Read COMRADES : ACT IV. of Plays: Comrades Facing Death Pariah Easter, free online book, by August Strindberg, on ReadCentral.com.

[Scene.-Same. But the glass doors leading to orchard are open. The sun is still shining outside and the studio is brightly lighted. The side doors are open. A serving table is seen out in the orchard; on it are glasses and bottles, et cetera. Axel wears cutaway, but without the decoration, and is wearing a standing collar with four-in-hand scarf. His hair is brushed straight back. Bertha wears a dark gown, cut square, with frilled fichu. She has a flower on the left shoulder. The Misses Hall are extravagantly and expensively dressed. Bertha enters from orchard. She is pale and has dark shadows under her eyes. Abel enters from door at back. They embrace and kiss each other.]

Bertha. Good afternoon, and welcome.

Abel. Good afternoon.

Bertha. And Gaga promised to come?

Abel. Absolutely certain. He was in a regretful spirit and begged forgiveness. [Bertha straightens out her fichu.] But what is the matter with you today? Has anything happened?

Bertha. How so? What?

Abel. You are not like yourself. Have you ? Bertha! Have you-

Bertha. Don’t talk.

Abel. Your eyes are so full of color and brilliancy! What? Is is possible ? And so pale? Bertha!

Bertha. I must go out to my guests.

Abel. Tell me, are Carl and Oestermark here?

Bertha. Both are out in the orchard.

Abel. And Mrs. Hall and the girls?

Bertha. Mrs. Hall will come litter, but the girls are in my room.

Abel. I’m afraid that our scheme of revenge will fall as flat as a pancake.

Bertha. No, not this-not this one!

[Willmer enters with a bouquet of flowers. He goes to Bertha, kisses her hand, and gives her the bouquet.]

Willmer. Forgive me! For my love’s sake!

Bertha. No, not on that account, but-it doesn’t matter. I don’t know why, but today I don’t want any enemies.

[Axel comes in. Bertha and Willmer look distressed.]

Axel [To Bertha, not noticing Willmer]. Pardon-if I disturb-

Bertha. Not at all.

Axel. I only wanted to ask if you had ordered the supper?

Bertha. Yes, of course-as you wished.

Axel. Very well. I only wanted to know. [Pause.]

Abel. How festive you two look! [Bertha and Axel are silent. Willmer breaks the embarrassment by starting for the orchard.] Listen, Gaga-

[She hastens out after Willmer.]

Axel. What have you ordered for the supper?

Bertha [Looks at him and smiles]. Lobsters and poulet.

Axel [Uncertain]. What are you smiling at?

Bertha. My thoughts.

Axel. What are you thinking then?

Bertha. I am thinking-no, I really don’t know-unless it was about the betrothal supper we had together in the Gardens that spring evening when you had wooed-

Axel. You had wooed-

Bertha. Axel!-And now it is the last, last time. It was a short summer.

Axel. Quite short, but the sun will come again.

Bertha. Yes, for you who can find sunshine in every street.

Axel. What is there to hinder you from seeking warmth at the same fire?

Bertha. And so we shall meet again, perhaps-some evening by street light, you mean?

Axel. I didn’t mean that-but a la bonne heure! That at least will be a free relation.

BERTHA. Yes, very free, especially for you.

AXEL. For you, too, but pleasanter for me.

BERTHA. That’s a noble thought.

AXEL. Now, now-don’t tear open the old wounds! We were talking about the supper. And we must not forget our guests. So! [Goes toward his room right.]

BERTHA. About the supper-yes, of course! That’s what we were talking about.

[She flies toward her room left, stirred and agitated. They both go out. The scene is empty for a moment. Then the Misses Hall come in from the orchard.]

MISS AMELIE. How very dull it is here!

MISS THERESE. Insufferably stupid, and our hosts are not altogether polite.

MISS AMELIE. The hostess is especially unpleasant. And the short-hair kind, too.

MISS THERESE. Yes, but I understand that a lieutenant is coming-

MISS AMELIE. Well, that’s good, for these artists are a lot of free traders. Hush, here is a diplomat surely.-He looks so distinguished.

[They sit on couch. Doctor Oestermark comes in from the orchard; he discovers the Misses Hall and looks at them through his pince-nez.]

