ALFRED ALLMERS, landed proprietor and man of letters formerly a tutor. MRS. RITA ALLMERS, his wife. EYOLF, their child, nine years old. MISS ASTA ALLMERS, Alfred's younger half-sister. ENGINEER BORGHEIM. THE RAT-WIFE.
The action takes place on ALLMERS’S property, bordering on the fjord, twelve or fourteen miles from Christiania.
[A pretty and richly-decorated garden-room, full of furniture, flowers, and plants. At the back, open glass doors, leading out to a verandah. An extensive view over the fiord. In the distance, wooded hillsides. A door in each of the side walls, the one on the right a folding door, placed far back. In front on the right, a sofa, with cushions and rugs. Beside the sofa, a small table, and chairs. In front, on the left, a larger table, with arm-chairs around it. On the table stands an open hand-bag. It is an early summer morning, with warm sunshine.]
[Mrs. RITA ALLMERS stands beside the table, facing towards the left, engaged in unpacking the bag. She is a handsome, rather tall, well-developed blonde, about thirty years of age, dressed in a light-coloured morning-gown.]
[Shortly after, Miss ASTA ALLMERS enters by the door on the right, wearing a light brown summer dress, with hat, jacket, and parasol. Under her arm she carries a locked portfolio of considerable size. She is slim, of middle height, with dark hair, and deep, earnest eyes. Twenty-five years old.]
ASTA. [As she enters.] Good-morning, my dear Rita.
RITA. [Turns her head, and nods to her.] What! is that you, Asta? Come all the way from town so early?
ASTA. [Takes of her things, and lays them on a chair beside the door.] Yes, such a restless feeling came over me. I felt I must come out to-day, and see how little Eyolf was getting on—and you too. [Lays the portfolio on the table beside the sofa.] So I took the steamer, and here I am.
RITA. [Smiling to her.] And I daresay you met one or other of your friends on board? Quite by chance, of course.
ASTA. [Quietly.] No, I did not meet a soul I knew. [Sees the bag.] Why, Rita, what have you got there?
RITA. [Still unpacking.] Alfred’s travelling-bag. Don’t you recognise it?
ASTA. [Joyfully, approaching her.] What! Has Alfred come home?
RITA. Yes, only think—he came quite unexpectedly by the late train last night.
ASTA. Oh, then that was what my feeling meant! It was that that drew me out here! And he hadn’t written a line to let you know? Not even a post-card?
RITA. Not a single word.
ASTA. Did he not even telegraph?
RITA. Yes, an hour before he arrived—quite curtly and coldly. [Laughs.] Don’t you think that was like him, Asta?
ASTA. Yes; he goes so quietly about everything.
RITA. But that made it all the more delightful to have him again.
ASTA. Yes, I am sure it would.
RITA. A whole fortnight before I expected him!
ASTA. And is he quite well? Not in low spirits?
RITA. [Closes the bag with a snap, and smiles at her.] He looked quite transfigured as he stood in the doorway.
ASTA. And was he not the least bit tired either?
RITA. Oh, yes, he seemed to be tired enough—very tired, in fact. But, poor fellow, he had come on foot the greater part of the way.
ASTA. And then perhaps the high mountain air may have been rather too keen for him.
RITA. Oh, no; I don’t think so at all. I haven’t heard him cough once.
ASTA. Ah, there you see now! It was a good thing, after all, that the doctor talked him into taking this tour.
RITA. Yes, now that it is safely over.—But I can tell you it has been a terrible time for me, Asta. I have never cared to talk about it—and you so seldom came out to see me, too—
ASTA. Yes, I daresay that wasn’t very nice of me—but—
RITA. Well, well, well, of course you had your school to attend to in town. [Smiling.] And then our road-maker friend—of course he was away too.
ASTA. Oh, don’t talk like that, Rita.
RITA. Very well, then; we will leave the road-maker out of the question.—You can’t think how I have been longing for Alfred! How empty the place seemed! How desolate! Ugh, it felt as if there had been a funeral in the house!
ASTA. Why, dear me, only six or seven weeks—
RITA. Yes; but you must remember that Alfred has never been away from me before—never so much as twenty-four hours. Not once in all these ten years.
ASTA. No; but that is just why I really think it was high time he should have a little outing this year. He ought to have gone for a tramp in the mountains every summer—he really ought.
RITA. [Half smiling.] Oh yes, it’s all very well fair you to talk. If I were as—as reasonable its you, I suppose I should have let him go before—perhaps. But I positively could not, Asta! It seemed to me I should never get him back again. Surely you can understand that?
ASTA. No. But I daresay that is because I have no one to lose.
RITA. [With a teasing smile.] Really? No one at all?
ASTA. Not that I know of. [Changing the subject.] But tell me, Rita, where is Alfred? Is he still asleep?
RITA. Oh, not at all. He got up as early as ever to-day.
ASTA. Then he can’t have been so very tired after all.
RITA. Yes, he was last night—when he arrived. But now he has had little Eyolf with him in his room for a whole hour and more.
ASTA. Poor little white-faced boy! Has he to be for ever at his lessons again?
RITA. [With a slight shrug.] Alfred will have it so, you know.
ASTA. Yes; but I think you ought to put down your foot about it, Rita.
RITA. [Somewhat impatiently.] Oh no; come now, I really cannot meddle with that. Alfred knows so much better about these things than I do. And what would you have Eyolf do? He can’t run about and play, you see—like other children.
ASTA. [With decision.] I will talk to Alfred about this.
RITA. Yes, do; I wish you would.—Oh! here he is.
