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    Act 2

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    Chapter 2
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    (A room in Robert Hand's cottage at Ranelagh. On the right, forward, a small black piano, on the rest of which is an open piece of music. Farther back a door leading to the street door. In the wall, at the back, folding doors, draped with dark curtains, leading to a bedroom. Near the piano a large table, on which is a tall oil lamp with a wide yellow shade. Chairs, upholstered, near this table. A small cardtable more forward. Against the back wall a bookcase. In the left wall, back, a window looking out into the garden, and, forward, a door and porch, also leading to the garden. Easychairs here and there. Plants in the porch and near the draped folding doors. On the walls are many framed black and white designs. In the right corner, back, a sideboard; and in the centre of the room, left of the table, a group consisting of a standing Turkish pipe, a low oil stove, which is not lit, and a rocking chair. It is the evening of the same day.)

    (Robert Hand, in evening dress, is seated at the piano. The candles are not lit but the lamp on the table is lit. He plays softly in the bass the first bars of Wolfram's song in the last act of Tannhäuser. Then he breaks off and, resting an elbow on the ledge of the keyboard, meditates. Then he rises and, pulling out a pump from behind the piano, walks here and there in the room ejecting from it into the air sprays of perfume. He inhales the air slowly and then puts the pump buck behind the piano. He sits down on a chair near the table and, smoothing his hair carefully, sighs once or twice. Then, thrusting his hands into his trousers pockets, he leans back, stretches out his legs, and waits. A knock is heard at the street door. He rises quickly.)

    ROBERT(Exclaims.) Bertha!

    (He hurries out by the door on the right. There is a noise of confused greeting. After a few moments Robert enters, followed by Richard Rowan, who is in gray tweeds as before but holds in one hand a dark felt hat and in the other an umbrella.)

    ROBERTFirst of all let me put these outside. (He takes the hat and umbrella, leaves them in the hall and returns.)

    ROBERT(Pulling round a chair.) Here you are. You are lucky to find me in. Why didn't you tell me today? You were always a devil for surprises. I suppose my evocation of the past was too much for your wild blood. See how artistic I have become. (He points to the walls.) The piano is an addition since your time. I was just strumming out Wagner when you came. Killing time. You see I am ready for the fray. (Laughs.) I was just wondering how you and the vicechancellor were getting on together. (With exaggerated alarm.) But are you going in that suit? O well, it doesn't make much odds, I suppose. But how goes the time? (He takes out his watch.) Twenty past eight already, I declare!

    RICHARDHave you an appointment?

    ROBERT(Laughs nervously.) Suspicious to the last!

    RICHARDThen I may sit down?

    ROBERTOf course, of course. (They both sit down.) For a few minutes, anyhow. Then we can both go on together. We are not bound for time. Between eight and nine, he said, didn't he? What time is it, I wonder? (Is about to look again at his watch; then stops.) Twenty past eight, yes.

    RICHARD(Wearily, sadly.) Your appointment also was for the same hour. Here.

    ROBERTWhat appointment?

    RICHARDWith Bertha.

    ROBERT(Stares at him.) Are you mad?

    RICHARDAre you?

    ROBERT(After a long pause.) Who told you?


    (A short silence.)

    ROBERT(In a low voice.) Yes. I must have been mad. (Rapidly.) Listen to me, Richard. It is a great relief to me that you have come-- the greatest relief. I assure you that ever since this afternoon I have thought and thought how I could break it off without seeming a fool. A great relief! I even intended to send word... a letter, a few lines. (Suddenly.) But then it was too late... (Passes his hand over his forehead.) Let me speak frankly with you; let me tell you everything.

    RICHARDI know everything. I have known for some time.

    ROBERTSince when?

    RICHARDSince it began between you and her.

    ROBERT(Again rapidly.) Yes, I was mad. But it was merely lightheadedness. I admit that to have asked her here this evening was a mistake. I can explain everything to you. And I will. Truly.

    RICHARDExplain to me what is the word you longed and never dared to say to her. If you can or will.

    ROBERT(Looks down, then raises his head.) Yes. I will. I admire very much the personality of your... of... your wife. That is the word. I can say it. It is no secret.

    RICHARDThen why did you wish to keep secret your wooing?


    RICHARDYour advances to her, little by little, day after day, looks, whispers. (With a nervous movement of the hands.) Insomma, wooing.

    ROBERT(Bewildered.) But how do you know all this?

    RICHARDShe told me.

    ROBERTThis afternoon?

    RICHARDNo. Time after time, as it happened.

    ROBERTYou knew? From her? (Richard nods.). You were watching us all the time?

    RICHARD(Very coldly.) I was watching you.

    ROBERT(Quickly.) I mean, watching me. And you never spoke! You had only to speak a word-- to save me from myself. You were trying me. (Passes his hand again over his forehead.) It was a terrible trial: now also. (Desperately.) Well, it is past. It will be a lesson to me for all my life. You hate me now for what I have done and for...

    RICHARD(Quietly, looking at him.) Have I said that I hate you?

    ROBERTDo you not? You must.

    RICHARDEven if Bertha had not told me I should have known. Did you not see that when I came in this afternoon I went into my study suddenly for a moment?

    ROBERTYou did. I remember.

    RICHARDTo give you time to recover yourself. It made me sad to see your eyes. And the roses too. I cannot say why. A great mass of overblown roses.

    ROBERTI thought I had to give them. Was that strange? (Looks at Richard with a tortured expression.) Too many, perhaps? Or too old or common?

    RICHARDThat was why I did not hate you. The whole thing made me sad all at once.

