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Full Online Book HomePlaysJohn Gabriel Borkman - Act 1
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John Gabriel Borkman - Act 1 Post by :imported_n/a Category :Plays Author :Henrik Ibsen Date :May 2012 Read :1055

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John Gabriel Borkman - Act 1

ACT FIRST

(MRS. BORKMAN's drawing-room, furnished with old-fashioned, faded splendour. At the back, an open sliding-door leads into a garden-room, with windows and a glass door. Through it a view over the garden; twilight with driving snow. On the right, a door leading from the hall. Further forward, a large old-fashioned iron stove, with the fire lighted. On the left, towards the back, a single smaller door. In front, on the same side, a window, covered with thick curtains. Between the window and the door a horsehair sofa, with a table in front of it covered with a cloth. On the table, a lighted lamp with a shade. Beside the stove a high-backed armchair.)

MRS. GUNHILD BORKMAN sits on the sofa, crocheting. She is an elderly lady, of cold, distinguished appearance, with stiff carriage and immobile features. Her abundant hair is very grey. Delicate transparent hands. Dressed in a gown of heavy dark silk, which has originally been handsome, but is now somewhat worn and shabby. A woollen shawl over her shoulders.

She sits for a time erect and immovable at her crochet. Then the bells of a passing sledge are heard.)


MRS. BORKMAN. (Listens; her eyes sparkle with gladness and she involuntarily whispers). Erhart! At last!

(She rises and draws the curtain a little aside to look out. Appears disappointed, and sits down to her work again, on the sofa. Presently THE MAID enters from the hall with a visiting card on a small tray.)

MRS. BORKMAN. (Quickly.) Has Mr. Erhart come after all?

THE MAID. No, ma'am. But there's a lady----

MRS. BORKMAN. (Laying aside her crochet.) Oh, Mrs. Wilton, I suppose----

THE MAID. (Approaching.) No, it's a strange lady----

MRS. BORKMAN. (Taking the card.) Let me see---- (Reads it; rises hastily and looks intently at the girl.) Are you sure this is for me?

THE MAID. Yes, I understand it was for you, ma'am.

MRS. BORKMAN. Did she say she wanted to see Mrs. Borkman?

THE MAID. Yes, she did.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Shortly, resolutely.) Good. Then say I am at home.

(THE MAID opens the door for the strange lady and goes out. MISS ELLA RENTHEIM enters. She resembles her sister; but her face has rather a suffering than a hard expression. It still shows signs of great beauty, combined with strong character. She has a great deal of hair, which is drawn back from the forehead in natural ripples, and is snow-white. She is dressed in black velvet, with a hat and a fur-lined cloak of the same material.

The two sisters stand silent for a time, and look searchingly at each other. Each is evidently waiting for the other to speak first.)

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Who has remained near the door.) You are surprised to see me, Gunhild.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Standing erect and immovable between the sofa and the table, resting her finger-tips upon the cloth.) Have you not made a mistake? The bailiff lives in the side wing, you know.

ELLA RENTHEIM. It is not the bailiff I want to see to-day.

MRS. BORKMAN. Is it me you want, then?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes. I have a few words to say to you.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Coming forward into the middle of the room.) Well--then sit down.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Thank you. I can quite well stand for the present.

MRS. BORKMAN. Just as you please. But at least loosen your cloak.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Unbuttoning her cloak.) Yes, it is very warm here.

MRS. BORKMAN. I am always cold.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Stands looking at her for a time with her arms resting on the back of the armchair.) Well, Gunhild, it is nearly eight years now since we saw each other last.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Coldly.) Since last we spoke to each other at any rate.

ELLA RENTHEIM. True, since we spoke to each other. I daresay you have seen me now and again--when I came on my yearly visit to the bailiff.

MRS. BORKMAN. Once or twice, I have.

ELLA RENTHEIM. I have caught one or two glimpses of you, too--there, at the window.

MRS. BORKMAN. You must have seen me through the curtains then. You have good eyes. (Harshly and cuttingly.) But the last time we spoke to each other--it was here in this room----

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Trying to stop her.) Yes, yes; I know, Gunhild!

MRS. BORKMAN. --the week before he--before he was let out.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Moving towards the back.) O, don't speak about that.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Firmly, but in a low voice.) It was the week before he--was set at liberty.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Coming down.) Oh yes, yes, yes! I shall never forget that time! But it is too terrible to think of! Only to recall it for the moment--oh!

MRS. BORKMAN. (Gloomily.) And yet one's thoughts can never get away from it. (Vehemently; clenching her hands together.) No, I can't understand how such a thing--how anything so horrible can come upon one single family! And then--that it should be our family! So old a family as ours! Think of its choosing us out!

ELLA RENTHEIM. Oh, Gunhild--there were many, many families besides ours that that blow fell upon.

MRS. BORKMAN. Oh yes; but those others don't trouble me very much. For in their case it was only a matter of a little money--or some papers. But for us----! For me! And then for Erhart! My little boy--as he then was! (In rising excitement.) The shame that fell upon us two innocent ones! The dishonour! The hateful, terrible dishonour! And then the utter ruin too!

