Pillars of Society, by Henrik Ibsen

Act II

[SCENE. — The same room. MRS. BERNICK is sitting alone at the work-table, sewing. BERNICK comes in from the right, wearing his hat and gloves and carrying a stick.]

Mrs. Bernick: Home already, Karsten?

Bernick: Yes, I have made an appointment with a man.

Mrs. Bernick [with a sigh]: Oh yes, I suppose Johan is coming up here again.

Bernick: With a man, I said. [Lays down his hat.] What has become of all the ladies today?

Mrs. Bernick: Mrs. Rummel and Hilda hadn’t time to come.

Bernick: Oh! — did they send any excuse?

Mrs. Bernick: Yes, they had so much to do at home.

Bernick: Naturally. And of course the others are not coming either?

Mrs. Bernick: No, something has prevented them today, too.

Bernick: I could have told you that, beforehand. Where is Olaf?

Mrs. Bernick: I let him go out a little with Dina.

Bernick: Hm — she is a giddy little baggage. Did you see how she at once started making a fuss of Johan yesterday?

Mrs. Bernick: But, my dear Karsten, you know Dina knows nothing whatever of —

Bernick: No, but in any case Johan ought to have had sufficient tact not to pay her any attention. I saw quite well, from his face, what Vigeland thought of it.

Mrs. Bernick [laying her sewing down on her lap]: Karsten, can you imagine what his objective is in coming here?

Bernick: Well — I know he has a farm over there, and I fancy he is not doing particularly well with it; she called attention yesterday to the fact that they were obliged to travel second class —

Mrs. Bernick: Yes, I am afraid it must be something of that sort. But to think of her coming with him! She! After the deadly insult she offered you!

Bernick: Oh, don’t think about that ancient history.

Mrs. Bernick: How can I help thinking of it just now? After all, he is my brother — still, it is not on his account that I am distressed, but because of all the unpleasantness it would mean for you. Karsten, I am so dreadfully afraid!

Bernick: Afraid of what?

Mrs. Bernick: Isn’t it possible that they may send him to prison for stealing that money from your mother?

Bernick: What rubbish! Who can prove that the money was stolen?

Mrs. Bernick: The whole town knows it, unfortunately; and you know you said yourself.

Bernick: I said nothing. The town knows nothing whatever about the affair; the whole thing was no more than idle rumour.

Mrs. Bernick: How magnanimous you are, Karsten!

Bernick: Do not let us have any more of these reminiscences, please! You don’t know how you torture me by raking all that up. [Walks up and down; then flings his stick away from him.] And to think of their coming home now — just now, when it is particularly necessary for me that I should stand well in every respect with the town and with the Press. Our newspaper men will be sending paragraphs to the papers in the other towns about here. Whether I receive them well, or whether I receive them ill, it will all be discussed and talked over. They will rake up all those old stories — as you do. In a community like ours — [Throws his gloves down on the table.] And I have not a soul here to whom I can talk about it and to whom I can go for support.

Mrs. Bernick: No one at all, Karsten?

Bernick: No — who is there? And to have them on my shoulders just at this moment! Without a doubt they will create a scandal in some way or another — she, in particular. It is simply a calamity to be connected with such folk in any way!

Mrs. Bernick: Well, I can’t help their —

Bernick: What can’t you help? Their being your relations? No, that is quite true.

Mrs. Bernick: And I did not ask them to come home.

Bernick: That’s it — go on! “I did not ask them to come home; I did not write to them; I did not drag them home by the hair of their heads!” Oh, I know the whole rigmarole by heart.

Mrs. Bernick [bursting into tears]: You need not be so unkind —

Bernick: Yes, that’s right — begin to cry, so that our neighbours may have that to gossip about too. Do stop being so foolish, Betty. Go and sit outside; some one may come in here. I don’t suppose you want people to see the lady of the house with red eyes? It would be a nice thing, wouldn’t it, if the story got out about that — . There, I hear some one in the passage. [A knock is heard at the door.] Come in! [MRS. BERNICK takes her sewing and goes out down the garden steps. AUNE comes in from the right.]

Aune: Good morning, Mr. Bernick.

Bernick: Good morning. Well, I suppose you can guess what I want you for?

Aune: Mr. Krap told me yesterday that you were not pleased with —

Bernick: I am displeased with the whole management of the yard, Aune. The work does not get on as quickly as it ought. The “Palm Tree” ought to have been under sail long ago. Mr. Vigeland comes here every day to complain about it; he is a difficult man to have with one as part owner.

Aune: The “Palm Tree” can go to sea the day after tomorrow.

Bernick: At last. But what about the American ship, the “Indian Girl,” which has been laid up here for five weeks and —

Aune: The American ship? I understood that, before everything else, we were to work our hardest to get your own ship ready.

Bernick: I gave you no reason to think so. You ought to have pushed on as fast as possible with the work on the American ship also; but you have not.

Aune: Her bottom is completely rotten, Mr. Bernick; the more we patch it, the worse it gets.

Bernick: That is not the reason. Krap has told me the whole truth. You do not understand how to work the new machines I have provided — or rather, you will not try to work them.

Aune: Mr. Bernick, I am well on in the fifties; and ever since I was a boy I have been accustomed to the old way of working —

Bernick: We cannot work that way now-a-days. You must not imagine, Aune, that it is for the sake of making profit; I do not need that, fortunately; but I owe consideration to the community I live in, and to the business I am at the head of. I must take the lead in progress, or there would never be any.

Aune: I welcome progress too, Mr. Bernick.

Bernick: Yes, for your own limited circle — for the working class. Oh, I know what a busy agitator you are; you make speeches, you stir people up; but when some concrete instance of progress presents itself — as now, in the case of our machines — you do not want to have anything to do with it; you are afraid.

