Evening. Bright moonlight. Coloured lanterns are hung about the trees. In the background are covered tables with bottles, glasses, biscuits, etc. From the house, which is lighted up from top to bottom, subdued music and singing are heard during the following scene. Svanhild stands on the verandah. Falk comes from the right with some books and a portfolio under his arm. The Porter follows with a portmanteau and a knapsack.
That’s all, then?
Yes, sir, all is in the pack,
But just a satchel, and the paletot.
Good; when I go, I’ll take them on my back.
Now off. See, this is the portfolio.
It’s locked, I see.
Make haste and burn it.
Yes, to ash—
With every draft upon poetic cash;
As for the books, you’re welcome to them.
Such payment is above a poor man’s earning.
But, sir, I’m thinking, if you can bestow
Your books, you must have done with all your learning?
Whatever can be learnt from books I know,
And rather more.
More? Nay, that’s hard, I doubt!
Well, now be off; the carriers wait without.
Just help them load the barrow ere you go.
[The Porter goes out to the left.
Falk [approaching Svanhild who comes to meet him].
One moment’s ours, my Svanhild, in the light
Of God and of the lustrous summer night.
How the stars glitter thro’ the leafage, see,
Like bright fruit hanging on the great world-tree.
Now slavery’s last manacle I slip,
Now for the last time feel the wealing whip;
Like Israel at the Passover I stand,
Loins girded for the desert, staff in hand.
Dull generation, from whose sight is hid
The Promised Land beyond that desert flight,
Thrall tricked with knighthood, never the more knight,
Tomb thyself kinglike in the Pyramid,—
I cross the barren desert to be free.
My ship strides on despite an ebbing sea;
But there the Legion Lie shall find its doom,
And glut one deep, dark, hollow-vaulted tomb.
[A short pause; he looks at her and takes her hand.
You are so still!
So happy! Suffer me,
O suffer me in silence still to dream.
Speak you for me; my budding thoughts, grown strong,
One after one will burgeon into song,
Like lilies in the bosom of the stream.
O say it once again, in truth’s pure tone
Beyond the fear of doubt, that thou art mine!
O say it, Svanhild, say—
Svanhild [throwing herself on his neck].
Yes, I am thine!
Thou singing-bird God sent me for my own!
Homeless within my mother’s house I dwelt,
Lonely in all I thought, in all I felt,
A guest unbidden at the feast of mirth,—
Accounted nothing—less than nothing—worth.
Then you appeared! For the first time I heard
My own thought uttered in another’s word;
To my lame visions you gave wings and feet—
You young unmasker of the Obsolete!
Half with your caustic keenness you alarmed me,
Half with your radiant eloquence you charmed me,
As sea-girt forests summon with their spell
The sea their flinty beaches still repel.
Now I have read the bottom of your soul,
Now you have won me, undivided, whole;
Dear forest, where my tossing billows beat,
My tide’s at flood and never will retreat!
And I thank God that in the bath of Pain
He purged my love. What strong compulsion drew
Me on I knew not, till I saw in you
The treasure I had blindly sought in vain.
I praise Him, who our love has lifted thus
To noble rank by sorrow,—licensed us
To a triumphal progress, bade us sweep
Thro’ fen and forest to our castle-keep,
A noble pair, astride on Pegasus!
Svanhild [pointing to the house].
The whole house, see, is making feast to-night.
There, in their honour, every room’s alight,
There cheerful talk and joyous song ring out;
On the highroad no passer-by will doubt
That men are happy where they are so gay.
Poor sister!—happy in the great world’s way!
“Poor” sister, say you?
Has she not divided
With kith and kin the treasure of her soul,
Her capital to fifty hands confided,
So that not one is debtor for the whole?
From no one has she all things to receive,
For no one has she utterly to live.
O beside my wealth hers is little worth;
I have but one possession upon earth.
My heart was lordless when with trumpet blare
And multitudinous song you came, its king,
The banners of my thought your ensign bear,
You fill my soul with glory, like the spring.
Yes, I must needs thank God, when it is past,
That I was lonely till I found out thee,—
That I lay dead until the trumpet blast
Waken’d me from the world’s frivolity.
Yes we, who have no friends on earth, we twain
Own the true wealth, the golden fortune,—we
Who stand without, beside the starlit sea,
And watch the indoor revel thro’ the pane.
Let the lamp glitter and the song resound,
Let the dance madly eddy round and round;—
Look up, my Svanhild, into yon deep blue,—
There glitter little lamps in thousands, too—
And hark, beloved, thro’ the limes there floats
This balmy eve a chorus of sweet notes—
It is for us that fretted vault’s aglow—
It is for us the vale is loud below!
I feel myself like God’s lost prodigal;
I left Him for the world’s delusive charms.
With mild reproof He wooed me to His arms;
And when I come, He lights the vaulted hall,
Prepares a banquet for the son restored,
And makes His noblest creature my reward.
From this time forth I’ll never leave that Light,—
But stand its armed defender in the fight;
Nothing shall part us, and our life shall prove
A song of glory to triumphant love!
And see how easy triumph is for two,
When he’s a man—
She, woman thro’ and thro’;—
It is impossible for such to fall!
Then up, and to the war with want and sorrow;
This very hour I will declare it all!
[Pointing to Falk’s ring on her finger.
No, Svanhild, not to-night, wait till to-morrow!
