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The dining room of Melody's Tavern, in a village a few miles from Boston. The tavern is over a hundred years old. It had once been prosperous, a breakfast stop for the stagecoach, but the stage line had been discontinued and for some years now the tavern has fallen upon neglected days.
The dining room and barroom were once a single spacious room, low-ceilinged, with heavy oak beams and paneled walls-the taproom of the tavern in its prosperous days, now divided into two rooms by a flimsy partition, the barroom being off left. The partition is painted to imitate the old paneled walls but this only makes it more of an eyesore.
At left front, two steps lead up to a closed door opening on a flight of stairs to the floor above. Farther back is the door to the bar. Between these doors hangs a large mirror. Beyond the bar door a small cabinet is fastened to the wall. At rear are four windows. Between the middle two is the street door. At right front is another door, open, giving on a hallway and the main stairway to the second floor, and leading to the kitchen. Farther front at right, there is a high schoolmaster's deskwith a stool.
In the foreground are two tables. One, with four chairs, at left center; a larger one, seating six, at right center. At left and right, rear, are two more tables, identical with the ones at right center. All these tables are set with white tablecloths, etc., except the small ones in the foreground at left.
It is around nine in the morning of July 27, 1828. Sunlight shines in through the windows at rear.
MICKEY MALOY sits at the table at left front, facing right. He is glancing through a newspaper. Maloy is twenty-six, with a sturdy physique and an amiable, cunning face, his mouth usually set in a half-leering grin.
JAMIE CREGAN peers around the half-open door to the bar. Seeing Maloy, he comes in. As obviously Irish as Maloy, he is middle-aged, tall, with a lantern-jawed face. There is a scar of a saber cut over one cheekbone. He is dressed neatly but in old,worn clothes. His eyes are bloodshot, his manner sickly, but he grins as he greets Maloy sardonically.
CREGAN God bless all here-even the barkeep.
MALOY With an answering grin. Top o' the mornin'.
CREGAN Top o' me head. He puts his hand to his head and groans. Be the saints, there's a blacksmith at work on it!
MALOY Small wonder. You'd the divil's own load when you left at two this mornin'.
CREGAN I must have. I don't remember leaving. He sits at right of table. Faix, you're takin' it aisy.
MALOY There's no trade this time o' day.
CREGAN It was a great temptation, when I saw no one in the bar, to make off with a bottle. A hair av the dog is what I need, but I've divil a penny in my pantaloons.
MALOY Have one on the house. He goes to the cupboard and takes out a decanter of whiskey and a glass.
CREGAN Thank you kindly. Sure, the good Samaritan was a crool haythen beside you.
MALOY Putting the decanter and glass before him. It's the same you was drinking last night-his private dew. He keeps it here for emergencies when he don't want to go in the bar.
CREGAN Pours out a big drink. Lave it to Con never to be caught dry. Raising his glass. Your health and inclinations-if they're virtuous! He drinks and sighs with relief. God bless you, Whiskey, it's you can rouse the dead! Con hasn't been down yet for his morning's morning?
MALOY No. He won't be till later.
CREGAN It's like a miracle, me meeting him again. I came to these parts looking for work. It's only by accident I heard talk of a Con Melody and come here to see was it him. Until last night, I'd not seen hide nor hair of him since the war with the French in Spain-after the battle of Salamanca in '12. I was a corporal in the Seventh Dragoons and he was major. Proudly. I got this cut from a saberat Talavera, bad luck to it! - serving under him. He was a captain then.
MALOY So you told me last night.
CREGAN With a quick glance at him. Did I now? I must have said more than my prayers, with the lashings of whiskey in me.
MALOY With a grin. More than your prayers is the truth. Cregan glances at him uneasily. Maloy pushes the decanter toward him. Take another taste.
CREGAN I don't like sponging. Sure, my credit ought to be good in this she-been! Ain't I his cousin?
MALOY You're forgettin' what himself told you last night as he went up to bed. You could have all the whiskey you could pour down you, but not a penny's worth of credit. This house, he axed you to remember, only gives credit to gentlemen.
CREGAN Divil mend him!
MALOY With a chuckle. You kept thinking about his insults after he'd gone out, getting madder and madder.
CREGAN God pity him, that's like him. He hasn't changed much. He pours out a drink and gulps it down-with a cautious look at Maloy. If I was mad at Con, and me blind drunk, I must have told you a power of lies.
MALOY Winks slyly. Maybe they wasn't lies.
CREGAN If I said any wrong of Con Melody-
MALOY Arrah, are you afraid I'll gab what you said to him? I won't, you can take my oath.
CREGAN His face clearing. Tell me what I said and I'll tell you if it was lies.
