Act Two, SCENE SEVEN – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – (age 49)
1914, Brooklyn, New York
[Spotlight up on Sister Lillian sitting at one side of stage writing a letter]
Lillian May 1914. My dear Mary Campbell, it was good to receive your letter. Your inquiries about our brother’s move here are timely and I shall bring you up to date. In my unexpected new widowhood, I find it comforting to have a man in the house again. He arrived last October and seems quite settled in his new surroundings. Paul’s room has its own outside entrance, so his comings and goings happen quietly. I must say he goes a great deal.
[Spotlight up on Paul standing on other side of stage painting at an easel]
As to painting, I had no idea he could work so prodigiously. His output of new paintings is very impressive. Every day he is at his easel from nine in the morning to four in the afternoon, either in his room or out in the parks around here. He still loves painting au plein air and often goes to Prospect Park or Central Park, where he has already captured many lovely landscapes. He paints a good deal on Long Island and Jamaica Bay, and has even done the steamships down in the harbor. You may be surprised that he still does a lot of Kentucky paintings. It seems Paul brought hundreds of photographs of scenes in Kentucky. He paints from them on rainy days.
He still does lots of watercolors, but his work in oils is much increased. He has found that oils sell better here because New Yorkers demand it. He’s painting more with the knife nowadays, and for no apparent reason he has changed his signature.
[Paul leans over to put his signature on the canvas in front of him]
Where he always signed his name in capital letters, he has now gone to upper-lower case. That’s a psychological break with the past, if you ask me. But maybe it’s good, for he’s already gaining a little recognition here. He’s had several one-man exhibitions in Brooklyn, and he takes special pride in his acceptance at the Arlington Galleries. That was the only time I ever heard Paul throw bouquets at himself. He said “Lillian, it takes a painter to throw a one-man show at the Arlington. You have to be good to get in there.”
[Paul is joined by Edward Jackson; they mime conversation]
He’s gotten in tight with Edward Jackson, one of our local art dealers. Jackson has commissioned him to paint various scenes around the city. He pays on delivery just as Brower used to in Lexington. Paul prefers that, of course, and I presume it influences the amazing quantity of his output. He says he’s painting his “impressions of life.” I can’t imagine what that means — he never explains himself. Not even when he’s having his evening toddies. Plural. I must say he puts away more whiskey than I like. He’s discrete about it, but he never used to consume so much! You’d think it would loosen his tongue, but he is so close mouthed about all his affairs that I find him positively secretive.
[Paul and Jackson are joined by Marie Myer, a pretty petite older woman; Jackson mimes introductions; Paul and Marie mime mutual attraction]
However, you’ll want to know that Paul told me he still hopes to lay aside enough money to marry Mayme Bull. [beat] I must say I find that hard to believe. It was my impression that that was over. Anyway, our brother now being in his forty-ninth year, I’d say he has more behind him than ahead. I do see him writing letters to people with some frequency, but I don’t know if he receives any letters from Mayme.
[Lillian and Jackson exit; Spotlight follows Paul and Marie as they “go strolling in the park”; Marie has very slight Belgian accent]
Marie Isn’t this pretty? I love Prospect Park.
Paul I do too. I come here often to paint.
Marie I still thank Ed Jackson for introducing us. You fascinate me, Paul. I know the work of most New York artists, and I’ve encountered none of such breadth and subtlety as I see in your work. [pause] I want to tell you how much I appreciate all the time you are spending tutoring an amateur like me!
Paul Your work is not so amateur, Marie, and very nice. I enjoy tutoring you. I’ve been alone most of the time since I arrived here last October – one year ago now. So I too should thank dear old Jackson, for bringing your friendship into my life.
Marie As to that… Paul, I… I have a proposition I’d… I hope you’ll consider…
Paul That sounds mysterious. Whatever is on your mind, Marie?
Marie W-e-l-l-l… here goes. My sister has a summer estate up in the Catskills. A few hundred acres. I go there often. Sometime I stay weeks at a time. It is such a lovely place to get away to. It would be very nice if… if you could do some of my tutoring lessons up there. I told sister about you, and the unique quality of your art. So… she has asked me to convey to you an invitation to move up there for a while. For as long as you’d like, actually…
Paul That’s a very generous offer! But where would I stay? And how might I get by? An artist must live on the sales of his work, you know.
