Contents I II III
SCENESame as Act II.
As the curtain rises, JAYSON is discovered sitting in an armchair by the fireplace, in which a log fire is burning fitfully. He is staring into the flames, a strained, expectant expression on his face. It is about three oclock in the morning. There is no light but that furnished by the fire which fills the room with shifting shadows. The door in the rear is opened and RICHARD appears, his face harried by the stress of unusual emotion. Through the opened doorway, a low, muffled moan of anguish sounds from the upper part of the house. JAYSON and RICHARD both shudder. The latter closes the door behind him quickly as if anxious to shut out the noise.
JAYSON—(Looking up anxiously.) Well?
RICHARD—(Involuntarily straightening up as if about to salute and report to a superior officer.)
No change, sir. (Then, as if remembering himself, comes to the fireplace and slumps down in a chairagitatedly.)
God, Dad, I can’t stand her moaning and screaming! It’s got my nerves
shot to pieces. I thought I was hardened. I’ve heard them out in No
Man’s Land—dying by inches—when you couldn’t get to them or help—but
this is worse—a million times! After all, that was war—and they were
JAYSONMartha is having an exceptionally hard ordeal.
RICHARDSince three oclock this morningyesterday morning, I should say. Its a wonder she isnt dead.
JAYSON—(After a pause.) Where is Curt?
RICHARD—(Harshly.) Still out in the garden, walking around bareheaded in the cold like a lunatic.
JAYSONWhy didnt you make him come in?
him! It’s easy to say. He’s in a queer state, Dad, I can tell you!
There’s something torturing him besides her pain—
JAYSON—(After a pause.) Yes, theres a lot in all this we dont know about.
RICHARDI suppose the reason hes so down on the family is because weve rather cut her since that tea affair.
shouldn’t blame us. She acted abominably and has certainly caused enough
talk since then—always about with Bigelow—
RICHARD—(With a sardonic laugh.) And yet he keeps asking everyone to send for Bigelowsays he wants to talk to himnot us. We
can’t understand! (He laughs bitterly.)
afraid Curt knows we understand too much. (Agitatedly.) But why does he want Bigelow, in Gods name? In his present statewith the suspicions he must havetheres liable to be a frightful scene.
be afraid of a scene. (With pitying scorn.) The hell of it is he seems to regard Bigelow as his best friend. Damned if I can make it out.
gave orders that they were always to tell Curt Bigelow was out of town
and couldn’t be reached. (With a sigh.) What a frightful
situation for all of us! (After a pause.) It may sound cruel of
me—but—I can’t help wishing for all our sakes that this child will
Dad, I know what you’re thinking. It would be the best thing for it,
too—although I hate myself for saying it. (There is a pause. Then the door in rear is opened and LILY appears. She is pale and agitated. Leaving the door open behind her she comes forward and flings herself on the lounge.)
LILY—(Irritably, getting up and switching on the lights.)
Isn’t everything gloomy enough? (Sits down.) I couldn’t bear it
upstairs one second longer. Esther and Emily are coming down, too. It’s
too much for them—and they’ve had personal experience. (Trying to mask her agitation by a pretense at flippancy.) I hereby become a life-member of the birth-control league. Lets let humanity ceaseif God cant manage its continuance any better than that!
RICHARD—(Seriously.) Second the motion.
JAYSON—(Peevishly.) Youre young idiots. Keep your blasphemous nonsense to yourself, Lily!
LILY—(Jumping up and stamping her foothysterically.) I cant stand it. Take me home, Dick, wont you? Were doing no good waiting here. Ill have a fitor somethingif I stay.
RICHARD—(Glad of the excuse to go himselfbriskly.) Thats how I feel. Ill drive you home. Come along.
(ESTHER and EMILY enter, followed by JOHN.)
LILY—(Excitedly.) Ill never marry or have a child! Never, never! Ill go into Marks office tomorrow and make myself independent of marriage.
ESTHERSssh! Lily! Dont you know youre shouting? And what silly talk!
show you whether it’s silly! I’ll—
RICHARD—(Impatiently.) Are you coming or not?
