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The Road to Damascus - A Trilogy
by August Strindberg
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LADY. Don't turn your back on the sunlight. Look at this lovely country; you'll feel calmer.

STRANGER. I can't bear that poorhouse. It seems to have been built there solely for me. And a demented woman always stands there beckoning.

LADY. Do you think they treat you badly here?

STRANGER. In a way, no. They feed me with tit-bits, as if I were to be fattened for the butcher. But I can't eat because they grudge it me, and I feel the cold rays of their hate. To me it seems there's an icy wind everywhere, although it's still and hot. And I can hear that accursed mill....

LADY. It's not grinding now.

STRANGER. Yes. Grinding... grinding.

LADY. Listen. There's no hate here. Pity, at most.

STRANGER. Another thing.... Why do people I meet cross themselves?

LADY. Only because they're used to praying in silence. (Pause.) You had an unwelcome letter this morning?

STRANGER. Yes. The kind that makes your hair rise from the scalp, so that you want to curse at fate. I'm owed money, but can't get paid. Now the law's being set in motion against me by... the guardians of my children, because I've not paid alimony. No one has ever been in such a dishonourable position. I'm blameless. I could pay my way; I want to, but am prevented! Not my fault; yet my shame! It's not in nature. The devil's got a hand in it.

LADY. Why?

STRANGER. Why? Why is one born into this world an ignoramus, knowing nothing of the laws, customs and usage one inadvertently breaks? And for which one's punished. Why does one grow into a youth full of high ambition only to be driven into vile actions one abhors? Why, why?

LADY (who has secretly been looking at the book: absent-mindedly). There must be a reason, even if we don't know it.

STRANGER. If it's to humble one, it's a poor method. It only makes me more arrogant. Eve!

LADY. Don't call me that.

STRANGER (starting). Why not?

LADY. I don't like it. You'd feel as I do, if I called you Caesar.

STRANGER. Have we got back to that?

LADY. To what?

STRANGER. Did you mention that name for any reason?

LADY. Caesar? No. But I'm beginning to find things out.

STRANGER. Very well! Then I may as well fall honourably by my own hand. I am Caesar, the school-boy, for whose escapade your husband, the werewolf, was punished. Fate delights in making links for eternity. A noble sport! (The LADY, uncertain what to do, does not reply.) Say something!

LADY. I can't.

STRANGER. Say that he became a werewolf because, as a child, he lost his belief in the justice of heaven, owing to the fact that, though innocent, he was punished for the misdeeds of another. But if you say so, I shall reply that I suffered ten times as much from my conscience, and that the spiritual crisis that followed left me so strengthened that I've never done such a thing again.

LADY. No. It's not that.

STRANGER. Then what is it? Do you respect me no longer?

LADY. It's not that either.

STRANGER. Then it's to make me feel my shame before you! And it would be the end of everything between us.

LADY. No!

STRANGER. Eve.

LADY. You rouse evil thoughts.

STRANGER. You've broken your vow: you've been reading my book!

LADY. I have.

STRANGER. Then you've done wrong.

LADY. My intention was good.

STRANGER. The results even of your good intentions are terrible! You've blown me into the air with my own petard. Why must all our misdeeds come home to roost—both boyish escapades and really evil action? It's fair enough to reap evil where one has sown it. But I've never seen a good action get its reward. Never! It's a disgrace to Him who records all sins, however black or venial. No man could do it: men would forgive. The gods... never!

LADY. Don't say that. Say rather you forgive.

STRANGER. I'm not small-minded. But what have I forgive you?

LADY. More than I can say.

STRANGER. Say it. Perhaps then we'll be quits.

LADY. He and I used to read the curse of Deutertonomy over you... for you'd ruined his life.

STRANGER. What curse is that?

LADY. From the fifth book of Moses. The priests chant it in chorus when the fasts begin.

STRANGER. I don't remember it. What does it matter—a curse more or less?

LADY. In my family those whom we curse, are struck.

STRANGER. I don't believe it. But I do believe that evil emanates from this house. May it recoil upon it! That is my prayer! Now, according to custom, it would be my duty to shoot myself; but I can't, so long as I have other duties. You see, I can't even die, and so I've lost my last treasure—what, with reason, I call my religion. I've heard that man can wrestle with God, and with success; but not even job could fight against Satan. (Pause.) Let's speak of you....

LADY. Not now. Later perhaps. Since I've got to know your terrible book—I've only glanced at it, only read a few lines here and there—I feel as if I'd eaten of the tree of knowledge. My eyes are opened and I know what's good and what's evil, as I've never known before. And now I see how evil you are, and why I am to be called Eve. She was a mother and brought sin into the world: it was another mother who brought expiation. The curse of mankind was called down on us by the first, a blessing by the second. In me you shall not destroy my whole sex. Perhaps I have a different mission in your life. We shall see!

STRANGER. So you've eaten of the tree of knowledge? Farewell.

LADY. You're going away?

STRANGER. I can't stay here.

LADY. Don't go.

STRANGER. I must. I must clear up everything. I'll take leave of the old people now. Then I'll come back. I shan't be long. (Exit.)

LADY (remains motionless, then goes to the door and looks out. She sinks to her knees). No! He won't come back!

Curtain.

SCENE IX

CONVENT

[The refectory of an ancient convent, resembling a simple whitewashed Romanesque church. There are damp patches on the walls, looking like strange figures. A long table with bowls; at the end a desk for the Lector. At the back a door leading to the chapel. There are lighted candles on the tables. On the wall, left, a painting representing the Archangel Michael killing the Fiend.]

[The STRANGER is sitting left, at a refectory table, dressed in the white clothing of a patient, with a bowl before him. At the table, right, are sitting: the brown-clad mourners of Scene I. The BEGGAR. A woman in mourning with two children. A woman who resembles the Lady, but who is not her and who is crocheting instead of eating. A Man very like the Doctor, another like the Madman. Others like the Father, Mother, Brother. Parents of the 'Prodigal Son,' etc. All are dressed in white, but over this are wearing costumes of coloured crepe. Their faces are waxen and corpse-like, their whole appearance queer, their gestures strange. On the rise of the curtain all are finishing a Paternoster, except the STRANGER.]

STRANGER (rising and going to the ABBESS, who is standing at a serving table). Mother. May I speak to you?

ABBESS (in a black-and-white Augustinian habit). Yes, my son. (They come forward.)

STRANGER. First, where am I?

ABBESS. In a convent called 'St. Saviour.' You were found on the hills above the ravine, with a cross you'd broken from a calvary and with which you were threatening someone in the clouds. Indeed, you thought you could see him. You were feverish and had lost your foothold. You were picked up, unhurt, beneath a cliff, but in delirium. You were brought to the hospital and put to bed. Since then you've spoken wildly, and complained of a pain in your hip, but no injury could be found.

STRANGER. What did I speak of?

ABBESS. You had the usual feverish dreams. You reproached yourself with all kinds of things, and thought you could see your victims, as you called them.

STRANGER. And then?

ABBESS. Your thoughts often turned to money matters. You wanted to pay for yourself in the hospital. I tried to calm you by telling you no payment would be asked: all was done out of charity....

STRANGER. I want no charity.

ABBESS. It's more blessed to give than to receive; yet a noble nature can accept and be thankful.

STRANGER. I want no charity.

ABBESS. Hm!

STRANGER. Tell me, why will none of those people sit at the same table with me? They're getting up... going....

ABBESS. They seem to fear you.

STRANGER. Why?

ABBESS. You look so....

STRANGER. I? But what of them? Are they real?

ABBESS. If you mean true, they've a terrible reality. It may be they look strange to you, because you're still feverish. Or there may be another reason.

STRANGER. I seem to know them, all of them! I see them as if in a mirror: they only make as if they were eating.... Is this some drama they're performing? Those look like my parents, rather like... (Pause.) Hitherto I've feared nothing, because life was useless to me.... Now I begin to be afraid.

ABBESS. If you don't believe them real, I'll ask the Confessor to introduce you. (She signs to the CONFESSOR who approaches.)

CONFESSOR (dressed in a black-and-white habit of Dominicans). Sister!

ABBESS. Tell the patient who are at that table.

CONFESSOR. That's soon done.

STRANGER. Permit a question first. Haven't we met already?

CONFESSOR. Yes. I sat by your bedside, when you were delirious. At your desire, I heard your confession.

STRANGER. What? My confession?

CONFESSOR. Yes. But I couldn't give you absolution; because it seemed that what you said was spoken in fever.

STRANGER. Why?

CONFESSOR. There was hardly a sin or vice you didn't take upon yourself—things so hateful you'd have had to undergo strict penitence before demanding absolution. Now you're yourself again I can ask whether there are grounds for your self-accusations.

(The ABBESS leaves them.)

STRANGER. Have you the right?

CONFESSOR. No. In truth, no right. (Pause.) But you want to know in whose company you are! The very best. There, for instance, is a madman, Caesar, who lost his wits through reading the works of a certain writer whose notoriety is greater than his fame. There's a beggar, who won't admit he's a beggar, because he's learnt Latin and is free. There, a doctor, called the werewolf, whose history's well known. There, two parents, who grieved themselves to death over a son who raised his hand against theirs. He must be responsible for refusing to follow his father's bier and desecrating his mother's grave. There's his unhappy sister, whom he drove out into the snow, as he himself recounts, with the best intentions. Over there's a woman who's been abandoned with her two children, and there's another doing crochet work.... All are old acquaintances. Go and greet them!

(The STRANGER has turned his back on the company: he now goes to the table, left, and sits down with his back to them. He raises his head, sees the picture of the Archangel Michael and lowers his eyes. The CONFESSOR stands behind the STRANGER. A Catholic Requiem can be heard from the chapel. The CONFESSOR speaks to the STRANGER in a low voice while the music goes on.)

Quantus tremor est futurus Quando judex est venturus Cuncta stricte discussurus, Tuba mirum spargens sonum Per sepulchra regionum Coget omnes ante thronum. Mors stupebit et natura, Cum resurget creatura Judicanti responsura Liber scriptus proferetur In quo totum continetur Unde mundus judicetur. Judex ergo cum sedebit Quidquid latet apparebit Nil inultum remanebit.

(He goes to the desk by the table, right, and opens his breviary. The music ceases.)

We will continue the reading.... 'But if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God all these curses shall overtake thee. Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field; cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed when thou goest out.'

OMNES (in a low voice). Cursed!

CONFESSOR. 'The Lord shall send upon thee vexation and rebuke in all that thou settest thy hand for to do, until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly, because of the wickedness of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken me.'

OMNES (loudly). Cursed!

