JACK, The Younger Man
OLD PETE, a miner
edge of the Arizona desert; a plain dotted in the foreground with clumps
of sagebrush. On the horizon a lonely butte is outlined, black and
sinister against the lighter darkness of a sky with stars. The time is in
the early hours of the night.
In the foreground stands a ragged tent the flap of which is open. Leaning
against it are some shovels and a pick or two. Two saddles are on the
ground nearby. Before the tent is a smouldering camp fire at which an
elderly man of about fifty is seated. He is dressed in miner’s costume;
flannel shirt, khaki trousers, high
boots etc. —all patched and showing evidences of long wear and tear. His
wide-brimmed Stetson hat lies on the ground beside him. His hair is
turning gray and his face is the face of one who has wandered far, lived
hard, seen life in the rough, and is a little weary of it all. Withal his
air and speech are those of an educated man whose native refinement has
clung to him in spite of many hard knocks.
On one side of the tent stands a
rough stool and a gold-miner’s panning tub—a square box half filled
the fire in a futile attempt to start it into flame)
I wonder what can be keeping him so long? (hears
noise of someone approaching) Hello
Jack, I was just beginning to think you were lost.
Pete enters. He is an old man dressed in rough miner’s costume but he
wears spurs and carries a quirt in his hand. He is covered with dust and
has evidently been riding hard.)
aint Jack. It’s me.
Hello Pete. What
brings you around at this time of the night?
telegram from his pocket)
I was just leaving
Lawson when the operator stopped me and give me this for Jack. I seen your
camp fire burning and reckoned I’d bring it right over.
Many thanks Pete.
Won’t you sit down and rest a bit?
PETE—Much obliged but I reckon I’ll travel
along. I ain’t slept none to speak of in the past few nights and I got
to be up at sunrise. (grinning sheepishly) That fool town of Lawson sure does keep you up nights. (He
starts to go, then stops.) Claim
panning out as good as ever?
every day. This morning we took a sample from the upper end which we
haven’t touched so far. It looks good but we haven’t panned it yet.
ought to get rich. You know how to keep money. Now me and money never
could get on noway. (pulls out pockets ruefully) They cleaned me out in Lawson this time and I reckon they’ll
clean me again the next time. (shaking his head) Cities is sure hell that-a-way. Adios. (exits)
OLDER MAN—Good night.
Poor Pete. Same old story. Been bucking the faro bank again I suppose. (looks
Hmm. Wonder what this is? Jack has had no correspondence in the five
years I’ve been with him. May be something important in connection
with the mine. I guess I’d better open it. He won’t mind anyway. (He
opens the telegram and reads aloud)
“I am waiting. Come.” No name signed. It comes from New York too.
Well it’s too many for me. I give it up. (puts
telegram in pocket)
Must be that fool operator got mixed up in his names. I wouldn’t
like to see Jack obey any summons like that. He’s about all I’ve got
now and I’d hate to see him leave just when we’ve struck it rich. (dismissing the subject) I guess this wire is all a mistake anyway. (He
looks around yawning and his eye lights on the panning tub.)
Now if only the upper part of the claim is as rich as that we’ve
been working— (The
noise of someone approaching is heard.)
Here he comes now. Welcome wanderer! Where have you been all this
enters. He is dressed about the same as the Older Man but is much
younger—in the early thirties.)
of the horses slipt his hobbles and I had quite a hunt for him. I
finally found him down by the spring wallowing around as if water were the
commonest thing in this section of Arizona. Fool beast!
OLDER MAN— (forgetting
all about the telegram)
It’s a strange thing we should run into water out here where the
maps say there isn’t any. It’s the one blessing we’ve found in this
land God forgot. We’re fools for luck for once.
Yes. (then rather exultantly) But we have small cause to kick about this lonely hole after
all. Any place is God’s country to a man if
there’s gold in it and he finds it. There’s gold here and (taking a small bag from his pocket and shaking it) we’ve found it. So long live the desert say I.
