THE EASIEST WAY
(Born, Cleveland, Ohio, November 27, 1874)
When questioned once regarding "The Easiest Way," Mr. Eugene Walter said, "Incidentally, I do not think much of it. To my mind a good play must have a tremendous uplift in thought and purpose. 'The Easiest Way' has none of this. There is not a character in the play really worth while, with the exception of the old agent. The rest, at best, are not a particular adornment to society, and the strength of the play lies in its true portrayal of the sordid type of life which it expressed. As it is more or less purely photographic, I do not think it should be given the credit of an inspiration—it is rather devilishly clever, but a great work it certainly is not."
Such was not the verdict of the first night audience, at the Stuyvesant Theatre, New York, January 19, 1909. It was found to be one of the most direct pieces of work the American stage had thus far produced—disagreeably realistic, but purging—and that is the test of an effective play—by the very poignancy of the tragic forces closing in around the heroine. Though it is not as literary a piece of dramatic expression as Pinero's "Iris," it is better in its effect; because its relentlessness is due, not so predominantly to the moral downgrade of the woman, as to the moral downgrade of a certain phase of life which engulfs those nearest the centre of it. The play roused a storm of comment; there were camps that took just the stand Mr. Walter takes in the opening quotation. But the play is included in this collection because its power, as a documentary report of a phase of American stage life, is undeniable; because, as a piece of workmanship, shorn of the usual devices called theatrical, it comes down to the raw bone of the theme, and firmly progresses to its great climax,—great in the sense of overpowering,—at the very fall of the final curtain.
Mr. Walter's various experiences in the theatre as an advance man, his star reporting on the Detroit News, his struggles to gain a footing in New York, contributed something to the bitter irony which runs as a dark pattern through the texture of "The Easiest Way." He is one of the many American dramatists who have come from the newspaper ranks, having served on the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Press, the New York Sun and Globe, the Cincinnati Post and the Seattle Star. Not many will disagree with the verdict that thus far he has not excelled this play, though "Paid in Full" (February 25, 1908) contains the same sting of modern life, which drives his characters to situations dramatic and dire, making them sell their souls and their peace of minds for the benefit of worldly ease and comfort. Note this theme in "Fine Feathers" (January 7, 1913) and "Nancy Lee" (April 9, 1918). In this sense, his plays all possess a consistency which makes no compromises. Arthur Ruhl, in his "Second Nights", refers to Walter as of the "no quarter" school. He brings a certain manly subtlety to bear on melodramatic subjects, as in "The Wolf" (April 18, 1908) and "The Knife" (April 12, 1917); he seems to do as he pleases with his treatment, as he did right at the start with his first successful play. For, of "The Easiest Way" it may be said that, for the first time in his managerial career, Mr. David Belasco agreed to accept it with the condition that not a word of the manuscript should be changed.
It is interesting to note about Walter that, though he may now repudiate it, "The Easiest Way" stands distinct in its class; perhaps the dramatist has ripened more in technique—one immediately feels the surety and vital grip of dramatic expertness in Walter, much more so than in George Broadhurst, Bayard Veiller, or other American dramatists of his class. But he has not surpassed "The Easiest Way" in the burning intention with which it was written.
As a dramatist, Walter adopts an interesting method; he tries out his plays on the road, experimenting with various names, and re-casting until ready for metropolitan production. His dramas have many aliases, and it is a long case to prove an alibi; any student who has attempted to settle dates will soon find that out. His military play, written out of his experiences as a United States cavalryman in the Spanish American War, was called "Boots and Saddles," after it was given as "Sergeant James." "Fine Feathers," "The Knife," "The Heritage," "Nancy Lee"—were all second or third choice as to name.
In his advancement, Mr. Walter gives much credit to three American managers—Kirke LaShelle, and the Selwyn brothers, Archie and Edgar. It was the Selwyns who, during his various ventures in the "show business," persuaded him to move to Shelter Island, and write "The Undertow." It was in their house that "Paid in Full" was finished. Let Mr. Walter continue the narrative:
The circumstances under which "The Easiest Way" was written are rather peculiar. When I was an advance-agent, ahead of second-class companies, the need of money caused me to write a one-act piece called "All the Way from Denver," which in time I was able to dispose of. Later, after having written "Paid in Full," I realized that in the play, "All the Way from Denver," there was a situation or theme that might prove exceedingly valuable in a four-act play. After discussing the possibilities with Mr. Archie Selwyn, we concluded to write it. In the meantime, the one-act piece had come into the possession of Margaret Mayo, and through her, Mr. Edgar Selwyn decided that the title should be "The Easiest Way" instead of "All the Way from Denver."
The play was then taken in its scenario form to Mr. C.B. Dillingham, and discussed with him at length. This was prior to the public presentation of "Paid in Full." I possessed no particular reputation as a dramatic writer—in fact, the Messrs. Selwyn—Archie and Edgar—were the only ones who took me seriously, and thought me a possibility. Mr. Dillingham was not particularly impressed with the piece, because he thought it was much too broad in theme, and he did not like the idea of slapping the managerial knuckles of the theatre. Further, the obvious inference in "The Easiest Way," that Laura was kept out of work in order to be compelled to yield herself to Brockton, was a point which did not appeal to him. However, we had a working agreement with him, and later, Mr. Archie Selwyn, in discussing the story of the play with Mr. David Belasco, aroused his interest. The latter saw "Paid in Full" and "The Wolf," and so he sent for me, with the result that "The Easiest Way" was first produced in Hartford, Conn., on December 31, 1908. Since its New York production, it has been presented in nearly every country of the world. It has not always met with commercial success, but it has always been regarded as a play of representative importance.
William Winter was one of the bitterest enemies of "The Easiest Way." He placed it with "Zaza" and Brieux's "Three Daughters of M. Dupont." As an opposite extreme view, we give the opinion of Mr. Walter Eaton, written in 1909, concerning the play: "It places Mr. Walter as a leader among our dramatists." In some respects, we may have surpassed it since then, in imaginative ideality; but, as an example of relentless realism, it still holds its own as a distinct contribution. The text has been edited for private circulation, and it is this text which is followed here. A few modifications, of a technical nature, have been made in the stage directions; but even with these slight changes, the directions are staccato, utilitarian in conciseness, rather than literary in the Shaw sense.
DAVID BELASCO'S STUYVESANT THEATRE
44th STREET near BROADWAY New York City
Under the sole management of DAVID BELASCO
DAVID BELASCO PRESENTS FRANCES STARR —IN— THE EASIEST WAY
An American play concerning a peculiar phase of New York life.
In Four Acts and Four Scenes.
By EUGENE WALTER.
CHARACTERS OF THE PLAY
JOHN MADISON EDWARD H. ROBINS
WILLARD BROCKTON JOSEPH KILCOUR
JIM WESTON WILLIAM SAMPSON
LAURA MURDOCK FRANCES STARR
ELFIE ST. CLAIR LAURA NELSON HALL
ANNIE EMMA DUNN
Program Continued on Second Page Following
* * * * *
ACT I.—Mrs. William's ranch house or country home, perched on the side of the Ute Pass, near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Time—Late in an August afternoon.
ACT II.—Laura Murdock's furnished room, second story, back. New York. Time—Six months later.
ACT III.—Laura Murdock's apartments in an expensive hotel. New York. Time—Two months later. In the morning.
ACT IV.—The same at Act III. Time—The same afternoon.
* * * * *
The play produced under the personal supervision of Mr. Belasco.
* * * * *
PROGRAM CONTINUED ON SECOND PAGE FOLLOWING.
Stage Director William J. Dean Stage Manager Langdon West
* * * * *
Stage decorations and accessories designed by Wilfred Buckland.
* * * * *
Scenes by Ernest Cross.
* * * * *
Scenery built by Charles J. Carson. Electrical effects by Louis Harlman. Gowns by Mollie O'Hara. Hats by Bendel.
* * * * *
The Pianola used is from the Aeolian Co., New York.
THE EASIEST WAY
AN AMERICAN PLAY CONCERNING A
PARTICULAR PHASE OF
NEW YORK LIFE
IN FOUR ACTS AND FOUR SCENES
By EUGENE WALTER
1908 BY EUGENE WALTER
[The Editor wishes to thank Mr. Eugene Walter for his courtesy in granting permission to include "The Easiest Way" in the present Collection. All its dramatic rights are fully secured, and proceedings will immediately be taken against anyone attempting to infringe them.]
LAURA MURDOCK. ELFIE ST. CLAIR. ANNIE. WILLARD BROCKTON. JOHN MADISON. JIM WESTON.
DESCRIPTION OF CHARACTERS.
LAURA MURDOCH, twenty-five years of age, is a type not uncommon in the theatrical life of New York, and one which has grown in importance in the profession since the business of giving public entertainments has been so reduced to a commercial basis.
At an early age she came from Australia to San Francisco. She possessed a considerable beauty and an aptitude for theatrical accomplishment which soon raised her to a position of more or less importance in a local stock company playing in that city. A woman of intense superficial emotions, her imagination was without any enduring depths, but for the passing time she could place herself in an attitude of great affection and devotion. Sensually, the woman had marked characteristics, and, with the flattery that surrounded her, she soon became a favourite in the select circles which made such places as "The Poodle Dog" and "Zinkand's" famous. In general dissipation, she was always careful not in any way to indulge in excesses which would jeopardize her physical attractiveness, or for one moment to diminish her sense of keen worldly calculation.
In time she married. It was, of course, a failure. Her vacillating nature was such that she could not be absolutely true to the man to whom she had given her life, and, after several bitter experiences, she had the horror of seeing him kill himself in front of her. There was a momentary spasm of grief, a tidal wave of remorse, and then the peculiar recuperation of spirits, beauty and attractiveness that so marks this type of woman. She was deceived by other men in many various ways, and finally came to that stage of life that is known in theatrical circles as being "wised up."