To-night we gather our young love’s red rose;
’Twere sacrilege to smirch it with the prose
Of common day.
[The door into the garden-room opens.
Your mother’s coming! Hide!
No eye this night shall see thee as my bride!
[They go out among the trees by the summer-house. Mrs. Halm and Guldstad come out on the balcony.
He’s really going?
Seems so, I admit.
He’s going, madam!
We’re aware of it!
A most unfortunate punctilio.
He’ll keep his word; his stubbornness I know.
In the Gazette he’ll put us all by name;
My love will figure under leaded headings,
With jilts, and twins, and countermanded weddings.
Listen; I tell you, if it weren’t for shame,
I would propose an armistice, a truce—
You think he would be willing?
The fact from certain signs, which indicate
That his tall talk about his Amor’s News
Was uttered in a far from sober state.
One proof especially, if not transcendent,
Yet tells most heavily against defendant:
It has been clearly proved that after dinner
To his and Lind’s joint chamber he withdrew,
And there displayed such singular demeanour
As leaves no question—
[Sees a glimpse of Falk and Svanhild, who separate, Falk going to the background; Svanhild remains standing hidden by the summer-house.
Hold, we have the clue!
Madam, one word!—Falk does not mean to go,
Or if he does, he means it as a friend.
How, you believe then—?
What do you intend?
With the least possible delay I’ll show
That matters move precisely as you would.
Merely a word in private—
[They go together into the garden and are seen from time to time in lively conversation.
[Descending into the garden discovers Falk, who is standing by the water and gazing over it.
These poets are mere men of vengeance, we
State servants understand diplomacy.
I need to labour for myself—
[Seeing Strawman, who enters from the garden-room.
Strawman [on the verandah].
He’s really leaving!
[Going down to Stiver.
Ah, my dear sir, let
Me beg you just a moment to go in
And hold my wife—
I—hold her, sir?
In talk. The little ones and we are so
Unused to be divided, there is no
[His wife and children appear in the door.
Ha! already on my trail.
Where are you, Strawman?
Strawman [aside to Stiver].
Do invent some tale,
Something amusing—something to beguile!
Stiver [going on to the verandah].
Pray, madam, have you read the official charge?
A masterpiece of literary style.
[Takes a book from his pocket.
Which I shall now proceed to cite at large.
[Ushers her politely into the room, and follows himself. Falk comes forward; he and Strawman meet; they regard one another a moment in silence.
Are you less
Intractable than when we parted?
I go my own inexorable way—
Even tho’ you crush another’s happiness?
I plant the flower of knowledge in its place.
If, by the way, you have not ceased to think
Of the Gazette—
Ah, that was all a joke?
Yes, pluck up courage, that will turn to smoke;
I break the ice in action, not in ink.
But even though you spare me, sure enough
There’s one who won’t so lightly let me off;
He has the advantage, and he won’t forego it,
That lawyer’s clerk—and ’tis to you I owe it;
You raked the ashes of our faded flames,
And you may take your oath he won’t be still
If once I mutter but a syllable
Against the brazen bluster of his claims.
These civil-service gentlemen, they say,
Are very potent in the press to-day.
A trumpery paragraph can lay me low,
Once printed in that Samson-like Gazette
That with the jaw of asses fells its foe,
And runs away with tackle and with net,
Especially towards the quarter day—
Ah, were there scandal in the case, indeed—
No matter. Read its columns with good heed,
You’ll see me offered up to Vengeance.
To retribution—well-earned punishment.
Thro’ all our life there runs a Nemesis,
Which may delay, but never will relent,
And grants to none exception or release.
Who wrongs the Ideal? Straight there rushes in
The Press, its guardian with the Argus eye,
And the offender suffers for his sin.
But in the name of heaven, what pledge have I
Given this “Ideal” that’s ever on your tongue?
I’m married, have a family, twelve young
And helpless innocents to clothe and keep;
I have my daily calls on every side,
Churches remote and glebe and pasture wide,
Great herds of breeding cattle, ghostly sheep—
All to be watched and cared for, clipt and fed,
Grain to be winnowed, compost to be spread;—
Wanted all day in shippon and in stall,
What time have I to serve the “Ideal” withal?
Then get you home with what dispatch you may,
Creep snugly in before the winter-cold;
Look, in young Norway dawns at last the day,
Thousand brave hearts are in its ranks enroll’d,
Its banners in the morning breezes play!
And if, young man, I were to take my way
With bag and baggage home, with everything
That made me yesterday a little king,
Were mine the only volte face to-day?
Think you I carry back the wealth I brought?
[As Falk is about to answer.
Nay, listen, let me first explain my thought.
Time was when I was young, like you, and played
Like you, the unconquerable Titan’s part;
Year after year I toiled and moiled for bread,
Which hardens a man’s hand, but not his heart.
For northern fells my lonely home surrounded,
And by my parish bounds my world was bounded.
My home—Ah, Falk, I wonder, do you know
What home is?
I have never known.
That is a home, where five may dwell with ease,
Tho’ two would be a crowd, if enemies.
That is a home, where all your thoughts play free
As boys and girls about their father’s knee,
Where speech no sooner touches heart, than tongue
Darts back an answering harmony of song;
Where you may grow from flax-haired snowy-polled,
And not a soul take note that you grow old;
Where memories grow fairer as they fade,
Like far blue peaks beyond the forest glade.
