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THE FIRST PLAYS: "LA PRINCESSE MALEINE," "LES AVEUGLES,"
"L'INTRUSE," "LES SEPT PRINCESSES"
IF Maeterlinck's early poems contained any promise, it certainly was not a promise of plays. The fever-images -- some one being poisoned in a garden, deer in a beleaguered town, sheep trotting sadly into the hospital ward -- these cannot have seemed to have in them either the method or the material of drama. Peacocks, or swans, or sheep, were unlucky characters for a play, yet they were as real as anything else in "Serres Chaudes." The effects were chiefly silent, the poet's attitude spectatorial even towards himself.
"Serres Chaudes," nevertheless, was closely followed by a play in five acts, "La Princesse Maleine." Here there is a clear, and perhaps only too emphatically clear, material outline; Mrs. Radcliffe would not have been above it. At the opening, the betrothal banquet of Prince Hjalmar and Princess Maleine is being held in the castle by her father, Marcellos, king of a part of Holland. A comet and a shower of stars amaze the guards while they talk of how the prince's father, king of another part of Holland, old Hjalmar, is too fond of the exiled Queen Ann of Jutland. The banquet lasts late, and old Hjalmar is very drunk, when a smashing of windows is heard and Maleine runs out. Old Hjalmar has quarrelled with Marcellos and goes away taunting him. But Maleine still loves Hjalmar, though she is not yet fifteen, and her father shows how unreasonable it is, seeing that the two kings are now at war. She will not give up the lover whom she has seen but once. The castle is attacked and most of the defenders killed, but Maleine has disappeared. Hjalmar is now to marry Uglyane, daughter of Ann of Jutland, while Maleine and her nurse are shut up in a tower to be safe until the war's end. The nurse makes a hole in the wall, and their eyes tell them, for the first time, that the whole land is wasted by war and fire.
Going towards Ysselmonde through the forest, with her nurse, Maleine hears that Marcellos and her mother, Godeliva, have perished and that Hjalmar is to marry. The beauty of the princess sets two men fighting in a village, and Hjalmar's friend, Angus, seeing her without recognizing her, suggests her for Uglyane's attendant. In that position Maleine takes Uglyane a false message to say that Hjalmar is not going to keep a promised tryst, and goes herself. Her lover feels her beauty in the dim forest, but only when he has asked her what she is thinking of does she. say "Maleine," and reveal herself, to his joy.
Hjalmar tells the old king of Maleine's return. He no longer thinks of marrying Uglyane. A knocking at the door is heard at a feast, and Maleine enters in the long white robes of a bride. The old king faints when he knows that it is the dead Maleine. Queen Ann lets him know that he must choose between herself and the returned princess, who is "greener than if she had been drowned and rotting four weeks in water." A madman points at the princess and makes the sign of the cross. Nevertheless, Hjalmar and Maleine are to be married, and Ann and Uglyane to wait for the event. Nuns come to weave the bride's dresses; bells and the croaking of crows are heard and will-o'-the-wisps are seen; Maleine is chilly and pale. The queen has asked for a poison, but the physician, who sees some mystery hovering about the castle, has determined to make it harmless. The king is a reluctant but helpless accomplice; he would like to go away, but Ann holds him back. Maleine's illness makes Hjalmar think that she should try a different air; but Ann points out that here she is well nourished, and the king can only feebly exclaim, "Oh! oh!" Allan, the little son of Ann, asks if Maleine will not ever play with him again, and disturbs them. The king kisses Maleine. A knocking is heard: for a time they do not open, and it is repeated; but when Hjalmar opens nothing is to be seen.
Ann feels that Hjalmar is suspicious. She is impatient; the poison will "idle on till doomsday."
