The Ghost Sonata


Writers: August Strindberg


The STUDENT, named Arkenholtz
The MILKMAID, an apparition
The GHOST of the Consul
The DARK LADY, daughter of the Consul and the JANITRESS
The MUMMY, wife of the COLONEL
The YOUNG LADY, supposedly the COLONEL'S daughter,
but in reality the daughter of OLD HUMMEL
The DANDY, called Baron Skansenkorge and engaged to
JOHANSSON, in the service of HUMMEL
BENGTSSON, the valet of the COLONEL
The FIANCÉE, a white-haired old woman, formerly engaged


The stage shows the first and second stories of a modern corner home. At the left, the house continues into the wings; at the right, it faces on a street supposed to be running at right angle to the footlights.

The apartment on the ground floor ends at the corner in a round room, above which is a balcony belonging to the apartment on the second floor. A flagstaff is fixed to the balcony.

When the shades are raised in the windows of the Round Room, a statue of a young woman in white marble becomes visible inside, strongly illumined by sunlight. It is surrounded by palms. The windows on the left side of the Round Room contain a number of flower-pots, in which grow blue, white, and red hyacinths.

A bedquilt of blue silk and two pillows in white cases are hung over the railing of the balcony on the second floor. The windows at the left of the balcony are covered with white sheets on the inside.

A green bench stands on the sidewalk in front of the house. The right corner of the foreground is occupied by a drinking fountain; the corner at the left, by an advertising column.

The main entrance to the house is near the left wing. Through the open doorway appears the foot of the stairway, with steps of white marble and a banister of mahogany with brass trimmings. On the sidewalk, flanking the entrance, stand two laurel-trees in wooden tubs.

At the left of the entrance, there is a window on the ground floor, with a window-mirror outside.

It is a bright Sunday morning.

When the curtain rises, the bells of several churches are heard ringing in the distance.

The doors of the entrance are wide open, and on the lowest step of the stairway stands the DARK LADY. She does not make the slightest movement.

The JANITRESS is sweeping the hallway. Then she polishes the brass knobs on the doors. Finally she waters the laurel-trees.

Near the advertising column, OLD HUMMEL is reading his paper, seated in an invalid's chair on wheels. His hair and beard are white, and he wears spectacles.

The MILKMAID enters from the side street, carrying milk-bottles in a crate of wire-work. She wears a light dress, brown shoes, black stockings, and a white cap.

She takes off her cap and hangs it on the fountain; wipes the perspiration from her forehead; drinks out of the cup; washes her hands in the basin, and arranges her hair, using the water in the basin as a mirror.

A steamship-bell is heard outside. Then the silence is broken fitfully by a few bass notes from the organ in the nearest church.

When silence reigns again, and the MILKMAID has finished her toilet, the STUDENT enters from the left, unshaved and showing plainly that he has spent a sleepless night. He goes straight to the fountain. A pause ensues.

STUDENT. Can I have the cup?

The MILKMAID draws back with the cup.

STUDENT. Are you not almost done?

The MILKMAID stares at him with horror.

HUMMEL. [To himself] With whom is he talking? I don't see anybody. Wonder if he's crazy?

[He continues to look at them with evident surprise.

STUDENT. Why do you stare at me? Do I look so terrible---It is true that I haven't slept at all, and I suppose you think I have been making a night of it....

The MILKMAID remains as before.

STUDENT. You think I have been drinking, do you? Do I smell of liquor?

The MILKMAID remains as before.

STUDENT. I haven't shaved, of course.... Oh, give me a drink of water, girl. I have earned it. [Pause] Well? Must I then tell you myself that I have spent the night dressing wounds and nursing the injured? You see, I was present when that house collapsed last night.... Now you know all about it.

The MILKMAID rinses the cup, fills it with water, and hands it to him.

STUDENT. Thanks!

The Milkmaid stands immovable.

STUDENT. [Hesitatingly] Would you do me a favour? [Pause] My eyes are inflamed, as you can see, and my hands have touched wounds and corpses. To touch my eyes with them would be dangerous.... Will you take my handkerchief, which is clean, dip it in the fresh water, and bathe my poor eyes with it?---Will you do that?---Won't you play the good Samaritan?

The MILKMAID hesitates at first, but does finally what he has asked.

STUDENT. Thank you! [He takes out his purse.

The MILKMAID makes a deprecatory gesture.

STUDENT. Pardon my absent-mindedness. I am not awake, you see....

The MILKMAID disappears.

Hummel. [To the STUDENT] Excuse a stranger, but I heard you mention last night's accident.... I was just reading about it in the paper....

STUDENT. Is it already in the papers?

HUMMEL. All about it. Even your portrait. They are sorry, though, that they have not been able to learn the name of the young student who did such splendid work....

STUDENT. [Glancing at the paper] Oh, is that me? Well!

HUMMEL. Whom were you talking to a while ago?

STUDENT. Didn't you see? [Pause.

HUMMEL. Would it be impertinent---to ask---your estimable name?

STUDENT. What does it matter? I don't care for publicity. Blame is always mixed into any praise you may get. The art of belittling is so highly developed. And besides, I ask no reward....

HUMMEL. Wealthy, I suppose?

STUDENT. Not at all---on the contrary---poor as a durmouse!

HUMMEL. Look here.... It seems to me as if I recognised your voice. When I was young, I had a friend who always said "dur" instead of door. Until now he was the one person I had ever heard using that pronunciation. You are the only other one.... Could you possibly be a relative of the late Mr. Arkenholtz, the merchant?

STUDENT. He was my father.

HUMMEL. Wonderful are the ways of life.... I have seen you when you were a small child, under very trying circumstances....

STUDENT. Yes, I have been told that I was born just after my father had gone bankrupt.

HUMMEL. So you were.

STUDENT. May I ask your name?

HUMMEL. I am Mr. Hummel.

STUDENT. You are? Then I remember....

HUMMEL. Have you often heard my name mentioned at home?

STUDENT. I have.

HUMMEL. And not in a pleasant way, I suppose?

The STUDENT remains silent.

HUMMEL. That's what I expected.---You were told, I suppose, that I had ruined your father?---All who are ruined by ill-advised speculations think themselves ruined by those whom they couldn't fool. [Pause] The fact of it is, however, that your father robbed me of seventeen thousand crowns, which represented all my savings at that time.

STUDENT. It is queer how the same story can be told in quite different ways.

HUMMEL. You don't think that I am telling the truth?

STUDENT. How can I tell what to think? My father was not in the habit of lying.

HUMMEL. No, that's right, a father never lies.... But I am also a father, and for that reason....

STUDENT. What are you aiming at?

HUMMEL. I saved your father from misery, and he repaid me with the ruthless hatred that is born out of obligation.... He taught his family to speak ill of me.

STUDENT. Perhaps you made him ungrateful by poisoning your assistance with needless humiliation.

HUMMEL. All assistance is humiliating, sir.

STUDENT. And what do you ask of me now?

HUMMEL. Not the money back. But if you will render me a small service now and then, I shall consider myself well paid. I am a cripple, as you see. Some people say it is my own fault. Others lay it to my parents. I prefer to blame life itself, with its snares. To escape one of these snares is to walk headlong into another. As it is, I cannot climb stairways or ring door-bells, and for that reason I ask you: will you help me a little?

STUDENT. What can I do for you?

HUMMEL. Give my chair a push, to begin with, so that I can read the bills on that column. I wish to see what they are playing to-night.

STUDENT. [Pushing the chair as directed] Have you no attendant?

HUMMEL. Yes, but he is doing an errand. He'll be back soon. Are you a medical student?

