AN INTRODUCTION to FLOWERS & CANDLES
If you Google "George Garrett" almost the only hit on our author (there are other George Garretts) is James Pridmore's article George Garrett and the USA on this website. Trent Editions publish The Collected George Garrett available on Amazon although temporarily out of stock. George's only play Flowers and Candles has never been published. As James Pridmore says:
A few years ago John Lucas sent a copy of the play to Alan Dent. This was a photostat of the original typescript on which GG had pencilled corrections, or rather translations, of Americanisms into English - none of which, in the original, would give modern English readers any trouble. The copy proved impossible to scan and digitise so I retyped the 100 pages by hand. I've stuck to GG's amendments but these aren't comprehensive so plenty of Americanisms remain. Other glitches result from this switch in locale. In Act II Ben says: "I’ll send a letter from Cardiff making arrangements to meet you for a weekend" This is a rejig of the US version which has Ben in Philadelphia arranging to meet Rita in New York. Later in Act IV this is still Philadelphia / New York suggesting George never got to finish a total recasting of the locales. Not that this makes much difference. I have, however, made no attempt to rationalise GG's corrections and this version reproduces exactly the text of his half-corrected document.
"Flowers and Candles"
Charlie White (a mulatto known as Charles)
Scene - Takes place in the parlour of the O'Prey home.
Time - The present. 1917
“Flowers and. Candles."
The scene is the parlour of one of the many Negro rooming houses situated the lower west side New York City. The furniture is cheap and gaudy, with the exception of a glass bureau, containing souvenirs from different parts of the world, an excellent piece of furniture entirely out of place amidst the inferior surroundings. On top of bureau, the model of a four masted barque. On wall above a picture of the "Last Supper." The bureau, right wall center, with a chair at each side. Below bureau, a door, L.R., open but doorway draped, leading to other rooms. Another chair, corner nearest audience. Backwall right, a door, usually-kept closed, leading to hallway and street. Next, a chair, then a couch beneath window with drawn shade. Set obliquely in upper left corner is a statue of the Blessed virgin on a small table. Height of statue itself is about three feet. On floor in front of statue, a footstool used for kneeling purposes, also a candelabra placed there temporarily. Left wall center, a fireplace. On mantel, some Italian marble figures, also a small pair of ebony elephants, center of mantel, a smiling picture, cabinet size, of Ben, the eldest son. On wall above mantel, two wooden spears crossed, and a polished tortoise shell. A very comfortable armchair near fireplace. Below a closed door leading to another room. Lower left corner, a chair. Middle of floor, a round table with tapestry cover, in center, an exquisite Japanese vase. Over table, hanging low from ceiling, an electric light. The elder O'Prey's discovered at rise of curtain. Mrs. O'Prey, a typical husky Irishwoman, very religious, dominates the home, which she maintains with a mixture of discipline, common sense, cajolery, compromise and love. She is standing near center table, facing audience, arranging some flowers in plain glass vase. Mr. O'Prey, on knees, wearing dungarees is applying the finishing touches to the statue with a paint brush. Near him are some small cans of assorted paints. Both the O'Preys, corpulent in build are in the fifties and speak with a trace of a brogue.
Mr. O'Prey: Are you sure Mrs. Jeffries will come?
Mrs.O'Prey: I hope so. She promised faithfully.
Mr. O'Prey: She'll be glad to see Ben.
Mrs.O'Prey: (deeply) Not more than I will.
(Bell rings at backwall right)
Mr. O'Prey: (Looking in direction of door) There she is, now.
Mrs.O'Prey: (crossing) I hardly think so.
(She opens door and is confronted by Charlie White, a refined looking mulatto, whom she does not admit. Charlie has a box of chocolates)
Mrs.O'Prey: (cordially) Hello Charlie
CHARLIE: (fidgeting) Miss Molly home yet?
(Mr O’Prey cocks his ears)
Mrs.O'Prey: Not yet.
CHARLIE: (passing chocolates) You give these to Miss Mollie when she come?
Mrs.O'Prey: (Accepting) Sure I will.
CHARLIE: You not forget to tell Miss Mollie I be here.
Mrs.O'Prey: She’ll know when she sees the chocolates
CHARLIE:(Politely) Thank you Missus. I call again.
(He disappears. She closes the door and places the chocolates on chair near bureau, then crosses to the flowers.)
Mr.O'Prey: (Turning) Why don't you be straight with that fellow?
Mrs O'Prey: (Indifferently) He may as well give them to her as anyone else,
MR. O'Prey:(Rising) Bunkum! Tell him point blank, Mollie is in and he's wasting his time if he thinks you'll let her marry him.
Mrs O'Prey: (Waving him down without success) Calm, yourself. Charlie is the best lodger I ever had and I cannot afford to lose him yet.
MR. O'Prey: To Hell with that for a yarn!
(Mrs. O'Prey's fingers fly to her ears protestingly. Mr.O'Prey notes the movement angrily.)
For Christ's sake'. Don't make me ill! Do you want me to open a prayer book every time I speak? (Emphasising with paint brush) She'll be walking around with a swelled stomach next.
MRS. O’PREY: (Checking him) My God! Stop swearing! If Ben agrees to Oscar, I'll have the banns published immediately.
Mr. O'Prey (Calmed) Anything, sooner than a lot of smoked hams crawling around the floor.
MRS. O’PREY: (Fumbling with flowers) There's no danger while I'm here.
(The atmosphere is again normal)
MR. O'PREY (Surveying statue) Think I'll make it do,
MRS. O’PREY: (Moving towards statue) Will the paint catch fire when I light the candles?
MR. O’PREY: No. There's plenty of dryers in it.
Mrs.O'Prey Will it dry in time?
MR. O’PREY: (With a gesture) I've told you once, Yes! He won't be here 'till nine o'clock. You've got three hours yet.
MRS. O’PREY: (Feeling the statue) I hope Pete remembers the candles.
MR. O’PREY: (Removing her hand) Stop mawling it, will you?
You know damned well he won't bring them. Better send Mollie for some.
MRS. O’PREY: (Warily) No. Charlie might be outside.
MR. O’PREY: (Angered again) By Golly! Things have reached a fine pitch when you're scared, of the men. (Suggestively) I don't know what you do with all the money that comes in here.
MRS. O’PREY: (Hotly) Go ahead! Say I drink it!
MR. O'PREY (Moderating) I'm not saying you drink it. You should subscribe less to those charity funds. Some of them make a fine living exploiting other people's good nature.
MRS.O'PREY (Genuinely) There' s good and bad everywhere. A few desire benefit who cannot help themselves otherwise. God help them.
MR O'PREY You've too much of it.
MRS. O’PREY: For Heaven's sake, don't be such a grouch. We have a crust and a shelter, What more do we want? Thousands of poor souls are worse off.
MR. O’PREY: If you were thrown on the streets to-morrow, you'd wait a hell of a long time for anybody to hand you a loaf of bread.,
MRS. O’PREY: (fingers to ears) Please stop swearing.
I trust in God.
MR. O’PREY: Trust won't keep you, my good woman. Everybody for themselves these days.
(Mrs. O'Prey’s attention is drawn to Mollie, the daughter, who has just entered at L. She is an unsophisticated girl in her teens, and slovenly in appearance. She is carrying a duster and dustpan. Mr. O'Prey has decided to apply a little more paint.)
MRS. O’PREY: (To Mollie) Close the door! Everything OK?
MOLLIE: (Closing L) Yes Mam
MRS. O’PREY: Perfectly sure there is no dust?
MOLLIE: (Moving towards altar) I wiped everything a thousand times. (inquisitively) Will it dry in time, Dad ?
MR. O’PREY: (Exasperated) I'll dry you in time. Take those things out of here! Quick!
MRS. O’PREY: (Motioning with thumb) Hurry! The people will walk in and find you with your face not washed.
MOLLIE: (Sauntering towards LR) perhaps their own faces wouldn't be washed if they weren't going somewhere.
MR. O’PREY: (Turning) Hey not so much of your ould buck!
(Mollie quickens her pace and exits LR)
MRS.O’PREY: That shifted her
MR O'PREY (Advisedly) She'd better hide those chocolates before Oscar comes.
MRS.O'PREY (Calling) Mollie! Moll!
(Mollie returns emptyhanded)
MOLLIE: Want me Mam?
MRS. O’PREY: (Giving candies) Put these away before Oscar comes.
MOLLIE: Who brought them, Mam?
MR. O’PREY: (Abruptly) Ask no questions'.
(Mollie moves towards LR).
MRS. O’PREY: And cook the tea when you are washed. I'm nearly famished,
(Mollie exits LR. Mr. O'Prey moves from statue)
MR.O'PREY (After collecting paint) Brand new,again.
MR.O'PREY All I intend doing.
MRS.O'PREY (Taking a rag from his hand) Hand me the rag?
MR.O'PREY (Crossing to LE) Going to have a bath.
(Exits LR. Mrs. O'Prey kneels to wipe the paint spots on floor in vicinity of altar. The door, BWR is opened and Pete, the youngest son enters, replacing a key in pants, pocket. He is about twenty six years of age, rough and ready in appearance and plain featured. Dressed in greasy overalls and peaked cap, with an oil spotted face that mark his calling, a ship's engineer. A much worn overcoat partially hides the overalls. The attitude of Mrs. O'Prey to Pete throughout the play is one of painful toleration)
PETE: (Sniggering) See you're all set for the big night .
MRS. O’PREY: (Shortly)We can do without your remarks.
Where' s the candles?
PETE: (Doggishly, as he discards overcoat) Candles? What candles?
MRS. O’PREY: You know very well! I asked you this morning to bring them. Ben will be here presently.
PETE: What do you take me for? (Holding out hand) Where's the money?
MRS. O' PREY (Disgustedly) Lord! Will a few coppers break you?
PETE: Depends on how I spend the few coppers.
MRS. O'PREY: why can't you act decent like. Ben?
PETE: Like who? I don't believe in surface decency.
Let him buy his own candles.
MRS. O'PREY: They are not really for him. You ought to be glad of the opportunity to thank the Blessed Virgin for Ben's safe return.
PETE: (Moving down stage, right) I'll buy my flowers and candles for a living virgin.
MRS. O’PREY:: (Fuming, as she rises to her feet) I suppose you want all your money for German Liz.
PETE: (Meaningly) The only true thing you ever said.
MRS. O’PREY: The cat! You've been no good since the day you met her.
PETE: (Flushed) I know you detest her. (threateningly) Order her in the street that’s all
MRS. O’PREY: (Toning down) Nobody wants to order her in the street. (Opening her purse) Run out for the candles and stop the argument.
PETE: (Crossing towards LR) What do you think I am? Wait 'till I wash myself.
MRS. O’PREY: (following him and thrusting the money in his hand) Daddy’s taking a bath. Go while you're waiting. (With a sigh) God knows! I don’t ask you to do very much.
PETE: (Donning overcoat) Give it here!
