don't appreciate poetry. She's
a lowbrow. But I'm the kid that eats it up. My middle name is Kelly and
Sheets! Give us some more of the same! Do you know "The Lobster and the
Wise Guy"? (Turns to BELLE seriously) No kidding, that's a peacherino.
I heard a guy recite it at Poli's. Maybe this nut knows it. Do you,
Kid? (But RICHARD only glowers at him gloomily without answering.)

BELLE (surveying RICHARD contemptuously). He's copped a fine
skinful--and gee, he's hardly had anything.

RICHARD (suddenly--with a dire emphasis). "And then at ten o'clock
Eilert Lovborg will come with vine leaves in his hair!"

BELLE. And bats in his belfry, if he's you!

RICHARD (regards her bitterly then starts to his feet--bellicosely to
the SALESMAN). I don't believe you ever knew her in New Haven at all!
You just picked her up now! You leave her alone, you hear! You won't do
anything to her--not while I'm here to protect her!

BELLE (laughing). Oh my God Listen to it!

SALESMAN. Ssshh! This is a scream Wait! (He addresses RICHARD it tones
of exaggerated melodrama) Curse you, Jack Dalton, if I won' unhand her,
what then?

RICHARD (threateningly). I'll give you a good punch in the snoot, that'
what! (He moves toward their table).

SALESMAN (with mock terror screams in falsetto). Help! Helr (The
BARTENDER comes in irritably).

BARTENDER. Hey. Cut out the noise. What the hell's up with you?

RICHARD (tipsily). He's too damn fresh!

SALESMAN (with a wink). He's going to murder me. (Then gets a bright
idea for eliminating RICHARD--seriously to the BARTENDER) It's none of
my business, Brother, but if I were in your boots I'd give this young
souse the gate. He's under age; any fool can see that.

BARTENDER (guiltily). He told he was over eighteen.

SALESMAN. Yes, and I tell you I'm the Pope, but you don't have to
believe me. If you're not looking for trouble, I'd advise you to get
him started for some other gin mill and let them do the lying, if
anything comes up.

BARTENDER. Hmm. (He turns to RICHARD angrily and gives him a push) Come
on, now. On your way! You'll start no trouble in here! Beat it now!

RICHARD. I will not beat it!

BARTENDER. Oho, won't you? (He gives him another push that almost sends
him sprawling.)

BELLE (callously). Give him the bum's rush! I'm sick of his bull!
(RICHARD turns furiously and tries to punch the BARTENDER.)

BARTENDER (avoids the punch). Oho, you would, would you? (He grabs
RICHARD by the back of the neck and the seat of the pants and marches
him ignominiously toward the swinging door.)

RICHARD. Leggo of me, you dirty coward!

BARTENDER. Quiet now, or I'll pin a Mary Ann on your jaw that'll quiet
you! (He rushes him through the screen door and a moment later the
outer doors are heard swinging back and forth.)

SALESMAN (with a chuckle). Hand it to me, Kid. How was that for a slick
way of getting rid of him?

BELLE (suddenly sentimental). Pooor kid. I hope he makes home all
right. I liked him, before he got soused.

SALESMAN. Who is he?

BELLE. The boy who's upstairs with my friend told me, but I didn't pay
much attention. Name's Miller. His old man runs a paper in this one
horse burg, I think he said.

SALESMAN (with a whistle). Phew! He must be Nat Miller's kid, then.

BARTENDER (coming back from the bar). Well, he's on his way with a good
boot in the tail to help him!

SALESMAN (with a malicious chuckle). Yes? well, maybe that boot will
cost you a job, Brother. Know Nat Miller who runs the Globe? That's his
kid.

BARTENDER (his face falling). The hell he is! Who said so?

SALESMAN. This baby doll. (Getting up) Say, I'll go keep cases on him,
see he gets on the trolley all right, anyway. Nat Miller's a good
scout. (He hurries out.)

BARTENDER (viciously). God damn the luck! If he ever finds out I served
his kid, he'll run me out of town. (He turns on BELLE furiously) Why
didn't you put me wise, you lousy tramp, you!

BELLE. Hey! I don't stand for that kind of talk--not from no hick
beer-squirter like you, see!

BARTENDER (furiously). You don't, don't you! Who was it but you
told me to hand him dynamite in that fizz? (He gives her chair a
push that almost throws her to the floor) Beat it, you--and beat it
quick--or I'll call Sullivan from the corner and have you run in
for street-walking! (He gives her a rush that lands her against the
family-entrance door) Get the hell out of here--and no long waits!

BELLE (opens the door and goes out--turns and calls back viciously).
I'll fix you for this, you thick Mick, if I have to go to jail for it.
(She goes out and slams the door.)

BARTENDER (looks after her worriedly for a second--then shrugs his
shoulders). That's only her bull. (Then with a sigh as he returns to
the bar) Them lousy tramps is always getting this dump in Dutch!

CURTAIN

*

ACT THREE

Scene--Same as Act One--Sitting room of the Miller home about 11 o'clock
the same night.

MILLER is sitting in his favourite rocking chair at left of table,
frount. He has dicarded collar and tie and shoes and wears an old worn
brown dressing gown and disreputable looking carpet slippers. He has
his reading specs on and is running over items in a newspaper. But his
mind is plainly pre-occcupied and worried, and he is not paying much
attention to what he reads.

MRS MILLER sits by the table at right, front. She also has on her
specs. A sewing basket is on her lap and she is trying hard to keep her
attention focussed on the doily she is doing. But as the case with her
husband, but much more apparently, her mind is pre-occupied and she is
obviously on tenterhooks of nervous uneasiness.

LILY is sitting in the armchair by the table at rear, facig right. She
is pretending to read a novel, but her attention wanders, too, and her
expression is sad, although now it has lost all bitterness and become
submissive and resigned again.

MILDRED sits at a desk at right, front, writing two words over and
overagain, stopping each time to survey the result critically, biting
her tongue, intensely concentrated on her work.

TOMMY sits on the sofa at left, front. He has had a hard day and is
terribly sleepy but will not acknowledge it. His eyes blink shut on
him, his head begins to nod, but he isn't giving up, and every time he
senses any of the family glancing in his direction, he goads himself
into a bright eyed wakefulness.

MILDRED (finally surveys the two words she has been writing and is
satisfied with them). There. (She takes the paper over to her mother)
Look, Ma. I've been practising a new way of writing my name. Don't look
at the others, only the last one. Don't you think it's the real goods?

MRS. MILLER (pulled out of her preoccupation). Don't talk that horrible
slang. It's bad enough for boys, but for a young girl supposed to have
manners--my goodness, when I was your age, if my mother'd ever heard
me--

MILDRED. Well, don't you think it's nice, then?

MRS. MILLER (sinks back into pre-occupation--scanning the
paper--vaguely). Yes, very nice, Mildred--very nice, indeed. (Hands the
paper back mechanically.)

MILDRED (is a little piqued, but smiles). Absent-minded! I don't
believe you even saw it. (She passes around the table to show her AUNT
LILY. MILLER gives an uneasy glance at his wife and then, as if afraid
of meeting her eye, looks quickly back at his paper again.)

MRS. MILLER (staring before her--sighs worriedly). Oh, I do wish
Richard would 'come home!

MILLER. There now, Essie. He'll be in any minute now. Don't you worry
about him.

MRS. MILLER. But I do worry about him!

LILY (surveying MILDRED'S handiwork--smiling). This is fine, Mildred.
Your penmanship is improving wonderfully. But don't you think that
maybe you've got a little too many flourishes?

MILDRED (disappointedly). But, Aunt Lily, that's just what I was
practising hardest on.

MRS. MILLER (with another sigh). What time is it now, Nat?

MILLER (adopting a joking tone). I'm going to buy a clock for in here.
You have me reaching for my watch every couple of minutes. (He has
pulled his watch out of his vest pocket with forced carelessness) Only
a little past ten.

MRS. MILLER. Why, you said it was that an hour ago! Nat Miller, you're
telling me a fib, so's not to worry me. You let me see that watch!

MILLER (guiltily). Well, it's quarter to eleven but that's not so late
when you remember it's Fourth of July.

MRS. MILLER. If you don't stop talking Fourth of July! To hear you go
on, you'd think that was an excuse for anything from murder to picking
pockets!

MILDRED (has brought her paper around to her father and now shoves it
under his nose). Look, Pa.

MILLER (seizes on this interruption with relief). Let's see. Hmm. Seems
to me you've been inventing a new signature every week lately. What are
you in training for writing checks? You must be planning to catch a
rich husband.

MILDRED (with an arch toss of her head). No wedding bells for me! But
how do you like it, Pa?

MILLER. It's overpowering--no other word for it, overpowering! You
could put it on the Declaratioin of Indpendence and not feel ashamed.

MRS. MILLER (desolately, almost on the verge of tears). It's all right
for you to laugh and joke with Mildred! I'm the only one in this house
seems to care. (Her lips tremble.)

MILLER (a bit disgustedly). Ah, Ma, Dick only sneaked off to the
fire-works at the beach, you wait and see.

MRS. MILLER. Those fireworks were over long ago. If he had, he'd be
home.

LILY (soothingly). He probably couldn't get a seat, the trolleys are so
jammed, and he had to walk home.

MILLER (seizing on this with relief). Yes, I never thought of that, but
I'll bet that's it.

MILDRED. Ah, don't let him worry you, Ma. He just wants to show off
he's heartbroken about that silly Muriel--and get everyone fussing over
him and wondering if he hasn't drowned himself or something.

MRS. MILLER (snappily). You be quiet! The way you talk at times, I
really believe you're that hard-hearted you haven't got a heart in
you! (With an accusing glance at her husband) One thing I know, you
don't get that from me! (He meets her eye and avoids it guiltily. She
sniffs and looks away from him around the room. TOMMY, who is nodding
and blinking, is afraid her eye is on him. He straightens alertly
and speaks in a voice that, in spite of his effort, is dripping with
drowsi-ness.)

TOMMY. Let me see what you wrote, Mid.

MILDRED (cruelly mocking). You? You're so sleepy you couldn't see it!

TOMMY (valiantly). I am not sleepy!

MRS. MILLER (has fixed her eye on him). My gracious, I was forgetting
you were still up! You run up to bed this minute! It's hours past your
bed-time!

TOMMY. But it's the Fourth of July. Ain't it, Pa?

MRS. MILLER (gives her husband an accusing stare). There! You see what
you've done? You might know he'd copy your excuses! (Then sharply to
TOMMY) You heard what I said, Young Man!

TOMMY. Aw, Ma, can't I stay up a little longer?

MRS. MILLER. I said, no! You obey me and no more arguing about it!

TOMMY (drags himself to his feet). Aw! I should think I could stay up
till Dick--

MILLER (kindly but firmly). You heard your ma say no more arguing. When
she says git, you better git. (TOMMY accepts his fate resignedly and
starts around kissing them all good night.)

TOMMY (kissing her). Good night, Aunt Lily.

LILY. Good night, dear. Sleep well.

TOMMY (pecking at MILDRED). Good night, you.

MILDRED. Good night, you.

TOMMY (kissing him). Good night, Pa.

MILLER. Good night, Son. Sleep tight.

TOMMY (kissing her). Good night, Ma.

