The Verge - Act III

In the greenhouse, the same as Act I. ANTHONY is bedding small plants where the Edge Vine grew. In the inner room the plant like caught motion glows as from a light within. HATTIE, the Maid, rushes in from outside.

ANTHONY: (turning angrily) You are not what this place—

HATTIE: Anthony, come in the house. I'm afraid. Mr Archer, I never saw him like this. He's talking to Mr Demming—something about Mrs Archer.

ANTHONY: (who in spite of himself is disturbed by her agitation) And if it is, it's no business of yours.

HATTIE: You don't know how he is. I went in the room and—

ANTHONY: Well, he won't hurt you, will he?

HATTIE: How do I know who he'll hurt—a person's whose—(seeing how to get him) Maybe he'll hurt Mrs Archer.

ANTHONY: (startled, then smiles) No; he won't hurt Miss Claire.

HATTIE: What do you know about it?—out here in the plant house?

ANTHONY: And I don't want to know about it. This is a very important day for me. It's Breath of Life I'm thinking of today—not you and Mr Archer.

HATTIE: Well, suppose he does something to Mr Demming?

ANTHONY: Mr Demming will have to look out for himself, I am at work.

(resuming work)

HATTIE: Don't you think I ought to tell Mrs Archer that—

ANTHONY: You let her alone! This is no day for her to be bothered by you. At eleven o'clock (looks at watch) she comes out here—to Breath of Life.

HATTIE: (with greed for gossip) Did you see any of them when they came downstairs last night?

ANTHONY: I was attending to my own affairs.

HATTIE: They was all excited. Mr Edgeworth—he went away. He was gone all night, I guess. I saw him coming back just as the milkman woke me up. Now he's packing his things. He wanted to get to Mrs Archer too—just a little while ago. But she won't open her door for none of them. I can't even get in to do her room.

ANTHONY: Then do some other room—and leave me alone in this room.

HATTIE: (a little afraid of what she is asking) Is she sick, Anthony—or what? (vindicating herself, as he gives her a look) The doctor, he stayed here late. But she'd locked herself in. I heard Mr Archer—

ANTHONY: You heard too much! (he starts for the door, to make her leave, but DICK rushes in. Looks around wildly, goes to the trap-door, finds it locked)

ANTHONY: What are you doing here?

DICK: Trying not to be shot—if you must know. This is the only place I can think of—till he comes to his senses and I can get away. Open that, will you? Rather—ignominious—but better be absurd than be dead.

HATTIE: Has he got the revolver?

DICK: Gone for it. Thought I wouldn't sit there till he got back, (to ANTHONY) Look here—don't you get the idea? Get me some place where he can't come.

ANTHONY: It is not what this place is for.

DICK: Any place is for saving a man's life.

HATTIE: Sure, Anthony. Mrs Archer wouldn't want Mr Demming shot.

DICK: That's right, Anthony. Miss Claire will be angry at you if you get me shot. (he makes for the door of the inner room)

ANTHONY: You can't go in there. It's locked. (HARRY rushes in from outside.)

HARRY: I thought so! (he has the revolver. HATTIE screams)

ANTHONY: Now, Mr Archer, if you'll just stop and think, you'll know Miss Claire wouldn't want Mr Demming shot.

HARRY: You think that can stop me? You think you can stop me? (raising the revolver) A dog that—

ANTHONY: (keeping squarely between HARRY and DICK) Well, you can't shoot him in here. It is not good for the plants. (HARRY is arrested by this reason) And especially not today. Why, Mr Archer, Breath of Life may flower today. It's years Miss Claire's been working for this day.

HARRY: I never thought to see this day!

ANTHONY: No, did you? Oh, it will be a wonderful day. And how she has worked for it. She has an eye that sees what isn't right in what looks right. Many's the time I've thought—Here the form is set—and then she'd say, 'We'll try this one', and it had—what I hadn't known was there. She's like that.

HARRY: I've always been pleased, Anthony, at the way you've worked with Miss Claire. This is hardly the time to stand there eulogizing her. And she's (can hardly say it) things you don't know she is.

ANTHONY: (proudly) Oh, I know that! You think I could work with her and not know she's more than I know she is?

HARRY: Well, if you love her you've got to let me shoot the dirty dog that drags her down!