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Cautiously.) Tell me, Gunhild, how does he bear it?

MRS. BORKMAN. Erhart, do you mean?

ELLA RENTHEIM. No--he himself. How does he bear it?

MRS. BORKMAN. (Scornfully.) Do you think I ever ask about that?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Ask? Surely you do not require to ask----

MRS. BORKMAN. (Looks at her in surprise.) You don't suppose I ever have anything to do with him? That I ever meet him? That I see anything of him?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Not even that!

MRS. BORKMAN. (As before.) The man was in gaol, in gaol for five years! (Covers her face with her hands.) Oh, the crushing shame of it! (With increased vehemence.) And then to think of all that the name of John Gabriel Borkman used to mean! No, no, no--I can never see him again! Never!

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Looks at her for a while.) You have a hard heart, Gunhild.

MRS. BORKMAN. Towards him, yes.

ELLA RENTHEIM. After all, he is your husband.

MRS. BORKMAN. Did he not say in court that it was I who began his ruin? That I spent money so recklessly?

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Tentatively.) But is there not some truth in that?

MRS. BORKMAN. Why, it was he himself that made me do it! He insisted on our living in such an absurdly lavish style----

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, I know. But that is just where you should have restrained him; and apparently you didn't.

MRS. BORKMAN. How was I to know that it was not his own money he gave me to squander? And that he himself used to squander, too--ten times more than I did!

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Quietly.) Well, I daresay his position forced him to do that-- to some extent at any rate.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Scornfully.) Yes, it was always the same story--we were to "cut a figure." And he did "cut a figure" to some purpose! He used to drive about with a four-in-hand as if he were a king. And he had people bowing and scraping to him just as to a king. (With a laugh.) And they always called him by his Christian names--all the country over--as if he had been the king himself. "John Gabriel," "John Gabriel," "John Gabriel." Every one knew what a great man "John Gabriel" was!

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Warmly and emphatically.) He was a great man then.

MRS. BORKMAN. Yes, to all appearance. But he never breathed a single word to me as to his real position--never gave a hint as to where he got his means from.

ELLA RENTHEIM. No, no; and other people did not dream of it either.

MRS. BORKMAN. I don't care about the other people. But it was his duty to tell me the truth. And that he never did! He kept on lying to me--lying abominably----

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Interrupting.) Surely not, Gunhild. He kept things back perhaps, but I am sure he did not lie.

MRS. BORKMAN. Well, well; call it what you please; it makes no difference. And then it all fell to pieces--the whole thing.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (To herself.) Yes, everything fell to pieces--for him--and for others.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Drawing herself up menacingly.) But I tell you this, Ella, I do not give in yet! I shall redeem myself yet--you may make up your mind to that!

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Eagerly.) Redeem yourself! What do you mean by that?

MRS. BORKMAN. Redeem my name, and honour, and fortune! Redeem my ruined life-- that is what I mean! I have some one in reserve, let me tell you-- one who will wash away every stain that he has left.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Gunhild! Gunhild!

MRS. BORKMAN. (With rising excitement.) There is an avenger living, I tell you! One who will make up to me for all his father's sins!

ELLA RENTHEIM. Erhart you mean.

MRS. BORKMAN. Yes, Erhart, my own boy! He will redeem the family, the house, the name. All that can be redeemed.--And perhaps more besides.

ELLA RENTHEIM. And how do you think that is to be done?

MRS. BORKMAN. It must be done as best it can; I don't know how. But I know that it must and shall be done. (Looks searchingly at her.) Come now, Ella; isn't that really what you have had in mind too, ever since he was a child?

ELLA RENTHEIM. No, I can't exactly say that.

MRS. BORKMAN. No? Then why did you take charge of him when the storm broke upon--upon this house?

ELLA RENTHEIM. You could not look after him yourself at that time, Gunhild.

MRS. BORKMAN. No, no, I could not. And his father--he had a valid enough excuse--while he was there--in safe keeping----

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Indignant.) Oh, how can you say such things!--You!

MRS. BORKMAN. (With a venomous expression.) And how could you make up your mind to take charge of the child of a--a John Gabriel! Just as if he had been your own? To take the child away from me--home with you--and keep him there year after year, until the boy was nearly grown up. (Looking suspiciously at her.) What was your real reason, Ella? Why did you keep him with you?

ELLA RENTHEIM. I came to love him so dearly----

MRS. BORKMAN. More than I--his mother?

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Evasively.) I don't know about that. And then, you know, Erhart was rather delicate as a child----

MRS. BORKMAN. Erhart--delicate!

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, I thought so--at that time at any rate. And you know the air of the west coast is so much milder than here.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Smiling bitterly.) H'm--is it indeed? (Breaking off.) Yes, it is true you have done a great deal for Erhart. (With a change of tone.) Well, of course, you could afford it. (Smiling.) You were so lucky, Ella; you managed to save all your money.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Hurt.) I did not manage anything about it, I assure you. I had no idea--until long, long afterwards--that the securities belonging to me--that they had been left untouched.