MRS. MILLER. Good night. Here! You look feverish. Let me feel of your
head. No, you're all right. Hurry up, now. And don't forget your
prayers.

(TOMMY goes slowly to the doorway--then turns suddenly, the discovery
of another excuse lighting up his face.)

TOMMY. Here's another thing, Ma. When I was up to the water closet
last--

MRS. MILLER (sharply). When you were where?

TOMMY. The bathroom.

MRS. MILLER. That's better.

TOMMY. Uncle Sid was snoring like a fog horn--and he's right next to
my room. How can I ever get to sleep while he's--(He is overcome by a
jaw-cracking yawn.)

MRS. MILLER. I guess you'd get to sleep all right if you were inside a
fog horn. You run along now. (TOMMY gives up, grins sleepily, and moves
off to bed. As soon as he is off her mind, all her former uneasiness
comes back on MRS. MILLER tenfold. She sighs, moves restlessly, then
finally asks) What time is it now, Nat?

MILLER. Now, Essie, I just told you a minute ago.

MRS. MILLER (resentfully). I don't see how you can take it so calm!
Here it's midnight, you might say, and our Richard still out, and we
don't even know where he is.

MILDRED. I hear someone on the piazza. Bet that's him now, Ma.

MRS. MILLER (her anxiety immediately turning to relieved anger). You
give him a good piece of your mind, Nat, you hear me? You're too easy
with him, that's the whole trouble! The idea of him daring to stay out
like this! (The front door is heard being opened and shut, and someone
whistling "Waltz Me Around Again, Willie.")

MILDRED. No, that isn't Dick. It's Art.

MRS. MILLER (her face falling). Oh. (A moment later ARTHUR enters
through the front parlor, whistling softly, half under his breath,
looking complacently pleased with himself.)

MILLER (surveys him over his glasses, not with enthusiasm--shortly). So
you're back, eh? We thought it was Richard.

ARTHUR. Is he still out? Where'd he go to?

MILLER. That's just what we'd like to know. You didn't run into him
anywhere, did you?

ARTHUR. No. I've been at the Rands' ever since dinner. (He sits down in
the armchair at left of table, rear) I suppose he sneaked off to the
beach to watch the fireworks.

MILLER (pretending an assurance he is far from feeling). Of course.
That's what we've been trying to tell your mother, but she insists on
worrying her head off.

MRS. MILLER. But if he was going to the fireworks, why wouldn't he say
so? He knew we'd let him.

ARTHUR (with calm wisdom). That's easy, Ma. (He grins superiorly).
Didn't you hear him this morning showing off bawling out the Fourth
like an anarchist? He wouldn't want to renege on that to you--but he'd
want to see the old fireworks just the same. (He adds complacently) I
know. He's at the foolish age.

MILLER (stares at ARTHUR with ill-concealed astonishment, then grins).
Well, Arthur, by gosh, you make me feel as if I owed you an apology
when you talk horse sense like that. (He turns to his wife, greatly
relieved) Arthur's hit the nail right on the head, I think, Essie. That
was what I couldn't figure out--why he--but now it's clear as day.

MRS. MILLER (with a sigh). Well, I hope you're right. But I wish he was
home.

ARTHUR (takes out his pipe and fills and lights it with solemn
gravity). He oughtn't to be allowed out this late at his age. I wasn't,
Fourth or no Fourth, if I remember.

MILLER. (A twinkle in his eyes) Don't tax your memory trying to recall
those ancient days of your youth. (Mildred laughs and Arthur looks
sheepish. But he soon regains his aplomb.)

ARTHUR (Importantly) We had a corking dinner at the Rands'. We had
sweetbreads on toast.

MRS MILLER. (arising momentwarily from her depression). Just like
the Rands o put on airs before you. I never could see anything to
sweetbreads. Always taste like soap to me. ANd no real nourishment in
them. I won't have the pesky things on my table. (Arthur again feels
sat upon.)

MILDRED (teasingly) Did you kiss ELsie good night?

ARTHUR. Stop trying to be so darn funny all the time. You give me a
pain in the ear.

MILDRED. And that's where she gives me a pain, the stuck-up thing!--She
thinks she's the whole cheese.

MILLER. (irritably) And it's where your everlasting wrangling gives me
a pain, you two. Give us a rest. (There is silence for a moment)

MRS MILLER. (sighs worriedly again). I do wish that boy would get home.

MILLER. (glances at her uneasily peeks surreptitously at his
watch--then he has an inspiration and turns to ARTHUR) Arthur. What's
this I hear about your having such a good singing voice? Rand was
telling me he liked nothing better than to hear you sing--siad you did
every night you were there. Why don't you ever give us folks at home
here a treat?

Arthur (pleased but still ursing wounded dignity). I thought you'd only
sit on me.

MRS. MILLER (perking up--proudly). Arthur has a real nice voice. He
practises when you're not at home. I didn't know you cared for singing,
Nat.

MILLER. Well, I do--nothing better--and when I was a boy I had a fine
voice myself and folks used to say I'd ought--(Then abruptly, mindful
of his painful experience with reminiscence at dinner, looking about
him guiltily) Hmm. But don't hide your light under a bushel, Arthur.
Why not give us a song or two now? You can play for him, can't you,
Mildred?

MILDRED (with a toss of her head). I can play as well as Elsie Rand, at
least!

ARTHUR (ignoring her--clearing his throat importantly). I've been
singing a lot tonight. I don't know if my voice--

MILDRED (forgetting her grudge, grabs her brother's hand and tugs at
it). Come on. Don't play modest. You know you're just dying to show
off. (This puts ARTHUR Off it at once. He snatches his hand away from
her angrily.)

ARTHUR. Let go of me, you! (Then with surly dignity) I don't feel like
singing tonight, Pa. I will some other time.

MILLER. You let him alone, Mildred! (He winks at ARTHUR, indicating
with his eyes and a nod of his head MRS MILLER, who has again sunk into
worried brooding. He makes it plain by his pantomime that he wants him
to sing to distract his mothers mind.)

ARTHUR (puts aside his pipe and gets up promptly). Oh--sure, I'll do
the best I can. (He follows MILDRED into the front parlor, where he
switches on the lights.)

MILLER (to his wife). It won't keep Tommy awake. Nothing could. And
Sid, he'd sleep through an earthquake. (Then suddenly, looking through
the front parlor--grumpily) Darn it, speak of the devil, here he comes.
Well, he's had a good sleep and he'd ought to be sobered up. (LILY gets
up from her chair and looks around her huntedly, as if for a place to
hide. MILLER says soothingly) Lily, you just sit down and read your
book and don't pay any attention to him. (She sits down again and
bends over her book tensely. From the front parlor comes the tinkling
of a piano as MILDRED runs over the scales. In the midst of this, SID
enters through the front parlor. All the effervescence of his jag has
worn off and he is now suffering from a bad case of hangover--nervous,
sick, a prey to gloomy remorse and bitter feelings of self-loathing and
self-pity. His eyes are bloodshot and puffed, his face bloated, the
fringe of hair around his baldness tousled and tufty. He sidles into
the room guiltily, his eyes shifting about, avoiding looking at anyone.)

SID (forcing a sickly, twitching smile). Hello.

MILLER (considerately casual).

Hello, Sid. Had a good nap? (Then, as SID swallows hard and is about to
break into further speech, MILDRED'S voice comes from the front parlor,
"I haven't played that in ever so long, but I'll try," and she starts an
accompaniment. MILLER motions SID to be quiet) Ssshh! Arthur's going
to sing for us. (SID flattens himself against the edge of the bookcase
at center, rear, miserably self-conscious and ill-at-ease there but
nervously afraid to move anywhere else. ARTHUR begins to sing. He has
a fairly decent voice but his method is untrained sentimentality to a
dripping degree. He sings that old sentimental favorite, "Then You'll
Remember Me." The effect on his audience is instant. MILLER gazes
before him with a ruminating melancholy, his face seeming to become
gently sorrowful and old. MRS. MILLER stares before her, her expression
becoming more and more doleful. LILY forgets to pretend to read her
book but looks over it, her face growing tragically sad. As for SID, he
is moved to his remorseful, guiltstricken depths. His mouth pulls down
at the corners and he seems about to cry. The song comes to an end.
MILLER starts, then claps his hands enthusiastically and calls).

MILLER. Well done, Arthur, well done! Why, you've got a splendid voice!
Give us some more! You liked that, didn't you, Essie?

MRS. MILLER (dolefully). Yes, but it's sad--terrible sad.

SID (After swallowing hard, suddenly blurts out). Nat and Essie--and
Lily--I--Iwant to apologize for coming home the way I did--there's no
excuse--but I didn't mean--

MILLER (sympathertically) Of Course, Sid, It's all forgotten.

MRS. MILLER (rousing herself--affectionately pitying). Don't be a
goose, Sid. We know how it is with picnics. You forget it.

(His face lights up a bit but his gaze shifts to LILY with a mute
appeal, hoping for a word from her which is not forthcoming. Her eyes
are fixed on her book, her body tense and rigid.)

SID (finally blurts out desperately). Lily--I'm sorry--about the
fireworks. Can you forgive me? (But LILY remains implacably silent.
A stricken look comes over SID's face. In the front parlor MILDRED
is heard saying "But I only know the chorus" and she starts another
accompaniment.)

MILLER (comes to SID'S rescue). Ssshh! we're going to have another
song. Sit down, Sid. (SID, hanging his head, flees to the farthest
corner, left, front, and sits at the end of the sofa, facing front,
hunched up, elbows on knees, face in hands, his round eyes childishly
wounded and woebegone. ARTHUR sings the popular "Deane," playing up
its sentimental values for all he is worth. The effect on his audience
is that of the previous song, intensified--especially upon SID. As he
finishes, MILLER again starts and applauds) Mighty fine, Arthur! You
sang that darned well! Didn't he, Essie?

MRS. MILLER (dolefully). Yes--but I wish he wouldn't sing such sad
songs. (Then, her lips trembling) Richard's always whistling that.

MILLER (hastily--calls). Give us something cheery, next one, Arthur.
You know, just for variety's sake.

SID (suddenly turns toward LILY--his voice choked with tears--in a
passion of self-denunciation). You're right, Lily!--right not to
forgive me!--I'm no good and never will be!--I'm a no-good drunken
bum!--you shouldn't even wipe your feet on me!--I'm a dirty, rotten
drunk!--no good to myself or anybody else!--if I had any guts I'd kill
myself, and good riddance!--but I haven't!-I'm yellow, too!--a yellow,
drunken bum! (He hides his face in his hands and begins to sob like a
sick little boy. This is too much for LILY. All her bitter hurt and
steely resolve to ignore and punish him vanish in a flash, swamped by a
pitying love for him. She runs and puts her arm around him--even kisses
him tenderly and impulsively on his bald head, and soothes him as if he
were a little boy. MRS. MILLER, almost equally moved, has half risen to
go to her brother, too, but MILLER winks and shakes his head vigorously
and motions her to sit down.)

LILY. There! Don't cry, Sid! I can't bear it! Of course, I forgive you!
Haven't I always forgiven you? I know you're not to blame--So don't,
Sid!

SID (lifts a tearful, humbly grateful, pathetic face to her--but a face
that the dawn of a cleansed conscience is already beginning to restore
to its natural Puckish expression). Do you really forgive me--I know I
don't deserve it--can you really?