DR. OeSTERMARK. I am honored, ladies. H’m, one meets so many of one’s countrywomen here. Are you artists, too? You paint, I suppose?

MISS AMELIE. No, we don’t paint.

DR. OeSTERMARK. Oh, but just a little, perhaps. Here in Paris all ladies paint-themselves.

MISS THERESE. We don’t have to.

DR. OeSTERMARK. Oh, well, you play then?

MISS AMELIE. Play?

DR. OeSTERMARK. Oh, I don’t mean playing at cards. But all ladies play a little.

MISS AMELIE. Evidently you are just from the country.

DR. OeSTERMARK. Yes, just from the country. Can I be of any slight service to you?

MISS THERESE. Pardon, but we don’t know with whom we have the honor ?

DR. OeSTERMARK. You ladies have evidently just come from Stockholm. In this country we can talk to each other without asking for references.

MISS AMELIE. We haven’t asked for references.

DR. OeSTERMARK. What do you ask, then? To have your curiosity satisfied? Well, I’m an old family physician and my name is Anderson. Perhaps I may know your names now?-Character not needed.

MISS THERESE. We are the Misses Hall, if that can be of any interest to the doctor.

DR. OeSTERMARK. Hall? H’m! I’ve surely heard that name before. Pardon, pardon me a question, a somewhat countrified question-

MISS AMELIE.-Don’t be bashful!

DR. OeSTERMARK. Is your father still living?

MISS AMELIE. No, he is dead.

DR. OeSTERMARK. Oh, yes. Well, now that I have gone so far, there is nothing to do but continue. Mr. Hall was-

MISS THERESE. Our father was a director of the Fire Insurance Company of
Goeteborg.

DR. OeSTERMARK. Oh, well, then I beg your pardon. Do you find Paris to your liking?

MISS AMELIE. Very! Therese, do you remember what I did with my shawl?
Such a cold draught here! [Rises.]

MISS THERESE. You left it in the orchard, no doubt.

DR. OeSTERMARK [Rising]. No, don’t go out. Allow me to find it for you-no-sit still-just sit still.

[Goes out into orchard. After a moment Mrs. Hall comes in from left, quite comfortable with drink; her cheeks are flaming red and her voice is uncertain.]

MISS AMELIE. Look, there’s mother! And in that condition again! Heavens, why does she come here? Why did you come here, mother?

MRS. HALL. Keep quiet! I have as much right here as you.

MISS THERESE. Why have you been drinking again? Think if some one should come!

MRS. HALL. I haven’t been drinking. What nonsense!

MISS AMELIE. We will be ruined if the doctor should come back and see you. Come, let’s go in here and you can get a glass of water.

MRS. HALL. It’s nice of you to treat your mother like this and say that she has been drinking, to say such a thing to your own mother!

MISS THERESE. Don’t talk, but go in, immediately.

[They lead her in right. Axel and Carl come in from the orchard.]

CARL. Well, you’re looking fine, my dear Axel, and you have a manlier bearing than you used to have.

AXEL. Yes, I have emancipated myself.

CARL. You should have done that at the start, as I did.

AXEL. As you did?

CARL. As I did. Immediately I took my position as head of the family, to which place I found myself called both because of my superior mind and my natural abilities.

AXEL. And how did your wife like that?

CARL. Do you know, I forgot to ask her! But to judge by appearances, I should say that she found things as they should be. They only need real men-and human beings can be made even out of women.

AXEL. But at least the power should be divided?

CARL. Power cannot be divided! Either obey or command. Either you or I.
I preferred myself to her, and she had to adjust herself to it.

AXEL. Yes, but didn’t she have money?

CARL. Not at all. She didn’t bring more than a silver soup-spoon to our nest. But she demanded an accounting of it; and she got it. She was a woman of principle, you see!-She is so good, so good, but so am I good to her. I think it’s really great sport to be married, what? And besides, she’s such a splendid cook!

[The Misses Hall come in from right.]

AXEL. Let me introduce you to the Misses Hall, Lieutenant Starck.

CARL. I am very happy to make your [Carl gives them a look of recognition] acquaintance.

[The young ladies seem surprised and embarrassed; they nod and go out to the orchard somewhat excited.]