    ROBERT(To himself.) And this is real. It is happening-- to us.

    (He stares before him for some moments in silence, as if dazed; then, without turning his head, continues.)

    ROBERTAnd she, too, was trying me; making an experiment with me for your sake!

    RICHARDYou know women better than I do. She says she felt pity for you.

    ROBERT(Brooding.) Pitied me, because I am no longer... an ideal lover. Like my roses. Common, old.

    RICHARDLike all men you have a foolish wandering heart.

    ROBERT(Slowly.) Well, you spoke at last. You chose the right moment.

    RICHARD(Leans forward.) Robert, not like this. For us two, no. Years, a whole life, of friendship. Think a moment. Since childhood, boyhood... No, no. Not in such a way-- like thieves-- at night. (Glancing about him.) And in such a place. No, Robert, that is not for people like us.

    ROBERTWhat a lesson! Richard, I cannot tell you what a relief it is to me that you have spoken-- that the danger is passed. Yes, yes. (Somewhat diffidently.) Because... there was some danger for you, too, if you think. Was there not?

    RICHARDWhat danger?

    ROBERT(In the same tone.) I don't know. I mean if you had not spoken. If you had watched and waited on until...


    ROBERT(Bravely.) Until I had come to like her more and more (because I can assure you it is only a lightheaded idea of mine), to like her deeply, to love her. Would you have spoken to me then as you have just now? (Richard is silent. Robert goes on more boldly.) It would have been different, would it not? For then it might have been too late while it is not too late now. What could I have said then? I could have said only: You are my friend, my dear good friend. I am very sorry but I love her. (With a sudden fervent gesture.) I love her and I will take her from you, however I can, because I love her.

    (They look at each other for some moments in silence.)

    RICHARD(Calmly.) That is the language I have heard often and never believed in. Do you mean by stealth or by violence? Steal you could not in my house because the doors were open: nor take by violence if there were no resistance.

    ROBERTYou forget that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence: and the kingdom of heaven is like a woman.

    RICHARD(Smiling.) Go on.

    ROBERT(Diffidently, but bravely.) Do you think you have rights over her-- over her heart?


    ROBERTFor what you have done for her? So much! You claim nothing?


    ROBERT(After a pause strikes his forehead with his hand.) What am I saying? Or what am I thinking? I wish you would upbraid me, curse me, hate me as I deserve. You love this woman. I remember all you told me long ago. She is yours, your work. (Suddenly.) And that is why I, too, was drawn to her. You are so strong that you attract me even through her.

    RICHARDI am weak.

    ROBERT(With enthusiasm.) You, Richard! You are the incarnation of strength.

    RICHARD(Holds out his hands.) Feel those hands.

    ROBERT(Taking his hands.) Yes. Mine are stronger. But I meant strength of another kind.

    RICHARD(Gloomily.) I think you would try to take her by violence. (He withdraws his hands slowly.)

    ROBERT(Rapidly.) Those are moments of sheer madness when we feel an intense passion for a woman. We see nothing. We think of nothing. Only to possess her. Call it brutal, bestial, what you will.

    RICHARD(A little timidly.) I am afraid that that longing to possess a woman is not love.

    ROBERT(Impatiently.) No man ever yet lived on thus earth who did not long to possess-- I mean to possess in the flesh-- the woman whom he loves. It is nature's law.

    RICHARD(Contemptuously.) What is that to me? Did I vote it?

    ROBERTBut if you love... What else is it?

    RICHARD(Hesitatingly.) To wish her well.

    ROBERT(Warmly.) But the passion which burns us night and day to possess her. You feel it as I do. And it is not what you said now.

    RICHARDHave you...? (He stops for an instance.) Have you the luminous certitude that yours is the brain in contact with which she must think and understand and that yours is the body in contact with which her body must feel? Have you this certitude in yourself?

    ROBERTHave you?

    RICHARD(Moved.) Once I had it, Robert: a certitude as luminous as that of my own existence-- or an illusion as luminous.

    ROBERT(Cautiously.) And now?

    RICHARDIf you had it and I could feel that you had it-- even now...

    ROBERTWhat would you do?

    RICHARD(Quietly.) Go away. You, and not I, would be necessary to her. Alone as I was before I met her.

    ROBERT(Rubs his hands nervously.) A nice little load on my conscience!

    RICHARD(Abstractedly.) You met my son when you came to my house this afternoon. He told me. What did you feel?

    ROBERT(Promptly.) Pleasure.

    RICHARDNothing else?

    ROBERTNothing else. Unless I thought of two things at the same time. I am like that. If my best friend lay in his coffin and his face had a comic expression I should smile. (With a little gesture of despair.) I am like that. But I should suffer too, deeply.

    RICHARDYou spoke of conscience... Did he seem to you a child only-- or an angel?

    ROBERT(Shakes his head.) No. Neither an angel nor an Anglo-Saxon. Two things, by the way, for which I have very little sympathy.

    RICHARDNever then? Never even... with her? Tell me. I wish to know.

    ROBERTI feel in my heart something different. I believe that on the last day (if it ever comes), when we are all assembled together, that the Almighty will speak to us like this. We will say that we lived chastely with one other creature...

    RICHARD(Bitterly.) Lie to Him?

    ROBERTOr that we tried to. And He will say to us: Fools! Who told you that you were to give yourselves to one being only? You were made to give yourselves to many freely. I wrote that law with My finger on your hearts.

    RICHARDOn woman's heart, too?

    ROBERTYes. Can we close our heart against an affection which we feel deeply? Should we close it? Should she?

    RICHARDWe are speaking of bodily union.