LILY (gently). I told you I did, Sid--and I do.

SID (kisses her hand humbly, like a big puppy licking it) Thanks,
Lily. I can't tell you--(In the front parlor, ARTHUR begins to sing
rollickingly "Waiting at the Church," and after the first line or
two MILDRED joins in. SID's face lights up with appreciation and,
automatically, he begins to tap one foot in time, still holding fast to
LILY'S hand. When they come to "sent around a note, this is what she
wrote," he can no longer resist, but joins in a shaky bawl) "Can't get
away to marry you today, My wife won't let me!" (As the song finishes,
the two in the other room laugh. MILLER and SID laugh. LILY smiles at
SID'S laughter. Only MRS. MILLER remains dolefully pre-occupied, as if
she hadn't heard.)

MILLER. That's fine, Arthur and Mildred. That's darned good.

SID (turning to LILY enthusiastically). You ought to hear Vesta
Victoria sing that! Gosh, she's great! I heard her at Hammerstein's
Victoria, you remember, that trip I made to New York.

LILY (her face suddenly tired and sad again--for her memory of certain
aspects of that trip is the opposite from what he would like her to
recall at this moment--gently disengaging he hand from his--with a
hopeless sigh). Yes, I remember, Sid. (He is overcome momentarily by
guilty confusion. She goes quietly and sits down in her chair again.
In the front parlor, from now on, MILDRED keeps starting to run over
popular tunes but always gets stuck and turns to another.)

MRS. MILLER (suddenly). What time is it now, Nat? (Then without giving
him a chance to answer) Oh, I'm getting worried something dreadful,
Nat! You don't know what might have happened to Richard! You read in
the papers every day about boys getting run over by automobiles.

LILY. Oh, don't say that, Essie!

MILLER (sharply, to conceal his own re-awakened apprehension). Don't
get to imagining things, now!

MRS. MILLER. Well, why couldn't it happen, with everyone that owns one
out tonight, and lots of those driving, drunk? Or he might have gone
down to the beach dock and fallen overboard! (On the verge of hysteria)
Oh, I know something dreadful's happened! And you can sit there
listening to songs and laughing as if--Why don't you do something? Why
don't you go out and find him? (She bursts into tears).

LILY (comes to her quickly and puts her arm around her). Essie, you
mustn't worry so! You'll make yourself sick! Richard's all right. I've
got a feeling in my bones he's all right.

MILDRED (comes hurrying in from the front parlor). What's the trouble?
(ARTHUR appears in the doorway beside her. She goes to her mother and
also puts an arm around her) Ah, don't cry, Ma! Dick'll turn up in a
minute or two, wait and see!

ARTHUR. Sure, he will!

MILLER (has gotten to his feet, frowning--soberly). I was going out to
look--if he wasn't back by twelve sharp. That'd be the time it'd take
him to walk from the beach if he left after the last car. But I'll go
now, if it'll ease your mind. I'll take the auto and drive out the
beach road and likely pick him up on the way. (He has taken his collar
and tie from where they hang from one corner of the bookcase at rear,
center, and is starting to put them on) You better come with me, Arthur.

ARTHUR. Sure thing, Pa. (Suddenly he listens and says) Ssshh! There's
someone on the piazza now--coming around to this door, too. That must
be him. No one else would--

MRS. MILLER. Oh, thank God, thank God!

MILLER (with a sheepish smile). Darn him! I've a notion to give
him hell for worrying us all like this. (The screen door is pushed
violently open and RICHARD lurches in and stands swaying a little,
blinking his eyes in the light. His face is a pasty pallor, shining
with perspiration, and his eyes are glassy. The knees of his trousers
are dirty, one of them torn from the sprawl on the sidewalk he had
taken, following the BARTENDER'S kick. They all gape at him, too
paralyzed for a moment to say anything.)

MRS. MILLER. Oh God, what's happened to him! He's gone crazy! Richard!

SID (the first to regain presence of mind--with a grin). Crazy,
nothing. He's only soused!

ARTHUR. He's drunk, that's what! (Then shocked and condemning) You've
got your nen-e! You fresh kid! We'll take that out of you when we get
you down to Yale!

RICHARD (with a wild gesture of defiance--maudlinly dramatic).
  "Yesterday this Day's Madness did prepare
   Tomorrow's Silence, Triumph, or Despair.
   Drink! for--"

MILLER (his face grown stern and angry, takes a threatening step toward
him). Richard! How dare--!

MRS. MILLER (hysterically). Don't you strike him, Nat! Don't you!

SID (grabbing his arm). Steady, Nat! Keep your temper! No good bawling
him out now! He don't know what he's doing!

MILLER (controlling himself and looking a bit ashamed). All
right--you're right, Sid.

RICHARD (drunkenly glorying in the sensation he is creating--recites
with dramatic emphasis). "And then--I will come--with vine leaves in my
hair!" (He laughs with a double-dyed sardonicism.)

MRS. MILLER (staring at him as if she couldn't believe her eyes).
Richard! You're intoxicated!--you bad, wicked boy, you!

RICHARD (forces a wicked leer to his lips and quotes with ponderous
mockery). "Fancy that, Hedda!" (Then suacienly his whole expression
changes, his pallor takes on a greenish, seasick tinge, his eyes seem
to be turned inward uneasily and, all pose gone, he calls to his mother
appealingly, like a sick little boy) Ma! I feel rotten! (MRS. MILLER
gives a cry and starts to go to him, but SID steps in her way.)

SID. You let me take care of him, Essie. I know this game backwards,

MILLER, (putting his arm around his wife). Yes, you leave him to Sid.

SID. (his arm around RICHARD--leading him off through the front
parlor). Come on, Old Sport! Upstairs we go! Your old Uncle-Sid'll fix
you up. He's the kid that wrote the book!

MRS. MILLER (staring after them--still aghast). Oh, it's too
terrible! Imagine our Richard! And did you hear him talking about
some Hedda? Oh, I know he's been with one of those bad women, I know
he has--my Richard! (She hides her face on MILLER'S shoulder and sobs
heart-brokenly.)

MILLER (a tired, harassed, deeply worried look, on his face--soothing
her). Now, now, you mustn't get to imagining such things! You mustn't,
Essie! (LILY and MILDRED and ARTHUR are standing about awkwardly with
awed, shocked faces.)

CURTAIN

*

ACT FOUR

Scene One

Scene--The same--sitting room at the Miller house about 1 o'clock the
following day. As the curtain rises, the family, with the exception of
RICHARD are discovered coming in through the back parlour from dinner
in the dining room. MILLER and his wife come first. His face is set
in an expression of frowning severity. Mrs Miller's face is drawn
and worried. She has evidently had no rest yet from from a sleepless
tearful night. SID is himself again, his expression as innocent as if
nothing had happened the previous day that remotely concerned him.
And outside of eyes that are bloodshot and nerves that are shaky, he
shows no after effects except that he is terribly sleepy. LILY is
gently sad and depressed. Arthur is self-conciously a virtuous young
man against whom nothing can be said. MILDRED and TOMMY are subdued,
covertly watching their father. They file into the sitting room in
silence and then stand around uncertainly, as if each were afraid to be
the first to sit down. The atmosphere is as stiltedly grave as if they
were attending a funeral service. Their eyes keep fixed on the head
of the house, who has gone to the window at right and is staring out
frowningly, savagely chewing a toothpick.

MILLER (finally--irritably). Damn it, I'd ought to be back at the
office putting in some good licks! I've a whole pile of things that
have got to be done today!

MRS. MILLER (accusingly). You don't mean to tell me you're going back
without seeing him? It's your duty!

MILLER (exasperatedly). 'Course I'm not! I wish you'd stop jumping to
conclusions! What else did I come home for, I'd like to know? Do I
usually come way back here for dinner on a busy day? I was only wishing
this hadn't come up--just at this particular time. (He ends up very
lamely and is irritably conscious of the fact.)

TOMMY (who has been fidgeting restlessly--unable to bear the suspense a
moment longer). What is it Dick's done? Why is everyone scared to tell
me?

MILLER (seizes this as an escape valve--turns and fixes his youngest
son with a stern forbidding eye). Young man, I've never spanked you
yet, but that don't mean I never will! Seems to me that you've been
just itching for it lately! You keep your mouth shut till you're spoken
to--or I warn you something's going to happen!

MRS. MILLER. Yes, Tommy, you keep still and don't bother your pa. (Then
warningly to her husband) Careful what you say, Nat. Little pitchers
have big ears.

MILLER (peremptorily). You kids skedaddle--all of you. Why are you
always hanging around the house? Go out and play in the yard, or take
a walk, and get some fresh air. (As MILDRED takes TOMMY'S hand and
leads him out through the front parlor. ARTHUR hangs back, as if the
designation "kids" couldn't possibly apply to him. His father notices
this--impatiently) You, too, Arthur. (ARTHUR goes out with a stiff,
wounded dignity.)

LILY (tactfully). I think I'll go for a walk, too. (She goes out
through the front parlor. SID makes a movement as if to follow her.)

MILLER. I'd like you to stay, Sid--for a while, anyway.

SID. Sure. (He sits down in the rocking chair at right, rear, of table
and immediately yawns) Gosh, I'm dead. Don't know what's the matter
with me today. Can't seem to keep awake.

MILLER (with caustic sarcasm). Maybe that demon chowder you drank at
the picnic poisoned you! (SID looks sheepish and forces a grin. Then
MILLER turns to his wife with the air of one who determinedly faces the
unpleasant) Where is Richard?

MRS. MILLER (flusteredly). He's still in bed. I made him stay in bed to
punish him--and I thought he ought to, anyway, after being so sick. But
he says he feels all right.

SID (with another yawn). 'Course he does. When you're young you can
stand anything without it feazing you. Why, I remember when I could
come down on the morning after, fresh as a daisy, and eat a breakfast
of pork chops and fried onions and--(He stops guiltily.)

MILLER (bitingly). I suppose that was before eating lobster shells had
mined your iron constitution!

MRS. MILLER (regards her brother severely). If I was in your shoes,
I'd keep still! (Then turning to her husband) Richard must be feeling
better. He ate all the dinner I sent up, Norah says.

MILLER. I thought you weren't going to give him any dinner, to punish
him.

MRS. MILLER (guiltily). Well--in his weakened condition--I thought it
best (Then defensively) But you needn't think I haven't punished him.
I've given him pieces of my mind he won't forget in a hurry. And I've
kept reminding him his real punishment was still to come--that you were
coming home to dinner on purpose--and then he'd learn that you could be
terrible stern when he did such awful things.

MILLER (stirs uncomfortably). Hmm!

MRS. MILLER. And that's just what it's your duty to do--punish him good
and hard! The idea of him daring--(Then hastily) But you be careful
how you go about it, Nat. Remember he's like you inside--too sensitive
for his own good. And he never would have done it, I know, if it
hadn't been for that darned little dunce, Muriel, and her numbskull
father--and then all of us teasing him and hurting his feelings all
day--and then you lost your temper and were so sharp with him right
after dinner, before he went out.

MILLER (resentfully). I see this is going to work round to where it's
all my fault!

