Rosmersholm, by Henrik Ibsen

Act IV

[SCENE.-The same room in the late evening. The lamp, with a shade on it, is burning on the table. REBECCA is standing by the table, packing some small articles in a travelling-bag. Her cloak, hat, and the white crochetted shawl are hanging on the back of the couch. MRS. HELSETH comes in from the right.]

Mrs. Helseth [speaking in low tones and with a reserved manner]. Yes, all your things have been taken down, miss. They are in the kitchen passage.

Rebecca. Thank you. You have ordered the carriage?

Mrs. Helseth. Yes, miss. The coachman wants to know what time he shall bring it round.

Rebecca. I think at about eleven o’clock. The boat goes at midnight.

Mrs. Helseth [with a little hesitation]. But what about Mr. Rosmer? Suppose he is not back by that time?

Rebecca. I shall start, all the same. If I should not see him, you can tell him I will write to him — a long letter, say that.

Mrs. Helseth. Yes, I dare say it will be all right to write. But, poor dear, I really think that you ought to try and have a talk with him once more.

Rebecca. Perhaps I ought — Or perhaps not, after all.

Mrs. Helseth. Dear, dear! I never thought I should, live to see such a thing as this!

Rebecca. What did you think, then, Mrs. Helseth?

Mrs. Helseth. To tell the truth, miss, I thought Mr. Rosmer was an honester man than that.

Rebecca. Honester?

Mrs. Helseth. Yes, miss, that is the truth.

Rebecca. But, my dear Mrs. Helseth, what do you mean by that?

Mrs. Helseth. I mean what is true and right, miss. He should not get out of it in this way — that he shouldn’t.

Rebecca [looking at her]. Now look here, Mrs. Helseth. Tell me, honestly and frankly, why you think I am going away.

Mrs. Helseth. Good Lord, miss — because it is necessary, I suppose. Well, well! — Still, I certainly do not think Mr. Rosmer has behaved well. There was some excuse in Mortensgaard’s case, because the woman’s husband was still alive; so that it was impossible for them to marry, however much they wished it. But Mr. Rosmer, he could — ahem!

Rebecca [with a faint smile]. Is it possible that you could think such things about me and Mr. Rosmer?

Mrs. Helseth. Not for a moment — until today, I mean.

Rebecca. But why today?

Mrs. Helseth. Well, after all the horrible things they tell me one may see in the papers about Mr. Rosmer

Rebecca. Ah!

Mrs. Helseth. What I mean is this — if a man can go over to Mortensgaard’s religion, you may believe him capable of anything. And that’s the truth.

Rebecca. Yes, very likely. But about me? What have you got to say about me?

Mrs. Helseth. Well, I am sure, miss — I do not think you are so greatly to be blamed. It is not always so easy for a lone woman to resist, I dare say. We are all human after all, Miss West.

Rebecca. That is very true, Mrs. Helseth. We are all human, after all. — What are you listening to?

Mrs. Helseth [in a low voice]. Good Lord! — I believe that is him coming now.

Rebecca [with a start]. In spite of everything, then —! [Speaks with determination.] Very well. So be it. [ROSMER comes in from the hall. He sees the luggage, and turns to REBECCA.]

Rosmer. What does this mean?

Rebecca. I am going away.

Rosmer. At once?

Rebecca. Yes. [To MRS. HELSETH.] Eleven o’clock, then.

Mrs. Helseth. Very well, miss. [Goes out to the right.]

Rosmer [after a short pause]. Where are you going, Rebecca?

Rebecca. I am taking the boat for the north.

Rosmer. North? What are you going there for?

Rebecca. It is where I came from.

Rosmer. But you have no more ties there now.

Rebecca. I have none here, either.

Rosmer. What do you propose to do?

Rebecca. I do not know. I only want to make an end of it.

Rosmer. Make an end of what?

Rebecca. Rosmersholm has broken me.

Rosmer [more attentively]. What is that?

Rebecca. Broken me utterly. I had a will of my own, and some courage, when I came here. Now I am crushed under the law of strangers. I do not think I shall have the courage to begin anything else in the world after this.

Rosmer. Why not? What do you mean by being crushed under a law —?

Rebecca. Dear friend, do not let us talk about that now — Tell me what passed between you and Mr. Kroll.

