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ACT TWO
SCENE ONE

  Library. A door is in the rear, toward right. A large couch facing front. On the wall, a framed portrait study of Eleanor.

  At first the room is in darkness. As the curtain rises, John can be dimly distinguished sitting, bent over wearily, his shoulders bowed, his long arms resting on his knees, his hands dangling. He sits on the extreme edge in the exact middle of the big couch, and this heightens the sense of loneliness about him.

  Suddenly he starts as the sound of a motor comes from the driveway. The car is heard driving up; it stops before the front door; its door is slammed, it drives off; a ringing of the doorbell sounds from somewhere back in the house. John has gotten up, gone toward the door in the rear, exclaiming irritably as the bell continues to ring—All right, damn it! Who the devil—? (He is heard opening the front door—in blank amazement) Nelly! (Then her voice in a strained, hysterical pitch) John! I—(The rest is lost incoherently. Then his voice soothingly) Come in! Come in. (He follows her into the room. Her face is pale, distraught, desperate. She comes quickly to the couch and flings herself down in one corner. He stands nearby uncertainly, watching her. His face holds a confused mixture of alarm, tenderness, perplexity, passionate hope.)

  JOHNYou're trembling.

  ELEANOR(with a startled movement) No—I—I'm—(A pause. He waits for her to speak, not knowing what to think. She gradually collects herself. Memory crowds back on her and her face twitches with pain which turns to hatred and rage. She becomes conscious of John's eyes, forces this back, her face growing mask-like and determined. She looks up at John and forces the words out slowly.) John—you said, if ever—You once said I might always come—

  JOHN(His face lights up for a second with a joy that is incongruously savage—at once controlling this—simply) Yes, Nelly.

  ELEANOR(a bit brokenly now) I hope—you meant that.

  JOHN(simply) Yes, I meant it.

  ELEANORI mean—that you still mean it—?

  JOHN(forcing an awkward smile) Then—now—forever after, amen—any old time at all, Nelly. (then overcome by a rush of bewildered joy—stammering) Why—you ought to know—!

  ELEANOR(smiling tensely) Would I still be welcome if I'd come—to stay?

  JOHN(his voice quivering) Nelly! (He starts toward her, then stops—in a low, uncertain voice) And Michael?

  ELEANOR(with an exclamation of pain) Don't! (quickly recovering herself—in a cold, hard voice) That's—dead! (John lets a held-back breath of suspense escape him. Eleanor stammers a bit hysterically) Don't talk of him! I've forgotten—as if he'd never lived! Do you still love me? Do you? Then tell me! I must know someone—

  JOHN(still uncertain, but coming nearer to her—simply) You knew once. Since then—My God, you've guessed, haven't you?

  ELEANORI need to hear. You've never spoken—for years—

  JOHNThere was—Michael.

  ELEANOR(wildly, putting her hands up to her ears as if to shut out the name) Don't! (then, driven by a desperate determination, forces a twisted smile) Why do you stand there? Are you afraid? I'm beginning to suspect—perhaps, you've only imagined—

  JOHNNelly! (He seizes one of her hands awkwardly and covers it with kisses—confusedly, with deep emotion) I—You know—You know—

  ELEANOR(with the same fixed smile) You must put your arms around me—and kiss me—on the lips—

  JOHN(takes her in his arms awkwardly and kisses her on the lips—with passionate incoherence) Nelly! I'd given up hoping—I—I can't believe—(She submits to his kisses with closed eyes, her face like a mask, her body trembling with revulsion. Suddenly he seems to sense something disharmonious—confusedly) But you—you don't care for me.

  ELEANOR(still with closed eyes—dully) Yes. (With a spurt of desperate energy she kisses him wildly several times, then sinks back again closing her eyes.) I'm so tired, John—so tired!

  JOHN(immediately all concern) You're trembling all over. I'm an idiot not to have seen—Forgive me. (He puts his hand on her forehead.) You're feverish. You'd better go to bed, young lady, right away. Come. (He raises her to her feet.)

  ELEANOR(wearily) Yes, I'm tired. (bitterly) Oh, it's good to be loved by someone who is unselfish and kind—

  JOHNSsshh! (forcing a joking tone) I'm cast for the Doctor now. Doctor's orders: don't talk, don't think, sleep. Come, I'll show you your room.

  ELEANOR(dully) Yes. (As if she were not aware of what she is doing, she allows him to lead her to the door at right, rear. There she suddenly starts as if awakening—frightenedly) Where are we going?

  JOHN(with gentle bullying) You're going upstairs to bed.

  ELEANOR(with a shudder—incoherently) No, no! Not now—no—wait—you must wait—(then calming herself and trying to speak matter-of-factly) I'd rather stay up and sit with you.

  JOHN(worriedly, but giving in to her at once) All right. Whatever suits you. (They go back. She sits in a chair. He puts a cushion in back of her.) How's that?

  ELEANOR(with a wan, grateful smile) You're so kind, John. You've always been kind. You're so different—(She checks herself, her face growing hard. John watches her. There is a long pause.)