There is another great storm, and Maleine is left alone in the night with a large black dog quivering in the corner of the room. She thinks somebody is in the room, and calls out -- for by the queen's orders no one has visited her all day. The king and Queen Ann come to her door; the old man would draw back, but they enter together, and the black dog crawls out. Pretending to do her hair, Ann twists a cord round Maleine's neck and kills her. The madman appears at the window, but is struck back into the moat by the king They hear a scratching outside, and the nuns singing. The nurse outside calls out to ask if Maleine is asleep, and supposes that she is sleeping soundly. "Soundly," echoes the king. Hjalmar and Allan are now outside, and the nurse relates that she was attracted by the dog sniffing at the door. Allan, too, listens, and declares that there is a little boy behind it. When he has gone the king runs out without waiting to help Ann to put the corpse to bed.
The fifth act opens in the same storm. A crowd in the cemetery before the castle sees that there is no light in the room which is the Princess Maleine's. The moon is black. Lightning strikes the castle and a mass falls into the moat. Inside the courtiers and Hjalmar are inquiring for the king and Ann. At last the two come in, the king with bloodstains in his now wholly white hair. Ann forbids the nurse to enter Maleine's room; both murderers say, "No, no, no, no." The king thinks all are suspecting and staring at him. Outside Maleine's room the dog is still scratching, and Hjalmar and the nurse long try to get him away. They enter and find the dead. They cry out, and every one comes in, the king dragging in Ann and confessing before all. At this Hjalmar stabs the murderess and then himself. The king babbles, asks the nurse if she will be angry, and if there will be salad for breakfast.
When old Hjalmar bids an angry farewell to Marcellos after the banquet, he mentions Maleine only to speak of her green face and white lashes. These features, the silence and feebleness of the heroine, who has a child's will, hard to break but very easy to thwart, stand out as the most original element in the play. The comet, the shower of stars, the banquet, the storms, the knockings at the door, the black hound, the moat, the madman, the mastery and poison of the queen, the strangling and the blood of the end, seem to be imposing externalities used by one who is impressed by them chiefly because they are alien to him. They come obviously for the most part from Shakespeare, from "Hamlet" and "Macbeth," for example, and however any one of them may for the moment recover its original power, the vast accumulation is rumbling, unwieldy, and without life, and it crushes out the faint lyric interest of Maleine herself. Nor is the king's remark that "There is knocking at all the doors in this place," the only one that has the humour of parody. Twice we can forget everything for the sake of that strange beauty with her white eyelashes, her way of casting down her eyes and crossing her hands. The tower where she is shut up with her nurse to escape the war makes an enchanting scene. Their chamber is high betwixt the sky and the earth, above the tops of the forest, and their groping hands come upon bats and fungi. With her fingers the nurse breaks away the mortar until at last the sunshine touches their flesh as warm as milk, and they are dazzled. They see the blue sky, the forest, the green sea, and a ship with white sails upon it, but not the city, nor the belfries, nor the mills, for all is burnt -- and only crows in place of men. The talk of nurse and princess unfolds this scene with perfect precision and an effect beyond anything which Maeterlinck had achieved before it, comparable with that of Tennyson's "Mariana in the Moated Grange"; yet as a play "Princesse Maleine" would lose nothing were it omitted. The second scene is the meeting of Hjalmar with Maleine instead of Uglyane in the wood within the park. The prince wished to discover in the dark Wood of autumn whether his betrothed had "maybe a little silence in her heart." The leaves fall about him, and the wood is strange and full of presage. Maleine comes. The eyes of the owls shine among the branches, and Hjalmar throws earth to drive them away. They hear the sound of a mole tunnelling, and sounds of other things which enter the park in spite of walls and moats. She seems to him singularly beautiful, and he knows her. She is sad, and he asks why. It is because she thinks of the Princess Maleine; she is the Princess Maleine, and the moon shows her face. But the delicacy of the scene is so slender that it is all but broken by the bleeding at the nose which sprinkles the princess's dress with blood; it is incredible that such a thing should happen to such a lady.
