Wednesday, December 4, 2013
August Strindberg | CREDITORS
By August Strindberg
ADOLPH, her husband, a painter
GUSTAV, her divorced husband, a high-school teacher (who is
travelling under an assumed name)
(A parlor in a summer hotel on the sea-shore. The rear wall has a
door opening on a veranda, beyond which is seen a landscape. To
the right of the door stands a table with newspapers on it. There
is a chair on the left side of the stage. To the right of the
table stands a sofa. A door on the right leads to an adjoining
(ADOLPH and GUSTAV, the latter seated on the sofa by the table to
ADOLPH. [At work on a wax figure on a miniature modelling stand;
his crutches are placed beside him]--and for all this I have to
GUSTAV. [Smoking a cigar] Oh, nonsense!
ADOLPH. Why, certainly! During the first days after my wife had
gone, I lay helpless on a sofa and did nothing but long for her.
It was as if she had taken away my crutches with her, so that I
couldn't move from the spot. When I had slept a couple of days, I
seemed to come to, and began to pull myself together. My head
calmed down after having been working feverishly. Old thoughts
from days gone by bobbed up again. The desire to work and the
instinct for creation came back. My eyes recovered their faculty
of quick and straight vision--and then you showed up.
GUSTAV. I admit you were in a miserable condition when I first met
you, and you had to use your crutches when you walked, but this is
not to say that my presence has been the cause of your recovery.
You needed a rest, and you had a craving for masculine company.
ADOLPH. Oh, that's true enough, like everything you say. Once I
used to have men for friends, but I thought them superfluous after
I married, and I felt quite satisfied with the one I had chosen.
Later I was drawn into new circles and made a lot of
acquaintances, but my wife was jealous of them--she wanted to keep
me to herself: worse still--she wanted also to keep my friends to
herself. And so I was left alone with my own jealousy.
GUSTAV. Yes, you have a strong tendency toward that kind of
ADOLPH. I was afraid of losing her--and I tried to prevent it.
There is nothing strange in that. But I was never afraid that she
might be deceiving me--
GUSTAV. No, that's what married men are never afraid of.
ADOLPH. Yes, isn't it queer? What I really feared was that her
friends would get such an influence over her that they would begin
to exercise some kind of indirect power over me--and THAT is
something I couldn't bear.
GUSTAV. So your ideas don't agree--yours and your wife's?
ADOLPH. Seeing that you have heard so much already, I may as well
tell you everything. My wife has an independent nature--what are
you smiling at?
GUSTAV. Go on! She has an independent nature--
ADOLPH. Which cannot accept anything from me--
GUSTAV. But from everybody else.
ADOLPH. [After a pause] Yes.--And it looked as if she especially
hated my ideas because they were mine, and not because there was
anything wrong about them. For it used to happen quite often that
she advanced ideas that had once been mine, and that she stood up
for them as her own. Yes, it even happened that friends of mine
gave her ideas which they had taken directly from me, and then
they seemed all right. Everything was all right except what came
GUSTAV. Which means that you are not entirely happy?
ADOLPH. Oh yes, I am happy. I have the one I wanted, and I have
never wanted anybody else.
GUSTAV. And you have never wanted to be free?
ADOLPH. No, I can't say that I have. Oh, well, sometimes I have
imagined that it might seem like a rest to be free. But the moment
she leaves me, I begin to long for her--long for her as for my own
arms and legs. It is queer that sometimes I have a feeling that
she is nothing in herself, but only a part of myself--an organ
that can take away with it my will, my very desire to live. It
seems almost as if I had deposited with her that centre of
vitality of which the anatomical books tell us.
GUSTAV. Perhaps, when we get to the bottom of it, that is just
what has happened.
ADOLPH. How could it be so? Is she not an independent being, with
thoughts of her own? And when I met her I was nothing--a child of
an artist whom she undertook to educate.
GUSTAV. But later you developed her thoughts and educated her,
ADOLPH. No, she stopped growing and I pushed on.
GUSTAV. Yes, isn't it strange that her "authoring" seemed to fall
off after her first book--or that it failed to improve, at least?
But that first time she had a subject which wrote itself--for I
understand she used her former husband for a model. You never knew
him, did you? They say he was an idiot.
ADOLPH. I never knew him, as he was away for six months at a time.
But he must have been an arch-idiot, judging by her picture of
him. [Pause] And you may feel sure that the picture was correct.
GUSTAV. I do!--But why did she ever take him?
ADOLPH. Because she didn't know him well enough. Of course, you
never DO get acquainted until afterward!
GUSTAV. And for that reason one ought not to marry until--
afterward.--And he was a tyrant, of course?
ADOLPH. Of course?
GUSTAV. Why, so are all married men. [Feeling his way] And you not
ADOLPH. I? Who let my wife come and go as she pleases--
GUSTAV. Well, that's nothing. You couldn't lock her up, could you?
But do you like her to stay away whole nights?
ADOLPH. No, really, I don't.
GUSTAV. There, you see! [With a change of tactics] And to tell the
truth, it would only make you ridiculous to like it.
ADOLPH. Ridiculous? Can a man be ridiculous because he trusts his
GUSTAV. Of course he can. And it's just what you are already--and
thoroughly at that!
ADOLPH. [Convulsively] I! It's what I dread most of all--and
there's going to be a change.
GUSTAV. Don't get excited now--or you'll have another attack.
ADOLPH. But why isn't she ridiculous when I stay out all night?
GUSTAV. Yes, why? Well, it's nothing that concerns you, but that's
the way it is. And while you are trying to figure out why, the
mishap has already occurred.
ADOLPH. What mishap?
GUSTAV. However, the first husband was a tyrant, and she took him
only to get her freedom. You see, a girl cannot have freedom
except by providing herself with a chaperon--or what we call a
ADOLPH. Of course not.
GUSTAV. And now you are the chaperon.
GUSTAV. Since you are her husband.
(ADOLPH keeps a preoccupied silence.)
GUSTAV. Am I not right?
ADOLPH. [Uneasily] I don't know. You live with a woman for years,
and you never stop to analyse her, or your relationship with her,
and then--then you begin to think--and there you are!--Gustav, you
are my friend. The only male friend I have. During this last week
you have given me courage to live again. It is as if your own
magnetism had been poured into me. Like a watchmaker, you have
fixed the works in my head and wound up the spring again. Can't
you hear, yourself, how I think more clearly and speak more to the
point? And to myself at least it seems as if my voice had
recovered its ring.
GUSTAV. So it seems to me also. And why is that?
ADOLPH. I shouldn't wonder if you grew accustomed to lower your
voice in talking to women. I know at least that Tekla always used
to accuse me of shouting.
GUSTAV. And so you toned down your voice and accepted the rule of
ADOLPH. That isn't quite the way to put it. [After some
reflection] I think it is even worse than that. But let us talk of
something else!--What was I saying?--Yes, you came here, and you
enabled me to see my art in its true light. Of course, for some
time I had noticed my growing lack of interest in painting, as it
didn't seem to offer me the proper medium for the expression of
what I wanted to bring out. But when you explained all this to me,
and made it clear why painting must fail as a timely outlet for
the creative instinct, then I saw the light at last--and I
realised that hereafter it would not be possible for me to express
myself by means of colour only.
GUSTAV. Are you quite sure now that you cannot go on painting--
that you may not have a relapse?
ADOLPH. Perfectly sure! For I have tested myself. When I went to
bed that night after our talk, I rehearsed your argument point by
point, and I knew you had it right. But when I woke up from a good
night's sleep and my head was clear again, then it came over me in
a flash that you might be mistaken after all. And I jumped out of
bed and got hold of my brushes and paints--but it was no use!
Every trace of illusion was gone--it was nothing but smears of
paint, and I quaked at the thought of having believed, and having
made others believe, that a painted canvas could be anything but a
painted canvas. The veil had fallen from my eyes, and it was just
as impossible for me to paint any more as it was to become a child
GUSTAV. And then you saw that the realistic tendency of our day,
its craving for actuality and tangibility, could only find its
proper form in sculpture, which gives you body, extension in all
ADOLPH. [Vaguely] The three dimensions--oh yes, body, in a word!
GUSTAV. And then you became a sculptor yourself. Or rather, you
have been one all your life, but you had gone astray, and nothing
was needed but a guide to put you on the right road--Tell me, do
you experience supreme joy now when you are at work?
ADOLPH. Now I am living!
GUSTAV. May I see what you are doing?
ADOLPH. A female figure.
GUSTAV. Without a model? And so lifelike at that!
ADOLPH. [Apathetically] Yes, but it resembles somebody. It is
remarkable that this woman seems to have become a part of my body
as I of hers.
GUSTAV. Well, that's not so very remarkable. Do you know what
ADOLPH. Of blood? Yes.
GUSTAV. And you seem to have bled yourself a little too much. When
I look at the figure here I comprehend several things which I
merely guessed before. You have loved her tremendously!
ADOLPH. Yes, to such an extent that I couldn't tell whether she
was I or I she. When she is smiling, I smile also. When she is
weeping, I weep. And when she--can you imagine anything like it?--
when she was giving life to our child--I felt the birth pangs
GUSTAV. Do you know, my dear friend--I hate to speak of it, but
you are already showing the first symptoms of epilepsy.
ADOLPH. [Agitated] I! How can you tell?