Aune: Yes, I really am afraid, Mr. Bernick. I am afraid for the number of men who will have the bread taken out of their mouths by these machines. You are very fond, sir, of talking about the consideration we owe to the community; it seems to me, however, that the community has its duties too. Why should science and capital venture to introduce these new discoveries into labour, before the community has had time to educate a generation up to using them?

Bernick: You read and think too much, Aune; it does you no good, and that is what makes you dissatisfied with your lot.

Aune: It is not, Mr. Bernick; but I cannot bear to see one good workman dismissed after another, to starve because of these machines.

Bernick: Hm! When the art of printing was discovered, many a quill-driver was reduced to starvation.

Aune: Would you have admired the art so greatly if you had been a quill-driver in those days, sir?

Bernick: I did not send for you to argue with you. I sent for you to tell you that the “Indian Girl” must be ready to put to sea the day after tomorrow.

Aune: But, Mr. Bernick —

Bernick: The day after tomorrow, do you hear? — at the same time as our own ship, not an hour later. I have good reasons for hurrying on the work. Have you seen today’s paper? Well, then you know the pranks these American sailors have been up to again. The rascally pack are turning the whole town upside down. Not a night passes without some brawling in the taverns or the streets — not to speak of other abominations.

Aune: Yes, they certainly are a bad lot.

Bernick: And who is it that has to bear the blame for all this disorder? It is I! Yes, it is I who have to suffer for it. These newspaper fellows are making all sorts of covert insinuations because we are devoting all our energies to the “Palm Tree.” I, whose task in life it is to influence my fellow-citizens by the force of example, have to endure this sort of thing cast in my face. I am not going to stand that. I have no fancy for having my good name smirched in that way.

Aune: Your name stands high enough to endure that and a great deal more, sir.

Bernick: Not just now. At this particular moment I have need of all the respect and goodwill my fellow-citizens can give me. I have a big undertaking on, the stocks, as you probably have heard; but, if it should happen that evil-disposed persons succeeded in shaking the absolute confidence I enjoy, it might land me in the greatest difficulties. That is why I want, at any price, to avoid these shameful innuendoes in the papers, and that is why I name the day after tomorrow as the limit of the time I can give you.

Aune: Mr. Bernick, you might just as well name this afternoon as the limit.

Bernick: You mean that I am asking an impossibility?

Aune: Yes, with the hands we have now at the yard.

Bernick: Very good; then we must look about elsewhere.

Aune: Do you really mean, sir, to discharge still more of your old workmen?

Bernick: No, I am not thinking of that.

Aune: Because I think it would cause bad blood against you both among the townsfolk and in the papers, if you did that.

Bernick: Very probably; therefore, we will not do it. But, if the “Indian Girl” is not ready to sail the day after tomorrow, I shall discharge you.

Aune [with a start]: Me! [He laughs.] You are joking, Mr. Bernick.

Bernick: I should not be so sure of that, if I were you.

Aune: Do you mean that you can contemplate discharging me? — Me, whose father and grandfather worked in your yard all their lives, as I have done myself —?

Bernick: Who is it that is forcing me to do it?

Aune: You are asking what is impossible, Mr. Bernick.

Bernick: Oh, where there’s a will there’s a way. Yes or no; give me a decisive answer, or consider yourself discharged on the spot.

Aune [coming a step nearer to him]: Mr. Bernick, have you ever realised what discharging an old workman means? You think he can look about for another job? Oh, yes, he can do that; but does that dispose of the matter? You should just be there once, in the house of a workman who has been discharged, the evening he comes home bringing all his tools with him.

Bernick: Do you think I am discharging you with a light heart? Have I not always been a good master to you?

Aune: So much the worse, Mr. Bernick. Just for that very reason those at home will not blame you; they will say nothing to me, because they dare not; but they will look at me when I am not noticing, and think that I must have deserved it. You see, sir, that is — that is what I cannot bear. I am a mere nobody, I know; but I have always been accustomed to stand first in my own home. My humble home is a little community too, Mr. Bernick — a little community which I have been able to support and maintain because my wife has believed in me and because my children have believed in me. And now it is all to fall to pieces.

Bernick: Still, if there is nothing else for it, the lesser must go down before the greater; the individual must be sacrificed to the general welfare. I can give you no other answer; and that, and no other, is the way of the world. You are an obstinate man, Aune! You are opposing me, not because you cannot do otherwise, but because you will not exhibit ‘the superiority of machinery over manual labour’.

Aune: And you will not be moved, Mr. Bernick, because you know that if you drive me away you will at all events have given the newspapers proof of your good will.

Bernick: And suppose that were so? I have told you what it means for me — either bringing the Press down on my back, or making them well-disposed to me at a moment when I am working for an objective which will mean the advancement of the general welfare. Well, then, can I do otherwise than as I am doing? The question, let me tell you, turns upon this — whether your home is to be supported, as you put it, or whether hundreds of new homes are to be prevented from existing — hundreds of homes that will never be built, never have a fire lighted on their hearth, unless I succeed in carrying through the scheme I am working for now. That is the reason why I have given you your choice.

Aune: Well, if that is the way things stand, I have nothing more to say.

Bernick: Hm — my dear Aune, I am extremely grieved to think that we are to part.

Aune: We are not going to part, Mr. Bernick.

Bernick: How is that?

Aune: Even a common man like myself has something he is bound to maintain.

Bernick: Quite so, quite so — then I presume you think you may promise —?

Aune: The “Indian Girl” shall be ready to sail the day after tomorrow. [Bows and goes out to the right.]

Bernick: Ah, I have got the better of that obstinate fellow! I take it as a good omen. [HILMAR comes in through the garden door, smoking a cigar.]

Hilmar [as he comes up the steps to the verandah]: Good morning, Betty! Good morning, Karsten!

