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 ii]

  [p. 27]  


Same room. Next day.

(Norma, Susan, and Mrs. Dale sitting by the table right.)

NORMA(offering chocolates): Have some, mother.
MRS. DALE:Thanks.
NORMA:Chocolates, Susan.
SUSAN:No, they're fattening . . . I'm leaving now anyway. It's two o'clock.
NORMA:Oh, you could wait a moment. Ernest said he would call at two o'clock. Then we'll go together. Just a couple of minutes.
SUSAN:I know your "couple of minutes." I'll wait until two-thirty and not a moment longer.
NORMA:By two-thirty I'll be downtown. Say, there is something I would like to ask you two to do.
MRS. DALE:Us? What is it, little Norma?
  [p. 28]  
NORMA:I'm going to fly with Mr. Rattigan, and I'm going to meet him at 3:45—
SUSAN:Fly two days running?
NORMA:Yes, but Ernest won't believe it—
SUSAN:I can't blame him for that.
NORMA:What's so strange about that? Mr. Rattigan does what he likes.
SUSAN:Yes, it looks that way.
NORMA:How are the Cliffords doing, Susan? Well, it doesn't matter. Ernest has gotten so ridiculously jealous lately. I had a long scene with him yesterday evening, after you had left. So I have to be careful—
MRS. DALE:Yes, for God's sake, be careful.

(Susan smiles maliciously.)

NORMA:I don't dare tell him I'm flying today. It pains me to tell him a lie. And it's just to spare him unpleasantness that I do it. It's for his own sake.
MRS. DALE:Yes, I know men, I assure you. You should preferably tell him you have stopped flying with Mr. Rattigan.
SUSAN:Nonsense, mother. That will only confirm his suspicion.
NORMA:No, I won't do that. But I only tell him every third or fourth time. I'm expecting his call any moment, and I have to tell him I've been invited to tea with you at Mrs. Beauchamp's.
SUSAN:Why with us? No, I won't do that.
NORMA:You could do that much for me. Haven't I done you similar favors many times, Susan? Yes, mother, you know how strict father could be with her.
MRS. DALE:Yes, you are right about that. And with you, too.
NORMA:You two have to have been with me. If he gets suspicious, it's so easy just to refer to you.
SUSAN:And then he calls up Mrs. Beauchamp while we are   [p. 29]   there—or rather, while we are not there—and finds out that she has never invited us to tea.
NORMA:Of course I won't tell him until later. I'll tell him that she called right after I put the receiver down.
SUSAN:And tomorrow he will call her up and ask if she remembers that you take lemon with your tea and not cream.
NORMA:No, Ernest won't do that. He doesn't spy. He is too proud for that.
SUSAN:This is unwise of you, Norma. You are a regular bungler. Just tell him straight out that we have been at a dog show at the Waldorf Astoria. Or that you have gone with me to pick out a couple of dresses at Stern Brothers. In the middle of the day. That would work out fine.
NORMA:No, Mrs. Beauchamp is necessary. You don't know Ernest. There is no limit to his suspiciousness of me. He suspects all three of us of a secret plot against him.
MRS. DALE:The three of us? I've never heard the like of it!
NORMA(listening): Sh! . . . That's impossible! He's coming home now! Yes, it is Ernest. (Looks at her watch and gets up.) You mustn't fail me. I won't get away from home if we don't say it.
ERNEST(enters from the rear): Hello. (Greets Mrs. Dale and Susan.)
NORMA:How does it happen that you came home now?
ERNEST:Oh, I'm going to work with some drawings. I have to compare them with others that I have here at home.
NORMA:Then you're leaving right away again?
ERNEST:No, I'm working with them here at home. But now I'm going to take a couple of hours off. You aren't going out during these next two hours are you?
SUSAN(gets up): No, Norma is staying home. But we're leaving.
MRS. DALE:Oh, but you can't do that, Susan. The last time   [p. 30]   we were at Mrs. Beauchamp's Norma couldn't come, either. And now she's expecting the three of us and is looking forward to seeing us.
ERNEST(to Norma): Are you going to Mrs. Beauchamp's? I didn't know that.
NORMA:Yes, I had promised her to have tea at her place today.
ERNEST:But of course you'll go. Did she call you today?
NORMA:Yes, this morning right after you had left. (Suspiciously eager.) But of course, if you would rather have me stay home—
ERNEST:No, no. I guess I need all my time. And whatever you promise you should keep. (Looks at her.) It's really almost novel for me to see you on a weekday, in daylight. (With a faint smile.) Novel and rather strange.
NORMA:I don't feel that when one has promised something—
ERNEST:No, you're quite right. One should do the very opposite: one should keep more than one has promised. I haven't promised to have tea at Mrs. Beauchamp's. But now I will. I'll go with you. (Embarrassed silence.)
NORMA:Yes, but—Ernest, you can't invite yourself.
ERNEST:Yes, by God. To such good friends. It just didn't occur to her that I would have time to come along. In the middle of the day. Otherwise she would have asked me, too. She'll be glad to see me.
MRS. DALE:Mrs. Beauchamp is very formal. That's what I like about her. And she has invited us to a ladies' tea. You just can't act like that. Then I won't go at all.
SUSAN:Is it a ladies' tea—heaven forbid! You didn't tell me that, mother. Then I'll withdraw too.
NORMA:Then, Susan, we'll go in and tell her we can't come . . . And we'll drop in for a while at the dog show. I just have to see that.
  [p. 31]  
ERNEST:Can't come? No, you just can't act like that. Of course we'll all go. And now I'll call Mrs. Beauchamp and let her know that I'm coming. (Goes to the door left.)
NORMA(runs in front of him.):No, Ernest, no. You mustn't do that.
ERNEST:What's that? I mustn't do it? Can't I call Mrs. Beauchamp?
NORMA:No, Ernest, you must understand. If we all go, I would much rather talk to her and just tell her that I'm taking my husband with me—rather than have you call her. Let me call.
ERNEST:As you wish.
NORMA:Come, Susan. (They exit through the door left.)

