Part 1 out of 4
E-text prepared by Nicole Apostola
by AUGUST STRINDBERG
Translated by Edith and Waerner Oland
A Comedy in IV Acts.
A Play in I Act.
A Play in I Act.
A Play in III Acts.
August Strindberg died at Stockholm On May 14, 1912, just ten days
after the first of his plays given in English in the United States
had completed a month's engagement. This play was "The Father,"
which, on April 9, 1912, was produced at the Berkeley Theatre in
New York, the same little theatre that witnessed in 1894 the first
performance in this country of Ibsen's "Ghosts."
It happened that August Lindberg, the eminent Swedish actor and
friend of Strindberg [who, by the way, was the first producer of
"Ghosts" in any language], was visiting this country and came to
see a performance of "The Father." His enthusiasm over the
interpretation given Strindberg, in the English rendering of the
play as well as in the acting, led him to cable a congratulatory
message to Strindberg; and upon departing for Stockholm, he asked
for some of the many letters of appreciation from significant
sources which the production of "The Father" had called forth.
These he wished to give to Strindberg as further assurance "that he
has," to use Herr Lindberg's words, "the right representatives in
this country." It is gratifying to those who esteem it a rare
privilege to be the introducers of Strindberg's powerful dramatic
art to the American stage to know that he finally found his genius
recognized on this side of the ocean.
"Comrades," the first play in the present volume, belongs to the
same momentous creative period as "The Father" and "Countess
Julie," although there is little anecdotic history attaching to
this vigorous comedy. It was written in Denmark, where Strindberg,
after finishing "The Father" in Switzerland in 1887, went with his
family to live for two years, and was published March 21, 1888.
Although the scene of the comedy is laid in Paris, all the
characters are Swedish, which may be accounted for by the fact that
the feminist movement, of which "Comrades" is a delicious, stinging
satire, had been more agitated at that time in Scandinavia than
elsewhere. That Paris was chosen as a background for this group of
young artists and writers was probably reminiscent of the time, the
early eighties, when Strindberg with his wife and children left
Sweden and, after spending some time with a colony of artists not
far from Fontainebleau, came to Paris, where there were many
friends of other days, and established themselves in that "sad,
silent Passy," as Strindberg's own chronicle of those times reads.
There he took his walks in the deserted arcades of the empty
Trocadero Palace, back of which he lived; went to the Theatre
Francais, where he saw the great success of the day, and was
startled that "an undramatic bagatelle with threadbare scenery,
stale intrigues and superannuated theatrical tricks, could be
playing on the foremost stage of the world;" saw at the Palais de
l'Industrie the triennial exhibition of art works, "the creme de la
creme of three salons, and found not one work of consequence."
After some time he came to the conclusion that "the big city is not
the heart that drives the pulses," but that it is "the boil that
corrupts and poisons," and so betook himself and his family to
Switzerland, where they lived in the vicinity of Lake Leman, which
environment was made use of years later in the moving one-act play,
"Facing Death," presented herewith.
"Pariah," the other one-act play appearing in this volume, is the
generally recognized masterpiece of all the short one-act plays.
The dialogue is so concentrated that it seems as if not one line
could be cut without the whole structure falling to pieces, and in
these terse speeches a genius is revealed that, with something of
the divine touch, sounds the depths of the human heart and reveals
its inmost thoughts. "Pariah" was published in 1890 and "Facing
Death" in 1898.
The period of Strindberg's sojourn in Switzerland, 1884-87, was
most important in the evolution of the character and work of the
man who, throughout his career, was to engage himself so
penetratingly and passionately in the psychology of woman, and
love, and the problems of marriage, as to acquire the reputation,
undeserved though it was, of woman-hater. That this observation and
analysis of woman was not induced by natural antipathy to the sex,
nor by unhappiness in his own married experience, is made clear by
the facts of his life up to the time when such investigation was
undertaken. What, then, did sway him to such a choice of theme?
Examination of the data of this period from Strindberg's own annals
reveals the following influences: Ibsen from his Norwegian throne
had hailed woman and the laborer as the two rising ranks of
nobility, and Strindberg asked himself if this was ironic, as
usual, or prophetic. Feminine individualism was the cult of the
hour. The younger generation had, through the doctrines of
evolution, become atheistic. Strindberg tells of asking a young
writer how he could get along without God. "We have woman instead,"
was the reply. This was the last stage of Madonna worship! And how
had it happened that the new generation had replaced God with
woman? "God was the remotest source; when he failed they grasped
at the next, the mother. But then they should at least choose the
real mother, the real woman, before whom, no matter how strong his
spirit, man will always bow when she appears with her life-giving
attributes. But the younger generation had pronounced contempt for
the mother, and in her place had set up the loathsome, sterile,
degenerate amazon--the blue-stocking!"
Earnestly pondering these matters, Strindberg at length decided to
write a book about woman, a subject, he declares, which up to this
time he had not wanted to think about, as he himself "lived in a
happy erotic state, ennobled and beautified by the rejuvenating and
expiatory arrival of children." But nevertheless he decided to
write such a book, and so with sympathy and much old-fashioned
veneration for motherhood the task was undertaken.
Regarding the mother as down-trodden, he wanted to think out a
means for her deliverance. To obtain a clear vision he chose as a
method the delineation of as large a number as possible of marriage
cases that he had seen--and he had seen many, as most of his
contemporary friends were married. Of these he chose twelve, the
most characteristic, and then he went to work. When he had written
about half that number, he stopped and reviewed the collection. The
result was entirely different from what he had expected.
Then chance came to his aid, for in the pension where he was
living, thirty women were stopping. He saw them at all meals,
between meals, and all about, idle, gossiping, pretentious, longing
for pleasure. "There were learned ladies who left the Saturday
Review behind them on the chairs; there were literary ladies, young
ladies, beautiful ladies." When he saw their care-free, idle life,
with concern he asked himself: "Whom do these parasites and their
children live on?" Then he discovered the bread-winners. "The
husband sat in his dark office far away in London; the husband
was far away with a detachment in Tonkin; the husband was at work
in his bureau in Paris; the husband had gone on a business trip to
Australia." And the three men who were there gave him occasion to
reflect about the so-called female slave. "There was a husband who
had a fiercely hot attic room, while the wife and daughter had a
room with a balcony on the first floor. An elderly man passed by,
who, although himself a brisk walker, was now leading his sickly
wife step by step, his hand supporting her back when making an
ascent; he carried her shawls, chair, and other little necessities,
reverently, lovingly, as if he had become her son when she had
ceased to be his wife. And there sat King Lear with his daughter,--
it was terrible to see. He was over sixty, had had eight children,
six of whom were daughters, and who, in his days of affluence, he
had allowed to manage his house and, no doubt, the economy thereof.
Now he was poor, had nothing, and they had all deserted him except
one daughter who had inherited a small income from an aunt. And the
former giant, who had been able to work for a household of twelve,
crushed by the disgrace of bankruptcy, was forced to feel the
humiliation of accepting support from his daughter, who went about
with her twenty-nine women friends, receiving their comfort and
condolence, weeping over her fate, and sometimes actually wishing
the life out of her father."
The immediate result of all this observation and consequent
analysis was the collection of short stories in two volumes called
"Marriages," the first of which, published in 1884, gave rise to
Strindberg's reputation of being a pessimist, and the second, two
years later, to that of woman-hater, which became confirmed by the
portrayals of women in his realistic dramas that soon followed,
notably that of Laura in "The Father." That part of the woman-hater
legend which one encounters most often is that Strindberg was
revealing his own marital miseries in the sex conflicts of these
dramas, particularly in "The Father," notwithstanding the fact that
this play was written five years before his first marriage was
dissolved, and little more than two years after his avowed
hesitancy to undertake the dissection of womankind on account of
the "happy erotic state" in which he was living.