ANTHONY: Not in here. Not today. More than like you'd break the glass. And Breath of Life's in there.

HARRY: Anthony, this is pretty clever of you—but—

ANTHONY: I'm not clever. But I know how easy it is to turn life back. No, I'm not clever at all (CLAIRE has appeared and is looking in from outside), but I do know—there are things you mustn't hurt, (he sees her) Yes, here's Miss Claire.

(She comes in. She is looking immaculate.)

CLAIRE: From the gutter I rise again, refreshed. One does, you know. Nothing is fixed—not even the gutter, (smilingly to HARRY and refusing to notice revolver or agitation) How did you like the way I entertained the nerve specialist?

HARRY: Claire! You can joke about it?

CLAIRE: (taking the revolver from the hand she has shocked to limpness) Whom are you trying to make hear?

HARRY: I'm trying to make the world hear that (pointing) there stands a dirty dog who—

CLAIRE: Listen, Harry, (turning to HATTIE, who is over by the tall plants at right, not wanting to be shot but not wanting to miss the conversation) You can do my room now, Hattie. (HATTIE goes) If you're thinking of shooting Dick, you can't shoot him while he's backed up against that door.

ANTHONY: Just what I told them, Miss Claire. Just what I told them.

CLAIRE: And for that matter, it's quite dull of you to have any idea of shooting him.

HARRY: I may be dull—I know you think I am—but I'll show you that I've enough of the man in me to—

CLAIRE: To make yourself ridiculous? If I ran out and hid my head in the mud, would you think you had to shoot the mud?

DICK: (stung out of fear) That's pretty cruel!

CLAIRE: Well, would you rather be shot?

HARRY: So you just said it to protect him!

CLAIRE: I change it to grass, (nodding to DICK) Grass. If I hid my face in the grass, would you have to burn the grass?

HARRY: Oh, Claire, how can you? When you know how I love you—and how I'm suffering?

CLAIRE: (with interest) Are you suffering?

HARRY: Haven't you eyes?

CLAIRE: I should think it would—do something to you.

HARRY: God! Have you no heart? (the door opens. TOM comes in)

CLAIRE: (scarcely saying it) Yes, I have a heart.

TOM: (after a pause) I came to say good-bye.

CLAIRE: God! Have you no heart? Can't you at least wait till Dick is shot?

TOM: Claire! (now sees the revolver in her hand that is turned from him. Going to her) Claire!

CLAIRE: And even you think this is so important? (carelessly raises the revolver, and with her left hand out flat, tells TOM not to touch her) Harry thinks it important he shoot Dick, and Dick thinks it important not to be shot, and you think I mustn't shoot anybody—even myself—and can't any of you see that none of that is as important as—where revolvers can't reach? (putting revolver where there is no Edge Vine) I shall never shoot myself. I'm too interested in destruction to cut it short by shooting. (after looking from one to the other, laughs. Pointing) One—two—three. You-love-me. But why do you bring it out here?

ANTHONY: (who has resumed work) It is not what this place is for.

CLAIRE: No this place is for the destruction that can get through.

ANTHONY: Miss Claire, it is eleven. At eleven we are to go in and see—

CLAIRE: Whether it has gone through. But how can we go—with Dick against the door?

ANTHONY: He'll have to move.

CLAIRE: And be shot?

HARRY: (irritably) Oh, he'll not be shot. Claire can spoil anything.

(DICK steps away from the door; CLAIRE takes a step nearer it.)

CLAIRE: (halting) Have I spoiled everything? I don't want to go in there.

ANTHONY: We're going in together, Miss Claire. Don't you remember? Oh (looking resentfully at the others) don't let any little thing spoil it for you—the work of all those days—the hope of so many days.

CLAIRE: Yes—that's it.

ANTHONY: You're afraid you haven't done it?

CLAIRE: Yes, but—afraid I have.

HARRY: (cross, but kindly) That's just nervousness, Claire. I've had the same feeling myself about making a record in flying.

CLAIRE: (curiously grateful) You have, Harry?

HARRY: (glad enough to be back in a more usual world) Sure. I've been afraid to know, and almost as afraid of having done it as of not having done it.

(CLAIRE nods, steps nearer, then again pulls back.)

CLAIRE: I can't go in there. (she almost looks at TOM) Not today.

ANTHONY: But, Miss Claire, there'll be things to see today we can't see tomorrow.

