Cha Beom-seok was born in Mokpo, Southern Jeolla province in 1924. In 1932 he entered Mokpo First Normal School, moving on to the Gongju High School in 1938. Upon his graduation in 1942 he was unable to enter university and spent the next two years in Tokyo. Upon his return to Korea he trained as a teacher and took up a job at Pukkyo Elementary School in Mokpo, only to be drafted by the Japanese army in June 1945. Upon liberation he returned to Pukkyo Elementary School for one year before entering Yeonhui Technical School (now Yonsei University). It was during his time in the English Department there that Cha became involved with drama. The Korean War broke out in 1950, preventing Cha from graduating (he was later to return to Yonsei and graduate in 1966), and he spent the next five years teaching Middle School in Mokpo. In 1951 Cha's first play, Pyol n pam mada [Stars come out every night], was performed at a festival organised by the Mokpo Cultural Society. Since then he has been a prolific writer and producer of plays, has translated plays from Japanese, and has adapted for the stage such diverse literary works as Ch'ae Man-shik's Peace Under Heaven [Taepyeong chonha], Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, and Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago. Cha Beom-seok has produced plays for television and radio, and published criticism on the history of modern drama in Korea. He has received numerous prizes for his work and currently serves as the President of the Korean Culture and Arts Foundation. Sanpul [Burning Mountain] was first performed in 1962.
Old Kim: 78 years old, deaf and slightly senile.
Mrs. Yang: 55 years old, Old Kim's daughter-in-law, a widow.
Cheomnye: 28 years old, Mrs. Yang's daughter-in-law, a widow.
Kwideok: 18 years old, Mrs. Yang's daughter, mentally disturbed. Sawo※l: 27 years old, Cheomnye's friend, a widow. Mrs. Choi: 45 years old, Sawo※l's mother, a widow. Ssallye's mum: 30 years old, a widow. Cheongim: 22 years old, a widow. Neighbour Kap's wife: 50 years old. Neighbour※Ul's wife: 40 years old. Kku※tsuni: 17 years old. Lady from Pyo※ngyo※ng: 45 years old, fabric peddler.
Kyubok: 30 years old, communist guerilla, former teacher. Weontae: 45 years old, captain of Self-Defence unit. Captain: 40 years old, communist guerilla, in charge of food procurement. Communist guerillas, Kap,※Ul, Soldiers A and B, Women A and B, and various other women.
Date: winter 1951 through the following spring.
Setting: a village in the Sobaek mountain range.
StageP village is completely surrounded by mountains. Act One is set in Mrs. Yang's house, which has a fairly large yard. On the right side of the stage is a thatched L-shaped house, consisting of a kitchen, two rooms, and an open shed. The thatch roof looks as if it hasn't been replaced for at least three years; it has turned grey and caved in. The earth walls have also collapsed in places. There is a wooden floor about three metres wide between the inner room and the side room, which has only three walls so that the audience can see inside. A low wooden door hangs towards the back of the floor and leads out to the back garden. An old earthenware jar has been placed under the corner in the eaves, which join the kitchen to the inner room, in order to collect rainwater. The shed consists of earth walls and has no door, so that it is open on the side facing the audience, who can see everything inside. Inside are scattered straw sacks, sheaves of straw and several farming implements.
In the centre of the stage there is a mud hut, which can barely sit one person. This functions as a toilet, and also as a marker separating the yard belonging to this house from the path. A straw rope, which is rotting due to exposure to the elements, joins this hut to the back of the kitchen, and so partitioning off part of the stage. To the side of the hut there is a hill path that leads to the back of the stage and also crosses another path, which traverses the stage. If one stands on the path one can look down into the yard of this house, and in the distant background one can also see the Sobaek mountain range and the rugged Cheonwang Peak.
Below the path to the left side of the stage is the thatched house belonging to Mrs. Choi. It is a rectangular house with two rooms on either side of the kitchen, and hardly anything else visible either inside or out. A spindle tree stands conspicuously where a gate should be. Characters can enter from any side of the stage. It is a winter evening sometime before the lunar New Year. It looks cozy with mountains on all sides, but actually this is a hollow where there is heavy snowfall and the cold is severe. As the curtain rises crows are cawing noisily in the mountains behind. In the distance the last breath of the setting sun is about to disappear. However, mountain shadows and darkness have long since fallen on this house. A straw mat has been spread out in the centre of the yard, and the village women are standing around it, each holding bundles of food supplies. Mrs. Yang is sitting on the straw mat, examining the grain or potatoes that the women offer her one by one, and separating them according to kind. Beneath a lamp to one side Cheomnye is entering the amounts in a notebook, while several others put the food into bags. Everyone is female, with the exception of a baby being carried on someone's back, and Old Kim, who is smoking a pipe in the inner room with the upper part of his body leaning outside the door. Although it is cold everyone's clothes are ragged and dirty. The old women are sat on the wooden floor, while the younger ones stand in the yard. There are also groups of people crouching and whispering to each other under their breath.
Mrs. Yang (measuring rice) This doesn't even come to one hop! (She stares at Mrs. Choi.)
Mrs. Choi (haughtily) And I hesitated a lot before I brought that! Where's a hop going to come from the way things are (She looks away.)
Mrs. Yang Who said rice wasn't precious? We agreed at the meeting to deliver our quota, so you have to bring a full hop Come now, Mrs. Choi!
Mrs. Choi (in ill humour) How can I bring something I don't have?
Mrs. Yang (with a sour smile) We're all as hard up as each other, aren't we? Why don't you just bring the rest of your share? If you've no more rice, then barley will do, and if you've no barley, then even potatoes
Mrs. Choi (bursting with anger) Are you telling me to go steal grain that I don't have?
Mrs. Yang (as if losing her patience) Mrs. Choi Now you're going too far. Who told you to steal?
Mrs. Choi Well, you keep on insisting when I've already told you that I can't give you what I don't have. Mrs. Yang What are you talking about? Even those with less than you paid up without complaining. Go and bring the rest!
