[SCENE— The same room. The work-table has been taken away. It is a stormy evening and already dusk. Darkness sets in as the following scene is in progress. A man-servant is lighting the chandelier; two maids bring in pots of flowers, lamps and candles, which they place on tables and stands along the walls. RUMMEL, in dress clothes, with gloves and a white tie, is standing in the room giving instructions to the servants.]
Rummel: Only every other candle, Jacob. It must not look as if it were arranged for the occasion — it has to come as a surprise, you know. And all these flowers —? Oh, well, let them be; it will probably look as if they stood there everyday. [BERNICK comes out of his room.]
Bernick [stopping at the door]: What does this mean?
Rummel: Oh dear, is it you? [To the servants.] Yes, you might leave us for the present. [The servants go out.]
Bernick: But, Rummel, what is the meaning of this?
Rummel: It means that the proudest moment of your life has come. A procession of his fellow citizens is coming to do honour to the first man of the town.
Rummel: In procession — with banners and a band! We ought to have had torches too; but we did not like to risk that in this stormy weather. There will be illuminations — and that always sounds well in the newspapers.
Bernick: Listen, Rummel — I won’t have anything to do with this.
Rummel: But it is too late now; they will be here in half-an-hour.
Bernick: But why did you not tell me about this before?
Rummel: Just because I was afraid you would raise objections to it. But I consulted your wife; she allowed me to take charge of the arrangements, while she looks after the refreshments.
Bernick [listening]: What is that noise? Are they coming already? I fancy I hear singing.
Rummel [going to the verandah door]: Singing? Oh, that is only the Americans. The “Indian Girl” is being towed out.
Bernick: Towed out? Oh, yes. No, Rummel, I cannot this evening; I am not well.
Rummel: You certainly do look bad. But you must pull yourself together; devil take it — you must! Sandstad and Vigeland and I all attach the greatest importance to carrying this thing through. We have got to crush our opponents under the weight of as complete an expression of public opinion as possible. Rumours are getting about the town; our announcement about the purchase of the property cannot be withheld any longer. It is imperative that this very evening — after songs and speeches, amidst the clink of glasses — in a word, in an ebullient atmosphere of festivity — you should inform them of the risk you have incurred for the good of the community. In such an ebullient atmosphere of festivity — as I just now described it — you can do an astonishing lot with the people here. But you must have that atmosphere, or the thing won’t go.
Bernick: Yes, yes.
Rummel: And especially when so delicate and ticklish a point has to be negotiated. Well, thank goodness, you have a name that will be a tower of strength, Bernick. But listen now; we must make our arrangements, to some extent. Mr. Hilmar Tonnesen has written an ode to you. It begins very charmingly with the words: “Raise the Ideal’s banner high!” And Mr. Rorlund has undertaken the task of making the speech of the evening. Of course you must reply to that.
Bernick: I cannot tonight, Rummel. Couldn’t you —?
Rummel: It is impossible, however willing I might be; because, as you can imagine, his speech will be especially addressed to you. Of course it is possible he may say a word or two about the rest of us; I have spoken to Vigeland and Sandstad about it. Our idea is that, in replying, you should propose the toast of “Prosperity to our Community”; Sandstad will say a few words on the subject of harmonious relations between the different strata of society; then Vigeland will express the hope that this new undertaking may not disturb the sound moral basis upon which our community stands; and I propose, in a few suitable words, to refer to the ladies, whose work for the community, though more inconspicuous, is far from being without its importance. But you are not listening to me.
Bernick: Yes — indeed I am. But, tell me, do you think there is a very heavy sea running outside?
Rummel: Why, are you nervous about the “Palm Tree”? She is fully insured, you know.
Bernick: Yes, she is insured; but —
Rummel: And in good repair — and that is the main thing.
Bernick: Hm — . Supposing anything does happen to a ship, it doesn’t follow that human life will be in danger, does it? The ship and the cargo may be lost — and one might lose one’s boxes and papers —
Rummel: Good Lord — boxes and papers are not of much consequence.
Bernick: Not of much consequence! No, no; I only meant — . Hush — I hear voices again.
Rummel: It is on board the “Palm Tree.”
[VIGELAND comes in from the right.]
Vigeland: Yes, they are just towing the “Palm Tree” out. Good evening, Mr. Bernick.
Bernick: And you, as a seafaring man, are still of opinion that —
Vigeland: I put my trust in Providence, Mr. Bernick. Moreover, I have been on board myself and distributed a few small tracts which I hope may carry a blessing with them.
[SANDSTAD and KRAP come in from the right.]
Sandstad [to some one at the door]: Well, if that gets through all right, anything will. [Comes in.] Ah, good evening, good evening!
Bernick: Is anything the matter, Krap?
Krap: I say nothing, Mr. Bernick.
Sandstad: The entire crew of the “Indian Girl” are drunk; I will stake my reputation on it that they won’t come out of it alive. [LONA comes in from the right.]
