Ghosts, by Henrik Ibsen

ACT III

[The same scene. All the doors are standing open. The lamp is still burning on the table. It is dark outside, except for a faint glimmer of light seen through the windows at the back. MRS. ALVING, with a shawl over her head, is standing in the conservatory, looking out. REGINA, also wrapped in a shawl, is standing a little behind her.]

Mrs. Alving. Everything burned — down to the ground.

Regina. It is burning still in the basement.

Mrs. Alving. I can’t think why Oswald doesn’t come hack. There is no chance of saving anything.

Regina. Shall I go and take his hat to him?

Mrs. Alving. Hasn’t he even got his hat?

Regina [pointing to the hall]. No, there it is, hanging up.

Mrs. Alving. Never mind. He is sure to come back soon. I will go and see what he is doing. [Goes out by the garden door. MANDERS comes in from the hall.]

Manders. Isn’t Mrs. Alving here?

Regina. She has just this moment gone down into the garden.

Manders. I have never spent such a terrible night in my life.

Regina. Isn’t it a shocking misfortune, sir!

Manders. Oh, don’t speak about it. I scarcely dare to think about it.

Regina. But how can it have happened?

Manders. Don’t ask me, Miss Engstrand! How should I know? Are you going to suggest too —? Isn’t it enough that your father —?

Regina. What has he done?

Manders. He has nearly driven me crazy.

Engstrand [coming in from the hall]. Mr. Manders —!

Manders [turning round with a start]. Have you ever followed me here!

Engstrand. Yes, God help us all —! Great heavens! What a dreadful thing, your reverence!

Manders [walking up and down]. Oh dear, oh dear!

Regina. What do you mean?

Engstrand. Our little prayer-meeting was the cause of it all, don’t you see? [Aside, to REGINA.] Now we’ve got the old fool, my girl. [Aloud.] And to think it is my fault that Mr. Manders should be the cause of such a thing!

Manders. I assure you, Engstrand —

Engstrand. But there was no one else carrying a light there except you, sir.

Manders [standing still]. Yes, so you say. But I have no clear recollection of having had a light in my hand.

Engstrand. But I saw quite distinctly your reverence take a candle and snuff it with your fingers and throw away the burning bit of wick among the shavings.

Manders. Did you see that?

Engstrand. Yes, distinctly.

Manders. I can’t understand it at all. It is never my habit to snuff a candle with my fingers.

Engstrand. Yes, it wasn’t like you to do that, sir. But, who would have thought it could be such a dangerous thing to do?

Manders [walking restlessly backwards and forwards] Oh, don’t ask me!

Engstrand [following him about]. And you hadn’t insured it either, had you, sir?

Manders. No, no, no; you heard me say so.

Engstrand. You hadn’t insured it — and then went and set light to the whole place! Good Lord, what bad luck!

Manders [wiping the perspiration from his forehead]. You may well say so, Engstrand.

Engstrand. And that it should happen to a charitable institution that would have been of service both to the town and the country, so to speak! The newspapers won’t be very kind to your reverence, I expect.

Manders. No, that is just what I am thinking of. It is almost the worst part of the whole thing. The spiteful attacks and accusations — it is horrible to think of!

Mrs. Alving [coming in from the garden]. I can’t get him away from the fire.

Manders. Oh, there you are, Mrs. Alving.

Mrs. Alving. You will escape having to make your inaugural address now, at all events, Mr. Manders.

Manders. Oh, I would so gladly have —

Mrs. Alving [in a dull voice]. It is just as well it has happened. This Orphanage would never have come to any good.

Manders. Don’t you think so?

Mrs. Alving. Do you?

Manders. But it is none the less an extraordinary piece of ill luck.

Mrs: Alving. We will discuss it simply as a business matter. Are you waiting for Mr. Manders, Engstrand?

Engstrand [at the hall door]. Yes, I am.

Mrs. Alving. Sit down then, while you are waiting.

Engstrand. Thank you, I would rather stand.

Mrs. Alving [to MANDERS]. I suppose you are going by the boat?

Manders. Yes: It goes in about an hour —

Mrs. Alving. Please take all the documents back with you. I don’t want to hear another word about the matter. I have something else to think about now.

