Third Act




The drawingroom of Richard Rowan’s house at Merrion. The folding doors at the right are closed and also the double doors leading to the garden. The green plush curtains are drawn across the window on the left. The room is half dark. It is early in the morning of the next day. Bertha sits beside the window looking out between the curtains. She wears a loose saffron dressing gown. Her hair is combed loosely over the ears and knotted at the neck. Her hands are folded in her lap. Her face is pale and drawn.

[Brigid comes in through the folding doors on the right with a featherbroom and duster. She is about to cross but, seeing Bertha, she halts suddenly and blesses herself instinctively.]


BRIGID.
Merciful hour, ma’am. You put the heart across me. Why did you get up so early?

BERTHA.
What time is it?

BRIGID.
After seven, ma’am. Are you long up?

BERTHA.
Some time.

BRIGID.
[Approaching her.] Had you a bad dream that woke you?

BERTHA.
I didn’t sleep all night. So I got up to see the sun rise.

BRIGID.
[Opens the double doors.] It’s a lovely morning now after all the rain we had. [Turns round.] But you must be dead tired, ma’am. What will the master say at your doing a thing like that? [She goes to the door of the study and knocks.] Master Richard!

BERTHA.
[Looks round.] He is not there. He went out an hour ago.

BRIGID.
Out there, on the strand, is it?

BERTHA.
Yes.

BRIGID.
[Comes towards her and leans over the back of a chair.] Are you fretting yourself, ma’am, about anything?

BERTHA.
No, Brigid.

BRIGID.
Don’t be. He was always like that, meandering off by himself somewhere. He is a curious bird, Master Richard, and always was. Sure there isn’t a turn in him I don’t know. Are you fretting now maybe because he does be in there [pointing to the study] half the night at his books? Leave him alone. He’ll come back to you again. Sure he thinks the sun shines out of your face, ma’am.

BERTHA.
[Sadly.] That time is gone.

BRIGID.
[Confidentially.] And good cause I have to remember it—that time when he was paying his addresses to you. [She sits down beside Bertha. In a lower voice.] Do you know that he used to tell me all about you and nothing to his mother, God rest her soul? Your letters and all.

BERTHA.
What? My letters to him?

BRIGID.
[Delighted.] Yes. I can see him sitting on the kitchen table, swinging his legs and spinning out of him yards of talk about you and him and Ireland and all kinds of devilment—to an ignorant old woman like me. But that was always his way. But if he had to meet a grand highup person he’d be twice as grand himself. [Suddenly looks at Bertha.] Is it crying you are now? Ah, sure, don’t cry. There’s good times coming still.

BERTHA.
No, Brigid, that time comes only once in a lifetime. The rest of life is good for nothing except to remember that time.

BRIGID.
[Is silent for a moment: then says kindly.] Would you like a cup of tea, ma’am? That would make you all right.

BERTHA.
Yes, I would. But the milkman has not come yet.

BRIGID.
No. Master Archie told me to wake him before he came. He’s going out for a jaunt in the car. But I’ve a cup left overnight. I’ll have the kettle boiling in a jiffy. Would you like a nice egg with it?

BERTHA.
No, thanks.

BRIGID.
Or a nice bit of toast?

BERTHA.
No, Brigid, thanks. Just a cup of tea.

BRIGID.
[Crossing to the folding doors.] I won’t be a moment. [She stops, turns back and goes towards the door on the left.] But first I must waken Master Archie or there’ll be ructions.

[She goes out by the door on the left. After a few moments Bertha rises and goes over to the study. She opens the door wide and looks in. One can see a small untidy room with many bookshelves and a large writingtable with papers and an extinguished lamp and before it a padded chair. She remains standing for some time in the doorway, then closes the door again without entering the room. She returns to her chair by the window and sits down. Archie, dressed as before, comes in by the door on the right, followed by Brigid.]

ARCHIE.
[Comes to her and, putting up his face to be kissed, says:] Buon giorno, mamma!

BERTHA.
[Kissing him.] Buon giorno, Archie! [To Brigid.] Did you put another vest on him under that one?

BRIGID.
He wouldn’t let me, ma’am.

ARCHIE.
I’m not cold, mamma.

BERTHA.
I said you were to put it on, didn’t I?

ARCHIE.
But where is the cold?

BERTHA.
[Takes a comb from her head and combs his hair back at both sides.] And the sleep is in your eyes still.

BRIGID.
He went to bed immediately after you went out last night, ma’am.

ARCHIE.
You know he’s going to let me drive, mamma.

