Bjornstjerne M. Bjornson
Part 5 out of 5
matter must not rest as it is. But, except for that, it was all
quite right. And now I have got to make an end of it all.
Nordan. What do you mean?
Svava. Where is mother?
Nordan. My dear girl, you ought not to try and do anything
to-day. I should advise you not to speak to anybody. If you do--
well, I don't know what may happen.
Svava. But I know.--Oh, it is no use talking to me like that! You
think I am simply a bundle of nerves to-day. And it is quite
true--I am. But if you try to thwart me it will only make me
Nordan. I am not trying to thwart you at all. I only--
Svava. Yes, yes, I know.--Where is mother, then? And you must
bring Alfred here. I cannot go to him, can I? Or do you think he
has too much pride to come, after what happened yesterday? Oh,
no, he is not like that! Tell him he must not be proud with one
who is so humiliated. (Bursts into tears.)
Nordan. But do you think you are able for it?
Svava. You don't know how much I can stand! Anyway, I must get
done with it all, quickly. It has lasted long enough.
Nordan. Then shall I ask your mother--?
Svava. Yes!--and will you ask Alfred?
Nordan. Presently, yes. And if you should--
Svava. No, there is no "if" about it!
Nordan. --if you should want me, I won't go away till you are
"done with it all," as you say. (SVAVA goes up to him and
embraces him. He goes out. After a short pause MRS. RIIS comes
Mrs. Riis (going to SVAVA). My child! (Stops.)
Svava. No, mother, I cannot come near you. Besides, I am
trembling all over. And you don't understand what it is? It has
not dawned upon you that you cannot treat me like this?
Mrs. Riis. Treat you like this, Svava? What do you mean?
Svava. Good heavens, mother!--letting me live here day after day,
year after year, without letting me know what I was living with?
Allowing me to preach the strictest principles, from a house like
ours? What will people say of us, now that everything will be
Mrs. Riis. Surely you would not have wished me to tell my child
Svava. Not while I was a child. But when I had grown up, yes--
under any circumstances! I ought to have been allowed the choice
whether I would live at home under such conditions or not! I
ought to have been allowed to know what every one else knew--or
what they may get to know at any moment.
Mrs. Riis. I have never looked at it in that light.
Svava. Never looked at it in that light? Mother!
Mrs. Riis. Never!--To shield you and have peace in our home while
you were a child, and peace afterwards in your studies, your
interests and your pleasures--for you are not like other girls,
you know, Svava--to ensure this, I have been almost incredibly
careful that no hint of this should come to your ears. I believed
that to be my duty. You have no conception what I have stooped
to--for your sake, my child.
Svava. But you had no right to do it, mother!
Mrs. Riis. No right?--
Svava. No! To degrade yourself for my sake was to degrade me too.
Mrs. Riis (with emotion). Oh, my God--!
Svava. I do not reproach you for anything, mother! I would not do
that for the world--my dear mother! I am only so infinitely
distressed and appalled at the thought of your having to go about
carrying such a secret with you! Never able to be your real self
with me for a moment! Always hiding something! And to have to
listen to my praises of what so little deserved praise--to see me
putting my faith in him, caressing him--oh, mother, mother!
Mrs. Riis. Yes, dear, I felt that myself--many and many a time.
But I felt that I dared not tell you. It was wrong--so very
wrong! I understand that now! But would you have had me leave him
at once, as soon as I knew of it myself?
Svava. I cannot take upon myself to say. You decided that for
yourself. Each one must decide that for herself--according to the
measure of her love and her strength. But when the thing went on
after I was grown up--! Naturally that was why I made a second
mistake. I had been brought up to make mistakes, you see. (RIIS
is heard outside the window, humming a tune.)
Mrs. Riis. Good heavens, there he is! (RIIS is seen passing the
left-hand window. When he reaches the door, however, he stops
and, with the words, "Oh, by the bye!" turns back and goes
Mrs. Riis. You look quite changed, my child! Svava, you frighten
me! Surely you are not going to--?
Svava. What is it that is in your mind, mother?
Mrs. Riis. The thought that, as I have endured so much for your
sake, you might make up your mind to endure a little for mine.
Svava. A little of this? No, not for a moment!
Mrs. Riis. But what are you going to do?
Svava. Go away from here at once, of course.
Mrs. Riis (with a cry). Then I shall go with you!
Svava. You? Away from father?
Mrs. Riis. It has been for your sake that I have stayed with him.
