The Feast at Solhaug, by Henrik Ibsen

ACT FIRST

A stately room, with doors in the back and to both sides. In front on the right, a bay window with small round panes, set in lead, and near the window a table, on which is a quantity of feminine ornaments. Along the left wall, a longer table with silver goblets and drinking-horns. The door in the back leads out to a passage-way,3 through which can be seen a spacious fiord-landscape.

Bengt Gauteson, Margit, Knut Gesling and Erik Of Heggë are seated around the table on the left. In the background are KNUT’s followers, some seated, some standing; one or two flagons of ale are handed round among them. Far off are heard church bells, ringing to Mass.

3 This no doubt means a sort of arcaded veranda running along the outer wall of the house.

Erik. [Rising at the table.] In one word, now, what answer have you to make to my wooing on Knut Gesling’s behalf?

Bengt. [Glancing uneasily towards his wife.] Well, I— to me it seems — [As she remains silent.] H’m, Margit, let us first hear your thought in the matter.

Margit. [Rising.] Sir Knut Gesling, I have long known all that Erik of Heggë has told of you. I know full well that you come of a lordly house; you are rich in gold and gear, and you stand in high favour with our royal master.

Bengt. [To Knut.] In high favour — so say I too.

Margit. And doubtless my sister could choose her no doughtier mate —

Bengt. None doughtier; that is what I say too.

Margit. — If so be that you can win her to think kindly of you.

Bengt. [Anxiously, and half aside.] Nay — nay, my dear wife —

Knut. [Springing up.] Stands it so, Dame Margit! You think that your sister —

Bengt. [Seeking to calm him.] Nay, nay, Knut Gesling! Have patience, now. You must understand us aright.

Margit. There is naught in my words to wound you. My sister knows you only by the songs that are made about you — and these songs sound but ill in gentle ears.

No peaceful home is your father’s house.

With your lawless, reckless crew,

Day out, day in, must you hold carouse —

God help her who mates with you.

God help the maiden you lure or buy

With gold and with forests green —

Soon will her sore heart long to lie

Still in the grave, I ween.

Erik. Aye, aye — true enough — Knut Gesling lives not overpeaceably. But there will soon come a change in that, when he gets him a wife in his hall.

Knut. And this I would have you mark, Dame Margit: it may be a week since, I was at a feast at Heggë, at Erik’s bidding, whom here you see. I vowed a vow that Signë, your fair sister, should be my wife, and that before the year was out. Never shall it be said of Knut Gesling that he brake any vow. You can see, then, that you must e’en choose me for your sister’s husband — be it with your will or against it.

Margit.

Ere that may be, I must tell you plain,

You must rid yourself of your ravening train.

You must scour no longer with yell and shout

O’er the country-side in a galloping rout;

You must still the shudder that spreads around

When Knut Gesling is to a bride-ale bound.

Courteous must your mien be when a-feasting you ride;

Let your battle-axe hang at home at the chimney-side —

It ever sits loose in your hand, well you know,

When the mead has gone round and your brain is aglow.

From no man his rightful gear shall you wrest,

You shall harm no harmless maiden;

You shall send no man the shameless hest

That when his path crosses yours, he were best

Come with his grave-clothes laden.

And if you will so bear you till the year be past,

You may win my sister for your bride at last.

Knut. [With suppressed rage.] You know how to order your words cunningly, Dame Margit. Truly, you should have been a priest, and not your husbands wife.

Bengt. Oh, for that matter, I too could —

Knut. [Paying no heed to him.] But I would have you take note that had a sword-bearing man spoken to me in such wise —

Bengt. Nay, but listen, Knut Gesling — you must understand us!

Knut. [As before.] Well, briefly, he should have learnt that the axe sits loose in my hand, as you said but now.

Bengt. [Softly.] There we have it! Margit, Margit, this will never end well.

Margit. [To Knut.] You asked for a forthright answer, and that I have given you.

Knut. Well, well; I will not reckon too closely with you, Dame Margit. You have more wit than all the rest of us together. Here is my hand; — it may be there was somewhat of reason in the keen-edged words you spoke to me.

Margit. This I like well; now are you already on the right way to amendment. Yet one word more — today we hold a feast at Solhoug.

Knut. A feast?

Bengt. Yes, Knut Gesling: you must know that it is our wedding day; this day three years ago made me Dame Margit’s husband.

