DEER’S EYES

©2017

All rights reserved.

The owner of a lumber camp in Northern Quebec in the early 1900s is severely injured. While he waits for medical help to reach him through the frozen forest, his young daughter tries desperately to make good her escape. Based on a true story by Eleanor Thomson.

Deer’s Eyes is a fictional story.

Cast of Characters

William O’Toole: 40’s. Owner/Manager of the Lumber Camp

Eliza O’Toole: 30’s or early 40’s. William’s wife.

Greta: Their eldest daughter. About 15.

Lurena: Their youngest daughter. About 12.

Howard: A lumberjack.

Alexander: A stable hand.

It is mid-winter on the Picanoc River in Southern Quebec in 1915. The setting is the cramped cook-house of the lumber camp. There is a wood stove, a long table which seats about 18 people, benches, stools, etc. Two very young women are preparing the evening meal for 14 lumberjacks due in from the woods in a few minutes. The table is set, the bowels are being filled, the bread is being sliced. Another woman, the mother of the two girls, is assisting with the preparations. The door to the cabin opens and Howard, a big, strong-looking lumberjack, peeks his head in and looks around.

LURENA
(seeing Howard)
Mama…

ELIZA
(busy)
What is it?

LURENA
Howard.

ELIZA
What?

LURENA
Howard’s there. At the door.

ELIZA
Well, all right. He won’t bite. Howard, we didn’t hear you knock.

HOWARD
Ma’am.

ELIZA
Well, don’t stand there with the door wide open. You’re letting in the cold.

HOWARD
(stepping inside)
Pardon me, Ma’am. Could I have a word with you, if you’re not too busy.

ELIZA
I’m extremely busy, Howard. Get to the point.

HOWARD
It’s the new man, Ma’am.

ELIZA
Alexander? What about him? Is he sick?

HOWARD
No, not sick, Ma’am.

ELIZA
Well…?

HOWARD
We think his hands are froze.

ELIZA
His hands.

HOWARD
Yes, Ma’am. Didn’t bring the right gloves, if you ask me. Thought he’d be in the stable the whole time, I reckon.

ELIZA
Where is he?

HOWARD
In the bunkhouse. He says he’s all right. But, if you ask me, he’s in big trouble, Ma’am.

ELIZA
Why do you say that?

HOWARD
Looks bad. Looks really bad. I told him to rub snow on them. He said he did that already. If you ask me, I think he needs to do it some more.

ELIZA
Go get him.

HOWARD
Ma’am?

ELIZA
Bring him here immediately. Tell the rest of the men that supper will be half an hour late.

HOWARD
Half an hour?

ELIZA
You’ll survive, Howard. Now go.

Howard exits.

GRETA
Should we put the roasts back?

ELIZA
For a few minutes. Keep everything warm. Darn fool, Alexander. There’s always one in every bunch. What’s the matter with you, Lurena?

LURENA
Nothing.

GRETA
It’s just frostbite, Lurena.

LURENA
I know that.

GRETA
So help me get this stuff back on the stove.

ELIZA
And don’t start the tea yet.

GRETA
Alexander. Isn’t that the one from Campbell’s Bay?

LURENA
Yes.

GRETA
He’s a farm boy, isn’t he?

LURENA
Yes.

ELIZA
And so he should know better. Forty below zero. What in blazes was he thinking about?

LURENA
Maybe he lost his gloves.

Greta laughs.

LURENA
It’s not funny, Greta.

ELIZA
All right. Never mind. Get on with your work.

GRETA
How could he lose his gloves?

LURENA
If they fell out of his pocket while he was shooting, maybe.

GRETA
He was with the hunting party? I thought Daddy hired him to tend the horses.

LURENA
He’s supposed to hunt when all the horses are with the lumberjacks.

GRETA
How do you know?

LURENA
Daddy said so.

GRETA
Well, Howard said he had gloves. The problem was they were too thin.

LURENA
What does Howard know?

ELIZA
Girls!

