By Lewis Turco
In Greek mythology “Theia was the Titan goddess of sight (thea) and shining light of the clear blue sky (aithre). She was also, by extension, the goddess who endowed gold, silver and gems with their brilliance and intrinsic value. Theia married Hyperion, the Titan-god of light, and bore him three bright children — Helios the Sun, Eos the Dawn, and Selene the Moon.”
"The Dark Man" won First Place in the Undergraduate Play Competition when it premiered under the title "An Onyx Dream," directed by Walter Soderlund, at the Harriet Jorgensen Little Theatre of the University of Connecticut, Storrs, on Friday, 22 May 1959. It was subsequently performed at the Coventry (CT) Playhouse on Monday, 25 May 1959. In the fall of the same year it also won an Honorable Mention in the Waldo Bellow Memorial Award Playwriting Competition of the YM/YWHA of Philadelphia Arts Council. Periodical publication was in Castalia, Cleveland: Western Reserve University, Vol. I, No. 1, 1961. It was reprinted as “The Dark Man” in The New York State Community Theatre Journal, X:1, Fall 1971.
Persons of the Play:
Adolph, the father. A man in his late fifties. He is dark and squatly built, with long arms and a powerful torso. He is a tombstone cutter by trade.
Ruth, his wife. A former widow of about the same age as Adolph. She is the mother, by her former husband, of Thea.
Thea, (pronounced Tee-uh), a young, mindless girl of about seventeen years. She is dark and lovely. Her madness is not immediately apparent.
Midwife, an old crone.
SCENE: An old farmhouse. All the action takes place in two rooms of the building, the kitchen and the bedroom. The set is simply constructed: a wooden frame represents both stories of the house. The kitchen is below, the bedroom above. In the kitchen there is an old iron stove downstage left against the wall. In the center of the room stands a crude table with four chairs grouped around it. The upstage wall is blank except for a row of pots, pans, and kettles hanging upon it together with some wooden utensils. All the walls are of rough painted wood. A stairway to the left leads upstairs to the bedroom. A door to the right leads outdoors. A door to the left, under the stairs, leads to the interior of the house.
The bedroom contains only a large bed and a chair. The upstage wall is nonexistent ¾ it is actually transparent and affords a view of the countryside during the day; by night it is a dark wall. The various times of day are indicated by various degrees of light streaming through the wall. The head of the stairs is to the left. The bed has a bright red spread and black sheets. In no scene is it made; it is always rumpled and messed. The teaser may be raised or lowered to hide or disclose the bedroom.
ACT I. SCENE 1.
The kitchen of the farmhouse. Only the kitchen is visible, for the teaser is lowered and hides the bedroom upstairs. Ruth is discovered standing at the stove as the curtains rise. She is clutching it, seemingly in anguish. The sound of boots is heard upon the stairs. Simultaneously a rooster is heard crowing outdoors. It is spring. Adolph appears at the foot of the stairs.
Adolph. Is my breakfast done? I don’t smell the coffee, only mourning pouring through the windows and sweaty pillows. (Ruth goes to the door, steps out, returns with an egg. Adolph goes to the table and sits down.)
Ruth. The old cock crows and the old hen flops around the roost while Thea lies abed, listens through dreamy ears to the sounds Mother Hen makes in the kitchen. Where’s the better half of your harem? Call upstairs. Tell her to rise and clear away those sweaty pillows.
Adolph. She won’t lie abed for long. (Adolph turns toward the stairs.) Thea! Shake out the cobwebs! Come down and help your mother! Come get your breakfast.
Ruth. That mindless child is no more help than an old broom with seven bristles.
Thea. Here I come. I’m coming. Who’s calling? (As Thea enters the teaser is raised, revealing the bedroom upstairs. To Adolph she says,) Who are you? Where is the man...my father, I think...the nursery. Shadows. Bedded by dreams and flattened by the moon. The moon was in my room last night.
Ruth. Each dawn, the same question, every morning the same answer: Your father is dead. You have a new one now, a husband and father combined. And you have a mother who dies every night and rises from her grave at daybreak.
Thea. Yes, yes. I have a new one now. But I’m afraid of ghosts. A ghost lies down beside me every night. (She screams.) Father! He never comes. I was a moonstone of a child.
