University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The Literature Collection

Guðmundur Kamban, 1888-1945 / We murderers; a play in three acts (1970)

Previous Previous section

Next section Next


[act i]

  [p. 3]  


Livingroom in the McIntyre home. Furniture late Empire, well-styled and solid, not showy. Door on left leading to the hall, and another in the rear to Ernest's study. Windows right. Between the windows a sofa with a table and chairs before it. In the corner between the window and the door heating ducts, concealed in the wall. Right front, near the wall, an old Chinese chiffoniere, tastefully inlaid with mother of pearl and silver, with a mirror on top, behind four low pillars. A grand piano left front. Bookcases to the left of each door. Large and small bouquets of flowers around the room.

(Norma sits behind the table on the right, pouring coffee and liqueurs. Mrs. Dale is going over to a chair on the left of the table. She is fifty or a little over, small and thin, inconspicuous, with a constant smile on her lips.)

NORMA:Sit down, mother.
MRS. DALE:Thank you. (Sits down on the chair.) It was a lovely evening, Norma dear. First the opera and now your   [p. 4]   dinner. I think Wagner's music is the most charming I know. Where do you buy your olives, Norma? And what a salad you make! Mmm.

(The laughter of two men is heard from the study.)

NORMA:Curacao or DOM?
MRS. DALE:Curacao, please . . . Why don't we move into the other room? It's nicer to be all together.
NORMA:We can hear the telephone better in here.
MRS. DALE:Are you expecting a call?
NORMA:Just Susan. I'm expecting her to call and say how sorry she is that she can't come.
MRS. DALE:Oh no, Norma. That wouldn't be like Susan at all.
NORMA:It wasn't very nice of her not to come here for dinner. On my birthday . . . Is she out with Mr. Bowman?
MRS. DALE:I don't think so. Tonight I think she was going out with the Clifford girls.
NORMA:Do you really believe that? You're pretty naïve, mother. Haven't you found out yet who the Clifford girls are?
MRS. DALE:Yes, they've been to tea at my house twice. They are daughters of one of the biggest wine merchants in Boston, a very rich family, and very sweet young girls.
NORMA:The Clifford girls are—Mr. Arthur Wallace, New York City, owner of a big ceramics plant in New Jersey, six feet tall, balding on top, with a pair of sharp mustaches that stand out like the hands of a clock. (With an illustrative gesture.) At a quarter to three.
MRS. DALE:It isn't nice of you, Norma, to talk that way about your sister.
NORMA:About my brother-in-law, you mean.
MRS. DALE:I'm afraid he'll never be that. His greatest wish is to marry her. But Susan is so kind that she wouldn't take him away from his wife and two children.
  [p. 5]  
NORMA:Well, then Mrs. Wallace ought to be delighted. Has she returned the call?
MRS. DALE:Heavens, Norma. Susan can't help it that Mr. Wallace is in love with her.
NORMA:No, she just accepts one expensive gift after the other from him—to keep him away.
MRS. DALE:Well, that isn't right of Susan, I'll admit. But she's in a very difficult position. You have no idea how unpleasant it is for her to accept such expensive gifts. Imagine, just the other day he said to her that if she broke her friendship with him, he would die of grief.
NORMA:And the same is true, of course, of Mr. Bowman and Dr. Lippincott. You know what, mother: Susan could pamper her need for luxury in a much more pleasant way. Since she can rescue so many people from death, she ought to make a deal with a life insurance company and get them to pay her.
MRS. DALE:You've turned so bitter, Norma. So awfully bitter. That's what Susan says too. She says it's your marriage that has made you this way.
NORMA(shakes her head, half in despair): Those two months in Florida—what a delightful time that was. Nobody to criticize or to admonish me. When you don't like me, you and Susan blame it on my marriage—and Ernest blames it on my upbringing.
MRS. DALE:Your upbringing! And you stand for that?
NORMA:For one thing, he says that when I was little nobody taught me to shut the door behind me.
MRS. DALE:Good Lord, how petty can men get?
NORMA(almost proud): He says that my strength of character will continue to be deficient as long as I forget to shut the door behind me.
MRS. DALE:And you've been married to this man for nine years!
  [p. 6]  
NORMA:I've been sad many a day. (Joins her hands behind her head.) And there's never been an evening that I wished I hadn't married him . . . Here comes Susan.
MRS. DALE:Is anyone opening the door for her?
NORMA:Ernest went out. (Silence.)
SUSAN(comes rushing in from the left, leaves the door half open, and goes right over to the chiffoniere): Good evening. Please excuse me, Norma, for coming so late. But I always have such a time getting rid of the Cliffords. (Stops before the mirror, takes out a compact from her stocking top, and fixes her makeup quite thoroughly.) Awfully nice kids, but just a little bit tiresome.

