The following one-act play is reprinted from Twenty Contemporary One-Act Plays. Ed. Frank Shay. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1922. It is now in the public domain and may therefore be performed without royalties.
- STEPHEN THOMPSON
- MRS. THOMPSON, his wife
- WATERMAN HOLMES, a neighbor
- HIRAM PRATT, a neighbor
[The interior of a very plain farmhouse kitchen, forenoon of a gray winter day. At the right there is a kitchen range, with tea kettle and iron pot. Right front door to pantry. Back center the sink in front of a window; a pump at right end, large water-pail at the other, with tin dipper hanging over it; at left, shelves, and along the wall at right more shelves and a corner cupboard. A plain table is in center of room, with two equally plain chairs by it. There is a door, back left, which reveals, as it opens later to admit the neighbor, that it is the only one leading outdoors, although it must be through one of those shed-like contrivances, so frequent in New England, that stretch from house to barn, for, when the door opens, only a darkening results. On the left wall there is a door which leads to the "down-stairs" bedroom; near this door is an old-fashioned wooden cradle; the hooded sort, with rockers. It is turned with head towards audience. At the rise, a thin, faded, small woman of thirty-five is washing dishes at the sink. When she walks, she is a little twisted over to one side: one limb is drawn up a little so she stands on her toes. An oldish-looking, gray-haired, stoop-shouldered, and sharp-faced man, sunken, small, gray eyes, bushy overhanging brow, is seated in the center pulling off rubber boots; and, as the conversation proceeds, putting on black, shiny, greased, knee-length leather boots. The woman turns round from her work, looks at him and sighs.]
THOMPSON: Want anything to the store?
MRS. THOMPSON: [Sadly.] Are you going to town today?
THOMPSON: Yes. [Sharply.] What's going to hinder?
MRS. THOMPSON: [Turning and wiping dish as she talks, half apologetically: as if she did not feel it her right to question or dispute with her lord and master.] I thought mebbe that the going and the--
THOMPSON: The going? When did the going ever stop me?
MRS. THOMPSON: Yes, I know. [Faltering, as if she had more to say, but doesn't get any further.]
THOMPSON: [Vigorously.] I guess so. No storm is going to stop me from getting to town; there is two men owe me interest money that will be in today to my office. That's how I got my money, putting it out and taking care to get it back.
[He laughs very slightly, a little cackling, thin laugh without any joy in it.]
MRS. THOMPSON: Aren't you afraid it's going to storm?
THOMPSON: No, I'm not afraid of anything! It isn't my luck to have a storm. Don't you believe what folks around here tell you about Thompson's luck. Mebbe some of my folks was unlucky, but it didn't follow me. [He chuckles a little, holding one boot in his hands; he looks at her.] You know yourself what folks said when I married you. [MRS. THOMPSON turns with a pained expression, as if she does not care to hear what she knows so well. THOMPSON continues looking away so that he doesn't see the look of pain.] Thompson's luck again! Waited until he was an old man, then married a crooked stick! [He chuckles again, not seeing the look of hatred on her face; pulls on his boot and looks up towards her.] But we fooled 'em. [He rises, goes over to the cradle, kneels before it, and looks in, pushing away a bit of blanket that covers the child within.] Who's got a finer boy than Steve Thompson? [Turning to her anxiously.] What makes him sleep so much?
MRS. THOMPSON: He's got cold.
THOMPSON: Pshaw, why should he have a cold? [Rising.] He'll be all right. I won't have him sick!
MRS. THOMPSON: Don't you think you better get the medicine? He seemed worse last night.
[THOMPSON goes over, takes a coat from a hook by the door, and takes things from its pockets and puts them into another coat, which hangs there. While he is fumbling doing this he goes on with his talking.]
THOMPSON: Didn't I buy medicine last week?
MRS. THOMPSON: But that was another trouble. We can't use that for this.
THOMPSON: He won't be sick.
MRS. THOMPSON: [Sighing.] I hope not, but I am afraid.
THOMPSON: You ain't afraid to spend money, I notice.
