THE DRAMA AS I SEE IT
Studies in the Plays and Films of Yesterday and To-day
EVERYBODY who has
reached or passed middle age looks back with affection to that splendid old melodrama Cast up by the Sea.
Perhaps it wasn’t called exactly that. It may have been named Called back from the Dead, or Broken up by the Wind, or Buried Alive in the Snow, or anything of the sort. In fact I believe it was played under about forty different names in fifty different forms. But it was always the same good old melodrama of the New England Coast, with the farm house and the yellow fields running down to the sea, and the lighthouse right at the end of the farm with the rocks and the sea beyond, looking for trouble.
Before the cinematograph had addled the human brain and the radio broadcast had disintegrated the human mind, you could go and see Cast up by the Sea any Saturday afternoon in any great American City for thirty cents; you got a thrill from it that lasted twenty years. For thirty cents you had an orchestra chair on the ground floor where you could sit and eat peanuts and study the program till the play began. After it had begun you couldn’t eat any more; you were too excited.
The first thing everybody used to do in studying the program was to see how many years elapsed between the acts; because in those days everybody used to find it wiser to go out between the acts—for air.
And the more years that elapsed and the more acts there were, the more air they could get. Some of the plays used to have ten acts and the people got out nine times. Nowadays this is all changed.
People talk now of the unity of the drama, and in some of the plays to-day there is a deliberate announcement on the program that reads “Between Acts II and III the curtain will be merely 1 owered and raised again.” We wouldn’t have stood for that in 1880. We needed our two years between the acts.
We had a use for it.
As I say, it was necessary to study the program. Nobody had yet invented that system of marking the characters “in the order of their appearance”. You had to try and learn up the whole lot before the play began. You couldn’t really. But you began conscientiously enough. Hiram Hay croft, a farmer; Martha, his wife;
Hope, their daughter; Phoebe, a girl help;
Zeke, a hired man,—Rube also a hired man,—and by that time you had just forgotten the farmer’s own name and
looked back for it when just then--
Up went the curtain with a long stately roll, two men at the side hoisting it, and there you were looking at the farmstead by the sea.
Notice how quick and easy and attractive that old fashioned beginning was. One minute you were eating peanuts and studying the program and the next minute the play had begun. There was none of that agonizing stuff that precedes the moving pictures of to-day: No “Authorized by the Board of Census of the state of New York ” The world and New York State was so good in 1880 that it had never heard of a censor. Nor was there any announcement of something else altogether heralded as “A Great big compelling life drama—next week.”
If the moving picture people could have been in control (forty years before their time) they would have announced the farm and lighthouse play with a written panegyric on what they were going to show,—“a gripping heart drama in which the foam of the sea and the eerie of the spendrift carry to the heart a tale of true love battled by.the wind, next Thursday.”
But if they had worked that stuff on an audience of 1880 it would have gone out and taken another drink, and never came back until next Thursday
CO THE play began at once. There was the farmhouse, ^ or at least the porch and door, at the r'ght hand side of the stage, all bathed in sunlight (yellow gas) and the grass plot and the road in the centre, and the yellow wheat (quite a little bunch of it) at the left, and the fields reaching back till they hit the painted curtain with the lighthouse and the rocks and the sea.
I "Cast Up by the Sea"
As Thrown Up for 30 Cents—Period, 1880
A Sea Coast Melodrama
Everybody who looked at that painted curtain and saw that lighthouse knew that it wasn’t there for nothing. There’d be something doing from that all night, and when they looked back at the program and saw that Act IV was marked In the Lighthouse Tower—Midnight, they got the kind of a thrill that you can never get by a mere announcement that there is going to be a “gripping heart-drama next Tu., Thurs. and Sat.”
Surely enough there would be something doing with that lighthouse. Either the heroine thrown off it, or the hero thrown over it—anyway something good.
But for the moment all is peace and sunlight, on the sea shore farm. There is no one on the stage but two men on the left, evidently Zeke and Rube, the hired men. They’ve got scythes and they are cutting the little patch of wheat over at the edge of the stage. Just imagine it. Real wheat, they’re actually cutting it! Upon my word those stage effects of 1880 were simply wonderful. I do wish that “Doug” Fairbanks and those fellows who work so hard to give us thrills could realize what we used to get in 1880 by see:ng Zeke and Rube cutting real wheat on the left hand side of the stage.
Then they speak. You can’t really hear what they say— but it sounds like this:
Zeke says, “I swan b’gosh heck b’gosh gum yak! yak!’
And Rube answers: “Heck gosh b’gum, yes, yak! yak!”
And they both laugh.
These words probably have a meaning, but you don’t need it. The people are still moving into their seats and this is just the opening of the play. It’s a mere symbol. It stands for New England dialect, farm life, and honesty of character. Presently Rube gets articulate. He quits reaping and he says:
“So Miss Hope’ll be coming back this morning.”
“Yes, sir, that she will. A whole year now it’ll be that she’s been to boarding school.” And Rube says:
“Yep, a whole yer come Gurdlemas.”
Rube and Zeke have a calendar all their own.
“She’ll be a growd up lady now all right.”
“Yes sir, and as purty as a pitcher, I’ll be bound, by heck.”
They whet their scythes with a clang and out comes Martha, the farmer’s wife, and Phoebe, the help, from the porch on the right. With them comes a freckled boy, evidently the younger son of the farm family. This freckled boy is in all the melodramas. It is his business to get his ears boxed, mislay the will, lose the mortgage, forget to post the letters and otherwise mix up the plot.