BERTHA.
[Replacing the comb in her hair, embraces him suddenly.] O, what a big man to drive a horse!

BRIGID.
Well, he’s daft on horses, anyhow.

ARCHIE.
[Releasing himself.] I’ll make him go quick. You will see from the window, mamma. With the whip. [He makes the gesture of cracking a whip and shouts at the top of his voice.] Avanti!

BRIGID.
Beat the poor horse, is it?

BERTHA.
Come here till I clean your mouth. [She takes her handkerchief from the pocket of her gown, wets it with her tongue and cleans his mouth.] You’re all smudges or something, dirty little creature you are.

ARCHIE.
[Repeats, laughing.] Smudges! What is smudges?

[The noise is heard of a milkcan rattled on the railings before the window.]

BRIGID.
[Draws aside the curtains and looks out.] Here he is!

ARCHIE.
[Rapidly.] Wait. I’m ready. Goodbye, mamma! [He kisses her hastily and turns to go.] Is pappie up?

BRIGID.
[Takes him by the arm.] Come on with you now.

BERTHA.
Mind yourself, Archie, and don’t be long or I won’t let you go any more.

ARCHIE.
All right. Look out of the window and you’ll see me. Goodbye.

[Brigid and Archie go out by the door on the left. Bertha stands up and, drawing aside the curtains still more, stands in the embrasure of the window looking out. The hall door is heard opening: then a slight noise of voices and cans is heard. The door is closed. After a moment or two Bertha is seen waving her hand gaily in a salute. Brigid enters and stands behind her, looking over her shoulder.]

BRIGID.
Look at the sit of him! As serious as you like.

BERTHA.
[Suddenly withdrawing from her post.] Stand out of the window. I don’t want to be seen.

BRIGID.
Why, ma’am, what is it?

BERTHA.
[Crossing towards the folding doors.] Say I’m not up, that I’m not well. I can’t see anyone.

BRIGID.
[Follows her.] Who is it, ma’am?

BERTHA.
[Halting.] Wait a moment.

[She listens. A knock is heard at the hall door.]

BERTHA.
[Stands a moment in doubt, then.] No, say I’m in.

BRIGID.
[In doubt.] Here?

BERTHA.
[Hurriedly.] Yes. Say I have just got up.

[Brigid goes out on the left. Bertha goes towards the double doors and fingers the curtains nervously, as if settling them. The hall door is heard to open. Then Beatrice Justice enters and, as Bertha does not turn at once, stands in hesitation near the door on the left. She is dressed as before and has a newspaper in her hand.]

BEATRICE.
[Advances rapidly.] Mrs Rowan, excuse me for coming at such an hour.

BERTHA.
[Turns.] Good morning, Miss Justice. [She comes towards her.] Is anything the matter?

BEATRICE.
[Nervously.] I don’t know. That is what I wanted to ask you.

BERTHA.
[Looks curiously at her.] You are out of breath. Won’t you sit down?

BEATRICE.
[Sitting down.] Thank you.

BERTHA.
[Sits opposite her, pointing to her paper.] Is there something in the paper?

BEATRICE.
[Laughs nervously: opens the paper.] Yes.

BERTHA.
About Dick?

BEATRICE.
Yes. Here it is. A long article, a leading article, by my cousin. All his life is here. Do you wish to see it?

BERTHA.
[Takes the paper, and opens it.] Where is it?

BEATRICE.
In the middle. It is headed: A Distinguished Irishman.

BERTHA.
Is it... for Dick or against him?

BEATRICE.
[Warmly.] O, for him! You can read what he says about Mr Rowan. And I know that Robert stayed in town very late last night to write it.

BERTHA.
[Nervously.] Yes. Are you sure?

BEATRICE.
Yes. Very late. I heard him come home. It was long after two.

BERTHA.
[Watching her.] It alarmed you? I mean to be awakened at that hour of the morning.

BEATRICE.
I am a light sleeper. But I knew he had come from the office and then... I suspected he had written an article about Mr Rowan and that was why he came so late.

BERTHA.
How quick you were to think of that!

BEATRICE.
Well, after what took place here yesterday afternoon—I mean what Robert said, that Mr Rowan had accepted this position. It was only natural I should think...

BERTHA.
Ah, yes. Naturally.

BEATRICE.
[Hastily.] But that is not what alarmed me. But immediately after I heard a noise in my cousin’s room.

BERTHA.
[Crumples together the paper in her hands, breathlessly.] My God! What is it? Tell me.

BEATRICE.
[Observing her.] Why does that upset you so much?

