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SCENE I

SCENEThe dining room of James Knapp’s flat in the Bronx, N. Y. City. To the left is a door opening into the main hall, farther back a chair, and then a heavy green curtain which screens off an alcove probably used as a bedroom. To the right a doorway leading into the kitchen, another chair, and a window, with some plants in pots on the sill, which opens on a court. Hanging in front of the window is a gilt cage in which a canary chirps sleepily. The walls of the room are papered an impossible green and the floor is covered with a worn carpet of nearly the same color. Several gaudy Sunday-supplement pictures in cheap gilt frames are hung at spaced intervals around the walls. The dining table with its flowered cover is pushed back against the middle wall to allow of more space for free passage between the kitchen and the front part of the flat. On the wall above the table is a mantle piece on the middle of which a black marble clock ticks mournfully. The clock is flanked on both sides by a formidable display of family photographs. Above the mantle hangs a “Home Sweet Home” motto in a black frame. A lamp of the Welsbach type, fixed on the chandelier which hangs from the middle of the ceiling, floods the small room with bright light. It is about half-past eight of an October evening. The time is the present.

  Mrs. Knapp is discovered sitting at the end of the table near the kitchen. She is a pale, thin, peevish-looking woman of about forty, made prematurely old by the thousand worries of a penny-pinching existence. Her originally fine constitution has been broken down by the bearing of many children in conditions under which every new arrival meant a new mouth crying for its share of the already inadequate supply of life’s necessities. Her brown hair, thickly streaked with gray, is drawn back tightly over her ears into a knot at the back of her head. Her thin-lipped mouth droops sorrowfully at the corners, and her faded blue eyes have an expression of fretful weariness. She wears a soiled grey wrapper and black carpet slippers. When she speaks, her voice is plaintively querulous and without authority.

  Two of the children, Lizzie and Sue, are seated on her left facing the family photos. They are both bent over the table with curly blond heads close together. Under Lizzie’s guidance Sue is attempting to write something on the pad before her. Both are dressed in clean looking dark clothes with black shoes and stockings.

  LIZZIE—That’s not the way to make a “g.” Give me the pencil and I’ll show you. (She tries to take the pencil away from Sue.)

  SUE—(resisting and commencing to cry) I don’ wanta give you the pencil. Mama-a! Make her stop!

  MRS. KNAPP—(wearily) For goodness’ sake stop that racket, Sue! Give her the pencil, Lizzie! You ought to be ashamed to fight with your little sister—and you so much older than her. I declare a body can’t have a moment’s peace in this house with you children all the time wranglin’ and fightin’.

  SUE—(bawling louder than ever) Mama-a! She won’t give it to me!

  MRS. KNAPP—(with an attempt at firmness) Lizzie! Did you hear what I said? Give her that pencil this instant!

  LIZZIE—(not impressed) I wanta show her how to make a “g” and she won’t let me. Make her stop, Mama!

  SUE—(screaming) I did make a “g!” I did make a “g!”

  LIZZIE—Ooo! Listen to her tellin’ lies, Mama. She didn’t make a “g” at all. She don’t know how.

  SUE—I do! Gimme that pencil.

  LIZZIE—You don’t. I won’t give it to you.

  MRS. KNAPP—(aggravated into action gets quickly from her chair and gives Lizzie a ringing box on the ear) There, you naughty child! That will teach you to do what I say. Give me that pencil. (She snatches it from Lizzie’s hand and gives it to Sue.) There’s the pencil! For goodness sake hush up your cryin’! (Sue subsides into sobbing but Lizzie puts her hand over the smarting ear and starts to howl with all her might.)

  SUE—(whimpering again as she discovers the paint of the pencil has been broken off) Look Mama! She broke the pencil!

  MRS. KNAPP—(distracted) Be still and I’ll sharpen it for you. (turning to Lizzie and taking her on her lap) There! There! Stop cryin’! Mama didn’t mean to hurt you. (Lizzie only cries the harder.) Stop crying and I’ll give you a piece of candy. (Lizzie’s anguish vanishes in a flash.) Kiss mama now and promise not to be naughty any more!

