90 Susan Glaspell, “The Verge,” 1921
First performed at the Provincetown Playhouse on November 14, 1921.
PERSONS OF THE PLAY
HARRY ARCHER, Claire’s husband
HATTIE, The maid
DICK, Richard Demming
ELIZABETH, Claire’s daughter
ADELAIDE, Claire’s sister
The Curtain lifts on a place that is dark, save for a shaft of light from below which comes up through an open trap-door in the floor. This slants up and strikes the long leaves and the huge brilliant blossom of a strange plant whose twisted stem projects from right front. Nothing is seen except this plant and its shadow. A violent wind is heard. A moment later a buzzer. It buzzes once long and three short. Silence. Again the buzzer. Then from below—his shadow blocking the light, comesANTHONY, a rugged man past middle life;—he emerges from the stairway into the darkness of the room. Is dimly seen taking up a phone.
ANTHONY: Yes, Miss Claire?—I’ll see. (he brings a thermometer to the stairway for light, looks sharply, then returns to the phone) It’s down to forty-nine. The plants are in danger—(with great relief and approval) Oh, that’s fine! (hangs up the receiver) Fine!
(He goes back down the stairway, closing the trap-door upon himself, and the curtain is drawn upon darkness and wind. It opens a moment later on the greenhouse in the sunshine of a snowy morning. The snow piled outside is at times blown through the air. The frost has made patterns on the glass as if—as Plato would have it—the patterns inherent in abstract nature and behind all life had to come out, not only in the creative heat within, but in the creative cold on the other side of the glass. And the wind makes patterns of sound around the glass house.
The back wall is low; the glass roof slopes sharply up. There is an outside door, a little toward the right. From outside two steps lead down to it. At left a glass partition and a door into the inner room. One sees a little way into this room. At right there is no dividing wall save large plants and vines, a narrow aisle between shelves of plants leads off.
This is not a greenhouse where plants are being displayed, nor the usual workshop for the growing of them, but a place for experiment with plants, a laboratory.
At the back grows a strange vine. It is arresting rather than beautiful. It creeps along the low wall, and one branch gets a little way up the glass. You might see the form of a cross in it, if you happened to think it that way. The leaves of this vine are not the form that leaves have been. They are at once repellent and significant.
ANTHONY is at work preparing soil—mixing, sifting. As the wind tries the door he goes anxiously to the thermometer, nods as if reassured and returns to his work. The buzzer sounds. He starts to answer the telephone, remembers something, halts and listens sharply. It does not buzz once long and three short. Then he returns to his work. The buzzer goes on and on in impatient jerks which mount in anger. Several times ANTHONY is almost compelled by this insistence, but the thing that holds him back is stronger. At last, after a particularly mad splutter, to which ANTHONY longs to make retort, the buzzer gives it up. ANTHONY goes on preparing soil.
A moment later the glass door swings violently in, snow blowing in, and also MR HARRY ARCHER, wrapped in a rug.)
ANTHONY: Oh, please close the door, sir.
HARRY: Do you think I’m not trying to? (he holds it open to say this)
ANTHONY: But please do. This stormy air is not good for the plants.
HARRY: I suppose it’s just the thing for me! Now, what do you mean, Anthony, by not answering the phone when I buzz for you?
ANTHONY: Miss Claire—Mrs Archer told me not to.
HARRY: Told you not to answer me?
ANTHONY: Not you especially—nobody but her.
HARRY: Well, I like her nerve—and yours.
ANTHONY: You see, she thought it took my mind from my work to be interrupted when I’m out here. And so it does. So she buzzes once long and—Well, she buzzes her way, and all other buzzing—
HARRY: May buzz.
ANTHONY: (nodding gravely) She thought it would be better for the flowers.
HARRY: I am not a flower—true, but I too need a little attention—and a little heat. Will you please tell me why the house is frigid?
ANTHONY: Miss Claire ordered all the heat turned out here, (patiently explaining it to MISS CLAIRE’s speechless husband) You see the roses need a great deal of heat.
HARRY: (reading the thermometer) The roses have seventy-three I have forty-five.
ANTHONY: Yes, the roses need seventy-three.
HARRY: Anthony, this is an outrage!
ANTHONY: I think it is myself; when you consider what we paid for the heating plant—but as long as it is defective—Why, Miss Claire would never have done what she has if she hadn’t looked out for her plants in just such ways as this. Have you forgotten that Breath of Life is about to flower?
HARRY: And where’s my breakfast about to flower?—that’s what I want to know.
ANTHONY: Why, Miss Claire got up at five o’clock to order the heat turned off from the house.
HARRY: I see you admire her vigilance.
ANTHONY: Oh, I do. (fervently) I do. Harm was near, and that woke her up.
HARRY: And what about the harm to—(tapping his chest) Do roses get pneumonia?
ANTHONY: Oh, yes—yes, indeed they do. Why, Mr Archer, look at Miss Claire herself. Hasn’t she given her heat to the roses?
HARRY: (pulling the rug around him, preparing for the blizzard) She has the fire within.
ANTHONY: (delighted) Now isn’t that true! How well you said it. (with a glare for this appreciation, HARRY opens the door. It blows away from him) Please do close the door!
HARRY: (furiously) You think it is the aim of my life to hold it open?
ANTHONY: (getting hold of it) Growing things need an even temperature, (while saying this he gets the man out into the snow)
(ANTHONY consults the thermometer, not as pleased this time as he was before. He then looks minutely at two of the plants—one is a rose, the other a flower without a name because it has not long enough been a flower. Peers into the hearts of them. Then from a drawer under a shelf, takes two paper bags, puts one over each of these flowers, closing them down at the bottom. Again the door blows wildly in, also HATTIE, a maid with a basket.)
ANTHONY: What do you mean—blowing in here like this? Mrs Archer has ordered—
HATTIE: Mr Archer has ordered breakfast served here, (she uncovers the basket and takes out an electric toaster)
ANTHONY: Breakfast—here? Eat—here? Where plants grow?
HATTIE: The plants won’t poison him, will they? (at a loss to know what to do with things, she puts the toaster under the strange vine at the back, whose leaves lift up against the glass which has frost leaves on the outer side)
ANTHONY: (snatching it away) You—you think you can cook eggs under the Edge Vine?
HATTIE: I guess Mr Archer’s eggs are as important as a vine. I guess my work’s as important as yours.
ANTHONY: There’s a million people like you—and like Mr Archer. In all the world there is only one Edge Vine.
HATTIE: Well, maybe one’s enough. It don’t look like nothin’, anyhow.
ANTHONY: And you’ve not got the wit to know that that’s why it’s the Edge Vine.
HATTIE: You want to look out, Anthony. You talk nutty. Everybody says so.
ANTHONY: Miss Claire don’t say so.
HATTIE: No, because she’s—
ANTHONY: You talk too much!
(Door opens, admitting HARRY; after looking around for the best place to eat breakfast, moves a box of earth from the table.)
HARRY: Just give me a hand, will you, Hattie?
(They bring it to the open space and he and HATTIE arrange breakfast things, HATTIE with triumphant glances at the distressed ANTHONY)
ANTHONY: (deciding he must act) Mr Archer, this is not the place to eat breakfast!
HARRY: Dead wrong, old boy. The place that has heat is the place to eat breakfast. (to HATTIE) Tell the other gentlemen—I heard Mr Demming up, and Mr Edgeworthy, if he appears, that as long as it is such a pleasant morning, we’re having breakfast outside. To the conservatory for coffee.
(HATTIE giggles, is leaving.)
And let’s see, have we got everything? (takes the one shaker, shakes a little pepper on his hand. Looks in vain for the other shaker) And tell Mr Demming to bring the salt.
ANTHONY: But Miss Claire will be very angry.
HARRY: I am very angry. Did I choose to eat my breakfast at the other end of a blizzard?
ANTHONY: (an exclamation of horror at the thermometer) The temperature is falling. I must report. (he punches the buzzer, takes up the phone) Miss Claire? It is Anthony. A terrible thing has happened. Mr Archer—what? Yes, a terrible thing.—Yes, it is about Mr Archer.—No—no, not dead. But here. He is here. Yes, he is well, he seems well, but he is eating his breakfast. Yes, he is having breakfast served out here—for himself, and the other gentlemen are to come too.—Well, he seemed to be annoyed because the heat had been turned off from the house. But the door keeps opening—this stormy wind blowing right over the plants. The temperature has already fallen.—Yes, yes. I thought you would want to come.
(ANTHONY opens the trap-door and goes below. HARRY looks disapprovingly down into this openness at his feet, returns to his breakfast. ANTHONY comes up, bearing a box.)
HARRY: (turning his face away) Phew! What a smell.
ANTHONY: Yes. Fertilizer has to smell.
HARRY: Well, it doesn’t have to smell up my breakfast!
ANTHONY: (with a patient sense of order) The smell belongs here. (he and the smell go to the inner room)
(The outer door opens just enough to admit CLAIRE—is quickly closed. With CLAIRE in a room another kind of aliveness is there.)
CLAIRE: What are you doing here?
HARRY: Getting breakfast. (all the while doing so)
CLAIRE: I’ll not have you in my place!
HARRY: If you take all the heat then you have to take me.
CLAIRE: I’ll show you how I have to take you. (with her hands begins scooping upon him the soil ANTHONY has prepared)
HARRY: (jumping up, laughing, pinning down her arms, putting his arms around her) Claire—be decent. What harm do I do here?
CLAIRE: You pull down the temperature.
HARRY: Not after I’m in.
CLAIRE: And you told Tom and Dick to come and make it uneven.
HARRY: Tom and Dick are our guests. We can’t eat where it’s warm and leave them to eat where it’s cold.
CLAIRE: I don’t see why not.
HARRY: You only see what you want to see.
CLAIRE: That’s not true. I wish it were. No; no, I don’t either. (she is disturbed—that troubled thing which rises from within, from deep, and takes CLAIRE. She turns to the Edge Vine, examines. Regretfully to ANTHONY, who has come in with a plant) It’s turning back, isn’t it?
ANTHONY: Can you be sure yet, Miss Claire?
CLAIRE: Oh yes—it’s had its chance. It doesn’t want to be—what hasn’t been.
HARRY: (who has turned at this note in her voice. Speaks kindly) Don’t take it so seriously, Claire. (CLAIRE laughs)
CLAIRE: No, I suppose not. But it does matter—and why should I pretend it doesn’t, just because I’ve failed with it?
HARRY: Well, I don’t want to see it get you—it’s not important enough for that.
CLAIRE: (in her brooding way) Anything is important enough for that—if it’s important at all. (to the vine) I thought you were out, but you’re—going back home.
ANTHONY: But you’re doing it this time, Miss Claire. When Breath of Life opens—and we see its heart—
(CLAIRE looks toward the inner room. Because of intervening plants they do not see what is seen from the front—a plant like caught motion, and of a greater transparency than plants have had. Its leaves, like waves that curl, close around a heart that is not seen. This plant stands by itself in what, because of the arrangement of things about it, is a hidden place. But nothing is between it and the light.)
CLAIRE: Yes, if the heart has (a little laugh) held its own, then Breath of Life is alive in its otherness. But Edge Vine is running back to what it broke out of.
HARRY: Come, have some coffee, Claire.
(ANTHONY returns to the inner room, the outer door opens. DICK is hurled in.)
CLAIRE: (going to the door, as he gasps for breath before closing it) How dare you make my temperature uneven! (she shuts the door and leans against it)
DICK: Is that what I do?
(A laugh, a look between them, which is held into significance.)
HARRY: (who is not facing them) Where’s the salt?
DICK: Oh, I fell down in the snow. I must have left the salt where I fell. I’ll go back and look for it.
CLAIRE: And change the temperature? We don’t need salt.
HARRY: You don’t need salt, Claire. But we eat eggs.
CLAIRE: I must tell you I don’t like the idea of any food being eaten here, where things have their own way to go. Please eat as little as possible, and as quickly.
HARRY: A hostess calculated to put one at one’s ease.
CLAIRE: (with no ill-nature) I care nothing about your ease. Or about Dick’s ease.
DICK: And no doubt that’s what makes you so fascinating a hostess.
CLAIRE: Was I a fascinating hostess last night, Dick? (softly sings) ‘Oh, night of love—’ (from the Barcorole of ‘Tales of Hoffman’)
HARRY: We’ve got to have salt.
(He starts for the door. CLAIRE slips in ahead of him, locks it, takes the key. He marches off, right.)
CLAIRE: (calling after him) That end’s always locked.
DICK: Claire darling, I wish you wouldn’t say those startling things. You do get away with it, but I confess it gives me a shock—and really, it’s unwise.
CLAIRE: Haven’t you learned that the best place to hide is in the truth? (as HARRY returns) Why won’t you believe me, Harry, when I tell you the truth—about doors being locked?
HARRY: Claire, it’s selfish of you to keep us from eating salt just because you don’t eat salt.
CLAIRE: (with one of her swift changes) Oh, Harry! Try your egg without salt. Please—please try it without salt! (an intensity which seems all out of proportion to the subject)
HARRY: An egg demands salt.
CLAIRE: ‘An egg demands salt.’ Do you know, Harry, why you are such an unseasoned person? ‘An egg demands salt.’
HARRY: Well, it doesn’t always get it.
CLAIRE: But your spirit gets no lift from the salt withheld.
HARRY: Not an inch of lift. (going back to his breakfast)
CLAIRE: And pleased—so pleased with itself, for getting no lift. Sure, it is just the right kind of spirit—because it gets no lift. (more brightly) But, Dick, you must have tried your egg without salt.
DICK: I’ll try it now. (he goes to the breakfast table)
CLAIRE: You must have tried and tried things. Isn’t that the way one leaves the normal and gets into the byways of perversion?
DICK: (pushing back his egg) If so, I prefer to wait for the salt.
HARRY: Claire, there is a limit.
CLAIRE: Precisely what I had in mind. To perversion too there is a limit. So—the fortifications are unassailable. If one ever does get out, I suppose it is—quite unexpectedly, and perhaps—a bit terribly.
