At a small estate in NE Amerrka live three people. It has been years since the visit from European royalty and the last few years have been just above starving. The fence, once a cheerful blue, has faded and flaked. The grasses are tall and unkempt. A young woman stands inside the grey-white house and looks out the front window. A cold wind seeps in through the cracks.
Behind her are easels and canvases filling what was once a fine sitting room, now sitting quiet and unattended for over a week. A number of brushes were probably ruined with dried paint. The father-daughter team had abandoned their work when her father had come down with a fit of stomach flu. They had left the room and all had fallen from there. And now, too, their manservant, MAURICE, had fallen sick. Just one of the three stands to care for the entire house.
Her name is AVAELLE EASTON.
She is making a pie when:
A bell rings from an upstairs bedroom. AVAELLE hates to answer it. It was once her bell, her small silver bell that she’d used to call MAURICE when she’d needed his help. When, for example, one of her dolly’s limbs had come out of its socket while she’d been dressing it. But the days of girlhood were long-done for the young woman. Today her house’s two men are bedridden.
In an attempt at kindness, she’d given it to her father to call her. But the sound was so much more tinny on the other end. She leaves the kitchen.
She yells into the stairwell. She permits herself just one more moment, looking with a feeling of longing outside the front window.
The day is cloudy; the sunlight streams yellow through the clouds and makes an artificial sunrise.
But the day has been upon the house for hours.
AVAELLE turns from the window and walks up the stairs. As she ascends, she finds MAURICE walking slowly, as if to answer the call of MR.EASTON.
She shoos him away.
MAURICE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING OUT OF BED?!
TRYING TO HELP, MY LADY.
AVAELLE scoffs, trying to contain her emotion.
GET BACK IN BED! I’LL NOT HAVE YOU GETTING ME SICK AS WELL!
She pauses, drawing air into her lungs. She shakes her head, trying to focus.
FATHER WILL BE FINE.
NOW GET BACK TO BED.
MAURICE turns around, wordlessly, and makes his way back to his bedroom. His motion is slow, deliberate. He’s very ill, and it shows.
AVAELLE regrets her haughty impatience.
CAN I GET YOU SOMETHING?
MAURICE stops and without turning around, looks toward her voice from over her shoulder.
THAT… THAT WOULD HELP.
I’M JUST ABOUT TO SEE WHAT FATHER NEEDS AND THEN I’LL BRING IT UP TO YOU.
THANK YOU, M’LADY.
AVAELLE enters the master suite, a spacious room now drawn over in autumn sadness. She approaches the fireplace, where embers have replaced roaring flame. She pushes the screen aside, grabs the poker, and begins to wrestle with the logs.
AVAELLE, THAT’S YOU?
HOW ARE YOU FEELING?
TERRIBLE. JUST TERRIBLE.
His voice is gravelly and weak. AVAELLE continues to nurse the fire; the sound of the logs scratching against each other threatens to drown him out.
WHAT CAN I GET YOU, FATHER?
I DON’T KNOW. I’M BOTH, AND YET, NEITHER –
I NEED YOU TO…
MY DARLING, I’M SORRY, BUT…
I NEED YOU TO CLEAN MY…
AVAELLE wished that if he were to give such an unfortunate request, he would not try to wrap it in so many false pleasantries.
I’M THINKING OF RIDING TO THE TOWN TO FETCH THE DOCTOR.
YOU’RE NOT GETTING ANY BETTER.
He pauses, the crackling of fresh flame filling the room. AVAELLE draws the screen again over the hearth.
I HAVEN’T THE MONEY TO PAY HIM.
SO WE’LL OWE HIM SOMETHING.
SURELY HE WILL ACCEPT SOMETHING IN PAYMENT WHEN YOU ARE WELL.
SOMEONE MUST COME TO SEE YOU, FATHER.
I’VE NEVER SEEN YOU LIKE THIS.
AND I’M GLAD FOR IT.
WE’RE NOT A SICKLY PEOPLE.
I DON’T LIKE YOU GOING OUT ALONE.
CALL FOR MAURICE TO GO.
MAURICE IS SUFFERING AS MUCH AS YOU ARE, FATHER.
HE WON’T MAKE IT THERE AND BACK.
I WILL BE BACK BEFORE THE AFTERNOON.
I DON’T LIKE IT.
AND I DON’T LIKE THE DEVIL’S DISEASE THAT YOU’VE COME DOWN WITH.
LET HIM HELP YOU, FATHER.
LET ME GET THE DOCTOR.
A silence hangs over the two.
YOU’VE BEEN WANTING TO…
TAKE CINNAMON OUT MORE.
CINNAMON was the red-brown mare who formed the last of the EASTONS’ horses; the rest had been sold over the recent years to pay off debts. An old mule remained in the stable as well, but he was ill-suited for riding.
I HAD HOPED FOR BETTER CIRCUMSTANCES.
SHE WILL BE HAPPY REGARDLESS.
I WILL CLEAN THE PAN BEFORE I GO.
WHERE IS IT?
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BED.