Howard enters with Alexander, a much smaller man, possibly younger, who is obviously in a lot of pain, but trying not to show it. Eliza has been preparing a basin of lukewarm water, cloth bandages and a medicine paste.

ELIZA
You’ll knock next time, Howard.

HOWARD
Yes Ma’am.

ELIZA
Sit here, Alexander. Let me see those hands.
(examines Alexander’s hands)
How long have they been frozen?

ALEXANDER
Since about noon, I figure. Maybe a bit later.

Greta rolls her eyes. Lurena watches with great interest. Eliza puts a basin before Alexander.

ELIZA
Put them in here. You can go, Howard. Tell the men supper’s on.

HOWARD
Yes, Ma’am.

Howard exits.

GRETA
(indicating the food)
Now, Mama?

ELIZA
No point making the men wait. This is going to take some time. Lurena, you’ll save a plate for Alexander.

LURENA
Yes, Mama.

ELIZA
And keep checking this water. It should be lukewarm.

The door opens and William O’Toole enters. He is handsome, cheerful-looking with sparkling eyes and a big smile.

WILLIAM
Yes, Siree, that’s a frosty one!

LURENA
Daddy!

Lurena welcomes William with a kiss.

WILLIAM
(stamping his feet, clapping his hands)
Beautiful! Absolutely beautiful day! Oh boy, that smells good, Ladies. I ask you, is there anything smells as good as molasses when it’s cooking? Alexander? What are you doing there?

ALEXANDER
(tries to stand)
I–

ELIZA
Sit down, Alexander. Keep your hands in that basin if you want to keep your fingers.

WILLIAM
Oh, no.

ALEXANDER
It’s my fault, Sir.

WILLIAM
(looks at Alexander’s hands)
Lurena, go upstairs and get the bottle of brandy.

ELIZA
I don’t think that’s necessary, William.

WILLIAM
(to Lurena)
Do as I say.

Lurena exits up a ladder to the second floor of the cook-house, which is used for an office/sleeping quarters for the women.

ALEXANDER
I’m sorry, Sir. This is such a bother for you all.

WILLIAM
Never mind, Son.

ALEXANDER
I didn’t take the right gloves with me. Didn’t seem that cold. No wind to speak of.

Greta rolls her eyes and shakes her head.

ELIZA
Forty below is cold, Alexander, with or without a wind.

ALEXANDER
I’m sorry, Ma’am.

WILLIAM
Well, you’re lucky. Not only is Mrs. O’Toole here the best cook in the country, she’s also the best nurse…among other things.
(winks at Eliza)
You’ll be all right. Won’t he Mother?

ELIZA
He’ll be fine.

Lurena returns with the brandy and hands it to her father.

WILLIAM
(to Lurena)
What’s the matter with you, Little One? You frozen too?

GRETA
She’s been like that all day.

ELIZA
Get busy, Lurena.

ALEXANDER
I’m sorry, Sir.

WILLIAM
Stop apologizing, Alexander. We’ve all made mistakes.
(to Eliza)
Remember that time Lurena decided she could roll logs on the river down at the saw mill when she was about eight?
(laughs)
I’ll never forget that ‘til the day I die. I turned around and all I could see were her little legs going like crazy, tryin’ to keep her from going under. I couldn’t get down that river bank fast enough. We never would have found her if she’d gone under.

ELIZA
William.

WILLIAM
Well, it’s true. The logs just come together where you go in… and it’s all over.

ELIZA
That French lad was to blame for that.

WILLIAM
Now, Mother.

ELIZA
He dared her.

WILLIAM
That’s true. He did.

ELIZA
He knew how dangerous it was. His father worked at that saw mill since it opened.

GRETA
Lurena knew it was dangerous too.

LURENA
I never fell.

WILLIAM
(laughs)
No, you didn’t. Thank God for that.

ELIZA
And you learned your lesson, didn’t you?

LURENA
Yes, Mama.

ELIZA
Well, let’s hope Alexander has learned his lesson, too.

ALEXANDER
Yes, Ma’am.

