[The same room. The mist still lies heavy over the landscape.]
[MANDERS and MRS. ALVING enter from the dining-room.]
MRS. ALVING. [Still in the doorway.] Velbekomme [Note: A phrase equivalent to the German Prosit die Mahlzeit--May good digestion wait on appetite.], Mr. Manders. [Turns back towards the dining-room.] Aren't you coming too, Oswald?
OSWALD. [From within.] No, thank you. I think I shall go out a little.
MRS. ALVING. Yes, do. The weather seems a little brighter now. [She shuts the dining-room door, goes to the hall door, and calls:] Regina!
REGINA. [Outside.] Yes, Mrs. Alving?
MRS. ALVING. Go down to the laundry, and help with the garlands.
REGINA. Yes, Mrs. Alving.
[MRS. ALVING assures herself that REGINA goes; then shuts the door.]
MANDERS. I suppose he cannot overhear us in there?
MRS. ALVING. Not when the door is shut. Besides, he's just going out.
MANDERS. I am still quite upset. I don't know how I could swallow a morsel of dinner.
MRS. ALVING. [Controlling her nervousness, walks up and down.] Nor I. But what is to be done now?
MANDERS. Yes; what is to be done? I am really quite at a loss. I am so utterly without experience in matters of this sort.
MRS. ALVING. I feel sure that, so far, no mischief has been done.
MANDERS. No; heaven forbid! But it is an unseemly state of things, nevertheless.
MRS. ALVING. It is only an idle fancy on Oswald's part; you may be sure of that.
MANDERS. Well, as I say, I am not accustomed to affairs of the kind. But I should certainly think--
MRS. ALVING. Out of the house she must go, and that immediately. That is as clear as daylight--
MANDERS. Yes, of course she must.
MRS. ALVING. But where to? It would not be right to--
MANDERS. Where to? Home to her father, of course.
MRS. ALVING. To whom did you say?
MANDERS. To her--But then, Engstrand is not--? Good God, Mrs. Alving, it's impossible! You must be mistaken after all.
MRS. ALVING. Unfortunately there is no possibility of mistake. Johanna confessed everything to me; and Alving could not deny it. So there was nothing to be done but to get the matter hushed up.
MANDERS. No, you could do nothing else.
MRS. ALVING. The girl left our service at once, and got a good sum of money to hold her tongue for the time. The rest she managed for herself when she got to town. She renewed her old acquaintance with Engstrand, no doubt let him see that she had money in her purse, and told him some tale about a foreigner who put in here with a yacht that summer. So she and Engstrand got married in hot haste. Why, you married them yourself.
MANDERS. But then how to account for--? I recollect distinctly Engstrand coming to give notice of the marriage. He was quite overwhelmed with contrition, and bitterly reproached himself for the misbehaviour he and his sweetheart had been guilty of.
MRS. ALVING. Yes; of course he had to take the blame upon himself.
MANDERS. But such a piece of duplicity on his part! And towards me too! I never could have believed it of Jacob Engstrand. I shall not fail to take him seriously to task; he may be sure of that.--And then the immorality of such a connection! For money--! How much did the girl receive?
MRS. ALVING. Three hundred dollars.
MANDERS. Just think of it--for a miserable three hundred dollars, to go and marry a fallen woman!
MRS. ALVING. Then what have you to say of me? I went and married a fallen man.
MANDERS. Why--good heavens!--what are you talking about! A fallen man!
MRS. ALVING. Do you think Alving was any purer when I went with him to the altar than Johanna was when Engstrand married her?
MANDERS. Well, but there is a world of difference between the two cases--
MRS. ALVING. Not so much difference after all--except in the price:-- a miserable three hundred dollars and a whole fortune.
MANDERS. How can you compare such absolutely dissimilar cases? You had taken counsel with your own heart and with your natural advisers.
MRS. ALVING. [Without looking at him.] I thought you understood where what you call my heart had strayed to at the time.
MANDERS. [Distantly.] Had I understood anything of the kind, I should not have been a daily guest in your husband's house.
MRS. ALVING. At any rate, the fact remains that with myself I took no counsel whatever.
MANDERS. Well then, with your nearest relatives--as your duty bade you--with your mother and your two aunts.
MRS. ALVING. Yes, that is true. Those three cast up the account for me. Oh, it's marvellous how clearly they made out that it would be downright madness to refuse such an offer. If mother could only see me now, and know what all that grandeur has come to!
MANDERS. Nobody can be held responsible for the result. This, at least, remains clear: your marriage was in full accordance with law and order.
MRS. ALVING. [At the window.] Oh, that perpetual law and order! I often think that is what does all the mischief in this world of ours.
MANDERS. Mrs. Alving, that is a sinful way of talking.
MRS. ALVING. Well, I can't help it; I must have done with all this constraint and insincerity. I can endure it no longer. I must work my way out to freedom.
MANDERS. What do you mean by that?
MRS. ALVING. [Drumming on the window frame.] I ought never to have concealed the facts of Alving's life. But at that time I dared not do anything else-I was afraid, partly on my own account. I was such a coward.
MANDERS. A coward?
MRS. ALVING. If people had come to know anything, they would have said--"Poor man! with a runaway wife, no wonder he kicks over the traces."
MANDERS. Such remarks might have been made with a certain show of right.
