The hall at Solhoug as before, but now in disorder after the feast. It is night still, but with a glimmer of approaching dawn in the room and over the landscape without.
Bengt stands outside in the passage-way, with a beaker of ale in his hand. A party of GUESTS are in the act of leaving the house. In the room a MAID-SERVANT is restoring order.
Bengt. [Calls to the departing Guests.] God speed you, then, and bring you back ere long to Solhoug. Methinks you, like the rest, might have stayed and slept till morning. Well, well! Yet hold — I’ll e’en go with you to the gate. I must drink your healths once more.
[He goes out.
Guests. [Sing in the distance.]
Farewell, and God’s blessing on one and all
Beneath this roof abiding!
The road must be faced. To the fiddler we call:
Tune up! Our cares deriding,
With dance and with song
We’ll shorten the way so weary and long.
Right merrily off we go.
[The song dies away in the distance.
[MARGIT enters the hall by the door on the right.
Maid. God save us, my lady, have you left your bed?
Margit. I am well. Go you and sleep. Stay — tell me, are the guests all gone?
Maid. No, not all; some wait till later in the day; ere now they are sleeping sound.
Margit. And Gudmund Alfson —?
Maid. He, too, is doubtless asleep. [Points to the right.] ’Tis some time since he went to his chamber — yonder, across the passage.
Margit. Good; you may go.
[The MAID goes out to the left.
[MARGIT walks slowly across the hall, seats herself by the table on the right, and gazes out at the open window.
To-morrow, then, Gudmund will ride away
Out into the world so great and wide.
Alone with my husband here I must stay;
And well do I know what will then betide.
Like the broken branch and the trampled flower
I shall suffer and fade from hour to hour.
[Short pause; she leans back in her chair.
I once heard a tale of a child blind from birth,
Whose childhood was full of joy and mirth;
For the mother, with spells of magic might,
Wove for the dark eyes a world of light.
And the child looked forth with wonder and glee
Upon the valley and hill, upon land and sea.
Then suddenly the witchcraft failed —
The child once more was in darkness pent;
Good-bye to games and merriment;
With longing vain the red cheeks paled.
And its wail of woe, as it pined away,
Was ceaseless, and sadder than words can say. —
Oh! like the child’s my eyes were sealed,
To the light and the life of summer blind —
[She springs up.
But now —! And I in this cage confined!
No, now is the worth of my youth revealed!
Three years of life I on him have spent —
My husband — but were I longer content
This hapless, hopeless weird to dree,
Meek as a dove I needs must be.
I am wearied to death of petty brawls;
The stirring life of the great world calls.
I will follow Gudmund with shield and bow,
I will share his joys, I will soothe his woe,
Watch o’er him both by night and day.
All that behold shall envy the life
Of the valiant knight and Margit his wife. —
[Wrings her hands.
Oh God, what is this I say!
Forgive me, forgive me, and oh! let me feel
The peace that hath power both to soothe and to heal.
[Walks back and forward, brooding silently.
Signë, my sister —? How hateful ’twere
To steal her glad young life from her!
But who can tell? In very sooth
She may love him but with the light love of youth.
[Again silence; she takes out the little phial, looks long at it and says under her breath:
This phial — were I its powers to try —
My husband would sleep for ever and aye!
No, no! To the river’s depths with it straight!
[In the act of throwing it out of the window, stops.
And yet I could — ’tis not yet too late. —
[With an expression of mingled horror and rapture, whispers.
With what a magic resistless might
Sin masters us in our own despite!
Doubly alluring methinks is the goal
I must reach through blood, with the wreck of my soul.
[BENGT, with the empty beaker in his hand, comes in from the passageway; his face is red; he staggers slightly.
Bengt. [Flinging the beaker upon the table on the left.] My faith, this has been a feast that will be the talk of the country. [Sees MARGIT.] Eh, are you there? You are well again. Good, good.
Margit. [Who in the meantime has concealed the phial.] Is the door barred?