(Ernest proceeds to pace up and down the floor, silent and intent.)

MRS. DALE:You mustn't misunderstand me, Ernest. But when I talked to Mrs. Beauchamp on the telephone this morning, she specially pointed out that it was a ladies' tea. And she is so terribly formal. It's the only thing I don't like about her.
ERNEST:I don't misunderstand you . . . I understand you much better than you think.
MRS. DALE(kindly): Didn't I know it, you were just teasing us. (Gets up from the sofa.) But then I'll go out and tell Norma that she won't need to call.
ERNEST:No, I want Norma to call.

(Mrs. Dale sits down on the sofa again, silent but uneasy.)

ERNEST:So you have joined this plot of lies, too, Lillian Dale?
MRS. DALE:Are you addressing me in that way? I won't stand for it.
ERNEST:You're going to have to stand for it. I'm only accusing you of something you can't deny. You have said that Mrs. Beauchamp invited you and my wife for tea today. That is a lie. Mrs. Beauchamp has been in Chicago for three   [p. 32]   days and will stay there for five days more. Her sister called me today to ask if Norma had liked the birthday gift that Mrs. Beauchamp had asked her to pick out.
MRS. DALE(loftily to conceal her embarrassment): You are jealous.—That's ridiculous.
ERNEST:Are you saying that as an excuse for your lie?
MRS. DALE:I only say it to show you how you are mistreating your wife. Norma was the liveliest child in New York before she was married. Now she goes around with a sad face and has no real happiness any more. You have frightened and plagued her so long that she doesn't feel safe anywhere. You have suspected her without reason until she no longer dares to tell you the innocent truth and has to have her mother and sister help conceal it. If I were in her place, I would have asked for a divorce a long time ago.
ERNEST:And gotten it . . . But I would be willing to grant Norma a better defense. You know that what you are saying about "frightening" and "suspecting" her is just empty talk. It's something you resort to because I've caught you red-handed. And I wouldn't have suspected Norma today either, if I hadn't learned that you are the one that taught her to lie.

(Mrs. Dale gets up, walks rapidly across the floor towards the door left, and wants to leave.)

ERNEST(blocks the door): Where are you going?
MRS. DALE:I want to leave. Do you think I will stay in the same room with a man who insults me?
ERNEST:You're not leaving until Norma comes back.

(Mrs. Dale goes towards the door in the rear.)

ERNEST(blocks the door to her): You'll have to stay here for the time being.

(Mrs. Dale again hurries to the door left.)

ERNEST(blocks the door): It is of no use your trying to get out. I want to hear Norma's explanation, without your interference.   [p. 33]   Even if I should have to hold you back forcibly.
MRS. DALE(calling): Norma, Norma, your husband is laying hands on me.
ERNEST:Why do you lie? I'm not touching you.
MRS. DALE:Norma!
ERNEST:It's no use your calling. Norma and Susan can't come back in before they have consulted on what to say. It takes a little time.

