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Title: Sara
Author: Josephine Tey (writing as Gordon Daviot)
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1600341h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  March 2016
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Gordon Daviot

Cover Image

A Play in One Act

First Published in Leith Sands and Other Short Plays, Duckworth, 1946

This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2016


                         In order of appearance


A room in Ur, about 2000 B.C. Ur is civilised, elegant, and old. The
room is civilised, elegant, and not too new. There is an air of coolness
as contrasted with a great heat outside.

On a day bed SARA lies resting, in undress. To her comes her maid,

  HAGAR.: [Softly] Madam.

  SARA.: [Rousing] Hagar? What is it? It is not supper-time surely. The
sun is quite high.

  HAGAR.: There is a visitor, madam. The master's nephew.

  SARA.: Lot? What does he want?

  HAGAR.: He wants to speak with you, madam.

  SARA.: With me? Why not with Abraham?

  HAGAR.: The master is not here.

  SARA.: [Sharply] Is Abraham not in the house?

  HAGAR.: Instead of going to rest after lunch, he went out; and he has
not come back.

  SARA.: In this heat? What can he be thinking of.

  HAGAR.: In any case it was for you that Lot asked.

  SARA.: [Suddenly alarmed] Has something happened—something that Lot
has come to—

  HAGAR.: Oh, no, madam; it is not bad news. Lot is quite undisturbed. He
is eating sweets from your little silver dish.

  SARA.: Lot would eat sweets if his mother were dying. [She is
nevertheless reassured] Oh, well. [She begins to rise.]

  HAGAR.: Shall I help you dress?

  SARA.: No. Go and tell Lot that I shall see him. By the time you have
prised him away from the sweets I shall be ready. [As HAGAR is
going] His wife is not with him, is she?

  HAGAR.: No, madam.

  SARA.: Well, let us be thankful for small mercies. [HAGAR goes.] Lot,
indeed. With the sun still above the horizon, and the town like a
cauldron. It can't be to borrow money, or he would have asked for
Abraham. And he can't have come to supper, or he would have brought that
wife of his. And it can't be . . . [she pauses for a moment as the fear
clutches her] can't be that anything has happened to Abraham.
[Refusing it] No, it can't. If it were that he would have rushed in
and roused the house and taken charge, as befits a distressed heir.
Sara, my dear, you are becoming deplorably bitter. [Glancing at her
face in the mirror] It is at least comforting that if you are well on
the way to being a shrew, you still show no signs of becoming a hag.
Being one of the best-looking women in Ur is no small compensation for
the daily trials of life. Having Lot for a nephew, for instance.
[Enter LOT, shown in by HAGAR, who goes.] Good-day to you, Lot.
What has brought you so early of an evening? There is nothing wrong, I

  LOT.: Aunt Sara, I do apologise for this intrusion. I know it is
intolerable of me to curtail your rest on so hot a day. Indeed, nothing
would have induced me to such a course if it had not been that I was so

  SARA.: Worried?

  LOT.: So worried that I could not sleep this afternoon. To be truthful
I have not slept for nights, my mind was so troubled.

  SARA.: Is something wrong with your business again?

  LOT.: My business? Oh, no. Everything goes well there, thank the
gods. What I am distressed about is my uncle.

  SARA.: Is it that bill he backed for you?

  LOT.: Aunt Sara! Can you never give me credit for a motive that is not

  SARA.: My dear Lot, I do most humbly apologise. But you come to me with
your worry, and so I take it to be a personal one.

  LOT.: It is a personal one. But not in that sense. It is about Abraham.

  SARA.: [In natural tones, but somehow guarded] And what worries you
about Abraham?

  LOT.: He is behaving very strangely. So strangely that people are
beginning to talk.

  SARA.: [Ironic] What a dreadful thing. And how is he strange?