At nineteen, the attention of a prominent theatrical manager being called to her, she took an important part in a New York production, and immediately gained considerable reputation. The fact that, before reaching the age of womanhood, she had had more escapades than most women have in their entire lives was not generally known in New York, nor was there a mark upon her face or a single coarse mannerism to betray it. She was soft-voiced, very pretty, very girlish. Her keen sense of worldly calculation led her to believe that in order to progress in her theatrical career she must have some influence outside of her art and dramatic accomplishment; so she attempted, with no little success, to infatuate a hard-headed, blunt and supposedly invincible theatrical manager, who, in his cold, stolid way, gave her what love there was in him. This, however, not satisfying her, she played two ends against the middle, and, finding a young man of wealth and position who could give her, in his youth, the exuberance and joy utterly apart from the character of the theatrical manager, she adopted him, and for a while lived with him. Exhausting his money, she cast him aside, always spending a certain part of the time with the theatrical manager. The young man became crazed, and, at a restaurant, tried to murder all of them.
From that time up to the opening of the play, her career was a succession of brilliant coups in gaining the confidence and love, not to say the money, of men of all ages and all walks in life. Her fascination was as undeniable as her insincerity of purpose. She had never made an honest effort to be an honest woman, although she imagined herself always persecuted, the victim of circumstances,—and was always ready to excuse any viciousness of character which led her into her peculiar difficulties. While acknowledged to be a mistress of her business—that of acting—from a purely technical point of view, her lack of sympathy, her abuse of her dramatic temperament in her private affairs, had been such as to make it impossible for her sincerely to impress audiences with real emotional power, and, therefore, despite the influences which she always had at hand, she remained a mediocre artist.
At the time of the opening of our play, she has played a summer engagement with a stock company in Denver, which has just ended. She has met JOHN MADISON, a man of about twenty-seven years of age, whose position is that of a dramatic critic on one of the local papers. LAURA MURDOCH, with her usual wisdom, started to fascinate JOHN MADISON, but has found that, for once in her life, she has met her match.
JOHN MADISON is good to look at, frank, virile, but a man of broad experience, and not to be hoodwinked. For the first time LAURA MURDOCH feels that the shoe is pinching the other foot, and, without any possible indication of reciprocal affection, she has been slowly falling desperately, madly, honestly and decently in love with him. She has for the past two years been the special favourite and mistress of WILLARD BROCKTON. The understanding is one of pure friendship. He is a man who has a varied taste in the selection of his women; is honest in a general way, and perfectly frank about his amours. He has been most generous with LAURA MURDOCK, and his close relations with several very prominent theatrical managers have made it possible for him to secure her desirable engagements, generally in New York. With all her past experiences, tragic and otherwise, LAURA MURDOCH has found nothing equal to this sudden, this swiftly increasing, love for the young Western man. At first she attempted to deceive him. Her baby face, her masterful assumption of innocence and childlike devotion, made no impression upon him. He has let her know in no uncertain way that he knew her record from the day she stepped on American soil in San Francisco to the time when she had come to Denver, but still he liked her.
JOHN MADISON is a peculiar type of the Western man. Up to the time of his meeting LAURA, he had always been employed either in the mines or on a newspaper west of the Mississippi River. He is one of those itinerant reporters; to-day you might find him in Seattle, to-morrow in Butte, the next week in Denver, and then possibly he would make the circuit from Los Angeles to 'Frisco, and then all around again. He drinks his whiskey straight, plays his faro fairly, and is not particular about the women with whom he goes. He started life in the Western country at an early age. His natural talents, both in literature and in general adaptability to all conditions of life, were early exhibited, but his alma mater was the bar-room, and the faculty of that college its bartenders and gamblers and general habitues.
He seldom has social engagements outside of certain disreputable establishments, where a genial personality or an over-burdened pocketbook gives entree, and the rules of conventionality have never even been whispered. His love affairs, confined to this class of women, have seldom lasted more than a week or ten days. His editors know him as a brilliant genius, irresponsible, unreliable, but at times inestimably valuable. He cares little for personal appearance beyond a certain degree of neatness. He is quick on the trigger, and in a time of over-heated argument can go some distance with his fists; in fact, his whole career is best described as "happy-go-lucky."
He realizes fully his ability to do almost anything fairly well, and some things especially well, but he has never tried to accomplish anything beyond the earning of a comfortable living. Twenty-five or thirty dollars a week was all he needed. With that he could buy his liquor, treat his women, sometimes play a little faro, sit up all night and sleep all day, and in general lead the life of good-natured vagabondage which has always pleased him and which he had chosen as a career.
The objection of safer and saner friends to this form of livelihood was always met by him with a slap on the back and a laugh. "Don't you worry about me, partner; if I'm going to hell I'm going there with bells on," was always his rejoinder; and yet, when called upon to cover some great big news story, or report some vital event, he settled down to his work with a steely determination and a grim joy that resulted in work which classified him as a genius. Any great mental effort of this character, any unusual achievement along these lines, would be immediately followed by a protracted debauch that would upset him physically and mentally for weeks at a time, but he always recovered and landed on his feet, and with the same laugh and smile again went at his work.
If there have been opportunities to meet decent women of good social standing, he has always thrown them aside with the declaration that they bore him to death, and there never had entered into his heart a feeling or idea of real affection until he met LAURA. He fell for a moment under the spell of her fascination, and then, with cold logic, he analyzed her, and found out that, while outwardly she had every sign of girlhood,—ingenuousness, sweetness of character and possibility of affection,—spiritually and mentally she was nothing more than a moral wreck. He observed keenly her efforts to win him and her disappointment at her failure—not that she cared so much for him personally, but that it hurt her vanity not to be successful with this good-for-nothing, good-natured vagabond, when men of wealth and position she made kneel at her feet. He observed her slowly-changing point of view: how from a kittenish ingenuousness she became serious, womanly, really sincere. He knew that he had awakened in her her first decent affection, and he knew that she was awakening in him his first desire to do things and be big and worth while. So together these two began to drift toward a path of decent dealing, decent ambition, decent thought, and decent love, until at last they both find themselves, and acknowledge all the wickedness of what had been, and plan for all the virtue and goodness of what is to be. It is at this point that our first act begins.
ELFIE ST. CLAIR is a type of a Tenderloin grafter in New York, who, after all, has been more sinned against than sinning; who, having been imposed upon, deceived, ill-treated and bulldozed by the type of men who prey on women in New York, has turned the tables, and with her charm and her beauty has gone out to make the same slaughter of the other sex as she suffered with many of her sisters.
She is a woman without a moral conscience, whose entire life is dictated by a small mental operation. Coming to New York as a beautiful girl, she entered the chorus. She became famous for her beauty. On every hand were the stage-door vultures ready to give her anything that a woman's heart could desire, from clothes to horses, carriages, money and what-not; but, with a girl-like instinct, she fell in love with a man connected with the company, and, during all the time she might have profited and become a rich woman by the attentions of these outsiders, she remained true to her love, until finally her fame as the beauty of the city had waned. The years told on her to a certain extent, and there were others coming, as young as she had been and as good to look at; and, where the automobile of the millionaire had once been waiting for her, she found that, through her faithfulness to her lover, it was now there for some one else. Yet she was content with her joys, until finally the man deliberately jilted her and left her alone.
What had gone of her beauty had been replaced by a keen knowledge of human nature and of men, so she determined to give herself up entirely to a life of gain. She knows just how much champagne should be drunk without injuring one's health. She knows just what physical necessities should be indulged in to preserve to the greatest degree her remaining beauty. There is no trick of the hair-dresser, the modiste, the manicurist, or any one of the legion of people who devote their time to aiding the outward fascinations of women, which she does not know. She knows exactly what perfumes to use, what stockings to wear, how she should live, how far she should indulge in any dissipation; and all this she has determined to devote to profit. She knows that as an actress she has no future; that the time of a woman's beauty is limited. Conscious that she has already lost the youthful litheness of figure which had made her so fascinating in the past, she has laid aside every sentiment, physical and spiritual, and has determined to choose a man as her companion who has the biggest bank-roll and the most liberal nature. His age, his station in life, the fact whether she likes or dislikes him, do not enter into this scheme at all. She figures that she has been made a fool of by men, and that there is only one revenge,—the accumulation of a fortune to make her independent of them once and for all. There are, of course, certain likes and dislikes that she enjoys, and in a way she indulges them. There are men whose company she cares for, but their association is practically sexless and has come down to a point of mere good fellowship.
WILLARD BROCKTON, a New York broker, is an honest sensualist, and when one says an honest sensualist, the meaning is—a man who has none of the cad in his character, who takes advantage of no one, and who allows no one to take advantage of him. He honestly detests any man who takes advantage of a pure woman. He detests any man who deceives a woman. He believes that there is only one way to go through life, and that is to be frank with those with whom one deals. He is a master-hand in stock manipulation, and in the questionable practises of Wall Street he has realized that he has to play his cunning and craft against the cunning and craft of others. He is not at all in sympathy with this mode of living, but he thinks it is the only method by which he can succeed in life. He measures success by the accumulation of money, but he considers his business career as a thing apart from his private existence.
He does not associate, to any great extent, with what is known as "society." He keeps in touch with it simply to maintain his business position. There is always an inter-relationship among the rich in business and private life, and he gives such entertainments as are necessary to the members of New York's exclusive set, simply to make certain his relative position with other successful Wall Street men.