Margit. [Impatiently, interrupting.] As I said, we hold a feast today. When Mass is over, and your other business done, I would have you ride hither again, and join in the banquet. Then you can learn to know my sister.

Knut. So be it, Dame Margit; I thank you. Yet ’twas not to go to Mass that I rode hither this morning. Your kinsman, Gudmund Alfson, was the cause of my coming.

Margit. [Starts.] He! My kinsman? Where would you seek him?

Knut. His homestead lies behind the headland, on the other side of the fiord.

Margit. But he himself is far away.

Erik. Be not so sure; he may be nearer than you think.

Knut. [Whispers.] Hold your peace!

Margit. Nearer? What mean you?

Knut. Have you not heard, then, that Gudmund Alfson has come back to Norway? He came with the Chancellor Audun of Hegranes, who was sent to France to bring home our new Queen.

Margit. True enough, but in these very days the King holds his wedding-feast in full state at Bergen, and there is Gudmund Alfson a guest.

Bengt. And there could we too have been guests had my wife so willed it.

Erik. [Aside to Knut.] Then Dame Margit knows not that —?

Knut. [Aside.] So it would seem; but keep your counsel. [Aloud.] Well, well, Dame Margit, I must go my way none the less, and see what may betide. At nightfall I will be here again.

Margit. And then you must show whether you have power to bridle your unruly spirit.

Bengt. Aye, mark you that.

Margit. You must lay no hand on your axe — hear you, Knut Gesling?

Bengt. Neither on your axe, nor on your knife, nor on any other weapon whatsoever.

Margit. For then can you never hope to be one of our kindred.

Bengt. Nay, that is our firm resolve.

Knut. [To Margit.] Have no fear.

Bengt. And what we have firmly resolved stands fast.

Knut. That I like well, Sir Bengt Gauteson. I, too, say the same; and I have pledged myself at the feast-board to wed your kinswoman. You may be sure that my pledge, too, will stand fast. — God’s peace till to-night!

[He and ERIK, with their men, go out at the back.

[BENGT accompanies them to the door. The sound of the bells has in the meantime ceased.

Bengt. [Returning.] Methought he seemed to threaten us as he departed.

Margit. [Absently.] Aye, so it seemed.

Bengt. Knut Gesling is an ill man to fall out with. And when I bethink me, we gave him over many hard words. But come, let us not brood over that. To-day we must be merry, Margit! — as I trow we have both good reason to be.

Margit. [With a weary smile.] Aye, surely, surely.

Bengt. Tis true I was no mere stripling when I courted you. But well I wot I was the richest man for many and many a mile. You were a fair maiden, and nobly born; but your dowry would have tempted no wooer.

Margit. [To herself.] Yet was I then so rich.

Bengt. What said you, my wife?

Margit. Oh, nothing, nothing. [Crosses to the right.] I will deck me with pearls and rings. Is not to-night a time of rejoicing for me?

Bengt. I am fain to hear you say it. Let me see that you deck you in your best attire, that our guests may say: Happy she who mated with Bengt Gauteson. — But now must I to the larder; there are many things today that must not be over-looked.

[He goes out to the left.

Margit. [Sinks down on a chair by the table on the right.]

’Twas well he departed. While here he remains

Meseems the blood freezes within my veins;

Meseems that a crushing mighty and cold

My heart in its clutches doth still enfold.

[With tears she cannot repress.

He is my husband! I am his wife!

How long, how long lasts a woman’s life?

Sixty years, mayhap — God pity me

Who am not yet full twenty-three!

[More calmly after a short silence.

Hard, so long in a gilded cage to pine;

Hard a hopeless prisoner’s lot — and mine.

[Absently fingering the ornaments on the table, and beginning to put them on.

With rings, and with jewels, and all of my best

By his order myself I am decking —

But oh, if today were my burial-feast,

’Twere little that I’d be recking.

[Breaking off.

But if thus I brood I must needs despair;

I know a song that can lighten care.

[She sings.

The Hill–King to the sea did ride;

— Oh, sad are my days and dreary —

To woo a maiden to be his bride.

— I am waiting for thee, I am weary. —

The Hill–King rode to Sir Hakon’s hold;

— Oh, sad are my days and dreary —

Little Kirsten sat combing her locks of gold.

— I am waiting for thee, I am weary. —

The Hill–King wedded the maiden fair;

— Oh, sad are my days and dreary —

A silvern girdle she ever must wear.

