The Ghost Sonata Essay
The ground floor and first floor of a fashionable house. only a corner of it visible. The ground floor ends in a circular drawing-room, the first floor in a balcony with a flagstaff. As the blinds are raised in the drawing-room they reveal through the open windows a white marble statue of a wound woman, surrounded by palms which are bathed in bright sunlight. In the window to the left stands vases of hyacinths, blue, white, and pink. Over the railing of the balcony, at the corner of the first floor, hangs a blue silk eirderdown, with two white pillows.
The windows to the left are draped with white sheets. It is a clear Sunday morning. Downstage, in front of the house, is a green bench. Downstage right, a public fountain. To the left is a pillar, with posters pasted round it. Upstage left is the front entrance to the house. Through it we can see the staircase, which is of white marble, with banisters of mahogany and brass. on the pavement outside, laurels in the tubs stand on either side of the door. The corner of the house which contains the round drawing-room also looks on to a side street which leads upstage. To the left of the entrance, on the ground floor, is window with a mirror outside it set at an angle. As the curtain rises, the bells of several churches can be heard pealing in the distance.
The doors of the house are open. a woman dresses in dark clothes is standing motionless on the staircase. The caretaker’s with is cleaning the front step; then she polishes the brass o n the front door, and waters the laurels. In a wheel chair by the pillar, the old man sits reading the paper. He has white hair, a white beard, and spectacles. The milkmaid enters from the left, carrying bottles in a wire basket. She is in summer clothes, with brown shoes, black stockings and a white cap.
She takes off the cap and hangs it on the fountain, wipes the sweat from her forehead, drinks from the cup, washes her hands and arranges her hair, using the water as a mirror. A steamship’s bell rings, and the bass notes of an organ in a nearby church intermittently pierce the silence. After a few moments of this silence, when the milkmaid has finished her toilet, the student enters from the left, sleepless and unshaven. He goes straight to the fountain.
STUDENT: May I have the cup?
(the milkmaid hugs the cup to her)
You’ve finished with it haven’t you?
(the milkmaid looks at him frightened)
OLD MAN:(to himself) Who’s he talking to? I can’t see anyone. Is he mad?
(he continues to watch them in great amazement.)
STUDENT: What are you staring at? Am I so repulsive? Oh, I see. I haven’t slept all night, so of course you think I’ve been dissipating.
(she still stares at him with the same expression)
Drinking punch, hmm? Does my breath smell of punch?
(her expression remains unchanged)
I haven’t shaved-oh, I know. Give me a drink of water, girl- I’ve earned it
Oh very well. I suppose I’ll have to tell you. I’ve been bandaging wounds all night, and tending the injured; I was there when the house collapsed yesterday evening. Now you know.
(the milkmaid rinses the cup and gives him a drink.)
( the milkmaid does not move)
(slowly) Will you do me a service? (pause) It’s like this. My eyes are swollen, as you can see, but I dare not touch them with my hands because I’ve been fingering open wounds and dead bodies. Will you take this handkerchief , moisten it in the clean water and bathe my eyes? Will you do that? Will you be my Good Samaritan?
(she hesitates but does as he asks.)
Thank you, dear friend.
(takes out his purse. she makes a gesture of refusal)
Oh forgive me for being so thoughtless- I’m not really awake-
OLD MAN: Pardon my addressing you, but did I hear you say you witnessed that accident last night? I’ve just been reading about it in the paper-
STUDENT: Oh, have they got hold of it already?
OLD MAN: Yes, the whole story’s here. And your photograph; but the regret they were unable to discover the name of the brilliant young student who-
STUDENT: (looks at the paper) Really? That’s me! Well, well.
OLD MAN: Whom were you talking to just now?
STUDENT: Didn’t you see her?
OLD MAN: Would it be impertinent of me to ask-to be allowed the honor of knowing your name?
STUDENT: What’d be the point? I don’t want any publicity; once you become famous people start saying foul things about you. Depreciation’s become a fine art nowadays. Anyways I’m not looking for any reward-
OLD MAN: Are you rich?
STUDENT: Quite the contrary. I’m absolutely penniless.
