by Wayne T. Taylor
A Poetry Drama in Three Acts
Thomas Metheus, 40, hom’bly scarred by smallpox.
Helen Metheus, 30, his wife. Advocates the “Awakening.”
Isabel Metheus, 13, their daughter.
Francis, 24, an itinerate peddler. Disciple of Enlightenment.
Minister, 50, a friend of Thomas ‘s.
Josiah Momson, 50, a dairy farmer.
Mrs. Momson, 45, his wife.
Jedediah Clayton, 35, a farmer.
Mrs. Clayton, 30, his wife.
Mrs. Frazer, 45, local woman.
Mrs. Douglas, 50, local woman.
Mrs. Campbell, 55, friend of Helen’s.
(The set is dark and a congregation can be heard singing “Gloria Patri. ”
Shortly, however, whispers can be heard growing louder over the music.
They are unintelligible, chaotic, and insistent. just as a word or two can be
understood, a woman’s voice rises above the intoning of the traditional
Latin Mass. )
Woman’s Voice: Veni, sanctificator omnipotens aeterne Deus: et
bene . . .
(‘ ‘Come, Thou Sanctifier, almighty and eternal God,
and bless . . . ‘ ‘
(The whispen·ng changes to voices that inte1,upt the Woman .)
Voices: For this day .
Day by day.
Our daily bread .
(The Minister’s voice cuts in, formal, but not to the degree of the
woman ‘s. )
Minister: Give us this day our daily bread .
Voices: Day by day .
According to the day’s requirement.
Today our bread.
Woman’s Voice : Panem nostrum quotidianum de nobis hodie.
(”Give us this day our daily bread.”)
Voices: Offenses, faults, sins.
Those who trespass against us.
Minister: Do not; suffer us not; let us not; subject us not to trial.
Woman’s Voice: Et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et no dimittimus
(“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who
trespass against us.’ ‘)
Voices: Thine is the power,
The glory for ever.
Woman’s Voice: Gloria in excelsis Dea!
(“Glory to God in the highest!”)
Voices: Not into temptation.
Deliver us from evil.
Protect us from the evil one.
Minister: And lead us not into temptation , but deliver us from
the evil one.
Voices: The wicked one . The secret one . The dragon .
Woman’s Voice: Beelzebub principe daemoniorum.
Est diablo, et angelius ejus.
(“Prince of devils. The devil and his angels. Son of
perdition . ‘ ‘)
Minister: What are the chief attributes of God?
Woman’s Voice : Hommo peccatti.
(“Man of sin .”)
Congregation: His infinite perfection in being and working.
Woman ‘s Voice : K.yn·e, eleison.
(‘ ‘Lord, have mercy . ”)
Voices: We bless thee.
We adore thee .
We glorify thee.
Minister: What are the chief attributes of his being?
Woman’s Voice: Draco.
(”Dragon .’ ‘)
Congregation: Eternity, infiniteness, simplicity or purity, all-
sufficiency, perfectness, immutability, life , will, and
Voices: Thou alone art holy.
Let your name be sanctified.
Hallowed be thy name.
Minister: Wherein doth the curse of God consist?
Woman’s Voice: Dracone .
Congregation: In divers things: first , in the guilt of death, temporal
and eternal; second, the loss of grace and favor of God;
third, guilt and horror of conscience, despair and
anguish here; with, fourth, eternal damnation hereafter.
Voices: Thou alone art the Lord.
Thou which art in heaven.
Woman’s voice : Quia peccastis Domino, et non audistis vocem ejus,
est vobis sermo hie.
(“Because you have sinned against the Lord, and have
not obeyed his voice, therefore this thing is come upon
Voices: As in earth, so in heaven.
As it is done in heaven .
In earth as it is in heaven.
Woman’s Voice: Kyrie, eleison.
Voices: Thy Kingdom come.
Your Kingdom come.
Let your Kingdom come.
Woman’s Voice: Adventclt regnum tuum!
Adven£at regnum tuum!
(“Thy Kingdom come.”)
Voices: Thy will be done.
In earth as it is in heaven.
Thy will be done!
Thy Kingdom come!
(There is silence and the lt’ghts come up slowly on Thomas Metheus, who is
waiting outside the church. He ts about 40 years old, st’x feet tall, and has
brown hair and blue eyes. Hts face has been hom’bly deformed by
smallpox, and his eyes sttfl reflect the pain tt has caused ht’m physically and
emotionally. He is bored and for lack of something better to do he picks
up some small rocks and begins throwing them at the foundation of the
church. Sttfl bored, he goes and sits on the steps. Preaching can now be
heard inside, which ts audible to the audience but understandable only to
Thomas. Wt’th a look of disgust he throws the remaining rocks toward the
audience and stands.)
Thomas: Good people. Friends. Unfed, shining lambs
Gathered today to worship the shepherd’s lunch,
I shall this morning leave the rhetoric of damnation
In the collection plate and preach salvation.
Salvation through me. I speak to all
The children of the green-apple eaters
Of Eden. Your teeth are set on edge, my friends,
Yet have not fallen corrupted from your mouths
Because they are soothed with the saliva of God’s
A wet sacrament elevated redly to wine.
But this is merely Hocus-Pocus to sweeten
Your sins. In truth I save you all.
I carry your sins, and my suffering
Alone fills the watery eyes of justice.
(There is a pause. Then Thomas begins to preach in a mocking manner.
Francis enters unseen.)
Offer then, good people,
Some idle dove to the goat who must carry
Your sins into the sun-harsh wild;
My punishment expiates you , and I am despised
And rejected of men who hide, as it were , their faces
From me . Oh brethren, remember and fear
The Mischief-Breather who snored damp life
Into your brittle, potted bodies; vessels
That can shatter as a drunkard shatters his crock.
Alas, my brothers, ours is a drunken God.
His belching is the thunder and the rain his spittle
As he delivers his unchangeable ambiguities
To the prophets.