MRS. BORKMAN. Well, well; I don't understand anything about these things! I only say you were lucky. (Looking inquiringly at her.) But when you, of your own accord, undertook to educate Erhart for me--what was your motive in that?

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Looking at her.) My motive?

MRS. BORKMAN. Yes, some motive you must have had. What did you want to do with him? To make of him, I mean?

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Slowly.) I wanted to smooth the way for Erhart to happiness in life.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Contemptuously.) Pooh--people situated as we are have something else than happiness to think of.

ELLA RENTHEIM. What, then?

MRS. BORKMAN. (Looking steadily and earnestly at her.) Erhart has in the first place to make so brilliant a position for himself, that no trace shall be left of the shadow his father has cast upon my name--and my son's.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Searchingly.) Tell me, Gunhild, is this what Erhart himself demands of his life?

MRS. BORKMAN. (Slightly taken aback.) Yes, I should hope so!

ELLA RENTHEIM. Is it not rather what you demand of him?

MRS. BORKMAN. (Curtly.) Erhart and I always make the same demands upon ourselves.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Sadly and slowly.) You are so very certain of your boy, then, Gunhild?

MRS. BORKMAN. (With veiled triumph.) Yes, that I am--thank Heaven. You may be sure of that!

ELLA RENTHEIM. Then I should think in reality you must be happy after all; in spite of all the rest.

MRS. BORKMAN. So I am--so far as that goes. But then, every moment, all the rest comes rushing in upon me like a storm.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (With a change of tone.) Tell me--you may as well tell me at once--for that is really what I have come for----

MRS. BORKMAN. What?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Something I felt I must talk to you about.--Tell me--Erhart does not live out here with--with you others?

MRS. BORKMAN. (Harshly.) Erhart cannot live out here with me. He has to live in town----

ELLA RENTHEIM. So he wrote to me.

MRS. BORKMAN. He must, for the sake of his studies. But he comes out to me for a little while every evening.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Well, may I see him then? May I speak to him at once?

MRS. BORKMAN. He has not come yet; but I expect him every moment.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Why, Gunhild, surely he must have come. I can hear his footsteps overhead.

MRS. BORKMAN. (With a rapid upward glance.) Up in the long gallery?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes. I have heard him walking up and down there ever since I came.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Looking away from her.) That is not Erhart, Ella.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Surprised.) Not Erhart? (Divining.) Who is it then?

MRS. BORKMAN. It is he.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Softly, with suppressed pain.) Borkman? John Gabriel Borkman?

MRS. BORKMAN. He walks up and down like that--backwards and forwards--from morning to night--day out and day in.

ELLA RENTHEIM. I have heard something of this----

MRS. BORKMAN. I daresay. People find plenty to say about us, no doubt.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Erhart has spoken of it in his letters. He said that his father generally remained by himself--up there--and you alone down here.

MRS. BORKMAN. Yes; that is how it has been, Ella, ever since they let him out, and sent him home to me. All these long eight years.

ELLA RENTHEIM. I never believed it could really be so. It seemed impossible!

MRS. BORKMAN. (Nods.) It is so; and it can never be otherwise.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Looking at her.) This must be a terrible life, Gunhild.

MRS. BORKMAN. Worse than terrible--almost unendurable.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, it must be.

MRS. BORKMAN. Always to hear his footsteps up there--from early morning till far into the night. And everything sounds so clear in this house!

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, it is strange how clear the sound is.

MRS. BORKMAN. I often feel as if I had a sick wolf pacing his cage up there in the gallery, right over my head. (Listens and whispers.) Hark! Do you hear! Backwards and forwards, up and down, goes the wolf.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Tentatively.) Is no change possible, Gunhild?

MRS. BORKMAN. (With a gesture of repulsion.) He has never made any movement towards a change.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Could you not make the first movement, then?

MRS. BORKMAN. (Indignantly.) I! After all the wrong he has done me! No thank you! Rather let the wolf go on prowling up there.

ELLA RENTHEIM. This room is too hot for me. You must let me take off my things after all.

MRS. BORKMAN. Yes, I asked you to.

(ELLA RENTHEIM takes off her hat and cloak and lays them on a chair beside the door leading to the hall.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Do you never happen to meet him, away from home?

MRS. BORKMAN. (With a bitter laugh.) In society, do you mean?

ELLA RENTHEIM. I mean, when he goes out walking. In the woods, or----

MRS. BORKMAN. He never goes out.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Not even in the twilight?

MRS. BORKMAN. Never.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (With emotion.) He cannot bring himself to go out?

MRS. BORKMAN. I suppose not. He has his great cloak and his hat hanging in the cupboard--the cupboard in the hall, you know----

ELLA RENTHEIM. (To herself.) The cupboard we used to hide in when we were little.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Nods.) And now and then--late in the evening--I can hear him come down as though to go out. But he always stops when he is halfway downstairs, and turns back--straight back to the gallery.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Quietly.) Do none of his old friends ever come up to see him?

