Cast of Characters
Inheritors was first performed at the Provincetown Playhouse on April 27, 1921.
SMITH (a young business man)GRANDMOTHER (SILAS MORTON’S mother)SILAS MORTON (a pioneer farmer)FELIX FEJEVARY, the First (an exiled Hungarian nobleman)FELIX FEJEVARY, the Second (his son, a Harvard student)FELIX FEJEVARY, the Second (a banker)SENATOR LEWIS (a State Senator)HORACE FEJEVARY (son of FELIX FEJEVARY, the Second)DORIS (a student at Morton College)FUSSIE (another college girl)MADELINE FEJEVARY MORTON (daughter of IRA MORTON, and granddaughter ofSILAS MORTON)ISABEL FEJEVARY (wife of FELIX FEJEVARY, the Second, and MADELINE’S aunt)HARRY (a student clerk)HOLDEN (Professor at Morton College)IRA MORTON (son of SILAS MORTON, and MADELINE’S father)EMIL JOHNSON (an Americanized Swede)
SCENE: Sitting-room of the Mortons’ farmhouse in the Middle West—on the rolling prairie just back from the Mississippi. A room that has been long and comfortably lived in, and showing that first-hand contact with materials which was pioneer life. The hospitable table was made on the place—well and strongly made; there are braided rugs, and the wooden chairs have patchwork cushions. There is a corner closet—left rear. A picture of Abraham Lincoln. On the floor a home-made toy boat. At rise of curtain there are on the stage an old woman and a young man. GRANDMOTHER MORTON is in her rocking-chair near the open door, facing left. On both sides of door are windows, looking out on a generous land. She has a sewing basket and is patching a boy’s pants. She is very old. Her hands tremble. Her spirit remembers the days of her strength.
SMITH has just come in and, hat in hand, is standing by the table. This was lived in the year 1879, afternoon of Fourth of July.
SMITH: But the celebration was over two hours ago.
GRANDMOTHER: Oh, celebration, that’s just the beginning of it. Might as well set down. When them boys that fought together all get in one square—they have to swap stories all over again. That’s the worst of a war—you have to go on hearing about it so long. Here it is—1879—and we haven’t taken Gettysburg yet. Well, it was the same way with the war of 1832.
SMITH: (who is now seated at the table) The war of 1832?
GRANDMOTHER: News to you that we had a war with the Indians?
SMITH: That’s right—the Blackhawk war. I’ve heard of it.
GRANDMOTHER: Heard of it!
SMITH: Were your men in that war?
GRANDMOTHER: I was in that war. I threw an Indian in the cellar and stood on the door. I was heavier then.
SMITH: Those were stirring times.
GRANDMOTHER: More stirring than you’ll ever see. This war—Lincoln’s war—it’s all a cut and dried business now. We used to fight with anything we could lay hands on—dish water—whatever was handy.
SMITH: I guess you believe the saying that the only good Indian is a dead Indian.
GRANDMOTHER: I dunno. We roiled them up considerable. They was mostly friendly when let be. Didn’t want to give up their land—but I’ve noticed something of the same nature in white folks.
SMITH: Your son has—something of that nature, hasn’t he?
GRANDMOTHER: He’s not keen to sell. Why should he? It’ll never be worth less.
SMITH: But since he has more land than any man can use, and if he gets his price—
GRANDMOTHER: That what you’ve come to talk to him about?
GRANDMOTHER: Well, you’re not the first. Many a man older than you has come to argue it.
SMITH: (smiling) They thought they’d try a young one.
GRANDMOTHER: Some one that knew him thought that up. Silas’d help a young one if he could. What is it you’re set on buying?
SMITH: Oh, I don’t know that we’re set on buying anything. If we could have the hill (looking off to the right) at a fair price—
GRANDMOTHER: The hill above the town? Silas’d rather sell me and the cat.
SMITH: But what’s he going to do with it?
GRANDMOTHER: Maybe he’s going to climb it once a week.
SMITH: But if the development of the town demands its use—
GRANDMOTHER: (smiling) You the development of the town?
SMITH: I represent it. This town has been growing so fast—
GRANDMOTHER: This town began to grow the day I got here.
SMITH: You—you began it?
GRANDMOTHER: My husband and I began it—and our baby Silas.
SMITH: When was that?
GRANDMOTHER: 1820, that was.
SMITH: And—you mean you were here all alone?
GRANDMOTHER: No, we weren’t alone. We had the Owens ten miles down the river.
SMITH: But how did you get here?
GRANDMOTHER: Got here in a wagon, how do you s’pose? (gaily) Think we flew?
SMITH: But wasn’t it unsafe?
GRANDMOTHER: Them set on safety stayed back in Ohio.
SMITH: But one family! I should think the Indians would have wiped you out.
GRANDMOTHER: The way they wiped us out was to bring fish and corn. We’d have starved to death that first winter hadn’t been for the Indians.
SMITH: But they were such good neighbours—why did you throw dish water at them?