[ALFRED ALLMERS, dressed in light summer clothes, enters by the door on the left, leading EYOLF by the hand. He is a slim, lightly-built man of about thirty-six or thirty-seven, with gentle eyes, and thin brown hair and beard. His expression is serious and thoughtful. EYOLF wears a suit cut like a uniform, with gold braid and gilt military buttons. He is lame, and walks with a crutch under his left arm. His leg is shrunken. He is undersized, and looks delicate, but has beautiful intelligent eyes.]
ALLMERS. [Drops EYOLF’s hand, goes up to ASTA with an expression of marked pleasure, and holds out both his hands to her.] Asta! My dearest Asta! To think of your coming! To think of my seeing you so soon!
ASTA. I felt I must—. Welcome home again!
ALLMERS. [Shaking her hands.] Thank you for coming.
RITA. Doesn’t he look well?
ASTA. [Gazes fixedly at him.] Splendid! Quite splendid! His eyes are so much brighter! And I suppose you have done a great deal of writing on your travels? [With an outburst of joy.] I shouldn’t wonder if you had finished the whole book, Alfred?
ALLMERS. [Shrugging his shoulders.] The book? Oh, the book—
ASTA. Yes, I was sure you would find it go so easily when once you got away.
ALLMERS. So I thought too. But, do you know, I didn’t find it so at all. The truth is, I have not written a line of the book.
ASTA. Not a line?
RITA. Oho! I wondered when I found all the paper lying untouched in your bag.
ASTA. But, my dear Alfred, what have you been doing all this time?
ALLMERS. [Smiling.] Only thinking and thinking and thinking.
RITA. [Putting her arm round his neck.] And thinking a little, too, of those you had left at home?
ALLMERS. Yes, you may be sure of that. I have thought a great deal of you—every single day.
RITA. [Taking her arm away.] Ah, that is all I care about.
ASTA. But you haven’t even touched the book! And yet you can look so happy and contented! That is not what you generally do—I mean when your work is going badly.
ALLMERS. You are right there. You see, I have been such a fool hitherto. All the best that is in you goes into thinking. What you put on paper is worth very little.
ASTA. [Exclaiming.] Worth very little!
RITA. [Laughing.] What an absurd thing to say, Alfred.
EYOLF. [Looks confidingly up at him.] Oh yes, Papa, what you write is worth a great deal!
ALLMERS. [Smiling and stroking his hair.] Well, well, since you say so.—But I can tell you, some one is coming after me who will do it better.
EYOLF. Who can that be? Oh, tell me!
ALLMERS. Only wait—you may be sure he will come, and let us hear of him.
EYOLF. And what will you do then?
ALLMERS. [Seriously.] Then I will go to the mountains again—
RITA. Fie, Alfred! For shame!
ALLMERS.—up to the peaks and the great waste places.
EYOLF. Papa, don’t you think I shall soon be well enough for you to take me with you?
ALLMERS. [With painful emotion.] Oh, yes, perhaps, my little boy.
EYOLF. It would be so splendid, you know, if I could climb the mountains, like you.
ASTA. [Changing the subject.] Why, how beautifully you are dressed to-day, Eyolf!
EYOLF. Yes, don’t you think so, Auntie?
ASTA. Yes, indeed. Is it in honour of Papa that you have got your new clothes on?
EYOLF. Yes, I asked Mama to let me. I wanted so to let Papa see me in them.
ALLMERS. [In a low voice, to RITA.] You shouldn’t have given him clothes like that.
RITA. [In a low voice.] Oh, he has teased me so long about them—he had set his heart on them. He gave me no peace.
EYOLF. And I forgot to tell you, Papa—Borgheim has bought me a new bow. And he has taught me how to shoot with it too.
ALLMERS. Ah, there now—that’s just the sort of thing for you, Eyolf.
EYOLF. And next time he comes, I shall ask him to teach me to swim, too.
ALLMERS. To swim! Oh, what makes you want to learn swimming?
EYOLF. Well, you know, all the boys down at the beach can swim. I am the only one that can’t.
ALLMERS. [With emotion, taking him in his arms.] You shall learn whatever you like—everything you really want to.
EYOLF. Then do you know what I want most of all, Papa?
ALLMERS. No; tell me.
EYOLF. I want most of all to be a soldier.
ALLMERS. Oh, little Eyolf, there are many, many other things that are better than that.
EYOLF. Ah, but when I grow big, then I shall have to be a soldier. You know that, don’t you?
ALLMERS. [Clenching his hands together.] Well, well, well: we shall see—
ASTA. [Seating herself at the table on the left.] Eyolf! Come here to me, and I will tell you something.
EYOLF. [Goes up to her.] What is it, Auntie?
ASTA. What do you think, Eyolf—I have seen the Rat-Wife.
EYOLF. What! Seen the Rat-Wife! Oh, you’re only making a fool of me!
ASTA. No; it’s quite true. I saw her yesterday.
EYOLF. Where did you see her?
ASTA. I saw her on the road, outside the town.
ALLMERS. I saw her, too, somewhere up in the country.
RITA. [Who is sitting on the sofa.] Perhaps it will be out turn to see her next, Eyolf.
EYOLF. Auntie, isn’t it strange that she should be called the Rat-Wife?
ASTA. Oh, people just give her that name because she wanders round the country driving away all the rats.
ALLMERS. I have heard that her real name is Varg.
EYOLF. Varg! That means a wolf, doesn’t it?
ALLMERS. [Patting him on the head.] So you know that, do you?
EYOLF. [Cautiously.] Then perhaps it may be true, after all, that she is a were-wolf at night. Do you believe that, Papa?
ALLMERS. Oh, no; I don’t believe it. Now you ought to go and play a little in the garden.
EYOLF. Should I not take some books with me?
ALLMERS. No, no books after this. You had better go down to the beach to the other boys.