And that his analytical labors and personal experiences, far from
bringing about an acquired aversion for woman, never even let him
be warned, is attested by the fact of his having founded three
families. One is forced to suspect that instead of being a woman-
hater, he was rather a disguised and indefatigable lover of woman,
and that his wars on woman and his fruitless endeavors to get into
harmony with the other half of the race were, fundamentally, a
warring within himself of his own many-sided, rich nature. He said
of himself that he had been sentenced by his nature to be the
faultfinder, to see the other side of things. He hated the Don
Juans among men as intensely as he did the lazy parasites among
women--the rich and spoiled ones who declaimed loudest about
woman's holy duties as wife and mother, but whose time was given
up to being hysterical and thinking out foolish acts,--these women
However, the psychology of woman represents but one phase of
Strindberg. In a book called "The Author," styled by him "a
self-evolutionary history," which was written during the
germinating period of the realistic dramas, but was not given out
for publication until 1909, there is a foreword which contains the
following significant avowal from the Strindberg of the last years:
"The author had not arrived in 1886; perhaps only came into being
then. The book presented herewith is consequently only of secondary
interest as constituting a fragment; and the reader should bear in
mind that it was written over twenty years ago. The personality of
the author is consequently as unfamiliar to me as to the reader--
and as unsympathetic. As he no longer exists, I can no longer
assume any responsibility for him, and as I took part in his
execution  I believe I have the right to regard the past as
expiated and stricken out of the Big Book." The "execution" in 1898
referred to was the spiritual crisis through which Strindberg
passed when he emerged from the abysmal pessimism of "The Inferno;"
then began the gradual return to spiritual faith which, in the end,
caused him to declare himself a Swedenborgian.
The play, "Easter," included in the present collection, belongs to
this period; it is a strange mingling of symbolism and realism,
bearing the spiritual message of the resurrection. It was the most
popular play produced at the Intimate Theatre in Stockholm, having
been given there over two hundred times; and in Germany, also, it
has been one of the plays most appreciated. That "Easter" is
representative of the last phase, spiritually, of the great man is
evidenced by the closing incident of his life. His favorite
daughter, Kirtlin, was in the room as death approached. Strindberg
called to her, and asked for the Bible; receiving the book, he
opened it, and placing it across his breast, said, "This is the
best book of all," and then, with his last breath, "Now everything
personal is obliterated."
E. O. and W. O.
Comedy in Four Acts
AXEL, an artist
BERTHA, his wife, artist
ABEL, her friend
OESTERMARK, a doctor
MRS. HALL, his divorced wife
THE MISSES HALL, her daughters by a second marriage
CARL STARCK, lieutenant
MRS. STARCK, his wife
[SCENE for the whole play.--An artist's studio in Paris; it is on
the ground floor, has glass windows looking out on an orchard. At
back of scene a large window and door to hall. On the walls hang
studies, canvases, weapons, costumes and plaster casts. To right
there is a door leading to Axel's room; to left a door leading to
Bertha's room. There is a model stand left center. To right an
easel and painting materials. A large sofa, a large store through
the doors of which one sees a hot coal fire. There is a hanging-lamp
from ceiling. At rise of curtain Axel and Doctor Oestermark are
AXEL [Sitting, painting]. And you, too, are in Paris!
DR. OESTERMARK. Everything gathers here as the center of the world;
and so you are married--and happy?
AXEL. Oh, yes, so, so. Yes, I'm quite happy. That's understood.
DR. OESTERMARK. What's understood?
AXEL. Look here, you're a widower. How was it with your marriage?
DR. OESTERMARK. Oh, very nice--for her.
AXEL. And for you?
DR. OESTERMARK. So, so! But you see one must compromise, and we
compromised to the end.
AXEL. What do you mean by compromise?
DR. OESTERMARK. I mean--that I gave in!
DR. OESTERMARK. Yes, you wouldn't think that of a man like me, would
AXEL. No, I would never have thought that. Look here, don't you
believe in woman, eh?
DR. OESTERMARK. No, sir! I do not. But I love her.
AXEL. In your way--yes!
DR. OESTERMARK. In my way--yes. How about your way?
AXEL. We have arranged a sort of comradeship, you see, and
friendship is higher and more enduring than love.
DR. OESTERMARK. H'm--so Bertha paints too. How? Well?
AXEL. Fairly well.
DR. OESTERMARK. We were good friends in the old days, she and I,--
that is, we always quarreled a little.--Some visitors. Hush! It is
Carl and his wife!
AXEL [Rising]. And Bertha isn't at home! Sacristi! [Enter
Lieutenant Carl Starck and his wife.] Welcome! Well, well, we
certainly meet here from all corners of the world! How do you do,
Mrs. Starck? You're looking well after your journey.
MRS. STARCK. Thanks, dear Axel, we have certainly had a delightful
trip. But where is Bertha?
CARL. Yes, where is the young wife?
AXEL. She's out at the studio, but she'll be home at any moment
now. But won't you sit down?
[The doctor greets the visitors.]
CARL. Hardly. We were passing by and thought we would just look in
to see how you are. But we shall be on hand, of course, for your
invitation for Saturday, the first of May.
AXEL. That's good. You got the card then?
MRS. STARCK. Yes, we received it while we were in Hamburg. Well,
what is Bertha doing nowadays?
AXEL. Oh, she paints, as I do. In fact, we're expecting her model,
and as he may come at any moment, perhaps I can't risk you to sit
down after all, if I'm going to be honest.
CARL. Do you think we would blush, then?
MRS. STARCK. He isn't nude, is he?
AXEL. Of course.
CARL. A man? The devil!--No, I couldn't allow my wife to be mixed
up with anything of that sort. Alone with a naked man!
AXEL. I see you still have prejudices, Carl.
CARL. Yes, you know--
MRS. STARCK. Fie!
DR. OESTERMARK. Yes, that's what I say, too.
AXEL. I can't deny that it, is not altogether to my taste, but as
long as I must have a woman model--
MRS. STARCK. That's another matter.
MRS. STARCK. Yes, it is another matter--although it resembles the
other, it is not the same. [There is a knock.]
AXEL. There he is!
MRS. STARCK. We'll go, then. Good-bye and au revoir. Give my love
AXEL. Good-bye, then, as you're so scared. And au revoir.
CARL and DR. OESTERMARK. Good-bye, Axel.
CARL [To Axel]. You stay in here, at least, while--
AXEL. No, why should I?
CARL [Goes shaking his head]. Ugh!
[Axel alone starts to paint. There is a knock.]
AXEL. Come in. [The model enters.] So, you are back again. Madame
hasn't returned yet.
THE MODEL. But it's almost twelve, and I must keep another
AXEL. Is that so? It's too bad, but--h'm--something must have
detained her at the studio. How much do I owe you?
THE MODEL. Five francs, as usual.
AXEL [Paying him]. There. Perhaps you'd better wait awhile,
THE MODEL. Yes, if I'm needed.
AXEL. Yes, be kind enough to wait a few minutes.
[The model retires behind a screen. Axel alone, draws and whistles.
Bertha comes in after a moment.]
AXEL. Hello, my dear! So you're back at last?
BERTHA. At last?
AXEL. Yes, your model is waiting.
BERTHA [Startled]. No! No! Has he been here again?
AXEL. You had engaged him for eleven o'clock.
BERTHA. I? No! Did he say that?
AXEL. Yes. But I heard you when you made the engagement yesterday.
BERTHA. Perhaps it's so, then, but anyway the professor wouldn't
let us leave and you know how nervous one gets in the last hours.
You're not angry with me, Axel?
AXEL. Angry? No. But this is the second time, and he gets his five
francs for nothing, nevertheless.
BERTHA. Can I help it if the professor keeps us? Why must you
always pick on me?
AXEL. Do I pick on you?
BERTHA. What's that? Didn't you--
AXEL. Yes, yes, yes! I picked on you--forgive me--forgive me--for
thinking that it was your fault.