MRS. MILLER. Now, I didn't say that, did I? Don't go losing your temper
again. And here's another thing. You know as well as I, Richard would
never have done such a thing alone. Why, he wouldn't know how! He must
have been influenced and led by someone.

MILLER. Yes, I believe that. Did you worm out of him who it was? (Then
angrily) By God, I'll make whoever it was regret it!

MRS. MILLER. No, he wouldn't admit there was anyone. (Then
triumphantly) But there is one thing I did worm out of him--and I can
tell you it relieved my mind more'n anything. You know, I was afraid
he'd been with one of those bad women. Well, turns out there wasn't any
Hedda. She was just out of those books he's been reading. He swears
he's never known a Hedda in his life. And I believe him. Why, he seemed
disgusted with me for having such a notion. (Then lamely) So somehow--I
can't kind of feel it's all as bad as I thought it was. (Then quickly
and indignantly) But it's bad enough, goodness knows--and you punish
him good just the same. The idea of a boy of his age! Shall I go up now
and tell him to get dressed, you want to see him?

MILLER (helplessly and irritably). Yes! I can't waste all day listening
to you!

MRS. MILLER (worriedly). Now you keep your temper, Nat, remember! (She
goes out through the front parlor.)

MILLER. Darn women, anyway! They always get you mixed up. Their
minds simply don't know what logic is! (Then he notices that SID is
dozing--sharply) Sid!

SID (blinking--mechanically). I'll take the same. (Then hurriedly)
What'd you say, Nat?

MILLER (caustically). What I didn't say was what'll you have.
(Irritably) Do you want to be of some help, or don't you? Then keep
awake and try and use your brains! This is a damned sight more serious
than Essie has any idea! She thinks there weren't any girls mixed up
with Richard's spree last night--but I happen to know there were! (He
takes letter from his pocket) Here's a note a woman left with one of
the boys downstairs at the office this mornlng--didn't ask to see me,
just said give me this. He'd never seen her before--said she looked
like a tart. (He has opened the letter and reads) "Your son got the
booze he drank last night at the Pleasant Beach House. The bartender
there knew he was under age but served him just the same. He thought
it was a good joke to get him soused. If you have any guts you will
run that bastard out of town." Well, what do you think of that? It's a
woman's handwriting--not signed, of course.

SID. She's one of the babies, all right--judging from her elegant
language.

MILLER. See if you recognize the handwriting.

SID (with a reproachful look). Nat, I resent the implication that
I correspond with all the tramps around this town. (Looking at the
letter) No, I don't know who this one could be. (Handing the letter
back) But I deduce that the lady had a run-in with the barkeep and
wants revenge.

MILLER (grimly). And I deduce that before that she must have picked up
Richard--or how would she know who he was?--and took him to this dive.

SID. Maybe. The Pleasant Beach House is nothing but a bed house
(Quickly) At least, so I've been told.

MILLER. That's just the sort of damned fool thing he might do to spite
Muriel, in the state of mind he was in--pick up some tart. And she'd
try to get him drunk so--

SID. Yes, it might have happened like that--and it might not. How're we
ever going to prove it Everyone at the Pleasant Beach will lie their
heads off.

MILLER (simply and proudly). Richard won't lie.

SID. Well, don't blame him if he don't remember everything that
happened last night. (Then sincerely concerned) I hope you're wrong,
Nat. That kind of baby is dangerous for a kid like Dick in more ways
than one. You know what I mean.

MILLER (frowningly). Yep--and that's just what's got me worried. Damn
it, I've got to have a straight talk with him--about women and all
those things. I ought to have long ago.

SID. Yes. You Ought.

MILLER. I've tried to a couple of times. I did it all right with Wilbur
and Lawrence and Arthur, when it came time--but, hell, with Richard I
always get sort of ashamed of myself and can't get started right. You
feel, in spite of all his bold talk out of books, that he's so darned
innocent inside.

SID. I know. I wouldn't like the job. (Then after a pause--curiously)
How were you figuring to punish him for his sins?

MILLER (frowning). To be honest with you, Sid, I'm damned if I know.
All depends on what I feel about, what he feels, when I first size him
up--and then it'll be like shooting in the dark.

SID. If I didn't know you so well, I'd say don't be too hard on him.
(He smiles a little bitterly) If you remember, I was always getting
punished--and see what a lot of good it did me!

MILLER (kindly). Oh, there's lots worse than you around, so don't take
to boasting. (Then, at a sound from the front parlor--with a sigh)
Well, here comes the Bad Man, I guess.

SID (getting up). I'll beat it. (But it is MRS. MILLER who appears in
the doorway, looking guilty and defensive. SID sits down again.)

MRS. MILLER. I'M sorry, Nat--but he was sound asleep and I didn't have
the heart to wake him. I waited for him to wake up but he didn't.

MILLER (concealing a relief of which he is ashamed--exasperatedly).
Well, I'll be double damned! If you're not the--

MRS. MILLER (defensively aggressive). Now don't lose your temper at me,
Nat Miller! You know as well as I do he needs all the sleep he can get
today--after last night's ructions! Do you want him to be taken down
sick? And what difference does it make to you, anyway? You can see him
when you come home for supper, can't you? My goodness, I never saw you
so savage-tempered! You'd think you couldn't bear waiting to punish him!

MILLER (outraged). Well, I'll be eternally--(Then suddenly he laughs)
No use talking, you certainly take the cake! But you know darned well
I told you I'm not coming home to supper tonight. I've got a date with
Jack Lawson that may mean a lot of new advertising and it's important.

MRS. MILLER. Then you can see him when you do come home.

MILLER (covering his evident relief at this respite with a fuming
manner). All right! All right! I give up! I'm going back to the office.
(He starts for the front parlor) Bring a man all the way back here on a
busy day and then you--No consideration--(He disappears, and a moment
later the front door is beard shutting behind him.)

MRS. MILLER. Well! I never saw Nat so bad-tempered.

SID (with a chuckle). Bad temper, nothing. He's so tickled to get out
of it for a while he can't see straight!

MRS. MILLER (with a sniff). I hope I know him better than you.
(Then fussing about the room, setting this and that in place, while
SID yawns drowsily and blinks his eyes) Sleeping like a baby--so
innocent-looking. You'd think butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. It all
goes to show you never can tell by appearances--not even when it's your
own child. The idea!

SID (drowsily). Oh, Dick's all right, Essie. Stop worrying.

MRS. MILLER (with a sniff). OF course, you'd say that. I suppose you'll
have him out with you painting the town red the next thing! (As she is
talking, RICHARD appears in the doorway from the sitting-room. He shows
no ill effects from his experience the night before. In fact, he looks
surprisingly healthy. He is dressed in old clothes that look as if they
had been hurriedly flung on. His expression is one of hang-dog guilt
mingled with a defensive defiance.)

RICHARD (with self-conscious unconcern, ignoring his mother). Hello,
Sid.

MRS. MILLER (whirls on him). What are you doing here, Young Man?
thought you were asleep! Seems to me you woke up pretty quick--just
after your pa left the house!

RICHARD (sulkily). I wasn't asleep. I heard you in the room.

MRS. MILLER (outraged). Do you mean to say you were deliberately
deceiving--

RICHARD. I wasn't deceiving. You didn't ask if I was asleep.

MRS. MILLER. It amounts to the same thing and you know it! It isn't
enough your wickedness last night, but now you have to take to lying!

RICHARD. I wasn't lying, Ma. If you'd asked if I was asleep I'd have
said no.

MRS. MILLER. I've a good mind to send you straight back to bed and make
you stay there!

RICHARD. Ah, what for, Ma? It was only giving me a headache, lying
there.

MRS. MILLER. If you've got a headache, I guess you know it doesn't come
from that! And imagine me standing there, and feeling sorry for you,
like a fool--even having a run-in with your pa because--But you wait
till he comes back tonight! If you don't catch it!

RICHARD (sulkily). I don't care.

MRS. MILLER. You don't care? You talk as if you weren't sorry for what
you did last night!

RICHARD (defiantly). I'm not sorry.

MRS. MILLER. Richard! You ought to be ashamed! I'm beginning to think
you're hardened in wickedness, that's what!

RICHARD (with bitter despondency). I'm not sorry because I don't care
a darn what I did, or what's done to me, or anything about anything! I
won't do it again--

MRS. MILLER (seizing on this to relent a bit). Well, I'm glad to hear
you say that, anyway!

RICHARD. But that's not because I think it was wicked or any such old
fogy moral notion, but because it wasn't any fun. It didn't make me
happy and funny like it does Uncle Sid.

SID (drowsily). What's that? Who's funny?

RICHARD (ignoring him). It only made me sadder--and sick--so I don't
see any sense in it.

MRS. MILLER. Now you're talking sense! That's a good boy.

RICHARD. But not sorry I tried it once--curing the soul by means of the
senses, as Oscar Wilde says. (Then with despairing pessimism) But what
does it matter what I do or don't do? Life is all a stupid farce! I'm
through with it! (With a sinister smile) It's lucky there aren't any
of General Gabler's pistols around--or you'd see if I'd stand it much
longer!

MRS. MILLER (worriedly impressed by this threat--but pretending scorn).
I don't know anything about General Gabler. I suppose that's more of
those darned books--but you're a silly gabbler yourself when you talk
that way!

RICHARD (darkly). That's how little you know about me.

MRS. MILLER (giving in to her worry). I wish you wouldn't say those
terrible things--about life and pistols! You don't want to worry me to
death, do you?

RICHARD (reassuringly stoical now). You needn't worry, Ma. It was only
my despair talking. But I'm not a coward. I'll face--my fate.

MRS. MILLER (stands looking at him puzzledly--then gives it up with a
sigh). Well, all I can say is you're the queerest boy I ever did hear
of! (Then solicitously, putting her hand on his forehead) How's your
headache? Do you want me to get you some Bromo Seltzer?

RICHARD (taken down--disgustedly). No, I don't! Aw, Ma, you don't
understand anything!

MRS. MILLER. Well, I understand this much: It's your liver, that's
what! You'll take a good dose of salts tomorrow morning, and no
nonsense about it! (Then suddenly) My goodness, I wonder what time it's
getting to be. I've got to go upstreet. (She goes to the front-parlor
doorway--then turns) You stay here, Richard, you hear? Remember you're
not allowed out today--for a punishment. (She hurries away. RICHARD
sits in tragic gloom. SID, without opening his eyes, speaks to him
drowsily.)

SID. Well, How's my fellow Rum Pot, as good old Dowie calls us? Got a
head?

RICHARD (startled, sheepishly). Aw, don't go dragging that up, Uncle
Sid. I'm never going to be such a fool again, I tell you.

SID (with drowsy cynicism--not unmixed with bitterness at the end).
Seems to me I've heard someone say that before. Who could it have
been, I wonder? Why, if it wasn't Sid Davis! Yes, sir, I've heard him
say that very thing a thousand times, must be. But then he's always
fooling; you can't take a word he says seriously; he's a card, that Sid
is!

RICHARD (darkly). I was desperate, Uncle--even if she wasn't worth it.
I was wounded to the heart.

