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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Christmas Present
By Arthur Schnitzler (1862–1931)
 
        
From ‘Anatol,’ a sequence of dialogues: Paraphrased for the English stage by Harley Granville-Barker.
  
  It is Christmas Eve, about five o’clock.  In a bye-street, that links up two others busy with shops, a builder’s scaffold has formed a little arcade.  Beneath this, and just beside a big arc lamp that sheds its whiteness down, Anatol, hurrying along with umbrella up, meets Gabrielle.

ANATOL  [stopping]—Oh! how do you do, Gabrielle? What are you doing? All those parcels … and no umbrella!  1
  Gabrielle—I’m trying to find a cab.  2
  Anatol—But it’s raining.  3
  Gabrielle—That’s the reason. I’ve been buying presents.  4
  Anatol—Let me carry some of them … please.  5
  Gabrielle—It doesn’t matter.  6
  Anatol—I insist.  [He captures one.]  But hadn’t you better wait here in shelter? We shall find a cab just as quickly.  7
  Gabrielle—You really mustn’t trouble.  8
  Anatol—Let me be a little attentive for once in a way.  9
  Gabrielle—I’ll wait here a minute to see if one passes. Or I’ll be grateful for the umbrella.  [He tries for another parcel.]  No, I can manage that, thanks. It’s not at all heavy.  [But she surrenders it.]  Oh, very well then!  10
  Anatol—Won’t you believe that I like being polite?  11
  Gabrielle—As one only notices it when it’s raining, and I haven’t an umbrella …  12
  Anatol—And it’s Christmas Eve, and dark too…! Warm weather for Christmas, isn’t it?  13
  Gabrielle—Very.  [They take their stand looking out for a cab to pass.]  Marvelous to see you at all.  14
  Anatol—I’ve not been to call once this year … is that what you mean?  15
  Gabrielle  [with much indifference]—Oh, haven’t you?  16
  Anatol—The fact is I’ve not been anywhere much. How is your husband … and how are the dear children?  17
  Gabrielle—Why ask that? You don’t in the least want to know.  18
  Anatol—You read me like a book.  19
  Gabrielle—It’s such very large print.  20
  Anatol—I wish you knew more of it … by heart.  21
  Gabrielle  [with a toss of her head]—Don’t say things like that.  22
  Anatol—They just spring from me.  23
  Gabrielle—Give me my parcels. I’ll walk on.  24
  Anatol—Oh, don’t be angry … I’ll be as prim and proper as you please.  25
  Gabrielle—There’s a cab. No, it’s full. Oh, dear, shall I have to wait long?  [He is standing mum.]  Do say something.  26
  Anatol—I’m longing to … but the censorship is so strict.  27
  Gabrielle—You can tell me your news, can’t you? It’s ages since we met. What are you doing now?  28
  Anatol—As usual … nothing.  29
  Gabrielle—Nothing?  30
  Anatol—Rather less than nothing.  31
  Gabrielle—Isn’t that a pity?  32
  Anatol—Why say that … when you don’t in the least care?  33
  Gabrielle—You shouldn’t take that for granted.  34
  Anatol—If I’m wasting my life, whose fault is it? Whose, would you mind telling me?  35
  Gabrielle—I’d better go on. Give me my parcels.  36
  Anatol  [mischievously]—I didn’t imply it was anyone’s fault in particular. I just wanted your valuable opinion.  37
  Gabrielle  [with a touch of feeling]—You idler!  38
  Anatol—Don’t despise idlers. They’re the last word in civilization. But I’m not idling to-night. I’m as busy as you are.  39
  Gabrielle—What with?  40
  Anatol—I’m out to buy Christmas presents, too.  41
  Gabrielle—Are you?  42
  Anatol—If I could find anything worth buying. I’ve been looking at the shops for weeks. They haven’t a notion amongst ’em.  43
  Gabrielle—That’s what the good customer has to supply. But, bless me! an idle person like you ought to be thinking out his presents all the summer.  44
  Anatol—How could I? How can I tell in the summer whom I may be making up to at Christmas? And the shops will be shut in an hour or two, and I’m still empty-handed!  45
  Gabrielle—Could I help?  46
  Anatol—Oh, you are a darling! What’s my best shop?  47
  Gabrielle—Well, you must know that. We’ll take the cab there when we find it.  48
  Anatol—Thank you for passing the Darling … it’s my favorite word.  49
  Gabrielle—I ignored it.  50
  Anatol—Very well … I’m prim and proper again.  51
  Gabrielle—Where shall we go when the cab comes? What sort of a present? Who’s it for?  52
  Anatol—Now … how shall I tell you?  53
  Gabrielle—It’s for a woman, of course.  54
  Anatol—Didn’t I say you could read me like a book?  55
  Gabrielle—What sort of a woman?  56
  Anatol—There, again! How do you women sort yourselves out?  57
  Gabrielle—Is it a woman I know?  58
  Anatol—Not at all.  59
  Gabrielle—Not … a woman I should call on?  60
