Dramatic Texts >> William Saroyan >> A Decent Birth
A Decent Birth, A Happy Funeral (1949) by William Saroyan
 
A Play in Three Acts and Six Scenes
 
CAST OF CHARACTERS (11 Males; 5 Females)
 
Colonel Joseph Hughman
Ernest Hughman
August Hughman
Stella
Becky
Elinor
Pal Szent-Gyorgyi
Violinist
Woman
Gypsy Girl
Waiter
Kochanek
1st Burlesque Comic
2nd Burlesque Comic
3rd Burlesque Comic
Telegraph Messenger  
 

 
SETTING
Act One
  Scene I. The Colonel's office.
  Scene II. A Hungarian Restaurant.
Act Two
  Scene I. A Sutton Place apartment
  Scene II. The Hungarian Restaurant.
  Scene III. The same.
Act Three
  The Hungarian Restaurant six months later.

 

 
ACT ONE, SCENE I

 
An elderly, absent-minded and very small COLONEL of the Army is seated at a desk, looking over two medical examination reports. On a bench are two serious MEN who are waiting patiently, in anxious silence. The COLONEL studies one report, then the other, glancing at the TWO MEN, and whistling softly. When the TWO MEN begin to whistle softly to, the COLONEL speaks.

 

 
COLONEL
Ernest Hughman.

 
(Both MEN get up. They look at one another, shake hands. The ELDER of the two steps to the desk.)

 
ERNEST (At the desk)
At your service.

 
COLONEL (Surprised)
Are you Ernest Hughman?

 
ERNEST
I am.

 
COLONEL
This report says you are in perfect physical condition.

 
ERNEST
This is a good thing to know.

 
COLONEL (Absently)
Yes, it is. (Cheerfully) It isn't often that a man of your age -- and profession -- is in such excellent health. (Pause) I wonder if you can suggest the reason for that.

 
ERNEST
I'm afraid not, for I have always enjoyed a casual life, so to speak. On the other hand, being an actor is like having a hundred lives to live, instead of one. There isn't time for any disease to reach all of the lives. By the time a disease reaches one of them, the actor is off to another, and the disease is deserted. Perhaps that is why my health is good. (Laughingly) I'm only guessing of course.

 
COLONEL
Of course. And yet there seems to be something to what you say. I notice you have been in the theatre a good many years.

 
ERNEST
Since I was twenty-two.

 
COLONEL
Your age is forty-four. (Figuring) Hence you've been in theatre exactly twenty-two years. (Pause) I have been in the Military the greater part of my life. How did you happen to choose the theatre as your profession?

 
ERNEST (Amused)
I entered the theatre because I am a show-off. I hope to enter the Army for the same reason.

 
COLONEL
And your brother on the bench, how does it happen that he--?

 
ERNEST
The man on the bench is not my brother. Except of course figuratively. It's true we have the same family name, but that is only a coincidence. To make the coincidence still more baffling the given names of his father and mother are the same as the given names of mine. That is, Joseph and Mary -- but of course those are common Christian names. W are both Catholics, we were both born in New York City, we come from practically the same class: the proud poor. But you will notice that his given name is August, mine Ernest. His age thirty-three, mine forty-four. His profession law, mine acting.

 
COLONEL
Yes. (Smiling) One of those things. You even look alike.

 
ERNEST
What's more, he is a single child, and I am a single child. He is a bachelor, and I am a bachelor. Yet except for this War, it is not very likely we would ever have met. He is an orphan from his third year, brought up in a Catholic orphanage, and I am an orphan from my seventh year, brought up in a Catholic orphanage. The same orphanage, I might point out: St. Dominics, on East 97th Street. I ran away from the orphanage to go on the stage before he was installed there. We met an hour ago when we came here to enlist. Being ten year his senior, and a man who has lived a careless life, I was afraid we might be separated after meeting at last. Now, I feel easier.

 
COLONEL
I'm afraid you are going to be separated. (AUSUST HUGHMAN stands) Yes. I regret very much, August Hughman, that your application for enlistment must be rejected.

 
AUGUST
I don't understand. I'm in perfect health.

 
COLONEL
Yes, I believe you are, except for one thing.

 
AUGUST
And what is that?

 
COLONEL
Your right ear is deaf. And the eardrum is punctured. Place your left hand over your left ear and it is unlikely that you will be able to hear anything.

 
AUGUST (Placing his left hand over his left ear)
I don't believe it. Will you speak, please, so that I may listen with my right ear.

 
COLONEL
If you do not hear, you must not pretend that you do. Can you hear? (Pause) I say, can you hear?

 
AUGUST (Brings his hand down from his left ear)
I had no idea the ear was totally deaf. (Cheerfully) But surely one good ear is as good as two. Surely you are not going to turn me away simply because my right ear is deaf.

