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Synopsis
by Margaret Loftus Ranald

A tragedy in three parts and twelve scenes laid "in, and immediately outside of, the Cabot farmhouse in New England, in the year 1850." The house faces south "to a stone wall with a wooden gate at center opening onto a country road. The house is in good condition but in need of paint." The wood siding has weathered to gray, and the shutters are faded. On either side of the house are two huge elms which bend down over the roof, appearing to protect and at the same time to subdue: "They brood oppressively over the house. They are like exhausted women resting their sagging breasts and hands and hair on its roof, and when it rains their tears trickle down monotonously and rot on the shingles." A path runs "around the right hand corner of the house to the front door." The side of the house facing the audience has four windows, the upstairs ones being of the bedrooms of the father and the brothers, and the larger, downstairs ones being of the parlor on the right and the kitchen on the left.

 

Part I, Scene i: Sunset on an early summer day. The air is still and the sky above the farmhouse is filled with color, but the house itself is in shadow. Eben Cabot comes out on to the porch, looks down the road, mechanically swings a dinner bell, and then looks up appreciatively at the' sky. He is a tall, sinewy, twenty-five-year-old, with a handsome face marred by a "resentful and defensive expression." He has dark hair and eyes which have the look of a trapped animal about them. "He is dressed in rough farm clothes." As he gazes at the sky he says, "God! Purty!" then spits on the ground and goes in. Simeon Cabot and Peter Cabot, Eben's half-brothers, come in from their work. Simeon is thirty-nine and Peter is thirty-seven. They are rather "bovine" men, bent somewhat from years of hard farm work, and as they move they jostle each other slightly "like two friendly oxen." They are dressed in farm work clothes and heavy muddy boots. They stop for a moment in front of the house and look at the sky. Their faces soften and they begin a laconic conversation which repeats Eben's "purty!" Simeon recalls that it was eighteen years ago that his wife died. Now and then he recalls, "Makes it lonesome. She'd hair long's a hoss's tail—an' yaller like gold!" Peter gives a brief recognition to the dead woman but then says, "They's gold in the West, Sim," and excitedly speaks of the fortunes that can be made for the asking in California, "Golden Gate—Californi–a!—Goldest West!—fields o' gold." The excitement communicates itself to Simeon as Peter recalls the everlasting misery of their lives on the farm, raising one stone on top of another to build "stone walls fur him to fence us in!" The two begin to speculate on the whereabouts of their father, Ephraim Cabot, who has been gone for the past two months. He last left the farm thirty years ago to marry "Eben's maw." Eben, who has been listening out the window, says, "I pray he's died," much to the surprise of his brothers. Again the three of them gaze at the sun, Eben remarking, "Sun's downin' purty," while Simeon and Peter together speak of "gold in the West." Initially Eben misunderstands "Yonder atop o' the pasture, ye mean?" But the two brothers answer as one: "In California!" With that, they go inside for dinner.

 

Part I, Scene ii: The color is fading, and with the coming of twilight the inside of the kitchen becomes visible. The kitchen is clean and neat but thoroughly masculine in appearance. There is a ship's poster saying "California" on the rear wall center. Places have been laid for three, and Eben serves boiled potatoes and bacon together with "a loaf of bread and a crock of water." The two older men sit down and start eating while Eben picks at his food, "glancing at them with a tolerant dislike." Finally the silence is broken when Simeon and Peter both upbraid Eben for wishing their father dead. Eben considers himself his mother's son and has never forgotten the way Ephraim worked her to death. Simeon and Peter also remember her kindness, but they don't react quite like Eben. Peter, in fact, notes that Ephraim is slaving himself and his sons to death, On'y none o' us hain't died—yit." Simeon perceives that there is "something' " driving the old man to act as he does, but he does not understand what it might be. Eben then asks what is driving his brothers to California, suggesting that they'll never get there because they are waiting for their share of the farm, their two-thirds. But he maintains that the farm really belonged to his mother: "Didn't he steal it from her? She's dead. It's my farm." Gradually it comes out that Eben cannot forgive his brothers for not trying to save his mother from overwork, and the two older men recite a laconic litany of the farm chores that came first, until Eben finally speaks again of the stone walls: "makin' walls till yer heart's a stone ye heft up out o' the way o' growth onto a stone wall t'wall in yer heart." Peter asks him why he did nothing, and Eben takes refuge in the same excuse—"chores." However, he believes that she still haunts the place, and "sooner'r later, . . . I'll see t' it my Maw gits some rest an' sleep in her grave."

