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

CHARACTERS

MRS. HEYST
ELIS, her son. Instructor in a preparatory school
ELEONORA, her daughter
CHRISTINE, Elis’ fiancee
BENJAMIN, a freshman
LINDKVIST

[Scene for the entire play.-The interior of a glass-enclosed piazza, furnished like a living-room. A large door at the middle back leading out into the garden with fence and garden gate visible. Beyond one sees the tops of trees (indicating that the house is situated on a height), and in the distance the cathedral and another high building loom against the sky. The glass windows which extend across the entire back of scene are hung with flowered yellow cretonne, which can be drawn open. A mirror hangs on the panel between door and window on the left. Below the mirror is a calendar. To the right of door a writing table covered with books and writing materials. A telephone is also on it. To L. of door is a dining table, stove and bureau. At R. in foreground it small sewing table with lamp on it. Near it are two arm-chairs. A hanging lamp at center. Outside in the street an electric light. At L. there is a door leading from piazza to the house, at R. a door leading to the kitchen. Time, the present.]

[Thursday before Easter. The music before curtain is: Haydn: Sieben Worte des Erloesers. Introduction: Maestoso Adagio.]

[A ray of sunlight falls across the room and strikes one of the chairs near the sewing table. In the other chair, untouched by the sunshine, sits Christine, running strings thro’ muslin sash-curtains. Elis enters wearing a winter overcoat, unbuttoned. He carries a bundle of legal documents which he puts on the writing table. After that he takes off his overcoat and hangs it at L.]

ELIS. Hello, sweetheart.

CHRISTINE. Hello, Elis.

ELIS [Looks around]. The double windows are off, the floor scoured, fresh curtains at the windows-yes, it is spring again! The ice has gone out of the river, and the willows are beginning to bud on the banks-yes, spring has come and I can put away my winter overcoat. [Weighs his overcoat in his hand and hangs it up.] You know, it’s so heavy-just as tho’ it had absorbed the weight of the whole winter’s worries, the sweat and dust of the school-room.

CHRISTINE. But you have a vacation now.

ELIS. Yes, Easter. Five days to enjoy, to breathe, to forget. [Takes Christine’s hand a minute, and then seats himself in arm-chair.] Yes, the sun has come again. It left us in November. How well I remember the day it disappeared behind the brewery across the street. Oh, this winter, this long winter.

CHRISTINE [With a gesture toward kitchen]. Sh! Sh!

ELIS. I’ll be quiet-But I’m so happy that it’s over with. Oh, the warm sun! [Rubs his hands as tho’ bathing them in the sunshine.] I want to bathe in the sunshine and light after all the winter gloom-

CHRISTINE. Sh! Sh!

ELIS. Do you know, I believe that good luck is coming our way-that hard luck is tired of us.

CHRISTINE. What makes you think so?

ELIS. Why, as I was going by the cathedral just now a white dove flew down and alighted in front of me, and dropped a little branch it was carrying right at my feet.

CHRISTINE. Did you notice what kind of branch it was?

ELIS. Of course it couldn’t have been an olive branch, but I believe it was a sign of peace-and I felt the life-giving joy of spring. Where’s mother?

CHRISTINE [Points toward kitchen]. In the kitchen.

ELIS [Quietly and closing his eyes]. I hear the spring! I can tell that the double windows are off, I hear the wheel hubs so plainly. And what’s that?-a robin chirping out in the orchard, and they are hammering down at the docks and I can smell the fresh paint on the steamers.

CHRISTINE. Can you feel all that-here in town?

ELIS. Here? It’s true we are here, but I was up there, in the North, where our home lies. Oh, how did we ever get into this dreadful city where the people all hate each other and where one is always alone? Yes, it was our daily bread that led the way, but with the bread came the misfortunes: father’s criminal act and little sister’s illness. Tell me, do you know whether mother has ever been to see father since he’s been in prison?

CHRISTINE. Why, I think she’s been there this very day.

ELIS. What did she have to say about it?

CHRISTINE. Nothing-she wouldn’t talk about it.

ELIS. Well, one thing at least has been gained, and that is the quiet that followed the verdict after the newspapers had gorged themselves with the details. One year is over: and then we can make a fresh start.