CLAIRE: You bring it in here!

ANTHONY: In—out from its own place? (she nods) And—where they are? (again she nods. Reluctantly he goes to the door) I will not look into the heart. No one must know before you know.

(In the inner room, his head a little turned away, he is seen very carefully to lift the plant which glows from within. As he brings it in, no one looks at it. HARRY takes a box of seedlings from a stand and puts them on the floor, that the newcomer may have a place.)

ANTHONY: Breath of Life is here, Miss Claire.

(CLAIRE half turns, then stops.)

CLAIRE: Look—and see—what you see.

ANTHONY: No one should see what you've not seen.

CLAIRE: I can't see—until I know.

(ANTHONY looks into the flower.)

ANTHONY: (agitated) Miss Claire!

CLAIRE: It has come through?

ANTHONY: It has gone on.

CLAIRE: Stronger?

ANTHONY: Stronger, surer.

CLAIRE: And more fragile?

ANTHONY: And more fragile.

CLAIRE: Look deep. No—turning back?

ANTHONY: (after a searching look) The form is set. (he steps back from it)

CLAIRE: Then it is—out. (from where she stands she turns slowly to the plant) You weren't. You are.

ANTHONY: But come and see, Miss Claire.

CLAIRE: It's so much more than—I'd see.

HARRY: Well, I'm going to see. (looking into it) I never saw anything like that before! There seems something alive—inside this outer shell.

DICK: (he too looking in and he has an artist's manner of a hand up to make the light right) It's quite new in form. It—says something about form.

HARRY: (cordially to CLAIRE, who stands apart) So you've really put it over. Well, well,—congratulations. It's a good deal of novelty, I should say, and I've no doubt you'll have a considerable success with it—people always like something new. I'm mighty glad—after all your work, and I hope it will—set you up.

CLAIRE: (low—and like a machine) Will you all—go away?

(ANTHONY goes—into the other room.)

HARRY: Why—why, yes. But—oh, Claire! Can't you take some pleasure in your work? (as she stands there very still) Emmons says you need a good long rest—and I think he's right.

TOM: Can't this help you, Claire? Let this be release. This—breath of the uncaptured.

CLAIRE: (and though speaking, she remains just as still)

Breath of the uncaptured?
You are a novelty.
You have been brought in.
A thousand years from now, when you are but a form too long repeated,
Perhaps the madness that gave you birth will burst again,
And from the prison that is you will leap pent queernesses
To make a form that hasn't been—
To make a person new.
And this we call creation, (very low, her head not coming up)
Go away!

(TOM goes; HARRY hesitates, looking in anxiety at CLAIRE. He starts to go, stops, looks at DICK, from him to CLAIRE. But goes. A moment later DICK moves near CLAIRE; stands uncertainly, then puts a hand upon her. She starts, only then knowing he is there.)

CLAIRE: (a slight shrinking away, but not really reached) Um, um.

(He goes. CLAIRE steps nearer her creation. She looks into what hasn't been. With her breath, and by a gentle moving of her hands, she fans it to fuller openness. As she does this TOM returns and from outside is looking in at her. Softly he opens the door and comes in. She does not know that he is there. In the way she looks at the flower he looks at her.)

TOM: Claire, (she lifts her head) As you stood there, looking into the womb you breathed to life, you were beautiful to me beyond any other beauty. You were life and its reach and its anguish. I can't go away from you. I will never go away from you. It shall all be—as you wish. I can go with you where I could not go alone. If this is delusion, I want that delusion. It's more than any reality I could attain, (as she does not move) Speak to me, Claire. You—are glad?

CLAIRE: (from far) Speak to you? (pause) Do I know who you are?

TOM: I think you do.

CLAIRE: Oh, yes. I love you. That's who you are. (waits again) But why are you something—very far away?

TOM: Come nearer.

CLAIRE: Nearer? (feeling it with her voice) Nearer. But I think I am going—the other way.

TOM: No, Claire—come to me. Did you understand, dear? I am not going away.

CLAIRE: You're not going away?

TOM: Not without you, Claire. And you and I will be together. Is that—what you wanted?

CLAIRE: Wanted? (as if wanting is something that harks far back. But the word calls to her passion) Wanted! (a sob, hands out, she goes to him. But before his arms can take her, she steps back) Are you trying to pull me down into what I wanted? Are you here to make me stop?