SID. I like to the quick better myself--more stylish. (Then sadly) But
you're right. Love is hell on a poor sucker. Don't I know it? (RICHARD
is disgusted and disdains to reply. SID'S chin sinks on his chest and
he begins to breathe noisily, fast asleep. RICHARD glances at him with
aversion. There is a sound of someone on the porch and the screen door
is opened and MILDRED enters. She smiles on seeing her uncle, then
gives a start on seeing RICHARD.)

MILDRED. Hello! Are you allowed up?

RICHARD. Of Course, I'm allowed up. (comes and sits in her father's
chair at right, front, of table). How did Pa punish you?

RICHARD. He didn't. He went back to the office without seeing me.

MILDRED. Well, you'll catch it later. (Then rebukingly) And you ought
to. If you'd ever seen how awful you looked last night!

RICHARD. Ah, forget it, can't you?

MILDRED. Well, are you ever going to do it again, that's what I want to
know.

RICHARD. What's that to you?

MILDRED (with suppressed excitement). Well, if you don't solemnly swear
you won't--then I won't give you something I've got for you.

RICHARD. Don't try to kid me. You haven't got anything.

MILDRED. I have, too.

RICHARD. What?

MILDRED. Wouldn't you like to know! I'll give you three guesses.

RICHARD (with disdainful dignity). Don't bother me. I'm in no mood to
play riddles with kids!

MILDRED. Oh, well, if you're going to get snippy! Anyway, you haven't
promised yet.

RICHARD (a prey to keen curiosity now). I promise. What is it?

MILDRED. What would you like best in the world?

RICHARD. I don't know. What?

MILDRED. And you pretend to be in love! If I told Muriel that!

RICHARD (breathlessly). Is it--from her?

MILDRED (laughing). Well, I guess it's a shame to keep you guessing.
Yes. It is from her. I was walking past her place just now when I saw
her waving from their parlor window, and I went up and she said give
this to Dick, and she didn't have a chance to say anything else because
her mother called her and said she wasn't allowed to have company. So I
took it, and here it is. (She gives him a letter folded many times into
a tiny square. RICHARD opens it with a trembling eagerness and reads.
MILDRED watches him curiously--then sighs affectedly) Gee, it must be
nice to be in love like you are--all with one person.

RICHARD (his eyes shining). Gee, Mid, do you know what she says--that
she didn't mean a word in that other letter. Her old man made her write
it. And she loves me and only me and always will, no matter how they
punish her!

MILDRED. My! I'd never think she had that much spunk.

RICHARD. Huh! You don't know her! Think I could fall in love with a
girl that was afraid to say her soul's her own? I should say not! (Then
more gleefully still) And she's going to try and sneak out and meet
me tonight. She says she thinks she can do it. (Then suddenly feeling
this enthusiasm before MILDRED is entirely the wrong note for a cynical
pessimist--with an affected bitter laugh) Ha! I knew darned well she
couldn't hold out--that she'd ask to see me again. (He misquotes
cynically) "Women never know when the curtain has fallen. They always
want another act."

MILDRED. Is that so, Smarty?

RICHARD (as if he were weighing the matter). I don't know whether I'll
consent to keep this date or not.

MILDRED. Well, I know! You're not allowed out, you silly! So you can't!

RICHARD (dropping all pretense--defiantly). Can't I, though! You wait
and see if I can't! I'll see her tonight if it's the last thing I ever
do! I don't care how I'm punished after!

MILDRED (admiringly). Goodness! I never thought you had such nerve!

RICHARD. You promise to keep your face shut, Mid--until after I've
left--then you can tell Pa and Ma where I've gone--I mean, if they're
worrying I'm off like last night.

MILDRED. All right. Only you've got to do something for me when I ask.

RICHARD. 'Course I will. (Then excitedly) And say, Mid! Right now's the
best chance for me to get away--while everyone's out! Ma'll be coming
back soon and she'll keep watching me like a cat--(He starts for the
back parlor) I'm going. I'll sneak out the back.

MILDRED (excitedly). But what'll you do till night time? It's ages to
wait.

RICHARD. What do I care how long I wait! (Intensely sincere now)
I'll think of her--and dream! I'd wait a million years and never
mind it--for her! (He gives his sister a superior scornful glance)
The trouble with you is, you don't understand what love means! (He
disappears through the back parlor. MILDRED looks after him admiringly.
SID puffs and begins to snore peacefully.)

CURTAIN

*

ACT FOUR

Scene two

Scene--A strip of beach along the harbour. At left, a bank of dark
earth, running half diagonally back along the beach, marking the line
where the sand of the beach meets the fertile land. The top of the
bank is grassy and the trailing boughs of willow trees extend out
over a part of the beach. At front left is a path leading up to
the bank between the willows. On the beach at centre, front a white
flat-bottomed rowboat is drawn up, it's bow about touching the bank,
the painter trailing up the bank, evidently made fast to the trunk of a
willow. Halfway down the sky at rear, left, the cresent of a new moon
cast a soft casressing, mysterious light over everything. The sand of
the beach shimmers palely. The forward half (left of centre) of the
rowboat is in the deep shadow cast by the willow, the stern section
is in moonlight. In the distance, the orchestra of a summer hotel can
be heard very faintly at intervals. RICHARD is discovered sitting
sideways on the gunwhale of the rowboat near the stern. He is facing
left, watching the path. He is in a great state of anxious expectancy,
squirming about uncomfortably on the narrow gunwhale, kicking at the
sand restlessly, twirling his straw hat, with a bright coloured band in
stripes, around his finger.

RICHARD (thinking aloud). Must be nearly nine...I can hear the Town
Hall clock strike, it's so still tonight...Gee, I'll bet Ma had a
fit when she found out I'd sneaked out...I'll catch hell when I get
back, but it'll be worth it...if only Muriel turns up...she didn't
say for certain she could...gosh, I wish she'd come!...am I sure
she wrote nine?...(He puts the straw hat on the seat amidships and
pulls the folded letter out of his pocket and peers at it in the
moonlight) Yes, it's nine, all right. (He starts to put the note
back in kis pocket, then stops and kisses it--then shoves it away
hastily, sheepish, looking around him shamefacedly, as if afraid he
were being observed) Aw, that's silly...no, it isn't either...not
when you're really in love...(He jumps to his feet restlessly) Darn
it, I wish she'd show up!...think of something else...that'll make
the time pass quicker...where was I this time last night?...waiting
outside the Pleasant Beach House...Belle...ah, forget her!...now, when
Muriel's coming...that's a fine time to think of!...but you hugged and
kissed her...not until I was drunk, I didn't...and then it was all
showing off...darned fool!...and I didn't go upstairs with her...even
if she was pretty...aw, she wasn't pretty...she was all painted
up...she was just a whore...she was everything dirty...Muriel's a
million times prettier anyway...Muriel and I will go upstairs...when
we're married...but that will be beautiful...but I oughtn't even
to think of that yet...it's not right...I'd never--now...and she'd
never...she's a decent girl...I couldn't love her if she wasn't...but
after we're married...(He gives a little shiver of passionate
longing--then resolutely turns his mind away from these improper,
almost desecrating thoughts) That damned barkeep kicking me...I'll bet
you if I hadn't been drunk I'd have given him one good punch in the
nose, even if he could have licked me after!...(Then with a shiver of
shame-faced revulsion and self-disgust) Aw, you deserved a kick in the
pants...making such a darned slob of yourself...reciting the Ballad
of Reading Gaol to those lowbrows!...you must have been a fine sight
when you got home!...having to be put to bed and getting sick!...Phaw!
(He squirms disgustedly) Think of something else, can't you?...recite
something...see if you remember...

'Nay, let us walk from fire unto fire
   From passionate pain to deadlier delight--
   I am too young to live without desire,
   Too young art thou to waste this summer night--"

...gee, that's a peach!...I'll have to memorize the rest and recite it
to Muriel the next time...I wish I could write poetry...about her and
me...(He sighs and stares around him at the night) Gee, it's beautiful
tonight...as if it was a special night...for me and Muriel...Gee, I
love tonight...I love the sand, and the trees, and the grass, and the
water and the sky, and the moon...it's all in me and I'm in it...God,
it's so beautiful! (He stands staring at the moon with a rapt face.
From the distance the Town Hall clock begins to strike. This brings him
back to earth with a start) There's nine now...(He peers at the path
apprehensively) I don't see her...she must have got caught...(Almost
tearfully) Gee, I hate to go home and catch hell...without having seen
her!...(Then calling a manly cynicism to his aid) Aw, who ever heard
of a woman ever being on time...I ought to know enough about life by
this time not to expect...(Then with sudden excitement) There she comes
now...Gosh! (He heaves a huge sigh of relief--then recites dramatically
to himself, his eyes on the approaching figure)

"And lo my love, mine own soul's heart, more dear
   Than mine own soul, more beautiful than God,
   Who hath my being between the hands of her-"

(Then hastily) Mustn't let her know I'm so tickled...I ought to be mad
about that first letter, anyway...if women are too sure of you, they
treat you like slaves...let her suffer, for a change...(He starts to
stroll around with exaggerated carelessness, turning his back on the
path, hands in pockets, whistling with insouciance "Waiting at the
Church.")

(MURIEL MC COMBER enters from down the path, left front. She is fifteen,
going on sixteen. She is a pretty girl with a plump, graceful little
figure, fluffy, light-brown hair, big naive wondering dark eyes, a
round, dimpled face, a melting drawly voice. Just now she is in a great
thrilled state of timid adventurousness. She hesitates in the shadow at
the foot of the path, waiting for RICHARD to see her; but he resolutely
goes on whistling with back turned, and she has to call him.)

MURIEL. Oh, Dick.

RICHARD (turns around with an elaborate simulation of being disturbed
in the midst of profound meditation). Oh, hello. Is it nine already?
Gosh, time passes--when you're thinking.

MURIEL (coming toward him as far as the edge of the
shadow--disappointedly). I thought you'd be waiting right here at the
end of the path. I'll bet you'd forgotten I was even coming.

RICHARD (strolling a little toward her but not too far--carelessly).
No, I hadn't forgotten, honest. But I got to thinking about life.

MURIEL. You might think of me for a change, after all the risk I've run
to see you! (Hesitating timidly on the edge of the shadow) Dick! You
come here to me. I'm afraid to go out in that bright moonlight where
anyone might see me.

RICHARD (coming toward her--scornfully). Aw, there you go again, always
scared of life!

MURIEL (indignantly). Dick Miller, I do think you've got an awful nerve
to say that after all the risks I've run making this date and then
sneaking out! You didn't take the trouble to sneak any letter to me, I
notice!

RICHARD. No, because after your first letter, I thought everything was
dead and past between us.

MURIEL. And I'll bet you didn't care one little bit! (On the verge of
humiliated tears) Oh, I was a fool ever to come here! I've got a good
notion to go right home and never speak to you again! (She half turns
back toward the path.)

RICHARD (frightened--immediately becomes terribly sincere--grabbing her
hand). Aw, don't go, Muriel! Please! I didn't mean anything like that,
honest I didn't! Gee, if you knew how broken-hearted I was by that
first letter, and how darned happy your second letter made me!

MURIEL (happily relieved--but appreciates she has the upper hand now
and doesn't relent at once). I don't believe you.

RICHARD. You ask Mid how happy I was. She can prove it.

MURIEL. She'd say anything you told her to. I don't care anything about
what she'd say. It's you. You've got to swear to me--

RICHARD. I swear!