CHRISTINE. I admire your patience in this suffering.

ELIS. Don’t. Don’t admire anything about me. I am full of faults-you know it.

CHRISTINE. If you were only suffering for your own faults-but to be suffering for another!

ELIS. What are you sewing on?

CHRISTINE. Curtains for the kitchen, you dear.

ELIS. It looks like a bridal veil. This fall you will be my bride, won’t you, Christine?

CHRISTINE. Yes-but-let’s think of summer first.

ELIS. Yes, summer! [Takes out the check book.] You see the money is already in the bank, and when school is over we will start for the North, for our home land among the lakes. The cottage stands there just as it did when we were children, and the linden trees. Oh, that it were summer already and I could go swimming in the lake! I feel as if this family dishonor has besmirched me so that I long to bathe, body and soul, in the clear lake waters.

CHRISTINE. Have you heard anything from Eleonora?

ELIS. Yes-poor little sister! She writes me letters that tear my heart to pieces. She wants to get out of the asylum-and home, of course. But the doctor daren’t let her go. She would do things that might lead to prison, he says. Do you know, I feel terribly conscience-stricken sometimes-

CHRISTINE [Starting]. Why?

ELIS. Because I agreed with all the rest of them that it was best to put her there.

CHRISTINE. My dear, you are always accusing yourself. It was fortunate she could be taken care of like that-poor little thing!

ELIS. Well, perhaps you’re right. It is best so. She is as well off there as she could be anywhere. When I think of how she used to go about here casting gloom over every attempt at happiness, how her fate weighed us down like a nightmare, then I am tempted to feel almost glad about it. I believe the greatest misfortune that could happen would be to see her cross this threshold. Selfish brute that I am!

CHRISTINE. Human being that you are!

ELIS. And yet-I suffer-suffer at the thought of her misery and my father’s.

CHRISTINE. It seems as tho’ some were born to suffer.

ELIS. You poor Christine-to be drawn into this family, which was cursed from the beginning! Yes, doomed!

CHRISTINE. You don’t know whether it’s all trial or punishment, Elis. Perhaps I can help you through the struggles.

ELIS. Do you think mother has a clean dress tie for me?

CHRISTINE [Anxiously]. Are you going out?

ELIS. I’m going out to dinner. Peter won the debate last night, you know, and he’s giving a dinner tonight.

CHRISTINE. And you’re going to that dinner?

ELIS. You mean that perhaps I shouldn’t because he has proven such an unfaithful friend and pupil?

CHRISTINE. I can’t deny that I was shocked by his unfaithfulness, when he promised to quote from your theories and he simply plundered them without giving you any credit.

ELIS. Ah, that’s the way things go, but I am happy in the consciousness that “this have I done.”

CHRISTINE. Has he invited you to the dinner?

ELIS. Why, that’s true-come to think of it, he didn’t invite me. That’s very strange. Why didn’t I think of that before! Why, he’s been talking for years as though I were to be the guest of honor at that dinner, and he has told others that. But if I am not invited-then of course it’s pretty plain that I’m snubbed, insulted, in fact. Well, it doesn’t matter. It isn’t the first time-nor the last. [Pause.]

CHRISTINE. Benjamin is late. Do you think he will pass his examinations?

ELIS. I certainly do-in Latin particularly.

CHRISTINE. Benjamin is a good boy!

ELIS. Yes, but he’s somewhat of a grumbler. You know of course why he is living here with us?

CHRISTINE. IS it because-

ELIS. Because-my father was the boy’s guardian and spent his fortune for him, as he did-for so many others. Can you fancy, Christine, what agony it is for me as their instructor to see those fatherless boys, who have been robbed of their inheritance, suffering the humiliations of free scholars? I have to think constantly of their misery to be able to forgive them their cruel glances.

CHRISTINE. I believe that your father is truly better off than you.

ELIS. Truly!

CHRISTINE. But Elis, we should think of summer, and not of the past.

ELIS. Yes, of summer! Do you know, I was awakened last night by some students singing that old song, “Yes, I am coming, glad winds, take this greeting to the country, to the birds-Say that I love them, tell birch and linden, lake and mountain, that I am coming back to them-to behold them again as in my childhood hours-” [He rises-moved.] Shall I ever go back to them, shall I ever go out from this dreadful city, from Ebal, accursed mountain, and behold Gerizim again? [Seats himself near the door.]

