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Authors: Helen Macinnes

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BOOK: Home is the Hunter
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TELEMACHUS

(Impatiently)

—to Troy. I know all the dates and everything about
that.
Tell me about Father!

PENELOPE

He said that if Helen preferred Paris to her husband, then it was none of our business.

TELEMACHUS

But—

PENELOPE

Yes, I know. People went around saying it was “a Trojan insult to Greek womanhood”; although, personally, I never felt in the least insulted. I don’t think any other woman did, either.

TELEMACHUS

But, we had to go and get Helen back.

PENELOPE

Very flattering for Helen, wasn’t it?

TELEMACHUS

Now, Mother, that isn’t—

PENELOPE

Yes, I’m bitter. And why not?

TELEMACHUS

I don’t like you that way; Father wouldn’t, either.

PENELOPE

(Chastened, half-smiling)

You know what? You’re very good for me... But I still think it was the stupidest reason for a war that ever was. Why, Helen didn’t even want to come back to her husband. All right, all right, Telemachus. Don’t look at me as if I were a green-eyed cat with long claws. I’m just putting you in the picture, or else you’ll
never
understand about the draft board.

TELEMACHUS

(Tries to look wise, nods understandingly, and then

as he suddenly notices the uneaten cakes and honey

becomes his age again)

Oh! Cakes and honey! Don’t you want them? Are you sure?

(
PENELOPE
shakes her head, smiling, as
TELEMACHUS
reaches for the cakes.)

All right—Father was drafted. Then what?

PENELOPE

He got an exemption because he happened to marry me.

(
TELEMACHUS
stops eating for a moment and looks at her.)

Then the draft was extended. To include all married men who had no children. But
you
were born. So, we got another exemption.

(
TELEMACHUS
,
who has started to eat again, pauses.)

Then, a little later, all men had to go into the army.

TELEMACHUS

And Father went off to the war.

PENELOPE

No... You see, he hadn’t been feeling too well. So he applied for another exemption. As a P.N., this time.

TELEMACHUS

P.N.?

PENELOPE

Psychoneurotic, darling...
You
know...

(She taps her forehead lightly.)

TELEMACHUS

Father?

PENELOPE

Don’t worry—and finish the cake; it’s the last we’ll see for some time—your father wasn’t crazy, not one bit. He was the sanest man I ever knew.

TELEMACHUS

Then why a P.N.? He wasn’t a coward!

PENELOPE

(Angry)

If he had been a coward, would I tell you all this? No, I’d be hiding it from you, covering it up. Ulysses wasn’t a coward.

But he was stubborn. And he didn’t want to go off and fight for good old Helen or any other runaway wife.

TELEMACHUS

(Relieved, and finishing the cake with pleasure)

He
was
clever, wasn’t he?

PENELOPE

And so was the draft board. When he wouldn’t go to them, they came to him.

TELEMACHUS

They travelled all the way to this island? Boy! That was something!

PENELOPE

When they arrived, Ulysses was working in the big field. And I was standing, with you in my arms, watching him as he ploughed. Some of the draft board he knew, but he looked at them blankly, as if he saw straight through them; no smile, no expression; and he went on ploughing, like a sleepwalker. Back and forward, back and forward, along the straight furrows. “Doesn’t he know anyone?” one of his old friends said to me. And I looked at him with tears in my eyes for an answer. But the chairman of the draft board—later, he got killed in the war; wasn’t that too bad?—anyway, he suddenly lifted you right out of my arms, carried you across the furrows, and laid you down on the earth just in front of Ulysses. Ulysses paused, and swerved, and the sharp edge of the ploughshare missed you... That is how they knew he was sane. And Ulysses knew he was beaten. He left the plough, and picked you up, and brought you back to me. He went away, that day.

(Her voice falters, and she can’t go on.)

TELEMACHUS

(Slowly, terribly serious)

I’m not sure if I understand that story. But one thing’s sure—he loved me. Didn’t he? He loved me, even if I wasn’t old enough to know who he was. And what’s more, he was a hero when he did start fighting. He was a hero, wasn’t he?

PENELOPE

They say he was the greatest of them all. So that makes him all the braver, because he did not want to fight in
that
war.

TELEMACHUS

I’m not sure I understand that, either. I’ve a lot of thinking to do...

PENELOPE

Then I’ve given you a good lesson, today. School’s over; class dismissed.

(Laughing, now)

What about going down to Eumaeus’ shack and picking up the fishing rod? Catch me a speckled trout, Telemachus. I’ll eat it for supper.

(She blows a kiss as
TELEMACHUS
opens the door. There are sounds of men’s voices. He turns back, quickly, closing the door.)

TELEMACHUS

I forgot! They’re packing up.

PENELOPE

...
The men
? Why didn’t you tell me before this?

TELEMACHUS

I meant to—I just forgot—somehow. They sent off their servants this morning. Didn’t you hear them riding away?

PENELOPE

You forgot! Or were you too busy thinking about something else? Leaving... Or is this a trick? They could pretend
to each other
that they were leaving and then come back singly. That would be far more dangerous for us. Together, they are a check on each other. Singly—

TELEMACHUS

I’d kill them. I could manage them singly.