(Francis begins to laugh. He is a young man in his early twenties with
black eyes and hair. He is a convert to the Enlightenment, a disciple of the
new God, reason. Thomas is startled and turns away so that his face is
hidden from Francis.)
Francis: Amen! Pray continue, good preacher.
Seldom preach the heretics from the synogogue
Steps; and a better sermon I never heard.
Thomas: I am not a heretic.
Francis: Infidel, then! Stand I now by the waters of Babylon?
Thomas: How long have you been listening?
Francis: In partibus infidelium I wander alone.
Worship you the ale-God, sir?
(He realizes that Thomas is not as amused with his joking as he himself is.)
I believe you were about to pass the plate,
And I, sadly, am without two turtles;
Naught but my mite of cynicism can I offer.
Do you preach regularly to the street-stones, Rabbi?
Thomas: I am waiting for my wife and daughter.
Francis: Why are you not inside? Surely a man of your
devotion should not waste his piety preaching to
(Thomas turns and faces Francis. The scars on his face answer Francis’s
Thomas: I wait outside for my wife and daughter.
Francis: Ah, I see . Forgive me, I did not .. . It must have
been very bad.
Thomas: What would you know of it, Sunday-clown?
Francis: I would think you would have died.
Thomas: I did not.
Francis: Tell me, brooding preacher, was it for sins
Unmentionable that God sent his badger to claw
Your face and mark you with the sores of Cain?
Pestilence is God’s rightful judgment visited
Upon the wicked. Or was it just the breath
Of another sinner that polluted your face?
Were you innocent, or are you penitent?
Thomas: I was eight, and my sister of six died .
Why I lived is a mystery, and what I did
To merit my punishment is an even greater one.
It is hidden even from me .
Francis: You are not consoled in dogma?
Thomas: The creeds were written by lawyers.
Francis: You should sit with the flock and make them squirm!
Thomas: What?! The heretic would instruct me in my election?
Very well, speak!
Francis: (Laughing) I am not a heretic either; I am enlightened.
But it is better business to be religious. Please, keep
my opinions to yourself.
Thomas: A wolf in sheep ‘s clothing.
Francis: Nothing so sinister.
Thomas: I fear for their souls.
Francis: Fear for their money . Come, I will speak my mind
To you because I feel you can understand .
Pythagoras, Fibonnacci, and I have seen
The vision of the rose in Bhudda’s hand.
The black seeds spinning a spiral strand
In against a bristling mandala
Showed Pythagoras a God (Upon whose command
Revelation of an irrational root was banned).
Hygeia the healer! Daughter of the claw!
Fibonnacci found the world descending the stairs
Of whirling squares that the flower’s black yolk
Weaves into the golden navel of the divine .
Francis: A sunflower.
Thomas: I do not understand .
Francis: My point! Now consider the lilies of the field ,
How they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet even Solomon in all his glory
Was not arrayed like one of these.
The subject is the same; the point of view differs.
One is orthodox, the other enlightened.
Thomas: Are you a missionary or a salesman?
Francis: I am a salesman. They do not want to understand
what I would teach them, so I whisper what they
want to hear and take their money.
Francis: Business! Be assured, sir, that nowhere ministers an
itinerant more saintly than I.
(He reaches into one of the bags he is carrying and pulls out a bottle.)
I am a ministering angel providing the suffering
With this Elixer Divitas Magnus,
A nectar truly dripped from heaven,
A glorious remedy for any infirmity-vapors, gout,
Why this is the favorite of Cotton Mather’s wife
When the ache comes upon her. It heals with .
Thomas: Enough! Can your water cure the pox?
Francis: Water? Friend, I may profane your Gods
But I do not insult your wife, and I ask
That you not tarnish the shrines of my belief.
This divine essence .
Thomas: The pox, sir?!
Francis: No, though I wish it would . I could have sold a
hundred bottles at twice the price in Burlington.
Thomas: The pox in Burlington? .
Francis: And Deaton, too . Cities ripe for destruction.
The east wind is swift; His furious judgment is come.
It is the pox with which the earth is salted.
Thomas: You laugh at many things.
Francis: I laugh at folly. In Burlington they preach repentance
At children who know nothing of sin, who catch
The pox from the Deacon who pats their head.
A sermon on contagion would save more
Children than ten thousand catechisms
Thomas: You do not believe in God?
Francis: Did you believe that everyone does? No,
I do not believe in a God who crushes children
Because His head spins with wine.
Thomas: A curious creature, the atheist.
Francis: A quote from your text, minister. God is unjust
To punish little ones when parents aren’t precise
In their piety. My God is reason.
Thomas: Will the Enlightenment save you?
Francis: Will the Awakening save you?
Thomas: (Laughing) How did you know where the skin was
Two armies march against men’s minds,
And struggle on the Megiddo of their thoughts
To annihilate each other.
Francis: Two alternatives?
Thomas: I am neither Awakened nor Enlightened.
Francis: (Pause) No, you have yet to decide .
(Josiah Morrison enters. He is a former of about 50, grey-haired and dressed
in faded work clothes.)
Thomas: Josiah! I thought you were inside.
Josiah: Not today, Lord forgive me-my oxen are in the
mire, as it were. Jane is ill and my wife has the ache
again. There is no one to help me milk my cows.
Thomas: Ill, you say? Josiah, speak with this accomplished
disciple of Hippocrates for a moment.
Francis: (Under his breath) Not on the sabbath!
Thomas: (To Francis) Your name, sir?
Josiah: The winter has stayed too long and my wife has the
Thomas: Spring is late.
Josiah: (To Francis) Where are you traveling from?
Josiah: Our doctor moved to Hanover last year, and that’s
too far to go just for the ache.
Francis: Does your wife take anything for her ache?
Josiah: Every night she wants a bigger fire, and the wood I
cut last fall was gone by the end of March. I’m
killing myself finding wood for the woman.
Francis: (Holding up his bottle) She might try this.