Rosmer. We have made our peace.

Rebecca. Quite so. So it came to that.

Rosmer. He got together all our old circle of friends at his house. They convinced me that the work of ennobling men’s souls was not in my line at all. Besides, it is such a hopeless task, any way. I shall let it alone.

Rebecca. Well, perhaps it is better so.

Rosmer. Do you say THAT now? Is that what your opinion is now?

Rebecca. I have come to that opinion — in the last day or two.

Rosmer. You are lying, Rebecca.

Rebecca. Lying —?

Rosmer. Yes, lying. You have never believed in me. You have never believed me to be the man to lead the cause to victory.

Rebecca. I have believed that we two together would be equal to it.

Rosmer. That is not true. You have believed that you could accomplish something big in life yourself — that you could use me to further your plans — that I might be useful to you in the pursuit of your object. That is what you have believed.

Rebecca. Listen to me, John

Rosmer [sitting down wearily on the couch]. Oh, let me be! I see the whole thing clearly now. I have been like a glove in your hands.

Rebecca. Listen to me, John. Let us talk this thing over. It will be for the last time. [Sits down in a chair by the couch.] I had intended to write to you about it all — when I had gone back north. But it is much better that you should hear it at once.

Rosmer. Have you something more to tell, then?

Rebecca. The most important part of it all.

Rosmer. What do you mean?

Rebecca. Something that you have never suspected. Something that puts all the rest in its true light.

Rosmer [shaking his head]. I do not understand, at all.

Rebecca. It is quite true that at one time I did play my cards so as to secure admission to Rosmersholm. My idea was that I should succeed in doing well for myself here — either in one way or in another, you understand.

Rosmer. Well, you succeeded in carrying your scheme through, too.

Rebecca. I believe I could have carried anything through — at that time. For then I still had the courage of a free will. I had no one else to consider, nothing to turn me from my path. But then began what has broken down my will and filled the whole of my life with dread and wretchedness.

Rosmer. What — began? Speak so that I can understand you.

Rebecca. There came over me — a wild, uncontrollable passion — Oh, John —!

Rosmer. Passion? You —! For what?

Rebecca. For you.

Rosmer [getting up]. What does this mean!

Rebecca [preventing him]. Sit still, dear. I will tell you more about it.

Rosmer. And you mean to say — that you have loved me — in that way!

Rebecca. I thought I might call it loving you — then. I thought it was love. But it was not. It was what I have said — a wild, uncontrollable passion.

Rosmer [speaking with difficulty]. Rebecca — is it really you — you — who are sitting here telling me this?

Rebecca. Yes, indeed it is, John.

Rosmer. Then it was as the outcome of this — and under the influence of this — that you “acted,” as you called it.

Rebecca. It swept over me like a storm over the sea — like one of the storms we have in winter in the north. They catch you up and rush you along with them, you know, until their fury is expended. There is no withstanding them.

Rosmer. So it swept poor unhappy Beata into the mill-race.

Rebecca. Yes — it was like a fight for life between Beata and me at that time.

Rosmer. You proved the strongest of us all at Rosmersholm — stronger than both Beata and me put together.

Rebecca. I knew you well enough to know that I could not get at you in any way until you were set free — both in actual circumstances and in your soul.

Rosmer. But I do not understand you, Rebecca. You — you yourself and your whole conduct — are an insoluble riddle to me. I am free now — both in my soul and my circumstances. You are absolutely in touch with the goal you set before yourself from the beginning. And nevertheless —

Rebecca. I have never stood farther from my goal than I do now.

Rosmer. And nevertheless, I say, when yesterday I asked you — urged you — to become my wife, you cried out that it never could be.

Rebecca. I cried out in despair, John.

Rosmer. Why?

Rebecca. Because Rosmersholm has unnerved me. All the courage has been sapped out of my will here — crushed out! The time has gone for me to dare risk anything whatever. I have lost all power of action, John.

Rosmer. Tell me how that has come about.

Rebecca. It has come about through my living with you.

Rosmer. But how? How?

Rebecca. When I was alone with you here — and you had really found yourself —

Rosmer. Yes, yes?

Rebecca. For you never really found yourself as long as Beata was Alive —

Rosmer. Alas, you are right in that.