Manders. Mrs. Alving —

Mrs. Alving. Later on I will send you a power of attorney to deal with it exactly as you please.

Manders. I shall be most happy to undertake that; I am afraid the original intention of the bequest will have to be entirely altered now.

Mrs. Alving. Of course.

Manders. Provisionally, I should suggest this way of disposing of it: Make over the Solvik property to the parish. The land is undoubtedly not without a certain value; it will always be useful for some purpose or another. And as for the interest on the remaining capital that is on deposit in the bank, possibly I might make suitable use of that in support of some undertaking that promises to be of use to the town.

Mrs. Alving. Do exactly as you please. The whole thing is a matter of indifference to me now.

Engstrand. You will think of my Sailors’ Home, Mr, Manders?

Manders. Yes, certainly, that is a suggestion. But we must consider the matter carefully.

Engstrand [aside]. Consider! — devil take it! Oh Lord.

Manders [sighing]. And unfortunately I can’t tell how much longer I may have anything to do with the matter — whether public opinion may not force me to retire from it altogether. That depends entirely upon the result of the inquiry into the cause of the fire.

Mrs. Alving. What do you say?

Manders. And one cannot in any way reckon upon the result beforehand.

Engstrand [going nearer to him]. Yes, indeed one can; because here stand I, Jacob Engstrand.

Manders. Quite so, but —

Engstrand [lowering his voice]. And Jacob Engstrand isn’t the man to desert a worthy benefactor in the hour of need, as the saying is.

Manders. Yes, but, my dear fellow-how —?

Engstrand. You might say Jacob Engstrand is an angel of salvation, so to speak, your reverence.

Manders. No, no, I couldn’t possibly accept that.

Engstrand. That’s how it will be, all the same. I know someone who has taken the blame for someone else on his shoulders before now, I do.

Manders. Jacob! [Grasps his hand.] You are one in a thousand! You shall have assistance in the matter of your Sailors’ Home, you may rely upon that.

[ENGSTRAND tries to thank him, but is prevented by emotion.]

Manders [hanging his wallet over his shoulder]. Now we must be off. We will travel together.

Engstrand [by the dining-room door, says aside to REGINA]. Come with me, you hussy! You shall be as cosy as the yolk in an egg!

Regina [tossing her head]. Merci!

[She goes out into the hall and brings back MANDERS’ luggage.]

Manders. Good-bye, Mrs. Alving! And may the spirit of order and of what is lawful speedily enter into this house.

Mrs. Alving. Goodbye, Mr. Manders.

[She goes into the conservatory, as she sees OSWALD coming in by the garden door.]

Engstrand [as he and REGINA are helping MANDERS on with his coat]. Goodbye, my child. And if anything should happen to you, you know where Jacob Engstrand is to be found. [Lowering his voice.] Little Harbour Street, ahem —! [To MRS. ALVING and OSWALD.] And my house for poor seafaring men shall be called the “Alving Home,” it shall. And, if I can carry out my own ideas about it, I shall make bold to hope that it may be worthy of bearing the late Mr. Alving’s name.

Manders [at the door]. Ahem — ahem! Come along, my dear Engstrand. Goodbye — goodbye!

[He and ENGSTRAND go out by the hall door.]

Oswald [going to the table]. What house was he speaking about?

Mrs. Alving. I believe it is some sort of a Home that he and Mr. Manders want to start.

Oswald. It will be burned up just like this one.

Mrs. Alving. What makes you think that?

Oswald. Everything will be burned up; nothing will be left that is in memory of my father. Here am I being burned up, too.

[REGINA looks at him in alarm.]

Mrs. Alving. Oswald! You should not have stayed so long over there, my poor boy.

Oswald [sitting down at the table]. I almost believe you are right.

Mrs: Alving. Let me dry your face, Oswald; you are all wet. [Wipes his face with her handkerchief.]

Oswald [looking straight before him, with no expression in his eyes]. Thank you, mother.

Mrs. Alving. And aren’t you tired, Oswald? Don’t you want to go to sleep?

Oswald [uneasily]. No, no — not to sleep! I never sleep; I only pretend to. [Gloomily.] That will come soon enough.

Mrs. Alving [looking at him anxiously]. Anyhow you are really ill, my darling boy.

Regina [intently]. Is Mr. Alving ill?

