[SCENE. ROSMER’S study. The door into it is in the left-hand wall. At the back of the room is a doorway with a curtain drawn back from it, leading to his bedroom. On the right, a window, in front of which is a writing-table strewn with books and papers. Bookshelves and cupboards on the walls. Homely furniture. On the left, an old-fashioned sofa with a table in front of it. ROSMER, wearing a smoking-jacket, is sitting at the writing-table on a high-backed chair. He is cutting and turning over the leaves of a magazine, and dipping into it here and there. A knock is heard at the door on the left.]
Rosmer [without turning round]. Come in.
[REBECCA comes in, wearing a morning wrapper.]
Rebecca. Good morning.
Rosmer [still turning over the leaves of his book]. Good morning, dear. Do you want anything?
Rebecca. Only to ask if you have slept well?
Rosmer. I went to sleep feeling so secure and happy. I did not even dream. [Turns round.] And you?
Rebecca. Thanks, I got to sleep in the early morning.
Rosmer. I do not think I have felt so light-hearted for a long time as I do today. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to say what I did.
Rebecca. Yes, you should not have been silent so long, John.
Rosmer. I cannot understand how I came to be such a coward.
Rebecca. I am sure it was not really from cowardice.
Rosmer. Yes, indeed. I can see that at bottom there was some cowardice about it.
Rebecca. So much the braver of you to face it as you did. [Sits down beside him on a chair by the writing-table.] But now I want to confess something that I have done — something that you must not be vexed with me about.
Rosmer. Vexed? My dear girl, how can you think —?
Rebecca. Yes, because I dare say it was a little presumptuous of me, but —
Rosmer. Well, let me hear what it was.
Rebecca. Last night, when that Ulrick Brendel was going, I wrote him a line or two to take to Mortensgaard.
Rosmer [a little doubtfully]. But, my dear Rebecca — What did you write, then?
Rebecca. I wrote that he would be doing you a service if he would interest himself a little in that unfortunate man, and help him in any way he could.
Rosmer. My dear, you should not have done that. You have only done Brendel harm by doing so. And besides, Mortensgaard is a man I particularly wish to have nothing to do with. You know I have been at loggerheads once with him already.
Rebecca. But do you not think that now it might be a very good thing if you got on to good terms with him again?
Rosmer. I? With Mortensgaard? For what reason, do you mean?
Rebecca. Well, because you cannot feel altogether secure now — since this has come between you and your friends.
Rosmer [looking at her and shaking his head]. Is it possible that you think either Kroll or any of the others would take a revenge on me — that they could be capable of —
Rebecca. In their first heat of indignation dear. No one can be certain of that. I think, after the way Mr. Kroll took it —
Rosmer. Oh, you ought to know him better than that. Kroll is an honourable man, through and through. I will go into town this afternoon, and have a talk with him. I will have a talk with them all. Oh, you will see how smoothly everything will go. [MRS. HELSETH comes in by the door on the left.]
Rebecca [getting up]. What is it, Mrs. Helseth?
Mrs. Helseth. Mr. Kroll is downstairs in the hall, miss.
Rosmer [getting up quickly]. Kroll!
Rebecca. Mr. Kroll! What a surprise!
Mrs. Helseth. He asks if he may come up and speak to Mr. Rosmer.
Rosmer [to REBECCA]. What did I say! [To MRS. HELSETH]. Of course he may. [Goes to the door and calls down the stairs.] Come up, my dear fellow! I am delighted to see you! [He stands holding the door open. MRS. HELSETH goes out. REBECCA draws the curtain over the doorway at the back, and then begins to tidy the room. KROLL comes in with his hat in his hand.]
Rosmer [quietly, and with some emotion]. I knew quite well it would not be the last time —
Kroll. To-day I see the matter in quite a different light from yesterday.
Rosmer. Of course you do, Kroll! Of course you do! You have been thinking things over —
Kroll. You misunderstand me altogether. [Puts his hat down on the table.] It is important that I should speak to you alone.
Rosmer. Why may not Miss West —?
Rebecca. No, no, Mr. Rosmer. I will go.
Kroll [looking meaningly at her]. And I see I ought to apologise to you, Miss West, for coming here so early in the morning. I see I have taken you by surprise, before you have had time to —
Rebecca [with a start]. Why so? Do you find anything out of place in the fact of my wearing a morning wrapper at home here?
Kroll. By no means! Besides, I have no knowledge of what customs may have grown up at Rosmersholm.
Rosmer. Kroll, you are not the least like yourself today.
Rebecca. I will wish you good morning, Mr. Kroll. [Goes out to the left.]
Kroll. If. you will allow me — [Sits down on the couch.]
Rosmer. Yes, my dear fellow, let us make ourselves comfortable and have a confidential talk. [Sits down on a chair facing KROLL.]
Kroll. I have not been able to close an eye since yesterday. I lay all night, thinking and thinking.
Rosmer. And what have you got to say today?