Lona: Ah, now I can say his good-byes for him.
Bernick: Is he on board already?
Lona: He will be directly, at any rate. We parted outside the hotel.
Bernick: And he persists in his intention?
Lona: As firm as a rock.
Rummel [who is fumbling at the window]: Confound these new-fangled contrivances; I cannot get the curtains drawn.
Lona: Do you want them drawn? I thought, on the contrary —
Rummel: Yes, drawn at first, Miss Hessel. You know what is in the wind, I suppose?
Lona: Yes. Let me help you. [Takes hold of the cords.] I will draw down the curtains on my brother-inlaw — though I would much rather draw them up.
Rummel: You can do that too, later on. When the garden is filled with a surging crowd, then the curtains shall be drawn back, and they will be able to look in upon a surprised and happy family. Citizens’ lives should be such that they can live in glass houses! [BERNICK opens his mouth, as though he were going to say something; but he turns hurriedly away and goes into his room.]
Rummel: Come along, let us have a final consultation. Come in, too, Mr. Krap; you must assist us with information on one or two points of detail. [All the men go into BERNICK’S room. LONA has drawn the curtains over the windows, and is just going to do the same over the open glass door, when OLAF jumps down from the room above on to the garden steps; he has a wrap over his shoulders and a bundle in his hand.]
Lona: Bless me, child, how you frightened me!
Olaf [hiding his bundle]: Hush, aunt!
Lona: Did you jump out of the window? Where are you going?
Olaf: Hush! — don’t say anything. I want to go to Uncle Johan — only on to the quay, you know — only to say goodbye to him. Good-night, aunt! [Runs out through the garden.]
Lona: No — stop! Olaf — Olaf!
[JOHAN, dressed for his journey, with a bag over his shoulder, comes warily in by the door on the right.]
Lona [turning round]: What! Back again?
Johan: I have still a few minutes. I must see her once more; we cannot part like this. [The farther door on the left opens, and MARTHA and DINA, both with cloaks on, and the latter carrying a small travelling bag in her hand, come in.]
Dina: Let me go to him! Let me go to him!
Martha: Yes, you shall go to him, Dina!
Dina: There he is!
Dina: Take me with you! Johan: What —!
Lona: You mean it?
Dina: Yes, take me with you. The other has written to me that he means to announce to everyone this evening.
Johan: Dina — you do not love him?
Dina: I have never loved the man! I would rather drown myself in the fjord than be engaged to him! Oh, how he humiliated me yesterday with his condescending manner! How clear he made it that he felt he was lifting up a poor despised creature to his own level! I do not mean to be despised any longer. I mean to go away. May I go with you?
Johan: Yes, yes — a thousand times, yes!
Dina: I will not be a burden to you long. Only help me to get over there; help me to go the right way about things at first.
Johan: Hurrah, it is all right after all, Dina!
Lona [pointing to BERNICK’S door]: Hush! — gently, gently!
Johan: Dina, I shall look after you.
Dina: I am not going to let you do that. I mean to look after myself; over there, I am sure I can do that. Only let me get away from here. Oh, these women! — you don’t know — they have written to me today, too — exhorting me to realise my good fortune — impressing on me how magnanimous he has been. Tomorrow, and every day afterwards, they would be watching me to see if I were making myself worthy of it all. I am sick and tired of all this goodness!
Johan: Tell me, Dina — is that the only reason you are coming away? Am l nothing to you?
Dina: Yes, Johan, you are more to me than any one else in the world.
Johan: Oh, Dina —!
Dina: Every one here tells me I ought to hate and detest you — that it is my duty; but I cannot see that it is my duty, and shall never be able to.
Lona: No more you shall, my dear!
Martha: No, indeed you shall not; and that is why you shall go with him as his wife.
Johan: Yes, yes!
Lona: What? Give me a kiss, Martha. I never expected that from you!
Martha: No, I dare say not; I would not have expected it myself. But I was bound to break out some time! Ah, what we suffer under the tyranny of habit and custom! Make a stand against that, Dina. Be his wife. Let me see you defy all this convention.
Johan: What is your answer, Dina?
Dina: Yes, I will be your wife.
Dina: But first of all I want to work — to make something of myself — as you have done. I am not going to be merely a thing that is taken.
Lona: Quite right — that is the way.
Johan: Very well; I shall wait and hope —
Lona: And win, my boy! But now you must get on board!
Johan: Yes, on board! Ah, Lona, my dear sister, just one word with you. Look here — [He takes her into the background and talks hurriedly to her.]
Martha: Dina, you lucky girl, let me look at you, and kiss you once more — for the last time.
Dina: Not for the last time; no, my darling aunt, we shall meet again.
Martha: Never! Promise me, Dina, never to come back! [Grasps her hands and looks at her.] Now go to your happiness, my dear child — across the sea. How often, in my schoolroom, I have yearned to be over there! It must be beautiful; the skies are loftier than here — a freer air plays about your head —
Dina: Oh, Aunt Martha, some day you will follow us.
