Dramatic Texts >> Zabel Asadour >> The Bride
THE BRIDE by Zabel Asadour, translated by Nishan Parlakian
 
Scene I
(MRS. DIROUHI and HANUMIG)
 
MRS. DIROUHI
You've tired yourself, Hanumig. Put your work aside for a while, come here, look at all those people returning from the shore. Relax a bit. Open up your heart.
 
HANUMIG
Open up what heart? Do I have a heart left in me? I don't see anything that pleases me. I live in a dark narrow world. I feel I'm stifling every time I think about that outsider who has come into our home and wants to take over everything. I'm going mad. Not only has she taken my brother from me, she wants to take you away from me too. "Mother," she says. "Our house, our parlor," she says. The other day when we paid the Santigians a visit? They served us a glorious tea on their best china. I have to tell you, I couldn't get it out of my head, all the way home in the carriage. I was so upset, I couldn't bring myself to talk about it. "What's the matter," she asked me. "Their silver is so much heavier than ours," I said. Do you know what her answer was? "Ours is lovelier." The nerve. I was so put out I could have slapped her. Does she really think that what is ours is hers or that she has a right to any of it? I felt so awful that I went to my room and cried the rest of the day. I won't allow her to have a single thing in this house, not the smallest thing of ours! (She wipes her eyes with a handkerchief.)
 
MRS. DIROUHI
Don't be a baby, Hanumig dear. Aren't you ashamed crying like that? Who is she, what right does she have to anything? Whatever we own I will leave to you in my will so no one else can get at our things after my death. Right now what's on my mind is getting you married. We may have to sell the house in the country. Whatever we get from it will be turned over to you. She can sweet talk me all she wants — call me "Mother" and "Momma"—I'll never call her mine. A daughter-in-law is not one's flesh and blood. She's an outsider, an enemy!
 
HANUMIG
Tell that to Arshag. He's crazy about her. He gives her the carriage to drive in wherever she wants to go. And you haven't said a word about it. You're as soft as cotton. Where do you suppose she is this very minute? You used to criticize everything I did. You were always angry with me. What's happened to that big voice of yours? Yell and shout at her so she'll calm down. This house needs a voice of authority. Arshag is to blame. Did he ever bring us gifts? Now, every evening, he comes home with big packages.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
No, don't say that, Hanumig. Whatever he brings her they both share with you. Only the other day, he told you to choose from two crêpe de chine blouses. If the pair of them didn't treat you fairly, I'd bring the house down on their heads.
 
HANUMIG
I know how you bring down the house — with words! You're all talk! You never really do anything. If you had any real power around here you wouldn't let her laugh and chat with everyone who comes and goes, or let her wear those low-cut dresses or play the piano or sing for anyone who happens to come by. She does whatever you ask her to do so you'll like her. What about me? I'm only an old piece of luggage left in the corner. Am I the daughter of this house or is she?
 
MRS. DIROUHI
You're right. I've got to talk to Arshag. When he hears the things you've told me he'll put a stop to her shenanigans, you'll see. A married woman putting herself on display in front of strangers!!? Doing things that young girls like you have a right to do, not her. What really gets on my nerves is her constant singing. She never lets up. She sings as she straightens up, she sings when she sews, she sings when she makes the beds. She sings, sings, sings. What must the neighbors think? They must think we run a night club here, "Cafe Chantons." And another thing. I can't stand her going off to her room to write. There's no end to it. She writes in the morning. She writes at night: — What is she writing?
 
HANUMIG
Novels.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
What kind of novels?
 
HANUMIG
She makes up stories about this person, that one —
 
MRS. DIROUHI
I knew she made things up! Who does she write about? Have you seen any of it?
 
HANUMIG
She read me some the other day. Scandalous things. All about love. She has no sense of shame.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
I know, I know. She's got love on her brain. "I love Arshag," she says whenever she feels like saying it. Just like that, right in front of me. I've been married too and looked after a husband. Did I ever utter such shameless words? How could she read such brazen things to you? Doesn't she realize that you're a proper, well-brought up young lady? By the way, what did you do when she read to you?
 
HANUMIG
I covered my ears, Momma. I told her I didn't want to hear such things. I ran out of the room, I was so angry.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
I've got to talk to Arshag. If she can write romantic novels, she can also write love letters ....
 
HANUMIG
The same thought crossed my mind. But when are you going to find a moment to speak with Arshag privately? She doesn't leave him for a second.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
That's what you think. She lies around in the morning doing nothing. What I’ll do is get up at dawn and wait for Arshag to come downstairs. That's when I'll straighten him out. I'll tell him all about her eccentric behavior. Men are like weather vanes. They turn whichever way the wind blows. Once he realizes that we're right, mark my words, he'll cool towards her. And once he stops fueling her oven, she'll grow cool and so will we. Then we'll take Arshag in hand. We'll coax him, convince him, persuade him to do exactly what we tell him to.
 
HANUMIG
I don't think she takes him seriously any more. We can knock her from morning till night, it won't have any effect on her. She'll turn everything into a joke and laugh. Shameless, that's what she is. Look: she sees I'm trying to finish these napkins as quickly as possible and I've only hemmed six of the twelve borders. You'd think she would do one or two of them herself, but no.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
Would you really trust her with that work? Do you think she can hem as well as you?
 
HANUMIG
Who needs her hemming! I wouldn't let her touch the work. It's just that she should at least once offer to help. Even just as a matter of form, a person should ask just once at least. When we run into people don't we tell them they are our best friends and are always welcome at our house? We lie a little out of courtesy.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
She doesn't know anything about the delicate art of hemming. She's a peasant. The other evening, the night of the dance, she could have asked me to go along with the rest of you? You said it ten times if you said it once: "Momma, you should come with us." But she didn't open her mouth once. Not that I wanted to go, mind you. When I hinted to Arshag that she had hurt my feelings, he said, "Momma, Arousiag is not a hypocrite. She knows you don't go to dances. Why should she ask you silly questions?"
 