MRS. BORKMAN. He has no old friends.

ELLA RENTHEIM. He had so many--once.

MRS. BORKMAN. H'm! He took the best possible way to get rid of them. He was a dear friend to his friends, was John Gabriel.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Oh, yes, that is true, Gunhild.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Vehemently.) All the same, I call it mean, petty, base, contemptible of them, to think so much of the paltry losses they may have suffered through him. They were only money losses, nothing more.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Not answering her.) So he lives up there quite alone. Absolutely by himself.

MRS. BORKMAN. Yes, practically so. They tell me an old clerk or copyist or something comes out to see him now and then.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Ah, indeed; no doubt it is a man called Foldal. I know they were friends as young men.

MRS. BORKMAN. Yes, I believe they were. But I know nothing about him. He was quite outside our circle--when we had a circle----

ELLA RENTHEIM. So he comes out to see Borkman now?

MRS. BORKMAN. Yes, he condescends to. But of course he only comes when it is dark.

ELLA RENTHEIM. This Foldal--he was one of those that suffered when the bank failed?

MRS. BORKMAN. (Carelessly.) Yes, I believe I heard he had lost some money. But no doubt it was something quite trifling.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (With slight emphasis.) It was all he possessed.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Smiling.) Oh, well; what he possessed must have been little enough--nothing to speak of.

ELLA RENTHEIM. And he did not speak of it--Foldal I mean--during the investigation.

MRS. BORKMAN. At all events, I can assure you Erhart has made ample amends for any little loss he may have suffered.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (With surprise.) Erhart! How can Erhart have done that?

MRS. BORKMAN. He has taken an interest in Foldal's youngest daughter. He has taught her things, and put her in the way of getting employment, and some day providing for herself. I am sure that is a great deal more than her father could ever have done for her.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, I daresay her father can't afford to do much.

MRS. BORKMAN. And then Erhart has arranged for her to have lessons in music. She has made such progress already that she can come up to--to him in the gallery, and play to him.

ELLA RENTHEIM. So he is still fond of music?

MRS. BORKMAN. Oh yes, I suppose he is. Of course he has the piano you sent out here--when he was expected back----

ELLA RENTHEIM. And she plays to him on it?

MRS. BORKMAN. Yes, now and then--in the evenings. That is Erhart's doing, too.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Has the poor girl to come all the long way out here, and then back to town again?

MRS. BORKMAN. No, she doesn't need to. Erhart has arranged for her to stay with a lady who lives near us--a Mrs. Wilton----

ELLA RENTHEIM. (With interest.) Mrs. Wilton?

MRS. BORKMAN. A very rich woman. You don't know her.

ELLA RENTHEIM. I have heard her name. Mrs. Fanny Wilton, is it not----?

MRS. BORKMAN. Yes, quite right.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Erhart has mentioned her several times. Does she live out here now?

MRS. BORKMAN. Yes, she has taken a villa here; she moved out from town some time ago.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (With a slight hesitation.) They say she is divorced from her husband.

MRS. BORKMAN. Her husband has been dead for several years.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, but they were divorced. He got a divorce.

MRS. BORKMAN. He deserted her, that is what he did. I am sure the fault wasn't hers.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Do you know her at all intimately, Gunhild?

MRS. BORKMAN. Oh yes, pretty well. She lives close by here; and she looks in every now and then.

ELLA RENTHEIM. And do you like her?

MRS. BORKMAN. She is unusually intelligent; remarkably clear in her judgments.

ELLA RENTHEIM. In her judgments of people, do you mean?

MRS. BORKMAN. Yes, principally of people. She has made quite a study of Erhart; looked deep into his character--into his soul. And the result is she idolises him, as she could not help doing.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (With a touch of finesse.) Then perhaps she knows Erhart still better than she knows you?

MRS. BORKMAN. Yes, Erhart saw a good deal of her in town, before she came out here.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Without thinking.) And in spite of that she moved out of town?

MRS. BORKMAN. (Taken aback, looking keenly at her.) In spite of that! What do you mean?

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Evasively.) Oh, nothing particular.

MRS. BORKMAN. You said it strangely--you did mean something by it, Ella!

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Looking her straight in the eyes.) Yes, that is true, Gunhild! I did mean something by it.

MRS. BORKMAN. Well, then, say it right out.

ELLA RENTHEIM. First let me tell you, I think I too have a certain claim upon Erhart. Do you think I haven't?

MRS. BORKMAN. (Glancing round the room.) No doubt--after all the money you have spent upon him.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Oh, not on that account, Gunhild. But because I love him.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Smiling scornfully.) Love my son? Is it possible? You? In spite of everything?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, it is possible--in spite of everything. And it is true. I love Erhart--as much as I can love any one--now--at my time of life.

MRS. BORKMAN. Well, well, suppose you do: what then?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Why, then, I am troubled as soon as I see anything threatening him.

