Poet Lore/Volume 27/Number 1/The Will o' the Wisp
|VOLUME XXVII||NEW YEARS’ 1916||NUMBER I|
|THE WILL O’ THE WISP|
|A DRAMA IN FOUR ACTS|
|By Jaroslav Kvapil|
|Translated from the Bohemian by Šárka B. Hrbkova.|
|“And forthwith they sprang up because they had no deepness of earth. And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
—Matthew XIII. Verses 5 and 6.”
|Cast of Characters|
|Helen Lindner, her niece|
|Dr. Victor Vlasák|
|Clara, her daughter.|
|Two of her daughters. |
|Bohuš V. Novák.|
|Miss Bukovský, a singer.|
|Stáza Faltys, a modiste.|
|Bukác, a newspaper reporter.|
|Servant at Dr. Vlasák’s.|
Copyright 1916 by The Poet Lore Company. All rights reserved.
The common atelier of Dušek and Hlaváček. At the rear an entrance to the front hall, curtained off by embroidered draperies. At the right an entrance into a bedroom, before which is a screen. On the left, occupying the entire width of the wall, a large window. In the left corner a divan above which is arranged a canopy of rugs and squares of faded material. Two artists’ easels. The smaller, which is turned at an angle away from the audience, holds a sketching-board with a drawing. The larger easel is turned towards the audience and on it is an unfinished painting of considerable size, unframed. Part of this picture is only outlined in charcoal; the rest of the surface shows the colors laid on. As far as can be recognized, it is to be a picture of Psyche pursued by dogs and geese. The girl’s figure—Psyche—is, comparatively speaking, the most finished of any portion of the picture. Throughout the studio there are many small articles of art and furniture, in the corners and on the walls. Sketches, unfinished pictures, costumes, trifles, etc. On the whole, the disorder is artistic.
Dušek (Standing with palette before a large canvas and talking to some one behind a Spanish screen).—Well, we’re through for the day, Réza. Come tomorrow at ten if you have time. Will you?
Réza (Behind the screen and not visible. Some of her garments are thrown over top of screen and she withdraws one garment after another as she clothes herself. She is unseen while speaking).—To be sure I will. Mr. Šimr doesn’t need me any more and I don’t go anywhere else.
Dušek.—Is Šimr done?
Réza.—He will be soon.
Dušek.—You’ll be lonely now, won’t you?
Réza.—For that red-headed Šimr? Go on!
Dušek.—You needn’t pretend, Réza! Hlaváček saw you again not long since at Glaubic’s. (He laughs.) Réza, Réza, what will the locksmith say to that?
Réza.—Nonsense! You don’t suppose I’m going to run away from him with Šimr?
Dušek.—It’s time Šimr was getting some sense.
Réza.—He? (She laughs.) Mr. Dušek, do you know what happened to us the other day at Glaubic’s? No? Šimr invited us there, me and Božena, and Mr. Vyhlas also went. Each thought the other one had money; particularly Šimr who changed his last crown and ordered fish and pickles besides. It wasn’t till twelve o’clock that they came to a mutual understanding of the fact that together they had only forty-seven kreutzers.
Dušek (Nods his head and speaks quietly).—The good-for-nothings!
Réza.—And Vyhlas had nine beers, you may be sure of that! And Šimr has a previous account there.
Dušek (Displeased).—He’d better attend to his painting!
Réza.—As good luck would have it, that fellow from the vice-regency who sometimes goes with us happened to be there and he loaned the money to Šimr.
Dušek (Inquisitively).—And did Šimr keep on drinking?
Réza (Laughing).—Of course! It ended up at Löffler’s. (A pause.)
Dušek.—Hurry a little, Réza. I’m expecting a caller.
Réza.—Some young ladies, yes?
Dušek (Harshly).—What’s that to you? (A pause during which Dušek paints the lower part of his picture.) Has Šimr given you back that watch?
Dušek.—Come, come! You pawned your watch when Šimr didn’t have any rent money.
Réza.—And why not? Why shouldn’t I help him? Last year when my mother was sick (She steps out from behind the screen completing the buttoning of her waist.)— Vaniček also loaned me ten florins. We have to help each other—the fine gentlemen won’t help us. (After a while.) To be sure, you don’t have to make debts any more.
Dušek.—No—and is that such a disgrace? Everyone can be glad when he gets out of debt. Only Šimr has the idea that he’d die instantly if he didn’t have debts. (A commotion is heard in the front hall.) And Hlaváček, here, also has that idea.
Hlaváček (Enters).—And Réza also? My respects, Dušek!
Hlaváček.—Are you two gossiping?
Hlaváček.—Confusion! (He taps Réza under the chin.) If only the locksmith knew that Réza still persists in being a model!
Réza.—Well, he knows whom he is courting, and yet he doesn’t want anyone else.
Hlavaček.—Well, I don’t know about that, Réza! They say a certain countess thinks a whole lot of your locksmith. She owns three locks.
Réza (Laughing).—And she hasn’t the key to them, is that it? Let Franta make them for her then! (Suddenly) Heavens, here I am plunged in gossip—and at four I am due in Smichov. (Seizes her little hat and sunshade which were lying on the divan.) Tomorrow at ten, Mr. Dušek?
Dušek.—And in the afternoon, also; we have to work hard now.
Hlaváček.—Will you come tomorrow, Réza? I will make a sketch for myself at the same time.
Réza (At the door).—You’ll do the parasite act, I’m sure of that. (Departing.) Well, good-bye!
Hlaváček.—Good luck! (A pause. Hlaváček inspects Dušek’s picture.) Have you been working long?
Dušek.—Since half past one. I didn’t even go to the coffee house.
Hlaváček.—They were inquiring about you there.
Hlaváček.—Well, Reitlinger—and those others. I had to play chess with them myself.
Dušek (Banteringly).—My, but that displeased you!
Hlaváček.—I'm not going to paint all the time, and where am I to go?
Dušek.—To be sure! If you’re not painting, you must sit in the coffee-house or in the ale-house.
Hlaváček.—You’ve never in your life been there, have you? (Shrugs his shoulders.) As long as I’m not invited by counts and princes——
Dušek.—Oh, keep still! I guess we know each other.
Hlaváček (Tosses his head).—As far as I’m concerned—! (A pause.) Are you going to work at this now? (He indicates the large canvas.)
Dušek. (Nods assent.)
Hlaváček.—And what about the portrait?
Dušek (Points to a smaller easel).—You see I’ve already made a study for it. But as long as the young lady won’t sit for me, I can’t begin. A photograph is nothing.
Hlaváček (Frankly).—You’'ll haul in another couple of hundred milo, wont you?
Dušek.—Paint—and you’ll earn some too!
Hlaváček (Whistles).—Paint! What—a magpie on a willow? (Bends his head in the direction of the bedroom.) I still have a canvas in there—
Dušek.—You could have finished it long ago. But in the morning you walk about the studio and whistle and in the afternoon you play chess at the coffee-house—and before you get home it’s almost evening and then you go to Thomas’s.
Hlaváček.—Indeed! To Thomas’s!
Dušek.—Well, then, to Glaubic’s! It’s all the same.
Hlaváček.—And the frescoes for Skaliček’s house—is that nothing? (He is silent for a while.) You know it’s not a bit pleasant to parch out there in the sun a couple of hours every day.
Dušek.—Make illustrations, then.
Hlaváček.—Oh, I’d be a great success at that, I would.
Dušek (In the meantime making a sketch from a small photograph).—Listen—Ládo——
Hlaváček (Turns around).—Well?
Dušek.—Réza said that Šimr has been disgracing himself again at Glaubic’s.
Hlaváček.—I don’t know what you mean——
Dušek.—Now stop that! As if you weren’t with him all the time.
Hlaváček.—If I can’t be with you—
Dušek.—To be sure—you’d then have to sit in the studio—and that’s not your style!
Hlaváček (Seats himself astride a chair and leans his elbows on the back of it).—You’ve gotten industrious all of a sudden! (Laughs.) Did Pavlik’s criticism affect you to that degree?
Dušek.—Don’t remind me that they’re tearing me to pieces in the papers!
Hlaváček.—Well, that’s happened to bigger fish than you.
Dušek.—But they’re right—I myself feel how my brains and colors are drying up—and that’s what gnaws me and urges me to pull myself together.
Hlaváček.—O thunder! So you also believe things are going to the bad with you. (He pauses a while then speaks with comic gravity.) Come, old chap! Retire within yourself and remain there! But don’t torment your comrades. (He laughs.)
Dušek (Impatiently).—You haven’t a bit of feeling, Hlaváček. (Warningly.) Just wait till that kind of stagnancy seizes upon you!
Hlaváček.—Well, it isn’t to be cured by trifles like this scene here.
Dušek (Peevishly).—What’s the use of talking?
Hlaváček.—You’re right! (Gazes at his large picture.) Hurry up and finish this canvas, but don’t mix with those curs and geese. They will bark and sting you to death.
Dušek (Surprised).—Is that so? So that’s how you interpret my “Psyche?”
Hlaváček.—How else should I interpret it?
Dušek (Stops in front of his picture and looks at it intently).—The idea! I meant it in an altogether different way. Those dogs and geese we have also with us, Láda——
Dušek.—And they’re with us more than elsewhere, my friend. That’s what all the triviality of our sort of life—all the hatred of anything else is, believe me! (Fervently.) Only to escape from it, only to escape! To tear to pieces the ropes with which you have tied yourself down to this, to cut to pieces the roots in the soil—(waves his hand). Bah, what’s the use—in short, I’m thoroughly sick of it all and I want to emancipate myself! (Sits down again to his portrait and draws. A pause.)
Hlaváček (Rolls over on the divan and whistles).
Dušek (After a while).—Again?
Hlaváček.—Am I bothering you? Don’t let yourself be interrupted! Your sketching doesn’t trouble me in the least when I whistle.
Dušek.—But your whistling bothers me!
Hlaváček.—Do you paint with your ears? (He rises, and goes sidling across the atelier towards Dušek, and looks at his sketch.) Fffff–f! (Seriously.) Kamilo, what about this Lindner woman?
Dušek.—What about her? Why, I’m going to paint her, as you see.
Hlaváček.—I’m not asking that! Why doesn’t that woman get married? She doesn’t lack much of being thirty.
Dušek (Provoked).—You gossiping old woman. You do not even know Miss Lindner.
Hlaváček.—I should say I did know her. From the street. Well, and—She isn’t one of the youngest.
Dušek (Irritated).—And what’s that to me?
Hlaváček (Sauntering about atelier with his hands in his pockets).—And yet she’s a good-looking woman! Such an odd sort of beauty. You’ll paint with a zest, Dušek. (He makes a hissing sound.) To paint her—well—that wouldn’t be a bad idea—but to marry her?
Dušek (Disturbed).—Another piece of gossip?
Hlaváček (Indifferently).—Oh, not at all! (Turns around.) Dušek, do you know Dr. Vlasák? They say he’s running after her.
Dušek (With apparent indifference).—Don’t you believe it. Vlasák is a climber. And he won’t marry anyone but a rich bride.
Hlaváček.—That’s just it!
Dušek.—Don’t think for a minute that Miss Lindner’s dowry would suffice for him. My good fellow, you don’t know that sort of people; if your dowry is under fifty thousand, they won’t speak to you.
Hlaváček.—And the Lindner woman hasn’t that much?
Dušek (Forcing himself to laugh).—Hlaváček, what’s gotten into your head?
Hlaváček.—Well, hasn’t she?
Dušek.—Maybe, later on, when she inherits something from her aunt.
Hlaváček.—By that time I wouldn’t marry her! (Merrily) Dušek, you have a long wait ahead of you!
Dušek (Bursts out).—Ass!
Hlaváček (Laughing).—And you are my—! (A pause.)
Dušek (Throws down his crayon and buries his head in his hands).—Oh! Oh! Oh!
Hlaváček (Surprised).—What are you sighing about?
Dušek.—Oh, something just struck me . . . (After a while he puts his hand into his pocket.) Read this. (He draws a crumpled letter from his pocket.)
Hlaváček (Takes it but looks at the signature first). From Stáza. (Reads. A pause.) Well?
Dušek.—What do you say to it?
Hlaváček.—Do you want to know the truth?
Dušek (Lifts his head).—Well?
Hlaváček (Taps his fingers on the letter).—That is what worries and frightens you now. You see? These are the ropes which you were cursing. My good fellow, do you know how we all warned you six years ago? And even a year ago you could have retreated—but now?
Dušek.—Did you read what she writes? All at once she wants to leave Prague. And these reproaches! Am I driving her out?
Hlaváček.—She wants exactly the same thing you want. Is she to wait here forever? (He looks at the letter again.) As for the rest—I know why she wrote it. I talked with her in Spalena Street yesterday; she told me. She has seen you twice with the Lindner woman and her aunt. That’s what’s the matter. (Shrugging his shoulders.) She’s a woman—persuade her if you can!
Dušek (Amazed).—Is that why?
Hlaváček.—And do you think I’m surprised at her? I myself can see that you are getting singed elsewhere.
Dušek (Lifts his head violently).
Hlaváček (Sharply). Why, certainly—here on this portrait! Dušek, take care—
Dušek (Irritably).—If I hadn’t buried myself up to my neck among you, I wouldn’t feel all this weight. (Suddenly.) But I’ll get rid of it, I will yet rise above that which has already crushed the rest of you.
Hlaváček (Humorously).—Me too?
Dušek (Violently).—You too!
Hlaváček.—Well, to be sure I wear a last year’s coat, and as for a better pair of boots (He raises his foot) I haven’t the price either—
Dušek.—You see? A greasy hat and a worn tie are your complete pride—yours and your comrades’.
Hlaváček.—Yours? (Angrily.) Baron!
Dušek.—After all, what’s the use of all quarrels? You know Goethe advised the artist to create and not talk. Paint, work as I do—and in a few years we will say what there is to say to each other.
Hlaváček (Wearily).—Well, all right! Save yourself then! (Strikes the table with his hand.) And I’ll drown myself if it’ll please you! (Noticing Dušek’s irritation.) Well—that’s all!
(The bell sounds in the front hall.)
Dušek (Quickly draws out his watch).—That surely can’t be Miss Lindner so early?
Hlaváček (Amazed).—Was she to come?
Dušek.—With Mrs. Heller, but not until four. (He looks at his watch again.) It must be they. They wish to see the studio. Please open the door.
Hlaváček (Goes slowly towards the front hall).
Dušek (Seizes a clothes-brush, quickly brushes his clothes and arranges his cravat in front of the mirror which stands on a table).
Hlaváček (In the meantime opens the door in the front hall).
Stáza (Speaks in entrance hall).
Stáza.—Is Mr. Dušek at home? (In a lower voice) Alone?
Hlaváček (Still in entrance hall).—Just go into the studio, Miss Stáza.
Dušek (Starts when he hears Stáza’s voice).
Stáza (Enters atelier after tapping on door).—Am I not interrupting? Good afternoon.
Dušek (With feigned calmness which later changes into impatience with regard to Stáza’s departure. At times he looks expectantly at his watch).—Ah, God’s greeting to you, Stázička. How does it happen that you’re not at the shop?
Hlaváček.—Say, Dušek, I’ll go around to Brunner’s in the meantime and get that passe partout.
Dušek (Seizes him by the sleeve, disturbedly).—Wait! (Aloud.) He’ll bring it when he’s ready. (Turns.) Sit down, Stázička!
Stáza.—Thank you, I won’t stay long. (In a broken tone.) I have just come to say good-bye.
Dušek (Shakes his finger at her).—Stáza! Stáza!
Stáza (Seeking to gain command of herself).—No, Mr. Dušek, it is settled. Tomorrow I leave for Vienna. My sister is already awaiting me. I have not been in the shop since Tuesday—what should I do in Prague?
Hlaváček (Who has seated himself on the corner of the divan in order to be as little as possible in the way of this intimate scene).
Dušek.—And what is driving you out of Prague?
Stáza.—Ka-mi-lo! (She bursts out crying.)
Dušek (Impatiently).—Lord, Lord, such trouble!
Stáza (Seeking Hlaváček with tear-filled eyes, she speaks between sobs).—Mr. Hlaváček, you know it yourself, don’t you? I haven’t come to upbraid Kamilo. If he’d only say one word or move a finger—(She breaks into fresh weeping) haven’t I many, many times wanted to go away, and hasn’t he as often held me back?
Hlaváček (Forcing himself to be calm).—You know, Miss Stázička, what I think about it. I told you yesterday, and I’d give Kamilo a talking to also——
Stáza.—I ought to go away, oughtn’t I?
Hlaváček (Remains silent a moment and then says firmly).—Yes!
Dušek (Bursts out).—Hlaváček!
Hlaváček.—Why then did you detain me here?
Stáza (Trying to control herself).—Mr. Dušek—
Dušek (Looking at her).—Do you really want to go away?
Dušek.—Stázička, heed wise advice. You are going away on an empty errand, you don’t even know what——
Stáza (Interrupts him).—And do I not live emptily here! Just remember, Mr. Dušek—six years! (She weeps again.) I didn’t come to reproach you; we were both young and unwise then . . . (She offers her hand to Dušek.) Good-bye!
Dušek.—Stáza, don’t complain afterwards that I deserted you.
Stáza (Touching the photograph which is leaning against the smaller easel and gazes at it intently. Then she seizes it and hands it to Dušek).—Do you think I don’t know all? (Indicates the photograph with her other hand.) You see, that I stand in your way!
Dušek (Bursts out, jerking the photograph from her hand).—For God’s sake, I implore you, Stáza, don’t torment me with this too! You used to be jealous of the models who came here—and now I wouldn’t dare even to paint a woman’s portrait! (Violently.) I paint whom I choose!
Stáza (With bitter calmness).—And I will not hinder you! (She falls into silence for a few moments and then extends her hand to Dušek.) Good-bye, Mr. Dušek!
Dušek (Exasperated).—Good-bye! (Extends his hand to her.)
Stáza (Turns away and bursts into sobs).
Hlaváček (Moves).—Miss Stázička. . . .
Stáza (Extends her hand to Hlaváček). Thank you, Mr. Hlaváček. (She ceases crying for a few moments.)
Stáza (Crying again and indicating with her hand that he is not to detain her).