HARRY: Get out where?
CLAIRE: (with a bright smile) Where you, darling, will never go.
HARRY: And from which you, darling, had better beat it.
CLAIRE: I wish I could. (to herself) No—no I don’t either
(Again this troubled thing turns her to the plant. She puts by themselves the two which ANTHONY covered with paper bags. Is about to remove these papers. HARRY strikes a match.)
CLAIRE: (turning sharply) You can’t smoke here. The plants are not used to it.
HARRY: Then I should think smoking would be just the thing for them.
CLAIRE: There is design.
HARRY: (to DICK) Am I supposed to be answered? I never can be quite sure at what moment I am answered.
(They both watch CLAIRE, who has uncovered the plants and is looking intently into the flowers. From a drawer she takes some tools. Very carefully gives the rose pollen to an unfamiliar flower—rather wistfully unfamiliar, which stands above on a small shelf near the door of the inner room.)
DICK: What is this you’re doing, Claire?
CLAIRE: Pollenizing. Crossing for fragrance.
DICK: It’s all rather mysterious, isn’t it?
HARRY: And Claire doesn’t make it any less so.
CLAIRE: Can I make life any less mysterious?
HARRY: If you know what you are doing, why can’t you tell Dick?
DICK: Never mind. After all, why should I be told? (he turns away)
(At that she wants to tell him. Helpless, as one who cannot get across a stream, starts uncertainly.)
CLAIRE: I want to give fragrance to Breath of Life (faces the room beyond the wall of glass)—the flower I have created that is outside what flowers have been. What has gone out should bring fragrance from what it has left. But no definite fragrance, no limiting enclosing thing. I call the fragrance I am trying to create Reminiscence. (her hand on the pot of the wistful little flower she has just given pollen) Reminiscent of the rose, the violet, arbutus—but a new thing—itself. Breath of Life may be lonely out in what hasn’t been. Perhaps some day I can give it reminiscence.
DICK: I see, Claire.
CLAIRE: I wonder if you do.
HARRY: Now, Claire, you’re going to be gay to-day, aren’t you? These are Tom’s last couple of days with us.
CLAIRE: That doesn’t make me especially gay.
HARRY: Well, you want him to remember you as yourself, don’t you?
CLAIRE: I would like him to. Oh—I would like him to!
HARRY: Then be amusing. That’s really you, isn’t it, Dick?
DICK: Not quite all of her—I should say.
CLAIRE: (gaily) Careful, Dick. Aren’t you indiscreet? Harry will be suspecting that I am your latest strumpet.
HARRY: Claire! What language you use! A person knowing you only by certain moments could never be made to believe you are a refined woman.
CLAIRE: True, isn’t it, Dick?
HARRY: It would be a good deal of a lark to let them listen in at times—then tell them that here is the flower of New England!
CLAIRE: Well, if this is the flower of New England, then the half has never been told.
DICK: About New England?
CLAIRE: I thought I meant that. Perhaps I meant—about me.
HARRY: (going on with his own entertainment) Explain that this is what came of the men who made the laws that made New England, that here is the flower of those gentlemen of culture who—
DICK: Moulded the American mind!
CLAIRE: Oh! (it is pain)
HARRY: Now what’s the matter?
CLAIRE: I want to get away from them!
HARRY: Rest easy, little one—you do.
CLAIRE: I’m not so sure—that I do. But it can be done! We need not be held in forms moulded for us. There is outness—and otherness.
HARRY: Now, Claire—I didn’t mean to start anything serious.
CLAIRE: No; you never mean to do that. I want to break it up! I tell you, I want to break it up! If it were all in pieces, we’d be (a little laugh) shocked to aliveness (to DICK)—wouldn’t we? There would be strange new comings together—mad new comings together, and we would know what it is to be born, and then we might know—that we are. Smash it. (her hand is near an egg) As you’d smash an egg. (she pushes the egg over the edge of the table and leans over and looks, as over a precipice)
HARRY: (with a sigh) Well, all you’ve smashed is the egg, and all that amounts to is that now Tom gets no egg. So that’s that.
CLAIRE: (with difficulty, drawing herself back from the fascination of the precipice) You think I can’t smash anything? You think life can’t break up, and go outside what it was? Because you’ve gone dead in the form in which you found yourself, you think that’s all there is to the whole adventure? And that is called sanity. And made a virtue—to lock one in. You never worked with things that grow! Things that take a sporting chance—go mad—that sanity mayn’t lock them in—from life untouched—from life—that waits, (she turns toward the inner room) Breath of Life. (she goes in there)
HARRY: Oh, I wish Claire wouldn’t be strange like that, (helplessly) What is it? What’s the matter?
DICK: It’s merely the excess of a particularly rich temperament.
HARRY: But it’s growing on her. I sometimes wonder if all this (indicating the place around him) is a good thing. It would be all right if she’d just do what she did in the beginning—make the flowers as good as possible of their kind. That’s an awfully nice thing for a woman to do—raise flowers. But there’s something about this—changing things into other things—putting things together and making queer new things—this—
HARRY: Give it any name you want it to have—it’s unsettling for a woman. They say Claire’s a shark at it, but what’s the good of it, if it gets her? What is the good of it, anyway? Suppose we can produce new things. Lord—look at the one ones we’ve got. (looks outside; turns back) Heavens, what a noise the wind does make around this place, (but now it is not all the wind, but TOM EDGEWORTHY, who is trying to let himself in at the locked door, their backs are to him) I want my egg. You can’t eat an egg without salt. I must say I don’t get Claire lately. I’d like to have Charlie Emmons see her—he’s fixed up a lot of people shot to pieces in the war. Claire needs something to tone her nerves up. You think it would irritate her?
DICK: She’d probably get no little entertainment out of it.
HARRY: Yes, dog-gone her, she would. (TOM now takes more heroic measures to make himself heard at the door) Funny—how the wind can fool you. Now by not looking around I could imagine—why, I could imagine anything. Funny, isn’t it, about imagination? And Claire says I haven’t got any!
DICK: It would make an amusing drawing—what the wind makes you think is there. (first makes forms with his hands, then levelling the soil prepared byANTHONY, traces lines with his finger) Yes, really—quite jolly.
(TOM, after a moment of peering in at them, smiles, goes away.)
HARRY: You’re another one of the queer ducks, aren’t you? Come now—give me the dirt. Have you queer ones really got anything—or do you just put it over on us that you have?
DICK: (smiles, draws on) Not saying anything, eh? Well, I guess you’re wise there. If you keep mum—how are we going to prove there’s nothing there?
DICK: I don’t keep mum. I draw.
HARRY: Lines that don’t make anything—how can they tell you anything? Well, all I ask is, don’t make Claire queer. Claire’s a first water good sport—really, so don’t encourage her to be queer.
DICK: Trouble is, if you’re queer enough to be amusing, it might—open the door to queerness.
HARRY: Now don’t say things like that to Claire.
DICK: I don’t have to.
HARRY: Then you think she’s queer, do you? Queer as you are, you think she’s queer. I would like to have Dr Emmons come out. (after a moment of silently watching DICK, who is having a good time with his drawing) You know, frankly, I doubt if you’re a good influence for Claire. (DICK lifts his head ever so slightly) Oh, I don’t worry a bit about—things a husband might worry about. I suppose an intellectual woman—and for all Claire’s hate of her ancestors, she’s got the bug herself. Why, she has times of boring into things until she doesn’t know you’re there. What do you think I caught her doing the other day? Reading Latin. Well—a woman that reads Latin needn’t worry a husband much.
DICK: They said a good deal in Latin.
HARRY: But I was saying, I suppose a woman who lives a good deal in her mind never does have much—well, what you might call passion, (uses the word as if it shouldn’t be used. Brows knitted, is looking ahead, does not see DICK‘s face. Turning to him with a laugh) I suppose you know pretty much all there is to know about women?
DICK: Perhaps one or two details have escaped me.
HARRY: Well, for that matter, you might know all there is to know about women and not know much about Claire. But now about (does not want to say passion again)—oh, feeling—Claire has a certain—well, a certain—
HARRY: Which is really more—more—
DICK: More fetching, perhaps.
HARRY: Yes! Than the thing itself. But of course—you wouldn’t have much of a thing that you have irony about.
DICK: Oh—wouldn’t you! I mean—a man might.
HARRY: I’d like to talk to Edgeworth about Claire. But it’s not easy to talk to Tom about Claire—or to Claire about Tom.
DICK: (alert) They’re very old friends, aren’t they?
HARRY: Why—yes, they are. Though they’ve not been together much of late years, Edgeworthy always going to the ends of the earth to—meditate about something. I must say I don’t get it. If you have a place—that’s the place for you to be. And he did have a place—best kind of family connections, and it was a very good business his father left him. Publishing business—in good shape, too, when old Edgeworthy died. I wouldn’t call Tom a great success in life—but Claire does listen to what he says.
DICK: Yes, I’ve noticed that.
HARRY: So, I’d like to get him to tell her to quit this queer business of making things grow that never grew before.
DICK: But are you sure that’s what he would tell her? Isn’t he in the same business himself?
HARRY: Why, he doesn’t raise anything.
(TOM is again at the door.)
DICK: Anyway, I think he might have some idea that we can’t very well reach each other.
HARRY: Damn nonsense. What have we got intelligence for?
DICK: To let each other alone, I suppose. Only we haven’t enough to do it.
(TOM is now knocking on the door with a revolver. HARRY half turns, decides to be too intelligent to turn.)
HARRY: Don’t tell me I’m getting nerves. But the way some of you people talk is enough to make even an aviator jumpy. Can’t reach each other! Then we’re fools. If I’m here and you’re there, why can’t we reach each other?
DICK: Because I am I and you are you.
HARRY: No wonder your drawing’s queer. A man who can’t reach another man—(TOM here reaches them by pointing the revolver in the air and firing it. DICK digs his hand into the dirt. HARRY jumps to one side, fearfully looks around. TOM, with a pleased smile to see he at last has their attention, moves the handle to indicate he would be glad to come in.)
HARRY: Why—it’s Tom! What the—? (going to the door) He’s locked out. And Claire’s got the key. (goes to the inner door, tries it) And she’s locked in! (trying to see her in there) Claire! Claire! (returning to the outer door) Claire’s got the key—and I can’t get to Claire. (makes a futile attempt at getting the door open without a key, goes back to inner door—peers, pounds) Claire! Are you there? Didn’t you hear the revolver? Has she gone down the cellar? (tries the trap-door) Bolted! Well, I love the way she keeps people locked out!
DICK: And in.
HARRY: (getting angry, shouting at the trap-door) Didn’t you hear the revolver? (going to TOM) Awfully sorry, old man, but—(in astonishment to DICK) He can’t hear me. (TOM, knocking with the revolver to get their attention, makes a gesture of inquiry with it) No—no—no! Is he asking if he shall shoot himself? (shaking his head violently) Oh, no—no! Um—um!
DICK: Hardly seems a man would shoot himself because he can’t get to his breakfast.
HARRY: I’m coming to believe people would do anything! (TOM is making another inquiry with the revolver) No! not here. Don’t shoot yourself. (trying hard to get the word through) Shoot yourself. I mean—don’t, (petulantly to DICK) It’s ridiculous that you can’t make a man understand you when he looks right at you like that. (turning back to TOM) Read my lips. Lips. I’m saying—Oh damn. Where is Claire? All right—I’ll explain it with motions. We wanted the salt … (going over it to himself) and Claire wouldn’t let us go out for it on account of the temperature. Salt. Temperature. (takes his egg-cup to the door, violent motion of shaking in salt) But—no (shakes his head) No salt. (he then takes the thermometer, a flower pot, holds them up to TOM) On account of the temperature. Tem-per-a—(TOM is not getting it) Oh—well, what can you do when a man don’t get a thing? (TOM seems to be preparing the revolver for action. HARRYpounds on the inner door) Claire! Do you want Tom to shoot himself?
(As he looks in there, the trap-door lifts, and CLAIRE comes half-way up.)
CLAIRE: Why, what is Tom doing out there, with a revolver?
HARRY: He is about to shoot himself because you’ve locked him out from his breakfast.
CLAIRE: He must know more interesting ways of destroying himself. (bowing to TOM) Good morning. (from his side of the glass TOM bows and smiles back) Isn’t it strange—our being in here—and he being out there?
HARRY: Claire, have you no ideas of hospitality? Let him in!
CLAIRE: In? Perhaps that isn’t hospitality.
HARRY: Well, whatever hospitality is, what is out there is snow—and wind—and our guest—who was asked to come here for his breakfast. To think a man has to such things.
CLAIRE: I’m going to let him in. Though I like his looks out there. (she takes the key from her pocket)
HARRY: Thank heaven the door’s coming open. Somebody can go for salt, and we can have our eggs.
CLAIRE: And open the door again—to let the salt in? No. If you insist on salt, tell Tom now to go back and get it. It’s a stormy morning and there’ll be just one opening of the door.
HARRY: How can we tell him what we can’t make him hear? And why does he think we’re holding this conversation instead of letting him in?
CLAIRE: It would be interesting to know. I wonder if he’ll tell us?
HARRY: Claire! Is this any time to wonder anything?
CLAIRE: Give up the idea of salt for your egg and I’ll let him in. (holds up the key to TOM to indicate that for her part she is quite ready to let him in)
HARRY: I want my egg!
CLAIRE: Then ask him to bring the salt. It’s quite simple.
(HARRY goes through another pantomime with the egg-cup and the missing shaker. CLAIRE, still standing half-way down cellar, sneezes.HARRY, growing all the while less amiable, explains with thermometer and flower-pot that there can only be one opening of the door. TOM looks interested, but unenlightened. But suddenly he smiles, nods, vanishes.)
HARRY: Well, thank heaven (exhausted) that’s over.
CLAIRE: (sitting on the top step) It was all so queer. He locked out on his side of the door. You locked in on yours. Looking right at each other and—
HARRY: (in mockery) And me trying to tell him to kindly fetch the salt!