BERTHA. Well, it's all right there. But what did you pay him with?
AXEL. To be sure. Gaga paid back the twenty francs he owed me.
BERTHA [Takes out account-book.] So, he paid you back? Come on,
then, and I'll put it down, for the sake of order. It's your money,
so of course you can dispose of it as you please, but as you wish
me to take care of the accounts--[Writes] fifteen francs in, five
francs out, model. There.
AXEL. No. Look here. It's twenty francs in.
BERTHA. Yes, but there are only fifteen here.
AXEL. Yes, but you should put down twenty.
BERTHA. Why do you argue?
AXEL. Did I--Well, the man's waiting--
BERTHA. Oh, yes. Be good and get things ready for me.
AXEL. [Puts model stand in place. Calls to model]. Are you
THE MODEL [From back of screen]. Soon, monsieur.
BERTHA [Closes door, puts wood in stove]. There, now you must go
AXEL [Hesitating]. Bertha!
AXEL. Is it absolutely necessary--with a nude model?
BERTHA. We have certainly argued that matter out.
AXEL. Quite true. But it's loathsome nevertheless--[Goes out
BERTHA [Takes up brushes and palette. Calls to model]. Are you
THE MODEL. All ready.
BERTHA. Come on, then. [Pause.] Come on. [There is a knock.] Who is
it? I have a model.
WILLMER [Outside]. Willmer. With news from the salon.
BERTHA. From the salon! [To model]. Dress yourself! We'll have to
postpone the sitting.--Axel! Willmer is here with news from the
[Axel comes in, also Willmer; the model goes out unnoticed during
the following scene.]
WILMER. Hello, dear friends! Tomorrow the jury will begin its work.
Oh, Bertha, here are your pastels. [Takes package from pocket.]
BERTHA. Thanks, my good Gaga; how much did they cost? They must
have been expensive.
WILLMER. Oh, not very.
BERTHA. So they are to start tomorrow. So soon? Do you hear, Axel?
AXEL. Yes, my friend.
BERTHA. Now, will you be very good, very, very good?
AXEL. I always want to be good to you, my friend.
BERTHA. You do? Now, listen. You know Roubey, don't you?
AXEL. Yes, I met him in Vienna mid we became good friends, as it's
BERTHA. You know that he is on the jury?
AXEL. And then what?
BERTHA. Well--now you'll be angry, I know you will.
AXEL. You know it? Don't prove it, then.
BERTHA [Coaxing]. You wouldn't make a sacrifice for your wife,
AXEL. Go begging? No, I don't want to do that.
BERTHA. Not for me? You'll get in anyway, but for your wife!
AXEL. Don't ask me.
BERTHA. I should really never ask you for anything!
AXEL. Yes, for things that I can do without sacrificing--
BERTHA. Your man's pride!
AXEL. Let it go at that.
BERTHA. But I would sacrifice my woman's pride if I could help you.
AXEL. You women have no pride.
AXEL. Well, well, pardon, pardon!
BERTHA. You must be jealous. I don't believe you would really like
it if I were accepted at the salon.
AXEL. Nothing would make me happier. Believe me, Bertha.
BERTHA. Would you be happy, too, if I were accepted and you were
AXEL. I must feel and see. [Puts his hand over his heart.] No, that
would be decidedly disagreeable, decidedly. In the first place,
because I paint better than you do, and because--
BERTHA [Walking up and down]. Speak out. Because I am a woman!
AXEL. Yes, just that. It may seem strange, but to me it's as if you
women were intruding and plundering where we have fought for so
long while you sat by the fire. Forgive me, Bertha, for talking
like this, but such thoughts have occurred to me.
BERTHA. Has it ever occurred to you that you're exactly like all
AXEL. Like all others? I should hope so!
BERTHA. And you have become so superior lately. You didn't use to
be like that.
AXEL. It must be because I am superior! Doing something that we men
have never done before!
BERTHA. What! What are you saving! Shame on you!
WILLMER. There, there, good friends! No, but, dear friends--Bertha,
[He gives her a look which she tries to make out.]
BERTHA [Changing]. Axel, let's be friends! And hear me a moment. Do
you think that my position in your house--for it is yours--is
agreeable to me? You support me, you pay for my studying at
Julian's, while you yourself cannot afford instruction. Don't you
think I see how you sit and wear out yourself and your talent on
these pot-boiling drawings, and are able to paint only in leisure
moments? You haven't been able to afford models for yourself, while
you pay mine five hard-earned francs an hour. You don't know how
good--how noble--how sacrificing you are, and also you don't know
how I suffer to see you toil so for me. Oh, Axel, you can't know
how I feel my position. What am I to you? Of what use am I in your
house? Oh, I blush when I think about it!
AXEL. What, what, what! Aren't you my wife?
BERTHA. Yes, but--
AXEL. Well, then?
BERTHA. But you support me.
AXEL. Well, isn't that the right thing to do?
BERTHA. It was formerly--according to the old scheme of marriage,
but we weren't to have it like that. We were to be comrades.
AXEL. What talk! Isn't a man to support his wife?
BERTHA. I don't want it. And you, Axel, you must help me. I'm not
your equal when it's like that, but I could be if you would humble
yourself once, just once! Don't think that you are alone in going
to one of the jury to say a good word for another. If it were for
yourself, it would be another matter, but for me--Forgive me! Now I
beg of you as nicely as I know how. Lift me from my humiliating
position to your side, and I'll be so grateful I shall never
trouble you again with reminding you of my position. Never, Axel!
AXEL. Don't ask me; you know how weak I am.
BERTHA [Embracing him].Yes, I shall ask you--beg of you, until you
fulfil my prayer. Now, don't look so proud, but be human! So!
AXEL [To Willmer]. Look here, Gaga, don't you think that women are
WILLMER [Pained]. Yes, and especially when they are submissive.
BERTHA. See, now, the sky is clear again. You'll go, won't you,
Axel? Get on your black coat now, and go. Then come home, and we'll
strike out together for something to eat.
AXEL. How do you know that Roubey is receiving now?
BERTHA. Don't you think that I made sure of that?
AXEL. What a schemer you are!
BERTHA [Takes a black cutaway coat from wardrobe]. Well, one would
never get anywhere without a little wire-pulling, you know. Here's
your black coat. So!
AXEL. Yes. But this is awful. What am I to say to the man?
BERTHA. H'm. Oh, you'll hit, on something on the way. Say that--
that--that your wife--no--that you're expecting a christening--
AXEL. Fie, Bertha.
BERTHA. Well, say that you can get him decorated, then.
AXEL. Really you frighten me, Bertha!
BERTHA. Say what you please, then. Come, now, and I'll fix your
hair so you'll be presentable. Do you know his wife?
AXEL. No, not at all.
BERTHA [Brushing his hair]. Then you must get an introduction to
her. I understand that she has great influence, but that she
doesn't like women.
AXEL. What are you doing to my hair?
BERTHA. I am fixing it as they are wearing it now.
AXEL. Yes, but I don't want it that way.
BERTHA. Now then--that's fine. Just mind me. [She goes to
chiffonier and takes out a case which contains a Russian Annae
order. She tries to put it in Axel's buttonhole.]
AXEL. No, Bertha. You've gone far enough now. I won't wear that
BERTHA. But you accepted it.
AXEL. Yes, because I couldn't decline it. But I'll never wear it.
BERTHA. Do you belong to some political party that is so
liberal-minded as to suppress individual freedom to accept
AXEL. No, I don't. But I belong to a circle of comrades who have
promised each other not to wear their merit on their coats.
BERTHA. But who have accepted salon medals!
AXEL. Which are not worn on their coats.
BERTHA. What do you say to this, Gaga?
WILLMER. As long as distinctions exist, one does one's self harm to
go about with the mark of infamy, and the example no one is likely
to follow. Take them away for all of me--I certainly can't get them
away from the others.