Bengt. [Seating himself at the table on the left.] I have seen to everything. I went with the last guests as far as the gates. But what became of Knut Gesling to-night? — Give me mead, Margit! I am thirsty Fill this cup.
[MARGIT fetches a flagon of the mead from a cupboard, and and fills the goblet which is on the table before him.
Margit. [Crossing to the right with the flagon.] You asked about Knut Gesling.
Bengt. That I did. The boaster, the braggart! I have not forgot his threats of yester-morning.
Margit. He used worse words when he left to-night.
Bengt. He did? So much the better. I will strike him dead.
Margit. [Smiling contemptuously.] H’m —
Bengt. I will kill him, I say! I fear not to face ten such fellows as he. In the store-house hangs my grandfather’s axe; its shaft is inlaid with silver; with that axe in my hands, I tell you —! [Thumps the table and drinks.] To-morrow I shall arm myself, go forth with all my men, and slay Knut Gesling.
[Empties the beaker.
Margit. [To herself.] Oh, to have to live with him!
[Is in the act of leaving the room.
Bengt. Margit, come here! Fill my cup again. [She approaches; he tries to draw her down on his knee.] Ha, ha, ha! You are right fair, Margit! I love thee well!
Margit. [Freeing herself.] Let me go!
[Crosses, with the goblet in her hand, to the left.
Bengt. You are not in the humour to-night. Ha, ha, ha! That means no great matter, I know.
Margit. [Softly, as she fills the goblet.] Oh, that this might be the last beaker I should fill for you.
[She leaves the goblet on the table and is making her way out to the left.
Bengt. Hark to me, Margit. For one thing you may thank Heaven, and that is, that I made you my wife before Gudmund Alfson came back.
Margit. Why so?
Bengt. Why, say you? Am not I ten times the richer man? And certain I am that he would have sought you for his wife, had you not been the mistress of Solhoug.
Margit. [Drawing nearer and glancing at the goblet.] Say you so?
Bengt. I could take my oath upon it. Bengt Gauteson has two sharp eyes in his head. But he may still have Signë.
Margit. And you think he will —?
Bengt. Take her? Aye, since he cannot have you. But had you been free, — then — Ha, ha, ha! Gudmund is like the rest. He envies me my wife. That is why I set such store by you, Margit. Here with the goblet again. And let it be full to the brim!
Margit. [Goes unwillingly across to the right.] You shall have it straightway.
Bengt. Knut Gesling is a suitor for Signë, too, but him I am resolved to slay. Gudmund is an honourable man; he shall have her. Think, Margit, what good days we shall have with them for neighbours. We will go a-visiting each other, and then will we sit the live-long day, each with his wife on his knee, drinking and talking of this and that.
Margit. [Whose mental struggle is visibly becoming more severe, involuntarily takes out the phial as she says:] No doubt no doubt!
Bengt. Ha, ha, ha! it may be that at first Gudmund will look askance at me when I take you in my arms; but that, I doubt not, he will soon get over.
Margit. This is more than woman can bear! [Pours the contents of the phial into the goblet, goes to the window and throws out the phial, then says, without looking at him.] Your beaker is full.
Bengt. Then bring it hither!
Margit. [Battling in an agony of indecision, at last says.] I pray you drink no more to-night!
Bengt. [Leans back in his chair and laughs.] Oho! You are impatient for my coming? Get you in; I will follow you soon.
Margit. [Suddenly decided.] Your beaker is full. [Points.] There it is.
[She goes quickly out to the left.
Bengt. [Rising.] I like her well. It repents me not a whit that I took her to wife, though of heritage she owned no more than yonder goblet and the brooches of her wedding gown.
[He goes to the table at the window and takes the goblet.
[A HOUSE-CARL enters hurriedly and with scared looks, from the back.
House-Carl. [Calls.] Sir Bengt, Sir Bengt! haste forth with all the speed you can! Knut Gesling with an armed train is drawing near the house.
Bengt. [Putting down the goblet.] Knut Gesling? Who brings the tidings?