PENELOPE

No, you couldn’t. In another year or two, yes. But not now.

TELEMACHUS

I have this knife. And I’ve some weapons hidden. And then I’ve got Father’s Great Bow—the one hanging on the wall downstairs. You know what? The men have never seen one of those big bows. They look at it every day and think it’s an old ox yoke or something.

(He loves this.)

But when no one was in the Hall, I’ve lifted the bow down.

(
PENELOPE
looks startled.)

Yes, I know it takes strength, so I’m stronger than you think. I bet I can string it, too.

PENELOPE

Not even those men downstairs could bend that bow, Telemachus. It takes years of practice. Years. Only Ulysses could.

(She puts out a hand and touches his shoulder gently, as if to cheer him up.)

TELEMACHUS

Don’t worry! We’ll take care of them somehow.

PENELOPE

We? I shan’t be much use in a fight.

TELEMACHUS

I said don’t worry. They won’t last long now, one way or the other.

PENELOPE

Why, you aren’t afraid of them any more.

(She looks at him, puzzled. Then the door opens, letting in the usual hubbub from the distance and
CLIA
enters with
EUMAEUS
shambling after her. He is not entirely repulsive. He has been very handsome in his youth. He is wearing a blanket around him, which keeps shifting out of place. He keeps pulling at it, and—at the moment—is in one of his savage moods. He keeps looking at
CLIA
,
and mutters to himself.)

CLIA

Well, now, isn’t that a nice family picture? And what’s this we’ve strapped to our waist? Your father’s hunting knife?

TELEMACHUS

(Drawing himself up and slipping away from
PENELOPE
)

How do I look?

(He squares his shoulders, and puts one hand on the knife.)

CLIA

The living image of your father.

PENELOPE

(Softly)

Oh, Clia!

TELEMACHUS

(Swinging round to face
PENELOPE
)

Don’t I look like him? When he was my age?

PENELOPE

I—I didn’t know Ulysses when he was seventeen.

TELEMACHUS

But if I don’t
look
like him, how will he know me?

(He glances in embarrassment at
EUMAEUS
,
who is standing quite still and expressionless at this moment.)

I mean
—if
he comes back.

CLIA

He’ll know you at once. Besides, you’re wearing his knife, aren’t you?

PENELOPE

(Speaking quickly, as she looks out of the window)

The sun is reaching high into the sky, Telemachus.

TELEMACHUS

Oh yes—the sun—well, I’d better be leaving.

(He starts to go out, passing
EUMAEUS
.)

See you soon?

(He looks quickly back at his mother, who pretends to be studying the embroidery on its frame.
CLIA
has noticed nothing wrong.)

EUMAEUS

As soon as Clia gives me back my clothes. You go ahead. Had a nice chat with your mother?

TELEMACHUS

Yes. Yes—just a nice chat.

(They exchange a small reassuring sign,
TELEMACHUS
leaves, his step eager, calling over his shoulder to his mother)

Good-bye now!

(He closes the door with a decided bang.)

PENELOPE

It’s all right, Eumaeus. You can relax. He gave nothing away.

(
EUMAEUS
,
and
CLIA
,
too, turn to stare at her. She goes on, crisply, ignoring their looks.)

Clia, I hear that the men are leaving. Is it true?

CLIA

Some are packing, some are squabbling about what they’ll take with them.

PENELOPE

Then, why aren’t you downstairs, keeping an eye on them?

CLIA

And leave you alone with him?

(She points in horror to
EUMAEUS
.)

EUMAEUS

You took my tunic away from me, woman—

CLIA

And filthy it was.

EUMAEUS

And you forced me into a bath, and you scrubbed my body, and laughed at me—you and the other maids.

CLIA

Well, you hardly came up to our expectations, after all the grand tales you’ve spread about yourself.

EUMAEUS

And you made me wear this shroud, and didn’t give me a pin to hold it together.

(He has to clutch it suddenly to keep it from slipping.)

Isn’t that indignity enough, without pointing that long thin claw at me?

PENELOPE

Clia, please go.

EUMAEUS

And congratulate yourself that, today, you scrubbed the back of a prince.

CLIA

Prince! You’re a swine of a swineherd. Your mother was a sow, your father a hog. And now you fondle a pig on your filthy pallet of straw and call him brother.

PENELOPE

Clia!

(
CLIA
stamps out angrily,
PENELOPE
looks away for a moment, and then turns to greet
EUMAEUS
as if he had just entered the room, and all those last minutes were wiped out.)

I’m so glad you came to see me. You’re looking very smart—is this a new style in tunics?

EUMAEUS

(Recovering himself from
CLIA
’s attack)

Perhaps I’ll start a new fashion.

(He looks down at the length of the blanket.)

Not every man’s legs are handsome enough for the short tunic. Or would it be a pity to hide the handsome legs? How could a woman then know what she’s getting?

PENELOPE

(Amused)

Eumaeus, you can’t shock me. So don’t waste the strength you’ve got left.

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