Martha: I? Never — never. I have my little vocation here, and now I really believe I can live to the full the life that I ought.
Dina: I cannot imagine being parted from you.
Martha: Ah, one can part from much, Dina. [Kisses her.] But I hope you may never experience that, my sweet child. Promise me to make him happy.
Dina: I will promise nothing; I hate promises; things must happen as they will.
Martha: Yes, yes, that is true; only remain what you are — true and faithful to yourself.
Dina: I will, aunt.
Lona [putting into her pocket some papers that JOHAN has given her]: Splendid, splendid, my dear boy. But now you must be off.
Johan: Yes, we have no time to waste now. Goodbye, Lona, and thank you for all your love. Goodbye, Martha, and thank you, too, for your loyal friendship.
Martha: Goodbye, Johan! Goodbye, Dina! And may you be happy all your lives! [She and LONA hurry them to the door at the back. JOHAN and DINA go quickly down the steps and through the garden. LONA shuts the door and draws the curtains over it.]
Lona: Now we are alone, Martha. You have lost her and I him.
Martha: You — lost him?
Lona: Oh, I had already half lost him over there. The boy was longing to stand on his own feet; that was why I pretended to be suffering from homesickness.
Martha: So that was it? Ah, then I understand why you came. But he will want you back, Lona.
Lona: An old step-sister — what use will he have for her now? Men break many very dear ties to win their happiness.
Martha: That sometimes is so.
Lona: But we two will stick together, Martha.
Martha: Can I be anything to you?
Lona: Who more so? We two foster-sisters — haven’t we both lost our children? Now we are alone.
Martha: Yes, alone. And therefore, you ought to know this too — I loved him more than anything in the world.
Lona: Martha! [Grasps her by the arm.] Is that true?
Martha: All my existence lies in those words. I have loved him and waited for him. Every summer I waited for him to come. And then he came — but he had no eyes for me.
Lona: You loved him! And it was you yourself that put his happiness into his hands.
Martha: Ought I not to be the one to put his happiness into his hands, since I loved him? Yes, I have loved him. All my life has been for him, ever since he went away. What reason had I to hope, you mean? Oh, I think I had some reason, all the same. But when he came back — then it seemed as if everything had been wiped out of his memory. He had no eyes for me.
Lona: It was Dina that overshadowed you, Martha?
Martha: And it is a good thing she did. At the time he went away, we were of the same age; but when I saw him again — oh, that dreadful moment! — I realised that now I was ten years older than he. He had gone out into the bright sparkling sunshine, and breathed in youth and health with every breath; and here I sat meanwhile, spinning and spinning —
Lona: Spinning the thread of his happiness, Martha.
Martha: Yes, it was a golden thread I spun. No bitterness! We have been two good sisters to him, haven’t we, Lona?
Lona [throwing her arms round her]: Martha!
[BERNICK comes in from his room.]
Bernick [to the other men, who are in his room]: Yes, yes, arrange it any way you please. When the time comes, I shall be able to — . [Shuts the door.] Ah, you are here. Look here, Martha — I think you had better change your dress; and tell Betty to do the same. I don’t want anything elaborate, of course — something homely, but neat. But you must make haste.
Lona: And a bright, cheerful face, Martha; your eyes must look happy.
Bernick: Olaf is to come downstairs too; I will have him beside me.
Lona: Hm! Olaf.
Martha: I will give Betty your message. [Goes out by the farther door on the left.]
Lona: Well, the great and solemn moment is at hand.
Bernick [walking uneasily up and down]: Yes, it is.
Lona: At such a moment I should think a man would feel proud and happy.
Bernick [looking at her]: Hm!
Lona: I hear the whole town is to be illuminated.
Bernick: Yes, they have some idea of that sort.
Lona: All the different clubs will assemble with their banners — your name will blaze out in letters of fire — tonight the telegraph will flash the news to every part of the country: “In the bosom of his happy family, Mr. Bernick received the homage of his fellow citizens, as one of the pillars of society.”
Bernick: That is so; and they will begin to cheer outside, and the crowd will shout in front of my house until I shall be obliged to go out and bow to them and thank them.
Lona: Obliged to?
Bernick. Do you suppose I shall feel happy at that moment?
Lona: No, I don’t suppose you will feel so very happy.
Bernick: Lona, you despise me.
Lona: Not yet.
Bernick: And you have no right to; no right to despise me! Lona, you can have no idea how utterly alone I stand in this cramped and stunted community — where I have had, year after year, to stifle my ambition for a fuller life. My work may seem many-sided, but what have I really accomplished? Odds and ends — scraps. They would not stand anything else here. If I were to go a step in advance of the opinions and views that are current at the moment, I should lose all my influence. Do you know what we are — we who are looked upon as pillars of society? We are nothing more, nor less, than the tools of society.
Lona: Why have you only begun to realise that now?
