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John Gabriel Borkman - Act 2 Post by :pennyebook Category :Plays Author :Henrik Ibsen Date :May 2012 Read :951

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John Gabriel Borkman - Act 2


(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 style. Lighted lamps on both tables.)

JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN stands with his hands behind his back, beside the piano, listening to FRIDA FOLDAL, who is playing the last bars of the "Danse Macabre."

BORKMAN is of middle height, a well-knit, powerfully-built man, well on in the sixties. His appearance is distinguished, his profile finely cut, his eyes piercing, his hair and beard curly and greyish-white. He is dressed in a slightly old-fashioned black coat, and wears a white necktie. FRIDA FOLDAL is a pretty, pale girl of fifteen, with a somewhat weary and overstrained expression. She is cheaply dressed in light colours.

BORKMAN. Can you guess where I first heard tones like these?

FRIDA. (Looking up at him.) No, Mr. Borkman.

BORKMAN. It was down in the mines.

FRIDA. (Not understanding.) Indeed? Down in the mines?

BORKMAN. I am a miner's son, you know. Or perhaps you did not know?

FRIDA. No, Mr. Borkman.

BORKMAN. A miner's son. And my father used sometimes to take me with him into the mines. The metal sings down there.

FRIDA. Really? Sings?

BORKMAN. (Nodding.) When it is loosened. The hammer-strokes that loosen it are the midnight bell clanging to set it free; and that is why the metal sings--in its own way--for gladness.

FRIDA. Why does it do that, Mr. Borkman?

BORKMAN. It wants to come up into the light of day and serve mankind.

(He paces up and down the gallery, always with his hands behind his back.)

FRIDA. (Sits waiting a little, then looks at her watch and rises.) I beg your pardon, Mr. Borkman; but I am afraid I must go.

BORKMAN. (Stopping before her.) Are you going already?

FRIDA. (Putting her music in its case.) I really must. (Visibly embarrassed.) I have an engagement this evening.

BORKMAN. For a party?


BORKMAN. And you are to play before the company?

FRIDA. (Biting her lip.) No; at least I am only to play for dancing.

BORKMAN. Only for dancing?

FRIDA. Yes; there is to be a dance after supper.

BORKMAN. (Stands and looks at her.) Do you like playing dance music? At parties, I mean?

FRIDA. (Putting on her outdoor things.) Yes, when I can get an engagement. I can always earn a little in that way.

BORKMAN. (With interest.) Is that the principal thing in your mind as you sit playing for the dancers?

FRIDA. No; I'm generally thinking how hard it is that I mayn't join in the dance myself.

BORKMAN. (Nodding.) That is just what I wanted to know. (Moving restlessly about the room.) Yes, yes, yes. That you must not join in the dance, that is the hardest thing of all. (Stopping.) But there is one thing that should make up to you for that, Frida.

FRIDA. (Looking inquiringly at him.) What is that, Mr. Borkman?

BORKMAN. The knowledge that you have ten times more music in you than all the dancers together.

FRIDA. (Smiling evasively.) Oh, that's not at all so certain.

BORKMAN. (Holding up his fore-finger warningly.) You must never be so mad as to have doubts of yourself!

FRIDA. But since no one knows it----

BORKMAN. So long as you know it yourself, that is enough. Where is it you are going to play this evening?

FRIDA. Over at the Hinkel's.

BORKMAN. (With a swift, keen glance at her.) Hinkel's, you say!


BORKMAN. (With a cutting smile.) Does that man give parties? Can he get people to visit him?

FRIDA. Yes, they have a great many people about them, Mrs. Wilton says.

BORKMAN. (Vehemently.) But what sort of people? Can you tell me that?

FRIDA. (A little nervously.) No, I really don't know. Yes, by-the-bye, I know that young Mr. Borkman is to be there this evening.

BORKMAN. (Taken aback.) Erhart? My son?

FRIDA. Yes, he is going there.

BORKMAN. How do you know that?

FRIDA. He said so himself--an hour ago.

BORKMAN. Is he out here to-day?

FRIDA. Yes, he has been at Mrs. Wilton's all the afternoon.

BORKMAN. (Inquiringly.) Do you know if he called here too? I mean, did he see any one downstairs?

FRIDA. Yes, he looked in to see Mrs. Borkman.

BORKMAN. (Bitterly.) Aha--I might have known it.

FRIDA. There was a strange lady calling upon her, I think.

BORKMAN. Indeed? Was there? Oh yes, I suppose people do come now and then to see Mrs. Borkman.

FRIDA. If I meet young Mr. Borkman this evening, shall I ask him to come up and see you too?

BORKMAN. (Harshly.) You shall do nothing of the sort! I won't have it on any account. The people who want to see me can come of their own accord.

FRIDA. Oh, very well; I shan't say anything then. Good-night, Mr. Borkman.

BORKMAN. (Pacing up and down and growling.) Good-night.

FRIDA. Do you mind if I run down by the winding stair? It's the shortest way.

BORKMAN. Oh, by all means; take whatever stair you please, so far as I am concerned. Good-night to you!

FRIDA. Good-night, Mr. Borkman.

(She goes out by the little tapestry door in the back on the left.

