NEW SCENE : TOM – Birth of a Legend, Act 1, Scene 7

by admin on November 5, 2019

Autumn, Algonquin park Autumn, Algonquin park

See previous posts for earlier scenes, starting September.

The story so far: Tom’s drunken painter friends have dragged him away from his mistress, Winnie to see their friend off to the war in France. At the train station they are caught up in the war hysteria and try to enlist but Tom is rejected on health grounds so they return to his studio shack and Winnie at dawn. A bitter argument ensues and a decision is reached…


(A stylised painted canvas flat at rear of stage structure now indicates a dining car. Two tables and chairs upstage and downstage of each other with aisle between. Steam train sound effects and clickety-clack of wheels. TOM & WINNIE enter SL to sit opposite each other. HARRIS AND JACKSON at upstage table beside them. They jounce and sway in unison to train movement throughout scene. They are dressed in period sports clothes. WAITRESS sways down aisle with tray of drinks – three glasses of beer and a cup of tea. She sets them down with difficulty as they all sway and clutch at drinks to prevent them spilling.)

WAITRESS:                                                                    The cook’s run off to join the war. Me and Olive can do you canned soup and corned beef sandwiches. We’ve run outta hash. Take it or leave it.

HARRIS:                                                               In that case, I believe I’ll have the soup and sandwich, Miss.

JACKSON & TOM:                                                        Me, too. Me, too.

WINNIE:                                                                   What kind is the soup?

WAITRESS:                                                             Habitant split pea. All we ever have. Railroad has a contract with the canning factory in Quebec. I heard the army’s takin’ all they can supply. We soon won’t have that neither.

TOM:                                                                        That factory supplies all the guides and outfitters up north, too. It’s the kind I always eat in the bush. You’ll get used to it on our canoe trip, Winnie.

WAITRESS:                                                                    So? You want it or not, lady? Haven’t got all day. Olive’s on her own back there doin’ six things at once.

WINNIE:                                                                      Yes, please.

OLIVE: (V/O)                                                          (Offstage, shouting) Mabel! Stop gassin’ with the passengers and gimme a hand back here.

MABEL:                                                                   You’ll have to wait your turn, folks. Olive says they’ll be havin’ us drivin’ the train, next. Only men left up north in the loggin’ camps is the old, the crippled and the conchies. Army’s got recruitin’ parties out combin’ the bush. Take whoever they can find. Indians, trappers, half-breeds. They must be desperate takin’ our poor Chinaman, Cookie.

HARRIS:                                                                           Very important man. You know what Napoleon said, madam. ‘An army marches on it’s stomach.’

MABEL:                                                                An’ I say, poor little Cookie, puttin’ up with all that tormentin’ from ignorant soldiers. At least he was safe here, outta sight back in the kitchen. (OLIVE shouts againShe sways back down the aisle, muttering to herself.) Alright, Olive, I’m comin’. Bloody war….

WINNIE:                                                                  Lucky for you the army isn’t recruiting waitresses. She’d soon settle your hash if you tried any of your nonsense.

JACKSON:                                                                Charm the birds off the trees, that woman. I’ll bet she gets three or four proposals a week from soldiers heading off to France.

TOM:                                                                     Fancy your chances, A.Y.? Better not mention you’ve enlisted. She doesn’t seem to have a high opinion of soldiers.

WINNIE:                                                                     Who can blame her, if you lot are anything to go by.

(A young woman in period travelling clothes sways down the aisle holding the arm of a man on crutches. She helps him sit down at the table opposite them and then sits facing him. They nod and smile to everyone.)

HARRIS:                                                               (breaking the ice) I hope you folks aren’t too hungry. The service is a bit slow. Staff shortages, we’re told.

WOMAN:                                                                            I brought some sandwiches with us, but my husband wanted some hot food, so we thought we’d try the dining car.

(The others burst out laughing.)

WOMAN:                                                                       Did I say something funny?

WINNIE:                                                                   Sorry. Only the waitress just said sandwiches are all they’re serving, as the cook’s just enlisted.

JACKSON:                                                                Unless you like habitant split-pea soup. Tom here, swears by it.

MAN:                                                                       Suits me. Can’t be any worse than the army rations. Name’s Ralph Fitzgerald, but I mostly answer to Fitz, by my fellow officers. I fear the men call me ‘Fritz’ behind my back. Or used to. This is my wife, Edith.

WOMAN:                                                                      Edie, please. I wish you wouldn’t persist in introducing me to strangers as Edith. Horrid name. I’m sure it puts people right off me, Fitz.

WINNIE:                                                                       I’m Winnie. I’ve often wondered why people take against me, too. Probably my name reminds them of that awful war-monger, Churchill.

TOM:                                                                   Careful what you say Winnie, or you may put these folks off you, too.

FITZ:                                                                               On the contrary. Couldn’t agree with you more. He hasn’t done me any favours.

EDIE:                                                                 Fitz has been invalided out of the war and he enjoys blaming the top brass for his condition. We’re going to some resort up in Algonquin Park so he can recuperate from his wounds.

FITZ:                                                                      Edie, please. Stop blurting out our private life to complete strangers. I’m sorry, folks. If I didn’t stop her, she’d give you chapter and verse on the whole sordid business – put you completely off your lunch.

