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from Monologues and novelties (1896) edited by B.C.L. Griffith [sic]
THE SOLDIER'S RETURN
(by B.L.C. Griffith)
SCENE: An attic room very poorly furnished. Door L. Window in flat, C. Table, middle C. A cradle down R. A poor man is drafted for service and compelled to join the army, leaving behind a wife and infant child. She has struggled to make a living, but finally, through sickness and lack of work, is brought to the verge of starvation. Upon the morning of the day that she is to be turned out of her attic room, being greatly behind in the payment of rent, she learns that her husband's regiment is expected home. It is from this point that the monologue begins. THE POOR WOMAN ENTERS. (Speaks out the door entreatingly) But I can't pay the rent this morning. Give me until to-morrow. I have tried so hard to raise the money, but no one will give me work. (A slight pause.) Yes, yes; I can pay to-morrow. The regiment my husband belongs to returns to-day see; the paper says so. (Points to the newspaper.) He will pay everything I owe. I am sure he will. Oh, please, please! For my child's sake, have pity. Don't turn us out into the cold. Just till to-morrow. This afternoon wait until this afternoon. Tom will be home then. Have mercy! (After a pause.) Oh, thank you thank you from the bottom of my heart! (After a slight pause.) Yes, I know that I do not deserve it. You have been very good to me. (Closes the door and crosses to the table, C.) Life has been so hard since Tom left. Oh I why is war necessary? It brings such suffering; so much sorrow. (Goes to the cradle down R. and kneeling beside it, talks to the baby.) Two years ago, little Tom; just think, two whole years since he was forced to leave us. How lonely we have been without him, haven't we? But how very desolate it would have been if we had not had one another. And yet, sometimes sometimes when we have been almost starving, and so cold, so very cold, I have thought that if I should go away too, perhaps you would be happier. (Thoughtfully.) What was it the gentleman at the Home said? "If your child had no parents we could take him, but while you and your husband live we cannot support what it is your duty to care for." If you should lose your mother, little Tom, then kind people would take charge of you, and you would have plenty to eat and nice clothes to wear and and (choking with emotion) Oh! it would be terrible to give you up. No, no; I could not. Not so long as Tom lives. But how foolish of me to talk so! Why, I was almost crying. The idea! The very day that your father is coming home. How proud he will be of you! And how proud you will grow to be of him, for he is the best man in all the world. You can never know how much I love him, little Tom. You can never know. (Rocks the cradle and sings a lullaby such as "Sleep, baby, sleep. The large stars are the sheep.") (Thoughtfully.) If anything had happened to him I would not wish to live. But, thank Heaven, he has been preserved. Every day I have searched the list of wounded and dead, but his name has not appeared. And now he is coming home. (Takes up the paper.) Ah, there have been many broken hearts, but mine has been spared. (Looks at the paper.) Yes, there will be many vacant places in the ranks. See, here is the list of those who have been wounded. Yes; so many familiar names. (Reading.) "John Harper." Poor Jack! We used to be playmates (Reading.) "Henry Carlisle." How his wife will miss him poor woman! And here are those who have fallen. (A pause, while she reads the names to herself.) Thank Heaven, there are but few I know among them. (Utters a cry.) Tom! Oh, no, no, no! Not Tom! (Starts to her feet and puts her hand to her head distractedly.) It cannot be true! It cannot be true! I I must have been deceived. I have been so afraid of reading his name ever since he went away that now I imagine it to be there. (Commences to open paper again, then stops.) What if it is true? (Chokingly.) Then baby is all that is left to me. But, no, no; it cannot be. (Hastily opens the paper, sees her husband's name, and after staring at it a few moments, whispers intensely) Tom! (Slowly raises the paper to her lips and kisses the name.) Tom! (With a far-away took in her eyes tearing the paper to pieces while she talks.) We were so happy together. We loved one another so devotedly. I remember when we were married four short years ago four long, long years ago everything seemed so bright. The future held only happiness. Then came the war. The cruel war, that tore loved ones apart, that murdered men and broke the hearts of women. And now he is dead! Dead! and little Tom and I are left alone. (Approaches cradle and stands beside it.) (Thoughtfully.) "If your child had no parents we could take him." He would have a good home then, and would never know what it is to be hungry. (After a pause.) Yes, I will go away. (To the baby.) Then I shall be at rest and you will be happy. They will tell you how dearly I loved you, and you will learn to care for my memory. (Kneels beside the cradle and supposedly kisses the baby.) Good-bye, little Tom. It is for your sake I go. Good-bye. Good-bye. (Tiptoes toward the door. The orchestra begins to play a familiar military march very softly, as though a band were approaching. The woman stops on the door's threshold and listens.) Hark I Tom's regiment! It has returned and he is not with it. (Arousing from her stupor. Vehemently.) Oh! why is Heaven so cruel? What have I done to deserve this blow? I cannot live without Tom. I will end it all here! Now! (The music is growing louder and louder.) I will spring from the window. Yes; and die and die! (Rushes to the window.) (The regiment by this time is supposed to be in the street below. The orchestra is loudly playing a lively march. The woman hastily opens the window, hesitates a moment, then leans forward eagerly and utters a glad cry.) Tom! Can it be? Yes, yes! It is he! He sees me! He smiles and waves his hand. Tom! (Runs down stage, laughing and crying hysterically and bends over the cradle.) Tom! Tom! Tom!