MANDERS. I was but a poor instrument in a Higher Hand. And what a blessing has it not proved to you, all the days of your life, that I induced you to resume the yoke of duty and obedience! Did not everything happen as I foretold? Did not Alving turn his back on his errors, as a man should? Did he not live with you from that time, lovingly and blamelessly, all his days? Did he not become a benefactor to the whole district? And did he not help you to rise to his own level, so that you, little by little, became his assistant in all his undertakings? And a capital assistant, too — oh, I know, Mrs. Alving, that praise is due to you. — But now I come to the next great error in your life.
MRS. ALVING. What do you mean?
MANDERS. Just as you once disowned a wife's duty, so you have since disowned a mother's.
MRS. ALVING. Ah — !
MANDERS. You have been all your life under the dominion of a pestilent spirit of self-will. The whole bias of your mind has been towards insubordination and lawlessness. You have never known how to endure any bond. Everything that has weighed upon you in life you have cast away without care or conscience, like a burden you were free to throw off at will. It did not please you to be a wife any longer, and you left your husband. You found it troublesome to be a mother, and you sent your child forth among strangers.
MRS. ALVING. Yes, that is true. I did so.
MANDERS. And thus you have become a stranger to him.
MRS. ALVING. No! no! I am not.
MANDERS. Yes, you are; you must be. And in what state of mind has he returned to you? Bethink yourself well, Mrs. Alving. You sinned greatly against your husband; — that you recognise by raising yonder memorial to him. Recognise now, also, how you have sinned against your son — there may yet be time to lead him back from the paths of error. Turn back yourself, and save what may yet be saved in him. For [With uplifted forefinger] verily, Mrs. Alving, you are a guilt-laden mother! This I have thought it my duty to say to you.
MRS. ALVING. [Slowly and with self-control.] You have now spoken out, Pastor Manders; and to-morrow you are to speak publicly in memory of my husband. I shall not speak to-morrow. But now I will speak frankly to you, as you have spoken to me.
MANDERS. To be sure; you will plead excuses for your conduct —
MRS. ALVING. No. I will only tell you a story.
MANDERS. Well — ?
MRS. ALVING. All that you have just said about my husband and me, and our life after you had brought me back to the path of duty — as you called it — about all that you know nothing from personal observation. From that moment you, who had been our intimate friend, never set foot in our house gain.
MANDERS. You and your husband left the town immediately after.
MRS. ALVING. Yes; and in my husband's lifetime you never came to see us. It was business that forced you to visit me when you undertook the affairs of the Orphanage.
MANDERS. [Softly and hesitatingly.] Helen — if that is meant as a reproach, I would beg you to bear in mind —
MRS. ALVING. — the regard you owed to your position, yes; and that I was a runaway wife. One can never be too cautious with such unprincipled creatures.
MANDERS. My dear — Mrs. Alving, you know that is an absurd exaggeration —
MRS. ALVING. Well well, suppose it is. My point is that your judgment as to my married life is founded upon nothing but common knowledge and report.
MANDERS. I admit that. What then?
MRS. ALVING. Well, then, Pastor Manders — I will tell you the truth. I have sworn to myself that one day you should know it — you alone!
MANDERS. What is the truth, then?
MRS. ALVING. The truth is that my husband died just as dissolute as he had lived all his days.
MANDERS. [Feeling after a chair.] What do you say?
MRS. ALVING. After nineteen years of marriage, as dissolute — in his desires at any rate — as he was before you married us.
MANDERS. And those-those wild oats — those irregularities — those excesses, if you like — you call "a dissolute life"?
MRS. ALVING. Our doctor used the expression.
MANDERS. I do not understand you.
MRS. ALVING. You need not.
MANDERS. It almost makes me dizzy. Your whole married life, the seeming union of all these years, was nothing more than a hidden abyss!
MRS. ALVING. Neither more nor less. Now you know it.
MANDERS. This is — this is inconceivable to me. I cannot grasp it! I cannot realise it! But how was it possible to — ? How could such a state of things be kept secret?
MRS. ALVING. That has been my ceaseless struggle, day after day. After Oswald's birth, I thought Alving seemed to be a little better. But it did not last long. And then I had to struggle twice as hard, fighting as though for life or death, so that nobody should know what sort of man my child's father was. And you know what power Alving had of winning people's hearts. Nobody seemed able to believe anything but good of him. He was one of those people whose life does not bite upon their reputation. But at last, Mr. Manders — for you must know the whole story — the most repulsive thing of all happened.
MANDERS. More repulsive than what you have told me?
MRS. ALVING. I had gone on bearing with him, although I knew very well the secrets of his life out of doors. But when he brought the scandal within our own walls —
MANDERS. Impossible! Here!
MRS. ALVING. Yes; here in our own home. It was there [Pointing towards the first door on the right], in the dining-room, that I first came to know of it. I was busy with something in there, and the door was standing ajar. I heard our housemaid come up from the garden, with water for those flowers.
MANDERS. Well — ?
MRS. ALVING. Soon after, I heard Alving come in too. I heard him say something softly to her. And then I heard — [With a short laugh] — oh! it still sounds in my ears, so hateful and yet so ludicrous — I heard my own servant-maid whisper, "Let me go, Mr. Alving! Let me be!"
MANDERS. What unseemly levity on his part'! But it cannot have been more than levity, Mrs. Alving; believe me, it cannot.
MRS. ALVING. I soon knew what to believe. Mr. Alving had his way with the girl; and that connection had consequences, Mr. Manders.
MANDERS. [As though petrified.] Such things in this house — in this house!
MRS. ALVING. I had borne a great deal in this house. To keep him at home in the evenings, and at night, I had to make myself his boon companion in his secret orgies up in his room. There I have had to sit alone with him, to clink glasses and drink with him, and to listen to his ribald, silly talk. I have had to fight with him to get him dragged to bed —