One-Act Plays
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a play in one-act

by Arthur Schnitzler

translated by Porter Davitts

The following one-act play is reprinted from Ten Minute Plays. Pierre Loving. New York: Brentano's, 1923. It is now in the public domain and may therefore be performed without royalties.


BORROMAUS, the gardener

[A small well-trimmed garden in a Viennese suburb. In the rear a cottage with a porch from which three steps lead down into the garden. In front two benches and a comfortable reclining chair. It is early autumn, towards nightfall, and very quiet. Borromaus, the gardener is seen digging; an old man with wavy gray hair. Anton Hausdorfer comes down slowly from the porch. He is about sixty, clean shaven, with straight close-cropped gray hair and young eyes. His clothes are dark, and comfortable though not careless; he wears a broad hat of dark straw.]

HAUSDORFER: Good evening, Borromaus.

BORROMAUS: Good evening, sir. You have been in town this afternoon?


BORROMAUS: I only thought so, because you didn't have your coffee in the arbor again this afternoon.

HAUSDORFER: No, I wasn't in town. I have been lying on the sofa in the house; I had a little headache. But what are you doing? You'll have the whole garden dug up at this rate.

BORROMAUS: It does look like it, doesn't it? But you, sir, know it has to be. Any night now there might be a frost--I haven't much faith in these fine days, now October's here. Do you remember how it was in the fall of '93? We sat outdoors the evening before--yes, on the 28th of October--and before morning, about three o'clock, there was a frost; and it was the same way in '87 and '88. No indeed, this warm weather can't fool me.

HAUSDORFER: Quite right, Borromaus. [He looks around him.] What are we setting out now? [He falls into a reverie, scarcely listening to the answer.]

BORROMAUS: I was just going to tell you about it. Today after dinner I saw Franz from up above.

HAUSDORFER: [absently] Saw whom?

BORROMAUS: [a little put out] The gardenr of Baron Weisseneck. He's a bit stiff, but he knows his business--better than I do, if I must admit it. He reads up in his books, twenty volumes or so he has, in a row over his chest. I don't feel it beneath me to ask him a question now and then.

HAUSDORFER: [has not been listening] Yes, yes, so you must.

BORROMAUS: Must what, sir?

HAUSDORFER: Why, do what he said: I am perfectly willing.

BORROMAUS: [more and more astonished] But--I didn't say, sir--

HAUSDORFER: [as before] Yes, yes, that's the best plan.

BORROMAUS: [positively alarmed] Will you permit--

HAUSDORFER: [rousing himself] What?

BORROMAUS: I guess I understand now. If I might be allowed to ask--the Frau Councillor must be worse again, isn't she? [Becomes rather embarrassed as Hausdorfer does not answer.] I only thought, because she hasn't been out for three weeks.

HAUSDORFER: Let be. She is dead. Thank you very much for your sympathy. The Frau Councillor is dead.

[He sits down.]

BORROMAUS: [very much overcome; takes off his cap] Oh! [Pause.]

HAUSDORFER: Yes. She will never come to see us again, the Frau Councillor.

BORROMAUS: To think of her dying--Oh, my Lord! I never had an idea she was so sick. [Shakes his head.] And she was still quite a young woman, so to speak.

HAUSDORFER: Young--ah, dear old Borromaus,--well, she was seven years younger than I am,--but I'm pretty nearly sixty myself.

BORROMAUS: To be sure.

HAUSDORFER: But people live to be a great deal older than the Frau Councillor--that is sure too.

BORROMAUS: You know, sir, I have seen the Frau Councillor nearly every day for the last fifteen or twenty years, and yet--

HAUSDORFER: Yes, we were all younger, twenty years ago. But even the very last time the Frau Councillor didn't look like an old woman. And this summer since she had grown thinner and paler, one would have sworn--why, one night I was coming through here, late in the evening, and the Frau Councillor was sitting there,--sakes alive, but I thought it was her younger sister--begging your pardon. [After a short pause.] Well, Borromaus, what was it that arrogant Franz of the Baron's told you to do?

BORROMAUS: Oh, no indeed, sir. I mustn't bother you any more with my gabble. [He kisses his hand.] I know what it means--you see I was married once, and I buried my wife. [He is terrified at his own words.] I--I mean only--

HAUSDORFER: Very good, Borromaus. [Short pause.]

