Persons of the Play:
PETER SABOUROFF [an Innkeeper]
VERA SABOUROFF [his Daughter]
MICHAEL [a Peasant]
IVAN THE CZAR
PRINCE PAUL MARALOFFSKI [Prime Minister of Russia]
MARQUIS DE POIVRARD
COLONEL OF THE GUARD
PETER TCHERNAVITCH, President of the Nihilists
ALEXIS IVANACIEVITCH, known as a Student of Medicine
SOLDIERS, CONSPIRATORS, Etc.
A Russian inn. Large door opening on snowy landscape at back of stage. PETER SABOUROFF and MICHAEL.
PETER: [warming his hands at a stove] Has Vera not come back yet, Michael?
MICHAEL: No, Father Peter, not yet; 'tis a good three miles to the post office, and she has to milk the cows besides, and that dun one is a rare plaguey creature for a wench to handle.
PETER: Why didn't you go with her, you young fool? She'll never love you unless you are always at her heels; women like to be bothered.
MICHAEL: She says I bother her too much already, Father Peter, and I fear she'll never love me after all.
PETER: Tut, tut, boy, why shouldn't she? You're young, and wouldn't be ill-favoured either, had God or thy mother given thee another face. Aren't you one of Prince Maraloffski's gamekeepers; and haven't you got a good grass farm, and the best cow in the village? What more does a girl want?
MICHAEL: But Vera, Father Peter--
PETER: Vera, my lad, has got too many ideas; I don't think much of ideas myself; I've got on well enough in life without 'em; why shouldn't my children? There's Dmitri! Could have stayed here and kept the inn; many a young lad would have jumped at the offer in these hard times; but he, scatter-brained featherhead of a boy, must needs go off to Moscow to study the law! What does he want knowing about the law? Let a man do his duty, say I, and no one will trouble him.
MICHAEL: Ay! but, Father Peter, they say a good lawyer can break the law as often as he likes, and no one can say him nay. If a man knows the law he knows his duty.
PETER: True, Michael, if a man knows the law there is nothing illegal he cannot do when he likes: that is why folk become lawyers. That is about all they are good for; and there he stays, and has not written a line to us for four months now--a good son that, eh?
MICHAEL: Come, come, Father Peter, Dmitri's letters must have gone astray--perhaps the new postman can't read; he looks stupid enough, and Dmitri, why, he was the best fellow in the village. Do you remember how he shot the bear at the barn in the great winter?
PETER: Ay, it was a good shot; I never did a better myself.
MICHAEL: And as for dancing, he tired out three fiddlers Christmas come two years.
PETER: Ay, ay, he was a merry lad. It is the girl that has the seriousness--she goes about as solemn as a priest for days at a time.
MICHAEL: Vera is always thinking of others.
PETER: There is her mistake, boy. Let God and our little Father the Czar look to the world. It is none of my work to mend my neighbour's thatch. Why, last winter old Michael was frozen to death in his sleigh in the snowstorm, and his wife and children starved afterwards when the hard times came; but what business was it of mine? I didn't make the world. Let God and the Czar look to it. And then the blight came, and the black plague with it, and the priests couldn't bury the people fast enough, and they lay dead on the roads--men and women both. But what business was it of mine? I didn't make the world. Let God and the Czar look to it. Or two autumns ago, when the river overflowed on a sudden, and the children's school was carried away and drowned every girl and boy in it. I didn't make the world--let God or the Czar look to it.
MICHAEL: But, Father Peter--
PETER: No, no, boy; no man could live if he took his neighbour's pack on his shoulder. [Enter VERA in peasant's dress.] Well, my girl, you've been long enough away--where is the letter?
VERA: There is none to-day, Father.
PETER: I knew it.
VERA: But there will be one to-morrow, Father.
PETER: Curse him, for an ungrateful son.
VERA: O Father, don't say that; he must be sick.
PETER: Ay! Sick of Profligacy, perhaps.
VERA: How dare you say that of him, Father? You know that is not true.
PETER: Where does the money go, then? Michael, listen. I gave Dmitri half his mother's fortune to bring with him to pay the lawyer folk at Moscow. He has only written three times, and every time for more money. He got it, not at my wish, but at hers [pointing to VERA], and now for five months, close on six almost, we have heard nothing from him.
VERA: Father, he will come back.
PETER: Ay! the prodigals always return; but let him never darken my doors again.
VERA: [sitting down pensive] Some evil has come on him; he must be dead! Oh! Michael, I am so wretched about Dmitri.
MICHAEL: Will you never love any one but him, Vera?
VERA: [smiling] I don't know; there is so much else to do in the world but love.
MICHAEL: Nothing else worth doing, Vera.
PETER: What noise is that, Vera?[A metallic clink is heard.]
VERA: [rising and going to the door] I don't know, Father; it is not like the cattle bells, or I would think Nicholas had come from the fair. Oh, Father! it is soldiers coming down the hill--there is one of them on horseback. How pretty they look! But there are some men with them, with chains on! They must be robbers. Oh! don't let them in, Father; I couldn't look at them.
PETER: Men in chains! Why, we are in luck, my child! I heard this was to be the new road to Siberia, to bring the prisoners to the mines; but I didn't believe it. My fortune is made! Bustle, Vera, bustle! I'll die a rich man after all. There will be no lack of good customers now. An honest man should have the chance of making his living out of rascals now and then.
VERA: Are these men rascals, Father? What have they done?
PETER: I reckon they're some of those Nihilists the priest warns us against. Don't stand there idle, my girl.
VERA: I suppose, then, they are all wicked men.
Sound of soldiers outside; cry of 'Halt!' Enter Russian officer with a body of soldiers and eight men in chains, raggedly dressed; One of them on entering, hurriedly puts his coat above his ears and hides his face; some soldiers guard the door, others sit down; the prisoners stand.