As far as women are concerned, the particular type of actress, such as LAURA MURDOCH and ELFIE ST. CLAIR, appeals to him. He likes their good fellowship. He loves to be with a gay party at night in a cafe. He likes the rather looseness of living which does not quite reach the disreputable. Behind all this, however, is a certain high sense of honour. He detests and despises the average stage-door Johnny, and he loathes the type of man who seeks to take young girls out of theatrical companies for their ruin.
His women friends are as wise as himself. When they enter into an agreement with him there is no deception. In the first place he wants to like them; in the second place he wants them to like him; and finally, he wants to fix the amount of their living expenses at a definite figure, and have them stand by it. He wants them to understand that he reserves the right, at any time, to withdraw his support, or transfer it to some other woman, and he gives them the same privilege.
He is always ready to help anyone who is unfortunate, and he has always hoped that some of these girls whom he knew would finally come across the right man, marry and settle down; but he insists that such an arrangement can be possible only by the honest admission on the woman's part of what she has done and been, and by the thorough understanding of all these things by the man involved. He is gruff in his manner, determined in his purposes, honest in his point of view. He is a brute, almost a savage, but he is a thoroughly good brute and a pretty decent savage.
At the time of the opening of this play, he and LAURA MURDOCK have been friends for two years. He knows exactly what she is and what she has been, and their relations are those of pals. She has finished her season in Denver, and he has come out there to accompany her home. He has always told her, whenever she felt it inconsistent with her happiness to continue her relations with him, it is her privilege to quit, and he has reserved the same condition.
JIM WESTON, between forty-five and fifty years of age, is the type of the semi-broken-down showman. In the evolution of the theatrical business in America, the old circus and minstrel men have gradually been pushed aside, while younger men, with more advanced methods, have taken their place. The character is best realized by the way it is drawn in the play.
ANNIE. The only particular attention that should be called to the character of the negress, ANNIE, who is the servant of LAURA, is the fact that she must not in any way represent the traditional smiling coloured girl or "mammy" of the South. She is the cunning, crafty, heartless, surly, sullen Northern negress, who, to the number of thousands, are servants of women of easy morals, and who infest a district of New York in which white and black people of the lower classes mingle indiscriminately, and which is one of the most criminal sections of the city. The actress who plays this part must keep in mind its innate and brutal selfishness.
ACT I. Mrs. Williams' Ranch House or Country Home, perched on the side of Ute Pass, near Colorado Springs, Colorado.
TIME. Late in an August afternoon.
ACT II. Laura Murdock's furnished Room, second story back, New York.
TIME. Six months later.
ACT III. Laura Murdock's Apartments in an expensive Hotel.
TIME. Two months later. In the morning.
ACT IV. Laura Murdock's Apartments. The same as Act III.
TIME. The afternoon of the same day.
THE EASIEST WAY
SCENE. The scene is that of the summer country ranch house of MRS. WILLIAMS, a friend of LAURA MURDOCK'S, and a prominent society woman of Denver, perched on the side of Ute Pass, near Colorado Springs. The house is one of unusual pretentiousness, and, to a person not conversant with conditions as they exist in this part of Colorado, the idea might be that such magnificence could not obtain in such a locality. At the left of stage the house rises in the form of a turret, built of rough stone of a brown hue, two stories high, and projecting a quarter of the way out on the stage. The door leads to a small elliptical terrace built of stone, with heavy benches of Greek design, strewn cushions, while over the top of one part of this terrace is suspended a canopy made from a Navajo blanket. The terrace is supposed to extend almost to the right of stage, and here it stops. The stage must be cut here so that the entrance of JOHN can give the illusion that he is coming up a steep declivity or a long flight of stairs. There are chairs at right and left, and a small table at left. There are trailing vines around the balustrade of the terrace, and the whole setting must convey the idea of quiet wealth. Up stage is supposed to be the part of the terrace overlooking the canon, a sheer drop of two thousand feet, while over in the distance, as if across the canon, one can see the rolling foot-hills and lofty peaks of the Rockies, with Pike's Peak in the distance, snow-capped and colossal. It is late in the afternoon, and, as the scene progresses, the quick twilight of a canon, beautiful in its tints of purple and amber, becomes later pitch black, and the curtain goes down on an absolutely black stage. The cyclorama, or semi-cyclorama, must give the perspective of greater distances, and be so painted that the various tints of twilight may be shown.
AT RISE. LAURA MURDOCK is seen leaning a bit over the balustrade of the porch and shielding her eyes with her hand from the late afternoon sun, as she seemingly looks up the Pass to the left, as if expecting the approach of someone. Her gown is simple, girlish and attractive, and made of summery, filmy stuff. Her hair is done up in the simplest fashion, with a part in the centre, and there is about her every indication of an effort to assume that girlishness of demeanour which has been her greatest asset through life. WILLARD BROCKTON enters; he is a man six feet or more in height, stocky in build, clean-shaven and immaculately dressed. He is smoking a cigar, and upon entering takes one step forward and looks over toward LAURA in a semi-meditative manner.
WILL. What's up?
WILL. A little preoccupied.
WILL. What's up that way?
LAURA. Which way?
WILL. The way you are looking.
LAURA. The road from Manitou Springs. They call it the trail out here.
WILL. I know that. You know I've done a lot of business west of the Missouri.
LAURA. [With a half-sigh.] No, I didn't know it.
WILL. Oh, yes; south of here in the San Juan country. Spent a couple of years there once.
LAURA. [Still without turning.] That's interesting.
WILL. It was then. I made some money there. It's always interesting when you make money. Still—
LAURA. [Still leaning in an absent-minded attitude.] Still what?
WILL. Can't make out why you have your eyes glued on that road. Someone coming?
WILL. One of Mrs. Williams' friends, eh? [Will crosses, and sits on seat.
WILL. Yours too?
LAURA. Yes, a real man.
WILL. [Catches the significance of this speech. He carelessly throws the cigar over the balustrade. He comes down and leans on chair with his back to LAURA. She has not moved more than to place her left hand on a cushion and lean her head rather wearily against it, looking steadfastly up the Pass.] A real man. By that you mean—
LAURA. Just that—a real man.
WILL. Any difference from the many you have known?
LAURA. Yes, from all I have known.
WILL. So that is why you didn't come into Denver to meet me to-day, but left word for me to come out here?
WILL. I thought that I was pretty decent to take a dusty ride half-way across the continent in order to keep you company on your way back to New York, and welcome you to our home; but maybe I had the wrong idea.
LAURA. Yes, I think you had the wrong idea.
WILL. In love, eh?
LAURA. Yes, just that,—in love.
WILL. A new sensation.
LAURA. No; the first conviction.
WILL. You have had that idea before. Every woman's love is the real one when it comes. [Crosses up to LAURA.] Do you make a distinction in this case, young lady?
WILL. For instance, what?
LAURA. This man is poor—absolutely broke. He hasn't even got a [Crosses to armchair, leans over and draws with parasol on ground.] good job. You know, Will, all the rest, including yourself, generally had some material inducement.
WILL. What's his business? [Crosses to table and sits looking at magazine.
LAURA. He's a newspaper man.
WILL. H'm-m. Romance?
LAURA. Yes, if you want to call it that,—romance.
WILL. Do I know him?
LAURA. How could you? You only came from New York to-day, and he has never been there.
He regards her with a rather amused, indulgent, almost paternal expression, in contrast to his big, bluff, physical personality, with his iron-gray hair and his bulldog expression. LAURA looks more girlish than ever. This is imperative in order to thoroughly understand the character.
WILL. How old is he?
LAURA. Twenty-seven. You're forty-five.
WILL. No, forty-six.
LAURA. Shall I tell you about him? Huh?
[Crosses to WILL, placing parasol on seat.
WILL. That depends.
LAURA. On what?
LAURA. In what way?
WILL. If it will interfere in the least with the plans I have made for you and for me.
LAURA. And have you made any particular plans for me that have anything particularly to do with you?
WILL. Yes, I have given up the lease of our apartment on West End Avenue, and I've got a house on Riverside Drive. Everything will be quiet and decent, and it'll be more comfortable for you. There's a stable near by, and your horses and car can be kept over there. You'll be your own mistress, and besides I've fixed you up for a new part.
LAURA. A new part! What kind of a part?
WILL. One of Charlie Burgess's shows, translated from some French fellow. It's been running over in Paris, Berlin, and Vienna, and all those places, for a year or more, and appears to be an awful hit. It's going to cost a lot of money. I told Charlie he could put me down for a half interest, and I'd give all the money providing you got an important role. Great part, I'm told. Kind of a cross between a musical comedy and an opera. Looks as if it might stay in New York all season. So that's the change of plan. How does it strike you?
[LAURA crosses to door, meditating; pauses in thought.
LAURA. I don't know.
WILL. Feel like quitting? [Turns to her.
LAURA. I can't tell.
WILL. It's the newspaper man, eh?
LAURA. That would be the only reason.
WILL. You've been on the square with me this summer, haven't you? [Crosses to table.
LAURA. [Turns, looks at WILL.] What do you mean by "on the square?"
WILL. Don't evade. There's only one meaning when I say that, and you know it. I'm pretty liberal. But you understand where I draw the line. You've not jumped that, have you, Laura?
LAURA. No, this has been such a wonderful summer, such a wonderfully different summer. Can you understand what I mean by that when I say "wonderfully different summer?"
[Crossing to WILL.
WILL. Well, he's twenty-seven and broke, and you're twenty-five and pretty; and he evidently, being a newspaper man, has that peculiar gift of gab that we call romantic expression. So I guess I'm not blind, and you both think you've fallen in love. That it?