ELIZA
You know it’s five days out of here now, by snowshoe.

ALEXANDER
Yes, Ma’am.

ELIZA
And you’d lose your job on top of everything.

WILLIAM
Now Mother.

ELIZA
And we can’t spare any men to go out with you, either.

WILLIAM
Now Mother. We’re not about to send an injured man back out through the bush alone, are we?

ELIZA
I’m just saying he’d have to cover the man’s wages, whoever went with him. Five days out and five back. And I don’t think there would be a lot of volunteers, either, in this weather.

WILLIAM
It’s not going to come to that, is it?

ELIZA
I’m just explaining how it is. Accidents are one thing. Plain foolishness is another. You’re from around these parts, Alexander. You know the dangers.

WILLIAM
Drink up, Son. It’s for the pain. That’s the only reason we keep it here, right Mother?

ELIZA
He’s had quite enough. Put it away, William. The men are coming. Lurena, what are you doing now?

LURENA
(by the window)
It’s snowing.

ELIZA
Good gracious, so it’s snowing. Now get over here and get these pies cut up.

ALEXANDER
Sir?

WILLIAM
What is it, Son?

ALEXANDER
The horses, Sir. Who’s going to see to the horses?

WILLIAM
(getting his coat)
I’ll see to them.

ELIZA
William.

WILLIAM
Keep a plate for me, Mother. If he’s not well by tomorrow, I’ll assign another man.

William exits.

ALEXANDER
I’m sorry, Ma’am. Won’t happen again.

ELIZA
It better not, Alexander. It better not.

LIGHTS FADE.

SCENE TWO

Lights come up on a wood cutting block downstage of the cookhouse. It is early morning. William is chopping wood, loading it, stacking it, etc. Greta enters, wearing a coat, hat, and scarf.

WILLIAM
Greta.

GRETA
Morning Daddy.

WILLIAM
Another beautiful day.

GRETA
Yes, it is.
(pause)
Alexander’s still asleep.

WILLIAM
Oh, yes?

GRETA
Should we wake him?

WILLIAM
No, let him sleep. His body is trying to heal.

GRETA
Do you think he’ll be all right?

WILLIAM
He’ll be fine. And I guarantee you, he won’t go off into the bush with stable gloves again.

GRETA
I don’t think that’s what happened.

WILLIAM
What do you mean?

GRETA
I couldn’t believe anyone could be so stupid.

WILLIAM
Greta.

GRETA
And, well, Howard told me that Alexander didn’t take the wrong gloves.

WILLIAM
When were you talking to Howard?

GRETA
After supper, Daddy. He stopped for a minute to see Alexander. He told me he heard some of the men from the hunting party talking and laughing. Just before they came for supper. Daddy, during the lunch break yesterday, the other men stole Alexander’s gloves.

WILLIAM
(stops chopping)
They what?

GRETA
They think he’s a sissy.

WILLIAM
A sissy? Alexander?!

GRETA
He doesn’t like killing deer.

WILLIAM
What?

GRETA
He missed three of them. On purpose, Howard said.

WILLIAM
On purpose?

GRETA
Maybe they remind him of the horses.

WILLIAM
For the love of God…

GRETA
Could you find some other job for him, Daddy? Maybe he could do the wood or the washing.

WILLIAM
(resumes chopping)
Go inside.

GRETA
Daddy…

WILLIAM
You heard me.

Greta hesitates.

WILLIAM
I’ll take care of it, Greta.
(winks)
Go on now.

GRETA
Thank you, Daddy. (begins to exit)

WILLIAM
And Greta. Don’t let me catch you talking with Howard again. Or any of the men.

GRETA
Yes, Daddy.

Greta exits.

LIGHTS FADE.

SCENE THREE

Lights come up in the cook-house. Lurena is staring out the window again. Greta enters. A curtain has been pulled to give Alexander some privacy.

GRETA
(entering)
He said he’d take care of it.
(removes her coat and hat)

LURENA
(vaguely)
What?

