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The Music Man: A Postscript

Ralph Shaffer: I have long been puzzled by the great age difference between Marian the librarian and her little brother Winthrop in The Music Man. He's less than 10 - hard to tell how old - and Marian must be about 30. Here's the explanation.

Author's note: I have long been puzzled by the great age difference between Marian the librarian and her little brother Winthrop in The Music Man. He's less than 10 - hard to tell how old - and Marian must be about 30. Here's the explanation.

The Music Man

[dc][/dc]River City's Madison Park was deserted on a cold spring weeknight. Neither Marian nor Harold should have been there either, but Marian insisted that they meet on the footbridge where it all began.

She arrived early, wanting to stand at exactly the same spot where their love for each other had first expressed itself. She also wanted to rehearse what she had to tell Harold. But he arrived early too, before she had a chance to sort out what all she must tell him.

Harold detected a coolness in their embrace.

"What's wrong, Madam Librarian? Book business bad today?"

"Harold, there's something I have to tell you. Don't interrupt. Let me tell it all the way through."

"Sure," he replied, somewhat indecisively.

"Harold, I know all about you. Well, not all, but enough. You've been a con man all your adult life. You cheated people and ran off to the next town and did it again. It finally caught up to you here in River City. And you made it right. I love you despite what you have been, because your glib tongue also had a lot of love in it. Look what you did for little Winthrop, and all the other kids in this town.

"Kids like Winthrop needed you, but Winthrop more than the others. You see..." Here her voice faded, and she paused before she could continue.

"Are you all right, Marian?" he asked.

"Yes.... No, I'm not, and whether I ever will be again depends on how you take what I'm about to say."

She paused again as Harold stood there, puzzled, not knowing what to expect.

"Harold, it's about Winthrop. He lost his father long ago. He never really had a father. All he's known, really, are me and my mother, his mother. Except, Harold, she's not his mother."

"Oh, I see," said Harold, now making sense of the puzzle. "She's really his step-mother."

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"No, Harold, she's not."

"Then Winthrop was adopted. They wanted a boy and unable to have one they adopted him."

"I wish that were the answer, Harold, but it's not."

"Well, then, I don't understand."

"Nor does anyone else in this town, fortunately.... Winthrop wasn't adopted. And his father was not my father. His father, Harold..." Marian could not continue. Tears welled in her eyes. When she tried to speak her voice was inaudible.

"Marian, sit here on the footbridge bench. It's all right. You don't have to tell me. Whatever it is, it makes no difference to me. I love you, whatever you want to say."

After a few moments Marian had composed herself but before she could resume talking some unexpected teenagers ran laughing across the bridge, breaking the solemnity of the conversation. When they were out of hearing range and all was quiet except for the rippling of the creek beneath them, she tried again to speak, and did, with difficulty.

"Harold... I'm Winthrop's mother."

There was a brief silence. She thought she saw Harold wince, but he said nothing, although he took her hand and pulled her closer to him as they sat together on the bench.

"You don't have to say anything more, Marian. It makes no difference to me. I love you for what you are, a caring, loving, young woman. And you accept me for what I am. There's nothing more to say."

"Yes, there is. You need to know the whole story now so that some day you won't be surprised by rumor mongers. Harold, Winthrop's father was Mr. Madison. The gossip of those old biddies is not just gossip, it's true. I had a relationship with Mr. Madison. The gossips only suspect that, they don't really know. And none of them thinks that Winthrop is my child.'

"I didn't look pregnant until very near the end. I took a vacation, went to live with an aunt in the country. Mr. Madison arranged for a doctor and paid all the costs. I came home almost immediately after Winthrop was born and my mother bragged about how she had kept her pregnancy a secret and announced that she had had a child, the boy they had long wanted. My father went along with the ruse. Then he died unexpectedly in an industrial accident. About that time Mr. Madison died as well. Winthrop had lost both of his fathers, men he never really knew. No one ever knew the truth, till now. You are the only one in River City besides mother who knows. So, if you want to leave me, I understand. I wouldn't want to beat your time this way."

"Marian, you know the song. 'There was love, all around, but I never heard it singing.... till there was you.' I'd be proud to be Winthrop's big brother-in-law. And I'll treat him like a brother, and Dad, should. Marian, 'it's you in the moonlight and you in my arms, it's you I'll awake to each dawn....' "

The two embraced, ignoring the giggling teenagers who came laughing, running by again. The footbridge shook, but whether it was from the heavy steps of the kids or from something more romantic, was unclear.

Ralph E. Shaffer