(SCENE--The same room. The work-table has been taken away. It is
a stormy evening and already dusk. Darkness sets in as the
following scene is in progress. A man-servant is lighting the
chandelier; two maids bring in pots of flowers, lamps and
candles, which they place on tables and stands along the walls.
RUMMEL, in dress clothes, with gloves and a white tie, is
standing in the room giving instructions to the servants.)
Only every other candle, Jacob. It must not look as if it
were arranged for the occasion--it has to come as a surprise, you
know. And all these flowers--? Oh, well, let them be; it will
probably look as if they stood there everyday. (BERNICK comes
out of his room.)
BERNICK(stopping at the door)
What does this mean?
Oh dear, is it you? (To the servants.) Yes, you might
leave us for the present. (The servants go out.)
In procession--with banners and a band! We ought to have
had torches too; but we did not like to risk that in this stormy
weather. There will be illuminations--and that always sounds well
in the newspapers.
Listen, Rummel--I won't have anything to do with this.
But it is too late now; they will be here in half-an-
But why did you not tell me about this before?
Just because I was afraid you would raise objections to
it. But I consulted your wife; she allowed me to take charge of
the arrangements, while she looks after the refreshments.
What is that noise? Are they coming already?
I fancy I hear singing.
RUMMEL(going to the verandah door)
Singing? Oh, that is only
the Americans. The "Indian Girl" is being towed out.
Towed out? Oh, yes. No, Rummel, I cannot this evening; I
am not well.
You certainly do look bad. But you must pull yourself
together; devil take it--you must! Sandstad and Vigeland and I
all attach the greatest importance to carrying this thing
through. We have got to crush our opponents under the weight of
as complete an expression of public opinion as possible. Rumours
are getting about the town; our announcement about the purchase
of the property cannot be withheld any longer. It is imperative
that this very evening--after songs and speeches, amidst the clink
of glasses--in a word, in an ebullient atmosphere of festivity--
you should inform them of the risk you have incurred for the good
of the community. In such an ebullient atmosphere of festivity--
as I just now described it--you can do an astonishing lot with the
people here. But you must have that atmosphere, or the thing
And especially when so delicate and ticklish a point has
to be negotiated. Well, thank goodness, you have a name that will
be a tower of strength, Bernick. But listen now; we must make our
arrangements, to some extent. Mr. Hilmar Tonnesen has written an
ode to you. It begins very charmingly with the words: "Raise the
Ideal's banner high!" And Mr. Rorlund has undertaken the task of
making the speech of the evening. Of course you must reply to
It is impossible, however willing I might be; because, as
you can imagine, his speech will be especially addressed to you.
Of course it is possible he may say a word or two about the rest
of us; I have spoken to Vigeland and Sandstad about it. Our idea
is that, in replying, you should propose the toast of "Prosperity
to our Community"; Sandstad will say a few words on the subject
of harmonious relations between the different strata of society;
then Vigeland will express the hope that this new undertaking may
not disturb the sound moral basis upon which our community
stands; and I propose, in a few suitable words, to refer to the
ladies, whose work for the community, though more inconspicuous,
is far from being without its importance. But you are not
listening to me.
Yes--indeed I am. But, tell me, do you think there is a
very heavy sea running outside?
Why, are you nervous about the "Palm Tree"? She is fully
insured, you know.
RUMMEL(who is fumbling at the window)
Confound these new-
fangled contrivances; I cannot get the curtains drawn.
Do you want them drawn? I thought, on the contrary--
Yes, drawn at first, Miss Hessel. You know what is in the
wind, I suppose?
Yes. Let me help you. (Takes hold of the cords.) I will
draw down the curtains on my brother-in-law--though I would much
rather draw them up.
You can do that too, later on. When the garden is filled
with a surging crowd, then the curtains shall be drawn back, and
they will be able to look in upon a surprised and happy family.
Citizens' lives should be such that they can live in glass
houses! (BERNICK opens his mouth, as though he were going to say
something; but he turns hurriedly away and goes into his room.)