(Mrs. Dale gets up from old habit to close the door.)

NORMA(very seriously): Susan—
NORMA:Don't you think just the same that you would miss the Cliffords if you didn't have them?
SUSAN(with a quick glance at the door): Do you think it is fun for me to stay home—alone with mother?
NORMA(silent a moment, gets up): No. (Mrs. Dale returns to the chair where she was sitting.)
SUSAN(takes a last look at herself in the mirror, and goes over to the others): Well, now tell me what you got, Norma. Did you have a real harvest? Oh, I know about the flowers, mother told me. But the gifts—what did you get?
NORMA(over to a little table between the piano and the door): Here's the traditional box of chocolates from Aunt Harriet. And there's a selection of Browning from my brother-in-law.
SUSAN(quickly picks up the book): In nile-green leather, isn't that charming. And what else?
NORMA(lifts up a thin cardboard box): This is from Mrs. Beauchamp, a negligee.
MRS. DALE(unfolding the negligee): Isn't it enchanting?
  [p. 7]  
NORMA:Two pair of stockings from my sister-in-law.
SUSAN(picks up a little electric night lamp): This owl is awfully sweet. Who sent you that?
NORMA:I got that from Mr. McLean. That made me very happy. Then I got some lovely carnations, writing paper, and two dozen handkerchiefs from mother. And then your gift, Susan. Thanks ever so much. (Kisses her cheek.) You couldn't have picked anything I would have been happier about.
SUSAN:Oh, that was nothing. But what did you get from your husband?
NORMA(as she goes over to the chiffoniere and takes with her a small box which she opens and lays aside): The huge basket of orchids—my favorite flowers.
MRS. DALE(over to a small flower table in the left rear corner): Here it is.
NORMA(standing before the chiffoniere, where she puts on her arm a wristwatch which she has taken out of the box): Just look at this, Susan!
SUSAN(over to Norma): You have a beautiful gift for your thirtieth birthday, I'll bet.
NORMA(turns around, her hands behind her back): Yes.
SUSAN:What is it?

(Norma holds the hand with the watch up for her to look at.)

SUSAN:It's fabulous . . . It suits your hand.
NORMA:It's from Tiffany's. Gold plate. A French model, but doesn't it remind you of an old rococo piece? (Skims it across her chin.) I love it.
MRS. DALE:And it's so simple.
SUSAN:Maybe a trifle too big.
NORMA:No, Susan, you haven't noticed the engraving. It couldn't be any other size. Look!
SUSAN(takes her hand in both of her own): Well . . . Yes . . . Maybe.
NORMA(stares at Susan's wrist, which is adorned with a   [p. 8]   huge bracelet of platinum, inlaid with large sapphires in ellipses of brilliants. An expression of distress falls on Norma's face as she withdraws her hand): When did you get that?
SUSAN:Today . . . Do you like it?
NORMA:It's worth a fortune.
MRS. DALE(overcome by enthusiasm): My, Susan! That's a real treasure.
NORMA:Who gave you that?
SUSAN:One doesn't ask such questions . . . Why are you smiling?
NORMA:I was just going to say that you get your gifts cheaply. I smiled because I was mistaken.
SUSAN:I don't think it's anything for you to stick your nose into.
MRS. DALE:I don't feel you should say that about Susan. Don't you remember—she was only seventeen when Lord Kitton pulled out his necktie pin with a rare pearl in it and offered it to her for a single kiss. That was a real temptation for a seventeen-year-old girl. But Susan has always been highminded, and she refused the offer. (A little coquettishly.) After all, she couldn't very well accept such an expensive gift just for giving him a kiss.
SUSAN:Oh, stop that nonsense.
MRS. DALE:How dare you talk to me that way?
SUSAN(over to the table without answering): Norma, I'm taking a glass of DOM.
NORMA:Go ahead.

(Mrs. Dale stands still for a moment, and then sails into the study.)