    ROBERTAffection between man and woman must come to that. We think too much of it because our minds are warped. For us today it is of no more consequence than any other form of contact-- than a kiss.

    RICHARDIf it is of no consequence why are you dissatisfied till you reach that end? Why were you waiting here tonight?

    ROBERTPassion tends to go as far as it can; but, you may believe me or not, I had not that in my mind-- to reach that end.

    RICHARDReach it if you can. I will use no arm against you that the world puts in my hand. If the law which God's finger has written on our hearts is the law you say I too am God's creature.

    (He rises and paces to and fro some moments in silence. Then he goes towards the porch and leans against the jamb. Robert watches him.)

    ROBERTI always felt it. In myself and in others.

    RICHARD(Absently.) Yes?

    ROBERT(With a vague gesture.) For all. That a woman, too, has the right to try with many men until she finds love. An immoral idea, is it not? I wanted to write a book about it. I began it...

    RICHARD(As before.) Yes?

    ROBERTBecause I knew a woman who seemed to me to be doing that-- carrying out that idea in her own life. She interested me very much.

    RICHARDWhen was this?

    ROBERTO, not lately. When you were away.

    (Richard leaves his place rather abruptly and again paces to and fro.)

    ROBERTYou see, I am more honest than you thought.

    RICHARDI wish you had not thought of her now-- whoever she was, or is.

    ROBERT(Easily.) She was and is the wife of a stockbroker.

    RICHARD(Turning.) You know him?


    (Richard sits down again in the same place and leans forward, his head on his hands.)

    ROBERT(Moving his chair a little closer.) May I ask you a question?

    RICHARDYou may.

    ROBERT(With some hesitation.) Has it never happened to you in these years-- I mean when you were away from her, perhaps, or travelling-- to... betray her with another. Betray her, I mean, not in love. Carnally, I mean... Has that never happened?

    RICHARDIt has.

    ROBERTAnd what did you do?

    RICHARD(As before.) I remember the first time. I came home. It was night. My house was silent. My little son was sleeping in his cot. She, too, was asleep. I wakened her from sleep and told her. I cried beside her bed; and I pierced her heart.

    ROBERTO, Richard, why did you do that?

    RICHARDBetray her?

    ROBERTNo. But tell her, waken her from sleep to tell her. It was piercing her heart.

    RICHARDShe must know me as I am.

    ROBERTBut that is not you as you are. A moment of weakness.

    RICHARD(Lost in thought.) And I was feeding the flame of her innocence with my guilt.

    ROBERT(Brusquely.) O, don't talk of guilt and innocence. You have made her all that she is. A strange and wonderful personality-- in my eyes, at least.

    RICHARD(Darkly.) Or I have killed her.

    ROBERTKilled her?

    RICHARDThe virginity of her soul.

    ROBERT(Impatiently.) Well lost! What would she be without you?

    RICHARDI tried to give her a new life.

    ROBERTAnd you have. A new and rich life.

    RICHARDIs it worth what I have taken from her-- her girlhood, her laughter, her young beauty, the hopes in her young heart?

    ROBERT(Firmly.) Yes. Well worth it. (He looks at Richard for some moments in silence.) If you had neglected her, lived wildly, brought her away so far only to make her suffer...

    (He stops. Richard raises his head, and looks at him.)

    RICHARDIf I had?

    ROBERT(Slightly confused.) You know there were rumours here of your life abroad-- a wild life. Some persons who knew you or met you or heard of you in Rome. Lying rumours.

    RICHARD(Coldly.) Continue.

    ROBERT(Laughs a little harshly.) Even I at times thought of her as a victim. (Smoothly.) And of course, Richard, I felt and knew all the time that you were a man of great talent-- of something more than talent. And that was your excuse-- a valid one in my eyes.

    RICHARDHave you thought that it is perhaps now-- at this moment-- that I am neglecting her? (He clasps his hands nervously and leans across toward Robert.) I may be silent still. And she may yield to you at last-- wholly and many times.

    ROBERT(Draws back at once.) My dear Richard, my dear friend, I swear to you I could not make you suffer.

    RICHARD(Continuing.) You may then know in soul and body, in a hundred forms, and ever restlessly, what some old theologian, Duns Scotus, I think, called a death of the spirit.

    ROBERT(Eagerly.) A death. No; its affirmation! A death! The supreme instant of life from which all coming life proceeds, the eternal law of nature herself.

    RICHARDAnd that other law of nature, as you call it: change. How will it be when you turn against her and against me; when her beauty, or what seems so to you now, wearies you and my affection for you seems false and odious?

    ROBERTThat will never be. Never.

    RICHARDAnd you turn even against yourself for having known me or trafficked with us both?

    ROBERT(Gravely.) It will never be like that, Richard. Be sure of that.

    RICHARD(Contemptuously.) I care very little whether it is or not because there is something I fear much more.

    ROBERT(Shakes his head.) You fear? I disbelieve you, Richard. Since we were boys together I have followed your mind. You do not know what moral fear is.

    RICHARD(Lays his hand on his arm.) Listen. She is dead. She lies on my bed. I look at her body which I betrayed-- grossly and many times. And loved, too, and wept over. And I know that her body was always my loyal slave. To me, to me only she gave... (He breaks off and turns aside, unable to speak.)

    ROBERT(Softly.) Do not suffer, Richard. There is no need. She is loyal to you, body and soul. Why do you fear?

