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Contents   I   II


ACT TWO

SCENEThirty years after—the scene is the same but not the same. The room has a grotesque aspect of old age turned flighty and masquerading as the most empty-headed youth. There is an obstreperous newness about everything. Orange curtains are at the windows. The carpet has given way to a varnished hardwood floor, its glassy surface set off by three small, garish-colored rugs, placed with precision in front of the two doors and under the table. The wall paper is now a cream color sprayed with pink flowers. Seascapes, of the painted-to-order quality, four in number, in gilded frames, are hung on the walls at mathematically spaced intervals. The plush-covered chairs are gone, replaced by a set of varnished oak. The horsehair sofa has been relegated to the attic. A cane-bottomed affair with fancy cushions serves in its stead. A Victrola is where the old mahogany chest had been. A brand new piano shines resplendently in the far right corner by the door, and a bookcase with glass doors that pull up and slide in flanks the fireplace. This bookcase is full of installment-plan sets of uncut volumes. The table at center is of varnished oak. On it are piles of fashion magazines and an electric reading lamp. Only the old Bible, which still preserves its place of honor on the table, and the marble clock on the mantel, have survived the renovation and serve to emphasize it all the more by contrast.

  It is late afternoon of a day in the early spring of the year 1920.

  As the curtain rises, Emma and Benny Rogers are discovered. She is seated in a rocker by the table. He is standing by the Victrola on which a jazz band record is playing. He whistles, goes through the motions of dancing to the music. He is a young fellow of twenty-three, a replica of his father in Act One, but coarser, more hardened and cocksure. He is dressed in the khaki uniform of a private in the United States Army. The thirty years have transformed Emma into a withered, scrawny woman. But there is something revoltingly incongruous about her, a pitiable sham, a too-apparent effort to cheat the years by appearances. The white dress she wears is too frilly, too youthful for her; so are the high-heeled pumps and clocked silk stockings. There is an absurd suggestion of rouge on her tight cheeks and thin lips, of penciled make-up about her eyes. The black of her hair is brazenly untruthful. Above all there is shown in her simpering, self-consciously coquettish manner that laughable—and at the same time irritating and disgusting—mockery of undignified age snatching greedily at the empty simulacra of youth. She resembles some passé stock actress of fifty made up for a heroine of twenty.

  BENNY(as the record stops—switches off the machine) Oh, baby! Some jazz, I'll tell the world!

  EMMA(smiling lovingly at his back) I'm glad you like it. It's one of them you picked out on the list.

  BENNYOh, I'm a swell little picker, aw right. (turning to her) Say, you're a regular feller—gettin' them records for me.

  EMMA(coquettishly) Well, if that ain't just like a man! Who told you I got them just for you?

  BENNYWell, didn't you?

  EMMANo indeedy! I only took your advice on what to get. I knew you'd know, being growed to a man of the world now since you was overseas. But I got 'em because I like them jazz tunes myself. They put life and ginger in an old lady like me—not like them slow, old-timey tunes.

  BENNY(bends over chair—kiddingly) You ain't old. That's all bunk.

  EMMA(flattered) Now, now, Benny!

  BENNYYou ain't. You're a regular, up-to-date sport—the only live one in this dead dump. (with a grin) And if you fall for that jazz stuff, all you got to do now is learn to dance to it.

  EMMA(giggling) I will—if you'll teach me.

  BENNY(struggling with a guffaw) Oh, oui! Sure I will! We'll have a circus, me an' you. Say, you're sure one of the girls aw right, Aunt Emmer.

  EMMAOh, you needn't think we're all so behind the times to home here just because you've been to France and all over.

  BENNYYou ain't, I'll say, Aunt Emmer.

  EMMAAnd how often have I got to tell you not to call me Aunt Emmer?

  BENNY(with a grin) Oh, oui! My foot slipped. 'Scuse me, Emmer.

  EMMA(delighted by his coarse familiarity) That's better. Why, you know well enough I ain't your aunt anyway.

  BENNYI got to get used to the plain Emmer. They taught me to call you "aunt" when I was a kid. (Emma looks displeased at this remark and Benny hastens to add cajolingly) And you almost was my aunt-in-law one time from what I've heard. (winks at her cunningly)

  EMMA(flustered) That was ages ago. (catching herself quickly) Not so awful long really, but it's all so dead and gone it seems a long while.

  BENNY(unthinkingly) It was before I was born, wasn't it? (Seeing her expression he hurries on.) Well, that ain't so darned long. Say, here's something I never could make out—how did you ever come to fall for Uncle Caleb?

  EMMA(bridling quickly) I never did. That's all talk, Benny. We was good friends and still are. I was young and foolish and got engaged to him—and then discovered I didn't like him that way. That's all there ever was to it.

  BENNY(resentfully) I can't figure how anybody'd ever like him anyway. He's a darn stingy, ugly old cuss, if you want my dope on him. I can't see him at all. I've hated him ever since Pa died and Ma and me had to go live next door with him.

  EMMAYou oughtn't to say that. He's kind at bottom, spite of his rough ways, and he's brought you up.

  BENNY(grumpily) Dragged me up, you mean. (with a calculating look at her out of the corners of his eyes) He's a tightwad and I hate folks that're tight with their coin. Spend and be a good sport, that's my motto. (flattering) He'd ought to be more like you that way, Emmer.

  EMMA(pleased—condescendingly) Your Uncle Caleb's an old man, remember. He's sot in his ways and believes in being strict with you—too strict, I've told him.

  BENNYHe's got piles of money hoarded in the bank but he's too mean even to retire from whalin' himself—goes right on makin' vige after vige to grab more and never spends a nickel less'n he has to. It was always like pryin' open a safe for me to separate him from a cent. (with extreme disgust) Aw, he's a piker. I hate him and I always did!

  EMMA(looking toward the door apprehensively) Ssshh!

  BENNYWhat you scared of? He don't get in from New Bedford till the night train and even if he's got to the house by this he'll be busy as a bird dog for an hour getting himself dolled up to pay you a call.

  EMMA(perfunctorily) I hope he's had a good vige and is in good health.

  BENNY(roughly) You needn't worry. He's too mean ever to get real sick. Gosh, I wish Pa'd lived—or Uncle Jack. They wasn't like him. I was only a kid when they got drowned, but I remember enough about 'em to know they was good sports. Wasn't they?

  EMMA(rather primly) They was too sporty for their own good.

  BENNYDon't you hand me that. That don't sound like you. You're a sport yourself. (after a pause) Say, it's nutty when you come to think of it—Uncle Caleb livin' next door all these years and comin' to call all the time when he ain't at sea.

  EMMAWhat's funny about that? We've always been good friends.

  BENNY(with a grin) It's just as if the old guy was still mashin' you. And I'll bet anything he's as stuck on you as he ever was—the old fool!