GUSTAV. Because I have watched the symptoms in a younger brother
of mine who had been worshipping Venus a little too excessively.
ADOLPH. How--how did it show itself--that thing you spoke of?
[During the following passage GUSTAV speaks with great animation,
and ADOLPH listens so intently that, unconsciously, he imitates
many of GUSTAV'S gestures.]
GUSTAV. It was dreadful to witness, and if you don't feel strong
enough I won't inflict a description of it on you.
ADOLPH. [Nervously] Yes, go right on--just go on!
GUSTAV. Well, the boy happened to marry an innocent little
creature with curls, and eyes like a turtle-dove; with the face of
a child and the pure soul of an angel. But nevertheless she
managed to usurp the male prerogative--
ADOLPH. What is that?
GUSTAV. Initiative, of course. And with the result that the angel
nearly carried him off to heaven. But first he had to be put on
the cross and made to feel the nails in his flesh. It was
ADOLPH. [Breathlessly] Well, what happened?
GUSTAV. [Lingering on each word] We might be sitting together
talking, he and I--and when I had been speaking for a while his
face would turn white as chalk, his arms and legs would grow
stiff, and his thumbs became twisted against the palms of his
hands--like this. [He illustrates the movement and it is imitated
by ADOLPH] Then his eyes became bloodshot, and he began to chew--
like this. [He chews, and again ADOLPH imitates him] The saliva
was rattling in his throat. His chest was squeezed together as if
it had been closed in a vice. The pupils of his eyes flickered
like gas-jets. His tongue beat the saliva into a lather, and he
sank--slowly--down--backward--into the chair--as if he were
drowning. And then---
ADOLPH. [In a whisper] Stop now!
GUSTAV. And then--Are you not feeling well?
GUSTAV. [Gets a glass of water for him] There: drink now. And
we'll talk of something else.
ADOLPH. [Feebly] Thank you! Please go on!
GUSTAV. Well--when he came to he couldn't remember anything at
all. He had simply lost consciousness. Has that ever happened to
ADOLPH. Yes, I have had attacks of vertigo now and then, but my
physician says it's only anaemia.
GUSTAV. Well, that's the beginning of it, you know. But, believe
me, it will end in epilepsy if you don't take care of yourself.
ADOLPH. What can I do?
GUSTAV. To begin with, you will have to observe complete
ADOLPH. For how long?
GUSTAV. For half a year at least.
ADOLPH. I cannot do it. That would upset our married life.
GUSTAV. Good-bye to you then!
ADOLPH. [Covers up the wax figure] I cannot do it!
GUSTAV. Can you not save your own life?--But tell me, as you have
already given me so much of your confidence--is there no other
canker, no secret wound, that troubles you? For it is very rare to
find only one cause of discord, as life is so full of variety and
so fruitful in chances for false relationships. Is there not a
corpse in your cargo that you are trying to hide from yourself?--
For instance, you said a minute ago that you have a child which
has been left in other people's care. Why don't you keep it with
ADOLPH. My wife doesn't want us to do so.
GUSTAV. And her reason? Speak up now!
ADOLPH. Because, when it was about three years old, it began to
look like him, her former husband.
GUSTAV. Well? Have you seen her former husband?
ADOLPH. No, never. I have only had a casual glance at a very poor
portrait of him, and then I couldn't detect the slightest
GUSTAV. Oh, portraits are never like the original, and, besides,
he might have changed considerably since it was made. However, I
hope it hasn't aroused any suspicions in you?
ADOLPH. Not at all. The child was born a year after our marriage,
and the husband was abroad when I first met Tekla--it happened
right here, in this very house even, and that's why we come here
GUSTAV. No, then there can be no cause for suspicion. And you
wouldn't have had any reason to trouble yourself anyhow, for the
children of a widow who marries again often show a likeness to her
dead husband. It is annoying, of course, and that's why they used
to burn all widows in India, as you know.--But tell me: have you
ever felt jealous of him--of his memory? Would it not sicken you
to meet him on a walk and hear him, with his eyes on your Tekla,
use the word "we" instead of "I"?--We!
ADOLPH. I cannot deny that I have been pursued by that very
GUSTAV. There now!--And you'll never get rid of it. There are
discords in this life which can never be reduced to harmony. For
this reason you had better put wax in your ears and go to work. If
you work, and grow old, and pile masses of new impressions on the
hatches, then the corpse will stay quiet in the hold.
ADOLPH. Pardon me for interrupting you, but--it is wonderful how
you resemble Tekla now and then while you are talking. You have a
way of blinking one eye as if you were taking aim with a gun, and
your eyes have the same influence on me as hers have at times.
GUSTAV. No, really?
ADOLPH. And now you said that "no, really" in the same indifferent
way that she does. She also has the habit of saying "no, really"
GUSTAV. Perhaps we are distantly related, seeing that all human
beings are said to be of one family. At any rate, it will be
interesting to make your wife's acquaintance to see if what you
say is true.
ADOLPH. And do you know, she never takes an expression from me.
She seems rather to avoid my vocabulary, and I have never caught
her using any of my gestures. And yet people as a rule develop
what is called "marital resemblance."
GUSTAV. And do you know why this has not happened in your case?--
That woman has never loved you.
ADOLPH. What do you mean?
GUSTAV. I hope you will excuse what I am saying--but woman's love
consists in taking, in receiving, and one from whom she takes
nothing does not have her love. She has never loved you!
ADOLPH. Don't you think her capable of loving more than once?
GUSTAV. No, for we cannot be deceived more than once. Then our
eyes are opened once for all. You have never been deceived, and so
you had better beware of those that have. They are dangerous, I
ADOLPH. Your words pierce me like knife thrusts, and I fool as if
something were being severed within me, but I cannot help it. And
this cutting brings a certain relief, too. For it means the
pricking of ulcers that never seemed to ripen.--She has never
loved me!--Why, then, did she ever take me?
GUSTAV. Tell me first how she came to take you, and whether it was
you who took her or she who took you?
ADOLPH. Heaven only knows if I can tell at all!--How did it
happen? Well, it didn't come about in one day.
GUSTAV. Would you like to have me tell you how it did happen?
ADOLPH. That's more than you can do.
GUSTAV. Oh, by using the information about yourself and your wife
that you have given me, I think I can reconstruct the whole event.
Listen now, and you'll hear. [In a dispassionate tone, almost
humorously] The husband had gone abroad to study, and she was
alone. At first her freedom seemed rather pleasant. Then came a
sense of vacancy, for I presume she was pretty empty when she had
lived by herself for a fortnight. Then he appeared, and by and by
the vacancy was filled up. By comparison the absent one seemed to
fade out, and for the simple reason that he was at a distance--you
know the law about the square of the distance? But when they felt
their passions stirring, then came fear--of themselves, of their
consciences, of him. For protection they played brother and
sister. And the more their feelings smacked of the flesh, the more
they tried to make their relationship appear spiritual.
ADOLPH. Brother and sister? How could you know that?
GUSTAV. I guessed it. Children are in the habit of playing papa
and mamma, but when they grow up they play brother and sister--in
order to hide what should be hidden!--And then they took the vow
of chastity--and then they played hide-and-seek--until they got
in a dark corner where they were sure of not being seen by
anybody. [With mock severity] But they felt that there was ONE
whose eye reached them in the darkness--and they grew frightened--
and their fright raised the spectre of the absent one--his figure
began to assume immense proportions--it became metamorphosed:
turned into a nightmare that disturbed their amorous slumbers; a
creditor who knocked at all doors. Then they saw his black hand
between their own as these sneaked toward each other across the
table; and they heard his grating voice through that stillness of
the night that should have been broken only by the beating of
their own pulses. He did not prevent them from possessing each
other but he spoiled their happiness. And when they became aware
of his invisible interference with their happiness; when they took
flight at last--a vain flight from the memories that pursued them,
from the liability they had left behind, from the public opinion
they could not face--and when they found themselves without the
strength needed to carry their own guilt, then they had to send
out into the fields for a scapegoat to be sacrificed. They were
free-thinkers, but they did not have the courage to step forward
and speak openly to him the words: "We love each other!" To sum it
up, they were cowards, and so the tyrant had to be slaughtered. Is
ADOLPH. Yes, but you forget that she educated me, that she filled
my head with new thoughts--
GUSTAV. I have not forgotten it. But tell me: why could she not
educate the other man also--into a free-thinker?
ADOLPH. Oh, he was an idiot!
GUSTAV. Oh, of course--he was an idiot! But that's rather an
ambiguous term, and, as pictured in her novel, his idiocy seems
mainly to have consisted in failure to understand her. Pardon me a
question: but is your wife so very profound after all? I have
discovered nothing profound in her writings.
ADOLPH. Neither have I.--But then I have also to confess a certain
difficulty in understanding her. It is as if the cogs of our brain
wheels didn't fit into each other, and as if something went to
pieces in my head when I try to comprehend her.
GUSTAV. Maybe you are an idiot, too?
ADOLPH. I don't THINK so! And it seems to me all the time as if
she were in the wrong--Would you care to read this letter, for
instance, which I got today?
[Takes out a letter from his pocket-book.]
GUSTAV. [Glancing through the letter] Hm! The handwriting seems
ADOLPH. Rather masculine, don't you think?