 
COLONEL
Punctured, and deaf. Unfortunately, your left ear is partially deaf, too. There is no telling when it will become totally deaf. (Pause, earnestly) How did you happen to choose law as your profession? You see, I'm curious about such things. I have never been able to understand exactly how or why I entered the Military. It is not my field at all. When you decided to become a lawyer, did you know what you were doing?

 
AUGUST
Not at all. A man has little choice. My friend entered the theatre because he wanted to show-off. He is now enlisting in the Army in order to go on showing-off. Whereas I do not know why I chose law as my career, or why I am eager to enlist in the Army now. I would like to believe, however, that my reasons are sensible and perhaps unselfish. The truth is, I am sorry to say, I do not know why I want to be in the Army, except that I am tired of law, tired of being on the outside of such an enormous thing as the War, and a little tired of myself. Yes, that's the truth. I gave up my practice two weeks ago. I have no intention of returning to it. I have more money to spend on a comfortable life than I could ever manage to spend in thirty years. I am a little bored with the whole business of law and -- yes, of life. And that is not a good thing. I believe I look for this experience of War to give my life purpose and meaning, and to restore me to a joyous feeling about mankind and myself. I even look forward to the worst: I do not mean that I want to be dead. On the contrary, I want to be alive. I have only once wanted to be dead, and that was when I was three years old -- when I was installed in the orphanage. But as death is a difficult thing to achieve -- the most difficult of all, I suppose -- I want it to be achieved -- if need be -- for me -- by the world, by circumstances over which I have no control -- by inevitable accident, in other words. It simplifies everything for me in a way that I believe I can honestly feel is satisfactory -- not an evasion of responsibility to myself exactly, but at the same time not too personal an event either, as death would be if I died in bed from disease or while standing in line at a movie from boredom. I don not like the idea of going back -- one ear totall6y deaf, the other half-def -- to try to achieve a decent life, with no help from the world or the circumstances of it. I don't know how to get out of it, that's all. Surely you can find a place for me in the Army? (The COLONEL shakes his head several times slowly) I could stay beside my friend. He could listen for me. (To ERNEST) You wouldn't mind very much, would you?

 
ERNEST (To the COLONEL)
I promise to listen for him.

 
COLONEL
I know, and I wish I could let the defect pass unnoticed, but I can't. I might result in some unexpected disaster. (To ERNEST) You might, for instance, be killed, and it might be very important for his hearing to be sharp and sound -- and then what? Suppose the destiny of a whole squad depended on his hearing? Or a whole company? Or perhaps even a battalion or a regiment? No, we cannot afford to risk so many lives on one man's hearing. I cannot tell you how sorry I am.

 
AUGUST (Eagerly, almost desperately. Kneeling)
Then accept me as an office worker. I have no taste for private life any longer. Unless I am permitted to enter the Army, in one capacity or another, my life is ended. I have no fancy for cities, or for the goings on in them. I want War. I dislike melodramatics, even though I am a lawyer and have pleaded many cases in a melodramatic style of speech, but I ask you on my knees to let me enter the Army. It is a matter of life and death with me.

 
COLONEL
I'm sorry I cannot satisfy your request. (Pause) When you decided to become a lawyer, didn't you believe you might like to be something else, too, perhaps? I am extremely curious about such things. Didn't you think you might rather be a doctor, for instance?

 
AUGUST (Getting off his knees)
No, sir. I have never wanted to be a doctor. As a matter of fact, I dislike doctors -- all of them. This is a ridiculous way to feel about them, but it is the way I feel. I think of them as murderers, although they spend their time trying to save lives. (Earnestly, suddenly, going to his knees again) Pleas forget that I am deaf in one ear. Let me go into the Army with my friend.

 
COLONEL
It is no use. Regulations are regulations, no matter how unjust or unreasonable they may seem. In this case, I myself would say they are a little too general -- a little too cut and dried -- as I believe you are the kind of man to make a good soldier. You are intelligent and have no romantic notions about the war, and as far as I can tell you have no desire to save civilization. I wish there were more men like you in the Army. But unfortunately there is nothing I can do. Absolutely nothing. Your right ear is deaf. (Eagerly) How did that ear go deaf?
 
AUGUST (Getting off his knees)
It was boxed by a Sister at the orphanage the day I was taken there. It's been out of commission ever since.
 
COLONEL
Why did the Sister box your ear?

 
AUGUST
I'm not sure, but it was probably because she was irritated with herself. Of course I was no help to her at all. I do not imaging that I charmed her with a cheerful personality or a contagious joyousness. I was bewildered and unhappy, and wanted to be dead. That is to say, I believed I wanted to be dead. I didn't understand anything, and when a man doesn't understand anything, he sometimes imagines he wants to be dead. That is, if he's three years old. If he's thirty-three, he can see the absurdity of such an impulse, but at the same time he can also see the still greater absurdity of just dragging along with himself. Which is the way it is with me now. I hoped being in the Army would simplify the dragging. (Pause, beginning to go to his knees, pathetically) Then, I'm not wanted?
 