  LIZZIE—(kissing her obediently) I promise. Where’s the candy Mama?

  SUE—(no longer interested in pencils) I wanta piece of candy too.

  MRS. KNAPP—(goes to the kitchen and returns with two sticky chunks of molasses candy) Here Lizzie! Here Sue! (Sue manages with some effort to cram the candy into her small mouth.) Neither one of you said “thank you.” (Lizzie dutifully mumbles “thanks” but Sue is beyond speech.) I declare I don’t know what I’ll do with you children. You never seem to learn manners. It’s just as if you were brought up on the streets—the way you act. (The clock strikes 8.30 and Mrs. Knapp looks at it gratefully.) There, children. It’s half-past eight and you must both go to bed right away. Goodness knows I have a hard enough time gettin’ you up for school in the morning.

  SUE—(having eaten enough of her candy to allow of her voicing a protest) I don’ wanta go to bed.

  LIZZIE—(sulking) You said you’d let us stay up to see Papa.

  SUE—I wanta see Papa.

  MRS. KNAPP—That will do. I won’t listen to any more of your talk. You’ve seen your father all afternoon. That’s only an excuse to stay up late. He went to the doctor’s and goodness knows when he’ll be back. I promised to let you sit up till half-past eight and it’s that now. Come now! Kiss me like two good little girls and go straight to bed. (The two good little girls perform their kissing with an ill grace and depart slowly for bed through the alcove.)

  MRS. KNAPP—Mind you don’t wake the baby with your carryings-on or I’ll tell your father to spank you good. (She has an afterthought.) And don’t forget your prayers! (She sinks back with a deep sigh of relief and taking up an evening paper from the table, commences to read. She has hardly settled back comfortably when shouts and the noise of running steps are heard from the stairs in the hallway. Then a rattling tattoo of knocks shakes the door and a girl’s voice laughingly shouts thro’ the key hole, “Open up Ma!”)

  MRS. KNAPP—(going quickly to the door and unlocking it) Hush up your noise for goodness sakes! Do you want to wake up the baby? I never saw such children. You haven’t any feelin’ for your mother at all.

  (Charles and Dolly push hurriedly into the room. Mrs. Knapp locks the door again and resumes her seat at the table. Charles is a gawky, skinny youth of fifteen who has outgrown his clothes, and whose arms and legs seem to have outgrown him. His features are large and irregular; his eyes small and watery-blue in color. When he takes off his cap a mop of sandy hair falls over his forehead. He is dressed in a shabby grey Norfolk suit.)

  (Although extremely thin, Dolly is rather pretty with her dark eyes, and brown curls hanging over her shoulders. She is dressed neatly in a dark blue frock with black shoes and stockings and a black felt hat. Her ordinarily sallow city complexion is flushed from the run upstairs.)

  DOLLY—(rushing over and kissing her mother—mischievously) What do you think I saw, Ma?

  CHARLIE—(in a loud voice —almost a shout) What do you think I saw, Mom?

  MRS. KNAPP—For heaven’s sake, Charlie, speak lower. Do you want the people in the next block to hear you? If you wake up the baby I shall certainly tell your father on you. Take off your hat when you’re in the house! Whatever is the matter with you? Can’t you remember anything? I’m really ashamed of you—the way you act.

  CHARLIE—(taking off his cap) Aw, what’s the matter, Mom? Gee, you’re got an awful grouch on tonight.

  MRS. KNAPP—Never mind talkin’ back to your mother, young man. Why shouldn’t I be cranky with you bellowin’ around here like a young bull? I just got the baby to sleep and if you wake her up with your noise heaven knows when I’ll get any peace again.

  DOLLY—(interrupting her—with a laughing glance at Charlie) You can’t guess what I saw, Ma.

