A room at Östråt. Through an open door in the back, the Banquet Hall is seen in faint moonlight, which shines fitfully through a deep bow-window in the opposite wall. To the right, an entrance-door; further forward, a curtained window. On the left, a door leading to the inner rooms; further forward a large, open fireplace, which casts a glow over the room. It is a stormy evening.
Biörn and Finn are sitting by the fireplace. The latter is occupied in polishing a helmet. Several pieces of armour lie near them, along with a sword and shield.
Finn. (after a pause). Who was Knut Alfson?
Biörn. My Lady says he was the last of Norway’s knighthood.
Finn. And the Danes killed him at Oslo-fiord?
Biörn. Ask any child of five, if you know not that.
Finn. So Knut Alfson was the last of our knighthood? And now he’s dead and gone! (Holds up the helmet.) Well then, hang thou scoured and bright in the Banquet Hall; for what art thou now but an empty nut-shell? The kernel — the worms have eaten that many a winter agone. What say you, Biörn — may not one call Norway’s land an empty nut-shell, even like the helmet here; bright without, worm-eaten within?
Biörn. Hold your peace, and mind your work! — Is the helmet ready?
Finn. It shines like silver in the moonlight.
Biörn. Then put it by. —— See here; scrape the rust off the sword.
Finn. (turning the sword over and examining it). Is it worth while?
Biörn. What mean you?
Finn. The edge is gone.
Biörn. What’s that to you? Give it me. —— Here, take the shield.
Finn. (as before). There’s no grip to it!
Biörn. (mutters). If once I got a grip on you ——
(Finn hums to himself for a while.)
Biörn. What now?
Finn. An empty helmet, an edgeless sword, a shield without a grip — there’s the whole glory for you. I see not that any can blame Lady Inger for leaving such weapons to hang scoured and polished on the walls, instead of rusting them in Danish blood.
Biörn. Folly! Is there not peace in the land?
Finn. Peace? Ay, when the peasant has shot away his last arrow, and the wolf has reft the last lamb from the fold, then is there peace between them. But ’tis a strange friendship. Well well; let that pass. It is fitting, as I said, that the harness hang bright in the hall; for you know the old saw: “Call none a man but the knightly man.” Now there is no knight left in our land; and where no man is, there must women order things; therefore ——
Biörn. Therefore — therefore I order you to hold your foul prate! (Rises.)
It grows late. Go hang helm and harness in the hall again.
Finn. (in a low voice). Nay, best let it be till tomorrow.
Biörn. What, do you fear the dark?
Finn. Not by day. And if so be I fear it at even, I am not the only one. Ah, you look; I tell you in the housefolk’s room there is talk of many things. (Lower.) They say that night by night a tall figure, clad in black, walks the Banquet Hall.
Biörn. Old wives’ tales!
Finn. Ah, but they all swear ’tis true.
Biörn. That I well believe.
Finn. The strangest of all is that Lady Inger thinks the same ——
Biörn. (starting). Lady Inger? What does she think?
Finn. What Lady Inger thinks no one can tell. But sure it is that she has no rest in her. See you not how day by day she grows thinner and paler? (Looks keenly at him.) They say she never sleeps — and that it is because of the dark figure ——
(While he is speaking, Elina GYLDENLOVE has appeared in the half-open door on the left. She stops and listens, unobserved.)
Biörn. And you believe such follies?
Finn. Well, half and half. There be folk, too, that read things another way. But that is pure malice, for sure. — Hearken, Biörn — know you the song that is going round the country?
Biörn. A song?
Finn. Ay, ’tis on all folks’ lips. ’Tis a shameful scurril thing, for sure; yet it goes prettily. Just listen (sings in a low voice):
Dame Inger sitteth in Östråt fair,
She wraps her in costly furs —
She decks her in velvet and ermine and vair,
Red gold are the beads that she twines in her hair —
But small peace in that soul of hers.
Dame Inger hath sold her to Denmark’s lord.
She bringeth her folk ‘neath the stranger’s yoke —
In guerdon whereof ——
(Biörn enraged, seizes him by the throat. Elina GYLDENLOVE withdraws without having been seen.)
Biörn. And I will send you guerdonless to the foul fiend, if you prate of Lady Inger but one unseemly word more.
