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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.

scene 08

BORKMAN. Can you guess where I first heard music like this?

FRIDA. [Looking up at him.] No, Mr. Borkman.

BORKMAN. It was down in the mines.

FRIDA. [Not understanding.] In the mines?

BORKMAN. I am a miner's son, you know. Or maybe you didn't know?

FRIDA. No, Mr. Borkman.

BORKMAN. A miner's son. Sometimes my father would take me with him, down into the mines. The metal sings down there.

FRIDA. Really? Sings?

BORKMAN. [Nodding.] When it's loosened. The hammer-strokes that loosen it strike like the midnight bell to set it free; and so the metal sings--for gladness--in its way.

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.] Pardon me, Mr. Borkman; but I am afraid I must go.

BORKMAN. [Stopping before her.] So soon?

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're to give them a concert?

FRIDA. [Biting her lip.] No; I'm only playing for the dancing.

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 always earn a little that way.

BORKMAN. [With interest.] Is that what you think of, of what you earn, when you're playing for the dancers?

FRIDA. No; I usually think how sad it is that I can't join in the dancing myself.

BORKMAN. [Nodding.] That's just what I wanted to know. [Moving restlessly about the room.] Yes. This thing that you can't join in yourself, that's what hurts the most. [Stopping.] But there is something that makes up for it, Frida.

FRIDA. [Looking inquiringly at him.] What, Mr. Borkman?

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

FRIDA. [Smiling evasively.] Oh, I'm not so sure about that...

BORKMAN. [Holding up his fore-finger warningly.] Never be so foolish as to doubt yourself!

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

BORKMAN. So long as you know it yourself, that's enough. Where is it you're playing this evening?

FRIDA. Over at (%% Mr. Hinkel's) the Hinkel's.

BORKMAN. [With a swift, keen glance at her.] Hinkel's! (%% Mr. Hinkel)


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

FRIDA. Yes, a lot people, from what Mrs. Wilton says.

BORKMAN. [Vehemently.] But what sort of people? Can you tell me that?

FRIDA. [A little nervously.] I really don't know. Except... of course, I know that young Mr. Borkman will be there this evening.

BORKMAN. [Taken aback.] Erhart? My son?

FRIDA. Yes, he's going.

BORKMAN. How do you know that?

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

BORKMAN. Is he out here today?

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

BORKMAN. [Inquiringly.] Do you know if he was here too? I mean, was he in to see any one downstairs?

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

BORKMAN. [Bitterly.] Aha--I might have known it.

FRIDA. But there was a strange lady with her, I think.

BORKMAN. Was there? Well, I suppose people do come to see her now and then.

FRIDA. If I see young Mr. Borkman this evening, should I tell him to come up and visit you?

BORKMAN. [Harshly.] Absolutely not! Don't tell him anything. The people who want to see me can come of their own accord.

FRIDA. No, no, I won't say anything then. Good-night, Mr. Borkman.

BORKMAN. [Pacing up and down and growling.] Good-night.

FRIDA. Could I run down the back stairs? It's the shortest way.

BORKMAN. Oh, by all means; take whatever stairs you want, for all I care. Good-night to you!

FRIDA. Good-night, Mr. Borkman.

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

scene 09

[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.

scene 10

BORKMAN. [Changes his attitude and looks at FOLDAL with a half disappointed, half pleased expression.] Oh, it's only you.

FOLDAL. Good evening, John Gabriel. Yes it is, it's me.

BORKMAN. Anyway, you're quite late.

FOLDAL. Well, it's quite far you know, especially on foot.

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

FOLDAL. It's healthier to walk--and you save the carfare. Well, has Frida been playing for you lately?

BORKMAN. She just left this minute. You didn't 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 imagine how lonely I've felt since Frida left home.

BORKMAN. Oh, come--you have plenty in reserve.

FOLDAL. Yes, Heaven knows I have--five of them. But Frida was the only one who understood me at all. [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.] That's a fact. That is the curse that 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--[His voice choked with tears.] But there is something even worse than that.

BORKMAN. [Vehemently.] Nothing is worse than that.

FOLDAL. Yes, there is, John Gabriel. I've been through a domestic scene to-night--just before I came here.