Dušek (Seizes her hand).—Stáza, don’t be angry with me! If you only knew—
Stáza (With a smile of pain).—I know! (She draws a ring from her left hand.) This ring—was—from you—Mr. Dušek. (She offers it to him.)
Dušek (Pushes aside Staza’s hand).
Stáza.—No—I must return it to you! (She lays it on the table.) Let there be an end to it forever. (She presses a handkerchief to her eyes.) Good-bye! (Departing towards the door she extends her hand to Hlaváček.) Good-bye, Mr. Hlaváček!
Hlaváček (Accompanying Stáza to the door, presses her hand).—It will be best for you both this way. And if you insist on going to Vienna, why. . . (He departs with Stáza, towards the entrance).
Dušek (Advances after them, but at the door by a motion of the hand he indicates a sudden resolution. He returns. He puts his hands to his head and with staring eyes gazes into space. He seats himself on a low stool and buries his head in his hands. After a while, he arises, in a listening attitude. Looking towards the table where Stáza had placed the ring, he reaches for it and drawing a purse from his pocket throws in the ring. The door in the entrance hall bangs. Dušek sighs deeply).
Hlaváček (Returns, incensed. With long strides, his hands in his pockets, he paces the studio. After a pause).—Hereafter enact such scenes as this without my presence, I beg you, Dušek!
Dušek (striking his hands together).—For God’s sake, please, Hlaváček . . . (Explodes.) You have something for your companions and the ale-house—haven’t you?
Hlaváček (Suddenly and wrathily).—Dušek! (Maliciously.) Now the ropes are torn to pieces—and now—you can soar! Away off somewhere to the New Town to St. James’ Square—yes?
Dušek.—Ládo, if you knew how I feel now you wouldn’t torture me!
Hlaváček.—Oh, you’ll console yourself again. (Recovering.) And for that matter, do what you please! (Pulls out a drawer in the table and stirring up the papers therein, indifferently.) Didn’t you see that book here that I brought yesterday?
Dušek (Who has meantime consulted his watch, then quickly removed his coat, untied his necktie and unbuttoned his collar. From the case on the shelf he takes a clean collar, and another tie and dresses himself).—No, I didn’t.
Hlaváček (Observing him, indifferently).—Are you going somewhere?
Dušek (Dressing himself).—Where would I go? You know the ladies are coming.
Hlaváček (Making a hissing sound).—I know!
Dušek (Measures him with his eye, then goes into the bedroom from which he almost immediately brings another coat. He puts it on. Speaking angrily).—Did I drive out Stáza?
Hlaváček (Curls his lip).—No, you didn’t drive her out! She almost stayed long enough to meet the Misses—ahem—the Misses Lindner! (He seizes his hat.) Well, just so that Stáza is out of your way, yes? (He crushes his hat down upon his head.) Say, I’ll return about six. If Šimr should come—
Dušek (Interrupts him).—Wait for him yourself!
Hlaváček.—To be sure, now we’ll all get our walking papers since you have—(He breaks into a laugh.)—emancipated yourself!
Dušek (Explosively).—And do you know who always abused me the most on account of Stáza? It was you, Hlaváček, you! You and your companions used to mock at me—and when I protested, you rolled your lips in scorn. (Changes his voice to imitate Hlaváček's) “Miss Stáza—why not?” (Breaking off.) and today you content yourself with every model.
Hlaváček.—Only that I don’t get mixed up for a full six years with one! And if I should, I don’t kick her off just the instant another skirt dazes me!
Dušek.—Ládo (Beats his breast with his clenched hand.) On my soul, you should not torture me today! Don’t you see for yourself that something better has moved within me than disgust with my recent intrigue? Don’t you see for yourself how superficially, trivially we live, day after day, without disturbance and without growth? I would have suffocated in the atmosphere if I had not awakened in time. What I have done—to Staza today was cruel—I know it!—but it is better at once when she herself wished it, than to drag down not only her but myself also.
Hlaváček.—Yourself also! That is your system of ethics!
Dušek.—Just consider, Láda, what have I accomplished in those six years? Where am I today when I am thirty-two years old? In order not to disturb myself from the madness of my youth I vegetated—like a mere hired clerk who plans out his day to fit the occupation of his sweetheart. (Puts his hands to his temples.) How I could have grown elsewhere and how I have buried myself here to no purpose! In the moments when I was nearest the inspiration of my thoughts, I had to throw down my palette because it happened that the hour was drawing near when Stáza was leaving and when I was to wait for her. What did she say to me, how did she uplift me? We talked about her companions, about the troubles they had in the shop, we rambled the streets—and we welcomed Sunday as our salvation because we could ride out by steamer to Chuchle or to Závist.
Hlaváček.—You didn’t say a word of this even in our last year at the Academy.
Dušek.—Indeed, I didn’t. I was a madcap boy. On the strength of a little warm water at the coffee-house, I babbled about the Bohemian life and I wanted to copy scenes from Murger. And I wanted to have in this Prague puddle of ours my own petite femme— you know in what a crazy state I returned from Paris? Made giddy by the frivolity and recklessness of a superficial life I wanted to enhance my supposed genius.
Hlaváček.—And who then is to blame? I? Or we? Or your surroundings, the atmosphere which you breathed, the soil into which you grew? (Waves his hand.) Kamilo, Kamilo,—everywhere on earth it’s the same! Except that it may have some other form.
Dušek.—Aha, some other form! Larger and freer; a form which does not strangle and lace you in. (Clasps his hands.) Lord, Lord,—how petty it all is and how useless! And you sit at the bottom—at the very bottom—and roll your eyes—and moralize!
Dušek (Cuttingly).—You, too!
Hlaváček.—It appears, then, that—(The bell in the front hall sounds.) Here you have them, go and open the door! We can finish telling each other another time.
Dušek (In the meantime goes to the front hall and opens the door).—My deepest respects, gracious lady—my deepest respects, Miss! (A rustle in the hall.) Enter, please. (He leads the ladies into the atelier.) My friend, the painter Hlaváček. (Mutual bows.)
Mrs. Heller (Looking around).—So this is how it looks in a studio!
Hlaváček (With a smile).—In a neglected studio, gracious lady.
Helen (Extending her hand to Dušek).—First of all, let me thank you, Mr. Dušek, most cordially for the Böcklin. It is a splendid work.
Mrs. Heller.—Although somewhat incomprehensible. You’ll pardon me, gentlemen,—but your modern art is a little heavy and mysterious for us ordinary mortals.
Helen (Laughing).—Auntie is opposed to all modernism! But don’t be angry, the modern poets fare just the same with her.
Dušek.—And how about you, Miss? (Noticing that the ladies had not yet seated themselves.) But I pray, ladies! (Indicating the divan.)
Mrs. Heller (About to seat herself on a nearby stool).
Dušek (Pointing to a divan).—Ah, gracious lady, I pray!
Mrs. Heller.—Thank you, thank you—it’s all one!
Helen (Seating herself on the divan).—I will sit here myself—and the sign says I’ll not marry!
Dušek (Smiling).—Don’t forget, Miss, about our modern art! Do you like it?
Helen.—Assuredly more than Auntie does. There is something illusive—tempting about it (She laughs.) You know, I’m not an aesthetic. But everywhere in foreign countries I prefer the salons to the galleries. The galleries are serious and dead in their classicism—but in the salons there is warmth and evolution, life breathing with passion. . . Is it not so, gentlemen?
Dušek (Inspired and amazed).—Miss——
Hlaváček—It seems we could easily win over Miss Lindner to our guild.
(Dušek gives Hlaváček a displeased look.)
Helen.—Most assuredly Mr. Hlaváček! (With coquettish modesty.) I paint a little myself.
Mrs. Heller.—Helen has temperament—that’s true! (Laughing.) She didn’t even want to leave Paris last year.
Helen.—The gentlemen will readily understand that.
Hlaváček.—And we certainly envy you!
Mrs. Heller.—Apropos, Mr. Dušek, we are not coming alone here. Dr. Vlasák promised that he would come for us here.
Dušek.—Ah, I beg——
Helen.—And my portrait, Mr. Dušek? How shall we arrange about it? Aunt thinks that you could paint at our house—that is—at her home, for we wish to surprise father with the portrait.
Mrs. Heller.—If it would not be too much trouble for Mr. Dušek, it would, perhaps, be the best plan.
Helen.—Although—I’m not afraid of studios!
Mrs. Heller.—But still it’s inconvenient, Helen . . Isn’t that true, Mr. Dušek?
Dušek.—If you will give your consent——
Helen.—You couldn’t, then, paint from the photograph?
Dušek (Takes the board from the easel and shows the drawing to the ladies).—I have made a slight beginning. In the meantime it’s only on paper as an experiment——
Mrs. Heller (Looking at the drawing).—But the likeness already appears.
Dušek.—Miss Lindner will now allow me to paint wholly from life.
(Helen nods her head assuringly.)
Mrs. Heller (In the meantime examines the studio).—Ah, what charming miniatures and unfinished pictures. (Gazes at Dušek’s large picture.) Is that yours, Mr. Hlaváček?
Hlaváček.—Alas, no, gracious lady!
Mrs. Heller.—Ah, then it’s Mr. Dušek’s!
Dušek.—But now it will wait.
Helen.—Won’t you delay yourself with my portrait?
Dušek (With a smile of mute denial).—May I begin soon?
Helen.—Perhaps at once—tomorrow—yes, auntie?
Mrs. Heller.—It will be better to begin after Sunday, Helen, dear. If Mr. Dušek is to paint at our house, the back room must be prepared.
Helen.—It is a corner room, Mr. Dušek, and there is plenty of light.
Hlaváček.—Is not some one rapping? (Listens.)
Helen.—Perhaps Dr. Vlasák has already come for us.
Dušek.—Apparently he didn't notice that we have a bell. Pardon me, ladies—(Goes to front hall).
Mrs. Heller.—And what are you painting, Mr. Hlaváček?
Hlaváček.—Scarcely anything, gracious lady!
Vlasák (Having knocked, enters with Dušek).—My greetings, ladies!
Mrs. Heller.—Good evening, Doctor!
Helen.—You certainly hurried. (She offers him her hand.)
Vlasák (Advances towards Hlaváček, with a measured bow).—Doctor Vlasák.
Hlaváček.—Hlaváček, the painter. I’m pleased to meet you. (Extends his hand.)
Helen (To Hlaváček).—But you surely paint something, Mr. Hlaváček. (Pleadingly.) Please show it to us!
Hlaváček (Easily) Miss Lindner embarrasses me. I don’t paint at home at all, Miss Lindner, because I’m now doing ornamental work on the home of Skaliček, the architect.
Mrs. Heller.—And have you nothing at all at home?
Hlaváček.—Only a picture just begun. But it’s getting a rest now there in our bedroom, for it would uselessly litter up the studio.
Mrs. Heller.—Ah, so you also live here? How pleasant?
Helen(Goes to door at right).—May I?
Dušek.—Oh, Miss Lindner—I beg, please—don’t go in there! Old bachelors’ disorder—
Helen.—What of it? (Enters the smaller room.) This?
Mrs. Heller.—Helen is so willful! (Laughs.)
Dušek (Follows Helen into the smaller room).—I beg you, Miss Lindner, don’t notice our housekeeping!
(Helen laughing audibly behind the scenes.)
Hlaváček (Talking at the same time).—I’d sink with shame if I couldn’t show the ladies something better. (Laughing.)
Helen (Returning).—Auntie, you ought to see that picture! That’s surely modern enough!
Dušek (Coming after her).—Please don’t tell Hlaváček, lest he imagine that its modernness consists in the unfinished condition of his picture!
Vlasák.—Mr. Hlaváček would be no exception.
Helen.—It would be a rare case that would escape a rubbing in from you.
Mrs. Heller.—Allow me, then, Mr. Hlaváček! (She enters the smaller room.)
Dusek (Behind her).—And again I beg, that you don’t get frightened at our disorder.
Hlaváček (Merrily shrugging his shoulders).—I must go and at least defend my masterpiece since it arouses such attention! (Enters the small room.)
Helen (Who has paused, meantime, in front of the screen which separates her from the entrance to the smaller room, gazes at Dušek’s picture.)
Vlasák (Steps up to her quickly).—Do you look at such things?
Helen.—Look at it too! (She laughs and her eyes glow suddenly.)
Mrs. Heller (Behind the scenes).—Here is a whole storehouse of paintings—allow that!
Vlasák (Looking at the picture).—The original is even prettier.
Helen (Looking longingly at the picture).—That’s a poor compliment for the artist!
Vlasák.—Especially in this sort of costume.
Helen (Strikes him lightly with her glove).—Fie, you shameless one!
Vlasák (Tries to put his arm around her waist).—Surely, Helen isn’t jealous?
(Helen laughing, strikes him again with her glove and follows him to the center of the studio.)
Mrs. Heller (Enters with the artists).—Helen, dear! Again tormenting someone?
Helen (Bent on mischief).—Throw him out, gentlemen. He is slandering your pictures!
(Dušek slightly taken aback.)
Hlaváček (Laughingly).—Luckily I haven’t the smallest piece of canvas here.
Mrs. Heller.—Now we’ve seen everything, Helen, dear, and we’ll go. (Gives her hand to Dušek.) May I beg of you, then, Mr. Dušek?
Dušek (Kisses her hand).—Whenever you command, gracious lady.
Helen (Also gives her hand to Dušek and does not drop his hand until she finishs speaking when she lightly shakes it).—Then it’s arranged for after Monday! I’ll send you a message yet, or maybe I’ll write you.
(Dušek kisses her hand with a happy smile.)
Helen.—My respects, Mr. Hlaváček! (Beckoning to him.) Come, Doctor!
(Hlaváček bowing deeply.)
Mrs. Heller (Simultaneously).—Good-bye, Mr. Hlaváček!
Vlasák (Extending his hand to Hlaváček).—My respects. It was a pleasure to meet you.
(The ladies have in the meantime entered the front hall.)
Vlasák.—Your servant, Mr. Dušek! (Noticing that Dušek is going with the ladies.) Ah, so you’ll escort us—(Departing. A stir in the front hall.)
Helen (Laughing in the front hall).—It seems to me, Mr. Dušek, it seems to me—!
(Hlaváček accompanies the party as far as the door and then returns to the studio with an easy, swinging step.)
Dušek (Laughingly in front hall).—I could convince you, Miss Lindner. (A pause.) My deepest respects. Yes, yes, with absolute assurance. My respects. (The front door closes. Dušek returns to the studio.)
Hlaváček (As soon as Dušek enters, Hlaváček snaps his fingers and turns on his heel).—Well, we’re in it, now!
Dušek (Still excited by his callers now looks surprisedly at Hlaváček.)—What the devil is the matter with you again? (At that instant the bell in the front hall rings violently to the rhythm of a military march).
Hlaváček.—Still another caller? Is the stream of our visitors to be uninterrupted today?
Dušek.—Well, they don’t distract you from work! (Renewed ringing.) Very likely it’s that wild Šimr!
(Hlaváček has gone to the front hall.)
(Dušek stops in front of a small easel and involuntarily gazes at the photograph of Helen.)
Hlaváček (In the front hall where he is unlocking the door).—Why, Šimr, my respects to you! How does it happen you’re going so early?
Šimr (Entering the studio).—Your servant, Dušek!
Dušek (Excited).—Your servant!
Šimr.—I couldn’t wait till Réza came; I met her way up by the bridge. (A pause.) Were those women who were coming down the stairs up here to see you?
Hlaváček.—That is—to see Dušek.
Šimr.—Who is it?
Hlaváček (Tosses his head).—Dušek is painting her. Miss Lindner. Do you know her?
Šimr (Whistles shrilly).—And so that’s the Lindner? (To Dušek.) Ha, ha—Dušek, that’s something, isn’t it?
Dušek (Explosively).—What’s something?
Šimr (Laughing).—Well, so, so! That other one—does she watch her?
Dušek (Becoming wrathy).—Shut up, Šimr, will you?
Šimr.—Ah—in order not to drag down your scutcheon, so?Dušek (Violently).—You know I’m not going to run around with models to Glaubic’s any more, as you do. (A pause.) I don’t grasp in what way that lady has injured you that you talk about her so! You are always complaining that there is no understanding for art in our society—and when some one does appear who understands it, you scoff at him.
Šimr (Tosses his head).—My world suffices for me!
Dušek (Indicating Šimr with his thumb).—Do you hear, Láda? What did I say?
Hlaváček.—Don’t begin again, I beg of you!
Dušek (Crossses the studio and laughs contemptuously).—And the best thing about it all is that you call this artists’ life! You botch up some small order just enough so that you could get something to eat out of it——
Šimr (With feigned gravity).—Ah—mainly—to drink!
Dušek (Shaking his finger).—Just own up! It is suffocating here among you just as in those ale houses! (Spreads out his hands.) Lord, lord, how gladly I’ll fly from here!
(Šimr looks at him amazedly.}}
Šimr (Nudges Hlaváček).—That’s on account of her, eh?
Hlaváček (Nodding to Šimr).—Well, Kamilo—then those dogs and those geese—(Indicating the picture with a motion of his head) will remain for us after all?
Dušek.—That’s something different, you heard very well! What makes me wrathy is that you indulge in such coarseness. Especially Šimr here.
Dušek.—Well, laugh, laugh, you idiot!
Šimr.—And are you going to take Stáza there with you?
Dušek (Furiously).—Šimr! (Steps up to him and then stops.) As if I didn’t know you!
Hlaváček (Motioning to Šimr).—Let him alone, Šimr! (To Dušek.) And you get a little sense, you childish man! What do you care, after all, for the Lindner? You’ll paint her, draw a few hundred—and enough! What are you getting excited about?
Dušek—No one mentioned money! You are only angry at society because you haven’t its money. (Angrily.) Oh, to be sure! Are you envious because I paint better portraits? Don’t hang around the ale-houses, don’t disgrace yourselves on the streets—and then people will notice you, too. (To Šimr.) You know very well no man is going to Thomas’s to hunt you up in order to have you paint his daughter. (Turns to Hlaváček.) And you, Hlaváček, are also a regular weather-vane. A little while ago you were like a lamb—now comes Šimr—and your tongue runs just like his!
Šimr.—And neither of us can get in a word because of Dušek!
Hlaváček (Seizes his hat).—Come on, Šimr, let’s go!
