Doctor Wangel. Ellida Wangel, his second wife. Bolette, Hilde (not yet grown up), his daughters by his first wife. Arnholm (second master at a college). Lyngstrand. Ballested. A Stranger. Young People of the Town. Tourists. Visitors.
(The action takes place in small fjord town, Northern Norway.)
THE LADY FROM THE SEA
(SCENE.—DOCTOR WANGEL’S house, with a large verandah garden in front of and around the house. Under the verandah a flagstaff. In the garden an arbour, with table and chairs. Hedge, with small gate at the back. Beyond, a road along the seashore. An avenue of trees along the road. Between the trees are seen the fjord, high mountain ranges and peaks. A warm and brilliantly clear summer morning.
BALLESTED, middle-aged, wearing an old velvet jacket, and a broad-brimmed artist’s hat, stands under the flagstaff, arranging the ropes. The flag is lying on the ground. A little way from him is an easel, with an outspread canvas. By the easel on a camp-stool, brushes, a palette, and box of colours.
BOLETTE WANGEL comes from the room opening on the verandah. She carries a large vase with flowers, which she puts down on the table.)
Bolette. Well, Ballested, does it work smoothly?
Ballested. Certainly, Miss Bolette, that’s easy enough. May I ask—do you expect any visitors today?
Bolette. Yes, we’re expecting Mr. Arnholm this morning. He got to town in the night.
Ballested. Arnholm? Wait a minute—wasn’t Arnholm the man who was tutor here several years ago?
Bolette. Yes, it is he.
Ballested. Oh, really! Is he coming into these parts again?
Bolette. That’s why we want to have the flag up.
Ballested. Well, that’s reasonable enough.
(BOLETTE goes into the room again. A little after LYNGSTRAND enters from the road and stands still, interested by the easel and painting gear. He is a slender youth, poorly but carefully dressed, and looks delicate.)
Lyngstrand (on the other side of the hedge). Good-morning.
Ballested (turning round). Hallo! Good-morning. (Hoists up flag). That’s it! Up goes the balloon. (Fastens the ropes, and then busies himself about the easel.) Good-morning, my dear sir. I really don’t think I’ve the pleasure of—Lyngstrand. I’m sure you’re a painter.
Ballested. Of course I am. Why shouldn’t I be?
Lyngstrand. Yes, I can see you are. May I take the liberty of coming in a moment?
Ballested. Would you like to come in and see?
Lyngstrand. I should like to immensely.
Ballested. Oh! there’s nothing much to see yet. But come in. Come a little closer.
Lyngstrand. Many thanks. (Comes in through the garden gate.)
Ballested (painting). It’s the fjord there between the islands I’m working at.
Lyngstrand. So I see.
Ballested. But the figure is still wanting. There’s not a model to be got in this town.
Lyngstrand. Is there to be a figure, too?
Ballested. Yes. Here by the rocks in the foreground a mermaid is to lie, half-dead.
Lyngstrand. Why is she to be half-dead?
Ballested. She has wandered hither from the sea, and can’t find her way out again. And so, you see, she lies there dying in the brackish water.
Lyngstrand. Ah, I see.
Ballested. The mistress of this house put it into my head to do something of the kind.
Lyngstrand. What shall you call the picture when it’s finished?
Ballested. I think of calling it “The Mermaid’s End.”
Lyngstrand. That’s capital! You’re sure to make something fine of it.
Ballested (looking at him). In the profession too, perhaps?
Lyngstrand. Do you mean a painter?
Lyngstrand. No, I’m not that; but I’m going to be a sculptor. My name is Hans Lyngstrand.
Ballested. So you’re to be a sculptor? Yes, yes; the art of sculpture is a nice, pretty art in its way. I fancy I’ve seen you in the street once or twice. Have you been staying here long?
Lyngstrand. No; I’ve only been here a fortnight. But I shall try to stop till the end of the summer.
Ballested. For the bathing?
Lyngstrand. Yes; I wanted to see if I could get a little stronger.
Ballested. Not delicate, surely?
Lyngstrand. Yes, perhaps I am a little delicate; but it’s nothing dangerous. Just a little tightness on the chest.
Ballested. Tush!—a bagatelle! You should consult a good doctor.
Lyngstrand. Yes, I thought of speaking to Doctor Wangel one of these times.