HANUMIG
She doesn't ask because she doesn't want to take the chance she'll be seen with us. To tell you the truth, I can't think of a reason for going anywhere with her myself. She likes to go places so that people will notice her. When you speak to Arshag, tell him I don't want to be seen with her. If he wants to take me anywhere, he'll have to take me alone. I'd rather sit home from now on and die of boredom than be seen with her. It's her fault that people are gossiping about us. She's ruining our good name.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
My dear child, don't you know your reputation is as precious as gold? Doesn't everybody know who you are? Who would ever gossip about you? The moment they tried anything like that they would be forced to shut up.
 
HANUMIG
Before we know it, we won't have a reputation to speak of. If people see the two of us in the same place, with Arshag, how can they tell his wife from his sister?
 
MRS. DIROUHI
Those who know, know; and those who don't, will ask. You are so different, why there's no comparison. First of all, you're built more delicately, you're smaller, you have a tiny waist and blue eyes. And with your golden hair you look like a little French Miss. She's nothing but a country bumpkin when all is said and done.
 
HANUMIG
She is tall, Momma.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
Ha! So is the pole at the end of the clothes line. I wonder how I can get Arshag to listen to me, now, after he went off and got married without my permission. Oh, I wish he hadn't had to go off like that. I'd never have allowed him to marry. When it was all over, I kept my mouth shut because of the dowry. Three thousand gold pieces! If not for that, what was the hurry? Was this the right time for him to get married? He should have settled you first! God willing, we'll come into some good luck soon. You won't have to live in this house with them for much longer.
 
HANUMIG
I couldn't stand it. It's impossible so long as Arousiag is in our house. She'll always push herself forward so no one will notice me. If you really want me to be happy, Momma, just pray that they quarrel and that Arousiag leaves him. Then we can live comfortably again, the way we used to. Haven't you noticed that since she set foot in this house I haven't been able to do a stitch of embroidery?
 
MRS. DIROUHI
My dear child, why? Don't let her presence bother you. Don't pay attention to anything she says or does. If you like, we'll spend our time in your room from now on and see her only at meals.
 
HANUMIG
Oh, if only you had arranged it that way at the very beginning .... We should have done that the first day she set foot in this house. Now we'll have to find a reason.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
We'll think up something. Don't worry, dear. Why should a new bride make you uneasy. You're in charge here from now on. I'm too old for the job. You're going to take my place. You'll be in total command. Tell me whenever anything displeases you. I really mean it. I'll have everything done to your liking.
 
HANUMIG
Oh, Momma! If you could just work things out so Arousiag would pack up and leave this house.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
I can do that easily enough, but I'm afraid Arshag would go after her. Then everything will get turned upside down again. We might have to leave and find rooms elsewhere. We'd be forced to spend our own money. Now, even before paying the household bills, we're able to put away in the bank a good part of the money Arshag gives us. It would be better to keep his wife under our thumb here and use her as we wish. Let's try to find some way to prevent her from seeing our guests and going visiting with us.
 
HANUMIG
That won't do it. Arshag still has her expenses to cover. She'll still be eating into our household money. We've got to figure out a way to separate her from us completely.
 
MRS. DIROUHI We'll find a way, dear. God willing, we'll manage that too. Patience. You know what patience means. It takes patience to turn grape into halva and mulberry leaves into silk.
 
Scene II
 
(AROUSIAG, HANUMIG, MRS. DIROUHI)  

AROUSIAG
Hello, Momma. Hello, Hanumig. Still working?

 HANUMIG
What, then? Somebody's got to work.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
That's right! We can't all go calling on people.
 
HANUMIG
If everybody went out to pay calls all day long, the house would fall apart.
 
AROUSIAG
Really? Do you think things would fall apart if you didn't get your hemming done?
 
(She takes off her hat and gloves and puts them down on the table.)
 
HANUMIG
Are you making fun of me? That does it! You go to the cinema and to the theater while I stay here and work from dawn to dusk keeping the house clean and neat! And still you have the nerve to laugh at me.
 
AROUSIAG
What do you want me to say? Your hard work keeps the house from falling apart . . .? My dear Hanumig, you seem a bit out of sorts again today. Let's go up to the terrace on the roof. The fresh air will do your nerves some good.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
Stop all this crowing. You sound like two old women arguing. Where do you think you are, in the Anatolian mountains? Anyone happening by our house would think there was a riot going on in here. Arousiag, my daughter is not the type who needs cooling off on the terrace. You should know better than to suggest such a thing. Mind what I say or you will suffer the consequences.
 
AROUSIAG
I always mind what you say, Momma. Haven't I always–?
 
MRS. DIROUHI
(Interrupts.)Who do you ever listen to that you should suddenly listen to me? You're too independent.
 
AROUSIAG
You may be right. But with time and experience, I'll learn. After all, I was married right after I had finished school.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
You couldn't have been just out of school! You're certainly older than Hanumig.
 
AROUSIAG
Maybe. But age is not the issue. What I'm saying is that I spent very little time living among my family and friends.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
You couldn't have learned much from family or friends in the Anatolian mountains, could you?
 
AROUSIAG
The city of Smyrna is not exactly the Anatolian mountains, Momma. It's a city just like this one. And furthermore, as you know, my parents are Constantinopilites, originally—
 
MRS. DIROUHI
There are Constantinopilites and Constantinopilites. There are the upper classes like us and . . . there are . . . the others.
 
AROUSIAG
(Aside.) She's at it again! I'll put a stop to it. (Aloud.) You have a point. Il a cordonnier et cordonnier.
 
HANUMIG
How dare you insult us, Arousiag! The idea of calling us shoemakers. You're too much!
 