    RICHARD(Turns towards him, almost fiercely.) Not that fear. But that I will reproach myself then for having taken all for myself because I would not suffer her to give to another what was hers and not mine to give, because I accepted from her her loyalty and made her life poorer in love. That is my fear. That I stand between her and any moments of life that should be hers, between her and you, between her and anyone, between her and anything. I will not do it. I cannot and I will not. I dare not.

    (He leans back in his chair breathless, with shining eyes. Robert rises quietly, and stands behind his chair.)

    ROBERTLook here, Richard. We have said all there is to be said. Let the past be past.

    RICHARD(Quickly and harshly.) Wait. One thing more. For you, too, must know me as I am-- now.

    ROBERTMore? Is there more?

    RICHARDI told you that when I saw your eyes this afternoon I felt sad. Your humility and confusion, I felt, united you to me in brotherhood. (He turns half round towards him.) At that moment I felt our whole life together in the past, and I longed to put my arm around your neck.

    ROBERT(Deeply and suddenly touched.) It is noble of you, Richard, to forgive me like this.

    RICHARD(Struggling with himself.) I told you that I wished you not to do anything false and secret against me-- against our friendship, against her; not to steal her from me craftily, secretly, meanly-- in the dark, in the night-- you, Robert, my friend.

    ROBERTI know. And it was noble of you.

    RICHARD(Looks tip at him with a steady gaze.) No. Not noble. Ignoble.

    ROBERT(Makes an involuntary gesture.) How? Why?

    RICHARD(Looks away again: in a lower voice.) That is what I must tell you too. Because in the very core of my ignoble heart I longed to be betrayed by you and by her-- in the dark, in the night-- secretly, meanly, craftily. By you, my best friend, and by her. I longed for that passionately and ignobly, to be dishonoured for ever in love and in lust, to be...

    ROBERT(Bending down, places his hands over Richard's mouth.) Enough. Enough. (He takes his hands away.) But no. Go on.

    RICHARDTo be for ever a shameful creature and to build up my soul again out of the ruins of its shame.

    ROBERTAnd that is why you wished that she...

    RICHARD(With calm.) She has spoken always of her innocence, as I have spoken always of my guilt, humbling me.

    ROBERTFrom pride, then?

    RICHARDFrom pride and from ignoble longing. And from a motive deeper still.

    ROBERT(With decision.) I understand you.

    (He returns to his place and begins to speak at once, drawing his chair closer.)

    ROBERTMay it not be that we are here and now in the presence of a moment which will free us both-- me as well as you-- from the last bonds of what is called morality. My friendship for you has laid bonds on me.

    RICHARDLight bonds, apparently.

    ROBERTI acted in the dark, secretly. I will do so no longer. Have you the courage to allow me to act freely?

    RICHARDA duel-- between us?

    ROBERT(With growing excitement.) A battle of both our souls, different as they are, against all that is false in them and in the world. A battle of your soul against the spectre of fidelity, of mine against the spectre of friendship. All life is a conquest, the victory of human passion over the commandments of cowardice. Will you, Richard? Have you the courage? Even if it shatters to atoms the friendship between us, even if it breaks up for ever the last illusion in your own life? There was an eternity before we were born: another will come after we are dead. The blinding instant of passion alone-- passion, free, unashamed, irresistible-- that is the only gate by which we can escape from the misery of what slaves call life. Is not this the language of your own youth that I heard so often from you in this very place where we are sitting now? Have you changed?

    RICHARD(Passes his hand across his brow.) Yes. It is the language of my youth.

    ROBERT(Eagerly, intensely.) Richard, you have driven me up to this point. She and I have only obeyed your will. You yourself have roused these words in my brain. Your own words. Shall we? Freely? Together?

    RICHARD(Mastering his emotion.) Together no. Fight your part alone. I will not free you. Leave me to fight mine.

    ROBERT(Rises, decided.) You allow me, then?

    RICHARD(Rises also, calmly.) Free yourself.

    (A knock is heard at the hall door.)

    ROBERT(In alarm.) What does this mean?

    RICHARD(Calmly.) Bertha, evidently. Did you not ask her to come?

    ROBERTYes, but... (Looking about him.) Then I am going, Richard.

    RICHARDNo. I am going.

    ROBERT(Desperately.) Richard, I appeal to you. Let me go. It is over. She is yours. Keep her and forgive me, both of you.

    RICHARDBecause you are generous enough to allow me?

    ROBERT(Hotly.) Richard, you will make me angry with you if you say that.

    RICHARDAngry or not, I will not live on your generosity. You have asked her to meet you here tonight and alone. Solve the question between you.

    ROBERT(Promptly.) Open the door. I shall wait in the garden. (He goes towards the porch.) Explain to her, Richard, as best you can. I cannot see her now.

    RICHARDI shall go. I tell you. Wait out there if you wish.

    (He goes out by the door on the right. Robert goes out hastily through the porch but comes back the same instant.)

    ROBERTAn umbrella! (With a sudden gesture.) O!

    (He goes out again through the porch. The hall door is heard to open and close. Richard enters, followed by Bertha, who is dressed in a darkbrown costume, and wears a small dark red hat. She has neither umbrella nor waterproof.)

    RICHARD(Gaily.) Welcome back to old Ireland!

    BERTHA(Nervously, seriously.) Is this the place?

    RICHARDYes, it is. How did you find it?

    BERTHAI told the cabman. I didn't like to ask my way. (Looking about her curiously.) Was he not waiting? Has he gone away?

    RICHARD(Points towards the garden.) He is waiting. Out there. He was waiting when I came.

    BERTHA(Selfpossessed again.) You see, you came after all.

    RICHARDDid you think I would not?

