God's Back Yard
By Jessie Welborn Smith
An Episode from Act Three
Place, Tim Murphy's saloon. Time, evening.
Men are crowding about the bar, drinking and laughing coarsely.
The wives are huddled together on a long bench at one side of the
room. The children keep close to their mothers, but stretch their
little necks to watch the dancing in the back of the room, where a
group of painted women are tangoing to the wheezy accompaniment of
an old accordion. Over in the corner a man sprawls drunkenly
across a broken-down faro table.
Dick Long (hammering the bar with his mug and singing). Oh, I'm
goin' to hell, and I don't give a damn. I'm goin' to hell. I'm goin'
Murphy (knocking a board from the crate that holds the new
nickel-in-the-slot gramaphone). You're going a damn sight faster
than that, Dickie Bird, but you'll have to speed up a bit to get in on
the concert. The program begins at eight o'clock sharp, like it says
on the card in the window, and everybody gets an invite, but Caruso
don't sing this time.
First Painted Lady (stopping the dance and coming down beside
Murphy). Let 'er go, Murph. Give us "Too Much Mustard." The piano
player down at the Gulch plays that just fine, and a piece about a
girl that didn't want to love him, but he made her do it. That machine
was long on personal history, Murph. I heard them all through three
times. Let 'er go. We're all here.
First Wife (leaning over and speaking eagerly). Mrs. Long won't
be able to come, Murphy, and Old Moll is settin' up with her to-night.
I met Doc as I came across. The young-un died. I don't see no use in
waitin' when we're all here.
Rosie Phelan (reaching over and pulling Long's sleeve). Did you
hear that, Dick? Your kid is dead. Your kid is—d-e-a-d. Do you get
Man at the Bar. Aw, break it to him gentle. He don't know he is
a father yet. Have a heart.
Rosie Phelan (disgustedly). "Have a heart." Well, what do you
think of that? For a man who guzzles all day you are mighty strong on
the heart-throb slush. "Speak kindly to the erring." Didn't know you
had got religion. Was it you got the revivalist to come up from the
Nell (shifting her wad of gum). Well, he was sitting over at
Benton's rather lonesome-like as I came along. I allus follow the
Murphy (hotly). And that is what that preacher will have to do
if he makes any converts up here at the mine. I reckon that, with that
music machine, I'm equipped to compete with any preacher that comes
larking around here until kingdom come. He said he'd save me, if he
had to chase me to hell and back, did he? Well, that guy should worry.
That pale chicken-liver chase me to—Pour out the drinks, Bob. It's my
Bob slops a little whiskey into every glass and mug on the bar and
passes it round. As it comes to the wives they smile, but shake
their heads. Murphy lifts his glass.
Murphy. Won't you women drink the minister's health. How about
you females, Bett? Nell? Rosie? Mollie? You girls never turn down free
liquor, do you? Ready? To hell with the minister.
Barkeeper. To hell with every denatured female that comes round
here praying for our souls' salvation. I reckon a feller can do what
he damn pleases with his own soul.
First Lounger (lazily boastful). I told my old woman that if I
ketched her or the kids hanging round listening to that mollycoddle
letting off steam, I'd——
First Wife (spitefully). Us women ain't got no call to get
religion. We're too meek already. My man knows that he'll have a
wildcat at his head when he comes in with that O'Grady woman, but it
don't do no good. He ain't afeared o' nothin' short o' the devil. You
don't ketch me joinin' while my old man is alive. You gotta have some
protection. Safety first, I say.
Second Wife (meekly). They say the "Blue Ridge Mountains" is a
mighty tuneful piece. My sister heard it over at Smarty's las'
Thanksgiving. Can you tell whether your pianoler plays that, Murphy?
Second Painted Lady (patronizingly). How would you expect
Murphy to know what is stored in that machine? You pays your money and
your choice is whatever it happens to grind out. If you place your
money on a "Harem" and draws an "Apple Blossom Time in Normandy," you
got to take your medicine. What you waiting for, Murph? My gentleman
friend is coming over from the Pass this evening, and I can't hang
around here all night.
Rosie (excitedly, turning from the window that looks upon the
street). The light is out at Benton's. The minister is coming over
here. Remember and give him hell. Let him turn the other cheek.
Murphy. No prayer meeting virgin is going to interfere with my
The door opens and the minister steps inside. Murphy goes over and
greets him with mock politeness.
Murphy. Rosie, you are chief usher to-night. Will you find the
minister a seat? Sit over, Nell. There's room enough between you and
Bett for any sky pilot that ever hit the trail. Bob, give the preacher
a drink. He looks sort of fagged. It's hard work saving sinners in
God's Back Yard. I hope this little concert ain't going to interfere
with your meeting, parson.
Minister (standing at the bar, whiskey glass in hand). Not at
all, friend. What is the bill of fare?
Rosie (coming forward in her low-cut red gown and swinging her full
skirts from side to side). For Gawd's sake, why didn't you tell me
it was going to be religious? I'd forgot it was prayer-meetin' night,
Murph. (She carefully tucks her handkerchief over her bosom in
pretense of modesty.) I'd dressed up more, if I'd remembered.