COLONEL
I'm sorry.

 
ERNEST (Lifting AUGUST to his feet)
You needn't be so down in the mouth about it. I'm going, and I'll keep in touch with you. It's not as if both of us were turned down -- or accepted. (To the COLONEL) Now, what about me?

 
COLONEL
Everything is in order. As you are a man of the theatre -- and as the Amy is in need of entertainment for the maintenance of morale -- as Chief Classification Officer, I recommend that you continue in the field of the theatre.

 
ERNEST
I beg your pardon?

 
COLONEL
We try as far as possible to assign every man to the field for which he is most fitted. You are an actor. Naturally, we like to feel that you might continue as an actor.

 
ERNEST
Don't worry, I shall act all right. But not on any such trifling stage as that of a theatre. If you don't mind, let me have a uniform, a gun, and the Army Regulations, the same as anybody else.

 
COLONEL
You mean you wish to go into the Infantry?

 
ERNEST
Yes. I wish to be a soldier. A foot soldier. I am quite flattered that my health is so good. Now, I would like to test it with some sound, regulated living, as against the vagrant, unregulated living which I have enjoyed so far.

 
COLONEL
Are you sure you would not rather continue as an actor? We shall not be making any concession to your past life. It is simply that we need more actors than soldiers.

 
ERNEST
I am quite sure that I would rather be a plain soldier.

 
COLONEL
Then it shall be so. (Sincerely) But can you tell me the reason for your decision? I am endlessly curious about how men make the decisions they make.

 
ERNEST
I have always wanted the biggest part in any play. The biggest part in this play is the soldier. The anonymous man. The one among the many. The unknown man. If killed, he is sometimes called The Unknown Solder. A moment ago you wished to know why I chose acting as my career. I believe I can answer that question more fully now. I chose acting as my career in order to enlist in the Army at the age of forty-four as a common soldier. (Pause) This is one of the proudest, one of the happiest moments of my life. I am at last to act for the only audience worthy of that great nation: myself and God. I know one half of that great audience approves of me, my half, and in all probability the other half will soon approve of me, too.

 
COLONEL
Such a casual and wholesome attitude toward soldiering should not be allowed to go to waste in a performance directed to so limited an audience.

 
ERNEST
Limited? (Pause) Well, perhaps. But I think you will agree it is not too limited.

 
COLONEL
I will tell you honestly, sire, that I am tempted to draft your talent into the theatre of the Armed Forces, because it is so needed. We have sickened our men with lies. No soldier in the field has time to think about what he is doing. He has a job to do, he tries to do it to the best of his ability at the time and under the circumstances. He knows it is a dangerous job and he knows he may be stopped at any moment. And that is where we have failed him. We have tried to tell him that if he is stopped it will not have been in vain.

 
ERNEST
Men live in vain. There is no other way for them to die.

 
COLONEL
Precisely. If you were to go before soldiers in a play made out of the way you feel, I know it would do them more good than the kindnesses which a confused propaganda and public forces on them. The men do not believe the lies. It is time somebody told them the truth in a decent way -- as you feel the truth for yourself. Before I grant your wish to enter the Army as a foot soldier, may I appeal to you as an actor -- not as a patriot, not as anything but an honest actor -- to abandon your wish to be entertained by the circumstance of War, and to adopt a policy of being both entertained and entertaining to others? I will not say that you owe it to your country, because you have already offered your person to your country, for your own reasons -- but I believe I can say you owe it to your profession, which I never knew until now was such a proud and sensible one.

 
ERNEST
I'm tempted, sir, but I must remain as I am and have always been: that is, irresponsible -- a man with no serious purpose. To seek to entertain the endangered, other than myself, is too much for me. I am sorry that I cannot with a cheerful heart accept your offer.

 
COLONEL
I understand. I will not urge you any farther. The Infantry, then.

 
ERNEST
Thank you, sir.

 
COLONEL
It's been pleasant chatting with you. (To AUGUST) And with you, sir. I am sorry you are not to go with your friend.

 
AUGUST
I can't understand what difference it can possibly make that my right ear is deaf. What is there to hear, anyway?

 
COLONEL
Nothing but noise, for the most part, but a regulation is a regulation. Good luck to both of you. I hope we shall all survive the war. I hope we shall meet again. And I hope the War shall soon be won -- by us.

 
ERNEST (Shaking the COLONEL'S hand)
It is won already. It is not simply that we are Americans, but also, sir, that there is art in us -- and in spite of everything a certain amount of purity, besides. It is not that we are more right than the enemy, for every man is right in his heart, especially when he is willing to be killed to prove it -- it is simply that we have the best manner. The War is won, since we do not hate anybody and want the enemy, after the War, to have his modest share of what we shall have after the War. That is to say, his modest share of nothing -- or at least nothing worth one man's murder. And if I may, sir, the War is won because I, an actor, as irresponsible as member of society as ever breathed, have been found in body, at the age of forty-four, sound and undamaged by a careless, casual life; because I have been accepted into the Infantry; and because I am proud of it all, without believing for a moment that I am doing anything worthy of notice, or anything which is not fundamentally as ridiculous as it is theatrical. But I am an actor, and I love the stage. (To AUGUST) Let us at least have supper together, and if you like -- and if I may -- let us each enjoy the company of an actress.