CONFESSOR. 'The Lord shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies: thou shalt go out one way against them, and flee seven ways before them, and shalt be moved into all the kingdoms of the earth. And thy carcase shall be meat unto all fowls of the air, and unto the beasts of the earth, and no man shall fray them away. The Lord will smite thee with the botch of Egypt, the scab and the itch, with madness and blindness, that thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness. Thou shalt not prosper in thy ways, and thou shalt be only oppressed and spoiled evermore, and no man shall save thee. Thou shalt betroth a wife, and another man shall lie with her: thou shalt build an house, and thou shalt not dwell therein: thou shalt plant a vineyard, and shalt not gather the grapes thereof. Thy sons and thy daughters shall be given unto another people, and thine eyes fail with longing for them; and there shall be no might in thy hand. And thou shalt find no ease on earth, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest: the Lord shall give thee a trembling heart, and failing of eyes and sorrow of mind. And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day and night. In the morning thou shalt say, would God it were even! And at even thou shalt say, would God it were morning! And because thou servedst not the Lord thy God when thou livedst in security, thou shalt serve him in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness and in want; and He shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck, until He have destroyed thee!'

OMNES. Amen!

(The CONFESSOR has read the above loudly and rapidly, without turning to the STRANGER. All those present, except the LADY, who is working, have been listening and have joined in the curse, though they have feigned not to notice the STRANGER, who has remained with his back to them, sunk in himself. The STRANGER now rises as if to go. The CONFESSOR goes towards him.)

STRANGER. What was that?

CONFESSOR. The Book of Deuteronomy.

STRANGER. Of course. But I seem to remember blessings in it, too.

CONFESSOR. Yes, for those who keep His commandments.

STRANGER. Hm.... I can't deny that, for a moment, I felt shaken. Are they temptations to be resisted, or warnings to be obeyed? (Pause.) Anyhow I'm certain now that I have fever. I must go to a real doctor.

CONFESSOR. See he is the right one!

STRANGER. Of course!

CONFESSOR. Who can heal 'delightful scruples of conscience'!

ABBESS. Should you need charity again, you now know where to find it.

STRANGER. No. I do not.

ABBESS (in a low voice). Then I'll tell you. In a 'rose' room, near a certain running stream.

STRANGER. That's the truth! In a 'rose' room. Wait; how long have I been here?

ABBESS. Three months to-day.

STRANGER. Three months! Have I been sleeping? Or where have I been? (Looking out of the window.) It's autumn. The trees are bare; the clouds look cold. Now it's coming back to me! Can you hear a mill grinding? The sound of a horn? The rushing of a river? A wood whispering—and a woman weeping? You're right. Only there can charity be found. Farewell. (Exit.)

CONFESSOR (to the Abbess). The fool! The fool!

Curtain.

SCENE X

THE 'ROSE' ROOM

[The curtains have been taken down. The windows gape into the darkness outside. The furniture has been covered in brown loose-covers and pulled forward. The flowers have been taken away, and the large black stove lit. The MOTHER is standing ironing white curtains by the light of a single lamp. There is a knock at the door.]

MOTHER. Come in!

STRANGER (doing so). Where's my wife?

MOTHER. Where do you come from?

STRANGER. I think, from hell. But where's my wife?

MOTHER. Which of them do you mean?

STRANGER. The question's justified. Everything is, except to me.

MOTHER. There may be a reason: I'm glad you've seen it. Where have you been?

STRANGER. Whether in a poorhouse, a madhouse or a hospital, I don't know. I should like to think it all a feverish dream. I've been ill: I lost my memory and can't believe three months have passed. But where's my wife?

MOTHER. I ought to ask you that. When you deserted her, she went away—to look for you. Whether she's tired of looking, I can't say.

STRANGER. Something's amiss here. Where's the Old Man?

MOTHER. Where there's no more suffering.

STRANGER. You mean he's dead?

MOTHER. Yes. He's dead.

STRANGER. You say it as if you wanted to add him to my victims.

MOTHER. Perhaps I'm right to do so.

STRANGER. He didn't look sensitive: he was capable of steady hatred.

MOTHER. No. He hated only what was evil, in himself and others.

STRANGER. So I'm wrong there, too! (Pause.)

MOTHER. What do you want here?

STRANGER. Charity!

MOTHER. At last! How was it at the hospital! Sit down and tell me.

STRANGER (sitting). I don't want to think of it. I don't even know if it was a hospital.

MOTHER. Strange. Tell me what happened after you left here.

STRANGER. I fell in the mountains, hurt my hip and lost consciousness. If you'll speak kindly to me you shall know more.

MOTHER. I will.

STRANGER. When I woke I was in a red iron bedstead. Three men were pulling a cord that ran through two blocks. Every time they pulled I felt I grew two feet taller....

MOTHER. They were putting in your hip.

STRANGER. I hadn't thought of that. Then... I lay watching my past life unroll before me like a panorama, through childhood, youth.... And when the roll was finished it began again. All the time I heard a mill grinding.... I can hear it still. Yes, here too!

MOTHER. Those were not pleasant visions.

STRANGER. No. At last I came to the conclusion... that I was a thoroughgoing scamp.

MOTHER. Why call yourself that?

STRANGER. I know you'd like to hear me say I was a scoundrel. But that would seem to me like boasting. It would imply a certainty about myself to which I've not attained.

MOTHER. You're still in doubt?

STRANGER. Of a great deal. But I've begun to have an inkling.

MOTHER. That....?

STRANGER. That there are forces which, till now, I've not believed in.

MOTHER. You've come to see that neither you, nor any other man, directs your destiny?

STRANGER. I have.

MOTHER. Then you've already gone part of the way.

STRANGER. But I myself have changed. I'm ruined; for I've lost all aptitude for writing. And I can't sleep at night.

MOTHER. Indeed!

STRANGER. What are called nightmares stop me. Last and worst: I daren't die; for I'm no longer sure my miseries will end, with my end.

MOTHER. Oh!

STRANGER. Even worse: I've grown so to loathe myself that I'd escape from myself, if I knew how. If I were a Christian, I couldn't obey the first commandment, to love my neighbour as myself, for I should have to hate him as I hate myself. It's true that I'm a scamp. I've always suspected it; and because I never wanted life to fool me, I've observed 'others' carefully. When I saw they were no better than I, I resented their trying to browbeat me.

MOTHER. You've been wrong to think it a matter between you and others. You have to deal with Him.

STRANGER. With whom?

MOTHER. The Invisible One, who guides your destiny.

STRANGER. Would I could see Him.

MOTHER. It would be your death.

STRANGER. Oh no!

MOTHER. Where do you get this devilish spirit of rebellion? If you won't bow your neck like the rest, you must be broken like a reed.

STRANGER. I don't know where this fearful stubbornness comes from. It's true an unpaid bill can make me tremble; but if I were to climb Mount Sinai and face the Eternal One, I should not cover my face.

MOTHER. Jesus and Mary! Don't say such things. You'll make me think you're a child of the Devil.

STRANGER. Here that seems the general opinion. But I've heard that those who serve the Evil One get honours, goods and gold as their reward. Gold especially. Do you think me suspect?

MOTHER. You'll bring a curse on my house.

STRANGER. Then I'll leave it.

MOTHER. And go into the night. Where?

STRANGER. To seek the only one that I don't hate.

MOTHER. Are you sure she'll receive you?

STRANGER. Quite sure.

MOTHER. I'm not.

STRANGER. I am.

MOTHER. Then I must raise your doubts.

STRANGER. You can't.

MOTHER. Yes, I can.

STRANGER. It's a lie.

MOTHER. We're no longer speaking kindly. We must stop. Can you sleep in the attic?

STRANGER. I can't sleep anywhere.

MOTHER. Still, I'll say good-night to you, whether you think I mean it, or not.

STRANGER. You're sure there are no rats in the attic? I don't fear ghosts, but rats aren't pleasant.

MOTHER. I'm glad you don't fear ghosts, for no one's slept a whole night there... whatever the cause may be.

STRANGER (after a moment's hesitation). Never have I met a more wicked woman than you. The reason is: you have religion.

MOTHER. Good-night!

Curtain.

SCENE XI

IN THE KITCHEN

[It is dark, but the moon outside throws moving shadows of the window lattices on to the floor, as the storm clouds race by. In the corner, right, under the crucifix, where the OLD MAN used to sit, a hunting horn, a gun and a game bag hang on the wall. On the table a stuffed bird of prey. As the windows are open the curtains are flapping in the wind; and kitchen cloths, aprons and towels, that are hung on a line by the hearth, move in the wind, whose sighing can be heard. In the distance the noise of a waterfall. There is an occasional tapping on the wooden floor.]

STRANGER (entering, half-dressed, a lamp in his hand). Is anyone here? No. (He comes forward with a light, which makes the play of shadow less marked.) What's moving on the floor? Is anyone here? (He goes to the table, sees the stuffed bird and stands riveted to the spot.) God!

MOTHER (coming in with a lamp). Still up?

STRANGER. I couldn't sleep.

MOTHER (gently). Why not, my son?

STRANGER. I heard someone above me.

MOTHER. Impossible. There's nothing over the attic.

STRANGER. That's why I was uneasy! What's moving on the floor like snakes?

MOTHER. Moonbeams.

STRANGER. Yes. Moonbeams. That's a stuffed bird. And those are cloths. Everything's natural; that's what makes me uneasy. Who was knocking during the night? Was anyone locked out?

MOTHER. It was a horse in the stable.

STRANGER. Why should it make that noise?

MOTHER. Some animals have nightmares.

STRANGER. What are nightmares?

MOTHER. Who knows?

STRANGER. May I sit down?

MOTHER. Do. I want to speak seriously to you. I was malicious last night; you must forgive me. It's because of that I need religion; just as I need the penitential garment and the stone floor. To spare you, I'll tell you what nightmares are to me. My bad conscience! Whether I punish myself or another punishes me, I don't know. I don't permit myself to ask. (Pause.) Now tell me what you saw in your room.

STRANGER. I hardly know. Nothing. When I went in I felt as if someone were there. Then I went to bed. But someone started pacing up and down above me with a heavy tread. Do you believe in ghosts?

MOTHER. My religion won't allow me to. But I believe our sense of right and wrong will find a way to punish us.

STRANGER. Soon I felt cold air on my breast—it reached my heart and forced me to get up.

MOTHER. And then?

STRANGER. To stand and watch the whole panorama of my life unroll before me. I saw everything—that was the worst of it.

MOTHER. I know. I've been through it. There's no name for the malady, and only one cure.

STRANGER. What is it?

MOTHER. You know what children do when they've done wrong?

STRANGER. What?

MOTHER. First ask forgiveness!

STRANGER. And then?

MOTHER. Try to make amends.

STRANGER. Isn't it enough to suffer according to one's deserts?

MOTHER. No. That's revenge.

STRANGER. Then what must one do?

MOTHER. Can you mend a life you've destroyed? Undo a bad action?

STRANGER. Truly, no. But I was forced into it! Forced to take, for no one gave me the right. Accursed be He who forced me! (Putting his hand to his heart.) Ah! He's here, in this room. He's plucking out my heart!

MOTHER. Then bow your head.

STRANGER. I cannot.

MOTHER. Down on your knees.

STRANGER. I will not.