EYOLF. [Shyly.] No, Papa, I won’t go down to the boys to-day.
ALLMERS. Why not?
EYOLF. Oh, because I have these clothes on.
ALLMERS. [Knitting his brows.] Do you mean that they make fun of—of your pretty clothes?
EYOLF. [Evasively.] No, they daren’t—for then I would thrash them.
ALLMERS. Aha!—then why—?
EYOLF. You see, they are so naughty, these boys. And then they say I can never be a soldier.
ALLMERS. [With suppressed indignation.] Why do they say that, do you think?
EYOLF. I suppose they are jealous of me. For you know, Papa, they are so poor, they have to go about barefoot.
ALLMERS. [Softly, with choking voice.] Oh, Rita—how it wrings my heart!
RITA. [Soothingly, rising.] There, there, there!
ALLMERS. [Threateningly.] But these rascals shall soon find out who is the master down at the beach!
ASTA. [Listening.] There is some one knocking.
EYOLF. Oh, I’m sure it’s Borgheim!
RITA. Come in.
[The RAT-WIFE comes softly and noiselessly in by the door on the right. She is a thin little shrunken figure, old and grey-haired, with keen, piercing eyes, dressed in an old-fashioned flowered gown, with a black hood and cloak. She has in her hand a large red umbrella, and carries a black bag by a loop over her arm.]
EYOLF. [Softly, taking hold of ASTA’s dress.] Auntie! That must surely be her!
THE RAT-WIFE. [Curtseying at the door.] I humbly beg pardon—but are your worships troubled with any gnawing things in the house?
ALLMERS. Here? No, I don’t think so.
THE RAT-WIFE. For it would be such a pleasure to me to rid your worships’ house of them.
RITA. Yes, yes; we understand. But we have nothing of the sort here.
THE RAT-WIFE. That’s very unlucky, that is; for I just happened to be on my rounds now, and goodness knows when I may be in these parts again.—Oh, how tired I am!
ALLMERS. [Pointing to a chair.] Yes, you look tired.
THE RAT-WIFE. I know one ought never to get tired of doing good to the poor little things that are hated and persecuted so cruelly. But it takes your strength out of you, it does.
RITA. Won’t you sit down and rest a little?
THE RAT-WIFE. I thank your ladyship with all my heart. [Seats herself on a chair between the door and the sofa.] I have been out all night at my work.
ALLMERS. Have you indeed?
THE RAT-WIFE. Yes, over on the islands. [With a chuckling laugh.] The people sent for me, I can assure you. They didn’t like it a bit; but there was nothing else to be done. They had to put a good face on it, and bite the sour apple. [Looks at EYOLF, and nods.] The sour apple, little master, the sour apple.
EYOLF. [Involuntarily, a little timidly.] Why did they have to—?
THE RAT-WIFE. What?
EYOLF. To bite it?
THE RAT-WIFE. Why, because they couldn’t keep body and soul together on account of the rats and all the little rat-children, you see, young master.
RITA. Ugh! Poor people! Have they so many of them?
THE RAT-WIFE. Yes, it was all alive and swarming with them. [Laughs with quiet glee.] They came creepy-crawly up into the beds all night long. They plumped into the milk-cans, and they went pittering and pattering all over the floor, backwards and forwards, and up and down.
EYOLF. [Softly, to ASTA.] I shall never go there, Auntie.
THE RAT-WIFE. But then I came—I, and another along with me. And we took them with us, every one—the sweet little creatures! We made an end of every one of them.
EYOLF. [With a shriek.] Papa—look! look!
RITA. Good Heavens, Eyolf!
ALLMERS. What’s the matter?
EYOLF. [Pointing.] There’s something wriggling in the bag!
RITA. [At the extreme left, shrieks.] Ugh! Send her away, Alfred.
THE RAT-WIFE. [Laughing.] Oh, dearest lady, you needn’t be frightened of such a little mannikin.
ALLMERS. But what is the thing?
THE RAT-WIFE. Why, it’s only little Mopsëman. [Loosening the string of the bag.] Come up out of the dark, my own little darling friend.
[A little dog with a broad black snout pokes its head out of the bag.]
THE RAT-WIFE. [Nodding and beckoning to EYOLF.] Come along, don’t be afraid, my little wounded warrior! He won’t bite. Come here! Come here!
EYOLF. [Clinging to ASTA.] No, I dare not.
THE RAT-WIFE. Don’t you think he has a gentle, lovable countenance, my young master?
EYOLF. [Astonished, pointing.] That thing there?
THE RAT-WIFE. Yes, this thing here.
EYOLF. [Almost under his breath, staring fixedly at the dog.] I think he has the horriblest—countenance I ever saw.
THE RAT-WIFE. [Closing the bag.] Oh, it will come—it will come, right enough.
EYOLF. [Involuntarily drawing nearer, at last goes right up to her, and strokes the bag.] But he is lovely—lovely all the same.
THE RAT-WIFE. [In a tone of caution.] But now he is so tired and weary, poor thing. He’s utterly tired out, he is. [Looks at ALLMERS.] For it takes the strength out of you, that sort of game, I can tell you, sir.
ALLMERS. What sort of game do you mean?
THE RAT-WIFE. The luring game.
ALLMERS. Do you mean that it is the dog that lures the rats?
THE RAT-WIFE. [Nodding.] Mopsëman and I—we two do it together. And it goes so smoothly—for all you can see, at any rate. I just slip a string through his collar, and then I lead him three times round the house, and play on my Pan’s-pipes. When they hear that, they have got to come up from the cellars, and down from the garrets, and out of flour boles, all the blessed little creatures.
EYOLF. And does he bite them to death then?