I won't stay here a day without you!--Ah, you don't want me with
Svava. Mother, dear--I must have time to accustom myself to the
changed state of things. You have quite changed in my eyes too,
you see. I have been mistaken in you, and I must get accustomed
to that idea. I must be alone!--Oh, don't look so unhappy, dear!
Mrs. Riis. And this is the end of it all--this is the end of it!
Svava. I cannot act otherwise, dear. I must go away now to my
Kindergartens and give up my life entirely to that work. I must,
I must! If I cannot be alone there, I must go farther afield.
Mrs. Riis. This is the cruellest part of it all--the cruellest
part! Listen, is that--? Yes, it is he. Do not say anything now!
For my sake say nothing now; I cannot bear anything more on the
top of this!--Try to be friendly to him! Svava--do you hear me!
(RIIS comes back, still humming a tune; this time he has his
overcoat over his arm. SVAVA comes hurriedly forward, and after a
moment's hesitation sits down with her back half turned to him,
and tries to busy herself with something. RIIS puts down his
overcoat. He is in court dress and wears the Order of St. Olaf.)
Riis. Good morning, ladies! Good morning!
Mrs. Riis. Good morning!
Riis. Here is the latest great piece of news for you:
Who do you think drove me from the palace? Christensen!
Mrs. Riis. Really?
Riis. Yes! Our wrathful friend of yesterday! Yes! He and one of
my fellow-directors. I was one of the first persons he greeted
when he got to the palace. He introduced me to people, chatted
with me--paid me the most marked attention!
Mrs. Riis. You don't mean it?
Riis. Consequently nothing really happened here yesterday! No
gloves were thrown about at all, least of all in his eldest son's
face! Christensen, the worthy knight of to-day's making, feels
the necessity for peace! We ended by drinking a bottle of
champagne at my brother's.
Mrs. Riis. How amusing!
Riis. Therefore, ladies--smiles, if you please! Nothing has
happened here, absolutely nothing! We begin again with an
absolutely clean slate, without a smear upon it!
Mrs. Riis. What a piece of luck!
Riis. Yes, isn't it! That rather violent outburst of our
daughter's has unburdened her mind and cleared the ideas in other
people's heads. The general atmosphere is agreeably clear, not to
Mrs. Riis. And what was it like at the palace?
Riis. Well, I can tell you this--when I looked round at our batch
of new-fledged knights, it did not exactly impress me that it is
virtue that is rewarded in this world of ours. However, we were
all confronted with an alarmingly solemn document. It was about
something we swore to preserve--I fancy it was the State--or
perhaps the Church--I am really not sure, because I didn't read
it. They all signed it!
Mrs. Riis. You, as well?
Riis. I, as well. Do you suppose I was going to be left out of
such good company? Up at those exalted heights one obtains a
happier and freer outlook upon life. We were all friends up
there. People came up and congratulated me--and after a bit I
wasn't sure whether it was on my daughter's account or on my own;
and, what is more, I never knew I had so many friends in the
town, let alone at Court! But in such brilliant company and such
an atmosphere of praises and compliments and general amiability,
one was not inclined to be particular! And there were only men
present! You know--you ladies must excuse me--there is sometimes
a peculiar charm in being only with men, especially on great
occasions like that. Conversation becomes more pointed, more
actual, more robust--and laughter more full of zest. Men seem to
understand one another almost without the need of words.
Mrs. Riis. I suppose you are feeling very happy to-day, then?
Riis. I should think I am!--and I only wish every one were the
same! I daresay life might be better than it is; but, as I saw it
under those circumstances from those exalted heights, it might
also be much worse. And, as for us men--oh, well, we have our
faults, no doubt, but we are very good company for all that. It
would be a dull world without us, I am sure. Let us take life as
it comes, my dear Svava! (Comes nearer to her. She gets up.) What
is the matter? Are you still in a bad temper?--when you have had
the pleasure of boxing his ears with your own gloves, before the
whole family circle? What more can you reasonably ask of life? I
should say you ought to have a good laugh over it!--Or is there
something up? What? Come, what is the matter now?
Mrs. Riis. The fact is--
Riis. Well, the fact is--?
Mrs. Riis. The fact is that Alfred will be here in a moment.
Riis. Alfred here? In a moment? Hurrah! I quite understand! But
why didn't you tell me so at once?
Mrs. Riis. You have talked the whole time since you came in.
Riis. I do believe I have!--Well, if you are going to take it
seriously, my dear Svava, perhaps you will allow your "knightly"
father to take it lightly? The whole thing amuses me so
tremendously. I was put into good spirits to-day the moment I
saw, from Christensen's face, that there was nothing in the wind.