CHRISTINE. Aye, aye-that you shall!

ELIS. But do you think my birches and lindens will look as they used to-don’t you think the same dark veil will shroud them that has been lying over all nature and life for us ever since the day when father-[Points to the empty arm-chair which is in the shadow.] Look, the sun has gone.

CHRISTINE. It will come again and stay longer.

ELIS. That’s true. As the days lengthen the shadows shorten.

CHRISTINE. Yes, Elis, we are going toward the light, believe me.

ELIS. Sometimes I believe that, and when I think of all that has happened, all the misery, and compare it with the present-then I am happy. Last year you were not sitting there, for you had gone away from me and broken off our betrothal. Do you know, that was the darkest time of all. I was dying literally bit by bit; but then you came back to me-and I lived. Why did you go away from me?

CHRISTINE. Oh; I don’t know-it seems to me now as if there was no reason. I had an impulse to go-and I went, as tho’ I were walking in my sleep. When I saw you again I awoke-and was happy.

ELIS. And now we shall go on together forevermore. If you left me now I should die in earnest.-Here comes mother. Say nothing, let her live in her imaginary world in which she believes that father is a martyr and that all those he sacrificed are rascals.

MRS. HEYST [Comes from kitchen. She is paring an apple. She is simply dressed and speaks in an innocent voice]. Good afternoon, children. Will you have your apple dumpling hot or cold?

ELIS. Cold, mother dear.

MRS. HEYST. That’s right, my boy, you always know what you want and say so. But you aren’t like that, Christine. Elis gets that from his father; he always knew what he wanted and said so frankly, and people don’t like that-so things went badly with him. But his day will come, and he’ll get his rights and the others will get their just deserts. Wait now, what was it I had to tell you? Oh, yes, what do you think? Lindkvist has come here to live! Lindkvist, the biggest rascal of them all!

ELIS [Rises, disturbed]. Has he come here?

MRS. HEYST. Yes, indeed, he’s come to live right across the street from us.

ELIS. So now we must see him coming and going day in and day out. That too!

MRS. HEYST. Just let me have a talk with him, and he’ll never show his face again! For I happen to know a few things about him! Well, Elis, how did Peter come out?

ELIS. Oh, finely!

MRS. HEYST. I can well believe that! When do you think you will join the debating club?

ELIS. When I can afford it!

MRS. HEYST. “When I can afford it.” Humph, that isn’t a very good answer! And Benjamin-did he get through his examinations all right?

ELIS. We don’t know yet; but he’ll soon be here.

MRS. HEYST. Well, I don’t quite like the way Benjamin goes around looking so conscious of his privileges in this house-but we shall take him down soon enough. But he’s a good boy just the same. Oh, yes, there’s a package for you, Elis. [Goes out to kitchen and comes back directly with a package.]

ELIS. Mother does keep track of everything, doesn’t she? I sometimes believe that she is not so simple minded as she seems to be.

MRS. HEYST. See, here’s the package. Lina received it. Perhaps it is an Easter present!

ELIS. I’m afraid of presents since the time I received a box of cobblestones. [Puts the package on the table.]

MRS. HEYST. Now I must go back to my duties in the kitchen. Don’t you think it is too cold with the door open?

ELIS. Not at all, mother.

MRS. HEYST. Elis, you shouldn’t hang your overcoat there. It looks so disorderly. Now, Christine, will my curtains be ready soon?

CHRISTINE. In just a few minutes, mother.

MRS. HEYST [To Elis]. Yes, I like Peter; he is my favorite among your friends. But aren’t you going to his dinner this evening, Elis?

ELIS. Yes, I suppose so.

MRS. HEYST. Now, why did you go and say that you wanted your apple dumpling cold when you are going out to dinner? You’re so undecided, Elis. But Peter isn’t like that.-Shut the door when it gets chilly, so that you won’t get sniffles.[Goes out R.]

ELIS. The good old soul-and always Peter. Does she like to tease you about Peter?

CHRISTINE [Surprised and hurt]. Me?

ELIS [Disconcerted]. Old ladies have such queer notions, you know.