MRS. ALVING. [Looking steadily at him.] If I were what I ought to be, I should go to Oswald and say, "Listen, my boy: your father led a vicious life--"
MANDERS. Merciful heavens--!
MRS. ALVING. --and then I should tell him all I have told you--every word of it.
MANDERS. You shock me unspeakably, Mrs. Alving.
MRS. ALVING. Yes; I know that. I know that very well. I myself am shocked at the idea. [Goes away from the window.] I am such a coward.
MANDERS. You call it "cowardice" to do your plain duty? Have you forgotten that a son ought to love and honour his father and mother?
MRS. ALVING. Do not let us talk in such general terms. Let us ask: Ought Oswald to love and honour Chamberlain Alving?
MANDERS. Is there no voice in your mother's heart that forbids you to destroy your son's ideals?
MRS. ALVING. But what about the truth?
MANDERS. But what about the ideals?
MRS. ALVING. Oh--ideals, ideals! If only I were not such a coward!
MANDERS. Do not despise ideals, Mrs. Alving; they will avenge themselves cruelly. Take Oswald's case: he, unfortunately, seems to have few enough ideals as it is; but I can see that his father stands before him as an ideal.
MRS. ALVING. Yes, that is true.
MANDERS. And this habit of mind you have yourself implanted and fostered by your letters.
MRS. ALVING. Yes; in my superstitious awe for duty and the proprieties, I lied to my boy, year after year. Oh, what a coward-- what a coward I have been!
MANDERS. You have established a happy illusion in your son's heart, Mrs. Alving; and assuredly you ought not to undervalue it.
MRS. ALVING. H'm; who knows whether it is so happy after all--? But, at any rate, I will not have any tampering wide Regina. He shall not go and wreck the poor girl's life.
MANDERS. No; good God--that would be terrible!
MRS. ALVING. If I knew he was in earnest, and that it would be for his happiness--
MANDERS. What? What then?
MRS. ALVING. But it couldn't be; for unfortunately Regina is not the right sort of woman.
MANDERS. Well, what then? What do you mean?
MRS. ALVING. If I weren't such a pitiful coward, I should say to him, "Marry her, or make what arrangement you please, only let us have nothing underhand about it."
MANDERS. Merciful heavens, would you let them marry! Anything so dreadful--! so unheard of--
MRS. ALVING. Do you really mean "unheard of"? Frankly, Pastor Manders, do you suppose that throughout the country there are not plenty of married couples as closely akin as they?
MANDERS. I don't in the least understand you.
MRS. ALVING. Oh yes, indeed you do.
MANDERS. Ah, you are thinking of the possibility that--Alas! yes, family life is certainly not always so pure as it ought to be. But in such a case as you point to, one can never know--at least with any certainty. Here, on the other hand--that you, a mother, can think of letting your son--
MRS. ALVING. But I cannot--I wouldn't for anything in the world; that is precisely what I am saying.
MANDERS. No, because you are a "coward," as you put it. But if you were not a "coward," then--? Good God! a connection so shocking!
MRS. ALVING. So far as that goes, they say we are all sprung from connections of that sort. And who is it that arranged the world so, Pastor Manders?
MANDERS. Questions of that kind I must decline to discuss with you, Mrs. Alving; you are far from being in the right frame of mind for them. But that you dare to call your scruples "cowardly"--!
MRS. ALVING. Let me tell you what I mean. I am timid and faint-hearted because of the ghosts that hang about me, and that I can never quite shake off.
MANDERS. What do you say hangs about you?
MRS. ALVING. Ghosts! When I heard Regina and Oswald in there, it was as though ghosts rose up before me. But I almost think we are all of us ghosts, Pastor Manders. It is not only what we have inherited from our father and mother that "walks" in us. It is all sorts of dead ideas, and lifeless old beliefs, and so forth. They have no vitality, but they cling to us all the same, and we cannot shake them off. Whenever I take up a newspaper, I seem to see ghosts gliding between the lines. There must be ghosts all the country over, as thick as the sands of the sea. And then we are, one and all, so pitifully afraid of the light.
MANDERS. Aha--here we have the fruits of your reading. And pretty fruits they are, upon my word! Oh, those horrible, revolutionary, free-thinking books!
MRS. ALVING. You are mistaken, my dear Pastor. It was you yourself who set me thinking; and I thank you for it with all my heart.
MRS. ALVING. Yes--when you forced me under the yoke of what you called duty and obligation; when you lauded as right and proper what my whole soul rebelled against as something loathsome. It was then that I began to look into the seams of your doctrines. I wanted only to pick at a single knot; but when I had got that undone, the whole thing ravelled out. And then I understood that it was all machine-sewn.
MANDERS. [Softly, with emotion.] And was that the upshot of my life's hardest battle?
MRS. ALVING. Call it rather your most pitiful defeat.
MANDERS. It was my greatest victory, Helen--the victory over myself.
MRS. ALVING. It was a crime against us both.
MANDERS. When you went astray, and came to me crying, "Here I am; take me!" I commanded you, saying, "Woman, go home to your lawful husband." Was that a crime?
MRS. ALVING. Yes, I think so.
MANDERS. We two do not understand each other.
MRS. ALVING. Not now, at any rate.
MANDERS. Never--never in my most secret thoughts have I regarded you otherwise than as another's wife.
