_ ACT I
The Curtain lifts on a place that is dark, save for a shaft of light from below which comes up through an open trap-door in the floor. This slants up and strikes the long leaves and the huge brilliant blossom of a strange plant whose twisted stem projects from right front. Nothing is seen except this plant and its shadow. A violent wind is heard. A moment later a buzzer. It buzzes once long and three short. Silence. Again the buzzer. Then from below--his shadow blocking the light, comes ANTHONY, a rugged man past middle life;--he emerges from the stairway into the darkness of the room. Is dimly seen taking up a phone.
ANTHONY. Yes, Miss Claire?--I'll see. (he brings a thermometer to the stairway for light, looks sharply, then returns to the phone) It's down to forty-nine. The plants are in danger--(with great relief and approval) Oh, that's fine! (hangs up the receiver) Fine!
(He goes back down the stairway, closing the trap-door upon himself, and the curtain is drawn upon darkness and wind. It opens a moment later on the greenhouse in the sunshine of a snowy morning. The snow piled outside is at times blown through the air. The frost has made patterns on the glass as if--as Plato would have it--the patterns inherent in abstract nature and behind all life had to come out, not only in the creative heat within, but in the creative cold on the other side of the glass. And the wind makes patterns of sound around the glass house.
The back wall is low; the glass roof slopes sharply up. There is an outside door, a little toward the right. From outside two steps lead down to it. At left a glass partition and a door into the inner room. One sees a little way into this room. At right there is no dividing wall save large plants and vines, a narrow aisle between shelves of plants leads off.
This is not a greenhouse where plants are being displayed, nor the usual workshop for the growing of them, but a place for experiment with plants, a laboratory.
At the back grows a strange vine. It is arresting rather than beautiful. It creeps along the low wall, and one branch gets a little way up the glass. You might see the form of a cross in it, if you happened to think it that way. The leaves of this vine are not the form that leaves have been. They are at once repellent and significant.
ANTHONY is at work preparing soil--mixing, sifting. As the wind tries the door he goes anxiously to the thermometer, nods as if reassured and returns to his work. The buzzer sounds. He starts to answer the telephone, remembers something, halts and listens sharply. It does not buzz once long and three short. Then he returns to his work. The buzzer goes on and on in impatient jerks which mount in anger. Several times ANTHONY is almost compelled by this insistence, but the thing that holds him back is stronger. At last, after a particularly mad splutter, to which ANTHONY longs to make retort, the buzzer gives it up. ANTHONY goes on preparing soil.
A moment later the glass door swings violently in, snow blowing in, and also MR HARRY ARCHER, wrapped in a rug.)
Oh, please close the door, sir.
Do you think I'm not trying to?
(he holds it open to say this)
But please do. This stormy air is not good for the plants.
I suppose it's just the thing for me! Now, what do you mean,
Anthony, by not answering the phone when I buzz for you?
ANTHONY. Miss Claire--Mrs Archer told me not to.
Told you not to answer me?
Not you especially--nobody but her.
Well, I like her nerve--and yours.
You see, she thought it took my mind from my work to be interrupted when I'm out here. And so it does. So she buzzes once long and--Well, she buzzes her way, and all other buzzing--
She thought it would be better for the flowers.
I am not a flower--true, but I too need a little
attention--and a little heat. Will you please tell
me why the house is frigid?
Miss Claire ordered all the heat turned out here,
(patiently explaining it to
MISS CLAIRE's speechless husband)
You see the roses need a great deal of heat.
(reading the thermometer)
The roses have seventy-three I have forty-five.
Yes, the roses need seventy-three.
Anthony, this is an outrage!
I think it is myself; when you consider what we paid for the heating plant--but as long as it is defective--Why, Miss Claire would never have done what she has if she hadn't looked out for her plants in just such ways as this. Have you forgotten that Breath of Life is about to flower?
And where's my breakfast about to flower?--that's
what I want to know.
Why, Miss Claire got up at five o'clock to order the
heat turned off from the house.
I see you admire her vigilance.
Oh, I do.
I do. Harm was near, and that woke her up.
And what about the harm to--
(tapping his chest)
Do roses get pneumonia?
Oh, yes--yes, indeed they do. Why, Mr Archer, look at
Miss Claire herself. Hasn't she given her heat to the roses?
(pulling the rug around him, preparing for the blizzard)
She has the fire within.
Now isn't that true! How well you said it.
(with a glare for this appreciation,
HARRY opens the door. It blows away from him)
Please do close the door!
You think it is the aim of my life to hold it open?
(getting hold of it)
Growing things need an even temperature,
(while saying this he gets the man out into the snow)
(ANTHONY consults the thermometer, not as pleased this time as he was before. He then looks minutely at two of the plants--one is a rose, the other a flower without a name because it has not long enough been a flower. Peers into the hearts of them. Then from a drawer under a shelf, takes two paper bags, puts one over each of these flowers, closing them down at the bottom. Again the door blows wildly in, also HATTIE, a maid with a basket.)
What do you mean--blowing in here like this? Mrs Archer has ordered--
Mr Archer has ordered breakfast served here,
(she uncovers the basket and takes out an electric toaster)
Breakfast--here? Eat--here? Where plants grow?
The plants won't poison him, will they?
(at a loss to know what to do with things, she puts the toaster under the strange vine at the back, whose leaves lift up against the glass which has frost leaves on the outer side)
(snatching it away)
You--you think you can cook eggs under the Edge Vine?
I guess Mr Archer's eggs are as important as a vine.
I guess my work's as important as yours.
There's a million people like you--and like Mr Archer.
In all the world there is only one Edge Vine.
Well, maybe one's enough.
It don't look like nothin', anyhow.
And you've not got the wit to know that
that's why it's the Edge Vine.
You want to look out, Anthony. You talk nutty.
Everybody says so.
Miss Claire don't say so.
No, because she's--
You talk too much!
(Door opens, admitting HARRY; after looking around for the best place to eat breakfast, moves a box of earth from the table.)
