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Title: Webs of our Weaving Author: Musette Morell * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1600241h.html Language: English Date first posted: March 2016 Most recent update: March 2016 This eBook was produced by: Hamish Darby and Colin Choat Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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Webs of our Weaving by Musette Morell * CHARACTERS Epeira Productus (A Male Spider) Arachne (A Female Spider) Her Mother Young Male Casual Male Dictatorial Male Crowd of Males * Webs of Our Weaving was first performed in 1945 by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The producer was Frank Harvey; the cast: Announcer & 2nd Male — TOM LAKE Arachne (Female Spider) — LYNDALL BARBOUR Epeira (Male Spider) — EDWIN FINN Mother — WINIFRED GREEN 1st Male — BRUCE BEEBY 3rd Male — CHARLES KITCHENER Voice — SYDNEY CHAMBERS * WEBS OF OUR WEAVING An Australian garden at twilight. Crickets chirr...a mopoke calls...In a shadowed corner, between two shrubs, hangs a spider-web. Swinging upon this glinting, swaying filigree, is the glamorous young female spider, Arachne, and her obese and grizzled mother. ARACHNE The red sun-fire is gone out, leaving the green-misted smoke of twilight. MOTHER Of course the sun is gone—else you'd be sleeping: we spiders are nocturnal, creatures of night; All day while sun crackles in the tree-tops, we sleep, cool in our caves of sodden leaf-mould; then when the fire dozes our eyes come open— ARACHNE Open! open on the green garden hung with greener shadows! The night is sweet with the wild honey smell of gum-bloom, the moon grows round and full. MOTHER When she's full-bellied 'twill be time for mating. ARACHNE (Airily) Mating?—I never think of it! MOTHER If you don't you think of all that leads to it. ARACHNE What do you mean? MOTHER I mean you're prinking and preening every hour; curling your pedipalpi and sharpening your claws, preparing your body to lure and—(with wicked gusto) devour your lover! ARACHNE My lover!—I've yet to discover—my lover. MOTHER When the moon is ripe you'll discover him. Think of it! ARACHNE But I tell you I never think of it. MOTHER Females do not need to think— our instinct does it for us. ARACHNE You're vulgar. MOTHER Vulgar—I'm hungry. ARACHNE You're as amorous as a dove. MOTHER Not hungry for a mate. Hungry for a kill. ARACHNE Kill! MOTHER Don't screech like a pee-wee as tho' you'd never thought of it! ARACHNE I haven't. MOTHER How refined you like to think you are. Are you a female? ARACHNE Silly moth! MOTHER Then behave as one. ARACHNE Do all females gloat upon the kill? MOTHER That they do—and soon you'll know it... Ah! To have my moment back again. To see the male—starving for love— come greedily to his death. ARACHNE He has his moment also. MOTHER A moment—yes—his last. I've seen him trembling in every hair, and while he babbled on about the love-feast, I've laughed within myself, and thought: "And you provide it!" ARACHNE The silly insect! MOTHER He's not an insect—none of us are: we spiders have eight, not six legs, and no wings. ARACHNE There's one male who swears he'll make no love-meal. MOTHER Whom do you mean? ARACHNE Epeira Productus. MOTHER Epeira Productus! Epeira Productus! ARACHNE Why do you laugh? MOTHER That juicy boy! ARACHNE (Eagerly) Do you truly think he's handsome? MOTHER (With a cracked laugh) Ask the females. ARACHNE But he'll have none of them. MOTHER They'll have him—they'll see to that. ARACHNE Oh! MOTHER Aha, you'd have him, eh? ARACHNE What lies! MOTHER Well, he's edible—(gloating) round and smooth and juicy. ARACHNE I hate such talk! MOTHER Hate? You mean you love—him. ARACHNE I have never even spoken with him. MOTHER You soon will— I recognise that greedy glaring eye. You are repressed, my spiderling, and so you pose and won't admit your appetite. Well, nibble at sentiment. But you'll learn that marriage is something to masticate. (Smacks lips.) ARACHNE I tell you he swears against all marriage: says he's vegetarian and will make no feast for any cannibalistic female. MOTHER Ho, ho, ho. ARACHNE He says he has a brain and will use it to combat us. MOTHER Ha, ha, ha! ARACHNE Oh, he, he, he! MOTHER Ah, but it's droll! A male, a little male to rear himself up against great nature. Where is this buck—this bucking buck!— where is he? ARACHNE In the eleventh gum-tree. MOTHER Lives there? ARACHNE No, meets there—with all the others—all the males. MOTHER What for? ARACHNE He talks and talks and tells them what I've said. MOTHER When? ARACHNE Most every twilight, till— till about this very time. MOTHER Where are you going? ARACHNE (Off) Just along the branch— MOTHER Not by the eleventh gum-tree, by any chance? ARACHNE (Off) Oh, go and spin! MOTHER (Shouting) As you will giddy do—by the eleventh tree. I hope a wasp gets after you—he-he! There is a pause. We are out on the branch with Arachne. The hooting of an owl terrifies her. ARACHNE An owl! Ah, he's too far off to spy me. Now to weaving—I must seem busy when he passes. A frog croaks! Ooo, if he should see me! Three great hops and then a splash. That's right, hop back to your slimy pool, you bellowing glutton!... Now what's that?