Our Vanguard: A Pioneer Play in Three Acts,
With Prologue and Epilogue
By Aileen Berger Buetow (Volume XV: Page 20)
PROLOGUE: A steamship line office, at the present time.
ACT 1: The Fox River Settlement, November, 1837.
ACT 2: Beaver Creek, April, 1838.
ACT 3: The same, September, 1838.
EPILOGUE: The steamship line office, at the present time.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
PROLOGUE AND EPILOGUE
BILL, a student
NONA, his fiancee
DIDRIKSEN, a steamship agent
OLE RYNNING ELISIF OTT, an orphan girl
DR. THORWALD BRANDT, a frontier physician
NILS ELLINGSEN, a Quaker farmer
MALLENE ELLINGSEN, his wife
SIGNE ELLINGSENN, their daughter
OLE NATTESTAD, a blacksmith
METTA TRULSEN, a widow
LARS MELAND, a carpenter
GURI MELAND, his wife
HADDON CRUM, a Yankee land speculator
Children, immigrants, settlers
<1> This play has never been presented complete, but excerpts from it were given
at the Barn Theatre (now no longer in existence) in Chicago during 1986.
(To be played in front of the curtain)
It is about noon in the modern office of a steamship line agency. Bright travel posters
hang on the wall; there are desks, bookshelves, and a telephone. As the lights go on, DIDRIKSEN
is seen at the telephone, speaking.
DIDRIKSEN. Yes, ma'am? Your accommodations on the boat sailing the seventh? . . . Keep
your poodle in the cabin? No, positively not, madam . . . .Oh, in a dog basket? Well, I'll
look up the regulations.
He goes to the bookshelves and takes down a large book. Enter NONA and BILL, young
NONA. (Pleadingly) Don't sail, Bill. For my sake, don't!
BILL. Sh, dear!
DIDRIKSEN. (To BILL) Torleif Didriksen, at your service. Excuse me a minute.
There's no one else to take the phone. Lunch hour, you know. Here is a list of sailings. (He
gives it to BILL, and goes back to the telephone.) . . . I'm sorry, there are
regulations against dogs in the cabins, ma'am. (His voice trails off.)
NONA. I wish you hadn't won the scholarship, Bill. Then you'd have-taken the job in
Dad's office and we could've been married this fall. Oh, blast that scholarship!
BILL. But now I've a chance to be appointed assistant professor when I come back from
NONA. (Acidly) Professor in what -- in the history of immigration?
BILL. That's part of America's history, isn't it?
DIDRIKSEN. (Continuing the telephone conversation) Then you'll be in tomorrow,
madam . . . .What? Can I help you smuggle Fido into your cabin in one of your trunks? Oh,
madam, madam! Well, I'll expect you tomorrow. (He replaces the telephone receiver and
comes front, to desk.) What can I do for you, sir? Honeymoon trip abroad?
BILL. Oh, no; we won't be married for a year.
NONA. Because he's accepting a scholarship to go abroad to study--
BILL. (Proudly) -- the background of immigration to America.
DIDRIKSEN. (With great enthusiasm) Marvelous! I wish
I could go for that reason, myself. Think what immigration has meant to this country!
NONA. So what?
DIDRIKSEN. (Apologetically) You've started me off on my hobby. I collect books
on Norwegian immigration. (He picks up a small volume.) This little book tells how
one man fought against great odds to bring about a wave of immigration that settled part
of the Middle West.
NONA. (Taking the book and looking at its title page) Ole Rynning's True
Account of America. Why, this book is a hundred years old!
DIDRIKSEN. Sure it is. And, I imagine, it is to study this man's background and the
background of other men like him that you're being sent across, sir?
NONA. I hate to have him go. It seems so useless. DIDRIKSEN. Useless, ma'am? It's a
stirring mission. The subject is thrilling. It's necessary to know! For shouldn't we
Americans know all about our past? Now, take for instance the life of this man Ole
Rynning. (He holds the book up.)
Shall I tell you his story?
NONA. Yes, do.
DIDRIKSEN. (Intently) If it thrills you, will you promise me one thing? -- Not
to object to this young man's going across to study the history of immigration?