MRS. THOMPSON: But, Steve, if he needs it, you wouldn't mind spending money?
THOMPSON: But he'll be all right, I say. Can't anything happen to my boy!
[Knock at the door is heard.]
THOMPSON: [Without looking around.] Come in.
[There enters a quiet, smiling man, smooth, red face, soft voice, bundled up in a big coat, with heavy mittens, a cap pulled over his ears. He is younger looking than Thompson.]
HOLMES: [Quietly.] So you're going, are you?
THOMPSON: [Sharply.] Didn't I just telephone you I was?
HOLMES: [Smiling.] Well-- [Seeing MRS. THOMPSON over in the corner.] Good morning, Miss Thompson.
MRS. THOMPSON: [Nods.] Don't you think it's going to be a blizzard?
HOLMES: [Doubtfully.] I don't know.
THOMPSON: She's afraid of Thompson's Luck. Guess she heard of it before she ever came over here to keep house for me. Wouldn't think she'd marry me, would you? [Bitterly, fumbling in his pocket and not looking up.] Old man and crooked stick!
MRS. THOMPSON: Steve!
THOMPSON: [Laughing, turns to Holmes.] Have you seen my boy?
HOLMES: Not since yesterday. [Smiling.] Is he grown up? [He looks to Mrs. Thompson who smiles faintly.]
[Thompson going over to cradle, pulls back the quilt a little; although Holmes has followed him, he speaks to himself.]
THOMPSON: A fine boy! A fine boy! [He gets up.] Thompson's Luck! It never hit me!
HOLMES: [Dryly.] It never does hit more than once, does it?
THOMPSON: [Angrily.] You believe in it, too, do you?
HOLMES: [Quietly.] Oh, no, I don't believe in any luck. I think, as a man sows, he will reap.
THOMPSON: Hump! [Contemptuously.] You think my grandfather was struck by lightning just because, after the big tree in the yard was split to kindling, he said, "Now, try Thompson!"
HOLMES: Well, I don't know.
THOMPSON: I do! But they don't hit me, I tell ye. [He has by now dressed, and goes into the pantry, off right, returning with a basket into which he looks, turning to his wife.] Only two dozen eggs today? Why, I brought in seven yesterday.
MRS. THOMPSON: [Meekly.] I sold a dozen before yesterday.
THOMPSON: [Winking at Holmes.] Where's the money?
MRS. THOMPSON: [Not seeing the joke.] You said I might keep it.
THOMPSON: That's why I asked; to see if you keep it or spend it. [He laughs a cynical laugh in which no one joins him. Holmes looks uneasy.] Well! [To Holmes.] Come on.
[He goes to the waterpail at the sink, takes down the tin dipper, drinks from it, puts back the dipper, draws from his trousers' pocket a black plug of tobacco, from which he bites, and returns it to his pocket.]
MRS. THOMPSON: [Who has been standing nervously wiping a pan over and over again, now gets up her courage to speak.] Don't you think you had better get the medicine? If anything should happen--
THOMPSON: [Interrupting.] Nonsense! I'm going to town to get money, not to spend it. He isn't sick. I won't have him sick! [Turns to go, takes the latch of the door in his hand, then back over his shoulder with...] Take good care of my boy! Keep him warm! Care and warmth is what he needs.
[He goes out, followed by Holmes, who simply nods as he goes through the door.]
[Mrs. Thompson stands by the sink, looking out the window, until there is heard outside, Thompson's voice calling, "Whoa! hold up!" Then there is a sharp jingling of sleigh bells succeeded by quiet, and she moves a step or two, evidently to follow better with her eyes, the retreating sleigh. She mechanically puts down the pan which she has continued to hold and wipe, and stands there with the dish-towel in her hand. She turns and looks toward the cradle, then out of the window suddenly as if he had come in sight again on some far hilltop. She raises her hand threateningly and exclaims:]
MRS. THOMPSON: It will be your fault! [She limps over to the cradle, kneels by it, remains there as if listening. She gets up quickly, goes to the table with great determination; makes something in a cup, goes back to the cradle and exclaims feverishly:] I won't let him die! His boy, and he won't spend a penny for medicine! He's my boy, too, and I won't let him die! [She puts the cup back on the table, goes to the stove, takes a brick from the top of the stove, wraps it in a large piece of cloth, carries it to the cradle, pulls up the covering at the foot, and, while putting it in, talks frantically.] His baby! I'll show him! He wouldn't have him die! I will not let him die! His mother will save him. He's my boy! Another crooked stick! [She shrieks hysterically; buries her face in her hands, sobbing uncontrollably.]
