Kingsbury's Luck by William Jackson
The play is set in old New England (Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire,
Connecticut, Massachusetts) in the 1800s and early 1900s
SCENE # 1 A Country Road
Coming fully into view now from stage left, Ben Kingsbury, wearing
overalls and wide- brimmed hat, is pulling an oxcart half full of hay
on a dusty dirt road. George Howell, wearing backwoods homespun
clothes and odd-shaped boots enters stage right, pulling a dray piled
high with game
The two meet each other at center stage.
GEORGE HOWELL: Where in tucket you been, Ben Kingsbury? Ain't seen
you since last year this time.
BEN KINGSBURY: Well you know, the usual; can't say I've made any
money yet this year, but I got a few new wrinkles on my forehead.
Where'd you get all that game?
GEORGE HOWELL: Oh, just lucky I guess. It was pretty funny. I was
huntin' on the riverbank, all of a sudden I heard a noise—a twig
snapping and leaf crackling on the other side. I look up across the
water and my eyes locked on the most magnificent eight point buck! It
was by reflex my old rifle went up and fired and what should happen
next but a great big sturgeon leaps up! (George points to it) This one
right there—It comes leaping up right in the path of that lead ball
I shot from my gun! The bullet pierced the fish and went straight on
toward the stag!
BEN KINGSBURY: No! What luck! Amazing! What happened then? Did you hit
GEORGE HOWELL: I dropped my gun and threw off my coat and hat. I
jumped into the river and swam to get the fish. I caught ahold of it
and towed it to the bank then went to see about the buck. The buck was
on his side and I had shot him in the heart, the funny thing was, that
bullet had gone through his heart and hit the tree behind him. And
golden honey was oozing from the trunk like a spring. I looked around
for something to plug the hole with, to save the honey from pouring on
the ground. I reached out to pick up a white stone and it squealed! It
turned out to be a rabbit. I was so shocked I threw that rabbit with a
jerk of my arm and it slammed against three partridges and a
woodcock—hit them so hard they ended up here on my dray too! What a
BEN KINGSBURY: Well I'll be! Some people, they have all the luck.
GEORGE HOWELL: It wasn't luck, Ben; it was practice payin' off. I
hunt every day, and give most of the game
away. But Ben, your hay looks kinda sickly. Seems your crops are
always a leettle bit shrivelled?
BEN KINGSBURY: Yah, I know. Other counties always get the frosting—
we get the frost.
GEORGE HOWELL: (laughing) Your farm has done poorly for years.
You're always in the doldrums. Why you still tryin' to
make a go of that place?
BEN KINGSBURY: I don't know, the seasons go round and I try to
follow them. My gramps settled that land, cleared
it, burning the trees to make potash.
GEORGE HOWELL: Maybe it's time for a change? Maybe you could make
your fortune some other way.
BEN KINGSBURY: Ya'know, my father made some money for a while. He
thought our neighbor, Azro Whipple,
had told him to "Sell deer and buy sheep," and so he did, and made
a big profit. Turned out Azro had said "Buy cheap and sell dear!"
So his success was all a lucky mistake. But it was a success.
GEORGE HOWELL: Life is strange. Well, goota go see a dog about a man.
See you later, George!
(The two men go their separate ways. When Ben is out of sight, the
actor playing George Howell changes into a dog costume. He mutters to
himself, and speaks to the audience:)
GEORGE HOWELL: Embarassing, but this has to be done. An eight-actor
play means some of the characters play more than one part. So I'm going
from Lucky Hunter to Lucky the Dog as fast as I can There.
(Now he is wearing a "yellowish" dog costume, with a curled up
tail. Lucky is a friendly dog, with a happy-go-lucky attitude )
SCENE # 2 An Aside On the Road Side
LUCKY: I'm Ben Kingsbury's dog, Lucky. I've got America's tale
to tell. Our story made of stories is about luck—whatever that is!
we pray for it, we die without it. We never understand it much. But
there it is-luck, good or bad. (scratches a flea) I'm no
pedigreed European dog, I'm a Native American dog. My Abenaki
masters gave me to Johnny Appleseed for the good he did as a
peacemaker. He gave me to the Kingsbury family. Now they're all
gone, except for one, Ben.
