(SCENE.--A spacious garden-room in the BERNICKS' house. In the
foreground on the left is a door leading to BERNICK'S business room;
farther back in the same wall, a similar door. In the middle of the
opposite wall is a large entrance-door, which leads to the street. The
wall in the background is almost wholly composed of plate-glass; a door
in it opens upon a broad flight of steps which lead down to the garden;
a sun-awning is stretched over the steps.Below the steps a part of the
garden is visible,bordered by a fence with a small gate in it. On the
other side of the fence runs a street, the opposite side of which is
occupied by small wooden houses painted in bright colours. It is
summer, and the sun is shining warmly. People are seen, every now and
then, passing along the street and stopping to talk to one another;
others going in and out of a shop at the corner, etc.
In the room a gathering of ladies is seated round a table. MRS. BERNICK
is presiding; on her left side are MRS. HOLT and her daughter NETTA,
and next to them MRS. RUMMEL and HILDA RUMMEL. On MRS. BERNICK'S right
are MRS. LYNGE, MARTHA BERNICK and DINA DORF. All the ladies are busy
working. On the table lie great piles of linen garments and other
articles of clothing, some half finished, and some merely cut out.
Farther back, at a small table on which two pots of flowers and a glass
of sugared water are standing, RORLUND is sitting, reading aloud from a
book with gilt edges, but only loud enough for the spectators to catch
a word now and then. Out in the garden OLAF BERNICK is running about
and shooting at a target with a toy crossbow.
After a moment AUNE comes in quietly through the door on the right.
There is a slight interruption in the reading. MRS. BERNICK nods to him
and points to the door on the left. AUNE goes quietly across, knocks
softly at the door of BERNICK'S room, and after a moment's pause,
knocks again. KRAP comes out of the room, with his hat in his hand and
some papers under his arm.)
You must not use your own time in making the men useless in
working hours. Last Saturday you were talking to them of the harm that
would be done to the workmen by our new machines and the new working
methods at the yard. What makes you do that?
That's curious, because Mr. Bernick says it is disorganising the
My community is not Mr. Bernick's, Mr. Krap! As President of the
Industrial Association, I must--
You are, first and foremost, President of Mr. Bernick's
shipbuilding yard; and, before everything else, you have to do your
duty to the community known as the firm of Bernick & Co.; that is what
every one of us lives for. Well, now you know what Mr. Bernick had to
say to you.
Mr. Bernick would not have put it that way, Mr. Krap! But I know
well enough whom I have to thank for this. It is that damned American
boat. Those fellows expect to get work done here the way they are
accustomed to it over there, and that--
Yes, yes, but I can't go into all these details. You know now
what Mr. Bernick means, and that is sufficient. Be so good as to go
back to the yard; probably you are needed there. I shall be down myself
in a little while. --Excuse me, ladies! (Bows to the ladies and goes
out through the garden and down the street. AUNE goes quietly out to
the right. RORLUND, who has continued his reading during the foregoing
conversation, which has been carried on in low tones, has now come to
the end of the book, and shuts it with a bang.)
There, my dear ladies, that is the end of it.
A book like that really gives one something to think
Quite so; it presents a salutary contrast to what,
unfortunately, meets our eyes every day in the newspapers and
magazines. Look at the gilded and painted exterior displayed by any
large community, and think what it really conceals!--emptiness and
rottenness, if I may say so; no foundation of morality beneath it. In a
word, these large communities of ours now-a-days are whited sepulchres.
And for an example of it, we need look no farther than at
the crew of the American ship that is lying here just now.
Oh, I would rather not speak of such offscourings of humanity
as that. But even in higher circles--what is the case there? A spirit
of doubt and unrest on all sides; minds never at peace, and instability
characterising all their behaviour. Look how completely family life is
undermined over there! Look at their shameless love of casting doubt on
even the most serious truths!
DINA(without looking up from her work)
But are there not many big
things done there too?
MRS. RUMMEL (in the same breath)
Dina, how can you--?
I think it would scarcely be a good thing for us if such "big
things" became the rule here. No, indeed, we ought to be only too
thankful that things are as they are in this country. It is true enough
that tares grow up amongst our wheat here too, alas; but we do our best
conscientiously to weed them out as well as we are able. The important
thing is to keep society pure, ladies--to ward off all the hazardous
experiments that a restless age seeks to force upon us.