SUSAN(puts down the half-emptied glass and lies down on the sofa): Don't you think you would like to trade with me now, Norma?
NORMA:No. (Goes over to the chair on the left of the table   [p. 9]   and sits down.) Strange of you to ask. Are you as happy as all that?
SUSAN:As happy as all that? (Laughs.) Yes, I think so.
NORMA:Well, maybe.
SUSAN(lifts herself on her elbow): Aren't you tired of being poor after almost ten years?
NORMA:I don't think I need to enlighten you about that. But why talk about it? It's so hopeless.
SUSAN:How do you manage to be so well-dressed all the time—with such a small income?
NORMA:Am I well dressed? . . . Do you think so?
SUSAN:You most certainly are. You have plenty of clothes.
NORMA:I just have to look decent in my clothes. It's my nature, and nothing can change it. But it costs me a terrible lot of self-reproach. Ernest is so good to me. But it hurts me to take every cent that he might save just to dress myself up. As for him—it struck me just yesterday, when we were walking down the street together, that he is almost poorly dressed.
SUSAN:I'm sorry for you, Norma. What did you get in return for your beauty and your youth?
NORMA:A husband I wouldn't trade for anybody else.
SUSAN:You certainly thought, when you married him, that he would have a much more brilliant future ahead of him.
NORMA:Yes, I did. He didn't have a cent. But he had made three big inventions and he had the patents in his hands . . . And then they stole them away from him.
SUSAN:But this only shows how impractical he is as a businessman.
NORMA:I don't know. He had taken out supplementary patents on all of them. But still they managed to get around them. And the people who used his invention for taking out a patent on the improvements got rich. We were left with the pains, just as poor as ever.
  [p. 10]  
SUSAN:Patent on the improvements: isn't that what I said? His inventions couldn't be used as they were. That's what makes him impractical. Everybody says so.
NORMA:Only people who don't know what they're talking about say so. Every big newspaper in New York is making two hundred thousand dollars a year on their ad contests. This was Ernest's idea exactly, just as he laid it before Mr. Kingstone in the presence of two famous lawyers. Just the same he lost the lawsuit when Mr. Kingstone stole the idea. If Ernest was impractical, so was Mr. Kingstone, for he couldn't patent the idea, either. It's hard enough to protect physical objects. It's impossible to protect a mere idea, no matter how good it is.
SUSAN(emptying her glass): There are inventors who earn piles of money. They don't all let their patents get stolen.
NORMA:Only one out of ten has the capital to protect them, either by helping to support the production, or—well, or by luck. By luck I mean that they meet up with people who aren't bandits.
SUSAN(smiling): Do you need capital to have luck?
SUSAN:No, you can't make me believe that. Ernest would have done better at the age of thirty-four than just being a clever experimenter in an electrical laboratory if he really had been a foresighted and practical businessman. That is the hope you have been living on so far.
NORMA:If in my heart of hearts I should doubt that my husband really had the abilities that he says he has and that he believes in with such burning conviction, then—
SUSAN:What then?
NORMA:I don't doubt, Susan.
SUSAN:Yes, you do. You said earlier that your future was so hopeless. I can see it in you, Norma, now lately, that you have lost your faith in life. Especially since you came back home. You imagined that a two-month vacation in Florida   [p. 11]   would cheer you up. But you came back twice as dissatisfied.
NORMA:I wouldn't have missed that trip for anything in the world. It's the only joy I've had for many, many years.
SUSAN:I would have guessed it was the only grief you had had, to judge by your humor since you came home.
NORMA(looks up hastily): Do you say so, too? Well, who knows . . . Sometimes grief comes to people in lonely majesty. Joy never comes alone. (With sudden change of mood.) Don't you understand? To ride when you feel like it. To drive long trips when you feel like it. To fly when you feel like it.
SUSAN(with a trace of a scornful smile): No, I don't understand. Now you can kiss your husband when you feel like it.
NORMA:You don't think I missed Ernest while I was in Florida. You're wrong. But to miss out on all the comforts of life just because you love a man—that is what infuriates me.
SUSAN:You don't need to, if others can furnish them . . . By the way, you're still flying with Mr. Rattigan since you got back, aren't you?
NORMA:Yes, still.—Susan . . .
NORMA:Can you understand why we never flew when we were children?
SUSAN:It's very difficult to understand. But if you really collect your wits for a few months and make a thorough study of the history of aviation, you'll gradually discover the reason.
NORMA(smiling): Yes, of course . . . Do you remember the fairytale grandmother told us about the prince who came every night in a swan's guise to the woman he loved in secret? Isn't it marvelous that man's inventiveness gradually turns all our fairytales into reality?
SUSAN:As far as love is concerned, man's inventiveness turns   [p. 12]   reality into a fairytale. Where in the world have I put my bag? (Gets up.) Oh, I guess I forgot it by the mirror. (Goes out in the hall and leaves the door ajar.)
ERNEST(enters from rear and leaves the door wide open. He is in evening dress. Pale, quiet, and decisive in manner. He goes over to Norma and says in a loud voice, so the guests will hear it): Now we can't get along without the birthday child any longer.
NORMA(gets up, puts her hand on his arm, and says coquettishly, without lowering her voice): Is she his own little girl?
ERNEST(becomes a trifle nervous and hushes her): Oh—why talk so loudly, they heard you.
NORMA:Not a person can hear us.
ERNEST(in a low voice, with brows knit): You're shouting, Norma. Susan is out in the hall, and your mother and Francis are in the study.
NORMA:You're ridiculously sensitive.
ERNEST:No, I just can't stand it that we expose our feelings in the presence of others. Oh, why doesn't she close the door behind her, either?
NORMA:This time you left the door open, too.
ERNEST:You don't distinguish reasons, Norma. When you've invited your guests into the livingroom, you can't slam the door in front of their noses.
NORMA:Do I have to listen to reproaches this evening?
ERNEST:No, no, no. So, now we'll call them in.
NORMA:Kiss me first.