  LOT.: He seems not to know what is said to him. He passes lifelong
friends without a bow. If they call to him he stares through them. Only
this morning the Surveyor met him, and stopped to tell him about that
new drainage scheme they are planning. A big thing, it is; five hundred
acres. And if it goes through there would be a lot in it for Abraham.
And what do you think Abraham said?

  SARA.: What?

  LOT.: He just stared at the Surveyor and said: "Bricks. They are made
from the mud and they go back to the mud. What are bricks to build
with?" Aunt Sara, do you think he is losing his mind?

  SARA.: [Guarded again, repressive] I see no signs of it. He is a
little absent-minded lately.

  LOT.: Absent-minded! There is a point where absent-mindedness becomes
criminal. Do you know that the King has suggested Abraham as being the
ideal person to head the new Committee for the Improvement of Social
Amenities. Do you know what that means? Do you know who will be on that
Committee? Representatives of the Court, of the Temple, of the Army, of
Big Business, and of the landowners. And who would be the man to keep
the balance between them, to play one interest off against another,
until the whole city revolved round him and every last bushel of wheat
from the country and every last brick from the kiln was in his gift?
Abraham! But if it is whispered that his mind, is sick—

  SARA.: His mind is not sick.

  LOT.: [Not heeding] If they think his judgment no longer of account,
there will be no place on that Committee for Abraham. It is the chance
of a lifetime. Of a thousand lifetimes. And Abraham is liable to throw
it away by his odd behaviour.

  SARA.: I don't see why it should be such a worry to you, Lot. What
Abraham may lose will be his own loss. His oddity harms no one but

  LOT.: [Pouncing] Then you admit that he is behaving oddly?

  SARA.: [Smoothly] Oh, yes. It does not need his nephew to tell me
about my husband. And Abraham is more than my husband. He is my child
too. He has not been well lately. He is absent-minded, and has bouts of
rage and impatience. Not at all like himself. But I am hoping that when
the cooler weather comes he may regain his old—

  LOT.: By the time the cooler weather comes that place on the Committee
will be filled. And unless my uncle controls himself the place will not
be filled by Abraham. That is why I came to see you; when he was not
here. I thought—

  SARA.: How did you know he was not at home?

  LOT.: Because he is walking up and down under the trees on the north

  SARA.: [Relieved] Well, let us be thankful for the trees, at least.

  LOT.: He has been doing that all the afternoon, while even the hungry
pariah dogs slept. So I took the chance of seeing you. I want you to use
your influence with him. He is devoted to you; and there is no one in
the whole Euphrates valley who has one-half your charm and persuasive
quality. He will listen to you.

  SARA.: Listen to what?

  LOT.: Tell him that he owes it to his family to be more careful. That
there are great successes ahead of him, and that it behoves him to show
a little more interest, to make some effort—

  SARA.: For what? [As LOT pauses, at a loss for her meaning] For
what, I ask you? To gain a little fresh honour? He is already well
thought of. To be the envy of the town? He has never cared for such
things. To buy me a new jewel? I have already more than I can wear. Not
a month goes by but he adds to the store. [With a mixture of irony for
the obtuseness of man and of tenderness for his childishness] It is his
way of comforting me for having no child. For what reason should I prod
my weary husband into . . . [She pauses. The voices of HAGAR and
another woman are audible, off] I think that is your wife's voice.

  LOT.: Yes, it does sound like Milcah.

  SARA.: Did you tell her that you were coming here?

  LOT.: No. I didn't think she would know. It is usually sundown before
she wakens at this time of year. She doesn't stand the hot weather well.

  SARA.: [Lightly] One of these days, Lot, your wife's curiosity will
be the death of her. [MILCAH comes in.] Good evening, Milcah. Come
into the cool and rest. It is not like you to be abroad before the
streets are in shadow.

  MILCAH.: I wondered where Lot had gone.

  SARA.: Hagar, a cool drink for Milcah. Lot, I am afraid I offered you
nothing. A little wine?