Mrs. Choi (standing up suddenly) If that's not to your liking then forget it! I crossed the river and went all the way as far as the village to harvest that rice! (She snatches the measure from Mrs. Yang's hands, pours the rice into the pleats of her skirt and throws the measure down in front of Mrs. Yang. The measure hits Mrs. Yang on the hand.)
Mrs. Yang Ow! (She instinctively rubs her hand.) Is this woman mad? (She glares at her angrily.)
Mrs. Choi (also glaring fiercely) What did you say?
Mrs. Yang Can't you look at me properly? (By this point everyone is watching the two women.)
Mrs. Choi What brought it into your stupid head to pick a fight, eh?
Mrs. Yang Since when did I pick a fight? (She gets up. Now Cheomnye, who has been watching silently up until now, stands between them.)
Cheomnye Mother, why don't you let it go?
Mrs. Yang What do you mean, mother? You were watching too, weren't you? What did I do, eh?
Mrs. Choi (with a sneer on her face) Huh! You think you can boss us around just because you're our great village leader or section leader or whatever you call it? Anyone would think you're a queen the way you carry on (she laughs scornfully.)
Mrs. Yang (launching an attack) Since when did I boss you around? Eh? Since when
Mrs. Choi (glaring fiercely) Who said you can talk to me like that, eh? You think I'm going to let your tongue get away with that?
Mrs. Yang (attacking) So what will you do? Tear it out? Eh? I'm speaking to you the way you deserve to be spoken to. Anyway, I'm ten years older than you, so what's the big deal?
Cheomnye (looking at the two of them in turn) Why are you two behaving lie this? Please, can't you just put up with each other? (clicking her tongue) The sun's already gone down, so when are we going to collect all the grain?
Mrs. Yang Who's doing this because they want to? It's the Self-Defence Army who make us
Cheomnye Well, even if you don't want to, since you've been given the responsibility we'd better deliver at the set time. Or you'll have done the work and still get in trouble.
Mrs. Yang Is it our fault that it's not all ready? When the Self-Defence troops get here I'll tell them the truth, that we can't do this because the others won't cooperate!
Mrs. Choi I see! So you're going to tell on me in secret then? If you're going to tell on me, go ahead! Let's see who they believe.
Mrs. Yang What?
Cheomnye (trying to repress her anger) You shouldn't be so unreasonable, Mrs. Choi. We're not children, who said they were going to tell on you?
Mrs. Choi (exploding with anger) She did! Everyone here heard her. Didn't you? (She looks at everyone standing nearby.)
Cheomnye I've heard everything now. Who would do this job because they want to?
Mrs. Choi (sarcastically) Huh so you took the job on although you didn't want to?
Mrs. Yang What, are you saying that I volunteered for this job? (She begins to argue again.)
Mrs. Choi Huh! You think we don't know what you're doing? Well, however cunning you are, you won't be able to escape the label of a reactionary! You won't! (At these words the other villagers begin to become agitated. But Old Kim is still smoking, unaware of what is going on.)
Cheomnye (becoming serious) Have you finished now?
Mrs. Choi Cheomnye! Aren't your family reactionaries? Eh? Why did your husband run away if he wasn't a reactionary? Didn't you say he ran away because if he was caught by the People's Army he'd be killed? (She tries to trap Cheomnye with her own words.) If that's not true why don't you say so!
Cheomnye (trying to control her anger) What's the connection between this and whether my husband was a reactionary or was dragged away and killed?
Mrs. Yang Why do you keep bringing up my dead son?
Cheomnye Mother, please be quiet.
Mrs. Choi (audaciously) There's no connection? Your mother-in-law says she's village leader because the Self-Defence Army made her do it against her will, but the truth is, that she had to pretend she was loyal in order to survive. Isn't that right?
Mrs. Yang All right! You can talk! Who's fault was it that my son was charged as a reactionary?
Mrs. Choi Huh! Well, life is full of its ups and downs! Everyone who got my son-in-law killed as a Red is my enemy now! Why should I leave alone the bastards who made my daughter Sawo※l a widow before her time? Now the world has changed again we have to live in comfort too!
Mrs. Yang Huh! And wasn't your son-in-law a paragon of virtue! He drank like a horse, and spent more time playing cards than working in the threshing yard! Ha, ha
Mrs. Choi And what about your son? Huh what gives you the right to criticise? Don't you remember all the trouble he caused as leader of some youth group? And my son finished middle school!
Mrs. Yang That new studying ruined everyone who tried it! (At this some of those watching burst into laughter.)
Mrs. Choi (glaring at those laughing as she gets even angrier) You're all so right! So you're saying that when the reactionaries killed my son-in-law it was just like having a rotten tooth pulled out? Well, you're all reactionaries, aren't you? Ssallye's mum, Kapdol's mum, So※ngman's mum!
Ssallye's mum So we're reactionaries because we laughed. What does that make us if we don't laugh? Ha, ha (Everyone laughs again.)
Cheongim (taking Mrs. Choi's side) Watch your words! Remember, thieves are apt to give themselves away!
Ssallye's mum What's that got to do with me? (as if singing a ballad) My only crime was to be born under an unlucky star, to have met the wrong husband and been widowed too young. Oh, my fate (everyone laughs)
Old Kim (laughs out loud with no idea of what is going on) Oh, good, good
Neighbour Kap's wife What you say is right, of course, but are there really any Reds and Yellows here? Our only fault is that we can't feed ourselves and haven't been to school For us stupid poor people it doesn't matter how the world changes. They say come and we're dragged along, they say go and we're pushed away isn't that the way it goes? (She looks at the crowd and they are all nodding to each other.)
Cheomnye Can't we stop this now, please? We could go on like this forever, but we have to finish this up quickly, don't we? It's already time for them to come for the grain. And the people who are on night watch tonight have to get ready.
Cheomnye (to Mrs. Yang) Mother! There're not many left now (She looks in her notebook.)
