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A CHEERFUL GIVER

 

The scene is a parlor form the Revolutionary War period in West New Jersey.  Margaret Hill Morris, a Quaker, sits reading the Bible when there is a knock at the door.   Margaret rises to answer it.

Margaret:  “Oh, Abigail, dear.  Do come in.”

                   A teenage girl enters wearing well-worn clothing and carrying a basket on      
                   her arm.  Just as she steps into the room, there is the sound of cannon, and
                   she covers her ears until the noise fades.  Margaret frowns and shakes her
                   head.

                   “Those cannon are too close for comfort.  I wish this war would move
somewhere less populated….What brings thee out so early this morning?”

Abigail:  “Papa sent me with a trout he just caught.”  She hands Margaret the basket.

Margaret:  “That was very generous of him.  Thank thee.”

Abigail:  “He caught several fish, but with no salt to be had, we can’t keep that many.”

Margaret:  “This salt scarcity is such a worry.  I don’t know how we Burlington folk will
manage this winter….Would thee car for a cup of tea?”

Abigail:  “Yes, please.”

Margaret:  “Do have a seat dear.  I’ll be right back.”  Margaret exits with Abigail’s
                   basket.  As soon as Margaret leaves the room, Abigail begins to look behind
                   furniture and then peaks into the next room.  Margaret returns carrying
                  a tray with cups and saucers.  Abigail’s basket is on her arm.  Margaret
                  enters in time to see what Abigail is doing.

                  “What is thee looking for, Abigail.”

Abigail:  ( embarrassed)  “Um…oh, nothing M’am.”

Margaret:  “If there is something thee needs, dear, please just say so.  These are hard
times for everyone.  I will gladly share anything I have.”  Margaret puts the
                    tray down and hands Abigail a cup and saucer.  Margaret then hangs
                   Abigail’s basket on a coat rack near the door, takes a cup and saucer from
                  the tray for herself, and sits down.

Abigail:  “Thank you.  The truth is, Mrs. Morris, I was looking for signs of Reverend
Odell.  I heard he went into hiding before the Continental Army reached
Burlington.”

Margaret:  “What makes thee think he would be here?”

Abigail:  “Well, people say that you have no use for the Colonists’ cause.  They call you
and Reverend Odell ‘Tories’.”

Margaret:  “I don’t really side with the British.  But I do hold the Colonists responsible
for the outbreak of war, and it’s war I disagree with….As for Jonathan Odell,
I understand that he has escaped to New York City where the British have
taken control.”

Abigail:  “Would you help a Tory to escape from the Continental troops?”

Margaret:  “I would help anyone whose life was in danger.”

Abigail:  “Did you help Reverend Odell?”  There is a loud pounding at the door.
                Margaret puts her hand to her throat.

Margaret:  “Who could that be?”  Abigail peers out the window near the front door.

Abigail:  “It’s two soldiers.  They’re wearing the Continental colors.”  Margaret rises
                 and peers out the window.

Margaret:  “They were here before.”

Abigail:  “They were?”

Margaret:  “Yes.  They searched the house next door.”

Abigail:  “They did?  Do you think they’ve come back to search your house?”
Loud knocking again.  Margaret opens the door.

Margaret:  “Good day, Friends.  Please come in.”  Two soldiers enter.
“Thy knocking sounds urgent.”

Soldier One:  “Are you Margaret Hill Morris?”

Margaret:  “I am.  And this is my neighbor, Abigail Gray.”

Soldier One:  “Lieutenant Thomas Newton, M’am.”  (Tips hat)  “And this is
Corporal  Michael Davis.”

Soldier Two:  “Ladies.”  (Tips hat)

Soldier One:  “Our commanding officer has sent us to summon you.”

Margaret:  “For what purpose?”

Soldier Two:  “For no good purpose, if you ask me.”

Soldier One:  “Quiet, Davis.  (To Margaret)  “Folks in town claim you know something
about doctoring.”

Margaret:  “I have herbs that I was given by friends from the Delaware tribe.”

Soldier Two:  “Indian medicine?”

Margaret:  “Yes.”

Soldier One:  “Well, half our regiment and their wives have come down with a
fever that acts like malaria.  Do you think you can help them?”

Margaret:  “Perhaps one or two of my medicines would relieve their symptoms.”

Soldier One:  “Then we would be much obliged if you would fetch those medicines
and come with us.”

Margaret:  “Excuse me.”  Margaret exits stage left toward the kitchen.  Abigail grabs the
                   tray and follows Margaret.  When they reach the far side of the stage, Abigail
                   speaks so that only Margaret can hear her.

Abigail:  “Mrs. Morris!”  Margaret turns around to face her.   “I’m scared!  What if
this is a trick?  Maybe these men intend to interrogate you and arrest you.”

Margaret:  “Thee may be right.  To be honest, I’m afraid for my two sons.  Their father
is dead, and they are hardly old enough to survive without me.”

Abigail:  “Don’t go with these men.  Tell them you ran out of medicine.”

Margaret:  “I can’t lie, and I can’t deny my Christian duty.  I can’t ignore my mother’s
voice and the Bible verse she taught me:  ‘He that soweth bountifully shall
also reap bountifully.  So give not grudgingly or of  necessity for God loves
a cheerful giver.’  Hopefully, the Lord will forgive me for feeling less than
cheerful on this occasion.”  She takes the tray and exists toward the kitchen. 
                   Abigail turns and walks back to the men.

Abigail:  “Why are you wasting time with Mrs. Morris?  Shouldn’t you be looking for a
real doctor?”