“Do you see the buggy yet, Rube? Can you see them coming yet, Zeke?”
Zeke and Rube hop about making gestures of looking down the road, their hands up over their eyes.
“Not yet, Missus, but they’ll be along right soon now.”
‘There they are,” calls Phoebe, “coming along down in the hollow.”
THERE is great excitement at once.
Martha cries, “Land’s sake, if it ain’t Hope all right,” and boxes the freckled boy’s ears. The others run to and fro saying, “Here they come!” so as to get the audience -worked up with excitement, at the height of which there comes the actual clatter of the horses’ hoofs and the next momen a horse and buggy, a real horse and buggy, drives on to the stage. That clattering horse coming on to the stage was always one of the great effects in 18S0,—a real horse with real harness and with added anxiety for fear that the horse would misbehave himself when he came on.
The buggy stops with a lot of shouting of “Whoa there,”—intended to keep the horse lively. If they didn’t shout at it this stage horse was apt to subside into a passive melancholy not suited for the drama.
So here is the farmer sitting in the buggy in a suit of store clothes and a black slouch hat, and beside him is Hope, his daughter, just home from boarding school. How sweet and fresh she looks in her New England sun hat with the flowers on it. I don’t know what they did to the girls in the boarding schools of 1880—some line of algebra perhaps— to make them look so fresh. There are none like them now.
Hope leaps out in one spring and kisses her mother in one bound and she cries, “Well, mother! Well, Phoebe! Why, Zeke! Why Rube!” They all circulate and hop and dance about saying, “Well, Miss Hope, well I never!” And all the while there’s the sunshine in the yellow fields and the red hollyhocks beside the porch, and light and happiness everywhere.
You’d think, would you not, that that old homestead represented the high water mark of happiness? And so it does. But wait a bit. Before long they’ll start trouble enough. All the audience know in advance that that farm will be mortgaged and the farmer ruined and Hope driven from home,—oh. there’s lots of trouble coming. Trouble was the proper business of the melodrama. So presently they all get through their congratulations and Hope has embraced everybody, and the farmer’s wife has got off two jokes about the size of Boston and then the freckled boy wants to take Hope away to see the brindle cow, and they all fade away off the stage except the farmer and his wife.
And right away the whole tone of the play changes, just like that.
The farmer stands alone with his wife.
And Martha comes over to him and puts her hand timidly on his shoulder. The joy has gone out of her face.
“Hiram,” she says, “Lawyer Ellwood’s agent was here this morning.”
The farmer fairly humps into his shoulders with anger. “Ay,” he snarls. "And Hiram, Lawyer Eilwood wants his money.”
"Ay! he wants his money, does he? Curse him!”
The farmer’s fist is clenched and there’s a scowl on his face.
"He says, Hiram that it’s got to be paid to-morrow. Oh, Hiram, we can’t never pay it."
Martha puts her apron up to her face ami sobs.
The farmer turns and shakes his clenched fist at the scenery away off to the left.
"Curse him!” he rages. "Ay, curse him. This three years he has thrown a blight across our life.”
"You was friends oncet, Hiram,” sobs Martha again, "years ago before he went to the city you was friends.” "Friends!" raves the farmer, "a fine friend, drawing me on with his schemes of money and profit. ’To make my fortune’ he said—a fine fortune—ruin, ruin it meant— till l had signed this and signed that, till it was all mortgaged away and till he held me, as he thought, in the hollow of his hand. Martha, if that man stood before me now, by the God that lives. I could choke him with these hands.”
LJIRAM makes a gesture so terrible and yet so pas* * súmate that the one hope of the audience in the top gallery is that Lawyer Eilwood will happen along right
now and get choked.
Martha tries to dry her eyes.
■ Nay. Hiram, you mustn't talk like that. Those are evil thoughts. It is God's will, Hiram, and it must be right But we can’t never pay."
"Not pay.” shouts H ram. "who says I can’t pay? I can pay and when that man comes tomorrow I can throw the money in his face. Look, Martha, there it is!”
Hiram Haycroft draws a great wallet from his pocket and siaps tt down on the palm of his hand.
"Two thousand dollars, every cent of his accursed debt. Martha, it will mean poverty and hard times for us where ail was plenty, but. thank God! it can be paid.” "Why, Hiram!”
"I've raised it. Martha. I’ve sold the stock, I’ve parted with this and I’ve pledged that—everything but the roof above oar heads is sold or pledged. But this accursed mortgage can be paid."
' It will mean hard times again, hard and bitter
*T don’t mind that, Hiram,”—and Martha puts her hands up to her husband’s neck, “we’ve borne it together before and we can bear it together again—But oh, Hiram, if only our boy Jack had been spared to us, I could have borne it so easily then.”
Martha begins to cry.
"There, there, Martha,” says the Farmer, “you mustn’t lay it so to heart. The sea has taken him, Mother, as it has taken many a brave lad before him—”
"Tne sea, the sea—” groans Martha, “I see it there so bright and calm in the sunlight. But will it give me back my boy? Three years this day Hiram since he left us. I can feel his good-by kiss still on my cheek.And since then no word, never a word.”
Hiram draws his wife to him to comfort her.
"Come, mother, come into the house; we mustn’t show sad faces for Hope’s home-coming—come—”
They go in through the wooden porch under the flowers on the right leaving the audience sad and disturbed. That infernal lawyer! But they were all alike in 1880. Show them a sun-lit farm and a happy family and they clap a mortgage on it at sight.
And to think that farmer Haycroft and his wife had lost their only son at sea— that calm blue sea in the back curtain with the sunlight on it.