Bernick: Because I have been thinking a great deal lately — since you came back — and this evening I have thought more seriously than ever before. Oh, Lona, why did not I really know you then — in the old days, I mean?
Lona: And if you had?
Bernick: I should never have let you go; and, if I had had you, I should not be in the position I am in tonight.
Lona: And do you never consider what she might have been to you — she whom you chose in my place?
Bernick: I know, at all events, that she has been nothing to me of what I needed.
Lona: Because you have never shared your interests with her; because you have never allowed her full and frank exchange of thoughts with you; because you have allowed her to be borne under by self-reproach for the shame you cast upon one who was dear to her.
Bernick: Yes, yes; it all comes from lying and deceit.
Lona: Then why not break with all this lying and deceit?
Bernick: Now? It is too late now, Lona.
Lona: Karsten, tell me — what gratification does all this show and deception bring you?
Bernick: It brings me none. I must disappear someday, and all this community of bunglers with me. But a generation is growing up that will follow us; it is my son that I work for — I am providing a career for him. There will come a time when truth will enter into the life of the community, and on that foundation he shall build up a happier existence than his father.
Lona: With a lie at the bottom of it all? Consider what sort of an inheritance it is that you are leaving to your son.
Bernick [in tones of suppressed despair]: It is a thousand times worse than you think. But surely some day the curse must be lifted; and yet — nevertheless — . [Vehemently.] How could I bring all this upon my own head! Still, it is done now; I must go on with it now. You shall not succeed in crushing me! [HILMAR comes in hurriedly and agitatedly from the right, with an open letter in his hand.]
Hilmar: But this is — Betty, Betty.
Bernick: What is the matter? Are they coming already?
Hilmar: No, no — but I must speak to some one immediately. [Goes out through the farther door on the left.]
Lona: Karsten, you talk about our having come here to crush you. So let me tell you what sort of stuff this prodigal son, whom your moral community shuns as if he had the plague, is made of. He can do without any of you — for he is away now.
Bernick: But he said he meant to come back
Lona: Johan will never come back. He is gone for good, and Dina with him.
Bernick: Never come back? — and Dina with him?
Lona: Yes, to be his wife. That is how these two strike your virtuous community in the face, just as I did once — but never mind that.
Bernick: Gone — and she too — in the “Indian Girl” —
Lona: No; he would not trust so precious a freight to that rascally crew. Johan and Dina are on the “Palm Tree.”
Bernick: Ah! Then it is all in vain — [Goes hurriedly to the door of his room, opens it and calls in.] Krap, stop the “Indian Girl” — she must not sail tonight!
Krap [from within]: The “Indian Girl” is already standing out to sea, Mr. Bernick.
Bernick [shutting the door and speaking faintly]: Too late — and all to no purpose —
Lona: What do you mean?
Bernick: Nothing, nothing. Leave me alone!
Lona: Hm! — look here, Karsten. Johan was good enough to say that he entrusted to me the good name and reputation that he once lent to you, and also the good name that you stole from him while he was away. Johan will hold his tongue; and I can act just as I please in the matter. See, I have two letters in my hand.
Bernick: You have got them! And you mean now — this very evening — perhaps when the procession comes —
Lona: I did not come back here to betray you, but to stir your conscience so that you should speak of your own free will. I did not succeed in doing that — so you must remain as you are, with your life founded upon a lie. Look, I am tearing your two letters in pieces. Take the wretched things — there you are. Now there is no evidence against you, Karsten. You are safe now; be happy, too — if you can.
Bernick [much moved]: Lona — why did you not do that sooner! Now it is too late; life no longer seems good to me; I cannot live on after today.
Lona: What has happened?
Bernick: Do not ask me — But I must live on, nevertheless! I will live — for Olaf’s sake. He shall make amends for everything — expiate everything.
Lona: Karsten —! [HILMAR comes hurriedly back.]
Hilmar: I cannot find anyone; they are all out — even Betty!
Bernick: What is the matter with you?
Hilmar: I daren’t tell you.
Bernick: What is it? You must tell me!
Hilmar: Very well — Olaf has run away, on board the “Indian Girl.”
Bernick [stumbling back]: Olaf — on board the “Indian Girl”! No, no!
Lona: Yes, he is! Now I understand — I saw him jump out of the window.
Bernick [calls in through the door of his room in a despairing voice]: Krap, stop the “Indian Girl” at any cost!
Krap: It is impossible, sir. How can you suppose —?
Bernick: We must stop her; Olaf is on board!
Rummel [coming out of BERNICK’S room]: Olaf, run away? Impossible!
Sandstad [following him]: He will be sent back with the pilot, Mr. Bernick.
Hilmar: No, no; he has written to me. [Shows the letter.] He says he means to hide among the cargo till they are in the open sea.
Bernick: I shall never see him again!
Rummel: What nonsense! — a good strong ship, newly repaired . . .
Vigeland [who has followed the others out of BERNICK’S room]: And in your own yard, Mr. Bernick!
