Copyright
August Strindberg.

Plays by August Strindberg: Creditors. Pariah online

. (page 2 of 6)
Online LibraryAugust StrindbergPlays by August Strindberg: Creditors. Pariah → online text (page 2 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


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 that right?

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
strangely familiar.

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 way.

GUSTAV. And is it to make you respect her that she calls herself your
sister?

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 book - -

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 take.

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 educating you?

ADOLPH. Oh, first of all - hm!

GUSTAV. Well?

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 veneration.

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 - -

GUSTAV. Slave!

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 you 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 rest?

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 beneath -

ADOLPH. Oh, stop, stop!

GUSTAV. Well, this is not only my personal opinion. Have you read
to-day's paper?

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?

ADOLPH. No!

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 faith!

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 - incendiary!

GUSTAV. We have cleared some ground only. Now we'll sow in the ashes.

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. - Stand
up!

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?

GUSTAV. Yes.

ADOLPH. She is - at - a meeting.

GUSTAV. Sure?

ADOLPH. Absolutely!

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 here.

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?

ADOLPH. No.

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
vulnerable point?

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 me?

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 lady
callers?

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 there.

TEKLA. [Uncovering the wax figure] Well, I declare! - Who is that meant
for?

ADOLPH. Guess!

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 afraid?

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 them.

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?

ADOLPH. Sjoberg.

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!


2 4 5 6

Online LibraryAugust StrindbergPlays by August Strindberg: Creditors. Pariah → online text (page 2 of 6)