MALOY You said his father wasn't of the quality of Galway like he makes out, but a thievin' shebeen keeper who got rich by moneylendin' and squeezin' tenants and every manner of trick. And when he'd enough he married, and bought an estate with a pack of hounds and set up as one of the gentry. He'd hardly got settled when his wife died givin' birth to Con.
CREGAN There's no lie there.
MALOY You said none of the gentry would speak to auld Melody, but he had a tough hide and didn't heed them. He made up his mind he'd bring Con up a true gentleman, so he packed him off to Dublin to school, and after that to the College with sloos of money to prove him- self the equal of any gentleman's son. But Con found, while there was plenty to drink on him and borrow money, there was few didn't sneer behind his back at his pretensions.
CREGAN That's the truth, too. But Con wiped the sneer off their mugs when he called one av thim out and put a bullet in his hip. That was his first duel. It gave his pride the taste for revenge and after that he was always lookin' for an excuse to challenge someone.
MALOY He's done a power av boastin' about his duels, but I thought he was lyin'.
CREGAN There's no lie in it. It was that brought disgrace on him in the end, right after he'd been promoted to major. He got caught by a Spanish noble making love to his wife, just after the battle of Salamanca, and there was a duel and Con killed him. The scandal was hushed up but Con had to resign from the army. If it wasn't for his fine record for bravery in battle, they'd have court-martialed him. Then guiltily. But I'm sayin' more than my prayers again.
MALOY It's no news about his women. You'd think, to hear him when he's drunk, there wasn't one could resist him in Portugal and Spain.
CREGAN If you'd seen him then, you wouldn't wonder. He was as strong as an ox, and on a thoroughbred horse, in his uniform, there wasn't a handsomer man in the army. And he had the chance he wanted in Portugal and Spain where a British officer was welcome in the gentry's houses. At home, the only women he'd known was whores. He adds hastily. Except Nora, I mean. Lowering his voice. Tell me, has he done any rampagin' wid women here?
MALOY He hasn't. The damned Yankee gentry won't let him come near them, and he considers the few Irish around here to be scum beneath his notice. But once in a while there'll be some Yankee stops overnight wid his wife or daughter and then you'd laugh to see Con, if he thinks she's gentry, sidlin' up to her, playin' the great gentleman and makin' compliments, and then boasting afterward he could have them in bed if he'd had a chance at it, for all their modern Yankee airs.
CREGAN And maybe he could. If you'd known him in the auld days, you'd nivir doubt any boast he makes about fightin' and women, and gamblin' or any kind av craziness. There nivir was a madder divil.
MALOY Lowering his voice. Speakin' av Nora, you nivir mentioned her last night, but I know all about it without you telling me. I used to have my room here, and there's nights he's madder drunk than most when he throws it in her face he had to marry her because- Mind you, I'm not saying anything against poor Nora. A sweeter woman never lived. And I know you know all about it.
CREGAN Reluctantly. I do. Wasn't I raised on his estate?
MALOY He tells her it was the priests tricked him into marrying her. He hates priests.
CREGAN He's a liar, then. He may like to blame it on them but it's little Con Melody cared what they said. Nothing ever made him do anything, except himself. He married her because he'd fallen in love with her, but he was ashamed of her in his pride at the same time because her folks were only ignorant peasants on his estate, as poor as poor. Nora was as pretty a girl as you'd find in a year's travel, and he'd come to be bitter lonely, with no woman's company but the whores was helpin' him ruin the estate. He shrugs his shoulders. Well, anyways, he married her and then went off to the war, and left her alone in the castle to have her child, and nivir saw her again till he was sent home from Spain. Then he raised what money he still was able, and took her and Sara here to America where no one would know him.
MALOY Thinking this over for a moment. It's hard for me to believe he ever loved her. I've seen the way he treats her now. Well, thank you for telling me, and I take my oath I'll nivir breathe a word of it-for Nora's sake, not his.
CREGAN Grimly. You'd better kape quiet for fear of him, too. If he's one-half the man he was, he could bate the lights out of the two av us.
MALOY He's strong as a bull still for all the whiskey he's drunk. He pushes the bottle toward Cregan. Have another taste. Cregan pours out a drink. Drink hearty.
CREGAN Long life. He drinks. Maloy puts the decanter and glass back on the cupboard. A girl's voice is heard from the hall at right. Cregan jumps up-hastily. That's Sara, isn't it? I'll get out. She'll likely blame me for Con getting so drunk last night. I'll be back after Con is down. He goes out. Maloy starts to go in the bar, as if he too wanted to avoid Sara. Then he sits down defiantly.
MALOY Be damned if I'll run from her. He takes up the paper as SARA MELODY comes in from the hall at right.