PETER: Yes, Colonel.
COLONEL: [pointing to Nihilists]: Give these men some bread and water.
PETER: [to himself] I shan't make much out of that order.
COLONEL: As for myself, what have you got fit to eat?
PETER: Some good dried venison, your Excellency--and some rye whisky.
COLONEL: Nothing else?
PETER: Why, more whisky, your Excellency.
COLONEL: What clods these peasants are! You have a better room than this?
PETER: Yes, sir.
COLONEL: Bring me there. Sergeant, post your picket outside, and see that these scoundrels do not communicate with any one. No letter writing, you dogs, or you'll be flogged for it. Now for the venison. [To PETER bowing before him.] Get out of the way, you fool! Who is that girl? [Sees VERA.]
PETER: My daughter, your Highness.
COLONEL: Can she read and write?
PETER: Ay, that she can, sir.
COLONEL: Then she is a dangerous woman. No peasant should be allowed to do anything of the kind. Till your fields, store your harvests, pay your taxes, and obey your masters--that is your duty.
VERA: Who are our masters?
COLONEL: Young woman, these men are going to the mines for life for asking the same foolish question.
VERA: Then they have been unjustly condemned.
PETER: Vera, keep your tongue quiet. She is a foolish girl, sir, who talks too much.
COLONEL: Every woman does talk too much. Come, where is this venison? Count, I am waiting for you. How can you see anything in a girl with coarse hands?
[He passes with PETER and his aide-de-camp into an inner room.]
VERA: [to one of the Nihilists] Won't you sit down? You must be tired.
SERGEANT: Come now, young woman, no talking to my prisoners.
VERA: I shall speak to them. How much do you want?
SERGEANT: How much have you?
VERA: Will you let these men sit down if I give you this? [takes off her peasant's necklace.] It is all I have; it was my mother's.
SERGEANT: Well, it looks pretty enough, and is heavy too. What do you want with these men?
VERA: They are hungry and wretched. Let me go to them?
ONE OF THE SOLDIERS: Let the wench be, if she pays us.
SERGEANT: Well, have your way. If the Colonel sees you, you may have to come with us, my pretty one.
VERA: [advances to the Nihilists] Sit down; you must be tired. [Serves them food.] What are you?
A PRISONER: Nihilists.
VERA: Who put you in chains?
PRISONER: Our Father the Czar.
PRISONER: For loving liberty too well.
VERA: [to the prisoner who hides his face] What did you want to do?
DMITRI: To give liberty to thirty millions of people enslaved to one man.
VERA: [startled at the voice] What is your name?
DMITRI: I have no name.
VERA: Where are your friends?
DMITRI: I have no friends.
VERA: Let me see your face!
DMITRI: You will see nothing but suffering in it. They have tortured me.
VERA: [tears his cloak from his face] O God! Dmitri! my brother!
DMITRI: Hush! Vera; be calm. You must not let my father know; it would kill him. I thought I could free Russia. I heard men talk of Liberty one night in a cafe. I had never heard the word before. It seemed to be a new God they spoke of. I joined them. It was there all the money went. Five months ago they seized us. They found me printing the paper. I am going to the mines for life. I could not write. I thought it would be better to let you think I was dead; for they are bringing us to a living tomb.
VERA: [looking round] You must escape, Dmitri. I will take your place.
DMITRI: Impossible! You can only revenge us.
VERA: I shall revenge you.
DMITRI: Listen! there is a house in Moscow--
SERGEANT: Prisoners, attention!--the Colonel is coming--young woman, your time is up.
Enter COLONEL, AIDE-DE-CAMP, and PETER.
PETER: I hope your Highness is pleased with the venison. I shot it myself.
COLONEL: It had been better had you talked less about it. Sergeant, get ready. [Gives purse to PETER.] Here, you cheating rascal!
PETER: My fortune is made! Long live your Highness. I hope your Highness will come often this way.
COLONEL: By St. Nicholas, I hope not. It is too cold here for me. [to VERA] Young girl, don't ask questions again about what does not concern you. I will not forget your face.
VERA: Nor I yours, or what you are doing.
COLONEL: You peasants are getting too saucy since you ceased to be serfs, and the knout is the best school for you to learn politics in. Sergeant, proceed.
The COLONEL turns and goes to top of stage. The prisoners pass out double file; as DMITRI passes VERA he lets a piece of paper fall on the ground, she puts her foot on it and remains immobile.
PETER: [who has been counting the money the COLONEL gave him]Long life to your Highness. I will hope to see another batch soon. [Suddenly catches sight of DMITRI as he is going out of the door, and screams and rushes up.] Dmitri! Dmitri! my God! what brings you here? He is innocent, I tell you. I'll pay for him. Take your money [flings money on the ground], take all I have, give me my son. Villains! Villains! where are you bringing him?
COLONEL: To Siberia, old man.
PETER: No, no; take me instead.
COLONEL: He is a Nihilist.
PETER: You lie! you lie! He is innocent. [The soldiers force him back with their guns and shut the door against him. He beats with his fists against it.] Dmitri! Dmitri! A Nihilist! a Nihilist! [Falls down on floor.]
VERA: [who has remained motionless, picks up paper now from under her foot and reads] '99 Rue Tchernavaya, Moscow. To strangle whatever nature is in me; neither to love nor to be loved; neither to pity nor to be pitied; neither to marry nor to be given in marriage, till the end is come.' My brother, I shall keep the oath. [Kisses the paper.] You shall be revenged!
VERA stands immobile, holding paper in her lifted hand. PETER is lying on the floor. MICHAEL, who has just come in, is bending over him.
END OF PROLOGUE