(BORKMAN, lost in thought, goes up to the piano, and is about to close it, but changes his mind. Looks round the great empty room, and sets to pacing up and down it from the corner at the back on the right--pacing backward and forward uneasily and incessantly. At last he goes up to the writing-table, listens in the direction of the folding door, hastily snatches up a hand-glass, looks at himself in it, and straightens his necktie.)

(A knock at the folding door. BORKMAN hears it, looks rapidly towards the door, but says nothing.)

(In a little there comes another knock, this time louder.)

BORKMAN. (Standing beside the writing-table with his left hand resting upon it, and his right thrust in the breast of his coat.) Come in!

(VILHELM FOLDAL comes softly into the room. He is a bent and worn man with mild blue eyes and long, thin grey hair straggling down over his coat collar. He has a portfolio under his arm, a soft felt hat, and large horn spectacles, which he pushes up over his forehead.)

BORKMAN. (Changes his attitude and looks at FOLDAL with a half disappointed, half pleased expression.) Oh, is it only you?

FOLDAL. Good evening, John Gabriel. Yes, you see it is me.

BORKMAN. (With a stern glance.) I must say you are rather a late visitor.

FOLDAL. Well, you know, it's a good bit of a way, especially when you have to trudge it on foot.

BORKMAN. But why do you always walk, Vilhelm? The tramway passes your door.

FOLDAL. It's better for you to walk--and then you always save twopence. Well, has Frida been playing to you lately?

BORKMAN. She has just this moment gone. Did you not meet her outside?

FOLDAL. No, I have seen nothing of her for a long time; not since she went to live with this Mrs. Wilton.

BORKMAN. (Seating himself on the sofa and waving his hand toward a chair.) You may sit down, Vilhelm.

FOLDAL. (Seating himself on the edge of a chair.) Many thanks. (Looks mournfully at him.) You can't think how lonely I feel since Frida left home.

BORKMAN. Oh, come--you have plenty left.

FOLDAL. Yes, God knows I have--five of them. But Frida was the only one who at all understood me. (Shaking his head sadly.) The others don't understand me a bit.

BORKMAN. (Gloomily, gazing straight before him, and drumming on the table with his fingers.) No, that's just it. That is the curse we exceptional, chosen people have to bear. The common herd-- the average man and woman--they do not understand us, Vilhelm.

FOLDAL. (With resignation.) If it were only the lack of understanding-- with a little patience, one could manage to wait for that awhile yet. (His voice choked with tears.) But there is something still bitterer.

BORKMAN. (Vehemently.) There is nothing bitterer than that.

FOLDAL. Yes, there is, John Gabriel. I have gone through a domestic scene to-night--just before I started.

BORKMAN. Indeed? What about?

FOLDAL. (With an outburst.) My people at home--they despise me.

BORKMAN. (Indignantly.) Despise----?

FOLDAL. (Wiping his eyes.) I have long known it; but to-day it came out unmistakably.

BORKMAN. (After a short silence.) You made an unwise choice, I fear, when you married.

FOLDAL. I had practically no choice in the matter. And, you see, one feels a need for companionship as one begins to get on in years. And so crushed as I then was--so utterly broken down----

BORKMAN. (Jumping up in anger.) Is this meant for me? A reproach----!

FOLDAL. (Alarmed.) No, no, for Heaven's sake, John Gabriel----!

BORKMAN. Yes, you are thinking of the disaster to the bank, I can see you are.

FOLDAL. (Soothingly.) But I don't blame you for that! Heaven forbid!

BORKMAN. (Growling, resumes his seat.) Well, that is a good thing, at any rate.

FOLDAL. Besides, you mustn't think it is my wife that I complain of. It is true she has not much polish, poor thing; but she is a good sort of woman all the same. No, it's the children.

BORKMAN. I thought as much.

FOLDAL. For the children--well, they have more culture and therefore they expect more of life.

BORKMAN. (Looking at him sympathetically.) And so your children despise you, Vilhelm?

FOLDAL. (Shrugging his shoulders.) I haven't made much of a career, you see--there is no denying that.

BORKMAN. (Moving nearer to him, and laying his hand upon his arm.) Do they not know, then, that in your young days you wrote a tragedy?

FOLDAL. Yes, of course they know that. But it doesn't seem to make much impression on them.

BORKMAN. Then they don't understand these things. For your tragedy is good. I am firmly convinced of that.

FOLDAL. (Brightening up.) Yes, don't you think there are some good things in it, John Gabriel? Good God, if I could only manage to get it placed----! (Opens his portfolio, and begins eagerly turning over the contents.) Look here! Just let me show you one or two alterations I have made.

BORKMAN. Have you it with you?

FOLDAL. Yes, I thought I would bring it. It's so long now since I have read it to you. And I thought perhaps it might amuse you to hear an act or two.

BORKMAN. (Rising, with a negative gesture.) No, no, we will keep that for another time.

FOLDAL. Well, well, as you please.

(BORKMAN paces up and down the room. FOLDAL puts the manuscript up again.)

BORKMAN. (Stopping in front of him.) You are quite right in what you said just now--you have not made any career. But I promise you this, Vilhelm, that when once the hour of my restoration strikes----

FOLDAL. (Making a movement to rise.) Oh, thanks, thanks!