GRANDMOTHER: That was after other white folks had roiled them up—white folks that didn’t know how to treat ’em. This very land—land you want to buy—was the land they loved—Blackhawk and his Indians. They came here for their games. This was where their fathers—as they called ’em—were buried. I’ve seen my husband and Blackhawk climb that hill together. (a backward point right) He used to love that hill—Blackhawk. He talked how the red man and the white man could live together. But poor old Blackhawk—what he didn’t know was how many white man there was. After the war—when he was beaten but not conquered in his heart—they took him east—Washington, Philadelphia, New York—and when he saw the white man’s cities—it was a different Indian came back. He just let his heart break without ever turning a hand.
SMITH: But we paid them for their lands. (she looks at him) Paid them something.
GRANDMOTHER: Something. For fifteen million acres of this Mississippi Valley land—best on this globe, we paid two thousand two hundred and thirty-four dollars and fifty cents, and promised to deliver annually goods to the value of one thousand dollars. Not a fancy price—even for them days, (children’s voices are heard outside. She leans forward and looks through the door, left) Ira! Let that cat be!
SMITH: (looking from the window) These, I suppose, are your grandchildren?
GRANDMOTHER: The boy’s my grandson. The little girl is Madeline Fejevary—Mr Fejevary’s youngest child.
SMITH: The Fejevary place adjoins on this side? (pointing right, down)
GRANDMOTHER: Yes. We’ve been neighbours ever since the Fejevarys came here from Hungary after 1848. He was a count at home—and he’s a man of learning. But he was a refugee because he fought for freedom in his country. Nothing Silas could do for him was too good. Silas sets great store by learning—and freedom.
SMITH: (thinking of his own project, looking off toward the hill—the hill is not seen from the front) I suppose then Mr Fejevary has great influence with your son?
GRANDMOTHER: More ‘an anybody. Silas thinks ’twas a great thing for our family to have a family like theirs next place to. Well—so ’twas, for we’ve had no time for the things their family was brought up on. Old Mrs Fejevary (with her shrewd smile)—she weren’t stuck up—but she did have an awful ladylike way of feeding the chickens. Silas thinks—oh, my son has all kinds of notions—though a harder worker never found his bed at night.
SMITH: And Mr Fejevary—is he a veteran too?
GRANDMOTHER: (dryly) You don’t seem to know these parts well—for one that’s all stirred up about the development of the town. Yes—Felix Fejevary and Silas Morton went off together, down that road (motioning with her hand, right)—when them of their age was wanted. Fejevary came back with one arm less than he went with. Silas brought home everything he took—and something he didn’t. Rheumatiz. So now they set more store by each other ‘an ever. Seems nothing draws men together like killing other men. (a boy’s voice teasingly imitating a cat) Madeline, make Ira let that cat be. (a whoop from the girl—a boy’s whoop) (looking) There they go, off for the creek. If they set in it—(seems about to call after them, gives this up) Well, they’re not the first.
(rather dreams over this)
SMITH: You must feel as if you pretty near owned this country.
GRANDMOTHER: We worked. A country don’t make itself. When the sun was up we were up, and when the sun went down we didn’t. (as if this renews the self of those days) Here—let me set out something for you to eat. (gets up with difficulty)
SMITH: Oh, no, please—never mind. I had something in town before I came out.
GRANDMOTHER: Dunno as that’s any reason you shouldn’t have something here.
(She goes off, right; he stands at the door, looking toward the hill until she returns with a glass of milk, a plate of cookies.)
SMITH: Well, this looks good.
GRANDMOTHER: I’ve fed a lot of folks—take it by and large. I didn’t care how many I had to feed in the daytime—what’s ten or fifteen more when you’re up and around. But to get up—after sixteen hours on your feet—I was willin’, but my bones complained some.
SMITH: But did you—keep a tavern?
GRANDMOTHER: Keep a tavern? I guess we did. Every house is a tavern when houses are sparse. You think the way to settle a country is to go on ahead and build hotels? That’s all you folks know. Why, I never went to bed without leaving something on the stove for the new ones that might be coming. And we never went away from home without seein’ there was a-plenty for them that might stop.
SMITH: They’d come right in and take your food?
GRANDMOTHER: What else could they do? There was a woman I always wanted to know. She made a kind of bread I never had before—and left a-plenty for our supper when we got back with the ducks and berries. And she left the kitchen handier than it had ever been. I often wondered about her—where she came from, and where she went, (as she dreams over this there is laughing and talking at the side of the house) There come the boys.
(MR FEJEVARY comes in, followed by SILAS MORTON. They are men not far from sixty, wearing their army uniforms, carrying the muskets they used in the parade. FEJEVARY has a lean, distinguished face, his dark eyes are penetrating and rather wistful. The left sleeve of his old uniform is empty. SILAS MORTON is a strong man who has borne the burden of the land, and not for himself alone—the pioneer. Seeing the stranger, he sets his musket against the wall and holds out his hand to him, as MR FEJEVARY goes up to GRANDMOTHER MORTON.)