MRS. ALVING. Oh--indeed?
MRS. ALVING. People so easily forget their past selves.
MANDERS. I do not. I am what I always was.
MRS. ALVING. [Changing the subject.] Well well well; don't let us talk of old times any longer. You are now over head and ears in Boards and Committees, and I am fighting my battle with ghosts, both within me and without.
MANDERS. Those without I shall help you to lay. After all the terrible things I have heard from you today, I cannot in conscience permit an unprotected girl to remain in your house.
MRS. ALVING. Don't you think the best plan would be to get her provided for?--I mean, by a good marriage.
MANDERS. No doubt. I think it would be desirable for her in every respect. Regina is now at the age when--Of course I don't know much about these things, but--
MRS. ALVING. Regina matured very early.
MANDERS. Yes, I thought so. I have an impression that she was remarkably well developed, physically, when I prepared her for confirmation. But in the meantime, she ought to be at home, under her father's eye--Ah! but Engstrand is not--That he--that he--could so hide the truth from me! [A knock at the door into the hall.]
MRS. ALVING. Who can this be? Come in!
ENGSTRAND. [In his Sunday clothes, in the doorway.] I humbly beg your pardon, but--
MANDERS. Aha! H'm--
MRS. ALVING. Is that you, Engstrand?
ENGSTRAND. --there was none of the servants about, so I took the great liberty of just knocking.
MRS. ALVING. Oh, very well. Come in. Do you want to speak to me?
ENGSTRAND. [Comes in.] No, I'm obliged to you, ma'am; it was with his Reverence I wanted to have a word or two.
MANDERS. [Walking up and down the room.] Ah--indeed! You want to speak to me, do you?
ENGSTRAND. Yes, I'd like so terrible much to--
MANDERS. [Stops in front of him.] Well; may I ask what you want?
ENGSTRAND. Well, it was just this, your Reverence: we've been paid off down yonder--my grateful thanks to you, ma'am,--and now everything's finished, I've been thinking it would be but right and proper if we, that have been working so honestly together all this time--well, I was thinking we ought to end up with a little prayer-meeting to-night.
MANDERS. A prayer-meeting? Down at the Orphanage?
ENGSTRAND. Oh, if your Reverence doesn't think it proper--
MANDERS. Oh yes, I do; but--h'm--
ENGSTRAND. I've been in the habit of offering up a little prayer in the evenings, myself--
MRS. ALVING. Have you?
ENGSTRAND. Yes, every now and then just a little edification, in a manner of speaking. But I'm a poor, common man, and have little enough gift, God help me!--and so I thought, as the Reverend Mr. Manders happened to be here, I'd--
MANDERS. Well, you see, Engstrand, I have a question to put to you first. Are you in the right frame of mind for such a meeting! Do you feel your conscience clear and at ease?
ENGSTRAND. Oh, God help us, your Reverence! we'd better not talk about conscience.
MANDERS. Yes, that is just what we must talk about. What have you to answer?
ENGSTRAND. Why--a man's conscience--it can be bad enough now and then.
MANDERS. Ah, you admit that. Then perhaps you will make a clean breast of it, and tell me--the real truth about Regina?
MRS. ALVING. [Quickly.] Mr. Manders!
MANDERS. [Reassuringly.] Please allow me--
ENGSTRAND. About Regina! Lord, what a turn you gave me! [Looks at MRS. ALVING.] There's nothing wrong about Regina, is there?
MANDERS. We will hope not. But I mean, what is the truth about you and Regina? You pass for her father, eh!
ENGSTRAND. [Uncertain.] Well--h'm--your Reverence knows all about me and poor Johanna.
MANDERS. Come now, no more prevarication! Your wife told Mrs. Alving the whole story before quitting her service.
ENGSTRAND. Well, then, may--! Now, did she really?
MANDERS. You see we know you now, Engstrand.
ENGSTRAND. And she swore and took her Bible oath--
MANDERS. Did she take her Bible oath?
ENGSTRAND. No; she only swore; but she did it that solemn-like.
MANDERS. And you have hidden the truth from me all these years? Hidden it from me, who have trusted you without reserve, in everything.
ENGSTRAND. Well, I can't deny it.
MANDERS. Have I deserved this of you, Engstrand? Have I not always been ready to help you in word and deed, so far as it lay in my power? Answer me. Have I not?
ENGSTRAND. It would have been a poor look-out for me many a time but for the Reverend Mr. Manders.
MANDERS. And this is how you reward me! You cause me to enter falsehoods in the Church Register, and you withhold from me, year after year, the explanations you owed alike to me and to the truth. Your conduct has been wholly inexcusable, Engstrand; and from this time forward I have done with you!
ENGSTRAND. [With a sigh.] Yes! I suppose there's no help for it.
MANDERS. How can you possibly justify yourself?
ENGSTRAND. Who could ever have thought she'd have gone and made bad worse by talking about it? Will your Reverence just fancy yourself in the same trouble as poor Johanna--
ENGSTRAND. Lord bless you, I don't mean just exactly the same. But I mean, if your Reverence had anything to be ashamed of in the eyes of the world, as the saying goes. We menfolk oughtn't to judge a poor woman too hardly, your Reverence.
MANDERS. I am not doing so. It is you I am reproaching.
