Pillars of Society
A play in four acts.
Translated by R. Farquharson Sharp
Karsten Bernick, a shipbuilder. Mrs. Bernick, his wife. Olaf, their son, thirteen years old. Martha Bernick, Karsten Bernick's sister. Johan Tonnesen, Mrs. Bernick's younger brother. Lona Hessel, Mrs. Bernick's elder half-sister. Hilmar Tonnesen, Mrs. Bernick's cousin. Dina Dorf, a young girl living with the Bernicks. Rorlund, a schoolmaster. Rummel, a merchant. Vigeland and Sandstad, tradesman Krap, Bernick's confidential clerk. Aune, foreman of Bernick's shipbuilding yard. Mrs. Rummel. Hilda Rummel, her daughter. Mrs. Holt. Netta Holt, her daughter. Mrs. Lynge.
Townsfolk and visitors, foreign sailors, steamboat passengers, etc., etc.
(The action takes place at the Bernicks' house in one of the smaller coast towns in Norway)
(SCENE.—A spacious garden-room in the BERNICKS' house. In the foreground on the left is a door leading to BERNICK'S business room; farther back in the same wall, a similar door. In the middle of the opposite wall is a large entrance-door, which leads to the street. The wall in the background is almost wholly composed of plate-glass; a door in it opens upon a broad flight of steps which lead down to the garden; a sun-awning is stretched over the steps. Below the steps a part of the garden is visible, bordered by a fence with a small gate in it. On the other side of the fence runs a street, the opposite side of which is occupied by small wooden houses painted in bright colours. It is summer, and the sun is shining warmly. People are seen, every now and then, passing along the street and stopping to talk to one another; others going in and out of a shop at the corner, etc.
In the room a gathering of ladies is seated round a table. MRS. BERNICK is presiding; on her left side are MRS. HOLT and her daughter NETTA, and next to them MRS. RUMMEL and HILDA RUMMEL. On MRS. BERNICK'S right are MRS. LYNGE, MARTHA BERNICK and DINA DORF. All the ladies are busy working. On the table lie great piles of linen garments and other articles of clothing, some half finished, and some merely cut out. Farther back, at a small table on which two pots of flowers and a glass of sugared water are standing, RORLUND is sitting, reading aloud from a book with gilt edges, but only loud enough for the spectators to catch a word now and then. Out in the garden OLAF BERNICK is running about and shooting at a target with a toy crossbow.
After a moment AUNE comes in quietly through the door on the right. There is a slight interruption in the reading. MRS. BERNICK nods to him and points to the door on the left. AUNE goes quietly across, knocks softly at the door of BERNICK'S room, and after a moment's pause, knocks again. KRAP comes out of the room, with his hat in his hand and some papers under his arm.)
Krap: Oh, it was you knocking?
Aune: Mr. Bernick sent for me.
Krap: He did—but he cannot see you. He has deputed me to tell you—
Aune: Deputed you? All the same, I would much rather—
Krap: —deputed me to tell you what he wanted to say to you. You must give up these Saturday lectures of yours to the men.
Aune: Indeed? I supposed I might use my own time—
Krap: You must not use your own time in making the men useless in working hours. Last Saturday you were talking to them of the harm that would be done to the workmen by our new machines and the new working methods at the yard. What makes you do that?
Aune: I do it for the good of the community.
Krap: That's curious, because Mr. Bernick says it is disorganising the community.
Aune: My community is not Mr. Bernick's, Mr. Krap! As President of the Industrial Association, I must—
Krap: You are, first and foremost, President of Mr. Bernick's shipbuilding yard; and, before everything else, you have to do your duty to the community known as the firm of Bernick & Co.; that is what every one of us lives for. Well, now you know what Mr. Bernick had to say to you.
Aune: Mr. Bernick would not have put it that way, Mr. Krap! But I know well enough whom I have to thank for this. It is that damned American boat. Those fellows expect to get work done here the way they are accustomed to it over there, and that—
Krap: Yes, yes, but I can't go into all these details. You know now what Mr. Bernick means, and that is sufficient. Be so good as to go back to the yard; probably you are needed there. I shall be down myself in a little while. —Excuse me, ladies! (Bows to the ladies and goes out through the garden and down the street. AUNE goes quietly out to the right. RORLUND, who has continued his reading during the foregoing conversation, which has been carried on in low tones, has now come to the end of the book, and shuts it with a bang.)
Rorlund: There, my dear ladies, that is the end of it.
Mrs. Rummel: What an instructive tale!
Mrs. Holt: And such a good moral!
Mrs. Bernick: A book like that really gives one something to think about.
Rorlund: Quite so; it presents a salutary contrast to what, unfortunately, meets our eyes every day in the newspapers and magazines. Look at the gilded and painted exterior displayed by any large community, and think what it really conceals!—emptiness and rottenness, if I may say so; no foundation of morality beneath it. In a word, these large communities of ours now-a-days are whited sepulchres.
Mrs. Holt: How true! How true!
Mrs. Rummel: And for an example of it, we need look no farther than at the crew of the American ship that is lying here just now.
Rorlund: Oh, I would rather not speak of such offscourings of humanity as that. But even in higher circles—what is the case there? A spirit of doubt and unrest on all sides; minds never at peace, and instability characterising all their behaviour. Look how completely family life is undermined over there! Look at their shameless love of casting doubt on even the most serious truths!
Dina (without looking up from her work): But are there not many big things done there too?
Rorlund: Big things done—? I do not understand—.
Mrs. Holt (in amazement): Good gracious, Dina—!
Mrs. Rummel (in the same breath): Dina, how can you—?
Rorlund: I think it would scarcely be a good thing for us if such "big things" became the rule here. No, indeed, we ought to be only too thankful that things are as they are in this country. It is true enough that tares grow up amongst our wheat here too, alas; but we do our best conscientiously to weed them out as well as we are able. The important thing is to keep society pure, ladies—to ward off all the hazardous experiments that a restless age seeks to force upon us.
Mrs. Holt: And there are more than enough of them in the wind, unhappily.
Mrs. Rummel: Yes, you know last year we only by a hair's breadth escaped the project of having a railway here.
Mrs. Bernick: Ah, my husband prevented that.
Rorlund: Providence, Mrs. Bernick. You may be certain that your husband was the instrument of a higher Power when he refused to have anything to do with the scheme.
Mrs. Bernick: And yet they said such horrible things about him in the newspapers! But we have quite forgotten to thank you, Mr. Rorlund. It is really more than friendly of you to sacrifice so much of your time to us.
Rorlund: Not at all. This is holiday time, and—
Mrs. Bernick: Yes, but it is a sacrifice all the same, Mr. Rorlund.
Rorlund (drawing his chair nearer): Don't speak of it, my dear lady. Are you not all of you making some sacrifice in a good cause?—and that willingly and gladly? These poor fallen creatures for whose rescue we are working may be compared to soldiers wounded on the field of battle; you, ladies, are the kind-hearted sisters of mercy who prepare the lint for these stricken ones, lay the bandages softly on their wounds, heal them and cure them.
Mrs. Bernick: It must be a wonderful gift to be able to see everything in such a beautiful light.
Rorlund: A good deal of it is inborn in one—but it can be to a great extent acquired, too. All that is needful is to see things in the light of a serious mission in life. (To MARTHA:) What do you say, Miss Bernick? Have you not felt as if you were standing on firmer ground since you gave yourself up to your school work?
Martha: I really do not know what to say. There are times, when I am in the schoolroom down there, that I wish I were far away out on the stormy seas.
Rorlund: That is merely temptation, dear Miss Bernick. You ought to shut the doors of your mind upon such disturbing guests as that. By the "stormy seas"—for of course you do not intend me to take your words literally—you mean the restless tide of the great outer world, where so many are shipwrecked. Do you really set such store on the life you hear rushing by outside? Only look out into the street. There they go, walking about in the heat of the sun, perspiring and tumbling about over their little affairs. No, we undoubtedly have the best of it, who are able to sit here in the cool and turn our backs on the quarter from which disturbance comes.
Martha: Yes, I have no doubt you are perfectly right.
Rorlund: And in a house like this, in a good and pure home, where family life shows in its fairest colours—where peace and harmony rule— (To MRS. BERNICK:) What are you listening to, Mrs. Bernick?
Mrs. Bernick (who has turned towards the door of BERNICK'S room): They are talking very loud in there.
Rorlund: Is there anything particular going on?
Mrs. Bernick: I don't know. I can hear that there is somebody with my husband.
(HILMAR TONNESEN, smoking a cigar, appears in the doorway on the right, but stops short at the sight of the company of ladies.)
Hilmar: Oh, excuse me— (Turns to go back.)
Mrs. Bernick: No, Hilmar, come along in; you are not disturbing us. Do you want something?
Hilmar: No, I only wanted to look in here—Good morning, ladies. (To MRS. BERNICK:) Well, what is the result?
Mrs. Bernick: Of what?
Hilmar: Karsten has summoned a meeting, you know.
Mrs. Bernick: Has he? What about?
Hilmar: Oh, it is this railway nonsense over again.
Mrs. Rummel: Is it possible?
Mrs. Bernick: Poor Karsten, is he to have more annoyance over that?
Rorlund: But how do you explain that, Mr. Tonnesen? You know that last year Mr. Bernick made it perfectly clear that he would not have a railway here.
Hilmar: Yes, that is what I thought, too; but I met Krap, his confidential clerk, and he told me that the railway project had been taken up again, and that Mr. Bernick was in consultation with three of our local capitalists.
Mrs. Rummel: Ah, I was right in thinking I heard my husband's voice.
Hilmar: Of course Mr. Rummel is in it, and so are Sandstad and Michael Vigeland, "Saint Michael", as they call him.
Hilmar: I beg your pardon, Mr. Rorlund?
Mrs. Bernick: Just when everything was so nice and peaceful.
Hilmar: Well, as far as I am concerned, I have not the slightest objection to their beginning their squabbling again. It will be a little diversion, any way.