(Ernest hushes her again and pulls back just a little.)

NORMA:It doesn't matter what I do, it's always wrong.
ERNEST:No, no. (Takes a quick look at both doors. Kisses her forehead. Goes over to the door in the rear wall.) Please, come in. (Over to the hall.) Aren't you coming in, Susan? (Goes into the study.) Then we'll take the whiskey in here.
MRS. DALE(enters from the rear): Shouldn't I get something   [p. 13]   to wrap around your shoulders, Norma? Be careful about your stomach catarrh.
NORMA:Oh, mother. You know how you irritate me with your constant prattling. Please sit down now, mother.

(Mrs. Dale starts to answer, but gives it up and sits down in an easy chair, just as Francis enters from the rear and Susan from the left.)

FRANCIS(in his mid-thirties, with a clear expression, not entirely free from severity): Good evening, Miss Dale.
SUSAN:Good evening, Mr. McLean. (Gives him her hand.) How did you enjoy the opera?
FRANCIS:Thank you, I missed you on my left side. On the right I had the pleasure of having your mother.

(Mrs. Dale sends him a grateful smile.)

SUSAN:Can I make up for it—here on the sofa? (She sits.) (Francis bows and sits down beside her.)
NORMA(over by the flower table, enjoying the fragrance of red roses, looks at Mr. McLean with a sarcastic smile): Well, is the sofa satisfactory?
FRANCIS(making himself comfortable): The sofa—yes, I really think it will do a lot—to make up for it.

(Susan giggles.)

ERNEST(enters from the study with whiskey, glasses, and cigars on a small tray, which he places on the table, and then closes the door): Aren't you coming over here, Norma?
NORMA:Yes. (Continues to care for the flowers.)
ERNEST(sits down by the far end of the table and starts to prepare the drinks): Say when, Francis.
FRANCIS:Thanks . . . Isn't it a little warm here?
SUSAN:Whew, its suffocating. Only for Negroes.
FRANCIS:Or Eskimos.
SUSAN:Why Eskimos?
ERNEST(fills the glasses with soda): I'll shut off the heat.
  [p. 14]  
NORMA(goes over to the ducts): I'll do it.
ERNEST:Thank you, Norma. (Lifts his glass and drinks with Francis.)
FRANCIS(to Susan): Haven't you heard the story of the Danish parson in Greenland who preached the faith to the Eskimos? To begin with the church was filled. But when he began to explain to them how hot it was in the dwellings of the damned, the Eskimos stopped going to church. They all wanted to go to hell.
NORMA(sitting down by the table): You should come to our house more often than you do, Mr. McLean. You always bring laughter and sunshine with you.
ERNEST(in the same tone): —and chocolate! Yes, you really ought to come more often, Francis.
FRANCIS:There you hear it, Mrs. McIntyre. Ernest McIntyre is a dangerous rival.
MRS. DALE(half anxious, half forward): A person never knows.

(Ernest appears to have discovered her presence for the first time.)

FRANCIS:Oh, I know Ernest. From his school days. His wit and humor were renowned. He brightened up any company he joined. Yes, Mrs. McIntyre, you spoke the word: he brought laughter and sunshine with him wherever he went.

(Mrs. Dale turns around on her chair and starts studying the paintings on the left wall through her lorgnette. Susan turns in the sofa and lets her eyes glide over the paintings on the right wall.)