Adolph. What, Thea! Afraid of me? But shy, dear child? I mean no harm. Can specters wield a maul and chisel to carve stone? Well, I can, and I do, every day. The sun lies on my back and casts a shadow as I labor. Ever since that first fall day when I saw you and your mother walking down the road, and I watched you run ahead of her to gather leaves to fasten in your hair, I have shown nothing but love and sympathy for both of you.
Ruth. Sympathy! Love! Two words as dry as those leaves that cackled on the wind.
Ruth. I have a husbandman who makes a ghoul’s living announcing the dead to passersby; who makes life at night in the crypt of my own daughter’s womb while I lie sleepless in my shallow grave praying for morning.
Thea. Phantoms come to pull the sheets over my head like shrouds. Specters live in my belly, kicking. They poor through dark eyes; they listen with muffled ears. Listen! They are beating now ¾ oh, oh, oh....
Ruth. There are ghosts of children in your lonely castle, Adolph. I can hear them bruiting like winds in the walls, tearing with gory fingers the wisps of hair that the fetus gave them. But castle walls are merely stone, and stone can fail, can crumble just as dreams can crumble under a false stroke.
Thea. Listen. Inside me. Who’s that chipping?
Adolph. Enough of this! (He hits the table with his fist.) You had the truth from my own lips before we wed. You knew the wherefores of my reasons for this marriage. You got all that ever you bargained for: a fair home, a good provider, a garden to till.
Ruth. Now there’s a mint speech from a bed of leeks.
Adolph. I’m hungry, Ruth. Bring me my food.
Ruth. Here’s your meal. Eat well, if you can. Thea, fetch me the broom. I’ll sweep the dirt that can be seen out the door. (Thea exits to the left.) Adolph, don’t you know what I could make of just once scrap of love? Are you a man, or only a beast of pleasure?
Adolph. I’m a man, a man with dreams, like many men. You do not enter into my dreams, Ruth. Your daughter does. Wring out your mops and mend your socks, and dream of palaces and fops and dainty clothes. Let me dream of monuments on grander scales.
Ruth. The scales on which you dream are the scales of fish. The smell of salt flats at low tide seeps from your dreams. (Thea enters.)
Thea. Here’s your broom, your witch’s broom, your soaring stick ¾ the stick you rode at midnight. I was cold and lonely in my little room...you were cozy and warm in my father’s bed. The sun is whispering to me. Do you hear him?
Ruth. The sun! To hear you talk one might think that you’ve been making love to him. There is no light in our lives, girl, or if there is, it’s moonlight ¾ you’re the victim of vapors, child. It’s moonstruck you are. Midnight dews have made your mind a fell place. Ravens of the swamp flit like dark ideas through your brain.
Thea. Yes, blackbirds, blackbirds. My father was a bird I loved. You built him a cage of sheets. Weave me my wings, mother, you’ve stolen them; I cannot fly. He’s gone now. He sang too short a song ¾ it drowned in your ears. I wanted to lie with you and listen, but one night I heard you shriek ¾ oh, the sound swallowed up his song. I cannot hear it now.
Ruth He died of a heart attack, Thea. A heart stroke! How many times do I....
Thea. Attack my heart! Hear it? The stroke of the bell’s tongue ringing midnights of love. Despair is a raven who lives in the clock tower; his bill gapes and eats numbers. The face of the clock is blank now; its hands point at nothing. Father! Father! Stop flying, please, please ¾ (she begins to sob, then she says,) Please love me.
Adolph. Come, girl. I love you. Here, let me ¾
Ruth. Not that kind of love, man. She means love! Thea, please. Listen to me. I loved him too ¾
Thea. All night.
Ruth. Yes, all night, and all the daytime too. Love is one thing to a woman, another to a child. You confuse them, Thea. The shock of his death was too great, perhaps. Or perhaps...perhaps you are right. I loved him too much, it may be. I was never a rose of a woman, and I was old when I bloomed at last at the altar. But I knew this: he was mine and would be mine as long as woman’s will was a stalk bearing nettles. Your coming was a great surprise, to both your father and myself. But we loved you. It may even be we loved you more than we dared show you, or ourselves. But I know now love’s value, and if I could give my heart to another now, ah! What leaves would grow on this haggard vine. A woman’s love is no child’s love, Thea, nor love for a child, though I love you like life.