AVAELLE had hoped to use the water that evening to bathe but she had no choice but to clean up after her father. It meant that she would soon need to make a trip to the well.
Carrying her father’s shallow basin, AVAELLE holds her breath. She closes the double doors and walks down the stairs and out the front door.
CINNAMON was a lively young mare, someone with whom the young AVAELLE found companionship. She had been instructed in her care by MAURICE, who was happy to see the horse with a kindred spirit.
The horse whinies delicately, greeting the young woman when she enters the stable.
WE’VE GOT TO GO TO TOWN AND GET THE DOCTOR.
MAURICE had been laid up in bed for days now, like her father, so she knows the horse has gone without grooming for at least as long. AVAELLE herself had also not made it to the stable to care for her.
A bucket in the corner contains a number of brushes used for CINNAMON’s coat. AVAELLE places it in the open area of the stable, staging the area for what will be a quick gloss-over. She wanted to get back to the house before the afternoon sun started to wane. It was getting colder and colder and her wool coat was rather threadbare to be too far from home.
The coat’s shoulders reduce her ease of movement as she tries to brush the horse. She moves the curry comb in circles over the mare’s skin, releasing clouds of dirt choked in the hair. The horse seems thankful, bowing her head emphatically, pulling against the tie.
WHOA, GIRL. WHOA.
WE’VE GOT A LONG DAY AHEAD OF US.
The ride is arduous. AVAELLE finds it difficult to focus on anything but how cold she feels alone atop the tall horse. She draws her arms in close to the sides of her thin frame, but it does little to stop the chill seeping in through her coat. At least her legs were close to the horse; they were warm against the leather if only on one side.
But she keeps going ahead toward the town.
“Town”, she reflected, was a generous term. A handful of buildings clustered around two dirt roads. She wasn’t sure where to find the doctor.
She ties up her horse to the fence on the outside of a saloon. She feels sorry for her, stuck outside in the chilled wind.
The inside of the saloon is warm and orange with a roaring fire.
A pair of men sitting at a small round table turn around and eye her at the mention of her name.
IS MAURICE OKAY?
Was MAURICE a regular at the bar when he came into town?
MAURICE AND MY FATHER ARE…
Her first instinct is for the word “deathly”, but it seems too close to the truth…
MAURICE AND MY FATHER ARE UNWELL.
I’VE COME FOR THE DOCTOR.
WELL, THE DOCTOR KEEPS SHOP A FEW HOUSES DOWN, JUST PAST THE POST OFFICE. SAME SIDE O’ THE ROAD THAT WE’RE ON.
The pair at the table turn their heads back in toward each other.
AVAELLE is incensed, paranoid, that her family attracted the attentions of gossippers. A strange widower who kept to himself and rarely left the house and his headstrong, unmarried daughter…
She had faith that MAURICE’s pride kept him from speaking ill of EASTON HOUSE but she had no way of knowing; a stranger in a strange land.
CAN I GET YOU SOMETHING BEFORE YOU HEAD OUT, MISS?
YOUR RIDE MUST HAVE BEEN LONG.
MR.EASTON thought it was unseemly for his daughter to drink alcohol, though he’d been imbibing more and more frequently these days. It left him with a quiver in his hands that hadn’t escaped his daughter’s notice.
JUST A SMALL CUP OF WHISKY.
When AVAELLE leaves the saloon, she’s feeling a little warmer than she had been. CINNAMON bobs her head, expressing what AVAELLE assumes is impatience.
THERE THERE, GIRL. GOT ONE MORE PLACE.
CINNAMON’s nose is warm and soft through AVAELLE’s gloved hands. She pats her, scratching between the eyes gently, and moves down the corridor of houses.
The houses are small, with only small alleys between, so she soon passes the post office and reaches a small shack. There is a small placard next to the door that she hadn’t noticed upon first passthrough. It’s hand-carved and the paint thinning; likely not applied well in the first place.
AVAELLE cautiously opens the door and yells into the entrance. She hears no noise emanate from the inside.
The entrance of the small shack is modest and plain; a wood counter is set in front of a rear door. The room has a few chairs set against the walls and some shelves upon the walls are bare. The room seems unusual for a doctor’s office, though AVAELLE had little experience. Her limited knowledge led her to guess this area had once been a general store.
The lobby is quiet for a moment until the rear door squeaks open. Out comes a man with grey hair, seeming to have prematurely lost its color. His face is ruddy, his eyes just creasing at the corners. He wears a white coat with large pockets.
WELCOME, MISS. HOW CAN I HELP YOU?
ARE YOU THE DOCTOR?
He comes out from behind the counter.
DOCTOR LENARD TRELAINE.
DOCTOR. IT’S MY FATHER –
AND OUR MANSERVANT TOO –
THEY’RE VERY ILL. HAVE BEEN FOR OVER A WEEK.
WHERE DO YOU HAIL FROM, MISS?
AVAELLE swallows the spit pooling in her mouth.
I’M AVAELLE EASTON.
YOU’VE COME A LONG WAY.
I WOULDN’T HAVE COME IF THEY WEREN’T…
ARE YOU ABLE TO MAKE A HOUSE CALL?
