– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Act One, SCENE EIGHT – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – (age 28)
[One hour later, the Bull family home. Mayme sits reading, pencil in hand making notes.]
Paul Hi. Are you still up for canoeing down the river? I’d like to capture the colors around Benson Creek before the afternoon light starts changing.
Mayme I suppose so. Before we leave, though, I must unpack this basket lunch I fixed for us. You had said you’d come by mid-morning.
Paul Oh, I’m sorry. I had a wee bite with the fellows at the Track Room, scoundrel that I am. Then I dropped by the Women’s Club to see if any of my paintings sold. Good news! – two landscapes sold and they paid me my share on the spot!
Mayme Oh good! That should boost the old savings account!
Paul Uh…afraid not, dear. I’m almost out of pastels and new ones will cost most of what I made. I’m determined to go strictly cash with LeCompte for my supplies these days. Go ahead and undo the basket. There’s still time for a nice afternoon outing.
Mayme I will. But first sit down and relax for a minute. I’ll read you this list of marriages. Would you mind to hear it?
Paul Sure. Who got married?
Mayme Some of our old schoolmates. Listen to this.
Married, November 1885: Maria Hardin to Lou Putnam.
February ‘86: Nora Church to Ed O’Hara.
June ‘86: Janell Taylor to Dr. Sam James.
August ‘87: Belle DoLime to James Murray. …August ‘87…that was six years ago, Paul. Just after we became a couple. Remember?
Paul Sure. Yes.
Mayme January 1888: Mary Bell Taylor to Dr JL Price
March 1890: Sue French to Logan McKee
October ‘91: Mattie Church to Bob Noel
June 1893: Suzanne Smith to our good pal Western Thomas. There’s more, I haven’t finished the list.
Paul That’s all right… [he turns, looks at door]
Mayme And babies. You should just count all the babies! Like my Averill cousins. Mary and Thomas and Marvin, they all have babies now. Rebecca doesn’t. She’s still unmarried. Like me. She’s my eldest cousin, you know.
Paul Uh… maybe we should get on out on the river? We won’t get to see each other next week, I’ll be out at Switzer.
Mayme [she lays down her list and looks at him] Again so soon, Paul? You were just gone up there for a week and a half. You only just got back.
Paul I’ve been back nearly a week. You missed me.
Mayme Of course I missed you. And we both missed a lovely dance at Woodburn. It’s been a while since we went dancing, Paul. You always seem to be gone up Elkhorn Creek these days. Will you stay with the Bristow family again?
Paul No, don’t want to wear out my welcome. Dick Baker invited me to stay with him on my next trip. He’ll take a painting of Elkhorn Creek behind his house in trade for my lodging and meals.
[she looks away; there is an awkward moment of silence]
Uh…you ‘bout ready to go?
Mayme Maybe you should go on without me, Paul. Mama’s not feeling very well. She may need me. I rather feel like staying in today anyway.
Paul Well… Are you sure? [she nods]
[He kisses her. She watches him exit. Lights fade]
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Act One, SCENE NINE – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – (age 32)
[March 1897, the Sawyier family home on Broadway. Paul paints at an easel. His mother Ellen sits looking at miscellaneous papers. Father Nathaniel paces distractedly in and out of the room.]
Ellen Paul, here’s a program from that play you and Frank Bull were in last year. Do you still want to keep it?
Paul The Mikado! Frankfort highlight of 1896! We had such a hit they took it on the road all the way to Lexington and Lawrenceburg. Sure, mama, keep it for me.
[knocking is heard]
Ellen Someone’s at the door. Get it, Paul, so I don’t have to move all this paper.
Paul I’ll see who it is. [he rises and opens door]
Deputy Good afternoon, sir. Are you Nathaniel Sawyier?
[Nathaniel comes to door beside Paul]
Paul No, I’m his son Paul. This is Nathaniel here.
Deputy And Natalie Sawyier, is she here too?
Paul No, my sister doesn’t live here. Why do you ask?
Deputy On behalf of the court and the sheriff I hereby serve you with this summons. [he hands folded papers to Paul and Nathaniel, turns and leaves]
Ellen What in the world…? What was that all about?
[Nat and Paul stand staring at the papers]
Paul This is a summons! We have to appear in court!
Ellen Appear in court!? Whatever in the world for? [Paul remains silent]
One of you please tell me what is going on?