BORKMAN. Really? What about?

FOLDAL. [With an outburst.] My family--they despise me.

BORKMAN. [Indignantly.] Despise----?

FOLDAL. [Wiping his eyes.] I've sensed it for a long while; but to-day it came out in the open.

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

FOLDAL. I scarcely had a choice. And besides, a man needs to marry when he's beginning to get on in years. And so crushed as I then was--so utterly broken down--

BORKMAN. [Jumping up in anger.] Is that meant for me? A reproach----!

FOLDAL. [Alarmed.] No, no, for Heaven's sake, John Gabriel----!

BORKMAN. Yes, you are brooding over the disaster at the bank, I can see you are.

FOLDAL. [Soothingly.] But I don't blame you for that! I swear!

BORKMAN. [Growling, resumes his seat.] Well, I'm glad to hear it.

FOLDAL. And it's not my wife that I complain about. She may not be very refined, poor thing; but she's a good sort of woman all the same. No, it's the children.

BORKMAN. I'm not surprised.

FOLDAL. Because the children--well, they have more education, and so they expect more of life.

BORKMAN. [Looking at him sympathetically.] And that's why 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 that you wrote a tragedy when you were young?

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

BORKMAN. Then they are insensitive to 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 Heavens, if I could only get it produced----! [Opens his portfolio, and begins eagerly turning over the contents.] Look here! Just let me show you one or two revisions I've made.

BORKMAN. You have it with you?

FOLDAL. It's been so long since I've read it to you. I thought it might amuse you to hear an act or two.

BORKMAN. [Rising, with a negative gesture.] No, no, let's leave that for another time.

FOLDAL. Yes, yes, as you please.

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

BORKMAN. [Stopping in front of him.] You were right in what you were just saying--you haven't made a career. But I promise you this, Vilhelm, that when once the hour of my restitution (%% restoration) strikes----

FOLDAL. [Making a movement to rise.] Oh, thank you, thank you!

BORKMAN. [Waving his hand.] No, please be seated. [With rising excitement.] When the hour of my restitution (%% restoration) strikes--when they see that they cannot get on without me--when they come to me, here, and and beg me to take the reins of the bank again----! The new bank, that they have founded and can't manage-- Here I will stand and receive them! And it will be known to everyone, all over the country, the conditions that John Gabriel Borkman imposes before he will---- [Stopping suddenly and staring at FOLDAL.] You're looking doubtful! Maybe you don't think that they'll 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 believe it absolutely. I know--with absolute certainty--I know that they will come. If I wasn't certain of it I would have put a bullet through my head long ago.

FOLDAL. [Anxiously.] Oh no, don't ever say----!

BORKMAN. [Exultantly.] I expect them any day, any moment. And you see, I keep myself ready to receive them.

FOLDAL. [With a sigh.] If only they would get here soon.

BORKMAN. [Restlessly.] Yes, time flies: the years slip away; life---- Ah, no--I don't dare think of that! [Looking at him.] Do you know what I sometimes feel like?


BORKMAN. I feel like a Napoleon, maimed in his first battle.

FOLDAL. [Placing his hand upon his portfolio.] I have that feeling too.

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

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

BORKMAN. [Vehemently.] Yes, but I'm talking about the millions I should have made! All the mines I should have controlled! Drilling countless shafts! And water-falls! And quarries! The trade routes, and the shipping-lines, encompassing the whole world! I should've managed it all--I alone!

FOLDAL. Yes, I know, I know. There was nothing that would have stopped you.

BORKMAN. [Clenching his hands together.] And now I have to sit here, like a wounded eagle, and watch the others push ahead, snatching it all away from me, piece by piece!

FOLDAL. That is my fate too.

BORKMAN. [Not noticing him.] How close I was to the goal! If only I'd had another week to cover myself! All the deposits would have replaced. All the money I had used so boldly would have been back again in the vault. The vast companies I had planned were a hair's-breath from existence. And no one would have lost a cent.

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

BORKMAN. [With suppressed fury.] And then treachery struck me! On the brink of success! [Looking at him.] Do you know what I consider to be the most despicable crime a man can commit?

FOLDAL. No, tell me.

