Ravenfarm (Ravnegård) by Dagny Juel Przybyszewska

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Cast: Aunt Åse (65), Gunhild, Sigrid (Siri), Thor

ACT I

(It is late in winter. A large deep room. In the foreground on the left longwall there is a giant brick fireplace, ablaze. Gunhild is stoking the fireplace with big pieces of cordwood. She is startled by something and listens intently. She walks over to a low table in the middle of the room. On the table lies exotic flowers of some size, and she starts arranging them slowly and thoughtfully in a high and unusual vase. She calls, and a servant appears in the doorway.)

Gunhild: Light the candles, please.

(The servant leaves and returns with a candle lighter in hand, and proceeds to light the candles of a chandelier and two silver seven-lighted candelabras on the mantelpiece.)

Gunhild: Is everything in order?

Servant: Yes, miss.

Gunhild: The flowers, the carpets? The candles on the dining room table?

Servant: Yes, miss.

Gunhild: And is the table set?

Servant: Yes, miss.

Gunhild: All is well, then. You may leave.

(The servant leaves. Gunhild remains standing immovable considering the flowers, which are now fully arranged in the vase. Aunt Åse enters slowly, walks towards Gunhild and looks at her quietly for a while.)

Aunt Åse: Gunhild, you look like you have decorated the house for your own funeral, why? Does it pain you to know that your little sister is now lost to you? To know she belongs to a stranger?

Gunhild: Isn't it resplendent, aunt Åse? The house shines like an enchanted castle over the fields, right?

Aunt Åse: Today Cinderella comes home with her prince.

Gunhild: Cinderella? Siri?

Aunt Åse: Yes, but you were always the princess, the mistress.

(Silence.)

Gunhild: I don't think you ever cared for me, did you, aunt Åse?

Aunt Åse: You are so domineering, Gunhild. Besides… who really knows you, child.

(Gunhild sits quietly down by the fireplace, wrapping her hands around her knees.)

Aunt Åse: Little moon-eyed Sigrid with her golden hair… What kind of a husband could she have chosen? You were also out there among those people: Perhaps you know him, Gunhild?

Gunhild: (Makes no reply.)

Aunt Åse: Sigrid's husband, perhaps you know him?

Gunhild: Yes, I know him.

Aunt Åse: You know him!

(Silence.)

Aunt Åse: How strange you are, Gunhild! Why didn't you tell me you know Sigrid's husband?

Gunhild: Dearest aunt Åse, see those flowers in the vase over there? See those that look like the fever spots on the face of someone ill? And look: There are some that resemble those frost ferns in window panes that children love so much… And look, look: My soul's big speckled birds! They would yearningly fly to another world, where space has no borders… but they are stuck on their stalks, and bound to the ground in agony. Can you see how mournful my flowers are? I have nursed all of them in my greenhouse… Don't you think that's better than all those words?

Aunt Åse: Oh my god, Gunhild…

Gunhild: (Is startled and listens.) Just the wind…

Aunt Åse: I don't know exactly why, but everything you gather around you - your books, your pictures, your music, even your flowers make my heart uneasy!

Gunhild: (Grinz.)

Aunt Åse: I have only lived for you and for Sigrid. Oh, I remember everything, from when you were quite young… It's true, you worshipped your little sister. How you helped her with everything! Do you remember how you brushed her long, yellow hair?

Gunhild: Was I good to Sigrid, aunt Åse?

Aunt Åse: So very good! But you were so taciturn, and when she chattered like a canary you would say: 'Be quiet, you are disturbing me'.

Gunhild: Alas, how could she understand how I longed for silence?

Aunt Åse: And now, here on Ravenfarm, the silence is bigger than all the oceans.

Gunhild: Alas, not so, aunt Åse: If it's not you talking, it's the fire crackling or the frost making itself at home, or the wind trying the door or the walls expanding. And even if all were silent, you can still hear your own heart beating! Alas…

Aunt Åse: Child, you don't know what you want.

(Silence.)

Aunt Åse: Imagine, a man knowing you, setting his heart on Sigrid!

(Silence.)

(An unkindness of ravens fly by the window to the right, kawing.)

Aunt Åse: (Startled.) Ugh, those ravens! My god, Gunhild, how can you keep them around the farm? You must have forgotten they are birds of misfortune…

Gunhild: (Smiles.) Misfortunes come when the time is right, aunt Åse.