STUDENT. No, I am studying philology, but I don't know what profession to choose....

HUMMEL. Well, well! Are you good at mathematics?

STUDENT. Reasonably so.

HUMMEL. That's good! Would you care to accept a position?

STUDENT. Yes, why not?

HUMMEL. Fine! [Studying the playbills] They are playing "The Valkyr" at the matinee.... Then the Colonel will be there with his daughter, and as he always has the end seat in the sixth row, I'll put you next to him.... Will you please go over to that telephone kiosk and order a ticket for seat eighty-two, in the sixth row?

STUDENT. Must I go to the opera in the middle of the day?

HUMMEL. Yes. Obey me, and you'll prosper. I wish to see you happy, rich, and honoured. Your début last night in the part of the brave rescuer will have made you famous by to-morrow, and then your name will be worth a great deal.

STUDENT. [On his way out to telephone] What a ludicrous adventure!

HUMMEL. Are you a sportsman?

STUDENT. Yes, that has been my misfortune.

HUMMEL. Then we'll turn it into good fortune.---Go and telephone now.

The STUDENT goes out. HUMMEL begins to read his paper again. In the meantime the DARK LADY has come out on the sidewalk and stands talking to the JANITRESS. HUMMEL is taking in their conversation, of which, however, nothing is audible to the public. After a while the STUDENT returns.

HUMMEL. Ready?

STUDENT. It's done.

HUMMEL. Have you noticed this house?

STUDENT. Yes, I have been watching it.... I happened to pass by yesterday, when the sun was making every window-pane glitter.... And thinking of all the beauty and luxury that must be found within, I said to my companion: "Wouldn't it be nice to have an apartment on the fifth floor, a beautiful young wife, two pretty little children, and an income of twenty thousand crowns?"...

HUMMEL. So you said that? Did you really? Well, well! I am very fond of this house, too....

STUDENT. Do you speculate in houses?

HUMMEL. Mm-yah! But not in the way you mean.

STUDENT. Do you know the people who live here?

HUMMEL. All of them. A man of my age knows everybody, including their parents and grandparents, and in some manner he always finds himself related to every one else. I am just eighty---but nobody knows me---not through and through. I am very much interested in human destinies.

At that moment the shades are raised in the Round Room on the ground floor, and the COLONEL becomes visible, dressed in civilian clothes. He goes to one of the windows to study the thermometer outside. Then he turns back into the room and stops in front of the marble statue.

HUMMEL. There's the Colonel now, who will sit next to you at the opera this afternoon.

STUDENT. Is he---the Colonel? I don't understand this at all, but it's like a fairy-tale.

HUMMEL. All my life has been like a collection of fairy-tales, my dear sir. Although the tales read differently, they are all strung on a common thread, and the dominant theme recurs constantly.

STUDENT. Whom does that statue represent?

HUMMEL. His wife, of course.

STUDENT. Was she very lovely?

HUMMEL. Mm-yah---well....

STUDENT. Speak out.

HUMMEL. Oh, we can't form any judgment about people, my dear boy. And if I told you that she left him, that he beat her, that she returned to him, that she married him a second time, and that she is living there now in the shape of a mummy, worshipping her own statue---then you would think me crazy.

STUDENT. I don't understand at all.

HUMMEL. I didn't expect you would. Then there is the window with the hyacinths. That's where his daughter lives? She is out for a ride now, but she will be home in a few moments.

STUDENT. And who is the dark lady talking to the janitress?

HUMMEL. The answer is rather complicated, but it is connected with the dead man on the second floor, where you see the white sheets.

STUDENT. Who was he?

HUMMEL. A human being like you or me, but the most conspicuous thing about him was his vanity.... If you were born on a Sunday, you might soon see him come down the stairway and go out on the sidewalk to make sure that the flag of the consulate is half-masted. You see, he was a consul, and he revelled in coronets and lions and plumed hats and coloured ribbons.

STUDENT. You spoke of being born on a Sunday.... So was I, I understand.

HUMMEL. No! Really?... Oh, I should have known.... The colour of your eyes shows it.... Then you can see what other people can't. Have you noticed anything of that kind?

STUDENT. Of course, I can't tell what other people see or don't see, but at times.... Oh, such things you don't talk of!

HUMMEL. I was sure of it! And you can talk to me, because I---I understand---things of that kind....

STUDENT. Yesterday, for instance.... I was drawn to that little side street where the house fell down afterward.... When I got there, I stopped in front of the house, which I had never seen before.... Then I noticed a crack in the wall.... I could hear the floor beams snapping.... I rushed forward and picked up a child that was walking in front of the house at the time.... In another moment the house came tumbling down.... I was saved, but in my arms, which I thought held the child, there was nothing at all....

HUMMEL. Well, I must say!... Much as I have heard.... Please tell me one thing: what made you act as you did by the fountain a while ago? Why were you talking to yourself?

STUDENT. Didn't you see the Milkmaid to whom I was talking?

HUMMEL. [Horrified] A milkmaid?

STUDENT. Yes, the girl who handed me the cup.

HUMMEL. Oh, that's what it was.... Well, I haven't that kind of sight, but there are other things....

A white-haired old woman is seen at the window beside the entrance, looking into the window-mirror.

HUMMEL. Look at that old woman in the window. Do you see her?---Well, she was my fiancée once upon a time, sixty years ago.... I was twenty at that time.... Never mind, she does not recognise me. We see each other every day, and I hardly notice her---although once we vowed to love each other eternally.... Eternally!

STUDENT. How senseless you were in those days! We don't talk to our girls like that.

HUMMEL. Forgive us, young man! We didn't know better.---Can you see that she was young and pretty once?

STUDENT. It doesn't show.... Oh, yes, she has a beautiful way of looking at things, although I can't see her eyes clearly.

The JANITRESS comes out with a basket on her arm and begins to cover the sidewalk with chopped hemlock branches, as is usual in Sweden when a funeral is to be held.

HUMMEL. And the Janitress---hm! That Dark Lady is her daughter and the dead man's, and that's why her husband was made janitor.... But the Dark Lady has a lover, who is a dandy with great expectations. He is now getting a divorce from his present wife, who is giving him an apartment-house to get rid of him. This elegant lover is the son-in-law of the dead man, and you can see his bedclothes being aired on the balcony up there.... That's a bit complicated, I should say!

STUDENT. Yes, it's fearfully complicated.

HUMMEL. It certainly is, inside and outside, no matter how simple it may look.

STUDENT. But who was the dead man?

HUMMEL. So you asked me a while ago, and I answered you. If you could look around the corner, where the servants' entrance is, you would see a lot of poor people whom he used to help---when he was in the mood....

STUDENT. He was a kindly man, then?

HUMMEL. Yes---at times.

STUDENT. Not always?

HUMMEL. No-o.... People are like that!---Will you please move the chair a little, so that I get into the sunlight? I am always cold. You see, the blood congeals when you can't move about.... Death isn't far away from me, I know, but I have a few things to do before it comes.... Just take hold of my hand and feel how cold I am.

STUDENT. [Taking his hand] I should say so!

[He shrinks back.

HUMMEL. Don't leave me! I am tired now, and lonely, but I haven't always been like this, you know. I have an endlessly long life back of---enormously long.... I have made people unhappy, and other people have made me unhappy, and one thing has to be put against the other, but before I die, I wish to see you happy.... Our destinies have become intertwined, thanks to your father---and many other things....

STUDENT. Let go my hand! You are taking all my strength! You are freezing me! What do you want of me?

HUMMEL. Patience, and you'll see, and understand.... There comes the Young Lady now....

STUDENT. The Colonel's daughter?