  CHARLIE—(sheepishly) Aw, all right for you. Go ahead and tell her if you wanta. I don’t care. I’ll tell her what I saw too.

  DOLLY—You didn’t see anything.

  CHARLIE—I did too.

  DOLLY—You didn’t.

  MRS. KNAPP—For goodness sake stop your quarrelin’! First it’s Lizzie and Sue and then it’s you two. I never get time to even read a paper. What was it you saw, Dolly? Tell me if you’re going to.

  DOLLY—I saw Charlie and that red-headed Harris girl in the corner drug store. He was buying her ice cream soda with that quarter Pop gave him.

  CHARLIE—I was no such thing.

  DOLLY—Oh, what a lie! You know you were.

  MRS. KNAPP—You ought to be ashamed of yourself, you big grump, you, goin’ round with girls at your age and spendin’ money on them. I’ll tell your father how you spend the money he gives you and it’ll be a long time before you get another cent.

  CHARLIE—(sullenly) Aw you needn’t think I’m the only one. (pointing to Dolly) I saw her down in the hallway with that Dutch kid whose father runs the saloon in the next block. It was dark down there too. I could hardly see them. And he’s cross-eyed!

  DOLLY—He is not.

  CHARLIE—Aw g’wan, of course he is. He can’t see straight or he’d never look at you.

  DOLLY—He’s better than you are.

  CHARLIE—(losing control of his voice and shouting again) I’ll hand him a punch in the eye the first time I see him. That’s what I’ll do to him, the Dutch boob. And I’ll slap you in the nose too if you get too fresh. (Dolly starts to cry.)

  MRS. KNAPP—(rising up swiftly and giving him a crack over the ear with her open hand) That’ll teach you, young man! Don’t you dare to lay a hand on your sister or your father will whip you good.

  CHARLIE—(backing away with his hand on his ear—in a whimper) Aw, what are you always pickin’ on me for? Why don’t you say something to her?

  MRS. KNAPP—(turning to the still tearful Dolly) And you, Miss! Don’t you let me hear of you bein’ in any dark hallways with young men again or I’ll take you over my knee, so I will. The idea of such a thing! I can’t understand you at all. I never was allowed out alone with anyone,—not even with your father, before I was engaged to be married to him. I don’t know what’s come over you young folks nowadays.

  DOLLY—It—wasn’t—dark.

  MRS. KNAPP—It makes no difference. You heard what I said. Don’t let it happen again. (Dolly wipes her eyes and makes a face at Charlie.)

  CHARLIE—(his tones loud with triumph) It was awful dark. She’s liein’ to you, Mom.

  MRS. KNAPP—Hold your tongue! I’ve heard enough from you. And don’t yell at the top of your voice. You don’t have to shout. I’m not deaf.

  CHARLIE—(lower) All right, Mom. But I’ve got into the habit of talking loud since Pop’s been home. He don’t seem to hear me when I talk low.

  DOLLY—That’s right, Ma. I was talking to him this morning and when I got through he didn’t know half that I’d told him.

  MRS. KNAPP—Your father has a bad cold and his head is all stopped up. He says he hasn’t got a cold but I know better. I’ve been that way myself. But he won’t believe me. So he’s gone to pay five dollars to an ear specialist when all he needs is a dose of quinine—says a wireless operator can’t afford to take chances. I told him a wireless operator couldn’t afford to pay five dollars for nothin’—specially when he’s got a wife and five children. (peevishly) I don’t know what’s come over your father. He don’t seem like the same man since this last trip on the “Empress.” I think it must be that South American climate that’s affectin’ him.

  DOLLY—He’s awful cross since he’s been home this time. He yells at Charlie and me for nothing.