SILAS: How do, stranger?
FEJEVARY: And how are you today, Mrs Morton?
GRANDMOTHER: I’m not abed—and don’t expect to be.
SILAS: (letting go of the balloons he has bought) Where’s Ira? and Madeline?
GRANDMOTHER: Mr Fejevary’s Delia brought them home with her. They’ve gone down to dam the creek, I guess. This young man’s been waiting to see you, Silas.
SMITH: Yes, I wanted to have a little talk with you.
SILAS: Well, why not? (he is tying the gay balloons to his gun, then as he talks, hangs his hat in the corner closet) We’ve been having a little talk ourselves. Mother, Nat Rice was there. I’ve not seen Nat Rice since the day we had to leave him on the road with his torn leg—him cursing like a pirate. I wanted to bring him home, but he had to go back to Chicago. His wife’s dead, mother.
GRANDMOTHER: Well, I guess she’s not sorry.
SILAS: Why, mother.
GRANDMOTHER: ‘Why, mother.’ Nat Rice is a mean, stingy, complaining man—his leg notwithstanding. Where’d you leave the folks?
SILAS: Oh—scattered around. Everybody visitin’ with anybody that’ll visit with them. Wish you could have gone.
GRANDMOTHER: I’ve heard it all. (to FEJEVARY) Your folks well?
FEJEVARY: All well, Mrs Morton. And my boy Felix is home. He’ll stop in here to see you by and by.
SILAS: Oh, he’s a fine-looking boy, mother. And think of what he knows! (cordially including the young man) Mr Fejevary’s son has been to Harvard College.
SMITH: Well, well—quite a trip. Well, Mr Morton, I hope this is not a bad time for me to—present a little matter to you?
SILAS: (genially) That depends, of course, on what you’re going to present. (attracted by a sound outside) Mind if I present a little matter to your horse? Like to uncheck him so’s he can geta a bit o’grass.
SMITH: Why—yes. I suppose he would like that.
SILAS: (going out) You bet he’d like it. Wouldn’t you, old boy?
SMITH: Your son is fond of animals.
GRANDMOTHER: Lots of people’s fond of ’em—and good to ’em. Silas—I dunno, it’s as if he was that animal.
FEJEVARY: He has imagination.
GRANDMOTHER: (with surprise) Think so?
SILAS: (returning and sitting down at the table by the young man) Now, what’s in your mind, my boy?
SMITH: This town is growing very fast, Mr Morton.
SILAS: Yes. (slyly—with humour) I know that.
SMITH: I presume you, as one of the early settlers—as in fact a son of the earliest settler, feel a certain responsibility about the welfare of—
SILAS: I haven’t got in mind to do the town a bit of harm. So—what’s your point?
SMITH: More people—more homes. And homes must be in the healthiest places—the—the most beautiful places. Isn’t it true, Mr Fejevary, that it means a great deal to people to have a beautiful outlook from their homes? A—well, an expanse.
SILAS: What is it they want to buy—these fellows that are figuring on making something out of—expanse? (a gesture for expanse, then a reassuring gesture) It’s all right, but—just what is it?
SMITH: I am prepared to make you an offer—a gilt-edged offer for that (pointing toward it) hill above the town.
SILAS: (shaking his head—with the smile of the strong man who is a dreamer) The hill is not for sale.
SMITH: But wouldn’t you consider a—particularly good offer, Mr Morton?
(SILAS, who has turned so he can look out at the hill, slowly shakes his head.)
SMITH: Do you feel you have the right—the moral right to hold it?
SILAS: It’s not for myself I’m holding it.
SMITH: Oh,—for the children?
SILAS: Yes, the children.
SMITH: But—if you’ll excuse me—there are other investments might do the children even more good.
SILAS: This seems to me—the best investment.
SMITH: But after all there are other people’s children to consider.
SILAS: Yes, I know. That’s it.
SMITH: I wonder if I understand you, Mr Morton?
SILAS: (kindly) I don’t believe you do. I don’t see how you could. And I can’t explain myself just now. So—the hill is not for sale. I’m not making anybody homeless. There’s land enough for all—all sides round. But the hill—
SMITH: (rising) Is yours.
SILAS: You’ll see.
SMITH: I am prepared to offer you—
SILAS: You’re not prepared to offer me anything I’d consider alongside what I am considering. So—I wish you good luck in your business undertakings.
SMITH: Sorry—you won’t let us try to help the town.
SILAS: Don’t sit up nights worrying about my chokin’ the town.
SMITH: We could make you a rich man, Mr Morton. Do you think what you have in mind will make you so much richer?
SILAS: Much richer.
SMITH: Well, good-bye. Good day, sir. Good day, ma’am.
SILAS: (following him to the door) Nice horse you’ve got.
SMITH: Yes, seems all right.
(SILAS stands in the doorway and looks off at the hill.)
GRANDMOTHER: What are you going to do with the hill, Silas?