LAURA. Yes, I think that's about it; only I don't agree to the "gift of gab" and the "romantic" end of it. [Crosses to table.] He's a man and I'm a woman, and we both have had our experiences. I don't think, Will, that there can be much of that element of what some folks call hallucination.
[Sits on chair; takes candy-box on lap; selects candy.
WILL. Then the Riverside Drive proposition and Burgess's show is off, eh?
LAURA. I didn't say that.
WILL. And if you go back on the Overland Limited day after to-morrow, you'd just as soon I'd go to-morrow of wait until the day after you leave? [LAURA places candy-box back on table.
LAURA. I didn't say that, either.
WILL. What's the game?
LAURA. I can't tell you now.
WILL. Waiting for him to come? [Crosses, sits on seat.
WILL. Think he is going to make a proposition, eh?
LAURA. I know he is.
WILL. You've tried that once, and taken the wrong end. Are you going to play the same game again?
LAURA. Yes, but with a different card.
[Picks up magazine off table.
WILL. What's his name?
LAURA. Madison—John Madison.
[Slowly turning pages of magazine.
WILL. And his job?
WILL. What are you going to live on,—the extra editions?
LAURA. No, we're young, there's plenty of time. I can work in the meantime, and so can he; and then with his ability and my ability it will only be a matter of a year or two when things will shape themselves to make it possible.
WILL. Sounds well—a year off.
LAURA. If I thought you were going to make fun of me, Will, I shouldn't have talked to you.
[Throws down magazine, crosses to door of house.
WILL. [Crossing down in front of table.] I don't want to make fun of you, but you must realize that after two years it isn't an easy thing to be dumped with so little ceremony. Maybe you have never given me any credit for possessing the slightest feeling, but even I can receive shocks from other sources than a break in the market.
LAURA. [Crosses to WILL.] It isn't easy for me to do this. You've been awfully kind, awfully considerate, but when I went to you it was just with the understanding that we were to be pals. You reserved the right then to quit me whenever you felt like it, and you gave me the same privilege. Now, if some girl came along who really captivated you in the right way, and you wanted to marry, it would hurt me a little,—maybe a lot,—but I should never forget that agreement we made, a sort of two weeks' notice clause, like people have in contracts.
WILL. [Is evidently very much moved. Walks up stage to right end of seat, looks over the canon. LAURA looks after him. WILL has his back to the audience. Long pause.] I'm not hedging, Laura. If that's the way you want it to be, I'll stand by just exactly what I said [Turns to LAURA.], but I'm fond of you, a damn sight fonder than I thought I was, now that I find you slipping away; but if this young fellow is on the square [LAURA crosses to WILL, taking his right hand.] and he has youth and ability, and you've been on the square with him, why, all right. Your life hasn't had much in it to help you get a diploma from any celestial college, and if you can start out now and be a good girl, have a good husband, and maybe some day good children [LAURA sighs.], why, I'm not going to stand in the way. Only I don't want you to make any of those mistakes that you made before.
LAURA. I know, but somehow I feel that this time the real thing has come, and with it the real man. I can't tell you, Will, how much different it is, but everything I felt before seems so sort of earthly—and somehow this love that I have for this man is so different. It's made me want to be truthful and sincere and humble for the first time in my life. The only other thing I ever had that I cared the least bit about, now that I look back, was your friendship. We have been good pals, haven't we?
[Puts arms about WILL.
WILL. Yes, it's been a mighty good two years for me. I was always proud to take you around, because I think you one of the prettiest things in New York [LAURA crosses and girlishly jumps into armchair.], and that helps some, and you're always jolly, and you never complained. You always spent a lot of money, but it was a pleasure to see you spend it; and then you never offended me. Most women offend men by coming around looking untidy and sort of unkempt, but somehow you always knew the value of your beauty, and you always dressed up. I always thought that maybe some day the fellow would come along, grab you, and make you happy in a nice way, but I thought that he'd have to have a lot of money. You know you've lived a rather extravagant life for five years, Laura. It won't be an easy job to come down to cases and suffer for the little dainty necessities you've been used to.
LAURA. I've thought all about that, and I think I understand.
[Facing audience; leaning elbows on lap.
WILL. You know if you were working without anybody's help, Laura, you might have a hard time getting a position. As an actress you're only fair.
LAURA. You needn't remind me of that. That part of my life is my own. [Crosses up to seat.] I don't want you to start now and make it harder for me to do the right thing. It isn't fair; it isn't square; and it isn't right. You've got to let me go my own way. [Crosses to WILL; puts right hand on his shoulder.] I'm sorry to leave you, in a way, but I want you to know that if I go with John it changes the spelling of the word comradeship into love, and mistress into wife. Now please don't talk any more. [Crosses to post; takes scarf off chair.
WILL. Just a word. Is it settled?
LAURA. [Impatiently.] I said I didn't know. I would know to-day—that's what I'm waiting for. Oh, I don't see why he doesn't come. [WILL turns up to seat looking over Pass.
WILL. [Pointing up the Pass.] Is that the fellow coming up here?
LAURA. [Quickly running toward the balustrade of seat, saying as she goes:] Where? [Kneels on seat.
WILL. [Pointing.] Up the road there. On that yellow horse.
LAURA. [Looking.] Yes, that's John. [She waves her handkerchief, and putting one hand to her mouth cries:] Hello!
JOHN. [Off stage with the effect as if he was on the road winding up toward the house.] Hello yourself!
LAURA. [Same effect.] Hurry up, you're late.
JOHN. [Same effect, a little louder.] Better late than never.
LAURA. [Same effect.] Hurry up.
JOHN. [Little louder.] Not with this horse.
LAURA. [To WILL, with enthusiastic expression.] Now, Will, does he look like a yellow reporter?
WILL. [With a sort of sad smile.] He is a good-looking chap.
LAURA. [Looking down again at JOHN.] Oh, he's just simply more than that. [Turns quickly to WILL.] Where's Mrs. Williams?
WILL. [Motioning with thumb toward left side of ranch house.] Inside, I guess, up to her neck in bridge.
LAURA. [Goes hurriedly over to door.] Mrs. Williams! Oh, Mrs. Williams!
MRS. WILLIAMS. [Heard off stage.] What is it, my dear?
LAURA. Mr. Madison is coming up the path.
MRS. WILLIAMS. [Off stage.] That's good.
LAURA. Sha'n't you come and see him?
MRS. WILLIAMS. [Same.] Lord, no! I'm six dollars and twenty cents out now, and up against an awful streak of luck.
LAURA. Shall I give him some tea?
MRS. WILLIAMS. [Same.] Yes, do, dear; and tell him to cross his fingers when he thinks of me.
In the meantime WILL has leaned over the balustrade, evidently surveying the young man, who is supposed to be coming up the, path, with a great deal of interest. Underneath his stolid, businesslike demeanour of squareness, there is undoubtedly within his heart a very great affection for LAURA. He realizes that during her whole career he has been the only one who has influenced her absolutely. Since the time they lived together, he has always dominated, and he has always endeavoured to lead her along a path that meant the better things of a Bohemian existence. His coming all the way from New York to Denver to accompany LAURA home was simply another example of his keen interest in the woman, and he suddenly finds that she has drifted away from him in a manner to which he could not in the least object, and that she had been absolutely fair and square in her agreement with him. WILL is a man who, while rough and rugged in many ways, possesses many of the finer instincts of refinement, latent though they may be, and his meeting with JOHN ought, therefore, to show much significance, because on his impressions of the young man depend the entire justification of his attitude in the play.
LAURA. [Turning toward WILL and going to him, slipping her hand involuntarily through his arm, and looking eagerly with him over the balustrade in almost girlish enthusiasm.] Do you like him?
WILL. [Smiling.] I don't know him.
LAURA. Well, do you think you'll like him?
WILL. Well, I hope I'll like him.
LAURA. Well, if you hope you'll like him you ought to think you like him. He'll turn the corner of that rock in just a minute and then you can see him. Do you want to see him?
WILL. [Almost amused at her girlish manner.] Why, yes—do you?
LAURA. Do I? Why, I haven't seen him since last night! There he is. [Waves her hand.] Hello, John!
[Gets candy-box, throws pieces of candy at JOHN.
JOHN. [His voice very close now.] Hello, girlie! How's everything?
LAURA. Fine! Do hurry.
JOHN. Just make this horse for a minute. Hurry is not in his dictionary.
LAURA. I'm coming down to meet you.
LAURA. [Turns quickly to WILL.] You don't care. You'll wait, won't you?
LAURA hurriedly exits. WILL goes down centre of the stage. After a short interval LAURA comes in, more like a sixteen-year-old girl than anything else, pulling JOHN after her. He is a tall, finely built type of Western manhood, a frank face, a quick, nervous energy, a mind that works like lightning, a prepossessing smile, and a personality that is wholly captivating. His clothes are a bit dusty from the ride, but are not in the least pretentious, and his leggins are of canvas and spurs of brass, such as are used in the Army. His hat is off, and he is pulled on to the stage, more like a great big boy than a man. His hair is a bit tumbled, and he shows every indication of having had a rather long and hard ride.
LAURA. Hello, John!
JOHN. Hello, girlie!
Then she suddenly recovers herself and realizes the position she is in. Both men measure each other for a moment in silence, neither flinching the least bit. The smile has faded from JOHN'S face, and the mouth droops into an expression of firm determination. LAURA for a moment loses her ingenuousness. She is the least bit frightened at finally placing the two men face to face, and in a voice that trembles slightly from apprehension:
LAURA. Oh, I beg your pardon! Mr. Madison, this is Mr. Brockton, a friend of mine from New York. You've often heard me speak of him; he came out here to keep me company when I go home.
JOHN. [Comes forward, extends a hand, looking WILL right in the eye.] I am very glad to know you, Mr. Brockton.