  JOHN(finally—in a gentle tone) Nelly, don't you think it'd help if you told me—everything that's happened?

  ELEANOR(with a shudder) No! It was all horror—and disgust! (wildly resentful) Why do you make me remember? I've come to you. Why do you ask for reasons? (with a harsh laugh) Are you jealous—of him?

  JOHN(quietly) I've always envied Michael.

  ELEANORIf you'd seen him tonight, you wouldn't envy him. He's mean and contemptible! He makes everything as low as he is! He went away threatening, boasting he'd—(hysterically) Why do you make me think of him? I want to be yours! (She throws herself into his arms.)

  JOHN(straining her to him—with awkward passion) Nelly! (Under his kisses her face again becomes mask-like, her body rigid, her eyes closed. John suddenly grows aware of this. He stares down at her face, his own growing bewildered and afraid. He stammers) Nelly! What is it?

  ELEANOR(opening her eyes—in alarm) What—?

  JOHN(with a sigh of relief) You gave me a scare. You were like a corpse.

  ELEANOR(breaks away from him) I—I believe I do feel ill. I'll go to bed. (She moves toward the door.)

  JOHN(uneasily—with a forced heartiness) Now you're talking sense. Come on. (He leads the way into the hall. She goes as far as the doorway—then stops. A queer struggle is apparent in her face, her whole body, as if she were fighting with all her will to overcome some invisible barrier which bars her way. John is watching her keenly now, a sad foreboding coming into his eyes. He steps past her back into the room, saying kindly but with a faint trace of bitterness) It's the first door upstairs on your right—if you'd rather go alone. (He walk still further away, then turns to watch her, his face growing more and more aware and melancholy.)

  ELEANOR(vaguely) No—you don't understand—(She stands swaying, reaching out her hand to the side of the doorway for support—dully) The first door to the right—upstairs?

  JOHNYes.

  ELEANOR(struggles with herself, confused and impotent, trying to will—finally turns to John like a forlorn child.) John. Can't you help me?

  JOHN(gravely) No—not now when I do understand. You must do it alone.

  ELEANOR(with a desperate cry) I can! I'm as strong as he! (This breaks the spell which has chained her. She grows erect and strong. She walks through the doorway.)

  JOHN(with a triumphant exclamation of joy) Ah! (He strides toward the doorway—then stops as he notices that she also has stopped at the bottom of the stairs, one foot on the first stair, looking up at the top. Then she wavers and suddenly bolts back into the room, gropingly, her face strained and frightened. John questions her with fierce disappointment.) What is it? Why did you stop?

  ELEANOR(forcing a twisted smile—wildly) You're right. I must be feverish. (trying to control herself—self-mockingly) Seeing spooks, that's pretty far gone, isn't it? (laughing hysterically) Yes—I swear I saw him—standing at the head of the stairs waiting for me—just as he was standing when you knocked at our door, remember? (She laughs.) Really, it was too ridiculous—so plain—

  JOHNSsshh! (glancing at her worriedly) Won't you lie down here? Try and rest.

  ELEANOR(allowing him to make her comfortable on the couch before the fire) Yes. (Her eyes glance up into his bewilderedly.)

  JOHN(after a long pause—slowly) You don't love me, Nelly.

  ELEANOR(pitifully protesting) But I do, John! I do! You're kind! You're unselfish and fine!

  JOHN(with a wry smile) That isn't me.

  ELEANOR(desperately defiant, leaps to her feet) I do! (She takes his face between her hands and bringing her own close to it stares into his eyes. He looks back into hers. She mutters fiercely between her clenched teeth) I do! (For a long moment they remain there, as she brings her face nearer and nearer striving with all her will to kiss him on the lips. Finally, her eyes falter, her body grows limp, she turns away and throws herself on the couch in a fit of abandoned sobbing.)

  JOHN(with a sad smile) You see?

  ELEANOR(her voice muffled—between sobs) But I—want to! And I will—I know—some day—I promise!

  JOHN(forcing a light tone) Well, I'll be resigned to wait and hope then—and trust in your good intentions. (after a pause—in a calming, serious tone) You're calmer now? Tell me what happened between you and Michael.

  ELEANORNo! Please!

  JOHN(smiling but earnestly) It'll relieve your mind, Nelly—and besides, how can I help you otherwise?

  ELEANOR(after a pause—with resigned dullness) We've quarreled, but never like this before. This was final. (She shudders—then suddenly bursts out wildly) Oh, John, for God's sake don't ask me! I want to forget! We tore each other to pieces. I realized I hated him! I couldn't restrain my hate! I had to crush him as he was crushing me! (after a pause—dully again) And so that was the end.

  JOHN(tensely, hoping again now—pleadingly) You're sure, Nelly?

  ELEANOR(fiercely) I hate him!