Soldier One:  “All the professional doctors have fled or joined the Army.  She’s our
only hope.”

Soldier Two:  “People talk about her doctoring skills.  But they say other things that
make me wonder about her.”  Margaret returns with a large basket.

Margaret:  (to Abigail)  “Please go to the Gifford Farm and tell my boys what’s
happened.”  (to the soldiers)  “Please tell Abigail where I will be so that
she can inform my children.”

Soldier Two:  “They shouldn’t follow you, M’am.  There’s a lot of sickness.  And the
last thing we need is young’n under foot.”

Soldier One:  “We’ll be taking you to a house in town.  Just off the main street.  I’m
not sure of the address.”

Abigail:  “Don’t worry about your boys, Mrs. Morris.  I’ll look after them.”

Margaret:  “Thank you, dear.  All right, then.  Let’s go”
Margaret and the soldiers exit by the front door.  Margaret is last and leaves
                    the door ajar for Abigail. 

Abigail:  (Grabbing her basket)  “There’s going to be a hanging.  I just know it!”
She exits, closing the door behind her.                     

 

 

 

SCENE TWO

Margaret Morris’s parlor:  The front door opens and Abigail enters, carrying a basket.  She takes off her shawl and hangs it on the rack.  An apron, absent in scene one, hangs on the rack.  Abigail puts the apron on.  Margaret enters from the kitchen, startling Abigail. 

Abigail:  “Mrs. Morris!  You’re home!”

Margaret:  “Yes, dear.  And fortunately, my neck is not any longer than it was when you
saw me last.”

Abigail:  “I brought some food for the boys’ supper.”

Margaret:  “Thee has taken good care of them while I was gone.  I am very grateful.”

Abigail:  “So, what happened?  Were you interrogated?”

Margaret:  “No.  It was just as the soldiers said.  They guided me to a house in town full
of sick soldiers and their wives.”

Abigail:  “Did they have malaria?”

Margaret:  “Thankfully, no.  But they were dreadfully ill.  The herbs I administered
seemed to help.  At any rate, they have all recovered nicely.”

Abigail:  “I was so worried.  I tried not to scare the boys, but I think they were worried
too.”

Margaret:  “They’re fine now.  Back to their mischievous selves, I might add.  I’m sorry
to have caused so much concern.”

Abigail:  “Actually, it was a relief being here.  Mama frets so about the salt situation. We
usually depend on salt pork to get through the winter.  Our supply is very
low.”

Margaret:  “Which reminds me that I must repay thee for the food that thee has
provided.”

Abigail:  “I mostly cooked what you had on hand.  I only brought fresh bread.”   (nods to
                the basket)  It tastes a little bland, I’m afraid.”

Margaret:  “Aha!  Then I know how to repay thy family.  I shall donate some sweet
preserves to flavor thy saltless  bread.  Perhaps that will cheer thy mother
a bit.”  Margaret starts for the kitchen.  There is a knock at the front door.
                   Margaret stops and turns toward the door.  Abigail peers out the window.

Abigail:  “Oh no!  It’s that disagreeable soldier come back again.  What could he want
now?”

Margaret:  “Not to worry.  He wished to repay me for my medicines, so I bought some
supplies for him to take to my sister in Philadelphia.  He has probably
brought word from her.  Thee can open the door, dear.”

Abigail:  (opening the door)  “Come in, Sir.”  The soldier enters, carrying a bushel
               basket.

Margaret:  “Friend Davis.  It’s good to see thee again.  What has thee there?”

Soldier Two:  “More salt than I have ever seen in one place at one time, I believe.”
Abigail gasps and puts her hands to her face.

Margaret:  “Did my sister send this?”

Soldier Two:  “Yes, M’am.  There’s no shortage in Philadelphia as you can see.”

Margaret:  “That’s good to hear.  If there is plenty of salt in Philadelphia, then the
shortage here should be quite temporary.  Thee may set that basket on the
table.  Excuse me a moment.  I shall need an empty vessel.”  Margaret exits
                   toward the kitchen.

Soldier Two:  “She’s a pretty extraordinary lady, that one.”

Abigail:  “You did not seem so impressed with her when you were here before.”

Soldier Two:  “You’re right.  Folks call her a Tory, and she’s not a real doctor.  I figured
we were better off shooting our men than letting her at them.”

Abigail:  “Being a Quaker, she’s got some strange ideas.  Like helping anyone regardless
of what they believe.”

Soldier Two:  “Well, if you had seen her tending the sick, you would have thought she
was doctoring her own kin.”  Margaret enters, carrying a bowl.

Margaret:  “Here we are.”  She scoops out some salt into the bowl and places it on the
                   table.

Abigail:  “What’s that salt for, Mrs. Morris?”

Margaret:  “That’s for me?”  (to the soldier)  “Now, Friend, if thee would just carry
this bushel across the way to Abigail’s house, we’ll scoop some out for her
family.  That should make the basket light enough for Abigail and me to
carry.  All of our neighbors are in need.”

Soldier Two:  “You’re going to give it all away?”

Margaret:  “Not all.  I shall enjoy my share.  In God’s kingdom, the more we give the
more we receive in return.  After all, if thee had not repaid my act of
friendship, I would have no salt at all.”

Abigail:  “It’s like your mother’s Bible verse.”

Margaret:  “Yes, indeed, Abigail.  ‘Give abundantly, not of necessity.  For God loves a
cheerful giver.’  And with that thought in mind, let’s begin.  Soldier Two
                    picks up the basket and all three exit.

 

 

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