Finn. (breaking from his grasp). Why — did I make the song?
(The blast of a horn is heard from the right.)
Biörn. Hush — what is that?
Finn. A horn. So we are to have guests to-night.
Biörn. (at the window). They are opening the gate. I hear the clatter of hoofs in the courtyard. It must be a knight.
Finn. A knight? A knight can it scarce be.
Biörn. Why not?
Finn. You said it yourself: the last of our knighthood is dead and gone. (Goes out to the right.)
Biörn. The accursed knave, with his prying and peering! What avails all my striving to hide and hush things? They whisper of her even now ——; ere long will all men be clamouring for ——
Elina. (comes in again through the door on the left; looks round her, and says with suppressed emotion). Are you alone, Biörn?
Biörn. Is it you, Mistress Elina?
Elina. Come, Biörn, tell me one of your stories; I know you have more to tell than those that ——
Biörn. A story? Now — so late in the evening ——?
Elina. If you count from the time when it grew dark at Östråt, it is late indeed.
Biörn. What ails you? Has aught crossed you? You seem so restless.
Elina. May be so.
Biörn. There is something the matter. I have hardly known you this half year past.
Elina. Bethink you: this half year past my dearest sister Lucia has been sleeping in the vault below.
Biörn. That is not all, Mistress Elina — it is not that alone that makes you now thoughtful and white and silent, now restless and ill at ease, as you are to-night.
Elina. You think so? And wherefore not? Was she not gentle and pure and fair as a summer night? Biörn, I tell you, Lucia was dear to me as my life. Have you forgotten how many a time, as children, we sat on your knee in the winter evenings? You sang songs to us, and told us tales ——
Biörn. Ay, then your were blithe and gay.
Elina. Ah, then, Biörn! Then I lived a glorious life in the fable-land of my own imaginings. Can it be that the sea-strand was naked then as now? If it were so, I did not know it. It was there I loved to go, weaving all my fair romances; my heroes came from afar and sailed again across the sea; I lived in their midst, and set forth with them when they sailed away. (Sinks on a chair.) Now I feel so faint and weary; I can live no longer in my tales. They are only — tales. (Rises hastily.) Biörn, do you know what has made me sick? A truth; a hateful, hateful truth, that gnaws me day and night.
Biörn. What mean you?
Elina. Do you remember how sometimes you would give us good counsel and wise saws? Sister Lucia followed them; but I— ah, well-a-day!
Biörn. (consoling her). Well, well ——!
Elina. I know it — I was proud and self-centred! In all our games, I would still be the Queen, because I was the tallest, the fairest, the wisest! I know it!
Biörn. That is true.
Elina. Once you took me by the hand and looked earnestly at me, and said: “Be not proud of your fairness, or your wisdom; but be proud as the mountain eagle as often as you think: I am Inger Gyldenlöve’s daughter!”
Biörn. And was it not matter enough for pride?
Elina. You told me so often enough, Biörn! Oh, you told me so many tales in those days. (Presses his hand.) Thanks for them all! Now, tell me one more; it might make me light of heart again, as of old.
Biörn. You are a child no longer.
Elina. Nay, indeed! But let me dream that I am. — Come, tell on!
(Throws herself into a chair. Biörn sits in the chimney-corner.)
Biörn. Once upon a time there was a high-born knight ——
Elina. (who has been listening restlessly in the direction of the hall, seizes his arm and breaks out in a vehement whisper). Hush! No need to shout so loud; I can hear well!
Biörn. (more softly). Once upon a time there was a high-born knight, of whom there went the strange report ——
(Elina half-rises and listens in anxious suspense in the direction of the hall.)
Biörn. Mistress Elina, what ails you?
Elina. (sits down again). Me? Nothing. Go on.
Biörn. Well, as I was saying, when he did but look straight in a woman’s eyes, never could she forget it after; her thoughts must follow him wherever he went, and she must waste away with sorrow.
Elina. I have heard that tale —— And, moreover, ’tis no tale you are telling, for the knight you speak of is Nils Lykke, who sits even now in the Council of Denmark ——
Biörn. May be so.
Elina. Well, let it pass — go on!
Biörn. Now it happened once ——
Elina. (rises suddenly). Hush; be still!