Bernick: I shall never see him again, I tell you. I have lost him, Lona; and — I see it now — he never was really mine. [Listens.] What is that?
Rummel: Music. The procession must be coming.
Bernick. I cannot take any part in it — I will not.
Rummel: What are you thinking of! That is impossible.
Sandstad: Impossible, Mr. Bernick; think what you have at stake.
Bernick: What does it all matter to me now? What have I to work for now?
Rummel: Can you ask? You have us and the community.
Vigeland: Quite true.
Sandstad: And surely, Mr. Bernick, you have not forgotten that we — .[MARTHA comes in through the farther door to the left. Music is heard in the distance, down the street.]
Martha: The procession is just coming, but Betty is not in the house. I don’t understand where she —
Bernick: Not in the house! There, you see, Lona — no support to me, either in gladness or in sorrow.
Rummel: Draw back the curtains! Come and help me, Mr. Krap — and you, Mr. Sandstad. It is a thousand pities that the family should not be united just now; it is quite contrary to the program. [They draw back all the curtains. The whole street is seen to be illuminated. Opposite the house is a large transparency, bearing the words: “Long live Karsten Bernick, Pillar of our Society “]
Bernick [shrinking back]: Take all that away! I don’t want to see it! Put it out, put it out!
Rummel: Excuse me, Mr. Bernick, but are you not well?
Martha: What is the matter with him, Lona?
Lona: Hush! [Whispers to her.]
Bernick: Take away those mocking words, I tell you! Can’t you see that all these lights are grinning at us?
Rummel: Well, really, I must confess —
Bernick: Oh, how could you understand —! But I, I—! It is all like candles in a dead-room!
Rummel: Well, let me tell you that you are taking the thing a great deal too seriously.
Sandstad: The boy will enjoy a trip across the Atlantic, and then you will have him back.
Vigeland: Only put your trust in the Almighty, Mr. Bernick.
Rummel: And in the vessel, Bernick; it is not likely to sink, I know.
Krap: Hm —
Rummel: Now if it were one of those floating coffins that one hears are sent out by men in the bigger countries —
Bernick: I am sure my hair must be turning grey —
[MRS. BERNICK comes in from the garden, with a shawl thrown over her head.]
Mrs. Bernick: Karsten, Karsten, do you know —?
Bernick: Yes. I know; but you — you, who see nothing that is going on — you, who have no mother’s eyes for your son —!
Mrs. Bernick: Listen to me, do!
Bernick: Why did you not look after him? Now I have lost him. Give him back to me, if you can.
Mrs. Bernick: I can! I have got him.
Bernick: You have got him!
The Men: Ah!
Hilmar: Yes, I thought so.
Martha: You have got him back, Karsten.
Lona: Yes — make him your own, now.
Bernick: You have got him! Is that true? Where is he?
Mrs. Bernick: I shall not tell you, till you have forgiven him.
Bernick: Forgiven! But how did you know —?
Mrs. Bernick: Do you not think a mother sees? I was in mortal fear of your getting to know anything about it. Some words he let fall yesterday — and then his room was empty, and his knapsack and clothes missing . . .
Bernick: Yes, yes?
Mrs. Bernick: I ran, and got hold of Aune; we went out in his boat; the American ship was on the point of sailing. Thank God, we were in time — got on board — searched the hold — found him! Oh, Karsten, you must not punish him!
Mrs. Bernick: Nor Aune, either!
Bernick: Aune? What do you know about him? Is the “Indian Girl” under sail again?
Mrs. Bernick: No, that is just it.
Bernick: Speak, speak!
Mrs. Bernick: Aune was just as agitated as I was; the search took us some time; it had grown dark, and the pilot made objections; and so Aune took upon himself — in your name —
Mrs. Bernick: To stop the ship’s sailing till tomorrow.
Krap: Hm —
Bernick: Oh, how glad I am!
Mrs. Bernick: You are not angry?
Bernick: I cannot tell you how glad I am, Betty
Rummel: You really take things far too seriously.
Hilmar: Oh yes, as soon as it is a question of a little struggle with the elements — ugh!
Krap [going to the window]: The procession is just coming through your garden gate, Mr. Bernick.
Bernick: Yes, they can come now.
Rummel: The whole garden is full of people.
Sandstad: The whole street is crammed.
Rummel: The whole town is afoot, Bernick. It really is a moment that makes one proud.
Vigeland: Let us take it in a humble spirit, Mr. Rummel.
Rummel: All the banners are out! What a procession! Here comes the committee with Mr. Rorlund at their head.
Bernick: Yes, let them come in!
Rummel: But, Bernick — in your present agitated frame of mind —
Bernick: Well, what?
Rummel: I am quite willing to speak instead of you, if you like.
Bernick: No, thank you; I will speak for myself tonight.
Rummel: But are you sure you know what to say?