THE OLDER MAN—Those
are my sentiments. (He
rolls a cigarette paper and setting it afire in the flame lights his pipe.)
It sure looks as if our ship had come in at last here on the rim of
the world. The luck was due to change. We’ve had our share of the bad
variety; just missing a strike in every jumping-off place from South
Africa to Alaska. We’ve taken our hard knocks with the imitation of a
laugh at any rate and (stretching out his hand to the younger man who grasps it heartily) we’ve been good pals ever since that day in the Transvaal five
years ago when you hauled me out of the river, saved my life, and our
friendship began. (as
the younger man starts to speak)
No you needn’t try to stop me expressing my gratitude. I haven’t
forgotten that day and I never will.
change the subject)
I’m going to see what that prospect we took at the other end of the
claim looks like. (He
goes into the tent and returns with a gold pan heaped with dirt under his
arm and sitting down in front of the panning tub proceeds to test the
prospect. He washes the heap of dirt down until there is but a handful of
gravel left. The Older Man comes over and stands behind him looking over
his shoulder. Finally after one quick flip of the pan Jack points to the
sediment left in the bottom in which a small heap of bright yellow
particles can be seen.)
What do you think of that?
THE OLDER MAN—
over and feeling them with his fingers)
O’course gold; just as I expected. The upper end of the claim is
just as rich as it is down here.
There’s over a quarter of an ounce here at least. That’s five
dollars a pan—better than we’ve ever panned down here at any time
since we made the strike four months ago. (lays
the pan aside)
I tell you this claim is too much for us to handle alone. One of us
ought to go East and organize a company.
THE OLDER MAN—Then
it will have to be you. I’m too old. (Jack
smiles and makes a deprecating gesture.)
Anyway I never could get along with civilization and (laughing) civilization
never cared overmuch for me. (goes
over and sits
by the fire)
You’ve seemed to be
hankering after the East quite a lot in the last month or so. (smiling)
Getting tired of the company here eh?
you know that isn’t so after all the years we’ve been pals and all
we’ve been through together.
THE OLDER MAN—(jokingly)
Then what is the attraction the effete East has to offer? (mockingly)
It’s a woman I suppose?
(with dignity) An angel rather.
THE OLDER MAN—
They’re all angels—at first. The only trouble is their angelic
attributes lack staying qualities. (then
At any rate you’d find them hard to prove by my experiences.
(shrugging his shoulders a little impatiently) You’re a disgusting cynic and I refuse to argue. You know we’ve
never been able to agree on that subject. I’m going to hunt out that
bottle we’ve carried about so long and we’ll drink to the mine and
future prosperity. (He goes into tent.) Here it is. (He returns with a quart of whiskey, opens it with a knife and pours out
two drinks in the tin cups.) (laughing) I think this is a proper occasion for celebration—the two
Prodigals welcome the fatted calf. Let’s make it a christening also.
Here’s to the Yvette mine!
THE OLDER MAN—(who
has been laughing turns suddenly grim. His hand trembles as he clinks cups
and he almost spills some of the whiskey. He speaks in harsh jerky tones.)
Why the Yvette?
noticing his agitation)
I know it sounds like rather a frivolous name for a mine but I have a
hunch. There’s a romance back of it—my romance. That was her name. One
rarely speaks of such things. I’ve never told you but I will now if you
care to hear it. It was over a year before I met you. I had just been out
of mining school a short time and was prospecting around in the mountains
of Peru hoping to hit a bonanza there. At the time I speak of I had
returned to reoutfit at a small mining camp near the frontier of Ecuador.
It was there I met her. She was the wife of a broken-down mining engineer
from the States, over twenty years her senior. (The
Older Man who has been listening intently is poking the fire nervously
and his face becomes harsher and harsher.)
