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

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[act iii]

  [p. 51]  

ACT III

Thirteen days later. A spacious room with bay windows on both front corners. Doors on the left and in the rear. Front, a little to the left, an oak desk and two chairs beside it. Aside from this, the room is furnished with white-lacquered bedroom furniture: right rear a bed, to the left a clothes cabinet and a toilet commode with a mirror. in front of the commode a heavy armchair with slats in the back. Front right a daybed. On the table magazines, books, rolls of paper, etc. in the ceiling a large electric chandelier fully lighted.

(Ernest and Francis sit by the table with whiskey in front of them. Ernest offers cigarettes.)

FRANCIS:Wouldn't you prefer that I didn't smoke—in your bedroom?
ERNEST:Heavens no—would you rather have a cigar?
FRANCIS:No thanks. (Lights the cigarette.)
  [p. 52]  
ERNEST(as he lights his own): There's an open window over there . . . In a week everything should be in order out here.
FRANCIS:Well, will the workmen be through then?
ERNEST:Yes, they should be. And then I'll move all the models down below and have an empty studio. And up here the large room will be available so that I can do the honors for you and my other good friends out here. (Lifts the glass without drinking.) You don't know how delighted I am to have gotten this cottage out here in Flushing. Just far enough from the city and close enough to you. Thank you, my dear Francis, for helping me get it so well and so quickly. (They drink.)
FRANCIS:Are you really planning to keep your job in this firm much longer?
ERNEST:Yes, for the time being. Now that they have doubled my salary, I can really feel secure until I am able to organize my own firm.
FRANCIS:That wasn't the only reason I asked.
ERNEST:Well?
FRANCIS:I was just thinking that your future isn't entirely secure until everything is arranged concerning your divorce. If Norma keeps on being stubborn, it wouldn't hurt if you put a little more distance between you.
ERNEST:Oh, I don't know. I think it's quite the opposite. I have to put it in the hands of a lawyer soon. And then I would need to be available.
FRANCIS:Has she stopped writing to you at the office?
ERNEST:Yes, I returned her last letters unopened.
FRANCIS:At last. That helped—what did I tell you?
ERNEST:I knew very well, Francis, that it was the only way. But I felt it was so brutal, and I still think so. I would gladly have spared her this cruelty, if these daily letters hadn't started an unpleasant suspicion at the office. I couldn't spare her.
  [p. 53]  
FRANCIS:Has she never tried to make her way into the laboratory?
ERNEST:Yes, more than once. And given her name, so that everyone knows who she is. She hasn't spared me the public scandal. And she must have thought she knew me well enough to believe that I would avoid a scandal. But painful as it was—I preferred it.
FRANCIS:So she has started to give in?
ERNEST:Give in! (Shakes his head.) She waits for me every day when I come from the lab. Sometimes I see her through the window and have time to slip out through the gate to the next street. But many times I have to wait until I am quite certain. Wait until she gets tired of waiting.
FRANCIS:This is an intolerable situation . . . Was she there today?
ERNEST:Yes, yes. Every single day.
FRANCIS:But don't you suspect that she may have found out where you are staying?
ERNEST:No one knows that except the office chief. He will keep it secret from everybody. I can rely on him. But still I have no doubt that I can't live here very long before she does find it out.
FRANCIS:She may have gone to the police.
ERNEST:No, not yet. But I'm sure she has a private detective on my trail.
FRANCIS:I thought she might. Have you noticed one?
ERNEST:Yes, I first noticed the fellow four days ago. I was on my way out here by train and I noticed the man following me to the station. That evening I fooled him. I stayed on to Douglaston and walked quite a distance back here. But then the night before last I saw him poking around the house here when I got home.
FRANCIS(takes a drink): I don't know what I would do if I were married to a woman like that.
  [p. 54]  
ERNEST:Tell me, Francis, what would you do?
FRANCIS:It's easier to say it now that we have seen the results. In the first place I would not have moved out of the house as things stood. I would first have used every possible means to force her to divorce me. Not persuasion, I mean. They have no effect on her. No, simply by making her life at home unbearable. Not hesitate to do anything at all within the limits of the law that might drive her away.
ERNEST:I could never do that. To do that I would have to stop distinguishing between right and wrong.
FRANCIS:Exactly—without mercy.
ERNEST:You talk as if you bore illwill to Norma.
FRANCIS:No, I don't bear her any illwill. But I don't like her, and I never have.
ERNEST:Never? Never in the nine years we have been married?
FRANCIS:Never. I have tried to like her, and if I succeeded, it was only on account of you. And it was in spite of the many times I was furious at the way she treated you. If I have managed to conceal this, Ernest, perhaps you will take it as an expression of the consideration I owe you.
ERNEST:And now—now that she is unhappy, why do you say it now?
FRANCIS:I'll tell you why, Ernest. If things should go wrong, I don't want to have to blame myself for not having made my little contribution to save you from a fall, humanly and socially. Now you're smiling. But you won't smile at misfortune when it strikes.
ERNEST:When it strikes, Francis—when doesn't it strike?
FRANCIS:You love this woman. You love her still. If she gets a chance to talk to you, I don't think you will be strong enough to stay out of her clutches. Just think of what it will mean to go back to her again. How can you with your honest, unblemished character resume a marriage which is   [p. 55]   stained and furrowed by dishonesty and deception? (Puts his hand on his shoulder.) Now don't get angry, my dear friend. But you mustn't give in. You must not give in.
ERNEST(gets up): Do you think I have taken this step without thinking it all the way through? Norma and I have parted, forever. But—well, I don't know. You can't live with a woman for nine years without her having some share in your inmost—
FRANCIS:Habits. Let's just call it habits.
ERNEST:With me it is more than habits. With me it is a longing. Sometimes I wish she were here, and that she could convince me I am doing her an injustice, and that I could kneel down before her and receive her forgiveness. No, Francis, I know it is a weakness, a great weakness—and therefore I stand firm as a rock on my decision.
FRANCIS:It is a weakness I scarcely would have believed you had.
ERNEST:You judge so harshly because you don't know the source of my weakness. It comes from uncertainty. Am I doing her an injustice? Is my suspicion right? If I had an unshakable certainty that it was right, this weakness would disappear at once.
FRANCIS(gets up): Then get that certainty!
ERNEST:How would I go about getting it?
FRANCIS:I don't know . . . But let that be your next, your greatest invention. (Empties the glass and buttons hisjacket.)
ERNEST(goes over to the table and empties his glass): Have a cigar.
FRANCIS(takes the cigar, makes a hole in the end with a match, and lights it): You'll be in early tomorrow of course?
ERNEST:Seven-thirty. I'll use the car. I can't resist the pleasure of trying it these first days.
FRANCIS:No, I understand that. But we'll meet at lunch.
  [p. 56]  
ERNEST:Yes, and then you'll drive out with me.
FRANCIS:I'll drive out with you. (They leave through the door left).