Mrs. Bernick: Good morning.

Hilmar: Ah, I see you have been crying, so I suppose you know all about it too?

Mrs. Bernick: Know all about what?

Hilmar: That the scandal is in full swing. Ugh!

Bernick: What do you mean?

Hilmar [coming into the room]: Why, that our two friends from America are displaying themselves about the streets in the company of Dina Dorf.

Mrs. Bernick [coming in after him]: Hilmar, is it possible?

Hilmar: Yes, unfortunately, it is quite true. Lona was even so wanting in tact as to call after me, but of course I appeared not to have heard her.

Bernick: And no doubt all this has not been unnoticed.

Hilmar: You may well say that. People stood still and looked at them. It spread like wildfire through the town — just like a prairie fire out West. In every house people were at the windows waiting for the procession to pass, cheek by jowl behind the curtains — ugh! Oh, you must excuse me, Betty, for saying “ugh” — this has got on my nerves. If it is going on, I shall be forced to think about getting right away from here.

Mrs. Bernick: But you should have spoken to him and represented to him that —

Hilmar: In the open street? No, excuse me, I could not do that. To think that the fellow should dare to show himself in the town at all! Well, we shall see if the Press doesn’t put a stopper on him; yes — forgive me, Betty, but —

Bernick: The Press, do you say? Have you heard a hint of anything of the sort?

Hilmar: There are such things flying about. When I left here yesterday evening I looked in at the club, because I did not feel well. I saw at once, from the sudden silence that fell when I went in, that our American couple had been the subject of conversation. Then that impudent newspaper fellow, Hammer, came in and congratulated me at the top of his voice on the return of my rich cousin.

Bernick: Rich?

Hilmar: Those were his words. Naturally I looked him up and down in the manner he deserved, and gave him to understand that I knew nothing about Johan Tonnesen’s being rich. “Really,” he said, “that is very remarkable. People usually get on in America when they have something to start with, and I believe your cousin did not go over there quite empty-handed.”

Bernick: Hm — now will you oblige me by —

Mrs. Bernick [distressed]: There, you see, Karsten!

Hilmar: Anyhow, I have spent a sleepless night because of them. And here he is, walking about the streets as if nothing were the matter. Why couldn’t he disappear for good and all? It really is insufferable how hard some people are to kill.

Mrs. Bernick: My dear Hilmar, what are you saying P

Hilmar: Oh, nothing. But here this fellow escapes with a whole skin from railway accidents and fights with California grizzlies and Blackfoot Indians — has not even been scalped — . Ugh, here they come!

Bernick [looking down the street]: Olaf is with them too!

Hilmar: Of course! They want to remind everybody that they belong to the best family in the town. Look there! — look at the crowd of loafers that have come out of the chemist’s to stare at them and make remarks. My nerves really won’t stand it; how a man is to be expected to keep the banner of the Ideal flying under such circumstances, I—

Bernick: They are coming here. Listen, Betty; it is my particular wish that you should receive them in the friendliest possible way.

Mrs. Bernick: Oh, may I, Karsten.

Bernick: Certainly, certainly — and you too, Hilmar. It is to be hoped they will not stay here very long; and when we are quite by ourselves — no allusions to the past; we must not hurt their feelings in any way.

Mrs. Bernick: How magnanimous you are, Karsten!

Bernick: Oh, don’t speak of that.

Mrs. Bernick: But you must let me thank you; and you must forgive me for being so hasty. I am sure you had every reason to —

Bernick: Don’t talk about it, please.

Hilmar: Ugh!

[JOHAN TONNESEN and DINA come up through the garden, followed by LONA and OLAF.]

Lona: Good morning, dear people!

Johan: We have been out having a look round the old place, Karsten.

Bernick: So I hear. Greatly altered, is it not?

Lona: Mr. Bernick’s great and good works everywhere. We have been up into the Recreation Ground you have presented to the town.

Bernick: Have you been there?

Lona: “The gift of Karsten Bernick,” as it says over the gateway. You seem to be responsible for the whole place here.

Johan: Splendid ships you have got, too. I met my old schoolfellow, the captain of the “Palm Tree.”

Lona: And you have built a new school-house too; and I hear that the town has to thank you for both the gas supply and the water supply.

Bernick: Well, one ought to work for the good of the community one lives in.

Lona: That is an excellent sentiment, brother-inlaw, but it is a pleasure, all the same, to see how people appreciate you. I am not vain, I hope; but I could not resist reminding one or two of the people we talked to that we were relations of yours.

Hilmar: Ugh!

Lona: Do you say “ugh” to that?

Hilmar: No, I said “ahem.”

Lona: Oh, poor chap, you may say that if you like. But are you all by yourselves today?

Bernick: Yes, we are by ourselves today.

Lona: Ah, yes, we met a couple of members of your Morality Society up at the market; they made out they were very busy. You and I have never had an opportunity for a good talk yet. Yesterday you had your three pioneers here, as well as the parson.

Hilmar: The schoolmaster.

Lona: I call him the parson. But now tell me what you think of my work during these fifteen years? Hasn’t he grown a fine fellow? Who would recognise the madcap that ran away from home?

Hilmar: Hm!

Johan: Now, Lona, don’t brag too much about me.

Lona: Well, I can tell you I am precious proud of him. Goodness knows it is about the only thing I have done in my life; but it does give me a sort of right to exist. When I think, Johan, how we two began over there with nothing but our four bare fists.

Hilmar: Hands.

Lona: I say fists; and they were dirty fists.

Hilmar: Ugh!

Lona: And empty, too.

Hilmar: Empty? Well, I must say —

Lona: What must you say?

Bernick: Ahem!

Hilmar: I must say — ugh! [Goes out through the garden.]