SILAS: After I get a little glass of wine—to celebrate Felix and me being here instead of farther south—I’d like to tell you what I want for the hill. (to FEJEVARY rather bashfully) I’ve been wanting to tell you.
FEJEVARY: I want to know.
SILAS: (getting the wine from the closet) Just a little something to show our gratitude with.
(Goes off right for glasses.)
GRANDMOTHER: I dunno. Maybe it’d be better to sell the hill—while they’re anxious.
FEJEVARY: He seems to have another plan for it.
GRANDMOTHER: Yes. Well, I hope the other plan does bring him something. Silas has worked—all the days of his life.
FEJEVARY: I know.
GRANDMOTHER: You don’t know the hull of it. But I know. (rather to herself) Know too well to think about it.
GRANDMOTHER: (as SILAS returns) I’ll get more cookies.
SILAS: I’ll get them, mother.
GRANDMOTHER: Get ’em myself. Pity if a woman can’t get out her own cookies.
SILAS: (seeing how hard it is for her) I wish mother would let us do things for her.
FEJEVARY: That strength is a flame frailness can’t put out. It’s a great thing for us to have her,—this touch with the life behind us.
SILAS: Yes. And it’s a great thing for us to have you—who can see those things and say them. What a lot I’d ‘a’ missed if I hadn’t had what you’ve seen.
FEJEVARY: Oh, you only think that because you’ve got to be generous.
SILAS: I’m not generous. I’m seeing something now. Something about you. I’ve been thinking of it a good deal lately—it’s got something to do with—with the hill. I’ve been thinkin’ what it’s meant all these years to have a family like yours next place to. They did something pretty nice for the corn belt when they drove you out of Hungary. Funny—how things don’t end the way they begin. I mean, what begins don’t end. It’s another thing ends. Set out to do something for your own country—and maybe you don’t quite do the thing you set out to do—
SILAS: But do something for a country a long way off.
FEJEVARY: I’m afraid I’ve not done much for any country.
SILAS: (brusquely) Where’s your left arm—may I be so bold as to inquire? Though your left arm’s nothing alongside—what can’t be measured.
FEJEVARY: When I think of what I dreamed as a young man—it seems to me my life has failed.
SILAS: (raising his glass) Well, if your life’s failed—I like failure.
(GRANDMOTHER MORTON returns with her cookies.)
GRANDMOTHER: There’s two kinds—Mr Fejevary. These have seeds in ’em.
FEJEVARY: Thank you. I’ll try a seed cookie first.
SILAS: Mother, you’ll have a glass of wine?
GRANDMOTHER: I don’t need wine.
SILAS: Well, I don’t know as we need it.
GRANDMOTHER: No, I don’t know as you do. But I didn’t go to war.
FEJEVARY: Then have a little wine to celebrate that.
GRANDMOTHER: Well, just a mite to warm me up. Not that it’s cold. (FEJEVARY brings it to her, and the cookies) The Indians used to like cookies. I was talking to that young whippersnapper about the Indians. One time I saw an Indian watching me from a bush, (points) Right out there. I was never afraid of Indians when you could see the whole of ’em—but when you could see nothin’ but their bright eyes—movin’ through leaves—I declare they made me nervous. After he’d been there an hour I couldn’t seem to put my mind on my work. So I thought, Red or White, a man’s a man—I’ll take him some cookies.
FEJEVARY: It succeeded?
GRANDMOTHER: So well that those leaves had eyes next day. But he brought me a fish to trade. He was a nice boy.
SILAS: Probably we killed him.
GRANDMOTHER: I dunno. Maybe he killed us. Will Owens’ family was massacred just after this. Like as not my cookie Indian helped out there. Something kind of uncertain about the Indians.
SILAS: I guess they found something kind of uncertain about us.
GRANDMOTHER: Six o’ one and half a dozen of another. Usually is.
SILAS: (to FEJEVARY) I wonder if I’m wrong. You see, I never went to school—
GRANDMOTHER: I don’t know why you say that, Silas. There was two winters you went to school.
SILAS: Yes, mother, and I’m glad I did, for I learned to read there, and liked the geography globe. It made the earth so nice to think about. And one day the teacher told us all about the stars, and I had that to think of when I was driving at night. The other boys didn’t believe it was so. But I knew it was so! But I mean school—the way Mr Fejevary went to school. He went to universities. In his own countries—in other countries. All the things men have found out, the wisest and finest things men have thought since first they began to think—all that was put before them.
FEJEVARY: (with a gentle smile) I fear I left a good deal of it untouched.
SILAS: You took a plenty. Tell in your eyes you’ve thought lots about what’s been thought. And that’s what I was setting out to say. It makes something of men—learning. A house that’s full of books makes a different kind of people. Oh, of course, if the books aren’t there just to show off.
GRANDMOTHER: Like in Mary Baldwin’s new house.
SILAS: (trying hard to see it) It’s not the learning itself—it’s the life that grows up from learning. Learning’s like soil. Like—like fertilizer. Get richer. See more. Feel more. You believe that?
FEJEVARY: Culture should do it.