And so Alfred is coming here directly! Then I understand
everything. Hurrah, once more! I assure you that is the best of
all the good things that have happened to-day. I really think I
must play a festal overture till he comes! (Goes towards the
Mrs. Riis. No, no, dear! Do you hear? No, no! (RIIS plays on,
without listening to hey, till she goes up to him, and stops him,
pointing to SVAVA.)
Svava. Oh, let him play, mother--let him play! It is the innocent
gaiety that I have admired since I was a child! (Bursts into
tears, but collects herself.) How hateful! How horrible!
Riis. My dear child, you look as if you wanted to be throwing
down gauntlets to-day too! Isn't that all done with?
Svava. No, indeed it is not!
Riis. You shall have the loan of my gloves, if you haven't--
Mrs. Riis. Oh, don't say those things to her!
Svava. Oh, yes, let him! Let him mock at us, mother dear! A man
of his moral earnestness has the right to mock at us!
Riis. What are you talking about? Does it show a lack of moral
earnestness not to be in love with old maids and sour-faced
Svava. Father, you are--
Mrs. Riis. No, Svava!
Riis. Oh, let her say what she wants! It is something quite new
to see a well-brought-up girl throw her gloves in her fiance's
face and accusations in her father's! Especially when it is all
done in the name of morality!
Svava. Don't talk about morality! Or go and talk to Mrs. North
Riis. Mrs.-- Mrs.--? What has she to do with--?
Svava. Be quiet! I know everything! You have--
Mrs. Riis. Svava!
Svava. Ah, yes-for mother's sake I won't go on. But, when I threw
down my much discussed gauntlet yesterday, I knew about it then.
That was why I did it! It was a protest against everything of the
kind, against its beginning and its continuation, against him and
against you! I understood--then--your pious zeal in the matter,
and the show of scandalised morality you allowed mother to be a
Mrs. Riis. Svava!
Svava. I understand now, for the first time, what your
consideration, your politeness to mother--which I have so often
admired--all meant! Your fun, your good temper, your care of your
appearance!--Oh, I never can believe in anything any more! It is
Mrs. Riis. Svava, dear!
Svava. All life seems to have become unclean for me! My nearest
and dearest all soiled and smirched! That is why, ever since
yesterday, I have had the feeling of being an outcast; and that
is what I am--an outcast from all that I prized and reverenced--
and that without my having done the slightest thing to deserve
it. Even so, it is not the pain of it that I feel most deeply; it
is the humiliation, the shame. All that I have so often said must
seem now to be nothing but empty words--all that I have done
myself must seem of no account--and this without its being my
fault! For it is your fault! I thought, too, that I knew
something about life; but there was more for me to learn! I see
that you wanted me to give way to such an extent that I should
end by acquiescing in it. I understand now, for the first time,
what your teaching meant--and the things that you invoked mother
and heaven to witness. But it is of no use! I can tell you that
it is about as much as one can stand, to have the thoughts I have
had yesterday--last night--to-day. However, it is once and for
all; after this, nothing can ever take me by surprise again. To
think that any man could have the heart to let his child have
such an experience!
Mrs. Riis. Svava--look at your father!
Svava. Yes--but if you think what I am saying now is hard,
remember what I said to you before I knew this--no longer ago
than yesterday morning. That will give you some idea of how I
believed in you, father--and some idea of what I am feeling now!
Svava. You have ruined my home for me! Almost every other hour in
it has been corrupted--and I cannot face a future like that.
Riis and Mrs. Riis (together). But, Svava--!
Svava. No, I cannot! My faith in you is destroyed--so that I can
never think of this as a home again. It makes me feel as if I
were merely living with you as a lodger--from yesterday onwards,
merely a lodger in the house.
Riis. Don't say that! My child!
Svava. Yes, I am your child. It only needed you to say it like
that, for me to feel it deeply. To think of all the experiences
we two have had together--all the happy times we have had on our
travels, in our amusements--and then to think that I can never
look back on them again, never take them up again! That is why
I cannot stay here.
Riis. You cannot stay here!
Svava. It would remind me of everything too painfully. I should
see everything in a distorted light.
Mrs. Riis. But you will see that you cannot bear to go away,
Riis. But--I can go!
Mrs Riis. You?
Riis. Yes, and your mother and you stay here?--Oh, Svava--!
Svava. No, I cannot accept that--come what may!
Riis. Do not say any more! Svava, I entreat you! Do not make me
too utterly miserable! Remember that never, until to-day--I never
thought to make you--. If you cannot bear to be with me any more
--if you cannot--then let me go away! It is I that am to blame, I
know. Listen, Svava! It must be I, not you! You must stay here!