AROUSIAG
You're much too sensitive. I was just quoting a French saying, only in jest.
 
HANUMIG
How's this for a saying: If you can't learn to speak pleasantly, learn to shut your mouth. You'd do well not to speak at all in this house. I'm going to my room, Momma. (She takes up her work.)
 
AROUSIAG
Don't fret on my account, Hanumig. I was just going upstairs to change for dinner anyway. (She takes two steps toward the door.)
 
MRS. DIROUHI
(Aside.) Why change? Who is going to look at you? (Aloud.) Take your hat with you. You need a maid to pick up after you. (She hands her the hat.)
 
AROUSIAG
Thank you, Momma. (She takes the hat.)
 
HANUMIG
(Sarcastically.) Look, Momma, she's left her gloves here, too.
 
AROUSIAG
(She turns and takes up the gloves.) Excuse me.
 
HANUMIG
For everything? (Continues as AROUSIAG leaves.) Sloppy slut. Oh, my poor brother!
 
(AROUSIAG exits through the door on the right.)
 
Scene III
(ARSHAG, MRS. DIROUHI, HANUMIG)
 
ARSHAG
Good evening.
 
(Irritated, he takes off his hat, puts it on the table; MRS. DIROUHI and HANUMIG rise and go to stand on either side of him.)
 
MRS. DIROUHI
Good evening, son.
 
HANUMIG
Do you want to take off your coat? Would you like your slippers? (ARSHAG shakes his head.)
 
MRS. DIROUHI
Come sit by me. Let me look at you. Are you feeling all right?
 
ARSHAG
(Still ill-tempered.) Can't complain. Where's Arousiag?
 
MRS. DIROUHI
Ha! The first thing out of your mouth is about her! You don't ask about us, how we are—
 
ARSHAG
Why, have you been ill, Momma?
 
MRS. DIROUHI
Have I! I had a toothache all night long. I didn't close my eyes at all.
 
ARSHAG
You should have put some iodine on the tooth.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
Hanumig has one of her headaches again.
 
HANUMIG
Please, let's not talk about it. I'm not a sensitive delicate little creature. I can cope with pain. I don't expect anyone else to worry about it. I'm not the kind of person who wants the whole world to know when she's got a little pain in her pinky!
 
MRS. DIROUHI
(Angry.) Don't say that! Don't ever say no one should worry! In my house everyone must worry for you, look after you. And anyone who doesn't is no child of mine.
 
ARSHAG
(Aside.) Oh. Oh. They've started up the old routine again. (Aloud.) Momma, I don't think I've shirked my obligations. What do you want of me? I come home tired. From sunrise to sunset I'm up to my ears in irritating problems. I have to deal with all sorts of business matters, both physically and morally demanding. What else should a breadwinner do? Take care of the house, coddle you all? I look after you to the best of my ability, I think. What about you? Are you concerned with my well-being?
 
HANUMIG
You don't need us. You've got a wife, now.
 
ARSHAG
I've asked you, Hanumig, not to bring my wife into our discussions.
 
HANUMIG
That's right. I forgot. We're not good enough to even mention your wife's name.
 
ARSHAG
Because I know you bring up her name to insult her or complain about her.
 
HANUMIG
We care about you. We don't say a thing about ninety-nine of our hundred complaints. And the one that we do mention, you seem to take as a personal insult.
 
ARSHAG
But my wife never complains about you at all.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
What could she possibly have to complain about? She has food, she has drink, she goes out–
 
ARSHAG
And you? Do you go hungry?
 
MRS. DIROUHI
My son, what kind of talk is that? Are you comparing us to her? All these years we've been your mother and sister! We deny ourselves, working and scrimping to keep up this house, for the good of the home. Now we have a stranger in our midst, so let's not act dishonorably in front of her. Let's make sure she is comfortable, has plenty to eat and drink, and can come and go freely, as she pleases. We've got our responsibilities and face them as best we can. (ARSHAG shakes his head forcefully as his mother speaks.)
 
ARSHAG
I give you a hundred sovereigns a month, Momma. You say you're denying yourselves. Tell me if you need more.
 
HANUMIG
Don't you see? With a fixed sum of money someone has got to deny herself if someone else is to spend lavishly.
 
ARSHAG
So: are you saying that the hundred sovereigns a month cover only my wife's expenses?
 
MRS. DIROUHI
 
Who else's then? Thank God I don't visit gardens, theaters and movies. I don't go to museums by car nor does Hanumig.
 
ARSHAG
But, Momma, why bring up movies and museums? Those are incidental expenses. I always pay for them separately. Tell me something: Do you live in this house with my wife? Eat at the same table? Have the same servants? Is your clothing made by the same tailors?
 
MRS. DIROUHI
We have all that because your wife has them. Before you got married we lived a simple life, as straight and narrow as the road from Constantinople to this house in Pera. We didn't have two servants then or custom-made clothes.
 
ARSHAG
That's true, but night and day you used to tell me it was because we didn't have servants that no one asked for Hanumig's hand in marriage. And when you learned that I had married a girl from a wealthy family, you started leading the high life even before we moved into this richly furnished house.
 
HANUMIG
Only so you wouldn't appear less in your wife's eyes.
 
ARSHAG
My wife is a plain girl. She doesn't care about such things.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
My poor boy, you're much too kind. She's got you believing her tastes are modest. Take away any one of her luxuries and see what happens. Ask her to do a small household task and see what she says.
 
ARSHAG
You say these things about Arousiag?
 
MRS. DIROUHI
You're so quick to take her side. Can't you see how she's twisted your mind? Did you ever talk this way to us before? Did you ever bring up things like accounts and money? She makes you do these things. Shame on us. Shame on you for going out of your way to hurt your poor sister's feelings. We've proved ourselves true to you from your earliest years. Now let's see what your wife is all about when she's put to a test.
 