MOTHER. Christ have mercy! Lord have mercy on you! On your knees before Him who was crucified! Only He can wipe out what's been done.

STRANGER. Not before Him! If I were forced, I'll recant... afterwards.

MOTHER. On your knees, my son!

STRANGER. I cannot bow the knee. I cannot. Help me, God Eternal. (Pause.)

MOTHER (after a hasty prayer). Do you feel better?

STRANGER. Yes.... It was not death. It was annihilation!

MOTHER. The annihilation of the Divine. We call it spiritual death.

STRANGER. I see. (Without irony.) I begin to understand.

MOTHER. My son! You have left Jerusalem and are on the road to Damascus. Go back the same way you came. Erect a cross at every station, and stay at the seventh. For you, there are not fourteen, as for Him.

STRANGER. You speak in riddles.

MOTHER. Then go your way. Search out those to whom you have something to say. First, your wife.

STRANGER. Where is she?

MOTHER. You must find her. On your way don't forget to call on him you named the werewolf.

STRANGER. Never!

MOTHER. You'd have said that, as you came here. As you know, I expected your coming.

STRANGER. Why?

MOTHER. For no one reason.

STRANGER. Just as I saw this kitchen... in a trance....

MOTHER. That's why I now regret trying to separate you and Ingeborg. Go and search for her. If you find her, well and good. If not, perhaps that too has been ordained. (Pause.) Dawn's now at hand. Morning has come and the night has passed.

STRANGER. Such a night!

MOTHER. You'll remember it.

STRANGER. Not all of it... yet something.

MOTHER (looking out of the window, as if to herself). Lovely morning star—how far from heaven have you fallen!

STRANGER (after a pause). Have you noticed that, before the sun rises, a feeling of awe takes hold of mankind? Are we children of darkness, that we tremble before the light?

MOTHER. Will you never be tired of questioning?

STRANGER. Never. Because I yearn for light.

MOTHER. Go then, and search. And peace be with you!

SCENE XII

IN THE RAVINE

[The same landscape as before, but in autumn colouring. The trees have lost their leaves. Work is going on at the smithy and the mill. The SMITH stands, left, in the doorway; the MILLER'S wife, right. The LADY dressed in a jacket with a hat of patent leather; but she is in mourning. The STRANGER is in Bavarian alpine kit: short jacket of rough material, knickers, heavy boots and alpenstock, green hat with heath-cock feather. Over this he wears a brown cloak with a cape and hood.]

LADY (entering tired and dispirited). Did a man pass here in a long cloak, with a green hat? (The SMITH and the MILLER'S WIFE shake their heads.) Can I lodge here for the night? (The SMITH and the MILLER'S WIFE again shake their heads: to the SMITH.) May I stand in the doorway for a moment and warm myself? (The SMITH pushes her away.) God reward you according to your deserts!

(Exit. She reappears on the footbridge, and exit once more.)

STRANGER (entering). Has a lady in a coat and skirt crossed the brook? (The SMITH and MILLER'S WIFE shake their heads.) Will you give me some bread? I'll pay for it. (The MILLER'S WIFE refuses the money.) No charity!

ECHO (imitating his voice from afar). Charity.

(The SMITH and the MILLER'S WIFE laugh so loudly and so long that, at length, ECHO replies.)

STRANGER. Good! An eye for an eye—a tooth for a tooth. It helps to lighten my conscience! (He enters the ravine.)

SCENE XIII

ON THE ROAD

[The same landscape as before; but autumn. The BEGGAR is sitting outside a chapel with a lime twig and a bird cage, in which is a starling. The STRANGER enters wearing the same clothes as in the preceding scene.]

STRANGER. Beggar! Have you seen a lady in a coat and skirt pass this way?

BEGGAR. I've seen five hundred. But, seriously, I must ask you not to call me beggar now. I've found work!

STRANGER. Oh! So it's you!

BEGGAR. Ille ego qui quondam....

STRANGER. What kind of work have you?

BEGGAR. I've a starling, that whistles and sings.

STRANGER. You mean, he does the work?

BEGGAR. Yes. I'm my own master now.

STRANGER. Do you catch birds?

BEGGAR. No. The lime twig's merely for appearances.

STRANGER. So you still cling to such things?

BEGGAR. What else should I cling to? What's within us is nothing but pure... nonsense.

STRANGER. Is that the final conclusion of your whole philosophy of life?

BEGGAR. My complete metaphysic. The view mad be rather out of date, but...

STRANGER. Can you be serious for a moment? Tell me about your past.

BEGGAR. Why unravel that old skein? Twist it up rather. Twist it up. Do you think I'm always so merry? Only when I meet you: you're so damnably funny!

STRANGER. How can you laugh, with a wrecked life behind you?

BEGGAR. Now he's getting personal! (Pause.) If you can't laugh at adversity, not even that of others, you're begging of life itself. Listen! If you follow this wheel track you'll come, at last, to the ocean, and there the path will stop. If you sit down there and rest, you'll begin to take another view of things. Here there are so many accidents, religious themes, disagreeable memories that hinder thought as it flies to the 'rose' room. Only follow the track! If it's muddy here and there, spread your wings and flutter. And talking of fluttering: I once heard a bird that sang of Polycrates and his ring; how he'd become possessed of all the marvels of this world, but didn't know what to do with them. So he sent tidings east and west of the great Nothing he'd helped to fashion from the empty universe. I wouldn't assert you were the man, unless I believed it so firmly I could take my oath on it. Once I asked you whether you knew who I was, and you said it didn't interest you. In return I offered you my friendship, but you refused it rudely. However, I'm not sensitive or resentful, so I'll give you good advice on your way. Follow the track!

STRANGER (avoiding him). You don't deceive me.

BEGGAR. You believe nothing but evil. That's why you get nothing but evil. Try to believe what is good. Try!

STRANGER. I will. But if I'm deceived, I've the right to....

BEGGAR. You've no right to do that.

STRANGER (as if to himself ). Who is it reads my secret thoughts, turns my soul inside out, and pursues me? Why do you persecute me?

BEGGAR. Saul! Saul! Why persecutest thou Me?

(The STRANGER goes out with a gesture of horror. The chord of the funeral march is heard again. The LADY enters.)

LADY. Have you seen a man pass this way in a long cloak, with a green hat?

BEGGAR. There was a poor devil here, who hobbled off....

LADY. The man I'm searching for's not lame.

BEGGAR. Nor was he. It seems he'd hurt his hip; and that made him walk unsteadily. I mustn't be malicious. Look here in the mud.

LADY. Where?

BEGGAR (pointing). There! At that rut. In it you can see the impression of a boot, firmly planted....

LADY (looking at the impression). It's he! His heavy tread.... Can I catch him up?

BEGGAR. Follow the track!

LADY (taking his hand and kissing it). Thank you, my friend. (Exit.)

SCENE XIV

BY THE SEA

[The same landscape as before, but now winter. The sea is dark blue, and on the horizon great clouds take on the shapes of huge heads. In the distance three bare masts of a wrecked ship, that look like three white crosses. The table and seat are still under the tree, but the chairs have been removed. There is snow on the ground. From time to time a bell-buoy can be heard. The STRANGER comes in from the left, stops a moment and looks out to sea, then goes out, right, behind the cottage. The LADY enters, left, and appears to be following the STRANGER'S footsteps on the snow; she exits in front of the cottage, right. The STRANGER re-enters, right, notices the footprints of the LADY, pauses, and looks back, right. The LADY re-enters, throws herself into his arms, but recoils.]

LADY. You thrust me away.

STRANGER. No. It seems there's someone between us.

LADY. Indeed there is! (Pause.) What a meeting!

STRANGER. Yes. It's winter; as you see.

LADY. I can feel the cold coming from you.

STRANGER. I got frozen in the mountains.

LADY. Do you think the spring will ever come?

STRANGER. Not to us! We've been driven from the garden, and must wander over stones and thistles. And when our hands and feet are bruised, we feel we must rub salt in the wounds of the... other one. And then the mill starts grinding. It'll never stop; for there's always water.

LADY. No doubt what you say is true.

STRANGER. But I'll not yield to the inevitable. Rather than that we should lacerate each other I'll gash myself as a sacrifice to the gods. I'll take the blame upon me; declare it was I who taught you to break your chains. I who tempted you! Then you can lay all the blame on me: for what I did, and what happened after.

LADY. You couldn't bear it.

STRANGER. Yes, I could. There are moments when I feel as if I bore all the sin and sorrow, all the filth and shame of the whole world. There are moments when I believe we are condemned to sin and do bad actions as a punishment! (Pause.) Not long ago I lay sick of a fever, and amidst all that happened to me, I dreamed that I saw a crucifix without the Crucified. And when I asked the Dominican—for there was a Dominican among many others—what it could mean, he said: 'You will not allow Him to suffer for you. Suffer then yourself!' That's why mankind have grown so conscious of their own sufferings.

LADY. And why consciences grow so heavy, if there's no one to help to bear the burden.

STRANGER. Have you also come to think so?

LADY. Not yet. But I'm on the way.

STRANGER. Put your hand in mine. From here let us go on together.

LADY. Where?

STRANGER. Back! The same way we came. Are you weary?

LADY. Now no longer.

STRANGER. Several times I sank exhausted. But I met a strange beggar—perhaps you remember him: he was thought to be like me. And he begged me, as an experiment, to believe his good intentions. I did believe—as an experiment—and....

LADY. Well?

STRANGER. It went well with me. And since then I feel I've strength to go on my way....

LADY. Let's go together!

STRANGER (turning to the sea). Yes. It's growing dark and the clouds are gathering.

LADY. Don't look at the clouds.

STRANGER. And below there? What's that?

LADY. Only a wreck.

STRANGER (whispering). Three crosses! What new Golgotha awaits us?

LADY. They're white ones. That means good fortune.

STRANGER. Can good fortune ever come to us?

LADY. Yes. But not yet.

STRANGER. Let's go!

SCENE XV

ROOM IN AN HOTEL

[The room is as before. The LADY is sitting by the side of the STRANGER, crocheting.]

LADY. Do say something.

STRANGER. I've nothing but unpleasant things to say, since we came here.

LADY. Why were you so anxious to have this terrible room?

STRANGER. I don't know. It was the last one I wanted. I began to long for it, in order to suffer.

LADY. And are you suffering?

STRANGER. Yes. I can no longer listen to singing, or look at anything beautiful. During the day I hear the mill and see that great panorama now expanding to embrace the universe.... And, at night...

LADY. Why did you cry out in your sleep?

STRANGER. I was dreaming.

LADY. A real dream?

STRANGER. Terribly real. But you see what a curse is on me. I feel I must describe it, and to no one else but you. Yet I daren't tell you, for it would be rattling at the door of the locked chamber....

LADY. The past!

STRANGER. Yes.

LADY (simply). It's foolish to have any such secret place.

STRANGER. Yes. (Pause.)

LADY. And now tell me!