(Sleigh bells are heard. Gunhild is taken by surprise, rises and is standing stiffly, listening.)

Aunt Åse: They are coming! Gunhild! Let's welcome them, come, come.

(Aunt Åse exits hurriedly. Gunhild follows slowly, reluctantly. Voices are heard from the drawing room. Siri's is high and happy, but Gunhild's voice is not heard. The doors are opened and aunt Åse, Gunhild, Sigrid and Thor enter.)

Sigrid: (Runs to the fireplace and starts warming her hands.) Ah, Gunhild's fireplace! How heavenly homely and warm here is! Gunhild's fireplace is huge like no other. Even its flames are more fantastic and threatening than any other fireplace in the whole wide world. Don't you think so too, Thor?

Thor: (Distracted.) No, Sigrid.

Aunt Åse: Oh, Sigrid is right. I, too, think that everything that belongs to Gunhild is somehow unearthly and eerie.

Sigrid: (Embraces Gunhild.) No, I didn't mean that, Gunhild. I do think that everything you touch will double its value. You are like the moonlight, you beautify everything.

Gunhild: (Kisses Sigrid.)

Sigrid: Thor would not travel home now. He wanted us to travel south, where spring is starting and the sun is shining. He always said, 'I'm superstitious, I fear the birds of misfortune at Ravenfarm'. But I could not rest, Gunhild, I had to return home to you and Ravenfarm. I could not rest until you and he had shook hands. A strange force somehow pulled me home to you and Ravenfarm. I remember your old saying - it's written in the stars…

Gunhild: (Slowly.) Sigrid, Sigrid!

Thor: (Is standing and staring at the flowers in the vase, shaking his head.) Sigrid…

Sigrid: (By his side.) These are the flowers from Gunhild's greenhouse that I have spoken so much about. If you understand Gunhild's flowers then you will know her heart and soul. (Imploring.) You will love my sister, won't you, Thor? Or else I would be so unhappy.

Thor: (Wraps his arms around her.) If it makes you happy…

Sigrid: Gunhild! Thor! You must kiss each other… Heartily, like sister and brother. Do it for my sake! He is your brother, Gunhild…

(Gunhild and Thor step back and shoot a pale glance. Finally Thor approaches Gunhild and gives her a quick kiss.)

Sigrid: Thank you, thank you! You must love one another… You are the two people I care most for in the whole wide world.

Aunt Åse: (In a low voice.) Well, those two are birds of a feather, taciturn and proud…

Sigrid: What's that, dear aunt Åse?

Aunt Åse: Nothing, child. I'm just glad the sun is shining in the drawing room again, my poppet.

Sigrid: (To Gunhild, slightly reproaching.) You were never talkative, Gunhild, always quiet and thoughtful. But now, now… Have you pledged to speak only in monosyllables?

Gunhild: (Guffaws suddenly.)

(Silence.)

Gunhild: How happy and beautiful you are. I am glad.

Sigrid: (Uneasy.) Gunhild… Dear…

Aunt Åse: And your husband, Sigrid? He seems to be a man of few words?

Sigrid: My husband? Alas, he resembles Gunhild in many ways.

Aunt Åse: But now we will dine. You must be hungry and tired after the long journey. (She calls out.)

Gunhild: (Is coming.)

Aunt Åse: Shall we?

Gunhild: It is served, miss.

Aunt Åse: Then open the doors, Josef.

(The servant opens both doors to the dining room, which is resplendently lit. The table is covered with flowers, crystals and old candlesticks.)

Aunt Åse: Dinner is served, everyone!

Sigrid: (Takes Thor by the arm.) Don't you think my home is lovely? So grand and dignified…

Thor: I think whatever you want me to think, sweetie.

(As everyone break up to enter the dining room - CURTAINFALL ACT I.)

ACT II

(Same room. Some time later. Afternoon. Gunhild is sitting in front of the fireplace. Sigrid enters slowly from the entrance still in outerwear, with tired steps. As she approaches the fireplace she notices Gunhild and is startled. She would return, but Gunhild holds her fast with her eyes. She walks over to the fireplace and remains standing before it.)

Gunhild: Did you have a long walk?

Sigrid: I went up to the ravens' precipice, stood there listening to the roaring waterfall below. The mountain snow has thawed and the river is breaking its icy chains. Ugh, I had to cling to that old pine up there so I wouldn't plunge off.