(Mrs. Dale goes to a chair, where she sits down, with her back to Ernest.)

ERNEST(closer to her): I hate you, Lillian Dale.
MRS. DALE :Do you think it comes as a surprise to me? I can very well tell you what the reason is. You are jealous of me too. You can't bear it that Norma is as fond of me as she is.
ERNEST:I hate you, and I cannot forgive you. I can't forgive you that you have warped and corrupted Norma's character from childhood. I said that you had taught her to lie. It is frightful to say such harsh words to her mother, or to any human being. Even so it is only a small part of my accusation. I'll do you all the justice you are entitled to. Today is really the first time I have caught you in an out-and-out lie. If I should judge only by this, I could judge you rather mildly. But you have cultivated everything that is weak and untrustworthy in Norma's character. She had an inclination to exaggerate, and you were amused by her exaggerations. And when she discovered that she could amuse you doubly by exaggerating doubly—what was the result? The result was that no one who knows her believes a word she says. I understand much better than you yourself where the real basis for this frailty is to be found. And I would be glad to advance it as an extenuation for you if it were not at the same time a testimonial to your frightening lack of responsibility. You lived in an unhappy marriage. And the greatest   [p. 34]   misfortune was that your husband was at the same time honest and weak of character. When he scolded Norma for her dishonesty, you found delight in irritating him by taking her side. The more severely he chastised this weakness, the more certain was her protection from you. That is why she came to be closer to you than to him. That is the source of her filial affection. But some day she will have her eyes opened—
MRS. DALE:Do you think I have ever been in doubt as to who was responsible for the small love Norma has shown me since she was married? It's very pretty now, isn't it, to sow dissension between mother and child! Very pretty and noble!
ERNEST:If anyone on this earth has tried to sow dissension between two people, that person is you. From the day I had my first great disappointment with my patents, you used your whole influence to wean Norma's heart away from me. You daily encouraged her burning need of luxury. And instead of Norma and me fighting poverty together, I often had to fight both of them alone.
MRS. DALE:It sounds very nice. But in my language it only says that you proved unable to support your wife in a respectable way.

(Ernest smiles faintly, after which his face turns hard again, but he says nothing. Susan and Norma enter from the left.)

SUSAN(breathlessly): Just imagine, mother—Ernest. Somebody or other has been playing tricks on us over the telephone. (Walks around among the others as she is speaking.) Mrs. Beauchamp isn't in town at all. And somebody actually must have pretended to be Mrs. Beauchamp and tried to fool us. What luck that we called! But the nerve of it! What do you say about the nerve of someone who would lie like that on the telephone. Anyway it's funny that neither you nor Norma—not even you, Norma—could tell it from the   [p. 35]   voice. As far as that goes the same thing exactly happened to me the other day. Elsie Clifford called up and talked a long time with me, and then it wasn't her at all. But imagine our being invited to Mrs. Beauchamp's—and then Mrs. Beauchamp is in Chicago!
ERNEST:Yes, she's been there for three days, and she'll be staying for five more.

(Mrs. Dale disappears into the hall.)

SUSAN(stops dead in her tracks from surprise): You know it? . . . That's exactly what the servant answered.
ERNEST:Yes, Mrs. Allan called me this morning.
SUSAN:You knew that she had left. And still you let us call. You stand here and put on an act and pretend that you want to go with us. That's dirty!
ERNEST:You can save yourself all this pretense. You are red in the face with shame for your part in this game. Shame which all your nerve can't conceal.
SUSAN:My part! Heaven help us! I haven't gotten any telephone invitation to Mrs. Beauchamp's, if that is what you mean. But I don't suppose you are accusing your wife and your mother-in-law of lying?
ERNEST:Yes, and my sister-in-law, too. Your mother admitted it while you were out.
MRS. DALE(sticks her head through the door, with her wraps on): Goodbye, Norma.

(Norma follows her into the hall.)

SUSAN:Now I'll tell you one thing, Ernest McIntyre. It's not hard to fool sharper men than you are. But you can't fool me. Now I have seen through you. You are ridiculously, fantastically, madly jealous. You thought Norma was going down to see Mr. Rattigan today. And so you bribed some female or other to call us to see if she would refuse the invitation. That is why you came home in the middle of your working day. But you reckoned wrong. I have seen   [p. 36]   through you, you can bet your life on that. I have seen through you. (Rushes out and slams the door behind her.)