TOM: How can you ask that? I love you because it is not in you to stop.

CLAIRE: And loving me for that—would stop me? Oh, help me see it! It is so important that I see it.

TOM: It is important. It is our lives.

CLAIRE: And more than that. I cannot see it because it is so much more than that.

TOM: Don't try to see all that it is. From peace you'll see a little more.

CLAIRE: Peace? (troubled as we are when looking at what we cannot see clearly) What is peace? Peace is what the struggle knows in moments very far apart. Peace—that is not a place to rest. Are you resting? What are you? You who'd take me from what I am to something else?

TOM: I thought you knew, Claire.

CLAIRE: I know—what you pass for. But are you beauty? Beauty is that only living pattern—the trying to take pattern. Are you trying?

TOM: Within myself, Claire. I never thought you doubted that.

CLAIRE: Beauty is it. (she turns to Breath of Life, as if to learn it there, but turns away with a sob) If I cannot go to you now—I will always be alone.

(TOM takes her in his arms. She is shaken, then comes to rest.)

TOM: Yes—rest. And then—come into joy. You have so much life for joy.

CLAIRE: (raising her head, called by promised gladness) We'll run around together. (lovingly he nods) Up hills. All night on hills.

TOM: (tenderly) All night on hills.

CLAIRE: We'll go on the sea in a little boat.

TOM: On the sea in a little boat.

CLAIRE: But—there are other boats on other seas, (drawing back from him, troubled) There are other boats on other seas.

TOM: (drawing her back to him) My dearest—not now, not now.

CLAIRE: (her arms going round him) Oh, I would love those hours with you. I want them. I want you! (they kiss—but deep in her is sobbing) Reminiscence, (her hand feeling his arm as we touch what we would remember) Reminiscence. (with one of her swift changes steps back from him) How dare you pass for what you're not? We are tired, and so we think it's you. Stop with you. Don't get through—to what you're in the way of. Beauty is not something you say about beauty.

TOM: I say little about beauty, Claire.

CLAIRE: Your life says it. By standing far off you pass for it. Smother it with a life that passes for it. But beauty—(getting it from the flower) Beauty is the humility breathed from the shame of succeeding.

TOM: But it may all be within one's self, dear.

CLAIRE: (drawn by this, but held, and desperate because she is held) When I have wanted you with all my wanting—why must I distrust you now? When I love you—with all of me, why do I know that only you are worth my hate?

TOM: It's the fear of easy satisfactions. I love you for it.

CLAIRE: (over the flower) Breath of Life—you here? Are you lonely—Breath of Life?

TOM: Claire—hear me! Don't go where we can't go. As there you made a shell for life within, make for yourself a life in which to live. It must be so.

CLAIRE: As you made for yourself a shell called beauty?

TOM: What is there for you, if you'll have no touch with what we have?

CLAIRE: What is there? There are the dreams we haven't dreamed. There is the long and flowing pattern, (she follows that, but suddenly and as if blindly goes to him) I am tired. I am lonely. I'm afraid, (he holds her, soothing. But she steps back from him) And because we are tired—lonely—and afraid, we stop with you. Don't get through—to what you're in the way of.

TOM: Then you don't love me?

CLAIRE: I'm fighting for my chance. I don't know—which chance.

(Is drawn to the other chance, to Breath of Life. Looks into it as if to look through to the uncaptured. And through this life just caught comes the truth she chants.)

I've wallowed at a coarse man's feet,
I'm sprayed with dreams we've not yet come to.
I've gone so low that words can't get there,
I've never pulled the mantle of my fears around me
And called it loneliness—And called it God.
Only with life that waits have I kept faith.
(with effort raising her eyes to the man)
And only you have ever threatened me.

TOM: (coming to her, and with strength now) And I will threaten you. I'm here to hold you from where I know you cannot go. You're trying what we can't do.

CLAIRE: What else is there worth trying?

TOM: I love you, and I will keep you—from fartherness—from harm. You are mine, and you will stay with me! (roughly) You hear me? You will stay with me!

CLAIRE: (her head on his breast, in ecstasy of rest. Drowsily) You can keep me?

TOM: Darling! I can keep you. I will keep you—safe.

CLAIRE: (troubled by the word, but barely able to raise her head) Safe?