 

Again the brothers wonder what has become of Ephraim, who had driven off looking unusually spic and span. He had felt the stirrings of spring, "an' now I'm ridin' out t' learn God's message t' me in the spring, like the prophets done. "And, after an admonition to the two older men not to run away, he had gone—singing a hymn. Eben asks why they had not prevented his departure and asserts that he is stronger than they. They are mildly amused by this and even more so when Eben announces that he is going up the road, and the brothers realize that it is to see the town prostitute, Min, whom each one of them had known, including Ephraim; "He was fust! . . . We air his heirs in everything." At first Eben thinks of bashing Min, but then when he is left alone, he softens: "By God A'mighty she's purty, an' I don't give a damn how many sins she's sinned afore mine or who she's sinned with, my sin's as purty as any one on 'em!"

 

Part I, Scene iii: It is pitch dark and just before dawn as Eben goes in the front door, "chuckling bitterly and cursing half-aloud." He goes upstairs. He enters their bedroom with a lighted candle, and the interior of the bedroom becomes visible, with its low sloping roof, the double bed in which Simeon and Peter are sleeping, and Eben's cot at the rear. With a combination of "silly grin and malicious scowl" Eben tells his news: Ephraim has married a woman of thirty-five. This news makes Simeon and Peter decide to depart for California, and Eben pulls out a paper in which he offers to buy their shares in the farm for three hundred dollars apiece, which he can get from Ephraim's secret hoard: "I know whar it's hid. . . . Maw told me." The older men don't quite commit themselves and tell Eben to fix some "vittles" for them. He tells them that he has indeed been with Min and suggests that "this cow the Old Man's hitched t'! She'll beat Min, I got a notion!" Simeon's curious suggestion, "Mebbe yell try t' make her your'n, too?" calls forth a disgusted denial from Eben. Left alone, the brothers discuss Eben's offer, noting shrewdly that "if Paw's hitched we'd be sellin' Eben somethin' we'd never git nohow!" In the meantime, while waiting for Eben to return, they will laze around and drink. Both men wish Ephraim damned, and Simeon ironically recalls his departure to seek God's will when "I'll bet right then an' thar he knew plumb well he was goin' whorin', the stinkin' old hypocrite!"

 

Part I, Scene iv: The interior of the kitchen as in Scene i, with a candle on the table. Simeon and Peter have just finished breakfast, and almost as a reflex action they are about to leave for work when Simeon remembers that they have decided not to work at all if Eben wants to be sole owner. As soon as he hears this, Eben races off to milk the cows: "I'll work my durn fingers off fur cows o' mine." Again, Simeon and Peter note his likeness to Ephraim. The two of them sit down and start drinking. They look at the farm, the sky, and their future with very mixed emotions. They resent how much of themselves they have put into the farm, yet they are also proud of what they have done and regret leaving it. Their defiant assertion of freedom from "stone walls" masks a certain apprehension, and so they go "help Eben a spell," for the habits of a lifetime are hard to break.

 

Just as they start to move, Eben enters with the news that Ephraim and his woman are on the way, and the two older men hasten to get their bundles before he returns. Eben asks whether they'll sign the paper before they go, and Peter counters by asking to see the money. As the brothers go upstairs, Eben pulls up a floorboard under the stone and extracts a canvas bag containing thirty twenty-dollar gold pieces (a significant number, recalling Judas Iscariot). After testing and counting the coins, Simeon and Peter sign and go out to the gate. Eben seems in a delighted trance, while the two brothers mock Ephraim, who is unhitching. Simeon and Peter are in a state of euphoria as they celebrate their freedom from "this stinkin' old rock-pile of a farm." Simeon takes the gate off the hinges and declares that he "bolishes . . . all gates, by thunder!" With this, Peter suggests that they take it with them and let it "sail free down some river."