(Ernest goes over to a chair, pulls it away from the table, but decides not to sit down, and puts the chair down with a bang. Over to the rear door, but decides not to enter it, and closes it without a sound. Paces the floor for a while. Norma enters from the left, pale and depressed, quietly goes over to the sofa, lies down, and starts crying.)

ERNEST:Why are you crying, Norma?

(Norma does not answer, but only sobs harder.)

ERNEST:Why are you crying, I asked.
NORMA(sits up, takes a handkerchief out of her purse on the table, and dries her eyes): What have you done to mother, Ernest? She said that she would never set foot in my house again while you were there. What have you done to her?
ERNEST:If that is all that troubles you, I can comfort you by reminding you that your mother says that on the average four times a year. But now I think you should pull yourself together, fix yourself up, and go where you were planning to go when I came home. It's twenty minutes to three, and Mr. Rattigan must be longing for you.
NORMA:Why are you so mean to me? It is all your own fault. You know that this man means nothing to me. But you have made me so frightened that I don't even dare tell you that I have met him on the street, much less that I have been flying with him two days in a row—
ERNEST:Yes, I know that explanation. Your mother gave me exactly the same lecture. It is impossible to mistake it. It is a standing explanation of all women who have been caught in infidelity.
NORMA:I have never been unfaithful to you, and if I had any wish for it, I would get a divorce from you first. But when you suspect me all the time, I have to buy a little   [p. 37]   peace for you and me by telling you a lie. You yourself have forced this dishonesty between us.
ERNEST:You see how much peace your method brings into our home. (Sits down.) No, Norma. You mustn't think it is your stratagem today that convinces me of your infidelity. That causes me hardly any sorrow. Anger yes, but not sorrow. I'm not satisfied with this shell. I crack it in order to get in to the kernel of these events. And what do I see then? If you loved me, Norma, if your finest feelings were not dulled, you would think in this way: "I have noticed that my husband is unhappy if I am mentioned in connection with Mr. Rattigan. I can't quite make him understand how natural my association with this man is. I won't cause him any unhappiness. I will break my association with Mr. Rattigan." You would not have waited for me to express my displeasure if you loved me. And after I expressed it, you would even less have kept up this kind of behavior.
NORMA:What are you asking me to do? Tell me straight out. It was agreed between Mr. Rattigan and me yesterday that we should fly again today. Then came this scene last night which made me afraid to tell you about it. I couldn't make myself ridiculous by calling off the appointment.
ERNEST:Only a woman who does not love her husband would talk like that.
NORMA:One who is not her husband's slave.
ERNEST(loses his patience, gets up): Why do you go on flying with Mr. Rattigan when you see that I don't approve of it?
NORMA:You know that flying is my only remaining pleasure on earth. Are you going to take away that one, too? I could say that if you loved me, you too would think differently. You would think: "I have promised her that she could have nice clothes, go to Europe, have her own country estate, her   [p. 38]   own car, her own yacht, and I haven't been able to give her any of this. If I now take this last pleasure away from her, she will see that I don't love her any more."
ERNEST(giving up): Well, Norma—then I don't love you any more.
NORMA:Don't you think I've seen it for a long time?..
ERNEST:You have seen it for a long time. So you have thought it over. I hope that will make it easier for you to accept my declaration.
NORMA:What do you mean?
ERNEST:I mean it ought to be enough to reach my goal: a divorce.
NORMA:It's not true, Ernest, that you don't love me any more. I know it isn't true. And I'll be so good, so good to you . . . I'll stop flying with Mr. Rattigan, if you wish. Do you hear, I'll stop.
ERNEST:"I'll stop!" You have been married to me for nine years, and still you don't have the key to my mind. You talk as if the happiness of two people were a dictate which one person gives and the other follows.
NORMA(repeats monotonously): I'll be so good, so good to you.
ERNEST:You have never been good to me.
NORMA(gets up): Those were poor thanks, Ernest.
ERNEST:Poorest for me, who values them according to their deserts.
NORMA:I have never thought of making my marriage into a business proposition. One's love doesn't ask if it is deserved or not. I would like to see any woman of my class who would have shared nine years of poverty as I have done.
ERNEST:I would like to see any woman who has let me know about that poverty oftener than you have.
NORMA:And haven't I taken care of my home without a maid all these years?
  [p. 39]  
ERNEST:Oh, don't let's bicker about trifles!
NORMA:Trifles! Everything I do is trifles.
ERNEST:No, these are trifles because your housekeeping has only caused me unpleasantness, but there are things in your character that have caused me sorrow and despair.