Ballested. You should. (Looks out to the left.) There’s another steamer, crowded with passengers. It’s really marvellous how travelling has increased here of late years.
Lyngstrand. Yes, there’s a good deal of traffic here, I think.
Ballested. And lots of summer visitors come here too. I often hear our good town will lose its individuality with all these foreign goings on.
Lyngstrand. Were you born in the town?
Ballested. No; but I have accla—acclimatised myself. I feel united to the place by the bonds of time and habit.
Lyngstrand. Then you’ve lived here a long time?
Ballested. Well—about seventeen or eighteen years. I came here with Skive’s Dramatic Company. But then we got into difficulties, and so the company broke up and dispersed in all directions.
Lyngstrand. But you yourself remained here?
Ballested. I remained, and I’ve done very well. I was then working chiefly as decorative artist, don’t you know.
(BOLETTE comes out with a rocking-chair, which she places on the verandah.)
Bolette (speaking into the room). Hilde, see if you can find the embroidered footstool for father.
Lyngstrand (going up to the verandah, bows). Good-morning, Miss Wangel.
Bolette (by the balustrade). What! Is it you, Mr. Lyngstrand? Good-morning. Excuse me one moment, I’m only—(Goes into room.)
Ballested. Do you know the family?
Lyngstrand. Not well. I’ve only met the young ladies now and again in company; and I had a chat with Mrs. Wangel the last time we had music up at the “View.” She said I might come and see them.
Ballested. Now, do you know, you ought to cultivate their acquaintance.
Lyngstrand. Yes; I’d been thinking of paying a visit. Just a sort of call. If only I could find some excuse—
Ballested. Excuse! Nonsense! (Looking out to the left.) Damn it! (Gathering his things.) The steamer’s by the pier already. I must get off to the hotel. Perhaps some of the new arrivals may want me. For I’m a hairdresser, too, don’t you know.
Lyngstrand. You are certainly very many-sided, sir.
Ballested. In small towns one has to try to acclam—acclimatise Oneself in various branches. If you should require anything in the hair line—a little pomatum or such like—you’ve only to ask for Dancing-master Ballested.
Lyngstrand. Dancing master!
Ballested. President of the “Wind Band Society,” by your leave. We’ve a concert on this evening up at the “View.” Goodbye, goodbye!
(He goes out with his painting gear through the garden gate.
HILDE comes out with the footstool. BOLETTE brings more flowers. LYNGSTRAND bows to HILDE from the garden below.)
Hilde (by the balustrade, not returning his bow). Bolette said you had ventured in today.
Lyngstrand. Yes; I took the liberty of coming in for a moment.
Hilde. Have you been out for a morning walk?
Lyngstrand. Oh, no! nothing came of the walk this morning.
Hilde. Have you been bathing, then?
Lyngstrand. Yes; I’ve been in the water a little while. I saw your mother down there. She was going into her bathing-machine.
Hilde. Who was?
Lyngstrand. Your mother.
Hilde. Oh! I see. (She puts the stool in front of the rocking-chair.)
Bolette (interrupting). Didn’t you see anything of father’s boat out on the fjord?
Lyngstrand. Yes; I thought I saw a sailing-boat that was steering inland.
Bolette. I’m sure that was father. He’s been to visit patients on the islands. (She is arranging things on the table.)
Lyngstrand (taking a step up the stairs to the verandah). Why, how everything’s decorated here with flowers!
Bolette. Yes; doesn’t it look nice?
Lyngstrand. It looks lovely! It looks as if it were some festival day in the house.
Hilde. That’s exactly what it is.
Lyngstrand. I might have guessed it! I’m sure it’s your father’s birthday.
Bolette (warningly to HILDE). Hm—hm!
Hilde (taking no notice of her). No, mother’s.
Lyngstrand. Oh! Your mother’s!
Bolette (in low voice, angrily). Really, Hilde!
Hilde (the same). Let me be! (To LYNGSTRAND.) I suppose you’re going home to breakfast now?
Lyngstrand (going down steps). Yes, I suppose I must go and get something to eat.
Hilde. I’m sure you find the living very good at the hotel!
Lyngstrand. I’m not staying at the hotel now. It was too expensive for me.
Hilde. Where are you staying, then?
Lyngstrand. I’m staying up at Mrs. Jensen’s.
Hilde. What Mrs. Jensen’s?
Lyngstrand. The midwife.
