(translated by Sylvius L’épouvanté from the text in Le Démon de l’Absurde 1894)
Setting: At night in a church.
Characters: Rhymes of thing and reasons of people.
THE MOON (entering through a stained-glass window): How dark it is within this well!
BELL-TOWER (with resignation): She takes me for a well! And they say that she witnesses history up there . . .
THE MOON (snorting indifferently): And there are enormous spider webs.
THE SAINT IN THE STAINED-GLASS WINDOW (waking himself out from under his shroud of dust) : Oh! Who’s there! I saw a blonde pass by. She mingled her hair with my halo. These creatures do not respect anything at all. Fortunately, I am in glass these days and less fragile than once I was. (He yawns.)
FINAL RINGING OF THE BAPTISMAL BELL : Later they will understand the melancholy of joyful tunes.
FINAL RINGING OF THE BURIAL BELL : A good celebration, and how the bell-ringer has drunk!
FIRST BAT (twirling): Heaven and earth! I am only a poor bird, but it all seems quite ridiculous.
SECOND BAT (twirling): Earth and Sky! I am only a poor mouse, but it all disturbs me.
THE BIG CANDLE ON THE RIGHT : My wax is the pure white of beautiful brides.
THE BIG CANDLE ON THE LEFT : My wax is the pure white of precious dead children.
A CANDLE IN THE CORNER : Purity from tallow, chemical virtue.
FIRST NIGHT-LIGHT : I am the heart of a woman, filled with pink rubies.
SECOND NIGHT-LIGHT : I am the eye of a lover who shed many tears.
A DEAD MAN UNDER A SLAB: Help! Get me out of here! I’m suffocating! Remove the stone, because my fingernails grow and press into roots and they keep getting longer without finding any crack . . . Remove the stone!
A DEAD MAN UNDER ANOTHER SLAB: Better that! They have planted me by the edge of a stream! I carry in my eyes two seeds of forget-me-not.
A CONFESSIONAL : I am a ration of darkness enclosed within a cupboard.
THE POOR-BOX : They filled me with discs of bronze, discs of silver, discs of gold; but in the midst of these ordinary coins shines a wonderful piece, unique without a doubt. It is pierced by four small holes and is decorated with an inscription of mysterious words. Ah! He who made this gift is a truly charitable man. I would like to know him.
A PRIE-DIEU: Her knees are pleasantly light. Her dress feels good and I hold onto strands of silk within my strands of straw.
CHAIR: Oh! The roundness of old women!
CARPET: All is yet fresh. A lily petal was stuck to her heel and I knew it came from her father’s garden.
STEPS OF THE ALTAR: This is unworthy! The priest never looks where he sets his feet before entering the church.
CHORUS OF ORGAN PIPES: Dies irae! Te Deum! Alleluia! De Profundis!
A SWALLOW (hovering at the top of the rose window): I think it will be fine tomorrow!
AN ECHO : Amen!
(A padded door opens slowly and then falls back with a muffled sound. Enter THE DAMNED, THE PROSTITUTE and THE JEW, who move by feeling their way around.)
THE DAMNED (staggering a little and bending to light a lantern): Heh! What did I tell you? No one! These places are always empty at night . . . men stay away from God when they can make love. (He shakes his rags with a sad laugh.)
THE PROSTITUTE (in an irritated voice, clutching her mourning shawl to her red satin dress): Shut up! This is not the time for joking. Me, I hate homes with painted ceiling windows that open up . . . unto hell!
THE JEW (removing his hare-skin cap): We must still have respect, it does not cost us anything.
THE DAMNED (in a disconsolate voice): You are unclean animals and yet you are safer than me here; you do not believe.
(All three head toward the altar and THE DAMNED places the lantern on the handrail of the chancel.)
THE PROSTITUTE (supporting THE DAMNED, who is staggering): Let us speak a little and speak well; you made us a pledge of extraordinary jewels. Where are they?
THE DAMNED (extending his arm in a stiff gesture and pointing to the tabernacle): They are there.
THE JEW (nodding his head): It is agreed that you will go search all alone.