AXEL. Yes, and when my comrades who are more deserving than I do
not wear them, I would lower them by wearing the emblem.
BERTHA. But it doesn't show under your overcoat. No one will know,
and you won't brand any one.
WILLMER. Bertha is right there. You'll wear your order _under_ your
coat, not _on_ your coat.
AXEL. Jesuits! When you are given a finger, you take the whole arm.
[Abel comes in wearing fur coat and cap.]
BERTHA. Oh, here's Abel! Come on, now, and settle this controversy.
ABEL. Hello, Bertha! Hello, Axel! How are you, Gaga? What's the
BERTHA. Axel doesn't want to wear his order, because he daren't on
account of his comrades.
ABEL. Comrades come before a wife, of course--that's an unwritten
law. [She sits by table, takes up tobacco and rolls a cigarette.]
BERTHA [Fastens ribbon in Axel's buttonhole and puts the star back
in case] He can help me without hurting any one, but I fear he
would rather hurt me!
AXEL. Bertha, Bertha! But you people will drive me mad! I don't
consider it a crime to wear this ribbon, nor have I taken any oath
that I wouldn't do so, but at our exhibitions it's considered
cowardly not to dare to make one's way without them.
BERTHA. Cowardly, of course! But you're not going to take your own
course this time--but mine!
ABEL. You owe it to the woman who has consecrated her life to you
to be her delegate.
AXEL. I feel that what you people are saying is false, but I
haven't the time or energy to answer you now; but there is an
answer! It's as if you were drawing a net about me while I sit
absorbed in my work. I can feel the net winding about me, but my
foot gets entangled when I want to kick it aside. But, you wait, if
only I free my hands, I'll get out my knife and cut the meshes of
your net! What were we talking about? Oh, yes, I was going to make
a call. Give me my gloves and my overcoat. Good-bye, Bertha!
Good-bye. Oh, yes,--where does Roubey live?
WILLMER, ABEL and BERTHA [In unison]. Sixty-five Rue des Martyrs.
AXEL. Why, that's right near here!
BERTHA. Just at the corner. Thanks, Axel, for going. Does the
sacrifice feel very heavy?
AXEL. I can't feel anything but that I am tired of all this talk
and that it will be delightful to get out. Good-bye. [Goes out.]
ABEL. It's too bad about Axel. It's a pity. Did you know that he is
BERTHA. And I, then?
ABEL. That's not settled yet. As you wrote your own name with
French spelling, you won't be reached until O.
BERTHA. There's still hope for me?
ABEL. Yes, for you, but not for Axel.
WILLMER. Now, we'll see something!
BERTHA. How do you know that he is refused?
ABEL. H'm, I met a "hors concours" who knew, and I was quite
prepared to witness a scene when I came in here. But of course he
hasn't received the notice yet.
BERTHA. No, not that I know of. But, Abel, are you sure that Axel
will meet Madame Roubey and not Monsieur?
ABEL. What should he see Monsieur Roubey for? He hasn't any say
about it, but she is president of the Woman-Painters Protective
BERTHA. And I am not refused--yet?
ABEL. No, as I said, and Axel's call is bound to do good. He has a
Russian order, and everything Russian is very popular in Paris just
now. But it's too had about Axel just the same.
BERTHA. Too bad? Why? They haven't room for everybody on the salon
walls. There are so many women refused that a man might put up with
it and be made to feel it for once. But if I get in now--we'll soon
hear how _he_ painted my picture, how _he_ has taught me, how _he_
has paid for my lessons. But I shall not take any notice of that,
because it isn't true.
WILLMER. Well, we're bound to see something unusual happen now.
BERTHA. No, I believe--granted that I am not refused--that we'll
see something very usual. But nevertheless I'm afraid of the actual
moment. Something tells me that things won't be right between Axel
and me again.
ABEL. And it was just when you were equals that things were going
to be right.
WILLMER. It seems to me that your position will be much more
clearly defined and much pleasanter when you can sell your pictures
and support yourself.
BERTHA. It should be! We'll see--we'll see! [The maid enters with a
green letter.] A green letter for Axel! Here it is! Here it is! He
is refused! Yes, but this is terrible; however, it will be a
consolation to me if I should be refused.
ABEL. But if you are not refused?
ABEL. You won't answer that?
BERTHA. No, I won't answer that.
ABEL. Because, if you are accepted, the equality will be destroyed,
as you will be his superior.
BERTHA. Superior? A wife superior to her husband--her husband--oh!
WILLMER. It's about time an example was made.
ABEL [To Bertha]. You were at the luncheon today? Was it
BERTHA. Oh, yes.
WILLMER. When are you going to review my book, Abel?
ABEL. I'm just working on it.
WILLMER. Are you going to be nice to me?
ABEL. Very nice.--Well, Bertha, how and when will you deliver the
BERTHA [Walking about]. That is just, what I am thinking about. If
he hasn't met Madame Roubey, and if he hasn't carried out our plan,
he will hardly do it after receiving this blow.
ABEL [Rising]. I don't think Axel is so base as to revenge himself
BERTHA. Base? Such talk! Didn't he go just now when I wanted him
to, because I am his wife? Do you think he would ever have gone for
any one else?
ABEL. Would you like it if he had done it for some one else?
BERTHA. Good-bye to you--you must go now, before he returns!
ABEL. That's what I think. Good bye, Bertha.
WILLMER. Yes, we had better get away. Goodbye for now.
[The maid enters and announces Mrs. Hall.]
BERTHA. Who? Mrs. Hall? Who can that be?
ABEL and WILLMER. Good-bye, Bertha.
[They go out. Mrs. Hall comes in. She is flashily though carelessly
dressed. She looks like an adventuress.]
MRS. HALL. I don't know that I have the honor to be known to you,
but you are Mrs. Alberg, nee Alund, are you not?
BERTHA. Yes, I'm Mrs. Alberg. Won't you sit down?
MRS. HALL. My name is Hall. [Sits.] Oh, my lord, but I'm so tired!
I have walked up so many stairs--oh-ho-ho-ho, I believe I'll faint!
BERTHA. How can I be of service to you?
MRS. HALL. You know Doctor Oestermark, don't you?
BERTHA. Yes, he's an old friend of mine.
MRS. HALL. An old friend. Well, you see, dear Mrs. Alberg, I was
married to him once, but we separated. I am his divorced wife.
BERTHA. Oh! He has never told me about that.
MRS. HALL. Oh, people don't tell such things.
BERTHA. He told me he was a widower.
MRS. HALL. Well, you were a young girl then, and I suppose he isn't
so anxious to have it known anyway.
BERTHA. And I who have always believed that Doctor Oestermark was an
MRS. HALL [Sarcastic]. Yes, he's a good one! He is a real
gentleman, I must say.
BERTHA. Well, but why do you tell me all this?
MRS. HALL. Just wait, my dear Mrs. Alberg wait and you shall hear.
You area member of the society, aren't you?
BERTHA. Yes, I am.
MRS. HALL. Just so; only wait now.
BERTHA. Did you have any children?
MRS. HALL. Two--two daughters, Mrs. Alberg.
BERTHA. That's another matter! And he left you in want?
MRS. HALL. Just wait now! He gave us a small allowance, not enough
for the rent even. And now that the girls are grown up and about to
start in life, now he writes us that he is a bankrupt and that he
can't send us more than half the allowance. Isn't that nice, just
now, when the girls are grown up and are going out into life?
BERTHA. We must look into this. He'll be here in a few days. Do you
know that you have the law on your side and that the courts can
force him to pay? And he shall be forced to do so. Do you
understand? So, he can bring children into the world and then leave
them empty-handed with the poor, deserted mother. Oh, he'll find
out something very different! Will you give my your address?
