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The Road to Damascus by August Strindberg

Part 4 out of 6

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the STRANGER, without having been seen by him.)

WAITRESS. Don't speak so loud, there's a sick person in here.

STRANGER (to the WOMAN). Give me your hand.

WOMAN (wiping it on her apron). Oh, why?

STRANGER. You've a lovely white hand. But ... look at mine. It's
black. Can't you see it's black?

WOMAN. Yes. So it is!

STRANGER. Blackened already, perhaps even rotten? I must see if my
heart's stopped. (He puts his hand to his heart.) Yes. It has! So
I'm dead, and I know when I died. Strange, to be dead, and yet to
be going about. But where am I? Are all these people dead, too?
They look as if they'd risen from the sewers of the town, or as if
they'd come from prison, poorhouse or lock hospital. They're
workers of the night, suffering, groaning, cursing, quarrelling,
torturing one another, dishonouring one another, envying one
another, as if they possessed anything worthy of envy! The fire of
sleep courses through their veins, their tongues cleave to their
palates, grown dry through cursing; and then they put out the blaze
with water, with fire-water, that engenders fresh thirst. With
fire-water, that itself burns with a blue flame and consumes the
soul like a prairie fire, that leaves nothing behind it but red
sand. (He drinks.) Set fire to it. Put it out again. Set fire to
it. Put it out again! But what you can't burn up--unluckily--is the
memory of what's past. How can that memory be burned to ashes?

WAITRESS. Please don't speak so loud, there's a sick man in here.
So ill, that he's already asked to be given the sacrament.

STRANGER. May he soon go to hell!

(Those present murmur at this, resenting it.)

WAITRESS. Take care! Take care!

WOMAN (to the STRANGER). Do you know that man who's been sitting
behind you, staring at you all the time?

STRANGER (turning. He and the DOCTOR stare at one another for a
moment, without speaking). Yes. I used to know him once.

WOMAN. He looks as if he'd like to bite you in the back.

(The DOCTOR sits down opposite the STRANGER and stares at him.)

STRANGER. What are you looking at?

DOCTOR. Your grey hairs.

STRANGER (to the WOMAN). Is my hair grey?

WOMAN. Yes. Indeed it is!

DOCTOR. And now I'm looking at your fair companion. Sometimes you
have good taste. Sometimes not.

STRANGER. And sometimes you have the misfortune to have the same
taste as I.

DOCTOR. That wasn't a kind remark! But you've killed me twice in
your lifetime; so go on.

STRANGER (to the WOMAN). Let's get away from here.

DOCTOR. You know when I'm near you. You feel my presence from afar.
And I shall reach you, as the thunder will, whether you hide in the
depths of the earth or of the sea. ... Try to escape me, if you can!

STRANGER (to the WOMAN). Come with me. Lead me ... I can't see. ...

WOMAN. No, I don't want to go yet. I don't want to be bored.

DOCTOR. You're right there, daughter of joy! Life's hard enough
without taking on yourself the sorrows others have brought on
themselves. That man won't bear his own sorrows, but makes his wife
shoulder the burden for him.

STRANGER. What's that? Wait! She bore false witness of a breach of
the peace and attempted murder!

DOCTOR. Now he's putting the blame on her!

STRANGER (resting his head in his hands and letting it sink on to
the table. In the far distance a violin and guitar are heard
playing the following melody):

[See picture road1.jpg]

DOCTOR (to the WOMAN). Is he ill?

WOMAN. He must be mad; he says he's dead.

(In the distance drums beat the reveille and bugles are blown, but
very softly.)

STRANGER. Is it morning? Night's passing, the sun's rising and
ghosts lie down to sleep again in graves. Now I can go. Come!

WOMAN (going nearer to the DOCTOR). No. I said no.

STRANGER. Even you, the last of all my friends! Am I such a
wretched being, that not even a prostitute will bear me company for

DOCTOR. You must be.

STRANGER. I don't believe it yet; although everyone tells me so. I
don't believe anything at all, for every time I have, I've been
deceived. But tell me this hasn't the sun yet risen? A little while
ago I heard a cock crow and a dog bark; and now they're ringing the
Angelus. ... Have they put out the lights, that it's so dark?

DOCTOR (to the WOMAN). He must be blind.

WOMAN. Yes. I think he is.

STRANGER. No. I can see you; but I can't see the lights.

DOCTOR. For you it's growing dark. ... You've played with the
lightning, and looked too long at the sun. That is forbidden to

STRANGER. We're born with the desire to do it; but may not. That's
Envy. ...

DOCTOR. What do you possess that's worthy of envy?

STRANGER. Something you'll never understand, and that only I can

DOCTOR. You mean, the child?

MANGER. You know I didn't mean it. If I had I'd have said that I
possessed something you could never let.

DOCTOR. So you're back at that! Then I'll express myself as
clearly: you took what I'd done with.

WOMAN. Oh! I shan't stay in the company of such swine! (She gets up
and moves to another seat.)

STRANGER. I know we've sunk very low; yet I believe the deeper I
sink the nearer I'll come to my goal: the end!

WAITRESS. Don't speak so loud, there's a dying man in there!

STRANGER. Yes, I believe you. The whole time there's been a smell
of corpses here.

DOCTOR. Perhaps that's us?

STRANGER. Can one be dead, without suspecting it?

DOCTOR. The dead maintain that they don't know the difference.

STRANGER. You terrify me. Is it possible? And all these shadowy
figures, whose faces I think I recognise as memories of my youth at
school in the swimming bath, the gymnasium. ... (He clutches his
heart.) Oh! Now he's coming: the Terrible One, who tears the heart
out of the breast. The Terrible One, who's been following me for
years. He's here!

(He is beside himself. The doors are thrown open; a choir boy comes
in carrying a lantern made of blue glass that throws a blue light
on the guests; he rings the silver bell. All present begin to howl
like wild beasts. The DOMINICAN then enters with the sacrament. The
WAITRESS and the WOMAN throw themselves on their knees, the others
howl. The DOMINICAN raises the monstrance; all fall on their knees.
The choir boy and the DOMINICAN go into the room on the left.)

BEGGAR (entering and going towards the STRANGER). Come away from
here. You're ill. And the bailiffs have a summons for you.

STRANGER. Summons? From whom?

BEGGAR. Your wife.

DOCTOR. The electric eel strikes at a great distance. She once
wanted to bring a charge of slander against me, because she
couldn't stay out at night.

STRANGER. Couldn't stay out at night?

DOCTOR. Yes. Didn't you know who you were married to?

STRANGER. I heard she'd been engaged before she ... married you.

DOCTOR. Yes. That's what it was called, but in reality she'd been
the mistress of a married man, whom she denounced for rape, after
she'd forced herself into his studio and posed to him naked, as a

STRANGER. And that was the woman you married?

DOCTOR. Yes. After she'd seduced me, she denounced me for breach of
promise, so I had to marry her. She'd engaged two detectives to see
I didn't get away. And that was the woman you married!

STRANGER. I did it because I soon saw it was no good choosing when
all were alike.

BEGGAR. Come away from here. You'll be sorry if you don't.

STRANGER (to the DOCTOR). Was she always religious?

DOCTOR. Always.

STRANGER. And tender, good-hearted, self-sacrificing?

DOCTOR. Certainly!

STRANGER. Can one understand her?

DOCTOR. No. But you can go mad thinking about her. That's why one
had to accept her as she was. Charming, intoxicating!

STRANGER. Yes, I know. But one's powerless against pity. That's why
I don't want to fight this case. I can't defend myself without
attacking her; and I don't want to do that.

DOCTOR. You were married before. How was that?

STRANGER. Just the same.

DOCTOR. This love acts like henbane: you see suns, where there are
none, and stars where no stars are! But it's pleasant, while it

STRANGER. And the morning after? Oh, the morning after!

BEGGAR. Come, unhappy man! He's poisoning you, and you don't know
it. Come!