TOM: (bringing her to rest again) Trust me, Claire.

CLAIRE: (not lifting her head, but turning it so she sees Breath of Life) Now can I trust—what is? (suddenly pushing him roughly away) No! I will beat my life to pieces in the struggle to—

TOM: To what, Claire?

CLAIRE: Not to stop it by seeming to have it. (with fury) I will keep my life low—low—that I may never stop myself—or anyone—with the thought it's what I have. I'd rather be the steam rising from the manure than be a thing called beautiful! (with sight too clear) Now I know who you are. It is you puts out the breath of life. Image of beauty—You fill the place—should be a gate. (in agony) Oh, that it is you—fill the place—should be a gate! My darling! That it should be you who—(her hands moving on him) Let me tell you something. Never was loving strong as my loving of you! Do you know that? Oh, know that! Know it now! (her arms go around his neck) Hours with you—I'd give my life to have! That it should be you—(he would loosen her hands, for he cannot breathe. But when she knows she is choking him, that knowledge is fire burning its way into the last passion) It is you. It is you.

TOM: (words coming from a throat not free) Claire! What are you doing? (then she knows what she is doing)

CLAIRE: (to his resistance) No! You are too much! You are not enough. (still wanting not to hurt her, he is slow in getting free. He keeps stepping backward trying, in growing earnest, to loosen her hands. But he does not loosen them before she has found the place in his throat that cuts off breath. As he gasps)

Breath of Life—my gift—to you!

(She has pushed him against one of the plants at right as he sways, strength she never had before pushes him over backward, just as they have struggled from sight. Violent crash of glass is heard.)

TOM: (faint smothered voice) No. I'm—hurt.

CLAIRE: (in the frenzy and agony of killing) Oh, gift! Oh, gift! (there is no sound.

CLAIRE rises—steps back—is seen now; is looking down) Gift.

(Like one who does not know where she is, she moves into the room—looks around. Takes a step toward Breath of Life; turns and goes quickly to the door. Stops, as if stopped. Sees the revolver where the Edge Vine was. Slowly goes to it. Holds it as if she cannot think what it is for. Then raises it high and fires above through the place in the glass left open for ventilation. ANTHONY comes from the inner room. His eyes go from her to the body beyond. HARRY rushes in from outside.)

HARRY: Who fired that?

CLAIRE: I did. Lonely.

(Seeing ANTHONY'S look, HARRY 's eyes follow it.)

HARRY: Oh! What? What? (DICK comes running in) Who? Claire!

(DICK sees—goes to TOM)

CLAIRE: Yes. I did it. MY—Gift.

HARRY: Is he—? He isn't—? He isn't—?

(Tries to go in there. Cannot—there is the sound of broken glass, of a position being changed—then DICK reappears.)

DICK: (his voice in jerks) It's—it's no use, but I'll go for a doctor.

HARRY: No—no. Oh, I suppose—(falling down beside CLAIRE—his face against her) My darling! How can I save you now?

CLAIRE: (speaking each word very carefully) Saved—myself.

ANTHONY: I did it. Don't you see? I didn't want so many around. Not—what this place is for.

HARRY: (snatching at this but lets it go) She wouldn't let—(looking up at CLAIRE—then quickly hiding his face) And—don't you see?

CLAIRE: Out. (a little like a child's pleased surprise) Out.

(DICK stands there, as if unable to get to the door—his face distorted, biting his hand.)

ANTHONY: Miss Claire! You can do anything—won't you try?

CLAIRE: Reminiscence? (speaking the word as if she has left even that, but smiles a little)

(ANTHONY takes Reminiscence, the flower she was breeding for fragrance for Breath of Life—holds it out to her. But she has taken a step forward, past them all.)

CLAIRE: Out. (as if feeling her way)


(Her voice now feeling the way to it.)


(Voice almost upon it.)

—my God,

(Falling upon it with surprise.)

to Thee,

(Breathing it.)

Nearer—to Thee,
E'en though it be—

(A slight turn of the head toward the dead man she loves—a mechanical turn just as far the other way.)

a cross

(Her head going down.)

raises me;

(Her head slowly coming up—singing it.)

Still all my song shall be,
Nearer, my—

(Slowly the curtain begins to shut her out. The last word heard is the final Nearer—a faint breath from far.)