MRS. HALL [Gives her card]. You are so good, Mrs. Alberg. And you
won't he vexed with me if I ask a little favor of you?
BERTHA. You can depend on me entirely. I shall write the secretary
MRS. HALL. Oh, you're so good, but before the secretary can answer,
I and my poor children will probably be thrown out into the street.
Dear Mrs. Alberg, you couldn't lend me a trifle--just wait--a
trifle of twenty francs?
BERTHA. No, dear lady, I haven't any money. My husband supports me
for the time being, and you may be sure that I'm reminded of the
fact. It's bitter to eat the bread of charity when one is young,
but better times are coming for me too.
MRS. HALL. My dear, good Mrs. Alberg, you must not refuse me. If
you do, I am a lost woman. Help me, for heaven's sake.
BERTHA. Are you terribly in need?
MRS. HALL. And you ask me that!
BERTHA. I'll let you have this money as a loan. [She goes to
chiffonier.] Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty--lacking twenty. What did
I do with it? H'm, luncheon, of course! [She writes in account-book.]
Paints twenty, incidentals twenty--there you are.
MRS. HALL. Thank you, my good Mrs. Alberg, thanks, dear lady.
BERTHA. There, there. But I can't give you any more time today. So,
good-bye, and depend on me.
MRS. HALL [Uncertain]. Just a moment now.
BERTHA [Listening without]. No, you must go now.
MRS. HALL. Just a moment. What was I going to say?--Well, it
[Goes out. Bertha is alone for a moment, when she hears Axel
coming. She hides the green letter in her pocket.]
BERTHA. Back already? Well, did you meet her--him?
AXEL. I didn't meet him, but her, which was much better. I
congratulate you, Bertha. Your picture is already accepted!
BERTHA. Oh, no! What are you saying? And yours?
AXEL. It isn't decided yet--but it will surely go through, too.
BERTHA. Are you sure of that?
AXEL. Of course--
BERTHA. Oh, I'm accepted! Good, how good! But why don't you
AXEL. Haven't I? I'm quite sure that I said, "I congratulate you!"
For that matter, one mustn't sell the skin before the bear is
killed. To get into the salon isn't anything. It's just a toss-up.
It can even depend on what letter one's name begins with. You come
in O, as you spelled your name in French. When the lettering starts
with M it's always easier.
BERTHA. So, you wish to say that perhaps I got in because my name
begins with O?
AXEL. Not on account of that alone.
BERTHA. And if you are refused, it's because your name begins with A.
AXEL. Not exactly that alone, but it might be on that account.
BERTHA. Look here, I don't think you're as honorable as you would
seem. You are jealous.
AXEL. Why should I be, when I don't know what has happened to me
BERTHA. But when you do know?
AXEL. What? [Bertha takes out letter. Axel puts his hand to his
heart and sits in a chair.] What! [Controls himself.] That was a
blow I had not expected. That was most disagreeable!
BERTHA. Well, I suppose I'll have to help you now.
AXEL, You seem to be filled with malicious delight, Bertha. Oh, I
feel that a great hate is beginning to grow in here. [Indicating
BERTHA. Perhaps I look delighted because I've had a success, but
when one is tied to a man who cannot rejoice in another's good
fortune, it's difficult to sympathize with his misfortune.
AXEL. I don't know why, but it seems as if we had become enemies
now. The strife of position has come between us, and we can never
be friends any more.
BERTHA. Can't your sense of justice bend and recognize me as the
abler, the victorious one in the strife?
AXEL. You are not the abler.
BERTHA. The jury must have thought so, however.
AXEL. But surely you know that I paint better than you do.
BERTHA. Are you so sure of that?
AXEL. Yes, I am. But for that matter--you worked under better
conditions than I. You didn't have to do any pot-boiling, you could
go to the studio, you had models, and you were a woman!
BERTHA. Yes, now I'll hear how I have lived on you--
AXEL. Between ourselves, yes, but the world won't know unless you
go and tell it yourself.
BERTHA. Oh, the world knows that already. But tell me, why don't
you suffer when a comrade, a man comrade, is accepted, although he
has less merit than you?
AXEL. I'll have to think about that. You see our feeling toward you
women has never been critical--we've taken you as a matter of
course, and so I've never thought about our relations as against
each other. Now when the shoe pinches, it strikes me that we are
not comrades, for this experience makes me feel that you women do
not belong here. [Indicating the studio.] A comrade is a more or
less loyal competitor; we are enemies. You women have been lying
down in the rear while we attacked the enemy. And now, when we have
set and supplied the table, you pounce down upon it as if you were
in your own home!
BERTHA. Oh, fie, have we ever been allowed in the conflict?
AXEL. You have always been allowed, but you have never wanted to
take part, or haven't been able to do so in our domain, where you
are now breaking in. Technic had to be put through its whole
development and completion by us before you entered. And now you
buy the centurions' work for ten francs an hour in a studio, and
with money that we have acquired by our work.
BERTHA. You are not honorable now, Axel.
AXEL. When was I honorable? When I allowed you to use me like an
old shoe? But now you are my superior--and now I can't strive to be
honorable any longer. Do you know that this adversity will also
change our economic relations? I cannot think of painting any more,
but must give up my life's dream and become a pot-boiler in earnest.
BERTHA. You needn't do that; when I can sell, I will support
AXEL. For that matter, what sort of an alliance have we gone into?
Marriage should be built on common interests; ours is built on
BERTHA. You can work all that out by yourself; I'm going out for
dinner now,--are you coming?
AXEL. No, I want to be alone with my unhappiness.
BERTHA. And I want company for my happiness.--But we have invited
people to come here for the evening--that won't do now, with your
misery, will it?
AXEL. It isn't a very brilliant prospect, but there's no way out.
Let them come.
BERTHA [Dressing to go out]. But you must be here, or it will look
as if you were cowardly.
AXEL. I'll be with you, don't worry--but give me a bit of money
before you go.
BERTHA. We've reached the end of our cash.
AXEL. The end?
BERTHA. Yes, money comes to an end too!
AXEL. Can you lend me ten francs?
BERTHA [Taking out pocketbook]. Ten francs? Yes, indeed, if I have
it. Here you are. Won't you come along? Tell me. They'll think it
AXEL. And play the defeated lion before the triumphant chariot? No,
indeed, I'll need my time to learn my part for this evening's
BERTHA. Good-bye then.
AXEL. Good-bye, Bertha. Let me ask you one thing.
BERTHA. What then?
AXEL. Don't come home intoxicated. It would be more disagreeable
today than ever.
BERTHA. Does it concern you how I come home?
AXEL. Well, I feel sort of responsible for you, as for a relative,
considering that you bear the same name that I do, and besides, it
is still disgusting to me to see a woman intoxicated.
BERTHA. Why is it any more disgusting than to see a man
AXEL. Yes, why? Perhaps because you don't bear being seen without a
BERTHA [Starting]. Good-bye, you old talking-machine. You won't
[Bertha goes out; Axel rises, takes off his cutaway to change it
for working coat.]
[Same scene as Act I, but there is a large table with chairs around
it in middle of scene. On table there is writing material and a
speaker's gavel. Axel is painting. Abel is sitting near him. She is
AXEL. They have finished dinner and are having their coffee now.
Did they drink much?
ABEL. Oh, yes, and Bertha bragged and was disagreeable.
AXEL. Tell me one thing, Abel, are you my friend, or not?
ABEL. H'm--I don't know.
AXEL. Can I trust you?
ABEL. No--you can't.
AXEL. Why not?
ABEL. Oh, I just feel that you can't.
AXEL. Tell me, Abel, you who have the common sense of a man and can
be reasoned with, tell me how it feels to be a woman. Is it so
ABEL [Jokingly]. Yes, of course. It feels like being a nigger.
AXEL. That's strange. Listen, Abel. You know that I have a passion
for equity and justice--
ABEL. I know you are a visionary--and that's why things will never
go well with you.