Yes—wait—here I am. (She pushes past the others and follows RICHARD out rear. ESTHER and EMILY sit on couchJOHN on chair, right rear.)
ESTHER—(With a sigh.) I thought I went through something when mine were bornbut this is too awful.
according to John, Curt actually says he hates it! Isn’t that terrible?
(After a pausemeaningly.) Its almost as if her suffering was a punishment, dont you think?
ESTHERIf it is, shes being punished enough, Heaven knows. It cant go on this way much longer or something dreadful will happen.
you think the baby—
don’t know. I shouldn’t say it but perhaps it would be better if—
EMILYThats what I think.
ESTHEROh, I wish I didnt have such evil suspicionsbut the way Curt goes onhow can you help feeling theres something wrong?
JAYSON—(Suddenly.) How is Curt?
just came in from the garden. (Turning around to where JOHN is dozing in his chairsharply.)
John! Well I never! If he isn’t falling asleep! John! (He jerks up his head and stares at her, blinking stupidly. She continues irritably.) A nice time to pick out for a nap, I must say.
JOHN—(Surlily.) Dont forget I have to be at the bank in the morning.
JAYSON—(Testily.) I have to be at the bank, tooand you dont notice me sleeping. Tell me about Curt. You just left him, didnt you?
Yes, and I’ve been walking around that damned garden half the night
watching over him. Isn’t that enough to wear anyone out? I can feel I’ve
got a terrible cold coming on—
ESTHER—(Impatiently.) For goodness sake, dont you start to pity yourself!
JOHN—(Indignantly.) Im not. I think Ive showed my willingness to do everything I could. If Curt was only the least bit grateful! He isnt. He hates us all and wishes we were out of his home. I would have left long ago if I didnt want to do my part in saving the family name from disgrace.
JAYSON—(Impatiently.) Has he quieted down, thats what I want to know?
Not the least bit. He’s out of his head—and I’d be out of mine if a
child was being born to my wife that—
Keep that to yourself! Remember you have no proof. (Morosely.) Think all you wantbut dont talk.
EMILY—(Pettishly.) The whole town knows it, anyway; Im sure they must.
only been gossip—no real scandal. Let’s do our united best to keep it at
that. (After a pause.) Wheres Aunt Elizabeth? Well have to keep an eye on her, too, or shes quite liable to blurt out the whole business before all comers.
needn’t be afraid. She’s forgotten all about the scandalous part. No
word of it has come to her out in the country and she hasn’t set foot in
town since that unfortunate tea, remember. And at present she’s so busy
wishing the child will be a boy, that she hasn’t a thought for another
thing. (The door in the rear is opened and MARK SHEFFIELD enters. He comes up to the fire to warm himself. The others watch him in silence for a moment.)
JAYSON—(Impatiently.) Well, Mark? Wheres Curt?
Inside. I think he’ll be with us in a minute. (With a scornful smile.)
Just now he’s ’phoning to Bigelow. (The others gasp.)
JAYSON—(Furiously.) For Gods sake, couldnt you stop him?
without a scene. Your Aunt persuaded him to come into the house—and he
rushed for the ’phone. I think he guessed we had been lying to him—
JAYSON—(After a pause.) Then heBigelow will be here soon?
SHEFFIELD—(Drily.) It depends on his sense of decency. As he seems lacking in that quality, Ive no doubt hell come.
JOHN—(Rising to his feetpompously.) Then I, for one, will go. Come, Emily. Since Curt seems bound to disgrace everyone concerned, I want it thoroughly understood that we wash our hands of the whole disgraceful affair.
Go if you want to! I won’t! (Then with a sacrificing air.) I think it is our duty to stay.
JAYSON—(Exasperated.) Sit down. Wash your hands indeed! Arent you as much concerned as any of us?
SHEFFIELD—(Sharply.) Sshh! I think I hear Curt now.
(JOHN sits down abruptly. All stiffen into stony attitudes. The door is opened and CURT enters. He is incredibly drawn and haggard, a tortured, bewildered expression in his eyes. His hair is dishevelled, his boots caked with mud. He stands at the door staring from one to the other of his family with a wild, contemptuous scorn and mutters.)