Falk [with constrained sarcasm].
Come, you grow warm—
Where you but jeered and flouted.
So utterly unlike God made us two!
I’m bare of that he lavished upon you.
But I have won the game where you were routed.
Seen from the clouds, full many a wayside grain
Of truth seems empty chaff and husks. You’d soar
To heaven, I scarcely reach the stable door,
One bird’s an eagle born—
And one a hen.
Yes, laugh away, and say it be so, grant
I am a hen. There clusters to my cluck
A crowd of little chickens,—which you want!
And I’ve the hen’s high spirit and her pluck,
And for my little ones forget myself.
You think me dull, I know it. Possibly
You pass a harsher judgment yet, decree
Me over covetous of worldly pelf.
Good, on that head we will not disagree.
[Seizes Falk’s arm and continues in a low tone but with gathering vehemence.
You’re right, I’m dull and dense and grasping, yes;
But grasping for my God-given babes and wife,
And dense from struggling blindly for bare life,
And dull from sailing seas of loneliness.
Just when the pinnace of my youthful dream
Into the everlasting deep went down,
Another started from the ocean stream
Borne with a fair wind onward to life’s crown.
For every dream that vanished in the wave,
For every buoyant plume that broke asunder,
God sent me in return a little Wonder,
And gratefully I took the good He gave.
For them I strove, for them amassed, annexed,—
For them, for them, explained the Holy text;
My clustering girls, my garden of delight!
On them you’ve poured the venom of your spite!
You’ve proved, with all the cunning of the schools,
My bliss was but the paradise of fools,
That all I took for earnest was a jest;—
Now I implore, give me my quiet breast
Again, the flawless peace of mind I had—
Prove, in a word, your title to be glad?
Yes, in my path you’ve cast the stone of doubt,
And nobody but you can cast it out.
Between my kin and me you’ve set a bar,—
Remove the bar, the strangling noose undo—
You possibly believe I keep the glue
Of lies for Happiness’s broken jar?
I do believe, the faith your reasons tore
To shreds, your reasons may again restore;
The limb that you have shatter’d, you can set;
Reverse your judgment,—the whole truth unfold,
Restate the case—I’ll fly my banner yet—
I stamp no copper Happiness as gold.
Strawman [looking fixedly at him].
Remember then that, lately, one whose scent
For truth is of the keenest told us this:
[With uplifted finger.
“There runs through all our life a Nemesis,
Which may delay, but never will relent.”
[He goes towards the house.
[Coming out with glasses on, and an open book in his hand.
Pastor, you must come flying like the blast!
Your girls are sobbing—
The Children [in the doorway].
And Madam waiting!
[Strawman goes in.
This lady has no talent for debating.
[Puts the book and glasses in his pocket, and approaches Falk.
I hope you’ve changed your mind at last?
For obvious reasons. To betray
Communications made in confidence,
Is conduct utterly without defence.
They must not pass the lips.
No, I’ve heard say
It is at times a risky game to play.
The very devil!
Only for the great.
No, no, for all us servants of the state.
Only imagine how my future chances
Would dwindle, if the governor once knew
I keep a Pegasus that neighs and prances
In office hours—and such an office, too!
From first to last, you know, in our profession,
The winged horse is viewed with reprobation:
But worst of all would be, if it got wind
That I against our primal law had sinn’d
By bringing secret matters to the light—
That’s penal, is it—such an oversight?
It can a servant of the state compel
To beg for his dismissal out of hand.
On us officials lies a strict command,
Even by the hearth to be inscrutable.
O those despotical authorities,
Muzzling the—clerk that treadeth out the grain!
Stiver [shrugging his shoulders].
It is the law; to murmur is in vain.
Moreover, at a moment such as this,
When salary revision is in train,
It is not well to advertise one’s views
Of office time’s true function and right use.
That’s why I beg you to be silent; look,
A word may forfeit my—
Officially it’s called a transcript book;
A protocol’s the clasp upon the veil of snow
That shrouds the modest breast of the Bureau.
What lies beneath you must not seek to know.
And yet I only spoke at your desire;
You hinted at your literary crop.
How should I guess he’d grovel in the mire
So deep, this parson perch’d on fortune’s top,
A man with snug appointments, children, wife,
And money to defy the ills of life?
If such a man prove such a Philistine,
What shall of us poor copyists be said?
Of me, who drive the quill and rule the line,
A man engaged and shortly to be wed,
With family in prospect—and so forth?
O, if I only had a well-lined berth,
I’d bind the armour’d helmet on my head,
And cry defiance to united earth!
And were I only unengaged like you,
Trust me, I’d break a road athwart the snow
Of Prose, and carry the Ideal through!
To work then, man!
You may still do so!
Let the world’s prudish owl unheeded flutter by;
Freedom converts the grub into a butterfly!
Stiver [stepping back].
You mean, to break the engagement—?
That’s my mind;—
The fruit is gone, why keep the empty rind?
Such a proposal’s for a green young shoot,
Not for a man of judgment and repute.
I heed not what King Christian in his time
(The Fifth) laid down about engagements broken-off;
For that relationship is nowhere spoken of
In any rubric of the code of crime.
The act would not be criminal in name,
It would in no way violate the laws—
Why there, you see then!
Yes, but all the same,—
I must reject all pleas in such a cause.