BORROMAUS: And the young master?


BORROMAUS: I mean the young Herr Heinrich. It is terrible--oh, Lord, oh Lord! When one thinks how he always brought her out at the last, and came after her in the evening--

HAUSDORFER: Yes, he is very much to be pitied.

BORROMAUS: He must be sick himself or he would have come out.

HAUSDORFER: Oh no, I am expecting him every day. He is away on a journey, but he may be back any time. He needs to recover himself a little, so he can get at his work again.

BORROMAUS: Yes, if a man has a calling--

HAUSDORFER: And a calling like that--the poet's calling! [Gets up.] A poet! Do you know what that means?


HAUSDORFER: You know nothing, absolutely nothing. None of us ordinary men know anything, beyond digging in our gardens.

BORROMAUS: Why, you, sir, used to--

HAUSDORFER: Oh yes--you mean Borromaus, that I used to do more than that, and so I did, but nothing better. I used to go in town every day, and sit at a desk from eight to two, and sometimes as late as three or four o'clock.

BORROMAUS: It must be pretty bad, to sit in one place for six hours every day. I used to pity you, sir, when you got back out in the country so late. And then in winter--

HAUSDORFER: But what's a man to do, Borromaus? There's another fellow in my place now, and if he outlives his usefulness, like me, he'll get a pension too, and there'll be another new man at the desk. It doesn't matter who sits there, though, it's all the same thing. But a poet, now--that's a different sort of man from us, Borromaus! If one of them retires on a pension, the place is pretty certain to wait a long time to be filled. Yes, yes, a man like that has to consider what he owes to the world, eh, Borromaus?

BORROMAUS: To be sure.

HAUSDORFER: You don't think so at all, you simply don't understand at all. Didn't you ever notice Heinrich? Never saw the halo round his head, eh? There, you see! [BORROMAUS laughs, suddenly grows very solemn.] Don't be worried, Borromaus, I'm not daft. I don't mean a real halo, just a figurative one. You can't see it, Borromaus, neither can I; but the Frau Councillor could.

BORROMAUS: I knew perfectly well what you meant, sir. It's because Herr Heinrich, young as he is, has been getting into the papers, and making people talk about him--oh yes, that's it. [He makes a gesture, describing a halo about his head.]

[Heinrich, dressed in black, goes by outside the fence. He bows. Borromaus follows Hausdorfer's glance.]

HAUSDORFER: Yes, here he comes. [He sits down, silently.]

BORROMAUS: If you would permit--I haven't had a chance to offer Herr Heinrich my respectful sympathy.

HAUSDORFER: Well, then, go and offer him your respectful sympathy.

[Heinrich appears on the terrace, from inside the house. Borromaus goes up to Heinrich.]

HEINRICH: [coming down from the porch, takes Borromaus' hand] Thank you, dear Borromaus--I understand, thank you very much.

[Borromaus goes off. Heinrich comes down forward. Hausdorfer gets up and goes a step or two towards Heinrich. They shake hands.]

HAUSDORFER: Well, back again?

HEINRICH: Yes, sooner than I expected. After all, there is no place like home.

HAUSDORFER: [nods] You went away that same night?

HEINRICH: Yes. I went away from the cemetery, packed up and got off. I couldn't stand another night in the house.

HAUSDORFER: I understand. Where have you been?

HEINRICH: I went to Salzburg first.


HEINRICH: I had once before found the place beneficial--the city of consolation, in fact.

HAUSDORFER: Oh, is there such a place? What a wonderful thing it would be if there were.

HEINRICH: Yes, under certain conditions, Salzburg is such a place: and to tell the truth, I did not go there at random. Seven or eight years ago I lived through a most distressing and painful experience. You will understand me, Herr Hausdorfer, when I say it was such an experience as I thought I could never turn to good in this world, and I undertook a journey to Salzburg. That very afternoon, as I was walking alone in the charming rococo garden in Heilbrunn, my distress seemed suddenly eased; and when I woke in the morning I was like a person healed of a disease, and able to work again.


HEINRICH: Of course, I was only twenty at the time, and it was the spring--both of which facts must be taken into consideration.

HAUSDORFER: I should say so.

HEINRICH: And this time, nothing. Not a ray of light. On the contrary.