Francis: A cup before she goes to bed at night.
Josiah: A strange bottle. Whiskey?
Francis: No, my friend, a virtuous and divine liquid.
An elixir prepared by saintly, dedicated men
At the St. Mary’s Seminary
Of Baltimore . Jonathan Edward’s wife
Uses this whenever she feels the ache.
Josiah: Well, that’s a lot to believe in.
Francis: It’s a blessing from the Lord .
Josiah: And for Jane . The cows need to be milked today.
Francis: Of course! What ails her?
Josiah: The pox ….
(Thomas is startled.)
Francis: Alas sir, beyond men’s humble powers
Lies the cure for the pox. Could men hope
To circumvent God’s wrath? His will is set;
The arrow is loosed . Who shall spare the mark?
Thomas: A cunning viper.
Josiah: Slow down, sir. It’s the cowpox she has, not the
smallpox. There’s so many sores on her hands she
Francis: (Laughs) Cowpox? It cures itself in a week or so.
Josiah: My cows will be dead in a week if they’re not milked .
Thomas: Well, missionary of reason, if you want to rest from
your travels, I’m sure Josiah would be happy to board
you for a few days if you milk his cows.
Francis: Cows? (Resigning himself) Even the enlightened get
Very well, sir, for a bed and a meal I will milk your
Josiah: Well spoken! Come along, Francis, and God forgive
us our commerce on the sabbath. (Holding up a bottle) I’ll have my wife try this.
Francis: Only a little. Give her only a little .
(From inside the church angry voices can be heard growing louder.)
Francis: Trouble in Zion?
Josiah: Your wife forgets her place again, Thomas.
Thomas: She has her concerns.
Josiah: Now, I’m not siding with the minister, but I can’t
condone a woman forgetting her place . She’ 11 be
trying to wear your pants, too, if you’re not careful.
Thomas: Her salvation is her concern.
Josiah : Very well. Come along, sir-the hornets will swarm
out of church in a moment. It happens like that
every Sunday as of late.
(The church bell rings three times as Josiah and Francis leave. Voices are
sttfl loud inside. The church doors open and the chtfdren run out first.
Among them is Isabel. She is Thomas’s daughter of 13. She runs to her
Isabel: Father! I am going to lead the May Procession!
Amy Dixon has the pox so I will lead!
Thomas: (Startled) Amy has the pox?
Isabel: I will carry the flowers and be the first to walk under
the bough. Mother said…
Thomas: When did Amy become ill?
Isabel: I don’t know. But I get to lead, Father!
(Angry voices can be heard as people begin to leave the church. Helen
comes out. She is ten years younger than Thomas. Today her face is
almost as red as her hair.)
Isabel: Mother fought with the minister again today. So did
Mrs. Hanley and Mrs. Bernt.
Helen: (Controlling her anger) Thomas, let us go .
Thomas: The hive is swarming.
Helen: Let us go, Thomas!
Thomas: Have Mrs. Hanley and Mrs. Bernt awakened with you?
(The people passing by are glaring at them.)
Helen: Jedediah Clayton! You are wrong and you are a
coward and you know it!
Jedediah: Mind your mouth, woman!
Helen: Why did you not call me a witch inside with the
minister there to pass judgment on you? Or are you
now the new Bishop of New Hampshire?
Mrs. Clayton: Don’t speak with her, Jedediah!
Helen: You are wrong to judge me, Jedediah! I’m sure there
must be at least one mote in your own eye.
Mrs. Clayton : Stray if you must, Helen, but leave us to follow in
our own way.
Helen: Your way is wrong!
Jedediah: You are wrong!
Helen: I am right! I am fettered to the words of Paul to the
saints in Rome.
Jedediah: Paul also wrote to Timothy:
“Let the woman learn in silence.
Suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp
Authority over the man, but to be in silence!”
That is in your Bible!
Helen: And were I a man with the same opinions, would
that make any difference?
Jedediah: Your husband sins in not punishing you with the
(The minister approaches the group.)
Minister: Jedediah! Everyone! Go to your homes! Now!
No more contention on the Sabbath!
All of you go.
(The people are sttfl furious but obey the minister and leave.)
Minister: Helen, stay.
Helen: I have no time .
Minister: Only a moment.
Helen: I must prepare the day’s meals.
Minister: Then I shall visit you for dinner.
Helen: No! You shall never eat at my table!
Thomas: “Plead with your mother, plead: for she is not my
wife, neither am I her husband.”
Minister: Thomas, you fool! This is not the time to joke and
banter passages. Your wife is out of order, and you
must discipline her.
Thomas: Helen . . .
Helen: No! I shall not prepare food for him in my house!
Minister: Then none shall be prepared for you in mine.
Helen: Isabel, run ahead.
Minister: No, this involves her, too.
Helen, my congregation has been divided
Too long. You spit disrespect at me
Each time you and your followers speak
Of this awakening. You tempt many to stray,
And division will destroy us as it destroyed
Israel, only for us there is no return
Helen: You are afraid. They are afraid. Why?
Minister: You deny the sacraments.
Helen: The sacraments are empty. They nourish no souls.
Minister: They see and feel the eucharist. In the ritual
There is power. You seek a feeling empty
Helen: I speak of Pentacost!
Minister: Those winds no longer blow! (Pause) Helen,
They need to see the grail. When they hold
The cup of wine, and touch the gold of atonement
With trembling lips, they understand more
Than your breeze can teach them.
Helen: But they are not partakers of the Holy Ghost.
Minister: Helen, you will be damned! Can you not see the
anger and hatred of the men in the congregation,
some of whom have already come to me to whisper
Helen: They are cowards.
Minister: A mob is full of cowards.
Helen: Why can’t any of you see I speak the truth?
Minister: You are rebellious, Helen. I see that I must suspend
Thomas: Are you that afraid?
Minister: In two weeks I shall notify the Bishop, and you can
then appeal my decision if you like.
Helen: Good. I shall wait.