BERTHA.
[Sinking back, with a forced laugh.] Yes, of course, it is very foolish of me. My nerves are all upset. I slept very badly, too. That is why I got up so early. But tell me what was it then?

BEATRICE.
Only the noise of his valise being pulled along the floor. Then I heard him walking about his room, whistling softly. And then locking it and strapping it.

BERTHA.
He is going away!

BEATRICE.
That was what alarmed me. I feared he had had a quarrel with Mr Rowan and that his article was an attack.

BERTHA.
But why should they quarrel? Have you noticed anything between them?

BEATRICE.
I thought I did. A coldness.

BERTHA.
Lately?

BEATRICE.
For some time past.

BERTHA.
[Smoothing the paper out.] Do you know the reason?

BEATRICE.
[Hesitatingly.] No.

BERTHA.
[After a pause.] Well, but if this article is for him, as you say, they have not quarrelled. [She reflects a moment.] And written last night, too.

BEATRICE.
Yes. I bought the paper at once to see. But why, then, is he going away so suddenly? I feel that there is something wrong. I feel that something has happened between them.

BERTHA.
Would you be sorry?

BEATRICE.
I would be very sorry. You see, Mrs Rowan, Robert is my first cousin and it would grieve me very deeply if he were to treat Mr Rowan badly, now that he has come back, or if they had a serious quarrel especially because...

BERTHA.
[Toying with the paper.] Because?

BEATRICE.
Because it was my cousin who urged Mr Rowan always to come back. I have that on my conscience.

BERTHA.
It should be on Mr Hand’s conscience, should it not?

BEATRICE.
[Uncertainly.] On mine, too. Because—I spoke to my cousin about Mr Rowan when he was away and, to a certain extent, it was I...

BERTHA.
[Nods slowly.] I see. And that is on your conscience. Only that?

BEATRICE.
I think so.

BERTHA.
[Almost cheerfully.] It looks as if it was you, Miss Justice, who brought my husband back to Ireland.

BEATRICE.
I, Mrs Rowan?

BERTHA.
Yes, you. By your letters to him and then by speaking to your cousin as you said just now. Do you not think that you are the person who brought him back?

BEATRICE.
[Blushing suddenly.] No. I could not think that.

BERTHA.
[Watches her for a moment; then turning aside.] You know that my husband is writing very much since he came back.

BEATRICE.
Is he?

BERTHA.
Did you not know? [She points towards the study.] He passes the greater part of the night in there writing. Night after night.

BEATRICE.
In his study?

BERTHA.
Study or bedroom. You may call it what you please. He sleeps there, too, on a sofa. He slept there last night. I can show you if you don’t believe me.

[She rises to go towards the study. Beatrice half rises quickly and makes a gesture of refusal.]

BEATRICE.
I believe you, of course, Mrs Rowan, when you tell me.

BERTHA.
[Sitting down again.] Yes. He is writing. And it must be about something which has come into his life lately—since we came back to Ireland. Some change. Do you know that any change has come into his life? [She looks searchingly at her.] Do you know it or feel it?

BEATRICE.
[Answers her look steadily.] Mrs Rowan, that is not a question to ask me. If any change has come into his life since he came back you must know and feel it.

BERTHA.
You could know it just as well. You are very intimate in this house.

BEATRICE.
I am not the only person who is intimate here.

[They both look at each other coldly in silence for some moments. Bertha lays aside the paper and sits down on a chair nearer to Beatrice.]

BERTHA.
[Placing her hand on Beatrice’s knee.] So you also hate me, Miss Justice?

BEATRICE.
[With an effort.] Hate you? I?

BERTHA.
[Insistently but softly.] Yes. You know what it means to hate a person?

BEATRICE.
Why should I hate you? I have never hated anyone.

BERTHA.
Have you ever loved anyone? [She puts her hand on Beatrice’s wrist.] Tell me. You have?

BEATRICE.
[Also softly.] Yes. In the past.

BERTHA.
Not now?

BEATRICE.
No.

BERTHA.
Can you say that to me—truly? Look at me.

BEATRICE.
[Looks at her.] Yes, I can.

[A short pause. Bertha withdraws her hand, and turns away her head in some embarrassment.]

BERTHA.
You said just now that another person is intimate in this house. You meant your cousin... Was it he?

BEATRICE.
Yes.

BERTHA.
Have you not forgotten him?

BEATRICE.
[Quietly.] I have tried to.

BERTHA.
[Clasping her hands.] You hate me. You think I am happy. If you only knew how wrong you are!