STRANGER. I'm afraid I must. I dreamed your first husband was married to my first wife.

LADY. Only you could have thought of such a thing!

STRANGER. I wish it were so. (Pause.) I saw how he ill-treated my children. (Getting up.) I put my hands to his throat.... I can't go on.... But I shall never rest till I know the truth. And to know it, I must go to him in his own house.

LADY. It's come to that?

STRANGER. It's been coming for some time. Nothing can now prevent it. I must see him.

LADY. But if he won't receive you?

STRANGER. I'll go as a patient, and tell him of my sickness....

LADY (frightened). Don't do that!

STRANGER. You think he might be tempted to shut me up as mad! I must risk it. I want to risk everything—life, freedom, welfare. I need an emotional shock, strong enough to bring myself into the light of day. I demand this torture, that my punishment may be in just proportion to my sin, so that I shall not be forced to drag myself along under the burden of my guilt. So down into the snake pit, as soon as may be!

LADY. Could I come with you?

STRANGER. There's no need. My sufferings will be enough for both.

LADY. Then I'll call you my deliverer. And the curse I once laid on you will turn into a blessing. Look! It's spring once more.

STRANGER. So I see. The Christmas rose there has begun to wither.

LADY. But don't you feel spring in the air?

STRANGER. The cold within isn't so great.

LADY. Perhaps the werewolf will heal you altogether.

STRANGER. We shall see. Perhaps he's not so dangerous, after all.

LADY. He's not so cruel as you.

STRANGER. But my dream....

LADY. Let's hope it was only a dream. Now my wool's finished; and with it, my useless work. It's grown soiled in the making.

STRANGER. It can be washed.

LADY. Or dyed.

STRANGER. Rose red.

LADY. Never!

STRANGER. It's like a roll of manuscript.

LADY. With our story on it.

STRANGER. In the filth of the roads, in tears and in blood.

LADY. But the story's nearly done. Go and write the last chapter.

STRANGER. Then we'll meet at the seventh station. Where we began!

SCENE XVI

THE DOCTOR'S HOUSE

[The scene is more or less as before. But half the wood-pile has been taken away. On a seat near the verandah surgical instruments, knives, saws, forceps, etc. The DOCTOR is engaged in cleaning these.]

SISTER (coming from the verandah). A patient to see you.

DOCTOR. Do you know who it is?

SISTER. I've not seen him. Here's his card.

DOCTOR (reading it). This outdoes everything!

SISTER. Is it he?

DOCTOR. Yes. Courage I respect; but this is cynicism. A kind of challenge. Still, let him come in.

SISTER. Are you serious?

DOCTOR. Perfectly. But, if you care to talk to him a little, in that straightforward way of yours....

SISTER. I'd like to.

DOCTOR. Very well. Do the heavy work, and leave the final polish to me.

SISTER. You can trust me. I'll tell him everything your kindness forbids you to say.

DOCTOR. Enough of my kindness! Make haste, or I'll get impatient. Shut the doors. (His SISTER goes out.) What are you doing at that dustbin, Caesar? (CAESAR comes in.) Listen, Caesar, if your enemy were to come and lay his head in your lap, what would you do?

CAESAR. Cut it off!

DOCTOR. That's not what I've taught you.

CAESAR. No; you said, heap coals of fire on it. But I think that's a shame.

DOCTOR. I think so, too; it's more cruel and more cunning. (Pause.) Isn't it better to take some revenge? It heartens the other person, lifts the burden off him.

CAESAR. As you know more about it than I, why ask?

DOCTOR. Quiet! I'm not speaking to you. (Pause.) Very well. First cut off his head, and then.... We'll see.

CAESAR. It all depends on how he behaves.

DOCTOR. Yes. On how he behaves. Quiet. Get along.

(The STRANGER comes from the verandah: he seems excited but his manner betrays a certain resignation. CAESAR has gone out.)

STRANGER. You're surprised to see me here?

DOCTOR (seriously). I've long given up being surprised. But I see I must begin again.

STRANGER. Will you permit me to speak to you?

DOCTOR. About anything decent people may discuss. Are you ill?

STRANGER (hesitating). Yes.

DOCTOR. Why did you come to me—of all people?

STRANGER. You must guess!

DOCTOR. I refuse to. (Pause.) What do you complain of?

STRANGER (with uncertainty). Sleeplessness.

DOCTOR. That's not a disease, but a symptom. Have you already seen a doctor?

STRANGER. I've been lying ill in an... institution. I was feverish. I've a strange malady.

DOCTOR. What was so strange about it?

STRANGER. May I ask this? Can one go about as usual; and yet be delirious?

DOCTOR. If you're mad; not otherwise. (The STRANGER lets up, but then sits down again.) What was the hospital called?

STRANGER. St. Saviour.

DOCTOR. That's not a hospital.

STRANGER. A convent, then.

DOCTOR. No. It's an asylum. (The STRANGER gets up, the DOCTOR does so, too, and calls.) Sister! Shut the front door. And the gate leading to the road. (To the STRANGER.) Won't you sit down? I have to keep the doors here locked. There are so many tramps.

STRANGER (calms himself). Be frank with me: do you think me... insane?

DOCTOR. No one ever gets a frank answer to that question, as you know. And no one who suffers in that way ever believes what he's told. So my opinion must be a matter of indifference to you. (Pause.) But if it's your soul, go to a spiritual healer.

STRANGER. Could you take his place for a moment?

DOCTOR. I haven't the vocation.

STRANGER. But...

DOCTOR (interrupting). Or the time. We're getting ready for a wedding here!

STRANGER. I dreamed it!

DOCTOR. It may ease your mind to know that I've consoled myself, as it's called. You may be pleased, it would be natural... but I see, on the contrary, it makes you suffer more. There must be a reason. Why, should you be upset at my marrying a widow?

STRANGER. With two children?

DOCTOR. Two children! Now we have it! A damnable supposition worthy of you. If there were a hell, you should be hell's overseer, for your skill in finding means of punishment exceeds my wildest inventions. Yet I'm called a werewolf!

STRANGER. It might happen that...

DOCTOR (cutting him short). For a long time, I hated you, because by an unforgiveable action you cheated me of my good name. But when I grew older and wiser I saw that, although the punishment wasn't earned, I deserved it for other things that had never been discovered. Besides, you were a boy with enough conscience to be able to punish yourself. So you need worry no more about the whole thing. Is that what you wanted to speak of?

STRANGER. Yes.

DOCTOR. Then you'll be content, if I let you go? (The STRANGER is about to ask a question.) Did you think I'd shut you up? Or cut you in pieces with those instruments? Kill you? 'Perhaps such poor devils ought to be put out of their misery!' (The STRANGER looks at his watch.) You can still catch the boat.

STRANGER. Will you give me your hand?

DOCTOR. Impossible. And what is the use of my forgiving you, if you lack the strength to forgive yourself? (Pause.) Some things can only be cured by making them undone. So this never can be.

STRANGER. St. Saviour...

DOCTOR. Helped you. You challenged destiny and were broken. There's no shame in losing such a fight. I did the same; but, as you see, I've got rid of my woodpile. I want no thunder in my home. And I shall play no more with the lightning.

STRANGER. One station more, and I shall reach my goal.

DOCTOR. You'll never reach your goal. Farewell!

STRANGER. Farewell!

SCENE XVII

A STREET CORNER

[The same as Scene I. The STRANGER is sitting on the seat beneath the tree, drawing in the sand.]

LADY (entering). What are you doing?

STRANGER. Writing in the sand... still.

LADY. Can you hear singing?

STRANGER (pointing to the church). Yes. But from there! I've been unjust to someone, unwittingly.

LADY. I think our wanderings must be over, now we've come back here.

STRANGER. Where we began... at the street corner, between the inn, the church and the post office. By the way... isn't there a registered letter for me there, that I never fetched?

LADY. Yes. Because there was nothing but unpleasantness in it.

STRANGER. Or legal matters. (Striking his forehead.) Then that's the explanation.

LADY. Fetch it then. In the belief that what it contains is good.

STRANGER (ironically). Good!

LADY. Believe it. Imagine it!

STRANGER (going to the post office). I'll make the attempt.

(The LADY waits on the pavement. The STRANGER comes back with a letter.)

LADY. Well?

STRANGER. I feel ashamed of myself. It's the money.

LADY. You see! All these sufferings, all these tears... in vain!

STRANGER. Not in vain! It looks like spite, what happens here, but it's not that. I wronged the Invisible when I mistook...

LADY. Enough! No accusations.

STRANGER. No. It was my own stupidity or wickedness. I didn't want to be made a fool of by life. That's why I was! It was the elves...

LADY. Who made the change in you. Come. Let's go.

STRANGER. And hide ourselves and our misery in the mountains.

LADY. Yes. The mountains will hide us! (Pause.) But first I must go and light a candle to my good Saint Elizabeth. Come. (The STRANGER shakes his head.) Come!

STRANGER. Very well. I'll go through that way. But I can't stay.

LADY. How can you tell? Come. In there you shall hear new songs.

(The STRANGER follows her to the door of the church.)

STRANGER. It may be!

LADY. Come!

THE END.



PART II



CHARACTERS

THE STRANGER THE LADY THE MOTHER THE FATHER THE CONFESSOR THE DOCTOR CAESAR

less important figures MAID PROFESSOR RAGGED PERSON ANOTHER RAGGED PERSON FIRST WOMAN SECOND WOMAN WAITRESS POLICEMAN

SCENES

ACT I Outside the House

ACT II SCENE I Laboratory SCENE II The 'Rose' Room

ACT III SCENE I The Banqueting Hall SCENE II A Prison Cell SCENE III The 'Rose' Room

ACT IV SCENE I The Banqueting Hall SCENE II In a Ravine SCENE III The 'Rose' Room



ACT I

OUTSIDE THE HOUSE

[On the right a terrace, on which the house stands. Below it a road runs towards the back, where there is a thick pine wood with heights beyond, whose outlines intersect. On the left there is a suggestion of a river bank, but the river itself cannot be seen. The house is white and has small, mullioned windows with iron bars. On the wall vines and climbing roses. In front of the house, on the terrace, a well; at the end of the terrace pumpkin plants, whose large yellow flowers hang dozen over the edge. Fruit trees are planted along the road, and a memorial cross can be seen erected at a spot where an accident occurred. Steps lead down from the terrace to the road, and there are flower-pots on the balustrade. In front of the steps there is a seat. The road reaches the foreground from the right, curving past the terrace, which projects like a promontory, and then loses itself in the background. Strong sunlight from the left. The MOTHER is sitting on the seat below the steps. The DOMINICAN is standing in front of her.]

DOMINICAN [Note: The same character as the CONFESSOR and BEGGAR.]. You called me to discuss a family matter of importance to you. Tell me what it is.

MOTHER. Father, life has treated me hardly. I don't know what I've done to be so frowned upon by Providence.

DOMINICAN. It's a mark of favour to be tried by the Eternal One, and triumph awaits the steadfast.