CHRISTINE. What have you received for a present?

ELIS [Opening package]. A birch rod!

CHRISTINE. From whom?

ELIS. It’s anonymous. It’s just an innocent joke on the schoolmaster. I shall put it in water-and it will blossom like Aaron’s staff. “Rod of birch, which in my childhood’s hour”-And so Lindkvist has come here to live!

CHRISTINE. Well, what about him?

ELIS. We owe him our biggest debt.

CHRISTINE. You don’t owe him anything.

ELIS. Yes, one for all and all for one; the family’s name is disgraced as long as we owe a farthing.

CHRISTINE. Change your name!

ELIS. Christine!

CHRISTINE [Puts down work, which is finished]. Thanks, Elis, I was only testing you.

ELIS. But you must not tempt me. Lindkvist is not a rich man, and needs what is due him.-When my father got through with it all it was like a battle-field of dead and wounded-and mother believes father is a martyr! Shall we go out and take a walk?

CHRISTINE. And try to find the sunshine? Gladly!

ELIS. I can’t understand how it can be that our Saviour suffered for us and yet we must continue to suffer.

CHRISTINE. Here comes Benjamin.

ELIS. Can you see whether he looks happy or not?

CHRISTINE [Looks out door]. He walks so slowly, he’s stopped at the fountain-and bathing his eyes.

ELIS. And this too!

CHRISTINE. Walt until-

ELIS. Tears! Tears!

CHRISTINE. Patience.

[Enter Benjamin. He has a kind face and seems very downcast. He carries several books and a portfolio.]

ELIS. Well, how did you get along in Latin?

BENJAMIN. Badly!

ELIS. Let me see your examination paper. What did you do?

BENJAMIN. I used “ut” with the indicative, altbo’ I knew it should be the subjunctive.

ELIS. Then you are lost! But how could you do that?

BENJAMIN [Submissively]. I can’t, explain it-I knew how it should be. I meant to do it right, but some way I wrote it wrong. [Seats himself dejectedly near dining table.]

ELIS [Sinks dozen near writing desk and opens Benjamin’s portfolio].
Yes, here it is-the indicative, oh!

CHRISTINE [Faintly, with effort]. Well, better luck next time-life is long.

ELIS. Terribly long.

BENJAMIN. Yes, it is.

ELIS [Sadly but without bitterness]. But that everything should come at the same time! You were my best pupil, so what can I expect of the others? My reputation as a teacher is lost. I shall not be allowed to teach any longer and so-complete ruin! [To Benjamin.] Don’t take it to heart so-it is not your fault.

CHRISTINE [With great effort]. Elis, courage, courage, for God’s sake.

ELIS. What shall I get it from?

CHRISTINE. What you got it from before.

ELIS. But things are not as they were. I seem to be in complete disgrace now.

CHRISTINE. There is no disgrace in undeserved suffering. Don’t be impatient. Be equal to the test, for it is just another test. I feel sure of that.

ELIS. Can a year for Benjamin become less than three hundred and sixty-five days?

CHRISTINE. Yes, a cheerful spirit makes the days shorter.

ELIS [Smiling]. Blow upon the burn; that heals it, children are told.

CHRISTINE. Be a child then, and let me tell you that. Think of your mother, how she bears everything.

ELIS. Give me your hand; I am sinking. [Christine reaches out her hand to him.] Your hand trembles.-

CHRISTINE. No, not that I know of-

ELIS. You are not so strong as you seem to be-

CHRISTINE. I do not feel any weakness-

ELIS. Why can’t you give me some strength then?

CHRISTINE. I have none to spare!

ELIS [Looking out of the window]. Do you see who that is coming?

[Christine goes and looks out of window, then falls upon her knees, crushed.]

CHRISTINE. This is too much!

ELIS. Our creditor, he who can take our home and all our belongings away from us. He, Lindkvist, who has come here and ensconced himself in the middle of his web like a spider, to watch the flies-

CHRISTINE. Let us run away!

ELIS [At window]. No-no running away! Now when you grow weak I become strong-now he is coming up the street-and he casts his evil eye over toward his prey.

CHRISTINE. Stand aside, at least.

