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Authors: Helen Macinnes

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BOOK: Home is the Hunter
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CLIA

(Her anger increasing with her worry)

All right, I’ll give you something to live with! I’ve been trying to keep the news from you, but—

(She breaks off, upset.
As
her control weakens,
PENELOPE
becomes strong, calm, alert.)

PENELOPE

What is it, Clia? More trouble with our unwanted guests?

CLIA

Trouble? Disaster! Those men downstairs—they’ve taken over your house, they’ve bullied and threatened and thieved—

PENELOPE

Now, Clia, stop upsetting yourself. It won’t help us deal with those men, I assure you. Look, I’ll make a bargain with you—

(She sits down before the breakfast tray.)

I’ll eat some breakfast if you’ll tell me
quietly
just what is the trouble now.

(She pours some wine in a goblet, waters it, and begins to sip. Slowly, though. And she eats very little. She is only making the pretence to please
CLIA
.)

Well?

CLIA

(Recovering herself, wiping her eyes, shaking her head in amazement)

Are you never afraid of them, Penelope?

PENELOPE

Constantly. Does that make you feel any better?

CLIA

I couldn’t feel worse. We’ve got to
do
something, Penelope.

PENELOPE

Do?
What can we do, except play for time and use our wits?

CLIA

Do you know how much food we have left? Enough for two days. The fields haven’t been ploughed. The barns are empty. Summer is here, but there’s nothing growing—except grass and weeds.

PENELOPE

Last spring, we ploughed the fields. And last fall, we harvested. What did we get?—Another winter of these men.

CLIA

They’re drunk from morning till night.

PENELOPE

Then the cellars will soon be as empty as the barns. Good.

CLIA

You mean—you planned it this way? But you’ve left
us
with nothing. Our cattle and sheep have been killed and eaten. There’s hardly a deer left in all our forests, we’ve nothing, I tell you, nothing!

PENELOPE

Except ourselves. You are still alive, Clia. So is Telemachus, so is the rest of the household. Once the men have gone, we can work. We can restore everything. We can live on fish from the sea, if necessary. But meanwhile, the important thing is that we are intact.

CLIA

Intact? You weren’t referring to the maids, were you? You should go down into the Hall more often instead of sitting up here, and see how the girls are behaving.

PENELOPE

It’s wiser to stay here, Clia. The less I’m seen, the better.

CLIA

There’s no decency left. No discipline. I warned you when you gave the girls their freedom—

PENELOPE

I’ll have no slaves in my house!

CLIA

(Bitterly)

That’s right, give them their freedom, give them a home, and what do
you
get? Loyalty? Huh! Collaborators, that’s what they are. A whipping, that’s what they need; and their heads shaved. Perhaps that would put some morals into their manners.

PENELOPE

Clia, when you were young, very young, did you never do foolish, thoughtless—no, I don’t suppose you ever did.

(She smiles, affectionately, sadly.)

But put the blame where it first belongs. Put it on the men.

CLIA

If they’d only
leave
! I’d starve with pleasure, and work with fury, if only they’d leave and take the girls with them.

PENELOPE

And what would happen to the girls?

(She pushes away the breakfast tray, and rises to walk slowly over to the embroidery frame.)

Abandoned in some filthy brothel in a harbour slum. Besides—

(She looks at the embroidery.)

the men are playing for higher stakes than just a pretty girl. They want land, and the title to this house. They want power over all the island of Ithaca. If they can persuade me to marry one of them, they will have that power. Forever. Legally.

CLIA

Legally! Since when have they paid any attention to the law?

PENELOPE

(Sitting down at the frame, and beginning to thread a needle with wool)

But they know that
other
men pay heed to the law.

CLIA

Twisters, liars, cheats! They say they’re in love with you, they only want to protect you.

(
PENELOPE
bends her head, pretending to be absorbed in her work.)

Huh! Just look at the way they play around with your maids!

PENELOPE

That’s to punish me, Clia, for taking so little notice of them. Don’t you think I hear the laughter and singing when I’m up here at night, alone?

(She points to the bedroom door, almost angrily.)

CLIA

(Shocked)

Penelope! You can’t envy that kind of laughing and singing? Penelope—answer me!

PENELOPE

Don’t be silly.

CLIA

That’s no answer.

PENELOPE

(Suddenly angry)

Clia, I’ve done my best to get rid of these men. When they came here first—

CLIA

I knew they were up to no good, the moment I saw them.

PENELOPE

We don’t all have your brilliant hindsight, Clia... I’m sorry... We’ve plenty of troubles without bickering like this between ourselves. You’ll just have to believe me, Clia! I’ve done my best.

(She sighs and her head droops.)

CLIA

Oh, you haven’t done too badly, considering.

PENELOPE

(Looking up quickly)

Considering what?

CLIA

Now, don’t go taking offence again! I’m not criticising you. You’ve done remarkably well. Considering.

(
PENELOPE
looks at her indignantly.)

Considering you were young, and lonely. It was good, wasn’t it, to hear a man’s voice, a man’s footsteps once more?