BEATRICE.
[Shakes her head.] I do not.

BERTHA.
Happy! When I do not understand anything that he writes, when I cannot help him in any way, when I don’t even understand half of what he says to me sometimes! You could and you can. [Excitedly.] But I am afraid for him, afraid for both of them. [She stands up suddenly and goes towards the davenport.] He must not go away like that. [She takes a writing pad from the drawer and writes a few lines in great haste.] No, it is impossible! Is he mad to do such a thing? [Turning to Beatrice.] Is he still at home?

BEATRICE.
[Watching her in wonder.] Yes. Have you written to him to ask him to come here?

BERTHA.
[Rises.] I have. I will send Brigid across with it. Brigid!

[She goes out by the door on the left rapidly.]

BEATRICE.
[Gazing after her, instinctively:] It is true, then!

[She glances toward the door of Richard’s study and catches her head in her hands. Then, recovering herself, she takes the paper from the little table, opens it, takes a spectacle case from her handbag and, putting on a pair of spectacles, bends down, reading it. Richard Rowan enters from the garden. He is dressed as before but wears a soft hat and carries a thin cane.]

RICHARD.
[Stands in the doorway, observing her for some moments.] There are demons [he points out towards the strand] out there. I heard them jabbering since dawn.

BEATRICE.
[Starts to her feet.] Mr Rowan!

RICHARD.
I assure you. The isle is full of voices. Yours also, Otherwise I could not see you, it said. And her voice. But, I assure you, they are all demons. I made the sign of the cross upside down and that silenced them.

BEATRICE.
[Stammering.] I came here, Mr Rowan, so early because... to show you this... Robert wrote it... about you... last night.

RICHARD.
[Takes off his hat.] My dear Miss Justice, you told me yesterday, I think, why you came here and I never forget anything. [Advancing towards her, holding out his hand.] Good morning.

BEATRICE.
[Suddenly takes off her spectacles and places the paper in his hands.] I came for this. It is an article about you. Robert wrote it last night. Will you read it?

RICHARD.
[Bows.] Read it now? Certainly.

BEATRICE.
[Looks at him in despair.] O, Mr Rowan, it makes me suffer to look at you.

RICHARD.
[Opens and reads the paper.] Death of the Very Reverend Canon Mulhall. Is that it?

[Bertha appears at the door on the left and stands to listen.]

RICHARD.
[Turns over a page.] Yes, here we are! A Distinguished Irishman. [He begins to read in a rather loud hard voice.] Not the least vital of the problems which confront our country is the problem of her attitude towards those of her children who, having left her in her hour of need, have been called back to her now on the eve of her longawaited victory, to her whom in loneliness and exile they have at last learned to love. In exile, we have said, but here we must distinguish. There is an economic and there is a spiritual exile. There are those who left her to seek the bread by which men live and there are others, nay, her most favoured children, who left her to seek in other lands that food of the spirit by which a nation of human beings is sustained in life. Those who recall the intellectual life of Dublin of a decade since will have many memories of Mr Rowan. Something of that fierce indignation which lacerated the heart...

[He raises his eyes from the paper and sees Bertha standing in the doorway. Then he lays aside the paper and looks at her. A long silence.]

BEATRICE.
[With an effort.] You see, Mr Rowan, your day has dawned at last. Even here. And you see that you have a warm friend in Robert, a friend who understands you.

RICHARD.
Did you notice the little phrase at the beginning: those who left her in her hour of need?

[He looks searchingly at Bertha, turns and walks into his study, closing the door behind him.]

BERTHA.
[Speaking half to herself.] I gave up everything for him, religion, family, my own peace.

[She sits down heavily in an armchair. Beatrice comes towards her.]

BEATRICE.
[Weakly.] But do you not feel also that Mr Rowan’s ideas...

BERTHA.
[Bitterly.] Ideas and ideas! But the people in this world have other ideas or pretend to. They have to put up with him in spite of his ideas because he is able to do something. Me, no. I am nothing.

BEATRICE.
You stand by his side.

BERTHA.
[With increasing bitterness.] Ah, nonsense, Miss Justice! I am only a thing he got entangled with and my son is—the nice name they give those children. Do you think I am a stone? Do you think I don’t see it in their eyes and in their manner when they have to meet me?

BEATRICE.
Do not let them humble you, Mrs Rowan.

BERTHA.
[Haughtily.] Humble me! I am very proud of myself, if you want to know. What have they ever done for him? I made him a man. What are they all in his life? No more than the dirt under his boots! [She stands up and walks excitedly to and fro.] He can despise me, too, like the rest of them—now. And you can despise me. But you will never humble me, any of you.

