Bjornstjerne M. Bjornson
Part 4 out of 5
Mrs. Riis. Oh, you will see!
Svava. No, indeed I shall not; because I do not intend to marry
on such conditions.
Mrs. Riis. You should have said that sooner. It is too late now.
Svava (sitting upright). Too late? If I had been married twenty
years, I would have done just the same! (Lies down again.)
Mrs. Riis. Heaven help you, then!--You haven't an idea, not the
smallest idea, what a net you are entangled in! But you will find
it out, as soon as you begin to struggle in earnest. Or do you
really want your father and me to throw away all that we have
worked for here?--to begin all over again in a foreign country?
Because he has repeatedly said, during the last day or two, that
he will not be mixed up in the scandal that would be the result
of your breaking this off. He would go abroad, and I should have
to go with him. Ah, you wince at the thought of that!--Think of
all your friends, too. It is a serious matter to have been set on
such an eminence as you were at your betrothal party. It is like
being lifted up high on a platform that others are carrying on
their shoulders; take care you do not fall down from it! That is
what you will do, if you offend their principles of right
Svava. Is that sort of thing a principle of right behaviour?
Mrs. Riis. I do not say that. But undoubtedly, one their
principles of right behaviour--and perhaps the most important--is
that all scandal must be avoided. No one relishes being
disgraced, Svava--particularly the most influential people in a
place. And least of all, by a long way, do people relish their
own child being disgraced.
Svava (half raising herself). Good Lord! is it _I_ that am
Mrs. Riis. No, of course, it is he himself--
Svava. Very well, then! (Sinks down upon the couch again.)
Mrs. Riis. But you will never get them to understand that. I
assure you, you won't. As long as what he has done is only
whispered about in his family and amongst his intimate friends,
they don't consider him disgraced at all. There are too many that
do just the same. It is only when the knowledge of it becomes
common property, that they consider it a disgrace. And if it
became known that there was a formal breach between you--the
Christensens' eldest son ignominiously refused because of his
past life--they would consider it the most shocking scandal that
could possibly overtake them! And we should feel the effect of
it, in particular. And so would those that are dependent on us--
and they are not so few in number, as you know, because you
have interested yourself in them, particularly in the children.
You would have t. give up all the interests you have made for
Yourself here--because you would have to go with us. I am certain
your father is in earnest about that.
Svava. Oh! Oh!
Mrs. Riis. I almost wish I could tell you why I am so certain of
that. But I cannot--at all events not now. No, you must not tempt
me to.--Here comes your father. Only take time to reflect, Svava!
No breaking of it off, no scandal! (RIIS comes in from outside,
with an opened letter in his hand.)
Riis. Oh, there you are! (Goes into his room, lays down his hat
and stick, and comes out again.) You have taken no serious step
yet, I hope--eh?
Mrs. Riis. No, but--
Riis. Very well. Now here is a letter from the Christensens. If
you won't receive either your dance or his letters, you will have
to put up with his family's interference in the matter.
Everything must come to an end sooner or later. (Reads.) "My
wife, my son and I will do ourselves the honour of paying you a
visit between eleven and twelve o'clock." The only wonder is,
that I have not had some such letter before this! I am sure they
have been patient enough.
Mrs. Riis. Well, we have got no farther to-day, either.
Riis. What are you thinking of, child? Can't you see what it must
all lead to? You are a good-hearted girl, I know--I am sure you
don't want to ruin us all absolutely? I certainly consider,
Svava, that you have acted quite severely enough now in this
matter. They have suffered a nasty shock to their self-
confidence, both of them; you may be quite sure of that. What
more do you want? If you are really determined to carry the
matter farther--well--make your conditions! There is no doubt
they will be agreed to.
Svava. For shame! For shame!
Riis (despairingly). What is the use of taking it in this way!
Mrs. Riis. What, indeed! You ought rather to try and make things
a bit easier, Svava.
Riis. And you really might condescend, too, to consider who it is
that you are throwing over--a member of one of the richest
families in the country, and, I venture to say, one of the most
honourable too. I have never heard of anything so idiotic! Yes, I
repeat--idiotic, idiotic! What if he have made a false step--or
two--well, good heavens--
Svava. Yes, bring heaven into it, too!
Riis. Indeed I well may! There is good need. As I was saying, if
he have made a false step, surely the poor fellow has been
sufficiently punished for it now. Beside it is certainly our duty
to be a little reasonable with one another--it is a commandment,
you know, that we are to be reasonable and forgiving. We must be
forgiving! And more than that, we must help the erring--we must
raise up the fallen and set them in the right way. Yes, set them
in the right way. You could do that so splendidly! It is exactly
in your line. You know very well, my dear child, it is very
seldom I talk about morals and that sort of thing. It doesn't sit
well on me at all; I know that only too well. But on this
occasion I cannot help it. Begin with forgiveness, my child;
begin with that! After all, can you contemplate living together
with anyone for any length of time without--without--well,
Svava. But there is no question of living with anyone, for any
length of time, or of forgiveness--because I do not mean to have
anything more to do with him.
Riis. Really, this is beyond all bounds! Because he has dared to
fall in love with some one before you--?
Svava. Some one?
Riis. Well, if there was more than one, I am sure I know nothing
about it. No, indeed I do not! Besides, the way people gossip and
backbite is the very devil! But, as I was saying, because he
dared to look at some one before he looked at you--before he ever
_thought_ of you--is that a reason for throwing him over for good
and all? How many would ever get married under those circumstances,
I should like to know? Everybody confirms the opinion that he is
an honourable, fine young fellow, to whom the proudest girl might
confidently entrust herself--you said so yourself, only a day or
two ago! Do not deny it! And now he is suddenly to be thrown
over, because you are not the first girl he has ever met! Pride
should have some limits, remember! I have never heard of anything
more preposterous, if you ask me.
Mrs. Riis. Men are not like that.
Riis. And what about girls? Are they like that? I am quite sure
they do not ask whether their fiances have been married before--
observe, I said "married." You can imagine he has been married.
Well, why not? That is what other girls do--you cannot deny it. I
know you know it. You have been to dances; who are most in
request there? Precisely those who have the reputation of being
something of a Don Juan. They take the wind out of all the other
fellows' sails. You have seen it yourself a hundred times. And it
is not only at dances that this applied. Don't you suppose they
get married--and as a rule make the very best matches?
Mrs. Riis. That is true.
Riis. Of course it is true. And as a rule they make the very best
Mrs. Riis. Hm!
Riis. Oh, indeed they do!--with some exceptions, of course,
naturally. The fact is, that marriage has an ennobling influence,
and provides a beautiful vocation for a woman--the most beautiful
Svava (who has got up). I can just manage to listen to such
things from you--because I expected no better from you.
Riis. Thank you very much!
Svava (who has come forward). One would really think that
marriage were a sort of superior wash-house for men--
Riis. Ha, ha!
Svava. --and that men could come there and take a dip when they
please--and in what state they please!
Riis. Oh, really--!
Svava. I mean it! And it is flattering--very flattering--for me,
as your daughter, to feel that you look upon me as so peculiarly
suited for the washerwoman's post! None of that for me, thank
Riis. But this is--
Svava. No, just listen to me for a little! I don't think I have
said too much, the last day or two.
Riis. No, we have not been allowed to say a word to you.
Svava. Look here, father. You have a fine supply of principles,
for show purposes.
Svava. I do not mean by that, that they are not your own. But you
are so good and so honourable, your whole life is so refined,
that I do not attach the least importance to your principles. But
to mother's I do attach importance, for hers are what have formed
mine. And now just when I want to act up to them, she deserts me.
Riis and Mrs. Riis (together). Svava!
Svava. It is mother I am angry with! It is mother I cannot have
Riis. Really, Svava--!
Svava. Because if there has been one point on which mother and
I have been agreed, it has been on the subject of the unprincipled
way men prepare themselves for marriage, and the sort of marriages
that are the result. We have watched the course of it, mother and
I, for many years; and we had come to one and the same conclusion,
that it is _before_ marriage that a marriage is marred. But when,
the other day, mother began to turn round--
Mrs. Riis. No, you have no right to say that! I am convinced that
Alfred is as honourable--
Svava. But when, the other day, mother began to turn round--well,
I could not have been more amazed if some one had come in and
told me they had met her out in the street when she was actually
sitting here talking to me.