NONA. (Smilingly) If the background of immigration is as interesting as you
claim, I might even go abroad with him!
DIDRIKSEN. Well, here is the story of Ole Rynning. This is what happened a hundred
The lights go out; the scene in front of the curtain is removed while a number of
national anthems are played, finishing with the Star Spangled Banner as the curtain rises
for Act 1.
Out of doors at the Fox River Settlement near Ottawa, Illinois. A November day in
1837. To the left is a log cabin; in the foreground, a clearing, with stumps. The backdrop
shows a typical Illinois landscape with the Fox River and a sawmill in the distance. As
the curtain rises, NILS ELLINGSEN, a gnarled, middle-aged pioneer with a black
patch over one eye, is lifting wood from a bin by the wall of the cabin. He is in
Quakerish garb and is singing an old Hymn.
ELLINGSEN. (Straightening up, shading his eye) Who's there?
Enter, left, DR. BRANDT, a young man, well dressed.
DR. BRANDT. Ellingsen! Don't you know me any more? ELLINGSEN. (Dropping the wood and
starting toward him) It is long since I have seen thee, Thorwald Brandt. I do not see
well since my mishap with the team of oxen. I thought thou wert one of the new immigrants.
(They shake hands.) Bless thee, friend!
DR. BRANDT. How have you been?
ELLINGSEN. Well, the Lord be thanked. Thou lookst weary. Come in, come in! Rest
DR. BRANDT. Oh, no, no. Yesterday I rode the eighty miles from our settlement in
Chicago. Today I have loafed around in a settlers' meeting. I've visited the immigrants
ELLINGSEN. There are eighty of the newcomers. They do not know where they can settle,
poor things. Who would have thought that so many would come here from the old country!
DR. BRANDT. Many more will follow!
ELLINGSEN. (Laughing incredulously) Oh, no! (He takes a few steps.) Where
is thy horse, friend?
DR. BRANDT. (Taking his snuffbox from his pocket) The mare discovered some late
shoots of grass by the Fox River; so I hitched her up near your sawmill.
ELLINGSEN. Did my wife and Sina greet thee?
DR. BRANDT. They were busy in the mill. I pushed on to find you. Important news,
ELLINGSEN. From the old country?
DR. BRANDT. No. News for the settlers.
ELLINGSEN. (With new heat) Thou meanest the foolish notion that the old settlers
shall leave this place to lead the newcomers westward?
DR. BRANDT. (Delicately taking a pinch of snuff) Foolish notion? Why shouldn't
all our people be together?
ELLINGSEN. Why should the twenty families in this settlement leave their land?
DR. BRANDT. Because you settlers here have experience and capital. The immigrants need
you. We'll all settle in one place and prepare for the rest of our countrymen who'll come.
ELLINGSEN. A fool's dream. No more. will come.
DR. BRANDT. (Closing the snuffbox) You should hear Ole Rynning's plans for mass
emigration from the old country'.
ELLINGSEN. Ole Rynning -- the leader of the newcomers? That professor who went west to
find a place for them?
DR. BRANDT. He has found it, and is back. He has discovered the promised land for our
ELLINGSEN. The promised land!
DR. BRANDT. In Illinois.
ELLINGSEN. Where Cleng Peerson went?
DR. BRANDT. No; nearer Chicago. Beaver Creek. In Iroquois County. No other settlers.
ELLINGSEN. (Decisively) No, my friend. It won't do.
DR. BRANDT. Why not?
ELLINGSEN. (Sitting down on a stump) When I came to this country with the other
Sloop folk -- John Quincy Adams was president then -- the promised land was supposed to be
in Kendall, New York. We settled there.
DR BRANDT. (Smiling) That was twelve years ago. My parents were your neighbors.
Tree roots choked their grain.
ELLINGSEN. I cleared two hundred acres. Then it was announced that the promised land
was by Fox River in Illinois. I came here to be with the rest of my people.
DR. BRANDT. Lucky fellow! You traded your Kendall farm for six hundred acres here. I'll
tell you what to do! Trade these acres for half of all the tract at Beaver Creek.