ENGSTRAND. Might I make so bold as to ask your Reverence a bit of a question?
MANDERS. Yes, if you want to.
ENGSTRAND. Isn't it right and proper for a man to raise up the fallen?
MANDERS. Most certainly it is.
ENGSTRAND. And isn't a man bound to keep his sacred word?
MANDERS. Why, of course he is; but--
ENGSTRAND. When Johanna had got into trouble through that Englishman--or it might have been an American or a Russian, as they call them--well, you see, she came down into the town. Poor thing, she'd sent me about my business once or twice before: for she couldn't bear the sight of anything as wasn't handsome; and I'd got this damaged leg of mine. Your Reverence recollects how I ventured up into a dancing saloon, where seafaring men was carrying on with drink and devilry, as the saying goes. And then, when I was for giving them a bit of an admonition to lead a new life--
MRS. ALVING. [At the window.] H'm--
MANDERS. I know all about that, Engstrand; the ruffians threw you downstairs. You have told me of the affair already. Your infirmity is an honour to you.
ENGSTRAND. I'm not puffed up about it, your Reverence. But what I wanted to say was, that when she cane and confessed all to me, with weeping and gnashing of teeth, I can tell your Reverence I was sore at heart to hear it.
MANDERS. Were you indeed, Engstrand? Well, go on.
ENGSTRAND. So I says to her, "The American, he's sailing about on the boundless sea. And as for you, Johanna," says I, "you've committed a grievous sin, and you're a fallen creature. But Jacob Engstrand," says I, "he's got two good legs to stand upon, he has--" You see, your Reverence, I was speaking figurative-like.
MANDERS. I understand quite well. Go on.
ENGSTRAND. Well, that was how I raised her up and made an honest woman of her, so as folks shouldn't get to know how as she'd gone astray with foreigners.
MANDERS. In all that you acted very well. Only I cannot approve of your stooping to take money--
ENGSTRAND. Money? I? Not a farthing!
MANDERS. [Inquiringly to MRS. ALVING.] But--
ENGSTRAND. Oh, wait a minute!--now I recollect. Johanna did have a trifle of money. But I would have nothing to do with that. "No," says I, "that's mammon; that's the wages of sin. This dirty gold-- or notes, or whatever it was--we'll just flint, that back in the American's face," says I. But he was off and away, over the stormy sea, your Reverence.
MANDERS. Was he really, my good fellow?
ENGSTRAND. He was indeed, sir. So Johanna and I, we agreed that the money should go to the child's education; and so it did, and I can account for every blessed farthing of it.
MANDERS. Why, this alters the case considerably.
ENGSTRAND. That's just how it stands, your Reverence. And I make so bold as to say as I've been an honest father to Regina, so far as my poor strength went; for I'm but a weak vessel, worse luck!
MANDERS. Well, well, my good fellow--
ENGSTRAND. All the same, I bear myself witness as I've brought up the child, and lived kindly with poor Johanna, and ruled over my own house, as the Scripture has it. But it couldn't never enter my head to go to your Reverence and puff myself up and boast because even the likes of me had done some good in the world. No, sir; when anything of that sort happens to Jacob Engstrand, he holds his tongue about it. It don't happen so terrible often, I daresay. And when I do come to see your Reverence, I find a mortal deal that's wicked and weak to talk about. For I said it before, and I says it again--a man's conscience isn't always as clean as it might be.
MANDERS. Give me your hand, Jacob Engstrand.
ENGSTRAND. Oh, Lord! your Reverence--
MANDERS. Come, no nonsense [wrings his hand]. There we are!
ENGSTRAND. And if I might humbly beg your Reverence's pardon--
MANDERS. You? On the contrary, it is I who ought to beg your pardon--
ENGSTRAND. Lord, no, Sir!
MANDERS. Yes, assuredly. And I do it with all my heart. Forgive me for misunderstanding you. I only wish I could give you some proof of my hearty regret, and of my good-will towards you--
ENGSTRAND. Would your Reverence do it?
MANDERS. With the greatest pleasure.
ENGSTRAND. Well then, here's the very chance. With the bit of money I've saved here, I was thinking I might set up a Sailors' Home down in the town.
MRS. ALVING. You?
ENGSTRAND. Yes; it might be a sort of Orphanage, too, in a manner of speaking. There's such a many temptations for seafaring folk ashore. But in this Home of mine, a man might feel like as he was under a father's eye, I was thinking.
MANDERS. What do you say to this, Mrs. Alving?
ENGSTRAND. It isn't much as I've got to start with, Lord help me! But if I could only find a helping hand, why--
MANDERS. Yes, yes; we will look into the matter more closely. I entirely approve of your plan. But now, go before me and make everything ready, and get the candles lighted, so as to give the place an air of festivity. And then we will pass an edifying hour together, my good fellow; for now I quite believe you are in the right frame of mind.
ENGSTRAND. Yes, I trust I am. And so I'll say good-bye, ma'am, and thank you kindly; and take good care of Regina for me--[Wipes a tear from his eye]--poor Johanna's child. Well, it's a queer thing, now; but it's just like as if she'd growd into the very apple of my eye. It is, indeed. [He bows and goes out through the hall.]
MANDERS. Well, what do you say of that man now, Mrs. Alving? That was a very different account of matters, was it not?
MRS. ALVING. Yes, it certainly was.