BORKMAN. (Waving his hand.) No, please be seated. (With rising excitement.) When the hour of my restoration strikes--when they see that they cannot get on without me--when they come to me, here in the gallery, and crawl to my feet, and beseech me to take the reins of the bank again----! The new bank, that they have founded and can't carry on---- (Placing himself beside the writing-table in the same attitude as before, and striking his breast.) Here I shall stand, and receive them! And it shall be known far and wide, all the country over, what conditions John Gabriel Borkman imposes before he will---- (Stopping suddenly and staring at FOLDAL.) You're looking so doubtfully at me! Perhaps you do not believe that they will come? That they must, must, must come to me some day? Do you not believe it?

FOLDAL. Yes, Heaven knows I do, John Gabriel.

BORKMAN. (Seating himself again on the sofa.) I firmly believe it. I am immovably convinced--I know that they will come. If I had not been certain of that I would have put a bullet through my head long ago.

FOLDAL. (Anxiously.) Oh no, for Heaven's sake----!

BORKMAN. (Exultantly.) But they will come! They will come sure enough! You shall see! I expect them any day, any moment. And you see, I hold myself in readiness to receive them.

FOLDAL. (With a sigh.) If only they would come quickly.

BORKMAN. (Restlessly.) Yes, time flies: the years slip away; life---- Ah, no--I dare not think of it! (Looking at him.) Do you know what I sometimes feel like?


BORKMAN. I feel like a Napoleon who has been maimed in his first battle.

FOLDAL. (Placing his hand upon his portfolio.) I have that feeling too.

BORKMAN. Oh, well, that is on a smaller scale, of course.

FOLDAL. (Quietly.) My little world of poetry is very precious to me, John Gabriel.

BORKMAN. (Vehemently.) Yes, but think of me, who could have created millions! All the mines I should have controlled! New veins innumerable! And the water-falls! And the quarries! And the trade routes, and the steamship-lines all the wide world over! I would have organised it all--I alone!

FOLDAL. Yes, I know, I know. There was nothing in the world you would have shrunk from.

BORKMAN. (Clenching his hands together.) And now I have to sit here, like a wounded eagle, and look on while others pass me in the race, and take everything away from me, piece by piece!

FOLDAL. That is my fate too.

BORKMAN. (Not noticing him.) Only to think of it; so near to the goal as I was! If I had only had another week to look about me! All the deposits would have been covered. All the securities I had dealt with so daringly should have been in their places again as before. Vast companies were within a hair's-breadth of being floated. Not a soul should have lost a half-penny.

FOLDAL. Yes, yes; you were on the very verge of success.

BORKMAN. (With suppressed fury.) And then treachery overtook me! Just at the critical moment! (Looking at him.) Do you know what I hold to be the most infamous crime a man can be guilty of?

FOLDAL. No, tell me.

BORKMAN. It is not murder. It is not robbery or house-breaking. It is not even perjury. For all these things people do to those they hate, or who are indifferent to them, and do not matter.

FOLDAL. What is the worst of all then, John Gabriel?

BORKMAN. (With emphasis.) The most infamous of crimes is a friend's betrayal of his friend's confidence.

FOLDAL. (Somewhat doubtfully.) Yes, but you know----

BORKMAN. (Firing up.) What are you going to say? I see it in your face. But it is of no use. The people who had their securities in the bank should have got them all back again--every farthing. No; I tell you the most infamous crime a man can commit is to misuse a friend's letters; to publish to all the world what has been confided to him alone, in the closest secrecy, like a whisper in an empty, dark, double-locked room. The man who can do such things is infected and poisoned in every fibre with the morals of the higher rascality. And such a friend was mine--and it was he who crushed me.

FOLDAL. I can guess whom you mean.

BORKMAN. There was not a nook or cranny of my life that I hesitated to lay open to him. And then, when the moment came, he turned against me the weapons I myself had placed in his hands.

FOLDAL. I have never been able to understand why he---- Of course, there were whispers of all sorts at the time.

BORKMAN. What were the whispers? Tell me. You see I know nothing. For I had to go straight into--into isolation. What did people whisper, Vilhelm?

FOLDAL. You were to have gone into the Cabinet, they said.

BORKMAN. I was offered a portfolio, but I refused it.

FOLDAL. Then it wasn't there you stood in his way?

BORKMAN. Oh, no; that was not the reason he betrayed me.

FOLDAL. Then I really can't understand----

BORKMAN. I may as well tell you, Vilhelm----


BORKMAN. There was--in fact, there was a woman in the case.

FOLDAL. A woman in the case? Well but, John Gabriel----

BORKMAN. (Interrupting.) Well, well--let us say no more of these stupid old stories. After all, neither of us got into the Cabinet, neither he nor I.

FOLDAL. But he rose high in the world.

BORKMAN. And I fell into the abyss.

FOLDAL. Oh, it's a terrible tragedy----

BORKMAN. (Nodding to him.) Almost as terrible as yours, I fancy, when I come to think of it.

FOLDAL. (Naively.) Yes, at least as terrible.

BORKMAN. (Laughing quietly.) But looked at from another point of view, it is really a sort of comedy as well.

FOLDAL. A comedy? The story of your life?

BORKMAN. Yes, it seems to be taking a turn in that direction. For let me tell you----


BORKMAN. You say you did not meet Frida as you came in?


BORKMAN. At this moment, as we sit here, she is playing waltzes for the guests of the man who betrayed and ruined me.

