Northwest Passage

 

a collaboration of Derek Davis, Connie Hatch, Linda White,

the cast and many others

 

Characters             (in order of appearance)                            Cast

 

Pemsit                                                                                                         Ben Hatch

Rosemary Bedford                                                                         Florence Suarez

Lemuel Bedford                                                                                    Derek Davis

Edward Eldred                                                                                     Ferdie Marek

Frederick Ambley                                                                               Mark Roinick

Mary Eldred                                                                                      Letitia Magann

Emma Hatch                                                                             Barbara K. Schaefer

Amy Hatch                                                                                      Anastasia Miller

Maisie Hatch                                                                                         Leona Hatch

Ellsworth Hatch                                                                                     Derek Davis

Nellie Battin                                                                                      Diane Watkins

Hannah Hoagland                                                                              Brenda Miller

Joseph Hoagland                                                                                     Joel Fisher

Mary Hoagland                                                                              Anastasia Miller

Samantha Hoagland                                                                         Olivia Magann

Jesse Haines                                                                                     Nicholas Miller

James Ecroyd                                                                                      Paul Schaefer

Joel McCarty                                                                                       Mark Roinick

Ellen McCarty                                                                                         Anne Kiner

William King                                                                                   Nicholas Miller

Rev. William Brane                                                                             Ferdie Marek

Thomas Pardoe                                                                                         Joel Fisher

Margaret (Molyneux) Pardoe                                                             Amy McGee

Liza Orthrop                                                                                        Connie Hatch

Clara Shadduck                                                                                Letitia Magann

Caroline Baumunk                                                                             Brenda Miller

Patty Shadduck                                                                                     Leona Hatch

Elvira Shadduck                                                                               Olivia Magann

Harlan Baumunk                                                                                 Paul Schaefer

Betty Smith                                                                                            Amy McGee

Gayle Norton                                                                            Barbara K. Schaefer

Crazy Crow                                                                                               Ed Murray

 

Stage credits

 

Costumes                                          Barbara K. Schaefer, Linda White, and cast

Lighting design                                                                                    Scott Osborg

Lighting technician                                                                            Connie Hatch

Sound design                                                                                         Derek Davis

Sound technician                                                                              Joanna Murray

Set design and construction              Derek Davis, Paul Schaefer, Linda White

Refreshments                                                                                  Vivian McCarty

Historical consultants                                                                                               

                       Wilson Ferguson, Linda Lorentine, Connie Hatch, Ann Henderson

 

Music

Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues                                                                                 

                                                                     written and performed by Skip James

What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor?

                                                                    traditional, performed by Dorie Fisher

'Tain't No Sin...                                                                                                          

                       written by Walter Donaldson & Edgar Leslie, unknown performer

The Dutchman                                                                                                            

                                         written by Michael Smith, performed by Dorie Fisher

Working on a Building                                                                                             

                                         written by Hoyle - Boulas, performed by Dorie Fisher

Simple Gifts                                                                                                                

                            written by Elder Joseph Brackett, performed by Dorie Fisher

Follow the Drinking Gourd                                                                                      

                                                         unknown author, performed by Dorie Fisher

Lonesome Traveler                                                                                                    

                                                                        written by Jean Ritchie & Lee Hays,

                                                performed by Lee Hays, Pete Seeger, Bess Lomax

One Meat Ball                                                                                                             

                          written by L. Singer & H. Zaret, performed by Dave van Ronk

Pie in the Sky                                                                                                              

                                                 written by Joe Hill, performed by Cisco Houston

Brother Can You Spare a Dine                                                                                 

                         written by Yip Harburg & Jay Gorney, sung by Abbey Lincoln

I Believe I'll Go Back Home                                                                                    

                                                               written and performed by Geoff Muldaur

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

May 1938, near Bedford Corners

 

PEMSIT is walking down the road, slowly, looking with interest at everything he passes. He sidles up to a large rock, sits and takes out his notebook, which he flips through. He looks up and addresses the audience.

 

PEMSIT

You have to wonder how my Lenape ancestors managed to lope through the landscape day after day, hauling a deer's weight of meat. [holding up a foot ]My dogs are barking loudly after a month on the road carrying nothing but the clothes on my back. A tenderfoot indeed.

 

starts walking again

 

PEMSIT

No jobs for the college-educated in these destitute times, Indian or not. No jobs for anyone. A decade along and this Depression looks to be eternal. If it does end, let us hope that nothing like it ever comes again.

 

But a good at time as any to try to collect my past, don't you think? Did you know the state of Pennsylvania claims that Indians no longer exist within its borders? poof! I cease to exist. So who am I, then?

 

Pemsit puts away the notebook, scratches his chin, raps on a door, scratches his chin some more. Door opens. Pemsit nods a bow.

 

ROSEMARY BEDFORD 

Hello.

 

PEMSIT

Good evening. I am on somewhat of a journey and was wondering if you might know of a rooming house where I could spend the night. I have nothing to pay for it directly, but I am amenable to chores.

 

ROSEMARY          

Oh dear, not out this way, not close at any rate. Where you headed?

 

PEMSIT

Everywhere. Nowhere in particular. In fact, I was wondering where I am at the moment.

 

ROSEMARY

Well, they call it Bedford Corners. After my man's family. How'd you even get here, anyway?

 

PEMSIT

Shanks mare.

          

ROSEMARY

You're walking? Oh my. Well, come on in a spell.

 

she opens the door and ushers him in

 

PEMSIT

My exuberant thanks.

 

ROSEMARY smiling

You talk kinda funny. No offense.

 

PEMSIT

None taken.

 

ROSEMARY

Would you like some coffee? Cookies?

 

PEMSIT

Thank you.

 

ROSEMARY

Well, anyways ... [calling] Lemuel, we got us a guest.

 

Lemuel shuffles out from the other room.

 

LEMUEL BEDFORD

Evenin'.

 

PEMSIT

Sir. [bows]

 

ROSEMARY

He's been walking and needs a place to stop the night.

 

LEMUEL

Huh.

 

ROSEMARY

So I was thinking ....

 

LEMUEL [to Pemsit]

A bad habit of hers.

 

ROSEMARY

Now you know with Zeke gone to Joshua's we got us a room he could stay.

 

LEMUEL

Huh. You don't mind, mister, if I ast a bit more of ya before we set you in bed?

 

PEMSIT

I would expect no less. And if you are offering me a night's rest, nothing could be simpler to earn my keep. Along with any help you might need. For I can afford, actually, little more.

 

LEMUEL

Who the heck can these days? Nothin' left for anybody. I just want to know, well, this here's Rosemary Bedford and I'm, as I guess you heard, Lemuel, so you're...

 

PEMSIT

Pemsit. It means, in my language, "wanderer."

 

LEMUEL

Yer language? Ain't you American?

 

Pemsit takes out his notebook and pencil and flips through the notebook as he speaks.

 

PEMSIT

More than you might imagine. I am of the Lenape. The Indian tribe.

 

LEMUEL

An Indian! I'll be danged. I thought as they'd all died out.

 

PEMSIT

There was a concerted effort in that direction, but it did not quite succeed. What more do you need to know?

 

Lemuel scratches his head, a little uneasy.

 

LEMUEL

I don't know. Maybe nothin'. Just as ... What you be doin' on this trek across all heck and gone, walkin'? Used to be that way, but even in hard times today, after the crash, I 'spect there'd be better modes of travel.

 

PEMSIT [smiling]

There are indeed, but they are not available to me. No cash, no automobile, no handy stranger with a conveyance. As to what I'm up to – I am collecting stories. About my cultural past, where possible. Is that enough in the way of explanation?

 

ROSEMARY

'Course it is. Right, Lem?

 

LEMUEL

I suppose. You're softer'n me.

 

ROSEMARY

I'm 'sposed to be. Now, Mr. Pemsit, what can we git ya?

 

PEMSIT

I'm perfectly comfortable, in a material sense. But perhaps we could trade tales, a bit of your local history in turn for my history, less local?

 

Pemsit retrieves his notebook and pencil, takes out a small knife to sharpen the pencil, looks around for somewhere to put the shavings. Rosemary waves dismissively

 

ROSEMARY

Aw, just leave them go on the floor. I ain't swept yet. I don't rightly know any tales. What is there to talk about, Lem?

 

LEMUEL

There's Mr. Eldred. [to Pemsit] He was one of the first up here. But if we're tradin' stories, why don't you go first?