Šimr.—Oh, there’s no hurry. (Hesitates.) I say, Dušek, I hope we understand each other?
Dušek (calmly).—No, it doesn’t appear so. (A pause.)
Šimr.—I say, Dušek, would you lend me a florin?
(Hlaváček laughs boisterously.)
Dušek (Also smiles and then reaches into his pocket).—Here you are, you crazy fellow! (Hands him a florin.) And get wise!
Šimr.—And now—come with us!
Šimr.—Well, perhaps to “The Well.” There is bowling today.
Dušek.—No, no, I won’t go! I’ve had my fill of you today. (A pause.)
Šimr.—Dušek, do you need Réza these days? I’d like to daub at something or other.
Dušek.—Aren’t you through yet?
Šimr.—Oh, sure, but still I’d—
Dušek.—As far as I’m concerned—let her go to you. Any way I’m going to begin the portrait.
Hlaváček.—And what about this? (Points to the large picture.)
Dušek (Cuts him off).—You won’t finish it for me!
Hlaváček (Jams his hat down on his head).—My respects! Come on, Šimr!
Šimr (Offering Dušek his hand).—I thank you, Dušek, for the time being—and don’t be angry!
Dušek.—You litle fool! (Indifferently.) My respects! (Šimr and Hlaváček depart.)
(Dušek gazes intently at his picture, shakes his head—and slowly, hesitatingly takes it down. Then he places it in the corner, with the canvas side to the wall. He seizes Helen’s photograph and standing at the window, remains gazing at it steadily.)
Mrs. Heller's reception rooms. The chief reception room has appointments showing the taste and luxury typical of a wealthy family of Prague's most eminent circle. At the right an entrance to the front hall, in the rear an open door through which one can see into farther rooms likewise tastefully decorated. At the left side of the room there are windows, also a divan and a fauteuil arranged in a semicircle. The lights in all the rooms are burning brightly. Men in evening clothes, ladies in rich toilettes of light colors.
(Mrs. Heller enters from rear, dressed in a simple, tasteful gown as befits the hostess.)
(Nedoma enters at the same time from front hall.)
(Vlasák enters behind Nedoma.)
Mrs. Heller (Frankly).—At last, then, our doctor! (She extends her hand to Nedoma.) Ah, Dr. Vlasák! (Extending her hand to Vlasák.)
Vlasák (Kissing Mrs. Heller’s hand).—Are we not to be scolded gracious lady, for coming late?
Mrs. Heller.—What are you thinking of? You are practically the first ones. Only the Daneš and Mr. Dušek have arrived as yet. (Quickly) To be sure—the artists also, Mr. Bláha and Miss Bukovský.
Nedoma. (Merrily to Vlasák).—There—what did I say? It is, my friend, still good form to come very late. (Draws out his watch and shows it to Mrs. Heller.) The company is invited for eight, is it not? Please note—it is half past eight—(He points to the face of the watch) and still we’ll wait longer!
Mrs. Heller (Laughing).—You are bad, doctor! Why, Mr. Dušek is already here—
Nedoma (Cuttingly).—To be sure, I comprehend how it is Dušek wasn’t late!
Mrs. Heller.—and the Daneš. (With a smile.) And now, you don’t comprehend why Dr. Vlasák came late, do you?
Vlasák. (Hesitates).—But, gracious lady—
Nedoma.—Then it is really Miss Daneš?
Mrs. Heller.—Didn’t you know it, doctor? Oh, you must immediately offer congratulations!
Nedoma (Offering Vlasák his hand).—Should I?
Vlasák (Lightly protesting).—Our gracious hostess speaks a little too definitely. . . . . .
Mrs. Heller.—Well, and—? Mrs. Daneš doesn’t contradict in the least when it is mentioned.
Vlasák (Slightly surprised).—Really? (With a smile.) Truly, dear Mrs. Heller, your news is always agreeable——
Nedoma.—And how about Miss Daneš?
Mrs. Heller.—You don’t know even that? And you are their family physician?
Nedoma.—But only their physician, my dear lady. Among our sort it is true that a physician may also become a family confidant but not in every case. In your household, to be sure, that honor is accorded me.
Mrs. Heller (Laughingly).—Our doctor is even gallant at times!
Nedoma.—Is that so strange?
Mrs. Heller.—Strange enough especially since some one of us is ill all the time. Why, you don’t even have any time left for gallantry.
(Helen enters from the back through the door at the left. She is dressed in a rich and daintily attractive gown.)
(Dušek follows her. Since the first act Dušek has changed into a perfect dandy; his evening clothes are faultless, his hair smoothly brushed and his beard cut according to the mode.)
(Vlasák bows silently to Helen who extends her hand.)
Nedoma (Greets Helen and presses Dušek’s hand).—If one wouldn’t seek you in reception halls, Mr. Dušek, he never would find you in your studio.
Vlasák (Gives his hand to Dušek).—My respects, Mr. Dušek! Never mind in the least the doctor’s reproaches, Mr. Dušek. Today is again one of his bad days.
Dušek (To Nedoma).—Ah, did you struggle clear upstairs to see me, Doctor?
Nedoma (Surprised).—Didn’t you find my card?
Mrs. Heller.—Pardon me, gentlemen. (She departs through the left door at the rear.)
(All bow silently.)
Nedoma (To Dušek).—I was at your studio Sunday morning—and today is Wednesday.
Helen (To Dušek).—What! You haven’t been at the studio since Sunday? (She shakes her finger at him.) You! you!
Nedoma (To Helen).—And you scold Mr. Dušek for that? Perhaps if you definitely command him. . . . . . . . .
Helen.—Just see, Mr. Dušek, what a protector you have won! (To Nedoma).— But, truly, I myself am to blame that Mr. Dušek is so busily occupied. (Indicates Dušek) Sir, my instructor in painting! (Laughing) And my faithful advisor in every thing at all times. He even designed my ball costume for the National Beseda.
Nedoma (Amazed).—Thunder! (To Dušek) So you are becoming not only a modern but a fashion artist?
Dušek (Slightly piqued).—What I heard from you, doctor, concerning my last picture, was my greatest incentive.
Nedoma (Gravely).—Pardon me, I gave you counsel in all frankness!
Dušek (Caustically, bowing).—I’m assured of that!
(Nedoma turns away indifferently.)
Helen (Wishing to change the conversation).—Please be seated, gentlemen! Or do you wish to go into the other room?
Nedoma (Seats himself on the divan).—Let’s talk in here before the rest of the company arrives. (With a smile) Although Dr. Vlasák may be drawn towards——
Helen.—Oh, to be sure! (To Vlasák) Clara is here, doctor. (She points to the rear.) If you wish——
Vlasák (Disturbed).—Oh, Miss——(He seats himself) I am in constant suspicion here.
(Dušek seats himself.)
Helen (Seating herself).—He who doesn’t defend himself.—
Nedoma (To Dušek).—Apropos, Mr. Dušek, I just went up to your place Sunday to ask you for Mr. Hlaváček’s address.
Helen.—Mr. Hlaváček is here. Aunt invited him for today.
Nedoma (Pleasantly surprised).—Really? (To Dušek) I needn’t even trouble you then——
Dušek (Bitingly).—I beg!
Nedoma.—nor need I interrupt you in your tailorish problems. (He laughs.)
Dušek (Angered).—I don’t comprehend, doctor, why you call me——
Helen (Quickly interrupting).—Don’t you know, Dr. Nedoma? He will rebuke you for a whole year because you weren’t in your studio those three days.
Nedoma (significantly to Dušek).—In a year, we’ll say to each other what we have to say.
(A knocking at the door.)
Fořt (Enters from the front hall).—My respects, gracious Miss! (He kisses Helen's hand and silently bows to the gentlemen.)
Vlasák (Gives his hand to Fořt).—Good-evening, colleague!
Fořt (With a bow to Nedoma).—I take the liberty of introducing myself, Karl Fořt.
Helen (Quickly).—Ah, I beg pardon; I thought the gentlemen were acquainted. (Introducing.) Doctor Nedoma.
Nedoma (Extending his hand to Fořt).—I’m glad to know you, Mr. Fořt.
Helen (Indicating a chair).—Please, Mr. Fořt.
Fořt (To Helen).—You were not even at the academic ball. (To Dušek). And you, Dušek, didn’t come either!
Nedoma.—Do you wonder at it?
Fořt.—But for that, Dr. Vlasák here——
Helen (Looking at Vlasák).—and Miss Daneš was there too, wasn’t she? (She laughs.)
(Fořt laughs and nods assent.)
(Mrs. Heller enters from left door near rear.)
(Hlaváček follows her. The state of his clothing indicates that it was secured in a hurry. He has a coat which was apparently made for another figure and wears a loosely tied neckker chief.)
Mrs. Heller.—Ah, Mr. Fořt! Welcome!
(Fořt kisses her hand.)
Mrs. Heller.—It seems that the gentlemen don’t want to join our company. (To Hlaváček) Allow me, Mr. Hlaváček. (Introducing) Doctor Nedoma; your sincere admirer.
Nedoma (Arising).—Mr. Hlaváček? Ah, this is a pleasure! (Presses Hlaváček’s hand cordially.)
Mrs. Heller.—I asked Mr. Hlaváček especially for your sake. (A knocking on the door. Mrs. Heller steps to the right.)
Mrs. Fabian (Enters with her daughters. She hastens in an affected manner towards Mrs. Heller).—Ah, my dear! How kind you are! (The Fabien girls kiss Mrs. Heller’s hand.)
Mrs. Heller (To the newcomers).—Please come! (She nods towards the door at the left near the rear.) And the gentlemen will also surely come; we shall begin the program now.
(All arise departing separately.)
Nedoma (Detaining Hlaváček to the last. When the company has passed out, he pauses with Hlaváček at the rear).—May I detain you, Mr. Hlaváček? (Laughing.) Or do you want to hear the program?
Hlaváček (Returns with him towards the front).—I’m at your service, doctor!
Nedoma (Seating himself).—They won’t miss us. Let’s sit down!
Nedoma.—Mrs. Fabian has brought her daughters; the concert will surely begin with the “Slavonic Dances.”
Nedoma.—Where those young women go, they play the “Slavonic Dances” for four hands. Mrs. Fabian in the meantime fairly overflows with bliss. But no doubt we’ll hear it way in here—and it would be better if we didn’t hear it at all.
Hlaváček.—The doctor evidently isn’t a lover of music.
Nedoma.—Why not? But I don’t coquette with it. (Points in the direction of the main reception room) All these yawn—at least in spirit—at such a musical soiree, but that doesn’t stand in the way of their talking learnedly about music as if it were their daily bread. They go to concerts—and are bored; they go to the opera and are bored. But while music is the fashion they must not remain away. (Behind the scenes Dvořák’s “Slavonic Dances” is played on a piano. Nedoma listens.) Do you hear?
Hlaváček (Laughing).—The doctor is a good guesser!
Nedoma.—I beg you! (Spreads himself comfortably in the chair.) I am, in my turn, interested in pictures. Not because it’s the fashion, but from an innate fondness for them. I have a nice collection of originals.
Hlaváček.—And an excellent reputation among painters, doctor. I am all the more sorry that I sold my “Will o’ the Wisp” since I learned recently that it might have become your property.
Nedoma.—Listen, Mr. Hlaváček! (Gazes at him intently.) You are a true friend of Dušek’s, are you not?
Hlaváček (Somewhat surprised by the question).—For years, doctor. We came to the academy together from the technical school and since last summer we have had a company studio.
Nedoma.—You have separated now?
Hlaváček.—That is to say, Dušek wanted to be alone. When we have finished a song, there are easily different opinions. You understand.
Nedoma.—With regard to your friend, certainly. But what—you fell out with each other?
Hlaváček.—Oh, not at all—the bonds became looser just gradually.—We are friends as before —except that the former heartiness is lacking. (Laughing.) To be sure—here to this gathering—we came together; Dušek had to introduce me.
Nedoma.—Oh, well, you’ll get used to this sort of thing.
Hlaváček.—I’d almost say, doctor, that I’d be afraid of it. (Confused.) Oh, Sapristi! I’m talking a little too freely.
Nedoma (With a smile).—Oh, just go ahead and talk! If I were Dušek I would envy you that tenacity.
Hlaváček.—But Dušek has completely adjusted himself to a different atmosphere.
Nedoma.—He was adjusted into it, as the saying goes. (Significantly.) A will o’ the wisp as in your picture—you know? But for that he has changed into a perfect dandy. (Throws his head in direction of other room.) Well, hasn’t he? (Making a motion with his hand.) If he’d paint more and better, it would be better for him.
Nedoma (Warming up).—But what insults me the most is the decline of his taste, his artistic consciousness. And you, Mr. Hlaváček ought to be even more hurt by it. (Violently.) Why, thunder, he has gotten so mixed up in those enchantments that he has become Miss Lindner’s tailor!
Hlaváček (Not comprehending).—It isn’t possible!
Nedoma (Bursting into a laugh).—Indeed it is! He designs her costumes and—is making a paintress of her! You know how such a young woman paints—to be sure, she isn’t hindering any one, so let her paint! But Dušek impressively raves about those daubs of hers. (Spells out the words) im-press-ive-ly raves, I tell you. And not only out of gallantry! Everywhere that he sets foot. And he believes what he says. (Violently) That’s how stupid he has become here, that’s to what degree his senses have become stultified!
Hlaváček.—Do you think, doctor, that I don’t feel it all doubly?
Nedoma (Suddenly).—Oh, well, what’s he to us, anyway? Let’s talk about something else! In the first place—since you’ve sold your “Will o’ the Wisp” you must paint me something else soon—you understand—(Someone knocks.)
Novák (Enters the room).—My respects, doctor!
Nedoma.—At your service, Mr. Novák. Well you have been detained! Don’t you hear? (He points towards the rear from which the sound of music is heard.)
Novák.—Really? Pardon me, I must offer my greetings to the lady of the house. (He departs through rear.)
Nedoma.—Do you know him?
(Hlaváček shakes his head.)
Nedoma (Caustically).—Bohus Vladimir Novák, the poet of Prague reception rooms! (Looks intently at Hlaváček.) Haven’t you read anything of his? (Dryly.) Neither have I. And I hope no one in Bohemia has, either. But—he’s a poet! Yes, indeed, a highly gifted poet as any one in society will attest—even Mrs. Daneš although she reads only Marlitt and Haecklander.
Hlaváček.—Aha, he’s a parlor specialist!
Nedoma.—Excellent! A specialist! Our social set, my friend, scorns the other castes but nevertheless, it feels that it lacks something. So, to make up this lack, it coddles up in its own greenhouse this sort of compensation, for it is too supercilious to accept from another order of society what it does not have itself. (He points behind the scenes.) BohusVladimir Novak suffices for our social set, as the entire field of literature. And since society recognizes him as a poet, ergo——
Hlaváček.—Mr. Novák is an authority. (Laughs.)
Nedoma.—And see, that’s why Dušek can never perfectly plant himself in this social set. Even in the most modern garments with the newest perfume on his neck-cloth he will ever remain a common parvenu. (Quickly.) Nota bene, a parvenu without money; only a parvenu with money looks as if he might belong among us.
Hlaváček.—Among you, doctor? Pardon me, but your views——
Nedoma (Laughs).—Ah, so, I understand! You see, my friend, I am a physician in those families. I live with them, know their weaknesses, I understand them—and—I forgive them. “We are caught together, we will hang together” say the Germans. I am, my friend, a cynic even in their company. But that suits them, hence, they like me. A family physician, Mr. Hlaváček, is also a piece of furniture in a reception room.
Hlaváček (Frankly).—Then the atmosphere,—has no influence on you, doctor? (He laughs.)
Nedoma.—The atmosphere, my friend, devours only the weak. Every atmosphere. Only the other day, I had a great debate about that with your friend Dušek.
Hlaváček (Assenting).—A beloved theme of his in recent times!
Nedoma.—Isn’t that so? He complained that he had to escape from his hitherto atmosphere by main force in order to save himself from crumbling. He had to save himself, he said, and get into freer, clearer air.
Hlaváček (Smiling a little).—He is slurring his own nest!
Nedoma.—Do you know what I said to him? That any medium can not gnaw at a strong man. And may the devil take a weak man! Among us or among you—the same holds true. But a new medium devours a weak man much quicker.
Hlaváček.—And Dušek is in a new medium!
Nedoma.—Exceedingly so! And, my friend, he is in great error, in the meantime. He seeks in our society what doesn’t exist there. The new colors and the new perfumes have deluded him—nothing more. Fundamentally it is the same. Except for the fact that Dušek’s awakening will be all the more terrible when he comes to, in a strange world.
Hlaváček.—And yet—he has found here a new intoxicant!
Nedoma.—What good does it do him? Does it create any thing in him or bring anything out of him? Not a thing. Did you see his new picture?
Nedoma.—Well—then! And that is only the beginning of the end. (A pause.) You ought to give him a talking to.
Hlaváček (Smiles).—I’d fare ill, if I did.
Nedoma.—He’s touchy, isn’t he? Another sign of a fall. And, my friend, he’s fallen into quite an agreeable world, where at least they rave about art, if nothing else. Sir, we are, so to speak, in an artists’ hall, here. (Laughs.) Truly, though, Mrs. Heller herself has enough earnest interest. But—the rest! But Mrs. Heller is taming them; note—first, the musical competitions of artists and dilettantes—and, no supper until eleven. (Looks at his watch.) I am hungry now.
Helen (Enters at the rear with Clara).—O ho! here are two deserters! Go at once and listen!
Nedoma (Laughing).—Won’t you relieve us of duty? Come, Mr. Hlaváček; the ladies are evidently longing for confidences.
Helen (Shakes her fan at him).—You—truthful man! Mr. Hlaváček has found fine entertainment among us on his very first visit.
Nedoma.—He who seeks, always finds, my dear lady.
Helen.—Mr. Hlaváček was hardly looking for—you.
Nedoma.—But I was looking for him! Come, Mr. Hlaváček we mustn’t be in the way. (Departs, Hlaváček with a bow follows him.)
Clara (Sits down).—Do you know, Helen, dear, what they are saying? That Dušek is courting you?
Helen (Laughing as she seats herself).—And is that why you’ve dragged me here? Are you jealous of me?