Lona: What is the matter with the man?

Bernick: Oh, do not take any notice of him; his nerves are rather upset just now. Would you not like to take a look at the garden? You have not been down there yet, and I have got an hour to spare.

Lona: With pleasure. I can tell you my thoughts have been with you in this garden many and many a time.

Mrs. Bernick: We have made a great many alterations there too, as you will see. [BERNICK, MRS. BERNICK, and LONA go down to the garden, where they are visible every now and then during the following scene.]

Olaf [coming to the verandah door]: Uncle Hilmar, do you know what uncle Johan asked me? He asked me if I would go to America with him.

Hilmar: You, you duffer, who are tied to your mother’s apron strings —!

Olaf: Ah, but I won’t be that any longer. You will see, when I grow big.

Hilmar: Oh, fiddlesticks! You have no really serious bent towards the strength of character necessary to — .

[They go down to the garden. DINA meanwhile has taken off her hat and is standing at the door on the right, shaking the dust off her dress.]

Johan [to DINA]: The walk has made you pretty warm.

Dina: Yes, it was a splendid walk. I have never had such a splendid walk before.

Johan: Do you not often go for a walk in the morning?

Dina: Oh, yes — but only with Olaf.

Johan: I see. — Would you rather go down into the garden than stay here?

Dina: No, I would rather stay here.

Johan.: So would I. Then shall we consider it a bargain that we are to go for a walk like this together every morning?

Dina: No, Mr. Tonnesen, you mustn’t do that.

Johan: What mustn’t I do? You promised, you know.

Dina: Yes, but — on second thought — you mustn’t go out with me.

Johan: But why not?

Dina: Of course, you are a stranger — you cannot understand; but I must tell you —

Johan: Well?

Dina: No, I would rather not talk about it.

Johan: Oh, but you must; you can talk to me about whatever you like.

Dina: Well, I must tell you that I am not like the other young girls here. There is something — something or other about me. That is why you mustn’t.

Johan: But I do not understand anything about it. You have not done anything wrong?

Dina: No, not I, but — no, I am not going to talk any more about it now. You will hear about it from the others, sure enough.

Johan: Hm!

Dina: But there is something else I want very much to ask you.

Johan: What is that?

Dina: I suppose it is easy to make a position for oneself over in America?

Johan: No, it is not always easy; at first you often have to rough it and work very hard.

Dina: I should be quite ready to do that.

Johan: You?

Dina: I can work now; I am strong and healthy; and Aunt Martha taught me a lot.

Johan: Well, hang it, come back with us!

Dina: Ah, now you are only making fun of me; you said that to Olaf too. But what I wanted to know is if people are so very — so very moral over there?

Johan: Moral?

Dina: Yes; I mean are they as — as proper and as well-behaved as they are here?

Johan: Well, at all events they are not so bad as people here make out. You need not be afraid on that score.

Dina: You don’t understand me. What I want to hear is just that they are not so proper and so moral.

Johan: Not? What would you wish them to be, then?

Dina: I would wish them to be natural.

Johan: Well, I believe that is just what they are.

Dina: Because in that case I should get on if I went there.

Johan: You would, for certain! — and that is why you must come back with us.

Dina: No, I don’t want to go with you; I must go alone. Oh, I would make something of my life; I would get on —

Bernick [speaking to LONA and his wife at the foot of the garden steps]: Wait a moment — I will fetch it, Betty dear; you might so easily catch cold. [Comes into the room and looks for his wife’s shawl.]

Mrs. Bernick [from outside]: You must come out too, Johan; we are going down to the grotto.

Bernick: No, I want Johan to stay here. Look here, Dina; you take my wife’s shawl and go with them. Johan is going to stay here with me, Betty dear. I want to hear how he is getting on over there.

Mrs. Bernick: Very well — then you will follow us; you know where you will find us. [MRS. BERNICK, LONA and DINA go out through the garden, to the left. BERNICK looks after them for a moment, then goes to the farther door on the left and locks it, after which he goes up to JOHAN, grasps both his hands, and shakes them warmly.]

Bernick: Johan, now that we are alone, you must let me thank you.

Johan: Oh, nonsense!

Bernick: My home and all the happiness that it means to me — my position here as a citizen — all these I owe to you.

Johan: Well, I am glad of it, Karsten; some good came of that mad story after all, then.

Bernick [grasping his hands again]: But still you must let me thank you! Not one in ten thousand would have done what you did for me.

Johan: Rubbish! Weren’t we, both of us, young and thoughtless? One of us had to take the blame, you know.

Bernick: But surely the guilty one was the proper one to do that?

Johan: Stop! At the moment the innocent one happened to be the proper one to do it. Remember, I had no ties — I was an orphan; it was a lucky chance to get free from the drudgery of the office. You, on the other hand, had your old mother still alive; and, besides that, you had just become secretly engaged to Betty, who was devoted to you. What would have happened between you and her if it had come to her ears?

Bernick: That is true enough, but still —

Johan: And wasn’t it just for Betty’s sake that you broke off your acquaintance with Mrs. Dorf? Why, it was merely in order to put an end to the whole thing that you were up there with her that evening.

Bernick: Yes, that unfortunate evening when that drunken creature came home! Yes, Johan, it was for Betty’s sake; but, all the same, it was splendid of you to let all the appearances go against you, and to go away.

Johan: Put your scruples to rest, my dear Karsten. We agreed that it should be so; you had to be saved, and you were my friend. I can tell you, I was uncommonly proud of that friendship. Here was I, drudging away like a miserable stick-inthe-mud, when you came back from your grand tour abroad, a great swell who had been to London and to Paris; and you chose me for your chum, although I was four years younger than you — it is true it was because you were courting Betty, I understand that now — but I was proud of it! Who would not have been? Who would not willingly have sacrificed himself for you? — especially as it only meant a month’s talk in the town, and enabled me to get away into the wide world.