Oswald [impatiently]. And do shut all the doors! This deadly fear —

Mrs. Alving. Shut the doors, Regina. [REGINA shuts the doors and remains standing by the hall door. MRS, ALVING takes off her shawl; REGINA does the same. MRS. ALVING draws up a chair near to OSWALD’S and sits down beside him.] That’s it! Now I will sit beside you —

Oswald. Yes, do. And Regina must stay in here too; Regina must always be near me. You must give me a helping hand, you know, Regina. Won’t you do that?

Regina. I don’t understand —

Mrs. Alving. A helping hand?

Oswald. Yes — when there is need for it.

Mrs: Alving. Oswald, have you not your mother to give you a helping hand?

Oswald. You? [Smiles.] No, mother, you will never give me the kind of helping hand I mean. [Laughs grimly.] You! Ha, ha! [Looks gravely at her.] After all, you have the best right. [Impetuously.] Why don’t you call me by my Christian name, Regina? Why don’t you say Oswald?

Regina [in a low voice]. I did not think Mrs. Alving would like it.

Mrs. Alving. It will not be long before you have the right to do it. Sit down here now beside us, too. [REGINA sits down quietly and hesitatingly at the other side of the table.] And now, my poor tortured boy, I am going to take the burden off your mind —

Oswald. You, mother?

Mrs. Alving. — all that you call remorse and regret and self-reproach.

Oswald. And you think you can do that?

Mrs. Alving. Yes, now I can, Oswald. A little while ago you were talking about the joy of life, and what you said seemed to shed a new light upon everything in my whole life.

Oswald [shaking his head]. I don’t in the least understand what you mean.

Mrs. Alving. You should have known your father in his young days in the army. He was full of the joy of life, I can tell you.

Oswald. Yes, I know.

Mrs. Alving. It gave me a holiday feeling only to look at him, full of irrepressible energy and exuberant spirits.

Oswald. What then?

Mrs. Alving, Well, then this boy, full of the joy of life — for he was just like a boy, then — had to make his home in a second-rate town which had none of the joy of life to offer him, but only dissipations. He had to come out here and live an aimless life; he had only an official post. He had no work worth devoting his whole mind to; he had nothing more than official routine to attend to. He had not a single companion capable of appreciating what the joy of life meant; nothing but idlers and tipplers . . .

Oswald. Mother —!

Mrs. Alving. And so the inevitable happened!

Oswald. What was the inevitable?

Mrs. Alving. You said yourself this evening what would happen in your case if you stayed at home.

Oswald. Do you mean by that, that father —?

Mrs. Alving. Your poor father never found any outlet for the overmastering joy of life that was in him. And I brought no holiday spirit into his home, either.

Oswald. You didn’t, either?

Mrs. Alving. I had been taught about duty, and the sort of thing that I believed in so long here. Everything seemed to turn upon duty — my duty, or his duty — and I am afraid I made your poor father’s home unbearable to him, Oswald.

Oswald. Why didn’t you ever say anything about it to me in your letters?

Mrs. Alving. I never looked at it as a thing I could speak of to you, who were his son.

Oswald. What way did you look at it, then?

Mrs. Alving. I only saw the one fact, that your father was a lost man before ever you were born.

Oswald [in a choking voice]. Ah —! [He gets up and goes to the window.]

Mrs. Alving. And then I had the one thought in my mind, day and night, that Regina in fact had as good a right in this house — as my own boy had.

Oswald [turns round suddenly], Regina —?

Regina [gets up and asks in choking tones]. I—?

Mrs. Alving. Yes, now you both know it.

Oswald. Regina!

Regina [to herself]. So mother was one of that sort too.

Mrs. Alving. Your mother had many good qualities, Regina.

Regina. Yes, but she was one of that sort too, all the same. I have even thought so myself, sometimes, but —. Then, if you please, Mrs. Alving, may I have permission to leave at once?

Mrs. Alving. Do you really wish to, Regina?

Regina. Yes, indeed, I certainly wish to.

Mrs. Alving. Of course you shall do as you like, but —

Oswald [going up to REGINA]. Leave now? This is your home.

Regina. Merci, Mr. Alving — oh, of course I may say Oswald now, but that is not the way I thought it would become allowable.