Hilde. Excuse me, Mr. Lyngstrand, but I really have other matters to attend to Lyngstrand. Oh! I’m sure I ought not to have said that.
Hilde. Said what?
Lyngstrand. What I said.
Hilde (looking contemptuously at him). I don’t understand you in the least.
Lyngstrand. No, no. But I must say goodbye for the present.
Bolette (comes forward to the steps). Good-bye, good-bye, Mr. Lyngstrand. You must excuse us now. But another day—when you’ve plenty of time—and inclination—you really must come in and see father and the rest of us.
Lyngstrand. Yes; thanks, very much. I shall be delighted. (Bows, and goes out through the garden gate. As he goes along the road he bows again towards the verandah.)
Hilde (in low voice). Adieu, Monsieur! Please remember me to Mother Jensen.
Bolette (in a low voice, shaking her arm). Hilde! You naughty child! Are you quite crazy? He might have heard you.
Hilde. Pshaw! Do you think I care about that?
Bolette (looking out to the right). Here’s father!
(WANGEL, in travelling dress and carrying a small bag, comes from the footpath.)
Wangel. See! I’m back again, little girls! (He enters through the garden gate.)
Bolette (going towards him at the bottom of the garden). Oh! It is delightful that you’ve come!
Hilde (also going up to him). Now have you got off for the whole day, father?
Wangel. Oh! no. I must go down to the office for a little while presently. I say—do you know if Arnholm has come?
Bolette. Yes; he arrived in the night. We sent to the hotel to enquire.
Wangel. Then you’ve not seen him yet?
Bolette. No; but he’s sure to come here this morning.
Wangel. Yes; he’s sure to do that.
Hilde (pulling him). Father, now you must look round.
Wangel (looking towards the verandah). Yes, I see well enough, child. It’s quite festive.
Bolette. Now, don’t you think we’ve arranged it nicely?
Wangel. I must say you have. Are—are we alone at home now?
Hilde. Yes; she’s gone to—
Bolette (interrupting quickly). Mother has gone to bathe.
Wangel (looks lovingly at BOLETTE, and pats her head. Then he says, hesitating). Look here, little ones. Do you want to keep this up all day? And the flag hoisted, too?
Hilde. Surely you understand that, father!
Wangel. Hm! Yes; but you see—
Bolette (looks at him and nods). Surely you can understand we’ve been doing all this in honour of Mr. Arnholm. When such a good friend comes to see you for the first time—
Hilde (smiling, and shaking him). Think! he who used to be Bolette’s tutor, father!
Wangel (with a half-smile). You’re a pair of sly minxes. Well—good heavens—after all, it’s but natural we should remember her who is no more with us. Here, Hilde (Gives her his bag), take that down to the office. No, children. I don’t like this—the way, I mean. This habit of every year—well—what can one say? I suppose it can’t be managed any other way.
Hilde (about to go out of garden, and, with the bag, stops short, turns, and points out). Look at that gentleman coming up here. I’m sure it’s your tutor.
Bolette (looks in that direction). He? (Laughs.) That is good! Do you think that middle-aged fellow is Arnholm?
Wangel. Wait a moment, child. Why, by Jove, I do believe it is he. Yes, it certainly is.
Bolette (staring at him in quiet amazement). Yes; I almost think—
(ARNHOLM, in elegant morning dress, with gold spectacles, and a thin cane, comes along the road. He looks overworked. He looks in at the garden, bows in friendly fashion, and enters by the garden gate.)
Wangel (going to meet him). Welcome, dear Arnholm! Heartily welcome back to your old quarters again!
Arnholm. Thanks, thanks, Doctor Wangel. A thousand thanks. (They shake hands and walk up the garden together.) And there are the children! (Holds out his hands and looks at them.) I should hardly have known these two again.
Wangel. No, I believe you.
Arnholm. And yet—perhaps Bolette—yes, I should have known Bolette again.
Wangel. Hardly, I think. Why, it is eight—nine years since you saw her. Ah, yes! Many a thing has changed here meanwhile.
Arnholm (looking round). I really don’t see it; except that the trees have grown remarkably, and that you’ve set up that arbour.
Wangel. Oh! no—outwardly.
Arnholm (smiling). And then, of course, you’ve two grown-up daughters here now.
Wangel. Grown up! Well, there’s only one grown up.
Hilde (aside). Just listen to father!