 

PEMSIT

Thank you. I grew up considering myself solely of English background, believing that my ancestors on both sides came from Europe. Yet there was a peculiar gap in the telling of how we came to be here. Years later, it became clear that my father had suppressed his Indian heritage for reasons that made perfect sense at the time but, for me, no longer adhere. So I am on what you might consider a personal quest. I would very much like to find out what it means to be as I am.

 

LEMUEL

Dang! That's mighty ... somethin' or other. Well, you OK to hear about Mr. Eldred?

 

PEMSIT [ironically, but missed by them]

I do like to hear about aboriginal inhabitants.

 

LEMUEL

See, he had this place, early on last century, up by what's called now Hugo's Corners....

 

 

SCENE 1

Liberty Hall, 1811

 

knock on door. Edward Eldred heaves himself up from his fireside chair and opens the door.

 

ELDRED

Welcome.

 

AMBLEY [stomping and slapping snow off his clothes]

Lord, I'm glad to find you. Haven't seen a human soul in miles and my ears are ready to fall right off. Never should of ventured out like this, this time of year.

 

ELDRED

We travel when we must.

 

AMBLEY [looking around]

Don't 'spect as if you travel much when the ground's bedded down. Seem set cozy.

 

ELDRED

Looks can be deceiving. Though in this case – not so much.

 

AMBLEY

You got rooms to let?

 

ELDRED

Most certainly.

 

Ambley peels off his coat, hat and gloves and extends his hand.

 

AMBLEY

My name's Ambley. Frederick. Guess I might be the only one here.

 

ELDRED

You might, but, in fact, you are not. I have five others for company. I am Edward Eldred.

 

He indicates the hooks on the wall and Ambley hangs up his coat and hat.

 

AMBLEY

How many rooms you got here anyways? Looks big.

 

ELDRED

Several. Not all are finished. It is, as the poets say, a work in progress.

 

He indicates the chair, and Ambley and Eldred sit.

 

AMBLEY

You got a name you call this place?

 

ELDRED

Liberty Hall.

 

AMBLEY

Liberty from what?

 

ELDRED

Perhaps from death in winter for people who might otherwise be found atop their horse, frozen fast to the saddle--perhaps from tyranny, a reference to our founding fathers. Mostly, though, it's a name like any name. I simply like it.

 

AMBLEY

I pulled my horse around to the barn.

 

ELDRED

I'll look to it. [calling] Mrs. Eldred, we have a new guest.

 

Mary enters as Ambley jumps to his feet and tries to take off his hat which is, of course, already off.

 

ELDRED

Mr. Ambley, my wife, Mrs. Eldred.

 

He puts on his coat and hat, preparing to go out.

 

MARY

Pleased to meet you Mr. Ambley.

 

AMBLEY [bowing]

Ma'am. My pleasure.

 

MARY

Would you care for a warming drink? Hot tea or mulled cider?

 

AMBLEY

Mmm. Hard cider?

 

ELDRED

As pristine granite.

 

They laugh as Eldred exits.

 

AMBLEY

Then cider it is.

 

MARY

And prepared with my special spicing. I believe you will be pleased with your choice.

 

She disappears into the kitchen. Ambley inspects the walls, which hold a variety of guns and wood carvings. He suddenly remembers something and goes to the coat rack where he takes several envelopes out of his hat. He looks them over, puts one in his pocket and puts the rest back in his hat. Mary enters with a mug of cider which she gives him.

 

MARY

Your cider, sir.

 

AMBLEY

Thank you kindly, ma'am. It has a most appetizing aroma. [He takes a sip.] Mmm. Just right for a snowy night!

 

MARY

Thank you, sir.

 

Eldred enters as they talk.

 

ELDRED

Your horse is stabled with oats and hay. A beautiful and gentle beast.

 

AMBLEY

A gift from my father, who has a right good eye for horseflesh. But, pardon me for asking, would you be Mrs. Mary Eldred of the Elklands?

 

MARY

Why, yes, I think I could be characterized as that. Why?

 

AMBLEY [handing her the envelope.]

Among the letters I have been asked to carry is one addressed to Mrs. Mary Eldred, The Elklands.

 

MARY [looking the letter over]

It appears to be from my mother. I have not heard from her in many months.

 

ELDRED

Open it now, my dear. I'm sure Mr. Ambley will not mind.

 

AMBLEY [sitting and drinking]

A woman who can mull cider as well as Mrs. Eldred can open as many letters as she likes in my presence.

 

MARY as she opens the letter

Well, you have my mother to thank for that cider as well. [she reads silently, then slowly sinks into a chair] Oh. Oh my goodness.

 

ELDRED

Is something wrong, my dear?

 

MARY

It's my cousin, Ned. It seems that he has been impressed by the British along with other sailors on his ship.

 

ELDRED

This has been my fear for him since he went to sea last year.

 

MARY

Pardon me, I must see to the kitchen.

 

AMBLEY

I've heard about that before, but what's that mean exactly anyways? Impressing a sailor?

 

ELDRED

It means the British are removing our sailors forcibly from American ships and placing them in the British navy.

 

Ambley lurches out of his chair.

 

AMBLEY

That ain't right. Damn!

 

ELDRED

Your language, sir. But, yes, it is definitely against all law. I was a student of law in London, long ago, a British citizen and, at the time, proud of my heritage.

 

AMBLEY

You ain't now?

 

ELDRED

I am an American by tenure and increasingly by inclination. I would not be happy with a renewed war, looking at it from either side. But if a nation will not be ruled by law, there is little recourse.

 

AMBLEY

That's about the way of it.

 

ELDRED

Let us turn our minds to less inflammatory issues. Where are you headed?

 

AMBLEY

I'm on to the Genesee. Not exactly sure what all's up there, but, you know, it holds possibilities. For a businessman. I consider myself that.

 

ELDRED

What is your business?

 

AMBLEY [laughing]

That hasn't been exactly decided yet. It would depend on what needs I find up there. What got you comin' here?

 

ELDRED

Have you heard of Mr. Joseph Priestley?

 

AMBLEY [scratches his chin]

Can't say. No, don't think so.

 

ELDRED

He discovered oxygen.

 

AMBLEY [attempting to look like he knows what that is]

Huh! What'd he do with it?

 

ELDRED

Gave it to science. But he also acquired a great deal of property in Pennsylvania. In this area, I am the agent for his son. Mr. Priestley the scientist is deceased.

 

AMBLEY

So this is his land?

 

ELDRED [nods]

A small bit, really. Though now mine in name, formally deeded to me but recently.

 

both are silent for awhile. Eldred lights his pipe.

 

MARY [entering with a plate of biscuits]

You must be hungry after your ride.

 

AMBLEY [somewhat surprised]

Now you mention it.

 

MARY

Would a few fresh biscuits suit you?

 

AMBLEY

Fresh! If it was fresh I'd eat the leg offen this chair.

 

Mary sets the biscuits on the table, then busies herself with knitting.

 

AMBLEY

Ya know, I couldn't figure the layout of this place when I come to it.

 

ELDRED

It is four buildings placed around a square, which square becomes the fifth, interior building. Though the fifth building may end up simply an exercise of my imagination.

 

AMBLEY

What brought you to erect such a thing?

 

ELDRED

The road to Genesee. When it was put through a few years back, I was inundated with travelers, 10 or 20 wagons at times. Nowhere to sit them all, much less proper rooms, so now there is a place for them and a living for myself. Beyond my duties.

 

AMBLEY

Duties?

 

ELDRED

As justice of the peace for this region of Lycoming County.

 

AMBLEY

So yer fixed here?

 

ELDRED

Like a stake in a vampire.

 

both laugh.

 

MARY

We are both quite contented with our life here. Do you plan to stay a bit? It looks like we're in for more than a little snow.

 

AMBLEY

I was goin' to get along come morning. Might beg off the trip awhile, though. Comfor'ble here, an' the weather's no good friend.

 

MARY

You are welcome for as long as you can abide the accommodations.

 

AMBLEY

Darn fine 'commode – commodations. I miss my wife and children, though. You two have children?

 

MARY

We've only recently married. Mr. Eldred, though ....

 

ELDRED

I have a daughter by a former marriage. She writes that she may be joining me here in the coming year. My first wife passed during an epidemic in London. I lost her and, as dismally, my two sons.

 

AMBLEY

That's a terrible thing.

 

ELDRED

It was. But time heals, at least to some extent.

 

MARY [to Ambley]

Has your cider proven satisfactory?

 

AMBLEY

Were it any stronger, I'd be weaker, were it any weaker, I'd be ... not near so happy.