ELIS [Straightening himself]. No, he amuses me. His face lights up with pleasure, as tho’ he could already see his victims in his trap. Come on! He is counting the steps up to our gate and he sees by the open door that we are at home.-But he has met some one and stands there talking.-He is talking about us, for he’s pointing over here.

CHRISTINE. If only he doesn’t meet mother, so that she can’t make him harsh with her angry words!-Oh, prevent that, Elis!

ELIS. Now he is shaking his stick, as if he were protesting that in our case mercy shall not pass for justice. He buttons his overcoat to show that at least he hasn’t yet had the very clothes on his back taken from him. I can tell by his mouth what he is saying. What shall I reply to him? “My dear sir, you are in the right. Take everything, it belongs to you.”

CHRISTINE. There is nothing else you could say.

ELIS. Now he laughs. But it is a kind laugh, not a malicious one! Perhaps he isn’t so mean after all, but he’ll see that he gets every penny coming to him, nevertheless! If he would only come, and stop his blessed prating.-Now, he is swinging his stick again.-They always carry a stick, men who have debtors, and they always wear galoshes that say “Swish, swish,” like lashes through the air-[Christine puts hand against his heart.] Do you hear how my heart beats? It sounds like an ocean steamer. Now, thank Heaven, he’s taking his leave with his squeaking galoshes! “Swish, swish,” like a switch! Oh, but he wears a watch charm! So he can’t be utterly poverty-stricken. They always have watch charms of carnelian, like dried flesh that they have cut out of their neighbors’ backs. Listen to the galoshes. “Angry, angrier, angriest, swish, swish.” Watch him! The old wolf! He sees me! He sees me! He bows! He smiles! He waves his hand-and [Sinks down near the writing table, weeping] he has gone by!

CHRISTINE. Praise be to God!

ELIS [Rising]. He has gone by-but he will come again. Let’s go out in the sunshine.

CHRISTINE. And what about dining with Peter?

ELIS. As I am not invited, I cannot go. For that matter, what should I do there in the festivity! Just go and meet an unfaithful friend! I should only make a pretense of not being hurt by what he has done.

CHRISTINE. I’m glad, for then you will stay here with us.

ELIS. I’d rather do that, as you know. Shall we go?

CHRISTINE. Yes, this way.

[Goes towards left. As Elis passes Benjamin he puts his hand on Benjamin’s shoulder.]

ELIS. Courage, boy!

[Benjamin hides his face in his hands.]

ELIS [Takes the birch rod from the dining table and puts it behind the looking-glass]. It wasn’t an olive branch that the dove was carrying-it was a birch rod!

[They go out.]

[Eleonora comes in from back: she is sixteen, with braids down her back. She carries an Easter lily in a pot. Without seeing, or pretending not to see Benjamin, she puts the lily on the dining table and then goes and gets a water-bottle from the sideboard and waters the plant. Then seats herself near dining table right opposite Benjamin and contemplates him and then imitates his gestures and movements.]

[Benjamin stares at her in astonishment.]

ELEONORA [Points to lily]. Do you know what that is?

BENJAMIN [Boyishly, simply]. It’s an Easter lily-that’s easy enough; but who are you?

ELEONORA [Sweetly, sadly]. Well, who are you?

BENJAMIN. My name is Benjamin and I live here with Mrs. Heyst.

ELEONORA. Indeed! My name is Eleonora and I am the daughter of Mrs.
Heyst.

BENJAMIN. How strange no one ever said anything about you!

ELEONORA. People do not talk about the dead!

BENJAMIN. The dead?

ELEONORA. I am dead civilly, for I have committed a very bad deed.

BENJAMIN. You!

ELEONORA. Yes, I spent a trust fund; but that wasn’t so much, for it was money as ill-gotten as ill-spent-but that my poor old father should be blamed for it and be put in prison-you see, that can never be forgiven.

BENJAMIN. So strangely and beautifully you talk! And I never thought of that-that my inheritance might have been ill-gotten.

ELEONORA. One should not confine human beings, one should free them.

BENJAMIN. You have freed me from a delusion.

ELEONORA. You are a charity pupil?

BENJAMIN. Yes, it is my sorrowful lot to have to live upon the charity of this poor family.