MRS. BORKMAN. Threatening Erhart! Why, what should threaten him? Or who?

ELLA RENTHEIM. You in the first place--in your way.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Vehemently.) I!

ELLA RENTHEIM. And then this Mrs. Wilton, too, I am afraid.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Looks at her for a moment in speechless surprise.) And you think such things of Erhart! Of my own boy! He, who has his great mission to fulfil!

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Lightly.) Oh, his mission!

MRS. BORKMAN. (Indignantly.) How dare you say that so scornfully?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Do you think a young man of Erhart's age, full of health and spirits--do you think he is going to sacrifice himself for--for such a thing as a "mission"?

MRS. BORKMAN. (Firmly and emphatically.) Erhart will! I know he will.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Shaking her head.) You neither know it nor believe it, Gunhild.

MRS. BORKMAN. I don't believe it!

ELLA RENTHEIM. It is only a dream that you cherish. For if you hadn't that to cling to, you feel that you would utterly despair.

MRS. BORKMAN. Yes, indeed I should despair. (Vehemently.) And I daresay that is what you would like to see, Ella!

ELLA RENTHEIM. (With head erect.) Yes, I would rather see that than see you "redeem" yourself at Erhart's expense.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Threateningly.) You want to come between us? Between mother and son? You?

ELLA RENTHEIM. I want to free him from your power--your will--your despotism.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Triumphantly.) You are too late! You had him in your nets all these years--until he was fifteen. But now I have won him again, you see!

ELLA RENTHEIM. Then I will win him back from you! (Hoarsely, half whispering.) We two have fought a life-and-death battle before, Gunhild--for a man's soul!

MRS. BORKMAN. (Looking at her in triumph.) Yes, and I won the victory.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (With a smile of scorn.) Do you still think that victory was worth the winning?

MRS. BORKMAN. (Darkly.) No; Heaven knows you are right there.

ELLA RENTHEIM. You need look for no victory worth the winning this time either.

MRS. BORKMAN. Not when I am fighting to preserve a mother's power over my son!

ELLA RENTHEIM. No; for it is only power over him that you want.

MRS. BORKMAN. And you?

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Warmly.) I want his affection--his soul--his whole heart!

MRS. BORKMAN. (With an outburst.) That you shall never have in this world!

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Looking at her.) You have seen to that?

MRS. BORKMAN. (Smiling.) Yes, I have taken that liberty. Could you not see that in his letters?

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Nods slowly.) Yes. I could see you--the whole of you--in his letters of late.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Gallingly.) I have made the best use of these eight years. I have had him under my own eye, you see.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Controlling herself.) What have you said to Erhart about me? Is it the sort of thing you can tell me?

MRS. BORKMAN. Oh yes, I can tell you well enough.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Then please do.

MRS. BORKMAN. I have only told him the truth.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Well?

MRS. BORKMAN. I have impressed upon him, every day of his life, that he must never forget that it is you we have to thank for being able to live as we do--for being able to live at all.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Is that all?

MRS. BORKMAN. Oh, that is the sort of thing that rankles; I feel that in my own heart.

ELLA RENTHEIM. But that is very much what Erhart knew already.

MRS. BORKMAN. When he came home to me, he imagined that you did it all out of goodness of heart. (Looks malignly at her.) Now he does not believe that any longer, Ella.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Then what does he believe now?

MRS. BORKMAN. He believes what is the truth. I asked him how he accounted for the fact that Aunt Ella never came here to visit us----

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Interrupting.) He knew my reasons already!

MRS. BORKMAN. He knows them better now. You had got him to believe that it was to spare me and--and him up there in gallery----

ELLA RENTHEIM. And so it was.

MRS. BORKMAN. Erhart does not believe that for a moment, now.

ELLA RENTHEIM. What have you put in his head?

MRS. BORKMAN. He thinks, what is the truth, that you are ashamed of us--that you despise us. And do you pretend that you don't? Were you not once planning to take him quite away from me? Think, Ella; you cannot have forgotten.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (With a gesture of negation.) That was at the height of the scandal--when the case was before the courts. I have no such designs now.

MRS. BORKMAN. And it would not matter if you had. For in that case what would become of his mission? No, thank you. It is me that Erhart needs-- not you. And therefore he is as good as dead to you--and you to him.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Coldly, with resolution.) We shall see. For now I shall remain out here.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Stares at her.) Here? In this house?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, here.

MRS. BORKMAN. Here--with us? Remain all night?

ELLA RENTHEIM. I shall remain here all the rest of my days if need be.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Collecting herself.) Very well, Ella; the house is yours----

ELLA RENTHEIM. Oh, nonsense----

MRS. BORKMAN. Everything is yours. The chair I am sitting in is yours. The bed I lie and toss in at night belongs to you. The food we eat comes to us from you.

ELLA RENTHEIM. It can't be arranged otherwise, you know. Borkman can hold no property of his own; for some one would at once come and take it from him.