MOTHER. That's what I've often said to myself; but there are limits to the suffering one can bear....

DOMINICAN. There are no limits. Suff'ering's as boundless as grace.

MOTHER. First my husband leaves me for another woman.

DOMINICAN. Then let him go. He'll come crawling back again on his bare knees!

MOTHER. And as you know, Father, my only daughter was married to a doctor. But she left him and came home with a stranger, whom she presented to me as her new husband.

DOMINICAN. That's not easy to understand. Divorce isn't recognised by our religion.

MOTHER. No. But they'd crossed the frontier, to a land where there are other laws. He's an Old Catholic, and he found a priest to marry them.

DOMINICAN. That's no real marriage, and can't be dissolved because it never existed. But it can be nullified. Who is your present son-in-law?

MOTHER. Truly, I wish I knew! One thing I do know, and that's enough to fill my cup of sorrow. He's been divorced and his wife and children live in wretched circumstances.

DOMINICAN. A difficult case. But we'll find a way to put it right. What does he do?

MOTHER. He's a writer; said to be famous at home.

DOMINICAN. Godless, too, I suppose?

MOTHER. Yes. At least he used to be; but since his second marriage he's not known a happy hour. Fate, as he calls it, seized him with an iron hand and drove him here in the shape of a ragged beggar. Ill-fortune struck him blow after blow, so that I pitied him at the very moment he fled from here. Then he wandered in the woods and, later, lay out in the fields where he fell, till he was found by merciful folk and taken to a convent. There he lay ill for three months, without our knowing where he was.

DOMINICAN. Wait! Last year a man was brought to the Convent of St. Saviour, where I'm Confessor, under the circumstances you describe. Whilst he was feverish he opened his heart to me, and there was scarcely a sin of which he didn't confess his guilt. But when he came to himself again, he said he remembered nothing. So to prove him in heart and reins I used the secret apostolic powers that are given us; and, as a trial, employed the lesser curse. For when a crime's been done in secret, the curse of Deuteronomy is read over the suspected man. If he's innocent, he goes his way unscathed. But if he's struck by it, then, as Paul relates, 'he is delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved.'

MOTHER. O God! It must be he!

DOMINICAN. Yes, it is he. Your son-in-law! The ways of Providence are inscrutable. Was he heavily struck by the curse?

MOTHER. Yes. That night he slept here, and was torn from his sleep by an unexplained power that, as he told me, turned his heart to ice....

DOMINICAN. Did he have fearful visions?

MOTHER. Yes.

DOMINICAN. And was he harried by those terrible thoughts, of which Job says, 'When I say, my bed shall comfort me, then Thou scarest me with dreams and terrifiest me with visions; so that my soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than life.' That's as it should be. Did it open his eyes?

MOTHER. Yes. But only so that his sight was blinded. For his sufferings grew so great that he could no longer find a natural explanation for them, and as no doctor could cure him, he began to see that he was fighting higher conscious powers.

DOMINICAN. Powers that meant him ill, and were therefore themselves evil. That's the usual course of things. And then?

MOTHER. He came upon books that taught him that such evil powers could be fought.

DOMINICAN. Oh! So he looked for what's hidden, and should remain so! Did he succeed in exorcising the spirits that chastised him?

MOTHER. He says he did. And it seems now that he can sleep again.

DOMINICAN. Yes, and he believes what he says. Yet, since he hasn't truly accepted the love of truth, God will trouble him with great delusion, so that he'll believe what is false.

MOTHER. The fault's his own. But he's changed my daughter: in other days she was neither hot nor cold; but now she's on the way to becoming evil.

DOMINICAN. How do the two of them get on?

MOTHER. Half the time, happily; the other half they plague one another like devils.

DOMINICAN. That's the way they must go. Plague one another till they come to the Cross.

MOTHER. If they don't part again.

DOMINICAN. What? Have they done so?

MOTHER. They've left one another four times, but have always come back. It seems as if they're chained together. It would be a good thing if they were, for a child's on the way.

DOMINICAN. Let the child come. Children bring gifts that are refreshing to tired souls.

MOTHER. I hope it may be so. But it looks as if this one will be an apple of discord. They're already quarrelling over its name; they're quarrelling over its baptism; and the mother's already jealous of her husband's children by his first wife. He can't promise to love this child as much as the others, and the mother absolutely insists that he shall! So there's no end to their miseries.

DOMINICAN. Oh yes, there is. Wait! He's had dealings with higher powers, so that we've gained a hold on him; and our prayers will be more, powerful than his resistance. Their effect is as extraordinary as it is mysterious. (The STRANGER appears on the terrace. He is in hunting costume and wears a tropical helmet. In his hand he has an alpenstock.) Is that him, up there?

MOTHER. Yes. That's my present son-in-law.

DOMINICAN. Singularly like the first! But watch how he's behaving. He hasn't seen me yet, but he feels I'm here. (He makes the sign of the cross in the air.) Look how troubled he grows.... Now he stiffens like an icicle. See! In a moment he'll cry out.

STRANGER (who has suddenly stopped, grown rigid, and clutched his heart). Who's down there?

MOTHER. I am.

STRANGER. You're not alone.

MOTHER. No. I've someone with me.

DOMINICAN (making the sign of the cross). Now he'll say nothing; but fall like a felled tree. (The STRANGER crumples up and falls to the ground.) Now I shall go. It would be too much for him if he were to see me, But I'll come back soon. You'll see, he's in good hands! Farewell and peace be with you. (He goes out.)

STRANGER (raising himself and coming down the steps). Who was that?

MOTHER. A traveller. Sit down; you look so pale.

STRANGER. It was a fainting fit.

MOTHER. You've always new names for it; but they mean nothing fresh. Sit down here, on the seat.

STRANGER. No; I don't like sitting there. People are always passing.

MOTHER. Yet I've been sitting here since I was a child, watching life glide past as the river does below. Here, on the road, I've watched the children of men go by, playing, haggling, begging, cursing and dancing. I love this seat and I love the river below, though it does much damage every year and washes away the property we inherited. Last spring it carried our whole hay crop off, so that we had to sell our beasts. The property's lost half its value in the last few years, and when the lake in the mountains has reached its new level and the swamp's been drained into the river, the water will rise till it washes the house away. We've been at law about it for ten years, and we've lost every appeal; so we shall be destroyed. It's as inevitable as fate.

STRANGER. Fate's not inevitable.

MOTHER. Beware, if you think to fight it.

STRANGER. I've done so already.

MOTHER. There you go again! You learn nothing from the chastisement of Providence.

STRANGER. Oh yes. I've learned to hate. Can one love what does evil?

MOTHER. I've little learning, as you know; but I read yesterday in an encyclopaedia that the Eumenides are not evilly disposed.

STRANGER. That's true; but it's a lie they're friendly. I only know one friendly fury. My own!

MOTHER. Can you call Ingeborg a fury?

STRANGER. Yes. She is one; and as a fury, she's remarkable. Her talent for making me suffer excels my most infernal inventions; and if I escape from her hands with my life, I'll come out of the fire as pure as gold.

MOTHER. You've got what you deserve. You wanted to mould her as you wished, and you've succeeded.

STRANGER. Completely. But where is this fury?

MOTHER. She went down the road a few minutes ago.

STRANGER. Down there? Then I'll go to meet my own destruction. (He goes towards the back.)

MOTHER. So you can still joke about it? Wait! (The MOTHER is left alone for a moment, until the STRANGER has disappeared. The LADY then enters from the right. She is wearing a summer frock, and is carrying a post bag and some opened letters in her hand.)

LADY. Are you alone, Mother?

MOTHER. I've just been left alone.

LADY. Here's the post. This is for job.

MOTHER. What? Do you open his letters?

LADY. All of them, because I want to know who it is I've linked my life to. And I want to suppress everything that might minister to his pride. In a word, I isolate him, so that he has to keep his own electricity and run the danger of being broken to pieces.

MOTHER. How learned you've grown?

LADY. Yes. If he's unwise enough to confide almost everything to me, I'll soon hold his fate in my hand. Now, if you please, he's making electrical experiments and claims he'll be able to harness the lightning, so that it'll give him light, warmth and power. Well, let him do as he likes! From a letter that came to-day I see he's even corresponding with alchemists.

MOTHER. Does he want to make gold? Is the man sane?

LADY. That's the important question. Whether he's a charlatan doesn't matter so much.

MOTHER. Do you suspect it?

LADY. I'd believe any evil of him, and any good, on the same day.

MOTHER. Is there any other news?

LADY. The plans my divorced husband made for a new marriage have gone wrong; he's grown melancholic, abandoned his practice and is tramping the roads.

MOTHER. Oh! He was always my son-in-law. He had a kind heart under his rough manner.

LADY. Yes. I only called him a werewolf in his role as my husband and master. As long as I knew he was at peace, and on the way to find consolation, I was content. But now he'll torment me like a bad conscience.

MOTHER. Have you a conscience?

LADY. I never used to have one. But my eyes have been opened since I read my husband's works, and I know the difference between good and evil.

MOTHER. But he forbade you to read them, and never foresaw you wouldn't obey him.

LADY. Who can foresee all the results of any action?

MOTHER. Have you more bad news in your pocket, Pandora?

LADY. The worst of all! Think of it, Mother, his divorced wife's going to marry again.

MOTHER. That ought to be reassuring, to you and to him.

LADY. Didn't you know it was his worst nightmare? That his wife would marry again and his children have a stepfather?

MOTHER. If he can bear that alone, I shall think him a strange man.

LADY. You believe he's too sensitive? But didn't he say himself that an educated man of the world at the end of the nineteenth century never lets himself be put out of countenance!

MOTHER. It's easy to say so; but when things really happen....

LADY. Yet there was a gift at the bottom of Pandora's box that was no misfortune. Look, Mother! A portrait of his six-year-old son.

MOTHER (looking at the picture). A lovely child.

LADY. It does one good to see such a charming and expressive picture. Tell me, do you think my child will be as beautiful? Well, what do you say? Answer, or I'll be unhappy! I love this boy already, but I feel I'd hate him if my child's not as lovely as he. Yes, I'm jealous already.

MOTHER. When you came here after your unlucky honeymoon, I'd hoped you'd have got over the worst. But now I see it was only a foretaste of what was to come.

LADY. I'm ready for anything; and I don't think this knot can ever be undone. It must be cut!

MOTHER. But you're only making more difficulties for yourself by suppressing his letters.

LADY. In days gone by, when I went through life like a sleep-walker, everything seemed easy to me, but I begin to be uncertain now he's started to waken thoughts in me. (She puts the letters into the post-bag.) Here he is. 'Sh!

MOTHER. One thing more. Why do you let him wear that suit of your first husband's?

LADY. I like torturing and humiliating him. I've persuaded him it fits him and belonged to my father. Now, when I see him in the werewolf's things, I feel I've got both of them in my clutches.