MURIEL (demurely). Well then, all right, I'll believe you.

RICHARD (his eyes on her face lovingly--genuine adoration in his
voice). Gosh, you're pretty tonight, Muriel! It seems ages since we've
been together! If you knew how I've suffered!

MURIEL. I did, too.

RICHARD (unable to resist falling into his tragic literary pose for a
moment). The despair in my soul--(He recites dramatically) "Something
was dead in each of us, And what was dead was Hope!" That was me! My
hope of happiness was dead! (Then with sincere boyish fervor) Gosh,
Muriel, it sure is wonderful to be with you again! (He puts a timid arm
around her awkwardly.)

MURIEL (shyly). I'm glad--it makes you happy. I'm happy, too.

RICHARD. Can't I--won't you let me kiss you--now? Please! (He bends his
face toward hers.)

MURIEL (ducking her head away timidly). No. You mustn't. Don't.

RICHARD. Aw, why can't I?

MURUEL. Because--I'm afraid.

RICHARD (discomfited--taking his arm from around her--a bit sulky and
impatient with her). Aw, that's what you always say! You're always so
afraid! Aren't you ever going to let me?

MURIEL. I will--sometime.

RICHARD. When?

MURIEL. Soon, maybe.

RICHARD. Tonight, will you?

MURIEL. (coyly). I'll see.

RIOHARD. Promise?

MURIEL. I promise--maybe.

RICHARD. All right. You remember you've promised. (Then coaxingly) Aw,
don't let's stand here. Come on out and we can sit down in the boat.

MURIEL (hesitantly). It's so bright out there.

RICHARD. No one'll see. You know there's never anyone around here at
night.

MURIEL (illogically). I know there isn't. That's why I thought it would
be the best place. But there might be someone.

RICHARD (taking her hand and tugging at it gently). There isn't a soul.
(MURIEL steps out a little and looks up and down fearfully. RICHARD
goes on insistently) Aw, what's the use of a moon if you can't see it!

MURIEL. But it's only a new moon. That's not much to look at.

RICHARD. But I want to see you. I can't here in the shadow. I want
to--drink in--all your beauty.

MURIEL (can't resist this). Well, all right--only I can't stay only a
few minutes. (She lets him lead her toward the stern of the boat.)

RICHARD (pleadingly). Aw, you can stay a little while, can't you?
Please! (He helps her in and she settles herself in the stern seat of
the boat, facing diagonally left front.)

MURIEL. A little while. (He sits beside her) But I've got to be home in
bed again pretending to be asleep by ten o'clock. That's the time Pa
and Ma come up to bed, as regular as clock work, and Ma always looks
into my room.

RICHARD. But you'll have oodles of time to do that.

MURIEL (excitedly). Dick, you have no idea what I went through to get
here tonight! My, but it was exciting! You know Pa's punishing me by
sending me to bed at eight sharp, and I had to get all undressed and
into bed 'cause at half-past he sends Ma up to make sure I've obeyed,
and she came up, and I pretended to be asleep, and she went down again,
and I got up and dressed in such a hurry--I must look a sight, don't I?

RICHARD. You do not! You look wonderful!

MURIEL. And then I sneaked down the back stairs. And the pesky old
stairs squeaked, and my heart was in my mouth, I was so scared, and
then I sneaked out through the back yard, keeping in the dark under the
trees, and--My, but it was exciting! Dick, you don't realize how I've
been punished for your sake. Pa's been so mean and nasty, I've almost
hated him!

RICHARD. And you don't realize what I've been through for you and what
I'm in for--for sneaking out (Then darkly) And for what I did last
night--what your letter made me do!

MURIEL (made terribly curious by his ominous tone). What did my letter
make you do?

RICHARD (beginning to glory in this). It's too long a story and let the
dead past bury its dead. (Then with real feeling) Only it isn't past, I
can tell you! What I'll catch when Pa gets hold of me!

MURIEL. Tell me, Dick! Begin at the beginning and tell me!

RICHARD (tragically). Well, after your old--your father left our place
I caught holy hell from Pa.

MURIEL. You mustn't swear!

RICHARD (somberly). Hell is the only word that can describe it. And on
top of that, to torture me more, he gave me your letter. After I'd read
that I didn't want to live any more. Life seemed like a tragic farce.

MURIEL. I'm so awful sorry, Dick--honest I am! But you might have known
I'd never write that unless--

RICHARD. I thought your love for me was dead. I thought you'd never
loved me, that you'd only been cruelly mocking me to torture me!

MURIEL. Dick! I'd never! You know I'd never!

RICHARD. I wanted to die. I sat and brooded about death. Finally I made
up my mind I'd kill myself.

MURIEL (excitedly). Dick! You didn't!

RICHARD. I did, too! If there'd been one of Hedda Gabler's pistols
around, you'd have seen if I wouldn't have done it beautifully! I
thought, when I'm dead, she'll be sorry she ruined my life!

MURIEL (cuddling up a little to him). If you ever had! I'd have died,
too! Honest, I would!

RICHARD. But suicide is the act of a coward. That's what stopped me.
(Then with a bitter change of tone) And anyway, I thought to myself,
she isn't worth it.

MURIEL (huffily). That's a nice thing to say!

RICHARD. Well, if you meant what was in that letter, you wouldn't have
been worth it, would you?

MURIEL. But I've told you Pa--

RICHARD. So I said to myself, I'm through with women; they're all alike!

MURIEL. I'm not.

RICHARD. And I thought, what difference does it make what I do now? I
might as well forget her and lead the pace that kills, and drown my
sorrows! You know I had eleven dollars saved up to buy you something
for your birthday, but I thought, she's dead to me now and why
shouldn't I throw it away? (Then hastily) I've still got almost five
left, Muriel, and I can get you something nice with that.

MURIEL (excitedly). What do I care about your old presents? You tell me
what you did!

RICHARD (darkly again). After it was dark, I sneaked out and went to a
low dive I know about.

MURIEL. Dick Miller, I don't believe you ever!

RICHARD. You ask them at the Pleasant Beach House if I didn't! They
won't forget me in a hurry!

MURIEL (impressed and horrified). You went there? Why, that's a
terrible place! Pa says it ought to be closed by the police!

RICHARD (darkly). I said it was a dive, didn't I? It's a "secret house
of shame." And they let me into a secret room behind the barroom. There
wasn't anyone there but a Princeton Senior I know--he belongs to Tiger
Inn and he's fullback on the football team--and he had two chorus girls
from New York with him, and they were all drinking champagne.

MURIEL (disturbed by the entrance of the chorus girls). Dick Miller! I
hope you didn't notice--

RICHARD (carelessly). I had a highball by myself and then I noticed one
of the girls--the one that wasn't with the fullback looking at me. She
had strange-looking eyes. And then she asked me if I wouldn't drink
champagne with them and come and sit with her.

MURIEL. She must have been a nice thing! (Then a bit falteringly) And
did you?

RICHARD (with tragic bitterness). Why shouldn't I, when you'd told me
in that letter you'd never see me again?

MURIEL (almost tearfully). But you ought to have known Pa made me.

RICHARD. I didn't know that then. (Then rubbing it in) Her name was
Belle. She had yellow hair--the kind that burns and stings you!

MURIEL. I'll bet it was dyed!

RICHARD. She kept smoking one cigarette after another, but that's
nothing for a chorus girl.

MURIEL (indignantly). She was low and bad, that's what she was or she
couldn't be a chorus girl, and her smoking cigarettes proves it! (Then
falteringly again) And then what happened?

RICHARD (carelessly). Oh, we just kept drinking champagne--I bought
a round and then I had a fight with the barkeep and knocked him down
because he'd insulted her. He was a great big thug but--

MURIEL (huffily). I don't see how he could insult that kind! And why
did you fight for her? Why didn't the Princeton fullback who'd brought
them there? He must have been bigger than you.

RICHARD (stopped for a moment, then quickly). He was too drunk by that
time.

MURIEL. And were you drunk?

RICHARD. Only a little then. I was worse later. (Proudly) You ought to
have seen me when I got home! I was on the verge of delirium tremens!

MURIEL. I'm glad I didn't see you. You must have been awful. I hate
people who get drunk. I'd have hated you!

RICHARD. Well, it was all your fault, wasn't it? If you hadn't written
that letter--

MURIEL. But I've told you I didn't mean--(Then faltering but
fascinated) But what happened with that Belle--after--before you went
home?

RICHARD. Oh, we kept drinking champagne and she said she'd fallen in
love with me at first sight and she came and sat on my lap and kissed
me.

MURIBL (stiffening). Oh!

RICHARD (quickly, afraid he has gone too far). But it was only all in
fun, and then we just kept on drinking champagne, and finally I said
good night and came home.

MURIEL. And did you kiss her?

RICHARD. No, I didn't.

MURIEL (distractedly). You did, too! You're lying and you know it. You
did, too! (Then tearfully) And there I was right at that time lying in
bed not able to sleep, wondering how I was ever going to see you again
and crying my eyes out, while you! (She suddenly jumps to her feet in
a tearful fury) I hate you! I wish you were dead! I'm going home this
minute! I never want to lay eyes on you again! And this time I mean it!
(She tries to jump out of the boat but he holds her back. All the pose
has dropped from him now and he is in a frightened state of contrition.)

RICHARD (imploringly). Muriel: Wait! Listen!

MURIEL. I don't want to listen! Let me go! If you don't I'll bite your
hand!

RICHARD. I won't let you go! You've got to let me explain! I never!
Ouch! (For MURIEL has bitten his hand and it hurts, and, stung by the
pain, he lets go instinctively, and she jumps quickly out of the boat
and starts running toward the path. RICHARD calls after her with bitter
despair and hurt) All right! Go if you want to, if you haven't the
decency to let me explain! I hate you, too! I'll go and see Belle!

MURIEL (seeing he isn't following her, stops at the foot of the
path--defiantly). Well, go and see her if that's the kind of girl you
like! What do I care? (Then as he only stares before him broodingly,
sitting dejectedly in the stern of the boat, a pathetic figure of
injured grief) You can't explain! What can you explain? You owned up
you kissed her!

RICHARD. I did not. I said she kissed me.

MURIEL (scornfully, but drifting back a step in his direction). And
I suppose you just sat and let yourself be kissed! Tell that to the
Marines!

RICHARD (injuredly). All right! If you're going to call me a liar every
word I say.

MURIEL (drifting back another step). I didn't call you a liar. I only
meant it sounds fishy. Don't you know it does?

RICHARD. I don't know anything. I only know I wish I was dead!

MURIEL (gently reproving). You oughtn't to say that. It's wicked. (Then
after a pause) And I suppose you'll tell me you didn't fall in love
with her?

RICHARD (scornfully). I should say not! Fall in love with that kind of
girl! What do you take me for?

MURIEL (practically). How do you know what you did if you drank so much
champagne?

RICHARD. I kept my head with her. I'm not a sucker, no matter what you
think!

MURIEL (drifting nearer). Then you didn't love her?

RICHARD. I hated her! She wasn't even pretty! And I had a fight with
her before I left, she got so fresh. I told her I loved you and never
could love anyone else, and for her to leave me alone.

MURIEL. But you said just now you were going to see her.