  Anatol—Never.  61
  Gabrielle—No … I thought as much.  62
  Anatol—Don’t sneer.  63
  Gabrielle—You have extraordinary tastes. What’s she like … pretty-pretty?  64
  Anatol—Pretty.  65
  Gabrielle—A man is a marvelous creature. Good breeding, good manners, are nothing to you!  66
  Anatol—Oh, a great deal … when they’ll condescend to us. But if they won’t …  67
  Gabrielle—Don’t be silly again. No, you prefer a cheap and easy conquest!  68
  Anatol—I go where I’m appreciated.  69
  Gabrielle—Can she read you like a book?  70
  Anatol—God forbid. But she admires the binding, and takes the rest on trust. While you despise the contents … as if you really knew them!  71
  Gabrielle—I really don’t know what you mean. I can tell you of an excellent shop; I passed it just now. Cases of scent in the window. One with three sorts … Patchouli, Jockey Club, Cherry Blossom. I’m sure that’s the very thing.  72
  Anatol—You’re unkind.  73
  Gabrielle—Well, there was another shop next door … with brooches and suchlike. One with six Parisian diamonds in it … six. Oh, so sparkling! Or a bracelet with charms hung round; or a long bead necklace … quite savage! That’s the sort of thing these ladies like, isn’t it?  74
  Anatol—I’m afraid you know nothing about them.  75
  Gabrielle—Or I can tell you of a hat shop with a style of its own. Their bows are too large, and they put in a feather too many. These persons like to be conspicuous, don’t they?  76
  Anatol—Not at all.  77
  Gabrielle—It’s hard to be helpful. Make a suggestion yourself.  78
  Anatol—You’re waiting to laugh at it.  79
  Gabrielle—I promise I won’t. Let me know what she likes. Is she demure in sealskins?  80
  Anatol—I said you’d laugh.  81
  Gabrielle—I’m not laughing. Tell me about her.  82
  Anatol—I don’t think I can.  83
  Gabrielle—Of course you can. How long have you known her?  84
  Anatol—Oh …  85
  Gabrielle—Well?  86
  Anatol—Ever so long.  87
  Gabrielle—Don’t be so difficult. Tell me all about it.  88
  Anatol—There’s nothing to tell.  89
  Gabrielle—What nonsense! Where did you meet her and what’s she like? What’s her name and her age? Is she tall or short and dark or fair?  90
  Anatol—It’ll only bore you.  91
  Gabrielle—No it won’t. I’ve always wanted to know about that sort of person … what they’re really like.  92
  Anatol—You’ll never know.  93
  Gabrielle—Why not?  94
  Anatol—As long as you fully believe that women you can’t call on don’t really exist at all.  95
  Gabrielle—But I want to learn better. And if no one dares tell me the truth …  96
  Anatol  [with a sudden break of tone]—Haven’t you very virtuous ladies a feeling that this other sort of woman … somehow gets the better of you after all?  97
  Gabrielle—That’s a delicate insult.  98
  Anatol—You wouldn’t change places, of course, but … how dare she be so improperly happy?  99
  Gabrielle—Is it the only way then?  100
  Anatol—That’s feminine fellow-feeling, I’m told … and therefore all that’s charming and charitable.  101
  Gabrielle—You’ve learnt to be very sarcastic since we last met.  102
  Anatol  [seriously, almost passionately]—Shall I tell you how? Once I used to believe that a good woman so-called was an honest woman. I’ve taken a few knock-down blows with my teeth shut …  103
  Gabrielle—Please don’t be heroic … that’s far worse!  104
  Anatol—Straight blows. I can take a No when it’s honestly meant and said without flinching. But when the eyes say Perhaps and the smile says Wait a little, and what the No means is Yes, Yes, Yes … if only I dared! Then …  105
  Gabrielle  [biting her lips]—I think I won’t wait for this cab to come by …  106
  Anatol—Then you’ve your choice between feeling a fool and becoming a cynic.  107
  Gabrielle—… Unless you mean to go on telling me about … about your new friend.  108
  Anatol  [back to his bantering humor]—You simply must know, must you?  109
  Gabrielle—Certainly I must. How did you first meet?  110
  Anatol—How does one meet people? In the streets, at the seaside, in an omnibus, sharing an umbrella!  111
  Gabrielle—Never mind how one meets people. How did you meet her … the Her we’re finding a Christmas present for? I’m sure she’s like nobody else.  112
  Anatol—She’s just as like every other girl of her sort as you are like every other woman of yours.  113
  Gabrielle  [for the first time really annoyed]—Am I indeed!  114
  Anatol—Oh, don’t be offended. Or as I’m like every other man of mine. Are there a dozen different patterns of any of us altogether?  115
  Gabrielle—What’s yours?  116
  Anatol—I, madam, am a Toy Philosopher.  117
  Gabrielle—And mine?  118