Rebecca. When it came about that I was living together with you here, in peace and solitude — when you exchanged all your thoughts with me unreservedly — your every mood, however tender or intimate — then the great change happened in me. Little by little, you understand. Almost imperceptibly — but overwhelmingly in the end, till it reached the uttermost depths of my soul.

Rosmer. What does this mean, Rebecca?

Rebecca. All the other feeling — all that horrible passion that had drowned my better self — left me entirely. All the violent emotions that had been roused in me were quelled and silenced. A peace stole over my soul — a quiet like that of one of our mountain peaks up under the midnight sun.

Rosmer. Tell me more of it — all that you can.

Rebecca. There is not much more to tell. Only that this was how love grew up in my heart — a great, self-denying love — content with such a union of hearts as there has been between us two.

Rosmer. Oh, if only I had had the slightest suspicion of all this!

Rebecca. It is best as it is. Yesterday, when you asked me if I would be your wife, I gave a cry of joy —

Rosmer. Yes, it was that, Rebecca, was it not! I thought that was what it meant.

Rebecca. For a moment, yes-I forgot myself for a moment. It was my dauntless will of the old days that was struggling to be free again. But now it has no more strength — it has lost it for ever.

Rosmer. How do you explain what has taken place in you?

Rebecca. It is the Rosmer attitude towards life — or your attitude towards life, at any rate — that has infected my will.

Rosmer. Infected?

Rebecca. Yes, and made it sickly — bound it captive under laws that formerly had no meaning for me. You — my life together with you — have ennobled my soul —

Rosmer. Ah, if I dared believe that to be true!

Rebecca. You may believe it confidently. The Rosmer attitude towards life ennobles. But-[shakes her head]-but-but —

Rosmer. But? Well?

Rebecca. But it kills joy, you know.

Rosmer. Do you say that, Rebecca?

Rebecca. For me, at all events.

Rosmer. Yes, but are you so sure of that? If I asked you again now —? Implored you —?

Rebecca. Oh, my dear — never go back to that again! It is impossible. Yes, impossible — because I must tell you this, John. I have a — past behind me.

Rosmer. Something more than you have told me?

Rebecca. Yes, something more and something different.

Rosmer [with a faint smile]. It is very strange, Rebecca, but — do you know — the idea of such a thing has occurred to me more than once.

Rebecca. It has? And yet — notwithstanding that, you —?

Rosmer. I never believed in it. I only played with the idea — nothing more.

Rebecca. If you wish, I will tell you all about it at once.

Rosmer [stopping her]. No, no! I do not want to hear a word about it. Whatever it is, it shall be forgotten, as far as I am concerned.

Rebecca. But I cannot forget it.

Rosmer. Oh, Rebecca —!

Rebecca. Yes, dear — that is just the dreadful part of it-that now, when all the happiness of life is freely and fully offered to me, all I can feel is that I am barred out from it by my past.

Rosmer. Your past is dead, Rebecca. It has no longer any hold on you — has nothing to do with you — as you are now.

Rebecca. Ah, my dear, those are mere words, you know. What about innocence, then? Where am I to get that from?

Rosmer [gloomily]. Ah, yes — innocence.

Rebecca. Yes, innocence — which is at the root of all joy and happiness. That was the teaching, you know, that you wanted to see realised by all the men you were going to raise up to nobility and happiness.

Rosmer. Ah, do not remind me of that. It was nothing but a half-dreamt dream, Rebecca — a rash suggestion that I have no longer any faith in. Human nature cannot be ennobled by outside influences, believe me.

Rebecca [gently]. Not by a tranquil love, do you think?

Rosmer [thoughtfully]. Yes, that would be a splendid thing — almost the most glorious thing in life, I think if it were so. [Moves restlessly.] But how am I ever to clear up the question? — how am I to get to the bottom of it?

Rebecca. Do you not believe in me, John?

Rosmer. Ah, Rebecca, how can I believe you entirely — you whose life here has been nothing but continual concealment and secrecy! — And now you have this new tale to tell. If it is cloaking some design of yours, tell me so — openly. Perhaps there is something or other that you hope to gain by that means? I will gladly do anything that I can for you.

Rebecca [wringing her hands]. Oh, this killing doubt! John, John —!

