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The Road to Damascus - A Trilogy
by August Strindberg
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LADY. Where?

CONFESSOR. Up there. Where the sun's always shining.

LADY (rising). Is there a home for me there, too?

CONFESSOR. There's a home for everyone! I'll show you the way. (He goes with her into the background. The STRANGER makes a movement.) You're impatient? You mustn't be! (He goes out. The STRANGER remains sitting alone. The WORSHIPPERS OF VENUS get up, go towards him and form a circle round him.)

STRANGER. What do you want with me?

WORSHIPPERS. Hail! Father.

STRANGER (much upset). Why call me that?

FIRST VOICE. Because we're your children. Your dear ones!

STRANGER (tries to escape, but is surrounded and cannot). Let me go. Let me go!

SECOND VOICE (that of a pale youth). Don't you recognise me, Father?

TEMPTER (appearing in the background at the left-hand fork of the path). Ha!

STRANGER (to the Second Voice). Who are you? I seem to know your face.

SECOND VOICE. I'm Erik—your son!

STRANGER. Erik! You here?

SECOND VOICE. Yes. I'm here.

STRANGER. God have mercy! And you, my boy, forgive me!

SECOND VOICE. Never! You showed us the way to the sulphur springs! Is it far to the lake?

(The STRANGER falls to the ground.)

TEMPTER. Ha! Jubilate, temptatores!

VENUS WORSHIPPERS. Sulphur! Sulphur! Sulphur! Mercury!

TEMPTER (coming forward and touching the STRANGER with his foot). The worm! You can make him believe whatever you like. That comes from his unbelievable pride. Does he think he's the mainspring of the universe, the originator of all evil? This foolish man believes he taught youth to go in search of Venus; as if youth hadn't done that long before he was born! His pride's insupportable, and he's been rash enough to try to botch my work for me. Give him another greeting, lying Erik! (The SECOND VOICE—that is the youth—bends over the STRANGER and whispers in his ear.) There were seven deadly sins; but now there are eight. The eighth I discovered! It's called despair. For to despair of what is good, and not to hope for forgiveness, is to call... (He hesitates before pronouncing the word God, as if it burnt his lips.) God wicked. That is calumny, denial, blasphemy.... Look how he winces!

STRANGER (rising quickly, and looking the TEMPTER to the eyes). Who are you?

TEMPTER. Your brother. Don't we resemble one another? Some of your features seem to remind me of my portrait.

STRANGER. Where have I seen it?

TEMPTER. Almost everywhere! I'm often to be found in churches, though not amongst the saints.

STRANGER. I can't remember....

TEMPTER. Is it so long since you've been to church? I'm usually represented with St. George. (The STRANGER totters and would like to fly, but cannot.) Michael and I are sometimes to be seen in a group, in which, to be sure, I don't appear in the most favourable light; but that can be altered. All can be altered; and one day the last shall be first. It's just the same in your case. For the moment, things are going badly with you, but that can be altered too... if you've enough intelligence to change your company. You've had too much to do with skirts, my son. Skirts raise dust, and dust lies on eyes and breast.... Come and sit down. We'll have a chat.... (He takes the STRANGER jocularly by the ear and leads him round the table.) Sit down and tremble, young man! (They both sit down.) Well? What shall we do? Call for wine—and a woman? No! That's too old a trick, as old as Doctor Faust! Bon! We modern are in search of mental dissipation.... So you're on your way to those holy men up there, who think that they who sleep can't sin; to the cowardly ones, who've given up the battle of life, because they were defeated once or twice; to those that bind souls rather than free them.... And talking of that! Has any saintly man ever freed you from the burden of sin? No! Do you know why sin has been oppressing you for so long? Through renunciation and abstinence, you've grown so weak that anyone can seize your soul and take possession of it. Why, they can even do it from a distance! You've so destroyed your personality that you see with strange eyes, hear with strange ears and think strange thoughts. In a word you've murdered your own soul. Just now, didn't you speak well of the enemies of mankind; of Woman, who made a hell of paradise? You needn't answer me; I can read your answer in your eyes and hear it on your lips. You talk of pure love for a woman! That's lust, young man, lust after a woman, which we have to pay for so dearly. You say you don't desire her. Then why do you want to be near her? You'd like to have a friend? Take a male friend, many of them! You've let them convince you you're no woman hater. But the woman gave you the right answer; every healthy man's a woman hater, but can't live without linking himself to his enemy, and so must fight her! All perverse and unmanly men are admirers of women! How's it with you now? So you saw those invalids and thought yourself responsible for their misery? They're tough fellows, you can believe me; they'll be able to leave here in a few days and go back to their occupations. Oh yes, lying Erik's a wag! But things have gone so far with you, that you can't distinguish between your own and other people's children. Wouldn't it be a great thing to escape from all this? What do you say? Oh, I could free you... but I'm no saint. Now we'll call old Maia. (He whistles between his fingers: MAIA appears.) Ah, there you are! Well, what are you doing here? Have you any business with this fellow?

MAIA. No. He's good and always was; but he'd a terrible wife.

TEMPTER (to the STRANGER). Listen! You've not heard that yet, have you? Rather the opposite. She was the good angel, whom you ruined... we've all been told that! Now, old Maia, what kind of story is it he prattles of? He says he was plagued with remorse for seven years because he owed you money.

MAIA. He owed me a small sum once; but I got it back from him—and with good interest—much better than the savings bank would have given me. It was very good of him—very kind.

STRANGER (starting up). What's that you said? Is it possible I've forgotten?

TEMPTER. Have you the receipt, Maia? If so, give it me.

MAIA. The gentleman must have the receipt; but I've got the savings bank book here. He paid the money into it in my name. (She produces a savings bank book, and hands it to the STRANGER, who looks at it.)

STRANGER. Yes, that's quite right. Now I remember. Then why this seven-year torment, shame and disgrace? Those reproaches during sleepless nights? Why? Why? Why?

TEMPTER. Old Maia, you can go now. But first say something nice about this self-tormentor. Can't you remember any human quality in this wild beast, whom human beings have baited for years?

STRANGER (to MAIA). Quiet, don't answer him! (He stops his ears with his fingers.)

TEMPTER. Well, Maia?

MAIA. I know well enough what they say about him, but that refers to what he writes—and I've not read it for I can't read. Still, no one need read it, if they don't want to. Anyhow the gentleman's been very kind. Now he's stopping his ears. I don't know how to flatter; but I can say this in a whisper.... (She whispers some thing to the TEMPTER.)

TEMPTER. Yes. All human beings who are easily moved are baited like wild beasts! It's the rule. Good bye, old Maia!

MAIA. Good-bye, kind gentlemen. (She goes out.)

STRANGER. Why did I suffer innocently for seven years?

TEMPTER (pointing upwards with one finger). Ask up there!

STRANGER. Where I never get an answer!

TEMPTER. Well, that may be. (Pause.) Do you think I look good?

STRANGER. I can't say I do.

TEMPTER. You look extremely wicked, too! Do you know why we look like that?

STRANGER. No.

TEMPTER. The hate and malice of our fellow human beings have fastened themselves on us. Up there, you know, there are real saints, who've never done anything wicked themselves, but who suffer for others, for relations, who've committed unexpiated sins. Those angels, who've taken the depravity of others on themselves, really resemble bandits. What do you say to that?

STRANGER. I don't know who you are; but you're the first to answer questions that might reconcile me to life. You are....

TEMPTER. Well, say it!

STRANGER. The deliverer!

TEMPTER. And therefore....?

STRANGER. Therefore you've been given a vulture.... But listen, have you ever thought that there's as good a reason for this as for everything else? Granted the earth's a prison, on which dangerous prisoners are confined—is it a good thing to set them free? Is it right?

TEMPTER. What a question! I've never really thought about it. Hm!

STRANGER. And have you ever thought of this: we may be born in guilt?

TEMPTER. That's nothing to do with me: I concern myself with the present.

STRANGER. Good! Don't you think we're sometimes punished wrongly, so that we fail to see the logical connection, though it exists?

TEMPTER. Logic's not missing; but all life's a tissue of offences, mistakes, errors, that are comparatively blameless owing to human weakness, but that are punished by the most consistent revenge. Everything's revenged, even our injudicious actions. Who forgives? A magnanimous man-sometimes; heavenly justice, never! (A PILGRIM appears in the background.) See! A penitent! I'd like to know what wrong he's done. We'll ask him. Welcome to our quiet meadows, peaceful wanderer! Take your place at the simple table of the ascetic, at which there are no more temptations.

PILGRIM. Thank you, fellow traveller in the vale of woe.

TEMPTER. What kind of woe is yours?

PILGRIM. None in particular; on the contrary, the hour of liberation's struck, and I'm going up there to receive absolution.

STRANGER. Listen, haven't we two met before?

PILGRIM. I think so, certainly.

STRANGER. Caesar! You're Caesar!

PILGRIM. I used to be; but I am no longer.

TEMPTER. Ha ha! Imperial acquaintance. Really! But tell us, tell us!

