The Courtship of Miles Standish,
This story occurs under the blue skies and bluer laws of Puritan New England, in the days when religion was still taken seriously by a great many people, and in the town of Plymouth where the Mayflower, having ploughed its platitudinous way from Holland, had landed its precious cargo of pious Right Thinkers, moral Gentlemen of God, andPriscilla.
Priscilla waswell, Priscilla had yellow hair. In a later generation, in a 1921 June, if she had toddled by at a country club dance you would have noticed first of all that glorious mass of bobbed corn-colored locks. You would, then, perhaps, have glanced idly at her face, and suddenly said Oh my gosh! The next moment you would have clutched the nearest stag and hissed, Quickyellow hairsilver dressoh Judas! You would then have been introduced, and after dancing nine feet you would have been cut in on by another panting stag. In those nine delirious feet you would have become completely dazed by one of the smoothest lines since the building of the Southern Pacific. You would then have borrowed somebodys flask, gone into the locker room and gotten an edgenot a bachelor-dinner edge but just enough to give you the proper amount of confidence. You would have returned to the ballroom, cut in on this twentieth century Priscilla, and taken her and your edge out to a convenient limousine, or the first tee.
It was of some such yellow-haired Priscilla that Homer dreamed when he smote his lyre and chanted, I sing of arms and the man; it was at the sight of such as she that rare Ben Jonsons Dr. Faustus tried, Was this the face that launched a thousand ships? In all ages has such beauty enchanted the minds of men, calling forth in one century the Fiesolian terza rima of Paradise Lost, in another the passionate arias of a dozen Beethoven symphonies. In 1620 the pagan daughter of Helen of Troy and Cleopatra of the Nile happened, by a characteristic jest of the great Ironist, to embark with her aunt on the Mayflower.
Like all girls of eighteen Priscilla had learned to kiss and be kissed on every possible occasion; in the exotic and not at all uncommon pleasure of petting she had acquired infinite wisdom and complete disillusionment. But in all her petting parties on the Mayflower and in Plymouth she had found no Puritan who held her interest beyond the first kiss, and she had lately reverted in sheer boredom to her boarding school habit of drinking gin in large quantitiesa habit which was not entirely approved of by her old-fashioned aunt, although Mrs. Brewster was glad to have her niece stay at home in the evenings instead, as she told Mrs. Bradford, of running around with those boys, and really, my dear, Priscilla says some the funniest things when she gets a littleerboiled, as she calls ityou must come over some evening, and bring the governor.
Mrs. Brewster, Priscillas aunt, is the ancestor of all New England aunts. She may be seen today walking down Tremont Street, Boston, in her Educator shoes on her way to S. S. Pierces which she pronounces to rhyme with hearse. The twentieth century Mrs. Brewster wears a highnecked black silk waist with a chatelaine watch pinned over her left breast and a spot of Gordons codfish (no bones) over her right. When a little girl she was taken to see Longfellow, Lowell, and Ralph Waldo Emerson; she speaks familiarly of the James boys, but this has no reference to the well-known Missouri outlaws. She was brought up on blueberry cake, Postum, and The Atlantic Monthly; she loves the Boston Transcript, God, and her relatives in Newton Centre. Her idea of a daring joke is the remark Susan Hale made to Edward Everett Hale about sending underwear to the heathen. She once asked Donald Ogden Stewart to dinner with her niece; she didnt think his story about the lady mind reader who read the mans mind and then slapped his face, was very funny; she never asked him again.
The action of this story all takes place in MRS. BREWSTERS Plymouth home on two successive June evenings. As the figurative curtain rises MRS. BREWSTER is sitting at a desk reading the latest instalment of Foxes Book of Martyrs.
The sound of a clanking sword is heard outside. MRS. BREWSTER looks up, smiles to herself, and goes on reading. A knocka timid knock.
MRS. BREWSTER: Come in.
(Enter CAPTAIN MILES STANDISH, whiskered and forty. In a later generation, with that imposing mustache and his hatred of Indians, Miles would undoubtedly have been a bank president. At present he seems somewhat ill at ease, and obviously relieved to find only PRISCILLAS aunt at home.)
MRS. BREWSTER: Good evening, Captain Standish.
MILES: Good evening, Mrs. Brewster. Itsits cool for June, isnt it?