HAUSDORFER: Then there would seem to be occasions when Heilbrunn doesn't work? How long did you stay in Salsburg?

HEINRICH: I left the next day and went to Munich; I hoped a good deal from the soothing influence of the old masters. So I went to the Alte Pinakothek, where my beloved Dürers and Holbeins are hung; and there at last I breathed again, the first time in a long long while. [Pause.] You don't mind my telling you all this, do you? Somehow I feel a real need of speaking out to you.

HAUSDORFER: Go on, go on. [He seems a little more friendly, and offers Heinrich his hand.]

HEINRICH: Thank you. [Sits down.] You see, Herr Hausdorfer, for my part it has pained me a good deal to feel that we have somehow, in the course of the past few years--I don't know how to put it except to say that we have somehow become a little estranged.

HAUSDORFER: Estranged--how?

HEINRICH: Yes. I have felt that you no longer had the same kindly feeling for me as when I was a boy and played here in your garden.

HAUSDORFER: But good heavens, my dear Heinrich, that was such a long time ago! And besides you must admit that you were really the one--well, no, I don't exactly mean that. Still, it was natural enough for you to go your own way. There was nothing very entertaining out here for a young man, and you have your own friends. I haven't reproached you, have I?

HEINRICH: Not at all. I only wanted to let you know how deeply I felt, after this wretched journey, this flight, rather, that I was more drawn to you than anyone else in the world. You will understand me. And I am so thankful to you for my mother's sake; you were so much to her, you cast a beauty over all the last years of her life!

HAUSDORFER: [turns away] Yes, yes. But go on. You went to Munich, looked at the pictures and were consoled.

HEINRICH: Only as long as I stayed in the cool stillness of the gallery. I'd hardly reached the street when the effect was gone again. And then the evenings--the endless lonesome evenings! I tried to work, to think--it was impossible. I was completely upset. [Pause. He rises.] How long will it last?

HAUSDORFER: It must be terrible, if one is so used to being at work--

HEINRICH: Used to being at work? But I'm not, any longer. That is just it. For two or three years I have been utterly unable to accomplish anything whatever. You know yourself--

HAUSDORFER: Yes, yes, to be sure.

HEINRICH: It was an utter impossibility. To see a being one loves, to see one's mother, suffer, suffer like that, and know she is fighting with death, and that she longs for it! That was the most frightful part of it. I saw the longing in her eyes, nights when I sat by her bed and read to her. [A long pause.] I have given up the house.

HAUSDORFER: Oh, you have? Well, it is really too large for you, by yourself.

HEINRICH: Yes: and anyhow, I could never write another line in it. I should hear, night after night, those moans from the room next to mine, that used to cut into my heart, and annihilate every faculty, every wish to create, even the very desire to live. Oh, my God! [Long pause.] Did you know what Doctor Heuffer said to me the Sunday before she died?


HEINRICH: That she might live two or three years longer.

HAUSDORFER: [almost beside himself] Two or three years? [Controlling himself, more quietly.] That she might live two or three years longer?

HEINRICH: Yes. And that was just when the worst came. She never went out of her room again, never had another hour in the garden she loved so well. [Looks at the empty reclining chair.]

HAUSDORFER: Perhaps I might have made up my mind to come in occasionally.

HEINRICH: [rather ashamed] Ah, my dear Herr Hausdorfer, here I am talking about myself all the time. Yet I am young, with a future before me, of some kind or other. But how much you have lost!

HAUSDORFER: Very much, indeed.

HEINRICH: I know what my mother was to you, I always knew it, even in those days.


HEINRICH: I was not such a very small child, when my father left us.


HEINRICH: I can remember the day when my mother told me, "Papa has gone away." When he didn't come back, I imagined for a long time that he had died, and I often wept bitterly about it at night. But after a while I met him in the street and with him was that woman for whom he left my mother. I stood inside a doorway so that he might not see me. I, a child, was ashamed in his presence. Yes, I soon understood that my mother was quite free, free as if she had really been widowed.

HAUSDORFER: Then you excused us, you mean. [A little distantly.]

HEINRICH: Pardon me, I express myself badly. [More warmly.] But why should not we speak naturally of simple and natural things, especially at such a time? I felt impelled to take your hand as if it were indeed my father's, for I know how dearly my mother loved you.

