Act Two, SCENE THREE – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – (age 43)
Christmas 1908, the Bull family home. Mayme answers knock on door, Paul enters in overcoat clapping gloved hands.
Paul Would you let a stranger in from the cold?
Mayme Come in, a world traveler, you’re no stranger! [They embrace briefly] I was worried you might be late for Christmas dinner. Mama and I have spent all day preparing a feast you shall not soon forget! Here, give me your coat.
[He hands her the coat, sits and continues talking. She puts it away and joins him]
Paul The trains are behind schedule today. It is so cold! Lots of travelers, though. Never saw so many people on the train.
Mayme Tell me all your news! What is it like living on a houseboat in winter? How do you like High Bridge? And what are you up to? Paul, I’ve barely seen you since you moved up the river in August. It’s been weeks I saw you at all! Did you have to sail so far away, my sailor?
Paul I’m sorry, I miss you too. It just takes time to settle in to a new place. You’re not the only one who wonders about living on a houseboat. You’d laugh to know how many strangers drop by just to ask me that question! But Mary, I feel freer than I have in years! I miss my parents, but I love the houseboat! It’s small, but that just puts everything within handy reach. It’s easy to keep tidy. If the fire goes out before morning, well… I have extra blankets! And I love being right on the water! I can leave a line hanging out overnight, and – voila! – free fish every day!
Mayme What fun, old fisher-man! It has to be so much better than… Paul, I promise you, Christmas this year is going to be a lot better than it was last year. I haven’t seen you this happy and excited for a long time. My dear Paul! [she hugs him]
Paul Oh Mary!
Mayme Have you seen your father lately?
Paul Not since they transferred him to Lakeland in September. I simply haven’t had time to go back to Louisville. Besides. it’s farther away and costs more to get there.
Mayme How about your sisters? Heard from them?
Paul Not much! There was some grumbling about my household sale after Mama died. Who knows why? I had no choice but to move out of the parsonage, so selling the furniture and stuff we had there was a natural move. I told them to take anything they wanted before the sale, and they did… but there were some bad moods.
Mayme You should have been the one with the bad mood. No place to go… …having to move in with your cousin Russell…
Paul Well, I couldn’t afford to displace my renters in the Broadway house, and Russell did offer me a place to sleep.
Mayme Paul, I worry about you off up here. So far away. How about your new contract with that store in Lexington? Is it making any money?
Paul C.F. Brower! Household goods and sundries. Good old Brower! He’ll be my only agent in central Kentucky, you know. The contract gives him exclusive rights on selling my paintings till January 1910.
Mayme Is that good or bad?
Paul Good I suppose. He’s already held a major exhibition of my work. He says the Lexington market area will really open things up. He thinks my Frankfort market is pretty much saturated. [pause] I don’t know if that’s true… Anyway, the deal is, he pays me an advance twenty-five percent on the price of each painting when I deliver it! Mary, I can turn out watercolors like a windmill when I want to! I’m taking him several every week now. Collecting too!
Mayme Pretty soon you’ll just be rolling in money.
Paul Now that should be a new experience! But look here, all we’ve talked about is my doings. You haven’t said a word about what you’ve been doing!
Mayme I have no news important enough to be worth telling.
Paul Have you written any new poems?
Mayme Why sure, I always do that. And I keep my scrapbook up to date. But did you hear? – our new public library opened this month!
Paul I didn’t know. Where is it? Do you like it?
Mayme Oh yes! They have hundreds of books already! It’s on the seventh floor of the McClure Building, and it’s open for three hours every Wednesday and Saturday. Pretty handy, huh? Every Saturday I turn a book in and check another out.
Paul Does the city run it?
Mayme No, you can thank the Women’s Club for this library. Especially Lillian Lindsey! There probably wouldn’t be a library for years yet if it weren’t for Lillian.
Paul I know Lillian. What’d she do?
Mayme In my book she did it all! …though Rebecca Averill and some other ladies did a lot of groundwork. Then they couldn’t afford a librarian, and none of the volunters really knew what to do. So Lillian went clear up to the University of Chicago and learned how to be a librarian so she could do the job herself. She’s doing it now.
Paul Well, maybe they should name it after her. Sounds like she deserves it. The Lillian Lindsey Public Library.
Mayme What a lovely lilting title that would make. Maybe one day they will.
[brief pause; Paul fiddles with his fingers]
Paul Uh… Mary…
Mayme Yes, Paul?
Paul Do you remember what we talked about?
Mayme Talked about when?
Paul Just before I left, in August.
Mayme N-o-o-o… Can’t say I do. What was that?
Paul Uh… You know… …about the rings…
Paul The engagement rings! You know! [he becomes increasingly nervous]
Mayme Oh, those rings. Yes, I think I recall. What about them Paul?
Paul Well… [he fidgits; puts hand in his left pocket] Uh…
Mayme What is it, dear? Are you all right?
Paul I think so! Mary… I finally got some cash together, and… so…
Mayme And so?
[Clearly anguished, he pulls out a ring box and opens it to her]
Paul So I bought a ring! Shall we be engaged? [He is near collapse]
Mayme Oh, Paul! My darling Paul! I didn’t know if you’d remember!
[she produces a ring box from her own pocket and opens it to him]
[He has a stunned pause. Then he gently removes her ring and places it on her finger. She removes his ring and places it on his finger. In silence they admire their rings]
Mayme Yes, Paul?
Paul Mary, I love you.
Mayme And I love you, my Paul.
[long, slow, gentle embrace]
Paul Would you like me to put an announcement in the paper?
Mayme I’d just as soon not. I’ve already heard too many whispers about our “twenty-year engagement.”
Paul Me too. My so-called pals have been pretty hard on me at times, where you’re concerned. [he mimics] “Hey Sawyier, when ya gonna do right by that there girl and marry ‘er!”
Mayme It’s no one’s business but ours, Paul. And you have done right by that there girl. We have waited because it was simply what we had to do.
Paul We can have a private engagement, Mary. Our families shall know and that’s enough! Let’s begin with your mother.
Mary At the supper table this very evening…
Paul Mary Thomas Bull Sawyier.
Mary Missus Paul Sawyier.