— I am waiting for thee, I am weary. —

The Hill–King wedded the lily-wand,

— Oh, sad are my days and dreary —

With fifteen gold rings on either hand.

— I am waiting for thee, I am weary. —

Three summers passed, and there passed full five;

— Oh, sad are my days and dreary —

In the hill little Kirsten was buried alive.

— I am waiting for thee, I am weary. —

Five summers passed, and there passed full nine;

— Oh, sad are my days and dreary —

Little Kirsten ne’er saw the glad sunshine.

— I am waiting for thee, I am weary. —

In the dale there are flowers and the birds’ blithe song;

— Oh, sad are my days and dreary —

In the hill there is gold and the night is long.

— I am waiting for thee, I am weary. —

[She rises and crosses the room.

How oft in the gloaming would Gudmund sing

This song in may father’s hall.

There was somewhat in it — some strange, sad thing

That took my heart in thrall;

Though I scarce understood, I could ne’er forget —

And the words and the thoughts they haunt me yet.

[Stops horror-struck.

Rings of red gold! And a belt beside —!

’Twas with gold the Hill–King wedded his bride!

[In despair; sinks down on a bench beside the table on the left.

Woe! Woe! I myself am the Hill–King’s wife!

And there cometh none to free me from the prison of my life.

[SIGNË, radiant with gladness, comes running in from the back.

Signë. [Calling.] Margit, Margit, — he is coming!

Margit. [Starting up.] Coming? Who is coming?

Signë. Gudmund, our kinsman!

Margit. Gudmund Alfson! Here! How can you think —?

Signë. Oh, I am sure of it.

Margit. [Crosses to the right.] Gudmund Alfson is at the wedding-feast in the King’s hall; you know that as well as I.

Signë. Maybe; but none the less I am sure it was he.

Margit. Have you seen him?

Signë. Oh, no, no; but I must tell you —

Margit. Yes, haste you — tell on!

Signë.

’Twas early morn, and the church bells rang,

To Mass I was fain to ride;

The birds in the willows twittered and sang,

In the birch-groves far and wide.

All earth was glad in the clear, sweet day;

And from church it had well-nigh stayed me;

For still, as I rode down the shady way,

Each rosebud beguiled and delayed me.

Silently into the church I stole;

The priest at the altar was bending;

He chanted and read, and with awe in their soul,

The folk to God’s word were attending.

Then a voice rang out o’er the fiord so blue;

And the carven angels, the whole church through,

Turned round, methought, to listen thereto.

Margit.

O Signë, say on! Tell me all, tell me all!

Signë.

’Twas as though a strange, irresistible call

Summoned me forth from the worshipping flock,

Over hill and dale, over mead and rock.

‘Mid the silver birches I listening trod,

Moving as though in a dream;

Behind me stood empty the house of God;

Priest and people were lured by the magic ‘twould seem,

Of the tones that still through the air did stream.

No sound they made; they were quiet as death;

To hearken the song-birds held their breath,

The lark dropped earthward, the cuckoo was still,

As the voice re-echoed from hill to hill.

Margit. Go on.

Signë.

They crossed themselves, women and men;

[Pressing her hands to her breast.

But strange thoughts arose within me then;

For the heavenly song familiar grew:

Gudmund oft sang it to me and you —

Ofttimes has Gudmund carolled it,

And all he e’er sang in my heart is writ.

Margit.

And you think that it may be —?

Signë.

I know it is he! I know it? I know it! You soon shall see!

[Laughing.

From far-off lands, at the last, in the end,

Each song-bird homeward his flight doth bend!

I am so happy — though why I scarce know —!

Margit, what say you? I’ll quickly go

And take down his harp, that has hung so long

In there on the wall that ’tis rusted quite;

Its golden strings I will polish bright,

And tune them to ring and to sing with his song.

Margit. [Absently.]

Do as you will —

Signë. [Reproachfully.]

Nay, this in not right.

[Embracing her.

But when Gudmund comes will your heart grow light —

Light, as when I was a child, again.

Margit.

So much has changed — ah, so much! — since then —

Signë.

Margit, you shall be happy and gay!

Have you not serving-maids many, and thralls?

Costly robes hang in rows on your chamber walls;

How rich you are, none can say.

By day you can ride in the forest deep,

Chasing the hart and the hind;

By night in a lordly bower you can sleep,

On pillows of silk reclined.