—something below me stirred the towering grass! Let's hope it's only a drunken ant swaggering home to his puritan nest! No, some huge creature... (in fear) it's a bark-grey bulk of a squatting bandicoot! Ooo, if that twitching nose and searching eye should scent or see me where I swing!... she sharpens her teeth on a bopple nut— how she'd love to grind me between those teeth, or octopus claws!... Ah, at last she's gone about her affairs— Now to spin... Here on this ti-tree is a likely branch— before it a desert of open space, encumbered by giant twigs and leaves: here I can throw my line across this space and anchor it to a branch the other side. (She begins to spin her web.) Now to pay out silk from my spinnerets: discharge my filmy line—discharge! uncoil from your loom within my body! casting your free end from me—so! It floats— Aha, the air puffs up and blows it widely far, far! far! across the breach, upon the lilac avalanche of air, to lift and sag with each breath of the breeze... tightening—slackening—tightening till—ah! now it strikes upon a eucalypt and holds! Hm, my first line held in just the right direction, and the right height above the ground— that's good. I'll just try out the thread to test its strength... (The gossamer thread rings as she taps it.) Yes, yes, it bears my weight— all's going well! Now to cross its silken length— my aerial tight-rope! ~spinning as I go, paying out silk to make a double thickness, and double strength... (She weaves across the line.) Shuttle—shuttle! Shuttle!—shuttle! Safely across! my destination reached! I cement my second line to the eucalypt—so! And now—dreary repeat!—to ply back and forth, back and forth across this wavering bridge, until its single thread swells to a cable of many strands... And while I spin my silk he spins his words. I weave my gossamer stalks— He talks...and talks! Epeira's proud resonant voice fades in and takes us to the meeting in the eleventh gum-tree. EPEIRA I talk and talk, but— spiders, males, consider— does my talk fit your ears? I ask and ask again must we live for this, must we die for this now and through the years? Each of us to be a biological necessity? Surrender philosophy for a moment's bliss, find annihilation in a kiss? No. (Excited murmur of several male voices.) We are greedy of joy but the result of—appeasing hunger should give us pause. For, consider: what is this bliss we'd have? A fire that consumes while it inflames, that extinguishes whilst animating— ephemeral gain bringing eternal loss. (Murmurs.) (Rapidly and dramatically he describes the love drama, overriding their interruptions.) Who has perceived—the love drama of others foreknows his own fate: the suitor, the bold adventurer, the intrepid swain, the love-mad loon climbs the tremulous fibres of the web. Leg over leg he mounts the dizzy stair, times pausing to tap-tap! tap-tap! the silver wires— drumming his palpitating agitations to the giantess of his choice. (Murmurs.) Unless that capricious ogress stretch forth a claw then-panic-struck—he darts away... Only to return again to the fray: to mount the tingling spokes, and— tap-tap! tap-tap! rap-rap!— stroke out the shivering obligato of vibration:— staccato! pizzicato! Then more frights, more frenzied flights, followed by fresh approaches. Until— Oh tumultuous moment! the unmatched couple face each other. (General gasps.) What now? See, scarcely-to-be-hoped-for luck! She does not menace him: he is benign, she will abstain, she grins, she woos, she melts before him— confidence, confidence, midget brave! Will he dare all? Will he dare touch the grinning siren; the bouncing, somersaulting acrobat, who magnets his blood more fiercely than bush-fire compels the moth? MALES Yes! Yes! EPEIRA Yes. He squeezes her to him in his palpi. The deed is done— besotted with honeyed love as any drunken hummer he goggles delirious thanks. Till, noting the glare of greed replace her grin, he— slant-eyed with sudden fear— dives, darts for cover! But the vampire also darts. (Subdued groans.) You know the rest— you know the end, our end unless we each of us say, "No!" to this poisoned sweet— This lover—kiss of death. (General sighs.) This joy of which desire gives augury— this treacherous felicity— is nature's snare, a snare to catch us unaware and drag us to our death—a booby trap! well, are we boobies? YOUNG MALE (Immature voice) It's not a snare. EPElRA Who says it's not? YOUNG MALE I do. EPEIRA And who are you? No; no, I do not want your name— give me your record. Have you kissed and lived to tell? (Laughter.) YOUNG MALE (Sulkily) I've not kissed as well you know. But as to the bliss of the kiss I feel it is no lie. EPEIRA You feel it? YOUNG MALE My instinct says it's true. EPEIRA Your instinct to die? YOUNG MALE My instinct to kiss. (Excited murmurs of agreement. He continues with more confidence.) I know it is no lie. EPEIRA You know it? How? By what? YOUNG MALE By my blood's knowledge, by all the diverse avenues of sense. Why, but to think of it— EPEIRA Then do not think. YOUNG MALE 'Tis the starved think most of food. EPEIRA And the gluttonous. YOUNG MALE My instinct says— EPEIRA Confound your instinct. 'Tis but nature's trap to snare you as the web snares the instinctive fly. YOUNG MALE Well—maybe—I'll—be—disillusioned— EPEIRA Maybe? Oh, hear him! You'll find disillusion in dissolution— if you won't beware. CASUAL MALE A male can't fight his destiny— EPEIRA Here's one who can. Let destiny beware—beware, I say! she's out of date. Cursed be the female and all that she confers. I'll live by my own lode star—not by hers! (Music takes us back on the ti-tree where Arachne awaits Epeira.) ARACHNE The meeting is over. He comes! the leaves convulse, the anticipant air, trembles and closes round him with lover-clutch. (Breeze sighs—once—twice—dies, then:) Oh, pardon me! I was hanging on a gossamer thread and swung across your path. EPEIRA Is it to me you speak? ARACHNE Why, yes, at least, I would—that is— EPEIRA What have we two to say to one another? I am a male and females I avoid. ARACHNE I am a female—or—that is, in my body: but am I only female—nothing more? EPEIRA What more, then, would you be? ARACHNE Why, I would be a heart, a brain, a soul! EPEIRA I had not known that there were females who could wish such things— the ones I've met, do not. ARACHNE I am different: I long to rise above the fetish of the web, the humdrum of dull domesticity, the kiss, the eggs, the hatching, and the brood. EPEIRA (Startled) The kiss! You'd rise above the kiss? ARACHNE Oh yes! oh