MRS. BORKMAN. Yes, I know. We must be content to live upon your pity and charity.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Coldly.) I cannot prevent you from looking at it in that light, Gunhild.

MRS. BORKMAN. No, you cannot. When do you want us to move out?

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Looking at her.) Move out?

MRS. BORKMAN. (In great excitement.) Yes; you don't imagine that I will go on living under the same roof with you! I tell you, I would rather go to the workhouse or tramp the roads!

ELLA RENTHEIM. Good. Then let me take Erhart with me----

MRS. BORKMAN. Erhart? My own son? My child?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes; for then I would go straight home again.

MRS. BORKMAN. (After reflecting a moment, firmly.) Erhart himself shall choose between us.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Looking doubtfully and hesitatingly at her.) He choose? Dare you risk that, Gunhild?

MRS. BORKMAN. (With a hard laugh.) Dare I? Let my boy choose between his mother and you? Yes, indeed I dare!

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Listening.) Is there some one coming? I thought I heard----

MRS. BORKMAN. Then it must be Erhart.

(There is a sharp knock at the door leading in from the hall, which is immediately opened. MRS. WILTON enters, in evening dress, and with outer wraps. She is followed by THE MAID, who has not had time to announce her, and looks bewildered. The door remains half open. MRS. WILTON is a strikingly handsome, well-developed woman in the thirties. Broad, red, smiling lips, sparkling eyes. Luxuriant dark hair.)

MRS. WILTON. Good evening, my dearest Mrs. Borkman!

MRS. BORKMAN. (Rather drily.) Good evening, Mrs. Wilton. (To THE MAID, pointing toward the garden-room.) Take the lamp that is in there and light it.

(THE MAID takes the lamp and goes out with it.

MRS. WILTON. (Observing ELLA RENTHEIM.) Oh, I beg your pardon--you have a visitor.

MRS. BORKMAN. Only my sister, who has just arrived from----

(ERHART BORKMAN flings the half-open door wide open and rushes in. He is a young man with bright cheerful eyes. He is well dressed; his moustache is beginning to grow.)

ERHART. (Radiant with joy; on the threshold.) What is this! Is Aunt Ella here? (Rushing up to her and seizing her hands.) Aunt, aunt! Is it possible? Are you here?

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Throws her arms round his neck.) Erhart! My dear, dear boy! Why, how big you have grown! Oh, how good it is to see you again!

MRS. BORKMAN. (Sharply.) What does this mean, Erhart? Were you hiding out in the hallway?

MRS. WILTON. (Quickly.) Erhart--Mr. Borkman came in with me.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Looking hard at him.) Indeed, Erhart! You don't come to your mother first?

ERHART. I had just to look in at Mrs. Wilton's for a moment--to call for little Frida.

MRS. BORKMAN. Is that Miss Foldal with you too?

MRS. WILTON. Yes, we have left her in the hall.

ERHART. (Addressing some one through the open door.) You can go right upstairs, Frida.

(Pause. ELLA RENTHEIM observes ERHART. He seems embarrassed and a little impatient; his face has assumed a nervous and colder expression.)

(THE MAID brings the lighted lamp into the garden-room, goes out again and closes the door behind her.)

MRS. BORKMAN. (With forced politeness.) Well, Mrs. Wilton, if you will give us the pleasure of your company this evening, won't you----

MRS. WILTON. Many thanks, my dear lady, but I really can't. We have another invitation. We're going down to the Hinkels'.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Looking at her.) We? Whom do you mean by we?

MRS. WILTON. (Laughing.) Oh, I ought really to have said I. But I was commissioned by the ladies of the house to bring Mr. Borkman with me--if I happened to see him.

MRS. BORKMAN. And you did happen to see him, it appears.

MRS. WILTON. Yes, fortunately. He was good enough to look in at my house-- to call for Frida.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Drily.) But, Erhart, I did not know that you knew that family-- those Hinkels?

ERHART. (Irritated.) No, I don't exactly know them. (Adds rather impatiently.) You know better than anybody, mother, what people I know and don't know.

MRS. WILTON. Oh, it doesn't matter! They soon put you at your ease in that house! They are such cheerful, hospitable people--the house swarms with young ladies.

MRS. BORKMAN. (With emphasis.) If I know my son rightly, Mrs. Wilton, they are no fit company for him.

MRS. WILTON. Why, good gracious, dear lady, he is young, too, you know!

MRS. BORKMAN. Yes, fortunately he's young. He would need to be young.

ERHART. (Concealing his impatience.) Well, well, well, mother, it's quite clear I can't got to the Hinkels' this evening. Of course I shall remain here with you and Aunt Ella.

MRS. BORKMAN. I knew you would, my dear Erhart.

ELLA RENTHEIM. No, Erhart, you must not stop at home on my account----

ERHART. Yes, indeed, my dear Aunt; I can't think of going. (Looking doubtfully at MRS. WILTON.) But how shall we manage? Can I get out of it? You have said "Yes" for me, haven't you?