Hjalmar is a fit lover for Maleine, and only the unkindest of fates -- or rather of dramatists -- could have forced him to kill a murderess and himself. He is, in truth, a refined man of our own time, somewhat curious in sensations, as he shows when he tells his friend Angus of the evening in the wood:
"Oh! strange things happened last evening. But I would rather not dwell upon them at present. Go some night into the wood adjoining the park, by the fountain, and you will notice that it is only at certain times, and when one looks at them, that things remain motionless like well-behaved children, and do not wear a strange and weird appearance; but so soon as one turns his back upon them, then they begin making wry faces at one, and playing bad tricks."
He and Maleine and the black hound, living together at the top of the tower above the wood, with rain or hail to beat on a window, and wind to sound in the willows, whether of a cemetery or not, would have been sufficient material for the dramatist. The child Allan might have been added, for, though he alone or the hound alone would have been more effective than both, he is a being thoroughly characteristic of Maeterlinck. So also are the swans in the moat under Maleine's window in the last act. They fly away as the crowd watches -- all but one, which has blood on its wings, floats upside down, and dies. This is an escape from "Serres Chaudes," except that its symbolism is clear. There is not a character in the play who could not, if he wished, make a better poem than any in that book. Best of all is that made by two lords standing at a window during the storm in the last act. One says:
"Every one of the beasts has taken refuge in the cemetery. I can see peacocks among the cypresses. There are owls on the crosses. All the sheep of the village are crouching upon the tomb-stones."
The other adds:
"Just as one would picture a festival in hell."
And a maid of honour cries:
"Draw the curtains in! Draw the curtains in!"
Maeterlinck showed a great power of self-criticism and self-control in face of the onslaught of admiration which "La Princesse Maleine" provoked. He did not accept the position of a Belgian Shakespeare: he knew that he was more Belgian than Shakespeare. Not once did he repeat the error of handling with antique pomp a long, various tale and a host of characters.
His next play, "Les Aveugles," contains fourteen human characters; but one voice, and that not a ventriloquist's, could play the parts of all. All but two are blind, and one of those two is dead and the other a sucking child. They have less vigour than Maleine when the owls stared at her in the wood; they do nothing, nothing is done to them, and they hardly move or speak. As in "La Princesse Maleine," the setting is choicely impressive, but it is essential, and it never changes. It is a forest on a small island -- "a very ancient northern forest, eternal of aspect, beneath a sky profoundly starred. In the midst and towards the depths of night, a very old priest is seated wrapped in a wide black cloak .... His eyes, dumb and fixed, no longer gaze at the visible side of eternity, and seem bleeding beneath a multitude of immemorial sorrows and of tears." On the right are six old blind men seated on stones, stumps of trees, and dead leaves. On the left, and separated from the men by an uprooted tree and fragments of rock, are six blind women facing the men. All are in sombre and uniform garments, and most sit waiting without gesture, except three playing and wailing women. Around them are "great funereal trees " -- yews, weeping willows, and cypresses. These people are the blind from a Home, and the priest is the priest in charge. They no longer hear his voice, and they are afraid of everything: of passing birds, snow falling, or dogs barking, and they do not understand anything except the sound of the sea, and they do not know how near it is. They have walked thus far with the priest exploring their island, which has "a mountain that no one has climbed, valleys which no one likes to go down to, and caves that have not been entered to this day," and now they cannot tell what has happened to him, or where he is. They conjecture, they try to explain what is going on, they recall their memories, they lament. At last a dog drags one of the men to where the priest sits. The man touches "a face" -- "a dead man" -- and he thinks it is the priest. The others grope their way and recognize the dead. "What are we to do? . . . We cannot wait beside a dead man .... Let us keep together .... I think that the men from the big lighthouse will see us." Only the infant can see. They hear sounds as of footsteps; the child cries, and they think it must be something, and so they move towards the sound. But is it, after all, only the sea on the dead leaves? At last the footsteps stop in their midst. "Who are you?" asks the child's mother. There is no answer. "Have pity on us!" cries the oldest blind woman. But nothing breaks the silence except the desperate crying of the child.