In fact the play is getting too sad so it has to be relieved and Rube and Phoebe are brought on to the stage again and go through one of those rural love scenes that were used to ease the strain of the melodrama. Rube shambles over to her in a sheepish way. evidently proposing to kiss her, and says:
“Ain’t you got nothing for me this morning,
And Phoebe says:
"Go along, you big thing, I’ve got that for you,” and swats him over the face with a thistle.
The audience roar with laughter, the strain is removed and they’re ready to get on with the play
when Phoebe disappears with Rube in pursuit.
“Why, Mother,”— it is Hope calling—
“where are you,
“I’m here, daughter,” says Martha, reappearing out of the porch.
"T WAS looking for ^ you all over,
Mother,” says Hope, coming over to her coyly. “I have been wanting so much to talk to you all by our-
“A1Î! And I think I can guess something of what that’s about.”
Martha has taken Hope’s hand in hers and is patting it and Hope is looking at the ground and swinging herself about on one heel in a way that in a New England play always symbolized the approach of love.
“—and now Hope tell me all about it,” says the farmer’swife.
“Y o u remember,
Mother, that I wrote and told you that I had a secret—”
“Yes, dearie, a great secret, you said,—”
“—a secret that I d dn’t want to put on paper and didn’t want to tell to anybody till I could tell it to you first, Mother dear.”
Hope has snuggled up close to her mother, who is patting her on the shoulder and repeating, “Ay, lass a great secret and I’ll be bound I can guess a little of what it is—I suppose it means that there is someone —that my little girl—”
She whispers into Hope’s ear.
“Oh, Mother,” Hope goes on, “it’s even greater than that. Look, Mother, see what’s on my hand.”
Hope holds out her hand, her face downcast and not only her mother but even the girls in the gallery can see the plain gold ring that’s on her finger. The men in the audience don’t get it, but the girls and women explain to them what it is.
“Why Hope, darling,” says Martha, all in a tremble, “what does it mean?”
“Why, Mother, it means—it means,” Hope takes a flying leap into her mother’s arms—“it means, Mother, that I’m married.”
“Yes, married, Mother, last Saturday in Boston at eleven o’clock in the morning.”
“Married, my little girl married!”
Martha has to be terribly astonished so as to keep the audience in the same frame of mind: not at Hope being married the very day she left her finishing school. That was nothing.—That was a favorite way of getting married in 1880 —but at the fact that she hadn’t told her mother about it. So Martha keeps repeating— “Married! My little girl married!”
“It was all in such a hurry, Mother—I couldn’t tell you. It all came so sudden—”
Hope is half crying, half smiling.
“But I shouldn’t cry, Mother, because really I’m so happy—”
“That’s right, darling, and now tell me all about it.”
“We were married in Boston last Saturday, Mother. And, oh, I did so want you to be there, only it couldn’t be. It was all in such a hurry—because
Ned was offered a new ship—just think, mother, captain of a ship at twenty-one.” “Not a sailor, dearie,” says Martha Haycroft in evident agitation, “don’t tell me that your man is a sailor.”
“Why,yes, Mother, Ned’s been at sea ever since he was fifteen.”
"The sea, the sea,” groans the farmer’s wife. “I see it lying there in the sunlight. I hear it roaring in the winter wind. When will it give me back my boy?”
“Mother, you mustn’t cry. It was years ago and it was God’s will, and Mother, Ned will only be at sea a little while longer now —just this one voyage in his new ship, and listen, Mother, Ned’s new ship, (it’s a schooner, Mother, and it’s Ned’s father who owns it and it’s called the Good Hope, after me)—will be off the coast here this evening, and if Ned can manage it he’ll come ashore and see us all, and his father, —though I’ve never seen him—will be with Ned. And Ned is to settle down and be a farmer Mother, on a farm beside the sea. His father is a rich lawyer in Boston, Mother, and Ned says that his father has a mortgage on a farm ri hr on the sea shore just like this, and after this one voyage—”
“A lawyer, a rich lawyer!”
“Yes, Mother, a rich lawyer in Boston, but he once lived in the country, near here I think, years ago.”
“His name? What name?”
“Eilwood, Mother, Lawyer Ephraim Eilwood.”
Martha breaks from her daughter in alarm.
“No, no, not that, don’t say it’ that name—Hope, it couldn’t be, it can’t be.”
And at that moment the farmer, Hiram Haycroft, steps onto the stage.
“Why, Mother! Why, Hope! What’s—what’s all this?” Hope (tearfully)—“I don’t know father; I only began to tell mother a secret—”
“That I—that we—that I am married, Father.” “Married, my little girl married! That don’t seem possible. But what’s all this ado about, mother, and who’s the lucky man that’s gone and taken my little girl?” Hiram comes over affectionately and takes Hope’s two hands.
“Only yesterday, it seems,” he says, “that I held you on my knees, little gal, and now to be married.”
All the audience waits in a luxury of expectation. They know that the farmer is going to get an awful jolt.
Then he gets it.
“He is the son of a rich Boston lawyer, Father, who— has a mortgage on a farm—”
The farmer has dropped Hope’s hands, his face is darkening.
“And Ned is to have the farm—Ned Eilwood is his name, Father, see it here.”
Hope timidly takes out a paper from her dress.
“Here on my marriage certificate.”
But the farmer doesn’t hear her. He stands a moment, his fists clenched, then bursts into wild rage.