PILGRIM. You shall hear. Now I've a right to speak, for my penance is at an end. When we met at a certain doctor's house, I was shut up there as a madman and supposed to be suffering from the illusion that I was Caesar. Now the Stranger shall hear the truth of the matter: I never believed it, but I was forced by scruples of conscience to put a good face on it.... A friend of mine, a bad friend, had written proof that I was the victim of a misunderstanding; but he didn't speak when he should have, and I took his silence as a request not to speak either-and to suffer. Why did I? Well, in my youth I was once in great need. I was received as a guest in a house on an island far out to sea by a man who, in spite of unusual gifts, had been passed over for promotion—owing to his senseless pride. This man, by solitary brooding on his lot, had come to hold quite extraordinary views about himself. I noticed it, but I said nothing. One day this man's wife told me that he was sometimes mentally unbalanced; and then thought he was Julius Caesar. For many years I kept this secret conscientiously, for I'm not ungrateful by nature. But life's tricky. It happened a few years later that this Caesar laid rough hands on my most intimate fate. In anger at this I betrayed the secret of his Caesar mania and made my erstwhile benefactor such a laughing stock, that his existence became unbearable to him. And now listen how Nemesis overtakes one! A year later I wrote a book-I am, you must know, an author who's not made his name.... And in this book I described incidents of family life: how I played with my daughter—she was called Julia, as Caesar's daughter was—and with my wife, whom we called Caesar's wife because no one spoke evil of her.... Well, this recreation, in which my mother-in-law joined too, cost me dear. When I was looking through the proofs of my book, I saw the danger and said to myself: you'll trip yourself up. I wanted to cut it out but, if you'll believe it, the pen refused, and an inner voice said to me: let it stand! It did stand! And I fell.

STRANGER. Why didn't you publish the letter from your friend that would have explained everything?

PILGRIM. When the disaster had happened I felt at once that it was the finger of God, and that I must suffer for my ingratitude.

STRANGER. And you did suffer?

PILGRIM. Not at all! I smiled to myself and wouldn't let myself be put out. And because I accepted my punishment with calmness and humility God lightened my burden; and I didn't feel myself ridiculous.

TEMPTER. That's a strange story; but such things happen. Shall we move on now? We'll go for an excursion, now we've weathered the storms. Pull yourself up by the roots, and then we'll climb the mountain.

STRANGER. The Confessor told me to wait for him.

TEMPTER. He'll find you, anyhow! And up here in the village the court's sitting to-day. A particularly interesting case is to be tried; and I dare say I'll be called as a witness. Come!

STRANGER. Well, whether I sit here, or up there, is all the same to me.

PILGRIM (to the STRANGER). Who's that?

STRANGER. I don't know. He looks like an anarchist.

PILGRIM. Interesting, anyhow!

STRANGER. He's a sceptical gentleman, who's seen life.

TEMPTER. Come, children; I'll tell you stories on the way. Come. Come!

(They go out towards the background.)

Curtain.



ACT III

SCENE I

TERRACE ON THE MOUNTAIN

[A Terrace on the mountain on which the Monastery stands. On the right a rocky cliff and a similar one on the left. In the far background a bird's-eye view of a river landscape with towns, villages, ploughed fields and woods; in the very far distance the sea can be seen. Down stage an apple tree laden with fruit. Under it a long table with a chair at the end and benches at the sides. Down stage, right, a corner of the village town hall. A cloud seems to be hanging immediately over the village.]

[The MAGISTRATE sits at the end of the table in the capacity of judge; the assessors on the benches. The ACCUSED MAN is standing on the right by the MAGISTRATE; the witnesses on the left, amongst them the TEMPTER. Members of the public, with the PILGRIM and the STRANGER, are standing here and there not far from the judge's seat.]

MAGISTRATE. Is the accused present?

ACCUSED MAN. Yes. Present.

MAGISTRATE. This is a very sad story, that's brought trouble and shame on our small community. Florian Reicher, twenty-three years old, is accused of shooting at Fritz Schlipitska's affianced wife, with the clear intention of killing her. It's a case of premeditated murder, and the provisions of the law are perfectly clear. Has the accused anything to say in his defence, or can he plead mitigating circumstances?

ACCUSED MAN. No.

TEMPTER. Ho, there!

MAGISTRATE. Who are you?

TEMPTER. Counsel for the accused.

MAGISTRATE. The accused man certainly has a right to the services of counsel, but in the present case I think the facts are so clear that the people have reached a certain conclusion; and the murderer will hardly be able to regain their sympathy. Isn't that so?

PEOPLE. He's condemned already!

TEMPTER. Who by?

PEOPLE. The Law and his own deed.

TEMPTER. Listen to me! As counsel for the accused I represent him and take the accusation on myself. I ask permission to address the court.

MAGISTRATE. I can't refuse it.

PEOPLE. Florian's been condemned already.

TEMPTER. The case must first be heard. (Pause.) I'd reached my eighteenth year—it's Florian speaking—and my thoughts, as I grew up under my mother's watchful eye, were pure; and my heart without deceit, for I'd never seen or heard anything wicked. Then I—Florian, that is—met a young girl who seemed to me the most beautiful creature I'd ever set eyes on in this wicked world, for she was goodness itself. I offered her my hand, my heart, and my future. She accepted everything and swore that she'd be true. I was to serve five years for my Rachel—and I did serve, collecting one straw after another for the little nest we were going to build. My whole life was centred on the love of this woman! As I was true to her myself, I never mistrusted her. By the fifth year I'd built the hut and collected our household goods... when I discovered she'd been playing with me and had deceived me with at least three men....

MAGISTRATE. Have you witnesses?

BAILIFF. Three valid ones; I'm one of them.

MAGISTRATE. The bailiff alone will be sufficient.

TEMPTER. Then I shot her; not out of revenge, but in order to free myself from the unhealthy thoughts her faithlessness had forced on me; for when I tried to tear her picture out of my heart, images of her lovers always rose and crept into my blood, so that at last I seemed to be living in unlawful relationship with three men—with a woman as the link between us!

MAGISTRATE. Well, that was jealousy!

ACCUSED MAN. Yes, that was jealousy.

TEMPTER. Yes, jealousy, that feeling for cleanliness, that seeks to preserve thoughts from pollution by strangers. If I'd been content to do nothing, if I'd not been jealous, I'd have got into vicious company, and I didn't want to do that. That's why she had to die so that my thoughts might be cleansed of deadly sin, which alone is to be condemned. I've finished.

PEOPLE. The dead woman's guilty! Her blood's on her own head.

MAGISTRATE. She's guilty, for she was the cause of the crime.

(The FATHER of the dead woman steps forward.)

FATHER. Your Worship, judge of my dead child; and you, countrymen, let me speak!

MAGISTRATE. The dead girl's father may speak.

FATHER. You're accusing a dead girl; and I shall answer. Maria, my child, has undoubtedly been guilty of a crime and is to blame for the misdeeds of this man. There's no doubt of it!

PEOPLE. No doubt! It's she who's guilty!

FATHER. Permit her father to add a word of explanation, if not of defence. (Pause.) When she was fifteen, Maria fell into the hands of a man who seemed to have made it his business to entrap young girls, much as a bird-catcher traps small birds. He was no seducer, in the ordinary sense, for he contented himself with binding her senses and entangling her feelings only to thrust her away and watch how she suffered with torn wings and a broken heart—tortured by the agony of love, which is worse than any other agony. For three years Maria was cared for in an institution for the mentally deranged. And when she came out again, she was divided, broken into several pieces—it might be said that she was several persons. She was an angel and feared God with one side of her spirit; but with another she was a devil, and reviled all that was holy. I've seen her go straight from dancing and frenzy to her beloved Florian, and have heard her, in his presence, speak so differently and so alter her expression, that I could have sworn she was another being. But to me she seemed equally sincere in both her shapes. Is she to blame, or her seducer?

PEOPLE. She's not to blame! Where is her seducer?

FATHER. There!

TEMPTER. Yes. It was I.

PEOPLE. Stone him!

MAGISTRATE. The law must run its course. He must be heard.

TEMPTER. Bon! Then listen, Argives! It was like this. Your humble servant, born of poor but fairly honourable parents, was from the beginning one of those strange birds who, in their youth, go in search of their Creator—but without ever finding him, naturally! It's more usual for old cuckoos to look for him in their dotage—and for good reasons! The urge for this youthful quest was accompanied by a purity of heart and a modesty that even caused his nurses to smile—yes, we can laugh now when we hear that this boy would only change his underclothing in the dark! But even if we're corrupted by the crudities of life, we're still bound to find something beautiful in it; and if we're older something touching! And so we can afford to-day to laugh at his childish innocence. Scornful laughter, listeners, please.

MAGISTRATE (seriously). He mistakes his listeners.

TEMPTER. Then I ought to be ashamed of myself! (Pause.) He became a youth—your humble servant—and fell into a series of traps that were laid for his innocence. I'm an old sinner, but I blush at this moment.... (He takes of his hat.) Yes, look at me now—when I think of the insight this young man got into the world of Potiphar's wives that surrounded him! There wasn't a single woman.... Really, I'm ashamed in the name of mankind and the female sex—excuse me, please.... There were moments when I didn't believe my eyes, but thought a devil had blinded my sight. The holiest bands.... (He pinches his tongue.) No, quiet! Mankind will feel itself calumniated! Enough, until my twenty-fifth year I fought the good fight; and I fell because.... Well, I was called Joseph, and I was Joseph! I grew jealous of my virtue, and felt injured by the glances of a lewd woman.... And at last, cunningly seduced, I fell. Then I became a slave of my passions; often and often I sat by Omphalos and span, until I sank into the deepest degradation and suffered, suffered, suffered! But in reality it was only my body that was degraded; my soul lived her own life—her own pure life, I can say—on her own account. And I raved innocently for pure young virgins who, it seems, felt the bond that drew us together. Because, without boasting, I can say they were attracted to me. I didn't want to overstep the mark, but they did! And when I fled the danger, their hearts were broken, so they said. In a word, I've never seduced an innocent girl. I swear it! Am I therefore to blame for the emotional sorrows of this young woman, who went out of her mind? On the contrary, mayn't I count it a virtue that I shrank in horror from the step that brought about her fall? Who'll cast the first stone at me? No one! Then I mistake my listeners. Indeed, I thought I might be an object of scorn, if I were to plead here for my masculine innocence! Now, however, I feel young again; and there's something for which I'd like to ask mankind's forgiveness. If it weren't that I happened to see a cynical smile on the lips of the woman who seduced me when I was young. Come forward, woman, and look upon your work of destruction. Observe, how the seed has grown!