Margit. [Looking toward the window.]

And he comes to Solhoug! He, as a guest!

Signë.

What say you?

Margit. [Turning.]

Naught. — Deck you out in your best.

That fortune which seemeth to you so bright

May await yourself.

Signë.

Margit, say what you mean!

Margit. [Stroking her hair.]

I mean — nay, no more! ’Twill shortly be seen —;

I mean — should a wooer ride hither to-night —?

Signë.

A wooer? For whom?

Margit.

For you.

Signë. [Laughing.]

For me?

That he’d ta’en the wrong road full soon he would see.

Margit.

What would you say if a valiant knight

Begged for your hand?

Signë.

That my heart was too light

To think upon suitors or choose a mate.

Margit.

But if he were mighty, and rich, and great?

Signë.

O, were he a king, did his palace hold

Stores of rich garments and ruddy gold,

‘Twould ne’er set my heart desiring.

With you I am rich enough here, meseeems,

With summer and sun and the murmuring streams,

And the birds in the branches quiring.

Dear sister mine — here shall my dwelling be;

And to give any wooer my hand in fee,

For that I am too busy, and my heart too full of glee!

[SIGNË runs out to the left, singing.

Margit. [After a pause.] Gudmund Alfson coming hither! Hither — to Solhoug? No, no, it cannot be. — Signë heard him singing, she said! When I have heard the pine-trees moaning in the forest afar, when I have heard the waterfall thunder and the birds pipe their lure in the tree-tops, it has many a time seemed to me as though, through it all, the sound of Gudmund’s songs came blended. And yet he was far from here. — Signë has deceived herself. Gudmund cannot be coming.

[BENGT enters hastily from the back.

Bengt. [Entering, calls loudly.] An unlooked-for guest my wife!

Margit. What guest?

Bengt. Your kinsman, Gudmund Alfson! [Calls through the doorway on the right.] Let the best guest-room be prepared — and that forthwith!

Margit. Is he, then, already here?

Bengt. [Looking out through the passage-way.] Nay, not yet; but he cannot be far off. [Calls again to the right.] The carved oak bed, with the dragon-heads! [Advances to MARGIT.] His shield-bearer brings a message of greeting from him; and he himself is close behind.

Margit. His shield-bearer! Comes he hither with a shield-bearer!

Bengt. Aye, by my faith he does. He has a shield-bearer and six armed men in his train. What would you? Gudmund Alfson is a far other man than he was when he set forth to seek his fortune. But I must ride forth to seek him. [Calls out.] The gilded saddle on my horse! And forget not the bridle with the serpents’ heads! [Looks out to the back.] Ha, there he is already at the gate! Well, then, my staff — my silver-headed staff! Such a lordly knight — Heaven save us! — we must receive him with honour, with all seemly honour!

[Goes hastily out to the back.

Margit. [Brooding]

Alone he departed, a penniless swain;

With esquires and henchmen now comes he again.

What would he? Comes he, forsooth, to see

My bitter and gnawing misery?

Would he try how long, in my lot accurst,

I can writhe and moan, ere my heart-strings burst —

Thinks he that —? Ah, let him only try!

Full little joy shall he reap thereby.

[She beckons through the doorway on the right. Three handmaidens enter.

List, little maids, what I say to you:

Find me my silken mantle blue.

Go with me into my bower anon:

My richest of velvets and furs do on.

Two of you shall deck me in scarlet and vair,

The third shall wind pearl-strings into my hair.

All my jewels and gauds bear away with ye!

[The handmaids go out to the left, taking the ornaments with them.

Since Margit the Hill–King’s bride must be,

Well! don we the queenly livery!

[She goes out to the left.

[BENGT ushers in GUDMUND ALFSON, through the pent-house passage at the back.

Bengt. And now once more — welcome under Solhoug’s roof, my wife’s kinsman.

Gudmund. I thank you. And how goes it with her? She thrives well in every way, I make no doubt?

Bengt. Aye, you may be sure she does. There is nothing she lacks. She has five handmaidens, no less, at her beck and call; a courser stands ready saddled in the stall when she lists to ride abroad. In one word, she has all that a noble lady can desire to make her happy in her lot.

Gudmund. And Margit — is she then happy?

Bengt. God and all men would think that she must be; but, strange to say —

Gudmund. What mean you?