  MRS. KNAPP—He’d be all right if he could get another job. But he’s afraid if he gives up this one he won’t be able to get another. Your father ain’t as young as he used to be and they all want young men now. He’s got to keep on workin’ or we’d never be able to even pay the rent. Goodness knows his salary is small enough. If it wasn’t for your brother Jim sendin’ us a few dollars every month, and Charlie earnin’ five a week, and me washin’, we’d never be able to get along even with your father’s salary. But heaven knows what we’d do without it. We’d be put out in the streets.

  CHARLIE—Is that where Pop’s gone tonight—to the doctor’s?

  MRS. KNAPP—Yes, and I don’t know what can be keepin’ him so long. He left after supper right after you did. You’d think he’d spend his last night at home when we won’t see him again for three months.

  CHARLIE—Shall I go out and see if I can see him?

  MRS. KNAPP—Don’t go makin’ excuses to get out on the street. You better go to bed if you wanta be up on time in the morning—you too, Dolly.

  DOLLY—I still got some of my lessons to finish. (There is a sound from the hallway of someone coming up the stairs with slow, heavy steps.)

  MRS. KNAPP—Here your father comes now! Get into the parlor, Dolly, if you wanta do your lessons. Don’t let him see you up so late. Keep the light shaded so you won’t wake up the baby. (The steps stop before the door and a knock is heard.) Charlie, go open that door. My feet are worn out from standin’ up all day. (Charlie opens the door and James Knapp enters. He is a slight, stoop-shouldered, thin-faced man of about fifty. When be takes off his derby hat he reveals a long narrow head almost completely bald with a thin line of gray hair extending over his large ears around the back of his head. His face has been tanned by the tropic sun —but now it seems a sickly yellow in the white glare of the lamp. His eyes are small, dark, and set close together; his nose stubby and of no particular shape; his mouth large and weak. He is dressed in a faded, brown suit and unshined tan shoes. His expression must be unusually depressed as he stands nervously fingering his drooping, gray moustache, for Mrs. Knapp looks at him sharply for a moment, then gets up quickly and goes over and kisses him.)

  MRS. KNAPP—(pulling out the arm chair from the other end of the table for him) Come! Sit down! You look all worn out. You shouldn’t walk so much.

  KNAPP—(sinking into the chair and speaking in a slow, dull voice) I am a bit tired. (He stares at the flowered patterns of the table cover for a moment—then sighs heavily.)

  MRS. KNAPP—Whatever is the matter with you? You look as if you’d lost your last friend.

  KNAPP—(pulling himself together and smiling feebly) I guess I’ve got the blues. I get to thinking about how I’ve got to sail tomorrow on that long, lonesome trip, and how I won’t see any of you for three months, and it sort of makes me feel bad. I wish I could throw up this job. I wish I was young enough to try something else.

  CHARLIE—(who is slouched down in a chair with hands in his pockets speaks in his lowest, nicest voice) Aw, cheer up, Pop! It won’t seem long. I should think you’d be glad to get out of the cold weather. Gee, I wish’t I had a chance.

  KNAPP—(looking at him blankly) Eh? What was that, Charlie? I didn’t quite hear what you said.

  CHARLIE—(in his best bellow) I said: Cheer up! It won’t seem long.

  KNAPP—(shaking his head sadly) It’s easy for you to say that. You’re young. (The shrill crying of a baby sounds from behind the green curtain of the alcove.)

  MRS. KNAPP—(turning on Charlie furiously) There! You’re gone and done it with your big, loud mouth. I told you to speak lower. (turning to her husband) James, I wish you’d do something to make him behave. He don’t mind what I say at all. Look at him—sprawled all over the chair with his long legs stretched out for everybody to trip over. Is that the way to sit on a chair? Anybody’d think you were brought up in a barn. I declare I’m ashamed to have you go anywhere for fear you’d disgrace me.

  CHARLIE—You’d needn’t worry. There’s no place for me to go—and if there was I wouldn’t go there with these old clothes on. Why don’t you ball out Pop? He couldn’t hear me, so I had to speak louder.