MOTHER. Heaven defend us! How spiteful you've grown!

LADY. Perhaps that was my role, if I have one in this man's life!

MOTHER. I sometimes wish the river would rise and carry us all away whilst we're asleep at night. If it were to flow here for a thousand years perhaps it would wash out the sin on which this house is built.

LADY. Then it's true that my grandfather, the notary, illegally seized property not his own? It's said this place was built with the heritage of widows and orphans, the funds of ruined men, the property of dead ones and the bribes of litigants.

MOTHER. Don't speak of it any more. The tears of those still living have run together and formed a lake. And it's that lake, people say, that's being drained now, and that'll cause the river to wash us away.

LADY. Can't it be stopped by taking legal action? Is there no justice on earth?

MOTHER. Not on earth. But there is in heaven. And heaven will drown us, for we're the children of evildoers. (She goes up the steps.)

LADY. Isn't it enough to put up with one's own tears? Must one inherit other people's?

(The STRANGER comes back.)

STRANGER. Did you call me?

LADY. No. I only tried to draw you to me, without really wanting you.

STRANGER. I felt you meddling with my destiny in a way that made me uneasy. Soon you'll have learnt all I know.

LADY. And more.

STRANGER. But I must ask you not to lay rough hands on my fate. I am Cain, you see, and am under the ban of mysterious powers, who permit no mortals to interfere with their work of vengeance. You see this mark on my brow? (He removes his hat.) It means: Revenge is mine, saith the Lord.

LADY. Does your hat press....

STRANGER. No. It chafes me. And so does the coat. If it weren't that I wanted to please you, I'd have thrown them all into the river. When I walk here in the neighbourhood, do you know that people call me the doctor? They must take me for your husband, the werewolf. And I'm unlucky. If I ask who planted some tree: they say, the doctor. If I ask to whom the green fish basket belongs: they say, the doctor. And if it isn't his then it belongs to the doctor's wife. That is, to you! This confusion between him and me makes my visit unbearable. I'd like to go away....

LADY. Haven't you tried in vain to leave this place six times?

STRANGER. Yes. But the seventh, I'll succeed.

LADY. Then try!

STRANGER. You say that as if you were convinced I'd fail.

LADY. I am.

STRANGER. Plague me in some other way, dear fury.

LADY. Well, I can.

STRANGER. A new way! Try to say something ill-natured that 'the other one's' not said already.

LADY. Your first wife's 'the other one.' How tactful to remind me of her.

STRANGER. Everything that lives and moves, everything that's dead and cold, reminds me of what's gone....

LADY. Until the being comes, who can wipe out the darkness of the past and bring light.

STRANGER. You mean the child we're expecting!

LADY. Our child!

STRANGER. Do you love it?

LADY. I began to to-day.

STRANGER. To-day? Why, what's happened? Five months ago you wanted to run off to the lawyers and divorce me; because I wouldn't take you to a quack who'd kill your unborn child.

LADY. That was some time ago. Things have changed now.

STRANGER. Why now? (He looks round as if expecting something.) Now? Has the post come?

LADY. You're still more cunning than I am. But the pupil will outstrip the master.

STRANGER. Were there any letters for me?

LADY. No.

STRANGER. Then give me the wrapper?

LADY. What made you guess?

STRANGER. Give the wrapper, if your conscience can make such fine distinctions between it and the letter.

LADY (picking up the letter-bag, which she has hidden behind the seat). Look at this! (The STRANGER takes the photograph, looks at it carefully, and puts it in his breast-pocket.) What was it?

STRANGER. The past.

LADY. Was it beautiful?

STRANGER. Yes. More beautiful than the future can ever be.

LADY (darkly). You shouldn't have said that.

STRANGER. No, I admit it. And I'm sorry....

LADY. Tell me, are you capable of suffering?

STRANGER. Now, I suffer twice; because I feel when you're suffering. And if I wound you in self-defence, it's I who gets fever from the wound.

LADY. That means you're at my mercy?

STRANGER. No. Less now than ever, because you're protected by the innocent being you carry beneath your heart.

LADY. He shall be my avenger.

STRANGER. Or mine!

LADY (tearfully). Poor little thing. Conceived in sin and shame, and born to avenge by hate.

STRANGER. It's a long time since I've heard you speak like that.

LADY. I dare say.

STRANGER. That was the voice that first drew me to you; it was like that of a mother speaking to her child.

LADY. When you say 'mother' I feel I can only believe good of you; but a moment after I say to myself: it's only one more of your ways of deceiving me.

STRANGER. What ill have I ever really done you? (The LADY is uncertain what to reply.) Answer me. What ill have I done you?

LADY. I don't know.

STRANGER. Then invent something. Say to me: I hate you, because I can't deceive you.

LADY. Can't I? Oh, I'm sorry for you.

STRANGER. You must have poison in the pocket of your dress.

LADY. Well, I have!

STRANGER. What can it be? (Pause.) Who's that coming down the road?

LADY. A harbinger.

STRANGER. Is it a man, or a spectre?

LADY. A spectre from the past.

STRANGER. He's wearing a black coat and a laurel crown. But his feet are bare.

LADY. It's Caesar.

STRANGER (confused). Caesar? That was my nickname at school.

LADY. Yes. But it's also the name of the madman whom my... first husband used to look after. Forgive me speaking of him like that.

STRANGER. Has this madman got away?

LADY. It looks like it, doesn't it?

(CAESAR comes in from the back; he wears a black frock coat and is without a collar; he has a laurel crown on his head and his feet are bare. His general appearance is bizarre.)

CAESAR. Why don't you greet me? You ought to say: Ave, Caesar! For now I'm the master. The werewolf, you must know, has gone out of his mind since the Great Man went off with his wife, whom he himself snatched from her first lover, or bridegroom, or whatever you call him.

STRANGER (to the LADY). That was strychnine for two adults! (To CAESAR) Where's your master now—or your slave, or doctor, or warder?

CAESAR. He'll be here soon. But you needn't be frightened of him. He won't use daggers or poison. He only has to show himself, for all living things to fly from him; for trees to drop their leaves, and the very dust of the highway to run before him in a whirlwind like the pillar of cloud before the Children of Israel....

STRANGER. Listen....

CAESAR. Quiet, whilst I'm speaking.... Sometimes he believes himself to be a werewolf, and says he'd like to eat a little child that's not yet born, and that's really his according to the right of priority.... (He goes on his way.)

LADY (to the STRANGER). Can you exorcise this demon?

STRANGER. I can do nothing against devils who brave the sunshine.

LADY. Yesterday you made an arrogant remark, and now you shall have it back. You said it wasn't fair for invisible ones to creep in by night and strike in the darkness, they should come by day when the sun's shining. Now they've come!

STRANGER. And that pleases you!

LADY. Yes. Almost.

STRANGER. What a pity it gives me no pleasure when it's you who's struck! Let's sit down on the seat—the bench for the accused. For more are coming.

LADY. I'd rather we went.

STRANGER. No, I want to see how much I can bear. You see, at every stroke of the lash I feel as if a debit entry had been erased from my ledger.

LADY. But I can stand no more. Look, there he comes himself. Heavens! This man, whom I once thought I loved!

STRANGER. Thought? Yes, because everything's merely delusion. And that means a great deal. You go! I'll take the duty on myself of confronting him alone.

(The LADY goes up the steps, but does not reach the toy before the DOCTOR becomes visible at the back of the stage. The DOCTOR comes in, his grey hair long and unkempt. He is wearing a tropical helmet and a hunting coat, which are exactly similar to the clothes of the STRANGER. He behaves as though he doesn't notice the STRANGER'S presence, and sits down on a stone on the other side of the road, opposite the STRANGER, who is sitting on the seat. He takes of his hat and mops the sweat from his brow. The STRANGER grows impatient.) What do you want?

DOCTOR. Only to see this house again, where my happiness once dwelt and my roses blossomed....

STRANGER. An intelligent man of the world would have chosen a time when the present inhabitants of the house were away for a short while; even on his own account, so as not to make himself ridiculous.

DOCTOR. Ridiculous? I'd like to know which of us two's the more ridiculous?

STRANGER. For the moment, I suppose I am.

DOCTOR. Yes. But I don't think you know the whole extent of your wretchedness.

STRANGER. What do you mean?

DOCTOR. That you want to possess what I used to possess.

STRANGER. Well, go on.

DOCTOR. Have you noticed that we're wearing similar clothes? Good! Do you know the reason? It's this: you're wearing the things I forgot to fetch when the catastrophe took place. No intelligent man of the world at the end of the nineteenth century would ever put himself into such a position.

STRANGER (throwing down his hat and coat). Curse the woman!

DOCTOR. You needn't complain. Cast-off male attire has always been fatal ever since the celebrated shirt of Nessus. Go in now and change. I'll sit out here and watch, and listen, how you settle the matter alone with that accursed woman. Don't forget your stick! (The LADY, who is hurrying towards the house, trips in front of the steps. The STRANGER stays where he is in embarrassment.) The stick! The stick!

STRANGER. I don't ask mercy for the woman's sake, but for the child's.

DOCTOR (wildly). So there's a child, too. Our house, our roses, our clothes, the bed-clothes not forgotten, and now our child! I'm within your doors, I sit at your table, I lie in your bed; I exist in your blood; in your lungs, in your brain; I am everywhere and yet you can't get hold of me. When the pendulum strikes the hour of midnight, I'll blow cold, on your heart, so that it stops like a clock that's run down. When you sit at your work, I shall come with a poppy, invisible to you, that will put your thoughts to sleep, and confuse your mind, so that you'll see visions you can't distinguish from reality. I shall lie like a stone in your path, so that you stumble; I shall be the thorn that pricks your hand when you go to pluck the rose. My soul shall spin itself about you like a spider's web; and I shall guide you like an ox by means of the woman you stole from me. Your child shall be mine and I shall speak through its mouth; you shall see my look in its eyes, so that you'll thrust it from you like a foe. And now, beloved house, farewell; farewell, 'rose' room—where no happiness shall dwell that I could envy. (He goes out. The STRANGER has been sitting on the seat all this time, without being able to answer, and has been listening as if he were the accused.)

Curtain.



ACT II

SCENE I

LABORATORY

[A Garden Pavilion in rococo style with high windows. In the middle of the room there is a large writing desk on which are various pieces of chemical and physical apparatus. Two copper wires are suspended from the ceiling to an electroscope that is standing on the middle of the table and which is provided with a number of bells, intended to record the tension of atmospheric electricity.]

[On the table to the left a large old-fashioned frictional electric generating machine, with glass plates, brass conductors, and Leyden battery. The stands are lacquered red and white. On the right a large old-fashioned open fireplace with tripods, crucibles, pincers, bellows, etc.]

[In the background a door with a view of the country beyond; it is dark and cloudy weather, but the red rays of the sun occasionally shine into the room. A brown cloak with a cape and hood is hanging up by the fireplace; nearby a travelling bag and an alpenstock. The STRANGER and the MOTHER are discovered together.]