  Anatol—You are a Married Lady.  119
  Gabrielle—And what’s she?  120
  Anatol—She? She is just a Dear Little Girl.  121
  Gabrielle—Then let’s hear all about your Dear Little Girl.  122
  Anatol—It’s not that she’s so pretty, or so smart … and certainly not that she’s so clever.  123
  Gabrielle—Never mind what she’s not.  124
  Anatol—She’s as sweet as a wild flower, and as elusive as a fairy tale … and she knows what love means.  125
  Gabrielle—No doubt. These Dear Little Girls have every chance to learn.  126
  Anatol—Quite so, but you’ll never learn what she’s really like. For when you were a dear little girl … of another sort … you knew nothing at all. And now you’re a married lady you think you’re so worldly wise.  127
  Gabrielle—Not at all. I’m quite open-mouthed for your fairy tale. What sort of a castle does the princess live in?  128
  Anatol—Can you imagine a fairy princess in anything but the smartest of drawing-rooms?  129
  Gabrielle  [a little tartly]—Thank you, I can.  130
  Anatol—Because this one lives in a little room … with a cheap and nasty wall-paper. With a few Christmas numbers hanging about and a white shaded lamp on her table. You can see the sun set from the window over the roofs and through the chimneys. And in the spring you can almost smell the flowers in a garden across the way.  131
  Gabrielle—It must be a sign of great happiness … looking forward to the spring.  132
  Anatol—Yes, even I feel happy now and then … sitting with her at that window.
[Gabrielle gives a little shiver; it’s the cold, no doubt. Then …]
  133
  Gabrielle—It is getting late. Shall we walk on? You must buy her something. Something to hang on the nasty wall-paper and hide it a little.  134
  Anatol—She thinks it so pretty.  135
  Gabrielle—Why don’t you refurnish the room to your taste?  136
  Anatol—Why should I?  137
  Gabrielle—With a Persian carpet, and …  138
  Anatol—No, no, no … She knows what she likes.
[There falls a little silence.  But no cab passes.]
  139
  Gabrielle—Is she waiting for you now?  140
  Anatol—Sure to be.  141
  Gabrielle—What will she say when you come?  142
  Anatol—Oh … the right thing.  143
  Gabrielle—She knows your step on the stairs, doesn’t she?  144
  Anatol—I expect so.  145
  Gabrielle—And goes to the door?  146
  Anatol—Yes.  147
  Gabrielle—And puts her arms round your neck, and says … What does she say?  148
  Anatol—The right thing.  149
  Gabrielle—What’s that?  150
  Anatol—It’s just … the right thing to say.  151
  Gabrielle—What was it yesterday?  152
  Anatol—It sounds nothing repeated. I suppose it’s the way that she says it.  153
  Gabrielle—I’ll imagine that. Tell me the words.  154
  Anatol—It is good to have you back again.  155
  Gabrielle—It is good … what?  156
  Anatol—To have you back again.  157
  Gabrielle—That’s very beautiful.  158
  Anatol—You see … she means it.  159
  Gabrielle—And she lives there alone? You can always be with her?  160
  Anatol—She’s quite alone. She has no father or mother.  161
  Gabrielle—And you … are all the world to her?  162
  Anatol  [the cynic in him shrugs his shoulders]—I hope so. For the moment.
[There is another silence.]
  163
  Gabrielle—I’m afraid I’m getting cold standing still … and all the cabs seem to be full.  164
  Anatol—I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have kept you. Let me see you home.  165
  Gabrielle—Yes … they’ll all be fidgeting. But what about your present?  166
  Anatol—Never mind, I shall find something.  167
  Gabrielle—Will you? But I wanted to help you buy it.  168
  Anatol—No, no, you mustn’t trouble.  169
  Gabrielle—I wish I could be there when you give it her. I wish I could see that little room and that … lucky little girl. There’s a cab empty. Call it, please.
[Anatol waves to the cab.]
  170
  Anatol—Taxi!  171
  Gabrielle—Thank you.  [As the cab turns and she moves towards it….]  May I send her something?  172
  Anatol—You?  173
  Gabrielle—Take her these flowers. Will you give her a message as well?  174
  Anatol—It’s really most awfully good of you.  175
  Gabrielle—But you will take them to her, and promise to give her the message?  176
  Anatol—Certainly.  177
  Gabrielle—Promise.  178
  Anatol  [by this he has opened the cab door]—I promise. Why shouldn’t I?  179
  Gabrielle—This is it …  180
  Anatol—Yes?  181
  Gabrielle—These flowers, dear little girl, are from … someone who might have been as happy as you … if she hadn’t been quite such a coward!  [She gets in without his help.]  Tell him where to drive.
[He does so, and then goes his way too.]
  182
 
 
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