yes! (Pause.) (Sighs) Ah, you're just as all the others— you do not think a female should do more than her own mother, and her mother's mother. I will confine myself to the drab old rusty web, the fusty nightly spinning— 'Twas too much to hope that as you had a brain you'd deem I also might have one. EPEIRA. Er—what you say arrests me; I seem to hear an echo of my own unrest. (Low) Is it possible the talons of my grief grip another heart? ARACHNE Yes, I am restless—restless. EPEIRA Unrest, 'tis but the stirring of ambition. See the restless wind leap up to snatch the cloud woven above the blue. The restless wave spring forward to spin the land. ARACHNE Wind, wave, as we, but longing to fulfil that which we never may. EPEIRA Speak not so soon. Who says we never may? If we've ambition for some finer thing, then we've the power for fulfilment. ARACHNE Don't speak of that. EPEIRA Don't speak of what? ARACHNE Fulfilment—'tis my mother's endless song— I dread the echo. EPEIRA What would you say it meant? ARACHNE Why; the kiss, the eggs, the hatching, and the— EPEIRA (Amused) No; 'tis the soul, the soul's fulfilment I would have. ARACHNE Oh!— 'tis the soul, the soul that interests me. EPEIRA (Guardedly) What have you thought about it? ARACHNE Thought? I—I scarcely ever think—I feel. EPEIRA Then review the matter now. ARACHNE. Well, I feel that— EPEIRA Feel! Feel!—Can we never think? ARACHNE (Crossly) I think and feel. EPEIRA Then think about your feelings—sort them out; retain the best, discard the rest. ARACHNE. As you have done? EPEIRA As I have tried to do; for thus I tell myself: if life is good and death is bad, and mating makes for death, them mating in itself is bad, in that the nuptial bliss becomes the death pang. ARACHNE (Softly) And yet—the spider race—would it not die did males refuse to die? EPEIRA Males do refuse. ARACHNE But if it is their fate—who can rebel? EPEIRA Your thinking is a reflex of the web. ARACHNE I accept our spider destiny, that's all. EPEIRA And what is destiny but old tradition? just history repeated over and over, repeated till it's stale. Pah!—out on it! ARACHNE (In wonder) You would change the course of life? EPEIRA Yes, yes. ARACHNE You would? EPEIRA I would imagine what has never been, impregnate reality with my dream till the future blossomed with flower of my vision. ARACHNE What ambition! Perhaps you would preserve the faculty we had as spiderlings, and go ballooning in a gossamer parachute till you learnt to fly like our cousin the rainbow spider; or spray the fountain of your foaming silk about huge birds and enmesh them in your coils; or evolve a diving bell like the water spider and explore the bottom of the suffocating pool and yet breathe freely. Oh, I feel you'll do, for daring greatly must give power to do. (Pause.) EPEIRA. (Subdued) My dreams are not of these—I await the change— ARACHNE I too await my change. EPEIRA You'd grow a soul? ARACHNE Yes, and wings—if possible. I'd slice up the sun, crack the stars—as squirrels crack their nuts— and hang them round my web; subdue the garden and make all creatures mine. O, I would range beyond all females yet. EPEIRA (Disappointed) You seek power! not understanding. ARACHNE (Gaily) Talk on! EPEIRA No. You'd have us speak about and from our puny selves, but my life is incomplete unless it be strung up and out upon the web of meaning. I am not myself alone but a point of interrogation posing today's question to eternity. And you—I cannot see you with a single eye— but only as a symbol of your kind. ARACHNE (Angry) So! You cannot see me, eh? Am I not easy to look at? EPEIRA Vanity! ARACHNE So I'm vain now? And I seek for power? But what of you? What of your talks in the eleventh gum tree— do you not find power there? EPEIRA No...Wait—Let me think— your words disturb my heart. Power?... (Low) This evening when I talked it went all wrong: I am proud, stubborn proud, and pride breeds friction: I must subdue my own unruly ego. (Going) Good-night. ARACHNE No, no, don't go. Please stay—please talk— EPEIRA Another time, perhaps. But now a rage boils in me— my mind is a bird pecking over a grub— I wish to concentrate, to savour deeply, I am on the fringe of the leaf when I would be within the chalice where the nectar lies. Another time, perhaps— ARACHNE What other time? EPEIRA (Exploding) But you are female—and females I avoid. ARACHNE Oh! EPEIRA Forgive me if I'm porcupinish. ARACHNE You are. I am as I was hatched. EPEIRA Of course. And now you elect to change—that is your value. ARACHNE Then you won't avoid me? EPEIRA Well—if speaking with me helps— ARACHNE It does. EPEIRA Then tomorrow night—we males meet in the gum. After the meeting be here, and I will come. (Short music denotes the passage of time.) ARACHNE "To-morrow night!" he said. "To-morrow night!" This is to-morrow night. Now in this lovely slimy light we stir abroad. MOTHER What are you mumbling about, Arachne? Why aren't you spinning? ARACHNE I'm just going to my web. MOTHER You wouldn't like to weave one next to mine tonight—just for company? The mating moon is waxing fat and I've advice to give you. ARACHNE Give it to those who need it. (Going) I'm going to my web along the branch. MOTHER (Shouting) Yes, by the eleventh gum-tree! (A frog ,croaks...an owl hoots...We are alone with Arachne, by the eleventh gum-tree.) ARACHNE (Softly) By the eleventh gum-tree. He is in the eleventh gum-tree... soon he will be here with me. (A hum of male voices takes us into the tree where Epeira is again addressing the males.) EPEIRA What if the spider race outlasts the moon? the individual spider dies too soon. YOUNG MALE I heard it from a spider of high station that we spiders are the peak of all creation. CASUAL MALE That's so. They say the power who made the garden holds in his heart for us a special pardon. DICTATORIAL MALE Of course he does; did he not design us after his own image? I opine that