MRS. WILTON. (Gaily.) What nonsense! Not get out of it! When I make my entrance into the festive halls--just imagine it!--deserted and forlorn--then I must simply say "No" for you.

ERHART. (Hesitatingly.) Well, if you really think I can get out of it----

MRS. WILTON. (Putting the matter lightly aside.) I am quite used to saying both yes and no--on my own account. And you can't possibly think of leaving your aunt the moment she has arrived! For shame, Monsieur Erhart! Would that be behaving like a good son?

MRS. BORKMAN. (Annoyed.) Son?

MRS. WILTON. Well, adopted son then, Mrs. Borkman.

MRS. BORKMAN. Yes, you may well add that.

MRS. WILTON. Oh, it seems to me we have often more cause to be grateful to a foster-mother than to our own mother.

MRS. BORKMAN. Has that been your experience?

MRS. WILTON. I knew very little of my own mother, I am sorry to say. But if I had had a good foster-mother, perhaps I shouldn't have been so-- so naughty, as people say I am. (Turning towards ERHART.) Well, then we stop peaceably at home like a good boy, and drink tea with mamma and auntie! (To the ladies.) Good-bye, good-bye Mrs. Borkman! Good-bye Miss Rentheim.

(The ladies bow silently. She goes toward the door.)

ERHART. (Following her.) Shan't I go a little bit of the way with you?

MRS. WILTON. (In the doorway, motioning him back.) You shan't go a step with me. I am quite accustomed to taking my walks alone. (Stops on the threshold, looks at him and nods.) But now beware, Mr. Borkman--I warn you!

ERHART. What am I to beware of?

MRS. WILTON. (Gaily.) Why, as I go down the road--deserted and forlorn, as I said before--I shall try if I can't cast a spell upon you.

ERHART. (Laughing.) Oh, indeed! Are you going to try that again?

MRS. WILTON. (Half seriously.) Yes, just you beware! As I go down the road, I will say in my own mind--right from the very centre of my will-- I will say: "Mr. Erhart Borkman, take your hat at once!"

MRS. BORKMAN. And you think he will take it?

MRS. WILTON. (Laughing.) Good heavens, yes, he'll snatch up his hat instantly. And then I will say: "Now put on your overcoat, like a good boy, Erhart Borkman! And your goloshes! Be sure you don't forget the goloshes! And then follow me! Do as I bid you, as I bid you, as I bid you!"

ERHART. (With forced gaiety.) Oh, you may rely on that.

MRS. WILTON. (Raising her forefinger.) As I bid you! As I bid you! Good-night!

(She laughs and nods to the ladies, and closes the door behind her.

MRS. BORKMAN. Does she really play tricks of that sort?

ERHART. Oh, not at all. How can you think so! She only says it in fun. (Breaking off.) But don't let us talk about Mrs. Wilton. (He forces ELLA RENTHEIM to seat herself at the armchair beside the stove, then stands and looks at her.) To think of your having taken all this long journey, Aunt Ella! And in winter too!

ELLA RENTHEIM. I found I had to, Erhart.

ERHART. Indeed? Why so?

ELLA RENTHEIM. I had to come to town after all, to consult the doctors.

ERHART. Oh, I'm glad of that!

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Smiling.) Are you glad of that?

ERHART. I mean I am glad you made up your mind to it at last.

MRS. BORKMAN. (On the sofa, coldly.) Are you ill, Ella?

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Looking hardly at her.) You know quite well that I am ill.

MRS. BORKMAN. I knew you were not strong, and hadn't been for years.

ERHART. I told you before I left you that you ought to consult a doctor.

ELLA RENTHEIM. There is no one in my neighbourhood that I have any real confidence in. And, besides, I did not feel it so much at that time.

ERHART. Are you worse, then, Aunt?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, my dear boy; I am worse now.

ERHART. But there's nothing dangerous?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Oh, that depends how you look at it.

ERHART. (Emphatically.) Well, then, I tell you what it is, Aunt Ella; you mustn't think of going home again for the present.

ELLA RENTHEIM. No, I am not thinking of it.

ERHART. You must remain in town; for here you can have your choice of all the best doctors.

ELLA RENTHEIM. That was what I thought when I left home.

ERHART. And then you must be sure and find a really nice place to live-- quiet, comfortable rooms.

ELLA RENTHEIM. I went this morning to the old ones, where I used to stay before.

ERHART. Oh, well, you were comfortable enough there.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, but I shall not be staying there after all.

ERHART. Indeed? Why not?

ELLA RENTHEIM. I changed my mind after coming out here.

ERHART. (Surprised.) Really? Changed you mind?

MRS. BORKMAN. (Crocheting; without looking up.) Your aunt will live here, in her own house, Erhart.

ERHART. (Looking from one to the other alternately.) Here, with us? Is this true, Aunt?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, that is what I made up my mind to do.

MRS. BORKMAN. (As before.) Everything here belongs to your aunt, you know.

ELLA RENTHEIM. I intend to remain here, Erhart--just now--for the present. I shall set up a little establishment of my own, over in the bailiff's wing.