Rosmer. Yes, I know, dear — it is horrible — but I cannot help it. I shall never be able to free myself from it — never be able to feel certain that your love for me is genuine and pure.

Rebecca. But is there nothing in your own heart that bears witness to the transformation that has taken place in me — and taken place through your influence, and yours alone!

Rosmer. Ah, my dear, I do not believe any longer in my power to transform people. I have no belief in myself left at all. I do not believe either in myself or in you.

Rebecca [looking darkly at him]. How are you going to live out your life, then?

Rosmer. That is just what I do not know — and cannot imagine. I do not believe I can live it out. And, moreover, I do not know anything in the world that would be worth living for.

Rebecca. Life carries a perpetual rebirth with it. Let us hold fast to it, dear. We shall be finished with it quite soon enough.

Rosmer [getting up restlessly]. Then give me my faith back again! — my faith in you, Rebecca — my faith in your love! Give me a proof of it! I must have some proof!

Rebecca. Proof? How can I give you a proof —!

Rosmer. You must! [Crosses the room.] I cannot bear this desolate, horrible loneliness — this-this — . [A knock is heard at the hall door.]

Rebecca [getting up from her chair]. Did you hear that?

[The door opens, and ULRIK BRENDEL comes in. Except that he wears a white shirt, a black coat and, a good pair of high boots, he is dressed as in the first act. He looks troubled.]

Rosmer. Ah, it is you, Mr. Brendel!

Brendel. John, my boy, I have come to say good-bye to you!

Rosmer. Where are you going, so late as this?

Brendel. Downhill.

Rosmer. How —?

Brendel. I am on my way home, my beloved pupil. I am homesick for the great Nothingness.

Rosmer. Something has happened to you, Mr. Brendel! What is it?

Brendel. Ah, you notice the transformation, then? Well, it is evident enough. The last time I entered your doors I stood before you a man of substance, slapping a well-filled pocket.

Rosmer. Really? I don’t quite understand —

Brendel. And now, as you see me to-night, I am a deposed monarch standing over the ashes of my burnt-out palace.

Rosmer. If there is any way I can help you

Brendel. You have preserved your childlike heart, John — can you let me have a loan?

Rosmer. Yes, most willingly!

Brendel. Can you spare me an ideal or two?

Rosmer. What do you say?

Brendel. One or two cast-off ideals? You will be doing a good deed. I am cleaned out, my dear boy, absolutely and entirely.

Rebecca. Did you not succeed in giving your lecture?

Brendel. No, fair lady. What do you think? — just as I was standing ready to pour out the contents of my horn in plenty, I made the painful discovery that I was bankrupt.

Rebecca. But what of all your unwritten works, then?

Brendel. For five and twenty years I have been like a miser sitting on his locked money-chest. And then today, when I opened it to take out my treasure — there was nothing there! The mills of time had ground it into dust. There was not a blessed thing left of the whole lot.

Rosmer. But are you certain of that?

Brendel. There is no room for doubt, my dear boy. The President has convinced me of that.

Rosmer. The President?

Brendel. Oh, well — His Excellency, then. Ganz nach Belieben.

Rosmer. But whom do you mean?

Brendel. Peter Mortensgaard, of course.

Rosmer. What!

Brendel [mysteriously]. Hush, hush, hush! Peter Mortensgaard is Lord and Chieftain of the Future. I have never stood in a more august presence. Peter Mortensgaard has the power of omnipotence in him. He can do whatever he wants.

Rosmer. Oh, come — don’t you believe that!

Brendel. It is true, my boy — because Peter Mortensgaard never wants to do more than he can. Peter Mortensgaard is capable of living his life without ideals. And that, believe me, is precisely the great secret of success in life. It sums up all the wisdom of the world. Basta!

Rosmer [in a low voice]. Now I see that you are going away from here poorer than you came.

Brendel. Bien! Then take an example from your old tutor. Erase from your mind everything that he imprinted there. Do not build your castle upon the shifting sand. And look well ahead, and be sure of your ground, before you build upon the charming creature who is sweetening your life here.

Rebecca. Do you mean me?

Brendel. Yes, most attractive mermaid!

Rebecca. Why am I not fit to build upon?

Brendel [taking a step nearer to her]. I understood that my former pupil had a cause which it was his life’s work to lead to victory.