 
AUGUST
The company of an actress?

 
ERNEST
Yes. There is nothing more confusing -- or anything more refreshing.

 
COLONEL
Excuse me. My wife passed on quite a number of years ago, and --

 
ERNEST
By all means. I know just the actress. You will be delighted. She is ripe, but there is still much pretending in her.

 
COLONEL
I would like to ask her simply how it happened that she became an actress.

 
ERNEST
I know, and I know the incredible answer she will give. You will be most impressed.

 
AUGUST (Softly)
I can hear every word you say. I don't know why the Army won't have me.

 
ERNEST
Come along. What's better than the three of use having a whole night ahead, and an actress apiece? (To the COLONEL) Your name, sir?

 
COLONEL
It is Hughman, too, the same as yours. (To AUGUST) And yours, sir. (Smiling) It never occurred to me that I might be the father of one or another of you, or both. I am hardly a man of imagination. My given name is Joseph.

 
AUGUST
Joseph Hughman? Then, sir, as you have the name of my own father, who died as a young man when I was three, forget the regulations of the Army, and let me go with my brother into the Infantry, so that tonight we may enjoy the world as equals and good members of the same family, with women of the stage to fascinate or confuse use. (Pause, with great sincerity, getting on his knees) I beg of you, sir -- forget the regulations. Let me be a soldier.

 
COLONEL
How unfortunate that I am unable to satisfy your wish. When I began the military life I believed I would be killed before I was thirty, and here I am going on sixty, with nothing better understood than at twenty, or even ten. I cannot help you, sir. I ask you to forgive me.

 
AUGUST (Getting up. To ERNEST)
Then I had better say goodbye, and go home. The actress will bring me no enjoyment. I would only bore her, and she would only bore me.

 
ERNEST
Not the actress I have in mind for you. She is a queen.

 
AUGUST
A queen?

 
ERNEST
Of the only true family of queens. Burlesque. If she bores you, brother, you deserve to be bored. Besides, she has read a book and will speak to you of various meanings, with pleasant parts of her body in every meaning.
 
AUGUST
Even so, I don't want a woman for the architecture of her, or for the reading she's done, but for the foolishness of it. What good will her parts be to me if my own parts will not be moved by joyous absurdity to hers? I don not like to discuss ideas with bodies. Therefore, if we are to enjoy the night, let me be rid here of all ideas. Let me be a body, and then let the body go out and eat and drink, enjoy its weight and warmth with the weight and warmth of the body made by God to go with it. (To the COLONEL) I am embarrassed that I must keep appealing to you, but I am a dead man if I am not allowed to become, with all other men, only a body. I beg of you sir.
 
COLONEL
If it were up to me as a person, your wish would have been granted long ago, but in the Military you must understand that I am not a person, I am a piece of machinery which performs routine work, according to regulations. I do not know why I ever went into the Military. It is not my field at all. I have never before realized what a terrible mistake I made, now that I am unable to let you live as you wish to live.

 
AUGUST (Shaking the COLONEL'S hand)
I shall appeal to you no more. If I were my own lawyer, pleading my own case, and my client too, I should not know, as client, whether it were the case that was hopeless or the lawyer. In the courts of New York I have done much better. Murderers have been changed into saints by my pleading; thieving corporations have become benefactors to the poor; cheap lies have been turned into noble truths, but for myself I am no lawyer at all. (To ERNEST) Goodbye. It will be best for me to begin at the beginning again, for I have a whole life to live over. (He shakes ERNEST's hand) Good luck. (He turns to go)

 
ERNEST
Wait. This is too sad. There is not this much sadness in the whole body of things, let alone in this small circumstance. I am sorry that I have had the better ear, and therefore go my way, as I wish. Even if it were unkind and rude to ask you once again, come along with us tonight.

 
AUGUST (Tapping his right ear)
My ear is deaf.

 
ERNEST
It's nothing. When the left ear is deaf with the right, thank God for the beautiful silence. In the meantime, you are my brother, and he is our father. We are without wives. I am of the theatre and a number of my friends are women of the stage. There is not tribe more suitable for us, and no night more suitable for the fun of them. Come along, brother. (To the COLONEL) Come along, Father.

 
COLONEL
Thank you, my boy. I am an old man, bred in the Military, and fed up. Dull, dull, and no excuse for it, after all.