ARSHAG
(Aside.) I didn't know what you were really like until this moment! Now I know only too well what you're all about. I see what games you're playing .... Just hold on, I'll play my own game with you. We'll see how you like it. (Aloud, sweetly.) Mother, I'm amazed that you doubt the faith I have in you. Don't you realize that for a son the sweetest and dearest thing in the world is his mother, and for a brother his sister?
 
HANUMIG
(With bitterness.) So you say.
 
ARSHAG
Look here, I'm going to prove how much I trust you, how much I need your love above all else. And I'm going to give you the chance to show again how much you love me.
 
HANUMIG
I've always made that clear and always will.
 
ARSHAG
Thank you, thank you very much. I really must have your complete devotion, now.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
Who but us could love you without reservation? A wife's love is selfish and put on. Your mother and sister are always yours. A wife can be yours today and someone else's tomorrow. You'll be convinced of that one day, Arshag. But I'm going to let you find out for yourself. I'm not going to say a word to you.
 
ARSHAG
(Seemingly agitated.) No matter what, please don't desert me.
 
HANUMIG
We never will. We'll always stand by you.
 
ARSHAG
Even if I become poor and destitute.
 
HANUMIG
(Aside.) What does he mean by that?
 
MRS. DIROUHI
(With a long suffering look.) A mother never deserts her son.
 
HANUMIG
Or a sister her brother.
 
ARSHAG
Well then, I may as well tell you:—I've had a stroke of really bad luck—
 
HANUMIG
(Aside.) I knew something was wrong the minute he came in! I hope he hasn't lost our money!
 
MRS. DIROUHI
What do you mean, my son? What's happened? Has your wife gotten involved in some sort of scandal?
 
ARSHAG
If she had, I'd have kicked her out of the house. It would all have been over. (MRS. DIROUHI and HANUMIG signal to each other.)
 
ARSHAG
This is very hard for me. But I must tell you because I need your help .... Mother, forgive me, forgive me. I'm bankrupt! I'm in debt up to my ears!
 
HANUMIG
Oh??! (She turns away with a grim look.)
 
MRS. DIROUHI
God have mercy on us! How could that be? What happened?
 
ARSHAG
I've been gambling!

MRS. DIROUHI
But you've never gambled in your whole life!
 
HANUMIG
I'm sure your wife is responsible. We can thank her for this.
 
ARSHAG
Business wasn't going well lately and I was having trouble covering the expenses of this house. I'd been dealing with a big customer for a while and all of a sudden he went bankrupt and that wrecked my own business. I had no way to make up the losses. Day after day, I had to find ways to pay off my creditors. And on top of that I had to find a hundred sovereigns for the house every month. There were the running expenses of the business, too. So to make money I took a chance at cards and won a thousand sovereigns in one hand. I was about to pull out of the game and move on. But I got greedy and careless. "I'll win back everything I lose," I said, and jumped into the water with all my clothes on. The more I played, the more I lost. The more I said, "I'll win," the more I lost. In the end, I was eight hundred sovereigns in the hole. . . . Now I don't know what I'm going to do–!
 
HANUMIG
Have you told your wife?
 
ARSHAG
Do you want her to know of my disgrace? Didn't you say just now that you didn't want to belittle me in her eyes when you spoke of upgrading the household help?
 
MRS. DIROUHI
How can we help you, now? I'll do everything in my power to help you, my son–!
 
HANUMIG
You don't have to tell your wife you lost money gambling. Just say you had a business setback. Let her worry about it. She's enjoyed all the good times up to now; let her suffer the bad ones too.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
But we're going to suffer with her.
 
ARSHAG
Yes, and I'm truly sorry for you. We're going to have to let the servants go.
 
HANUMIG
(She wipes her eyes with a handkerchief.) I wish you had never gotten married.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
Your wife has brought this misfortune on us.
 
ARSHAG
She brought a dowry of three thousand sovereigns, too; don't forget that.
 
HANUMIG
What she brought, she spent. She'll have us living on a garbage dump next.
 
ARSHAG
You're right. We'll be sitting on a garbage dump if someone doesn't help us.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
If we could just think of a way to help you.
 
ARSHAG
Mother, can't we rent out our country house for five hundred sovereigns? That way I could pay off my gambling debts. Then we'll think of a way to save my business and my reputation too. (HANUMIG sidles up to her mother, pulls on her sleeve, and shakes her head.)
 
MRS. DIROUHI
I've set aside the income from that house for your sister so she'll always be able to support herself.
 
ARSHAG
I'll always be there to support her, Mother. Who's been looking after her all these years?
 
HANUMIG
You may have provided a bit of money, but we have taken care of the household and you. If you had rented rooms elsewhere, you would have had to pay for services. Remember when you came down with influenza? Who nursed you? Who washed your underwear? Who ironed your handkerchiefs? How quickly you forget!
 
ARSHAG
All right. We've helped one another. That's how it should be. I happen to be in a bad situation right now. When business picks up again, I'll cover all the expenses of the house again. Just don't embarrass me now, when I'm desperate.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
Let me give you a little advice. If you listen to it, you'll feel better. If you don't, I won't be responsible for what happens. Send your wife to her father's home for a little while, until we get straightened out and have time to think things over. You can turn to your relatives and friends for help. Someone will come through.
 
ARSHAG
I don't have any relatives closer than you. Where am I going to find closer friends than you? Mother, if you deny me, why should others help me?
 
HANUMIG
We're women. We can't meddle into business affairs.

Scene IV

(AROUSIAG, ARSHAG, HANUMIG, MRS. DIROUHI)
 
AROUSIAG
Oh, Arshag, there you are.
 
ARSHAG
(Sadly.) Hello–
 
AROUSIAG
What's the matter? Are you feeling ill?
 
