ADOPTION

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ADOPTION

(Scene: The library at the home of William Alexander Percy late in 1932; bookshelves in the background, two chairs facing each other in the foreground. Percy is seated on the left, Charlotte Gailor on the right.)

Percy: Charlotte, what have I gotten myself into? I was a carefree bachelor, coming and going as I please, and now I am a father with three sons aged ten, fourteen and sixteen. I am tied down as if I were married.

Gailor: You have been the soul of kindness. But it is more like an uncle and three nephews. I cannot help but be reminded of James Barrie and the Llewellyn Davies boys. There were five of them.

Percy: At least they cannot fly. They broke the chandelier. I was so angry.

Gailor: You do have a temper.

Percy: First their mother persuades me to let her and her three sons move in. Then she up and drowns, leaving me with the three boys. Phinizy still has nightmares. He screams. I come in and tell him stories from Greek mythology.

Gailor: Where are the boys now? I don’t hear them. You know when they are around.

Percy: They are off swimming with Shelby.

Gailor: Yes, the Foote boy. You introduced them to him. They needed a friend.

Percy: It has worked out perfectly.

Gailor: You have opened up a whole world to them – books, people. You have taught them. You have rescued them from Athens and introduced them to Athens.

Percy: From Georgia to Greece. From Sidney Lanier to Socrates. From Uncle Remus to Plato. Quite a rescue.

Gailor: They will always be grateful.

Percy: “Always” is a long time.

Gailor: Well, grateful for awhile.

Percy: For a long time I wondered what it would be like to be a husband and a father. I have found out what it is like to be a father. I suppose that my paternal instinct was there all along, waiting for the sons I never had. I have no regrets. But they are also my students. I am also a teacher. The tutorial instincts, as it were, waiting for the students. I wonder how they will turn out?

Gailor: One should always hope for the best.

Percy: I have put them in the midst of a three-ring circus – one ring for each boy. Am I the lion-tamer or the lion?

Gailor: You are giving them a unique education. At least one of them will become great. You can’t make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse, to reverse the adage.

Percy: At least I am not cramming their heads like John Stuart Mill. This is not a social experiment.

Gailor: You didn’t have them to begin with. Think of how it would have turned out if they had stayed in Athens and their mother had raised them. I am almost tempted to say that it was a blessing in disguise. Not that I wish death on anyone, you understand.

Percy: Perhaps it was fate – or a curse – or a blessing. I cannot say.

Gailor: You could write a platonic dialogue on education based on this experience.

Percy: What, a dialogue showing the need for every father to shoot himself and every mother to drown herself so their sons will have advantages while living with their strange cousin and his carnival?

Gailor: I didn’t mean it that way. Try not to be bitter. Life has its twists and turns.

Percy: I have done my duty. Marcus Aurelius would have been proud of me.

Gailor: Ivanhoe would have been proud.

Percy: Ivanhoe didn’t have three boys to raise.

Gailor: It’s been a busy hurricane season on the Gulf Coast – hurricane Phinizy, hurricane Leroy and hurricane Walker.

Percy: Worse than the Great Flood.

Gailor: Boys will be boys.

Percy: I could write a book. I have stopped writing poetry. I am thinking of writing an autobiography – part comedy, part tragedy, and not at all credible.

Gailor: I volunteer to type it up.

Percy: I accept. But I haven’t written it.

(He gets up and goes to the bookshelves. He picks out a book and returns to his seat.)

Percy: (Reading) “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune, for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.” Sir Francis Bacon.

Gailor: But you don’t have a wife.

Percy: No, but I have three hostages. So much for my “great enterprises” – such as my poetry. And my travels. (Percy puts the book in his lap.)

Gailor: Isn’t Greenville better than the world? (Declaims)

“So it’s home again, and home again, America for me! My heart is turning home again, And there I long to be, In the land of youth and freedom Beyond the ocean bars, Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars?”

Percy: Henry Van Dyke.

Gailor: Yes. Don’t you agree?

Percy: No. I’d rather be in Taormina.

Gailor: I don’t see what people see in Italy.

Percy: I could never explain it to you.

Gailor: You’ve been around the world. You’ve seen everything. Now it’s time to stay home and raise the kids. Your bachelor friends should adopt. It would do them good. Every boy needs a pal.

Percy: You sound like Charles Loring Brace with his orphan trains.

Gailor: It is unhealthy for boys not to have a father figure if not a father.

Percy: No father was ever like me. This is not home life in the ordinary sense. But I am a relative.

Gailor: The boys love you.

Percy: I won’t deny it. I am their father, mother, uncle, teacher, everything rolled into one. But I never intended this. I had other plans. Sir Francis Bacon says that all great things have been accomplished by bachelors.

Gailor: Nonsense. Shakespeare was married.

Percy: He was in London. His family was in Stratford. Bacon was unmarried.

Gailor: I won’t argue the point.

Percy: If I want a sermon, I can get one from Bishop Gailor. You are related to him, but you are not a bishop.

Gailor: I’m not preaching. Doesn’t every man yearn for the sound of a slammed door and the words “I’m home, dad!”?

Percy: In a word, no.

Gailor: I will never understand you.

Percy: Read my book while you are typing it. Maybe you’ll understand then.

Gailor: You are enigmatic. You are the sphinx of Greenville. (Voice from outside the room)

Walker: Uncle Will, we’re home!

Percy: I’m in the library!

(Percy and Gailor rise.)

Gailor: Speak of the devil.

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