THE RAT-WIFE. Oh, not at all! No, we go down to the boat, he and I do—and then they follow after us, both the big ones and the little ratikins.
EYOLF. [Eagerly.] And what then—tell me!
THE RAT-WIFE. Then we push out from the land, and I scull with one oar, and play on my Pan’s-pipes. And Mopsëman, he swims behind. [With glittering eyes.] And all the creepers and crawlers, they follow and follow us out into the deep, deep waters. Ay, for they have to.
EYOLF. Why do they have to?
THE RAT-WIFE. Just because they want not to—just because they are so deadly afraid of the water. That is why they have got to plunge into it.
EYOLF. Are they drowned, then?
THE RAT-WIFE. Every blessed one. [More softly.] And there it is all as still, and soft, and dark as their hearts can desire, the lovely little things. Down there they sleep a long, sweet sleep, with no one to hate them or persecute them any more. [Rises.] In the old days, I can tell you, I didn’t need any Mopsëman. Then I did the luring myself—I alone.
EYOLF. And what did you lure then?
THE RAT-WIFE. Men. One most of all.
EYOLF. [With eagerness.] Oh, who was that one? Tell me!
THE RAT-WIFE. [Laughing.] It was my own sweetheart, it was, little heart-breaker!
EYOLF. And where is he now, then?
THE RAT-WIFE. [Harshly.] Down where all the rats are. [Resuming her milder tone.] But now I must be off and get to business again. Always on the move. [To RITA.] So your ladyship has no sort of use for me to-day? I could finish it all off while I am about it.
RITA. No, thank you; I don’t think we require anything.
THE RAT-WIFE. Well, well, your sweet ladyship, you can never tell. If your ladyship should find that there is anything lure that keeps nibbling and gnawing, and creeping and crawling, then just see and get hold of me and Mopsëman.—Good-bye, good-bye, a kind good-bye to you all. [She goes out by the door on the right.]
EYOLF. [Softly and triumphantly, to ASTA.] Only think, Auntie, now I have seen the Rat-Wife too!
[RITA goes out upon the verandah, and fans herself with her pocket-handkerchief. Shortly afterwards, EYOLF slips cautiously and unnoticed out to the right.]
ALLMERS. [Takes up the portfolio from the table by the sofa.] Is this your portfolio, Asta?
ASTA. Yes. I have some of the old letters in it.
ALLMERS. Ah, the family letters—
ASTA. You know you asked me to arrange them for you while you were away.
ALLMERS. [Pats her on the head.] And you have actually found time to do that, dear?
ASTA. Oh, yes. I have done it partly out here and partly at my own rooms in town.
ALLMERS. Thanks, dear. Did you find anything particular in them?
ASTA. [Lightly.] Oh, you know you always find something or other in such old papers. [Speaking lower and seriously.] It is the letters to mother that are in this portfolio.
ALLMERS. Those, of course, you must keep yourself.
ASTA. [With an effort.] No; I am determined that you shall look through them, too, Alfred. Some time—later on in life. I haven’t the key of the portfolio with me just now.
ALLMERS. It doesn’t matter, my dear Asta, for I shall never read your mother’s letters in any case.
ASTA. [Fixing her eyes on him.] Then some time or other—some quiet evening—I will tell you a little of what is in them.
ALLMERS. Yes, that will be much better. But do you keep your mother’s letters—you haven’t so many mementos of her.
[He hands ASTA the portfolio. She takes it, and lays it on the chair under her outdoor things. RITA comes into the room again.]
RITA. Ugh! I feel as if that horrible old woman had brought a sort of graveyard smell with her.
ALLMERS. Yes, she was rather horrible.
RITA. I felt almost sick while she was in the room.
ALLMERS. However, I can very well understand the sort of spellbound fascination that she talked about. The loneliness of the mountain-peaks and of the great waste places has something of the same magic about it.
ASTA. [Looks attentively at him.] What is it that has happened to you, Alfred?
ALLMERS. [Smiling.] To me?
ASTA. Yes, something has happened—something seems almost to have transformed you. Rita noticed it too.
RITA. Yes, I saw it the moment you came. A change for the better, I hope, Alfred?
ALLMERS. It ought to be for the better. And it must and shall come to good.
RITA. [With an outburst.] You have had some adventure on your journey! Don’t deny it! I can see it in your face!
ALLMERS. [Shaking his head.] No adventure in the world—outwardly at least. But—
RITA. [Eagerly.] But—?
ALLMERS. It is true that within me there has been something of a revolution.
RITA. Oh Heavens—!
ALLMERS. [Soothingly, patting her hand.] Only for the better, my dear Rita. You may be perfectly certain of that.
RITA. [Seats herself on the sofa.] You must tell us all about it, at once—tell us everything!
ALLMERS. [Turning to ASTA.] Yes, let us sit down, too, Asta. Then I will try to tell you as well as I can.
[He seats himself on the sofa at RITA’s side. ASTA moves a chair forward, and places herself near him.]
RITA. [Looking at him expectantly.] Well—?
ALLMERS. [Gazing straight before him.] When I look back over my life—and my fortunes—for the last ten or eleven years, it seems to me almost like a fairy-tale or a dream. Don’t you think so too, Asta?
ASTA. Yes, in many ways I think so.
ALLMERS. [Continuing.] When I remember what we two used to be, Asta—we two poor orphan children—
RITA. [Impatiently.] Oh, that is such an old, old story.
ALLMERS. [Not listening to her.] And now here I am in comfort and luxury. I have been able to follow my vocation. I have been able to work and study—just as I had always longed to. [Holds out his hand.] And all this great—this fabulous good fortune we owe to you, my dearest Rita.
RITA. [Half playfully, half angrily, slaps his hand.] Oh, I do wish you would stop talking like that.
