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Plays by August Strindberg: Creditors. Pariah online

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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 youth?

TEKLA. I have always liked youth. That's why I love you. Do you object?

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 GUSTAV

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 charming

ADOLPH. [Enraged] Tekla!

TEKLA. Oh, you little ninny!

ADOLPH. Tekla!

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 bite

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 back

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 correspondence.

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

TEKLA. Are you having an attack of bad conscience?


TEKLA. You feel like a thief, do you?

ADOLPH. Almost!

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 evening!

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 are 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 loved me!

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?

ADOLPH. Everything!

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 little

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

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 whole world.

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
dangerous things.

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 you 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.)

TEKLA. Adolph!

(ADOLPH shakes his head at her.)

TEKLA. Adolph.


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 to me!

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 before

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-night.

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 then?

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 while!

(Goes out through the door in the rear and then turns to the right.)

(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. [Shows agitation, but manages to control herself] Oh, is it you?

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 should never -

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 as you.

TEKLA. On the contrary, he has just been speaking of you in very
sympathetic terms.

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

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

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 write.

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

GUSTAV. Oh, that's all right, but what does your husband say of it?

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 before!

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!

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Online LibraryAugust StrindbergPlays by August Strindberg: Creditors. Pariah → online text (page 3 of 6)