HUMMEL. His daughter---yes! Look at her!---Did you ever see such a masterpiece?

STUDENT. She resembles the marble statue in there.

HUMMEL. It's her mother.

STUDENT. You are right.... Never did I see such a woman of woman born!---Happy the man who may lead her to the altar and to his home!

HUMMEL. You see it, then? Her beauty is not discovered by everybody.... Then it is written in the book of life!

The YOUNG LADY enters from the left, wearing a close-fitting English riding-suit. Without looking at any one, she walks slowly to the entrance, where she stops and exchanges a few words with the JANITRESS. Then she disappears into the house. The STUDENT covers his eyes with his hand.

HUMMEL. Are you crying?

STUDENT. Can you meet what is hopeless with anything but despair?

HUMMEL. I have the power of opening doors and hearts, if I can only find an arm to do my will.... Serve me, and you shall also have power....

STUDENT. Is it to be a bargain? Do you want me to sell my soul?

HUMMEL. Don't sell anything!... You see, all my life I have been used to take. Now I have a craving to give---to give! But no one will accept.... I am rich, very rich, but have no heirs except a scamp who is tormenting the life out of me.... Become my son! Inherit me while I am still alive! Enjoy life, and let me look on---from a distance, at least!

STUDENT. What am I to do?

HUMMEL. Go and hear "The Valkyr" first of all.

STUDENT. That's settled---but what more?

HUMMEL. This evening you shall be in the Round Room.

STUDENT. How am I to get there?

HUMMEL. Through "The Valkyr."

STUDENT. Why have you picked me to be your instrument? Did you know me before?

HUMMEL. Of course, I did! I have had my eyes on you for a long time.... Look at the balcony now, where the Maid is raising the flag at half-mast in honour of the consul.... And then she turns the bedclothes.... Do you notice that blue quilt? It was made to cover two, and now it is only covering one.... [The YOUNG LADY appears at her window, having changed dress in the meantime; she waters the hyacinths] There is my little girl now. Look at her---look! She is talking to her flowers, and she herself looks like a blue hyacinth. She slakes their thirst---with pure water only---and they transform the water into colour and fragrance.... There comes the Colonel with the newspaper! He shows her the story about the house that fell down---and he points at your portrait! She is not indifferent---she reads of your deeds.... It's clouding up, I think.... I wonder if it's going to rain? Then I shall be in a nice fix, unless Johansson comes back soon [The sun has disappeared, and now the stage is growing darker; the white-haired old woman closes her window] Now my fiancée is closing her window.... She is seventy-nine---and the only mirror she uses is the window-mirror, because there she sees not herself, but the world around her---and she sees it from two sides---but it has not occurred to her that she can be seen by the world, too.... A handsome old lady, after all....

Now the GHOST, wrapped in winding sheets, comes out of the entrance.

STUDENT. Good God, what is that I see?

HUMMEL. What do you see?

STUDENT. Don't you see?... There, at the entrance.... The dead man?

HUMMEL. I see nothing at all, but that was what I expected. Tell me....

STUDENT. He comes out in the street.... [Pause] Now he turns his head to look at the flag.

HUMMEL. What did I tell you? And you may be sure that he will count the wreaths and study the visiting-cards attached to them.... And I pity anybody that is missing!

STUDENT. Now he goes around the corner....

HUMMEL. He wants to count the poor at the other entrance.... The poor are so decorative, you know.... "Followed by the blessings of many".... But he won't get any blessing from me!---Between us, he was a big rascal!

STUDENT. But charitable....

HUMMEL. A charitable rascal, who always had in mind the splendid funeral he expected to get.... When he knew that his end was near, he cheated the state out of fifty thousand crowns.... And now his daughter goes about with ... another woman's husband, and wonders what is in his will.... Yes, the rascal can hear every word we say, and he is welcome to it!---There comes Johansson now.

JOHANSSON enters from the left.

HUMMEL. Report!

JOHANSSON can be seen speaking, but not a word of what he says is heard.

HUMMEL. Not at home, you say? Oh, you are no good!---Any telegram?---Not a thing.... Go on!---Six o'clock to-night?---That's fine!---An extra, you say?---With his full name?---Arkenholtz, a student, yes.... Born.... Parents.... That's splendid! I think it's beginning to rain.... What did he say?---Is that so?---He won't?---Well, then he must!---Here comes the Dandy.... Push me around the corner, Johansson, so I can hear what the poor people have to say.... [To the STUDENT] And you had better wait for me here, Arkenholtz.... Do you understand?---[To JOHANSSON] Hurry up now, hurry up!

JOHANSSON pushes the chair into the side street and out of sight. The STUDENT remains on the same spot, looking at the YOUNG LADY, who is using a small rake to loosen up the earth in her pots. The DANDY enters and joins the DARK LADY, who has been walking back and forth on the sidewalk. He is in mourning.

DANDY. Well, what is there to do about it? We simply have to wait.

DARK LADY. But I can't wait!

DANDY. Is that so? Then you'll have to go to the country.

DARK LADY. I don't want to!

DANDY. Come this way, or they'll hear what we are saying.

They go toward the advertising column and continue their talk inaudibly.

JOHANSSON. [Entering from the right; to the STUDENT] My master asks you not to forget that other thing.

STUDENT. [Dragging his words] Look here.... Tell me, please.... Who is your master?

JOHANSSON. Oh, he's so many things, and he has been everything....

STUDENT. Is he in his right mind?

JOHANSSON. Who can tell?---All his life he has been looking for one born on Sunday, he says---which does not mean that it must be true....

STUDENT. What is he after? Is he a miser?

JOHANSSON. He wants to rule.... The whole day long he travels about in his chair like the god of thunder himself He looks at houses, tears them down, opens up new streets, fills the squares with buildings.... At the same time he breaks into houses, sneaks through open windows, plays havoc with human destinies, kills his enemies, and refuses to forgive anything.... Can you imagine that a cripple like him has been a Don Juan---but one who has always lost the women he loved?

STUDENT. How can you make those things go together?

JOHANSSON. He is so full of guile that he can make the women leave him when he is tired of them.... Just now he is like a horse thief practising at a slave-market.... He steals human beings, and in all sorts of ways.... He has literally stolen me out of the hands of the law.... Hm.... yes.... I had been guilty of a slip. And no one but he knew of it. Instead of putting me in jail, he made a slave of me. All I get for my slavery is the food I eat, which might be better at that....

STUDENT. And what does he wish to do in this house here?

JOHANSSON. No, I don't want to tell! It's too complicated....

STUDENT. I think I'll run away from the whole story....

The YOUNG LADY drops a bracelet out of the window so that it falls on the sidewalk.

JOHANSSON. Did you see the Young Lady drop her bracelet out of the window?

Without haste, the STUDENT picks up the bracelet and hands it to the YOUNG LADY, who thanks him rather stiffly; then he returns to JOHANSSON.

JOHANSSON. So you want to run away? That is more easily said than done when he has got you in his net.... And he fears nothing between heaven and earth except one thing or one person rather....

STUDENT. Wait---I think I know!

JOHANSSON. How could you?

STUDENT. I can guess! Is it not---a little milkmaid that he fears?

JOHANSSON. He turns his head away whenever he meets a milk wagon.... And at times he talks in his sleep.... He must have been in Hamburg at one time, I think....

STUDENT. Is this man to be trusted?

JOHANSSON. You may trust him---to do anything!

STUDENT. What is he doing around the corner now?

JOHANSSON. Watching the poor dropping a word here and a word there.... loosening a stone at a time ... until the whole house comes tumbling down, metaphorically speaking.... You see, I am an educated man, and I used to be a book dealer.... Are you going now?