RICHARD. That was only bluff. I wouldn't unless you left me. Then
I wouldn't care what I did--any more than I did last night. (Then
suddenly defiant) And what if I did kiss her once or twice? I only did
it to get back at you!

MURIEL. Dick!

RICHARD. You're a fine one to blame me, when it was all your fault!
Why can't you be fair? Didn't I think you were out of my life forever?
Hadn't you written me you were? Answer me that!

MURIEL. But I've told you a million times that Pa--

RICHARD. Why didn't you have more sense than to let him make you write
it? Was it my fault you didn't?

MURIEL. It was your fault for being so stupid! You ought to have known
he stood right over me and told me each word to write. If I'd refused,
it would only have made everything worse. I had to pretend, so I'd get
a chance to see you. Don't you see, Silly? And I had sand enough to
sneak out to meet you tonight, didn't I? (He doesn't answer. She moves
nearer) Still I can see how you felt the way you did and maybe I am to
blame for that. So I'll forgive and forget, Dick if you'll swear to me
you didn't even think of loving that--

RICHARD (eagerly). I didn't! I swear, Muriel. I couldn't. I love you!

MURIEL. Well, then--I still love you.

RICHARD. Then come back here, why don't you?

MUIUEL (coyly). It's getting late. RICHARD. It's not near half-past yet.

MURIEL (comes back and sits down by him shyly). All right--only I'll
have to go soon, Dick. (He puts his arm around her. She cuddles up
close to him). I'm sorry I hurt your hand.

RICHARD. That was nothing. It felt wonderful--even to have you bite!

MURIEL (impulsively takes his hand and kisses it). There! That'll cure
it. (She is overcome by confusion at her boldness.)

RICHARD. You shouldn't--waste that--on my hand. (Then tremblingly) You
said--you'd let me--

MURIEL. I said, maybe.

RICHARD. Please, Muriel. You know I want it so!

MURIEL. Will it wash off her kisses--make you forget you ever--for
always?

RICHARD. I should say so! I'd never remember--anything but it--never
want anything but it--ever again.

MURIEL (shyly lifting her lips). Then--all right Dick. (He kisses her
tremblingly and for a moment their lips remain together. Then she lets
her head sink on his shoulder and sighs softly) The moon is beautiful,
isn't it?

RICHARD (kissing her hair). Not as beautiful as you! Nothing is! (Then
after a pause) Won't it be wonderful when we're married?

MURIEL. Yes--but it's so long to wait.

RICHARD. Perhaps I needn't go to Yale. Perhaps Pa will give me a job.
Then I'd soon be making enough to--

MURIEL. You better do what your pa thinks best and I'd like you to be
at Yale. (Then patting his face) Poor you! Do you think he'll punish
you awful?

RICHARD (intensely). I don't know and I don't care! Nothing would have
kept me from seeing you tonight, not if I'd had to crawl over red-hot
coals! (Then falling back on Swinburne, but with passionate sincerity)
"You have my being between the hands of you! You are my love, mine own
soul's heart, more dear than mine own soul, more beautiful than God!"

MURIEL (shocked and delighted). Ssshh! It's wrong to say that.

RICHARD (adoringly). Gosh, but I love you! Gosh, I love you Darling!

MURIEL. I love you, too, Sweetheart! (They kiss. Then she lets her head
sink on his shoulder again and they both sit in a rapt trance, staring
at the moon. After a pause, dreamily) Where'll we go on our honeymoon,
Dick? To Niagara Falls?

RICHARD (scornfully). That dump where all the silly fools go? I should
say not! (With passionate romanticism) No, we'll go to some far-off
wonderful place! (He calls on Kipling to help him) Somewhere out on the
long trailthat is always new--on the road to Mandalay! We'll watch the
dawn come up like thunder out of China!

MURIEL (Lazily but happily) That'll be wonderful won't it?

CURTAIN

*

ACT FOUR

Scene three

Scene--the sitting room of the miller house again. About 10 o'clock the
same night. MILLER is sitting in his rocker at left, front of table,
his wife in the rocker at right, front of table. Moonlight streams in
through the screen door at right, rear. Only the green shaded lamp
is lit and by it, with specs on, MILLER is reading a book while his
wife, sewing basket in lap, is working industriously on a doily. MRS
MILLERS face wears an expression of unworried content. MILLERS face
has also lost his expression of harassed preoccupation, although he is
still prey to certain misgivings, when he allows himself to think of
them. Several books are piled high on the the table at his elbow, the
books that have been confiscated from RICHARD.

MILLER (chuckles at something he reads, then closes the book and puts
it on the table. MRS. MILLER looks up from her sewing). This Shaw's a
comical cuss--even if his ideas are so crazy they oughtn't to allow
them to be printed. And that Swinburne's got a fine swing to his
poetry--if he'd only choose some other subjects besides loose women.

MRS. MILLER (smiling teasingly). I can see where you're becoming
corrupted by those books, too--pretending to read them out of duty to
Richard, when your nose has been glued to the page!

MILLER. No, no--but I've got to be honest. There's something to them.
That Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, now. I read that over again and liked it
even better than I had before--parts of it, that is, where it isn't all
about boozing.

MRS. MILLER (has been busy with her own thoughts during this last--with
a deep sigh of relief). My, but I'm glad Mildred told me where Richard
went off to. I'd have worried my heart out if she hadn't. But now, it's
all right.

MILLER (frowning a little). I'd hardly go so far as to say that. Just
because we know he's all right tonight doesn't mean last night is wiped
out. He's still got to be punished for that.

MRS. MILLER (defensively). Well, if you ask me, I think after the way
I punished him all day, and the way I know he's punished himself, he's
had about all he deserves. I've told you how sorry he was, and how he
said he'd never touch liquor again. It didn't make him feel happy like
Sid, but only sad and sick, so he didn't see anything in it for him.

MILLER. Well, if he's really got that view of it driven into his
skull, I don't know but I'm glad it all happened. That'll protect him
more than a thousand lectures--just horse sense about himself. (Then
frowning again) Still, I can't let him do such things and go scot-free.
And then, besides, there's another side to it--(He stops abruptly.)

MRS. MILLER (uneasily). What do you mean, another side?

MILLER (hastily). I mean, discipline. There's got to be some discipline
in a family. I don't want him to get the idea he's got a stuffed shirt
at the head of the table. No, he's got to be punished, if only to make
the lesson stick in his mind, and I'm going to tell him he can't go to
Yale, seeing he's so undependable.

MRS. MILLER (up in arms at once). Not go to Yale! I guess he can go to
Yale! Every man of your means in town is sending his boys to college!
What would folks think of you? You let Wilbur go, and you'd have let
Lawrence, only he didn't want to, and you're letting Arthur! If our
other children can get the benefit of a college education, you're not
going to pick on Richard.

MILLER. Hush up, for God's sake! If you'd let me finish what I started
to say! I said I'd tell him that now--bluff--then later on I'll change
my mind, if he behaves himself.

MRS. MILLER. Oh well, if that's all--(Then defensively again) But it's
your duty to give him every benefit. He's got an exceptional brain,
that boy has! He's proved it by the way he likes to read all those deep
plays and books and poetry.

MILLER. But I thought you--(He stops, grinning helplessly.)

MRS. MILLER. You thought I what?

MILLER. Never mind.

MRS. MILLER (sniffs, but thinks it better to let this pass). You mark
my words, that boy's going to turn out to be a great lawyer, or a great
doctor, or a great writer, or--

MILLER (grinning). You agree he's going to be great, anyway.

MRS. MILLER. Yes, I most certainly have a lot of faith in Richard.

MILLER. Well, so have I, as far as that goes.

MRS. MILLER (after a pause--judicially). And as for his being in love
with Muriel, I don't see but that it might work out real well. Richard
could do worse.

MILLER. But I thought you had no use for her, thought she was stupid.

MRS. MILLER. Well, so I did, but if she's good for Richard and he wants
her--(Then inconsequentially) Ma used to say you weren't overbright,
but she changed her mind when she saw I didn't care if you were or not.

MILLER (not exactly pleased by this). Well, I've been bright enough to--

MRS. MILLER (going on as if he had not spoken). And Muriel's real cute
looking, I have to admit that. Takes after her mother. Alice Briggs was
the prettiest girl before she married.

MILLER. Yes, and Muriel will get big as a house after she's married,
the same as her mother did. That's the trouble. A man never can tell
what he's letting himself in for (He stops, feeling his wife's eyes
fixed on him with indignant suspicion.)

MRS. MILLER (sharply). I'm not too fat and don't you say it!

MILLER. Who was talking about you?

MRS. MILLER. And I'd rather have some flesh on my bones than be
built like a string bean and bore a hole in a chair every time I sat
down--like some people!

MILLER (ignoring the insult--flatteringly). Why, no one'd ever call you
fat, Essie. You're only plump, like a good figure ought to be.

MRS. MILLER (childishly pleased--gratefully giving tit for tat). Well,
you're not skinny, either--only slender--and I think you've been
putting on weight lately, too. (Having thus squared matters she takes
up her sewing again. A pause. Then MILLER asks incredulously.)

MILLER. You don't mean to tell me you're actually taking this Muriel
crush of Richard's seriously, do you? I know it's a good thing to
encourage right now but--pshaw, why, Richard'll probably forget all
about her before he's away six months, and she'll have forgotten him.

MRS. MILLER. Don't be so cynical (Then, after a pause, thoughtfully)
Well, anyway, he'll always have it to remember, no matter what happens
after, and that's something.

MILLER. You bet that's something, (Then with a grin) You surprise me at
times with your deep wisdom.

MRS. MILLER. You don't give me credit for ever having common sense,
that's why. (She goes back to her sewing.)

MILLER (after a pause). Where'd you say Sid and Lily had gone off to?

MRS. MILLER. To the beach to listen to the band. (She sighs
sympathetically) Poor Lily! Sid'll never change, and she'll never marry
him. But she seems to get some queer satisfaction out of fussing over
him like a hen that's hatched a duck--though Lord knows I wouldn't in
her shoes!

MILLER. Arthur's up with Elsie Rand, I suppose?

MRS. MILLER. Of course.

MILLER. Where's Mildred?

MRS. MILLER. Out walking with her latest. I've forgot who it is, I
can't keep track of them. (She smiles.)

MILLER (smiling). Then, from all reports, we seem to be completely
surrounded by love!

MRS. MILLER. Well, we've had our share, haven't we? We don't have to
begrudge it to our children. (Then has a sudden thought) But I've done
all this talking about Muriel and Richard and clean forgot how wild old
McComber was against it. But he'll get over that, I suppose.

MILLER (with a chuckle). He has already. I ran into him upstreet this
afternoon and he was meek as pie. He backed water and said he guessed I
was right. Richard had just copied stuff out of books, and kids would
be kids, and so on. So I came off my high horse a bit--but not too far
and I guess all that won't bother anyone any more. (Then rubbing his
hands together--with a boyish grin of pleasure) And I told you about
getting that business from Lawson, didn't I? It's been a good day,
Essie, a darned good day!

(From the hall beyond the front parlor the sound of the front door
being opened and shut is heard. MRS. MILLER leans forward to look,
pushing her specs up.)

MRS. MILLER (in a whisper). It's Richard.