Just give me a hand, will you, Hattie?
(They bring it to the open space and he and HATTIE arrange breakfast things, HATTIE with triumphant glances at the distressed ANTHONY)
(deciding he must act)
Mr Archer, this is not the place to eat breakfast!
Dead wrong, old boy. The place that has heat
is the place to eat breakfast.
Tell the other gentlemen--I heard Mr Demming up,
and Mr Edgeworthy, if he appears, that as long
as it is such a pleasant morning, we're having
breakfast outside. To the conservatory for coffee.
(HATTIE giggles, is leaving.)
And let's see, have we got everything?
(takes the one shaker, shakes a little pepper
on his hand. Looks in vain for the other shaker)
And tell Mr Demming to bring the salt.
But Miss Claire will be very angry.
I am very angry.
Did I choose to eat my breakfast at the other end of a blizzard?
(an exclamation of horror at the thermometer)
The temperature is falling. I must report.
(he punches the buzzer, takes up the phone)
Miss Claire? It is Anthony. A terrible thing has happened. Mr Archer--what? Yes, a terrible thing.--Yes, it is about Mr Archer.--No--no, not dead. But here. He is here. Yes, he is well, he seems well, but he is eating his breakfast. Yes, he is having breakfast served out here--for himself, and the other gentlemen are to come too.--Well, he seemed to be annoyed because the heat had been turned off from the house. But the door keeps opening--this stormy wind blowing right over the plants. The temperature has already fallen.--Yes, yes. I thought you would want to come.
(ANTHONY opens the trap-door and goes below. HARRY looks disapprovingly down into this openness at his feet, returns to his breakfast. ANTHONY comes up, bearing a box.)
(turning his face away)
Phew! What a smell.
Yes. Fertilizer has to smell.
Well, it doesn't have to smell up my breakfast!
(with a patient sense of order)
The smell belongs here.
(he and the smell go to the inner room)
(The outer door opens just enough to admit CLAIRE--is quickly closed. With CLAIRE in a room another kind of aliveness is there.)
What are you doing here?
(all the while doing so)
I'll not have you in my place!
If you take all the heat then you have to take me.
I'll show you how I have to take you.
(with her hands begins scooping upon
him the soil ANTHONY has prepared)
(jumping up, laughing, pinning down
her arms, putting his arms around her)
Claire--be decent. What harm do I do here?
You pull down the temperature.
Not after I'm in.
And you told Tom and Dick to come and make it uneven.
Tom and Dick are our guests.
We can't eat where it's warm and
leave them to eat where it's cold.
I don't see why not.
You only see what you want to see.
That's not true. I wish it were. No; no, I don't either.
(she is disturbed--that troubled thing which rises
from within, from deep, and takes CLAIRE. She
turns to the Edge Vine, examines. Regretfully to
ANTHONY, who has come in with a plant)
It's turning back, isn't it?
Can you be sure yet, Miss Claire?
Oh yes--it's had its chance.
It doesn't want to be--what hasn't been.
(who has turned at this note in her voice. Speaks kindly)
Don't take it so seriously, Claire.
No, I suppose not. But it does matter--and why
should I pretend it doesn't, just because I've failed with it?
Well, I don't want to see it get you--it's not
important enough for that.
(in her brooding way)
Anything is important enough for that--if it's important at all.
(to the vine)
I thought you were out, but you're--going back home.
But you're doing it this time, Miss Claire. When Breath
of Life opens--and we see its heart--
(CLAIRE looks toward the inner room. Because of intervening plants they do not see what is seen from the front--a plant like caught motion, and of a greater transparency than plants have had. Its leaves, like waves that curl, close around a heart that is not seen. This plant stands by itself in what, because of the arrangement of things about it, is a hidden place. But nothing is between it and the light.)
Yes, if the heart has
(a little laugh)
held its own, then Breath of Life is alive in its
otherness. But Edge Vine is running back to what
it broke out of.
Come, have some coffee, Claire.
(ANTHONY returns to the inner room, the outer
door opens. DICK is hurled in.)
(going to the door, as he gasps for breath before closing it)
How dare you make my temperature uneven!
(she shuts the door and leans against it)
Is that what I do?
(A laugh, a look between them, which is held into significance.)
(who is not facing them)
Where's the salt?
Oh, I fell down in the snow. I must have left
the salt where I fell. I'll go back and look for it.
And change the temperature? We don't need salt.
You don't need salt, Claire. But we eat eggs.
I must tell you I don't like the idea of any food being eaten here, where things have their own way to go. Please eat as little as possible, and as quickly.
A hostess calculated to put one at one's ease.
(with no ill-nature)
I care nothing about your ease. Or about Dick's ease.
And no doubt that's what makes you so fascinating a hostess.
Was I a fascinating hostess last night, Dick?
'Oh, night of love--'
(from the Barcorole of 'Tales of Hoffman')
We've got to have salt.
(He starts for the door. CLAIRE slips in ahead of
him, locks it, takes the key. He marches off, right.)
(calling after him)
That end's always locked.
Claire darling, I wish you wouldn't say those startling
things. You do get away with it, but I confess it gives
me a shock--and really, it's unwise.
Haven't you learned that the best place to hide is in the truth?
(as HARRY returns)
Why won't you believe me, Harry, when I tell you
the truth--about doors being locked?
Claire, it's selfish of you to keep us from eating
salt just because you don't eat salt.
(with one of her swift changes)
Oh, Harry! Try your egg without salt. Please--please
try it without salt! (an intensity which seems
all out of proportion to the subject)
An egg demands salt.
'An egg demands salt.' Do you know, Harry, why you are
such an unseasoned person? 'An egg demands salt.'
Well, it doesn't always get it.
But your spirit gets no lift from the salt withheld.
Not an inch of lift.
(going back to his breakfast)
And pleased--so pleased with itself, for getting no
lift. Sure, it is just the right kind of spirit--
because it gets no lift.
But, Dick, you must have tried your egg without salt.