MANDERS. It only shows how excessively careful one ought to be in judging one's fellow creatures. But what a heartfelt joy it is to ascertain that one has been mistaken! Don't you think so?
MRS. ALVING. I think you are, and will always be, a great baby, Manders.
MRS. ALVING. [Laying her two hands upon his shoulders.] And I say that I have half a mind to put my arms round your neck, and kiss you.
MANDERS. [Stepping hastily back.] No, no! God bless me! What an idea!
MRS. ALVING. [With a smile.] Oh, you needn't be afraid of me.
MANDERS. [By the table.] You have sometimes such an exaggerated way of expressing yourself. Now, let me just collect all the documents, and put them in my bag. [He does so.] There, that's all right. And now, good-bye for the present. Keep your eyes open when Oswald comes back. I shall look in again later. [He takes his hat and goes out through the hall door.]
MRS. ALVING. [Sighs, looks for a moment out of the window, sets the room in order a little, and is about to go into the dining-room, but stops at the door with a half-suppressed cry.] Oswald, are you still at table?
OSWALD. [In the dining room.] I'm only finishing my cigar.
MRS. ALVING. I thought you had gone for a little walk.
OSWALD. In such weather as this?
[A glass clinks. MRS. ALVING leaves the door open, and sits down with her knitting on the sofa by the window.]
OSWALD. Wasn't that Pastor Manders that went out just now?
MRS. ALVING. Yes; he went down to the Orphanage.
OSWALD. H'm. [The glass and decanter clink again.]
MRS. ALVING. [With a troubled glance.] Dear Oswald, you should take care of that liqueur. It is strong.
OSWALD. It keeps out the damp.
MRS. ALVING. Wouldn't you rather come in here, to me?
OSWALD. I mayn't smoke in there.
MRS. ALVING. You know quite well you may smoke cigars.
OSWALD. Oh, all right then; I'll come in. Just a tiny drop more first. There! [He comes into the room with his cigar, and shuts the door after him. A short silence.] Where has the pastor gone to?
MRS. ALVING. I have just told you; he went down to the Orphanage.
OSWALD. Oh, yes; so you did.
MRS. ALVING. You shouldn't sit so long at table, Oswald.
OSWALD. [Holding his cigar behind him.] But I find it so pleasant, mother. [Strokes and caresses her.] Just think what it is for me to come home and sit at mother's own table, in mother's room, and eat mother's delicious dishes.
MRS. ALVING. My dear, dear boy!
OSWALD. [Somewhat impatiently, walks about and smokes.] And what else can I do with myself here? I can't set to work at anything.
MRS. ALVING. Why can't you?
OSWALD. In such weather as this? Without a single ray of sunshine the whole day? [Walks up the room.] Oh, not to be able to work--!
MRS. ALVING. Perhaps it was not quite wise of you to come home?
OSWALD. Oh, yes, mother; I had to.
MRS. ALVING. You know I would ten times rather forgo the joy of having you here, than let you--
OSWALD. [Stops beside the table.] Now just tell me, mother: does it really make you so very happy to have me home again?
MRS. ALVING. Does it make me happy!
OSWALD. [Crumpling up a newspaper.] I should have thought it must be pretty much the same to you whether I was in existence or not.
MRS. ALVING. Have you the heart to say that to your mother, Oswald?
OSWALD. But you've got on very well without me all this time.
MRS. ALVING. Yes; I have got on without you. That is true.
[A silence. Twilight slowly begins to fall. OSWALD paces to and fro across the room. He has laid his cigar down.]
OSWALD. [Stops beside MRS. ALVING.] Mother, may I sit on the sofa beside you?
MRS. ALVING. [Makes room for him.] Yes, do, my dear boy.
OSWALD. [Sits down.] There is something I must tell you, mother.
MRS. ALVING. [Anxiously.] Well?
OSWALD. [Looks fixedly before him.] For I can't go on hiding it any longer.
MRS. ALVING. Hiding what? What is it?
OSWALD. [As before.] I could never bring myself to write to you about it; and since I've come home--
MRS. ALVING. [Seizes him by the arm.] Oswald, what is the matter?
OSWALD. Both yesterday and to-day I have tried to put the thoughts away from me--to cast them off; but it's no use.
MRS. ALVING. [Rising.] Now you must tell me everything, Oswald!
OSWALD. [Draws her down to the sofa again.] Sit still; and then I will try to tell you.--I complained of fatigue after my journey--
MRS. ALVING. Well? What then?
OSWALD. But it isn't that that is the matter with me; not any ordinary fatigue--
MRS. ALVING. [Tries to jump up.] You are not ill, Oswald?
OSWALD. [Draws her down again.] Sit still, mother. Do take it quietly. I'm not downright ill, either; not what is commonly called "ill." [Clasps his hands above his head.] Mother, my mind is broken down--ruined--I shall never be able to work again! [With his hands before his face, he buries his head in her lap, and breaks into bitter sobbing.]
MRS. ALVING. [White and trembling.] Oswald! Look at me! No, no; it's not true.
OSWALD. [Looks up with despair in his eyes.] Never to be able to work again! Never!--never! A living death! Mother, can you imagine anything so horrible?
MRS. ALVING. My poor boy! How has this horrible thing come upon you?
