A scene from the script (revised 2022). To listen to a podcast of the entire play (2018 version), click here (courtesy of Ashland New Plays Festival)

Top of page: Photo of Robert Day’s gallows speech, courtesy of Cowlitz County Historical Museum.

Below: Staged reading of an early one-act version of The Harder Courage in August 2013, with the actors who first brought these characters to life and helped me immeasurably through the process. In 2022, they played the roles at the premiere.  Left: Scott Clark as Ben Holmes. Right: Michael Cheney as Robert Day.

HC screen shot staged reading.png

Below, left to right: Clyde Berry as Robert Day, Thomas Nabhan as Ben Holmes. Theatre 33 developmental workshop, Aug. 2019. DSC05429.jpg

 THE HARDER COURAGE

ACT I

Scene 1

SETTING: October 10, 1891. Morning. In the forest, about a mile from the home of ROBERT DAY on the north fork of the Lewis River near Woodland, Wash.

AT RISE: Sheriff BEN HOLMES enters. He’s fifty-four years old, of Scottish-Canadian ancestry. An introspective, private man, he regards his position of sheriff as a chance to serve others, rather than seek glory. He’s well-regarded by the public, which elected him to four two-year terms. His reputation is that of a hard-working man, fair and kind, especially to children. He’s been tracking a suspected murderer, ROBERT DAY, who has been hiding in the woods all night.

Ben sees signs that  someone has run through here. Maybe this is it.  He hears sounds of movement, off.

BEN

(calling offstage) This is the law! Don’t try running home. Nobody’s there any more.

ROBERT

(off) Did you hurt my family, you son of —— 

BEN

They’re safe. Far from the lynch mob.

ROBERT

(off) Lynch mob?!

BEN

The loggers are back. With friends.

ROBERT

(off) Why do they want to lynch me?

BEN

Same reason as yesterday.

ROBERT

(off) That ain’t no reason! I was defending myself!

BEN

We’ll discuss it later. Come out. I won’t hurt you.

ROBERT

(off) My Momma didn’t raise no fool. Soon ’s I stand up you’ll shoot my head off.

BEN

Maybe that’s what they do where you’re from. We have different customs here.

ROBERT

(off) I ain’t coming out.

BEN

Take your pick. Lynch mob or the law.

ROBERT

Why should I choose you?

BEN

(tempting him) Well … It’d be a real shame to waste a hot meal by a nice, warm fire.

And a chance to see your wife and children.

(ROBERT DAY enters cautiously, hands up. He is a thin, restless man. Born in southwestern Virginia, ROBERT has lived in the hills about 15 miles upriver of Woodland about three years, but he’s still an outsider. He is an extravert, a storyteller, a bit of a smart-aleck, fiercely loyal to his family, and quick to defend them against injustice.)

ROBERT

My family? You telling the truth?

BEN

Always. Catch.

(Tosses a small bundle to Robert, who opens it and eats hungrily) 

Cold biscuit and bacon to take the edge off. There’s a pot of beans at the end of the ride. Your family’s waiting at my house with the fire and food.

ROBERT

How’re you getting us outta here?

BEN

I know every backroad. Come on. Horses are waiting.

ROBERT

Wait … where’s your gun?

BEN

I never carry one.

ROBERT

That don’t make sense. What if I’d’a shot you dead? 

BEN

I knew you wouldn’t. Your rifle’s in my office. It’s evidence.

ROBERT

(Defeated) You found it. (Ben nods) I don’t like no one touching my gun.  (No response from Ben) 

What kind ‘a lawman don’t carry a gun?

BEN

See my posse? Right over there.  (waves at them, off) They have plenty of guns.

It’ll be a long day. Let’s go.

(extends his hand)

By the way, I’m Sheriff Ben Holmes.

ROBERT

(after a moment, shakes hands)

Robert Day.

(END OF SCENE)

Scene 2

SETTING: June 1892.. Beside what we will ultimately realize is the unmarked grave of ROBERT DAY.

AT RISE: BEN stands by the grave. He seems older and world-weary. In this and all segments where he shares his thoughts, he speaks directly to the audience.

BEN

That was how I met Robert Day. October Tenth, Eighteen-Ninety-One. Eight months ago. I can’t swear it happened precisely like that. Memory’s a tricky thing. Some things we can’t remember right after they happen, and then a couple of days later we remember everything clear as a bell. Other memories we lock up tight and try our best to forget. 

Now that Robert Day was under arrest, my job was to probe his memory and figure out why he killed Thomas Clinton Beebe, a logger only twenty-four years old.

I knew that if the law determined this to be first-degree murder, and if Day were to be convicted, my job would be …

My duty would be to hang him.

(END OF SCENE)

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