I'll try it now.
(he goes to the breakfast table)
You must have tried and tried things.
Isn't that the way one leaves the normal
and gets into the byways of perversion?
(pushing back his egg)
If so, I prefer to wait for the salt.
Claire, there is a limit.
Precisely what I had in mind. To perversion too there is a limit. So--the fortifications are unassailable. If one ever does get out, I suppose it is--quite unexpectedly, and perhaps--a bit terribly.
Get out where?
(with a bright smile)
Where you, darling, will never go.
And from which you, darling, had better beat it.
I wish I could.
No--no I don't either
(Again this troubled thing turns her to the plant. She puts by themselves the two which ANTHONY covered with paper bags. Is about to remove these papers. HARRY strikes a match.)
You can't smoke here. The plants are not used to it.
Then I should think smoking would be just the thing for them.
There is design.
Am I supposed to be answered?
I never can be quite sure at what moment I am answered.
(They both watch CLAIRE, who has uncovered the plants and is looking intently into the flowers. From a drawer she takes some tools. Very carefully gives the rose pollen to an unfamiliar flower--rather wistfully unfamiliar, which stands above on a small shelf near the door of the inner room.)
What is this you're doing, Claire?
Pollenizing. Crossing for fragrance.
It's all rather mysterious, isn't it?
And Claire doesn't make it any less so.
Can I make life any less mysterious?
If you know what you are doing, why can't you tell Dick?
Never mind. After all, why should I be told?
(he turns away)
(At that she wants to tell him. Helpless,
as one who cannot get across a stream, starts uncertainly.)
I want to give fragrance to Breath of Life
(faces the room beyond the wall of glass)
--the flower I have created that is outside what flowers have been. What has gone out should bring fragrance from what it has left. But no definite fragrance, no limiting enclosing thing. I call the fragrance I am trying to create Reminiscence.
(her hand on the pot of the wistful little
flower she has just given pollen)
Reminiscent of the rose, the violet, arbutus--but a
new thing--itself. Breath of Life may be lonely out
in what hasn't been. Perhaps some day I can give
I see, Claire.
I wonder if you do.
Now, Claire, you're going to be gay to-day, aren't you?
These are Tom's last couple of days with us.
That doesn't make me especially gay.
Well, you want him to remember you as yourself, don't you?
I would like him to. Oh--I would like him to!
Then be amusing. That's really you, isn't it, Dick?
Not quite all of her--I should say.
Careful, Dick. Aren't you indiscreet?
Harry will be suspecting that I am your latest strumpet.
Claire! What language you use! A person knowing you
only by certain moments could never be made to believe
you are a refined woman.
True, isn't it, Dick?
It would be a good deal of a lark to let them listen
in at times--then tell them that here is the flower
of New England!
Well, if this is the flower of New England, then
the half has never been told.
About New England?
I thought I meant that. Perhaps I meant--about me.
(going on with his own entertainment)
Explain that this is what came of the men who made the laws that made New England, that here is the flower of those gentlemen of culture who--
Moulded the American mind!
(it is pain)
Now what's the matter?
I want to get away from them!
Rest easy, little one--you do.
I'm not so sure--that I do. But it can be done!
We need not be held in forms moulded for us.
There is outness--and otherness.
Now, Claire--I didn't mean to start anything serious.
No; you never mean to do that. I want to break it up! I tell you, I want to break it up! If it were all in pieces, we'd be (a little laugh) shocked to aliveness (to DICK)--wouldn't we? There would be strange new comings together--mad new comings together, and we would know what it is to be born, and then we might know--that we are. Smash it.
(her hand is near an egg)
As you'd smash an egg.
(she pushes the egg over the edge of the table
and leans over and looks, as over a precipice)
(with a sigh)
Well, all you've smashed is the egg, and all that
amounts to is that now Tom gets no egg. So that's that.
(with difficulty, drawing herself back
from the fascination of the precipice)
You think I can't smash anything? You think life can't break up, and go outside what it was? Because you've gone dead in the form in which you found yourself, you think that's all there is to the whole adventure? And that is called sanity. And made a virtue--to lock one in. You never worked with things that grow! Things that take a sporting chance--go mad--that sanity mayn't lock them in--from life untouched--from life--that waits,
(she turns toward the inner room)
Breath of Life.
(she goes in there)
Oh, I wish Claire wouldn't be strange like that,
What is it? What's the matter?
It's merely the excess of a particularly rich temperament.
But it's growing on her. I sometimes wonder if all this
(indicating the place around him)
is a good thing. It would be all right if she'd just do what she did in the beginning--make the flowers as good as possible of their kind. That's an awfully nice thing for a woman to do--raise flowers. But there's something about this--changing things into other things--putting things together and making queer new things--this--
Give it any name you want it to have--it's unsettling for a woman. They say Claire's a shark at it, but what's the good of it, if it gets her? What is the good of it, anyway? Suppose we can produce new things. Lord--look at the one ones we've got. (looks outside; turns back) Heavens, what a noise the wind does make around this place, (but now it is not all the wind, but TOM EDGEWORTHY, who is trying to let himself in at the locked door, their backs are to him) I want my egg. You can't eat an egg without salt. I must say I don't get Claire lately. I'd like to have Charlie Emmons see her--he's fixed up a lot of people shot to pieces in the war. Claire needs something to tone her nerves up. You think it would irritate her?
She'd probably get no little entertainment out of it.
Yes, dog-gone her, she would.
(TOM now takes more heroic measures
to make himself heard at the door)
Funny--how the wind can fool you. Now by not looking around I could imagine--why, I could imagine anything. Funny, isn't it, about imagination? And Claire says I haven't got any!
It would make an amusing drawing--what the wind makes you think is there.
(first makes forms with his hands, then levelling
the soil prepared by ANTHONY, traces lines
with his finger)
Yes, really--quite jolly.
(TOM, after a moment of peering in at them,
smiles, goes away.)
