[GANDALF. BLANKA with oak leaves in her hair and a basket of flowers enters from the left.]
BLANKA. [Seated at the left busily weaving a flower wreath.] Fountains may murmur in the sunny vales, Resplendent billows roll beneath the shore; Nor fountain’s murmur, nor the billow’s song Has half the magic of those flowers there, That stand in clusters round the barrow’s edge And nod at one another lovingly; They draw me hither during night and day,— And it is here I long to come and dream. The wreath is done. The hero’s monument, So hard and cold, shall under it be hid. Yes, it is beautiful!
[Pointing to the mound.]
BLANKA. A vanished life, Of giant strength, lies mouldering in the ground,— And the memorial which should speak to men,— A cold unyielding stone like yonder one! But then comes art, and with a friendly hand She gathers flowers from the breast of nature And hides the ugly, unresponsive stone With snow-white lilies, sweet forget-me-nots.
[She ascends the barrow, hangs the wreath over the monument, and speaks after a pause.]
BLANKA. Again my dreams go sailing to the North Like birds of passage o’er the ocean waves; I feel an urging where I long to go, And willingly I heed the secret power, Which has its royal seat within the soul. I stand in Norway, am a hero’s bride, And from the mountain peak watch eagle-like. O’er shining waves the vessel heaves in sight.— Oh, like the gull fly to your fatherland! I am a Southern child, I cannot wait; I tear the oaken wreath out of my hair,— Take this, my hero! ‘Tis the second message I greet you with,—my yearning was the first.
[She throws the wreath. GANDALF steps forth and seizes it.]
BLANKA. What’s this? There stands a—
[She rubs her eyes and stares amazed at him.]
No, it is no dream. Who are you, stranger? What is it you seek Here on the shore?
GANDALF. Step first from off the mound,— Then we can talk at ease.
BLANKA. [Comes down.] Well, here I am!
BLANKA. [Aside as she looks him over.] The chain mail o’er his breast, the copper helmet,— Exactly as my father has related.
BLANKA. [Aloud.] Take off your helmet!
BLANKA. Well, take it off!
BLANKA. [Aside.] Two sparkling eyes, locks like a field of grain,— Exactly as I saw him in my dream.
GANDALF. Who are you, woman?
BLANKA. I? A poor, poor child!
GANDALF. Yet certainly the fairest on the isle.
BLANKA. The fairest? That indeed is possible, For here there’s no one else.
GANDALF. What,—no one else?
BLANKA. Unless my father be,—but he is old And has a silver beard, as long as this; No, after all I think I win the prize.
GANDALF. You have a merry spirit.
BLANKA. Not always now!
GANDALF. But tell me, pray, how this is possible; You say you live alone here with your father, Yet I have heard men say most certainly The island here is thickly populated?
BLANKA. It was so once, three years ago or more; But,—well, it is a sad and mournful tale— Yet you shall hear it if you wish.
GANDALF. Yes, certainly!
BLANKA. You see, three years ago—
BLANKA. Come, seat yourself!
GANDALF. [Steps back a pace.] No, sit you down, I’ll stand.
BLANKA. Three years ago there came, God knows from whence, A warlike band of robbers to the isle; They plundered madly as they went about, And murdered everything they found alive. A few escaped as best they could by flight And sought protection in my father’s castle, Which stood upon the cliff right near the sea.
GANDALF. Your father’s, did you say?
BLANKA. My father’s, yes.— It was a cloudy evening when they burst Upon the castle gate, tore through the wall, Rushed in the court, and murdered right and left. I fled into the darkness terrified, And sought a place of refuge in the forest. I saw our home go whirling up in flames, I heard the clang of shields, the cries of death.— Then everything grew still; for all were dead.— The savage band proceeded to the shore And sailed away.—I sat upon the cliff The morning after, near the smouldering ruins. I was the only one whom they had spared.
GANDALF. But you just told me that your father lives.
BLANKA. My foster-father; wait, and you shall hear! I sat upon the cliff oppressed and sad, And listened to the awful stillness round; There issued forth a faint and feeble cry, As from beneath the rocky cleft beneath my feet; I listened full of fear, then went below, And found a stranger, pale with loss of blood. I ventured nearer, frightened as I was, Bound up his wounds and tended him,—
GANDALF. And he?
BLANKA. Told me as he recovered from his wounds, That he had come aboard a merchantman, Had reached the island on the very day The castle was destroyed,—took refuge there And fought the robber band with all his might Until he fell, faint with the loss of blood, Into the rocky cleft wherein I found him. And ever since we two have lived together; He built for us a cabin in the wood, I grew to love him more than any one. But you must see him,—come!