(He savagely grabs the money and exits BWR. Mrs. O'Prey recrosses to statue and is pottering around for a few moments when the bell rings. She opens door to admit Oscar Johnson, a Dane, about forty years of age, podgy appearance, with a very prominent moustache. He gazes around the parlour as Mrs. O'Prey closes the door)
MRS. O'PREY (Complaisantly) Hello Oscar.
OSCAR: (Advancing to center table fingering his overcoat pocket awkwardly) Mollie. She bane home yet?
MRS. O'PREY (Moving to him) Been spending your money foolishly again?
OSCAR: (Blushing) Yust buy nice present.
MRS. O'PREY Oscar, You must learn to save a little.
OSCAR:: Yesus! (She places her fingers in her ears) I yet planty money. Tventy five years yo to sea. No drunk. Vots matter?- .You ears itch?
MRS. O'PREY (Dropping her hands disapprovingly) You must not take the Lord’s name in vain.
OSCAR: (Innocently) Yesus! I do noddings
MRS. O'PREY (Fingers to ears again) Oscar!
OSCAR: (Embarrassed) Yesus'. I only say Yesus. Yust see Pete outside. Yesus! Dot fellar bane talk same language as sailormans on ship. (Her face softens as he produces a copy of the Journal of Commerce from his pocket.) I buy paper. You vant look?
MRS. O'PREY (Snatching the paper anxiously) Thanks. Let me see. Any more news?
OSCAR: She dock tonight, -certain.
(Mrs. O'Prey turns the pages and scans them greedily, a smile spreading over her face as she reads the list of arrivals.)
OSCAR: (Looking over her shoulder) You read, Missus? Von ship, she blown up the boiler. Tventy nine man's scalded to death. Dose fellars, boiler room, tough yob.
MRS.O’PREY: (Shuddering) Poor fellers. They have enough to go through. Lord have
mercy on them. (The door bell rings. Diplomatically, as she returns the paper) Here's your paper. Mollie's in the kitchen.
(She waits for Oscar to exit LR, then crosses to BWR and admits Mrs. Jeffries, a middle-aged woman, but very alert. Their greeting is exceptionally friendly)
MRS. O’PREY: (Closing door) You found time, Belle?
MRS. JEFFRIES: I've told them to send one of the kids if anybody wants me. ' Sakes alive. Guess who's standing around the corner? (Trying to recollect) Oh - Tsch. Tsch'. The girl with the red hair, used to work here
MRS. O'PREY (Paling) Martha?
(They move towards statue)
MRS. JEFFRIES: The very person. You certainly acted right throwing her in the street.
MRS. O'PREY (Derisively) The wicked wretch'. Where I came from they' d read her off the altar .
MRS. JEFFRIES (After divesting coat and placing it temporarily on couch)
Maybe one of the men IS the father of it.
MRS. O' PREY: (At statue) Och! She doesn't really know who the father is.
MRS. JEFFRIES (Reflectively seated on end of couch near statue) Girls are a big worry these days. You never know the minute they’ll be up to some mischief or other.
MRS. O'PREY I hold one half of the mothers responsible for permitting the girls to run wild.
MRS. JEFFRIES I’m with you there. They hardly seem to know what they’re doing until it’s too late. A man offers them a present and a few sweet words, and they fall on the spot.
MRS. O’PREY Good God! I thought I could depend on the girls from the orphanage.
MRS. JEFFRIES Anybody would. With those places being so religious and strict.
MRS. O’PREY (Regretfully) My usual thanks for doing a good turn.
MRS. JEFFRIES Before I’d offer them a shelter in my house I’d want to find out more about them. Indeed I would! You must live to learn.
MRS. O’PREY Faith, it’s me that knows it.
MRS. JEFFRIES If Martha’s baby was anyway black you could blame Charlie.
MRS. O’PREY Indeed, Charlie’s too much of a gentleman. I wouldn’t care to lose him.
MRS. JEFFRIES When Mollie marries you’ll have him for keeps
MRS. O’PREY (Starting) Marry who? My God! What put that idea in your head?
MRS. JEFFRIES I’ve seen them together, often.
MRS. O’PREY Outside?
MRS. JEFFRIES Yes
MRS. O’PREY I’m sure you’re mistaken Belle.
MRS. JEFFRIES (resolutely) I’m equally sure I’m not mistaken.
MRS. O’PREY (Shaken) Jesus Mary and Joseph! (She is considerably worried and though silent is unable to disguise her emotion)
MRS. JEFFRIES (Breaking the silence) Are you vexed with me Kitty?
MRS. O’PREY (reassuringly) No. No. Belle
PETE (as he admits himself) Good Evening Mrs Jeffries (Mrs Jeffries returns the greeting cordially)
MRS. JEFFRIES (as Pete crosses to place parcel on floor near statue) I’ve come for the wedding glass
PETE (smilingly) What wedding glass?
Mrs O Prey is opening the parcel
MRS. JEFFRIES (Banteringly) No kidding when are you getting married?
PETE (moving to table) Maybe soon. Maybe late. Will be sometime.
MRS. JEFFRIES I expect to be busy then
PETE (jovially) I’m just wondering whether you’re presumptuous or ambitious.
MRS. JEFFRIES Both
PETE (moving to LR) Excuse me. I must have a wash and a shave.
MRS. JEFFRIES You’re always excusable (when Pete exits, she turns to Mrs O Prey) No kidding. When are they getting married?
MRS. O’PREY (fitting candles in a candelabra) I know as much as you about them.
MRS. JEFFRIES You’re fooling
MRS. O’PREY As true as God’s in heaven!
MRS. JEFFRIES I never thought Rita would ever change her religion
MRS. O’PREY He’s making her take instructions.
MRS. JEFFRIES Bet she doesn’t like that. She was always so obstinate.
MRS. O’PREY (with acerbity) It isn’t what she likes to do. It’s what she has to do.
MRS. JEFFRIES (philosophically) We all have our turn at doing things we don’t like, for somebody we do like.
MRS. O’PREY (lowering her voice) She doesn’t want Pete.
MRS. JEFFRIES (incredulously) Who else would she want? Aren’t they engaged?
MRS. O’PREY In a way. Doesn’t mean a thing to her except a good excuse to work her way in here whenever she likes.
MRS. JEFFRIES What do you think she wants?
MRS. O’PREY (softly) Ben
MRS. JEFFRIES (sitting up) Why you’re mad Kitty.
MRS. O’PREY (with feeling) I’m not. She can’t fool me.
MRS. JEFFRIES Tsch! Tsch! I never dreamt of such a thing. Does Pete know?
MRS. O’PREY (Pointing to wall) I might as well talk to that
MRS. JEFFRIES (rising and crossing to mantel) have you said anything to her about it?
MRS. O’PREY Tell you the truth I’m afraid. The minute I open my mouth to her Pete will walk out.
MRS. JEFFRIES Why doesn’t she stay in her own home and let Pete visit her there, the same as any other girl would do?
MRS. O’PREY Her mother’s very bigoted. She hates Catholics.
I can keep an eye on her better when she comes here.
MRS. JEFFRIES Scandalous! And Pete has no idea?
MRS. O’PREY Och! Say anything to him and all you get (mimicking Pete) The whole O’Prey family will never separate us. Nothing but death will part us. (with a despairing gesture) What can I do?
MRS. JEFFRIES (comprehendingly) If that’s the case nobody can convince him. He must convince himself. Safer to let matters take their own course and not interfere. If you force them into something through a false move you’ll reproach yourself later. Mark my words! He’ll find out in time. It’s the old old story. Love is blind.
MRS. O’PREY So true! I knew it. When the heart’s wide open the eyes are closed tight.
(the conversation is broken by the re-entry of Pete who has divested himself of overcoat, cap and overalls, but his face is still dirty)
PETE (askance) Telling some more of her lies about Rita?
(Mrs O Prey glowers)
MRS. JEFFRIES (pleasantly) Indeed we are not discussing her or you either
PETE (apologetically) My mistake I thought you were. (about to sit in the armchair) Takes me dad a week to bathe himself (seated he commences to trim his finger nails with a small penknife)
MRS. O’PREY (authoritatively) Stop that disgusting habit
PETE (ignoring the order with mock effeminate voice) I want to cultivate my fingers like darling Ben and be a regular lady-killer.
(Mrs Jeffries examines one of the elephants)
MRS. O’PREY (looking daggers) You’re not fit to blacken Ben’s shoes
PETE (mockingly) Pretty Benny. Mamma’s precious baby. (to Mrs Jeffries who is examining the picture of Ben) You’ll never see my picture there
It’s a wonder she doesn’t put that in the corner instead of the statue.
MRS. O’PREY Take no notice of him Belle. He has an enlargement in his bedroom.
MRS. JEFFRIES (whimsically) I think you’re jealous of Ben’s good looks.
PETE (peeved) Am I hell’s like. If good looks reflected moral values all the chorus girls would be canonized.
MRS. O’PREY Reserve that language for your Dock Road associates! Where do you think you are?
(Pete stares in reply)
MRS. JEFFRIES Try to control your tongue Pete.
PETE She’ll hear worse than that yet.
MRS. O’PREY (boiling) Never in my house!
MRS. JEFFRIES (endeavouring to influence him) Don’t swear.
PETE Swear! There’s times when a solitary swear word conveys more than a volume of books.
(he continues his nail trimming. Mrs O Prey potters around the statue dusting and re-dusting setting the flowers and candles and removing them again, occasionally casting sharps glances in Pete’s direction. Mrs Jeffries the friend of both mother and son is in a dilemma. Each time she speaks to break the tension she unconsciously makes matters worse)
MRS. JEFFRIES (crossing to bureau) Admit it Pete. Your brother is handsome.
PETE So is McGinty’s goat!
(Mrs Jeffries in crossing accidentally nudges the table nearly knocking down the vase and causing Mrs O Prey who just turned from the statue to start)
PETE (mock horror) For God’s sakes! Be careful! That’s one of the holy relics.
MRS. JEFFRIES (steadying the vase) I couldn’t help it
MRS. O’PREY (infuriated, has crossed to LR) Tim! Are you nearly finished?
MR. O’PREY (offstage, gruffly) Wait your hurry!
MRS. JEFFRIES (examining model of barque) All jokes aside, when are you getting married?
PETE (mock seriousness) When I do get married I’ll put my enlargement directly (pointing) facing the door with flowers and candles around it. When anybody visits the house they’ll think they’re entering the shrine of a saint. And they’ll genuflect before they do enter.
MRS. O’PREY (at LR) Hurry up until this pest gets out of here (she returns to the statue)
MRS. JEFFRIES (uneasily) Don’t blaspheme Pete (she reseats on the couch)
PETE (jumping up and drawing attention top the preparations being made for the homecoming) Blaspheme! Isn’t this blasphemy? Why you’d think he was one of the twelve apostles – or Jesus Christ himself.
MRS. O’PREY You villain!