(The stage is empty a short time. Then a scraping is heard at the bay window on the right, and through the window)

NORMA(enters. She steps soundlessly down, walks into the middle of the floor, and sighs): Thank heavens! (Looks hastily around the room. Takes off her hat and coat and lays them on the bed. Goes quickly over to the toilet commode and stands a while before the mirror. Strokes her face a couple of times with the tips of her fingers and sighs again. Straightens her hair, lets her powder puff glide over her face, smooths her dress a little, and now has time to look around a little more.) So this is how he has arranged things for himself. (Appearing to discover the desk for the first time.) Doesn't he have more than one room? (Goes to the door in the rear and opens it carefully. Looks for the switch by the door and turns it on. A glimpse is seen of a room full of all kinds of technical models, machines, conveyor belts, vises, blocks, chemical apparatus, etc.) Here he works . . . No, I shouldn't. (Turns off the light and closes the door. Goes over to the bed and caresses the pillow gently with her hand.) How I love you, Ernest. (Sits down on the daybed with an expression of weariness and vexation. Sits quite still.)

(Ernest opens the door and enters the room, hardly gets time to be surprised at her presence before)

NORMA(runs towards him with her arms outstretched): At last, at last—
ERNEST(grips both her wrists and pushes her away): How did you get in here?
NORMA(again trying to approach him): Ernest, my beloved—my darling—you mustn't push me away. (Complaining.) You don't know how I have suffered.
ERNEST:Have I suffered less? I tell you immediately that if   [p. 57]   you wish to start a conversation between us, you will succeed only if you don't make any attempt to touch me. Why do you have to use such miserable weapons? Sit down on the daybed, and I will listen calmly to what you have to say.
NORMA:Take me in your arms, Ernest dear. Then I can speak confidently with you. Otherwise I know you are angry at me.
ERNEST:And if I am angry at you, by what law of the human soul can you expect that I will take you in my arms before that anger is extinguished? Sit down on the daybed—or get out of here!