Kroll. It will take me some time, Rosmer. Let me begin with a sort of introduction. I can give you some news of Ulrick Brendel.
Rosmer. Has he been to see you?
Kroll. No. He took up his quarters in a low-class tavern — in the lowest kind of company, of course; drank, and stood drinks to others, as long as he had any money left; and then began to abuse the whole lot of them as a contemptible rabble — and, indeed, as far as that goes he was quite right. But the result was, that he got a thrashing and was thrown out into the gutter.
Rosmer. I see he is altogether incorrigible.
Kroll. He had pawned the coat you gave him, too, but that is going to be redeemed for him. Can you guess by whom?
Rosmer. By yourself, perhaps?
Kroll. No. By our noble friend Mr. Mortensgaard.
Rosmer. Is that so?
Kroll. I am informed that Mr. Brendel’s first visit was paid to the “idiot” and “plebeian”.
Rosmer. Well, it was very lucky for him —
Kroll. Indeed it was. [Leans over the table, towards ROSMER.] Now I am coming to a matter of which, for the sake of our old — our former — friendship, it is my duty to warn you.
Rosmer. My dear fellow, what is that?
Kroll. It is this; that certain games are going on behind your back in this house.
Rosmer. How can you think that? Is it Rebec — is it Miss West you are alluding to?
Kroll. Precisely. And I can quite understand it on her part; she has been accustomed, for such a long time now, to do as she likes here. But nevertheless —
Rosmer. My dear Kroll, you are absolutely mistaken. She and I have no secrets from one another about anything whatever.
Kroll. Then has she confessed to you that she has been corresponding with the editor of the “Searchlight”?
Rosmer. Oh, you mean the couple of lines she wrote to him on Ulrik Brendel’s behalf?
Kroll. You have found that out, then? And do you approve of her being on terms of this sort with that scurrilous hack, who almost every week tries to pillory me for my attitude in my school and out of it?
Rosmer. My dear fellow, I don’t suppose that side of the question has ever occurred to her. And in any case, of course she has entire freedom of action, just as I have myself.
Kroll. Indeed? Well, I suppose that is quite in accordance with the new turn your views have taken — because I suppose Miss West looks at things from the same standpoint as you?
Rosmer. She does. We two have worked our way forward in complete companionship.
Kroll [looking at him and shaking his head slowly]. Oh, you blind, deluded man!
Rosmer. I? What makes you say that?
Kroll. Because I dare not — I WILL not — think the worst. No, no, let me finish what I want to say. Am I to believe that you really prize my friendship, Rosmer? And my respect, too? Do you?
Rosmer. Surely I need not answer that question.
Kroll. Well, but there are other things that require answering — that require full explanation on your part. Will you submit to it if I hold a sort of inquiry —?
Rosmer. An inquiry?
Kroll. Yes, if I ask you questions about one or two things that it may be painful for you to recall to mind. For instance, the matter of your apostasy — well, your emancipation, if you choose to call it so — is bound up with so much else for which, for your own sake, you ought to account to me.
Rosmer. My dear fellow, ask me about anything you please. I have nothing to conceal.
Kroll. Well, then, tell me this — what do you yourself believe was the real reason of Beata’s making away with herself?
Rosmer. Can you have any doubt? Or perhaps I should rather say, need one look for reasons for what an unhappy sick woman, who is unaccountable for her actions, may do?
Kroll. Are you certain that Beata was so entirely unaccountable for her actions? The doctors, at all events, did not consider that so absolutely certain.
Rosmer. If the doctors had ever seen her in the state in which I have so often seen her, both night and day, they would have had no doubt about it.
Kroll. I did not doubt it either, at the time.
Rosmer. Of course not. It was impossible to doubt it, unfortunately. You remember what I told you of her ungovernable, wild fits of passion — which she expected me to reciprocate. She terrified me! And think how she tortured herself with baseless self-reproaches in the last years of her life!
Kroll. Yes, when she knew that she would always be childless.
Rosmer. Well, think what it meant — to be perpetually in the clutches of such — agony of mind over a thing that she was not in the slightest degree responsible for —! Are you going to suggest that she was accountable for her actions?
Kroll. Hm! — Do you remember whether at that time you had, in the house any books dealing with the purport of marriage — according to the advanced views of today?
Rosmer. I remember Miss West’s lending me a work of the kind. She inherited Dr. West’s library, you know. But, my dear Kroll, you surely do not suppose that we were so imprudent as to let the poor sick creature get wind of any such ideas? I can solemnly swear that we were in no way to blame. It was the overwrought nerves of her own brain that were responsible for these frantic aberrations.
Kroll. There is one thing, at any rate, that I can tell you now, and that is that your poor tortured and overwrought Beata put an end to her own life in order that yours might be happy — and that you might be free to live as you pleased.
Rosmer [starting half up from his chair]. What do you mean by that?