[The curtain falls for an instant to rise on the same scene with this difference. The room is filled with queer shadows made by the light from a poor, little lamp on the table. There is a large rocking-chair near the table which has been moved to the middle of the room. The shades are drawn. The cradle is over near the stove. The oven door is open and Mrs. Thompson propped up in the chair with a red, faded shawl over her shoulders seated before it. She wakens with a start at some distant, low call heard outside.]
MRS. THOMPSON: Oh! [She steps over near the cradle and listens; looks up at the clock on the mantle over the stove.] Half-past twelve. [A weak knock is heard at the door. She rises quickly, limps over to the door, and, with her hand on the bar, which locks the door, she calls timorously:] Who's there? [A weak man's voice is heard outside:]
PRATT: It's me.
MRS. THOMPSON: Hiram Pratt? [Before the "yes" comes she has taken down the bar and with it the door is opened, disclosing a thin, tall, stooped man; clad in a poor-looking, old, faded overcoat; a cap pulled down over his narrow head; a big strip of cloth wound round his thin, long neck.] Well, I'm glad you've come.
PRATT: [Staggers to the chair at the left of the table; sits down as if exhausted; in a weak voice says:] Baby worse?
MRS. THOMPSON Yes, awful; but I'll save him with the medicine.
[Pratt begins unbuttoning his coat; then another beneath it; and, at last, painfully draws something out of his trouser's side-pocket, which Mrs. Thompson reaches eagerly for.]
PRATT: I didn't fetch it, Miss Thompson. I'm sorry! [His speech is broken off by a spasm of coughing. Her hands have fallen limp at her side, and from now, during the recital, she stands mute and sometimes as if unconscious of his story or presence, until he comes to the part Thompson had played; at which, for a moment, she shows signs of repressed rage, which suggests strength that lies hidden beneath her pitifully weak, habitual exterior.] You see! [He holds out a small, dirty, white canvas bag, such as country men use to carry loose change.] I put that dollar bill you gave me to buy the medicine in here with my money and tied this tape around it just as I always do. [He shows the bag folded securely, with the open end turned in and a soiled piece of white tape turned around it.] It couldn't have gotten lost, could it? [Appealing to Mrs. Thompson.] Do you see how it could?
MRS. THOMPSON: [Shakes her head.] No!
PRATT: I thought I'd do my interest business first, before I went to the store to trade. I got my mortgage on my place from Mr. Thompson, you know.
MRS. THOMPSON: No, I didn't know.
PRATT: Yes, so I went right to the office. My! but it was warm up there; up those stairs. You know how it is.
MRS. THOMPSON: No, I never go to town.
PRATT: Come to think of it, I don't know as I ever did see you there; but I supposed mebbe the old man took you sometimes.
MRS. THOMPSON: No, he never has room.
PRATT: I see he had Waterman Holmes.
MRS. THOMPSON: Yes, Waterman went. [Weakly.] But the baby was sick.
PRATT: Waterman was there when I went in; though I was kind of blinded when I first got in, I soon made out who it was and I knew his voice. I felt so kind of queer up there, climbing the stairs and the heat and all, and my fingers were so cold, I couldn't scarce count my money. But I finally got out the $11.40 that I had. It was not enough, but Mr. Thompson took it and let me have a little more time for the rest. [He coughs terribly.] This has been a tough winter, all the children sick with colds and one thing or another. [He sighs, shakes his head.] I don't know. [He remains silent for what seems a long time, until brought back to his story by the cold voice of Mrs. Thompson.]