THE PROSTITUTE: All alone, since the idea came to him. I would have never thought of such a farce.
THE JEW (mockingly): Nor I, even more! It’s a brilliant idea, and so simple!
THE DAMNED (tormented): So if it’s that simple, go on.
THE JEW (taking out from under his cloak a scale, weights, and iron tongs): Lender, buyer – either one. Thief, no! I have come mainly to serve the pleasures of Madame.
AN ECHO: The lady!
THE PROSTITUTE (furious): My lover would be a capon!
THE DAMNED (raising his head proudly): What capon would dare measure himself against God . . . Yes, I intend to steal; only, I would like to struggle in confrontation. This is the forest where I will steal faithfully after having explained my reasons. I will speak very loftily, should you not listen to me, you brutes. (He makes a leap and swings into the chancel, getting clear by passing over the handrail. Mechanically, THE PROSTITUTE goes to her knees while THE JEW examines the beam of his scales. THE DAMNED resumes in a grave tone, addressing himself unto the tabernacle.) My God, I am the prey that brings you beasts of prey, but a gentleman who desires to even his chances in this fabulous duel. I will count off my grievances; on your side, make ready your thunderbolts. I will not accost you while you slumber. Oh! My life is bare naked, King of Kings! If you do not have a recollection of my miseries, I will present them to you. You may judge! Cursed by my fleshly father, abandoned by my mother, I have rolled from one abyss into another. I have killed, I have cheated at games, and I have lied. You let me walk up to you in order to better destroy me, I think, and here is the moment of the ultimate fall, of sin without remission, of sacrilege. I do not doubt; I try to justify myself. Are you not more guilty than I am, for instance, God whose right hand is too still and can you not spare me as an accomplice or will you destroy me suddenly? . . . I yield my paradise. If not, tear from me the heart out of my chest. It is time for you to decide. I am perhaps the last of the believers. And look behind me at this woman with her red dress, her shoulders pale like snowflakes melting against a bright flame. She has a deep need for jewelry. I don’t have even a speck of it. When she shakes her little hand, Lord, you who see everything, you will have done good by yourself to behold, it seems that suddenly the tip of an angel’s wing will push you and go all the way to the greatest offense. God, have compassion! Whatever torture you invent will be stronger than hers! I have traveled roads, and I was hungry and had the urge to graze the flowery grass that grows between the legs of oxen. At the end the road, I drank like the others; they demanded of me silver and so I begged. I even learned to perform as a dog, crawling and pulling raucous sounds out of my throat, dried up with thirst. I have done drugs . . . I met this girl who caressed me; my only moment of joy, she holds it in the secret folds of her skirt of fire, and my worst torment is still to be known! You understand, God most intelligent, I have need of your diamonds. It is within you to see so much more . . . (He looks down.)
AN ECHO: More!
THE DAMNED : Lord! I am failing to deliver my good-faith promise to them. You do nothing. (Making an appeal.) And she is a child who can not laugh without a toy. (He is impatient.) My belief in you is my entire fortune. Answer me! The purse or death! Kill the criminal before the crime or enrich him in the name of faith. (In an outburst.) Ah! If had thunder at my command!
THE PROSTITUTE (quietly to THE JEW): I poured him warm liquor just to be nice. A talkative man always ends up finding his courage.
THE JEW (irritated): I believe we are wasting precious time and I do not care very much for his speeches. (On reflection.) After all, churches are full of the bones of the dead.
THE DAMNED (despairing): Do you hear me, God dead and immortal, God blind and farsighted, God-the-master and God-in-chains? . . . I am ready, I make my approach; note that my fingers are splayed like an octopus. I have need of the sun, of gold, of stars, of pearls, the ocean, of emeralds, because the world to me is this woman, and I could never have too much of what is yours to adorn the dark sweep of her hair. (Silence.) Nothing it is to him to break his skull against the door of your prison, the helpless prisoner abandoned to insult, you who remain locked in a cup smaller than breast of my mistress! And you can deliver you, deliver me! (He sobs.) Lord, be kind! I know I am weak. I do not confront you, because I am afraid! Lord, my mother taught me that one must ask you for daily bread, but it is gold I will require to nourish this woman, and this woman is nourished by jewels! You who destine the sheep unto the wolf, give to me your ornaments so that I can buy my daily bread . . . (Silence.)