STRANGER (getting up). Poisoning me, you say? Do you think he's

BEGGAR. Every word he's said's a lie.

STRANGER. I don't believe it.

BEGGAR. No. You only believe lies. But that serves you right.

STRANGER. Has he been lying? Has he?

BEGGAR. How can you believe your enemies?

STRANGER. But he's my friend, because he's told me the bitter

BEGGAR. Eternal Powers, save his reason! For he believes everything
evil's true, and everything good evil. Come, or you'll be lost!

DOCTOR. He's lost already! And now he'll be whipped into froth,
broken up into atoms, and used as an ingredient in the great
pan-cake. Away with you hell! (To those present.) Howl like victims
of the pit. (The guests all howl.) And no more womanly pity. Howl,
woman! (The WOMAN refuses with a gesture of her hand.)

STRANGER (to the BEGGAR). That man's not lying.




[A ravine with a stream in the middle, which is crossed by a
foot-bridge. In the foreground a smithy and a mill, both of which
are in ruins. Fallen trees choke the stream. In the background a
starry sky above the pine wood. The constellation of Orion is
clearly visible.]

[See picture road2.jpg]

[The STRANGER and the BEGGAR enter. In the foreground there is
snow; in the background the green of summer.]

STRANGER. I feel afraid! To-night the stars seem to hang so low,
that I fear they'll fall on me like drops of molten silver. Where
are we?

BEGGAR. In the ravine, by the stream. You must know the place.

STRANGER. Know it? As if I could ever forget it! It reminds me of
my honeymoon journey. But where are the smithy and the mill?

BEGGAR. All in ruins! The lake of tears was drained a week ago. The
stream rose, then the river, till everything was laid waste--
meadows, fields and gardens.

STRANGER. And the quiet house?

BEGGAR. The old sin was washed away, but the walls in left.

STRANGER. And those who lived there?

BEGGAR. They've gone to the colonies; so that the story's now at an

STRANGER. Then my story's at an end too. So thoroughly at an end,
that no happy memories remain. The last was fouled by the poisoner. ...

BEGGAR. Whose poison you prepared! You should declare your

STRANGER. Yes. Now I'll have to give in.

BEGGAR. Then the day of reckoning will draw near.

STRANGER. I think we might call it quits; because, if I've sinned,
I've been punished.

BEGGAR. But others certainly won't think so.

STRANGER. I've stopped taking account of others, since I saw that
the Powers that guide the destinies of mankind brook no accomplices.
The crime I committed in this life was that I wanted to set men
free. ...

BEGGAR. Set men free from their duties, and criminals from their
feeling of guilt, so that they could really become unscrupulous!
You're not the first, and not the 1ast to dabble in the Devil's
work. Lucifer a non lucendo! But when Reynard grows old, he turns
monk--so wisely is it ordained--and then he's forced to split
himself in n two and drive out Beelzebub with his own penance.

STRANGER. Shall I be driven to that?

BEGGAR. Yes. Though you don't want it! You'll be forced to preach
against yourself from the housetops. To unpick your fabric thread
by thread. To flay yourself alive at every street corner, and show
what you really are. But that needs courage. All the same, a man
who's played with the thunder will not tremble! Yet, sometimes,
when night falls and the Invisible Ones, who can only be seen in
darkness, ride on his chest, then he will fear--even the stars, and
most of all the Mill of Sins, that grinds the past, and grinds it ...
and grinds it! One of the seven-and-seventeen Wise Men said that
the greatest victory he ever won was over himself; but foolish men
don't believe it, and that's why they're deceived; because they
only credit what nine-and-ninety fools have said a thousand times.

STRANGER. Enough! Tell me; isn't this snow here on the ground?

BEGGAR. Yes. It's winter here.

STRANGER. But over there it's green.

BEGGAR. It's summer there.

STRANGER. And growing light! (A clear beam of light falls on the

BEGGAR. Yes. It's light there, and dark here.

STRANGER. And who are they? (Three children, dressed is summer
clothing, two girls and a boy, come on to the bridge from the
right.) Ho! My children! (The children stop to listen, and then
look at the STRANGER without seeming to recognise him. The STRANGER
calls.) Gerda! Erik! Thyra! It's your father! (The children appear
to recognise him; they turn away to the left.) They don't know me.
They don't want to know me.

(A man and a woman enter from the right. The children dance of to
the left and disappear. The STRANGER falls on his face on the

BEGGAR. Something like that was to be expected. Such things happen.
Get up again!

STRANGER (raising himself up). Where am I? Where have I been? Is it
spring, winter or summer? In what century am I living, in what
hemisphere? Am I a child or an old man, male or female, a god or a
devil? And who are you? Are you, you; or are you me? Are those my
own entrails that I see about me? Are those stars or bundles of
nerves in my eye; is that water, or is it tears? Wait! Now I'm
moving forward in time for a thousand years, and beginning to
shrink, to grow heavier and to crystallise! Soon I'll be
re-created, and from the dark waters of Chaos the Lotus flower will
stretch up her head towards the sun and say: it is I! I must have
been sleeping for a few thousand years; and have dreamed I'd
exploded and become ether, and could no longer feel, no longer
suffer, no longer be joyful; but had entered into peace and
equilibrium. But now! Now! I suffer as much as if I were all
mankind. I suffer and have no right to complain. ...

BEGGAR. Then suffer, and the more you suffer the earlier pain will
leave you.

STRANGER. No. Mine are eternal sufferings. ...

BEGGAR. And only a minute's passed.

STRANGER. I can't bear it.

BEGGAR. Then you must look for help.

STRANGER. What's coming now? Isn't it the end yet?

(It grows light above the bridge. CAESAR comes in and throws
himself from the parapet; then the DOCTOR appears on the right,
with bare head and a wild look. He behaves as if he would throw
himself into the stream too.)

STRANGER. He's revenged himself so thoroughly, that he awakes no
qualms of conscience! (The DOCTOR goes out, left. The SISTER
enters, right, as if searching for someone.) Who's that?

BEGGAR. His unmarried sister, who's unprovided for, and has now no
home to go to. She's grown desperate since her brother was driven
out of his wits by sorrow and went to pieces.

STRANGER. That's a harder fate. Poor creature, what can one do?
Even if I felt her sufferings, would that help her?

BEGGAR. No. It wouldn't.

STRANGER. Why do qualms of conscience come after, and not
beforehand? Can you help me over that?

BEGGAR. No. No one can. Let us go on.

STRANGER. Where to?

BEGGAR. Come with me.




[The LADY, dressed in white, is sitting by the cradle doing crochet
work. The green dress is hanging up by the door on the right. The
STRANGER comes an, and looks round in astonishment.]

LADY (simply, mildly, without a trace of surprise). Tread softly
and come here, if you'd see something lovely.

STRANGER. Where am I?

LADY. Quiet! Look at the little stranger who came when you were

STRANGER. They told me the river had risen and swept everything off.

LADY. Why do you believe everything you're told? The river did
rise, but this little creature has someone who protects both her
and hers. Wouldn't you like to see your daughter? (The STRANGER
goes towards the cradle. The LADY lifts the curtain.) She's lovely!
Isn't she? (The STRANGER gazes darkly in front of him.) Won't you

STRANGER. Everything's poisoned. Everything!

LADY. Well, perhaps!

STRANGER. Do you know that he has lost his wits and is wandering in
the neighbourhood, followed by his sister, who's searching for him?
He's penniless, and drinking. ...

LADY. Oh, my God!

STRANGER. Why don't you reproach me?

LADY. You'll reproach yourself enough: I'd rather give you good
advice. Go to the Convent of St. Saviour's, there you'll find a man
who can free you from the evil you fear.

STRANGER. What, in the convent, where they curse and bind?

LADY. And deliver also!

STRANGER. Frankly, I think you're trying to deceive me; I don't
trust you any more.

LADY. Nor I, you! So look on this as your farewell visit.