OSWALD. [Sitting upright again.] That's just what I cannot possibly grasp or understand. I have never led a dissipated life never, in any respect. You mustn't believe that of me, mother! I've never done that.
MRS. ALVING. I am sure you haven't, Oswald.
OSWALD. And yet this has come upon me just the same--this awful misfortune!
MRS. ALVING. Oh, but it will pass over, my dear, blessed boy. It's nothing but over-work. Trust me, I am right.
OSWALD. [Sadly.] I thought so too, at first; but it isn't so.
MRS. ALVING. Tell me everything, from beginning to end.
OSWALD. Yes, I will.
MRS. ALVING. When did you first notice it?
OSWALD. It was directly after I had been home last time, and had got back to Paris again. I began to feel the most violent pains in my head--chiefly in the back of my head, they seemed to come. It was as though a tight iron ring was being screwed round my neck and upwards.
MRS. ALVING. Well, and then?
OSWALD. At first I thought it was nothing but the ordinary headache I had been so plagued with while I was growing up--
MRS. ALVING. Yes, yes--
OSWALD. But it wasn't that. I soon found that out. I couldn't work any more. I wanted to begin upon a big new picture, but my powers seemed to fail me; all my strength was crippled; I could form no definite images; everything swam before me--whirling round and round. Oh, it was an awful state! At last I sent for a doctor--and from him I learned the truth.
MRS. ALVING. How do you mean?
OSWALD. He was one of the first doctors in Paris. I told him my symptoms; and then he set to work asking me a string of questions which I thought had nothing to do with the matter. I couldn't imagine what the man was after--
MRS. ALVING. Well?
OSWALD. At last he said: "There has been something worm-eaten in you from your birth." He used that very word--vermoulu.
MRS. ALVING. [Breathlessly.] What did he mean by that?
OSWALD. I didn't understand either, and begged him to explain himself more clearly. And then the old cynic said--[Clenching his fist] Oh--!
MRS. ALVING. What did he say?
OSWALD. He said, "The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children."
MRS. ALVING. [Rising slowly.] The sins of the fathers--!
OSWALD. I very nearly struck him in the face--
MRS. ALVING. [Walks away across the room.] The sins of the fathers--
OSWALD. [Smiles sadly.] Yes; what do you think of that? Of course I assured him that such a thing was out of the question. But do you think he gave in? No, he stuck to it; and it was only when I produced your letters and translated the passages relating to father--
MRS. ALVING. But then--?
OSWALD. Then of course he had to admit that he was on the wrong track; and so I learned the truth--the incomprehensible truth! I ought not to have taken part with my comrades in that lighthearted, glorious life of theirs. It had been too much for my strength. So I had brought it upon myself!
MRS. ALVING. Oswald! No, no; do not believe it!
OSWALD. No other explanation was possible, he said. That's the awful part of it. Incurably ruined for life--by my own heedlessness! All that I meant to have done in the world--I never dare think of it again--I'm not able to think of it. Oh! if I could only live over again, and undo all I have done! [He buries his face in the sofa.]
MRS. ALVING. [Wrings her hands and walks, in silent struggle, backwards and forwards.]
OSWALD. [After a while, looks up and remains resting upon his elbow.] If it had only been something inherited--something one wasn't responsible for! But this! To have thrown away so shamefully, thoughtlessly, recklessly, one's own happiness, one's own health, everything in the world--one's future, one's very life--!
MRS. ALVING. No, no, my dear, darling boy; this is impossible! [Bends over him.] Things are not so desperate as you think.
OSWALD. Oh, you don't know--[Springs up.] And then, mother, to cause you all this sorrow! Many a time I have almost wished and hoped that at bottom you didn't care so very much about me.
MRS. ALVING. I, Oswald? My only boy! You are all I have in the world! The only thing I care about!
OSWALD. [Seizes both her hands and kisses them.] Yes, yes, I see it. When I'm at home, I see it, of course; and that's almost the hardest part for me.--But now you know the whole story and now we won't talk any more about it to-day. I daren't think of it for long together. [Goes up the room.] Get me something to drink, mother.
MRS. ALVING. To drink? What do you want to drink now?
OSWALD. Oh, anything you like. You have some cold punch in the house.
MRS. ALVING. Yes, but my dear Oswald--
OSWALD. Don't refuse me, mother. Do be kind, now! I must have something to wash down all these gnawing thoughts. [Goes into the conservatory.] And then--it's so dark here! [MRS. ALVING pulls a bell-rope on the right.] And this ceaseless rain! It may go on week after week, for months together. Never to get a glimpse of the sun! I can't recollect ever having seen the sun shine all the times I've been at home.
MRS. ALVING. Oswald--you are thinking of going away from me.
OSWALD. H'm--[Drawing a heavy breath.]--I'm not thinking of anything. I cannot think of anything! [In a low voice.] I let thinking alone.
REGINA. [From the dining-room.] Did you ring, ma'am?
MRS. ALVING. Yes; let us have the lamp in.
REGINA. Yes, ma'am. It's ready lighted. [Goes out.]
MRS. ALVING. [Goes across to OSWALD.] Oswald, be frank with me.
OSWALD. Well, so I am, mother. [Goes to the table.] I think I have told you enough.
[REGINA brings the lamp and sets it upon the table.]
MRS. ALVING. Regina, you may bring us a small bottle of champagne.