WOMAN (coming forward with dignity and modesty). It was I! Let me be heard, and let me tell the simple story of my seduction. (Pause.) Luckily my seducer is here, too....

MAGISTRATE. Friends! I must break off the proceedings; otherwise we'll get back to Eve in Paradise.

TEMPTER. Who was Adam's seducer! That's just where we want to get back to. Eve! Come forward, Eve. Eve! (He waves his cloak in the air. The trunk of the tree becomes transparent and EVE appears, wrapped in her hair and with a girdle about her loins.) Now, Mother Eve, it was you who seduced our father. You are the accused: what have you to say in your defence?

EVE (simply and with dignity). The serpent tempted me!

TEMPTER. Well answered! Eve has proved her innocence. The serpent! Let the serpent come forward. (EVE disappears.) The serpent! (The serpent appears in the tree trunk.) Here you can see the seducer of us all. Now, serpent, who was it that beguiled you?

ALL (terrified). Silence! Blasphemer!

TEMPTER. Answer, serpent! (Lightning and a clap of thunder; all flee, except the TEMPTER, who has fallen to the ground, and the PILGRIM, the STRANGER and the LADY. The TEMPTER begins to recover; he then gets up and sits down in an attitude that recalls the classical statue 'The Polisher,' or 'The Slave.') Causa finalis, or the first cause—you can't discover that! For if the serpent's to blame, then we're comparatively innocent—but mankind mustn't be told that! The Accused, however, seems to have got out of this business! And the Court of justice has dissolved like smoke! Judge not. Judge not, O Judges!

LADY (to the STRANGER). Come with me.

STRANGER. But I'd like to listen to this man.

LADY. Why? He's like a small child, putting all those questions that can't be answered. You know how little children ask about everything. 'Papa, why does the sun rise in the east?' You know the answer?

STRANGER. Hm!

LADY. Or: 'Mama, who made God?' You think that profound? Well, come with me.

STRANGER (fighting his admiration for the TEMPTER). But that about Eve was new....

LADY. Not at all. I learnt it in my Bible history, when I was eight. And that we inherit the debts of our fathers is part of the law of the land. Come, my son.

TEMPTER (rising, shaking his limbs and climbing up the rocky wall to the right with a limp). Come, I'll show you the world you think you know, but don't.

LADY (climbing up the rocky wall to the left). Come with me, my son, and I'll show you God's beautiful world, as I've come to see it, since the tears of sorrow washed the dust from my eyes. Come with me!

(The STRANGER stands irresolute between them.)

TEMPTER (to the LADY). And how have you seen the world through your tears? Like meadow banks reflected in troubled water! A chaos of curved lines in which the trees seemed to be standing on their heads. (To the STRANGER.) No, my son, with my field-glasses, dried in the fire of hate—with my telescope I can see everything as it is. Clear and sharp, precisely as it is.

LADY. What do you know of things, my son? You can never see the thing itself, only its picture; and the picture is illusion and not the thing. So you argue about pictures and illusions.

TEMPTER. Listen to her! A little philosopher in skirts. By Jupiter Chronos, such a disputation in this giant amphitheatre of the mountains demands a proper audience. Hullo!

LADY. I have mine here: my friend, my husband, my child! If he'll only listen to me, good; all will be well with me, and him. Come to me, my friend, for this is the way. This is the mountain Gerizim, where blessings are given. And that is Ebal, where they curse.

TEMPTER. Yes, this is Ebal, where they curse. 'Cursed be the earth, woman, for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.' And then to the man this: 'Cursed is the ground for thy sake, thorns and thistle shall it bring forth to thee, and in the sweat of thy brow shalt thou labour!' So spoke the Lord, not I!

LADY. 'And God blessed the first pair; and He blessed the seventh day, on which He had completed His work—and the work was good.' But you, and we, have made it something evil, and that is why.... But he who obeys the commandments of the Lord dwells on Gerizim, where blessings are given. Thus saith the Lord. 'Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field. Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store. Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed when thou goest out. And the Lord shall give rain unto thy land in his season to increase thy harvest, and thy children shall flourish. And the Lord shall make thee plenteous in goods, to lend to the peoples, and never to borrow. And the Lord will bless all the work of thy hand, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God!' (Pause.) So come, my friend, and lay your hand in mine. (She falls on her knees with clasped hands.) I beg you, by the love that once united us, by the memory of the child that drew us together; by the strength of a mother's love—a mother's—for so have I loved you, erring child, whom I've sought in the dark places of the wood and whom at last I've found, hungry and withered for want of love! Come back to me, prodigal one; and bury your tired head on my heart, where you rested before ever you saw the light of the sun. (A change comes over her during this speech; her clothing falls from her and she is seen to have changed into a white-robed woman with her hair let down and with a full maternal bosom.)

STRANGER. Mother!

LADY. Yes, my child, your mother! In life I could never caress you—the will of higher powers denied it me. Why that was I don't dare to ask.

STRANGER. But my mother's dead?

LADY. She was; but the dead aren't dead, and maternal love can conquer death. Didn't you know that? Come, my child, I'll repay where I have been to blame. I'll rock you to sleep on my knees. I'll wash you clean from the... (She omits the word she cannot bring herself to utter) of hate and sin. I'll comb your hair, matted with the sweat of fear; and air a pure white sheet for you at the fire of a home—a home you've never had, you who've known no peace, you homeless one, son of Hagar, the serving woman, born of a slave, against whom every man's hand was raised. The ploughmen ploughed your back and seared deep furrows there. Come, I'll heal your wounds, and suffer your sorrows. Come!

STRANGER (who has been weeping so violently that his whole body has been trembling, now goes to the cliff on the left where the MOTHER stands with open arms.) I'm coming!

TEMPTER. I can do nothing now. But one day we shall meet again! (He disappears behind the cliff.)

Curtain.

SCENE II

ROCKY LANDSCAPE ON THE MOUNTAIN

[Higher up the mountain; among the clouds a rocky landscape with a bog round it. The MOTHER on a rock, climbing until she disappears into the cloud. The STRANGER stops, bewildered.]

STRANGER. Oh, Mother, Mother! Why are you leaving me? At the very moment when my loveliest dream was on the point of fulfilment!

TEMPTER (coming forward). What have you been dreaming? Tell me!

STRANGER. My dearest hope, most secret desire and last prayer! Reconciliation with mankind, through a woman.

TEMPTER. Through a woman who taught you to hate.

STRANGER. Yes, because she bound me to earth—like the round shot a slave drags on his foot, so that he can't escape.

TEMPTER. You talk of woman. Always woman.

STRANGER. Yes. Woman. The beginning and the end—for us men anyhow. In relationship to one another they are nothing.

TEMPTER. So that's it; nothing in themselves; but everything for us, through us! Our honour and our shame; our greatest joy, our deepest pain; our redemption and our fall; our wages and our punishment; our strength and our weakness.

STRANGER. Our shame! You've said so. Explain this riddle to me, you who're wise. Whenever I appeared in public arm in arm with a woman, my wife, who was beautiful and whom I adored, I felt ashamed of my own weakness. Explain that riddle to me.

TEMPTER. You felt ashamed? I don't know why.

STRANGER. Can't you answer? You, of all men?

TEMPTER. No, I can't. But I too always suffered when I was with my wife in company, because I felt she was being soiled by men's glances, and I through her.

STRANGER. And when she did the shameful deed, you were dishonoured. Why?

TEMPTER. The Eve of the Greeks was called Pandora, and Zeus created her out of wickedness, in order to torture men and master them. As a wedding gift she received a box, containing all the unhappiness of the world. Perhaps the riddle of this sphinx can more easily be guessed, if it's seen from. Olympus, rather than from the pleasure garden of Paradise. Its full meaning will never be known to us. Though I'm as able as you. (Pause.) And, by the way, I can still enjoy the greatest pleasure creation ever offered! Go you and do likewise!

STRANGER. You mean Satan's greatest illusion! For the woman who seems most beautiful to me, can seem horrible to others! Even for me, when she's angry, she can be uglier than any other woman. Then what is beauty?

TEMPTER. A semblance, a reflection of your own goodness! (He puts his hand over his mouth.) Curses on it! I let it out that time. And now the devil's loose....

STRANGER. Devil? Yes. But if she's a devil, how can a devil make me desire virtue and goodness? For that's what happened to me when I first saw her beauty; I was seized with a longing to be like her, and so to be worthy of her. To begin with I tried to be by taking exercise, having baths, using cosmetics and wearing good clothes; but I only made myself ridiculous. Then I began from within; I accustomed myself to thinking good thoughts, speaking well of people and acting nobly! And one day, when my outward form had moulded itself on the soul within, I became her likeness, as she said. And it was she who first uttered those wonderful words: I love you! How can a devil ennoble us; how can a spirit of hell fill us with goodness; how...? No, she was an angel! A fallen angel, of course, and her love a broken ray of that great light—that great eternal light—that warms and loves.... That loves....

TEMPTER. What, old friend, must we stand here like two youths and spell out the riddles of love?

CONFESSOR (coming in). What's this chatterer saying? He's talked away his whole life; and never done anything.

TEMPTER. I wanted to be a priest, but had no vocation.

CONFESSOR. Whilst you're waiting for it, help me to find a drunkard who's drowned himself in the bog. It must be near here, because I've been following his tracks till now.