ALLMERS. I speak of it only as a sort of introduction.
RITA. Then do skip the introduction!
ALLMERS. Rita,—you must not think it was the doctor’s advice that drove me up to the mountains.
ASTA. Was it not, Alfred?
RITA. What was it, then?
ALLMERS. It was this: I found there was no more peace for me, there in my study.
RITA. No peace! Why, who disturbed you?
ALLMERS. [Shaking his head.] No one from without. But I felt as though I were positively abusing—or, say rather, wasting—my best powers—frittering away the time.
ASTA. [With wide eyes.] When you were writing at your book?
ALLMERS. [Nodding.] For I cannot think that my powers are confined to that alone. I must surely have it in me to do one or two other things as well.
RITA. Was that what you sat there brooding over?
ALLMERS. Yes, mainly that.
RITA. And so that is what has made you so discontented with yourself of late; and with the rest of us as well. For you know you were discontented, Alfred.
ALLMERS. [Gazing straight before him.] There I sat bent over my table, day after day, and often half the night too—writing and writing at the great thick book on “Human Responsibility.” H’m!
ASTA. [Laying her hand upon his arm.] But, Alfred—that book is to be your life-work.
RITA. Yes, you have said so often enough.
ALLMERS. I thought so. Ever since I grew up, I have thought so. [With an affectionate expression in his eyes.] And it was you that enabled me to devote myself to it, my dear Rita—
RITA. Oh, nonsense!
ALLMERS. [Smiling to her.]—you, with your gold, and your green forests—
RITA. [Half laughing, half vexed.] If you begin all that rubbish again, I shall beat you.
ASTA. [Looking sorrowfully at him.] But the book, Alfred?
ALLMERS. It began, as it were, to drift away from me. But I was more and more beset by the thought of the higher duties that laid their claims upon me.
RITA. [Beaming, seizes his hand.] Alfred!
ALLMERS. The thought of Eyolf, my dear Rita.
RITA. [Disappointed, drops his hand.] Ah—of Eyolf!
ALLMERS. Poor little Eyolf has taken deeper and deeper hold of me. After that unlucky fall from the table—and especially since we have been assured that the injury is incurable—
RITA. [Insistently.] But you take all the care you possibly can of him, Alfred!
ALLMERS. As a schoolmaster, yes; but not as a father. And it is a father that I want henceforth to be to Eyolf.
RITA. [Looking at him and shaking her head.] I don’t think I quite understand you.
ALLMERS. I mean that I will try with all my might to make his misfortune as painless and easy to him as it can possibly be.
RITA. Oh, but, dear—thank Heaven, I don’t think he feels it so deeply.
ASTA. [With emotion.] Yes, Rita, he does.
ALLMERS. Yes, you may be sure he feels it deeply.
RITA. [Impatiently.] But, Alfred, what more can you do for him?
ALLMERS. I will try to perfect all the rich possibilities that are dawning in his childish soul. I will foster all the germs of good in his nature—make them blossom and bear fruit. [With more and more warmth, rising.] And I will do more than that! I will help him to bring his desires into harmony with what lies attainable before him. That is just what at present they are not. All his longings are for things that must for ever remain unattainable to him. But I will create a conscious happiness in his mind. [He goes once or twice up and down the room. ASTA and RITA follow him with their eyes.]
RITA. You should take these things more quietly, Alfred!
ALLMERS. [Stops beside the table on the left, and looks at them.] Eyolf shall carry on my life-work—if he wants to. Or he shall choose one that is altogether his own. Perhaps that would be best. At all events, I shall let mine rest as it is.
RITA. [Rising.] But, Alfred dear, can you not work both for yourself and for Eyolf?
ALLMERS. No, I cannot. It is impossible! I cannot divide myself in this matter—and therefore I efface myself. Eyolf shall be the complete man of our race. And it shall be my new life-work to make him the complete man.
ASTA. [Has risen and now goes up to him.] This must have cost you a terribly hard struggle, Alfred?
ALLMERS. Yes, it has. At home here, I should never have conquered myself, never brought myself to the point of renunciation. Never at home!
RITA. Then that was why you went away this summer?
ALLMERS. [With shining eyes.] Yes! I went up into the infinite solitudes. I saw the sunrise gleaming on the mountain peaks. I felt myself nearer the stars—I seemed almost to be in sympathy and communion with them. And then I found the strength for it.
ASTA. [Looking sadly at him.] But you will never write any more of your book on “Human Responsibility”?
ALLMERS. No, never, Asta. I tell you I cannot split up my life between two vocations. But I will act out my “human responsibility”—in my own life.
RITA. [With a smile.] Do you think you can live up to such high resolves at home here?
ALLMERS. [Taking her hand.] With you to help me, I can. [Holds out the other hand.] And with you too, Asta.
RITA. [Drawing her hand away.] Ah—with both of us! So, after all, you can divide yourself.
ALLMERS. Why, my dearest Rita—!
[RITA moves away from him and stands in the garden doorway. A light and rapid knock is heard at the door on the right. Engineer BORGHEIM enters quickly. He is a young man of a little over thirty. His expression is bright and cheerful, and he holds himself erect.]
BORGHEIM. Good morning, Mrs. Allmers. [Stops with an expression of pleasure on seeing ALLMERS.] Why, what’s this? Home again already, Mr. Allmers?
ALLMERS. [Shaking hands with him.] Yes, I arrived list night.
RITA. [Gaily.] His leave was up, Mr. Borgheim.
ALLMERS. No, you know it wasn’t, Rita—
RITA. [Approaching.] Oh yes, but it was, though. His furlough had run out.
BORGHEIM. I see you hold your husband well in hand, Mrs. Allmers.