 

As Ephraim and his wife enter, the brothers freeze. Ephraim is seventy-five, gaunt, toilworn; his face is hard, yet still "with a weakness in it, a petty pride in its own narrow strength." His eyes are myopic, small and close-set, and "he is dressed in his dismal black Sunday suit." Abbie Putnam Cabot "is thirty-five, buxom, full of vitality." She has a pretty round face "marred by its rather gross sensuality." She has an obstinate jaw and determined eyes "and about her whole personality the same unsettled, untamed, desperate quality which is so apparent in Eben."

 

Abbie looks at the farm with a curious echo of the three brothers: "It's purty—purty! I can't b'lieve it's r'ally mine." This last comment galvanizes Ephraim into an assertion of ownership and then a relenting "Our'n—mebbe!" recalling his loneliness in the past. Simeon and Peter greet him with assorted insults which culminate in their heaving two stones through the parlor window as they dance drunkenly away, intoxicated both by liquor and freedom, singing the gold-seekers' words to the tune of "Oh Susannah!" Abbie, meanwhile, has gone into the house to meet Eben, after Ephraim has warned her not to assert her ownership of the farm to him. As the older brothers leave, Abbie looks after them from the bedroom window. "Is it my room, Ephraim?" When her husband replies "Our'n!" she makes an uncontrollable grimace of aversion and shuts the window. Suddenly the thought strikes Ephraim that his sons might have injured the stock or caused some other damage, and he rushes off to the barn.

 

After a moment, Abbie pushes open the kitchen door and enters to look at Eben, who does not see her at first. She looks at him calculatingly, and is "dimly awakened by his youth and good looks." Throughout the rest of this scene, Abbie uses "her most seductive tones" to Eben, as he, "obscurely moved, physically attracted to her," listens to the tale of her life. She understands his rage in seeing her take his mother's place, she says, and recalls that she herself was orphaned early and had to go into service "in other folks' hums." Then she married, but her husband was a drunk, her baby died, and she was once more working for others. After her husband's death, her lot did not change until Ephraim came along—"An' bought yew—like a harlot," says Eben, enraged that the price for Abbie is his mother's farm. The two of them level with each other, Abbie saying quite frankly that that was the only reason she married Ephraim and Eben threatening to tell his father. In turn, Abbie threatens to get Ephraim to drive Eben off the place, and she carefully and specifically asserts her ownership of the farm, home, kitchen, and bedroom, yet finally asks that they be friends. Eben, hypnotized, at first agrees, but then he flings out of the room, finding his father offering a Bible curse on Simeon and Peter. Eben mocks the old man, who replies by telling his son, "Ye'll never be more'n half a man!" As they walk off to the barn, the faint song of Simeon and Peter can still be heard, and Abbie, in the kitchen, washes her dishes as the curtain falls.

 

Part II, Scene i: Two months later, outside the Cabot farmhouse, on a hot, Sunday afternoon. Abbie is sitting, rocking listlessly on the porch, as Eben pokes his head out the window to see if the porch is empty. Abbie senses his presence and stops rocking, while Eben, realizing that she is there, scowls and spits "with exaggerated disdain." Abbie waits breathlessly until Eben comes out dressed in his best suit. As he passes her, she chuckles tauntingly and rouses his ire. She asks where he is going "all slicked up like a prize bull," and he replies in kind. But as they look at each other, "their physical attraction becomes a palpable force quivering in the hot air." Abbie very softly tells Eben that no matter what he says, he is attracted to her, and he has been fighting against his nature ever since she entered the house. She speaks of nature, the heat of the day, the burning inside, humanity's kinship with nature: "Nature'll beat you Eben. Ye might's well own up t'it fust 's last." Eben tries to break away from her, claiming that he is fighting both her and his father for his mother's rights to the land. Abbie then gets him to admit that he is going out to visit Min, the prostitute, who he insists is better than Abbie because she acts honestly and isn't working to steal what is his—the farm. This gives Abbie a chance to throw a tantrum and order him out as Ephraim enters.

 

The old man seems to have softened somewhat since his marriage, and his eyes have become dreamy. However, he is as physically strong as ever. He inquires as to the reason for all the shouting, and she claims that Eben had declared his father was getting soft. As Ephraim looks up at the sky—''Purty, hain't it?"—and compares it to a warm field, Abbie laughs at him. He allows, "I'd like t'own my place up thar," because he is beginning to feel "ripe on the bough." But above all else, he is lonely, because the house is always cold—even when the outside temperature is boiling. In the barn, however, with the cows, it is always warm and comforting. He begins to talk almost kindly of Eben, but Abbie finesses this approach with "Hain't I yer lawful wife?" At this, Ephraim covers her hand with kisses and showers her with praises from The Song of Solomon.