Rorlund: I think we can dispense with that sort of diversion.
Hilmar: It depends how you are constituted. Certain natures feel the lust of battle now and then. But unfortunately life in a country town does not offer much in that way, and it isn't given to every one to (turns the leaves of the book RORLUND has been reading). "Woman as the Handmaid of Society." What sort of drivel is this?
Mrs. Bernick: My dear Hilmar, you must not say that. You certainly have not read the book.
Hilmar: No, and I have no intention of reading it, either.
Mrs. Bernick: Surely you are not feeling quite well today.
Hilmar: No, I am not.
Mrs. Bernick: Perhaps you did not sleep well last night?
Hilmar: No, I slept very badly. I went for a walk yesterday evening for my health's sake; and I finished up at the club and read a book about a Polar expedition. There is something bracing in following the adventures of men who are battling with the elements.
Mrs. Rummel: But it does not appear to have done you much good, Mr. Tonnesen.
Hilmar: No, it certainly did not. I lay all night tossing about, only half asleep, and dreamt that I was being chased by a hideous walrus.
Olaf (who meanwhile has come up the steps from the garden): Have you been chased by a walrus, uncle?
Hilmar: I dreamt it, you duffer! Do you mean to say you are still playing about with that ridiculous bow? Why don't you get hold of a real gun?
Olaf: I should like to, but—
Hilmar: There is some sense in a thing like that; it is always an excitement every time you fire it off.
Olaf: And then I could shoot bears, uncle. But daddy won't let me.
Mrs. Bernick: You really mustn't put such ideas into his head, Hilmar.
Hilmar: Hm! It's a nice breed we are educating up now-a-days, isn't it! We talk a great deal about manly sports, goodness knows—but we only play with the question, all the same; there is never any serious inclination for the bracing discipline that lies in facing danger manfully. Don't stand pointing your crossbow at me, blockhead—it might go off!
Olaf: No, uncle, there is no arrow in it.
Hilmar: You don't know that there isn't—there may be, all the same. Take it away, I tell you!—Why on earth have you never gone over to America on one of your father's ships? You might have seen a buffalo hunt then, or a fight with Red Indians.
Mrs. Bernick: Oh, Hilmar—!
Olaf: I should like that awfully, uncle; and then perhaps I might meet Uncle Johan and Aunt Lona.
Mrs. Bernick: You can go down into the garden again now, Olaf.
Olaf: Mother, may I go out into the street too?
Mrs. Bernick: Yes, but not too far, mind.
(OLAF runs down into the garden and out through the gate in the fence.)
Rorlund: You ought not to put such fancies into the child's head, Mr. Tonnesen.
Hilmar: No, of course he is destined to be a miserable stay-at-home, like so many others.
Rorlund: But why do you not take a trip over there yourself?
Hilmar: I? With my wretched health? Of course I get no consideration on that account. But putting that out of the question, you forget that one has certain obligations to perform towards the community of which one forms a part. There must be some one here to hold aloft the banner of the Ideal.—Ugh, there he is shouting again!
The Ladies: Who is shouting?
Hilmar: I am sure I don't know. They are raising their voices so loud in there that it gets on my nerves.
Mrs. Bernick: I expect it is my husband, Mr. Tonnesen. But you must remember he is so accustomed to addressing large audiences.
Rorlund: I should not call the others low-voiced, either.
Hilmar: Good Lord, no!—not on any question that touches their pockets. Everything here ends in these petty material considerations. Ugh!
Mrs. Bernick: Anyway, that is a better state of things than it used to be when everything ended in mere frivolity.
Mrs. Lynge: Things really used to be as bad as that here?
Mrs. Rummel: Indeed they were, Mrs. Lynge. You may think yourself lucky that you did not live here then.
Mrs. Holt: Yes, times have changed, and no mistake, when I look back to the days when I was a girl.
Mrs. Rummel: Oh, you need not look back more than fourteen or fifteen years. God forgive us, what a life we led! There used to be a Dancing Society and a Musical Society—
Mrs. Bernick: And the Dramatic Club. I remember it very well.
Mrs. Rummel: Yes, that was where your play was performed, Mr. Tonnesen.
Hilmar (from the back of the room): What, what?
Rorlund: A play by Mr. Tonnesen?
Mrs. Rummel: Yes, it was long before you came here, Mr. Rorlund. And it was only performed once.
Mrs. Lynge: Was that not the play in which you told me you took the part of a young man's sweetheart, Mrs. Rummel?
Mrs. Rummel (glancing towards RORLUND): I? I really cannot remember, Mrs. Lynge. But I remember well all the riotous gaiety that used to go on.
Mrs. Holt: Yes, there were houses I could name in which two large dinner-parties were given in one week.
Mrs. Lynge: And surely I have heard that a touring theatrical company came here, too?
Mrs. Rummel: Yes, that was the worst thing of the lot.
Mrs. Holt (uneasily): Ahem!
Mrs. Rummel: Did you say a theatrical company? No, I don't remember that at all.
Mrs. Lynge: Oh yes, and I have been told they played all sorts of mad pranks. What is really the truth of those stories?
Mrs. Rummel: There is practically no truth in them, Mrs. Lynge.
Mrs. Holt: Dina, my love, will you give me that linen?
Mrs. Bernick (at the same time): Dina, dear, will you go and ask Katrine to bring us our coffee?
Martha: I will go with you, Dina. (DINA and MARTHA go out by the farther door on, the left.)
Mrs. Bernick (getting up): Will you excuse me for a few minutes? I think we will have our coffee outside. (She goes out to the verandah and sets to work to lay a table. RORLUND stands in the doorway talking to her. HILMAR sits outside, smoking.)
Mrs. Rummel (in a low voice): My goodness, Mrs. Lynge, how you frightened me!
Mrs. Lynge: I?
Mrs. Holt: Yes, but you know it was you that began it, Mrs. Rummel.
Mrs. Rummel: I? How can you say such a thing, Mrs. Holt? Not a syllable passed my lips!
Mrs. Lynge: But what does it all mean?
Mrs. Rummel: What made you begin to talk about—? Think—did you not see that Dina was in the room?
Mrs. Lynge: Dina? Good gracious, is there anything wrong with—?
Mrs. Holt: And in this house, too! Did you not know it was Mrs. Bernick's brother—?
Mrs. Lynge: What about him? I know nothing about it at all; I am quite new to the place, you know.
Mrs. Rummel: Have you not heard that—? Ahem! (To her daughter) Hilda, dear, you can go for a little stroll in the garden?
Mrs. Holt: You go too, Netta. And be very kind to poor Dina when she comes back. (HILDA and NETTA go out into the garden.)
Mrs. Lynge: Well, what about Mrs. Bernick's brother?
Mrs. Rummel: Don't you know the dreadful scandal about him?
Mrs. Lynge: A dreadful scandal about Mr. Tonnesen?
Mrs. Rummel: Good Heavens, no. Mr. Tonnesen is her cousin, of course, Mrs. Lynge. I am speaking of her brother—
Mrs. Holt: The wicked Mr. Tonnesen—
Mrs. Rummel: His name was Johan. He ran away to America.
Mrs. Holt: Had to run away, you must understand.
Mrs. Lynge: Then it is he the scandal is about?
Mrs. Rummel: Yes; there was something—how shall I put it?—there was something of some kind between him and Dina's mother. I remember it all as if it were yesterday. Johan Tonnesen was in old Mrs. Bernick's office then; Karsten Bernick had just come back from Paris—he had not yet become engaged—
Mrs. Lynge: Yes, but what was the scandal?
Mrs. Rummel: Well, you must know that Moller's company were acting in the town that winter—
Mrs. Holt: And Dorf, the actor, and his wife were in the company. All the young men in the town were infatuated with her.
Mrs. Rummel: Yes, goodness knows how they could think her pretty. Well, Dorf came home late one evening—
Mrs. Holt: Quite unexpectedly.
Mrs. Rummel: And found his— No, really it isn't a thing one can talk about.
Mrs. Holt: After all, Mrs. Rummel, he didn't find anything, because the door was locked on the inside.
Mrs. Rummel: Yes, that is just what I was going to say—he found the door locked. And—just think of it—the man that was in the house had to jump out of the window.
Mrs. Holt: Right down from an attic window.
Mrs. Lynge: And that was Mrs. Bernick's brother?
Mrs. Rummel: Yes, it was he.
Mrs. Lynge: And that was why he ran away to America?
Mrs. Holt: Yes, he had to run away, you may be sure.
Mrs. Rummel: Because something was discovered afterwards that was nearly as bad; just think—he had been making free with the cash-box...
Mrs. Holt: But, you know, no one was certain of that, Mrs. Rummel; perhaps there was no truth in the rumour.
Mrs. Rummel: Well, I must say—! Wasn't it known all over the town? Did not old Mrs. Bernick nearly go bankrupt as the result of it? However, God forbid I should be the one to spread such reports.
Mrs. Holt: Well, anyway, Mrs. Dorf didn't get the money, because she—
Mrs. Lynge: Yes, what happened to Dina's parents afterwards?
Mrs. Rummel: Well, Dorf deserted both his wife and his child. But madam was impudent enough to stay here a whole year. Of course she had not the face to appear at the theatre any more, but she kept herself by taking in washing and sewing—
Mrs. Holt: And then she tried to set up a dancing school.
Mrs. Rummel: Naturally that was no good. What parents would trust their children to such a woman? But it did not last very long. The fine madam was not accustomed to work; she got something wrong with her lungs and died of it.
Mrs. Lynge: What a horrible scandal!
Mrs. Rummel: Yes, you can imagine how hard it was upon the Bernicks. It is the dark spot among the sunshine of their good fortune, as Rummel once put it. So never speak about it in this house, Mrs. Lynge.
Mrs. Holt: And for heaven's sake never mention the stepsister, either!
Mrs. Lynge: Oh, so Mrs. Bernick has a step-sister, too?