Mrs. Yang Why should I do something I don't want to do? Tell whoever wants to do it to do it. (She blows her nose and steps up onto the wooden floor of her house.)
Mrs. Choi (getting angry again) What did you say?
Cheomnye (angrily) Why are you behaving like this, for heaven's sake? Women with daughters and sons-in-law behaving like little children Have you forgotten what will happen to us if we don't have the grain ready on time? Our village will become a sea of flames.
Mrs. Choi Well, I was being quiet, then she started up again, didn't she?
Ssallye's mum (clicking her tongue) What the old people used to say was right. If there's not a man in the house, even stray dogs put on airs! (The crowd bursts out laughing again.) Why are you laughing? (starting to complain) If there was just one real man in our village then things wouldn't be like this!
Neighbour※Ul's wife Really!
Mrs. Yang (holding her hand) Saying things like that will get you into trouble. What kind of world do you think we're living in? Be careful what you say, sister.
(The crows caw again and Ssallye's mum jumps up shouting, as if she's gone mad.)
Wo※nt'ae (looking at Ssallye's mum) What's the meaning of this display?
Captain Is this on our account, comrade?
Wo※nt'ae No, no Well Let's go on down.
(At these words Ssallye's mum is struck by fear, as if she's just woken from a dream, and runs back to hide between the other women. The crowd huddles together near the mud hut, unable to stand up straight, like mice in front of a cat. Unwillingly, Mrs. Yang and Cheomnye bow subserviently. The guerillas stand on the path and watch on.)
Wo※nt'ae (with a salute) Comrade Yang, thank you for your hard work. (to the captain) Please take a seat. (He points to the wooden floor. Mrs. Yang hurriedly dusts the floor with a cloth.)
Mrs. Yang It's not very clean, but if you'd like to sit down
Wo※nt'ae (sitting down) So, is everything ready?
Mrs. Yang (in an uneasy voice) Yes, yes
Captain How much did you collect?
Mrs. Yang Uh uh (to Cheomnye) What does it all come to?
Cheomnye (avoiding eye contact with the men) Well there is one mal and four twi of rice three mal and two twi of barley, and four mal and six twi of potatoes , that's what there is, altogether.
Captain (facing Wo※nt'ae and filling up the bags with a satisfied smile) That's better than I expected um
Wo※nt'ae (sycophantically) Ha, ha I warned them very firmly, but still I was worried something might go wrong
Captain As you were in charge, that's only natural, isn't it? Ha, ha (Wo※nt'ae rubs his hands together and laughs in tandem.)
Captain Now, first gather them all together I will speak first, and then
Wo※nt'ae (quickly) Yes please do.
(He takes a whistle out of his pocket and blows it loudly. Everyone looks at each other; there follows an orderless commotion.)
Captain (trying to look dignified) What are you all doing? Come and stand over here. Quickly, quickly (frowning at Mrs. Yang) Will it do if the village leader stands there doing nothing?
Mrs. Yang (not knowing what to do) Oh, I'm sorry I'm sorry. (to the crowd) All right! Everyone gather over here, quickly. Don't stand over there.
(The crowd shuffles closer. The three guerillas, who are on the path in the middle of the stage rolling cigarettes, look at each other and laugh. It looks as if they might be laughing at the Captain.)
Wo※nt'ae (deliberately trying to assume a dignified air, he speaks in a rambling voice) Well The reason why we have asked you all to gather here today is because the Captain here has kindly come from headquarters to deliver to you in person some very important instructions. Therefore, you must listen quietly to everything he has to say. I hope, as your Self-Defence captain, that you will not sully the reputation of our village, and finally I would like to add one more thing
(At this point the Captain whispers something in Wo※nt'ae's ear, as if he can't bear to listen to any more.)
Wo※nt'ae (bowing obsequiously) Yes yes, I understand. Yes so you would like to speak now, Captain? Yes, please do.
(During this time the crowd start to stamp their frozen feet, as the tension has dissipated.)
Wo※nt'ae (solemnly) Quiet! Now we will hear from our comrade from headquarters. (He salutes politely and moves to one side.)
(The Captain places one hand on his rifle belt and salutes firmly with the other hand. He glances sharply around the crowd. Everyone swallows their saliva and pricks up their ears.)
Captain Comrades! Thank you for coming out in this cold weather. When we have crossed this final peak there will be a world in which labourers and peasants will all be able to live in comfort together. According to a wireless message received by our Defence Section the day before yesterday, our nation's leader Premier Kim Il-sung has sent a message of encouragement to those of us waging war in the south, urging us to boldly fight to the end against that agent of American imperialism Rhee Syngman. (After saying all this in one breath, he pauses to breathe in deeply.)
(Wo※nt'ae starts to applaud and looks at the crowd as if to prod them on. The sound of clapping hands breaks out here and there.)
Captain Rumours have been spreading around that the U.N. Army and Rhee Syngman's puppet army have scored repeated victories, but do not forget that we have the support of the huge and heroic Chinese and Soviet armies.
Wo※nt'ae Yes! (He applauds, and the others have no choice but to follow with applause too.)
Captain (taking a notebook out of his top pocket) And so, now I will tell you about the new task which has been given you.
Old Kim (throwing open the door of his room) Isn't it dinnertime yet? Mrs. Yang (startled) Oh! Have you got any sense of timing! Shut the door. Please! (She shuts the door from outside and a grumbling sound can be heard from inside the room. Mrs. Yang turns uneasily to the Captain and Wo※nt'ae.)
Captain As you have already received these instructions from the captain of your Self-Defence unit you will know this already, but
Wo※nt'ae Yes, I already told them at the village leaders' meeting and at the section meeting.
Captain From today you will have to begin night watch duty again
(There is a stir in the crowd.)
Captain As we are surrounded by mountains on all sides here, this is a natural fortress, which the enemy police can not penetrate easily. Therefore, even though only one hundred and fifty li away Rhee Syngman's gang are scoring victories, this side of that Nam River down there is still our glorious People's Republic. But lately, as the enemy make a last-ditch fight they are foolishly dispatching scouts with the wild idea of trying to upset the people's minds. Therefore, we have decided to start the night watch again.