GRETA
I just talked to Daddy. He said he’d take care of it.
(points to curtain)

LURENA
Oh. You sure?

GRETA
I just talked to him! What’s the matter with you?

LURENA
Nothing.

GRETA
Then get to work.

LURENA
Was he mad?

GRETA
What do you think?
(pause)
Lurena. Lurena! It’s nearly six o’clock. You haven’t even started your pies yet.

LURENA
The figs aren’t ready.

GRETA
(clearing dishes)
Then start the pastry!

LURENA
Doesn’t it bother you, Greta?

GRETA
Doesn’t what bother me?

LURENA
This.

GRETA
What on Earth are you talking about?

LURENA
It never ends. We make the food, they eat the food, we do the dishes, we make the food, they eat the food, we do the dishes…

GRETA
So?

LURENA
Never mind.

GRETA
At least we’re warm. Think of the men.

LURENA
We were warm at home.

GRETA
I like it better here.

LURENA
Oh, Greta…

GRETA
No, I do. I like the smell of the wood burning and the food cooking. I like how busy we are, how hard everyone’s working. It feels good to work hard, doesn’t it? I’m glad I’m a girl, though. I’d hate to be out in the bush. Cold in winter. Mosquitoes in spring. Black flies. I like this: the warmth of the stove. And I like that no one can drop in on us, unexpectedly, like at home. What I hate is serving tea to some old biddy who has nothing better to do but to check up on you and see if your floor is as clean as her’s is. That’s what I hate. Out here, for nine glorious months, there’s none of that stuff. No church socials, no school, no Thursday calls… (whispers) And all these beautiful lumberjacks!

The curtain pulls away and Alexander is standing there, hands bandaged.

GRETA
Alexander! Did we wake you?

ALEXANDER
No, no… What time is it?

GRETA
It’s six o’clock. How do you feel? How are your hands?

ALEXANDER
Better, I think. Thank you.
(notices the table)
Everyone’s eaten already?

GRETA
We saved a plate for you. Boiled beans, bread and molasses. Would you like some tea?

ALEXANDER
No, no… I’m late.
(gets his boots; struggles to get them on)

GRETA
Alexander, Daddy doesn’t expect you to work today.

ALEXANDER
Could you help me with my boots? I mean, please, if you would…?

Greta shrugs and goes to help him with his boots. William enters with a load of wood.

LURENA
(pointing at Alexander)
Daddy…

Greta abruptly stops what she is doing.

WILLIAM
That’s fine, Greta. Help him with his boots. He needs to get out in the fresh air. How are you, Son?

ALEXANDER
Very good, Sir. Much better. Thank you, Sir.

WILLIAM
Glad to hear it.
(to Lurena)
Where’s your mother, upstairs?

LURENA
In the keep-over.

WILLIAM
Well, she’s not going to want to see those dishes still on the table when she gets back, is she?

GRETA
Lurena!

Lurena clears the table.

WILLIAM
All right, Alexander. Come with me. I’ve got a new job for you for a little while. You say your hands are improved?

ALEXANDER
Yes, Sir. Much better.

WILLIAM
Can you move your fingers?

ALEXANDER
I think so. Yes.

WILLIAM
That’s a good sign. Very good sign. Greta, put a lunch together for Alexander.

GRETA
It’s ready.

Greta places a loaf of bread and some sliced beef inside a cloth bag and hands it to Alexander.

ALEXANDER
Thank you.

WILLIAM
Thank you, Ladies. We’ll be off now. Alexander.

William holds the door open for Alexander and they exit.

GRETA
He’s cute, in a way, isn’t he?

LURENA
If his hands worsen, Daddy will have to send him out, won’t he?

GRETA
He said they felt better. He was moving his fingers.

LURENA
But if they worsen, for some reason, Daddy will have no choice, right?

GRETA
He’d have to snowshoe out, Lurena. Don’t wish it on him. The horses could never make it now.

LURENA
Daddy would have to take him. And I’d go too.

GRETA
What?

LURENA
I’d go with them.