STRANGER. That was my intention; but first I wanted to find out if
we're of the same mind. ...

LADY. You see, we can build no happiness on the sorrows of others;
so we must part. That's the only way to lessen his sufferings. I
have my child, who'll fill my life for me; and you have the great
goal of your ambition. ...

STRANGER. Will you still mock me?

LADY. No, why? You've solved the great problem.

STRANGER. Be quiet! No more of that, even if you believe it.

LADY. But if all the rest believe it too. ...

STRANGER. No one believes it now.

LADY. It says in the paper to-day that gold's been made in England.
That it's been proved possible.

STRANGER. You've been deceived.

LADY. No! Oh, heaven, he won't believe his own good fortune.

STRANGER. I no longer believe anything.

LADY. Get the newspaper from the pocket of my dress over there.

STRANGER. The green witch's dress, that laid a spell on me one
Sunday afternoon, between the inn and the church door! That'll
bring no good.

LADY (fetching the paper herself and also a large parcel that is in
the pocket of the dress). See for yourself.

STRANGER (tearing up the paper). No need for me to look!

LADY. He won't believe it. He won't. Yet the chemists want to give
a banquet in your honour next Saturday.

STRANGER. Is that in the paper too? About the banquet?

LADY (handing him the packet). And here's the diploma of honour.
Read it!

STRANGER (tearing up the packet). Perhaps there's a Government
Order too!

LADY. Those whom the gods would destroy they first make blind! You
made your discovery with no good intentions, and therefore you
weren't permitted to be the only one to succeed.

STRANGER. Now I shall go. For I won't stay here and lay bare my
shame! I've become a laughing-stock, so I'll go and hide myself--
bury myself alive, because I don't dare to die.

LADY. Then go! We start for the colonies in a few days.

STRANGER. That's frank at least! Perhaps we're nearing a solution.

LADY. Of the riddle: why we had to meet?

STRANGER. Why did we have to?

LADY. To torture one another.

STRANGER. Is that all?

LADY. You thought you could save me from a werewolf, who really was
no such thing, and so you become one yourself. And then I was to
save you from evil by taking all the evil in you on myself, and I
did so; but the result was that you only became more evil. My poor
deliverer! Now you're bound hand and foot and no magician can set
you free.

STRANGER. Farewell, and thank you for all you've done.

LADY. Farewell, and thank you ... for this! (She points to the

STRANGER (going towards the back). First perhaps I ought to take my
leave in there.

LADY. Yes, my dear. Do!

(The STRANGER goes out through the door at the back. The LADY
crosses to the door on the right and lets in the DOMINICAN--who is
also the BEGGAR.)

CONFESSOR. Is he ready now?

LADY. Nothing remains for this unhappy man but to leave the world
and bury himself in a monastery.

CONFESSOR. So he doesn't believe he's the great inventor he
undoubtedly is?

LADY. No. He can believe good of no one, not even of himself.

CONFESSOR. That is the punishment Heaven sent him: to believe lies,
because he wouldn't listen to the truth.

LADY. Lighten his guilty burden for him, if you can.

CONFESSOR. No. If I did he'd only grow insolent and accuse God of
malice and injustice. This man is a demon, who must be kept
confined. He belongs to the dangerous race of rebels; he'd misuse
his gifts, if he could, to do evil. And men's power for evil is

LADY. For the sake of the ... attachment you've shown me, can't you
ease his burden a little; where it presses on him most and where
he's least to blame?

CONFESSOR. You must do that, not I; so that he can leave you in the
belief that you've a good side, and that you're not what your first
husband told him you were. If he believes you, I'll deliver him
later, just as I once bound him when he confessed to me, during his
illness, in the convent of St. Saviour's.

LADY (going to the back and opening the door). As you wish!

STRANGER (re-entering). So there's the Terrible One! How did he
come here? But isn't he the beggar, after a11?

CONFESSOR. Yes, I am your terrible friend, and I've come for you.

STRANGER. What? Have I ...?

CONFESSOR. Yes. Once already you promised me your soul, on oath,
when you lay ill and felt near madness. It was then you offered to
serve the powers of good; but when you got well again you broke
your oath, and therefore were plagued with unrest, and wandered
abroad unable to find peace--tortured by your own conscience.

STRANGER. Who are you really? Who dares lay a hand on my destiny?

CONFESSOR. You must ask her that.

LADY. This is the man to whom I was first engaged, and who
dedicated his life to the service of God, when I left him.

STRANGER. Even if he were!

LADY. So you needn't think so ill of yourself because it was you
who punished my faithlessness and another's lack of conscience.

STRANGER. His sin cannot justify mine. Of course it's untrue, like
everything else; and you only say it to console me.

CONFESSOR. What an unhappy soul he is. ...

STRANGER. A damned one too!

CONFESSOR. No! (To the LADY.) Say something good of him.

LADY. He won't believe it, if I do; he only believes evil!

CONFESSOR. Then I shall have to say it. A beggar once came and
asked him for a drink of water; but he gave me wine instead and let
me sit at his table. You remember that?

STRANGER. No. I don't load my memory with such trifles.

CONFESSOR. Pride! Pride!

STRANGER. Call it pride, if you like. It's the last vestige of our
god-like origin. Let's go, before it grows dark.

CONFESSOR. 'For the whole world shined with clear light and none
were hindered in their labour. Over these only was spread a heavy
night, an image of darkness which should afterward receive them;
but yet were they unto themselves more grievous than the darkness.'

LADY. Don't hurt him!

STRANGER (with passion). How beautifully she can speak, though she
is evil. Look at her eyes; they cannot weep tears, but they can
flatter, sting, or lie! And yet she says: Don't hurt him! See, now
she fears I'll wake her child, the little monster that robbed me of
her! Come, priest, before I change my mind.





less important figures
PATER ISIDOR (the Doctor of Part I)


ACT I On the River Bank

ACT II Cross-Roads in the Mountains

SCENE II Rocky Landscape
SCENE III Small House
(On the Mountain where the Monastery Stands)

ACT IV SCENE I Chapter House
SCENE II Picture Gallery
(Of the Monastery)



[The foreground represents the bank of a large river. On the right
a projecting tongue of land covered with old willow trees. Farther
up stage the river can be seen flowing quietly past. The background
represents the farther bank, a steep mountain slope covered with
woodland. Above the tops of the forest trees the Monastery can be
seen; it is an enormous four-cornered building completely white,
with two rows of small windows. The facade is broken by the Church
belonging to the Monastery, which is flanked by two towers in the
style favoured by the Jesuits. The Church door is open, and at a
certain moment the monstrance on the altar is visible in the light
of the sun. On the near bank in the foreground, which is low and
sandy, purple and yellow loose-strife are growing. A shallow boat
is moored nearby. On the left the ferryman's hut. It is an evening
in early summer and the sun is low; foreground, river and the lower
part of the background lie in shadow; and the trees on the far bank
sway gently in the breeze. Only the Monastery is lit by the sun.]

[The STRANGER and the CONFESSOR enter from the right. The STRANGER
is wearing alpine clothing: a brown cloak with a cape and hood; he
has a staff and wallet. He is limping slightly. The CONFESSOR is to
the black and white habit of the Dominicans. They stop at a place
where a willow tree prevents any view of the Monastery.]

STRANGER. Why do you lead me along this winding, hilly path, that
never comes to an end?

CONFESSOR. Such is the way, my friend. But now we'll soon be there.
(He leads the STRANGER farther up stage. The STRANGER sees the
Monastery, and is enchanted by it; he takes off his hat, and puts
down his wallet and staff.) Well?

STRANGER. I've never seen anything so white on this polluted earth.
At most, only in my dreams! Yes, that's my youthful dream of a
house in which peace and purity should dwell. A blessing on you,
white house! Now I've come home!

CONFESSOR. Good! But first we must await the pilgrims on this bank.
It's called the bank of farewell, because it's the custom to say
farewell here, before the ferryman ferries one across.