It is not necessary to the effectiveness of this piece that we should believe the blind to represent mankind bewildered after the loss of religion, their old guide. Whether it is true or not that religion is dead and men blind without it, the thought is so stale that in its nakedness it could be of no value to any piece of writing. But the sight of a blind man sitting still or tapping in the street -- for example in fog, when, says the poet W. H. Davies, "only blind men know way" -- is always impressive; and to the blind company in the play are added many elements of mystery and terror which enhance this impressiveness. They have at the start little more humanity than the rocks and trees among which they sit, except that they are conscious of themselves and one another. They are like creatures suddenly made out of the rocks and trees; and it is easy to picture beings of equal humanity standing in the depths of a misty wood when rain falls all through the day at autumn's end. Or they are like personifications, so that we feel no curiosity with the name of any but that one who says for Maeterlinck:
"We have never seen one another. We ask one another questions, and we reply; we live together, we are always together, but we know not what we are."
And the young blind woman who had seen once:
"I come from very far," she says; "it is beyond the seas. I come from a big country .... I could only explain it to you by signs, and we cannot see .... I have wandered too long .... But I have seen the sun, and water, and fire, and mountains, and faces, and strange flowers .... There are none like them on this island; it is too dismal here, and too cold .... I have never known the scent again, since I lost my sight .... But I saw my parents and my sister .... I was too young then to know where I was .... I still played about on the sea-shore .... Yet how well I remember having seen! . . . One day, I looked at the snow from the top of the mountain .... I was just beginning to distinguish those that are to be unhappy .... I can still distinguish them by the sound of their voices."
This last thought, if not peculiar to Maeterlinck, is characteristic of him, and the tone of the speech, the passionless pathos of it, the resentless suffering, the memory which is everything, are recognizable as his alone in this combination. And so of the whole play. On the one hand the grandeur and distinctness of the forest upon an island of the sea; the poor, feeble little human beings, on the other hand, this helpless band of mostly aged and solitary blind trusting in a man who has died in their midst without their knowing it, -- these are parts of a picture which is clear and simple and powerful, having something like the significance of trees or any other natural group seen at a favourable moment. We do not wish to explain it or fully translate it any more than we do such a natural scene; it is a symbol whose strength is in a simplicity at once clear-cut and vague. Exaggeration has put a still sharper edge on the nervousness of the piece; for the shortest speeches, especially where they are only variants of one another, might have been taken down from life, but give no effect of life except of tiny children. This is the over-emphasis due to the impossibility of calculating means and ends. It is all the more noticeable because it has an appearance of realism, although we must feel that the piece as a whole does and could owe nothing to a study of the blind. These are not human characters. They are given the names and figures of men and women because they cannot thus fail to move others of the species. A similar effect, as has been hinted, might have been gained from trees or stones, but the painter preferred the more pompous material of humanity. It is the work of a spectator, and one who is far more interested in the ideas that go to and fro among men than in men themselves.
"L'Intruse" is of the same date and the same kind. The grandfather, the father, the uncle, the three daughters, are sitting round a table; a lamp is alight. In the next room lies the sick mother. Some one else is expected; they speak in a low voice and in short phrases about insignificant things. But the old man is troubled. The trees in the park tremble as if somebody brushed through them; the nightingales become silent, as if there were some one in the garden; the swans are alarmed, the fish plunge in the pond; but the dogs do not bark. The door opens as if pushed. They hear the sound of a scythe being sharpened. Then it is as if some one came invisibly and softly, sat down at the table, and rose up and went towards the door of the next room. The dying woman's child now cries and continues to cry with increasing painfulness until the end of' the play. The sick-room door opens and the sister of mercy comes out and makes the sign of the cross to announce the woman's death.
As in "Les Aveugles," the scene is made impressive, but less relevantly. It is an old country house whose panelled walls and stained-glass windows, the park, the lake, the swans, the scythe-sharpening, make up for the fact that the action takes places in modern times. At the approach of death, a little wind rises in the avenue, the nightingales are stilled, the swans frightened, and the daughter is sure that some one has come into the garden:
Grandfather. Are not the nightingales beginning to sing again, Ursula?