And there are more than enough of them in the wind,
Yes, you know last year we only by a hair's breadth escaped
the project of having a railway here.
Providence, Mrs. Bernick. You may be certain that your husband
was the instrument of a higher Power when he refused to have anything
to do with the scheme.
And yet they said such horrible things about him in the
newspapers! But we have quite forgotten to thank you, Mr. Rorlund. It
is really more than friendly of you to sacrifice so much of your time
Yes, but it is a sacrifice all the same, Mr. Rorlund.
RORLUND(drawing his chair nearer)
Don't speak of it, my dear lady.
Are you not all of you making some sacrifice in a good cause?--and that
willingly and gladly? These poor fallen creatures for whose rescue we
are working may be compared to soldiers wounded on the field of battle;
you, ladies, are the kind-hearted sisters of mercy who prepare the lint
for these stricken ones, lay the bandages softly on their wounds, heal
them and cure them.
It must be a wonderful gift to be able to see everything
in such a beautiful light.
A good deal of it is inborn in one--but it can be to a great
extent acquired, too. All that is needful is to see things in the light
of a serious mission in life. (To MARTHA:) What do you say, Miss
Bernick? Have you not felt as if you were standing on firmer ground
since you gave yourself up to your school work?
I really do not know what to say. There are times, when I am in
the schoolroom down there, that I wish I were far away out on the
That is merely temptation, dear Miss Bernick. You ought to
shut the doors of your mind upon such disturbing guests as that. By the
"stormy seas"--for of course you do not intend me to take your words
literally--you mean the restless tide of the great outer world, where
so many are shipwrecked. Do you really set such store on the life you
hear rushing by outside? Only look out into the street. There they go,
walking about in the heat of the sun, perspiring and tumbling about
over their little affairs. No, we undoubtedly have the best of it, who
are able to sit here in the cool and turn our backs on the quarter from
which disturbance comes.
Yes,I have no doubt you are perfectly right.
And in a house like this,in a good and pure home, where family
life shows in its fairest colours--where peace and harmony rule-- (To
MRS. BERNICK:) What are you listening to, Mrs. Bernick?
MRS.BERNICK(who has turned towards the door of BERNICK'S room)
They are talking very loud in there.
Poor Karsten, is he to have more annoyance over that?
But how do you explain that, Mr. Tonnesen? You know that last
year Mr. Bernick made it perfectly clear that he would not have a
Yes, that is what I thought, too; but I met Krap, his
confidential clerk, and he told me that the railway project had been
taken up again, and that Mr. Bernick was in consultation with three of
our local capitalists.
Ah, I was right in thinking I heard my husband's voice.
Of course Mr. Rummel is in it, and so are Sandstad and Michael
Vigeland,"Saint Michael", as they call him.
Just when everything was so nice and peaceful.
Well, as far as I am concerned, I have not the slightest
objection to their beginning their squabbling again. It will be a
little diversion, any way.
I think we can dispense with that sort of diversion.
It depends how you are constituted. Certain natures feel the
lust of battle now and then. But unfortunately life in a country town
does not offer much in that way, and it isn't given to every one to
(turns the leaves of the book RORLUND has been reading). " Woman as the
Handmaid of Society." What sort of drivel is this?
My dear Hilmar, you must not say that. You certainly have
not read the book.
No, and I have no intention of reading it, either.
Surely you are not feeling quite well today.
No, I slept very badly. I went for a walk yesterday evening for
my health's sake; and I finished up at the club and read a book about a
Polar expedition. There is something bracing in following the
adventures of men who are battling with the elements.
But it does not appear to have done you much good, Mr.
No, it certainly did not. I lay all night tossing about, only
half asleep, and dreamt that I was being chased by a hideous walrus.
OLAF(who meanwhile has come up the steps from the garden)
been chased by a walrus, uncle?
I dreamt it, you duffer! Do you mean to say you are still
playing about with that ridiculous bow? Why don't you get hold of a
There is some sense in a thing like that; it is always an
excitement every time you fire it off.
And then I could shoot bears, uncle. But daddy won't let me.