Minister: Unfortunately, with both parents absent from the
Isabel will also be unwelcomed.
Isabel: Mother! Next week I’m to carry the flowers!
Helen: (To the Minister) You are so weak you have to trap
me. Now I know I am right. Very well, there are
Minister: Towns where Thomas will be accepted as he is here?
Helen: (Pause) Come, Isabel.
Isabel: But Mother, I want to carry the flowers .
Helen: Isabel! Come along.
Minister: Sunday the penitent will be welcomed .
(Helen and Isabel exit.)
Thomas: It was providence that Amy caught the pox.
Otherwise the plague of starving belief
Would still be afflicting you. Surely,
God sent Amy the pox for this purpose.
Minister: You don’t believe that, Thomas.
Thomas: Then why does Amy have the pox? Why is there the
pox in Burlington and Deaton?
Minister: God’s ways are not our ways, Thomas.
I do not know.
Thomas: Yet everyone knows I suffered the pox for atrocious
Tell me, Minister, who did sin? The man or his
Minister: Thomas, why are you baiting me?
Thomas: Surely it was Amy who sinned! Her parents are unduly
Minister: Enough! Your house is not in order!
See to it before you see to mine!
Thomas: You are losing control. Every day there are new
questions you cannot answer, gaping holes in your
sterile dogma that need to be filled. God cannot
keep silent much longer.
Minister: You are losing control in your house!
Thomas: Is amputation the answer? Cut off every sore instead
of cleaning the wounds?
Minister: She threatens others.
Thomas: She threatens you.
Minister: Talk to her, Thomas. You understand God’s word
almost as well as I do. I know people have been cruel
to you, and I’m trying to spare her some of the
anguish you suffered.
Thomas: Your sermons were responsible for my suffering.
The pox is a judgment, you say, thrown down on the
By God who sees all secrets and knows all hearts.
Minister: They did not understand .
Thomas: Do I?
(Thomas exits. Lights fade on Minister.)
(The next day. Interior of the Metheus home. Helen and Mrs. Campbell
are finishing baking bread. Isabel is in the kitchen working on her dress.)
Helen: I love the house filled with the smell of food . The
bread is almost cool and we’ll soon see if it baked
Mrs. Campbell: You’re always too critical, Helen. It will be a feast.
Helen: (Handing her a piece of bread) Here, taste.
Mrs. Campbell: (Tasting) Wonderful!
Helen: I think the leaven was too sour. I’ 11 have to start
another batch. I’ll send this batch over to Mrs. Hanley.
Mrs. Campbell: Mrs. White’s boy has the fever. She sent Melissa to
White River in case it is the pox.
Helen: If it’s to be the pox for Melissa, then sending her
away will do no more good than running did Jonah
when he tried to escape to the sea.
Mrs. Campbell: In Boston they talk of mithridatism.
Helen: Witch talk.
Mrs. Campbell: No, doctors!
Helen: Once a woman sought the pox from a child that was
lightly afflicted, and for three days she was in the belly
of hell before she died.
Judgments come as they will.
Mrs. Campbell: Are you not concerned for Isabel?
Helen: I have faith, not fear.
Mrs. Campbell: But, Thomas …
Helen: Isabel, how are you doing?
Isabel: Better. Thank you for showing me how to sew the
lace, Mrs. Campbell.
Mrs. Campbell: You’ll look beautiful.
I remember the days before grey brushed
My shoulders, and I carried flowers beneath
Isabel: You carried the flowers?
Mrs. Campbell: Yes, in a lace dress just like yours.
It seems like a hundred Mays have passed since then.
They brought the tree into town and everyone
Cut branches off to tie to their houses.
Then we went from house to house singing
While I, dressed in white, scattered flowers
On each doorstep until we got back to the tree.
There, all the young men were pretending sleep
And I ducked under the bough with my flowers,
Placed them on my sweetheart George’s head,
And kissed him. We married the next year.
Isabel: Will there be flowers this year? There must be
Helen: There will be flowers.
Mrs. Campbell: I must go now. You’ll look beautiful, Isabel, and
there will be a big surprise for you Sunday. Good-bye.
(Mrs. Campbell leaves.)
Isabel: I know whom I shall kiss Sunday.
Isabel: I can’t tell you. That would spoil it.
Helen: (Offering bread) I’ll bribe you .
Isabel: (Shaking her head) It’ll cost you your arm to find
Isabel: How do they prevent the pox in Boston?
Helen: It is nothing .
Isabel: But Father would want to know.
Helen: Do not tell your father!
Helen: Your father still fears the pox, and , being afraid,
he is often rash. Do not talk of this.
(Thomas enters, breathless.)
Thomas: Isabel! Isabel, come quickly. (He goes to the
Thomas: Look, the buck and the does.
(He lifts Isabel.)
Isabel: Higher, Father! Lift me higher!
Thomas: Can you see? He is crowned with a thicket
Of antlers thornier than any other buck.
Isabel: How long will they stay in the valley?
Thomas: They wait for spring. The snow on the mountain is
Isabel: Look! He’s attacking one of the does.
Thomas: His does carry the scars of his nasty temper.
Isabel: She’s still alive! But her forleg bleeds. What will
happen to her?
Thomas: I don’t know. It depends on how bad it is.
Isabel: (Coming away from the window.) Why did he do
that to her?
Thomas: I don’t know. (Toward Helen) Maybe she needed to
be disciplined .
Isabel: But he was so cruel.
Thomas: She may have been out of control.
Isabel: I don’t understand.
Helen: Bucks are easily threatened .
Isabel: She’s not a threat.
Helen: Maybe she wanted to feed in a better field,
And the buck was afraid to move.
Isabel: If it’s better food, they should move.
Helen: I agree. Leave your sewing and run this over to
(She gives Isabel a basket of bread, and Isabel exits.)
Thomas: Frank White’s boy has the pox.
Helen: It’s only a fever.
Thomas: That makes him the seventh.