STRANGER. Haven't I said enough farewells already? Wasn't my whole
life one thorny path of farewells? At post offices, steamer-quays,
railway stations--with the waving of handkerchiefs damp with tears?

CONFESSOR. Yet your voice trembles with the pain what you've lost.

STRANGER. I don't feel I've lost anything. I don't want anything

CONFESSOR. Not even your youth?

STRANGER. That least of all. What should I do with it, and its
capacity for suffering?

CONFESSOR. And for enjoyment?

STRANGER. I never enjoyed anything, for I was born with a thorn in
my flesh; every time I stretched out my hand to grasp a pleasure, I
pricked my finger and Satan struck me in the face.

CONFESSOR. Because your pleasures have been base ones.

STRANGER. Not so base. I had my own home, a wife, children, duties,
obligations to others! No, I was born in disfavour, a step-child of
life; and I was pursued, hunted, in a word, cursed!

CONFESSOR. Because you didn't obey God's commandment.

STRANGER. But no one can, as St. Paul says himself! Why should I be
able to do what no one else can do? I of all men? Because I'm
supposed to be a scoundrel. Because more's demanded of me than of
others. ... (Crying out.) Because I was treated with injustice.

CONFESSOR. Have you got back to that, rebellious one?

STRANGER. Yes. I've always been there. Now let's cross the river.

CONFESSOR. Do you think one can climb up to that white house
without preparation?

STRANGER. I'm ready: you can examine me.

CONFESSOR. Good! The first monastic vow is: humility.

STRANGER. And the second: obedience! Neither of them was ever a
special virtue of mine; it's for that very reason that I want to
make the great attempt.

CONFESSOR. And show your pride through your humility.

STRANGER. Whatever it is, it's all the same to me.

CONFESSOR. What, everything? The world and its best gifts; the joy
of innocent children, the pleasant warmth of home, the approbation
of your fellow-men, the satisfaction brought by the fulfilment of
duty--are you indifferent to them all?

STRANGER. Yes! Because I was born without the power of enjoyment.
There have been moments when I've been an object of envy; but I've
never understood what it was I was envied for: my sufferings in
misfortune, my lack of peace in success, or the fact I hadn't long
to live.

CONFESSOR. It's true that life has given you everything you wished;
even a little gold at the last. Why, I even seem to remember that a
sculptor was commissioned to make a portrait bust of you.

STRANGER. Oh yes! A bust was made of me.

CONFESSOR. Are you, of all men, impressed by such things?

STRANGER. Of course not! But they do at least mark well founded
appreciation, that neither envy nor lack of understanding can

CONFESSOR. You think so? It seems to me that human greatness
resides in the good opinion of others; and that, if this opinion
changes, the greatest can quickly dwindle into nothing.

STRANGER. The opinions of others have never meant much to me.

CONFESSOR. Haven't they? Really?

STRANGER. No one's been so strict with himself as I! And no one's
been so humble! All have demanded my respect; whilst they spurned
me and spat on me. And when at last I found I'd duties towards the
immortal soul given into my keeping, I began to demand respect for
this immortal soul. Then I was branded as the proudest of the
proud! And by whom? By the proudest of all amongst the humble and

CONFESSOR. I think you're entangling yourself in contradictions.

STRANGER. I think so, too! For the whole of life consists of
nothing but contradictions. The rich are the poor in spirit; the
many little men hold the power, and the great only serve the little
men. I've never met such proud people as the humble; I've never met
an uneducated man who didn't believe himself in a position to
criticise learning and to do without it. I've found the
of deadly sins amongst the Saints: I mean self-complacency. In my
youth I was a saint myself; but I've never been so worthless as I
was then. The better I thought myself, the worse I became.

CONFESSOR. Then what do you seek here?

STRANGER. What I've told you already; but I'll add this: I'm
seeking death without the need to die!

CONFESSOR. The mortification of your flesh, of your old self! Good!
Now keep still: the pilgrims are coming on their wooden rafts to
celebrate the festival of Corpus Christi.

STRANGER (looking to the right in surprise). Who are they?

CONFESSOR. People who believe in something.

STRANGER. Then help my unbelief! (Sunlight now falls on the
monstrance in the church above, so that it shines like a window
pane at sunset.) Has the sun entered the church, or. ...

CONFESSOR. Yes. The sun has entered. ...

(The first raft comes in from the right. Children clothed in white,
with garlands on their heads and with lighted lanterns in their
hands, are seen standing round an altar decked with flowers, on
which a white flag with a golden lily has been planted. They sing,
whilst the raft glides slowly by.)

Blessed be he, who fears the Lord,
Beati omnes, qui timent Dominum,
And walks in his ways,
Qui ambulant in viis ejus.
Thou shalt feed thyself with the work of thy hands,
Labores manuum tuarum quia manducabis;
Blessed be thou and peace be with thee,
Beatus es et bene tibi erit.

(A second raft appears with boys on one side and girls on the
other. It has a flag with a rose on it.)

Thy wife shall be like a fruitful vine,
Uxor tua sicut vitis abundans,
Within thy house,
In lateribus domus tuae.

(The third raft carries men and women. There is a flag with fruit
upon it: figs, grapes, pomegranates, melons, ears of wheat, etc.)

Filii tui sicut novellae olivarum,
Thy children shall be like olive branches about thy table,
In circuitu mensae tuae.

(The fourth raft is filled with older men and women. The flag has a
representation of a fir-tree under snow.)

See, how blessed is the man,
Ecce sic benedicetur homo,
Who feareth the Lord,
Qui timet Dominum!

(The raft glides by.)

STRANGER. What were they singing?

CONFESSOR. A pilgrim's song.

STRANGER. Who wrote it?

CONFESSOR. A royal person.

STRANGER. Here? What was his name? Has he written anything else?

CONFESSOR. About fifty songs; he was called David, the son of
Isaiah! But he didn't always write psalms. When he was young, he
did other things. Yes. Such things will happen!

STRANGER. Can we go on now?

CONFESSOR. In a moment. I've something to say to you first.


CONFESSOR. Good. But don't be either sad or angry.

STRANGER. Certainly not.

CONFESSOR. Here, you see, on this bank, you're a well-known--let's
say famous--person; but over there, on the other, you'll be quite
unknown to the brothers. Nothing more, in fact, than an ordinary
simple man.

STRANGER. Oh! Don't they read in the monastery?

CONFESSOR. Nothing light; only serious books.

STRANGER. They take in papers, I suppose?

CONFESSOR. Not the kind that write about you!

STRANGER. Then on the other side of this river my life-work doesn't

CONFESSOR. What work?

STRANGER. I see. Very well. Can't we cross now?

CONFESSOR. In a minute. Is there no one you'd like to take leave of?

STRANGER (after a pause.) Yes. But it's beyond the bounds of

CONFESSOR. Have you ever seen anything impossible?

STRANGER. Not really, since I've seen my own destiny.

CONFESSOR. Well, who is it you'd like to meet?

STRANGER. I had a daughter once; I called her Sylvia, because she
sang all day long like a wren. It's some years since I saw her; she
must be a girl of sixteen now. But I'm afraid if I were to meet
her, life would regain its value for me.

CONFESSOR. You fear nothing else?

STRANGER. What do you mean?

CONFESSOR. That she may have changed!

STRANGER. She could only have changed for the better.

CONFESSOR. Are you sure?


CONFESSOR. She'll come to you. (He goes down to the bank and
beckons to the right.)

STRANGER. Wait! I'm wondering whether it's wise!

CONFESSOR. It can do no harm.

(He beckons once more. A boat appears on the river, rowed by a
young girl. She is wearing summer clothing, her head is bare and
her fair hair is hanging loose. She gets out of the boat behind the
willow tree. The CONFESSOR draws back until he is near the
ferryman's hut, but remains in sight of the audience. The STRANGER
has waved to the girl and she has answered him. She now comes on to
the stage, runs into the STRANGER'S arms, and kisses him.)

