Same scene and business as Act I. Man in yellow dress, with drawn sword, at the door.
Password outside. Væ tyrannis.
Answer. Væ victis (repeated three times).
(Enter Conspirators, who form a semicircle, masked and cloaked.)
President. What hour is it?
First Consp. The hour to strike.
Pres. What day?
Second Consp. The day of Marat.
Pres. In what month?
Second Consp. The month of liberty.
Pres. What is our duty?
Fourth Consp. To obey.
Pres. Our creed?
Fifth Consp. Parbleu, Mons. le President, I never knew you had one.
Consps. A spy! A spy! Unmask! Unmask! A spy!
Pres. 2Let the doors be shut. There are others but Nihilists present.
Consps. Unmask! Unmask! Kill him! kill him! (Masked Conspirator unmasks.) Prince Paul!
Vera. Devil! Who lured you into the lion’s den?
Consps. Kill him! kill him!
Prince Paul. En vérité, Messieurs, you are not over-hospitable in your welcome.
Vera. Welcome! What welcome should we give you but the dagger or the noose?
Prince Paul. I had no idea, really, that the Nihilists were so exclusive. Let me assure you that if I had not always had an entree to the very best society, and the very worst conspiracies, I could never have been Prime Minister in Russia.
Vera. The tiger cannot change its nature, nor the snake lose its venom; but are you turned a lover of the people?
Prince Paul. Mon Dieu, non, Mademoiselle! I would much sooner talk scandal in a drawing-room than treason in a cellar. Besides, I hate the common mob, who smell of garlic, smoke bad tobacco, get up early, and dine off one dish.
Pres. What have you to gain, then, by a revolution?
Prince Paul. Mon ami, I have nothing left to lose. That scatter-brained boy, this new Czar, has banished me.
Vera. To Siberia?
Prince Paul. No, to Paris. He has confiscated my estates, robbed me of my office and my cook. I have nothing left but my decorations. I am here for revenge.
Pres. Then you have a right to be one of us. We also meet daily for revenge.
Prince Paul. You want money, of course. No one ever joins a conspiracy who has any. Here. (Throws money on table.) You have so many spies that I should think you want information. Well, you will find me the best informed man in Russia on the abuses of our Government. I made them nearly all myself.
Vera. President, I don’t trust this man. He has done us too much harm in Russia to let him go in safety.
Prince Paul. Believe me, Mademoiselle, you are wrong; I will be a most valuable addition to your circle; as for you, gentlemen, if I had not thought that you would be useful to me I shouldn’t have risked my neck among you, or dined an hour earlier than usual so as to be in time.
Pres. Ay, if he had wanted to spy on us, Vera, he wouldn’t have come himself.
Prince Paul (aside). No; I should have sent my best friend.
Pres. Besides, Vera, he is just the man to give us the information we want about some business we have in hand to-night.
Vera. Be it so if you wish it.
Pres. Brothers, is it your will that Prince Paul Maraloffski be admitted, and take the oath of the Nihilist?
Consps. It is! it is!
Pres. (holding out dagger and a paper). Prince Paul, the dagger or the oath?
Prince Paul (smiles sardonically). I would sooner annihilate than be annihilated. (Takes paper.)
Pres. Remember: Betray us, and as long as the earth holds poison or steel, as long as men can strike or woman betray, you shall not escape vengeance. The Nihilists never forget their friends, or forgive their enemies.
Prince Paul. Really? I did not think you were so civilized.
Vera (pacing up and down). Why is he not here? He will not keep the crown. I know him well.
Pres. Sign. (Prince Paul signs.) You said you thought we had no creed. You were wrong. Read it!
Vera. This is a dangerous thing, President. What can we do with this man?
Pres. We can use him.
Vera. And afterwards?
Pres. (shrugging his shoulders). Strangle him.
Prince Paul (reading). “The rights of humanity!” In the old times men carried out their rights for themselves as they lived, but nowadays every baby seems born with a social manifesto in its mouth much bigger than itself. “Nature is not a temple, but a workshop: we demand the right to labour.” Ah, I shall surrender my own rights in that respect.
Vera (pacing up and down behind). Oh, will he never come? will he never come?
Prince Paul. “The family as subversive of true socialistic and communal unity is to be annihilated.” Yes, President, I agree completely with Article 5. A family is a terrible incumbrance, especially when one is not married. (Three knocks at the door.)
Vera. Alexis at last!
Password. Væ tyrannis!
Answer. Væ victis!
(Enter Michael Stroganoff.)
Pres. Michael, the regicide! Brothers, let us do honour to a man who has killed a king.
Vera (aside). Oh, he will come yet.
Pres. Michael, you have saved Russia.