 
(They go as THE CURTAIN FALLS)

 

 
ACT ONE, SCENE II
 

 
ERNEST and AUGUST HUGHMAN, and the old COLONEL (JOSEPH HUGHMAN) are at a large table in a Hungarian Restaurant on 87th Street in New York. With them are THREE ACTRESSES: BECKY, very young and beautiful for AUGUST, since he is the youngest of the men; STELLA, not quite so young or beautiful, for ERNEST; and ELINORE, who is probably in her early fifties, for COLONEL. At a nearby table is another COUPLE. There is a middle-aged WAITER. There is also a GYPSY TRIO; piano, fiddle and cimbalom. The MUSIC is going, and the WAITER is singing in Hungarian. There is a YOUNG WOMAN, dark and a little lonely-looking, who is wearing a gypsy fortune-teller's costume. She is standing by, waiting for somebody to have his fortune told. When the music ends, ERNEST gets to his feet, applauding, and then speaks.
 
ERNEST
My friends: a toast to the War. (He lifts his glass. EVERYBODY at his table stands. He looks toward the other COUPLE at the nearby table) In the name of Love, let us drink a toast to the War. (They stand, The MAN cries “Pal! Pal Szent-Gyorgyi!”) You do not like the war?

 
PAL
Hate war!

 
ERNEST
Why?

 
PAL
War kill!

 
ERNEST
Waiter, fill his glass. (To PAL) Drink a toast, my friend. (The WAITER fills PAL'S glass) Why are you unhappy?

 
PAL
Tirty year ago I come from Hon-gary.

 
ERNEST
Ah, you weep for the years gone by. A toast to the good man's lost years. What is your name, my friend?

 
PAL
Pal. Pal Szent-Gyorgyi, same as my fodder.

 
ERNEST
A toast to Pal Szent-Gyorgyi, and to his fodder Pal Szent-Gyorgyi -- and to my fodder, Pal Szent-Gyorgyi. (Swiftly, to PAL) It was my own father's name, too. Pal! Pal Szent-Gyorgyi. A toast, ladies and gentlemen -- to the thirty years of Pal Szent-Gyorgyi. Everybody drink.

 
(EVERYBODY drinks)

 
PAL
Pal Szent-Gyorgyi -- that's me! You bet. Tirty years, come from Hon-gary. (Laughing) Tirty years more, I go back. (He begins to weep. He looks at ERNEST) Anoder toast to Pal Szent-Gyorgyi -- you bet. Big fellow, fight like Christian man, kill tree Turks one hand. (Shows his broad shoulders and powerful arms) Pal -- you bet. Szent-Gyorgyi, from Hon-gary. Drink champagne. Everybody drink to good Christian man. (EVERYBODY drinks) Hofe! Hofe! (He sits down.)

 
ERNEST
Orchestra! Play a song for Pal! (To PAL) What song will it be, Pal?

 
PAL
Pragnienie, Pragnienie!

 
VIOLINIST
Pragnienie, Pragnienie.

 
(He begins to fiddle, and the other MUSICIANS join him in lively sorrowful song. While it is playing PAL gets up drunkenly and begins to dance.)

 
PAL (Dancing)
Pragnienie! You know? Homesick. (To WAITER) Myslonsky, myslonsky. (Tapping his forehead) Tinking -- tirty years tinking.

 
ERNEST
What do you think, Pal?

 
PAL
I tink zlodziej! Robber! Zlodziej come and steal -- Take my fodder, take my modder, take my brodder, take my sister. Zlodziej!

 
AUGUST
He calls Death, whom he does not love, and yet he calls Death as though it were a woman -- (To his woman, BECKY) like you.

 
BECKY (Leaning over and kissing him)
You're sweet.

 
AUGUST
Sweet?

 
BECKY
You're sweet to say I'm like what he calls. It's wonderful to be like that. Am I wonderful?

 
AUGUST
You are!

 
PAL
Zlodziej, zlodziej! Smierc, smierc!

 
AUGUST
Do you hear him? Listen, listen.

 
PAL
Zlodziej! Smierc! (He smiles, comes to the table, and speaks to ERNEST) You know smierc?

 
ERNEST
Only in English, I'm afraid.

 
PAL
In English, same ting, smierc!

 
AUGUST (To BECKY)
He means Death. I can tell from the smile.

 
BECKY
Death? Why would he smile about Death?

 
AUGUST He's told us. He's a Christian man.

 
BECKY (A little drunkenly)
You're sweet.

 
PAL (Nodding wisely, looking about, gesturing at everything)
Smierc. You know?

 
ERNEST
Yes, I believe I do.

 
PAL
You know black horse? Night-time? (Smiling) No rider? Come in night for rider? Come for Pal -- you bet. Pal Szent-Gyorgyi, Christian man. Smierc comes like black horse for good rider. Pal, Pal. (He sighs drunkenly) I doan know. Hofe, hofe. Pragnienie! Homesick. (He staggers over to his table, kisses his WOMAN on the lips, sits down, buries his head on his arms.)

 
AUGUST
He is a man of decent sorrows.

 
BECKY
You're sweet.

