A birch grove adjoining the house, one corner of which is seen to the left. At the back, a footpath leads up the hillside. To the right of the footpath a river comes tumbling down a ravine and loses itself among boulders and stones. It is a light summer evening. The door leading to the house stands open; the windows are lighted up. Music is heard from within.
THE GUESTS. [Singing in the Feast Hall.]
Set bow to fiddle! To sound of strings
We’ll dance till night shall furl her wings,
Through the long hours glad and golden!
Like blood-red blossom the maiden glows—
Come, bold young wooer and hold the rose
In a soft embrace enfolden.
[KNUT GESLING and ERIK OF HEGGE enter from the house. Sounds
of music, dancing and merriment are heard from
within during what follows.
If only you come not to repent it, Knut.
That is my affair.
Well, say what you will, ’tis a daring move. You are the King’s Sheriff. Commands go forth to you that you shall seize the person of Gudmund Alfson, wherever you may find him. And now, when you have him in your grasp, you proffer him your friendship, and let him go freely, whithersoever he will.
I know what I am doing. I sought him in his own dwelling, but there he was not to be found. If, now, I went about to seize him here—think you that Dame Margit would be minded to give me Signe to wife?
[With deliberation.] No, by fair means it might scarcely be, but—
And by foul means I am loth to proceed. Moreover, Gudmund is my friend from bygone days; and he can be helpful to me. [With decision.] Therefore it shall be as I have said. This evening no one at Solhoug shall know that Gudmund Alfson is an outlaw;— to-morrow he must look to himself.
Aye, but the King’s decree?
Oh, the King’s decree! You know as well as I that the King’s decree is but little heeded here in the uplands. Were the King’s decree to be enforced, many a stout fellow among us would have to pay dear both for bride-rape and for man-slaying. Come this way, I would fain know where Signe—?
[They go out to the right.
[GUDMUND and SIGNE come down the footpath at the back.
Oh, speak! Say on! For sweeter far
Such words than sweetest music are.
Signe, my flower, my lily fair!
SIGNE. [In subdued, but happy wonderment.]
I am dear to him—I!
As none other I swear.
And is it I that can bind your will!
And is it I that your heart can fill!
Oh, dare I believe you?
Indeed you may.
List to me, Signe! The years sped away,
But faithful was I in my thoughts to you,
My fairest flowers, ye sisters two.
My own heart I could not clearly read.
When I left, my Signe was but a child,
A fairy elf, like the creatures wild
Who play, while we sleep, in wood and mead.
But in Solhoug’s hall to-day, right loud
My heart spake, and right clearly;
It told me that Margit’s a lady proud,
Whilst you’re the sweet maiden I love most dearly.
SIGNE. [Who has only half listened to his words.]
I mind me, we sat in the hearth’s red glow,
One winter evening—’tis long ago—
And you sang to me of the maiden fair
Whom the neckan had lured to his watery lair.
There she forgot both father and mother,
There she forgot both sister and brother;
Heaven and earth and her Christian speech,
And her God, she forgot them all and each.
But close by the strand a stripling stood
And he was heartsore and heavy of mood.
He struck from his harpstrings notes of woe,
That wide o’er the waters rang loud, rang low.
The spell-bound maid in the tarn so deep,
His strains awoke from her heavy sleep,
The neckan must grant her release from his rule,
She rose through the lilies afloat on the pool—
Then looked she to heaven while on green earth she trod,
And wakened once more to her faith and her God.
Signe, my fairest of flowers!
That I, too, have lived in a world of dreams.
But the strange deep words you to-night have spoken,
Of the power of love, have my slumber broken.
The heavens seemed never so blue to me,
Never the world so fair;
I can understand, as I roam with thee,
The song of the birds in air.
So mighty is love—it stirs in the breast
Thought and longings and happy unrest.
But come, let us both to your sister go.
Would you tell her—?
Everything she must know.
Then go you alone;—I feel that my cheek
Would be hot with blushes to hear you speak.
So be it, I go.
And here will I bide;
[Listening towards the right.
Or better—down by the riverside,
I hear Knut Gesling, with maidens and men.
There will you stay?