ARSHAG
I've got ... a ... bad headache, yes.
 
AROUSIAG
(Upset.) Let's call the doctor— (Moves to ring the bell.)
 
ARSHAG
A doctor can't help me—
 
AROUSIAG
What's wrong with him, Momma? Hanumig? Everyone looks so sad. Tell me, what's wrong? Why do you make me repeat myself? Answer me—! (MRS. DIROUHI and HANUMIG begin to cry.)
 
ARSHAG
What good will it do to tell you? Hanumig says women are helpless. And you're a woman—
 
AROUSIAG
(She kneels before him and takes his hands.) What's the matter, Arshag? You must tell me. Are you tired? Are you worried about something? Are you in some sort of trouble?
 
HANUMIG
(Crying.) Big trouble.
 
AROUSIAG
(Confused.) All of you know someting. Why do you keep it from me? Are you trying to drive me mad?
 
MRS. DIROUHI
He's lost all his money–
 
AROUSIAG
(Takes a deep breath and stands up.) Is that the reason for all this gloom? Does a man get sick because of money, Arshag?
 
HANUMIG
It's going to affect the entire household–
 
AROUSIAG
So let it. We'll be together, Arshag. We'll work together and we'll fix everything.
 
ARSHAG
So you think it's that simple! Remember, tomorrow you'll be working in the kitchen. You'll have to scrub floors and wash clothes, Arousiag.
 
AROUSIAG
One doesn't cry because of things like that! Kitchen help and launderers are people just like us. I can do what they do–
 
MRS. DIROUHI
Of course! It's easy to boast. Talk is cheap! You'll have my son thinking you can really help. You can't even sweep a floor!
 
AROUSIAG
I can learn, Momma.
 
ARSHAG
There's more you should know. I need five hundred sovereigns to cover a debt of honor. I've got to have it by tonight. And I don't even have five hundred shillings in my pocket!
 
AROUSIAG
What about my jewelry? It's worth at least five hundred sovereigns. Find someone right away and sell it to cover your debt. I'll go get it. (Exits running.)
 
ARSHAG
You see, Mother? she really cares. Women can do something if they want to. You, both of you, have at least a thousand sovereigns worth of jewelry between you. But you can't bring yourselves to offer even one piece of it to help pay my debt. I even begged you to rent out the country house to help me. After all, half of it is mine legally. You denied me that, too. You heard Arousiag just now, what she's willing to do. She's gone to get all her valuables to help pull me throught this crisis. How can you compare yourselves to her? I don't want anything from you. All I ask is that you treat her well and speak about her with respect.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
Your wife is mad. Respect her?! I've always worked for the good of the entire household–saving, budgeting and planning year after year. And I had you to care for and raise. I've always been proud of our good reputation. If I had spent carelessly all I owned, we'd have been out on the streets a long time ago. I didn't want to say this, but you've forced me to: How do you know your wife isn't flattering you for reasons of her own? Our motives are clear. Hers I'm not sure about!
 
ARSHAG
(Aside.) What lies! (Aloud.) Are you accusing my wife of something or other . . . without any proof of anything? You have no right to attack an innocent person. If you're angry with me, take it out on me!
 
MRS. DIROUHI
My son, a mother doesn't strike back at her son. I'm not angry with you, I don't want revenge! I just don't want to see you walking around this house like a blind man. What I'm saying is: Open your eyes, see what's going on around you, try to take in, make sense of the things that are going on here! (She exits angrily, followed by HANUMIG, who gives her brother a fierce look.)

Scene V

(ARSHAG, alone.)
 
ARSHAG
I'm afraid I really have been blind to what's been going on in this house! What awful women!! They must have been hounding my wife from the very beginning. My sister glared at her with hatred in her eyes. And when I suggested renting out the country house Hanumig became vicious. Why, I've bought bonds for her with the rent money often in the past. They both must have plenty put away. And well over a thousand sovereigns in jewelry. And this other horrible, shameful secret I stumbled on ... I can't believe it! It's destroying me. I'm shattered by the realization that both my mother and sister have duped me, cheated me in my own house. I wish I'd never found out! I've been blind all these years.! I believed they were devoted to me, that they really loved me, were open and honest with me, yes I trusted their innocence, their quiet suffering womanhood—! I was lulled into feeling secure and happy with women who seemed to be thrifty homemakers .... What devil made me come home early today! I'd just gotten to the door of the house when I met someone from the Bank of Lyons right here on my doorstep, ringing my bell. I asked him what he wanted. He gave me a letter. It never occurred to me for a moment that anyone beside myself had dealings with a bank.' I didn't even look at the address, just assumed it was for me. So I opened the envelope. And what was it? Miss Hanumig Ard-zatian's quarterly report which showed monthly deposits of twenty sovereigns at a time. I was shocked! Couldn't believe what I had read. I rushed upstairs to my mother's room to ask her about it. Luckily she wasn't there right then, but her account book, in Hanumig's handwriting, was on her desk. I wish I hadn't laid eyes on those accounts! Out of one hundred sovereigns a month I gave them, seventy went for the household expenses, ten they kept for their personal needs, and twenty were deposited in the Bank of Lyons! My mother was absolutely right! I've been walking around this house like a blind man! "Open your eyes, see what's going on around you—" I would have preferred to remain blind and ignorant rather than find out that my own mother is a thief. If she had come right out and asked me, I would have given her double the allowance rather than have her disgraced like this. (Sits down for a moment and puts his head in his hands.) No, no— (Lifts his head.) my mother couldn't have planned a thing like this. Hanumig must have talked her into it. I remember how greedy she was when she was little. But then she seemed to change as she grew older, she seemed to grow pleasant and affectionate. We were close to each other then. She seemed the perfect sister in all respects. I got to love her dearly and looked after her welfare in every possible way. Only one thing I couldn't do: find her a husband. Was it my fault she couldn't find a man? Arousiag always said, "Let's make every effort to get the girl married." I never realized before how genuinely concerned my wife was about this family. At first I thought she'd be jealous of the other women in the house, in spite of her naturally gracious nature. How stupid of me to think that way even for a moment! I just didn't see clearly .... My poor wife. How she must have suffered with that monster around. I saw the hate and scorn in Hanumig's eyes when Arousiag went upstairs to get her jewelry for me. God, I wish I hadn't left the office early today! I wish I hadn't run into that bank clerk ... I wish I hadn't read the bank statement! If I'd noticed the address on the envelope I certainly wouldn't have opened that letter. Hanumig would have lied about it and I would have believed her. Who knows how many lies she's told me all through the years! I used to feel safe and carefree in my own house, until I made the mistake of opening someone else's mail! Yes, she's guilty all right! But aren't we all guilty of something or other? And then, the second mistake of looking into my mother's account book. I've never done that before. And then the third mistake: to say I was bankrupt and in debt. How am I going to free myself from all these lies? Once a man gets caught in a web of this kind, he gets more and more involved. When you fall into quicksand, you sink deeper and deeper with every step. What am I going to say to Arousiag? I'd rather die than tell her my mother and my sister are frauds. But how else can I explain why I lied about being bankrupt and in debt? I just can't do it! I've got to keep lying. Follow my mother's advice. I've got to open my eyes and look around me. Not because I suspect Arousiag of anything, but to find out how my mother and sister get on with my wife in my absence. I know what I'll do: when Arousiag brings me her valuables, I'll take them and pretend to go out. Instead I'll hide close by so that I can see and hear everything with my own eyes and ears.
 