ELLINGSEN. (Standing up) I will not. Here is my promised land! I thank the good
Lord for the abundance he has given me, and here I stay. (He turns toward the cabin
door.) Come in and rest thyself, friend!
DR. BRANDT. No, I'm waiting for Ole Rynning and the others.
ELLINGSEN. Waiting for Ole Rynning -- here ?
DR. BRANDT. (Half unwillingly) Yes. Ole Rynning and I arrived yesterday from
Chicago. Today we've been talking to settlers and newcomers about leaving in a body for
Beaver Creek. But both groups want to hear your opinion before making a decision. I expect
that representatives of both may come here with Rynning.
ELLINGSEN. (In deep thought) They want my advice?
DR. BRANDT. Yes.
ELLINGSEN. (Firmly) The settlers must remain. I do not know what to tell the
newcomers. May the Lord help me to advise them well!
DR. BRANDT. Ole Rynning asks you to come along to Beaver Creek!
ELLINGSEN. Let him save his breath.
DR. BRANDT. You don't know his power over men!
ELLINGSEN. I know that Elisif Ott on the Meland farm speaks of no one but Rynning. She
has bewitched my daughter Sina with her talk about the professor.
DR. BRANDT. How is Sina?
ELLINGSEN. (Sighing) Well. But a little changed since the immigrants came.
DR. BRANDT. Has she any beau now?
ELLINGSEN. (With Darkening brow) The Lord be thanked, Mother and I have been
able to avert that calamity.
DR. BRANDT. Don't avert it too long!
ELLINGSEN. (Rolling forward a chopping block) Wood must be chopped!
DR. BRANDT. (Taking off his coat) Let me!
ELLINGSEN. Thou, friend, art better fitted to tend our sick!
DR. BRANDT. (Rolling up his sleeves) Remember how I chopped wood for you when I was a
ELLINGSEN. (With a smile) Yes, and Mother gave thee bread and molasses for thy
pay. (He fetches an ax.) Here is the ax. But if many people are coming, victuals
must be prepared. I'll fetch Sina and Mother.
Exit ELLINGSEN, left. DR. BRANDT works and hums.
ELISIF enters, right. Somewhat poorly dressed, she carries herself exceedingly well.
She is a girl about twenty-five, and strikingly pretty.
ELISIF. Dr. Brandt! See, I'm the first of the settlers to come!
DR. BRANDT. A welcome sight. Elisif Ott, fairest maiden in Fox River Valley!
ELISIF. That's what you said this morning, too.
DR. BRANDT. (With a smile) I'll shout it wherever I go!
ELISIF. Even so Ole Rynning hears it?
DR. BRANDT. Not likely! I want to keep you for myself! (He draws nearer.) When I
ride my lonely rounds among the sick, or wade in ankle-deep mud in our Chicago settlement,
I always see your lovely face before me. And here you are -- near me!
ELISIF. (To the chopping block) I'd better chop the wood.
DR. BRANDT. (Taking up the ax resignedly) It's a man's work.
ELISIF. I have to do it on the Meland farm.
DR. BRANDT. You do it? Even if Lars Meland is crippled with rheumatics and lumbago, he
has eight healthy boys growing up. They should chop the wood, not you.
ELISIF. (Sitting down on. the stump) Oh, they all work. All the settlers work
hard. Sometimes we're up before three in the morning and work till nightfall.
DR. BRANDT. A hard life, isn't it?
ELISIF. Was it as bad in the old country?
DR. BRANDT. For the common people, the laborers and farmers, it's just as beastly hard
all over the world. But here in America we have a chance to get out of the rut. We aren't
oppressed. We aren't ruled by merciless administrators. We aren't taxed to death. By and
by we shall have it like kings.
ELISIF. I know. When Ole Rynning leads us to the promised spot!
DR. BRANDT. Just think of it, Elisif. Virgin soil, acres and acres, like a little
kingdom, lying there in the sun, waiting for us and for the thousands of our countrymen
ELISIF. It's wonderful! I can't understand why so many hesitate to follow Ole Rynning.
But I shall leave. I'll go to Beaver Creek. I'll work! I may even take up land myself!