    BERTHAI knew you could not remain away. You see, after all you are like all other men. You had to come. You are jealous like the others.

    RICHARDYou seem annoyed to find me here.

    BERTHAWhat happened between you?

    RICHARDI told him I knew everything, that I had known for a long time. He asked how. I said from you.

    BERTHADoes he hate me?

    RICHARDI cannot read in his heart.

    BERTHA(Sits down helplessly.) Yes. He hates me. He believes I made a fool of him-- betrayed him. I knew he would.

    RICHARDI told him you were sincere with him.

    BERTHAHe does not believe it. Nobody would believe it. I should have told him first-- not you.

    RICHARDI thought he was a common robber, prepared to use even violence against you. I had to protect you from that.

    BERTHAThat I could have done myself.

    RICHARDAre you sure?

    BERTHAIt would have been enough to have told him that you knew I was here. Now I can find out nothing. He hates me. He is right to hate me. I have treated him badly, shamefully.

    RICHARD(Takes her hand.) Bertha, look at me.

    BERTHA(Turns to him.) Well?

    RICHARD(Gazes into her eyes and then lets her hand fall.) I cannot read in your heart either.

    BERTHA(Still looking at him.) You could not remain away. Do you not trust me? You can see I am quite calm. I could have hidden it all from you.

    RICHARDI doubt that.

    BERTHA(With a slight toss of her head.) O, easily if I had wanted to.

    RICHARD(Darkly.) Perhaps you are sorry now that you did not.

    BERTHAPerhaps I am.

    RICHARD(Unpleasantly.) What a fool you were to tell me! It would have been so nice if you had kept it secret.

    BERTHAAs you do, no?

    RICHARDAs I do, yes. (He turns to go.) Goodbye for a while.

    BERTHA(Alarmed, rises.) Are you going?

    RICHARDNaturally. My part is ended here.

    BERTHATo her, I suppose?

    RICHARD(Astonished.) Who?

    BERTHAHer ladyship. I suppose it is all planned so that you may have a good opportunity to meet her and have an intellectual conversation!

    RICHARD(With an outburst of rude anger.) To meet the devil's father!

    BERTHA(Unpins her hat and sits down.) Very well. You can go. Now I know what to do.

    RICHARD(Returns, approaches her.) You don't believe a word of what you say.

    BERTHA(Calmly.) You can go. Why don't you?

    RICHARDThen you have come here and led him on in this way on account of me. Is that how it is?

    BERTHAThere is one person in all this who is not a fool. And that is you. I am though. And he is.

    RICHARD(Continuing.) If so you have indeed treated him badly and shamefully.

    BERTHA(Points at him.) Yes. But it was your fault. And I will end it now. I am simply a tool for you. You have no respect for me. You never had because I did what I did.

    RICHARDAnd has he respect?

    BERTHAHe has. Of all the persons I met since I came back he is the only one who has. And he knows what they only suspect. And that is why I liked him from the first and like him still. Great respect for me she has! Why did you not ask her to come away with you nine years ago?

    RICHARDYou know why, Bertha. Ask yourself.

    BERTHAYes, I know why. You knew the answer you would get. That is why.

    RICHARDThat is not why. I did not even ask you.

    BERTHAYes. You knew I would go, asked or not. I do things. But if I do one thing I can do two things. As I have the name I can have the gains.

    RICHARD(With increasing excitement.) Bertha, I accept what is to be. I have trusted you. I will trust you still.

    BERTHATo have that against me. To leave me then. (Almost passionately.) Why do you not defend me then against him? Why do you go away from me now without a word? Dick, my God, tell me what you wish me to do?

    RICHARDI cannot, dear. (Struggling with himself.) Your own heart will tell you. (He seizes both her hands.) I have a wild delight in my soul, Bertha, as I look at you. I see you as you are yourself. That I came first in your life or before him then-- that may be nothing to you. You may be his more than mine.

    BERTHAI am not. Only I feel for him, too.

    RICHARDAnd I do too. You may be his and mine. I will trust you, Bertha, and him too. I must. I cannot hate him since his arms have been around you. You have drawn us near together. There is something wiser than wisdom in your heart. Who am I that I should call myself master of your heart or of any woman's? Bertha, love him, be his, give yourself to him if you desire-- or if you can.

    BERTHA(Dreamily.) I will remain.


    (He lets her hand fall and goes out rapidly on the right. Bertha remains sitting. Then she rises and goes timidly towards the porch. She stops near it and, after a little hesitation, calls into the garden.)

    BERTHAIs anyone out there?

    (At the same time she retreats towards the middle of the room. Then she calls again in the same way.)

    BERTHAIs anyone there?

    (Robert appears in the open doorway that leads in from the garden. His coat is buttoned and the collar is turned up. He holds the doorposts with his hands lightly and waits for Bertha to see him.)

    BERTHA(Catching sight of him, starts back: then, quickly.) Robert!

    ROBERTAre you alone?


    ROBERT(Looking towards the door on the right.) Where is he?

    BERTHAGone. (Nervously.) You startled me. Where did you come from?

    ROBERT(With a movement of his head.) Out there. Did he not tell you I was out there-- waiting?

    BERTHA(Quickly.) Yes, he told me. But I was afraid here alone. With the door open, waiting. (She comes to the table and rests her hand on the corner.) Why do you stand like that in the doorway?

    ROBERTWhy? I am afraid too.

    BERTHAOf what?

    ROBERTOf you.

    BERTHA(Looks down.) Do you hate me now?

    ROBERTI fear you. (Clasping his hands at his back, quietly but a little defiantly.) I fear a new torture-- a new trap.