Helen : It’s nothing.
Thomas: Good church-going people .
Helen: They are there every Sunday.
Helen: Don’t Thomas.
Thomas: You’ve been sulking all day.
Helen: I have lots to cook before Sunday.
Thomas: One loaf isn ‘t enough?
Helen: (Laughing) And one jug of wine for the five thousand?
We wouldn’t want to put a strain on the minister.
There are no flowers this year.
Thomas: What will she carry?
Helen: Mrs. Campbell bought silk roses
In New York. She will use those .
Thomas: It is not the same.
Helen: Walking under the bough dressed in white
Is what is important.
Thomas: I’d like to see real flowers.
Helen: Then you’ll have to work a miracle by Sunday.
Thomas: You are going, then?
Helen: Of course .
Thomas: Then the minister beat you .
Helen: No, he hasn’t. I will be quiet for a week.
Thomas: A lie, then?
Helen: It’s not a lie.
Thomas: Deceiving such men is not a trivial matter.
Helen: He said the penitent were welcome.
Thomas: Helen, this morality is too convenient.
Deception sours your soul.
Helen: Thomas, please-she has to go.
Thomas: Then you must give up your stand. It’s been a year
Since the Holy Ghost settled upon you
Without any further manifestation.
It is time to end this foolishness.
Helen: Foolishness? God save your soul, Thomas,
If you call it foolishness.
Thomas: It’s been a year.
Helen: I know what I felt .
Thomas: What if you were mistaken? Felt wrong?
Everything shouldn’t be at the mercy of this twittering
Of the heart.
Helen: You think I was mistaken?
Thomas: Do you remember?
Helen: I shall never forget. (Pause) The sun played,
Red and blue, through the stained-glass that day,
Warming Isabel to sleep against my side
As the sermon told of Jacob drawing water
For the flock of Rachel. And from that water
Sprang the sons of Israel, the sands of the sea
And the stars of the sky. Then he spoke of a well
Where a woman drew water for our thirsty Savior,
Who offered in return a living drink.
Coming home we stopped at the pasture’s brook
And watched the sun dance upon the water.
Then I heard something inside me say,
”Whosoever drinketh of this water
Shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh
Of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst. ‘ ‘
Do you remember how I cried that day?
Thomas: That was a year ago.
Helen: And I have not thirsted since.
Thomas: Then why is the eucharist suspended?
Helen: It is not.
Thomas: It will be.
Helen: Because the minister fears what he doesn’t control.
To him, communion with the spirit is good,
But not necessary. Only his ridiculous . . .
Lord forgive me.
Thomas: You must not go.
Helen: Isabel must go this year. She will be too old
Thomas: She will not go! I can tolerate you shouting
Down the minister in his house, but lying
To get what you want is damnable!
Helen: I need more wood for the stove.
Thomas: Flames for the martyr of the witch.
Helen: Where was this concern for my soul before
The pox broke out? You care nothing for the belief
I have in God . You only fear the pox.
Call me a witch , but the pox is what you’re afraid of!
Thomas: Would you have her scarred as I am?
Helen: If it’s God’s will, there is nothing to do
To prevent it.
Thomas: Next year, Helen .
Helen: I will not run with you .
Thomas: Then she will be scarred!
Helen: I married the scars and self-pity in your heart,
Thomas: She’ 11 be scarred.
Helen: Would that be so bad?
Thomas: Because had you been scarred I wouldn’t have married!
My eyes are not pocked, nor is my longing for beauty
Diminished by my wretched features. Helen ,
I need the colored leaves of fall, the laughter
On Isabel’s face, and your smile in this house
More than other men do .
Helen: She must go .
Thomas: She will not!
Helen: Do you think this Madonna is conjoined to your will?
Damn me for insincerity, and with delight
I’ll look from my smouldering prison into the fires
That burn in the pits on your face! She will go,
And God help you if you try to stop her. Get out of
(Francis is found once again outside the church plying his trade. Mrs. Mor-
rison, Mrs. Frazer, and Mrs. Douglas are listening to his sales pitch.)
Mrs. Frazer: I don’t believe in healing waters.
Mrs. Douglas: You slick city peddlers only sell us what they don’t
buy in the city.
Francis: City-born I am, but God fearing. And who’s to say
the age of miracles is past, Mrs. Frazer?
Mrs. Morrison: I know it hasn’t! This is the best stuff I’ve ever used
for the ache . Ten minutes later I couldn’t feel a
Mrs. Frazer: Liquor!
Mrs. Morrison: Pah! Smell it; it doesn’t smell of liquor.
Francis: It is a vital essence tenderly distilled
From herbs and rare and potent roots
Which the monks of St. Mary’s Seminary
Have made their study for a millennium.
Mrs. Douglas: How much does it cost for this miracle?
Francis: I collect a dollar for the upkeep of the seminary.
Mrs. Frazer: Hahl A dollar for a miracle? If that were the case I
could enter heaven for ten dollars.
Francis: None pay the true price for heaven.
Ransomed for us on that painful cross
In vows and sacraments, He asks us less than a dollar
To buy salvation and purchase an infinite reward.
Why your election is nearly free. Free!
Why then do you rebuke the gentle brethren
Of St. Mary’s who sacrifice to spare your pain?
Mrs. Morrison: If you suffer the ache then buy it, but don’t quibble
about the price.
Mrs. Douglas: How do I know it hasn’t been diluted?
Francis: It is sealed with the seal of the Seminaria
Mrs. Frazer: What religion sells your water, sir?
Francis: The same as yours.
Mrs. Frazer: Are you awakened?
Francis: (Pause) I have heard of this awakening. There is the
potential for a great mischief.
Mrs. Frazer: Should the awakened be punished?
Francis: For what?
Mrs. Frazer: For rebellion against the church.
Francis: God will punish rebellion. Even now the pox sweeps
Burlington, punishing the unfaithful and heretical.
But yes, we should do our part, too.