Mrs. Riis. I only ask you to take time to consider! I am not
Svava. Oh, let me speak now! Let me give you just one instance.
One day, before I was really grown up, I came running into this
room from the park. We had just bought the property, and I was
so happy. Mother was standing over there leaning against the door
and crying. It was a lovely summer's day. "Why are you crying,
mother?" I said. For some time she seemed as if she did not see
me. "Why are you crying, mother?" I repeated, and went nearer to
her, but did not like to touch her. She turned away from me, and
walked up and down once or twice. Then she came to me. "My
child," she said, drawing me to her, "never give in to what is
not good and pure, on any account whatever! It is so cowardly,
and one repents it so bitterly; it means perpetually giving in,
more and more and more." I do not know what she referred to, and
I have never asked. But no one can imagine what an effect it all
had on me--the beautiful summer day, and mother crying, and the
heartfelt tones of her voice! I cannot give in; do not ask me to.
Everything that made marriage seem beautiful to me is gone--my
faith, my feeling of security--all gone! No, no, no! I can never
begin with that, and it is wicked of you to want to make me
believe I can. After such a disillusionment and such a humiliation?
No! I would rather never be married--even it I have to go away from
here. I daresay I shall find something to fill my life; it is only
for the moment that I am so helpless. And anything is better than
to fill it with what is unclean. If I did not refuse that without
hesitation, I should be an accomplice to it. Perhaps some people
could put up with that. I cannot--no, I cannot. Do you think it
is arrogance on my part? Or because I am angry? If you knew what
we two had planned and schemed, you would understand me. And if
you knew what I have thought of him, how I have admired him--you
did the same yourselves--and how wretched I feel now, how utterly
robbed of everything!--Who is it that is crying? Is it you, mother?
(She runs to her mother, kneels down and buries her head in her
lap. A pause. RIIS goes into his room.) Why cannot we three hold
together? If we do, what have we to be afraid of? What is it that
stands in the way? Father, what is it that stands in the way?--But
where is father? (Sees NORDAN outside the window.) Uncle Nordan!
This is a surprise! (Hurries across the room, throws herself into
NORDAN's arms as he enters, and bursts into tears.)
Nordan. Oh, you goose! You great goose!
Svava. You must come and talk to me!
Nordan. Isn't that what I am here for?
Svava. And I thought you were up in the mountains and could
not hear from us.
Nordan. So I was. But when I got telegram after telegram, as long
as they could reach me, and then one express letter after
another--and now the end of it all is--well, I don't suppose I
dare even mention his name here now? (RIIS comes in from his
Riis. At last! We have been so anxious for you to come!
Mrs. Riis (who has at last risen and come forward). Thank you for
coming, dear doctor!
Nordan (looking at her). There is something serious up, then?
Mrs. Riis. I have something I want to say to you.
Nordan. Yes, but just now away you go, you two! Let me talk to
this booby. (MRS. RIIS goes out to the left. SVAVA follows her
for a minute.)
Riis. I just want to tell you that in a little while--
Nordan. --the whole pack of Christensens will be here? I know
that. Go away now.
Riis. Nordan! (Whispers to him.)
Nordan. Yes, yes!--Quite so!--No, of course not! (Tries to stop
his whispering.) Do you suppose I don't know what I am about? Be
off with you! (SVAVA comes in, as her father goes out.)
Svava. Dear Uncle Nordan! At last, somebody that will agree with
Nordan. Am I?
Svava. Oh, Uncle Nordan, you don't know what these days have been
Nordan. And the nights too, I expect?--although, with all that,
you don't look so bad.
Svava. The last night or two I have slept.
Nordan. Really? Then I see how things stand. You are a tough
customer, you are!
Svava. Oh, don't begin saying a lot of things you don't mean,
Nordan. Things I don't mean!
Svava. You always do, you know. But we haven't time for that
now. I am all on fire!
Nordan. Well, what is this you have been doing?
Svava. Ah, you see, you are beginning again!
Nordan. Beginning again? Who the devil has put the idea into
your head that I ever say anything but what I mean? Come and
let us sit down. (Brings a chair forward.)
Svava (bringing her chair close to his). There now!
Nordan. Since I was here last, I believe you have promulgated a
brand-new law on the subject of love? I congratulate you.
Svava. Have I?
Nordan. A superhuman, Svava-woven one--derived from seraphic
heights, I should imagine! "There shall be only one love in a
man's life, and it shall be directed only to one object." Full
Svava. Have I said anything like that?
Nordan. Is it not you that have thrown over a young man because
he has had the audacity to fall in love before he saw you?
Svava. Do you take it in that way, too?
Nordan. In that way? Is there any other way for a sensible man
to take it? A fine young fellow honesty, adores you; a distinguished
family throw their doors wide open to you, as if you were a
princess; and then you turn round and say: "You have not waited
for me ever since you were a child! Away with you!"
Svava (springing up). What, you too! You too! And the same
talk! The same stupid talk!
Nordan. I can tell you what it is; if you do not give
consideration to everything that can be said on the other side,
you are stupid.--No, it is no use going away from me and marching
up and down! I shall begin and march up and down too, if you do!
Come here and sit. Or _daren't_ you go thoroughly into the
question with me?
Svava. Yes, I dare. (Sits down again.)
Nordan. Well, to begin with, do you not think there must
certainly be two sides to a question that is discussed by serious
men and women all over the world?
Svava. This only concerns me! And as far as I am concerned
there is only one side to it.
Nordan. You do not understand me, child! You shall settle your
own affairs ultimately, and nobody else--of course. But suppose
what you have to settle is not quite so simple as you think it?
Suppose it is a problem that at the present moment is exercising
the minds of thousands and thousands of people? Do you not think
it is your duty to give some consideration to the usual attitude
towards it, and to what is generally thought and said about it?
Do you think it is conscientious to condemn in a single instance
without doing that?
Svava. I understand! I think I have done what you are urging me
to do. Ask mother!
Nordan. Oh, I daresay you and your mother have chattered and
read a lot about marriage and the woman question, and about
abolishing distinctions of class--now you want to abolish
distinctions of sex too. But as regards this special question?
Svava. What do you consider I have overlooked?
Nordan. Just this. Are you right in being equally as strict with
men as with women? Eh?
Svava. Yes, of course.
Nordan. Is it so much a matter of course? Go out and ask any
one you meet. Out of every hundred you ask, ninety will say
"no"--even out of a hundred women!
Svava. Do you think so? I think people are beginning to think
Nordan. Possibly. But experience is necessary if one is to
answer a question like that.
Svava. Do you mean what you say?
Nordan. That is none of your business. Besides, I always mean
what I say.--A woman can marry when is sixteen; a man must wait
till he is five-and-twenty, or thirty. There is a difference.
Svava. There _is_ a difference! There are many, many times more
unmarried women than men, and they exhibit self-control. Men find
it more convenient to make a law of their want of self-control!
Nordan. An answer like that only displays ignorance. Man is a
polygamous animal, like many other animals--a theory that is very
strongly supported by the fact that women so outnumber men in the
world. I daresay that is something you have never heard before?
Svava. Yes, I have heard it!
Nordan. Don't you laugh at science! What else we to put faith in,
I should like to know?
Svava. I should just like men to have the same trouble over their
children that women do! Just let them have that, Uncle Nordan,
and I fancy they would soon change their principles! Just let
them experience it!
Nordan. They have no time for that; they have to govern the world.
Svava. Yes, they have allotted the parts themselves!--Now, tell
me this, Dr. Nordan. Is it cowardly not to practise what you
Nordan. Of course it is.
Svava. Then why do you not do it?
Nordan. I? I have always been a regular monster. Don't you know
that, dear child?
Svava. Dear Uncle Nordan--you have such long white locks; why
do you wear them like that?
Nordan. Oh, well--I have my reasons.
Svava. What are they?
Nordan. We won't go into that now.
Svava. You told me the reason once.
Nordan. Did I?