Kroll. You must listen to me quietly, Rosmer — because now I can speak of it. During the last year of her life she came twice to see me, to tell me what she suffered from her fears and her despair.
Rosmer. On that point?
Kroll. No. The first time she came she declared that you were on the high road to apostasy — that you were going to desert the faith that your father had taught you.
Rosmer [eagerly]. What you say is impossible, Kroll! — absolutely impossible! You must be wrong about that.
Rosmer. Because as long as Beata lived I was still doubting and fighting with myself. And I fought out that fight alone and in the completest secrecy. I do not imagine that even Rebecca —
Rosmer. Oh, well — Miss West. I call her Rebecca for the sake of convenience.
Kroll. So I have observed.
Rosmer. That is why it is so incomprehensible to me that Beata should have had any suspicion of it. Why did she never speak to me about it? — for she never did, by a single word.
Kroll. Poor soul — she begged and implored me to speak to you.
Rosmer. Then why did you never do so?
Kroll. Do you think I had a moment’s doubt, at that time, that her mind was unhinged? Such an accusation as that, against a man like you! Well, she came to see me again, about a month later. She seemed calmer then; but, as she was going away, she said: “They may expect to see the White Horse soon at Rosmersholm.”
Rosmer. Yes, I know — the White Horse. She often used to talk about that.
Kroll. And then, when I tried to distract her from such unhappy thoughts, she only answered: “I have not much time left; for John must marry Rebecca immediately now.”
Rosmer [almost speechless]. What are you saying! I marry —!
Kroll. That was on a Thursday afternoon. On the Saturday evening she threw herself from the footbridge into the millrace.
Rosmer. And you never warned us!
Kroll. Well, you know yourself how constantly she used to say that she was sure she would die before long.
Rosmer. Yes, I know. But, all the same, you ought to have warned us!
Kroll. I did think of doing so. But then it was too late.
Rosmer. But since then, why have you not —? Why have you kept all this to yourself?
Kroll. What good would it have done for me to come here and add to your pain and distress? Of course I thought the whole thing was merely wild, empty fancy — until yesterday evening.
Rosmer. Then you do not think so any longer?
Kroll. Did not Beata see clearly enough, when she saw that you were going to fall away from your childhood’s faith?
Rosmer [staring in front of him]. Yes, I cannot understand that. It is the most incomprehensible thing in the world to me.
Kroll. Incomprehensible or not, the thing is true. And now I ask you, Rosmer, how much truth is there in her other accusation? — the last one, I mean.
Rosmer. Accusation? Was that an accusation, then?
Kroll. Perhaps you did not notice how it was worded. She said she meant to stand out of the way. Why? Well?
Rosmer. In order that I might marry Rebecca, apparently.
Kroll. That was not quite how it was worded. Beata expressed herself differently. She said “I have not much time left; for John must marry Rebecca IMMEDIATELY now.”
Rosmer [looks at him for a moment; then gets up]. Now I understand you, Kroll.
Kroll. And if you do? What answer have you to make?
Rosmer [in an even voice, controlling himself]. To such an unheard-of —? The only fitting answer would be to point to the door.
Kroll [getting up]. Very good.
Rosmer [standing face to face with him]. Listen to me. For considerably more than a year to be precise, since Beata’s death — Rebecca West and I have lived here alone at Rosmersholm. All that time you have known of the charge Beata made against us; but I have never for one moment seen you appear the least scandalised at our living together here.
Kroll. I never knew, till yesterday evening, that it was a case of an apostate man and an “emancipated” woman living together.
Rosmer. Ah! So then you do not believe in any purity of life among apostates or emancipated folk? You do not believe that they may have the instinct of morality ingrained in their natures?
Kroll. I have no particular confidence in the kind of morality that is not rooted in the Church’s faith.
Rosmer. And you mean that to apply to Rebecca and myself? — to my relations with Rebecca?
Kroll. I cannot make any departure, in favour of you two, from my opinion that there is certainly no very wide gulf between free thinking and — ahem!
Rosmer. And what?
Kroll. And free love, since you force me to say it.
Rosmer [gently]. And you are not ashamed to say that to me! — you, who have known me ever since I was a boy.
Kroll. It is just for that reason. I know how easily you allow yourself to be influenced by those you associate with. And as for your Rebecca — well, your Miss West, then — to tell the truth, we know very little about her. To cut the matter short, Rosmer — I am not going to give you up. And you, on your part, ought to try and save yourself in time.
Rosmer. Save myself? How —? [MRS. HELSETH looks in through the door on the left.] What do you want?
Mrs. Helseth. I wanted to ask Miss West to come down, sir.
Rosmer. Miss West is not up here.
Mrs. Helseth. Indeed, sir? [Looks round the room.] That is very strange. [Goes out.]
Rosmer. You were saying —?
Kroll. Listen to me. As to what may have gone on here in secret while Beata was alive, and as to what may be still going on here, I have no wish to inquire more closely. You were, of course, extremely unhappy in your marriage — and to some extent that may be urged in your excuse —
Rosmer. Oh, how little you really know me!