You're another one of the queer ducks, aren't you? Come now--give me the dirt. Have you queer ones really got anything--or do you just put it over on us that you have?
(smiles, draws on)
Not saying anything, eh? Well, I guess you're wise
there. If you keep mum--how are we going to prove
there's nothing there?
I don't keep mum. I draw.
Lines that don't make anything--how can they tell you anything? Well, all I ask is, don't make Claire queer. Claire's a first water good sport--really, so don't encourage her to be queer.
Trouble is, if you're queer enough to be amusing,
it might--open the door to queerness.
Now don't say things like that to Claire.
I don't have to.
Then you think she's queer, do you?
Queer as you are, you think she's queer.
I would like to have Dr Emmons come out.
(after a moment of silently watching DICK, who is having a good time with his drawing) You know, frankly, I doubt if you're a good influence for Claire. (DICK lifts his head ever so slightly)
Oh, I don't worry a bit about--things a husband might worry about. I suppose an intellectual woman--and for all Claire's hate of her ancestors, she's got the bug herself. Why, she has times of boring into things until she doesn't know you're there. What do you think I caught her doing the other day? Reading Latin. Well--a woman that reads Latin needn't worry a husband much.
They said a good deal in Latin.
But I was saying, I suppose a woman who lives
a good deal in her mind never does have much--well,
what you might call passion,
(uses the word as if it shouldn't be used.
Brows knitted, is looking ahead, does not see
DICK's face. Turning to him with a laugh)
I suppose you know pretty much all there is to know about women?
Perhaps one or two details have escaped me.
Well, for that matter, you might know all there is to
know about women and not know much about Claire. But now about
(does not want to say passion again)
--oh, feeling--Claire has a certain--well, a certain--
Which is really more--more--
More fetching, perhaps.
Yes! Than the thing itself.
But of course--you wouldn't have much
of a thing that you have irony about.
Oh--wouldn't you! I mean--a man might.
I'd like to talk to Edgeworth about Claire.
But it's not easy to talk to Tom about Claire
--or to Claire about Tom.
They're very old friends, aren't they?
Why--yes, they are. Though they've not been together much of late years, Edgeworthy always going to the ends of the earth to--meditate about something. I must say I don't get it. If you have a place--that's the place for you to be. And he did have a place--best kind of family connections, and it was a very good business his father left him. Publishing business--in good shape, too, when old Edgeworthy died. I wouldn't call Tom a great success in life--but Claire does listen to what he says.
Yes, I've noticed that.
So, I'd like to get him to tell her to quit this queer
business of making things grow that never grew before.
But are you sure that's what he would tell her?
Isn't he in the same business himself?
Why, he doesn't raise anything.
(TOM is again at the door.)
Anyway, I think he might have some idea that
we can't very well reach each other.
Damn nonsense. What have we got intelligence for?
To let each other alone, I suppose.
Only we haven't enough to do it.
(TOM is now knocking on the door with a revolver.
HARRY half turns, decides to be too intelligent to turn.)
Don't tell me I'm getting nerves. But the way some of you people talk is enough to make even an aviator jumpy. Can't reach each other! Then we're fools. If I'm here and you're there, why can't we reach each other?
Because I am I and you are you.
No wonder your drawing's queer.
A man who can't reach another man--
(TOM here reaches them by pointing the revolver in the air and firing it. DICK digs his hand into the dirt. HARRY jumps to one side, fearfully looks around. TOM, with a pleased smile to see he at last has their attention, moves the handle to indicate he would be glad to come in.)
Why--it's Tom! What the--?
(going to the door)
He's locked out. And Claire's got the key.
(goes to the inner door, tries it)
And she's locked in!
(trying to see her in there)
(returning to the outer door)
Claire's got the key--and I can't get to Claire.
(makes a futile attempt at getting the door open
without a key, goes back to inner door--peers, pounds)
Claire! Are you there? Didn't you hear the revolver?
Has she gone down the cellar?
(tries the trap-door)
Bolted! Well, I love the way she keeps people locked out!
(getting angry, shouting at the trap-door)
Didn't you hear the revolver?
(going to TOM)
Awfully sorry, old man, but--
(in astonishment to DICK)
He can't hear me.
(TOM, knocking with the revolver to get their
attention, makes a gesture of inquiry with it)
No--no--no! Is he asking if he shall shoot himself?
(shaking his head violently)
Oh, no--no! Um--um!
Hardly seems a man would shoot himself because he can't get to his breakfast.
I'm coming to believe people would do anything!
(TOM is making another inquiry with the revolver)
No! not here. Don't shoot yourself.
(trying hard to get the word through)
Shoot yourself. I mean--don't.
(petulantly to DICK)
It's ridiculous that you can't make a man understand
you when he looks right at you like that.
(turning back to TOM)
Read my lips. Lips. I'm saying--Oh damn. Where is Claire? All right--I'll explain it with motions. We wanted the salt ... (going over it to himself) and Claire wouldn't let us go out for it on account of the temperature. Salt. Temperature.
(takes his egg-cup to the door, violent
motion of shaking in salt)
(shakes his head)
(he then takes the thermometer,
a flower pot, holds them up to TOM)
On account of the temperature. Tem-per-a--
(TOM is not getting it)
Oh--well, what can you do when a man don't get a thing?
(TOM seems to be preparing the revolver for
action. HARRY pounds on the inner door)
Claire! Do you want Tom to shoot himself?
(As he looks in there, the trap-door lifts,
and CLAIRE comes half-way up.)
Why, what is Tom doing out there, with a revolver?
He is about to shoot himself because you've locked
him out from his breakfast.
He must know more interesting ways of destroying himself.
(bowing to TOM)
(from his side of the glass
TOM bows and smiles back)
Isn't it strange--our being in here--and he being out there?
Claire, have you no ideas of hospitality? Let him in!
In? Perhaps that isn't hospitality.
Well, whatever hospitality is, what is out there is snow--and wind--and our guest--who was asked to come here for his breakfast. To think a man has to such things.