STUDENT. I find it hard to be ungrateful.... Once upon a time he saved my father, and now he asks a small service in return....

JOHANSSON. What is it?

STUDENT. To go and see "The Valkyr"....

JOHANSSON. That's beyond me.... But he is always up to new tricks.... Look at him now, talking to the police-man! He is always thick with the police. He uses them. He snares them in their own interests. He ties their hands by arousing their expectations with false promises---while all the time he is pumping them.... You'll see that he is received in the Round Room before the day is over!

STUDENT. What does he want there? What has he to do with the Colonel?

JOHANSSON. I think I can guess, but know nothing with certainty. But you'll see for yourself when you get there!

STUDENT. I'll never get there.

JOHANSSON. That depends on yourself!---Go to "The Valkyr."

STUDENT. Is that the road?

JOHANSSON. Yes, if he has said so---Look at him there---look at him in his war chariot, drawn in triumph by the Beggars, who get nothing for their pains but a hint of a great treat to be had at his funeral.

OLD HUMMEL appears standing in his invalid's chair, which is drawn by one of the BEGGARS, and followed by the rest.

HUMMEL. Give honour to the noble youth who, at the risk of his own, saved so many lives in yesterday's accident! Three cheers for Arkenholtz!

The BEGGARS bare their heads, but do not cheer. The YOUNG LADY appears at her window, waving her handkerchief. The COLONEL gazes at the scene from a window in the Round Room. The FIANCÉE rises at her window. The MAID appears on the balcony and hoists the flag to the top.

HUMMEL. Applaud, citizens! It is Sunday, of course, but the ass in the pit and the ear in the field will absolve us. Although I was not born on a Sunday, I have the gift of prophecy and of healing, and on one occasion I brought a drowned person back to life.... That happened in Hamburg on a Sunday morning just like this....

The MILKMAID enters, seen only by the STUDENT and HUMMEL. She raises her arms with the movement of a drowning person, while gazing fixedly at HUMMEL.

HUMMEL. [Sits down; then he crumbles in a heap, stricken with horror] Get me out of here, Johansson! Quick!---Arkenholtz, don't forget "The Valkyr!"

STUDENT. What is the meaning of all this?

JOHANSSON. We'll see! We'll see!



In the Round Room. An oven of white, glazed bricks occupies the centre of the background. The mantelpiece is covered by a large mirror. An ornamental clock and candelabra stand on the mantelshelf.

At the right of the mantelpiece is a door leading into a hallway, back of which may be seen a room papered in green, with mahogany furniture. The COLONEL is seated at a writing-desk, so that only his back is visible to the public.

The statue stands at the left, surrounded by palms and with draperies arranged so that it can be hidden entirely.

A door at the left of the mantelpiece opens on the Hyacinth Room, where the YOUNG LADY is seen reading a book.

BENGTSSON, the valet, enters from the hallway, dressed in livery. He is followed by JOHANSSON in evening dress with white tie.

BENGTSSON. Now you'll have to do the waiting, Johansson, while I take the overclothes. Do you know how to do it?

JOHANSSON. Although I am pushing a war chariot in the daytime, as you know, I wait in private houses at night, and I have always dreamt of getting into this place.... Queer sort of people, hm?

BENGTSSON. Yes, a little out of the ordinary, one might say.

JOHANSSON. Is it a musicale, or what is it?

BENGTSSON. The usual spook supper, as we call it. They drink tea and don't say a word, or else the Colonel does all the talking. And then they munch their biscuits, all at the same time, so that it sounds like the gnawing of a lot of rats in an attic.

JOHANSSON. Why do you call it a spook supper?

BENGTSSON. Because they look like spooks.... And they have kept this up for twenty years---always the same people, saying the same things or keeping silent entirely, lest they be put to shame.

JOHANSSON. Is there not a lady in the house, too?

BENGTSSON. Yes, but she is a little cracked. She sits all the time in a closet, because her eyes can't bear the light. [He points at a papered door] She is in there now.

JOHANSSON. In there, you say?

BENGTSSON. I told you they were a little out of the ordinary....

JOHANSSON. How does she look?

BENGTSSON. Like a mummy.... Would you care to look at her? [He opens the papered door] There she is now!


MUMMY. [Talking baby talk] Why does he open the door? Haven't I told him to keep it closed?

BENGTSSON. [In the same way] Ta-ta-ta-ta! Polly must be nice now. Then she'll get something good. Pretty polly!

MUMMY. [Imitating a parrot] Pretty polly! Are you there, Jacob? Currrrr!

BENGTSSON. She thinks herself a parrot, and maybe she's right [To the MUMMY] Whistle for us, Polly.

The MUMMY whistles.

JOHANSSON. Much I have seen, but never the like of it!

BENGTSSON. Well, you see, a house gets mouldy when it grows old, and when people are too much together, tormenting each other all the time, they lose their reason. The lady of this house.... Shut up, Polly!... That mummy has been living here forty years---with the same husband, the same furniture, the same relatives, the same friends.... [He closes the papered door] And the happenings this house has witnessed! Well, it's beyond me.... Look at that statue. That's the selfsame lady in her youth.

JOHANSSON. Good Lord! Can that be the Mummy?

BENGTSSON. Yes, it's enough to make you weep!---And somehow, carried away by her own imagination, perhaps, she has developed some of the traits of the talkative parrot.... She can't stand cripples or sick people, for instance.... She can't bear the sight of her own daughter, because she is sick....

JOHANSSON. Is the Young Lady sick?

BENGTSSON. Don't you know that?

JOHANSSON. No.---And the Colonel---who is he?

BENGTSSON. That remains to be seen!

JOHANSSON. [Looking at the statue] It's horrible to think that.... How old is she now?

BENGTSSON. Nobody knows. But at thirty-five she is said to have looked like nineteen, and that's the age she gave to the Colonel.... In this house.... Do you know what that Japanese screen by the couch is used for? They call it the Death Screen, and it is placed in front of the bed when somebody is dying, just as they do in hospitals....

JOHANSSON. This must be an awful house! And the Student was longing for it as for paradise....

BENGTSSON. What student? Oh, I know! The young chap who is coming here to-night.... The Colonel and the Young Lady met him at the opera and took a great fancy to him at once.... Hm!... But now it's my turn to ask questions. Who's your master? The man in the invalid's chair?...

JOHANSSON. Well, well! Is he coming here, too?

BENGTSSON. He has not been invited.

JOHANSSON. He'll come without invitation---if necessary.

OLD HUMMEL appears in the hallway, dressed in frock coat and high hat. He uses crutches, but moves without a noise, so that he is able to listen to the two servants.

BENGTSSON. He's a sly old guy, isn't he?

JOHANSSON. Yes, he's a good one!

BENGTSSON. He looks like the very devil.

JOHANSSON. He's a regular wizard, I think because he can pass through locked doors....

HUMMEL. [Comes forward and pinches the ear of JOHANSSON] Look out, you scoundrel! [To BENGTSSON] Tell the Colonel I am here.

BENGTSSON. We expect company....

HUMMEL. I know, but my visit is as good as expected, too, although not exactly desired, perhaps....

BENGTSSON. I see! What's the name? Mr. Hummel?

HUMMEL. That's right.

BENGTSSON crosses the hallway to the Green Room, the door of which he closes behind him.


JOHANSSON hesitates.

HUMMEL. Vanish, I say!

JOHANSSON disappears through the hallway.

HUMMEL. [Looking around and finally stopping in front of the statue, evidently much surprised] Amelia!---It is she!---She!

He takes another turn about the room, picking up various objects to look at them; then he stops in front of the mirror to arrange his wig; finally he returns to the statue.