DAUGHTER. Father. My dear father!

STRANGER. Sylvia! My child!

DAUGHTER. How in the world do you come to be up here in the

STRANGER. And how have _you_ got here? I thought I'd managed to
hide so well.

DAUGHTER. Why did you want to hide?

STRANGER. Ask me as little as possible! You've grown into a big
girl. And I've gone grey.

DAUGHTER. No. You're not grey. You're just as young as you were
when we parted.

STRANGER. When we ... parted!

DAUGHTER. When you left us. ... (The STRANGER does not reply.)
Aren't you glad we're meeting again?

STRANGER (faintly). Yes!

DAUGHTER. Then show it.

STRANGER. How can I be glad, when we're parting to-day for life?

DAUGHTER. Why, where do you want to go?

STRANGER (pointing to the monastery). Up there!

DAUGHTER (with a sophisticated air). Into the monastery? Yes, now I
come to think of it, perhaps it's best.

STRANGER. You think so?

DAUGHTER (with pity, but good-will.) I mean, if you've a ruined
life behind you. ... (Coaxingly.) Now you look sad. Tell me one

STRANGER. Tell _me_ one thing, my child, that's been worrying me
more than anything else. You've a stepfather?



DAUGHTER. He's very good and kind.

STRANGER. With every virtue that I lack. ...

DAUGHTER. Aren't you glad we've got into better hands?

STRANGER. Good, better, best! Why do you come here bare-headed?

DAUGHTER. Because George is carrying my hat.

STRANGER. Who's George? And where is he?

DAUGHTER. George is a friend of mine; and he's waiting for me on
the bank down below.

STRANGER. Are you engaged to him?

DAUGHTER. No. Certainly not!

STRANGER. Do you want to marry?


STRANGER. I can see it by your mottled cheeks, like those of a
child that has got up too early; I can hear it by your voice,
that's no longer that of a warbler, but a jay; I can feel it in
your kisses, that burn cold like the sun in May; and by your steady
icy look that tells me you're nursing a secret of which you're
ashamed, but of which you'd like to boast. And your brothers and

DAUGHTER. They're quite well, thank you.

STRANGER. Have we anything else to say to one another?

DAUGHTER (coldly). Perhaps not.

STRANGER. Now you look so like your mother.

DAUGHTER. How do you know, when you've never been able to see her
as she was!

STRANGER. So you understood that, though you were so young?

DAUGHTER. I learnt to understand it from you. If only you'd
understand yourself.

STRANGER. Have you anything else to teach me?

DAUGHTER. Perhaps! But in your day that wasn't considered seemly.

STRANGER. My day's over and exists no longer; just as Sylvia exists
no longer, but is merely a name, a memory. (He takes a guide-book
out of his pocket.) Look at this guide-book! Can you see small
marks made here by tiny fingers, and others by little damp lips?
You made them when you were five years old; you were sitting on my
knee in the train, and we saw the Alps for the first time. You
thought what you saw was Heaven; and when I explained that the
mountain was the Jungfrau, you asked if you could kiss the name in
the book.

DAUGHTER. I don't remember that!

STRANGER. Delightful memories pass, but hateful ones remain! Don't
you remember anything about me?


STRANGER. Quiet! I know what you mean. One night ... one dreadful,
horrible night ... Sylvia, my child, when I shut my eyes I see a
pale little angel, who slept in my arms when she was ill; and who
thanked me when I gave her a present. Where is she whom I long for
so and who exists no more, although she isn't dead? You, as you
are, seem a stranger, whom I've never known and certainly don't
long to see again. If Sylvia at least were dead and lay in her
grave, there'd be a churchyard where I could take my flowers. ...
How strange it is! She's neither among the living, nor the dead.
Perhaps she never existed, and was only a dream like everything

DAUGHTER (wheedling).Father, dear!

STRANGER. It's she! No, only her voice. (Pause.) So you think my
life's been ruined?

DAUGHTER. Yes. But why speak of it now?

STRANGER. Because remember I once saved _your_ life. You had brain
fever for a whole month and suffered a great deal. Your mother
wanted the doctor to deliver you from your unhappy existence by
some powerful drug. But I prevented it, and so saved you from death
and your mother from prison.

DAUGHTER. I don't believe it!

STRANGER. But a fact may be true, even if you don't believe it.

DAUGHTER. You dreamed it.

STRANGER. Who knows if I haven't dreamed everything, and am not
even dreaming now. How I wish it were so!

DAUGHTER. I must be going, father.

STRANGER. Then good-bye!

DAUGHTER. May I write to you?

STRANGER. What? One of the dead write to another? Letters won't
reach me in future. And I mayn't receive visitors. But I'm glad
we've met, for now there's nothing else on earth I cling to. (Going
to the left.) Good-bye, girl or woman, whatever I should call you.
There's no need to weep!

DAUGHTER. I wasn't thinking of weeping, though I dare say good
breeding would demand I should. Well, good-bye! (She goes out

STRANGER (to the CONFESSOR). I think I came out of that well! It's
a mercy to part with content on both sides. Mankind, after all,
makes rapid progress, and self-control increases as the flow of the
tear-ducts lessens. I've seen so many tears shed in my lifetime,
that I'm almost taken aback at this dryness. She was a strong
child, just the kind I once wished to be. The most beautiful thing
that life can offer! She lay, like an angel, wrapped in the white
veils of her cradle, with a blue coverlet when she slept. Blue and
arched like the sky. That was the best: what will the worst look

CONFESSOR. Don't excite yourself, but be of good cheer. First throw
away that foolish guide-book, for this is your last journey.

STRANGER. You mean this? Very well. (He opens the book, kisses one
of the pages and then throws it into the river.) Anything else?

CONFESSOR. If you've any gold or silver, you must give it to the

STRANGER. I've a silver watch. I never got as far as a gold one.

CONFESSOR. Give that to the ferryman; and then you'll get a glass
of wine.

STRANGER. The last! It's like an execution! Perhaps I'll have to
have my hair cut, too?

CONFESSOR. Yes. Later. (He takes the watch and goes to the door of
the ferryman's hut, speaking a few whispered words to someone
within. He receives a bottle of wine and a glass in exchange, which
he puts on the table.)

STRANGER (filling his glass, but not drinking it.) Shall I never
get wine up there?

CONFESSOR. No wine; and you'll see no women. You may hear singing;
but not the kind of songs that go with women and wine.

STRANGER. I've had enough of women; they can't tempt me any more.

CONFESSOR. Are you sure?

STRANGER. Quite sure. ... But tell me this: what do you think of
women, who mayn't even set their feet within your consecrated

CONFESSOR. So you're still asking questions?

STRANGER. And why may an abbess never hear confession, never read
mass, and never preach?

CONFESSOR. I can't answer that.

STRANGER. Because the answer would accord with my thoughts on that

CONFESSOR. It wouldn't be a disaster if we were to agree for once.

STRANGER. Not at all!

CONFESSOR. Now drink up your wine.

STRANGER. No. I only want to look at it for the last time. It's
beautiful. ...

CONFESSOR. Don't lose yourself in meditation; memories lie at the
bottom of the cup.

STRANGER. And oblivion, and songs, and power--imaginary power, but
for that reason all the greater.

CONFESSOR. Wait here a moment; I'll go and order the ferry.

STRANGER. 'Sh! I can hear singing, and I can see. ... I can see. ...
For a moment I saw a flag unfurling in a puff of wind, only to fall
back on the flagstaff and hang there limply as if it were nothing
but a dishcloth. I've witnessed my whole life flashing past in a
second, with its joys and sorrows, its beauty and its misery! But
now I can see nothing.

CONFESSOR (going to the left). Wait here a moment, I'll go and
order the ferry.