Clara (Embarrassed).—Tell me, Helen, dear, do you intend to marry him?
Helen (Laughs aloud).—Well, well,—you, little stupid! Do you think I want to get married á tout prix?
Clara (Suddenly).—Don't you want to get married? (Timidly.) That is—you don’t want to be married to Dušek, isn’t that so?
Helen (Merrily).—No! But why such speeches?—(She looks closely at Clara.) Ah, that’s it. (Insinuatingly.) I don’t want to marry anyone, my good little soul,—not anyone!
Clara (Astonished).—Honestly, don’t you want anyone?
Helen.—Dearie, isn’t it you who is in love?
Clara.—Hush, Helen dear!
Helen.—They say that Vlasák wants you, doesn’t he?
Helen.—And they say that you ought to be jealous of me.
Clara (Reproachfully).—Helen, dear!
Helen (With a smile).—Am I so dangerous?
Clara.—You are, Helen dear, you are!
Helen (Flatteringly).—But not to you, Clara, love. You are a very wealthy prospective bride.
Clara.—Mamma reminds me of that constantly.
Helen.—Well, there you have it! I can’t be dangerous to those who wish to marry rich. For me there would be—for instance—(Laughing)—Dušek!
Clara (Unbelievingly).—And would you want him?
Helen (With a smile).—For a husband?
Clara.—Why, then, does he come to see you?
(Helen laughs aloud.)
Clara.—And aren’t you sorry for him? Doctor Nedoma said not long ago at our house that Mr. Dušek is failing.
Helen.—Well, that’s once that the physician in Nedoma didn’t speak! Maybe he was speaking of his pictures. (Surprised.) And what of it? Can I command him to paint more or better? Can he paint at all when he goes about all day, seeking opportunities to meet me, when he makes friends with those fops who he imagines are favorites in my aunt’s house? With that Fořt and that Novák? (Dryly.) But he has changed, hasn’t he?
Clara.—All on account of you, Helen dear—and for that reason you ought to be honest with him.
Helen (Laughs bitterly).—Marry, Clara, dear, marry! You should marry while you still have faith in men!
Clara.—Has some one deceived you?
Helen (Haughtily).—Some one—me? Because I’m not seeking a husband? (Shaking her head.) Child, child!
Clara.—Believe me, dear Helen, I don’t understand you.
Helen.—Because I don’t care to marry? Well, you know, sweetheart mine, I know men a little. Do you think than man, Dušek, is any better? Until recently, he went about with a milliner.
Helen.—Yes, a milliner! For six years he had relations with an ordinary milliner. Vlasák knows it, ask him! He lived with her and adapted himself to that queer sort of society while he had a girl from that sphere. Now he is crazy about me—and makes friends with any fool of our set. (Merrily.) Now that’s charming, isn’t it? Do you think that what happened before insults me? Why? On the contrary—that mannerly big-eyed artist stimulates me! He has entertained me during the entire winter with his courtship. (Convincingly.) Oh, my girlie, he has fine feeling! With his whole being he hangs on every movement of my lips! I barely speak and, like one intoxicated, he loses himself in my moods. (A pause.) Such marvelous power wouldn’t please you, would it?
Clara (Astonished).—After all that you know about him?
Helen.—Do you know anything better about the men of our own set? And if you don’t know—can you take oath that they are different? And, for that matter, would you want a husband who had not sowed his wild oats?
Clara.—You want to tease me, don’t you, Helen, love?
Helen.—Tease you? Don’t demand much in matrimony and you won’t miss much. And then—do I want to marry Dušek?
Clara.—Of course, you can’t do that. But you could tell him.
Helen.—Why, when he hasn’t asked me?
Clara.—And if he does propose some time?
Helen.—He will never get to the proposal. And if he does speak out, still—well——
Helen.—Well, let him speak out! It will be a joke.
(Fořt enters at the rear and stands near the other room.)
Helen (Observes Fořt).—He won’t be the first to speak unadvisedly. (Points to the rear.) That one has already blurted out his love—and how stupidly. Just wait!
Fořt (Advances).—The company is wondering where the ladies have concealed themselves. (To Clara.) Miss Clara, you ought to hear Bláha’s concert numbers.
Helen.—And not I?
Fořt (Naïvely).—No, not you. I would like to say some thing to you.
(Clara and Helen laugh outright.)
Vlasák (Enters at rear).—In a little while the entire company will have moved to the front reception hall—and Mr. Bláha can play for himself.
Helen.—Doctor, you must set things right! Clara was just about to return; escort her to the music room. Anyway, Mr. Fořt wants to avow his love for me, he has owned up to it.
Fořt.—I wouldn’t be so bold.
Helen.—What sort of confidences can you have that Clara mustn’t hear them?
Fořt.—That’s a secret.
Vlasák (To Clara).—Come, Miss Clara, or else Fořt will yet betray his secret to us. (Departing with Clara towards the music room.)
Fořt.—Do you take me for such a fool? My dear sir, I’ve been a match for cleverer people!
Vlasák (Looks around and laughs).—Thank you for the compliment!
Mrs. Heller (Entering from other room).—It seems to me that our guests are not enjoying themselves very much. Some one runs away every little while.
Vlasák.—I’ve been looking for the deserters, my dear lady, and I’m gathering them up for Mr. Bláha’s concert.
Mrs. Heller.—Please do!
(Vlasák and Clara leave.)
Mrs. Heller (Follows them but stops at the rear).—Helen, dear, aren’t you coming?
Helen.—Wait a minute, auntie—just a minute. I want to hear out Mr. Fořt. (Laughs.)
Mrs. Heller (Merrily).—Poor Mr. Fořt. (Departs.)
Helen (Seating herself).—Well, then—you fountain of news!
Fořt.—Do you know what I want to tell you?
(Helen shakes her head.)
Fořt.—Dušek is in love with you.
Helen (With comic amazement).—You don’t mean it?
Fořt (Naïvely).—Don’t you know it? Last evening we were at Nikl’s and Dušek confided in me. (Laughs emptily.) That was some fun! He told how beautiful you are—really—he said that!—and what talent you have——
Fořt.—I laughed at him, too, until I got him wrathy. He said to me “If you only knew how such a woman uplifts a man!” And he owned up to me that he’d die without you!
Helen (In humorous vein).—And did he tell you to tell me?
Fořt.—Why, what do you think? I had to promise that I’d not betray him. (Innocently.) See, again some one loves you!
Helen (Alluringly).—Why, don’t you, any more?
Fořt (Confused).—I, Miss—? (Hesitates.)
Helen (Laughs).—Ah, thou bumpkin!
Fořt (Foolishly).—Aren’t you poking fun at me, Miss Helen?
(Dušek enters at rear and stands still in door of music room. From behind the scenes are heard the passionate, longing strains of a violin.)
Helen (Laughs outright at Fořt).—Go and listen to that virtuoso, go! (Notices Dušek.) Look, Mr. Dušek is afraid of that violin!
Dušek (Enters slowly).—Am I intruding?
Helen.—Just come in, Mr. Dušek, and take Mr. Fořt’s place.
Fořt.—Miss Helen always finds some agreeable excuse when she wants to get rid of me.
Helen (Laughing).—Do you know, Mr. Fořt—(Stopping) But why should I make you angry at me?
Fořt (Departing).—I renounce the rest of my punishment in favor of my friend Dušek.
Helen (With comical surprise).—Man, man,—but you’re witty!
Fořt (Blissfully).—I should say so! (Bowing, departs.)
Helen.—Mr. Dušek, it appears, has been wholly entranced by those artistes in the four-handed performance! (Laughs.) Or by Miss Bukovský? Or Clara?
Helen.—Ah, Clara? Don’t try to compete with Vlasák.
Dušek.—Is it the truth?
Helen.—About Vlasák and Clara? Why yes, Mrs. Daneš is already telling of it publicly.
Dušek.—And Dr. Vlasák?
Helen.—I beg of you! Clara is a wealthy catch—and that’s enough. (Seats herself.) Do you care to stay here a while with me? Or do you want to listen to Bláha?
Dušek (Glowing).—Oh, Miss Lindner—if you’ll allow——
Helen (Indicates with a wave of her hand the divan where she herself is sitting).—Come, sit down.
(Dušek seats himself.)
Helen.—It’s rather tiresome back there, isn’t it?
(Dušek is silent.)
Helen (After a while).—Tell me, what you are doing nowadays. It’s a pity you’re not a landscape artist; there must be plenty of motifs in the snow covered plains and drifted forests for landscapists, don’t you think so? When the sun vanishes in the mists and everything is lost in the grayness—(A pause.) Do you remember the other day how we rode in the sleigh from Zbraslavi? Did you notice how Novák frowned when we were getting into the sleigh because you and not he sat in our sleigh?
Dušek (Laughing).—Poor Novák! He hardly spoke to me that evening.
Helen (Leaning backward).—By the way, why don’t you ever paint landscapes? Oh, if I only had your brush! I’d like to paint a vast winter landscape—monotonous, immeasurable.
Dušek.—Paint it, Miss Helen! You can do it better than I.
(Helen laughing softly.)
Dušek.—Oh, indeed you can! You surely don’t think I’m flattering you? For scarcely a year have I been allowed to slightly cultivate your technique of form—and ere long I shall be useless to you!
Helen (Gazing at him).—Useless? Oh, now you are cruel! Why, do you think society will have had enough of you when you will have had enough of my painting?
Dušek (Confused).—Oh, no! I have come from another sort of world and I will know, that I’d very soon have to leave this one forever if it were not for that happy chance. (His speech grows lower but more impassioned.)
Dušek.—That I may keep vigil over your hand as it paints and at the same time be one of those who are—(He becomes silent and then bursts out warmly) one of those who are, after all, happier mortals!
Helen (With alluring charm).—And who are they?
Dušek.—Those who are nearest to you, even if they are indifferent.
Helen.—Indifferent to me? Why, haven’t I the right to tolerate about me only those who are not indifferent to me?
Dušek (Becoming more and more impassioned as a result of Helen’s nearness).—You have—but you are too good, to use your power.
Helen (Laughs oddly, with bitterness).—I, good? (Thought fully.) Ah, because our entire social set hasn’t wholly wearied me as yet?
Dušek.—Social set? Oh, no, not your set,—but—(Softly and timidly)—I.
Helen (Touches Dušek’s hand resting on the divan).—You! You overesteem our social set.
Dušek (Pleadingly, in a tone trembling with joyful unrest).—Miss Helen!
Helen (Waves her open fan merrily).—Oh—Oh—Oh! (Laughs.) Mr. Dušek, have you, too, become a hypocrite? Or do you want me to flatter you?
Dušek.—How? And I a hypocrite? Oh, believe me,—all others can easily be truthful!
Helen (Points towards the rear).—Those in there? (Laughs.) Ah, Dr. Nedoma—yes, yes—he is sometimes almost too truthful! But who beside him? Fořt? He speaks the truth only out of ignorance. Or Novák? He would choke on truth judging by the way he belies himself.
Dušek.—There are others there——
Helen.—Oh, yes, Dr. Vlasák, perhaps. But he dares tell the truth only to Clara now. (A pause.) Or could you be jealous—(Laughs) of that old Mr. Daneš?
Helen (Captivatingly).—To be sure, jealous! Everyone is jealous who imagines he is not the first one—or the only one.
(Dušek shows excitement.)
Helen (Suddenly).—Pst! (Tensely. She again touches Dušek’s hand. She listens to the music of the violin. After a moment she looks inquiringly at Dušek.)
Dušek (Embarrassed).—And may I speak, then?
Helen (Laughing).—Why, why, Mr. Dušek, what has happened to you? (Frankly.) Just as if we didn’t all like you, indeed, as if you were merely tolerated among us! Believe me, I myself am very grateful to you for many reasons. I can’t define it—but it is as if you had brought something new into my life, a little real interest for art, a little dispelling of the monotony of our social existence. (Gazes at him.) To be sure, I am becoming enriched by what you lose, many insist. You do not paint, you are losing your broad outlook, they say,—and all that you have, you give to me.
Dušek.—Miss—Helen! (Seizes her hand. Helen does not draw it away)—would it be a sin even if it were the truth? You thank me for a few moments which have really enriched me and for a little inspiration which is only a slight return for my great inspiration drawn from you. (Ardently.) May I tell it all?
(Helen remains silent.)
Dušek.—Or—is it really necessary for me to tell it?
(Helen as if lost in thought, shakes her head.)
Dušek (Speaks more and more ardently, in a suppressed voice which almost thrills on the waves of the violin’s strains).—You know it, don’t you? And you are right when you say I am losing myself wholly in you, in your being. I believe it would be the end of me to wake from that which intoxicates me now. (Points towards the music room.) They, in there, can’t comprehend what has become of the former wanderer, unstable and roving. But they are mistaken if they think that therefore the artist in me is dying. Believe me, my art can not die while it lives through your being!
Helen (Held by his ardor).—Am I so powerful? (Involuntarily leaning backward until her head nearly rests on Dušek’s arm.) Well, that is strange—(She speaks in a more and more suppressed and fervent manner.) Heretofore everyone has told me that I was not on earth for the happiness of others—And I myself had begun to believe it! (Recovers herself.) But no, no— these are only moments which fill me with longing. (Quickly.) No, no, no, Mr. Dušek—I beg of you, don’t believe it!
Dušek (Firmly grips her hand).—I can’t control myself. And I believe in you even if you don’t believe in yourself. I am carried away by something stronger than an instant of intoxication and I’m too weak to free myself from its power. (Gently draws Helen’s hand to his bosom.) Do you hear the violin? (Helen bows her head. Dušek’s lips touch her hair.)
Dušek (With passionate eagerness).—The weeping of the violin is blended here with the perfume of your hair, with the warmth of your hand, with the revelation of your being. You, yourself, no longer have the power to lift the spell from me! (He kisses her hand passionately.)
Helen (Recovering).—No, no, no—Mr. Dušek, please don’t believe it! Don’t believe in this hour, don’t believe even in me! (The violin music ceases and applause is heard. Helen withdraws her hand from Dušek’s grasp. Merrily.) You gallant knights! You know well how to soar! And so ardently and sweetly! (Arises.)
Dušek (Gradually awakening from his intoxication).—You aren’t angry?
Helen (Cordially extending her hand).—Child! Why, did you say something so very wrong?
Helen.—Did you not see that you might tell me?
Mrs. Fabian (Speaking behind the scenes).—Truly marvelous! Such a violin solo (Dušek in the meantine kisses Helen’s hand again and draws her close to him.) Thank you! (Touches her forehead with his lips.)
Helen (Freeing herself suddenly.)—Come, come—(Laughs.) or else they’ll catch us here like two lovers! (Seizes Dušek’s hand and draws him towards the other room. There they meet Mrs. Fabian and Mrs. Daneš.)
Mrs. Fabian (In perpetual exaltation).—Oh, Mr. Dušek, you missed that splendid violin solo! How could you miss it? You yourself an artist—why, you ought to have that much sympathy for another sort of art!”
Mrs. Daneš (Emitting her words crunchingly from between her teeth).—Mr. Dušek is satisfied with an obscure corner from which he may listen.
Helen (To Dušek).—Didn’t I say that they’d suspect us? (With conscious intention) How easily Mr. Dušek could have compromised himself here with me! (Takes his arm.) Come, Miss Bukovský will make up our loss to us. (They depart.)
Mrs. Fabian (Goes slowly forward into the room).—A really charming lad is this painter. And how talented, so they tell me! A regular genius!
Mrs. Daneš (Cuttingly).—It’s a pity his genius is a little entangled just now.
Mrs. Fabian.—So he’s really in love? (Pointing back of the scenes.)
(Mrs. Daneš nodding significantly.)
Mrs. Fabian.—Mon Dieu!—An artist—how could it be otherwise? (Longingly gazing after the departing pair.) Fortunate ones!
Mrs. Daneš.—But I don’t understand Helen!
Mrs. Fabian (Surprised).—Why! Such a divine artist!
Mrs. Daneš.—I don’t know whether that would suffice for Helen after marriage.
Mrs. Fabian.—How you talk, Mrs. Daneš!
Mrs. Daneš.—Would you give your Juliana to him? Or Joanna?
Mrs. Fabian.—But dear me, our girls needn’t even think of marriage yet!
Mrs. Daneš.—And later you’d change your mind about it! (Seating herself.) Heavens, Mrs. Fabian, believe me—I often wonder at Mrs. Heller for caring so much for these so called artistic people.
Mrs. Fabian (Seating herself).—I don’t quite comprehend you, Mrs. Daneš——
Mrs. Daneš.—They may be good people, I'm not saying anything about that—but—please tell me the sense of getting them accustomed to our sort of life? They can’t live up to it, my husband also says it—they just can’t live up to it! They haven’t the education or the income. You know what the result will be? Discontentedness, my dear Mrs. Fabian, discontentedness and debts. (From behind the scenes is heard a girl’s voice in song accompanied by a piano.)
Mrs. Fabian.—We will miss that delightful Miss Bukovský!
Mrs. Daneš (Undisturbedly seizes her hand).—Debts, Mrs. Fabian, debts! and the outcome of it all? Oh, there’ll be a public collection, they’ll come to you with a subscription sheet—and—what are you going to say to them?
Mrs. Fabian.—My heavens!
Mrs. Daneš.—To be sure, who cares for five or ten dollars. You’ll gladly give it just as I do. But in the first place, there’s too much of it—and then, dear Lord, how can those people feel in our company when they know that every little while a collection has to be taken up for some one of them! Here a nation’s gift to an author, there a benefit for an actor who doesn’t even act any more, in a day or two, a monument to a poet——
Mrs. Fabian (Tries to speak).—Please——
Mrs. Daneš (Makes no pause in the flow of her eloquence).—Very good, very good,—we like to give, but once in a while it is overdone. It isn’t a matter concerning only those poverty stricken artists but at once they make out of it a sort of national duty and some people get glory out of helping to get the suscriptions. They want to get appreciation—and we have to do the paying!
Mrs. Fabian (Embarrassed).—We have run away from the music room. They will miss us. (Rising.) Come, let’s hear at least a little of the program.
Mrs. Daneš.—Mrs. Fabian won’t listen to a thing against those artist people! Oh, of course, of course, your daughters are halfway artists also——
Mrs. Fabian (Glowingly).—I am proud of them. Every one praises them so much.