ELEONORA. You must not use harsh words or I shall have to go away. I am so sensitive I cannot bear anything harsh. Nevertheless it’s my fault that you are unhappy.

BENJAMIN. Your father’s fault, you mean.

ELEONORA. That is the same thing, for he and I are one and the same person. [Pause.] Why are you so dejected?

BENJAMIN. I have had a disappointment!

ELEONORA. Should you be downcast on that account? “Rod and punishment bring wisdom, and he who hates punishment must perish-” What disappointment have you had?

BENJAMIN. I have failed in my Latin examination-altho’ I was so sure I would pass.

ELEONORA. Just so; you were so sure, so sure, that you would even have laid a wager that you would get thro’ it.

BENJAMIN. I did have a bet on it.

ELEONORA. I thought so. You see that’s why it happened-because you were so sure.

BENJAMIN. Do you think that was the reason?

ELEONORA. Certainly it was! Pride goeth before a fall!

BENJAMIN. I shall remember that the next time.

ELEONORA. That is a worthy thought; those who are pleasing to God are of humble spirit.

BENJAMIN. Do you read the Bible?

ELEONORA. Yes, I read it!

BENJAMIN. I mean, are you a believer?

ELEONORA. Yes, I mean that I am. So much so that if you should speak wickedly about God, my benefactor, I would not sit at the same table with you.

BENJAMIN. How old are you?

ELEONORA. For me there is no time nor space. I am everywhere and whensoever. I am in my father’s prison, and in my brother’s school-room. I am in my mother’s kitchen and in my sister’s little shop far away. When all goes well with my sister and she makes good sales I feel her gladness, and when things go badly with her I suffer-but I suffer most when she does anything dishonest. Benjamin, your name is Benjamin, because you are the youngest of my friends; yes, all human beings are my friends, and if you will let me adopt you, I will suffer for you too.

BENJAMIN. I don’t quite understand the words you use, but I think I catch the meaning of your thoughts. And I will do whatever you want me to.

ELEONORA. Will you begin then by ceasing to judge human beings, even when they are convicted criminals-

BENJAMIN. Yes, but I want to have a reason for it. I have read philosophy, you see.

ELEONORA. Oh, have you! Then you shall help me explain this from a great philosopher. He said, “Those that hate the righteous, they shall be sinners.”

BENJAMIN. Of course all logic answers that in the same way, that one can be doomed to commit crime .

ELEONORA. And that the crime itself is a punishment.

BENJAMIN. That is pretty deep! One would think that that was Kant or
Schopenhauer.

ELEONORA. I don’t know them.

BENJAMIN. What book did you read that in?

ELEONORA. In the Holy Scripture.

BENJAMIN. Truly? Are there such things in it?

ELEONORA. What an ignorant, neglected child you are! If I could bring you up!

BENJAMIN. Little you!

ELEONORA. I don’t believe there is anything very wicked about you. You seem to me more good than bad.

BENJAMIN. Thank you.

ELEONORA [Rising]. You must never thank me for anything. Remember that.-Oh, now my father is suffering. They are unkind to him. [Stands as tho’ listening.] Do you hear what the telephone wires are humming?-those are harsh words, which the soft red copper does not like-when people slander each other thro’ the telephone the copper moans and laments-[Severely] and every word is written in the book-and at the end of time comes the reckoning!

BENJAMIN. You are so severe!

ELEONORA. I? Not I! How should I dare to be? I, I? [She goes to the stove, opens it, and takes out several torn pieces of white letter paper and puts them on the dining table.]

BENJAMIN. [Rises and looks at the pieces of paper which Eleonora is putting together.]

ELEONORA [To herself]. That people should be so thoughtless as to leave their secrets in the stove! Whenever I come I always go right to the stove! But I don’t do it maliciously-I wouldn’t do anything like that, for then I should feel remorse.

BENJAMIN. It is from Peter, who writes and asks Christine to meet him. I have been expecting that for a long time.

ELEONORA [Putting her hands over the bits o f paper]. Oh, you, what have you been expecting? Tell me, you evil minded being, who believes nothing but bad of people. This letter could not mean anything wrong to me, for I know Christine, who is going to be my sister sometime. And that meeting will avert misfortune for brother Elis. Will you promise me to say nothing of this, Benjamin?