PETE (to his mother) Ah! The same thing trip after trip. When I went away for eight or ten months to Australia or the West Coast there was never any ceremony for me on my return. You’d think I’d only been to the chemist’s shop for a tube of toothpaste (with a wave of hand towards the altar) Not that I care for this stuff. I prefer being treated as a human being.
MRS. O’PREY (bitingly) You’re not Ben (she glowers then resumes the pottering. Pete reseats)
PETE (to Mrs Jeffries) Straight! There’s no harm in Mam decorating the statue and lighting all the candles on our lady’s feast days. What gets my goat is the way THAT (indicating altar) is used to throw up in everybody’s face, how good Ben is.
MRS. JEFFRIES Why let it upset you Pete? It’s merely the way you look at things.
MRS. O’PREY Pay no attention to him Belle.
PETE (sneeringly) Pay no attention to me Mrs Jeffries (knocking his temple) I’M thick
If this was the 25th of March or the 15th of August, or Candlemas day I wouldn’t object
Why doesn’t she make two candles do now, the same as any ordinary day in the year?
MRS. O’PREY Because I have a lot to thank our Lady for.
MRS. JEFFRIES Yes Pete. Our Lady is the star of the sea.
PETE (mock piety) Oh sure, I forgot. And she devotes all her time to the welfare and safety of Saint Benjamin Aloysius O’Prey.
MRS. O’PREY (blazing) You scoundrel!
When Ben stops sailing on the ships you can go. Believe me there’ll be no tears shed.
PETE (prodding his chest) By me you mean.
(A tense silence is broken by a ring at the door. Mrs Jeffries rises to open but resumes her seat at Mrs O’Prey’s request)
MRS. O’PREY I’ll open it Belle.
(she crosses, opens the door, and in cold silence admits Rita who instantly returns the greeting of Mrs Jeffries and Pete. Mrs O’Prey returns to the altar. Rita is about 24 years of age, virile and attractive. Smiles have chased the scowl off Pete’s face as he crosses to relieve her of her coat. Mrs Jeffries moves to statue in dumb show with Mrs O’Prey.
RITA (sweetly) I heard your voice halfway down the street.
PETE It’s the only way of being understood here.
(Mrs O Prey swings on her heel. Pete gives Rita a cheerful pat, then places the coat on back of armchair. Mrs O Prey with the assistance of Mrs Jeffries is trying to decide the most advantageous positions for the flowers and the candles. Pete wants Rita to sit in armchair but she chooses the chair near LR. He occupies the one in the corner nearby)
PETE You’re off early today
MRS. O’PREY (over her shoulder) Cheek can get anything
PETE (rebuking his mother) Who’s talking to you?
RITA (with a disrespectful nod towards Mrs O Prey) I asked the boss for a few hours
PETE (with an air of satisfaction) Good
(Rita pretends to be watching the women in the corner, but is really feasting her eyes on Ben’s picture)
MRS JEFFRIES (Eager to test Mrs O’Prey’s story) Make him get a move on. I’m waiting for a wedding glass.
RITA (smilingly) No harm in waiting.
MRS JEFFRIES (advancing a few steps) I had an argument the other week with one of the typists who works for your firm and she swore black was white that your real name was Muller not Miller.
RITA (perkily) Let her mind her own business.
MRS O’PREY (to Mrs Jeffries but aiming the remark at Rita) Sure as you’re born her name is Muller. She’s as German as the Kaiser.
PETE (rising piqued) Say Mrs Jeffries. I treat you with respect not because your name is Jeffries but because you are a certain type of individual whom I consider worthy of respect. The name means absolutely nothing to me. It’s the individual who really counts.
There are plenty of good people called Jeffries and plenty of bad ones also.
MRS O’PREY (turning instantly) But more Mullers
PETE And worse O’Preys
MRS O’PREY (malevolently) God’s curse on you! You’re one of them!
(Rita with a glance beseeches Pete to be silent and he reseats. Mrs Jeffries discreetly adopts the same course. The tension is broken by the re-entry of Mollie LR looking cleaner and neater than before. On her hand is a jewelled wristlet watch which she flaunts ostentatiously. She ignores Rita but crosses to greet Mrs Jeffries. Rita draws Pete’s attention to the wristlet watch. They are in dumb show. Still in a bad humour)
What is it?
MOLLIE Shall I serve supper in here Mam?
MRS O’PREY (firmly) You will not!
(Mrs Jeffries is smelling the flowers)
MOLLIE When half a dozen sit in the kitchen it’s crowded
MRS O’PREY Make two sittings
MOLLIE But Mam…
MRS O’PREY Do as you’re told! We’ll have a proper party in here on Ben’s birthday.
MOLLIE (lingering) Ben might walk in just as we sit down Mam.
MRS O’PREY (making a swipe) Lay the table. Ben will not be here till nine.
MOLLIE (who has backed away) Everything’s ready. I wanted to make sure before you changed your mind (she crosses to LR)
RITA Where did you get the new watch Kid?
MOLLIE (haughtily) From one of my admirers (she exits LR)
MRS JEFFRIES (turning for a moment) Mollie will do it before you.
(Rita smiles. Pete draws his chair nearer to Rita. Mrs Jeffries turns away. Pete places his hand tenderly on Rita’s arm. She removes it with a feeling of smothered revulsion then turns Pete’s hand over and inspects the palms)
RITA Those calluses on your hands look terribly ugly. Just like big black spots that never wash off.
PETE (gazing at his open hands) they’re honest. That’s dirt fit to be seen. I’ve no intention of wearing gloves to hide it
Give me black spotted hands and a clean soul anytime before a black spotted soul and clean hands.
RITA (smilingly) Preaching again.
MRS O’PREY (offstage) The bathroom’s ready.
(Pete is absorbed in dumb show with Rita)
MRS JEFFRIES (both) Your father’s calling.
MRS O’PREY The bathroom’s empty.
PETE (replacing chair) Aye aye! (to Rita) Wait till I wash (feeling his chin) and shave. We’ll have the kitchen to ourselves.
RITA Alright. You should shave every hour. Your beard grows so quick.
(Pete exits LR and Rita concentrates her gaze on Ben’s picture)
MRS JEFFRIES (to Mrs O’Prey) These flowers are gorgeous.
(Mrs O’Prey standing back from the altar is obviously satisfied with everything)
MRS O’PREY (calmly) Pay no attention to what that fool said. I only light all the candles on Our Lady’s feast days and each time Ben comes home.
She never fails to answer my prayers for his safe return
MRS JEFFRIES (consolingly) Pete means no harm
(at the sound of Mollie re-entering LR Rita relaxes her gaze)
MOLLIE (with a sharp clap of the hands) Supper’s ready Mam (with a meaningful glance towards Rita as the elder women turn) Somebody will have to wait.
MRS O’PREY (icily as she and Mrs Jeffries with coat crosses LR) Rita will wait for Pete.
(Mollie, her mother and Mrs Jeffries exit LR, the latter administering a maternal pat on Rita’s head. Rita allows a few seconds time for the others to reach the kitchen, listens at LR crosses to mantel picks up Ben’s picture and kisses it affectionately. Her back to BWR she does not observe Ben, the oldest son, eyeing her as he returns a bunch of keys to his pocket. Ben is about thirty years of age, clean cut and very handsome and altogether refined in appearance. He is wearing a mercantile marine uniform coat and cap. Rita turns as he closes the door. She wants to cry out with joy but he motions her to be quiet and his name ends in a whisper on her lips)
RITA (barely audible) Ben
BEN (quietly as he crosses) Where are they all? I intended to spring a surprise.
RITA In the kitchen
RITA This very minute
BEN (solicitously) Why did they leave you out here?
RITA I agreed to wait
BEN (edging to her) Where’s Pete?
RITA (advancing nearer him) Inside
BEN (he pats her under the chin) With them?
RITA No. Taking a bath. He went in just before them. (gazing hungrily at him) I’m awfully glad to see you back again Ben. (placing her arm on his shoulder) Won’t you let me kiss you?
BEN If you’re so anxious Rita (as they embrace) I never let a good thing go to waste.
RITA (elated) Am I really good to you Ben?
BEN (kissing her again) You know it (noticing the elephant on the mantel) What do you think of the elephants?
RITA (turning to look) Very nice
BEN (one arm around her) Exactly the same as yours.
RITA (puzzled) Mine?
BEN Sure. I brought two pair from Ceylon last trip, a pair for mum (kissing Rita) and a pair for you.
RITA (expectantly) Where are they?
BEN Didn’t mum give them to you?
BEN I told her to
maybe she forgot.
BEN Perhaps they are still in my bedroom. I’ll have a look.
(he releases Rita and exits L leaving door ajar. Rita watches him lovingly then crosses to LR listens carefully recrosses to L and exits closing the door behind her)
Fifteen minutes later.
As the curtain rises Mollie wiping her mouth with back of hand enters at LR halts when she misses Rita then muttering “good riddance” crosses to L. She has the door partly open when Ben’s startled voice yells: “Who’s there?”
MOLLIE (taken unawares) Me! I didn’t know you were in already.
BEN (lowering voice) You can’t come in here Mollie. I’m undressed. (his head and shoulders are seen at the door. He has hastily thrown on a bathrobe) You scared the life out of me.
MOLLIE (grinning) You gave me a fright too
Give me my purse. I left it on the dressing table when I was cleaning the room.
BEN (eager to end the conversation) I’ll bring it in as soon as I out on a clean change.
MOLLIE (satisfied) That’ll do Ben.
BEN (as Mollie is withdrawing) Moll! Don’t tell anybody I’m in. I want to give Mam a surprise. Get me? Not a word! (showing his fist) If you do!
MOLLIE (closing door) I won’t breathe a word about it. (still grinning she crosses to LR and exits. The door L opens and Ben cautiously sticks his head out to see if the road is clear, divests himself of the bathrobe, enters, tiptoes to LR and listens. Recrosses to L and beckons to Rita who enters looking confused but extremely happy. She closes the door. Ben returns to LR)
RITA (just audible) Gosh! I thought she was coming in
(Ben at LR signals Rita to be silent then crosses to her speaking low)
BEN Don’t give them the satisfaction of knowing a thing. You have not seen me, remember?
Give me a chance to get in the kitchen, then go outside and ring the bell. Any questions asked – you were at the post office making a phone call. Savvy?
RITA (whispering) Yes
BEN (preparing to exit LR) I’ll go inside now.
(Rita with worshipping eyes backs slowly towards BWR. Ben sees her coat on back of armchair and moves in that direction.)
BEN (caressingly) Throw the coat over your shoulders or you’ll catch cold.
RITA (embracing him passionately after he assists her with coat) Ben, I love you. I love you. You’ll marry me won’t you?
BEN (kissing her) Trust me darling (removing her arms gently) Kid them along. We’ll surprise them later. And keep quiet or you’ll spoil everything. (they move to BWR. He halts suddenly) He’ll watch every move while I’m at home, so in case there’s no chance of speaking to you again, I’ll send a letter from Cardiff making arrangements to meet you for a weekend
Is it on?