Rebecca. And if he has —?

Brendel. He is certain of victory — but, be it distinctly understood, on one unalterable condition.

Rebecca. What is that?

Brendel [taking her gently by the wrist]. That the woman who loves him shall gladly go out into the kitchen and chop off her dainty, pink and white little finger — here, just at the middle joint. Furthermore, that the aforesaid loving woman shall — also gladly — clip off her incomparably moulded left ear. [Lets her go, and turns to ROSMER.] Good-bye, John the Victorious!

Rosmer. Must you go now — in this dark night?

Brendel. The dark night is best. Peace be with you! [He goes out. Silence in the room for a short time.]

Rebecca [breathing heavily]. How close and sultry it is in here! [Goes to the window, opens it and stands by it.]

Rosmer [sitting down on a chair by the stove]. There is nothing else for it after all, Rebecca — I can see that. You must go away.

Rebecca. Yes, I do not see that I have any choice.

Rosmer. Let us make use of our last hour together. Come over here and sit beside me.

Rebecca [goes and sits down on the couch]. What do you want, John?

Rosmer. In the first place I want to tell you that you need have no anxiety about your future.

Rebecca [with a smile]. Hm! My future!

Rosmer. I have foreseen all contingencies — long ago. Whatever may happen, you are provided for.

Rebecca. Have you even done that for me, dear?

Rosmer. You might have known that I should.

Rebecca. It is many a long day since I thought about anything of the kind.

Rosmer. Yes, of course. Naturally, you thought things could never be otherwise between us than as they were.

Rebecca. Yes, that was what I thought.

Rosmer. So did I. But if anything were to happen to me now —

Rebecca. Oh, John, you will live longer than I shall.

Rosmer. I can dispose of my miserable existence as I please, you know.

Rebecca. What do you mean? You surely are never thinking of —!

Rosmer. Do you think it would be so surprising? After the pitiful, lamentable defeat I have suffered? I, who was to have made it my life’s work to lead my cause to victory —! And here I am, a deserter before the fight has even really begun!

Rebecca. Take up the fight again, John! Only try — and you will see that you will conquer. You will ennoble hundreds — thousands — of souls. Only try!

Rosmer. I, Rebecca, who no longer believe even in my having a mission in life?

Rebecca. But your mission has stood the test. You have at all events ennobled one of your fellow-creatures for the rest of her life — I mean myself.

Rosmer. Yes — if I dared believe you about that.

Rebecca [wringing her hands]. But, John, do you know of nothing — nothing — that would make you believe that?

Rosmer [starts, as if with fear]. Don’t venture on that subject! No further, Rebecca! Not a single word more!

Rebecca. Indeed, that is just the subject we must venture upon. Do you know of anything that would stifle your doubts? For I know of nothing in the world.

Rosmer. It is best for you not to know. Best for us both.

Rebecca. No, no, no — I have no patience with that sort of thing! If you know of anything that would acquit me in your eyes, I claim it as my right that you should name it.

Rosmer [as if impelled against his will]. Well, let us see. You say that you have great love in your heart; that your soul has been ennobled through me. Is that so? Have you counted the cost? Shall we try and balance our accounts? Tell me.

Rebecca. I am quite ready.

Rosmer. Then when shall it be?

Rebecca. Whenever you like. The sooner the better.

Rosmer. Then let me see, Rebecca, whether you — for my sake-this very night — . [Breaks off.] Oh, no, no!

Rebecca. Yes, John! Yes, yes! Say it, and you shall see.

Rosmer. Have you the courage — are you willing — gladly, as Ulrik Brendel said — for my sake, to-night — gladly — to go the same way — that Beata went!

Rebecca [gets up slowly from the couch, and says almost inaudibly]: John —!

Rosmer. Yes, dear — that is the question I shall never be able to rid my thoughts of, when you have gone away. Every hour of the day I shall come back to it. Ah, I seem to see you bodily before me — standing out on the foot-bridge-right out in the middle. Now you lean out over the railing! You grow dizzy as you feel drawn down towards the mill-race! No — you recoil. You dare not do — what she dared.

Rebecca. But if I had the courage? — and willingly and gladly? What then?