GRETA
Don’t talk nonsense.

LURENA
Daddy would let me. I know he would.

GRETA
He would not! And no one’s leaving, so forget about it!

Pause.

LURENA
I’ve made up my mind.

GRETA
About what?

LURENA
I’m not going to wash my neck until somebody says they’ll take me out of here.

GRETA
(laughing)
Oh, is that so?

LURENA
(bursting into tears)
Don’t laugh at me! I mean it! I want to go home!

LIGHTS FADE.

SCENE FOUR

A spot light comes up on the wood cutting area. William is chopping wood. Another spot light comes up on Lurena, sitting at a small desk in the upstairs office of the cookhouse. In the half-light downstairs, the door opens and Howard peeks inside. He looks around and tiptoes to the stairs and climbs up. The sound of chopping continues. Howard pokes his head up through the stair well. Lurena starts and turns around.

LURENA
My…my father–

HOWARD
He’s chopping wood. Can you hear him? (listens) As long as we can hear that noise we know exactly where he is. (approaches her) When the chopping stops, we kiss goodbye. Until the next time…

He grabs for her and pulls her from the chair.

HOWARD
I love that look in your eyes, Lurena. You’re so sweet.

He pushes her to the floor, pulls up her skirt and forces himself on her as she struggles.

An agonized scream comes from William at the wood cutting block.

BLACKOUT.

SCENE FIVE

When the lights come up again, William is sitting in the cookhouse with his foot propped up on a stool. Eliza is removing his boot and sock. Lurena is watching from by the window. Greta is pouring water into a basin.

ELIZA
(examining William’s foot)
Yes, the blade went in through the top and came out through the bottom. This is very bad, William.

WILLIAM
I don’t know what happened. I just slipped. Can you fix it, Mother?

ELIZA
Someone will have to go out and bring back a doctor.

WILLIAM
Eliza, no.

ELIZA
Lurena, go fetch Howard from the bunkhouse. I just saw him headed that way. Hurry it up!

Lurena gets her coat and exits.

WILLIAM
You need him here.

ELIZA
He’s the strongest. We need someone we can trust to make it out and back again. Quickly.

WILLIAM
It’ll be ten days there and back at least, depending on the weather.

ELIZA
He must go at once. Greta, prepare some food for him. Plenty of it. As varied as you can make it.
(bandaging foot)
William O’Toole, I could shoot you!

William winks at Greta.

LIGHTS FADE.

SCENE SIX

Lights come up on Eliza, Greta, and Lurena in the cook-house. William is resting in the corner.

ELIZA
(after a long pause)
All right. Get a pan of water, Greta.

WILLIAM
Now Mother.

ELIZA
(to Greta)
You heard me.

WILLIAM
If she doesn’t want to wash her neck, what difference does it make? As long as she washes her hands.

ELIZA
Never in my life have I heard such nonsense.

LURENA
Please Mama. I’ll cook for them, I’ll carry my own supplies. It only takes three or four nights and the second one will be at the Knights’ Crossing Camp. Daddy will make sure I’m all right. Won’t you Daddy?

ELIZA
Your father will not be going out. I’ve already explained this to you. He must not walk on that foot. The doctor will tend to him right here.

LURENA
But if it gets worse…

ELIZA
It will not get worse. Didn’t I fix Alexander’s hands?

LURENA
Then I’ll go back with the doctor when he goes.

ELIZA
William, I’m not listening to any more of this.

WILLIAM
Lurena, you can’t go, Little One. No matter what. You belong with your mother. You have to stay until spring. If you behave yourself, maybe we can send you ahead a few weeks before the rest of us.

ELIZA
William.

WILLIAM
If we can get a horse and sled through.

LURENA
Daddy…

WILLIAM
It won’t be long now. Spring always comes.

LURENA
Daddy…

WILLIAM
It’s just cabin fever, Little One. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last.

LURENA
But Daddy…

WILLIAM
That’s enough. Do as your mother says. If nothing else, you’ll feel cleaner.

Lurena stands defiant, tears streaming down her face.