Biörn. What now? What is the matter?
Elina. It is there! Yes, by the cross of Christ it is there!
Biörn. (rises). What is there? Where?
Elina. It is she — in the hall. (Goes hastily towards the hall.)
Biörn. (following). How can you think ——? Mistress Elina, go to your chamber!
Elina. Hush; stand still! Do not move; do not let her see you! Wait — the moon is coming out. Can you not see the black-robed figure ——?
Biörn. By all the holy ——!
Elina. Do you see — she turns Knut Alfson’s picture to the wall. Ha-ha; be sure it looks her too straight in the eyes!
Biörn. Mistress Elina, hear me!
Elina. (going back towards the fireplace). Now I know what I know!
Biörn. (to himself). Then it is true!
Elina. Who was it, Biörn? Who was it?
Biörn. You saw as plainly as I.
Elina. Well? Whom did I see?
Biörn. You saw your mother.
Elina. (half to herself). Night after night I have heard her steps in there. I have heard her whispering and moaning like a soul in pain. And what says the song —— Ah, now I know! Now I know that ——
(Lady Inger GYLDENLOVE enters rapidly from the hall, without noticing the others; she goes to the window, draws the curtain, and gazes out as if watching for some one on the high road; after a while, she turns and goes slowly back into the hall.)
Elina. (softly, following her with her eyes). White as a corpse ——!
(An uproar of many voices is heard outside the door on the right.)
Biörn. What can this be?
Elina. Go out and see what is amiss.
(Einar Huk, the bailiff, appears in the ante-room, with a crowd of Retainers and Peasants.)
Einar Huk. (in the doorway). Straight in to her! And see you lose not heart!
Biörn. What do you seek?
Einar Huk. Lady Inger herself.
Biörn. Lady Inger? So late?
Einar Huk. Late, but time enough, I wot.
The Peasants. Yes, yes; she must hear us now!
(The whole rabble crowds into the room. At the same moment, Lady Inger appears in the doorway of the hall. A sudden silence.)
Lady Inger. What would you with me?
Einar Huk. We sought you, noble lady, to ——
Lady Inger. Well, speak out!
Einar Huk. Why, we are not ashamed of our errand. In one word, we come to pray you for weapons and leave ——
Lady Inger. Weapons and leave ——? And for what?
Einar Huk. There has come a rumour from Sweden that the people of the Dales have risen against King Gustav ——
Lady Inger. The people of the Dales?
Einar Huk. Ay, so the tidings run, and they seem sure enough.
Lady Inger. Well, if it were so, what have you to do with the Dale-folk’s rising?
The Peasants. We will join them! We will help! We will free ourselves!
Lady Inger. (aside). Can the time be come?
Einar Huk. From all our borderlands the peasants are pouring across to the Dales. Even outlaws that have wandered for years in the mountains are venturing down to the homesteads again, and drawing men together, and whetting their rusty swords.
Lady Inger. (after a pause). Tell me, men, have you thought well of this? Have you counted the cost, if King Gustav’s men should win?
Biörn. (softly and imploringly to Lady Inger). Count the cost to the Danes if King Gustav’s men should lose.
Lady Inger. (evasively). That reckoning is not for me to make. (Turns to the people). You know that King Gustav is sure of help from Denmark. King Frederick is his friend, and will never leave him in the lurch ——
Einar Huk. But if the people were now to rise all over Norway’s land? — if we all rose as one man, nobles and peasants together? — ay, Lady Inger Gyldenlöve, the time we have waited for is surely come. We have but to rise now to drive the strangers from the land.
The Peasants. Ay, out with the Danish sheriffs! Out with the foreign masters! Out with the Councillors’ lackeys!
Lady Inger. (aside). Ah, there is metal in them; and yet, yet ——!
Biörn. (to himself). She is of two minds. (To Elina.) What say you now, Mistress Elina — have you not sinned in misjudging your mother?
Elina. Biörn, if my eyes have deceived me, I could tear them out of my head!
Einar Huk. See you not, my noble lady, King Gustav must be dealt with first. Once his power is gone, the Danes cannot long hold this land ——
Lady Inger. And then?
Einar Huk. Then we shall be free. We shall have no more foreign masters, and can choose ourselves a king, as the Swedes have done before us.