Come along, let us have a final consultation. Come in,
too, Mr. Krap; you must assist us with information on one or two
points of detail. (All the men go into BERNICK'S room. LONA has
drawn the curtains over the windows, and is just going to do the
same over the open glass door, when OLAF jumps down from the room
above on to the garden steps; he has a wrap over his shoulders
and a bundle in his hand.)
I have still a few minutes. I must see her once more; we
cannot part like this. (The farther door on the left opens, and
MARTHA and DINA, both with cloaks on, and the latter carrying a
small travelling bag in her hand, come in.)
I have never loved the man! I would rather drown myself in
the fjord than be engaged to him! Oh, how he humiliated me
yesterday with his condescending manner! How clear he made it
that he felt he was lifting up a poor despised creature to his
own level! I do not mean to be despised any longer. I mean to go
away. May I go with you?
I am not going to let you do that. I mean to look after
myself; over there, I am sure I can do that. Only let me get away
from here. Oh, these women!--you don't know--they have written to
me today, too--exhorting me to realise my good fortune--
impressing on me how magnanimous he has been. Tomorrow, and every
day afterwards, they would be watching me to see if I were making
myself worthy of it all. I am sick and tired of all this
Tell me, Dina--is that the only reason you are coming
away? Am l nothing to you?
Yes, Johan, you are more to me than any one else in the
What? Give me a kiss, Martha. I never expected that from
No, I dare say not; I would not have expected it myself.
But I was bound to break out some time! Ah, what we suffer under
the tyranny of habit and custom! Make a stand against that, Dina.
Be his wife. Let me see you defy all this convention.
And win, my boy! But now you must get on board!
Yes, on board! Ah, Lona, my dear sister, just one word
with you. Look here-- (He takes her into the background and talks
hurriedly to her.)
Dina, you lucky girl, let me look at you, and kiss you
once more--for the last time.
Not for the last time; no, my darling aunt, we shall meet
Never! Promise me, Dina, never to come back! (Grasps her
hands and looks at her.) Now go to your happiness, my dear child-
-across the sea. How often, in my schoolroom, I have yearned to
be over there! It must be beautiful; the skies are loftier than
here--a freer air plays about your head--
Oh, Aunt Martha, some day you will follow us.
I? Never--never. I have my little vocation here, and now
I really believe I can live to the full the life that I ought.
Lona (putting into her pocket some papers that JOHAN has given
her): Splendid, splendid, my dear boy. But now you must be off.
Yes, we have no time to waste now. Goodbye, Lona, and
thank you for all your love. Goodbye, Martha, and thank you,
too, for your loyal friendship.
Goodbye, Johan! Goodbye, Dina! And may you be happy all
your lives! (She and LONA hurry them to the door at the back.
JOHAN and DINA go quickly down the steps and through the garden.
LONA shuts the door and draws the curtains over it.)
Now we are alone, Martha. You have lost her and I him.
Who more so? We two foster-sisters--haven't we both lost
our children? Now we are alone.
Yes, alone. And therefore, you ought to know this too--I
loved him more than anything in the world.
Martha! (Grasps her by the arm.) Is that true?
All my existence lies in those words. I have loved him
and waited for him. Every summer I waited for him to come. And
then he came--but he had no eyes for me.
You loved him! And it was you yourself that put his
happiness into his hands.
Ought I not to be the one to put his happiness into his
hands, since I loved him? Yes, I have loved him. All my life has
been for him, ever since he went away. What reason had I to hope,
you mean? Oh, I think I had some reason, all the same. But when
he came back--then it seemed as if everything had been wiped out
of his memory. He had no eyes for me.
And it is a good thing she did. At the time he went away,
we were of the same age; but when I saw him again--oh, that
dreadful moment!--I realised that now I was ten years older than
he. He had gone out into the bright sparkling sunshine, and
breathed in youth and health with every breath; and here I sat
meanwhile, spinning and spinning--
Spinning the thread of his happiness, Martha.
