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Full Online Book HomePlaysThe Road To Damascus: A Trilogy - Part 1 - Act 1 - Scene 2. Doctor's House
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The Road To Damascus: A Trilogy - Part 1 - Act 1 - Scene 2. Doctor's House Post by :eagle75 Category :Plays Author :August Strindberg Date :May 2012 Read :2683

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The Road To Damascus: A Trilogy - Part 1 - Act 1 - Scene 2. Doctor's House


(Courtyard enclosed on three sides by a single-storied house with a tiled roof. Small windows in all three facades. Right, verandah with glass doors. Left, climbing roses and bee-hives outside the windows. In the middle of the courtyard a woodpile in the form of a cupola. A well beside it. The top of a walnut tree is seen above the central facade of the house. In the corner, right, a garden gate. By the well a large tortoise. On right, entrance below to a wine-cellar. An ice-chest and dust-bin. The DOCTOR'S SISTER enters from the verandah with a telegram.)

SISTER. Now misfortune will fall on your house.

DOCTOR. When has it not, my dear sister?

SISTER. This time.... Ingeborg's coming and bringing... guess whom?

DOCTOR. Wait! I know, because I've long foreseen this, even desired it, for he's a writer I've always admired. I've learnt much from him and often wished to meet him. Now he's coming, you say. Where did Ingeborg meet him?

SISTER. In town, it seems. Probably in some literary _salon_.

DOCTOR. I've often wondered whether this man was the boy of the same name who was my friend at school. I hope not; for he seemed one that fortune would treat harshly. And in a life-time he'll have given his unhappy tendencies full scope.

SISTER. Don't let him come here. Go out. Say you're engaged.

DOCTOR. No. One can't escape one's fate.

SISTER. But you've never bowed your head to anyone! Why crawl before this spectre, and call him fate?

DOCTOR. Life has taught me to. I've wasted time and energy in fighting the inevitable.

SISTER. But why allow your wife to behave like this? She'll compromise you both.

DOCTOR. You think so? Because, when I made her break off her engagement I held out false hopes to her of a life of freedom, instead of the slavery she'd known. Besides, I could never love her if I were in a position to give her orders.

SISTER. You'd be friends with your enemy?

DOCTOR. Oh...!

SISTER. Will you let her bring someone into the house who'll destroy you? If you only knew how I hate that man.

DOCTOR. I do. His last book's terrible; and shows a certain lack of mental balance.

SISTER. They ought to shut him up.

DOCTOR. Many people have said so, but I don't think him bad enough.

SISTER. Because you're eccentric yourself, and live in daily contact with a woman who's mad.

DOCTOR. I admit abnormality has always had a strong attraction for me, and originality is at least not commonplace. (The syren of a steamer is heard.) What was that?

SISTER. Your nerves are on edge. It's only the steamer. (Pause.) Now, I implore you, go away!

DOCTOR. I ought to want to; but I'm held fast. (Pause.) From here I can see his portrait in my study. The sunlight throws a shadow on it that changes it completely. It makes him look like.... Horrible! You see what I mean?

HATER. The devil! Come away!

DOCTOR. I can't.

SISTER. Then at least defend yourself.

DOCTOR. I always do. But this time I feel a thunder storm gathering. How often have I tried to fly, and not been able to. It's as if the earth were iron and I a compass needle. If misfortune comes, it's not of my fee choice. They've come in at the door.

SISTER. I heard nothing.

DOCTOR. I did! Now I can see them, too! He _is the friend of my boyhood. He got into trouble at school; but I was blamed and punished. He was nick-named Caesar, I don't know why.

SISTER. And this man....

DOCTOR. That's what always happens. Caesar! (The LADY comes in.)

LADY. I've brought a visitor.

DOCTOR. I know, and he's welcome.

LADY. I left him in the house, to wash.

DOCTOR. Well, are you satisfied with your conquest?

LADY. I think he's the unhappiest man I ever met.

DOCTOR. That's saying a great deal.

LADY. Yes, there's enough unhappiness for all of us.

DOCTOR. There is! (To his SISTER.) Would you ask him to come out here? (His SISTER goes out.) Have you had an interesting time?