(The sound of whispering gradually spreads among the crowd.)
Captain I have heard that since liberation our many comrades in this area have battled most heroically against the American imperialists and Rhee Syngman's puppet regime. Therefore, if you observe the following points strictly you will also be seeking revenge for your sons, your husbands, and your brothers. First, if you see a suspicious person, you should immediately report to your village leader or Self-Defence unit. Second, those caught providing the enemy with food or other benefits will be severely punished. Third, those negligent with their night watch duties will also be strictly punished. (putting his notebook in his pocket) Do not forget, that if even one person is caught in violation of these instructions, then this whole village will be reduced to ashes. Over on that mountain we hear about everything that is going on.
Wo※nt'ae Did everyone understand? One person from each family must take part.
(There is another stir. Then Mrs. Choi steps to the front.)
Mrs. Choi Sir. I would like to say something
(Everyone's attention focuses on Mrs. Choi.)
Wo※nt'ae What is it?
Mrs. Choi People like us do not have to do night watch duty, do we?
Captain Don't have to?
Mrs. Choi (glancing at Mrs. Yang) It is bad enough that my son and son-in-law were both killed at the same time by the reactionaries' police, but to ask me to do night watch duty in this terrible cold
Wo※nt'ae Are you the only comrade who has lost a son and a husband?
Mrs. Choi That's my point. Surely this kind of work should be done by those who were loyal to the Republic of Korea in the old days. Isn't it their turn to suffer? Huh.
(Agitation spreads throughout the crowd.)
Ssallye's mum Who says so? Village tasks should be done by everyone in the village Why don't you just forget about it, Mrs. Choi?
Mrs. Choi (getting excited) It's bad enough that my son-in-law died, but to see those scoundrels in power now! (She glares at Mrs. Yang, and the crowd splits into two groups amidst the commotion.)
Wo※nt'ae Qui quiet! What is going on?
Mrs. Yang (stepping forward) Let me explain. No one among us has food to spare now. But when I said that we all have to contribute since we decided to collect grain, Mrs. Choi, well, she
Captain (asserting his dignity) I see! Quiet! At headquarters we all know that you comrades are putting up with great difficulties in order to battle on. But if you once thought of our situation fighting day and night up there on that rugged Cheonwang Peak, you wouldn't voice such individual complaints. (becoming more and more threatening) Don't you know for whom and what we are suffering like that up in the mountains? Don't you realise that it is for you comrades to be able to live in comfort?
(The crowd looks completely dejected. The sound of gunfire can be heard faintly in the distance, and the Captain looks tense.)
Do you understand? Don't forget that we are at war. Remember that if there is one reactionary or one rebel amongst you, then all of your houses and lives lie in the hands of that person! (He shakes his fist threateningly, then speaks to the guerillas.) Comrades! Let's take this food and go! (At this command, the guerillas each take a sack on their back and begin to climb the mountain path. The Captain whispers something to Wo※nt'ae and then quickly disappears.)
Wo※nt'ae (after watching the Captain leave) Everyone who is on night watch duty should meet at the tree by half past seven. Okay? (He leaves to the left.)
(The crowd scatters in twos and threes. Mrs. Choi goes into her kitchen. Mrs. Yang is left standing vacantly in the yard, as Cheomnye clears away the mat and the measure. The stage is darker than before and the early evening stars can be seen far away in the dark sky. An unspeakable silence and emptiness presses down even more heavily than on the mountain tops.)
Mrs. Yang (mumbling) Now what will I live on Since they keep taking our food Damn people. So that we can live in comfort?
Cheomnye (looking around carefully) Mother! Be careful what you say. Didn't you hear what they just said?
Mrs. Yang (wiping away her tears with the back of her hand) I really don't think I can go on any more. (She throws the mat down in the shed.) What did he say about living a carefree life? Better to die than to live like this, unable to breathe freely or to eat what is our own. Oh! (She sits down on the end of the wooden floor. The door opens and Old Kim appears.)
Old Kim Isn't it dinnertime yet? My stomach's stuck to the back of my spine, aren't you going to feed me? Eh?
Mrs. Yang (getting angry) Who said I wasn't going to feed you? (grumbling) Old people should go and die, oh what kind of fate is this?
Cheomnye Please wait just a bit, father. (tying a towel around her head) What's happened to Kwido※k? It's time she was back already
Mrs. Yang Damn girl! She's probably off somewhere eating roasted magpie eggs instead of gathering wood.
(Cheomnye returns from the back garden carrying an armful of firewood and goes into the kitchen.)
Mrs. Yang How many potatoes are left?
Cheomnye (breaking up the wood into small pieces in the kitchen) The small jar's about half full.
Old Kim Can't we have rice tonight? Don't boil potatoes!
Mrs. Yang (in an ill temper) Where's rice going to come from in the middle of this commotion? We give you enough to live on, you must have worms or something!(Kwido※k comes running down the mountain path as if she's being chased, with an A-frame piled up with wood on her back. In the distance can be heard laughter and the sound of children teasing her. Kwido※k's hair is tangled and her clothes are messy, giving the impression that she is somehow mentally disturbed. But her breasts reveal that she is a fully-grown woman. She jumps down with savage-looking eyes, and throws stones back in the direction of the path.)
Kwido※k Granddad's balls, soft as ripe persimmons! Hee, hee
Mrs. Yang (a violent temper appearing in her eyes) No, what is that girl Kwido※k! Kwido※k!
Kwido※k (like a man) What?
Mrs. Yang What kind of nonsense is that, when you should have come straight back with the wood? Heh, girl?
Kwido※k (coming into the yard) Those brats just pulled my skirt off!
(Children can be heard playing in the distance. Kwido※k puts the A-frame down in front of the shed.)
Kwido※k (trying to shout at the children again) Granddad's
Mrs. Yang (grabbing Kwido※k's hair) Can't you shut that mouth of yours? You're an embarrassment! (She hits her several times in the back.)