Enter SINA and MRS. ELLINGSEN, left.
MRS. ELLINGSEN is about fifty-five, the typical kind mother.
SINA is in her thirties and a little old-maidish. Both are dressed in Quaker garb.
ELISIF. I came early to help you and Mother Ellingsen, Sina.
MRS. ELLINGSEN. (Shaking hands) We saw thee hitch thy horse, Dr. Brandt, but we
couldn't leave the mill. Father is finishing the work now. Hast thou had dinner?
DR. BRANDT. Oh, I'm not hungry. I am chopping wood for you again, as I used to do in
MRS. ELLINGSEN. The idea! Thou art a guest!
DR. BRANDT. Never mind! I've invited additional guests here. It's my plain duty to
prepare for their arrival.
MRS. ELLINGSEN. Father told us that Ole Rynning is coming. I do not hold with the idea
that the settlers should move west with the newcomers, but I shall receive Rynning as best
DR. BRANDT. You are a good woman, Mrs. Ellingsen!
MRS. ELLINGSEN. I hope so! (She turns toward the door.) Baking and cooking will
have to be done.
SINA. Elisif and I will carry in wood and water, Mother! MRS. ELLINGSEN. Yes, my child.
Exit Mrs. ELLINGSEN to cabin.
ELISIF begins to pickup wood, piling it on the arms of the willing SINA.
ELISIF. Ole Rynning will soon be here. Think of it, Sina! SINA. What's he like?
ELISIF. Like no one else. His eyes are looking into another world. When he speaks,
everything seems to melt and quiver.
Dr. BRANDT. (Splitting wood) Whoa, whoa, Elisif!
ELISIF. That's how he seems to me.
SINA. I wish I dared put on a new lace cap!
ELISIF. What else could you put on? When Ole Rynning's coming!
SINA. I'm so tired of these brown old clothes . . .
ELISIF. I'm sick of my old dress, too.
DR. BRANDT. (Interrupting, with a smile) You look lovely, Elisif. You're dressed
as befits the Daughter of Nils Ellingsen, Sina.
ELISIF. I'm sure the women in the cities dress better! My mother was dressed like a
queen. I have a Daguerreotype of her as a girl. Oh, Sina! Let's dress differently -- dress
so we can feel life bubbling up in us! For once!
SINA. How? You have no new clothes and all I have are brown and drab.
ELISIF. The newcomers in the shack down the road have gay clothes in their chests.
Embroidered in red and green.
Let's borrow two dresses!
SINA. Not me. Father and Mother . . .
ELISIF. At your age, you can do what you please! We are in a free country, aren't we?
Why do you suppose my parents perished? Why did your parents come here, break new ground,
work like slaves? To be free. Yes. I said, free! So we will be free, you and I. Drop the
wood. We are going to borrow the dresses.
DR. BRANDT. Whoa, whoa, Elisif!
ELISIF. (Taking a few steps) Nothing can hold me back! I work from Dawn to dusk.
What do I gain? Nothing! I'm "Elisif on the Meland farm," neither daughter nor
hired girl. And life is passing me by. I don't get younger, you know.
SINA. (Sadly) Yes, it's true. Life does pass one by! ELISIF. I'll save myself before
it's too late! I'll follow Ole Rynning to freedom and plenty, no matter what the others
do! I want to be free of all shackles! I want freedom -- happiness!
DR. BRANDT. (Meaningly) That is, in the right kind of marriage?
ELISIF. No. Why should I go from one bondage to another? I've practically raised the
eight Meland boys; that's enough! No children, no household! I want a few hours for myself
every Dry, when I can sit down in peace and hear myself think!
DR. BRANDT. (Chopping furiously) You really do need a husband, Elisif!
ELISIF. Last thing I'd want! (To SINA) Why don't we go?
SINA. An old maid like me?
ELISIF. What does it matter? The immigrant women wear those dresses, and they are far
older than you, some of them.
SINA. (Hesitating) I suppose I could just try one on.
ELISIF. Let's wear them when Ole Rynning comes!