 

Satisfied that she has him under control, Abbie taxes him with planning to leave the farm to Eben, but Ephraim swears that he has no intention of leaving it to anyone—he would rather burn and destroy it all, except for the cows—and except for Abbie, whom he would turn free. At this, Abbie tells Ephraim that Eben has gone to visit Min and alleges that his trying to make love to her had caused the uproar Ephraim had heard. Enraged, Ephraim suggests that he horse-whip his son off the farm, but Abbie refuses, because Ephraim needs another hand. Sadly, Cabot says that none of his sons will bother to stay with the farm: "Simeon an' Peter air gone t' hell—an' Eben's follerin' 'em." She then suggests that "mebbe the Lord'll give us a son" and claims that she has long been praying for this. Ephraim swears that if that were to happen, he would do anything for her. He kneels down and pulls her down too so that they can pray for a son: "An' God hearkened unto Rachel!"

 

Part II, Scene ii: It is about 8 P.M. the same day, and "the interior of the two bedrooms on the top floor is shown." Eben is sitting on the side of his bed in his undershirt and underpants in the room on the left. Cabot and Abbie are seated side by side on the edge of their large, old-fashioned feather bed, he in his nightshirt and she in a nightdress. By the flickering light of the tallow candles, Ephraim speaks of the way Abbie and the farm have become one to him: "Me an' the farm has got t' beget a son."

 

Then in a long monologue, Ephraim tells of the way he came to the farm, made "fields o' stones" fertile land: "When ye kin make corn sprout out o' stones, God's livin' in yew!" Ephraim's God is a hard deity, as he has learned. Once, after two years on this hardscrabble farm, Cabot had given into weakness like the rest of the folk in the area. He had trekked West with them and found easy, rich land: "Ye'd on'y to plow an' sow an' then set an' smoke yer pipe an' watch thin's grow." But the voice of his God came to him saying, "This hain't with nothin' t' Me. Git ye back t' hum!" With that, Ephraim walked away from his land and returned because "God's hard, not easy! God's in the stones!" And as God founded His church on a rock, so Ephraim built his farm out of stones, in efforts that made him hard, too. In his loneliness he took his first wife, the mother of Simeon and Peter, but even then his loneliness was unassuaged. When she died after twenty years, he was less lonely, and his boys helped him with the farm, his own land: "When I thought o' that I didn't feel lonesome." But then he married Eben's mother, partly because of his loneliness and also to bring her family to drop an ownership claim against the farm. But he remained lonely, even though she bore Eben; she never understood him, and after sixteen years she, too, died. Then he lived with the boys, all of whom hated him because of his hardness, while he reciprocated by hating their softness: "They coveted the farm without knowin' what it meant." Then in the past spring he heard again the voice of God telling him "t' go out an' seek an' find!" He turns to Abbie again with the words of Solomon, "Yew air my Rose o' Sharon!" but he is greeted with a blank stare of resentment. At this he pushes her away angrily, almost threateningly, saying, "If ye don't hev a son t' redeem ye..." In reply, Abbie promises him a son, "I kin foretell." Lonely and cold in his own house, Ephraim returns to the barn: "I kin talk t' the cows. They know the farm an' me. They'll give me peace."

 

As Ephraim clumps down the stairs, Eben, on the other side of the wall, sits up, listening. Abbie, "conscious of his movements" stares at the wall. Meanwhile, Ephraim goes out of the house and raises his arms: "God A'mighty, call from the dark!" Then, receiving no answer, he goes to the barn. "Eben and Abbie stare at each other through the wall." Eben sighs, "and Abbie echoes it." Abbbie listens at the wall, and Eben reacts as if he can see what is going on. Then, as she enters his room, he turns away. She stands looking at him and then rushes to embrace and kiss him. At first he submits, then hurls her away. Abbie asks why, and Eben says he hates her, but Abbie recalls that his lips were burning with desire. Eben suggests that he might have been thinking of someone else, and Abbie responds that she wouldn't love a weak thing like him: "I on'y wanted yew fur a purpose o' my own—an' I'll have ye fur it yet `cause I'm stronger'n yew be!" At this, he orders her out of his room, and she taunts him as nothing more than hired help. She says there is still one room in the house which she does not own, and she will now go down there, light the candles, and make it hers. "Won't ye come courtin' me in the best parlor, Mister Cabot?" In confused horror, Eben recalls that the room hasn't been opened since his mother's funeral. Abbie leaves with "I'll expect ye afore long, Eben," and the young man, almost mechanically, puts on his white shirt, tie, coat, and hat, but no shoes. He looks around in bewilderment—"Maw! Whar air yew?"—and slowly walks out.