Wangel. But now let’s sit down up there on the verandah. It’s cooler than here. Won’t you?
Arnholm. Thanks, thanks, dear doctor.
(They go up. WANGEL motions him to the rocking-chair.)
Wangel. That’s right! Now make yourself comfortable, and rest, for you seem rather tired after your journey.
Arnholm. Oh, that’s nothing. Here, amid these surroundings Bolette (to WANGEL). Hadn’t we better have some soda and syrup in the sitting-room? It’s sure to be too hot out here soon.
Wangel. Yes, girls. Let’s have some soda and syrup, and perhaps a drop of Cognac, too.
Bolette. Cognac, too!
Wangel. Just a little, in case anyone should like some.
Bolette. All right. Hilde, go down to the office with the bag.
(BOLETTE goes into the room, and closes the door after her.
HILDE takes the bag, and goes through the garden to the back of the house.)
Arnholm (who has followed BOLETTE with his eyes). What a splendid—. They are both splendid girls, who’ve grown up here for you.
Wangel (sitting down). Yes; you think so, too?
Arnholm. Why, it’s simply amazing, how Bolette!—and Hilde, too! But now, you yourself, dear doctor. Do you think of staying here all your life?
Wangel. Yes; I suppose so. Why, I’ve been born and bred here, so to say. I lived here so very happily with—her who left us so early—she whom you knew when you were here before, Arnholm.
Arnholm. Yes, yes!
Wangel. And now I live here so happily with her who has taken her place. Ah! On the whole, fate has been very good to me.
Arnholm. You have no children by your second marriage? Wangel. We had a little boy, two—two and a half years ago. But he didn’t stay long. He died when he was four—five months old.
Arnholm. Isn’t your wife at home today?
Wangel. Oh, yes. She’s sure to be here soon. She’s down there bathing. She does so every blessed day no matter what the weather.
Arnholm. Is she ill, then?
Wangel. Not exactly ill, although she has been extremely nervous for the last few years—that is to say, she is now and then. I can’t make out what really ails her. But to plunge into the sea is her joy and delight.
Arnholm. Yes; I remember that of old.
Wangel (with an almost imperceptible smile). To be sure! You knew Ellida when you were teacher out there at Skjoldviken.
Arnholm. Certainly. She used often to visit at the Parsonage. But I mostly met her when I went to the lighthouse to see her father.
Wangel. Those times out there, you may believe me, have set deep marks upon her. The people in the town here can’t understand her at all. They call her the “Lady from the Sea.”
Arnholm. Do they?
Wangel. Yes. And so—now, you see, speak to her of the old days, dear Arnholm, it will do her good.
Arnholm (looks at him in doubt). Have you any reason for thinking so?
Wangel. Assuredly I have.
Ellida (her voice is heard outside the garden). Are you there, Wangel?
Wangel (rising). Yes, dear.
(Mrs. ELLIDA WANGEL, in a large, light wrap, and with wet hair hanging loose over her shoulders, comes from between the trees of the arbour. ARNHOLM rises.)
Wangel (smiling, and holding out his hands to her). Ah! So now we have our Mermaid!
Ellida (goes quickly up the verandah, and seizes his hands). Thank God that I see you again! When did you come?
Wangel. Just now; a little while since. (Pointing to ARNHOLM.) But won’t you greet an old acquaintance?
Ellida (holding out her hand to ARNHOLM). So here you are! Welcome! And forgive me for not being at home—
Arnholm. Don’t mention it—don’t stand on any ceremony.
Wangel. Was the water nice and fresh today?
Ellida. Fresh! Oh! The water here never is fresh. It is so tepid and lifeless. Ugh! The water in the fjord here is sick.
Ellida. Yes, sick. And I believe it makes one sick, too.
Wangel (smiling). You’re giving our bathing resort a good name!
Arnholm. I should rather believe, Mrs. Wangel, that you have a peculiar relation to the sea, and to all that belongs to it.
Ellida. Perhaps; I almost think so myself. But do you see how festively the girls have arranged everything in your honour?
Wangel (embarrassed). Hm! (Looks at his watch.) Well, I suppose I must be quick and—
Arnholm. Is it really for me?
Ellida. Yes. You may be sure we don’t decorate like this every day. Ugh! How suffocatingly hot it is under this roof. (Goes down into the garden.) Come over here. Here at least there is a little air. (Sits down in arbour.)