(Old photos of Ben's parents' faces briefly appear and fade on scrim)
LUCKY: My mission is to help my master, no matter what foolish mess he
gets himself stuck in. My mission is to help him keep his nose clean
and remember what it is to be a human being, and to be good hearted.
How do I know how to do that? I feel it. Here in my heart. Never
underestimate a dog's love. I may not have any thumbs but I can
still do plenty to help Ben out.
(Ben comes plodding along again onto the stage)
LUCKY: I've just been to market with Ben. He doesn't have much
luck growing things.
SCENE # 3 On the Road
BEN KINGSBURY: (muttering to himself) Sickly hay. No one to go home
to-why do things happen to me as they do? Just my luck.
LUCKY: On the way back home, his old oxcart groaning and whining, sad
Ben pulled out a bottle of rum and the slow cart on the smooth road
and the tiredness from waking up at 4 AM that hot summer day all wove
a spell that drooped Ben over. Drowsy, he stretched out in the oxcart
and dozed. Ben didn't know there was an old Indian curse on his
family, that every time a Kingsbury drank rum they'd spiral out of
control a little bit.
(Lucky imitates the stagger of a drunk)
LUCKY: The oxen turned off the road pretty soon to go eat some tall
green grass, and a local joker, Greg McGregor came along.
GREG MCGREGOR: Poor old Ben Kingsbury, all tuckered out, out in the
sun. Maybe I should move it to the shade!
LUCKY: (watching and scratching a flea) So he hauled the cart to the
shade, and I curled acted asleep, as he talked about Ben.
GREG MCGREGOR: He's such a sorry soul. Wonder why he has such bad
luck? Or is that's an excuse? Maybe he hasn't got the gumption.
You wouldn't catch our folks drinking rum on the road, passing out.
Our folks have pluck—never relied on just luck! (Ben snores
GREG MCGREGOR: Poor Ben; he's not much older than me, but he's
stuck in the mud. Too bad he doesn't have some elves to help him out
while he sleeps. (Slaps his own face.) Whoo! these mosquitoes are too
much. Get me out of here.
(He runs off the stage.)
LUCKY: And so McGregor left us there. I knew it was getting to be time
for a change for Ben. Everyone could see it but Ben. Pretty soon the
mosquitoes got to him too, as the sun was setting and the crickets
sang their timeless song.
BEN: (awakening in eerie twilight, confused, scared) Hunh? I was a
different me, in a different world—but I guess that was a dream.
This is a strange twilight place… How did I get under a tree? Am I
Ben Kingsbury or ain't I? (Tries to examine himself.) Hm. Well, if I
am Ben Kingsbury, I still haven't sold my hay. If I ain't, who am I?
(Ben stretches and yawns and walks along the dusty road in a kind of
daze. Looking for a clue… In a field he sees rich old McGregor's
Luck sowing grain in the dreamy twilight and he starts to get angry.
We see a shadowy image of a mysterious figure plowing and then sowing
grain on the scrim. Lucky just lays on the ground curled up, pretending to
BEN: Why is McGregor's Luck feeling his oats while mine just
snoozes, always barely scraping by? Such a loser! Look! McGregor's
Luck is still working hard—of course McGregor's rich! Look how
his Luck works—even at night! That's a real Luck. Me, I have
nothing. No one understands me, even my dog pays no attention to me. A
dumb dog sorta Luck I have. Maybe I ought to put the wood to him.
(He stares at his scrawny yellow dog Lucky, stretched out asleep on a
the ground, snoring.)
BEN: Hey! (Ben kicks his Luck's paws. His Luck flinches and squints
up at him.) Wake up, Lucky! Is it any wonder I'm so poor, with a Luck like
you never doin' a lick of work! Git up! McGregor's Luck is
workin' in the dusk—see for yourself! Come on! Let's go! I need
better luck! Shake a leg!