ERNEST:For heaven's sake, Francis, you mustn't start praising me. It stirs up such a burning interest in art in my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law. And I'm not sure that our paintings can withstand their criticism.
SUSAN(pointedly): It might just have happened that you had given your wife a new painting.
  [p. 15]  
FRANCIS(suddenly): Have you been flying today, Mrs. McIntyre?
ERNEST:Haven't you—?
NORMA:Yes, yes . . . I didn't pay any attention to what you were asking about. Yes, I was in the air for over an hour. First we flew over New York, back and forth. Then to Washington and back home.
ERNEST:To Boston, you mean.
NORMA:No, to Washington.
ERNEST:Yes, of course, I remembered wrong. (Sips from his glass.)
MRS. DALE(to Ernest): Don't you think it's fun for Norma that she got acquainted with Mr. Rattigan in Florida?
ERNEST:Yes, great fun. (Looks hatefully at her.)
MRS. DALE:I think it's so nice of him to—
NORMA(interrupting in a loud voice): Mother, don't you want a pillow behind your back? Oh, Susan, would you please hand it to me?
SUSAN:Here you are. (Tosses the pillow over to her mother.)
FRANCIS:I knew Mr. Rattigan's father for a while. He was a very pleasant person.
MRS. DALE:Oh you did, the old soap manufacturer? He died insane.
FRANCIS:I never heard that.
MRS. DALE(afraid to maintain an opinion): No, well, that is—slightly insane.
NORMA:I think his son has a touch of the same. He can get insanely angry.
ERNEST:Have you been exposed to it?
NORMA:No, of course not. (Half jestingly.) I'm only exposed to that in my marriage.
FRANCIS:Ernest isn't hot-tempered.
NORMA:No? You aren't married to him.
  [p. 16]  
ERNEST:You aren't married to Mr. Rattigan either.
SUSAN(teasingly): No, say no, Norma.
MRS. DALE:Mr. Rattigan is handsome and manly.
NORMA:That he is. But he is a big baby. I have seen him rake his sister over the coals, and then beg her forgiveness, crying.
FRANCIS(smiling): Crying?
NORMA:Well—that's how I feel about it. I can't bear to see a man crying. That just finishes me.
ERNEST:Let's hope Mr. Rattigan doesn't exploit that weakness.

(Francis laughs as he takes a sip from his glass.)

NORMA:Make fun of it if you wish . . . But you cry yourself sometimes.
ERNEST:I do? (Laughs loudly.)
NORMA:Oh, I remember last Christmas Eve very well. You thought we two were so poor and lonely. We both sat here on the sofa and cried.
ERNEST(is overcome by a distress which he tries to conceal): You cried, Norma—and I tried to comfort you.
NORMA:And the limousine—have you forgotten that?
ERNEST(grasps the word, like a straw for a drowning man): Ah, yes, the limousine—that was a frightful catastrophe. Francis, I've quite forgotten to offer you a new cigar.
NORMA(surprised): A catastrophe?
FRANCIS(empties his glass and gets to his feet): No thanks, I won't smoke any more.
SUSAN(gets up): Well, now we'll be leaving, too. (Goes out into the hallway.)
MRS. DALE(gets up): Goodbye, little Norma. And let's see you again soon. (Kisses her on the cheek and goes out.)

(Ernest accompanies the ladies out into the hall, closes the door.)

FRANCIS:Mrs. McIntyre—I'm so very fond of both of you. You mustn't be angry at me, will you promise?
  [p. 17]  
NORMA:Yes, in advance, Mr. McLean. What have I done now that's wrong?
FRANCIS:Can you ask, can you really ask seriously about that?
NORMA:Yes—what in heaven's name are you alluding to?
FRANCIS:I'm alluding to what you said about last Christmas Eve.
NORMA:Oh poof, is that all? I thought it was some frightful crime.
FRANCIS:My dear Mrs. McIntyre. You think it is only an innocent trifle. But it hurt your husband deeply. I'm the first to admit that women are the beautiful sex; I will not contradict anyone who calls them the weaker sex. But men are the sensitive sex.
NORMA:This mimosa-like sensitivity—no, I just don't understand it.
FRANCIS:That is what I am afraid of. So much the more reason to be considerate. I mean that—I mean it seriously. We all have, locked within our inmost selves, memories so intimate that it would be sacrilege to draw aside the veil that conceals them. And as you certainly know better than I—it would be hard to find a more sensitive man than he.
NORMA:It is a regular disease. You offend him without intending to, without even knowing it. By trifles that no one—
SUSAN(tears the door open and enters, dressed in her evening wrap): Goodbye, Norma. (Holds out her hand.) I'll call you tomorrow.
NORMA:Goodbye, Sue. Yes, about noon.
SUSAN:Fine. (Turns to Francis.)
FRANCIS:No, I'm leaving, too. Goodbye, Mrs. McIntyre.
NORMA(takes his extended hand): Is there such a hurry?
FRANCIS:Yes, I have a long trip home, all the way to Flushing. Good night.
NORMA:Good night, Mr. McLean.