(Norma sits on the daybed. Ernest takes a chair nearby and sits down.)

NORMA:Oh, if you only knew how I have suffered! Every single night I have strayed around in the rooms at home like a mad person, back and forth, back and forth. Thirteen endless nights. And every single day I have waited for you by the door of the laboratory after working hours, and twice I had to suffer the outrage that you denied your wife admission. Oh God in heaven, there isn't a torture I haven't suffered.
ERNEST:Yes, you didn't spare me the scandal.
NORMA:Thirteen endless days! Thirteen endless days!
ERNEST:I bore my sorrow in silence for nineteen nights. And after that came thirteen more. Nineteen and thirteen are thirty-two.
NORMA:Believe me, Ernest, I have learned to understand now what you have had to suffer. And it is to tell you this that I made all these efforts to speak with you. (Gets up and starts for him.)
ERNEST(with decisive emotion): Sit down!
NORMA(sits down again): I have been vile toward you, Ernest. But not on purpose. Only in thoughtlessness. Now, afterwards, I have seen it all. It wasn't right of me—it was   [p. 58]   unforgivably thoughtless of me to give you reason to think I had violated your trust. But I also know in my heart of hearts that I have not done so.
ERNEST:What is it you call "giving me reason to think you had violated my trust"?
NORMA:When I noticed that my association with Mr. Rattigan displeased you, I came with a long and zealous defense of my need for luxuries. Instead of trying to understand what you would think, how you would feel, and taking that into consideration. Instead of thanking you doubly for your efforts to give me the pleasure I had had so recently. That is the thoughtlessness I can't forgive myself.
ERNEST:I can forgive you for that—if that was all.
NORMA:Thanks, Ernest, thanks. You are so good.
ERNEST:If that was all—I said.
NORMA:Has it never occurred to you that you might be wronging me? When you sit there alone with your thoughts, have you never seen me as a poor abandoned woman, lashed by your suspicions as by a storm? Has it never occurred to you that you could be mistaken?
ERNEST:Now you are speaking calmly, Norma. There you see. We can talk better as soon as you just take things a little more calmly.
NORMA(with a sigh of relief): How lovely it is to hear you speak this way. It is like a warm breath of air caressing my cheeks. I'll be calm. Then we can talk much better, can't we?
ERNEST:I just said so.
NORMA:Yes, that's right. And now I ask you once more: has uncertainty never visited you? Have you never doubted whether your accusation was supported by facts? Do you remember what you said once last year when we read in the paper that all twelve jurors condemned a man for murder, and Mr. Robert Belford refused to pronounce judgment immediately because he doubted that he was guilty? Then   [p. 59]   you said something I can never forget. You said that doubt was the conscience of justice.
ERNEST:Norma, of all the things you have said about this affair, there is only one that has stuck in my mind. On the day I left home, you said to me "You think everything is much worse than it is." If I do this, Norma, it is your fault.
NORMA:How is it my fault, Ernest? Tell me that. For heaven's sake tell me.
ERNEST:From the start you have acted very unwisely. You stubbornly denied the trifles that I immediately saw must have taken place between you and Mr. Rattigan. In this way you strengthened my suspicion that more serious things had happened. If you had openly admitted, as soon as it came up, that you had flirted a little with Mr. Rattigan, then your open admission would have corresponded exactly to what I myself had discovered. Then my suspicions would have vanished like dew in the sun. She's not trying to fool me, I would have thought; it's all relatively harmless. Don't you see that yourself?
NORMA:Yes—well—what do you call "flirting"?
ERNEST:Whatever happened between you in Florida. An innocent mutual attraction between a man and a woman who find that they have common interests, feelings, maybe even a common outlook. Such an attraction quite naturally finds its expression in intimate glances, in long handclasps as between good friends, in stolen kisses on the cheek or the hair now and then—things that are forgotten as soon as they happen. It is all so harmless and natural that "I could have seen it all," as you yourself said. And one more thing: words, warm, beautiful, admiring words that all women need to hear. What would it all have been but mere trifles, if you had not done everything to conceal it from me? This was what aroused my suspicions.
NORMA:But I have not tried to conceal anything from you,   [p. 60]   Ernest. You have found the explanation yourself. All that took place between Mr. Rattigan and me was just that kind of mere trifles, which I would have found it ridiculous to confess.
ERNEST:Quite ridiculous—if only you had not by your silence lost the chance to regain my complete confidence. But I can see that this makes no difference to you.
NORMA:You are wrong, Ernest. There is nothing I would have preferred more than regaining your confidence. It is true that I may have flirted quite superficially with Mr. Rattigan—but you won't believe that this has nothing to do with my feelings.
ERNEST:Yes, I am anxious to believe you, and if you had told me right away—
NORMA(eagerly): Heavens, a person can flirt with a man for an evening without—
ERNEST:A thousand evenings, Norma, a thousand evenings. Were you really afraid that I would have been angry if you had told me you had kissed Mr. Rattigan once? You would have eased my mind by telling me.
NORMA:You can call it kissing, if you wish. I can tell you exactly what happened. I don't wish to conceal anything from you. One evening he came into my room at the hotel, and I saw that he was struggling with something. I knew that he was in love with me—he had told me that. Then suddenly he fell on his knees before me, weeping. I felt so sorry for him, seeing him cry like a baby, and—
ERNEST:And what?
NORMA:And—I bent down over him.
ERNEST:And then?
NORMA:And then I straightened up, walked away from him, and asked him to leave the room.
ERNEST:Without kissing him?
NORMA:Kissing him—I didn't kiss him at all. Oh, I gave him   [p. 61]   a kiss on the cheek when I said goodbye. I told him that he would never see me again if he kept troubling me with his stupid declarations of love. I must grant him that his behavior toward me since that evening has always been polite and correct. Always . . . Now I have confessed the whole thing to you exactly as it was—and now you sit there condemning me in your thoughts. I can see it on you. I knew it, I knew it.
ERNEST:No, no, not for a moment. (While he is struggling with a new idea.) Now, Norma, that confession wasn't so terribly difficult.
NORMA:No, not now. But you have never spoken to me with such understanding as you have this evening. If you had always been like this toward me, I would never have concealed anything from you. But I was so afraid that you would look severely on this thing. And it was probably not quite right of me to continue associating with him when I knew he loved me.
ERNEST:Well—how could you help that?
NORMA:No, but anyway. Now it doesn't matter. For now he's over it long ago.