BENJAMIN. I don’t exactly think I should like to talk much about it!

ELEONORA. People who are suspicious become so unjust. They think they are so wise, and they are so foolish!-But what is all this to me!

BENJAMIN. Yes, why are you so inquisitive?

ELEONORA. You see that is my illness-that I must know all about everything or else I become restless-

BENJAMIN. Know about everything?

ELEONORA. That is a fault which I cannot overcome. And I even know what the birds say.

BENJAMIN. But they can’t talk?

ELEONORA. Haven’t you heard birds that people have taught to talk?

BENJAMIN. Oh, yes-that people have taught to talk!

ELEONORA. That is to say they can talk. And we find those that have taught themselves or are like that instinctively-they sit and listen without our knowing it and then they repeat these things afterward. Just now as I was coming along I heard two magpies in the walnut tree, who sat there gossiping.

BENJAMIN. How funny you are! But what were they saying?

ELEONORA. “Peter,” said one of them, “Judas,” said the other. “The same thing,” said the first one. “Fie, Fie, Fie,” said the other. But have you noticed that the nightingales only sing in the grounds of the deaf and dumb asylum here?

BENJAMIN. Yes, they do say that’s so. Why do they do that?

ELEONORA. Because those who have hearing do not hear what the nightingales say: but the deaf and dumb hear it!

BENJAMIN. Tell me some more stories.

ELEONORA. Yes, if you are good.

BENJAMIN. How good?

ELEONORA. If you will never be exacting about words with me, never say that I said so and so, or so and so. Shall I tell you more about birds? There is a wicked bird that is called a rat-hawk: as you may know by its name, it lives on rats. But as it is an evil bird it has hard work to catch the rats. Because it can say only one single word, and that a noise such as a cat makes when it says “miau.” Now when the rat-hawk says “miau” the rats run and hide themselves-for the rat-hawk doesn’t understand what it is saying so it is often without food, for it is a wicked bird! Would you like to hear more? Or shall I tell you something about flowers? Do you know when I was ill I was made to take henbane, which is a drug that has the power to make one’s eyes magnify like a microscope. Well, now I see farther than others, and I can see the stars in the daylight!

BENJAMIN. But the stars are not up there then, are they?

ELEONORA. How funny you are! The stars are always up there-and now, as I sit facing the west, I can see Cassiopea like a W up there in the middle of the Milky Way. Can you see it?

BENJAMIN. No, indeed I can’t see it.

ELEONORA. Let me call your attention to this, that some can see that which others do not do not be too sure of your own eyes therefore! Now I’m going to tell you about that flower standing on the table: it is an Easter lily whose home is in Switzerland; it has a calyx which drinks sunlight, therefore it is yellow and can soothe pain. When I was passing a florist’s, just now, I saw it and wanted to make a present of it to brother Elis. When I tried to go into the shop I found the door was locked-because it is confirmation day. But I must have the flower-I took out my keys and tried them-can you believe it, my door key worked! I went in. You know that flowers speak silently! Every fragrance uttered a multitude of thoughts, and those thoughts reached me: and with my magnifying eyes I looked into the flowers’ workrooms, which no one else has ever seen. And they told me about their sorrows which the careless florist causes them-mark you, I did not say cruel, for he is only thoughtless. Then I put a coin on the desk with my card, took the Easter lily and went out.

BENJAMIN. How thoughtless! Think if the flower is missed and the money isn’t found?

ELEONORA. That’s true! You are right.

BENJAMIN. A coin can easily disappear, and if they find your card it’s all up with you.

ELEONORA. But no one would believe that I wanted to take anything.

BENJAMIN [Looking hard at her]. They wouldn’t?

ELEONORA [Rising]. Ah! I know what you mean! Like father, like child! How thoughtless I have been! Ah! That which must be, must be! [Sits.] It must be so.

BENJAMIN. Couldn’t we say that-

ELEONORA. Hush! Let’s talk of other things! Poor Elis! Poor all of us! But it is Easter, and we ought to suffer. Isn’t there a recital tomorrow? [Benjamin nods his head.] And they give Haydn’s Seven Words on the Cross! “Mother, behold thy son!” [She weeps with face in hands.]

BENJAMIN. What kind of illness have you had?

