The EASTON HOUSE has taken on a somber air with its two male denizens in the grip of a fierce illness. Finally, after over a week of MR.EASTON bedridden, his daughter AVAELLE decided to ride into town to fetch the local doctor.
THE DOCTOR administered a tincture of laudanum and requested lodging at the estate, stating that he wanted to make sure his medicine was working before he left for town, EASTON HOUSE some two hour’s ride by horse outside the village center. AVAELLE obliged, despite being somewhat embarrassed at the state of their formerly grandiose home.
Today is Sunday, a day traditionally reserved for quiet worship in the home. The son and daughter had made a habit of only travelling for holiday service and instead, AVAELLE would carry her tattered Bible around the house, sinking deep into the illustrations and reading exerpts from it for her father’s pleasure. MAURICE, on the other hand, would often finish the morning’s chores and ride into town to enjoy the services offered by the local churchhouse.
This morning, alone at caring for the homestead, AVAELLE has fed the chickens and the pigs, the cow and the mule, and now pokes at a cluster of eggs sizzling away above the kitchen’s hearth.
She hears the sound of footsteps descending the staircase. Her father and MAURICE still asleep, she knows there is only one person it could be.
GOOD MORNING, DOCTOR.
AND A HAPPY SUNDAY TO YOU, TOO, MISS EASTON.
MIGHT I OFFER YOU SOME EGGS –
He raises his hands in a surrendering refusal.
OH, NO, I THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR THE GESTURE, BUT…
EGGS GIVE ME INDIGESTION.
YES, IT’S A TERRIBLE INCONVENIENCE, REALLY.
BUT IT’S THE SULPHUR IN THE YOLKS.
I’VE BROUGHT SOME SALT PORK WITH ME.
I OFTEN FIND I NEED TO EAT AS SOON AS I RISE, TO STAVE OFF FEELINGS OF NAUSEA.
AH, I SEE.
MAURICE IS USUALLY FIRST IN THE KITCHEN, I’VE BEEN SPOILT THAT WAY.
HE’S A GOOD COOK.
I… I GET BY.
YOU ARE TAKING THESE PLATES UPSTAIRS?
ARE THEY AWAKE? THEY WERE STILL SLEEPING WHEN I ROSE.
I DIDN’T HEAR ANYTHING FROM THE ROOMS WHEN I ROSE SO IT’S HARD TO SAY.
I DID NOT LOOK INTO THE ROOMS YET.
THE SCENT OF FRYING EGGS DREW ME DOWNSTAIRS.
I WAS THINKING OF COMBING MY HORSE THIS MORNING.
I DID NOT GET A CHANCE TO CLEAN HER UP AFTER YESTERDAY’S RIDE AND I FEEL RATHER GUILTY ABOUT IT.
PERHAPS YOU WOULD JOIN ME?
I WOULD INDEED.
ALRIGHT, GREAT. JUST GIVE ME A CHANCE TO GET THESE PLATES UPSTAIRS.
DO YOU THINK THEY’LL EAT?
I THINK LATER TODAY THEY WILL FIND THE STRENGTH TO EAT.
ALTHOUGH I AM SURE NOT AS MUCH AS THEY WOULD GENERALLY.
AVAELLE finishes frying the eggs and prepares two identical plates with generous chunks of bread. She leaves THE DOCTOR in the kitchen and takes them upstairs.
Finding her father asleep, sets the plate atop a bedside table. The weather somewhat warmer today, she allows the fireplace to sit silent. She doesn’t want to disturb his deep sleep and tiptoes slowly out of the room, replacing the door from whence she found it.
Down the hall is MAURICE’s bedroom. She knocks on the door.
MAURICE? ARE YOU AWAKE?
She speaks quiet and calm, hoping not to wake him lest he still slumbers.
The door creaks as AVAELLE pushes it open slowly. He is still bundled in a blanket, although in his hand is a small Bible. He raises his tone in surprise and gratitude seeing her with plate in hand.