“Eilwood, Lawyer Eilwood. My daughter marry a son of that man! By the living God, Hope, sooner than see you married to a son of his, I’d see you lying fathoms deep under the sea beside my son. God hears me say it, and may God so order it!”
And as Hiram Haycroft stands, with this fateful invocation on his lips, the freckled boy runs on the stage and says:
“Say, Hope, ain’t you never coming to see that brindle cow?”
AND with that the curtain slowly falls, and Act 1 is over.
No wonder that as the curtain falls there’s a.terrible feeling of sadness and apprehension all over the audience. No wonder that even before the curtain has reached the Continued on page 46 floor a great many of the men in that 1880 audience have risen and are walking up the aisles to get out of the theatre. They can’t stand the strain of it,—the thought of the beautiful old New England homestead all brought to sorrow and tragedy like this. It’s too much for them. They must have air. They’ve gone to look for it outside the theatre. Even though the playbill says that only six hours elapse between Act I and II (pretty rapid work for 1880) they’re taking a chance on it.
Cast Up by the Sea
Continued from page 16
So the able-bodied men in the audience go out leaving behind only the young, the infirm, and the women (women never took anything to drink, anyway, before prohibition). There is a great sadness over the audience now because they know by experience that once the old homestead starts going to pieces like this things will go from bad to worse. Even the fact that the orchestra is now playing In the Gloaming, Oh, My Darling doesn’t help things much.
So presently the men come back and the orchestra is stopped and the gas cut down and the curtain is hauled away up to the roof and it’s—-
ACT II—Same Evening The Kitchen of the Haycroft Farm
“XT'OU’LL find us plain folk, sir, just
I plain folk. But if it’ll please you to take what plain folk can offer you’re heartily welcome. Now then, Phoebe girl, a chair here for the gentleman. Put another stick in the stove, Rube, it’s a cold night in this November wind.”
The stranger, in a strange voice, “Ay, it’s a cold night.”
The scene is in the farm kitchen, one of those big old farm kitchens of 1880 that filled the whole stage.* There was a cooking stove,—about 10 feet by 6 off to the right side and in the centre stage a fireplace with a mantel off at one side, and doors and windows—, in fact all the things that will be needed in the act, not forgetting a shotgun hanging ominously on two hooks. At the back is a big table all laid out for about a dozen guests, with Phoebe all done up in her best things fussing round laying dishes. Martha Haycroft, also in her best things (black satin with a sort of crispiness to it), is cooking at the stove. Putting the farm people with their best clothes was always supposed to imply a comic touch. Rube has on clothes like a congressman’s, only lower in the coat tails and higher in the collar.
This, of course, was the supper that the farmer spoke of when he said they’d call in the neighbours.
Only for the moment all the eyes of the audience are turned on the stranger. He has a crop of straight white hair (a wig evidently) and a white beard—false, of course—and he walks partly bent with a stick, and he looks all about him, all round the room with such a queer look, as if he recognized it.
All the audience feel instinctively that that stranger is disguised. Indeed in this sort of play there always had to be somebody who turned out to be someone else.
“A raw night, sir,” repeats the farmer, “there’s an evil howl in the wind; I reckon there’ll be stormy weather at seg, tonight, sir—”
The farmer is evidently right—for just as he says it somebody behind the scene turns on the wind with a wild and mournful howl. Luckily they don’t leave it on long, just enough to let the audience know it’s there.
‘T’ just been down to the shore, sir,” the farmer goes on, “I tend the light here at the foot of the farm. ’Twill be a bad night at sea to-night.”
“A bad night for those at sea,” repeats the stranger.
The wind howls again. Martha pauses in her cooking, looks a moment towards the window and murmurs, “The sea, the sea.”
Martha, the farmer’s wife, had to play .alternately a pathetic character and a
comic one. It was hard to do, but the audience understood it. So she mutters “The sea! the sea!” with the yearning of a mother for her lost son, and then goes back to blowing up pancakes on the cookstove. If that violated the unity of the drama we didn’t know it in 1880, so it did no harm.
“But come, come,” says the farmer “this ain’t no night for feeling downhearted. I hear the neighbours o tside. Come, Martha, we’ll go out and bring them in.”
THIS leaves Phoebe and Rube alone except for the stranger who has gone across the room and is standing with his back to them, lost in thought. So Rube and Phoebe do another love scene. Rube comes to her along side the table and has only just time to say “Phoeb!” with a slow grin and to try to take her by the waist when she lands him across the face with a pancake. The audience roar with delight and continue laughing till they suddenly come to a full stop when they see that there is something happening with the stranger.
He has been standing with his back turned, silent. Then without, warning, he speaks, his back still turned, not in his counterfeited tone, but in a loud clear voice, the voice of youth;
Rube and Phoebe start. “What voice is that?” says Rube, shaking with agitation.
The stranger turns, plucks away his white wig and his white beard and stands revealed.
“Jack! It’s Mr. Jack, come back from the dead!” cries Phoebe.
“Ain’t you drowned?” cries Rube.
They crowd close to him in eager recognition; and Jack, young and boyish now, laughs and greets them. “Let me run and call the boss and the missus.” pleads Phoebe; but Jack restrains her. 1 “Not now,” he says, “they mustn’t know yet.”
He goes on to reveal, all in whispers and in gestures which the audience are not intended to unravel, that his father and mother must not know yet. He takes from his pocket a bundle of something— is it paper or money or what? The audience can’t see it decently but Rube and Phoebe seem to understand and he is just explaining about it when the noise is heard of the farmer and his wife and the farm guests all coming back.
The stranger motions Rube and Phoebe to secrecy and is disguised again in a minute.