Nell (holding out a string of glittering beads). Here, take
these, Rosie. These'll cover up some. I ain't takin' an active part,
so I don't mind.
Rosie (lifting her arms to fasten the beads). Not takin' an
active part? You don't know what you're sayin'. I heard of a minister
once who could make hell look so darned nice you wanted to fall for it
right away. Couldn't such a fellah give the heavenly gates a jar?
(She turns to the minister.) Where d'you want to sit? Up there
by Mollie? Take your choice.
Old Moll's Daughter (jumping down from her perch at one end of the
bar and walking over brazenly to drop the first nickel in the
slot). Clear the way, can't you? I'm praying for the "Bunny Hug"
and the minister is backing me. For Gawd's sake, can't you clear the
floor? Do you want the music to be half done before you find your
partners? I'll be obliged to you, parson, if you'll save this dance
for me. (She pauses a moment, nickel in hand.)
First Card Player. I'll stake you ten to one it'll be "The
Pullman Porters on Parade."
Second Player (doggedly). They always play "A Great Big
Rosie (shaking her head and singing, hands on hips). "My harem,
my harem, my roly, poly harem."
Nell (with mock sentiment). "For it's Apple Blossom Time in
Normandy, in Normandy, in Normandy."
The nickel jangles in the slot. The disk begins to revolve. It
grates and begins its introductory mechanical clinkety-clinkety
clink. A small child wails dismally as the music shivers through
"Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly.
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O, my Saviour, hide
Till the storm of life is past.
Safe into the haven guide,
O, receive my soul at last."
Rosie's hands drop from her hips as the song begins. The dancing
impulse passes from her limbs. Even the muscles of her face harden
Rosie (hysterically). Oh, I can't stand that, Murphy. For
Gawd's sake, can't you stop it?
She starts over toward the machine impulsively. Then something
catches her, she pauses and is held a moment while a superstitious
awe makes her eyes again the big roundness of childhood's wonder.
She draws the back of her hand across her forehead in an endeavor
to bring herself out of the daze.
Rosie (falling sobbing beside the bench). "O, receive my soul
at last." Why did you leave your little Rosie? Mother, Oh, mother. I
ain't fit to come to you no more, mother—I ain't fit, I ain't fit.
One of the mothers reaches over and strokes her hair.
Old Moll's Daughter (opening the door and stepping out into the
lonely street as she laughs madly). Old Murphy in cahoots with the
minister. Oh, hell!
The door slams shut. The glasses on the bar jangle harshly. A
snatch of song boldly defiant rings in from the street: "Don't
tell me that you've lost your dog." Murphy walks over and stands
looking at the music box. It is still grinding out the music.
"Other refuge have I none.
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee.
Leave, ah, leave me not alone.
Still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is staid.
All my help from Thee I bring.
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of Thy wing."
The wives are all crying quietly. Rosie and Bett are sobbing with
the wild abandon that such natures know. Tears are falling upon
the idle hands at the card table. The men at the bar are strangely
Man at the Faro Table (lifting himself up on his elbow). I ushe
shing—I ushe shing zhat—I ushe shing Jeshus—Jeshus—I ushe
shing—(He drops his head over on the table and weeps
Little Child (pulling at her mother's shoulders and whining
peevishly). Who is Jesus, mamma? Do we know Jesus?
(Happily.) Will he cover my head with a pretty birdie's wing?
(The mother shakes with sobs and the child speaks more
caressingly.) Don't cry, mother. I like my hat with the posies on
it. You can have the feathers, nice, good mamma. Don't cry.
Murphy (absently, looking at the minister). They sang that at
the funeral. Sally didn't have no call to hide anything. She was that
white and pure. I always felt her slippin'—slippin' away. She worried
so them last days because of the little kid. "Take him back home,
Murph," she kept sayin'. "A little child has got to have some raisin'.
A kid has got to go to Sunday school, Tim, dear, and there ain't never
no meetin's in God's Back Yard."
Man at the Bar (dejectedly, going over to the door). It's all
right for the young-uns, but when a man has got a thirst and is down
on his luck, I don't allow that God is going to help much. You got to
get 'em young, parson, and keep 'em headed straight. It's hell turning
back. I tried it, and I couldn't make it go.
Minister (gently, as if speaking to someone very near). Oh,
Jesus, lover of all these misguided souls, come down to this little
room to-night, for it is dark here, and, Oh, so cold and dreary. Speak
to them, Jesus, as you did to me. Let them see the glory of Thy face.
Will someone pray?
Murphy (looking across at the loafers and speaking half as an
invitation, half as a command). Are you staying, boys?
One of the Men (doggedly, as they look at one another sheepishly
and no one moves to go). Ain't we always stayin' till closin'
Murphy (warmly). You sure do, boys. (He buries his head in
his crossed arms over the music-box.) It's your lead, parson.