Well, he’s coming now. (Then bewilderedly.) Why didn’t you want
him to come, eh? He’s my oldest friend. I’ve got to talk to someone—and
I can’t to you. (Wildly.) What do you want here, anyway? Why
don’t you go? (A scream of MARTHAS is heard through the doorway. CURT shudders violently, slams the door to with a crash, putting his shoulders against it as if to bar out the sound inexorablyin anguish.)
God, why must she go through such agony? Why? Why? (He goes to the fireplace as MARK makes way for him, flings himself exhaustedly on a chair, his shoulders bowed, his face hidden in his hands. The others stare at him pityingly. There is a long silence. Then the two women whisper together, get up and tiptoe out of the room, motioning for the others to follow them. JOHN does so. SHEFFIELD starts to go, then notices the preoccupied JAYSON who is staring moodily into the fire.)
(As JAYSON looks upin a whisper.) Lets go out and leave him alone. Perhaps hell sleep.
JAYSON—(Starting to follow SHEFFIELD, hesitates and puts a hand on his sons shoulder.) Curt. Remember Im your father. Cant you confide in me? Ill do anything to help.
CURTIS—(Harshly.) No, Dad. Leave me alone.
As you wish. (He starts to go.)
CURTISAnd send Big in to me as soon as he comes.
JAYSON—(Stops, appears about to objectthen remarks coldly.)
Very well—if you insist. (He switches off the lights. He hesitates at the door uncertainly, then opens it and goes out. There is a pause. Then CURT lifts his head and peers about the room. Seeing he is alone he springs to his feet and begins to pace back and forth, his teeth clenched, his features working convulsively. Then, as if attracted by an irresistible impulse, he goes to the closed door and puts his ear to the crack. He evidently hears his wifes moans for he starts awayin agony.)
Martha, Martha! Martha, darling! (He flings himself in the chair by the fireplacehides his face in his hands and sobs bitterly. There is a ring from somewhere in the house. Soon after there is a knock at the door. CURTIS doesnt hear at first but when it is repeated he mutters huskily.) Come in.
(BIGELOW enters. CURT looks up at him.) Close that door, Big, for Gods sake!
BIGELOW—(Does sothen taking off his overcoat, hat, and throwing them on the lounge comes quickly over to CURT.)
I got over as soon as I could. (As he sees CURTS face he starts and says sympathetically.) By Jove, old man, you look as though youd been through hell!
CURTIS—(Grimly.) I have. I am.
BIGELOW—(Slapping his back.)
Buck up! (Then anxiously.) Hows Martha?
in hell, too—
BIGELOW—(Attempting consolation.) Youre surely not worrying, are you? Martha is so strong and healthy theres no doubt of her pulling through in fine shape.
should never have attempted this. (After a pause.) Ive a grudge against you, Big. It was you bringing your children over here that first planted this in her mind.
BIGELOW—(After a pause.)
I’ve guessed you thought that. That’s why you haven’t noticed me—or
them—over here so much lately. I’ll confess that I felt you— (Angrily.) And the infernal gossipIll admit I thought that youoh, damn this rotten town, anyway!
Oh, for God’s sake! (Bitterly.) I didnt want you here to discuss Bridgetown gossip.
know, old man, forgive me. (In spite of the closed door one of MARTHAS agonized moans is heard. They both shudder.)
CURTIS—(In a dead, monotonous tone.) She has been moaning like that hour after hour. I shall have those sounds in my ears until the day I die. Nothing can ever make me forgetnothing.
BIGELOW—(Trying to distract him.) Deuce take it, Curt, whats the matter with you? I never thought youd turn morbid.
CURTIS—(Darkly.) Ive changed, BigI hardly know myself any more.
BIGELOWOnce youre back on the job again, youll be all right. Youre still determined to go on this expedition, arent you?
CURTISYes. I was supposed to join them this week in New York but Ive arranged to catch up with them in Chinaas soon as its possible for us to go.