Scene VI
(AROUSIAG and ARSHAG)
 
AROUSIAG
(Enters breathlessly, carrying a box.) Arshag, Arshag, it's all in here. I had a little money and put that in the box too. Here, take it quickly, sell it, go on. And please don't get so worked up again, as you did before. I thought you were sick. You frightened me.
 
ARSHAG
Arousiag, I can't take your jewelry. You've only had these a year or two and have hardly worn them. Someone young like you should have such things to wear at parties, to look dazzling. I don't want you to look dull while your friends sparkle. You always look so handsome wearing them.
 
AROUSIAG
(Shakes her finger to chide him.) Liar! Didn't you tell me that my necklace hid the beauty of my neck and that my arms looked more attractive without bracelets and that rings took away from the daintiness of my fingers? Were you just flattering me when you said all those things?
 
ARSHAG
Arousiag, I know how important jewelry is to a woman. It may not be her whole life but it's a good part of it, the key to her happiness .... No, no, Arousiag, I can't let you give it up. I'll find another way to solve my problem. Put them back, go on.
 
AROUSIAG
Don't be silly, Arshag. You're treating me like a simple-minded ninny who thinks that precious stones and metals are the most important things in a woman's life. Why keep them locked up in a box? I use them maybe twice a year. Is that worth all the suffering you're going through? I'd give my blood, my very life to help you. So take these, all of them, and sell them to pay off your debts so we can be at peace again. Then we'll write to my father. He'll help you.
 
ARSHAG
No, you mustn't! Don't write to your father. These will cover everything. Thanks, Arousiag. You're really very special, one of a kind, my guardian angel. Why should I worry about a thing, suffer alone when I have a heart like yours next to mine? Yes, I'll go right away and put an end to all this. I'll find out exactly how much I owe and pay up. But you must promise me you won't write a word about this to your father. I don't want anyone out there to know about my troubles. I'll find a way out of the difficulty in my own way. Quietly. I'll get out of it, my love, rest assured.
 
AROUSIAG
I'll do whatever you think is best—
 
ARSHAG
Then listen. I won't be back for dinner this evening. I may not be through until well past midnight, so don't wait up for me. Let the servants go to bed. Put out all the lights except for the lamp in this room. I'll have something to eat outside, so when I get back I can get right to work here, in this room.
 
AROUSIAG
All right. Don't worry about us. Just take care of yourself. It's grown a bit chilly. Put on your coat and give me a kiss. (They embrace.) Good luck—!

 
Scene VII

(AROUSIAG, alone.)
 
AROUSIAG
(A servant enters, lights the lamps and goes out.) I finally calmed him down and sent him off in a good mood. I'm glad I thought of the jewelry. What else was there? I wish I had had more to give him. Will he be able to settle everything with so little? If not, we'll just have to learn to live more economically. I really don't care. We live in tasteless luxury here. These gilded pieces are nothing special; you can find them in any shop. There's nothing I really like about this house except my own room, where I have my pictures, my souvenirs and keepsakes and the other things I treasure. They remind me of my family and the wonderful times we had together years ago. I would really have preferred a small apartment of my own, arranged the way I like, with lots of plants and flowers all around. I'm supposed to be worried about ending up in the kitchen—to me it would be a pleasure if I could be with Arshag, just the two of us, without any harsh critics pouncing on me all the time. I'd cook the meals for my husband with my own hands, set the table for him, wait on him in every way. I'd give him all my attention. If only things could be like that, being poor wouldn't frighten me one bit. There's even something romantic about struggling for the one you love. The only trouble is that Momma and Hanumig will be very unhappy. They live to keep up appearances. And they'll suffer if others see them poor. They would rather die than see their home, furniture and servants taken away from them. They would be miserable and make us miserable with them. So we must try to borrow money. But how —if Arshag won't let me write to my father? He said it very clearly not to write to him. (She paces up and down the room talking to herself from time to time.) I've got to find a way to solve this problem! (Puts her hands to her forehead.) Yes, that might work. I'll write to Zareh; he'll know what to do. Tomorrow I'll take the letter to the post office and mail it myself .... It'll be my secret—! In a few days I'll have some money in hand .... We'll be safe. (A bell rings.) There's the dinner bell. I really don't have any appetite for food or talk this evening!