OH MISS AVAELLE, YOU DIDN’T NEED TO DO THAT.
MAURICE places the Bible on his bedside table and holds his hands out to accept the offering. He removes the fork from the edge of the plate, steadying himself.
BUT I DID.
IT’S NOT MUCH, BUT YOU’VE GOT TO KEEP UP YOUR STRENGTH.
IT’S THE ONLY WAY YOU’LL GET BETTER.
THE DOCTOR’S TONIC HAS TREATED ME WELL.
I’LL BE UP AND AT ‘EM THIS EVENING.
OH, DON’T RUSH YOURSELF.
YOU’LL BE WELL WHEN YOU’RE WELL.
I’M JUST ABOUT TO CLEAN UP CINNAMON. I FED THE HOGS AND THE CHICKENS.
I’LL VISIT THE WELL THIS AFTERNOON.
YOU’LL WORK YOURSELF TO DEATH CARING FOR US OLD MEN.
IT’S THE LEAST I CAN DO.
AVAELLE closes the door behind her, hands now empty and breakfast now concluded.
This Sunday is warmer than the chilly day yesterday but still partly cloudy. THE DOCTOR is clad in a straw hat but squints uncomfortably in the sun as they pass through the yard.
AVAELLE barely notices his grimace, focused instead of trying to conjure a topic of conversation that would interest a man of medicine.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU LIVED IN OUR TOWN?
THE DOCTOR seems flustered, his silence intensified as he narrowly avoids a pile of droppings upon the ground.
He waits until under the roof of the stable to speak, though still seeming agitated.
IT MUST BE SEVERAL YEARS AT THIS POINT.
I HAVE LOST TRACK OF THE TIME.
He, in paranoia, scrapes his boot upon the floor’s straw.
WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
‘WHERE AM I FROM’, MISS?
AVAELLE tries to hide her shame while fetching the horse buckets.
WHERE DID YOU PRACTICE BEFORE YOU CAME HERE?
I SPENT MY EARLY YEARS PRACTICING IN NEW YORK CITY.
BUT I DID NOT PREFER THE HUSTLE AND BUSTLE.
I’VE NEVER BEEN.
NEVER? I’M SURE YOU’LL MAKE THE VOYAGE SOMEDAY.
I WANT TO GO BUT FATHER NEEDS MY HELP.
HE’S NOT AS WELL AS HE USED TO BE.
I HAD GLEANED AS MUCH WHEN I SPOKE WITH HIM.
I ASSUME HE’S NEVER BEEN A PARTICULARLY ROBUST MAN.
I SUPPOSE NOT.
AVAELLE throws a bunch of hay to the cow and mule.
HE PREFERS TO STAY INSIDE AND WORK.
AND YOU STAY TO HELP HIM.
AVAELLE raises her voice just slightly, indignant.
I’M DECENT, MYSELF, WITH A BRUSH.
YOUR FATHER LOSES HIMSELF IN THE BOTTLE.
TRELAINE stands, motionless, while AVAELLE backs the horse out of the stall.
She sighs, despondent.
HE WASN’T LIKE THAT WHEN I WAS A LITTLE GIRL.
IT IS DIFFICULT FOR A MAN TO LIVE WITHOUT A WIFE.
MY MOTHER DIED WHEN I WAS VERY YOUNG.
I DON’T REMEMBER HER.
FATHER DOESN’T SPEAK OF HER.
IT DOESN’T MEAN HE DOESN’T THINK OF HER.
He steps up and pulls his horse up to a second tie. His animal is pacing about, uneasy, impatient.
LOOKS LIKE CINNAMON IS A BAD INFLUENCE.
I’M SURE IT’S NOTHING LIKE THAT.
HE’S GOT A MIND OF HIS OWN, THE BRUTE.
AVAELLE deposits a second bucket of cleaning supplies near THE DOCTOR’s feet. She returns to her side of the stable and pats CINNAMON.