PENELOPE

You didn’t object, either, did you?

CLIA

I’m not blaming you. Of course they were only a bit of a nuisance at first. Yes, a pleasant, flattering kind of nuisance.

PENELOPE

Flattering?

CLIA

All that talk of wanting to marry you! Stuff and nonsense!

PENELOPE

(Sarcastically)

Ridiculous! No man could ever possibly want to marry me!

CLIA

Ah-hah! Did I throw some salt on a small wound? Then good! It’ll heal more cleanly. An open wound’s a dangerous thing with so much infection around.

(She suddenly touches
PENELOPE
on the shoulder and speaks gently.)

Keep on fighting those men, Penelope. You’ve done better than most.

PENELOPE

(Covers her eyes with her hands for a moment)

Clia, have you ever watched a fox being chased by a pack of wild dogs?... It twists and turns, it uses all its cunning, all its speed, all its strength. And then suddenly it stops. It stops and faces them. Do you know what the fox is thinking then, Clia?

CLIA

It’s just out of breath, that’s all.

PENELOPE

It suddenly knows that courage is not enough.

CLIA

Nonsense! What does anyone need except courage?

PENELOPE

My fox needs twenty other foxes standing beside it—with teeth twice as long as any dog’s.

(She tries to laugh.)

CLIA

(Moving to the window)

Just wait! Just wait until Ulysses comes home!

(She stares out of the window.)

He’ll show those parasites what it’s like to deal with a man for a change. That’s the whole trouble with this house—

PENELOPE

Come away from the window, Clia. Stop thinking about ships.

CLIA

—we’re nothing but a handful of women, and a young boy, and Philetius, who can’t even talk, and old Eumaeus, who’s good for nothing except pig-keeping.

(She sees something outside.)

Why, he isn’t even doing that! There he is, dawdling about. Eumaeus!

(She raises her voice.)

What are you doing here? Get back to your meadow and look after the chickens—don’t you know we’ve got thieves around?

(She turns away from the window, and derisive catcalls come from the distance.)

The thieves didn’t like my frankness. They must be getting up. It’s early for them, isn’t it?

PENELOPE

Perhaps they—

(She shrugs her shoulders.)

Perhaps—if—but—maybe... I’ve lived too long with these words.

(She breaks a strand of wool angrily.)

CLIA

(Coming to pick up a fallen skein of wool)

You’re getting
awfully
near the end of that embroidery. Better rip some more out again. Here!

(She lifts a knife lying beside the wools on the side table, and hands it to
PENELOPE
,
who takes it, but looks at
CLIA
and hesitates.)

Go on! Now’s a good time, when none of the maids can watch.

PENELOPE

I’ve been ripping it out for weeks. Oh, Clia, I just can’t rip out much more, without the whole thing coming to pieces.

CLIA

Rip it out! You mustn’t finish that embroidery.

PENELOPE

But I pledged my word.

(She sighs and begins to unpick the stitches carefully.)

CLIA

Whatever made you give the men such a stupid promise?

PENELOPE

Stupid? It was your idea. Promise them anything, you told me, as long as you keep them quiet until Ulysses gets home. Tell them you need time to make up your mind which one you’ll choose for a husband—that’s what you said. All right. I told them. I told them I’d choose one of them when I finished embroidering a set of seven chair covers. Wasn’t that your idea?

CLIA

But why did you ever have to take a solemn oath—and in Athena’s temple, too? A promise is one thing but an oath is something else. I never told you to do that. And why choose Athena? Of all the gods, she gets maddest when her name is taken in vain. She’ll follow a perjurer right to his grave, and beyond that, too.

PENELOPE

I know that. So do the men downstairs. They’d have broken their bargain long ago, if they weren’t afraid of Athena.

(She begins to rip out some more stitches, and jabs her finger. She exclaims and puts it to her mouth; she looks in dismay at the embroidery.)

Heavens! This is an awful mess... If anyone who knows a thing about embroidery ever sees this—then I’m going to be found out.

(She sighs.)

If the men realise I’ve been tricking them—

CLIA

Amaryllis—this morning
—she
was looking at it.

PENELOPE

Amaryllis? Oh no, Clia. Amaryllis wouldn’t betray me.

CLIA

Wouldn’t she?

PENELOPE

But she has no reason to betray—

CLIA

And wouldn’t she like to become mistress of this house? That’s reason enough.

PENELOPE

(Shocked)

I don’t believe you trust anyone in this world! Except Ulysses. He can do no wrong in your eyes. All right, let me ask you a question:
why
isn’t he here? Why isn’t he here to take charge and free us from all these dangers and troubles and fears? Why? Why?

CLIA

Here we go again. You
have
had a bad night.

(There’s the sound of horsemen in the distance.
CLIA
moves quickly over to the window. Men’s voices come faintly, then die away. So does the sound of the horses’ hoofs.)

Are they going out hunting, d’you think? They must have taken the back road.

(She suddenly looks down into the courtyard, plants her hands on her hips.)

Well!
—And who do you think is still around? Eumaeus. Wasting time, as usual.

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