According to all accounts he was a drunken brute who left her alone
most of the time and only lived from one drunk to another. Personally I
never saw him. It was probably better that I did not. You see I fell in
love with her on the spot and the thought of how he treated her made my
THE OLDER MAN—(in
What was the name of the mining town you mention? I’ve been in that
country myself—many years ago.
Sebastien. Do you know it?
the words “San Sebastien” the Older Man seems to crumple up. Nothing
seems alive about him but his eyes, staring horribly, and his right hand
which nervously fingers the gun in the belt around his waist.)
THE OLDER MAN—(in
a hoarse whisper)
Yes. I know it. Go on.
(dreamily, absorbed in his own thoughts) I loved her. In the corrupt environment of a mining camp she seemed
like a lily growing in a field of rank weeds. I longed to take her away
from all that atmosphere of sordid sin and suffering; away from her beast
of a husband who was steadily ruining that beautiful young life and
driving her to desperation. I overstayed my time. I should have been back
in the mountains. I went to see her often. He was always away it seemed.
Finally people began to talk. Then I realized that the time had come and I
told her that I loved her. I shall never forget her face. She looked at me
with great calm eyes but her lips trembled as she said: “I know you love
me and I—I love you; but you must go away and we must never see each
other again. I am his wife and I must keep my pledge.”
THE OLDER MAN—(starting
to his feet and half drawing the pistol from the holster)
awakened from his dream also springs to his feet, his face angry and
what do you mean? ‘What is it?
THE OLDER MAN—(controlling
his rage with a mighty effort and sitting down again)
Nothing. Nerves I guess. It’s my sore spot—the virtue of women.
I’ve seen but little of it in my mining camp experiences and your
heroine seems to me too impossible. (Wonderingly Jack sits down beside him again.)
wouldn’t think so if you could have seen her. (The Older Man covers his face in his hands and
THE OLDER MAN—
at the photo with haggard eyes for a moment, then whispers in a half sob)
My wife! (Then staring into vacancy he speaks to himself unconsciously aloud.) She has not changed.
a picture of her she sent me a year ago. (takes small photo out of pocket of his shirt) Look at it. (handing
him the photo)
Do you think a woman with a face like that could be the regular mining
camp kind? (feels
in pocket again and goes into tent as if searching for something)
(who has come back from the tent with a soiled envelope in his hand in
time to hear the last sentence) (astonished) Changed? Who? Do you know her?
THE OLDER MAN—(quickly
mastering his emotion and lying bravely)
No. Of course not. But she reminds me of a girl I knew here in the
States a long time ago. But the girl I speak of must be an old woman by
this time. I forget my grey hairs.
is only twenty-five. Her parents were poor French people. In a fit of
mistaken zeal for her welfare they forced her to marry this man when she
was too young to know her own mind. They thought they were making an
excellent match. Immediately after the marriage he dragged her off to San
Sebastien where he was half owner of a small mine. It seems the devil
broke out in him before they were hardly settled there. (after
I’d like to be fair to him. Maybe he realized that she could never
love him and was trying to drown the memory of the mistake he had made. He
certainly loved her—in his fashion.
THE OLDER MAN—(in
a pathetic whisper)
Yes. He must have loved her—in his fashion.
(looking at the letter in his hand which he had forgotten) Ah, I forgot. I have proof positive of her innocence and
noble-mindedness. Here is a letter which she wrote and sent to me the
morning I was leaving. It’s only a few words. Read it Mr. Doubting
letter to the Older Man)
THE OLDER MAN—(His
Her writing. (reading
“I must keep my oath. He needs me and I must stay. To be true to
myself I must be true to him. (aside
“My God I was wrong after all”)
Sometime I may send for you. Good-bye” signed Yvette. (He folds the letter up slowly, puts it back in the envelope and hands it
to Jack. Suddenly he turns to
with quick suspicion.)
she mean by that last sentence?
I left I gave her my address in the States and she promised to let me know
if she changed her mind or if conditions changed.
THE OLDER MAN—(with
You mean if the drunken husband died.
face growing hard)
Yes. That’s what I mean.