OLD MAN: Wait a moment! I seem to know that voice. When I was young I had a friend who couldn’t say absinthe, he always said ab-absinthe. He’s the only person I’ve ever come across with that particular stammer. And now you! I wonder if you could possibly be any relation to a whole-sale merchant of the name of Arkrnholz?
STUDENT: He was my father.
OLD MAN: The ways of fate are strange. I saw you once, when you where a child- under very painful circumstances-
STUDENT: Yes. I’m said to have been born in to this world in the home of a bankrupt.
OLD MAN: Precisely.
STUDENT: Perhaps I may ask your name?
OLD MAN: My name is Hummel.
STUDENT: Are you-? Yes- now I remember-
OLD MAN: You’ve often heard my name mentioned by your family?
OLD MAN: Mentioned, I dare say, with a certain- distaste?
(the student is silent)
Oh, yes- I can imagine! I’ve no doubt they told you it was I who ruined your father? People who ruin themselves by idiotic speculation always swear they’ve been ruined by the one man they failed to fool
The truth of the matter is that your father swindled me out of seventeen thousand crowns- a sum which at the time represented my entire savings.
STUDENT: It’s strange how a story can exist in two such different versions.
OLD MAN: You think I’m not telling you the truth.
STUDENT: What else am I to think? My father never lied?
OLD MAN: True, true. One’s own father never lies. But I am a father, too; so-
STUDENT: What are you trying to tell me?
OLD MAN: I saved your father from complete destitution, and he rewarded me with hatred- the dreadful hatred of a man tied to another by the know of gratitude. He taught his family to spit on my name.
STUDENT: Perhaps you made him ungrateful by poisoning your charity with unnecessary humiliations?
OLD MAN: All charity is humiliating, my dear sir.
STUDENT: What do you want from me?
OLD MAN: Oh, not money. If you would just perform one or two services for me, I shall think myself well repaid. I am, as you see, a cripple. Some say it is my own fault, others blame my parents. I prefer to believe that life itself is to blame; she’s cunning snarer ; sidestep one pit and you walk straight into the next. Be that as it may, I cannot run up stairs or pull bell-ropes, and therefore I say to you: ” Please help me.”
STUDENT: What can I do?
OLD MAN: First of all, push my chair so that I can read these posters. I want to see what they’re playing tonight at the theatre-
STUDENT: (pushes the chair) Haven’t you a servant?
OLD MAN: Yes, but he’s gone on an errand. He’ll be back soon. So you’re a medical student, are you?
STUDENT: No, I’m studying languages. I haven’t really decided yet what I’m going to be- .
OLD MAN: Ah-ha! Are you any good at arithmetic?
STUDENT: I know a little.
OLD MAN: Good! Would you like a job?
STUDENT: Yes. Why not?
OLD MAN: Excellent!
(reads one of the posters)
They’re giving a matinee this afternoon of The Valkyrie. The Colonel will be there with his daughter. He always sits at the end of the sixth row. I’ll put you beside them. Go into that telephone kiosk, will you, and book a ticket for seat number 82 in the sixth row?
STUDENT: You want me to go to the opera this afternoon?
OLD MAN: Yes, just do as I tell you and you’ll be well rewarded. I want you to be happy, to find wealth and honor. By tomorrow your gallant deeds of rescue will be in every mouth, and your name will have a considerable market value-
STUDENT: (goes toward the telephone kiosk) This is a strange adventure.
OLD MAN: Are you a gambler?
STUDENT: Yes. That’s my tragedy.
OLD MAN: It shall be your fortune. Go along and do you telephoning.
(he reads his news paper. The Woman dressed in dark clothes has come out on to the pavement and is talking to the Caretaker’s Wife. The Old Man listens, but the audience cannot hear what they say.)
OLD MAN: Have you done it?
OLD MAN: You see that house?
STUDENT: Yes. I’ve noticed it before. I was waking past it yesterday, as sun was shinning in its windows. I thought of all the beauty and luxury there must be inside, and said to my companion: “If only one had and apartment there, four floors up, with a beautiful young wife, two pretty children and a private income of 20,000 crowns a year.”
OLD MAN: You said that, did you, did you indeed? Well, now; I love this house too-
STUDENT: You speculate in houses?
OLD MAN: Mm- yes. But not the way you mean-
STUDENT: You know the people who live there?
