Read Home is the Hunter Online

Authors: Helen Macinnes

Home is the Hunter (8 page)

EUMAEUS

(Suddenly dignified)

I wasn’t always a pig farmer. I’ve killed better men than you, in my day.

PENELOPE

(Moving swiftly between the men, as
MELAS
raises his sword to strike)

There’s to be no killing, here! Eumaeus, drop the knife and get back to your job.

(She pushes him toward the door as he drops the knife on the table, keeping herself between him and
MELAS
. As
EUMAEUS
leaves,
MELAS
takes a step after him, his sword still drawn.)

That would be foolish. For I’ll never marry the man who kills anyone who belongs to this household. That’s one man I’d
never
choose.

MELAS

(Hesitates, then sheathes his sword)

I’d do that for no one else except you.

PENELOPE

(Looking over her shoulder toward the doorway)

Isn’t that silence very odd? What are they plotting? A surprise for you, Melas?

MELAS

(Moving quickly to the door)

Two more days, Penelope, and you’ll choose a husband. Right?

PENELOPE

Two more days.

MELAS

You’ll remember all I’ve done for you?

PENELOPE

I’ll remember.

(
MELAS
smiles and leaves. She closes the door behind him, securely, and then begins to laugh quietly.)

CLIA

(Her rage and dismay at last bursting free)

Are you out of your mind?
What
have you done?
Penelope,
what have you
done
?

PENELOPE

D’you know, I believe that ruffian thinks he
is
my protector.

CLIA

(Seizing
PENELOPE
’s shoulders and shaking her as if she were a child)

I’ll tell you what you’ve done: you’ve kept these men here. You could have let them ride off, but you—

PENELOPE

(Freeing herself angrily)

Let them ride off and escape the punishment they’ve earned? Let them sail away and invade some other island and keep its people in misery?

CLIA

But—

PENELOPE

Stop fussing, Clia. I know what I’m doing.

(She hesitates, lowers her voice almost to a whisper.)

Ulysses has come home.

CLIA

(Terrified now)

My poor girl, my poor girl!... She’s out of her mind... Penelope, can you hear me, can you understand me? Ulysses did not come back. Three men arrived by the fishing boats, this morning. But not one of them was Ulysses.

PENELOPE

(Startled)

Who gave you that news?

CLIA

Eumaeus. He told me. There’s still no Ulysses. Penelope, what shall we do?

PENELOPE

(Smiling)

I’m going to rest. And to think. To think of a plan. Keeping those men here was only the first step... Now I must plan the next one, and the next...

CLIA

...She’s waited too long... she’s lost her reason.

PENELOPE

(She has walked over to her bedroom door, paying no attention to
CLIA
’s hand-wringing. She pauses there, turns to say in a clear firm voice)

They’ll leave, Clia. They’ll all leave. But as
I
wish them to leave... I’m the mistress of this house. And Ulysses is still its master.

(She goes out. The bedroom door closes quickly behind her, and the curtain falls.)

SCENE 3

Later that morning.

PENELOPE
is sitting room is bathed in sunlight. Its door opens, a babel of mixed sounds follows
CLIA
and an elderly man into the room. He is white-haired, with a splendid head and good features. There is nobility and kindness in his face. He still wears his travelling boots and dusty cloak, and he carries a small harp.

He is
HOMER
.

CLIA

(Calling excitedly as she enters and stands aside for
HOMER
)

Penelope! Oh, she is still in her bedroom. Just a moment, and I’ll fetch her.

(She has closed the door, after calling for
PENELOPE
,
and the room is quiet once more.)

HOMER

Please don’t disturb her. I’m quite content to wait here, if I may. That’s a pretty rowdy crowd downstairs in the Hall. What are they celebrating?

CLIA

Victory.

HOMER

What victory?

CLIA

They think they’ve won. I don’t know.

(She shrugs her shoulders helplessly.)

I just don’t know anything any more. For three years, we’ve hoped they’d leave. This morning they were leaving. This noon,

(She looks at the bedroom door and shakes her head.)

they’re staying.

HOMER

(Walking over to the window, looking round the room, examining everything)

I’ve never been in this room before. Charming. Cool, restful, quiet—just like Penelope herself.

(
CLIA
looks at him.)

I can remember hearing about Ulysses building this house: people didn’t approve of his modern ideas in architecture— taking the beds out of the Hall and giving them private rooms! But I rather like this idea of separate sleeping quarters. Especially with the kind of guests you have.

CLIA

Guests?
Invaders, that’s what they are. Don’t believe any of the stories they’ve been spreading around in the last three years. They can twist the truth quicker than a girl’s smile.