RITA The handwriting will be recognised.
BEN I’ll type the envelope.
RITA (wistfully) How long must I wait?
BEN (pondering) Let’s see. Newport News for coal (with fingers) the Baltimore, Boston and Phillie for part cargo
about six weeks.
RITA (on her guard) Ben I can’t meet you in here. They’ll suspect.
BEN Don’t worry. I’ll outline everything in the letter (warningly) Not a word to anyone. Get me?
RITA (kissing him) You’re such a darling
BEN (opening BWR) Don’t forget. The telephone call.
(Rita exits, Ben closes the door, straightens his coat, brushes traces of hair from it then exits LR. The sounds of joyous recognition are heard a few moments later. Then the doorbell rings, Pete is heard offstage saying “I’ll answer it” and he enters LR having changed his clothes, shirt open at the neck and rubbing his head with a towel. He misses Rita then crosses to BWR admits her. Her face is beaming with smiles. He thinks they are for him)
PETE (laughingly) I wondered where you’d got to.
RITA (as if nothing has happened) I just ran to the post office to phone a girl friend.
PETE (closing the door) They won’t be long now
Hear the fireworks? (they advance downstage together. Pete shakes his thumb in direction of LR) John the Baptist has arrived. The prodigal son had nothing on him with one fatted calf. He’d get the blooming abattoir.
(Rita winces. Seems as if she will betray herself. Pete with his towel partly obscuring his eyes fails to notice her expression. There is a knock on the panel of the door BWR. Pete opens and finds Charlie standing there)
PETE (quietly) Mollie’s out Charlie.
CHARLIE (disappointed) When she come you tell her.
PETE Sure I’ll tell her (Charlie disappears and Pete closes the door)
PETE (with candour) Mollie should get a sock on the jaw for leading that guy around by the nose. My Mam is worse for partly encouraging him (as he reaches Rita’s side) There’s one of the disadvantages of a rooming house. The place belongs to everybody but yourself. You must handle the roomers carefully or the rent goes west. (altering voice as he gives her a tender squeeze) You must think I’m terribly stingy, sweetie, but I’m saving purposely to avoid that kind of business (ambitiously) When we are married we’ll own our own nest lock stock and barrel. There’ll be no depending on outsiders to pay our rent. (moving to LR and motioning her to a chair near bureau) Another minute till I brush my hair (she sits. He exits LR)
MRS O’PREY (meeting him in doorway) Hurry up dozy.
PETE (surly tone) Who’s dozy? (he disappears. Mrs O Prey enters followed by Ben)
MRS O’PREY (nonchalantly to Rita) You may go inside now. I’ve told Pete to hurry.
(there is a smiling recognition between Ben and Rita as she exits LR. Mrs O Prey frowns at this flagrant familiarity)
MRS O’PREY (when Rita disappears) I could wring her neck with pleasure. Last time you went away, she told Mollie she could get you if she wanted.
BEN (patting her back) Not while you’re around Mam.
MRS O’PREY (sure of herself) She knows it
BEN (changing the subject) Something important Mam?
MRS O’PREY (lowering her voice) Yes concerning Mollie. I couldn’t mention it before the others
I’ve agreed to her marrying Oscar.
BEN (astonished) Mam!
He’s old enough to be her father.
MRS O’PREY (frankly) The safest way is the best for all of us.
BEN (stunned) Is she …is she pregnant?
MRS O’PREY (shocked) My God no!
BEN Why the big rush to get her married?
MRS O’PREY Anything might happen. I’ve hired nobody from the outside since I threw the last two girls in the street. My house will never be disgraced by trollops! And it’s too big for me to manage alone
I was compelled to keep Mollie home to help me.
BEN Surely you can watch her?
MRS O’PREY Not every minute. I must go out sometime.
BEN (clenching fists) Any of the men insulted her?
MRS O’PREY (pacifying him) No! No! They are all decent fellows. Been giving her presents
There’s no harm in that but – Charlie wants to marry her.
BEN (pointedly) Do you allow him in here?
MRS O’PREY Certainly not!
BEN Why the big worry?
MRS O’PREY (distressed) Mollie’s been meeting him outside.
BEN (greatly alarmed) What!?
MRS O’PREY Mrs Jeffries told me this evening.
BEN Give him the gate.
MRS O’PREY I must make sure of Oscar first.
Rita would never set foot in here but I know if I order the impudent cat out Pete will marry her to spite me.
BEN (carefully covering his own tracks) Does Mollie care for Oscar?
MRS O’PREY (offhandedly) He’s one of our own. Better than having niggers in the family.
BEN (agreeably) Please yourself Mam.
MRS O’PREY (relieved as she kisses him) Thank God it’s off my mind!
BEN The next move is up to you Mam.
MRS O’PREY I’ll get them married right away before something happens that would reflect on all of us.
BEN (petting her) I agree. I agree. But for the love of Mike ask him to shave his moustache off.
MRS O’PREY Don’t worry. I’ll make him do it. He’s crazy about her.
BEN (moving to LR) Is that all you wanted me for?
MRS O’PREY (entreatingly as her face clouds again) Please stay ashore. When you’re away I’m nearly out of my mind.
BEN (holding up his fingers and returning) Two more trips Mam.
MRS O’PREY Honestly?
BEN I swear.
(she kisses him)
MRS O’PREY Pete can go to sea for ever once you stay at home
I cannot bear the both of you on the water.
BEN (soothingly) Two more trips Mam and then I’ll lay up for repairs. A sure couple of months ashore
MRS O’PREY (downcast) I want you to stay ashore for good.
BEN Easier said than done Mam.
MRS O’PREY How long will you be away next trip?
BEN Three months and a half. Maybe a little longer.
MRS O’PREY Where are you going next time?
BEN Brazil again. Picking up part cargo around the coast.
MRS O’PREY (brightening) Will you call at Boston and Philadelphia same as this trip?
MRS O’PREY Run over from Philadelphia for the weekend will you?
BEN Not the slightest chance Mam,
MRS O’PREY (trifle vexed) You can if you try.
BEN Honestly Mam. There’s no possible chance.
MRS O’PREY How long the following trip?
BEN (shrugging his shoulders) Depends on orders.
MRS O’PREY (worried) Aren’t you sure?
BEN Sure of one thing. After two more trips we’re going to have a thorough overhauling which means a long tie up.
MRS O’PREY (realising further pleading is useless) Alright son. That’s all I wanted to know.
(She kisses him before he exits LR then proceeds to light all the candles, kneels down, makes the sign of the cross and recites the Hail Mary very piously – Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with thee blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary mother of God pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death Amen. Making the sign of the cross again she rises, her face radiant with joy. The door bell rings, she crosses, opens it and Charlie is standing there)
CHARLIE Mollie in Missus?
MRS O’PREY No Charlie
CHARLIE She no come back yet?
MRS O’PREY No she hasn’t come back yet
CHARLIE I think I hear her speak before
MRS O’PREY (brusquely) You did not hear her speak before! And stop this ringing at the door every five minutes
Tomorrow take your things elsewhere. I need the room.
(she slams the door in his face just before Oscar enters LR. They move towards each other. Oscar withdraws an envelope from his coat pocket.)
OSCAR I yet letter Venesday from mine sister in Danmark (he hands her a small photograph)
MRS O’PREY (examining photograph) She looks older than you Oscar.
OSCAR She younger. Yust dirty five. She have big farm. Mine father’s farm. He die on yob and leave farm
Von day I tak you and Mollie for vacation to mine country.
MRS O’PREY (beaming) I’d love to go.
OSCAR (buoyantly) Ve have yud time. My sister good sport. (soberly) You tank Mollie like me werry much? I vant be yud feller I vant settle down
MRS O’PREY Certainly she does.
OSCAR Und pop? He vant me for son-in-law?
MRS O’PREY Everything’s arranged.
OSCAR Yesus! I yust love Mollie
(she frowns at the ejaculation. There is another ring at the door and Oscar is diplomatically ushered in the direction of the kitchen before Mrs O Prey chance opening the door. Her clouded face expects the return of Charlie but instantly clears as she admits and greets Jerry Fitzgerald and Rose Brown a young engaged couple. Jerry is a very cheerful individual whose witty remarks are always accepted without offence by his friends. Rose inclined to be stout is not as good to look upon as Rita)
MRS O’PREY Hello Rose! (to Jerry) Come in funny face (they greet her and enter. She closes the door)
JERRY (jokingly) Mrs O Prey’s sailor boy is home again. There’s eggshells in the dustbin.
(Rose moves in the direction of the statue)
MRS O’PREY (smiling) How did you know so soon?
JERRY Our ship’s laying at the next dock.
ROSE (breaking in) Mrs O Prey your name was read out in chapel on Sunday. You’re the third from the top of the list in the collection for the new parochial school
MRS O’PREY Who’s at the top?
ROSE (advancing) I forget the names. They were read out too quick.
I remember they gave 175 dollars each and you were next with 150.
MRS O’PREY Was Mrs Brannigan’s name mentioned?
ROSE She’s way near the bottom. The nearest to you was 100 dollars (Mrs O Prey brightens) and then all the smaller amounts, 50s, 25s and so on.
MRS O’PREY (invitingly) Feel like eating?
JERRY We’ve only just taken the nosebag off. Look at the oats on Rose’s chin.
ROSE (unvexed) Oh pipe down.
MRS O’PREY (coaxingly) there’s plenty inside
ROSE No thanks. I’m not in the least bit hungry.
JERRY (butting in again) I shouldn’t think you are (to Mrs O Prey) We’ve only just left a restaurant. Offering her a sirloin steak is like throwing a peanut to one of Barnum’s elephants.
ROSE (lightly) You’re no mouse if you do eat cheese.
MRS O’PREY (highly amused at Rose) Made your mind up for Sunday night?
ROSE I’ll be right on the job for sure.
MRS O’PREY (to Jerry) Pity you’re sailing Saturday morning. Couldn’t you manage to miss the ship?
JERRY (with artistic pose) The commerce of the world depends on such as me.
If deserting of ships by members of crew became widespread it would mean the dislocation not only of transportation but of civilization.
ROSE (mock applause) Bravo Shakespeare!
MRS O’PREY I’m sorry Jerry
JERRY So am I (with a gesture) But that’s that
MRS O’PREY (moving to LR) If you don’t come in I’ll send Ben out.
JERRY Goodenoughski! Tell him tugboat Fitzgerald has arrived with the SS Rose Brown in tow (Mrs O Prey exits LR)
JERRY (very seriously whilst making occasional cautious trips in the direction of LR) Rose, if Ben wants to take you home on Sunday night make an excuse for not going with him. Do you hear?
ROSE (surprised) Why? You always said he was a decent fellow.
JERRY In the company of men he’s one of the finest, but there his decency ends.