STRANGER. Where is... Ingeborg?

MOTHER. You know that better than I.

STRANGER. With the lawyer, arranging a divorce....

MOTHER. Why?

STRANGER. I told you. No, it's so far-fetched, you'll think I'm lying to you.

MOTHER. Well, tell me!

STRANGER. She wants a divorce, because I've refused to turn this man out, although he's deranged. She says it's cowardly of me....

MOTHER. I don't believe it.

STRANGER. You see! You only believe what you wish; all the rest is lies. Well, can you find it in accordance with your interests to believe that she's been stealing my letters?

MOTHER. I know nothing of that.

STRANGER. I'm not asking you whether you know of it, but whether you believe it.

MOTHER (changing the subject). What are you trying to do here?

STRANGER. I'm making experiments concerning atmospheric electricity.

MOTHER. And that's the lighting conductor, that you've connected to the desk!

STRANGER. Yes. But there's no danger; for the bells would ring if there were an atmospheric disturbance.

MOTHER. That's blasphemy and black magic. Take care! And what are you doing there, in the fireplace?

STRANGER. Making gold.

MOTHER. You think it possible?

STRANGER. You take it for granted I'm a charlatan? I shan't blame you for that; but don't judge too quickly. At any moment I expect to get a sworn statement of analysis.

MOTHER. I dare say. But what are you going to do if Ingeborg doesn't come back?

STRANGER. She will, this time. Later, perhaps, when the child's here, she'll cut herself adrift.

MOTHER. You seem very sure.

STRANGER. Yes. As I said, I still am. So long as the bond's not broken you can feel it. When it is, you'll feel that unpleasantly clearly, too.

MOTHER. But when you've parted from one another, you may yet both be bound to the child. You can't tell in advance.

STRANGER. I've been providing against that by a great interest, that I hope will fill my empty life.

MOTHER. You mean gold. And honour!

STRANGER. Precisely! For a man the most enduring of all illusions.

MOTHER. So you'd build on illusions?

STRANGER. On what else should I build, when everything's illusion?

MOTHER. If you ever awake from your dream, you'll find a reality of which you've never been able to dream.

STRANGER. Then I'll wait till that happens.

MOTHER. Wait then. Now I'll go and shut the window, before the thunderstorm breaks.

STRANGER (going towards the back of the stage). That's going to be interesting. (A hunting horn is heard in the distance.) Who's sounding that horn?

MOTHER. No one knows; and it means nothing good. (She goes out.)

STRANGER (busying himself with the electroscope, and turning his back on the open window as he does so; then taking up a book and reading aloud.) 'When Adam's race of giants had increased enough for them to consider their number sufficient to risk an attack on those above, they began to build a tower that was to reach up to Heaven. Those above were then seized with fear and, in order to protect themselves, broke up the assembled multitude by so confusing their tongues and their minds that two people who met could not understand one another, even if they spoke the same language Since then, those above rule by discord: divide and rule. And the discord is upheld by the belief that the truth has been found; but when one of the prophets is believed, he is a lying prophet. If on the other hand a mortal succeeds in penetrating the secret of those above, no one believes him, and he is struck with madness so that no one ever shall. Since then mortals have been more or less demented, particularly those who are held to be wise, but madmen are in reality the only wise men; for they can see, hear and feel the invisible, the inaudible and the intangible, though they cannot relate their experiences to others.' Thus Zohar, the wisest of all the books of wisdom, and therefore one that no one believes. I shall build no tower of Babel, but I shall tempt the Powers into my mousetrap, and send them to the Powers below, the subterranean ones, so that they can be neutralised. It is the higher Schedim, who have come between mortal men and the Lord Zabaoth; and that is why joy, peace and happiness have vanished from the earth.

LADY (coming back in despair, throwing herself down in front of the STRANGER and putting her arms round his feet and her head on the ground.) Help me! Help me! And forgive me.

STRANGER. Get up. In God's name! Get up. Don't do that. What's happened?

LADY. In my anger I've behaved foolishly. I've been caught in my own net.

STRANGER (lifting her up). Stand up, foolish child; and tell me what's happened.

LADY. I went to the public prosecutor.

STRANGER.... and asked for a divorce....

LADY.... that was my intention; but when I got there, I laid information against the werewolf for a breach of the peace and attempted murder.

STRANGER. But he's guilty of neither!

LADY. No, but I laid the information all the same.... And when I was there, he came himself to lay information against me for bearing false witness. Then I went to the lawyer and he told me that I could expect a sentence of at least a month. Think of it, my child will be born in prison! How can I escape from that? Help me. You can. Speak!

STRANGER. Yes, I can help you. But, if I do, don't revenge yourself on me afterwards.

LADY. How little you know me. But tell me quickly.

STRANGER. I must take the blame on myself, and say I sent you.

LADY. How generous you are! Am I rid of the whole business now?

STRANGER. Dry your eyes, my child, and take comfort. But tell me about something else, that's nothing to do with this. Did you leave this purse here? (The LADY is embarrassed.) Tell me!

LADY. Has such a thing ever happened before?

STRANGER. Yes. The 'other one' wanted to discover, in this way, whether I stole. The first time it happened I wept, because I was still young and innocent.

LADY. Oh no!

STRANGER. Now you seem to me the most wretched creature on earth.

LADY. Is that why you love me?

STRANGER. No. You've been stealing my letters, too! Answer, yes! And that's why you wanted to prove me a thief with this purse.

LADY. What have you got there, on the table.

STRANGER. Lightning!

(There is a flash of lightning, but no thunder.)

LADY. Aren't you afraid?

STRANGER. Yes, sometimes; but not of what you fear.

(The contorted face of the DOCTOR appears outside the window.)

LADY. Is there a cat in the room? I feel uneasy.

STRANGER. I don't think so. Yet I too have a feeling that there's someone here.

LADY (turning and seeing the DOCTOR's face; then screaming and hurrying to the STRANGER for protection.) Oh! There he is!

STRANGER. Where? Who?

(The DOCTOR'S face disappears.)

LADY. There, at the window. It's he!

STRANGER. I can see no one. You must be wrong.

LADY. No, I saw him. The werewolf! Can't we be rid of him?

STRANGER. Yes, we could. But it'd be useless, because he has an immortal soul, which is bound to yours.

LADY. If I'd only known that before!

STRANGER. It's surely in the Catechism.

LADY. Then let us die!

STRANGER. That was once my religion; but as I no longer believe that death's the end, nothing remains but to bear everything—to fight, and to suffer!

LADY. For how long must we suffer?

STRANGER. As long as he suffers and our consciences plague us.

LADY. Then we must try and justify ourselves to our consciences; find excuses for our frivolous actions, and discover his weaknesses.

STRANGER. Well, you can try!

LADY. You say that! Since I've known he's unhappy I can see nothing but his qualities, and you lose when I compare you with him.

STRANGER. See how well it's arranged! His sufferings sanctify him, but mine make me abhorrent and laughable! We must face the immutable. We've destroyed a soul, so we are murderers.

LADY. Who is to blame?

STRANGER. He who's so mismanaged the fate of men.

(There is a flash of lightning; the electric bells begin to ring.)

LADY. O God! What's that?

STRANGER. The answer.

LADY. Is there a lightning conductor here?

STRANGER. The priest of Baal wishes to coax the lightning from heaven....

LADY. Now I'm frightened, frightened of you. You're terrifying.

STRANGER. You see!

LADY. Who are you to defy Heaven, and to dare to play with the destinies of men?

STRANGER. Get up and collect your thoughts. Listen to me, believe me, and pay me the respect that's my due; and I'll lift both of us high above this frog pond, to which we've both descended. I'll breathe on your sick conscience so that it heals like a wound. Who am I? A man who has done what no one else has ever done; who will overthrow the Golden Calf and upset the tables of the money-changers. I hold the fate of the world in my crucible; and in a week I can make the richest of the rich a poor man. Gold, the most false of all standards, has ceased to rule; every man will now be as poor as his neighbour, and the children of men will hurry about like ants whose heap has been disturbed.

LADY. What good will that be to us?

STRANGER. Do you think I'll make gold in order to enrich ourselves and others? No. I'll do it to paralyse the present order, to disrupt it, as you'll see! I am the destroyer, the dissolver, the world incendiary; and when all lies in ashes, I shall wander hungrily through the heaps of ruins, rejoicing at the thought that it is all my work: that I have written the last page of world history, which can then be held to be ended.

(The face of the DOMINICAN appears at the open window, without being seen by those on the stage.)

LADY. Then that was the real meaning of your last book! It was no invention!

STRANGER. No. But in order to write it, I had to link myself with the self of another, who could take everything from me that fettered my soul. So that my spirit could once more find a fiery blast, on which to mount to the ether, elude the Powers, and reach the Throne, in order to lay the lamentations of mankind at the feet of the Eternal One.... (The DOMINICAN makes the sign of the cross in the air and disappears.) Who's here? Who is the Terrible One who follows me and cripples my thoughts? Did you see no one?

LADY. No. No one.

STRANGER. But I can feel his presence. (He puts his hand to his heart.) Can't you hear, far, far away, someone saying a rosary?

LADY. Yes, I can hear it. But it's not the Angels' Greeting. It's the Curse of Deuteronomy! Woe unto us!

STRANGER. Then it must be in the convent of St. Saviour.

LADY. Woe! Woe!

STRANGER. Beloved. What is it?

LADY. Beloved! Say that word again.

STRANGER. Are you ill?

LADY. No, but I'm in pain, and yet glad at the same time. Go and ask my mother to make up my bed. But first give me your blessing.

STRANGER. Shall I...?

LADY. Say you forgive me; I may die, if the child takes my life. Say that you love me.

STRANGER. Strange: I can't get the word to cross my lips.

LADY. Then you don't love me?

STRANGER. When you say so, it seems so to me. It's terrible, but I fear I hate you.

LADY. Then at least give me your hand; as you'd give it to someone in distress.

STRANGER. I'd like to, but I can't. Someone in me takes pleasure in your agony; but it's not I. I'd like to carry you in my arms and bear your suffering for you. But I may not. I cannot!

LADY. You're as hard as stone.

STRANGER (with restrained emotion). Perhaps not. Perhaps not.

LADY. Come to me!

STRANGER. I can't stir from here. It's as if someone had taken possession of my soul; and I'd like to kill myself so as to take the life of the other.

LADY. Think of your child with joy....

STRANGER. I can't even do that, for it'll bind me to earth.

LADY. If we've sinned, we've been punished! Haven't we suffered enough?

STRANGER. Not yet. But one day we shall have.

LADY (sinking down). Help me. Mercy! I shall faint!

(The STRANGER extends his hand, as if he had recovered from a cramp. The LADY kisses it. The STRANGER lifts her up and leads her to the door of the house.)

Curtain.