Lady Inger. (with animation). A king for ourselves. Are you thinking of the Sture stock?
Einar Huk. King Christiern and others after him have swept bare our ancient houses. The best of our nobles are outlaws on the hill-paths, if so be they still live; nevertheless, it might still be possible to find one or other shoot of the old stems ——
Lady Inger. (hastily). Enough, Einar Huk, enough! (To herself.) Ah, my dearest hope! (Turns to the Peasants and Retainers.) I have warned you, now, as well as I can. I have told you how great is the risk you run. But if you are fixed in your purpose, it were folly of me to forbid what I have no power to prevent.
Einar Huk. Then we have your leave to ——?
Lady Inger. You have your own firm will; take counsel with that. If it be as you say, that you are daily harassed and oppressed —— I know but little of these matters, and would not know more. What can I, a lonely woman ——? Even if you were to plunder the Banquet Hall — and there’s many a good weapon on the walls — you are the masters at Östråt to-night. You must do as seems good to you. Good-night!
(Loud cries of joy from the multitude. Candles are lighted; the retainers bring weapons of different kinds from the hall.)
Biörn. (seizes Lady Inger’s hand as she is going). Thanks, my noble and high-souled mistress! I, that have known you from childhood up — I have never doubted you.
Lady Inger. Hush, Biörn. It is a dangerous game that I have ventured this night. The others stake only their lives; but I, trust me, a thousandfold more!
Biörn. How mean you? Do you fear for your power and your favour with ——?
Lady Inger. My power? O God in Heaven!
A Retainer. (comes from the hall with a large sword). See, here’s a real good wolf’s-tooth to flay the blood-suckers’ lackeys with!
Einar Huk. ’Tis too good for such as you. Look, here is the shaft of Sten Sture’s lance; hang the breastplate upon it, and we shall have the noblest standard heart can desire.
Finn. (comes from the door on the left, with a letter in his hand, and goes towards Lady INGER). I have sought you through all the house.
Lady Inger. What do you want?
Finn. (hands her the letter). A messenger is come from Trondhiem with a letter for you.
Lady Inger. Let me see! (opening the letter). From Trondhiem? What can it be? (Runs through the letter.) Help, Christ! From him! and here in Norway ——
(Reads on with strong emotion, while the men go on bringing out arms from the hall.)
Lady Inger. (to herself). He is coming here. He is coming to-night! — Ay, then ’tis with our wits we must fight, not with the sword.
Einar Huk. Enough, enough, good fellows; we are well armed now, and can set forth on our way.
Lady Inger. (with a sudden change of tone). No man shall leave my house to-night!
Einar Huk. But the wind is fair, noble lady; we can sail up the fiord, and ——
Lady Inger. It shall be as I have said.
Einar Huk. Are we to wait till tomorrow, then?
Lady Inger. Till tomorrow, and longer still. No armed man shall go forth from Östråt yet awhile.
(Signs of displeasure from the crowd.)
Some of the Peasants. We will go all the same, Lady Inger!
The Cry Spreads. Yes, yes; we will go!
Lady Inger. (advancing a step towards them). Who dares to move?
(A silence. After a moment’s pause, she adds:) I have thought for you. What do you common folk know of the country’s needs? How dare you judge of such things? You must even bear your oppressions and burdens yet awhile. Why murmur at that, when you see that we, your leaders, are as ill bested as you? —— Take all the weapons back to the hall. You shall know my further will hereafter. Go!
(The Retainers take back the arms, and the whole crowd then withdraws by the door on the right.)
Elina. (softly to Biörn). Do you still think I have sinned in misjudging — the Lady of Östråt?
Lady Inger. (beckons to Biörn, and says). Have a guest chamber ready.
Biörn. It is well, Lady Inger!
Lady Inger. And let the gate stand open to all that knock.
Biörn. But ——?
Lady Inger. The gate open!
Biörn. The gate open. (Goes out to the right.)
Lady Inger. (to Elina, who has already reached the door on the left). Stay here! —— Elina — my child — I have something to say to you alone.
Elina. I hear you.
Lady Inger. Elina —— you think evil of your mother.
Elina. I think, to my sorrow, what your deeds have forced me to think.