  EMMA(with a coquettish titter) Land sakes, Benny, a body'd think you were actually jealous of your uncle the way you go on.

  BENNY(with a mocking laugh) Jealous! Oh, oui! Sure I am! Kin you blame me? (then seriously, with a calculating look at her) No, all kiddin' aside, I know he'll run me down first second he sees you. Ma'll tell him all her tales, and he'll be sore at me right off. He's always hated me anyway. He was glad when I enlisted, 'cause that got him rid of me. All he was hopin' was that some German'd get me for keeps. Then when I come back he wouldn't do nothin' for me so I enlisted again.

  EMMA(chiding—playfully) Now, Benny! Didn't you tell me you enlisted again 'cause you were sick o' this small place and wanted to be out where there was more fun?

  BENNYWell, o' course it was that, too. But I could have a swell time even in this dump if he'd loosen up and give me some kale. (again with the calculating look at her) Why, look here, right now there's a buddy of mine wants me to meet him in Boston and he'll show me a good time, and if I had a hundred dollars—

  EMMAA hundred dollars! That's an awful pile to spend, Benny.

  BENNY(disgustedly) Now you're talkin' tight like him.

  EMMA(hastily) Oh, no, Benny. You know better'n that. What was you sayin'—if you had a hundred dollars—?

  BENNYThat ain't such a much these days with everything gone up so. If I went to Boston I'd have to get dolled up and everything. And this buddy of mine is a sport and a spender. Easy come, easy go is his motto. His folks ain't tight-wads like mine. And I couldn't show myself up as a cheap skate by travelin' 'round with him without a nickel in my jeans and just spongin' on him. (with the calculating glance to see what effect his words are having—pretending to dismiss the subject) But what's the good of talkin'? I got a swell chance tellin' that to Uncle Caleb. He'd give me one look and then put a double padlock on his roll. But it ain't fair just the same. Here I'm sweatin' blood in the army after riskin' my life in France and when I get a leave to home, everyone treats me like a wet dog.

  EMMA(softly) Do you mean me, too, Benny?

  BENNYNo, not you. You're diff'rent from the rest. You're regular—and you ain't any of my real folks, either, and ain't got any reason.

  EMMA(coquettishly) Oh, yes, I have a reason. I like you very, very much, Benny—better than anyone in the town—especially since you've been to home these last few times and come to call so often and I feel I've growed to know you. When you first came back from France I never would have recognized you as Harriet's Benny, you was so big and strong and handsome.

  BENNY(uncomfortably) Aw, you're kiddin'. But you can tell how good I think you are from me bein' over here so much—so you know I ain't lyin'. (made more and more uncomfortable by the ardent looks Emma is casting at him) Well, guess I'll be movin' along.

  EMMA(pleadingly) Oh, you mustn't go yet! Just when we're gettin' so friendly!

  BENNYUncle Caleb'll be over soon and I don't want him to catch me here—nor nowhere else till he gets calmed down after hearin' Ma's kicks about me. So I guess I better beat it up street.

  EMMAHe won't come for a long time yet. I know when to expect him. (pleading ardently and kittenishly) Do set down a spell, Benny! Land sakes, I hardly get a sight of you before you want to run away again. I'll begin to think you're only pretending to like me.

  BENNY(seeing his calculations demand it) Aw right—jest for a second. (He looks about him, seeking a neutral subject for conversation.) Gee, you've had this old place fixed up swell since I was to home last.

  EMMA(coquettishly) Guess who I had it all done for, mostly?

  BENNYFor yourself, of course.

  EMMA(shaking her head roguishly) No, not for me, not for me! Not that I don't like it but I'd never have gone to the trouble and expense for myself. (with a sigh) I s'pose poor Ma and Pa turned over in their graves when I ordered it done.

  BENNY(with a sly grin) Who d'you have it done for, then?

  EMMAFor you! Yes, for you, Benny—so's you'd have a nice, up-to-date place to come to when you was on vacation from the horrid old army.

  BENNY(embarrassed) Well, it's great aw right. And it sure looks swell—nothing cheap about it.

  EMMA(delighted) As long as you like it, I'm satisfied. (then suddenly, wagging an admonishing finger at him and hiding beneath a joking manner an undercurrent of uneasiness) I was forgetting I got a bone to pick with you, young man! I heard them sayin' to the store that you'd been up callin' on that Tilly Small evenin' before last.

  BENNY(with a lady-killer's carelessness) Aw, I was passin' by and she called me in, that's all.

  EMMA(frowning) They said you had the piano goin' and was singing and no end of high jinks.

  BENNYAw, these small town boobs think you're raising hell if you're up after eleven.

  EMMA(excitedly) I ain't blamin' you. But her—she ought to have better sense—at her age, too, when she's old enough to be your mother.

  BENNYAw, say, she ain't half as old—(catching himself) Oh, she's an old fool, you're right there, Emmer.

  EMMA(severely) And I hope you know the kind of woman she is and has been since she was a girl.

  BENNY(with a wink) I wasn't born yesterday. I got her number long ago. I ain't in my cradle, get me! I'm in the army! Oui! (chuckles)

  EMMA(fidgeting nervously) What'd you—what'd you do when you was there?

  BENNYWhy, nothin'. I told her to cut the rough work and behave—and a nice time was had by all. (He grins provokingly.)

  EMMA(springs to her feet nervously) I don't know what to think—when you act so queer about it.

  BENNY(carelessly) Well, don't think nothing wrong—'cause there wasn't. Bill Tinker was with me and we was both wishin' we had a drink. And Bill says, "Let's go see Tilly Small. She always has some buried and if we hand her a line of talk maybe she'll drag out the old bottle." So we did—and she did. We kidded her for a couple of drinks. (He snickers.)

  EMMA(standing in front of him—fidgeting) I want you to promise you won't go to see her no more. If you—if you want liquor now and again maybe I—maybe I can fix it so's I can get some to keep here for you.

  BENNY(eagerly) Say, that'd be great! Will you? (She nods. He goes on carelessly.) And sure I'll promise not to see Tilly no more. Gosh, what do you think I care about her? Or about any dame in this town, for that matter—'ceptin' you. These small town skirts don't hand me nothin'. (with a grin) You forgot I was in France—and after the dames over there these birds here look some punk.

  EMMA(sits down—wetting her lips) And what—what are those French critters like?

  BENNY(with a wink) Oh, boy! They're some pippins! It ain't so much that they're better lookin' as that they've got a way with 'em—lots of ways. (He laughs with a lascivious smirk.)

  EMMA(unconsciously hitches her chair nearer his. The turn the conversation has taken seems to have aroused a hectic, morbid intensity in her. She continually wets her lips and pushes back her hair from her flushed face as if it were stifling her.) What do you mean, Benny? What kind of ways have they got—them French girls?