(Francis nods and smiles to her, exits after Susan. Norma   [p. 18]   opens the door in the rear wall, goes over to the table on the right, puts the glasses and the ashtray on the whiskey tray and carries it into the other room, but leaves the coffee things. Comes back and stops before the mirror in the chiffonnier. When the outside door is heard to close, she turns around, though not immediately. Ernest enters, with a gloomy expression. Sits down in an easy chair by the table.)

NORMA(over to him with arms extended): Don't I get a kiss?
ERNEST:Don't touch me.
NORMA:What have I done now?

(Ernest doesn't answer.)

NORMA:Why don't you answer when I ask you? . . . If there is anything that makes you angry, please tell me about it . . . Why won't you talk to me?

(Ernest breathes heavily, but is silent.)

NORMA(throws herself on the sofa and starts sobbing. But without hope of its having any effect, she sits up and puts her hands on the table): Ernest—it's my birthday today.

(Ernest is silent as before.)

NORMA:I'm so happy about the watch. It's the nicest gift you have ever given me. (Looks at it with a smile of delight.)
ERNEST(is softened, but has difficulty restraining himself):How could you do it, Norma—in front of everybody?
NORMA:What? What did I do? I haven't the faintest notion of what you mean.
ERNEST:"But you cry yourself sometimes"—just saying words like that in front of others.
NORMA:I never dreamed it would hurt you.
ERNEST(shakes his head): No, of course . . . And then when it isn't even true.
NORMA:You surely haven't forgotten it, Ernest?
ERNEST:"Sometimes" isn't the same thing as "once." No, I haven't forgotten last Christmas Eve. We two were alone here, alone in the whole city, we thought. The gifts we exchanged   [p. 19]   were a cheap luncheon cloth and a box of cigars. Neither of us dared be the first to produce so poor a gift. Then, when you mentioned the limousine, this promise I made you so many years ago, which you had looked forward to having fulfilled just as I did to fulfilling it—then I fell to my knees a moment under the burden of poverty . . . And now, tonight, tonight you—
NORMA:I see now that it wasn't nice of me. I'm very sorry about it.
ERNEST:What good does that do? If only Francis hadn't been present—
NORMA:I can assure you that Francis didn't even notice it.
ERNEST:You are blind, Norma. Didn't you see that he got up solely because it was embarrassing for him to listen to it?
NORMA(gets up and walks over to him): I have waited so impatiently to be alone with you this evening. Now you must forgive me, Ernest. I'll never forget that three weeks after this sad Christmas Eve you laid five hundred dollars on the table and sent me to Florida. That was so lovely of you. Now kiss me. (Kisses him.)
ERNEST:Have you been satisfied with the day?
NORMA:It is the nicest birthday I ever had.
ERNEST(caresses her): That's good, little one. (Starts pacing back and forth.)

(Norma sits down in the armchair. Short silence.)

NORMA:Did you see the splendid bracelet Susan got today?
ERNEST:Yes . . . It was very elegant and very tasteless. A gift of course?
NORMA:Yes, from Mr. Wallace. It cost six hundred dollars.
ERNEST:How do you know that?
NORMA:She said so. (With a sigh.) Well, some people are lucky.

(Ernest looks at her, starts pacing again.)

  [p. 20]  
NORMA:Do you think Susan is planning to get married?
ERNEST:Don't know.
NORMA:Do you think there is anything between them, between her and Mr. Wallace?
ERNEST:Between them?
NORMA:I mean—anything really intimate—
ERNEST:I guess there's so much between them that sometimes there isn't anything between them.
NORMA(laughs): Shame, Ernest! You're being wicked.
ERNEST:I thought that was what you were asking about. (Over to the flower table.) Tell me instead where you got all these flowers. I haven't had time to look at them . . . The red roses, where do they come from?
NORMA:Aunt Cecily.
ERNEST:And the lilacs?
NORMA(gets up and goes over to him): Mr. and Mrs. Ives.
ERNEST:They are lovely. The yellow roses, are they from Miss Bell?
NORMA:No, Dr. Briscoe, wasn't that nice of him? I like him so much.
ERNEST:So do I. And the little bunch of violets?
NORMA:Louise. And the calla lily is from Miss Bell.
ERNEST:So she sent that . . . But who sent the basket of Italian anemones?
NORMA:Aunt Cecily.
ERNEST:Aunt Cecily! Did she send both a bouquet and a basket? You said the dark red roses were from her.
NORMA:No, I never said that.
ERNEST:Well, who are they from?
NORMA:I don't know. There was no card.
ERNEST:Anonymous, then.
NORMA:Maybe so. Maybe they forgot to include the card in the flower shop.