Till you come again
[She goes out to the right. GUDMUND goes into the house.
[MARGIT enters from behind the house on the left.
In the hall there is gladness and revelry;
The dancers foot it with jest and glee.
The air weighed hot on my brow and breast;
For Gudmund, he was not there.
[She draws a deep breath.
Out here ’tis better: here’s quiet and rest.
How sweet is the cool night air!
[A brooding silence.
The horrible thought! Oh, why should it be
That wherever I go it follows me?
The phial—doth a secret contain;
A drop of this in my—enemy’s cup,
And his life would sicken and wither up;
The leech’s skill would be tried in vain.
[Again a silence.
Were I sure that Gudmund—held me dear—
Then little I’d care for—
[GUDMUND enters from the house.
You, Margit, here?
And alone? I have sought you everywhere.
‘Tis cool here. I sickened of heat and glare.
See you how yonder the white mists glide
Softly over the marshes wide?
Here it is neither dark nor light,
But midway between them—
—as in my breast.
[Looking at him.
Is’t not so—when you wander on such a night
You hear, though but half to yourself confessed,
A stirring of secret life through the hush,
In tree and in leaf, in flower and in rush?
[With a sudden change of tone.
Can you guess what I wish?
That I could be
The nixie that haunts yonder upland lea.
How cunningly I should weave my spell!
Margit, what ails you? Tell!
MARGIT. [Paying no heed to him.]
How I should quaver my magic lay!
Quaver and croon it both night and day!
[With growing vehemence.
How I would lure the knight so bold
Through the greenwood glades to my mountain hold.
There were the world and its woes forgot
In the burning joys of our blissful lot.
MARGIT. [Ever more wildly.]
At midnight’s hour
Sweet were our sleep in my lonely bower;—
And if death should come with the dawn, I trow
‘Twere sweet to die so;—what thinkest thou?
You are sick!
MARGIT. [Bursting into laughter.]
Ha, ha!—Let me laugh! ‘Tis good
To laugh when the heart is in laughing mood!
I see that you still have the same wild soul
As of old—
MARGIT. [With sudden seriousness.]
Nay, let not that vex your mind,
‘Tis only at midnight it mocks control;
By day I am timid as any hind.
How tame I have grown, you yourself must say,
When you think on the women in lands far away—
Of that fair Princess—ah, she was wild!
Beside her lamblike am I and mild.
She did not helplessly yearn and brood,
She would have acted; and that—
You remind me; Straightway I’ll cast away
What to me is valueless after this day—
[Takes out the phial.
The phial! You meant—?
I thought it might be
At need a friend that should set me free
Should the King’s men chance to lay hands on me.
But from to-night it has lost its worth;
Now will I fight all the kings of earth,
Gather my kinsfolk and friends to the strife,
And battle right stoutly for freedom and life.
[Is about to throw the phial against a rock.
MARGIT. [Seizing his arm.]
Nay, hold! Let me have it—
First tell me why?
I’d fain fling it down to the neckan hard by,
Who so often has made my dull hours fleet
With his harping and songs, so strange and sweet.
Give it me!
[Takes the phial from his hand.
[Feigns to throw it into the river.
GUDMUND. [Goes to the right, and looks down into the ravine.]
Have you thrown it away?
MARGIT. [Concealing the phial.]
Aye, surely! You saw—
[Whispers as she goes towards the house.
Now God help and spare me!
What would you?
Teach me, I pray,
How to interpret the ancient lay
They sing of the church in the valley there:
A gentle knight and a lady fair,
They loved each other well.
That very day on her bier she lay
He on his sword-point fell.
They buried her by the northward spire,
And him by the south kirk wall;
And theretofore grew neither bush nor briar
In the hallowed ground at all.
But next spring from their coffins twain
Two lilies fair upgrew—
And by and by, o’er the roof-tree high,
They twined and they bloomed the whole year through.
How read you the riddle?
GUDMUND. [Looks searchingly at her.]
I scarce can say.
You may doubtless read it in many a way;
But its truest meaning, methinks, is clear:
The church can never sever two that hold each other dear.
GUDMUND. [To himself.]