  BENNY(smirking mysteriously) Oh, ways of dressin' and doin' their hair—and lots of ways.

  EMMA(eagerly) Tell me! Tell me all about 'em. You needn't be scared—to talk open with me. I ain't as strict as I seem—about hearin' things. Tell me! I've heard French girls was awful wicked.

  BENNYI don't know about wicked, but they're darned good sports. They'd do anything a guy'd ask 'em. Oui, tooty sweet! (laughs foolishly)

  EMMAAnd what—what'd you ask 'em, for instance?

  BENNY(with a wink) Curiosity killed a cat! Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies.

  EMMA(with queer, stupid insistence) But won't you tell me? Go on!

  BENNYCan't be did, Aunt Emmer, can't be did! (with a silly laugh) You're too young. No, all I'll say is, that to the boys who've knocked around over there the girls in town here are just rank amatoors. They don't know how to love and that's a fact. (He gets to his feet.) And as for an old bum like Tilly—not me! Well, I guess I'll hike along—

  EMMA(getting up and putting a hand on his arm—feverishly) No, don't go. Not yet—not yet. No, don't go.

  BENNY(stepping away with an expression of repulsion) Why not? What's the matter with you, Aunt Emmer? You look 's if you was gettin' sick. (Before she can reply, Harriet's voice is heard calling.)

  HARRIETBenny! Benny! (This acts like a pail of cold water on Emma who moves away from Benny quickly.)

  EMMAThat's Harriet. It's your Ma calling, Benny.

  BENNY(impatiently) I know. That means Uncle Caleb has come and she's told him her stories and it's up to me to go catch hell. (stopping Emma as she goes toward the door as if to answer Harriet's hail) Don't answer, Aunt Emmer. Let her come over here to look. I want to speak to her and find out how I stand before he sees me.

  EMMA(doubtfully) I don't know as she'll come. She's been actin' funny to me lately, Harriet has, and she ain't put her foot in my door the last month.

  BENNY(as his mother's voice is heard much nearer, calling "Benny!") There! Sure she's comin'.

  EMMA(flustered) Land sakes, I can't let her see me this way. I got to run upstairs and tidy myself a little. (She starts for the door at right.)

  BENNY(flatteringly) Aw, you look swell. Them new duds you got looks great.

  EMMA(turning in the doorway—coquettishly) Oh, them French girls ain't the only ones knows how to fix up. (She flounces out. Benny stands looking after her with a derisive grin of contempt. There is a sharp knock on the door in the rear. Benny goes to open it, his expression turning surly and sullen. Harriet enters. She wears an apron over her old-fashioned black dress with a brooch at the neck. Her hair is gray, her face thin, lined, and careworn, with a fretful, continuously irritated expression. Her shoulders stoop, and her figure is flabby and ugly. She stares at her son with resentful annoyance.)

  HARRIETAin't you got sense enough, you big lump, to answer me when I call, and not have me shouting my lungs out?

  BENNYI never heard you callin'.

  HARRIETYou're lyin' and you know it. (then severely) Your uncle's to home. He's waitin' to talk to you.

  BENNYLet him wait. (in a snarling tone) I s'pose you've been givin' him an earful of lies about me?

  HARRIETI told him the truth, if that's what you mean. How you stole the money out of the bureau drawer—

  BENNY(alarmed but pretending scorn) Aw, you don't know it was me. You don't know nothin' about it.

  HARRIET(ignoring this) And about your disgracin' him and me with your drunken carryin's-on with that harlot, Tilly Small, night after night.

  BENNYAw, wha'd you know about that?

  HARRIETAnd last but not least, the sneakin' way you're makin' a silly fool out of poor Emmer Crosby.

  BENNY(with a grin) You don't notice her kickin' about it, do you? (brusquely) Why don't you mind your own business, Ma?

  HARRIET(violently) It's a shame, that's what it is! That I should live to see the day when a son of mine'd descend so low he'd tease an old woman to get money out of her, and her alone in the world. Oh, you're low, you're low all through like your Pa was—and since you been in the army you got bold so you ain't even ashamed of your dirtiness no more!

  BENNY(in a snarling whisper) That's right! Blame it all on me. I s'pose she ain't got nothin' to do with it. (with a wink) You oughter see her perform sometimes. You'd get wise to something then.

  HARRIETShut up! You've got the same filthy mind your Pa had. As for Emmer, I don't hold her responsible. She's been gettin' flighty the past two years. She couldn't help it, livin' alone the way she does, shut up in this house all her life. You ought to be 'shamed to take advantage of her condition—but shame ain't in you.

  BENNYAw, give us a rest!

  HARRIET(angrily) Your Uncle Caleb'll give you a rest when he sees you! Him and me's agreed not to give you another single penny if you was to get down on your knees for it. So there! You can git along on your army pay from this out.

  BENNY(worried by the finality in her tone—placatingly) Aw, say, Ma, what's eatin' you? What've I done that's so bad? Gosh, you oughta know some of the gang I know in the army. You'd think I was a saint if you did. (trying a confidential tone) Honest, Ma, this here thing with Aunt Emmer ain't my fault. How can I help it if she goes bugs in her old age and gets nutty about me? (with a sly grin—in a whisper) Gee, Ma, you oughta see her today. She's a scream, honest! She's upstairs now gettin' calmed down. She was gettin' crazy when your callin' stopped her. Wait till she comes down and you git a look! She'll put your eye out—all dolled up like a kid of sixteen and enough paint on her mush for a Buffalo Bill Indian—

  HARRIET(staring at him with stern condemnation) You're a worthless loafer, Benny Rogers, same as your Pa was.

  BENNY(frustrated and furious) Aw, g'wan with that bunk! (He turns away from her.)

  HARRIETAnd I'm goin' to tell Emma about you and try to put some sense back into her head.

  BENNYGo ahead. You'll get fat runnin' me down to her!

  HARRIETAnd if my word don't have no influence, I'll tell your Uncle Caleb everything, and get him to talk to her. She'll mind him.

  BENNY(defiantly) You just try it, that's all!

  HARRIETI've been scared to do more'n hint about it to him. I'm hopin' any day Emma'll come out of this foolishness, and he'll never know.

  BENNYAw!

  HARRIETIf shame was in you, you'd remember your Uncle Caleb's been in love with Emma all his life and waited for her year after year hopin' in the end she'd change her mind and marry him. And she will, too, I believe, if she comes out of this fit in her sane mind—which she won't if you keep fussin' with her.

  BENNY(with revengeful triumph) She'll never marry the old cuss—I'll fix that!

