The Failures

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THE PEOPLE

THE MAN, an Artist.
THE WOMAN.

SCENE

The parlatorio of a small apartment in Rome.

A DOORWAY from the stairs without opens upon a simple little room. The lace-curtained windows on one side conceal a balcony from which, in the distance, the Via Bondinelli may be seen. Directly opposite these windows there is a fireplace above which rests an odd mirror with painted putti enfolding it. A door, hidden by a faded, beaded curtain, leading into the bedroom, is near this. A sofa-chair by the coal-Boulet fire; some smaller chairs and a table complete the furnishings. The room has not taken on a personal note: it seems detached from whatever could happen in it—just a place. The sun is burning through the windows, and, as the play proceeds, it glows into a dull red, finally fading while the fire alone tints the room more and more gently.

THE WOMAN is seated by the window, looking intently through the lace curtains. She is evidently awaiting somebody. She is about thirty, dark, with a suggestion of deep capabilities and little will. Her charm is more compelling than her actual beauty. Upon her face rests a vague suspense. She is in deep mourning.

There is a long pause: suddenly her face lights up; she rises, watches anxiously a moment, then relaxes—disappointed. In her hand she holds a crumpled telegram, which she smooths out and rereads. The clock slowly strikes five, and she crosses to it, indicating her expected visitor is late. She stands before the fire a second, kisses the telegram, puts it in her dress—recrosses to the window again slowly. In a few seconds her sharp intake of breath shows some one is coming. She watches, fascinated, yet strangely puzzled. She goes up to the door and leaves it open. Then she controls herself, comes down to the fire, turns and waits. After another pause THE MAN enters. He seesher: she gives a start, stopped apparently by his changed appearance. He slowly closes the door behind him, and stands there. They are alone and silent, and controlled.

THE MAN is tall, thin, eyes deep-set and yearning, with features once clear-cut, now blurred subtly. He is a man of halted potentials; he suggests a locked tragedy.

THE WOMAN
You are late.

THE MAN
(After a pause)
Yes.

THE WOMAN
(Slowly also)
You never were late.

THE MAN
Five years change.

THE WOMAN
Some of us. (Looking at him) It has you—greatly.

THE MAN
Yes, greatly.

THE WOMAN
I have come a long way across the seas to your city.

THE MAN
(Simply)
I have never left it.

THE WOMAN
I knew you were waiting. (His face shades a bit unnoticed.) Do you understand why I am here—now?

THE MAN
(Calmly)
Your husband is dead!

THE WOMAN
(Surprised)
You knew?

THE MAN
That could be the only reason.

THE WOMAN
It was a few months ago—at home. If he had been younger he might have—but he suffered little. I waited only as long as was necessary afterwards. I managed to get this same apartment. It hasn't changed so very much with the years, has it?

(They look about. He seems to linger on the objects: finally his eye rests upon the sofa-chair: she follows his gaze.)

THE MAN
Even that.

THE WOMAN
(Smiles fondly in recollection)
Yes: where you read to me so often those few months we were alone and happy. To me it seems like yesterday—

THE MAN
To you, yes. (He half shrugs his shoulders and arouses himself from a settling mood.) So you have sent for me at last.

THE WOMAN
(Happily)
As soon as I arrived.

THE MAN
(Sharply)
Why?

THE WOMAN
(With exhilaration)
Why?—Because now I am free.

THE MAN
(With measured effect)
But what has that to do with me?

THE WOMAN
(Simply)
I have come to marry you.

(They gaze at each other but do not move nearer.)

THE MAN
Haven't we both seen that marriage can keep apart those who love? Perhaps I have grown afraid of its power.

THE WOMAN
So have I. (She shudders.) Yes; it is terrible when love is dead. I must not think of those years: they were frightful. (She comes closer.) But, dear, it is different with us; you and I who have known love, who do.

THE MAN
It is too late with you and me—too late.

THE WOMAN
(Scarcely realizing)
Too late? (Intuitively) There is somebody else?

THE MAN
No. That problem was saved me: one doesn't suffer a second time willingly.

THE WOMAN
Then, then—oh, no: it can't be; you—you no longer love me?

THE MAN
Say rather I have learned really to know you during the absence, and that has made things different.

THE WOMAN
Different?

THE MAN
You are not what I thought you: you must pass—

THE WOMAN
(Sinking in chair, dazed)
After all that, I must pass! (Losing control) Then why did you let me see you again? Why did you come here in this room of ours? Why didn't you write me? Anything else.