Nattestad came back from Beaver Creek with Rynning -- you know, the blacksmith, who can
sing and dance. Maybe we can get the newcomers to sing and dance for Rynning tonight!
SINA. Not here. But somewhere else, perhaps.
ELISIF. Rynning won't be anywhere else.
DR. BRANDT. See here, Elisif Ott! Nils Ellingsen is our host. Don't you do anything
ELISIF. Why should Ellingsen deaden the joy in all of us?
SINA. (Looking out, right) The Melands are coming. And Widow Trulsen is with
ELISIF. I'm going.
Exit ELISIF quickly, left.
DR. BRANDT makes a motion to detain her.
SINA drops her wood.
SINA. Wait for me, Elisif! I want to see those gay dresses!
Exit SINA left.
DR. BRANDT looks after them, shaking his head.
Enter LARS and GURI MELAND and the WIDOW TRULSEN, right. LARS is
long and lanky, anemic-looking, a victim of rheumatism, and lumbago. GURI is a
tired pioneer woman. METTA TRULSEN, an oft-married widow, is jolly and giggling. In
her thirties, she is the best-dressed woman among the settlers. Gay cap, pretty shoes,
coquettish wrap, roving eyes, all proclaim that she is husband-hunting again.
METTA. (Cordially) Indeed, if it isn't Thorwald Brandt! I always say, why
doesn't Dr. Brandt settle in Ottawa or Napierville or any place with a future instead of
in that little trading post, Chicago!
DR. BRANDT. I'll be glad to quit Chicago for Beaver Creek!
METTA. I may go myself. Haven't made up my mind yet. Indeed I haven't. Dr. Brandt, are
you married yet?
DR. BRANDT. (Jocosely) No, not yet. You see, I'm looking for a comely and
wealthy widow. Know one?
LARS. (Soberly) Take Metta!
METTA. (Giggling) That Lars is always joking! You wouldn't want me, would you,
DR. BRANDT. (Smiling) You would want a substantial farmer. Not a pill dispenser
LARS. Metta has already been widowed three times from farmers. She ought to take a
doctor next time. (GURI nudges LARS to stop talking, but he goes on.)
Maybe she would get a husband who would last a spell.
METTA. (Sniffling) Don't talk about my bereavements, Lars. You know I can't
LARS. Oh, you'll soon get number four. Don't you worry, Metta!
METTA. (Half giggling, half sniffling) I don't know what to do! Everybody hints
I'll marry again!
LARS. You couldn't help it, if someone asked you, now could you? That land agent Ole
Rynning brought back -- ain't he a bachelor, Dr. Brandt?
DR. BRANDT. To tell the truth, I don't know.
METTA. (Adjusting her cap) The pleasant-looking gentleman who talked at the
DR. BRANDT. His name's Haddon Crum.
METTA. He'll be here soon. I'll find out in no time if he's married or not.
LARS. I don't doubt it, Metta.
METTA turns up her nose.
GURI (Hurriedly) We'd better go in. Mother Ellingsen needs help.
METTA. Yes, let's. I'll fix you something nice to eat, Dr. Brandt. I can make a man
comfortable; indeed I can.
Exit METTA, to the cabin.
GURI starts to follow her, then turns to DR. BRANDT.
GURI. Didn't Elisif come?
DR. BRANDT. She was here.
LARS. (Squatting on the ground) Is Elisif in the house?
DR. BRANDT. (At the chopping block) No, she isn't. (He looks at LARS.)
Don't sit there on the damp ground! How often must I tell you that poisonous drafts
circulate along the ground?
LARS. (Starting up, frightened) And it seemed like a nice Injun summer Dry to
He sits down on a stump.
DR. BRANDT. (Taking a pinch of snuff) With your rheumatism, you must be more
careful! It is largely due to drafts!
LARS. (Rubbing his legs) I know. My lumbago comes from the same deviltry! It
ain't so bad in summer, but when winter comes I'm always crippled up. Would another
blood-letting help me?
DR. BRANDT. (Returning the snuffbox to his pocket) I have some leeches in my
bag. I'll bleed you tomorrow. In the old country they would give you the baths and put you
on a special diet, but I can't do that.