Mrs. Rummel: Had, luckily— for the relationship between them is all over now. She was an extraordinary person too! Would you believe it, she cut her hair short, and used to go about in men's boots in bad weather!
Mrs. Holt: And when her step-brother, the black sheep, had gone away, and the whole town naturally was talking about him—what do you think she did? She went out to America to him!
Mr. Rummel: Yes, but remember the scandal she caused before she went, Mrs. Holt.
Mrs. Holt: Hush, don't speak of it.
Mrs. Lynge: My goodness, did she create a scandal too?
Mrs. Rummel: I think you ought to hear it, Mrs. Lynge. Mr. Bernick had just got engaged to Betty Tonnesen, and the two of them went arm in arm into her aunt's room to tell her the news—
Mrs. Holt: The Tonnesens' parents were dead, you know—
Mrs. Rummel: When, suddenly, up got Lona Hessel from her chair and gave our refined and well-bred Karsten Bernick such a box on the ear that his head swam.
Mrs. Lynge: Well, I am sure I never—
Mrs. Holt: It is absolutely true.
Mrs. Rummel: And then she packed her box and went away to America.
Mrs. Lynge: I suppose she had had her eye on him for herself.
Mrs. Rummel: Of course she had. She imagined that he and she would make a match of it when he came back from Paris.
Mrs. Holt: The idea of her thinking such a thing! Karsten Bernick—a man of the world and the pink of courtesy, a perfect gentleman, the darling of all the ladies...
Mrs. Rummel: And, with it all, such an excellent young man, Mrs. Holt—so moral.
Mrs. Lynge: But what has this Miss Hessel made of herself in America?
Mrs. Rummel: Well, you see, over that (as my husband once put it) has been drawn a veil which one should hesitate to lift.
Mrs. Lynge: What do you mean?
Mrs. Rummel: She no longer has any connection with the family, as you may suppose; but this much the whole town knows, that she has sung for money in drinking saloons over there—
Mrs. Holt: And has given lectures in public—
Mrs. Rummel: And has published some mad kind of book.
Mrs. Lynge: You don't say so!
Mrs. Rummel: Yes, it is true enough that Lona Hessel is one of the spots on the sun of the Bernick family's good fortune. Well, now you know the whole story, Mrs. Lynge. I am sure I would never have spoken about it except to put you on your guard.
Mrs. Lynge: Oh, you may be sure I shall be most careful. But that poor child Dina Dorf! I am truly sorry for her.
Mrs. Rummel: Well, really it was a stroke of good luck for her. Think what it would have meant if she had been brought up by such parents! Of course we did our best for her, every one of us, and gave her all the good advice we could. Eventually Miss Bernick got her taken into this house.
Mrs. Holt: But she has always been a difficult child to deal with. It is only natural—with all the bad examples she had had before her. A girl of that sort is not like one of our own; one must be lenient with her.
Mrs. Rummel: Hush—here she comes. (In a louder voice.) Yes, Dina is really a clever girl. Oh, is that you, Dina? We are just putting away the things.
Mrs. Holt: How delicious your coffee smells, my dear Dina. A nice cup of coffee like that—
Mrs. Bernick (calling in from the verandah): Will you come out here? (Meanwhile MARTHA and DINA have helped the Maid to bring out the coffee. All the ladies seat themselves on the verandah, and talk with a great show of kindness to DINA. In a few moments DINA comes back into the room and looks for her sewing.)
Mrs. Bernick (from the coffee table): Dina, won't you—?
Dina: No, thank you. (Sits down to her sewing. MRS. BERNICK and RORLUND exchange a few words; a moment afterwards he comes back into the room, makes a pretext for going up to the table, and begins speaking to DINA in low tones.)
Rorlund: Why don't you want to sit with the others?
Dina: When I came in with the coffee, I could see from the strange lady's face that they had been talking about me.
Rorlund: But did you not see as well how agreeable she was to you out there?
Dina: That is just what I will not stand
Rorlund: You are very self-willed, Dina.
Rorlund: But why?
Dina: Because it is my nature.
Rorlund: Could you not try to alter your nature?
Rorlund: Why not?
Dina (looking at him): Because I am one of the "poor fallen creatures", you know.
Rorlund: For shame, Dina.
Dina: So was my mother.
Rorlund: Who has spoken to you about such things?
Dina: No one; they never do. Why don't they? They all handle me in such a gingerly fashion, as if they thought I should go to pieces if they—-. Oh, how I hate all this kind-heartedness.
Rorlund: My dear Dina, I can quite understand that you feel repressed here, but—
Dina: Yes; if only I could get right away from here. I could make my own way quite well, if only I did not live amongst people who are so—so—
Rorlund: So what?
Dina: So proper and so moral.
Rorlund: Oh but, Dina, you don't mean that.
Dina: You know quite well in what sense I mean it. Hilda and Netta come here every day, to be exhibited to me as good examples. I can never be so beautifully behaved as they; I don't want to be. If only I were right away from it all, I should grow to be worth something.
Rorlund: But you are worth a great deal, Dina dear.
Dina: What good does that do me here?
Rorlund: Get right away, you say? Do you mean it seriously?
Dina: I would not stay here a day longer, if it were not for you.
Rorlund: Tell me, Dina—why is it that you are fond of being with me?
Dina: Because you teach me so much that is beautiful.
Rorlund: Beautiful? Do you call the little I can teach you, beautiful?
Dina: Yes. Or perhaps, to be accurate, it is not that you teach me anything; but when I listen to you talking I see beautiful visions.
Rorlund: What do you mean exactly when you call a thing beautiful?
Dina: I have never thought it out.
Rorlund: Think it out now, then. What do you understand by a beautiful thing?
Dina: A beautiful thing is something that is great—and far off.
Rorlund: Hm!—Dina, I am so deeply concerned about you, my dear.
Dina: Only that?
Rorlund: You know perfectly well that you are dearer to me than I can say.
Dina: If I were Hilda or Netta, you would not be afraid to let people see it.
Rorlund: Ah, Dina, you can have no idea of the number of things I am forced to take into consideration. When it is a man's lot to be a moral pillar of the community he lives in, he cannot be too circumspect. If only I could be certain that people would interpret my motives properly. But no matter for that; you must, and shall be, helped to raise yourself. Dina, is it a bargain between us that when I come—when circumstances allow me to come—to you and say: "Here is my hand," you will take it and be my wife? Will you promise me that, Dina?
Rorlund: Thank you, thank you! Because for my part, too—oh, Dina, I love you so dearly. Hush! Some one is coming. Dina—for my sake—go out to the others.(She goes out to the coffee table. At the same moment RUMMEL, SANDSTAD and VIGELAND come out of BERNICK'S room, followed by Bernick, who has a bundle of papers in his hand.)
Bernick: Well, then, the matter is settled.
Vigeland: Yes, I hope to goodness it is.
Rummel: It is settled, Bernick. A Norseman's word stands as firm as the rocks on Dovrefjeld, you know!
Bernick: And no one must falter, no one give way, no matter what opposition we meet with.
Rummel: We will stand or fall together, Bernick.
Hilmar (coming in from the verandah): Fall? If I may ask, isn't it the railway scheme that is going to fall?
Bernick: No, on the contrary, it is going to proceed—
Rummel: Full steam, Mr. Tonnesen.
Hilmar (coming nearer): Really?
Rorlund: How is that?
Mrs. Bernick (at the verandah door): Karsten, dear, what is it that—?
Bernick: My dear Betty, how can it interest you? (To the three men.) We must get out lists of subscribers, and the sooner the better. Obviously our four names must head the list. The positions we occupy in the community makes it our duty to make ourselves as prominent as possible in the affair.
Sandstad: Obviously, Mr. Bernick.
Rummel: The thing shall go through, Bernick; I swear it shall!
Bernick: Oh, I have not the least anticipation of failure. We must see that we work, each one among the circle of his own acquaintances; and if we can point to the fact that the scheme is exciting a lively interest in all ranks of society, then it stands to reason that our Municipal Corporation will have to contribute its share.
Mrs. Bernick: Karsten, you really must come out here and tell us—
Bernick: My dear Betty, it is an affair that does not concern ladies at all.
Hilmar: Then you are really going to support this railway scheme after all?
Bernick: Yes, naturally.
Rorlund: But last year, Mr. Bernick—
Bernick: Last year it was quite another thing. At that time it was a question of a line along the coast—
Vigeland: Which would have been quite superfluous, Mr. Rorlund; because, of course, we have our steamboat service—
Sandstad: And would have been quite unreasonably costly—
Rummel: Yes, and would have absolutely ruined certain important interests in the town.
Bernick: The main point was that it would not have been to the advantage of the community as a whole. That is why I opposed it, with the result that the inland line was resolved upon.
Hilmar: Yes, but surely that will not touch the towns about here.
Bernick: It will eventually touch our town, my dear Hilmar, because we are going to build a branch line here.
Hilmar: Aha—a new scheme, then?
Rummel: Yes, isn't it a capital scheme? What?
Vigeland: There is no denying that it looks as though Providence had just planned the configuration of the country to suit a branch line.
Rorlund: Do you really mean it, Mr. Vigeland?
Bernick: Yes, I must confess it seems to me as if it had been the hand of Providence that caused me to take a journey on business this spring, in the course of which I happened to traverse a valley through which I had never been before. It came across my mind like a flash of lightning that this was where we could carry a branch line down to our town. I got an engineer to survey the neighbourhood, and have here the provisional calculations and estimate; so there is nothing to hinder us.
Mrs. Bernick (who is still with the other ladies at the verandah door): But, my dear Karsten, to think that you should have kept it all a secret from us!
Bernick: Ah, my dear Betty, I knew you would not have been able to grasp the exact situation. Besides, I have not mentioned it to a living soul until today. But now the decisive moment has come, and we must work openly and with all our might. Yes, even if I have to risk all I have for its sake, I mean to push the matter through.
Rummel: And we will back you up, Bernick; you may rely upon that.