%% BORKMAN. It's not murder or robbery. It isn't even perjury. These are the things that people do to those they hate, or are indifferent to.

FOLDAL. What is the worst then, John Gabriel?

BORKMAN. [With emphasis.] The most despicable crime is to betray a friend's trust.

FOLDAL. [Somewhat doubtfully.] Yes, but what about--

BORKMAN. [Firing up.] What are you going to say? I see it in your face. But listen, the people who had their money and securities in the bank would have had it all back again--every cent. No; I tell you, the most despicable crime is to betray a friend's trust; to publish to the whole world that which was entrusted to him alone, in total confidence, like a whisper in an empty, dark, double-locked room. The man who can do such things has absolutely no morality and is poisoned to the core. And this was my friend--and he crushed me.

FOLDAL. I can guess whom you mean.

BORKMAN. There was no detail of my business affairs that I failed to share with him. It was all in his hands.

FOLDAL. I never understood why he-- Of course, there were all sorts of rumours at the time.

BORKMAN. What rumours? Tell me. You see, I never heard anything. I had to go straight to--to isolation. What did people say, Vilhelm?

FOLDAL. That you were going to be made Cabinet minister.

BORKMAN. I was offered, but I refused it.

FOLDAL. So you weren't blocking him there.

BORKMAN. No; that's not why he betrayed me.

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

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


BORKMAN. There was--well, there was a woman involved.

FOLDAL. A woman? But John Gabriel----

BORKMAN. [Interrupting.] Oh never-mind, it's an old, stupid story. Neither of us made the Cabinet anyway.

FOLDAL. But he rose up in the world.

BORKMAN. And I fell into the abyss.

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

BORKMAN. [Nodding to him.] I guess, almost as terrible as your own, when I come to think of it.

FOLDAL. [Naively.] Yes, at least as terrible.

BORKMAN. [Laughing quietly.] But from another point of view, it's really a sort of comedy too.

FOLDAL. A comedy? The story of your life?

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


BORKMAN. You say you didn't 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 had no idea!

BORKMAN. Yes, she took her music, and went straight from me to--to that mansion.

FOLDAL. [Apologetically.] Well, you see, poor child----

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


BORKMAN. 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. Then he certainly must not know any of this.

BORKMAN. [Gloomily, sitting and beating the table.] 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 it the way I do. I'd swear he's taken sides with my enemies! Obviously he thinks, like the rest, that Hinkel only did his damn duty when he went and betrayed me.

FOLDAL. But, my dear friend, how could he have that idea?

BORKMAN. How? Do you forget who brought him up? First his aunt, and then, his mother!

FOLDAL. I think you're doing them an injustice.

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

FOLDAL. [Soothingly.] Yes, Yes, of course, I suppose they have.

BORKMAN. [Indignantly.] Oh these women! They wreck and ruin our lives! They corrupt our whole destiny--our pathway to success.

FOLDAL. Not all of them!

BORKMAN. Really? Name me one single one that's any good for anything.

FOLDAL. No, that's the trouble. The few that I know -- They're just no good.

BORKMAN. [With a snort of scorn.] Well then, what's the point? That such women exist, but you never know them?

FOLDAL. [Warmly.] But, John Gabriel, there is a point in it. It's a blessed and consoling thought that somewhere in the world, out there, far away--there, the true woman waits after all.

BORKMAN. [Moving impatiently on the sofa.] Oh, spare me that poetical nonsense.

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

BORKMAN. [Harshly.] Yes I do! It's what has always prevented you from getting anywhere in life. If you'd just get all that out of your head, I could still help you get on your feet--to move ahead.

FOLDAL. [Boiling inwardly.] Oh, you can't do that.

BORKMAN. I can, when I return to power again.

FOLDAL. But that could be a remote possibility.

BORKMAN. [Vehemently.] Maybe you think my time will never come? Answer me!

FOLDAL. I don't know how to answer you.

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. If you don't believe my fate will change----

FOLDAL. How can I believe that against all reason? You would have to be legally absolved----

BORKMAN. Go on! go on!

FOLDAL. Maybe I never passed my exam; but I have read enough law to know that----

BORKMAN. [Quickly.] It's impossible, you mean?