Svava. I wanted, one day, to take hold of your hair, but you
would not let me. You said: "Do you know why you must not
do that?"--"No," I said.--"Because no one has done that for more
than thirty years."--"Who was it that did it last?" I asked.--"It
was a little girl, that you are very like," you answered.
Nordan. So I told you that, did I?
Svava. "And she was one of your grandmother's younger sisters,"
you said to me.
Nordan. She was. It was quite true. And you are like her, my
Svava. And then you told me that the year you went to college she
was standing beside you one day and caught up some locks of your
hair in her fingers. "You must never wear your hair shorter than
this," she said. She went away, and you went away; and when, one
day, you wrote and asked her whether you two did not belong to
one another, her answer was "yes." And a month later she was dead.
Nordan. She was dead.
Svava. And ever since then--you dear, queer old uncle--you have
considered yourself as married to her. (He nods.) And ever since
the evening you told me that--and I lay awake a long time,
thinking over it--I wanted, even when I was quite a young girl,
to choose some one I could have perfect confidence in. And then I
Nordan. Did you, Svava?
Svava. Do not ask me any more about that.--Then I chose once
again, and this time I was certain! For never had truer eyes
looked in mine. And how happy we were together! Day after day it
always seemed new, and the days were always too short. I dare not
think about now. Oh, it is sinful to deceive us so!--not deceit
in words, it is true, but in letting us give them our admiration
and our most intimate confidences. Not in words, no--and yet, it
is in words; because they accept all we say, and are silent
themselves, and by that very fact make our words their own. Our
simple-mindedness pleases them as a bit of unspoilt nature, and
it is just by means of that that they deceive us. It creates an
intimacy between us and an atmosphere of happy give-and-take of
jests, which we think can exist only on one presupposition--and
really it is all a sham. I cannot understand how any one can so
treat the one he loves--for he did love me!
Nordan. He does love you.
Svava (getting up). But not as I loved him! All these years I
have not been frittering away my love. Besides, I have had too
high an ideal of what loving and being loved should be; and just
for that reason I felt a deep desire to be loved--I can say so to
you. And when love came, seemed to take all my strength from me;
but I felt I should always be safe with him, and so I let him see
it and gloried in his seeing it. That is the bitterest part of it
to me now--because he was unworthy of it. He has said to me: "I
cannot bear to see any one else touch you!" and "When I catch a
glimpse of your arm, I think to myself that it has been round my
neck--mine, and no one else's in the world." And I felt proud and
happy when he said so, because I thought it was true. Hundreds of
times I had imagined some one's saying that to me some day. But I
never imagined that the one who would say it would be a man who--
oh, it is disgusting! When I think what it means, it makes me
ready to hate him. The mere thought that he has had his arms
round me--has touched me--makes me shudder! I am not laying down
rules for any one else, but what I am doing seems to me a matter
of course. Every fibre of my being tells me that. I must be left
Nordan. I see that this is more serious, and goes deeper, than I
had any suspicion of. None of them understand it that way,
Alfred least of all. He is only hurt--distressed and hurt at the
thought that you could distrust him.
Svava. I know that.
Nordan. Yes--well--don't take up such a high and mighty attitude!
I assure you that is how it will appear to most people.
Svava. Do you think so? I think people are beginning to think
Nordan. Most people will think: "Other girls forgive things like
that, especially when they love a man."
Svava. There are some that will answer: "If she had not loved
him, she might have forgiven him."
Nordan. And yet, Svava?--and yet?
Svava. But, uncle, do you not understand? I do not know that I
can explain it, either; because, to do that, I should have to
explain what it is that we read into the face, the character, the
manner of the man we love--his voice, his smile. That is what I
have lost. Its meaning is gone.
Nordan. For a while, yes--till you have had a breathing space.
Svava. No, no, no! Do you remember that song of mine, about the
beloved one's image? that one always sees it as if it were framed
in happiness? Do you remember it?
Svava. Very well--I cannot see it like that any longer. I see it,
of course--but always with pain. Always! Am I to forgive that,
because other girls forgive it? What is that they have loved,
these other girls? Can you tell me that? Because what I loved is
gone. I am not going to sit down and try to conjure it up in my
imagination again. I shall find something else to do.
Nordan. You are embittered now. You have had your ideal
thoroughly shattered, and as long as you are smarting from that
it is no use reasoning with you. So I will only beg one thing of
you--one single little thing. But you must promise me to do it?
Svava. If I can.
Nordan. You can. There are things to take into consideration. Ask
for time to think it all over!
Svava. Ah!--mother has been writing to you!
Nordan. And if she has? Your mother knows what depends upon it.
Svava. What depends upon it? Why do you speak so mysteriously, as
if we were not on secure ground? Aren't we? Father talks about
giving up this place. Why?
Nordan. I suppose he thinks it will be necessary.
Svava. Father? On grounds of economy?
Nordan. Not in the least! No, but all the gossips in the place
will be at you. What you propose to do is a regular challenge,
Svava. Oh, we can stand criticism! Father has some queer
principles, you know; but his own life--. Surely no one has any
doubt about that?
Nordan. Listen to me, my child. You cannot prevent people
inventing things. So be careful!
Svava. What do you mean?
Nordan. I mean that you ought to go for a stroll in the park and
pull yourself together a little, before the Christensens come.
Try to be calm; come in calmly, and request time to think it
over. That is all you have to do! They will make no difficulty
about that, because they must agree. Nothing has happened yet,
and all ways are still open. Do as I ask!
Svava. I _have_ thought it over--and you will never get me to do
Nordan. No, no. It is only a matter of form.
Svava. What? You mean something more than that, I know.
Nordan. What an obstinate girl you are!--Can you not do it then,
let me say, for your mother's sake? Your mother is a good woman.
Svava. What will they think, if I come in and say: "Will you not
give me time to consider the matter?" No, I cannot do that.
Nordan. What will you say, then?
Svava. I would rather say nothing at all. But if I absolutely
must say something--
Nordan. Of course you must!
Svava. Well, I will go out now and think it over. (Turns to go,
but stops.) But what you want can never be.
Nordan. It must be!
Svava (standing by the door). You said just now: "Your mother is
a good woman." It sounded almost as if you laid stress on the
Nordan. Suppose I did?
Svava. Is father not that, too?
Nordan. Your father a good woman?
Svava. Why do you try to turn it off with a joke?
Nordan. Because it is serious, confound it all!
Svava. Can I not believe father--?
Svava. Father?--Is it possible that he too--? Do people say that?
(NORDAN does not answer, and does not move.) Shameful! Impossible!
I say it is impossible! (Rushes out. RIIS comes in from the right.)
Riis. What is the matter with Svava?
Nordan (coming forward). There was nothing else for it.
Riis. Nothing else for it? What do you mean?
Nordan. No, devil take it!--there was nothing else for it.
Riis. Quite so--but what?
Nordan. What do you say?
Riis. No, what were you saying--?
Nordan. What was I saying?
Riis. You said there was nothing else for it. You alarm me.
Nordan. Do I? Then you did not hear right. (Moves away from him.)
Riis. Didn't hear right? You were swearing about it too!
Nordan. That I certainly did not.
Riis. Very well then, you didn't. But how did you get on with
Svava? Won't you answer me?
Nordan. How did I get on with Svava?
Riis. Why are you so preoccupied? Are things so bad, then?
Nordan. Preoccupied? Why should I be that?
Riis. You ought to know best. I was asking about Svava--how you
got on with Svava--and I think I have the right to know.
Nordan. Look here, Riis.
Riis. Yes? (NORDAN takes him by the arm.) What is it?
Nordan. Did you see Svava?
Riis. Hurrying away out through the park? Yes. My dear chap, what
Nordan. It was the Greek tragedy.
Riis. The Greek--?
Nordan. Only the name--only the name! Well, you know what the
word means, don't you?
Riis. The Greek--?
Nordan. No, no--not "Greek," but "tragedy"?
Riis. Something mournful--?
Nordan. Far from it! Something amusing! It came to Greece with
the worship of Dionysus, in whose train there was a goat--
Riis (draws his arm away). A goat? What on earth--?
Nordan. Yes, you may well be surprised--because it sang!