Mrs. Alving. Regina, I have not been open with you —

Regina. No, I can’t say you have! If I had known Oswald was ill — And now that there can never be anything serious between us —. No, I really can’t stay here in the country and wear myself out looking after invalids.

Oswald. Not even for the sake of one who has so near a claim on you?

Regina. No, indeed I can’t. A poor girl must make some use of her youth, otherwise she may easily land herself out in the cold before she knows where she is. And I have got the joy of life in me too, Mrs. Alving!

Mrs. Alving. Yes, unfortunately; but don’t throw yourself away, Regina.

Regina. Oh, what’s going to happen will happen. If Oswald takes after his father, it is just as likely I take after my mother, I expect. — May I ask, Mrs. Alving, whether Mr. Manders knows this about me?

Mrs. Alving. Mr. Manders knows everything.

Regina [putting on her shawl]. Oh, well then, the best thing I can do is to get away by the boat as soon as I can. Mr. Manders is such a nice gentleman to deal with; and it certainly seems to me that I have just as much right to some of that money as he — as that horrid carpenter.

Mrs. Alving. You are quite welcome to it, Regina.

Regina [looking at her fixedly]. You might as well have brought me up like a gentleman’s daughter; it would have been more suitable. [Tosses her head.] Oh, well — never mind! [With a bitter glance at the unopened bottle.] I daresay someday I shall be drinking champagne with gentlefolk, after all.

Mrs. Alving. If ever you need a home, Regina, come to me.

Regina. No, thank you, Mrs. Alving. Mr. Manders takes an interest in me, I know. And if things should go very badly with me, I know one house at any rate where I shall feel at home.

Mrs. Alving. Where is that?

Regina. In the “Alving Home.”

Mrs. Alving. Regina — I can see quite well — you are going to your ruin!

Regina. Pooh! — goodbye.

[She bows to them and goes out through the hall.]

Oswald [standing by the window and looking out]. Has she gone?

Mrs. Alving. Yes.

Oswald [muttering to himself]. I think it’s all wrong.

Mrs. Alving [going up to him from behind and putting her hands on his shoulders]. Oswald, my dear boy — has it been a great shock to you?

Oswald [turning his face towards her]. All this about father, do you mean?

Mrs. Alving. Yes, about your unhappy father. I am so afraid it may have been too much for you.

Oswald. What makes you think that? Naturally it has taken me entirely by surprise; but, after all, I don’t know that it matters much to me.

Mrs. Alving [drawing back her hands]. Doesn’t matter! — that your father’s life was such a terrible failure!

Oswald. Of course I can feel sympathy for him, just as I would for anyone else, but —

Mrs. Alving. No more than that! For your own father!

Oswald [impatiently]. Father — father! I never knew anything of my father. I don’t remember anything else about him except that he once made me sick.

Mrs. Alving. It is dreadful to think of! — But surely a child should feel some affection for his father, whatever happens?

Oswald. When the child has nothing to thank his father for? When he has never known him? Do you really cling to that antiquated superstition — you, who are so broad-minded in other things?

Mrs. Alving. You call it nothing but a superstition!

Oswald. Yes, and you can see that for yourself quite well, mother. It is one of those beliefs that are put into circulation in the world, and —

Mrs. Alving. Ghosts of beliefs!

Oswald [walking across the room]. Yes, you might call them ghosts.

Mrs. Alving [with an outburst of feeling]. Oswald! then you don’t love me either!

Oswald. You I know, at any rate —

Mrs. Alving. You know me, yes; but is that all?

Oswald. And I know how fond you are of me, and I ought to be grateful to you for that. Besides, you can be so tremendously useful to me, now that I am ill.

Mrs. Alving. Yes, can’t I, Oswald! I could almost bless your illness, as it has driven you home to me. For I see quite well that you are not my very own yet; you must be won.

Oswald [impatiently]. Yes, yes, yes; all that is just a way of talking. You must remember I am a sick man, mother. I can’t concern myself much with anyone else; I have enough to do, thinking about myself.

Mrs. Alving [gently]. I will be very good and patient.

Oswald. And cheerful too, mother!

Mrs. Alving. Yes, my dear boy, you are quite right. [Goes up to him.] Now have I taken away all your remorse and self-reproach?

