OSWALD. And, of course, I know how fond you are of me, and I can't but be grateful to you. And then you can be so useful to me, now that I am ill.
MRS. ALVING. Yes, cannot I, Oswald? Oh, I could almost bless the illness that has driven you home to me. For I see very plainly that you are not mine: I have to win you.
OSWALD. [Impatiently.] Yes yes yes; all these are just so many phrases. You must remember that I am a sick man, mother. I can't be much taken up with other people; I have enough to do thinking about myself.
MRS. ALVING. [In a low voice.] I shall be patient and easily satisfied.
OSWALD. And cheerful too, mother!
MRS. ALVING. Yes, my dear boy, you are quite right. [Goes towards him.] Have I relieved you of all remorse and self-reproach now?
OSWALD. Yes, you have. But now who will relieve me of the dread?
MRS. ALVING. The dread?
OSWALD. [Walks across the room.] Regina could have been got to do it.
MRS. ALVING. I don't understand you. What is this about dread — and Regina?
OSWALD. Is it very late, mother?
MRS. ALVING. It is early morning. [She looks out through the conservatory.] The day is dawning over the mountains. And the weather is clearing, Oswald. In a little while you shall see the sun.
OSWALD. I'm glad of that. Oh, I may still have much to rejoice in and live for —
MRS. ALVING. I should think so, indeed!
OSWALD. Even if I can't work —
MRS. ALVING. Oh, you'll soon be able to work again, my dear boy — now that you haven't got all those gnawing and depressing thoughts to brood over any longer.
OSWALD. Yes, I'm glad you were able to rid me of all those fancies. And when I've got over this one thing more — [Sits on the sofa.] Now we will have a little talk, mother —
MRS. ALVING. Yes, let us. [She pushes an arm-chair towards the sofa, and sits down close to him.]
OSWALD. And meantime the sun will be rising. And then you will know all. And then I shall not feel this dread any longer.
MRS. ALVING. What is it that I am to know?
OSWALD. [Not listening to her.] Mother, did you not say a little while ago, that there was nothing in the world you would not do for me, if I asked you?
MRS. ALVING. Yes, indeed I said so!
OSWALD. And you'll stick to it, mother?
MRS. ALVING. You may rely on that, my dear and only boy! I have nothing in the world to live for but you alone.
OSWALD. Very well, then; now you shall hear — Mother, you have a strong, steadfast mind, I know. Now you're to sit quite still when you hear it.
MRS. ALVING. What dreadful thing can it be — ?
OSWALD. You're not to scream out. Do you hear? Do you promise me that? We will sit and talk about it quietly. Do you promise me, mother?
MRS. ALVING. Yes, yes; I promise. Only speak!
OSWALD. Well, you must know that all this fatigue — and my inability to think of work — all that is not the illness itself —
MRS. ALVING. Then what is the illness itself?
OSWALD. The disease I have as my birthright — [He points to his forehead and adds very softly] — is seated here.
MRS. ALVING. [Almost voiceless.] Oswald! No — no!
OSWALD. Don't scream. I can't bear it. Yes, mother, it is seated here waiting. And it may break out any day — at any moment.
MRS. ALVING. Oh, what horror — !
OSWALD. Now, quiet, quiet. That is how it stands with me —
MRS. ALVING. [Springs up.] It's not true, Oswald! It's impossible! It cannot be so!
OSWALD. I have had one attack down there already. It was soon over. But when I came to know the state I had been in, then the dread descended upon me, raging and ravening; and so I set off home to you as fast as I could.
MRS. ALVING. Then this is the dread — !
OSWALD. Yes — it's so indescribably loathsome, you know. Oh, if it had only been an ordinary mortal disease — ! For I'm not so afraid of death — though I should like to live as long as I can.
MRS. ALVING. Yes, yes, Oswald, you must!
OSWALD. But this is so unutterably loathsome. To become a little baby again! To hive to be fed! To have to — Oh, it's not to be spoken of!
MRS. ALVING. The child has his mother to nurse him.
OSWALD. [Springs up.] No, never that! That is just what I will not have. I can't endure to think that perhaps I should lie in that state for many years — and get old and grey. And in the meantime you might die and leave me. [Sits in MRS. ALVING'S chair.] For the doctor said it wouldn't necessarily prove fatal at once. He called it a sort of softening of the brain — or something like that. [Smiles sadly.] I think that expression sounds so nice. It always sets me thinking of cherry-coloured velvet — something soft and delicate to stroke.
MRS. ALVING. [Shrieks.] Oswald!
OSWALD. [Springs up and paces the room.] And now you have taken Regina from me. If I could only have had her! She would have come to the rescue, I know.
MRS. ALVING. [Goes to him.] What do you mean by that, my darling boy? Is there any help in the world that I would not give you?
OSWALD. When I got over my attack in Paris, the doctor told me that when it comes again — and it will come — there will be no more hope.
MRS. ALVING. He was heartless enough to —
OSWALD. I demanded it of him. I told him I had preparations to make — [He smiles cunningly.] And so I had. [He takes a little box from his inner breast pocket and opens it.] Mother, do you see this?
MRS. ALVING. What is it?
MRS. ALVING. [Looks at him horror-struck.] Oswald — my boy!
OSWALD. I've scraped together twelve pilules —
MRS. ALVING. [Snatches at it.] Give me the box, Oswald.
OSWALD. Not yet, mother. [He hides the box again in his pocket.]
MRS. ALVING. I shall never survive this!
OSWALD. It must be survived. Now if I'd had Regina here, I should have told her how things stood with me — and begged her to come to the rescue at the last. She would have done it. I know she would.
MRS. ALVING. Never!
OSWALD. When the horror had come upon me, and she saw me lying there helpless, like a little new-born baby, impotent, lost, hopeless — past all saving —