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The Brand: Short Story Adaptation

This 1914 film was adapted into a short story for the Photoplay Magazine in September 1914. All of the character names and some of the plot details have been changed.

Photoplay Magazine, September 1914

The Brand

by Bruce Westfall
Illustrations from the Kalem Film, Featuring Alice Joyce

MADGE TURNER dragged herself wearily to the well. Daughter of the house, she was worse than a servant in fact. A servant might have sought to better herself; Madge was doomed to stay, despite the terrible drudgery, the utter lack of relief from the constant grind of work. Now she was carrying a pail, to fill it at the well. She had carried many pails of water that day; she had done other work; even heavier. And her mother seemed to be in a mood worse than even her usual bitter one. Nothing Madge did pleased her; there had been trouble all day.

Mrs. Turner dominated the household. Turner, now an unsuccessful farmer, was such largely because of his wife. When she had married him he had been prosperous, in a small and comfortable way, and had seemed likely to do better. But she had caused all sorts of trouble for him; had made it impossible for him to get along with those with whom he was associated, and had sapped his energies and ambitions. As a result she had had to work harder than seemed to her fair, and so to Madge, as soon as the girl was old enough, she had transferred as much work as possible. A slatternly woman, but still, in her way, good looking, Mrs. Turner had not even been faithful to her husband.

Old Turner, calm and philosophical, saw and regretted the way in which Madge was treated. But it was not easy for him to assert himself and make an active protest. He preferred to drift: to let things go, hoping always that something would turn up to make things easier and brighter. Between him and Madge there existed a strong, quiet affection. Neither of them was demonstrative, but they shared between them about all the affection and kindliness that lighted life in that wretched household.

Now, when Madge returned from the well, she heard her parents quarreling. As usual, it was a one sided quarrel. Her mother was pouring out a flood of shrill invective, her father, with bowed head, was listening, throwing in a word now and then by way of rejoinder. As she crossed the threshold of the kitchen she started at a particularly vicious word from her mother; her foot tripped over the door sill, and the bucket flew from her hands, the water pouring over the floor.

"Clumsy!" shrieked her mother. And followed that with a string of epithets that may not be set down. And then as the girl cowered toward her father, the enraged woman lifted her hand to strike.

"Now, Mother," said old Turner, "none of that--I won't have her struck--d'ye hear?"

It was one of those occasions, all too rare, when he asserted himself. Muttering, the woman withdrew.

"All right, clean up the mess between you," she said, sullenly. "It's a fit place for you!"

There was nothing unusual about such a scene, except that her father had saved Madge from a beating. He seldom did that: the mother usually chose a time to strike the girl when he was not about. But, except for that, the scene was typical enough. And so there were many to wonder, a few days later, if John Turner's fate was an accident, as it seemed. He was found in the woods, shot by his own gun, dying. And there were many to say that he had grown tired of the misery of his home life, and had ended it himself.

His widow, true to her kind, wept and wailed, extolling, now that he was dead, the husband she had never ceased to abuse in life. And she accused Madge, who was heartbroken at the loss of the only human being who had loved her, or inspired love in her, of being heartless--because, forsooth, the girl, after the instinct of animals, kept her grief to herself, giving way only when she was alone. That was heart to bear; what was to follow was far worse.

The Turners had a neighbor, Tom Banks. He was a rough, uncouth man, but shrewd and prosperous. Though Madge, in her innocence, had never suspected it, there had long been an intrigue, of a low and vulgar sort, between her mother and this man. And now that her husband was dead, Mrs. Turner expected Banks to marry her. Banks, however, had no such intention.

He had had a surfeit of such charms as the mother had; he turned his eyes now to Madge, who, despite her ragged clothes and the daily drudgery that took its toll of her, was beginning to show promise of real beauty. Madge hated him, instinctively, her mother's obvious inclination to him, which she took no pains to conceal, naturally enhanced that abhorrence. She repulsed his attentions, but Banks was not discouraged. Had it not been for her mother's anxiety to marry him herself, however, Madge would have fared badly against him, for it was only that desire that kept Mrs. Turner from trying to make a match between them.