GUSTAV. Well, I know at least ONE man who writes that kind of
hand--She addresses you as "brother." Are you still playing
comedy to each other? And do you never permit yourselves any
greater familiarity in speaking to each other?
ADOLPH. No, it seems to me that all mutual respect is lost in that
GUSTAV. And is it to make you respect her that she calls herself
ADOLPH. I want to respect her more than myself. I want her to be
the better part of my own self.
GUSTAV. Why don't you be that better part yourself? Would it be
less convenient than to permit somebody else to fill the part? Do
you want to place yourself beneath your wife?
ADOLPH. Yes, I do. I take a pleasure in never quite reaching up to
her. I have taught her to swim, for example, and now I enjoy
hearing her boast that she surpasses me both in skill and daring.
To begin with, I merely pretended to be awkward and timid in order
to raise her courage. And so it ended with my actually being her
inferior, more of a coward than she. It almost seemed to me as if
she had actually taken my courage away from me.
GUSTAV. Have you taught her anything else?
ADOLPH. Yes--but it must stay between us--I have taught her how to
spell, which she didn't know before. But now, listen: when she
took charge of our domestic correspondence, I grew out of the
habit of writing. And think of it: as the years passed on, lack of
practice made me forget a little here and there of my grammar. But
do you think she recalls that I was the one who taught her at the
start? No--and so I am "the idiot," of course.
GUSTAV. So you are an idiot already?
ADOLPH. Oh, it's just a joke, of course!
GUSTAV. Of course! But this is clear cannibalism, I think. Do you
know what's behind that sort of practice? The savages eat their
enemies in order to acquire their useful qualities. And this woman
has been eating your soul, your courage, your knowledge---
ADOLPH. And my faith! It was I who urged her to write her first
GUSTAV. [Making a face] Oh-h-h!
ADOLPH. It was I who praised her, even when I found her stuff
rather poor. It was I who brought her into literary circles where
she could gather honey from our most ornamental literary flowers.
It was I who used my personal influence to keep the critics from
her throat. It was I who blew her faith in herself into flame;
blew on it until I lost my own breath. I gave, gave, gave--until I
had nothing left for myself. Do you know--I'll tell you everything
now--do you know I really believe--and the human soul is so
peculiarly constituted--I believe that when my artistic successes
seemed about to put her in the shadow--as well as her reputation--
then I tried to put courage into her by belittling myself, and by
making my own art seem inferior to hers. I talked so long about
the insignificant part played by painting on the whole--talked so
long about it, and invented so many reasons to prove what I said,
that one fine day I found myself convinced of its futility. So all
you had to do was to breathe on a house of cards.
GUSTAV. Pardon me for recalling what you said at the beginning of
our talk--that she had never taken anything from you.
ADOLPH. She doesn't nowadays. Because there is nothing more to
GUSTAV. The snake being full, it vomits now.
ADOLPH. Perhaps she has been taking a good deal more from me than
I have been aware of?
GUSTAV. You can be sure of that. She took when you were not
looking, and that is called theft.
ADOLPH. Perhaps she never did educate me?
GUSTAV. But you her? In all likelihood! But it was her trick to
make it appear the other way to you. May I ask how she set about
ADOLPH. Oh, first of all--hm!
ADOLPH. Well, I---
GUSTAV. No, we were speaking of her.
ADOLPH. Really, I cannot tell now.
GUSTAV. Do you see!
ADOLPH. However--she devoured my faith also, and so I sank further
and further down, until you came along and gave me a new faith.
GUSTAV. [Smiling] In sculpture?
ADOLPH. [Doubtfully] Yes.
GUSTAV. And have you really faith in it? In this abstract,
antiquated art that dates back to the childhood of civilisation?
Do you believe that you can obtain your effect by pure form--by
the three dimensions--tell me? That you can reach the practical
mind of our own day, and convey an illusion to it, without the use
of colour--without colour, mind you--do you really believe that?
ADOLPH. [Crushed] No!
GUSTAV. Well, I don't either.
ADOLPH. Why, then, did you say you did?
GUSTAV. Because I pitied you.
ADOLPH. Yes, I am to be pitied! For now I am bankrupt! Finished!--
And worst of all: not even she is left to me!
GUSTAV. Well, what could you do with her?
ADOLPH. Oh, she would be to me what God was before I became an
atheist: an object that might help me to exercise my sense of
GUSTAV. Bury your sense of veneration and let something else grow
on top of it. A little wholesome scorn, for instance.
ADOLPH. I cannot live without having something to respect---
ADOLPH.--without a woman to respect and worship!
GUSTAV. Oh, HELL! Then you had better take back your God--if you
needs must have something to kow-tow to! You're a fine atheist,
with all that superstition about woman still in you! You're a fine
free-thinker, who dare not think freely about the dear ladies! Do
you know what that incomprehensible, sphinx-like, profound
something in your wife really is? It is sheer stupidity!--Look
here: she cannot even distinguish between th and t. And that, you
know, means there is something wrong with the mechanism. When you
look at the case, it looks like a chronometer, but the works
inside are those of an ordinary cheap watch.--Nothing but the
skirts-that's all! Put trousers on her, give her a pair of
moustaches of soot under her nose, then take a good, sober look at
her, and listen to her in the same manner: you'll find the
instrument has another sound to it. A phonograph, and nothing
else--giving yon back your own words, or those of other people--
and always in diluted form. Have you ever looked at a naked woman-
-oh yes, yes, of course! A youth with over-developed breasts; an
under-developed man; a child that has shot up to full height and
then stopped growing in other respects; one who is chronically
anaemic: what can you expect of such a creature?
ADOLPH. Supposing all that to be true--how can it be possible that
I still think her my equal?
GUSTAV. Hallucination--the hypnotising power of skirts! Or--the
two of you may actually have become equals. The levelling process
has been finished. Her capillarity has brought the water in both
tubes to the same height.--Tell me [taking out his watch]: our
talk has now lasted six hours, and your wife ought soon to be
here. Don't you think we had better stop, so that you can get a
ADOLPH. No, don't leave me! I don't dare to be alone!
GUSTAV. Oh, for a little while only--and then the lady will come.
ADOLPH. Yes, she is coming!--It's all so queer! I long for her,
but I am afraid of her. She pets me, she is tender to me, but
there is suffocation in her kisses--something that pulls and
numbs. And I feel like a circus child that is being pinched by the
clown in order that it may look rosy-cheeked when it appears
before the public.
GUSTAV. I feel very sorry for you, my friend. Without being a
physician, I can tell that you are a dying man. It is enough to
look at your latest pictures in order to see that.
ADOLPH. You think so? How can you see it?
GUSTAV. Your colour is watery blue, anaemic, thin, so that the
cadaverous yellow of the canvas shines through. And it impresses
me as if your own hollow, putty-coloured checks were showing
ADOLPH. Oh, stop, stop!
GUSTAV. Well, this is not only my personal opinion. Have you read
ADOLPH. [Shrinking] No!
GUSTAV. It's on the table here.
ADOLPH. [Reaching for the paper without daring to take hold of it]
Do they speak of it there?
GUSTAV. Read it--or do you want me to read it to you?
GUSTAV. I'll leave you, if you want me to.
ADOLPH. No, no, no!--I don't know--it seems as if I were beginning
to hate you, and yet I cannot let you go.--You drag me out of the
hole into which I have fallen, but no sooner do you get me on firm
ice, than you knock me on the head and shove me into the water
again. As long as my secrets were my own, I had still something
left within me, but now I am quite empty. There is a canvas by an
Italian master, showing a scene of torture--a saint whose
intestines are being torn out of him and rolled on the axle of a
windlass. The martyr is watching himself grow thinner and thinner,
while the roll on the axle grows thicker.--Now it seems to me as
if you had swelled out since you began to dig in me; and when you
leave, you'll carry away my vitals with you, and leave nothing but
an empty shell behind.
GUSTAV. How you do let your fancy run away with you!--And
besides, your wife is bringing back your heart.
ADOLPH. No, not since you have burned her to ashes. Everything is
in ashes where you have passed along: my art, my love, my hope, my
GUSTAV. All of it was pretty nearly finished before I came along.
ADOLPH. Yes, but it might have been saved. Now it's too late--
GUSTAV. We have cleared some ground only. Now we'll sow in the
ADOLPH. I hate you! I curse you!
GUSTAV. Good symptoms! There is still some strength left in you.
And now I'll pull you up on the ice again. Listen now! Do you want
to listen to me, and do you want to obey me?
ADOLPH. Do with me what you will--I'll obey you!
GUSTAV. [Rising] Look at me!
ADOLPH. [Looking at GUSTAV] Now you are looking at me again with
that other pair of eyes which attracts me.
GUSTAV. And listen to me!
ADOLPH. Yes, but speak of yourself. Don't talk of me any longer: I
am like an open wound and cannot bear being touched.
GUSTAV. No, there is nothing to say about me. I am a teacher of
dead languages, and a widower--that's all! Take my hand.
ADOLPH. What terrible power there must be in you! It feels as if I
were touching an electrical generator.
GUSTAV. And bear in mind that I have been as weak as you are now.-
ADOLPH. [Rises, but keeps himself from falling only by throwing
his arms around the neck of GUSTAV] I am like a boneless baby, and
my brain seems to lie bare.
GUSTAV. Take a turn across the floor!
