– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Act One, SCENE TWO – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – (age 22)
[May 1887, Aunts Mag and Mary’s house. Mayme and friend Emma Morris are visiting Mayme’s maiden aunts, Mary and Mag Averill, in their home at Washington and Main Streets. Mag is setting tea service the in parlor. She pronounces Mayme as “may-mee.”]
Aunt Mag [calls at door] Mayme… [pause, calls as if to upstairs] Hoo, Mayme!
[she returns to tea]
Mayme [enters, duster in hand] Yes, Aunt Mag?
Aunt Mag You girls have been working ever since you got here. You need a rest. Let’s all sit down and have afternoon tea.
Mayme What a welcome thought. I’ll go get Emma off her ladder.
Aunt Mag What’s she doing on a ladder?
Mayme Dusting the tops of the drapes in Aunt Mary’s bedroom.
Aunt Mary [enters] Oh, how dreadful. I don’t want anyone to see the mess up there!
Mayme Don’t worry Auntie, I’ll swear her to secrecy. [exits to get Emma]
Aunt Mary How blest we are to have such a niece!
Aunt Mag Blest indeed. That namesake of yours comes over here nearly every weekend on one excuse or another to do some work so we won’t have to.
Aunt Mary Well, it’s grateful I am. Those drapes had an inch of dirt and I was dreading climbing up there.
Aunt Mag Emma Morris is not the first friend she’s talked into coming along to help, you know.
Mayme [entering with Emma] Don’t give away my secrets, Aunt, especially not in front of the hired help.
Emma Hired help? Well, as of now you owe me double the salary.
Aunt Mary Send her away, Mayme, we can’t afford such wages!
Emma But today I shall work for tea!
Mayme Then we shall keep you. Sit there in the choice seat, which is choice because it has the best view out the window. And if my dear aunties would be seated, I shall serve the tea.
[all seat themselves, Mayme pours, sits]
Emma How do you like the new post office so close by, Miss Page?
Aunt Mag I will like any post office that finally stays put after moving about town nine times. What I do like, I can walk just a block down Washington Street and a block up Wapping to get my mail. Then it’s back up St Clair and down Main Street to home – and I’ve had four blocks of exercise. It makes me feel good.
[Emma looks intently out the window]
Aunt Mary It was actually closer when they had it on St Clair across from Selbert’s Jewelry. But I’m glad they put it in that pretty new federal building. I like that big round thing up on top. I just don’t understand why it took them four years to build a federal courthouse. You can build a whole town in four years.
[Emma’s gaze cranes her neck]
Mayme Government works in mysterious ways. Emma, what are you looking at?
Emma That man walking by… carrying an easel… I think that’s Paul Sawyier.
Mayme Paul Sawyier? I’ve hardly seen him since we left Second Street School.
Aunt Mary Isn’t he Doctor Sawyier’s younger son?
Emma Yes. Oh Miss Page, Paul is a friend. He painted my portrait last fall. Do you think it would be all right to invite him in?
Mayme Emma! We mustn’t be forward!
Aunt Mag Well, the Sawyiers are upstanding people. Why don’t you girls just go right out there and invite him in to have tea with us.
Aunt Mary Yes, we haven’t had a young man in this house in ages. And you’d better hurry if you’re going to catch him – he’s walking rather briskly.
[Emma rises hurriedly from her chair]
Mayme [anxious] Emma! What are you doing? [Emma is out the door] Oh!
Aunt Mary Mayme dear, why are you so tense? It’s alright to have a gentleman caller from a good family. Especially as well chaperoned as you are this afternoon! Tee-hee!
Mayme Well, having a gentleman caller was the last thing on my mind! And here I sit in my old work dress!
Aunt Mag Your dress looks fine. You say Mr. Sawyier went to Second Street School with you?
Mayme We both started there in first grade and stayed in the same class the whole ten years. After we graduated in ‘81 Paul went on to eleventh and twelfth grades at Dudley Institute. That was after it stopped being just a girls’ school.
Aunt Mag Isn’t that across the river?
Mayme Second and Conway, facing the bridge. I used to see him coming and going there, sometimes. He was always polite… He always…smiled at me.
Aunt Mary Well, smiling is a nice thing isn’t it. Was this young man ever a “special” friend to you?
Mayme Oh, here he comes. That Emma would coax him into coming in!
[Emma and Paul enter]
Emma Misses Page, Miss Mary Thomas Bull, may I present Mister Paul Sawyier. He has kindly agreed to share our tea.
Aunt Mary Welcome to our home and afternoon tea, Mister Sawyier. I understand you already know our Mayme?
Paul Oh yes, indeed. I admired Miss Bull through ten long years at Second Street, and I occasionally tried to admire her as she flitted by Dudley Institute. I often caught her eye but I couldn’t seem to hold it. She can be very fleet of foot. Hello again, Miss Bull. It’s nice to meet again here after we’re all grown up, at the ripe old age of twenty two.
Mayme And hello to you, Mr Sawyier. It seems we have grown up, haven’t we.
Paul Oh, please call me Paul! After all, we’ve known each other nearly all our lives.
Emma Pray have a seat, Paul. Perhaps Mayme will pour you some tea.
[Mayme rises nervously. Throughout the scene Paul’s attention keeps returning to Mayme even while he is speaking to others]
Paul Thank you, Emma. Miss Page and Miss Page, I’ve seen you both about town from time to time, but I’m pleased to meet you formally. I was just on my way down to the river, and this invitation is a great unexpected pleasure.
Mayme [Pouring his tea, she spills a little] Oh dear! Please excuse me! [sits]
Paul And what of you, Miss Mary Thomas Bull? I have known you so many years, yet I don’t seem to know you at all. You’ve grown up to look so different than I remember from Second Street.