Kroll. Do not interrupt me. What I want to say is this. If you definitely must continue living with Miss West, it is absolutely necessary that you should conceal the revolution of opinion — I mean the distressing apostasy — that she has beguiled you into. Let me speak! Let me speak! I say that, if you are determined to go on with this folly, for heaven’s sake hold any variety of ideas or opinions or beliefs you like — but keep your opinions to yourself. It is a purely personal matter, and there is not the slightest necessity to go proclaiming it all over the countryside.
Rosmer. It is a necessity for me to abandon a false and equivocal position.
Kroll. But you have a duty towards the traditions of your family, Rosmer! Remember that! From time immemorial Rosmersholm has been a stronghold of discipline and order, of respect and esteem for all that the best people in our community have upheld and sanctioned. The whole neighbourhood has taken its tone from Rosmersholm. If the report gets about that you yourself have broken with what I may call the Rosmer family tradition, it will evoke an irreparable state of unrest.
Rosmer. My dear Kroll, I cannot see the matter in that light. It seems to me that it is my imperative duty to bring a little light and happiness into the place where the race of Rosmers has spread darkness and oppression for all these long years.
Kroll [looking severely at him]. Yes, that would be a worthy action for the man with whom the race will disappear. Let such things alone, my friend. It is no suitable task for you. You were meant to lead the peaceful life of a student.
Rosmer. Yes, that may be so. But nevertheless I want to try and play my humble part in the struggles of life.
Kroll. The struggles of life! Do you know what that will mean for you? It will mean war to the death with all your friends.
Rosmer [quietly]. I do not imagine they are all such fanatics as you.
Kroll. You are a simple-minded creature, Rosmer — an inexperienced creature. You have no suspicion of the violence of the storm that will burst upon you. [MRS. HELSETH slightly opens the door on the left.]
Mrs. Helseth. Miss West wishes me to ask you, sir
Rosmer. What is it?
Mrs. Helseth. There is some one downstairs that wishes to speak to you for a minute, sir.
Rosmer. Is it the gentleman that was here yesterday afternoon, by any chance?
Mrs. Helseth. No, it is that Mr. Mortensgaard.
Kroll. Aha! So matters have got as far as that already, have they!
Rosmer. What does he want with me? Why did you not send him away?
Mrs. Helseth. Miss West told me to ask you if he might come up.
Rosmer. Tell him I am engaged, and —
Kroll [to MRS. HELSETH]. No; show him up, please. [MRS. HELSETH goes out. KROLL takes up his hat.] I quit the field — temporarily. But we have not fought the decisive action yet.
Rosmer. As truly as I stand here, Kroll, I have absolutely nothing to do with Mortensgaard.
Kroll. I do not believe you any longer on any point. Under no circumstances shall I have any faith in you after this. It is war to the knife now. We shall try if we cannot make you powerless to do any harm.
Rosmer. Oh, Kroll — how you have sunk! How low you have sunk!
Kroll. I? And a man like you has the face to say so? Remember Beata!
Rosmer. Are you harking back to that again!
Kroll. No. You must solve the riddle of the millrace as your conscience will allow you — if you have any conscience still left. [PETER MORTENSGAARD comes in softly and quietly, by the door on the left. He is a short, slightly built man with sparse reddish hair and beard. KROLL gives him a look of hatred.] The “Searchlight” too, I see. Lighted at Rosmersholm! [Buttons up his coat.] That leaves me no doubt as to the course I should steer.
Mortensgaard [quietly]. The “Searchlight” will always be ready burning to light Mr. Kroll home.
Kroll. Yes, you have shown me your goodwill for a long time. To be sure there is a Commandment that forbids us to bear false witness against our neighbour —
Mortensgaard. Mr. Kroll has no need to instruct me in the Commandments.
Kroll. Not even in the sixth?
Rosmer. Kroll —!
Mortensgaard. If I needed such instruction, Mr. Rosmer is the most suitable person to give it me.
Kroll [with scarcely concealed scorn]. Mr. Rosmer? Oh yes, the Reverend Mr. Rosmer is undoubtedly the most suitable man for that! I hope you will enjoy yourselves, gentlemen. [Goes out and slams the door after him.]
Rosmer [stands looking at the door, and says to himself]. Yes, yes — it had to be so. [Turns round.] Will you tell me, Mr. Mortensgaard, what has brought you out here to see me?
Mortensgaard. It was really Miss West I wanted to see. I thought I ought to thank her for the kind letter I received from her yesterday.
Rosmer. I know she has written to you. Have you had a talk with her?
Mortensgaard. Yes, a little. [Smiles slightly.] I hear that there has been a change of views in certain respects at Rosmersholm.
Rosmer. My views have changed to a very considerable extent; I might almost say entirely.
Mortensgaard. That is what Miss West said. And that was why she thought I ought to come up and have a little chat with you about this.