TEMPTER. Then it's the man lying beneath that brushwood there.

CONFESSOR (picking up some twigs, and disclosing a fully clothed corpse, with a white, young face.) Yes, it is! (He grows pensive as he looks at the dead man.)

TEMPTER. Who was he?

CONFESSOR. It's extraordinary!

TEMPTER. He must have been a good-looking man. And quite young.

CONFESSOR. Oh no. He was fifty-four. And when I saw him a week ago, he looked like sixty-four. His eyes were as yellow as the slime of a garden snail and bloodshot from drunkenness; but also because he'd shed tears of blood over his vices and misery. His face was brown and swollen like a piece of liver on a butcher's table, and he hid himself from men's eyes out of shame—up to the end he seems to have been ashamed of the broken mirror of his soul, for he covered his face with brushwood. I saw him fighting his vices; I saw him praying to God on his knees for deliverance, after he'd been dismissed from his post as a teacher.... But... Well, now he's been delivered. And look, now the evil's been taken from him, the good and beautiful that was in him has again become apparent; that's what he looked like when he was nineteen! (Pause.) This is sin—imposed as a punishment. Why? That we don't know. 'He who hateth the righteous, shall himself be guilty!' So it is written, as an indication. I knew him when he was young! And now I remember... he was always very angry with those who never drank. He criticised and condemned, and always set his cult of the grape on the altar of earthly joys! Now he's been set free. Free from sin, from shame, from ugliness. Yes, in death he looks beautiful. Death is the deliverer! (To the STRANGER.) Do you hear that, Deliverer, you who couldn't even free a drunkard from his evil passions!

TEMPTER. Crime as punishment? That's not so bad. Most penetrating!

CONFESSOR. So I think. You'll have new matter for argument.

TEMPTER. Now I'll leave you gentlemen for a while. But soon we'll meet again. (He goes out.)

CONFESSOR. I saw you just now with a woman! So there are still temptations?

STRANGER. Not the kind you mean.

CONFESSOR. Then what kind?

STRANGER. I could still imagine a reconciliation between mankind and woman—through woman herself! And indeed, through that woman who was my wife and has now become what I once held her to be having been purified and lifted up by sorrow and need. But...

CONFESSOR. But what?

STRANGER. Experience teaches; the nearer, the further off: the further from one another, the nearer one can be.

CONFESSOR. I've always known that—it was known by Dante, who all his life possessed the soul of Beatrice; and Beethoven, who was united from afar with Therese von Brunswick, knew it, though she was the wife of another!

STRANGER. And yet! Happiness is only to be found in her company.

CONFESSOR. Then stay with her.

STRANGER. You're forgetting one thing: we're divorced.

CONFESSOR. Good! Then you can begin a new marriage. And it'll promise all the more, because both of you are new people.

STRANGER. Do you think anyone would marry us?

CONFESSOR. I, for instance? That's asking too much.

STRANGER. Yes. I'd forgotten! But I daresay someone could be found. It's another thing to get a home together....

CONFESSOR. You're sometimes lucky, even if you won't see it. There's a small house down there by the river; it's quite new and the owner's never even seen it. He was an Englishman who wanted to marry; but at the last moment she broke off the engagement. It was built by his secretary, and neither of the engaged couple ever set eyes on it. It's quite intact, you see!

STRANGER. IS it to let?

CONFESSOR. Yes.

STRANGER. Then I'll risk it. And I'll try to begin life all over again.

CONFESSOR. Then you'll go down?

STRANGER. Out of the clouds. Below the sun's shining, and up here the air's a little thin.

CONFESSOR. Good! Then we must part—for a time.

STRANGER. Where are you going?

CONFESSOR. Up.

STRANGER. And I down; to the earth, the mother with the soft bosom and warm lap....

CONFESSOR. Until you long once more for what's hard as stone, as cold and as white... Farewell! Greetings to those below!

(Each of them goes of in the direction he has chosen.)

Curtain.

SCENE III

A SMALL HOUSE ON THE MOUNTAIN

[A pleasant, panelled dining-room, with a tiled stove of majolica. On the dining-table, which is in the middle of the room, stand vases filled with flowers; also two candelabra with many lighted candles. A large carved sideboard on the left. On the right, two windows. At the back, two doors; that on the left is open and gives a view of the drawing-room, belonging to the lady of the house, which is furnished in light green and mahogany, and has a standard lamp of brass with a large, lemon-coloured lampshade, which is lit. The door on the right is closed. On the left behind the sideboard the entrance from the hall.]

[From the left the STRANGER enters, dressed as a bridegroom; and the LADY, dressed as a bride; both radiant with youth and beauty.]

STRANGER. Welcome to my house, beloved; to your home and mine, my bride; to your dwelling-place, my wife!

LADY. I'm grateful, dear friend! It's like a fairy tale!

STRANGER. Yes, it is. A whole book of fairy tales, my dear, written by me.

(They sit down on either side of the table.)

LADY. Is this real? It seems too lovely to me.

STRANGER. I've never seen you look so young, so beautiful.

LADY. It's your own eyes....

STRANGER. Yes, my own eyes that have learnt to see. And your goodness taught them....

LADY. Which itself was taught by sorrow.

STRANGER. Ingeborg!

LADY. It's the first time you've called me by that name.

STRANGER. The first? I've never met Ingeborg; I've never known you, as you are, sitting here in our home! Home! An enchanting word. An enchanting thing I've never yet possessed. A home and a wife! You are my first, my only one; for what once happened exists no longer—no more than the hour that's past!

LADY. Orpheus! Your song has made these dead stones live. Make life sing in me!

STRANGER. Eurydice, whom I rescued from the underworld! I'll love you to life again; revivify you with my imagination. Now happiness will come to us, for we know the dangers to avoid.

LADY. The dangers, yes! It's lovely in this house. It seems as if these rooms were full of invisible guests, who've come to welcome us. Kind spirits, who'll bless us and our home.

STRANGER. The candle flames are still, as if in prayer. The flowers are pensive.... And yet!

LADY. Hush! The summer night's outside, warm and dark. And stars hang in the sky; large and tearful in the fir trees, like Christmas candles. This is happiness. Hold it fast!

STRANGER (still thinking). And yet!

LADY. Hush!

STRANGER (getting up). A poem's coming: I can hear it. It's for you.

LADY. Don't tell it me. I can see it—in your eyes.

STRANGER. For I read it in yours! Well, I couldn't repeat it, because it has no words. Only scent, and colour. If I were to, I should destroy it. What's unborn is always most beautiful. What's unwon, most dear!

LADY. Quiet. Or, our guests will leave us.

(They do not speak.)

STRANGER. This is happiness—but I can't grasp it.

LADY. See it and breath it; for it can't be grasped.

(They do not speak.)

STRANGER. You're looking at your little room.

LADY. It's as bright green as a summer meadow. There's someone in there. Several people!

STRANGER. Only my thoughts.

LADY. Your good, your beautiful thoughts....

STRANGER. Given me by you.

LADY. Had I anything to give you?

STRANGER. You? Everything! But up to now my hands have not been free to take it. Not clean enough to stroke your little heart....

LADY. Beloved! The time for reconciliation's coming.

STRANGER. With mankind, and woman—through a woman? Yes, that time has come; and blessed may you be amongst women.

(The candles and lamps go out; it grows dark in the dining-room; but a weak ray of light can be seen, coming from the brass standard lamp in the LADY's room.)

LADY. Why's it grown dark? Oh!

STRANGER. Where are you, beloved? Give me your hand. I'm afraid!

LADY. Here, dearest.

STRANGER. The little hand, held out to me in the darkness, that's led me over stones and thorns. That little, soft, dear hand! Lead me into the light, into your bright, warm room; fresh green like hope.

LADY (leading him towards the pale-green room). Are you afraid?

STRANGER. You're a white dove, with whom the startled eagle finds sanctuary, when heaven's thunder clouds grow black, for the dove has no fear. She has not provoked the thunders of heaven!

(They have reached the doorway leading to the other room, when the curtain falls.)

***

[The same room; but the table has been cleared. The LADY is sitting at it, doing nothing. She seems bored. On the right, down stage, a window is open. It is still. The STRANGER comes in, with a piece of paper in his hand.]

STRANGER. Now you shall hear it.

LADY (acquiescing absent-mindedly). Finished already?

STRANGER. Already? Do you mean that seriously? I've taken seven days to write this little poem. (Silence.) Perhaps it'll bore you to hear it?

LADY (drily). No. Certainly not. (The STRANGER sits down at the table and looks at the LADY.) Why are you looking at me?

STRANGER. I'd like to see your thoughts.

LADY. But you've heard them.

STRANGER. That's nothing; I want to see them! (Pause.) What one says is mostly worthless. (Pause.) May I read them? No, I see I mayn't. You want nothing more from me. (The LADY makes a gesture as if she were going to speak.) Your face tells me enough. Now you've sucked me dry, eaten me hollow, killed my ego, my personality. To that I answer: how, my beloved? Have I killed your ego, when I wanted to give you the whole of mine; when I let you skim the cream off my bowl, that I'd filled with all the experience of along life, with incursions into the deserts and groves of knowledge and art?

LADY. I don't deny it, but my ego wasn't my own.

STRANGER. Not yours? Then what is? Something that belongs to others?

LADY. Is yours something that belongs to others too?

STRANGER. No. What I've experienced is my own, mine and no other's. What I've read becomes mine, because I've broken it in two like glass, melted it down, and from this substance blown new glass in novel forms.

LADY. But I can never be yours.

STRANGER. I've become yours.

LADY. What have you got from me?

STRANGER. How can you ask me that?