HARRY: (to DICK) Well, I didn’t do so bad a job, did I? Quite an idea, explaining our situation with the thermometer and the flower-pot. That was really an apology for keeping him out there. Heaven knows—some explanation was in order, (he is watching, and sees TOM coming) Now there he is, Claire. And probably pretty well fed up with the weather.
(CLAIRE goes to the door, stops before it. She and TOM look at each other through the glass. Then she lets him in.)
TOM: And now I am in. For a time it seemed I was not to be in. But after I got the idea that you were keeping me out there to see if I could get the idea—it would be too humiliating for a wall of glass to keep one from understanding. (taking it from his pocket) So there’s the other thermometer. Where do you want it? (CLAIRE takes it)
CLAIRE: And where’s the pepper?
TOM: (putting it on the table) And here’s the pepper.
TOM: When Claire sneezed I knew—
CLAIRE: Yes, I knew if I sneezed you would bring the pepper.
TOM: Funny how one always remembers the salt, but the pepper gets overlooked in preparations. And what is an egg without pepper?
HARRY: (nastily) There’s your egg, Edgeworth. (pointing to it on the floor) Claire decided it would be a good idea to smash everything, so she began with your egg.
TOM: (looking at his egg) The idea of smashing everything is really more intriguing than an egg.
HARRY: Nice that you feel that way about it.
CLAIRE: (giving TOM his coffee) You want to hear something amusing? I married Harry because I thought he would smash something.
HARRY: Well, that was an error in judgment.
CLAIRE: I’m such a naive trusting person (HARRY laughs—CLAIRE gives him a surprised look, continues simply). Such a guileless soul that I thought flying would do something to a man. But it didn’t take us out. We just took it in.
TOM: It’s only our own spirit can take us out.
HARRY: Whatever you mean by out.
CLAIRE: (after looking intently at TOM, and considering it) But our own spirit is not something on the loose. Mine isn’t. It has something to do with what I do. To fly. To be free in air. To look from above on the world of all my days. Be where man has never been! Yes—wouldn’t you think the spirit could get the idea? The earth grows smaller. I am leaving. What are they—running around down there? Why do they run around down there? Houses? Houses are funny lines and down-going slants—houses are vanishing slants. I am alone. Can I breathe this rarer air? Shall I go higher? Shall I go too high? I am loose. I am out. But no; man flew, and returned to earth the man who left it.
HARRY: And jolly well likely not to have returned at all if he’d had those flighty notions while operating a machine.
CLAIRE: Oh, Harry! (not lightly asked) Can’t you see it would be better not to have returned than to return the man who left it?
HARRY: I have some regard for human life.
CLAIRE: Why, no—I am the one who has the regard for human life, (more lightly) That was why I swiftly divorced my stick-in-the-mud artist and married—the man of flight. But I merely passed from a stick-in-the-mud artist to a—
DICK: Stick-in-the-air aviator?
HARRY: Speaking of your stick-in-the-mud artist, as you romantically call your first blunder, isn’t his daughter—and yours—due here to-day?
CLAIRE: I knew something was disturbing me. Elizabeth. A daughter is being delivered unto me this morning. I have a feeling it will be more painful than the original delivery. She has been, as they quaintly say, educated; prepared for her place in life.
HARRY: And fortunately Claire has a sister who is willing to give her young niece that place.
CLAIRE: The idea of giving anyone a place in life.
HARRY: Yes! The very idea!
CLAIRE: Yes! (as often, the mocking thing gives true expression to what lies sombrely in her) The war. There was another gorgeous chance.
HARRY: Chance for what? I call you, Claire. I ask you to say what you mean.
CLAIRE: I don’t know—precisely. If I did—there’d be no use saying it. (at HARRY’s impatient exclamation she turns to TOM)
TOM: (nodding) The only thing left worth saying is the thing we can’t say.
CLAIRE: Yes. But the war didn’t help. Oh, it was a stunning chance! But fast as we could—scuttled right back to the trim little thing we’d been shocked out of.
HARRY: You bet we did—showing our good sense.
CLAIRE: Showing our incapacity—for madness.
HARRY: Oh, come now, Claire—snap out of it. You’re not really trying to say that capacity for madness is a good thing to have?
CLAIRE: (in simple surprise) Why yes, of course.
DICK: But I should say the war did leave enough madness to give you a gleam of hope.
CLAIRE: Not the madness that—breaks through. And it was—a stunning chance! Mankind massed to kill. We have failed. We are through. We will destroy. Break this up—it can’t go farther. In the air above—in the sea below—it is to kill! All we had thought we were—we aren’t. We were shut in with what wasn’t so. Is there one ounce of energy has not gone to this killing? Is there one love not torn in two? Throw it in! Now? Ready? Break up. Push. Harder. Break up. And then—and then—But we didn’t say—’And then—’ The spirit didn’t take the tip.
HARRY: Claire! Come now (looking to the others for help)—let’s talk of something else.
CLAIRE: Plants do it. The big leap—it’s called. Explode their species—because something in them knows they’ve gone as far as they can go. Something in them knows they’re shut in to just that. So—go mad—that life may not be prisoned. Break themselves up into crazy things—into lesser things, and from the pieces—may come one sliver of life with vitality to find the future. How beautiful. How brave.
TOM: (as if he would call her from too far—or would let her know he has gone with her) Claire!
CLAIRE: (her eyes turning to him) Why should we mind lying under the earth? We who have no such initiative—no proud madness? Why think it death to lie under life so flexible—so ruthless and ever-renewing?
ANTHONY: (from the door of the inner room) Miss Claire?
CLAIRE: (after an instant) Yes? (she goes with him, as they disappear his voice heard,’show me now … want those violets bedded’)
HARRY: Oh, this has got to stop. I’ve got to—put a stop to it some way. Why, Claire used to be the best sport a man ever played around with. I can’t stand it to see her getting hysterical.
TOM: That was not hysterical.
HARRY: What was it then—I want to know?
TOM: It was—a look.
HARRY: Oh, I might have known I’d get no help from either of you. Even you, Edgeworthy—much as she thinks of you—and fine sort as I’ve no doubt you are, you’re doing Claire no good—encouraging her in these queer ways.
TOM: I couldn’t change Claire if I would.
HARRY: And wouldn’t if you could.
TOM: No. But you don’t have to worry about me. I’m going away in a day or two. And I shall not be back.
HARRY: Trouble with you is, it makes little difference whether you’re here or away. Just the fact of your existence does encourage Claire in this—this way she’s going.
TOM: (with a smile) But you wouldn’t ask me to go so far as to stop my existence? Though I would do that for Claire—if it were the way to help her.
HARRY: By Jove, you say that as if you meant it.
TOM: Do you think I would say anything about Claire I didn’t mean?
HARRY: You think a lot of her, don’t you? (TOM nods) You don’t mean (a laugh letting him say it)—that you’re—in love with Claire!
TOM: In love? Oh, that’s much too easy. Certainly I do love Claire.
HARRY: Well, you’re a cool one!
TOM: Let her be herself. Can’t you see she’s troubled?
HARRY: Well, what is there to trouble Claire? Now I ask you. It seems to me she has everything.
TOM: She’s left so—open. Too exposed, (as HARRY moves impatiently) Please don’t be annoyed with me. I’m doing my best at saying it. You see Claire isn’t hardened into one of those forms she talks about. She’s too—aware. Always pulled toward what could be—tormented by the lost adventure.
HARRY: Well, there’s danger in all that. Of course there’s danger.
TOM: But you can’t help that.
HARRY: Claire was the best fun a woman could be. Is yet—at times.
TOM: Let her be—at times. As much as she can and will. She does need that. Don’t keep her from it by making her feel you’re holding her in it. Above all, don’t try to stop what she’s doing here. If she can do it with plants, perhaps she won’t have to do it with herself.
HARRY: Do what?
TOM: (low, after a pause) Break up what exists. Open the door to destruction in the hope of—a door on the far side of destruction.
HARRY: Well, you give me the willies, (moves around in irritation, troubled. To ANTHONY, who is passing through with a sprayer) Anthony, have any arrangements been made about Miss Claire’s daughter?
ANTHONY: I haven’t heard of any arrangements.
HARRY: Well, she’ll have to have some heat in her room. We can’t all live out here.
ANTHONY: Indeed you cannot. It is not good for the plants.
HARRY: I’m going where I can smoke, (goes out)
DICK: (lightly, but fascinated by the idea) You think there is a door on the—hinter side of destruction?
TOM: How can one tell—where a door may be? One thing I want to say to you—for it is about you. (regards DICK and not with his usual impersonal contemplation) I don’t think Claire should have—any door closed to her. (pause) You know, I think, what I mean. And perhaps you can guess how it hurts to say it. Whether it’s—mere escape within,—rather shameful escape within, or the wild hope of that door through, it’s—(suddenly all human) Be good to her! (after a difficult moment, smiles) Going away for ever is like dying, so one can say things.
DICK: Why do you do it—go away for ever?
TOM: I haven’t succeeded here.
DICK: But you’ve tried the going away before.
TOM: Never knowing I would not come back. So that wasn’t going away. My hope is that this will be like looking at life from outside life.
DICK: But then you’ll not be in it.
TOM: I haven’t been able to look at it while in it.
DICK: Isn’t it more important to be in it than to look at it?
TOM: Not what I mean by look.
DICK: It’s hard for me to conceive of—loving Claire and going away from her for ever.
TOM: Perhaps it’s harder to do than to conceive of.
DICK: Then why do it?
TOM: It’s my only way of keeping her.
DICK: I’m afraid I’m like Harry now. I don’t get you.
TOM: I suppose not. Your way is different, (with calm, with sadness—not with malice) But I shall have her longer. And from deeper.
DICK: I know that.
TOM: Though I miss much. Much, (the buzzer. TOM looks around to see if anyone is coming to answer it, then goes to the phone) Yes?… I’ll see if I can get her. (to DICK) Claire’s daughter has arrived, (looking in the inner room—returns to phone) I don’t see her. (catching a glimpse of ANTHONY off right) Oh, Anthony, where’s Miss Claire? Her daughter has arrived.
ANTHONY: She’s working at something very important in her experiments.
DICK: But isn’t her daughter one of her experiments?
ANTHONY: (after a baffled moment) Her daughter is finished.
TOM: (at the phone) Sorry—but I can’t get to Claire. She appears to have gone below. (ANTHONY closes the trap-door) I did speak to Anthony, but he says that Claire is working at one of her experiments and that her daughter is finished. I don’t know how to make her hear—I took the revolver back to the house. Anyway you will remember Claire doesn’t answer the revolver. I hate to reach Claire when she doesn’t want to be reached. Why, of course—a daughter is very important, but oh, that’s too bad. (putting down the receiver) He says the girl’s feelings are hurt. Isn’t that annoying? (gingerly pounds on the trap-door. Then with the other hand. Waits. ANTHONY has a gentle smile for the gentle tapping—nods approval as, TOM returns to the phone) She doesn’t come up. Indeed I did—with both fists—Sorry.
ANTHONY: Please, you won’t try again to disturb Miss Claire, will you?
DICK: Her daughter is here, Anthony. She hasn’t seen her daughter for a year.
ANTHONY: Well, if she got along without a mother for a year—(goes back to his work)
DICK: (smiling after ANTHONY) Plants are queer. Perhaps it’s safer to do it with pencil (regards TOM)—or with pure thought. Things that grow in the earth—
TOM: (nodding) I suppose because we grew in the earth.
DICK: I’m always shocked to find myself in agreement with Harry, but I too am worried about Claire—and this, (looking at the plants)
TOM: It’s her best chance.
DICK: Don’t you hate to go away to India—for ever—leaving Claire’s future uncertain?
TOM: You’re cruel now. And you knew that you were being cruel.
DICK: Yes, I like the lines of your face when you suffer.
TOM: The lines of yours when you’re causing suffering—I don’t like them.
DICK: Perhaps that’s your limitation.
TOM: I grant you it may be. (They are silent) I had an odd feeling that you and I sat here once before, long ago, and that we were plants. And you were a beautiful plant, and I—I was a very ugly plant. I confess it surprised me—finding myself so ugly a plant.
(A young girl is seen outside. HARRY gets the door open for her and brings ELIZABETH in.)
HARRY: There’s heat here. And two of your mother’s friends. Mr Demming—Richard Demming—the artist—and I think you and Mr Edgeworthy are old friends.
(ELIZABETH comes forward. She is the creditable young American—well built, poised, ‘cultivated’, so sound an expression of the usual as to be able to meet the world with assurance—assurance which training has made rather graceful. She is about seventeen—and mature. You feel solid things behind her.)
TOM: I knew you when you were a baby. You used to kick a great deal then.
ELIZABETH: (laughing, with ease) And scream, I haven’t a doubt. But I’ve stopped that. One does, doesn’t one? And it was you who gave me the idol.
TOM: Proselytizing, I’m afraid.
ELIZABETH: I beg—? Oh—yes (laughing cordially) I see. (she doesn’t) I dressed the idol up in my doll’s clothes. They fitted perfectly—the idol was just the size of my doll Ailine. But mother didn’t like the idol that way, and tore the clothes getting them off. (to HARRY, after looking around) Is mother here?
HARRY: (crossly) Yes, she’s here. Of course she’s here. And she must know you’re here, (after looking in the inner room he goes to the trap-door and makes a great noise)
ELIZABETH: Oh—please. Really—it doesn’t make the least difference.
HARRY: Well, all I can say is, your manners are better than your mother’s.
ELIZABETH: But you see I don’t do anything interesting, so I have to have good manners. (lightly, but leaving the impression there is a certain superiority in not doing anything interesting. Turning cordially to DICK) My father was an artist.
DICK: Yes, I know.
ELIZABETH: He was a portrait painter. Do you do portraits?
DICK: Well, not the kind people buy.
ELIZABETH: They bought father’s.
