– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Act One, SCENE FIVE – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – (age 24)
August 1889, Elkhorn Creek. Paul, standing before an easel on the creek bank, is painting Mayme who sits in a canoe near a large sycamore tree.
Paul You’re drifting out. Push back toward shore.
[she “pushes” with oar, lays it across canoe, rests chin on right hand; Paul paints in silence]
Mayme Would you like me to put out a fishing line for you?
Paul [abstractedly] No no, it would spoil your pose… [more silence] Move your hand down from your chin.
Paul Yes, Mary?…
Mayme Did you know our old school on Second Street had its first-ever twelve-year graduating class this year?
Paul Really? I hadn’t heard that.
Mayme Yes, they had seven graduates. Too bad we couldn’t have gone through all twelve years and graduated there together, don’t you think?
Paul Yes, it would have been nice. Watch that you don’t drift out again, the current keeps pulling on the canoe.
[silence; he continues painting as Mayme engages him in conversation]
Mayme Have you heard that Transylvania University is going to allow women to enroll as students this year?
Paul I did hear that one. That’s quite a change. Are you thinking of applying?
Mayme No, of course not. [pause] I was just thinking…
Paul About what?
Mayme It will soon be autumn. In less than a month September will be here.
Paul Yes…? and…?
Mayme And you’ll be leaving again.
Paul New York, here I come!
Mayme When exactly must you leave, Paul? Early next month?
Paul I think probably near the end of this month. I should go ahead and get up there. Get settled in. Meet people. Find my way around the artist community.
Mayme You’re really looking forward to it aren’t you.
Paul Why sure! Mary, what I’ve looked forward to for so long is coming together. Staying on the road for the mill most of the past year has paid my way. I’ve already mailed in my tuition. My train ticket is reserved. And I have enough coin saved up to deal with New York prices. Not to mention weekend tickets home here and there, to visit someone very dear…
Mayme I appreciate that. Does Professor Noble know you’re going.
Paul [he absentmindedly stops painting] Yes, I wrote to thank him. That dear man thought enough of my art to recommend this in the first place. Remember a few months ago when my sales route started in Ohio, so I took the train up through Cincinnati?
Mayme Yes I do.
Paul Well, I didn’t just go “through” Cincinnati. I made a little unreported stopover at the Academy to see Professor Noble. I took along a good batch of my recent paintings to show him, and asked his advice on how I ought to move forward. He was very complimentary. That’s when he advised me to contact Professor Chase at the Art Students League. He said William Merritt Chase is the leading art instructor in New York, maybe the whole northeast. Studying under him will certainly advance my career.
Mayme I surely hope so.
Paul Look here, all this talk has stayed my hand. Back to work!
Mayme I’m coming ashore. [she mimes rowing ashore, steps out on bank]
Paul What? Tired of posing already?
Mayme Already? I’ve been in that uncomfortable canoe for two hours. I’m taking a break. Besides, there’s something I’ve been planning to read to you.
Paul You planned it! Well, if we must stop we must.
Mayme Paul, do you know how long it’s been since we had tea with my aunts… and all this started?
Paul N-o-o… It seems rather like yesterday though.
Mayme It’s been twenty-seven months.
Paul That long? It doesn’t seem possible!
Mayme Two and one-fourth years.
Paul Uh…why are you counting?
[she kisses him lightly on the lips, turns and gets a paper from her bag lying nearby]
Mayme That is how long we’ve been dancing our way through more balls and parties than I would ever have thought possible. Even with you away weeks on end traveling for the mill. We have been noticed, Paul. We’ve even been written up in the newspaper as “Frankfort’s handsomest young couple.” These have been a very sweet two and one-fourth years for me, Mister Sawyier. Have they been as good for you?
Paul Yes, my Mary, of course! Whatever is on your mind?
Mayme Poetry. I want to read you a poem I like very much.
Paul Did you write it?
Mayme No. I read it in Scribner’s Monthly. They didn’t give the author’s name. It’s titled “Constraint.” Listen up now… [they stand close but not touching as she reads]
Down through the orchard wandered we, Where, hanging low, each burdened tree
Hung full of fruitage yellow.
‘Twas morning and the autumn sun Shone on the leaves of gold and dun
With radiance soft and mellow.
There came a blush upon her cheek, I thought my time had come to speak,
She seemed so sad and tender;
I touched her snowy dimpled hand, But found no words at my command,
My burning love to render. [Mayme lays her hand on Paul’s arm]
At last we passed beneath a tree, The branch that sheltered her and me
Reached low with luscious fruit,
“Be seated, pray,” I gently plead, “I cannot – cannot,” soft she said,
I’m in my walking suit.
[they regard each other silently; then he takes her close in his arms, they stand thus; Mayme’s music softly plays once through.]
Paul I love you, my Mary.
Mayme I… Sometimes… I…
Paul What, love?
Mayme I’m afraid to say it…
Paul Tell me… What would you say?
Mayme Paul… sometimes I… wish… we were already married…
[she lays her head closer to his chest, both their arms move to yet closer embrace]
Paul Oh, Mary! I wish that every day! Every hour!
Mayme [she speaks softly, earnestly] Does your heart have burning love to render? Don’t you ever wish to reach for luscious low-hanging fruit? As we wander through the orchard – as indeed we often do, Paul …far from the eyes of the world… shall we be always in our walking suits?
[brief silent pause; they hold the embrace]
Paul [some nervousness] You know how much I respect you, Mary. It is extremely important to me to…to uphold your honor. I hold you in the highest regard!
Mayme [she raises her head] My honor, Paul? Sometimes… my honor and I find it hard to bear the thought of …waiting… …until your art earns enough that we can afford to marry. Just like that poem, I feel very… constrained. Don’t you?
Paul Mary, dearest! An honorable man cannot do otherwise. I don’t always agree with my father, but from him I learned that a man must stand on his own two feet.
[she pulls away to arms length, facing him, her hands gripping his shoulders]
Mayme Paul, you are standing on your own two feet! Right now! Your earnings from the mill are enough to live on! You’ve already showed that you can earn more than enough. We don’t have to be rich to be happy. To have a home. To have babies…
Paul [slightly alarmed] Mary, what are you saying? I have to earn my living with my art! I detest being a traveling salesman! That’s just a means to an end!
Mayme I know, Paul. Don’t be upset, dear, I didn’t mean to upset you. I know what your art means to you. It’s important to me too. It’s just…
[she drops her arms, turns sideways to him, chin down, wrings hands against her waist]
Paul Just what?
Mayme How many years will it be, Paul? I can wait. I’m only twenty-four. But in order to bear it, I need to know how long I must wait.
Paul Mary, the more I paint the better my paintings become. But I know I need more guidance from master painters. I’ll get that from Professor Chase in New York. He’s a master in the new field of impressionist art. Mary, I don’t even fully understand what impressionism is! If I’m to become a master artist – and be paid like a master artist – I have to know what I’m doing. My art has to be widely recognized, and people have to want to buy it. How long will that take? Well, I can’t say exactly, but I know that studying in New York this fall will be a giant step forward. Isn’t that a reasonable prospect to wait for?
Mayme Yes, Paul. Thank you for listening to a silly girl. That is worth waiting for.