Nordan. Yes--and is still singing, of course! And paints! There
are pictures by him in every exhibition. And works in bronze and
marble! Wonderful! And such a courtier as he is, too! It is he
that designs ball-dresses and arranges entertainments--
Riis. Have you gone raving mad?
Nordan. Why do you ask that?
Riis. I am waiting patiently here till you have done talking such
damned nonsense! We are accustomed to something of the sort when
you are in one of those humours, but to-day I can't understand a
blessed word of what you are saying.
Nordan. Don't you, my dear fellow?
Riis. Can you not tell me what my daughter said? Isn't it
ridiculous that I cannot get that out of you! Now, briefly and
intelligibly, what did she say?
Nordan. Do you want to know?
Riis. He asks that!
Nordan. She said she pitied all the innocent young girls that,
generation after generation, disappear--
Riis. Where to?
Nordan. That is just it--where to? She said: "They are brought up
in pious ignorance, and finally the unsuspecting creatures are
wrapped up in a long white veil that they shall not be able to
see distinctly where they are being taken to."
Riis. Now you are talking your mythology again. Am I not to--
Nordan. Be quiet! It is your daughter that is speaking. "But I
will not do that," she said. "I will enter confidently into
the holy estate of matrimony, and sit down by the hearth in the
land of my fathers, and bring up children in the sight of my
husband. But he shall be as chaste as I; for otherwise he stains
my child's head, when he kisses it, and dishonours me."--There,
that is what she said, and she looked so splendid as she said it.
(A ring is heard at the bell.)
Riis. They are upon us! They are upon us! What in the world is
going to happen? We are in a muddle of the most preposterous
theories! The whole heathen mythology is buzzing round in my
head! (Hurries to the door to meet MR. and MRS. CHRISTENSEN, whom
MARGIT is showing in.) I am so happy to see you!--so very happy!
But your son?
Christensen. We could not get him to come with us.
Riis. I am very sorry!--At the same time, I quite understand.
Christensen. I admire the beauty of this place afresh every time
I see it, my dear sir!
Mrs. Christensen. This beautiful old park! I wanted once--. Oh,
good morning, doctor! How are you?
Nordan. So, so!
Riis (to MARGIT). Please tell Mrs. Riis. And--oh, there she is.
(MRS. RIIS comes in by the door at the left.) And tell Miss
Nordan. She is out in the park (pointing)--out that way. (Exit
Riis. No, this way!--That's right! Go straight on till you find
Mrs. Christensen (who meantime has come forward with MRS. RIIS).
I have been thinking so much about you the last day or two, my
dear! What a tiresome business this is!
Mrs. Riis. Do you mind my asking if you knew anything about it
Mrs. Christensen. What is there that a mother--and a wife--
escapes the knowledge of nowadays, my dear! She was in my
service, you know. Come here! (Tells MRS. RIIS something in a
whisper, ending with something about "discovery" and "dismissal.")
Riis (offering the ladies chairs). Won't you sit down?--Oh, I beg
your pardon! I did not see--. (Hurries to CHRISTENSEN.) Excuse
me, but are you really comfortable in that chair?
Christensen. Thank you, I am just as uncomfortable here as
anywhere else. It is the sitting down and getting up again that
bothers me more than anything else. (Looks round.) I have just
been to see him.
Christensen. Honest fellow. Stupid.
Riis. So long as he holds his tongue--
Christensen. He'll do that.
Riis. Thank heaven for that! Then we have only ourselves to
consider. I suppose it cost you a bit?
Christensen. Not a penny!
Riis. You got out of it cheap, then.
Christensen. Yes, didn't I? Still, as a matter of fact, he has
cost me quite enough already--although he knows nothing about
Riis. Indeed? When he failed, I suppose.
Christensen. No, when he married.
Riis. Oh, I understand.
Christensen. And I didn't think I should hear any more about it
after that.--You ladies seem to be having a fine game of
whispering! (MRS. CHRISTENSEN comes forward. RIIS places chairs
for her and his wife.)
Mrs. Christensen. I was telling Mrs. Riis about the Miss Tang
affair. She really seems to have risen from her grave!
Christensen. Is your daughter at home, may I ask?
Riis. I have sent to fetch her.
Mrs. Christensen. I hope the last few days have taught her a
lesson too, poor girl! She suffers from a fault that unusually
clever people are very liable to--I mean self-righteousness.
Riis. Exactly! You are perfectly right! But I should call it
Mrs. Christensen. I should not like to say that--but presumption,
Mrs. Riis. Why do you say that, Mrs. Christensen?
Mrs. Christensen. Because of various conversations I have had
with her. I was speaking to her once about a man's being his
wife's master. In these days it is a good thing to impress that
on young girls.
Christensen. Yes, indeed!
Mrs. Christensen. And when I reminded her of certain words of St.
Paul's, she said: "Yes, it is behind those bars that we women are
still shut up." Then I knew that something would happen. Pride
goes before a fall, you know.
Christensen. Oh, come, come! That won't do at all! Your chain of
reasoning isn't sound!
Mrs. Christensen. How?
Christensen. It is not. Because in the first place it was not
Miss Riis that fell, but your precious son. And in the second
place his fall was not a consequence of Miss Riis's pride,
because of course it happened many years before Miss Riis showed
any of her pride. So that if you knew that his fall would happen
as a consequence of Miss Riis's pride, you knew something that
you certainly did not know.
Mrs. Christensen. Oh, you are making fun of me!
Christensen. I ought to be at a committee meeting punctually at
one.--May I ask what has become of your daughter?
Riis. Indeed I am really beginning to wonder-- (During the
foregoing, NORDAN has remained in the background, sometimes in
the room and sometimes outside in the park. MARGIT now goes fast
the window outside, and NORDAN is heard speaking to her.)
Nordan. Have you only just found her?
Margit. No, sir--I have been down once already to take Miss Riis
her hat, gloves and parasol.
Nordan. Is she going out?
Margit. I don't know, sir. (Goes out.)
Christensen. Dear me!
Riis. What does it mean? (Turns to go and fetch her.)
Nordan. No, no! Do not you go!
Mrs. Riis. I expect I had better go--
Riis. Yes, you go!
Nordan. No, I will go. I am afraid I am responsible for--. (As he
goes) I'll answer for it I will bring her back!
Christensen. Dear me!
Mrs. Christensen (getting up). I am afraid, my dear Mrs. Riis, we
have come at an inconvenient time for your daughter?
Riis. Ah, you must be lenient with her! I assure you it is these
high-flown ideas--this reading, that her mother has not been
nearly firm enough in keeping her from.
Mrs. Riis. I? What are you talking about?
Riis. I say that this is a very important moment! And at moments
like this one sees very clearly, very--well, that is what
Christensen. Your husband, Mrs. Riis, has suddenly had the same
sort of revelation as our parson had lately--I should say, my
wife's parson. It was one day just after dinner--after an
extremely good dinner, by the way--a moment when a man often has
very bright ideas. We were talking about all the things a woman
has to learn now, as compared with the old days, and how some
people say it is mere waste of time because she will forget it
all again when she marries. "Yes," said parson, looking very
pleased, "my wife has completely forgotten how to spell; I hope
she will soon forget how to write, too!"
Mrs. Christensen. You imitate people so well, that one cannot
help laughing--although it isn't right. (CHRISTENSEN looks at his
Riis. It doesn't look as if they were coming back?--Will you go,
or shall I?
Mrs. Riis (getting up). I will go. But you could not expect them
Riis (coming close up to her and speaking in an undertone). This is
your doing! I see it clearly!
Mrs. Riis. I do not think you know what you are saying. (Goes
Riis (coming forward). I really must apologise most humbly! It is
the last thing I should ever have expected of Svava--because I
pride myself that the obligations of courtesy have never been
disregarded in my house before.
Mrs. Christensen. Perhaps something has happened?
Riis. I beg your pardon?--Good heavens!
Mrs. Christensen. Oh, do not misunderstand me! I only mean that
young girls are so easily agitated, and then they do not like to
Riis. All the same, Mrs. Christensen, all the same! At such a
moment as this, too!--You really must excuse me, I shall have no
peace till I find out for myself what has happened! (Hurries out.)
Christensen. If Alfred had been here, I suppose he would have
been running about all over the park after these females, too.
Mrs. Christensen. Really, my dear!