FOLDAL. I hadn't the least idea of that.

BORKMAN. Yes, she took her music, and went straight from me to--to the great house.

FOLDAL. (Apologetically.) Well, you see, poor child----

BORKMAN. And can you guess for whom she is playing--among the rest?


BORKMAN. For my son.


BORKMAN. What do you think of that, Vilhelm? My son is down there in the whirl of the dance this evening. Am I not right in calling it a comedy?

FOLDAL. But in that case you may be sure he knows nothing about it.

BORKMAN. What does he know?

FOLDAL. You may be sure he doesn't know how he--that man----

BORKMAN. Do not shrink from his name. I can quite well bear it now.

FOLDAL. I'm certain your son doesn't know the circumstances, John Gabriel.

BORKMAN. (Gloomily, sitting and beating the table.) Yes, he knows, as surely as I am sitting here.

FOLDAL. Then how can he possibly be a guest in that house?

BORKMAN. (Shaking his head.) My son probably does not see things with my eyes. I'll take my oath he is on my enemies' side! No doubt he thinks, as they do, that Hinkel only did his confounded duty when he went and betrayed me.

FOLDAL. But, my dear friend, who can have got him to see things in that light?

BORKMAN. Who? Do you forget who has brought him up? First his aunt, from the time he was six or seven years old; and now, of late years, his mother!

FOLDAL. I believe you are doing them an injustice.

BORKMAN. (Firing up.) I never do any one injustice! Both of them have gone and poisoned his mind against me, I tell you!

FOLDAL. (Soothingly.) Well, well, well, I suppose they have.

BORKMAN. (Indignantly.) Oh these women! They wreck and ruin life for us! Play the devil with our whole destiny--our triumphal progress.

FOLDAL. Not all of them!

BORKMAN. Indeed? Can you tell me of a single one that is good for anything?

FOLDAL. No, that is the trouble. The few that I know are good for nothing.

BORKMAN. (With a snort of scorn.) Well then, what is the good of it? What is the good of such women existing--if you never know them?

FOLDAL. (Warmly.) Yes, John Gabriel, there is good in it, I assure you. It is such a blessed, beneficial thought that here or there in the world, somewhere, far away--the true woman exists after all.

BORKMAN. (Moving impatiently on the sofa.) Oh, do spare me that poetical nonsense.

FOLDAL. (Looks at him, deeply wounded.) Do you call my holiest faith poetical nonsense?

BORKMAN. (Harshly.) Yes I do! That is what has always prevented you from getting on in the world. If you would get all that out of your head, I could still help you on in life--help you to rise.

FOLDAL. (Boiling inwardly.) Oh, you can't do that.

BORKMAN. I can when once I come into power again.

FOLDAL. That won't be for many a day.

BORKMAN. (Vehemently.) Perhaps you think that day will never come? Answer me!

FOLDAL. I don't know what to answer.

BORKMAN. (Rising, cold and dignified, and waving his hand towards the door.) Then I no longer have any use for you.

FOLDAL. (Starting up.) No use----!

BORKMAN. Since you do not believe that the tide will turn for me----

FOLDAL. How can I believe in the teeth of all reason? You would have to be legally rehabilitated----

BORKMAN. Go on! go on!

FOLDAL. It's true I never passed my examination; but I have read enough law to know that----

BORKMAN. (Quickly.) It is impossible, you mean?

FOLDAL. There is no precedent for such a thing.

BORKMAN. Exceptional men are above precedents.

FOLDAL. The law knows nothing of such distinctions.

BORKMAN. (Harshly and decisively.) You are no poet, Vilhelm.

FOLDAL. (Unconsciously folding his hands.) Do you say that in sober earnest?

BORKMAN. (Dismissing the subject, without answering.) We are only wasting each other's time. You had better not come here again.

FOLDAL. Then you really want me to leave you?

BORKMAN. (Without looking at him.) I have no longer any use for you.

FOLDAL. (Softly, taking his portfolio.) No, no, no; I daresay not.

BORKMAN. Here you have been lying to me all the time.

FOLDAL. (Shaking his head.) Never lying, John Gabriel.

BORKMAN. Have you not sat here feeding me with hope, and trust, and confidence--that was all a lie?

FOLDAL. It wasn't a lie so long as you believed in my vocation. So long as you believed in me, I believed in you.

BORKMAN. Then we have been all the time deceiving each other. And perhaps deceiving ourselves--both of us.

FOLDAL. But isn't that just the essence of friendship, John Gabriel?

BORKMAN. (Smiling bitterly.) Yes, you are right there. Friendship means--deception. I have learnt that once before.

FOLDAL. (Looking at him.) I have no poetic vocation! And you could actually say it to me so bluntly.

BORKMAN. (In a gentler tone.) Well, you know, I don't pretend to know much about these matters.

FOLDAL. Perhaps you know more than you think.


FOLDAL. (Softly.) Yes, you. For I myself have had my doubts, now and then, I may tell you. The horrible doubt that I may have bungled my life for the sake of a delusion.

BORKMAN. If you have no faith in yourself, you are on the downward path indeed.

FOLDAL. That was why I found such comfort in coming here to lean upon your faith in me. (Taking his hat.) But now you have become a stranger to me.

BORKMAN. And you to me.