Bernick: Ah, my dear Johan, I must be candid and tell you that the story is not so completely forgotten yet.

Johan: Isn’t it? Well, what does that matter to me, once I am back over there on my farm again?

Bernick: Then you mean to go back?

Johan: Of course.

Bernick: But not immediately, I hope?

Johan: As soon as possible. It was only to humour Lona that I came over with her, you know.

Bernick: Really? How so?

Johan: Well, you see, Lona is no longer young, and lately she began to be obsessed with home-sickness; but she never would admit it. [Smiles.] How could she venture to risk leaving such a flighty fellow as me alone, who before I was nineteen had been mixed up in . . .

Bernick: Well, what then?

Johan: Well, Karsten, now I am coming to a confession that I am ashamed to make.

Bernick: You surely haven’t confided the truth to her?

Johan: Yes. It was wrong of me, but I could not do otherwise. You can have no conception what Lona has been to me. You never could put up with her; but she has been like a mother to me. The first year we were out there, when things went so badly with us, you have no idea how she worked! And when I was ill for a long time, and could earn nothing and could not prevent her, she took to singing ballads in taverns, and gave lectures that people laughed at; and then she wrote a book that she has both laughed and cried over since then — all to keep the life in me. Could I look on when in the winter she, who had toiled and drudged for me, began to pine away? No, Karsten, I couldn’t. And so I said, “You go home for a trip, Lona; don’t be afraid for me, I am not so flighty as you think.” And so — the end of it was that she had to know.

Bernick: And how did she take it?

Johan: Well, she thought, as was true, that as I knew I was innocent nothing need prevent me from taking a trip over here with her. But make your mind easy; Lona will let nothing out, and I shall keep my mouth shut as I did before.

Bernick: Yes, yes I rely on that.

Johan: Here is my hand on it. And now we will say no more about that old story; luckily it is the only mad prank either of us has been guilty of, I am sure. I want thoroughly to enjoy the few days I shall stay here. You cannot think what a delightful walk we had this morning. Who would have believed that that little imp, who used to run about here and play angels’ parts on the stage —! But tell me, my dear fellow, what became of her parents afterwards?

Bernick: Oh, my boy, I can tell you no more than I wrote to you immediately after you went away. I suppose you got my two letters?

Johan: Yes, yes, I have them both. So that drunken fellow deserted her?

Bernick: And drank himself to death afterwards.

Johan: And she died soon afterwards, too?

Bernick: She was proud; she betrayed nothing, and would accept nothing.

Johan: Well, at all events you did the right thing by taking Dina into your house.

Bernick: I suppose so. As a matter of fact it was Martha that brought that about.

Johan: So it was Martha? By the way, where is she today?

Bernick: She? Oh, when she hasn’t her school to look after, she has her sick people to see to.

Johan: So it was Martha who interested herself in her.

Bernick: Yes, you know Martha has always had a certain liking for teaching; so she took a post in the boarding-school. It was very ridiculous of her.

Johan: I thought she looked very worn yesterday; I should be afraid her health was not good enough for it.

Bernick: Oh, as far as her health goes, it is all right enough. But it is unpleasant for me; it looks as though I, her brother, were not willing to support her.

Johan: Support her? I thought she had means enough of her own.

Bernick: Not a penny. Surely you remember how badly off our mother was when you went away? She carried things on for a time with my assistance, but naturally I could not put up with that state of affairs permanently. I made her take me into the firm, but even then things did not go well. So I had to take over the whole business myself, and when we made up our balance-sheet, it became evident that there was practically nothing left as my mother’s share. And when mother died soon afterwards, of course Martha was left penniless.

Johan: Poor Martha!

Bernick: Poor! Why? You surely do not suppose I let her want for anything? No, I venture to say I am a good brother. Of course she has a home here with us; her salary as a teacher is more than enough for her to dress on; what more could she want?

Johan: Hm — that is not our idea of things in America.

Bernick: No, I dare say not — in such a revolutionary state of society as you find there. But in our small circle — in which, thank God, depravity has not gained a footing, up to now at all events — women are content to occupy a seemly, as well as modest, position. Moreover, it is Martha’s own fault; I mean, she might have been provided for long ago, if she had wished.

Johan: You mean she might have married?

Bernick: Yes, and married very well, too. She has had several good offers — curiously enough, when you think that she is a poor girl, no longer young, and, besides, quite an insignificant person.

Johan: Insignificant?

Bernick: Oh, I am not blaming her for that. I most certainly would not wish her otherwise. I can tell you it is always a good thing to have a steady-going person like that in a big house like this — some one you can rely on in any contingency.

Johan: Yes, but what does she —?

Bernick: She? How? Oh well, of course she has plenty to interest herself in; she has Betty and Olaf and me. People should not think first of themselves — women least of all. We have all got some community, great or small, to work for. That is my principle, at all events. [Points to KRAP, who has come in from the right.] Ah, here is an example of it, ready to hand. Do you suppose that it is my own affairs that are absorbing me just now? By no means. [Eagerly to KRAP.] Well?

Krap [in an undertone, showing him a bundle of papers]: Here are all the sale contracts, completed.

Bernick: Capital! Splendid! — Well, Johan, you must really excuse me for the present. [In a low voice, grasping his hand.] Thanks, Johan, thanks! And rest assured that anything I can do for you — Well, of course you understand. Come along, Krap. [They go into BERNICK’S room.]

Johan [looking after them for a moment]: Hm! — [Turns to go down to the garden. At the same moment MARTHA comes in from the right, with a little basket over her arm.] Martha!

Martha: Ah, Johan — is it you?

Johan: Out so early?