of the many creatures of his spinning we spiders please him most and are most winning. EPEIRA O, while you flatter that thus we are and thus; we remain but as we are— VOICES But— EPEIRA O don't fuss! DICTATORIAL MALE (Sneering) What would you have us, Epeira? EPEIRA Not as we are but— as we might be. DICTATORIAL MALE What is that? EPEIRA Ah! To the utmost tip of our most distant beam, what today we can but merely sense or dream. CASUAL MALE Spiders are young in time, wait for another avalanche of moons before pronouncing on us. EPEIRA We are not young in time, but in development. YOUNG MALE Time will hatch out that egg. EPEIRA Time hatches nothing that is not begun, 'tis not blind time that sees to things—but us. If the future can learn of the present why has the present not learnt of the past? YOUNG MALE It has. The webs we weave are larger than our fathers. EPEIRA The web's still spun to trap the hapless fly. YOUNG MALE I said the web was larger. EPEIRA Large or small—the quality's the same— it's still a snare. We don't improve because we haven't time. We die too soon, too soon to work the change. So this wisdom from experience we acquire is blown as dust before the wind, scattered and lost to futurity? CASUAL MALE It isn't lost. The knowledge we acquire our sons will have. EPEIRA You're wrong. Our sons will have their own—they won't have ours. That's why I say we live too short a span; it matters no hoot of an owl that the spider race is old; the individual spider dies too young. VOICES But— EPEIRA Why should we fellows die before our prime when a fish retains his youth for centuries? Just when we learn to see, we cease to be. CASUAL MALE Some of us don't live long enough to see... we die in wedlock. EPEIRA Deadlock. That death must cease; at least there we have autonomy. YOUNG MALE (Sulkily) You want our race to cease? EPEIRA Let females kiss—and learn to end it there; let them subdue their murderous appetites. Till then, well, the issue of the race is on their heads. If they will make war— DICTATORIAL MALE A war of necessity. EPEIRA (Scornfully) Necessity! Must each new generation invent excuses for an ancient crime? Fate should demand more of us than a mere blind willingness to die. CASUAL MALE We males have always given our lives— it is our virtue. EPEIRA A stupid, misled virtue... we must be wise as well as good, we must be cunning as she is cunning; she who tricks us through our loveliest emotion, inspires us to gallantry—only to betray! (Murmurs.) Life is bigger than we dare to live it. We are grubs and midges when we might be butterflies. (In vision) I have dreamt of a garden beyond this garden, a garden from whence light flows as rivers overflow. DICTATORIAL MALE And yet you assert your concern is here—with us. EPEIRA My dream garden is this garden—in the future. DICTATORIAL MALE We, too, were speaking of the future. EPEIRA And leaving it to the future. As you would leave it to dream, to chance. EPEIRA To chance? No, not to chance. I would plant seed now to make the future flower. DICTATORIAL MALE (Sarcastic) The garden that he finds can't suit Epeira, he'd make a whole new garden to fit his mind, and make us over, too. (Laughter.) EPEIRA Why not? All that we are today we once aspired to be. All that we now are not—we may become. CASUAL MALE We aspire to be ourselves and nothing more. EPEIRA Which self do you refer to? You have choice. YOUNG MALE (Angrily) I do not choose; and, no; I do not will— I live as my senses and my instinct say. EPEIRA Then crawl back into the foetal dark. Go, get beneath a stone, out of the light, and wait till your instinct says to die— your life is not your own. YOUNG MALE (Hotly) 'Tis not yours either. What is this death in life you'd have us live— never to kiss, to enjoy, to fulfil our function? My life would be lived under a stone did I take your hard unyielding granite course. Let me tell you this; I'll spin a careless web till the moon comes round, then when she's round, I'll mate, and if I die then I'll die happy—at least I will have lived. EPEIRA How long? YOUNG MALE That's not for you to say. EPEIRA And not for you since you abdicate in favour of tradition. YOUNG MALE Bah! You would spin the sunshine! EPEIRA I'd save you from aimless living. You have a mind midge-small, you see a thorny hedge but cannot see above it. CASUAL MALE We see above it, but we know we cannot fly. EPEIRA Where the antennae of our minds reach out, there we may follow. YOUNG MALE Our minds may light upon a star. EPEIRA You view things with the fixed eye of the owl. YOUNG MALE And you see things from the shifting sands of thought. A rabbit looks from a new furrow, imagining the garden changed because he moved his burrow. EPEIRA Enough, enough!— EPEIRA Where does mere wrangling lead us? Oh don't you see change must be conscious—of our choosing— disciplined, directed from within... The slime out of the past seeps into our minds. We think we are thinking when we but remember sloven reflexes of our torpid forebears; yet sloven as they were, an impetus towards the light bestirred them from their ooze. Beware! Take care that the ancestral worship in our blood, the totems of the past woven in our woof do not betray us back into the mud, the primeval chaos from which we hold aloof. (Music takes us back to the ti-tree.) ARACHNE To-morrow night! Tomorrow night!— This is tomorrow night! Soon he will fill the sky, his voice will thrill the air, here to the green night of twilight he will bring the moon. The moon!...the moon! EPEIRA (Coming in) Arachne! ARACHNE He is here! EPEIRA Ah, spinstress, I see you've fabricated your snare. ARACHNE. My snare? No, no, no, your suspicions are threadless— I'm innocent, I swear. EPEIRA Why these protestations? Before me I see a tapestry of net, a forest of filmy ropes, a mesh of mist, an aerial silken curtain, a gallery of gauze, a gossamer tent— all this is your web. ARACHNE (Laughing) Ah, yes! Ah, yes. EPEIRA Yes, all your web is this—and more; a web's a snare, a snare insidiously limed for the unwary; already a tumult of mites and gnats are strung across its strings. ARACHNE I do not plan to trap them— my interest is bigger game. EPEIRA Nevertheless they die. ARACHNE Did they ever live?