AXEL. But things go well with you--because you never feel anything?
AXEL. Abel, have you really never had any desire to love a man?
ABEL. How silly you are!
AXEL. Have you never found any one?
ABEL. No, men are very scarce.
AXEL. H'm, don't you consider me a man?
ABEL. You! No!
AXEL. That's what I fancied myself to be.
ABEL. Are you a man? You, who work for a woman and go around
dressed like a woman?
AXEL. What? I, dressed like a woman?
ABEL. The way you wear your hair and go around bare-necked, while
she wears stiff collars and short hair; be careful, she'll soon
take your trousers away from you.
AXEL. How you talk!
ABEL. And what is your position in your own house? You beg money
from her, and she puts you under her guardianship. No, you are not
a man! But that's why she took you, when her affairs were in bad
AXEL. You hate Bertha; what have you against her?
ABEL. I don't know, but perhaps I, too, have been struck with that
same passion for justice.
AXEL. Look here. Don't you believe in your great cause any longer?
ABEL. Sometimes! Sometimes not! What can one believe in any more?
Sometimes it strikes me that the old ways were better. As mothers
we had an honored and respected position when in that way we
fulfilled our duty as citizens; as housewives we were a great
power, and to bring up a family was not an ignominious occupation.
Give me a cognac, Axel. We have talked so much.
AXEL [Getting cognac]. Why do you drink?
ABEL. I don't know. If one could only find the exceptional man!
AXEL. What sort would that be?
ABEL. The man who rules a woman!
AXEL. Well, and if you found one?
ABEL. Then I would--as they say--fall in love with him. Think if
this whole noise were _blague_. Think!
AXEL. No, there is surely life, motion in the movement, whatever it
ABEL. Yes, there's so much motion--forward and backward! And a good
deal of folly can come of the "motion," if they only get the
majority for it.
AXEL. If it turns out that way, then you've made a damned lot of
noise uselessly, for now it's beginning to be loathsome to live.
ABEL. We make so much noise that we make your heads reel. That's
the trouble! Well, Axel, your position will be freer now that
Bertha has been able to sell.
AXEL. Sell! Has she sold a picture?
ABEL. Don't you know that? The small picture with the apple-tree.
AXEL. No, she hasn't said anything about it. When did it happen?
ABEL. Day before yesterday. Don't you know about it? Well, then she
intends to surprise you with the money.
AXEL. Surprise me? She takes care of the cash herself.
ABEL. So! Then it will--Hush, she is coming.
[Bertha comes in.]
BERTHA [To Abel]. Oh, good evening; are you here? What made you
ABEL. I thought it was tiresome.
BERTHA. Yes, there is no fun in rejoicing for others!
BERTHA [To Axel]. And you sit diligently niggling, I see.
AXEL. Yes, I'm daubing away.
BERTHA. Let me see! That's very good indeed--but the left arm is
far too long.
AXEL. Do you think so?
BERTHA. Think so? Can't I see that it is? Give me the brush and--
[She takes brush.]
AXEL. No, let me alone. Aren't you ashamed?
BERTHA. What's that?
AXEL [Vexed]. Shame, I said. [Rises.] Are you trying to teach me
how to paint?
BERTHA. Why not?
AXEL. Because you have still much to learn from me. But I can learn
nothing from you.
BERTHA. It seems to me that the gentleman is not very respectful to
his wife. One should bear in mind the respect one owes to--
ABEL. Now you're old-fashioned. What particular respect does a man
owe a woman if they are to be equals?
BERTHA [To Abel]. So you think it's all right for a man to be
coarse with his wife?
ABEL. Yes, when she is impudent to him.
AXEL. That's right! Tear each other's eyes out!
ABEL. Not at all! The whole thing is too insignificant for that.
AXEL. Don't say that. Look here, Bertha, considering that our
economic condition is to undergo a change from now on, won't you
be so good as to let me see the account-book?
BERTHA. What a noble revenge for being refused!
AXEL. What revenge? What has the account-book got to do with my
being turned down at the salon? Give me the key to the chiffonier.
BERTHA [Feeling in her pocket]. Very well. H'm! That's strange! I
thought I just had it.
AXEL. Find it!
BERTHA. You speak in such a commanding tone. I don't like that.
AXEL. Come now, find the key.
BERTHA [Looking here and there in the room]. Yes, but I can't
understand it; I can't find it. It must be lost some way.
AXEL. Are you sure that you haven't got it?
BERTHA. Absolutely sure.
[Axel rings; after a moment the maid comes in.]
AXEL [To maid]. Go fetch a locksmith.
MAID. A locksmith?
AXEL. Yes, a smith who can pick a lock.
[Bertha gives the maid a look.]
MAID. Right away, monsieur.
[Maid goes out. Axel changes his coat, discovers the order on the
lapel, tears it off and throws it on the table.]
AXEL. Pardon me, ladies!
BERTHA [Mildly]. Don't mind us. Are you going out?
AXEL. I am going out.
BERTHA. Aren't you going to stay for the meeting?
AXEL. No, I am not!
BERTHA. Yes, but they will think that very discourteous.
AXEL. Let them. I have more important things to do than listening
to the drivel of you women.
BERTHA [Worried]. Where are you going?
AXEL. I don't need to account for myself, as I don't ask you to
account for your actions.
BERTHA. You won't forget that we have invited guests for the
masquerade tomorrow evening?
AXEL. Guests? That's true, tomorrow evening. H'm!
BERTHA. It won't do to postpone it when both Oestermark and Carl
have arrived today, and I have asked them to come.
AXEL. So much the better!
BERTHA. And now come home early enough to try on your costume.
AXEL. My Costume? Yes, of course; I am to take the part of a woman.
[The maid enters.]
MAID. The smith hasn't time now, but he'll come within two hours.
AXEL. He hasn't time, eh? Well, perhaps the key will turn up
anyway. However, I must be off now. Good-bye.
BERTHA [Very mild]. Good-bye then. Don't come home late.
AXEL. I don't know just what I will do. Goodbye.
[Abel nods good-bye, Axel goes out.]
ABEL. How very cocky his lordship was!
BERTHA. Such impudence! Do you know, I had a good mind to tame him,
break him so that he'd come back crawling to me.
ABEL. Yes, that tweak the salon disappointment gave him doesn't
seem to have taken all the spunk out of him. Bertha, tell me, have
you ever loved that clown?
BERTHA. Loved him? I liked him very much because he was nice to me.
But he is so silly and--when he nags as he did just now, I feel
that I could hate him. Think of it, it's already around that he
painted my picture!
ABEL. Well, if it's gone as far as that, then you must do something
BERTHA. If I only knew how!
ABEL. I'm usually inventive. Let me see. Look here, why couldn't
you have his refused picture brought home just as all your friends
have gathered here?
BERTHA. No, that would look as if I wanted to triumph. No, that
would be too terrible.
ABEL. Yes, but if I should have it done? Or Gaga, that would be
better still. It would be sent here in Axel's name by the porter.
It's got to come home anyway, and it's no secret that it was
BERTHA. No, but you know--
ABEL. What? Hasn't he spread false reports, and haven't you the
right to defend yourself?
BERTHA. I would like it to happen very much, but I don't want to
have anything to do with the doing of it. I want to be able to
stand and swear that I am quite clean and innocent.
ABEL. You shall be able to do so. I'll attend to it.
BERTHA. What do you think he wanted the account-book for? He has
never asked to see it before. Do you think he has some scheme in
his head about it?
ABEL. Ye-es! Doubtless. He wants to see if you've accounted for the
three hundred francs you got for your picture.
BERTHA. What picture?
ABEL. The one you sold to Madame Roubey.
BERTHA. How do you know about that?
ABEL. The whole crowd knows about it.
BERTHA. And Axel, too?