FOLDAL. There is no precedent for it.

BORKMAN. There are no precedents for exceptional men.

FOLDAL. The law does not make such distinctions.

BORKMAN. [Harshly and decisively.] You are no poet, Vilhelm.

FOLDAL. [Unconsciously folding his hands.] Do you sincerely mean that?

BORKMAN. [Dismissing the subject, without answering.] We're only wasting each other's time. It would be better if you didn't come here again.

FOLDAL. You want me to leave?

BORKMAN. [Without looking at him.] I've no more use for you.

FOLDAL. [Softly, taking his portfolio.] No, no, no; it would seem not.

BORKMAN. You've been lying to me all the time.

FOLDAL. [Shaking his head.] Never lying, John Gabriel.

BORKMAN. Haven't you sat here feeding me with hope, and trust, and confidence--all a lie?

FOLDAL. It wasn't a lie as long as you believed in my talent. As long as you believed in me, I believed in you.

BORKMAN. Then it's just been mutual deception. And self deception too. Both of us.

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

BORKMAN. [Smiling bitterly.] Yes, you are right there. To deceive is friendship. I have learnt that once before.

FOLDAL. [Looking at him.] No poetic talent! And you could say it to me so bluntly.

BORKMAN. [In a gentler tone.] Well, you know, I don't pretend to know much about these things.

FOLDAL. Maybe more than you think.


FOLDAL. [Softly.] Yes, you. I've had my own doubts on occasion, you know. The horrible doubt that I may have wasted my life on an illusion.

%% BORKMAN. If you doubt yourself, then you will get nowhere.

FOLDAL. That's why it was so comforting to come here for your support. [Taking his hat.] But now you seem like a stranger to me.

BORKMAN. And you to me.

FOLDAL. Good night, John Gabriel.

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

scene 11

[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's 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.

scene 12

BORKMAN. [Staring at her.] Who are you? What do you want?

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Closes the door and advances.] It's me, John Gabriel.

[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, many, many years ago.

BORKMAN. [As before.] Yes, it's you Ella-- I see that now.

ELLA RENTHEIM. The years have worn on me, don't you think so John Gabriel?

BORKMAN. [In a forced voice.] You've changed somewhat. At first glance, anyhow--

ELLA RENTHEIM. No longer those dark curls, tumbling over my shoulders. Those curls you once liked to wind around your fingers.

BORKMAN. [Quickly.] That's it. I can see now, Ella, you have done your hair differently.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Precisely; it is the way I've done my hair that makes the difference.

BORKMAN. [Changing the subject.] I didn't know you in this part of the country.

ELLA RENTHEIM. I've only just arrived.

BORKMAN. You look tired. Won't you sit down?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, thank you; I need to 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's a long time since we met, face to face, John Gabriel.

BORKMAN. [Gloomily.] A long, long time. With all that wretchedness in between.

ELLA RENTHEIM. A whole lifetime. A lifetime wasted.

BORKMAN. [Looking keenly at her.] Wasted!

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

BORKMAN. [In a cold business tone.] I don't regard my life as wasted-- yet.

ELLA RENTHEIM. And what about mine?

BORKMAN. You've only yourself to blame, Ella.

ELLA RENTHEIM. You believe that?

BORKMAN. You could have been happy without me.

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Bitterly.] Oh, yes, I'm well aware there was someone 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, you mean?

BORKMAN. You could've been as happy with him. And I would've have been saved.

ELLA RENTHEIM. How do you mean?

BORKMAN. He thought it was me -- that I was behind all your refusals, the constant rejection. So he took his revenge. It so easy for him; he had all my confidential, indiscreet letters. He made use of them; and that was the end of me--at least for the time being. So you see it was all because of you Ella.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Is that so, Borkman. When you get right down to it, it would seem I owe you something.

BORKMAN. Depends how you look at it. I know well enough what I have to thank you for. At the auction you bought the estate, and gave me and your sister, the use of this house. You took Erhart in, and cared for him in every way----

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

BORKMAN. I know the sacrifices you've made for me, and for your sister. But remember, it was I who put you in the position to make those sacrifices, Ella.