DICK: Yes, I know he did that kind.
HARRY: (still irritated) Why, you don’t do portraits.
DICK: I did one of you the other day. You thought it was a milk-can.
ELIZABETH: (laughing delightedly) No? Not really? Did you think—How could you think—(as HARRY does not join the laugh) Oh, I beg your pardon. I—Does mother grow beautiful roses now?
HARRY: No, she does not.
(The trap-door begins to move. CLAIRE’s head appears.)
ELIZABETH: Mother! It’s been so long—(she tries to overcome the difficulties and embrace her mother)
CLAIRE: (protecting a box she has) Careful, Elizabeth. We mustn’t upset the lice.
ELIZABETH: (retreating) Lice? (but quickly equal even to lice) Oh—yes. You take it—them—off plants, don’t you?
CLAIRE: I’m putting them on certain plants.
ELIZABETH: (weakly) Oh, I thought you took them off.
CLAIRE: (calling) Anthony! (he comes) The lice. (he takes them from her) (CLAIRE, who has not fully ascended, looks at ELIZABETH, hesitates, then suddenly starts back down the stairs.)
HARRY: (outraged) Claire! (slowly she re-ascends—sits on the top step. After a long pause in which he has waited for CLAIRE to open a conversation with her daughter.) Well, and what have you been doing at school all this time?
CLAIRE: Studying what?
ELIZABETH: Why—the things one studies, mother.
CLAIRE: Oh! The things one studies. (looks down cellar again)
DICK: (after another wait) And what have you been doing besides studying?
ELIZABETH: Oh—the things one does. Tennis and skating and dancing and—
CLAIRE: The things one does.
ELIZABETH: Yes. All the things. The—the things one does. Though I haven’t been in school these last few months, you know. Miss Lane took us to Europe.
TOM: And how did you like Europe?
ELIZABETH: (capably) Oh, I thought it was awfully amusing. All the girls were quite mad about Europe. Of course, I’m glad I’m an American.
ELIZABETH: (laughing) Why—mother! Of course one is glad one is an American. All the girls—
CLAIRE: (turning away) O—h! (a moan under the breath)
ELIZABETH: Why, mother—aren’t you well?
HARRY: Your mother has been working pretty hard at all this.
ELIZABETH: Oh, I do so want to know all about it? Perhaps I can help you! I think it’s just awfully amusing that you’re doing something. One does nowadays, doesn’t one?—if you know what I mean. It was the war, wasn’t it, made it the thing to do something?
DICK: (slyly) And you thought, Claire, that the war was lost.
ELIZABETH: The war? Lost! (her capable laugh) Fancy our losing a war! Miss Lane says we should give thanks. She says we should each do some expressive thing—you know what I mean? And that this is the keynote of the age. Of course, one’s own kind of thing. Like mother—growing flowers.
CLAIRE: You think that is one’s own kind of thing?
ELIZABETH: Why, of course I do, mother. And so does Miss Lane. All the girls—
CLAIRE: (shaking her head as if to get something out) S-hoo.
ELIZABETH: What is it, mother?
CLAIRE: A fly shut up in my ear—’All the girls!’
ELIZABETH: (laughing) Mother was always so amusing. So different—if you know what I mean. Vacations I’ve lived mostly with Aunt Adelaide, you know.
CLAIRE: My sister who is fitted to rear children.
HARRY: Well, somebody has to do it.
ELIZABETH: And I do love Aunt Adelaide, but I think its going to be awfully amusing to be around with mother now—and help her with her work. Help do some useful beautiful thing.
CLAIRE: I am not doing any useful beautiful thing.
ELIZABETH: Oh, but you are, mother. Of course you are. Miss Lane says so. She says it is your splendid heritage gives you this impulse to do a beautiful thing for the race. She says you are doing in your way what the great teachers and preachers behind you did in theirs.
CLAIRE: (who is good for little more) Well, all I can say is, Miss Lane is stung.
ELIZABETH: Mother! What a thing to say of Miss Lane. (from this slipping into more of a little girl manner) Oh, she gave me a spiel one day about living up to the men I come from.
(CLAIRE turns and regards her daughter.)
CLAIRE: You’ll do it, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH: Well, I don’t know. Quite a job, I’ll say. Of course, I’d have to do it in my way. I’m not going to teach or preach or be a stuffy person. But now that—(she here becomes the product of a superior school) values have shifted and such sensitive new things have been liberated in the world—
CLAIRE: (low) Don’t use those words.
ELIZABETH: Why—why not?
CLAIRE: Because you don’t know what they mean.
ELIZABETH: Why, of course I know what they mean!
CLAIRE: (turning away) You’re—stepping on the plants.
HARRY: (hastily) Your mother has been working awfully hard at all this.
ELIZABETH: Well, now that I’m here you’ll let me help you, won’t you, mother?
CLAIRE: (trying for control) You needn’t—bother.
ELIZABETH: But I want to. Help add to the wealth of the world.
CLAIRE: Will you please get it out of your head that I am adding to the wealth of the world!
ELIZABETH: But, mother—of course you are. To produce a new and better kind of plant—
CLAIRE: They may be new. I don’t give a damn whether they’re better.
ELIZABETH: But—but what are they then?
CLAIRE: (as if choked out of her) They’re different.
ELIZABETH: (thinks a minute, then laughs triumphantly) But what’s the use of making them different if they aren’t better?
HARRY: A good square question, Claire. Why don’t you answer it?
CLAIRE: I don’t have to answer it.
HARRY: Why not give the girl a fair show? You never have, you know. Since she’s interested, why not tell her what it is you’re doing?
CLAIRE: She is not interested.
ELIZABETH: But I am, mother. Indeed I am. I do want awfully to understand what you are doing, and help you.
CLAIRE: You can’t help me, Elizabeth.
HARRY: Why not let her try?
CLAIRE: Why do you ask me to do that? This is my own thing. Why do you make me feel I should—(goes to ELIZABETH) I will be good to you, Elizabeth. We’ll go around together. I haven’t done it, but—you’ll see. We’ll do gay things. I’ll have a lot of beaus around for you. Anything else. Not—this is—Not this.
ELIZABETH: As you like, mother, of course. I just would have been so glad to—to share the thing that interests you. (hurt borne with good breeding and a smile)
HARRY: Claire! (which says, ‘How can you?’)
CLAIRE: (who is looking at ELIZABETH) Yes, I will try.
TOM: I don’t think so. As Claire says—anything else.
ELIZABETH: Why, of course—I don’t at all want to intrude.
HARRY: It’ll do Claire good to take someone in. To get down to brass tacks and actually say what she’s driving at.
CLAIRE: Oh—Harry. But yes—I will try. (does try, but no words come. Laughs) When you come to say it it’s not—One would rather not nail it to a cross of words—(laughs again) with brass tacks.
HARRY: (affectionately) But I want to see you put things into words, Claire, and realize just where you are.
CLAIRE: (oddly) You think that’s a—good idea?
ELIZABETH: (in her manner of holding the world capably in her hands) Now let’s talk of something else. I hadn’t the least idea of making mother feel badly.
CLAIRE: (desperately) No, we’ll go on. Though I don’t know—where we’ll end. I can’t answer for that. These plants—(beginning flounderingly) Perhaps they are less beautiful—less sound—than the plants from which they diverged. But they have found—otherness, (laughs a little shrilly) If you know—what I mean.
TOM: Claire—stop this! (To HARRY) This is wrong.
CLAIRE: (excitedly) No; I’m going on. They have been shocked out of what they were—into something they were not; they’ve broken from the forms in which they found themselves. They are alien. Outside. That’s it, outside; if you—know what I mean.
ELIZABETH: (not shocked from what she is) But of course, the object of it all is to make them better plants. Otherwise, what would be the sense of doing it?
CLAIRE: (not reached by ELIZABETH) Out there—(giving it with her hands) lies all that’s not been touched—lies life that waits. Back here—the old pattern, done again, again and again. So long done it doesn’t even know itself for a pattern—in immensity. But this—has invaded. Crept a little way into—what wasn’t. Strange lines in life unused. And when you make a pattern new you know a pattern’s made with life. And then you know that anything may be—if only you know how to reach it. (this has taken form, not easily, but with great struggle between feeling and words)
HARRY: (cordially) Now I begin to get you, Claire. I never knew before why you called it the Edge Vine.
CLAIRE: I should destroy the Edge Vine. It isn’t—over the edge. It’s running, back to—’all the girls’. It’s a little afraid of Miss Lane, (looking sombrely at it) You are out, but you are not alive.
ELIZABETH: Why, it looks all right, mother.
CLAIRE: Didn’t carry life with it from the life it left. Dick—you know what I mean. At least you ought to. (her ruthless way of not letting anyone’s feelings stand in the way of truth) Then destroy it for me! It’s hard to do it—with the hands that made it.
DICK: But what’s the point in destroying it, Claire?
CLAIRE: (impatiently) I’ve told you. It cannot create.
DICK: But you say you can go on producing it, and it’s interesting in form.
CLAIRE: And you think I’ll stop with that? Be shut in—with different life—that can’t creep on? (after trying to put destroying hands upon it) It’s hard to—get past what we’ve done. Our own dead things—block the way.
TOM: But you’re doing it this next time, Claire, (nodding to the inner room.) In there!
CLAIRE: (turning to that room) I’m not sure.
TOM: But you told me Breath of Life has already produced itself. Doesn’t that show it has brought life from the life it left?
CLAIRE: But timidly, rather—wistfully. A little homesick. If it is less sure this time, then it is going back to—Miss Lane. But if the pattern’s clearer now, then it has made friends of life that waits. I’ll know to-morrow.
ELIZABETH: You know, something tells me this is wrong.
CLAIRE: The hymn-singing ancestors are tuning up.
ELIZABETH: I don’t know what you mean by that, mother but—
CLAIRE: But we will now sing, ‘Nearer, my God, to Thee: Nearer to—’
ELIZABETH: (laughingly breaking in) Well, I don’t care. Of course you can make fun at me, but something does tell me this is wrong. To do what—what—
DICK: What God did?
ELIZABETH: Well—yes. Unless you do it to make them better—to do it just to do it—that doesn’t seem right to me.
CLAIRE: (roughly) ‘Right to you!’ And that’s all you know of adventure—and of anguish. Do you know it is you—world of which you’re so true a flower—makes me have to leave? You’re there to hold the door shut! Because you’re young and of a gayer world, you think I can’t see them—those old men? Do you know why you’re so sure of yourself? Because you can’t feel. Can’t feel—the limitless—out there—a sea just over the hill. I will not stay with you! (buries her hands in the earth around the Edge Vine. But suddenly steps back from it as she had from ELIZABETH) And I will not stay with you! (grasps it as we grasp what we would kill, is trying to pull it up. They all step forward in horror. ANTHONY is drawn in by this harm to the plant)
ANTHONY: Miss Claire! Miss Claire! The work of years!
CLAIRE: May only make a prison! (struggling with HARRY, who is trying to stop her) You think I too will die on the edge? (she has thrown him away, is now struggling with the vine) Why did I make you? To get past you! (as she twists it) Oh yes, I know you have thorns! The Edge Vine should have thorns, (with a long tremendous pull for deep roots, she has it up. As she holds the torn roots) Oh, I have loved you so! You took me where I hadn’t been.
ELIZABETH: (who has been looking on with a certain practical horror) Well, I’d say it would be better not to go there!
CLAIRE: Now I know what you are for! (flings her arm back to strike ELIZABETH with the Edge Vine)
HARRY: (wresting it from her) Claire! Are you mad?
CLAIRE: No, I’m not mad. I’m—too sane! (pointing to ELIZABETH—and the words come from mighty roots) To think that object ever moved my belly and sucked my breast! (ELIZABETH hides her face as if struck)
HARRY: (going to ELIZABETH, turning to CLAIRE) This is atrocious! You’re cruel.
(He leads ELIZABETH to the door and out. After an irresolute moment in which he looks from CLAIRE to TOM, DICK follows. ANTHONY cannot bear to go. He stoops to take the Edge Vine from the floor. CLAIRE’s gesture stops him. He goes into the inner room.)
CLAIRE: (kicking the Edge Vine out of her way, drawing deep breaths, smiling) O-h. How good I feel! Light! (a movement as if she could fly) Read me something, Tom dear. Or say something pleasant—about God. But be very careful what you say about him! I have a feeling—he’s not far off.
Late afternoon of the following day. CLAIRE is alone in the tower—a tower which is thought to be round but does not complete the circle. The back is curved, then jagged lines break from that, and the front is a queer bulging window—in a curve that leans. The whole structure is as if given a twist by some terrific force—like something wrong. It is lighted by an old-fashioned watchman’s lantern hanging from the ceiling; the innumerable pricks and slits in the metal throw a marvellous pattern on the curved wall—like some masonry that hasn’t been.
There are no windows at back, and there is no door save an opening in the floor. The delicately distorted rail of a spiral staircase winds up from below. CLAIRE is seen through the huge ominous window as if shut into the tower. She is lying on a seat at the back looking at a book of drawings. To do this she has left the door of her lantern a little open—and her own face is clearly seen.
A door is heard opening below; laughing voices, CLAIRE listens, not pleased.
ADELAIDE: (voice coming up) Dear—dear, why do they make such twisting steps.
HARRY: Take your time, most up now. (HARRY‘s head appears, he looks back.) Making it all right?
ADELAIDE: I can’t tell yet. (laughingly) No, I don’t think so.
HARRY: (reaching back a hand for her) The last lap—is the bad lap. (ADELAIDE is up, and occupied with getting her breath.)
HARRY: Since you wouldn’t come down, Claire, we thought we’d come up.
ADELAIDE: (as CLAIRE does not greet her) I’m sorry to intrude, but I have to see you, Claire. There are things to be arranged. (CLAIRE volunteering nothing about arrangements, ADELAIDE surveys the tower. An unsympathetic eye goes from the curves to the lines which diverge. Then she looks from the window) Well, at least you have a view.