NORMA:Have you always thought that my housekeeping caused you unpleasantness? Even when you saw me darning your socks in the evening? Even though I hated darning socks.
ERNEST:You let me know that you hated it. This was the reason I preferred to use them with the holes. It never occurred to you to look. If you had been a good housekeeper, Norma, you would have saved me many a bitter moment. On Friday evenings I often sent a kindly thought to our Negro woman—at your expense. It was about the only evening in the week I didn't have to make my bed in the evening or wash the dishes from the day before. You always put your comfort first and my work second. No matter how important it was or how busy I was. You got up at noon and read in bed until late in the night, even though you knew that I thought best in bed and that the light disturbed me. But all this is trifling compared with the wedge that the last few weeks have driven into our marriage.
NORMA:Now you are being unjust. Don't I always put out the light when you ask me to?
ERNEST:No, you say you will do it in just a couple of minutes. And a couple of minutes for you means anything from an hour and a half, to three hours, or never . . . Who's out in the hall?
NORMA:It's Kate.
ERNEST:That's right, it's Friday.
NORMA(after a moment's thought): If I now promise you that I will stop flying—you know it's my greatest joy—if I now give up my greatest joy, can't we then forget all the   [p. 40]   ugly and unpleasant things that have sneaked in between us?
ERNEST:Just the fact that you ask it in this way is enough to kill my last hope, if it existed. This lack of sensitivity, connecting your "greatest joy" with all that has caused my deepest torment—at the same moment as you try to bring about a reconciliation. More than that—you want to make these two opposites into a basis for reconciliation.
NORMA:Was that wrong too? I must ask you to excuse me, Ernest. I thought that when you saw what a sacrifice I would make, you would also realize how much I loved you.
ERNEST:No, Norma. I see that it is an attempt to freshen up feelings that have cooled. And I don't believe in warmed-over dishes of any kind, whether in marriage or in the kitchen. Try to forget, you say. A person only forgets what is unimportant. You never forget a sharp point that has touched your heart. Whether the point is that of a dagger or of a despair. We can say that we forget, just to comfort the one who caused the pain. But we don't do it just the same.
NORMA(sits down on a chair by the table): You give me the blame for everything that has gone wrong in our marriage. Isn't it curious that nothing of all this would have given you any basis for accusation if poverty hadn't been waiting for me on the threshold of our marriage and never let go its hold on me? You knew when we were married that I was not suited for domestic duties. If you had given me a maid, I would never have had to listen to your bitter words about the housekeeping. And this blessed flying! If I had had the money to join a flying club, or even to do some ordinary flying as a passenger on one of the airlines—don't you think I would have done so the moment I noticed that I could save myself unpleasantness and scenes by rejecting Edward Rattigan's offers?
  [p. 41]  
ERNEST:This is what you call sharing nine years of poverty with me!
NORMA:Aren't you tired of never granting yourself any pleasures? I am.
ERNEST:I will be glad to buy you a membership card in a flying club as soon as I can afford to bestow so expensive a pleasure on you. But if I should want to get hold of you in a hurry during flying hours, I would be likely to find you in Mr. Rattigan's rooms. That is what I want to avoid.
NORMA:Then I'll give you a much better piece of advice. Just buy a leash for me, as short as you think is necessary, and keep me on it. That is the only way you can be sure of me.
ERNEST:You are quite right. It is the only way I can be sure of you. And for that reason I have proposed the only solution that will satisfy me: let's get divorced. When it has reached a point where I cannot with full confidence grant you all the freedom you might wish in your marriage, then I can no longer be married to you. I beg you to remember that I have not for a moment tried to restrain your movements. I have asked you for a divorce, but have not with one word asked you to remove the grounds for my request.
NORMA:I have offered you to remove them.
ERNEST:It is an offer I cannot accept. We have talked long enough about this matter . . . Why do you let Mr. Rattigan wait so long? If you are not in a humor to—"fly," why don't you call him?
NORMA:Do you think he is waiting for me? If one isn't there on the dot, he flies away. He has flown long ago, you may be sure.
ERNEST:Alone—without you!
NORMA:I have never flown alone with Mr. Rattigan. We are always at least five together. Does that make you feel better?
ERNEST:No, neither better nor worse. (The doorbell rings.)
  [p. 42]  
NORMA:It's Dr. Briscoe—I know it by the ringing.
ERNEST:Are you expecting him?
ERNEST:No, of course. How can I ask?