You mean you still plan to take—
CURTIS—(Angrily aggressive.) Yes, certainly! Why not? Martha ought to be able to travel in a month or so.
BIGELOWYes, butdo you think it would be safe to take the child?
CURTIS—(With a bitter laugh.)
Yes—I was forgetting the child, wasn’t I? (Viciously.) But
perhaps— (Then catching himself with a groan.) Oh, damn all children, Big!
CURTIS—(In anguish.) I cant help itIve fought against it. But its theredeep down in meand I cant drive it out. I cant!
BIGELOW—(Bewildered.) What, Curt?
Yes, hatred! What’s the use of denying it? I must tell someone and
you’re the only one who might understand. (With a wild laugh.) For youhated your wife, didnt you?
BIGELOW—(Stunned.) Good God, you dont mean you hateMartha?
Hate Martha? How dare you, you fool! I love Martha—love her with every
miserable drop of blood in me—with all my life—all my soul! She is my
whole world—everything! Hate Martha! God, man, have you gone crazy to
say such a mad thing? (Savagely.) No. I hate it. It!
BIGELOW—(Shocked.) Curt! Dont you know you cant talk like thatnowwhen
CURTIS—(Harshly.) It has made us both suffer tormentsnot only nowevery day, every hour, for months and months. Why shouldnt I hate it, eh?
BIGELOW—(Staring at his friends wild, distorted face with growing horror.)
Curt! Can’t you realize how horrible—
it’s horrible. I’ve told myself that a million times. (With emphasis.) But its true!
BIGELOW—(Severely.) Shut up! Youre not yourself. Come, think for a moment. What would Martha feel if she heard you going on this way? Whyit would kill her!
CURTIS—(With a sobbing groan.)
Oh, I know, I know! (After a pause.) She read it in my eyes. Yes,
it’s horrible, but when I saw her there suffering so frightfully—I
couldn’t keep it out of my eyes. I tried to force it back—for her
sake—but I couldn’t. I was holding her hands and her eyes searched mine
with such a longing question in them—and she read only my hatred there,
not my love for her. And she screamed and seemed to try to push me away.
I wanted to kneel down and pray for forgiveness—to tell her it was only
my love for her—that I couldn’t help it. And then the doctors told me to
leave—and now the door is locked against me— (He sobs.)
This is only your damned imagination. They put you out because you were
in their way, that’s all. And as for Martha, she was probably suffering
CURTISNo. She read it in my eyes. I saw that look in hersof horrorhorror of me!
BIGELOW—(Gruffly.) Youre raving, damn it!
It came home to her then—the undeniable truth. (With a groan.) Isnt it fiendish that I should be the one to add to her torturein spite of myselfin spite of all my will to conceal it! She will never forgive me, never! And how can I forgive myself?
BIGELOW—(Distractedly.) For Gods sake, dont think about it! Its absurdridiculous!
CURTIS—(Growing more calmin a tone of obsession.) Shes guessed it ever since that day when we quarreledher birthday. Oh, you can have no idea of the misery there has been in our lives since then. You havent seen or guessed the reason. No one has. It has beenthe thought of it.
CURTIS—(Unheeding.) For years we had welded our lives together so that we two were sufficient, each to each. There was no room for a third. And it was a fine, free life we had madea life of new worlds, of discovery, of knowledge invaluable to mankind. Isnt such a life worth all the sacrifice it must entail?
that life was your life, Curt—
CURTIS—(Vehemently.) No, it was her life, tooher work as well as mine. She had made the life, our lifethe work, our work. Had she the right to repudiate what she had built because she suddenly has a fancy for a home, children, a miserable ease! I had thought I was her home, her children. I had tried to make my life worthy of being that to her. And I had failed. I was not enough.
CURTISOh, I tried to become reconciled. I tried my damnedest. I tried to love this child as I had loved those that died. But I couldnt. And so, this being estranged us. We loved as intensely as ever but it pushed us apart. I grew to dread the idea of this intruder. She saw this in me. I denied itbut she knew. There was something in each of us the other grew to hate. And still we loved as never before, perhaps, for we grew to pity each others helplessness.