 
Scene VIII
(SERVANT, AROUSIAG)
 
SERVANT
Madam, dinner is served.
 
AROUSIAG
Are Mother and Miss Hanumig coming?
 
SERVANT
Miss Hanumig won't be at dinner. She's indisposed. Mrs. Ardzatian is already sitting down.
 
AROUSIAG
I'll be right there. (Exits, followed by Servant.)

 
Scene IX
(HANUMIG, alone.)
 
HANUMIG
(She tiptoes into the empty room stealthily, like a thief.) We'll be ruined! Lose everything we've got! We'll be poor! How could my luck turn like this! I remember when we lived in a plain house and had ordinary friends. Mother did the cooking. My aunt did all the house work. We lived modestly. Then my brother's business began to improve. We got rid of my aunt and hired a maid. We were doing well when my brother's work took him to Smyrna. He met the daughter of a rich businessman and married her. We were afraid he would stay on there and leave us stranded here without any means of support. We wrote one letter after another. And like it or not, we had to plead with his wife to have my brother bring her here. I wrote the letter myself. I wish I had broken my hand before writing! And even before they got here, my brother sent us money to move to Pera, on this elegant street, and we rented this large house with all these fine pieces of furniture. We rented out our old house in the country and I banked the rent money for myself. We hired two servants, a secretary and a butler all in full uniform. We had everything. All our rich neighbors come to call. Of course we maintain a respectful distance, so that we don't give the impression of peasants who haven't seen the world. There never was a day I went out alone; always with Mother and very often took the carriage. If things had gone on that way— I would certainly have made a good marriage by this time. Everyone admired me. What a lovely girl, gracious, respectable, everyone said. But my happiness didn't last very long. My brother took his wife to Europe for three months before coming here. No sooner did his bride step through that door than our luck changed. I wish she had broken her legs coming here, never entered this house. She took over everything. Now she's the one they all flock around, all the respect and honor go to her. Everywhere we go, she's the center of attraction. They offer everything first to her, serve her first because she throws herself at people, that bitch! And here I am, carrying on our gracious style of living, dressing always in sober colors, looking straight ahead when out walking, never getting involved in idle conversations, genteel in all things—behaving as all young well-brought up girls should. That one, instead, shows no reserve at all! She wears bright dresses, low cut blouses, bouquets pinned to her breast. What more can I say? And my brother doesn't say a word to her! At first, we kept quiet because she is the daughter of a rich businessman. We let her do what she wanted. But then we realized that we were spoiling her. We began to remind her of her faults and tried to force her to change. I had almost won back my advantage, almost had the run of the house again, and Mother was getting ready to talk to Arshag about his wife's intolerable behavior, when suddenly misfortune struck! What's left to say when one has had bad luck all through life and things get turned upside down—? Now I've got to fend for myself. They're sure to start selling everything in a day or so. Arshag doesn't know everything we have. And we've told Arousiag all along that everything in this house belongs to us .... I'll just start collecting a few things and take them to my room so we can get to keep something. (She takes out a key from her pocket, opens a closet, takes several pieces of silver plate and puts them to one side. Footsteps can be heard approaching.) Someone's coming! It's Arousiag. I'd better leave. (She pushes the silver to one side on the floor and hurries off.)

 Scene X

(AROUSIAG, alone.)
 
AROUSIAG
(She enters carrying a writing case and inkstand.) Mother and Hanumig must be in their rooms. I told the servants to go to bed. I'll wait here for Arshag, so I can open the door for him myself when he comes. I won't be able to sleep until he's home. I wonder if he'll make it! Who knows what trouble he's going through this very minute, my poor Arshag! Custom and tradition are really strange things. A man works his head off, struggles to make a living while we three women are comfortably settled here at home, without a care, and sleep soundly at night. Why? That's the custom! How absurd! Custom! Arshag should have stayed home to rest tonight and we should have gone out instead, and found ways to help ourselves. But what can I do on my own? My hands are tied. I can't do anything without . . . permission .... No, I must write this letter! But I don't want Mother and Hanumig to find out. They'd string me up and hang me if they knew.
(She sits at the writing table, facing the audience, and begins to write.)

 
Scene XI
(ARSHAG, AROUSIAG.)
 
ARSHAG
(Speaking to himself.) The commandment is clear. Honor thy mother. Blessed is the son who does so. "Open your eyes," she said. If I hadn't, how would I have found out that there's a thief in my home and that thief—I'm sorry to say—is my own sister. All very sad, very sad—but let her take what she wants and leave. She can have the silver, the gold, all the valuables I own. I don't care. But I don't know how I will bring myself to look her in the eye let alone talk to her. Oh, she's used to this. She's absolutely without shame. She'll probably accuse someone else .... I've got to put an end to this disgraceful episode. I've got to tell her I know everything. Yes, I'll take these things and hide them. She'll try to find them. Let's see what happens .... (He picks up the silver and carries it out of the room.)

 
Scene XII
(HANUMIG, AROUSIAG)
 
HANUMIG
(She tiptoes in, looks around for the silver without success, grows confused, then frustrated and angry as she approaches AROUSIAG with a menacing look, muttering all the while to herself.) You, you . . . you . . . thief! I've caught you! I've caught you red-handed! I've got you all right!
 
AROUSIAG
(She doesn 't see her.) There, I've managed to finish this letter before Arshag returns. I was afraid he'd catch me at it. (She takes out an envelope and addresses it, speaking out loud as she writes the words.) Monsieur Zareh Tatosian, Smyrna.
 
(She places the letter in it and seals the envelope.)
 
HANUMIG
(Comes up close) I caught you!!!
 