Gunhild: And aren't you afraid of the birds of misfortune up there on the ravens' precipice?

Sigrid: (Shudders.) I'm sure the old raven up there has something on its mind. But deciphering its hoarse cry is not easily done.

(Silence.)

Gunhild: You never went to the ravens' precipice before. You always said that your heartbeats would plunge you into the waterfall.

Sigrid: Alas, those days of yore when my heart would beat with sheer lust for life!

Gunhild: And now? Sigrid…

(Silence.)

Sigrid: (Exclaiming.) Oh, Gunhild, what is it that scares me away from Ravenfarm? What is it that I'm afraid of reading in your face, your face that I used to cherish?

(She weeps.)

Gunhild: (Intensely and tenderly.) Alas, sister, in the heart of the earth there is fire flowing, and at given moments it breaks through the crust and overflows the world… Beloved sister, weep not… I cannot see you weep!

(She kisses Sigrid intensely and exits rapidly to the left.)

Sigrid: (Collapses in front of the fireplace. She bawls unabashedly a while, but then rises and wipes her tears.)

Aunt Åse: (Enters hurriedly and embraces her.) Why is my poppet wailing so pitifully? Who would have the heart to hurt you? I was sitting in my room and faintly heard your wails all the way down here.

Sigrid: No, no, you misheard, I'm not weeping. I'm just tired from a long walk. I sat down here in front of the fireplace and gazed at the shifting images in the flames. They are like life, aunt Åse, the more brilliantly built, the more pathetically it must fall apart…

Aunt Åse: But why are you so alone, child? Where is that man who ought to sense that you need his tenderness wrapped around you? I think you are far too often lonely and dejected, Sigrid.

Sigrid: My god, aunt Åse, my husband has better things to do than look after my moods.

Aunt Åse: I have never known you to be moody, child! During all these 20 years you were a sunbeam shining gold on all and any.

Sigrid: I was a child then, aunt.

Aunt Åse: I never knew love could make you so dejected.

Sigrid: (Proudly.) Why are you reproaching my husband, exactly?

Aunt Åse: Dear child, I am not reproaching him. I just think your husband is awfully proud. He only talks to hide his thoughts. I am perhaps too old to understand that kind of youth, but one thing I can see well enough with my old eyes…

Sigrid: (Nervous.) What do you see, aunt Åse?

Aunt Åse: Well, only that my own little fair elf, who always made the old and sinister halls of Ravenfarm shine, has lost the light in her moon-eyes. That these eyes, which I love and always filled my heart with tender joy, are now downcast, as if they are afraid… to see…

Sigrid: (Intensely.) Afraid! What should I be afraid of?

Aunt Åse: Will you not confide in your old aunt? What is it that makes you unhappy, child?

Sigrid: How can you think I'm unhappy, aunt Åse? I cherish my husband and he loves me… Why else would he have married me? (She starts weeping.)

Aunt Åse: But why are you weeping, child? Why do you weep?

Sigrid: (Wipes her tears.) Oh, tears walk apart and keep their own counsel. I don't know, aunt…

(Thor is standing in the doorway.)

Aunt Åse: There is your husband now. Why don't you ask him, who loves you the most, about those tears, child. (Leaves.)

(Thor remains standing, regarding her. She looks away.)

Thor: Sigrid!

Sigrid: (Still looking away.) Thor…

Thor: What's wrong, Sigrid? Why won't you look at me? Why are you avoiding me?

Sigrid: Thor…

Thor: Is it Ravenfarm that makes you so dispirited and lost?

Sigrid: It is so sinister and wild this time of year. I also think that…

Thor: (Somewhat intensely.) That what, Sigrid?

Sigrid: (Shyly.) That Ravenfarm makes you… more quiet.

Thor: Am I so quiet?

Sigrid: Your silence makes me so lonely, Thor. It's like you listen, like you listened to someone else I cannot hear. And this unheard voice swallowed you whole, and then your soul…

Thor: Sigrid…

Sigrid: Alas, Thor, a ghost has insinuated itself into Ravenfarm. I meet it on the stairs, up in our room, even up on the ravens' precipice it stares at me with malignant eyes…

Thor: You're right, this is no place for us. Tell your sister we will be leaving one of the next days.