Bernick: Yes, make your mind easy, Rummel — I know now what to say. [The music grows louder. The verandah door is opened. RORLUND comes in, at the head of the Committee, escorted by a couple of hired waiters, who carry a covered basket. They are followed by townspeople of all classes, as many as can get into the room. An apparently endless crowd of people, waving banners and flags, are visible in the garden and the street.]
Rorlund: Mr. Bernick! I see, from the surprise depicted upon your face, that it is as unexpected guests that we are intruding upon your happyfamily circle and your peaceful fireside, where we find you surrounded by honoured and energetic fellow citizens and friends. But it is our hearts that have bidden us come to offer you our homage — not for the first time, it is true, but for the first time on such a comprehensive scale. We have on many occasions given you our thanks for the broad moral foundation upon which you have, so to speak, reared the edifice of our community. On this occasion we offer our homage especially to the clear-sighted, indefatigable, unselfish — nay, self-sacrificing citizen who has taken the initiative in an undertaking which, we are assured on all sides, will give a powerful impetus to the temporal prosperity and welfare of our community.
Voices: Bravo, bravo!
Rorlund: You, sir, have for many years been a shining example in our midst. This is not the place for me to speak of your family life, which has been a model to us all; still less to enlarge upon your unblemished personal character. Such topics belong to the stillness of a man’s own chamber, not to a festal occasion such as this! I am here to speak of your public life as a citizen, as it lies open to all men’s eyes. Well-equipped vessels sail away from your shipyard and carry our flag far and wide over the seas. A numerous and happy band of workmen look up to you as to a father. By calling new branches of industry into
existence, you have laid the foundations of the welfare of hundreds of families. In a word — you are, in the fullest sense of the term, the mainstay of our community.
Voices: Hear, hear! Bravo!
Rorlund: And, sir, it is just that disinterestedness, which colours all your conduct, that is so beneficial to our community — more so than words can express — and especially at the present moment. You are now on the point of procuring for us what I have no hesitation in calling bluntly by its prosaic name — a railway!
Voices: Bravo, bravo!
Rorlund: But it would seem as though the undertaking were beset by certain difficulties, the outcome of narrow and selfish considerations.
Voices: Hear, hear!
Rorlund: For the fact has come to light that certain individuals, who do not belong to our community, have stolen a march upon the hard-working citizens of this place, and have laid hands on certain sources of profit which by rights should have fallen to the share of our town.
Voices: That’s right! Hear, hear!
Rorlund: This regrettable fact has naturally come to your knowledge also, Mr. Bernick. But it has not had the slightest effect in deterring you from proceeding steadily with your project, well knowing that a patriotic man should not solely take local interests into consideration.
Voices: Oh! — No, no! — Yes, yes!
Rorlund: It is to such a man — to the patriot citizen, whose character we all should emulate — that we bring our homage this evening. May your undertaking grow to be a real and lasting source of good fortune to this community! It is true enough that a railway may be the means of our exposing ourselves to the incursion of pernicious influences from without; but it gives us also the means of quickly expelling them from within. For even we, at the present time, cannot boast of being entirely free from the danger of such outside influences;but as we have, on this very evening — if rumour is to be believed — fortunately got rid of certain elements of that nature, sooner than was to be expected —
Voices: Order, order!
Rorlund:— I regard the occurrence as a happy omen for our undertaking. My alluding to such a thing at such a moment only emphasises the fact that the house in which we are now standing is one where the claims of morality are esteemed even above ties of family.
Voices: Hear, hear! Bravo!
Bernick [at the same moment]: Allow me —
Rorlund: I have only a few more words to say, Mr. Bernick. What you have done for your native place we all know has not been done with any underlying idea of its bringing tangible profit to yourself. But, nevertheless, you must not refuse to accept a slight token of grateful appreciation at the hands of your fellow-citizens — least of all at this important moment when, according to the assurances of practical men, we are standing on the threshold of a new era.
Voices: Bravo! Hear, hear!
[RORLUND aigns to the servants, who bring forward the basket. During the following speech, members of the Committee take out and present the various objects mentioned.]
Rorlund: And so, Mr. Bernick, we have the pleasure of presenting you with this silver coffee-service. Let it grace your board when in the future, as so often in the past, we have the happiness of being assembled under your hospitable roof. You, too, gentlemen, who have so generously seconded the leader of our community, we ask to accept a small souvenir. This silver goblet is for you, Mr. Rummel. Many a time have you, amidst the clink of glasses, defended the interests of your fellow-citizens in well-chosen words; may you often find similar worthy opportunities to raise and empty this goblet in some patriotic toast! To you, Mr. Sandstad, I present this album containing photographs of your fellow-citizens. Your well-known and conspicuous liberality has put you in the pleasant position of being able to number your friends amongst all classes of society. And to you, Mr. Vigeland, I have to offer this book of Family Devotions, printed on vellum and handsomely bound, to grace your study table. The mellowing influence of time has led you to take an earnest view of life; your zeal in carrying out your daily duties has, for a long period of years, been purified and enobled by thoughts of higher and holier things. [Turns to the crowd.] And now, friends, three cheers for Mr. Bernick and his fellow-workers! Three cheers for the Pillars of our Society!