(Ernest goes over to the daybed and sits down beside her.)

NORMA(throws her arms around him and lays her head against his chest with a long, happy sigh): Oh-h—thank you, darling. Thank you for sitting down beside me. I am so happy, so happy.
ERNEST:Will you tell me one thing, Norma, which I want to ask you about?
NORMA:Anything, anything, beloved, I'll tell you anything. Just so you will keep me in your arms. That is the only place I feel calm and secure. Yes, like that. Now I live again. Now I'll close my eyes and listen to you speak.
ERNEST:Here we sit, the two of us. There is nothing that separates our hearts. Everything we think and say to each   [p. 62]   other at this moment will build our lives out of their ruins. Therefore we will both remember to let every one of our words pass through the forge of truth. As we are sitting here, it is easy for us to show each other full confidence.
NORMA:Keep talking—it is so lovely to listen to your words.
ERNEST(draws her closer to him): In this way we can be secure. No truth, however bitter, can do us any harm. It is all the other things, the compromises, the lack of trust in each other, that seek to part us and destroy our happiness.
NORMA:But after this not even that shall part us. I promise you that. No compromises. No lack of trust, nothing on earth.
ERNEST:Norma—have you belonged to Mr. Rattigan with all your soul and all your body?
NORMA(starts out of his arms, as before a death-dealing blow, looks him in the eye, but gets no explanation from his expression, which is full of sincerity and gentleness): I knew it, I knew it. As soon as I told you the truth, you only suspected me of something else and worse. I knew it would only feed your suspiciousness if I told you. And then you reproached me for preferring to be silent. It makes no difference what I do, it is always wrong. I knew it, I knew it.
ERNEST:Norma—think of your and my future. I just beg you to tell me the truth, quietly and without mincing words. Did you give yourself to him? Yes or no!
NORMA:Are you out of your mind?
ERNEST:Yes—or no!
NORMA:No, no, no! A thousand times no!
ERNEST:Then my last hope is gone.
NORMA:What do you mean?
ERNEST(goes over to the desk and leans against the edge of it): My hope of ever again being happy in our marriage—this answer has extinguished it. I see life ahead as a wasteland, where nothing can grow. I am alone, quite alone—as   [p. 63]   I have been these days. You are alone, quite alone—as you have been these days. Every bond that held us together is burnt—and the ashes are in my hand.
NORMA(getting up): What in the world is wrong with you, Ernest? You frighten me. You are making me think that I am alone with a madman.
ERNEST(with a faint smile): You needn't worry, Norma.
NORMA:I needn't worry! When I hear you saying that all your hope is gone because I have not belonged to any man but you, because I have not been unfaithful to you!
ERNEST:How differently we two love!
NORMA:I don't understand you—won't you please explain what you mean?
ERNEST(returns to the daybed and sits down): No explanation can help us now. It is all over.
NORMA(sits down beside him): No, you mustn't say that. I would like to understand you—I have no higher wish. And I'll succeed, you just see.
ERNEST:I don't believe it. But I won't leave you until I've given you a full explanation of my actions. You have a right to that—whether you understand them or not. (Puts his arm around her shoulder.) I have loved you, Norma . . .