BEATRICE.
Why do you accuse me?

BERTHA.
[Going to her impulsively.] I am in such suffering. Excuse me if I was rude. I want us to be friends. [She holds out her hands.] Will you?

BEATRICE.
[Taking her hands.] Gladly.

BERTHA.
[Looking at her.] What lovely long eyelashes you have! And your eyes have such a sad expression!

BEATRICE.
[Smiling.] I see very little with them. They are very weak.

BERTHA.
[Warmly.] But beautiful.

[She embraces her quietly and kisses her. Then withdraws from her a little shyly. Brigid comes in from the left.]

BRIGID.
I gave it to himself, ma’am.

BERTHA.
Did he send a message?

BRIGID.
He was just going out, ma’am. He told me to say he’d be here after me.

BERTHA.
Thanks.

BRIGID.
[Going.] Would you like the tea and the toast now, ma’am?

BERTHA.
Not now, Brigid. After perhaps. When Mr Hand comes show him in at once.

BRIGID.
Yes, ma’am.

[She goes out on the left.]

BEATRICE.
I will go now, Mrs Rowan, before he comes.

BERTHA.
[Somewhat timidly.] Then we are friends?

BEATRICE.
[In the same tone.] We will try to be. [Turning.] Do you allow me to go out through the garden? I don’t want to meet my cousin now.

BERTHA.
Of course. [She takes her hand.] It is so strange that we spoke like this now. But I always wanted to. Did you?

BEATRICE.
I think I did, too.

BERTHA.
[Smiling.] Even in Rome. When I went out for a walk with Archie I used to think about you, what you were like, because I knew about you from Dick. I used to look at different persons, coming out of churches or going by in carriages, and think that perhaps they were like you. Because Dick told me you were dark.

BEATRICE.
[Again nervously.] Really?

BERTHA.
[Pressing her hand.] Goodbye then—for the present.

BEATRICE.
[Disengaging her hand.] Good morning.

BERTHA.
I will see you to the gate.

[She accompanies her out through the double doors. They go down through the garden. Richard Rowan comes in from the study. He halts near the doors, looking down the garden. Then he turns away, comes to the little table, takes up the paper and reads. Bertha, after some moments, appears in the doorway and stands watching him till he has finished. He lays down the paper again and turns to go back to his study.]

BERTHA.
Dick!

RICHARD.
[Stopping.] Well?

BERTHA.
You have not spoken to me.

RICHARD.
I have nothing to say. Have you?

BERTHA.
Do you not wish to know—about what happened last night?

RICHARD.
That I will never know.

BERTHA.
I will tell you if you ask me.

RICHARD.
You will tell me. But I will never know. Never in this world.

BERTHA.
[Moving towards him.] I will tell you the truth, Dick, as I always told you. I never lied to you.

RICHARD.
[Clenching his hands in the air, passionately.] Yes, yes. The truth! But I will never know, I tell you.

BERTHA.
Why, then, did you leave me last night?

RICHARD.
[Bitterly.] In your hour of need.

BERTHA.
[Threateningly.] You urged me to it. Not because you love me. If you loved me or if you knew what love was you would not have left me. For your own sake you urged me to it.

RICHARD.
I did not make myself. I am what I am.

BERTHA.
To have it always to throw against me. To make me humble before you, as you always did. To be free yourself. [Pointing towards the garden.] With her! And that is your love! Every word you say is false.

RICHARD.
[Controlling himself.] It is useless to ask you to listen to me.

BERTHA.
Listen to you! She is the person for listening. Why would you waste your time with me? Talk to her.

RICHARD.
[Nods his head.] I see. You have driven her away from me now, as you drove everyone else from my side—every friend I ever had, every human being that ever tried to approach me. You hate her.

BERTHA.
[Warmly.] No such thing! I think you have made her unhappy as you have made me and as you made your dead mother unhappy and killed her. Womankiller! That is your name.

RICHARD.
[Turns to go.] Arrivederci!

BERTHA.
[Excitedly.] She is a fine and high character. I like her. She is everything that I am not—in birth and education. You tried to ruin her but you could not. Because she is well able for you—what I am not. And you know it.

RICHARD.
[Almost shouting.] What the devil are you talking about her for?

BERTHA.
[Clasping her hands.] O, how I wish I had never met you! How I curse that day!

RICHARD.
[Bitterly.] I am in the way, is it? You would like to be free now. You have only to say the word.