FOLDAL. Good night, John Gabriel.

BORKMAN. Good night, Vilhelm. (Foldal goes out to the left.)

(BORKMAN stands for a moment gazing at the closed door; makes a movement as though to call FOLDAL back, but changes his mind, and begins to pace the floor with his hands behind his back. Then he stops at the table beside the sofa and puts out the lamp. The room becomes half dark. After a short pause, there comes a knock at the tapestry door.)

BORKMAN. (At the table, starts, turns, and asks in a loud voice:) Who is that knocking?

(No answer, another knock.)

BORKMAN. (Without moving.) Who is it? Come in!

(ELLA RENTHEIM, with a lighted candle in her hand, appears in the doorway. She wears her black dress, as before, with her cloak thrown loosely round her shoulders.)

BORKMAN. (Staring at her.) Who are you? What do you want with me?

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Closes the door and advances.) It is I, Borkman.

(She puts down the candle on the piano and remains standing beside it.)

BORKMAN. (Stands as though thunderstruck, stares fixedly at her, and says in a half-whisper.) Is it--is it Ella? Is it Ella Rentheim?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, it's "your" Ella, as you used to call me in the old days; many, many years ago.

BORKMAN. (As before.) Yes, it is you Ella, I can see you now.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Can you recognise me?

BORKMAN. Yes, now I begin to----

ELLA RENTHEIM. The years have told on me, and brought winter with them, Borkman. Do you not think so?

BORKMAN. (In a forced voice.) You are a good deal changed--just at first glance.

ELLA RENTHEIM. There are no dark curls on my neck now--the curls you once loved to twist round your fingers.

BORKMAN. (Quickly.) True! I can see now, Ella, you have done your hair differently.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (With a sad smile.) Precisely; it is the way I do my hair that makes the difference.

BORKMAN. (Changing the subject.) I had no idea that you were in this part of the world.

ELLA RENTHEIM. I have only just arrived.

BORKMAN. Why have you come all this way now, in winter?

ELLA RENTHEIM. That you shall hear.

BORKMAN. Is it me you have come to see?

ELLA RENTHEIM. You among others. But if I am to tell you my errand, I must begin far back.

BORKMAN. You look tired.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, I am tired.

BORKMAN. Won't you sit down? There on the sofa.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, thank you; I need rest.

(She crosses to the right and seats herself in the furthest forward corner of the sofa. BORKMAN stands beside the table with his hands behind his back looking at her. A short silence.)

ELLA RENTHEIM. It seems an endless time since we two met, Borkman, face to face.

BORKMAN. (Gloomily.) It is a long, long time. And terrible things have passed since then.

ELLA RENTHEIM. A whole lifetime has passed--a wasted lifetime.

BORKMAN. (Looking keenly at her.) Wasted!

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, I say wasted--for both of us.

BORKMAN. (In a cold business tone.) I cannot regard my life as wasted yet.

ELLA RENTHEIM. And what about mine?

BORKMAN. There you have yourself to blame, Ella.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (With a start.) And you can say that?

BORKMAN. You could quite well have been happy without me.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Do you believe that?

BORKMAN. If you had made up your mind to.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Bitterly.) Oh, yes, I know well enough there was some one else ready to marry me.

BORKMAN. But you rejected him.


BORKMAN. Time after time you rejected him. Year after year----

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Scornfully.) Year after year I rejected happiness, I suppose you think?

BORKMAN. You might perfectly well have been happy with him. And then I should have been saved.


BORKMAN. Yes, you would have saved me, Ella.

ELLA RENTHEIM. How do you mean?

BORKMAN. He thought I was at the bottom of your obstinacy--of your perpetual refusals. And then he took his revenge. It was so easy for him; he had all my frank, confiding letters in his keeping. He made his own use of them; and then it was all over with me--for the time, that is to say. So you see it is all your doing, Ella!

ELLA RENTHEIM. Oh indeed, Borkman. If we look into the matter, it appears that it is I who owe you reparation.

BORKMAN. It depends how you look at it. I know quite well all that you have done for us. You bought in this house, and the whole property, at the auction. You placed the house entirely at my disposal--and your sister too. You took charge of Erhart, and cared for him in every way----

ELLA RENTHEIM. As long as I was allowed to----

BORKMAN. By your sister, you mean. I have never mixed myself up in these domestic affairs. As I was saying, I know all the sacrifices you have made for me and for your sister. But you were in a position to do so, Ella; and you must not forget that it was I who placed you in that position.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Indignantly.) There you make a great mistake, Borkman! It was the love of my inmost heart for Erhart--and for you too--that made me do it!

BORKMAN. (Interrupting.) My dear Ella, do not let us get upon questions of sentiment and that sort of thing. I mean, of course, that if you acted generously, it was I that put it in your power to do so.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Smiling.) H'm! In my power----

BORKMAN. (Warmly.) Yes, put it in your power, I say! On the eve of the great decisive battle--when I could not afford to spare either kith or kin--when I had to grasp at--when I did grasp at the millions that were entrusted to me--then I spared all that was yours, every farthing, although I could have taken it, and made use of it, as I did of all the rest!

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Coldly and quietly.) That is quite true, Borkman.

BORKMAN. Yes it is. And that was why, when they came and took me, they found all your securities untouched in the strong-room of the bank.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Looking at him.) I have often and often wondered what was your real reason for sparing all my property? That, and that alone.