Mrs. Douglas: I’ll give you ninety cents, but I get to pick my own
Francis: I’m sure the brethren at St. Mary’s will accept that,
(She begins to rummage through Francis’s bag.)
Mrs. Frazer: We face the same problem here as in Burlington.
Already the pox has descended because one of our
members has fallen in sin.
Mrs. Douglas: Helen Metheus!
Mrs. Frazer: It is her husband who has brought this upon us.
We should never have allowed him to stay.
We should have cast him away from us
As the sailors did the rebellious Jonah.
Mrs. Morrison: You’re too hard on Thomas, Mrs. Frazer.
Mrs. Frazer: (Coldly) Your house suffers judgment because of
Come to my house this evening and speak with my
I shall buy a bottle then. Good day.
(Mrs. Frazer and Mrs. Douglas leave.)
Mrs. Morrison: Does she mean to imply that Jane has the cowpox
because of Thomas Metheus running a farm north of
Mrs. Morrison: The fool! Always looking for someone to blame . I’d
like to take a board and . . . ( Catching hers el/) How
long will you be staying?
Francis: A few more days. Jane should be better.
Mrs. Morrison: Bless you , sir. Josiah is just too old to handle cows by
himself. He’ll be milking again at dusk. Good day.
(Thomas enters. He is angry and walking quickly.)
Francis: Hello, Preacher!
Thomas: Good afternoon .
Francis: (Sensing his mood) Life has become more serious, I
Thomas: Good day. (Thomas walks past.)
Francis: Hold! In what did I offend you?
Francis: You look at me as if I were a bear about to eat your
Thomas: Yesterday you eavesdropped on my thoughts, but
today I am not obliged to regard you as a friend .
Francis: And a fair one I’ll have at that. Farewell.
By the way, I’ve found your cure, Rabbi.
(Thomas stops.) That tantalizes you, does it?
A bottle of elixir?
Thomas: Spare the dance.
Francis: Whatever painful humour has crept .
Thomas: Must I play along?
Francis: No, but you could act civil.
Francis: Has the pox made this a melancholy day?
Francis: You are so suspicious. When a man already carries
The lesions of the Lord, I need no stone
To tell me his fear is for another-your daughter.
Thomas: I do not fear the pox.
Francis: And I have no cure.
Thomas: I may incline to play with you yet.
Francis: Distilled, however, in this golden flask of Olympus
Is indeed a cure. But not, I’m afraid, for the pox.
I am a man. (Thomas grows impatient.) Have you a
Thomas: I have .
Francis: Then for a price you have a cure.
Thomas: I do not understand.
Francis: I want something in return .
Thomas: You have no cure, charlatan.
Francis: Then the pox will devour your daughter.
Thomas: How much money is your miracle worth?
Francis: You insult me. I have already bantered the worth
of miracles with silly women this afternoon.
Thomas: What then?
There, on that mountain, in three nights
I will meet you by the great stone,
And in the silent hours of the night
We shall watch the shadow-tangled forest
Thomas: You have nothing. (Pause) Very well.
Francis: To avoid the smallpox give your daughter the cowpox.
Take your knife and go to Josiah’s home and cut the
sores on Jane’s hands. Then with the same knife
scratch your daughter’s arm and she’ll be safe from
Francis: The sores on Jane’s hands save her from sores on
Put sores on your daughter’s hands.
Thomas: Where did you learn this alchemy?
Francis: In England it is practiced to a degree .
Francis: Assuredly . But hurry, Jane’s sores may begin to heal
(lnten·or of the Metheus home the same day. Thomas enters with knife
wrapped in a cloth.)
Thomas: Here in the sharpened iron-whispers of evil
Honed on faithless logic, almost I see
How this lesion-lancing steel fouled
Yellow with the corruption of rotting pus
May save her. Reason’s tides are seductive
Pools of sweet grass where greedy cattle
Wade and feed to death. Even now,
Like the startled hart fleeing the meadow
Stream for darkening woods, I pant, uncertain
How near the price of the potter’s field
My purchase is.
Isabel: Father, have you seen the buck again?
Thomas: No . Isabel, come here .
Isabel: Yes, Father?
Thomas: Look at my face
And tell me what you see.
Isabel: What, Father?
(He takes her hands and puts them to his face .)
Thomas: What do you feel?
Isabel: You .
Thomas: Oh, my fawning daughter, you touch my heart;
With suede fingers you smooth my gnarled hide
Though it barks your hands. How I wish
That time would leave us in some idyll of yesterday
Where only spring and summer green the hillsides.
But, our hearts pump time, Isabel.
Amy has the pox. She will live
But her skin will never be again as soft
Isabel: (Crying) Father?
Thomas: And now they’ll look at her with knowing sympathy,
Knowing that she is punished for secret sins,
Marked as was Cain, the master of the great secret.
And what has she done? Nothing. She is a child
Who unknowingly breathed the septic east wind .
Isabel, the pox must not have you.
Isabel: It won’t.
Thomas: No, it will not.
(He unwraps the knife and looks at it. Helen enters.)
Thomas: God once provided himself a Lamb . (Pause)
There will be sores on your hands but none will mar
Your face. Give me your arm.
(Helen rushes forward and pushes Isabel out of Thomas’s reach.)
Helen : Thomas! What are you doing?
Thomas: Sunday she will not return with the pox.
Helen: Don’t lay a hand upon her!
Put away that knife .
Thomas: Helen, only the hand-blistering pox
Stands between her and that which I fear
More than God or Hell.
Helen : What malevolent demon summons you toward
This madness? The pox is death , not cheese
To be nibbled in hopes that it will bring only
A little sickness.
Thomas: You do not understand . In England, it has been
Helen: They are fools.
Thomas: And we be fools to hesitate like women shopping
With loud opinions shrill in their tight purses.
Am I to be a feeder lamb watching
The coming wolf, unaware of my opportunity
Helen: This is the devil’s work!