BERTHA.
[Proudly.] Whenever you like I am ready.

RICHARD.
So that you could meet your lover—freely?

BERTHA.
Yes.

RICHARD.
Night after night?

BERTHA.
[Gazing before her and speaking with intense passion.] To meet my lover! [Holding out her arms before her.] My lover! Yes! My lover!

[She bursts suddenly into tears and sinks down on a chair, covering her face with her hands. Richard approaches her slowly and touches her on the shoulder.]

RICHARD.
Bertha! [She does not answer.] Bertha, you are free.

BERTHA.
[Pushes his hand aside and starts to her feet.] Don’t touch me! You are a stranger to me. You do not understand anything in me—not one thing in my heart or soul. A stranger! I am living with a stranger!

[A knock is heard at the hall door. Bertha dries her eyes quickly with her handkerchief and settles the front of her gown. Richard listens for a moment, looks at her keenly and, turning away, walks into his study. Robert Hand enters from the left. He is dressed in dark brown and carries in his hand a brown Alpine hat.]

ROBERT.
[Closing the door quietly behind him.] You sent for me.

BERTHA.
[Rises.] Yes. Are you mad to think of going away like that—without even coming here—without saying anything?

ROBERT.
[Advancing towards the table on which the paper lies, glances at it.] What I have to say I said here.

BERTHA.
When did you write it? Last night—after I went away?

ROBERT.
[Gracefully.] To be quite accurate, I wrote part of it—in my mind—before you went away. The rest—the worst part—I wrote after. Much later.

BERTHA.
And you could write last night!

ROBERT.
[Shrugs his shoulders.] I am a welltrained animal. [He comes closer to her.] I passed a long wandering night after... in my office, at the vicechancellor’s house, in a nightclub, in the streets, in my room. Your image was always before my eyes, your hand in my hand. Bertha, I will never forget last night. [He lays his hat on the table and takes her hand.] Why do you not look at me? May I not touch you?

BERTHA.
[Points to the study.] Dick is in there.

ROBERT.
[Drops her hand.] In that case children be good.

BERTHA.
Where are you going?

ROBERT.
To foreign parts. That is, to my cousin Jack Justice, alias Doggy Justice, in Surrey. He has a nice country place there and the air is mild.

BERTHA.
Why are you going?

ROBERT.
[Looks at her in silence.] Can you not guess one reason?

BERTHA.
On account of me?

ROBERT.
Yes. It is not pleasant for me to remain here just now.

BERTHA.
[Sits down helplessly.] But this is cruel of you, Robert. Cruel to me and to him also.

ROBERT.
Has he asked... what happened?

BERTHA.
[Joining her hands in despair.] No. He refuses to ask me anything. He says he will never know.

ROBERT.
[Nods gravely.] Richard is right there. He is always right.

BERTHA.
But, Robert, you must speak to him.

ROBERT.
What am I to say to him?

BERTHA.
The truth! Everything!

ROBERT.
[Reflects.] No, Bertha. I am a man speaking to a man. I cannot tell him everything.

BERTHA.
He will believe that you are going away because you are afraid to face him after last night.

ROBERT.
[After a pause.] Well, I am not a coward any more than he. I will see him.

BERTHA.
[Rises.] I will call him.

ROBERT.
[Catching her hands.] Bertha! What happened last night? What is the truth that I am to tell? [He gazes earnestly into her eyes.] Were you mine in that sacred night of love? Or have I dreamed it?

BERTHA.
[Smiles faintly.] Remember your dream of me. You dreamed that I was yours last night.

ROBERT.
And that is the truth—a dream? That is what I am to tell?

BERTHA.
Yes.

ROBERT.
[Kisses both her hands.] Bertha! [In a softer voice.] In all my life only that dream is real. I forget the rest. [He kisses her hands again.] And now I can tell him the truth. Call him.

[Bertha goes to the door of Richard’s study and knocks. There is no answer. She knocks again.]

BERTHA.
Dick! [There is no answer.] Mr Hand is here. He wants to speak to you, to say goodbye. He is going away. [There is no answer. She beats her hand loudly on the panel of the door and calls in an alarmed voice.] Dick! Answer me!

[Richard Rowan comes in from the study. He comes at once to Robert but does not hold out his hand.]

RICHARD.
[Calmly.] I thank you for your kind article about me. Is it true that you have come to say goodbye?

ROBERT.
There is nothing to thank me for, Richard. Now and always I am your friend. Now more than ever before. Do you believe me, Richard?