HARRY: This is the first time you’ve been up here?
ADELAIDE: Yes, in the five years you’ve had the house I was never asked up here before.
CLAIRE: (amiably enough) You weren’t asked up here now.
ADELAIDE: Harry asked me.
CLAIRE: It isn’t Harry’s tower. But never mind—since you don’t like it—it’s all right.
ADELAIDE: (her eyes again rebuking the irregularities of the tower) No, I confess I do not care for it. A round tower should go on being round.
HARRY: Claire calls this the thwarted tower. She bought the house because of it. (going over and sitting by her, his hand on her ankle) Didn’t you, old girl? She says she’d like to have known the architect.
ADELAIDE: Probably a tiresome person too incompetent to make a perfect tower.
CLAIRE: Well, now he’s disposed of, what next?
ADELAIDE: (sitting down in a manner of capably opening a conference) Next, Elizabeth, and you, Claire. Just what is the matter with Elizabeth?
CLAIRE: (whose voice is cool, even, as if herself is not really engaged by this) Nothing is the matter with her. She is a tower that is a tower.
ADELAIDE: Well, is that anything against her?
CLAIRE: She’s just like one of her father’s portraits. They never interested me. Nor does she. (looks at the drawings which do interest her)
ADELAIDE: A mother cannot cast off her own child simply because she does not interest her!
CLAIRE: (an instant raising cool eyes to ADELAIDE) Why can’t she?
ADELAIDE: Because it would be monstrous!
CLAIRE: And why can’t she be monstrous—if she has to be?
ADELAIDE: You don’t have to be. That’s where I’m out of patience with you Claire. You are really a particularly intelligent, competent person, and it’s time for you to call a halt to this nonsense and be the woman you were meant to be!
CLAIRE: (holding the book up to see another way) What inside dope have you on what I was meant to be?
ADELAIDE: I know what you came from.
CLAIRE: Well, isn’t it about time somebody got loose from that? What I came from made you, so—
ADELAIDE: (stiffly) I see.
CLAIRE: So—you being such a tower of strength, why need I too be imprisoned in what I came from?
ADELAIDE: It isn’t being imprisoned. Right there is where you make your mistake, Claire. Who’s in a tower—in an unsuccessful tower? Not I. I go about in the world—free, busy, happy. Among people, I have no time to think of myself.
ADELAIDE: No. My family. The things that interest them; from morning till night it’s—
CLAIRE: Yes, I know you have a large family, Adelaide; five and Elizabeth makes six.
ADELAIDE: We’ll speak of Elizabeth later. But if you would just get out of yourself and enter into other people’s lives—
CLAIRE: Then I would become just like you. And we should all be just alike in order to assure one another that we’re all just right. But since you and Harry and Elizabeth and ten million other people bolster each other up, why do you especially need me?
ADELAIDE: (not unkindly) We don’t need you as much as you need us.
CLAIRE: (a wry face) I never liked what I needed.
HARRY: I am convinced I am the worst thing in the world for you, Claire.
CLAIRE: (with a smile for his tactics, but shaking her head) I’m afraid you’re not. I don’t know—perhaps you are.
ADELAIDE: Well, what is it you want, Claire?
CLAIRE: (simply) You wouldn’t know if I told you.
ADELAIDE: That’s rather arrogant.
HARRY: Yes, take a chance, Claire. I have been known to get an idea—and Adelaide quite frequently gets one.
CLAIRE: (the first resentment she has shown) You two feel very superior, don’t you?
ADELAIDE: I don’t think we are the ones who are feeling superior.
CLAIRE: Oh, yes, you are. Very superior to what you think is my feeling of superiority, comparing my—isolation with your ‘heart of humanity’. Soon we will speak of the beauty of common experiences, of the—Oh, I could say it all before we come to it.
HARRY: Adelaide came up here to help you, Claire.
CLAIRE: Adelaide came up here to lock me in. Well, she can’t do it.
ADELAIDE: (gently) But can’t you see that one may do that to one’s self?
CLAIRE: (thinks of this, looks suddenly tired—then smiles) Well, at least I’ve changed the keys.
HARRY: ‘Locked in.’ Bunkum. Get that our of your head, Claire. Who’s locked in? Nobody that I know of, we’re all free Americans. Free as air.
ADELAIDE: I wish you’d come and hear one of Mr Morley’s sermons, Claire. You’re very old-fashioned if you think sermons are what they used to be.
CLAIRE: (with interest) And do they still sing ‘Nearer, my God, to Thee’?
ADELAIDE: They do, and a noble old hymn it is. It would do you no harm at all to sing it.
CLAIRE: (eagerly) Sing it to me, Adelaide. I’d like to hear you sing it.
ADELAIDE: It would be sacrilege to sing it to you in this mood.
CLAIRE: (falling back) Oh, I don’t know. I’m not so sure God would agree with you. That would be one on you, wouldn’t it?
ADELAIDE: It’s easy to feel one’s self set apart!
CLAIRE: No, it isn’t.
ADELAIDE: (beginning anew) It’s a new age, Claire. Spiritual values—
CLAIRE: Spiritual values! (in her brooding way) So you have pulled that up. (with cunning) Don’t think I don’t know what it is you do.
ADELAIDE: Well, what do I do? I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about.
HARRY: (affectionately, as CLAIRE is looking with intentness at what he does not see) What does she do, Claire?
CLAIRE: It’s rather clever, what she does. Snatching the phrase—(a movement as if pulling something up) standing it up between her and—the life that’s there. And by saying it enough—’We have life! We have life! We have life!’ Very good come-back at one who would really be—’Just so! We are that. Right this way, please—’That, I suppose is what we mean by needing each other. All join in the chorus, ‘This is it! This is it! This is it!’ And anyone who won’t join is to be—visited by relatives, (regarding ADELAIDE with curiosity) Do you really think that anything is going on in you?
ADELAIDE: (stiffly) I am not one to hold myself up as a perfect example of what the human race may be.
CLAIRE: (brightly) Well, that’s good.
CLAIRE: Humility’s a real thing—not just a fine name for laziness.
HARRY: Well, Lord A’mighty, you can’t call Adelaide lazy.
CLAIRE: She stays in one place because she hasn’t the energy to go anywhere else.
ADELAIDE: (as if the last word in absurdity has been said) I haven’t energy?
CLAIRE: (mildly) You haven’t any energy at all, Adelaide. That’s why you keep so busy.
ADELAIDE: Well—Claire’s nerves are in a worse state than I had realized.
CLAIRE: So perhaps we’d better look at Blake’s drawings, (takes up the book)
ADELAIDE: It would be all right for me to look at Blake’s drawings. You’d better look at the Sistine Madonna, (affectionately, after she has watched CLAIRE‘s face a moment) What is it, Claire? Why do you shut yourself out from us?
CLAIRE: I told you. Because I do not want to be shut in with you.
ADELAIDE: All of this is not very pleasant for Harry.
HARRY: I want Claire to be gay.
CLAIRE: Funny—you should want that, (speaks unwillingly, a curious, wistful unwillingness) Did you ever say a preposterous thing, then go trailing after the thing you’ve said and find it wasn’t so preposterous? Here is the circle we are in.describes a big circle) Being gay. It shoots little darts through the circle, and a minute later—gaiety all gone, and you looking through that little hole the gaiety left.
ADELAIDE: (going to her, as she is still looking through that little hole) Claire, dear, I wish I could make you feel how much I care for you. (simply, with real feeling) You can call me all the names you like—dull, commonplace, lazy—that is a new idea, I confess, but the rest of our family’s gone now, and the love that used to be there between us all—the only place for it now is between you and me. You were so much loved, Claire. You oughtn’t to try and get away from a world in which you are so much loved, (to HARRY) Mother—father—all of us, always loved Claire best. We always loved Claire’s queer gaiety. Now you’ve got to hand it to us for that, as the children say.
CLAIRE: (moved, but eyes shining with a queer bright loneliness) But never one of you—once—looked with me through the little pricks the gaiety made—never one of you—once, looked with me at the queer light that came in through the pricks.
ADELAIDE: And can’t you see, dear, that it’s better for us we didn’t? And that it would be better for you now if you would just resolutely look somewhere else? You must see yourself that you haven’t the poise of people who are held—well, within the circle, if you choose to put it that way. There’s something about being in that main body, having one’s roots in the big common experiences, gives a calm which you have missed. That’s why I want you to take Elizabeth, forget yourself, and—
CLAIRE: I do want calm. But mine would have to be a calm I—worked my way to. A calm all prepared for me—would stink.
ADELAIDE: (less sympathetically) I know you have to be yourself, Claire. But I don’t admit you have a right to hurt other people.
HARRY: I think Claire and I had better take a nice long trip.
ADELAIDE: Now why don’t you?
CLAIRE: I am taking a trip.
ADELAIDE: Well, Harry isn’t, and he’d like to go and wants you to go with him. Go to Paris and get yourself some awfully good-looking clothes—and have one grand fling at the gay world. You really love that, Claire, and you’ve been awfully dull lately. I think that’s the whole trouble.
HARRY: I think so too.
ADELAIDE: This sober business of growing plants—
CLAIRE: Not sober—it’s mad.
ADELAIDE: All the more reason for quitting it.
CLAIRE: But madness that is the only chance for sanity.
ADELAIDE: Come, come, now—let’s not juggle words.
CLAIRE: (springing up) How dare you say that to me, Adelaide. You who are such a liar and thief and whore with words!
ADELAIDE: (facing her, furious) How dare you—
HARRY: Of course not, Claire. You have the most preposterous way of using words.
CLAIRE: I respect words.
ADELAIDE: Well, you’ll please respect me enough not to dare use certain words to me!
CLAIRE: Yes, I do dare. I’m tired of what you do—you and all of you. Life—experience—values—calm—sensitive words which raise their heads as indications. And you pull them up—to decorate your stagnant little minds—and think that makes you—And because you have pulled that word from the life that grew it you won’t let one who’s honest, and aware, and troubled, try to reach through to—to what she doesn’t know is there, (she is moved, excited, as if a cruel thing has been done) Why did you come here?
ADELAIDE: To try and help you. But I begin to fear I can’t do it. It’s pretty egotistical to claim that what so many people are, is wrong.
(CLAIRE, after looking intently at ADELAIDE, slowly, smiling a little, describes a circle. With deftly used hands makes a quick vicious break in the circle which is there in the air.)
HARRY: (going to her, taking her hands) It’s getting close to dinner-time. You were thinking of something else, Claire, when I told you Charlie Emmons was coming to dinner to-night, (answering her look) Sure—he is a neurologist, and I want him to see you. I’m perfectly honest with you—cards all on the table, you know that. I’m hoping if you like him—and he’s the best scout in the world, that he can help you. (talking hurriedly against the stillness which follows her look from him to ADELAIDE, where she sees between them an ‘understanding’ about her) Sure you need help, Claire. Your nerves are a little on the blink—from all you’ve been doing. No use making a mystery of it—or a tragedy. Emmons is a cracker-jack, and naturally I want you to get a move on yourself and be happy again.
CLAIRE: (who has gone over to the window) And this neurologist can make me happy?
HARRY: Can make you well—and then you’ll be happy.
ADELAIDE: (in the voice of now fixing it all up) And I had just an idea about Elizabeth. Instead of working with mere plants, why not think of Elizabeth as a plant and—
(CLAIRE, who has been looking out of the window, now throws open one of the panes that swings out—or seems to, and calls down in great excitement.)
CLAIRE: Tom! Tom! Quick! Up here! I’m in trouble!
HARRY: (going to the window) That’s a rotten thing to do, Claire! You’ve frightened him.
CLAIRE: Yes, how fast he can run. He was deep in thought and I stabbed right through.
HARRY: Well, he’ll be none too pleased when he gets up here and finds there was no reason for the stabbing!
(They wait for his footsteps, HARRY annoyed, ADELAIDE offended, but stealing worried looks at CLAIRE, who is looking fixedly at the place in the floor where TOM will appear.—Running footsteps.)
TOM: (his voice getting there before he does) Yes, Claire—yes—yes—(as his head appears) What is it?
CLAIRE: (at once presenting him and answering his question) My sister.
TOM: (gasping) Oh,—why—is that all? I mean—how do you do? Pardon, I (panting) came up—rather hurriedly.
HARRY: If you want to slap Claire, Tom, I for one have no objection.
CLAIRE: Adelaide has the most interesting idea, Tom. She proposes that I take Elizabeth and roll her in the gutter. Just let her lie there until she breaks up into—
ADELAIDE: Claire! I don’t see how—even in fun—pretty vulgar fun—you can speak in those terms of a pure young girl. I’m beginning to think I had better take Elizabeth.
CLAIRE: Oh, I’ve thought that all along.
ADELAIDE: And I’m also beginning to suspect that—oddity may be just a way of shifting responsibility.
CLAIRE: (cordially interested in this possibility) Now you know—that might be.
ADELAIDE: A mother who does not love her own child! You are an unnatural woman, Claire.
CLAIRE: Well, at least it saves me from being a natural one.
ADELAIDE: Oh—I know, you think you have a great deal! But let me tell you, you’ve missed a great deal! You’ve never known the faintest stirring of a mother’s love.
CLAIRE: That’s not true.
HARRY: No. Claire loved our boy.
CLAIRE: I’m glad he didn’t live.
HARRY: (low) Claire!
CLAIRE: I loved him. Why should I want him to live?
HARRY: Come, dear, I’m sorry I spoke of him—when you’re not feeling well.
CLAIRE: I’m feeling all right. Just because I’m seeing something, it doesn’t mean I’m sick.
HARRY: Well, let’s go down now. About dinner-time. I shouldn’t wonder if Emmons were here. (as ADELAIDE is starting down stairs) Coming, Claire?
HARRY: But it’s time to go down for dinner.
CLAIRE: I’m not hungry.
HARRY: But we have a guest. Two guests—Adelaide’s staying too.
CLAIRE: Then you’re not alone.
HARRY: But I invited Dr Emmons to meet you.