Rosmer. About what, Mr. Mortensgaard?
Mortensgaard. May I have your permission to announce in the “Searchlight” that you have altered your opinions, and are going to devote yourself to the cause of free thought and progress?
Rosmer. By all means. I will go so far as to ask you to make the announcement.
Mortensgaard. Then it shall appear tomorrow. It will be a great and weighty piece of news that the Reverend Mr. Rosmer of Rosmersholm has made up his mind to join the forces of light in that direction too.
Rosmer. I do not quite understand you.
Mortensgaard. What I mean is that it implies the gain of strong moral support for our party every time we win over an earnest, Christian-minded adherent.
Rosmer [with some astonishment]. Then you don’t know —? Did Miss West not tell you that as well?
Mortensgaard. What, Mr. Rosmer? Miss West was in a considerable hurry. She told me to come up, and that I would hear the rest of it from yourself.
Rosmer. Very well, then; let me tell you that I have cut myself free entirely — on every side. I have now, no connection of any kind with the tenets of the Church. For the future such matters have not the smallest signification for me.
Mortensgaard [looking at him in perplexity]. Well, if the moon had fallen down from the sky, I could not be more —! To think that I should ever hear you yourself renounce —!
Rosmer. Yes, I stand now where you have stood for a long time. You can announce that in the “Searchlight” tomorrow too.
Mortensgaard. That, too? No, my dear Mr. Rosmer — you must excuse me — but it is not worth touching on that side of the matter.
Rosmer. Not touch on it?
Mortensgaard. Not at first, I think.
Rosmer. But I do not understand —
Mortensgaard. Well, it is like this, Mr. Rosmer. You are not as familiar with all the circumstances of the case as I am, I expect. But if you, too, have joined the forces of freedom — and if you, as Miss West says you do, mean to take part in the movement — I conclude you do so with the desire to be as useful to the movement as you possibly can, in practice as well as, in theory.
Rosmer. Yes, that is my most sincere wish.
Mortensgaard. Very well. But I must impress on you, Mr. Rosmer, that if you come forward openly with this news about your defection from the Church, you will tie your own hands immediately.
Rosmer. Do you think so?
Mortensgaard. Yes, you may be certain that there is not much that you would be able to do hereabouts. And besides, Mr. Rosmer, we have quite enough freethinkers already — indeed, I was going to say we have too many of those gentry. What the party needs is a Christian element — something that every one must respect. That is what we want badly. And for that reason it is most advisable that you should hold your tongue about any matters that do not concern the public. That is my opinion.
Rosmer. I see. Then you would not risk having anything to do with me if I were to confess my apostasy openly?
Mortensgaard [shaking his head]. I should not like to, Mr. Rosmer. Lately I have made it a rule never to support anybody or anything that is opposed to the interests of the Church.
Rosmer. Have you, then, entered the fold of the Church again lately? Mortensgaard. That is another matter altogether.
Rosmer. Oh, that is how it is. Yes, I understand you now.
Mortensgaard. Mr. Rosmer — you ought to remember that I, of all people, have not absolute freedom of action.
Rosmer. What hampers you?
Mortensgaard. What hampers me is that I am a marked man.
Rosmer. Ah — of course.
Mortensgaard. A marked man, Mr. Rosmer. And you, of all people, ought to remember that — because you were responsible, more than any one else, for my being branded.
Rosmer. If I had stood then where I stand now, I should have handled the affair more judiciously.
Mortensgaard. I think so too. But it is too late now; you have branded me, once for all — branded me for life. I do not suppose you can fully realise what such a thing means. But it is possible that you may soon feel the smart of it yourself now, Mr. Rosmer.
Mortensgaard. Yes. You surely do not suppose that Mr. Kroll and his gang will be inclined to forgive a rupture such as yours? And the “County News” is going to be pretty bloodthirsty, I hear. It may very well come to pass that you will be a marked man, too.
Rosmer. On personal grounds, Mr. Mortensgaard, I feel myself to be invulnerable. My conduct does not offer any point of attack.
Mortensgaard [with a quiet smile]. That is saying a good deal, Mr. Rosmer.
Rosmer. Perhaps it is. But I have the right to say as much.
Mortensgaard. Even if you were inclined to overhaul your conduct as thoroughly as you once overhauled mine?
Rosmer. You say that very strangely. What are you driving at? — is it anything definite?
Mortensgaard. Yes, there is one definite thing — no more than a single one. But it might be quite awkward enough if malicious opponents got a hint of it.
Rosmer. Will you have the kindness to tell me what on earth it is?
Mortensgaard. Can you not guess, Mr. Rosmer?
Rosmer. No, not for a moment.
Mortensgaard. All right. I must come out with it, then. I have in my possession a remarkable letter, that was written here at Rosmersholm.
Rosmer. Miss West’s letter, you mean? Is it so remarkable?
Mortensgaard. No, that letter is not remarkable. But I received a letter from this house on another occasion.