[Richard sits down on a chair and buries his face in his hands. Bertha and Robert gaze at each other in silence. Then she turns away and goes out quietly on the right. Robert goes towards Richard and stands near him, resting his hands on the back of a chair, looking down at him. There is a long silence. A Fishwoman is heard crying out as she passes along the road outside.]

THE FISHWOMAN.
Fresh Dublin bay herrings! Fresh Dublin bay herrings! Dublin bay herrings!

ROBERT.
[Quietly.] I will tell you the truth, Richard. Are you listening?

RICHARD.
[Raises his face and leans back to listen.] Yes.

[Robert sits on the chair beside him. The Fishwoman is heard calling out farther away.]

THE FISHWOMAN.
Fresh herrings! Dublin bay herrings!

ROBERT.
I failed, Richard. That is the truth. Do you believe me?

RICHARD.
I am listening.

ROBERT.
I failed. She is yours, as she was nine years ago, when you met her first.

RICHARD.
When we met her first, you mean.

ROBERT.
Yes. [He looks down for some moments.] Shall I go on?

RICHARD.
Yes.

ROBERT.
She went away. I was left alone—for the second time. I went to the vicechancellor’s house and dined. I said you were ill and would come another night. I made epigrams new and old—that one about the statues also. I drank claret cup. I went to my office and wrote my article. Then...

RICHARD.
Then?

ROBERT.
Then I went to a certain nightclub. There were men there—and also women. At least, they looked like women. I danced with one of them. She asked me to see her home. Shall I go on?

RICHARD.
Yes.

ROBERT.
I saw her home in a cab. She lives near Donnybrook. In the cab took place what the subtle Duns Scotus calls a death of the spirit. Shall I go on?

RICHARD.
Yes.

ROBERT.
She wept. She told me she was the divorced wife of a barrister. I offered her a sovereign as she told me she was short of money. She would not take it and wept very much. Then she drank some melissa water from a little bottle which she had in her satchel. I saw her enter her house. Then I walked home. In my room I found that my coat was all stained with the melissa water. I had no luck even with my coats yesterday: that was the second one. The idea came to me then to change my suit and go away by the morning boat. I packed my valise and went to bed. I am going away by the next train to my cousin, Jack Justice, in Surrey. Perhaps for a fortnight. Perhaps longer. Are you disgusted?

RICHARD.
Why did you not go by the boat?

ROBERT.
I slept it out.

RICHARD.
You intended to go without saying goodbye—without coming here?

ROBERT.
Yes.

RICHARD.
Why?

ROBERT.
My story is not very nice, is it?

RICHARD.
But you have come.

ROBERT.
Bertha sent me a message to come.

RICHARD.
But for that...?

ROBERT.
But for that I should not have come.

RICHARD.
Did it strike you that if you had gone without coming here I should have understood it—in my own way?

ROBERT.
Yes, it did.

RICHARD.
What, then, do you wish me to believe?

ROBERT.
I wish you to believe that I failed. That Bertha is yours now as she was nine years ago, when you—when we—met her first.

RICHARD.
Do you want to know what I did?

ROBERT.
No.

RICHARD.
I came home at once.

ROBERT.
Did you hear Bertha return?

RICHARD.
No. I wrote all the night. And thought. [Pointing to the study.] In there. Before dawn I went out and walked the strand from end to end.

ROBERT.
[Shaking his head.] Suffering. Torturing yourself.

RICHARD.
Hearing voices about me. The voices of those who say they love me.

ROBERT.
[Points to the door on the right.] One. And mine?

RICHARD.
Another still.

ROBERT.
[Smiles and touches his forehead with his right forefinger.] True. My interesting but somewhat melancholy cousin. And what did they tell you?

RICHARD.
They told me to despair.

ROBERT.
A queer way of showing their love, I must say! And will you despair?

RICHARD.
[Rising.] No.

[A noise is heard at the window. Archie’s face is seen flattened against one of the panes. He is heard calling.]

ARCHIE.
Open the window! Open the window!

ROBERT.
[Looks at Richard.] Did you hear his voice, too, Richard, with the others—out there on the strand? Your son’s voice. [Smiling.] Listen! How full it is of despair!

ARCHIE.
Open the window, please, will you?

ROBERT.
Perhaps, there, Richard, is the freedom we seek—you in one way, I in another. In him and not in us. Perhaps...

RICHARD.
Perhaps...?

ROBERT.
I said perhaps. I would say almost surely if...

RICHARD.
If what?

ROBERT.
[With a faint smile.] If he were mine.