 
AUGUST (To ERNEST)
You said she had read a book. She keeps tell me I'm sweet. Of what book is that the message?

 
ERNEST
Becky, be intelligent for my friend, as you are for me.

 
BECKY
He's sweet.

 
AUGUST
You see? I've heard her say nothing else. I have never before been told that I am sweet.

 
BECKY
But you are -- you are! You're sweeter than anybody.

 
AUGUST (To ERNEST)
What does she mean?

 
ERNEST
We'll go soon, Becky. We'll go when they close. (To the COLONEL and his WOMAN)
We'll all go.

 
COLONEL
Yes, my son. I don't know why I ever went into the Military. (To his woman, ELINORE) It's not my field at all, you know. And now it's too late to do anything about it. You see, I didn't know. I was too young. I thought I would be killed before I got to be thirty, but I wasn't. There was a little skirmish in Honduras -- two men stole pigs -- and I had to go after them with a squad of men. We had to wade after them through swamps. One of the men turned and shouted at us. He called us names. I did not know whet the names were, but I did not like calling them. It does a man no good to be called a name. There was nothing else to do. I gave the order. Aim -- fire! Twelve men fired as one. Twelve men -- but he got away. We never did catch him. I never knew his name, or his friend's name, or what he called us. When we got back we were tired and muddy, and some native women came and asked if we wished to be refreshed. Yes, that's exactly how they put it -- great big women, with big faces. They knew we had waded through the swamps, in the heat. They knew we were tired. It's not my field at all. I have never before known people like yourself, and these other two young women. And the man who came from Hungary thirty years ago.

 
ELINORE
You look like a military man.

 
COLONEL
I'm not at all, though. Not at all. It was a boyish escapade, nothing more. We chased then five miles through the swamps. When we got back the native women came and asked if we wished to be refreshed.

 
ELINORE
What were they selling?

 
COLONEL
Oranges. It was only that we'd been away from home so long. Otherwise we wouldn't have talked to them, even. They speak very little English anyway, and we wouldn't have talked to them.

 
ELINORE
I see nothing wrong in selling oranges. (Suddenly) Ernest, I can't believe you're going off to be a soldier. I think it's most mysterious. And look at poor Stella, speechless and broken-hearted about the whole thing. Absolutely speechless.

 
STELLA
I'm drunk. A cup of coffee and I'll be as bright as ever.

 
ELINORE
But you are broken-hearted about Ernest, aren't you? I know I am.

 
STELLA
Ernest? Who's Ernest? (Looking around, finding ERNEST'S face) Oh, yes. Good Lord, why should I be broken-hearted about him? He's only showing-off. He'll be no soldier. It's nothing more than another part for him to act.

 
AUGUST
I can hear every word. And they say I'm half deaf. I can hear everything everybody says.

 
BECKY
You're sweet.

 
STELLA
Why should I be broken-hearted about Ernest going off to be a soldier? He'll only come back with a scratch on his nose, prettier than ever. Won't you, darling?

 
COLONEL
Excuse me, dear girl, he is not going out to a little skirmish. It is not going to be the way it was in Honduras with nothing more than two pig-thieves to chase. This is a real War. You may as well know he may be killed at any moment -- any moment, dear girl.

 
STELLA
I don't believe it. I simply don't believe anything can kill Ernest. It is simply out of the question.

 
AUGUST
I can hear everything you say. It is all nonsense, and nobody cares. (To STELLA) Excuse me. I hope you are right.

 
STELLA
Oh, I'm right all right. I know Ernest. I know him better than anybody here. He will not be killed. He simply will not be killed. Why, who would want to kill a man like that, who has nothing but comical thoughts for everybody? I have never known anybody to dislike him, except for a moment -- and then only women, and only for a moment. Who in the world would want to kill Ernest?

 
AUGUST
I hear every word you say. I'm sure nobody in the world would want to kill him -- nobody.

 
STELLA
Now, Ernest, would you want to kill anybody? Anybody at all?

 
ERNEST
No. Not even accidentally.

 
STELLA
You see? He is not going to be a soldier at all.

 
AUGUST
I hear every word. With only one ear, and that ear half-deaf, I hear everything.

 
BECKY
You're sweet.

 
AUGUST
I speak poorly, but there is no sweetness in it. (To STELLA) If he is killed, he will not know who kills him. If he kills, he will not know who it is he has killed.

 
BECKY
You're very sweet to say that.

 
AUGUST (To the COLONEL)
You have made a mistake to put him in the Infantry and leave me out. It ought to be the other way around.

 
COLONEL
My dear boy, a regulation is a regulation.

 
AUGUST (With anger)
It is nonsense.

 
BECKY
You're sweet.