ABEL. Yes. I happened to mention it because I thought he knew. It
was stupid of you not to tell him.
BERTHA. Does it concern him if I sell a--
ABEL. Yes, in a way, of course it concerns him.
BERTHA. Well, then, I will explain that I didn't want to give him
another disappointment after he had already had the unhappiness of
seeing me accepted at the salon.
ABEL. Strictly speaking, he has nothing to do with your earnings,
as you have a marriage compact, and you have every reason to be
tight with him. Just to establish a precedent, buck up and stand
your own ground when he returns with his lecture tonight.
BERTHA. Oh, I know how to take care of him. But--another matter.
How are we to treat the Oestermark case?
ABEL. Oestermark,--yes, he is my great enemy. You had better let me
take care of him. We have an old account that is still unsettled,
he and I. Calm yourself on that score. I'll make him yield, for we
have the law on our side.
BERTHA. What do you intend to do?
ABEL. Invite Mrs. Hall and her two daughters here for tomorrow
night, and then we will find out how he takes it.
BERTHA. No, indeed, no scandal in my house!
ABEL. Why not? Can you deny yourself such a triumph? If it's war,
one must kill one's enemies, not just wound them. And now it is
war. Am I right?
BERTHA. Yes, but a father, and his wife and daughters whom he has
not seen for eighteen years!
ABEL. Well, he'll have a chance to see them now.
BERTHA. You're terrible, Abel!
ABEL. I'm a little stronger than you, that's all. Marriage must
have softened you. Do you live as married people, h'm?
BERTHA. How foolish you are!
ABEL. You have irritated Axel; you have trampled on him. But he can
yet bite your heel.
BERTHA. Do you think he would dare to do anything?
ABEL. I believe he'll create a scene when he comes home.
BERTHA. Well, I shall give him as good as he sends--
ABEL. If you only can! But that business about the chiffonier key--
that was foolish, very foolish.
BERTHA. Perhaps it was foolish. But he will be nice enough again
after he has had an airing. I know him.
[The maid comes in with a package.]
MAID. A messenger brought this costume for Monsieur.
BERTHA. Very well, let me have it. That's fine!
MAID. But it must be for madame, as it's a lady's costume.
BERTHA. No, that's all right. It's for monsieur.
MAID. But, heavens! is monsieur to wear dresses too?
BERTHA. Why not, when we have to wear them? But you may leave us
[Maid goes out. Bertha opens bundle and takes out Spanish costume.]
ABEL. But that is certainly well thought out. Oh, it's beautiful to
avenge any one's stupidities.
[Willmer comes in zenith a messenger, who carries a package.
Willmer is dressed in black frock coat with lapels faced with
white, a flower in buttonhole, knee breeches, red cravat, and
turned over cuffs.]
WILLMER. Good evening; are you alone? Here are the candles and here
are the bottles. One chartreuse and two vermouth; here are two
packages of tobacco and the rest of the things.
BERTHA. Well, but you are a good boy, Gaga!
WILLMER. And here is the receipted bill.
BERTHA. Is it paid? Then you have spent money again?
WILLMER. We'll have plenty of time to settle that. But you must
hurry now, as the old lady will soon be here.
BERTHA. Then be good enough to open the bottles while I fix the
WILLMER. Of course I will.
[Bertha opens package of candles at table; Willmer stands beside
her, taking the wrappers from bottles.]
ABEL. You look quite family-like as you stand there together. You
might have made quite a nice little husband, Gaga.
[Willmer puts his arm around Bertha and kisses her on the neck.
Bertha turns on Willmer and slaps his face.]
BERTHA. Aren't you ashamed, you little hornet! What are you up to,
ABEL. If you can stand that, Gaga, then you can stand the knife.
WILLMER [Angry]. Little hornet? Don't you know who I am? Don't you
know that I'm an author of rank?
BERTHA. You! who write nothing but trash!
WILLMER. It wasn't trash when I wrote for you.
BERTHA. You only copied what we said, that was all!
WILLMER. Take care, Bertha. You know that I can ruin you!
BERTHA. So, you threaten, you little Fido! [To Abel.] Shall we give
the boy a spanking?
ABEL. Think what you are saying!
WILLMER. So! I've been a little Fido, who has been lying on your
skirt; but don't forget that I can bite too.
BERTHA. Let me see your teeth!
WILLMER. No, but you shall feel them!
BERTHA. Very well, come on then! Come!
ABEL. Now, now, be quiet before you go too far.
WILLMER [To Bertha]. Do you know what one has a right to say about
a married woman who accepts presents from a young bachelor?
WILLMER. You've accepted presents from me for two years.
BERTHA. Presents! You should have a thrashing, you lying little
snipe, always hanging around the petticoats! Don't you suppose I
can squelch you?
WILLMER [With a shrug]. Perhaps.
BERTHA. And you dare throw a shadow on a woman's honor!
WILLMER, Honor! H'm! Does it do you any honor to have had me buy
part of the household things which you have charged up to your
BERTHA. Leave my house, you scamp!
WILLMER. Your house! Among comrades one is not careful, but among
enemies one must count every hair! And you shall be compelled to go
over the accounts with me--adventuress--depend on that! [Goes out.]
ABEL. You will suffer for this foolishness! To let a friend leave
you as an enemy--that's dangerous.
BERTHA. Oh, let him do what he likes. He dared to kiss me! He dared
to remind me that I'm a woman.
ABEL. Do you know, I believe a man will always have that in mind.
You have been playing with fire.
BERTHA. Fire! Can one ever find a man and a woman who can live like
comrades without danger of fire?
ABEL. No, I don't think so; as long as there are two sexes there is
bound to be fire.
BERTHA. Yes, but that must be done away with!
ABEL. Yes--it must be--try it!
[The maid comes in; she is bursting with laughter.]
MAID. There is a lady out here who calls herself--Richard--Richard
BERTHA [Going toward door]. Oh! Richard is here.
ABEL. Oh, well then, if she has come, we can open the meeting. And
now to see if we can disentangle your skein.
BERTHA. Disentangle it, or cut it!
ABEL. Or get caught in it!
[Same scene. The hanging-lamp is lighted. Moonlight streams in,
lighting up the studio window. There is a fire in the stove. Bertha
and the maid are discovered. Bertha is dressed in a negligee with
lace. She is sewing on the Spanish costume. The maid is cutting out
BERTHA. There's no fun sitting up waiting for one's husband.
MAID. Do you think it is more fun for him to sit and wait for
madame? This is the first time that he has been out alone--
BERTHA. Well, what does he do when he sits here alone?
MAID. He paints on pieces of wood.
BERTHA. On wooden panels?
MAID. Yes, he has big piles of wood that he paints on.
BERTHA. H'm! Tell me one thing, Ida; has monsieur ever been
familiar with you?
MAID. Oh, never! No, he is such a proper gentleman.
BERTHA. Are you sure?
MAID [Positive]. Does madame think that I am such a--
BERTHA. --What time is it now?
MAID. It must be along toward twelve.
BERTHA. Very well. Then you may go to bed.
MAID. Won't you be afraid to be alone with all these skeletons?
BERTHA. I, afraid?--Hush, some one is coming through the gate--so,
good night to you.
MAID. Good night, Madame. Sleep well.
[Goes out. Bertha alone; she puts the work away; throws herself on
the couch, arranges lace on her gown, then she jumps up, turns down
the lamp to half-light, then returns to couch and pretends to
sleep. A pause before Axel enters.]
AXEL. Is any one here? Are you here, Bertha? [Bertha is silent.
Axel goes to her.] Are you asleep?
BERTHA. [Softly.] Ah, is it you, my friend? Good evening! I was
lying here and fell asleep, and I had such a bad dream.
AXEL. Now you are lying, for I saw you thro' the window from the
garden when you took this pose. [Bertha jumps up.]