Staunch comrades we have been in times of dearth;
Of life’s disport she asks but little share,
And I’m a homely fellow, long aware
God made me for the ledger and the hearth.
Let others emulate the eagle’s flight,
Life in the lowly plains may be as bright.
What does his Excellency Goethe say
About the white and shining milky way?
Man may not there the milk of fortune skim,
Nor is the butter of it meant for him.
Why, even were fortune-churning our life’s goal,
The labour must be guided by the soul;—
Be citizens of the time that is—but then
Make the time worthy of the citizen.
In homely things lurks beauty, without doubt,
But watchful eye and brain must draw it out.
Not every man who loves the soil he turns
May therefore claim to be another Burns.
Then let us each our proper path pursue,
And part in peace; we shall not hamper you;
We keep the road, you hover in the sky,
There where we too once floated, she and I.
But work, not song, provides our daily bread,
And when a man’s alive, his music’s dead.
A young man’s life’s a lawsuit, and the most
Superfluous litigation in existence:
Withdraw, make terms, abandon all resistance:
Plead where and how you will, your suit is lost.
Falk [bold and confident, with a glance at the summer-house].
Nay, tho’ I took it to the highest place,—
Judgment, I know, would be reversed by grace!
I know two hearts can live a life complete,
With hope still ardent, and with faith still sweet;
You preach the wretched gospel of the hour,
That the Ideal is secondary!
It’s primary: appointed, like the flower,
To generate the fruit, and then to go.
[Indoors, Miss Jay plays and sings: “In the Gloaming.” Stiver stands listening in silent emotion.
With the same melody she calls me yet
Which thrilled me to the heart when first we met.
[Lays his hand on Falk’s arm and gazes intently at him.
Oft as she wakens those pathetic notes,
From the white keys reverberating floats
An echo of the “yes” that made her mine.
And when our passions shall one day decline,
To live again as friendship, to the last
That song shall link that present to this past.
And what tho’ at the desk my back grow round,
And my day’s work a battle for mere bread,
Yet joy will lead me homeward, where the dead
Enchantment will be born again in sound.
If one poor bit of evening we can claim,
I shall come off undamaged from the game!
[He goes into the house. Falk turns towards the summer-house. Svanhild comes out, she is pale and agitated. They gaze at each other in silence a moment, and fling themselves impetuously into each other’s arms.
O, Svanhild, let us battle side by side!
Thou fresh glad blossom flowering by the tomb,—
See what the life is that they call youth’s bloom!
There’s coffin-stench of bridegroom and of bride;
There’s coffin-stench wherever two go by
At the street corner, smiling outwardly,
With falsehood’s reeking sepulchre beneath,
And in their blood the apathy of death.
And this they think is living! Heaven and earth,
Is such a load so many antics worth?
For such an end to haul up babes in shoals,
To pamper them with honesty and reason,
To feed them fat with faith one sorry season,
For service, after killing-day, as souls?
Falk, let us travel!
Travel? Whither, then?
Is not the whole world everywhere the same?
And does not Truth’s own mirror in its frame
Lie equally to all the sons of men?
No, we will stay and watch the merry game,
The conjurer’s trick, the tragi-comedy
Of liars that are dupes of their own lie;
Stiver and Lind, the Parson and his dame,
See them,—prize oxen harness’d to love’s yoke,
And yet at bottom very decent folk!
Each wears for others and himself a mask,
Yet one too innocent to take to task;
Each one, a stranded sailor on a wreck,
Counts himself happy as the gods in heaven;
Each his own hand from Paradise has driven,
Then, splash! into the sulphur to the neck!
But none has any inkling where he lies,
Each thinks himself a knight of Paradise,
And each sits smiling between howl and howl;
And if the Fiend come by with jeer and growl,
With horns, and hoofs, and things yet more abhorred,—
Then each man jogs the neighbour at his jowl:
“Off with your hat, man! See, there goes the Lord!”
Svanhild [after a brief thoughtful silence].
How marvellous a love my steps led
To this sweet trysting place! My life that sped
In frolic and fantastic visions gay,
Henceforth shall grow one ceaseless working day!
O God! I wandered groping,—all was dim:
Thou gavest me light—and I discovered him!
[Gazing at Falk in love and wonder.
Whence is that strength of thine, thou mighty tree
That stand’st unshaken in the wind-wrecked wood,
That stand’st alone, and yet canst shelter me—?
God’s truth, my Svanhild;—that gives fortitude.
Svanhild [with a shy glance towards the house].
They came like tempters, evilly inclined,
Each spokesman for his half of humankind,
One asking: How can true love reach its goal
When riches’ leaden weight subdues the soul?
The other asking: How can true love speed
When life’s a battle to the death with Need?
O horrible!—to bid the world receive
That teaching as the truth, and yet to live!
How if ’twere meant for us?
For us?—What, then?
Can outward fate control the wills of men?
I have already said: if thou’lt stand fast,
I’ll dare and suffer by thee to the last.
How light to listen to the gospel’s voice,
To leave one’s home behind, to weep, rejoice,
And take with God the husband of one’s choice!
Falk [embracing her].
Come then, and blow thy worst, thou winter weather!
We stand unshaken, for we stand together!
[Mrs. Halm and Guldstad come in from the right in the background.
[Falk and Svanhild remain standing by the summer-house.
Mrs. Halm [surprised].