I'm going to let him in. Though I like his looks out there.
(she takes the key from her pocket)
Thank heaven the door's coming open.
Somebody can go for salt, and we can have our eggs.
And open the door again--to let the salt in? No. If you insist on salt, tell Tom now to go back and get it. It's a stormy morning and there'll be just one opening of the door.
How can we tell him what we can't make him hear? And why does he think we're holding this conversation instead of letting him in?
It would be interesting to know.
I wonder if he'll tell us?
Claire! Is this any time to wonder anything?
Give up the idea of salt for your egg and I'll let him in.
(holds up the key to TOM to indicate
that for her part she is quite ready to let him in)
I want my egg!
Then ask him to bring the salt. It's quite simple.
(HARRY goes through another pantomime with the egg-cup and the missing shaker. CLAIRE, still standing half-way down cellar, sneezes. HARRY, growing all the while less amiable, explains with thermometer and flower-pot that there can only be one opening of the door. TOM looks interested, but unenlightened. But suddenly he smiles, nods, vanishes.)
Well, thank heaven (exhausted) that's over.
(sitting on the top step)
It was all so queer. He locked out on his side of the door. You locked in on yours. Looking right at each other and--
And me trying to tell him to kindly fetch the salt!
Well, I didn't do so bad a job, did I? Quite an idea, explaining our situation with the thermometer and the flower-pot. That was really an apology for keeping him out there. Heaven knows--some explanation was in order,
(he is watching, and sees TOM coming)
Now there he is, Claire.
And probably pretty well fed up with the weather.
(CLAIRE goes to the door, stops before it.
She and TOM look at each other through the glass.
Then she lets him in.)
And now I am in. For a time it seemed I was not to be in. But after I got the idea that you were keeping me out there to see if I could get the idea--it would be too humiliating for a wall of glass to keep one from understanding.
(taking it from his pocket)
So there's the other thermometer. Where do you want it?
(CLAIRE takes it)
And where's the pepper?
(putting it on the table)
And here's the pepper.
When Claire sneezed I knew--
Yes, I knew if I sneezed you would bring the pepper.
Funny how one always remembers the salt,
but the pepper gets overlooked in preparations.
And what is an egg without pepper?
There's your egg, Edgeworth.
(pointing to it on the floor)
Claire decided it would be a good idea to
smash everything, so she began with your egg.
(looking at his egg)
The idea of smashing everything is
really more intriguing than an egg.
Nice that you feel that way about it.
(giving TOM his coffee)
You want to hear something amusing?
I married Harry because I thought he would smash something.
Well, that was an error in judgment.
I'm such a naive trusting person
(HARRY laughs--CLAIRE gives him
a surprised look, continues simply).
Such a guileless soul that I thought flying would do
something to a man. But it didn't take us out.
We just took it in.
It's only our own spirit can take us out.
Whatever you mean by out.
(after looking intently at TOM, and considering it)
But our own spirit is not something on the loose. Mine isn't. It has something to do with what I do. To fly. To be free in air. To look from above on the world of all my days. Be where man has never been! Yes--wouldn't you think the spirit could get the idea? The earth grows smaller. I am leaving. What are they--running around down there? Why do they run around down there? Houses? Houses are funny lines and down-going slants--houses are vanishing slants. I am alone. Can I breathe this rarer air? Shall I go higher? Shall I go too high? I am loose. I am out. But no; man flew, and returned to earth the man who left it.
And jolly well likely not to have returned at
all if he'd had those flighty notions while
operating a machine.
(not lightly asked)
Can't you see it would be better not to have returned
than to return the man who left it?
I have some regard for human life.
Why, no--I am the one who has the regard for human life,
That was why I swiftly divorced my stick-in-the-mud
artist and married--the man of flight. But I merely
passed from a stick-in-the-mud artist to a--
Speaking of your stick-in-the-mud artist, as you
romantically call your first blunder, isn't his
daughter--and yours--due here to-day?
I knew something was disturbing me. Elizabeth. A daughter is being delivered unto me this morning. I have a feeling it will be more painful than the original delivery. She has been, as they quaintly say, educated; prepared for her place in life.
And fortunately Claire has a sister who is willing
to give her young niece that place.
The idea of giving anyone a place in life.
Yes! The very idea!
(as often, the mocking thing gives true
expression to what lies sombrely in her)
The war. There was another gorgeous chance.
Chance for what? I call you, Claire.
I ask you to say what you mean.
I don't know--precisely. If I did--there'd be no use saying it.
(at HARRY's impatient exclamation she turns to TOM)
The only thing left worth saying is the thing we can't say.
Yes. But the war didn't help. Oh, it was a stunning
chance! But fast as we could--scuttled right back
to the trim little thing we'd been shocked out of.
You bet we did--showing our good sense.
Showing our incapacity--for madness.
Oh, come now, Claire--snap out of it. You're not
really trying to say that capacity for madness
is a good thing to have?
(in simple surprise)
Why yes, of course.
But I should say the war did leave enough madness
to give you a gleam of hope.
Not the madness that--breaks through. And it was--a stunning chance! Mankind massed to kill. We have failed. We are through. We will destroy. Break this up--it can't go farther. In the air above--in the sea below--it is to kill! All we had thought we were--we aren't. We were shut in with what wasn't so. Is there one ounce of energy has not gone to this killing? Is there one love not torn in two? Throw it in! Now? Ready? Break up. Push. Harder. Break up. And then--and then--But we didn't say--'And then--' The spirit didn't take the tip.
Claire! Come now
(looking to the others for help)
--let's talk of something else.
Plants do it. The big leap--it's called. Explode their species--because something in them knows they've gone as far as they can go. Something in them knows they're shut in to just that. So--go mad--that life may not be prisoned. Break themselves up into crazy things--into lesser things, and from the pieces--may come one sliver of life with vitality to find the future. How beautiful. How brave.
(as if he would call her from too far--or
would let her know he has gone with her)
(her eyes turning to him)
Why should we mind lying under the earth? We who
have no such initiative--no proud madness?