Arnholm (going thither). I think the air quite fresh here.
Ellida. Yes, you—who are used to the stifling air of the town! It’s terrible there in the summer, I hear.
Wangel (who has also gone into the garden). Hm, dear Ellida, you must just entertain our friend alone for a little while.
Ellida. Are you busy?
Wangel. Yes, I must go down to the office. And then I must change. But I won’t be long.
Arnholm (sitting down in arbour). Now, don’t hurry, dear doctor. Your wife and I will manage to kill the time.
Wangel (nodding). Oh, yes! I’m sure you will. Well, goodbye for the present. (He goes out through the garden.)
Ellida (after a short pause). Don’t you think it’s pleasant sitting out here?
Arnholm. I think I’ve a pleasant seat now.
Ellida. They call this my arbour, because I had it fitted up, or rather Wangel did, for me.
Arnholm. And you usually sit here?
Ellida. Yes, I pass most of the day here.
Arnholm. With the girls, I suppose?
Ellida. No, the girls—usually sit on the verandah.
Arnholm. And Wangel himself?
Ellida. Oh! Wangel goes to and fro—now he comes to me, and then he goes to his children.
Arnholm. And is it you who wish this?
Ellida. I think all parties feel most comfortable in this way. You know we can talk across to one another—if we happen to find there is anything to say.
Arnholm (after thinking awhile). When I last crossed your path—out at Skjoldviken, I mean—Hm! That is long ago now.
Ellida. It’s quite ten years since you were there with us.
Arnholm. Yes, about that. But when I think of you out there in the lighthouse! The heathen, as the old clergyman called you, because your father had named you, as he said, after an old ship, and hadn’t given you a name fit for a Christian.
Ellida. Well, what then?
Arnholm. The last thing I should then have believed was that I should see you again down here as the wife of Wangel.
Ellida. No; at that time Wangel wasn’t—at that time the girls’ first mother was still living. Their real mother, so Arnholm. Of course, of course! But even if that had not been-even if he had been free—still, I could never have believed this would come about.
Ellida. Nor I. Never on earth—then.
Arnholm. Wangel is such a good fellow. So honourable. So thoroughly good and kind to all men.
Ellida (warmly and heartily). Yes, he is indeed.
Arnholm. But he must be so absolutely different from you, I fancy.
Ellida. You are right there. So he is.
Arnholm. Well, but how did it happen? How did it come about?
Ellida. Ah! dear Arnholm, you mustn’t ask me about that. I couldn’t explain it to you, and even if I could, you would never be able to understand, in the least.
Arnholm. Hm! (In lower tone.) Have you ever confided anything about me to your husband? Of course, I meant about the useless step—I allowed myself to be moved to.
Ellida. No. You may be sure of that. I’ve not said a word to him about—about what you speak of.
Arnholm. I am glad. I felt rather awkward at the thought that—
Ellida. There was no need. I have only told him what is true—that I liked you very much, and that you were the truest and best friend I had out there.
Arnholm. Thanks for that. But tell me—why did you never write to me after I had gone away?
Ellida. I thought that perhaps it would pain you to hear from one who—who could not respond as you desired. It seemed like re-opening a painful subject.
Arnholm. Hm. Yes, yes, perhaps you were right.
Ellida. But why didn’t you write?
Arnholm (looks at her and smiles, half reproachfully). I make the first advance? Perhaps expose myself to the suspicion of wanting to begin all over again? After such a repulse as I had had?
Ellida. Oh no! I understand very well. Have you never since thought of forming any other tie?
Arnholm. Never! I have been faithful to my first memories.
Ellida (half jestingly). Nonsense! Let the sad old memories alone. You’d better think of becoming a happy husband, I should say.
Arnholm. I should have to be quick about it, then, Mrs. Wangel. Remember, I’m already—I’m ashamed to say—I’m past thirty-seven.
Ellida. Well, all the more reason for being quick. (She is silent for a moment, and then says, earnestly, in a low voice.) But listen, dear Arnholm; now I am going to tell you something that I could not have told you then, to save my life.
Arnholm. What is it?
Ellida. When you took the—the useless step you were just speaking of—I could not answer you otherwise than I did.
Arnholm. I know that you had nothing but friendship to give me; I know that well enough.
Ellida. But you did not know that all my mind and soul were then given elsewhere.
Arnholm. At that time!