House-Carl. Some of your guests espied him on the road beneath, and hastened back to warn you.
Bengt. E’en so. Then will I—! Fetch me my grandfather’s battle-axe!
[He and the HOUSE-CARL go out at the back.
[Soon after, GUDMUND and SIGNË enter quietly and cautiously by the door at the back.
Signë. [In muffled tones.]
It must then, be so!
Gudmund. [Also softly.]
Oh! thus under cover of night
To steal from the valley where I was born?
[Dries her eyes.
Yet shalt thou hear no plaint forlorn.
’Tis for thy sake my home I flee;
Wert thou not outlawed, Gudmund dear,
I’d stay with my sister.
Only to be
Ta’en by Knut Gesling, with bow and spear,
Swung on the croup of his battle-horse,
And made his wife by force.
Quick, let us flee. But whither go?
Down by the fiord a friend I know;
He’ll find us a ship. O’er the salt sea foam
We’ll sail away south to Denmark’s bowers.
There waits you there a happy home;
Right joyously will fleet the hours;
The fairest of flowers they bloom in the shade
Of the beech-tree glade.
Signë. [Bursts into tears.]
Farewell, my poor sister! Like my mother tender
Thou hast guarded the ways my feet have trod,
Hast guided my footsteps, aye praying to God,
The Almighty, to be my defender. —
Gudmund — here is a goblet filled with mead;
Let us drink to her; let us wish that ere long
Her soul may again be calm and strong,
And that God may be good to her need.
[She takes the goblet into her hands.
Aye, let us drain it, naming her name!
[Takes the goblet from her.
For meseems it is the same —
’Tis Margit’s beaker.
Gudmund. [Examining it carefully.]
By Heaven, ’tis so!
I mind me still of the red wine’s glow
As she drank from it on the day we parted
To our meeting again in health and glad-hearted.
To herself that draught betided woe.
No, Signë, ne’er drink wine or mead
From that goblet.
[Pours its contents out at the window.
We must away with all speed.
[Tumult and calls without, at the back.
List, Gudmund! Voices and trampling feet!
Knut Gesling’s voice!
O save us, Lord!
Gudmund. [Places himself in front of her.]
Nay, nay, fear nothing, Signë sweet —
I am here, and my good sword.
[MARGIT comes in in haste from the left.
Margit. [Listening to the noise.] What means this? Is my husband —?
Gudmund And Signë. Margit!
Margit. [Catches sight of them.] Gudmund! And Signë! Are you here?
Signë. [Going towards her.] Margit — dear sister!
Margit. [Appalled, having seen the goblet which Gudmund still holds in his hand.] The goblet! Who has drunk from it?
Gudmund. [Confused.] Drunk —? I and Signë — we meant —
Margit. [Screams.] O God, have mercy! Help! Help! They will die!
Gudmund. [Setting down the goblet.] Margit —!
Signë. What ails you, sister?
Margit. [Towards the back.] Help, help! Will no one help?
[A HOUSE-CARL rushes in from the passage-way.
House-Carl. [Calls in a terrified voice.] Lady Margit! Your husband —!
Margit. He — has he, too, drunk —!
Gudmund. [To himself.] Ah! now I understand —
House-Carl. Knut Gesling has slain him.
Gudmund. [Drawing his sword.] Not yet, I hope. [Whispers to Margit.] Fear not. No one has drunk from your goblet.
Margit. Then thanks be to God, who has saved us all!
[She sinks down on a chair to the left. Gudmund hastens towards the door at the back.
Another House-Carl. [Enters, stopping him.] You come too late. Sir Bengt is dead.
Gudmund. Too late, then, too late.
House-Carl. The guests and your men have prevailed against the murderous crew. Knut Gesling and his men are prisoners. Here they come.
[GUDMUND’s men, and a number of GUESTS and HOUSE-CARLS, lead in KNUT GESLING, ERIK OF HEGGË, and several of KNUT’s men, bound.
Knut. [Who is pale, says in a low voice.] Man-slayer, Gudmund. What say you to that?