SILAS: Does in your house. You somehow know how it is for the other fellow more’n we do.
GRANDMOTHER: Well, Silas Morton, when you’ve your wood to chop an’ your water to carry, when you kill your own cattle and hogs, tend your own horses and hens, make your butter, soap, and cook for whoever the Lord sends—there’s none too many hours of the day left to be polite in.
SILAS: You’re right, mother. It had to be that way. But now that we buy our soap—we don’t want to say what soap-making made us.
GRANDMOTHER: We’re honest.
SILAS: Yes. In a way. But there’s another kind o’ honesty, seems to me, goes with that more seein’ kind of kindness. Our honesty with the Indians was little to brag on.
GRANDMOTHER: You fret more about the Indians than anybody else does.
SILAS: To look out at that hill sometimes makes me ashamed.
GRANDMOTHER: Land sakes, you didn’t do it. It was the government. And what a government does is nothing for a person to be ashamed of.
SILAS: I don’t know about that. Why is he here? Why is Felix Fejevary not rich and grand in Hungary to-day? ‘Cause he was ashamed of what his government was.
GRANDMOTHER: Well, that was a foreign government.
SILAS: A seeing how ’tis for the other person—a bein’ that other person, kind of honesty. Joke of it, ‘twould do something for you. ‘Twould ‘a’ done something for us to have been Indians a little more. My father used to talk about Blackhawk—they was friends. I saw Blackhawk once—when I was a boy. (to FEJEVARY) Guess I told you. You know what he looked like? He looked like the great of the earth. Noble. Noble like the forests—and the Mississippi—and the stars. His face was long and thin and you could see the bones, and the bones were beautiful. Looked like something that’s never been caught. He was something many nights in his canoe had made him. Sometimes I feel that the land itself has got a mind that the land would rather have had the Indians.
GRANDMOTHER: Well, don’t let folks hear you say it. They’d think you was plum crazy.
SILAS: I s’pose they would, (turning to FEJEVARY) But after you’ve walked a long time over the earth—and you all alone, didn’t you ever feel something coming up from it that’s like thought?
FEJEVARY: I’m afraid I never did. But—I wish I had.
SILAS: I love land—this land. I suppose that’s why I never have the feeling that I own it.
GRANDMOTHER: If you don’t own it—I want to know! What do you think we come here for—your father and me? What do you think we left our folks for—left the world of white folks—schools and stores and doctors, and set out in a covered wagon for we didn’t know what? We lost a horse. Lost our way—weeks longer than we thought ‘twould be. You were born in that covered wagon. You know that. But what you don’t know is what that’s like—without your own roof—or fire—without—
(She turns her face away.)
SILAS: No. No, mother, of course not. Now—now isn’t this too bad? I don’t say things right. It’s because I never went to school.
GRANDMOTHER: (her face shielded) You went to school two winters.
SILAS: Yes. Yes, mother. So I did. And I’m glad I did.
GRANDMOTHER: (with the determination of one who will not have her own pain looked at) Mrs Fejevary’s pansy bed doing well this summer?
FEJEVARY: It’s beautiful this summer. She was so pleased with the new purple kind you gave her. I do wish you could get over to see them.
GRANDMOTHER: Yes. Well, I’ve seen lots of pansies. Suppose it was pretty fine-sounding speeches they had in town?
FEJEVARY: Too fine-sounding to seem much like the war.
SILAS: I’d like to go to a war celebration where they never mentioned war. There’d be a way to celebrate victory, (hearing a step, looking out) Mother, here’s Felix.
(FELIX, a well-dressed young man, comes in.)
GRANDMOTHER: How do, Felix?
FELIX: And how do you do, Grandmother Morton?
GRANDMOTHER: Well, I’m still here.
FELIX: Of course you are. It wouldn’t be coming home if you weren’t.
GRANDMOTHER: I’ve got some cookies for you, Felix. I set ’em out, so you wouldn’t have to steal them. John and Felix was hard on the cookie jar.
FELIX: Where is John?
SILAS: (who is pouring a glass of wine for FELIX) You’ve not seen John yet? He was in town for the exercises. I bet those young devils ran off to the race-track. I heard whisperin’ goin’ round. But everybody’ll be home some time. Mary and the girls—don’t ask me where they are. They’ll drive old Bess all over the country before they drive her to the bam. Your father and I come on home ’cause I wanted to have a talk with him.
FELIX: Getting into the old uniforms makes you want to talk it all over again?
SILAS: The war? Well, we did do that. But all that makes me want to talk about what’s to come, about—what ’twas all for. Great things are to come, Felix. And before you are through.
FELIX: I’ve been thinking about them myself—walking around the town to-day. It’s grown so much this year, and in a way that means more growing—that big glucose plant going up down the river, the new lumber mill—all that means many more people.
FEJEVARY: And they’ve even bought ground for a steel works.
SILAS: Yes, a city will rise from these cornfields—a big rich place—that’s bound to be. It’s written in the lay o’ the land and the way the river flows. But first tell us about Harvard College, Felix. Ain’t it a fine thing for us all to have Felix coming home from that wonderful place!