OLD MAN: Every one of them. When you live to be as old as I am, you know everyone, who their fathers were and there forefathers, and you find you’re related to all of them in some way or another. I’m eighty; but no-one knows me; not really- I’m interested in people’s destinies-
(the blind in the round drawing room is raised. The Colonel is seen within, dressed in mufti. After looking at the thermometer, he turns back into the room and stops in front of the marble statue.)
OLD MAN: Look, there’s the Colonel. You’ll be sitting next to him this afternoon-
STUDENT: Is that- the Colonel? I don’t understand what any of this means- it’s like a fairy tale-
OLD MAN: My whole life is a book of fairy tales, my dear sir; and although each tale is different, a single thread links them, there is a leitmotif that recurs continually-
STUDENT: Whom does the marble statue represent?
OLD MAN: His wife, of course.
STUDENT: Was she so beautiful?
OLD MAN: Mm- yes. Yes.
STUDENT: Tell me.
OLD MAN: Ah, my dear boy, we must not judge our fellow mortals. If I were to tell you that he struck her, that she left him, that she came back to him, and remarried him, and that she now sits in there in the shape of a mummy, worshipping her own statue, you would think I was mad.
STUDENT: I don’t understand.
OLD MAN: I didn’t suppose you would. Then we have the hyacinth window. That’s where his daughter lives. She’s out riding, but she’ll be home soon.
STUDENT: Who is the dark lady talking to the caretaker’s wife?
OLD MAN: Well, that’s a bit complicated. It’s to do with the dead man upstairs- up there, where you can see the white sheets-
STUDENT: Who was he?
OLD MAN: A human being, like us; but vain- vain. If you were a Sunday child, in a few minutes you would see him come out through the door to look at the consulate flag flying at half-mast. He was a consul, and loved crowns and lions, plumed hats and colored ribbons.
STUDENT: Sunday child, you said. They say I was born on a Sunday.
OLD MAN: You don’t say! Were you really? I might have guessed it from the color of your eyes. Then you can see what others cannot see. Have you noticed that?
STUDENT: I don’t know what other people can see, but sometimes- well, I’d rather not talk about it.
OLD MAN: I knew it. Come on, you can tell me. I understand about these things-
STUDENT: Well, yesterday, for example. I felt myself drawn to that quite ordinary little street in which, in a few minutes, a house was to collapse. I walked down it and stopped in front of this building- I’d never seen it before. Then I noticed a crack in the wall and hears the floorboard snapping. I ran forward and snatched hold of a child who was walking close by the wall. The next moment, the house collapsed. I was safe. But in my arms, where I thought I was holding the child, there was nothing.
OLD MAN: Extraordinary. I guessed as much. But tell me something. Why were you gesticulating like that at the fountain just now? And why were you talking to yourself?
STUDENT: Didn’t you se the milkmaid?
OLD MAN: Milkmaid?
STUDENT: Yes, the one who gave me the cup?
OLD MAN: Ah-ha? So that’s how it is? Well I can’t see, I can-
(a white haired woman sits down by the window beside the angled mirror.)
OLD MAN: Look at that old woman in the window. You see her? Good. She was my fiancee once- sixty years ago. I was twenty. Don’t be afraid she doesn’t recognize me. We see each other every day, but I don’t feel anything, though we once vowed to be eternally true to each other. Eternally.
STUDENT: How little your generation understood of life. We don’t talk to our girls like that nowadays.
OLD MAN: Forgive us, my boy we knew no better. But can you see that this old woman was once young and beautiful?
STUDENT: No. Yes, she has an attractive glance. Though I can’t see her eyes-
(the Caretaker’s Wife comes out with a basket and scatters pine twigs.)
OLD MAN: Ah, yes. The caretaker’s wife. The dark lady over there is her daughter, by the dead man. That’s how her husband got the job as caretaker. But the dark lady has a lover; a nobleman, with great expectations. He’s getting divorced from his wife- she’s giving him a fine house so as to be rid of him. This noble lover is son-in-law to the dead man- you can see his bedclothes being aired up there on the balcony. Complicated isn’t it?
STUDENT: Confoundedly complicated.