Sigrid: No, no, tell her yourself. I cannot. I love Gunhild and I can't stand to see her so utterly dejected! Oh, why can't you two… (Exclaims.) Why do you hate each other? Why can't the two of you meet eyes?

Thor: Sweetie, is it so hard for you to understand that your sister mourns losing you, half of herself? You were her shadow, her soul's echo, an echo sounding clearer and cleaner than the voice of her own soul…

Sigrid: (Slowly.) Do you cherish me, Thor? I never feel your thoughts on me… I am longing for you.

Thor: What can I tell you, Sigrid? I can only kiss your hands and feet… (He kisses her.)

(Gunhild appears in the doorway.)

Thor: (To Sigrid.) Go up to aunt Åse, then, and I will speak to Gunhild about our departure.

(Sigrid leaves.)

(Gunhild slowly approaches Thor. Their eyes are aglow.)

(Silence.)

Thor: (Slowly with hard and mocking voice.) All right, Gunhild, you are as quiet as Isis, the mother of silence, and yet your silence speaks louder than the words of a thousand women. Or don't you think I can read you without looking into your sphinx eyes?

Gunhild: (Laughs hoarsely.)

Thor: (Low and spiteful.) A second time you will destroy my life, and this time also my soul. Right? That's your only thought and desire?

Gunhild: (Smiles sadly.)

Thor: You are like the hand of darkness, standing there so quietly intimidating in your black garb… For unhappiness you were made, and that's all you do, making people miserable. But see, you no longer have that power over me. From the very moment your good little spirit left you to follow me, I were also freed from your pale persecution.

Gunhild: (Sighs heavily and sits by the fireplace in thoughts.)

Thor: How can you make your sister so miserable, your sister whose soul shines of tenderness for you? Your sister, who caresses you night and day by the way she mentions your name.

Gunhild: (Bursts into tears.)

Thor: You are like the birds of misfortune up there on the precipice, and Sigrid… well, as for Sigrid there is no epithet!

Gunhild: (Jumps up passionately.) Then why don't you love her?

Thor: How dare you!

Gunhild: I fled from you back then. I felt violated, body and soul… I threw you away, I trampled upon you. I never wanted you to know how strongly you had me in your power…

Thor: And then you let me lie there before your feet, me!

Gunhild: Remember the words you said when we parted?

Thor: (Fiercely.) I remember the days and night when I bit my tongue so I wouldn't howl in yearning for you, why, you…

Gunhild: You said, there's no forgetting you. You are like a slow, caustic poison in my blood, in my soul…

Thor: I have burned off the poison from my blood and soul, like cauterizing the wound of a mad dog's bite.

Gunhild: Did you think you would forget me one day? Me, who have given you a suffering so great that no joy can wipe it off?

Thor: Why are you saying this?

Gunhild: (Whispers.) Because I love you!

Thor: (Enraged.) How dare you! I hate you!

Gunhild: You love me, oh, how you love me! Your thoughts circle around me like bats around a lamppost. Your blood is only alive by that desire you feel quaking in mine.

Thor: And Sigrid, will she be sacrificed on the altar of your madness?

Gunhild: Yes, Sigrid must be sacrificed on the altar of our love. Or can you not see her fate in those frightened moon-eyes?

Thor: Never! Never!

Gunhild: (Wildly.) What nerve coming to my home as my sister's husband!

Thor: So I could break your black heart!

Gunhild: Hah, to break her pure, white heart that is shining brighter than the sun and the stars.

Thor: She is my joy and good spirit on my shoulder. In her embrace I forget the madness you awoke in my blood.

Gunhild: It's me you tremble for in her embrace. It's my name you whisper in your sleep. Your heart is beating around me by day and by night. I cannot sleep for the sound of your heartbeats.

Thor: You… you…

Gunhild: Don't you realize it's written up there, in the stars? That we are doomed to eternal love?

Thor: Leave, leave! Don't you stare at me from the abyss!

Gunhild: She brought you home herself into my arms. You feared Ravenfarm's birds of misfortune. But who can escape their fate, Thor?

Thor: You read the stars like the adversary reads the bible, Gunhild.

Gunhild: Oh, don't you think I wouldn't give my life for Sigrid? But how can I, when _she's_ the victim?

Thor: (Fiercely.) Gunhild!

Gunhild: We all know what must come. Sigrid folds her hands in her lap, she won't be resisting much longer. It's only you, then, who won't listen to the sound of wings, soon beating above your head.