Thomas: Still your superstition to the whisper of reason .
Devilish to spare our daughter?
Helen: No! These enlightened devils will not set
My daughter to tempt God from his chosen
Do not tempt Him, Thomas. This isn’t sport
Where your only child is a wager placed
Against the will of God . Have you forgotten
She is mortal?
Thomas: I have not forgotten!
I have not forgotten the fire of my childhood,
The pain that bled my muscles off their bones
While I cried and screamed in vain for sleep
To numb what burned inside me.
Nor have I been blind when faces turn away
To whisper stares at me. No, Helen ,
My tears have been my meat day and night,
While they continually look at me and say,
Where is thy God? And even in the folds
Of your eye wrinkles an unexpected shudder
When at times you turn and see me
Helen: Please , Thomas!
Thomas: She shall not suffer as I.
Isabel: (Running to Thomas) I am afraid, Father.
Isabel: Here is my arm.
(Thomas cuts her arm twice. Helen screams.)
(Interior of the Metheus home. Minister, Jedediah Clayton, and his wife
are silent. Helen enters.)
Helen: She is sleeping. Thank you, Jedediah , both of you,
For going into Hanover for the doctor.
Mrs. Clayton: I’ll stop by tomorrow. Good night.
(The Claytons exit.)
Helen: Why did they go into Hanover?
Minister: They wanted to help.
Helen: You sent them.
Minister: I reminded them of Christian obligations.
Helen: Did you threaten to suspend the eucharist from them,
Minister: Helen, calm down.
Helen: Someday you may not have a flock .
Minister: Then might I spend my days reading.
Helen: Dead, I should hope.
Minister: Bitterness will repair nothing.
Helen: Don’t preach in my house! (Pause) A stranger left
With my daughter’s arm wrapped in rags and you
I defy all the canon of heaven
Telling me to forgive.
Minister: Then be thankful she’s alive.
Helen: The foetor of rotting flesh fills this house,
A demon that lifts off the walls and burns my eyes
Each time the dust stirs. Vomit
Tears at my throat.
Minister: Thomas believed too fiercely in the thoughts that
His imagination. One day in Robinson’s meadow,
He saw cows wade into a stream to drink,
Clumped together, churning up the mud.
And a smaller calf walked upstream
And drank the cleaner water. That Sunday
He wasn’t in church, having decided to drink
His own, cleaner water. But I fear
He often reads the Bible wrong.
Helen: She held out her arm to him.
Minister: It could have been worse.
Helen: (Sobbing) Why did he do it?
Minister: The years he’s spent trying to understand .
Helen: Why are you defending him?!
Minister: Because I admire him.
Helen: What? Thomas? Your first heretic?
Minister: You were my second, and I am here with you.
Helen: Unwelcomed .
Minister: You needn’t always hate those who disagree with you.
Helen: You did more than disagree.
Minister: Had you listened earlier this wouldn’t have happened.
Helen: (Snarling) This is retribution, then?
Minister: Soften your neck or more will come.
Helen: Let it!
Minister: God forgive you.
Helen: Pray that I forgive Him!
Minister: Silence woman! You tread on my responsibility.
Helen: She ran from me to him and embraced the knife.
Even now I see him standing there
Cutting her arm with that filthy knife.
Minister: Change your heart, Helen. Try to forgive.
Helen: Both of them?
Minister: Isabel first, but Thomas most of all.
Minister: Then your life , though it only last through spring,
Will be long and rocky. How Thomas
Will be judged, I cannot tell.
Helen: He’ll be damned!
Minister: Were it anyone else I would agree
And denounce him to hell with all the fury I could
But not Thomas. Not Thomas. Days
Of somber reflection have aged him past the years
Helen: I have never known you to speak so kindly.
Minister: And maybe I have been wrong. I have hoped
To one day give the great sermon,
One that washes around the weariness of the day
Like a brook washing over my feet .
Something to awaken the Enoch in these people.
Helen: You may have already given it.
Minister: No, my heart is muddy. I want the accolades,
The praise of men who stomp the mud around me.
You see me grasp at formality, intoning ritual
With strictness to the point of cruelty. I do this,
Helen, because this alone may save me.
Helen: (Pause) If you will wait, I will fix you something to
(There is a shot and a crash is heard. Lights come up on the fallen buck.
Thomas: Through the heart it ends, antlered chief,
With a ball of lead letting your blood
Slip away, while all your does run
Free to seek at last a kinder master.
Your death is good for them, venison-lord,
The quick, hot anger of your branching spikes
Disfigured each of them until yours
Alone was the softest hide. But now, dead.
(He cuts the buck’s throat with his knife.)
Your red-spilling temper thaws the ground-
Spring is late.
(He sits and looks at the buck for a moment. Then he flings his rifle at the
dead animal and stands and shouts at the sky.)
Hell, to heaven fly and rape the angels
Praying to themselves with white devotion!
Burn their eyes with the molten smoke of bone
That aches and throbs in the fever of damnation.
Shatter their faces! Dig a thousand pits
That scab and bleed burning, vile mud
That hardens to their faces until they scream,
And with chaste and pious fingers pick and tear
The rotten feces of the gutting pox
Off their skin! Then, let them harp again
And they’ll sing a doggerel to the Most High!
Send your badger again, God. God!
If not my prayers then hear my blasphemy!
I’ll strangle your victory! As your laughter
Rocks the sky I’ll kiss death and slip
Beneath the black, armoured ground of winter
(Thomas picks up his gun, his anger now spent, and begins to reload.
Francis enters be hind him.)
Francis: A marksman!
(Thomas whirls around with the rod still in the barrel of his gun and points
it at Francis. )
Francis: (Laughing) Will you shoot me with your rod?
Come, I bare my chest.
Thomas: We were to meet at the stone.
Francis: Would you stalk me as you did the buck?
Thomas: You wander unwelcomed .
Francis: I heard the shot. Curiosity is my failing.
Thomas: I should have saved my shot for better quarry.