  HARRIETNow you're showin' yourself up for what you are! And I kin see it's come to the p'int where I got to tell your Uncle Caleb everythin' no matter how it breaks him up. I got to do it for Emmer's sake as well as his'n. We got to get her cured of your bad influence once and for all. It's the only hope for the two of 'em.

  BENNYYou just try it!

  HARRIETAnd as for you, you get back to the army where you b'long! And don't never expect another cent from me or Caleb 'cause you won't get it! And don't never come to see us again till you've got rid of the meanness and filth that's the Rogers part of you and found the honesty and decency that's the Williams part—if you got any of me in you at all, which I begin to doubt. (goes to the door in rear) And now I'm goin' back to Caleb—and you better not let him find you here when he comes less'n you want a good hidin' for once in your life. (She goes out.)

  BENNY(stammering between fear and rage—shouting after her) G'wan! Tell him! What the hell do I care? I'll fix him! I'll spill the beans for both of you, if you try to gum me! (He stands in the middle of the room hesitating whether to run away or stay concentrating his thoughts on finding some way to make good his bluff. Suddenly his face lights up with a cruel grin and he mutters to himself with savage satisfaction) By God, that's it! I'll bet I kin work it, too! By God, that'll fix 'em! (He chuckles and goes quickly to the door on right and calls up to the floor above) Emmer! Emmer!

  EMMA(her voice faintly heard answering) Yes, Benny, I'm coming.

  BENNY(He calls quickly) Come down! Come down quick! (He comes back to the center of the room where he stands waiting, planning his course of action.)

  EMMA(appears in the doorway. Her face is profusely powdered—with nervous excitement) Benny! What's the matter? You sounded so—why where's your Ma?

  BENNYGone. Gone back to home.

  EMMA(offendedly) Without waiting to see me? Why, I only sat down for a minute to give you a chance to talk to her. I was coming right down. Didn't she want to see me? Whatever's got into Harriet lately?

  BENNYShe's mad as thunder at you 'cause I come over here so much 'stead of stayin' to home with her.

  EMMA(pleased) Oh, is that why? Well, if she ain't peculiar! (She sits in a rocker by the table.)

  BENNY(with a great pretense of grief, taking one of her hands in his) Say, Emmer—what I called you down for was—I want to say good-by and thank you for all you've done—

  EMMA(frightenedly) Good-by? How you say that! What—?

  BENNYGood-by for good this time.

  EMMAFor good?

  BENNYYep. I've got to beat it. I ain't got no home here no more. Ma and Uncle Caleb, they've chucked me out.

  EMMAGood gracious, what're you saying?

  BENNYThat's what Ma come over to tell me—that Uncle Caleb'd said I'd never get another cent from him, alive or after he's dead, and she said for me to git back to the army and never to come home again.

  EMMA(gasping) She was only joking. She—they couldn't mean it.

  BENNYIf you'd heard her you wouldn't think she was joking.

  EMMA(as he makes a movement as if to go away) Benny! You can't go! Go, and me never see you again, maybe! You can't! I won't have it!

  BENNYI got to, Emmer. What else is there for me to do when they've throwed me out? I don't give a damn about leaving them—but I hate to leave you and never see you again.

  EMMA(excitedly—grabbing his arm) You can't! I won't let you go!

  BENNYI don't want to—but what can I do?

  EMMAYou can stay here with me.

  BENNY(his eyes gleaming with satisfaction) No, I couldn't. You know this dump of a town. Folks would be sayin' all sorts of bad things in no time. I don't care for myself. They're all down on me anyway because I'm diff'rent from small-town boobs like them and they hate me for it.

  EMMAYes, you are diff'rent. And I'll show 'em I'm diff'rent, too. You can stay with me—and let 'em gossip all they've a mind to!

  BENNYNo, it wouldn't be actin' square with you. I got to go. And I'll try to save up my pay and send you back what I've borrowed now and again.

  EMMA(more and more wrought up) I won't hear of no such thing. Oh, I can't understand your Ma and your Uncle Caleb bein' so cruel!

  BENNYFolks have been lyin' to her about me, like I told you, and she's told him. He's only too glad to believe it, too, long as it's bad.

  EMMAI can talk to your Uncle Caleb. He's always minded me more'n her.

  BENNY(hastily) Don't do that, for God's sake! You'd only make it worse and get yourself in Dutch with him, too!

  EMMA(bewilderedly) But—I—don't see—

  BENNY(roughly) Well, he's still stuck on you, ain't he?

  EMMA(with a flash of coquetry) Now, Benny!

  BENNYI ain't kiddin'. This is dead serious. He's stuck on you and you know it.

  EMMA(coyly) I haven't given him the slightest reason to hope in thirty years.

  BENNYWell, he hopes just the same. Sure he does! Why Ma said when she was here just now she'd bet you and him'd be married some day yet.

  EMMANo such thing! Why, she must be crazy!

  BENNYOh, she ain't so crazy. Ain't he spent every durn evenin' of the time he's to home between trips over here with you—for the last thirty years?

  EMMAWhen I broke my engagement I said I wanted to stay friends like we'd been before, and we always have; but every time he'd even hint at bein' engaged again I'd always tell him we was friends only and he'd better leave it be that way. There's never been nothing else between us. (with a coy smile) And besides, Benny, you know how little time he's had to home between viges.

  BENNYI kin remember the old cuss marchin' over here every evenin' he was to home since I was a kid.

  EMMA(with a titter of delight) D'you know, Benny, I do actually believe you're jealous!

  BENNY(loudly—to lend conviction) Sure I'm jealous! But that ain't the point just now. The point is he's jealous of me—and you can see what a swell chance you've got of talkin' him over now, can't you! You'd on'y make him madder.

  EMMA(embarrassedly) He's getting foolish. What cause has he got—

  BENNYWhen Ma tells him the lies about us—

  EMMA(excitedly) What lies?

  BENNYI ain't goin' to repeat 'em to you but you kin guess, can't you, me being so much over here?

  EMMA(springing to her feet—shocked but pleased) Oh!

  BENNY(turning away from her) And now I'm going to blow. I'll stay at Bill Grainger's tonight and get the morning train.

  EMMA(grabbing his arm) No such thing! You'll stay right here!

  BENNYI can't—Emmer. If you was really my aunt, things'd be diff'rent and I'd tell 'em all to go to hell.

  EMMA(smiling at him coquettishly) But I'm glad I ain't your aunt.

  BENNYWell, I mean if you was related to me in some way. (At some noise he hears from without, he starts frightenedly.) Gosh, that sounded like our front door slamming. It's him and he's coming over. I got to beat it out the back way. (He starts for the door on the right.)

  EMMA(clinging to him) Benny! Don't go! You mustn't go!

  BENNY(inspired by alarm and desire for revenge suddenly blurts out) Say, let's me 'n' you git married, Emmer—tomorrow, eh? Then I kin stay! That'll stop 'em, damn 'em, and make 'em leave me alone.