MRS. THOMPSON: And then?
PRATT: [Starting up.] Oh, yes! Well, I thought it wouldn't do any harm as long as I had so much bac luck, poor crops and a calf that died, and so on, to ask Mr. Thompson if he wouldn't let me off a little. [He sighs again.]
MRS. THOMPSON: [Quickly and mechanically.] What did he say?
PRATT: I suppose I can't complain. I told him I had a big family and had lots of sickness, and he said he had a family, too, to look out for. "I know," says I. [He pauses, looks at the cradle and around the room.] So I got up and come out, and when I got over to the store for the medicine the dollar bill was gone. [He pauses and looks at Mrs. Thompson as if looking for some sharp, scolding word of question, perhaps of sympathy, but, seeing nothing but a stare on her face, he continues pitifully.] I always put my money in that bag, but I thought I might have put it in some back pocket, seeing it wasn't my money.
MRS. THOMPSON: And you couldn't find it in your pocket?
PRATT: I hunted in every pocket I've got. Zack Turner finally spoke up and asked me if I had come to town to clean out my pockets. I couldn't find that dollar, Miss Thompson. I'll pay you back soon as I can. Mebbe in a month I'll get it. Will that be all right? I'm sorry. [He rises, begins fumblingly buttoning his coat.]
MRS. THOMPSON: [As if awakening to reality.] It ain't the money; it's the medicine. [She goes over and kneels by the cradle.] What will become of my boy? [She sobs.]
PRATT: [Weakly.] I guess he'll be a'right. Harriet could come over tomorrow and help you, mebbe.
MRS. THOMPSON: Tomorrow?
PRATT: Well, if it stops snowin'.
MRS. THOMPSON: [As if to herself.] Mebbe Steve bought it and will bring it.
PRATT: Steve won't be out tonight.
MRS. THOMPSON: Oh, yes, he will. He would have telephoned to find out about the boy if he didn't mean to come home.
PRATT: Telephoned! Thare hain't three lengths of telephone wire between here and Batesville.
MRS. THOMPSON: Then he'll come. [Faintly, as if she did not believe it.] I guess.
PRATT: If there's anything I could do--I'm afraid he won't come.
MRS. THOMPSON: You got through.
PRATT: Yes, but I had to. There was Harriet and the children.
MRS. THOMPSON: He's got a family, too.
PRATT: Yes, but he can afford to stay in town. He can go to the hotel.
MRS. THOMPSON: Not him. He sleeps in his office sometimes when he's kept in late. [She looks at the cradle.] But he'll come before mornin'. [As if to herself.] He said he wouldn't let him die.
PRATT: Humph! He don't believe in Thompson's luck. Well, I hope not. [Turning to go.] I'm sorry, Miss Thompson. I must be going.
[He goes, and she mechanically bars the door after him. Now she seems awake, as if she realizes that the child has no hope but her resources. She wraps up another brick taken from the stove, takes the one from the cradle, and puts in the freshly heated one. Her every movement is feverish; at times, frantic. She stoops over very close as if to listen for the breathing of the child. She rises, limpingly fetches the lamp; kneels by the cradle, turns up the wick until it smokes and seems to peer into the face of the child within. She puts the lamp back on the table, mixes at the table something in a cup, puts it down, goes over to the telephone, takes down the receiver, and, after a pause, calls faintly:]
MRS. THOMPSON: Hello! [Pause.] Hello! [A longer pause in which she moves nervously, as if she heard strange sounds or perhaps no sound in the receiver.] Hello! [Then, frantically.] Hello! Hello! Hello! [The receiver drops full length of the cord from her hand, she turns slowly round; falls into a chair and laughs hysterically.] It's coming now. Thompson's luck!
[When the curtain rises after a brief interval, it is to disclose the kitchen flooded with a dazzling sunlight reflected from the snow-covered world outside. It is mid-forenoon of the day following the previous events. The table is still out in the center of the room, but the cradle is gone. The back door opens and in walks Thompson, followed by Waterman Holmes.]