MUMMY. [In the closet] Prrretty Polly!

HUMMEL. [Startled] What was that? Is there a parrot in the room? I don't see it!

MUMMY. Are you there, Jacob?

HUMMEL. The place is haunted!

MUMMY. Jacob!

HUMMEL. Now I am scared!... So that's the kind of secrets they have been keeping in this house! [He stops in front of a picture with his back turned to the closet] And that's he.... He!

MUMMY. [Comes out of the closet and pulls the wig of HUMMEL] Currrrr! Is that Currrrr?

HUMMEL. [Almost lifted off his feet by fright] Good Lord in heaven!... Who are you?

MUMMY. [Speaking in a normal voice] Is that you, Jacob?

HUMMEL. Yes, my name is Jacob....

MUMMY. [Deeply moved] And my name is Amelia!

HUMMEL. Oh, no, no, no!---Merciful heavens!...

MUMMY. How I look! That's right!---And have looked like that! [Pointing to the statue] Life is a pleasant thing, is it not?... I live mostly in the closet, both in order to see nothing and not to be seen.... But, Jacob, what do you want here?

HUMMEL. My child our child....

MUMMY. There she sits.

HUMMEL. Where?

MUMMY. There---in the Hyacinth Room.

HUMMEL. [Looking at the YOUNG LADY] Yes, that is she! [Pause] And what does her father say.... I mean the Colonel.... your husband?

MUMMY. Once, when I was angry with him, I told him everything....

HUMMEL. And?...

MUMMY. He didn't believe me. All he said was: "That's what all women say when they wish to kill their husbands."---It is a dreadful crime, nevertheless. His whole life has been turned into a lie---his family tree, too. Sometimes I take a look in the peerage, and then I say to myself: "Here she is going about with a false birth certificate, just like any runaway servant-girl, and for such things people are sent to the reformatory."

HUMMEL. Well, it's quite common. I think I recall a certain incorrectness in regard to the date of your own birth.

MUMMY. It was my mother who started that.... I was not to blame for it.... And it was you, after all, who had the greater share in our guilt....

HUMMEL. No, what wrong we did was provoked by your husband when he took my fiancée away from me! I was born a man who cannot forgive until he has punished. To punish has always seemed an imperative duty to me---and so it seems still!

MUMMY. What are you looking for in this house? What do you want? How did you get in?---Does it concern my daughter? If you touch her, you must die!

HUMMEL. I mean well by her!

MUMMY. And you have to spare her father!


MUMMY. Then you must die ... in this very room ... back of that screen....

HUMMEL. Perhaps.... but I can't let go when I have got my teeth in a thing....

MUMMY. You wish to marry her to the Student? Why? He is nothing and has nothing.

HUMMEL. He will be rich, thanks to me.

MUMMY. Have you been invited for to-night?

HUMMEL. No, but I intend to get an invitation for your spook supper.

MUMMY. Do you know who will be here?

HUMMEL. Not quite.

MUMMY. The Baron---he who lives above us, and whose father-in-law was buried this afternoon....

HUMMEL. The man who is getting a divorce to marry the daughter of the Janitress.... The man who used to be---your lover!

MUMMY. Another guest will be your former fiancée, who was seduced by my husband....

HUMMEL. Very select company!

MUMMY. If the Lord would let us die! Oh, that we might only die!

HUMMEL. But why do you continue to associate?

MUMMY. Crime and guilt and secrets bind us together, don't you know? Our ties have snapped so that we have slipped apart innumerable times, but we are always drawn together again....

HUMMEL. I think the Colonel is coming.

MUMMY. I'll go in to Adèle, then.... [Pause] Consider what you do, Jacob! Spare him....

[Pause; then she goes out.

COLONEL. [Enters, haughty and reserved] Won't you be seated, please?

HUMMEL seats himself with great deliberation; pause.

COLONEL. [Staring at his visitor] You wrote this letter, sir?

HUMMEL. I did.

COLONEL. Your name is Hummel?

HUMMEL. It is. [Pause.

COLONEL. As I learn that you have bought up all my unpaid and overdue notes, I conclude that I am at your mercy. What do you want?

HUMMEL. Payment---in one way or another.

COLONEL. In what way?

HUMMEL. A very simple one. Let us not talk of the money. All you have to do is to admit me as a guest....

COLONEL. If a little thing like that will satisfy you....

HUMMEL. I thank you.

COLONEL. Anything more?

HUMMEL. Discharge Bengtsson.

COLONEL. Why should I do so? My devoted servant, who has been with me a lifetime, and who has the medal for long and faithful service.... Why should I discharge him?

HUMMEL. Those wonderful merits exist only in your imagination. He is not the man he seems to be.

COLONEL. Who is?

HUMMEL. [Taken back] True!---But Bengtsson must go!

COLONEL. Do you mean to order my household?

HUMMEL. I do ... as everything visible here belongs to me ... furniture, draperies, dinner ware, linen and other things!

COLONEL. What other things?

HUMMEL. Everything! All that is to be seen is mine! I own it!

COLONEL. Granted! But for all that, my coat of arms and my unspotted name belong to myself.

HUMMEL. No---not even that much! [Pause] You are not a nobleman!

COLONEL. Take care!

HUMMEL. [Producing a document] If you'll read this extract from the armorial, you will see that the family whose name you are using has been extinct for a century.

COLONEL. [Reading the document] I have heard rumours to that effect, but the name was my father's before it was mine.... [Reading again] That's right! Yes, you are right---I am not a nobleman! Not even that!---Then I may as well take off my signet-ring.... Oh, I remember now.... It belongs to you.... If you please!

HUMMEL. [Accepting the ring and putting it into his pocket] We had better continue. You are no colonel, either.

COLONEL. Am I not?

HUMMEL. No, you have simply held the title of colonel in the American volunteer service by special appointment. After the war in Cuba and the reorganisation of the army, all titles of that kind were abolished....

COLONEL. Is that true?

HUMMEL. [With a gesture toward his pocket] Do you wish to see for yourself?

COLONEL. No, it won't be necessary.---Who are you, anyhow, and with what right are you stripping me naked in this fashion?

HUMMEL. You'll see by and by. As to stripping you naked---do you know who you are in reality?

COLONEL. How dare you?

HUMMEL. Take off that wig, and have a look at yourself in the mirror. Take out that set of false teeth and shave off your moustache, too. Let Bengtsson remove the iron stays---and perhaps a certain X Y Z, a lackey, may begin to recognise himself---the man who used to visit the maid's chamber in a certain house for a bite of something good....

The COLONEL makes a movement toward a table on which stands a bell, but is checked by HUMMEL.

HUMMEL. Don't touch that bell, and don't call Bengtsson! If you do, I'll have him arrested.... Now the guests are beginning to arrive.... Keep your composure, and let us continue to play our old parts for a while.

COLONEL. Who are you? Your eyes and your voice remind me of somebody....

HUMMEL. Don't try to find out! Keep silent and obey!

STUDENT. [Enters and bows to the COLONEL] Colonel!

COLONEL. I bid you welcome to my house, young man. Your splendid behaviour in connection with that great disaster has brought your name to everybody's lips, and I count it an honour to receive you here....

STUDENT. Being a man of humble birth, Colonel and considering your name and position....

COLONEL. May I introduce?---Mr. Arkenholtz---Mr. Hummel. The ladies are in there, Mr. Arkenholtz---if you please---I have a few more things to talk over with Mr. Hummel....

Guided by the COLONEL, the STUDENT goes into the Hyacinth Room, where he remains visible, standing beside the YOUNG LADY and talking very timidly to her.