 
AUGUST
Just a moment, Becky. (To the COLONEL) If I can hear as well as anyone, what difference does it make if I hear with only one ear, instead of two? I hear everything. I have been listening all night. I heard everything. I heard things you did not hear, sir, and things he did not hear, either. Do you remember when Pal Szent-Gyorgyi was dancing? Well, did you hear the woman at his table? Did you hear her, any of you? No, you didn't. Your ears are not deaf, but you did not hear her, and I heard her. She moaned to herself, saying three times -- yes, exactly three times -- Pal, Pal, Pal!

 
COLONEL
Well, of course. What else would the poor Woman say? He is her husband or lover, and he is unhappy, in spite of her, so unhappy that he must get up and dance in public. Well, then, what else would she say? You did not hear her, my boy. You saw her. You knew what she was saying. You did not hear it, I assure you. You scarcely hear anything I am saying. You see it. You know the nature of it from the expression of my face and the tone of my voice. Well, noises -- military noises -- have neither expressions nor tones. You might be killed.

 
AUGUST
I suppose he mightn't just because he's not deaf.

 
COLONEL
He might, too.

 
ELINORE
Poor, poor Ernest.

 
STELLA
Don't be silly. He's not going to be killed.

 
AUGUST
But suppose he is? What then?

 
COLONEL
What then? Why, nothing.

 
AUGUST
Nothing! Every man must have a funeral, and it ought to be a decent one, Christian or otherwise.

 
ERNEST
I would like a funeral all right.

 
AUGUST
That is the least any many is entitled to. Mourners, appropriate music, ashes to ashes, and all the rest of it. What about his funeral?

 
COLONEL
Every effort is made to give every man a decent burial, but of course there is scarcely time for anything elaborate, or even whole-hearted. If there is time, some one says a prayer, and everybody gets a grave.

 
ERNEST
Oh, that'll never do for me, sir. I am an actor. I would expect a theatrical funeral. Everything traditional to begin with, and after the routine things, then a good many more, according to my own inclinations.

 
AUGUST
What would you prefer, after the traditional rites?

 
ERNEST
Well, naturally I would like a good deal of weeping -- of any kind, by anybody. I would like the kind of weeping we had tonight from Pal Szent-Gyorgyi. Yes, I would like him to be at my funeral. He should be paid. If he does remember me, and is sincerely grieved, then of course he will not want to be paid. I would like others to mourn -- any who have a decent talent for it.

 
AUGUST
I will look for Pal, in the event --

 
ERNEST
Then, too, I would like Becky to work.

 
AUGUST
Work?

 
ERNEST
Yes, of course. Her best costume, her best routine, and the proper lighting.

 
AUGUST
I'm afraid I don't understand. I'm not of the theatre.

 
ERNEST
I would like Becky to dance at my funeral.

 
BECKY (To ERNEST)
You're sweet, too.

 
ERNEST
You'll do it, won't you, Becky?

 
BECKY
I'll do it now! (She gets up) I'm tired of so much clothes. (She turns to the VIOLINIST) Orchestra, play Melancholy Baby.

 
ERNEST
Not now, Becky. At my funeral.

 
BECKY
Clothes make me sweat. I stink when I seat. I'll work now. Orchestra, play Melancholy Baby. Lower those lights. I want to work.

 
ERNEST
Not now, darling.

 
BECKY
I'm tire of clothes. I look lousy in clothes. People never know what I really look like in clothes. They think I'm anybody -- and I'm not.

 
ERNEST
Of course you're not.

 
BECKY
You're sweet. You're almost as sweet as him.

 
ERNEST
Now, what else do I want? Well, I want a funeral march. Then I want plenty of food and drinks for everybody. Some low comedy. Becky can get three of the boys from Gayety.

 
STELLA (Scoffing)
Stop showing-off!

 
COLONEL
He may not be killed. Only a certain number are killed, and you may not be among the unlucky ones.

 
STELLA
Of course he wont' be killed. Why, who in the world would want to kill Ernest?

 
ERNEST
I'll call the fortune-teller. She'll tell us if I'm to be killed. (He stands) Gypsy Girl!

 
GYPSY GIRL
You want me?

 
ERNEST
Please. (The GYPSY GIRL comes over to the table) Sit down, Miss. (She sits down) Now. Tell my fortune.

 
GYPSY GIRL (Shuffling a deck of cards)
These are fortune-telling cards. They tell the truth. I will shuffle them carefully. Then I will cut them seven times -- to the lucky card, or the unlucky card, whichever is the truth. Then let him whose fortune is to be told shut his eyes. Let him hold his eyes shut, and let him think about his life. (ERNEST has shut his eyes) Now. Here are the cards. Take one and place it face down on the table. (ERNEST takes a card and places it face down on the table) Now, that is your first card. There will be three. But the first card -- that is your card. The card of your life. I hope it is good, for the cards tell the truth. In my family the cards have told the truth for three hundred years -- for my mother, for her mother, and for many more of our mothers. They have always told the truth. You must not be afraid of the truth. If it is bad, then fill your glass and drink. (She puts a finger on the card) That is your card -- your life. I will turn it over. Let your eyes be clear and unafraid upon it, whatever it is. Do not be proud if it is good. Do not be afraid if it is bad. Whatever it is, that is what it is, for you have taken it from the many cards with your own hand and with your own eyes closed. Now, I will turn the card over. It will tell the truth. Do not let your eyes blink.