Rorlund: Do you really promise us so much, then, from this undertaking, gentlemen?
Bernick: Yes, undoubtedly. Think what a lever it will be to raise the status of our whole community. Just think of the immense tracts of forest-land that it will make accessible; think of all the rich deposits of minerals we shall be able to work; think of the river with one waterfall above another! Think of the possibilities that open out in the way of manufactories!
Rorlund: And are you not afraid that an easier intercourse with the depravity of the outer world—?
Bernick: No, you may make your mind quite easy on that score, Mr. Rorlund. Our little hive of industry rests now-a-days, God be thanked, on such a sound moral basis; we have all of us helped to drain it, if I may use the expression; and that we will continue to do, each in his degree. You, Mr. Rorlund, will continue your richly blessed activity in our schools and our homes. We, the practical men of business, will be the support of the community by extending its welfare within as wide a radius as possible; and our women—yes, come nearer ladies—you will like to hear it—our women, I say, our wives and daughters—you, ladies—will work on undisturbed in the service of charity, and moreover will be a help and a comfort to your nearest and dearest, as my dear Betty and Martha are to me and Olaf.(Looks around him.) Where is Olaf today?
Mrs. Bernick: Oh, in the holidays it is impossible to keep him at home.
Bernick: I have no doubt he is down at the shore again. You will see he will end by coming to some harm there.
Hilmar: Bah! A little sport with the forces of nature
Mrs. Rummel: Your family affection is beautiful, Mr. Bernick!
Bernick: Well, the family is the kernel of society. A good home, honoured and trusty friends, a little snug family circle where no disturbing elements can cast their shadow— (KRAP comes in from the right, bringing letters and papers.)
Krap: The foreign mail, Mr. Bernick—and a telegram from New York.
Bernick (taking the telegram): Ah—from the owners of the "Indian Girl".
Rummel: Is the mail in? Oh, then you must excuse me.
Vigeland: And me too.
Sandstad: Good day, Mr. Bernick.
Bernick: Good day, good day, gentlemen. And remember, we have a meeting this afternoon at five o'clock.
The Three Men: Yes—quite so—of course. (They go out to the right.)
Bernick (who has read the telegram): This is thoroughly American! Absolutely shocking!
Mrs. Bernick: Good gracious, Karsten, what is it?
Bernick: Look at this, Krap! Read it!
Krap (reading): "Do the least repairs possible. Send over 'Indian Girl' as soon as she is ready to sail; good time of year; at a pinch her cargo will keep her afloat." Well, I must say—
Rorlund: You see the state of things in these vaunted great communities!
Bernick: You are quite right; not a moment's consideration for human life, when it is a question of making a profit. (To KRAP:) Can the "Indian Girl" go to sea in four—or five—days?
Krap: Yes, if Mr. Vigeland will agree to our stopping work on the "Palm Tree" meanwhile.
Bernick: Hm—he won't. Well, be so good as to look through the letters. And look here, did you see Olaf down at the quay?
Krap: No, Mr. Bernick. (Goes into BERNICK'S room.)
Bernick (looking at the telegram again): These gentlemen think nothing of risking eight men's lives—
Hilmar: Well, it is a sailor's calling to brave the elements; it must be a fine tonic to the nerves to be like that, with only a thin plank between one and the abyss—
Bernick: I should like to see the ship-owner amongst us who would condescend to such a thing! There is not one that would do it—not a single one! (Sees OLAF coming up to the house.) Ah, thank Heaven, here he is, safe and sound. (OLAF, with a fishing-line in his hand, comes running up the garden and in through the verandah.)
Olaf: Uncle Hilmar, I have been down and seen the steamer.
Bernick: Have you been down to the quay again?
Olaf: No, I have only been out in a boat. But just think, Uncle Hilmar, a whole circus company has come on shore, with horses and animals; and there were such lots of passengers.
Mrs. Rummel: No, are we really to have a circus?
Rorlund: We? I certainly have no desire to see it.
Mrs. Rummel: No, of course I don't mean we, but—
Dina: I should like to see a circus very much.
Olaf: So should I.
Hilmar: You are a duffer. Is that anything to see? Mere tricks. No, it would be something quite different to see the Gaucho careering over the Pampas on his snorting mustang. But, Heaven help us, in these wretched little towns of ours.
Olaf (pulling at MARTHA'S dress): Look, Aunt Martha! Look, there they come!
Mrs. Holt: Good Lord, yes—here they come.
Mrs. Lynge: Ugh, what horrid people!
(A number of passengers and a whole crowd of townsfolk, are seen coming up the street.)
Mrs. Rummel: They are a set of mountebanks, certainly. Just look at that woman in the grey dress, Mrs. Holt—the one with a knapsack over her shoulder.
Mrs. Holt: Yes—look—she has slung it on the handle of her parasol. The manager's wife, I expect.
Mrs. Rummel: And there is the manager himself, no doubt. He looks a regular pirate. Don't look at him, Hilda!
Mrs. Holt: Nor you, Netta!
Olaf: Mother, the manager is bowing to us.
Mrs. Bernick: What are you saying, child?
Mrs. Rummel: Yes, and—good Heavens—the woman is bowing to us too.
Bernick: That is a little too cool—
Martha (exclaims involuntarily): Ah—!
Mrs. Bernick: What is it, Martha?
Martha: Nothing, nothing. I thought for a moment—
Olaf (shrieking with delight): Look, look, there are the rest of them, with the horses and animals! And there are the Americans, too! All the sailors from the "Indian Girl"! (The strains of "Yankee Doodle," played on a clarinet and a drum, are heard.)
Hilmar (stopping his ears): Ugh, ugh, ugh!
Rorlund: I think we ought to withdraw ourselves from sight a little, ladies; we have nothing to do with such goings on. Let us go to our work again.
Mrs. Bernick: Do you think we had better draw the curtains?
Rorlund: Yes, that was exactly what I meant.
(The ladies resume their places at the work-table; RORLUND shuts the verandah door, and draws the curtains over it and over the windows, so that the room becomes half dark.)
Olaf (peeping out through the curtains): Mother, the manager's wife is standing by the fountain now, washing her face.
Mrs. Bernick: What? In the middle of the marketplace?
Mrs. Rummel: And in broad daylight, too!
Hilmar: Well, I must say if I were travelling across a desert waste and found myself beside a well, I am sure I should not stop to think whether—. Ugh, that frightful clarinet!
Rorlund: It is really high time the police interfered.
Bernick: Oh no; we must not be too hard on foreigners. Of course these folk have none of the deep-seated instincts of decency which restrain us within proper bounds. Suppose they do behave outrageously, what does it concern us? Fortunately this spirit of disorder, that flies in the face of all that is customary and right, is absolutely a stranger to our community, if I may say so—. What is this! (LONA HESSEL walks briskly in from the door on the right.)
The Ladies (in low, frightened tones): The circus woman! The manager's wife!
Mrs. Bernick: Heavens, what does this mean?
Martha (jumping up): Ah—!
Lona: How do you do, Betty dear! How do you do, Martha! How do you do, brother-in-law!
Mrs. Bernick (with a cry): Lona—!
Bernick (stumbling backwards): As sure as I am alive—!
Mrs. Holt: Mercy on us—!
Mrs. Rummel: It cannot possibly be—!
Hilmar: Well! Ugh!
Mrs. Bernick: Lona—! Is it really—?
Lona: Really me? Yes, indeed it is; you may fall on my neck if you like.
Hilmar: Ugh, ugh!
Mrs. Bernick: And coming back here as—?
Mrs. Bernick: And actually mean to appear in—?
Lona: Appear? Appear in what?
Bernick: Well, I mean—in the circus—
Lona: Ha, ha, ha! Are you mad, brother-in-law? Do you think I belong to the circus troupe? No, certainly I have turned my hand to a good many things and made a fool of myself in a good many ways—
Mrs. Rummel: Hm!
Lona: But I have never tried circus riding.
Bernick: Then you are not—?
Mrs. Bernick: Thank Heaven!
Lona: No, we travelled like other respectable folk, second-class, certainly, but we are accustomed to that.
Mrs. Bernick: We, did you say?
Bernick (taking a step for-ward): Whom do you mean by "we"?
Lona: I and the child, of course.
The Ladies (with a cry): The child!
Rorlund: I really must say—!
Mrs. Bernick: But what do you mean, Lona?
Lona: I mean John, of course; I have no other child, as far as I know, but John, or Johan as you used to call him.
Mrs. Bernick: Johan—
Mrs. Rummel (in an undertone to MRS. LYNGE): The scapegrace brother!
Bernick (hesitatingly): Is Johan with you?
Lona: Of course he is; I certainly would not come without him. Why do you look so tragical? And why are you sitting here in the gloom, sewing white things? There has not been a death in the family, has there?
Rorlund: Madam, you find yourself in the Society for Fallen Women.
Lona (half to herself): What? Can these nice, quiet-looking ladies possibly be—?
Mrs. Rummel: Well, really—!
Lona: Oh, I understand! But, bless my soul, that is surely Mrs. Rummel? And Mrs. Holt sitting there too! Well, we three have not grown younger since the last time we met. But listen now, good people; let the Fallen Women wait for a day—they will be none the worse for that. A joyful occasion like this—
Rorlund: A home-coming is not always a joyful occasion.
Lona: Indeed? How do you read your Bible, Mr. Parson?
Rorlund: I am not a parson.
Lona: Oh, you will grow into one, then. But—faugh!—this moral linen of yours smells tainted, just like a winding-sheet. I am accustomed to the air of the prairies, let me tell you.
Bernick (wiping his forehead): Yes, it certainly is rather close in here.
Lona: Wait a moment; we will resurrect ourselves from this vault. (Pulls the curtains to one side) We must have broad daylight in here when the boy comes. Ah, you will see a boy then that has washed himself.
Lona (opening the verandah door and window): I should say, when he has washed himself, up at the hotel—for on the boat he got piggishly dirty.