In they all come, the farm people all dressed in the queer pathos of their Sunday things and there follows the great supper scene, without which no rural melodrama was complete. Hear how they chatter and laugh. “Well, for the land’s sake, taste them doughnuts!” “Neighbour Jephson, try a slice of this pie.” “Well, I don’t mind if I do.” “Farmer Haycroft^here’syour good health and Miss Hope’s good health and of all present.” “Hear! Hear!” and then someone chokes on a crumb and is beaten on the back.
The supper scene lasts ten minutes by the clock. The stranger has sat silent, beaming quiet approval and at the height of the merriment retired quietly to his room, a side room opening on the kitchen. Martha has lighted a candle for him and as he thanks her for it she says-— “You’re a stranger in these parts, sir? There’s something in your voice I seem to know.” All the audience want to shout “He’s your son.” It is a touch taken right out of Sophocles. Hope meantime busies herself among the guests. Hiram Haycroft drinks great flagons of cider. At intervals the wind is turned on against the window panes to remind the audience that it’s a wild night outside.
THEN for a moment the farmer leave?
the room because he has to go trim hi? light down on the shore.
While he is still out there is loud knocklug at the door. Rube goes to it and opens it—with a special biff of wind produced for his benefit—and then shows in two strangers.
A young man and an old. The. young man is tall and bronzed and sailorlike and Hope runs to him at once, with a glad cry of "Ned! My Ned!” His arms are about her in a moment and the whole theatre knows that it is her husband.
"We’ve put in under the point,” Ned explains, "and I come ashore. But it’s only to say good-bye. The Good Hope can’t lie there in this rising wind. We’ll have to put off at once. This is my father, Hope. You’ll be a daughter to him while I’m gone!”
Hope goes up to the old man and puts her two hands in his and says, oh so sweetly, "I will indeed, sir, for Ned’s
But her mother has risen, shrinking from her place.
"Ellwood,”she says, “Lawyer Ellwood.”
All the audience look at the old man. A fox certainly—oh, a sly old fox—just that look of mean cunning that stamped every rural lawyer in every melodrama for thirty years. But Hope sees nothing of it.
“No, Ned, you mustn’t put to sea tonight. It’s too wild a night. Hear how the rain is driving at the windows. You must stay here and your father, too. Mother, this is Ned, my husband, and this is his father, and these are our friends, Ned, and father’s only gone to the light. He’ll be back in just a minute—”
And at that moment the door swings open and Hiram Haycroft—shaking the wet from his black oilskins—strides back into the room. Hope comes to him pleadingly.
“Father, father dear, this is my husband—”
But he doesn’t see her. He is staring at Ellwood.
“You!” he shouts. “You that have sought to bring ruin upon me and mine!”
Ellwood comes towards him, raising a protesting hand.
“Hiram!” he says.
“Out of my house!” shouts Haycroft. “Your accursed money is not due till tomorrow and to-morrow it shall be paid. Out! before I lay hands on you.” He steps forward menacingly, his hand uplifted. Ned Ellwood steps in his way.
“Put down your hands,” he says, “and listen to me.”
Hiram refuses to listen. He reaches for the gun that hangs above the mantel. The affrighted guests crowd around him. There is noise and confusion, above which is Haycroft’s voice, calling “Out of my house! I say.”
The father and son move to the door, but as they go Hope rushes to her husband.
“Father! he is my husband! Where he goes I go. Ned, take me with you, out int the night and the storm.” (At these words the wind which has been quite quiet breaks out again) “Out into the world, for better or for worse. Where you go I follow, my place is at your side!’ ’
There is a burst of applause from the audience at this sentiment. That was the kind of girl they raised in 1880. There are none left now.
And so with her father’s imprecations ringing in her ears Hope casts a little grey cloak over her head and shoulders and with arm clinging to her husband passes out into the storm.
The door closes after them.
HERE is a hush and silence.
Not even Rube and Phoebe can break it now. The farm guests, almost inarticulate, come and say goodnight and pass out. Martha, lamp in hand, goes tearfully up the stairs. Rube and Phoebe fade away.
Hiram Haycroft sits alone. The lights are dimmed down. There is a flicker of light from the fire in the stove but little more. At times the rattle of the storm at the window makes him lift his head. Once he walks to the -window and stands and gazes out into the darkness towards the sea.
And once he goes over to the dresser at the side of the room and takes from it the wallet that has in it his two thousand dollars, holds it a moment in his hand and then replaces it.
At intervals the storm is heard outside. The audience by instinct know that the act is not over. There is more tragedy to come.
The farmer rises slowly from his chair.
He lays aside his oilskins. Then, still slowly, he takes off his boot—with a boot jack—a stage effect much valued in melodrama.
He moves about the room, a candle in his hand, bolts and chains the door, and so, step by step slowly and with much creaking, ascends the stairs to bed.
The audience follow in a breathless stillness. They know that something is going to happen.
Deep silence and waiting. You can hear the audience breathing. No one speaks.
Then a side door in the room is opened, slowly, cautiously. You can see a dark figure stealing across the stage—nearer and nearer to the drawer where the wallet of money is lying. Look! What is he doing? Ishetakingit, oris he moving it? Is it a thief or what?
Then suddenly the farmer’s voice from above.
“Who’s that down there?”
You can half see the farmer as he stands on the upper landing, a candle in his hand.
“Who’s that, I say?” he calls again.
The crouching figure crawls away, making for the door.