AVAELLE leaves the house while TRELAINE packs up his things. He’s promised to meet her out front of the house so she walks over toward the saloon to retreive CINNAMON. The warmth of the whisky now fading from her person, she wishes she could reenter the saloon and get another drink. She’s not looking forward to the ride back to EASTON HOUSE.
She takes the lead from around the saddle’s horn and unties her horse. The village is quiet and deserted, though the day’s severe chill makes it all seem sensible.
The doctor approaches, his saddlebags clinking with glass and metal instruments.
I’M GLAD TO HAVE NEVER MADE IT OUT TO EASTON HOUSE.
HOW OLD IS YOUR FATHER?
OLD ENOUGH. HE’S USUALLY IN GOOD HEALTH, THOUGH WE RARELY LEAVE THE HOUSE.
EASTON HOUSE HAS BEEN IN OUR FAMILY FOR A HUNDRED YEARS.
IT’S TOO BAD YOU WON’T BE SEEING IT UNDER BETTER CIRCUMSTANCES.
THE MAN ‘MAURICE WEATHERSPOON’ IS ONE OF YOURS, IS HE NOT?
AN OLD FRIEND OF MY FATHER’S WHO LIVES WITH US.
I’VE NEVER SPOKEN TO HIM MYSELF BUT I’VE SEEN HIM COLLECTING POST.
MY FATHER IS A PAINTER. HE SENDS FOR SUPPLIES.
They were, at this point, walking their horses down the lane. AVAELLE has become unsettled; she’s embarrassed at the memory of their manor home, paint now peeling from its walls. She doesn’t want to lead him back but she has no choice.
IT WAS VERY BRAVE OF YOU TO COME OUT HERE FOR YOUR FAMILY.
I JUST HOPE YOU’LL BE ABLE TO DO SOMETHING FOR THEM.
THEY’RE REALLY LAID UP.
The ride takes about two hours. The EASTON HOUSE is located on a flat, treeless plot of land dotted with a few other small buildings, only a few of which saw much use these days. Of these, the stable was the one AVAELLE spent the most time in.
AVAELLE leads the way, past the aged manor house, and toward the stable behind. She jumps off her horse and leads her into her stall, quickly peeling off the saddle, blanket, and bridle and tossing them atop some racks.
THE DOCTOR detaches the bags from the back of his saddle, placing them gently on the ground. They clink but land safely.
COULD YOU TAKE THESE INSIDE THE HOUSE?
YES, I CAN.
But AVAELLE can take only one bag at a time. She takes one of the leather bags in both hands; it’s surprisingly heavy.
Inside the house, she places the bag just inside the front door.
When she goes to return to the stable, THE DOCTOR is holding the second of the leather bags with both hands, walking toward the house.
SO WHAT’S YOUR HORSE’S NAME?
MY HORSE’S NAME…?
I DIDN’T NAME THE BEAST.
AVAELLE rushes forward to hold open the door for THE DOCTOR.
WELCOME TO EASTON HOUSE.
AVAELLE suddenly has a rush of memory that distracts her from the moment. Why isn’t there a cat here to greet them?
But then the answer comes to her:
The cat’s been dead for years.
YOUR FATHER AND MAURICE ARE UPSTAIRS?
OH, YES. LET ME TAKE YOU TO THEM.
The master suite is located just up the stairs; MAURICE slumbers off to the right.
YOU SAID YOUR FATHER WAS THE FIRST ONE ILL?
YES, HE FELL ILL LAST WEEK. EARLY LAST WEEK.
I WILL SEE MAURICE FIRST.
AVAELLE finds herself standing in the hallway, waiting on the visits to conclude, thinking only of the fireplace. The house, too, is becoming chilled in the autumn’s retraction. But she dares not interrupt.
Soon, THE DOCTOR emerges, having now seen both men.
YOUR FATHER AND MAURICE APPEAR TO BE SUFFERING A RATHER SEVERE FLU.
I HAVE A TINCTURE I MAY ADMINISTER, BUT I’D LIKE TO STAY A FEW DAYS TO SEE IF THEIR CONDITION IMPROVES.
THAT IS, IF YOU’RE WILLING.
THE HOUSE HASN’T HAD A GUEST IN MANY YEARS.
MAURICE WOULD NORMALLY LOOK AFTER OUR PATRONS.
I WON’T BE ANY TROUBLE AT ALL.
I JUST DON’T FEEL RIGHT NOT KNOWING THAT YOUR FAMILY IS ON THE MEND.
YOUR FATHER TOLD ME THAT YOUR FAMILY HAS COME UPON SOME ROUGH TIMES.
PERHAPS YOU’D BE WILLING TO PART WITH ONE OF YOUR PAINTINGS.
It all seemed too good to be true. Her voice falls in gratitude.
YES, YES, IF YOU COULD. IF YOU WOULD.
IT IS BECOMING EVENING AND IT’S RATHER A TRIFLE LATE FOR ME TO RIDE BACK TO TOWN.
YES, OF COURSE.
LET ME FETCH MY BAG.
THANK YOU, DOCTOR. THANK YOU.