Bengt. Well, believe it or not as you list, but it seems to me that Margit was merrier of heart in the days of her poverty, than since she became the lady of Solhoug.

Gudmund. [To himself.] I knew it; so it must be.

Bengt. What say you, kinsman?

Gudmund. I say that I wonder greatly at what you tell me of your wife.

Bengt. Aye, you may be sure I wonder at it too. On the faith and troth of an honest gentleman, ’tis beyond me to guess what more she can desire. I am about her all day long; and no one can say of me that I rule her harshly. All the cares of household and husbandry I have taken on myself; yet notwithstanding — Well, well, you were ever a merry heart; I doubt not you will bring sunshine with you. Hush! here comes Dame Margit! Let her not see that I—

[MARGIT enters from the left, richly dressed.

Gudmund. [Going to meet her.] Margit — my dear Margit!

Margit. [Stops, and looks at him without recognition.] Your pardon, Sir Knight; but —? [As though she only now recognized him.] Surely, if I mistake not, ’tis Gudmund Alfson.

[Holding out her hand to him.

Gudmund. [Without taking it.] And you did not at once know me again?

Bengt. [Laughing.] Why, Margit, of what are you thinking? I told you but a moment agone that your kinsman —

Margit. [Crossing to the table on the right.] Twelve years is a long time, Gudmund. The freshest plant may wither ten times over in that space.

Gudmund. ’Tis seven years since last we met.

Margit. Surely it must be more than that.

Gudmund. [Looking at her.] I could almost think so. But ’tis as I say.

Margit. How strange! I must have been but a child then; and it seems to me a whole eternity since I was a child. [Throws herself down on a chair.] Well, sit you down, my kinsman! Rest you, for to-night you shall dance, and rejoice us with your singing. [With a forced smile.] Doubtless you know we are merry here today — we are holding a feast.

Gudmund. ’Twas told me as I entered your homestead.

Bengt. Aye, ’tis three years today since I became —

Margit. [Interrupting.] My kinsman has already heard it. [To Gudmund.] Will you not lay aside your cloak?

Gudmund. I thank you, Dame Margit; but it seems to me cold here — colder than I had foreseen.

Bengt. For my part, I am warm enough; but then I have a hundred things to do and to take order for. [To MARGIT.] Let not the time seem long to our guest while I am absent. You can talk together of the old days.

[Going.

Margit. [Hesitating.] Are you going? Will you not rather —?

Bengt. [Laughing, to Gudmund, as he comes forward again.] See you well — Sir Bengt of Solhoug is the man to make the women fain of him. How short so e’er the space, my wife cannot abide to be without me. [To MARGIT, caressing her.] Content you; I shall soon be with you again.

[He goes out to the back.

Margit. [To herself.] Oh, torture, to have to endure it all.

[A short silence.

Gudmund.

How goes it, I pray, with your sister dear?

Margit.

Right well, I thank you.

Gudmund.

They said she was here

With you.

Margit.

She has been here ever since we —

[Breaks off.

She came, now three years since, to Solhoug with me.

[After a pause.

Ere long she’ll be here, her friend to greet.

Gudmund.

Well I mind me of Signë’s nature sweet.

No guile she dreamed of, no evil knew.

When I call to remembrance her eyes so blue

I must think of the angels in heaven.

But of years there have passed no fewer than seven;

In that time much may have altered. Oh, say

If she, too, has changed so while I’ve been away?

Margit.

She too? Is it, pray, in the halls of kings

That you learn such courtly ways, Sir Knight?

To remind me thus of the change time brings —

Gudmund.

Nay, Margit, my meaning you read aright!

You were kind to me, both, in those far-away years —

Your eyes, when we parted were wet with tears.

We swore like brother and sister still

To hold together in good hap or ill.

‘Mid the other maids like a sun you shone,

Far, far and wide was your beauty known.

You are no less fair than you were, I wot;

But Solhoug’s mistress, I see, has forgot

The penniless kinsman. So hard is your mind

That ever of old was gentle and kind.

Margit. [Choking back her tears.]

Aye, of old —!

Gudmund. [Looks compassionately at her, is silent for a little, then says in a subdued voice.

Shall we do as your husband said?

Pass the time with talk of the dear old days?

Margit. [Vehemently.]

No, no, not of them!

Their memory’s dead.

My mind unwillingly backward strays.