THE MAN
(With cold incisiveness)
Because I'm not the coward to dodge a difficult situation. It concerns your life. You have a right to demand and receive an explanation. I can't let you be tortured, as I was, through inference and imagination. I want to be fair—if that is ever possible between men and women.

THE WOMAN
It's not a time to be proud: I love you too much. (He is unmoved.) To-day, I wanted only to feel: now you make me think. It's hard when I expected—but, you see, I'm—I'm calm. (She soon masters herself completely.) You say you have learned to know me during the absence. How? Has one word passed between us?

THE MAN
That was our agreement with him.

THE WOMAN
Yet you must have felt the messages I sent you every hour: you never left me for a moment. You knew me as no man ever knew me.

THE MAN
You knew love for the first time: you revealed yourself—that's all.

THE WOMAN
(Leaning forward)
And you did love that woman who was?

THE MAN
Yes,—to the dregs.

THE WOMAN
(Eagerly)
Then how, how have I changed? Tell me one single fact to show I am different than you thought me!

THE MAN
There is only one fact since you ask it: you stayed with him: you continued to wear his name and his ring but you loved another man.

THE WOMAN
So that was it. (She puts her hands silently before her face.)

THE MAN
You seem to forget the darkness that was closing in upon your married life before I came: the staring of your two naked egos, the seeing each a stranger, the boredom, the starved hours, the reach toward me to save you.

THE WOMAN
(Interrupting)
No, no, one never forgets. I knew my own lie, only he loved me in spite of all. What else could we have done, after we told him about ourselves?

THE MAN
You forget, too, I gave you the strength to stay with him the time he demanded to test our love by separation—before he would let you go "easily."

THE WOMAN
Yes. You said: "We must not build our happiness upon a broken life." And my crime was in being true to the strength you had given me.

THE MAN
(Cynically)
Not exactly.

THE WOMAN
What then?

THE MAN
(Hesitating)
Something happened to me.

THE WOMAN
It's no time to hesitate. Go on.

THE MAN
When you left here I knew I was loved for the first time. I had entered into my man's inheritance; nothing before had counted: through you I had touched the rim of life, and it seemed to whirl me over the seas and mountains. I had told you love would summon my forces with the brush to their fullest expresion, for in myself I desired the mere consciousness that you loved me to drive me on to all that you had expected of me.

THE WOMAN
(Who eagerly followed his words)
Yes, yes; you know I sought it, too.—Ah, how your words sweep me back! Dear, don't you know I could not have left you then, at all if I had not thought that?

THE MAN
(Cynically)
Couldn't you? I wonder. (She is hurt by his doubt.) But listen: I spiritualized everything to keep me strong in parting; I think I half believed it, too, till you had actually gone. And then—

THE WOMAN
Then?

THE MAN
Then I saw I couldn't exist on the heights alone: the air was too rare, and I had to come down into the valleys where the world sleeps and lives. I had misread myself. It wasn't only spirit: there was something more insistent than the hope of what might be in time: it was the sharp cry of the moment. (He pauses.) I loved you too—humanly.

THE WOMAN
(Unabashed)
I know. I know. (Long pause.) Go on.

THE MAN
And with the months there was that cry for you, for the sound of your voice, the touch of your fingers on my arm, the perfume which meant you—

THE WOMAN
(Moved)
I met you everywhere.

THE MAN
I tried to forget by thinking of your belief in my work. But, what were my pictures when my hand shook with the beat of my blood? Then, I ceased to see you as a force: it was only the woman who haunted me (Bitterly) and always—always like a sharp dagger thrust I would realize she was with another man!

THE WOMAN
(Quickly)
Whom I did not love, to whom I could give nothing.

THE MAN
But you were with him! That was the grinding edge. He could see you, touch you, be kind to you.

THE WOMAN
He saw only surfaces: all the rest had ceased before you came.

THE MAN
(Big)
But you were with him!

THE WOMAN
(Feebly)
Couldn't you remember I loved you?

THE MAN
I tried. If it had been only spirit I could have tucked it away tenderly in lavender and lace, and kept it apart from the humanity in and about me. But it wasn't: it was love I was not ashamed of—as it should be between man and woman—with the spirit there, high and strong, yet rooted below in the facts of life!

THE WOMAN
How I understand! How you must have suffered! (Almost inaudibly) It was the same with me.

THE MAN
(Emphatically)
But, in spite of everything, I was faithful to what you wished, until—

THE WOMAN
(Breathlessly)
Until—

THE MAN
One thought cut away all my defenses: it was that which cheapened you in my eyes.

THE WOMAN
(Cut)
Cheapened? Oh—not that.