Mrs. Daneš.—Our Clara also plays. And sings. But now it’s all going to stop for there’ll be other worries. (Slips her arm through Mrs. Fabian’s. (Confidentially.) Frankly speaking, Mrs. Fabian, I’ll be glad when that Dr. Vlasák speaks out. I’ve really had fear of Helen; she knows so well how to fascinate men! And I believe the doctor was more than half caught. By good fortune this artist is here now and he has somewhat broken off matters. (Confidentially.) But his falling in love is all in vain, believe me, all in vain! I’m almost sorry for the poor fellow; Dr. Nedoma said here not long ago that he isn’t even painting nowadays——
Mrs. Fabian (Amazedly).—It isn’t possible! Such a talented fellow—I’ve heard! Why, that love ought to inspire him——
Mrs. Daneš (Dryly).—I beg of you,—that love! What sort of match is it? Helen, to be sure, will some day be Mrs. Heller’s heiress—but she has a good while to wait! How much of being thirty does she lack? And Mrs. Heller is of my age, she won’t die right away. (A pause.) (The singing behind the scenes has ceased and applause is heard.)
Mrs. Fabian (Disappointed).—Why, we’ve missed everything!
Mrs. Daneš.—Oh, well, we’ll hear enough yet. At any rate, we’ve had a good frank talk.
Mrs. Fabian.—We must go back, they will miss us. (As they depart, they meet, at the door, with Miss Bukovský.) Ah, Miss Bukovoský, it was charming, delightful! We all repeat, you are our nightingale. Such a pleasure when you are on the stage!
Miss Bukovský (With a smile).—My gracious lady is truly one of our most loyal patrons.
Mrs. Fabian.—You’re surely not going so early? After such triumphs?
Miss Bukovský.—Oh, no indeed, dear lady; I just ran off for a breath to this room. (All is spoken in the other room.)
Vlasák (Joins this group, accompanied by Helen).—Are you receiving congratulations, Miss Bukovský?
Miss Bukovský.—Surely not for those few measures of song? (Laughs.)
Mrs. Fabian (Enters at the rear).—But we’ll surely hear something more?
Miss Bukovský.—I don’t know. (Departs with Mrs. Fabian.)
(Mrs. Daneš departing with them.)
Vlasák (To Helen).—Am I again in disfavor?
Helen (Standing with him in the entrance to the music room).—I wish to say something to you. Quickly, or some one will come. (She goes towards the front.)
Vlasák.—Ah! (Follows her to the front.)
Helen (Gazing at him steadily).—Victor, Dušek proposed to me a while ago.
(Helen nods assent.)
Vlasák.—Not before today?
Helen.—Seriously, Viki, seriously! I’m sorry for him!
Vlasák (Laughs).—I am, too.
Helen.—I am going to tell him the truth. I’m resolved.
Vlasák (Points towards rear).—To Dušek?
Helen (Decisively).—To Dušek.
Vlasák (Thoughtfully, after a pause).—Has he done you any harm?
Vlasák.—Why, then, should you injure him? And what do you want to tell him? That you are indifferent to him? He will go mad. (His lips twitch.) Or else do you mean to tell him all!
Helen (Bitterly).—I almost ought to.
Vlasák (Dryly).—Helen, dear, leave out the sentimentality! (More animatedly.) And what did you say to him?
Vlasák.—Well—then! (He seats himself.) Helen, dear, I am still here.
Helen.—I know—Clara’s intended.
Vlasák.—No, Helen—your lover! (Seizes Helen’s hand.)
Helen (Slowly steps back).—That must cease now! That doesn’t happen any more—(With an odd laugh)—even in immoral novels! (She seats herself.)
Vlasák (Passionately).—Helen, what have you done? I burn when you only touch me, you consume me with your beauty, you stifle me with your passion—and your glowing lips set me afire when you speak! (Sits down beside her on the divan.)
Helen (Lightly running her fingers through his hair, as she looks into his eyes).—There,—there—but you’re in love! You do love to be petted—and you’re almost in tears. And what sad eyes you have! (She taps him with her finger under the chin.) Well, you must get over it, Viki.
Vlasák.—Do you know what they are saying, Helen? That Mrs. Daneš is openly talking of Clara’s wedding.
Helen (Calmly).—Well, and——
Vlasák.—And you won’t—strangle me?
Helen (Laughs aloud).—They are saying? Are they really saying it? And for that I am to be jealous? Or to cause a scandal?
Vlasák (Embraces Helen violently).—Helen, I love you!
Helen (Withdrawing herself from his arms).—Just marry her, marry her! (Gravely) I am not a moneyed match, Viki.
Helen.—Didn’t you know it? (Tenderly.) Sweetheart, you must marry. Do you think that I surrendered to you in order to win a husband the more easily? (Bitterly.) In one’s twenty-sixth year, my boy, and with my dowry a woman of our set can’t desire more than what you have given me! (Earnestly.) Don’t pretend—I beg of you at least don’t do that! Did I want more? And do you think others have not courted me? Rich, respected (Laughing) and aged suitors? (Again changing her tone) Ugh! Am I to sell myself? (She places both palms on Vlasák’s shoulders and gazes intently into his eyes.) Victor, was it not better this way?
Vlasák (Confused).—You are a demon, Helen!
Helen (Laughs nervously).—But you won’t marry me, will you? I would not even want you to! I like you too well to pay for you so cheaply, if it doesn’t have to be. (Pats him with her fan.) There, there, Viki—marry rich, make a career,—even if you have a wicked mother-in-law and good children— (Bursts into a hysterical laugh.)
Vlasák (Abashed).—Helen, every man is a rascal, isn’t he?
Helen.—So they say! And happy the woman who doesn’t find it out! (Thoughtfully.) Or are those happier who learn it in time? (A pause.) Indeed, what would I have had if I had married at twenty as Clara is doing now? I would now be a deceived wife, also. And possibly loveless, without feeling! (Tossing her head.) I am as I am! And if some one must suffer for all other men,— (Ardently) Victor, it must not be you!
Vlasák.—Helen, would you care to be my wife?
Helen (Laughs harshly).—Madman! Women like me don’t marry. At least, not the men who know them—or else not until they are compromised before the world. (In an ordinary tone.) What a household that would be! (Earnestly.) And does my Victor think I would be faithful to him? (Vlasák is silent.)
Helen.—There, see! A relationship like ours, sweetheart, is something different from marriage.
Vlasák (Embraces her, drawing her close to him).—Helen!
Helen (Fervently kisses him on the forehead).—There—and now you have absolution! You were near to overflowing, just like Dušek. (Laughs) That Dušek, what a husband he would be! How he’d trust me!
Helen (Laughing).—You don’t think—? Victor! But I like him, truly. Such an exotic perfume of our social set! (Mischievously.) And after all perhaps it might even be a happy marriage. A worn out generation, my friend, occasionally needs a little fresh blood in its veins.
Vlasák.—Dušek didn’t live otherwise in his former life, I know that!
Helen.—Then it’s the change of air. In our atmosphere his virtue waxes remarkably. (In her ordinary tone.) We mustn’t frighten him till he§s run the whole gauntlet.
Vlasák (Bitterly).—Helen, we have nothing to rebuke each other with.
Helen (Recovering).—At our very souls’ foundation, not a thing.
Vlasák (After a pause, in low ardent tones).—Helen, love, do you remember what you promised me the last time? (Whispering.) Tomorrow is Thursday.
Helen (Shaking her head).—No more!
Vlasák (Reproachfully).—Helen! On account of Dušek?
Helen (Laughs. Then with greater earnestness).—On account of some one else!
(Music behind the scenes.)
Vlasák.—Don’t torture me, Helen! Am I to blame that you pity—Dušek?
Helen (Ruffling his hair).—Don’t you know what we just said to each other? That we are both alike——
Vlasák (Embraces her).—Will you come tomorrow?
Helen (Gently nods her head).—At six. (Walks quickly into the other room.)
Dr. Vlasák’s apartments, which have very simple but tasteful appointments. In the rear are two doors, one leading to the vestibule and the other, at the right of the first, leading to the bedroom. At the left is a window near which is a writing desk. At the right against the wall is a divan and near it a small table. In the left corner a stove, near the rear between the doors is a case of books. There is very little other furniture, in the room. The room is dusky and later becomes completely dark.
A maid kneels near the stove kindling the fire. She coughs at intervals. Near her on the floor stands a lighted candle. In the front hall the clicking of the lock is heard.
Vlasák (Enters, wearing an overcoat covered with snow. His collar is turned up. On his head, a tall silk hat.) Are you just making a fire, Mrs. Šebesta? (Turns around.) Come in, Fořt, I’ll light the lamp in a minute. (Fořt enters, covered with snow.)
Servant.—God grant you good evening, gracious master! I couldn’t come earlier. My daughter came late from school and I didn’t want to leave the baby at home without any one to look after it. I’ll be through in a minute.
Vlasák (To Fořt).—Just lay off your things, Fořt. I’m sorry I have to lead you into a dark room.
Fořt.—I’ll bring in a fine mess. Allow me to hang my overcoat in the vestibule if there is a hook there. (Goes out of room.)
Vlasák.—Light the way for him, Mrs. Šebesta.
(Follows Fořt into vestibule.)
(Servant goes towards vestibule holding the candle aloft.)
Vlasák (Returns without his overcoat. Breathes into his numbed hands). Thunder! Such weather! And here it’s no better.
(Fořt returning minus his overcoat.)
Servant.—Shall I make a light, gracious master?
(Servant goes to writing desk and lights lamp there. A light is cast around the table but otherwise the room is in semi-darkness.)
Vlasák.—Was any one here? (Draws down the curtain.)
Servant.—Some gentleman, just as I came to build the fire. He said that he’d come again, for it was something important, he said.
Vlasák (Thoughtfully).—I wonder who it could have been?
(Servant again stirring in the stove, and blowing at the fire. Coughs violently.)
Vlasák.—There, Mrs. Šebesta—(Turning to Fořt.) Sit down Fořt and excuse me just a minute.—(To the servant.) And hurry up, Mrs. Šebesta, build a fire in the bedroom, too, so that you wouldn’t have to come back here again. And make a big fire, understand?
Servant.—So soon, gracious master?—I’ll have to go get some coal, then, for I used up the last for this stove.
Vlasák.—Is it all gone again? (Puts his hand into his pocket.) Well, hurry then—here is a crown. (Hands her the money.)
Servant.—The coal dealer who used to be in this building has moved out. I’ll have to go clear over to Carmelite Street. (Closes the stove door, takes the lighted candle, standing beside the stove and goes to the bedroom.)
Vlasák.—If you had come a little later, Fořt, you wouldn’t have found me at home. I have to go away soon.
Fořt.—I’m in a hurry, too. I want to be at the Imperial by six.
Vlasák.—So you’d like to see my apartments? You can hire them next May. I will move to the other side of the river. (Goes to the door of the bedroom.)—Come! (He opens the door and looks within.) What, are you here, yet?
Servant (In the bedroom).—I’ll just scrape out these ashes and I’ll go right away.
Vlasák.—Well, you didn’t have to do it just this minute!
(Turns around to Fořt). Well, look in and see how you like it. (Entering bedroom.)
(Fořt follows Vlasák.)
Vlasák (Within the bedroom).—Here’s where I sleep. There is a separate entrance from the vestibule. (A pause.)
Fořt (Enters a little later from the vestibule).—What do you pay?
Vlasák (Entering after him).—Two hundred.
Fořt.—Well, that’s cheap enough. To be sure, here on the Jansky summit——
Vlasák.—But the quiet is a compensation and you can study well here.
Fořt (Naïvely).—It isn’t a matter of study only; but I’ll be secure here. (Laughs.) Well, doctor, you know what you’re about by having these apartments while you’re a single man.
Vlasák (Somewhat surprised).—Why? (Becomes calm again.) Ah so! You are looking for a quiet place not only for study.
Fořt (Laughing egotistically).—For study of women, doctor.
Vlasák (Laughs).—You, you!
Fořt (Ingenuously).—And you didn’t manage to get the good out of these excellent apartments?
Vlasák (Considering Fořt’s artlessness).—Ah, I say, Fořt! (A pause.) Do you want the apartments?
Fořt.—I should say so! A separate entrance to each room, all under one lock and key——
Vlasák.—The landlord lives up over me on the second floor. Day after tomorrow I pay the rent and so I’ll give warning.
Fořt.—I say, won’t you please rent the apartments for me right on the spot? I’ll make a deposit on the rooms after the first.
(Servant steps out of the bedroom and having extinguished the candle which she carries, places it on the table.)
Vlasák (Impatiently).—Hurry up, Mrs. Šebesta! Do you hear? (Looks at his watch.)
Servant.—In a quarter of an hour I’ll be back. (Goes towards vestibule.)
Vlasák (Calls to her).—See that you don’t stop anywhere on the way!
Fořt (In the meantime remains standing near the writing desk from which he takes a photograph at which he is now gazing).—Well, I declare, Miss Lindner!
Vlasák (Hastily).—Yes, yes! Fine photograph, isn’t it?
Fořt (Stupidly).—I also asked her for a photograph—but there wasn’t any chance!
Vlasák (Forcing a laugh).—Oh, everyone hasn’t that much luck!
Fořt (Laughing).—You, you!
Servant (In the vestibule).—He’s at home, yes. He just arrived. (Talking outside.) My gracious master, that gentleman is here.
Vlasák (Angrily).—Haven’t you gone yet? (With great impatience) Lord! (Startled.) Who’s here?
Dušek (Enters, wearing an elegant winter overcoat, snow-covered) Am I interrupting?
Vlasák (With forced agreeableness).—Oh, is it you? How do you do?
Fořt.—Ah, the Maestro Dušek? What do you want here?
Dušek (Disagreeably surprised at Fořt’s presence).—Ah, the doctor has a caller!
Fořt.—I’m going—I’m going! You have secrets with the doctor? A patron, eh?
Dušek (Laughs).—Of course!
Fořt.—Well, nine months ago. . . (Observes Dušek’s displeasure).—Well, I’m off—I’m off. Your servant doctor; don’t forget to tell the landlord. Good luck, Dušek, good luck to you! (Departs.)
(Vlasák accompanies him.)
(Dušek in the meantime divests himself of his overcoat, removes a white handkerchief from around his throat and arranges all together with his hat, on the divan.)
Vlasák (Returns).—You must pardon me, Mr. Dušek, for hastening so. . . I am to be in Smichov by six.
Dušek.—Oh, I’ve come at the wrong time, then? Pardon me, if I had known . . . But I would so much like to talk with you!
Vlasák (Looks at his watch with apparent uneasiness).—It is just forty minutes after five——
Dušek.—But, if I am detaining you——
(Vlasák in his excitement does not catch his words.)
Dušek.—It isn’t anything pressing, at least, for you, sir—
Vlasák (Suddenly).—Oh, I pray—that’s all right! I have to wait for the servant, anyway.
Dušek.—But I wouldn’t like to——
Vlasák (Again looks at his watch and becomes absorbed in thought. Suddenly after having glanced involuntarily towards the door of the bedroom).—Just stay, Mr. Dušek. (Seats himself at the writing desk and motions to him to take a nearby seat.) Have a seat.
Dušek (Seats himself. His manner is hesitating).—Now, I don’t know how to begin. We were, yesterday evening, my dear doctor, at Mrs. Heller’s——
Vlasák (Rises).—Wait, didn’t some one ring?
Dušek.—No, I didn’t hear anything.
Vlasák (Listening).—I must have imagined it. (Seats himself again). Go on!
Dušek (Begins anew).—For that matter, doctor, I don’t believe I need to—(Suddenly) What’s the use of any beating about the bush? I’ll tell you openly why I’ve come to you.
(Vlasák impatiently twisting in his chair.)
Dušek.—Undoubtedly you know that a great change has come into my life. Ever since I’ve known Miss Lindner——
Vlasák (Laughs nervously).—Ah, that’s the reason!
Dušek (More joyfully).—Oh, you already know? Doctor, I’ve wronged you. (Abruptly) That is, I beg your pardon,—wronged!— I express myself stupidly. But it was said, you know, that you were—courting—Miss Lindner.
Vlasák (With twitching lips).—To be sure—it would be strange indeed if gossips wouldn’t dish up some such report! (Hesitates.)
Dušek.—And so I was involuntarily prejudiced against you.—Forgive me! But, that isn’t the question. Last evening I experienced two great joys; the first when I heard of your engagement to Miss Daneš——
Vlasák (Hastily).—Oh, no, no—we are not engaged yet!
Dušek.—Then, that you had been paying court only to her. But that is really only the preface to the reason for my coming here. Yesterday, I finally took courage—
Vlasák (Again looks at his watch expectantly and rises.)—Pardon me, Mr. Dušek! I am awaiting the servant, I sent her for some coal. . . . (Walks across room.) Confound that woman!
Dušek (Arises).—I’ve come inopportunely, I see.
Vlasák (Lightly presses his arms as if to make him seat himself.)—Please go on talking! And don’t take my restlessness in bad part; I ought to be gone and that old woman——
Dušek (With a smile).—The state of single blessedness is beginning to torture you, too, is it?
Vlasák.—I should say so! (Laughs impatiently.) If you have the bachelor’s joys I have, just hurry up and marry.
Dušek (Embarrassed).—That’s easy to say! (Sighs.) Ah, good Heavens! (A pause.) Doctor, I must finish telling you.
Vlasák (Seats himself).—Please go on.
Dušek (Laughs).—We are a funny lot, aren’t we, when we’re in love?
Vlasák (With growing wonder).—Allow me, Mr. Dušek, tell me exactly what I have to do with that matter——
Dušek.—You are a family friend in the home of Mrs. Heller. Also of the Lindners’. You are a man of their social circle who understands and can do a lot more than, for instance, I, such—(Considering)—well—such a parvenu!
Vlasák (Astonished).—Do you want to pay court to Miss Lindner?
Dušek (Startled by the words).—You utter the words more quickly, doctor, than I dare to think them.
Vlasák (Inquisitively).—And what about Miss Lindner?
Dušek (Blissfully).—Oh, as far as she’s concerned! But her family, her relatives——
Vlasák (Surprised).—Ah, so it’s only the relatives you now fear! (Blurts out.) So that’s it, is it? (Abruptly.) And l am, then, to be a diplomat?