WILL. Thank you.
JOHN. I've heard a great deal about you and your kindness to Miss Murdock. Anything that you have done for her in a spirit of friendliness I am sure all her friends must deeply appreciate, and I count myself in as one.
WILL. [In an easy manner that rather disarms the antagonistic attitude of JOHN.] Then we have a good deal in common, Mr. Madison, for I also count Miss Murdock a friend, and when two friends of a friend have the pleasure of meeting, I dare say that's a pretty good foundation for them to become friends too.
JOHN. Possibly. Whatever my opinion may have been of you, Mr. Brockton, before you arrived, now I have seen you—and I'm a man who forms his conclusions right off the bat—I don't mind telling you that you've agreeably surprised me. That's just a first impression, but they run kind o' strong with me.
WILL. Well, young man, I size up a fellow in pretty short order, and all things being equal, I think you'll do.
LAURA. [Radiantly.] Shall I get the tea?
LAURA. Yes, tea. You know it must be tea—nothing stronger.
[Crosses to door.
JOHN. [Looking at WILL rather comically.] How strong are you for that tea, Mr. Brockton?
WILL. I'll pass; it's your deal, Mr. Madison.
JOHN. Mine! No, deal me out this hand.
LAURA. I don't think you're at all pleasant, but I'll tell you one thing—it's tea this deal or no game.
[Crosses up stage to seat, picks up magazine, turns pages.
WILL. No game then [Crosses to door.], and I'm going to help Mrs. Williams; maybe she's lost nearly seven dollars by this time, and I'm an awful dub when it comes to bridge. [Exit.
LAURA. [Tossing magazine on to seat, crosses quickly to JOHN, throws her arms around his neck in the most loving manner.] John!
As the Act progresses the shadows cross the Pass, and golden light streams across the lower hills and tops the snow-clad peaks. It becomes darker and darker, the lights fade to beautiful opalescent hues, until, when the curtain falls on the act, with JOHN and WILL on the scene, it is pitch dark, a faint glow coming out of the door. Nothing else can be seen but the glow of the ash on the end of each man's cigar as he puffs it in silent meditation on their conversation.
JOHN. Well, dear?
LAURA. Are you going to be cross with me?
LAURA. Because he came?
JOHN. You didn't know, did you?
LAURA. Yes, I did.
JOHN. That he was coming?
LAURA. He wired me when he reached Kansas City.
JOHN. Does he know?
LAURA. About us?
LAURA. I've told him.
JOHN. With what result?
LAURA. I think it hurt him.
LAURA. More than I had any idea it would.
JOHN. I'm sorry. [Sits in armchair.
LAURA. He cautioned me to be very careful and to be sure I knew my way.
JOHN. That was right.
LAURA gets a cushion in each hand off seat; crosses down to left of armchair, throws one cushion on ground, then the other on top of it, and kneels beside his chair. Piano in house playing a Chopin Nocturne.
LAURA. We've been very happy all summer.
LAURA. [Rises, sits on left arm of chair, her arm over back.] And this thing has gradually been growing on us?
JOHN. That's true.
LAURA. I didn't think that, when I came out here to Denver to play in a little stock company, it was going to bring me all this happiness, but it has, hasn't it?
LAURA. [Changing her position, sits on his lap, arms around his neck.] And now the season's over and there is nothing to keep me in Colorado, and I've got to go back to New York to work.
JOHN. I know; I've been awake all night thinking about it.
LAURA. What are we going to do?
JOHN. Why, you've got to go, I suppose.
LAURA. Is it good-bye?
JOHN. For a while, I suppose—it's good-bye.
LAURA. What do you mean by a while?
[LAURA turns JOHN'S face to her, looks at him searchingly.
JOHN. Until [Piano plays crescendo, then softens down.] I get money enough together, and am making enough to support you, then come and take you out of the show business and make you Mrs. Madison.
LAURA tightens her arm around his neck, her cheek goes close to his own, and all the wealth of affection the woman is capable of at times is shown. She seems more like a dainty little kitten purring close to its master. Her whole thought and idea seem to be centred on the man whom she professes to love.
LAURA. John, that is what I want above everything else.
JOHN. But, Laura, we must come to some distinct understanding before we start to make our plans. We're not children.
LAURA. No, we're not.
JOHN. Now in the first place [LAURA rises, crosses to centre.] we'll discuss you, and in the second place we'll discuss me. We'll keep nothing from each other [LAURA picks up cushions, places them on seat.], and we'll start out on this campaign [LAURA turns back to centre, facing audience.] of decency and honour, fully understanding its responsibilities, without a chance of a come-back on either side.
LAURA. [Becoming very serious.] You mean that we should tell each other all about each other, so, no matter what's ever said about us by other people, we'll know it first?
JOHN. [Rising.] That's precisely what I'm trying to get at.
LAURA. Well, John, there are so many things I don't want to speak of even to you. It isn't easy for a woman to go back and dig up a lot of ugly memories and try to excuse them. [Crosses to front of table, picks up magazine, places it on table.
JOHN. I've known everything from the first; how you came to San Francisco as a kid and got into the show business, and how you went wrong, and then how you married, still a kid, and how your husband didn't treat you exactly right, and then how, in a fit of drunkenness, he came home and shot himself. [LAURA buries her head in her hands, making exclamations of horror. JOHN crosses to her as if sorry for hurting her; touches her on shoulder.] But that's all past now, and we can forget that. And I know how you were up against it after that, how tough it was for you to get along. Then finally how you've lived, and—and that you and this man Brockton have been—well—never mind. I've known it all for months, and I've watched you. Now, Laura, the habit of life is a hard thing to get away from. You've lived in this way for a long time. If I ask you to be my wife you'll have to give it up; you'll have to go back to New York and struggle on your own hook until I get enough to come for you. I don't know how long that will be, but it will be. Do you love me enough to stick out for the right thing?
LAURA crosses to him, puts her arms around him, kisses him once very affectionately, looks at him very earnestly.
LAURA. Yes. I think this is my one great chance. I do love you and I want to do just what you said.
JOHN. I think you will. I'm going to make the same promise. Your life, dear girl, has been an angel's compared with mine. I've drank whiskey, played bank, and raised hell ever since the time I could develop a thirst; and ever since I've been able to earn my own living I've abused every natural gift God gave me. The women I've associated with aren't good enough to touch the hem of your skirt, but they liked me, and [JOHN crosses to armchair, turns up stage, then faces her.] well—I must have liked them. My life hasn't been exactly loose, it's been all in pieces. I've never done anything dishonest. I've always gone wrong just for the fun of it, until I met you. [Crosses to her, takes her in his arms.] Somehow then I began to feel that I was making an awful waste of myself.
JOHN. Some lovers place a woman on a pedestal and say, "She never has made a mistake." [Taking her by each arm he playfully shakes her.] Well, we don't need any pedestals. I just know you never will make a mistake.
LAURA. [Kissing him.] John, I'll never make you take those words back. [Arms around his neck.
JOHN. That goes double. You're going to cut out the cabs and cafes, and I'm going to cut out the whiskey and all-night sessions [LAURA releases him; he backs slightly away.]; and you're going to be somebody and I'm going to be somebody, and if my hunch is worth the powder to blow it up, we're going to show folks things they never thought were in us. Come on now, kiss me.
She kisses him; tears are in her eyes. He looks into her face with a quaint smile.
JOHN. You're on, ain't you, dear?
LAURA. Yes, I'm on.
JOHN. Then [Points toward door with his left arm over her shoulder.] call him.
JOHN. Yes, and tell him you go back to New York without any travelling companion this season.
LAURA. You want to hear me tell him?
JOHN. [With a smile.] We're partners, aren't we? I ought to be in on any important transaction like that, but it's just as you say.
LAURA. I think it would be right you should. I'll call him now.
JOHN. All right. [Crossing to stairway. LAURA crosses to door; twilight is becoming very much more pronounced.
LAURA. [At door.] Mr. Brockton! Oh, Mr. Brockton!
WILL. [Off stage.] Yes.
LAURA. Can you spare a moment to come out here?
WILL. Just a moment.
LAURA. You must come now.
WILL. All right. [She waits for him and after a reasonable interval he appears at door.] Laura, it's a shame to lure me away from that mad speculation in there. I thought I might make my fare back to New York if I played until next summer. What's up?
LAURA. Mr. Madison wants to talk to you, or rather I do, and I want him to listen.
WILL. [His manner changing to one of cold, stolid calculation.] Very well. [Comes down off step of house.
LAURA. I'm going home day after to-morrow on the Overland Limited.
WILL. I know.
LAURA. It's awfully kind of you to come out here, but under the circumstances I'd rather you'd take an earlier or a later train.
WILL. And may I ask what circumstances you refer to?
LAURA. Mr. Madison and I are going to be married. [Pause.] He [Will looks inquiringly at JOHN.] knows of your former friendship for me, and he has the idea that it must end.
WILL. Then the Riverside Drive proposition, with Burgess's show thrown in, is declared off, eh?
LAURA. Yes; everything is absolutely declared off.
WILL. Can't even be friends any more, eh?
JOHN crosses, and, taking LAURA'S arm, passes her over to seat; his back is partly to audience.
JOHN. You could hardly expect Miss Murdock to be friendly with you under the circumstances. You could hardly expect me to [LAURA puts scarf across her shoulders.] sanction any such friendship.
WILL. I think I understand your position, young man, and I perfectly agree with you, that is—if your plans come out successfully.
JOHN. Thank you.
LAURA. Then everything is settled [Crossing in front of JOHN and facing WILL, back to audience.] just the way it ought to be—frankly and aboveboard?