  LOT.: Some whey, please.

  MILCAH.: Why should Lot go rushing out of the house into the heat?

  LOT.: I didn't rush.

  MILCAH.: If I hadn't happened to waken up I should never have known.

  SARA.: Would it have mattered?

  MILCAH.: It matters that one's husband should have secrets from one,

  LOT.: There was no secret.

  MILCAH.: Then why did you not tell me that you were coming here?

  LOT.: It is not a matter of importance that I should visit my uncle's

  MILCAH.: Maybe not. But it is a sufficiently remarkable matter when you
do it at an hour when you should be asleep at home.

  SARA.: [Lightly] Are you questioning my virtue, Milcah?

  MILCAH.: [Impatient] Of course not. What I am questioning is Lot's
motive. He isn't borrowing money again, is he?

  LOT.: One would think that I was the only person since the Flood to
borrow a little ready money.

  SARA.: It was not business that brought your husband through the hot
streets, Milcah, my dear. It was sheer altruism. Wasn't it, Lot?

  LOT.: [Not very comfortable under SARA'S eye] Of course it was.

  SARA.: He is worried about Abraham. [Enter HAGAR with drink] Here
is your cold drink, Milcah. [HAGAR supplies the drinks and goes.]

  MILCAH.: And can he not do his worrying under his own roof? [Taking
her drink] Thank you. I am as worried as he is—

  SARA.: You, too?

  MILCAH.: No one likes having a relation who is rapidly becoming the
talk of the town.

  LOT.: Oh, Milcah, you exaggerate. She always exaggerates.

  MILCAH.: Indeed I do not. My maid told me only yesterday that her
brother's employer—he's a tanner in Eastgate—he told her brother that
he had seen Abraham striding up the steps of the Ziggurat talking to
himself and followed by five small boys making fun of him. It's a fine
thing when one of the principal citizens of this town—

  SARA.: [Hearing someone come into the house] Hush! [They listen.
ABRAHAM'S voice can be heard in conversation with HAGAR] That is
Abraham now. Please don't mention these things to him. Whatever has led
to his strangeness lately, I am sure that he is unaware of it. So don't
suggest . . . Talk of other things. You have come for an evening visit.
That is all. Talk of the Surveyor's new scheme. The drainage affair.

   Enter ABRAHAM. He is no patriarch; but a successful citizen of Ur.
      Handsome and well dressed. His voice is deep but quite gay. There
      is nothing high-falutin nor portentous about him.

  ABRAHAM.: Hagar told me that we had guests. I am glad to see you, Lot.
And you, Milcah. I hope you are both well. And I hope very much that you
have not drunk everything that is cold in the house. [Raising his
voice] Hagar! [As HAGAR answers, off, and comes running] Some of
that for me. How is business, Lot?

  LOT.: Not bad for the time of year. Not bad at all.

  SARA.: [Not accusing, merely rallying] Whatever time of year it may
be for business, it is the wrong time of year to be out-of-doors in the

  ABRAHAM.: [Mildly] Yes. It was stupid of me. I forgot what time of
day it was.

  LOT.: [Unable to contain himself] You forgot!

  ABRAHAM.: [A little confused by the need of explanation] Yes. I—I
was thinking of other things.

  MILCAH.: One would have thought that the sun would have reminded you.

  SARA.: [Sotto voce] Milcah, please!

  ABRAHAM.: Yes. It's odd. I failed to notice the sun. [As one making up
his mind] To be honest with you, things have been happening to me
lately that I don't understand.

  LOT.: You're not worried about business, are you?

  ABRAHAM.: No, not at all. It is not a worry which dogs me. It is
something much stranger. I am pursued by a Voice.

  SARA.: [Gently] A Voice?

  ABRAHAM.: A Voice that says: What are you doing here? What are you
doing with your life in this city, where your days slip by as
unremarkable as beads on a string? Is it for this you were born? To live
the years round in the beauty and comfort of Ur until you go back to the
dust of your beginning? Get up! Get out of this place, and see what
there is for you elsewhere!