Martha: Yes. Wait a moment; the others are just coming. [Moves towards the door on the left.]

Johan: Martha, are you always in such a hurry?

Martha: I?

Johan: Yesterday you seemed to avoid me, so that I never managed to have a word with you — we two old playfellows.

Martha: Ah, Johan; that is many, many years ago.

Johan: Good Lord — why, it is only fifteen years ago, no more and no less. Do you think I have changed so much?

Martha: You? Oh yes, you have changed too, although —

Johan: What do you mean?

Martha: Oh, nothing.

Johan: You do not seem to be very glad to see me again.

Martha: I have waited so long, Johan — too long.

Johan: Waited? For me to come?

Martha: Yes.

Johan. And why did you think I would come?

Martha: To atone for the wrong you had done.

Johan: I?

Martha: Have you forgotten that it was through you that a woman died in need and in shame? Have you forgotten that it was through you that the best years of a young girl’s life were embittered?

Johan: And you can say such things to me? Martha, has your brother never —?

Martha: Never what?

Johan: Has he never — oh, of course, I mean has he never so much as said a word in my defence?

Martha: Ah, Johan, you know Karsten’s high principles.

Johan: Hm —! Oh, of course; I know my old friend Karsten’s high principles! But really this is — . Well, well. I was having a talk with him just now. He seems to me to have altered considerably.

Martha: How can you say that? I am sure Karsten has always been an excellent man.

Johan: Yes, that was not exactly what I meant — but never mind. Hm! Now I understand the light you have seen me in; it was the return of the prodigal that you were waiting for.

Martha: Johan, I will tell you what light I have seen you in. [Points down to the garden.] Do you see that girl playing on the grass down there with Olaf? That is Dina. Do you remember that incoherent letter you wrote me when you went away? You asked me to believe in you. I have believed in you, Johan. All the horrible things that were rumoured about you after you had gone must have been done through being led astray — from thoughtlessness, without premeditation.

Johan: What do you mean?

Martha: Oh! you understand me well enough — not a word more of that. But of course you had to go away and begin afresh — a new life. Your duties here which you never remembered to undertake — or never were able to undertake — I have undertaken for you. I tell you this, so that you shall not have that also to reproach yourself with. I have been a mother to that much-wronged child; I have brought her up as well as I was able.

Johan: And have wasted your whole life for that reason.

Martha: It has not been wasted. But you have come late, Johan.

Johan: Martha — if only I could tell you — . Well, at all events let me thank you for your loyal friendship.

Martha [with a sad smile]: Hm. — Well, we have had it out now, Johan. Hush, some one is coming. Goodbye, I can’t stay now. [Goes out through the farther door on the left. LONA comes in from the garden, followed by MRS. BERNICK.]

Mrs. Bernick: But good gracious, Lona — what are you thinking of?

Lona: Let me be, I tell you! I must and will speak to him.

Mrs. Bernick: But it would be a scandal of the worst sort! Ah, Johan — still here?

Lona: Out with you, my boy; don’t stay here in doors; go down into the garden and have a chat with Dina.

Johan: I was just thinking of doing so.

Mrs. Bernick: But —

Lona: Look here, Johan — have you had a good look at Dina?

Johan: I should think so!

Lona: Well, look at her to some purpose, my boy. That would be somebody for you!

Mrs. Bernick: But, Lona!

Johan: Somebody for me?

Lona: Yes, to look at, I mean. Be off with you!

Johan: Oh, I don’t need any pressing. [Goes down into the garden.]

Mrs. Bernick: Lona, you astound me! You cannot possibly be serious about it?

Lona: Indeed I am. Isn’t she sweet and healthy and honest? She is exactly the wife for Johan. She is just what he needs over there; it will be a change from an old step-sister.

Mrs. Bernick: Dina? Dina Dorf? But think —

Lona: I think first and foremost of the boy’s happiness. Because, help him I must; he has not much idea of that sort of thing; he has never had much of an eye for girls or women.

Mrs. Bernick: He? Johan? Indeed I think we have had only too sad proofs that —

Lona: Oh, devil take all those stupid stories! Where is Karsten? I mean to speak to him.

Mrs. Bernick: Lona, you must not do it, I tell you.

Lona: I am going to. If the boy takes a fancy to her — and she to him — then they shall make a match of it. Karsten is such a clever man, he must find some way to bring it about.

Mrs. Bernick: And do you think these American indecencies will be permitted here?

Lona: Bosh, Betty!

Mrs. Bernick: Do you think a man like Karsten, with his strictly moral way of thinking —

Lona: Pooh! he is not so terribly moral.

Mrs. Bernick: What have you the audacity to say?

Lona: I have the audacity to say that Karsten is not any more particularly moral than anybody else.

Mrs. Bernick: So you still hate him as deeply as that! But what are you doing here, if you have never been able to forget that? I cannot understand how you, dare look him in the face after the shameful insult you put upon him in the old days.

Lona: Yes, Betty, that time I did forget myself badly.

Mrs. Bernick: And to think how magnanimously he has forgiven you — he, who had never done any wrong! It was not his fault that you encouraged yourself with hopes. But since then you have always hated me too. [Bursts into tears.] You have always begrudged me my good fortune. And now you come here to heap all this on my head — to let the whole town know what sort of a family I have brought Karsten into. Yes, it is me that it all falls upon, and that is what you want. Oh, it is abominable of you! [Goes out by the door on the left, in tears.]

Lona [looking after her]: Poor Betty! [BERNICK comes in from his room. He stops at the door to speak to KRAP.]

Bernick: Yes, that is excellent, Krap — capital! Send twenty pounds to the fund for dinners to the poor. [Turns round.] Lona! [Comes forward.] Are you alone? Is Betty not coming in?

Lona: No. Would you like me to call her?