WILL. Why, I guess so. If I was perfectly confident that this new arrangement was going to result happily for you both, I think it would be great, only I'm somewhat doubtful, for when people become serious and then fail, I know how hard those things hit, having been hit once myself.
JOHN. So you think we're making a wrong move and there isn't a chance of success!
WILL. No, I don't make any such gloomy prophecy. If you make Laura a good husband, and she makes you a good wife, and together you win out, I'll be mighty glad. As far as I am concerned I shall absolutely forget every thought of Laura's friendship for me.
LAURA. I thought you'd be just that way.
[Crosses to WILL, shakes hands.
WILL. [Rising.] And now I must be off. [Takes her by both hands and shakes them.] Good-bye, girlie! Madison, good luck. [Crosses to JOHN. Shakes JOHN'S hands; looks into his eyes.] I think you've got the stuff in you to succeed if your foot don't slip.
JOHN. What do you mean by my foot slipping, Mr. Brockton?
WILL. You want me to tell you?
JOHN. I sure do.
WILL. [Turns to Laura.] Laura, run into the house and see if Mrs. Williams has won another quarter. [LAURA sinks fearfully into chair.] Madison and I are going to smoke a cigar and have a friendly chat, and when we get through I think we'll both be better off.
LAURA. You are sure that everything will be all right?
LAURA looks at JOHN for assurance, and exits; he nods reassuringly.
WILL. Have a cigar?
[SERVANT places lamp on table inside house.
JOHN. No, I'll smoke my own.
[Crosses down right; sits in armchair.
WILL. What is your business? [Crosses up to seat centre; sits.
JOHN. What's yours?
WILL. I'm a broker.
JOHN. I'm a reporter, so I've got something on you.
WILL. What kind?
JOHN. General utility, dramatic critic on Sunday nights.
WILL. Pay you well?
JOHN. [Turns, looking at WILL.] That's pretty fresh. What's the idea?
WILL. I'm interested. I'm a plain man, Mr. Madison, and I do business in a plain way. Now, if I ask you a few questions and discuss this matter with you in a frank way, don't get it in your head that I'm jealous or sore, but simply I don't want either of you people to make a move that's going to cost you a lot of pain and trouble. If you want me to talk sense to you, all right. If you don't we'll drop it now. What's the answer?
JOHN. I'll take a chance, but before you start I want to tell you that the class of people that you belong to I have no use for—they don't speak my language. You are what they call a manipulator of stocks; that means that you're living on the weaknesses of other people, and it almost means that you get your daily bread, yes, and your cake and your wine, too, from the production of others. You're a "gambler under cover." Show me a man who's dealing bank, and he's free and aboveboard. You can figure the percentage against you, and then, if you buck the tiger and get stung, you do it with your eyes open. With your financiers the game is crooked twelve months of the year, and, from a business point of view, I think you are a crook. Now I guess we understand each other. If you've got anything to say, why, spill it.
WILL rises, comes down toward JOHN, showing anger in his tones.
WILL. We are not talking business now, but women. How much money do you earn?
[Crosses to chair left of table; gets it.
JOHN. Understand I don't think it is any of your damn business, but I'm going through with you on this proposition, just to see how the land lays. But take my tip, you be mighty careful how you speak about the girl if you're not looking for trouble.
WILL. All right, but how much did you say you made?
[Crosses over to centre of stage, carrying chair; sits.
JOHN. Thirty dollars a week.
WILL. Do you know how much Laura could make if she just took a job on her own merits?
JOHN. As I don't intend to share in her salary, I never took the trouble to inquire.
WILL. She'd get about forty dollars.
JOHN. That laps me ten.
WILL. How are you going to support her? Her cabs cost more than your salary, and she pays her week's salary for an every-day walking-hat. She's always had a maid; her simplest gown flirts with a hundred-dollar note; her manicurist and her hair-dresser will eat up as much as you pay for your board. She never walks when it's stormy, and every afternoon there's her ride in the park. She dines at the best places in New York, and one meal costs her more than you make in a day. Do you imagine for a moment that she's going to sacrifice these luxuries for any great length of time?
JOHN. I intend to give them to her.
WILL. On thirty dollars a week?
JOHN. I propose to go out and make a lot of money.
JOHN. I haven't decided yet, but you can bet your sweet life that if I ever try and make up my mind that it's got to be, it's got to be.
WILL. Never have made it, have you?
JOHN. I have never tried.
WILL. Then how do you know you can?
JOHN. Well, I'm honest and energetic. If you can get great wealth the way you go along, I don't see why I can't earn a little.
WILL. There's where you make a mistake. Money-getting doesn't always come with brilliancy. I know a lot of fellows in New York who can paint a great picture, write a good play, and, when it comes to oratory, they've got me lashed to a pole; but they're always in debt. They never get anything for what they do. In other words, young man, they are like a sky-rocket without a stick,—plenty of brilliancy, but no direction, and they blow up and fizzle all over the ground.
JOHN. That's New York. I'm in Colorado, and I guess you know there is a difference.
WILL. I hope you'll make your money, because I tell you frankly that's the only way you can hold this girl. She's full of heroics now, self-sacrifice, and all the things that go to make up the third act of a play, but the minute she comes to darn her stockings, wash out her own handkerchiefs and dry them on the window, and send out for a pail of coffee and a sandwich for lunch, take it from me it will go Blah! [Rises, crosses to front of table with chair, places it with back to him, braces his back on it, facing JOHN.] You're in Colorado writing her letters once a day with no checks in them. That may be all right for some girl who hasn't tasted the joy of easy living, full of the good things of life, but one who for ten years has been doing very well in the way these women do is not going to let up for any great length of time. So take my advice if you want to hold her. Get that money quick, and don't be so damned particular how you get it either.
JOHN'S patience is evidently severely tried. He approaches WILL, who remains impassive.
JOHN. Of course you know you've got the best of me.
JOHN. We're guests.
WILL. No one's listening.
JOHN. 'Tisn't that. If it was anywhere but here, if there was any way to avoid all the nasty scandal, I'd come a shootin' for you, and you know it.
WILL. Gun-fighter, eh?
JOHN. Perhaps. Let me tell you this. I don't know how you make your money, but I know what you do with it. You buy yourself a small circle of sycophants; you pay them well for feeding your vanity; and then you pose,—pose with a certain frank admission of vice and degradation. And those who aren't quite as brazen as you call it manhood. Manhood? [Crossing slowly to armchair, sits.] Why, you don't know what the word means. It's the attitude of a pup and a cur.
WILL. [Angrily.] Wait a minute [Crosses to JOHN.], young man, or I'll—
JOHN rises quickly. Both men stand confronting each other for a moment with fists clenched. They are on the very verge of a personal encounter. Both seem to realize that they have gone too far.
JOHN. You'll what?
WILL. Lose my temper and make a damn fool of myself. That's something I've not done for—let me see—why, it must be nearly twenty years—oh, yes, fully that.
[He smiles; JOHN relaxes and takes one step back.
JOHN. Possibly it's been about that length of time since you were human, eh?
WILL. Possibly—but you see, Mr. Madison, after all, you're at fault.
WILL. Yes, the very first thing you did was to lose your temper. Now people who always lose their temper will never make a lot of money, and you admit that that is a great necessity—I mean now—to you.
JOHN. I can't stand for the brutal way you talk. [Crosses up to seat, picks up newspaper, slams it down angrily on seat, and sits with elbow on balustrade.
WILL. But you have got to stand it. The truth is never gentle. [Crosses up and sits left of JOHN.] Most conditions in life are unpleasant, and, if you want to meet them squarely, you have got to realize the unpleasant point of view. That's the only way you can fight them and win.
JOHN [Turns to WILL.] Still, I believe Laura means what she says, in spite of all you say and the disagreeable logic of it. I think she loves me. If she should ever want to go back to the old way of getting along, I think she'd tell me so. So you see, Brockton, all your talk is wasted, and we'll drop the subject.
[Crosses down and sits in armchair.
WILL. And if she should ever go back and come to me, I am going to insist that she let you know all about it. It'll be hard enough to lose her, caring for her the way you do, but it would hurt a lot more to be double-crossed.
JOHN. [Sarcastically.] That's very kind. Thanks!
WILL. Don't get sore. It's common sense and it goes, does it not?
JOHN. [Turns to WILL.] Just what goes?
WILL. If she leaves you first, you are to tell me, and if she comes to me I'll make her let you know just when and why.
JOHN is leaning on arm, facing WILL; his hand shoots out in a gesture of warning to WILL.
JOHN. Look out!
WILL. I said common sense.
JOHN. All right.
WILL. Agreed? [A pause.
JOHN. You're on.
By this time the stage is black and all that can be seen is the glow of the two cigars. Piano in the next room is heard. JOHN crosses slowly and deliberately to door, looks in, throws cigar away over the terrace, exits into house, closes doors, and, as WILL is seated on terrace, puffing cigar, the red coal of which is alone visible, a slow curtain.
SCENE. Six months have elapsed. The furnished room of LAURA MURDOCK, second story back of an ordinary, cheap theatrical lodging-house in the theatre district of New York. The house is evidently of a type of the old-fashioned brown-stone front, with high ceilings, dingy walls, and long, rather insecure windows. The woodwork is depressingly dark. The ceiling is cracked, the paper is old and spotted and in places loose. There is a door leading to the hallway. There is a large old-fashioned wardrobe in which are hung a few old clothes, most of them a good deal worn and shabby, showing that the owner—LAURA MURDOCK—has had a rather hard time of it since leaving Colorado in the first act. The doors of this wardrobe must be equipped with springs so they will open outward, and also furnished with wires so they can be controlled from the back. This is absolutely necessary, owing to "business" which is done during the progress of the act. The drawer in the bottom of the wardrobe is open at rise. This is filled with a lot of rumpled, tissue-paper and other rubbish. An old pair of shoes is seen at the upper end of the wardrobe on the floor. There is an armchair over which is thrown an ordinary kimono, and on top of the wardrobe are a number of magazines and old books, and an unused parasol wrapped up in tissue paper.