 
(She turns the card over. EVERYBODY looks at the card.)

 
AUGUST (Excited)
What card is it? I cannot see. I can hear everything, but I cannot see.

 
GYPSY GIRL (Holding the card aloft)
This is the card. From thirty-two cards, this is the card you have taken with your own hand, with your own hand, with your own eyes closed. Do not be afraid.

 
AUGUST
But what card is it? What does it mean?

 
GYPSY GIRL
There were thirty-one other cards to take. Some good, some bad, but every one of them true. Joy, Sadness, Marriage, Misfortune, Letter, Children, Hope, Money, Sickness, Longing, Falsity, News, Jealousy, Ideas, Enemy -- and so on. Bu this is your card.

 
AUGUST
Yes, but what card is it? Tell us. What does the card mean?

 
GYPSY GIRL
This is the card of Death. See? There is Death in its white robe. Death -- or, as Pal says, Smierc. It is the same in any language. It is the same no matter what the word is. Death or Halal or Tod or Morte or Muerte or Smierc or Smrt -- it is the same, and it is the truth. This is your card, selected with your own hand, with your own eyes closed. Do not be angry, it is no use. Do not laugh at the cards, for they tell the truth. Now, take another card. (ERNEST takes a card) Now, one more. That is all. Three altogether. (ERNEST takes another card. The GYPSY turns over one of the cards) This card is Gaiety. That is a very strange card to go with Death, but it is the truth. The cards do not deceive us. Two card: Death and Gaiety. Now, the third card. (She turns the card over) Yes, it is the truth. There they are. The third card is the Priest. There he is in his robe, in the church. That is all. Death, Gaiety, and the Priest. Do you understand?

 
ERNEST
Yes, I believe I do.

 

GYPSY GIRL
You are not angry?

 
ERNEST(Drinking)
Not the least. The cards have told me what I know.

 
GYPSY GIRL
You have known you shall die?

 
ERNEST
I have known it all my life.

 
GYPSY GIRL
Have you know it shall be soon?

 
ERNEST
I am celebrating tonight the acceptance of my enlistment into the Army, in the Infantry.

 
GYPSY GIRL
You wish to die?

 
ERNEST
Not at all, but at the same time I do not particularly wish not to die. I am forty-four years old. I have been an actor twenty-two years. I have appeared in every kind of play ever written, and now I have found it impossible to resist appearing in this play.

 
GYPSY GIRL
You look upon the War as a play?

 
ERNEST
Yes, I do.

 
GYPSY GIRL
This card -- Gaiety. I do not understand it well. Can you tell me what it means?

 
ERNEST
You are a poor fortune-teller.

 
GYPSY GIRL
It is not often that I tell the fortune of one like you. My fee is fifty cents, but for you it is nothing. I will not take any money. Only a sip of wine, to drink to you. What is the meaning of this card -- Gaiety?

 
ERNEST
I am not a fortune-teller, but I believe it means that I shall have a happy funeral. (To the WAITER) A glass, please, for the Gypsy Girl.

 
(A glass is placed on the table. ERNEST pours champagne into it. The GYPSY GIRL looks at him seriously and lifts the glass.)

 
GYPSY GIRL
I drink to you -- happy man! (She drinks and throws the empty glass suddenly to the floor, breaking it) What I shall tell you now is not in the cards, but it is the truth, as I am a fortune-teller, and my mother was a fortune-teller before me, and her mother before her -- three hundred years. When you die, as you shall, and soon -- well, you shall not die. It is not in the cards, but it is the truth. I do not know how it is the truth, but there is not fear in you, and if there is no fear in a man, how can he die? It is impossible.

 
ERNEST
It is? Well, thank you.

 
GYPSY GIRL
You will not die. I do not ask people if they want their fortunes told. I am going now, but if any of you wants to know the truth, then look at me, and I will understand. (She waits a moment, EVERYBODY looks down, except BECKY, who looks at her in a drunken, sweet stupor) You are looking at me, but you do not need to have your fortune told. It is all very clear. You are a beautiful girl.

 
BECKY
You're sweet.

 
(The GYPSY GIRL goes.)
 
AUGUST
I heard every word, every whisper.

 
PAL (Sitting up suddenly and looking around, speaks)
Smierc, smierc!

 
ERNEST
Orchestra, play a song for Pal Szent-Gyorgyi!

 
PAL (Shouting gayly)
Pragniene, Pragniene!

 
(The ORCHESTRA begins to play.)

 
ERNEST (Lifting his glass)
Here's to my funeral.

 
(The Curtain begins to come down, as EVERYONE drinks.)

 

 
THE CURTAIN IS DOWN

 

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