(Kate, a middle-aged colored woman, knocks on the door left and comes in with a calling card in her hand.)

NORMA(takes the card and starts): Say I am not at home.
KATE:I said the missus was home.
ERNEST:I'm expecting Mr. Rattigan, let him in.
KATE:Yes, sir. (Exit.)
NORMA:Are you expecting Mr. Rattigan?
ERNEST:No, I saw it on you that it was he.
NORMA(rushing around): Oh, God in heaven! You will make a scandal. You will compromise me.
ERNEST:Do I usually do that? You don't need to worry.
NORMA:Oh God! God in heaven!
MR. RATTIGAN(enters. Tall, squarely-built, about forty years of age, carefully and tastefully dressed. Is holding a bouquet of long-stemmed lilies-of-the-valley in his hand and presents them to Norma): How do you do, Mrs. McIntyre?
NORMA:How do you do. Thank you. (Indifferently takes the flowers and goes over to a small table with them.)
MR. RATTIGAN(extends his hand to Ernest): How do you do, Mr. McIntyre?
ERNEST:How do you do, Mr. Rattigan? So happy to see you.
MR. RATTIGAN:I'm happy to see you. Mrs. McIntyre and I have been such good friends since we met in Florida, and the lady added to my pleasure by requesting me to visit you once when I thought you might be at home.
ERNEST:I appreciate the kindness you have shown Mrs. McIntyre . . . Please sit down.
MR. RATTIGAN:Thank you. (Sits down.)
ERNEST:However, I'm not usually at home at this time.
  [p. 43]  
MR. RATTIGAN(about to get up again): Oh, I didn't know that.
ERNEST(sits down): No, don't misunderstand me. You have found me at home.
MR. RATTIGAN(smiling): Well, then I see I have been lucky.
ERNEST:Or I, Mr. Rattigan.

(Norma sits down.)

ERNEST(to Norma): But how was it? Wasn't there an appointment for you to fly with Mr. Rattigan today? (Looks at his watch.) Right about this time?
NORMA:Yes, but you know what happened.
ERNEST:I do, but Mr. Rattigan doesn't.
MR. RATTIGAN:It was a good thing that you were prevented from coming, Mrs. McIntyre. For when I got to the hangar, the propellers were out of order.
ERNEST:And so you came here instead. That was nice of you.
MR. RATTIGAN:Mrs. McIntyre told me yesterday that she might be going downtown today, so it was not certain that she could come. So it is really an unexpected pleasure to find Mrs. McIntyre at home too.

(Ernest sends him a stolen, inquisitive look, says nothing, but nods slightly. The telephone is heard ringing in a room on the other side of the hall. Norma gets up.)

ERNEST(beats her to it): I'll take it. (Exit through door left.)
NORMA(turns on Mr. Rattigan): Why in the world did you come here without calling me? Run right into my husband's arms. Now you have destroyed my whole life.
MR. RATTIGAN(gets up): I'm no less surprised than you— at finding your husband home.
NORMA:You might very well expect to find him home. This is inconsiderate of you.
  [p. 44]  
MR. RATTIGAN:No, I couldn't expect that from the wording of the telegram.
NORMA:What telegram?
MR. RATTIGAN:What telegram, you ask? Didn't you send me a telegram to come here at three o'clock?
NORMA:I? . . . Never.

(Mr. Rattigan pulls a telegram out of his pocket and hands it to her.)

NORMA(reading): 'Prevented from coming today. Come home to me exactly at three o'clock." There is no name.
MR. RATTIGAN:No, I admired you for your caution. But I had no suspicion. Our agreement yesterday was that you would come to me today at 2:30. At 1:30 I got this telegram. At 2:50 you hadn't come. It was clear as daylight that the telegram had to be from you.
NORMA:This is incredible . . . It is impossible to understand . . . Who sent this telegram?
MR. RATTIGAN:It's a mystery to me. (Suddenly a light seems to dawn on him with such compulsive clarity that he shakes his head to keep from revealing it.)
NORMA:What were you thinking? Do you suspect anyone?
MR. RATTIGAN(shakes his head): No.
NORMA:Yes, I saw that you did. (Suddenly touches her forehead.) My husband! No, no, no! Never! . . . Was he the one you suspected?
MR. RATTIGAN:Yes, it was.
NORMA:No, it wasn't. You were thinking of someone else. How could he know I was going to meet you?
MR. RATTIGAN:Norma, I'm afraid your husband surpasses both of us in his cleverness. I got that impression the moment I met him. It can't be anyone else.

