THIRST

A one-act play by: Eugene O'Neill

Page 2

GENTLEMAN: [To the Negro harshly] Why do you tell her such things? Do you not know you will frighten her?

SAILOR: [Dully] She asked me what I was singing.

GENTLEMAN: [Trying to comfort the DANCER, who is still sobbing.] At least tell her the truth about the sharks. That is all a children's tale about them eating people. [Raising his voice.] You know they never eat anyone. And I know it.

[The Negro looks at him and his lips contract grotesquely. Perhaps he is trying to smile.]

DANCER: [Raising her head and drying her eyes] You are sure of what you say?

GENTLEMAN: [Confused by the Negro's stare] Of course I am sure. Everyone knows that sharks are afraid to touch a person. They are all cowards. [To the Negro.] You were just trying to frighten the lady, were you not?

[The Negro turns away from them and stares at the sea. He commences to sing again.]

DANCER: I no longer like his song. It makes me dream of horrible things. Tell him to stop.

GENTLEMAN: Bah! You are nervous. Anything is better than dead silence.

DANCER: Yes. Anything is better than silence--even a song like that.

GENTLEMAN: He is strange--that sailor. I do not know what to think of him.

DANCER: It is a strange song he sings.

GENTLEMAN: He does not seem to want to speak to us.

DANCER: I have noticed that, too. When I asked him about the song he did not want to answer at all.

GENTLEMAN: Yet he speaks good English. It cannot be that he does not understand us.

DANCER: When he does speak, it is as if he had some impediment in his throat.

GENTLEMAN: Perhaps he has. If so, he is much to be pitied and we are wrong to speak of him so.

DANCER: I do not pity him. I am afraid of him.

GENTLEMAN: That is foolish. It is the sun which beats down so fiercely which makes you have such thoughts. I, also, have been afraid of him at times, but I know now that I had been gazing at the sea too long and listening to the great silence. Such things distort your brain.

DANCER: Then you no longer fear him?

GENTLEMAN: I no longer fear him now that I am quite sane. It clears my brain to talk to you. We must talk to each other all the time.

DANCER: Yes, me must talk to each other. I do not dream when I talk to you.

GENTLEMAN: I think at one time I was going mad. I dreamed he had a knife in his hand and looked at me. But it was all madness; I can see that now. He is only a poor Negro sailor -- our companion in misfortune. God knows we are all in the same pitiful plight. We should not grow suspicious of one another.

DANCER: All the same, I am afraid of him. There is something in his eyes when he looks at me which makes me tremble.

GENTLEMAN: There is nothing, I tell you. It is all your imagination.

[There is a long pause.]

DANCER: Good God! Is there no ship in sight yet?

GENTLEMAN: [Attempting to rise but falling back weakly] I can see none. And I cannot stand to get a wider view.

DANCER: [Pointing to the Negro.] Ask him. He is stronger than we are. He may be able to see one.

GENTLEMAN: Sailor! [The Negro ceases his chant and turns to him with expressionless eyes.] You are stronger than we are and can see farther. Stand up and tell me if there is any ship in sight.

SAILOR: [Rising slowly to his feet and looking at all points of the horizon] No. There is none.

[He sits down again and croons his dreary melody.]

DANCER: [Weeping hopelessly] My God, this is horrible. To wait and wait for something that never comes.

GENTLEMAN: It is indeed horrible. But it is to be expected.

DANCER: Why do you say it is to be expected? Have you no hopes, then, of being rescued?

GENTLEMAN: [Wearily] I have hoped for many things in my life. Always I have hoped in vain. We are far out of the beaten track of steamers. I know little of navigation, yet I heard those on board say that we were following a course but little used. Why we did so, I do not know. I suppose the Captain wished to make a quicker passage. He alone knows what was in his mind and he will probably never tell.

DANCER: No, he will never tell.

GENTLEMAN: Why do you speak so decidedly? He might have been among those who escaped in the boats.

DANCER: He did not escape. He is dead!

GENTLEMAN: Dead?

DANCER: Yes. He was on the bridge. I can remember seeing his face as he stood in under a lamp. It was pale and drawn like the face of a dead man. His eyes, too, seemed dead. He shouted some orders in a thin, trembling voice. No one paid any attention to him. And then he shot himself. I saw the flash, and heard the report above all the screams of the drowning. Someone grasped me by the arm and I heard a hoarse voice shouting in my ear. Then I fainted.

GENTLEMAN: Poor Captain! It is evident, then, that he felt himself guilty -- since he killed himself. It must be terrible to hear the screams of the dying and know oneself to blame. I do not wonder that he killed himself.

DANCER: He was so kind and good-natured -- the Captain. It was only that afternoon on the promenade deck that he stopped beside my chair. "I hear you are to entertain us this evening," he said. "That will be delightful, and it is very kind of you. I had promised myself the pleasure of seeing you in New York, but you have forestalled me." [After a pause.] How handsome and broad-shouldered he was -- the Captain.

GENTLEMAN: I would have liked to have seen his soul.

DANCER: You would have found it no better and no worse than the souls of other men. If he was guilty he has paid with his life.

GENTLEMAN: No. He has avoided payment by taking his life. The dead do not pay.

DANCER: And the dead cannot answer when we speak evil of them. All we can know is that he is dead. Let us talk of other things.

[There is a pause.]

GENTLEMAN: [Fumbles in the inside pocket of his dress coat and pulls out a black object that looks like a large card case. He opens it and stares at it with perplexed eyes. Then, giving a hollow laugh, he holds it over for the DANCER to see.] Oh, the damned irony of it!

DANCER: What is it? I cannot read very well. My eyes ache so.

GENTLEMAN: [Still laughing mockingly] Bend closer! Bend closer! It is worth while understanding -- the joke that has been played on me.

DANCER: [Reading slowly, her face almost touching the case] United States Club of Buenos Aires! I do not understand what the joke is.

GENTLEMAN: [Impatiently snatching the case from her hand] I will explain the joke to you then. Listen! M-e-n-u--menu. That is the joke. This is a souvenir menu of a banquet given in my honor by this club. [Reading.] "Martini cocktails, soup, sherry, fish, Bergundy, chicken, champagne"--and here we are dying for a crust of bread, for a drink of water! [His mad laughter suddenly ceases and in a frenzy of rage he shakes his fist at the sky and screams.] God! God! What a joke to play on us!

[After this outburst he sinks back dejectedly, his trembling hand still clutching the menu.]

DANCER: [Sobbing] This is too horrible. What have we done that we should suffer so? It is as if one misfortune after another happened to make our agony more terrible. Throw that thing away! The very sight of it is a mockery. [The GENTLEMAN throws the menu into the sea, where it floats, a black spot on the glassy water.] How do you happen to have that thing with you? It is ghastly for you to torment me by reading it.