Gudmund. Knut, Knut, what have you done?
Erik. ’Twas a mischance, of that I can take my oath.
Knut. He ran at me swinging his axe; I meant but to defend myself, and struck the death-blow unawares.
Erik. Many here saw all that befell.
Knut. Lady Margit, crave what fine you will. I am ready to pay it.
Margit. I crave naught. God will judge us all. Yet stay — one thing I require. Forgo your evil design upon my sister.
Knut. Never again shall I essay to redeem my baleful pledge. From this day onward I am a better man. Yet would I fain escape dishonourable punishment for my deed. [To GUDMUND.] Should you be restored to favour and place again, say a good word for me to the King!
Gudmund. I? Ere the sun sets, I must have left the country.
[Astonishment amongst the GUESTS. ERIK in whispers, explains the situation.
Margit. [To Gudmund.] You go? And Signë with you?
Signë. [Beseechingly.] Margit!
Margit. Good fortune follow you both!
Signë. [Flinging her arms round Margit’s neck.] Dear sister!
Gudmund. Margit, I thank you. And now farewell. [Listening.] Hush! I hear the tramp of hoofs in the court-yard.
Signë. [Apprehensively.] Strangers have arrived.
[A HOUSE-CARL appears in the doorway at the back.
House-Carl. The King’s men are without. They seek Gudmund Alfson.
Signë. Oh God!
Margit. [In great alarm.] The King’s men!
Gudmund. All is at an end, then. Oh Signë, to lose you now — could there be a harder fate?
Knut. Nay, Gudmund; sell your life dearly, man! Unbind us; we are ready to fight for you, one and all.
Erik. [Looks out.] ‘Twould be in vain; they are too many for us.
Signë. Here they come. Oh Gudmund, Gudmund!
[The KING’s MESSENGER enters from the back, with his escort.
Messenger. In the King’s name I seek you, Gudmund Alfson, and bring you his behests.
Gudmund. Be it so. Yet am I guiltless; I swear it by all that is holy!
Messenger. We know it.
Gudmund. What say you?
[Agitation amongst those present.
Messenger. I am ordered to bid you as a guest to the King’s house. His friendship is yours as it was before, and along with it he bestows on you rich fiefs.
Gudmund. But tell me —?
Messenger. Your enemy, the Chancellor Audun Hugleikson, has fallen.
Gudmund. The Chancellor!
Guests. [To each other, in half-whisper.] Fallen!
Messenger. Three days ago he was beheaded at Bergen. [Lowering his voice.] His offence was against Norway’s Queen.
Margit. [Placing herself between Gudmund and Signë.]
Thus punishment treads on the heels of crime!
Protecting angels, loving and bright,
Have looked down in mercy on me to-night,
And come to my rescue while yet it was time.
Now know I that life’s most precious treasure
Is nor worldly wealth nor earthly pleasure,
I have felt the remorse, the terror I know,
Of those who wantonly peril their soul,
To St. Sunniva’s cloister forthwith I go. —
[Before GUDMUND and SIGNË can speak.
Nay: think not to move me or control.
[Places SIGNË’s hand in GUDMUND’s.
Take her then Gudmund, and make her your bride.
Your union is holy; God’s on your side.
[Waving farewell, she goes towards the doorway on the left. GUDMUND and SIGNË follow her, she stops them with a motion of her hand, goes out, and shuts the door behind her. At this moment the sun rises and sheds its light in the hall.
Signë — my wife! See, the morning glow!
’Tis the morning of our young love. Rejoice!
All my fairest of dreams and of memories I owe
To the strains of thy harp and the sound of thy voice.
My noble minstrel, to joy or sadness
Tune thou that harp as seems thee best;
There are chords, believe me, within my breast
To answer to thine, or of woe or of gladness.
Chorus Of Men And Women.
Over the earth keeps watch the eye of light,
Guardeth lovingly the good man’s ways,
Sheddeth round him its consoling rays; —
Praise be to the Lord in heaven’s height!
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University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10