Do you doubt it now?
This is most singular.
O, I’ve noted how
His work of late absorb’d his interest.
Mrs. Halm [to herself].
Who would have fancied Svanhild was so sly?
[Vivaciously to Guldstad.
But no—I can’t think.
Put it to the test.
Now, on the spot?
Yes, and decisively!
Mrs. Halm [giving him her hand].
God’s blessing with you!
Thanks, it may bestead.
[Comes to the front.
Mrs. Halm [looking back as she goes towards the house].
Whichever way it goes, my child is sped.
Guldstad [approaching Falk].
It’s late, I think?
Ten minutes and I go.
Sufficient for my purpose.
Until you’ve answered me.
It’s time we squared accounts. It’s time we three
Talked out for once together from the heart.
Falk [taken aback].
Yes,—all disguises flung apart.
Falk [suppressing a smile].
O, at your service.
Very good, then hear.
We’ve been acquainted now for half a year;
We’ve been in constant feud;
We’ve changed hard blows enough. You fought—alone—
For a sublime ideal; I as one
Among the money-grubbing multitude.
And yet it seemed as if a chord united
Us two, as if a thousand thoughts that lay
Deep in my own youth’s memory benighted
Had started at your bidding into day.
Yes, I amaze you. But this hair grey-sprinkled
Once fluttered brown in spring-time, and this brow,
Which daily occupation moistens now
With sweat of labour, was not always wrinkled.
Enough; I am a man of business, hence—
Falk [with gentle sarcasm].
You are the type of practical good sense.
And you are hope’s own singer young and fain.
[Stepping between them.
Just therefore, Falk and Svanhild, I am here.
Now let us talk, then; for the hour is near
Which brings good hap or sorrow in its train.
Falk [in suspense].
My ground is, as I said last night,
A kind of poetry—
Guldstad [nodding slowly].
And if one asked the source from which you drew—?
[Glancing a moment at Svanhild, and then turning again to Falk.
A common source discovered by us two.
Now I must go.
No, wait till I conclude.
I should not ask so much of others. You,
Svanhild, I’ve learnt to fathom thro’ and thro’;
You are too sensible to play the prude.
I watched expand, unfold, your little life;
A perfect woman I divined within you,
But long I only saw a daughter in you;—
Now I ask of you—will you be my wife?
[Svanhild draws back in embarrassment.
Falk [seizing his arm].
Patience; she must answer. Put your own
Question;—then her decision will be free.
I—do you say?
Guldstad [looking steadily at him].
The happiness of three
Lives is at stake to-day,—not mine alone.
Don’t fancy it concerns you less than me;
For tho’ base matter is my chosen sphere,
Yet nature made me something of a seer.
Yes, Falk, you love her. Gladly, I confess,
I saw your young love bursting into flower.
But this young passion, with its lawless power,
May be the ruin of her happiness.
Falk [firing up].
You have the face to say so?
Years give right.
Say now you won her—
And what then?
Guldstad [slowly and emphatically].
She ventured in one bottom to embark
Her all, her all upon one card to play,—
And then life’s tempest swept the ship away,
And the flower faded as the day grew dark?
She must not!
Guldstad [looking at him with meaning].
Hm. So I myself decided
When I was young, like you. In days of old
I was afire for one. Our paths divided.
Last night we met again;—the fire was cold.
Last night. You know the parson’s dame—
What? It was she, then, who—
Who lit the flame.
Long I remembered her with keen regret,
And still in my remembrance she arose
As the young lovely woman that she was
When in life’s buoyant spring-time first we met.
And that same foolish fire you now are fain
To light, that game of hazard you would dare.
See, that is why I call to you—beware!
The game is perilous! Pause, and think again!
No, to the whole tea-caucus I declared
My fixed and unassailable belief—
Guldstad [completing his sentence].
That heartfelt love can weather unimpaired
Custom, and Poverty, and Age, and Grief.
Well, say it be so; possibly you’re right;
But see the matter in another light.
What love is, no man ever told us—whence
It issues, that ecstatic confidence
That one life may fulfil itself in two,—
To this no mortal ever found the clue.
But marriage is a practical concern,
As also is betrothal, my good sir—
And by experience easily we learn
That we are fitted just for her, or her.
But love, you know, goes blindly to its fate,
Chooses a woman, not a wife, for mate;
And what if now this chosen woman was
No wife for you—?
Falk [in suspense].
Guldstad [shrugging his shoulders].
Then you’ve lost your cause.
To make a happy bridegroom and a bride
Demands not love alone, but much beside,
Relations one can meet with satisfaction,
Ideas that do not wholly disagree.
And marriage? Why, it is a very sea
Of claims and calls, of taxing and exaction,
Whose bearing upon love is very small.
Here mild domestic virtues are demanded,
A kitchen soul, inventive and neat handed,
Making no claims, and executing all;—
And much which in a lady’s presence I
Can hardly with decorum specify.
Hear a golden counsel then.
Use your experience; watch your fellow-men,
How every loving couple struts and swaggers
Like millionaires among a world of beggars.
They scamper to the altar, lad and lass,
They make a home and, drunk with exultation,
Dwell for awhile within its walls of glass.
Then comes the day of reckoning;—out, alas,
They’re bankrupt, and their house in liquidation!