 

Part II, Scene iii: A few minutes later in the parlor, "a grim, repressed room like a tomb in which the family has been interred alive." The candles are all lit, and Abbie is seated on the edge of the horsehair sofa looking unexpectedly "awed and frightened, ready to run away." Eben opens the door, dressed as before, with "an expression of obsessed confusion." The spirit of Eben's mother, which seems to haunt the room, has frightened Abbie, but now that Eben has entered, it seems "soft an' kind." Eben recalls his mother and says that the farm was really hers. Gradually, Abbie answers his recollections of his mother with comparisons to her own lot and asks him to kiss her, "Same's if I was a Maw t' ye." But lust overcomes her and frightens him while she pleads, saying that she (his mother) wants him to love Abbie. Revelation comes to Eben: "It's her vengeance on him—so's she kin rest quiet in her grave." With this, Abbie stretches her arms out to him as Eben throws himself on his knees and admits that he has been "dyin' fur want o' ye!" They embrace and kiss violently.

 

Part II, Scene iv: The "exterior of the farmhouse. It is just dawn." Eben, dressed in work clothes, comes out and goes to the gate. He seems changed and more confident, "grinning to himself with evident satisfaction." The parlor window is flung open just as he reaches the gate, and Abbie looks out, her hair over her shoulders and eyes filled with longing. She calls him back and they kiss several times. Abbie declares that Ephraim won't suspect anything, and now that the parlor is her room, or "our room," as she corrects herself to Eben, she will let in the sun. Eben says, "Maw's gone back t' her grave. She kin sleep now." Abbie says she isn't going to bother to get Ephraim's food, and just then Ephraim appears in the distance, looking vaguely up at the sky he is barely able to see. Eben treats his father with a curious blend of humor and mild insolence, something Ephraim cannot understand, and accuses Eben of being drunk, but Eben says, " 'Tain't Ricker, jest life. Yew'n me is quits. Let's shake hands." Mystified, Ephraim looks at him as Eben asks whether he had felt his mother going back to her grave: "She's quits with ye." Ephraim, not knowing what to say, says he has slept with the cows: "They know how t' sleep. They're teachin' me." Eben acts so jovially that the balance of authority seems to have shifted and Ephraim senses it, particularly when Eben begins to treat him like a fool: "I'm the prize rooster o' this roost." But Ephraim looks scornfully after his son. "A born fool," he says as he goes to look for breakfast. The curtain falls.

 

Part III, Scene i: The following year, a night in late spring. Each of the two upstairs bedrooms is lighted by a candle. Eben lies on his bed, scowling at the floor through which he can hear the noise of a dance from the kitchen. In the master bedroom there is a cradle by the bed. Downstairs, the floor has been cleared for dancing, with benches placed against the wall. Ephraim Cabot is in "a state of extreme hilarious excitement" as a result of all the whiskey he has drunk, and he is serving drinks to all the men. Married couples and young people from the neighborhood are crowded in, and a musician busily tunes his fiddle. Abbie sits in a rocking chair with a shawl around her shoulders. She is pale, thin, and drawn, and her eyes stray continually to the open door as if she is expecting someone. The entire company is chattering, laughing, and exchanging broad winks. Abbie asks where Eben is, and a young girl replies scornfully that he has spent most of his time at home since she came. A man suggests himself for consideration as a successor to Eben if Abbie gets tired. All in all, the company is having a bawdy time at the expense of Abbie and Ephraim, the latter of whom is quite oblivious to what is being said as he calls on his guests to dance for him. There is a short square dance sequence in which everyone participates in one way or another, dancing or clapping, except Abbie. Suddenly, Cabot is unable to restrain himself and "prances into the midst of the dancers, scattering them, waving his arms wildly." Everyone stops and watches as the fiddler works harder and harder on "Pop Goes the Weasel" and Cabot capers higher and higher, kicking with both legs, looking "like a monkey on a string," and punctuating his dancing with comments on his physical stamina. Finally, the fiddler stops, and Cabot then stops.