CARL. How did they get in here?

AXEL. What do you mean? They are friends of my wife’s and this is the first time that they have been here. Do you know them?

CARL. Yes, somewhat!

AXEL. What do you mean to imply?

CARL. H’m, I met them in St. Petersburg late one night!

AXEL. Late one night?

CARL. Yes.

AXEL. Isn’t there some mistake?

CARL. No-o! There is no mistake. They were very well known ladies in St.
Petersburg.

AXEL. And Bertha allows that kind in my house!

[Bertha comes rushing in from orchard.]

BERTHA. What does this mean? Have you insulted the young ladies?

AXEL. No-but-

BERTHA. They came out of here crying and declared that they couldn’t stay in the company of you gentlemen any longer! What has happened?

AXEL. Do you know these young ladies?

BERTHA. They are my friends! Isn’t that enough?

AXEL. Not quite enough.

BERTHA. Not quite? Well, but if-

[Dr. Oestermark comes in from the orchard.]

DR. OeSTERMARK. What does this mean? What have you done to the little girls who ran away? I offered to help them with their wraps, but they refused to be helped and had tears in their eyes.

CARL [To Bertha]. I must ask you, are they your friends?

BERTHA. Yes, they are! But if my protection is not sufficient, then perhaps Doctor Oestermark will take them under his wing, considering that he has a certain claim to them.

CARL. But a mistake has been made here. You mean that I, who have had certain relations with these girls, should appear as their cavalier?

BERTHA. What sort of relations?

CARL. Chance, such as one has with such women!

BERTHA. Such women? That’s a lie!

CARL. I’m not in the habit of lying.

DR. OeSTERMARK. But I don’t understand what I have got to do with these young ladies.

BERTHA. You would prefer to have nothing to do with your deserted children.

DR. OeSTERMARK. My children! But I don’t understand.

BERTHA. They are your two daughters-daughters of your divorced wife.

DR. OeSTERMARK. Since you consider that you have the right to be personal and make my affairs the subject of public discussion, I will answer you publicly. You seem to have taken the trouble to find out that I am not a widower. Good! My marriage, which was childless, was dissolved twenty years ago. Since then I have entered into another relation, and we have a child that is just five years old. These grown girls, therefore, cannot be my children. Now you know the whole matter.

BERTHA. But your wife-whom you threw out upon the world-

DR. OeSTERMARK.-No, that wasn’t the case either. She walked out, or staggered, if you prefer it, and then she received half my income until at last I found out that-enough said. If you could conceive what it cost me of work and self-denial to support two establishments, you would have spared me this unpleasant moment, but your kind wouldn’t consider anything like that. You needn’t know any more, as it really doesn’t concern you.

BERTHA. But it would amuse me to know why your first wife left you.

DR. OeSTERMARK. I don’t think it would amuse you to know that she was ugly, narrow, paltry, and that I was too good for her! Think now, you tender-hearted, sensitive Bertha, think if they really had been my daughters, these friends of yours and Carl’s; imagine how my old heart would have been gladdened to see, after eighteen years, these children that I had borne in my arms during the long night of illness. And imagine if she, my first love, my wife, with whom life the first time became life, had accepted your invitation and come here? What a fifth act in the melodrama you wished to offer us, what a noble revenge on one who is guiltless! Thanks, old friend. Thank you for your reward for the friendship I have shown you.

BERTHA. Reward! Yes, I know that I owe you-a fee. [Axel, Carl and the doctor make protestations of “Oh,” “Now,” “Really,” et cetera.] I know that, I know it very well.

[Axel, Carl and doctor say “No,” “Fie,” “This is going too far.”]

DR. OeSTERMARK. No, but I’m going to get out of here. Horrors! Yes, you are the right sort! Pardon me, Axel, but I can’t help it!

BERTHA [To Axel]. You’re a fine man, to allow your wife to be insulted!

AXEL. I can understand neither your allowing yourself to insult, or to be insulted! [Music is heard from the orchard; guitar and an Italian song.] The singers have arrived; perhaps you would all like to step out and have a bit of harmony on top of all this.

[They all go out except the doctor, who goes over to look at some drawings on wall right near door to Axel’s room. The music outside is played softly. Mrs. Hall comes in and walks unsteadily across the scene and sits in a chair. The doctor, who does not recognize her, bows deeply.]