Thea. Who may love life?
Adolph. A man may lust for life enough to make it last forever.
Ruth. I shall sweep the lust from this house or, if not the lust, at least the soil. And I will start upstairs, where joys are wild, where fear toys with a child’s breast. (Ruth exits upstairs, begins to sweep the bedroom.)
Adolph. Thea, my fragile, my sweet, my orchid of night.... (Thea cringes away from him. The teaser lowers, obscuring the bedroom.) Don’t be afraid, Thea. When I was young I dreamt of the statue I would someday sculpt. That statue looked like you. In my youth I dreamt that I would be a master sculptor. I dreamed that I would carve a family of gods from the living rock ¾ a cloudy race, a clan born of onyx with seven children, each child a work to live forever: shining hair, jet black; dark eyes full of sorcery; olive skin in which would shine the glories of a midsummer dusk, to last for all time. Ant through them I would live forever as well ¾ I! Their maker! An immortal artist! Each wondrous boy and girl would have the stamp of my undying soul!
I dreamt this, Thea, but I could not make my hands ¾ my oakbranch, clumsy hands ¾ do my bidding. Thus, I sat day after day in my hut beside the churchyard, making tombs. My dram lay dying, Thea, until, one morning, my eyes fell on your face as you walked down the road beside your widowed mother. I had seen her often, but never you, though I’d heard she had a half-mad girl whom she kept hidden from the needle eyes of the good wives of the neighborhood ¾ ah! the edge of woman’s pity for other women!
For they’d all daughters who’d been portioned off, or threatened off, abandoned in shame, or been married for love ¾ I suppose that’s possible, too. But you were mindless and could not marry, according to law. You were my statue, though, Thea. Statues don’t need minds. In my dreams I had not thought to give my figures heart or mind, only beauty. My dear, through you I shall bequeath the world a race of images: Thea, the dusky goddess; Adolph, the dark man; the children young, dim godlings. This I should never have done without you.
Thea (sings). Who marries me must wed my mother.
He is my father, and yet another.
He is the husband, I am the leman
who lies among the winding sheets abed.
Who is it pads like a loathly demon
through the night? The beast I dread
comes like a foul wind breathing shame.
Soon the candle shall have no flame ¾
all shall be darkness. The babe a-dandle
shall be dark as a wick that’s burnt its candle.
Adolph. You hopeless child. I must go. I have no time to listen to your songs and foolish fancies now. (Ruth enters. The teaser is raised, again revealing the bedroom Adolph dons his cap.) Goodbye, Ruth. I have a stone to finish. Make certain that Thea brings me my lunch on time for once. Of late she’s been dawdling along the way. (Adolph leaves through the front door.)
Thea. Your man is gone. What would you have me do?
Ruth. Thea, I wish to ask you something. What are these things you feel inside your belly? Do they hurt worse by morning than my night? Do you desire radishes dipped in jam or pickles wrapped in toffee?
Thea. No, mother. All I want is to lose the goblins that haunt me by donning of a springtime cloud by way of making me a shroud.
Ruth. Thea, come help about the household. The fowl are clucking for their grain. The cows want milking.
ACT I. SCENE 2
The curtain rises upon the same scene; it is the same day. The wall of the bedroom is dark, for it is dusk. Thea is standing at the kitchen window looking out.
Thea. Mother! Mother! Bar the door and hang some garlic sprigs above it. The old wereman is coming home!
Ruth. Neither a silver knife, nor a wedge of wood will drive the fiend that owns his soul from his flesh. If I could but sense...but no. As always his eyes will peer from beneath that brow to find what eggs have hatched while he was gone. (Adolph enters.) Ah, but have no fears. The unborn child still tramps the treadmill of the womb and does not dare to thrust its head out to brave the ogre’s chisel.
Adolph. Woman, can you not for once cede me this day and let it lie? Shadows grow along the land. Till now, the wind was low, and I sat thinking. But here, as the wind rises, as the clouds rear like stallions, I would like merely to rest and listen to nothing.
Thea. Oh, all day long I was glad, singing and laughing and lying upon the meadow...the sun is a golden man; he kisses my skin and makes me shiver.
Ruth. This is no house. It’s a barn full of bones.