Bankrupt the bloom of youth on woman’s brow,
Bankrupt the flower of passion in her breast,
Bankrupt the husband’s battle-ardour now,
Bankrupt each spark of passion he possessed.
Bankrupt the whole estate, below, above,—
And yet this broken pair were once confessed
A first-class house in all the wares of love!
That is a lie!
Some hours ago ’twas true
However. I have only quoted you;—
In these same words you challenged to the field
The “caucus” with love’s name upon your shield.
Then rang repudiation fast and thick
From all directions, as from you at present;
Incredible, I know; who finds it pleasant
To hear the name of death when he is sick?
Look at the priest! A painter and composer
Of taste and spirit when he wooed his bride;—
What wonder if the man became a proser
When she was snugly settled by his side?
To be his lady-love she was most fit;
To be his wife, tho’—not a bit of it.
And then the clerk, who once wrote clever numbers?
No sooner was the gallant plighted, fixed,
Than all his rhymes ran counter and got mixed;
And now his Muse continuously slumbers,
Lullabied by the law’s eternal hum.
Thus you see—[Looks at Svanhild.
Are you cold?
Falk [with forced humour].
Since the sum
Works out a minus then in every case
And never shows a plus,—why should you be
So resolute your capital to place
In such a questionable lottery?
It almost looks as if you fancied Fate
Had meant you for a bankrupt from your birth?
Guldstad [looks at him, smiles, and shakes his head].
My bold young Falk, reserve a while your mirth.—
There are two ways of founding an estate.
It may be built on credit—drafts long-dated
On pleasure in a never-ending bout,
On perpetuity of youth unbated,
And permanent postponement of the gout.
It may be built on lips of rosy red,
On sparkling eyes and locks of flowing gold,
On trust these glories never will be shed,
Nor the dread hour of periwigs be tolled.
It may be built on thoughts that glow and quiver,—
Flowers blowing in the sandy wilderness,—
On hearts that, to the end of life, for ever
Throb with the passion of the primal “yes.”
To dealings such as this the world extends
One epithet: ’tis known as “humbug,” friends.
I see, you are a dangerous attorney,
You—well-to-do, a millionaire may-be;
While two broad backs could carry in one journey
All that beneath the sun belongs to me.
What do you mean?
That is not hard to see.
For the sound way of building, I suppose,
Is just with cash—the wonder-working paint
That round the widow’s batten’d forehead throws
The aureole of a young adored saint.
O no, ’tis something better that I meant.
’Tis the still flow of generous esteem,
Which no less honours the recipient
Than does young rapture’s giddy-whirling dream.
It is the feeling of the blessedness
Of service, and home quiet, and tender ties,
The joy of mutual self-sacrifice,
Of keeping watch lest any stone distress
Her footsteps wheresoe’er her pathway lies;
It is the healing arm of a true friend,
The manly muscle that no burdens bend,
The constancy no length of years decays,
The arm that stoutly lifts and firmly stays.
This, Svanhild, is the contribution I
Bring to your fortune’s fabric: now, reply.
[Svanhild makes an effort to speak; Guldstad lifts his hand to check her.
Consider well before you give your voice!
With clear deliberation make your choice.
And how have you discovered—
That you love her?
That in your eyes ’twas easy to discover.
Let her too know it.
[Presses his hand.
Now I will go in.
Let the jest cease and earnest work begin;
And if you undertake that till the end
You’ll be to her no less a faithful friend,
A staff to lean on, and a help in need,
Than I can be—[Turning to Svanhild.
Why, good, my offer’s nought;
Cancel it from the tables of your thought.
Then it is I who triumph in very deed;
You’re happy, and for nothing else I fought.
And, apropos—just now you spoke of cash,
Trust me, ’tis little more than tinsell’d trash.
I have no ties, stand perfectly alone;
To you I will make over all I own;
My daughter she shall be, and you my son.
You know I have a business by the border:
There I’ll retire, you set your home in order,
And we’ll foregather when a year is gone.
Now, Falk, you know me; with the same precision
Observe yourself: the voyage down life’s stream,
Remember, is no pastime and no dream.
Now, in the name of God—make your decision!
[Goes into the house. Pause. Falk and Svanhild look shyly at each other.
You are so pale.
And you so silent.
He smote us hardest.
Falk. [to himself].
Stole my armour, too.
What blows he struck!
He knew to place them well.
All seemed to go to pieces where they fell.
[Coming nearer to him.
How rich in one another’s wealth before
We were, when all had left us in despite,
And Thought rose upward like the echoing roar
Of breakers in the silence of the night.
With exultation then we faced the fray,
And confidence that Love is lord of death;—
He came with worldly cunning, stole our faith,
Sowed doubt,—and all the glory pass’d away!
Falk [with wild vehemence].
Tear, tear it from thy memory! All his talk
Was true for others, but for us a lie!
Svanhild [slowly shaking her head].
The golden grain, hail-stricken on its stalk,
Will never more wave wanton to the sky.
Falk [with an outburst of anguish].
Yes, we two, Svanhild—!
Hence with hopes that snare!
If you sow falsehood, you must reap despair.
For others true, you say? And do you doubt
That each of them, like us, is sure, alike,
That he’s the man the lightning will not strike,
And no avenging thunder will find out,
Whom the blue storm-cloud, scudding up the sky
On wings of tempest, never can come nigh?
The others split their souls on scattered ends:
Thy single love my being comprehends.