BORKMAN. My reason?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, your reason. Tell me.

BORKMAN. (Harshly and scornfully.) Perhaps you think it was that I might have something to fall back upon, if things went wrong?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Oh no, I am sure you did not think of that in those days.

BORKMAN. Never! I was so absolutely certain of victory.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Well then, why was it that----?

BORKMAN. (Shrugging his shoulders.) Upon my soul, Ella, it is not so easy to remember one's motives of twenty years ago. I only know that when I used to grapple, silently and alone, with all the great projects I had in my mind, I had something like the feeling of a man who is starting on a balloon voyage. All through my sleepless nights I was inflating my giant balloon, and preparing to soar away into perilous, unknown regions.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Smiling.) You, who never had the least doubt of victory?

BORKMAN. (Impatiently.) Men are made so, Ella. They both doubt and believe at the same time. (Looking straight before him.) And I suppose that was why I would not take you and yours with me in the balloon.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Eagerly.) Why, I ask you? Tell me why!

BORKMAN. (Without looking at her.) One shrinks from risking what one holds dearest on such a voyage.

ELLA RENTHEIM. You had risked what was dearest to you on that voyage. Your whole future life----

BORKMAN. Life is not always what one holds dearest.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Breathlessly.) Was that how you felt at that time?

BORKMAN. I fancy it was.

ELLA RENTHEIM. I was the dearest thing in the world to you?

BORKMAN. I seem to remember something of the sort.

ELLA RENTHEIM. And yet years had passed since you had deserted me--and married-- married another!

BORKMAN. Deserted you, you say? You must know very well that it was higher motives--well then, other motives that compelled me. Without his support I could not have done anything.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Controlling herself.) So you deserted me from--higher motives.

BORKMAN. I could not get on without his help. And he made you the price of helping me.

ELLA RENTHEIM. And you paid the price. Paid it in full--without haggling.

BORKMAN. I had no choice. I had to conquer or fall.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (In a trembling voice, looking at him.) Can what you tell me be true--that I was then the dearest thing in the world to you?

BORKMAN. Both then and afterwards--long, long, after.

ELLA RENTHEIM. But you bartered me away none the less; drove a bargain with another man for your love. Sold my love for a--for a directorship.

BORKMAN. (Gloomily and bowed down.) I was driven by inexorable necessity, Ella.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Rises from the sofa, quivering with passion.) Criminal!

BORKMAN. (Starts, but controls himself.) I have heard that word before.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Oh, don't imagine I'm thinking of anything you may have done against the law of the land! The use you made of all those vouchers and securities, or whatever you call them--do you think I care a straw about that! If I could have stood at your side when the crash came----

BORKMAN. (Eagerly.) What then, Ella?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Trust me, I should have borne it all so gladly along with you. The shame, the ruin--I would have helped you to bear it all--all!

BORKMAN. Would you have had the will--the strength?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Both the will and the strength. For then I did not know of your great, your terrible crime.

BORKMAN. What crime? What are you speaking of?

ELLA RENTHEIM. I am speaking of that crime for which there is no forgiveness.

BORKMAN. (Staring at her.) You must be out of your mind.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Approaching him.) You are a murderer! You have committed the one mortal sin!

BORKMAN. (Falling back towards the piano.) You are raving, Ella!

ELLA RENTHEIM. You have killed the love-life in me. (Still nearer him.) Do you understand what that means? The Bible speaks of a mysterious sin for which there is no forgiveness. I have never understood what it could be; but now I understand. The great, unpardonable sin is to murder the love-life in a human soul.

BORKMAN. And you say I have done that?

ELLA RENTHEIM. You have done that. I have never rightly understood until this evening what had really happened to me. That you deserted me and turned to Gunhild instead--I took that to be mere common fickleness on your part, and the result of heartless scheming on hers. I almost think I despised you a little, in spite of everything. But now I see it! You deserted the woman you loved! Me, me, me! What you held dearest in the world you were ready to barter away for gain. That is the double murder you have committed! The murder of your own soul and of mine!

BORKMAN. (With cold self-control.) How well I recognise your passionate, ungovernable spirit, Ella. No doubt it is natural enough that you should look at the thing in this light. Of course, you are a woman, and therefore it would seem that your own heart is the one thing you know or care about in this world.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, yes it is.

BORKMAN. Your own heart is the only thing that exists for you.

ELLA RENTHEIM. The only thing! The only thing! You are right there.

BORKMAN. But you must remember that I am a man. As a woman, you were the dearest thing in the world to me. But if the worst comes to the worst, one woman can always take the place of another.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Looks at him with a smile.) Was that your experience when you had made Gunhild your wife?

BORKMAN. No. But the great aims I had in life helped me to bear even that. I wanted to have at my command all the sources of power in this country. All the wealth that lay hidden in the soil, and the rocks, and the forests, and the sea-- I wanted to gather it all into my hands to make myself master of it all, and so to promote the well-being of many, many thousands.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Lost in recollection.) I know it. Think of all the evenings we spent in talking over your projects.

BORKMAN. Yes, I could talk to you, Ella.

ELLA RENTHEIM. I jested with your plans, and asked whether you wanted to awaken all the sleeping spirits of the mine.