RITA. I hold to my rights. And besides, everything must have an end.
BORGHEIM. Oh, not everything—I hope. Good morning, Miss Allmers!
ASTA. [Holding aloof from him.] Good morning.
RITA. [Looking at BORGHEIM.] Not everything, you say?
BORGHEIM. Oh, I am firmly convinced that there are some things in the world that will never come to an end.
RITA. I suppose you are thinking of love—and that sort of thing.
BORGHEIM. [Warmly.] I am thinking of all that is lovely!
RITA. And that never comes to an end. Yes, let us think of that, hope for that, all of us.
ALLMERS. [Coming up to them.] I suppose you will soon have finished your road-work out here?
BORGHEIM. I have finished it already—finished it yesterday. It has been a long business, but, thank Heaven, that has come to an end.
RITA. And you are beaming with joy over that?
BORGHEIM. Yes, I am indeed!
RITA. Well, I must say—
BORGHEIM. What, Mrs. Allmers?
RITA. I don’t think it is particularly nice of you, Mr. Borgheim.
BORGHEIM. Indeed! Why not?
RITA. Well, I suppose we sha’n’t often see you in these parts after this.
BORGHEIM. No, that is true. I hadn’t thought of that.
RITA. Oh well, I suppose you will be able to look in upon us now and then all the same.
BORGHEIM. No, unfortunately that will be out of my power for a very long time.
ALLMERS. Indeed! How so?
BORGHEIM. The fact is, I have got a big piece of new work that I must set about at once.
ALLMERS. Have you indeed?—[Pressing his hand.]—I am heartily glad to hear it.
RITA. I congratulate you, Mr. Borgheim!
BORGHEIM. Hush, hush—I really ought not to talk openly of it as yet! But I can’t help coming out with it! It is a great piece of road-making—up in the north—with mountain ranges to cross, and the most tremendous difficulties to overcome!—[With an outburst of gladness.]—Oh, what a glorious world this is—and what a joy it is to be a road-maker in it!
RITA. [Smiling, and looking teasingly at him.] Is it road-making business that has brought you out here to-day in such wild spirits?
BORGHEIM. No, not that alone. I am thinking of all the bright and hopeful prospects that are opening out before me.
RITA. Aha, then perhaps you have something still more exquisite in reserve!
BORGHEIM. [Glancing towards ASTA.] Who knows! When once happiness comes to us, it is apt to come like it spring flood. [Turns to ASTA.] Miss Allmers, would you not like to take a little walk with me? As we used to?
ASTA. [Quickly.] No—no, thank you. Not now. Not to-day.
BORGHEIM. Oh, do come! Only a little bit of a walk! I have so much I want to talk to you about before I go.
RITA. Something else, perhaps, that you must not talk openly about as yet?
BORGHEIM. H’m, that depends—
RITA. But there is nothing to prevent your whispering, you know. [Half aside.] Asta, you must really go with him.
ASTA. But, my dear Rita—
BORGHEIM. [Imploringly.] Miss Asta—remember it is to be a farewell walk—the last for many a day.
ASTA. [Takes her hat and parasol.] Very well, suppose we take a stroll in the garden, then.
BORGHEIM. Oh, thank you, thank you!
ALLMERS. And while you are there you can see what Eyolf is doing.
BORGHEIM. Ah, Eyolf, by the bye! Where is Eyolf to-day? I’ve got something for him.
ALLMERS. He is out playing somewhere.
BORGHEIM. Is he really! Then he has begun to play now? He used always to be sitting indoors over his books.
ALLMERS. There is to be an end of that now. I am going to make a regular open-air boy of him.
BORGHEIM. Ah, now, that’s right! Out into the open air with him, poor little fellow! Good Lord, what can we possibly do better than play in this blessed world? For my part, I think all life is one long playtime!—Come, Miss Asta!
[BORGHEIM and ASTA go out on the verandah and down through the garden.]
ALLMERS. [Stands looking after them.] Rita—do you think there is anything between those two?
RITA. I don’t know what to say. I used to think there was. But Asta has grown so strange to me—so utterly incomprehensible of late.
ALLMERS. Indeed! Has she? While I have been away?
RITA. Yes, within the last week or two.
ALLMERS. And you think she doesn’t care very much about him now?
RITA. Not, seriously; not utterly and entirely; not unreservedly—I am sure she doesn’t. [Looks searchingly at him.] Would it displease you if she did?
ALLMERS. It would not exactly displease me. But it would certainly be a disquieting thought—
ALLMERS. Yes; you must remember that I am responsible for Asta—for her life’s happiness.
RITA. Oh, come—responsible! Surely Asta has come to years of discretion? I should say she was capable of choosing for herself.
ALLMERS. Yes, we must hope so, Rita.
RITA. For my part, I don’t think at all ill of Borgheim.
ALLMERS. No, dear—no more do I—quite the contrary. But all the same—
RITA. [Continuing.] And I should be very glad indeed if he and Asta were to make a match of it.
ALLMERS. [Annoyed.] Oh, why should you be?
RITA. [With increasing excitement.] Why, for then she would have to go far, far away with him! Anal she could never come out here to us, as she does now.
ALLMERS. [Stares at her in astonishment.] What! Can you really wish Asta to go away?
RITA. Yes, yes, Alfred!
ALLMERS. Why in all the world—?
RITA. [Throwing her arms passionately round his neck.] For then, at last, I should have you to myself alone! And yet—not even then! Not wholly to myself! [Bursts into convulsive weeping.] Oh, Alfred, Alfred—I cannot give you up!
ALLMERS. [Gently releasing himself.] My dearest Rita, do be reasonable!
RITA. I don’t care a bit about being reasonable! I care only for you! Only for you in all the world! [Again throwing her arms round his neck.] For you, for you, for you!