Lady Inger. You answer out of the bitterness of your heart.
Elina. Who has filled my heart with bitterness? From my childhood I have been wont to look up to you as a great and high-souled woman. It was in your likeness I pictured the women we read of in the chronicles and the Book of Heroes. I thought the Lord God himself had set his seal on your brow, and marked you out as the leader of the helpless and the oppressed. Knights and nobles sang your praise in the feast-hall, and the peasants, far and near, called you the country’s pillar and its hope. All thought that through you the good times were to come again! All thought that through you a new day was to dawn over the land! The night is still here; and I no longer know if I dare look for any morning to come through you.
Lady Inger. It is easy to see whence you have learnt such venomous words. You have let yourself give ear to what the thoughtless rabble mutters and murmurs about things it can little judge of.
Elina. “Truth is in the people’s mouth,” was your word when they praised you in speech and song.
Lady Inger. May be so. But if indeed I had chosen to sit here idle, though it was my part to act — do you not think that such a choice were burden enough for me, without your adding to its weight?
Elina. The weight I add to your burden bears on me as heavily as on you. Lightly and freely I drew the breath of life, so long as I had you to believe in. For my pride is my life; and well had it become me, if you had remained what once you were.
Lady Inger. And what proves to you I have not? Elina, how can you know so surely that you are not doing your mother wrong?
Elina. (vehemently). Oh, that I were!
Lady Inger. Peace! You have no right to call your mother to account —— With a single word I could ——; but it would be an ill word for you to hear; you must await what time shall bring; may be that ——
Elina. (turns to go). Sleep well, my mother!
Lady Inger. (hesitates). Nay, stay with me; I have still somewhat — Come nearer; — you must hear me, Elina!
(Sits down by the table in front of the window.)
Elina. I am listening.
Lady Inger. For as silent as you are, I know well that you often long to be gone from here. Östråt is too lonely and lifeless for you.
Elina. Do you wonder at that, my mother?
Lady Inger. It rests with you whether all this shall henceforth be changed.
Elina. How so?
Lady Inger. Listen. — I look for a guest to-night.
Elina. (comes nearer). A guest?
Lady Inger. A stranger, who must remain a stranger to all. None must know whence he comes or whither he goes.
Elina. (throws herself, with a cry of joy, at her mother’s feet and seizes her hands). My mother! My mother! Forgive me, if you can, all the wrong I have done you!
Lady Inger. What do you mean? Elina, I do not understand you.
Elina. Then they were all deceived! You are still true at heart!
Lady Inger. Rise, rise and tell me ——
Elina. Do you think I do not know who the stranger is?
Lady Inger. You know? And yet ——?
Elina. Do you think the gates of Östråt shut so close that never a whisper of evil tidings can slip through? Do you think I do not know that the heir of many a noble line wanders outlawed, without rest or shelter, while Danish masters lord it in the home of their fathers?
Lady Inger. And what then?
Elina. I know well that many a high-born knight is hunted through the woods like a hungry wolf. No hearth has he to rest by, no bread to eat ——
Lady Inger. (coldly). Enough! Now I understand you.
Elina. (continuing). And that is why the gates of Östråt must stand open by night! That is why he must remain a stranger to all, this guest of whom none must know whence he comes or whither he goes! You are setting at naught the harsh decree that forbids you to harbour or succor the exiles ——
Lady Inger. Enough, I say!
(After a short silence, adds with an effort:) You mistake, Elina — it is no outlaw that I look for ——
Elina. (rises). Then I have understood you ill indeed.
Lady Inger. Listen to me, my child; but think as you listen; if indeed you can tame that wild spirit of yours.
Elina. I am tame, till you have spoken.
Lady Inger. Then hear what I have to say — I have sought, so far as lay in my power, to keep you in ignorance of all our griefs and miseries. What could it avail to fill your young heart with wrath and care? It is not weeping and wailing of women that can free us from our evil lot; we need the courage and strength of men.
Elina. Who has told you that, when courage and strength are indeed needed, I shall be found wanting?
Lady Inger. Hush, child; — I might take you at your word.
Elina. How mean you, my mother?