Adolph. Today I chipped a gravestone for the parish priest who died last week. I carved a crucifix with timbers that had split. On each splintered arm an angel was weeping, hiding its face in its hands. At the intersection of the beams I tried to carve the Holy Grail. But somehow I could not envision how it might appear. Instead, I carved an egg of stone, symbolizing life, and life from life...
Ruth. ...and dust to dust. Amen.
Thea. Yes, yes, amen at last, amen to life, amen to death. If there is an end to anything. Why must I be haunted by darkness wound in sheets?
Adolph. Who haunts you, my child? My pretty puppet?
Thea. All. They all haunt me. All but my golden-chested daydream. All the old men I dream about who sleep with me but will not let me sleep. The shadows know, but they only cringe when I cry out.
Adolph. Thea, my dark-haired image; my dark-haired, dark-eyed icon, the shadows dwell within your mind. No one would haunt you. You only imagine these bad dreams. Be calm because I lie beside you wrapped in the halo of your midnight hair to comfort you in times of fear.
Ruth. Tell me, Thea, what do those shadows look like?
Thea. They look like many things, but the one I hate the most has an old, ugly face; his hair is black, his eyes are black; his nose droops like a crag of wax. His back is stooped. His hands are like the limbs of a gnarly tree, all twisted out of shape. His legs are knotty ropes.
Ruth. Ha, ha! Adolph, that’s you. You’ve met your match in a witless girl. Ah, that face I hate but might have loved ¾ look at it! Where’s your blood going? You’re white as these twining sheets, all right.
Adolph. you slut!
Ruth. Slut! Here, gnaw on your supper. You’ll soon need it to prop you up in the saddle.
Adolph. Enough! Thea, get out of here. Go up and turn down our bed. Light a lamp to chase away the shadows.
Thea. Fire can’t chase shadows. It makes them dance. (Thea goes slowly up the stairs. There is a silence. She appears in the bedroom, approaches the bed. She halts, seems to be repelled by the bed. By this time it is dark outdoors, stars can be seen through the wall. At last Thea bends to straighten the bed. She begins to whimper softly.)
Adolph. The girl will never find her mind. She’s hopeless, I’m afraid.
Ruth. Perhaps more hopeless than you think. The child is gone three months or more.
Adolph. You think that too! I’d noticed she’d put on a little weight. It’s very odd, but in my dreams, somehow, I never thought of my statue bearing a child. Nevertheless, my fondest wishes soon will be solid as the stones I chip ¾ a babe in the house! He will be dark as his mother and have the black strength of his father.
Ruth (Aside). And the curse shall be visited upon your children’s children from age to age unto the end of earthly things. Amen.
Adolph. What’s that? Speak up. You’re mumbling like a late fall breeze.
Ruth. I was saying a prayer for my child.
Adolph. She has no need of your prayers. Goodnight. I’m going to bed.
Ruth. It’s precious little rest you’ll find upstairs.
Adolph. Goodnight. (Adolph exits up the stairs, his boots sounding heavily. Thea has finished straightening the bed. She hears Adolph’s footsteps and, sitting on the foot of the bed, begins to cry. Adolph enters, stands in the doorway looking at Thea. He approaches her. Downstairs, Ruth clutches the stove in an exact duplication of the scene at the beginning of the play. Curtain.)
ACT II. SCENE 1.
The kitchen of the farmhouse. The bedroom is obscured. It is several months later. Ruth is standing in the alcove behind the stairs; she is partially hidden. She is talking to herself. It is evening.
Ruth. Her time has come. The fire is fed with soggy peat. The baby now must crawl through smoke out of the cauldron into flame. (Adolph enters through the outside door, glances around and does not at first see Ruth.)
Adolph. Ruth! Are you here? Another day is done. I’m home.
Ruth. Yes, I’m here, and where there were but three soon will be four.
Ruth. The statue’s in the chipping; the child is on its way.
Adolph. I felt it would be today. I had a dream last night, a strange dream. I dreamt I was in a forest, searching for something, I don’t know what. It had a woman’s face, and I was hunting, hunting. Sometimes I thought that I had found her....
Ruth. You and your stupid dreams. (A scream is heard from upstairs.) Hush your foolish talk, old man, and get the kettle from the stove. The babe’s kicking to be free.