 

INTERLUDE

What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor?

 

 

SCENE 2

Hatch home, 1938

 

kitchen of the Hatch home. EMMA is mixing batter in a bowl on the table. ELLSWORTH is wolfing down food at the other end of the table. MAISIE and AMY are chasing each other and ricocheting off the furniture. PEMSIT is sitting back, his chair on its hind legs against the wall. He is smiling at the kids over the top of his notebook as he leafs through it.

 

EMMA

Stop that runnin' around!

 

AMY

We're chasin'

 

EMMA

Chasin' what?

 

MAISIE

Chasin' the rainbow.

 

children slam into the table and upset her bowl

 

EMMA

That's enough! You Hatchlings stop that or I'll skin your hide!

 

Ellsworth starts to snicker

 

EMMA

What's so funny?

 

ELLSWORTH

Skin, skin, skinny skin skin.

 

AMY

You're always sayin' that, pa.

 

ELLSWORTH

And I'll say it again, skin, skin –

 

EMMA

Don't get started on that.

 

AMY

But you don't never say what it's about. Who's skinny?

 

ELLSWORTH

She was. She wasn't. She was an' then she wasn't.

 

PEMSIT

Sounds like a riddle.

 

ELLSWORTH

It's a good story, you lookin' for stories. What it was, see, this old lady –

 

EMMA

He doesn't need to hear about that.

 

PEMSIT

If I may be permitted, I would like to hear it.

 

Pemsit poises his pencil over the notebook. He begins writing as the tale unfolds.

 

ELLSWORTH

See?

 

EMMA

I don't see nothin' but more work for me and more jaw from you.

 

ELLSWORTH

Which is as it should be, eh Pimmist?

 

PEMSIT

I prefer to remain neutral and preserve my hide.

 

ELLSWORTH [exhilirated]

That's what it's about. They preserved her hide.

 

MAISIE

Whose hide?

 

EMMA

Go on, shoo, this isn't for your ears.

 

Ellsworth slams the table

 

ELLSWORTH

They're plenty darn old enough. No kinda babies, let them be.

 

Emma sulks but says nothing

 

ELLSWORTH

All right now, I got this from my grandpappy, he swore on it as did my pap, who seen it too as a child. There was this old woman, sickly all her life, went on from one doctor to the next, they did this and that, and it never got no better, whatever it was. That can put you down a peg or six. Anyways, come time she sees the end approachin', she asks the local doc, Doc Randall [to audience] – now this was the same Doc Randall from last year's play, the one got drowned in the well, just so's you know – [back to Pemsit] and ast him, 'When I die I want you to cut me up, do that' – what is that, Emma?

 

EMMA [through tight lips]

Autopsy.

 

ELLSWORTH

Autopsy, auturvy, whatever. Cut her open an' peek around inside, see can they figure out what it was all them years. So they done it, Randall and some others.

 

Ellsworth starts eating again

 

PEMSIT [after a pause]

What kind of illness did they find?

 

ELLSWORTH

Aw, I don't know. Never heard tell. Emma, you get us 'nother couple them ribs here?

 

Emma tosses a few spareribs on his plate. Pemsit looks puzzled.

 

PEMSIT

So....

 

ELLSWORTH

So, what happened was when they were done they kept the parts. Some of them.

 

AMY

The parts?

 

EMMA

Amy....

 

ELLSWORTH

The skin. An' the bones, the skeleton.

 

MAISIE

Ewwww....

 

ELLSWORTH

What's so bad about a skeleton? [waves a sparerib] That's what this is, a piece of pig skeleton and we butcher 'em and eat 'em up and suck the marrow.

 

AMY

Did they suck her marrow?

 

ELLSWORTH [somewhat abashed]

Nah, it wasn't like that. Doc Randall just set the skeleton up in his office. You know. An exhibit. To teach people.

 

MAISIE [suddenly excited]

Like freaks!

 

ELLSWORTH

It was no dang freak thing. It was a doctor's office.

 

PEMSIT

What happened to the skin?

 

ELLSWORTH

Doc tanned it an draped it over a table. Don't know if it was another exhibit or a tablecloth or what.

 

EMMA

Your tall tales get so high they scrape the ceiling.

 

ELLSWORTH

It ain't no tall tale, it's the truth. My grandpappy seen it. Seen the skin, seen the skeleton.

 

EMMA [suddenly serious]

You're sure? This was real?

 

ELLSWORTH

My grandpap and my pap, they both told me – and they was honest men.

 

AMY

I'd like to have that.

 

ELLSWORTH

What?

 

AMY

The skin.

 

ELLSWORTH [laughing]

What'd you do with it?

 

AMY

Put it over my table. Put my schoolbooks on it.

 

EMMA

Enough! What you two will put is your hind ends into bed.

 

MAISIE

We want to stay with Mr. Pemsit.

 

PEMSIT

I will be leaving shortly.

 

EMMA

Where will you be spending the night?

 

PEMSIT

Where the spirits permit.

 

ELLSWORTH

This particular spirit permits that you stay right here in our house.

 

PEMSIT

I've found a most remarkable kindness and generosity along this way.

 

EMMA

Mostly it's 'cause we all gotta help one another or no one's goin' to make it through these times.

 

ELLSWORTH

Plus, with so few comin' through, if we don't nail 'em in place for a bit we won't never know what the outside world's about.

 

MAISIE

And we like Indians!

 

AMY

We don't know none.

 

MAISIE

Now we do.

 

AMY

I'd like a lady's skin.

 

EMMA

Be settled with your own.

 

PEMSIT [standing up]

As my tribe says, Alliasquit patooie.

 

AMY

What's that mean?

 

PEMSIT

Before retiring, I must go outside and spit.

 

INTERLUDE

'Taint No Sin to Take off Your Skin...

 

 

SCENE 3

Road to Friends' Meeting, 1938

 

Pemsit walks along a dusty road, his head down, pensive. He starts to walk past the Friends Meeting House, notes the sign, stops, backtracks slightly and looks at the building, where the door is open. He seems to consider.

 

PEMSIT

The Elkland Society of Friends? Is that the Quakers I've heard about?

 

He walks up to the open door, pauses, then enters. The meeting, with a dozen or so in attendance, is in silence. Pemsit walks a couple of feet into the doorway and stops. Nothing is said for three or four minutes, then Pemsit takes a seat in the second row. After a few minutes, people begin shaking hands. The woman next to him reaches across and holds out her hand to be shaken. Pemsit shakes it and a buzz of conversation begins.

 

The woman who shook his hand, NELLIE BATTIN, introduces herself.

 

NELLIE       

Good morning, friend. Welcome to our meeting for worship. My name is Nellie Battin.

 

PEMSIT

Thank you. I am wandering about. My name is Pemsit. Most interesting. I have never attended a meeting like this one before. I found it strangely relaxing.

 

NELLIE [smiling]

That's what's most obvious. We hope to be stirred by the Lord to speak, but often the silence is, as they say, golden.

 

PEMSIT

My knowledge of the Quakers is spotty. They are aligned against all violence, are they not? Refuse to fight in wars?

 

NELLIE

Mostly, yes, though there's been controversies, especially during the Revolution and the Civil War. Is there such a thing as a "just war" that we are not only permitted but obligated to fight? Such a question is difficult to resolve. But I have a question that I hope you will not find so difficult. Would you care to share a meal with my family? My husband is recovering from an encounter with our last bull and is advised to stay at home for the present. He would be appreciative of your company. Our house is close, less than three miles.

 

PEMSIT

That is most kind of you. I hope your husband will not be confined for long.

 

NELLIE

He seems to be mending, but the closer he comes to full recuperation, the more impatient he is with his restrictions. I look for distractions for him.

 

PEMSIT

I will do my best to engage his attention. And he will provide another viewpoint for my quest. Quaker – a strange name. Where did the term come from?

 

NELLIE

"You should quake before the way of the Lord." Officially, we're the Religious Society of Friends, founded by George Fox in England, around 1650. We believe that religion should be individually experienced, that God will speak directly to and through us, so silence reigns if there is no message that needs to be shared.

 

PEMSIT [excited, delighted]

My people have felt something similar. God, if we are all to call him that, is everywhere and breathes into and through each.

 

NELLIE

Your people sound enlightened. May I ask who they are?

 

PEMSIT

The Lenape. Also called the Delaware, though why a native tribe should bear an English name escapes me.

 

NELLIE

The Lenape! Let me shake your hand again.