Yes, it was a golden thread I spun. No bitterness! We
have been two good sisters to him, haven't we, Lona?
BERNICK(to the other men, who are in his room)
arrange it any way you please. When the time comes, I shall be
able to--. (Shuts the door.) Ah, you are here. Look here, Martha-
-I think you had better change your dress; and tell Betty to do
the same. I don't want anything elaborate, of course--something
homely, but neat. But you must make haste.
And a bright, cheerful face, Martha; your eyes must look
Olaf is to come downstairs too; I will have him beside
All the different clubs will assemble with their banners--
your name will blaze out in letters of fire--tonight the
telegraph will flash the news to every part of the country: "In
the bosom of his happy family, Mr. Bernick received the homage of
his fellow citizens, as one of the pillars of society."
That is so; and they will begin to cheer outside, and
the crowd will shout in front of my house until I shall be
obliged to go out and bow to them and thank them.
And you have no right to; no right to despise me! Lona,
you can have no idea how utterly alone I stand in this cramped
and stunted community--where I have had, year after year, to
stifle my ambition for a fuller life. My work may seem many-
sided, but what have I really accomplished? Odds and ends--
scraps. They would not stand anything else here. If I were to go
a step in advance of the opinions and views that are current at
the moment, I should lose all my influence. Do you know what we
are--we who are looked upon as pillars of society? We are nothing
more, nor less, than the tools of society.
Because I have been thinking a great deal lately--since
you came back--and this evening I have thought more seriously
than ever before. Oh, Lona, why did not I really know you then--
in the old days, I mean?
I should never have let you go; and, if I had had you, I
should not be in the position I am in tonight.
And do you never consider what she might have been to you--
she whom you chose in my place?
I know, at all events, that she has been nothing to me
of what I needed.
Because you have never shared your interests with her;
because you have never allowed her full and frank exchange of
thoughts with you; because you have allowed her to be borne under
by self-reproach for the shame you cast upon one who was dear to
Yes, yes; it all comes from lying and deceit.
Then why not break with all this lying and deceit?
Karsten, tell me--what gratification does all this show and
deception bring you?
It brings me none. I must disappear someday, and all
this community of bunglers with me. But a generation is growing
up that will follow us; it is my son that I work for--I am
providing a career for him. There will come a time when truth
will enter into the life of the community, and on that foundation
he shall build up a happier existence than his father.
With a lie at the bottom of it all? Consider what sort of
an inheritance it is that you are leaving to your son.
BERNICK(in tones of suppressed despair)
It is a thousand times
worse than you think. But surely some day the curse must be
lifted; and yet--nevertheless--. (Vehemently.) How could I bring
all this upon my own head! Still, it is done now; I must go on
with it now. You shall not succeed in crushing me! (HILMAR comes
in hurriedly and agitatedly from the right, with an open letter
in his hand.)
What is the matter? Are they coming already?
No, no--but I must speak to some one immediately. (Goes
out through the farther door on the left.)
Karsten, you talk about our having come here to crush you.
So let me tell you what sort of stuff this prodigal son, whom
your moral community shuns as if he had the plague, is made of.
He can do without any of you--for he is away now.
Hm!--look here, Karsten. Johan was good enough to say that
he entrusted to me the good name and reputation that he once lent
to you, and also the good name that you stole from him while he
was away. Johan will hold his tongue; and I can act just as I
please in the matter. See, I have two letters in my hand.
You have got them! And you mean now--this very evening-
perhaps when the procession comes--
I did not come back here to betray you, but to stir your
conscience so that you should speak of your own free will. I did
not succeed in doing that--so you must remain as you are, with
your life founded upon a lie. Look, I am tearing your two letters
in pieces. Take the wretched things--there you are. Now there is no
evidence against you, Karsten. You are safe now; be happy, too--if
Lona--why did you not do that sooner!
Now it is too late; life no longer seems good to me; I cannot
live on after today.
And surely, Mr. Bernick, you have not forgotten that
we--.(MARTHA comes in through the farther door to the left. Music
is heard in the distance, down the street.)