  EMMA(dazed with joy) Married? You 'n' me? Oh, Benny, I'm too old. (She hides her head on his shoulder.)

  BENNY(hurriedly, with one anxious eye on the door) No, you ain't! Honest, you ain't! You're the best guy in this town! (shaking her in his anxiety) Say yes, Emmer! Say you will—first thing tomorrow.

  EMMA(choking with emotion) Yes—I will—if I'm not too old for you.

  BENNY(jubilantly) Tell him. Then he'll see where he gets off! Listen! I'm goin' to beat it to the kitchen and wait. You come tell me when he's gone. (A knock comes at the door. He whispers) That's him. I'm goin'.

  EMMA(embracing him fiercely) Oh, Benny! (She kisses him on the lips. He ducks away from her and disappears off right. The knock is repeated. Emma dabs tremblingly at her cheeks with a handkerchief. Her face is beaming with happiness and looks indescribably silly. She trips lightly to the door and opens it—forcing a light, careless tone) Oh, it's you, Caleb. Come right in and set. I was kind of expecting you. Benny—I'd heard you was due to home tonight. (He comes in and shakes the hand she holds out to him in a limp, vague, absent-minded manner. In appearance, he has changed but little in the thirty years save that his hair is now nearly white and his face more deeply lined and wrinkled. His body is still erect, strong and vigorous. He wears dark clothes, much the same as he was dressed in Act One.)

  CALEB(mechanically) Hello, Emmer. (Once inside the door, he stands staring about the room, frowning. The garish strangeness of everything evidently repels and puzzles him. His face wears its set expression of an emotionless mask but his eyes cannot conceal an inward struggle, a baffled and painful attempt to comprehend, a wounded look of bewildered hurt.)

  EMMA(blithely indifferent to this—pleasantly) Are you looking at the changes I've made? You ain't seen this room since, have you? Of course not. What am I thinking of? They only got through with the work two weeks ago. Well, what d' you think of it?

  CALEB(frowning—hesitatingly) Why—it's—all right, I reckon.

  EMMAIt was so gloomy and old-timey before, I just couldn't bear it. Now it's light and airy and young-looking, don't you think? (with a sigh) I suppose Pa and Ma turned over in their graves.

  CALEB(grimly) I reckon they did, too.

  EMMAWhy, you don't mean to tell me you don't like it neither, Caleb? (then as he doesn't reply—resentfully) Well, you always was a sot, old-fashioned critter, Caleb Williams, same as they was. (She plumps herself into a rocker by the table—then, noticing the lost way in which he is looking about him) Gracious sakes, why don't you set, Caleb? You give me the fidgets standing that way! You ain't a stranger that's got to be invited, are you? (Then suddenly realizing the cause of his discomfiture, she smiles pityingly, not without a trace of malice.) Are you looking for your old chair you used to set in? Is that it? Well, I had it put up in the attic. It didn't fit in with them new things.

  CALEB(dully) No, I s'pose it wouldn't.

  EMMA(indicating a chair next to hers) Do set down and make yourself to home. (He does so gingerly. After a pause she asks perfunctorily) Did you have good luck this voyage?

  CALEB(again dully) Oh, purty fair. (He begins to look at her as if he were seeing her for the first time, noting every detail with a numb, stunned astonishment.)

  EMMAYou're looking as well as ever.

  CALEB(dully) Oh, I ain't got nothin' to complain of.

  EMMAYou're the same as me, I reckon. (happily) Why I seem to get feelin' younger and more chipper every day, I declare I do. (She becomes uncomfortably aware of his examination—nervously) Land sakes, what you starin' at so?

  CALEB(brusquely blurting out his disapproval) You've changed, Emmer—changed so I wouldn't know you, hardly.

  EMMA(resentfully) Well, I hope you think it's for the best.

  CALEB(evasively) I ain't enough used to it yet—to tell.

  EMMA(offended) I ain't old-timey and old-maidy like I was, I guess that's what you mean. Well, I just got tired of mopin' alone in this house, waiting for death to take me and not enjoyin' anything. I was gettin' old before my time. And all at once, I saw what was happenin' and I made up my mind I was going to get some fun out of what Pa'd left me while I was still in the prime of life, as you might say.

  CALEB(severely) Be that paint and powder you got on your face, Emmer?

  EMMA(embarrassed by this direct question) Why, yes—I got a little mite—it's awful good for your complexion, they say—and in the cities now all the women wears it.

  CALEB(sternly) The kind of women I've seed in cities wearin' it—(He checks himself and asks abruptly) Wa'n't your hair turnin' gray last time I was to home?

  EMMA(flustered) Yes—yes—so it was—but then it started to come in again black as black all of a sudden.

  CALEB(glancing at her shoes, stockings, and dress) You're got up in them things like a young girl goin' to a dance.

  EMMA(forcing a defiant laugh) Maybe I will go soon's I learn—and Benny's goin' to teach me.

  CALEB(keeping his rage in control—heavily) Benny—

  EMMA(suddenly bursting into hysterical tears) And I think it's real mean of you, Caleb—nasty mean to come here on your first night to home—and—make—fun—of—my—clothes—and everything. (She hides her face in her hands and sobs.)

  CALEB(overcome by remorse—forgetting his rage instantly—gets up and pats her on the shoulder—with rough tenderness) Thar, thar, Emmer! Don't cry, now! I didn' mean nothin'. Don't pay no 'tention to what I said. I'm a durned old fool! What the hell do I know o' women's fixin's anyhow? And I reckon I be old-fashioned and sot in my ideas.

  EMMA(reassured—pressing one of his hands gratefully) It hurts—hearing you say—me 'n' you such old friends and—

  CALEBForgit it, Emmer. I won't say no more about it. (She dries her eyes and regains her composure. He goes back to his seat, his face greatly softened, looking at her with the blind eyes of love. There is a pause. Finally, he ventures in a gentle tone) D'you know what time this be, Emmer?

  EMMA(puzzled) I don't know exactly, but there's a clock in the next room.

  CALEB(quickly) Hell, I don't mean that kind o' time. I mean—it was thirty years ago this spring.

  EMMA(hastily) Land sakes, don't let's talk of that. It only gets me thinking how old I am.

  CALEB(with an affectionate smile) We both got to realize now and then that we're gettin' old.

  EMMA(bridling) That's all right for you to say. You're twelve years older 'n me, don't forget, Caleb.

  CALEB(smiling) Waal, even that don't make you out no spring chicken, Emmer.

  EMMA(stiffly) A body's as old as they feels—and I feel right young.

  CALEBWaal, so do I as far as health goes. I'm as able and sound as ever. (after a pause) But, what I meant was, d'you remember what happened thirty years back?