Hilmar: Ugh, ugh!
Lona: Ugh? Why, surely isn't that—? (Points at HILDAR and asks the others): Is he still loafing about here saying "Ugh"?
Hilmar: I do not loaf; it is the state of my health that keeps me here.
Rorlund: Ahem! Ladies, I do not think—
Lona (who has noticed OLAF): Is he yours, Betty? Give me a paw, my boy! Or are you afraid of your ugly old aunt?
Rorlund (putting his book under his arm): Ladies, I do not think any of us is in the mood for any more work today. I suppose we are to meet again tomorrow?
Lona (while the others are getting up and taking their leave): Yes, let us. I shall be on the spot.
Rorlund: You? Pardon me, Miss Hessel, but what do you propose to do in our Society?
Lona: I will let some fresh air into it, Mr. Parson.
(SCENE.—The same room. MRS. BERNICK is sitting alone at the work-table, sewing. BERNICK comes in from the right, wearing his hat and gloves and carrying a stick.)
Mrs. Bernick: Home already, Karsten?
Bernick: Yes, I have made an appointment with a man.
Mrs. Bernick (with a sigh): Oh yes, I suppose Johan is coming up here again.
Bernick: With a man, I said. (Lays down his hat.) What has become of all the ladies today?
Mrs. Bernick: Mrs. Rummel and Hilda hadn't time to come.
Bernick: Oh!—did they send any excuse?
Mrs. Bernick: Yes, they had so much to do at home.
Bernick: Naturally. And of course the others are not coming either?
Mrs. Bernick: No, something has prevented them today, too.
Bernick: I could have told you that, beforehand. Where is Olaf?
Mrs. Bernick: I let him go out a little with Dina.
Bernick: Hm—she is a giddy little baggage. Did you see how she at once started making a fuss of Johan yesterday?
Mrs. Bernick: But, my dear Karsten, you know Dina knows nothing whatever of—
Bernick: No, but in any case Johan ought to have had sufficient tact not to pay her any attention. I saw quite well, from his face, what Vigeland thought of it.
Mrs. Bernick (laying her sewing down on her lap): Karsten, can you imagine what his objective is in coming here?
Bernick: Well—I know he has a farm over there, and I fancy he is not doing particularly well with it; she called attention yesterday to the fact that they were obliged to travel second class—
Mrs. Bernick: Yes, I am afraid it must be something of that sort. But to think of her coming with him! She! After the deadly insult she offered you!
Bernick: Oh, don't think about that ancient history.
Mrs. Bernick: How can I help thinking of it just now? After all, he is my brother—still, it is not on his account that I am distressed, but because of all the unpleasantness it would mean for you. Karsten, I am so dreadfully afraid!
Bernick: Afraid of what?
Mrs. Bernick: Isn't it possible that they may send him to prison for stealing that money from your mother?
Bernick: What rubbish! Who can prove that the money was stolen?
Mrs. Bernick: The whole town knows it, unfortunately; and you know you said yourself.
Bernick: I said nothing. The town knows nothing whatever about the affair; the whole thing was no more than idle rumour.
Mrs. Bernick: How magnanimous you are, Karsten!
Bernick: Do not let us have any more of these reminiscences, please! You don't know how you torture me by raking all that up. (Walks up and down; then flings his stick away from him.) And to think of their coming home now—just now, when it is particularly necessary for me that I should stand well in every respect with the town and with the Press. Our newspaper men will be sending paragraphs to the papers in the other towns about here. Whether I receive them well, or whether I receive them ill, it will all be discussed and talked over. They will rake up all those old stories—as you do. In a community like ours—(Throws his gloves down on the table.) And I have not a soul here to whom I can talk about it and to whom I can go for support.
Mrs. Bernick: No one at all, Karsten?
Bernick: No—who is there? And to have them on my shoulders just at this moment! Without a doubt they will create a scandal in some way or another—she, in particular. It is simply a calamity to be connected with such folk in any way!
Mrs. Bernick: Well, I can't help their—
Bernick: What can't you help? Their being your relations? No, that is quite true.
Mrs. Bernick: And I did not ask them to come home.
Bernick: That's it—go on! "I did not ask them to come home; I did not write to them; I did not drag them home by the hair of their heads!" Oh, I know the whole rigmarole by heart.
Mrs. Bernick (bursting into tears): You need not be so unkind—
Bernick: Yes, that's right—begin to cry, so that our neighbours may have that to gossip about too. Do stop being so foolish, Betty. Go and sit outside; some one may come in here. I don't suppose you want people to see the lady of the house with red eyes? It would be a nice thing, wouldn't it, if the story got out about that—. There, I hear some one in the passage. (A knock is heard at the door.) Come in! (MRS. BERNICK takes her sewing and goes out down the garden steps. AUNE comes in from the right.)
Aune: Good morning, Mr. Bernick.
Bernick: Good morning. Well, I suppose you can guess what I want you for?
Aune: Mr. Krap told me yesterday that you were not pleased with—
Bernick: I am displeased with the whole management of the yard, Aune. The work does not get on as quickly as it ought. The "Palm Tree" ought to have been under sail long ago. Mr. Vigeland comes here every day to complain about it; he is a difficult man to have with one as part owner.
Aune: The "Palm Tree" can go to sea the day after tomorrow.
Bernick: At last. But what about the American ship, the "Indian Girl," which has been laid up here for five weeks and—
Aune: The American ship? I understood that, before everything else, we were to work our hardest to get your own ship ready.
Bernick: I gave you no reason to think so. You ought to have pushed on as fast as possible with the work on the American ship also; but you have not.
Aune: Her bottom is completely rotten, Mr. Bernick; the more we patch it, the worse it gets.
Bernick: That is not the reason. Krap has told me the whole truth. You do not understand how to work the new machines I have provided—or rather, you will not try to work them.
Aune: Mr. Bernick, I am well on in the fifties; and ever since I was a boy I have been accustomed to the old way of working—
Bernick: We cannot work that way now-a-days. You must not imagine, Aune, that it is for the sake of making profit; I do not need that, fortunately; but I owe consideration to the community I live in, and to the business I am at the head of. I must take the lead in progress, or there would never be any.
Aune: I welcome progress too, Mr. Bernick.
Bernick: Yes, for your own limited circle—for the working class. Oh, I know what a busy agitator you are; you make speeches, you stir people up; but when some concrete instance of progress presents itself—as now, in the case of our machines—you do not want to have anything to do with it; you are afraid.
Aune: Yes, I really am afraid, Mr. Bernick. I am afraid for the number of men who will have the bread taken out of their mouths by these machines. You are very fond, sir, of talking about the consideration we owe to the community; it seems to me, however, that the community has its duties too. Why should science and capital venture to introduce these new discoveries into labour, before the community has had time to educate a generation up to using them?
Bernick: You read and think too much, Aune; it does you no good, and that is what makes you dissatisfied with your lot.
Aune: It is not, Mr. Bernick; but I cannot bear to see one good workman dismissed after another, to starve because of these machines.
Bernick: Hm! When the art of printing was discovered, many a quill-driver was reduced to starvation.
Aune: Would you have admired the art so greatly if you had been a quill-driver in those days, sir?
Bernick: I did not send for you to argue with you. I sent for you to tell you that the "Indian Girl" must be ready to put to sea the day after tomorrow.
Aune: But, Mr. Bernick—
Bernick: The day after tomorrow, do you hear?—at the same time as our own ship, not an hour later. I have good reasons for hurrying on the work. Have you seen today's paper? Well, then you know the pranks these American sailors have been up to again. The rascally pack are turning the whole town upside down. Not a night passes without some brawling in the taverns or the streets—not to speak of other abominations.
Aune: Yes, they certainly are a bad lot.
Bernick: And who is it that has to bear the blame for all this disorder? It is I! Yes, it is I who have to suffer for it. These newspaper fellows are making all sorts of covert insinuations because we are devoting all our energies to the "Palm Tree." I, whose task in life it is to influence my fellow-citizens by the force of example, have to endure this sort of thing cast in my face. I am not going to stand that. I have no fancy for having my good name smirched in that way.
Aune: Your name stands high enough to endure that and a great deal more, sir.
Bernick: Not just now. At this particular moment I have need of all the respect and goodwill my fellow-citizens can give me. I have a big undertaking on, the stocks, as you probably have heard; but, if it should happen that evil-disposed persons succeeded in shaking the absolute confidence I enjoy, it might land me in the greatest difficulties. That is why I want, at any price, to avoid these shameful innuendoes in the papers, and that is why I name the day after tomorrow as the limit of the time I can give you.
Aune: Mr. Bernick, you might just as well name this afternoon as the limit.
Bernick: You mean that I am asking an impossibility?
Aune: Yes, with the hands we have now at the yard.
Bernick: Very good; then we must look about elsewhere.
Aune: Do you really mean, sir, to discharge still more of your old workmen?
Bernick: No, I am not thinking of that.
Aune: Because I think it would cause bad blood against you both among the townsfolk and in the papers, if you did that.
Bernick: Very probably; therefore, we will not do it. But, if the "Indian Girl" is not ready to sail the day after tomorrow, I shall discharge you.
Aune (with a start): Me! (He laughs.) You are joking, Mr. Bernick.
Bernick: I should not be so sure of that, if I were you.
Aune: Do you mean that you can contemplate discharging me?—Me, whose father and grandfather worked in your yard all their lives, as I have done myself—?
Bernick: Who is it that is forcing me to do it?
Aune: You are asking what is impossible, Mr. Bernick.
Bernick: Oh, where there's a will there's a way. Yes or no; give me a decisive answer, or consider yourself discharged on the spot.
Aune (coming a step nearer to him): Mr. Bernick, have you ever realised what discharging an old workman means? You think he can look about for another job? Oh, yes, he can do that; but does that dispose of the matter? You should just be there once, in the house of a workman who has been discharged, the evening he comes home bringing all his tools with him.
Bernick: Do you think I am discharging you with a light heart? Have I not always been a good master to you?