 

they do so

 

NELLIE

You are, you said, on a quest?

 

PEMSIT

Well, at least on a journey. A pilgrimage, you might say. Collecting snippets of my people's heritage.

 

NELLIE [somewhat lost in thought]

I fear your gleanings may be lean hereabouts. The area, as far as I know, was never heavily settled by Indian tribes. [suddenly recalling] One of my husband's ancestors, Joseph Hoagland was one of the earliest settlers, about 1800. He may have come here as an indirect result of his contact with Indians.

 

lights down for new scene

 

 

SCENE 4

Hoagland leanto c. 1802

 

HANNAH HOAGLAND prepares dinner as JOSEPH settles back in his seat.

 

HANNAH [resigned sigh]

What do we do now, Joseph?

 

JOSEPH

We are here. We settle.

 

HANNAH

Will we ever truly settle or simply be blown here and there like leaves? We fled from our homestead on Lycoming Creek during the Revolution when the Indians threatened to slaughter us all. We "settled" in Muncy, but the only work we could find was weaving, a profession we knew little of, so the work drained you, night and day, without producing the income to feed us. Then we set out blind again, fighting our way 50 miles through the wilderness by sled and oxen. And where are we? Nowhere! Again we "settle" with no income.

 

JOSEPH [ticking points off on his fingers]

First, we build the cabin. Next, we build the grist mill, as I told you. It will be difficult, yes, without to get the new mill pieces that cost. So we build for ourselves what we need. Some think we must buy equipment to make a mill. Not so! The wood is every place, and me, I know how to make things. I know of a clock made all of wood, with no metal. If a clock, then too a mill all of wood. Listen to me. Listen. Mr. Phinias Bond has given us, first, 100 free acres. This you know. He has also given to our two eldest the same, because they are of age. This is correct? On my promise to build the grist mill, 300 more he gives us. What more can we ask? We have the land. I and my father and his father and even his father knew how to nurture the land. Well cared for, the land will provide all we need. Our hands, our backs and our strength will do what must be done.

 

Two of their children, MARY (12) and SAMANTHA (9) burst through the door. Mary shows her mother flowers she has picked. Samantha has a small pail.

 

MARY

Momma! Look what I found! Drifts and drifts of flowers! More than you could ever imagine! So beautiful!

 

HANNAH [taking the flowers]

Who would have thought there was such beauty here? Where did you find them?

 

MARY

Over past the big hemlock. There's a sort of open place, filled with flowers! Oh, and Momma, look what Samantha has.

 

SAMANTHA [holding the pail out to Hannah]

Little bitty strawberries! A whole pail full. They are so sweet! Momma, make us a tart.

 

HANNAH

A tart or something. Oh, you do have a lot of them. Mm, they are sweet! Maybe I won't need to add sugar at all. How wonderful!

 

JOSEPH

See, Hannah, the land provides!

 

HANNAH

Children, wash your hands. Supper is almost ready. If this land is so bounteous, why does he give it away, Mr. Bond? What does he gain from it?

 

JOSEPH

He has so much land! What good does it do to lie fallow? He needs farmers--people to work the land. Settlers! To build towns. To use the wealth to grow more! Then his land will become more valuable. Be thankful. And too, he is an Englishman. Englishmen do ... strange things. My ancestors in the Netherlands, they wrested the very crown from England's King. Prince William of Orange and Mary his wife, they went to England with an army and became King and Queen in 1688. But even so, even with good Dutch rulers, the English, they are still strange.

 

Mary and Samantha do "strange things" like they imagine the English doing.

 

HANNAH

The English are no more strange than your Dutch. And there are no oranges in Holland -- or here.

 

JOSEPH

We will have better here than oranges. We hold of our own 400 acres, free and clear, once we build then the mill. Yes, and there are more of the believing Friends to our east.

 

HANNAH [to get his goat]

Be careful I have heard that they are – English.

 

JOSEPH [waving a dismissive hand]

Ah, what matter? Did not the Friends begin in England? If those in the Elklands are of the Friends, then friends indeed they are, no matter where from they come. The Lord puts us near each to the other for comfort.

 

HANNAH [with a sudden laugh]

Such a fearsome, growling bear you pretend to be, but you are the veriest squirrel, smiling from his tree. [placing the food on the table] Here are your acorns, good man. And some for the little ones, too!

 

INTERLUDE

The Dutchman

 

 

SCENE 5

At the Battins' House, 1938

 

PEMSIT

Was he correct? Was he able to build a mill of wood?

 

NELLIE

Yes – even the roof was constructed of split logs overlapping each other. It was hardly the most efficient of mills, though. They carried the grain to be ground on their backs up to the second floor. But they did it. And it worked.

 

PEMSIT

A most resourceful family.

 

Nellie and Pemsit enter the house.

 

NELLIE

Please have a seat, and I will see about Mr. Battin.

 

She looks into the next room.

 

NELLIE

He's fallen asleep, the best medicine of all. So, we will break bread without him.

 

Nellie brings food to the table.

 

PEMSIT

His ancestors were Dutch and Quakers? Who quaked before my marauding ancestors?

 

NELLIE [laughing, if a bit nervously]

Perhaps they did. But yes, we are both birthright Friends, and he has Dutch and English ancestors. Here's a story you might like to have for your collection: One of his Dutch ancestors became a convinced Friend and attended meetings in America many times. He felt that God had sent him a message to give, but he was too shy to stand up before the whole meeting. He wrestled with this problem for many weeks. Finally, he gained the courage to stand, but -- he "did pour forth in Dutch." Later, I believe, he was able not only to stand, but deliver his messages in English so they would be understood.

 

PEMSIT

What was the message?

 

NELLIE

Oh, I don't really recall.

 

PEMSIT

It doesn't matter. Sometimes we are asked to do very difficult things. Mr. Hoagland spoke of more Quaker families to the east. How far east? Are they still there? Do you know much of them?

 

NELLIE

East, in that case, was close to where you are sitting. Those families arrived at much the same time as Mr. Hoagland and are directly the founders of our meeting. Though sparsely settled, the area became a hotbed of Friendship, so to speak.

 

PEMSIT [pencil poised]

I would be most interested in hearing about that.

 

NELLIE

Let me see – yes, James Ecroyd was likely the first – he migrated up from the Hillsgrove area – and he was soon joined by Jesse Haines and others, including Joel McCarty. Actually, I'm not sure of the exact sequence of their arrival.

 

PEMSIT

No matter. What were their plans in coming here?

 

NELLIE

Ecroyd also planned to set up a mill. Far enough away, though it might not seem so now, that they would not directly compete. It was chancy, considering how few settlers there were, but it turned out well. The others – they mostly farmed and, later, worked at lumbering and such. Perhaps they had clear plans in their heads, but somehow I suspect it was a fairly unfocused drive. A new place, a new life.

 

PEMSIT

I understand that feeling all too well.

 

lights down

 

 

SCENE 6

Along King's Creek, c. 1803

 

JAMES ECROYD and JESSE HAINES are moving stones and placing them on the foundation of the sawmill and grist mill.

 

JESSE

Does thee think enough will venture so far to make thy mill profitable, James? To combine both saw and grist under one roof anticipates great use.

 

JAMES

So I think, Jesse, elst I would not have ventured so far afield to establish it.

 

JESSE

Thy land by John Hill's, it was not far enough afield?

 

JAMES

They are not of our Society of Friends. Better to gather here in one place and thus promote God's will amongst us all.

 

JESSE

Thee is a hardy sort, to start such enterprise. I will be content simply to clear my land and farm. But this waterway has yet no name. [reaches for a tin cup] Should we not call it Ecroyd Creek? [holds cup high]

 

JAMES

Nay, nay, twould be vanity. [relenting a bit, smiling] And the name Ecroyd, though I have borne it for life, does it not suggest the expelling of an obstruction from the throat?

 

both laugh

 

JESSE

Well then, methinks best McCarty Creek, for Joel is most intent of us all at providing progeny.

 

enter JOEL McCARTY with a rifle and a pile of wolf pelts thrown over his shoulder

 

JOEL

Did I hear thee maligning my ability to produce heirs?

 

JESSE

No, only their abundance. When they grow to adulthood they will shoulder all other Friends into New York state. [pointing to the pelts] But thee seems also to have prowess in other matters.

 

JOEL

I do fair at hunting. Panthers, on occasion. This trip, wolves, for which the bounty is eight dollars a pelt.