Lady Inger. I might call on you for both; I might ——; but let me say my say out first. Know then that the time seems now to be drawing nigh, towards which the Danish Council have been working for many a year — the time for them to strike a final blow at our rights and our freedom. Therefore must we now ——
Elina. (eagerly). Throw off the yoke, my mother?
Lady Inger. No; we must gain breathing-time. The Council is now sitting in Copenhagen, considering how best to aim the blow. Most of them are said to hold that there can be no end to dissensions till Norway and Denmark are one; for if we should still have our rights as a free land when the time comes to choose the next king, it is most like that the feud will break out openly. Now the Danish Councillors would hinder this ——
Elina. Ay, they would hinder it ——! But are we to endure such things? Are we to look on quietly while ——?
Lady Inger. No, we will not endure it. But to take up arms — to begin open warfare — what would come of that, so long as we are not united? And were we ever less united in this land than we are even now? — No, if aught is to be done, it must be done secretly and in silence. Even as I said, we must have time to draw breath. In the South, a good part of the nobles are for the Dane; but here in the North they are still in doubt. Therefore King Frederick has sent hither one of his most trusted councillors, to assure himself with his own eyes how we stand affected.
Elina. (anxiously). Well — and then ——?
Lady Inger. He is the guest I look for to-night.
Elina. He comes here? And to-night?
Lady Inger. He reached Trondhiem yesterday by a trading ship. Word has just been brought that he is coming to visit me; he may be here within the hour.
Elina. Have you not thought, my mother, how it will endanger your fame thus to receive the Danish envoy? Do not the people already regard you with distrustful eyes? How can you hope that, when the time comes, they will let you rule and guide them, if it be known ——
Lady Inger. Fear not. All this I have fully weighed; but there is no danger. His errand in Norway is a secret; he has come unknown to Trondhiem, and unknown shall he be our guest at Östråt.
Elina. And the name of this Danish lord ——?
Lady Inger. It sounds well, Elina; Denmark has scarce a nobler name.
Elina. But what do you propose then? I cannot yet grasp your meaning.
Lady Inger. You will soon understand. — Since we cannot trample on the serpent, we must bind him.
Elina. Take heed that he burst not your bonds.
Lady Inger. It rests with you to tighten them as you will.
Elina. With me?
Lady Inger. I have long seen that Östråt is as a cage to you. The young falcon chafes behind the iron bars.
Elina. My wings are clipped. Even if you set me free — it would avail me little.
Lady Inger. Your wings are not clipped, except by your own will.
Elina. Will? My will is in your hands. Be what you once were, and I too ——
Lady Inger. Enough, enough. Hear what remains —— It would scarce break your heart to leave Östråt?
Elina. Maybe not, my mother!
Lady Inger. You told me once, that you lived your happiest life in tales and histories. What if that life were to be yours once more?
Elina. What mean you?
Lady Inger. Elina — if a mighty noble were now to come and lead you to his castle, where you should find damsels and pages, silken robes and lofty halls awaiting you?
Elina. A noble, you say?
Lady Inger. A noble.
Elina. (more softly). And the Danish envoy comes here to-night?
Lady Inger. To-night.
Elina. If so be, then I fear to read the meaning of your words.
Lady Inger. There is nought to fear if you misread them not. Be sure it is far from my thought to put force upon you. You shall choose for yourself in this matter, and follow your own counsel.
Elina. (comes a step nearer). Have you heard the story of the mother that drove across the hills by night with her little children by her in the sledge? The wolves were on her track; it was life or death with her; — and one by one she cast out her little ones, to gain time and save herself.
Lady Inger. Nursery tales! A mother would tear the heart from her breast, before she would cast her child to the wolves!
Elina. Were I not my mother’s daughter, I would say you were right. But you are like that mother; one by one you have cast out your daughters to the wolves. The eldest went first. Five years ago Merete went forth from Östråt; now she dwells in Bergen and is Vinzents Lunge’s wife. But think you she is happy as the Danish noble’s lady? Vinzents Lunge is mighty, well-nigh as a king; Merete has damsels and pages, silken robes and lofty halls; but the day has no sunshine for her, and the night no rest; for she has never loved him. He came hither and he wooed her; for she was the greatest heiress in Norway, and he needed to gain a footing in the land. I know it; I know it well! Merete bowed to your will; she went with the stranger lord. — But what has it cost her? More tears than a mother should wish to answer for at the day of reckoning.