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Indignantly.] That's where your wrong, John Gabriel! It was my deep love and devotion for Erhart--and for you too--that made me do it!

BORKMAN. [Interrupting.] My dear Ella, let's not get into feelings and such. I mean simply, that you acted generously, and I was the one who gave you the power to do so.

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Smiling.] H'm! the power----

BORKMAN. [Warmly.] Yes, exactly, the power! Before the last, decisive blow was struck --when I couldn't spare friends nor family--when I had to take--and did take the millions that were entrusted to me--I spared everything that was yours, every penny, although I could have taken it, and used it, like all the rest!

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Coldly and quietly.] That's perfectly true, John Gabriel.

BORKMAN. Yes it is. And that was why, when they came and took me, they found everything of yours untouched in the vaults of bank.

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Looking at him.] I've thought about that, over and over-- why did you spare everything that I possessed? And only mine?

BORKMAN. [Harshly and scornfully.] Maybe you think it was so I had something to fall back on, if things went wrong?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Oh no, I am sure you didn't think like that in those days.

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

ELLA RENTHEIM. Why was it then----?

BORKMAN. [Shrugging his shoulders.] Dear God, it's not so easy to remember motives from twenty years ago. I only remember that when I was alone, struggling in silence with all the vast projects that I would set in motion, it seemed, almost, that I was an explorer of the skies. In those sleepless nights, I was filling a giant balloon, that I would sail out over unknown, perilous seas.

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Smiling.] You, who never had any doubt of victory?

BORKMAN. [Impatiently.] Men are made like that, Ella. They both doubt and believe at the same time. [Looking straight before him.] And I suppose that was why I didn't want you and yours in the balloon with me.

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Eagerly.] Why? Tell me why!

BORKMAN. [Without looking at her.] One doesn't take what one holds most precious on a journey like that.

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Breathlessly.] Was that how you felt then?

BORKMAN. I think so... yes.

ELLA RENTHEIM. That I was the most precious of all to you?

BORKMAN. Yes, I seem to remember--it was something like that.

ELLA RENTHEIM. And yet that was years after you had betrayed me--and married-- married someone else!

%% BORKMAN. Betrayed you? You know very well that I had higher motives--well other motives that compelled me. Without his help I could get nowhere.

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Controlling herself.] So you betrayed me for--higher motives.

BORKMAN. I couldn't do a thing without his help. And he set you as his price.

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

%% BORKMAN. I had no choice.

ELLA RENTHEIM. [In a trembling voice, looking at him.] Is what you say true--that I was the most precious thing to you then?

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

ELLA RENTHEIM. But you bartered me; traded your love to another man. Sold my love for a bank presidency.

BORKMAN. [Gloomily and bowed down.] It was an absolute necessity Ella.

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Rises from the sofa, quivering with passion.] Criminal!

BORKMAN. [Starts, but controls himself.] I've heard that word before.

%% ELLA RENTHEIM. Oh, I don't mean your crimes against the law of the land! Your use of all those stocks and securities, or whatever you call them--do you think I care about that! If I could have stood at your side when everything fell apart----

BORKMAN. [Eagerly.] What then, Ella?

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

BORKMAN: You would've had the strength, the courage?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Strength and courage both. Because then, you see, I knew nothing of this great, intolerable crime.

BORKMAN. What crime?

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Approaching him.] You're a murderer! You've committed the one mortal sin!

BORKMAN. [Falling back towards the piano.] You're mad Ella.

ELLA RENTHEIM. You have killed the capacity to love 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 know. The great, unpardonable sin is to murder the love in a human soul.

BORKMAN. And you say I have done that?

ELLA RENTHEIM. You have. I've never really understood until this evening what exactly happened to me. You betrayed me and turned to Gunhild instead--I took that to be fickleness on your part, and heartless scheming on hers. I almost think I despised you a little, in spite of everything. But now I see it! You betrayed the woman you loved! Me, me, me! What you held most precious in the world you parted with for profit. 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 recognize that overbearing passion in you Ella. I suppose it's natural enough that you should see it this way. You are a woman, and so to your mind, nothing else matters in the world.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, nothing else.

BORKMAN. Only what touches your own heart.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Only that! Only that! Yes.