While John Turner was alive Banks had never dared to visit the Turner house, for Turner had hated and despised him, and he had understood that he must keep away. Now, however, he was there all the time, and he acted like a master. The picture of Turner that hung in the parlor, a poor crayon, irritated him beyond measure. And at his request--or command, rather--Mrs. Turner turned its face to the wall. Madge, coming in, after she had committed that sacrilege, stared at the reversed picture, aghast.

""Mother!" she cried. "What have you done to Father's picture?"

"None of your business," shrilled her mother. And then, with a sudden fierce fit of anger, she went to the picture, took it down, and went with it into the kitchen. Madge followed her. And when she saw her mother about to thrust it into the fire, she screamed.

"Don't you dare! she cried. "Don't you dare!"

And, looking blindly around, her eye fell on a carving knife. She picked it up, and, transformed by rage at the insult to her father's memory, advanced menacingly toward her mother. Just then Banks came in. He started forward to take the knife from her, and Mrs. Turner, regaining her courage, thrust the picture into the fire. But his intervention was not needed. Before he reached her, Madge dropped the knife, horror struck at what she might have done, and sank, sobbing, into a chair. Her mother, coming to her, shook her viciously.

"You'd draw a knife on me, would you?" she screamed. "If we'd been alone you'd ha' killed me, I suppose? I'll send you away for that, you hussy!"

And she kept her threat. Banks had been terrified by the sight of Madge with the knife in her hands. He offered no opposition when her mother applied for her commitment to the reformatory as an incorrigible; indeed, he was a witness against her. Mrs. Turner struck while the iron was hot. She knew that his sentiments might change again; she felt that, with Madge out of the way, she could win him for herself. And so Madge was sent to the reformatory. And at once Banks took her mother to his house. They were not married; Banks merely laughed at that idea.

At first even the reformatory was a relief to Madge. She was the companion there of thieves; of women of the streets, of girls so low and so degraded that she had hardly an idea of their character, since no one had ever told her that there were such people in the world. Some of them were very young,; as young as Madge herself. And among these was one girl, known only as Queenie May, a waif of the city streets, a thief and a prostitute.

Madge's absolute innocence was an affront to Queenie May. With one or two boon companions she set about deliberately to debauch Madge, to teach her all she had never known of vice and wickedness. But Madge, saved by her innate purity, and the conscience that she had inherited from her father, was only disgusted. She resented the street girl's attempts to be friendly; under the goad of Queenie May's subsequent contempt she grew sullen. And as a result Queenie May and her friends seized very chance to torment her.

For nearly two years Madge suffered and worked in the reformatory. But her imprisonment did her some good. She took advantage of every chance that the terrible place offered her; she learned to read and write, and she read a great deal, being encouraged by the authorities, who saw that she was not an inmate of the usual type. She learned a trade, too, the millinery trade, and became decidedly expert.

[Omitted, photo of a raggedly dressed and cowering Joyce near older man with a pipe, raising his hand slightly, while faced by a woman with a raised fist. Caption: "Now, Mother, "Said Old Turner. "None of That. I Won't Have Her Struck"]

It was nearly at the end of her second year that Queenie May and her allies concocted a desperate plot. They planned to set the building on fire, and, in the confusion to escape. And it chanced that they were obliged to take Madge into their confidence, because her room was so placed that she was bound to see what they were doing when the put their plan into execution, and, unless she was with them they would be defeated. Madge, at first, was disposed to consent; did, in fact, promise to take part: But before the time for the actual deed came, she had realized the danger into which she would put scores of innocent people. And when Queenie May had brought her the oil soaked bundle of rags which she was to light and throw into a linen closed, she rebelled.

"I won't do it!" she cried. "It's wicked! I'd rather stay here all my life than do it!"

"All right, but don't you dare split on the rest of us!" said Queenie May. "If you do I'll get even with you, if it's twenty years from now!"

"Queenie, don't!" cried Madge. "Don't be so wicked! You may kill a lot of people!"

"Let them look out for themselves, then!" said Queenie, defiantly. "Here goes!"