LADY. All the same—I'm not sure that you think it, though I feel you feel it—you wish me far away.

STRANGER. I must be a certain distance from you, if I'm to see you. Now you're within the focus, and your image is unclear.

LADY. The nearer, the farther off!

STRANGER. Yes. When we part, we long for one another; and when we meet again, we long to part.

LADY. Do you really think we love each other?

STRANGER. Yes. Not like ordinary people, but unusual ones. We resemble two drops of water, that fear to get close together, in case they should cease to be two and become one.

LADY. This time we knew the dangers and wanted to avoid them. But it seems that they can't be avoided.

STRANGER. Perhaps they weren't dangers, but rude necessities; laws inscribed in the councils of the immortals. (Silence.) Your love always seemed to have the effect of hate. When you made me happy, you envied the happiness you'd given me. And when you saw I was unhappy, you loved me.

LADY. Do you want me to leave you?

STRANGER. If you do, I shall die.

LADY. And, if I stay, it's I who'll die.

STRANGER. Then let's die together and live out our love in a higher life; our love, that doesn't seem to be of this world. Let's live it out in another planet, where there's no nearness and no distance, where two are one; where number, time and space are no longer what they are in this.

LADY. I'd like to die, yet I don't want to. I think I must be dead already.

STRANGER. The air up here's too strong.

LADY. You can't love me if you speak like that.

STRANGER. To be frank, there are moments when you don't exist for me. But in others I feel your hatred like suffocating smoke.

LADY. And I feel my heart creeping from my breast, when you are angry with me.

STRANGER. Then we must hate one other.

LADY. And love one another too.

STRANGER. And hate because we love. We hate each other, because we're bound together. We hate the bond, we hate our love; we hate what is most loveable, what is the bitterest, the best this life can offer. We've come to an end!

LADY. Yes.

STRANGER. What a joke life is, if you take it seriously. And how serious, if you take it as a joke! You wanted to lead me by the hand towards the light; your easier fate was to make mine easier too. I wanted to raise you above the bogs and quicksands; but you longed for the lower regions, and wanted to convince me they were the upper ones. I ask myself if it's possible that you took what was wicked from me, when I was freed from it; and that what was good in you entered into me? If I've made you wicked I ask your pardon, and I kiss your little hand, that caressed and scratched me... the little hand that led me into the darkness... and on the long journey to Damascus....

LADY. To a parting? (Silence.) Yes, a parting!

(The LADY goes on her way. The STRANGER falls on to a chair by the table. The TEMPTER puts his head in at the window, and rests himself on his elbows whilst he smokes a cigarette.)

TEMPTER. Ah, yes! C'est l'amour! The most mysterious of all mysteries, the most inexplicable of all that can't be explained, the most precarious of all that's insecure.

STRANGER. So you're here?

TEMPTER. I'm always everywhere, where it smells of quarrels. And in love affairs there are always quarrels.

STRANGER. Always?

TEMPTER. Always! I was invited to a silver wedding yesterday. Twenty-five years are no trifle—and for twenty-five years they'd been quarrelling. The whole love affair had been one long shindy, with many little ones in between! And yet they loved one another, and were grateful for all the good that had come to them; the evil was forgotten, wiped out—for a moment's happiness is worth ten days of blows and pinpricks. Oh yes! Those who won't accept evil never get anything good. The rind's very bitter, though the kernel's sweet.

STRANGER. But very small.

TEMPTER. It may be small, but it's good! (Pause.) Tell me, why did your madonna go her way? No answer; because he doesn't know! Now we'll have to let the hotel again. Here's a board. I'll hang it out at once. 'To Let.' One comes, another goes! C'est la vie, quoi? Rooms for Travellers!

STRANGER. Have you ever been married?

TEMPTER. Oh yes. Of course.

STRANGER. Then why did you part?

TEMPTER. Chiefly—perhaps it's a peculiarity of mine—chiefly because—well, you know, a man marries to get a home, to get into a home; and a woman to get out of one. She wanted to get out, and I wanted to get in! I was so made that I couldn't take her into company, because I felt as if she were soiled by men's glances. And in company, my splendid, wonderful wife turned into a little grimacing monkey I couldn't bear the sight of. So I stayed at home; and then, she stayed away. And when I met her again, she'd changed into someone else. She, my pure white notepaper, was scribbled all over; her clear and lovely features changed in imitation of the satyr-like looks of strange men. I could see miniature photographs of bull-fighters and guardsmen in her eyes, and hear the strange accents of strange men in her voice. On our grand piano, on which only the harmonies of the great masters used to be heard, she now played the cabaret songs of strange men; and on our table there lay nothing but the favourite reading of strange men. In a word, my whole existence was on the way to becoming an intellectual concubinage with strange men—and that was contrary to my nature, which has always longed for women! And—I need hardly say this—the tastes of these strange men were always the reverse of mine. She developed a real genius for discovering things I detested! That's what she called 'saving her personality.' Can you understand that?

STRANGER. I can; but I won't attempt to explain it.

TEMPTER. Yet this woman maintained she loved me, and that I didn't love her. But I loved her so much I didn't want to speak to any other human being; because I feared to be untrue to her if I found pleasure in the company of others, even if they were men. I'd married for feminine society; and in order to enjoy it I'd left my friends. I'd married in order to find company, but what I got was complete solitude! And I was supporting house and home, in order to provide strange men with feminine companionship. C'est l'amour, my friend!

STRANGER. You should never talk about your wife.

TEMPTER. No! For if you speak well of her, people will laugh; and if you speak ill, all their sympathy will go out to her; and if, in the first instance, you ask why they laugh, you get no answer.

STRANGER. No. You can never find out who you've married. Never get hold of her—it seems she's no one. Tell me—what is woman?

TEMPTER. I don't know! Perhaps a larva or a chrysalis, out of whose trance-like life a man one day will be created. She seems a child, but isn't one; she is a sort of child, and yet not like one. Drags downward, when the man pulls up. Drags upward, when the man pulls down.

STRANGER. She always wants to disagree with her husband; always has a lot of sympathy for what he dislikes; is crudest beneath the greatest superficial refinement; the wickedest amongst the best. And yet, whenever I've been in love, I've always grown more sensitive to the refinements of civilisation.

TEMPTER. You, I dare say. What about her?

STRANGER. Oh, whilst our love was growing she was always developing backwards. And getting cruder and more wicked.

TEMPTER. Can you explain that?

STRANGER. No. But once, when I was trying to find the solution to the riddle by disagreeing with myself, I took it that she absorbed my evil and I her good.

TEMPTER. Do you think woman's particularly false?

STRANGER. Yes and no. She seeks to hide her weakness but that only means that she's ambitious and has a sense of shame. Only whores are honest, and therefore cynical.

TEMPTER. Tell me some more about her that's good.

STRANGER. I once had a woman friend. She soon noticed that when I drank I looked uglier than usual; so she begged me not to. I remember one night we'd been talking in a cafe for many hours. When it was nearly ten o'clock, she begged me to go home and not to drink any more. We parted, after we'd said goodnight. A few days later I heard she'd left me only to go to a large party, where she drank till morning. Well, I said, as in those days I looked for all that was good in women, she meant well by me, but had to pollute herself for business reasons.

TEMPTER. That's well thought out; and, as a view, can be defended. She wanted to make you better than herself, higher and purer, so that she could look up to you! But you can find an equally good explanation for that. A wife's always angry and out of humour with her husband; and the husband's always kind and grateful to his wife. He does all he can to make things easy for her, and she does all she can to torture him.

STRANGER. That's not true. Of course it may sometimes appear to be so. I once had a woman friend who shifted all the defects that she had on to me. For instance, she was very much in love with herself, and therefore called me the most egoistical of men. She drank, and called me a drunkard; she rarely changed her linen and said I was dirty; she was jealous, even of my men friends, and called me Othello. She was masterful and called me Nero. Niggardly and called me Harpagon.

TEMPTER. Why didn't you answer her?

STRANGER. You know why very well! If I'd made clear to her what she really was, I'd have lost her favour that moment—and it was precisely her favour I wanted to keep.

TEMPTER. A tout prix! Yes, that's the source of degradation! You grow accustomed to holding your tongue, and at last find yourself caught in a tissue of falsehoods.

STRANGER. Wait! Don't you agree that married people so mix their personalities that they can no longer distinguish between meum and tuum, no longer remain separate from one another, or cannot tell their own weaknesses from those of the other. My jealous friend, who called me Othello, took me for herself, identified me with herself.

TEMPTER. That sounds conceivable.

STRANGER. You see! You can often explain most if you don't ask who's to blame. For when married people begin to differ, it's like a realm divided against itself, and that's the worst kind of disharmony.

TEMPTER. There are moments when I think a woman cannot love a man.

STRANGER. Perhaps not. To love is an active verb and woman's a passive noun. He loves and she is loved; he asks questions and she merely answers.

TEMPTER. Then what is woman's love?

STRANGER. The man's.

TEMPTER. Well said. And therefore when the man ceases to love her, she severs herself from him!

STRANGER. And then?

TEMPTER. 'Sh! Someone's coming. Perhaps to take the house!

STRANGER. A woman or a man?

TEMPTER. A woman! And a man. But he's waiting outside. Now he's turned and is going into the wood. Interesting!

STRANGER. Who is it?

TEMPTER. You can see for yourself.

STRANGER (looking out of the window). It's she! My first wife! My first love!

TEMPTER. It seems she's left her second husband recently... and arrived here with number three; who, if one can judge by certain movements of his back and calves, is escaping from a stormy scene. Oh, well! But she didn't notice his spiteful intentions. Very interesting! I'll go out and listen.