ELIZA
You leave me no choice, Lurena.

Eliza pulls Lurena by the ear to a stool.

ELIZA
Greta, hold her down.

Greta holds Lurena while Eliza washes her neck. William watches slumped with sadness as Lurena howls in anguish.

LIGHTS FADE.

SCENE SEVEN

The lights come up on Lurena and Alexander in the cookhouse. Alexander is repairing something such as the leg on a stool. Lurena is rolling pie crusts. There are over a dozen plates lined up on the table. There is a long silence.

ALEXANDER
I’m not in your way here, I hope.

LURENA
No.

ALEXANDER
I’m just about done now.

LURENA
You’re not in my way.

ALEXANDER
Your father’s letting me stay back for a few more days. Just ‘til the hands are a hundred percent. He said I could do cleaning and repairs while the horses are out.

LURENA
How are your hands?

ALEXANDER
Oh, almost like new again. Your ma really knows what she’s doin’, doesn’t she?

LURENA
Ya.

ALEXANDER
To tell the truth, though, I’d rather not go out with the hunting party again if it’s deer they’re after. Partridge I can kill…rabbits…wild turkey. But I can’t kill something that’s staring me right in the face as if to say, “Why?”

LURENA
Daddy said you were a farm boy.

ALEXANDER
That’s right. Down in Campbell’s Bay. Born and raised on a farm.

LURENA
You kill pigs, don’t you?

ALEXANDER
Every fall.

LURENA
And cows.

ALEXANDER
Yes, cows. And chickens.

LURENA
It bothers you.

ALEXANDER
No. I don’t even think about it.

LURENA
But it bothers you to kill a deer.

ALEXANDER
I never actually killed one, to tell the truth. Couldn’t bring myself.

LURENA
Maybe you just need to do it once and get it over with.

ALEXANDER
Maybe.

LURENA
It’s not like we don’t use the meat.

ALEXANDER
Oh, I know. Your folks feed us guys like we’s royalty.

LURENA
Daddy likes to keep everyone contented. Sober, well-fed, hard-worked, well-paid. That’s the way he runs his camp. He believes if you’re good to people, they’ll be good to you. Do you believe that?

ALEXANDER
Well, I reckon so. ‘Cause this is the best place I ever worked. At Knights’ Crossing, the men eat to stay alive. Here, we eat for pleasure.

LURENA
Sounds like you like it here.

ALEXANDER
Most of the time. Your father’s a good man.

LURENA
Is he?

ALEXANDER
You should see him with the horses. He never beats them and he won’t allow anyone else to either. He talks to them, strokes them. And he told me on the first day, when it’s 50 below out, the horses don’t go out. It’s too hard on them. Their breath freezes in their nostrils and they can’t breathe. Yes, your father is the kindest boss I’ve ever had.

LURENA
Then why does he keep me here?

ALEXANDER
(slight pause)
Because you’re his daughter, I suppose. A family should be together, don’t you think? If it’s possible.

LURENA
I’m old enough to stay back in town.

ALEXANDER
By yourself?

LURENA
No. I’d stay with my Aunt Lillian and Uncle Paul. I’d be able to practice my piano, go to school…

ALEXANDER
You play the piano?

LURENA
Since I was seven.

ALEXANDER
How old are you now?

LURENA
Twelve.

ALEXANDER
What songs do you know?

LURENA
I mostly know hymns. I play at church nearly every Sunday in the summer. I love it so much.

ALEXANDER
Will you sing me one?

LURENA
What?

ALEXANDER
Sing to me. If I know it, I’ll sing with you.

Lurena starts to quietly sing “Amazing Grace”. Alexander’s face lights up. He begins to sing with her.

LIGHTS FADE.

SCENE EIGHT

A light comes up on the wood cutting block. Lurena is gathering wood. She notices the ax, puts down her load of kindling and picks up the ax. The sits, holding the ax, staring out front. William enters, using a handmade crutch.

WILLIAM
Little One.

LURENA
(staring out front)
Shhh!!!!