(Norma leans her head against his chest.)

ERNEST:I have loved you—very differently and far more deeply than you have seen or tried to see. And I have always considered your love for me as the only precious treasure I had. You did not always notice it, I'll grant—and now I can tell you why. I was careless with my treasure, because I was proud of it. It was like a priceless jewel that one is pleased to treat lightly in order to make others think that one is richer than one is. I was careless with it—until you returned from Florida, and I was afraid I had lost it. Since that time I have been thinking and thinking. I thought about the coldness you showed me, a thoughtlessness that sometimes took   [p. 64]   the form of out-and-out enmity. What was its source? Yes, you were right: I did suffer from jealousy. All the time, while I was at home. But when I was alone, when I had moved away from you—when everything that was delightful in your being had turned to memories of something I could neither see nor hear nor touch, memories without flesh and blood—then the jealousy vanished, and was forgotten, just as a small accident is forgotten for a horrible tragedy. It was more than forgotten. It came back to me in a new shape, as the last hope for my happiness. Do you understand me, Norma?
NORMA:I have understood everything you said, every single point—except this about your jealousy. I don't understand that.
ERNEST:Thanks for your frankness, Norma. The explanation is coming. The tragedy I spoke of was the only explanation there could be of your behavior. Then began for the first time a struggle of a thousand forces in my brain. The struggle over how I could win back your love. If you had come back from Florida without any other man's having captured your emotions, if you showed such thoughtless lack of consideration without your heart's being full of love for another—then it had to be because your heart was empty, because your love was dead. Then the struggle was hopeless . . . But if you had fallen in love— (Interrupts himself)
NORMA:What then, Ernest, what then?
ERNEST:Do you still understand me?
NORMA:Yes, I do. What were you going to say?
ERNEST:If you had fallen in love with another man for a time, not just in a kind of superficial and silly way, and your love had been sincere and deep and pure, full of a passion that justified it, then I could not only have understood the reason for the change in you, I could have taken up the battle in the hope of winning you back, winning you forever.   [p. 65]   What happens to jealousy when our whole life's happiness is at stake? I believed in this possibility until you came here this evening, but I was wrong. Nobody else has supplanted your love for me in your heart. It died a natural death inside you.
NORMA:No, no, Ernest, you mustn't say these frightful words.
ERNEST:Why don't you say anything?
NORMA:I? . . .What can l say?
ERNEST:No, what can you say? Not a word. Not a word can you say. You know the whole thing is true.
NORMA:No, you mustn't get up! Do you hear! I am so frightened.
ERNEST:Why are you frightened?
NORMA:I don't know . . . Ernest, I love you.
ERNEST:Norma, do you remember our nights after you returned from Florida? Do you remember how you avoided me, how you hurt me by thinking it was necessary to avoid me, and could find no other excuse except that you were tired? Tired after two months' separation from me! That was because your love was dead.

(Norma puts her hands before her face.)