Tell rather of what your life has been,

Of what in the wide world you’ve done and seen.

Adventures you’ve lacked not, well I ween —

In all the warmth and the space out yonder,

That heart and mind should be light, what wonder?

Gudmund.

In the King’s high hall I found not the joy

That I knew by my own poor hearth as a boy.

Margit. [Without looking at him.]

While I, as at Solhoug each day flits past,

Thank Heaven that here has my lot been cast.

Gudmund.

’Tis well if for this you can thankful be —

Margit. [Vehemently.]

Why not? For am I not honoured and free?

Must not all folk here obey my hest?

Rule I not all things as seemeth me best?

Here I am first, with no second beside me;

And that, as you know, from of old satisfied me.

Did you think you would find me weary and sad?

Nay, my mind is at peace and my heart is glad.

You might, then, have spared your journey here

To Solhoug; ’twill profit you little, I fear.

Gudmund.

What, mean you, Dame Margit?

Margit. [Rising.]

I understand all —

I know why you come to my lonely hall.

Gudmund.

And you welcome me not, though you know why I came?

[Bowing and about to go.

God’s peace and farewell, then, my noble dame!

Margit.

To have stayed in the royal hall, indeed,

Sir Knight, had better become your fame.

Gudmund. [Stops.]

In the royal hall? Do you scoff at my need?

Margit.

Your need? You are ill to content, my friend;

Where, I would know, do you think to end?

You can dress you in velvet and cramoisie,

You stand by the throne, and have lands in fee —

Gudmund.

Do you deem, then, that fortune is kind to me?

You said but now that full well you knew

What brought me to Solhoug —

Margit.

I told you true!

Gudmund.

Then you know what of late has befallen me; —

You have heard the tale of my outlawry?

Margit. [Terror-struck.]

An outlaw! You, Gudmund!

Gudmund.

I am indeed.

But I swear, by the Holy Christ I swear,

Had I known the thoughts of your heart, I ne’er

Had bent me to Solhoug in my need.

I thought that you still were gentle-hearted,

As you ever were wont to be ere we parted:

But I truckle not to you; the wood is wide,

My hand and my bow shall fend for me there;

I will drink of the mountain brook, and hide

My head in the beast’s lair.

[On the point of going.

Margit. [Holding him back.]

Outlawed! Nay, stay! I swear to you

That naught of your outlawry I knew.

Gudmund.

It is as I tell you. My life’s at stake;

And to live are all men fain.

Three nights like a dog ‘neath the sky I’ve lain,

My couch on the hillside forced to make,

With for pillow the boulder grey.

Though too proud to knock at the door of the stranger,

And pray him for aid in the hour of danger,

Yet strong was my hope as I held on my way:

I thought: When to Solhoug you come at last

Then all your pains will be done and past.

You have sure friends there, whatever betide. —

But hope like a wayside flower shrivels up;

Though your husband met me with flagon and cup,

And his doors flung open wide,

Within, your dwelling seems chill and bare;

Dark is the hall; my friends are not there.

’Tis well; I will back to my hills from your halls.

Margit. [Beseechingly.]

Oh, hear me!

Gudmund.

My soul is not base as a thrall’s.

Now life to me seems a thing of nought;

Truly I hold it scarce worth a thought.

You have killed all that I hold most dear;

Of my fairest hopes I follow the bier.

Farewell, then, Dame Margit!

Margit.

Nay, Gudmund, hear!

By all that is holy —!

Gudmund.

Live on as before

Live on in honour and joyance —

Never shall Gudmund darken your door,

Never shall cause you ‘noyance.

Margit.

Enough, enough. Your bitterness

You presently shall rue.

Had I known you outlawed, shelterless,

Hunted the country through —

Trust me, the day that brought you here

Would have seemed the fairest of many a year;

And a feast I had counted it indeed

When you turned to Solhoug for refuge in need.

Gudmund.

What say you —? How shall I read your mind?

Margit. [Holding out her hand to him.]

Read this: that at Solhoug dwell kinsfolk kind.

Gudmund.

But you said of late —?

Margit.

To that pay no heed,

Or hear me, and understand indeed.

For me is life but a long, black night,

Nor sun, nor star for me shines bright.

I have sold my youth and my liberty,

And none from my bargain can set me free.

My heart’s content I have bartered for gold,

With gilded chains I have fettered myself;

Trust me, it is but comfort cold

To the sorrowful soul, the pride of pelf.