Christensen. Aren't we alone?
Mrs. Christensen. Yes, but still--!
Christensen. Well, I say, as a certain famous man said before me:
"What the devil was he doing in that galley?"
Mrs. Christensen. Do have a moment's patience! It is really
Christensen. Bah! Necessary! Riis is more afraid of a rupture
than any of us. Did you see him just now?
Mrs. Christensen. Yes, of course I did, but--
Christensen. She has already gone much farther than she has any
Mrs. Christensen. So Alfred thinks, too.
Christensen. Then he should have been here now, to say so. I
asked him to come.
Mrs. Christensen. He is in love, and that makes a man a little
Mrs. Christensen. Oh, that passes off when one is in love as
often as you are. (Gets up.) Here they come!--No, not Svava.
Christensen. Is she not with them?
Mrs. Christensen. I don't see her.
Riis (appearing at the door). Here they are!
Mrs. Christensen. And your daughter too?
Riis. Yes, Svava too. She asked the others to go on ahead of her.
I expect she wanted to collect herself a little.
Mrs. Christensen (sitting down again). Ah, you see, it was just
what I thought, poor child!
Mrs. Riis (coming in). She will be here in a moment! (Goes up to
MRS. CHRISTENSEN.) You must forgive her, Mrs. Christensen; she
has had a bad time of it.
Mrs. Christensen. Bless my soul, of course I understand that! The
first time one has an experience of this kind, it tells on one.
Christensen. This is positively beginning to get amusing!
Nordan. Here we are! She asked me to come on little ahead of her.
Riis. She is not going to keep us waiting any longer, I hope?
Nordan. She was just behind me.
Riis. Here she is! (Goes to the door to meet her; NORDAN and MRS.
RIIS do the same from the other side of the room.)
Christensen. One would think she were the Queen of Sheba.
(SVAVA comes in, wearing her hat, and with her gloves and parasol
in her hand. CHRISTENSEN and MRS. CHRISTENSEN get up from their
seats. She bows slightly to them, and comes to the front of the
stage on the right-hand side. All sit down in silence. NORDAN is
at the extreme left, then MRS. RIIS, MRS. CHRISTENSEN and
CHRISTENSEN. At the extreme right, but a little behind the
others, is RIIS, who is sitting down one minute and standing the
Mrs. Christensen. My dear Svava, we have come here to--well, you
know what we have come for. What has happened has distressed us
very much; but what is done cannot be undone. None of us can
excuse Alfred. But all the same we think that he might be granted
forgiveness, especially at the hands of one who must know that he
loves her, and loves her sincerely. That makes it a different
matter altogether, of course.
Christensen. Of course!
Riis. Of course!
Nordan. Of course!
Mrs. Christensen. And, even if you don't quite agree with me
about that, I hope you will agree with me about Alfred himself. I
mean to say, that we consider his character, my dear Svava,
should vouch to you for his fidelity. I know that, if you require
it, he will give you his word of honour that--
Mrs. Riis (getting up). No! No!
Mrs. Christensen. What is the matter, my dear Mrs. Riis?
Mrs. Riis. No words of honour! He has to take an oath when he
Nordan. But surely two make it all the safer, Mrs. Riis?
Mrs. Riis. No, no! No oath! (Sits down again.)
Christensen. I was struck with our friend Dr. Nordan's remark.
Tell me, my dear sir, do you also take it for granted that the
sort of thing my son has done ought to be an absolute bar to
marriage with an honourable woman?
Nordan. Quite the contrary! I am quite sure it never prevents any
one getting married--and remarkably well married. It is only
Svava that is behaving in an extraordinary manner in every
Mrs. Christensen. I would not go so far as to say that; but there
is one thing that Svava has overlooked. She is acting as if she
were free. But she is not by any means free. A betrothal is
equivalent to a marriage; at any rate, I am old-fashioned enough
to consider it so, And the man to whom I have given my hand is
thereby made my master and given authority over me, and I owe
to him--as to a superior authority--my respect, whether he act
well or ill. I cannot give him notice, or run away from him.
Riis. That is old-fashioned and sensible. I thank you heartily,
Nordan. And I too!
Mrs. Riis. But if it is too late after the betrothal--. (Checks
Mrs. Christensen. What do you mean, dear Mrs. Riis?
Mrs. Riis. Oh, nothing nothing at all.
Nordan. Mrs. Riis means that if it is too late after the
betrothal, why do people not speak out before they are betrothed?
Riis. What a thing to say!
Christensen. Well, it wouldn't be such a bad thing, would it? I
imagine proposals in future being worded somewhat in this way:
"My dear Miss So-and-So, up to date I have had such and such a
number of love affairs--that is to say, so many big ones and so
many little ones." Don't you think it would be a capital way to
lead the conversation on to--
Nordan. --to assuring her that she is the only one you have ever
Christensen. Well, not exactly that, but--
Riis. Here comes Alfred!
Mrs. Riis. Alfred?
Mrs. Christensen. Yes, it really is he!
Riis (who has gone to the door to meet ALFRED). Ah, that is
right! We are so glad you have come!
Christensen. Well, my boy?
Alfred. When it came to the point, I could not do anything else--
I had to come here.
Christensen. I quite agree with you.
Riis. Yes, it was only the natural thing to do. (ALFRED comes
forward and bows respectfully to SVAVA. She bows slightly, but
without looking at him. He steps back again.)
Nordan. Good morning, my boy!
Alfred. Perhaps I have come at an inconvenient moment.
Riis. Not a bit of it! Quite the contrary!
Alfred. At the same time, it seems evident to me that my
presence is not welcome to Miss Riis. (No one answers him.)
Mrs. Christensen. But it is a family council we are holding--
isn't it, my dear girl?
Riis. I assure you, you _are_ welcome! And we are all
particularly anxious to hear what you have to say!
Christensen. That is so.
Alfred. I have not succeeded in getting a hearing yet, you know.
I have been refused admittance repeatedly--both in person and
when I wrote. So I thought that if I came now, perhaps I should
get a hearing.
Riis. Of course. Who can object to that?
Nordan. You shall have your hearing.
Alfred. Perhaps I may take Miss Riis's silence to mean
permission? In that case--well--it is nothing so very much that I
have to say, either. It is merely to remind you that, when I
asked for Miss Riis's hand, it was because I loved her with all
my heart--her and no one else. I could not imagine any greater
happiness, and any greater honour, than to be loved by her in
return. And so I think still. (He pauses, as if he expected an
answer. They all look at SVAVA.) What explanation I could have
given of my own free will--indeed what explanation, under other
circumstances, I should have felt impelled to give--I shall say
nothing about now. But I _owe_ no explanation! My honour demands
that I should make point of that. It is my future that I owe to
her. And with regard to that I must confess I have been hurt--
deeply hurt--by the fact that Miss Riis could doubt me for a
moment. Never in my life has any one doubted me before. With all
respect, I must insist that my word shall be taken. (They are all
silent.) That is all I have to say.
Mrs. Riis (getting up unwillingly). But, Alfred, suppose a woman,
under the same circumstances, had come and said the same thing--
who would believe her? (They are all silent. SVAVA bursts into
Mrs. Christensen. Poor child!
Riis. Believe her?
Mrs. Riis. Yes, believe her. Believe her if, after past like
that, she came and assured us that she would make an honest wife?
Christensen. After a past like that?
Mrs. Riis. Perhaps that is putting it too harshly. But why should
you require her to believe a man any more readily than a man
would believe her? Because he would not believe her for a moment.
Riis (coming up behind her). Are you absolutely mad?
Christensen (half rising). Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen; the
two young people must settle the affair now! (Sits down again.)
Alfred. I must confess I have never thought of what Mrs. Riis has
just said, because such a thing never could happen. No man of
honour would choose a woman of whose past he was not certain.
Mrs. Riis. But what about a woman of honour, Alfred?
Alfred. Ah, that is quite different.
Nordan. To put it precisely: a woman owes a man both her past
and her future; a man owes a woman only his future.
Alfred. Well, if you like to put it that way--yes.
Nordan (to SVAVA, as he gets up). I wanted you to postpone your
answer, my child. But now I think you ought to answer at once.