What happens after that follows with a rush. The farmer comes hurrying down the stairs, tears open the drawer and with a loud cry of “Thief! A thief!” rouses the sleeping house. Y ou hear the people moving above. You see the lights on the stairs as the crouching figure rushes for the door. The farmer has seized his shotgun. There is a cry of “Stand there, or I’ll shoot,” then the flash of fire and the roar of the gun and the crouching figure falls to the floor, the farmer shouting, “Lights here. Bring a light! A thief!”
It is Rube who enters first, the others crowding after. It is Rube who lifts the fallen body, Rube who holds the light on the pale face so that the audience may see who it is—but something has long since told them that. It is Rube who pulls aside the white wig and the white beard that had disguised the youthful features. There is a loud cry from the farmer’s wife as she sinks down beside the body.
“Jack, Jack, it’s my boy come back to me.”
And the farmer, the gun still clenched and smoking in his hand cries:
“My son! I have killed my son.”
And with that down sinks the sombre curtain on a silent au ience.
THAT’S the way, you see, that the dramawasputoverin 1880. Weweren’t afraid of real effects,—terror, agony, murder—anything and the more of it the better. In a modern drawing-room play the characters get no nearer to murder than to have Pup No. 1, dressed in grey tweeds, discuss the theory of homicide with Pup No. 2, dressed in a brown golf costume. That’s all the excitement there is. But in this good old farm melodrama they weren’t afraid of mixing the thing up.
So the farmer is ruined, he s driven his daughter from the door and has shot his son—and there you are.
When the play reaches this point, at the end of Act Two, there is nothing for it but a two years’ wait. So the play bill at this point bears the legend Two Years Elapse between Acts Two and Three. The audience are glad of it. Without that they couldn’t have stood the tragedy of it. But as it is there are two years; the men rise and file out up the aisle; very slowly— there was no need to hurry with two years ahead of them.
The gas is turned up now and the audience are gradually recovering; a boy comes down the aisles and shouts “Peanuts!” That helps a lot. And presently when the orchestra begins to play Little Annie Rooney is my Sweetheart they begin to get reconciled to life again. Anyway, being used to this type of play they know that things aren’t so bad as they seem. Jack can’t really be dead. He’llbebrought to life somehow. He was shot, but he can’t have been killed. Every audience knows its own line of play; in fact in all the drama the audience has to be taken for granted or the play wouldn’t be intelligible. Anybody who has seen a moving picture audience snap up the symbols and legends and conventions of a photoplay and get the required meaning out of it will know just what I mean. So it was in 1880. The audience got cheered up because they realized that Jack couldn’t really be dead.
So they look at their programmes with a revived interest to see what happens next.
Here it is :
ACT III—Two Years Later The Fore Shore After Sunset A Gathering Storm
AH! LOOK at the scene as the curtain goes up now. Isn’t it grand! The rocks and the breaking water and the white foam in the twilight! How ever do they do it? And the lighthouse there at the right hand side, how it towers into the dark sky! Look at the fishermen all in black oilskins and sou’westers, glistening in the wet, moving about on the shore and pointing to the sea.
Notice that short flash of yellow lightning and the rumble of thunder away behind the scene. And look at the long beams of the light from the lighthouse far out on the water.
Don’t talk to me of a problem play, played in a modern drawing room as between a man in tweed and a woman in sequins. When I attend the theatre let there be a lighthouse and a gathering of huddled fishermen and danger lowering over the sea. As drama it is worth all the sex stuff that was ever slopped over the footlights.
“A wild night!”
It’s a fisherman speaking—or no, it’s Rube, only you would hardly know him— all in oilskins. In the New England play all the farmers turn into fishermen as the plot thickens. So it is Zeke, as another fisherman, who answers:
“It’s all that! God help all poor souls out at sea to-night.”
The lightning and thunder make good again, the fishermen and the women on the shore move to and fro, talking, and excited, and pointing at the sea. Rube and Zeke come together in the foreground, talking. Their function is to let the audience know all that has happened in two years.
“A wild night,” Zeke repeats, “such a night as it was two years ago, you mind, the night that Mr. Jack was shot.”
They both shake their heads. “ ’Twould have been a sight better,” says Rube, “if the farmer’s bullet had killed him that night. A sad sight it is to see him as he is, witless and speechless. It’s cruel hard on them all. Is he here to-night?”
“Ay, he’s here to-night—lie's always here on the shore when a storm is on. Look, see him there, always looking to the sea!”
The audience look at once and see in the little group standing in the gathering storm, Jack—holding to his mother hard and looking out to sea.
“She’s leading him away. She’ll be wanting him to go home ...”
So Jack isn’t dead! But what is that queer, strange look on his face? Something blank, unhuman, witless. His mother leads him down the stage.
“Jack, come home, Jack. It’s no place for you here in the storm.”
The thunder and lightning break in again sharp and vivid and the wind roars behind the scenes.
Jack turns a vacant countenance upon his mother. His face is pale and thin. His eyes are bright.
The audience get it. Since he was shot down he has been there two years speechless and demented.
His mother keeps begging him to come home. He tries to drag her towards the sea. Demented as he is, there is a wild and growing excitement in his manner. He is pointing at the waves, gesticulating.
“What does he see?” Rube is asking. “What is it? He has a sailor’s eyes. What does he see out there?”
And at that minute there comes a shout from the clustered fishermen on the Fore Shore.
“A ship! A ship! There’s a vessel out on the reef. See! look!”
THEY run up and down,pointing and shouting. And far out on the waves, lit for a moment by a flash of lightning, the audience sees a dismasted schooner— she’s made of cardboard—out beside the breakers of the reef.