Rosmer. From Miss West?
Mortensgaard. No, Mr. Rosmer.
Rosmer. Well, from whom, then? From whom?
Mortensgaard. From your late wife.
Rosmer. From my wife? You had a letter from my wife?
Mortensgaard. Yes, I did.
Mortensgaard. It was during the poor lady’s last days. It must be about a year and a half ago now. And that is the letter that is so remarkable.
Rosmer. Surely you know that my wife’s mind was affected at that time?
Mortensgaard. I know there were a great many people who thought so. But, in my opinion, no one would have imagined anything of the kind from the letter. When I say the letter is a remarkable one, I mean remarkable in quite another way.
Rosmer. And what in the world did my poor wife find to write to you about?
Mortensgaard. I have the letter at home. It begins more or less to the effect that she is living in perpetual terror and dread, because of the fact that there are so many evilly disposed people about her whose only desire is to do you harm and mischief.
Mortensgaard. Yes, so she says. And then follows the most remarkable part of it all. Shall I tell you, Mr. Rosmer?
Rosmer. Of course! Tell me everything, without any reserve.
Mortensgaard. The poor lady begs and entreats me to be magnanimous. She says that she knows it was you, who got me dismissed from my post as schoolmaster, and implores me most earnestly not to revenge myself upon you.
Rosmer. What way did she think you could revenge yourself, then?
Mortensgaard. The letter goes on to say that if I should hear that anything sinful was going on at Rosmersholm, I was not to believe a word of it; that it would be only the work of wicked folk who were spreading the rumours on purpose to do you harm.
Rosmer. Does the letter say that?
Mortensgaard. You may read it at your convenience, Mr. Rosmer.
Rosmer. But I cannot understand —? What did she imagine there could be any wicked rumours about?
Mortensgaard. In the first place, that you had broken away from the faith of your childhood. Mrs. Rosmer denied that absolutely — at that time. And, in the next place — ahem!
Rosmer. In the next place?
Mortensgaard. Well, in the next place she writes — though rather confusedly — that she has no knowledge of any sinful relations existing at Rosmersholm; that she has never been wronged in any way; and that if any rumours of that sort should get about, she entreats me not to allude to them in the “Searchlight”.
Rosmer. Does she mention any names?
Rosmer. Who brought you the letter?
Mortensgaard. I promised not to tell that. It was brought to me one evening after dark.
Rosmer. If you had made inquiries at the time, you would have learnt that my poor unhappy wife was not fully accountable for her actions.
Mortensgaard. I did make inquiries, Mr. Rosmer; but I must say I did not get exactly that impression.
Rosmer. Not? — But why have you chosen this moment to enlighten me as to the existence of this old crazy letter?
Mortensgaard. With the object of advising you to be extremely cautious, Mr. Rosmer.
Rosmer. As to my way of life, do you mean?
Mortensgaard. Yes. You must remember that for the future you will not be unassailable.
Rosmer. So you persist in thinking that I have something to conceal here?
Mortensgaard. I do not see any reason why a man of emancipated ideas should refrain from living his life as fully as possible. Only, as I have already said, you should be cautious in future. If rumours should get about of anything that offends people’s prejudices, you may be quite certain that the whole cause of freedom of thought will suffer for it. Good-bye, Mr. Rosmer.
Mortensgaard. I shall go straight to the printing-office now and have the great piece of news inserted in the “Searchlight”.
Rosmer. Put it all in.
Mortensgaard. I will put in as much as there is any need for the public to know. [Bows, and goes out. ROSMER stands at the door, while MORTENSGAARD goes downstairs. The front door is heard shutting.]
Rosmer [still standing in the doorway, calls softly]. Rebecca! Reb — ahem! [Calls loudly.] Mrs. Helseth — is Miss West downstairs?
Mrs. Helseth [from below]. No, sir, she is not here.
[The curtain at the end of the room is drawn back, disclosing REBECCA standing in the doorway.]
Rosmer [turning round]. What! Were you in there, in my bedroom! My dear, what were you doing there?
Rebecca [going up to him]. I have been listening.
Rosmer. Rebecca! Could you do a thing like that?
Rebecca. Indeed I could. It was so horrid the way he said that — about my morning wrapper.
Rosmer. Ah, so you were in there too when Kroll —?
Rebecca. Yes. I wanted to know what was at the bottom of his mind.
Rosmer. You know I would have told you.
Rebecca. I scarcely think you would have told me everything — certainly not in his own words.
Rosmer. Did you hear everything, then?
Rebecca. Most of it, I think. I had to go down for a moment when Mortensgaard came.
Rosmer. And then came up again?
Rebecca. Do not take it ill of me, dear friend.
Rosmer. Do anything that you think right and proper. You have full freedom of action. — But what do you say to it all, Rebecca? Ah, I do not think I have ever stood so much in need of you as I do today.
Rebecca. Surely both you and I have been prepared for what would happen some day.
