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Contents   I   II-I   II-II   III


ACT THREE

SCENESame as Act One.

  Eleanor is standing by the table, leaning her back against it, facing the door, her whole attitude strained, expectant but frightened, tremblingly uncertain whether to run and hide from, or run forward and greet Cape, who is standing in the doorway. For a long, tense moment they remain fixed, staring into each other's eyes with an apprehensive questioning. Then, as if unconsciously, falteringly, with trembling smiles, they come toward each other. Their lips move as if they were trying to speak. When they come close, they instinctively reach out their hands in a strange conflicting gesture of a protective warding off and at the same time a seeking possession. Their hands clasp and they again stop, searching each other's eyes. Finally their lips force out words.

  ELEANOR(penitently) Michael!

  CAPE(humbly) Nelly! (They smile with a queer understanding, their arms move about each other, their lips meet. They seem in a forgetful, happy trance at finding each other again. They touch each other testingly as if each cannot believe the other is really there. They act for the moment like two persons of different races, deeply in love but separated by a barrier of language.)

  ELEANOR(rambling tenderly) Michael—I—I was afraid—

  CAPE(stammeringly) Nelly—it's no good!—I thought—(They stare at each other—a pause.)

  ELEANOR(beginning to be aware—a bit bewilderedly, breaking away from him with a little shiver—stupidly) I feel—there's a draught, isn't there?

  CAPE(becoming aware in his turn—heavily) I'll shut the door. (He goes and does so. She walks to her chair and sits down. He comes and sits beside her. They are now side by side as in Act One. A pause. They stare ahead, each frowningly abstracted. Then each, at the same moment, steals a questioning side glance at the other. Their eyes meet, they look away, then back, they stare at each other with a peculiar dull amazement, recognition yet non-recognition. They seem about to speak, then turn away again. Their faces grow sad, their eyes begin to suffer, their bodies become nervous and purposeless. Finally Cape exclaims with a dull resentment directed not at her but at life) What is—it? (He makes a gesture of repulsing something before him.)

  ELEANOR(in his tone) I don't know.

  CAPE(harshly) A moment ago—there—(He indicates where they had stood in an embrace) We knew everything. We understood!

  ELEANOR(eagerly) Oh, yes!

  CAPE(bitterly) Now—we must begin to think—to continue going on, getting lost—

  ELEANOR(sadly) It was happy to forget. Let's not think—yet.

  CAPE(grimly) We've begun. (then with a harsh laugh) Thinking explains. It eliminates the unexplainable—by which we live.

  ELEANOR(warningly) By which we love. Sssh! (a pause)

  CAPE(wonderingly—not looking at her) You have learned that, too?

  ELEANOR(with a certain exultance) Oh, yes, Michael—yes! (She clasps his hand. A pause. Then she murmurs) Now—we know peace. (Their hands drop apart. She sighs.)

  CAPE(slowly) Peace isn't our meaning.

  ELEANOR(suddenly turns and addresses him directly in a sad, sympathetic tone) You've something you want to ask me, Michael?

  CAPE(turns to her with an immediate affirmative on his lips, checks it as he meets her eyes, turns away—a pause—then he turns back humbly) No.

  ELEANOR(Her head has been averted since he turned away—without looking at him) Yes.

  CAPE(decisively) No, Nelly. (She still keeps her head averted. After a pause he asks simply) Why? Is there something you want to ask me?

  ELEANORNo. (after a pause—with a trace of bitter humor) I can't be less magnanimous than you, can I?

  CAPEThen there is something—?

  ELEANORHaven't you something you want to tell?

  CAPE(looks at her. Their eyes meet again.) Yes—the truth—if I can. And you?

  ELEANORYes, I wish to tell you the truth. (They look into each other's eyes. Suddenly she laughs with a sad self-mockery.) Well, we've both been noble. I haven't asked you; you haven't asked me; and yet—(She makes a helpless gesture with her hands. A pause. Then abruptly and mechanically) I'll begin at the beginning. I left here right after you did.

  CAPE(with an involuntary start) Oh! (He checks himself.)

  ELEANOR(her eyes reading his—after a pause—a bit dryly) You thought I'd stayed here all the time? (mockingly) Waiting for you?