MILLER (immediately assuming an expression of becoming gravity). Hmm.
(He takes off his spectacles and puts them back in their case and
straightens himself in his chair. RICHARD comes slowly in from the
front parlor. He walks like one in a trance, his eyes shining with a
dreamy happiness, his spirit still too exalted to be conscious of his
surroundings, or to remember the threatened punishment. He carries his
straw hat dangling in his hand, quite unaware of its existence.)

RICHARD (dreamily, like a ghost addressing fellow shades). Hello.

MRS. MILLER (staring at him worriedly). Hello, Richard.

MILLER (sizing him up shrewdly). Hello, Son.

(RICHARD moves past his mother and comes to the far corner, left front,
where the light is dimmest, and sits down on the sofa, and stares
before him, his hat dangling in his hand.)

MRS. MILLER (with frightened suspicion now). Goodness, he acts queer!
Nat, you don't suppose he's been?

MILLER (with a reassuring smile). No. It's love, not liquor, this time.

MRS. MILLER (only partly reassured--sharply). Richard! What's the
matter with you? (He comes to himself with a start. She goes on
scoldingly) How many times have I told you to hang up your hat in the
hall when you come in! (He looks at his hat as if he were surprised at
its existence. She gets up fussily and goes to him) Here. Give it to
me. I'll hang it up for you this once. And what are you sitting over
here in the dark for? Don't forget your father's been waiting to talk
to you! (She comes back to the table and he follows her, still half in
a dream, and stands by his father's chair. MRS. MILLER starts for the
hall with his hat.)

MILLER (quietly but firmly now). You better leave Richard and me alone
for a while, Essie.

MRS. MILLER (turns to stare at him apprehensively). Well, all right.
I'll go sit on the piazza. Call me if you want me. (Then a bit
pleadingly) But you'll remember all I've said, Nat, won't you? (MILLER
nods reassuringly. She disappears through the front parlor. RICHARD,
keenly conscious of himself as the about-to-be-sentenced criminal
by this time, looks guilty and a bit defiant searches his father's
expressionless face with uneasy side glances, and steels himself for
what is coming.)

MILLER (casually, indicating MRS. MILLER'S rocker). Sit down, Richard.
(RICHARD slumps awkwardly into the chair and sits in a self conscious,
unnatural position. MILLER sizes him up keenly--then suddenly smiles
and asks with quiet mockery) Well, how are the vine leaves in your hair
this evening?

RIOHARD (totally unprepared for this approach, shamefacedly mutters). I
don't know, Pa.

MILLER. Turned out to be poison ivy, didn't they? (Then kindly) But
you needn't look so alarmed. I'm not going to read you any temperance
lecture. That'd bore me more than it would you. And, in spite of your
damn foolishness last night, I'm still giving you credit for having
brains. So I'm pretty sure anything I could say to you you've already
said to yourself.

RICHARD (his head down humbly). I know I was a darned fool.

MILLER (thinking it well to rub in this aspect, disgustedly). You sure
were not only a fool but a downright, stupid, disgusting fool! (RICHARD
squirms, his head still lower) It was bad enough for you to let me and
Arthur see you, but to appear like that before your mother and Mildred!
And I wonder if Muriel would think you were so fine if she ever saw
you as you looked and acted then. I think she'd give you your walking
papers for keeps. And you couldn't blame her. No nice girl wants to
give her love to a stupid drunk!

RICHARD (writhing). I know, Pa.

MILLER (after a pause--quietly). All right. Then that settles the booze
end of it. (He sizes RICHARD up searchingly--then suddenly speaks
sharply) But there is another thing that's more serious. How about that
tart you went to bed with at the Pleasant Beach House?

RICHARD (flabbergasted--stammers). You know-? But I didn't! If they've
told you about her down there, they must have told you I didn't! She
wanted me to--but I wouldn't. I gave her the five dollars just so she'd
let me out of it. Honest, Pa, I didn't! She made everything seem rotten
and dirty and I didn't want to do a thing like that to Muriel--no
matter how bad I thought she'd treated me--even after I felt drunk, I
didn't. Honest!

MILLER. How'd you happen to meet this lady, anyway?

RICHARD. I can't tell that, Pa. I'd have to snitch on someone and you
wouldn't want me to do that.

MILLER (a bit taken aback). No. I suppose I wouldn't. Hmm. Well, I
believe you and I guess that settles that. (Then, after a quick,
furtive glance at RICHARD, he nerves himself for the ordeal and
begins with a shamefaced, self-conscious solemnity) But listen here,
Richard, it's about time you and I had a serious talk about--certain
matters pertaining to--and now that the subject's come up of its own
accord, it's a good time--I mean, there's no use in procrastinating
further--so, here goes. (But it doesn't go smoothly and as he goes
on he becomes more and more guiltily embarrassed and self-conscious
and his expressions more stilted. RICHARD sedulously avoids even
glancing at him, his own embarrassment made tenfold more painful by his
father's) Richard, you have now come to the age when--Well, you're a
fully developed man, in a way, and it's only natural for you to have
certain desires of the flesh, to put it that way--I mean, pertaining
to the opposite sex--certain natural feelings and temptations that'll
want to be gratified--and you'll want to gratify them. Hmm--well, human
society being organized as it is, there's only one outlet for--unless
you're a scoundrel and go around ruining decent girls--which you're
not, of course. Well, there are a certain class of women--always have
been and always will be as long as human nature is what it is. It's
wrong, maybe, but what can you do about it? I mean, girls like that one
you--girls there's something doing with--and lots of 'em are pretty,
and it's human nature if you--But that doesn't mean to ever get mixed
up with them seriously! You just have what you want and pay 'em and
forget it. I know that sounds hard and unfeeling, but we're talking
facts and--But don't think I'm encouraging you to--If you can stay away
from 'em, all the better--but if--why--hmm--Here's what I'm driving at,
Richard. They're apt to be whited sepulchres--I mean, your whole life
might be ruined if--so, darn it, you've got to know how to--I mean,
there are ways and means--(Suddenly he can go no farther and winds up
helplessly) But, hell, I suppose you boys talk all this over among
yourselves and you know more about it than I do. I'll admit I'm no
authority. I never had anything to do with such women, and it'll be a
hell of a lot better for you if you never do!

RICHARD (without looking at him). I'm never going to, Pa. (Then shocked
indignation coming into his voice) I don't see how you could think I
could--now--when you know I love Muriel and am going to marry her. I'd
die before I'd--!

MILLER (immensely relieved--enthusiastically). That's the talk! By God,
I'm proud of you when you talk like that! (Then hastily) And now that's
all of that. There's nothing more to say and we'll forget it, eh?

RICHARD (after a pause). How are you going to punish me, Pa?

MILLER. I was sort of forgetting that, wasn't I? Well, I'd thought of
telling you you couldn't go to Yale.

RICHARD (eagerly). Don't I have to go? Gee, that's great! Muriel
thought you'd want me to. I was telling her I'd rather you gave me
a job on the paper because then she and I could get married sooner.
(Then with a boyish grin) Gee, Pa, you picked a lemon. That isn't any
punishment. You'll have to do something besides that.

MILLER (grimly--but only half concealing an answering grin). Then
you'll go to Yale and you'll stay there till you graduate, that's the
answer to that! Muriel's got good sense and you haven't! (tactfully
accepts this philosophically) And now we're finished, you better call
your mother. (RICHARD opens the screen door and calls "Ma," and a
moment later she comes in. She glances quickly from son to husband and
immediately knows that all is well and tactfully refrains from all
questionsi)

MRS. MILLLER. My, it's a beautiful night. The moon's way down
low--almost setting. (She sits in her chair and sighs contentedly.
RICHARD remains standing by the door, staring out at the moon, his face
pale in the moonlight.)

MILLER (with a nod at RICHARD, winking at his wife). Yes, I don't
believe I've hardly ever seen such a beautiful night with such a
wonderful moon. Have you, Richard?

RICHARD (turning to them enthusiastically). No! It was wonderful down
at the beach (He stops abruptly, smiling shyly.)

MILLER. (watching his son, after a pause--quietly). I can only remember
a few nights that were as beautiful as this--and they were long ago,
when your mother and I were young and planning to get married.

RICHARD (stares at him wonderingly or a moment, then quickly from his
rather to his mother and back again, strangely, as if he'd never seen
them before--then he looks almost disgusted and swallows as if an acrid
aste had come into his mouth--then suddenly his face is transigured by
a smile of shy understanding and sympathy. He speaks shyly). Yes, I'll
bet those must have been wonderful nights, too. You sort of forget the
moon was the same way--back then and everything.

MILLER (huskily). You're all right, Richard. (He gets up and blows his
nose.)

MRS. MILLER (fondly). You're a good boy, Richard. (RICHARD looks
dreadfully shy and embarrassed at this. His father comes to his rescue.)

MILLER. Better get to bed early to night, Son, hadn't you?

RICHARD. I couldn't sleep. Can't I go out on the piazza and sit for a
while until the moon sets?

MILLER. All right. Then you better say good night now. I don't know
about your mother, but I'm going to bed right away. I'm dead tired.

MRS. MILLER. So am I.

RICHARD (goes to her and kisses her). Good night, Ma.

MRS. MILLER. Good night. Don't you stay up till all hours now.

RICHARD (comes to his father and stands awkwardly before him). Good
night, Pa.

MILLER (puts his arm around him and gives him a hug). Good night,
Richard. (RICHARD turns impulsively and kisses him then hurries out the
screen door. MILLER stares after him, then says huskily) First time
he's done that in years. I don't believe in kissing between fathers
and sons after a certain age--seems mushy and silly--but that meant
something! And I don't think we'll ever have to worry about his being
safe from himself again. And I guess no matter what life will do to
him, he can take care of it now. (He sighs with satisfaction and,
sitting down in his chair, begins to unlace his shoes) My darned feet
are giving me fits!

MRS. MILLER (laughing). Why do you bother unlacing your shoes now, you
big goose when we're going right up to bed?

MILLER (as if he hadn't thought of that before, stops). Guess you're
right. (Then getting to his feet with a grin) Mind if I don't say my
prayers tonight, Essie? I'm certain God knows I'm too darned tired.

MRS. MILLER. Don't talk that way. It's real sinful. (She gets
up--then laughing fondly) If that isn't you all over! Always looking
for an excuse to--You're worse than Tommy! But all right. I suppose
tonight you needn't. You've had a hard day. (She puts her hand on the
reading-lamp switch) I'm going to turn out the light. All ready?

MILLER. Yep. Let her go, Gallagher. (She turns out the lamp. In the
ensuing darkness the faint moonlight shines full in through the screen
door. Walking together toward the front parlor they stand full in it
for a moment, looking out. MILLER puts his arm around her. He says in
a low voice) There he is--like a statue of Love's Young Dream. (Then
he sighs and speaks with a gentle nostalgic melancholy) What's it that
Rubaiyat says:

  "Yet Ah, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
   That Youth's sweet-scented manuscript should close!"

(Then throwing off his melancholy, with a loving smile at her) Well,
Spring isn't everything, is it, Essie? There's a lot to be said for
Autumn. That's got beauty, too. And Winter--if you're together.

MRS. MILLER (simply). Yes, Nat. (She kisses him and they move quietly
out of the moonlight, back into the darkness of the front parlor.)

CURTAIN

*

THE END


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