At this moment the freckled boy, all in oilskins, rushes breathless onto the stage. He hasn’t grown an inch in two years, but nobody cares about that.
“Mother, Rube,” he gasps. “I’ve been down to the Long Point—I ran all the way—there is a schooner going on the reef. Look, you can see, and Mother, Mother—”
The boy is almost frenzied into ex-
citement. The crowd gathers about him. “Mother it’s the Good Hope, her ship!” “The Good Hope!” exclaims everybody. The boy gasps on.
“They werelowering the boats—I could see them—but nothing can live in that sea —-one boat went down—I saw it—and I could see her, Hope, standing by the mast. I could see her face when the lightning came. Then I ran here. We must go out; we must get the life boats; we’ve got to go. You men, who’ll come?”
Come! they’ll all come! Listen to the shout of them. See! they are dragging forth the life boat from its wooden house on the left of the stage. There are swinging lanterns and loud calls and the roaring of the wind. The stage is darkening and the lightning glares on the sea. But even as they are trying to launch the life boat, there’s a new cry—
“Look—a boat! a boat! out there on the reef, right among the breakers.”
The fishermen rush up and down in great excitement. “There’s a woman in the boat! God help her! She’s lost!”
“Mother, mother, it’s Hope! See she’s alone in the boat, she’s kneeling up; she’s praying.”
There are new cries:
“Man the life boat! Man the life boat!” The great boat is dragged out and ready. The men are climbing in over the side.
Then a fisherman shouts out and is heard, clear and single, for a moment in the lull of the storm.
“There’s only one man can pilot this boat across that reef, only Hiram Haycroft.” E^jj
There are cries of “Hiram! Hiram!” They point out at the lighthouse from which the long beams still revolve on the water. “He can’t leave the light.”
Noise and commotion.
“He must leave the light.”
“It’s life or death on this one chance. Lads, stand ready there with the life boat and come some of you with me and bring him down.” They rush towards the lighthouse. There is noise and thunder; a flash of light shows the boat, clearly in sight now, right out among the breakers and Hope seen for a moment kneeling in the bow praying, her face illuminated in the lightning. Then in a swirl of white water, the boat vanishes in the foam of the reef.
Then the scene changes—all done in a minute—-from the shore to the Lighthouse Tower. It was what used to be called a “transformation scene.” It involved an eclipse of darkness punctured by little gas jets, and a terrible thumping and bumping with an undertone of curses. You could hear a voice in the darkness say quite distinctly “Get that blank blank drop over there,” and you could see black figures running round in the transformation. Then there came an awful crash and a vision of a back curtain sliding down amongst the dark men. The lights flicked up again and all the audience broke into applause at the final wonder of it.
Look! It’s the lighthouse tower with the big lights burning and the storm howling outside. How bright and clear it is here inside the tower with its great windows looking out over the storm sixty feet above the sea.
HE STANDS beside the lights, trimming the lamps, calm and steady at his task. The storm is all about him, but inside the lighthouse tower all is bright and still.
Hiram peers a moment from the lighthouse window. He opens the little door and steps out on the iron platform high above the sea. The wind roars about him and the crest of the driven water leaps to his very feet. He comes in, closing the door quietly and firmly behind him and turns again to his light.
“God help all poor souls at sea tonight,” he says.
And then with a rush and clatter of feet they burst in upon him, the group of fishermen, Martha, and his demented son, crowding into the lighthouse tower and standing on the stairs. Jack is at the rear of all, but there is a strange look on his face, a light of new intelligence.
“Quick, Hiram, you must come. There’s been a wreck. Look, there’s a boat going on the reef. The men are ready in the life boat. You must steer her through. It’s life or death. There’s not a moment to lose.”
Hiram looks for a moment at the excited crowd and then turns quietly to his task.
“My place is here,” he says.
There is a moment’s hush. Martha rushes to him and clutches him by the
“Hiram, they haven’t told you. The schooner that was wrecked to-night is the Good Hope.” .
Hiram staggers back against the wall.
"And the boat that’s drifting on the reef, it’s Hope, it’s our daughter.”
Hiram stands grasping the rail along the wall. He speaks, panting with agitation. but firm.
“Martha—I’m sworn to tend the light. If the 'ight fails God knows what it means to the ships at sea If my chi d is lost it is God’s will—but—my place is here.”
And he turns hack to tlw light
The fishermen who have been crowding close to the window cry:
”T OOK down below The boat—she’s 1 -driving in here rigid on the rocks— the woman still clinging to her ”
Martha rushes to the window and calls: “My child! save my child! save her!” And at exactly this minute Jack steps out into the centre of the floor. His face is clear and plain beneath the light.
“Father,” he says. “Mother!”
They all turn to look at him. But no one speaks.
“The rope,” he says, “give me the rope.” ,
He points to a long coil of rope that hangs against the wall. .
In a moment, with the end of the line around his body, Jack has thrown open the door and rushed onto the little iron platform. He pauses there for a second and then the audience see_ him mount upon the iron rail and then dive head-first into the sea below.
There is shouting and clamour from the fishermen. “There he is! He’s swimming to her! Hold fast the line there! He s got her, now then all together on the line.
And with one glorious haul upcomesthe line from the roaring sea with Jack at the end of it, and fast held in his encircling arm the f ainting f orm of his sister.
Couldn’t be done? Nonsense. That wTas nothing to what we used to see in the old time plays. If need be Jack could
have fished up a whole shipload.