COLONEL. A splendid young chap---very musical---sings, and writes poetry.... If he were only a nobleman---if he belonged to our class, I don't think I should object....

HUMMEL. To what?

COLONEL. Oh, my daughter....

HUMMEL. Your daughter, you say?---But apropos of that, why is she always sitting in that room?

COLONEL. She has to spend all her time in the Hyacinth Room when she is not out. That is a peculiarity of hers.... Here comes Miss Betty von Holstein-Kron---a charming woman---a Secular Canoness, with just enough money of her own to suit her birth and position....

Hummel. [To**himself] My fiancée!

The FIANCÉE enters. She is white-haired, and her looks indicate a slightly unbalanced mind.

COLONEL. Miss von Holstein-Kron---Mr. Hummel.

The FIANCÉE curtseys in old-fashioned manner and takes a seat. The DANDY enters and seats himself; he is in mourning and has a very mysterious look.

COLONEL. Baron Skansenkorge....

HUMMEL. [Aside, without rising] That's the jewelry thief, I think.... [To the COLONEL] If you bring in the Mummy, our gathering will be complete.

COLONEL. [Going to the door of the Hyacinth Room] Polly!

MUMMY. [Enters] Currrrr!

COLONEL. How about the young people?

HUMMEL. No, not the young people! They must be spared.

The company is seated in a circle, no one saying a word for a while.

COLONEL. Shall we order the tea now?

HUMMEL. What's the use? No one cares for tea, and I can't see the need of pretending. [Pause.

COLONEL. Shall we make conversation?

HUMMEL. [Speaking slowly and with frequent pauses.] Talk of the weather, which we know all about? Ask one another's state of health, which we know just as well? I prefer silence. Then thoughts become audible, and we can see the past. Silence can hide nothing---but words can. I read the other day that the differentiation of languages had its origin in the desire among savage peoples to keep their tribal secrets hidden from outsiders. This means that every language is a code, and he who finds the universal key can understand every language in the world---which does not prevent the secret from becoming revealed without any key at times, and especially when the fact of paternity is to be proved---but, of course, legal proof is a different matter. Two false witnesses suffice to prove, anything on which they agree, but you don't bring any witnesses along on the kind of expedition I have in mind. Nature herself has planted in man a sense of modesty, which tends to hide that which should be hidden. But we slip into situations unawares, and now and then a favourable chance will reveal the most cherished secret, stripping the impostor of his mask, and exposing the villain....

Long pause during which everybody is subject to silent scrutiny by all the rest.

HUMMEL. How silent everybody is! [Long silence] Here, for instance, in this respectable house, this attractive home, where beauty and erudition and wealth have joined hands.... [Long silence] All of us sitting here now---we know who we are, don't we? I don't need to tell.... And all of you know me, although you pretend ignorance.... In the next room is my daughter---mine, as you know perfectly well. She has lost the desire to live without knowing why.... The fact is that she has been pining away in this air charged with crime and deceit and falsehood of every kind.... That is the reason why I have looked for a friend in whose company she may enjoy the light and heat radiated by noble deeds [Long silence] Here is my mission in this house: to tear up the weeds, to expose the crimes, to settle all accounts, so that those young people may start life with a clean slate in a home that is my gift to them. [Long silence] Now I grant you safe retreat. Everybody may leave in his due turn. Whoever stays will be arrested. [Long silence] Do you hear that clock ticking like the deathwatch hidden in a wall? Can you hear what it says?---"It's time! It's time!"---When it strikes in a few seconds, your time will be up, and then you can go, but not before. You may notice, too, that the clock shakes its fist at you before it strikes. Listen! There it is! "Better beware," it says.... And I can strike, too [He raps the top of a table with one of his crutches] Do you hear?

For a while everybody remains silent.

MUMMY. [Goes up to the dock and stops it; then she speaks in a normal and dignified tone] But I can stop time in its course. I can wipe out the past and undo what is done. Bribes won't do that, nor will threats---but suffering and repentance will [She goes to HUMMEL] We are miserable human creatures, and we know it. We have erred and we have sinned---we, like everybody else. We are not what we seem, but at bottom we are better than ourselves because we disapprove of our own misdeeds. And when you, Jacob Hummel, with your assumed name, propose to sit in judgment on us, you merely prove yourself worse than all the rest. You are not the one you seem to be---no more than we! You are a thief of human souls! You stole mine once upon a time by means of false promises. You killed the Consul, whom they buried this afternoon---strangling him with debts. You are now trying to steal the soul of the Student with the help of an imaginary claim against his father, who never owed you a farthing....

Having vainly tried to rise and say something, HUMMEL sinks back into his chair; as the MUMMY continues her speech he seems to shrink and lose volume more and more.

MUMMY. There is one dark spot in your life concerning which I am not certain, although I have my suspicions.... I believe Bengtsson can throw light on it.

[She rings the table-bell.

HUMMEL. No! Not Bengtsson! Not him!

MUMMY. So he does know? [She rings again.

The MILKMAID appears in the hallway, but is only seen by HUMMEL, who shrinks back in horror. Then BENGTSSON enters, and the MILKMAID disappears.

MUMMY. Do you know this man, Bengtsson?

BENGTSSON. Oh yes, I know him, and he knows me. Life has its ups and downs, as you know. I have been in his service, and he has been in mine. For two years he came regularly to our kitchen to be fed by our cook. Because he had to be at work at a certain hour, she made the dinner far ahead of time, and we had to be satisfied with the warmed-up leavings of that beast. He drank the soup-stock, so that we got nothing but water. Like a vampire, the sucked the house of all nourishment, until we became reduced to mere skeletons---and he nearly got us into jail when we dared to call the cook a thief. Later I met that man in Hamburg, where he had another name. Then he was a money-lender, a regular leech. While there, he was accused of having lured a young girl out on the ice in order to drown her, because she had seen him commit a crime, and he was afraid of being exposed....

MUMMY. [Making a pass with her hand over the face of HUMMEL as if removing a mask] That's you! And now, give up the notes and the will!

JOHANSSON appears in the hallway and watches the scene with great interest, knowing that his slavery will now come to an end.

HUMMEL produces a bundle of papers and throws them on the table.

MUMMY. [Stroking the back of HUMMEL] Polly! Are you there, Jacob?

HUMMEL. [Talking like a parrot] Here is Jacob!---Pretty Polly! Currrr!

MUMMY. May the clock strike?

HUMMEL. [With a clucking noise like that of a clock preparing to strike] The dock may strike! [Imitating a cuckoo-clock] Cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo....

MUMMY. [Opening the closet door] Now the clock has struck! Rise and enter the closet where I have spent twenty years bewailing our evil deed. There you will find a rope that may represent the one with which you strangled the Consul as well as the one with which you meant to strangle your benefactor.... Go!

HUMMEL enters the closet.

MUMMY. [Closes the door after him] Put up the screen, Bengtsson.... The Death Screen!

BENGTSSON places the screen in front of the door.

MUMMY. It is finished! God have mercy on his soul!

ALL. Amen!

Long silence. Then the YOUNG LADY appears in the Hyacinth Room with the STUDENT. She seats herself at a harp and begins a prelude, which changes into an accompaniment to the following recitative:

STUDENT. [Singing]

"Seeing the sun, it seemed to my fancy
That I beheld the Spirit that's hidden.
Man must for ever reap what he planted:
Happy is he who has done no evil.
Wrong that was wrought in moments of anger
Never by added wrong can be righted.
Kindness shown to the man whose sorrow
Sprang from your deed, will serve you better.
Fear and guilt have their home together:
Happy indeed is the guiltless man!"