CLAIRE: (her smile flashing) Tell him I am violent to-night.
HARRY: Dearest—how can you joke about such things!
CLAIRE: So you do think they’re serious?
HARRY: (irritated) No, I do not! But I want you to come down for dinner!
ADELAIDE: Come, come, Claire; you know quite well this is not the sort of thing one does.
CLAIRE: Why go on saying one doesn’t, when you are seeing one does (to TOM) Will you stay with me a while? I want to purify the tower.
(ADELAIDE begins to disappear)
HARRY: Fine time to choose for a tête-à-tête. (as he is leaving) I’d think more of you, Edgeworthy, if you refused to humour Claire in her ill-breeding.
ADELAIDE: (her severe voice coming from below) It is not what she was taught.
CLAIRE: No, it’s not what I was taught, (laughing rather timidly) And perhaps you’d rather have your dinner?
CLAIRE: We’ll get something later. I want to talk to you. (but she does not—laughs) Absurd that I should feel bashful with you. Why am I so awkward with words when I go to talk to you?
TOM: The words know they’re not needed.
CLAIRE: No, they’re not needed. There’s something underneath—an open way—down below the way that words can go. (rather desperately) It is there, isn’t it?
TOM: Oh, yes, it is there.
CLAIRE: Then why do we never—go it?
TOM: If we went it, it would not be there.
CLAIRE: Is that true? How terrible, if that is true.
TOM: Not terrible, wonderful—that it should—of itself—be there.
CLAIRE: (with the simplicity that can say anything) I want to go it, Tom, I’m lonely up on top here. Is it that I have more faith than you, or is it only that I’m greedier? You see, you don’t know (her reckless laugh) what you’re missing. You don’t know how I could love you.
TOM: Don’t, Claire; that isn’t—how it is—between you and me.
CLAIRE: But why can’t it be—every way—between you and me?
TOM: Because we’d lose—the open way. (the quality of his denial shows how strong is his feeling for her) With anyone else—not with you.
CLAIRE: But you are the only one I want. The only one—all of me wants.
TOM: I know; but that’s the way it is.
CLAIRE: You’re cruel.
TOM: Oh, Claire, I’m trying so hard to—save it for us. Isn’t it our beauty and our safeguard that underneath our separate lives, no matter where we may be, with what other, there is this open way between us? That’s so much more than anything we could bring to being.
CLAIRE: Perhaps. But—it’s different with me. I’m not—all spirit.
TOM: (his hand on her) Dear!
CLAIRE: No, don’t touch me—since (moving) you’re going away to-morrow? (he nods) For—always? (his head just moves assent) India is just another country. But there are undiscovered countries.
TOM: Yes, but we are so feeble we have to reach our country through the actual country lying nearest. Don’t you do that yourself, Claire? Reach your country through the plants’ country?
CLAIRE: My country? You mean—outside?
TOM: No, I don’t think it that way.
CLAIRE: Oh, yes, you do.
TOM: Your country is the inside, Claire. The innermost. You are disturbed because you lie too close upon the heart of life.
CLAIRE: (restlessly) I don’t know; you can think it one way—or another. No way says it, and that’s good—at least it’s not shut up in saying. (she is looking at her enclosing hand, as if something is shut up there)
TOM: But also, you know, things may be freed by expression. Come from the unrealized into the fabric of life.
CLAIRE: Yes, but why does the fabric of life have to—freeze into its pattern? It should (doing it with her hands) flow, (then turning like an unsatisfied child to him) But I wanted to talk to you.
TOM: You are talking to me. Tell me about your flower that never was before—your Breath of Life.
CLAIRE: I’ll know to-morrow. You’ll not go until I know?
TOM: I’ll try to stay.
CLAIRE: It seems to me, if it has—then I have, integrity in—(smiles, it is as if the smile lets her say it) otherness. I don’t want to die on the edge!
TOM: Not you!
CLAIRE: Many do. It’s what makes them too smug in allness—those dead things on the edge, died, distorted—trying to get through. Oh—don’t think I don’t see—The Edge Vine! (a pause, then swiftly) Do you know what I mean? Or do you think I’m just a fool, or crazy?
TOM: I think I know what you mean, and you know I don’t think you are a fool, or crazy.
CLAIRE: Stabbed to awareness—no matter where it takes you, isn’t that more than a safe place to stay? (telling him very simply despite the pattern of pain in her voice) Anguish may be a thread—making patterns that haven’t been. A thread—blue and burning.
TOM: (to take her from what even he fears for her) But you were telling me about the flower you breathed to life. What is your Breath of Life?
CLAIRE: (an instant playing) It’s a secret. A secret?—it’s a trick. Distilled from the most fragile flowers there are. It’s only air—pausing—playing; except, far in, one stab of red, its quivering heart—that asks a question. But here’s the trick—I bred the air-form to strength. The strength shut up behind us I’ve sent—far out. (troubled) I’ll know tomorrow. And I have another gift for Breath of Life; some day—though days of work lie in between—some day I’ll give it reminiscence. Fragrance that is—no one thing in here but—reminiscent. (silence, she raises wet eyes) We need the haunting beauty from the life we’ve left. I need that, (he takes her hands and breathes her name) Let me reach my country with you. I’m not a plant. After all, they don’t—accept me. Who does—accept me? Will you?
TOM: My dear—dear, dear, Claire—you move me so! You stand alone in a clearness that breaks my heart, (her hands move up his arms. He takes them to hold them from where they would go—though he can hardly do it) But you’ve asked what you yourself could answer best. We’d only stop in the country where everyone stops.
CLAIRE: We might come through—to radiance.
TOM: Radiance is an enclosing place.
CLAIRE: Perhaps radiance lighting forms undreamed, (her reckless laugh) I’d be willing to—take a chance, I’d rather lose than never know.
TOM: No, Claire. Knowing you from underneath, I know you couldn’t bear to lose.
CLAIRE: Wouldn’t men say you were a fool!
TOM: They would.
CLAIRE: And perhaps you are. (he smiles a little) I feel so desperate, because if only I could—show you what I am, you might see I could have without losing. But I’m a stammering thing with you.
TOM: You do show me what you are.
CLAIRE: I’ve known a few moments that were life. Why don’t they help me now? One was in the air. I was up with Harry—flying—high. It was about four months before David was born—the doctor was furious—pregnant women are supposed to keep to earth. We were going fast—I was flying—I had left the earth. And then—within me, movement, for the first time—stirred to life far in air—movement within. The man unborn, he too, would fly. And so—I always loved him. He was movement—and wonder. In his short life were many flights. I never told anyone about the last one. His little bed was by the window—he wasn’t four years old. It was night, but him not asleep. He saw the morning star—you know—the morning star. Brighter—stranger—reminiscent—and a promise. He pointed—’Mother’, he asked me, ‘what is there—beyond the stars?’ A baby, a sick baby—the morning star. Next night—the finger that pointed was—(suddenly bites her own finger) But, yes, I am glad. He would always have tried to move and too much would hold him. Wonder would die—and he’d laugh at soaring, (looking down, sidewise) Though I liked his voice. So I wish you’d stay near me—for I like your voice, too.
TOM: Claire! That’s (choked) almost too much.
CLAIRE: (one of her swift glances—canny, almost practical) Well, I’m glad if it is. How can I make it more? (but what she sees brings its own change) I know what it is you’re afraid of. It’s because I have so much—yes, why shouldn’t I say it?—passion. You feel that in me, don’t you? You think it would swamp everything. But that isn’t all there is to me.
TOM: Oh, I know it! My dearest—why, it’s because I know it! You think I am—a fool?
CLAIRE: It’s a thing that’s—sometimes more than I am. And yet I—I am more than it is.
TOM: I know. I know about you.
CLAIRE: I don’t know that you do. Perhaps if you really knew about me—you wouldn’t go away.
TOM: You’re making me suffer, Claire.
CLAIRE: I know I am. I want to. Why shouldn’t you suffer? (now seeing it more clearly than she has ever seen it) You know what I think about you? You’re afraid of suffering, and so you stop this side—in what you persuade yourself is suffering, (waits, then sends it straight) You know—how it is—with me and Dick? (as she sees him suffer) Oh, no, I don’t want to hurt you! Let it be you! I’ll teach you—you needn’t scorn it. It’s rather wonderful.
TOM: Stop that, Claire! That isn’t you.
CLAIRE: Why are you so afraid—of letting me be low—if that is low? You see—(cannily) I believe in beauty. I have the faith that can be bad as well as good. And you know why I have the faith? Because sometimes—from my lowest moments—beauty has opened as the sea. From a cave I saw immensity.
My love, you’re going away—
Let me tell you how it is with me;
I want to touch you—somehow touch you once before I die—
Let me tell you how it is with me.
I do not want to work,
I want to be;
Do not want to make a rose or make a poem—
Want to lie upon the earth and know. (closes her eyes)
Stop doing that!—words going into patterns;
They do it sometimes when I let come what’s there.
Thoughts take pattern—then the pattern is the thing.
But let me tell you how it is with me. (it flows again)
All that I do or say—it is to what it comes from,
A drop lifted from the sea.
I want to lie upon the earth and know.
But—scratch a little dirt and make a flower;
Scratch a bit of brain—something like a poem. (covering her face)
Stop doing that. Help me stop doing that!
TOM: (and from the place where she had carried him)
Don’t talk at all. Lie still and know—
And know that I am knowing.
Yes; but we are so weak we have to talk;
To talk—to touch.
Why can’t I rest in knowing I would give my life to reach you?
That has—all there is.
But I must—put my timid hands upon you,
Do something about infinity.
Oh, let what will flow into us,
And fill us full—and leave us still.
Wring me dry,
And let me fill again with life more pure.
To know—to feel,
And do nothing with what I feel and know—
That’s being good. That’s nearer God.
(drenched in the feeling that has flowed through her—but surprised—helpless) Why, I said your thing, didn’t I? Opened my life to bring you to me, and what came—is what sends you away.
TOM: No! What came is what holds us together. What came is what saves us from ever going apart. (brokenly) My beautiful one. You—you brave flower of all our knowing.
CLAIRE: I am not a flower. I am too torn. If you have anything—help me. Breathe, Breathe the healing oneness, and let me know in calm. (with a sob his head rests upon her)
CLAIRE: (her hands on his head, but looking far) Beauty—you pure one thing. Breathe—Let me know in calm. Then—trouble me, trouble me, for other moments—in farther calm. (slow, motionless, barely articulate)
TOM: (as she does not move he lifts his head. And even as he looks at her, she does not move, nor look at him) Claire—(his hand out to her, a little afraid) You went away from me then. You are away from me now.
CLAIRE: Yes, and I could go on. But I will come back, (it is hard to do. She brings much with her) That, too, I will give you—my by-myself-ness. That’s the uttermost I can give. I never thought—to try to give it. But let us do it—the great sacrilege! Yes! (excited, she rises; she has his hands, and bring him up beside her) Let us take the mad chance! Perhaps it’s the only way to save—what’s there. How do we know? How can we know? Risk. Risk everything. From all that flows into us, let it rise! All that we never thought to use to make a moment—let it flow into what could be! Bring all into life between us—or send all down to death! Oh, do you know what I am doing? Risk, risk everything, why are you so afraid to lose? What holds you from me? Test all. Let it live or let it die. It is our chance—our chance to bear—what’s there. My dear one—I will love you so. With all of me. I am not afraid now—of—all of me. Be generous. Be unafraid. Life is for life—though it cuts us from the farthest life. How can I make you know that’s true? All that we’re open to—(hesitates, shudders) But yes—I will, I will risk the life that waits. Perhaps only he who gives his loneliness—shall find. You never keep by holding, (gesture of giving) To the uttermost. And it is gone—or it is there. You do not know and—that makes the moment—(music has begun—a phonograph downstairs; they do not heed it) Just as I would cut my wrists—(holding them out) Yes, perhaps this lesser thing will tell it—would cut my wrists and let the blood flow out till all is gone if my last drop would make—would make—(looking at them fascinated) I want to see it doing that! Let me give my last chance for life to—
(He snatches her—they are on the brink of their moment; now that there are no words the phonograph from downstairs is louder. It is playing languorously the Barcarole; they become conscious of this—they do not want to be touched by the love song.)
CLAIRE: Don’t listen. That’s nothing. This isn’t that, (fearing) I tell you—it isn’t that. Yes, I know—that’s amorous—enclosing. I know—a little place. This isn’t that, (her arms going around him—all the lure of ‘that’ while she pleads against it as it comes up to them) We will come out—to radiance—in far places (admitting, using) Oh, then let it be that! Go with it. Give up—the otherness. I will! And in the giving up—perhaps a door—we’d never find by searching. And if it’s no more—than all have known, I only say it’s worth the allness! (her arms wrapped round him) My love—my love—let go your pride in loneliness and let me give you joy!
TOM: (drenched in her passion, but fighting) It’s you. (in anguish) You rare thing untouched—not—not into this—not back into this—by me—lover of your apartness.
(She steps back. She sees he cannot. She stands there, before what she wanted more than life, and almost had, and lost. A long moment. Then she runs down the stairs.)
CLAIRE: (her voice coming up) Harry! Choke that phonograph! If you want to be lewd—do it yourselves! You tawdry things—you cheap little lewd cowards, (a door heard opening below) Harry! If you don’t stop that music, I’ll kill myself.
(far down, steps on stairs)
HARRY: Claire, what is this?
CLAIRE: Stop that phonograph or I’ll—
HARRY: Why, of course I’ll stop it. What—what is there to get so excited about? Now—now just a minute, dear. It’ll take a minute.
(CLAIRE comes back upstairs, dragging steps, face ghastly. The amorous song still comes up, and louder now that doors are open. She andTOM do not look at one another. Then, on a languorous swell the music comes to a grating stop. They do not speak or move. Quick footsteps—HARRY comes up.)