Why think it death to lie under life so flexible
--so ruthless and ever-renewing?
(from the door of the inner room)
(after an instant)
(she goes with him, as they disappear his voice
heard,'show me now ... want those violets bedded')
Oh, this has got to stop. I've got to--put a stop to it some way. Why, Claire used to be the best sport a man ever played around with. I can't stand it to see her getting hysterical.
That was not hysterical.
What was it then--I want to know?
It was--a look.
Oh, I might have known I'd get no help from either of you. Even you, Edgeworthy--much as she thinks of you--and fine sort as I've no doubt you are, you're doing Claire no good--encouraging her in these queer ways.
I couldn't change Claire if I would.
And wouldn't if you could.
No. But you don't have to worry about me.
I'm going away in a day or two.
And I shall not be back.
Trouble with you is, it makes little difference
whether you're here or away. Just the fact of
your existence does encourage Claire in this
--this way she's going.
(with a smile)
But you wouldn't ask me to go so far as to stop my existence?
Though I would do that for Claire--if it were the way to help her.
By Jove, you say that as if you meant it.
Do you think I would say anything about Claire I didn't mean?
You think a lot of her, don't you?
You don't mean
(a laugh letting him say it)
--that you're--in love with Claire!
In love? Oh, that's much too easy. Certainly I do love Claire.
Well, you're a cool one!
Let her be herself. Can't you see she's troubled?
Well, what is there to trouble Claire?
Now I ask you. It seems to me she has everything.
She's left so--open. Too exposed,
(as HARRY moves impatiently)
Please don't be annoyed with me. I'm doing my best at saying it. You see Claire isn't hardened into one of those forms she talks about. She's too--aware. Always pulled toward what could be--tormented by the lost adventure.
Well, there's danger in all that. Of course there's danger.
But you can't help that.
Claire was the best fun a woman could be. Is yet--at times.
Let her be--at times. As much as she can and will. She does need that. Don't keep her from it by making her feel you're holding her in it. Above all, don't try to stop what she's doing here. If she can do it with plants, perhaps she won't have to do it with herself.
(low, after a pause)
Break up what exists. Open the door to destruction
in the hope of--a door on the far side of destruction.
Well, you give me the willies,
(moves around in irritation, troubled.
To ANTHONY, who is passing through
with a sprayer)
Anthony, have any arrangements been
made about Miss Claire's daughter?
I haven't heard of any arrangements.
Well, she'll have to have some heat in her room.
We can't all live out here.
Indeed you cannot. It is not good for the plants.
I'm going where I can smoke.
(lightly, but fascinated by the idea)
You think there is a door on the--hinter side of destruction?
How can one tell--where a door may be?
One thing I want to say to you--for it is about you.
(regards DICK and not with
his usual impersonal contemplation)
I don't think Claire should have--any door closed to her.
You know, I think, what I mean. And perhaps you can guess how it hurts to say it. Whether it's--mere escape within,--rather shameful escape within, or the wild hope of that door through, it's--(suddenly all human) Be good to her!
(after a difficult moment, smiles)
Going away for ever is like dying, so one can say things.
Why do you do it--go away for ever?
I haven't succeeded here.
But you've tried the going away before.
Never knowing I would not come back.
So that wasn't going away. My hope is
that this will be like looking at life from outside life.
But then you'll not be in it.
I haven't been able to look at it while in it.
Isn't it more important to be in it than to look at it?
Not what I mean by look.
It's hard for me to conceive of--loving Claire
and going away from her for ever.
Perhaps it's harder to do than to conceive of.
Then why do it?
It's my only way of keeping her.
I'm afraid I'm like Harry now. I don't get you.
I suppose not. Your way is different,
(with calm, with sadness--not with malice)
But I shall have her longer. And from deeper.
I know that.
Though I miss much. Much,
(the buzzer. TOM looks around to see if
anyone is coming to answer it, then goes to the phone)
Yes?... I'll see if I can get her.
Claire's daughter has arrived,
(looking in the inner room--returns to phone)
I don't see her.
(catching a glimpse of ANTHONY off right)
Oh, Anthony, where's Miss Claire? Her daughter has arrived.
She's working at something very important in her experiments.
But isn't her daughter one of her experiments?
(after a baffled moment)
Her daughter is finished.
(at the phone)
Sorry--but I can't get to Claire.
She appears to have gone below.
(ANTHONY closes the trap-door)
I did speak to Anthony, but he says that Claire is working at one of her experiments and that her daughter is finished. I don't know how to make her hear--I took the revolver back to the house. Anyway you will remember Claire doesn't answer the revolver. I hate to reach Claire when she doesn't want to be reached. Why, of course--a daughter is very important, but oh, that's too bad.
(putting down the receiver)
He says the girl's feelings are hurt. Isn't that annoying?
(gingerly pounds on the trap-door. Then with
the other hand. Waits. ANTHONY has a gentle
smile for the gentle tapping--nods approval as,
TOM returns to the phone)
She doesn't come up. Indeed I did--with both fists--Sorry.
Please, you won't try again to disturb Miss Claire, will you?
Her daughter is here, Anthony.
She hasn't seen her daughter for a year.
Well, if she got along without a mother for a year--
(goes back to his work)
(smiling after ANTHONY)
Plants are queer. Perhaps it's safer to do it with pencil
--or with pure thought. Things that grow in the earth--
I suppose because we grew in the earth.
I'm always shocked to find myself in agreement with Harry,
but I too am worried about Claire--and this.
(looking at the plants)
It's her best chance.
Don't you hate to go away to India--for ever--leaving
Claire's future uncertain?
You're cruel now. And you knew that you were being cruel.
Yes, I like the lines of your face when you suffer.
The lines of yours when you're causing
suffering--I don't like them.
Perhaps that's your limitation.
I grant you it may be.
