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Halla (tears herself away from him). Have you gone mad?
Arnes. You have been true to Kari for seven years now. It is time you tired of it.
Halla. Now your face looks like the bailiff's when he called me a harlot. (Gives him a box on the ear.)
Arnes (furiously). I know you better than you think. You are so pure! You have never done an evil deed!
Halla. What do you mean?
Arnes. Kari is more open-mouthed than you think. You have had a child before this one. (Halla shields her face with her hands as though warding off a blow. Arnes sits silent.)
Halla. Why don't you say that I killed my child? That is what you meant to say. You know I did it.
Arnes. My cursed mouth.
Halla. You judge me. How can you? You don't know what it means to bring a life into the world. It grows heavier day by day like the snow of winter. If we had had spring and sunshine! But the times were hard and food was scarce. I did a good deed when I laid my child out in the cold. Far less suffering that than life!
Arnes. I do not judge what you did.
Halla. No, you thought I was an angel who was longing to be your harlot. You can go with a lighted candle into my soul and search it. You will find no remorse there. What could we have done with a child, if we had been forced to flee? Should we have left it with strangers? And how do you think it would have fared? A child of felons, scorned by all!
Arnes (broken-hearted). I did not know that my words would hurt you so much.
Halla. Do you think I did it with a light heart? I have given birth to two children, and cruel was the pain, but I would rather bear ten children than live that night over again. When I had carried my child out into the cold, my mind gave way. In my ravings, I thought the child lay by my side, and above us was a flock of birds — pitch black. I bent over it to shield it, and the birds pecked into my back, into my lungs they pecked. (Stops short from emotion.)
Arnes. Would I were dead!
Halla (calmer). I wished for the death of that child long before it was born. (Goes to Tota.) But this my little springtime child I have never wished ill. The first time I felt her life, it seemed a token of forgiveness that I was allowed to become a mother again, and when she came into the world, the sun was shining, and the sky was blue and warm. (Kisses her.)
Arnes. My tongue got the better of me. (Puts his hand on his heart.) There is a devil dwelling in me.(Stands motionless.) I love you.
Halla (turns toward him). Have you not done hurting me yet?
Arnes (crushed). No matter what I say, you think I mean
Halla. I shall not speak to you again. (Sits down to her work.)
Arnes. Nor will you have to listen to me any more. I am going down to the lowlands, and there they can do with me what they like.
Halla. If you tell them of our hiding-place, they may let you off more easily.
Arnes. Even that you believe I could do!
Halla (rising). If you cared for me as much as you say, you would be good to me instead of bad.
Arnes. Love has made you good and me bad. (He is silent.) Do you remember the time Kari and I went up the glacier, and he fell down into a crack? He told you I had been so frightened that I shook all over. It was not for his life I feared; I feared my own thoughts.
Halla (terrified by a dawning apprehension). What do you mean?
Arnes. I have often wished Kari dead.
Arnes. It is. Do you understand now that I must go away from here? I no longer dare to live with you two, and neither do I dare to live alone.
Halla. I wish you had never crossed our path.
Arnes ( following up his own thoughts). If Kari had not been so trusting as he is, I don't know what I might not have done; but he had such faith in me. You don't know all the words the Tempter can whisper in one's ear. I thought Kari had been happy so long that it would be only fair if he had to die now. It seemed to me that you and I were more akin in our souls, that we had more of the wilds in us. I felt it was he alone that stood between us two.
Halla. I forbid you to say another word. All your thoughts are lies. If Kari had died, I should have followed him. You would have had my corpse, not me. And if I had learned that you were the cause of his death, I should have killed you while you were asleep. I have given my all to my husband, even my conscience. I can go on living, even if he should not always care so much for me, but when I no longer love him, then I die.
Arnes. I am glad you love your husband. I don't know whether it is because I have unburdened myself of all my evil thoughts, or whether it is because I have made up my
mind to give myself up and serve my time, but I feel a peace within me that I have not known for long. To-morrow I shall go away from here and never come back. I shall tell Kari that I mean to take a short trip. (Goes to Halla.) Will you do the last thing I ask of you in this life— never to let him know the truth?
Halla. I can make you no promise.
Arnes. Then I will bid you good-bye while we are alone. I shall cross the lava strip and sit down where I can look out over the sand waste. You may tell Kari that I shall be back in an hour. (Holding out his hand.) Is there no hope that you can ever think of me without bitterness when I am gone?
Halla (takes his hand). Good-bye, Arnes.
Arnes. Good-bye, Halla.(Walks a few steps; stops.) When I am sitting within prison walls, I shall remember you as the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. [Exit.
Halla (stands looking after him; then goes to Tota). What a good, quiet little girl you are! Getting sleepy? (Finds a small skin, which she spreads on the ground.) Now mother will sing you to sleep, as she did in the old times. (Unfastens the rope.) Shall I, Tota?
Halla (sits down and takes her on her lap). Then you must close your eyes. (Sits silent, then hums as she rocks the child.)
Sweetly sleep, my dear young love,
Darkness spreads o’er many a woe,
Death calls from the glacier's cruel ledges. Are you asleep? (She rises slowly, lays the child on the skin, and covers her up, then sits down to her work.)
Enter Kari, his hair wet from the bath.
Halla. You must not speak too loud. Tota is asleep. (Kari goes to the left.) Where are you going?
Kari. I'll be right back. (Disappears down the gorge. A moment later he comes into view again.) Some day when I feel good and strong I have a mind to try to swim against the current all the way into the inner ravine. From here I should look like a dwarf down there.
Halla (rising). Arnes went out on the sands. He will be back in about an hour. He has made up his mind to start on a trip to the southland to-morrow.
Kari. I knew he was longing to get away from here. I only hope he will not come to harm!
Halla (goes to him). If he should never come back, we two should be alone, as we were in the old days. (Takes his hands.) Do you care a little for me yet?
Kari. You know I do.
Kari (holding her hands). And I show it far too seldom. I forget. You must tell me when there is anything you want me to do. (Kisses her; releases her hands.) Are you sorry that Arnes is going?
Halla. You never saw the queer little brook I found