(He disappears. The WOMAN knocks.)

STRANGER. Come in!

(The WOMAN comes in. There is a silence.)

WOMAN (excitedly). I only came here because the house was to let.

STRANGER. Oh!

WOMAN (slowly). Had I known who wanted to let it, I shouldn't have come.

STRANGER. What does it matter?

WOMAN. May I sit down a moment? I'm tired.

STRANGER. Please do. (They sit down at the table opposite one another, in the seats occupied by the STRANGER and the LADY in the first scene.) It's a long time since we've sat facing one another like this.

WOMAN. With flowers and lights on the table. One night...

STRANGER. When I was dressed as a bridegroom and you as a bride...

WOMAN. And the candle flames were still as in prayer and the flowers pensive....

STRANGER. Is your husband outside?

WOMAN. No.

STRANGER. You're still seeking... what doesn't exist?

WOMAN. Doesn't it?

STRANGER. No. I always told you so, but you wouldn't believe me; you wanted to find out for yourself. Have you found out now?

WOMAN. Not yet.

STRANGER. Why did you leave your husband? (The WOMAN doesn't reply.) Did he beat you?

WOMAN. Yes.

STRANGER. How did he come to forget himself so far?

WOMAN. He was angry.

STRANGER. What about?

WOMAN. Nothing.

STRANGER. Why was he angry about nothing?

WOMAN (rising). No, thank you! I won't sit here and be picked to pieces. Where's your wife?

STRANGER. She left me just now.

WOMAN. Why?

STRANGER. Why did you leave me?

WOMAN. I felt you wanted to leave me; so, not to be deserted, I went myself.

STRANGER. I dare say that's true. But how could you read my thoughts?

WOMAN (sitting down again). What? We didn't need to speak in order to know one another's thoughts.

STRANGER. We made a mistake when we were living together, because we accused each other of wicked thoughts before they'd become actions; and lived in mental reservations instead of realities. For instance, I once noticed how you enjoyed the defiling gaze of a strange man, and I accused you of unfaithfulness.

WOMAN. You were wrong to do so, and right. Because my thoughts were sinful.

STRANGER. Don't you think my habit of 'anticipating you' prevented your bad designs from being put in practice?

WOMAN. Let me think! Yes, perhaps it did. But I was annoyed to find a spy always at my side, watching my inmost self, that was my own.

STRANGER. But it wasn't your own: it was ours!

WOMAN. Yes, but I held it to be mine, and believed you'd no right to force your way in. When you did so I hated you; I said you were abnormally suspicious out of self-defence. Now I can admit that your suspicions were never wrong; that they were, in fact, the purest wisdom.

STRANGER. Oh! Do you know that, at night, when we'd said good-night as friends and gone to sleep, I used to wake and feel your hatred poisoning me; and think of getting out of bed so as not to be suffocated. One night I woke and felt a pressure on the top of my head. I saw you were awake and had put your hand close to my mouth. I thought you were making me inhale poison from a phial; and, to make sure, I seized your hand.

WOMAN. I remember.

STRANGER. What did you do then?

WOMAN. Nothing. Only hated you.

STRANGER. Why?

WOMAN. Because you were my husband. Because I ate your bread.

STRANGER. Do you think it's always the same?

WOMAN. I don't know. I suspect it is.

STRANGER. But sometimes you've even despised me?

WOMAN. Yes, when you were ridiculous. A man in love is always ridiculous. Do you know what a cox-comb is? That's what a lover's like.

STRANGER. But if any man who loves you is ridiculous, how can you respond to his love?

WOMAN. We don't! We submit to it, and search for another man who doesn't love us.

STRANGER. But if he, in turn, begins to love you, do you look for a third?

WOMAN. Perhaps it's like that.

STRANGER. Very strange. (There is a silence.) I remember you were always dreaming of someone you called your Toreador, which I translated by 'horse butcher.' You eventually got him, but he gave you no children, and no bread; only beatings! A toreador's always fighting. (Silence.) Once I let myself be tempted into trying to compete with the toreador. I started to bicycle and fence and do other things of the kind. But you only began to detest me for it. That means that the husband mayn't do what the lover may. Later you had a passion for page boys. One of them used to sit on the Brussels carpet and read you bad verses.... My good ones were of no use to you. Did you get your page boy?

WOMAN. Yes. But his verses weren't bad, really.

STRANGER. Oh yes, they were, my dear. I know him! He stole my rhythms and set them for the barrel organ.

WOMAN (rising and going to the door.) You should be ashamed of yourself.

(The TEMPTER conies in, holding a letter in his hand.)

TEMPTER. Here's a letter. It's for you. (The WOMAN takes it, reads it and falls into a chair.) A farewell note! Oh, well! All beginnings are hard—in love affairs. And those who lack the patience to surmount initial difficulties—lose the golden fruit. Pages are always impatient. Unknown youth, have you had enough?

STRANGER (rising and picking up his hat). My poor Anna!

WOMAN. Don't leave me.

STRANGER. I must.

WOMAN. Don't go. You were the best of them all.

TEMPTER. Do you want to begin again from the beginning? That would be a sure way to make an end of this. For if lovers only find one another, they lose one another! What is love? Say something witty, each one of you, before we part.

WOMAN. I don't know what it is. The highest and the loveliest of things, that has to sink to the lowest and the ugliest.

STRANGER. A caricature of godly love.

TEMPTER. An annual plant, that blossoms during the engagement, goes to seed in marriage and then sinks to the earth to wither and die.

WOMAN. The loveliest flowers have no seed. The rose is the flower of love.

STRANGER. And the lily that of innocence. That can form seeds, but only opens her white cup to kisses.

TEMPTER. And propagates her kind with buds, out of which fresh lilies spring, like chaste Minerva who sprang fully armed from the head of Zeus, and not from his royal loins. Oh yes, children, I've understood much, but never this: what the beloved of my soul has to do with.... (He hesitates.)

STRANGER. Well, go on!

TEMPTER. What all-powerful love, that is the marriage of souls, has to do with the propagation of the species!

STRANGER and WOMAN. Now he's come to the point!

TEMPTER. I've never been able to understand how a kiss, that's an unborn word, a soundless speech, a quiet language of the soul, can be exchanged, by means of a hallowed procedure, for a surgical operation, that always ends in tears and the chattering of teeth. I've never understood how that holy night, the first in which two souls embrace each other in love, can end in the shedding of blood, in quarrelling, hate, mutual contempt—and lint! (He holds his mouth shut.)

STRANGER. Suppose the story of the fall were true? In pain shalt thou bring forth children.

TEMPTER. In that case one could understand.

WOMAN. Who is the man who says these things?

TEMPTER. Only a wanderer on the quicksands of this life. (The WOMAN rises.) So you're ready to go. Who will go first?

STRANGER. I shall.

TEMPTER. Where?

STRANGER. Upwards. And you?

TEMPTER. I shall stay down here, in between....

Curtain.



ACT IV

SCENE I

CHAPTER HOUSE OF THE MONASTERY

[A Gothic chapter house. In the background arcades lead to the cloisters and the courtyard of the monastery. In the middle of the courtyard there is a well with a statue of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by long-stemmed white roses. The walls of the chapter house are filled with built-in choir stalls of oak. The PRIOR'S own stall is in the middle to the right and rather higher than the rest. In the middle of the chapter house an enormous crucifix. The sun is shining on the statue of the Virgin in the courtyard. The STRANGER enters from the back. He is wearing a coarse monkish cowl, with a rope round his waist and sandals on his feet. He halts in the doorway and looks at the chapter house, then goes over to the crucifix and stops in front of it. The last strophe of the choral service can be heard from across the courtyard. The CONFESSOR enters from the back; he is dressed in black and white; he has long hair and along beard and a very small tonsure that can hardly be seen.]

CONFESSOR. Peace be with you!

STRANGER. And with you.

CONFESSOR. How do you like this white house?

STRANGER. I can only see blackness.

CONFESSOR. You still are black; but you'll grow white, quite white! Did you sleep well last night?

STRANGER. Dreamlessly, like a tired child. But tell me: why do I find so many locked doors?

CONFESSOR. You'll gradually learn to open them.

STRANGER. Is this a large building?

CONFESSOR. Endless! It dates from the time of Charlemagne and has continually grown through pious benefactions. Untouched by the spiritual upheavals and changes of different epochs, it stands on its rocky height as a monument of Western culture. That is to say: Christian faith wedded to the knowledge of Hellas and Rome.

STRANGER. So it's not merely a religious foundation?

CONFESSOR. No. It embraces all the arts and sciences as well. There's a library, museum, observatory and laboratory—as you'll see later. Agriculture and horticulture are also studied here; and a hospital for laymen, with its own sulphur springs, is attached to the monastery.

STRANGER. One word more, before the chapter assembles. What kind of man is the Prior?

CONFESSOR (smiling). He is the Prior! Aloof, without peer, dwelling on the summits of human knowledge, and... well, you'll see him soon.

STRANGER. Is it true that he's so old?

CONFESSOR. He's reached an unusual age. He was born at the beginning of the century that's now nearing its end.

STRANGER. Has he always been in the monastery?

CONFESSOR. No. He's not always been a monk, though always a priest. Once he was a minister, but that was seventy years ago. Twice curator of the university. Archbishop.... 'Sh! Mass is over.

STRANGER. I presume he's not the kind of unprejudiced priest who pretends to have vices when he has none?

CONFESSOR. Not at all. But he's seen life and mankind, and he's more human than priestly.

STRANGER. And the fathers?

CONFESSOR. Wise men, with strange histories, and none of them alike.

STRANGER. Who can never have known life as it's lived....