Bernick: No, no — not at all. Oh, Lona, you don’t know how anxious I have been to speak openly to you — after having begged for your forgiveness.

Lona: Look here, Karsten — do not let us be sentimental; it doesn’t suit us.

Bernick: You must listen to me, Lona. I know only too well how much appearances are against me, as you have learnt all about that affair with Dina’s mother. But I swear to you that it was only a temporary infatuation; I was really, truly and honestly, in love with you once.

Lona: Why do you think I have come home?

Bernick: Whatever you have in your mind, I entreat, you to do nothing until I have exculpated myself. I can do that, Lona; at all events I can excuse myself.

Lona: Now you are frightened. You once were in love with me, you say. Yes, you told me that often enough in your letters; and perhaps it was true, too — in a way — as long as you were living out in the great, free world which gave you the courage to think freely and greatly. Perhaps you found in me a little more character and strength of will and independence than in most of the folk at home here. And then we kept it secret between us; nobody could make fun of your bad taste.

Bernick: Lona, how can you think —?

Lona: But when you came back — when you heard the gibes that were made at me on all sides — when you noticed how people laughed at what they called my absurdities . . .

Bernick: You were regardless of people’s opinion at that time.

Lona: Chiefly to annoy the petticoated and trousered prudes that one met at every turn in the town. And then, when you met that seductive young actress —

Bernick: It was a boyish escapade — nothing more; I swear to you that there was no truth in a tenth part of the rumours and gossip that went about.

Lona: Maybe. But then, when Betty came home — a pretty young girl, idolised by every one — and it became known that she would inherit all her aunt’s money and that I would have nothing!

Bernick: That is just the point, Lona; and now you shall have the truth without any beating about the bush. I did not love Betty then; I did not break off my engagement with you because of any new attachment. It was entirely for the sake of the money. I needed it; I had to make sure of it.

Lona: And you have the face to tell me that?

Bernick: Yes, I have. Listen, Lona.

Lona: And yet you wrote to me that an unconquerable passion for Betty had overcome you — invoked my magnanimity — begged me, for Betty’s sake, to hold my tongue about all that had been between us.

Bernick: I had to, I tell you.

Lona: Now, by Heaven, I don’t regret that I forgot myself as I did that time —

Bernick: Let me tell you the plain truth of how things stood with me then. My mother, as you remember, was at the head of the business, but she was absolutely without any business ability whatever. I was hurriedly summoned home from Paris; times were critical, and they relied on me to set things straight. What did I find? I found — and you must keep this a profound secret — a house on the brink of ruin. Yes — as good as on the brink of ruin, this old respected house which had seen three generations of us. What else could I— the son, the only son — do than look about for some means of saving it?

Lona: And so you saved the house of Bernick at the cost of a woman.

Bernick: You know quite well that Betty was in love with me.

Lona: But what about me?

Bernick: Believe me, Lona, you would never have been happy with me.

Lona: Was it out of consideration for my happiness that you sacrificed me?

Bernick: Do you suppose I acted as I did from selfish motives? If I had stood alone then, I would have begun all over again with cheerful courage. But you do not understand how the life of a man of business, with his tremendous responsibilities, is bound up with that of the business which falls to his inheritance. Do you realise that the prosperity or the ruin of hundreds — of thousands — depends on him? Can you not take into consideration the fact that the whole community in which both you and I were born would have been affected to the most dangerous extent if the house of Bernick had gone to smash?

Lon: Then is it for the sake of the community that you have maintained your position these fifteen years upon a lie?

Bernick: Upon a lie?

Lona: What does Betty know of all this . . . that underlies her union with you?

Bernick: Do you suppose that I would hurt her feelings to no purpose by disclosing the truth?

Lona: To no purpose, you say? Well, well — You are a man of business; you ought to understand what is to the purpose. But listen to me, Karsten — I am going to speak the plain truth now. Tell me, are you really happy?

Bernick: In my family life, do you mean?

Lona: Yes.

Bernick: I am, Lona. You have not been a self-sacrificing friend to me in vain. I can honestly say that I have grown happier every year. Betty is good and willing; and if I were to tell you how, in the course of years, she has learned to model her character on the lines of my own —

Lona: Hm!

Bernick: At first, of course, she had a whole lot of romantic notions about love; she could not reconcile herself to the idea that, little by little, it must change into a quiet comradeship.

Lona: But now she is quite reconciled to that?

Bernick: Absolutely. As you can imagine, daily intercourse with me has had no small share in developing her character. Every one, in their degree, has to learn to lower their own pretensions, if they are to live worthily of the community to which they belong. And Betty, in her turn, has gradually learned to understand this; and that is why our home is now a model to our fellow citizens.

Lona: But your fellow citizens know nothing about the lie?

Bernick: The lie?

Lona: Yes — the lie you have persisted in for these fifteen years.

Bernick: Do you mean to say that you call that —?

Lona: I call it a lie — a threefold lie: first of all, there is the lie towards me; then, the lie towards Betty; and then, the lie towards Johan.

Bernick: Betty has never asked me to speak.

Lona: Because she has known nothing.

Bernick: And you will not demand it — out of consideration for her.

Lona: Oh, no — I shall manage to put up with their gibes well enough; I have broad shoulders.

Bernick: And Johan will not demand it either; he has promised me that.

Lona: But you yourself, Karsten? Do you feel within yourself no impulse urging you to shake yourself free of this lie?

Bernick: Do you suppose that of my own free will I would sacrifice my family happiness and my position in the world?

Lona: What right have you to the position you hold?

Bernick: Every day during these fifteen years I have earned some little right to it — by my conduct, and by what I have achieved by my work.