ALLMERS. Let me go, let me go—you are strangling me!
RITA. [Letting him go.] How I wish I could! [Looking at him with flashing eyes.] Oh, if you knew how I have hated you—!
ALLMERS. Hated me—!
RITA. Yes—when you shut yourself up in your room and brooded over your work—till long, long into the night. [Plaintively.] So long, so late, Alfred. Oh, how I hated your work!
ALLMERS. But now I have done with that.
RITA. [With a cutting laugh.] Oh yes! Now you have given yourself up to something worse.
ALLMERS. [Shocked.] Worse! Do you call our child something worse?
RITA. [Vehemently.] Yes, I do. As he comes between you and me, I call him so. For the book—the book was not a living being, as the child is. [With increasing impetuosity.] But I won’t endure it, Alfred! I will not endure it—I tell you so plainly!
ALLMERS. [Looks steadily at her, and says in a low voice.] I am often almost afraid of you, Rita.
RITA. [Gloomily.] I am often afraid of myself. And for that very reason you must not awake the evil in me.
ALLMERS. Why, good Heavens, do I do that?
RITA. Yes, you do—when you tear to shreds the holiest bonds between us.
ALLMERS. [Urgently.] Think what you’re saying, Rita. It is your own child—our only child, that you are speaking of.
RITA. The child is only half mine. [With another outburst.] But you shall be mine alone! You shall be wholly mine! That I have a right to demand of you!
ALLMERS. [Shrugging his shoulders.] Oh, my dear Rita, it is of no use demanding anything. Everything must be freely given.
RITA. [Looks anxiously at him.] And that you cannot do henceforth?
ALLMERS. No, I cannot. I must divide myself between Eyolf and you.
RITA. But if Eyolf had never been born? What then?
ALLMERS. [Evasively.] Oh, that would be another matter. Then I should have only you to care for.
RITA. [Softly, her voice quivering.] Then I wish he had never been born.
ALLMERS. [Flashing out.] Rita! You don’t know what you are saying!
RITA. [Trembling with emotion.] It was in pain unspeakable that I brought him into the world. But I bore it all with joy and rapture for your sake.
ALLMERS. [Warmly.] Oh yes, I know, I know.
RITA. [With decision.] But there it must end. I will live my life—together with you—wholly with you. I cannot go on being only Eyolf’s mother—only his mother and nothing more. I will not, I tell you! I cannot! I will be all in all to you! To you, Alfred!
ALLMERS. But that is just what you are, Rita. Through our child—
RITA. Oh—vapid, nauseous phrases—nothing else! No, Alfred, I am not to be put off like that. I was fitted to become the child’s mother, but not to be a mother to him. You must take me as I am, Alfred.
ALLMERS. And yet you used to be so fond of Eyolf.
RITA. I was so sorry for him—because you troubled yourself so little about him. You kept him reading and grinding at books. You scarcely even saw him.
ALLMERS. [Nodding slowly.] No; I was blind. The time had not yet come for me—
RITA. [Looking in his face.] But now, I suppose, it has come?
ALLMERS. Yes, at, last. Now I see that the highest task I can have in the world is to be a true father to Eyolf.
RITA. And to me?—what will you be to me?
ALLMERS. [Gently.] I will always go on caring for you—with calm, deep tenderness. [ He tries to take her hands.]
RITA. [Evading him.] I don’t care a bit for your calm, deep tenderness. I want you utterly and entirely—and alone! Just as I had you in the first rich, beautiful days. [Vehemently and harshly.] Never, never will I consent to be put off with scraps and leavings, Alfred!
ALLMERS. [In a conciliatory tone.] I should have thought there was happiness in plenty for all three of us, Rita.
RITA. [Scornfully.] Then you are easy to please. [Seats herself at the table on the left.] Now listen to me.
ALLMERS. [Approaching.] Well, what is it?
RITA. [Looking up at him with a veiled glow in her eyes.] When I got your telegram yesterday evening—
ALLMERS. Yes? What then?
RITA.—then I dressed myself in white—
ALLMERS. Yes, I noticed you were in white when I arrived.
RITA. I had let down my hair—
ALLMERS. Your sweet masses of hair—
RITA.—so that it flowed down my neck and shoulders—
ALLMERS. I saw it, I saw it. Oh, how lovely you were, Rita!
RITA. There were rose-tinted shades over both the lamps. And we were alone, we two—the only waking beings in the whole house. And there was champagne on the table.
ALLMERS. I did not drink any of it.
RITA. [Looking bitterly at him.] No, that is true. [Laughs harshly.] “There stood the champagne, but you tasted it not”—as the poet says.
[She rises from the armchair, goes with an air of weariness over to the sofa, and seats herself, half reclining, upon it.]
ALLMERS. [Crosses the room and stands before her.] I was so taken up with serious thoughts. I had made up my mind to talk to you of our future, Rita—and first and foremost of Eyolf.
RITA. [Smiling.] And so you did—
ALLMERS. No, I had not time to—for you began to undress.
RITA. Yes, and meanwhile you talked about Eyolf. Don’t you remember? You wanted to know all about little Eyolf’s digestion.
ALLMERS. [Looking reproachfully at her.] Rita—!
RITA. And then you got into your bed, and slept the sleep of the just.
ALLMERS. [Shaking his head.] Rita—Rita!
RITA. [Lying at full length and looking up at him.] Alfred?
RITA. “There stood your champagne, but you tasted it not.”
ALLMERS. [Almost harshly.] No. I did not taste it.
[He goes away from her and stands in the garden doorway. RITA lies for some time motionless, with closed eyes.]
RITA. [Suddenly springing up.] But let me tell you one thing, Alfred.