Daughter. I cannot hear one anywhere.
Grandfather. And yet there is no noise.
Father. There is a silence of the grave.
Grandfather. It must be some stranger who scares them, for if it were one of the family they would not be silent.
Daughter. There is one on the big weeping willow. It has flown away!
Uncle. How much longer are you going to discuss those nightingales?
Grandfather. It seems to me that the cold is penetrating into the room.
Daughter. There is a little wind in the garden, grandfather, and the rose-leaves are falling.
Father. Well, shut the door, Ursula. It is late.
Daughter. Yes, father .... I cannot shut the door, father.
Two other daughters. We cannot shut the door.
Grandfather. Why, what is the matter with the children?
Uncle. You need not say that in such an extraordinary voice. I will go and help them ....
This is in the same nervous manner as in "Les Aveugles." Every one is restless, irritable, and expectant. They are probably not clever people, and they are hardly made to look cleverer than they really are. Some of their talk might have been taken down in a drawing-room or a railway carriage, as when they talk of the strange ways of the old grandfather:
Father. He is like all blind people.
Uncle. They think too much.
Father. They have too much time to spare.
Uncle. They have nothing else to do.
Father. And besides, they have no distractions.
Uncle. That must be terrible.
Father. Apparently one gets used to it.
But these are only the words. The dramatist does not indicate the silences, the tones of voice (though these are supposed to be noticed by the characters), the movement, of reality; because if he did it would be less easy to make felt the most important quality of the talk -- its distracted nervousness, and the superficiality which is in a way more pregnant than anything else could be. He is content to make use of the blankest and baldest reality for the sake of the resulting intensity, which distributes itself to and from words 'like those of the uncle, describing the old grandfather's state:
"Not to know where one is, not to know where one has come from, not to be able to distinguish midday from midnight, or summer from winter-and always darkness, darkness!"
On the stage a degree of realism might well destroy the life of the play. Actors and actresses would be unnecessarily large. For here again the characters are called human, and have something human about them; and yet do not appear to the reader's imagination as life-size. These half-dozen people are only so much paint used in making a decorative pattern of death. If anything from the living world breaks in it is the baby's crying, and this has in the play a similar use to the knocking at the gate in "Macbeth": it announces that if death has come life is going on, and must persist and overpower talk about nightingales and the nervous fears of a disintegrated family. This crying thus takes us out into the world from the sombre monotony, the subdued and reduced life, of the sitting-room. If we insist on treating these people, not as half-ghostly miniatures, according to the string of implicit suggestions by Maeterlinck, but as human flesh of the middle class, we must inevitably laugh, and, I suppose, be laughed at in turn by the dramatist.
"Les Sept Princesses" belongs to 1891, the Year after "Les Aveugles" and "L'Intruse." The description of the scene gives almost as full a picture as the play, which, like its predecessors, is mainly pictorial. There is a vast hall of marble, divided lengthwise into two by a range of seven white marble steps, and upon pale silken cushions laid on these sleep the seven princesses, with white and bare arms. A silver lamp is burning. The huge glass windows reach down to the floor, and outside them is a terrace. In the light of a setting sun can be seen a black marshy country and forests of oak and pine. Perpendicular to one of the windows is a dark and undeviating canal between great willows, and upon it at the horizon a great warship is advancing, just as in "Serre Chaude."