ADOLPH. I cannot!
GUSTAV. Do what I say, or I'll strike you!
ADOLPH. [Straightening himself up] What are you saying?
GUSTAV. I'll strike you, I said.
ADOLPH. [Leaping backward in a rage] You!
GUSTAV. That's it! Now you have got the blood into your head, and
your self-assurance is awake. And now I'll give you some
electriticy: where is your wife?
ADOLPH. Where is she?
ADOLPH. She is--at--a meeting.
GUSTAV. What kind of meeting?
ADOLPH. Oh, something relating to an orphan asylum.
GUSTAV. Did you part as friends?
ADOLPH. [With some hesitation] Not as friends.
GUSTAV. As enemies then!--What did you say that provoked her?
ADOLPH. You are terrible. I am afraid of you. How could you know?
GUSTAV. It's very simple: I possess three known factors, and with
their help I figure out the unknown one. What did you say to her?
ADOLPH. I said--two words only, but they were dreadful, and I
regret them--regret them very much.
GUSTAV. Don't do it! Tell me now?
ADOLPH. I said: "Old flirt!"
GUSTAV. What more did you say?
ADOLPH. Nothing at all.
GUSTAV. Yes, you did, but you have forgotten it--perhaps because
you don't dare remember it. You have put it away in a secret
drawer, but you have got to open it now!
ADOLPH. I can't remember!
GUSTAV. But I know. This is what you said: "You ought to be
ashamed of flirting when you are too old to have any more lovers!"
ADOLPH. Did I say that? I must have said it!--But how can you know
that I did?
GUSTAV. I heard her tell the story on board the boat as I came
ADOLPH. To whom?
GUSTAV. To four young men who formed her company. She is already
developing a taste for chaste young men, just like--
ADOLPH. But there is nothing wrong in that?
GUSTAV. No more than in playing brother and sister when you are
papa and mamma.
ADOLPH. So you have seen her then?
GUSTAV. Yes, I have. But you have never seen her when you didn't--
I mean, when you were not present. And there's the reason, you
see, why a husband can never really know his wife. Have you a
portrait of her?
(Adolph takes a photograph from his pocketbook. There is a look of
aroused curiosity on his face.)
GUSTAV. You were not present when this was taken?
GUSTAV. Look at it. Does it bear much resemblance to the portrait
you painted of her? Hardly any! The features are the same, but the
expression is quite different. But you don't see this, because
your own picture of her creeps in between your eyes and this one.
Look at it now as a painter, without giving a thought to the
original. What does it represent? Nothing, so far as I can see,
but an affected coquette inviting somebody to come and play with
her. Do you notice this cynical line around the mouth which you
are never allowed to see? Can you see that her eyes are seeking
out some man who is not you? Do you observe that her dress is cut
low at the neck, that her hair is done up in a different way, that
her sleeve has managed to slip back from her arm? Can you see?
ADOLPH. Yes--now I see.
GUSTAV. Look out, my boy!
ADOLPH. For what?
GUSTAV. For her revenge! Bear in mind that when you said she could
not attract a man, you struck at what to her is most sacred--the
one thing above all others. If you had told her that she wrote
nothing but nonsense, she would have laughed at your poor taste.
But as it is--believe me, it will not be her fault if her desire
for revenge has not already been satisfied.
ADOLPH. I must know if it is so!
GUSTAV. Find out!
ADOLPH. Find out?
GUSTAV. Watch--I'll assist you, if you want me to.
ADOLPH. As I am to die anyhow--it may as well come first as last!
What am I to do?
GUSTAV. First of all a piece of information: has your wife any
ADOLPH. Hardly! I think she must have nine lives, like a cat.
GUSTAV. There--that was the boat whistling at the landing--now
she'll soon be here.
ADOLPH. Then I must go down and meet her.
GUSTAV. No, you are to stay here. You have to be impolite. If
her conscience is clear, you'll catch it until your ears tingle.
If she is guilty, she'll come up and pet you.
ADOLPH. Are you so sure of that?
GUSTAV. Not quite, because a rabbit will sometimes turn and run in
loops, but I'll follow. My room is nest to this. [He points to the
door on the right] There I shall take up my position and watch you
while you are playing the game in here. But when you are done,
we'll change parts: I'll enter the cage and do tricks with the
snake while you stick to the key-hole. Then we meet in the park to
compare notes. But keep your back stiff. And if you feel yourself
weakening, knock twice on the floor with a chair.
ADOLPH. All right!--But don't go away. I must be sure that you are
in the next room.
GUSTAV. You can be quite sure of that. But don't get scared
afterward, when you watch me dissecting a human soul and laying
out its various parts on the table. They say it is rather hard on
a beginner, but once you have seen it done, you never want to miss
it.--And be sure to remember one thing: not a word about having
met me, or having made any new acquaintance whatever while she was
away. Not one word! And I'll discover her weak point by myself.
Hush, she has arrived--she is in her room now. She's humming to
herself. That means she is in a rage!--Now, straight in the back,
please! And sit down on that chair over there, so that she has to
sit here--then I can watch both of you at the same time.
ADOLPH. It's only fifteen minutes to dinner--and no new guests
have arrived--for I haven't heard the bell ring. That means we
shall be by ourselves--worse luck!
GUSTAV. Are you weak?
ADOLPH. I am nothing at all!--Yes, I am afraid of what is now
coming! But I cannot keep it from coming! The stone has been set
rolling--and it was not the first drop of water that started it--
nor wad it the last one--but all of them together.
GUSTAV. Let it roll then--for peace will come in no other way.
Good-bye for a while now! [Goes out]
(ADOLPH nods back at him. Until then he has been standing with the
photograph in his hand. Now he tears it up and flings the pieces
under the table. Then he sits down on a chair, pulls nervously at
his tie, runs his fingers through his hair, crumples his coat
lapel, and so on.)
TEKLA. [Enters, goes straight up to him and gives him a kiss; her
manner is friendly, frank, happy, and engaging] Hello, little
brother! How is he getting on?
ADOLPH. [Almost won over; speaking reluctantly and as if in jest]
What mischief have you been up to now that makes you come and kiss
TEKLA. I'll tell you: I've spent an awful lot of money.
ADOLPH. You have had a good time then?
TEKLA. Very! But not exactly at that creche meeting. That was
plain piffle, to tell the truth.--But what has little brother
found to divert himself with while his Pussy was away?
(Her eyes wander around the room as if she were looking for
somebody or sniffing something.)
ADOLPH. I've simply been bored.
TEKLA. And no company at all?
ADOLPH. Quite by myself.
TEKLA. [Watching him; she sits down on the sofa] Who has been
sitting here? ADOLPH. Over there? Nobody.
TEKLA. That's funny! The seat is still warm, and there is a hollow
here that looks as if it had been made by an elbow. Have you had
ADOLPH. I? You don't believe it, do you?
TEKLA. But you blush. I think little brother is not telling the
truth. Come and tell Pussy now what he has on his conscience.
(Draws him toward herself so that he sinks down with his head
resting in her lap.)
ADOLPH. You're a little devil--do you know that?
TEKLA. No, I don't know anything at all about myself.
ADOLPH. You never think about yourself, do you?
TEKLA. [Sniffing and taking notes] I think of nothing but myself--
I am a dreadful egoist. But what has made you turn so
philosophical all at once?
ADOLPH. Put your hand on my forehead.
TEKLA. [Prattling as if to a baby] Has he got ants in his head
again? Does he want me to take them away, does he? [Kisses him on
the forehead] There now! Is it all right now?
ADOLPH. Now it's all right. [Pause]
TEKLA. Well, tell me now what you have been doing to make the time
go? Have you painted anything?
ADOLPH. No, I am done with painting.
TEKLA. What? Done with painting?
ADOLPH. Yes, but don't scold me for it. How can I help it that I
can't paint any longer!
TEKLA. What do you mean to do then?
ADOLPH. I'll become a sculptor.
TEKLA. What a lot of brand new ideas again!
ADOLPH. Yes, but please don't scold! Look at that figure over
TEKLA. [Uncovering the wax figure] Well, I declare!--Who is that
TEKLA. Is it Pussy? Has he got no shame at all?
ADOLPH. Is it like?
TEKLA. How can I tell when there is no face?
ADOLPH. Yes, but there is so much else--that's beautiful!
TEKLA. [Taps him playfully on the cheek] Now he must keep still or
I'll have to kiss him.
ADOLPH. [Holding her back] Now, now!--Somebody might come!
TEKLA. Well, what do I care? Can't I kiss my own husband, perhaps?
Oh yes, that's my lawful right.
ADOLPH. Yes, but don't you know--in the hotel here, they don't
believe we are married, because we are kissing each other such a
lot. And it makes no difference that we quarrel now and then, for
lovers are said to do that also.
TEKLA. Well, but what's the use of quarrelling? Why can't he
always be as nice as he is now? Tell me now? Can't he try? Doesn't
he want us to be happy?
ADOLPH. Do I want it? Yes, but--
TEKLA. There we are again! Who has put it into his head that he is
not to paint any longer?
ADOLPH. Who? You are always looking for somebody else behind me
and my thoughts. Are you jealous?
TEKLA. Yes, I am. I'm afraid somebody might take him away from me.