MRS. BREWSTER: Yes. I suppose well pay for it with a hot July, though.
MILES (nervously): Yes, but itit is cool for June, isnt it?
MRS. BREWSTER: So you said, Captain.
MILES: Yes. So I said, didnt I?
MILES: Mistress Priscilla isnt home, then?
MRS. BREWSTER: Why, I dont think so, Captain. But I never can be sure where Priscilla is.
MILES (eagerly): Shes aa fine girl, isnt she? A fine girl.
MRS. BREWSTER: Why, yes. Of course, Priscilla has her faultsbut shed make some man a fine wifesome man who knew how to handle heran older man, with experience.
MILES: Do you really think so, Mrs. Brewster? (After a minute.) Do you think Priscilla is thinking about marrying anybody in particular?
MRS. BREWSTER: Well, I cant say, Captain. You knowshes a little wild. Her mother was wild, too, you knowthat is, before the Lord spoke to her. They say she used to be seen at the Mermaid Tavern in London with all those play-acting people. She always used to say that Priscilla would marry a military man.
MILES: A military man? Well, now tell me Mrs. Brewster, do you think that a sweet delicate creature like Priscilla
A VOICE (in the next room): Oh DAMN!
MRS. BREWSTER: That must be Priscilla now.
THE VOICE: Auntie!
MRS. BREWSTER: Yes, Priscilla dear.
THE VOICE: Where in hell did you put the vermouth?
MRS. BREWSTER: In the cupboard, dear. I do hope you arent going to geterboiled again tonight, Priscilla.
(Enter PRISCILLA, infinitely radiant, infinitely beautiful, with a bottle of vermouth in one hand and a jug of gin in the other.)
PRISCILLA: Auntie, that was a dirty trick to hide the vermouth. Hello Milesshoot many Indians today?
MILES: Whyererno, Mistress Priscilla.
PRISCILLA: Wish youd take me with you next time, Miles. Id love to shoot an Indian, wouldnt you, auntie?
MRS. BREWSTER: Priscilla! What an idea! And please dear, give Auntie Brewster the gin. Ierpromised to take some to the church social tonight and its almost all gone now.
MILES: I didnt see you at church last night, Mistress Priscilla.
PRISCILLA: Well Ill tell you, Miles. I started to go to churchreally felt awfully religious. But just as I was leaving I thought, Priscilla, how about a drinkjust one little drink? You know, Miles, church goes so much better when youre just a little boiledthe lights and everything just kind ofoh, its glorious. Well last night, after Id had a little liquor, the funniest thing happened. I fell awfully good, not like church at allso I just thought Id take a walk in the woods. And I came to a poola wonderful honest-to-God poolwith the moon shining right into the middle of it. So 1 just undressed and dove in and it was the most marvelous thing in the world. And then I danced on the bank in the grass and the moonlightoh, Lordy, Miles, you ought to have seen me.
MRS. BREWSTER: Priscilla!
PRISCILLA: Scuse me, Auntie Brewster. And then I just lay in the grass and sang and laughed.
MRS. BREWSTER: Dear, youll catch your death of cold one of these nights. I hope youll excuse me, Captain Standish; its time I was going to our social. Ill leave Priscilla to entertain you. Now be a good girl, Priscilla, and please dear dont drink straight vermouthremember what happened last time. Good night, Captaingood night, dear.
(Exit MRS. BREWSTER with gin.)
PRISCILLA: Oh damn! Whatll we do, MilesIm getting awfully sleepy.
MILES: Whywe mighterpet a bit.
PRISCILLA (yawning): No. Im too tiredbesides, I hate whiskers.
MILES: Yes, thats so, I remember.
(Ten minutes silence, with MILES looking sentimentally into the fireplace, PRISCILLA curled up in a chair on the other side.)
MILES: I wasyour aunt and Iwe were talking about you before you came in. It was a talk that meant a lot to me.
PRISCILLA: Miles, would you mind closing that window?
(MILES closes the window and returns to his chair by the fireplace.)
MILES: And your aunt told me that your mother said you would some day marry a military man.
PRISCILLA: Miles, would you mind passing me that pillow over there?
(MILES gets up, takes the pillow to PRISCILLA and again sits down.)