(SVAVA goes up to ALFRED, flings her glove in his face, and goes
straight into her room. ALFRED turns and looks after her. RIIS
disappears into his room on the right. Every one has risen from
their seats. MRS. CHRISTENSEN takes ALFRED by the arm and goes
nut with him; CHRISTENSEN follows them. MRS. RIIS is standing at
the door of the room which SVAVA has locked after her.)
Nordan. That was throwing down a gauntlet, if you like!
Mrs. Riis (calling through the door). Svava!
Christensen (coming in and speaking to NORDAN, who has taken no
notice of him and has not turned round). Then it is to be war?--
Well, I fancy I know a thing or two about war. (Goes out. NORDAN
turns round and stands looking after him.)
Mrs. Riis (still at the door). Svava! (RIIS comes rushing out of
his room, with his hat on and his gloves and stick in his hand,
and follows the CHRISTENSENS.) Svava!
(SCENE.--DR. NORDAN'S garden, behind his neat one-storied house.
He is sitting on a chair in the foreground reading. His old
servant, THOMAS, opens the how door and looks out.)
Nordan. What is it? (ALFRED comes into sight in the doorway.) Oh,
it is you! (Gets up.) Well, my boy? You don't look up to much!
Alfred. No, but never mind that. Can you give me a bit of
Nordan. Have you had no breakfast yet? Have you not been home
then?--not been home all night?--not since yesterday? (Calls)
Alfred. And when I have had something to eat, may I have a talk
Nordan. Of course, my dear boy. (To THOMAS, who has come out
of the house) Get some breakfast laid in that room, please
(pointing to a window on the left).
Alfred. And may I have a wash too?
Nordan. Go with Thomas. I will be with you directly. (ALFRED and
THOMAS go into the house. Then a carriage is heard stopping
outside.) There is a carriage. Go and see who it is, Thomas. I
won't see any patients! I am going away to-morrow.
Thomas. It is Mr. Christensen. (Goes into the house again.)
Nordan. Oho! (Goes to the window on the left.) Alfred!
Alfred (coming to the window). Yes?
Nordan. It is your father! If you do not want to be seen, pull
down the blind. (The blind is dulled dawn.)
Thomas (showing in CHRISTENSEN). Will you come this way please,
sir. (CHRISTENSEN is in court dress protected by a dustcoat, and
wears the cross of a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Olaf.)
Christensen. I hope I do not disturb you, doctor?
Nordan. Not at all!--In full dress! I congratulate you.
Christensen. Yes, we newly-fledged knights have to go to Court
to-day. But do you mind if I spend a minute or two here with you
before I go on to the palace?--Any news from over there? From the
Nordan. No. They are sitting waiting for the "war" to begin, I
Christensen. They shall not have to wait long, then! I have made
up my mind to begin it to-day. Has she come to her senses, by any
chance? Women usually feel things like that very acutely. But
they usually get over it, too.
Nordan. I do not think so. But I bow before your experience.
Christensen. Thank you! I should think that, as an old hand at
playing the buffer in family jars, you had a much greater
experience. Yesterday she was like an electric eel! And she gave
her shock, too! The boy has not been home since. I am almost glad
of that; it shows he has some sense of shame. I was beginning to
Nordan. It is the coming "war" that interests me.
Christensen. Oh, you are anxious to see that, are you? Very well.
As a matter of fact there is no need to draw up a plan of
campaign. That affair of Mrs. North's can be taken up again any
day, my dear fellow! It is in the hands of the bank, you know.
Nordan. But what has that to do with your son engagement?
Christensen. What has it to do with it? Miss Riis gives my son
his dismissal because she cannot tolerate his conduct before
marriage. Her own father indulges in the same sort of conduct
when he is well on in married life! Tableau vivant tres curieux!
--to use a language Mr. Riis is very fond of.
Nordan. It is a shame to talk like that--because your son is the
only one to blame in this matter.
Christensen. My son is not in the least to blame in the matter!
He has not done the slightest thing that could harm or discredit
the Riis's--not the slightest thing! He is a man of honour, who
has given Miss Riis his promise and has kept it. Will any one
dare to contradict that? Or to suggest that he will not keep his
promise? If any one doubts him, it is an insult. Dr. Nordan! In
this matter the alternatives are either an apology and peace--or
war. For I am not going to put up with this sort of thing; and if
my son puts up with it, I shall despise him.
Nordan. Oh, I quite believe your son had every honourable
intention when he gave his promise. And very likely he would
have kept it, too; I cannot say for certain, because I have learnt
to doubt. I am a doctor--I have seen too much--and he did not
appear to great advantage yesterday. You really must forgive
my saying so--but after the liveliness of his young days, coupled
with the tendencies he has inherited, do you think he really had
any right to be surprised if people doubted him?--if his fiancee
doubted him? Had he really any right to feel insulted, or to
demand apologies? Apologies for what? For having doubted his
virtue?--Just consider that!
Christensen. Why, what--?
Nordan. One moment! I was only half done. You said something
about a reconciliation, you know; of course by that you meant a
marriage. If your son is willing to marry a woman who distrusts
him, then I shall despise him.
Nordan. Yes, indeed I shall. Our opinions are as different as all
that. To my way of thinking, your son's only course is to submit
--and wait; to keep silence, and wait--always supposing, of
course, that he still loves her. That is my view of it.
Christensen. Well, I imagine that there are very few candidates
for matrimony who have not been guilty of what my son has been
guilty of; indeed, I am sure of it. And I imagine, too, that they
have the same unfortunate "hereditary tendencies"--an expression
on which you laid stress out of special friendship for me. But is
that any reason why girls who are betrothed should behave as Miss
Riis has been doing?--scream, and run away, and create a scandal?
We should not be able to hear ourselves speak! It would be the
queerest sort of anarchy the world has ever seen! Why, such
doctrines as that are contrary to the very nature and order of
things! They are mad! And when, into the bargain, they are thrown
at our heads as if they were decisions of a High Court of
Morality--well, then I strike! Good-bye! (Starts to go, but turns
back.) And who is it that these High Court of Morality's
decisions would for the most part affect, do you suppose? Just
the ablest and most vigorous of our young men. Are we going to
turn them out and make a separate despised caste of them? And
what things would be affected, do you suppose? A great part of
the world's literature and art; a great part of all that is
loveliest and most captivating in the life of to-day; the world's
greatest cities, most particularly--those wonders of the world--
teeming with their millions of people! Let me tell you this: the
life that disregards marriage or loosens the bonds of marriage,
or transforms the whole institution--you know very well what I
mean--the life that is accused of using the "weapons of
seduction" in its fashions, its luxury, its entertainments, its
art, its theatre--that life is one of the most potent factors in
these teeming cities, one of the most fruitful sources of their
existence! No one who has seen it can have any doubt about it,
however ingenuous he may pretend to be. Are we to wish to play
havoc with all that too?--to disown the flower of the world's
youth, and ruin the world's finest cities? It seems to me that
people wish to do so much in the name of morality, that they
end by wishing to do what would be subversive of all morality.
Nordan. You are certainly embarking on your little war in the
true statesmanlike spirit!
Christensen. It is nothing but sound common-sense, my dear sir;
that is all that is necessary, I am sure. I shill have the whole
town on my side, you may be certain of that!
Thomas (appearing at the house door). Doctor!
Nordan (turning round). Is it possible! (Hurries to the doorway,
in which MRS. RIIS appears.)
Mrs. Riis. May I--?
Nordan. Of course! Will you come out here?
Mrs. Riis (to CHRISTENSEN, who bows to her). My visit is really
to you, Mr. Christensen.
Christensen. I am honoured.
Mrs. Riis. I happened to look out into the street just as your
carriage stopped and you got out. So I thought I would seize the
opportunity--because you threatened us yesterday, you know. Is
that not so? You declared war against us?
Christensen. My recollection of it is that war was declared, Mrs.
Riis, but that I merely accepted the challenge.
Mrs. Riis. And what line is your campaign going to take, if I may
ask the question?
Christensen. I have just had the honour of explaining my position
to the doctor. I do not know whether it would be gallant to do as
much to you.
Nordan. I will do it, then. The campaign will be directed against
your husband. Mr. Christensen takes the offensive.