Mayme Time is very hard on some of us.
Paul But very kind indeed on you! What do you do these days?
Mayme Oh, I manage to stay busy. I like to write poetry…
Paul I should love to hear some poems you’ve written. But first I must settle the matter of your name… I’ve always heard your brothers call you “Mame,” but Emma and your aunt called you “Mayme.” At school I remember the teachers called you “Mary Thomas.” Which of these would you prefer that I call you?
Mayme It makes no difference, I answer to all three.
Paul But which of the three are you called the most?
Mayme Well, my brothers do call me Mame. My eldest brother Sam started that. He must give a nickname to everyone he knows. Most everyone else calls me Mayme.
Paul Then I choose the least used of the three. The short form, I think. I hereby dub thee “Mary.” If you don’t mind I shall henceforth and always call you Mary.
Mayme [shy, hands in lap] I don’t mind…
Emma Sure glad that’s settled! Calling your attention back to us others in the room, Paul, one wonders why you were on your way down to the river. Did it have anything to do with that easel you brought along?
Paul Matter of fact. I have in mind to try my hand at some copper plate etchings of the covered bridge. To get myself ready, I need to sketch it from several angles and get familiar with all its lines. Afternoons are a good time to sketch, because the light is coming from a western angle and it makes the bridge just leap to the eye.
Aunt Mag My goodness, you talk just like an artist. Do I understand you painted Emma’s portrait?
Paul Yes, that was after I came back to Frankfort late last summer. Most people seem pleased to have a portrait of their own face. I find that portraits seem to sell better than landscapes or other subjects. Keeps food on the table.
Emma You sound so like the business man. [to aunts] Paul and another fellow had a portrait studio business in downtown Cincinnati. I was lucky to catch him in between that and when he went on the road for Kentucky River Mills.
Aunt Mary You had a studio but now you travel? What do you do for the mill?
Paul I journey all over the midwest by train visting towns large and small, of
which there are a very great many. In each one I try to sell string, twine and rope.
Aunt Mag String, twine and rope…. I saw something in the paper… Oh I know – didn’t your father quit doctoring to be president of the mill a few years ago?
Paul That’s my father. He felt the mill business would be more lucrative.
Aunt Mag Well…perhaps it will. But if you must travel so much, when do you have time to be an artist?
Paul Oh, I am an artist. That’s all the time. The question is, when does this artist have time to paint? That’s a bit more of a problem, but I keep my hand in. Some.
Emma It’s a shame you have to be gone so much, Paul. I hope you don’t miss all the dances this summer and fall. Mayme and I have planned a very busy dance season, from here to Versailles and all in between. And she is such a good dancer. Do you dance?
Paul Matter of fact! I love to dance! My job lets me come back to Frankfort on certain weekends. [looks at Mayme] Maybe I could join you… sometimes…?
Emma Another thing. I know you sometimes paint landscapes, and there’s a wonderful opportunity coming up. Have you heard about the camping trip to Drennon next month?
Paul I heard something about a “Drennon Camping Club.”
Emma That’s it. A crowd of us plan to steam down the river to Drennon and camp out for a whole week. Quite the holiday. And of course the scenery going down the river is spectacular. I so wish you could join us.
Paul Will you be going, Mary?
Mayme I…I don’t know…my brother Sam is going, but I hadn’t…
Aunt Mag My goodness, will there be chaperones with such a gaggle of young folks?
Emma Oh yes, chaperones a’plenty. Several judges and their wives will keep a lawful eye on all these wild youngsters. Mayme, if Sam goes you’d be so well chaperoned your parents couldn’t think of saying no. Yes, Paul, I’d say she’s going.
Mayme Emma, keep the horse behind the cart. I’ll think about it.
Emma That horse may be in trouble already. And you, Paul, is there no chance you could stop being a traveling salesman long enough for a frolic at Drennon?
Paul I would love to! I don’t know… I’d have to discuss it with my employer. My father, that is. Papa is very concerned with keeping the morality of hard work and profit before the folly of pleasure.
Emma Here’s more enticement. The camping club doesn’t have any resident artist…yet. We’ll need a real live artist to capture the scenery for posterity.
Paul You sure make it sound good! Emma… Mary… I think…I hereby decide…that I shall go! Yes, I will! One cannot let crass commerce get in the way of art!
Emma Oh wonderful! Mayme, don’t you just love a decisive man?
Paul [thoughtfully, to himself] …I might have to quit my job…
[Lights fade, spotlight follows Paul as he walks to far side of stage, where his father stands]
* * *
Nathaniel Have you completely lost your mind?
Paul I was going to resign anyway, Papa. I detest being a salesman. Always trying to talk people into buying something whether they want it or not! I have to do this.
Nathaniel What you have to do is grow up and responsibly earn a living!
Paul My art will earn my living – if I’m free to paint!
Nathaniel You want to be free to frolic in the woods with the girls for a whole week!
Paul Papa, that prospect is not entirely a bad thing. But this will be the first real opportunity I’ve had to do some major painting since I left my studio.
Nathaniel Paul, we’ve had this discussion before! When I agreed to pay your way to that art school I told you not to count on such a trifle as art to earn your living!
Paul My art is not a trifle, and I can live on it! I simply have to paint more. To paint until I’m good, until… when my name is well known in Kentucky… in the nation…
Nathaniel Think, Son! This is mentally deranged! Would you actually choose to give up a solid, good-paying job to paint pictures because you think people will buy them if you get famous? Do you really think you can earn a living that way?
Paul I do, Papa. Oh I certainly do! And you could have too, if your father hadn’t stopped you! When you became president at the mill you chose to quit being the doctor he made you be, didn’t you? How is that different from what I want to do?