ERNEST:How I have loved you, cold woman! With a reverence that was too sacred to have a name. When I kissed your lips, I did not kiss your mouth. I was bending my knee to you, and bringing my adoration to that threshold which your and my soul would some day cross in the shape of a little child.

(Norma is overwhelmed by his words, throws herself on the edge of the daybed as she sobs loudly.)

ERNEST:Yes, go ahead and cry, Norma. Bear your and my grief to the grave at which you are sorrowing. You were faithful to me. But when did unfaithfulness ever treat anyone more harshly than your faithfulness has treated me?   [p. 66]   Before I plumbed the depths of my passion, I cried in a loud voice: let not unfaithfulness enter my temple! Now I whisper in a child's voice: a thousand times rather unfaithfulness than to find the temple closed, and then when one opens it, to find it empty. He who is faithful, but without love—his treason is the greatest.
NORMA(rises, but immediately sinks weakly down to him): Can you forgive me—I can no longer conceal it from you. Cannot and will not.
ERNEST:You—you are concealing nothing from me.
NORMA:I have loved Edward Rattigan.
ERNEST:You—you cannot love anyone.
NORMA:I have loved him—until the day you left home. He can speak of my love being dead. Not you. I don't know if I have understood you, Ernest; I have tried. Now I beg you try to understand me. You said earlier that I had not always noticed how rich your love was. No, I haven't. You were stingy with your words of love, like a miser brooding on his gold. You also called my love a treasure and said you had been careless with it. I felt it all too often. If it is an excuse that this man thawed out those springs of passion which had frozen up in marital habits, then I'll mention this excuse. But not really for my sake. If you forgive me, I have nothing to regret. Some wise man has said that it is only through sin we attain perfection. It is through my misstep that I now love you as purely and deeply as any woman can love.
ERNEST:Are you sure that you know yourself, Norma? What was your misstep? When you gave yourself to him, didn't you hold back some of your passion, so that you were neither wholly his nor wholly mine?
NORMA:No, I can't divide myself between two. That is why I avoided all your tenderness. It was not in order to hurt you needlessly. It was because I had to be honest with   [p. 67]   myself. It was no superficial flirt, Ernest. It was a passion, which consumed my feelings. I gave him just as few days of my life as I have given you many years. Now you know everything.
ERNEST(rising): Yes, now I know everything. As far as that goes, everything I knew before. No more. No less.
NORMA:I thought you would hold me tight and be good to me?
ERNEST:This is the only time in my life I have not been honest with you, Norma.

(Norma's features stiffen.)

ERNEST:All this time since I left home, I have been determined that if we met again, I would force this confession from your lips. It was the only way I could save myself.
NORMA:Save yourself—from what?
ERNEST:From you. From your deception.
NORMA(gets up): Have you been sitting here, holding me close, luring me to your heart, fooling me into believing you, under the guise of love and nobility—all with the sole purpose of performing a highly refined deception? I would never have suspected you of such an ignoble betrayal.
ERNEST:If I may grant myself a bit of justification, it would be that the betrayal you have committed is a good deal more ignoble. You concealed the truth with the sole purpose of deceiving me. I concealed the truth with the sole purpose of revealing the truth.
NORMA:Never, never as long as I live will I forgive you for this—this calculated meanness. Yes, now I see the whole thing. You did not use honorable weapons. First you made me weak, set me to crying, and then you let loving words fall like a whiplash on my soul. That is how you did it. First you paralyzed my arm, and then you stole the weapon from my hand. Lies, lies the whole thing.
  [p. 68]  
ERNEST:I happen to have a different conception of the relation between truth and lies, between love and trifling. You were to be allowed to deceive me, and then to wash away my suspicions by tears and embraces. But I was not to be allowed to use my intelligence to see through those tears and those embraces and look right into the heart of your lie. This is what you cannot forget as long as you live. I swear to you that this evening is the last time we will speak together in our lives.
NORMA:What are you planning to do?
ERNEST:I plan to make you understand that from this moment all association between us is definitely at an end. And now—now I beg you to leave me alone.
NORMA:I shall not burden you again with my tears or my embraces—but I am your wife, and I will not allow myself to be chased away.
ERNEST:What are you saying? A woman who deceives her husband? Fine, then I'll bring the matter to court.
NORMA:Do you think any court can force me to divorce my husband if I don't want to? You have no proofs.
ERNEST:But you yourself have confessed.
NORMA:Where are the witnesses to this confession? I'll say you're lying. You lied to me before. Or I'll say something else that is more effective.
ERNEST:What is that?
NORMA:That will come up when the time is ripe.
ERNEST:What are you planning to do, Norma? Do you intend to spend the night here?
NORMA:Yes—if you won't come home with me.

