Read an Excerpt
By August Strindberg, T. N. R. ROGERS
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The sitting room at the Captain's. There is a door a little to the right at the back. In the middle of the room, a large, round table strewn with newspapers and magazines. To right a leather-covered sofa and table. In the right-hand corner a private door. At left there is a door leading to the inner room and a desk with a clock on it. Gamebags, guns and other arms hang on the walls. Army coats hang near door at back. On the large table stands a lighted lamp.
CAPTAIN [rings, an orderly comes in].
ORDERLY. Yes, Captain.
CAPTAIN. Is Nöjd out there?
ORDERLY. He is waiting for orders in the kitchen.
CAPTAIN. In the kitchen again, is he? Send him in at once.
ORDERLY. Yes, Captain.
PASTOR. What's the matter now?
CAPTAIN. Oh the rascal has been cutting up with the servant-girl again; he's certainly a bad lot.
PASTOR. Why, Nöjd got into the same trouble year before last, didn't he?
CAPTAIN. Yes, you remember? Won't you be good enough to give him a friendly talking to and perhaps you can make some impression on him. I've sworn at him and flogged him, too, but it hasn't had the least effect.
PASTOR. And so you want me to preach to him? What effect do you suppose the word of God will have on a rough trooper?
CAPTAIN. Well, it certainly has no effect on me.
PASTOR. I know that well enough.
CAPTAIN. Try it on him, anyway.
[NÖJD comes in.]
CAPTAIN. What have you been up to now, Nöjd?
NÖJD. God save you, Captain, but I couldn't talk about it with the Pastor here.
PASTOR. Don't be afraid of me, my boy.
CAPTAIN. You had better confess or you know what will happen.
NÖJD. Well, you see it was like this; we were at a dance at Gabriel's, and then—then Ludwig said—
CAPTAIN. What has Ludwig got to do with it? Stick to the truth.
NÖJD. Yes, and Emma said "Let's go into the barn——"
CAPTAIN.——Oh, so it was Emma who led you astray, was it?
NÖJD. Well, not far from it. You know that unless the girl is willing nothing ever happens.
CAPTAIN. Never mind all that: Are you the father of the child or not?
NÖJD. Who knows?
CAPTAIN. What's that? Don't you know?
NÖJD. Why no—that is, you can never be sure.
CAPTAIN. Weren't you the only one?
NÖJD. Yes, that time, but you can't be sure for all that.
CAPTAIN. Are you trying to put the blame on Ludwig? Is that what you are up to?
NÖJD. Well, you see it isn't easy to know who is to blame.
CAPTAIN. Yes, but you told Emma you would marry her.
NÖJD. Oh, a fellow's always got to say that—
CAPTAIN [to PASTOR]. This is terrible, isn't it?
PASTOR. It's the old story over again. See here, Nöjd, you surely ought to know whether you are the father or not?
NÖJD. Well, of course I was mixed up with the girl—but you know yourself, Pastor, that it needn't amount to anything for all that.
PASTOR. Look here, my lad, we are talking about you now. Surely you won't leave the girl alone with the child. I suppose we can't compel you to marry her, but you should provide for the child—that you shall do!
NÖJD. Well, then, so must Ludwig, too.
CAPTAIN. Then the case must go to the courts. I cannot ferret out the truth of all this, nor is it to my liking. So now be off.
PASTOR. One moment, Nöjd. H'm—don't you think it dishonorable to leave a girl destitute like that with her child? Don't you think so? Don't you see that such conduct——h'm——h'm——
NÖJD. Yes, if I only knew for sure that I was father of the child, but you can't be sure of that, Pastor, and I don't see much fun slaving all your life for another man's child. Surely you, Pastor, and the Captain can understand for yourselves.
CAPTAIN. Be off.
NÖJD. God save you, Captain. [Goes.]
CAPTAIN. But keep out of the kitchen, you rascal! [To PASTOR.] Now, why didn't you get after him?
PASTOR. What do you mean?
CAPTAIN. Why, you only sat and mumbled something or other.
PASTOR. To tell the truth I really don't know what to say. It is a pity about the girl, yes, and a pity about the lad, too. For think if he were not the father. The girl can nurse the child for four months at the orphanage, and then it will be permanently provided for, but it will be different for him. The girl can get a good place afterwards in some respectable family, but the lad's future may be ruined if he is dismissed from the regiment.
CAPTAIN. Upon my soul I should like to be in the magistrate's shoes and judge this case. The lad is probably not innocent, one can't be sure, but we do know that the girl is guilty, if there is any guilt in the matter.
PASTOR. Well, well, I judge no one. But what were we talking about when this stupid business interrupted us? It was about Bertha and her confirmation, wasn't it?
CAPTAIN. Yes, but it was certainly not in particular about her confirmation but about her whole welfare. This house is full of women who all want to have their say about my child. My mother-in-law wants to make a Spiritualist of her. Laura wants her to be an artist; the governess wants her to be a Methodist, old Margret a Baptist, and the servant-girls want her to join the Salvation Army! It won't do to try to make a soul in patches like that. I, who have the chief right to try to form her character, am constantly opposed in my efforts. And that's why I have decided to send her away from home.
