MRS. ALVING. You know I would ten times rather forgo the joy of having you here, than let you —
OSWALD. [Stops beside the table.] Now just tell me, mother: does it really make you so very happy to have me home again?
MRS. ALVING. Does it make me happy!
OSWALD. [Crumpling up a newspaper.] I should have thought it must be pretty much the same to you whether I was in existence or not.
MRS. ALVING. Have you the heart to say that to your mother, Oswald?
OSWALD. But you've got on very well without me all this time.
MRS. ALVING. Yes; I have got on without you. That is true.
[A silence. Twilight slowly begins to fall. OSWALD paces to and fro across the room. He has laid his cigar down.]
OSWALD. [Stops beside MRS. ALVING.] Mother, may I sit on the sofa beside you?
MRS. ALVING. [Makes room for him.] Yes, do, my dear boy.
OSWALD. [Sits down.] There is something I must tell you, mother.
MRS. ALVING. [Anxiously.] Well?
OSWALD. [Looks fixedly before him.] For I can't go on hiding it any longer.
MRS. ALVING. Hiding what? What is it?
OSWALD. [As before.] I could never bring myself to write to you about it; and since I've come home —
MRS. ALVING. [Seizes him by the arm.] Oswald, what is the matter?
OSWALD. Both yesterday and to-day I have tried to put the thoughts away from me — to cast them off; but it's no use.
MRS. ALVING. [Rising.] Now you must tell me everything, Oswald!
OSWALD. [Draws her down to the sofa again.] Sit still; and then I will try to tell you. — I complained of fatigue after my journey —
MRS. ALVING. Well? What then?
OSWALD. But it isn't that that is the matter with me; not any ordinary fatigue —
MRS. ALVING. [Tries to jump up.] You are not ill, Oswald?
OSWALD. [Draws her down again.] Sit still, mother. Do take it quietly. I'm not downright ill, either; not what is commonly called "ill." [Clasps his hands above his head.] Mother, my mind is broken down — ruined — I shall never be able to work again! [With his hands before his face, he buries his head in her lap, and breaks into bitter sobbing.]
MRS. ALVING. [White and trembling.] Oswald! Look at me! No, no; it's not true.
OSWALD. [Looks up with despair in his eyes.] Never to be able to work again! Never! — never! A living death! Mother, can you imagine anything so horrible?
MRS. ALVING. My poor boy! How has this horrible thing come upon you?
OSWALD. [Sitting upright again.] That's just what I cannot possibly grasp or understand. I have never led a dissipated life never, in any respect. You mustn't believe that of me, mother! I've never done that.
MRS. ALVING. I am sure you haven't, Oswald.
OSWALD. And yet this has come upon me just the same — this awful misfortune!
MRS. ALVING. Oh, but it will pass over, my dear, blessed boy. It's nothing but over-work. Trust me, I am right.
OSWALD. [Sadly.] I thought so too, at first; but it isn't so.
MRS. ALVING. Tell me everything, from beginning to end.
OSWALD. Yes, I will.
MRS. ALVING. When did you first notice it?
OSWALD. It was directly after I had been home last time, and had got back to Paris again. I began to feel the most violent pains in my head — chiefly in the back of my head, they seemed to come. It was as though a tight iron ring was being screwed round my neck and upwards.
MRS. ALVING. Well, and then?
OSWALD. At first I thought it was nothing but the ordinary headache I had been so plagued with while I was growing up —
MRS. ALVING. Yes, yes —
OSWALD. But it wasn't that. I soon found that out. I couldn't work any more. I wanted to begin upon a big new picture, but my powers seemed to fail me; all my strength was crippled; I could form no definite images; everything swam before me — whirling round and round. Oh, it was an awful state! At last I sent for a doctor — and from him I learned the truth.
MRS. ALVING. How do you mean?
OSWALD. He was one of the first doctors in Paris. I told him my symptoms; and then he set to work asking me a string of questions which I thought had nothing to do with the matter. I couldn't imagine what the man was after —
MRS. ALVING. Well?
OSWALD. At last he said: "There has been something worm-eaten in you from your birth." He used that very word — vermoulu.
MRS. ALVING. [Breathlessly.] What did he mean by that?
OSWALD. I didn't understand either, and begged him to explain himself more clearly. And then the old cynic said — [Clenching his fist] Oh — !
MRS. ALVING. What did he say?
OSWALD. He said, "The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children."
MRS. ALVING. [Rising slowly.] The sins of the fathers — !
OSWALD. I very nearly struck him in the face —
MRS. ALVING. [Walks away across the room.] The sins of the fathers —
OSWALD. [Smiles sadly.] Yes; what do you think of that? Of course I assured him that such a thing was out of the question. But do you think he gave in? No, he stuck to it; and it was only when I produced your letters and translated the passages relating to father —
MRS. ALVING. But then — ?
OSWALD. Then of course he had to admit that he was on the wrong track; and so I learned the truth — the incomprehensible truth! I ought not to have taken part with my comrades in that lighthearted, glorious life of theirs. It had been too much for my strength. So I had brought it upon myself!
MRS. ALVING. Oswald! No, no; do not believe it!
OSWALD. No other explanation was possible, he said. That's the awful part of it. Incurably ruined for life — by my own heedlessness! All that I meant to have done in the world — I never dare think of it again — I'm not able to think of it. Oh! if I could only live over again, and undo all I have done! [He buries his face in the sofa.]
MRS. ALVING. [Wrings her hands and walks, in silent struggle, backwards and forwards.]
OSWALD. [After a while, looks up and remains resting upon his elbow.] If it had only been something inherited — something one wasn't responsible for! But this! To have thrown away so shamefully, thoughtlessly, recklessly, one's own happiness, one's own health, everything in the world — one's future, one's very life — !
MRS. ALVING. No, no, my dear, darling boy; this is impossible! [Bends over him.] Things are not so desperate as you think.
OSWALD. Oh, you don't know — [Springs up.] And then, mother, to cause you all this sorrow! Many a time I have almost wished and hoped that at bottom you didn't care so very much about me.
MRS. ALVING. I, Oswald? My only boy! You are all I have in the world! The only thing I care about!