Dušek.—Not at all, doctor, but, in the meantime, just my friend. I would wish very much to regard you thus.
(Vlasák bows silently.)
Dušek.—I’ve been thinking about it very seriously today, in fact, all night long. (Frankly) Why, I never closed my eyes for very joy! And it occurred to me—(A bell sounds in the vestibule.)
Vlasák (Rises quickly. Greatly disquieted).—Excuse me, Mr. Dušek. . . .
Dušek (Does not rise).—Please go ahead! I’ll wait.
Vlasák (With growing restlessness).—Forgive me, Mr. Dušek, but it’s high time I was going.
Dušek.—Good, we’ll go together and I’ll tell you on the way. (Rising.)
Vlasák (In impatient embarrassment).—That is—no . . . I’ll have to stay here after all. (The bell rings again, this time more loudly.) Please, allow me Dušek (Who has, in the meantime, put on his coat, now grasps his hat).—I won’t detain you any longer. (Offers his hand to Vlasák and is ready to go.)
Vlasák (Steps in front of him).—Allow me—I’ll open the door.
Dušek.—I’ll call on you tomorrow, may I? (Steps towards door.)
Vlasák (In great excitement).—But, I beg, that you wait a moment! (Points to chair.) Please wait an instant till I see who it is.
(The bell rings again.) Excuse me! (Departs and closes behind him the door that leads to the vestibule.)
(Dušek stands surprised in the middle of the room, not understanding Vlasák’s excitement. Steps to the door of the vestibule then draws back and goes to the writing desk, shaking his head. He suddenly notices Helen’s photograph on the table, seizes it in amazement, and absorbed in thought, stands gazing at it. Then he lays it aside and walks across the room.)
Vlasák (Enters showing excitement).—It was the servant, at last! (Quickly). So, Mr. Dušek, pardon me, and tomorrow—we’ll meet again! Will you be in your studio in the morning?
(Dušek nods assent stiffly.)
Vlasák.—I’ll call on you, then, to save you the trouble of coming here. (Quickly.) Oh, that’s all right, all right! (Takes the lamp and accompanies him to vestibule.) At your service, Dušek, and don’t be angry at me! (They depart. It is wholly dark in the room. In a little while Vlasák returns and sets the lamp on the writing desk. The stage becomes a little lighter at the left side from the rays of the lamp. Vlasák, after setting down the lamp, goes to the door of the bedroom and opening it, speaks to someone within, with a sigh of deep relief.) Thank heaven, I’ve gotten him out of the way!
Helen (In a simple dress—without her cloak which she has cast off in the bedroom, enters, drawing deep breaths—loosening, meanwhile, a black silk shawl on her head. Harshly.)—What did he want here? What if I had met him on the stairs?
Vlasák (Likewise excited).—That’s why I had to detain him here until you came. (Notices Helen. Tenderly) Helen, darling, you’re all a-tremble!
Helen (Sighs).—There isn’t any wonder! The very journey—from the bridge here—and the fright—when I knew you were not at home alone! (She draws the shawl from her head to her shoulders.)
Vlasák.—Come, sit down.—You are shaking! (Leads her to the divan where the light is very dim.) Shall I put the lamp here?
Helen (Seating herself).—No, thank you, no, the light bothers my eyes. (A pause.) Come, Viki, sit by me! (Laughs.) So, you’re a diplomat! I came near finding Dušek here instead of you. (She ruffles his hair.)
Vlasák.—I couldn’t help it, really. He came—I couldn’t deny myself to him . . . What a terrible man! (Sighs and then laughs.) Do you know Helen, love, what he wanted? That I should speak a good word for him—to your father!
Helen (Softly).—The fool!
Vlasák.—No one but a man in love could become such an idiot! (Abruptly.) Apropos, Helen, what did you promise Dušek yesterday?
Vlasák.—From his talk, I gathered that he is wholly convinced of your love. Did you say something to him?
Helen (Bursts out in wicked laughter).—Didn’t he say, also, that on my bended knees, I implored him to marry me? What does that man think?
Vlasák.—Haven’t I told you repeatedly to get rid of him at one stroke? He is becoming more and more inconvenient. Tell him once for all—“I’ll take you!” or “I won’t have you!” “Your wooing is agreeable,” or not—in short, one way or other—so that the affair would come to an end!
Helen (Absorbed in thought).—Ah, it will all end, anyway. . . (Tosses her head.) Victor, Dušek has never been an obstacle to you (A pause.)
Vlasák (Embraces her and slowly lifts her from the divan).—Helen, darling——
Helen (Arising independently and crossing the room).—Sweetheart, I want to talk seriously with you today. (Smiles.) Yes, seriously! (Seats herself at the writing desk and indicates a nearby chair. With a smile adds.) Please sit. Make yourself at home!
Vlasák (With one arm about her waist, reaches with other for lamp).—Look, Helen, my love——
Helen (Lightly slips out of his embrace).—Pst! (Seats herself again.) Who knows when we shall again meet this way? Perhaps, never again!
Helen.—Victor, let’s speak frankly! We have absolutely nothing to reproach each other with; for we made no promises to each other. You were not drawn to me through pure love—
(Vlasák moves and tries to speak.)
Helen (Undisturbedly).—I say that you didn’t draw me to yourself through love, through passion. (She laughs bitterly.) And I surrendered not otherwise! And I wanted you just as I want a new maid or a trip to Misdroy in the summer time. Yes!—And you—hush, Viki, hush! you desired me in the same wanton fashion! Was it your first affair?
(Vlasák is silent.)
Helen (Tosses her head).—And it wasn’t your last, either! Even though you’ll marry now. No, don’t play a part, Victor! If you didn’t believe, what you’d like so well to deny now, I wouldn’t be in your apartments now when Prague is talking about your engagement to Clara Daneš. And I tell you myself, “Marry,” because I know that I’ll not be your wife and may not be. And because I know that I’ll have you even afterwards—or as long as I don’t weary you or—you me!
Vlasák.—Helen, love of mine, you are unkind!
Helen (Carelessly).—Don’t pretend! I didn’t come to enact a farce, with tear-dimmed eyes and a category of your sins. And I also know it’s neither the first nor the last time I’ll come. If, however, I’d say to you now, “I’ll marry Dušek—” (She tosses her head.) Or for that matter—not particularly Dušek, any other man—even that stupid Fořt. If I said that, do you know what you must do Victor? You must open the door, escort me forth—and never breathe a word! Just as I have said to you, “Go, marry Clara, if you wish!” We have belonged to each other only for a while and we have paid for each other with our passion, as others pay with money!
(Vlasák buries his head in his hands.)
Helen.—Our particular system of society is a market place with only a few mediums of barter. And many fine ladies are rich enough to pay for their lovers in cash. (Laughs harshly.) But our accounts are also settled aren’t they, Victor? (Rising.) And what was before or what will be later, we don’t have to know!
(Victor shows disturbance.)
Helen (Lays her hand on Vlasák’s shoulder).—Victor, I don’t believe a soul in our world—and those of them who are not fools, don’t believe us either. But they wouldn’t forgive us if they knew. Well then, not for their sakes but for our own, we’ll both lie about this. Society would laugh a guffaw at you if you entered matrimony pure as you men demand women to be—and society will loudly defame you if you oppose its pharisaism. I am too independent not to demand the same right for myself. Our society, my friend, permits only a man to live his youth unburdened by thoughts of his future wife. But it gives this permission only silently. I demand this same right for myself, although I don’t wish to be enslaved by the public opinion of those hypocrites. That is why I have been yours to control—in your arms—(In bitter mood) and that’s why in society I’m always such—a desirable match.
Helen (Quickly).—Well, I’m not a rich match—as yet,—but at least I’m a woman who hasn’t compromised herself.
Vlasák (Seizes her hand).—Helen, you are far better than I! You are deeper, more sincere!
Helen.—At any rate, I have some principles, you mean? In my sinfulness, there is, at least, a system! (She laughs bitterly.)
Vlasák.—And why, Helen—(A long pause.) Why, Helen dear, do you tell me those things just at this time? In these few moments, of which we are defrauding ourselves by grave and severe discussions? (Rising.) Helen, don’t torture me! (Passionately.) Before we know it, you will have to leave! (Seizes her head and draws her to himself.)
Helen.—Do you know what I said at the beginning? The world isn’t as truthful as we are at this moment. Before the time comes when love or something else casts you into the arms of another woman, we must tell each other all,—Victor,—all! (She stands erect and draws a deep breath.) And I didn’t want you not to know why I do not regret that love. (With a fascinating smile.) And now, since you know. . . .
Vlasák (Madly embracing her).—Helen!
Helen (Withdraws from his embrace after a little while).— There’s something else, Victor! (Seizes his hand.) I thank you for never compromising me by even a word or look, during the whole time. (Hastily.) No, no, don’t be modest! It’s beyond most men. Our future life is altogether too long and our taste too accustomed to the pleasures of our present surroundings to lightly throw away our reputations even be they undeservedly good. It is our good fortune, Victor! If we had not played our comedy so well, do you know what would have happened?
Vlasák (Softly).—Yes, I know, Helen!
Helen.—You would have had to be more than my lover. Our love would not end here (pointing towards the sleeping room.) but at the altar! (With a bewitching gesture of warning.) Remember that, Victor!
(Vlasák silently embraces her.)
Helen (Bursts out laughing suddenly).—I’ve given you a fine sermon, haven’t I? (Taking his chin into her hand.) Viki, Viki, do you recognize me? I tell you, I also at times—(Becoming grave) think seriously! (Puts her hand on her forehead.) Oh, Lord, Lord!
Vlasák (Laughing).—I never in my life would have thought that I’d hear so much truth. And last of all from my Helen! And, at that, just in this place!
Helen (In her ordinary tone).—Am I not good for coming? If only you knew, Victor, what a time I had getting here today! I drove with Aunt to the concert at the Rudolfinum, I purposely accompanied her right to the concert—and then came here over the chain bridge.
Vlasák (Frightened).—You came on foot, Helen? How can you be so imprudent?
Helen.—How was I to get a carriage near the Rudolfinum and avoid being observed? I couldn’t, of course, take Aunt’s carriage over here. And the streets of Small Side are usually so desolate. I was so thickly veiled that even an acquaintance wouldn’t recognize me.
Vlasák.—You think so?
Helen.—And for that matter, no acquaintances of mine pass this way. On the chain bridge I met that artist—you know, that——
Vlasák (Quickly).—Surely not Dušek?
Helen.—Oh, no! That other one—Hlaváček.
Vlasák (With great anxiety).—Did he recognize you?
Helen.—To be sure not! He would surely have greeted me. But he didn’t give a sign.
Vlasák.—Don’t do such things, Helen!
Helen.—Well, it’s the first time it ever happened.
Vlasák (Shakes his finger threateningly).—And the last!
Helen.—Why, did I do it so clumsily? (Draws her watch from the bosom of her dress and looks at it.) Viki, it is almost half past six! At eight the concert will be over—and if Aunt should stop at home and I were not there yet——
Vlasák.—What did you tell her?
Helen.—I told her that I’d go home in her carriage——
Vlasák.—But at home?
(A bell sounds in the vestibule.)
Vlasák (Frightened).—Who is that?
Helen (In a low voice).—Don’t open.
Vlasák (Also in a low voice).—Who can it be? It surely wouldn’t occur to anyone that I’m at home!
Helen.—We won’t make a sound.
Vlasák.—Pst! Don’t talk! (They seat themselves at the table.)
Helen (Whispering).—Does anyone come here in the evenings?
Vlasák (Whispering).—Never. I am never at home in the evenings.
Helen.—Who can it be, then?
(A renewed ringing.
Vlasák (Shaking his finger).—Let them ring!
Helen (Much alarmed, whispering).—He must have seen that light in the window.
Vlasák (Looks towards the window).—The curtain is drawn.
Helen—But perhaps, even through the curtain——
Vlasák.—Pst! (A violent, prolonged ringing.)
Helen.—He surely noticed the light.
Vlasák (Suddenly).—The servant! (Whispers.) She was to come back to build a fire, she went for coal —and the key is in the door. (The bell is rung more vehemently.)
Helen.—Go and open the door for her.
Vlasák.—And what if it isn’t she?
Helen (Goes towards the bedroom').—I will hide in the bedroom.
Vlasák.—That’s where she’s going to build a fire. Stay here. (A renewed, wild ringing.)
Helen (Excited).—Hurry! Whoever it is knows you’re at home—open!
Vlasák (Decisively).—Stay here. And if I don’t say in a loud voice. “So you’ve returned, Mrs. Sebesta?” go at once into the bedroom.
Helen.—All right! Quickly!
Vlasák (Takes the lamp and departs, indicating meanwhile to Helen to be absolutely quiet.)
(Helen nods assent and steps close to the book-case near the door of the bedroom.)
Vlasák (Enters the vestibule. The stage is in complete darkness. Vlasák outside is heard opening the door and then cries out in amazement).—Ah! (In a loud voice.) Is that you, Mr. Dušek?
Vlasák (Outside).—I am about to go, also——
(Helen steps toward the bedroom.)
Dušek (Enters the room talking towards rear).—I just had to return, doctor.
(Helen disappears into the bedroom.)
Vlasák (Enters with the lamp in his hand, behind Dušek.)—Is it so urgent? (Looking about.) Sit down here, please! (Indicates a chair near the table on which he sets lamp.)
Dušek (Shakes the snow from his overcoat with a violent motion, throws off his hat and speaks rapidly without seating himself).—Dr. Vlasák, why didn’t you go away with me at once!
Vlasák (Grasping that Dušek knows about Helen, boldly retorts).—But, by what right——
Dušek (Explosively).—By what right? (Pauses, listening.) I’ll very soon tell you that. (Abruptly) Pardon me! (Leaps quickly towards entrance to vestibule and having opened the door stands on the threshold partly turned towards the room and partly towards the vestibule.)
Vlasák (Comprehending his intention, furiously).—Have you gone mad, man? (Seizing him by the hand he draws him away from the door.) What do you want, speak!
Dušek (Again runs to the door).—I’ll tell you at once, but from here!
Vlasák (Raging).—Insolent fellow! (Seizes him again and drags him into the room.) Don’t you yet see what you are doing in my apartments?
Dušek (Frees himself from Vlasák’s hold).—I’ll answer for it but not to you. (Suddenly, hearing a rustle in the vestibule.) Aha! (Jumps to the door of the vestibule flings it wide open and screams into the darkness.) Who is here? (A pause.) No one? Oho! (Runs into vestibule.)
Vlasák (Behind him).—I’ll kill you, you blackguard!
Dušek (In the vestibule).—Shut up! (Throws Vlasák bodily into the room. In a moment he bursts in himself dragging by the hand the resisting figure of Helen enveloped in a cloak with a shawl on her head. In the light he looks into her face.) Miss He— (Groans. In a broken voice.) Really? (Lets go of Helen’s hand and sinking into a chair, drops his head into his hands.)
(Helen erect and pale at the door.)
Vlasák (Glances at Helen then throws himself upon Dušek.)—Villain!—(Wants to throw him.)
Helen (Holding him back).—Hush, doctor! (Seeking to control herself.) Ask this gentleman to leave at once! (Draws the shawl from her head and loosens the cape.)
Dušek (Gazing at her, with a smile of suffering).—You are right, Miss Lindner—I can go now! I have convinced myself of that which even a moment ago seemed to me the most shameful lie. (Rising.) And if you wish, I will also even forgive. (Starts to go.)
Helen (Abruptly, in a commanding tone).—Wait! I don’t want you to go away with the notion that I have robbed you of something. You are probably vain enough for that! If either one of us is to forgive anything, (Haughtily) it is I! Your vanity and also your crudeness—(Laughs disdainfully) and likewise your baseness in spying on me within a few hours after the moment when you pleaded for my love! (Commandingly pointing to the door.) And now go!
Dušek (Utterly undone).—Miss—Lind—ner——(Clasps his hands.) At least, don’t believe that I spied on you!
Helen (With contempt).—Go, hypocrite!
Vlasák (Scornfully).—Mr. Dušek, there is the door!
Dušek (Made furious by his words).—You—keep still! (Tossing his head.) But no—even you shall know all! A while ago when here, here—(Points towards writing desk) I opened my whole heart to you, you still had the right to cry me down. You might have called me a madman or a fool—as you wished!—if there had been one drop of honesty in your make-up. You could have spat in my face when I avowed my love for Miss Lindner. And you should have struck me in the face as a liar when I said that I believed Miss Lindner had some regard for me!
(Helen proudly measures Dušek.)
Dušek (Continuing).—But you, you —you fairly gave me your blessing when I confessed to you. (Reaches for Helen’s photograph on the writing desk.) This photograph as well as your impatience might have aroused my suspicion—but I, fool, believed, believed,—even at leaving, I thanked you! In the very moment, Miss Lindner—(Turning to Helen) when you were already in the next room! And I went down the stairs from here—happy, rejoiced——
Vlasák (Bursts out).—Don’t lie, you sneak!
Dušek (Undisturbed).—And how absolutely I believed in you, Miss Lindner! When on the corner here, I met a man who saw you entering here——
Helen (Haughtily).—You ought to be ashamed to add lies!
Dušek (Bursting out).—Do you know who it was? A man in return for whose friendship I have given only kicks!
Dušek (Laughing wildly).—Yes, Hlaváček! And he had to drive me in here, yes, fairly drag me by force clear up to the door, although everything convicted you! Even the moment when I was departing, the light in the windows, and the eternity during which I rang the bell so furiously! (Clasps his hands.) God! God! God!
Vlasák (Goes to the door and commandingly indicates it).—Mr. Dušek—!
Helen (More calmly).—Go, Mr. Dušek! (Dryly.) But know this before you leave—you haven’t the right to defame me. And if you think I have broken your heart—well, you have done the same before this to other women. And you had no right to do it! As far as morality goes, I stand as well as you. (Turns away.) Good-bye!
Dušek (Desperately).—Miss Helen! (Approaches her.)
Helen (Evading him).—Go, please!
Vlasák (At the door).—Don’t you hear?
(Dušek stands erect, shivers and then, brokenly, departs into the vestibule. Outside the door closes after him. A long pause.)