How blithe was my childhood — how free from care!

Our house was lowly and scant our store;

But treasures of hope in my breast I bore.

Gudmund. [Whose eyes have been fixed upon her.]

E’en then you were growing to beauty rare.

Margit.

Mayhap; but the praises showered on me

Caused the wreck of my happiness — that I now see.

To far-off lands away you sailed;

But deep in my heart was graven each song

You had ever sung; and their glamour was strong;

With a mist of dreams my brow they veiled.

In them all the joys you had dwelt upon

That can find a home in the beating breast;

You had sung so oft of the lordly life

‘Mid knights and ladies. And lo! anon

Came wooers a many from east and from west;

And so — I became Bengt Gauteson’s wife.

Gudmund.

Oh, Margit!

Margit.

The days that passed were but few

Ere with tears my folly I ‘gan to rue.

To think, my kinsman and friend, on thee

Was all the comfort left to me.

How empty now seemed Solhoug’s hall,

How hateful and drear its great rooms all!

Hither came many a knight and dame,

Came many a skald to sing my fame.

But never a one who could fathom aright

My spirit and all its yearning —

I shivered, as though in the Hill–King’s might;

Yet my head throbbed, my blood was burning.

Gudmund.

But your husband —?

Margit.

He never to me was dear.

’Twas his gold was my undoing.

When he spoke to me, aye, or e’en drew near,

My spirit writhed with ruing.

[Clasping her hands.

And thus have I lived for three long years —

A life of sorrow, of unstanched tears!

Your coming was rumoured. You know full well

What pride deep down in my heart doth dwell.

I hid my anguish, I veiled my woe,

For you were the last that the truth must know.

Gudmund. [Moved.]

’Twas therefore, then, that you turned away —

Margit. [Not looking at him.]

I thought you came at my woe to jeer.

Gudmund.

Margit, how could you think —?

Margit.

Nay, nay,

There was reason enough for such a fear.

But thanks be to Heaven that fear is gone;

And now no longer I stand alone;

My spirit now is as light and free

As a child’s at play ‘neath the greenwood tree.

[With a sudden start of fear.

Ah, where are my wits fled! How could I forget —?

Ye saints, I need sorely your succor yet!

An outlaw, you said —?

Gudmund. [Smiling.]

Nay, now I’m at home;

Hither the King’s men scarce dare come.

Margit.

Your fall has been sudden. I pray you, tell

How you lost the King’s favour.

Gudmund.

’Twas thus it befell.

You know how I journeyed to France of late,

When the Chancellor, Audun of Hegranes,

Fared thither from Bergen, in royal state,

To lead home the King’s bride, the fair Princess,

With her squires, and maidens, and ducats bright.

Sir Audun’s a fair and stately knight,

The Princess shone with a beauty rare —

Her eyes seemed full of a burning prayer.

They would oft talk alone and in whispers, the two —

Of what? That nobody guessed or knew.

There came a night when I leant at ease

Against the galley’s railing;

My thought flew onward to Norway’s leas,

With the milk-white seagulls sailing.

Two voices whispered behind my back; —

I turned — it was he and she;

I knew them well, though the night was black,

But they — they saw not me.

She gazed upon him with sorrowful eyes

And whispered: “Ah, if to southern skies

We could turn the vessel’s prow,

And we were alone in the bark, we twain,

My heart, methinks, would find peace again,

Nor would fever burn my brow.”

Sir Audun answers; and straight she replies,

In words so fierce, so bold;

Like glittering stars I can see her eyes;

She begged him —

[Breaking off.

My blood ran cold.

Margit.

She begged —?

Gudmund.

I arose, and they vanished apace;

All was silent, fore and aft:—

[Producing a small phial.

But this I found by their resting place.

Margit.

And that —?

Gudmund. [Lowering his voice.]

Holds a secret draught.

A drop of this in your enemy’s cup

And his life will sicken and wither up.

No leechcraft helps ‘gainst the deadly thing.

Margit.

And that —?

Gudmund.

That draught was meant for the King.

Margit.

Great God!

Gudmund. [Putting up the phial again.]

That I found it was well for them all.

In three days more was our voyage ended;

Then I fled, by my faithful men attended.

For I knew right well, in the royal hall,

That Audun subtly would work my fall, —

Accusing me —

Margit.