Francis: Your daughter is ill.
Thomas: The town catches news fast. Well,
Am I a murderer?
Francis: (Laughs) Both pox are fevers; she will not die.
Thomas: A prophet, too?
Francis: A man of medicine. The green infection ferments
From an unclean knife in her arm.
The doctor will save her life by cutting it off.
“If thy arm or thy foot offend thee,
Cut them off, and cast them from thee .”
Thomas: You’ve come to collect? What price for her arm?
Francis: Always there is risk.
Thomas: She has no soul.
Francis: She has no scars.
Thomas: With no arm her life will be worse than mine
Ever was, when she wonders why God
Thomas: The topic of Sunday gossip will be her arm
And how His purposes were served. Your work
Was done well. Will you visit other towns?
Francis: I am not evil to tell you the truth.
I gave you neither command nor promise.
Thomas: Only part of the truth .
Francis: Who knows it all? Drop me like that buck
And see if science dies. Tomorrow another
Will come and then another until your God
Is muscled under the earth. It is a leviathan
That defies the swords of steel and dogma,
But it does not administer pious injustice
To children in its wake . Isabel is safe
From the smallpox, the pox that kills
As often as it scars. Things are better
Than you think.
Thomas: With better results, I would have been your disciple.
But yours is a salty seed.
Francis: You are too fond of the surrounding shrouds of
That clothe your gospel.
Thomas: You don’t know what I believe.
Francis: I see in your face what you believe.
Thomas: (Bringing up his reloaded gun) Did you foresee this?
Francis: There have been many times I have longed for that-
The certainty of living. I grew up on Sunday
Between the pews, awed by the la tin spectacle
Of having my soul saved in a tarnished goblet.
But I’ve put away childish things and embrace the
uncertainty of reason.
Thomas: Can either save us?
Francis: From what? From what? Were we born drowning,
Floundering just between the water and the sky,
Forever needing to be saved? The decisions are black,
We choose without knowing what nor why.
Thomas: Your life for my daughter’s arm.
Francis: Very well.
Thomas: (Pause) I thought I was damned when I listened to
And sin was not my concern. But now I think
Of murder and I am afraid.
Francis: You will always be afraid.
(A red light begins to come up on the set.)
Look! It is come!
Francis: Watch the sky.
Thomas: (Afraid of the growing light) I have sold my soul!
Francis: Nonsense! Look! There in the northern sky!
A red light stretches across heaven.
Like the Magi, I watch the stars
For answers, and tonight God answers
Through the universe.
Thomas: You read shadowed astrologies, and demons appear in
Francis: Demons? (Laughs) You see the future-the demon
we fear most.
See, the line folds itself into a square ,
And, in a moment, watch .. . there! Look!
See , it folds again into a compass.
Thomas: I see. But I do not understand .
(The red light fades out slowly.)
Francis: The geometry of theology is about to be corrected.
Your angry God will die, the confusing silence
Of centuries will be broken, and faith
Will be brought into square again.
Francis: Soon enough. Your daughter and her children,
maybe, will see it.
Thomas: Should I be consoled?
Francis: I speak of spring; winter has ended.
Thomas: I still do not understand.
Francis: (Pause) Perhaps I was mistaken. Search for some
understanding and your next sermon will ring with
prophecy. Farewell, Rabbi.
(Francis exits. Thomas contemplates the dead buck and then the sky.
Lights begin to come up .)
Thomas: It is morning; the icy stars fade
Into the cold eastern light that promises
Spring. The winter stays too long; spring
(The bedside of Isabel-a little brighter and cleaner than might be
expected. Helen is next to Isabel reading from the Bible-the Beatitudes.
Thomas enters. Helen stops.)
Thomas: Are you feeling well?
Isabel: Much better. The sores have gone away .
Thomas: The winter is going, too. The brooks rush
Down the mountains into greening meadows
Where dappled fawns bound around their mothers.
Isabel: Will the deer go back to the mountain?
Thomas: They are already back.
Isabel: Will spring make that nasty buck nicer?
Thomas: The buck is dead. I have been on the mountain
Isabel: And the does?
Thomas: They will find another. The hills are full
Of bucks and it is spring.
Isabel: What if they don’t? What if they wander forever and
never find another?
Helen: Don’t be silly. It’s the bucks that are looking for
(They laugh uncomfortably.)
Thomas: (Pause) Your arm?
Isabel: Fine, but it still itches and I want to scratch,
(Reaches to do so) but it isn’t .. . (Sobs)
Thomas: (Moves to bedside) I’m sorry , Isabel.
Isabel: My face, Father. It isn’t scarred. The blisters
Were on my hand, but none on my face. (Pause)
The minister says that I can lead the May Procession
Next year, even though I’m too old.
Thomas: With real flowers, not silk ones.
(He pulls a cloth out of his pocket and unwraps it.)
I found this to the south.
(It is a small crumpled flower.)
You can still smell it.
Helen: I can smell it from here.
Isabel: What kind is it, Father?
Thomas: It’s a very rare flower, Isabel.
They say that around the neck of an Indian princess
There hung, long ago, the four seasons,
Sealed in crystal-ice. And the princess
Would drop the gem of spring in the drifts of winter
Where it would begin to thaw. But,
In the coldest winters, even the longest winters
There would, when the snow melted, be a flower,
Thriving in the cold water. It is only found
Where water runs off melting banks of snow.
It is the first to bloom-the Ice Lily.
Helen: And it is the first that dies in the summer.
Thomas: This one will live longer.
Isabel: Will you and mother take me to pick flowers?
Helen: Of course, Isabel.
Thomas: And next year when you walk under the bough we’ 11
walk under the bough with you.
Isabel: You can’t do that.
Thomas: Yes, we can. Times are changing, and the spring
festival will change, too.
Isabel: Will I still wear white?
Helen: Yes, and you’ 11 still get to kiss the young man of your
Thomas: (Musing) It is the coming of spring.