Act Two, SCENE FIVE – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – (age 45)
June 1910, Paul’s houseboat at High Bridge. The “houseboat setting” is at one side of the stage. Paul sits writing a letter, reads aloud airily.
Paul Mister John Wilson Townsend, Lexington, Kentucky. My dear Townsend, I greatly enjoyed your visit here last month. Especially glad you got to see the advancing status of Bishop Bascom’s portrait. Transylvania’s early president is becoming so lifelike I have to shave him every morning. It’s a good thing I was well along by last week, for a gust of wind picked up the image I was painting from — that frontispiece you plucked out of his “Sermons From the Pulpit.” — and sent it whirling down the river. No fear – his clothes are in memory and I’ll finish him out of my head.
You know how I appreciate your being so instrumental in my receiving Transylvania’s commission to paint old Bascom. It was especially well timed, following as it did the expiration of my contract with Brower in Lexington. The Brower contract has been a nice source of steady change, and I’m definitely missing its constancy. Brower told me – and I find this hard to believe –
Rose Good morning, Paul! May I intrude?
Paul Rose! You could never intrude, my dear lady! Come right in. You know where to sit. What have you been doing since I saw you last? [he lays the letter aside]
Rose Not a great deal, as it was only yesterday we saw each other last!
Paul Ah, yesterday – and yesterday before that!
Rose All our days for a year and more. Well… as many as possible. Can you believe it’s been over a year since I found you painting by the roadside?
Paul The months fly. I was just remembering again our sweet New Year’s Day last January. It set the tone for this whole splendid year. I do so enjoy your company!
Rose That’s because I flatter you! But then, why not? You not only paint, you dance, you play piano, you sing – you’re willing to do all these things. Plus, you take me along on your outdoor excursions! What more could a girl want in a man!?
Paul Rose, dear youth, you are my match in all these things! But I have a serious question. When you went with the Doughertys to Cincinnati last February… took along a bunch of my paintings… you showed some to that art gallery…
Rose Clossen’s Gallery.
Paul Yes, that one. Has anyone heard from them?
Rose As a matter of fact, Missus D. just received a letter from her friend at the gallery. It seems they want to do an exhibition of your work this September. I knew you’d like to hear this news. It’s part of my reason for dropping by this morning.
Paul September. Three months away… Well, art sells whenever it sells. Thanks for the good news. I’ll go ahead and prepare some landscapes. [he gentures] Maybe also give them some of these that Brower claims are more than he can sell!
[Bow Terhune enters opposite side of stage, furtively beckons Paul to come out. Rose sees him.]
Rose Paul, Bow Terhune is outside waving this way. He’s acting odd.
Paul [He looks] Wait here, I’ll go see what he wants. [he walks outside] What’s up, Bow? Rose says you’re acting odd.
Bow [speaks in a loud whisper] C’mere!
[Paul walks “around the water’s edge” to where Bow stands; they talk “privately”]
Paul What’s up?
Bow I ain’t actin’ half as odd as you’re gonna be. How’d you like to have two women inside your houseboat at the same time?
Paul What!? Two…? What’re you talking about?
Bow What I’m talking about is your lady friend from Frankfort.
Bow I b’lieve that’s the name. Got word this mornin’ she’s comin’ up here on the afternoon train. Says she don’t know where you live, it’s just somewhere on the river. Asks me will I show ‘er the way down to wherever you’re at.
Paul Mary’s coming here? This afternoon!?
Bow That’s what her telegram said. Don’t know how she got my name, bein’ as me and her has never met. But she got it. Says she wants to pay me to give her a ride to find you. ‘Course I ain’t gonna charge her nothin’ for a little thing like that…
Paul Bow, what time does the train come in?
Bow Little less than a hour from right now. I just thought maybe… Well… I seen Rose a’walkin’ down here awhile ago, and I just thought you might like to know about your other visitor — who is soon gonna be here. Kinda get pre-pared, y’know?
Paul Bow, you are a pal! Remind me to give you a free painting.
Bow Free painting, hell, I’m gonna charge you good hard whiskey for this one!
Paul You shall have the best Boone’s Knoll. Now excuse me, I’ve gotta go.
[He walks briskly back to the houseboat]
Bow I figgered you’d get in a hurry. Hee hee. [he exits]
Paul Rose, please forgive me but I’m going to have to excuse myself. Some business has come up that I have to deal with right away… alone… by myself… and…
Rose I understand. Man stuff. I could tell by the way you and Bow were whispering. Getting tense. Do as you must, I know the way back.
Paul Thanks for understanding. I’m sorry to be so abrupt this way…
Rose That’s all right. Drop by the house this evening if you get your business taken care of in time. I’ll wait up. [She blows him a kiss and exits.]
[Paul paces, sits, stands, thinks, paces and sits again. Lights dim and rise denoting passage of time; he has resumed writing the letter.]
Paul Brower told me – and I find this hard to believe – that he is overloaded with my watercolors of the river and palisades. Says my speed with the brush far exceeds the sales in his art department. I must say it seems to me the speed at which he sells art reflects more on the merits of his salesmanship. Anyway, that contract is no more.
[Mayme enters at far side of stage, stands silently gazing at Paul writing inside the houseboat.]
Am greatly looking forward to your visit here next week. Will apologize in advance that I’ll likely have nothing better to offer you than the same old bacon, and ham, and eggs, and buttered biscuits, and coffee, and honey, as last time. And of course some good old Boone’s Knoll whiskey direct from the distillery just up the river. Let me know…
[He looks up and sees her; drops pencil and rushes out]
Mary! What a wonderful surprise. Come in!