    BERTHA(As before.) For what do you blame me?

    ROBERT(Comes forward a few steps, halts: then impulsively:) Why did you lead me on? Day after day, more and more. Why did you not stop me? You could have-- with a word. But not even a word! I forgot myself and him. You saw it. That I was ruining myself in his eyes, losing his friendship. Did you want me to?

    BERTHA(Looking up.) You never asked me.

    ROBERTAsked you what?

    BERTHAIf he suspected-- or knew.

    ROBERTAnd would you have told me?


    ROBERT(Hesitatingly.) Did you tell him-- everything?

    BERTHAI did.

    ROBERTI mean-- details.


    ROBERT(With forced smile.) I see. You were making an experiment for his sake. On me. Well, why not? It seems I was a good subject. Still, it was a little cruel of you.

    BERTHATry to understand me, Robert. You must try.

    ROBERT(With polite gesture.) Well, I will try.

    BERTHAWhy do you stand like that near the door? It makes me nervous to look at you.

    ROBERTI am trying to understand. And then I am afraid.

    BERTHA(Holds out her hand.) You need not be afraid.

    ROBERT(Comes towards her quickly and takes her hand. Diffidently:) Used you to laugh over me-- together? (Drawing his hand away.) But now I must be good or you may laugh over me again-- tonight.

    BERTHA(Distressed, lays her hand on his arm.) Please listen to me, Robert... But you are all wet, drenched! (She passes her hands over his coat.) O, you poor fellow! Out there in the rain all that time! I forgot that.

    ROBERT(Laughs.) Yes, you forgot the climate.

    BERTHABut you are really drenched. You must change your coat.

    ROBERT(Takes her hands.) Tell me, it is pity then that you feel for me, as he-- as Richard-- says?

    BERTHAPlease change your coat, Robert, when I ask you. You might get a very bad cold from that. Do, please.

    ROBERTWhat would it matter now?

    BERTHA(Looking round her.) Where do you keep your clothes here?

    ROBERT(Points to the door at the back.) In there. I fancy I have a jacket here. (Maliciously.) In my bedroom.

    BERTHAWell, go in and take that off.

    ROBERTAnd you?

    BERTHAI will wait here for you.

    ROBERTDo you command me to?

    BERTHA(Laughing.) Yes, I command you.

    ROBERT(Promptly.) Then I will. (He goes quickly towards the bedroom door; then turns round.) You won't go away?

    BERTHANo, I will wait. But don't be long.

    ROBERTOnly a moment.

    (He goes into the bedroom, leaving the door open. Bertha looks curiously about her and then glances in indecision towards the door at the back.)

    ROBERT(From the bedroom.) You have not gone?


    ROBERTI am in the dark here. I must light the lamp.

    (He is heard striking a match, and putting a glass shade on a lamp. A pink light comes in through the doorway. Bertha glances at her watch at her wristlet and then sits at the table.)

    ROBERT(As before.) Do you like the effect of the light?

    BERTHAO, yes.

    ROBERTCan you admire it from where you are?

    BERTHAYes, quite well.

    ROBERTIt was for you.

    BERTHA(Confused.) I am not worthy even of that.

    ROBERT(Clearly, harshly.) Love's labour lost.

    BERTHA(Rising nervously.) Robert!


    BERTHACome here, quickly! Quickly, I say!

    ROBERTI am ready.

    (He appears in the doorway, wearing a dark green velvet jacket. Seeing her agitation, he comes quickly towards her.)

    ROBERTWhat is it, Bertha?

    BERTHA(Trembling.) I was afraid.

    ROBERTOf being alone?

    BERTHA(Catches his hands.) You know what I mean. My nerves are all upset.

    ROBERTThat I...?

    BERTHAPromise me, Robert, not to think of such a thing. Never. If you like me at all. I thought that moment...

    ROBERTWhat an idea?

    BERTHABut promise me if you like me.

    ROBERTIf I like you, Bertha! I promise. Of course, I promise. You are trembling all over.

    BERTHALet me sit down somewhere. It will pass in a moment.

    ROBERTMy poor Bertha! Sit down. Come.

    (He leads her towards a chair near the table. She sits down. He stands beside her.)

    ROBERT(After a short pause.) Has it passed?

    BERTHAYes. It was only for a moment. I was very silly. I was afraid that... I wanted to see you near me.

    ROBERTThat... that you made me promise not to think of?


    ROBERT(Keenly.) Or something else?

    BERTHA(Helplessly.) Robert, I feared something. I am not sure what.

    ROBERTAnd now?

    BERTHANow you are here. I can see you. Now it has passed.

    ROBERT(With resignation.) Passed. Yes. Love's labour lost.

    BERTHA(Looks up at him.) Listen, Robert. I want to explain to you about that. I could not deceive Dick. Never. In nothing. I told him everything-- from the first. Then it went on and on; and still you never spoke or asked me. I wanted you to.

    ROBERTIs that the truth, Bertha?

    BERTHAYes, because it annoyed me that you could think I was like... like the other women I suppose you knew that way. I think that Dick is right too. Why should there be secrets?

    ROBERT(Softly.) Still, secrets can be very sweet. Can they not?

    BERTHA(Smiles.) Yes, I know they can. But, you see, I could not keep things secret from Dick. Besides, what is the good? They always come out in the end. Is it not better for people to know?

    ROBERT(Softly and a little shyly.) How could you, Bertha, tell him everything? Did you? Every single thing that passed between us?

    BERTHAYes. Everything he asked me.

    ROBERTDid he ask you-- much?

    BERTHAYou know the kind he is. He asks about everything. The ins and outs.