Kwido※k Aagh, aagh (She tries to run away, but Cheomnye comes out of the kitchen and shields her.) Sister, sister!
Cheomnye Mother, please leave her alone! She can't even understand what you're saying Just stop.
Kwideok (clinging to Cheomnye) Sister! Save me!
Cheomnye All right, go inside. Mrs. Yang Oh, you're seventeen now, and still behaving like this Why don't you drop dead, just drop dead! (She goes to grab her, but Kwideok shrieks and runs inside, crying.)
Cheomnye Mother! Kwideok's just a poor little thing!
Mrs. Yang Poor little thing! She's no child of mine any more, she's my enemy. My enemy! If I'd known she would turn out like this, I would have left her for dead back then
Cheomnye Mother! (She takes the dried radish leaves down from where they are hanging on the kitchen wall.) She wasn't like that before the war, was she? Ever since the shock of that attack she's lost her senses She just looks like that, but inside she's all right. She's grown up, I'm sure.
Mrs. Yang Shut up! If she'd been like her brother, she wouldn't have gone mad like that. (staring into empty space) If only we knew where he died, or whether he's still alive, then we would be able to forget him, wouldn't we?
Cheomnye (letting out a heavy sigh and trying hard to control her emotions) If he were still alive we would have heard from him by now. It's been two years
Mrs. Yang Stupid child! He should have lived on the land his ancestors left him, what did he think he was doing with his youth group and (clicking her tongue) If he had given his mother even the slightest thought things wouldn't be like this.
Cheomnye But he was the best son that could be, mother I know that better than anyone.
Mrs. Yang (suddenly feeling sorry for her daughter-in-law) That's right, you knew him well, didn't you? If he knew this was going to happen couldn't he at least have left behind his seed? If only I had a grandson I'd feel less lonely. He must have frozen to death somewhere. (For some time three shadows have been visible, eating dinner beneath a kerosene lamp in the inner room of Mrs. Choi's house. Finally a baby starts to cry and Sa-wo※l's angry voice can be heard.)
Sawo※l (only her voice can be heard) Can't you just stop that! You start crying every time dinner is ready. (She hits the child, which cries even more loudly.)
Mrs. Choi (only her voice can be heard) Why are you hitting her she's too young to understand? Can't you just tell her
Sawo※l (only her voice can be heard) Mother, please keep out of this. She'll get even worse if you take sides like that. Damn you! You brat! (Sawo※l opens the door noisily and comes outside.)
(Mrs. Choi's voice sounds even more sad as she tries to placate her granddaughter. Sawo※l looks dishevelled, as if she's just gotten up from her sickbed. She tries to swallow the tears welling up inside her, and leans against the spindle tree, sobbing. Cho※mnye has just come out from the kitchen to fetch some unripe persimmons, and goes up to Sawo※l.)
Cheomnye Sawo※l what's wrong?
Sawo※l (Still sobbing silently.)
Cheomnye Have you gotten over your cold yet? What are you doing outside when it's this cold, eh?
Sawo※l I I I wish I were dead. It'd be better than living like this (She cries even more plaintively.)
Chemmnye (smiling sadly) What, everyone says they want to die Is dying so easy? Why don't you come over later, eh? Your mother's going out on night watch duty, right?
Sawo※l Um Cheomnye Be sure to come. Ssallye's mum says she's coming too. We can talk while we patch socks or something
Sawo※l (dropping her head) Okay, I'll go.
Cheomnye Go inside now.
(Old Kim comes outside and asks for dinner again.)
Old Kim Isn't it dinnertime yet? Eh? Have you forgotten you live with an old man? Haven't they learnt anything! (he hits the floor with his pipe) Have you forgotten about the Way of Heaven?
(Mrs. Yang, sticking her head out of the kitchen, and Cheomnye, rushing in from outside, both reply at the same time.)
Mrs. Yang Cheomnye All right we're coming.
Same as the previous scene. About three hours later. A new moon hangs in the night sky. Far away mountain dogs can be heard barking. As the curtain rises Cheomnye, Sawo※l, and Ssallye's mum are patching socks. Cheomnye quickly turns up the oil lamp and the room brightens. The room is almost completely empty, except for an earthen fireplace and a chest.
Sawo※l is leant against the wall lost in thought. Cheomnye looks at her and is at a loss for something to say.
Cheomnye Aren't you going to eat your scorched rice?
Sawo※l (sighs) No-my tooth hurts. Cheomnye (breaking the scorched rice, which looks as if it has frozen, into two and offering half to her.) Try it. It's hard to chew at first, but once it gets soggy in your mouth it's okay. It's pretty good. Go on.
Sawo※l (has no choice but to put it in her mouth) Um
Ssallye's mum (with a sweet smile) Do we have any choice? This is life. Isn't that right? (She smiles, as if her words have great meaning.)
Cheomnye (laughing as if she has just realised what Ssallye's mum is talking about) Oh, it's a good job that you can diagnose our illnesses. Hee, hee You two are lucky you can laugh about it
Ssallye's mum Well, there's no point crying, is there?
Ssallye's mum (looking dumbfounded) What?
Ssallye's mum Well, there's nothing to say that you can't, but (blushing) I, I don't know! How could I
Sawo※l Is there anything we can't say to each other? Really, I just don't think I can live like this. Forget my child and my parents, I need a life. Why? Stay a little longer.
Sawo※l I have to go to bed early, clutching my pillow. Seeing's as a widow's only pleasure is sleep. (She puts her shoes on.)
(Meanwhile Kkutsuni is warming herself around the broken fireplace in the middle of the room. She grabs the scorched rice at her side and starts crunching on it.)
See you in a bit.
(Ssallye's mum goes out onto the path and turns to the left, while Sawo※l goes home. The gusting wind blows even more strongly.)
Cheomnye (coming back into the room) It's cold, isn't it?
Kku※tsuni (trying to swallow the scorched rice, but getting it caught in her throat, she starts to cough, like someone who's trying to swallow a radish.)
