An old woman tells of the
timeless struggle for power and gold, and the havoc it
works. She deplores the fact that to gain gold and power,
human beings will stop at nothing -- they will hurt, ruin,
and destroy one another, even their own kin -- and forget
their souls in their mad pursuit. But she warns all who
would join in the pursuit; when the conquerors have stopped
at last to make a reckoning, the final balance does not
tally; despite their profits and acquisitions they are
losers. She tells the tale that follows, to hear out her
Noon. The flour merchant is
still in bed. His Wife sends for him, then comes up herself.
Ignoring her scolding for his late sleeping, he asks if she
can explain dreams. His dead mother visited him in a dream.
But his Wife will not listen to it. The Roomer enters, the
Merchant stops him to ask if he can interpret dreams. The
Roomer passes to his room. The Merchant thinking of how the
young couple are now kissing in the next room, asks his Wife
whether they have ever done the same. The Wife exists in a
rage, he calling after her to send up a loaf of freshly
baked bread. The Merchant would like to peep through the
keyhole, but the young couple come out. When her husband has
gone, the Merchant starts a conversation with the Roomer's
Wife and leads up to his dream, but the Money Lender
He has come to collect a loan,
but the Merchant asks for a new larger loan. The new
enterprise consists in buying up all the flour of last
year's growth. he is sure that the Money Lender will want to
be a partner, but doesn not tell why he is going into this.
It is connected with his dream, and he wants first to find
out whether the dream was true. The Money Lender ridicules
him but signs the contract. When the Merchant is about to
tell his dream, Laborer enters with a loaf of freshly baked
bread. When assured that it is of new flour, he gives the
Laborer a piece ot eat. Aft4er a few bites the latter
becomes insane and speaks about bigger wages and shorter
hours. When the Merchant gives him a piece of bread of the
old flour, the Laborer becomes normal after a few bites.
This was the Merchant's dream,
all who will eat bread from the flour of the new harvest
will become insane, to be cured only by the flour of last
year's harvest. Money Lender asks if Merchant has told
anyone of the dream. Merchant reassures him, saying he only
wanted to speak of it to allay his pangs of conscience, but
all these are past now.
The Merchant, who is confined
to his room on account of a sore foot impatiently meets his
Wife who brings the news that an epidemic of insanity is
spreading through the town. She asks the purpose of buying
up last year's flour. He refuses to tell. When she leaves he
calls the Roomer's wife and informs her that he has the cure
for the epidemic now raging. She leaves as soon as he
attempts to make advances.
Laborer enters with a report
that more flour has arrived, but there is no storage room.
Merchant orders him to bring it up to his rooms. When Roomer
enters, Merchant asks him if he was ever bad. Roomer hardly
understands the question.
Money Lender comes to report
that all of last year's flour has been secured. Merchant
asks him to bring up the agents. Roomer's Wife returns after
escorting her husband. Merchant stops her to warn her
against letting her husband to go out among the stricken
people. Money Lender brings in Agents who receive orders to
spread the news that the Merchant's flour is the cure for
the illness. Money Lender is ordered to close the stores. He
understands and goes. Merchant tries to explain to Roomer's
Wife that he is not a swindler, but she refuses to listen.
Merchant's Wife comes in angered at the closing of the
stories. But hearing the purpose, she realizes the profits
awaiting them, and with the Money Lender starts to plan for
As a result of the Agents'
work, crowds rush in asking for flour, ready to pay any
price. Money Lender and Wife go with the crowd to open the
stores. Merchant rejoices and explains to Roomer's Wife that
he is no worse than a physician who charges exorbitant fees.
The old flour is all gone, but
the crowd demands more. They don't believe the Merchant's
assurances that the curative flour is sold out, and the
flour left in the stores is of the new harvest. When they
become threatening, he delivers the keys of the stores to
them. His Wife and Money Lender reproach him for
surrendering the flour, for it could have been sold as
curative flour at high prices. Disgusted at this, Merchant
shows them that now the whole town will go insane, and they
will be sole possessors of everything. They sit down to
dinner. Merchant prepares bread of new flour for them. Wife
and Money Lender become insane, the latter rejoicing in the
feeling of possession. Merchant, who suspets that the two
are in love with one another, drives them out and offers his
loving heart to Roomer's Wife. She repulses him in her great
love for her husband. Merchant asks in despair why such love
was not granted him.
A Street. The Merchant meets
the Laborer who speaks of strikes to him and calls him the
most miserable of men because those who worked for him and
ate his bread despised him. Merchant turns to his Wife with
reproaches for their married life, a life of quarreling. But
she merely says, "Yes, Yes," while Money Lender repeats,
He meets others. The Clergyman
repeats the last words of Merchant's sentences. The town
Mayor tells his secrets. The Cousin is in her best attire,
in search of a husband. The Water Carrier does not put the
stopper in the barrel because he considers the taking out of
a stopper its main purpose. Merchant is in despair about his
future in a mad world.
Roomer's Wife appeals for help
in her husband's sudden illness. Merchant demands her as the
price for the cure. In her despair she promises herself to
him. He wants her love, but this she can never give him.
When she becomes hysterical he gives her the cure -- the
last piece of health-restoring bread.
But without her love he finds
life useless among all the insane, and goes off to fetch the