Rosmer. No, no — not for this.
Rebecca. Not for this?
Rosmer. It is true that I used to think that sooner or later our beautiful pure friendship would come to be attacked by calumny and suspicion — not on Kroll’s part, for I never would have believed such a thing of him — but on the part of the coarse-minded and ignoble-eyed crowd. Yes, indeed; I had good reason enough for so jealously drawing a veil of concealment over our compact. It was a dangerous secret.
Rebecca. Why should we pay any heed to what all these other people think? You and I know that we have nothing to reproach ourselves with.
Rosmer. I? Nothing to reproach myself with? It is true enough that I thought so until today. But now, now, Rebecca —
Rebecca. Yes? Now?
Rosmer. How am I to account to myself for Beata’s horrible accusation?
Rebecca [impetuously]. Oh, don’t talk about Beata! Don’t think about Beata any more! She is dead, and you seemed at last to have been able to get away from the thought of her.
Rosmer. Since I have learnt of this, it seems just as if she had come to life again in some uncanny fashion.
Rebecca. Oh no — you must not say that, John! You must not!
Rosmer. I tell you it is so. We must try and get to the bottom of it. How can she have strayed into such a woeful misunderstanding of me?
Rebecca. Surely you too are not beginning to doubt that she was very nearly insane?
Rosmer. Well, I cannot deny it is just of that fact that I feel I cannot be so altogether certain any longer. And besides if it were so —
Rebecca. If it were so? What then?
Rosmer. What I mean is — where are we to look for the actual cause of her sick woman’s fancies turning into insanity?
Rebecca. What good can it possibly do for you to indulge in such speculations!
Rosmer. I cannot do otherwise, Rebecca. I cannot let this doubt go on gnawing at my heart, however unwilling I may be to face it.
Rebecca. But it may become a real danger to you to be perpetually dwelling on this one lugubrious topic.
Rosmer [walking about restlessly and absorbed in the idea]. I must have betrayed myself in some way or other. She must have noticed how happy I began to feel from the day you came to us.
Rebecca. Yes; but dear, even if that were so —
Rosmer. You may be sure she did not fail to notice that we read the same books; that we sought one another’s company, and discussed every new topic together. But I cannot understand it — because I was always so careful to spare her. When I look back, it seems to me that I did everything I could to keep her apart from our lives. Or did I not, Rebecca?
Rebecca. Yes, yes — undoubtedly you did.
Rosmer. And so did you, too. And notwithstanding that —! Oh, it is horrible to think of! To think that here she was — with her affection all distorted by illness — never saying a word — watching us — noticing everything and — and — misconstruing everything.
Rebecca [wringing her hands]. Oh, I never ought to have come to Rosmersholm.
Rosmer. Just think what she must have suffered in silence! Think of all the horrible things her poor diseased brain must have led her to believe about us and store up in her mind about us! Did she never speak to you of anything that could give you any kind of clue?
Rebecca [as if startled]. To me! Do you suppose I should have remained here a day longer, if she had?
Rosmer. No, no — that is obvious. What a fight she must have fought — and fought alone, Rebecca! In despair, and all alone. And then, in the end, the poignant misery of her victory — which was also her accusation of us — in the mill-race! [Throws himself into a chair, rests his elbows on the table, and hides his face in his hands.]
Rebecca [coming quietly up behind him]. Listen to me, John. If it were in your power to call Beata back — to you — to Rosmersholm — would you do it?
Rosmer. How can I tell what I would do or what I would not do! I have no thoughts for anything but the one thing which is irrevocable.
Rebecca. You ought to be beginning to live now, John. You were beginning. You had freed yourself completely on all sides. You were feeling so happy and so light — hearted
Rosmer. I know — that is true enough. And then comes this overwhelming blow.
Rebecca [standing behind him, with her arms on the back of his chair]. How beautiful it was when we used to sit there downstairs in the dusk — and helped each other to plan our lives out afresh. You wanted to catch hold of actual life — the actual life of the day, as you used to say. You wanted to pass from house to house like a guest who brought emancipation with him — to win over men’s thoughts and wills to your own — to fashion noble men all around you, in a wider and wider circle — noble men!
Rosmer. Noble men and happy men.
Rebecca. Yes, happy men.
Rosmer. Because it is happiness that gives the soul nobility, Rebecca.
Rebecca. Do you not think suffering too? The deepest suffering?
Rosmer. Yes, if one can win through it — conquer it — conquer it completely.
Rebecca. That is what you must do.
Rosmer [shaking his head sadly]. I shall never conquer this completely. There will always be a doubt confronting me — a question. I shall never again be able to lose myself in the enjoyment of what makes life so wonderfully beautiful.
Rebecca [speaking over the back of his chair, softly]. What do you mean, John?
Rosmer [looking up at her]. Calm and happy innocence.
Rebecca [taking a step backwards]. Of course. Innocence. [A short silence.]