ROSE (hurt) If he’s that sort what do you bring me here for?
JERRY (convincingly) When I’m with you I know you’re safe.
ROSE (with independent air) I’m no baby. I don’t want you to watch me.
JERRY Merely warning you dearie.
ROSE (heatedly) Don’t dearie me.
JERRY I forbid you to go with him
ROSE How DARE you order me.
JERRY So long as you take it that way! If I hear of you going with him I’m through. I mean it.
ROSE (tearing the ring from her finger and throwing it to the floor) Take it! I’ll do as I please! You don’t own me!
JERRY (stooping to pick the ring up) Look here young lady. One of these fine days I’ll be picking this up for somebody else.
ROSE (subduing him) Indeed you will not! Put it right back where it belongs!
(Jerry cheerful again is replacing the ring on Rose’s finger as Ben enters in great spirits)
BEN Sorry I kept you waiting (sensing the quarrel) Tomahawks again?
JERRY Hello shipmate!
BEN Put it there you old son of a gun. (their greeting is very enthusiastic)
BEN (shaking hands with Rose who is now herself again) How are you Rose? Why all the commotion?
ROSE My ring fell off. I’ve told this idiot a million times it’s a size too large
JERRY (in the nature of an oath) Well I’ll go to sea.
BEN (jestingly) Look for a girl with a bigger finger Jerry.
ROSE (with an arm around Jerry) And I’ll look for a fellow with a better ring
BEN (to Rose) Can I take him inside for a drink?
ROSE (releasing Jerry) for one drink not one drunk.
BEN No danger when Pop gets his
JERRY (crossing to LR with Ben) Good stuff?
BEN The real McKie (as they both reach LR) Coming Rose?
ROSE No I’ll stay here
Is Rita inside?
ROSE Ask her to come out
BEN (assenting) Sure
ROSE (holding finger to Jerry) ONE Don’t forget!
JERRY (with hands to his mouth) One pint (Ben and Jerry exit LR. Rose lifts the vase from the table and is admiring it when Rita enters. Their greeting is friendly.
RITA Rose. Don’t let her see you touching that vase. She’ll have a fit.
ROSE (replacing vase) If it’s so valuable why does she leave it there?
RITA (as they move to couch) So that everybody can see what she has. (as they sit) Ben brought it from Japan.
ROSE Did Doctor Hirsch advise anything for your heart trouble?
RITA He said I should avoid excitement
ROSE Excitement such as a sudden fright might be fatal. Watch yourself.
RITA (happily) Life is too sweet to take unnecessary chances.
(the conversation is halted as Mr O Prey enters at LR evidently under the influence of liquor and staggers to the couch sitting next to Rita)
MR O’PREY (after a belching bout) Howdo Rose. Mollie wants you. She’s in the kitchen
ROSE (rising) Pardon me Rita
(as Rose crosses the floor towards LR Mr O Prey assumes a very intimate position with Rita who is struggling to free herself without attracting the attention of Rose. Realising the danger of her position a look of fear covers her face as Mrs O Prey attempts to force her down on the couch. Rose has just exit LR when Rita calls out in a low frightened tone)
RITA Rose. Rose please don’t leave me alone.
(Mr O Prey releases her instantly)
ROSE (returning) What’s the matter with you?
RITA (nodding in the direction of Mrs O Prey) Nothing now.
MR O’PREY (straightening himself) Any harm in kissing your future father-in-law Rose?
ROSE (apprehending) Depends on the circumstances.
MR O’PREY Umph! So you’re one of those wise dames.
(The conversation is terminated as all the others enter at LR. Mr O Prey conveniently dozes off his head nodding with sudden jerks. Rita rises from the couch and Pete motions her to the armchair. He stands behind her, leaning against the mantel and commences to trim his fingernails with a penknife. Ben crosses to the couch with his mother an unceremoniously moves his father to end nearest door. Ben sits in centre his mother by him with her arm placed affectionately around his waist. Mrs Jeffries after greeting Rose goes to the corner chair near by. Oscar sits in a chair lower right corner. Mollie, the last to enter greets Rose across the bureau. Every movement of Mollie’s hand is a desire to display the wristlet watch. Company in dumb show.)
ROSE (to Mollie seated near Oscar) Another gift?
MOLLIE (twisting her wrist) Like it? Cost a big sum of money.
ROSE Very pretty indeed
MOLLIE (to Oscar) I’ll introduce you.
(Oscar shyly crosses with Mollie to Rose and they are formally introduced as Miss Brown and Mr Johnson. While Oscar is returning to his seat with Mollie Mrs O Prey frowns as Ben makes a sign with his hands to his head to indicate to Jerry that Oscar is a squarehead)
JERRY Si hombre
ROSE (to Mrs O Prey) Is Mr Johnson another sailor?
MRS O’PREY Yes. He was on the same ship as Ben a few trips ago
Ben was the second officer. Oscar was only the bosun.
ROSE Is that a more important position?
MRS O’PREY Goodness No! Everything depends on the officers
PETE (rudely) That’s a load of tripe.
MRS O’PREY (ruffled) Behave yourself (Pete checks his reply)
ROSE Must be nice to travel the world and see things. Wish I was a man. I’d go to sea.
MRS O’PREY (with a shudder) Not me, I dread the water.
JERRY (to Pete) Still in the shoregang Pete?
PETE (civilly) Aye
JERRY Thinking of taking a trip soon?
BEN (with a sneering smile) he’s swallowed the anchor.
MRS O’PREY (to Ben) I wish you’d swallow the anchor (Pete regards his mother and Ben with silent contempt)
MRS JEFFRIES (glancing at Ben) He’ll swallow it when he meets the right girl
(Rita digests the remark with difficulty)
MRS JEFFRIES (meaning Ben) he’s a Doyle, Kitty. Like your brother.
MRS O’PREY (proudly) You bet he is.
ROSE (butting in) A moonlight night and some pretty girl…
MRS O’PREY (deliberately glancing towards Rita) the girl isn’t born that’s good enough for my Ben
PETE (scoffingly) Not even our Blessed Lady
MRS O’PREY Sufficient, young man!
MRS JEFFRIES I think Pete’s jealous
PETE (giving Rita a hug) I am not
JERRY (noting Pete’s movement) He looks happy
PETE (with immense pride) I am (he resumes the nail trimming)
ROSE (to Rita) Kiddo, I’m having a facial treatment.
PETE (gravely) The face means nothing Rose if the soul isn’t beautiful
BEN (jeeringly with hands joined in prayer) Amen. My dearly beloved bretheren we will now sing hymn 374 from the little red books.
BEN The reverend Peter O Prey will later deliver a sermon on his favourite subject “Deceitful Faces” A collection will follow. (all laugh heartily with the exception of Pete)
PETE (threateningly) I’ll say a requiem mass for you one of these days.
(Ben merely grins, the others engage in dumb show while Pete returns the frigid stare of Mrs O Prey. The sound of heavy footsteps in the hall causes everyone to gaze in the direction of BWR. There is a silence of a few moments, Mrs O Prey looks very uncomfortable)
BEN (to Jerry) See who’s there.
(Jerry exits to investigate and silence reigns until he returns)
JERRY (reclosing the door casually) There’s a fellow outside pacing up and down in front of the stoop. I’m sure he’s nuts. He gave me one of those dirty looks. You know as if he’d like to see the handle of a knife sticking out of my back.
(the girls and Mrs Jeffries give vent to ejaculations of fear. Mrs O Prey has visions of Charlie seeking revenge. Mr O Prey’s head nods in slumber)
PETE What kind of a fellow is he?
JERRY Dark complexioned
(Mrs O Prey starts with fright. They all stare at each other as a violent hammering is heard at BWR)
PETE (crossing) What are you all afraid of?
(he opens the door and is confronted by an Italian in a very excitable condition)
PETE (roughly) What do you want?
ITALIAN (wildly gesticulating) The woman! You savvy? The woman!
MRS O’PREY Which woman?
ITALIAN Levatrice! Levatrice! Levatrice! (As Mrs Jeffries rises the Italian spots her) Queek! Please! The wife she maka da babe.
MRS JEFFRIES (motioning to the Italian) Right away! (to the others) Lord save us! You’d think she never had a child before.
(the Italian disappears. Mrs Jeffries exits LR for coat)
MR O’PREY (waking suddenly) Boy or girl?
MRS O’PREY (immeasurably relieved) Go to sleep. They don’t know yet.
JERRY (as Mrs Jeffries re-enters at LR carrying coat) There’s one married woman all the men run after.
MRS JEFFRIES (good humouredly) You’re the next.
(Mrs Jeffries with a hurried “bye bye everybody” exits BWR. Jerry closes the door. Pete has returned to his former position behind the armchair and resumed the trimming of his nails. All the others are again at ease)
PETE (drily aiming his remarks at the couch) A man had to open the door.
(Ben accepts the insult with a sneering smile. Rose breaks the ensuing silence)
ROSE (glancing in the direction of Oscar) Mr Johnson’s very quiet.
OSCAR I yust sit and say nodding
MRS O’PREY (patronisingly) Keeping a close eye on Mollie aren’t you Oscar? Making sure you don’t lose her.
BEN (winking at Rita) A fellow who doesn’t know how to hold a girl should lose her.
PETE (enraged making towards Ben with the open knife) You rotten swine! If I thought you were trying to steal Rita from me I’d cut your heart out.
(The girls scream with terror. The men rush to separate Pete and Ben. Above the pandemonium Mrs O Prey who has risen to protect the altar is heard yelling “My God! Keep them away from Our Lady’s statue”)
AS THE CURTAIN FALLS
Four months later. The time is near eight, a night in March, when the curtain rises with a growing dusk seen through the window, the window being curtained, leaving lower centre panes uncovered. The appearance of the parlour is the same. The candelabra contains only two candles, unlit. No flowers in front of the altar. Ben, in his shirtsleeves is pacing the floor obviously in a bad temper. Mrs O’Prey enters at L.R, listens cautiously then moves to Ben who has halted at fireplace.
MRS O’PREY (appealingly) Ben, please let it drop?
BEN (with impatient gesture) Oh Mom
MRS O’PREY For my sake?
BEN He’s getting away with murder
MRS O’PREY Pay no attention to him
BEN (greatly annoyed) After what he called me?
MRS O’PREY (trying to quieten him) Make allowances. He has a grouch on
BEN He just called me a lousy son of a bitch
MRS O’PREY (her fingers to her ears) Let him go? Forget it.
I don’t give a damn what he says about me, but he’s not going to insult you.
MRS O’PREY (distracted) Ben! Ben! The language
BEN (unaltered) You’re no bitch Mam
(hearing a movement beyond LR she motions with finger to lips for silence, then noticing the growing dusk crosses to the altar and lights the candles. Ben moves towards the couch and stands looking through the window. Pete enters LR dressed in his greasy overalls, cap and coat, smoking a cigarette.)
MRS O’PREY (polished) Where’s the sandwiches?