Mrs. Riis (listening). Good heavens, there is Alfred!
Riis. Alfred! (A pause. ALFRED appears in the doorway.)
Alfred (after a moment). Perhaps I had better go away again?
Riis (to ALFRED). Go away again?--Go away again, did you say?--
No, not on any account! No!--No, you could not have come at a
more fortunate moment! My boy, my dear boy! Thank you!
Mrs. Riis (to SVAVA). Would you rather be alone--?
Svava. No, no, no!
Riis. You want to speak to Svava, don't you? I think it will be
best for me to leave you together. You need to talk things over
frankly with her--to be alone--naturally! You will excuse me,
then, if I leave you, won't you? I have something very important
to do in town, so you will excuse me! I must hurry and change my
clothes--so please excuse me! (Goes into his room.)
Alfred. Oh, but I can come some other time.
Mrs. Riis. But I expect you would like to talk to her now?
Alfred. It is no question of what I would like. I see--and I
heard Dr. Nordan say--that Miss Riis is quite worn out. But I
felt it my duty, all the same, to call.
Svava. And I thank you for doing so! It is more--far more--than I
have deserved. But I want to tell you at once that what happened
yesterday--I mean, the form my behaviour took yesterday--was due
to the fact that, only an hour before then, something had come to
my knowledge that I had never known before. And that was mixed up
with it. (She can scarcely conceal her emotion.)
Alfred. I knew that to-day you would be regretting what happened
yesterday--you are so good. And that was my only hope of seeing
Riis (coming out of his room partly dressed to go out). Does any
one want anything done in town? If so, I shall be happy to see to
it! It has occurred to me that perhaps these ladies would like to
go away for a little trip somewhere--what do you two say to that?
When one's thoughts are beginning to get a little--what shall I
call it?--a little too much for one, or perhaps I should rather
say a trifle too serious, it is often a wonderful diversion to go
away for a little change. I have often found it so myself--often,
I assure you! Just think it over, won't you? I could see about
making plans for you at once, if you think so--eh? Well, then,
good-bye for the present! And--think it over! I think myself it
is such an excellent plan! (Goes out. SVAVA looks at her mother
with a smile, and hides her face in her hands.)
Mrs. Riis. I must go away for a few minutes and--
Mrs. Riis. I really must, dear! I must collect my thoughts. This
has been too much for me. I shall not go farther away than into
my room there (pointing to the room on the left). And I will come
back directly. (SVAVA throws herself into a chair by the table,
overcome by her emotion.)
Alfred. It looks as if we two were to have to settle this matter,
Alfred. I daresay that you will understand that since yesterday I
have done nothing else but invent speeches to make to you--but
now I do not feel as if it had been of much use.
Svava. It was good of you to come.
Alfred. But you must let me make one request of you, and that
from my heart: Wait for me! Because I know now what will show me
the way to your heart. We had planned out our life together, you
and I; and, although I shall do it alone, I shall carry out our
plans unfalteringly. And then perhaps, some day, when you see how
faithful I have been--. I know I ought not to worry you, least of
all to-day. But give me an answer! You need scarcely say
anything--but just give me an answer!
Svava. But what for?
Alfred. I must have it to live on--and the more difficult the
prize is to attain, the better worth living will life be to me.
Give me an answer!
Svava (tries to speak, but bursts into tears). Ah, you see how
everything upsets me to-day. I cannot. Besides, what do you want
me to do? To wait? What would that mean? It would mean being
ready and yet not ready; trying to forget and yet always having
it before my mind. (Is overcome again by her emotion.) No!
Alfred. I see you need to be alone. But I cannot bring myself to
go away. (SVAVA gets up, and tries to regain control over
herself. ALFRED goes to her and throws himself on his knees
beside her.) Give me just one word.
Svava. But do you not understand that if you could give me back
once more the happiness that complete trust gives--do you think I
should wait for you to ask anything of me then? No, I should go
to you and thank you on my knees. Can you doubt that for a
Alfred. No, no!
Svava. But I have not got it.
Svava. Oh, please--!
Alfred. Good-bye--good-bye! But I shall see you again some day? I
shall see you again? (Turns to go, but stops at the door.) I must
have a sign--something definite to take with me! Stretch out a
hand to me! (At these words SVAVA turns to him and stretches out
both her hands to him. He goes out. MRS. RIIS comes in from her
Mrs. Riis. Did you promise him anything?
Svava. I think so. (Throws herself into her mother's arms.)
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