ADOLPH. Are you really afraid of that? You who know that no other
woman can take your place, and that I cannot live without you!
TEKLA. Well, I am not afraid of the women--it's your friends that
fill your head with all sorts of notions.
ADOLPH. [Watching her] You are afraid then? Of what are you
TEKLA. [Getting up] Somebody has been here. Who has been here?
ADOLPH. Don't you wish me to look at you?
TEKLA. Not in that way: it's not the way you are accustomed to
look at me.
ADOLPH. How was I looking at you then?
TEKLA. Way up under my eyelids.
ADOLPH. Under your eyelids--yes, I wanted to see what is behind
TEKLA. See all you can! There is nothing that needs to be hidden.
But--you talk differently, too--you use expressions--[studying
him] you philosophise--that's what you do! [Approaches him
threateningly] Who has been here?
ADOLPH. Nobody but my physician.
TEKLA. Your physician? Who is he?
ADOLPH. That doctor from Stromstad.
TEKLA. What's his name?
TEKLA. What did he have to say?
ADOLPH. He said--well--among other things he said--that I am on
the verge of epilepsy--
TEKLA. Among other things? What more did he say?
ADOLPH. Something very unpleasant.
TEKLA. Tell me!
ADOLPH. He forbade us to live as man and wife for a while.
TEKLA. Oh, that's it! Didn't I just guess it! They want to
separate us! That's what I have understood a long time!
ADOLPH. You can't have understood, because there was nothing to
TEKLA. Oh yes, I have!
ADOLPH. How can you see what doesn't exist, unless your fear of
something has stirred up your fancy into seeing what has never
existed? What is it you fear? That I might borrow somebody else's
eyes in order to see you as you are, and not as you seem to be?
TEKLA. Keep your imagination in check, Adolph! It is the beast
that dwells in man's soul.
ADOLPH. Where did you learn that? From those chaste young men on
the boat--did you?
TEKLA. [Not at all abashed] Yes, there is something to be learned
from youth also.
ADOLPH. I think you are already beginning to have a taste for
TEKLA. I have always liked youth. That's why I love you. Do you
ADOLPH. No, but I should prefer to have no partners.
TEKLA. [Prattling roguishly] My heart is so big, little brother,
that there is room in it for many more than him.
ADOLPH. But little brother doesn't want any more brothers.
TEKLA. Come here to Pussy now and get his hair pulled because he
is jealous--no, envious is the right word for it!
(Two knocks with a chair are heard from the adjoining room, where
ADOLPH. No, I don't want to play now. I want to talk seriously.
TEKLA. [Prattling] Mercy me, does he want to talk seriously?
Dreadful, how serious he's become! [Takes hold of his head and
kisses him] Smile a little--there now!
ADOLPH. [Smiling against his will] Oh, you're the--I might almost
think you knew how to use magic!
TEKLA. Well, can't he see now? That's why he shouldn't start any
trouble--or I might use my magic to make him invisible!
ADOLPH. [Gets up] Will you sit for me a moment, Tekla? With the
side of your face this way, so that I can put a face on my figure.
TEKLA. Of course, I will.
[Turns her head so he can see her in profile.]
ADOLPH. [Gazes hard at her while pretending to work at the figure]
Don't think of me now--but of somebody else.
TEKLA. I'll think of my latest conquest.
ADOLPH. That chaste young man?
TEKLA. Exactly! He had a pair of the prettiest, sweetest
moustaches, and his cheek looked like a peach--it was so soft and
rosy that you just wanted to bite it.
ADOLPH. [Darkening] Please keep that expression about the mouth.
TEKLA. What expression?
ADOLPH. A cynical, brazen one that I have never seen before.
TEKLA. [Making a face] This one?
ADOLPH. Just that one! [Getting up] Do you know how Bret Harte
pictures an adulteress?
TEKLA. [Smiling] No, I have never read Bret Something.
ADOLPH. As a pale creature that cannot blush.
TEKLA. Not at all? But when she meets her lover, then she must
blush, I am sure, although her husband or Mr. Bret may not be
allowed to see it.
ADOLPH. Are you so sure of that?
TEKLA. [As before] Of course, as the husband is not capable of
bringing the blood up to her head, he cannot hope to behold the
ADOLPH. [Enraged] Tekla!
TEKLA. Oh, you little ninny!
TEKLA. He should call her Pussy--then I might get up a pretty
little blush for his sake. Does he want me to?
ADOLPH. [Disarmed] You minx, I'm so angry with you, that I could
TEKLA. [Playfully] Come and bite me then!--Come!
[Opens her arms to him.]
ADOLPH. [Puts his hands around her neck and kisses her] Yes, I'll
bite you to death!
TEKLA. [Teasingly] Look out--somebody might come!
ADOLPH. Well, what do I care! I care for nothing else in the world
if I can only have you!
TEKLA. And when, you don't have me any longer?
ADOLPH. Then I shall die!
TEKLA. But you are not afraid of losing me, are you--as I am too
old to be wanted by anybody else?
ADOLPH. You have not forgotten my words yet, Tekla! I take it all
TEKLA. Can you explain to me why you are at once so jealous and so
ADOLPH. No, I cannot explain anything at all. But it's possible
that the thought of somebody else having possessed you may still
be gnawing within me. At times it appears to me as if our love
were nothing but a fiction, an attempt at self-defence, a passion
kept up as a matter of honor--and I can't think of anything that
would give me more pain than to have HIM know that I am unhappy.
Oh, I have never seen him--but the mere thought that a person
exists who is waiting for my misfortune to arrive, who is daily
calling down curses on my head, who will roar with laughter when I
perish--the mere idea of it obsesses me, drives me nearer to you,
fascinates me, paralyses me!
TEKLA. Do you think I would let him have that joy? Do you think I
would make his prophecy come true?
ADOLPH. No, I cannot think you would.
TEKLA. Why don't you keep calm then?
ADOLPH. No, you upset me constantly by your coquetry. Why do you
play that kind of game?
TEKLA. It is no game. I want to be admired--that's all!
ADOLPH. Yes, but only by men!
TEKLA. Of course! For a woman is never admired by other women.
ADOLPH. Tell me, have you heard anything--from him--recently?
TEKLA. Not in the last sis months.
ADOLPH. Do you ever think of him?
TEKLA. No!--Since the child died we have broken off our
ADOLPH. And you have never seen him at all?
TEKLA. No, I understand he is living somewhere down on the West
Coast. But why is all this coming into your head just now?
ADOLPH. I don't know. But during the last few days, while I was
alone, I kept thinking of him--how he might have felt when he was
left alone that time.
TEKLA. Are you having an attack of bad conscience?
ADOLPH. I am.
TEKLA. You feel like a thief, do you?
TEKLA. Isn't that lovely! Women can be stolen as you steal
children or chickens? And you regard me as his chattel or personal
property. I am very much obliged to you!
ADOLPH. No, I regard you as his wife. And that's a good deal more
than property--for there can be no substitute. TEKLA. Oh, yes! If
you only heard that he had married again, all these foolish
notions would leave you.--Have you not taken his place with me?
ADOLPH. Well, have I?--And did you ever love him?
TEKLA. Of course, I did!
ADOLPH. And then--
TEKLA. I grew tired of him!
ADOLPH. And if you should tire of me also?
TEKLA. But I won't!
ADOLPH. If somebody else should turn up--one who had all the
qualities you are looking for in a man now--suppose only--then you
would leave me?
ADOLPH. If he captivated you? So that you couldn't live without
him? Then you would leave me, of course?
TEKLA. No, that doesn't follow.
ADOLPH. But you couldn't love two at the same time, could you?
TEKLA. Yes! Why not?
ADOLPH. That's something I cannot understand.
TEKLA. But things exist although you do not understand them. All
persons are not made in the same way, you know.
ADOLPH. I begin to see now!
TEKLA. No, really!
ADOLPH. No, really? [A pause follows, during which he seems to
struggle with some--memory that will not come back] Do you know,
Tekla, that your frankness is beginning to be painful?
TEKLA. And yet it used to be my foremost virtue In your mind, and
one that you taught me.
ADOLPH. Yes, but it seems to me as if you were hiding something
behind that frankness of yours.
TEKLA. That's the new tactics, you know.
ADOLPH. I don't know why, but this place has suddenly become
offensive to me. If you feel like it, we might return home--this
TEKLA. What kind of notion is that? I have barely arrived and I
don't feel like starting on another trip.
ADOLPH. But I want to.
TEKLA. Well, what's that to me?--You can go!
ADOLPH. But I demand that you take the next boat with me!
TEKLA. Demand?--What arc you talking about?
ADOLPH. Do you realise that you are my wife?
TEKLA. Do you realise that you are my husband?
ADOLPH. Well, there's a difference between those two things.
TEKLA. Oh, that's the way you are talking now!--You have never
ADOLPH. Haven't I?
TEKLA. No, for to love is to give.
ADOLPH. To love like a man is to give; to love like a woman is to
take.--And I have given, given, given!
TEKLA. Pooh! What have you given?
TEKLA. That's a lot! And if it be true, then I must have taken it.
Are you beginning to send in bills for your gifts now? And if I
have taken anything, this proves only my love for you. A woman
cannot receive anything except from her lover.
ADOLPH. Her lover, yes! There you spoke the truth! I have been
your lover, but never your husband.