Mrs. Riis. Naturally!--because you know you can strike at him.
But I have come to ask you to think better of it.
Christensen (with a laugh). Really?
Mrs. Riis. Once--many years ago now--I took my child in my arms
and threatened to leave my husband. Thereupon he mentioned the
name of another man, and shielded himself behind that--for it was
a distinguished name. "See how lenient that man's wife is," he
said. "And, because she is so, all her friends are lenient, and
that will be all the better for their child." Those were his
Christensen. Well, as far as the advice they implied was
concerned, it was good advice--and no doubt you followed it.
Mrs. Riis. The position of a divorced woman is a very
humiliating one in the eyes of the world, and the daughter of
such a woman fares very little better. The rich and distinguished
folk who lead the fashion take care of that.
Christensen. But what--?
Mrs. Riis. That is my excuse for not having the courage to leave
him. I was thinking of my child's future. But it is my husband's
excuse, too; because he is one of those who follows the example
Christensen. We all do that, Mrs. Riis.
Mrs. Riis. But it is the leaders of society that set the example,
for the most part; and in this matter they set a tempting one. I
suppose I can hardly be mistaken in thinking that I have heard
your view of this matter, all along, through my husband's mouth?
Or, if I am mistaken in that, I at all events surely heard it
more accurately yesterday, when I heard your voice in everything
that your son said?
Christensen. I stand by every word of what my son said.
Mrs. Riis. I thought so. This campaign of yours will really be a
remarkable one! I see your influence in everything that has
happened, from first to last. You are the moving spirit of the
whole campaign--on both sides!
Nordan. Before you answer, Christensen--may I ask you, Mrs. Riis,
to consider whether you want to make the breach hopelessly
irreparable? Do you mean to make a reconciliation between the
young people quite impossible?
Mrs. Riis. It is impossible, as it is.
Mrs. Riis. Because all confidence is destroyed.
Nordan. More so now than before?
Mrs. Riis. Yes. I will confess that up to the moment. When
Alfred's word of honour was offered yesterday--up to the moment
when he demanded that his word of honour should be believed--I
did not recognise the fact that it was my own story over again.
But it was--word for word my own story! That was just the way we
began; who will vouch for it that the sequel would not be the
same as in our case?
Christensen. My son's character will vouch for that, Mrs. Riis!
Mrs. Riis. Character? A nice sort of character a man is likely to
develop who indulges in secret and illicit courses from his
boyhood! That is the very way faithlessness is bred. If any one
wants to know the reason why character is such a rare thing, I
think they will find the answer in that.
Christensen. A man's youth is by no means the test of his life.
That depends on his marriage.
Mrs. Riis. And why should a man's faithlessness disappear when he
is married? Can you tell me that?
Christensen. Because then he loves, of course.
Mrs. Riis. Because he loves? But do you mean that he has not
loved before then? How absolutely you men have blinded yourselves!
--No, love is not the least likely to be lasting when the will
is vitiated. And that is what it is--vitiated by the life a
Christensen. And yet I know plenty of sensual men who have strong
Mrs. Riis. I am not speaking of strength of will, but of purity,
faithfulness, nobility of will.
Christensen. Well, if my son is to be judged by any such
nonsensical standard as that, I am devoutly thankful he has got
out of the whole thing before it became serious--indeed I am! Now
we have had enough of this. (Prepares to go.)
Mrs. Riis. As far as your son is concerned--. (Turns to NORDAN.)
Doctor, answer me this, so that his father may hear it before he
goes. When you refused to go with us to the betrothal party, had
you already heard some thing about Alfred Christensen? Was what
you had heard of such a nature that you felt you could not trust
Nordan (after a moment's thought). Not altogether, certainly.
Mrs. Riis (to CHRISTENSEN). There, you hear!--But will you let me
ask you this, doctor: why did you not say so? Good God, why did
you not speak?
Nordan. Listen to me, Mrs. Riis. When two young people, who after
all are suited to one another--for they are that, are they not?
Christensen. They are that, I admit.
Nordan. When all of a sudden they fall madly in love with one
another, what are you to do?
Christensen. Oh, rake up all sorts of stories and exaggerations--
create a scandal!
Nordan. Indeed, I must confess--what as a matter of fact I have
said--that I have become accustomed to things not being exactly
as they should be in that respect. I looked upon these young
people's engagement in the same light as I have looked on others
--on most others--that is cruel to say, as a lottery. It might
turn out well; on the other hand it might turn out very badly.
Mrs. Riis. And you were willing to risk my daughter, whom you
are so fond of--for I know you are fond of her--in a lottery?
Could one possibly have a clearer proof of the real state of
Nordan. Yes, certainly! You yourself, Mrs. Riis--what did you do?
Mrs. Riis. I--?
Nordan. You knew what Hoff had said--and more too. (CHRISTENSEN
laughs quietly.) Nevertheless you helped your husband, if not
actually to try and get her to overlook it, at all events to
smooth things over.
Nordan. And you called in my help to induce her to take time to
think it over.
Christensen. Mothers observe a considerable difference between
theory and practice in these matters, I notice.
Nordan. It was only when I saw how deeply it affected Svava--
what a horror she had of it--that my eyes were opened. And the
longer I listened to her, the more sympathy I felt for her; for I
was young myself once--and loved. But that was such a long time
ago--and I have grown tired--
Mrs. Riis (who has sat down at the little table). My God!
Nordan. Yes, Mrs. Riis. Let me tell you candidly--it is the
mothers, and no one else, that by degrees have made me callous.
Mothers look upon the whole thing so callously. The fact is that
as a rule they know what is what.
Christensen. That they do, the dear creatures! And Mrs. Riis is
no exception to the rule. You must admit, my dear madam, that you
did all you could to hold on to a young man who had had a lively
past? Not to mention the fact that this same young man had an
extremely good social position--a thing I only allude to
Nordan. Exactly. Rather than not give their daughters a prospect
of what they call "a good marriage" they straightway forget all
that they have suffered themselves.
Mrs. Riis. You see, we do not know that it will turn out the same
in their case.
Nordan. You don't know it?
Mrs. Riis. No, I tell you that I did not think so! We believe
that the man our daughter is going to marry is so much better. We
believe that in their case there are stronger guarantees--that
the circumstances are altogether different. It is so! It is a
kind of illusion that takes hold of us.
Christensen. When there is a prospect of a good marriage, yes! I
entirely agree with you, Mrs. Riis--for the first time. Moreover,
I think there is another side to it. Isn't it possible that women
have not suffered so much after all from the fact that men are
men? What? I fancy the suffering has been more acute than
serious--something like sea-sickness; when it is over--well, it
is over. And so when it is the daughters' turn to go on board,
the dear mothers think: "Oh, they will be able to get over it
too! Only let us get them off!" For they are so anxious to get
them off, that is the truth!
Mrs. Riis (getting up and coming forward). Well, if it is so,
surely it is nothing to make fun of! It only shows what a woman
can sink to, from living with a man.
Mrs. Riis. Yes--because each generation of women is endowed with
a stronger and stronger aspiration for a pure life. It results
unconsciously from the maternal instinct, and is intended as a
protection for the defenceless. Even worthless mothers feel that.
But if they succumb in spite of it, and each generation of
married women in its turn sinks as deep as you say, the reason of
it can only be the privilege that men enjoy as part of their
Christensen. What privilege?
Mrs. Riis. That of living as they please when they are bachelors,
and then having their word of honour believed in when they choose
to enter the married state. As long as women are powerless to put
an end to that horrible privilege or to make themselves
independent of it, so long will one half of the world continue to
be sacrificed on account of the other half--on account of the
other half's lack of self-control. That one privilege turns out
to be more powerful than all the striving for liberty in the
world. And that is not a laughing matter.
Christensen. You are picturing to yourself a different world from
this, and different natures from ours, Mrs. Riis. And that--if
you will excuse my saying so--is obviously all the answer that is
necessary to what you say.
Mrs. Riis. Well, then, give that answer openly! Why do you not
openly acknowledge that as your standpoint?
Christensen. But don't we?
