Read Home is the Hunter Online

Authors: Helen Macinnes

Home is the Hunter (9 page)

PENELOPE

Put it on the chair. Ulysses will be honoured.

HOMER

My dear, I wish you’d call him Odysseus.

PENELOPE

(Laughing)

But my tongue trips over it.

(She pulls two chairs forward, and invites him to sit down.)

You always amaze me. You’ve never been in this room before, yet you know all about Ulysses’ chair.

HOMER

That’s easily explained. People talk, you know. And poets listen.

PENELOPE

And when Homer sings, the people grow silent.

HOMER

(Now in very good humour)

If there’s one thing nicer than being treated to a compliment, it’s having a pretty woman pay it.

PENELOPE

That wasn’t a compliment; it was the truth. No poet is so—

(She breaks off as the door opens.
CLIA
comes in with a bronze basin of water and a folded towel over her arm.
AMARYLLIS
follows her, carrying a large silver goblet of wine.)

What’s this?

(She stares down at
HOMER
’s boots and springs to her feet.)
Heavens! What have we done—or, rather, what haven’t we done? Clia, you know the rule of this house: no stranger, however poor, arrives at our door without being welcomed. And what is our welcome?

CLIA

To speak kindly and invite him to enter; to bathe his hands and feet; to offer him bread and wine and a warm corner by the hearth.

HOMER

Now, now, Penelope... I always think of you as the gentlest woman I’ve ever met. Besides, you didn’t notice my boots either, did you?

PENELOPE

No...

(She begins to laugh, too.)

All this excitement today is too much for me, I’m afraid.

(She draws aside
CLIA
,
who has placed the basin before
HOMER
and now kneels at his feet.)

Let me.

(She kneels in front of
HOMER
and begins to draw off his boots.
CLIA
,
now on her feet, places the towel over
PENELOPE
’s shoulder, and then beckons
AMARYLLIS
forward.
HOMER
takes the goblet quickly, has a long drink, and then raises it with a sigh of pleasure.)

HOMER

Oh, come bring to me a pint of wine, and pour it in a silver tassie!

PENELOPE

Tassie? What on earth is that?

HOMER

A word I’ve just invented. Sounds amusing in a foreign kind of way, doesn’t it? Not as heavy as “goblet,” not as solemn as “beaker.” Of course, you could get rid of that cold solemnity and add a touch of the sun by saying—now, let me see... Yes... “Come bring to me a pint of wine, a beaker full of the warm south.” Full of the warm south... Yes, that stirs memories as well as one’s palate.

(He nods, drinks, and sighs with pleasure as he slips his feet into the basin of water.)

AMARYLLIS

South is south, and north is north. You can’t pour either of them into a beaker!

(She smiles saucily and tosses her head.)

HOMER

(Noticing her with amusement)

Ah, my public! How sensitive, how percipient, how appreciative! No wonder poets can starve to death.

CLIA

(Warningly)

Amaryllis! This isn’t Melas you’re talking to. It’s Homer, the poet.

AMARYLLIS

(Unabashed)

He doesn’t look as if he’ll starve to death.

PENELOPE

Leave the room.

HOMER

(Laughing)

I’m going to take that as a compliment, Amaryllis.

AMARYLLIS

(All smiles, as she strikes a pretty pose for
HOMER
’s benefit)

If it’s a compliment you want, I can do better than that.

PENELOPE

(Flaring up)

If you don’t leave this room at once, you’ll leave this house.

(
AMARYLLIS
looks at her angrily, and then goes out.)

HOMER

Now, I’m afraid that was my fault somehow. My dear Penelope, you’re all on edge. This isn’t like you.

PENELOPE

Isn’t it?

(She bathes his feet for a moment, and then smiles.)

How much do you really know me, I wonder.

HOMER

You are one of the chief characters in my new poem. Of course I know you. Well. How else could I make you come alive?

(
PENELOPE
stares at him, and sits back on her heels, forgetting her duty.)

That was a pretty girl, all the same. Amaryllis, did you say? A sweet name for a sweet face.

CLIA

And
an empty head.

HOMER

Amaryllis... Amaryllis. There’s music in the name. To play with Amaryllis—to play with Amaryllis in the shade. No... to
sport
with Amaryllis in the shade or with the tangles of Niobe’s hair...

(He shakes his head.)

That isn’t quite right. Niobe—she’s too tragic. I’ll have to think of someone else.

PENELOPE

(Smiling, fascinated by
HOMER
’s words, still sitting back on her heels)

To sport with Amaryllis... that sounds very appropriate to me. I’d keep that phrase, at least. Are you thinking of using it in the new poem? And the pint of wine, complete with tassie?—Oh, Clia! We’re listening to poetry being made!

HOMER

I’ll use the phrases—if I can remember them. That’s the trouble, you know: there are too many phrases running through my head. It’s difficult to get them all into my poems.

PENELOPE

Then for every line of poetry you sing, there may be three that we shall never hear?