—that is the sting. EPEIRA Did they ever live? Poor aimless mites! And what of us—are we less pitiful, less aimless, less accessible to fate? We hibernate in the winter of desolation, no quickening light delivers us from chrysalis; the sleeping powers of our nature are still in the cocoon. O, at such thoughts, flowers die in my heart and weeds spring turbulent; deciduous hopes lose greenness as though at the touch of frost... Fledgling spirits we are, with baby wings cheeping our hunger and our helplessness, attempting to fly in the face of gusty gales, blown and misspent by hurricanes of chance. ARACHNE Epeira, Epeira, come back! Your eyes are lost, your voice mournful as a curlew's. Look! Look at me! (He looks and is lost.) ARACHNE See, clad in dewy vestments of air I swing upon my hammock-web! EPEIRA (Ardently) A hammock of tinselled dew, a hammock spun of light traced on the dark, white filaments around you— spiral on spiral of coiled silvery snakes!— Oh, misty wraith-like beauty! (Violently.) Beauty's a web, a tricksy snare and we poor males, blind moths, caught unaware! Good-night! (Dramatic music takes him off. Arachne, desolate, returns to her Mother.) MOTHER What, back again, Arachne? Why are you mooning here? You should be at your spinning— I've nearly spun my web. ARACHNE (Wearily) I finished long ago! MOTHER Mine would be done, but a rowdy wind blew up and made the going rough. ARACHNE You had your suspension cable and your guylines from last night. You only had to weave a few radii, the spiral and the snare. MOTHER Of course I kept my suspension cable from last night; do you think I'm a pixilated spiderling who tears down every dawn what she must build again at dusk? ARACHNE I tore mine down. MOTHER Not your suspension cable, you mean you tore your radii? ARACHNE I mean I tore down every strand. 'Twas called a snare—I hated it. MOTHER Arachne, you tore down your suspension cable— Have you gone mad? ARACHNE No; yes, yes, yes. MOTHER Such waste! It's bad and mad enough for spiderlings to be always destroying what they build— they learn that way, but you—and at your age— do you want to exhaust your silk glands? and moon growing fat, and laying time soon here. Think of all the silk you'll need for your egg sac. ARACHNE I know, I know. As for now, I'll spin another web— this time next to yours. MOTHER Ah! so you're allergic now to the eleventh gum. ARACHNE Must you rasp on the one note like a grasshopper? MOTHER Ha, that made you bite! Well, scobberlotcher, go to it!— Yark up! spin! Pay out your line! Cast it on the slack of the air! ARACHNE Ca! Ca! Ca!—like an old crow— what else am l doing? MOTHER Waste, waste! But I mustn't waste time spinning words, not if I'd snare a supper to-night!... (Panting) Whoa! scrambling up this rigging puffs me out! ARACHNE You manage very well with your bulky paunch. MOTHER Bulky! I'm a fine body of a female— who'd want to be a whipper-snapper like a male? Wait, next summer, you'll flaunt a paunch yourself! (She gloats over her weaving.) There! my radii are complete, my spiral laid, converging towards the hub. Now round this hub I'll spin my little snare, my cunning sticky trap to trip the giddy fly-by-nights, the mooning moth-pated insects. (We hear her weaving.) Shuttle—shuttle! Shuttle-shuttle!... Hm, my web is well placed—in the face of the wind. Ha! The night-flying herd is blown down this alley— the current sweeps them here—I do the rest. ARACHNE Stop boasting, you fubsy, bloated creature! Your web is swinging, why don't you fix your guy lines to the ground? MOTHER Mind your own weaving. I'll fix my guy lines—but not to the ground. I don't want wind nagging and sagging them till they snap. ARACHNE Well, fix them to something to keep the base extended. MOTHER Eight eyes aren't enough to give you sight. Are you a bat blind in the light that you can't see I'm attaching a pebble to the end of every line? The ,weight of these will keep the guy lines taut, and yet let them swell to the belly of the breeze. Have you never heard of wind resistance? And look to your fishing line—it's caught on a bramble beneath you. ARACHNE O great Beetles!—bother it. MOTHER Haul it in—and cast it out again ARACHNE That's what I'm doing. MOTHER Well, show some energy. Languid as an anemic mosquito before it's filled with blood— that's what you are—spin out your line! Spin! if you'd eat before the dawn. ARACHNE Ca! Ca!—old crow! There's something in your larder now. MOTHER Psst! 'Tis a catch from last night. Rake it down with your hind legs, Arachne. Quick! before it scares my supper away. ARACHNE Yes, nothing makes the live prey more wary than the sight of a skeleton or two. There!—I've kicked it off. MOTHER And now attend your dangling line. (A breeze blows up.) Ah, this gusty draught will take it off— rolling it out like smoke before the wind. ARACHNE My line is pulling! MOTHER Then it must have caught. ARACHNE Yes, so it has—on an oleander across the path! MOTHER Then your suspension bridge is up. Quick, off you ply across it, back and forth, till the single thread swells to a cable of many strands; ARACHNE Ca—ca—ca! There you go again!