Cheomnye What's wrong? Eh?
Kkutsuni (swallowing the rice with difficulty) The, the rice (coughing as it goes down the wrong way)
Cheomnye Ha, ha You should eat more slowly (She sits down and continues with her work from before.)
Kkutsuni Has Kwido※k gone to bed?
Cheomnye Mm, she's in her grandfather's room.
Kkutsuni Oh! With her grandfather? Ha, ha A grown up woman sleeping with her grandfather? Ha, ha She really is strange, isn't she?
Cheomnye Don't talk about her like that. She's a poor thing
Kkutsuni Mm (She rubs her red cheeks.)
Cheomnye Oh, I heard your mother is sick again?
Kkutsuni (expressionless) It looks like she'll die soon.
Cheomnye How can you talk like that? You'll be punished.
Kkutsuni How could I be punished any more than I have been already?
(Cheomnye can not think of a reply, and lets out a long sigh.)
Cheomnye Did you eat dinner?Kkutsuni They just did a memorial service for their ancestors at So※un's house, and brought me some squash and fish pancakes.
Cheomnye So your mother didn't eat anything?
Kkutsuni There's nothing to eat, but she said she lost her appetite anyway. That means she'll die soon, you see.
Cheomnye Everything you say ends with her dying.
Kkutsuni Really, it would be better to die.
Cheomnye Who should die?
Kkutsuni My mother.
Cheomnye Oh, you shouldn't talk like that.
(A dog barks again.)
Kkutsuni Sister! I I (She pokes around with the fire tongs.)
Cheomnye Come out with it.
Kkutsuni When mother dies I want to go to Seoul or Pusan.
Cheomnye (surprised) You?
Kkutsuni Well, who else is there at home, other than me?
Cheomnye How are you going to do that?
Kkutsuni (smiling) There are ways. No one else must know but you.
Cheomnye All right, tell me.
Kkutsuni You won't tell mother, will you?
Cheomnye You said only I would know Did someone say they would take you?
Kkutsuni Mm (moving closer) You know the lady from Pyeongyang, who comes to our village now and then?
Cheomnye The lady from Pyeongyang? Oh! The peddler who goes around selling fabric? I've heard about her.
Kkutsuni Mm. Last Harvest Festival she said that if you go to the city and work as a kitchen maid you get to eat plenty and get paid each month.
Cheomnye (as if to herself) As a kitchen maid?
Kkutsuni I can't live here. Maybe if father hadn't died like that And seeing's as mother hasn't moved for almost a year since father died, who can I rely on?
Cheomnye How old are you now?
Kkutsuni I'll be seventeen in the New Year.
Cheomnye Seventeen already?
Kkutsuni So, I have to make some plans, don't I? If I make some money as a kitchen maid, I'm going to start a business. (Hope flickers in Kkutsuni's eyes.)
Kkutsuni As long as it's not here, anywhere will do.
Cheomnye (sighing) You're lucky you can do anything you like.
Kkutsuni You could too, if you really wanted to.
Cheomnye Of course I can't. There's all these ties (with a sigh of despair)
Kkutsuni (smiling scornfully) What use are wedding presents like that?
Cheomnye Oh, you really ha, ha Is there anything you won't say?
Kkutsuni We have to put ourselves first, don't we? Do you want to die before you've even enjoyed life?
Cheomnye No, of course not. You don't understand, the way I feel.
Kkutsuni I don't? Hee, hee
Cheomnye What's so funny?
Kkutsuni (in a low voice) You mean that Kwideok's older brother might still be alive and could come back sometime, don't you? (She smiles sweetly.)
Cheomnye (calmly) It's true. It feels like he's still alive. I'm sure of it.
Kkutsuni (decisively) He's dead.
Cheomnye No. I'm sure he's still alive.
Kkutsuni (observes Cheomnye's reaction before speaking) Even if you heard he was still alive, what use would that be?
Cheomnye (looking suspicious) What do you mean?
Kkutsuni Even if he's survived he'll never be treated like a human being again. Just try living in this village for a while Sister, why don't you come with me?
Cheomnye (looks at her in silence)Kkutsuni Since you're pretty and you've been to school you'll be able to get a better job than me. What do you think? Shall I ask the lady from Pyeongyang when she comes next time? She said we could even marry.
Cheomnye (looking confused) Marry? Ha, ha (She laughs despondently.)
Kkutsuni It's true.
(Kyubok appears on the mountain path. He is wearing tattered clothes and looks hungry. On top of that he is limping as if he has hurt his leg. He looks around for somewhere to hide. After looking down from the path, he hurriedly hides in the hut belonging to Cheomnye's house. As he rushes down the path stones roll noisily down the hill behind him.)
Cheomnye Who is it? (She looks outside.)
(Kkutsuni clings to Cheomnye's back, trembling. Outside snowflakes begin to fall one by one. The only sound to be heard is a dog barking in the distance.)
Kkutsuni Isn't anyone out there?
(The sound of an empty tin can being rattled, used to summon everyone in emergencies, can be heard in the distance.)
Kkutsuni (eyes open wide) Oh no! Something's happened!
Cheomnye Mm Do you think they've come down from the mountain again?
Kkutsuni Why would they come back when they just took our food this evening?
Cheomnye I'll go and see. Do you want to stay here?
Kkutsuni No. I'm too frightened to stay here on my own.
(The tin is rattled again. After a while Mrs. Choi appears on the path, her body wrapped up like a jar of alcohol. She is also carrying a bamboo spear. From the opposite direction two women come rushing along and bump into each other in the path.)
Woman A What's going on?
Mrs. Choi Hamdeok's mother was on night watch duty and said she saw something rustling in the woods.
Woman B Was it a thief?
Mrs. Choi Whatever it was they said we all have to come out. Go and see what's going on.
Woman A What are you going to do?
Mrs. Choi I just have to feed my grandchild and then I'll go. (She hurries down the path and into her house. Woman A and Woman B leave the stage to the left, looking anxious.)
