Olaf, their son
Martha Bernick, sister of the consul
Lona Hessel, elder stepsister of Mrs. Bernick
Johan Tönnesen, her younger brother
Hilmar Tönnesen, Mrs. Bernick's brother
Dina Dorf, a young lady living at the consul's
Krap, the consul's clerk
Mrs. Rummel and other ladies, friends of the consul's family
Scene.—A large garden-room in Consul Bernick's
house. A number of ladies are seated in the room.
Aune, who has been sent for by the Consul, is
addressed by Krap at the door of the Consul's
Krap: I am ordered by the consul to tell you that you
must stop those Saturday talks to the workmen about the
injury that our new machines will do to them. Your
first duty is to this establishment. Now you know the
will of the consul.
Aune: The consul would have said it differently.
But I know I have to thank for this the American that
has put in for repairs.
Krap: That is enough. You know the consul's
wishes. Pardon, ladies!
[Krap bows to ladies, and he and Aune go into the
street. Rector Rörlund has been reading aloud,
and now shuts the book and begins to converse with
Rörlund: This book forms a welcome contrast to the
hollowness and rottenness we see every day in the papers
and magazines, which reflect the condition of the whited
sepulchres, the great communities to-day. Doubt, restlessness,
and insecurity are undermining society.
Dina: But are not many great things being accomplished?
Rörlund: I do not understand what you mean by
Mrs. Rummel: Last year we narrowly escaped the
introduction of a railroad.
Mrs. Bernick: My husband managed to block the
scheme, but the papers, in consequence, said shameful
things about him. But we are forgetting, dear rector,
that we have to thank you for devoting so much time
Rörlund: Do you not all make sacrifices in a good
cause to save the lapsed and lost?
Hilmar Tönnesen (coming in with a cigar in his
mouth): I have only looked in in passing. Good-morning,
ladies! Well, you know Bernick has called a cabinet
council about this railway nonsense again. When it is a
question of money, then everything here ends in paltry
Mrs. Bernick: But at any rate things are better than
formerly, when everything ended in dissipation.
Mrs. Rummel: Only think of fifteen years ago.
What a life, with the dancing club and music club! I
well remember the noisy gaiety among families.
Mrs. Lynge: There was a company of strolling players,
who, I was told, played many pranks. What was
the truth of the matter?
Mrs. Rummel, when Dina is out of the room, explains to the
ladies that the girl is the daughter of a strolling player who years
before had come to perform for a season in the town. Dorf,
the actor, had deserted both wife and child, and the wife had to
take to work to which she was unaccustomed, was seized with
a pulmonary malady, and died. Then Dina had been adopted
by the Bernicks.
Mrs. Rummel goes on to explain that at that season also
Johan, Mrs. Bernick's brother, had run away to America. After
his departure it was discovered that he had been playing tricks
with the cash-box of the firm, of which his widowed mother had
become the head. Karsten, now Consul, Bernick had just come
home from Paris. He became engaged to Betty Tönnesen, now
his wife, but when he entered her aunt's room, with the girl on
his arm, to announce his betrothal, Lona Hessel rose from her
chair and violently boxed his ear. Then she packed her box,
and went off to America. Little had been heard of Lona, except
that she had in America sung in taverns, and had given
lectures, and had written a most sensational book.
Scene.—The same garden-room. Mrs. Bernick.
Aune enters and greets Consul Bernick.
Bernick: I am not at all pleased, Aune, with the way
things are going on in the yard. The repairs are slow.
The Palm Tree should long since have been at sea.
That American ship, the Indian Girl, has been lying here
five weeks. You do not know how to use the new machines,
or else you will not use them.
Aune: Consul, the Palm Tree can go to sea in two
days, but the Indian Girl is as rotten as matchwood in
the bottom planking. Now, I am getting on for sixty,
and I cannot take to new ways. I am afraid for the
many folk whom the machinery will deprive of a livelihood.
Bernick: I did not send for you to argue. Listen
now. The Indian Girl must be got ready to sail in two
days, at the same time as our own ship. There are reasons
for this decision. The carping newspaper critics
are pretending that we are giving all our attention to the
Palm Tree. If you will not do what I order, I must
look for somebody who will.
Aune: You are asking impossibilities, consul. But
surely you cannot think of dismissing me, whose father
and grandfather worked here all their lives before me.
Do you know what is meant by the dismissal of an old
Bernick: You are a stubborn fellow, Aune. You
oppose me from perversity. I am sorry indeed if we
must part, Aune.