FELIX: You make it seem wonderful.
SILAS: Ah, you know it’s wonderful—know it so well you don’t have to say it. It’s something you’ve got. But to me it’s wonderful the way the stars are wonderful—this place where all that the world has learned is to be drawn from me—like a spring.
FELIX: You almost say what Matthew Arnold says—a distinguished new English writer who speaks of: ‘The best that has been thought and said in the world’.
SILAS: ‘The best that has been thought and said in the world!’ (slowly rising, and as if the dream of years is bringing him to his feet) That’s what that hill is for! (pointing) Don’t you see it? End of our trail, we climb a hill and plant a college. Plant a college, so’s after we are gone that college says for us, says in people learning has made more: ‘That is why we took this land.’
GRANDMOTHER: (incredulous) You mean, Silas, you’re going to give the hill away?
SILAS: The hill at the end of our trail—how could we keep that?
GRANDMOTHER: Well, I want to know why not! Hill or level—land’s land and not a thing you give away.
SILAS: Well, don’t scold me. I’m not giving it away. It’s giving itself away, get down to it.
GRANDMOTHER: Don’t talk to me as if I was feeble-minded.
SILAS: I’m talking with all the mind I’ve got. If there’s not mind in what I say, it’s because I’ve got no mind. But I have got a mind, (to FEJEVARY, humorously) Haven’t I? You ought to know. Seeing as you gave it to me.
FEJEVARY: Ah, no—I didn’t give it to you.
SILAS: Well, you made me know ’twas there. You said things that woke things in me and I thought about them as I ploughed. And that made me know there had to be a college there—wake things in minds—so ploughing’s more than ploughing. What do you say, Felix?
FELIX: It—it’s a big idea, Uncle Silas. I love the way you put it. It’s only that I’m wondering—
SILAS: Wondering how it can ever be a Harvard College? Well, it can’t. And it needn’t be (stubbornly) It’s a college in the cornfields—where the Indian maize once grew. And it’s for the boys of the cornfields—and the girls. There’s few can go to Harvard College—but more can climb that hill, (turn of the head from the hill to FELIX) Harvard on a hill? (As FELIX smiles no, SILAS turns back to the hill) A college should be on a hill. They can see it then from far around. See it as they go out to the barn in the morning; see it when they’re shutting up at night. ‘Twill make a difference—even to them that never go.
GRANDMOTHER: Now, Silas—don’t be hasty.
SILAS: Hasty? It’s been company to me for years. Came to me one night—must ‘a’ been ten years ago—middle of a starry night as I was comin’ home from your place (to FEJEVARY) I’d gone over to lend a hand with a sick horse an’—
FEJEVARY: (with a grateful smile) That was nothing new.
SILAS: Well, say, I’d sit up with a sick horse that belonged to the meanest man unhung. But—there were stars that night had never been there before. Leastways I’d not seen ’em. And the hill—Felix, in all your travels east, did you ever see anything more beautiful than that hill?
FELIX: It’s like sculpture.
SILAS: Hm. (the wistfulness with which he speaks of that outside his knowledge) I s’pose ’tis. It’s the way it rises—somehow—as if it knew it rose from wide and fertile lands. I climbed the hill that night, (to FEJEVARY) You’d been talkin’. As we waited between medicines you told me about your life as a young man. All you’d lived through seemed to—open up to you that night—way things do at times. Guess it was ’cause you thought you was goin’ to lose your horse. See, that was Colonel, the sorrel, wasn’t it?
FEJEVARY: Yes. Good old Colonel.
SILAS: You’d had a long run o’ off luck. Hadn’t got things back in shape since the war. But say, you didn’t lose him, did you?
FEJEVARY: Thanks to you.
SILAS: Thanks to the medicine I keep in the back kitchen.
FEJEVARY: You encouraged him.
GRANDMOTHER: Silas has a way with all the beasts.
SILAS: We’ve got the same kind of minds—the beasts and me.
GRANDMOTHER: Silas, I wish you wouldn’t talk like that—and with Felix just home from Harvard College.
SILAS: Same kind of minds—except that mine goes on a little farther.
GRANDMOTHER: Well I’m glad to hear you say that.
SILAS: Well, there we sat—you an’ me—middle of a starry night, out beside your barn. And I guess it came over you kind of funny you should be there with me—way off the Mississippi, tryin’ to save a sick horse. Seemed to—bring your life to life again. You told me what you studied in that fine old university you loved—the Vienna,—and why you became a revolutionist. The old dreams took hold o’ you and you talked—way you used to, I suppose. The years, o’ course, had rubbed some of it off. Your face as you went on about the vision—you called it, vision of what life could be. I knew that night there was things I never got wind of. When I went away—knew I ought to go home to bed—hayin’ at daybreak. ‘Go to bed?’ I said to myself. ‘Strike this dead when you’ve never had it before, may never have it again?’ I climbed the hill. Blackhawk was there.