ALLMERS. [Turning in the doorway.] Well?
RITA. You ought not to feel quite so secure as you do!
ALLMERS. Not secure?
RITA. No, you ought not to be so indifferent! Not certain of your property in me!
ALLMERS. [Drawing nearer.] What do you mean by that?
RITA. [With trembling lips.] Never in a single thought have I been untrue to you, Alfred! Never for an instant.
ALLMERS. No, Rita, I know that—I, who know you so well.
RITA. [With sparkling eyes.] But if you disdain me—!
ALLMERS. Disdain! I don’t understand what you mean!
RITA. Oh, you don’t know all that might rise up within me, if—
RITA. If I should ever see that you did not care for me—that you did not love me as you used to.
ALLMERS. But, my dearest Rita—years bring a certain change with them—and that must one day occur even in us—as in every one else.
RITA. Never in me! And I will not hear of any change in you either—I could not bear it, Alfred. I want to keep you to myself alone.
ALLMERS. [Looking at her with concern.] You have a terribly jealous nature—
RITA. I can’t make myself different from what I am. [Threateningly.] If you go and divide yourself between me and any one else—
ALLMERS. What then—?
RITA. Then I will take my revenge on you, Alfred!
ALLMERS. How “take your revenge”?
RITA. I don’t know how.—Oh yes, I do know, well enough!
RITA. I will go and throw myself away—
ALLMERS. Throw yourself away, do you say?
RITA. Yes, that I will. I’ll throw myself straight into the arms of of the first man that comes in my way—
ALLMERS. [Looking tenderly at her and shaking his head.] That you will never do—my loyal, proud, true-hearted Rita!
RITA. [Putting her arms round his neck.] Oh, you don’t know what I might come to be if you—if you did not love me any more.
ALLMERS. Did not love you, Rita? How can you say such a thing!
RITA. [Half laughing, lets him go.] Why should I not spread my nets for that—that road-maker man that hangs about here?
ALLMERS. [Relieved.] Oh, thank goodness—you are only joking.
RITA. Not at all. He would do as well as any one else.
ALLMERS. Ah, but I suspect he is more or less taken up already.
RITA. So much the better! For then I should take him away from some one else; and that is just what Eyolf has done to me.
ALLMERS. Can you say that our little Eyolf has done that?
RITA. [Pointing with her forefinger.] There, you see! You see! The moment you mention Eyolf’s name, you grow tender and your voice quivers! [Threateningly, clenching her hands.] Oh, you almost tempt we to wish—
ALLMERS. [Looking at her anxiously.] What do I tempt you to wish, Rita?—
RITA. [Vehemently, going away from him.] No, no, no—I won’t tell you that! Never!
ALLMERS. [Drawing nearer to her.] Rita! I implore you—for my sake and for your own—do not let yourself he tempted into evil.
[BORGHEIM and ASTA come up from the garden. They both show signs of restrained emotion. They look serious and dejected. ASTA remains out on the verandah. BORGHEIM comes into the room.]
BORGHEIM. So that is over—Miss Allmers and I have had our last walk together.
RITA. [Looks at him with surprise.] Ah! And there is no longer journey to follow the walk?
BORGHEIM. Yes, for me.
RITA. For you alone?
BORGHEIM. Yes, for me alone.
RITA. [Glances darkly at ALLMERS.] Do you hear that? [Turns to BORGHEIM.] I’ll wager it is some one with the evil eye that has played you this trick.
BORGHEIM. [Looks at her.] The evil eye?
RITA. [Nodding.] Yes, the evil eye.
BORGHEIM. Do you believe in the evil eye, Mrs. Allmers?
RITA. Yes. I have begun to believe in the evil eye. Especially in a child’s evil eye.
ALLMERS. [Shocked, whispers.] Rita—how can you—?
RITA. [Speaking low.] It is you that make me so wicked and hateful, Alfred.
[Confused cries and shrieks are heard in the distance, from the direction of the fiord.]
BORGHEIM. [Going to the glass door.] What noise is that?
ASTA. [In the doorway.] Look at all those people running down to the pier!
ALLMERS. What can it be? [Looks out for a moment.] No doubt it’s those street urchins at some mischief again.
BORGHEIM. [Calls, leaning over the verandah railings.] I say, you boys down there! What’s the matter?
[Several voices are heard answering indistinctly and confusedly.]
RITA. What do they say?
BORGHEIM. They say it’s a child that’s drowned.
ALLMERS. A child drowned?
ASTA. [Uneasily.] A little boy, they say.
ALLMERS. Oh, they can all swim, every one of them.
RITA. [Shrieks in terror.] Where is Eyolf?
ALLMERS. Keep quiet—quiet. Eyolf is down in the garden, playing.
ASTA. No, he wasn’t in the garden.
RITA. [With upstretched arms.] Oh, if only it isn’t he!
BORGHEIM. [Listens, and calls down.] Whose child is it, do you say?
[Indistinct voices are heard. BORGHEIM and ASTA utter a suppressed cry, and rush out through the garden.]
ALLMERS. [In an agony of dread.] It isn’t Eyolf! It isn’t Eyolf, Rita!
RITA. [On the verandah, listening.] Hush! Be quiet! Let me hear what they are saying!
[RITA rushes back with a piercing shriek, into the room.]
ALLMERS. [Following her.] What did they say?
RITA. [Sinking down beside the armchair on the left.] They said: “The crutch is floating!”
ALLMERS. [Almost paralysed.] No! No! No!
RITA. [Hoarsely.] Eyolf! Eyolf! Oh, but they must save him!
ALLMERS. [Half distracted.] They must, they must! So precious a life!
[He rushes down through the garden.]
Categories: The Book Lover