The old king and queen and a messenger step forward on the terrace to watch the ship approaching. At first the king cannot see, and the queen describes the full spread of sail touching the willows, and the oars like a thousand legs. At last the king sees it, as if too large for the canal. Anchor is dropped, and the prince descends. The swans go to meet him. Then the queen turns and looks through the windows at the princesses, asking, "Are they sleeping all the time?" They discuss whether to wake the sleepers, but the doctor has forbidden it. They hear a step and leave the window, bidding Marcellus come up and beware of the old staircase. After embracing, he observes how old and feeble his grandparents are, and asks after his seven cousins. They show him the seven sleeping in the hall. "How white they are!" he says, and asks why they sleep. "Oh how pale, how strange, they are!" He begins to distinguish one from the other. He prefers, he says, the one who is not so clear. "That," says the queen, is "Ursula, who has waited seven years for her lover." A shadow lies across her; she sleeps more profoundly. And Marcellus goes round to another window, but cannot see her face. The queen tells him their names -- Genevieve, Helen, Christabel, Madeleine, Claire, and Claribella. Why did not Marcellus come sooner? So long have they watched night and day along the canal it is now black night, and the rain has a sound of crying in the dark. A distant, monotonous song is heard, with the burden, "We shall return no more, we shall return no more." It is the sailors turning the ship. The queen tells Marcellus she has waited long for him, and now "It is not you any more." Looking at the princesses again -- the song still in their ears -- something has changed, and Ursula's hand is no longer held by her sisters. "She cannot sleep thus," says the queen, "it is not natural; and her hair is not done up. But she said at noon: 'Above all, do not wake us.' How still they are!" She taps on the window, but they do not move, or make a sound. The queen cries: "Oh, my God, save them!.., they sleep so horribly!" and she sobs wildly against the window. They try to open the door, but neither door nor windows will open, and the king, with Marcellus, have to enter by a subterranean passage. Cries of joy come from the sailors, and the ship is lit up. At the appearance of Marcellus all the princesses but Ursula awake. The queen outside cries, "Ursula!" The young prince kneels and touches her bare arm, then looks round fearfully at the pale, silent six. They raise her up stiff, while the king and queen cry and beat on the windows. "She is not asleep," says the queen. "Pour water on her .... Open the door.... It is too late .... Shut! shut!" All cry, shaking the door and knocking at the window: "Open, open!" A black curtain falls suddenly.
Nobody who had read "Les Aveugles" and "L'Intruse" could doubt the authorship of "Les Sept Princesses." Here are the same agitated, helpless people speaking in abrupt, simple, and often-repeated phrases. Here again something is going on which they do not understand, and are impotent to arrest or change. But the matter of both earlier plays was a not improbable incident which was developed, it may be extravagantly, but in a manner that touched human beings. If "Les Aveugles" was extraordinary, while "L'Intruse" was not extraordinary in any way, both were easy to understand. But "Les Sept Princesses" is a picture drawn for its own sake. It has its logic, but the elements in it seem chosen, like those of" La Princesse Maleine," because they are attractive in themselves -- the marble hall and stairs, the terrace, the dark land of marshes and forests, the canal and the warship, the seven princesses in white sleeping on the stairs, the swans, the prince arriving to claim one of them and finding her at last dead, the old king and queen shut outside the hall and knocking vainly at the windows; only, these elements are combined without any of the unwieldiness of "La Princesse Maleine," without interfering with themselves or with anything else. It is simply a picture in Maeterlinck's manner, and this manner has the effect of creating a feeling of helplessness and smallness in the presence of fate and the earth. If any one seeks to explain it as a solar myth he will not lack argument: the princesses are from a warm country, and they are always seeking the light, but the trees are too big and the fogs too lasting; and thus they sicken, and the solar hero, Marcellus, who actually has a name, arrives too late. In life we do not expect to find seven princesses sleeping all through the day by lamplight on the stairs of a palace hall, but no one who has seen the pictures of Burne-Jones will be in the least surprised at seeing them in a picture. The use of a number, seven, should put us into the right key for enjoying the picture for itself. This shows us at once that the princesses are to be used decoratively, like the seven branches of a candlestick, or what not; and their names confirm us. It is a little more difficult not to take too seriously the nervousness of the queen, by which we are repeatedly invited to believe her some trepidant old lady of flesh and blood. But we are helped when the king says: "We are poor little old people," which means," We are poor little old people, such as M. Maeterlinck loves to harass for an hour, but it really does not hurt as much as it seems." If this does not perfectly reassure, then the words of the prince will:
"Oh! how white they are, all seven! . . Oh! how beautiful they are, all seven! ... Oh! how pale they are, all seven! But why are they asleep, all seven?"