Adolph. Anguish! Despair and anguish from beginning to end! (Another scream.)
Ruth. Hurry, Adolph! Bring the kettle and the clean rags.
Adolph. I’m coming, but shouldn’t I go after the old midwife who lives down by the bogs?
Ruth. Yes, yes. Give me the things I need and hurry off. Quickly, quickly! (Adolph hands her his load and exits out the door. Ruth exits hurriedly up the stairs. Curtain.)
ACT II. SCENE 2.
The bedroom. Thea is lying on the bed. The midwife is busy. Ruth is assisting. Adolph stands helplessly nearby.
Midwife. The child is on the way, and I need herbs. Give me my little bag. (Adolph hands it to her.) Now I must have a tiny pot to mix my potions in. Also a little brandy, if you please. (She looks at Ruth. Ruth exits downstairs.)
Adolph. What need have you of herbs and spirits?
Midwife. The child will not be born for half an hour at least, so I have time to make a brew of fortune so I may tell what kind of thing it is I’m helping in and how it will be helped along until it is helped out at last and gone to rest once again.
Adolph. A brew of fortune? (Ruth enters as Adolph is speaking.) No need of that. The child will wear Fate’s golden ring, the ring that bears an onyx stone.
Midwife. So say all sires. But my lore tells me that, like as not, you’re wrong. And even if you are correct, a little proof will do no harm. (Ruth hands her the pot.)
Ruth. Here is your pot. Here’s the flask. Brew up a lying potion, for, if you do not, Adolph will probably find him a pot big enough to hold your stewing bones.
Midwife. My potions do not lie, and no man ever may touch the wife of shadows. Ah, a pinch of this, a jot of that;
a bit of weed,
a mustard seed;
a lizard’s eye,
a hairy fly;
a horse’s hair found in the lair
of the weasel, and a feather
of the owl, plucked adrift
in foul weather.
Adolph. Faugh! Mumbo-jumbo of the sort I had thought dead for many years!
Midwife. Truth never dies, old man. Now for the brandy. Let me sip a bit to find if it has the proper age. (She samples the brandy.) It’s just right. The flavor is excellent. Just one more nip....
Adolph. Save some for me, witch. I need it badly. (He attempts to take the bottle.)
Midwife. Nay! Nay, old man! The brandy that’s touch my lips none other may drink, lest under my spell the child be born a monster and my runes go all awry.
Adolph. What superstitious fool is it you take me for? I’ll have my dram and done with it! (Adolph grabs the bottle.)
Midwife. Stop! The spell.... (They freeze, stricken, as Adolph lifts the bottle and swallows.)
Adolph. Agh! Pew! (He spits out the brandy.) Disgusting stuff! How can you drink this vinegar? Swamp water in a bottle! It smells of bogs and slimy things, shallows filled with crawlers and burrowers in mud.
Midwife. That brandy was the sweetest pap ever to touch these shriveled lips.
Ruth. Good! Good, old man. Hahahaha! Now you’ve.... (Ruth is interrupted by a scream from Thea. All are startled. They turn toward her.)
Midwife. The child is coming! No time now. I must get on with it, whether vinegar or no. The bottle! (Adolph dumbly hands her the brandy. She pours a few drops into the pot.) That silver spoon ¾ hurry, give it to me! Now to stir...(She squats cross-legged on the floor, stirring the pot)...stir again. Pot, what is your vision? (Suddenly the pot turns golden. All three, watching tensely, give a sudden start. There is no mistake. The liquid is golden. They cry out.)
Ruth. Never have I seen a golden pot! Although I’ve seen a number of these prophecies, and all of them come true.
Adolph. What does it mean? Is it a good omen?
Midwife. Perhaps. I cannot tell. A blue pot means the child will suffer; a black pot means the babe will die; a red pot sees a merry future; yellow indicates love nigh. But what golden pot means, I cannot tell. This is a novelty.
Ruth. A miracle! (Thea screams again.)
Adolph. The baby! Help her! The child is coming. Never mind your stinking brew! (Furiously he kicks I t over.) Do your work and bring me forth my son! (The two women ;hurry to the bed and busy themselves. The midwife turns to look over her shoulder at Adolph.)
Midwife. Get out. This is no place for a man. Get out, go downstairs. We will call you when it’s done.