(The STRANGER goes so far up stage that the rays of the setting
sun, which are streaming from the right through the trees, throw
his shadow across the bank and the river. The LADY enters from the
right, in deep mourning. Her shadow slowly approaches that of the

STRANGER (who, to begin with, looks only at his own shadow). Ah!
The sun! It makes me a bloodless shape, a giant, who can walk on
the water of the river, climb the mountain, stride over the roof of
the monastery church, and rise, as he does now, up into the
firmament--up to the stars. Ah, now I'm up here with the stars. ...
(He notices the shadow thrown by the LADY.) But who's following me?
Who's interrupting my ascension? Trying to climb on my shoulders?
(Turning.) You!

LADY. Yes. I!

STRANGER. So black! So black and so evil.

LADY. No longer evil. I'm in mourning. ...

STRANGER. For whom?

LADY. For our Mizzi.

STRANGER. My daughter! (The LADY opens her arms, in order to throw
herself on to his breast, but he avoids her.) I congratulate the
dead child. I'm sorry for you. I myself feel outside everything.

LADY. Comfort me, too.

STRANGER. A fine idea! I'm to comfort my fury, weep with my
hangman, amuse my tormentor.

LADY. Have you no feelings?

STRANGER. None! I wasted the feelings I used to have on you and

LADY. You're right. You can reproach me.

STRANGER. I've neither the time nor the wish to do that. Where are
you going?

LADY. I want to cross with the ferry.

STRANGER. Then I've no luck, for I wanted to do the same. (The LADY
weeps into her handkerchief. The STRANGER takes it from her and
dries her eyes.) Dry your eyes, child, and be yourself! As hard,
and lacking in feeling, as you really are! (The LADY tries to put
her arm round his neck. The STRANGER taps her gently on the
fingers.) You mustn't touch me. When your words and glances weren't
enough, you always wanted to touch me. You'll excuse a rather
trivial question: are you hungry?

LADY. No. Thank you.

STRANGER. But you're tired. Sit down. (The LADY sits down at the
table. The STRANGER throws the bottle and glass into the river.)
Well, what are you going to live for now?

LADY (sadly). I don't know.

STRANGER. Where will you go?

LADY (sobbing). I don't know.

STRANGER. So you're in despair? You see no reason for living and no
end to your misery! How like me you are! What a pity there's no
monastery for both sexes, so that we could pair off together. Is
the werewolf still alive?

LADY. You mean ...?

STRANGER. Your first husband.

LADY. He never seems to die.

STRANGER. Like a certain worm! (Pause.) And now that we're so far
from the world and its pettiness, tell me this: why did you leave
him in those days, and come to me?

LADY. Because I loved you.

STRANGER. And how long did that last?

LADY. Until I read your book, and the child was born.

STRANGER. And then?

LADY. I hated you! That is, I wanted to be rid of all the evil
you'd given me, but I couldn't.

STRANGER. So that's how it was! But we'll never really know the

LADY. Have you noticed how impossible it is to find things out? You
can live with a person and their relations for twenty years, and
yet not know anything about them.

STRANGER. So you've discovered that? As you see so much, tell me
this: how was it you came to love me?

LADY. I don't know; but I'll try to remember. (Pause.) Well, you
had the masculine courage to be rude to a lady. In me you sought
the companionship of a human being and not merely of a woman. That
honoured me; and, I thought, you too.

STRANGER. Tell me also whether you held me to be a misogynist?

LADY. A woman-hater? Every healthy man is one, in the secret places
of his heart; and all perverted men are admirers of women.

STRANGER. You're not trying to flatter me, are you?

LADY. A woman who'd try to flatter a man's not normal.

STRANGER. I see you've thought a great deal!

LADY. Thinking's the least I've done; for when I've thought least
I've understood most. Besides, what I said just how is perhaps only
improvised, as you call it, and not true in the least.

STRANGER. But if it agrees with many of my observations it becomes
most probable. (The LADY weeps into her handkerchief.) You're
weeping again?

LADY. I was thinking of Mizzi. The loveliest thing we ever had is

STRANGER. No. You were the loveliest thing, when you sat all night
watching over your child, who was lying in your bed, because her
cradle was too cold! (Three loud knocks are heard on the ferryman's
door.) 'Sh!

LADY. What's that?

STRANGER. My companion, who's waiting for me.

LADY (continuing the conversation). I never thought life would give
me anything so sweet as a child.

STRANGER. And at the same time anything so bitter.

LADY. Why bitter?

STRANGER. You've been a child yourself, and you must remember how
we, when we'd just married, came to your mother in rags, dirty and
without money. I seem to remember she didn't find us very sweet.

LADY. That's true.

STRANGER. And I ... well, just now I met Sylvia. And I expected
that all that was beautiful and good in the child would have
blossomed in the girl. ...

LADY. Well?

STRANGER. I found a faded rose, that seemed to have blown too soon.
Her breasts were sunken, her hair untidy like that of a neglected
child, and her teeth decayed.


STRANGER. You mustn't grieve. Not for the child! You might perhaps
have had to grieve for her later, as I did.

LADY. So that's what life is?

STRANGER. Yes. That's what life is. And that's why I'm going to
bury myself alive.

LADY. Where?

STRANGER (pointing to the monastery). Up there!

LADY. In the monastery? No, don't leave me. Bear me company. I'm so
alone in the world and so poor, so poor! When the child died, my
mother turned me out, and ever since I've been living in an attic
with a dressmaker. At first she was kind and pleasant, but then the
lonely evenings got too long for her, and she went out in search of
company--so we parted. Now I'm on the road, and I've nothing but
the clothes I'm wearing; nothing but my grief. I eat it and drink
it; it nourishes me and sends me to sleep. I'd rather lose anything
in the world than that! (The STRANGER weeps.) You're weeping. You!
Let me kiss your eyelids.

STRANGER. You've suffered all that for my sake!

LADY. Not for your sake! You never did me an ill turn; but I
plagued you till you left your fireside and your child!

STRANGER. I'd forgotten that; but if you say so. ... So you still
love me?

LADY. Probably. I don't know.

STRANGER. And you'd like to begin all over again?

LADY. All over again? The quarrels? No, we won't do that.

STRANGER. You're right. The quarrels would only begin all over
again. And yet it's difficult to part.

LADY. To part. The word alone's terrible enough.

STRANGER. Then what are we to do?

LADY. I don't know.

STRANGER. No, one knows nothing, hardly even that one knows
nothing; and that's why, you see, I've got as far as to _believe_.

LADY. How do you know you can believe, if belief's a gift?

STRANGER. You can receive a gift, if you ask for it.

LADY. Oh yes, if you ask; but I've never been able to beg.

STRANGER. I've had to learn to. Why can't you?

LADY. Because one has to demean oneself first.

STRANGER. Life does that for one very well.

LADY. Mizzi, Mizzi, Mizzi! ... (She has taken a shawl she was
carrying over her arm, rolled it up and put it on her knee like a
baby in long clothes.) Sleep! Sleep! Sleep! Think of it! I can see
her here! She's smiling at me; but she's dressed in black; she
seems to be in mourning too! How stupid I am! Her mother's in
mourning! She's got two teeth down below, and they're white--milk
teeth; she should never have cut any others. Oh, can't you see her,
when I can? It's no vision. It _is_ her!

CONFESSOR (in the door of the ferryman's hut; sternly to the
STRANGER). Come. Everything's ready!

STRANGER. No. Not yet. I must first set my house in order; and look
after this woman, who was once my wife.

CONFESSOR. Oh, so you want to stay!

STRANGER. No. I don't want to stay; but I can't leave duties behind
me unfulfilled. This woman's on the road, deserted, without a home,
without money!

CONFESSOR. What has that to do with us? Let the dead bury their

STRANGER. Is that your teaching?

CONFESSOR. No, yours. ... Mine, on the other hand, commands me to
send a Sister of Mercy here, to look after this unhappy one, who ...
who ... The Sister will soon be here!

STRANGER. I shall count on it.