Nat The damn bank can’t get blood out of a turnip!
Ellen What bank? What are you talking about?
Paul This says it’s that loan you extended, Papa. Is it still not paid off?
Nat No! How would it get paid off the way things are!?
[he sits down, arms tightly folded across his waist, rocking slightly]
Paul Papa, this says the bank is suing you – and me too – for the whole amount of the loan. I don’t have any money! Haven’t you ever paid anything on it?
Ellen What loan? Will one of you please tell me what has happened?!
Paul Papa borrowed some money from the bank, Mama. He asked me not to mention it to…anyone.
Ellen Not mention… Nat! Why did you borrow money?
Nat [he stands, paces] Ellen, you know how bad the economy has been. The mill hasn’t had decent sales since the Panic of ’93. Here four long years later we’re still struggling just to get back up to where we were when this all started!
Ellen But Nat, why did you have to borrow? And how much did you borrow?
Nat We’ve had to cut costs…lay off workers…cut salaries… All the officers took big pay cuts. You can’t pay normal salaries if you’re not making normal sales! And I wanted our daughters to have beautiful weddings they’d always remember!
Ellen Nat! You didn’t have money for the girls’ weddings? You borrowed it!?
Nat Ellen, it was the necessary thing to do! Besides, we’ve had all these living expenses to keep up…
Ellen And now we’re being sued for not paying it back!? How much!!?
[Nat turns away]
Paul There’s three amounts, Mama. They add up to about six thousand dollars.
Ellen Six thou… Oh, my lord!… When did this happen?
Nat [agitated] About two years ago I went to the bank and told them I needed fifty five hundred dollars. The mill was barely bringing in enough money to keep us going, I tell you! The U.S. economy was just terrible everywhere! I had spent every reserve I had just to pay our household bills! I figured a six-month note would tide me over the worst of it… till sales picked up again. The officers at the bank were oh so very helpful. Took me in a private office. Treated me like a prince. They set it up to be paid back that November. But…when the note came due…I…just didn’t have it.
Ellen And now they’re suing you to get it back? As if they think you have it to give back? But you say you don’t. What’s going to happen?
Nat They’ll take the collateral.
Ellen What collateral? I don’t understand this! What collateral are you talking about?
Nat Ellen, banks don’t just lend money because they trust you. They require you to put up collateral. Something that’s worth money, in other words, that they can take… if they have to…
Ellen Nathaniel, if you were so short on money that you had to borrow some… then what sort of collateral did you have that you were able to put up?
Nat My shares of stock in the mill.
Ellen Oh Nat! Those stocks are our security for our old age!
Nat [he rages] Do you think I don’t know that!? Do you think I need to be reminded of that? Are you deliberately trying to make me feel worse than I already feel!?
Ellen I’m feeling pretty bad myself just now! Why are they suing you too Paul? What have you to do with this? And that man asked for Natalie – are they suing her too?
Paul Papa told us the bank needed two co-signers so he could extend a note at the bank.
Ellen Nat, you involved our children!? Why, Nat, why?!
Nat [calmer, still agitated] When the note came due I went in and asked for a little more time. Then… several weeks went by and… I couldn’t even pay the interest. Ellen, I was broke! After all these years! This late in life! Can you imagine how I felt? They said I could have more time if I’d get two co-signers for the overdue interest. Natalie was still here, so in December I asked her and Paul to be my co-signers.
Ellen How much was the interest?
Paul A hundred and sixty nine dollars, if I remember. I figured I could pay that if it came down to it. I didn’t mind Papa asking, I was glad to help out.
Ellen Well, a hundred and sixty nine…fifty-five hundred…that’s still less than six thousand! Why are they suing for six thousand? Paul said there’s three amounts…?
Nat Ellen, I had to talk with the bank. Even with the extension I was still overdue. These people wanted some real cash paid on the loan. They acted so understanding. Said they knew I was good for it. Deceitful hypocrites! But I simply had no cash left after paying our basic bills here at home. By last summer I was out of cash even for that, because our sales had still not picked up! I tell you, things were pretty desperate at the mill. So last July I offered the bank another ten shares as collateral if they’d loan me another four hundred. They finally agreed to that, and…
Ellen Nat, how much of our savings do these people have their hands on?