  CAPE(wounded) Don't! (after a pause—painfully) When I found you—perhaps I hoped—

  ELEANOR(dully) I had only been back a few minutes. (after a pause) Was that why you seemed so happy—there—? (She points to the spot where they had stood embraced.)

  CAPE(indignantly) No, no! Don't think that! I'm not like that—not any more! (Without looking at her he reaches out and clasps her hand.)

  ELEANOR(looks at him—after a pause, understandingly) I'm sorry—

  CAPE(self-defensively) Of course, I knew you must have gone, you'd have been a fool to stay. (excitedly) And it doesn't matter—not a damn! I've gotten beyond that.

  ELEANOR(misunderstanding—coldly) I'm glad. (A pause. She asks coldly) Shall I begin again?

  CAPE(struggling with himself—disjointedly) No—not unless—I don't need—I've changed. That doesn't matter. I—(with a sudden twisted grin) I'm learning to like it, you see.

  ELEANOR(looks at him, strangely impressed—a pause—slowly) I think I know what you mean. We're both learning.

  CAPE(wonderingly) You—? (She has turned away from him. He turns to stare at her.)

  ELEANOR(after a pause, taking up her story matter-of-factly) I went to John.

  CAPE(trying with agony to take this stoically—mumbling stupidly) Yes—of course—I supposed—

  ELEANOR(in the same mechanical tone) He drove me back here in his car. He predicted you'd be back any moment, so he went right home again.

  CAPE(A wild, ironical laugh escapes his control.) Shrewd—Ha!

  ELEANOR(after a pause—rebukingly) John is a good man.

  CAPE(startled, turns and stares at her averted face—then miserably humble, stammers) Yes, yes—I know—I acknowledge—good—(He breaks down, cursing pitiably at himself.) God damn you!

  ELEANOROh!

  CAPENot you! Me! (Then he turns to her—with fierce defiance) I love John!

  ELEANOR(moved, without looking at him, reaches and clasps his hand) That—is fine, Michael. (a pause)

  CAPE(begins to frown somberly—lets go of her hand) It's hard—after what you confessed—

  ELEANOR(frightenedly) Ssshh! (then calmly) That was a lie. I lied to make you suffer more than you were making me suffer. (A pause—then she turns to him.) Can you believe this?

  CAPE(humbly) I want to believe—

  ELEANOR(immediately turning away—significantly) Oh!

  CAPE(fiercely as if to himself) I will believe! But what difference does it make—believing or not believing? I've changed, I tell you! I accept!

  ELEANORI can't be a lie you live with!

  CAPE(turning to her resentfully) Well, then—(as if she were goading him to something against his will—threateningly) Shall I tell you what happened to me?

  ELEANOR(facing him defiantly) Yes. (He turns away. Immediately her brave attitude crumbles. She seems about to implore him not to speak.)

  CAPE(after a pause—hesitatingly) You said that years ago you had offered yourself—to him—(He turns suddenlyhopefully) Was that a lie, too?

  ELEANORNo.

  CAPE(turns away with a start of pain) Ah. (A pause. Suddenly his face grows convulsed. He turns back to her, overcome by a craving for revenge—viciously) Then I may as well tell you I—(He checks himself and turns away.)

  ELEANOR(defensively—with feigned indifference) I don't doubt—you kept your threat.

  CAPE(glares at her wildly) Oho, you don't doubt that, do you? You saw I'd changed, eh?

  ELEANORI saw—something.

  CAPE(with bitter irony) God! (a pause)

  ELEANOR(turning on him doggedly as if she were impersonally impelled to make the statement) I want to tell you that tonight—John and I—nothing you may ever suspect—(She falters, turns away with a bitter smile.) I only tell you this for my own satisfaction. I don't expect you to believe it.

  CAPE(with a wry grin) No. How could you? (then turning to her—determinedly—after a pause) But it doesn't matter.

  ELEANORI wanted revenge as much as you. I wanted to destroy—and be free of you forever! (after a pause—simply) I couldn't.

  CAPE(turns and stares at her—a pause—then he asks wonderingly, eagerly) Why couldn't you? Tell me that.