ELEONORA. An illness that is not mortal unless it is God’s will! I expected good, and evil came; I expected light, and darkness came. How was your childhood, Benjamin?

BENJAMIN. Oh, I don’t know. Kind of tiresome! And yours?

ELEONORA. I never had any. I was born old. I knew everything when I was born, and when I was taught anything it was only like remembering. I knew human weaknesses when I was four years old, and that’s why people were horrid to me.

BENJAMIN. Do you know, I, too, seem to have thought everything that you say.

ELEONORA. I am sure you have. What made you think that the coin I left at the florist’s would be lost?

BENJAMIN. Because what shouldn’t happen always does happen.

ELEONORA. Have you noticed that too? Hush, some one is coming. [Looks toward back.] I hear-Elis, oh, how good! My only friend on earth! [She darkens.] But-he didn’t expect me! And he will not be glad to see me-no, he won’t be, I am sure he won’t be. Benjamin, have a pleasant face and be cheerful when my poor brother comes in. I am going in here while you prepare him for my being here. But no matter what he says, don’t you say anything that would hurt him, for that would make me unhappy. Do you promise? [Benjamin nods.] Give me your hand.

BENJAMIN [Reaches out his hand].

ELEONORA [Kisses him on the top of his head]. So! Now you are my little brother. God bless and keep you! [Goes toward the left and as she passes Elis’ overcoat she pats it lovingly on the sleeve.] Poor Elis! [She goes out L.]

ELIS [In from back, troubled].

MRS. HEYST [In from kitchen].

ELIS. Oh, so there you are, mother.

MRS. HEYST. Was it you? I thought I heard a strange voice!

ELIS. I have some news. I met our lawyer in the street.

MRS. HEYST. Well?

ELIS. The case is going to the superior court-and to gain time I’ve got to read all the minutes of the case.

MRS. HEYST. Well, that won’t take you long.

ELIS [Pointing to the legal documents on the writing desk]. Oh, I thought that was all over with, and now I must weary myself by going through all that torture again-all the accusations, all the testimony and all the evidence, all over again!

MRS. HEYST. Yes, but the superior court will free him!

ELIS. No, mother, he has confessed.

MRS. HEYST. But there may be some mistakes in the trial which count. When I talked with our lawyer he said there might be some technical errors-I think that’s what he called them.

ELIS. He said that to console you.

MRS. HEYST [Coldly]. Are you going out to dinner?

ELIS. No.

MRS. HEYST. Oh, so you’ve changed your mind again.

ELIS. Yes.

MRS. HEYST. Oh, you are so changeable!

ELIS. I know it, but I am tossed about like a chip in a high sea.

MRS. HEYST. I surely thought I heard a strange voice that I half recognized. But I must have been mistaken.[Points to Elis’ overcoat.] That coat ought not to hang there, I said. [Goes out R.]

ELIS [Goes to L. Sees the lily on table]. Where did that plant come from?

BENJAMIN. There was a young lady here with it.

ELIS. Young lady! What’s that? Who was it?

BENJAMIN. It was-

ELIS. Was it-my sister?

BENJAMIN. Yes.

ELIS [Sinks down near table]. [Pause.] Did you talk with her?

BENJAMIN. Yes, indeed!

ELIS. Oh, God, is there more to be endured? Was she angry with me?

BENJAMIN. She? No, she was so sweet, so gentle.

ELIS. How wonderful! Did she talk about me? Was she very vexed with me?

BENJAMIN. No, on the contrary she said you were her best, her only friend on earth.

ELIS. What a strange change!

BENJAMIN. And when she went, she patted your coat on the sleeve-

ELIS. Went? Where has she gone?

BENJAMIN [Pointing to the window door]. In there!

ELIS. She is in there then?

BENJAMIN. Yes.

ELIS. You look so happy and cheerful, Benjamin.

BENJAMIN. She talked so beautifully to me.

ELIS. What did she talk about?

BENJAMIN. She told me some of her own stories-and a lot about religion.

ELIS [Rising]. Which made you happy?

BENJAMIN. Yes, indeed!

ELIS. Poor Eleonora, who is so unfortunate herself and yet can make others happy! [Goes to door left, hesitating.] God help us!