(Norma holds the telegram in her hand and reads it through. Ernest enters from the left.)

  [p. 45]  
NORMA(turns away and thrusts the telegram quietly into her bosom): Who was it?
ERNEST:It was from the laboratory . . . I regret that I must ask you to excuse me.
MR. RATTIGAN:Sorry if I have disturbed you. Goodbye, Mr. McIntyre.
ERNEST(holds out his hand): By no means. Goodbye.
MR. RATTIGAN:Goodbye, Mrs. McIntyre.
ERNEST(accompanies him to the door): Thanks for your visit.

(Mr. Rattigan is heard answering in the vestibule.)

ERNEST(enters again): You just barely thanked him for the flowers. You didn't thank him at all for the visit. You didn't press him to come again. A man who has shown you so much kindness. Do you know what this means?
NORMA:Why do you keep torturing me like this? You will never make me admit I have been unfaithful to you.
ERNEST:You are impregnable, aren't you?
NORMA:Yes, on that point I am impregnable.
ERNEST:If this is correct, then take out the letter you are hiding in your bosom.
NORMA:It isn't a letter.
ERNEST:Well, telegram then. You sent it to Mr. Rattigan, and it explains his strange visit here today. How, I don't know.
NORMA(pulls out the telegram): Then he was right—it was you who sent it. It is a trap which your monstrous jealousy set for him. I would never have believed this about you. Never . . . Here you are.

(Ernest looks thoughtfully at the telegram.)

NORMA:I beg your forgiveness, Ernest. I don't believe this about you. I just don't understand you. I don't understand   [p. 46]   anything. But I beg you to believe me. I swear to you that I haven't sent it.
ERNEST(hands her the telegram): I don't need any assurances. You didn't send it. Any more than I did.
NORMA:Can you imagine how this came about?
ERNEST:If I had talked with him as you have done, perhaps I would know it . . . I can imagine that he has promised some other woman to meet her today at this time, a week ago maybe, and then just forgot it . . . For one sun a thousand stars are forgotten.
NORMA:You have no reason to make this kind [sic] of insinuations.
ERNEST:That is not the crucial point anyway. The crucial point is that when Mr. Rattigan gets an anonymous telegram about meeting a lady in her home, he can't imagine that this lady is anyone but my wife.
NORMA:Nothing is more natural, if only you are willing to see it, when you know that we had agreed to meet today. But what makes you blind is—
ERNEST:My jealousy, yes. It makes me purblind.
NORMA:It is strange that men won't ever admit that they are jealous.
ERNEST:There is nothing strange in that. Men are more reticent than women. And jealousy is the reverse side of love. In it are hidden all the knots, the seams, and the errors of love. But this has nothing to do with the case. I am so little jealous that I wish with all my heart for you to marry Mr. Rattigan.
NORMA:Ha! . . . I could never imagine doing it. (Stops before the mirror in the chiffoniere.)
ERNEST(sits down on a chair by the table): No, I know that.

(Norma looks at him a little uncertainly.)

ERNEST:I understand you through and through, Norma.

(Norma sits down in the sofa.)

  [p. 47]  
ERNEST:There are women who struggle for a shorter or longer period with themselves because they suddenly face the fact that they love two men. Two men whom they can't choose between because they supplement each other; because the one gives them in full measure what the other lacks. I have nothing to say about such a woman except that I happen to be married to one. That I am married to her, and that every fiber in my soul revolts against such a character. It is not enough to me that you choose. That you hesitate to choose offends my pride. No, no, what good does it do for me to try to understand you. To misunderstand everything is to forgive everything.
NORMA:Do you love me, Ernest?
NORMA:What if this "no" has given me a right?
ERNEST:Right to what?
NORMA:To listen to warm and beautiful words that I never heard in my marriage.
ERNEST:That "no" could not give you any right before it was spoken. Until you came home from Florida you possessed my heart whole and undivided. There you failed me. You used the money, which was the very evidence of my love for you, to deceive my trust. While you were in Florida, I sat in the laboratory every single night in order to pay for the cost of your trip.
NORMA:Those five hundred dollars—was that such a big gift in the course of nine years?
ERNEST:No, not big. But fatal.
NORMA:I have not deceived your trust. I have not done anything you could not see. You think everything is much worse than it is. You sat home alone and—don't you remember how prettily you wrote to me once, when you longed so for me: "It's not you, Norma, but the distance that fails me."
ERNEST:Ah yes, distance—there you spoke the word, that   [p. 48]   deceptive word. If you had been near enough to me so that I could have exerted my influence, as you did yours, then the game would not have been so unequal. But I was helpless as a child. It was like giving one's opponent a short dagger and keeping a three-foot rapier for oneself! "Now let's fight!" (Rises and fixes his gaze on her.) I beg you, Norma, I beg you not to oppose my wish any longer. There can't be any life together for us after this.
NORMA(gets up): You have no reason, no proofs, nothing but imagination to go on. You can't chase me away like this. You can't take to yourself a woman who gives you the nine best years of her life, who gives you her youth and her beauty, who accepts poverty and self-denial for years—and then chase her out. In a few years I will neither be young nor pretty any more. What will happen to me then? Haven't I been lonely long enough? You haven't the heart to do this, Ernest, I know it.
ERNEST:I'll support you—better than I have done so far. Much, much better. And we are fortunate not to have children. But even if we did have children, you could keep them. All of them. No matter how much I loved them. For this one thing I cannot do any longer: I cannot live with you any longer.
NORMA:You can go—anywhere you wish—and I will follow you.
ERNEST(is silent a moment, then says firmly): We shall see. (Goes into his study.)