[He goes to the window and opens it. Archie scrambles in.]

ROBERT.
Like yesterday—eh?

ARCHIE.
Good morning, Mr Hand. [He runs to Richard and kisses him:] Buon giorno, babbo.

RICHARD.
Buon giorno, Archie.

ROBERT.
And where were you, my young gentleman?

ARCHIE.
Out with the milkman. I drove the horse. We went to Booterstown. [He takes off his cap and throws it on a chair.] I am very hungry.

ROBERT.
[Takes his hat from the table.] Richard, goodbye. [Offering his hand.] To our next meeting!

RICHARD.
[Rises, touches his hand.] Goodbye.

[Bertha appears at the door on the right.]

ROBERT.
[Catches sight of her: to Archie.] Get your cap. Come on with me. I’ll buy you a cake and I’ll tell you a story.

ARCHIE.
[To Bertha.] May I, mamma?

BERTHA.
Yes.

ARCHIE.
[Takes his cap.] I am ready.

ROBERT.
[To Richard and Bertha.] Goodbye to pappa and mamma. But not a big goodbye.

ARCHIE.
Will you tell me a fairy story, Mr Hand?

ROBERT.
A fairy story? Why not? I am your fairy godfather.

[They go out together through the double doors and down the garden. When they have gone Bertha goes to Richard and puts her arm round his waist.]

BERTHA.
Dick, dear, do you believe now that I have been true to you? Last night and always?

RICHARD.
[Sadly.] Do not ask me, Bertha.

BERTHA.
[Pressing him more closely.] I have been, dear. Surely you believe me. I gave you myself—all. I gave up all for you. You took me—and you left me.

RICHARD.
When did I leave you?

BERTHA.
You left me: and I waited for you to come back to me. Dick, dear, come here to me. Sit down. How tired you must be!

[She draws him towards the lounge. He sits down, almost reclining, resting on his arm. She sits on the mat before the lounge, holding his hand.]

BERTHA.
Yes, dear. I waited for you. Heavens, what I suffered then—when we lived in Rome! Do you remember the terrace of our house?

RICHARD.
Yes.

BERTHA.
I used to sit there, waiting, with the poor child with his toys, waiting till he got sleepy. I could see all the roofs of the city and the river, the Tevere. What is its name?

RICHARD.
The Tiber.

BERTHA.
[Caressing her cheek with his hand.] It was lovely, Dick, only I was so sad. I was alone, Dick, forgotten by you and by all. I felt my life was ended.

RICHARD.
It had not begun.

BERTHA.
And I used to look at the sky, so beautiful, without a cloud and the city you said was so old: and then I used to think of Ireland and about ourselves.

RICHARD.
Ourselves?

BERTHA.
Yes. Ourselves. Not a day passes that I do not see ourselves, you and me, as we were when we met first. Every day of my life I see that. Was I not true to you all that time?

RICHARD.
[Sighs deeply.] Yes, Bertha. You were my bride in exile.

BERTHA.
Wherever you go, I will follow you. If you wish to go away now I will go with you.

RICHARD.
I will remain. It is too soon yet to despair.

BERTHA.
[Again caressing his hand.] It is not true that I want to drive everyone from you. I wanted to bring you close together—you and him. Speak to me. Speak out all your heart to me. What you feel and what you suffer.

RICHARD.
I am wounded, Bertha.

BERTHA.
How wounded, dear? Explain to me what you mean. I will try to understand everything you say. In what way are you wounded?

RICHARD.
[Releases his hand and, taking her head between his hands, bends it back and gazes long into her eyes.] I have a deep, deep wound of doubt in my soul.

BERTHA.
[Motionless.] Doubt of me?

RICHARD.
Yes.

BERTHA.
I am yours. [In a whisper.] If I died this moment, I am yours.

RICHARD.
[Still gazing at her and speaking as if to an absent person.] I have wounded my soul for you—a deep wound of doubt which can never be healed. I can never know, never in this world. I do not wish to know or to believe. I do not care. It is not in the darkness of belief that I desire you. But in restless living wounding doubt. To hold you by no bonds, even of love, to be united with you in body and soul in utter nakedness—for this I longed. And now I am tired for a while, Bertha. My wound tires me.

[He stretches himself out wearily along the lounge. Bertha holds his hand still, speaking very softly.]

BERTHA.
Forget me, Dick. Forget me and love me again as you did the first time. I want my lover. To meet him, to go to him, to give myself to him. You, Dick. O, my strange wild lover, come back to me again!

[She closes her eyes.]


THE END.






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