You really mustn't put such ideas into his head, Hilmar.
Hm! It's a nice breed we are educating up now-a-days, isn't
it! We talk a great deal about manly sports, goodness knows--but we
only play with the question, all the same; there is never any serious
inclination for the bracing discipline that lies in facing danger
manfully. Don't stand pointing your crossbow at me, blockhead--it might
You don't know that there isn't--there may be, all the same.
Take it away, I tell you !--Why on earth have you never gone over to
America on one of your father's ships? You might have seen a buffalo
hunt then, or a fight with Red Indians.
(OLAF runs down into the garden and out through the gate in the fence.)
You ought not to put such fancies into the child's head, Mr.
No, of course he is destined to be a miserable stay-at-home,
like so many others.
But why do you not take a trip over there yourself?
I? With my wretched health? Of course I get no consideration on
that account. But putting that out of the question, you forget that one
has certain obligations to perform towards the community of which one
forms a part. There must be some one here to hold aloft the banner of
the Ideal.--Ugh, there he is shouting again !
Did you say a theatrical company? No, I don't remember that
Oh yes, and I have been told they played all sorts of mad
pranks. What is really the truth of those stories?
There is practically no truth in them, Mrs. Lynge.
Dina, my love, will you give me that linen?
MRS.BERNICK(at the same time)
Dina, dear, will you go and ask Katrine
to bring us our coffee?
I will go with you, Dina.
(DINA and MARTHA go out by the farther door on, the left.)
MRS. BERNICK (getting up)
Will you excuse me for a few minutes?
I think we will have our coffee outside. (She goes out to the
verandah and sets to work to lay a table. RORLUND stands in the
doorway talking to her. HILMAR sits outside, smoking.)
MRS. RUMMEL (in a low voice)
My goodness, Mrs. Lynge, how you
Yes; there was something--how shall I put it?--there
was something of some kind between him and Dina's mother. I
remember it all as if it were yesterday. Johan Tonnesen was in
old Mrs. Bernick's office then; Karsten Bernick had just come
back from Paris--he had not yet become engaged--
And that was why he ran away to America?
Yes, he had to run away, you may be sure.
Because something was discovered afterwards that was
nearly as bad; just think--he had been making free with the cash-
But, you know, no one was certain of that, Mrs.
Rummel; perhaps there was no truth in the rumour.
Well, I must say--! Wasn't it known all over the
town? Did not old Mrs. Bernick nearly go bankrupt as the result
of it? However, God forbid I should be the one to spread such
Well, anyway, Mrs. Dorf didn't get the money, because
Yes, what happened to Dina's parents afterwards?
Well, Dorf deserted both his wife and his child. But
madam was impudent enough to stay here a whole year. Of course
she had not the face to appear at the theatre any more, but she
kept herself by taking in washing and sewing--
And then she tried to set up a dancing school.
Naturally that was no good. What parents would trust
their children to such a woman? But it did not last very long.
The fine madam was not accustomed to work; she got something
wrong with her lungs and died of it.
Yes, you can imagine how hard it was upon the
Bernicks. It is the dark spot among the sunshine of their good
fortune, as Rummel once put it. So never speak about it in this
house, Mrs. Lynge.
And for heaven's sake never mention the stepsister,
Oh, so Mrs. Bernick has a step-sister, too?
Had, luckily-- for the relationship between them is
all over now. She was an extraordinary person too! Would you
believe it, she cut her hair short, and used to go about in men's
boots in bad weather!
And when her step-brother,the black sheep, had gone
away, and the whole town naturally was talking about him--what do
you think she did? She went out to America to him!
Yes, but remember the scandal she caused before she
went, Mrs. Holt.
And has published some mad kind of book.
You don't say so!
Mrs.Rummel: Yes, it is true enough that Lona Hessel is one of
the spots on the sun of the Bernick family's good fortune. Well,
now you know the whole story, Mrs. Lynge. I am sure I would never
have spoken about it except to put you on your guard.
Oh, you may be sure I shall be most careful. But that
poor child Dina Dorf! I am truly sorry for her.
Well, really it was a stroke of good luck for her.