    ROBERTAbout our kissing, too?

    BERTHAOf course. I told him all.

    ROBERT(Shakes his head slowly.) Extraordinary little person! Were you not ashamed?


    ROBERTNot a bit?

    BERTHANo. Why? Is that terrible?

    ROBERTAnd how did he take it? Tell me. I want to know everything, too.

    BERTHA(Laughs.) It excited him. More than usual.

    ROBERTWhy? Is he excitable-- still?

    BERTHA(Archly.) Yes, very. When he is not lost in his philosophy.

    ROBERTMore than I?

    BERTHAMore than you? (Reflecting.) How could I answer that? You both are, I suppose?

    (Robert turns aside and gazes towards the porch, passing his hand once or twice thoughtfully over his hair.)

    BERTHA(Gently.) Are you angry with me again?

    ROBERT(Moodily.) You are with me.

    BERTHANo, Robert. Why should I?

    ROBERTBecause I asked you to come to this place. I tried to prepare it for you. (He points vaguely here and there.) A sense of quietness.

    BERTHA(Touching his jacket with her fingers.) And this, too. Your nice velvet coat.

    ROBERTAlso. I will keep no secrets from you.

    BERTHAYou remind me of someone in a picture. I like you in it... But you are not angry, are you?

    ROBERT(Darkly.) Yes. That was my mistake. To ask you to come here. I felt it when I looked at you from the garden and saw you-- you, Bertha-- standing here. (Hopelessly.) But what else could I have done?

    BERTHA(Quietly.) You mean because others have been here?


    (He walks away from her a few paces. A gust of wind makes the lamp on the table flicker. He lowers the wick slightly.)

    BERTHA(Following him with her eyes.) But I knew that before I came. I am not angry with you for it.

    ROBERT(Shrugs his shoulders.) Why should you be angry with me after all? You are not even angry with him-- for the same thing-- or worse.

    BERTHADid he tell you that about himself?

    ROBERTYes. He told me. We all confess to one another here. Turn about.

    BERTHAI try to forget it.

    ROBERTIt does not trouble you?

    BERTHANot now. Only I dislike to think of it.

    ROBERTIt is merely something brutal, you think? Of little importance?

    BERTHAIt does not trouble me-- now.

    ROBERT(Looking at her over his shoulder.) But there is something that would trouble you very much and that you would not try to forget?


    ROBERT(Turning towards her.) If it were not only something brutal with this person or that-- for a few moments. If it were something fine and spiritual-- with one person only-- with one woman. (Smiles.) And perhaps brutal too. It usually comes to that sooner or later. Would you try to forget and forgive that?

    BERTHA(Toying with her wristlet.) In whom?

    ROBERTIn anyone. In me.

    BERTHA(Calmly.) You mean in Dick.

    ROBERTI said in myself. But would you?

    BERTHAYou think I would revenge myself? Is Dick not to be free too?

    ROBERT(Points at her.) That is not from your heart, Bertha.

    BERTHA(Proudly.) Yes, it is; let him be free too. He leaves me free also.

    ROBERT(Insistently.) And you know why? And understand? And you like it? And you want to be? And it makes you happy? And has made you happy? Always? This gift of freedom which he gave you-- nine years ago?

    BERTHA(Gazing at him with wide open eyes.) But why do you ask me such a lot of questions, Robert?

    ROBERT(Stretches out both hands to her.) Because I had another gift to offer you then-- a common simple gift-- like myself. If you want to know it I will tell you.

    BERTHA(Looking at her watch.) Past is past, Robert. And I think I ought to go now. It is nine almost.

    ROBERT(Impetuously.) No, no. Not yet. There is one confession more and we have the right to speak.

    (He crosses before the table rapidly and sits down beside her.)

    BERTHA(Turning towards him, places her left hand on his shoulder.) Yes, Robert. I know that you like me. You need not tell me. (Kindly.) You need not confess any more tonight.

    (A gust of wind enters through the porch, with a sound of moving leaves. The lamp flickers quickly.)

    BERTHA(Pointing over his shoulder.) Look! It is too high.

    (Without rising, he bends towards the table, and turns down the wick more. The room is half dark. The light comes in more strongly through the doorway of the bedroom.)

    ROBERTThe wind is rising. I will close that door.

    BERTHA(Listening.) No, it is raining still. It was only a gust of wind.

    ROBERT(Touches her shoulder.) Tell me if the air is too cold for you. (Half rising.) I will close it.

    BERTHA(Detaining him.) No. I am not cold. Besides, I am going now, Robert. I must.

    ROBERT(Firmly.) No, no. There is no must now. We were left here for this. And you are wrong, Bertha. The past is not past. It is present here now. My feeling for you is the same now as it was then, because then-- you slighted it.

    BERTHANo, Robert. I did not.

    ROBERT(Continuing.) You did. And I have felt it all these years without knowing it-- till now. Even while I lived-- the kind of life you know and dislike to think of-- the kind of life to which you condemned me.


    ROBERTYes, when you slighted the common simple gift I had to offer you-- and took his gift instead.

    BERTHA(Looking at him.) But you never...

    ROBERTNo. Because you had chosen him. I saw that. I saw it on the first night we met, we three together. Why did you choose him?

    BERTHA(Bends her head.) Is that not love?

    ROBERT(Continuing.) And every night when we two-- he and I-- came to that corner to meet you I saw it and felt it. You remember the corner, Bertha?

    BERTHA(As before.) Yes.

    ROBERTAnd when you and he went away for your walk and I went along the street alone I felt it. And when he spoke to me about you and told me he was going away-- then most of all.