And the next moment she had lighted her rags, and the fire had begun.

Instantly Madge ran to give the alarm. Queenie May tried to stop her; Madge thrust her off, and, heedless of the other girl's curses and threats of vengeance, ran wildly through the halls, crying "Fire!" as she ran. In a moment the corridors were full; Queenie May, seeing that the game was up, made her own escape, leaving those with whom she had hatched the plot to fare as they might. Madge did not seize the chance to get away, which she might easily have done; instead she stayed to the end, helped in the work of rescue, and, as a matter of fact, was the heroine of the fire.

[Omitted, photo of Joyce at a sewing machine in a large work room, with three girls coming up behind her, all in work house uniforms with large bonnets. Caption: Queenie May and Her Friends Seized Every Chance to Torment Her]

And she had her reward. For a week later the governor of the state himself, coming to inspect the reformatory, and to see the destruction of the fire, called her out, before all the inmates and officials, praised her for her courage, and gave her a full pardon.

She was free!

Then began the first really happy period of her life. The authorities of the reformatory found employment for her with a milliner, a kindly woman called Madame Courtet. In her establishment Madge did well from the first: she was busy, and gradually the sullen look faded from her eyes. Her skilled fingers were well suited to the work; she had good ideas, too. But she longed for work in which her brain might be employed. She attended night school, and began to make up for the long years in which she had no schooling. Soon she wanted more time for study; an advertisement, calling for a governess for a young child, appealed to her. Her ambition at this time was to become a school teacher: it seemed to her that this sort of work would offer her a chance to prepare for such a career.

She answered Mrs. Travis's advertisement and was almost instantly engaged when Fern, Mrs. Travis's little orphan granddaughter, the child for whom she was to care, took a violent fancy to her. Madge had been afraid that the fact that she had been in a reformatory would come out, but it did not, and she made the mistake of suppressing it. Perhaps it was not a mistake; most people would have considered it sufficient reason for not employing her to care for a child. Madge knew that she was fit to do so; she justified her secrecy to herself by that knowledge.

As Fern's companion and governess she might live at peace and in a happiness almost too perfect to be true, for years. But by this time Madge's long dormant beauty had been fully revealed. And when Sheldon Travis, her employer's son, and the brother of Fern's father, returned from the west, where he had been long engaged in mining work a new element came into Madge's life--love. In Travis's mind there was no doubt from the first. As soon as he saw Madge he knew that she was the girl he had longed all his life to meet. He didn't tell her at once; it seemed impossible to him that she could care for him. He would sit by the hour, listening while she read to Fern; Mrs. Travis, by no means blind to what was going on, smiled contentedly. She felt that she knew Madge; she was willing to give her son's life into this girl's keeping.

As for Madge herself, her heart was vaguely troubled from the first. There was something in Travis's manner, in his whole being, that appealed to deep lying instincts in her, she had never been touched by a man before; this one stirred her. She lay awake for hours, as realization of the truth came to her. But even then she dared not think he might love her. And so the problem of how she should meet him, should he declare himself, came to her with a startling and terrifying suddenness, when he finally asked her to be his wife.

All the memories of her time of trial in the reformatory, which she had fancied well pushed into the background of her life, came into her mind. Somehow, she had never dreamed of this. She loved him; there was never any doubt of that in her mind. But that he should love her--that was the incredible thing. And it weakened her so that she could neither accept him nor reject him; east of all could she throw herself on his generosity and tell him her story. She temporized with him, the result was inevitable. Encouraged by his mother, he pressed her so that she was forced to yield at last; she could not lie to him and say she did not love him. And so they were betrothed.

[Omitted: Photo of Joyce sitting in garden reading a book to a little girl, Tom Moore sitting and looking on. Caption: He Would Sit Listening by the Hour While She Read to Fern]

Madge herself insisted on a delay in the wedding. When he pressed her, she went to Mrs. Travis, and, in a moment, enlisted her in her support.

"I want to come to him with the things a bride should have--with some of them, at least," she said, simply. "And I need time to make some of the things myself, and to earn the money to pay for others."