LADY. Yes. I met a number of strange people. Have you had many patients?

DOCTOR. No. The consulting room's empty this morning. I think the practice is going down.

LADY (kindly). I'm sorry. Tell me, oughtn't that woodpile to be taken into the house? It only draws the damp.

DOCTOR (without reproach). Yes, and the bees should be killed, too; and the fruit in the garden picked. But I've no time to do it.

LADY. You're tired.

DOCTOR. Tired of everything.

LADY (without bitterness). And you've a wife who can't even help you.

DOCTOR (kindly). You mustn't say that, if I don't think so.

LADY (turning towards the verandah). Here he is!

(The STRANGER comes in through the verandah, dressed in a way that makes him look younger than before. He has an air of forced candour. He seems to recognise the doctor, and shrinks back, but recovers himself.)

DOCTOR. You're very welcome.

STRANGER. It's kind of you.

DOCTOR. You bring good weather with you. And we need it; for it's rained for six weeks.

STRANGER. Not for seven? It usually rains for seven if it rains on St. Swithin's. But that's later on--how foolish of me!

DOCTOR. As you're used to town life I'm afraid you'll find the country dull.

STRANGER. Oh no. I'm no more at home there than here. Excuse me asking, but haven't we met before--when we were boys?

DOCTOR. Never.

(The LADY has sat down at the table and is crocheting.)

STRANGER. Are you sure?

DOCTOR. Perfectly. I've followed your literary career from the first with great interest; as I know my wife has told you. So that if we _had met I'd certainly have remembered your name. (Pause.) Well, now you can see how a country doctor lives!

STRANGER. If you could guess what the life of a so-called liberator's like, you wouldn't envy him.

DOCTOR. I can imagine it; for I've seen how men love their chains. Perhaps that's as it should be.

STRANGER (listening). Strange. Who's playing in the village?

DOCTOR. I don't know. Do you, Ingeborg?


STRANGER. Mendelssohn's Funeral March! It pursues me. I never know whether I've heard it or not.

DOCTOR. Do you suffer from hallucinations?

STRANGER. No. But I'm pursued by trivial incidents. Can't you hear anyone playing?


LADY. Someone _is playing. Mendelssohn.

DOCTOR. Not surprising.

STRANGER. No. But that it should be played precisely at the right place, at the right time.... (He gets up.)

DOCTOR. To reassure you, I'll ask my sister. (Exit through the verandah.)

STRANGER (to the LADY). I'm stifling here. I can't pass a night under this roof. Your husband looks like a werewolf and in his presence you turn into a pillar of salt. Murder has been done in this house; the place is haunted. I shall escape as soon as I can find an excuse.

(The DOCTOR comes back.)

DOCTOR. It's the girl at the post office.

STRANGER (nervously). Good. That's all right. You've an original house. That pile of wood, for instance.

DOCTOR. Yes. It's been struck by lightning twice.

STRANGER. Terrible! And you still keep it?

DOCTOR. That's why. I've made it higher out of defiance; and to give shade in summer. It's like the prophet's gourd. But in the autumn it must go into the wood shed.

STRANGER (looking round). Christmas roses, too! Where did you get them? They're flowering in summer! Everything's upside down here.

DOCTOR. They were given me by a patient. He's not quite sane.

STRANGER. Is he staying in the house?

DOCTOR. Yes. He's a quiet soul, who ponders on the purposelessness of nature. He thinks it foolish for hellebore to grow in the snow and freeze; so he puts the plants in the cellar and beds them out in the spring.

STRANGER. But a madman... in the house. Most unpleasant!

DOCTOR. He's very harmless.

STRANGER. How did he lose his wits?

DOCTOR. Who can tell. It's a disease of the mind, not the body.

STRANGER. Tell me--is he here--now?

DOCTOR. Yes. He's free to wander in the garden and arrange creation. But if his presence disquiets you, we can shut him up.

STRANGER. Why aren't such poor devils put out of--their misery?

DOCTOR. It's hard to know whether they're ripe....

STRANGER. What for?

DOCTOR. For what's to come.

STRANGER. There _is nothing. (Pause.)

DOCTOR. Who knows!