  LOT.: [Half relieved] But everyone feels like that in Ur at this time
of year. There is not a man in the city but suffers from a weariness of
the flesh and a desire to be elsewhere.

  ABRAHAM.: You think it is the season that troubles me? I could find it
in my heart to wish that you were right. That my Voice was merely the
breath of the hot wind. If that were so there would be respite to look
forward to. As it is I am pursued by the Voice even in the first cool of
the early morning. When the city is at its loveliest, and my desires can
compass nothing more perfect than to be part of that beauty for the rest
of my life. Even then the Voice is there. Urging me to go.

  SARA.: [Still gently] To go where, Abraham?

  ABRAHAM.: It doesn't say. All it says is that there is a great destiny
for me elsewhere, and that I must leave Ur and follow it.

  MILCAH.: But that is absurd. It must be some kind of sickness. Have you
consulted the priests?

                                            [Enter HAGAR with drink.

  SARA.: Hagar has brought your drink, dear. [She prompts him gently, as
one would a sick person or a child.]

  ABRAHAM.: I don't wonder that you think that. I thought that myself.
For a whole winter and a spring I fought the Voice. I planned little
ways to trick it. I invented new interests, designed new busynesses to
fill my life, and said to myself: Now there will be no spare moment for
the Voice. I have shut it out. I have defeated it. [Wearily] But it
was no use. The Voice was everywhere.

  SARA.: Drink, my dear. You are tired.

  ABRAHAM.: Yes. Thank you. When the summer came it grew louder. It
drowned the humming of the insects. It hammered at me when I walked
through the street of the smiths. It talked, talked, talked among the
palm leaves. It whispered in the dark as I lay sleepless at night.

  LOT.: That is what is wrong. These sleepless nights. No one sleeps
well in this weather; and lack of sleep does queer things to a man. Now,
I know a first-class apothecary who can give you a draught that is as
nearly a knock-out blow as makes no—

  MILCAH.: You and your apothecaries. I know a woman who will give him a
charm, for half the money. A quite infallible charm. You tie it round
your neck, and turn it over three times, say: "Thanks be to Nannar for
night, and sleep, and the moon"—and you are asleep.

  ABRAHAM.: It is kind of you to suggest; to want to help. But I shall
need neither charm nor apothecary.

  LOT.: But you must have sleep or you will be really ill. And we can't
afford to have you ill.

  ABRAHAM.: [Calmly confident] I shall sleep to-night.

  LOT.: How do you know?

  ABRAHAM.: Because I have said "yes" to my destiny.

  SARA.: [Puzzled] What do you mean, Abraham?

  ABRAHAM.: I would have told you after supper to-night. It happened
to-day when I was walking on the highest terrace of the Ziggurat. In the
town, when the Voice pursued me, I used to feel trapped. I used to hurry
round street corners, and in and out of alleys, trying to escape. This
was Ur, my city, and I didn't want to leave it. But to-day, from the
high terrace, I could see the far distance; like a promise. That was
where my Voice bade me go and, once I could see it, it was not so
frightening. Ur was, after all, only a small thing in a very wide world.
And somewhere in that world was the country of my destiny. "Go out," the
Voice said, "and when you come into the country you will know it. To
your children and your children's children I have given that country,
and the whole world will be richer for it."

  MILCAH.: [Scandalised] "I"! Who do you think the Voice is?

  ABRAHAM.: [As one having come to a conclusion] I think it is God.

  LOT.: Which god?

  ABRAHAM.: I don't know. This is the only one that has ever spoken to
me. [The sentence is unaccented. It is not "to me" nor "ever
spoken." It is simple statement.]

  MILCAH.: It is not the custom of the gods to speak except through a
priest. It is much more likely to be a demon.