THE MAN
(Slowly)
Yes; and when you became less, love somehow seemed too exacting and (Very bitterly) there was nothing to keep me stronger than the men about me.

THE WOMAN
(Understanding)
I have tried never to think of those others who might—(Turning aside and almost whispering) But I knew you were a man. Oh, don't bring their shadows here.

THE MAN
(Hesitating)
I am making you suffer too much. I can't soften the facts. Shall I go on?

THE WOMAN
Yes: I am used to suffering. It is best you finish. (She wipes her eyes.) What—what was it I did to cheapen love?

THE MAN
As I said: you stayed with him.

THE WOMAN
(Almost fiercely)
Do you think that was easy?

THE MAN
(Strongly)
Perhaps it was easier than coming to me!

(She is stunned, quivers, and turns away silent. She almost staggers to a chair, and sits down with head bowed: he tries to control his bitterness, but it escapes more and more in spite of him.)

I waited for him to let you go willingly, to give you your promised chance for happiness. But as the alloted time passed by and nothing happened, my imagination pictured the possibilities of the situation. I knew how you could deceive, not always to protect yourself but to save others. Were you saving him—making it entirely tolerable? Were you concealing your deeper life completely, and tricking him with an affected happiness? Why did you go on as in the past? Was he holding you by Pity? If for his love he wouldn't do anything, why didn't you for yours?

THE WOMAN
(Confused)
Me? But—but, I couldn't hurt him!

THE MAN
I knew your capacity for suffering, and guessed you were suffering, but was that all love had grown to mean to you—an excuse for suffering? Were you, too, luxuriating, like so many other women, in your self-inflicted martyrdom and sacrifice, forgetting that I—the man you loved—was with you on the altar? Were you sheltering your inactivity beneath spiritual sophistries—jagged, rusty, death-bearing ideals of duty, pity, and the like—

THE WOMAN
(Trying to interrupt him throughout)
Stop—stop—!

THE MAN
—or were you willingly shirking the responsibilities and the obligations to the love you had inspired?—Don't you see how the uncertainty almost drove me mad?

THE WOMAN
(Primitively)
Then why didn't you come take me?—Why? Why?

THE MAN
Because it was your place to find the impulse from within yourself. (She is confused.) When you didn't, I saw you were a moral coward, a weak, conventional woman who hadn't the courage to reach out and take her happiness. (With vehemence) You stayed on in the house with a man you did not love. That's what destroyed everything in me—for I despised you.

THE WOMAN
(Crushed)
But, didn't you understand? Couldn't you somehow? Oh—!

THE MAN
(With slow contempt)
Yes, I understood: it was the line of least resistance.

THE WOMAN
(Desperately defending herself)
No! No!

THE MAN
(Pressing the point)
It was so much easier tobe conventional.

THE WOMAN
I knew you were waiting for me. I knew—

THE MAN
But you forgot how tired one's arms could be, holding them out endlessly. (Slowly) You preferred to accept the conventional protection of his name, because you feared the parched places you must cross to come to me; you dreaded the peering eyes, the smirch of lips, the shrug of shoulders. So you mechanically kept by his side, starving him, starving yourself, and starving me. But now—now that his protection is gone—it is easy to come!—it is no effort; you need my protection. Death offers the gift, not you. But you are conventional to the end; for you even come to the man you love wearing the mourning weeds of him who stood between!—

(She grasps quickly at her dress, then with a deep moan sinks upon the sofa-chair amid stifled sobs. A very long pause follows. He stands looking at her, betraying only bitterness.)

THE WOMAN
(Completely broken)
Oh—what a miserable failure I am. How you make me see it. You've torn off everything. God!—and—and it's all true—true! I was a coward. I am.

THE MAN
(Nearer)
There may have been things I did not know.

THE WOMAN
(As though honest with herself for the first time)
They wouldn't alter. No: it's all true and more,I never could be strong alone. With you I felt capable of anything, but away, alone—no—no. I couldn't face what would have to be gone through. I couldn't take that first step. The newspapers, the gossip—everything. I didn't dare move from his protection—for he did protect me—not (With self-disgust) not because he loved me—oh—that's the worst of it. That all ceased in him.

THE MAN
When he thought I had passed! How like us men!

THE WOMAN
Yes. He was conventional, too. He merely dreaded the talk—that—and nothing else. I knew it and despised him. But he was kind in his way. That's what we bartered these years: that was our marriage. I could not shake myself free from the wall that held me. Somebody has always taken care of me. That's why I married him when I was left alone as a girl. That's why I come to you. Don't stop me. It's all true. I did fear the parched places and I knew in my heart that only when he had—could I ever come. (She shudders and struggles with her sobs.)