They’re hoarse with yelling in life’s Babel din:
I in this quiet shelter fold thee in.
But if love, notwithstanding, should decay,
—Love being Happiness’s single stay—
Could you avert, then, Happiness’s fall?
No, my love’s ruin were the wreck of all.
And can you promise me before the Lord
That it will last, not drooping like the flower,
But smell as sweet as now till life’s last hour?
Falk [after a short pause].
It will last long.
Svanhild [with anguish].
“Long!” “Long!”—Poor starveling word!
Can “long” give any comfort in Love’s need?
It is her death-doom, blight upon her seed.
“My faith is, Love will never pass away”—
That song must cease, and in its stead be heard:
“My faith is, that I loved you yesterday!”
[As uplifted by inspiration.
No, no, not thus our day of bliss shall wane,
Flag drearily to west in clouds and rain;—
But at high noontide, when it is most bright,
Plunge sudden, like a meteor, into night!
Falk. [in anguish].
What would you, Svanhild?
We are of the Spring;
No Autumn shall come after, when the bird
Of music in thy breast shall not be heard,
And long not thither where it first took wing.
Nor ever Winter shall his snowy shroud
Lay on the clay-cold body of our bliss;—
This Love of ours, ardent and glad and proud,
Pure of disease’s taint and age’s cloud,
Shall die the young and glorious thing it is!
Falk [in deep pain].
And far from thee—what would be left of life?
And near me what were left—if Love depart?
Where Joy would gasp in mortal strife.
It was not given to me to be your wife.
That is the clear conviction of my heart!
In courtship’s merry pastime I can lead,
But not sustain your spirit in its need.
[Nearer and with gathering fire.
Now we have revell’d out a feast of spring;
No thought of slumber’s sluggard couch come nigh!
Let Joy amid delirious song make wing
And flock with choirs of cherubim on high.
And tho’ the vessel of our fate capsize,
One plank yet breasts the waters, strong to save;—
The fearless swimmer reaches Paradise!
Let Joy go down into his watery grave;
Our Love shall yet in triumph, by God’s hand,
Be borne from out the wreckage safe to land!
O, I divine thee! But—to sever thus!
Now, when the portals of the world stand wide,—
When the blue spring is bending over us,
On the same day that plighted thee my bride!
Just therefore must we part. Our joy’s torch fire
Will from this moment wane till it expire!
And when at last our worldly days are spent,
And face to face with our great Judge we stand,
And, as a righteous God, he shall demand
Of us the earthly treasure that he lent—
Then, Falk, we cry—past power of Grace to save—
“O Lord, we lost it going to the grave!”
Falk [with strong resolve].
Pluck off the ring!
Svanhild [with fire].
Now I divine!
Thus and no otherwise canst thou be mine!
As the grave opens into life’s Dawn-fire,
So Love with Life may not espoused be
Till, loosed from longing and from wild desire,
It soars into the heaven of memory!
Pluck off the ring, Svanhild!
Svanhild [in rapture].
My task is done!
Now I have filled thy soul with song and sun.
Forth! Now thou soarest on triumphant wings,—
Forth! Now thy Svanhild is the swan that sings!
[Takes off the ring and presses a kiss upon it.
To the abysmal ooze of ocean bed
Descend, my dream!—I fling thee in its stead!
[Goes a few steps back, throws the ring into the fjord, and approaches Falk with a transfigured expression.
Now for this earthly life I have foregone thee,—
But for the life eternal I have won thee!
And now to the day’s duties, each, alone.
Our paths no more will mingle. Each must wage
His warfare single-handed, without moan.
We caught the fevered frenzy of the age,
Fain without fighting to secure the spoil,
Win Sabbath ease, and shirk the six days’ toil,
Tho’ we are called to strive and to forego.
But not in sickness.
No,—made strong by truth.
Our heads no penal flood will overflow;
This never-dying memory of our youth
Shall gleam against the cloud-wrack like the bow
Of promise flaming in its colours seven,—
Sign that we are in harmony with heaven.
That gleam your quiet duties shall make bright—
And speed the poet in his upward flight!
The poet, yes; for poets all men are
Who see, thro’ all their labours, mean or great,
In pulpit or in schoolroom, church or state,
The Ideal’s lone beacon-splendour flame afar.
Yes, upward is my flight; the winged steed
Is saddled; I am strung for noble deed.
And now, farewell!
Falk [embracing her].
[Tears herself free.
Now I can lose thee gladly till life’s past!
Tho’ quenched were all the light of earth and sky,—
The thought of light is God, and cannot die.
Svanhild [withdrawing towards the background].
Farewell—gladly I cry again—
[Waves his hat.
Hurrah for love, God’s glorious gift to men!
[The door opens. Falk withdraws to the right; the younger guests come out with merry laughter.
The Young Girls.
A lawn dance!
A Young Girl.
A garland spread
With dewy blossoms fresh on every head!
Yes, to the dance, the dance!
And ne’er to bed!
[Stiver comes out with Strawman arm in arm. Mrs. Strawman and the children follow.
Yes, you and I henceforward are fast friends.
Allied in battle for our common ends.
When the twin forces of the State agree—
They add to all men’s—
[Mrs. Halm, Lind, Anna, Guldstad, and Miss Jay, with the other guests, come out. All eyes are turned upon Falk and Svanhild. General amazement when they are seen standing apart.