SCENE II

THE 'ROSE' ROOM

[A room with rose-coloured walls; it has small windows with iron lattices and plants in pots. The curtains are rose red; the furniture is white and red. In the background a door leading to a white bed-chamber; when this door is opened, a large bed can be seen with a canopy and white hangings. On the right the door leading out of the house. On the left a fireplace with a coal fire. In front of it a bath tub, covered with a white towel. A cradle covered with white, rose-coloured and light-blue stuff. Baby clothes are spread out here and there. A green dress hangs on the right-hand wall. Four Sisters of Mercy are on their knees, facing the door at the back, dressed in the black and white of Augustinian nuns. The midwife, who is in black, is by the fireplace. The child's nurse wears a peasant's dress, of black and white, from Brittany. The MOTHER is standing listening by the door at the back. The STRANGER is sitting on a chair right and is trying to read a book. A hat and a brown cloak with a cape and hood hang nearby, and on the floor there is a small travelling bag. The Sisters of Mercy are singing a psalm. The others join in from time to time, but not the STRANGER.]

SISTERS. Salve, Regina, mater misericordiae;

Vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve. Ad to clamamus, exules filii Evae; Ad to suspiramus gementes et flentes In hac lacrymarum valle.

(The STRANGER rises and goes to the MOTHER.)

MOTHER. Stay where you are! A human being's coming into the world; another's dying. It's all the same to you.

STRANGER. I'm not so sure! If I want to go in, I'm not allowed to. And when I don't want to, you wish it. I'd like to now.

MOTHER. She doesn't want to see you. Besides, presence here's no longer needed. The child matters most now.

STRANGER. For you, yes; but I'm still of most importance to myself.

MOTHER. The doctor's forbidden anyone to go in, whoever they may be, because she's in danger.

STRANGER. What doctor?

MOTHER. So your thoughts are there again!

STRANGER. Yes. And it's you who led them! An hour ago you gave me to understand that the child couldn't be mine. With that you branded your daughter a whore; but that means nothing to you, if you can only strike me to the heart! You are almost the most contemptible creature I know!

MOTHER (to the SISTERS). Sisters! Pray for this unhappy man.

STRANGER. Make way for me to go in. For the last time—out of the way.

MOTHER. Leave this room, and this house too.

STRANGER. If I were to do as you ask, in ten minutes you'd send the police after me, for abandoning my wife and child!

MOTHER. I'd only do that to have you taken to a convent you know of.

MAID (entering at the back). The Lady's asking you to do something for her.

STRANGER. What is it?

MAID. There's supposed to be a letter in the dress she left hanging here.

STRANGER (looks round and notices the green dress; he goes over to it and takes a letter from the pocket). This is addressed to me, and was opened two days ago. Broken open! That's good!

MOTHER. You must forgive someone who's as ill as your wife.

STRANGER. She wasn't ill two days ago.

MOTHER. No. But she is now.

STRANGER. But not two days ago! (Reading the letter.) Well, I'll forgive her now, with the magnanimity of the victor.

MOTHER. Of the victor?

STRANGER. Yes. For I've done something no one's ever done before.

MOTHER. You mean the gold....?

STRANGER. Here's a certificate from the greatest living authority. Now I'll go and see him myself.

MOTHER. Now!

STRANGER. At your request.

MAID (to the STRANGER). The Lady asks you to come in.

MOTHER. You hear?

STRANGER. No, now I don't want to! You've made your own daughter, my wife, into a whore; and branded my unborn child a bastard. You can keep them both. You've murdered my honour. There's nothing for me to do but to revive it elsewhere.

MOTHER. You can never forgive!

STRANGER. I can. I forgive you—and I shall leave you. (He puts on the brown cloak and hat, picks up his stick and travelling bag.) For if I were to stay, I'd soon grow worse than I am now. The innocent child, whose mission was to ennoble our warped relationship, has been defiled by you in his mother's womb and made an apple of discord and a source of punishment a revenge. Why should I stay here to be torn to pieces?

MOTHER. For you, duties don't exist.

STRANGER. Oh yes, they do! And the first of them's this: To protect myself from total destruction. Farewell!

Curtain.



ACT III

SCENE I

THE BANQUETING HALL

[Room in a hotel prepared for a banquet. There are long tables laden with flowers and candelabra. Dishes with peacocks, pheasants in full plumage, boars' heads, entire lobsters, oysters, salmon, bundles of asparagus, melons and grapes. There is a musicians' gallery with eight players in the right-hand corner at the back.]

[At the high table: the STRANGER in a frock coat; next to him a Civil Uniform with orders; a professorial Frock Coat with an order; and other black Frock Coats with orders of a more or less striking kind. At the second table a few Frock Coats between black Morning Coats. At the third table clean every-day costumes. At the fourth table dirty and ragged figures of strange appearance.]

[The tables are so arranged that the first is furthest to the left and the fourth furthest to the right, so that the people sitting at the fourth table cannot be seen by the STRANGER. At the fourth table CAESAR and the DOCTOR are seated, in shabby clothes. They are the farthest down stage. Dessert has just been handed round and the guests have golden goblets in front of them. The band is playing a passage in the middle of Mendelssohn's Dead March pianissimo. The guests are talking to one another quietly.]

DOCTOR (to CAESAR). The company seems rather depressed and the dessert came too soon!

CAESAR. By the way, the whole thing look's like a swindle! He hasn't made any gold, that's merely a lie, like everything else.

DOCTOR. I don't know, but that's what's being said. But in our enlightened age anything whatever may be expected.

CAESAR. There's a professor at the high table, who's supposed to be an authority. But what subject is he professor of?

DOCTOR: I've no idea. It must be metallurgy and applied chemistry.

CAESAR. Can you see what order he's wearing?

DOCTOR. I don't know it. I expect it's some tenth rate foreign order.

CAESAR. Well, at a subscription dinner like this the company's always rather mixed.

DOCTOR. Hm!

CAESAR. You mean, that we... hm.... I admit we're not well dressed, but as far as intelligence goes....

DOCTOR. Listen, Caesar, you're a lunatic in my charge, and you must avoid speaking about intelligence as much as you can.

CAESAR. That's the greatest impertinence I've heard for a long time. Don't you realise, idiot, that I've been engaged to look after you, since you lost your wits?

PROFESSOR (taping his goblet). Gentlemen!

CAESAR. Hear, hear!

PROFESSOR. Gentlemen! Our small society is to-day honoured by the presence of the great man, who is our guest of honour, and when the committee...

CAESAR (to the DOCTOR). That's the government, you know!

PROFESSOR.... and when the committee asked me to act as interpreter and to explain the motives that prompted them I was at first doubtful whether I could accept the honour. But when I compared my own incapacity with that of others, I discovered that neither lost in the comparison.

VOICES. Bravo!

PROFESSOR. Gentlemen! A century of discovery is ending with the greatest of all discoveries—foreseen by Pythagoras, prepared for by Albertus and Paracelsus and first carried out by our guest of honour. You will permit me to give this feeble expression of our admiration for the greatest man of a great century. A laurel crown from the society! (He places a laurel frown on the STRANGER'S head.) And from the committee: this! (He hangs a shining order round the STRANGER'S neck.) Gentlemen! Three cheers for the Great Man who has made gold!

ALL (with the exception of the STRANGER). Hurrah!

(The band plays chords from Mendelssohn's Dead March. During the last part of the foregoing speech servants have exchanged the golden goblets for dull tin ones, and they now begin to take away the pheasants, peacocks, etc. The music plays softly. General conversation.)

CAESAR. Oughtn't we to taste these things before they take them away?

DOCTOR. It all seems humbug, except that about making gold.

STRANGER (knocking on the table). Gentlemen! I've always been proud of the fact that I'm not easy to deceive...

CAESAR. Hear, hear!

STRANGER.... that I'm not easily carried away, but I am touched at the sincerity so obvious in the great tribute you've just paid me; and when I say touched, I mean it.

CAESAR. Bravo!

STRANGER. There are always sceptics; and moments in the life of every man, when doubts creep into the hearts of even the strongest. I'll confess that I myself have doubted; but after finding myself the object this sincere and hearty demonstration, and after taking part in this royal feast, for it is royal; and seeing that, finally, the government itself...

VOICE. The committee!

STRANGER.... the committee, if you like, has so signally recognised my modest merits, I doubt no longer, but believe! (The Civil Uniform creeps out.) Yes, gentlemen, this is the greatest and most satisfying moment of my life, because it has given me back the greatest thing any man can possess, the belief in himself.

CAESAR. Splendid! Bravo!

STRANGER. I thank you. Your health!

(The PROFESSOR gets up. Everyone rises and the company begins to mix. Most of the musicians go out, but two remain.)

GUEST (to the STRANGER). A delightful evening!

STRANGER. Wonderful.

(All the Frock Coats creep away.)

FATHER (an elderly, overdressed man with an eye-glass and military bearing crosses to the doctor). What? Are you here?

DOCTOR. Yes, Father-in-law. I'm here. I go everywhere he goes.

FATHER. It's too late in the day to call me father-in-law. Besides, I'm his father-in-law now.

DOCTOR. Does he know you?

FATHER. No. He's not had that honour; and I must ask you to preserve my incognito. Is it true he's made gold?

DOCTOR. So it's said. But it's certain he left his wife while she was in childbed.

FATHER. Does that mean I can expect a third son-in-law soon? I don't like the idea! The uncertainty of my position makes me hate being a father-in-law at all. Of course, I've nothing to say against it, since....

(The tables have now been cleared; the cloths and the candelabra have been removed, so that the tables themselves, which are merely boards supported on trestles, are all that remain. A big stoneware jug has been brought in and small jugs of simple form have been put on the high table. The people in rags sit down next to the STRANGER at the high table; and the FATHER sits astride a chair and stares at him.)

CAESAR (knocking on the table). Gentlemen! This feast has been called royal, not on account of the excellence of the service which, on the contrary, has been wretched; but because the man, whom we have honoured, is a king, a king in the realm of the Intellect. Only I am able to judge of that. (One of the people in rags laughs.) Quiet. Wretch! But he's more than a king, he's a man of the people, of the humblest. A friend of the oppressed, the guardian of fools, the bringer of happiness to idiots. I don't know whether he's succeeded in making gold. I don't worry about that, and I hardly believe it... (There is a murmur. Two policemen come in and sit by the door; the musicians come down and take seats at the tables.)... but supposing he has, he has answered all the questions that the daily press has been trying to solve for the last fifty years.... It's only an assumption—

STRANGER. Gentlemen!

RAGGED PERSON. No. Don't interrupt him.

CAESAR. A mere assumption without real foundation, and the analysis may be wrong!

ANOTHER RAGGED PERSON. Don't talk nonsense!

STRANGER. Speaking in my capacity as guest of honour at this gathering I should say that it would be of interest to those taking part to hear the grounds on which I've based my proof....

CAESAR. We don't want to hear that. No, no.

FATHER. Wait! I think justice demands that the accused should be allowed to explain himself. Couldn't our guest of honour tell the company his secret in a few words?

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