Marie Sister invites you to live in her studio. It’s actually a little chapel she converted to a studio, back when her daughters were budding artists. They’re grown and gone now. The studio is very private, way back on a beautiful hilltop, far from the main house. Lots of trees. Opportunities for painting landscapes are more than I can describe.
Paul Wonderful! It sounds rather like the Kentucky river palisades back home.
Marie And you could take the daily train any time you please, to deliver your art here in the city. Plus, the Catskills are a really good market for impressionist art. Lots of tourists flock in every summer, and every village and town has at least one art dealer. The whole area is something of an art colony. Some artists stay year round.
Paul It sounds so inviting! And they like impressionism! [pause] I’d have to make arrangements… May I consider the offer and let you know?
Marie That will be fine. [She smiles up at him, lays her head against his arm and squeezes]
[lights down; lights up on Paul and Jackson conversing in Jackson’s store]
Jackson Paul, people are buying your work! I have a new assignment for you…
[Lillian enters, goes straight to Paul and hands him an open telegram]
Lillian Excuse me please. Paul, I’m terribly sorry to bring you some bad news.
Paul Thank you, Lillian. What bad… [he reads]
[Paul exhibits stricken anguish – he sags, leans against wall, covers eyes with his hand]
Jackson What is it Paul? What’s wrong, my friend?
Paul I have lost… A very dear friend has died. I’m sorry, I… I need to go in your back room… This can’t be real… Oh dear God… I have to be alone…
Paul Please go home, Lillian. Just… let me be alone… I must… …get on the train to Kentucky tonight. Go pack me a bag please… [he exits to back room]
[Lights down; Spotlight up on Paul painting a gravestone; Paul’s recorded voice is heard]
Paul’s Voice For you, my Mary, I inscribe this, my last painting for you, with a song we liked…we shared… It is so appropriate. It has perfect rhymes, like your poems…
I know you’ll remember… It’s called… Absent… as you are now absent from me.
Sometimes, between long shadows on the grass,
The little truant waves of sunlight pass,
My eyes grow dim with tenderness, the while, Thinking I see thee smile.
And sometimes, in the twilight gloom, apart,
The tall trees whisper, whisper heart to heart;
From my fond lips the eager answers fall… [pause] …thinking I hear thee call.
[He weeps; the last half of Mayme’s music is heard as light slowly fades;
Spotlight up on Paul and Mayme’s mother]
Mrs. Bull Paul, I have gathered all the things you gave Mayme over the years. You are welcome to have them back.
Paul Thank you, Missus Bull, but no. The only thing I would really like to have is her eyeglasses.
Mrs. Bull Her eyeglasses?
Paul I intend to wear them always. I’ll have to replace her lenses with my own, but I’ll feel I’m seeing… as if through her eyes… as clearly as she saw.
[Spotlight down; Lights up on Paul and JJ King]
King Paul, I am so sorry for your loss. I’ve heard how close you were, for so many years. I know you cannot be recovered from the funeral yesterday.
Paul Yesterday was the last time I will ever enter the Presbyterian church.
King Here. Take this $300 check, please. I’d like ten new paintings of Frankfort subjects, your choice. Deliver at your convenience. Are you staying in town long?
Paul I have to catch tomorrow’s train back to New York.
[Lights down; Spotlight up on Paul and Rose]
Rose Must you leave so quickly, Paul? You’ve only just arrived!
Paul Rose, I… I simply had to see you… Someone I feel close to… This is the saddest time I’ve ever lived through… Nothing seems real. Nothing. I can’t stand the thought of being alone just now… though I must be on tonight’s train to New York .
Rose Paul, I’ve never seen you like this! So sad! Can you at least stay here in Cincinnati long enough to have supper with me?
Paul Yes, I think there’s time for that.
[Lights down; Spotlight up on Paul composing telegram]
Paul Dear Mary Campbell, just arrived back in New York. This telegram brings my deep regret that I was unable to stop over in Pittsburgh to see you as planned…
[Another spotlight comes up on Mary Campbell holding telegram at other side of stage; As she speaks to her out-of-sight husband, the spotlight on Paul slowly fades]
Mary Campbell It’s a telegram from Paul, dear. He won’t be visiting us after all. He’s already back in New York. He sends regrets. Says he was so worn out from Mayme’s funeral, he fell dead asleep as soon as he left Frankfort – slept the whole trip, and the Pullman porter forgot to wake him for the Pittsburgh stop.