Aune: So much the worse, Mr. Bernick. Just for that very reason those at home will not blame you; they will say nothing to me, because they dare not; but they will look at me when I am not noticing, and think that I must have deserved it. You see, sir, that is—that is what I cannot bear. I am a mere nobody, I know; but I have always been accustomed to stand first in my own home. My humble home is a little community too, Mr. Bernick—a little community which I have been able to support and maintain because my wife has believed in me and because my children have believed in me. And now it is all to fall to pieces.
Bernick: Still, if there is nothing else for it, the lesser must go down before the greater; the individual must be sacrificed to the general welfare. I can give you no other answer; and that, and no other, is the way of the world. You are an obstinate man, Aune! You are opposing me, not because you cannot do otherwise, but because you will not exhibit 'the superiority of machinery over manual labour'.
Aune: And you will not be moved, Mr. Bernick, because you know that if you drive me away you will at all events have given the newspapers proof of your good will.
Bernick: And suppose that were so? I have told you what it means for me—either bringing the Press down on my back, or making them well-disposed to me at a moment when I am working for an objective which will mean the advancement of the general welfare. Well, then, can I do otherwise than as I am doing? The question, let me tell you, turns upon this—whether your home is to be supported, as you put it, or whether hundreds of new homes are to be prevented from existing—hundreds of homes that will never be built, never have a fire lighted on their hearth, unless I succeed in carrying through the scheme I am working for now. That is the reason why I have given you your choice.
Aune: Well, if that is the way things stand, I have nothing more to say.
Bernick: Hm—my dear Aune, I am extremely grieved to think that we are to part.
Aune: We are not going to part, Mr. Bernick.
Bernick: How is that?
Aune: Even a common man like myself has something he is bound to maintain.
Bernick: Quite so, quite so—then I presume you think you may promise—?
Aune: The "Indian Girl" shall be ready to sail the day after tomorrow. (Bows and goes out to the right.)
Bernick: Ah, I have got the better of that obstinate fellow! I take it as a good omen. (HILMAR comes in through the garden door, smoking a cigar.)
Hilmar (as he comes up the steps to the verandah): Good morning, Betty! Good morning, Karsten!
Mrs. Bernick: Good morning.
Hilmar: Ah, I see you have been crying, so I suppose you know all about it too?
Mrs. Bernick: Know all about what?
Hilmar: That the scandal is in full swing. Ugh!
Bernick: What do you mean?
Hilmar (coming into the room): Why, that our two friends from America are displaying themselves about the streets in the company of Dina Dorf.
Mrs. Bernick (coming in after him): Hilmar, is it possible?
Hilmar: Yes, unfortunately, it is quite true. Lona was even so wanting in tact as to call after me, but of course I appeared not to have heard her.
Bernick: And no doubt all this has not been unnoticed.
Hilmar: You may well say that. People stood still and looked at them. It spread like wildfire through the town—just like a prairie fire out West. In every house people were at the windows waiting for the procession to pass, cheek by jowl behind the curtains—ugh! Oh, you must excuse me, Betty, for saying "ugh"—this has got on my nerves. If it is going on, I shall be forced to think about getting right away from here.
Mrs. Bernick: But you should have spoken to him and represented to him that—
Hilmar: In the open street? No, excuse me, I could not do that. To think that the fellow should dare to show himself in the town at all! Well, we shall see if the Press doesn't put a stopper on him; yes—forgive me, Betty, but—
Bernick: The Press, do you say? Have you heard a hint of anything of the sort?
Hilmar: There are such things flying about. When I left here yesterday evening I looked in at the club, because I did not feel well. I saw at once, from the sudden silence that fell when I went in, that our American couple had been the subject of conversation. Then that impudent newspaper fellow, Hammer, came in and congratulated me at the top of his voice on the return of my rich cousin.
Hilmar: Those were his words. Naturally I looked him up and down in the manner he deserved, and gave him to understand that I knew nothing about Johan Tonnesen's being rich. "Really," he said, "that is very remarkable. People usually get on in America when they have something to start with, and I believe your cousin did not go over there quite empty-handed."
Bernick: Hm—now will you oblige me by—
Mrs. Bernick (distressed): There, you see, Karsten!
Hilmar: Anyhow, I have spent a sleepless night because of them. And here he is, walking about the streets as if nothing were the matter. Why couldn't he disappear for good and all? It really is insufferable how hard some people are to kill.
Mrs. Bernick: My dear Hilmar, what are you saying P
Hilmar: Oh, nothing. But here this fellow escapes with a whole skin from railway accidents and fights with California grizzlies and Blackfoot Indians—has not even been scalped—. Ugh, here they come!
Bernick (looking down the street): Olaf is with them too!
Hilmar: Of course! They want to remind everybody that they belong to the best family in the town. Look there!—look at the crowd of loafers that have come out of the chemist's to stare at them and make remarks. My nerves really won't stand it; how a man is to be expected to keep the banner of the Ideal flying under such circumstances, I—
Bernick: They are coming here. Listen, Betty; it is my particular wish that you should receive them in the friendliest possible way.
Mrs. Bernick: Oh, may I, Karsten.
Bernick: Certainly, certainly—and you too, Hilmar. It is to be hoped they will not stay here very long; and when we are quite by ourselves—no allusions to the past; we must not hurt their feelings in any way.
Mrs. Bernick: How magnanimous you are, Karsten!
Bernick: Oh, don't speak of that.
Mrs. Bernick: But you must let me thank you; and you must forgive me for being so hasty. I am sure you had every reason to—
Bernick: Don't talk about it, please.
(JOHAN TONNESEN and DINA come up through the garden, followed by LONA and OLAF.)
Lona: Good morning, dear people!
Johan: We have been out having a look round the old place, Karsten.
Bernick: So I hear. Greatly altered, is it not?
Lona: Mr. Bernick's great and good works everywhere. We have been up into the Recreation Ground you have presented to the town.
Bernick: Have you been there?
Lona: "The gift of Karsten Bernick," as it says over the gateway. You seem to be responsible for the whole place here.
Johan: Splendid ships you have got, too. I met my old schoolfellow, the captain of the "Palm Tree."
Lona: And you have built a new school-house too; and I hear that the town has to thank you for both the gas supply and the water supply.
Bernick: Well, one ought to work for the good of the community one lives in.
Lona: That is an excellent sentiment, brother-in-law, but it is a pleasure, all the same, to see how people appreciate you. I am not vain, I hope; but I could not resist reminding one or two of the people we talked to that we were relations of yours.
Lona: Do you say "ugh" to that?
Hilmar: No, I said "ahem."
Lona: Oh, poor chap, you may say that if you like. But are you all by yourselves today?
Bernick: Yes, we are by ourselves today.
Lona: Ah, yes, we met a couple of members of your Morality Society up at the market; they made out they were very busy. You and I have never had an opportunity for a good talk yet. Yesterday you had your three pioneers here, as well as the parson.
Hilmar: The schoolmaster.
Lona: I call him the parson. But now tell me what you think of my work during these fifteen years? Hasn't he grown a fine fellow? Who would recognise the madcap that ran away from home?
Johan: Now, Lona, don't brag too much about me.
Lona: Well, I can tell you I am precious proud of him. Goodness knows it is about the only thing I have done in my life; but it does give me a sort of right to exist. When I think, Johan, how we two began over there with nothing but our four bare fists.
Lona: I say fists; and they were dirty fists.
Lona: And empty, too.
Hilmar: Empty? Well, I must say—
Lona: What must you say?
Hilmar: I must say—ugh! (Goes out through the garden.)
Lona: What is the matter with the man?
Bernick: Oh, do not take any notice of him; his nerves are rather upset just now. Would you not like to take a look at the garden? You have not been down there yet, and I have got an hour to spare.
Lona: With pleasure. I can tell you my thoughts have been with you in this garden many and many a time.
Mrs. Bernick: We have made a great many alterations there too, as you will see. (BERNICK, MRS. BERNICK, and LONA go down to the garden, where they are visible every now and then during the following scene.)
Olaf (coming to the verandah door): Uncle Hilmar, do you know what uncle Johan asked me? He asked me if I would go to America with him.
Hilmar: You, you duffer, who are tied to your mother's apron strings—!
Olaf: Ah, but I won't be that any longer. You will see, when I grow big.
Hilmar: Oh, fiddlesticks! You have no really serious bent towards the strength of character necessary to—.
(They go down to the garden. DINA meanwhile has taken off her hat and is standing at the door on the right, shaking the dust off her dress.)
Johan (to DINA): The walk has made you pretty warm.
Dina: Yes, it was a splendid walk. I have never had such a splendid walk before.
Johan: Do you not often go for a walk in the morning?
Dina: Oh, yes—but only with Olaf.
Johan: I see.—Would you rather go down into the garden than stay here?
Dina: No, I would rather stay here.
Johan: So would I. Then shall we consider it a bargain that we are to go for a walk like this together every morning?
Dina: No, Mr. Tonnesen, you mustn't do that.
Johan: What mustn't I do? You promised, you know.
Dina: Yes, but—on second thought—you mustn't go out with me.
Johan: But why not?
Dina: Of course, you are a stranger—you cannot understand; but I must tell you—
Dina: No, I would rather not talk about it.
Johan: Oh, but you must; you can talk to me about whatever you like.
Dina: Well, I must tell you that I am not like the other young girls here. There is something—something or other about me. That is why you mustn't.
Johan: But I do not understand anything about it. You have not done anything wrong?
Dina: No, not I, but—no, I am not going to talk any more about it now. You will hear about it from the others, sure enough.
Dina: But there is something else I want very much to ask you.
Johan: What is that?
Dina: I suppose it is easy to make a position for oneself over in America?
Johan: No, it is not always easy; at first you often have to rough it and work very hard.
Dina: I should be quite ready to do that.
Dina: I can work now; I am strong and healthy; and Aunt Martha taught me a lot.
Johan: Well, hang it, come back with us!