  LOT.: Milcah is right. It is not likely that a god would advise so
strange a course. You had better consult the Temple authorities.

  ABRAHAM.: I have no need to consult anyone. [Amending] Any authority.
[He has remembered his wife] Sara [he sounds a little uncertain
now], you have said nothing.

  SARA.: What is there for me to say? That I have faith in your Voice?
What faith can one have in a Voice whose promises are nonsense?

  ABRAHAM.: Why should they be nonsense?

  SARA.: The country is for your children's children, isn't it? Have you
forgotten that you are a childless man?

  ABRAHAM.: [Who has quite genuinely forgotten; stubbornly] The Voice
says that it will be so; and I believe it.

  SARA.: [As it occurs to her for the first time] It is possible, of
course. It was stupid of me not to have seen it. You could . . . put me
away and take another wife. A wife who—

  ABRAHAM.: [Angrily] I shall never have any wife but you. If my God
gives me a country, he gives it to you too. And it is to your children
that he will preserve it. [He sounds almost as if he were giving

  SARA.: Are you bargaining with your Voice?

  ABRAHAM.: I believe what it says. I believe in my destiny; and I have
no destiny apart from you. When I go out from Ur you come with me; and
together we shall see the promise come true.

  LOT.: Leave Ur! I think you must be insane. Where would you go?

  ABRAHAM.: I don't know. I have not thought about it yet.

  LOT.: Where do you think there is a country for you to inherit? Every
square yard in all the thousand miles from Armenia to the sea, every
inch that will grow a blade of grass, is the property of someone or

  MILCAH.: Perhaps he plans to live with the goats among the mountains.

  ABRAHAM.: No. I am no starving prophet. My inheritance is a rich one.

  LOT.: [Pricking up his ears] Rich?

  ABRAHAM.: I have told you. There is a great future for me and for those
belonging to me. Come with me, Lot, and share in it.

  LOT.: And what would I do with my business? Make a gift of it to the

  ABRAHAM.: There is nothing in my Voice that says we must go out
penniless. You could do what I am going to do. One share to the poor,
one to the town, one to the Temple—I think they do some good [he is
not very sure about that but old habit is too much for him]—and one in
my purse.

  MILCAH.: Do you seriously mean that you are going to drag Sara away
from all the people she knows, from all her friends, and the position
she has made for herself in society, to go trailing round the world
looking for a country that you don't even know the name of!

  ABRAHAM.: I am not dragging Sara anywhere. The promise is for her too.
Everything I have ever had is Sara's. She knows that. This is hers too.

  MILCAH.: It is generous of you to give her something she doesn't want.

  SARA.: You mean well, Milcah, but I don't need you to defend me. This
is between Abraham and me.

  MILCAH.: Well, we may as well go home and let you have it out with him.
It will soon be supper-time anyhow.

  LOT.: I can't believe that you really mean to do this absurd, this
fantastically ridiculous thing. I have always looked up to you as a
shrewd and far-seeing man. It is incred—

  ABRAHAM.: And what makes you think that I have ceased to be far-seeing?
. . . [As LOT hesitates at that—always afraid that he may miss
something] A view that embraces the whole earth and its possibilities
can hardly be termed parochial. It is you, Lot, whose sight is short. I
offer you a principality, but you prefer the security of a steady income
in Ur.

  MILCAH.: [Tartly] You come home, Lot. You know very well that if you
once begin to think you are missing something there is no folly that you
are not capable of. [To ABRAHAM] Have you told anyone of your plans? I
mean, is there any reason why we shouldn't tell people?

  ABRAHAM.: Until now I have never mentioned my Voice to anyone. No one,
that is, except my father.

  SARA.: [As one enlightened] Ah!

  LOT.: Terah! Don't tell me that you are thinking of taking Terah with

  ABRAHAM.: Of course. Why not? Where I go, my father goes.

  LOT.: But the old man is an invalid—bedridden.