WILLIAM
What is it?

LURENA
A deer.

WILLIAM
Where?

LURENA
Through there.

WILLIAM
So it is. Well, I’ll be.

LURENA
It’s so beautiful.

WILLIAM
Wait ‘til the men hear about this. I should get my rifle.

LURENA
No, Daddy. No.

WILLIAM
If your mother finds out…

LURENA
We won’t tell her. We won’t tell the men, either. Please, Daddy. Please. Just let it go.

WILLIAM
(watches for a moment)
All right.

Pause.

LURENA
Daddy?

WILLIAM
Little One.

LURENA
When the doctor is ready to go back, will you send Howard back out with him?

WILLIAM
Well now, that depends.

Pause. He looks at her.

WILLIAM
Why do you ask, Lurena?

She doesn’t answer.

WILLIAM
(continued)
Is that what you want? You mean, for good, Little One?

Lurena is looking at the ground. She nods her head. William goes to her, puts his fingers under her chin and lifts her head so that she has to look him in the eyes.

LURENA
(fighting back tears)
I don’t like him, Daddy. He’s not very nice.

William suddenly clutches Lurena to him and holds her.

LIGHTS FADE.

SCENE NINE

The cookhouse. Great and Eliza are cooking.

GRETA
Twelve days. Something’s wrong. It doesn’t take twelve days.

ELIZA
That storm held them up. They’ll be here by sundown.

GRETA
I’m not so sure, Mama. Maybe Howard liked it better in town.

ELIZA
(suddenly)
I can’t believe he wouldn’t at least send the doctor. He knew how serious it was. The doctor could have hired a guide and charged us for it. People just don’t think!

GRETA
Well, Daddy seems OK, thank goodness.

ELIZA
Yes, but if he was dying, he wouldn’t let on.

William enters with Lurena.

ELIZA
Lurena, for Heaven’s sake, what took you so long?

WILLIAM
She was with me, Mother.

ELIZA
And that makes it all right, I suppose? Give me that kindling, Lurena. Go wash your hands.

WILLIAM
Mother, I’d like you to remove this bandage now.

ELIZA
That bandage stays on until the doctor arrives.

WILLIAM
I need to see what’s happening.

ELIZA
The wound is healing. That’s what’s happening. Leave it alone.

There is a loud knock at the door. It opens and an exhausted and very cold Howard enters.

GRETA
It’s Howard! They’re here!

ELIZA
Good Lord, Howard, you certainly took long enough. Where’s the doctor?

HOWARD
Ma’am. I tried everything I could think of. I’m sorry. He wouldn’t come.

Lurena covers her mouth with both hands.

ELIZA
William…

HOWARD
He said that by the time he got here, Mr. O’Toole’s foot would either be healed or…

ELIZA
Spit it out, Howard! What did he say?

HOWARD
Or it would be infected so bad, he’d have to be carried out for amputation.

Lurena whimpers.

HOWARD
I’m sorry, Ma’am. Mr. O’Toole. I tried everything.
(holds out a medicine can)
He sent you this.

ELIZA
(taking the can)
Why that no good, lazy… It’s chloroform.

Lurena weeps openly.

WILLIAM
All right. Everybody calm down. Lurena, come sit here. Greta, fix Howard some food. Bread, meat, biscuits.

HOWARD
Thank you, Sir.

WILLIAM
Have a seat, Howard. When she’s finished, you can be on your way, then.

HOWARD
Sir?

WILLIAM
If you need any dry clothes or matches, now’s your chance, lad. You’ll be camping in the bush tonight.

ELIZA
William?

HOWARD
Sir, I tried to get him to come. I did everything I could…I begged him…

ELIZA
William, surely it’s not Howard’s fault–

WILLIAM
(holds up a hand)
We appreciate all your efforts to fetch the doctor, Howard. You are not responsible for the result. And now, I regret to inform you that your services are no longer required at this camp.

HOWARD
But Sir–

GRETA
Daddy–

WILLIAM
(shouts)
That’ll be all then! (quietly) Thank you.