PETE (mildly) I’ll eat outside Mam. I can manage to make a drink of tea aboard. (as he crosses towards BWR Mrs O’Prey also moves in that direction to prevent another flare up between her sons)
MRS O’PREY Suit yourself
PETE (turning compromisingly) If Rita should call, Mom don’t shout at her. She didn’t look too good going away.
MRS O’PREY (with hand on open door ready to close it at the earliest opportunity) I’ll just say you’ve gone back.
(Ben casts a contemptuous glance towards Pete)
PETE (over his mother’s shoulder as he catches Ben’s leering countenance) Rita spoiled your little game this time eh?
MRS O’PREY (trying to usher him out) You’ll be late
PETE (pushing her hands away) It’s early yet (to Ben) I KNOW you want her (Ben’s leer changes into a cynical grin)
MRS O’PREY Will you please go out?
PETE (aroused) Don’t laugh at me you bloody hyena (Mrs O’Prey ’s fingers fly mechanically to her ears)
BEN (peremptorily) Me want her? Why you poor sap I can get her as easily as that (snapping his fingers) if I wanted to
(Pete rushes at Ben and before Mrs O’Prey can prevent it there’s a scuffle and Pete knocks Ben down)
MRS O’PREY (in agony) For the love of God, will you go out?
PETE (portentiously preparing to exit as Ben is slowly rising from the floor) Keep clear of me when you walk up that gangway in the morning or the next flowers will be wreaths and I’ll willingly buy the candles to decorate your coffin. UNDERSTAND?
(Pete slams the door behind him)
MRS O’PREY (deep sigh) What a relief. (tenderly) Did he hurt you?
BEN (rubbing his jaw) Not much. He happened to get the first one in.
MRS O’PREY Thank God he’s gone. I can’t go to Belle’s now with the cake I promised her.
(As Ben still feels his jaw she kisses him on the cheek then exits LR. Ben searches pocket for cigarettes and finding none exits L. Rita’s wan face is seen staring through the window and is withdrawn again as Mrs O’Prey enters LR wearing coat and carrying a circular parcel containing the cake. Seeing L open she crosses without entering.)
MRS O’PREY Ten minutes, no more, if anybody calls.
BEN (entering at L smoking) All right Mam
(she crosses to the window and pulls down the shade. Ben withdraws some money from his pockets)
BEN (moving to her with money) Before I forget Mom.
MRS O’PREY What’s this for?
BEN Flowers and candles. The Feast of the Annunciation next Saturday
MRS O’PREY (kissing him) I wish they were all like you
(In answer to a ring Mrs O’Prey admits and greets Jerry and Rose who return the greeting. The atmosphere is again cheerful)
JERRY Just dropped in to see the boy (to Ben) When are you pulling out?
BEN (after greeting Rose ) five in the morning. Ordered aboard at twelve tonight.
MRS O’PREY (breaking in) Pete’s working all night. Some extra job in the engine room
BEN (in explanation) One of the pumps
JERRY I hope you have a pleasant trip shipmate.
ROSE So do I
BEN I hope so too Rose
MRS O’PREY (to Rose and Jerry ) Care for something to eat? It won’t take me a minute.
ROSE No thanks
I’ll have a glass of milk
JERRY (in wonderment) For crying out loud! (Rose gives him a playful push)
MRS O’PREY (moving towards LR) Come on Rose? (unabashed Rose follows)
BEN (smilingly) She’s worse than Tom the donkey.
MRS O’PREY (halting at LR) Who on earth’s Tom the donkey?
JERRY A coal passer who ate a seven bell breakfast, nine men’s portions
ROSE (to Ben) I like your nerve (she exits LR with Mrs O’Prey )
BEN When are you getting married
JERRY Me? What about yourself?
BEN I can get all I want without paying for it.
JERRY (warningly) You’ll pay yet. Heavily too.
(the conversation ends as Mrs O’Prey and Rose re-enter at LR)
MRS O’PREY (insistently) Do have a bite Jerry
JERRY (shaking his head) Honestly Mrs O’Prey (askance) My sparring partner eats sufficient for the two of us.
ROSE (unruffled) Did you ever hear the like of it?
MRS O’PREY Take my advice Rose . Grad all you can before marriage
There’ll be more dinner times then dinners afterwards.
JERRY (patting Rose ) Your health will be taken care of old queen. I’ve bought a book that boosts the advantage of fasting.
ROSE (grabbing Jerry’s arm) Move yourself Anthrax (she pulls him towards BWR)
BEN Why the big rush?
JERRY We’re going to a show
BEN (askance) and then a dinner
JERRY You’re a witch
MRS O’PREY Don’t mind them Rose
ROSE (unembittered) I should worry
Somebody told my mother (slapping her side) Line the inside properly. The outside will take care of itself.
BEN Plutarch said that 2000 years ago
JERRY (mock incredulity) ROSE ’s mother isn’t that old
ROSE (opening BWR) We’ll be late for the show
BEN And the dinner
(Rose pulls a face at Ben while Jerry bids him “Goodbye” They all move to BWR)
BEN Got the key Mom?
MRS O’PREY (searching) Yes
BEN I case I doze off
(The three of them exit and BEN seats himself in the armchair setting the fire alight before settling down in front of it. His head has begun to nod when a ring at the door brings him to his feet with a start. He crosses and opens the door to find Rita, pale and drawn, deep humiliation stamped on her features)
BEN (gaping) Rita! (as he closes the door) When did you get back?
RITA (meekly) Yesterday Ben
I came specially to see you
BEN (kissing her) Very thoughtful of you little girl (he embraces her passionately)
RITA (her lips merely framing the words) Ben, I’m in trouble.
BEN (releasing her instantly) WHAT!
RITA (eyes downcast) To you
BEN (more frightened than hurt) My Mam mustn’t know. This will kill her
Why didn’t you come sooner?
RITA (raising her eyes for the moment) I’ve been waiting for a chance to see you alone
BEN (without pity) You could have written
RITA Your mother knows my handwriting (falteringly as he turns in disgust her eyes following) I wanted nobody to know but you Ben
I don’t – I don’t wish to disgrace you.
BEN (snarling) I can’t do anything. The ship sails at five in the morning. I’m ordered aboard at twelve tonight (he paces the floor agitatedly. Rita stands apologetically in the same place)
BEN (halting after a long silence) Can’t you think of something before my Mam walks in. She’s only gone to Mrs Jeffries.
RITA (nervously) Only one thing. You must marry me.
BEN (snapping) Tonight?
RITA (looking up) I don’t expect the impossible Ben. So long as you marry me before the baby’s born.
BEN I might be away six or seven months!
RITA You usually make three or four months
BEN (savagely) Do I know when the office will change the ship’s orders?
RITA (tremblingly) The baby must have a name
BEN (paces the floor, the halts) No way of fixing Pete?
RITA (her apparent love is blind to the insult in his suggestion) No, Pete has always been honourable.
BEN (like a shot) Perhaps you gave him no chances!
RITA (still to humiliated to raise her head) I spent months with Pete, and only minutes with you
Ben, I – I loved you
(He recommence pacing the floor looking at his watch to time the reappearance of his mother. Rita remains unchanged.)
BEN (impudently) See Pete tomorrow night and try him. He’s only human, the same as any other man.
RITA (beseechingly) Ben, don’t destroy my big love for you. Please respect my feelings. (pitifully) I’m sick now
I’m not a prostitute
BEN (haltingly as another idea strikes him) Try the French doctor up the road. He leaves no trace
RITA (a trifle stirred) No trace of the girls who visit him (quietly again) Oh Ben. For your sake I wish it had never happened.
BEN Tisn’t me! (earnestly) I’m thinking of my Mam.
RITA (arousing) Must I be sacrificed to save HER pain?
BEN (maddened) ME! YOU! ANYBODY!
(Rita’s face is a study as a growing hatred gradually kills a dying love)
BEN (breaking a tense silence) You’re a woman Rita. Surely you know the kind of drugs to take.
RITA (awakened, her head erect) I don’t know! I don’t wish to know! (passionately) My bay will live despite you and your damned mother
BEN (glaring) Stop damning my mother!
RITA (defiantly) What do I care!
BEN (reversing his attitude) She’ll be here any minute. Will you please go?
For the sake of our love Rita?
RITA (scornfully) Love? You don’t know what love means. There’s a dividing line between love and lust. You’ll never learn where it is
And once my baby has a name I hope with all my heart I never see you again.
BEN (with a show of gallantry) Can’t I reason with you Rita? I’ll pay any expenses you incur but it’s absolutely impossible for me to marry you.
RITA (furiously) You CUR! You’ll marry me Ben! I’ll make you! Pete was right the night he told Rose “The face means nothing if the soul isn’t beautiful”
BEN (trenchantly) He wasn’t very practical
RITA (in self-reproach) Few of us are. I exchanged my love for a pretty face. I completely forgot a soul was necessary.
(they fail to notice the door BWR opening a few inches)
BEN (insultingly) Cut out the sob stuff!
RITA (hurling defiance) My locks are shorn but like Samson of old I’m left with sufficient strength to destroy this holy temple of your mother’s
Marry me or I’ll tell Pete more than you’ll bargain for. He’ll believe my word.
You knew I was mad for you. You knew I couldn’t resist you and you took advantage of my weakness.
(unobserved Mrs O’Prey has entered)
My baby will bear the name of O’Prey and you’ll give him that name.
(Mrs O’OPrey advancing ignores Rita. Aware of her presence Ben flinches but Rita is unafraid)
MRS O’PREY (indignantly) What is the trouble Ben?
BEN (trying to act normal) Nothing much Mam.
RITA (breaking in bluntly) Nothing much, except that I am in the family way and this fellow is responsible.
MRS O’PREY (ignoring Rita) Ben, is this true?
BEN (bewildered) I – I Of course it isn’t true.
MRS O’PREY What are you trembling for?
BEN (struggling to compose himself) I’m not trembling Mom, only when you walked in so suddenly you startled me.
MRS O’PREY (unsparingly to Rita) Are YOU telling the truth?
RITA (solemnly) Upon my honour. He wanted me to blame Pete
Pete is white – not yellow (tearfully) I never really understood Pete until a few minutes ago when he (meaning Ben) removed the scales from my eyes.
(Mollie has admitted herself with a key and the clumsy closing of the door instantly attracts the attention of Mrs O’Prey)
MRS O’PREY (angrily) What are you doing here?
MOLLIE (rooted) Dad went to the movies with Oscar. I’m afraid to sit in the house alone.
MRS O’PREY Anything you’ve heard tonight mustn’t go outside these four walls. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?
MOLLIE (advancing with a supercilious glance at Rita) Ain’t none of my business
RITA If you don’t believe me, Mrs O’Prey ask her.
MOLLIE I know nothing about it Mom
RITA YES YOU DO! (to Mrs O’Prey) Ask her did she see Ben before he went into the kitchen on the night he came home last trip.