GANDALF. No, wait,—not now! We meet in ample time, I have no doubt.
BLANKA. Well, all right, as you please; but rest assured He would be glad to greet you ‘neath his roof; For you must know that hospitality Is found not only in the North.
GANDALF. The North? You know then—
BLANKA. Whence you come, you mean? Oh, yes! My father has so often told of you That I the moment that I saw you—
GANDALF. Yet you Were not afraid!
BLANKA. Afraid? And why afraid?
GANDALF. Has he not told you then,—of course if not—
BLANKA. Told me that you were fearless heroes? Yes! But pray, why should that frighten me? I know you seek your fame on distant shores, In manly combat with all doughty warriors; But I have neither sword nor coat of mail, Then why should I fear—
GANDALF. No, of course, of course! But still, those strangers who destroyed the castle?
BLANKA. And what of them?
GANDALF. Only,—has not your father Told you from whence they came?
BLANKA. Never! How could he! Strangers they were alike to him and us. But if you wish I’ll ask him right away.
GANDALF. [Quickly.] No, let it be.
BLANKA. Ah, now I understand! You wish to know where you can seek them now, And take blood-vengeance, as you call it.
GANDALF. Ah, Blood-vengeance! Thanks! The word I had forgot; You bring me back—
BLANKA. But do you know, it is An ugly practice.
GANDALF. [Going toward the background.] Farewell!
BLANKA. O, you are going?
GANDALF. We meet in time.
GANDALF. Tell me this one thing more: What warrior is it rests beneath the mound?
BLANKA. I do not know.
GANDALF. You do not know, and still You scatter flowers on the hero’s grave.
BLANKA. My father led me here one morning early And pointed out to me the fresh-made mound, Which I had never seen upon the strand. He bade me say my morning prayers out here, And in my supplications to remember Those who had harried us with sword and fire.
GANDALF. And you?
BLANKA. Each morning from that day to this I sent a prayer to heaven for their salvation; And every evening flowers afresh I wove Into a garland for the grave.
GANDALF. Yes, strange! How can you pray thus for your enemy?
BLANKA. My faith commands me.
GANDALF. [Vehemently.] Such a faith is craven; It is the faith which saps the hero’s strength; ‘Twas therefore that the great, heroic life Died feebly in the South!
BLANKA. But now suppose My craven faith, as you see fit to call it, Could be transplanted to your virgin soil,— I know full well, there would spring forth a mass Of flowers so luxuriant as to hide The naked mountain.
GANDALF. Let the mountain stand In nakedness until the end of time!
BLANKA. O! Take me with you!
GANDALF. What do you mean? I sail for home—
BLANKA. Well, I shall sail with you; For I have often traveled in my dreams To far-off Norway, where you live mid snow And ice and sombre woods of towering pines. There should come mirth and laughter in the hall, If I could have my say, I promise you; For I am merry;—have you any scald?
GANDALF. I had one, but the sultry Southern air Has loosened all the strings upon his harp,— They sing no longer—
BLANKA. Good! Then shall I be Your scald.
GANDALF. And you?—You could go with us there, And leave your father and your home?
BLANKA. [Laughing.] Aha! You think I meant it seriously?
GANDALF. Was it Only a jest?
BLANKA. Alas! a foolish dream I often used to dream before we met,— Which often I no doubt shall dream again, When you—
[Suddenly breaking off.]
BLANKA. You stare so fixedly.
GANDALF. Do I?
BLANKA. Why, yes! What are you thinking of?
GANDALF. I? Nothing!
GANDALF. That is, I scarcely know myself; And yet I do—and you shall hear it now: I thought of you and how you would transplant Your flowers in the North, when suddenly My own faith came as if by chance to mind. One word therein I never understood Before; now have you taught me what it means.
BLANKA. And that is what?
GANDALF. Valfader, it is said, Receives but half the warriors slain in battle; The other half to Freya goes by right. That I could never fully comprehend; But—now I understand,—I am myself A fallen warrior, and to Freya goes The better part of me.
BLANKA. [Amazed.] What does this mean?
GANDALF. Well, in a word, then know—
BLANKA. [Quickly.] No, say it not! I dare not tarry longer here to-night,— My father waits, and I must go; farewell!
GANDALF. O, you are going?
BLANKA. [Takes the wreath of oak leaves which he has let fall and throws it around his helmet.] You can keep it now. Lo, what I hitherto bestowed on you In dreams, I grant you now awake.
[He goes quickly out to the right.]