PASTOR. You have too many women trying to run this house.
CAPTAIN. You're right! It's like going into a cage full of tigers, and if I didn't hold a red-hot iron under their noses they would tear me to pieces any moment. And you laugh, you rascal! Wasn't it enough that I married your sister, without your palming off your old stepmother on me?
PASTOR. But, good heavens, one can't have stepmothers in one's own house!
CAPTAIN. No, you think it is better to have mothers-in-law in some one else's house!
PASTOR. Oh well, we all have some burden in life.
CAPTAIN. But mine is certainly too heavy. I have my old nurse into the bargain, who treats me as if I ought still to wear a bib. She is a good old soul, to be sure, and she must not be dragged into such talk.
PASTOR. You must keep a tight rein on the women folks. You let them run things too much.
CAPTAIN. Now will you please inform me how I'm to keep order among the women folk?
PASTOR. Laura was brought up with a firm hand, but although she is my own sister. I must admit she was pretty troublesome.
CAPTAIN. Laura certainly has her faults, but with her it isn't so serious.
PASTOR. Oh, speak out—I know her.
CAPTAIN. She was brought up with romantic ideas, and it has been hard for her to find herself, but she is my wife——
PASTOR. And because she is your wife she is the best of wives? No, my dear fellow, it is she who really wears on you most.
CAPTAIN. Well, anyway, the whole house is topsy-turvy. Laura won't let Bertha leave her, and I can't allow her to remain in this bedlam.
PASTOR. Oh, so Laura won't? Well, then, I'm afraid you are in for trouble. When she was a child if she set her mind on anything she used to play dead dog till she got it, and then likely as not she would give it back, explaining that it wasn't the thing she wanted, but having her own way.
CAPTAIN. So she was like that even then? H'm—she really gets into such a passion sometimes that I am anxious about her and afraid she is ill.
PASTOR. But what do you want to do with Bertha that is so unpardonable? Can't you compromise?
CAPTAIN. You mustn't think I want to make a prodigy of her or an image of myself. I don't want to be a procurer for my daughter and educate her exclusively for matrimony, for then if she were left unmarried she might have bitter days. On the other hand, I don't want to influence her toward a career that requires a long course of training which would be entirely thrown away if she should marry.
PASTOR. What do you want, then?
CAPTAIN. I want her to be a teacher. If she remains unmarried she will be able to support herself, and at any rate she wouldn't be any worse off than the poor schoolmasters who have to share their salaries with a family. If she marries she can use her knowledge in the education of her children. Am I right?
PASTOR. Quite right. But, on the other hand, hasn't she shown such talent for painting that it would be a great pity to crush it?
CAPTAIN. No! I have shown her sketches to an eminent painter, and he says they are only the kind of thing that can be learned at schools. But then a young fop came here in the summer who, of course, understands the matter much better, and he declared that she had colossal genius, and so that settled it to Laura's satisfaction.
PASTOR. Was he quite taken with Bertha?
CAPTAIN. That goes without saying.
PASTOR. Then God help you, old man, for in that case I see no hope. This is pretty bad—and, of course, Laura has her supporters—in there?
CAPTAIN. Yes, you may be sure of that; the whole house is already up in arms, and, between ourselves, it is not exactly a noble conflict that is being waged from that quarter.
PASTOR. Don't you think I know that?
CAPTAIN. You do?
PASTOR. I do.
CAPTAIN. But the worst of it is, it strikes me that Bertha's future is being decided from spiteful motives. They hint that men better be careful, because women can do this or that now-a-days. All day long, incessantly, it is a conflict between man and woman. Are you going? No, stay for supper. I have no special inducements to offer, but do stay. You know I am expecting the new doctor. Have you seen him?
PASTOR. I caught a glimpse of him as I came along. He looked pleasant and reliable.
CAPTAIN. That's good. Do you think it possible he may become my ally?
PASTOR. Who can tell? It depends on how much he has been among women.
CAPTAIN. But won't you really stay?
PASTOR. No thanks, my dear fellow; I promised to be home for supper, and the wife gets uneasy if I am late.
CAPTAIN. Uneasy? Angry, you mean. Well, as you will. Let me help you with your coat.
PASTOR. It's certainly pretty cold tonight. Thanks. You must take care of your health, Adolf, you seem rather nervous.
PASTOR. Yes, you are not really very well.
CAPTAIN. Has Laura put that into your head? She has treated me for the last twenty years as if I were at the point of death.
PASTOR. Laura? No, but you make me uneasy about you. Take care of yourself—that's my advice! Good-bye, old man; but didn't you want to talk about the confirmation?
CAPTAIN. Not at all! I assure you that matter will have to take its course in the ordinary way at the cost of the clerical conscience, for I am neither a believer nor a martyr.
PASTOR. Good-bye. Love to Laura.
[The Captain opens his desk and seats himself at it. Takes up account books.]
CAPTAIN [figuring]. Thirty-four—nine, forty-three—seven, eight, fifty-six—
LAURA [coming in from inner room]. Will you be kind enough——
CAPTAIN. Just a moment! Sixty-six—seventy-one, eighty-four, eighty-nine, ninety-two, a hundred. What is it?