Mrs. Riis. No--not here, at all events. On the contrary, you
range yourselves ostensibly under our banner, while all the time
you are secretly betraying it. Why have you not the courage to
unfurl your own? Let these bachelor customs of yours be
sanctioned as entirely suitable--then we should be able to join
issue with you. And then every innocent bride would be able to
know what it is she is entering upon--and in what capacity.
Nordan. That would be simply nothing more or less than
Mrs. Riis. Would not that be more honest, too? Because now it is
only being corrupted, long before it begins.
Christensen. Oh, of course it is all the men's fault! It is the
fashion to say that now--it is part of the "struggle for
freedom." Down with man's authority, of course!
Mrs. Riis. The authority his bachelor life has won for him!
Nordan. Ha, ha!
Mrs. Riis. Do not let us cover up the real issue with phrases!
Let us rather speak of the "desolate hearth" that the poet writes
of. Marriage laid in ruins is what he means by that; and what is
the cause of it? What is the cause of the chilly, horrible
commonplace of every-day life--sensual, idle, brutish? I could
paint it even more vividly, but I will not. I will refrain, for
instance, from bringing up the subject of hereditary disease. Let
the question be thrashed out openly! Then perhaps a fire will be
kindled--and our consciences stirred! It must become the most
momentous question in every home. That is what is needed!
Christensen. Our conversation has soared to such heights that it
really seems quite an anti-climax for me to say that I must go to
a "higher place"!--but you must excuse me all the same.
Mrs. Riis. I hope I have not delayed you?
Christensen. No, there is plenty of time. I am only longing
fervently--you really must not be offended--to get away from here.
Mrs. Riis. To your--equals?
Christensen. What a remarkable thing that you should remind me of
them! And, by the way, that reminds me that I am scarcely likely
to meet you or your family in future.
Mrs. Riis. No. Our acquaintance with you is at an end.
Christensen. Thank God for that!--All I hope now is that I shall
succeed in apportioning the ridicule with some degree of justice.
Mrs. Riis. You need only publish your autobiography!
Christensen. No--I think it should rather be your family
principles, madam! They are really very quaint. And when I relate
the manner in which they are put into practice by yourselves, I
rather think that people will be quite sufficiently amused. To
speak seriously for a moment--I mean to attack your husband's
reputation in private and in public, until he quits the town. I
am not the sort of man to accept a humiliation like this without
returning the compliment. (Turns to go.)
Nordan. This is shocking!
Alfred (appearing in the doorway of the house). Father!
Christensen. You here?--How ill you look, my boy! Where have you
Alfred. I came here at the same time as you did, and have heard
everything. Let me tell you this at once, that if you take
another step against the Riis's, I shall go round and tell every
one the reason why Miss Riis threw me over. I shall tell them
exactly what it was. Oh, it is no use looking at me with that
mocking expression! I shall do it--and at once, too.
Christensen. I think you may spare yourself the trouble. The
gossip about a broken engagement will get all over the town
quicker than you could spread it.
Nordan (going up to ALFRED). One word, my boy--do you still love
Alfred. Do you ask that because she has been unjust to me? Well,
now I know quite well what led to it--and inevitably led to it. I
Christensen. And forgive her? Without anything more?
Alfred. I love her more than ever--whatever she thinks of me!
Christensen. Well, upon my word! What next, I should like to
know? You claim your right to resume the role of lover, and leave
us and other honest folk to put the best face we can on the
muddle you have made! I suppose you are going across the road now
to tell her how much you enjoyed yourself yesterday?--or to ask
for a respite till to-morrow, to give you time to pass decently
through a process of purification? May I ask where you are going
to find it and what it is going to consist of? Oh, don't look so
melodramatic! If you can put up with what you got from Riis's
girl yesterday and her mother to-day, surely you can put up with
a little angry talk or a little chaff from your father. I have
had to put up with the whole affair--the betrothal and the
breaking it off as well! And then to be sprinkled with essence of
morality into the bargain! Good Lord! I hope at least I shall not
smell of it still when I get to the palace. (Goes towards the
house, but turns back at the door.) You will find same money in
the office to pay for a trip abroad. (Exit.)
Nordan. Does that mean banishment?
Alfred. Of course it does. (Appears very much agitated.)
Mrs. Riis. Doctor, you must come over to our house with me--and
Nordan. How is she?
Mrs. Riis. I don't know.
Nordan. You don't know?
Mrs. Riis. She wanted to be alone yesterday. And to-day she
went out early.
Nordan. Has anything happened, then?
Mrs. Riis. Yes. You told me yesterday that you had given her a
hint about--her father.
Mrs. Riis. And so I felt that it could not be concealed any
Nordan. And you have--?
Mrs. Riis. I have written to her.
Mrs. Riis. It seemed the easiest way--and we should escape
talking about it. All yesterday afternoon and last night I was
writing, and tearing it up, and writing again--writing--writing!
It was not a long letter, when all was done, but it took it out
Nordan. And has she had the letter?
Mrs. Riis. When she had had her breakfast this morning and gone
out, I sent it after her. And now, my dear friend, I want to beg
you to go and have a talk with her--then you can let me know when
I may go to her. Because I am frightened! (Hides her face in her
Nordan. The moment you came I saw something serious had happened.
You argued so vehemently, too. Well, matters have developed, and
Mrs. Riis. You mustn't go away, doctor! Don't go away from her
Nordan. Oh, that is it, is it?--Thomas!
Thomas. Yes, sir.
Nordan. You need not pack my things.
Thomas. Not pack, sir?--Very good, sir. (Gives the doctor his
stick and goes to open the house door for them.)
Nordan. Allow me, Mrs. Riis. (Offers her his arm.)
Alfred (coming forward). Mrs. Riis! May I speak to her?
Mrs. Riis. Speak to her? No, that is impossible.
Nordan. You heard, my boy, what she has to think about to-day.
Mrs. Riis. And if she would not speak to you before, it is not
likely she will now.
Alfred. If she should ask to speak to me, will you tell her I am
here? I shall stay here till she does.
Mrs. Riis. But what is the use of that?
Alfred. Well, that will be our affair. I know she wants to speak
to me, just as much as I do to her. Only tell her I am here! That
is all I ask. (Goes away into the farther part of the garden.)
Nordan. He does not know what he is talking about.
Mrs. Riis. Dear Dr. Nordan, let us go! I am so frightened.
Nordan. Not more than I am, I think.--So she knows it now, does
she! (They go out.)
(SCENE.--The same as in Acts I. and II. SVAVA comes into the room
slowly and looks round; then goes to the door and looks round
outside the house, then comes in again. As she turns back, she
sees NORDAN standing in the doorway.)
Svava. You!--Oh, Uncle Nordan! (Sobs.)
Nordan. My child! My dear child! Calm yourself!
Svava. But haven't you seen mother? She said she had gone
across to see you.
Nordan. Yes, she is coming directly. But look here--suppose you
and I go for a good long walk together, instead of talking to
your mother or anyone? Along quiet walk? Eh?
Svava. I can't.
Svava. Because I must make an end of all this.
Nordan. What do you mean?
Svava (without answering his question). Uncle--?
Svava. Does Alfred know this?--Did he know it before?
Svava. Of course every one knew it except me. Oh, how I wish I
could hide myself away from every one! I will, too. I see the
real state of things now for the first time. I have been like a
child trying to push a mountain away with its two hands--and they
have all been standing round, laughing at me, of course. But let
me speak to Alfred!
Nordan. To Alfred?
Svava. I behaved so wrongly yesterday. I ought never to have gone
into the room--but you gave me no choice when you came to me. I
went with you almost unconsciously.
Nordan. I suppose it was thinking of your father--of what I told
you about him--that made you--
Svava. I did not understand all at once. But, when I was by
myself, it all flashed across me--mother's strange uneasiness--
father's threats about leaving the country--all sorts of
expressions, and signs--lots and lots of things I had never
understood and never even thought twice about! I chased them out
of my mind, but back they came!--back and back again! It seemed
to paralyse me. And when you took me by the arm and said: "Now
you must go in!"--I hardly had strength to think. Everything
seemed to be going round and round.
Nordan. Yes, I made a regular mess of it--both on that occasion
and the time before.
Svava. No, it was all quite right--quite right! We certainly went
a little off the lines, it is true. I must speak to Alfred; the
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