Oswald. Yes, you have done that. But who will take away the fear?

Mrs. Alving. The fear?

Oswald [crossing the room]. Regina would have done it for one kind word.

Mrs. Alving. I don’t understand you. What fear do you mean — and what has Regina to do with it?

Oswald. Is it very late, mother?

Mrs. Alving. It is early morning. [Looks out through the conservatory windows.] The dawn is breaking already on the heights. And the sky is clear, Oswald. In a little while you will see the sun.

Oswald. I am glad of that. After all, there may be many things yet for me to be glad of and to live for —

Mrs. Alving. I should hope so!

Oswald. Even if I am not able to work —

Mrs. Alving. You will soon find you are able to work again now, my dear boy. You have no longer all those painful depressing thoughts to brood over.

Oswald. No, it is a good thing that you have been able to rid me of those fancies; if only, now, I could overcome this one thing — [Sits down on the couch.] Let us have a little chat, mother.

Mrs. Alving. Yes, let us. [Pushes an armchair near to the couch and sits down beside him.]

Oswald. The sun is rising — and you know all about it; so I don’t feel the fear any longer.

Mrs. Alving. I know all about what?

Oswald [without listening to her]. Mother, isn’t it the case that you said this evening there was nothing in the world you would not do for me if I asked you?

Mrs. Alving. Yes, certainly I said so.

Oswald. And will you be as good as your word, mother?

Mrs. Alving. You may rely upon that, my own dear boy. I have nothing else to live for, but you.

Oswald. Yes, yes; well, listen to me, mother, You are very strong-minded, I know. I want you to sit quite quiet when you hear what I am going to tell you,

Mrs. Alving. But what is this dreadful thing —?

Oswald. You mustn’t scream. Do you hear? Will you promise me that? We are going to sit and talk it over quite quietly. Will you promise me that, mother?

Mrs. Alving. Yes, yes, I promise — only tell me what it is.

Oswald. Well, then, you must know that this fatigue of mine — and my mot being able to think about my work — all that is not really the illness itself —

Mrs. Alving. What is the illness itself?

Oswald. What I am suffering from is hereditary; it —[touches his forehead, and speaks very quietly]— it lies here.

Mrs. Alving [almost speechless]. Oswald! No — no!

Oswald. Don’t scream; I can’t stand it. Yes, I tell you, it lies here, waiting. And any time, any moment, it may break out.

Mrs. Alving. How horrible —!

Oswald. Do keep quiet. That is the state I am in-

Mrs. Alving [springing up]. It isn’t true, Oswald! It is impossible! It can’t be that!

Oswald. I had one attack while I was abroad. It passed off quickly. But when I learned the condition I had been in, then this dreadful haunting fear took possession of me.

Mrs. Alving. That was the fear, then —

Oswald. Yes, it is so indescribably horrible, you know If only it had been an ordinary mortal disease —. I am not so much afraid of dying; though, of course, I should like to live as long as I can.

Mrs. Alving. Yes, yes, Oswald, you must!

Oswald. But this is so appallingly horrible. To become like a helpless child again — to have to be fed, to have to be —. Oh, it’s unspeakable!

Mrs. Alving. My child has his mother to tend him.

Oswald [jumping up]. No, never; that is just what I won’t endure! I dare not think what it would mean to linger on like that for years — to get old and grey like that. And you might die before I did. [Sits down in MRS. ALVING’S chair.] Because it doesn’t necessarily have a fatal end quickly, the doctor said; he called it a kind of softening of the brain — or something of that sort. [Smiles mournfully.] I think that expression sounds so nice. It always makes me think of cherry-coloured velvet curtains — something that is soft to stroke.

Mrs. Alving [with a scream]. Oswald!

Oswald [jumps up and walks about the room]. And now you have taken Regina from me! If I had only had her, she would have given me a helping hand, I know.

Mrs. Alving [going up to him]. What do you mean, my darling boy? Is there any help in the world I would not be willing to give you?

Oswald. When I had recovered from the attack I had abroad, the doctor told me that when it recurred — and it will recur — there would be no more hope.

Mrs. Alving. And he was heartless enough to —

Oswald. I insisted on knowing. I told him I had arrangements to make —. [Smiles cunningly.] And so I had. [Takes a small box from his inner breast-pocket.] Mother, do you see this?