TEKLA. Well, isn't that much more agreeable--to escape playing
chaperon? But if you are not satisfied with your position, I'll
send you packing, for I don't want a husband.
ADOLPH. No, that's what I have noticed. For a while ago, when you
began to sneak away from me like a thief with his booty, and when
you began to seek company of your own where you could flaunt my
plumes and display my gems, then I felt, like reminding you of
your debt. And at once I became a troublesome creditor whom you
wanted to get rid of. You wanted to repudiate your own notes, and
in order not to increase your debt to me, you stopped pillaging my
safe and began to try those of other people instead. Without
having done anything myself, I became to you merely the husband.
And now I am going to be your husband whether you like it or not,
as I am not allowed to be your lover any longer,
TEKLA. [Playfully] Now he shouldn't talk nonsense, the sweet
ADOLPH. Look out: it's dangerous to think everybody an idiot but
TEKLA. But that's what everybody thinks.
ADOLPH. And I am beginning to suspect that he--your former
husband--was not so much of an idiot after all.
TEKLA. Heavens! Are you beginning to sympathise with--him?
ADOLPH. Yes, not far from it,
TEKLA. Well, well! Perhaps you would like to make his acquaintance
and pour out your overflowing heart to him? What a striking
picture! But I am also beginning to feel drawn to him, as I am
growing more and more tired of acting as wetnurse. For he was at
least a man, even though he had the fault of being married to me.
ADOLPH. There, you see! But you had better not talk so loud--we
might be overheard.
TEKLA. What would it matter if they took us for married people?
ADOLPH. So now you are getting fond of real male men also, and at
the same time you have a taste for chaste young men?
TEKLA. There are no limits to what I can like, as you may see. My
heart is open to everybody and everything, to the big and the
small, the handsome and the ugly, the new and the old--I love the
ADOLPH. Do you know what that means?
TEKLA. No, I don't know anything at all. I just FEEL.
ADOLPH. It means that old age is near.
TEKLA. There you are again! Take care!
ADOLPH. Take care yourself!
TEKLA. Of what?
ADOLPH. Of the knife!
TEKLA. [Prattling] Little brother had better not play with such
ADOLPH. I have quit playing.
TEKLA. Oh, it's earnest, is it? Dead earnest! Then I'll show you
that--you are mistaken. That is to say--you'll never see it, never
know it, but all the rest of the world will know It. And you'll
suspect it, you'll believe it, and you'll never have another
moment's peace. You'll have the feeling of being ridiculous, of
being deceived, but you'll never get any proof of it. For that's
what married men never get.
ADOLPH. You hate me then?
TEKLA. No, I don't. And I don't think I shall either. But that's
probably because you are nothing to me but a child.
ADOLPH. At this moment, yes. But do you remember how it was while
the storm swept over us? Then you lay there like an infant in arms
and just cried. Then you had to sit on my lap, and I had to kiss
your eyes to sleep. Then I had to be your nurse; had to see that
you fixed your hair before going out; had to send your shoes to
the cobbler, and see that there was food in the house. I had to
sit by your side, holding your hand for hours at a time: you were
afraid, afraid of the whole world, because you didn't have a
single friend, and because you were crushed by the hostility of
public opinion. I had to talk courage into you until my mouth was
dry and my head ached. I had to make myself believe that I was
strong. I had to force myself into believing in the future. And so
I brought you back to life, when you seemed already dead. Then you
admired me. Then I was the man--not that kind of athlete you had
just left, but the man of will-power, the mesmerist who instilled
new nervous energy into your flabby muscles and charged your empty
brain with a new store of electricity. And then I gave you back
your reputation. I brought you new friends, furnished you with a
little court of people who, for the sake of friendship to me, let
themselves be lured into admiring you. I set you to rule me and my
house. Then I painted my best pictures, glimmering with reds and
blues on backgrounds of gold, and there was not an exhibition then
where I didn't hold a place of honour. Sometimes you were St.
Cecilia, and sometimes Mary Stuart--or little Karin, whom King
Eric loved. And I turned public attention in your direction. I
compelled the clamorous herd to see yon with my own infatuated
vision. I plagued them with your personality, forced you literally
down their throats, until that sympathy which makes everything
possible became yours at last--and you could stand on your own
feet. When you reached that far, then my strength was used up, and
I collapsed from the overstrain--in lifting you up, I had pushed
myself down. I was taken ill, and my illness seemed an annoyance
to you at the moment when all life had just begun to smile at you-
-and sometimes it seemed to me as if, in your heart, there was a
secret desire to get rid of your creditor and the witness of your
rise. Your love began to change into that of a grown-up sister,
and for lack of better I accustomed myself to the new part of
little brother. Your tenderness for me remained, and even
increased, but it was mingled with a suggestion of pity that had
in it a good deal of contempt. And this changed into open scorn as
my talent withered and your own sun rose higher. But in some
mysterious way the fountainhead of your inspiration seemed to dry
up when I could no longer replenish it--or rather when you wanted
to show its independence of me. And at last both of us began to
lose ground. And then you looked for somebody to put the blame on.
A new victim! For you are weak, and you can never carry your own
burdens of guilt and debt. And so you picked me for a scapegoat
and doomed me to slaughter. But when you cut my thews, you didn't
realise that you were also crippling yourself, for by this time
our years of common life had made twins of us. You were a shoot
sprung from my stem, and you wanted to cut yourself loose before
the shoot had put out roots of its own, and that's why you
couldn't grow by yourself. And my stem could not spare its main
branch--and so stem and branch must die together.
TEKLA. What you mean with all this, of course, is that you have
written my books.
ADOLPH. No, that's what you want me to mean in order to make me
out a liar. I don't use such crude expressions as you do, and I
spoke for something like five minutes to get in all the nuances,
all the halftones, all the transitions--but your hand-organ has
only a single note in it.
TEKLA. Yes, but the summary of the whole story is that you have
written my books.
ADOLPH. No, there is no summary. You cannot reduce a chord into a
single note. You cannot translate a varied life into a sum of one
figure. I have made no blunt statements like that of having
written your books.
TEKLA. But that's what you meant!
ADOLPH. [Beyond himself] I did not mean it.
TEKLA. But the sum of it--
ADOLPH. [Wildly] There can be no sum without an addition. You get
an endless decimal fraction for quotient when your division does
not work out evenly. I have not added anything.
TEKLA. But I can do the adding myself.
ADOLPH. I believe it, but then I am not doing it.
TEKLA. No. but that's what you wanted to do.
ADOLPH. [Exhausted, closing his eyes] No, no, no--don't speak to
me--you'll drive me into convulsions. Keep silent! Leave me alone!
You mutilate my brain with your clumsy pincers--you put your claws
into my thoughts and tear them to pieces!
(He seems almost unconscious and sits staring straight ahead while
his thumbs are bent inward against the palms of his hands.)
TEKLA. [Tenderly] What is it? Are you sick?
(ADOLPH motions her away.)
(ADOLPH shakes his head at her.)
TEKLA. Do you admit that you were unjust a moment ago?
ADOLPH. Yes, yes, yes, yes, I admit!
TEKLA. And do you ask my pardon?
ADOLPH. Yes, yes, yes, I ask your pardon--if you only won't speak
TEKLA. Kiss my hand then!
ADOLPH. [Kissing her hand] I'll kiss your hand--if you only don't
speak to me!
TEKLA. And now you had better go out for a breath of fresh air
ADOLPH. Yes, I think I need it. And then we'll pack and leave.
ADOLPH. [On his feet] Why? There must be a reason.
TEKLA. The reason is that I have promised to be at the concert to-
ADOLPH. Oh, that's it!
TEKLA. Yes, that's it. I have promised to attend--
ADOLPH. Promised? Probably you said only that you might go, and
that wouldn't prevent you from saying now that you won't go.
TEKLA. No, I am not like you: I keep my word.
ADOLPH. Of course, promises should be kept, but we don't have to
live up to every little word we happen to drop. Perhaps there is
somebody who has made you promise to go.
ADOLPH. Then you can ask to be released from your promise because
your husband is sick.
TEKLA, No, I don't want to do that, and you are not sick enough to
be kept from going with me.
ADOLPH. Why do you always want to drag me along? Do you feel safer
TEKLA. I don't know what you mean.
ADOLPH. That's what you always say when you know I mean something
that--doesn't please you.
TEKLA. So-o! What is it now that doesn't please me?
ADOLPH. Oh, I beg you, don't begin over again--Good-bye for a
(Goes out through the door in the rear and then turns to the
(TEKLA is left alone. A moment later GUSTAV enters and goes
straight up to the table as if looking for a newspaper. He
pretends not to see TEKLA.)
TEKLA. [Shows agitation, but manages to control herself] Oh, is it
GUSTAV. Yes, it's me--I beg your pardon!
TEKLA. Which way did you come?
GUSTAV. By land. But--I am not going to stay, as--
TEKLA. Oh, there is no reason why you shouldn't.--Well, it was
some time ago--
GUSTAV. Yes, some time.
TEKLA. You have changed a great deal.
GUSTAV. And you are as charming as ever, A little younger, if
anything. Excuse me, however--I am not going to spoil your
happiness by my presence. And if I had known you were here, I
TEKLA. If you don't think it improper, I should like you to stay.