The whole crowd: Bernick! Pillars of Society! Hurrah-hurrah-hurrah!
Lona: I congratulate you, brother-inlaw.
[An expectant hush follows.]
Bernick [speaking seriously and slowly]: Fellow citizens — your spokesman said just now that tonight we are standing on the threshold of a new era. I hope that will prove to be the case. But before that can come to pass, we must lay fast hold of truth — truth which, till tonight, has been altogether and in all circumstances a stranger to this community of ours. [Astonishment among the audience.] To that end, I must begin by deprecating the praises with which you, Mr. Rorlund, according to custom on such occasions, have overwhelmed me. I do not deserve them; because, until today, my actions have by no means been disinterested. Even though I may not always have aimed at pecuniary profit, I at all events recognise now that a craving for power, influence and position has been the moving spirit of most of my actions.
Rummel [half aloud]: What next!
Bernick: Standing before my fellow citizens, I do not reproach myself for that; because I still think I am entitled to a place in the front rank of our capable men of affairs.
Voices: Yes, yes, yes!
Bernick: But what I charge myself with is that I have so often been weak enough to resort to deceitfulness, because I knew and feared the tendency of the community to espy unclean motives behind everything a prominent man here undertakes. And now I am coming to a point which will illustrate that.
Rummel [uneasily]: Hm-hm!
Bernick: There have been rumours of extensive purchases of property outside the town. These purchases have been made by me — by me alone, and by no one else. [Murmurs are heard: “What does he say? — He? — Bernick?”] The properties are, for the time being, in my hands. Naturally I have confided in my fellow-workers, Mr. Rummel, Mr. Vigeland and Mr. Sandstad, and we are all agreed that —
Rummel: It is not true! Prove it — prove it!
Vigeland: We are not all agreed about anything!
Sandstad: Well, really I must say —!
Bernick: That is quite true — we are not yet agreed upon the matter I was going to mention. But I confidently hope that these three gentlemen will agree with me when I announce to you that I have tonight come to the decision that these properties shall be exploited as a company of which the shares shall be offered for public subscription; any one that wishes can take shares.
Voices: Hurrah! Three cheers for Bernick!
Rummel [in a low voice, to BERNICK]: This is the basest treachery —!
Sandstad [also in an undertone]: So you have been fooling us!
Vigeland: Well, then, devil take —! Good Lord, what am I saying? [Cheers are heard without.]
Bernick: Silence, gentlemen. I have no right to this homage you offer me; because the decision I have just come to does not represent what was my first intention. My intention was to keep the whole thing for myself; and, even now, I am of opinion that these properties would be worked to best advantage if they remained in one man’s hands. But you are at liberty to choose. If you wish it, I am willing to administer them to the best of my abilities.
Voices: Yes, yes, yes!
Bernick: But, first of all, my fellow townsmen must know me thoroughly. And let each man seek to know himself thoroughly, too; and so let it really come to pass that tonight we begin a new era. The old era — with its affectation, its hypocrisy and its emptiness, its pretence of virtue and its miserable fear of public opinion — shall be for us like a museum, open for purposes of instruction; and to that museum we will present — shall we not, gentlemen? — the coffee service, and the goblet, and the album, and the Family Devotions printed on vellum, and handsomely bound.
Rummel: Oh, of course.
Vigeland [muttering]: If you have taken everything else, then —
Sandstad: By all means.
Bernick: And now for the principal reckoning I have to make with the community. Mr. Rorlund said that certain pernicious elements had left us this evening. I can add what you do not yet know. The man referred to did not go away alone; with him, to become his wife, went —
Lona [loudly]: Dina Dorf!
Mrs. Bernick: What? [Great commotion.]
Rorlund: Fled? Run away — with him! Impossible!
Bernick: To become his wife, Mr. Rorlund. And I will add more. [In a low voice, to his wife.] Betty, be strong to bear what is coming. [Aloud.] This is what I have to say: hats off to that man, for he has nobly taken another’s guilt upon his shoulders. My friends, I want to have done with falsehood; it has very nearly poisoned every fibre of my being. You shall know all. Fifteen years ago, I was the guilty man.
Mrs. Bernick [softly and tremblingly]: Karsten!
Martha [similarly]: Ah, Johan —!
Lona: Now at last you have found yourself!
[Speechless consternation among the audience.]
Bernick: Yes, friends, I was the guilty one, and he went away. The vile and lying rumours that were spread abroad afterwards, it is beyond human power to refute now; but I have no right to complain of that. For fifteen years I have climbed up the ladder of success by the help of those rumours; whether now they are to cast me down again, or not, each of you must decide in his own mind.
Rorlund: What a thunderbolt! Our leading citizen —! [In a low voice, to BETTY.] How sorry I am for you, Mrs. Bernick!
Hilmar: What a confession! Well, I must say —!