  ELEANOR(simply) Something stronger.

  CAPE(with a passionate triumph) Love! (with intense pleading) Nelly! Will you believe that I, too—? (He tries to force her eyes to return to his.)

  ELEANOR(after a pause—looking before her—sadly) You should have been generous sooner.

  CAPEIt's the truth, Nelly! (desperately) I swear to you—!

  ELEANOR(after a pause—wearily) We've sworn to so much.

  CAPEEverything is changed, I tell you! Something extraordinary happened to me—a revelation!

  ELEANOR(with bitter cynicism) A woman?

  CAPE(wounded, turns away from her) Don't. (then after a pause—with deep feeling) Yes—she was a woman. And I had thought of her only as revenge—the lowest of the low!

  ELEANOR(with a shudder) Ah!

  CAPEDon't judge, Nelly. She was—good!

  ELEANORNot her! You!

  CAPE(desperately) I tell you I—! (He checks himself helplessly. She gives no sign. Then he asks sadly) If you can think that, how could you come back?

  ELEANOR(stammering hysterically) How? How! (bursting into tears) Because I love you!

  CAPE(starting up from his chair and trying to take her in his arms—exultantly) Nelly!

  ELEANOR(pushing him away—violently) No! I didn't come back to you! It conquered me, not you! Something in me—mine—not you! (She stares him in the eyes defiantly, triumphantly.)

  CAPE(gently) It doesn't matter. (after a pause) Did I come back to you?

  ELEANOR(taken aback, turning away) No, I suppose—(Cape stares at her uncertainly, then sits down in his chair again.)

  CAPE(after a pause, looking before him—assertively, as if taking a pledge) But I have faith!

  ELEANOR(wearily) Now—for a moment.

  CAPENo!

  ELEANORYes. We'll believe—and disbelieve. We are—that.

  CAPE(protesting) Nelly! (For a time they both sit staring bleakly before them. Suddenly he turns to her—desperately) If there's nothing left but—resignation!—what use is there? How can we endure having our dream perish in this?

  ELEANORHave we any choice?

  CAPE(intensely—he seems to collect all his forces and turns on her with a fierce challenge) We can choose—an end!

  ELEANOR(shudders instinctively as she reads his meaning) Michael! (a pause—then looking into his eyes—as a calm counter-challenge) Yes—if you wish.

  CAPE(with passionate self-scorn) We! We have become ignoble.

  ELEANORAs you wish. (She again accents the you.)

  CAPEI?

  ELEANORI accept. (a pause—gently) You must not suffer too much. (She reaches out her hand and clasps his comfortingly.) It's I who have changed most, Michael. (Then she speaks sadly but firmly as if she had come to a decision.) There's only one way we can give life to each other.

  CAPE(sharply) How?

  ELEANORBy releasing each other.

  CAPE(with a harsh laugh) Are you forgetting we tried that once tonight?

  ELEANORWith hate. This would be because we loved.

  CAPE(violently) Don't be a fool! (controlling himself—forcing a smile) Forgive me. (excitedly) But, my God, what solution—?

  ELEANORIt will give you peace for your work—freedom—

  CAPENonsense!

  ELEANORI'll still love you. I'll work for you! We'll no longer stand between one another. Then I can really give you my soul—

  CAPE(controlling himself with difficulty) You're talking rot!

  ELEANOR(hurt) Michael!

  CAPE(suddenly glaring at her suspiciously) Why did you come back? Why do you want to go? What are you hiding behind all this?

  ELEANOR(wounded) Your faith? You see?

  CAPE(brokenly) I—I didn't mean—(then after a struggle—with desperate bitterness) Well—I accept! Go—if you want to!

  ELEANOR(hurt) Michael! It isn't—(then determinedly) But even if you misunderstand, I must be strong for you!

  CAPE(almost tauntingly) Then go now—if you're strong enough. (harshly) Let me see you act nobility! (then suddenly remorseful, catching her hand and covering it with kisses) No! Go now before—Be strong! Be free! I—I can't!

  ELEANOR(brokenly) We can try—(She bends down swiftly and kisses his head, turns away quickly.) Good-by.