CONFESSOR. All have lived their lives, more than once; have suffered shipwreck, started again, gone to pieces and risen once more. You must wait.

STRANGER. The Prior's sure to ask me questions. I don't think I can agree to everything.

CONFESSOR. On the contrary, you must show yourself as you are; and defend your opinions to the last.

STRANGER. Will contradiction be permitted here?

CONFESSOR. Here? You're a child, who's lived in a childish world, where you've played with thoughts and words. You've lived in the erroneous belief that language, a material thing, can be a vehicle for anything so subtle as thoughts and feelings. We've discovered that error, and therefore speak as little as possible; for we are aware of, and can divine, the innermost thoughts of our neighbour. We've so developed our perceptive faculties by spiritual exercises that we are linked in a single chain; and can detect a feeling of pleasure and harmony, when there's complete accord. The Prior, who has trained himself most rigorously, can feel if anyone's thoughts have strayed into wrong paths. In some respects he's like—merely like, I say—a telephone engineer's galvanometer, that shows when and where a current has been interrupted. Therefore we can have no secrets from one another, and so do not need the confessional. Think of all this when you confront the searching eye of the Prior!

STRANGER. Is there any intention of examining me?

CONFESSOR. Oh no. There are merely a few questions to answer without any deep meaning, before the practical examinations. Quiet! Here they are.

(He goes to one side. The PRIOR enters from the back. He is dressed entirely in white and he has pulled up his hood. He is a tall man with long white hair and along white beard-his head is like that of Jupiter. His face is pale, but full and without wrinkles. His eyes are large, surrounded by shadows and his eyebrows strongly marked. A quiet, majestic calm reigns over his whole personality. The PRIOR is followed by twelve Fathers, dressed in black and white, with black hoods, also pulled up. All bow to the crucifix and then go to their places.)

PRIOR (after looking at the STRANGER for a moment.) What do you seek here? (The STRANGER is confused and tries to find an answer, but cannot. The PRIOR goes on, calmly, firmly, but indulgently.) Peace? Isn't that so? (The STRANGER makes a sign of assent with head and mouth.) But if the whole of life is a struggle, how can you find peace amongst the living? (The STRANGER is not able to answer.) Do you want to turn your back on life because you feel you've been injured, cheated?

STRANGER (in a weak voice). Yes.

PRIOR. So you've been defrauded, unjustly dealt with? And this injustice began so early that you, an innocent child, couldn't imagine you'd committed any crime that was worthy of punishment. Well, once you were unjustly accused of stealing fruit; tormented into taking the offence on yourself; tortured into telling lies about yourself and forced to beg forgiveness for a fault you'd not committed. Wasn't it so?

STRANGER (with certainty). Yes. It was.

PRIOR. It was; and you've never been able to forget it. Never. Now listen, you've a good memory; can you remember The Swiss Family Robinson?

STRANGER (shrinking). The Swiss Family Robinson?

PRIOR. Yes. Those events that caused you such mental torture happened in 1857, but at Christmas 1856, that is the year before, you tore a copy of that book and out of fear of punishment hid it under a chest in the kitchen. (The STRANGER is taken aback.) The wardrobe was painted in oak graining, and clothes hung in its upper part, whilst shoes stood below. This wardrobe seemed enormously big to you, for you were a small child, and you couldn't imagine it could ever be moved; but during spring cleaning at Easter what was hidden was brought to light. Fear drove you to put the blame on a schoolfellow. And now he had to endure torture, because appearances were against him, for you were thought to be trustworthy. After this the history of your sorrows comes as a logical sequence. You accept this logic?

STRANGER. Yes. Punish me!

PRIOR. No. I don't punish; when I was a child I did—similar things. But will you now promise to forget this history of your own sufferings for all time and never to recount it again?

STRANGER. I promise! If only he whom I took advantage of could forgive me.

PRIOR. He has already. Isn't that so, Pater Isidor?

ISIDOR (who was the DOCTOR in the first part of 'The Road to Damascus,' rising). With my whole heart!

STRANGER. It's you!

ISIDOR. Yes. I.

PRIOR (to FATHER ISIDOR). Pater Isidor, say a word, just one.

ISIDOR. It was in the year 1856 that I had to endure my torture. But even in 1854 one of my brothers suffered in the same way, owing to a false accusation on my part. (To the STRANGER.) So we're all guilty and not one of us is without blemish; and I believe my victim had no clear conscience either. (He sits down.)

PRIOR. If we could only stop accusing one another and particularly Eternal Justice! But we're born in guilt and all resemble Adam! (To the STRANGER.) There was something you wanted to know, was there not?

STRANGER. I wanted to know life's inmost meaning.

PRIOR. The very innermost! So you wanted to learn what no man's permitted to know. Pater Uriel! (PATER URIEL, who is blind, rises. The PRIOR speaks to the STRANGER.) Look at this blind father! We call him Uriel in remembrance of Uriel Acosta, whom perhaps you've heard of? (The STRANGER makes a sign that he has not.) You haven't? All young people should have heard of him. Uriel Acosta was a Portuguese of Jewish descent, who, however, was brought up in the Christian faith. When he was still fairly young he began to inquire—you understand—to inquire if Christ were really God; with the result that he went over to the Jewish faith. And then he began research into the Mosaic writings and the immortality of the soul, with the result that the Rabbis handed him over to the Christian priesthood for punishment. A long time after he returned to the Jewish faith. But his thirst for knowledge knew no bounds, and he continued his researches till he found he'd reached absolute nullity; and in despair that he couldn't learn the final secret he took his own life with a pistol shot. (Pause.) Now look at our good father Uriel here. He, too, was once very young and anxious to know; he always wanted to be in the forefront of every modern movement, and he discovered new philosophies. I may add, by the way, that he's a friend of my boyhood and almost as old as I. Now about 1820 he came upon the so-called rational philosophy, that had already lain in its grave for twenty years. With this system of thought, which was supposed to be a master key, all locks were to be picked, all questions answered and all opponents confuted—everything was clear and simple. In those days Uriel was a strong opponent of all religions and in particular followed the Mesmerists, as the hypnotisers of that age were called. In 1830 our friend became a Hegelian, though, to be sure, rather late in the day. Then he re-discovered God, a God who was immanent in nature and in man, and found he was a little god himself. Now, as ill-luck would have it, there were two Hegels, just as there were two Voltaires; and the later, or more conservative Hegel, had developed his All-godhead till it had become a compromise with the Christian view. And so Father Uriel, who never wanted to be behind the times, became a rationalistic Christian, who was given the thankless task of combating Rationalism and himself. (Pause.) I'll shorten the whole sad history for Father Uriel's sake. In 1850 he again became a materialist and an enemy of Christianity. In 1870 he became a hypnotist, in 1880 a theosophist, and 1890 he wanted to shoot himself! I met him just at that time. He was sitting on a bench in Unter den Linden in Berlin, and he was blind. This Uriel was blind—and Uriel means 'God is my Light'—who for a century had marched with the torch of liberalism at the head of every modern movement! (To the STRANGER.) You see, he wanted to know, but he failed! And therefore he now believes. Is there anything else you'd like to know?

STRANGER. One thing only.

PRIOR. Speak.

STRANGER. If Father Uriel had held to his first faith in 1810, men would have called him conservative or old-fashioned; but now, as he's followed the developments of his time and has therefore discarded his youthful faith, men will call him a renegade—that's to say: whatever he does mankind will blame him.

PRIOR. Do you heed what men say? Father Clemens, may I tell him how you heeded what men said? (PATER CLEMENS rises and makes a gesture of assent.) Father Clemens is our greatest figure painter. In the world outside he's known by another name, a very famous one. Father Clemens was a young man in 1830. He felt he had a talent for painting and gave himself up to it with his whole soul. When he was twenty he was exhibiting. The public, the critics, his teachers, and his parents were all of the opinion that he'd made a mistake in the choice of his profession. Young Clemens heeded what men were saying, so he laid down his brush and turned bookseller. When he was fifty years of age, and had his life behind him, the paintings of his early years were discovered by some stranger; and were then recognised as masterpieces by the public, the critics, his teachers and relations! But it was too late. And when Father Clemens complained of the wickedness of the world, the world answered with a heartless grin: 'Why did you let yourself be taken in?' Father Clemens grieved so much at this, that he came to us. But he doesn't grieve any longer now. Or do you, Father Clemens?

CLEMENS. No! But that isn't the end of the story. The paintings I'd done in 1830 were admired and hung in a museum till 1880. Taste then changed very quickly, and one day an important newspaper announced that their presence there was an outrage. So they were banished to the attic.

PRIOR (to the STRANGER). That's a good story!

CLEMENS. But it's still not finished. By 1890 taste had so changed again that a professor of the History of Art wrote that it was a national scandal that my works should be hanging in an attic. So the pictures were brought down again, and, for the time being, are classical. But for how long? From that you can see, young man, in what worldly fame consists? Vanitas vanitatum vanitas!

STRANGER. Then is life worth living?

PRIOR. Ask Pater Melcher, who is experienced not only in the world of deception and error, but also in that of lies and contradictions. Follow him: he'll show you the picture gallery and tell you stories.

STRANGER. I'll gladly follow anyone who can teach me something.

(PATER MELCHER takes the STRANGER by the hand and leads him out of the Chapter House.)

Curtain.

SCENE II

PICTURE GALLERY OF THE MONASTERY

[Picture Gallery of the Monastery. There are mostly portraits of people with two heads.]

MELCHER. Well, first we have here a small landscape, by an unknown master, called 'The Two Towers.' Perhaps you've been in Switzerland and know the originals.

STRANGER. I've been in Switzerland!