Arnholm. But it is impossible. You are mistaken about the time. I hardly think you knew Wangel then.
Ellida. It is not Wangel of whom I speak.
Arnholm. Not Wangel? But at that time, out there at Skjoldviken—I can’t remember a single person whom I can imagine the possibility of your caring for.
Ellida. No, no, I quite believe that; for it was all such bewildering madness—all of it.
Arnholm. But tell me more of this.
Ellida. Oh! it’s enough if you know I was bound then; and you know it now.
Arnholm. And if you had not been bound?
Arnholm. Would your answer to my letter have been different?
Ellida. How can I tell? When Wangel came the answer was different.
Arnholm. What is your object, then, in telling me that you were bound?
Ellida (getting up, as if in fear and unrest). Because I must have someone in whom to confide. No, no; sit still.
Arnholm. Then your husband knows nothing about this?
Ellida. I confessed to him from the first that my thoughts had once been elsewhere. He never asked to know more, and we have never touched upon it since. Besides, at bottom it was simply madness. And then it was over directly—that is to a certain extent.
Arnholm (rising). Only to a certain extent? Not quite?
Ellida. Yes, yes, it is! Oh, good heavens! Dear Arnholm, it is not what you think. It is something so absolutely incomprehensible, I don’t know how I could tell it you. You would only think I was ill, or quite mad.
Arnholm. My dearest lady! Now you really must tell me all about it.
Ellida. Well, then, I’ll try to. How will you, as a sensible man, explain to yourself that—(Looks round, and breaks off.) Wait a moment. Here’s a visitor.
(LYNGSTRAND comes along the road, and enters the garden. He has a flower in his button-hole, and carries a large, handsome bouquet done up in paper and silk ribbons. He stands somewhat hesitatingly and undecidedly by the verandah.)
Ellida (from the arbour). Have you come to see the girls, Mr. Lyngstrand?
Lyngstrand (turning round). Ah, madam, are you there? (Bows, and comes nearer.) No, it’s not that. It’s not the young ladies. It’s you yourself, Mrs. Wangel. You know you gave me permission to come and see you Ellida. Of course I did. You are always welcome here.
Lyngstrand. Thanks; and as it falls out so luckily that it’s a festival here today—
Ellida. Oh! Do you know about that?
Lyngstrand. Rather! And so I should like to take the liberty of presenting this to Mrs. Wangel. (Bows, and offers her the bouquet.)
Ellida (smiling). But, my dear Mr. Lyngstrand, oughtn’t you to give these lovely flowers to Mr. Arnholm himself? For you know it’s really he Lyngstrand (looking uncertainly at both of them). Excuse me, but I don’t know this gentleman. It’s only—I’ve only come about the birthday, Mrs. Wangel.
Ellida. Birthday? You’ve made a mistake, Mr. Lyngstrand. There’s no birthday here today.
Lyngstrand (smiling slyly). Oh! I know all about that! But I didn’t think it was to be kept so dark.
Ellida. What do you know?
Lyngstrand. That it is Madam’s birthday.
Arnholm (looks questioningly at her). Today? Surely not.
Ellida (to LYNGSTRAND). Whatever made you think that?
Lyngstrand. It was Miss Hilde who let it out. I just looked in here a little while ago, and I asked the young ladies why they were decorating the place like this, with flowers and flags.
Lyngstrand. And so Miss Hilde said, “Why, today is mother’s birthday.”
Ellida. Mother’s!—I see.
Arnholm. Aha! (He and ELLIDA exchange a meaning look.) Well, now that the young man knows about it—
Ellida (to LYNGSTRAND). Well, now that you know—
Lyngstrand (offering her the bouquet again). May I take the liberty of congratulating you?
Ellida (taking the flowers). My best thanks. Won’t you sit down a moment, Mr. Lyngstrand? (ELLIDA, ARNHOLM, and LYNGSTRAND sit down in the arbour.) This—birthday business—was to have been kept secret, Mr. Arnholm.
Arnholm. So I see. It wasn’t for us uninitiated folk!
Ellida (putting down the bouquet). Just so. Not for the uninitiated.
Lyngstrand. ‘Pon my word, I won’t tell a living soul about it.
Ellida. Oh, it wasn’t meant like that. But how are you getting on? I think you look better than you did.
Lyngstrand. Oh! I think I’m getting on famously. And by next year, if I can go south—
Ellida. And you are going south, the girls tell me.