  CAPE(in a strangled voice) Good-by. (He sits in anguish, in a tortured restraint. She grabs her cloak from the chair, goes quickly to the door, puts her hand on the knob—then stops as tense as he. Suddenly he can stand it no longer, he leaps to his feet and jumps toward the door with a pleading cry.) Nelly! (He stands fixed as he sees her before the door as if he had expected to find her gone. She does not turn but remains staring at the door in front of her. Finally she raises her hand and knocks on the door softly—then stops to listen.)

  ELEANOR(in a queer far-away voice) No. Never again "come out." (She opens the door and turns to Cape with a strange smile.) It opens inward, Michael. (She closes it again, smiles to herself and walks back to the foot of the stairway. Then she turns to face Cape. She looks full of some happy certitude. She smiles at him and speaks with a tender weariness.) It must be nearly dawn. I'll say good-night instead of good-by. (They stare into each other's eyes. It is as if now by a sudden flash from within they recognized themselves, shorn of all the ideas, attitudes, cheating gestures which constitute the vanity of personality. Everything, for this second, becomes simple for them—serenely unquestionable. It becomes impossible that they should ever deny life, through each other, again.)

  ELEANOR(with a low tender cry as if she were awakening to maternity) Michael!

  CAPE(passionately sure of her now—in a low voice) Nelly! (then unable to restrain his triumphant exultance) You've failed!

  ELEANOR(smiling dimly at herself) My acting—didn't convince me.

  CAPEWe've failed!

  ELEANORAre we weak? (dreamily) I'm happy.

  CAPEStrong! We can live again! (exultantly—but as if testing her, warningly) But we'll hate!

  ELEANOR(in her same tone) Yes!

  CAPEAnd we'll torture and tear, and clutch for each other's souls!—fight—fail and hate again—(he raises his voice in aggressive triumph)—but!—fail with pride—with joy!

  ELEANOR(exalted by his exultation rather than by his words) Yes!

  CAPEOur life is to bear together our burden which is our goal—on and up! Above the world, beyond its vision—our meaning!

  ELEANOR(her eyes fixed on him—dreamily) Your dream!

  CAPE(half-sobbing as the intensity of his passion breaks the spell of his exultation) Oh, Nelly, Nelly, I want to say so much what I feel but I can only stutter like an idiot! (He has fallen on his knees before her.)

  ELEANOR(intensely moved—passionately) I know! (She bends over and kisses him.)

  CAPE(straining passionately for expression) Listen! Often I wake up in the night—in a black world, alone in a hundred million years of darkness. I feel like crying out to God for mercy because life lives! Then instinctively I seek you—my hand touches you! You are there—beside me—alive—with you I become a whole, a truth! Life guides me back through the hundred million years to you. It reveals a beginning in unity that I may have faith in the unity of the end! (He bows his head and kisses her feet ecstatically.) I love you! Forgive me all I've ever done, all I'll ever do.

  ELEANOR(brokenly) No. Forgive me—my child, you! (She begins to sob softly.)

  CAPE(looking at her—gently) Why do you cry?

  ELEANORBecause I'm happy. (then with a sudden tearful gayety) You be happy! You ought to be! Isn't our future as hard as you could wish? Haven't we your old dreams back again?

  CAPEDeeper and more beautiful!

  ELEANOR(smiling) Deeper and more beautiful! (She ascends the stairs slowly.) Come! (She reaches the top of the stairway and stands there looking down at him—then stretches out her arms with a passionate, tender gesture.) Come!

  CAPE(leaping to his feet—intensely) My Own!

  ELEANOR(with deep, passionate tenderness) My lover!

  CAPEMy wife! (His eyes fixed on her he ascends. As he does so her arms move back until they are stretched out straight to right and left, forming a cross. Cape stops two steps below her—in a low, wondering tone) Why do you stand like that?

  ELEANOR(her head thrown back, her eyes shut—slowly, dreamily) Perhaps I'm praying. I don't know. I love.

  CAPE(deeply moved) I love you!

  ELEANOR(as if from a great distance) We love! (He moves close to her and his hands reach out for hers. For a moment as their hands touch they form together one cross. Then their arms go about each other and their lips meet.)

(The Curtain Falls)


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