  KNAPP—(with sudden irritation) Of course I heard you. But I wasn’t paying any attention to what you said. I have other things to think about beside your chatter. (Charlie sulks back in his chair.)

  MRS. KNAPP—That’s right James. I knew you’d have to tell him where he belongs. You’d think he owned the house the way he acts. (A piercing wail comes from behind the curtain and Mrs. Knapp hurries there saying) Hush! Hush! I’m coming. (She can be heard soothing the baby.)

  CHARLIE—(plucking up his courage now that his mother is out of the room) Say, Pop!

  KNAPP—Well, Charlie, what is it?

  CHARLIE—Please can I have a new suit of clothes? Gee, I need ‘em bad enough. This one is full of patches and holes and all the other kids down at the store laugh at me ‘cause I ain’t got long pants on and these don’t fit me any more. Please can I have a new suit, Pop?

  KNAPP—(a look of pain crossing his features) I’m afraid not just now, boy. (Charlie descends into the depths of gloom.) You see, I’ve had to go to this doctor about (he hesitates) the—er—trouble I’ve had with my stomach, and he’s very expensive. But when I come back from this trip I’ll surely buy you a fine new suit with long pants the very first thing I do. I promise it to you and you know I don’t break my promises. Try and get along with that one until I get back.

  CHARLIE—(ruefully) All right, Pop. I’ll try, but I’m afraid it’s going to bust if I get any bigger.

  KNAPP—That’s a good boy. We haven’t been having much luck lately and we’ve all got to stand for our share of doing without things. I may have to do without a lot— (He turns his face away to hide his emotion from Charlie. A sob shakes his shoulders. Charlie notices it and goes over clumsily and pats his father on the back.)

  CHARLIE—Gee, Pop, what’s the matter? I can get along without a suit all right. I wouldn’t have asked you if I thought you was so blue.

  KNAPP—Never mind me, boy. I’m just not feeling well, that’s all—something I must have eaten—or a touch of fever. (He glances at the clock.) It’s getting pretty late, Charlie, and you’ve got to be up early in the morning. Better go to bed. Your mother and I have a lot to talk about yet—things which wouldn’t interest you.

  CHARLIE—All right, Pop. Good night. I’ll see you in the morning before I go.

  KNAPP—Good night and—remember I’m trying to do the best I know how. (Charlie disappears behind the green curtain. Knapp stares at the table, his head between his hands, his face full of suffering. Mrs. Knapp comes back into the room. The baby is safely asleep again.)

  MRS. KNAPP—You sent Charlie to bed, didn’t you? (He nods.) That’s right. He stays up altogether too late nights. He’s always prowlin’ around the streets. I don’t know what will become of him I’m sure. Dolly told me tonight she saw him buyin’ soda for that red-headed Harris girl with the quarter you gave him. What do you think of that? And he says he saw her talkin’ in the dark hallway downstairs with some German bartender’s boy. What do you think of that?

  KNAPP—(mildly) Where’s the hurt? They’re only kids and they’ve got to have some fun.

  MRS. KNAPP—Fun? I’m glad you call it fun. I think it disgraceful.

  KNAPP—Come, come, you exaggerate everything so. I see no harm in it. God knows I have enough to worry about without being bothered with children’s pranks.

  MRS. KNAPP—(scornfully) You have worries? And what are they, I’d like to know? You sail away and have a fine time with nothin’ to do but eat the best of food and talk to the pretty women in the First Class. Worries? I wish you’d stay home and change places with me—cookin’, scrubbin’, takin’ care of the children, puttin’ off the grocer and the butcher, doin’ washin’ and savin’ every penny. You’d soon find out what worry meant then.

  KNAPP—(placatingly) I know you have to put up with a lot, Mary, and I wish I could do something to make it easier for you. (brokenly) I don’t know what’s going to become of us—now.

  MRS. KNAPP—Oh, we’ll manage to get along as we have been doin’, I expect.

  KNAPP—But—Mary—something terrible has happened. I’m almost afraid to tell you.