  EMMAI suppose I do.

  CALEBD'you remember what I said that day?

  EMMA(primly) You said a lot that it's better to forget, if you ask me.

  CALEBI don't mean—that part of it. I mean when I was sayin' good-by, I said—(He gasps—then blurts it out.) I said I'd wait thirty years—if need be. (after a pause) I know you told me time and again not to go back to that. On'y—I was thinkin' all this last vige—that maybe—now when the thirty years are past—I was thinkin' that maybe—(He looks at her humbly, imploring some encouragement. She stares straight before her, her mouth set thinly. He sighs forlornly and blunders on.) Thirty years—that's a hell of a long time to wait, Emmer—makin' vige after vige always alone—and feelin' even more alone in between times when I was to home livin' right next door to you and callin' on you every evenin'. (a pause) I've made money enough, I know—but what the hell good's that to me—long as you're out of it? (a pause) Seems to me, Emmer, thirty o' the best years of a man's life ought to be proof enough to you to make you forget—that one slip o' mine.

  EMMA(rousing herself—forcing a careless tone) Land sakes, I forgot all about that long ago. And here you go remindin' me of it!

  CALEB(doggedly) You ain't answered what I was drivin' at, Emmer. (A pause; then, as if suddenly afraid of what her answer will be, he breaks out quickly) And I don't want you to answer right now, neither. I want you to take time to think it all over.

  EMMA(feebly evasive) All right, Caleb, I'll think it over.

  CALEB(after a pause) Somehow—seems to me 's if—you might really need me now. You never did before.

  EMMA(suspiciously) Why should I need you now any more'n any other time?

  CALEB(embarrassedly) Oh, I just feel that way.

  EMMAIt ain't count o' nothin' Harriet's been tellin' you, is it? (stiffly) Her 'n' me ain't such good friends no more, if you must know.

  CALEB(frowning) Her 'n' me nearly had a fight right before I came over here. (Emma starts.) Harriet lets her tongue run away with her and says dumb fool things she don't really mean. I didn't pay much 'tention to what she was sayin'—but it riled me jest the same. She won't repeat such foolishness after the piece o' my mind I gave her.

  EMMAWhat did she say?

  CALEBOh, nothin' worth tellin'. (a pause) But neither you nor me ought to get mad at Harriet serious. We'd ought, by all rights, to make allowances for her. You know 's well as me what a hard time she's had. Bein' married to Alf Rogers for five years'd pizin' any woman's life.

  EMMANo, he wasn't much good, there's no denyin'.

  CALEBAnd now there's Benny drivin' her crazy.

  EMMA(instantly defensive) Benny's all right!

  CALEB(staring at her sharply—after a pause) No, that's jest it. He ain't all right, Emmer.

  EMMAHe is, too! He's as good as gold!

  CALEB(frowning—with a trace of resentment) You kin say so, Emmer, but the facts won't bear you out.

  EMMA(excitedly) What facts, Caleb Williams? If you mean the nasty lies the folks in this town are mean enough to gossip about him, I don't believe any of 'em. I ain't such a fool.

  CALEB(bitterly) Then you've changed, Emmer. You didn't stop about believin' the fool stories they gossiped about me that time.

  EMMAYou owned up yourself that was true!

  CALEBAnd Benny'd own up if he was half the man I was! (angrily) But he ain't a man noways. He's a mean skunk from truck to keelson!

  EMMA(springing to her feet) Oh!

  CALEB(vehemently) I ain't judged him by what folks have told me. But I've watched him grow up from a boy and every time I've come to home I've seed he was gittin' more 'n' more like his Pa—and you know what a low dog Alf Rogers turned out to be, and what a hell he made for Harriet. Waal, I'm sayin' this boy Benny is just Alf all over again—on'y worse!

  EMMAOh!

  CALEBThey ain't no Williams' blood left in Benny. He's a mongrel Rogers! (trying to calm himself a little and be convincing) Listen, Emmer. You don't suppose I'd be sayin' it, do you, if it wasn't so? Ain't he Harriet's boy? Ain't I brought him up in my own house since he was knee-high? Don't you know I got some feelin's 'bout it and I wouldn't hold nothing agen him less'n I knowed it was true?

  EMMA(harshly) Yes, you would! You're only too anxious to believe all the bad you can about him. You've always hated him, he says—and I can see it's so.

  CALEB(roughly) You know damned well it ain't, you mean! Ain't I talked him over with you and asked your advice about him whenever I come to home? Ain't I always aimed to do all I could to help him git on right? You know damned well I never hated him! It's him that's always hated me! (vengefully) But I'm beginning to hate him now—and I've good cause for it!

  EMMA(frightenedly) What cause?

  CALEB(ignoring her question) I seed what he was comin' to years back. Then I thought when the war come, and he was drafted into it, that the army and strict discipline'd maybe make a man o' him. But it ain't! It's made him worse! It's killed whatever mite of decency was left in him. And I reckon now that if you put a coward in one of them there uniforms, he thinks it gives him the privilege to be a bully! Put a sneak in one and it gives him the courage to be a thief! That's why when the war was over Benny enlisted again 'stead o' goin' whalin' with me. He thinks he's found a good shield to cover up his natural-born laziness—and crookedness!

  EMMA(outraged) You can talk that way about him that went way over to France to shed his blood for you and me!

  CALEBI don't need no one to do my fightin' for me—against German or devil. And you know durned well he was only in the Quartermaster's Department unloadin' and truckin' groceries, as safe from a gun as you and me be this minute. (with heavy scorn) If he shed any blood, he must have got a nose bleed.

  EMMAOh, you do hate him, I can see it! And you're just as mean as mean, Caleb Williams! All you've said is a wicked lie and you've got no cause—

  CALEBI ain't, eh? I got damned good cause, I tell ye! I ain't minded his meanness to me. I ain't even give as much heed to his meanness to Harriet as I'd ought to have, maybe. But when he starts in his sneakin' thievery with you, Emmer, I put my foot down on him for good and all!

  EMMAWhat sneakin' thievery with me? How dare you say such things?

  CALEBI got proof it's true. Why, he's even bragged all over town about bein' able to borrow all the money from you he'd a mind to—boastin' of what an old fool he was makin' of you, with you fixin' up your house all new to git him to comin' over.

  EMMA(scarlet—blazing) It's a lie! He never said it! You're makin' it all up—'cause you're—'cause you're—

  CALEB'Cause I'm what, Emmer?

  EMMA(flinging it at him like a savage taunt) 'Cause you're jealous of him, that's what! Any fool can see that!

  CALEB(getting to his feet and facing her—slowly) Jealous? Of Benny? How—I don't see your meanin' rightly.

  EMMA(with triumphant malice) Yes, you do! Don't pretend you don't! You're jealous 'cause you know I care a lot about him.

