The adopted family

This short story is a sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s opus ‘A Doll’s House’.

This short story is a sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s opus A Doll’s House. Sequels to it must be numerous but they are in script for the stage. This is in prose. And, whereas most others, if not all, adopt the theme of what became of Nora Helmer, this sequel takes up Ibsen’s tale from another angle. It looks at how Torvald and the Helmer boys may have fared after Nora Helmer’s sudden departure from the family home. The switch from what’s become of Nora to Torvald and their sons called for the introduction of two new characters: Elise the maid and Pastor Franck.

Elise raced out to the landing after Nora.

“Miss Nora, you’re not really leaving? I cannot believe you’ve just told Master Torvald you’ve stopped loving him.”

Nora turned and shot Elise a piercing look.

“Have you been eavesdropping?”

“Oh no, Miss Nora. I just happened to be walking by when I heard you say that”.

“Oh! But I’m no longer your mistress and cannot discharge you now.”

Plucking courage from now being beyond Nora’s authority, Elise’s temerity turned to angry tears.

“But Miss Nora, my Master is such a sweet man. And the boys… so adorable I love them like they were mine.”

Nora stared in mock shock at Elise. “I did notice you’ve made my children your own, but never that you also love Master Torvald!”

Elise bowed her head in mortification.

“Miss Nora, we have no command over our hearts but I swear to God I would have never…”

Nora sighed. “Elise, you know I’ve always envied you? You’re no longer young, yet such a pretty waif.”  And with a wicked twinkle in her eye, she added “Torvald and I often teased each other over you… you’re so stunningly beautiful and yet so evidently chaste. At your age!”

Elise stammered, blushing a deep purple and hurt that Torvald had found her an object of ridicule. “But he’s still the sweetest man.”

Nora’s voice descended to a whisper. “You don’t know Master Torvald, Elise. Society isn’t impressed by a bank manager sharing his bed with his maid, and neither is his employer. That’s scandal!”

Elise pursed her lips and stared stubbornly past Nora’s eyes.

“Time’s running out for you, Elise, and Torvald isn’t the man for your unviolated womb. He wants an acquiescent doll, which of course you are, but nobody gets in the way of his social standing and career for long.”

“Miss Nora, if you and Master Torvald shall never speak again…” Elise could not bring herself to finish what she had to say.

“I understand, Elise,” Nora nodded in cold consent.  “I’ve granted him full freedom, which you’ve of course overheard too.”

“I promise you, Miss Nora, I’ll be a wonderful step-mother to the children. I also promise I will never speak ill of you to them. I’ll just make up a story on what an unfortunate angel Mama is, so your loss will hurt less.”

“How very understanding of you,” Nora snapped. Tears dribbled down her cheeks. “I guess it would be too hurtful for them knowing Mama left home to discover herself. But then it would be naïve to think anybody cares about me.” 

Months later, Pastor Franck once more clambered up the stairwell. Elise greeted him glumly.

“A cup of tea, Pastor?” The pastor deposited himself in a chair.

“You don’t seem enthused by my visit, Elise. Maybe I shouldn’t be coming over unannounced.”

I walked past the pastor into the kitchen. “You can be very persistent, Pastor. I’m sure it’s not my cup of tea that keeps bringing you here”.

“Persistent?”

“The persistence of your godly vocation. And my sinfulness in loving Torvald and his sons.”

“Yes, you persist in seeing no wrong in usurping another woman’s family.”  

Pastor Franck stroked his chin. I handed the Pastor his teacup under his chin.

“That woman stormed out of this home of her own accord. Torvald cried and begged her to wait until the next morning, maybe she would see things clearer. But her mind was set, and Torvald asked if she would ever return.”

I tinkered with the ornaments in the dresser behind Pastor Franck and the chair he was seated in.

“Do you know what she replied, Pastor?”

“I don’t have to know. That’s a matrimonial conversation you had no right listening in on. Which is another sin of yours in this sorry tale.”

“A very sorry tale, but one I thankfully was around to pick up the pieces for. For Torvald and the boys.”

“The pieces would have fallen back into place someday but for your sacrilegous intrusion that has set it back immeasurably. But through prayer and with the grace of God…”

“Oh, really? I’ll then let you know what Nora said when Torvald asked if she’d ever return. She said ‘How can I know if I’ll be back when I don’t even know what I’ll become’.

A furious flush rushed up Pastor Franck’s face.

“Do you believe that’s God’s way of putting a family back in place, Pastor? By bringing back together a married couple after one spouse’s walked out for a break and reinvigoration?”

The Pastor clenched both fists and brought them down hard on the drawing room table. “You have no right slandering a mother with infidelity.” I took the Pastor’s wrath placidly, with just a quick glance at his clenched fists. His wrath brought a smile to my face.

“Nora announced she was assuming full personal freedom just before she walked out.” And before Pastor Franck could put in a word, I reminded him that Nora had granted Torvald his too.”

The pastor shook his head. “Even if this were all true, a sin is forgiven when one recants and returns to the fold.”

“Ha! And how do you know Nora’s recanted, even if that were enough to put the family together again?”

“You will see no reason, Elise?”

“I only see a pastor who flogs Nora’s dubious case of recant and return at the behest of a third woman!”

“What exactly do you mean? What third woman?” The pastor rose out of his chair.  

I smiled wickedly in the pastor’s face. “Pastor Franck, it does not behold a minister of the Lord to be devious. But men are so easy to see through, even when they’re in a frock.”

“What are you on about? It’s the Helmer family back together that I want.”

“But at the behest of Kristine, not Nora! Kristine wants to appropriate for herself a ready-made family, stranded all alone as she is, penniless and widowed and childless from her marriage with Linde”.

The pastor listened on, wide-eyed.

“Pastor, I will confess this much: it’s not Nora I fear but Kristine! But would you have one sinner in Torvald’s bed for another? Sin for sin? Surely that’s not God’s way.”

“Don’t be blasphemous,” the Pastor thundered.  

“Don’t be blind. It was Kristine who handed Krogstad’s blackmailing letter to Torvald. That letter killed Torvald’s trust in Nora. Who’s the biggest sinner now?”

I waited for the Pastor’s response but none was forthcoming. So I raised a quizzical eyebrow and pushed on. “Can I be sure it’s salvation and not retribution you seek for me, Pastor?”

Pastor Franck made for the staircase. “My God! The boy’s been listening all along.”

Ivar sat crouched at the top of the staircase, hands crossed over his knees. The Pastor threw a look of pastorly kindness into Ivar’s eyes and walked past him down the stairs.

“I’ll need to speak to this boy privately someday soon.”

“You’ll do nothing of the sort.”

“I shall. And you watch the brashness of your tongue. You’re addressing a minister of God, Elise.”

“Iwon’tallow you to poison Torvald’s sons, Pastor. And there’s another thing. Master Torvald has been Torvald to me some months now.”

The Pastor flew down the staircase and I sat down next to Ivar on the topmost step. I put my arm around Ivar. We stared straight ahead.

“I love you Ivar, I love you like you were my own. It pains me to see you relive Mama’s departure like you’ve done just now.”

Ivar shrugged a shoulder. “The worst is over. It was the morning I woke up to find Mama gone. Mama left us.”

“I love you and your brothers like my own. And I love your Papa too. I understand it hurts losing Mama.”

Ivar again shrugged a shoulder. “It hurts but I knew it was going to happen. I once overheard Dr. Rank telling Mama he had always loved her. She looked pleased.”

I cried softly, Ivar in my arms, but he didn’t flinch an inch. “Why didn’t you come speak to me, Ivar? Sharing grief softens it.”

I hugged Ivar harder.   

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