Lona: True, you have achieved a great deal by your work, for yourself as well as for others. You are the richest and most influential man in the town; nobody in it dares do otherwise than defer to your will, because you are looked upon as a man without spot or blemish; your home is regarded as a model home, and your conduct as a model of conduct. But all this grandeur, and you with it, is founded on a treacherous morass. A moment may come and a word may be spoken, when you and all your grandeur will be engulfed in the morass, if you do not save yourself in time.

Bernick: Lona — what is your object in coming here?

Lona: I want to help you to get firm ground under your feet, Karsten.

Bernick: Revenge! — you want to revenge yourself! I suspected it. But you won’t succeed! There is only one person here that can speak with authority, and he will be silent.

Lona: You mean Johan?

Bernick: Yes, Johan. If any one else accuses me, I shall deny everything. If any one tries to crush me, I shall fight for my life. But you will never succeed in that, let me tell you! The one who could strike me down will say nothing — and is going away.

[RUMMEL and VIGELAND come in from the right.]

Rummel: Good morning, my dear Bernick, good morning. You must come up with us to the Commercial Association. There is a meeting about the railway scheme, you know.

Bernick: I cannot. It is impossible just now.

Vigeland: You really must, Mr. Bernick.

Rummel: Bernick, you must. There is an opposition to us on foot. Hammer, and the rest of those who believe in a line along the coast, are declaring that private interests are at the back of the new proposals.

Bernick: Well then, explain to them —

Vigeland: Our explanations have no effect, Mr. Bernick.

Rummel: No, no, you must come yourself. Naturally, no one would dare to suspect you of such duplicity.

Lona: I should think not.

Bernick: I cannot, I tell you; I am not well. Or, at all events, wait — let me pull myself together. [RORLUND comes in from the right.]

Rorlund: Excuse me, Mr. Bernick, but I am terribly upset.

Bernick: Why, what is the matter with you?

Rorlund. I must put a question to you, Mr. Bernick. Is it with your consent that the young girl who has found a shelter under your roof shows herself in the open street in the company of a person who —

Lona: What person, Mr. Parson?

Rorlund: With the person from whom, of all others in the world, she ought to be kept farthest apart!

Lona: Ha! ha!

Rorlund: Is it with your consent, Mr. Bernick?

Bernick [looking for his hat and gloves]. I know nothing about it. You must excuse me; I am in a great hurry. I am due at the Commercial Association.

[HILMAR comes up from the garden and goes over to the farther door on the left.]

Hilmar: Betty — Betty, I want to speak to you.

Mrs. Bernick [coming to the door]: What is it?

Hilmar: You ought to go down into the garden and put a stop to the flirtation that is going on between a certain person and Dina Dorf! It has quite got on my nerves to listen to them.

Lona: Indeed! And what has the certain person been saying?

Hilmar: Oh, only that he wishes she would go off to America with him. Ugh!

Rorlund: Is it possible?

Mrs. Bernick: What do you say?

Lona: But that would be perfectly splendid!

Bernick: Impossible! You cannot have heard right.

Hilmar: Ask him yourself, then. Here comes the pair of them. Only, leave me out of it, please.

Bernick [to RUMMEL and VIGELAND]: I will follow you — in a moment. [RUMMEL and VIGELAND go out to the right. JOHAN and DINA come up from the garden.]

Johan: Hurrah, Lona, she is going with us!

Mrs. Bernick: But, Johan — are you out of your senses?

Rorlund: Can I believe my ears! Such an atrocious scandal! By what arts of seduction have you —?

Johan: Come, come, sir — what are you saying?

Rorlund: Answer me, Dina; do you mean to do this — entirely of your own free will?

Dina: I must get away from here.

Rorlund: But with him! — with him!

Dina: Can you tell me of any one else here who would have the courage to take me with him?

Rorlund: Very well, then — you shall learn who he is.

Johan: Do not speak!

Bernick: Not a word more!

Rorlund: If I did not, I should be unworthy to serve a community of whose morals I have been appointed a guardian, and should be acting most unjustifiably towards this young girl, in whose upbringing I have taken a material part, and who is to me —

Johan: Take care what you are doing!

Rorlund: She shall know! Dina, this is the man who was the cause of all your mother’s misery and shame.

Bernick: Mr. Rorlund —?

Dina: He! [TO JOHAN.] Is this true?

Johan: Karsten, you answer.

Bernick: Not a word more! Do not let us say another word about it today.

Dina: Then it is true.

Rorlund: Yes, it is true. And more than that, this fellow — whom you were going to trust — did not run away from home empty-handed; ask him about old Mrs. Bernick’s cash-box. . . . Mr. Bernick can bear witness to that!

Lona: Liar

Bernick: Ah!

Mrs. Bernick: My God! my God!

Johan [rushing at RORLUND with uplifted arm]: And you dare to —

Lona [restraining him]: Do not strike him, Johan!

Rorlund: That is right, assault me! But the truth will out; and it is the truth — Mr. Bernick has admitted it — and the whole town knows it. Now, Dina, you know him. [A short silence.]

Johan [softly, grasping BERNICK by the arm]: Karsten, Karsten, what have you done?

Mrs. Bernick [in tears]: Oh, Karsten, to think that I should have mixed you up in all this disgrace!

Sandstad [coming in hurriedly from the right, and calling out, with his hand still on the door-handle]: You positively must come now, Mr. Bernick. The fate of the whole railway is hanging by a thread.

Bernick [abstractedly]: What is it? What have I to —

Lona [earnestly and with emphasis]: You have to go and be a pillar of society, brother-inlaw.

Sandstad: Yes, come along; we need the full weight of your moral excellence on our side.

Johan [aside, to BERNICK]: Karsten, we will have a talk about this tomorrow. [Goes out through the garden. BERNICK, looking half dazed, goes out to the right with SANDSTAD.]


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56