[It has grown gradually dark. Outside the fence, in the street, the lamps have been lighted.]

HAUSDORFER: Loved me! That would be strange indeed. When one is young, all the world is in love. Friends, Heinrich, we were--old people, old friends. Do you understand? Or has the word no meaning when one is young? And how could you understand it, you young people, with the whole world before you--not to speak of a man like you with the prospects you have.

HEINRICH: There you mistake, Herr Hausdorfer, I understand very clearly. If I could bring my poor mother back to you, to us--my God! What would I not give to have her sitting here with us for one single evening!

HAUSDORFER: What would you give-- [bitterly] how much?

HEINRICH: [hesitating] I think--it seems to me I would give my whole future, with everything that I might accomplish in it.

HAUSDORFER: Don't be a fool, Heinrich--you don't mean what you say.

HEINRICH: If it were a possibility--if it lay in my power--

HAUSDORFER: That's a lie, Heinrich. If you did have that power--I know you! I know you all, every one of you, I know what you are!

HEINRICH: All of us? I did not know it was necessary for me to answer for anyone except myself.

HAUSDORFER: You do not answer for anybody but yourself. When I say "all of you," I know what I mean, and I mean what I say. There was a young fellow at the office once, the story is nearly ten years old now: he played a little in his odd moments, one of the chapters of the choral society brought out something of his--Franz Thomas, his name was. Well, his only child died, a boy seven years old, bright and beautiful as a picture. I knew him, for he sometimes came with his mother to fetch his father home from the office. The child died of diptheria, in one night, and I went to offer my sympathy. He, the father I mean, was sitting at the piano and playing--playing! The dead child was laid out in the same room, I saw it; and he didn't even stop playing when I came in, but just nodded to me, and when I stood behind him he said softly: "Listen, Herr Hausdorfer, that is for my poor little son. The melody pleases me very much." And the dead child was lying right there in its shroud--it gave me the shivers, I can tell you.

HEINRICH: [has been listening with visible interest and gratification] Yes, I can well understand how many very excellent men might feel a sort of horror at such a thing.

HAUSDORFER: Horror--yes, that is the right word for it.

HEINRICH: And yet, Herr Hausdorfer, do you not think those very people are to be envied for their power to absorb themselves in their calling; their art? They have the wonderful capacity of molding their sorrow into imperishable form, instead of letting it dissipate itself in useless tears.

HAUSDORFER: And this molding their sorrow into imperishable form--will that bring back the dead?

HEINRICH: As little as the tears themselves. I do not say that joy in one's work outweighs one's sorrow for a departed loved one. But isn't our work the one thing that is left to us at last? Shall you not work in your garden again? And for myself--yes, I long for the day to come when I am again capable of working, of just creating something, as I once did. We must resign ourselves to the inevitable.

HAUSDORFER: To the inevitable, yes.

HEINRICH: This was inevitable.


HEINRICH: [astonished] Most surely it was. What notion are you torturing yourself with? You yourself asked the doctor, six weeks ago, and he did not hesitate to tell you the truth. It had to come.

HAUSDORFER: But not now--not so soon.

HEINRICH: How can you make such an assertion, Herr Hausdorfer? You can't assume that there was any lack of care--

HAUSDORFER: Oh no, no. Forgive me. There could be none.

HEINRICH: Then why--

HAUSDORFER: But you said yourself that she might have lived two or three years more.

HEINRICH: Alas, yes. That is true. But the doctor also mentioned the possibility of a sudden death, as you know.

HAUSDORFER: Sudden--yes, quite right. [Hesitatingly, then with sudden determination.] But natural--that is another question.

HEINRICH: [startled] What? Why--no, I cannot understand what you mean by a conjecture of which not the slightest--why, the doctor would have known it.

HAUSDORFER: How? Couldn't one empty a bottle of laudanum and be found dead in bed next morning--if the family expected it already?

HEINRICH: You speak as if you knew--did my mother express any--

HAUSDORFER: I am not mistaken--let that satisfy you.

HEINRICH: Since you have said so much, Herr Hausdorfer, it is only natural--

HAUSDORFER: I am sure of it--don't ask any further!

HEINRICH: Ah,yes. The letter, on her writing-table--

HAUSDORFER: [nods his head] Yes. [Pause.]