Ye saints, if she should—? Lest worse befall,
‘Tis time indeed I told her all!
Do you wish for my happiness—Margit, tell!
MARGIT. [In joyful agitation.]
Wish for it! I!
Then, wot you well,
The joy of my life now rests with you—
MARGIT. [With an outburst.]
Listen! ’tis the time you knew—
[He stops suddenly.
[Voices and laughter are heard by the river bank. SIGNE and
other GIRLS enter from the right, accompanied by KNUT,
ERIK, and several YOUNGER MEN.
[Still at a distance.] Gudmund Alfson! Wait; I must speak a word
[He stops, talking to ERIK. The other GUESTS in the meantime
enter the house.
[To herself.] The joy of his life—! What else can he mean
but—! [Half aloud.] Signe—my dear, dear sister!
[She puts her arm round SIGNE’s waist, and they go towards
the back talking to each other.
[Softly as he follows them with his eyes.] Aye, so it were wisest. Both Signe and I must away from Solhoug. Knut Gesling has shown himself my friend; he will help me.
[Softly, to ERIK.] Yes, yes, I say, Gudmund is her kinsman; he can best plead my cause.
Well, as you will.
[He goes into the house.
[Approaching.] Listen, Gudmund—
[Smiling.] Come you to tell me that you dare no longer let me go free.
Dare! Be at your ease as to that. Knut Gesling dares whatever he will. No, ’tis another matter. You know that here in the district, I am held to be a wild, unruly companion—
Aye, and if rumour lies not—
Why no, much that it reports may be true enough. But now, I must tell you—
[They go, conversing, up towards the back.
[To MARGIT, as they come forward beside the house.] I understand you not. You speak as though an unlooked-for happiness had befallen you. What is in your mind?
Signe—you are still a child; you know not what it means to have ever in your heart the dread of— [Suddenly breaking off.] Think, Signe, what it must be to wither and die without ever having lived.
[Looks at her in astonishment, and shakes her head.] Nay, but,
Aye, aye, you do not understand, but none the less—
[They go up again, talking to each other. GUDMUND and KNUT come down on the other side.
Well, if so it be—if this wild life no longer contents you— then I will give you the best counsel that ever friend gave to friend: take to wife an honourable maiden.
Say you so? And if I now told you that ’tis even that I have in mind?
Good luck and happiness to you then, Knut Gesling! And now you must know that I too—
You? Are you, too, so purposed?
Aye truly. But the King’s wrath—I am a banished man—
Nay, to that you need give but little thought. As yet there is no one here, save Dame Margit, that knows aught of the matter; and so long as I am your friend, you have one in whom you can trust securely. Now I must tell you—
[He proceeds in a whisper as they go up again.
[As she and MARGIT again advance.] But tell me then Margit—!
More I dare not tell you.
Then will I be more open-hearted than you. But first answer me one question. [Bashfully, with hesitation.] Is there no one who has told you anything concerning me?
Concerning you? Nay, what should that be?
[As before, looking downwards.] You said to me this morning: if a wooer came riding hither—?
That is true. [To herself.] Knut Gesling—has he already—?
[Eagerly to SIGNE.] Well? What then?
[Softly, but with exultation.] The wooer has come! He has come,
Margit! I knew not then whom you meant; but now—!
And what have you answered him?
Oh, how should I know? [Flinging her arms round her sister’s neck.] But the world seems to me so rich and beautiful since the moment when he told me that he held me dear.
Why, Signe, Signe, I cannot understand that you should so quickly—!
You scarce knew him before to-day.
Oh, ’tis but little I yet know of love; but this I know that what
the song says is true:
Full swiftly ’tis sown; ere a moment speeds by,
Deep, deep in the heart love is rooted for aye—
So be it; and since so it is, I need no longer hold aught concealed from you. Ah—
[She stops suddenly, as she sees KNUT and GUDMUND approaching.
[In a tone of satisfaction.] Ha, this is as I would have it,
Gudmund. Here is my hand!
[To herself.] What is this?
[To KNUT.] And here is mine!
[They shake hands.