Mich. Ay, Russia was free for a moment when the tyrant fell, but the sun of liberty has set again like that false dawn which cheats our eyes in autumn.
Pres. The dread night of tyranny is not yet past for Russia.
Mich. (clutching his knife). One more blow, and the end is come indeed.
Vera (aside). One more blow! What does he mean? Oh, impossible! but why is he not with us? Alexis! Alexis! why are you not here?
Pres. But how did you escape, Michael? They said you had been seized.
Mich. I was dressed in the uniform of the Imperial Guard. The Colonel on duty was a brother, and gave me the password. I drove through the troops in safety with it, and, thanks to my good horse, reached the walls before the gates were closed.
Pres. What a chance his coming out on the balcony was!
Mich. A chance? There is no such thing as chance. It was God’s finger led him there.
Pres. And where have you been these three days?
Mich. Hiding in the house of the priest Nicholas at the cross-roads.
Pres. Nicholas is an honest man.
Mich. Ay, honest enough for a priest. I am here now for vengeance on a traitor!
Vera (aside). O God, will he never come? Alexis! why are you not here? You cannot have turned traitor!
Mich. (seeing Prince Paul). Prince Paul Maraloffski here! By St. George, a lucky capture! This must have been Vera’s doing. She is the only one who could have lured that serpent into the trap.
Pres. Prince Paul has just taken the oath.
Vera. Alexis, the Czar, has banished him from Russia.
Mich. Bah! A blind to cheat us. We will keep Prince Paul here, and find some office for him in our reign of terror. He is well accustomed by this time to bloody work.
Prince Paul (approaching Michael). That was a long shot of yours, mon camarade.
Mich. I have had a good deal of practice shooting, since I have been a boy, off your Highness’s wild boars.
Prince Paul. Are my gamekeepers like moles, then, always asleep?
Mich. No, Prince. I am one of them; but, like you, I am fond of robbing what I am put to watch.
Pres. This must be a new atmosphere for you, Prince Paul. We speak the truth to one another here.
Prince Paul. How misleading you must find it. You have an odd medley here, President—a little rococo, I am afraid.
Pres. You recognise a good many friends, I dare say?
Prince Paul. Yes, there is always more brass than brains in an aristocracy.
Pres. But you are here yourself?
Prince Paul. I? As I cannot be Prime Minister, I must be a Nihilist. There is no alternative.
Vera. O God, will he never come? The hand is on the stroke of the hour. Will he never come?
Mich. (aside). President, you know what we have to do? ‘Tis but a sorry hunter who leaves the wolf cub alive to avenge his father. How are we to get at this boy? It must be to-night. To-morrow he will be throwing some sop of reform to the people, and it will be too late for a Republic.
Prince Paul. You are quite right. Good kings are the enemies of Democracy, and when he has begun by banishing me you may be sure he intends to be a patriot.
Mich. I am sick of patriot kings; what Russia needs is a Republic.
Prince Paul. Messieurs, I have brought you two documents which I think will interest you—the proclamation this young Czar intends publishing to-morrow, and a plan of the Winter Palace, where he sleeps to-night. (Hands paper.)
Vera. I dare not ask them what they are plotting about. Oh, why is Alexis not here?
Pres. Prince, this is most valuable information. Michael, you were right. If it is not to-night it will be too late. Read that.
Mich. Ah! A loaf of bread flung to a starving nation. A lie to cheat the people. (Tears it up.) It must be to-night. I do not believe in him. Would he have kept his crown had he loved the people? But how are we to get at him?
Prince Paul. The key of the private door in the street. (Hands key.)
Pres. Prince, we are in your debt.
Prince Paul (smiling). The normal condition of the Nihilists.
Mich. Ay, but we are paying our debts off with interest now. Two Emperors in one week. That will make the balance straight. We would have thrown in a Prime Minister if you had not come.
Prince Paul. Ah, I am sorry you told me. It robs my visit of all its picturesqueness and adventure. I thought I was perilling my head by coming here, and you tell me I have saved it. One is sure to be disappointed if one tries to get romance out of modern life.
Mich. It is not so romantic a thing to lose one’s head, Prince Paul.
Prince Paul. No, but it must often be very dull to keep it. Don’t you find that sometimes? (Clock strikes six.)
Vera (sinking into a seat). Oh, it is past the hour! It is past the hour!
Mich. (to President). Remember to-morrow will be too late.
Pres. Brothers, it is full time. Which of us is absent?
Consps. Alexis! Alexis!
Pres. Michael, read Rule 7.
Mich. “When any brother shall have disobeyed a summons to be present, the President shall enquire if there is anything alleged against him.”
Pres. Is there anything against our brother Alexis?
Consps. He wears a crown! He wears a crown!
Pres. Michael, read Article 7 of the Code of Revolution.