    BERTHAWhy then most of all?

    ROBERTBecause it was then that I was guilty of my first treason towards him.

    BERTHARobert, what are you saying? Your first treason against Dick?

    ROBERT(Nods.) And not my last. He spoke of you and himself. Of how your life would be together-- free and all that. Free, yes! He would not even ask you to go with him. (Bitterly.) He did not. And you went all the same.

    BERTHAI wanted to be with him. You know... (Raising her head and looking at him.) You know how we were then-- Dick and I.

    ROBERT(Unheeding.) I advised him to go alone-- not to take you with him-- to live alone in order to see if what he felt for you was a passing thing which might ruin your happiness and his career.

    BERTHAWell, Robert. It was unkind of you towards me. But I forgive you because you were thinking of his happiness and mine.

    ROBERT(Bending closer to her.) No, Bertha. I was not. And that was my treason. I was thinking of myself-- that you might turn from him when he had gone and he from you. Then I would have offered you my gift. You know what it was now. The simple common gift that men offer to women. Not the best perhaps. Best or worst-- it would have been yours.

    BERTHA(Turning away from him.) He did not take your advice.

    ROBERT(As before.) No. And the night you ran away together-- O, how happy I was!

    BERTHA(Pressing his hands.) Keep calm, Robert. I know you liked me always. Why did you not forget me?

    ROBERT(Smiles bitterly.) How happy I felt as I came back along the quays and saw in the distance the boat lit up, going down the black river, taking you away from me! (In a calmer tone.) But why did you choose him? Did you not like me at all?

    BERTHAYes. I liked you because you were his friend. We often spoke about you. Often and often. Every time you wrote or sent papers or books to Dick. And I like you still, Robert. (Looking into his eyes.) I never forgot you.

    ROBERTNor I you. I knew I would see you again. I knew it the night you went away-- that you would come back. And that was why I wrote and worked to see you again-- here.

    BERTHAAnd here I am. You were right.

    ROBERT(Slowly.) Nine years. Nine times more beautiful!

    BERTHA(Smiling.) But am I? What do you see in me?

    ROBERT(Gazing at her.) A strange and beautiful lady.

    BERTHA(Almost disgusted.) O, please don't call me such a thing!

    ROBERT(Earnestly.) You are more. A young and beautiful queen.

    BERTHA(With a sudden laugh.) O, Robert!

    ROBERT(Lowering his voice and bending nearer to her.) But do you not know that you are a beautiful human being? Do you not know that you have a beautiful body? Beautiful and young?

    BERTHA(Gravely.) Some day I will be old.

    ROBERT(Shakes his head.) I cannot imagine it. Tonight you are young and beautiful. Tonight you have come back to me. (With passion.) Who knows what will be tomorrow? I may never see you again or never see you as I do now.

    BERTHAWould you suffer?

    ROBERT(Looks round the room, without answering.) This room and this hour were made for your coming. When you have gone-- all is gone.

    BERTHA(Anxiously.) But you will see me again, Robert... as before.

    ROBERT(Looks full at her.) To make him-- Richard-- suffer.

    BERTHAHe does not suffer.

    ROBERT(Bowing his head.) Yes, yes. He does.

    BERTHAHe knows we like each other. Is there any harm, then?

    ROBERT(Raising his head.) No there is no harm. Why should we not? He does not know yet what I feel. He has left us alone here at night, at this hour, because he longs to know it-- he longs to be delivered.

    BERTHAFrom what?

    ROBERT(Moves closer to her and presses her arm as he speaks.) From every law, Bertha, from every bond. All his life he has sought to deliver himself. Every chain but one he has broken and that one we are to break. Bertha-- you and I.

    BERTHA(Almost inaudibly.) Are you sure?

    ROBERT(Still more warmly.) I am sure that no law made by man is sacred before the impulse of passion. (Almost fiercely.) Who made us for one only? It is a crime against our own being if we are so. There is no law before impulse. Laws are for slaves. Bertha, say my name! Let me hear your voice say it. Softly!

    BERTHA(Softly.) Robert!

    ROBERT(Puts his arm about her shoulder.) Only the impulse towards youth and beauty does not die. (He points towards the porch.) Listen!

    BERTHA(In alarm.) What?

    ROBERTThe rain falling. Summer rain on the earth. Night rain. The darkness and warmth and flood of passion. Tonight the earth is loved-- loved and possessed. Her lover's arms around her; and she is silent. Speak, dearest!

    BERTHA(Suddenly leans forward and listens intently.) Hush!

    ROBERT(Listening, smiles.) Nothing. Nobody. We are alone.

    (A gust of wind blows in through the porch, with a sound of shaken leaves. The flame of the lamp leaps.)

    BERTHA(Pointing to the lamp.) Look!

    ROBERTOnly the wind. We have light enough from the other room.

    (He stretches his hand across the table and puts out the lamp. The light from the doorway of the bedroom crosses the place where they sit. The room is quite dark.) ROBERTAre you happy? Tell me.

    BERTHAI am going now, Robert. It is very late. Be satisfied.

    ROBERT(Caressing her hair.) Not yet, not yet. Tell me, do you love me a little?

    BERTHAI like you, Robert. I think you are good. (Half rising.) Are you satisfied?

    ROBERT(Detaining her, kisses her hair.) Do not go, Bertha! There is time still. Do you love me too? I have waited a long time. Do you love us both-- him and also me? Do you, Bertha? The truth! Tell me. Tell me with your eyes. Or speak!

    (She does not answer. In the silence the rain is heard falling.)
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