GRANDMOTHER: Why, he was dead.
SILAS: He was there—on his own old hill, with me and the stars. And I said to him—
SILAS: Says I to him, ‘Yes—that’s true; it’s more yours than mine, you had it first and loved it best. But it’s neither yours nor mine,—though both yours and mine. Not my hill, not your hill, but—hill of vision’, said I to him. ‘Here shall come visions of a better world than was ever seen by you or me, old Indian chief.’ Oh, I was drunk, plum drunk.
GRANDMOTHER: I should think you was. And what about the next day’s hay?
SILAS: A day in the hayfield is a day’s hayin’—but a night on the hill—
FELIX: We don’t have them often, do we, Uncle Silas?
SILAS: I wouldn’t ‘a’ had that one but for your father, Felix. Thank God they drove you out o’ Hungary! And it’s all so dog-gone queer. Ain’t it queer how things blow from mind to mind—like seeds. Lord A’mighty—you don’t know where they’ll take hold.
(Children’s voices off.)
GRANDMOTHER: There come those children up from the creek—soppin’ wet, I warrant. Well, I don’t know how children ever get raised. But we raise more of ’em than we used to. I buried three—first ten years I was here. Needn’t ‘a’ happened—if we’d known what we know now, and if we hadn’t been alone. (With all her strength.) I don’t know what you mean—the hill’s not yours!
SILAS: It’s the future’s, mother—so’s we can know more than we know now.
GRANDMOTHER: We know it now. ‘Twas then we didn’t know it. I worked for that hill! And I tell you to leave it to your own children.
SILAS: There’s other land for my own children. This is for all the children.
GRANDMOTHER: What’s all the children to you?
SILAS: (derisively) Oh, mother—what a thing for you to say! You who were never too tired to give up your own bed so the stranger could have a better bed.
GRANDMOTHER: That was different. They was folks on their way.
FEJEVARY: So are we.
(SILAS turns to him with quick appreciation.)
GRANDMOTHER: That’s just talk. We’re settled now. Children of other old settlers are getting rich. I should think you’d want yours to.
SILAS: I want other things more. I want to pay my debts ‘fore I’m too old to know they’re debts.
GRANDMOTHER: (momentarily startled) Debts? Huh! More talk. You don’t owe any man.
SILAS: I owe him (nodding to FEJEVARY). And the red boys here before me.
FELIX: You haven’t read Darwin, have you, Uncle Silas?
FELIX: Darwin, the great new man—and his theory of the survival of the fittest?
SILAS: No. No, I don’t know things like that, Felix.
FELIX: I think he might make you feel better about the Indians. In the struggle for existence many must go down. The fittest survive. This—had to be.
SILAS: Us and the Indians? Guess I don’t know what you mean—fittest.
FELIX: He calls it that. Best fitted to the place in which one finds one’s self, having the qualities that can best cope with conditions—do things. From the beginning of life it’s been like that. He shows the growth of life from forms that were hardly alive, the lowest animal forms—jellyfish—up to man.
SILAS: Oh, yes, that’s the thing the churches are so upset about—that we come from monkeys.
FELIX: Yes. One family of ape is the direct ancestor of man.
GRANDMOTHER: You’d better read your Bible, Felix.
SILAS: Do people believe this?
FELIX: The whole intellectual world is at war about it. The best scientists accept it. Teachers are losing their positions for believing it. Of course, ministers can’t believe it.
GRANDMOTHER: I should think not. Anyway, what’s the use believing a thing that’s so discouraging?
FEJEVARY: (gently) But is it that? It almost seems to me we have to accept it because it is so encouraging. (holding out his hand) Why have we hands?
GRANDMOTHER: Cause God gave them to us, I s’pose.
FEJEVARY: But that’s rather general, and there isn’t much in it to give us self-confidence. But when you think we have hands because ages back—before life had taken form as man, there was an impulse to do what had never been done—when you think that we have hands today because from the first of life there have been adventurers—those of best brain and courage who wanted to be more than life had been, and that from aspiration has come doing, and doing has shaped the thing with which to do—it gives our hand a history which should make us want to use it well.
SILAS: (breathed from deep) Well, by God! And you’ve known this all this while! Dog-gone you—why didn’t you tell me?
FEJEVARY: I’ve been thinking about it. I haven’t known what to believe. This hurts—beliefs of earlier years.
FELIX: The things it hurts will have to go.
FEJEVARY: I don’t know about that, Felix. Perhaps in time we’ll find truth in them.
FELIX: Oh, if you feel that way, father.
FEJEVARY: Don’t be kind to me, my boy, I’m not that old.
SILAS: But think what it is you’ve said! If it’s true that we made ourselves—made ourselves out of the wanting to be more—created ourselves you might say, by our own courage—our—what is it?—aspiration. Why, I can’t take it in. I haven’t got the mind to take it in. And what mind I have got says no. It’s too—
FEJEVARY: It fights with what’s there.