Dina: Ah, now you are only making fun of me; you said that to Olaf too. But what I wanted to know is if people are so very—so very moral over there?
Dina: Yes; I mean are they as—as proper and as well-behaved as they are here?
Johan: Well, at all events they are not so bad as people here make out. You need not be afraid on that score.
Dina: You don't understand me. What I want to hear is just that they are not so proper and so moral.
Johan: Not? What would you wish them to be, then?
Dina: I would wish them to be natural.
Johan: Well, I believe that is just what they are.
Dina: Because in that case I should get on if I went there.
Johan: You would, for certain!—and that is why you must come back with us.
Dina: No, I don't want to go with you; I must go alone. Oh, I would make something of my life; I would get on—
Bernick (speaking to LONA and his wife at the foot of the garden steps): Wait a moment—I will fetch it, Betty dear; you might so easily catch cold. (Comes into the room and looks for his wife's shawl.)
Mrs. Bernick (from outside): You must come out too, Johan; we are going down to the grotto.
Bernick: No, I want Johan to stay here. Look here, Dina; you take my wife's shawl and go with them. Johan is going to stay here with me, Betty dear. I want to hear how he is getting on over there.
Mrs. Bernick: Very well—then you will follow us; you know where you will find us. (MRS. BERNICK, LONA and DINA go out through the garden, to the left. BERNICK looks after them for a moment, then goes to the farther door on the left and locks it, after which he goes up to JOHAN, grasps both his hands, and shakes them warmly.)
Bernick: Johan, now that we are alone, you must let me thank you.
Johan: Oh, nonsense!
Bernick: My home and all the happiness that it means to me—my position here as a citizen—all these I owe to you.
Johan: Well, I am glad of it, Karsten; some good came of that mad story after all, then.
Bernick (grasping his hands again): But still you must let me thank you! Not one in ten thousand would have done what you did for me.
Johan: Rubbish! Weren't we, both of us, young and thoughtless? One of us had to take the blame, you know.
Bernick: But surely the guilty one was the proper one to do that?
Johan: Stop! At the moment the innocent one happened to be the proper one to do it. Remember, I had no ties—I was an orphan; it was a lucky chance to get free from the drudgery of the office. You, on the other hand, had your old mother still alive; and, besides that, you had just become secretly engaged to Betty, who was devoted to you. What would have happened between you and her if it had come to her ears?
Bernick: That is true enough, but still—
Johan: And wasn't it just for Betty's sake that you broke off your acquaintance with Mrs. Dorf? Why, it was merely in order to put an end to the whole thing that you were up there with her that evening.
Bernick: Yes, that unfortunate evening when that drunken creature came home! Yes, Johan, it was for Betty's sake; but, all the same, it was splendid of you to let all the appearances go against you, and to go away.
Johan: Put your scruples to rest, my dear Karsten. We agreed that it should be so; you had to be saved, and you were my friend. I can tell you, I was uncommonly proud of that friendship. Here was I, drudging away like a miserable stick-in-the-mud, when you came back from your grand tour abroad, a great swell who had been to London and to Paris; and you chose me for your chum, although I was four years younger than you—it is true it was because you were courting Betty, I understand that now—but I was proud of it! Who would not have been? Who would not willingly have sacrificed himself for you?—especially as it only meant a month's talk in the town, and enabled me to get away into the wide world.
Bernick: Ah, my dear Johan, I must be candid and tell you that the story is not so completely forgotten yet.
Johan: Isn't it? Well, what does that matter to me, once I am back over there on my farm again?
Bernick: Then you mean to go back?
Johan: Of course.
Bernick: But not immediately, I hope?
Johan: As soon as possible. It was only to humour Lona that I came over with her, you know.
Bernick: Really? How so?
Johan: Well, you see, Lona is no longer young, and lately she began to be obsessed with home-sickness; but she never would admit it. (Smiles.) How could she venture to risk leaving such a flighty fellow as me alone, who before I was nineteen had been mixed up in...
Bernick: Well, what then?
Johan: Well, Karsten, now I am coming to a confession that I am ashamed to make.
Bernick: You surely haven't confided the truth to her?
Johan: Yes. It was wrong of me, but I could not do otherwise. You can have no conception what Lona has been to me. You never could put up with her; but she has been like a mother to me. The first year we were out there, when things went so badly with us, you have no idea how she worked! And when I was ill for a long time, and could earn nothing and could not prevent her, she took to singing ballads in taverns, and gave lectures that people laughed at; and then she wrote a book that she has both laughed and cried over since then—all to keep the life in me. Could I look on when in the winter she, who had toiled and drudged for me, began to pine away? No, Karsten, I couldn't. And so I said, "You go home for a trip, Lona; don't be afraid for me, I am not so flighty as you think." And so—the end of it was that she had to know.
Bernick: And how did she take it?
Johan: Well, she thought, as was true, that as I knew I was innocent nothing need prevent me from taking a trip over here with her. But make your mind easy; Lona will let nothing out, and I shall keep my mouth shut as I did before.
Bernick: Yes, yes I rely on that.
Johan: Here is my hand on it. And now we will say no more about that old story; luckily it is the only mad prank either of us has been guilty of, I am sure. I want thoroughly to enjoy the few days I shall stay here. You cannot think what a delightful walk we had this morning. Who would have believed that that little imp, who used to run about here and play angels' parts on the stage—! But tell me, my dear fellow, what became of her parents afterwards?
Bernick: Oh, my boy, I can tell you no more than I wrote to you immediately after you went away. I suppose you got my two letters?
Johan: Yes, yes, I have them both. So that drunken fellow deserted her?
Bernick: And drank himself to death afterwards.
Johan: And she died soon afterwards, too?
Bernick: She was proud; she betrayed nothing, and would accept nothing.
Johan: Well, at all events you did the right thing by taking Dina into your house.
Bernick: I suppose so. As a matter of fact it was Martha that brought that about.
Johan: So it was Martha? By the way, where is she today?
Bernick: She? Oh, when she hasn't her school to look after, she has her sick people to see to.
Johan: So it was Martha who interested herself in her.
Bernick: Yes, you know Martha has always had a certain liking for teaching; so she took a post in the boarding-school. It was very ridiculous of her.
Johan: I thought she looked very worn yesterday; I should be afraid her health was not good enough for it.
Bernick: Oh, as far as her health goes, it is all right enough. But it is unpleasant for me; it looks as though I, her brother, were not willing to support her.
Johan: Support her? I thought she had means enough of her own.
Bernick: Not a penny. Surely you remember how badly off our mother was when you went away? She carried things on for a time with my assistance, but naturally I could not put up with that state of affairs permanently. I made her take me into the firm, but even then things did not go well. So I had to take over the whole business myself, and when we made up our balance-sheet, it became evident that there was practically nothing left as my mother's share. And when mother died soon afterwards, of course Martha was left penniless.
Johan: Poor Martha!
Bernick: Poor! Why? You surely do not suppose I let her want for anything? No, I venture to say I am a good brother. Of course she has a home here with us; her salary as a teacher is more than enough for her to dress on; what more could she want?
Johan: Hm—that is not our idea of things in America.
Bernick: No, I dare say not—in such a revolutionary state of society as you find there. But in our small circle—in which, thank God, depravity has not gained a footing, up to now at all events—women are content to occupy a seemly, as well as modest, position. Moreover, it is Martha's own fault; I mean, she might have been provided for long ago, if she had wished.
Johan: You mean she might have married?
Bernick: Yes, and married very well, too. She has had several good offers—curiously enough, when you think that she is a poor girl, no longer young, and, besides, quite an insignificant person.
Bernick: Oh, I am not blaming her for that. I most certainly would not wish her otherwise. I can tell you it is always a good thing to have a steady-going person like that in a big house like this—some one you can rely on in any contingency.
Johan: Yes, but what does she—?
Bernick: She? How? Oh well, of course she has plenty to interest herself in; she has Betty and Olaf and me. People should not think first of themselves—women least of all. We have all got some community, great or small, to work for. That is my principle, at all events. (Points to KRAP, who has come in from the right.) Ah, here is an example of it, ready to hand. Do you suppose that it is my own affairs that are absorbing me just now? By no means. (Eagerly to KRAP.) Well?
Krap (in an undertone, showing him a bundle of papers): Here are all the sale contracts, completed.
Bernick: Capital! Splendid!—Well, Johan, you must really excuse me for the present. (In a low voice, grasping his hand.) Thanks, Johan, thanks! And rest assured that anything I can do for you— Well, of course you understand. Come along, Krap. (They go into BERNICK'S room.)
Johan (looking after them for a moment): Hm!— (Turns to go down to the garden. At the same moment MARTHA comes in from the right, with a little basket over her arm.) Martha!
Martha: Ah, Johan—is it you?
Johan: Out so early?
Martha: Yes. Wait a moment; the others are just coming. (Moves towards the door on the left.)
Johan: Martha, are you always in such a hurry?
Johan: Yesterday you seemed to avoid me, so that I never managed to have a word with you—we two old playfellows.
Martha: Ah, Johan; that is many, many years ago.
Johan: Good Lord—why, it is only fifteen years ago, no more and no less. Do you think I have changed so much?
Martha: You? Oh yes, you have changed too, although—
Johan: What do you mean?
Martha: Oh, nothing.
Johan: You do not seem to be very glad to see me again.
Martha: I have waited so long, Johan—too long.
Johan: Waited? For me to come?
Johan. And why did you think I would come?
Martha: To atone for the wrong you had done.
Martha: Have you forgotten that it was through you that a woman died in need and in shame? Have you forgotten that it was through you that the best years of a young girl's life were embittered?
Johan: And you can say such things to me? Martha, has your brother never—?
Martha: Never what?
Johan: Has he never—oh, of course, I mean has he never so much as said a word in my defence?
Martha: Ah, Johan, you know Karsten's high principles.
Johan: Hm—! Oh, of course; I know my old friend Karsten's high principles! But really this is—. Well, well. I was having a talk with him just now. He seems to me to have altered considerably.