LARS. Diet? You mean I should eat more? I eat all I can. For I want to get well.
DR. BRANDT. Oh, you must. You're the best carpenter we have. Ole Rynning'll need you at
LARS spits on ground.
LARS. What does Nils Ellingsen say about Beaver Creek?
DR. BRANDT hesitates.
LARS. Does he want us settlers to go?
DR. BRANDT. No.
LARS. (Spitting again) Then I figure we won't go.
DR. BRANDT. But Ole Rynning needs you. The newcomers have little capital and no
experience. Their chances are slim if you settlers don't go with them.
LARS. Maybe Ellingsen figures that we settlers have both capital and experience and
ought to stay here.
DR. BRANDT. I thought you trusted Ole Rynning. LARS. Oh, yes, I do. But if Ellingsen
says the settlers should stay, we'd better stay. Don't you know people believe that God
himself whispers advice into Ellingsen's ears?
DR. BRANDT. I think Rynning has the voice of a prophet. There'll be a clash between
LARS. (Scratching his head) Wonder who'll win . . .
DR. BRANDT. Elisif will go with us to Beaver Creek, no matter what you do.
LARS. (Incredulously) Not without us?
DR. BRANDT. (Chopping wood) I'll stake her to a beginning.
LARS. You mean she'd take up land -- our Elisif?
DR. BRANDT. Certainly.
LARS starts up and paces back and forth.
LARS. But, now -- we couldn't be without Elisif. I couldn't be without Elisif.
DR. BRANDT. Seems to me your interest in Elisif is a little more than paternal.
LARS. (Mystified) What?
DR. BRANDT. (Cleaving a piece of wood) I said, why do you carry on like that?
You aren't her father!
LARS. (Sitting down) We've raised her since she was three.
DR. BRANDT. Time she got away.
LARS. (Forlornly) Away? Not Elisif. That'd be like taking life itself away.
DR. BRANDT. Come along to Beaver Creek, then, if that's the way you feel.
LARS. (Spitting) Elisif's a little like her mother's father. He was a general in
the old country. You should'ye seen him. A god almighty!
DR. BRANDT. (Chopping) I've heard the story. You and Guri were servants in his
LARS. Yes. Then Elisif's mother eloped with a young nobody, Eric Ott. A painter, he
was. The general wouldn't stand for it, so they went to America, before anyone else heard
of the place.
DR. BRANDT. Queer you should stumble on them!
LARS. We found them in New York on our way to Kendall. Elisif's mother was dead and the
father dying. We had to take her.
DR. BRANDT. I'd like to take her too, you know.
LARS. (With satisfaction) She ain't like the rest of the girls. No man for her! (He
looks startled.) Say, you don't think she's taken a fancy to Ole Rynning, do you?
DR. BRANDT. (With a toneless laugh) Let's hope she hasn't.
A song is heard.
LARS. That's Nattestad, back from Beaver Creek. Always singing, that fellow.
The song grows louder, and NATTESTAD enters, left.
NATTESTAD. (Excited) Ole Rynning is ready for the meeting! He's down by the
mill, waiting for Elisif and Sina. The newcomers are trudging here, with the old settlers
not far behind. Let's have a big evening, with singing, talk, and fun!
LARS. Make us a song about it, Nattestad. You're great for rhyming.
NATTESTAD. (With a laugh) How's this one, Lars? I've already made it up.
He sings. During the song, METTA and GURI come
out from the cabin and stand listening.
Norwegian maiden of sweet romance
Is a-dreaming, is a-dreaming.
But who am I to have any chance?
A better man will always get the Dance,
Like Ole Rynning, Ole Rynning.
He asks us all to move to Beaver Creek--
Come along, men; come along, men.
He says the place has what we all seek.
So, men, take your girls and your cows and sheep,
And move along, men; move along, men!
METTA. Nattestad, that'll sway them! How I wish 1 could sing out about what I feel and
LARS. (With a grin) That would be a mate-calling song, wouldn't it, Metta? Too
bad I have Guri, or I'd answer! But try it on me anyway -- I'm listening.