(They are silent)
I had an odd feeling that you and I sat here once before, long ago, and that we were plants. And you were a beautiful plant, and I--I was a very ugly plant. I confess it surprised me--finding myself so ugly a plant.
(A young girl is seen outside. HARRY gets the
door open for her and brings ELIZABETH in.)
There's heat here. And two of your mother's friends.
Mr Demming--Richard Demming--the artist--and I
think you and Mr Edgeworthy are old friends.
(ELIZABETH comes forward. She is the creditable young American--well built, poised, 'cultivated', so sound an expression of the usual as to be able to meet the world with assurance--assurance which training has made rather graceful. She is about seventeen--and mature. You feel solid things behind her.)
I knew you when you were a baby.
You used to kick a great deal then.
(laughing, with ease)
And scream, I haven't a doubt. But I've stopped that.
One does, doesn't one? And it was you who gave me the idol.
Proselytizing, I'm afraid.
I beg--? Oh--yes
I dressed the idol up in my doll's clothes. They fitted
perfectly--the idol was just the size of my doll Ailine.
But mother didn't like the idol that way, and tore the
clothes getting them off.
(to HARRY, after looking around)
Is mother here?
Yes, she's here.
Of course she's here. And she must know you're here.
(after looking in the inner room he goes to
the trap-door and makes a great noise)
Really--it doesn't make the least difference.
Well, all I can say is,
your manners are better than your mother's.
But you see I don't do anything interesting,
so I have to have good manners.
(lightly, but leaving the impression there is a
certain superiority in not doing anything interesting.
Turning cordially to DICK)
My father was an artist.
Yes, I know.
He was a portrait painter. Do you do portraits?
Well, not the kind people buy.
They bought father's.
Yes, I know he did that kind.
Why, you don't do portraits.
I did one of you the other day. You thought it was a milk-can.
No? Not really? Did you think--How could you think--
(as HARRY does not join the laugh)
Oh, I beg your pardon.
I--Does mother grow beautiful roses now?
HARRY. No, she does not.
(The trap-door begins to move.
CLAIRE's head appears.)
Mother! It's been so long--
(she tries to overcome the
difficulties and embrace her mother)
(protecting a box she has)
Careful, Elizabeth. We mustn't upset the lice.
(but quickly equal even to lice)
Oh--yes. You take it--them--off plants, don't you?
I'm putting them on certain plants.
Oh, I thought you took them off.
(he takes them from her)
(CLAIRE, who has not fully ascended, looks at ELIZABETH,
hesitates, then suddenly starts back down the stairs.)
(slowly she re-ascends--sits on the top step.
After a long pause in which he has waited for
CLAIRE to open a conversation with her daughter.)
Well, and what have you been doing at school all this time?
Why--the things one studies, mother.
Oh! The things one studies.
(looks down cellar again)
(after another wait)
And what have you been doing besides studying?
Oh--the things one does.
Tennis and skating and dancing and--
The things one does.
Yes. All the things. The--the things one does.
Though I haven't been in school these last
few months, you know. Miss Lane took us to Europe.
And how did you like Europe?
Oh, I thought it was awfully amusing.
All the girls were quite mad about Europe.
Of course, I'm glad I'm an American.
Why--mother! Of course one is
glad one is an American. All the girls--
(a moan under the breath)
Why, mother--aren't you well?
Your mother has been working pretty hard at all this.
Oh, I do so want to know all about it? Perhaps I can help you! I think it's just awfully amusing that you're doing something. One does nowadays, doesn't one?--if you know what I mean. It was the war, wasn't it, made it the thing to do something?
And you thought, Claire, that the war was lost.
The war? Lost!
(her capable laugh)
Fancy our losing a war! Miss Lane says we should give thanks. She says we should each do some expressive thing--you know what I mean? And that this is the keynote of the age. Of course, one's own kind of thing. Like mother--growing flowers.
You think that is one's own kind of thing?
Why, of course I do, mother.
And so does Miss Lane. All the girls--
(shaking her head as if to get something out)
What is it, mother?
A fly shut up in my ear--'All the girls!'
Mother was always so amusing.
So different--if you know what I mean.
Vacations I've lived mostly with Aunt Adelaide, you know.
My sister who is fitted to rear children.
Well, somebody has to do it.
And I do love Aunt Adelaide, but I think its going
to be awfully amusing to be around with mother now
--and help her with her work. Help do some useful
I am not doing any useful beautiful thing.
Oh, but you are, mother. Of course you are. Miss Lane says so. She says it is your splendid heritage gives you this impulse to do a beautiful thing for the race. She says you are doing in your way what the great teachers and preachers behind you did in theirs.
(who is good for little more)
Well, all I can say is, Miss Lane is stung.
Mother! What a thing to say of Miss Lane.
(from this slipping into more of a little girl manner)
Oh, she gave me a spiel one day
about living up to the men I come from.
(CLAIRE turns and regards her daughter.)
You'll do it, Elizabeth.
Well, I don't know. Quite a job, I'll say. Of course,
I'd have to do it in my way. I'm not going to teach
or preach or be a stuffy person. But now that--
(she here becomes the product of a superior school)
values have shifted and such sensitive
new things have been liberated in the world--
Don't use those words.
Because you don't know what they mean.
Why, of course I know what they mean!
You're--stepping on the plants.
Your mother has been working awfully hard at all this.
Well, now that I'm here you'll let me help you, won't you, mother?
(trying for control)
But I want to. Help add to the wealth of the world.
Will you please get it out of your head that
I am adding to the wealth of the world!
But, mother--of course you are.
To produce a new and better kind of plant--
They may be new.
I don't give a damn whether they're better.
But--but what are they then?
(as if choked out of her)
(thinks a minute, then laughs triumphantly)
But what's the use of making them
different if they aren't better?
A good square question, Claire. Why don't you answer it?
I don't have to answer it.
Why not give the girl a fair show? You never have, you know.
Since she's interested, why not tell her what it is you're doing?
She is not interested.
But I am, mother. Indeed I am.