HARRY: What in the world were you saying, Claire? Certainly you could have asked me more quietly to turn off the Victrola. Though what harm was it doing you—way up here? (a sharp little sound from CLAIRE; she checks it, her hand over her mouth. HARRY looks from her to TOM) Well, I think you two would better have had your dinner. Won’t you come down now and have some?
CLAIRE: (only now taking her hand from her mouth) Harry, tell him to come up here—that insanity man. I—want to ask him something.
HARRY: ‘Insanity man!’ How absurd. He’s a nerve specialist. There’s a vast difference.
CLAIRE: Is there? Anyway, ask him to come up here. Want to—ask him something.
TOM: (speaking with difficulty) Wouldn’t it be better for us to go down there?
CLAIRE: No. So nice up here! Everybody—up here!
HARRY: (worried) You’ll—be yourself, will you, Claire? (She checks a laugh, nods.) I think he can help you.
CLAIRE: Want to ask him to—help me.
HARRY: (as he is starting down) He’s here as a guest to-night, you know, Claire.
CLAIRE: I suppose a guest can—help one.
TOM: (when the silence rejects it) Claire, you must know, it’s because it is so much, so—
CLAIRE: Be still. There isn’t anything to say.
TOM: (torn—tortured) If it only weren’t you!
CLAIRE: Yes,—so you said. If it weren’t. I suppose I wouldn’t be so—interested! (hears them starting up below—keeps looking at the place where they will appear)
(HARRY is heard to call, ‘Coming, Dick?’ and DICK’s voice replies, ‘In a moment or two.’ ADELAIDE comes first.)
ADELAIDE: (as her head appears) Well, these stairs should keep down weight. You missed an awfully good dinner, Claire. And kept Mr Edgeworth from a good dinner.
CLAIRE: Yes. We missed our dinner. (her eyes do not leave the place where DR EMMONS will come up)
HARRY: (as he and EMMONS appear) Claire, this is—
CLAIRE: Yes, I know who he is. I want to ask you—
ADELAIDE: Let the poor man get his breath before you ask him anything. (he nods, smiles, looks at CLAIRE with interest. Careful not to look too long at her, surveys the tower)
EMMONS: Curious place.
ADELAIDE: Yes; it lacks form, doesn’t it?
CLAIRE: What do you mean? How dare you?
(It is impossible to ignore her agitation; she is backed against the curved wall, as far as possible from them. HARRY looks at her in alarm, then in resentment at TOM, who takes a step nearer CLAIRE.)
HARRY: (trying to be light) Don’t take it so hard, Claire.
CLAIRE: (to EMMONS) It must be very interesting—helping people go insane.
ADELAIDE: Claire! How preposterous.
EMMONS: (easily) I hope that’s not precisely what we do.
ADELAIDE: (with the smile of one who is going to ‘cover it’.) Trust Claire to put it in the unique and—amusing way.
CLAIRE: Amusing? You are amused? But it doesn’t matter, (to the doctor) I think it is very kind of you—helping people go insane. I suppose they have all sorts of reasons for having to do it—reasons why they can’t stay sane any longer. But tell me, how do they do it? It’s not so easy to—get out. How do so many manage it?
EMMONS: I’d like immensely to have a talk with you about all this some day.
ADELAIDE: Certainly this is not the time, Claire.
CLAIRE: The time? When you—can’t go any farther—isn’t that that—
ADELAIDE: (capably taking the whole thing into matter-of-factness) What I think is, Claire has worked too long with plants. There’s something—not quite sound about making one thing into another thing. What we need is unity. (from CLAIRE something like a moan) Yes, dear, we do need it. (to the doctor) I can’t say that I believe in making life over like this. I don’t think the new species are worth it. At least I don’t believe in it for Claire. If one is an intense, sensitive person—
CLAIRE: Isn’t there any way to stop her? Always—always smothering it with the word for it?
EMMONS: (soothingly) But she can’t smother it. Anything that’s really there—she can’t hurt with words.
CLAIRE: (looking at him with eyes too bright) Then you don’t see it either, (angry) Yes, she can hurt it! Piling it up—always piling it up—between us and—What there. Clogging the way—always, (to EMMONS) I want to cease to know! That’s all I ask. Darken it. Darken it. If you came to help me, strike me blind!
EMMONS: You’re really all tired out, aren’t you? Oh, we’ve got to get you rested.
CLAIRE: They—deny it saying they have it; and he (half looks at TOM—quickly looks away)—others, deny it—afraid of losing it. We’re in the way. Can’t you see the dead stuff piled in the path? (Pointing.)
DICK: (voice coming up) Me too?
CLAIRE: (staring at the path, hearing his voice a moment after it has come) Yes, Dick—you too. Why not—you too. (after he has come up) What is there any more than you are?
DICK: (embarrassed by the intensity, but laughing) A question not at all displeasing to me. Who can answer it?
CLAIRE: (more and more excited) Yes! Who can answer it? (going to him, in terror) Let me go with you—and be with you—and know nothing else!
ADELAIDE: (gasping) Why—!
HARRY: Claire! This is going a little too—
CLAIRE: Far? But you have to go far to—(clinging to DICK) Only a place to hide your head—what else is there to hope for? I can’t stay with them—piling it up! Always—piling it up! I can’t get through to—he won’t let me through to—what I don’t know is there! (DICK would help her regain herself) Don’t push me away! Don’t—don’t stand me up, I will go back—to the worst we ever were! Go back—and remember—what we’ve tried to forget!
ADELAIDE: It’s time to stop this by force—if there’s no other way. (the doctor shakes his head)
CLAIRE: All I ask is to die in the gutter with everyone spitting on me. (changes to a curious weary smiling quiet) Still, why should they bother to do that?
HARRY: (brokenly) You’re sick, Claire. There’s no denying it. (looks at EMMONS, who nods)
ADELAIDE: Something to quiet her—to stop it.
CLAIRE: (throwing her arms around DICK) You, Dick. Not them. Not—any of them.
DICK: Claire, you are overwrought. You must—
HARRY: (to DICK, as if only now realizing that phase of it) I’ll tell you one thing, you’ll answer to me for this! (he starts for DICK—is restrained byEMMONS, chiefly by his grave shake of the head. With HARRY‘s move to them, DICK has shielded CLAIRE)
CLAIRE: Yes—hold me. Keep me. You have mercy! You will have mercy. Anything—everything—that will let me be nothing!
In the greenhouse, the same as Act I. ANTHONY is bedding small plants where the Edge Vine grew. In the inner room the plant like caught motion glows as from a light within. HATTIE, the Maid, rushes in from outside.
ANTHONY: (turning angrily) You are not what this place—
HATTIE: Anthony, come in the house. I’m afraid. Mr Archer, I never saw him like this. He’s talking to Mr Demming—something about Mrs Archer.
ANTHONY: (who in spite of himself is disturbed by her agitation) And if it is, it’s no business of yours.
HATTIE: You don’t know how he is. I went in the room and—
ANTHONY: Well, he won’t hurt you, will he?
HATTIE: How do I know who he’ll hurt—a person’s whose—(seeing how to get him) Maybe he’ll hurt Mrs Archer.
ANTHONY: (startled, then smiles) No; he won’t hurt Miss Claire.
HATTIE: What do you know about it?—out here in the plant house?
ANTHONY: And I don’t want to know about it. This is a very important day for me. It’s Breath of Life I’m thinking of today—not you and Mr Archer.
HATTIE: Well, suppose he does something to Mr Demming?
ANTHONY: Mr Demming will have to look out for himself, I am at work.
HATTIE: Don’t you think I ought to tell Mrs Archer that—
ANTHONY: You let her alone! This is no day for her to be bothered by you. At eleven o’clock (looks at watch) she comes out here—to Breath of Life.
HATTIE: (with greed for gossip) Did you see any of them when they came downstairs last night?
ANTHONY: I was attending to my own affairs.
HATTIE: They was all excited. Mr Edgeworth—he went away. He was gone all night, I guess. I saw him coming back just as the milkman woke me up. Now he’s packing his things. He wanted to get to Mrs Archer too—just a little while ago. But she won’t open her door for none of them. I can’t even get in to do her room.
ANTHONY: Then do some other room—and leave me alone in this room.
HATTIE: (a little afraid of what she is asking) Is she sick, Anthony—or what? (vindicating herself, as he gives her a look) The doctor, he stayed here late. But she’d locked herself in. I heard Mr Archer—
ANTHONY: You heard too much! (he starts for the door, to make her leave, but DICK rushes in. Looks around wildly, goes to the trap-door, finds it locked)
ANTHONY: What are you doing here?
DICK: Trying not to be shot—if you must know. This is the only place I can think of—till he comes to his senses and I can get away. Open that, will you? Rather—ignominious—but better be absurd than be dead.
HATTIE: Has he got the revolver?
DICK: Gone for it. Thought I wouldn’t sit there till he got back, (to ANTHONY) Look here—don’t you get the idea? Get me some place where he can’t come.
ANTHONY: It is not what this place is for.
DICK: Any place is for saving a man’s life.
HATTIE: Sure, Anthony. Mrs Archer wouldn’t want Mr Demming shot.
DICK: That’s right, Anthony. Miss Claire will be angry at you if you get me shot. (he makes for the door of the inner room)
ANTHONY: You can’t go in there. It’s locked. (HARRY rushes in from outside.)
HARRY: I thought so! (he has the revolver. HATTIE screams)
ANTHONY: Now, Mr Archer, if you’ll just stop and think, you’ll know Miss Claire wouldn’t want Mr Demming shot.
HARRY: You think that can stop me? You think you can stop me? (raising the revolver) A dog that—
ANTHONY: (keeping squarely between HARRY and DICK) Well, you can’t shoot him in here. It is not good for the plants. (HARRY is arrested by this reason) And especially not today. Why, Mr Archer, Breath of Life may flower today. It’s years Miss Claire’s been working for this day.
HARRY: I never thought to see this day!
ANTHONY: No, did you? Oh, it will be a wonderful day. And how she has worked for it. She has an eye that sees what isn’t right in what looks right. Many’s the time I’ve thought—Here the form is set—and then she’d say, ‘We’ll try this one’, and it had—what I hadn’t known was there. She’s like that.
HARRY: I’ve always been pleased, Anthony, at the way you’ve worked with Miss Claire. This is hardly the time to stand there eulogizing her. And she’s (can hardly say it) things you don’t know she is.
ANTHONY: (proudly) Oh, I know that! You think I could work with her and not know she’s more than I know she is?
HARRY: Well, if you love her you’ve got to let me shoot the dirty dog that drags her down!
ANTHONY: Not in here. Not today. More than like you’d break the glass. And Breath of Life’s in there.
HARRY: Anthony, this is pretty clever of you—but—
ANTHONY: I’m not clever. But I know how easy it is to turn life back. No, I’m not clever at all (CLAIRE has appeared and is looking in from outside), but I do know—there are things you mustn’t hurt, (he sees her) Yes, here’s Miss Claire.
(She comes in. She is looking immaculate.)
CLAIRE: From the gutter I rise again, refreshed. One does, you know. Nothing is fixed—not even the gutter, (smilingly to HARRY and refusing to notice revolver or agitation) How did you like the way I entertained the nerve specialist?
HARRY: Claire! You can joke about it?
CLAIRE: (taking the revolver from the hand she has shocked to limpness) Whom are you trying to make hear?
HARRY: I’m trying to make the world hear that (pointing) there stands a dirty dog who—
CLAIRE: Listen, Harry, (turning to HATTIE, who is over by the tall plants at right, not wanting to be shot but not wanting to miss the conversation) You can do my room now, Hattie. (HATTIE goes) If you’re thinking of shooting Dick, you can’t shoot him while he’s backed up against that door.
ANTHONY: Just what I told them, Miss Claire. Just what I told them.
CLAIRE: And for that matter, it’s quite dull of you to have any idea of shooting him.
HARRY: I may be dull—I know you think I am—but I’ll show you that I’ve enough of the man in me to—
CLAIRE: To make yourself ridiculous? If I ran out and hid my head in the mud, would you think you had to shoot the mud?
DICK: (stung out of fear) That’s pretty cruel!
CLAIRE: Well, would you rather be shot?
HARRY: So you just said it to protect him!
CLAIRE: I change it to grass, (nodding to DICK) Grass. If I hid my face in the grass, would you have to burn the grass?
HARRY: Oh, Claire, how can you? When you know how I love you—and how I’m suffering?
CLAIRE: (with interest) Are you suffering?
HARRY: Haven’t you eyes?
CLAIRE: I should think it would—do something to you.
HARRY: God! Have you no heart? (the door opens. TOM comes in)
CLAIRE: (scarcely saying it) Yes, I have a heart.
TOM: (after a pause) I came to say good-bye.
CLAIRE: God! Have you no heart? Can’t you at least wait till Dick is shot?
TOM: Claire! (now sees the revolver in her hand that is turned from him. Going to her) Claire!
CLAIRE: And even you think this is so important? (carelessly raises the revolver, and with her left hand out flat, tells TOM not to touch her) Harry thinks it important he shoot Dick, and Dick thinks it important not to be shot, and you think I mustn’t shoot anybody—even myself—and can’t any of you see that none of that is as important as—where revolvers can’t reach? (putting revolver where there is no Edge Vine) I shall never shoot myself. I’m too interested in destruction to cut it short by shooting. (after looking from one to the other, laughs. Pointing) One—two—three. You-love-me. But why do you bring it out here?
ANTHONY: (who has resumed work) It is not what this place is for.
CLAIRE: No this place is for the destruction that can get through.
ANTHONY: Miss Claire, it is eleven. At eleven we are to go in and see—
CLAIRE: Whether it has gone through. But how can we go—with Dick against the door?
ANTHONY: He’ll have to move.
CLAIRE: And be shot?
HARRY: (irritably) Oh, he’ll not be shot. Claire can spoil anything.
(DICK steps away from the door; CLAIRE takes a step nearer it.)
CLAIRE: (halting) Have I spoiled everything? I don’t want to go in there.