The procession is just coming, but Betty is not in the house. I
don't understand where she--
Not in the house! There, you see, Lona--no support to me,
either in gladness or in sorrow.
Draw back the curtains! Come and help me, Mr. Krap--and you,
Mr. Sandstad. It is a thousand pities that the family should not be
united just now; it is quite contrary to the program. (They draw back
all the curtains. The whole street is seen to be illuminated. Opposite
the house is a large transparency, bearing the words: "Long live
Karsten Bernick, Pillar of our Society ")
Take all that away! I don't want to see it!
Put it out, put it out!
Excuse me, Mr. Bernick, but are you not well?
Do you not think a mother sees? I was in mortal fear of
your getting to know anything about it. Some words he let fall
yesterday--and then his room was empty, and his knapsack and
I ran, and got hold of Aune; we went out in his boat;
the American ship was on the point of sailing. Thank God, we were in
time--got on board--searched the hold--found him! Oh, Karsten, you
must not punish him!
Yes, make your mind easy, Rummel--I know now what to say.
(The music grows louder. The verandah door is opened. RORLUND
comes in, at the head of the Committee, escorted by a couple of
hired waiters, who carry a covered basket. They are followed by
townspeople of all classes, as many as can get into the room. An
apparently endless crowd of people, waving banners and flags, are
visible in the garden and the street.)
Mr. Bernick! I see, from the surprise depicted upon your face,
that it is as unexpected guests that we are intruding upon your
happyfamily circle and your peaceful fireside, where we find you
surrounded by honoured and energetic fellow citizens and friends. But
it is our hearts that have bidden us come to offer you our homage--not
for the first time, it is true, but for the first time on such a
comprehensive scale. We have on many occasions given you our thanks
for the broad moral foundation upon which you have, so to speak, reared
the edifice of our community. On this occasion we offer our homage
especially to the clear-sighted, indefatigable, unselfish--nay,
self-sacrificing citizen who has taken the initiative in an undertaking
which, we are assured on all sides, will give a powerful impetus to the
temporal prosperity and welfare of our community.
You, sir, have for many years been a shining example in our
midst. This is not the place for me to speak of your family life, which
has been a model to us all; still less to enlarge upon your unblemished
personal character. Such topics belong to the stillness of a man's own
chamber, not to a festal occasion such as this! I am here to speak of
your public life as a citizen, as it lies open to all men's eyes.
Well-equipped vessels sail away from your shipyard and carry our flag
far and wide over the seas. A numerous and happy band of workmen
look up to you as to a father. By calling new branches of industry into
existence, you have laid the foundations of the welfare of hundreds of
In a word--you are, in the fullest sense of the term, the mainstay of
And, sir, it is just that disinterestedness, which colours all
your conduct, that is so beneficial to our community--more so than
words can express--and especially at the present moment. You are now on
the point of procuring for us what I have no hesitation in calling
bluntly by its prosaic name--a railway!
For the fact has come to light that certain individuals, who
do not belong to our community, have stolen a march upon the hard-
working citizens of this place, and have laid hands on certain sources
of profit which by rights should have fallen to the share of our town.
This regrettable fact has naturally come to your knowledge
also, Mr. Bernick. But it has not had the slightest effect in deterring
you from proceeding steadily with your project, well knowing that a
patriotic man should not solely take local interests into
It is to such a man--to the patriot citizen, whose character
we all should emulate--that we bring our homage this evening. May your
undertaking grow to be a real and lasting source of good fortune to
this community! It is true enough that a railway may be the means of
our exposing ourselves to the incursion of pernicious influences from
without; but it gives us also the means of quickly expelling them from
within. For even we, at the present time, cannot boast of being
entirely free from the danger of such outside influences;but as we
have, on this very evening--if rumour is to be believed--fortunately
got rid of certain elements of that nature, sooner than was to be
Rorlund:--I regard the occurrence as a happy omen for our undertaking.
My alluding to such a thing at such a moment only emphasises the fact
that the house in which we are now standing is one where the claims of
morality are esteemed even above ties of family.