(Ben touches Molly’s shoe with his own. Mollie remains silent. Mrs O’Prey catches the understanding glance between Ben and Mollie)
MRS O’PREY (commandingly to Ben) Stand away from her!
(he obeys. Mrs O’Prey drags Mollie roughly towards Rita)
Tell the truth or I’ll box your ears (with deliberation) Did you see Ben before he came into the kitchen? Answer me!
MOLLIE (in fear) Yes Mom
MRS O’PREY Where was he?
MOLLIE (reluctantly) In the bedroom Mom
MRS O’PREY (astounded) He was in the bedroom?
RITA (on the moment) Yes, and I was with him (Ben would like to strangle Rita)
MOLLIE (frigidly) I never saw you
RITA (boiling) You never saw me in here did you?
MOLLIE (Mrs O’Prey looks as impressive as a judge) No
RITA But you saw my coat on the back of the armchair. Didn’t you?
(Ben shakes his fist at Mollie. Mollie is silent)
MRS O’PREY (shaking Mollie) Answer. Yes or no?
MOLLIE Yes Mom
RITA Do you think I’d be fool enough to go out on a freezing cold night without a coat?
BEN (suggestively) You’re liable to do anything
RITA (contemptuously) AM I? Do you remember everything that happened?
MOLLIE I’m not silly
BEN (advancing menacingly to Rita) Stop bullying my sister
MRS O’PREY (pushing him away) Stand back and hold your tongue. I want the truth
RITA (as Ben retreats) Remember opening the door and Ben shouting “Who’s that?”
(Mollie catches Ben’s eyes, is again silent)
MRS O’PREY (making a swipe at Mollie) Answer the question or I’ll take you to father McCormick and make him drag it out of you
Did Ben holler when you pushed the door open?
MOLLIE (terrified) Yes Mom
RITA And then you said (mock mimicry) It’s me. I didn’t know you were in already. DIDN’T YOU? (Mollie nods her head in assent)
RITA (triumphantly) And then Ben said “You can’t come in here Mollie I’m undressed” and he was partly (suddenly prodding Mollie who seems hypnotised) Wake up! Didn’t he?
BEN (advancing) Hey! Keep your hands off her!
MRS O’PREY I’m doing this job. Mind your own business
BEN It concerns me!
MRS O’PREY (thundering) It concerns me a great deal more (curtly to Rita) Go on. I’ll do all the prodding necessary.
RITA And the he put a bathrobe one and stuck his head out of the door. Didn’t he?
RITA And when you asked him for the purse you’d left on the dressing table he said he’d bring it to you when he put on a clean change
MRS O’PREY (to Mollie) I remember you going out for the purse
RITA And what did he say next?
MRS O’PREY (as Mollie hesitates) Out with it!
MOLLIE (turning to her mother) He said – He told me not to tell anybody he was in. he wanted to give you a surprise.
RITA Then he closed the door and you went back to the kitchen. Didn’t you?
RITA Where did you think I was? (ironically) Swinging from the lamp?
MRS O’PREY (slapping Mollie’s face) You deceitful wretch! Why didn’t you tell me this before?
MOLLIE (blubbering) Ben told me not to.
BEN (glaring at Rita) Does her word go before mine?
MRS O’PREY I want the truth no matter whose lips it comes from (to Rita searchingly) Did Ben ask you to go in the bedroom?
BEN (blurting out) No. She followed me in.
RITA (coolly) He wanted to give me a pair of ebony elephants.
BEN If you had given her the elephants in the first place this would never have happened.
MRS O’PREY (to Rita) Was there any other time?
RITA Yes, six weeks later
MRS O’PREY (amazed) Impossible! Six weeks later (to herself) Where was he
RITA (producing a letter from her waist) The ship was in Philadelphia but he spent the weekend with me in New York.
(Ben snatches the letter from Rita’s hand, tears it and throws it in the fireplace. Mollie is delighted with the action. Rita crosses and rescues a piece of the envelope)
MRS O’PREY (to Ben) You’re afraid of something
(Ben watches Rita’s discomfiture)
RITA (Examining scrap of envelope) Fooled you Mr Smarty. That’s a letter from my aunt (to Mrs O’Prey) The letter is down my breast if you want to read it.
MRS O’PREY (unchanged) I must
(She moves to the fireplace and accepts the other letter now produced by Rita. Forcibly to Ben)
Snatch this from my hand if you dare!
(she glowers occasionally in ben’s direction as she reads it Addressing Rita)
He did promise to marry you?
RITA Why certainly. I would never consent otherwise
I realise the mistake now – not in my action but in my choice (catching Mollie’s leering profile) I mean GIVE myself, not SELL myself.
MRS O’PREY (severely) You can’t afford to throw stones at anybody
She has a man and a home and when her baby’s born there’ll be no need to hide it under her apron or leave it on somebody’s doorstep (returning the letter to Rita) I have absolutely no sympathy for you. It’s your type that fills the foundling hospitals and orphanages.
RITA (boldly indicating Ben) His type you mean
MRS O’PREY How dare you contradict me! (Rita withers) A man can only go as far as a woman allows him.
Anybody’s child is nobody’s child. If this had happened outside..(afterthought) Ah well. God will punish you His own way (turning to Ben) And YOU! You’ll marry her when your ship docks next trip.
MRS O’PREY No buts and ifs. I said NEXT TRIP
BEN (sullenly) I can’t. There’s a girl in Baltimore
MRS O’PREY (advancing threateningly) Devil take the girl in Baltimore. This house is not going to be disgraced
there’s never been a bastard in my family yet!
BEN I can’t (stubbornly) I WON’T
MRS O’PREY (overawing him) I said you’ll marry her if I have to drag you to the altar rails myself
THE CURTAIN FALLS
FIVE MONTHS LATER. Ten p.m. The shade is drawn. On the altar a beautiful bunch of flowers. Candelabra full all candles lit. Rose about to exit is standing near BWR. Oscar minus moustache is seated in a chair, above bureau, Mr O’Prey chair below bureau and Mrs O’Prey in the armchair. Conversation at the beginning of act in subdued tones. From the direction of L is heard a low continuous groaning.
ROSE (to Mrs O’Prey) Pete will be as happy as a lark when everything’s all over (as she exits)
See you later
(From beyond L is heard a painful plea “Mrs O’Prey please come to me” Mrs O’Prey admonishes the others to be silent, she exits quietly at L. offstage a few moments she returns hurriedly)
MRS O’PREY (to Oscar) Tell Mrs Jeffries and Mollie to hurry
OSCAR (stooping to look under seat) Vhere’s mine hat?
MRS O’PREY (crossing) Devil take your hat! (opening BWR) Get out! (thrusting him into the hall) Run RUN!
(groaning continues from L. Oscar bareheaded disappears Mrs O’Prey closes the door and moves towards the fireplace.)
MR O’PREY Call it Mary if it’s a girl. Today’s the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady
MRS O’PREY (offhandedly) One Mary in the family is enough
MR O’PREY But this is your first grandchild
MRS O’PREY (checking him) Hold your noise. When I see the child I’ll give it a name.
(Pete in shirtsleeves enters LR. Circumstances have forced a temporary suspension of hostilities between Pete and his mother)
PETE (wearily) How is she Mom?
MRS O’PREY (comforting him) Anytime now.
I wish Mrs Jeffries would hurry
PETE Hasn’t she come yet?
MRS O’PREY I rushed Oscar for her (she sits again in the armchair)
PETE Seems like hours since Mollie went. (harassed in mind he paces the floor)
MR O’PREY Sit down
PETE I can’t Pop
MR O’PREY (yawning) Make the tea yet?
PETE Already poured out
MRS O’PREY (rising) Is it? We’ll drink it right now. (before she and her husband exit) If I’m inside when Mrs Jeffries comes, don’t holler (significant gesture towards L) Come in for me.
PETE All right
(Mr and Mrs O’Prey exit LR. The groaning continues from the direction of L to where Pete looks anxiously. Whilst pacing the floor his gaze alights on the grinning picture, his eyes reflecting intense hatred. The door BWR opens and Mollie enters followed by Mrs Jeffries and Oscar who is carrying the latter’s small handbag. All are breathing hard.)
OSCAR (dropping into the nearest chair after giving Mrs Jeffries the bag) Yesus!
PETE Where’s Doctor Hirsch?
MRS JEFFRIES On a sick call. I left him a message (pointing to L) Mother in there?
PETE She’s in the kitchen. I’ll tell her.
(Pete exits LR Mrs Jeffries and Mollie exit L. later Mrs O’Prey hurriedly enters at LR and exits L. Pete re-enters followed by Mr O’Prey)
MR O’PREY (spotting Oscar puffing and wiping forehead with handkerchief) What are you blowing at?
OSCAR Yesus! I nearly yoke mineself
MR O’PREY (with sureness born of experience) Wait till Mollie gives you a dig some winter’s morning when the snow’s on the ground. You’ll run out with a shirt on your back.
(the groaning becomes louder and Pete motions the others to shush as the curtain falls to indicate the passing of an hour. At rise Mr O’Prey is finding extreme difficulty in remaining awake. Pete is seated on the couch eyes riveted on L. oscar with stupid expression still occupies the same chair. Mrs O’Prey and Mrs Jeffries enter at L from whence emanates the vigorous crying of a baby. Mrs Jeffries glares ferociously at Pete)
PETE (on his feet) Is she all right Mom? (Mrs O’Prey’s hardened stare indicates the renewal of hostilities. To Mrs Jeffries)
PETE How is she Mrs Jeffries? (Pete moves in the direction of fireplace)
MRS JEFFRIES (vexedly) Don’t dare address me! (changing tone to Mrs O’Prey) Had you any idea she was in that condition?
MRS O’PREY (mortified) God forbid! Not the least.
MRS JEFFRIES (gladly) Lucky the poor child escaped
(Pete looks from one to the other perplexed)
MRS O’PREY (devoutly) A merciful blessing
PETE (demandingly) Escaped what? (Mr O’Prey is wide awake again)
MRS JEFFRIES (overwrought) You beast!
(she moves nearer to BWR. Mollie unobserved by her mother is listening at L door ajar)
PETE (puzzled) Please explain what you mean
MRS JEFFRIES You know perfectly well what I mean
PETE (to Mrs O’Prey) Why has Mrs Jeffries turned against me this way?
MRS JEFFRIES (breaking in) You want roasting! Lucky for the poor kid it happened after she first became pregnant.
PETE (nearly distracted to Mrs O’Prey) Explain will you? Explain?
MRS O’PREY I’m too ashamed to think that a son of mine could be so wicked.
PETE (impatiently) Is there something radically wrong with Rita? Speak out! There’s nothing in my life I need to hide.
Absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
MRS JEFFRIES Hmm. The same as all the rest when they’re found out
Tonight you stand exposed in your true colours (sneeringly) Beautiful souls!
MRS O’PREY (sensing) Is she dosed?