A room furnished in rather bizarre fashion. The general effect of it is Oriental. Hyacinths of different colours are scattered everywhere. On the mantelshelf of the fireplace is seen a huge, seated Buddha, in whose lap rests a bulb. From that bulb rises the stalk of a shallot (Allium Ascalonicum), spreading aloft its almost globular cluster of white, starlike flowers.

An open door in the rear wall, toward the right-hand side, leads to the Round Room, where the COLONEL and the MUMMY are seated. They don't stir and don't utter a word. A part of the Death Screen is also visible.

Another door, at the left, leads to the pantry and the kitchen. The YOUNG LADY [Adèle] and the STUDENT are discovered near a table. She is seated at her harp, and he stands beside her.

YOUNG LADY. Sing to my flowers.

STUDENT. Is this the flower of your soul?

YOUNG LADY. The one and only.---Are you fond of the hyacinth?

STUDENT. I love it above all other flowers. I love its virginal shape rising straight and slender out of the bulb that rests on the water and sends its pure white rootlets down into the colourless fluid. I love the colour of it, whether innocently white as snow or sweetly yellow as honey; whether youthfully pink or maturely red; but above all if blue---with the deep-eyed, faith-inspiring blue of the morning sky. I love these flowers, one and all; love them more than pearls or gold, and have loved them ever since I was a child. I have always admired them, too, because they possess every handsome quality that I lack.... And yet....


STUDENT. My love is unrequited. These beautiful blossoms hate me.

YOUNG LADY. How do you mean?

STUDENT. Their fragrance, powerful and pure as the winds of early spring, which have passed over melting snow---it seems to confuse my senses, to make me deaf and blind, to crowd me out of the room, to bombard me with poisoned arrows that hurt my heart and set my head on fire. Do you know the legend of that flower?

YOUNG LADY. Tell me about it.

STUDENT. Let us first interpret its symbolism; The bulb is the earth, resting on the water or buried in the soil. From that the stalk rises, straight as the axis of the universe. At its upper end appear the six-pointed, starlike flowers.

YOUNG LADY. Above the earth---the stars! What lofty thought! Where did you find it? How did you discover it?

STUDENT. Let me think.... In your eyes!---It is, therefore, an image of the Cosmos. And that is the reason why Buddha is holding the earth-bulb in his lap, brooding on it with a steady gaze, in order that he may behold it spread outward and upward as it becomes transformed into a heaven.... This poor earth must turn into a heaven! That is what Buddha is waiting for!

YOUNG LADY. I see now.... Are not the snow crystals six-pointed, too, like the hyacinth-lily?

STUDENT. You are right! Thus the snow crystal is a falling star....

YOUNG LADY. And the snowdrop is a star of snow---grown out of the snow.

STUDENT. But the largest and most beautiful of all the stars in the firmament, the red and yellow Sirius, is the narcissus, with its yellow-and-red cup and its six white rays....

YOUNG LADY. Have you seen the shallot bloom?

STUDENT. Indeed, I have! It hides its flowers within a ball, a globe resembling the celestial one, and strewn, like that, with white stars....

YOUNG LADY. What a tremendous thought! Whose was it?


YOUNG LADY. No, yours!

STUDENT. Ours, then! We have jointly given birth to something: we are wedded....

YOUNG LADY. Not yet.

STUDENT. What more remains?

YOUNG LADY. To await the coming ordeal in patience!

STUDENT. I am ready for it. [Pause] Tell me! Why do your parents sit there so silently, without saying a single word?

YOUNG LADY. Because they have nothing to say to each other, and because neither one believes what the other says. This is the way my father puts it: "What is the use of talking, when you can't fool each other anyhow?"

STUDENT. That's horrible....

YOUNG LADY. Here comes the Cook.... Look! how big and fat she is!

STUDENT. What does she want?

YOUNG LADY. Ask me about the dinner.... You see, I am looking after the house during my mother's illness.

STUDENT. Have we to bother about the kitchen, too?

YOUNG LADY. We must eat.... Look at that Cook.... I can't bear the sight of her....

STUDENT. What kind of a monster is she?

Young Lady. She belongs to the Hummel family of vampires. She is eating us alive.

STUDENT. Why don't you discharge her?

YOUNG LADY. Because she won't leave. We can do nothing with her, and we have got her for the sake of our sins.... Don't you see that we are pining and wasting away?

STUDENT. Don't you get enough to eat?

YOUNG LADY. Plenty of dishes, but with all the nourishment gone from the food. She boils the life out of the beef, and drinks the stock herself, while we get nothing but fibres and water. In the same way, when we have roast, she squeezes it dry. Then she eats the gravy and drinks the juice herself. She takes the strength and savour out of everything she touches. It is as if her eyes were leeches. When she has had coffee, we get the grounds. She drinks the wine and puts water into the bottles....

STUDENT. Kick her out!

YOUNG LADY. We can't!

STUDENT. Why not?

YOUNG LADY. We don't know! But she won't leave! And nobody can do anything with her. She has taken all our strength away from us.

STUDENT. Will you let me dispose of her?

YOUNG LADY. No! It has to be as it is, I suppose.---Here she is now. She will ask me what I wish for dinner, and I tell her, and then she will make objections, and in the end she has her own way.

STUDENT. Why don't you leave it to her entirely?

YOUNG LADY. She won't let me.

STUDENT. What a strange house! It seems to be bewitched!

YOUNG LADY. It is!---Now she turned back on seeing you here.

COOK. [Appearing suddenly in the doorway at that very moment] Naw, that was not the reason.

[She grins so that every tooth can be seen.

STUDENT. Get out of here!

COOK. When it suits me! [Pause] Now it does suit me!

[She disappears.

YOUNG LADY. Don't lose your temper! You must practise patience. She is part of the ordeal we have to face in this house. We have a chambermaid, too, after whom we have to put everything back where it belongs.

STUDENT. Now I am sinking! Cor in aethere! Music!



YOUNG LADY. Patience!---This is named the Room of Ordeal.... It is beautiful to look at, but is full of imperfections.

STUDENT. Incredible! Yet such things have to be borne. It is very beautiful, although a little cold. Why don't you have a fire?

YOUNG LADY. Because the smoke comes into the room.

STUDENT. Have the chimney swept!

YOUNG LADY. It doesn't help.---Do you see that writing-table?

STUDENT. Remarkably handsome!

YOUNG LADY. But one leg is too short. Every day I put a piece of cork under that leg. Every day the chambermaid takes it away when she sweeps the room. Every day I have to cut a new piece. Both my penholder and my inkstand are covered with ink every morning, and I have to clean them after that woman---as sure as the sun rises. [Pause] What is the worst thing you can think of?

STUDENT. To count the wash. Ugh!

YOUNG LADY. That's what I have to do. Ugh!

STUDENT. Anything else?

YOUNG LADY. To be waked out of your sleep and have to get up and dose the window---which the chambermaid has left unlatched.

STUDENT. Anything else?

YOUNG LADY. To get up on a ladder and tie on the cord which the chambermaid has torn from the window-shade.

STUDENT. Anything else?

YOUNG LADY. To sweep after her; to dust after her; to start the fire again, after she has merely thrown some wood into the fireplace! To watch the damper in the fireplace; to wipe every glass; to set the table over again; to open the wine-bottles; to see that the rooms are aired; to make over your bed; to rinse the water-bottle that is green with sediment; to buy matches and soap, which are always lacking; to wipe the chimneys and cut the wicks in order to keep the lamps from smoking and in order to keep them from going out when we have company, I have to fill them myself....


YOUNG LADY. Wait! The labour comes first---the labour of keeping the filth of life at a distance.