Think what it would have meant if she had been brought up by such
parents! Of course we did our best for her, every one of us, and
gave her all the good advice we could. Eventually Miss Bernick
got her taken into this house.
But she has always been a difficult child to deal
with. It is only natural--with all the bad examples she had had
before her. A girl of that sort is not like one of our own; one
must be lenient with her.
Hush--here she comes. (In a louder voice.) Yes, Dina
is really a clever girl. Oh, is that you, Dina? We are just
putting away the things.
How delicious your coffee smells, my dear Dina. A nice
cup of coffee like that--
MRS.BERNICK(calling in from the verandah)
Will you come out
here? (Meanwhile MARTHA and DINA have helped the Maid to bring
out the coffee. All the ladies seat themselves on the verandah,
and talk with a great show of kindness to DINA. In a few moments
DINA comes back into the room and looks for her sewing.)
Mrs. Bernick(from the coffee table)
Dina, won't you--?
No, thank you. (Sits down to her sewing. MRS. BERNICK and
RORLUND exchange a few words; a moment afterwards he comes back
into the room, makes a pretext for going up to the table, and
begins speaking to DINA in low tones.)
You know quite well in what sense I mean it. Hilda and
Netta come here every day, to be exhibited to me as good
examples. I can never be so beautifully behaved as they; I don't
want to be. If only I were right away from it all, I should grow
to be worth something.
But you are worth a great deal, Dina dear.
You know perfectly well that you are dearer to me than I
If I were Hilda or Netta, you would not be afraid to let
people see it.
Ah, Dina, you can have no idea of the number of things I
am forced to take into consideration. When it is a man's lot to
be a moral pillar of the community he lives in, he cannot be too
circumspect. If only I could be certain that people would
interpret my motives properly. But no matter for that; you must,
and shall be, helped to raise yourself. Dina, is it a bargain
between us that when I come--when circumstances allow me to come -
-to you and say: "Here is my hand," you will take it and be my
wife? Will you promise me that, Dina?
Thank you, thank you! Because for my part, too--oh,
Dina, I love you so dearly. Hush! Some one is coming. Dina--for my
sake--go out to the others.(She goes out to the coffee table. At
the same moment RUMMEL, SANDSTAD and VIGELAND come out of
BERNICK'S room, followed by Bernick, who has a bundle of papers
in his hand.)
Mrs. Bernick(at the verandah door)
Karsten, dear, what is it
My dear Betty, how can it interest you? (To the three
men.) We must get out lists of subscribers, and the sooner the
better. Obviously our four names must head the list. The
positions we occupy in the community makes it our duty to make
ourselves as prominent as possible in the affair.
The thing shall go through, Bernick; I swear it shall!
Oh, I have not the least anticipation of failure. We
must see that we work, each one among the circle of his own
acquaintances; and if we can point to the fact that the scheme is
exciting a lively interest in all ranks of society, then it
stands to reason that our Municipal Corporation will have to
contribute its share.
Karsten, you really must come out here and tell us--
My dear Betty, it is an affair that does not concern
ladies at all.
Then you are really going to support this railway scheme
Yes, I must confess it seems to me as if it had been the
hand of Providence that caused me to take a journey on business
this spring, in the course of which I happened to traverse a
valley through which I had never been before. It came across my
mind like a flash of lightning that this was where we could carry
a branch line down to our town. I got an engineer to survey the
neighbourhood, and have here the provisional calculations and
estimate; so there is nothing to hinder us.
Mrs.Bernick (who is still with the other ladies at the verandah
door): But, my dear Karsten, to think that you should have kept
it all a secret from us!
Ah, my dear Betty, I knew you would not have been able
to grasp the exact situation. Besides, I have not mentioned it to
a living soul until today. But now the decisive moment has come,
and we must work openly and with all our might. Yes, even if I
have to risk all I have for its sake, I mean to push the matter
And we will back you up, Bernick; you may rely upon that.
Do you really promise us so much, then, from this
Yes, undoubtedly. Think what a lever it will be to raise
the status of our whole community. Just think of the immense
tracts of forest-land that it will make accessible; think of all
the rich deposits of minerals we shall be able to work; think of
the river with one waterfall above another! Think of the
possibilities that open out in the way of manufactories!
And are you not afraid that an easier intercourse with
the depravity of the outer world--?