— don't you think I know what to do? MOTHER (Shouting) No! (Arachne weaves across to the oleander. Her mother continues to shout at her.) ARACHNE Shuttle-shuttle! Shuttle-shuttle! MOTHER (Shouting) You've much to learn about weaving a snare to catch an insect—or a husband. ARACHNE (At the oleander) Be silent. MOTHER (Shouting) Bind your line to the oleander before you return. (Arachne weaves back across the line.) ARACHNE Shuttle-shuttle! Shuttle-shuttle! MOTHER Ah, here you are. Well, cement your line, and off you go again. ARACHNE In a moment...Mother, do all males succumb to the—er—to the moon? MOTHER That they do, my spiderling. ARACHNE But— MOTHER. Nature requires it of them: ARACHNE But if they have a brain? MOTHER Makes them furtive as a lizard; but they also have blood— it is nature in their blood who spins for us. Nature's the spider with the biggest web, she snares all those who fly and all who crawl— take it from one who understands. ARACHNE It seems to me you only understand what you have known— there must be things you haven't known. MOTHER No, there aren't,— if there were I'd be after them! (An insect strikes the web.) What's that? (Flapping of moth wings.) ARACHNE Something for you to be after now. MOTHER A moth! a burly bearded moth for me to sting asleep and suck his juices at my leisure... at my pleasure! Aah, your struggles will soon cease, my beauty, when I spray you with this strangling net of silk. He-he!—every flutter for freedom binds you more firmly fast... Now you are swathed in your shroud More tightly than a kernel in its nut. Your wings are silent, only your fear beats in you— as—my—sting—goes—in. ARACHNE Poor bleary, blundering moth. MOTHER What are you burbling about? ARACHNE (Slowly) Just thinking of something some spider said— a spider who hates to see anything dead. MOTHER (Incredulous) A spider who hates to see anything dead? (Murmurs from the third meeting in the eleventh gum-tree. Epeira's impassioned tones quickly dominate the others.) EPEIRA And as we hate to die—we should not kill. CASUAL MALE Our enemies kill us. EPEIRA And we call it bad. What is vile of one must be vile of all. O in this green twilight world 'tween night and day, would that our hearts were green to make a flower— a tender bloom of mercy. CASUAL MALE Mercy? Here—in such a garden? EPEIRA Flowers breed even in rocks. CASUAL MALE But— EPEIRA Think...think of the drama enacted every day: think, as we drowse beneath protecting leaves, way over our heads, way over the grass flies our enemy the sand wasp, dagger-sting held ready to stab our sleep, drag us to his hollow and entomb us for his unborn offspring— food for a new generation of sand wasps! But who knows...who knows but this same predatory wasp has not—between the dark deeds of his doing— dreamed golden dreams of a nobler self? CASUAL MALE What if he has?—he still preys upon us. EPEIRA As we still prey upon the hapless fly. YOUNG MALE We've always done so. EPEIRA Till now, let it be said. But if we'd slough this barbarous ancient skin, if we'd free the butterfly within, we must abandon the chrysalis of present ways, arouse from hibernation; approximate the dream. A start must be made somewhere. CASUAL MALE (Amused) It's the same old dreamy tale that we will suffer untold penalties unless we do this or do that. EPEIRA We can't indefinitely escape the testing hour. O in this green gloomy world beneath green leaves, we live without light— whilst above our heads the sun explodes in the tree-tops, burns across the grass, crackles in leaf and bracken, to lift the bush in flames. YOUNG MALE We spiders don't deal with the sun. The moon is our destiny. EPEIRA The moon—that limited power! we feed on gloom when we might be lit by radiance... (Low) I find no home in this companionless dark, where the mind's at war with life's dull pattern, I am an exile from the light, devising new pathways to the sun! DICTATORIAL MALE Epeira, the last time we all met here, you said we must be disciplined. Well, I agree. EPEIRA (Warmly) I'm glad. DICTATORIAL MALE We will discipline them, we will make them good. EPEIRA They are not made good! Virtue no more than evil can be forced on them. The choice is theirs to decide what shall have power over them. DICTATORIAL MALE We shall have power over them. We shall decide for the many. EPEIRA Beware of power; beware of using it. DICTATORIAL MALE. If we don't use it others will. There must be masters. EPEIRA Let each one master himself— unless he'd have evil masters. Masters are for slaves. DICTATORIAL MALE How many free do you think are in the garden? Wake up!— you know the swarm wishes to be mastered. EPEIRA It's not I, but they, who sleep. DICTATORIAL MALE Asleep, awake, what does it matter?— the end will justify the means. EPEIRA (Slowly) You forget the means condition the end; If the means be vile, be sure the end will be viler. DICTATORIAL MALE You say the law of life is growth— how can they grow if we don't force growth on them? EPEIRA Force? DICTATORIAL MALE What rules have you for the future? EPEIRA I bring no static order or design— they belong to narrow ways, to timorous paths. I'd inspire each to most hazardous adventuring. DICTATORIAL MALE To what, to what, precisely? EPEIRA Nothing precisely— to the lonely exposures of the quest— to the vision and discovery... DICTATORIAL MALE And what are you to them? EPEIRA The dream struggling to be free, the thoughts they feel but cannot think, beyond the senses, known only to the heart. The urge within each of them of something beyond all of them seeking, striving, demanding to be. DICTATORIAL MALE Bah! If you won't rise to master, then I shall! EPEIRA No. DICTATORIAL MALE (Fiercely) But yes. EPEIRA No. DICTATORIAL MALE I'll fight you for it. EPEIRA I don't fight. DICTATORIAL MALE So high and mighty. You don't fight? Well, I say you'll fight me. EPEIRA Go fight yourself— for that is what you'd do when you would fight another. DICTATORIAL MALE Ho! are you myself? EPEIRA Yes, as you are me; as all and everyone is each and all. We are but parts of a single spider and, since that's so, why should a wing destroy a leg, a head eat up a heart? DICTATORIAL MALE Ah, coward, eh? EPEIRA If you think it so, then so it is for you. DICTATORIAL MALE (Sarcastic) Strange how you fear all action. First you'll not kiss, now you'll not