METTA. (Angered) Lars! Just because I've lost three dear husbands is no reason
you should try to make me a laughing stock. I'm a decent, respectable widow . . .
NATTESTAD. (Soothingly) Lars knows that, Metta. Here, let me sing you a love
song. What about "Astri, mi Astri," and you start it? Here's the tune.
He sings. GURI uncertainly follows. The song gains in crescendo and rings
loud. MRS. ELLINGSEN enters from the cabin.
MRS. ELLINGSEN. (With dignity) I am sorry, young man, but thou canst not sing
here, if thou dost not sing to the praise of the Lord!
NATTESTAD. (Surprised) Oh, I see, ma'am. Yes, ma'am.
The immigrants come Dancing in, dressed in their colorful costumes. Two children are
SINA and ELISIF also come along, dressed like the rest. All Dance and sing.
Woman with the cane, hobbling down the lane,
Tiny bits of butter out of lots of cream,
So churned old Kari. Oh, she was a scream!
Woman with the cane!
Woman with the rod, jumping on the sod,
I shall be your husband if you'll be my wife;
I shall carry water, share half your life,
Woman with the rod!
METTA joins in the singing. DR. BRANDT joins them to dance with ELISIF.
LARS partners METTA. GURI stands with her hands under her apron, and sings the
song. MRS. ELLINGSEN is frozen with horror. As they Dance, ELLINGSEN enters,
SINA appears not to hear.
ELLINGSEN. Sina, hast thou taken leave of thy senses?
The singing and Dancing stop.
MRS. ELLINGSEN. (To her husband, sobbing) Father, I tried to stop these sinful
ELLINGSEN. Sina, go to thy room!
ELISIF. Please, do leave her alone. This isn't wrong. Just a little gaiety! She needs
it before it is too late.
SINA. (Slinking behind ELISIF) Too late! Everything is too late!
ELLINGSEN. (More kindly) Go to thy room, my child!
SINA. (Wildly) I want my freedom! This is America. I'm entitled to my freedom!
ELISIF. (Under her breath) Bravo!
GURI is sending ELISIF warning glances, LARS is laughing, and
METTA is whispering to DR. BRANDT.
FIRST CHILD. (Looking out at left) Ole Rynning's coming!
SECOND CHILD. (Also looking) Ole Rynning! I want to go to Beaver Creek. Beaver
The children jump up and down.
NATTESTAD. (To the children) Sh! Behave! Ole Rynning's coming!
Everyone moves slightly aside except ELLINGSEN, who stands in the center of
the stage, glowering like a thundercloud. Enter OLE RYNNING and HADDON CRUM, left.
RYNNING, about twenty-eight, is good-looking and well dressed. He has the face of a
dreamer, mystic, and scholar, the bearing of a gentleman. CRUM is the oily
go-getter, about forty. A crowd of somberly dressed settlers follow them.
SINA. (Unheeding) I'm entitled to my freedom!
RYNNING. (Smiling) This is the country of freedom!
SINA. Why am I not free?
ELLINGSEN. (To SINA) Go to thy room. I shall deal with thee as the Lord
SINA. (To Rynning) Ole Rynning, take me with you to Beaver Creek!
MRS. ELLINGSEN. (Heartbroken) No, Sina. No!
RYNNING. The settlers and the newcomers -- all of us --must go to Beaver Creek.
ELLINGSEN. Who art thou to tell us what to do?
RYNNING. I love the common man. I want to make Beaver Creek a haven of refuge for the
oppressed workman from home --- for those already here, and for those who will come.
ELLINGSEN. Thou hast been in this country but a few months, yet thou tellest us thou
hast found the best spot in America at an unheard-of low price. Many a bleached corpse can
witness how good men have been swindled into buying land that no plow should ever touch!
The crowd is following the talk with rapt attention.
ELLINGSEN. (To settlers) Settlers! Remain here in Fox River Valley, where ye are
known. (To immigrants) Newcomers! Something prompts me to tell you: Beware of
The people talk excitedly among themselves.
RYNNING. You question my judgment regarding the land?
ELLINGSEN. I do.
NATTESTAD. (Half aloud) Beaver Creek is sandy and swampy, Rynning.