  CALEB(slowly) Why would I be jealous 'count o' that? What kind o' man d'you take me for? Don't I know you must care for him when you've been a'most as much a mother to him for years as Harriet was?

  EMMA(wounded to the quick—furiously) No such thing! You're a mean liar! I ain't never played a mother to him. He's never looked at me that way—never! And I don't care for him that way at all. Just because I'm a mite older 'n him—can't them things happen just as well as any other—what d'you suppose—can't I care for him same as any woman cares for a man? And I do! I care more'n I ever did for you! And that's why you're lying about him! You're jealous of that!

  CALEB(staring at her with stunned eyes—in a hoarse whisper) Emmer! Ye don't know what you're sayin', do ye?

  EMMAI do too!

  CALEBHarriet said you'd been actin' out o' your right senses.

  EMMAHarriet's mad because she knows Benny loves me better 'n her. And he does love me! He don't mind my bein' older. He's said so! And I love him, too!

  CALEB(stepping back from her in horror) Emmer!

  EMMAAnd he's asked me to marry him tomorrow. And I'm going to! Then you can all lie all you've a mind to!

  CALEBYou're—going to—marry Benny?

  EMMAFirst thing tomorrow. And since you've throwed him out of his house in your mad jealousness, I've told him he can stay here with me tonight. And he's going to!

  CALEB(his fists clenching—tensely) Where—where is the skunk now?

  EMMA(hastily) Oh, he ain't here. He's gone up street.

  CALEB(starting for the door in rear) I'm goin' to find the skunk.

  EMMA(seizing his arms—frightenedly) What're you going to do?

  CALEB(between his clenched teeth) I don't know, Emmer—I don't know—On'y he ain't goin' to marry you, by God!

  EMMACaleb! (She tries to throw her arms about him to stop his going. He pushes her firmly but gently aside. She shrieks) Caleb! (She flings herself on her knees and wraps her arms around his legs in supplicating terror.) Caleb! You ain't going to kill him, Caleb? You ain't going to hurt him, be you? Say you ain't! Tell me you won't hurt him! (as she thinks she sees a relenting softness come into his face as he looks down at her) Oh, Caleb, you used to say you loved me! Don't hurt him then, Caleb,—for my sake! I love him, Caleb! Don't hurt him—just because you think I'm an old woman ain't no reason—and I won't marry you, Caleb. I won't—not even if you have waited thirty years. I don't love you. I love him! And I'm going to marry him—tomorrow. So you won't hurt him, will you, Caleb—not when I ask you on my knees!

  CALEB(breaking away from her with a shudder of disgust) No, I won't touch him. If I was wantin' to git even with ye, I wouldn't dirty my hands on him. I'd let you marry the skunk and set and watch what happened—or else I'd offer him money not to marry ye—more money than the little mite you kin bring him—and let ye see how quick he'd turn his back on ye!

  EMMA(getting to her feet—frenziedly) It's a lie! He never would!

  CALEB(unheeding—with a sudden ominous calm) But I ain't goin' to do neither. You ain't worth it—and he ain't—and no one ain't, nor nothin'. Folks be all crazy and rotten to the core and I'm done with the whole kit and caboodle of 'em. I kin only see one course out for me and I'm goin' to take it. "A dead whale or a stove boat!" we says in whalin'—and my boat is stove! (He strides away from her, stops, and turns back—savagely) Thirty o' the best years of my life flung for a yeller dog like him to feed on. God! You used to say you was diff'rent from the rest o' folks. By God, if you are, it's just you're a mite madder'n they be! By God, that's all! (He goes, letting the door slam to behind him.)

  EMMA(in a pitiful whimper) Caleb! (She sinks into a chair by the table sobbing hysterically. Benny sneaks through the door on right, hesitates for a while, afraid that his uncle may be coming back.)

  BENNY(finally, in a shrill whisper) Aunt Emmer!

  EMMA(raising her face to look at him for a second) Oh, Benny! (She falls to weeping again.)

  BENNYSay, you don't think he's liable to come back, do you?

  EMMANo—he'll—never come back here—no more. (sobs bitterly)

  BENNY(his courage returning, comes forward into the room) Say, he's way up in the air, ain't he? (with a grin) Say, that was some bawlin' out he give you!

  EMMAYou—you heard what he said?

  BENNYSure thing. When you got to shoutin' I sneaked out o' the kitchen into there to hear what was goin' on. (with a complacent grin) Say, you certainly stood up for me all right. You're a good old scout at that, d'you know it?

  EMMA(raising her absurd, besmeared face to his, as if expecting him to kiss her) Oh, Benny, I'm giving up everything I've held dear all my life for your sake.

  BENNY(turning away from her with a look of aversion) Well, what about it? Ain't I worth it? Ain't I worth a million played-out old cranks like him? (She stares at him bewilderedly. He takes a handful of almonds from his pocket and begins cracking and eating them, throwing the shells on the floor with an impudent carelessness.) Hope you don't mind my havin' a feed? I found them out in the kitchen and helped myself.

  EMMA(pitifully) You're welcome to anything that's here, Benny.

  BENNY(insolently) Sure, I know you're a good scout. Don't rub it in. (after a pause—boastfully) Where did you get that stuff about askin' him not to hurt me? He'd have a swell chance! There's a lot of hard guys in the army have tried to get funny with me till I put one over on 'em. I'd like to see him start something! I could lick him with my hands handcuffed.

  EMMA(revolted) Oh!

  BENNY(resentfully) Think I'm bluffin'? I'll show you sometime. (He swaggers about the room—finally stopping beside her. With a cunning leer) Say, I been thinkin' it over and I guess I'll call his bluff.

  EMMA(confusedly) What—do you mean?

  BENNYI mean what he said just before he beat it—that he could get me not to marry you if he offered me more coin than you got. (very interestedly) Say, d'you s'pose the old miser really was serious about that?

  EMMA(dazedly—as if she could not realize the significance of his words) I—I—don't know, Benny.

  BENNY(swaggering about again) If I was only sure he wasn't stallin'! If I could get the old cuss to shell out that way! (with a tickled chuckle) Gosh, that'd be the real stunt aw right, aw right. Oui, oui! Maybe he wasn't kiddin' at that, the old simp! It's worth takin' a stab at, damned if it ain't. I ain't got nothin' to lose.

  EMMA(frightenedly) What—what're you talkin' about, Benny?

  BENNYSay, I think I'll go over and talk to Ma after a while. You can go over first to make sure he ain't there. I'll get her to put it up to him straight. If he's willin' to dig in his jeans for some real coin—real dough, this time!—I'll agree to beat it and not spill the beans for him with you. (threateningly) And if he's too tight, I'll go right through with what I said I would, if only to spite him! That's me!