Mrs. Travis admired in her that display of pride, trifling as it really was, and yet, to a woman, anything but trifling. And the two of them prevailed over Sheldon Travis's impatience. Madge, once the die was cast, gave herself up happily to the task of preparation. She wondered sometimes how she dared to be so happy.

And yet her first fears had been her truest guides. One day, as she was returning from a visit with Travis, he left her outside a drug store while he went inside to telephone. And as she waited, a woman passed, stopped, and, with a malicious smile, turned to greet her. It was Queenie May, and it was even plainer than in the days in the reformatory that she was utterly degraded. True, she was well and expensively dressed now, but her very clothes only amplified the story of her painted cheeks and her too brilliant eyes.

"Hello Madge! she said. "Gee! I've been hoping I'd run across you.'

"Go, please, I--"

"Oh, that was your gentleman friend I saw leave you just now, eh? Don't want him to see you with me, eh? Oh, all right! I'll fade along, but I'll keep my eye on you--believe me!"

And Queenie moved on, just before Travis came out.

Madge was sick with fear, and, as it proved, not without reason. For within a day Queenie had appeared at the Travis House; her appearance was the beginning of a series of blackmailing visits that, to Madge's desperate mind, seemed unlikely ever to end. The street girl showed no Mercy, nor any understanding of what the word might mean. She seemed to guess with a fiendish accuracy just how far she could go; she timed her demands, and measured them so well that it was always just possible for Madge to meet them. But the end came at last, as it was bound to do. The time came when Madge had no more money; when it was utterly impossible for her to find money that the blackmailer demanded of her. She told her so; Queenie did not believe her. And so the street girl kept her oft-repeated threat. Madge, with Fern in the child's room, was summoned one day to Mrs. Travis's room; as she entered she started back, in terror, at the sight of Queenie May.

"Madge, my dear," said Mrs. Travis, "this girl--this person, perhaps I should say--has told us a dreadful story about you. She says that you were a fellow inmate with her of the state reformatory; that you were sent there when she was confined there, at your own mother's request. Tell us that it is not true--that she has made a dreadful mistake!"

Madge looked at her lover first. He was staring at her, but his arms were outstretched toward her. She could see the fear in his eyes; the look that showed her that she must justify herself, must disprove the charge.

"It's true," she said, wearily, "But I--I never did anything wrong! My mother hated me--she wanted to get rid of me. That was why I was sent there. Oh--I know I've done wrong here! I should have told you--I should not have let you find out from some one else! I--I will go now--"

And unable to stay there, she turned and fled from them making for the shelter of her own room where, in desperate haste, she packed her belongings, preparing to leave the house wherein she had been so happy. But a knock at the door interrupted her. She opened it, and started back as she saw Travis.

"Madge!" he cried. "I don't care. I don't care what you did! It's what you are I love! She may have told the truth--but if you were ever in that place I know that you were innocent!"

"You believe in me--after this?" cried Madge. For a moment she swayed toward him, then she recoiled. "No," she said, wearily. "You must not. I have been wrong. I cannot let you help me. Your mother--"

"I am here to speak for myself, Madge," said Mrs. Travis, "that creature dropped a note as she was leaving. It was addressed to you. She must have managed to intercept it and steal it. Oh, my dear, we should have known--Sheldon and I--!"

[Omitted: Photo of Alice Joyce, seemingly dressed as a maid, standing and looking unhappy while Tom Moore leans towards her. Seated is a woman with a big grin and an older woman reaching out her arm toward her. Caption: "Tell Us That It is Not True--That She Has Made a Dreadful Mistake"]

Madge wondering, took the note as she read it, tears came into her eyes.

"It's from my mother!" she said. "Sheldon, read it--"

He took it from her; this is what he read:

My Only Child:

"I am dying. May God forgive me for sending you to the reformatory. You were a good daughter , innocent of any crime.

Your Unworthy Mother."

"It was addressed to the reformatory," said Mrs. Travis; "that wretched creature must have guessed that it might defeat her plans."

"Madge!" cried Sheldon.

And now she yielded to his embrace.

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