There is a erv of “Saved! Saved! and Hiram Haycroft clasping the senseless form of his daughter to his heart, cries: ^
“My little gal! Cast up by the Sea, and down comes the curtain in a roar of applause.
ACT V—Six Months Later Scene. The Kitchen of the Haycroft Farm
THIS last act in the melodrama is all to the good. There is no more tragedy, no strain, no trouble. The play is really over but this part is always put in as a sort of wind up to make everybody happy. The audience are now sitting in a swim of luxurious sentimentality. How fine everything has turned out—Jack has got his mind back, and Hope is saved and her husband too, and the old farm isn t mortgaged or sold and the Haycrofts are not ruined after all. Yes, and more than that; there are all kinds of little items of happiness to be thrown in.
So here we are back in the old farm kitchen and here of course-—are Rube and Phoebe again. And Rube tries to grab Phoebe round the waist, but she says, “Oh, you Rube, you go along,” and lands a dish towel in his face. But this time Rube won't go along. He manages to catch Phoebe and tell her that be wants her to be his wife and to throw dish cloths at him all his life and Phoebe calls him a “big thing,” and gives him a kiss like a smack (worse than a dishcloth or a pancake). So there they are all set for marriage, as they might have been in the first act if Rube had had the nerve.
Well, they are no sooner straightened out than in come the farmer and his son, Jack, and Ned, Hope’s husband. The farmer seems very old and infirm, though suffused with the same air of peace and happiness as all the others. Thetwo young men help him into an arm rocking-chair. “Easy now.” Then Hiram sits down with that expression of difficulty, “ay-ee-ee” always used to symbolize stage rheumatism. There is no need for the farmer to become so suddenly old in the last act. But it was a favourite convention of 1880 to make all the old people very infirm and very happy at the end of the play.
So they begin to talk, just to pile on the happiness.
“I’m getting old, lads, I’m not the man
“Old, father,” laughs Jack, “why you’re the youngest and spryest of all of us—”
“I’m getting past work, boys,”((says the farmer, shaking his head, “past work—”
“Work,” says Jack, “why should you work?” and as the talk goes on you get to understand that Jack will never go to sea again but will stay and work the farm and they’ve just received the “papers” that appoint him keeper of the light in his father’s place, with a pension for the old man. And_ Ned, Hope’s husband, is going to stay right there too. His father has bought him the farm just adjoining with house and stock and everything and he and Hope are all ready to move into it just as soon as-
But wait a minute.
His father! Lawyer Ellwood! And the terrible enmity and feud!
Oh, pshaw, just watch that feud vanish! In the fifth act of an old time melodrama a feud could be blown to the four winds like thistledown.
There’s a knocking at the door and Ned goes to it and comes back all smiling and he says:
“There’s someone at the door to see you Mr. Haycroft. An old friend he says, shall he come in?”
“An old friend?” And in slips Ellwood -—the farmer’s enemy, Hope’s father-inlaw—looking pretty hale and hearty, but with the same touch of the old age of the fourth act visible.
He comes over and says:
“Well, Hiram, have you a shake of the hand for an old friend?”
And the farmer, rising, unsteadily:
“Why, Ephraim, it’s not your hand I should be taking; it’s your forgiveness, I ought to ask for my mad folly these two years past.”
“Forgiveness,” says the lawyer; how honest and cheery he looks now, not a bit like the scoundrel he seemed in the second act—“forgiveness!”_
And off he goes with his explanation.
What’s the whole purpose of the fourth act,—explanation!
AND what do you think! He’d been Hiram’s friend all along, and was not in earnest about wanting the money back from Hiram, didn’t want it at all! And he knew all about Hope’s love affair and Jack’s safe return with his son and was tickled to death over it—and that night two years ago when the farmer drove him out he had come over to tell the Haycrofts that the debt was cancelled, and he was going to buy a farm and start the young people, Ned and Hope, in life— and it was the cancelled mortgage that Jack was trying to sneak over and put in the drawer when his father shot him down!—and—why dear me, how simple it all is in the fifth act. Why didn’t he explain? Why didn’t he shout out, “Hiram I’m not a villain at all, I’m your old friend—” Oh pshaw, who ever did explain things in the second act of a melodrama? And where would the drama be if they did?
So they are still explaining and counterexplaining and getting happier and happier when the last climax is staged.
The audience hear Martha’s voice as she comes onto the stage, talking back into the wings, “Carry him carefully there, Phoebe, for the land’s sake, if you drop that precious child—”
Andin they come.
Martha and Hope! Looking as sweet and fresh as when she started out years ago in the first act. And bringing up the rear Phoebe—carrying theBahy.
Yes, believe it or not, a baby!—or the very semblance of one all bundled up in white.
No melodrama was ever brought to its righteous end without a baby.
How the women all cuddle round it and croon over it! They put it on the farmer’s lap—and say, isn t he just clum=y when he tries to take it and when Rube offers to help, and Phoebe slaps his face with a dish rag, the audience just go into paroxysms of laughter.
So there you are—and everybodysaved. All happy, the baby installed on the farmer’s knees and explanations flowing like autumn cider. All that is needed now is the farmer to ;get off the Final Religious Sentiment which is the end and benediction of the good old melodrama. So he utters it with all due solemnity: “Ay, lads, pin your hope in Providence and in the end you land safe in front.”
It sounds as convincing as a proposition
in Euclid. Then the curtain slowly comes down and the matinee audience melts away, out into the murky November evening, with the flickering gas lamps in the street, and the clanging bells of the old horse-cars in their ears, but with their souls uplifted and illuminated with the moral glow of the melodrama.