Kkutsuni (wrapping the cloth around her head) I'd better go now.
Cheomnye All right, you go ahead. I'll be there soon.
Kkutsuni (going outside) All right Don't tell anyone what I just told you!
(Women appear here and there on the path and whisper to each other anxiously.)
Group A Come quickly!
(At this the commotion increases and they leave to the left of the stage. Mrs. Choi comes out of her house and walks up onto the path. Cheomnye is standing on the wooden floor trying to see what is going on.)
Cheomnye Something really seems to have happened. (She goes back into the room, wraps her scarf around her head, turns off the lamp, and comes back out onto the wooden floor again.)
(For a while there is silence on the stage, so that only the sound of the wind and the snowflakes can be heard. While Cheomnye goes into the shed to look for her spear, Kyubok, who has been hiding in the hut, comes out into the yard and enters the kitchen.)
Cheomnye (coming out of the shed) That's funny, my spear used to be there maybe I put it in the kitchen (She goes into the kitchen, and immediately bumps into Kyubok. Kyubok threatens her with a knife.)
Cheomnye Who, who are you? (Her voice is trembling and her words can hardly be made out.)
Kyubok (in a low voice) You know what happens if you scream, don't you? Do what I say.
(Cheomnye takes a step back, shaking.)
Kyubok (moving closer to Cheomnye) First, give me something to eat. And water
Cheomnye (just nods in silence)
Kyubok You have some petrol, don't you?
Cheomnye Petrol? Oh! Don't do that. Don't set fire to
Kyubok Fire? No! I have to disinfect this wound in my leg.
Cheomnye Your leg?
Kyubok Quickly! (He holds his leg with both hands and groans, as if the pain is unbearable.)Cheomnye (gradually relaxing a little) All right! How did you hurt yourself?
Kyubok On the cliff Aah (He struggles to endure the pain.)
(Someone can be heard in the distance.)
Kyubok (in a flurry) What, what is that noise? Is it coming this way? (He looks towards the path.)
Kyubok (pleading with her) Please save me. I'll never forget it if you do. I'm not a Red. I don't know anything.
Cheomnye So, you came from Cheonwang Peak? (She looks at him again.)
Kyubok What? Yes. But, please save me. Where can I hide?
(Cheomnye thinks for a while, and then she pulls him up by the shoulders.)
Cheomnye Hold onto my shoulders.
Kyubok (as if he hasn't understood properly) What?
Cheomnye Hurry up. Someone's coming, come on.
(Cheomnye hurriedly leads Kyubok away towards a large field off to the right of the stage. There is no one on stage for a while, and then Mrs. Yang appears, panting.)
Mrs. Yang Cho※mnye, Cheomnye! Have you gone to bed?
(She puts her spear down on the wooden floor and shakes down her clothes. Snow is falling heavily now.)
Mrs. Yang (opening the door and seeing that no one is inside) That's strange. It's not her turn on night watch duty yet.
(Cheomnye appears from the right and is flustered when she sees Mrs. Yang.)
Cheomnye Mother, you're back already?
Mrs. Yang What are you doing in the field in the middle of the night?
Cheomnye Oh I've lost my spear, so I thought I could break off a bamboo stalk, or something
Mrs. Yang Didn't I say I was taking the spear? Here it is.
Cheomnye (trying hard to hide her agitation) Ha, ha so that's where it is! I don't know what's wrong with me.
Mrs. Yang Nothing's happened has it?
Cheomnye What? Oh no, wasn't that the tin rattling earlier?
Mrs. Yang Yes, Hamdeok's mother's making a fuss. She said she definitely saw something coming down from the mountain and running away, but who can believe her?
Cheomnye She's always been very nervous, hasn't she?
Mrs. Yang That's what I mean. When we asked her if she really got a clear look, she just kept saying we could poke her eyes out if we didn't believe her, ha, ha
Cheomnye Mother, go inside and rest.
Mrs. Yang Oh go and see what's going on. They're waiting for everyone. (She goes into her room.)
(Left alone on the stage, Cheomnye walks on, staring ahead of her into space.)
Cheomnye He definitely said he wasn't a Red I wonder where he came from? (She closes her eyes and lifts her head up in the emptiness, as if troubled by something. Snow pours down on her face. Far off a dog can be heard barking.)
Same as in Act One. About three weeks later. It is morning. Warm sunrays light up the wooden floor and the hut. However the wind is still cold. As the curtain rises, Mrs. Yang is sat on the wooden floor, wrapping eggs up in straw. At her side Kwideok is watching with a stupid look on her face. Cheomnye comes out of the kitchen carrying the dirty dishwater and throws it away in the fertilizer bucket next to the toilet. Her face looks brighter than it did before.
Kwideok (behaving like a spoilt child) I'm going too. Mum, heh
Mrs. Yang (still wrapping up the eggs) I told you you can't. You look after the house with your sister-in-law.
Kwideok No. I want to see the market.
Mrs. Yang Look, girl, how do you think you're going to walk the sixty li there and back? Why don't you just be good and do as your mother says.
Kwideok I can walk a hundred li
Cheomnye (stopping before she goes back into the kitchen) Mother, take her with you. It's the first market day in a while, and you can show her around, and
Mrs. Yang Are you crazy? Today's the end-of-year market, it'll be packed out.
Kwideok So, it'll be fun. Mrs. Yang No. Who's going to have to do all the worrying when you get lost again? Stay at home. (She counts the eggs.) Oh, two more have disappeared! (She glares at Kwideok.) You brat! You stole them again, didn't you?
Kwideok (jumping up suddenly) No I don't know anything about it.
Mrs. Yang (hitting Kwideok on the back with her fist) You idiot! Why did you take them when I told you not to?
Kwideok (tearfully rubbing her back) Really, I didn't eat them.
Mrs. Yang Who in this house would eat them except for you? Eh? Do you mean to say a snake swallowed them, or a mouse stole them? You damn child! (Cheomnye hurries into the kitchen, looking embarrassed.)