WHAT’S THE CITY LIKE?
IT’S LITTLE DIFFERENT FROM THE VILLAGE.
JUST SMELLIER AND NOISIER.
They stand in silence for a moment, awkward. AVAELLE removes a brush from the bucket and begins to work it in circles over the mare.
I’VE OFTEN WONDERED…
IF I COULD MAKE IT THERE AS A PAINTER.
I’M JUST AS GOOD AS MY FATHER, THESE DAYS.
AND I’M STILL LEARNING.
IT COULD BE A CRUEL PLACE FOR A YOUNG WOMAN SUCH AS YOURSELF.
I’D THINK TWICE ABOUT WHETHER THAT’S ACTUALLY WHAT YOU WANT.
I COULD GET A ROOM IN A BOARDING HOUSE, I’M SURE.
FATHER HAS A BIT OF SILVER.
MAURICE WOULD STAY AND…
THE DOCTOR says nothing, the pair pause among the sound of the curry combs bristling against the horse hair.
YOUR FATHER MAY FALL INTO DESPAIR WITHOUT HIS ONLY DAUGHTER.
AND INSTEAD SHOULD I STAY TO WILT INSIDE OUR SMOLDERING FARMHOUSE?
THE DOCTOR pauses, carefully penning his reply.
I DO NOT THINK SO, BUT…
YOU SHOULD BE WELL TO REALIZE THE CONSEQUENCES, SHOULD YOU DECIDE TO LEAVE.
IT IS SO EASY FOR YOU MEN.
YOU GO WHERE YOU WANT WHEN YOU WANT AND YOUR MOTHERS AND WIVES SIMPLY WAVE THEIR HANDKERCHIEFS.
IT IS NOT SO EASY.
I THINK OF MY FAMILY OFTEN; MY SISTERS, MY MOTHER.
THEY ARE AN OCEAN’S WIDTH FROM ME. EVEN IF THEY NEEDED MY HELP, WOULD I BE ABLE TO PROVIDE IT TO THEM?
NO. I HAVE ALL BUT ABANDONED THEM IN MY SERVICE. I WOULD BE FAR TOO LATE TO DO ANYTHING FOR THEM.
I SHOULDN’T SPEAK OF SUCH THINGS.
I KNOW MY FATHER NEEDS MY HELP.
I AM NOT TRYING TO ENDORSE EITHER OF YOUR IDEAS, MISS.
SIMPLY THAT RUNNING TOWARD THE CITY MAY RENDER YOU IN DANGER AND YOUR FATHER WILL NOT BE THERE TO HELP YOU.
BUT I KNOW AS WELL AS ANY THAT A DREAM CANNOT SIMPLY BE LAID TO REST.
YOUR FATHER WILL CONTINUE ON AS HE ALWAYS HAS. BUT HE WILL THINK OF YOU AND LONG FOR DAYS PAST.
BUT YOU CANNOT LIVE YOUR LIFE FOR HIM AND HIM ALONE.
A BEAUTIFUL YOUNG WOMAN SUCH AS YOURSELF WOULD BE A PRIZE OF VALUE FOR ANY A MAN.
I’M NOT READY TO GET MARRIED.
NOT WHEN I’VE SEEN SO LITTLE OF THE WORLD.
A HUSBAND MAY HELP YOU SEE YOUR DREAMS REALIZED.
PERHAPS IF I WERE TO MEET ANOTHER PAINTER.
THAT WOULD HELP ME SEE MY PAINTINGS SOLD.
BUT HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO MEET ANYONE LIVING OUT MY LIFE HERE?
MY FATHER HAS MADE NO MOTIONS TO SEE ME MARRIED OFF.
I’M SURE HE WOULD PREFER I STAY HERE WITH HIM.
HOW LONG HAS YOUR FAMILY RESIDED IN THE HOUSE?