fight. Yet does it not occur to you— to you who dare so vastly— does it not occur that did you fight you—you yourself—might win? EPEIRA 'Tis better to die in battle than to win. The victor in battle is victim of illusion: does he not dream that force, and force alone, prevails and is victorious? DICTATORIAL MALE Better to die, eh? EPEIRA Yes; for the dead are out of it; They have not gained by another's loss, they have not emerged as victors—to their cost, DICTATORIAL MALE Ha, then since it's better to die in battle than to win— it's better to die upon the kiss? EPEIRA Have I said so? DICTATORIAL MALE Your actions say so. EPEIRA What do you mean? DICTATORIAL MALE I mean—listen, you males, listen while he answers! Epeira Productus, tell us, is it true you hold the female as our enemy? EPEIRA You know I do. DICTATORIAL MALE Then why philander with Arachne? (Buzz of voices.) Every night, when leaving this meeting, you dally by her web. EPEIRA I—I— DICTATORIAL MALE I charge you that you love her. Answer yes or no. EPEIRA No. (Murmurs.) Wait!...Oh cruel, monstrous destiny! I did not realise till now—till you accuse— but—yes—most incredibly do I love her. (Exclamations.) (Low) Love is the magic that has illumined my heart, the mysterious power reconciling all. As a bud must feel when it breaks to flower, the dew when lifted to the sun— so is my heart suffused with tenderness, unfolded—ripened—to wholeness. DICTATORIAL MALE You admit your love? EPEIRA I love...but have not loved. DICTATORIAL MALE The moon is yet to blossom. EPEIRA Let the moon come— my will's prepared: 'twill be as the indestructible sun clouds cannot rout; my mind, granite; rock-set against lunar witcheries. Thunder may be in my blood; but my brain is clear lightning!... So must we all be on this fated night— single of purpose as the elements— inexorable, resolute. Tonight let no one venture forth who would not die. Remember when frogs croak and crickets chirp the moon will be full circle. (Excited buzz of voices.) Turn your back upon her chill and glamorous light, face downwards—to the sun-fires; then at daybreak all those who live, all those who still live, I say, meet here...That's all. Good luck. (Going) Good-night. ALL Good-night. DICTATORIAL MALE He's gone. He's a humbug, he's worse—a hypocrite. A deceptive lyrebird who apes each other thing— strutting as celibate but under cover, wooing the fairest of the enemy. Well, if he is afraid of power, I am not. I here and now elect myself your captain. (Cheers.) Attend to me and heed well what I say: Tonight let no one look upon the moon. If, when at dawn, we meet again, I learn that any one of you has disobeyed— if females have not finished him, I shall. (Exclamations.) Death to him. I'm not afraid of force. Hail! Force will predominate; Force will prevail. (A pause and we are back on the branch with Arachne.) EPEIRA Arachne! You waited for me? ARACHNE Yes, Epeira...How did the meeting go? EPEIRA There is one there who would mislead them. We quarrelled. Oh, terribly, terribly do I fail. ARACHNE Fail? You mean you lost? EPEIRA Both of us lost. ARACHNE That cannot be: I see, you won—'tis modesty says the other. EPEIRA 'Tis easy to win and make an enemy— but while his eyes are distant, I've not won. Had I been able to change his heart then proudly would I say I'd won. Oh, there can never be victories for such as I, I who know his hate is spun from my heart's darkest coil— when one seeks one's rival—look within. Oh, bitter, bitter truth!... Wisdom teach me to love. Love teach me to be wise. ARACHNE (Quickly) Love—you speak of love, Epeira? EPEIRA (Breaking) That too—they accuse me of loving you. ARACHNE Me? EPEIRA. It's true. ARACHNE Epeira!!! EPEIRA Oh, must I be betrayed at every turn by my own weakness? ARACHNE (Urgent) I won't betray you. The moon will soon be full. We will love—but I will withhold the sting. EPEIRA Do not tempt destiny. ARACHNE I can answer for myself. EPEIRA Can anyone? How long have you laboured to overcome that rudimentary other self, old as time? ARACHNE I have my will—my iron will. EPEIRA Iron bends to heat. ARACHNE (Low) But...but...I love you. I will not betray you. EPEIRA I love him. But you see I have betrayed him— betrayed him into hatred. We must not meet on the night of destiny. ARACHNE Epeira, must you ever set the goal above our reach? Be content to be as others. Live! Love! 'Tis the peak, the dizzy top, the excess, the ultimate of garden joy! EPEIRA And what comes after? ARACHNE What need is there for after? Having striven to the top, would you topple down? Live like insects, kiss not once but many times, till love, till lovely love, becomes mere habit? EPEIRA We must not meet on the night of destiny. ARACHNE Destiny—how sweet a sound has destiny— (sing-song) singing that life flows on some happy stream and comes to us unstriving; borne along by currents of the past. EPEIRA The past! always the past! ARACHNE If we love, then all is simple. EPEIRA Arachne, hear me: If I could live within this cocoon of Self, self that includes you, my dearest sweet!— yes, let me say it once, and then forget it!