 

JESSE [astonished]

Eight dollars? For a single pelt? I would haul more than I could stagger under if I but had thy eye. I am fortunate to bring down one elk within an entire herd.

 

JOEL

I have seen 30 elk gathered together at once.

 

JESSE

God grant we become so many. But what if few truly follow us?

 

JAMES

If thee would talk less and work more, they will follow to have their grain ground. [expounding] It is our destiny. Once the mill is complete, we must ask of the Muncy Meeting for their let to build our own place of worship. I will provide land for it.

 

JESSE

Until then, let us meet at my cabin. It is comfortable enough when the fireplace is well fed.

 

JOEL

And once the land is fully cleared and set with crops, we shall be ourselves well fed.

 

JESSE

It is indeed good land. Once the rocks be removed.

 

JOEL

Removed? They can never be removed, only redistributed.

 

JAMES

In one place, their removal gives us arable land. In another, their placement anchors a sturdy foundation. The Lord provides for all, in His Wisdom – and in His own way.

 

JESSE [massaging his muscles]

Would that it were His way to make rocks as light as fluffed egg white.

 

JOEL

There is only so much we can ask even of Almighty God.

 

laughter

 

INTERLUDE

Workin' on a Building

 

 

SCENE 7

At the Battins' House, 1938

 

Nellie removes the dishes and sits at the table.

 

NELLIE

If I might ask yet again, what prompted you to take your pilgrimage now, in this bleak time?

 

PEMSIT

In my childhood, there were things always left unsaid. Good people, my parents – they saw college as the proper road for me and put what money they could toward it, but then the Crash hit. I stumbled through but a year before the money evaporated, but by then I had learned of my Indian background. So I began to seek out its particulars and took a descriptive name, as Indians do. These names are usually given, not taken, but there was no one to give it to me. But I am also English by meld, so I am equally delighted to collect your stories.

 

Tell me when was your Meeting House put up?

 

NELLIE

That would have been in the 1850s. It's the legacy of Ellen McCarty, though she did not live to see it carried out. That was done by her daughter, Sarah Schill.

 

PEMSIT

A woman, in both cases?

 

NELLIE

We Quaker women have always been encouraged to speak and act as strongly as our men. We believe God speaks to all, not just a favored few. However, compared to other women of their time, they were most unusual, especially Ellen.

 

 

SCENE 8

Elkland Township, 1819

 

ELLEN McCARTY paces the floor of her home, which serves as the temporary Elkland Meeting, speaking quietly but intently. She is filled with an internal radiant energy that she cannot suppress. She is reading and pacing.

 

ELLEN

"The mind was moved by an inward principle to love God as an invisible, incomprehensible Being, so, by the same principle, it was moved to love Him in all His manifestations in the visible world. I found no narrowness respecting sects and opinions, but believed that sincere, upright-hearted people, in every society, who truly love God, were accepted of Him."

 

She flips to another marked section of the book.

 

"My mind became calm and quiet, and I was truly thankful to my gracious Redeemer for His mercies. My understanding became more strengthened to distinguish the pure Spirit which inwardly moves upon the heart, and which taught me to wait in silence sometimes many weeks together, until I felt that rise which prepares the creature to stand like a trumpet, through which the Lord speaks to His flock."

 

She places the book on a table, spread her hands in expostulation.

 

None speaks truer than John Woolman in his journal. All obstacles along the way of the Lord are but pillars upon which are written the lessons of life, if we would stop to read them. The rising hills and plummeting valleys that we traverse lead us on toward building a world founded on God's will. What looks as failure may soon become the first step into a new and glorious life if we but stay true to the Light. Christ Jesus speaks to us regardless of our station in life or our sex. We must hold to this truth and stand steady even as we Quake before Almighty God. Out of the silence that may encompass both soul and body, come quiet outbursts of revelation and certainty.

 

enter WILLIAM KING

 

ELLEN

William! Our most trusted. Thee returns so soon from Muncy?

 

WILLIAM

Yes, and with the best of news. The Muncy Meeting has accepted thee as minister.

 

ELLEN

My thanks to them and to thee, though it changes but little what I do. I act as I act, whether titled or no.

 

WILLIAM

Always, with robust enthusiasm, with dedication – and with speed, carrying the message of simplicity to Lewis Lake and to the Genesee country to the north.

 

ELLEN

Oh William, thee cannot know what joy it gives me, to pour forth once more what the Lord has poured into me. God grant that I do not step beyond His leading. Alas, we cannot revive the meetinghouse in the Elklands – it has been abandoned a decade now.

 

WILLIAM

I remember when the meetinghouse was built –1805. I miss the meetings held there, though it flourished for four years only.

 

ELLEN

No matter, truly, for it is not the building that holds the Lord, but we ourselves.

 

WILLIAM

The elders at Muncy propose that for the present our meetings continue in homes in Fox Center and the Elklands.

 

ELLEN

In time we will build a new meeting house, established in a place of easy reference to both gatherings.

 

WILLIAM

How much time till we realize that aim?

 

ELLEN

Time? It matters not, only the end to which time travels. When the true time has come, we shall see it and we shall act. For now, the folk are too few and the money too meager, though we save much by escuing finery and frivolities.

 

WILLIAM

If all had thy true devotion, time would pass like the wind.

 

ELLEN

Even the fiercest of winds, dear friend, knows its periods of calm. Be patient.

 

INTERLUDE

'Tis a Gift to be Simple

 

INTERMISSION

 

 

SCENE 9

At the Battins' House, 1938

 

PEMSIT

These folk seem most estimable.

 

NELLIE

I'm glad you like them.

 

PEMSIT

You say the current meeting was build in the 1850s? That was the most active period of the Underground Railroad, one of my special interests.

 

NELLIE [pointing to the meeting house]

It was, and our meetinghouse was a station along the line from Muncy.

 

PEMSIT [snapping to attention, pulling out his notebook]

It passed through here? I've seen no reference to it in these parts.

 

NELLIE

Since the operation was wholly illegal at that time ­

 

PEMSIT

Because of the Fugitive Slave Act. Excuse my interruption.

 

NELLIE

You could be jailed for helping a slave escape. So, few records were kept – it was mostly word of mouth. Many of the details have been lost over the years. But there's a funny story about it – not about Quakers but Wesleyans. Well, funny after a fashion. Except for the poor bride.

 

PEMSIT

Bride?

 

NELLIE

You see....

 

 

SCENE 10

An open field, 1850s

 

a small wedding party is gathered for an open-air wedding

 

REV. WILLIAM BRANE

And do you, Thomas Pardoe, take this woman, Margaret Molyneux, as your loyal wedded wife?

 

THOMAS

Most heartily, I do.

 

the couple lean forward for a chaste kiss, then proceed into the house. All laughing and talking. Once inside, as they celebrate, a man signals from the doorway, and Thomas, after a moment's hesitation, acknowledges his signal. The man withdraws.

 

MARGARET

What does he want?

 

THOMAS

I must attend.

 

MARGARET

Attend to what? [Thomas looks at her meaningfully]

 

MARGARET [pulling Thomas aside]

Must it be now? At this blessed time?

 

THOMAS

I cannot postpone it. A shipment has arrived.

 

REV. BRANE [taking Margaret's arm]

These things happen as the Lord wills.

 

MARGARET

I know. [to Thomas] Of course, go, it is imperative.

 

Thomas runs out the door and down the hill. Rev. Brane takes Margaret off to the side, out of earshot of the bridal party.

 

REV. BRANE

It is difficult when our duty impinges on our joy.

 

MARGARET [leaning close, intent]

I know their need is great. If only we could have had just this one day.

 

REV. BRANE

We must think of something to tell the others. Thomas's absence will be noticed.

 

MARGARET

You know, Thomas's younger brother has been recovering from influenza .... Perhaps he has had a relapse.

 

REV. BRANE

Oh! Perhaps he has.

 

Thomas comes running back up the hill.

 

THOMAS [privately, to Rev. Brane]

The cargo has been safely stashed in the cabin.

 

REV. BRANE

Good, good.

 

MARGARET [calming down, speaking in a low voice]

How many are there?

 

THOMAS [hurried and secretly]

One large container with a smaller container inside, two small containers and a trunk.

 

MARGARET

Thomas, please, I don't know all the secret words, yet.

 

THOMAS

A mother and her two children, all desperately thin, plus the old woman who brought them through. The mother is heavy with child, in her last days. In fact, ... she is in pain.

 

MARGARET

Oh my dear Lord, she's giving birth. [yelling across to the bridal party] Liza, I need you. Quickly. We must help Thomas's brother!