EDIE:                                                                        I’m very proud of my husband’s war record. They gave him a medal for bravery but he won’t even wear it. Fitz says it’s too embarrassing.

FITZ:                                                                 Save it till the war’s over. Soon enough to show it off then.

JACKSON:                                                                       Or give it to your kids.

EDIE:                                                                               Oh, we don’t have any. Fitz said we should wait until after the war, but now…

FITZ:                                                                     Edie! Please. That’s enough about us. Where are you folks headed?

WINNIE:                                                               Huntsville for me. Back to school after the Easter holidays finish. But first, I’m going with my friends for a canoe trip Tom’s been promising me.

FITZ:                                                                 Hunting or fishing?

HARRIS:                                                               Painting and fishing for us three. Winnie prefers reading and fishing.

EDIE:                                                                 You’re painters? How wonderful. Can I see some of your work?

JACKSON:                                                                        It just so happens I have my sketch book along. (removes small booklet from his jacket to hand her.) See what you think of them.

TOM:                                                                          I’ll be coming to Canoe Lake after our trip. Winnie’s dad has a summer cabin there he lets me use to store my paintings. What’s the name of the resort you’re staying at?

FITZ:                                                                        The Canoe Lake Lodge. We chose it because the railway station is quite close. I can’t walk far on these crutches.

TOM:                                                                  Frank O’Hara’s place. I often stay there when I’m between painting trips. Or waiting for the end of the black fly season.

EDIE:                                                                    Maybe you could give me some lessons. I’d pay you, of course.

TOM:                                                                        Sure, why not? These two are off to France after our week’s painting trip and Winnie is back to school teaching in Huntsville.

EDIE:                                                                   You’re not joining them? In France?

FITZ:                                                                     Don’t pry, Edie… We’d be glad to have you visit anytime you’re near, Tom. We don’t know a soul up there. I’m supposed to have complete rest and quiet for a few months. My nerves are pretty shot. But Edie craves company.

EDIE:                                                                              I wasn’t prying, I was curious, that’s all. Everybody talks about ‘conscientious objectors’ but I’ve never met one.

WINNIE:                                                                       And now you’ve met two at once. Me, and Tom.

HARRIS:                                                                              I wouldn’t call Tom a ‘conchie’, exactly, Mrs Fitzgerald. He tried to enlist in Toronto with A.Y. here, the other day.

JACKSON:                                                                         They took me, but Tom was refused on medical grounds.

TOM:                                                                  Too old and flat feet. Suits me. Now I can get on with my painting and try to forget the war.

FITZ:                                                                 That makes two of us. We can practise philosophy and art together instead.

EDIE:                                                               And I can learn to paint. Wild ducks. I love them. Do you paint ducks?

TOM:                                                                                  I love ducks, too. But I prefer eating them.

HARRIS:                                                                          We’re mostly landscape painters, Mrs. Fitzgerald. We’re trying to develop a new style of  Nature painting.

JACKSON:                                                                         That’s why we come up north to paint the wilderness direct. This is a new country and a new century and we need a new way to look at it. Tom thinks he’s found it.

TOM:                                                                               No, I haven’t, but I do think I’m on to something. You probably won’t like what I do because it’s not the way you’re used to seeing Nature depicted, Mrs. Fitzgerald. But I think it’s exhilarating. It feels like a break-through to me and I’m trying to convince A.Y. and Lawren here. But they prefer to go to France and shoot people.

EDIE:                                                                        They could become war artists instead. I read in the Mail & Empire last week about some government program to appoint artists to paint war scenes, to show people what it’s like over there.

WINNIE:                                                                         It’s only another of Beaverbrook’s schemes to spread war propaganda. If they really let them paint the slaughter going on, the war would be over in a week, wouldn’t it, Fitz?

FITZ:                                                                                 It’s a slaughter, all right. You only have to look at the daily casualty figures to see that. The losses are horrendous. We had over 10,000 casualties at Vimy Ridge in four days. But it doesn’t seem to stop them from enlisting. I don’t envy you two. I’ve had enough of fighting myself. Glad I’m out of it.

EDIE:                                                                 The army wanted Fitz to go on a recruiting campaign with his bravery medal – but he turned them down flat.

FITZ:                                                                            After what I’d seen, I couldn’t persuade anyone else to join in. As soldiers or artists – ahh, here’s the waitress.

JACKSON:                                                                              At last. Here comes our soup. Steady on, madam…

(MABEL appears with a tray full of bowls in one hand and steadying her self with the other hand as she wobbles down the aisle. She trips over FITZ’s crutches in the aisle and falls forward, as the tray sails on down the aisle to sounds of crockery crashing on the floor. The men try to break MABEL’S fall, but trip and end on top of her.)

WINNIE:                                                               I’ve changed my mind. I’ll just have the sandwich.

EDIE:                                                                         Me, too.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Little Little November 6, 2019 at 7:51 am

Makes a good read! It will be nice to see it on stage!!

admin November 12, 2019 at 2:58 pm

Thanks, Eric – glad you like it so far. Still have Act 2 to post up over the next few weeks.

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