SILAS: (nodding) But it’s like I got this (very slowly) other way around. From underneath. As if I’d known it all along—but have just found out I know it! Yes. The earth told me. The beasts told me.
GRANDMOTHER: Fine place to learn things from.
SILAS: Anyhow, haven’t I seen it? (to FEJEVARY) In your face haven’t I seen thinking make a finer face? How long has this taken, Felix, to—well, you might say, bring us where we are now?
FELIX: Oh, we don’t know how many millions of years since earth first stirred.
SILAS: Then we are what we are because through all that time there’ve been them that wanted to be more than life had been.
FELIX: That’s it, Uncle Silas.
SILAS: But—why, then we aren’t finished yet!
FEJEVARY: No. We take it on from here.
SILAS: (slowly) Then if we don’t be—the most we can be, if we don’t be more than life has been, we go back on all that life behind us; go back on—the—
(Unable to formulate it, he looks to FEJEVARY.)
FEJEVARY: Go back on the dreaming and the daring of a million years.
(After a moment’s pause SILAS gets up, opens the closet door.)
GRANDMOTHER: Silas, what you doing?
SILAS: (who has taken out a box) I’m lookin’ for the deed to the hill.
GRANDMOTHER: What you going to do with it?
SILAS: I’m going to get it out of my hands.
GRANDMOTHER: Get it out of your hands? (he has it now) Deed your father got from the government the very year the government got it from the Indians?
(rising) Give me that! (she turns to FEJEVARY) Tell him he’s crazy. We got the best land ’cause we was first here. We got a right to keep it.
FEJEVARY: (going soothingly to her) It’s true, Silas, it is a serious thing to give away one’s land.
SILAS: You ought to know. You did it. Are you sorry you did it?
FEJEVARY: No. But wasn’t that different?
SILAS: How was it different? Yours was a fight to make life more, wasn’t it? Well, let this be our way.
GRANDMOTHER: What’s all that got to do with giving up the land that should provide for our own children?
SILAS: Isn’t it providing for them to give them a better world to live in? Felix—you’re young, I ask you, ain’t it providing for them to give them a chance to be more than we are?
FELIX: I think you’re entirely right, Uncle Silas. But it’s the practical question that—
SILAS: If you’re right, the practical question is just a thing to fix up.
FEJEVARY: I fear you don’t realize the immense amount of money required to finance a college. The land would be a start. You would have to interest rich men; you’d have to have a community in sympathy with the thing you wanted to do.
GRANDMOTHER: Can’t you see, Silas, that we’re all against you?
SILAS: All against me? (to FEJEVARY) But how can you be? Look at the land we walked in and took! Was there ever such a chance to make life more? Why, the buffalo here before us was more than we if we do nothing but prosper! God damn us if we sit here rich and fat and forget man’s in the makin’. (affirming against this) There will one day be a college in these cornfields by the Mississippi because long ago a great dream was fought for in Hungary. And I say to that old dream, Wake up, old dream! Wake up and fight! You say rich men. (holding it out, but it is not taken) I give you this deed to take to rich men to show them one man believes enough in this to give the best land he’s got. That ought to make rich men stop and think.
GRANDMOTHER: Stop and think he’s a fool.
SILAS: (to FEJEVARY) It’s you can make them know he’s not a fool. When you tell this way you can tell it, they’ll feel in you what’s more than them. They’ll listen.
GRANDMOTHER: I tell you, Silas, folks are too busy.
SILAS: Too busy!’ Too busy bein’ nothin’? If it’s true that we created ourselves out of the thoughts that came, then thought is not something outside the business of life. Thought—(with his gift for wonder) why, thought’s our chance. I know now. Why I can’t forget the Indians. We killed their joy before we killed them. We made them less, (to FEJEVARY, and as if sure he is now making it clear) I got to give it back—their hill. I give it back to joy—a better joy—joy o’aspiration.
FEJEVARY: (moved but unconvinced) But, my friend, there are men who have no aspiration. That’s why, to me, this is as a light shining from too far.
GRANDMOTHER: (old things waked in her) Light shining from far. We used to do that. We never pulled the curtain. I used to want to—you like to be to yourself when night conies—but we always left a lighted window for the traveller who’d lost his way.
FELIX: I should think that would have exposed you to the Indians.
GRANDMOTHER: Yes. (impatiently) Well, you can’t put out a light just because it may light the wrong person.
FEJEVARY: No. (and this is as a light to him. He turns to the hill) No.
SILAS: (with gentleness, and profoundly) That’s it. Look again. Maybe your eyes are stronger now. Don’t you see it? I see that college rising as from the soil itself, as if it was what come at the last of that thinking that breathes from the earth. I see it—but I want to know it’s real before I stop knowing. Then maybe I can lie under the same sod with the red boys and not be ashamed. We’re not old! Let’s fight! Wake in other men what you woke in me!
FEJEVARY: And so could I pay my debt to America. (His hand goes out.)
SILAS: (giving him the deed) And to the dreams of a million years! (Standing near the open door, their hands are gripped in compact.)