(Ernest walks silently over to the armchair and sits down.)

  [p. 21]  
NORMA:Ernest, will you tell me something?
NORMA:This evening, when I mentioned the limousine, and you said that it had been a "frightful catastrophe," what did you mean?
ERNEST:Heavens, don't you understand such a simple thing? I chose a word at random, a word that would be strong enough to explain my tears. That was all . . . Please sit down, Norma. I want to talk to you.
NORMA:Yes, if you will kiss me.
ERNEST:Sit down on the sofa here.
NORMA:Yes, of course. You frighten me. What do you want? (Goes over to the sofa and sits down.)
ERNEST(after a moment's silence): Norma—will you fulfill a serious wish of mine?
NORMA:What is it?
ERNEST:Will you agree to dissolve our marriage?
NORMA(cries out): Ernest—. (Jumps up and starts towards him.)
ERNEST(gets up immediately): Sit down. Sit down, while I talk to you. (Remains standing until she has sat down.)

(Norma leans forward on the table and starts crying.)

ERNEST:It won't do you any good to cry. It has no effect on me any more. The only thing that has any effect on me now is to see that you are willing to let me live in peace. If you start crying, I'll get up and leave.
NORMA:No, you mustn't leave me. You mustn't leave me . . . I won't cry. (Dries her eyes.)
ERNEST:It is nineteen days since you came back home from Florida. During these nineteen days I have been puzzling my head about it night and day. This is not a momentary mood. It is the result of the only idea I have been able to formulate in a hell of nineteen days and nineteen nights.
NORMA:Oh God in heaven! What have I done to you,   [p. 22]   Ernest? I don't know what to do. (Without expression.) don't know anything—not anything.—
ERNEST:You don't love me any more, Norma.
NORMA:Don't I love you? You are the only, only man on earth that I do love.
ERNEST:You can't judge that.
NORMA:Can't I judge whether I love you? Who else can judge it?
ERNEST:I can. Only I can judge it. You can plead such and such about your feelings, but only I can judge whether your plea is valid or not. Solomon's judgment was a wise judgment because he let the child make the decision. What good do all your assurances do me—when I feel that your attitude, your actions, your whole relationship to me is dictated by quite different motives than any that can be reconciled with my conception of love. You don't love me, Norma. And therefore—
NORMA:And you, do you love me?
ERNEST:You will have to answer that question yourself.
NORMA:Yes, I know. That is the reason you ask me for a divorce. If you loved me, you would not chase me away. You know that I have no one to turn to. No one in the whole world.
ERNEST:If it is your conviction, Norma, that I don't love you, then there is twice as much reason for us to part. When things have reached such a pass that two people are convinced they don't love each other, do you believe in a happy continuation of their marriage? I don't.
NORMA:We have been married for nine years. You can't expect that the first flames of love should last through an entire marriage. I don't think there are any marriages—
ERNEST:That is not what I mean. If love were a duty, one could extend its sources indefinitely. But as long as you loved me, you tied invisible bonds between your actions and my wishes. Wishes that you did not know, but which   [p. 23]   your instincts taught you. And now—now—. (He tails silent, and holds his hands before his eyes.)
NORMA:I'll be so good to you, Ernest.
ERNEST:No, you won't. Because you can't. But you can do something else. You must realize that I have studied the change in you since your return from Florida. I have studied it with chemical precision, and analyzed it atom by atom. You must realize this.
NORMA:Change—I don't understand you, I don't understand what you mean.

(Ernest is silent.)