MELCHER. Exactly. Then near the station of Amsteg on the Gotthard railway you've seen a tower, called Zwing-Uri, sung of by Schiller in his Wilhelm Tell. It stands there as a monument to the cruel oppression which the inhabitants of Uri suffered at the hands of the German Emperors. Good! On the Italian side of the Gotthard lies Bellinzona, as you know. There are many towers to be seen there, but the most curious is called Castel d'Uri. That's the monument recalling the cruel oppression which the Italian cantons suffered at the hands of the inhabitants of Uri! Now do you understand?

STRANGER. So freedom means: freedom to oppress others. That's new to me.

MELCHER. Then let's go on without further comment to the portrait collection. Number one in the catalogue. Boccaccio, with two heads—all our portraits have at least two heads. His story's well known. The great man began his career by writing dissolute and godless tales, which he dedicated to Queen Johanna of Naples, who'd seduced the son of St. Brigitta. Boccaccio ended up as a saint in a monastery where he lectured on Dante's Hell and the devils that, in his youth, he had thought to drive out in a most original way. You'll notice now, how the two faces are meeting each other's gaze!

STRANGER. Yes. But all trace of humour's lacking; and humour's to be expected in a man who knew himself as well as our friend Boccaccio did.

MELCHER. Number two in the catalogue. Ah, yes; that's two-headed Doctor Luther. The youthful champion of tolerance and the aged upholder of intolerance. Have I said enough?

STRANGER. Quite enough.

MELCHER. Number three in the catalogue. The great Gustavus Adolphus accepting Catholic funds from Cardinal Richelieu in order to fight for Protestantism, whilst remaining neutral in the face of the Catholic League.

STRANGER. How do Protestants explain this threefold contradiction?

MELCHER. They say it's not true. Number four in the catalogue. Schiller, the author of The Robbers, who was offered the freedom of the City of Paris by the leaders of the French Revolution in 1792; but who had been made a State Councillor of Meiningen as early as 1790 and a royal Danish Stipendiary in 1791. The scene depicts the State Councillor—and friend of his Excellency Goethe—receiving the Diploma of Honour from the leaders of the French Revolution as late as 1798. Think of it, the diploma of the Reign of Terror in the year 1798, when the Revolution was over and the country under the Directory! I'd have liked to have seen the Councillor and his friend, His Excellency! But it didn't matter, for two years later he repaid his nomination by writing the Song of the Bell, in which he expressed his thanks and begged the revolutionaries to keep quiet! Well, that's life. We're intelligent people and love The Robbers as much as The Song of the Bell; Schiller as much as Goethe!

STRANGER. The work remains, the master perishes.

MELCHER. Goethe, yes! Number five in the catalogue. He began with Strassburg cathedral and Goetz von Berlichingen, two hurrahs for gothic Germanic art against that of Greece and Rome. Later he fought against Germanism and for Classicism. Goethe against Goethe! There you see the traditional Olympic calm, harmony, etc., in the greatest disharmony with itself. But depression at this turns into uneasiness when the young Romantic school appears and combats the Goethe of Iphigenia with theories drawn from Goethe's Goetz. That the 'great heathen' ends up by converting Faust in the Second Part, and allowing him to be saved by the Virgin Mary and the angels, is usually passed over in silence by his admirers. Also the fact that a man of such clear vision should, towards the end of his life, have found everything so 'strange,' and 'curious,' even the simplest facts that he'd previously seen through. His last wish was for 'more light'! Yes; but it doesn't matter. We're intelligent people and love our Goethe just the same.

STRANGER. And rightly.

MELCHER. Number six in the catalogue. Voltaire! He has more than two heads. The Godless One, who spent his whole life defending God. The Mocker, who was mocked, because 'he believed in God like a child.' The author of the cynical 'Candide,' who wrote:

In my youth I sought the pleasures Of the senses, but I learned That their sweetness was illusion Soon to bitterness it turned. In old age I've come to see Life is nought but vanity.

Dr. Knowall, who thought he could grasp everything between Heaven and Earth by means of reason and science, sings like this, when he comes to the end of his life:

I had thought to find in knowledge Light to guide me on my way; Yet I still must walk in darkness All that's known must soon decay. Ignorance, I turn to thee! Knowledge is but vanity.

But that's no matter! Voltaire can be put to many uses. The Jews use him against the Christians, and the Christians use him against the Jews, because he was an anti-Semite, like Luther. Chateaubriand used him to defend Catholicism, and Protestants use him even to-day to attack Catholicism. He was a fine fellow!

STRANGER. Then what's your view?

MELCHER. We have no views here; we've faith, as I've told you already. And that's why we've only one head—placed exactly above the heart. (Pause.) In the meantime let's look at number seven in the catalogue. Ah, Napoleon! The creation of the Revolution itself! The Emperor of the People, the Nero of Freedom, the suppressor of Equality and the 'big brother' of Fraternity. He's the most cunning of all the two-headed, for he could laugh at himself, raise himself above his own contradictions, change his skin and his soul, and yet be quite explicable to himself in every transformation—convinced, self-authorised. There's only one other man who can be compared with him in this; Kierkegaard the Dane. From the beginning he was aware of this parthenogenesis of the soul, whose capacity to multiply by taking cuttings was equivalent to bringing forth young in this life without conception. And for that reason, and so as not to become life's fool, he wrote under a number of pseudonyms, of which each one constituted a 'stage on his life's way.' But did you realise this? The Lord of life, in spite of all these precautions, made a fool of him after all. Kierkegaard, who fought all his life against the priesthood and the professional preachers of the State Church, was eventually forced of necessity to become a professional preacher himself! Oh yes! Such things do happen.

STRANGER. The Powers That Be play tricks....

MELCHER. The Powers play tricks on tricksters, and delude the arrogant, particularly those who alone believe they possess truth and knowledge! Number eight in the catalogue. Victor Hugo. He split himself into countless parts. He was a peer of France, a Grandee of Spain, a friend of Kings, and the socialist author of Les Miserables. The peers naturally called him a renegade, and the socialists a reformer. Number nine. Count Friedrich Leopold von Stollberg. He wrote a fanatical book for the Protestants, and then suddenly became a Catholic! Inexplicable in a sensible man. A miracle, eh? A little journey to Damascus, perhaps? Number ten. Lafayette. The heroic upholder of freedom, the revolutionary, who was forced to leave France as a suspected reactionary, because he wanted to help Louis XVI; and then was captured by the Austrians and carried off to Olmuetz as a revolutionary! What was he in reality?

STRANGER. Both!

MELCHER. Yes, both. He had the two halves that made a whole—a whole man. Number eleven. Bismarck. A paradox. The honest diplomat, who maintained he'd discovered that to tell the truth was the greatest of ruses. And so was compelled—by the Powers, I suppose?—to spend the last six years of his life unmasking himself as a conscious liar. You're tired. Then we'll stop now.

STRANGER. Yes, if one clings to the same ideas all one's life, and holds the same opinions, one grows old according to nature's laws, and gets called conservative, old-fashioned, out of date. But if one goes on developing, keeping pace with one's own age, renewing oneself with the perennially youthful impulses of contemporary thought, one's called a waverer and a renegade.

MELCHER. That's as old as the world! But does an intelligent, man heed what he's called? One is, what one's becoming.

STRANGER. But who revises the periodically changing views of contemporary opinion?

MELCHER. You ought to answer that yourself, and indeed in this way. It is the Powers themselves who promulgate contemporary opinion, as they develop in apparent circles. Hegel, the philosopher of the present, himself dimorphous, for both a 'left'-minded and a 'right'-minded Hegel can always be quoted, has best explained the contradictions of life, of history and of the spirit, with his own magic formula. Thesis: affirmation; Antithesis: negation; Synthesis: comprehension! Young man, or rather, comparatively young man! You began life by accepting everything, then went on to denying everything on principle. Now end your life by comprehending everything. Be exclusive no longer. Do not say: either—or, but: not only—but also! In a word, or two words rather, Humanity and Resignation!

Curtain.

SCENE III

CHAPEL OF THE MONASTERY

[Choir of the Monastery Chapel. An open coffin with a bier cloth and two burning candles. The CONFESSOR leads in the STRANGER by the hand. The STRANGER is dressed in the white shirt of the novice.]

CONFESSOR. Have you carefully considered the step you wish to take?

STRANGER. Very carefully.

CONFESSOR. Have you no more questions?

STRANGER. Questions? No.

CONFESSOR. Then stay here, whilst I fetch the Chapter and the Fathers and Brothers, so that the solemn act may begin.

STRANGER. Yes. Let it come to pass.

(The CONFESSOR goes out. The STRANGER, left alone, is sunk in thought.)

TEMPTER (coming forward). Are you ready?

STRANGER. So ready, that I've no answer left for you.

TEMPTER. On the brink of the grave, I understand! You'll have to lie in your coffin and appear to die; the old Adam will be covered with three shovelfuls of earth, and a De Profundis will be sung. Then you'll rise again from the dead, having laid aside your old name, and be baptized once more like a new-born child! What will you be called? (The STRANGER does not reply.) It is written: Johannes, brother Johannes, because he preached in the wilderness and...

STRANGER. Do not trouble me.

TEMPTER. Speak to me a little, before you depart into the long silence. For you'll not be allowed to speak for a whole year.

STRANGER. All the better. Speaking at last becomes a vice, like drinking. And why speak, if words do not cloak thoughts?

TEMPTER. You at the graveside.... Was life so bitter?

STRANGER. Yes. My life was.

TEMPTER. Did you never know one pleasure?

STRANGER. Yes, many pleasures; but they were very brief and seemed only to exist in order to make the pain of their loss the sharper.

THE END

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