Lady Inger. I know my reckoning, and I fear it not.
Elina. Your reckoning ends not here. Where is Lucia, your second child?
Lady Inger. Ask God, who took her.
Elina. It is you I ask; it is you that must answer for her young life. She was glad as a bird in spring when she sailed from Östråt to be Merete’s guest. A year passed, and she stood in this room once more; but her cheeks were white, and death had gnawed deep into her breast. Ah, you wonder at me, my mother! You thought that the ugly secret was buried with her; — but she told me all. A courtly knight had won her heart. He would have wedded her. You knew that her honour was at stake; yet your will never bent — and your child had to die. You see, I know all!
Lady Inger. All? Then she told you his name?
Elina. His name? No; his name she did not tell me. His name was a torturing horror to her; — she never uttered it.
Lady Inger. (relieved, to herself). Ah, then you do not know all —— Elina — it is true that the whole of this matter was well known to me. But there is one thing about it you seem not to have noted. The lord whom Lucia met in Bergen was a Dane ——
Elina. That too I know.
Lady Inger. And his love was a lie. With guile and soft speeches he had ensnared her.
Elina. I know it; but nevertheless she loved him; and had you had a mother’s heart, your daughter’s honour had been more to you than all.
Lady Inger. Not more than her happiness. Do you think that, with Merete’s lot before my eyes, I could sacrifice my second child to a man that loved her not?
Elina. Cunning words may befool many, but they befool not me —— Think not I know nothing of all that is passing in our land. I understand your counsels but too well. I know well that our Danish lords have no true friend in you. It may be that you hate them; but your fear them too. When you gave Merete to Vinzents Lunge the Danes held the mastery on all sides throughout our land. Three years later, when you forbade Lucia to wed the man she had given her life to, though he had deceived her — things were far different then. The King’s Danish governors had shamefully misused the common people, and you thought it not wise to link yourself still more closely to the foreign tyrants. And what have you done to avenge her that had to die so young? You have done nothing. Well then, I will act in your stead; I will avenge all the shame they have brought upon our people and our house.
Lady Inger. You? What will you do?
Elina. I shall go my way, even as you go yours. What I shall do I myself know not; but I feel within me the strength to dare all for our righteous cause.
Lady Inger. Then you have a hard fight before you. I once promised as you do now — and my hair has grown grey under the burden of that promise.
Elina. Good-night! Your guest will soon be here, and at that meeting I should be out of place. It may be there is yet time for you ——; well, God strengthen you and guide your way! Forget not that the eyes of many thousands are fixed upon you. Think on Merete, weeping late and early over her wasted life. Think on Lucia, sleeping in her black coffin. And one thing more. Forget not that in the game you play this night, your stake is your last child.
(Goes out to the left.)
Lady Inger. (looks after her awhile). My last child? You know not how true was that word —— But the stake is not my child only. God help me, I am playing to-night for the whole of Norway’s land. Ah — is not that some one riding through the gateway? (Listens at the window.) No; not yet. Only the wind; it blows cold as the grave —— Has God a right to do this? — To make me a woman — and then to lay a man’s duty upon my shoulders? For I have the welfare of the country in my hands. It is in my power to make them rise as one man. They look to me for the signal; and if I give it not now —— it may never be given. To delay? To sacrifice the many for the sake of one? — Were it not better if I could ——? No, no, no — I will not! I cannot! (Steals a glance towards the Banquet Hall, but turns away again as if in dread, and whispers:) I can see them in there now. Pale spectres — dead ancestors — fallen kinsfolk. — Ah, those eyes that pierce me from every corner! (Makes a backward gesture with her hand, and cries:) Sten Sture! Knut Alfson! Olaf Skaktavl! Back — back! — I cannot do this!
(A STRANGER, strongly built, and with grizzled hair and beard, has entered from the Banquet Hall. He is dressed in a torn lambskin tunic; his weapons are rusty.)
The Stranger. (stops in the doorway, and says in a low voice). Hail to you, Inger Gyldenlöve!
Lady Inger. (turns with a scream). Ah, Christ in heaven save me!
(Falls back into a chair. The STRANGER stands gazing at her, motionless, leaning on his sword.)
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51