STUDENT. But you are wealthy, and you have two servants?

YOUNG LADY. What does that help? What would it help to have three? It is troublesome to live, and at times I get tired.... Think, then, of adding a nursery!

STUDENT. The greatest of joys....

YOUNG LADY. And the costliest.... Is life really worth so much trouble?

STUDENT. It depends on the reward you expect for your labours.... To win your hand I would face anything.

YOUNG LADY. Don't talk like that. You can never get me.


YOUNG LADY. You mustn't ask.


STUDENT. You dropped your bracelet out of the window....

YOUNG LADY. Yes, because my hand has grown too small....


The COOK appears with a bottle of Japanese soy in her hand.

YOUNG LADY. There is the one that eats me and all the rest alive.

STUDENT. What has she in her hand?

COOK. This is my colouring bottle that has letters on it looking like scorpions. It's the soy that turns water into bouillon, and that takes the place of gravy. You can make cabbage soup out of it, or mock-turtle soup, if you prefer.

STUDENT. Out with you!

COOK. You take the sap out of us, and we out of you. We keep the blood for ourselves and leave you the water---with the colouring. It's the colour that counts! Now I shall leave, but I stay just the same---as long as I please!

[She goes out.

STUDENT. Why has Bengtsson got a medal?

YOUNG LADY. On account of his great merits.

STUDENT. Has he no faults?

YOUNG LADY. Yes, great ones, but faults bring you no medals, you know.

[Both smile.

STUDENT. You have a lot of secrets in this house....

YOUNG LADY. As in all houses.... Permit us to keep ours! [Pause.

STUDENT. Do you care for frankness?

YOUNG LADY. Within reason.

STUDENT. At times I am seized with a passionate craving to say all I think.... Yet I know that the world would go to pieces if perfect frankness were the rule. [Pause I attended a funeral the other day---in one of the churches---and it was very solemn and beautiful.

YOUNG LADY. That of Mr. Hummel?

STUDENT. Yes, that of my pretended benefactor. An elderly friend of the deceased acted as mace-bearer and stood at the head of the coffin. I was particularly impressed by the dignified manner and moving words of the minister. I had to cry---everybody cried.... A number of us went to a restaurant afterward, and there I learned that the man with the mace had been rather too friendly with the dead man's son....

The YOUNG LADY stares at him, trying to make out the meaning of his words.

STUDENT. I learned, too, that the dead man had borrowed money of his son's devoted friend.... [Pause] And the next day the minister was arrested for embezzling the church funds.---Nice, isn't it?

YOUNG LADY. Oh! [Pause.

STUDENT. Do you know what I am thinking of you now?

YOUNG LADY. Don't tell, or I'll die!

STUDENT. I must, lest I die!

YOUNG LADY. It is only in the asylum you say all that you think....

STUDENT. Exactly! My father died in a madhouse....

YOUNG LADY. Was he sick?

STUDENT. No, perfectly well, and yet mad. It broke out at last, and these were the circumstances. Like all of us, he was surrounded by a circle of acquaintances whom he called friends for the sake of convenience, and they were a lot of scoundrels, of course, as most people are. He had to have some society, however, as he couldn't sit all alone. As you know, no one tells people what he thinks of them under ordinary circumstances, and my father didn't do so either. He knew that they were false, and he knew the full extent of their perfidy, but, being a wise man and well brought up, he remained always polite. One day he gave a big party.... It was in the evening, naturally, and he was tired out by a hard day's work. Then the strain of keeping his thoughts to himself while talking a lot of damned rot to his guests.... [The YOUNG LADY is visibly shocked] Well, while they were still at the table, he rapped for silence, raised his glass, and began to speak.... Then something loosed the trigger, and in a long speech he stripped the whole company naked, one by one, telling them all he knew about their treacheries. At last, when utterly tired out, he sat down on the table itself and told them all to go to hell!


STUDENT. I was present, and I shall never forget what happened after that. My parents had a fight, the guests rushed for the doors---and my father was taken to a madhouse, where he died! [Pause] To keep silent too long is like letting water stagnate so that it rots. That is what has happened in this house. There is something rotten here. And yet I thought it paradise itself when I saw you enter here the first time.... It was a Sunday morning, and I stood gazing into these rooms. Here I saw a Colonel who was no colonel. I had a generous benefactor who was a robber and had to hang himself. I saw a Mummy who was not a mummy, and a maiden---how about the maidenhood, by the by?... Where is beauty to be found? In nature, and in my own mind when it has donned its Sunday clothes. Where do we find honour and faith? In fairy-tales and childish fancies. Where can I find anything that keeps its promise? Only in my own imagination!... Your flowers have poisoned me and now I am squirting their poison back at you.... I asked you to become my wife in a home full of poetry, and song, and music; and then the Cook appeared.... Sursum corda! Try once more to strike fire and purple out of the golden harp.... Try, I ask you, I implore you on my knees.... [As she does not move] Then I must do it myself! [He picks up the harp, but is unable to make its strings sound] It has grown deaf and dumb! Only think that the most beautiful flower of all can be so poisonous---that it can be more poisonous than any other one.... There must be a curse on all creation and on life itself.... Why did you not want to become my bride? Because the very well-spring of life within you has been sickened.... Now I can feel how that vampire in the kitchen is sucking my life juices.... She must be a Lamia, one of those that suck the blood of children. It is always in the servants' quarters that the seed-leaves of the children are nipped, if it has not already happened in the bedroom.... There are poisons that blind you, and others that open your eyes more widely. I must have been born with that second kind of poison, I fear, for I cannot regard what is ugly as beautiful, or call evil good---I cannot! They say that Jesus Christ descended into hell. It refers merely to his wanderings on this earth---his descent into that madhouse, that jail, that morgue, the earth. The madmen killed him when he wished to liberate them, but the robber was set free. It is always the robber who gets sympathy! Woe! Woe is all of us! Saviour of the World, save us---we are perishing!

Toward the end of the STUDENT'S speech, the YOUNG LADY has drooped more and more. She seems to be dying. At last she manages to reach a bell and rings for BENGTSSON, who enters shortly afterward.

YOUNG LADY. Bring the screen! Quick! I am dying!

BENGTSSON fetches the screen, opens it and places it so that the YOUNG LADY is completely hidden behind.

STUDENT. The liberator is approaching! Be welcome, thou pale and gentle one!---Sleep, you beauteous, unhappy and innocent creature, who have done nothing to deserve your own sufferings! Sleep without dreaming, and when you wake again---may you be greeted by a sun that does not burn, by a home without dust, by friends without stain, by a love without flaw! Thou wise and gentle Buddha, who sitst waiting there to see a heaven sprout from this earth, endow us with patience in the hour of trial, and with purity of will, so that thy hope be not put to shame!

The strings of the harp begin to hum softly, and a white light pours into the room.

STUDENT. [Singing]

"Seeing the sun, it seemed to my fancy
That I beheld the Spirit that's hidden.
Man must for ever reap what he planted:
Happy is he who has done no evil.
Wrong that was wrought in moments of anger
Never by added wrong can be righted.
Kindness shown to the man whose sorrow
Sprang from your deed, will serve you better.
Fear and guilt have their home together:
Happy indeed is the guiltless man!"

A faint moaning sound is heard from behind the screen.

STUDENT. You poor little child---you child of a world of illusion, guilt, suffering, and death---a world of eternal change, disappointment, and pain---may the Lord of Heaven deal mercifully with you on your journey!

The whole room disappears, and in its place appears Boecklin's "The Island of Death...." Soft music, very quiet and pleasantly wistful, is heard from without.