HOMER

(Turning away from the window to look keenly at
CLIA
)

Invaders. So that’s the way it is. I must admit they weren’t exactly what I had expected. You know, Clia, the sooner we get the news back to the mainland about the truth of this matter, the better for all of you.

CLIA

(Bitterly)

And haven’t we tried? And who would listen? Last year, we even sent young Telemachus to the mainland to do some travelling— and to spread the truth. But would anyone believe him?

HOMER

Well...

CLIA

Yes, I know. The men sent rumours and lies ahead of the boy. He was jealous of them, they said. He had one of those mother... mother something-or-others.

HOMER

Mother fixations. Yes, I heard about that.

CLIA

And you heard about his wild imagination, too? And his pathetic exaggerations? Poor little fellow, trying to pretend he’s a hero. Yes, they got everyone laughing at him, didn’t they?

HOMER

People so often believe what it suits them to believe.

(He shakes his head sadly and moves to the centre of the room.)

At least I’ve brought you one piece of hope. Odysseus is alive. That is fact. Not rumour. And I’ve also learned that he is on his way home. He will soon be here.

CLIA

Soon? And what good will that do us
now?

(She points to the embroidery frame.)

In two days, mark you—two days, that embroidery will be finished and Penelope will have to choose one of the men as a husband and—

HOMER

Embroidery? What’s this about embroidery?

(He goes quickly over to the frame.)

CLIA

That’s what it is, whatever it looks like. It’s for the seventh and last chair. See—

(Points to the chairs along the wall)

six of them finished; and
that
makes seven.

(She points to the frame.)

HOMER

(Sharply)

What’s this about seven chairs?

CLIA

It’s the promise that Penelope gave. On the altar of Athena herself. So that she could put off choosing a husband.

HOMER

Why, I always understood she promised to
weave
a shroud for her father-in-law.

CLIA

Oh, at the last moment she changed her mind.

HOMER

But why wasn’t I told about this change? I never heard about any
embroidery.

CLIA

Embroidery or weaving, it’s all the same.

HOMER

On the contrary!... I have already composed a very fine poem about Penelope weaving.

CLIA

So you
are
telling about Ulysses and Penelope? Isn’t that nice! Penelope!

(She knocks on the bedroom door, opens it a little.)

Penelope! You’ve a visitor; he’s travelled a long way to see you!

PENELOPE

(Urgently)

Clia, don’t tease me. Who is it?

CLIA

(To
HOMER
)

Poor dear! She’s always thinking it might be Ulysses.

(To
PENELOPE
)

It’s your friend the poet—the man who is making up the story about Ulysses.

(She leaves the bedroom door.)

HOMER

Clia, I don’t make up stories... I describe the truth. That is why I am here in Ithaca now. If I didn’t want to see the real facts for myself, I could stay in Smyrna, where I like the climate. And another thing—why do you call your master
Ulysses?
Give him his real name—Odysseus. Really, Clia... Ulysses! A complete bastardisation. It won’t even scan properly.

CLIA

Penelope always calls him Ulysses. She says Odysseus is too big a mouthful. For instance,

(She points to
ULYSSES

chair.)

you can say “Ulysses’ chair” without too much of a splutter. But who’s going to take a deep-enough breath to say “Odysseus’s chair”?

HOMER

(Stiffly)

I still say Odysseus.

CLIA

(Placatingly)

Turned out a nice day, hasn’t it? How far have you been travelling, this time?

HOMER

From Thessaly.

CLIA

Over all those mountains? My, that’s quite a journey—

(She strikes her forehead.)

Your cloak—your boots—I was so excited I forgot to welcome you properly. I’ll just rush downstairs and get a basin of water. I’m sorry, I really am...

HOMER

(Smiling again)

What I need most is a drink. I’ve walked from the village, and I’ve collected as much dust in my throat as on my boots.

CLIA

Shan’t be a moment—

(As
PENELOPE
opens the bedroom door and enters the sitting room,
CLIA
exclaims and rushes out.)

PENELOPE

(Coming forward to
HOMER
with hands outstretched. She has changed her dress—she is now wearing a blue silk gown, and her hair is charmingly arranged.)

Homer!
How wonderful to see you!... And how well you look.

(She takes his cloak and places it on one of the chairs.)

HOMER

You are looking remarkably well, yourself.

(He looks at her critically, though.)

PENELOPE

(Looking down at her dress)

You don’t like it? I thought it was—quite—pretty.

HOMER

It’s most charming, but isn’t it a little—lighthearted? Not quite what I had imagined you wearing.

PENELOPE

Really?

(She is amused.
HOMER
has been looking for a place to lay his harp. He almost puts it on
ULYSSES

chair, but then refrains.)

Yes, put it there.

HOMER

But it’s your husband’s chair, and only Odysseus sits there.

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