MRS JEFFRIES (less heatedly) Dosed up to the two eyes
PETE (impulsively) EH!
(Mr O’Prey motions to Mrs O’Prey. She, in turn wisely orders Oscar into the kitchen. As the three exit at LR Mrs O’Prey’s hands mechanically cover her ears.)
MRS JEFFRIES (with increased fury) You know it. She’s rotten!
It will be days before I’ll feel clean enough to prepare a meal for my children (menacingly) You blackguard! I’d like to knock you down!
(Though grossly misunderstood Pete still retains respect for Mrs Jeffries)
PETE (quietly) Mrs Jeffries I never touched her.
MRS JEFFRIES (rigidly) Applesauce! (Mollie has opened L a little wider)
PETE On my word of honour. Go in and ask her.
MRS JEFFRIES (inflexible) She could only contract it through you!
PETE I never touched her.
MRS JEFFRIES You’re her husband
PETE I’m only a husband in name
MRS JEFFRIES (sarcastically) glad you have a spark of decency left to admit it.
PETE (disheartened) Wish I could make you understand. My Mom begged me on her bended knees to marry Rita a month ago when word came of Ben jumping over the side at sea.
MRS JEFFRIES Have some respect! Don’t use your dead brother as a shield!
PETE (suffering intensely) I am the shield
MRS JEFFRIES You outrageous liar! Rita’s been wearing a wedding ring for nearly six months
(Mrs O’Prey re-entering at LR spots Mollie and with a threatening gesture crosses towards L. Mollie closes the door and is out of sight)
PETE (askance) My Mom bought the ring the day after Ben’s ship sailed to prevent people asking unpleasant questions (the women stare silently at each other)
MRS O’PREY (wilting under Mrs Jeffries censorious glance) What else could I do? Ben got her in trouble. The O’Prey’s had to stand by her.
(Mrs Jeffries is about to exit in complete disgust when the door L is thrown open suddenly and Mollie enters excitedly. The lusty cry of the infant is heard)
MOLLIE Mom! Mrs Jeffries! Rita – she’s gone – awful strange
she’s making a funny noise with her throat.
(Mrs O’Prey and Mrs Jeffries exit L the former returning almost immediately and moving quickly to LR)
MRS O’PREY Oscar! Oscar! Quick!! (as he appears) As fast as you can. Doctor Hirsch. Hurry!
(She moves to BWR and closes door after Oscar exits. Pete ignoring his mother exits LR. Mrs O’Prey crosses to statue and stands sphinxlike. Mr O’Prey enters at LR)
MR O’PREY Something wrong?
MRS O’PREY She’s taken a turn. May not pull through
MR O’PREY (sitting usual chair) A weak heart won’t stand much
(Mollie and Mrs Jeffries re-enter at L. the latter’s attitude towards Mrs O’Prey denotes an entire absence of the former familiarity)
MRS JEFFRIES (shortly) Have you sent for the doctor?
MRS O’PREY (crushed) Oscar’s gone
MRS JEFFRIES (crossing to BWR) No use of me staying
MRS O’PREY (low fervent tone) God be good to her
(Pete entering at LR wearing hat and coat hears the news unmoved)
MRS JEFFRIES (opening BWR) Leave the baby where he is. I’ll send Carmela di Grassio over to give him a drink.
(Pete hurries to BWR)
PETE Wait a minute Mrs Jeffries
Are you convinced?
(Mrs Jeffries bites her lips in silence)
PETE (impressively) God strike me dead! I never touched her. I wouldn’t use a pocket handkerchief after him.
(During the brief pause a transformation is noted on the faces of the other as they instinctively look towards Pete in sympathy. Mrs O’Prey expresses the most remarkable change as the tears fill her eyes and she brokenly ejaculates “Pete Pete”
PETE (imploring as he waits a reply from Mrs Jeffries) Do you believe me now?
MRS JEFFRIES (melting) I take everything back I’ve said tonight
You’ve been called a damned fool (suddenly kissing him) Good night Pete. I wish I had a son like you (with a cutting glance at Mrs O’Prey she exits BWR)
PETE (casually as he moves downstage) Send Mollie home now. I want to speak to you.
MRS O’PREY (her tone bears no resemblance to the former authoritative manner) Mollie go home. You’ll meet Oscar on the way.
(Mollie bids her father and mother Goodnight and exits BWR)
PETE (to his father) Do you mind going inside Pop? I want to speak to my Mom alone.
for a few minutes.
(Mr O’Prey with a grunt exits LR. Mrs O’Prey still stands in the vicinity of the altar)
MRS O’PREY (soto voce) I’m sorry Pete. I knew nothing about the other until tonight
PETE (ironically) I guess you didn’t, but you very conveniently tried to make me a goat.
MRS O’PREY (approaching him) Will you forgive me?
PETE (harshly as he moves to side of table nearest bureau) Keep your hands off! (thundering) You knew he’d been with her more than once! Why didn’t you say so before?
MRS O’PREY It would have been a waste of time. You’d never believe anything I said against her
PETE Because you lied so often. How was I to know when you were telling the truth? (to himself) Christ! She even told me once and I swallowed it (he moves towards BWR)
MRS O’PREY (with marked tenderness) There’s no sense in going out now. It’s nearly twelve o’clock.
PETE (turning) I only stayed to see something through. My job is finished (with satire) The reputation of the house is saved. Nothing else matters
You can still walk down the street and hear the neighbours say “There goes Kitty Doyle Her family never bore a bastard”
MRS O’PREY (gratefully) I appreciate all you’ve done for me
PETE (moving back to table) For you? Don’t kid yourself
I protected Rita by giving her baby a name. When she told me he doped her –
MRS O’PREY (cutting in) He didn’t
PETE You can’t fool me! I was wise to his tricks (venomously) My fingers were always itching for an excuse to close round his throat. That’s why I waited so long. Just until he married her. Then I’d have killed him
And all the flowers and candles in the world wouldn’t have stopped me.
MR O’PREY (entering at LR) Let his bones rest in peace.
PETE (flaring) Rest in peace! The swine! When Martha told my Mom he was the father of her child she threw her in the street. Martha was easy picking! An orphan with nobody behind her back (to Mrs O’Prey) I bet he doped her the same as he doped Rita.
MRS O’PREY (wringing her hands) he didn’t dope Rita. Is there any use of telling you.
PETE Of course you’ll defend him with the last gasp of breath in your body. I knew him and I’ll stake my life he doped her the first time.
MRS O’PREY (ruefully) Oh if you hadn’t been so blind.
MRS O’PREY Yes your eyes were tight shut
PETE And yours were wide open
MR O’PREY Strikes me the pair of you need glasses
MRS O’PREY I had some idea what was happening. I tried to warn him.
PETE We’re both afflicted with blindness I guess only mine has been temporary, yours will last a lifetime
You had the right dope after all. When the heart is wide open the eyes are tight closed. The position is reversed with me from now on. My eyes are wide open, my heart is tight closed to all women
Pretty faces! Gee! Some of them would throw their arms round a bull in a field if they knew how to part his hair correctly and use face cream (as his eyes rest on the grinning picture) You sucker! They called you Benjamin but your name was Judas. I hope you were alive when the sharks began tearing the guts out of you. (he becomes highly enraged under the impression the picture is laughing at him) What the hell are you laughing at?
(Mrs O’Prey’s fingers fly to her ears. Pete grabs the Japanese vase)
MR O’PREY (crossing to Pete) Hey! Put that down!
PETE (viciously) I’ll put you down!
(Mr O’Prey discreetly moves away. Pete in the act of throwing the vase at Ben’s picture breaks the lamp. The room is dimly lit by the candles on the altar.)
MR O’PREY (exiting LR) I expected as much
MRS O’PREY (her voice raised in reproach) The devil must be in you.
PETE (moving to BWR) He is, and he’s joining a ship tomorrow with me
MRS O’PREY (alarmed as she hurries to intercept him) Pete! Pete! Not that! The sea has stolen one from me (desperately throwing her arms round his neck) It won’t rob me of another (lusty cry from the bay is heard)
PETE (removing her arms and throwing her roughly to the floor) To hell with you!
(As he throws the door open to exit a sudden gust of wind blows out all the lights plunging the room into complete darkness. Too stricken for tears Mrs O’Prey’s piteous “God forgive me” breaks the silence)
MR O’PREY (re-entering at LR) What’s the matter with the candles?
MRS O’PREY (weakly) Have you any matches?
Mr O’Prey feels his way across the room and hands her a box of matches
MR O’PREY (as his wife slowly relights the candles) All the lights are fused. I’ll run over to Oscar before he goes to bed (missing Pete) Gone?
MRS O’PREY (almost a whisper) Yes, back to sea
MR O’PREY (moving towards BWR) There hasn’t been a stroke of luck since that cow first put foot in here
He exits closing the door behind him. The candles are all lit. Mrs O’Prey her face clouded with sorrow makes the sign of the cross and with great piety begins to pray.
MRS O’PREY Hail Holy Queen, Hail Our Life Our sweetness and our hope, to thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, to thee do we send our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate thine eyes of mercy towards us, and after this our exile show us the blessed fruit of thy womb Jesus. O Clement
(striking her breast)
(striking her breast)
O sweet Virgin Mary
(striking her breast)
pray for us O Holy mother of God that we may be made worthy of the promise of Christ. Amen
Making the sign of the cross she rises. Once again a familiar sign of relief shows on her face as she takes a candle from the altar, crosses to LR and exits entering later with a handbrush and dustpan. Sweeping the remains of Ben’s picture and the vase from the mantel and the floor she exits LR and re-enters carrying the framed enlargement of Pete which she places near fireplace as the doorbell rings. Crossing to BWR she opens and admits Rose.
MRS O’PREY Hello Rose. You’re out late
ROSE (entering) I promised to come back. What on earth’s the matter with the lights?
MRS O’PREY They’re fused (a cry from the baby)
ROSE (joyously) Aw Mrs O’Prey. I’m dying to see the baby. Can I go in? Let’s
MRS O’PREY (willingly) Go ahead. Take this candle with you
Rose accepts the candle and exits L. Mrs O’Prey then removes the ornaments from the centre towards the end of the mantel, leaving sufficient space for the enlargement. After a few moments Rose re-enters returning the candle to Mrs O’Prey who replaces it in the candelabra.
ROSE I didn’t disturb Rita. She must be asleep.
MRS O’PREY (moved) God help her
ROSE (enthusiastically) He’s a damned fine kid, bless him
Are you going to name him after his father?
MRS O’PREY (unoffended as she dusts the enlargement) No
ROSE After his grandfather?
MRS O’PREY (placing the enlargement in the centre of the mantel) No
ROSE Who ARE you going to name him after?
MRS O’PREY (removing two candles from the candelabra) One of the Doyles
ROSE Which one?
MRS O’PREY (placing the candles in front of the enlargement) My son Pete.
She is carrying the flowers from the altar to the mantel
AS THE CURTAIN FALLS