ANTHONY: We’re going in together, Miss Claire. Don’t you remember? Oh (looking resentfully at the others) don’t let any little thing spoil it for you—the work of all those days—the hope of so many days.
CLAIRE: Yes—that’s it.
ANTHONY: You’re afraid you haven’t done it?
CLAIRE: Yes, but—afraid I have.
HARRY: (cross, but kindly) That’s just nervousness, Claire. I’ve had the same feeling myself about making a record in flying.
CLAIRE: (curiously grateful) You have, Harry?
HARRY: (glad enough to be back in a more usual world) Sure. I’ve been afraid to know, and almost as afraid of having done it as of not having done it.
(CLAIRE nods, steps nearer, then again pulls back.)
CLAIRE: I can’t go in there. (she almost looks at TOM) Not today.
ANTHONY: But, Miss Claire, there’ll be things to see today we can’t see tomorrow.
CLAIRE: You bring it in here!
ANTHONY: In—out from its own place? (she nods) And—where they are? (again she nods. Reluctantly he goes to the door) I will not look into the heart. No one must know before you know.
(In the inner room, his head a little turned away, he is seen very carefully to lift the plant which glows from within. As he brings it in, no one looks at it. HARRY takes a box of seedlings from a stand and puts them on the floor, that the newcomer may have a place.)
ANTHONY: Breath of Life is here, Miss Claire.
(CLAIRE half turns, then stops.)
CLAIRE: Look—and see—what you see.
ANTHONY: No one should see what you’ve not seen.
CLAIRE: I can’t see—until I know.
(ANTHONY looks into the flower.)
ANTHONY: (agitated) Miss Claire!
CLAIRE: It has come through?
ANTHONY: It has gone on.
ANTHONY: Stronger, surer.
CLAIRE: And more fragile?
ANTHONY: And more fragile.
CLAIRE: Look deep. No—turning back?
ANTHONY: (after a searching look) The form is set. (he steps back from it)
CLAIRE: Then it is—out. (from where she stands she turns slowly to the plant) You weren’t. You are.
ANTHONY: But come and see, Miss Claire.
CLAIRE: It’s so much more than—I’d see.
HARRY: Well, I’m going to see. (looking into it) I never saw anything like that before! There seems something alive—inside this outer shell.
DICK: (he too looking in and he has an artist’s manner of a hand up to make the light right) It’s quite new in form. It—says something about form.
HARRY: (cordially to CLAIRE, who stands apart) So you’ve really put it over. Well, well,—congratulations. It’s a good deal of novelty, I should say, and I’ve no doubt you’ll have a considerable success with it—people always like something new. I’m mighty glad—after all your work, and I hope it will—set you up.
CLAIRE: (low—and like a machine) Will you all—go away?
(ANTHONY goes—into the other room.)
HARRY: Why—why, yes. But—oh, Claire! Can’t you take some pleasure in your work? (as she stands there very still) Emmons says you need a good long rest—and I think he’s right.
TOM: Can’t this help you, Claire? Let this be release. This—breath of the uncaptured.
CLAIRE: (and though speaking, she remains just as still)
Breath of the uncaptured?
You are a novelty.
You have been brought in.
A thousand years from now, when you are but a form too long repeated,
Perhaps the madness that gave you birth will burst again,
And from the prison that is you will leap pent queernesses
To make a form that hasn’t been—
To make a person new.
And this we call creation, (very low, her head not coming up)
(TOM goes; HARRY hesitates, looking in anxiety at CLAIRE. He starts to go, stops, looks at DICK, from him to CLAIRE. But goes. A moment later DICK moves near CLAIRE; stands uncertainly, then puts a hand upon her. She starts, only then knowing he is there.)
CLAIRE: (a slight shrinking away, but not really reached) Um, um.
(He goes. CLAIRE steps nearer her creation. She looks into what hasn’t been. With her breath, and by a gentle moving of her hands, she fans it to fuller openness. As she does this TOM returns and from outside is looking in at her. Softly he opens the door and comes in. She does not know that he is there. In the way she looks at the flower he looks at her.)
TOM: Claire, (she lifts her head) As you stood there, looking into the womb you breathed to life, you were beautiful to me beyond any other beauty. You were life and its reach and its anguish. I can’t go away from you. I will never go away from you. It shall all be—as you wish. I can go with you where I could not go alone. If this is delusion, I want that delusion. It’s more than any reality I could attain, (as she does not move) Speak to me, Claire. You—are glad?
CLAIRE: (from far) Speak to you? (pause) Do I know who you are?
TOM: I think you do.
CLAIRE: Oh, yes. I love you. That’s who you are. (waits again) But why are you something—very far away?
TOM: Come nearer.
CLAIRE: Nearer? (feeling it with her voice) Nearer. But I think I am going—the other way.
TOM: No, Claire—come to me. Did you understand, dear? I am not going away.
CLAIRE: You’re not going away?
TOM: Not without you, Claire. And you and I will be together. Is that—what you wanted?
CLAIRE: Wanted? (as if wanting is something that harks far back. But the word calls to her passion) Wanted! (a sob, hands out, she goes to him. But before his arms can take her, she steps back) Are you trying to pull me down into what I wanted? Are you here to make me stop?
TOM: How can you ask that? I love you because it is not in you to stop.
CLAIRE: And loving me for that—would stop me? Oh, help me see it! It is so important that I see it.
TOM: It is important. It is our lives.
CLAIRE: And more than that. I cannot see it because it is so much more than that.
TOM: Don’t try to see all that it is. From peace you’ll see a little more.
CLAIRE: Peace? (troubled as we are when looking at what we cannot see clearly) What is peace? Peace is what the struggle knows in moments very far apart. Peace—that is not a place to rest. Are you resting? What are you? You who’d take me from what I am to something else?
TOM: I thought you knew, Claire.
CLAIRE: I know—what you pass for. But are you beauty? Beauty is that only living pattern—the trying to take pattern. Are you trying?
TOM: Within myself, Claire. I never thought you doubted that.
CLAIRE: Beauty is it. (she turns to Breath of Life, as if to learn it there, but turns away with a sob) If I cannot go to you now—I will always be alone.
(TOM takes her in his arms. She is shaken, then comes to rest.)
TOM: Yes—rest. And then—come into joy. You have so much life for joy.
CLAIRE: (raising her head, called by promised gladness) We’ll run around together. (lovingly he nods) Up hills. All night on hills.
TOM: (tenderly) All night on hills.
CLAIRE: We’ll go on the sea in a little boat.
TOM: On the sea in a little boat.
CLAIRE: But—there are other boats on other seas, (drawing back from him, troubled) There are other boats on other seas.
TOM: (drawing her back to him) My dearest—not now, not now.
CLAIRE: (her arms going round him) Oh, I would love those hours with you. I want them. I want you! (they kiss—but deep in her is sobbing) Reminiscence, (her hand feeling his arm as we touch what we would remember) Reminiscence. (with one of her swift changes steps back from him) How dare you pass for what you’re not? We are tired, and so we think it’s you. Stop with you. Don’t get through—to what you’re in the way of. Beauty is not something you say about beauty.
TOM: I say little about beauty, Claire.
CLAIRE: Your life says it. By standing far off you pass for it. Smother it with a life that passes for it. But beauty—(getting it from the flower) Beauty is the humility breathed from the shame of succeeding.
TOM: But it may all be within one’s self, dear.
CLAIRE: (drawn by this, but held, and desperate because she is held) When I have wanted you with all my wanting—why must I distrust you now? When I love you—with all of me, why do I know that only you are worth my hate?
TOM: It’s the fear of easy satisfactions. I love you for it.
CLAIRE: (over the flower) Breath of Life—you here? Are you lonely—Breath of Life?
TOM: Claire—hear me! Don’t go where we can’t go. As there you made a shell for life within, make for yourself a life in which to live. It must be so.
CLAIRE: As you made for yourself a shell called beauty?
TOM: What is there for you, if you’ll have no touch with what we have?
CLAIRE: What is there? There are the dreams we haven’t dreamed. There is the long and flowing pattern, (she follows that, but suddenly and as if blindly goes to him) I am tired. I am lonely. I’m afraid, (he holds her, soothing. But she steps back from him) And because we are tired—lonely—and afraid, we stop with you. Don’t get through—to what you’re in the way of.
TOM: Then you don’t love me?
CLAIRE: I’m fighting for my chance. I don’t know—which chance.
(Is drawn to the other chance, to Breath of Life. Looks into it as if to look through to the uncaptured. And through this life just caught comes the truth she chants.)
I’ve wallowed at a coarse man’s feet,
I’m sprayed with dreams we’ve not yet come to.
I’ve gone so low that words can’t get there,
I’ve never pulled the mantle of my fears around me
And called it loneliness—And called it God.
Only with life that waits have I kept faith.
(with effort raising her eyes to the man)
And only you have ever threatened me.
TOM: (coming to her, and with strength now) And I will threaten you. I’m here to hold you from where I know you cannot go. You’re trying what we can’t do.
CLAIRE: What else is there worth trying?
TOM: I love you, and I will keep you—from fartherness—from harm. You are mine, and you will stay with me! (roughly) You hear me? You will stay with me!
CLAIRE: (her head on his breast, in ecstasy of rest. Drowsily) You can keep me?
TOM: Darling! I can keep you. I will keep you—safe.
CLAIRE: (troubled by the word, but barely able to raise her head) Safe?
TOM: (bringing her to rest again) Trust me, Claire.
CLAIRE: (not lifting her head, but turning it so she sees Breath of Life) Now can I trust—what is? (suddenly pushing him roughly away) No! I will beat my life to pieces in the struggle to—
TOM: To what, Claire?
CLAIRE: Not to stop it by seeming to have it. (with fury) I will keep my life low—low—that I may never stop myself—or anyone—with the thought it’s what Ihave. I’d rather be the steam rising from the manure than be a thing called beautiful! (with sight too clear) Now I know who you are. It is you puts out the breath of life. Image of beauty—You fill the place—should be a gate. (in agony) Oh, that it is you—fill the place—should be a gate! My darling! That it should be you who—(her hands moving on him) Let me tell you something. Never was loving strong as my loving of you! Do you know that? Oh, know that! Know it now! (her arms go around his neck) Hours with you—I’d give my life to have! That it should be you—(he would loosen her hands, for he cannot breathe. But when she knows she is choking him, that knowledge is fire burning its way into the last passion) It is you. It is you.
TOM: (words coming from a throat not free) Claire! What are you doing? (then she knows what she is doing)
CLAIRE: (to his resistance) No! You are too much! You are not enough. (still wanting not to hurt her, he is slow in getting free. He keeps stepping backward trying, in growing earnest, to loosen her hands. But he does not loosen them before she has found the place in his throat that cuts off breath. As he gasps)
Breath of Life—my gift—to you!
(She has pushed him against one of the plants at right as he sways, strength she never had before pushes him over backward, just as they have struggled from sight. Violent crash of glass is heard.)
TOM: (faint smothered voice) No. I’m—hurt.
CLAIRE: (in the frenzy and agony of killing) Oh, gift! Oh, gift! (there is no sound.
CLAIRE rises—steps back—is seen now; is looking down) Gift.
(Like one who does not know where she is, she moves into the room—looks around. Takes a step toward Breath of Life; turns and goes quickly to the door. Stops, as if stopped. Sees the revolver where the Edge Vine was. Slowly goes to it. Holds it as if she cannot think what it is for. Then raises it high and fires above through the place in the glass left open for ventilation. ANTHONY comes from the inner room. His eyes go from her to the body beyond. HARRY rushes in from outside.)
HARRY: Who fired that?
CLAIRE: I did. Lonely.
(Seeing ANTHONY’S look, HARRY ‘s eyes follow it.)
HARRY: Oh! What? What? (DICK comes running in) Who? Claire!
(DICK sees—goes to TOM)
CLAIRE: Yes. I did it. MY—Gift.
HARRY: Is he—? He isn’t—? He isn’t—?
(Tries to go in there. Cannot—there is the sound of broken glass, of a position being changed—then DICK reappears.)
DICK: (his voice in jerks) It’s—it’s no use, but I’ll go for a doctor.
HARRY: No—no. Oh, I suppose—(falling down beside CLAIRE—his face against her) My darling! How can I save you now?
CLAIRE: (speaking each word very carefully) Saved—myself.
ANTHONY: I did it. Don’t you see? I didn’t want so many around. Not—what this place is for.
HARRY: (snatching at this but lets it go) She wouldn’t let—(looking up at CLAIRE—then quickly hiding his face) And—don’t you see?
CLAIRE: Out. (a little like a child’s pleased surprise) Out.
(DICK stands there, as if unable to get to the door—his face distorted, biting his hand.)
ANTHONY: Miss Claire! You can do anything—won’t you try?
CLAIRE: Reminiscence? (speaking the word as if she has left even that, but smiles a little)
(ANTHONY takes Reminiscence, the flower she was breeding for fragrance for Breath of Life—holds it out to her. But she has taken a step forward, past them all.)
CLAIRE: Out. (as if feeling her way)
(Her voice now feeling the way to it.)
(Voice almost upon it.)
(Falling upon it with surprise.)
E’en though it be—
(A slight turn of the head toward the dead man she loves—a mechanical turn just as far the other way.)
(Her head going down.)
(Her head slowly coming up—singing it.)
Still all my song shall be,
(Slowly the curtain begins to shut her out. The last word heard is the final Nearer—a faint breath from far.)
Susan Keating Glaspell (July 1, 1876 – July 28, 1948) was an American Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, novelist, journalist and actress. With her husband George Cram Cook she founded the Provincetown Players, the first modern American theater company. During the Great Depression she served in the Works Progress Administration as Midwest Bureau Director of the Federal Theater Project.
A prolific writer, Glaspell is known to have composed nine novels, fifteen plays, over fifty short stories and one biography. Often set in her native Midwest, these semi-autobiographical tales frequently address contemporary social issues, such as gender, ethics and dissent, while featuring deep, sympathetic characters who make principled stands.