I have only a few more words to say, Mr. Bernick. What you
have done for your native place we all know has not been done with any
underlying idea of its bringing tangible profit to yourself. But,
nevertheless, you must not refuse to accept a slight token of grateful
appreciation at the hands of your fellow-citizens--least of all at this
important moment when, according to the assurances of practical men, we
are standing on the threshold of a new era.
(RORLUND aigns to the servants, who bring forward the basket. During
the following speech, members of the Committee take out and present the
various objects mentioned.)
And so, Mr. Bernick, we have the pleasure of presenting you
with this silver coffee-service. Let it grace your board when in the
future, as so often in the past, we have the happiness of being
assembled under your hospitable roof.
You, too, gentlemen, who have so generously seconded the leader of our
community, we ask to accept a small souvenir.
This silver goblet is for you, Mr. Rummel. Many a time have you, amidst
the clink of glasses, defended the interests of your fellow-citizens in
well-chosen words; may you often find similar worthy opportunities to
raise and empty this goblet in some patriotic toast!
To you, Mr. Sandstad, I present this album containing photographs of
your fellow-citizens. Your well-known and conspicuous liberality has
put you in the pleasant position of being able to number your friends
amongst all classes of society.
And to you, Mr. Vigeland, I have to offer this book of Family
Devotions, printed on vellum and handsomely bound, to grace your study
table. The mellowing influence of time has led you to take an earnest
view of life; your zeal in carrying out your daily duties has, for a
long period of years, been purified and enobled by thoughts of higher
and holier things. (Turns to the crowd.) And now, friends, three cheers
for Mr. Bernick and his fellow-workers! Three cheers for the Pillars of
THE WHOLE CROWD
Bernick! Pillars of Society! Hurrah-hurrah-hurrah!
BERNICK(speaking seriously and slowly)
spokesman said just now that tonight we are standing on the threshold
of a new era. I hope that will prove to be the case. But before that
can come to pass, we must lay fast hold of truth--truth which, till
tonight, has been altogether and in all circumstances a stranger to
this community of ours. (Astonishment among the audience.) To that end,
I must begin by deprecating the praises with which you, Mr. Rorlund,
according to custom on such occasions, have overwhelmed me. I do
not deserve them; because, until today, my actions have by no means
been disinterested. Even though I may not always have aimed at
pecuniary profit, I at all events recognise now that a craving for
power, influence and position has been the moving spirit of most of my
But what I charge myself with is that I have so often been
weak enough to resort to deceitfulness, because I knew and feared the
tendency of the community to espy unclean motives behind everything a
prominent man here undertakes. And now I am coming to a point which
will illustrate that.
There have been rumours of extensive purchases of property
outside the town. These purchases have been made by me--by me alone,
and by no one else. (Murmurs are heard: "What does he say?--He?--
Bernick?") The properties are, for the time being, in my hands.
Naturally I have confided in my fellow-workers, Mr. Rummel, Mr.
Vigeland and Mr. Sandstad, and we are all agreed that--
That is quite true--we are not yet agreed upon the matter I
was going to mention. But I confidently hope that these three gentlemen
will agree with me when I announce to you that I have tonight come to
the decision that these properties shall be exploited as a company of
which the shares shall be offered for public subscription; any one that
wishes can take shares.
RUMMEL(in a low voice, to BERNICK)
This is the basest treachery--!
SANDSTAD(also in an undertone)
So you have been fooling us!
Well, then, devil take--! Good Lord, what am I saying?
(Cheers are heard without.)
Silence, gentlemen. I have no right to this homage you offer
me; because the decision I have just come to does not represent what
was my first intention. My intention was to keep the whole thing for
myself; and, even now, I am of opinion that these properties would be
worked to best advantage if they remained in one man's hands. But you
are at liberty to choose. If you wish it, I am willing to administer
them to the best of my abilities.
But, first of all, my fellow townsmen must know me thoroughly.