Aye, but at Solhoug he

Cannot harm you. All as of old will be.

Gudmund.

All? Nay, Margit — you then were free.

Margit.

You mean —?

Gudmund.

I? Nay, I meant naught. My brain

Is wildered; but ah, I am blithe and fain

To be, as of old, with you sisters twain.

But tell me, — Signë —?

Margit. [Points smiling towards the door on the left.]

She comes anon.

To greet her kinsman she needs must don

Her trinkets — a task that takes time, ’tis plain.

Gudmund.

I must see — I must see if she knows me again.

[He goes out to the left.

Margit. [Following him with her eyes.] How fair and manlike he is! [With a sigh.] There is little likeness ‘twixt him and — [Begins putting things in order on the table, but presently stops.] “You then were free,” he said. Yes, then! [A short pause.] ’Twas a strange tale, that of the Princess who — She held another dear, and then — Aye, those women of far-off lands — I have heard it before — they are not weak as we are; they do not fear to pass from thought to deed. [Takes up a goblet which stands on the table.] ’Twas in this beaker that Gudmund and I, when he went away, drank to his happy return. ’Tis well-nigh the only heirloom I brought with me to Solhoug. [Putting the goblet away in a cupboard.] How soft is this summer day; and how light it is in here! So sweetly has the sun not shone for three long years.

[SIGNË, and after her GUDMUND, enters from the left.

Signë. [Runs laughing up to Margit.]

Ha, ha, ha! He will not believe that ’tis I!

Margit. [Smiling to Gudmund.]

You see: while in far-off lands you strayed,

She, too, has altered, the little maid.

Gudmund.

Aye truly! But that she should be — Why,

’Tis a marvel in very deed.

[Takes both SIGNË’s hands and looks at her.

Yet, when I look in these eyes so blue,

The innocent child-mind I still can read —

Yes, Signë, I know that ’tis you!

I needs must laugh when I think how oft

I have thought of you perched on my shoulder aloft

As you used to ride. You were then a child;

Now you are a nixie, spell-weaving, wild.

Signë. [Threatening with her finger.]

Beware! If the nixie’s ire you awaken,

Soon in her nets you will find yourself taken.

Gudmund. [To himself.]

I am snared already, it seems to me.

Signë.

But, Gudmund, wait — you have still to see

How I’ve shielded your harp from the dust and the rust.

[As she goes out to the left.

You shall teach me all of your songs! You must!

Gudmund. [Softly, as he follows her with his eyes.]

She has flushed to the loveliest rose of May,

That was yet but a bud in the morning’s ray.

Signë. [Returning with the harp.]

Behold!

Gudmund. [Taking it.]

My harp! As bright as of yore!

[Striking one or two chords.

Still the old chords ring sweet and clear —

On the wall, untouched, thou shalt hang no more.

Margit. [Looking out at the back.]

Our guests are coming.

Signë. [While Gudmund preludes his song.]

Hush — hush! Oh, hear!

Gudmund. [Sings.]

I roamed through the uplands so heavy of cheer;

The little birds quavered in bush and in brere;

The little birds quavered, around and above:

Wouldst know of the sowing and growing of love?

It grows like the oak tree through slow-rolling years;

’Tis nourished by dreams, and by songs, and by tears;

But swiftly ’tis sown; ere a moment speeds by,

Deep, deep in the heart love is rooted for aye.

[As he strikes the concluding chords, he goes towards the back where he lays down his harp.

Signë. [Thoughtfully, repeats to herself.]

But swiftly ’tis sown; ere a moment speeds by,

Deep, deep in the heart love is rooted for aye.

Margit. [Absently.] Did you speak to me? — I heard not clearly —?

Signë. I? No, no. I only meant —

[She again becomes absorbed in dreams.

Margit. [Half aloud; looking straight before her.]

It grows like the oak tree through slow-rolling years;

’Tis nourished by dreams, and by songs and by tears.

Signë. [Returning to herself.] You said that —?

Margit. [Drawing her hand over her brow.] Nay, ’twas nothing. Come, we must go meet our guests.

[BENGT enters with many GUESTS, both men and women, through the passageway.

Guests.

With song and harping enter we

The feast-hall opened wide;

Peace to our hostess kind and free,

All happiness to her betide.

O’er Solhoug’s roof for ever may

Bright as today

The heavens abide.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/i/ibsen/henrik/feast/act1.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38