(Norma goes over to the door on the left, opens it, and lets the door stand ajar. Slowly walks to a chair by the table and hides her face in her hands. A little time passes—then the doorbell rings. Norma looks up, remains seated a few moments, then gets up.)

KATE(knocks on the door and enters): Mr. McLean!
  [p. 49]  
NORMA(calls out in. the hallway): Hello, Mr. McLean.
FRANCIS(in the hall): Hello, Mrs. McIntyre. (Comes in and shakes her hand.) How are you?
NORMA:Fine, thank you.
FRANCIS:Isn't Ernest home?
NORMA:Yes, he is in the study.
FRANCIS:Yes, of course. I was sure I would find him at home.
NORMA:How so, Mr. McLean? He doesn't usually come home at this time.
FRANCIS(surprised): Hasn't he told you? Has that rascal kept it to himself—sits alone in his study and keeps it to himself? Well, he's certainly going to get a real talking-to. (Over to the door.)
ERNEST(enters): Hello, Francis!
FRANCIS:Hello. Congratulations, my dear Ernest. A thousand congratulations! . . . But this is the last kindly greeting to you for the next twenty years. Sitting here in your study by yourself and not even telling your wife about the big event!
ERNEST:Well, I came home for that purpose, but there were guests here.
FRANCIS:Oh, bother with the guests. I won't leave, anyway. Don't you see that your wife is on tenterhooks to learn the news? (Peeks at the books in the bookcase.)
ERNEST:Norma—I've sold my latest patent.
NORMA(who has waited a thousand times to hear the sound of these words. Quite involuntarily, as on a well-known signal, she extends her arms): Ernest—

(Ernest stands unmoved. Norma's expression darkens, her arms sink slowly, emptily.)

FRANCIS:All the afternoon papers are full of praise for Ernest. And some of them have his picture—the one uglier   [p. 50]   than the next. And why don't you mention the sum? One hundred and fifty thousand dollars, Mrs. McIntyre. What do you say to that?
NORMA:One hundred and fifty thousand! (Goes to a chair and sinks down into it.)
FRANCIS:I'll go in your study, Ernest, and grab a cigar.
ERNEST:Oh, excuse me—
FRANCIS:No, no, I know very well where they are. (Exit.)
NORMA(about to get up, but stops): Congratulations, Ernest.
ERNEST:Congratulations, Norma. I gave you that patent on the day I entered it. It is your money.
NORMA(bursts out crying): I was much, much richer before it came. (Silence.)
ERNEST:Fancy clothes. Trips to Europe. The country estate. The car. The yacht. (Takes the lilies-of-the-valley and goes over to Norma.) Fruitful days, and fruitful nights. (Strikes her in the face with the flowers.) And now get out of my life. (Tosses the flowers on the table and goes into the study.)

(Norma remains seated in bewilderment. Then a bright smile crosses her face. She gets up and her smile gets warmer and richer. She goes to the doorpost on the left and rings the bell. Kate enters.)

NORMA:Kate, will you run out on the corner and buy the afternoon papers . . . Every one of them!
KATE:Yes'm. (Exit.)

(Norma goes smiling to the mirror and powders herself.)


Previous Previous section

Next section Next

Go up to Top of Page