And let each man seek to know himself thoroughly, too; and so let it
really come to pass that tonight we begin a new era. The old era--with
its affectation, its hypocrisy and its emptiness, its pretence of
virtue and its miserable fear of public opinion--shall be for us like a
museum, open for purposes of instruction; and to that museum we will
present--shall we not, gentlemen?--the coffee service, and the goblet,
and the album, and the Family Devotions printed on vellum, and
And now for the principal reckoning I have to make with the
community. Mr. Rorlund said that certain pernicious elements had left
us this evening. I can add what you do not yet know. The man referred
to did not go away alone; with him, to become his wife, went--
To become his wife, Mr. Rorlund. And I will add more. (In a
low voice, to his wife.) Betty, be strong to bear what is coming.
(Aloud.) This is what I have to say : hats off to that man, for he has
nobly taken another's guilt upon his shoulders. My friends, I want to
have done with falsehood; it has very nearly poisoned every fibre of my
being. You shall know all. Fifteen years ago, I was the guilty man.
Yes, friends, I was the guilty one, and he went away. The vile
and lying rumours that were spread abroad afterwards, it is beyond
human power to refute now; but I have no right to complain of that. For
fifteen years I have climbed up the ladder of success by the help of
those rumours; whether now they are to cast me down again, or not, each
of you must decide in his own mind.
What a thunderbolt! Our leading citizen--! (In a low voice, to
BETTY.) How sorry I am for you, Mrs. Bernick!
But come to no decision tonight. I entreat every one to go
home--to collect his thoughts--to look into his own heart. When once
more you can think calmly, then it will be seen whether I have lost or
won by speaking out. Goodbye! I have still much--very much--to repent
of; but that concerns my own conscience only. Good night! Take away all
these signs of rejoicing. We must all feel that they are out of place
That they certainly are. (In an undertone to MRS. BERNICK.)
Run away! So then she was completely unworthy of me. (Louder, to the
Committee.) Yes, gentlemen, after this I think we had better disperse
as quietly as possible.
How, after this, any one is to manage to hold the Ideal's
(Meantime the news has been whispered from mouth to mouth. The crowd
gradually disperses from the garden. RUMMEL, SANDSTAD and VIGELAND go
out, arguing eagerly but in a low voice. HILMAR slinks away to the
right. When silence is restored, there only remain in the room BERNICK,
MRS. BERNICK, MARTHA, LONA and KRAP.)
For many years, I have felt that once you were mine and
that I had lost you. Now I know that you never have been mine yet; but
I shall win you.
BERNICK(folding her in his arms)
Oh, Betty, you have won me. It was
through Lona that I first learned really to know you. But now let Olaf
come to me.
Yes, you shall have him now. Mr. Krap--! (Talks softly to
KRAP in the background. He goes out by the garden door. During what
follows, the illuminations and lights in the houses are gradually
BERNICK(in a low voice)
Thank you, Lona--you have saved what was best
in me--and for me.
Not for anything in the world. Where have I been! You would be
horrified if you knew. I feel now as if I had come back to my right
senses, after being poisoned. But I feel this that I can be young and
healthy again. Oh, come nearer--come closer round me. Come, Betty!
Come, Olaf, my boy! And you, Martha--it seems to me as if I had never
seen you all these years.
No, I can believe that. Your community is a community of bachelor
souls; you do not see women.
That is quite true; and for that very reason--this is a
bargain, Lona--you must not leave Betty and me.
No, how could I have the heart to go away and leave you young
people who are just setting up housekeeping? Am I not your
foster-mother? You and I, Martha, the two old aunts-- What are you
Look how the sky is clearing, and how light it is over the sea.
The "Palm Tree" is going to be lucky.
And we--we have a long earnest day of work ahead of us; I most
of all. But let it come; only keep close round me you true, loyal
women. I have learned this too, in these last few days; it is you women
that are the pillars of society.
You have learned a poor sort of wisdom, then, brother-in-law.
(Lays her hand firmly upon his shoulder.) No, my friend; the spirit of
truth and the spirit of freedom--they are the pillars of society.