THE OLDER MAN—Well
how do you know he hasn’t? Have you ever heard from her since?
the one time when she sent the picture I showed you. I received the letter
from her in Cape Town a year ago. It had been forwarded from the States.
She said her husband had disappeared soon after I left. No one knew where
he had gone but the rumor was that he had set out on my trail for
vengeance, refusing to believe in her innocence. (grimly
patting his gun)
I’m sorry he didn’t find me.
THE OLDER MAN—
has by this time regained control of himself and speaks quite calmly.)
Where is she now?
Living with her parents in New York. She wrote to say that she would wait
a year longer. If he did not return to her by then she would become
legally free of him and would send for me. The year is up today but (hopelessly)
I have received no word. (walks
back and looks into the darkness as if hoping
to see someone coming)
THE OLDER MAN—
remembers the telegram he has. He takes it from his pocket as if to
give it to Jack; then hesitates and says in agony)
My God I cannot! (as
he realizes the full significance of what the telegram says. Mastered by a
contrary impulse he goes to burn it in the camp fire but again hesitates.
Finally as Jack returns slowly to the camp fire he turns quickly and hands
the telegram to him.)
Cheer up! Here’s a surprise
for you. Read this. Old Pete brought it from Lawson before you returned
and I forgot all about it. I opened it by mistake thinking it might have
something to do with the mine. (He
turns quickly away as if unable
to bear the sight of Jack’s elation.)
feverishly opens the yellow envelope. His face lights up and he gives an
exclamation of joy and rushes to the Older Man.)
too good to be true. Tell me I am not dreaming.
THE OLDER MAN—(He
looks at Jack steadily for a moment, then tries hard to smile and mutters)
is suffering horribly.)
the cause of his emotion)
Never mind Old Pal I won’t be gone long and when I come back I’ll
bring her with me.
THE OLDER MAN—(hastily)
No. I’ll manage all right. Better stay East for a while. We’ll
need someone there when the work really starts.
can I get a train?
THE OLDER MAN—If
you ride hard and start right away you can get to Lawson in time for the
Limited at three in the morning.
off with saddle under arm)
My horse is hobbled at the mouth of the canyon.
THE OLDER MAN—(stands
in front of tent)
So I have found him after all these years and I cannot even hate him.
What tricks Fate plays with us. When he told me his name that first day I
noticed that it was the same as the man’s I was looking for. But he
seemed such a boy to me and my heart went out to him so strongly that I
never for an instant harbored the idea that he could be the John Sloan I
was after. Of course he never knew my right name. I wonder what he would
say if he knew. I’ve half a mind to tell him. But no, what’s the use?
Why should I mar his happiness? In this affair I alone am to blame and I
must pay. As I listened to his story this evening until no doubt remained
that he was the John Sloan I had sworn to kill, my hand reached for my gun
and all the old hate flared up in my heart. And then I remembered his face
as he looked that day in the Transvaal when he bent over me after saving
my life at the risk of his own. I could almost hear his words as he spoke
that day when death was so near: “All right, old pal, you’re all
right.” Then my hand left my gun and the old hatred died out forever. I
could not do it. (He
pauses and a bitter smile comes over his face as at some new thought.)
O what a fool I have been. She was true to me in spite of what I was.
God bless him for telling me so. God grant they may both be happy—the
only two beings I have ever loved. And I—must keep wandering on. I
cannot be the ghost at their feast.
hurriedly, putting on spurs, hat, etc.)
Good-bye Old Pal. I’m sorry to leave you this way but I have
waited so long for this. You understand don’t you?
THE OLDER MAN—(slowly)
Yes. (grasping his hand and looking deep into his eyes) Good-bye and God
bless you both.
THE OLDER MAN—(sits
down by the camp fire and buries face in his hands. Finally he rouses
himself with an effort, stirs the camp fire and smiling with a whimsical
sadness softly quotes:)
Greater love hath no man than this that he giveth his wife for his