THOMPSON: [Over his shoulder.] You might as well come in. We'll have something hot to drink.
[Loosening their coats, they sit at the table; Thompson toward the stove and away from the bedroom door. From the bedroom door Mrs. Thompson comes quickly. She has a strained look, is pale, with deep circles under her eyes.]
MRS. THOMPSON: At last!
THOMPSON: [Not looking at her; speaking over his shoulder.] This isn't late. We're early. [Looking at his watch.] Only ten o'clock. Give us a cup of coffee, will you?
[Mrs. Thompson, without answering, goes over to the shelf by the window, takes a spoon, a jar of coffee, and puts water from pail into the coffee pot.]
THOMPSON: It turned out to be a big storm. I didn't see any good spending money to telephone. I see the wires are all down anyhow. I knew you would be all right; you aren't afraid.
[Mrs. Thompson pauses in her preparations, looks at him with a sudden look of hatred coming over her face, but says nothing.]
THOMPSON: Never see such drifts, did you, Waterman?
THOMPSON: Couldn't have got through last night no more than you could fly.
MRS. THOMPSON: Some did.
THOMPSON: [Turning around and looking at her.] Who?
MRS. THOMPSON: Hiram Pratt.
THOMPSON: [Laughing his dry, cackling laugh.] He couldn't do anything but go through. No place to stay and no money to put up at the hotel. [Turning to Waterman.] Mebbe that dollar bill he dropped at my table was his hotel expenses. [He slaps his knee and laughs so he doesn't hear the coffee-pot come down with a thud on the shelf at the side of the sink, when Mrs. Thompson's nerveless hand lets it drop as she hears "dollar bill." Waterman Holmes looks around, but, as Mrs. Thompson manages to pick it up and go on, he turns back. Thompson continues to Mrs. Thompson, who now stands with her back to him.] He was into my office yesterday afternoon to pay up his interest and dropped a dollar bill on the table while he was counting out his chicken feed to make up his $11.40. [Turning to Holmes.] Guess he must have saved all the change he's seen for the last six months. He did have two silver dollars, though. [He laughs again and then resumes to Mrs. Thompson.] Well, sir, he's got so little brains that, while he was counting and recounting his small change to make sure he wasn't giving me too much, he let a dollar bill slip out on the table, and, with his eyes looking straight at that table, setting there as near as Holmes and I are to this one, he never saw me cover it up with my hand [imitating on table] and put it in my pocket.
[He bursts out laughing. Holmes smiles a little, but stops as he perceives Mrs. Thompson's queer look when she hears "dollar bill."]
HOLMES: It was too bad, though.
THOMPSON: [Snorting.] Too bad, nothing! Dum fool! Why didn't he take care of his money? He ain't got brains enough to carry him around the corner let alone borrow money. [Bitterly to Mrs. Thompson.] How did you know he got back last night?
MRS. THOMPSON: He stopped here.
THOMPSON: What time?
MRS. THOMPSON About half-past twelve.
THOMPSON: What for?
MRS. THOMPSON: I asked him to do an errand.
THOMPSON: Can't I do your errands?
MRS. THOMPSON: [Doggedly.] You wouldn't.
MRS. THOMPSON: I asked you to buy the medicine and you said No!
THOMPSON: Pshaw! Did he get it?
MRS. THOMPSON: No, he couldn't.
THOMPSON: Why not?
MRS. THOMPSON: [Looking defiantly at him.] He lost the money I gave him.
THOMPSON: Lost the money? Stole it, you mean. How much did you give him?
MRS. THOMPSON: [Defiantly, looking sharply at him.] A dollar bill!
[Holmes stands up; Thompson jumps to his feet, starts toward the bedroom door, stops, turns around and asks, with a tremor in his voice:]
THOMPSON: How's my boy?
MRS. THOMPSON: [Pointing to the door of the bedroom.] Go and see!
THOMPSON: [Goes slowly, but before he reaches the door turns again and says:] How's my boy?
MRS. THOMPSON: Dead.