AROUSIAG
(Startled, standing.) You frightened me, Hanumig. (She takes the envelope from the table and puts it in her pocket.)
 
HANUMIG
What are you afraid of? I don't eat up people! "Courage in a thief doesn't last long." Isn't that true?
 
AROUSIAG
(Annoyed.) I don't know what you're talking about—
 
HANUMIG
No, you don't know anything! Why should you know anything? You thought I was asleep! You never dreamed I'd be right here in this room! . . . If guilt were a sable coat, no one would want to wear it! All right! I'll spell it out for you: Where did you put the silver? What happened to the silver?
 
AROUSIAG
(Calm now, cold.) How would I know—?
 
HANUMIG
(Shouts.) You're going to return that silver right now, now! If you don't, I'll shout and scream and wake up everybody. I'll call the servants. I'll disgrace you in front of everyone!
 
AROUSIAG
You're raving, Hanumig! What have I got to do with your silver? Look for it where you put it—
 
HANUMIG
I put the pieces right there, here on the floor, next to the closet. I was going ... to polish them, but Mother called and I left them and ran upstairs. And now I come back to find them stolen!
 
AROUSIAG
Who would steal them? You've probably forgotten where you put them.
 
HANUMIG
I'm not like you, I don't forget where I put things! You're not going to fool me with that kind of talk! Bring out the silver or I'll bring out something else! (ARSHAG appears on the threshhold.)

 
Scene XIII
(AROUSIAG, HANUMIG, ARSHAG.)
 
AROUSIAG
(Doesn't see Arshag.) You're very confused tonight, dear sister. I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I certainly can't help you. I haven't laid eyes on the silver!
 
HANUMIG
(Runs at her, yelling.) Where is it? Where is the silver?
 
ARSHAG
(He comes forward slowly, calmly, the silver in his hands.) Here it is. And I've been here too, for an hour. I saw a thief come in, open the closet, take out the silver, start to carry it off, and then, hearing footsteps, drop everything to the floor and run off. I picked up the silver and hid it. (MRS. DIROUHI enters after a few seconds of silence.)
 

Scene XIV

(MRS. DIROUHI, AROUSIAG, HANUMIG, ARSHAG.)
 
MRS. DIROUHI
What is all this! A thief! In my house? What else can possibly happen to us! Arousiag, you must have left the window in this room open again.
 
AROUSIAG
Did you see who it was, Arshag? Couldn't you catch the thief?
 
ARSHAG
I saw who it was with my own eyes, Arousiag, but I was so ashamed I could not stop it.
 
HANUMIG
You were imagining things. There's no thief here. I took the silver from the closet to clean and polish. I couldn't sleep so I came down to take it up to my room. But if you want to catch someone at something, ask your wife what is in the envelope she hid in her pocket when she saw me.
 
AROUSIAG
I don't know what the thief and the robbery have to do with the envelope. You seem very confused tonight, Hanumig.
 
HANUMIG
Why not let us see the envelope so we can tell whether I'm confused or not! What's there to hide?
 
MRS. DIROUHI
I won't have secrets in my house! Secrets are evil.
 
AROUSIAG
And what if I've hidden something good?
 
MRS. DIROUHI
Good or bad, I must know what you're hiding.
 
ARSHAG
You have no right, Mother. My wife's secret is her own.
 
MRS. DIROUHI
Arshag, my son. What did I tell you a little while ago? Open your eyes. Look around you. Obviously I have some reason for suspicion or I wouldn't speak this way. How do I know what's going on in this house? You leave in the morning and are away all day. Your wife goes to her room and writes. What is she writing, writing all the time?
 
ARSHAG
Mother, she's writing a novel.
 
HANUMIG
So tell me, is that the novel in her pocket?
 
AROUSIAG
No, what's in my pocket is not a novel. It's a letter. But . . . please don't ask me to show it to you.
 
HANUMIG
I knew all along you wouldn't dare show it!
 
ARSHAG
Please, Arousiag, let them have it and put an end to all this suspicion.
 
AROUSIAG
So, they really do suspect me of something!
 
HANUMIG
If you want to put it that way, yes! We have our suspicions about you!
 
AROUSIAG
Well then, take it. (She pulls out the letter and throws it on the table.)
 
HANUMIG
(She seizes it. reads the name and address out loud.) Monsieur Zareh Tatosian, Smyrna. (Triumphant.) Now! Do you understand, brother?
 
MRS. DIROUHI (Strikes her head with both hands.)
Oh, my poor poor boy—!
 
HANUMIG
A disgrace, that's what it is! (She hides her face in her hands, while AROUSIAG smiles, her arms crossed at her breast.)
 
ARSHAG
(Extracts the letter from the envelope and reads out loud.) "My dear cousin. I beg you, if you can, without any delay, to pass the enclosed letter to my mother and to please keep it from my father. I would consider this a great favor for which I shall be most grateful." (To his mother and sister.) Well, what have you got to say?
 
AROUSIAG
Don't bother reading the letter to my mother. Here, Arshag, let me have it—
 
HANUMIG
No! The first letter is obviously a cover. It has no purpose. The secret is the other letter. Go on, read it if you dare.
 
ARSHAG
(Reads.) "Dear Mother, you always said I should turn to you when I needed help. I am following your wish in writing to you now. But you need not worry. I have no problems and you musn't be uneasy. Actually, I have a very good life here. You know how much I love my Arshag and he loves me. I couldn't ask for more in this world. The trouble has to do with material concerns. I need some money to help out someone, but I don't want either my husband or father to know about it. I'm sure you will approve of what I'm doing once you learn about it. I need a few hundred pieces of gold. Please, I beg you, send me what you can quickly and you'll make your only daughter very happy." (He throws the letter on the table, extends his arms and embraces his wife while Mrs. DIROUHI and HANUMIG keep their heads down in shame.)

 
CURTAIN


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