LAURA. Am I disturbing you?
CAPTAIN. Not at all. Housekeeping money, I suppose?
LAURA. Yes, housekeeping money.
CAPTAIN. Put the accounts down there and I will go over them.
LAURA. The accounts?
LAURA. Am I to keep accounts now?
CAPTAIN. Of course you are to keep accounts. Our affairs are in a precarious condition, and in case of a liquidation, accounts are necessary, or one is liable to punishment for being careless.
LAURA. It's not my fault that our affairs are in a precarious condition.
CAPTAIN. That is exactly what the accounts will decide.
LAURA. It's not my fault that our tenant doesn't pay.
CAPTAIN. Who recommended this tenant so warmly? You! Why did you recommend a—good-for-nothing, we'll call him?
LAURA. But why did you rent to this good-for-nothing?
CAPTAIN. Because I was not allowed to eat in peace, nor sleep in peace, nor work in peace, till you women got that man here. You wanted him so that your brother might be rid of him, your mother wanted him because I didn't want him, the governess wanted him because he reads his Bible, and old Margret because she had known his grandmother from childhood. That's why he was taken, and if he hadn't been taken, I'd be in a madhouse by now or lying in my grave. However, here is the housekeeping money and your pin money. You may give me the accounts later.
LAURA [curtsies]. Thanks so much. Do you too keep an account of what you spend besides the housekeeping money?
CAPTAIN. That doesn't concern you.
LAURA. No, that's true—just as little as my child's education concerns me. Have the gentlemen come to a decision after this evening's conference?
CAPTAIN. I had already come to a decision, and therefore it only remained for me to talk it over with the one friend I and the family have in common. Bertha is to go to boarding school in town, and starts in a fortnight.
LAURA. To which boarding school, if I may venture to ask?
CAPTAIN. Professor Säfberg's.
LAURA. That free thinker!
CAPTAIN. According to the law, children are to be brought up in their father's faith.
LAURA. And the mother has no voice in the matter?
CAPTAIN. None whatever. She has sold her birthright by a legal transaction, and forfeited her rights in return for the man's responsibility of caring for her and her children.
LAURA. That is to say she has no rights concerning her child.
CAPTAIN. No, none at all. When once one has sold one's goods, one cannot have them back and still keep the money.
LAURA. But if both father and mother should agree?
CAPTAIN. Do you think that could ever happen? I want her to live in town, you want her to stay at home. The arithmetical result would be that she remain at the railway station midway between town and home. This is a knot that cannot be untied, you see.
LAURA. Then it must be broken. What did Nöjd want here?
CAPTAIN. That is an official secret.
LAURA. Which the whole kitchen knows!
CAPTAIN. Good, then you must know it.
LAURA. I do know it.
CAPTAIN. And have your judgment ready-made?
LAURA. My judgment is the judgment of the law.
CAPTAIN. But it is not written in the law who the child's father is.
LAURA. No, but one usually knows that.
CAPTAIN. Wise minds claim that one can never know.
LAURA. That's strange. Can't one ever know who the father of a child is?
CAPTAIN. No; so they claim.
LAURA. How extraordinary! How can the father have such control over the children then?
CAPTAIN. He has control only when he has assumed the responsibilities of the child, or has had them forced upon him. But in wedlock, of course, there is no doubt about the fatherhood.
LAURA. There are no doubts then?
CAPTAIN. Well, I should hope not.
LAURA. But if the wife has been unfaithful?
CAPTAIN. That's another matter. Was there anything else you wanted to say?
CAPTAIN. Then I shall go up to my room, and perhaps you will be kind enough to let me know when the doctor arrives.
[Closes desk and rises.]
[CAPTAIN goes through the private door right.]
CAPTAIN. As soon as he comes. For I don't want to seem rude to him, you understand.
LAURA. I understand. [Looks at the money she holds in her hands.]
MOTHER-IN-LAW'S VOICE [within]. Laura!
MOTHER-IN-LAW'S VOICE. Is my tea ready?
LAURA [in doorway to inner room]. In just a moment.
[LAURA goes toward hall door at back as the orderly opens it.]
ORDERLY. Doctor Östermark.
LAURA [advances and offers her hand]. Welcome, Doctor—you are heartily welcome. The Captain is out, but he will be back soon.
DOCTOR. I hope you will excuse my coming so late, but I have already been called upon to pay some professional visits.
LAURA. Sit down, won't you?
DOCTOR. Thank you.
LAURA. Yes, there is a great deal of illness in the neighborhood just now, but I hope it will agree with you here. For us country people living in such isolation it is of great value to find a doctor who is interested in his patients, and I hear so many nice things of you, Doctor, that I hope the pleasantest relations will exist between us.
DOCTOR. You are indeed kind, and I hope for your sake my visits to you will not often be caused by necessity. Your family is, I believe, as a rule in good health——
LAURA. Fortunately we have been spared acute illnesses, but still things are not altogether as they should be.
Excerpted from The Father by August Strindberg, T. N. R. ROGERS. Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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