HOMER

(Cheerfully)

Sad, isn’t it? That’s why poets all go slightly crazy. Occupational disease. Now, what about this object?

(He lifts a foot to be dried, and brings
PENELOPE
back to her duty again.)

Poor old feet! They’ve carried me many a mile. Why don’t you rebel, feet? There isn’t another part of my body that would take such a pounding and not complain...

(He speaks vaguely, as if listening and inventing.)

Oh—the moon shines bright on Mrs. Porter, and on her daughter, they wash their feet in soda water.

(He laughs.)

Don’t think too much of that, do you, Penelope?

PENELOPE

Who’s Mrs. Porter, and what’s soda water? Or doesn’t it matter when you’re thinking up poetry?

(She laughs, too, as she finishes her task, and turns to
CLIA
for a pair of sandals.)

But, Homer, quite seriously, it
is
such a waste not to use all the lines you invent—

(
HOMER
is setting “Mrs. Porter” to a catchy little tune.)

—even the silly ones.

HOMER

Waste? Why, I only plucked these words out of the air. If I don’t use them, I send them back where they came from; and they’ll hover around until another poet reaches up and catches them. There will always be plenty of poets. What I’ve lost, they’ll find. So there’s no waste.

(He bends to help
PENELOPE
fasten on the sandals. He touches
PENELOPE
’s head.)

Thank you. That was the sweetest welcome ever given me.

(clia
has removed the basin and towel and dusty boots, and bustles from the room. He helps
penelope
to rise.)

PENELOPE

Why don’t you tell your phrases to your pupils? They could always use them.

HOMER

I teach my pupils
how
to sing, but I’ll never teach them
what
to sing. There’s such a thing as integrity, you know, even in the literary world. Besides, some of my pupils are getting too big for their tunics. Why, some day, they will be claiming that they helped to compose
The Iliad.

PENELOPE

I loved
The Iliad.
I can hardly wait until your next poem comes out.

HOMER

(Sharply)

And
when
did you hear
The Iliad?

PENELOPE

Oh, we’ve had several wandering minstrels during the last few years. They stay overnight, and sing to us, and it’s always something from
The Iliad.
They say it’s top of the request list, wherever they go.

HOMER

Were they from my School in Smyrna?

PENELOPE

Some were pupils of your pupils, I think.

HOMER

(Rising abruptly)

You see!—They’ll be changing my lines, adding verses of their own! A hundred years from now, and I won’t recognise some of my own poetry.

PENELOPE

A
hundred
years from
now
?

HOMER

What do you think I’m writing for? Only for the people who live today? Why, there’s no reason for a good story to die. It can be passed down from mouth to mouth, from heart to heart, for at least a hundred years. Perhaps ten hundred.

PENELOPE

A thousand years? Oh, Homer, don’t! The gods will hear you and be jealous.

HOMER

(Looking up humorously)

All right, gods. I take that back. No thousand years, but just whatever time it pleases you.

(To
PENELOPE
)

Is that better?

PENELOPE

(Shocked)

How can you talk that way? Aren’t you afraid?

HOMER

I don’t have to believe everything I sing about the gods, do I? If gods
are
godlike, then they are much too great to be flattered by the myths men create around them.

PENELOPE

(Teasingly)

I thought everything you composed was based on fact.

HOMER

I tell the truth about men and this man-world. But when it comes to gods—well, Penelope, you can be realistic about the earth, but all you can do is speculate about Heaven.

PENELOPE

What are you going to call your new poem?

HOMER

The Odyssey.
The adventures of Odysseus on his long voyage home. When I arrived here this morning, I hoped to find Odysseus and get certain facts from him. I’ve heard plenty of rumours, of course—

PENELOPE

(Grimly)

So have I.

HOMER

But I have reliable information that he has left Calypso and her island, and is homeward bound. He’s practically here, Penelope!

PENELOPE

If he doesn’t meet another Calypso.

HOMER

Penelope, that isn’t like you to be jealous—after all, Odysseus had—

PENELOPE

—trouble finding transportation. Yes, I’ve heard that one.

HOMER

Now, now, my dear—you’ve got to stop all this. You’ve got to start being Penelope again.

PENELOPE

(Pathetically)

But I
am
being Penelope.

HOMER

I remember Penelope as the patient, faithful wife, who waits for her husband to return from the war. She understands, and to understand is to forgive.

PENELOPE

Is it?

HOMER

(Ignoring that)

She is gentle, sweet, trusting, and kind. That’s the Penelope I know. She’s the sort of woman every man wants to come home to.

PENELOPE

And he’ll get so bored with her that he’ll run away again! Ulysses has had the taste of adventure, and of a woman like that—like that Calypso. Why, he spent
months
with her on that island!

HOMER

You are judging him before he can tell you what really happened. He may have been shipwrecked. He may have had to build another ship. He may have been ill. And it may have been the island’s fault. It is perhaps a magic island—an island filled with noises, sounds, and sweet airs that give delight—and hurt not.

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