Martha: How can you say that? I am sure Karsten has always been an excellent man.
Johan: Yes, that was not exactly what I meant—but never mind. Hm! Now I understand the light you have seen me in; it was the return of the prodigal that you were waiting for.
Martha: Johan, I will tell you what light I have seen you in. (Points down to the garden.) Do you see that girl playing on the grass down there with Olaf? That is Dina. Do you remember that incoherent letter you wrote me when you went away? You asked me to believe in you. I have believed in you, Johan. All the horrible things that were rumoured about you after you had gone must have been done through being led astray—from thoughtlessness, without premeditation.
Johan: What do you mean?
Martha: Oh! you understand me well enough—not a word more of that. But of course you had to go away and begin afresh—a new life. Your duties here which you never remembered to undertake—or never were able to undertake—I have undertaken for you. I tell you this, so that you shall not have that also to reproach yourself with. I have been a mother to that much-wronged child; I have brought her up as well as I was able.
Johan: And have wasted your whole life for that reason.
Martha: It has not been wasted. But you have come late, Johan.
Johan: Martha—if only I could tell you—. Well, at all events let me thank you for your loyal friendship.
Martha (with a sad smile): Hm.—Well, we have had it out now, Johan. Hush, some one is coming. Goodbye, I can't stay now. (Goes out through the farther door on the left. LONA comes in from the garden, followed by MRS. BERNICK.)
Mrs. Bernick: But good gracious, Lona—what are you thinking of?
Lona: Let me be, I tell you! I must and will speak to him.
Mrs. Bernick: But it would be a scandal of the worst sort! Ah, Johan—still here?
Lona: Out with you, my boy; don't stay here in doors; go down into the garden and have a chat with Dina.
Johan: I was just thinking of doing so.
Mrs. Bernick: But—
Lona: Look here, Johan—have you had a good look at Dina?
Johan: I should think so!
Lona: Well, look at her to some purpose, my boy. That would be somebody for you!
Mrs. Bernick: But, Lona!
Johan: Somebody for me?
Lona: Yes, to look at, I mean. Be off with you!
Johan: Oh, I don't need any pressing. (Goes down into the garden.)
Mrs. Bernick: Lona, you astound me! You cannot possibly be serious about it?
Lona: Indeed I am. Isn't she sweet and healthy and honest? She is exactly the wife for Johan. She is just what he needs over there; it will be a change from an old step-sister.
Mrs. Bernick: Dina? Dina Dorf? But think—
Lona: I think first and foremost of the boy's happiness. Because, help him I must; he has not much idea of that sort of thing; he has never had much of an eye for girls or women.
Mrs. Bernick: He? Johan? Indeed I think we have had only too sad proofs that—
Lona: Oh, devil take all those stupid stories! Where is Karsten? I mean to speak to him.
Mrs. Bernick: Lona, you must not do it, I tell you.
Lona: I am going to. If the boy takes a fancy to her—and she to him—then they shall make a match of it. Karsten is such a clever man, he must find some way to bring it about.
Mrs. Bernick: And do you think these American indecencies will be permitted here?
Lona: Bosh, Betty!
Mrs. Bernick: Do you think a man like Karsten, with his strictly moral way of thinking—
Lona: Pooh! he is not so terribly moral.
Mrs. Bernick: What have you the audacity to say?
Lona: I have the audacity to say that Karsten is not any more particularly moral than anybody else.
Mrs. Bernick: So you still hate him as deeply as that! But what are you doing here, if you have never been able to forget that? I cannot understand how you, dare look him in the face after the shameful insult you put upon him in the old days.
Lona: Yes, Betty, that time I did forget myself badly.
Mrs. Bernick: And to think how magnanimously he has forgiven you—he, who had never done any wrong! It was not his fault that you encouraged yourself with hopes. But since then you have always hated me too. (Bursts into tears.) You have always begrudged me my good fortune. And now you come here to heap all this on my head—to let the whole town know what sort of a family I have brought Karsten into. Yes, it is me that it all falls upon, and that is what you want. Oh, it is abominable of you! (Goes out by the door on the left, in tears.)
Lona (looking after her): Poor Betty! (BERNICK comes in from his room. He stops at the door to speak to KRAP.)
Bernick: Yes, that is excellent, Krap—capital! Send twenty pounds to the fund for dinners to the poor. (Turns round.) Lona! (Comes forward.) Are you alone? Is Betty not coming in?
Lona: No. Would you like me to call her?
Bernick: No, no—not at all. Oh, Lona, you don't know how anxious I have been to speak openly to you—after having begged for your forgiveness.
Lona: Look here, Karsten—do not let us be sentimental; it doesn't suit us.
Bernick: You must listen to me, Lona. I know only too well how much appearances are against me, as you have learnt all about that affair with Dina's mother. But I swear to you that it was only a temporary infatuation; I was really, truly and honestly, in love with you once.
Lona: Why do you think I have come home?
Bernick: Whatever you have in your mind, I entreat, you to do nothing until I have exculpated myself. I can do that, Lona; at all events I can excuse myself.
Lona: Now you are frightened. You once were in love with me, you say. Yes, you told me that often enough in your letters; and perhaps it was true, too—in a way—as long as you were living out in the great, free world which gave you the courage to think freely and greatly. Perhaps you found in me a little more character and strength of will and independence than in most of the folk at home here. And then we kept it secret between us; nobody could make fun of your bad taste.
Bernick: Lona, how can you think—?
Lona: But when you came back—when you heard the gibes that were made at me on all sides—when you noticed how people laughed at what they called my absurdities...
Bernick: You were regardless of people's opinion at that time.
Lona: Chiefly to annoy the petticoated and trousered prudes that one met at every turn in the town. And then, when you met that seductive young actress—
Bernick: It was a boyish escapade—nothing more; I swear to you that there was no truth in a tenth part of the rumours and gossip that went about.
Lona: Maybe. But then, when Betty came home—a pretty young girl, idolised by every one—and it became known that she would inherit all her aunt's money and that I would have nothing!
Bernick: That is just the point, Lona; and now you shall have the truth without any beating about the bush. I did not love Betty then; I did not break off my engagement with you because of any new attachment. It was entirely for the sake of the money. I needed it; I had to make sure of it.
Lona: And you have the face to tell me that?
Bernick: Yes, I have. Listen, Lona.
Lona: And yet you wrote to me that an unconquerable passion for Betty had overcome you—invoked my magnanimity—begged me, for Betty's sake, to hold my tongue about all that had been between us.
Bernick: I had to, I tell you.
Lona: Now, by Heaven, I don't regret that I forgot myself as I did that time—
Bernick: Let me tell you the plain truth of how things stood with me then. My mother, as you remember, was at the head of the business, but she was absolutely without any business ability whatever. I was hurriedly summoned home from Paris; times were critical, and they relied on me to set things straight. What did I find? I found—and you must keep this a profound secret—a house on the brink of ruin. Yes—as good as on the brink of ruin, this old respected house which had seen three generations of us. What else could I—the son, the only son—do than look about for some means of saving it?
Lona: And so you saved the house of Bernick at the cost of a woman.
Bernick: You know quite well that Betty was in love with me.
Lona: But what about me?
Bernick: Believe me, Lona, you would never have been happy with me.
Lona: Was it out of consideration for my happiness that you sacrificed me?
Bernick: Do you suppose I acted as I did from selfish motives? If I had stood alone then, I would have begun all over again with cheerful courage. But you do not understand how the life of a man of business, with his tremendous responsibilities, is bound up with that of the business which falls to his inheritance. Do you realise that the prosperity or the ruin of hundreds—of thousands—depends on him? Can you not take into consideration the fact that the whole community in which both you and I were born would have been affected to the most dangerous extent if the house of Bernick had gone to smash?
Lon: Then is it for the sake of the community that you have maintained your position these fifteen years upon a lie?
Bernick: Upon a lie?
Lona: What does Betty know of all this...that underlies her union with you?
Bernick: Do you suppose that I would hurt her feelings to no purpose by disclosing the truth?
Lona: To no purpose, you say? Well, well—You are a man of business; you ought to understand what is to the purpose. But listen to me, Karsten—I am going to speak the plain truth now. Tell me, are you really happy?
Bernick: In my family life, do you mean?
Bernick: I am, Lona. You have not been a self-sacrificing friend to me in vain. I can honestly say that I have grown happier every year. Betty is good and willing; and if I were to tell you how, in the course of years, she has learned to model her character on the lines of my own—
Bernick: At first, of course, she had a whole lot of romantic notions about love; she could not reconcile herself to the idea that, little by little, it must change into a quiet comradeship.
Lona: But now she is quite reconciled to that?
Bernick: Absolutely. As you can imagine, daily intercourse with me has had no small share in developing her character. Every one, in their degree, has to learn to lower their own pretensions, if they are to live worthily of the community to which they belong. And Betty, in her turn, has gradually learned to understand this; and that is why our home is now a model to our fellow citizens.
Lona: But your fellow citizens know nothing about the lie?
Bernick: The lie?
Lona: Yes—the lie you have persisted in for these fifteen years.
Bernick: Do you mean to say that you call that—?
Lona: I call it a lie—a threefold lie: first of all, there is the lie towards me; then, the lie towards Betty; and then, the lie towards Johan.
Bernick: Betty has never asked me to speak.
Lona: Because she has known nothing.
Bernick: And you will not demand it—out of consideration for her.
Lona: Oh, no—I shall manage to put up with their gibes well enough; I have broad shoulders.
Bernick: And Johan will not demand it either; he has promised me that.
Lona: But you yourself, Karsten? Do you feel within yourself no impulse urging you to shake yourself free of this lie?
Bernick: Do you suppose that of my own free will I would sacrifice my family happiness and my position in the world?
Lona: What right have you to the position you hold?
Bernick: Every day during these fifteen years I have earned some little right to it—by my conduct, and by what I have achieved by my work.