LUCKY: (stays curled up, but mutters back) Hey yourself! I'm your
Luck, but I'm the Luck of a peddler, not a farmer's Luck!
BEN KINGSBURY: What? Could that be it? I been beatin' my head
against the wall…
LUCKY: No you haven't been beatin' your head against a wall—you
went right through the gate of chance, because it happened to be open,
but you're in the wrong field!
BEN KINGSBURY: (stumbling along going home) Could it really be? Am I
meant to be a peddler? That'd change everything. Maybe I'll end
up richer than McGregor! I can change! Hm… Maybe then someone will
SCENE # 4 Ben and Azro Make a Deal at Ben's Place
LUCKY: (to audience) You may be wondering how a dog knows what's
best for a man. I have a "rule of paw." If it makes him happy, is
good for his health, helps other folks and is good for the earth-go
for it! Arf! Well, Ben made the deal to sell Azro Whipple the old
homestead. But Ben didn't get too much for the farm-Old Azro
Whipple's a well-known swindler.
AZRO WHIPPLE (a bearded man with large jawbone, he grins slyly,
chewing tobacco and spitting, with fast talking words and growls)
I'll tell you what! I swear by the red rose on my dead mother's
grave this is a good deal! You want to expand? Right. What's the
opposite of expand? Contract. So a large contract just holds you back.
Didn't your old man or old lady teach you? Don't be a whine-baby!
Now sign this here small little contract which will take advantage of
my good nature: "I hereby sell my land to Azro Whipple for the goods
I need to be a pack peddler." (Ben signs papers, gives them back)
Thank you, good sir, much oblige. You're all set now. Luck is the
greatest virtue. All the best!
LUCKY: So Ben sold his land to his neighbor, Azro Whipple. But let's
get on with it. Ben may not have made any money, but at least he
didn't have Azro for a neighbor any more, so it was a bargain.
BEN KINGSBURY: I could curse Azro Whipple for cheating me but I
won't. My life is changed! I'm released! I can be somebody! I'll sell calico
and gingham, hosiery and gloves! (Calling out the words.) Pins and needles,
ribbons and threads!
SCENE #5 Ben Travels as a Peddler, stopping at the Laughery Home.
LUCKY: And Ben set out on the open road, selling drygoods. (Ben,
wearing starched shirt, vest and suspenders, creased trousers,
travelling the countryside, up and down hills.)
Ever climb to a hilltop house, or see the village in the valley open
like a bright-steepled promise welcoming you as you walked down to the
crossroads? Ben walked many paths, highways and byways, feeling like a
new man, now.
BEN KINGSBURY: (rejuvenated) I feel joy in my veins! My father never
showed a single feeling—except anger! I refuse to be like him.
I'll shout my happiness if I feel like it! Helloo world! I love
you—now that I'm freed from drudgery! This is not chance, this is
sweet destiny! Ah! I feel like I've never felt before!
(He shouts out "Hellooo, helllooo, hellloooo world!!" and listens
to his voice echo.)
BEN: I'm finally alive! I love it! I've never been more than ten
miles from home before! Look at America, such a great country—I never
knew that life could be like this! I'm ready for anything now! I'm
going to be somebody. I can tell how perfect it will be a little bit
further up the road!
(Graphics: Evergreen tree horizon brightens in the dawn. Mountains
and fields landscape. Run-on buildings—farmhouse-barn, sheds in a
meadow like a leaf on a quilt. Spires. Zigzags of mountains and roofs.
Zigzagging wash-lines of drying clothes and silhouettes of families.
Ben is so thrilled he yells out his wonderment to hear it echo:)
BEN: Did you ever follow the road like a ribbon that threads its way
down into the valley to sell ribbons and threads?
In the sky above the clouds are orange, golden and red in layers that
run like ribbons, ribbons and threads, ribbons and threads!
The people are happy to see me when I come along,
the rivers and streams run along like ribbons and threads;
The children run and shout at the top of their lungs
"The peddler is here with brand-new ribbons and threads ribbons and
The finest tortoise-shell combs to smooth lovely hair!