No, you may make your mind quite easy on that score, Mr.
Rorlund. Our little hive of industry rests now-a-days, God be
thanked, on such a sound moral basis; we have all of us helped to
drain it, if I may use the expression; and that we will continue
to do, each in his degree. You, Mr. Rorlund, will continue your
richly blessed activity in our schools and our homes. We, the
practical men of business, will be the support of the community
by extending its welfare within as wide a radius as possible; and
our women--yes, come nearer ladies--you will like to hear it-- our
women, I say, our wives and daughters--you, ladies-- will work on
undisturbed in the service of charity, and moreover will be a
help and a comfort to your nearest and dearest, as my dear Betty
and Martha are to me and Olaf.(Looks around him.) Where is Olaf
Oh, in the holidays it is impossible to keep him at
I have no doubt he is down at the shore again. You will
see he will end by coming to some harm there.
Bah! A little sport with the forces of nature
Your family affection is beautiful, Mr. Bernick!
Well, the family is the kernel of society. A good home,
honoured and trusty friends, a little snug family circle where no
disturbing elements can cast their shadow-- (KRAP comes in from
the right, bringing letters and papers.)
The foreign mail, Mr. Bernick--and a telegram from New
BERNICK(taking the telegram)
Ah--from the owners of the "Indian
Is the mail in? Oh, then you must excuse me.
BERNICK(looking at the telegram again)
These gentlemen think
nothing of risking eight men's lives--
Well, it is a sailor's calling to brave the elements; it
must be a fine tonic to the nerves to be like that, with only a
thin plank between one and the abyss--
I should like to see the ship-owner amongst us who would
condescend to such a thing! There is not one that would do it--
not a single one! (Sees OLAF coming up to the house.) Ah, thank
Heaven, here he is, safe and sound. (OLAF, with a fishing-line in
his hand, comes running up the garden and in through the
Uncle Hilmar, I have been down and seen the steamer.
You are a duffer. Is that anything to see? Mere tricks.
No, it would be something quite different to see the Gaucho
careering over the Pampas on his snorting mustang. But,Heaven
help us, in these wretched little towns of ours.
OLAF(pulling at MARTHA'S dress)
Look, Aunt Martha! Look, there
OLAF(shrieking with delight)
Look, look, there are the rest of
them, with the horses and animals! And there are the Americans,
too! All the sailors from the "Indian Girl"! (The strains of
"Yankee Doodle," played on a clarinet and a drum, are heard.)
Well, I must say if I were travelling across a desert
waste and found myself beside a well, I am sure I should not stop
to think whether--. Ugh, that frightful clarinet!
It is really high time the police interfered.
Oh no; we must not be too hard on foreigners. Of course
these folk have none of the deep-seated instincts of decency
which restrain us within proper bounds. Suppose they do behave
outrageously, what does it concern us? Fortunately this spirit of
disorder, that flies in the face of all that is customary and
right, is absolutely a stranger to our community, if I may say
so--. What is this! (LONA HESSEL walks briskly in from the door
on the right.)
THE LADIES (in low, frightened tones)
The circus woman! The
Of course he is; I certainly would not come without him.
Why do you look so tragical? And why are you sitting here in the
gloom, sewing white things? There has not been a death in the
family, has there?
Madam,you find yourself in the Society for Fallen Women.
LONA(half to herself)
What? Can these nice, quiet-looking
ladies possibly be--?
Oh, I understand! But, bless my soul, that is surely Mrs.
Rummel? And Mrs. Holt sitting there too! Well, we three have not
grown younger since the last time we met. But listen now, good
people; let the Fallen Women wait for a day--they will be none
the worse for that. A joyful occasion like this--
A home-coming is not always a joyful occasion.
Indeed? How do you read your Bible, Mr. Parson?
Oh, you will grow into one, then. But--faugh!--this moral
linen of yours smells tainted,just like a winding-sheet. I am
accustomed to the air of the prairies, let me tell you.
BERNICK(wiping his forehead)
Yes, it certainly is rather close
Wait a moment; we will resurrect ourselves from this vault.
(Pulls the curtains to one side) We must have broad daylight in
here when the boy comes. Ah, you will see a boy then that has