REGINA. Very well, ma'am. [Goes out.]
OSWALD. [Puts his arm round MRS. ALVING's neck.] That's just what I wanted. I knew mother wouldn't let her boy go thirsty.
MRS. ALVING. My own, poor, darling Oswald; how could I deny you anything now?
OSWALD. [Eagerly.] Is that true, mother? Do you mean it?
MRS. ALVING. How? What?
OSWALD. That you couldn't deny me anything.
MRS. ALVING. My dear Oswald--
REGINA. [Brings a tray with a half-bottle of champagne and two glasses, which she sets on the table.] Shall I open it?
OSWALD. No, thanks. I will do it myself.
[REGINA goes out again.]
MRS. ALVING. [Sits down by the table.] What was it you meant--that I musn't deny you?
OSWALD. [Busy opening the bottle.] First let us have a glass--or two.
[The cork pops; he pours wine into one glass, and is about to pour it into the other.]
MRS. ALVING. [Holding her hand over it.] Thanks; not for me.
OSWALD. Oh! won't you? Then I will!
[He empties the glass, fells, and empties it again; then he sits down by the table.]
MRS. ALVING. [In expectancy.] Well?
OSWALD. [Without looking at her.] Tell me--I thought you and Pastor Manders seemed so odd--so quiet--at dinner to-day.
MRS. ALVING. Did you notice it?
OSWALD. Yes. H'm--[After a short silence.] Tell me: what do you think of Regina?
MRS. ALVING. What do I think?
OSWALD. Yes; isn't she splendid?
MRS. ALVING. My dear Oswald, you don't know her as I do--
MRS. ALVING. Regina, unfortunately, was allowed to stay at home too long. I ought to have taken her earlier into my house.
OSWALD. Yes, but isn't she splendid to look at, mother? [He fills his glass.]
MRS. ALVING. Regina has many serious faults--
OSWALD. Oh, what does that matter? [He drinks again.]
MRS. ALVING. But I am fond of her, nevertheless, and I am responsible for her. I wouldn't for all the world have any harm happen to her.
OSWALD. [Springs up.] Mother, Regina is my only salvation!
MRS. ALVING. [Rising.] What do you mean by that?
OSWALD. I cannot go on bearing all this anguish of soul alone.
MRS. ALVING. Have you not your mother to share it with you?
OSWALD. Yes; that's what I thought; and so I came home to you. But that will not do. I see it won't do. I cannot endure my life here.
MRS. ALVING. Oswald!
OSWALD. I must live differently, mother. That is why I must leave you. I will not have you looking on at it.
MRS. ALVING. My unhappy boy! But, Oswald, while you are so ill as this--
OSWALD. If it were only the illness, I should stay with you, mother, you may be sure; for you are the best friend I have in the world.
MRS. ALVING. Yes, indeed I am, Oswald; am I not?
OSWALD. [Wanders restlessly about.] But it's all the torment, the gnawing remorse--and then, the great, killing dread. Oh--that awful dread!
MRS. ALVING. [Walking after him.] Dread? What dread? What do you mean?
OSWALD. Oh, you mustn't ask me any more. I don't know. I can't describe it.
MRS. ALVING. [Goes over to the right and pulls the bell.]
OSWALD. What is it you want?
MRS. ALVING. I want my boy to be happy--that is what I want. He sha'n't go on brooding over things [To REGINA, who appears at the door:] More champagne--a large bottle. [REGINA goes.]
MRS. ALVING. Do you think we don't know how to live here at home?
OSWALD. Isn't she splendid to look at? How beautifully she's built! And so thoroughly healthy!
MRS. ALVING. [Sits by the table.] Sit down, Oswald; let us talk quietly together.
OSWALD. [Sits.] I daresay you don't know, mother, that I owe Regina some reparation.
MRS. ALVING. You!
OSWALD. For a bit of thoughtlessness, or whatever you like to call it--very innocent, at any rate. When I was home last time--
MRS. ALVING. Well?
OSWALD. She used often to ask me about Paris, and I used to tell her one thing and another. Then I recollect I happened to say to her one day, "Shouldn't you like to go there yourself?"
MRS. ALVING. Well?
OSWALD. I saw her face flush, and then she said, "Yes, I should like it of all things." "Ah, well," I replied, "it might perhaps be managed"--or something like that.
MRS. ALVING. And then?
OSWALD. Of course I had forgotten all about it; but the day before yesterday I happened to ask her whether she was glad I was to stay at home so long--
MRS. ALVING. Yes?
OSWALD. And then she gave me such a strange look, and asked, "But what's to become of my trip to Paris?"
MRS. ALVING. Her trip!
OSWALD. And so it came out that she had taken the thing seriously; that she had been thinking of me the whole time, and had set to work to learn French--
MRS. ALVING. So that was why--!
OSWALD. Mother--when I saw that fresh, lovely, splendid girl standing there before me--till then I had hardly noticed her--but when she stood there as though with open arms ready to receive me--
MRS. ALVING. Oswald!
OSWALD. --then it flashed upon me that in her lay my salvation; for I saw that she was full of the joy of life.
MRS. ALVING. [Starts.] The joy of life? Can there be salvation in that?
REGINA. [From the dining room, with a bottle of champagne.] I'm sorry to have been so long, but I had to go to the cellar. [Places the bottle on the table.]