 

Upstairs, Eben enters the master bedroom and looks at the child in the cradle, confusedly yet with "a trace of tenderness, of interested discovery." At that moment, Abbie seems to sense something, almost by telepathy, and goes up to the baby. Cabot orders the music to resume and goes outside for some air as the company start whispering among themselves, making "a noise as of dead leaves in the wind. "As Cabot leans on the gate and stares at the sky, Abbie and Eben kiss and bend over the baby. Eben says he doesn't want to continue with "lettin' on what's mine's his'n." He has been doing that all his life and is getting to the end of his rope. Abbie comforts him with a kiss, saying that something will happen, and they remain in an embrace. Ephraim, at the gate, feels somehow lonesome, finding himself uncomfortable in the house. "Somethin's always livin' with ye." And in search of peace he goes down to the barn. The fiddler strikes up "Turkey in the Straw" and the real merriment begins.

 

Part III, Scene ii: The outside of the farmhouse a half-hour later. Eben is "looking up at the sky, an expression of dumb bewilderment on his face," as his father appears. When he sees Eben, he becomes cruelly triumphant, comes up, and slaps him on the back, while in the background the sound of the dance can be heard. He asks Eben why he isn't inside looking for a girl: "Ye might 'am a share o' a farm that way." This angers Eben, who taxes Ephraim with the way he got title to his farm, through marriage. Ephraim denies the charge, but when Eben says, "An' I got a farm anyways," Ephraim treats him with scornful confidence, telling him that he will never get any of the farm. It will belong to the new child and to Abbie, who has told him about the way Eben had tried to make love to her. When he sees the impression this information has made on Eben, he embroiders further, claiming that Abbie had wanted Eben cut off so that she could have the farm. At this, Eben threatens to murder Abbie, and the two men grapple. But Ephraim is too strong for Eben, who is rescued by Abbie.

 

Eben engages in bitter recriminations with Abbie, who frantically protests her love. Eben tells her she has made a fool of him by getting his father to disinherit him if Abbie has a son. Pleadingly, Abbie explains that she was after vengeance then because of Eben's going to Min, but she "didn't mean t' do bad t' ye!" and begs for forgiveness. Eben, however, wants revenge on both of them and threatens to leave for the California gold fields. Then, when he is rich, he will return and kick out Abbie and his father, and the child too. As far as the infant is concerned, Eben wishes it would die: "I wish he never was born! I wish he'd die this minit! I wish I'd never sot eyes on him! It's him—yew havin' him—apurpose to steal—that's changed everythin!." In answer to Abbie's pleading, Eben admits that he had indeed loved her "like a dumb ox!" and his hatred arises from the belief that she had tricked him. So, he will leave the next morning. Abbie says that if Eben hates the child, so too will she: "He won't steal [the farm]! I'd kill him fust! I do love ye! I'll prove t' ye!" Desperately, Abbie asks for a kiss, and when Eben refuses, she asks whether he would love her once more if she could make it so that things were as they were before the baby came, and Eben replies laconically, "I calc'late not. But ye hain't God, be ye?" As Eben leaves to get drunk and dance, Abbie calls after him: "I'll prove I love ye better'n . . . Better'n anything else in the world!"

 

