Pistols at Dawn


(The little wooden saloon stands on the rolling prairie under a wide, cloudless sky. On the other side of a broad dirt track, which winds its way across the prairie, are three or four low wooden farm houses. In the open land beyond the saloon is a single tree. One sun is rising, the other is high in the sky. The rickety back stair-case winds its way down the outside of the back wall of the saloon. The bedroom's French windows open onto a wooden railing, a sort of Juliet balcony, and the stair-case goes down. The room is sparsely-furnished— a double bed, a dresser with a mirror. The girl is sitting on the foot of the bed applying her make-up in the mirror. A flintlock lies on the dresser next to her. The boy is perched on the edge of the dresser, which is wobbling slightly under his weight. They're both about nineteen or twenty. The boy in canvas trousers and a loose cotton shirt, the girl in a blue cotton dress with a long, full skirt, short sleeves and a low neck, both barefoot.)

BOY: I… I…

GIRL: (Slicks lip-stick over her lips, quietly) How do I look?

BOY: Does it matter?

GIRL: (Sharply) Yes, it matters, on such an occasion, looking presentable matters.

BOY: (Bitterly) Dressed to kill.

GIRL: Good. (Studies herself in the glass)

BOY: I… what I guess I'm trying to say is… I wouldn't think… no-one would think… any less of you for refusing to go through with it.

GIRL: What do you mean?

BOY: It isn't… it isn't expected… I mean it is, but… (quietly) but I'm begging

GIRL: (Angrily) Begging what? That I cop out?

BOY: Yes…

GIRL: In your position I would be ashamed of myself.

BOY: (Broken) Ashamed of loving you?

GIRL: Ashamed to think so little of my honour…

BOY: It isn't that. God knows no one would call you a coward-

GIRL: And they're not about to start now. A man does not beg!

BOY: Well, what more can I do?

GIRL: Help me. Do something useful.

BOY: Help you to destroy yourself?

GIRL: You seem awfully sure that I'll lose.

BOY: I can't bare even the thought of you losing. I can't… I don't even want to imagine that. Please, please, for my sake, because I love you…

GIRL: If you love me, you would support my decision when I've made it.

BOY: I can't. It's mad and reckless and wrong.

GIRL: He killed my family. He's lucky he gets a duel and I didn't just shoot him in the back.

BOY: He killed your family. Now he's going to kill you.

GIRL: (Quietly, with dignity) So be it.

BOY: No, not so be it! If you die, I'll be alone, and you… you'll be… dead…

GIRL: Yes. I'm sorry to leave you. I love you.

BOY: But not enough to live for me! I love you. (Quieter) You love me. He killed your family and that's bad, but… but can't we leave all this? We could go away, he'd never find us…

GIRL: Run away? I'm not a coward.

BOY: No. But… but, sweetheart, what's the point?

GIRL: Revenge.

BOY: And it's worth it? To risk your life for revenge?

GIRL: If it were your family, what would you do?

BOY: (Thinks) Honestly, I don't know.

GIRL: Then you do understand.

BOY: But I do know that whatever I did, whatever anyone wants to do, the right thing to do is to leave. It won't help them, it won't bring them back…

GIRL: It'll help me.

BOY: What about me? I couldn't live without you…

GIRL: Don't be selfish.

BOY: I think that you're the one who's selfish.

GIRL: (Reacts as if he had slapped her) I'm not selfish.

BOY: You're mad. You're going to be killed. And what if you don't kill him? If you die without ever getting satisfaction?

GIRL: Being killed in a duel is it's own satisfaction.

BOY: (Desperate) Let me do it!

GIRL: (Surprised) You'd do that for me?

BOY: Of course. The lady's champion. It's quite usual, men always do it…

GIRL: Yes, if some man slanders their wife or their sister. This is different. This is between me and him. We go way back. Don't you see? Someone has to die today. Maybe, it doesn't really matter who.

BOY: But it was all so long ago…

GIRL: It doesn't matter how long ago it was. My father did Murry out of a cool four hundred. Murry killed him, my brothers and my grandfather.

BOY: They were both banditti and your father started it.

GIRL: I know! What he did was wrong. But it's my family. They're my family right or wrong. He started it, I'll finish it.

BOY: You were five years old.

GIRL: And so he spared me. Well, now I'm all grown up.

BOY: This isn't your fight.

GIRL: It's the fight I've been waiting for since I was five years old.

BOY: (Quietly) Have you nothing else to live for?

GIRL: (Quietly, firmly) No.

BOY: Not… me? Us?

GIRL: If this is when you dump me, go ahead.

BOY: (Hurt) It doesn't matter?

GIRL: Oh, it matters. I want you to help me, love me… But if you can't do that…

BOY: I do… I can't help it.

GIRL: Then wish me luck.

BOY: Good luck. (Kisses her.)

(The girl stands up, takes the gun from the dresser and puts it in her belt and walks through the French windows and down the stairs. A man in a Stetson is waiting under the tree. The boy stands at the railing and watches her walk away into the sun-light.)