Lyngstrand. Yes, for I’ve a benefactor and friend at Bergen, who looks after me, and has promised to help me next year.
Ellida. How did you get such a friend?
Lyngstrand. Well, it all happened so very luckily. I once went to sea in one of his ships.
Ellida. Did you? So you wanted to go to sea?
Lyngstrand. No, not at all. But when mother died, father wouldn’t have me knocking about at home any longer, and so he sent me to sea. Then we were wrecked in the English Channel on our way home; and that was very fortunate for me.
Arnholm. What do you mean?
Lyngstrand. Yes, for it was in the shipwreck that I got this little weakness—of my chest. I was so long in the ice-cold water before they picked me up; and so I had to give up the sea. Yes, that was very fortunate.
Arnholm. Indeed! Do you think so?
Lyngstrand. Yes, for the weakness isn’t dangerous; and now I can be a sculptor, as I so dearly want to be. Just think; to model in that delicious clay, that yields so caressingly to your fingers!
Ellida. And what are you going to model? Is it to be mermen and mermaids? Or is it to be old Vikings?
Lyngstrand. No, not that. As soon as I can set about it, I am going to try if I can produce a great work—a group, as they call it.
Ellida. Yes; but what’s the group to be?
Lyngstrand. Oh! something I’ve experienced myself.
Arnholm. Yes, yes; always stick to that.
Ellida. But what’s it to be?
Lyngstrand. Well, I thought it should be the young wife of a sailor, who lies sleeping in strange unrest, and she is dreaming. I fancy I shall do it so that you will see she is dreaming.
Arnholm. Is there anything else?
Lyngstrand. Yes, there’s to be another figure—a sort of apparition, as they say. It’s her husband, to whom she has been faithless while he was away, and he is drowned at sea.
Lyngstrand. Yes, he was drowned on a sea voyage. But that’s the wonderful part of it—he comes home all the same. It is night-time. And he is standing by her bed looking at her. He is to stand there dripping wet, like one drawn from the sea.
Ellida (leaning back in her chair). What an extraordinary idea! (Shutting her eyes.) Oh! I can see it so clearly, living before me!
Arnholm. But how on earth, Mr.—Mr.—I thought you said it was to be something you had experienced.
Lyngstrand. Yes. I did experience that—that is to say, to a certain extent.
Arnholm. You saw a dead man?
Lyngstrand. Well, I don’t mean I’ve actually seen this—experienced it in the flesh. But still—
Ellida (quickly, intently). Oh! tell me all you can about it! I must understand about all this.
Arnholm (smiling). Yes, that’ll be quite in your line. Something that has to do with sea fancies.
Ellida. What was it, Mr. Lyngstrand?
Lyngstrand. Well, it was like this. At the time when we were to sail home in the brig from a town they called Halifax, we had to leave the boatswain behind in the hospital. So we had to engage an American instead. This new boatswain Ellida. The American?
Lyngstrand. Yes, one day he got the captain to lend him a lot of old newspapers and he was always reading them. For he wanted to teach himself Norwegian, he said.
Ellida. Well, and then?
Lyngstrand. It was one evening in rough weather. All hands were on deck—except the boatswain and myself. For he had sprained his foot and couldn’t walk, and I was feeling rather low, and was lying in my berth. Well, he was sitting there in the forecastle, reading one of those old papers again.
Ellida. Well, well!
Lyngstrand. But just as he was sitting there quietly reading, I heard him utter a sort of yell. And when I looked at him, I saw his face was as white as chalk. And then he began to crush and crumple the paper, and to tear it into a thousand shreds. But he did it so quietly, quietly.
Ellida. Didn’t he say anything? Didn’t he speak?
Lyngstrand. Not directly; but a little after he said to himself, as it were: “Married—to another man. While I was away.”
Ellida (closes her eyes, and says, half to herself). He said that?
Lyngstrand. Yes. And think—he said it in perfect Norwegian. That man must have learnt foreign languages very easily—
Ellida. And what then? What else happened?
Lyngstrand. Well, now the remarkable part is coming—that I shall never forget as long as I live. For he added, and that quite quietly, too: “But she is mine, and mine she shall remain. And she shall follow me, if I should come home and fetch her, as a drowned man from the dark sea.”
Ellida (pouring herself out a glass of water. Her hand trembles). Ah! How close it is here today.