[He moves as if to embrace her but she steps back, raising her arm between them]
Mayme I think I should not come in, Paul.
Paul Not… Is something wrong?
Mayme Apparently it is. I believe something is very wrong.
Paul Mary, what do you mean? What’s wrong?
Mayme Rose Stoddard.
Paul Rose? What about Rose? Mary, she’s just a friend, nothing more!
Mayme Just a friend? Nothing more? According to what I hear she is quite a friend indeed. She is a friend with whom you spend practically every day. Long hours. Alone with her. Alone in the woods, and on the river. Every day. Is this not true, Paul?
Paul Mary, please. I see her fairly often, but certainly not every day! It’s not a romance or anything like that! Why, she’s just a girl!
Mayme Just a girl. Half your age, I’m told. Yes, I think I understand that.
Paul Well thank God!
Mayme Yes, I definitely understand. I too was just a girl… once. Do you remember when I was just a girl? Twenty three years ago? You saw me fairly often then, just as you say you see her fairly often now. Does she know of me, as I know of her?
Paul Oh Mary… I…
Mayme Have you told her about me? [pause; he stands stricken] Never mind, I know the answer. I can guess quite everything you have not told her. You have not told this just-a-girl, who is half your age, about the woman in Frankfort who is your same age. This woman who has waited for you, Paul. Because you asked me to wait. And so I did, as you asked. I waited… and waited… and waited… and waited… and waited… and…
Paul Mary, will you stop this!?
Mayme [tears now] …and waited… And grew older… and older… and finally just plain old. Too old to have babies now. I’ll have no babies, no loving happy family of my own. Not ever. Because I grew old waiting for you Paul, just as you asked me to! And now I am receiving my thanks for waiting for you.
Paul Mary, I’ve done everything I could. An artist must become well known to be able to live on his work…
Mayme Will that day ever come for you Paul? You long ago rejected a steady paycheck from Kentucky River Mills. You turn down clients for good paying portraits because you have to be “free” to paint landscapes and rivers and creeks… And now you live away off up the river, tied to the riverbank, which is no doubt a really good place to become well known, and I see less and less and less of you. And now I know why.
Paul Oh please stop!
Mayme [quieter] Yes, Paul. I’ll stop. I will stop forever. Here is your ring back.
Paul Keep the ring! I can’t stand this! Please keep it! I intend to keep yours!
Mayme [pause] Very well. I don’t want to make this any harder than it must be. But I shall not wear it, Paul. [she puts ring in (pocket or purse)] Our secret engagement was very brief anyway, wasn’t it. After all those years. [she turns] I must go now.
Paul Mary, I plead with you not to leave like this. Anyway, there’s no other train today. Where will you stay?
Mayme I have rented a night’s lodging from Mister Terhune and his wife. I ask that you please not come by there before I leave tomorrow. I want to be alone.
Mayme Will you promise me that?
Mayme Goodbye Paul. I ‘m through waiting. [she exits]
[He stands a long silent moment. Slowly his head lowers, his hands raise, he anguishes;
He returns to the houseboat walking like an old man; collapses into the chair by the letter; He stares into space; finally picks up the letter, stares at it, drops it into a trashcan; He begins another letter, reading aloud in a dispirited voice:]
Paul Mister John Wilson Townsend, Lexington, Kentucky. Dear John, on Friday or Saturday next I have to be in Lexington, will advise you as soon as I know exact time and whereabouts. In regard to your letter inquiring about my etchings of Frankfort’s old covered bridge, I’ve arranged for my plates to be handled by the LeCompte and Gayle Company of Frankfort. One plate shows the bridge entrance, the other shows the side of the bridge from just down the river. Last Christmas LeCompte had a dozen or more prints made and no doubt you can still get one by contacting them. Just now I’ve had to turn my attention to the fiscal year ending, and try to ward off the hard knocks that seem to be my only tangible property. I’ll get back to work on the Bishop as soon as I can catch my breath. With best regards, Sawyier.
[he thinks] PS: I’m pretty sure I shall be moving up river soon, to Camp Nelson.
[He lays pencil down, sits with head lowered; light narrows to a spot on him;
Another spotlight comes up on Mayme writing furiously at desk on other side of stage; She reads aloud]
Mayme You will forget me; the years are so tender,
They bind up the wounds which we think are so deep;
This dream of our youth will fade out as the splendor
Fades from the skies when the sun sinks to sleep;
The cloud of forgetfulness, over and over
Will banish the last rosy colors away,
And the fingers of time will weave garlands to cover
The scar which you think is a life mark today.
[Her passion grows]
You will forget me.. The one boon you covet
Now above all things will soon seem no prize;
And the heart which you hold not in keeping to prove it
True or untrue, will lose most in your eyes.
The drop today, that you deem only wanting
To fill your life-cup to the brim, soon will seem
But a valueless mite; and the ghost that is haunting
The aisles of your heart will pass out with the dream.
You will forget me; will thank me for saying
The words which you think are so pointed with pain.
Time loves a new day; and the dirge he is playing
Will change for you soon to a livelier strain.
[She speaks more slowly, sadly]
I shall pass from your life – I shall pass out forever
And these hours we have spent will be sunk in the past.
Youth buries its dead; grief kills seldom or never –
And forgetfulness covers all sorrows at last.