DR. BRANDT. (Pulling him back) That isn't true, Nattestad!
RYNNING. Beaver Creek is like a paradise! A vast fertile Garden of Eden, awaiting us!
What have you here? Are the rest of you as happy as Nils Ellingsen?
ELISIF. (Coming forward) We are not. We have debts. There's sickness
among us. Crop failures. Swarms of grasshoppers cleaned us out a few years back; frost,
last year. Mortgages have been taken over by greedy land sharks. Farms are lost.
Murmurs of "Yes" and "No" come from the crowd.
RYNNING. I think Elisif paints the correct picture. Besides, the land here is too
high-priced for our newcomers, and for the other throngs that will in due time follow from
the old country.
ELLINGSEN. There won't be many.
ELLINGSEN. Thinkst thou others will leave their homes and come to the wilderness
because we have done so?
RYNNING. Emigration is the hope of Europe. What is the old country today? Invaded by
enemies, conquered, downtrodden. No freedom.
RYNNING. People must be made to come to America. This blessed country! No heavy
taxes, no pompous office-holders, no wars, no clergy whose intolerance galls our souls.
Here everyone can choose the work he wants. We're free!
SINA. (Echoing him) Free!
RYNNING. My friends, America must become the refuge for the masses in Europe who groan
under the weight of poverty. We are the vanguard of our people. And the vanguard must
prepare for those who follow.
ELISIF. Yes, we're the vanguard for those who seek freedom!
HADDON CRUM steps forward.
CRUM. Now, folks, I'm the agent who's offering the tract at Beaver Creek for sale. A
buy, a real buy, folks! A place that has to be seen to be believed. Soil rivaled nowhere
else. A climate like the kiss of the sun. No hardships, no disappointments await you
there. Just easy sledding, just easy sledding, folks!
ELLINGSEN. (Loudly) None of you must sign with this man!
ELISIF begins to whisper with DR. BRANDT.
ELLINGSEN. (Calling to the crowd) I shall help you newcomers to get settled.
Have patience. Land shall be found for all of you. But not at Beaver Creek!
RYNNING. (Also to the crowd) We, the vanguard, must prepare a place for the
newcomers of the future, for they need an incentive to leave their homes. Our lives must
show them what America's freedom means. Beaver Creek must be made such a perfect
settlement that it will draw the oppressed masses across the ocean. Newcomers! Settlers!
ELLINGSEN. (Warningly) None of you sign!
The crowd falls back. ELISIF steps forward.
ELISIF. If nobody else will, I shall sign. Give me a contract.
CRUM. (Handing her a paper) The terms are . . .
ELISIF. Yes, yes, I understand your terms. Dr. Brandt will lend me the money. Ole
Rynning, I shall be with you!
RYNNING. (Ruefully) Alone, we can do nothing.
LARS stands scratching his head and gaping at ELISIF. GURI begins to cry.
METTA tries to catch HADDON CRUM's eye. SINA suddenly steps forward.
SINA. (Shrilly) I'll go to Beaver Creek. I'll go!
MRS. ELLINGSEN. (Horrified) Sins, my child!
ELLINGSEN. (Starting toward her) Sins, thou knowest not what thou sayest . . .
SINA. (Wildly) Give me the paper! I'll sign; I'll sign! I have money I inherited
from my uncle. I have enough for a big tract, for teams of oxen, for seed corn, for
chickens, for a horse, for cows . . .
CRUM. (With a contract) Sign, dear little lady, right here. Right here!
The immigrants break into cheers.
MRS. ELLINGSEN. (Taking SINA into her arms) I go wherever thou goest, my child.
SINA. (Wildly) I must try freedom! Freedom!
RYNNING. ( To ELLINGSEN) Won't you change your advice now?
The settlers crowd around ELLINGSEN. The immigrants crowd around ELISIF and
SINA. The immigrants, ELISIF and SINA begin to sing.
Come with me, my dear, to Beaver Creek,
A home we will build together;
With Ole Rynning our fortune we seek--
ELLINGSEN. (At forefront of settlers) I don't change my opinion. (
----End of Part 1----