Rosmer [resting his head on his hands with his elbows on the table, and looking straight in front of him]. How ingeniously — how systematically — she must have put one thing together with another! First of all she begins to have a suspicion as to my orthodoxy. How on earth did she get that idea in her mind? Any way, she did; and the idea grew into a certainty. And then — then, of course, it was easy for her to think everything else possible. [Sits up in his chair and, runs his hands through his hair.] The wild fancies I am haunted with! I shall never get quit of them. I am certain of that — certain. They will always be starting up before me to remind me of the dead.
Rebecca. Like the White Horse of Rosmersholm.
Rosmer. Yes, like that. Rushing at me out of the dark — out of the silence.
Rebecca. And, because of this morbid fancy of yours, you are going to give up the hold you had just gained upon real life?
Rosmer. You are right, it seems hard — hard, Rebecca. But I have no power of choice in the matter. How do you think I could ever get the mastery over it?
Rebecca [standing behind his chair]. By making new ties for yourself.
Rosmer [starts, and looks up]. New ties?
Rebecca. Yes, new ties with the outside world. Live, work, do something! Do not sit here musing and brooding over insoluble conundrums.
Rosmer [getting up]. New ties! [Walks across the room, turns at the door and comes back again.] A question occurs to my mind. Has it not occurred to you too, Rebecca?
Rebecca [catching her breath]. Let me hear what it is.
Rosmer. What do you suppose will become of the tie between us, after today?
Rebecca. I think surely our friendship can endure, come what may.
Rosmer. Yes, but that is not exactly what I meant. I was thinking of what brought us together from the first, what links us so closely to one another — our common belief in the possibility of a man and a woman living together in chastity.
Rebecca. Yes, yes — what of it?
Rosmer. What I mean is — does not such a tie as that — such a tie as ours — seem to belong properly to a life lived in quiet, happy peacefulness?
Rosmer. But now I see stretching before me a life of strife and unrest and violent emotions. For I mean to live my life, Rebecca! I am not going to let myself be beaten to the ground by the dread of what may happen. I am not going to have my course of life prescribed for me, either by any living soul or by another.
Rebecca. No, no — do not! Be a free man in everything, John!
Rosmer. Do you understand what is in my Mind, then? Do you not know? Do you not see how I could best win my freedom from all these harrowing memories from the whole sad past?
Rebecca. Tell me!
Rosmer. By setting up, in opposition to them, a new and living reality.
Rebecca [feeling for the back of the chair]. A living —? What do you mean?
Rosmer [coming closer to her]. Rebecca — suppose I asked you now — will you be my second wife?
Rebecca [is speechless for a moment, then gives a cry of joy]. Your wife! Yours —! I!
Rosmer. Yes — let us try what that will do. We two shall be one. There must no longer be any empty place left by the dead in this house.
Rebecca. I— in Beata’s place —?
Rosmer. And then that chapter of my life will be closed — completely closed, never to be reopened.
Rebecca [in a low, trembling voice]. Do you think so, John?
Rosmer. It must be so! It must! I cannot — I will not — go through life with a dead body on my back. Help me to throw it off, Rebecca; and then let us stifle all memories in our sense of freedom, in joy, in passion. You shall be to me the only wife I have ever had.
Rebecca [controlling herself]. Never speak of this, again. I will never be your wife.
Rosmer. What! Never? Do you think, then, that you could not learn to love me? Is not our friendship already tinged with love?
Rebecca [stopping her ears, as if in fear]. Don’t speak like that, John! Don’t say such things!
Rosmer [catching her by the arm]. It is true! There is a growing possibility in the tie that is between us. I can see that you feel that, as well as I— do you not, Rebecca?
Rebecca [controlling herself completely]. Listen. Let me tell you this — if you persist in this, I shall leave Rosmersholm.
Rosmer. Leave Rosmersholm! You! You cannot do that. It is impossible.
Rebecca. It is still more impossible for me to become your wife. Never, as long as I live, can I be that.
Rosmer [looks at her in surprise]. You say “can” — and you say it so strangely. Why can you not?
Rebecca [taking both his hands in hers]. Dear friend — for your own sake, as well as for mine, do not ask me why. [Lets go of his hands.] So, John. [Goes towards the door on the left.]
Rosmer. For the future the world will hold only one question for me — why?
Rebecca [turns and looks at him]. In that case everything is at an end.
Rosmer. Between you and me?
Rosmer. Things can never be at an end between us two. You shall never leave Rosmersholm.
Rebecca [with her hand on the door-handle]. No, I dare say I shall not. But, all the same, if you question me again, it will mean the end of everything.
Rosmer. The end of everything, all the same? How —?
Rebecca. Because then I shall go the way Beata went. Now you know, John.
Rosmer. Rebecca —!
Rebecca [stops at the door and nods: slowly]. Now you know. [Goes out.]
Rosmer [stares in bewilderment at the shut door, and says to himself]: What can it mean?
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56