BIGELOWCurt! Are you sure you ought to tell anyone this?
CURTIS—(Waving his remark aside.)
One day, when I was trying to imagine myself without her, and finding
nothing but hopelessness—yet knowing I must go—a thought suddenly struck
me—a horrible but fascinating possibility that had never occurred to me
before. (With feverish intensity.) Can you guess what it was?
BIGELOWNo. And I think youve done enough morbid raving, if you ask me.
CURTISThe thought that came to me was that if a certain thing happened, Martha could still go with me. And I knew, if it did happen, that she would want to go, that she would fling herself into the spirit of our work to forget, that she would be mine more than ever.
BIGELOW—(Afraid to believe the obvious answer.) Curt!
CURTISYes. My thought was that the child might be born dead.
Damn it, man, do you know what you’re saying? (Relentingly.) No, Curt, old boy, do stop talking. If you dont Ill send for a doctor, damned if I wont. That talk belongs in an asylum. God, man, cant you realize this is your childyours as well as hers?
tried. I cannot. There is some inexorable force in me—
Do you realize how contemptible this confession makes you out? (Angrily.)
Why, if you had one trace of human kindness in you—one bit of unselfish
love for your wife—one particle of pity for her suffering—
CURTIS—(Anguished.) I haveall the love and pity in the world for her! Thats why I cant help hatingthe cause of her suffering.
BIGELOWHave you never thought that you might repay Martha for giving up all her life to you by devoting the rest of yours to her?
She can be happy without me. She will have this child—to take my place.
(Intensely.) You think I would not give up my work for her? But I would! I will stay heredo anything she wishesif only we can make a new beginning againtogetheralone!
Curt, for God’s sake, don’t return to that! Why, good God, man—even
now—while you’re speaking—don’t you realize what may be happening? And
you can talk as if you were wishing—
CURTIS—(Fiercely.) I cant help but wish it!
BIGELOW—(Distractedly.) For the love of God, if you have such thoughts, keep them to yourself. I wont listen! You make me despise life!
would you have me love life? (The door in the rear is opened and JAYSON enters, pale and unnerved. A succession of quick, piercing shrieks is heard before he can close the door behind him. Shuddering.)
My God! My God! (With a fierce cry.) Willthisneverend!
they say this is the crisis. (Puts his arm around CURT.)
Bear up, my boy, it will soon be over now. (He sits down in the chair BIGELOW has vacated, pointedly ignoring the latter. The door is opened again and EMILY, ESTHER, JOHN and SHEFFIELD file in quickly as if escaping from the cries of the woman upstairs. They are all greatly agitated. CURT groans, pressing his clenched fists against his ears. The two women sit on the lounge. MARK comes forward and stands by JAYSONs chair, JOHN sits by the door as before. BIGELOW retreats behind CURTS chair, aware of their hostility. There is a long pause.)
She has stopped— (They all listen.)
Thank God, it’s over at last. (The door is opened and MRS. DAVIDSON enters. The old lady is radiant, weeping tears of joy.)
MRS. DAVIDSON—(Calls out exultantly between sobs.)
A son, Curt—a son. (With rapt fervorfalling on her knees.) Let us all give thanks to God!
CURTIS—(In a horrible cry of rage and anguish.)
No! No! You lie! (They all cry out in fright and amazement: CURT! The door is opened and the NURSE appears.)
NURSE—(Looking at CURTIS in a low voice.) Mr. Jayson, your wife is asking for you.
BIGELOW—(Promptly slapping CURT on the back.) There! What did I tell you? Run, you chump!
CURTIS—(With a gasp of joy.)
Martha! Darling, I’m coming— (He rushes out after the NURSE.)
BIGELOW—(Comes forward to get his hat and coat from the sofacoldly.)
Pardon me, please. (They shrink away from him.)
EMILY—(As he goes to the doorcuttingly.) Some people seem to have no sense of decency!
BIGELOW—(Stung, stops at the door and looks from one to the other of thembitingly.)