 

THOMAS

My brother?

 

MARGARET [to Thomas, meaningfully, who "gets it"]

I'm so sorry to hear Elias has had a relapse, but I'm sure Liza can help.

 

Liza runs over to Margaret and they confer in hushed voices.

 

REV. BRANE [in a whisper to Thomas]

Who is she? Is it safe to –

 

THOMAS

She is a midwife, Margaret's cousin. She knows and approves.

 

LIZA [very loud]

Yes, I've had quite a bit of experience with relapses of influenza. There are a number of things we can do.

 

MARGARET [to Liza]

Then, come on along, Come, come. We must attend.

 

THOMAS

Hold. Let's take the wagon. It will be quicker.

 

they exit

 

REV. BRANE [as he exits, in his best sermonizing style]

Friends, relations, guests ... I must tell you....

 

INTERLUDE

Follow the Drinking Gourd

 

 

SCENE 11

The Battin house, 1938

 

PEMSIT

A shipment that multiples itself. A neat trick.

 

NELLIE

She gave birth the next day. The day after that, Thomas ran them up into New York. I could tell you more, but I have some chores to catch up on.

 

PEMSIT

And I must be on my way while the light permits.

 

NELLIE

Where are you heading?

 

PEMSIT [scratching his chin]

I don't know exactly. You said there is little to the east, so why not to the west?

 

NELLIE

You'll have to go on back past the meetinghouse. Just follow the road.

 

PEMSIT

What's out that way?

 

NELLIE

You're on to Shunk, which was once called Fox Center, where Joseph Hoagland set up his mill. Though back in his time it didn't have a name yet. Because nobody had been there.

 

PEMSIT

My kind of nobody?

 

NELLIE [embarrassed]

Oh dear ....

 

PEMSIT [laughing lightly]

No problem at all. What am I likely to find in Shunk?

 

NELLIE

Well, they have a general store there, goes way back. You could buy provisions – really just about anything you might need.

 

PEMSIT

I could. Perhaps. At any rate, you are a most pleasant and enlightening companion, a fine teller of tales, and an excellent cook.

 

NELLIE

Why thank you. And you, yourself, have been a prime listener, Mr. Pemsit. Have a safe journey.

 

lights down

 

INTERLUDE

I Am a Weary and a Lonesome Traveler

 

 

SCENE 12

Shunk General Store

 

Pemsit walks in and looks around. He wanders down one aisle, back up the other, carefully checking each display without touching. Clara pushes behind the counter and doesn't seem to notice him at first, then calls out,

 

CLARA

Anything I can get ya?

 

PEMSIT

I'm not quite certain.

 

He walks up to the counter and pulls some change from his pocket. He shows the coins to the Clerk.

 

PEMSIT

What would this buy me?

 

CLARA

Fifteen cents? One meat ball. [chuckles]

 

PEMSIT

Do you have meatballs?

 

CLARA [shakes her head]

It could get you some dried beef. You need a snack?

 

PEMSIT [hesitates]

Yes.

 

CLARA [concerned]

When you eat last?

 

PEMSIT

Yesterday. Noon.

 

CLARA [calling out]

Mrs. Baumunk! We got somebody you oughta talk to.

 

MRS. BAUMUNK (o.s.)

Just a moment, Clara.

 

CAROLINE BAUMUNK comes out from the back.

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

May I help you?

 

Pemsit starts to speak but PATTY and ELVIRA rush in and dance up to Clara.

 

PATTY

Momma, Momma, can I have a piece of candy? Just a little piece?

 

ELVIRA

Pleeeeeese.

 

CLARA

Not now, you two. Here, you two, get on with your sewin. [hands Patty her sewing kit] [to Mrs. Baumunk] He's been aways comin' and needs to eat but, uh, don't have much.

 

MRS. BAUMUNK [to Pemsit]

How much don't you have?

 

Pemsit holds out his coins again.

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

That won't buy much, even these days. Here, take a few things.

 

Mrs. Baumunk takes items from the shelves and gives them to him.

 

PEMSIT

I don't mean to impose.

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

No one is imposing in times like these, it's simply a matter of keeping alive.

 

PEMSIT

What do I owe?

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

Nothing.

 

PEMSIT [alarmed, almost belligerent]

I must.

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

Well, we can add it to your credit.

 

PEMSIT [carefully, almost delicately eating one item]

I've been collecting history along my way. Has this store been here long? In your family?

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

The previous store was started by John Camp-bell, back in 1868 ­–

 

CLARA

See, as it was –

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

Please, let me tell it myself for once, Clara. Mr. Campbell's son, Ambrose, built the current store in 1905, then sold it to Mr. Porter, and we bought it from him four years ago. Strange as it may seem, we sold 200 chickens for $200 to make our down payment and are paying off the rest as a percentage of what we take in.

 

PEMSIT

You sound especially well educated, if you don't mind the observation.

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

Thank you. I obtained my teaching degree and was a school teacher for several years before we decided to buy the store. My husband, Lawrence, brought in a small sawmill so the local men could work to pay for their groceries and clothes. We expect to get the post office back too next year. It has operated from Wheelerville for several years.

 

PEMSIT

Why is that?

 

CLARA

Long story. Now the railroad up there –

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

Please – not another of your "long stories."

 

PEMSIT [to divert attention from his now ravenous intake of food]

The railroad? I'm not very familiar with the railroad, but the Underground Railroad. I've heard that a station was nearby?

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

Oh yes, it helped put a fair number of slaves out of harm's way. That was before Lawrence's grandparents came here.

 

CLARA

Not before mine.

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

But yours had less of a struggle. Lawrence's grandparents came from Germany and lived in an abandoned log cabin. Later they built a house and raised 13 children.

 

PATTY

13 children! Good gracious me!

 

CLARA

And I bet them children raised heck. All as everybody up here did.

 

PATTY

I want a baby sister!

 

ELVIRA

Me too!

 

CLARA

Don't be startin' that again.

 

MRS. BAUMUNK [mildly irritated by the interruptions]

I believe I was about to describe the Underground Railroad.

 

CLARA

Why don't I do that, since I know it more. So's it was –

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

There's no stopping you, is there?

 

CLARA [blundering through her introduction]

This here line – you know, they talked about it as if it really was a railroad, which of course it wasn't, so that if anybody was listenin' in, how would they know what, what –

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

Your story is getting lost in the bullrushes.

 

CLARA

So the line come up from Muncy, from Mr. Jacob Haines down there. What I heard is the slaves, they'd come to him with a letter signed "humanity" – ain't that somethin'? Then he'd take them on as conductor to Hillsgrove, by horse or wagon –

 

PATTY

At night – they'd have to hide in cellars an barns durin' the day.

 

CLARA

A most informative interruption, miss Pattycake. So then they'd be transported up along Elk Creek and over to Marshall Battin, stationmaster at the Friends Meetin'. Then Mr. Battin, he'd be the conductor from there on up into New York state, so's from there they could get to Canada, where they already done away with slavery –

 

PEMSIT

In 1833, I believe.

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

You might possibly know as much as our resident expert here.

 

CLARA

Expert to you too. Bet as neither of you don't know what they used Lincoln Falls for.

 

PEMSIT

I'm not the least familiar with Lincoln Falls.

 

PATTY [to Pemsit]

Oh, it's sooo pretty and there's a hole behind where you can hide.

 

ELVIRA

And it's good for swimmin' too.

 

CLARA

'Course wasn't called that then, Lincoln hadn't come along. 'Twas Salt Lick or Salt Springs or some such thing, don't recollect. Comin' up Elk Creek to King's Creek they'd hear the water tumblin' down and they'd know they was close to a safe place for them to stop at......

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

Don't you even stop to breathe?

 

CLARA

......which was the Rogers farm back then. And after that, goin' on above ­–

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

There was a time when you and yours might have been put quietly out of their misery.

 

CLARA

Mrs. Baumunk!

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

Oh, don't mind me, dear. It's just my teach side talking.

 

INTERLUDE

One Meat Ball

 

 

SCENE 13

Shunk General Store

 

HARLAN BAUMUNK enters the store and looks around

 

HARLAN

How come yer not sold out here? Need to get that merchandise movin'.

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

If I had some help from my husband's slothful relatives I'm sure the business would run more smoothly.

 

CLARA

This here's her husband's cousin, Harlan Baumunk. Silly kinda cuss but you can grow to like him. Don't think we picked up on your name.