Adolph. But I....
Ruth. Get out, get out, GET OUT, GET OUT! (Adolph, confused, turns and stumbles from the room, down the stairs. Curtain.)
ACT II. SCENE 3.
The kitchen. Adolph stands in the doorway trying to concentrate on the scene of night. At intervals a moan emanates from the bedroom, which is obscured, and each time he flinches.
Adolph. These screams! My hair stands on end and I feel a wild black dog within me snarling to be free. I feel his teeth gnawing on my bones; I sense his tendons stretching, tensing for a spring, beneath my skin. But what is it he’s striving for? Why is the earth so still tonight? Where are the sounds the cricket makes when he saws his bow and serenades the sweet moon? I cannot stand that silver eye up there. It reminds me of the spoon that smelly witch used to stir her brew. (He muses for a moment or two.) Her golden brew. What can it mean, if anything? A golden brew. And what was it my Thea said about golden daydreams, trysts with the sunlight in the fields? Can it be possible...no, no, the girl has dreams and dreams, just as I have mine. My onyx dream. A matte of color, that’s all...(A scream is cut off in mid-utterance, and an absolute silence pervades the house. Adolph stands transfixed for a moment, and then he whirls to see Ruth enter silently with a strange smile on her lips. They stand and look at each other for a moment.)
Ruth. The child is born.
Adolph. The child! Thea...?
Ruth. Thea is well. The child is born. (She begins to chuckle softly, throatily.) It wears a ring, Adolph, just as you foresaw, a golden ring of fate.
Adolph. The golden ring. With the onyx stone!
Ruth. Yes, the golden ring! Without the onyx stone! A true ring, the perfect band of gold. (Ruth’s words do not sink in at first. Adolph stands smiling, but the smile slowly fades, becomes an expression of louring anger and fear.)
Adolph. Without the stone! What do you mean, Ruth, without the stone? What do you mean? Tell me, just...what...it is...you mean. (He approaches her menacingly, his heavy arms knotted and fists clenched. His eyes squint, his mouth is grim He breathes heavily.)
Ruth. the baby girl is beautiful, the daughter of daytime, with sunlight in her eyes and in her hair, and dawn upon her fair skin.
Adolph. No! (They stand a few seconds longer, facing each other, Ruth smiling and slowly nodding her head. An expression of baffled rage pervades Adolph’s face. Suddenly, with a cry, Adolph swings his arm up, hitting Ruth on the side of her face.) You lie! (Ruth stumbles, off balance, across the room and falls into a chair by the table. Adolph spins and runs up the stairs shouting.) YOU LIE! YOU LIE! (His boots pound up the stairs. Ruth remains at the table, laughing softly. Curtain.)
ACT II. SCENE 4.
The bedroom. The black sheets of the bed have been changed to golden ones. Adolph is standing by the bed, looking down at Thea and the baby. The midwife is huddled on a chair by the rear wall, which is beginning to show signs of dawn. It will continue to grow brighter as the scene progresses, at last revealing a beautiful autumn morning, the first real fall morning of the year. Thea is sleeping quietly. The baby is nearly obscured by a blanket which is wrapped around it. Only the face is visible. Adolph speaks, singsonging.
Adolph. Its skin is fair, its skin is fair.
What is the color of its hair!
I must find out! (whispers) I do not dare.
What if both skin and hair are fair?
Midwife (nodding rhythmically, speaking slowly). The golden pot spoke in terms of daylight, and I was wrong to think that this would be a rotten birth. Hee, hee! The child is light and lusty, straight of limb and warm of eye. She will be strong, lithe as a willow tree planted near a mountain stream. She shall have lovers both of rains in springtime and bear sons who will call tall poplars brothers. This girl-child is none of your making, mason.
Adolph. It must be mine, oh yes, it must;
ashes to ashes, dust to dust ¾
Midwife. I smell a cornered rat. And cornered rats go mad. Go, old man. Go before it is too late to go and you become a breeze of the March wind.
Adolph. I must find out.... (He reaches down to turn the blanket aside. Suddenly, quick as a cat, Thea opens her eyes and turns protectively over her child, warding off the old man’s hand.)
Thea. Get away! You’re a stranger here.