Lyngstrand. And he said this with such strength of will that I thought he must be the man to do it.
Ellida. Don’t you know anything about—what became of the man?
Lyngstrand. Oh! madam, he’s certainly not living now.
Ellida (quickly). Why do you think that?
Lyngstrand. Why? Because we were shipwrecked afterwards in the Channel. I had got into the longboat with the captain and five others. The mate got into the stern-boat; and the American was in that too, and another man.
Ellida. And nothing has been heard of them since?
Lyngstrand. Not a word. The friend who looks after me said so quite recently in a letter. But it’s just because of this I was so anxious to make it into a work of art. I see the faithless sailor-wife so life-like before me, and the avenger who is drowned, and who nevertheless comes home from the sea. I can see them both so distinctly.
Ellida. I, too. (Rises.) Come; let us go in—or, rather, go down to Wangel. I think it is so suffocatingly hot. (She goes out of the arbour.)
Lyngstrand (who has also risen). I, for my part, must ask you to excuse me. This was only to be a short visit because of the birthday.
Ellida. As you wish. (Holds out her hand to him.) Goodbye, and thank you for the flowers.
(LYNGSTRAND bows, and goes off through the garden gate.)
Arnholm (rises, and goes up to ELLIDA). I see well enough that this has gone to your heart, Mrs. Wangel.
Ellida. Yes; you may well say so. Although Arnholm. But still—after all, it’s no more than you were bound to expect.
Ellida (looks at him surprised). Expect!
Arnholm. Well, so it seems to me.
Ellida. Expect that anyone should come back again!—come to life again like that!
Arnholm. But what on earth!—is it that mad sculptor’s sea story, then?
Ellida. Oh, dear Arnholm, perhaps it isn’t so mad after all!
Arnholm. Is it that nonsense about the dead man that has moved you so? And I who thought that—
Ellida. What did you think?
Arnholm. I naturally thought that was only a make-believe of yours. And that you were sitting here grieving because you had found out a family feast was being kept secret; because your husband and his children live a life of remembrances in which you have no part.
Ellida. Oh! no, no! That may be as it may. I have no right to claim my husband wholly and solely for myself.
Arnholm. I should say you had.
Ellida. Yes. Yet, all the same, I have not. That is it. Why, I, too, live in something from which they are shut out.
Arnholm. You! (In lower tone.) Do you mean?—you, you do not really love your husband!
Ellida. Oh! yes, yes! I have learnt to love him with all my heart! And that’s why it is so terrible-so inexplicable—so absolutely inconceivable!
Arnholm. Now you must and shall confide all your troubles to me. Will you, Mrs. Wangel?
Ellida. I cannot, dear friend. Not now, in any case. Later, perhaps.
(BOLETTE comes out into the verandah, and goes down into the garden.)
Bolette. Father’s coming up from the office. Hadn’t we better all of us go into the sitting-room?
Ellida. Yes, let us.
(WANGEL, in other clothes, comes with HILDE from behind the house.)
Wangel. Now, then, here I am at your service. And now we shall enjoy a good glass of something cool.
Ellida. Wait a moment. (She goes into the arbour and fetches the bouquet.)
Hilde. I say! All those lovely flowers! Where did you get them?
Ellida. From the sculptor, Lyngstrand, my dear Hilde.
Hilde (starts). From Lyngstrand?
Bolette (uneasily). Has Lyngstrand been here again?
Ellida (with a half-smile). Yes. He came here with these. Because of the birthday, you understand.
Bolette (looks at HILDE). Oh!
Hilde (mutters). The idiot!
Wangel (in painful confusion to ELLIDA). Hm!—yes, well you see-I must tell you, my dear, good, beloved Ellida—
Ellida (interrupting). Come, girls! Let us go and put my flowers in the water together with the others. (Goes up to the verandah.)
Bolette (to HILDE). Oh! After all she is good at heart.
Hilde (in a low tone with angry look). Fiddlesticks! She only does it to take in father.
Wangel (on the verandah, presses ELLIDA’S hand). Thanks-thanks! My heartfelt thanks for that, dear Ellida.
Ellida (arranging the flowers). Nonsense! Should not I, too, be in it, and take part in—in mother’s birthday?
(He goes up to WANGEL, and ELLIDA, BOLETTE, and HILDE remain in the garden below.)
Categories: English Literature