 

PEMSIT

Pemsit. [pause] It's Lenape.

 

HARLAN

Ah, Indian. Times must be even worse for you people. Wonder how long any of us'll persist these days. Earned more back when I was a sprout.

 

PEMSIT

What were you doing then? To earn money?

 

HARLAN

Huntin' skunks.

 

PEMSIT

Skunks!

 

PATTY

Icky skunks!

 

ELVIRA

You hunted skunks?

 

HARLAN

Yup, that was my main source of income as a kid. I got me $5 a hide. Pretty good draw for then. Skunks would be out around September, October, easy to find, but the hides weren't good until November, December. I'd catch 'em alive and take 'em home, had a pen I kept 'em in till cold weather, then I'd kill 'em an skin 'em.

 

PEMSIT

How do you catch a skunk?

 

HARLAN

Aww, I'd catch a skunk any way possible. I had a dog and he'd find a skunk in a hole and he'd start diggin' for it, barkin'. This one skunk, he'd dug right down in the ground, and the dog, he couldn't quite get ahold of him, so I reached down and got him, and I went over, got some binder twine was from my grandpa. I cut a fishpole like, and I reached down and got the skunk tail and pulled it up a ways, got the string tied around it tight, and got the other end of the string on this pole. I started home with him and he was goin' ahead of me. I'd steer him a little once in a while.

 

PEMSIT

Steer him?

 

HARLAN

Yup. Down over the hill and across the crick, and the string come loose. So he come up to a rail fence and he crawled under the rail and I grabbed him quiet and pulled his tail up around the rail, held him till I got it tied again. I'd got 'round ahead of him though, see, so the stink would go away from me rather than toward me.

 

ELVIRA

I heard they can't stink with their tail held onto.

 

HARLAN

Don't you believe it. The first time I test that theory, the dog had a woodchuck in a hole in a stonepile, and I got down to the bottom and got the woodchuck and a skunk started to smell. So I pulled the woodchuck out, then I went after the skunk. And I got him by the tail and I was gonna take him home just like that, but I'd heard they couldn't spray you. But I got right alongside a fence, for some reason or other that's where it happened to happen. He squirmed around and got me in the eyes.

 

PATTY

Ow!

 

ELVIRA

Ewww!

 

HARLAN

So I slashed him into this barbed wire fence and sicced the dog on him. That was the end of mister skunk.

 

ELVIRA

Poor Mr. Skunk.

 

PEMSIT

That sounds like dangerous work.

 

HARLAN

Oh, it isn't dangerous, it gets in your eyes, it burns quite a little bit, but it's not fatal or anything.

CLARA

Your ma was pleased, weren't she?

 

HARLAN

She was very .... patient.

 

CLARA

Tell 'em how you'd get the smell off of you.

 

HARLAN [shrugs]

It'd wear away.

 

MRS. BAUMUNK [to Pemsit]

Where are you headed?

 

PEMSIT

Well, altogether, I wouldn't rightly know.

 

CLARA

What you travelin' in?

 

PEMSIT

Shanks mare.

 

HARLAN

Oh glory, that's no fun.

 

PEMSIT [to Mrs. Baumunk]

Could I ask one small favor more?

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

Certainly. How can I help?

 

PEMSIT [placing one of the food items back on the counter]

Could I make a trade for a new pencil? Mine has worn itself to a nub.

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

That's certainly little enough. Please, take it along with what you already have.

 

Clara hands him a pencil.

 

PEMSIT

Thank you. You are most kind.

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

Nothing that another wouldn't do.

 

PEMSIT

Perhaps. [turning to Harlan] But not embellished with quite such delightful detail. [turns to go]

 

MRS. BAUMUNK

Wait, wait! We can't let you wander off into nowhere with only 15 cents and nothing substantial to eat.  Here. I'll add it to your credit.

 

PEMSIT

But if I'm not back this way again?

 

CLARA [half singing]

We'll have pie in the sky when we die.

 

PEMSIT

A delicious future to look forward to.

 

INTERLUDE

Pie in the Sky

 

 

SCENE 14

porch of Perry and Gayle Norton's house, 1938

 

Gayle and Pemsit are seated on the porch, snapping beans. Betty, a young woman, runs up, out of breath, bent over, hands on knees

 

BETTY

They got him. They got the killer.

 

GAYLE

Got who?

 

BETTY

Ol' Miss Jennie Belle's killer. The sheriff's got him in jail.

 

GAYLE

Killer? I thought she had a stroke. What's goin' on. Who was it?

 

BETTY

Ernest Hipple.

 

GAYLE

Don't that family have enough problems as it is?

 

BETTY

They got more problems now. But Ernest's wife and baby are still in Muncy Valley the last I hear. Oh, hello, there.

 

Pemsit nods

 

BETTY [to Gayle]

You going to introduce us?

 

GAYLE

I was considering it. Pemsit, this here idiot is my neighbor's daughter Betty Smith. She's better, if not worse, than a newspaper! Betty, this is Mr. Pemsit. He's travelin' through. Said he was tired from walking so long this morning, so I invited him to pull up a chair and sit for a spell. So, young lady, plant yourself down for a bit and tell us what the fumin' devil is goin' on.

 

[Betty plops down on the edge of the porch]

 

GAYLE [to Pemsit]

Miss Jennie Belle Porter lived up Wheelerville. The talk was she had more money tucked away than the governor. Only you'd never know it to look at her. John – that's her husband – found her when he came back from pickin' up his mail.

 

BETTY

You bet! She had a lot of money but she wore nothing but miser clothing.

 

GAYLE [grunts]

Rags more like it.

 

BETTY [explains to Pemsit]

She made her outfits from burlap sacks and feed bags. Around here, that's what we call "miser's clothes." With all that money, her and her husband could have dressed like rich folk.

 

GAYLE

I heard tell that she kept her money in large bills and sewed it into her clothing.

 

PEMSIT

When did this happen? Her death?

 

GAYLE

Let's see. Something over a week ago.

 

BETTY

Of course, Ernest ain't been arrested for the murder. He's being held on suspension. [pause] There's been detectives in and out of Wheelerville, been searching the woods, following tracks –

 

GAYLE

Hold it, now, Betty. Start from the beginnin'. You gonna get us all confused.

 

BETTY

Let's see, where can I start?

 

GAYLE

At the beginning would do.

 

BETTY

Well, ol'   John Porter there, you know, Miss Jennie Belle's husband, when he called in the coroner from Dushore –

 

GAYLE [to Pemsit]

That would be Dr. Joseph Dreier.

 

BETTY

Doc Dreier examined her body by the light of a lamp and pronounced her dead from a cereal hermitage.

 

GAYLE

A what?

 

PEMSIT

I believe the young woman means a cerebral hemorrhage.

 

GAYLE

Is that something contagious?

 

PEMSIT

It means bleeding from the brain.

 

GAYLE

Well, why don't they just say so?

 

PEMSIT

Probably the only time doctors get to practice their Latin.

 

BETTY

But turns out that bleeding ain't what killed her. The doc figured she had a stroke, fell and hit her head on the table, then fell to the floor where she bled for a bit, made her way to the bedroom and stood over the heater where she died.

 

GAYLE

Don't sound like a murder.

 

BETTY

Listen up. The doc released the body but wanted that undertaker up at the Soper Funeral Home in Troy to look it over more careful – for anything suspicious, your know. So Soper junior there was looking the body over and found what looked like a bullet hole behind her ear. So ole Mr. Soper called the authorities and they spent the week looking for the mystery killer and they found him. Well, they suspect him.

 

GAYLE

You mean Ernest Hipple.

 

BETTY

Gayle, that's who I'm talking about. The sheriff took him on to Laporte. The man's in jail on suspension. See, the sheriff couldn't find a bullet or powder burns, so the detectives figured she was shot from a distance, like while she was eating. There was a cut right here [touches spot above her right eye] and they thought maybe the bullet passed on through. But them detectives searched the kitchen over and never found the first sign of a bullet. So up at the Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre they took the brain right out of her skull and made them x-ray pictures and found the bullet right in her brain.

 

GAYLE

Glory! Poor woman.

 

BETTY

And the detectives said Miss Jennie Belle was probably killed for her money. But I heard that ol' John said none of it was missing.

 

GAYLE

That Ernest never could find a piece of hay in a barn. Say, didn't John Porter say a while back that his check from the milk company hadn't come yet?

 

BETTY

He sure did. What do you figure,  Ernest Hipple took that too and cashed it? You know, sometimes when he visited with the Porters, he took the mail up to them.