MILES: And I thought that if you wanted a military man whywell, Ive always thought a great deal of you, Mistress Priscillaand since my Rose died Ive been pretty lonely, and while Im nothing but a rough old soldier yetwell, what Im driving at isyou see, maybe you and I could sort ofwell, Im not much of a hand at fancy love speeches and all thatbut
(He is interrupted by a snore. He glances up and sees that PRISCILLA has fallen fast asleep. He sits looking hopelessly into the fireplace for a long time, then gets up, puts on his hat and tiptoes out of the door.)
PRISCILLA is sitting alone, lost in revery, before the fireplace. It is almost as if she had not moved since the evening before.
A knock, and the door opens to admit JOHN ALDEN, nonchalant, disillusioned, and twenty-one.
JOHN: Good evening. Hope I dont bother you.
PRISCILLA: The only people who bother me are women who tell me Im beautiful and men who dont.
JOHN: Not a very brilliant epigrambut stillyes, you are beautiful.
PRISCILLA: Of course, if its an effort for you to say
JOHN: Nothing is worthwhile without effort.
PRISCILLA: Sounds like Miles Standish; many things I do without effort are worthwhile; I am beautiful without the slightest effort.
JOHN: Yes, youre right. I could kiss you without any effortand that would be worthwhileperhaps.
PRISCILLA: Kissing me would prove nothing. I kiss as casually as I breathe.
JOHN: And if you didnt breatheor kissyou would die.
PRISCILLA: Any woman would.
JOHN: Then you are like other women. How unfortunate.
PRISCILLA: I am like no woman you ever knew.
JOHN: You arouse my curiosity.
PRISCILLA: Curiosity killed a cat.
JOHN: A cat may look at aQueen.
PRISCILLA: And a Queen keeps cats for her amusement. They purr so delightfully when she pets them.
JOHN: I never learned to purr; it must be amusingfor the Queen.
PRISCILLA: Let me teach you. Im starting a new class tonight.
JOHN: Im afraid I couldnt afford to pay the tuition.
PRISCILLA: For a few exceptionally meritorious pupils, various scholarships and fellowships have been provided.
JOHN: By whom? Old graduates?
PRISCILLA: Nothe institution has been endowed by God
JOHN: With exceptional beautyIm afraid Im going to kiss you. Now.
(Ten minutes pass.)
PRISCILLA: Stop smiling in that inane way.
JOHN: I just happened to think of something awfully funny. You know the reason why I came over here tonight? PRISCILLA: To see me. I wondered why you hadnt come months ago.
JOHN: No. Its really awfully funnybut I came here tonight because Miles Standish made me promise this morning to ask you to marry him. Miles is an awfully good egg, really Priscilla.
PRISCILLA: Speak for yourself, John.
JOHN: Againand again. Oh Lord, Im gone.
(An hour later JOHN leaves. As the door closes behind him PRISCILLA sinks back into her chair before the fireplace; an hour passes, and she does not move; her aunt returns from the Bradfords and after a few ineffectual attempts at conversation goes to bed alone; the candles gutter, flicker, and die out; the room is filled with moonlight, softly stealing through the silken skein of sacred silence. Once more the clock chimes forth the hourthe hour of fluted peace, of dead desire and epic love. Oh not for aye, Endymion, mayst thou unfold the purple panoply of priceless years. She sleepsPRISCILLA sleeps and down the palimpsest of age-old passion the lyres of night breathe forth their poignant praise. She sleepseternal Helenin the moonlight of a thousand years; immortal symbol of immortal aeons, flower of the gods transplanted on a foreign shore, infinitely rare, infinitely erotic.*)
* For the further adventures of Priscilla, see F. Scott Fitzgeralds stories in the Girl With the Yellow Hair series, notably This Side of Paradise, The Offshore Pirate, The Ice Palace,Head and Shoulders, Bernice Bobs Her Hair, Benediction and The Beautiful and Damned.
The Courtship of Miles Standish. From The Parody Outline of History (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1921) by Donald Ogden Stewart. Copyright (c) 1921 by George H. Doran. Reprinted by permission of the author and Doubleday & Company, Inc.
DONALD OGDEN STEWART, the playwright and parodist, wrote the parody of Fitzgerald printed in this book as a chapter of his Parody Outline of History in 1921.