Sara is twenty, an exceedingly pretty girl with a mass of black hair, fair skin with rosy cheeks, and beautiful, deep-blue eyes. There is a curious blending in her of what are commonly considered aristocratic and peas- ant characteristics. She has a fine forehead. Her nose is thin and straight. She has small ears set close to her well-shaped head, and a slender neck. Her mouth, on the other hand, has a touch of coarseness and sensuality and her jaw is too heavy. Her figure is strong and graceful, with full, firm breasts and hips, and a slender waist. But she has large feet and broad, ugly hands with stubby fingers. Her voice is soft and musical, but her speech has at times a self-conscious, stilted quality about it, due to her restraining a tendency to lapse into brogue. Her everyday working dress is of cheap material, but she wears it in a way that gives a pleasing effect of beauty unadorned.
SARA With a glance at Maloy, sarcastically. I'm sorry to interrupt you when you're so busy, but have you your bar book ready for me to look over?
MALOY Surlily. I have. I put it on your desk.
SARA Thank you. She turns her back on him, sits at the desk, takes a small account book from it, and begins checking figures.
MALOY Watches her over his paper. If it's profits you're looking for, you won't find them-not with all the drinks himself's been treating to. She ignores this. He becomes resentful. You've got your airs of a grand lady this morning, I see. There's no talkin' to you since you've been playin' nurse to the young Yankee upstairs. She makes herself ignore this, too. Well, you've had your cap set for him ever since he came to live by the lake, and now's your chance, when he's here sick and too weak to defend himself.
SARA Turns on him-with quiet anger. I warn you to mind your own business, Mickey, or I'll tell my father of your impudence. He'll teach you to keep your place, and God help you.
MALOY Doesn't believe this threat but is frightened by the possibility. Arrah, don't try to scare me. I know you'd never carry tales to him. Placatingly. Can't you take a bit of teasing, Sara?
SARA Turns back to her figuring. Leave Simon out of your teasing.
MALOY Oho, he's Simon to you now, is he? Well, well. He gives her a cunning glance. Maybe, if you'd come down from your high horse, I could tell you some news.
SARA You're worse than an old woman for gossip. I don't want to hear it.
MALOY When you was upstairs at the back taking him his breakfast, there was a grand carriage with a nigger coachman stopped at the corner and a Yankee lady got out and came in here. I was sweeping and Nora was scrubbing the kitchen. Sara has turned to him, all attention now. She asked me what road would take her near the lake-
SARA Starts. Ah.
MALOY So I told her, but she didn't go. She kept looking around, and said she'd like a cup of tea, and where was the waitress. I knew she must be connected someway with Harford or why would she want to go to the lake, where no one's ever lived but him. She didn't want tea at all, but only an excuse to stay.
SARA Resentfully. So she asked for the waitress, did she? I hope you told her I'm the owner's daughter, too.
MALOY I did. I don't like Yankee airs any more than you. I was short with her. I said you was out for a walk, and the tavern wasn't open yet, anyway. So she went out and drove off.
SARA Worriedly now. I hope you didn't insult her with your bad manners. What did she look like, Mickey?
MALOY Pretty, if you like that kind. A pale, delicate wisp of a thing with big eyes.
SARA That fits what he's said of his mother. How old was she?
MALOY It's hard to tell, but she's too young for his mother, I'd swear. Around thirty, I'd say. Maybe it's his sister.
SARA He hasn't a sister.
MALOY Grinning. Then maybe she's an old sweetheart looking for you to scratch your eyes out.
SARA He's never had a sweetheart.
MALOY Mockingly. Is that what he tells you, and you believe him? Faix, you must be in love!
SARA Angrily. Will you mind your own business? I'm not such a fool! Worried again. Maybe you ought to have told her he's here sick to save her the drive in the hot sun and the walk through the woods for nothing.
MALOY Why would I tell her, when she never mentioned him?
SARA Yes, it's her own fault. But- Well, there's no use thinking of it now-or bothering my head about her, anyway, whoever she was. She begins checking figures again. Her mother appears in the doorway at right.
NORA MELODY is forty, but years of overwork and worry have made her look much older. She must have been as pretty as a girl as Sara is now. She still has the beautiful eyes her daughter has inherited. But she has become too worn out to take care of her appearance. Her black hair, streaked with gray, straggles in untidy wisps about her face. Her body is dumpy, with sagging breasts, and her old clothes are like a bag covering it, tied around the middle. Her red hands are knotted by rheumatism. Cracked working shoes, run down at the heel, are on her bare feet. Yet in spite of her slovenly appearance there is a spirit which shines through and makes her lovable, a simple sweetness and charm, something gentle and sad and, somehow, dauntless.
Excerpted from A Touch of the Poet & More Stately Mansions by Eugene O'Neill Copyright © 2004 by Martha Gilman Bower. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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