Deer’s Eyes – Scene One

It is mid-winter at a lumber camp 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 bowls 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.

Eliza examines Alexander’s hands.

ELIZA
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

© Elizabeth Anne French 2017

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