BORKMAN. (Nodding.) I remember that phrase. (Slowly.) All the sleeping spirits of the mine.

ELLA RENTHEIM. But you did not take it as a jest. You said: "Yes, yes, Ella, that is just what I want to do."

BORKMAN. And so it was. If only I could get my foot in the stirrup---- And that depended on that one man. He could and would secure me the control of the bank--if I on my side----

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, just so! If you on your side would renounce the woman you loved--and who loved you beyond words in return.

BORKMAN. I knew his consuming passion for you. I knew that on no other condition would he----

ELLA RENTHEIM. And so you struck the bargain.

BORKMAN. (Vehemently.) Yes, I did, Ella! For the love of power is uncontrollable in me, you see! So I struck the bargain; I had to. And he helped me half-way up towards the beckoning heights that I was bent on reaching. And I mounted and mounted; year by year I mounted----

ELLA RENTHEIM. And I was as though wiped out of your life.

BORKMAN. And after all he hurled me into the abyss again. On account of you, Ella.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (After a short thoughtful silence.) Borkman, does it not seem to you as if there had been a sort of curse on our whole relation?

BORKMAN. (Looking at her.) A curse?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes. Don't you think so?

BORKMAN. (Uneasily.) Yes. But why is it? (With an outburst.) Oh Ella, I begin to wonder which is in the right--you or I!

ELLA RENTHEIM. It is you who have sinned. You have done to death all the gladness of my life in me.

BORKMAN. (Anxiously.) Do not say that, Ella!

ELLA RENTHEIM. All a woman's gladness at any rate. From the day when your image began to dwindle in my mind, I have lived my life as though under an eclipse. During all these years it has grown harder and harder for me--and at last utterly impossible--to love any living creature. Human beings, animals, plants: I shrank from all--from all but one----

BORKMAN. What one?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Erhart, of course.

BORKMAN. Erhart?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Erhart--your son, Borkman.

BORKMAN. Has he really been so close to your heart?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Why else should I have taken him to me, and kept him as long as ever I could? Why?

BORKMAN. I thought it was out of pity, like all the rest that you did.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (In strong inward emotion.) Pity! Ha, ha! I have never known pity, since you deserted me. I was incapable of feeling it. If a poor starved child came into my kitchen, shivering, and crying, and begging for a morsel of food, I let the servants look to it. I never felt any desire to take the child to myself, to warm it at my own hearth, to have the pleasure of seeing it eat and be satisfied. And yet I was not like that when I was young; that I remember clearly! It is you that have created an empty, barren desert within me--and without me too!

BORKMAN. Except only for Erhart.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, except for your son. But I am hardened to every other living thing. You have cheated me of a mother's joy and happiness in life--and of a mother's sorrows and tears as well. And perhaps that is the heaviest part of the loss to me.

BORKMAN. Do you say that, Ella?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Who knows? It may be that a mother's sorrows and tears were what I needed most. (With still deeper emotion.) But at that time I could not resign myself to my loss; and that was why I took Erhart to me. I won him entirely. Won his whole, warm, trustful childish heart--until---- Oh!

BORKMAN. Until what?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Until his mother--his mother in the flesh, I mean--took him from me again.

BORKMAN. He had to leave you in any case; he had to come to town.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Wringing her hands.) Yes, but I cannot bear the solitude-- the emptiness! I cannot bear the loss of your son's heart!

BORKMAN. (With an evil expression in his eyes.) H'm--I doubt whether you have lost it, Ella. Hearts are not so easily lost to a certain person--in the room below.

ELLA RENTHEIM. I have lost Erhart here, and she has won him back again. Or if not she, some one else. That is plain enough in the letters he writes me from time to time.

BORKMAN. Then it is to take him back with you that you have come here?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, if only it were possible----!

BORKMAN. It is possible enough, if you have set your heart upon it. For you have the first and strongest claims upon him.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Oh, claims, claims! What is the use of claims? If he is not mine of his own free will, he is not mine at all. And have him I must! I must have my boy's heart, whole and undivided--now!

BORKMAN. You must remember that Erhart is well into his twenties. You could scarcely reckon on keeping his heart very long undivided, as you express it.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (With a melancholy smile.) It would not need to be for so very long.

BORKMAN. Indeed? I should have thought that when you want a thing, you want it to the end of your days.

ELLA RENTHEIM. So I do. But that need not mean for very long.

BORKMAN. (Taken aback.) What do you mean by that?

ELLA RENTHEIM. I suppose you know I have been in bad health for many years past?

BORKMAN. Have you?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Do you not know that?

BORKMAN. No, I cannot say I did----

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Looking at him in surprise.) Has Erhart not told you so?

BORKMAN. I really don't remember at the moment.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Perhaps he has not spoken of me at all?

BORKMAN. Oh, yes, I believe he has spoken of you. But the fact is, I so seldom see anything of him--scarcely ever. There is a certain person below that keeps him away from me. Keeps him away, you understand?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Are you quite sure of that, Borkman?

BORKMAN. Yes, absolutely sure. (Changing his tone.) And so you have been in bad health, Ella?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, I have. And this autumn I grew so much worse that I had to come to town and take better medical advice.

BORKMAN. And you have seen the doctors already?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, this morning.

BORKMAN. And what did they say to you?

ELLA RENTHEIM. They gave me full assurance of what I had long suspected.