But now we must each of us name who it is—
Good. Here at Solhoug, among so many fair women, I have found her whom—
I too. And I will bear her home this very night, if it be needful.
[Who has approached unobserved.] All saints in heaven!
[Nods to KNUT.] The same is my intent.
[Who has also been listening.] Gudmund!
GUDMUND AND KNUT.
[Whispering to each other, as they both point at Signe.] There she is!
[Starting.] Aye, mine.
[Likewise.] No, mine!
[Softly, half bewildered.] Signe!
[As before, to KNUT.] What mean you by that?
I mean that ’tis Signe whom I—
Signe! Signe is my betrothed in the sight of God.
[With a cry.] It was she! No—no!
[To himself, as he catches sight of her.] Margit! She has heard everything.
Ho, ho! So this is how it stands? Nay, Dame Margit, ’tis needless to put on such an air of wonder; now I understand everything.
[To SIGNE.] But not a moment ago you said—? [Suddenly grasping the situation.] ‘Twas Gudmund you meant!
[Astonished.] Yes, did you not know it! But what ails you, Margit?
[In an almost toneless voice.] Nay, nothing, nothing.
[To MARGIT.] And this morning, when you made me give my word that I would stir no strife here to-night—you already knew that Gudmund Alfson was coming. Ha, ha, think not that you can hoodwink Knut Gesling! Signe has become dear to me. Even this morning ’twas but my hasty vow that drove me to seek her hand; but now—
[To MARGIT.] He? Was this the wooer that was in your mind?
[Firmly and harshly.] Dame Margit—you are her elder sister; you shall give me an answer.
[Battling with herself.] Signe has already made her choice;—I have naught to answer.
Good; then I have nothing more to do at Solhoug. But after midnight—mark you this—the day is at an end; then you may chance to see me again, and then Fortune must decide whether it be Gudmund or I that shall bear Signe away from this house.
Aye, try if you dare; it shall cost you a bloody sconce.
[In terror.] Gudmund! By all the saints—!
Gently, gently, Gudmund Alfson! Ere sunrise you shall be in my power. And she—your lady-love— [Goes up to the door, beckons and calls in a low voice.] Erik! Erik! come hither! we must away to our kinsfolk. [Threateningly, while ERIK shows himself in the doorway.] Woe upon you all when I come again!
[He and ERIK go off to the left at the back.
[Softly to GUDMUND.] Oh, tell me, what does all this mean?
[Whispering.] We must both leave Solhoug this very night.
God shield me—you would—!
Say nought of it! No word to any one, not even to your sister.
[To herself.] She—it is she! She of whom he had scarce thought before to-night. Had I been free, I know well whom he had chosen.— Aye, free!
[BENGT and GUESTS, both Men and Women enter from the house.
YOUNG MEN AND MAIDENS.
Out here, out here be the feast arrayed,
While the birds are asleep in the greenwood shade,
How sweet to sport in the flowery glade
‘Neath the birches.
Out here, out here, shall be mirth and jest,
No sigh on the lips and no care in the breast,
When the fiddle is tuned at the dancers’ ‘hest,
‘Neath the birches.
That is well, that is well! So I fain would see it! I am merry, and my wife likewise; and therefore I pray ye all to be merry along with us.
ONE OF THE GUESTS.
Aye, now let us have a stave-match.1
[Shout.] Yes, yes, a stave-match!
Nay, let that be; it leads but to strife at the feast. [Lowering his voice.] Bear in mind that Knut Gesling is with us to-night.
[Whispering among themselves.] Aye, aye, that is true. Remember the last time, how he—. Best beware.
AN OLD MAN.
But you, Dame Margit—I know your kind had ever wealth of tales in store; and you yourself, even as a child, knew many a fair legend.
Alas! I have forgot them all. But ask Gudmund Alfson, my kinsman; he knows a tale that is merry enough.
[In a low voice, imploringly.] Margit!