BORKMAN. But you have to remember that I am a man. As a woman, you were the most precious thing in the world to me. But if worse comes to worst, one woman can always take the place of another. (%% can be replaced by another)

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Looks at him with a smile.] Was that your experience when you took Gunhild as your wife?

BORKMAN. No. But the great goals I had in life helped me to bear even that. I wanted all the sources of power in this country at my command. 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 and make a kingdom for myself, and with it, further the well being of many thousands of others.

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Lost in recollection.] I know it. All the evenings we spent talking about your projects.

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

ELLA RENTHEIM. I teased you about your plans, and asked whether you wanted to wake up all the sleeping spirits of the mines.

BORKMAN. [Nodding.] I remember that phrase. [Slowly.] All the sleeping spirits of the mines.

ELLA RENTHEIM. But you didn't take it as a joke. You said, "Yes, yes, Ella, that's 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 this one man. He was able and willing to ensure me control of the bank.

ELLA RENTHEIM. And so you struck the bargain.

BORKMAN. [Vehemently.] Yes, I did, Ella! My desire (%% lust) for power was uncontrollable, you see! And he helped me up towards the beckoning heights that I had to reach. And I climbed and climbed; year after year ----

ELLA RENTHEIM. And I was erased from your life.

BORKMAN. And even so he threw me into the abyss again. On account of you, Ella.

ELLA RENTHEIM. [After a short thoughtful silence.] John Gabriel, doesn't it seem as if there's been a sort of curse on our relationship?

BORKMAN. [Looking at her.] A curse?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes. Don't you think?

BORKMAN. [Uneasily.] Yes. But why is it? [With an outburst.] Oh Ella, I don't know who's right anymore--you or I!

ELLA RENTHEIM. It is you who have sinned. You killed all the happiness in me.

BORKMAN. [Anxiously.] Don't say that, Ella!

ELLA RENTHEIM. All the happiness a woman should know, at least. From the moment your image began to fade from my mind, I have lived as if under an eclipse. During all these years it has grown harder for me--and at last impossible--to love any living creature. Not human beings, nor animals, nor plants. Except for one.

BORKMAN. Which one?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Erhart, of course.

BORKMAN. Erhart?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Erhart--your son, John Gabriel.

BORKMAN. He's really meant so much to you?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Why else would I haven taken him in, and kept him as long as I could. Why?

BORKMAN. I thought it was out of pity, like everything else you've done.

ELLA RENTHEIM. [In strong inward emotion.] Pity! Ha! I don't know pity, not since you deserted me. I'm incapable of it. If a poor, starving child comes into my kitchen, freezing and crying and begging for food, I leave it to my cook. I never feel any desire to pick it up, to warm it at my own hearth, to sit and enjoy watching it eat its fill. I wasn't like that in my youth; I remember that clearly! It's you who's made this sterile, empty desert inside of me--and around me too!

BORKMAN. Except for Erhart.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, except for your son. But I am hardened to everything else-- everything that lives and moves. You've cheated me of a mother's joy and happiness in life--and of a mother's sorrow and tears as well. And maybe that's the harshest loss.

BORKMAN. Are you sure, 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 the time I couldn't reconcile myself to the loss-- and that's why I took Erhart with me and won him completely. Won his warm, trusting, innocent 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 either way; to live here in town.

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Wringing her hands.] I cannot bear the desolation-- the emptiness! I cannot bear the loss of your son's heart!

BORKMAN. [With an evil expression in his eyes.] H'm--I'm sure you haven't lost it, Ella. Hearts are not so easily lost to a certain person--in the room below.

ELLA RENTHEIM. I've lost Erhart here, and she has won him back again. Or someone else. That's plain enough in the letters he writes me now and then.

BORKMAN. Are you here to take him home with you then?

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

BORKMAN. Of course it's possible, if you have your heart set on it. For you have the first and strongest claim on him.

%% ELLA RENTHEIM. Oh, claims! What does a claim mean here? If he's not mine by his own free will, then he's not mine at all. And that I must have! I must have my child's heart, whole and undivided--now!

BORKMAN. You must remember that Erhart is in his twenties. You can't count on keeping his heart, undivided as you put it, for very long.