CONFESSOR (taking the STRANGER by the hand and drawing him away.)
Then come!

STRANGER (in despair). Oh, God in heaven! Help us every one!


(The LADY, who has not been looking at the CONFESSOR and the
STRANGER, now raises her eyes and glances at the STRANGER as if she
wanted to spring up and hold him back; but she is prevented by the
imaginary child she has put to her breast.)




[A cross-roads high up in the mountains. On the right, huts. On the
left a small pool, round which invalids are sitting. Their clothes
are blue and their hands cinnabar-red. From the pond blue vapour
and small blue flames rise now and then. Whenever this happens the
invalids put them hands to their mouths and cough. The background
is formed by a mountain covered with pine-wood, which is obscured
above by a stationary bank of mist.]

[The STRANGER is sitting at a table outside one of the huts. The
CONFESSOR comes forward from the right.]

STRANGER. At last!

CONFESSOR. What do you mean: at last?

STRANGER. You left me here a week ago and told me to wait till you
came back.

CONFESSOR. Hadn't I prepared you for the fact that the way to the
white house up there would be long and difficult.

STRANGER. I don't deny it. How far have we come?

CONFESSOR. Five hundred yards. We've still got fifteen hundred.

STRANGER. But where's the sun?

CONFESSOR. Up there, above the clouds. ...

STRANGER. Then we shall have to go through them?

CONFESSOR. Yes. Of course.

STRANGER. What are those patients doing there? What a company! And
why are their hands so red?

CONFESSOR. For both our sakes I want to avoid using impure words,
so I'll speak in pleasant riddles, which you, as a writer, will

STRANGER. Yes. Speak beautifully. There's so much that's ugly here.

CONFESSOR. You may have noticed that the signs given to the planets
correspond with those of certain metals? Good! Then you'll have
seen that Venus is represented by a mirror. This mirror was
originally made of copper, so that copper was called Venus and bore
her stamp. But now the reverse of Venus' mirror is covered with
quicksilver or mercury!

STRANGER. The reverse of Venus ... is Mercury. Oh!

CONFESSOR. Quicksilver is therefore the reverse side of Venus.
Quicksilver is itself as bright as a calm sea, as a lake at the
height of summer; but when mercury meets firestone and burns, it
blushes and turns red like newly-shed blood, like the cloth on the
scaffold, like the cinnabar lips of the whore! Do you understand
now, or not?

STRANGER. Wait a moment! Cinnabar is quicksilver and sulphur.

CONFESSOR. Yes. Mercury must be burnt, if it comes too near to
Venus! Have we said enough now?

STRANGER. So these are sulphur springs?

CONFESSOR. Yes. And the sulphur flames purify or burn everything
rotten! So when the source of life's grown tainted, one is sent to
the sulphur springs. ...

STRANGER. How does the source of life grow tainted?

CONFESSOR. When Aphrodite, born of the pure seafoam, wallows in the
mire. ... When Aphrodite Urania, the heaven-born, degrades herself
to Pandemos, the Venus of the streets.

STRANGER. Why is desire born?

CONFESSOR. Pure desire, to be satisfied; impure, to be stifled.

STRANGER. What is pure, and what impure?

CONFESSOR. Have you got back to that?

STRANGER. Ask these men here. ...

CONFESSOR. Take care! (He looks at the STRANGER, who is unable to
support his gaze.)

STRANGER. You're choking me. ... My chest. ...

CONFESSOR. Yes, I'll steal the air you use to form rebellious
words, and ask outrageous questions. Sit down there, I'll come
back--when you've learnt patience and undergone your probation. But
don't forget that I can hear and see you, and am aware of you,
wherever I may be!

STRANGER. So I'm to be tested! I'm glad to know it!

CONFESSOR. But you mustn't speak to the worshippers of Venus.

(MAIA, an old woman, appears in the background.)

STRANGER (rising in horror). Who am I meeting here after all this
time? Who is it?

CONFESSOR. Who are you speaking of?

STRANGER. That old woman there?

CONFESSOR. Who's she?

STRANGER (calling). Maia! Listen! (Old Maia has disappeared. The
STRANGER hurries after her.) Maia, my friend, listen! She's gone!

CONFESSOR. Who was it?

STRANGER (sitting down). O God! Now, when I find her again at last,
she goes. ... I've looked for her for seven long years, written
letters, advertised. ...


STRANGER. I'll tell you how her fate was linked to mine! (Pause.)
Maia was the nurse in my first family ... during those hard years ...
when I was fighting the Invisible Ones, who wouldn't bless my work!
I wrote till my brain and nerves dissolved like fat in alcohol ...
but it wasn't enough! I was one of those who never could earn
enough. And the day came when I couldn't pay the maids their wages--
it was terrible--and I became the servant of my servant, and she
became my mistress. At last ... in order, at least, to save my
soul, I fled from what was too powerful for me. I fled into the
wilderness, where I collected my spirit in solitude and recovered
my strength! My first thought then was--my debts! For seven years I
looked for Maia, but in vain! For seven years I saw her shadow, out
of the windows of trains, from the decks of steamers, in strange
towns, in distant lands, but without ever being able to find her. I
dreamed of her for seven years; and whenever I drank a glass of
wine I blushed at the thought of old Maia, who perhaps was drinking
water in a poorhouse! I tried to give the sum I owed her to the
poor; but it was no use. And now--she's found and lost in the same
moment! (He gets up and goes towards the back as if searching for
her.) Explain this, if you can! I want to pay my debt; I can pay it
now, but I'm not allowed to.

CONFESSOR. Foolishness' Bow to what seems inexplicable; you'll see
that the explanation will come later. Farewell!

STRANGER. Later. Everything comes later.

CONFESSOR. Yes. If it doesn't come at once! (He goes out. The LADY
enters pensively and sits down at the table, opposite the STRANGER.)

STRANGER. What? You back again? The same and not the same? How
beautiful you've grown; as beautiful as you were the first time I
ever saw you; when I asked if I might be your friend, your dog.

LADY. That you can see beauty I don't possess shows that once more
you have a mirror of beauty in your eye. The werewolf never thought
me beautiful, for he'd nothing beautiful with which to see me.

STRANGER. Why did you kiss me that day? What made you do it?

LADY. You've often asked me that, and I've never been able to find
the answer, because I don't know. But just now, when I was away
from you, here in the mountains, where the air's purer and the sun
nearer. ... Hush! Now I can see that Sunday afternoon, when you sat
on that seat like a lost and helpless child, with a broken look in
your eyes, and stared at your own destiny. ... A maternal feeling
I'd never known before welled up in me then, and I was overcome
with pity, pity for a human soul--so that I forgot myself.

STRANGER. I'm ashamed. Now I believe it was so.

LADY. But you took it another way. You thought ...

STRANGER. Don't tell me. I'm ashamed.

LADY. Why did you think so badly of me? Didn't you notice that I
drew down my veil; so that it was between us, like the knight's
sword in the bridal bed. ...

STRANGER. I'm ashamed. I attributed my evil thoughts to you.
Ingeborg, you were made of better stuff than I. I'm ashamed!

LADY. Now you look handsome. How handsome!

STRANGER. Oh no. Not I. You!

LADY (ecstatically). No, you! Yes, now I've seen through the
mask and the false beard. Now I can see the man you hid from me,
the man I thought I'd found in you ... the man I was always
searching for. I've often thought you a hypocrite; but we're no
hypocrites. No, no, we can't pretend.

STRANGER. Ingeborg, now we're on the other side of the river, and
have life beneath us, behind us ... how different everything seems.
Now, now, I can see your soul; the ideal, the angel, who was
imprisoned in the flesh because of sin. So there is an Above, and
an Earlier Age. When we began it wasn't the beginning, and it won't
be the end when we are ended. Life is a fragment, without beginning
or end! That's why it's so difficult to make head or tail of it.