  JOHN(after a pause—earnestly) Then stay here. I think I can help you forget. Never mind what people say. Make this your home—and maybe—in time—(He forces a smile.) You see, I'm already starting to nurse along that crumb of hope you gave. (She is looking down, preoccupied with her own thoughts. He looks at her embarrassedly, then goes on gently, timidly persuasive.) I don't mind waiting. I'm used to it. And I've been hoping ever since I first met you. (forcing a half laugh) I'll admit when you married him the waiting and hoping seemed excess labor. I tried to fire them—thought I had—but when you came tonight—they were right onto the job again! (He laughs—then catching himself awkwardly) But hell! I don't want to bother you now. Forget me.

  ELEANOR(in a bland, absent-minded tone which wounds him) You're so kind, John. (Then following her own line of thought, she breaks out savagely) I told him I'd been your mistress while he was away!

  JOHN(amazed) Nelly!

  ELEANORI had to tell that lie! He was degrading me! I had to revenge myself!

  JOHNBut certainly he could never believe—

  ELEANOR(with fierce triumph) Oh, I made him believe! (then dully) He went away. He said he'd kill our love as I had—worse—(with a twisted smile) That's what he's doing now. He's gone to one of those women he lived with before—(laughing harshly) No! They wouldn't be vile enough—for his beautiful revenge on me! He has a wonderful imagination. Everyone acknowledges that! (She laughs with wild bitterness.) My God, why do I think—? Help me, John! Help me to forget.

  JOHN(after a pause—with a sad, bitter helplessness) You mean—help you—to revenge yourself! But don't you realize I can't—you can't—because you still love him!

  ELEANOR(fiercely) No! (after a pause—brokenly) Don't! I know! (She sobs heartbrokenly.)

  JOHN(after a pause, as her sobbing grows quieter—sadly) Go home.

  ELEANORNo! (after a pause, brokenly) He'll never come back now.

  JOHN(with a bitter humor) Oh, yes he will; take my word for it. I know—because I happen to love you, too.

  ELEANOR(faintly) And do you—hate me?

  JOHN(after a pause—with melancholy self-disgust) No. I'm too soft. (bitterly) I ought to hate you! Twice now you've treated my love with the most humiliating contempt—Once when you were willing to endure it as the price of a career—again tonight, when you try to give yourself to me out of hate for him! (in sudden furious revolt) Christ! What am I, eh? (then checking his anger and forcing a wry smile) I think your treatment has been rather hard to take, Nelly—and even now I'm not cured, at that! (He laughs harshly and turns away to conceal his real hurt.)

  ELEANOR(with a deep grief) Forgive me.

  JOHN(as if to himself—reassuringly) Still—I'd have been the poorest slave. I couldn't have fought you like Michael. Perhaps, deep down, I'm glad—(then bluntly) You'd better go home right away.

  ELEANOR(dully) Even if he—

  JOHN(brusquely) No matter what! Face the truth in yourself. Must you—or mustn't you?

  ELEANOR(after a moment's defiant struggle with herself—forlornly) Yes. (after a pause, with a gesture toward the door and a weary, beaten smile) Upstairs—if I could have gone—I might have been free. But he's trained me too well in his ideal. (then shrugging her shoulders, fatalistically) It's broken me. I'm no longer anything. So what does it matter how weak I am? (a slight pause) I begin to know—something. (with a sudden queer, exultant pride) My love for him is my own, not his! That he can never possess! It's my own. It's my life! (She turns to John determinedly.) I must go home now.

  JOHN(wonderingly) Good. I'll drive you back. (He starts for the door.)

  ELEANOR(suddenly grasping his arm) Wait. (affectionately) I was forgetting you—as usual. What can I do—?

  JOHN(with a wry smile) Study your part; help Michael; and we'll all three be enormously successful! (He laughs mockingly.)

  ELEANOR(tenderly) I'll always believe Fate should have let me love you, instead.

  JOHN(with the same wry smile) While I begin to suspect that in a way I'm lucky—to be heartbroken. (with a laugh) Curtain! You'll want to go upstairs and powder your nose. There's no angel with a flaming sword there now, is there? (He points to the doorway.)

  ELEANOR(with a tired smile) No. (She goes to the doorway. He follows her. They both stop there for a moment instinctively and smile forlornly at each other.)

  JOHN(impulsively) That time you stood here and called to me for help—if I could have given you a push, mental, moral, physical—?

  ELEANORIt wouldn't have helped. The angel was here. (She touches her breast.)

  JOHN(with a sigh) Thanks. That saves me a life-long regret.

  ELEANOR(earnestly—gripping his right hand in hers and holding his eyes) There must be no regrets—between old friends.

  JOHN(gripping her hand in turn) No, I promise, Nelly. (then letting her hand drop and turning away to conceal his emotion—forcing a joking tone) After all, friendship is sounder, saner—more in the picture for my type, eh?

  ELEANOR(absent-mindedly again now—vaguely) I don't know. (then briskly) We must hurry. I'll be right down. (She goes out and up the stairway in the hall.)

  JOHN(stares up after her for a second, then smiling grimly) Well, business of living on as usual. (He walks out, calling up the stairs) I'm going to get the car, Nelly.

(The Curtain Falls)


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