OLD MAN: Yes; its a complicated house, inside and out. Yet it looks quite ordinary, doesn’t it?
STUDENT: But who is the dead man, then?
OLD MAN: You asked my just now, and I told you. If you could see round the corner to the back entrance, you’d see a crowd of paupers whom he used to help. When he felt inclined-
STUDENT: He was kind man then?
OLD MAN: Sometimes.
STUDENT: Not always?
OLD MAN: No. People are like that. Now, my dear sir, move my chair a little so that it gets in the sun. I’m so horribly cold; when one can’t move the blood stiffens. I’m going to die soon, I know that, but there are one or two things I’ve got to do before I go. Take my hand, feel how cold I am.
STUDENT: It’s horrible!
OLD MAN: Don’t leave me. I’m tired, I’m lonely, but I haven’t always been like this, you know. I’ve an interminably long life behind me- oh, interminably long. I’ve made people unhappy, and people have made me unhappy- I suppose the one cancels out the other- but before I die I want to see you happy. Our destinies are wedded- through your father- and in other ways, too.
STUDENT: Let go of my hand, you’re draining my strength, your freezing me. What do you want?
OLD MAN: Be patient. You will see and understand. Here comes the young lady.
STUDENT: The Colonel’s daughter?
OLD MAN: Yes! His daughter! Look at her! Did you ever see such a masterpiece?
STUDENT: She is like the marble statue in there.
OLD MAN: That’s her mother.
STUDENT: Yes- you’re right! I never saw such a woman of woman born. Happy the man who leads her to the alter and to his home!
OLD MAN: Ah you see it, then? Not everyone appreciates her beauty. Good, good; it is written so.
(the daughter enters from the left in a fashionable English riding habit, with breeches, and walks slowly, without looking at anyone, to the door. She pauses, and says a few words to the caretaker’s wife; then she inters the house. The student puts his hand to his eyes.)
OLD MAN: Are you crying?
STUDENT: When one stands face to face with the unattainable, what else can one do but despair?
OLD MAN: I can open doors, and human hearts, if only I can find a hand to perform my will. Serve me, and you will win her.
STUDENT: Is this the pact? Must I sell my soul?
OLD MAN: Sell nothing! Listen. All my life I have taken; now I have a longing to give. To give! But no one will take anything from me. I am rich, very rich, but I have no heirs only a rascal, who plagues the life out of me. Be a son to me, be my heir while I am still alive, enjoy life so that I can watch you enjoy it if only from a distance.
STUDENT: What must I do?
OLD MAN: First, go and listen to The Valkyrie.
STUDENT: I’ve agreed to that. What else?
OLD MAN: Tonight you shall sit in there, in the wound drawing room.
STUDENT: How shall I get in there?
OLD MAN: Through The Valkyrie.
STUDENT: Why have you chosen me as your medium? Did you know me before?
OLD MAN: Yes, of course. I’ve had my eye on you for a long time. Bit look up there, now on the balcony! The maid’s hoisting the flag to half mast for the consul. Now she’s turning the bedclothes. You see the blue eiderdown? That was made for two to sleep under. Now it serves for one.
(the daughter, who has changed her clothes, enters and water the hyacinths in the window.)
OLD MAN: That’s my little girl look at her, look! She’s talking to the flowers isn’t she like a blue hyacinth herself? She’s giving them drink, just plain water, but they turn it into color and perfume. Here come s the Colonel with his newspaper. he’s showing her the paragraph about the accident. Now he’s pointing at your photograph! She’s interested; she’s reading of your bravery. It’s clouding over, what if it should rain? I’ll be in a fine pickle stuck here if Johansson doesn’t get back soon.
(It clouds over and becomes dark. The old lady at the mirror shuts her window.)
OLD MAN: Now my fiancee’s shutting her window… seventy nine… that mirror’s the only one she uses, because she can’t see herself in it, only the outside world. and that from two angles but the world can see her, she hasn’t thought of that. She’s a beautiful old lady though…
(the dead man in his winding sheet emerges from the door)
STUDENT: God almighty, what do I see now?
OLD MAN: What do you see?
STUDENT: Can’t you see? There in the doorway! The dead man?
OLD MAN: I see nothing. But I was expecting this. Tell me.