Ladies, you will love these magical combs
and these ribbons and threads
clam-shell buttons to close and unclose your clothes
thimbles and calico, bonnets for your pretty heads
and ribbons, and threads…
LUCKY: See! The performer in him was just dying to be unleashed. The
sun smiles down on him!
BEN KINGSBURY: I feel this endless energy! I love to visit people!
They love to welcome me! I smile at them and they smile back at me!
(He does a dance step toward a mother and daughter, and dances with
them as he displays his wares.) I used to see land-soil, dark earth,
worms, weeds, crops. Now I see-markets! and I've got the
products! (He whistles and dances toward the farms.)
LUCKY: (proudly) I helped him get started-you have to start
somewhere-so I gave him the idea of selling little things-to be a
pack peddler selling pins and needles, thimbles and buttons and spools
of thread to housewives. First he travelled with a pack on his back,
then he got me to pull a wagon…
(Lucky pulls a small wagon of dry goods. Ben is surrounded by a
mother, Mrs. Laughery, and her daughter, Melody, who examine his
BEN KINGSBURY: Ladies, I'm Ben Kingsbury, and I'm here to display
the latest fineries! Ribbons, buttons, combs
and calico and threads!
MOTHER LAUGHERY: Ben Kingsbury? It's a small world. My husband knew
your father! You look a lot like your father! We bought apples from him, and wool.
You have such nice ribbons! So bright and shiny! Are you married, Mr. Kingsbury?
BEN KINGSBURY: No mam, I'm not.
MOTHER LAUGHERY: And, why not?
BEN KINGSBURY: (snapping his suspenders) Haven't had the good
fortune, or the right time hasn't come yet I guess. I never knew my
mother; my father passed away and I took over his farm, and then I
became a peddler. I'm eligible but…
MOTHER LAUGHERY: (as a strange figure in rags with a violin wanders in
from stage right.) Aw! Well, you want to choose well. That's
important! Look at poor old raggedy Jack the Fiddler there. His name
is John Frost, but everyone calls him Jack. He had such bad luck with
his marriage he never did get over it. Now he wanders the roads of New
England every night, sleeping by day in the woods. A harmless madman
dressed in his wedding clothes patched with colored rags.
BEN KINGSBURY: (looks askance at the fiddler's crumpled hat, and the
permanent blue shadow on his face. His face in silhouette is like a
half of a maple leaf; he fiddles his blue violin and jagged minor
chord heartbreak notes dart back and forth.)
Why, what happened to him?
MOTHER LAUGHERY: Stood up at the altar! His hopes and dreams dashed!
Shocked so bad, poor devil, he never recovered—that's why he wears
that ratty old tuxedo all patched! He was a promising student—Yale
Divinity School, gonna become a preacher and theologian. It was all
arranged, Graduation Day he'd be married to a girl named Aletha, a
girl he'd loved since childhood. Got his diploma, and went to church
at the appointed time. They all waited. The girl just plumb never
showed up! Left him standing in the twilight in that tux. Never got
BEN KINGSBURY: The poor devil. She just disappeared?
MOTHER LAUGHERY: In a manner of speaking—ran away with Jack's
best friend from high school, a horse trader.
From then on Jack's just wandered New England's roads- crazy as
a lonely loon but wouldn't hurt a flea. Sews odd scraps to patch
his clothes, begging for hand-outs, doin' odd jobs—but what could
you trust him with? In that odd state of mind. So don't marry the
wrong person, when you do finally get around to it!
BEN KINGSBURY: Thank you for your concern. That's quite a hard luck
story. You always wonder what happened when you see a man in such a
(Jack Frost in raggedy old tuxedo puts blue fiddle to his chin, plays
as he strolls away.)
MOTHER LAUGHERY: You can see he's just a half-wit now-in rags,
eating whatever-but he keeps his fiddle tuned!
BEN KINGSBURY: I guess he did have tough luck. I wonder, should I
marry first, or build a house and make my money first? No one
understands me. I don't know where to start. Why is it I don't
have a clue? Should I flip a coin?
LUCKY: (whispers in Ben's ear) No-listen to the nice lady.