Thor: Since our eyes first met I have felt misfortune approaching with beating wings.

Gunhild: Thor! Look at me, Thor, for real this time! Once you ardently asked for my love… And see, here I am at your feet… Thor, I love you! A little happiness before fate shall crush us!

Thor: Gunhild! (Embraces her passionately.) A little happiness before fate shall crush us!

CURTAINFALL ACT II

ACT III

(The same room upon the evening. Aunt Åse is very upset and can't sit down. She listens. She waits. She clenches her hands in powerless wrath. She notices a bouquet of tuberoses on a table. She stands in front of it and puts her hand on her forehead like the strong scent poisons her. She abruptly grabs the flowers and throws them into the fireplace. She leaves quickly. The stage is empty.)

Gunhild: (Enters in a hurry, ashen.)

Thor: (Follows closely. Both are standing stiffly, their eyes meeting.)

Gunhild: (Hoarsely.) She plunged! She plunged into the waterfall!

Thor: She plunged like a felled tree! My god!

Gunhild: She saw us down there. She saw you holding me in your arms… Then she fell outwards… into the waterfall… Thor!

Thor: (Grabs her by the arm.) Gunhild, this had to come! You must have seen how she suffered.

Gunhild: (Passionately.) Did I ever! Oh!

Thor: And now? How pale you are. Why won't you look at me? Oh, but you're shaking like a little bird on a stormy night. Have you already forgotten our lovemaking?

Gunhild: Speak not of it, not now!

Thor: (Fiercely.) Gunhild!

Gunhild: Alas, Sigrid, Sigrid! You were helpless like a shipwrecked child!

Thor: (Heartfelt.) I sold my soul to you, Gunhild, and when your eyes shine upon me like the northern lights in the night sky I must not think of the little dove that had to be sacrificed on your altar. I can only mourn her like a child who died too soon.

Gunhild: And I can never forget how she raised her arms up against the sky! How she plunged… plunged!

Thor: (Intensely.) And I can forget everything, everything in your arms, Gunhild! When I see the burning mouth in your pale, poignant face… When you whisper words in my ear, gloomy and glowing… Oh, Gunhild, your love outweighs life and death!

Gunhild: Lately her eyes were like a dog fatally shot. She felt everything, but could not believe it… And soon they will bring her here, her broken body… And I will have to see her face drawn with fear, frozen in a question… Never again shall I hear her tender voice saying my name… Oh, Sigrid!

Thor: (Hoarsely.) And your blinding love, is it now forgotten?

Gunhild: Alas, now my world is dark and confused…

Thor: You're falling apart! Gunhild, you dig in my heart like a raven picks at a corpse!

Gunhild: (Is shocked for a second, then strongly.) No, Thor, no, only in my own horrified heart, briefly weakened by fate's flaming eyes. Thor, I love you! Being with you is the well of life where I may recover and forget, forget!

Thor: (Facing her.) Gunhild!

Aunt Åse: (Enters, ashen.) Sigrid plunged off ravens' precipice! (Fiercely.) Gunhild, did you know Sigrid plunged into the waterfall? (Facing Thor.) And you, you, her husband and protector, where were you when she stood lonely up there on the precipice? Where were you two whom she loved the most? Where were you when despair took her?

(Gunhild sits down, hiding her face in her hands, struck dumb.)

Aunt Åse: Gunhild, Gunhild, are you really guiltless of this murder?

Gunhild: Guilt! Guilt! The only one guilty here is fate, which steered Sigrid towards a man who can love only me!

Aunt Åse: So it's true! (Intensely, quaking with anger.) Hear me now, hear me now, Gunhild! Hear these final words from my old mouth, which so often sang you to sleep when you were yet a wingless angel… I curse you! (Passionately.) I curse you forever! May your ill-starred sick flowers fog your senses and soul with their stink, and keep you from sun and sea! May you decay into spleen and insanity! May… may… (Remains standing as if deranged, gasping for air.)

Gunhild: (Hoarsely.) Aunt Åse, don't you think Sigrid, lying broken in the waterfall, is happier than me who was caught by the evil eye? Woe, woe the day I was born into this world! But think not that your curse can separate me from the man I love and who loves me. Come, Thor, come… We two are doomed to eternal love… (She bursts into weeping.)

Thor: (Wraps his arms around her and leads her away.)

FINAL CURTAINFALL


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