Part III, Scene iii: It is just before dawn, and the kitchen and the Cabots' bedroom are visible. Eben is in the candlelit kitchen, sitting at the table, his carpetbag on the floor in front of him. Upstairs, the bedroom is lighted by an oil lamp; Cabot is asleep, and Abbie is leaning over the cradle with a look of "terror yet with an undercurrent of triumph." She seems about to break down and fling herself on her knees by the cradle, but Ephraim moves and groans. She pulls herself together, goes out, and in a moment reappears in the kitchen. She runs to Eben, "flings her arms around his neck and kisses him wildly." He remains stiff and unmoved, looking straight ahead. Hysterically, Abbie announces, "I done it, Eben!" but Eben doesn't understand. He reiterates his plan to leave, leaving "Maw t' take vengeance on ye." He won't tell his father the truth because "the old skunk'd jest be mean enuf to take it out on that baby." And then he expresses his own love for the child, because it is his, it looks like him, and some day he will come back. Abbie, not hearing Eben, then announces, "I—killed him, Eben." However, Eben thinks she means Ephraim and manufactures an alibi—that the old man killed himself while he was drunk. Instantly Abbie realizes, "But that's what I ought t' done, hain't it? I oughter killed him instead! Why didn't ye tell me?" Eben, horrified at the discovery that his son has been smothered, cries out, "Oh, God A'mighty! A'mighty God! Maw, whar was ye, why didn't ye stop her?"

 

Eben's grief then turns to rage as Abbie tells of her desperation and her reason for doing an act she regrets—she loves Eben more even than her own child. But Eben is blinded by his anger and maintains that she plans to blame him for the murder. "But I'll take vengeance now! I'll git the Sheriff! I'll tell him everythin! Then I'll sing 'I'm off to California!' an' go—gold—Golden Gate—gold sun—fields o' gold in the West!" Abbie calls after him, "Eben, I love ye! I don't care what ye do—if yell on'y love me agen," as she faints to the floor.

 

Part III, Scene iv: One hour later, just after dawn with a brilliant sunrise. Abbie is sitting at the kitchen table with her head on her arms. Upstairs, Cabot has just woken and starts to talk to Abbie. Then he gets up, blaming himself for oversleeping. With pride, he looks at the cradle and his "purty" son and then goes downstairs, asking for his breakfast. Abbie, at first almost like stone, then tells him she has smothered the child. Ephraim reacts with stunned fury, shaking her and asking why she did it. Abbie then pushes him away furiously and springs to her feet, spewing out the hatred and rage she feels towards her husband, wishing she had murdered him instead, and finally admitting the child's paternity. Cabot's face hardens: "I got t' be—like a stone—a rock o' jedgment!" If Abbie's statement is true, then Ephraim is glad the child is dead, and "I'll deliver ye up t' the jedgment o' God an' the law!" But to his surprise, he learns that Eben has already gone to do so. "In a voice full of strange emotion," he tells Abbie, "Ye'd ought t' loved me. . . . I'd never told no Sheriff on ye no matter what ye did."

 

At that moment Eben comes running back, and when Cabot learns that he has indeed told the Sheriff, he pushes his son away, warning Eben to get off the farm before he murders him. Ephraim then leaves. Eben, unhearing, enters the kitchen, falls on his knees beside Abbie, and begs her forgiveness, telling her that as he waited for the Sheriff to appear, he realized that he had loved Abbie and always would. That is why he has run back, to talk to her before she can be taken away so they can run off together. Abbie refuses, because she must pay for her sin. Eben says he will share it with her by alleging that he planned the murder and must pay, too: "I want t' share with ye, Abbie—prison 'r death 'r hell 'r anythin'!" Finally Abbie realizes that she can't talk him out of his plan.

 

Footsteps are heard; it is Cabot, back from the barn. He enters to find Eben kneeling beside Abbie with his arms around her, both staring straight ahead. Almost maniacally, he wishes them both hanged and then announces that he has turned his stock loose and by so doing has freed himself. He will set fire to house, barn, everything and go to California. He breaks into a caper. But then he looks for his hoard and discovers that Eben had given it to Simeon and Peter for their passage money. After a moment of shock Ephraim resigns himself: "I calc'late God give it to 'em—not yew! God's hard, not easy! . . . God's hard an' lonesome." The ease of the West is not for him, and Eben is His instrument to save Ephraim from his weakness.

 

At this moment, the Sheriff enters with two other men, and Eben tells his story of participation in the murder. Cabot looks at Eben "with a trace of grudging admiration" and goes out to round up his stock and recommence life. The two prisoners bid him good bye and then embrace each other, to the embarrassment of the Sheriff and his men. They go out the door hand in hand, and Eben says, "Sun's arizing'. Purty, hain't it?" Abbie agrees, and they stand momentarily looking upwards, with a curiously detached air mingled with devotion. The Sheriff delivers the final ironic line: "It's a jim-dandy farm, no denyin'. Wished I owned it!"

 

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