These are not the words of mortal man. Further, the queen herself gives us valuable help by saying. that the princesses "are not happy; it is not our fault .... We are too old, too old; every one is too old for them .... One is too old without knowing it." The queen tells the king that her crying is nothing: "One often cries for no reason: I am so old to-day"; and these words, that might be deeply moving in life, or in another writer, do not move us too much on this page, which is no more real than a pastoral. If only these characters could be quite silent they would be' even more pleasing. Even the water in the moat is "very old also," and so "it always sleeps." One or two strange touches of reality mark them: thus the princesses always wake up thirsty; also they grow very tall, "which is perhaps why they are so sickly" -- like tall artist's models of the Burne-Jones type, who were said to be fed upon crumpets, capsicum, and warm water; and then Marcellus asks the absurdly natural question, "Is this their bedroom?" Nevertheless, read sympathetically, it is a literary picture of charming composition, with the languid refrain of" We shall never come back! We shall never come back!"
"Les Sept Princesses" was in a sixth edition in the year of its appearance, but Maeterlinck did not go on writing little plays of this kind. Others could do them all but equally well. In this same year, 1891, appeared his old school friend, Charles van Lerberghe's, play, "Les Flaireurs," dedicated to himself. When "Les Flaireurs" was written I do not know, but Gerard Harry calls it the "elder brother" of "Maleine." It is exceedingly like Maeterlinck in all its devices, differing from it chiefly in the atmosphere which has been freshened by a breath from the world of everyday. It opens with a funeral march -- a rolling of muffled drums -- the far-off sound of a horn. A sick woman and her daughter hear a voice outside in the night, and they learn that it is "the man." But they expect nobody, and the daughter tells her mother it is the wind, and asks, "Do you come for me? .... " "No, indeed," says the voice, and in answer to her explains that he is "the man with the water.., and the sponge... for washing." He knocks. The girl is afraid. He knocks again, but she will not admit him. Very well, he will wait. The women pray, the rain whips the panes, and ten o'clock sounds. A dog barks.
Again the drums and the horn, and presently a knocking at the door. "Be quiet, mother sleeps"; but he knocks again. "I have come," says the voice, and bursts into laughter. The mother listens, and hears something under the door, rustling and dragging. "The man with the linen," says the voice. "Mother, it is nothing." "But there is some one," the mother persists, and the knocking is repeated again and again. The mother hears horses; she can hear the grass grow, and she knows that the lovely Lady of the Castle has come on a horse. Again the knocking. "Why do you tremble, mother?" "For joy. She is there." The voice, on the daughter's renewed refusal, says, "I will wait." The mother has dreamed that she was in Paradise.... "Has she gone?" They pray for the lovely lady, and eleven o'clock strikes, the dog barks, and the girl puts out the candles. Again the drums and the horn, and a knocking. "You will make my mother die," says the daughter; but the knocking or the voice replies to all she says. Her mother bids her light candles, but her house is "not fit to receive her." Outside the voice says, "I am the man with the coffin"; but the mother says, "Open the door. She can enter." The knocking cracks the door. "1 will not open, never, never. Are you come to kill my mother?" while the mother says, "Enter, lovely lady; this is the day, and I am ready." Outside is a knocking and cracking, and voices disputing. The old woman begins to rattle terribly. Horses are heard whinnying. The mother smiles, and folds her daughter to her, while she points to the door. "It is the coach." There is a sound of a heavy carriage, and fragments of talk and oaths. Again a knocking. "Saint Mary, Virgin," exclaims the mother. The door gives way, but the daughter hurls herself against it, and midnight strikes. The voices outside utter a relieved "Ah!" and at the last stroke the old woman gives a loud raucous cry, the girl quits the door, and throws herself open-armed on the bed, while the entering wind blows out the candles. But here the presence of a will, or at least of an active vitality, robs the method of most of the quality which it has in Maeterlinck's hands.
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