— if I could live so, life would be simple. But I can't! I can't! ARACHNE Wait! you say you cannot trust me to surmount myself— but can you trust yourself? EPEIRA How so? When? ARACHNE In that fierce moment when the blood's a bushfire, and the will is but a brittle leaf in flame, I've heard it said how another self from out the dark arises, the self of all our ancestors—the past. EPEIRA Our ultimate ancestors were protozoa; did we not in some shifting period of time emerge, change, become transfigured? Who says the period of growth has ceased? As spiderlings our bodies hatched and hacked their way out of their sheaths— now let our minds do likewise. ARACHNE (Wooing) Epeira! As we love— EPEIRA No. No...I would control my fate, attach the cable of my life to giant strings joining our purposes to great perspectives to find the architecture of a nobler web. ARACHNE Epeira! EPEIRA We must endeavour to outstrip ourselves as birds top their own height when flying upwards— ARACHNE Epeira— EPEIRA I—am—dedicate. I sense impending change...I dream...I wait. (Music suggests the passing of time. Epeira waits alone.) EPEIRA (Hushed) Night! Now looms the hour when danger lurks in every flower and swoops upon us from the shadows. True, birds and scorpions sleep, but waking possum—swinging from bough to bough— clumsily tears the web with thrashing tail. (An owl hoots.) The owl rebukes the moonlit night for apeing day, then— remembering the hour— shakes off his slumbers, stretches wide feathers, and darts off to slay. Sly whiskered bandicoot, with ears aprick, comes nuzzling for food. And, over the grass under leaves and circling logs, centipedes, frogs sharpen their forces—prepare to attack. But tonight, more cruel still, more treacherously designed to kill are our own kind... (We hear the wind) The wind shakes the shadows—shakes my heart— the black curtain descends as gossamer trails the sky. (The wind fades.) The breeze waves and is numb...All grows still as though the night itself had held its breath before the task of turning on the moon. (Soft music creeps in...fades to far background. Then Epeira's voice is heard over echo mike:) "When frogs croak and crickets chirp, The moon will be full circle!" (Music swells a moment. Fades...then: A frog croaks and fades, Crickets chirp and fade, Music flowers to climax. Ceases abruptly.) The moon! Here now do I oppose my will, my small heroic will against all nature. Let planets clash, let lightning flash and thunder roar, I'll not give in. And that poor part of me, that weaker self that sides against my valour, becomes my enemy to be subdued, gallantly surmounted, overwhelmed! Now destiny is in the crucible. (Arachne screams.) ARACHNE Help, help—the lizard! The lizard's got me—help! EPEIRA Arachne! Take courage—I will save you! (He rushes to her aid.) ARACHNE The lizard! The lizard! EPEIRA But...there's no lizard here Besides it's night—how could he be abroad? ARACHNE He's over there—I got away—you shouldn't have come. EPEIRA Shouldn't have come when you shout loud for help? ARACHNE I only shouted when it seemed I'd die— at first I fought in silence— the frantic struggle with that scaly monster! EPEIRA But why fight on in a contest so uneven? Why not call out before? ARACHNE (Softly) I did not wish to bring you out on this unlucky night— this hateful, wicked, wicked night. EPEIRA You thought of me, poor little one, and still fought on. ARACHNE What else was there to do? EPEIRA You thought of me? Oh, males are not the only heroes. I honour you. (Seeing it) And if it was not tonight I'd say 'tis lovely. See, the moon steeps all in wonder; till most familiar shapes assume new forms. Light glows and shadows deepen, and you—you— Oh, I've never seen you by the moon before! ARACHNE. Don't look upon me. Go—'tis the evil hour. EPEIRA (Tenderly) As though you'd do me any harm. ARACHNE Go, go! EPEIRA Lucky you're unhurt, alive. ARACHNE I have a scratch or two. EPEIRA Where?—I can't see— ARACHNE The marks must show. I felt his cruel, embracing claws. EPEIRA Your body!— it is moonshine, phosphorescent, as though it caught up all the light there was to radiate it and illume the garden. ARACHNE You can see? EPEIRA As—for—the—first time. Arachne! ARACHNE Oh, think of all the past— of all you've said. EPEIRA Think of all I didn't say. Just think, if I go now, if I should leave you here— when all nature and myself would have me stay— every common or garden spider will know more than I. Arachne, Arachne, love me— ARACHNE If I love you...you will die. EPEIRA I must die sometime—I'll die kissing you. ARACHNE I'll love you, Epeira, and withhold the sting. EPEIRA Beloved, benign one!... Oh, what do I say? The moon—the moon is in my eyes! ARACHNE Come! (Gloating) Now the lovely ritual of love begins. EPEIRA No— ARACHNE Yes. (Deeply triumphant) Ah! EPEIRA Wait, wait! Your eyes that swam with love, now gleam with hate. ARACHNE No, no, 'tis love... see, feel, I ache towards you. EPEIRA You ache—but not for me. 'Tis for my death you ache. Ha, vampire, let me go. ARACHNE (With a marl of rage) Come back! Come back! MOTHER (Coming in) Fool, you've let him escape. ARACHNE Mother!... so, you've been spying! MOTHER I wished to see your joy, your victory. ARACHNE Then stay and witness my defeat. MOTHER He really got away?...Yes?...So! What's the garden coming to, I'd like to know. (Hurried music denoting his escape.) EPEIRA (Panting) Escaped!—escaped! (Cock crows off.) The cock crows!...Dawn! The hour we meet in the eleventh gum! (Few wistful notes of a flute takes him to the tree.) EPEIRA What, no one here? (A bird's lonely call...Long, low descending note.) (Deeply) Alone... Well, the first to dare, the first to dream the dream must be...alone. When I went looking for myself what more did I hope to find? (Low) Yet—strangely—there—is—more: Here, at this pinnacle, this core, this hub, this centre and crisis of my life, here in the terrible peace of aloneness— I emerge from the limits of my smaller life, free! At last I am free!... But what of the others? They are not here. They do not come. Caught in the tribal webs of their own weaving, they cannot come. And though I call them in voice of warning thunder, of entreating love, or crying pity, I call in vain...they cannot hear for they are not ready, Will they ever be ready? they have not dreamed. (Quietly) I do not know—- the future of creatures is clouded and not revealed. (Cock crows closer.) Oh, morning sun, returning symbol, when will your light pierce to the blind, the blind in the web of night? (Music creeps in...mounts and mounts...as though it, too, aspired beyond the shadows.) THE END.
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