MRS. HALL. What music is that out there?

DR. OeSTERMARK. They are some Italians, dear lady.

MRS. HALL. Yes? No doubt the ones I heard at Monte Carlo.

DR. OeSTERMARK. Oh, perhaps there are other Italians.

MRS. HALL. Well, I believe it’s none other than Oestermark! No one could be as quick as he in his retorts.

DR. OeSTERMARK [Stares at her]. Ah-think-there are things-that-are less dreadful than dread! It is you, Carolina! And this is the moment that for eighteen years I have been running away from, dreamed about, sought, feared, wished for; wished for that I might receive the shock and afterward have nothing to dread! [He takes out a vial and wets his upper lip with a few drops.] Don’t be afraid; it’s not poison, in such little doses. It’s for the heart, you see.

MRS. HALL. Ugh, your heart! Yes, you have so much!

DR. OeSTERMARK. It’s strange that two people cannot meet once every eighteen years without quarreling.

MRS. HALL. It was always you who quarreled!

DR. OeSTERMARK. Alone? What!-Shall we stop now?-I must try to look at you. [He takes a chair and sits down opposite Mrs. Hall.] Without trembling!

MRS. HALL. I’ve become old!

DR. OeSTERMARK. That’s what happens; one has read about it, seen it, felt it one’s self, but nevertheless it is horrifying. I am old, too.

MRS. HALL. Are you happy in your new life?

DR. OeSTERMARK. To tell the truth, it’s one and the same thing; different, but quite the same.

MRS. HALL. Perhaps the old life was better, then?

DR. OeSTERMARK. No, it wasn’t better, as it was about the same, but it’s a question if it wouldn’t have seemed better now, just because it was the old life. One doesn’t blossom but once, and then one goes to seed; what comes afterward is only a little aftermath. And you, how are you getting along?

MRS. HALL [Offended]. What do you mean?

DR. OeSTERMARK. Don’t misunderstand me. Are you contented with-your-lot? I mean-oh, that it should be so difficult to make one’s self understood by women!

MRS. HALL. Contented? H’m!

DR. OeSTERMARK. Well, you were never contented. But when one is young, one always demands the first class, and then one gets the third class when one is old. Now, I understand that you told Mrs. Alberg here that your girls are my children!

MRS. HALL. I did? That is a lie.

DR. OeSTERMARK. Still untruthful, eh? In the old days, when I was foolish, I looked upon lying as a vice; but now I know it to be a natural defect. You actually believe in your lies, and that is dangerous. But never mind about that now. Are you leaving, or do you wish me to leave?

MRS. HALL [Rising]. I will go.

[She falls back into the chair and gropes about.]

DR. OeSTERMARK. What, drunk too?-I really pity you. Oh, this is most unpleasant! Dear me, I believe I’m ready to cry!-Carolina! No, I can’t bear this!

MRS. HALL. I am ill.

DR. OeSTERMARK. Yes, that’s what happens when one drinks too much. But this is more bitter than I ever thought it could be. I have killed little unborn children to be able to save the mother, and I have felt them tremble in their fight against death. I have cut living muscles, and have seen the marrow flow like butter from healthy bones, but never has anything hurt me so much as this since the day you left me. Then it was as if you had gone away with one of my lungs, so I could only gasp with the other!-Oh, I feel as if I were suffocating now!

MRS. HALL. Help me out of here. It’s too noisy. I don’t know why we came here, anyway. Give me your hand.

DR. OeSTERMARK [Leading her to door]. Before it was I who asked for your hand; and it rested so heavily on me, the little delicate hand! Once it struck my face, the little delicate hand, but I kissed it nevertheless.-Oh, now it is withered, and will never strike again.-Ah, dolce Napoli! Joy of life, what became of it? You who were the bride of my youth!

MRS. HALL [In the hall door]. Where is my wrap?

DR. OeSTERMARK [Closing door]. In the hall, probably. This is horrible! [Lights a cigar]. Oh, dolce Napoli! I wonder if it is as delightful as it’s said to be in that cholera breeding fishing harbor. Blague, no doubt! Blague! Blague! Naples-bridal couples, love, joy of life, antiquities, modernity, liberalism, conservatism, idealism, realism, naturalism,-blague, blague, the whole thing!