Mrs. Yang This never used to happen, why have you suddenly become so greedy? (continuing her work) If these eggs disappear too then we'll all starve. Until the new barley comes up we have to exchange these eggs for food, don't you understand that? You brat, you're going to be eighteen in the New Year. In the old days at your age you'd already have a child, who'd be calling you mum.
Kwideok I didn't eat them. Ask sister. When did I go to the chicken house?
Mrs. Yang It was you last time, wasn't it?
Kwideok Last time I ate one that sister gave me, but this time Mrs. Yang I don't want to hear any more. Oh, you damn child! If I'd known you were going to turn into an idiot and upset your mother, I'd have left you to die back then To think I even used money I didn't have to buy you medicine!
Cheomnye (washing her hands and coming out of the kitchen) Oh, mother. We should be grateful she's still with us Don't say those things.
Mrs. Yang Even the gods are heartless. They took the son I leaned on as a pillar of strength and left me an idiot daughter.
Cheomnye She wasn't born an idiot, was she? Even when I came to live here she was still so sweet and full of energy (She strokes Kwideok's hair.)
Mrs. Yang (to Kwideok) You can't go! Go to the mountains and bring back some firewood.
Kwideok (stepping back) No! I'm going too. If you don't take me I'll go on my own
Mrs. Yang Oh, that child can talk
Cheomnye Take her with you. She wants to go so much
Mrs. Yang How can I leave the house empty?
Cheomnye I'll be here, won't I?
Mrs. Yang Leave you alone? When the world's turned upside down won't you be scared all alone?
Cheomnye (smiling) Mother Anyway, tigers don't come out in the daytime, do they? Ha, ha I'll be all right.
Kwideok They say there's visitors from the mountain, hee, hee
Mrs. Yang Oh, damn child. You listen to everything everyone says, don't you? Tut, tut
Cheomnye Actually, when Kwido※k's at home, it's harder to relax. Please take her with you.
Mrs. Yang (after thinking for a while) All right, then wash your face and comb your hair.
Kwideok Hee, hee I've already washed. Look. (She shows them her open hands and smiles.)
Cheomnye Ha, ha That makes a change. You've actually washed.
Mrs. Yang Miracles do happen well. (She brushes down her clothes and puts the wrapped eggs into a mesh bag. Then she goes inside.)
Cheomnye (to Kwido※k) Come here. Let's tidy up your hair.
Kwideok Um. (She sits down willingly on the edge of the wooden floor. Cheomnye unbraids her hair and turns towards the room.)
Cheomnye Mother! Can you pass the comb, please? (to Kwideok) When you get back, wash your hair. (She picks out a louse.) Now you're going to be a year older, you've got to be a good girl, all right?
Kwideok (laughing) Mm
(Mrs. Yang throws the comb out from the room.)
Mrs. Yang Here it is!
(Cheomnye picks up the comb and begins to comb Kwideok's hair.)
Kwideok (smiling to herself) Will I will I get married?
Cheomnye (surprised) Married?
Kwideok Mm They said I had to get married.
Cheomnye (getting interested) Who did? When?
Kwideok In my dream.
Cheomnye In your dream? Ha, ha really.
Cheomnye But dreams are just dreams
Kwideok There'll be lots of men at the market, won't there?
Cheomnye Well, I suppose so
Kwideok There's no men here, so I can't get married can I? Hee, hee There'll be lots at the market.
(Mrs. Yang reappears, looking tidy in a starched cotton skirt and jacket. She ties her jacket.)
Mrs. Yang If you've finished combing her hair, let's get going.
Cheomnye (pressing down the hair she has just braided) She's all ready. (Kwideok jumps up like a little child and steps down into the yard.)
Mrs. Yang (putting on her shoes) Put this scarf on.
Kwideok I'm not cold. You put it on. Cheomnye All right. (holding the eggs) You'd better take this, hadn't you?
Kwideok Mm! (As she puts out her hands, Mrs. Yang pushes her away and snatches the eggs.)
Mrs. Yang (looking at Cheomnye) Oh, that won't do! That's like telling a mouse to watch the grain. I'll take them.
(Cheomnye is ashamed and blushes.)
Mrs. Yang Well, look after the house while we're gone. Oh, and when grandfather gets up, heat up some porridge for him.
Cheomnye All right, be careful.
Mrs. Yang Don't leave the house empty They say thieves have even been to houses where there's nothing to eat.
(Kwideok jumps up onto the path and is gone in no time. Once Mrs. Yang has left, excited about the day to come, Cheomnye breathes a sigh of relief. She goes into the kitchen, as if she's suddenly remembered something. Soon she hurries back out with two eggs and a rice bowl wrapped in her skirt. A crow passes by cawing. Cheomnye stops in front of the hut to have a good look around, and then she hurries into the big field to the right.)
(At this point the lady from Pyeonguang, a peddler, appears from the left. She is carrying a large bundle and has a ruler under her arm. She looks around the house as she steps into the yard.)
Lady from Pyeongyang (talking to herself) Isn't anyone here I'll have a little rest before I go on.
(She puts her bundle down on the wooden floor with a deep sigh, then she pulls up her skirt, takes an expensive cigarette out of a cigarette pouch, and begins to smoke.) Lady from Pyeongyang (looking around the house) There's no reason to go to the village in the morning maybe they've gone somewhere else. (She steps down into the yard and looks in the kitchen.) Is anybody there? (She goes in.)
(The door to the inner room opens and Old Kim puts his head out. His white hair looks just like a lion's where he's just woken up.)
Old Kim Well, they could have fed me before they went tut, tut
Cheomnye What's wrong, grandfather?
Cheomnye No! Not after someone like me.
Cheomnye (with a bitter smile) How could I be otherwise?
Cheomnye (deep in thought) You must know the outside world pretty well, seeing's as you travel around here and there all the time.
Cheomnye But it must be interesting, as you get to earn money and see the world.
Cheomnye Please wait just a bit, I'll get it ready now. (She goes into the kitchen.) (to be continued)