Rosmer. Then I would believe in you. Then I should get back my faith in my mission in life — my faith in my power to ennoble my fellow men — my faith in mankind’s power to be ennobled.

Rebecca [takes up her shawl slowly, throws it over her head. and says, controlling herself]: You shall have your faith back.

Rosmer. Have you the courage and the strength of will for that, Rebecca?

Rebecca. Of that you must judge in the morning — or later — when they take up my body.

Rosmer [burying his head in his hands]. There is a horrible temptation in this —!

Rebecca. Because I should not like to be left lying there — any longer than need be. You must take care that they find me.

Rosmer [springing up]. But all this is madness, you know. Go away, or stay! I will believe you on your bare word this time too.

Rebecca. Those are mere words, John. No more cowardice or evasion! How can you believe me on my bare word after today?

Rosmer. But I do not want to see your defeat, Rebecca.

Rebecca. There will be no defeat.

Rosmer. There will. You will never have the heart to go Beata’s way.

Rebecca. Do you believe that?

Rosmer. Never. You are not like Beata. You are not under the influence of a distorted view of life.

Rebecca. But I am under the influence of the Rosmersholm view of Life — now. Whatever my offences are — it is right that I should expiate them.

Rosmer [looking at her fixedly]. Have you come to that decision?

Rebecca. Yes.

Rosmer. Very well. Then I too am under the influence of our unfettered view of life, Rebecca. There is no one that can judge us. And therefore we must be our own judges.

Rebecca [misunderstanding his meaning]. That too. That too. My leaving you will save the best that is in you.

Rosmer. Ah, there is nothing left to save in me.

Rebecca. There is. But I— after this I should only be like some sea-sprite hanging on to the barque you are striving to sail forward in, and, hampering its progress. I must go overboard. Do you think I could go through the world bearing the burden of a spoiled life — brooding for ever over the happiness which I have forfeited by my past? I must throw up the game, John.

Rosmer. If you go — then I go with you.

Rebecca [looks at him with an almost imperceptible smile, and says more gently]: Yes, come with me, dear — and be witness —

Rosmer. I go with you, I said.

Rebecca. As far as the bridge — yes. You never dare go out on to it, you know.

Rosmer. Have you noticed that?

Rebecca [in sad and broken tones]. Yes. That was what made my love hopeless.

Rosmer. Rebecca — now I lay my hand on your head. [Does as he says.] And I take you for my true and lawful wife.

Rebecca [taking both his hands in hers, and bowing her head on to his breast]. Thank you, John. [Lets him go.] And now I am going — gladly.

Rosmer. Man and wife should go together.

Rebecca. Only as far as the bridge, John.

Rosmer. And out on to it, too. As far as you go — so far I go with you. I dare do it now.

Rebecca. Are you absolutely certain that way is the best for you?

Rosmer. I know it is the only way.

Rebecca. But suppose you are only deceiving yourself? Suppose it were only a delusion — one of these White Horses of Rosmersholm?

Rosmer. It may be so. We can never escape from them — we of my race.

Rebecca. Then stay, John!

Rosmer. The man shall cleave to his wife, as the wife to her husband.

Rebecca. Yes, but first tell me this — is it you that go with me, or I that go with you?

Rosmer. We shall never get to the bottom of that.

Rebecca. Yet I should dearly like to know.

Rosmer. We two go with each other, Rebecca. I with you, and you with me.

Rebecca. I almost believe that is true.

Rosmer. For now we two are one.

Rebecca. Yes. We are one now. Come! We can go gladly now. [They go out, hand in hand, through the hall, and are seen to turn to the left. The door stands open after them. The room is empty for a little while. Then MRS. HELSETH opens the door on the right.]

Mrs. Helseth. The carriage, miss, is — . [Looks round the room.] Not here? Out together at this time of night? Well, well — I must say —! Hm! [Goes out into the hall, looks round and comes in again.] Not sitting on the bench — ah, well! [Goes to the window and looks out.] Good heavens! What is that white thing —! As I am a living soul, they are both out on the foot-bridge! God forgive the sinful creatures — if they are not in each other’s arms! [Gives a wild scream.] Ah! — they are over — both of them! Over into the mill-race! Help! help! [Her knees tremble, she holds on shakily to the back of a chair and can scarcely get her words out.] No. No help here. The dead woman has taken them.

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