STRANGER. I feel strangely uneasy. Have you medical material... specimens... dead bodies?

DOCTOR. Oh yes. In the ice-box--for the authorities, you know. (He pulls out an arm and leg.) Look here.

STRANGER. No. Too much like Bluebeard!

DOCTOR (sharply). What do you mean by that? (Looking at the LADY.) Do you think I kill my wives?

STRANGER. Oh no. It's clear you don't. Is this house haunted, too?

DOCTOR. Oh yes. Ask my wife.(He disappears behind the wood pile where neither the STRANGER nor the LADY can see him.)

LADY. You needn't whisper, my husband's deaf. Though he can lip read.

STRANGER. Then let me say that I've never known a more painful half-hour. We exchange the merest commonplaces, because none of us has the courage to say what he thinks. I suffered so that the idea came to me of opening my veins to get relief. But now I'd like to tell him the truth and have done with it. Shall we say to his face that we mean to go away, and that you've had enough of his foolishness?

LADY. If you talk like that I'll begin to hate you. You must behave under any circumstances.

STRANGER. How well brought up you are! (The DOCTOR now becomes visible to the STRANGER and the LADY, who continue their conversation.) Come away with me, before the sun goes down. (Pause.) Tell me, why did you kiss me yesterday?

LADY. But....

STRANGER. Supposing he could hear what we say! I don't trust him.

DOCTOR. What shall we do to amuse our guest?

LADY. He doesn't care much for amusement. His life's not been happy.

(The DOCTOR blows a whistle. The MADMAN comes into the garden. He wears a laurel wreath and his clothes are curious.)

DOCTOR. Come here, Caesar.

STRANGER (displeased). What? Is he called Caesar?

DOCTOR. No. It's a nickname I gave him, to remind me of a boy I was at school with.

STRANGER (disturbed). Oh?

DOCTOR. He was involved in a strange incident, and I got all the blame.

LADY (to the STRANGER). You'd never believe a boy could have been so corrupt.

(The STRANGER looks distressed. The MADMAN comes nearer.)

DOCTOR. Caesar, come and make your bow to our famous writer.

CAESAR. Is this the great man?

LADY (to the DOCTOR). Why did you let him come, if it annoys our guest?

DOCTOR. Caesar, you must behave. Or I shall have to whip you.

CAESAR. Yes. He is Caesar, but he's not great. He doesn't even know which came first, the hen or the egg. But I do.

STRANGER (to the LADY). I shall go. Is this a trap? What am I to think? In a minute he'll unloose his bees to amuse me.

LADY. Trust me... whatever happens! And turn your face away when you speak.

STRANGER. This werewolf never leaves us.

DOCTOR (looking at his watch). You must excuse me for about an hour. I've a patient to visit. I hope the time won't hang on your hands.

STRANGER. I'm used to waiting, for what never comes....

DOCTOR (to the MADMAN). Come along, Caesar. I must lock you up in the cellar. (He goes out with the MADMAN.)

STRANGER (to the LADY). What does that mean? Someone's pursuing me! You told me your husband was well disposed towards me, and I believed you. But he can't open his mouth without wounding me. Every word pricks like a goad. Then this funeral march... it's really being played! And here, once more, Christmas roses! Why does everything follow in an eternal round? Dead bodies, beggars, madmen, human destinies and childhood memories? Come away. Let me free you from this hell.

LADY. That's why I brought you here. Also that it could never be said you'd stolen the wife of another. But one thing I must ask you: can I put my trust in you?

STRANGER. You mean in my feelings?

LADY. I don't speak of them. We're taking them for granted. They'll endure as long as they'll endure.

STRANGER. You mean in my position? Large sums are owed me. All I have to do is to write or telegraph....

LADY. Then I will trust you. (Putting away her work.) Now go straight out of that door. Follow the syringa hedge till you find a gate. We'll meet in the next village.

STRANGER (hesitating). I don't like leaving the back way. I'd rather have fought it out with him here.

LADY. Quick!

STRANGER. Won't you come with me?

LADY. Yes. But then I must go first. (She turns and blows a kiss towards the verandah.) My poor werewolf!

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