The dresser, which is upstage, against the wall, is in keeping with the general meanness, and its adornment consists of old postcards stuck in between the mirror and its frame, with some well-worn veils and ribbons hung on the side. On the dresser is a pincushion, a bottle of cheap perfume, purple in colour and nearly empty; a common crockery match-holder, containing matches, which must be practicable; a handkerchief-box, powder-box and puff, rouge-box and rouge paw, hand mirror, small alcohol curling-iron heater, which must also be practicable, as it is used in the "business" of the act; scissors, curling-tongs, hair comb and brush, and a small cheap picture of JOHN MADISON; a small work-box containing a thimble and thread,—and stuck in the pincushion are a couple of needles, threaded. Directly to the left of the bureau, with the door to the outside closet intervening, is a broken-down washstand, on which is a basin half full of water, a bottle of tooth-powder, tooth brushes and holder, soap and soap-dish, and other cheap toilet articles, and a small drinking-glass. Hung on the corner of the washstand is a soiled towel. Hung on the rack across the top of the washstand one can see a pair of stockings. On the floor in front of the washstand is a pitcher half full of water; also a large waste-water jar of the cheapest type.
Below the washstand, and with the head against the wall, is a three-quarter old wooden bed, also showing the general decay of the entire room. Tacked on the head of this bed is a large photo of JOHN MADISON, with a small bow of dainty blue ribbon at the top, covering the tack. Under the photo are arranged half a dozen cheap, artificial violets, in pitiful recognition of the girl's love for her absent sweetheart.
Under the mattress at the head of the bed is a heavy cardboard box, about thirty inches long, seven inches wide and four inches deep, containing about one hundred and twenty-five letters and eighty telegrams, tied in about eight bundles with dainty ribbon. One bundle must contain all practical letters of several closely written pages each, each letter having been opened. They must be written upon business paper and envelopes, such as are used in newspaper offices and by business men.
Under the pillow at the head of the bed is carelessly thrown a woman's night-dress. On the bed is an old book, open, with face downward, and beside it is an apple which some one has been nibbling. Across the foot of the bed is a soiled quilt, untidily folded. The pillows are hollow in the centre, as if having been used lately. At the foot of the bed is a small table, with soiled and ink-stained cover, upon which are a cheap pitcher, containing some withered carnations, and a desk-pad, with paper, pen, ink, and envelopes scattered around.
Against the wall below the bed is an old mantel-piece and fireplace with iron grate, such as are used in houses of this type. On the mantel-piece are photos of actors and actresses, an old mantel clock in the centre, in front of which is a box of cheap peppermint candy in large pieces, and a plate with two apples upon it; some cheap pieces of bric-a-brac and a little vase containing joss-sticks, such as one might burn to improve the atmosphere of these dingy, damp houses. Below the mantel-piece is a thirty-six inch theatre trunk, with theatre labels on it, in the tray of which are articles of clothing, a small box of thread, and a bundle of eight pawn tickets. Behind the trunk is a large cardboard box. Hanging from the ceiling directly over the table is a single arm gas-jet, from which is hung a turkey wish-bone. On the jet is a little wire arrangement to hold small articles for heating. Beside the table is a chair. Under the bed are a pair of bedroom slippers and a box. Between the bed and the mantel is a small tabourette on which are a book and a candle-stick with the candle half burned. On the floor in front of the door is a slipper,—also another in front of the dresser,—as if they had been thrown carelessly down. On the wardrobe door, on the down-stage side, is tacked another photo of JOHN MADISON.
In an alcove off left is a table on which is a small oil stove, two cups, saucers and plates, a box of matches, tin coffee-box, and a small Japanese teapot. On a projection outside the window is a pint milk bottle, half filled with milk, and an empty benzine bottle, which is labelled. Both are covered with snow.
The backing shows a street snow-covered. In arranging the properties it must be remembered that in the wardrobe is a box of Uneeda biscuits, with one end torn open. There is a door down right, opening inward, leading into the hallway. The window is at back, running from floor nearly to the ceiling. This window does not rise, but opens in the manner of the French or door window.
On the outside of the window covering the same is an iron guard such as is used in New York on the lower back windows. The rods running up and down are about four inches apart. There is a projection outside the window such as would be formed by a storm door in the basement; running the full length of the window and about thirty inches wide, raised about a foot from the floor in front and about nine inches in the back, there is opening inward a door at left back, leading into a small alcove, as has been mentioned before. The door is half glass, the glass part being the upper half, and is ajar when the curtain rises. A projection at fireplace such as would be made for a chimney is in the wall which runs from left centre diagonally to left first entrance.
AT RISE the stage is empty. After a pause LAURA enters, passes the dresser, places umbrella at the right, end of it against wall, crosses to back of armchair, removes gloves, lays them over back of chair, takes off coat and hat, hangs hat on end of wardrobe, and puts coat inside; notices old slipper in front of dresser and one on the extreme right, and with impatience picks them up and puts them in the wardrobe drawer. Then crosses to dresser, gets needle and thread off pincushion, and mends small rip in glove, after which she puts gloves in top drawer of dresser, crosses to extreme end of dresser, and gets handkerchief out of box, takes up bottle containing purple perfume, holds it up so she can see there is only a small quantity left, sprinkles a drop on handkerchief carefully, so as not to use too much, looks at bottle again to see how much is left, places it on dresser; goes to up-stage side of bed, kneels on head of the bed and looks lovingly at photo of JOHN MADISON, and finally pulls up the mattress, takes out box of letters, and opens it. She then sits down in Oriental fashion, with her feet under her, selects a bundle of letters, unties the ribbon, and takes out a letter such as has been hereinbefore described, glances it over, puts it down in her lap, and again takes a long look at the picture of JOHN MADISON. ANNIE is heard coming upstairs. LAURA looks quickly towards the door, puts the letters back in box, and hurriedly places box under mattress, and replaces pillow. ANNIE knocks on door. LAURA rises and crosses to door.
LAURA. Come in.
ANNIE, a chocolate-colored negress, enters. She is slovenly in appearance, but must not in any way denote the "mammy." She is the type one encounters in cheap theatrical lodging-houses. She has a letter in her hand,—also a clean towel folded,—and approaches LAURA.
LAURA. Hello, Annie.
ANNIE. Heah's yo' mail, Miss Laura.
LAURA. [Taking letter.] Thank you!
[She looks at the address and does not open it.
ANNIE. One like dat comes every mornin', don't it? Used to all be postmahked Denver. Must 'a' moved. [Trying to look over LAURA'S shoulder; LAURA turns and sees her; ANNIE looks away.] Where is dat place called Goldfield, Miss Laura?
LAURA. In Nevada.
ANNIE. In Nevada?
LAURA. Yes, Nevada.
ANNIE. [Draws her jacket closer around her as if chilly.] Must be mighty smaht to write yuh every day. De pos'man brings it 'leven o'clock mos' always, sometimes twelve, and again sometimes tehn; but it comes every day, don't it?
LAURA. I know.
ANNIE. [Crosses to right of armchair, brushes it off and makes an effort to read letter, leaning across chair.] Guess must be from yo' husban', ain't it?
LAURA. No, I haven't any.
ANNIE. [Crossing to centre triumphantly.] Dat's what Ah tole Mis' Farley when she was down talkin' about you dis morning. She said if he all was yo' husband he might do somethin' to help you out. Ah told her Ah didn't think you had any husban'. Den she says you ought to have one, you're so pretty.
LAURA. Oh, Annie!
ANNIE. [Sees door open; goes and bangs it shut.] Der ain't a decent door in dis old house. Mis' Farley said yo' might have mos' any man you [Hangs clean towel on washstand.] wanted just for de askin', but Ah said yuh [Takes newspaper and books off bed, and places them on table.] was too particular about the man yo' 'd want. Den she did a heap o' talking.
LAURA. About what? [Places letter open on table, looks at hem of skirt, discovers a rip, rises, crosses up to dresser, gets needle, crosses down to trunk; opens and takes thimble out; closes lid of tray, sits on it, and sews skirt during scene.
ANNIE. [At bed, fussing around, folds nightgown and places it under pillow.] Well, you know, Mis' Farley she's been havin' so much trouble wid her roomers. Yestuhday dat young lady on de second flo' front, she lef'. She's goin' wiv some troupe on the road. She owed her room for three weeks and jus' had to leave her trunk. [Crosses and fusses over table.] My! how Mis' Farley did scold her. Mis' Farley let on she could have paid dat money if she wanted to, but somehow Ah guess she couldn't—
[Reads letter on table.
LAURA. [Sees her, angrily exclaims.] Annie!
ANNIE. [In confusion, brushing off table.]—for if she could she wouldn't have left her trunk, would she, Miss Laura?
[Crosses to armchair, and picks up kimono off back.
LAURA. No, I suppose not. What did Mrs. Farley say about me?
ANNIE. Oh! nothin' much. [Crosses left and stands.
LAURA. Well, what?
ANNIE. She kinder say somethin' 'bout yo' being three weeks behind in yo' room rent, and she said she t'ought it was 'bout time yuh handed her somethin', seein' as how yuh must o' had some stylish friends when yuh come here.
LAURA. Who, for instance?
ANNIE. Ah don't know. Mis' Farley said some of 'em might slip yo' enough jest to help yuh out. [Pause.] Ain't yo' got nobody to take care of you at all, Miss Laura?