(Ernest opens the clothes closet and takes out a suitcase. Walks over to the desk, opens the drawers, and puts various letters and the like into the suitcase, plus some of the things on the table.)

NORMA:I won't let you go, Ernest. If you plan to leave me   [p. 69]   now, I'll go with you. You can't prevent it. I won't let you go, do you hear, I won't let you go.

(Ernest picks up the suitcase without closing it, so that the long straps drag on the floor, and walks toward the door in the rear.)

NORMA(runs to the door): If you are leaving, you'll take me with you.
ERNEST(with perfect restraint): Will you please step aside from the door, so I can get out?
NORMA:No, not without me.

(Ernest puts down the suitcase, pulls out the straps, takes Norma and leads her over to the chair before the toilet commode.)

NORMA:What are you doing?
ERNEST:Don't worry. I won't hurt you. (Places her in the chair and ties her by the straps. Tightens one strap around her arms and through the spokes of the chair, the other over her knees. While he is doing this, they exchange the following two speeches.)
NORMA:Are you laying hands on a woman?
ERNEST:You have your tears—I have my strength. These are a man's and a woman's most basic weapons. But I won't let you wait long in this position. Twenty minutes at the most. I'll drive over to McLean's, and as soon as I get there, he will come here and release you. Then you are free, and I will be, too. I will then have disappeared from your life. I'll go away—far, far into the world.

(Norma weeps quietly.)

ERNEST(takes a couple of steps away): You have your one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in the bank. For the time being that should suffice. When you want to make further arrangements about the divorce, you can turn to Mr. Posner. Everything else I'll arrange later. If you feel that my forgiveness means anything to you, you may expect   [p. 70]   to hear from me one single time. Perhaps, I say. For it can't come before I have stopped loving you. (Takes the suitcase.) Goodbye, Norma. (Leaves by the door rear.)

(Norma struggles with the chair, but soon discovers how heavy it is. Then she appears to fall into a state of coma. The rustling heard from the neighboring room does not disturb her. But suddenly her eyes light up at a thought that occurs to her. As Ernest is heard closing the door out to the hallway behind him, she laughs. She sends crystal clear waves of laughter out into the room, louder and clearer as his steps grow fainter. She listens between each laugh. She laughs more and more weakly, until the door on the left opens. Her laughter has called him back. Ernest enters and remains standing on the threshold. Norma pays no attention to him, but goes on laughing.)

ERNEST(puts down his suitcase and walks over to the chair): What's the matter with you, Norma?
NORMA:Why don't you leave?
ERNEST:I had left, I was on my way down the stairs. But then I heard you laughing. What's the matter with you?
NORMA:And then you came back—then you didn't dare but come back.
ERNEST:I thought maybe something was wrong with you. I don't know, but I felt it was uncanny to hear you and then leave you this way.
NORMA:Tied up?
ERNEST:No, laughing.
NORMA:There is something I would like to say to you before you leave, since you have come back. Something that will overthrow all your plans. Something that will please you. Something I have the right to let you know.
ERNEST:What is that?
NORMA:For you have decided to leave, haven't you?
  [p. 71]  
ERNEST:Decided . . . I am just waiting to hear what you want to say—if you think it is necessary.
NORMA:Good . . . I promise you that what I tell you now will not be accompanied either by tears or any personal reproaches on my part. I shall tell you the naked facts and nothing else. In return I demand that you release me from the bondage you have subjected me to. I want to speak to you as a free woman, as your wife, and not as a slave in chains.
ERNEST:I'll release you, Norma. But if you fail me this time, you'll suffer the consequences.
NORMA:If you still want to leave after I have told you, you won't need to do so. I'll leave myself, and you won't see me again.

(Ernest unties the straps.)

NORMA(gets up, walks over to the daybed, and sits down): In the meantime, please sit down.

(Ernest takes out a chair and is seated.)