Nat Well…sixty four shares. I had to put up fifty four shares to start with, then this other ten…
Ellen [despairing] Oh, dear God…
Paul Papa, this says I’m being sued for the whole fifty five hundred! I thought I was co-signing just to back you up on the interest…
Nat I thought so too, son. I don’t understand.
Paul Where is the paper I signed? Can I see your copy?
Nat I think I know where it is. [he exits]
[Paul sits by Ellen, takes her hands]
Paul Try not to worry, Mama. We’ll get past this somehow. Papa just hasn’t quite been himself these past months. I don’t know what’s wrong. He seems so moody all the time… sort of distant…
Ellen I know, I have felt it too. He’s been worried for four years. Ever since the bottom fell out at the mill. His worry seems like it’s getting worse.
Paul The panic hit right after I quit the mill for good. Guess I made the right decision for more reasons than I knew.
Ellen [raises her head, thinking] …So did my mother…thank God…
Ellen It’s been seven years since Mama died…it’s almost like she knew…
Paul Grandmother Wingate? What are you talking about, Mama?
Ellen Paul, you wouldn’t know this, but when your grandmother was living she put in her will that she was leaving this house to me.
Paul Well…that seems normal, to leave it to her daughter…
Ellen You don’t understand the law, Paul. If this lawsuit against your father had come up just three years ago, they would have seized this house even though it was in my name, not his. The law would have let them treat my property as if it was my husband’s property. They could have thrown us out of our own home, and sold the house to pay off your father’s overdue loan.
Paul Good lord! What’s to stop them from doing that now??
Ellen You know your grandfather Wingate was a lawyer. A good one, too. He taught my mother a thing or two along the way. That’s why she willed this house to me, not to your father and me together – just me, in my name alone… just in case.
Paul Just in case what?
Ellen Just in case the state legislature might do what was only being talked about at the time. And they did in fact change the law three years ago. I remember the very day Governor John Y. Brown signed the bill. It gave wives control over their own real estate and personal property – for the first time ever!. Before that, everything a woman owned – or brought into a marriage – was legally owned by her husband. She had no property tights at all. Until they finally changed that old stupid law.
Paul I didn’t know all this was happening.
Ellen Why would you? You were all caught up in your own affairs. Young people always are. The new law – it also gives wives a full one-half interest in their husbands’ property. It legalized fairness! [pause] But…if the bank takes away our stocks in the mill… why there won’t be any stocks left for me to own one-half of! That’s the only income security we had! What are we going to do?
Paul Well, if they can’t take away our home…all we really need is just enough money to live on. I know how to get by on very little, Mama. I do it all the time.
Ellen I know you do, Paul. But your father doesn’t. He thinks we have to live up to our station. That’s what he calls it: “up to our station.” I think he learned that from your grandfather Sawyier. He was always so wealthy. Your father won’t…
[she stops speaking as Nat enters reading a paper]
Nat Those bastards! They tricked me!
Paul Let me see it, Papa.
Nat [handing the paper to Paul] Talk about deceit! They renewed the whole principle and interest together.
Paul Papa, I remember. When Natalie and I were signing this paper, the guy pointed to the interest number here, the hundred sixty nine, and said “This is the interest you’re signing for. Then he pointed at the big number, the fifty five hundred, and said “This is the principle amount that generated this interest.” I remember! I believed the interest was all I was signing for!
Ellen Paul, you shall not have to repay all that money, son! If we have to give up our shares of stock we will do it. Just thank God they’re available to pay off the loan!
Nat Ellen, you still don’t understand.
Ellen What, Nat? Our dreadful situation all looks pretty clear to me. What is it I still don’t understand?
Nat “The Panic of 1893” they’re calling it now. But this is 1897! The country still hasn’t recovered. It’s still with us here four years later! Things are still bad! I really wonder if we’ll ever see prosperity again!
Ellen I understand that! What is it you claim I don’t understand?
Nat [sighing; he sits] The market is still depressed. Our shares, right now today, are not worth the five thousand dollar value they had when I took out the loan. I watch the stock market every day. Praying it will go up. Even if the court gives them my collateral, I’ll still owe a big piece of the damn loan. And I have nothing left to pay it with!
Paul Natalie got out of town. How smart of her. Maybe I should do the same. …Maybe go live on the river… Somewhere far away from Frankfort…
I wonder what Mary would say…