IT WAS MY GRANDFATHER’S ESTATE.
PERHAPS YOU MAY PERSUADE YOUR FATHER TO LEAVE THE HOME.
PROSPECTS MAY BE BETTER FOR BOTH OF YOU.
MY FATHER – LEAVE THE HOME?
YOU’D HAVE A BETTER CHANCE CHANGING THE MINDS OF THE GHOSTS.
The pair continue to clean the horses over the next hour. The horses, active at first, eventually calm down and assume a peaceful attitude. AVAELLE tidies up the stable and prepares to go back inside to prepare a midday meal for the house.
In the kitchen, AVAELLE has laid her Bible over the central table. She is flipping through it when THE DOCTOR reenters the kitchen, having come from checking on the men upstairs. She abandons her flipping, instead tending to the stew brewing in the hearth’s pot. A number of partially cut vegetables lay beside the tome.
YOUR FATHER IS DOING MUCH BETTER.
MAURICE WOULD LIKE TO TAKE AN EVENING MEAL WITH US.
I WISH HE WOULDN’T STRESS ABOUT MAKING APPEARANCES.
HE SHOULD FOCUS ON GETTING BETTER.
PERHAPS HE IS.
PERHAPS HE SIMPLY WANTS TO STAY IN MOTION. FOR MANY, THAT IS HOW THEY KNOW THEY ARE IMPROVING.
I WOULDN’T WORRY TOO MUCH ABOUT IT.
THE DOCTOR sits down at the table across from the large Bible and looks over the page displayed.
It features a large illustration of KING SOLOMON.
YOU’RE STILL WILLING TO ACCEPT A PAINTING IN PAYMENT?
I WOULD PREFER IT.
I WOULD LIKE TO SEND SOMETHING TO MY MOTHER LETTING HER KNOW THAT I’M DOING WELL AND THAT SHE SHOULD NOT WORRY ABOUT THE WELFARE OF HER ONLY SON.
IT TAKES A WHILE…
TO DRAW UP THE PAINTING?
IF YOU’D LIKE, I’M SURE THERE’S SOMETHING WE’VE ALREADY BEGUN THAT MIGHT INTEREST YOU…
NO, I’M SURE I’D LIKE A PORTRAIT.
AVAELLE pauses, bites her lip imperceptively.
THE THING IS, IF I MUST BE COMPLETELY HONEST –
I’M NOT NEARLY AS GOOD AS MY FATHER.
AND HE’S NOT –
THE DOCTOR interjects.
I’M SURE YOU ARE BEING MODEST.
I’M SURE THAT I’M NOT.
ARE YOU –
IF IT’S TRULY A PORTRAIT YOU WANT, I CAN MAKE IT FOR YOU!
I JUST HAVEN’T DONE ONE ON MY OWN.
I’M SURE YOUR FATHER WILL BE WELL ENOUGH TO ASSIST VERY SOON.
AND THEN HE’LL BE DRINKING, TOO, I’M SURE.
I’M NOT SO SURE I TRUST HIM TO PAINT A PORTRAIT, EITHER.
WHAT KIND OF PAINTERS ARE YOU TWO, THEN?
WE’RE DOING THE BEST THAT WE CAN!
MY FATHER’S BEEN UNWELL FOR A LONG TIME.
THIS IS JUST THE LATEST AND WORST OF HIS FITS.
I WILL COME BACK TO SIT FOR THE PAINTING AND CHECK ON YOUR FATHER’S HEALTH.
I’LL SEE WHAT I CAN DO TO MAKE HIM WELL AGAIN.
HE IS NOT SUCH AN OLD MAN AS YOU MIGHT THINK AT YOUR AGE.
THE DOCTOR stands, going to the other side of the table, and begins to chop the rest of the vegetables.
IT WOULD BE THE FIRST PORTRAIT I’VE EVER HAD OF MYSELF.
I’M SURE YOU WOULD DO A FINE JOB.