ELLA RENTHEIM. (Calmly and quietly.) My illness will never be cured, Borkman.

BORKMAN. Oh, you must not believe that, Ella.

ELLA RENTHEIM. It is a disease that there is no help or cure for. The doctors can do nothing with it. They must just let it take its course. They cannot possibly check it; at most, they can allay the suffering. And that is always something.

BORKMAN. Oh, but it will take a long time to run its course. I am sure it will.

ELLA RENTHEIM. I may perhaps last out the winter, they told me.

BORKMAN. (Without thinking.) Oh, well, the winter is long.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Quietly.) Long enough for me, at any rate.

BORKMAN. (Eagerly, changing the subject.) But what in all the world can have brought on this illness? You, who have always lived such a healthy and regular life? What can have brought it on?

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Looking at him.) The doctors thought that perhaps at one time in my life I had had to go through some great stress of emotion.

BORKMAN. (Firing up.) Emotion! Aha, I understand! You mean that it is my fault?

ELLA RENTHEIM. (With increasing inward agitation.) It is too late to go into that matter now! But I must have my heart's own child again before I go! It is so unspeakably sad for me to think that I must go away from all that is called life--away from sun, and light, and air--and not leave behind me one single human being who will think of me--who will remember me lovingly and mournfully--as a son remembers and thinks of the mother he has lost.

BORKMAN. (After a short pause.) Take him, Ella, if you can win him.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (With animation.) Do you give your consent? Can you?

BORKMAN. (Gloomily.) Yes. And it is no great sacrifice either. For in any case he is not mine.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Thank you, thank you all the same for the sacrifice! But I have one thing more to beg of you--a great thing for me, Borkman.

BORKMAN. Well, what is it?

ELLA RENTHEIM. I daresay you will think it childish of me--you will not understand----

BORKMAN. Go on--tell me what it is.

ELLA RENTHEIM. When I die--as I must soon--I shall have a fair amount to leave behind me.

BORKMAN. Yes, I suppose so.

ELLA RENTHEIM. And I intend to leave it all to Erhart.

BORKMAN. Well, you have really no one nearer to you than he.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Warmly.) No, indeed, I have no one nearer me than he.

BORKMAN. No one of your own family. You are the last.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Nodding slowly.) Yes, that is just it. When I die, the name of Rentheim dies with me. And that is such a torturing thought to me. To be wiped out of existence--even to your very name----

BORKMAN. (Firing up.) Ah, I see what you are driving at!

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Passionately.) Do not let this be my forte. Let Erhart bear my name after me!

BORKMAN. I understand you well enough. You want to save my son from having to bear his father's name. That is your meaning.

ELLA RENTHEIM. No, no, not that! I myself would have borne it proudly and gladly along with you! But a mother who is at the point of death---- There is more binding force in a name than you think or believe, Borkman.

BORKMAN. (Coldly and proudly.) Well and good, Ella. I am man enough to bear my own name alone.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Seizing and pressing his hand.) Thank you, thank you! Now there has been a full settlement between us! Yes, yes, let it be so! You have made all the atonement in your power. For when I have gone from the world, I shall leave Erhart Rentheim behind me!

(The tapestry door is thrown open. MRS. BORKMAN, with the large shawl over her head, stands in the doorway.)

MRS. BORKMAN. (In violent agitation.) Never to his dying day shall Erhart be called by that name!

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Shrinking back.) Gunhild!

BORKMAN. (Harshly and threateningly.) I allow no one to come up to my room!

MRS. BORKMAN. (Advancing a step.) I do not ask your permission.

BORKMAN. (Going towards her.) What do you want with me?

MRS. BORKMAN. I will fight with all my might for you. I will protect you from the powers of evil.

ELLA RENTHEIM. The worst "powers of evil" are in yourself, Gunhild!

MRS. BORKMAN. (Harshly.) So be it then. (Menacingly, with upstretched arm.) But this I tell you--he shall bear his father's name! And bear it aloft in honour again! My son's heart shall be mine--mine and no other's.

(She goes out by the tapestry door and shuts it behind her.

ELLA RENTHEIM. (Shaken and shattered.) Borkman, Erhart's life will be wrecked in this storm. There must be an understanding between you and Gunhild. We must go down to her at once.

BORKMAN. (Looking at her.) We? I too, do you mean?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Both you and I.

BORKMAN. (Shaking his head.) She is hard, I tell you. Hard as the metal I once dreamed of hewing out of the rocks.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Then try it now!

(BORKMAN does not answer, but stands looking doubtfully at her.)

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John Gabriel Borkman - Act 3 John Gabriel Borkman - Act 3

John Gabriel Borkman - Act 3
ACT THIRD(MRS. BORKMAN's drawing room. The lamp is still burning on the table beside the sofa in front. The garden-room at the back is quite dark.)MRS. BORKMAN, with the shawl still over her head, enters, in violent agitation, by the hall door, goes up to the window, draws the curtain a little aside, and looks out; then she seats herself beside the stove, but immediately springs up again, goes to the bell-pull and rings. Stands beside the sofa, and waits a moment. No one comes. Then she rings again, this time more violently.THE MAID presently enters from the hall. She looks

John Gabriel Borkman - Act 1 John Gabriel Borkman - Act 1

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,