No, I quite agree with you. (He goes out, shutting the door. They all gasp angrily.)
JAYSON—(Testilygoing to MRS. D., who is still on her knees praying.)
Do get up, Aunt Elizabeth! How ridiculous! What a scene if anyone should
see you like that. (He raises her to her feet and leads her to a chair by the fire. She obeys unresistingly, seemingly unaware of what she is doing.)
ESTHER—(Unable to restrain her jealousy.) So its a boy.
you hear Curt—how he yelled out “No”? It’s plain as the nose on your
face he didn’t want—
JOHNWell, can you blame him?
the awful cheek of that Bigelow person—coming here—
ESTHERThey appeared as friendly as ever when we came in.
JOHN—(Scornfully.) Curt is a blind simpletonand that man is a dyed-in-the-wool scoundrel.
JAYSON—(Frightenedly.) Shhh! Suppose we were overheard!
Curt leaves we can put her in her proper place. I’ll soon let her know
she hasn’t fooled me, for one. (While she is speaking MRS. D. has gotten up and is going silently toward the door.)
JAYSON—(Testily.) Aunt Elizabeth, where are you going?
D.—(Tenderly.) I must see him again, the dear! (She goes out.)
ESTHER—(Devoured by curiosityhesitatingly.)
I think I—come on, Emily. Let’s go up and see—
EMILYNot I! I never want to lay eyes on it.
ESTHERI was only thinkingeveryone will think it funny if we dont.
Yes, yes. We must keep up appearances. (Getting to his feet.)
Yes, I think we had better all go up—make some sort of inquiry about
Martha, you know. It’s expected of us and— (They are all standing, hesitating, when the door in the rear is opened and the NURSE appears, supporting CURT. The latter is like a corpse. His face is petrified with grief, his body seems limp and half-paralyzed.)
NURSE—(Her eyes flashing, indignantly.)
It’s a wonder some of you wouldn’t come up—here, help me! Take him,
can’t you? I’ve got to run back! (JAYSON and SHEFFIELD spring forward and lead CURT to a chair by the fire.)
JAYSON—(Anxious.) Curt! Curt, my boy! What is it, son?
EMILY—(Catching the NURSE as she tries to go.) Nurse! What is the matter?
His wife is dead. (They are all still, stunned.) She lived just long enough to recognize him.
NURSE—(With a professional air.)
Oh, it’s a fine, healthy baby—eleven pounds—that’s what made it so
difficult. (She goes. The others all stand in silence.)
ESTHER—(Suddenly sinking on the couch and bursting into tears.) Oh, Im so sorry I saidor thoughtanything wrong about her. Forgive me, Martha!
SHEFFIELD—(Honestly moved but unable to resist this opportunity for Latinsolemnly.) De mortuis nil nisi
JAYSON—(Who has been giving all his attention to his son.) Curt! Curt!
the doctor better—
JAYSONShhh! He begins to recognize me. Curt!
CURTIS—(Looking around him bewilderedly.)
Yes. (Suddenly remembrance comes and a spasm of intolerable pain contracts his features. He presses his hands to the side of his head and groans brokenly.)
Martha! Gone! Dead! Oh! (He appeals wildly to the others.) Her
eyes—she knew me—she smiled—she whispered—forgive me, Curt,—forgive
her—when it was I who should have said forgive me—but before I
could—she— (He falters brokenly.)
EMILY—(Looking from one to the other meaningly as if this justified all their suspicions.) Oh!
CURTIS—(A sudden triumph in his voice.) But she loved me againonly meI saw it in her eyes! She had forgottenit.
(Raging.) Never let me see it! Never let it come near me! It has
murdered her! (Springing to his feet.) I hate it from the bottom
of my soul—I will never see it—never—never—I take my oath! (As his father takes his armshaking him off.)
Let me go! I am going back to her! (He strides out of the door in a frenzy of grief and rage. They all stand transfixed, looking at each other bewilderedly.)
EMILY—(Putting all her venomous gratification into one word.) Well!
(The Curtain Falls)