Bernick: But come to no decision tonight. I entreat every one to go home — to collect his thoughts — to look into his own heart. When once more you can think calmly, then it will be seen whether I have lost or won by speaking out. Goodbye! I have still much — very much — to repent of; but that concerns my own conscience only. Good night! Take away all these signs of rejoicing. We must all feel that they are out of place here.
Rorlund: That they certainly are. [In an undertone to MRS. BERNICK.] Run away! So then she was completely unworthy of me. [Louder, to the Committee.] Yes, gentlemen, after this I think we had better disperse as quietly as possible.
Hilmar: How, after this, any one is to manage to hold the Ideal’s banner high — Ugh!
[Meantime the news has been whispered from mouth to mouth. The crowd gradually disperses from the garden. RUMMEL, SANDSTAD and VIGELAND go out, arguing eagerly but in a low voice. HILMAR slinks away to the right. When silence is restored, there only remain in the room BERNICK, MRS. BERNICK, MARTHA, LONA and KRAP.]
Bernick: Betty, can you forgive me?
Mrs. Bernick [looking at him with a smile]: Do you know, Karsten, that you have opened out for me the happiest prospect I have had for many a year?
Mrs. Bernick: For many years, I have felt that once you were mine and that I had lost you. Now I know that you never have been mine yet; but I shall win you.
Bernick [folding her in his arms]: Oh, Betty, you have won me. It was through Lona that I first learned really to know you. But now let Olaf come to me.
Mrs. Bernick: Yes, you shall have him now. Mr. Krap —! [Talks softly to KRAP in the background. He goes out by the garden door. During what follows, the illuminations and lights in the houses are gradually extinguished.]
Bernick [in a low voice]: Thank you, Lona — you have saved what was best in me — and for me.
Lona: Do you suppose I wanted to do anything else?
Bernick: Yes, was that so — or not? I cannot quite make you out.
Lona: Hm —
Bernick: Then it was not hatred? Not revenge? Why did you come back, then?
Lona: Old friendship does not rust.
Lona: When Johan told me about the lie, I swore to myself that the hero of my youth should stand free and true.
Bernick: What a wretch I am! — and how little I have deserved it of you!
Lona. Oh, if we women always looked for what we deserve, Karsten —! [AUNE comes in with OLAF from the garden.]
Bernick [going to meet them]: Olaf!
Olaf: Father, I promise I will never do it again —
Bernick: Never run away?
Olaf: Yes, yes, I promise you, father.
Bernick: And I promise you, you shall never have reason to. For the future you shall be allowed to grow up, not as the heir to my life’s work, but as one who has his own life’s work before him.
Olaf: And shall I be allowed to be what I like, when I grow up?
Olaf. Oh, thank you! Then I won’t be a pillar of society.
Bernick: No? Why not?
Olaf: No — I think it must be so dull.
Bernick: You shall be yourself, Olaf; the rest may take care of itself — And you, Aune . . .
Aune: I know, Mr. Bernick; I am dismissed.
Bernick: We remain together, Aune; and forgive me.
Aune: What? The ship has not sailed tonight.
Bernick: Nor will it sail tomorrow, either. I gave you too short grace. It must be looked to more thoroughly.
Aune: It shall, Mr. Bernick — and with the new machines!
Bernick: By all means — but thoroughly and conscientiously. There are many among us who need thorough and conscientious repairs, Aune. Well, good night.
Aune: Good-night, sir — and thank you, thank you. [Goes out.]
Mrs. Bernick: Now they are all gone.
Bernick: And we are alone. My name is not shining in letters of fire any longer; all the lights in the windows are out.
Lona: Would you wish them lit again?
Bernick: Not for anything in the world. Where have I been! You would be horrified if you knew. I feel now as if I had come back to my right senses, after being poisoned. But I feel this that I can be young and healthy again. Oh, come nearer — come closer round me. Come, Betty! Come, Olaf, my boy! And you, Martha — it seems to me as if I had never seen you all these years.
Lona: No, I can believe that. Your community is a community of bachelor souls; you do not see women.
Bernick: That is quite true; and for that very reason — this is a bargain, Lona — you must not leave Betty and me.
Mrs. Bernick: No, Lona, you must not.
Lona: No, how could I have the heart to go away and leave you young people who are just setting up housekeeping? Am I not your foster-mother? You and I, Martha, the two old aunts — What are you looking at?
Martha: Look how the sky is clearing, and how light it is over the sea. The “Palm Tree” is going to be lucky.
Lona: It carries its good luck on board.
Bernick: And we — we have a long earnest day of work ahead of us; I most of all. But let it come; only keep close round me you true, loyal women. I have learned this too, in these last few days; it is you women that are the pillars of society.
Lona: You have learned a poor sort of wisdom, then, brother-inlaw. [Lays her hand firmly upon his shoulder.] No, my friend; the spirit of truth and the spirit of freedom — they are the pillars of society.
This web edition published by:
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56