  EMMAYou mean—if he's willing to bribe you with money, you won't marry me tomorrow?

  BENNYSure! If he'll put up enough money. I won't stand for no pikin'.

  EMMA(whimpering) Oh, Benny, you're only jokin', ain't you? You can't—you can't mean it!

  BENNY(with careless effrontery) Why can't I? Sure I mean it!

  EMMA(hiding her face in her hands—with a tortured moan) Oh, Benny!

  BENNY(disgustedly) Aw, don't go bawlin'! (after a pause—a bit embarrassedly) Aw, say, what d'you think, anyway? What're you takin' it so damned serious for—me askin' you to marry me, I mean? I was on'y sort of kiddin' anyway—just so you'd tell him and get his goat right. (as she looks up at him with agonized despair—with a trace of something like pity showing in his tone) Say, honest, Aunt Emmer, you didn't believe—you didn't think I was really stuck on you, did you? Ah, say, how could I? Have a heart! Why, you're as old as Ma is, ain't you, Aunt Emmer? (He adds ruthlessly) And I'll say you look it, too!

  EMMA(cowering—as if he had struck her) Oh! Oh!

  BENNY(a bit irritated) What's the use of blubberin', for God's sake? Can't you take it like a sport? Hell, I ain't lookin' to marry no one, if I can help it. What do I want a wife for? There's too many others. (after a pause—as she still sobs—calculatingly) Aw, come on, be a sport—and say, listen, if he ain't willin' to come across, I'll marry you all right, honest I will. (more and more calculatingly) Sure! If they mean that stuff about kickin' me out of home—sure I'll stay here with you! I'll do anything you want. If you want me to marry you, all you've got to do is say so—anytime! Only not tomorrow, we'd better wait and see—

  EMMA(hysterically) Oh, go away! Go away!

  BENNY(looking down at her disgustedly) Aw, come up for air, can't you? (He slaps her on the back.) Buck up! Be a pal! Tell me what your dope is. This thing's got me so balled up I don't know how I stand. (with sudden fury) Damn his hide! I'll bet he'll go and leave all he's got to some lousy orphan asylum now.

  EMMAOh, go away! Go away!

  BENNY(viciously) So you're givin' me the gate, too, eh? I'd like to see you try it! You asked me to stay and I'll stick. It's all your fool fault that's got me in wrong. And now you want to shake me! This is what I get for foolin' around with an old hen like you that oughta been planted in the cemetery long ago! Paintin' your old mush and dressin' like a kid! Christ A'mighty!

  EMMA(in a cry of despair) Don't! Stop! Go away.

  BENNY(suddenly alert—sharply) Sh! I hear someone coming. (shaking her) Stop—now, Emmer! Damn it, you gotta go to the door. Maybe it's him. (He scurries into the room on right. There is a faint knock at the door. Emma lifts her head. She looks horribly old and worn out. Her face is frozen into an expressionless mask, her eyes are red-rimmed, dull and lifeless. The knock is repeated more sharply. Emma rises like a weary automaton and goes to the door and opens it. Harriet is revealed standing outside.)

  HARRIET(making no movement to come in—coldly) I want to speak to Caleb.

  EMMA(dully) He ain't here. He left a while back—said he was goin' up street—I think.

  HARRIET(worriedly) Oh, land sakes! (then hostilely) Do you know where Benny is?

  EMMA(dully) Yes, he's here.

  HARRIET(contemptuously) I might have guessed that! (icily formal) Would you mind tellin' him I want to see him?

  EMMA(turns and calls) Benny! Here's your Ma!

  BENNY(comes from the next room) Aw right. (in a fierce whisper as he passes Emma) What d'you tell her I was here for, you old fool? (Emma gives no sign of having heard him but comes back to her chair and sits down. Benny slouches to the door—sullenly) What d'you want, Ma?

  HARRIET(coldly) I wanted your Uncle Caleb, not you, but you'll have to do, bein' the only man about.

  BENNY(suspiciously) What is it?

  HARRIET(a bit frightenedly) I just heard a lot of queer noises down to the barn. Someone's in there, Benny, sure as I'm alive. They're stealin' the chickens, must be.

  BENNY(carelessly) It's only the rats.

  HARRIET(angrily) Don't play the idiot! This was a big thumpin' noise no rat'd make.

  BENNYWhat'd any guy go stealin' this early—(as Harriet turns away angrily—placatingly) Aw right, I'm coming. I'll have a look if that'll satisfy you. Don't go gettin' sore at me again. (While he is speaking he goes out and disappears after his mother. Emma sits straight and stiff in her chair for a while, staring before her with waxy eyes. Then she gets to her feet and goes from window to window taking down all the curtains with quick mechanical movements. She throws them on a pile in the middle of the floor. She lifts down the framed pictures from the walls and piles them on the curtains. She takes the cushions and throws them on; pushes the rugs to the pile with her feet; sweeps everything off the table onto the floor. She does all this without a trace of change in her expression—rapidly, but with no apparent effort. There is the noise of running footsteps from outside and Benny bursts into the room panting for breath. He is terribly excited and badly frightened.)

  BENNY(stops short as he sees the pile on the floor) What the hell—

  EMMA(dully) The junk man's coming for them in the morning.

  BENNY(too excited to be surprised) To hell with that! Say, listen Aunt Emmer, he's hung himself—Uncle Caleb—in the barn—he's dead!

  EMMA(slowly letting the words fall—like a beginner on the typewriter touching two new letters) Caleb—dead!

  BENNY(voluble now) Dead as a door nail! Neck's busted. I just cut him down and carried him to home. Say, you've got to come over and help look after Ma. She's goin' bugs. I can't do nothin' with her.

  EMMA(as before) Caleb hanged himself—in the barn?

  BENNYYes—and made a sure job of it. (with morbid interest in the details) He got a halter and made a noose of the rope for his neck and climbed up in the loft and hitched the leather end to a beam and then let himself drop. He must have kicked in that quick! (He snaps his fingers—then urgently) Say, come on. Come on over 'n' help me with Ma, can't you? She's goin' wild. I can't do nothin'!

  EMMA(vaguely) I'll be over—in a minute. (then with a sudden air of having decided something irrevocably) I got to go down to the barn.

  BENNYBarn? Say, are you crazy? He ain't there now. I told you I carried him home.

  EMMAI mean—my barn. I got to go down—

  BENNY(exasperated) Oh hell! You're as bad as Ma! Everyone's lost their heads but me. Well, I got to get someone else, that's all. (He rushes out rear, slamming the door behind him.)

  EMMA(after a tense pause—with a sudden outburst of wild grief) Caleb! (then in a strange whisper) Wait, Caleb, I'm going down to the barn. (She moves like a sleepwalker toward the door in the rear as

The Curtain Falls)


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