Aune: We will not part, consul. The Indian Girl
shall be cleared in two days.
[Aune bows and retires. Hilmar Tönnesen comes
through the garden gate.
Hilmar: Good-day, Betty! Good-day, Bernick.
Have you heard the new sensation? The two Americans
are going about the streets in company with Dina Dorf.
The town is all excitement about it.
Bernick (looking out into the street): They are
coming here. We must be sure to treat them well.
They will soon be away again.
[Johan and Lona enter. Presently all disperse into
the garden, and Bernick goes up to Johan.
Bernick: Now we are alone, Johan, I must thank
you. For to you I owe home, happiness, position, and
all that I have and am. Not one in ten thousand would
have done all that you then did for me. I was the guilty
one. On the night when that drunken wretch came home
it was for Betty's sake that I broke off the entanglement
with Madame Dorf; but still, that you should act in such
a noble spirit of self-sacrifice as to turn appearances
against yourself, and go away, can never be forgotten
Johan: Oh, well, we were both young and thoughtless.
I was an orphan, alone and free, and was glad to get
away from office drudgery. You had your old mother
alive, and you had just engaged yourself to Betty, who
was very fond of you. We agreed that you must be
saved, and I was proud to be your friend. You had
come back like a prince from abroad, and chose me for
your closest friend. Now I know why. You were
making love to Betty. But I was proud of it.
Bernick: Are you going back to your American
farm? Not soon, I hope.
Johan: As soon as possible. I only came over to
please Lona. She felt homesick. You can never think
what she has been to me. You never could tolerate her,
but to me she has been a mother, singing, lecturing, writing
to support me when I was ill and could not work.
And I may as well tell you frankly that I have told her
all. But do not fear her. She will say nothing. But
who would have dreamt of your taking into your house
that little creature who played angels in the theatre, and
scampered about here? What became of her parents?
Bernick: I wrote you all that happened. The
drunken scoundrel, after leaving his wife, was killed in
a drinking bout. After the wife died it was through
Martha that we took little Dina in charge.
To the amazement of the Bernicks and some others, Johan
makes it known that he has asked Dina to be his wife, and that
she has consented. To their further astonishment and annoyance,
Lona declares her profound approval of this engagement.
Moreover, Lona now challenges Bernick to clear his soul of the
lie on which he has stood for these fifteen years. It is a three-fold
lie—the lie towards Lona, then the lie towards Betty, then
the lie towards Johan. But Bernick shrinks from the terrible
shame that would come on him as one of the "pillars of society."
Scene. Consul Bernick's garden-room again. Krap
is speaking to the Consul.
Krap: The Palm Tree can sail to-morrow, but as for
the Indian Girl, in my opinion she will not get far. I
have been secretly examining the bottom of the ship,
where the repairs have been pushed on very fast. The
rotten place is patched up, and made to look like new, for
Aune has been working himself all night at it. There is
some villainy at work. I believe Aune wants, out of
revenge for the use of the new machines, to send that
ship to the bottom of the sea.
Bernick: This is horrible. True, Aune is an agitator
who is spreading discontent, but this is inconceivable.
[Krap goes out, and presently Lona Hessel enters.
Bernick: Well, Lona, what do you think of me now?
Lona: Just what I thought before. A lie more or
Bernick: I can talk to you more confidentially than
to others. I shall hide nothing from you. I had a part
in spreading that rumour about Johan and the cash-box.
But make allowance for me. Our house when I came
home from my foreign tour was threatened with ruin,
and one misfortune followed another. I was almost in
despair, and in my distraction got into that difficulty
which ended with the disappearance of Johan. Then
after you and he left various reports were spread. Some
folks declared that he had taken the money to America.
I was in such difficulty that I did not say a word to contradict
Lona: So a lie has made you one of the pillars of
Johan (entering): I have come to tell you that I intend
not only to marry Dina Dorf, but to remain here and
to defy all these liars. Yesterday I promised to keep
silence, but now I need the truth. You must set me free
by telling the truth, that I may win Dina.
Bernick (in great agitation): But just reflect on my
position. If you aim such a blow as this at me I am
ruined irretrievably. The welfare of this community is
also at stake. If my credit is not impaired, I shall soon
be a millionaire, when certain company projects mature.
Johan, go away, and I will share with you. I have
staked all I possess on schemes now about to mature, but
if my character is impaired, my utter ruin is inevitable.