ELLA RENTHEIM. [With a melancholy smile.] It wouldn't need to be for very long.

BORKMAN. [Taken aback.] What do you mean by that?

ELLA RENTHEIM. You know I haven't been well for many years --

BORKMAN. Haven't you?

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Looking at him in surprise.] Erhart hasn't told you?

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

ELLA RENTHEIM. Maybe he hasn't spoken of me at all --

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

ELLA RENTHEIM. Are you sure of that?

BORKMAN. Yes, absolutely sure. [Changing his tone.] And so you haven't been well, Ella?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, that's right. And this autumn I grew so much worse that I had to come in and find better medical advice.

BORKMAN. And you have seen the doctor already?

ELLA RENTHEIM. Yes, this morning.

BORKMAN. And what did he say?

ELLA RENTHEIM. He confirmed what I had long suspected--


ELLA RENTHEIM. [Calmly and quietly.] I won't live long, John Gabriel. (%% My illness is terminal, Borkman.)

BORKMAN. Oh, you mustn't believe that, Ella.

ELLA RENTHEIM. It is an illness for which there is no help or cure. The doctors can do nothing. They can just let it run its course... at most, they can ease the pain a little.

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, he told me.

BORKMAN. [Without thinking.] Oh, well, the winter is long.

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Quietly.] Long enough for me, anyway.

BORKMAN. [Eagerly, changing the subject.] But what on earth can have caused this illness? You, who have always lived such a healthy and regular life?

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Looking at him.] The doctor thinks that perhaps at one time in my life I had had to go through some great (%% severe... violent...) emotional stress.

BORKMAN. [Firing up.] Emotional stress! Oh, I understand! You mean that it's my fault?

ELLA RENTHEIM. [With increasing inward agitation.] It is too late to argue that now! But I must have the child of my heart again before I die! It is so unspeakably sad for me to think that I must leave all that life is--leave the sun, the light, the air--and not leave behind me one single human being who will think of me--and remember me lovingly and mournfully--as a son remembers the mother he has lost. (%% see Myers)

BORKMAN. [After a short pause.] Take him, Ella, if you he'll go with you.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Thank you. But I have one thing more to ask you for --It means a great deal to me, John Gabriel.

BORKMAN. Well, what is it?

ELLA RENTHEIM. You're likely to think it's childish --you won't understand----

BORKMAN. Go on--tell me.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Soon now, when I die--there will be a considerable inheritance --

BORKMAN. Yes, I suppose so.

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

BORKMAN. Well, you really have no one who's closer to you. No one of your own family. You're the last of the line.

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

BORKMAN. [Firing up.] Ah, Now I see what you're after!

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Passionately.] Let Erhart carry on my name!

BORKMAN. I understand you. You want to free my son from the burden of his father's name. That's what you mean.

ELLA RENTHEIM. No, no, not that! I myself would have borne your name gladly and defiantly along with you! But to a mother who is at the point of death---- A name binds more that you could think or know John Gabriel.

BORKMAN. [Coldly and proudly.] Alright Ella. I am man enough to bear my own name alone.

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Seizing and pressing his hand.] Thank you, thank you! Now everything's settled between us! You have redeemed as much as you could. For when I have gone, Erhart Rentheim will live on after 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 gave no one permission to come up here!

MRS. BORKMAN. [Advancing a step.] I don't ask your permission.

BORKMAN. [Going towards her.] What do you want with me?

MRS. BORKMAN. I want to fight for you... to protect you from forces of evil.

ELLA RENTHEIM. The worst of those forces are in you Gunhild!

MRS. BORKMAN. [Harshly.] Perhaps. [Menacingly, with upstretched arm.] But I tell you this--he'll carry on his father's name! And bear it high again in honour! And I'll be his mother- I alone! My son's heart will be mine--and mine alone.

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

ELLA RENTHEIM. [Shaken and shattered.] John Gabriel, Erhart's life will be wrecked in this storm. There has to be an understanding between you and Gunhild. We must go down to her at once.

BORKMAN. [Looking at her.] We? I as well, 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 digging out of the rocks.

ELLA RENTHEIM. Try. Try now.

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

on to act three
back to borkman table of contents

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