NORMA:You are wrong, Ernest. I am not changed . . . I don't think I have ever loved you as much as I have since I came home. I looked forward every day I was gone to getting back home to you again. Mr. and Miss Rattigan called me "the young bride" and did nothing but tease me all day. And the evening I got home—didn't you notice how happy I was?
ERNEST:Yes, I noticed everything. I noticed that your happiness had no connection with me. You were farther away, many times farther away from me that evening than at any time while you were in Florida. Do you remember that evening yourself? You got your family and your friends up here and kept them until two o'clock. When they left and I wanted to go to bed, you said that I could just go to sleep, and then you used more than an hour and a half on your undressing. When you finally did come in, there was a hard expression on your face when you saw that I was awake. As soon as you had gone to bed, you declared, without any advances on my part, that you were so terribly tired. This unnecessary, preventive insult hurt me deeply, and I hated it. Yet that night it was two months since we had seen each other.
NORMA:Now you are too unreasonable. Can you blame me for being tired after the long, wearisome journey?
  [p. 24]  
ERNEST:You were so tired that every time one of the guests got up to leave, you begged him to stay another half hour. And what do you say about the following evenings? From the time I get home from the lab, you are in a bad humor if we are alone, merry if we are several together. And you go to bed with the same shameless formula about your always being tired.
NORMA:I have been terribly tired these weeks since I got home—tired and dizzy. You know that. But now it'll soon go away. I think it's the change of air.
ERNEST:Yes, I think so too. The sudden change of air from Florida.
ERNEST:Or maybe the flying?
NORMA:No, the flying doesn't hurt me. Quite the opposite. I am never in such fine condition as when I just get out of the airplane.
ERNEST:I have noticed that. On the other hand, I have also noticed that flying has a very dulling effect on your memory.
NORMA:What kind of a remark is that?
ERNEST:You told me on the telephone today that you had flown to Boston. This evening you said it was Washington.
NORMA:It was Washington. You misunderstood me on the telephone. You admitted yourself this evening that you remembered wrong.
ERNEST:I don't unmask my wife's lies in company. You first told Mr. McLean that you hadn't flown at all today. Until I called your attention to it.
NORMA:Oh,—I was just absentminded for a moment.
ERNEST:You also told me this evening that the dark red roses were from your aunt. Half a minute later you had to admit that they were anonymous.
NORMA:Good lord! Don't you ever remember something wrongly? If a person had to take every detail so solemnly, life wouldn't be worth living.
  [p. 25]  
ERNEST(gets up and paces back and forth on the floor): Why can't you keep your secrets secret from me? That is what irritates me. This technical helplessness. To forget the little things, which then reveal the larger ones. When you want to conceal from me that Mr. Rattigan sends you flowers, why in heaven's name can't you see to it that your aunts stick to the flowers they originally selected? When you go downtown in the morning to meet him, why in the name of God can't you remember throughout the day that Thursday was Boston and that Washington doesn't come before Monday?
NORMA:There, you let the cat out of the bag. Finally. You're jealous. (Gets up.)
ERNEST:Do you think so?
NORMA:Yes, now I know it. That is why you are acting like this toward me.
ERNEST(with stronger emphasis): Do you think so?
NORMA(more uncertainly): Yes—if you love me.
ERNEST:If I love you, you say. That was an unconscious admission, wasn't it?
NORMA:It was no admission. Mr. Rattigan is a good friend and I am very fond of him. But I don't love him and I never will. You are angry because I like him. I have no reason not to do so. He has been unusually kind to me. But whenever a man shows me kindness, you find something suspicious in it. You can't expect that nobody else but you will like a young and pretty woman just because you are married to her. You are jealous, but you don't dare admit it. And why? Because your reason tells you that you have no basis for it.
ERNEST:Hasn't it dawned on you after we have been married for nine years how different in their nature your and my love are? In the short period we lived together happily and harmoniously, it sometimes happened that the conscience of hope stirred in both of us. And you asked yourself: "Will he ever love another woman?" My joy was   [p. 26]   prouder: "Will she ever stop loving me?" I asked. No, I am not jealous, Norma. I haven't the shadow of a desire to investigate whether you love another man. The only thing that interests me is this: your love for me has cooled.
NORMA:That isn't right, Ernest. You must be blind if you can't see how much I love you.
ERNEST:I won't be fooled, Norma. I tell you so in advance. If you came to me now and said that it no longer suited you to carry on our life together, you wouldn't need to make any explanations, or give any reasons. I would go my own way quietly without bitterness or resentment . . . But I won't be fooled.
NORMA:In reality you don't love me at all.
ERNEST:Yes, I know you have trouble understanding such an assurance, which is so entirely contrary to your own nature. But have I ever given you the faintest grounds for even the slightest suspicion? You have. More than faint grounds. I have no decisive proofs against you. But I am not mistaken. My instinct has a thousand eyes, and they all see the same thing. You want to fool me, Norma. But now I beg you: don't let it go that far. Let us prevent it before it is too late. Let us part.
NORMA(over to him with outstretched arms): Ernest—
ERNEST:No, no. I want a decision on this matter.
NORMA(throws herself weeping into the armchair): What does it help what I say, when you suspect my every word in advance? (Conceals her face in her hands.)

(Ernest leans against the bookcase and looks out into the distance a long time. Then he slowly walks over to Norma and strokes her hair with his hand. Norma caresses his legs feverishly and whispers gasping words that are not heard.)


Previous Previous section

Next section Next

Go up to Top of Page