HEINRICH: [overcome] Yes--yes. And yet, why am I so dumbfounded? [Pause.] When I have asked myself, how often, in those terrible nights--yes, I confess it to you, at the risk of your thinking me horrible, too--what it is that makes us wretched human creatures endure such misery, such martyrdom, when it lies in our own power to put an end to it at any time.


HEINRICH: If my mother did do what you say you know she did, she was right, quite right.


HEINRICH: That is my honest opinion.

HAUSDORFER: Because you don't understand, Heinrich--because you know nothing! She would have gone on living and enduring, as long as the good God gave her life. She would have lived for my sake and her own--here for these few hours in the garden, so full of recollections of our young days and our happiness; but she is dead, and she died for you, Heinrich, for you, for your sake!

HEINRICH: [more and more overcome] For me, for my sake? But I can't understand, in the least--for my sake--what do you mean?

HAUSDORFER: Then you really don't know? Can't you imagine? When you spoke of it yourself, just now?

HEINRICH: Of what?

HAUSDORFER: Why, didn't you tell me how it affected you, and you thought your mother didn't see it.

HEINRICH: What did she see?

HAUSDORFER: That her suffering upset you, that you couldn't work, that you were worried for fear it might be all up with your art, that you--you!--were the tortured, the martyred one--she saw all that, and so--

HEINRICH: And so--! But it is impossible!

HAUSDORFER: Impossible? She was your mother, and that made it possible.

HEINRICH: No, Herr Hausdorfer. Your grief makes you imagine what could not possibly be true. I grant that the condition of my mind could be no secret to my mother, I was so greatly distressed; but that there could be any ground for--

HAUSDORFER: [interrupting him passionately] Can't you believe me--do you think I am lying to you--do you? Well, then! [Pulls a letter from his pocket.] Read it, read it--she wrote it when her mind was perfectly clear, it was the one that was on her desk--she wrote it that last night, and half an hour after--you can read it all--she saw you suffer--she saw you suffer!--and so she died--died before her time!

HEINRICH: [runs through the letter] Mother! Mother! [Sinks down into the reclining chair.] For me! On my account--because I was-- Oh, my God, my God!

[Heinrich Buries his head against the arm of the chair. Hausdorfer gazes at him and nods his head. Long pause.]

HEINRICH: [gets up] I will go now. I know my presence must be painful to you. Here is the letter. [He still holds it in his hand.] It was written when her mind was perfectly clear, and it tells the truth. I do not doubt it any longer. [After some hesitation.] May I call your attention to one point?


HEINRICH: This. Where my mother implores you [pointing with his finger] "I entreat you", not to let me know the contents of this letter: to let me rest in the belief that she died a natural death. This letter was intended for your eyes alone--not for mine, in any event.

HAUSDORFER: I intended it for you! I intended it for your! I let you read it--you'll get over it.

HEINRICH: And by your meddling you have destroyed the whole effect of this spontaneous sacrifice. She did not intend me to feel that I had murdered her, to go through the world with her blood on my head! Perhaps you will come after a while to feel that you have done not only me but her a wrong that outweighs mine.

HAUSDORFER: I accept the responsibility, Heinrich. I have told you. You will get over it. It will not last long--no, you will recover, live, create again.

HEINRICH: That is my right, perhaps my duty as well. There is nothing left for me to do--either kill myself, or else try to prove that my mother--did not die in vain.

HAUSDORFER: Heinrich! A month ago she was alive, and you can say that! She killed herself for you, and you can wash your hands of responsibility--in a few days you will be beginning to think it was her own fault. Am I not right--aren't you after all just like the others--all stuck full of arrogance, little and big! What does all your scribbling amount to, even if you were the greatest genius in the world, in comparison with one hour here in the garden, one living hour, when your mother sat in her chair, and talked to us or else we were silent together--yet whether she talked or not, there she was, in the flesh, with us, her very self, alive, alive!

HEINRICH: Living hours! Those living hours of yours live just so long as the last person who remembers them. And thus it is, that his is not the meanest of destinies, in whose power it lies to give such hours immortality. Farewell, Herr Hausdorfer. Your sorrow gives you the right to misunderstand me. Next Spring, when this garden of yours is once more in bloom, we shall meet again. For you, too, will live on.

[Heinrich goes up the terrace, across which a broad lane of lamp-light streams into the gardens.]


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