THE JEW (laughing): Never before was a drunkard seen before such a wall.
THE PROSTITUTE (with a gesture of boredom): He does not even consider in the same way that that I am wearing a low-cut dress. It is not warm in here . . .
THE DAMNED (making his approach to the tabernacle and raving): All my tears for your precious stones, from centuries of hell for a piece of this yellow metal that is useless to you. Lord, charity unto the beggar, your servant in sacrilege, that is to say the one who still believes in you since he has been given to suffer your outrage!
THE JEW (quietly to THE PROSTITUTE): You have noticed this ciborium? Priests often tell stories . . .
THE PROSTITUTE (deeply): I came this morning to Mass to contemplate it. Oh! Superb! Polished gems all around, and at the center a diamond as big as a dove’s egg.
THE JEW : I am distrustful of large diamonds. They are not generally very pure.
THE PROSTITUTE : Purity! You’re kidding! The only pure thing on the earth is a diamond, but your grubby imagination unsettles all at the outset!
THE JEW (bowing ironically): The only pure thing on earth is the look of a virgin, Madame.
THE DAMNED (crying out): Cursed! Three time cursed! God intends my damnation! (He proceeded to take the iron tongs from the handrail.) I will force the door of heaven with these! (He brandishes the tongs and begins to laugh a sorrowful laugh.) And tomorrow the Church will be bankrupt and will have no more hosts to display in the window of its office. I will rape the treasury of the elect. (He strikes blows upon the tabernacle.) What irony! This door looks indeed like a bank clerk’s window. (He thrusts in the tongs and blows apart the planks of wood.) Gah, you desired it, my Mary Magdalene . . . And now comes the lightning!
THE PROSTITUTE (giving out a joyful cry): Give it over!
THE JEW (recoiling): What will you do with the hosts? Me, I refuse to hold onto them.
THE DAMNED (lifting the ciborium with a movement of horror): Empty! It is empty!
THE PROSTITUTE: So much the better! It is so that sometimes they forget to fill it . . . and since there is no one checking on them . . .
THE DAMNED (rolling his eyes madly): No one, not God, not even a simulacrum of God!
THE JEW: It was to be guessed, since he never answered you at all, my dear Lad . . . Even so, let us look at the object.
THE DAMNED (allowing him to take the ciborium): And the lightning will not fall.
THE PROSTITUTE (shrugging her shoulders) : You bore us with your incessant hyperbole.
THE JEW (returning the ciborium to the dubious glow of the lantern): Look here! Look here! I did not imagine a piece of junk so bad! Oh! The famous legends. (He stoops himself and moves with pity.)
THE DAMNED (wringing his hands) : Magdalene! Magdalene! Neither God nor lightning! My offense was therefore not big enough . . . Me who hoped for proof within the punishment! I am drowning myself, Magdalene! An icy water rises up to my mouth! Magdalene! You have jewels and I, in exchange, have doubt. In the presence of terrifying doubt, all miseries are only joys. Magdalene, cover me with your dress. I am cold. (He casts himself at the feet of THE PROSTITUTE.)
THE PROSTITUTE (radiant, pressing him down to better gaze upon the ciborium): Gold, emeralds, a large diamond …
THE JEW (dropping the ciborium, which falls to the ground, and presenting his cap): All of smoke, Madame, all of smoke . . . He wanted to rob God and it is God who robbed him . . . All is false.
AN ECHO (very distant): False!
(Fading away of the scene and the characters.)
This is essentially a fan translation, provided as a work of love and interest and not of expertise. I am not a scholar of the French language, nor of any sort of literature, and I am only beginning my journey into the works of Rachilde. It is my hope that I will continually improve this translation as I learn more.
Translation last updated 5 March 2017.
Accompanying image by FLLL: “The altar of Église Saint-Louis-en-l’Île” (2008). Used under the terms of CC-by-4.o with no endorsement of this translation, this drama, this blog, or this author by the image’s original creator.