GUSTAV. On my part there could be no objection, but I fear--well,
whatever I say, I am sure to offend you.
TEKLA. Sit down a moment. You don't offend me, for you possess
that rare gift--which was always yours--of tact and politeness.
GUSTAV. It's very kind of you. But one could hardly expect--that
your husband might regard my qualities in the same generous light
TEKLA. On the contrary, he has just been speaking of you in very
GUSTAV. Oh!--Well, everything becomes covered up by time, like
names cut in a tree--and not even dislike can maintain itself
permanently in our minds.
TEKLA. He has never disliked you, for he has never seen you. And
as for me, I have always cherished a dream--that of seeing you
come together as friends--or at least of seeing you meet for once
in my presence--of seeing you shake hands--and then go your
different ways again.
GUSTAV. It has also been my secret longing to see her whom I used
to love more than my own life--to make sure that she was in good
hands. And although I have heard nothing but good of him, and am
familiar with all his work, I should nevertheless have liked,
before it grew too late, to look into his eyes and beg him to take
good care of the treasure Providence has placed in his possession.
In that way I hoped also to lay the hatred that must have
developed instinctively between us; I wished to bring some peace
and humility into my soul, so that I might manage to live through
the rest of my sorrowful days.
TEKLA. You have uttered my own thoughts, and you have understood
me. I thank you for it!
GUSTAV. Oh, I am a man of small account, and have always been too
insignificant to keep you in the shadow. My monotonous way of
living, my drudgery, my narrow horizons--all that could not
satisfy a soul like yours, longing for liberty. I admit it. But
you understand--you who have searched the human soul--what it cost
me to make such a confession to myself.
TEKLA. It is noble, it is splendid, to acknowledge one's own
shortcomings--and it's not everybody that's capable of it. [Sighs]
But yours has always been an honest, and faithful, and reliable
nature--one that I had to respect--but--
GUSTAV. Not always--not at that time! But suffering purifies,
sorrow ennobles, and--I have suffered!
TEKLA. Poor Gustav! Can you forgive me? Tell me, can you?
GUSTAV. Forgive? What? I am the one who must ask you to forgive.
TEKLA. [Changing tone] I believe we are crying, both of us--we who
are old enough to know better!
GUSTAV. [Feeling his way] Old? Yes, I am old. But you--you grow
younger every day.
(He has by that time manoeuvred himself up to the chair on the
left and sits down on it, whereupon TEKLA sits down on the sofa.)
TEKLA. Do you think so?
GUSTAV. And then you know how to dress.
TEKLA. I learned that from you. Don't you remember how you figured
out what colors would be most becoming to me?
TEKLA. Yes, don't you remember--hm!--I can even recall how you
used to be angry with me whenever I failed to have at least a
touch of crimson about my dress.
GUSTAV. No, not angry! I was never angry with you.
TEKLA. Oh, yes, when you wanted to teach me how to think--do you
remember? For that was something I couldn't do at all.
GUSTAV. Of course, you could. It's something every human being
does. And you have become quite keen at it--at least when you
TEKLA. [Unpleasantly impressed; hurrying her words] Well, my dear
Gustav, it is pleasant to see you anyhow, and especially in a
peaceful way like this.
GUSTAV. Well, I can hardly be called a troublemaker, and you had a
pretty peaceful time with me.
TEKLA. Perhaps too much so.
GUSTAV. Oh! But you see, I thought you wanted me that way. It was
at least the impression you gave me while we were engaged.
TEKLA. Do you think one really knows what one wants at that time?
And then the mammas insist on all kinds of pretensions, of course.
GUSTAV. Well, now you must be having all the excitement you can
wish. They say that life among artists is rather swift, and I
don't think your husband can be called a sluggard.
TEKLA. You can get too much of a good thing.
GUSTAV. [Trying a new tack] What! I do believe you are still
wearing the ear-rings I gave you?
TEKLA. [Embarrassed] Why not? There was never any quarrel between
us--and then I thought I might wear them as a token--and a
reminder--that we were not enemies. And then, you know, it is
impossible to buy this kind of ear-rings any longer. [Takes off
one of her ear-rings.]
GUSTAV. Oh, that's all right, but what does your husband say of
TEKLA. Why should I mind what he says?
GUSTAV. Don't you mind that?--But you may be doing him an injury.
It is likely to make him ridiculous.
TEKLA. [Brusquely, as if speaking to herself almost] He was that
GUSTAV. [Rises when he notes her difficulty in putting back the
ear-ring] May I help you, perhaps?
TEKLA. Oh--thank you!
GUSTAV. [Pinching her ear] That tiny ear!--Think only if your
husband could see us now!
TEKLA. Wouldn't he howl, though!
GUSTAV. Is he jealous also?
TEKLA. Is he? I should say so!
[A noise is heard from the room on the right.]
GUSTAV. Who lives in that room?
TEKLA. I don't know.--But tell me how you are getting along and
what you are doing?
GUSTAV. Tell me rather how you are getting along?
(TEKLA is visibly confused, and without realising what she is
doing, she takes the cover off the wax figure.)
GUSTAV. Hello! What's that?--Well!--It must be you!
TEKLA. I don't believe so.
GUSTAV. But it is very like you.
TEKLA. [Cynically] Do you think so?
GUSTAV. That reminds me of the story--you know it--"How could
your majesty see that?"
TEKLA, [Laughing aloud] You are impossible!--Do you know any new
GUSTAV. No, but you ought to have some.
TEKLA. Oh, I never hear anything funny nowadays.
GUSTAV. Is he modest also?
GUSTAV. Not an everything?
TEKLA. He isn't well just now.
GUSTAV. Well, why should little brother put his nose into other
TEKLA. [Laughing] You crazy thing!
GUSTAV. Poor chap!--Do you remember once when we were just
married--we lived in this very room. It was furnished differently
in those days. There was a chest of drawers against that wall
there--and over there stood the big bed.
TEKLA. Now you stop!
GUSTAV. Look at me!
TEKLA. Well, why shouldn't I?
[They look hard at each other.]
GUSTAV. Do you think a person can ever forget anything that has
made a very deep impression on him?
TEKLA. No! And our memories have a tremendous power. Particularly
the memories of our youth.
GUSTAV. Do you remember when I first met you? Then you were a
pretty little girl: a slate on which parents and governesses had
made a few scrawls that I had to wipe out. And then I filled it
with inscriptions that suited my own mind, until you believed the
slate could hold nothing more. That's the reason, you know, why I
shouldn't care to be in your husband's place--well, that's his
business! But it's also the reason why I take pleasure in meeting
you again. Our thoughts fit together exactly. And as I sit here
and chat with you, it seems to me like drinking old wine of my own
bottling. Yes, it's my own wine, but it has gained a great deal in
flavour! And now, when I am about to marry again, I have purposely
picked out a young girl whom I can educate to suit myself. For the
woman, you know, is the man's child, and if she is not, he becomes
hers, and then the world turns topsy-turvy.
TEKLA. Are you going to marry again?
GUSTAV. Yes, I want to try my luck once more, but this time I am
going to make a better start, so that it won't end again with a
TEKLA. Is she good looking?
GUSTAV. Yes, to me. But perhaps I am too old. It's queer--now when
chance has brought me together with you again--I am beginning to
doubt whether it will be possible to play the game over again.
TEKLA. How do you mean?
GUSTAV. I can feel that my roots stick in your soil, and the old
wounds are beginning to break open. You are a dangerous woman,
TEKLA. Am I? And my young husband says that I can make no more
GUSTAV. That means he has ceased to love you.
TEKLA. Well, I can't quite make out what love means to him.
GUSTAV. You have been playing hide and seek so long that at last
you cannot find each other at all. Such things do happen. You have
had to play the innocent to yourself, until he has lost his
courage. There ARE some drawbacks to a change, I tell you--there
are drawbacks to it, indeed.
TEKLA. Do you mean to reproach--
GUSTAV. Not at all! Whatever happens is to a certain extent
necessary, for if it didn't happen, something else would--but now
it did happen, and so it had to happen.
TEKLA. YOU are a man of discernment. And I have never met anybody
with whom I liked so much to exchange ideas. You are so utterly
free from all morality and preaching, and you ask so little of
people, that it is possible to be oneself in your presence. Do you
know, I am jealous of your intended wife!
GUSTAV. And do you realise that I am jealous of your husband?
TEKLA. [Rising] And now we must part! Forever!
GUSTAV. Yes, we must part! But not without a farewell--or what do
TEKLA. [Agitated] No!
GUSTAV. [Following after her] Yes!--Let us have a farewell! Let us
drown our memories--you know, there are intoxications so deep that
when you wake up all memories are gone. [Putting his arm around
her waist] You have been dragged down by a diseased spirit, who is
infecting you with his own anaemia. I'll breathe new life into
you. I'll make your talent blossom again in your autumn days, like
a remontant rose. I'll----
(Two LADIES in travelling dress are seen in the doorway leading to
the veranda. They look surprised. Then they point at those within,
laugh, and disappear.)
TEKLA. [Freeing herself] Who was that?
GUSTAV. [Indifferently] Some tourists.
TEKLA. Leave me alone! I am afraid of you!
TEKLA. You take my soul away from me!
GUSTAV. And give you my own in its place! And you have no soul for
that matter--it's nothing but a delusion.