Helen (Shivers and sinks in a heap on the divan pressing her head into her hands).—Oh! Oh! Oh!
Vlasák (Stands a while undecidedly in the middle of the room. Suddenly he advances towards Helen).—Helen, forgive me!
Helen (Rising).—Is it going to begin all over again? (Points to the door.) I hope, that now we needn’t act the farce any longer.
Vlasák (Frightened).—For God’s sake, Helen——
Helen (With icy calmness).—Did you hear? And you know what I told you a moment ago?
((Vlasák surprisedly shakes his head.)
Helen (Sorrowfully).—Just recall! Without your or my fault everything has suddenly changed. (Takes his head between her hands and looks into his eyes.) Poor fellow! Poor fellow!
Vlasák (Not comprehending).—No, Helen,—you are the one needing pity! I am to blame and you are the one sacrificed!
Helen (Wondering).—Only I? And not you? (Violently seizes his hand.)—What will you do now, Victor?
Vlasák (Crushed).—I don’t know—
Helen (Surprised).—You don’t know? Now, at this moment, you don’t know? At this moment when perhaps even the street-arabs are running about Prague saying——
Helen.—Yes, when in a little while the scandal will be the topic of discussion in every coffee-house and restaurant in the city? And you don’t know?
Vlasák (In hollow tones).—I know, Helen.
Helen (Icily).—Have you asked for Clara’s hand?
(Vlasák shakes his head.)
Helen.—Are you otherwise bound to her?
(Vlasák remains silent.)
Helen (Harshly).—Aren’t you?
(Vlasák again shakes his head.)
Helen (Slowly but firmly).—And when do you wish to speak to my father?
Vlasák (Frightened at the word but quickly recovers).—When you wish.
Helen.—At once, tomorrow! (A pause.) Tomorrow, you understand? (Looks at him.) Do you want to?
Helen (Gives him her hand).—Thank you, Victor! (Sinks on the divan.) Poor boy! (Glancing at Vlasák, she buries her face in her hands.)
The artists’ atelier of the first act. Hlaváček and Šimr are now located here. Many things are changed and on the whole the studio is simpler in its appointments. The divan is still in the corner but minus the canopy. The screen near the side door is also missing. In the front near the left wall is a shelf with various small articles. Under it there hangs a large decorative plate. The pictures on the two easels are turned at right angles from the audience. In the center of the studio is a small table on which is a jardiniere with an azalea plant containing white blossoms. Near the window on a stand is a palm. Through the window the ruddy glow of the setting sun shines, coloring the white azalea blossoms a deep pink. Later the glow grows dimmer gradually until towards the close of the act, there is only a soft twilight. The freshness of a May evening is apparent.
Hlaváček (Seated at a smaller easel on which he is painting the azaleas placed not far away. While he works he whistles a merry Slovák tune. Having finished whistling a measure, he rises and views his sketch from a distance. Then he sits down again and paints. He hums the tune slowly again and gradually breaks into singing).—
Oh, that’s what you have for it all, Katrine
Oh, that’s what you have, Kathie—
How oft I came to see you, love,
Beneath your little window!
(He whistles again.)
Dušek (Enters meantime, slowly. The change in him is apparent. His hair and beard are unshaved and unkempt; his clothes of the latest cut to be sure, but uncared for. His cravat, though modish, twisted and carelessly tied. On his head a fashionable tall silk hat but it is unpressed and ruffled. His entire behavior is now timid, uncertain and almost frightened. He enters without removing his hat).—At your service, Ládo!
Hlaváček (Sees Dušek, stops whistling, throws away his palette and turns on his stool).—Dušek! Well, I’m glad to see you again! (Extends his hand.) Most happy, old pal! (Gazes at him.) Man, what are you doing ? Do you know that I haven’t seen you since last winter?
Dušek (Smiles bitterly).—Yes, I know it. I haven’t seen you, either. (Reproachfully) Don’t you know where I live?
Hlaváček.—Well, but are you ever at home? I always make a useless trip up to your attic, when I want to see you.
Dušek.—As if my studio weren’t just around the corner!
Hlaváček.—And it’s further from your place here than from mine to yours, eh?
Dušek.—Oh, well!—Anyway, it’s all—(Waves his hand) why should I interrupt? (A pause.)
Hlaváček (After a while).—Are you painting?
Dušek (Crossly).—Painting—the devil! I’ve got a lot of inspiration to paint!
Hlavaáček.—Well, then, what are you doing?
Dušek (Ill-humoredly).—Nothing! (A pause) Have you a cigarette?
Hlaváček (Inclines his head toward the little table).—No, I haven’t, but there’s the tobacco, help yourself—
Dušek (Goes to the table and rolls a cigarette. Then he stands behind Hlaváček).—For whom are you making this?
Hlaváček (Bends backward and gazes at his sketch).—Oh, this is only to fill in as a rest. I bought the azalea the other day and thought I’d try out some paints on them before they stop blooming. (Looks intently at the azaleas.) What a tone to them, isn’t there? They look rose-colored when the sun shines on them.
Dušek.—Have you lots of work?
Hlaváček.—You know how it goes, something to do all the time. Weren’t you at the Rudolfinum gallery?
(Dušek shakes his head.)
Hlaváček.—I have that last year’s canvas on exhibition there, you remember it? The one on account of which you invoked maledictions on my head because I wasn’t in a hurry about painting at it, “The Will o’ the Wisp.” Well, you see, brother, it’s done.
Dušek (Throws away the unfinished cigarette. Bitterly).—Well, you see! (A pause.) Is Šimr with you now?
Dušek.—And what is he doing?
Hlaváček.—Gadding around. But he has luck, the rascal. He sold his picture.
Dušek (Timidly).—A big one?
Hlaváček (Laughing).—Oh, a larger family size! (Takes a good look at Dušek.)—Well, Milo, how about it?
Hlaváček.—How is your “Psyche” getting along?
Dušek (Fretfully).—Don’t aggravate me! (Goes to the window and looks out.) Oh, Lord, Lord! (Turns around.) Do you know, Ládo, that it’s a half year since I’ve been in this studio? (Sorrowfully) And I really shouldn’t have come crawling up now!
Hlaváček.—Haven’t you gotten any wisdom, yet, Kamilo?
Dušek (Laughs mournfully).—Nowhere to put it, old pal! Can’t fill up with water a dish that’s full of holes.
Hlaváček (With warm open-heartedness).—Now what! You’re surely not going to make yourself miserable for ever!
Dušek (Sadly).—Ládo! Ládo! It’s easy for you to talk!
Hlaváček.—If you weren’t so hot-headed and would once in a while come among us, you wouldn’t have to think so much of things you can’t change
Dušek.—Oh, no, no, no—I don’t fit among you fellows any more. I’d just needlessly poison you all.
Hlaváček.—Such an idea! You must force yourself, then.
Dušek.—To work? Do you think I don’t try? Work, if you can, when you feel as I’ve felt for three solid months.
Hlaváček.—First of all, come back among us to your own world, don’t think, and do a few merry stunts with the boys—in a few days you’ll be in first rate condition.
Dušek (Impatiently).—Oh, I say—please (A pause. Dušek seats himself on the divan. After a while.) Ládo, tell me one thing.
Dušek.—Did you tell that to anyone that time?
Hlaváček (Not comprehending).—What?
Dušek (With impatience).—You know, that evening—at Dr. Vlasák’s——
Hlaváček (Recalling).—Oh, that? (Earnestly.)—Why, what do you think? We promised each other that we’d both keep still about it. Why, did someone—?
Dušek.—Doubtless I’m mistaken. But, they say, something was said not long ago at the coffee-house.
Hlaváček.—Who knows what you’ve heard!
Dušek.—And you know that—(In a lower voice) Miss ndner is married?
Hlaváček (Surprised).—You don’t say? After all?
Dušek (Bitterly).—She’s married to Vlasák, didn’t you hear about it? Yesterday, at the Dominican church, very quietly— at six o’clock in the morning.—(Maliciously) Maybe they thought we published it that time throughout Prague ! (A pause.)
Hlaváček.—Good enough for ’em—for both of them! (Notices Dušek.) I say, old man, you’re not torturing yourself because they got married?
Dušek (Haughtily).—You fool!
Hlaváček.—What’s gnawing at you, then?
Dušek.—Not for her, by any means—believe me, not for her! And after the worst desperation was over that time, I almost believed you—that it had all turned out for the best! But now! Look at me! (Rises.) Well?
Dušek.—Don’t you see? (A pause.) Did you know that they returned my picture from the Rudolfinum?
Hlaváček (Surprised).—Wha-a-t? (After a while.) What did you send?
Dušek.—I finished that “Psyche.” That is—I finished at it! They fairly threw it back at my feet. (Bitterly.) My “Psyche” you know. For two months I forced myself to paint at it to get a little calm out of my work. I began again and again, virtually fought with myself about the thought and the form, I wrung my brain and soul—and—nothing, nothing, nothing! (Explosively.) Bah! (A pause.) I’m not surprised at them for not wanting it. It was a terrible daub, worse than a chromo. (Sadly.) Ládo, you know I didn’t use to be just an ordinary dauber, did I?
Hlaváček (With genuine feeling).—And you’re not, you little idiot! What if you have made a mess of one thing? That’s nothing! You slid out of the track last year, a little, and then you had a sudden awakening—well,—what of it? Buy yourself some canvas and paints, smear up something, come again among your old comrades—and you’ll see—it will once more be a “go!”
Dušek (Bitterly).—As if I had even the price of the paints. (Stops suddenly, after a while.) But what made me come to you at all? That time in my anger I gave up the place—you recall that time? I thought by spring I’d get something together and disappear to Munich——
Hlaváček.—And today you have to move, is that it? It’s the first?
Dušek.—Only that I have no place to move to. Tomorrow a new renter moves into my rooms——
Dušek.—No, some German. A sculptor.
Hlaváček.—And you’re not going to take the trip to Munich?
Dušek (Bitterly).—What on? On the strength of the debts I have now?
Hlaváček.—Well, then stay here with us until you find something again. We’ll find a place for you. You can sleep here. (Points to the divan.) It isn’t very cold in May.
Dušek.—Oh, no, no! (Considering). Well, we’ll see if I won’t be in the way. (Looks around.) But I wanted to say this! I have all sorts of trash and old things up there—don’t you want them?
Hlaváček (Embarrassed).—My boy, I haven’t any of these just now—(Makes gesture indicating money.)
Dušek.—Pshaw—money! You don’t suppose I want to sell the stuff to you?
Hlaváček.—Don’t you need any?
Dušek (Laughs bitterly).—Oh, I need it all right! But five florins won't help me any. I made a lot of debts early in the winter when I was still with those—(Hesitates) Well, you know what I was doing! And now I’ve been making more debts. I’ve pawned everything I owned.
Dušek (Takes out his pocket book and draws forth a pawn ticket).—Look! This was the last thing—my dead father’s watch. They loaned me six gold florins on it. (Out of the purse falls a ring.)
Hlaváček (Stoops).—You dropped something didn’t you?
(Searching on the floor.) Aha, here it is! (Picks up the ring.)
Dušek (Seizing it).—Show it to me! (Gazes at it and then says sorrowfully.) Ládo, don’t you know this ring? Don’t you? It is the one that Staza gave back to me that time. (Points towards center of studio) Right here, don’t you remember? (In bitter tones) It will soon be a year ago. Oh, oh, oh!
Hlaváček (Involuntarily).—Poor Staza!
Dušek (Abruptly).—Why—poor Staza? She’s better off than I am. (A pause.) She got married in Vienna, did you hear about it?
Dušek (Dryly).—Of course. You know how it goes—a woman! (Becomes silent, then softly.) And yet it didn’t have to be! (Gazes at the ring and then thrusts it into his purse.) So it goes! (With a melancholy smile.) Well, they’re both married— and the second one punished me for that first one!
Hlaváček (Shaking off the mood induced by Dušek).—Thunderation, Dušek, cut out this sentiment business and get down to work! The devil took two girls and one picture that they turned back to you! If I were to torture myself this way on account of every woman——
Dušek.—It isn’t the women, Ládo! I was caught in the abyss between two worlds. Each sprang back and I—descended. Don’t you suppose that when the crash came—you know that time in the winter—that I didn’t do my level best to get back to the world that had formerly disgusted me? I didn’t go to the studio for a week, I hung around the taverns, I cut away the new roots joining me to the new life just as energetically as I had torn up those which bound me to the old. And when, after a week, I came back to my studio to the cold and the dust and the disorder, when I again seized my palette and wanted to begin—(Bursts out)—Ugh! (Weariedly) Well, you heard how it turned out with my “Psyche.”
Hlaváček.—You began where you always falsely saw the peculiar life of the artist. Going to drinking taverns wasn’t the road, my boy, that led back to us.
Dušek (Provoked).—Oh, I know! (Crosses the studio gazing at the wall where a revolver hangs under the shelf.) But the longer it lasts the more I’ll get tangled up. (Looks around at Hlaváček to see if he is observed.) I’m an object fit only for under the earth anyway. (Reaches for the revolver.) Look! This would fix things most easily!
Hlaváček (Noticing that Dušek has taken down the revolver, springs forward quickly).—Silly madman! (Jerks the revolver out of his hand and stepping up to the table, tosses it into a drawer.) You didn’t give it to me last year to be haunted by it now! (Forces himself to be jocular.) No, my boy, this isn’t for shooting purposes. Unless I should happen to shoot it off myself before I went to the pawnshop. (A pause.) Sit down and let’s talk.
Dušek (Nervously).—Are you going to stay at home? I’d go with you if you’d want——
Hlaváček.—Wait! We’re celebrating May Day today, you know—in the fashion on Střelák! The boys will come and Šimr has gone to bring in Réza and Bozena.
Dušek (Quickly).—No, no, no. I’m afraid of people and especially of the boys. (Resignedly.) I ran away from our own world—and they’ve kicked me out of the other one! (Tosses his head.) Oh, well, I’ll manage somehow—(Hesitates and looks around.) Say, Ládo, you have some books haven’t you?
Hlaváček (With quick willingness).—You want to read something? With great pleasure! I’ve thrown all the books into the trunk, I’d have to go hunt them——
Dušek.—Have you—Daudet’s “Sappho?”
Hlaváček.—Why, you’ve read that already.
Dušek.—What of it, I want to read it again. Lend it to me, please.
Dušek (Quickly).—I’d rather have it at once.
Hlaváček.—Well, come on then, we’ll find it. (Goes into the bedroom.)
Dušek (Goes after him but pauses on the threshold).—But don’t be angry.
Hlaváček (Behind the scenes).—Don’t mention it!
Dušek (Glances into the bedroom, then quickly walks away from the door, steps to the table and having pulled out the drawer takes the revolver, quickly thrusts it into his lower pocket and with a bound is back at the threshold of the bedroom. Excitedly he asks).—Have you found it?
Hlaváček (Behind the scenes).—Wait, wait—aha, here it is! (The trunk-lid is heard to fall behind the scenes.)
Dušek.—Good, thank you!
Hlaváček (Enters wiping the dust from the book on his trouser leg).—Here is “Sappho”—and come and get something else when you’re through reading it. At least bury yourself in books if you don’t yet feel like painting.
Dušek (Takes the book. His voice suddenly becomes softened and gentle).—And there’s something else, Ládo, don’t be angry with me—I often did you injustice, didn’t I? You know, last summer——
Hlaváček (Pressing Dušek’s hand).—Eh, don’t even speak of it! Am I made of butter?
Dušek.—But I must say it. Well, then—thank you!
Dušek.—Oh, well, for—all sorts of things. (Stands at the window.) Look the sun has gone down. Prague is certainly beautiful! (Breathes deeply and places his hand on his forehead.) Oh, Lord, Lord! How many times I’ve gazed from here on lovely Prague, on the river and on Castle Hradčany! (A pause.) That isn’t the truth even, any more! (Sighs deeply. Suddenly he trembles and presses his handkerchief to his eyes. He sobs convulsively.)
Hlaváček (Amazedly).—Why, why—Milo!
Dušek (Recovering).—Eh! (Waves his hand, quickly wipes his eyes and seeking to control himself, speaks.) You see—now—how—I feel——
Hlaváček (Hearing a sound in the front hall).—Aha, now someone is coming! Will you stay with us?
Dušek.—Please don’t detain me. I feel horribly depressed here. Wherever I look, there are reminders—(Šimr enters the door, supporting on either arm Réza and Bozena.)
Šimr (Catching sight of Dušek).—Ah! What male-bird have we! Dušek! My Dušek! Look, girls——
Dušek (Forcing himself to be cordial).—Good luck to you, Šimr! (Offers his hand.) You hardly know me any more, do you?
Šimr (Frankly).—Ah, my good fellow, I didn’t get so stuck up! (Stopping short.) There, little one, don’t get wrathy. You know my tongue gets away with me sometimes.
Réza.—We never get to see you any more, Mr. Dušek.
Dušek (Waving his hand).—Pshaw! Why should——
Hlaváček.—Say, Šimr, Dušek may move in with us for awhile.
Šimr.—It’s all right with me. (To Dušek.) Do you want to?
Dušek (Shakes his head).—Oh, no, no—it was only a notion. I’d only be in the way.
Hlaváček.—Out with it, Kamilo, would you care to or not? Speak out, if you care to come in with us. Our janitor will move you, it’s only a few steps.
Bozena (Showing Dušek a bracelet).—Look, Mr. Dušek! See how deep Mr. Šimr went into his pocket.
Šimr (To Dušek).—You see, my dear fellow, I got rid of a picture. That scene, you know. Oh, no, you didn’t see it.
Dušek (With secret misery).—You sold a picture?
Šimr.—Sure thing! They had begun to roast it in the papers but someone was easy enough to buy the picture anyway. (Gazing at Dušek.) Well, and you?
Dušek.—I haven’t a thing at the exhibition this year.
Šimr.—I know that. But what about the picture in the Christmas exhibit?
Dušek.—Don’t mock at me, Šimr!
Šimr (Shrugs his shoulders).—Hm! (Turns away.) By Jove, Dušek, I owe you a gold piece, yet, do you know it! (Reaches into pocket.)
Dušek (Surprised).—You owe me?