THE MAN
(After eying her: a little more softly)
Forgive me. If I had been stronger I would have spared you this—lied to you somehow, and made it easier. It seems like dynamiting a butterfly. But I've been thinking these phrases and they just came out. Love failed me and I failed love. I'm not strong any more. I was afraid in the old days you expected too much from me. Good-by.

(He starts to go: she rises, halting him, at the strange tenderness in his voice.)

THE WOMAN
Yes. I did expect too much from you. I was weak: I could suffer, yet could not do for love. But those years have gone: I can offer no defense save that through them all I did not know I was harming you. I thought you were strong and would go grandly on to your destiny! But I see you and your work needed me. That is harder for me than all you have said: not only do I fall beneath your ideal of me but the love I inspired in you failed to keep you "big."

THE MAN
(Humbly)
Yes.

THE WOMAN
(She comes closer to him)
You have blamed me with the selfishness that only lies in pent-up bitterness, and you have forgotten what you have done to me. Look at me. Straight in the eyes. (He reluctantly does so; she continues reproachfully) What have you done with all those dreams you said my coming had brought you? What have you done with all the ambitions which I aroused? Where are the pictures with the soul of the woman you loved in them? Oh! What have you done with your own love for me?

THE MAN
Nothing, nothing. That's the other reason why it's too late. You're worthy of pity: I am not even worthy of that. Now we both understand.

THE WOMAN
(Shaking her head sadly)
It is as though a great dream lay broken between us—

THE MAN
Yes, I feel it, too. Neither of us did anything!

THE WOMAN
(Slowly)
Two failures! Where love had so much to offer. Two failures!

THE MAN
There are three. Your husband failed also. In his strength while he loved you, he might have made us both ashamed.

THE WOMAN
And ever afterward have stood between. (The light outside is gone. Only the fire leaps and colors them. There is another long pause.) How dark it has become.

THE MAN
I must be going out into the blackness again.

THE WOMAN
Yes. I also, later.

THE MAN
(Lingers)
Too bad—too bad. When love might have done so much. How we have abused it—we three. I suppose we learn to find our true value in loving. Oh! The shame in finding so much alloy. Love is only for the strong; it breaks the others.

THEWOMAN
(Quickly)
No—you're wrong. Does love lie only in strength? (She comes to him.) Doesn't love ever come to the tired and weak? Can't one be just a plain, helpless woman craving protection of the man, who, in turn, needs a bosom for his tired head? Dear One, I have no pride left. I am that weak and lonely woman: you are that tired man. We have nobody else. Because you failed me, my love is no less. (With penetration) Are you so sure your love for me is dead?

THE MAN
I am dead inside.

THE WOMAN
(Quickly)
Are you? Are you? I'm not. I'm proud of the life that lies calling beneath the self-pity, beneath the woman's weakness and failure. (Coming very close and holding his hands.) Don't you know all these years, I, too, have held the dream of you close—close to me—and my call has been as strong as yours.

THE MAN
(Bitterly)
Then there was something—with him? (She protests as he turns away.) Of course not. There are some things a woman would always lie about to another man!

THE WOMAN
(Catching the jealous note in his voice, she eagerly puts her hand on his shoulder; turning him to her. He tries to speak but is swept to passion by the touch.)

Dearest, you still love me.

THE MAN
(Half struggling away)
No. I tell you—it's over—dead—tossed in the rubbish heap.

THE WOMAN
(Vibrantly)
This has always been between us: this has been alive all these years, and I'm not ashamed either.

THE MAN
No! No!

THE WOMAN
We can't escape: we've been blind to-day. Listen, I love you, I love you, and you love me.

THE MAN
(Trying to free himself)
It's dead. No; no.

THE WOMAN
You do! You do! Your anger tells me so; your cruelty, the bitterness, and the hurt in your heart cries it. If I were meant to pass, you would not have come. Kiss me: you are afraid to kiss me—

(He stands, looking at her, caught by his own feelings. They are still a moment; then his head lowers. They kiss. She falls back, half swooning, in his arms.)

THE MAN
Dearest. Dearest. (With tenderness) Dearest!—

(He takes her to the sofa-chair, and puts her upon it. He holds her hands, and sits on the rug beside her. She opens her eyes.)

THE WOMAN
(Faintly)
Ah! The tenderness of you, too. You will protect me—watch over me. I know.

THE MAN
Yes, yes—for always now. I love you.—It's stronger.

(He lowers his head; she feels his tears and kisses on her hands. She leans over him.)

SLOW CURTAIN


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.


The author died in 1967, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 50 years or less. This work may also 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.