Greta hands Howard three or four cloth bags full of food. Howard looks at Lurena, then at William. He exits. William props his foot on a stool.

WILLIAM
Mother.

Eliza goes to William, kneels and cuts the bandage off his foot.

WILLIAM
Well?

Eliza throws her arms around William’s neck and weeps. Lurena clutches Greta. Greta pulls herself away and marches over to see for herself.

GRETA
(examining the foot)
Well, look at that. A scar you’ll be able to show to your grandchildren. Nice work, Mama.

LIGHTS FADE.

SCENE TEN

When the lights come up, the cookhouse is bustling with activity. The girls are cooking, William is skinning rabbits, Eliza is mending clothes, Alexander is cleaning oil lamps. No one talks.

Lurena is working by the stove. She begins to sing a hymn very softly. Alexander notices and watches her. We begin to hear a solo pianist performing the hymn.

The music grows louder. Eventually, an entire orchestra is playing the hymn. Everyone continues to work. Lurena lifts one of the burners of the stove with a handle and adds wood to the fire.

We see sparks and hear crackling. She stirs the contents of a few large kettles, checks the progress of some bread that is rising under linen cloths.

The music reaches its conclusion as Lurena very calmly thrust her right hand into the blazing fire. Alexander screams and drops the lamp which breaks.

Alexander
Lurena!!!

BLACKOUT.

SCENE ELEVEN

In the darkness we hear the sounds of wolves howling. We hear the wind whistling.

The lights come up on the stage in front of the cookhouse. There is a wooden sled packed with supplies, animal skins, and a lamp. William enters, carrying Lurena.

Her hand is heavily bandaged and she is obviously in a lot of pain. He gently places her on the sled and covers her with animal furs. Greta and Eliza enter.

Greta goes to Lurena and ties her scarf about her head and neck.

WILLIAM
(calling)
Alexander! Hurry up, Son! (to Eliza) The sun is up. We must go. I still think he should stay here with you.

ELIZA
No. If something should happen, you need an extra man to go on ahead for help.

WILLIAM
If it makes you feel better.

ELIZA
William. Here.
(holds out the can of chloroform)

William hesitates.

ELIZA
Take it. Use it if you have to. Only a few drops, mind you. Too much will kill her.

William reluctantly takes the chloroform. Alexander enters carrying rifles and three sets of snow shoes. He hands one rifle to William who slings it across his back.

WILLIAM
All right. We’re ready.

ALEXANDER
(to Greta)
Do you have any questions?

GRETA
I know what to do.

ALEXANDER
Remember, if it reaches 50 below, no matter how sunny it is, don’t let them go out. Their breath freezes…

GRETA
I know. Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of them. Alexander? Here. (hands him a fur-lined pair of leather mitts) I made them myself.

ALEXANDER
I can’t–

ELIZA
Take them, Alexander. We have enough to worry about without worrying about you too.

ALEXANDER
(to Greta)
Thank you.
(puts the mitts on)

WILLIAM
Everyone’s going to be fine.
(kisses Eliza; they look at each other for a long time)
Say goodbye to your mother, Lurena.

LURENA
Goodbye, Mama.

ELIZA
You listen to your Aunt Lillian, you hear me?

LURENA
Yes, Mama.

ELIZA
When I get back, I don’t want to hear about any nonsense.

LURENA
No, Mama.

ELIZA
I mean what I say, Lurena.

LURENA
I know.

Eliza suddenly kneels and embraces Lurena. After a moment, William helps her up.

WILLIAM
(wipes her face)
Give me eight days, Mother. I want the smell of molasses to greet me when I open the door. Greta?

GRETA
Yes, Daddy?

WILLIAM
Take care of your mother for me.

Greta nods. William and Alexander head out, pulling Lurena on the sled. Greta and Eliza’s reach for each other’s hands as they watch everyone go.

LIGHTS FADE.

CURTAIN

Deer’s Eyes

by Beth French

© 2017 All rights reserved

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