OSWALD. And now bring another glass.
REGINA. [Looks at him in surprise.] There is Mrs. Alving's glass, Mr. Alving.
OSWALD. Yes, but bring one for yourself, Regina. [REGINA starts and gives a lightning-like side glance at MRS. ALVING.] Why do you wait?
REGINA. [Softly and hesitatingly.] Is it Mrs. Alving's wish?
MRS. ALVING. Bring the glass, Regina.
[REGINA goes out into the dining-room.]
OSWALD. [Follows her with his eyes.] Have you noticed how she walks?--so firmly and lightly!
MRS. ALVING. This can never be, Oswald!
OSWALD. It's a settled thing. Can't you see that? It's no use saying anything against it.
[REGINA enters with an empty glass, which she keeps in her hand.]
OSWALD. Sit down, Regina.
[REGINA looks inquiringly at MRS. ALVING.]
MRS. ALVING. Sit down. [REGINA sits on a chair by the dining room door, still holding the empty glass in her hand.] Oswald--what were you saying about the joy of life?
OSWALD. Ah, the joy of life, mother--that's a thing you don't know much about in these parts. I have never felt it here.
MRS. ALVING. Not when you are with me?
OSWALD. Not when I'm at home. But you don't understand that.
MRS. ALVING. Yes, yes; I think I almost understand it--now.
OSWALD. And then, too, the joy of work! At bottom, it's the same thing. But that, too, you know nothing about.
MRS. ALVING. Perhaps you are right. Tell me more about it, Oswald.
OSWALD. I only mean that here people are brought up to believe that work is a curse and a punishment for sin, and that life is something miserable, something; it would be best to have done with, the sooner the better.
MRS. ALVING. "A vale of tears," yes; and we certainly do our best to make it one.
OSWALD. But in the great world people won't hear of such things. There, nobody really believes such doctrines any longer. There, you feel it a positive bliss and ecstasy merely to draw the breath of life. Mother, have you noticed that everything I have painted has turned upon the joy of life?--always, always upon the joy of life?-- light and sunshine and glorious air-and faces radiant with happiness. That is why I'm afraid of remaining at home with you.
MRS. ALVING. Afraid? What are you afraid of here, with me?
OSWALD. I'm afraid lest all my instincts should be warped into ugliness.
MRS. ALVING. [Looks steadily at him.] Do you think that is what would happen?
OSWALD. I know it. You may live the same life here as there, and yet it won't be the same life.
MRS. ALVING. [Who has been listening eagerly, rises, her eyes big with thought, and says:] Now I see the sequence of things.
OSWALD. What is it you see?
MRS. ALVING. I see it now for the first time. And now I can speak.
OSWALD. [Rising.] Mother, I don't understand you.
REGINA. [Who has also risen.] Perhaps I ought to go?
MRS. ALVING. No. Stay here. Now I can speak. Now, my boy, you shall know the whole truth. And then you can choose. Oswald! Regina!
OSWALD. Hush! The Pastor--
MANDERS. [Enters by the hall door.] There! We have had a most edifying time down there.
OSWALD. So have we.
MANDERS. We must stand by Engstrand and his Sailors' Home. Regina must go to him and help him--
REGINA. No thank you, sir.
MANDERS. [Noticing her for the first tine.] What--? You here? And with a glass in your hand!
REGINA. [Hastily putting the glass down.] Pardon!
OSWALD. Regina is going with me, Mr. Manders.
MANDERS. Going! With you!
OSWALD. Yes; as my wife--if she wishes it.
MANDERS. But, merciful God--!
REGINA. I can't help it, sir.
OSWALD. Or she'll stay here, if I stay.
REGINA. [Involuntarily.] Here!
MANDERS. I am thunderstruck at your conduct, Mrs. Alving.
MRS. ALVING. They will do neither one thing nor the other; for now I can speak out plainly.
MANDERS. You surely will not do that! No, no, no!
MRS. ALVING. Yes, I can speak and I will. And no ideals shall suffer after all.
OSWALD. Mother--what is it you are hiding from me?
REGINA. [Listening.] Oh, ma'am, listen! Don't you hear shouts outside. [She goes into the conservatory and looks out.]
OSWALD. [At the window on the left.] What's going on? Where does that light come from?
REGINA. [Cries out.] The Orphanage is on fire!
MRS. ALVING. [Rushing to the window.] On fire!
MANDERS. On fire! Impossible! I've just come from there.
OSWALD. Where's my hat? Oh, never mind it--Father's Orphanage--! [He rushes out through the garden door.]
MRS. ALVING. My shawl, Regina! The whole place is in a blaze!
MANDERS. Terrible! Mrs. Alving, it is a judgment upon this abode of lawlessness.
MRS. ALVING. Yes, of course. Come, Regina. [She and REGINA hasten out through the hall.]
MANDERS. [Clasps his hands together.] And we left it uninsured! [He goes out the same way.]
- Justify the title "Ghosts" for Ibsen's play.
- In Ghosts, comment on the standards that haunt contemporary society and frustrate the "joy of life."
- In Henrik Ibsen's play, Ghosts, what are the characteristics of the relationship between mother and son?
- In "Ghosts," what secrets is Mrs. Alving keeping from Oswald and Regina?
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