Miss Jay [among the Aunts, clasping her hands].
What! Am I awake or dreaming, pray?
Lind [who has noticed nothing].
I have a brother’s compliments to pay.
[He, with the other guests, approaches Falk, but starts involuntarily and steps back on looking at him.
What is the matter with you? You’re a Janus
With double face!
I cry, like old Montanus,
The earth is flat, Messieurs;—my optics lied;
Flat as a pancake—are you satisfied?
[Goes quickly out to the right.
Hush, ladies, if you please!
[Goes across to Svanhild.
Mrs. Strawman [to Strawman].
It cannot be!
The Ladies [from mouth to mouth].
Refused! Refused! Refused!
[They gather in little groups about the garden.
He courting? How?
Yes, think! He laugh’d at us, ha, ha—but
[They gaze at each other speechless.
Anna [to Lind].
That’s good! He was too horrid, to be sure!
Lind [embracing her].
Hurrah, now thou art mine, entire and whole.
[They go outside into the garden.
Guldstad [looking back towards Svanhild].
Something is shattered in a certain soul;
But what is yet alive in it I’ll cure.
Strawman [recovering himself and embracing Stiver].
Now then, you can be very well contented
To have your dear fiancée for a spouse.
And you complacently can see your house
With little Strawmans every year augmented.
[Rubbing his hands with satisfaction and looking after Falk.
Insolent fellow! Well, it served him right;—
Would all these knowing knaves were in his plight!
[They go across in conversation; Mrs. Halm approaches with Svanhild.
Mrs. Halm [aside, eagerly].
And nothing binds you?
Good, you know
A daughter’s duty—
Guide me, I obey.
[Pointing to Guldstad.
He is a rich and comme il faut
Parti; and since there’s nothing in the way—
Yes, there is one condition I require!— To leave this place.
Precisely his desire.
Svanhild [with a quiet smile].
How long? Bethink you, fortune’s calling!
Only a little; till the leaves are falling.
[She goes towards the verandah; Mrs. Halm seeks out Guldstad.
Strawman [among the guests].
One lesson, friends, we learn from this example!
Tho’ Doubt’s beleaguering forces hem us in,
Yet Truth upon the Serpent’s head shall trample,
The cause of Love shall win—
Yes, Love shall win!
[They embrace and kiss, pair by pair. Outside to the left are heard song and laughter.
What can this mean?
Bound for the mountains;—and I quite forgot
To tell them—
[The Students come in to the left and remain standing at the entrance.
A Student [to Lind].
Here we are upon the spot!
It’s Lind you seek, then?
He’s just engaged—
And so, you may be sure,
He cannot think of going on a tour.
All the Students.
Lind [to his comrades].
Thanks, my friends!
The Student [to his comrades].
There goes our whole fish-kettle in the fire!
Our tenor lost! No possible amends!
[Coming from the right, in summer suit, with student’s cap, knapsack and stick.
I’ll sing the tenor in young Norway’s choir!
You, Falk! hurrah!
Forth to the mountains, come!
As the bee hurries from her winter home!
A twofold music in my breast I bear,
A cither with diversely sounding strings,
One for life’s joy, a treble loud and clear,
And one deep note that quivers as it sings.
[To individuals among the Students.
You have the palette?—You the note-book? Good,
Swarm then, my bees, into the leafy wood,
Till at night-fall with pollen-laden thigh,
Home to our mighty mother-queen we fly!
[Turning to the company, while the Students depart and the Chorus of the First Act is faintly heard outside.
Forgive me my offences great and small,
I resent nothing;—
but remember all.
Strawman [beaming with happiness].
Now fortune’s garden once again is green!
My wife has hopes,—a sweet presentiment—
[Draws him whispering apart.
She lately whispered of a glad event—
[Inaudible words intervene.
If all goes well … at Michaelmas … thirteen!
[With Miss Jay on his arm, turning to Falk, smiles triumphantly, and says, pointing to Strawman:
I’m going to start a household, flush of pelf!
Miss Jay [with an ironical courtesy].
I shall put on my wedding-ring next Yule.
Anna [similarly, as she takes Lind’s arm].
My Lind will stay, the Church can mind itself—
Lind [hiding his embarrassment].
And seek an opening in a ladies’ school.
I cultivate my Anna’s capabilities—
An unromantic poem I mean to make
Of one who only lives for duty’s sake.
Falk [with a smile to the whole company].
I go to scale the Future’s possibilities!
Farewell![Softly to Svanhild.
God bless thee, bride of my life’s dawn,
Where’er I be, to nobler deed thou’lt wake me.
[Waves his hat and follows the Students.
[Looks after him a moment, then says, softly but firmly:
Now over is my life, by lea and lawn,
The leaves are falling;—now the world may take me.
[At this moment the piano strikes up a dance, and champagne corks explode in the background. The gentlemen hurry to and fro with their ladies on their arms. Guldstad approaches Svanhild and bows: she starts momentarily, then collects herself and gives him her hand. Mrs. Halm and her family, who have watched the scene in suspense, throng about them with expressions of rapture, which are overpowered by the music and the merriment of the dancers in the garden.
[But from the country the following chorus rings loud and defiant through the dance music:
Chorus of Falk and the Students.
And what if I shattered my roaming bark, It was passing sweet to be roaming!
Most of the Company.
[Dance and merriment; the curtain falls.