  ABRAHAM.: There are such things as litters. I shall never come back to
Ur. I could hardly leave my father here to be attended by strangers.

  MILCAH.: But Lot and I could take him. That would be better for him
than being jolted all over the Euphrates valley.

  ABRAHAM.: I have an idea that Lot may be coming with us.

  MILCAH.: Lot!

  LOT.: Not I! Can you see me arranging my whole life at the bidding of a

  ABRAHAM.: So far you have had to obey a great many voices. The voice of
the priests—interpreting their god according to their fancy or the
needs of the Temple. The voice of the King—ever changing as kings come
and go. The voice of the Law—new and different with each new faculty. A
hundred voices, competing, threatening, spelling confusion. I have
finished with that. I have one Voice to obey. And what I do is between
me and my God.

  MILCAH.: [With decision] Lot, come home.

  SARA.: [With the pressing claims of hospitality] We can give you
supper. It is onion soup, and cold meat with cucumber.

  MILCAH.: Thank you, but I know that you want to talk to Abraham. And
anyhow, Lot shouldn't have cucumber.

  SARA.: They are just garnish. He doesn't have to eat it.

  MILCAH.: If there are cucumbers there, Lot will eat them. I am sorry
that I came so unceremoniously. I didn't know that you were in trouble.
I was angry because Lot had sneaked out without telling me. Good night.
I shall get my "charm" woman to give me something to alter Abraham's
mind. It is wonderful what she can do with a few bits and pieces. So
perhaps it will all blow over. But if it doesn't, remember that we will
be happy to look after old Terah. I like the old man. He was the first
to say a kind word to me when I came into this family. And of course Lot
is terrified of him, which is very useful. [Only part of this speech is
audible to LOT, who is busy with ABRAHAM] Are you ready, Lot?

  LOT.: Yes, I'm coming. Good night, Aunt Sara—and my sympathy.

  SARA.: Good night to you both. Good night.

   They go. There is a short pause.

  ABRAHAM.: She said: You will want to talk to Abraham.

  SARA.: [Avoiding the main point] Would it not have helped you to
tell me about the Voice? Were you so little sure of me?

  ABRAHAM.: If I could not believe, myself, how could I expect belief
from you?

  SARA.: It was not belief I meant, but sympathy in your trouble.

  ABRAHAM.: [Quickly] But you believe now! You believe that my Voice is
a true and good thing?

  SARA.: [Slowly] I believe that you have to leave Ur.

  ABRAHAM.: You think that I am possessed.

  SARA.: I think you cannot help yourself.

  ABRAHAM.: In other words, I am a madman. And what has sent me mad, do
you think?

  SARA.: I don't know. Does it matter?

  ABRAHAM.: Matter?

  SARA.: Mad or sane, you are Abraham, and my husband. And I will go with
you out of Ur to-morrow morning if that is what you want.

  ABRAHAM.: [His resentment of her disbelief melting into something like
wistfulness] I wish you believed.

  SARA.: [Gently reproving] It is a little greedy of you to want belief

  ABRAHAM.: [Following his own thought] If I had told you to-night, as
I planned, when we were alone, you might have believed.

  SARA.: No one who has not heard your Voice for himself could believe,
Abraham. You must see that. Did Terah believe when you told him?

  ABRAHAM.: [Thoughtfully, seeing her point] No. No, I suppose he
didn't. He just listened. [Remembering something] Why did you say
"Ah!" when I said that I had told Terah about the Voice?

  SARA.: Because then I knew why the old man had looked with pity at me
when I gave him his broth this morning.

  ABRAHAM.: Pity? Why should he pity you?

  SARA.: Because he knew that I would have no defence against you.

  ABRAHAM.: Defence?

  SARA.: We will follow you out of Ur, Terah and I, because we love you.
We have no ear for your Voice, but your way is our way, and your God our
God. [Putting out her hand to him, matter of fact, gently] Come to



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