Aslaksen. I am a man with a conscience, and that is the whole
matter. If you attack the government, you don't do the community
any harm, anyway; those fellows pay no attention to attacks, you
see--they go on just as they are, in spite of them. But local
authorities are different; they can be turned out, and then
perhaps you may get an ignorant lot into office who may do
irreparable harm to the householders and everybody else.
Hovstad. But what of the education of citizens by self
government--don't you attach any importance to that?
Aslaksen. When a man has interests of his own to protect, he
cannot think of everything, Mr. Hovstad.
Hovstad. Then I hope I shall never have interests of my own to
Billing. Hear, hear!
Aslaksen (with a smile). Hm! (Points to the desk.) Mr. Sheriff
Stensgaard was your predecessor at that editorial desk.
Billing (spitting). Bah! That turncoat.
Hovstad. I am not a weathercock--and never will be.
Aslaksen. A politician should never be too certain of anything,
Mr. Hovstad. And as for you, Mr. Billing, I should think it is
time for you to be taking in a reef or two in your sails, seeing
that you are applying for the post of secretary to the Bench.
Hovstad. Are you, Billing?
Billing. Well, yes--but you must clearly understand I am only
doing it to annoy the bigwigs.
Aslaksen. Anyhow, it is no business of mine. But if I am to be
accused of timidity and of inconsistency in my principles, this
is what I want to point out: my political past is an open book. I
have never changed, except perhaps to become a little more
moderate, you see. My heart is still with the people; but I don't
deny that my reason has a certain bias towards the authorities--
the local ones, I mean. (Goes into the printing room.)
Billing. Oughtn't we to try and get rid of him, Hovstad?
Hovstad. Do you know anyone else who will advance the money for
our paper and printing bill?
Billing. It is an infernal nuisance that we don't possess some
capital to trade on.
Hovstad (sitting down at his desk). Yes, if we only had that,
Billing. Suppose you were to apply to Dr. Stockmann?
Hovstad (turning over some papers). What is the use? He has got
Billing. No, but he has got a warm man in the background, old
Morten Kiil--"the Badger," as they call him.
Hovstad (writing). Are you so sure he has got anything?
Billing. Good Lord, of course he has! And some of it must come to
the Stockmanns. Most probably he will do something for the
children, at all events.
Hovstad (turning half round). Are you counting on that?
Billing. Counting on it? Of course I am not counting on anything.
Hovstad. That is right. And I should not count on the
secretaryship to the Bench either, if I were you; for I can
assure you--you won't get it.
Billing. Do you think I am not quite aware of that? My object is
precisely not to get it. A slight of that kind stimulates a man's
fighting power--it is like getting a supply of fresh bile--and I
am sure one needs that badly enough in a hole-and-corner place
like this, where it is so seldom anything happens to stir one up.
Hovstad (writing). Quite so, quite so.
Billing. Ah, I shall be heard of yet!--Now I shall go and write
the appeal to the Householders' Association. (Goes into the room
on the right.)
Hovstad (sitting al his desk, biting his penholder, says slowly).
Hm!--that's it, is it. (A knock is heard.) Come in! (PETRA comes
in by the outer door. HOVSTAD gets up.) What, you!--here?
Petra. Yes, you must forgive me--
Hovstad (pulling a chair forward). Won't you sit down?
Petra. No, thank you; I must go again in a moment.
Hovstad. Have you come with a message from your father, by any
Petra. No, I have come on my own account. (Takes a book out of
her coat pocket.) Here is the English story.
Hovstad. Why have you brought it back?
Petra. Because I am not going to translate it.
Hovstad. But you promised me faithfully.
Petra. Yes, but then I had not read it, I don't suppose you have
read it either?
Hovstad. No, you know quite well I don't understand English;
Petra. Quite so. That is why I wanted to tell you that you must
find something else. (Lays the book on the table.) You can't use
this for the "People's Messenger."
Hovstad. Why not?
Petra. Because it conflicts with all your opinions.
Hovstad. Oh, for that matter--
Petra. You don't understand me. The burden of this story is that
there is a supernatural power that looks after the so-called good
people in this world and makes everything happen for the best in
their case--while all the so-called bad people are punished.
Hovstad. Well, but that is all right. That is just what our
Petra. And are you going to be the one to give it to them? For
myself, I do not believe a word of it. You know quite well that
things do not happen so in reality.