To the surprise of Bernick, Johan announces that he will go
to America, but will shortly return for Dina, and that accordingly
he will sail next day in the Indian Girl, the captain having
promised to take him. He will sell his farm and be back in
two months, and then the guilty one must take the guilt on himself.
Johan: The wind is good, and in three weeks I shall
be across the Atlantic unless the Indian Girl should go to
Bernick (involuntarily starting): Go to the bottom?
Why should she?
Johan: Yes, indeed, why?
Bernick (very softly): Go to the bottom?
They separate, and Aune enters, and anxiously asks if Bernick
is positively determined that the American ship shall sail the
next day, on pain of his dismissal. He replies that he supposes
the repairs are properly finished, and therefore the Indian Girl
must sail. A merchant steps in to say that the storm-signals
have been hoisted, for a tempest is threatening. This gentleman
says to Bernick that the Palm Tree ought to start all the
same, for she is a splendidly-built craft, and she is only to cross
the North Sea; but as for the Indian Girl, such an old hulk
would be in great peril. But Bernick evades the remonstrance,
and no alteration is made in the plans of procedure. The ship
is to sail.
Scene.—The same garden-room. It is a stormy afternoon
and growing dark.
Bernick is apprised that he is to be most honourably fęted by
his fellow citizens who are about to form a procession, and to
parade before his house with music. The proudest moment of
his life is at hand. But the fact that the sea is running high
outside the harbour is causing great agitation to the mind of
Bernick. Lona looks in to say that she has been saying farewell
to Johan. He has not changed his determination to sail. A
strange incident happens. Little Olaf Bernick runs away from
home to slip on board the ship and accompany his uncle to
Lona: So the great hour has arrived. The whole
town is to be illuminated.
Bernick (pacing to and fro in agitation): Yes.
Lona, you despise me.
Lona: Not yet.
Bernick: You have no right to despise me. For you
little realise how lonely I stand in this narrow society.
What have I accomplished, with all my efforts? We
who are considered the pillars of society are but its tools
after all. Since you came home from America I have
been keenly feeling all this. All this show and deception
gives me no satisfaction. But I work for my son, who
will be able to found a truer state of things and to be
happier than his father.
Lona: With a lie for its basis? Think what an
heritage you are preparing for Olaf.
Bernick: Why did you and Johan come home to
Lona: Let me just tell you that after all Johan will
not come back to crush you. For he has gone for ever
and Dina has gone also to become his wife.
Bernick (amazed): Gone—in the Indian Girl?
Lona: They did not dare to risk their lives in that
crazy tub. They are in the Palm Tree.
Bernick rushes to his office to order the Indian Girl to be
stopped in the harbour, but he learns that she already is out
at sea. But presently Hilmar comes to tell him that Olaf has
run away in the Indian Girl. He cries out that the ship must
be stopped at any cost. Krap says it is impossible. Music is
heard, for the procession is approaching. Bernick, in an agony
of soul, declares that he cannot receive anyone. The whole
street blazes with the illuminations, and on a great transparency
on the opposite house gleams the inscription, "Long live Karsten
Bernick, the Pillar of our Society!"
Bernick (at the window, shrinking back): I cannot
look at all this. Away with all these mocking words! I
shall never see Olaf again.
Mrs. Bernick: You will see him again, Karsten, all
right. I have got him. Do you think a mother does not
watch? I overheard a few words from our boy which
set me on my guard. I and Aune went in the sailing
boat from the yard and reached the Indian Girl when she
was on the point of sailing, and he was soon discovered
Bernick: And is the ship under sail again?
Mrs. Bernick: No. The darkness came on more
densely, the pilot was alarmed, and so Aune, in your
name, took it on himself to order the ship to stay till
Bernick: What an unspeakable blessing.
Krap: The procession is coming through the garden
Rector Rörlund, at the head of the procession, makes a presentation
to Bernick in the name of the committee, and expresses
the public esteem and admiration for the consul's services to
society. Bernick, to the astonishment of the audience, proceeds
to make a full confession of the duplicity and deceit of which
he has been guilty. He unreservedly places himself in the hands
of the people, who quietly disperse. Bernick at once finds that,
whatever the people may think, he has won the sympathy of all
his own circle. Lona lays her hands on his shoulder with the
words, "Brother-in-law, you have at last discovered that the
spirit of Truth and the spirit of Freedom are the real Pillars