[Hangs kimono over back of armchair.
LAURA. No! No one.
ANNIE. Dat's too bad.
ANNIE. [Crossing again.] Mis' Farley says yuh wouldn't have no trouble at all gettin' any man to take care of yuh if yuh wanted to.
LAURA. [With sorrowful shudder.] Please [Doors of wardrobe open very slowly.] don't, Annie.
ANNIE. Dere's a gemman [Playing with corner of tablecloth.] dat calls on one of de ladies from the Hippodrome, in de big front room downstairs. He's mighty nice, and he's been askin' 'bout you.
LAURA. [Exasperated.] Oh, shut up!
ANNIE. [Sees doors of wardrobe have swung open; she crosses, slams them shut, turns to LAURA.] Mis' Farley says—[Doors have swung open again; they hit her in the back. She turns and bangs them to with all her strength.] Damn dat door! [Crosses to washstand, grabs basin which is half full of water, empties same into waste-jar, puts basin on washstand, and wipes it out with soiled towel.] Mis' Farley says if she don't get someone in the house dat has reg'lar money soon, she'll have to shut up and go to the po'house.
LAURA. I'm sorry; I'll try again to-day. [Rises, crosses up to mantel, gets desk-pad, &c., crosses to right of table, sits.
ANNIE. [Crosses to back of bed, wiping basin with towel.] Ain't yo' got any job at all?
ANNIE. When yuh come here yuh had lots of money and yo' was mighty good to me. You know Mr. Weston?
LAURA. Jim Weston?
ANNIE. Yassum, Mr. Weston what goes ahead o' shows and lives on the top floor back; he says nobody's got jobs now. Dey're so many actors and actoresses out o' work. Mis' Farley says she don't know how she's goin' to live. She said you'd been mighty nice up until three weeks ago, but yuh ain't got much left, have you, Miss Laura?
LAURA. [Rising and going to the bureau.] No. It's all gone.
ANNIE. Mah sakes! All dem rings and things? You ain't done sold them? [Sinks on bed.
LAURA. They're pawned. What did Mrs. Farley say she was going to do?
ANNIE. Guess maybe Ah'd better not tell.
[Crosses to door hurriedly, carrying soiled towel.
LAURA. Please do. [Crosses to chair, left side.
ANNIE. Yuh been so good to me, Miss Laura. Never was nobody in dis house what give me so much, and Ah ain't been gettin' much lately. And when Mis' Farley said yuh must either pay yo' rent or she would ask yuh for your room, Ah jest set right down on de back kitchen stairs and cried. Besides, Mis' Farley don't like me very well since you've ben havin' yo' breakfasts and dinners brought up here.
LAURA. Why not? [Takes kimono of chair-back, crosses up to dresser, puts kimono in drawer, takes out purse.
ANNIE. She has a rule in dis house dat nobody can use huh chiny or fo'ks or spoons who ain't boa'ding heah, and de odder day when yuh asked me to bring up a knife and fo'k she ketched me coming upstairs, and she says, "Where yuh goin' wid all dose things, Annie?" Ah said, "Ah'm just goin' up to Miss Laura's room with dat knife and fo'k." Ah said, "Ah'm goin' up for nothin' at all, Mis' Farley, she jest wants to look at them, Ah guess." She said, "She wants to eat huh dinner wid 'em, Ah guess." Ah got real mad, and Ah told her if she'd give me mah pay Ah'd brush right out o' here; dat's what Ah'd do, Ah'd brush right out o' here. [Violently shaking out towel.
LAURA. I'm sorry, Annie, if I've caused you any trouble. Never mind, I'll be able to pay the rent to-morrow or next day anyway. [She fumbles in purse, takes out a quarter, and turns to ANNIE.] Here!
ANNIE. No, ma'am, Ah don' want dat.
[Making a show of reluctance.
LAURA. Please take it.
ANNIE. No, ma'am, Ah don' want it. You need dat. Dat's breakfast money for yuh, Miss Laura.
LAURA. Please take it, Annie. I might just as well get rid of this as anything else.
ANNIE. [Takes it rather reluctantly.] Yuh always was so good, Miss Laura. Sho' yuh don' want dis?
ANNIE. Sho' yo' goin' to get planty mo'?
MRS. FARLEY'S VOICE. [Downstairs.] Annie! Annie!
ANNIE. [Going to door, opens it.] Dat's Mis' Farley. [To MRS. FARLEY.] Yassum, Mis' Farley.
SAME VOICE. Is Miss Murdock up there?
ANNIE. Yassum, Mis' Farley, yassum!
MRS. FARLEY. Anything doin'?
MRS. FARLEY. Anything doin'?
ANNIE. [At door.] Ah—Ah—hain't asked, Missy Farley.
MRS. FARLEY. Then do it.
LAURA. [Coming to the rescue at the door. To ANNIE.] I'll answer her. [Out of door to MRS. FARLEY.] What is it, Mrs. Farley?
MRS. FARLEY. [Her voice softened.] Did ye have any luck this morning, dearie?
LAURA. No; but I promise you faithfully to help you out this afternoon or to-morrow.
MRS. FARLEY. Sure? Are you certain?
MRS. FARLEY. Well, I must say these people expect me to keep—[Door closed.
LAURA quietly closes the door, and MRS. FARLEY'S rather strident voice is heard indistinctly. LAURA sighs and walks toward table; sits. ANNIE looks after her, and then slowly opens the door.
ANNIE. Yo' sho' dere ain't nothin' I can do fo' yuh, Miss Laura?
ANNIE exits. LAURA sits down and looks at letter, opening it. It consists of several pages closely written. She reads some of them hurriedly, skims through the rest, and then turns to the last page without reading; glances at it; lays it on table; rises.
LAURA. Hope, just nothing but hope.
She crosses to bed, falls face down upon it, burying her face in her hands. Her despondency is palpable. As she lies there a hurdy-gurdy in the street starts to play a popular air. This arouses her and she rises, crosses to wardrobe, takes out box of crackers, opens window, gets bottle of milk off sill outside, places them on table, gets glass off washstand, at the same time humming the tune of the hurdy-gurdy, when a knock comes; she crosses quickly to dresser; powders her nose. The knock is timidly repeated.
LAURA. [Without turning, and in a rather tired tone of voice.] Come in.
JIM WESTON, a rather shabby theatrical advance-agent of the old school, enters timidly, halting at the door and holding the knob in his hand. He is a man of about forty years old, dressed in an ordinary manner, of medium height, and in fact has the appearance of a once prosperous clerk who has been in hard luck. His relations with LAURA are those of pure friendship. They both live in the same lodging-place, and, both having been out of employment, they have naturally become acquainted.
JIM. Can I come in?
LAURA. [Without turning.] Hello, Jim Weston. [He closes door and enters.] Any luck?
JIM. Lots of it.
LAURA. That's good. Tell me.
JIM. It's bad luck. Guess you don't want to hear.
LAURA. I'm sorry. Where have you been?
JIM. I kind o' felt around up at Burgess's office. I thought I might get a job there, but he put me off until to-morrow. Somehow those fellows always do business to-morrow.
[Hurdy-gurdy dies out.
LAURA. Yes, and there's always to-day to look after.
JIM. I'm ready to give up. I've tramped Broadway for nine weeks until every piece of flagstone gives me the laugh when it sees my feet coming. Got a letter from the missis this morning. The kids got to have some clothes, there's measles in the town, and mumps in the next village. I've just got to raise some money or get some work, or the first thing you'll know I'll be hanging around Central Park on a dark night with a club.
LAURA. I know just how you feel. Sit down, Jim. [JIM crosses and sits in chair right of table.] It's pretty tough for me [Offers JIM glass of milk; he refuses; takes crackers.], but it must be a whole lot worse for you with a wife and kids.
JIM. Oh, if a man's alone he can generally get along—turn his hand to anything; but a woman—
LAURA. Worse, you think?
JIM. I was just thinking about you and what Burgess said?
LAURA. What was that?
[Crosses to bed; sits on up-stage side, sipping milk.
JIM. You know Burgess and I used to be in the circus business together. He took care of the grafters when I was boss canvas man. I never could see any good in shaking down the rubes for all the money they had and then taking part of it. He used to run the privilege car, you know.
LAURA. Privilege car?
JIM. Had charge of all the pickpockets,—dips we called 'em—sure-thing gamblers, and the like. Made him rich. I kept sort o' on the level and I'm broke. Guess it don't pay to be honest—
LAURA. [Turns to him and in a significant voice:] You don't really think that?
JIM. No, maybe not. Ever since I married the missis and the first kid come, we figured the only good money was the kind folks worked for and earned; but when you can't get hold of that, it's tough.
LAURA. I know.
JIM. Burgess don't seem to be losing sleep over the tricks he's turned. He's happy and prosperous, but I guess he ain't any better now than he was then.
LAURA. Maybe not. I've been trying to get an engagement from him. There are half a dozen parts in his new attractions that I could do, but he has never absolutely said "no," but yet somehow he's never said "yes."
JIM. He spoke about you.
LAURA. In what way? [Rising, stands behind JIM'S chair.
JIM. I gave him my address and he seen it was yours, too. Asked if I lived in the same place.
LAURA. Was that all?
JIM. Wanted to know how you was getting on. I let him know you needed work, but I didn't tip my hand you was flat broke. He said something about you being a damned fool.
LAURA. [Suddenly and interested.] How? [She crosses.
JIM. Well, Johnny Ensworth—you know he used to do the fights on the Evening Journal; now he's press-agent for Burgess; nice fellow and way on the inside—he told me where you were in wrong.