[Axel, Abel, Willmer, Mrs. Starck and Bertha come in from orchard.]

MRS. STARCK. What is happening to the doctor?

DR. OeSTERMARK. Pardon, it was only a little qui pro quo. Two strangers sneaked in here and we had to identify them.

MRS. STARCK. The girls?

CARL. Well, that has nothing to do with you. I don’t know why, but I seem to feel “the enemy in the air.”

MRS. STARCK. Ah, you’re always seeing the enemy, you dear Carl.

CARL. No, I don’t see them, but I feel them.

MRS. STARCK. Well, come to your friend, then, and she will defend you.

CARL. Oh, you’re always so good to me.

MRS. STARCK. Why shouldn’t I be, when you are so good to me?

[The door at back is opened and the maid and two men come in carrying a picture.]

AXEL. What’s this?

MAID. The porter said that it must be carried into the studio, as he didn’t have any room for it.

AXEL. What foolishness is this? Take it out.

MAID. The mistress sent for the picture herself.

BERTHA. That’s not true. For that matter, it’s not my picture, anyway. It’s your master’s. Put it down there. [The maid and the man go out.] Perhaps it isn’t yours, Axel? let’s see. [Axel places himself in front of picture.] Move a little so we can see.

AXEL [Gives way]. It’s a mistake.

BERTHA [Shrieks]. What! What is this! It’s a mistake! What does it mean?
It’s my picture, but it’s Axel’s number! Oh!

[She falls in a faint. The doctor and Carl carry her into her room left, the women follow.]

ABEL. She is dying!

MRS. STARCK. Heaven help us, what is this! The poor little dear! Doctor Oestermark, do something, say something-and Axel stands there crestfallen.

[Axel and Willmer are alone.]

AXEL. This is your doing.

WILLMER. My doing?

[Axel takes him by the ear.]

AXEL. Yes, yours, but not altogether. But I am going to give you your share. [He leads hunt to the door, which he opens with one foot, and kicks out Willmer with the other.] Out with you!

WILLMER. I’ll get even for this!

AXEL. I shall be waiting for it!

[Doctor and Carl come in.]

DR. OeSTERMARK. What’s the trouble with the picture, anyway?

AXEL. Nothing-only that it seemed to represent sulphuric acid.

CARL. Now tell us, are you refused, or is she?

AXEL. I am refused on her picture. I wanted to help her a bit, as a good comrade, and that’s why I changed the numbers.

DR. OeSTERMARK. Yes, but there is something else too. She says that you don’t love her any more.

AXEL. She is right in that. That’s how it is, and tomorrow we part.

DR. OeSTERMARK and CARL. Part?

AXEL. Yes, when there are no ties to bind things, they loosen of themselves. This wasn’t a marriage; it was only living together, or something even worse.

DR. OeSTERMARK. There is bad air here. Come, let’s go.

AXEL. Yes, I want to get out-out of here. [They start for the door.
Abel comes in.]

ABEL. What, are you leaving?

AXEL. Does that astonish you?

ABEL. Let me have a word with you.

AXEL. Go on.

ABEL. Don’t you want to go in and see Bertha?

AXEL. No!

ABEL. What have you done to her?

AXEL. I have bent her.

ABEL. I noticed that-she is black and blue around the wrists! Look at me! I didn’t think that of you. Well, conqueror, triumph now!

AXEL. It’s an uncertain conquest, and I don’t even wish for it.

ABEL. Are you sure of that? [She leans over to Axel, in low voice.]
Bertha loves you now-now that you have bent her.

AXEL. I know it. But I don’t love her any longer.

ABEL. Won’t you go in and see her?

AXEL. No, it’s all over. [Takes doctor’s arm.] Come!

ABEL. May I take a message to Bertha?

AXEL. No! Yes! Tell her, that I despise and abhor her.

ABEL. Good-bye, my friend.

AXEL. Good-bye, my enemy.

ABEL. Enemy?

AXEL. Are you my friend?

ABEL. I don’t know. Both and neither. I am a bastard-

AXEL. We are all that, as we are crocheted out of man and woman! Perhaps you have loved me in your way, as you wanted to separate Bertha and me.