NORMA(with a bright smile): Do you know why I laughed? I was sure you would come back when you heard me laugh. If not, I wouldn't have let you go. For the last twenty minutes I have been waiting for this moment with a wild yearning. Have you never looked forward so much to doing something that you postponed it to the last moment, to the very brink of possibility, so to speak, just to be able to enjoy your anticipation to the utmost?
ERNEST:What do you want to tell me?
NORMA:Now listen carefully—You think you have been very clever this evening. You constructed a trap for me in an unusually subtle way. You set it for me, and now you think you have caught me in it. It has not occurred to you that I might have been even more clever than you. Do you think I have been married to you for nine years without   [p. 72]   knowing that you never would forgive me if I had really done what I confessed this evening? But it is true: For a moment I did believe that your love was deep enough so that you had the will to forgive all. Therefore I listened to you, let you think you had caught me, drew the bow as high as possible. I told you more and more. I wanted to know how much you loved me—and then, then when I had your forgiveness, I looked forward so joyfully to telling you the truth. To telling you that the whole thing was a lie, that it was all done to test your love. I looked forward to being able to sweep away your baseless suspicion in this way once and for all. But—your forgiveness did not come. That was a disappointment. It angered me. And so I continued the game. If you had the right to use any means in order to discover whether your wife was unfaithful to you, then I had the right to use any means to discover how much my husband loved me. Which of us was the cleverest? I have never loved Mr. Rattigan, never kissed him, never been his. That man means nothing to me now and never has, not more than the table over there.
ERNEST(leaps to his feet and rushes frenziedly back and forth on the floor): God in heaven, what a conscience! Is no falsehood so mean, no lie so barefaced, that you are not ashamed to adopt it? So this is how you deceived me? Not a jot more hesitantly than this. With precisely the same coldbloodedness as the one with which you are now telling me this lie as you sit there. Go away and never let me see you again!

(Norma goes over to him and puts her hand on his arm.)

ERNEST:Don't touch me—you whore!
NORMA:You have no right to fling that word in my face.
ERNEST:Where can I go to be reconciled to my fate? Where on earth can I get forgiveness for having given you my sincere love? You are worse than the whore in the street, a   [p. 73]   thousand, thousand times worse. In her sincerity she is faithful, in her faithlessness she is sincere. No one mistakes her. But you—I have taken you into the sacredness of my heart, and you have soiled it for ever. (His voice trembles in fury as he leans against the table and grips the edge with his hands, while he tries to restrain the burning emotions of his heart.) And now go—get out of my life!
NORMA(goes over to him, throws her arms around his neck): I won't leave you, Ernest. You know you are doing me a wrong . . . You do love me.
ERNEST:I love you! . . . How do I love you . . . This is how I love you. (Fumbles across the table, in his confusion seizes an iron paperweight, and hits her on the head with it.)

(Norma falls, unconscious from the blow and without making a sound, before his feet.)

ERNEST(rushing back and forth in unbridled emotion—with short, jerky breathing): That's how I love you, yes. That's how I love you. (Stops some distance away.) Why did you tease me like that? (Pacing some more.) Why did you throw your arms around me at the same moment you had maddened me with grief and anger? . . . Otherwise I wouldn't have done it . . . (Goes closer to her and stops.) Does it hurt very much? . . . (Goes over to her.) Norma, does it hurt very much? . . . Norma! . . . Norma! . . . (Falls on one knee and bends over her. Takes her hand in alarm and feels her pulse. Calls with a loud voice.) Norma, Norma, Norma, Norma! (Puts his ear to her heart. Slowly gets to his feet, pale as a corpse, with every feature of his face frozen. Tries to take a step, then sinks down, overwhelmed, on the floor beside her.) Why did you torture me so long, oh my beloved? . . . Of all the things that could happen, this is what I wanted the least. (Looks up with imploring eyes.) Did I really do it? . . . Who was so ill-disposed to our love? My little girl, my little girl . . . (His tears fall on   [p. 74]   her face, his head sinks down on her bosom. His whole body is shaken by sobs. Then he lifts her head up from the floor and presses a kiss on her forehead. Gets to his feet, takes her in his arms, and carries her over to the bed. He crosses her hands on her breast, kisses them, and spreads her coat over her. Staggers to the table, stares at the paperweight, touches it, but immediately pulls back his hand. Stares into space.) How lucky you are . . . How lucky you are! . . .
CURTAIN

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