AXEL [Quietly]. And we don't want any seductive scenes in
nightgowns, nor any melodramas. Be calm and listen to what I am
going to tell you. [He sits down in the middle of the room.]
BERTHA. What have you got to tell me?
AXEL. A whole lot of things; but I shall begin with the ending. We
must dissolve this concubinage.
BERTHA. What? [Throwing herself on the couch.] Oh, my God, what am
I not made to live through!
AXEL. No hysteria, or I will empty the water bottle on your laces!
BERTHA. This is your revenge because I defeated you in an open
AXEL. That has no connection with this matter.
BERTHA. You have never loved me!
AXEL. Yes, I have loved you; that was my only motive for marrying
you. But why did you marry me? Because you were hard up, and
because you had green sickness!
BERTHA. It's fortunate that no one can hear us.
AXEL. It would be no misfortune if any one did hear us. I've
treated you like a comrade, with unlimited trust, and I've even
made small sacrifices that you know about.--Has the locksmith been
BERTHA. No, he didn't come.
AXEL. It doesn't matter--I have looked over your accounts.
BERTHA. So, you've been spying in my book, have you?
AXEL. The household account-book is common property. You have
entered false expenses and neglected to put down some of the
BERTHA. Can I help it if we are not taught bookkeeping at school?
AXEL. Nor are we. And as far as your bringing-up is concerned, you
had things much better then I did; you went to a seminary, but I
only went to a grade school.
BERTHA. It's not books that bring one up--
AXEL. No, it's the parents! But it's strange that they can't teach
their daughters to be honorable--
BERTHA. Honorable! I wonder if the majority of criminals are not to
be found among men?
AXEL. The majority of the punished, you should say; but of
ninety-nine per cent. of criminal men one can ask with the judge,
"Ou est la femme?" But--to return to you. You have lied to me all
the way through, and finally you have cheated me. For instance, you
put down twenty francs for paints instead of for a twenty franc
luncheon at Marguery.
BERTHA. That's not true; the luncheon only cost twelve francs.
AXEL. That is to say, you put eight in your pocket. Then you have
received three hundred francs for the picture that you sold.
BERTHA. "What a woman earns by her work, she also controls." That's
what the law states.
AXEL. That's not a paradox, then? Not monomania?
BERTHA. No, it seems not.
AXEL. Of course, we must not be petty; you control your earnings,
and have controlled mine, in an unspeakable way; still, don't you
think that, as comrades, you should have told me about the sale?
BERTHA. That didn't concern you.
AXEL. It didn't concern me? Well, then it only remains for me to
bring suit for divorce.
BERTHA. Divorce! Do you think I would stand the disgrace of being a
divorced wife? Do you think that I will allow myself to be driven
from my home, like a servant-maid who is sent away with her trunk?
AXEL. I could throw you out into the street if I wished, but I
shall do a more humane thing and get the divorce on the grounds of
incompatibility of temperament.
BERTHA. If you can talk like that, you have never loved me!
AXEL. Tell me, why do you think I asked for your hand?
BERTHA. Because you wanted me to love you.
AXEL. Oh, holy, revered, uncorruptible stupidity--yes! I could
accuse you of counterfeiting, for you have gone into debt to
Willmer and made me responsible for the amount.
BERTHA. Ah, the little insect! he has been talking, has he?
AXEL. I just left him after paying him the three hundred and fifty
francs for which you were indebted to him. But we mustn't be small
about money matters, and we have more serious business to settle.
You have allowed this scoundrel partially to pay for my household,
and in doing so you have completely ruined my reputation. What have
you done with the money?
BERTHA. The whole thing is a lie.
AXEL. Have you squandered it on luncheon and dinner parties?
BERTHA. No, I have saved it; and that's something you have no
conception of, spendthrift!
AXEL. Oh, you saving soul! That negligee cost two hundred francs,
and my dressing-gown cost twenty-five.
BERTHA. Have you anything else to say to me?
AXEL. Nothing else, except that you must think about supporting
yourself from now on. I don't care to decorate wooden panels any
more and let you reap the earnings.
BERTHA. A-ha, you think you can so easily get out of the duty that
you made yourself responsible for when you fooled me into becoming
your wife? You shall see!
AXEL. Now that I've had my eyes opened, the past is beginning to
take on another color. It seems to me almost as if you conjured
that courtship of ours; it seems almost as if I had been the victim
of what you women call seduction; it now seems to me as if I had
fallen into the hands of an adventuress, who lured my money away
from me in a _hotel garni_; it seems almost as if I had lived in
vice ever since I was united with you! [Rising.] And now, as you
stand there with your back turned to me and I see your neck with
your short hair, it is--yes, it is exactly as if--ugh!--as if you
were Judith and had given your body to be able to behead me! Look,
there is the dress I was going to wear, that you wished to
humiliate me with. Yes, you felt that it was debasing to wear those
things, and thought it disguised your desire to irritate,--this
low-cut bodice and the corsets which were to advertise your woman's
wares. No, I return your love-token and shake off the fetters. [He
throws down the wedding-ring. Bertha looks at him in wonderment.
Axel pushes back his hair.] You didn't want to see that my forehead
is higher than yours, so I let my hair conceal it, so as not to
humble and frighten you. But now I am going to humble you, and
since you were not willing to be my equal when I lowered myself to
your level, you shall be my inferior, which you are.
BERTHA. And all this--all this noble revenge because _you_ were
AXEL. Yes, I was your inferior, even when I painted your picture!
BERTHA. Did you paint my picture? If you repeat that, I'll strike
AXEL. Yes, your kind, who despise raw strength, are always the
first to resort to it. Go ahead and strike.
BERTHA [Advancing]. Don't you think I can measure strength with
[Axel takes both her wrists in one hand.]
AXEL. No, I don't think so. Are you convinced now that I am also
your physical superior? Bend, or I'll break you!
BERTHA. Do you dare strike me?
AXEL. Why not? I know of only one reason why I should not strike
BERTHA. What's that?
AXEL. Because you are morally irresponsible.
BERTHA [Trying to free herself]. Let go!
AXEL. When you have begged for forgiveness! So, down on your knees.
[He forces her down with one hand.] There, now look up to me, from
below! That's your place, that you yourself have chosen.
BERTHA [Giving in]. Axel, Axel, I don't know you any more. Are you
he who swore to love me, who begged to carry me, to lift me?
AXEL. It is I. I was strong then, and believed I had the power to
do it; but you sapped my strength while my tired head lay in your
lap, you sucked my best blood while I slept--and still there was
enough left to subdue you. But get up and let us end this
declaiming. We have business to talk over! [Berths rises, sits on
couch and weeps.] Why are you crying?
BERTHA. I don't know! Because I'm weak, perhaps.
[Bertha's attitude and actions are those of complete surrender.]
AXEL. You see--I was your strength. When I took what was mine, you
had nothing left. You were a rubber ball that I blew up; when I let
go of you, you fell together like an empty bag.
BERTHA [Without looking up]. I don't know whether you are right or
not, but since we have quarreled, my strength has left me. Axel,
will you believe me,--I have never experienced before what I now
AXEL. So? What do you feel, then?
BERTHA. I can't say it! I don't know whether it is--love, but--
AXEL. What do you mean by love? Isn't it a quiet longing to eat me
alive once more? You begin to love me! Why didn't you do that
before, when I was good to you? Goodness is stupidity, though; let
us be evil! Isn't that right?
BERTHA. Be a little evil, rather, but don't be weak. [Rises.] Axel,
forgive me, but don't desert me. Love me! Oh, love me!
AXEL. It is too late! Yesterday, this morning, I would have fallen
before you as you stand there now, but it's too late now.
BERTHA. Why is it too late now?
AXEL. Because tonight I have broken all ties, even the last.
BERTHA [Taking his hands]. What do you mean?
AXEL. I have been untrue to you.
BERTHA [Falls in a heap]. Oh!