Why, what a pitiful countenance you put on! Be merry, Gudmund! Be merry! Aye, aye, it comes easy to you, well I wot. [Laughing, to the GUESTS.] He has seen the huldra to-night. She would fain have tempted him; but Gudmund is a faithful swain. [Turns again to GUDMUND.] Aye, but the tale is not finished yet. When you bear away your lady-love, over hill and through forest, be sure you turn not round; be sure you never look back—the huldra sits laughing behind every bush; and when all is done— [In a low voice, coming close up to him.] —you will go no further than she will let you.
[She crosses to the right.
Oh, God! Oh, God!
[Going around among the GUESTS in high contentment.] Ha, ha, ha! Dame Margit knows how to set the mirth afoot! When she takes it in hand, she does it much better than I.
[To himself.] She threatens! I must tear the last hope out of her breast; else will peace never come to her mind. [Turns to the GUESTS.] I mind me of a little song. If it please you to hear it—
SEVERAL OF THE GUESTS.
Thanks, thanks, Gudmund Alfson!
[They close around him some sitting, others standing. MARGIT leans against a tree in front on the right. SIGNE stands on the left, near the house.
I rode into the wildwood,
I sailed across the sea,
But ’twas at home I wooed and won
A maiden fair and free.
It was the Queen of Elfland,
She waxed full wroth and grim:
Never, she swore, shall that maiden fair
Ride to the church with him.
Hear me, thou Queen of Elfland,
Vain, vain are threat and spell;
For naught can sunder two true hearts
That love each other well!
AN OLD MAN.
That is a right fair song. See how the young swains cast their glances thitherward! [Pointing towards the GIRLS.] Aye, aye, doubtless each has his own.
[Making eyes at MARGIT.] Yes, I have mine, that is sure enough.
Ha, ha, ha!
[To herself, quivering.] To have to suffer all this shame and scorn! No, no; now to essay the last remedy.
What ails you? Meseems you look so pale.
‘Twill soon pass over. [Turns to the GUESTS.] Did I say e’en now that I had forgotten all my tales? I bethink me now that I remember one.
Good, good, my wife! Come, let us hear it.
[Urgently.] Yes, tell it us, tell it us, Dame Margit!
I almost fear that ’twill little please you; but that must be as it may.
[To himself.] Saints in heaven, surely she would not—!
It was a fair and noble maid,
She dwelt in her father’s hall;
Both linen and silk did she broider and braid,
Yet found in it solace small.
For she sat there alone in cheerless state,
Empty were hall and bower;
In the pride of her heart, she was fain to mate
With a chieftain of pelf and power.
But now ’twas the Hill King, he rode from the north,
With his henchmen and his gold;
On the third day at night he in triumph fared forth,
Bearing her to his mountain hold.
Full many a summer she dwelt in the hill;
Out of beakers of gold she could drink at her will.
Oh, fair are the flowers of the valley, I trow,
But only in dreams can she gather them now!
‘Twas a youth, right gentle and bold to boot,
Struck his harp with such magic might
That it rang to the mountain’s inmost root,
Where she languished in the night.
The sound in her soul waked a wondrous mood—
Wide open the mountain-gates seemed to stand;
The peace of God lay over the land,
And she saw how it all was fair and good.
There happened what never had happened before;
She had wakened to life as his harp-strings thrilled;
And her eyes were opened to all the store
Of treasure wherewith the good earth is filled.
For mark this well: it hath ever been found
That those who in caverns deep lie bound
Are lightly freed by the harp’s glad sound.
He saw her prisoned, he heard her wail—
But he cast unheeding his harp aside,
Hoisted straightway his silken sail,
And sped away o’er the waters wide
To stranger strands with his new-found bride.
[With ever-increasing passion.
So fair was thy touch on the golden strings
That my breast heaves high and my spirit sings!
I must out, I must out to the sweet green leas!
I die in the Hill-King’s fastnesses!
He mocks at my woe as he clasps his bride
And sails away o’er the waters wide.
With me all is over; my hill-prison barred;
Unsunned is the day, and the night all unstarred.
[She totters and, fainting, seeks to support herself against
the trunk of a tree.
[Weeping, has rushed up to her, and takes her in her arms.]
Margit! My sister!
[At the same time, supporting her.] Help! help! she is dying!
[BENGT and the GUESTS flock round them with cries of alarm.
- A contest in impromptu verse-making.