MOTHER LAUGHERY: Don't worry I'll help. Only a mother understands.
Marry, have a nice house, have a happy life.
BEN KINGSBURY: Thanks for your advice, mam. Now may I interest you in
my wares? I have Damasks, hosiery
and gloves, silk bonnets with luxurious linings. Feel how smooth.
MOTHER LAUGHERY: Very nice. Very nice. My husband, bless his soul,
always had good ideas. He told me there's money to be made in mills.
They're such labor-saving devices: sawmills, starch mills, any kind.
Sell mills if you have the gumption. You can't let nature get the best of you
—got to trick it, succeed no matter what; make your fortune!
(Ben Kingsbury travels on, selling drygoods to other families. But he
thinks of mills. He goes to Nehemiah Hutchinson, the inventor of new
mills, gets a demonstration, then he starts selling mills.
Businessmen come and go, money and papers change hands.)
LUCKY: Ben travelled on, selling dry goods, but he kept thinking of
mills. He met Mr. Hutchison, inventor of new mills.
(Old photo of an inventor, photos of his mills.)
LUCKY: And he started selling mills.
(Fiddle music playing. Photos of handshakes, and mills, and money
BEN KINGSBURY: I'm a mill-man! I'm busier that a one-armed
wallpaper-hanger! Have I died and gone to heaven? I'm raking it in!
I'm wheelin' and dealin' mills! And I'm lovin' it!
(Photos of Ben making deals with well-dressed bearded men, growing
very rich. Coins in stacks, bills in rows, silver dollars.)
MOTHER LAUGHERY: Good job well done! I knew you could! Some folks feel
a peddler's a step up from a beggar, but you have pride in your
trade, your joy is a bright light.
BEN KINGSBURY: (enthralled by money) Liberty's beautiful face! The
faces of presidents, the capital building! Green! I'm busier than a
cranberry merchant at season's peak! I'm becoming somebody.
LUCKY: I love this job. Every time he makes a deal he feels a little
more real. Thanks to all these good people he became a great salesman,
with their faith in him he's becoming a real businessman.
(Fast fiddle music, and zigzag lines again. Mrs. Laughery and Iris see
Ben from afar. Ben spins, dizzied by success, as fiddler swirls and
plays faster. Melody is looking on.)
MOTHER LAUGHERY: That man has a bright future ahead of him—mark my
MELODY: Mother, he's nice, but why does he seem dizzy, like he
doesn't know himself?
MOTHER LAUGHERY: Such a cute curly-haired boy with those puppy dog
eyes—he never knew his Mother—can you imagine, never knew a
Mother's love, her lap or hug, a kiss on the cheek to say "It'll
be alright," or "I love you, son, good night, sleep tight."
Maybe that's why he's dizzy. He needs a wife.
LUCKY: (to Ben) Don't you want to see that pretty girl again? Maybe
you'll get lucky. Look at that mist flowing in layers veiling the
mountain—the sky and earth embracing. Are you feeling lonesome?
(Ben returns to Mother Laughery and her daughter Melody.)
BEN KINGSBURY: It's good to see you again, Mrs. Laughery. Thanks to
you, my business is growing faster than I
could imagine. If only I wasn't so lonely…
MOTHER LAUGHERY: Mr. Kingsbury, I may have advice for you there too.
Because my husband knew your father and you are almost like the son I
BEN KINGSBURY: What advice is that?
MOTHER LAUGHERY: You could ask my daughter for her hand. That would
make your life blessed and complete.
(Ben is speechless, with a big smile. He looks at Melody.)
BEN KINGSBURY: That would be nice.
MOTHER LAUGHERY: If you marry Melody you will have very good luck.
(Ben looks at Melody, who shyly looks at him.)
MOTHER LAUGHERY: She's a little odd; she had a fever, and was never
quite the same—so she's liable to mis-speak sometimes… Like,
today Melody said "God has amnesia" when she meant "God has
omniscience." But marry her—if she'll have you—and you'll
be happy and lucky all your life.
BEN KINGSBURY: Really?[end of extract]