Šimr.—For nearly a year—don’t you remember? (Gives Dušek the coin.) Plenty of money, old chap! (To the models.) Haven’t I, girls?
Réza (Laughs).—You’ll blow it to the winds in a hurry.
Dušek (Puts the coin in his pocket).—Thanks!
Šimr.—That is to say—I thank you!
Hlaváček (To Šimr).—Haven’t you seen Paroubek?
Šimr.—He’s at the Slavia, he’ll be here soon. Malina also. (Reaches into his pocket.) Here are the provisions! (Places a package on the table.) Look, Dušek, you must learn to live this way again. For forty kreutzers a side of bacon, a few wieners——
Hlaváček (Unwraps package).—For forty! Thunder! That won’t be enough!
Šimr (Looking around with a mischievous grin).—But they threw in the advice not to eat anything from the dealers in smoked meat——
Hlaváček (Springs up).—I’ll give you a good—(Stretches out his hand as if to slap Šimr.)
Dušek (Impatiently).—Good-bye, Láda! (Extends his hand.)
Šimr (To Dušek).—Man, alive, how you look! If I were a landscape artist, I’d use you as a model for a ruin! (The models burst out in noisy laughter.)
Dušek (Hurt by the jibe quickly draws his hat down on his forehead).—Good-bye, Šimr.
Hlaváček.—Won’t you wait?
Dušek (Impatiently).—No, no, no!
Šimr.—You’re a queer one! To get wrathy for a word! Good luck to you! (Offers his hand.)
Dušek (Having extended his hand, indifferently, to Šimr, again offers his hand to Hlaváček).—Good-bye, Láda, old boy, I thank you! And don’t be angry with me, please!
Hlaváček (Astonished).—What puts you in this soft mood? (Earnestly.) Well, good-bye—and come if you care to. There’s plenty of room here for you.
Bozena.—My respects, Mr. Dušek.
Réza (Simultaneously).—Good night!
(Dušek departs. A pause.)
Réza.—What makes that Mr. Dušek so peevish?
Šimr.—We don’t know, man! Did you say anything to him?
Hlaváček.—Not a thing!
Šimr.—The crank! He changes with each moon’s quarter.
Bozena (Singing).—“That’s all because of love——”
Hlaváček (Impatiently).—Hush, Bozena, hush!
Šimr.—To be sure! Just because she sings a little!
“That’s all because of love
Which joyous makes the world—
Hlaváček.—Hold your tongue, Šimr, please do!
Šimr.—Well, then, it isn’t! (Seats himself on the stool and swings his legs.) Just for that, I’ll tell you a fine story, Bozena. Well, then, once upon a time there were two sisters—one had had the small-pox and the other was named Marie. And those girls had two brothers and those brothers didn’t have any sisters—
Réza (Screaming).—Oh, we know that one!
Hlaváček (Shakes his head thoughtfully).—I wonder what’s the matter with Dušek? I never in my life would have said—
Šimr (Waving his hand towards the rear).—Look at him! Haven’t I always said so? All of a sudden we got too common for him—and all of a sudden they dropped him elsewhere, now he doesn’t know where to head in.
Hlaváček.—He’s in hard luck. Let him alone! (Šimr whistles.)
Réza.—How that man tortured me when I use to sit for him last winter! Once he actually threw me out.
(Šimr and Bozena laugh.)
Šimr.—And didn’t you freeze to death, Réza? Or were you dressed?
Réza (Laughing).—Well, that would have been fine—just that way!
Hlaváček (With a visible effort to lead the conversation to other subjects).—If those two sculptors don’t come, we’ll eat the stuff ourselves.
Šimr.—Holla! Vaníček said he was going to be home in the evening. (To Hlaváček.) Is he?
Hlaváček.—I don’t know.
Šimr.—We’ll ask. (He strikes the wall at the back of the room.)
Bozena.—He won’t hear that.
Šimr.—Why wouldn’t he hear it!
Hlaváček.—He was here this afternoon. And wanted to carry off the oleander from the front hall.
Šimr.—Just let him try it! I wouldn’t return it to him if he’d flay himself alive.
Bozena.—Is that oleander his?
Šimr.—It’s mine, now, Bozena, dear! In the winter it began to wither and so he presented me with it. Now I’ve brought it back to life, it has fine fresh young leaves and so—Vaniček wants it back.
Réza.—You’d be a fool to give anything back!
Šimr (Shrewdly).—I’m not so green!
Vaniček (Enters).—Why, aren’t you people going anywhere today?
Šimr.—Don’t you know this is May Day and we’re celebrating?
Vaniček.—I say, Šimr, that oleander is growing first rate. I must be carrying it back. (The models laugh aloud.)
Šimr.—I should say not!
Vaniček.—Say wouldn’t you like my brand new couch also? (A pause.) (Vaniček goes to the divan on which a guitar is lying and having seated himself, whistles, thrumming on the strings meanwhile. Simultaneously a drumming on the door of the front hall is heard.)
Šimr (Screaming).—Hurrah! I’ll wager it’s those two tramps, Malina and Paroubek! (Stands in the center of the studio.) The funeral march! Attention!
(All except Hlaváček stand up and at the top of their voices sing the funeral march.) Tramtará ta tamtadadadada, tramtarádáda tramtaratata. Tam, tam!
Paroubek (Enters, smiling quietly).—A funeral?
Malina (Enters after him and himself sings the next measures of the funeral march).—Tramtaráta, tramtaráta, tramtara, tramtara, tramtarááá—rara—
Réza (Mischievously screeching into Malina’s singing).—All labor has died, Paroubek, hurrah!
Hlaváček.—That pleases Paroubek.
Paroubek (Sidles lazily towards the divan where he sits down).—You do like to grind, don’t you Hlaváček? But you haven’t hurt yourself yet by overwork.
Hlaváček.—Why, am I a sculptor?
Šimr.—I hear, Paroubek, that you’ve finished that caryatid.
Malina.—Well, I’m glad of that, myself.
Paroubek (Wrathily).—No, I didn’t! My stove smokes all the time!
Réza (Laughing).—Even to this day? And why do you have any fire at all? Most likely on account of that frozen thing, Marie. (Turning to the rest.) You have to keep a fire for her even in July, when she’s posing.
Paroubek.—I’m not running any fire—don’t you hear that my stove smokes? (Indistinctly.) Who’s going to burn a fire in May? (All laugh.)
Šimr.—Why shouldn’t you keep a fire in May? That’s what a stove is for.
Hlaváček (Strikes the table with his fist).—Šimr if you don’t cut out such silly, asinine jests—(Shakes his finger threateningly.)
Hlaváček.—Well, we'll eat that side of bacon ourselves, see?
Malina.—Well, I’m glad of that!
Bozena (Places herself coquettishly in front of Malina).—What do you say to it, Mr. Malina, I want to have my hair cut short.
Malina (In the same tone which by the disagreeable repetitions is all the more tiresome).—Well, I’m glad of that, myself.
Paroubek.—Do it, Bozena, but wait till the moon’s waxing. It’ll draw your hair out again.
Šimr.—Short, everything short! Bozena has to have everything brief! She had that last beau for an entire two days.
Bozena.—Just wait till a wife has you on a short bridle!
Paroubek (Settled comfortably on the divan. Pokes Vaniček with his elbow).—D’ye know whom we met just now?
Hlaváček (Who, during the scene just preceding has sat with his hands on his knees, on the stool near the easel, hears Paroubek’s words).—Was it Dušek?
Paroubek (Nodding).—Dušek. Was he here?
Šimr.—Yes, and poisoned the air. (Opening the parcel which he brought.) If it got even into this side of bacon——
Paroubek (Continuing).—He certainly looks bad —doesn’t he, Láda?
Hlaváček.—Did you talk with him?
Paroubek.—I should say not! He turned the corner when he caught sight of us.
Hlaváček.—Upon my soul, boys, I’ve felt as if I’d gotten a whipping ever since I saw Dušek. I have a feeling all the time that we shouldn’t have let him go away.
Šimr.—I suppose I ought to have implored him not to leave.
Hlaváček.—You know him and you know how morbid he is. And these evenings, in solitude, with horrible thoughts—(Rises) Do you know what, I’m going to get him!
Šimr.—It’s a wonder you wouldn’t get tired of it!
Hlaváček.—He talked such queer things here—Upon my soul, I almost have a fear for him!
Šimr.—You idiot—He likes himself too well.
Hlaváček (Stands undecided in the center of the studio.)
Réza.—The other day I almost wept for Dušek. We found a newspaper in the house and there was a report of the Christmas exhibition. And what they said about Dušek!
Hlaváček.—I know! (Tosses his head.) You know, Šimr.
Šimr.—You recall, boys, how Dušek raged last year when they praised someone else instead of him? Once he actually startled me by saying he’d become stunted in growth among us!
Paroubek.—Eh, you can’t stop the growth of a good seed!
Šimr.—Like you, for instance? (Laughs, then gravely.) But Dušek already had this in his blood! As long as he kicked others, it was all right—but now when someone kicks him down—
Hlaváček (In a low voice).—Stop it, Šimr!
Šimr.—Just stand up for him! Such a thing as this happens only to such fine gentlemen as he was. (Angrily.) If I’m a painter, then I’m a painter—and if I’m a baron, then I’m a baron! But to quit painting to imitate a baron——
Hlaváček.—It’s a pity, it’s a pity to lose such skill! How that man understood colors and what ideas he had! It was exactly as if—(At that instant a hollow sound echoes in the front hall caused by a fall. Hlaváček is startled.) What is happening out there?
Šimr (Looks out of the door. With comic sorrow).—Alas, our Lord Jesus! (Goes into front hall.) (All display excitement.)
Šimr (Returns carrying the broken oleander in a shattered jardinere).—Look, Vaniček, we shan’t go to law about the oleander! It fell of itself from the stand to the floor.
Bozena (Surprised).—Didn’t someone knock it down?
Hlaváček (Uneasily).—Why, we were all here!
Réza.—That’s a sign!
Malina.—Well, I’m glad of that myself.
Šimr.—A sign, indeed! That Vaniček will now have holy peace.
Paroubek.—Réza, you’re superstitious!
Hlaváček (In the meantime has seized his hat. Uncertainly—. Boys, I’m going down for Dušek after all——
Hlaváček.—I haven’t any peace here while I don’t know about him. (Departing.) I’m back in a few minutes. (A pause. All gaze after Hlaváček.)
Šimr (Bursts out abruptly).—I say this is too much!
Paroubek (In a deep voice).—Come, let’s talk about ghosts!
Réza (Shivers).—Oh, do hush!
Bozena.—Let’s rather talk about something else! Mr. Šimr, what really did happen to Dušek?
Šimr.—The Lord only knows! He won’t tell! Apparently that —that—what’s her name—quit him, that time. But there must be something else in it. A man doesn’t go to seed that way for a woman.
Réza (Merrily pushes him aside).—Well, I’ll not get foolish about anyone!
(Vanišek thrums again on the guitar and whistles.)
(All become quiet.)
(Vaniček whistles to the picking of his guitar a popular melody. Malina stands up and marks time.) Tramtá, tramdá, tram táda, táda, táda——
Šimr (Pokes him).—Keep still!
(Vanicek whistles and plays on until he has finished the entire song.)
Malina (Succeeding him).—And now, Vána! (Giving him the key.)
When I was going through Putím gate
Two lovely maids there lay in wait
They cried “You little student,
You surely are quite verdant!”
(Vaniček accompanies him on the guitar. The rest sing the second stanza with Šimr.)
Maidens, why call me “student”
Why be so very imprudent?
To love you, maids, I do not dare,
To study is my one sole care.
Bozena.—What kind of song is that, pray?
Malina.—That’s Aleš’s favorite, don’t you know it? (Sings on.)
You’ll pine for me, my little lass,
When in Putim church I’m saying mass.
The very first will be for you
’Tis really all that I can do!
Šimr.—And now we’ll start the side of bacon! (Stands up and draws out his pocket knife.) Wait a minute (Takes the the decorative plate fron the wall.)
(Vaniček whistles and plays a sentimental waltz.)
Paroubek (Shouts out).—Miss Foy! (Runs to the wall where hang all sorts of costumes.)
Šimr (Laughing).—Behold, what agility has entered Paroubek!
Paroubek (Standing close to the wall, quickly arrays himself in various pieces of Slovák costume. He wraps a piece of cloth about his head, etc. Then he runs to center of studio).—The Spiral dance, please! Play, Vána! (Turns and bends in the manner of serpentine dancers.)
(Vaniček whistles the waltz anew.)
Šimr (Carrying the plate to the little table says to Paroubek.—Look out, you’ll run into something—! (Places the meat on the plate and slices it.)
(Vaniček whistles on.)
(Paroubek dances grotesquely.)
(The models laugh boisterously.)
Šimr (Who has in the meantime sliced the meat and is counting those present).—One, two, three, four, five—and I am six. One piece for each one. Come! (Reaches into the dish.) I’ll take two.
Paroubek (Stops).—I’ll fix you! (Runs after him.)
Šimr (Dodging him).—Wouldn’t you like some gin? (All scream out.) Gin?
Šimr (Laughs).—Mushrooms! But, since it’s the first of May—wait a minute! (He takes down a bottle from the shelf.) Long live Slovakland!
Bozena (Cries out).—Good luck to Slovakland!
Šimr (Takes a drink and hands it to the rest).—The one who drinks the last drop has to buy a new bottle!
Malina.—Indeed! (Takes a long drink.)
Šimr.—Malina, sing something from Slovakland to that gin.
(Malina wiping his lips sings.)
Into the room
Tripped Marie mine
The priest after her
With bottled wine!
(Vaniček accompanies him.)
Be in no hurry.
You'll be as ruddy
As a strawberry!
Vaniček (When Malina has finished singing. Vaniček begins playing and whistling another song.)
Paroubek (While Vaniček plays).—I wonder why Hlaváček doesn’t come?
Malina.—He could have been back here from Dušek’s twice. He lives just around the corner.
Réza (Shivering).—Ugh! I’ve got the shivers!
Šimr.—What’s the matter, Réza, anyway?
Réza (Uneasily).—Why, I just felt a chill go over me all of a sudden, now——
Bozena.—Are you ill, Réza?
Šimr.—Oh, there’s nothing the matter with her, at all! You’d drive a man insane! (Suddenly.) By thunder, let’s have some illumination! (Draws from the corner a great wooden candle stick on which is a twisted sheet of paper in imitation of a wax candle. He places the candle-stick in the middle of the studio.) If there’s to be a celebration, let there be light!
Bozena.—Why, it’s only paper? (Laughs.)
Šimr.—That’s the joke of it! That’s for Dušek’s miserable soul!
Réza (Screams out).—Jesus, Mary—hush, Mr. Šimr! Don’t say it—not even in fun!
Šimr.—Don’t frighten us every little while by screaming, Réza! (Goes to her.) Come on, let’s rather have a little dance. Vána will play a gallop. (Šimr dances with Réza.)
Malina.—Come on, Bozena! (He dances with Bozena.)
Paroubek.—Don’t stamp! The major downstairs will come up and read you the riot act.
Malina (Dancing).—Well, I’m glad of this, myself.
Šimr (Dancing).—Who says we’re stamping?
Malina (Loosens his hold of Bozena).—I’m out of practice! Come and sit down, Bozena! (Seats himself beside her on the divan.)
(Vaniček bangs the strings and stops playing.)
Šimr (With Réza in his arms).—Well, what?
Vaniček.—Next year, again!
Paroubek (Draws a cornucopia from his pocket).—Look, what I found at home today. It’s a cornucopia full of bengal powder left over from last year when we did that “living pictures” stunt!
Malina (Quickly).—Come, let’s do a tableau now!
Šimr.—What shall it be?
Paroubek.— Wait, something improvised! Bozena, you climb upon the table!
(Bozena climbs up on the table.)
Paroubek.—Réza, you take the azaleas.
(Réza gets the azaleas.)
Paroubek.—Vaniček will sit on the floor and will represent the orchestra.
(Vaniček seats himself on the floor.)
Paroubek.—Now, where’ll we put these two stumps? (Looks around at Šimr and Malina. Just then a bell in the front hall sounds.)
Bozena (Cries out).—The major is coming!
Malina (Simultaneously).—That’s Hlaváček.
Šimr.—He wouldn’t ring. (Looks into front hall.) Open! (Goes out.) Ah, my respects, Mr. Bukač! (Returns to studio.)
Paroubek.—Bukač! Girls, call out “Long live the seventh Great Power!” Glory to the editor!
Réza (Simultaneously).—Long live the seventh Great Power!
Vaniček (On the floor).—Good luck! (Noisily thrums on the guitar.)
Bukač (Enters, very much excited).—Is Hlaváček at home?
Bukač (Quickly).—Don’t you know anything?
Bukač.—Dušek shot himself.
Bozena.—Jesus, Mary! (Jumps from the table.)
Réza (At the same time).—Holy Virgin Mary! (Drops the azaleas.)
Šimr, Vaniček, Paroubek and Malina (all at once).—What! Dušek? How? Where? (They surround Bukač.)
Bukač.—He shot himself just now in his studio. (Breathing deeply with weariness.) They telephoned us from the Aid station—(In the front hall the door bangs.) I came running here for Hlaváček—I need some facts for the obituary.
Hlaváček (Bursts into the studio, rushes directly to the little table, opens the drawer and feels inside, then cries out).—With my revolver! That’s why he came here! (All completely horrified.)
- ↑ There is here a play on words which cannot be reproduced in English. The word “zámek” has two meanings (1) a lock to a door, and (2) a castle or palace. Hence one who has three “zámsky” may be the possessor of three noble castles or only the humble owner of three door-locks.
- ↑ Stazička, a diminutive of Stáza, used in a sense of tenderness or caress.
- ↑ The chief social event of the season in Prague.
- ↑ The main concert and art hall of Prague named after Rudolph II., emperor of Hungary 1572 and king of Bohemia from 1575 to his death in 1612. He was a patron of arts and sciences. Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Zed-Hajek and other scientists were his special guests and favorites.
- ↑ Small Side. A portion of Prague just across the river from the Old Town.
- ↑ Mkolás Ales, 1852–1913—A painter of great renown among Slavs, illustrated practically all the rich and common Slavic folk songs and poems, also produced many historical pictures.
This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1950, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 72 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1948, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 74 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.