Mrs. Alving. What is it?

Oswald. Morphia powders.

Mrs. Alving [looking at him in terror]. Oswald — my boy!

Oswald. I have twelve of them saved up —

Mrs. Alving [snatching at it]. Give me the box, Oswald!

Oswald. Not yet, mother. [Puts it lack in his pocket.]

Mrs. Alving. I shall never get over this!

Oswald. You must. If I had had Regina here now, I would have told her quietly how things stand with me — and asked her to give me this last helping hand. She would have helped me, I am certain.

Mrs. Alving. Never!

Oswald. If this horrible thing had come upon me and she had seen me lying helpless, like a baby, past help, past saving, past hope — with no chance of recovering —

Mrs. Alving. Never in the world would Regina have done it.

Oswald. Regina would have done it. Regina was so splendidly light-hearted. And she would very soon have tired of looking after an invalid like me.

Mrs. Alving. Then thank heaven Regina is not here!

Oswald. Well, now you have got to give me that helping hand, mother.

Mrs. Alving [with a loud scream]. I!

Oswald. Who has a better right than you?

Mrs. Alving. I! Your mother!

Oswald. Just for that reason.

Mrs. Alving. I, who gave you your life!

Oswald. I never asked you for life. And what kind of a life was it that you gave me? I don’t want it! You shall take it back!

Mrs. Alving. Help! Help! [Runs into the hall.]

Oswald [following her]. Don’t leave me! Where are you going?

Mrs. Alving [in the hall]. To fetch the doctor to you, Oswald! Let me out!

Oswald [going into the hall]. You shan’t go out. And no one shall come in. [Turns the key in the lock.]

Mrs. Alving [coming in again]. Oswald! Oswald! — my child!

Oswald [following her]. Have you a mother’s heart — and can bear to see me suffering this unspeakable terror?

Mrs. Alving [controlling herself, after a moment’s silence]. There is my hand on it.

Oswald. Will you —?

Mrs. Alving. If it becomes necessary. But it shan’t become necessary: No, no — it is impossible it should!

Oswald. Let us hope so. And let us live together as long as we can. Thank you, mother.

[He sits down in the armchair, which MRS. ALVING had moved beside the couch. Day is breaking; the lamp is still burning on the table.]

Mrs. Alving [coming cautiously nearer]. Do you feel calmer now?

Oswald. Yes.

Mrs. Alving [bending over him]. It has only been a dreadful fancy of yours, Oswald. Nothing but fancy. All this upset has been bad for you. But now you will get some rest, at home with your own mother, my darling boy. You shall have everything you want, just as you did when you were a little child. — There, now. The attack is over. You see how easily it passed off! I knew it would. — And look, Oswald, what a lovely day we are going to have? Brilliant sunshine. Now you will be able to see your home properly. [She goes to the table and puts out the lamp. It is sunrise. The glaciers and peaks in the distance are seen bathed in bright morning fight.]

Oswald [who has been sitting motionless in the armchair, with his back to the scene outside, suddenly says:] Mother, give me the sun.

Mrs. Alving [standing at the table, and looking at him in amazement]. What do you say?

Oswald [repeats in a dull, toneless voice]. The sun — the sun.

Mrs. Alving [going up to him]. Oswald, what is the matter with you? [OSWALD seems to shrink up in the chair; all his muscles relax; his face loses its expression, and his eyes stare stupidly. MRS. ALVING is trembling with terror.] What is it! [Screams.] Oswald! What is the matter with you! [Throws herself on her knees beside him and shakes him.] Oswald! Oswald! Look at me! Don’t you know me!

Oswald [in an expressionless voice, as before]. The sun — the sun.

Mrs. Alving [jumps up despairingly, beats her head with her hands, and screams]. I can’t bear it! [Whispers as though paralysed with fear.] I can’t bear it . . . I Never! [Suddenly.] Where has he got it? [Passes her hand quickly over his coat.] Here! [Draws back a little spay and cries:] No, no, no! — Yes! — no, no! [She stands a few steps from him, her hands thrust into her hair, and stares at him in speechless terror.]

Oswald [sitting motionless, as before]. The sun — the sun.

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