  MRS. KNAPP—What do you mean? You haven’t lost your job, have you?

  KNAPP—I went to see that ear specialist and— (His emotion chokes him; he stops to regain his composure.)

  MRS. KNAPP—Yes?

  KNAPP—(his voice breaking in spite of himself) He says I’m losing my hearing—that I’m liable to go stone deaf at any moment. (He lets his head fall on his arms with a sob.)

  MRS. KNAPP—(coming over and putting her arm around him) There Jim! Don’t take on about it so. All those doctors make things worse than they really are. He’s just tryin’ to scare you so you’ll keep comin’ to see him. Why, you can hear just as well as I can.

  KNAPP—No, I’ve noticed how hard it’s been for me to catch some of the messages lately. And since I’ve been home I’ve had a hard time of it now and then to understand the children. The doctor said I would probably be able to hear for a long time yet but I got to be prepared for a sudden shock which’ll leave me stone deaf.

  MRS. KNAPP—(quickly) Does anyone on the ship know?

  KNAPP—Of course not. If they knew my hearing was going back on me I wouldn’t hold my job a minute. (His voice trembles.) But I’ve got to tell them now. I’ve got to give up.

  MRS. KNAPP—You didn’t tell the specialist what you were, did you?

  KNAPP—No. I said I was a mechanist.

  MRS. KNAPP—(getting up from her chair and speaking in a hard voice) Then why have you got to tell them? If you don’t tell them they’ll never know. You say yourself the doctor told you your hearin’ would hold out for a long time yet.

  KNAPP—He said “probably.”

  MRS. KNAPP—(an angry flush spreading over her face) Give up your job? Are you a fool? Are you such a coward that a doctor can scare you like that?

  KNAPP—I’m not afraid for myself. I’m not afraid of being deaf if I have to be. You don’t understand. You don’t know the responsibility of a man in my job.

  MRS. KNAPP—Responsibility? You’ve told me lots of times there was so few messages to send and take you wondered why they had a wireless. What’s the matter with you all of a sudden? You’re not deaf now and even if that liein’ doctor spoke the truth you’ll hear for a long time yet. He only told you about that sudden stroke to keep you comin’ to him. I know the way they talk.

  KNAPP—(protesting weakly) But it ain’t right. I ought to tell them and give up the job. Maybe I can get work at something else.

  MRS. KNAPP—(furiously) Right? And I suppose you think it’s right to loaf around here until we all get put out in the streets? God knows your salary is small enough but without it we’d starve to death. Can’t you think of others besides yourself? How about me and the children? What’s goin’ to buy them clothes and food? I can’t earn enough and what Charlie gets wouldn’t keep him alive for a week. Jim sends us a few dollars a month but he don’t get much and he ain’t workin’ regular. We owe the grocer and the butcher now. If they found out you wasn’t workin’ they wouldn’t give us any more credit. And the landlord? How long would he let us stay here? You’ll get other work? Remember the last time you tried. We had to pawn everything we had then and we was half-starved when you did land this job. You had to go back to the same old work, didn’t you? They didn’t want you at any telegraph office, did they? You was too old and slow, wasn’t you? Well you’re older and slower than ever now and that’s the only other job you’re fit for. (with bitter scorn) You’ll get another job! (She sits down and covers her face with her hands, weeping bitterly.) And this is all the thanks I get for slavin’ and workin’ my fingers off! What a father for my poor children! Oh, why did I ever marry such a man? It’s been nothin’ but worryin’ and sufferin’ ever since.

  KNAPP—(who has been writhing under the lash of her scorn, is tortured beyond endurance at her last reproaches) For God’s sake let me alone! I’ll go! I’ll go! But this is going to be my last trip. I got to do the right thing. (He gets up and pushes aside the green curtain.) Come on! I’m going to bed. (He leaves Mrs. Knapp alone. She lifts her tear-stained face from her hands and sighs with relief as she turns out the gas.)


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