 

GAYLE [nods]

Could be. That young man is always looking for a quick way to get money. Hunting don't bring in much now'days.

 

PEMSIT

But hunting can feed your family and provide clothing both, if you don't mind doing a little work.

 

GAYLE

Pemsit, young people nowadays want their money quick and easy. Maybe he wanted it for his liquor. And with this Depression, you can't no longer make a penny squeal. I wouldn't be surprised if a war were to start what with that Hitler and Mussolini feller in Europe and all.

 

PEMSIT [nods]

I've heard rumors to that effect.

 

GAYLE [leans toward Betty]

You hear anything more about the murder?

 

BETTY

I hear there'll be an inquest at ol' John Porter's house. The neighbors'a be questioned some more. That's all I know for now.

 

PEMSIT [to Gayle, laughing]

She doesn't know all that much, does she?

 

GAYLE [grumbles]

Like I said, she's quicken than the telephone.

 

BETTY

Momma and me always got the scoop! Looks, there's Abby Jane, gotta run.

 

BETTY salutes and dashes off.

 

PEMSIT

The beans are done, it would look like. If there's nothing else I can help you with, I should be on my way.

 

GAYLE

You in a hurry?

 

PEMSIT

Not really, but ....

 

GAYLE

If it wouldn't hold you back, I'd as soon you stayed on awhile. Talkin' helps dispel the bad news. This is just too awful a thing.

 

PEMSIT

Gladly.

 

GAYLE

Come on inside, I can get some ya some tea.

 

They go into the house.

 

PEMSIT

That would be most welcome.

 

INTERLUDE

Pretty Boy Floyd

 

 

SCENE 15

Interior Perry and Gayle Norton's house, 1938

 

PEMSIT

Who would think such terrible things could happen in this quiet countryside?

 

GAYLE

There's quiet and quiet. Poor Jennie sure got her quiet, just not the kind you really want.

 

PEMSIT

Did you know her well?

 

GAYLE

She was a cousin on my mother's side. Don't know how far a cousin, never could get a handle on that.

 

PEMSIT

My genuine sympathy.

 

GAYLE

Thank ya, thank ya. Damn these things happenin' anyway. 'Scuse me. Thing is, this is the second tragedy in the poor Porter family. Back 30 years, this crazy fellah shot Corwin Porter, a young, promising man, shot him for no good reason as any could say. But-

 

Suddenly she begins to smile, then chuckle, suppressing a laugh.

 

GAYLE

Oh my, it gets me every time.

 

PEMSIT

It ...?

 

GAYLE

The man's name, the crazy fellow, it was, it was [choking on laughter] Elmer Ellsworth Washington TINKELPAUGH!!

 

She releases in a bellow, then looks down, embarrassed.

 

PEMSIT

A little levity can go a long way.

 

GAYLE

Oh my, I just don't know.

 

PEMSIT [turning the conversation]

You said she lived near Wheelerville – where is that exactly? I haven't heard the name before.

 

GAYLE [further depressed]

It's way over in the corner up north, 'bout as far from anywhere as you can be and still be in Sullivan County. Wouldn't even exist but for the railroad, an' now they're shuttin' it down.

 

PEMSIT

They're shutting down the railroad?

 

GAYLE

Wish I had me a gas range so I could control the boil. Takes time on this old boy. Yup, next year, they say. It would've had to happen anyway, I guess, but with the bottom out of everything it come that much sooner. The Susquehanna and New York line, that's the name. Don't know what decided them on coming through right there. But when more dairy farms got goin', they sent the milk and cream up to Wheelerville to ship on the railroad. They built a creamery right there, started up only 'bout ten years back. Guess it'll shut down, 'long with the railroad. The mail comes in to Wheelerville on the train. The day's run's almost 30 miles; with over 100 mail boxes to stop at. My husband, Perry, totes the mail, now and then. Fills in.

[looking into pan] Ah, there she goes. [Gayle pours the water into a battered metal teapot] Let her steep some. You take sugar, milk?

 

PEMSIT

Plain is fine by me. Has dairy farming been a major occupation up here?

 

GAYLE

It started off with little farms. The men worked in the woods, so the farm was where to raise food for themselves, then gradual-like they got to selling milk around. The Wheelerville plant, it's the Dairymen's League. Milk goes out, iced in cars, to New Jersey, New York or wherever. Those that had enough cows to make any quantity of butter, they'd pack it in 30 or 60-pound tubs. The railroaders would leave their order at the station when they wanted a pail of butter. That stopped awhile back, so that's how we knew the railroad would go pretty soon.

 

PEMSIT

How do farmers keep the milk cold?

 

GAYLE [peers into the teapot, brings over the pot and cups]

That's a good question, there's no refrigeration to speak of up this way. About every farmer around has some old building or an ice house. We put up ice every winter, cut it with saws on a pond or creek, haul it and pack it in sawdust. We use that to cool the milk through the summertime, lessen the ice runs out. Don't usually make a full pot, just put leaves in a cup. Hope it turns out okay. [begins pouring]

 

PEMSIT

The ice house, was that for meats and vegetables too?

 

GAYLE

Naw, the vegetables would freeze or go bad. Canned 'em. Pork and like that, you smoke it, some put it in an oak bin, cover it with straw and dirt and leave it 'til spring. No market these days for farmin'. I'm sellin' potatoes at 35 a bushel, beef, 1O a pound. Hardly worth it, one way.

PEMSIT

Every penny's a good penny. [taking a sip of the tea] Delightful! A fine brew.

 

GAYLE

Thank ya. Too, huntin', you know, you could take a deer on the train. Onct I shot me a nice 6-point buck and hauled it up on the tracks and flagged the train down. Paid the quarter – you had to pay as much for the deer as for a person. I put the deer in the baggage car and I got in the passenger car and rode on back to Wheelerville.

 

PEMSIT [standing]

I hope all will be well with you, but I really should be on my way.

 

GAYLE [agitated]

S'pose so. [enlightened] Ya know, I could drive ya a bit. In my car. I gotta go see my sister-in-law, so I could take you down Lincoln Falls, anyway. It's about as much on the way to anywhere as any place is, and those shoes don't look as they'll last much longer.

 

PEMSIT

They may well outlast my feet. If it is truly of no inconvenience to you, I would deeply appreciate it.

 

GAYLE

Sure, sure. Let me get my things.

 

INTERLUDE

Brother Can You Spare a Dime?

 

 

SCENE 16

Near Gayle's car, 1938

 

Rain. Gayle comes on holding an umbrella over herself and Pemsit, but she is reluctant to turn around and go home alone.

 

GAYLE

Sorry I got to turn back now. You OK?

 

PEMSIT

If I dissolved in the rain, what sort of wanderer would I be?

 

GAYLE

I'm not askin' as what you'd be but what you are now.

 

PEMSIT

I'm OK.

 

GAYLE

OK. I guess.

 

Gayle returns to the car. Pemsit moves along until he comes to a clearing. He looks around for a dry spot when he sees a small circle of stones set out with an old man, CRAZY CROW, sitting in it. He stops, looks, starts to walk toward the old man, backs up, moves forward again.

 

PEMSIT

Excuse me.

 

CRAZY CROW

Why?

 

PEMSIT

Why?

 

CROW

Why should you excuse yourself? Sit down. Would you like some jerky?

 

PEMSIT

Thank you. Are you Lenape?

 

CROW

I have been waiting.

 

PEMSIT

In the rain?

 

CROW [shrugging]

That's the weather. Follow me. [They begin walking the medicine circle] Where have you come from?

 

PEMSIT

Is it important?

 

CROW [attacking a piece of jerky]

I think it's important to you. It could be important to me.

 

PEMSIT

Why would you think that?

 

CROW

As I told you, I have been waiting. The spirits told me.

 

Crow shrugs again. Pemsit lays the jerky aside.

 

CROW

You stopped eating.

 

PEMSIT

Perhaps I am not hungry.

 

CROW

I think you might be very hungry. This is my medicine circle. You know what that means?

 

PEMSIT

I wish I did. I've heard of it. Rumors. Though perhaps I do know.

 

Pemsit picks up his jerky. They both eat.

 

PEMSIT

What have I learned?

 

CROW [waving the jerky]

Why ask me? Look around you.

 

PEMSIT

I'm not sure what I'm seeing.

 

CROW

When you are sure, then you will know. Wonderful jerky, isn't it?

 

CLOSING

I Believe I'll Go Back Home

 

CURTAIN