Adolph. She speaks! Old woman, what does this mean? She speaks coherently as though, as though....
Midwife. As though she had a mind? (She cackles.) She has a mind, although it was a swampy fen covered with scum and trailing mosses. The birth released fresh spring water, washed them away in eddies.
Adolph. You mean the girl is sane?
Thea. As sane as ever a mother was! How the clouds were blown away, I do not know. But this I do know; the moment I laid eyes upon this baby I knew that it was never a phantom’s child. And I knew that those dreams I’d had on the green grass at noon were real. Soon I will go bring some sunlight to my true love’s home, that he may dandle love upon his knee while I conjure up his meals.
Adolph. This child, this child,
as I am told,
is never onyx,
Thea. She is gold. Golden as the sun standing on noon’s steeple.
Adolph. Please. Let me see.
Thea. See then! (Thea sweeps the blanket off the child and holds her triumphantly in the air, her eyes blazing. It is very fair. The old man flings up an arm as if to shield his eyes from light. He cries out, staggers backwards. His foot slips in the spilled golden brew which has not yet dried. He loses his balance and falls heavily to the floor in the corner, cracking his head on the wall as he goes down. He lies there, unconscious. Ruth appears in the doorway.)
Ruth. Thea! What happened?
Thea. The old man fell.
Midwife. Heh, yes, heh, heh, he fell and hit his head. See, he slipped upon my brew, and the gold has splashed him. (Ruth goes to Adolph, kneels down beside him, takes his head in her lap.)
Ruth. Come help me, midwife. Fetch me some water and some wine. (the crone rises, goes downstairs. Ruth croons softly to Adolph.)
Thea. Look, little daughter! the woman loves him. And through all my fancies I believed she hated him with all her heart! (the midwife returns with the water and the wine.)
Midwife. Here, wife, are remedies and salts for your old man.
Ruth (applying a moistened cloth to Adolph’s temple.) Wake up, wake up, husband. (Adolph makes inarticulate noises.) Ah, he’s stirring.
Ruth. Yes, Adolph, yes. What d you wish?
Adolph. Ruth, sing me a cradle song.
Ruth. Gladly. (She begins to hum a tune.)
Adolph. Not that one, not that. This instead...(He begins to hum a tune randomly, but at last words are audible, and he sings, quietly, hesitantly.) Along the road where berries burst
we go to seek the least and worst,
the worst and least of any fruit ¾
the blackened see, the withered root,
the sallow stalk and marrow cursed
along the road where berries burst.
Along the road where berries burst
we go at last where none go first.
The black nun carrying the white
and grinning lamp that sheds no light
leads downward, keeps her sere lips pursed
along the road where berries burst. (His voice wavers off; his head drops onto Ruth’s breast and he murmurs snatches of songs to himself. Ruth looks at the midwife.)
Ruth. His mind is gone.
Midwife. Indeed it is, but I have heard his song before this. It has still other verses. (She sings.) Along the road where berries grow
the redbird sings. Likewise, the crow.
The vineyards bloom, the pressers toil;
beneath the arbors vipers coil.
Nevertheless, folk come and go
along the road where berries grow.
Along the road where berries grow
only the fool can claim to know
the vintage will be poor this year.
It’s said that vipers strike at fear,
the scent of death. The farmers hoe
along the road where berries grow. (Silence.)
Ruth. His mind is gone, and I have him to love at last.
Thea. And I can love also. I may have my dreams and hope that they’ll come true. Tomorrow or the next day I shall go to seek my man so that he can hold an d love this sliver of a summer day. (Ruth holds Adolph in her arms and croons almost inaudibly to him; Thea does the same thing with her baby. The old midwife gets up and walks to center stage, between the two couples. She stands looking at them, her back to the audience, then she turns slowly and walks downstage. She stops, looks at the audience, speaks as though to herself, but addressing the audience.)
Midwife. One dream gone, one dream born, and still another dream revived. But dreams are dreams, and life is life; one is frosting, the other, cake. Hmm. Hmm. (She chuckles a moment.) Dream, live and dream, but dream with love, for love’s a leavening. (She stands a moment shaking her head slowly from side to side, smiling. Behind her, the out-of-doors turns more and more radiant, until a burst of sunlight spills across the stage. Somewhere, a rooster crows. Curtain.)