LADY (kindly). So difficult. So difficult. Tell me, for instance--
now we're beyond guilt or innocence--how was it you came to hate

STRANGER. Let me think! To hate women? Hate them? I never hated
them. On the contrary! Ever since I was eight years old I've always
had some love affair, preferably an innocent one. And I've loved
like a volcano three times! But wait--I've always felt that women
hated me ... and they've always tortured me.

LADY. How strange!

STRANGER. Let me think about it a little. ... Perhaps I've been
jealous of my own personality; and been afraid of being influenced
too much. My first love made herself into a sort of governess and
nurse to me. But, of course, there _are_ men who detest children;
who detest women too, if they're superior to them, that is!

LADY (amiably). But you've called women the enemies of mankind. Did
you mean it?

STRANGER. Of course I meant it, if I wrote it! For I wrote out of
experience, not theory. ... In woman I sought an angel, who could
lend me wings, and I fell into the arms of an earth-spirit, who
suffocated me under mattresses stuffed with the feathers of wings!
I sought an Ariel and I found a Caliban; when I wanted to rise she
dragged me down; and continually reminded me of the fall. ...

LADY (kindly). Solomon knew much of women; do you know what he
said? 'I find more bitter than death a woman, whose heart is snares
and nets and her hands as bands; whoso pleaseth God shall escape
from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.'

STRANGER. I was never acceptable in God's sight. Was that a
punishment? Perhaps. But I was never acceptable to anyone, and I've
never had a good word addressed to me! Have I never done a good
action? Is it possible for a man never to have done anything good?
(Pause.) It's terrible never to hear any good words about oneself!

LADY. You've heard them. But when people have spoken well of you,
you've refused to listen, as if it hurt you.

STRANGER. That's true, now you remind me. But can you explain it?

LADY. Explain it? You're always asking for explanations of the
inexplicable. 'When I applied my heart to know wisdom ... I beheld
all the work of God, that a man cannot find out that is done under
the sun. Because, though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall
not find it; yea, further, though a wise man think to know it, yet
shall he not be able to find it!'

STRANGER. Who says that?

LADY. The Prophet Ecclesiastes. (She takes a doll out of her
pocket.) This is Mizzi's doll. You see she longs for her little
mistress! How pale she's grown ... and she seems to know where
Mizzi is, for she's always gazing up to heaven, whichever way I
hold her. Look! Her eyes follow the stars as the compass the pole.
She is my compass and always shows me where heaven is. She should,
of course, be dressed in black, because she's in mourning; but
we're so poor. ... Do you know why we never had money? Because God
was angry with us for our sins. 'The righteous suffer no dearth.'

STRANGER. Where did you learn that?

LADY. In a book in which everything's written. Everything! (She
wraps the doll up in her cloak.) See, she's beginning to get cold--
that's because of the cloud up there. ...

STRANGER. How can you dare to wander up here in the mountains?

LADY. God is with me; so what have I to fear from human beings?

STRANGER. Aren't you tormented by those people at the pool?

LADY (turning towards them). I can't see them. I can't see anything
horrible now.

STRANGER. Ingeborg! I have made you evil, yet you're on the way to
make me good! It was my dream, you know, to seek redemption through
a woman. You don't believe it! But it's true. In the old days
nothing was of value to me if I couldn't lay it at a woman's feet.
Not as a tribute to an overbearing mistress, ... but as a sacrifice
to the beautiful and good. It was my pleasure to give; but she
wanted to take and not receive: that's why she hated me! When I was
helpless and thought the end was near, a desire grew in me to fall
asleep on a mother's knee, on a tremendous breast where I could
bury my tired head and drink in the tenderness I'd been deprived

LADY. You had no mother?

STRANGER. Hardly! And I've never felt any bond between myself and
my father or my brothers and sisters. ... Ingeborg, I was the son
of a servant of whom it is written. 'Drive forth the handmaid with
her son, for this son shall not inherit with the son of peace.'

LADY. Do you know why Ishmael was driven out? It says just before--
that he was a scoffer. And then it goes on: 'He will be a wild man,
his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against
him; and against all his brothers.'

STRANGER. Is that also written?

LADY. Oh yes, my child; it's all there!


LADY. All. There you'll find answers to all your questions even the
most inquisitive!

STRANGER. Call me your child, and then I'll love you. ... And if I
love anyone, I long to serve them, to obey them, to let myself be
ill-treated, to suffer and to bear it.

LADY. You shouldn't love me, but your Creator.

STRANGER. He's unfriendly--like my father!

LADY. He is Love itself; and you are Hate.

STRANGER. You're his daughter; but I'm his cast-out son.

LADY (coaxingly). Quiet! Be still!

STRANGER. If you only knew what I've suffered this last week. I
don't know where I am.

LADY. Where do you think?

STRANGER. There's a woman in that but who looks at me as if I'd
come to rob her of her last mite. She says nothing--that's the
trouble. But I think it's prayers she mutters, when she sees me.

LADY. What sort of prayers?

STRANGER. The sort one whispers behind the backs of those who have
the evil eye or bring misfortune.

LADY. How strange! Don't you realise that one's sight can be

STRANGER. Yes, of course. But who can do it?

HOSTESS (coming across to their table). Well, look at that! I
suppose she's your sister?

STRANGER. Yes. We can say so now.

HOSTESS (to the LADY). Fancy meeting someone I can speak to at
last! This gentleman's so silent, you see, that one feels at once
one must respect him; particularly as he seems to have had trouble.
But I can say this to his sister, and he shall hear it: that from
the moment he entered the house I felt that I was blessed. I'd been
dogged by misfortune; I'd no lodger, my only cow had died, my
husband was in a home for drunkards and my children had nothing to
eat. I prayed God to send me help from heaven, because I expected
nothing more on earth. Then this gentleman came. And apart from
giving me double what I asked, he brought me good luck--and my
house was blessed. God bless you, good sir!

STRANGER (getting up excitedly). Silence, woman. That's blasphemy!

LADY. He won't believe. O God! He won't believe. Look at me!

STRANGER. When I look at you, I do believe. She's giving me her
blessing! And I, who'm damned, have brought a blessing on her! How
can I believe it? I, of all men! (He falls down by the table and
weeps in his hands.)

LADY. He's weeping! Tears, rain from heaven, that can soften rocks,
are falling on his stony heart. ... He's weeping!

HOSTESS. He? Who has a heart of gold! Who's been so open handed and
so good to my children!

LADY. You hear what she says!

HOSTESS. There's only one thing about him I don't understand; but I
don't want to say anything unpleasant. ...

LADY. What is it?

HOSTESS. Only a trifle; and yet ...

LADY. Well?

HOSTESS. He didn't like my dogs.

LADY. I can't blame him for not caring for an impure beast. I hate
everything animal, in myself and others. I don't hate animals on
that account, for I hate nothing that's created. ...

STRANGER. Thank you, Ingeborg!

LADY. You see! I've an eye for your merits, even though you don't
believe it. ... Here comes the Confessor.

(The CONFESSOR enters.)

HOSTESS. Then I'll go; for the Confessor has no love for me.

LADY. The Confessor loves all mankind.

CONFESSOR (coming forward and speaking to the LADY). You best of
all, my child; for you're goodness itself. Whether you're beautiful
to look at, I can't see; but I know you must be, because you're
good. Yes, you were the bride of my youth, and my spiritual mate;
and you'll always be so, for you gave me what you were never able
to give to others. I've lived your life in my spirit, suffered your
pains, enjoyed your pleasures--pleasure rather, for you'd no others
than what your child gave you. I alone have seen the beauty of your
soul--my friend here has divined it; that's why he felt attracted
to you--but the evil in him was too strong; you had to draw it out
of him into yourself to free him. Then, being evil, you had to
suffer the worst pains of hell for his sake, to bring atonement.
Your work's ended. You can go in peace!

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,

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

SECOND VOICE. I'm Erik--your son!

STRANGER. Erik! You here?

SECOND VOICE. Yes. I'm here.

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