ABEL [Rolling a cigarette]. Loved! I wonder how it seems to love? No, I cannot love; I must be deformed-for it made me happy to see you two until the envy of deformity set me on fire. Perhaps you love me?

AXEL. No, on my honor! You have been an agreeable comrade who happened to be dressed like a woman; you have never impressed me as belonging to another sex; and love, you see, can and should exist only between individuals of opposite sexes-

ABEL. Sex love, yes!

AXEL. Is there any other, then?

ABEL. I don’t know! But I am to be pitied. And this hate, this terrible hate! Perhaps that would disappear if you men were not so afraid to love us, if you were not so-how shall I express it-so moral, as it’s called.

AXEL. But in heaven’s name, be a little more lovable, then, and don’t get yourselves up so that one is forced to think of the penal law whenever one looks at you.

ABEL. Do you think I’m such a fright, then?

AXEL. Well, you know, you must pardon me, but you are awful. [Bertha comes in.]

BERTHA [To Axel]. Are you going?

AXEL. Yes, I was just about to go, but now I’ll stay.

BERTHA [Softly]. What? You-

AXEL. I shall stay in my home.

BERTHA. In our-home.

AXEL. No, in mine. In my studio with my furniture.

BERTHA. And I?

AXEL. You may do what you please, but you must know what you risk. You see in my suit I have applied for one year’s separation in bed and board. Should you stay, that is to say, if you should seek me during this time, you would have to choose between imprisonment, or being considered my mistress. Do you feel like staying?

BERTHA. Oh, is that the law?

AXEL. That’s the law.

BERTHA. You drive me out, then?

AXEL. No, but the law does.

BERTHA. And you think I’ll be satisfied with that?

AXEL. No, I don’t, for you won’t be satisfied until you have taken all the life out of me.

BERTHA. Axel! How you talk! If you knew how I-love you!

AXEL. That doesn’t sound irrational, but I don’t love you.

BERTHA [Flaring up and pointing to Abel]. Because you love her!

AXEL. No, indeed, I don’t. Have never loved her, and never will. What incredible imagining! As if there were not other women and more fascinating than you two!

BERTHA. But Abel loves you!

AXEL. That is possible. I even believe that she suggested something of the kind. Yes, she said so distinctly; let’s see, how was it-

BERTHA [Changing]. You are really the most shameless creature I have ever met!

AXEL. Yes, I can well believe that.

BERTHA [Puts on her hat and wrap]. Now you expect to put me out on the street? That is final?

AXEL. On the street, or where you please.

BERTHA [Angry]. Do you think a woman will allow herself to be treated like this?

AXEL. Once you asked me to forget that you were a woman. Very well, I have forgotten it.

BERTHA. But do you know that you have liabilities to the one who has been your wife?

AXEL. You mean the pay for good comradeship? What? A life annuity!

BERTHA. Yes.

AXEL [Putting a few bills on the table]. Here is a month in advance.

BERTHA [Takes money and counts it]. You still have a little honor left!

ABEL. Good-bye, Bertha. Now I am off.

BERTHA. Wait and you can go along with me.

ABEL. No, I won’t go any further with you.

BERTHA. What? Why not?

ABEL. I am ashamed to.

BERTHA [Astonished]. Ashamed?

ABEL. Yes, ashamed. Good-bye. [Abel goes out.]

BERTHA. I don’t understand. Good-bye, Axel! Thanks for the money. Are we friends? [Taking his hand.]

AXEL. I am not, at least.-Let go of my hand, or I will believe that you wish to seduce me again. [Bertha goes toward door.]

AXEL [With a sigh of relief]. Pleasant comrades! Oh!

[The maid enters from the orchard.]

MAID [To Axel]. There is it lady waiting for you.

AXEL. I’ll soon be free.

BERTHA. Is that the new comrade?

AXEL. No, not comrade, but sweetheart.

BERTHA. And your wife to be?

AXEL, Perhaps. Because I want to meet, my comrades at the cafe, but at home I want a wife. [Starts as if to go.] Pardon me!

BERTHA. Farewell, then! Are we never to meet again?

AXEL. Yes, of course! But at the cafe. Good-bye!

CURTAIN.