I do want awfully to understand
what you are doing, and help you.
You can't help me, Elizabeth.
Why not let her try?
Why do you ask me to do that? This is my own thing.
Why do you make me feel I should--
(goes to ELIZABETH)
I will be good to you, Elizabeth. We'll go around
together. I haven't done it, but--you'll see.
We'll do gay things. I'll have a lot of beaus
around for you. Anything else. Not--this is--Not this.
As you like, mother, of course. I just would have
been so glad to--to share the thing that interests you.
(hurt borne with good breeding and a smile)
(which says, 'How can you?')
(who is looking at ELIZABETH)
Yes, I will try.
I don't think so. As Claire says--anything else.
Why, of course--I don't at all want to intrude.
It'll do Claire good to take someone in.
To get down to brass tacks and actually
say what she's driving at.
Oh--Harry. But yes--I will try. (does try, but no words come. Laughs) When you come to say it it's not--One would rather not nail it to a cross of words--(laughs again) with brass tacks.
But I want to see you put things into words, Claire,
and realize just where you are.
You think that's a--good idea?
(in her manner of holding
the world capably in her hands)
Now let's talk of something else. I hadn't the
least idea of making mother feel badly.
No, we'll go on. Though I don't know--where we'll end.
I can't answer for that. These plants--
Perhaps they are less beautiful--less sound--than
the plants from which they diverged. But they
(laughs a little shrilly)
If you know--what I mean.
This is wrong.
No; I'm going on. They have been shocked out of what they were--into something they were not; they've broken from the forms in which they found themselves. They are alien. Outside. That's it, outside; if you--know what I mean.
(not shocked from what she is)
But of course, the object of it all is to make them
better plants. Otherwise, what would be the sense
of doing it?
(not reached by ELIZABETH)
(giving it with her hands)
lies all that's not been touched--lies life that waits. Back here--the old pattern, done again, again and again. So long done it doesn't even know itself for a pattern--in immensity. But this--has invaded. Crept a little way into--what wasn't. Strange lines in life unused. And when you make a pattern new you know a pattern's made with life. And then you know that anything may be--if only you know how to reach it.
(this has taken form, not easily, but with grea
t struggle between feeling and words)
Now I begin to get you, Claire. I never knew before
why you called it the Edge Vine.
I should destroy the Edge Vine. It isn't--over the edge.
It's running, back to--'all the girls'. It's a little
afraid of Miss Lane,
(looking sombrely at it)
You are out, but you are not alive.
Why, it looks all right, mother.
Didn't carry life with it from the life it left.
Dick--you know what I mean. At least you ought to.
(her ruthless way of not letting anyone's
feelings stand in the way of truth)
Then destroy it for me! It's hard to do it
--with the hands that made it.
But what's the point in destroying it, Claire?
I've told you. It cannot create.
But you say you can go on producing it,
and it's interesting in form.
And you think I'll stop with that? Be shut in--with
different life--that can't creep on?
(after trying to put destroying hands upon it)
It's hard to--get past what we've done.
Our own dead things--block the way.
But you're doing it this next time, Claire,
(nodding to the inner room.)
(turning to that room)
I'm not sure.
But you told me Breath of Life has already produced
itself. Doesn't that show it has brought life from
the life it left?
But timidly, rather--wistfully. A little homesick. If it is less sure this time, then it is going back to--Miss Lane. But if the pattern's clearer now, then it has made friends of life that waits. I'll know to-morrow.
You know, something tells me this is wrong.
The hymn-singing ancestors are tuning up.
I don't know what you mean by that, mother but--
But we will now sing, 'Nearer, my God, to Thee: Nearer to--'
(laughingly breaking in)
Well, I don't care. Of course you can make fun at me,
but something does tell me this is wrong.
To do what--what--
What God did?
Well--yes. Unless you do it to make them better--to
do it just to do it--that doesn't seem right to me.
'Right to you!' And that's all you know of adventure--and of anguish. Do you know it is you--world of which you're so true a flower--makes me have to leave? You're there to hold the door shut! Because you're young and of a gayer world, you think I can't see them--those old men? Do you know why you're so sure of yourself? Because you can't feel. Can't feel--the limitless--out there--a sea just over the hill. I will not stay with you! (buries her hands in the earth around the Edge Vine. But suddenly steps back from it as she had from ELIZABETH) And I will not stay with you! (grasps it as we grasp what we would kill, is trying to pull it up. They all step forward in horror. ANTHONY is drawn in by this harm to the plant)
Miss Claire! Miss Claire! The work of years!
May only make a prison!
(struggling with HARRY, who is trying to stop her)
You think I too will die on the edge?
(she has thrown him away, is now struggling with the vine)
Why did I make you? To get past you!
(as she twists it)
Oh yes, I know you have thorns!
The Edge Vine should have thorns,
(with a long tremendous pull for deep roots,
she has it up. As she holds the torn roots)
Oh, I have loved you so! You took me where I hadn't been.
(who has been looking on with
a certain practical horror)
Well, I'd say it would be better not to go there!
Now I know what you are for!
(flings her arm back to strike
ELIZABETH with the Edge Vine)
(wresting it from her)
Claire! Are you mad?
No, I'm not mad. I'm--too sane!
(pointing to ELIZABETH--and
the words come from mighty roots)
To think that object ever moved my belly and sucked my breast!
(ELIZABETH hides her face as if struck)
(going to ELIZABETH, turning to CLAIRE)
This is atrocious! You're cruel.
(He leads ELIZABETH to the door and out. After an irresolute moment in which he looks from CLAIRE to TOM, DICK follows. ANTHONY cannot bear to go. He stoops to take the Edge Vine from the floor. CLAIRE's gesture stops him. He goes into the inner room.)
(kicking the Edge Vine out of her way,
drawing deep breaths, smiling)
O-h. How good I feel! Light!
(a movement as if she could fly)
Read me something, Tom dear. Or say something pleasant--about God. But be very careful what you say about him! I have a feeling--he's not far off.
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