TEKLA. You have a way of saying impolite things so that nobody can
be angry with you.
GUSTAV. It's because you feel that I hold the first mortgage on
you--Tell me now, when--and--where?
TEKLA. No, it wouldn't be right to him. I think he is still in
love with me, and I don't want to do any more harm.
GUSTAV. He does not love you! Do you want proofs?
TEKLA, Where can you get them?
GUSTAV. [Picking up the pieces of the photograph from the floor]
Here! See for yourself!
TEKLA. Oh, that's an outrage!
GUSTAV. Do you see? Now then, when? And where?
TEKLA. The false-hearted wretch!
TEKLA. He leaves to-night, with the eight-o'clock boat.
GUSTAV. And then--
TEKLA. At nine! [A noise is heard from the adjoining room] Who can
be living in there that makes such a racket?
GUSTAV. Let's see! [Goes over and looks through the keyhole]
There's a table that has been upset, and a smashed water caraffe--
that's all! I shouldn't wonder if they had left a dog locked up in
there.--At nine o'clock then?
TEKLA. All right! And let him answer for it himself.--What a
depth of deceit! And he who has always preached about
truthfulness, and tried to teach me to tell the truth!--But wait
a little--how was it now? He received me with something like
hostility--didn't meet me at the landing--and then--and then he
made some remark about young men on board the boat, which I
pretended not to hear--but how could he know? Wait--and then he
began to philosophise about women--and then the spectre of you
seemed to be haunting him--and he talked of becoming a sculptor,
that being the art of the time--exactly in accordance with your
GUSTAV. No, really!
TEKLA. No, really?--Oh, now I understand! Now I begin to see what
a hideous creature you are! You have been here before and stabbed
him to death! It was you who had been sitting there on the sofa;
it was you who made him think himself an epileptic--that he had to
live in celibacy; that he ought to rise in rebellion against his
wife; yes, it was you!--How long have you been here?
GUSTAV. I have been here a week.
TEKLA. It was you, then, I saw on board the boat?
GUSTAV. It was.
TEKLA. And now you were thinking you could trap me?
GUSTAV. It has been done.
TEKLA. Not yet!
TEKLA. Like a wolf you went after my lamb. You came here with a
villainous plan to break up my happiness, and you were carrying it
out, when my eyes were opened, and I foiled you.
GUSTAV. Not quite that way, if you please. This is how it happened
in reality. Of course, it has been my secret hope that disaster
might overtake you. But I felt practically certain that no
interference on my part was required. And besides, I have been far
too busy to have any time left for intriguing. But when I happened
to be moving about a bit, and happened to see you with those young
men on board the boat, then I guessed the time had come for me to
take a look at the situation. I came here, and your lamb threw
itself into the arms of the wolf. I won his affection by some sort
of reminiscent impression which I shall not be tactless enough to
explain to you. At first he aroused my sympathy, because he seemed
to be in the same fix as I was once. But then he happened to touch
old wounds--that book, you know, and "the idiot"--and I was seized
with a wish to pick him to pieces, and to mix up these so
thoroughly that they couldn't be put together again--and I
succeeded, thanks to the painstaking way in which you had done the
work of preparation. Then I had to deal with you. For you were the
spring that had kept the works moving, and you had to be taken
apart--and what a buzzing followed!--When I came in here, I didn't
know exactly what to say. Like a chess-player, I had laid a number
of tentative plans, of course, but my play had to depend on your
moves. One thing led to the other, chance lent me a hand, and
finally I had you where I wanted you.--Now you are caught!
GUSTAV. Yes, you are! What you least wanted has happened. The
world at large, represented by two lady tourists--whom I had not
sent for, as I am not an intriguer--the world has seen how you
became reconciled to your former husband, and how you sneaked back
repentantly into his faithful arms. Isn't that enough?
TEKLA. It ought to be enough for your revenge--But tell me, how
can you, who are so enlightened and so right-minded--how is it
possible that you, who think whatever happens must happen, and
that all our actions are determined in advance--
GUSTAV. [Correcting her] To a certain extent determined.
TEKLA. That's the same thing!
TEKLA. [Disregarding him] How is it possible that you, who hold me
guiltless, as I was driven by my nature and the circumstances into
acting as I did--how can you think yourself entitled to revenge--?
GUSTAV. For that very reason--for the reason that my nature and
the circumstances drove me into seeking revenge. Isn't that giving
both sides a square deal? But do you know why you two had to get
the worst of it in this struggle?
(TEKLA looks scornful.)
GUSTAV. And why you were doomed to be fooled? Because I am
stronger than you, and wiser also. You have been the idiot--and
he! And now you may perceive that a man need not be an idiot
because he doesn't write novels or paint pictures. It might be
well for you to bear this in mind.
TEKLA. Are you then entirely without feelings?
GUSTAV. Entirely! And for that very reason, you know, I am capable
of thinking--in which you have had no experience whatever-and of
acting--in which you have just had some slight experience.
TEKLA. And all this merely because I have hurt your vanity?
GUSTAV. Don't call that MERELY! You had better not go around
hurting other people's vanity. They have no more sensitive spot
TEKLA. Vindictive wretch--shame on you!
GUSTAV. Dissolute wretch--shame on you!
TEKLA. Oh, that's my character, is it?
GUSTAV. Oh, that's my character, is it?--You ought to learn
something about human nature in others before you give your own
nature free rein. Otherwise you may get hurt, and then there will
be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
TEKLA. You can never forgive:--
GUSTAV. Yes, I have forgiven you!
GUSTAV. Of course! Have I raised a hand against you during all
these years? No! And now I came here only to have a look at you,
and it was enough to burst your bubble. Have I uttered a single
reproach? Have I moralised or preached sermons? No! I played a
joke or two on your dear consort, and nothing more was needed to
finish him.--But there is no reason why I, the complainant,
should be defending myself as I am now--Tekla! Have you nothing at
all to reproach yourself with?
TEKLA. Nothing at all! Christians say that our actions are
governed by Providence; others call it Fate; in either case, are
we not free from all liability?
GUSTAV. In a measure, yes; but there is always a narrow margin
left unprotected, and there the liability applies in spite of all.
And sooner or later the creditors make their appearance.
Guiltless, but accountable! Guiltless in regard to one who is no
more; accountable to oneself and one's fellow beings.
TEKLA. So you came here to dun me?
GUSTAV. I came to take back what you had stolen, not what you had
received as a gift. You had stolen my honour, and I could recover
it only by taking yours. This, I think, was my right--or was it
TEKLA. Honour? Hm! And now you feel satisfied?
GUSTAV. Now I feel satisfied. [Rings for a waiter.]
TEKLA. And now you are going home to your fiancee?
GUSTAV. I have no fiancee! Nor am I ever going to have one. I am
not going home, for I have no home, and don't want one.
(A WAITER comes in.)
GUSTAV. Get me my bill--I am leaving by the eight o'clock boat.
(THE WAITER bows and goes out.)
TEKLA. Without making up?
GUSTAV. Making up? You use such a lot of words that have lost
their--meaning. Why should we make up? Perhaps you want all three
of us to live together? You, if anybody, ought to make up by
making good what you took away, but this you cannot do. You just
took, and what you took you consumed, so that there is nothing
left to restore.--Will it satisfy you if I say like this: forgive
me that you tore my heart to pieces; forgive me that you disgraced
me; forgive me that you made me the laughing-stock of my pupils
through every week-day of seven long years; forgive me that I set
you free from parental restraints, that I released you from the
tyranny of ignorance and superstition, that I set you to rule my
house, that I gave you position and friends, that I made a woman
out of the child you were before? Forgive me as I forgive you!--
Now I have torn up your note! Now you can go and settle your
account with the other one!
TEKLA. What have you done with him? I am beginning to suspect--
GUSTAV. With him? Do you still love him?
GUSTAV. And a moment ago it was me! Was that also true?
TEKLA. It was true.
GUSTAV. Do you know what you are then?
TEKLA. You despise me?
GUSTAV. I pity you. It is a trait--I don't call it a fault--just
a trait, which is rendered disadvantageous by its results. Poor
Tekla! I don't know--but it seems almost as if I were feeling a
certain regret, although I am as free from any guilt--as you! But
perhaps it will be useful to you to feel what I felt that time.--
Do you know where your husband is?
TEKLA. I think I know now--he is in that room in there! And he has
heard everything! And seen everything! And the man who sees his
own wraith dies!
(ADOLPH appears in the doorway leading to the veranda. His face is
white as a sheet, and there is a bleeding scratch on one cheek.
His eyes are staring and void of all expression. His lips are
covered with froth.)
GUSTAV. [Shrinking back] No, there he is!--Now you can settle with
him and see if he proves as generous as I have been.--Good-bye!
(He goes toward the left, but stops before he reaches the door.)
TEKLA. [Goes to meet ADOLPH with open arms] Adolph!
(ADOLPH leans against the door-jamb and sinks gradually to the
TEKLA. [Throwing herself upon his prostrate body and caressing
him] Adolph! My own child! Are you still alive--oh, speak, speak!-
-Please forgive your nasty Tekla! Forgive me, forgive me, forgive
me!--Little brother must say something, I tell him!--No, good God,
he doesn't hear! He is dead! O God in heaven! O my God! Help!
GUSTAV. Why, she really must have loved HIM, too!--Poor creature!