ERHART. Ah, that's a good idea. There are plenty of rooms there. (With sudden vivacity.) But, by-the-bye, Aunt--aren't you very tired after your journey?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Oh yes, rather tired.

ERHART. Well, then, I think you ought to go quite early to bed.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Looks at him smilingly.) I mean to.

ERHART. (Eagerly.) And then we could have a good long talk to-morrow-- or some other day, of course--about this and that--about things in general--you and mother and I. Wouldn't that be much the best plan, Aunt Ella?

MRS. BORKMAN. (With an outburst, rising from the sofa.) Erhart, I can see you are going to leave me!

ERHART. (Starts.) What do you mean by that?

MRS. BORKMAN. You are going down to--to the Hinkels'?

ERHART. (Involuntarily.) Oh, that! (Collecting himself.) Well, you wouldn't have me sit here and keep Aunt Ella up half the night? Remember, she's an invalid, mother.

MRS. BORKMAN. You are going to the Hinkels', Erhart!

ERHART. (Impatiently.) Well, really, mother, I don't think I can well get out of it. What do you say, Aunt?

ELLA RENTHEIM. I should like you to feel quite free, Erhart.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Goes up to her menacingly.) You want to take him away from me!

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Rising.) Yes, if only I could, Gunhild! (Music is heard from above.

ERHART. (Writhing as if in pain.) Oh, I can't endure this! (Looking round.) What have I done with my hat? (To ELLA RENTHEIM.) Do you know the air that she is playing up there?

ELLA RENTHEIM. No. What is it?

ERHART. It's the _Danse Macabre_--the Dance of Death! Don't you know the Dance of Death, Aunt?

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Smiling sadly.) Not yet, Erhart.

ERHART. (To MRS. BORKMAN.) Mother--I beg and implore you--let me go!

MRS. BORKMAN. (Looks hardly at him.) Away from your mother? So that is what you want to do?

ERHART. Of course I'll come out again--to-morrow perhaps.

MRS. BORKMAN. (With passionate emotion.) You want to go away from me! To be with those strange people! With--with--no, I will not even think of it!

ERHART. There are bright lights down there, and young, happy faces; and there's music there, mother!

MRS. BORKMAN. (Pointing upwards.) There is music here, too, Erhart.

ERHART. Yes, it's just that music that drives me out of the house.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Do you grudge your father a moment of self-forgetfulness?

ERHART. No, I don't. I'm very, very glad that he should have it--if only _I don't have to listen.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Looking solemnly at him.) Be strong, Erhart! Be strong, my son! Do not forget that you have your great mission.

ERHART. Oh, mother--do spare me these phrases! I wasn't born to be a "missionary."--Good-night, aunt dear! Good-night, mother. (He goes hastily out through the hall.)

MRS. BORKMAN. (After a short silence.) It has not taken you long to recapture him, Ella, after all.

ELLA RENTHEIM. I wish I could believe it.

MRS. BORKMAN. But you shall see you won't be allowed to keep him long.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Allowed? By you, do you mean?

MRS. BORKMAN. By me or--by her, the other one----

ELLA RENTHEIM. Then rather she than you.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Nodding slowly.) That I understand. I say the same. Rather she than you.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Whatever should become of him in the end----

MRS. BORKMAN. It wouldn't greatly matter, I should say.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Taking her outdoor things upon her arm.) For the first time in our lives, we twin sisters are of one mind. Good-night, Gunhild.

(She goes out by the hall. The music sounds louder from above.

MRS. BORKMAN. (Stands still for a moment, starts, shrinks together, and whispers involuntarily.) The wolf is whining again--the sick wolf. (She stands still for a moment, then flings herself down on the floor, writhing in agony and whispering:) Erhart! Erhart!--be true to me! Oh, come home and help your mother! For I can bear this life no longer!

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ACT SECOND(The great gallery on the first floor of the Rentheim House. The walls are covered with old tapestries, representing hunting-scenes, shepherds and shepherdesses, all in faded colours. A folding-door to the left, and further forward a piano. In the left-hand corner, at the back, a door, cut in the tapestry, and covered with tapestry, without any frame. Against the middle of the right wall, a large writing-table of carved oak, with many books and papers. Further forward on the same side, a sofa with a table and chairs in front of it. The furniture is all of a stiff Empire
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JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN (1896)PERSONS.JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN, formerly Managing Director of a Bank.MRS. GUNHILD BORKMAN, his wife.ERHART BORKMAN, their son, a student.MISS ELLA RENTHEIM, Mrs. Borkman's twin sister.MRS. FANNY WILTON.VILHELM FOLDAL, subordinate clerk in a Government office.FRIDA FOLDAL, his daughter.MRS. BORKMAN'S MAID. The action passes one winter evening, at the Manorhouse of the Rentheim family, in the neighbourhood of Christiania. JOHN GABRIEL BORKMANPLAY IN FOUR ACTSTranslation and Introduction by William Archer.
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