Mich. “Between the Nihilists and all men who wear crowns above their fellows, there is war to the death.”
Pres. Brothers, what say you? Is Alexis, the Czar, guilty or not?
Omnes. He is guilty!
Pres. What shall the penalty be?
Pres. Let the lots be prepared; it shall be to-night.
Prince Paul. Ah, this is really interesting! I was getting afraid conspiracies were as dull as courts are.
Prof. Marfa. My forte is more in writing pamphlets than in taking shots. Still a regicide has always a place in history.
Mich. If your pistol is as harmless as your pen, this young tyrant will have a long life.
Prince Paul. You ought to remember, too, Professor, that if you were seized, as you probably would be, and hung, as you certainly would be, there would be nobody left to read your own articles.
Pres. Brothers, are you ready?
Vera (starting up). Not yet! Not yet! I have a word to say.
Mich. (aside). Plague take her! I knew it would come to this.
Vera. This boy has been our brother. Night after night he has perilled his own life to come here. Night after night, when every street was filled with spies, every house with traitors. Delicately nurtured like a king’s son, he has dwelt among us.
Pres. Ay! under a false name. 17He lied to us at the beginning. He lies to us now at the end.
Vera. I swear he is true. There is not a man here who does not owe him his life a thousand times. When the bloodhounds were on us that night, who saved us from arrest, torture, flogging, death, but he ye seek to kill?—
Mich. To kill all tyrants is our mission!
Vera. He is no tyrant. I know him well! He loves the people.
Pres. We know him too; he is a traitor.
Vera. A traitor! Three days ago he could have betrayed every man of you here, and the gibbet would have been your doom. He gave you all your lives once. Give him a little time—a week, a month, a few days; but not now!—O God, not now!
Consps. (brandishing daggers). To-night! to-night! to-night!
Vera. Peace, you gorged adders; peace!
Mich. What, are we not here to annihilate? shall we not keep our oath?
Vera. Your oath! your oath! Greedy that you are of gain, every man’s hand lusting for his neighbour’s pelf, every heart set on pillage and rapine; who, of ye all, if the crown were set on his head, would give an empire up for the mob to scramble for? The people are not yet fit for a Republic in Russia.
Pres. Every nation is fit for a Republic.
Mich. The man is a tyrant.
Vera. A tyrant! Hath he not dismissed his evil counsellors. That ill-omened raven of his father’s life hath had his wings clipped and his claws pared, and comes to us croaking for revenge. Oh, have mercy on him! Give him a week to live!
Pres. Vera pleading for a king!
Vera (proudly). I plead not for a king, but for a brother.
Mich. For a traitor to his oath, for a coward who should have flung the purple back to the fools that gave it to him. No, Vera, no. The brood of men is not dead yet, nor the dull earth grown sick of child-bearing. No crowned man in Russia shall pollute God’s air by living.
Pres. You bade us try you once; we have tried you, and you are found wanting.
Mich. Vera, I am not blind; I know your secret. You love this boy, this young prince with his pretty face, his curled hair, his soft white hands. Fool that you are, dupe of a lying tongue, do you know what he would have done to you, this boy you think loved you? He would have made you his mistress, used your body at his pleasure, thrown you away when he was wearied of you; you, the priestess of liberty, the flame of Revolution, the torch of democracy.
Vera. What he would have done to me matters little. To the people, at least, he will be true. He loves the people—at least, he loves liberty.
Pres. So he would play the citizen-king, would he, while we starve? Would flatter us with sweet speeches, would cheat us with promises like his father, would lie to us as his whole race have lied.
Mich. And you whose very name made every despot tremble for his life, you, Vera Sabouroff, you would betray liberty for a lover and the people for a paramour!
Consps. Traitress! Draw the lots; draw the lots!
Vera. In thy throat thou liest, Michael! I love him not. He loves me not.
Mich. You love him not? Shall he not die then?
Vera (with an effort, clenching her hands). Ay, it is right that he should die. He hath broken his oath. There should be no crowned man in Europe. Have I not sworn it? To be strong our new Republic should be drunk with the blood of kings. He hath broken his oath. As the father died so let the son die too. Yet not to-night, not to-night. Russia, that hath borne her centuries of wrong, can wait a week for liberty. Give him a week.
Pres. We will have none of you! Begone from us to this boy you love.
Mich. Though I find him in your arms I shall kill him.
Consps. To-night! To-night! To-night!
Mich. (holding up his hand). A moment! I have something to say. (Approaches Vera; speaks very slowly.) Vera Sabouroff, have you forgotten your brother? (Pauses to see effect; Vera starts.) Have you forgotten that young face, pale with famine; those young limbs twisted with torture; the iron chains they made him walk in? What week of liberty did they give him? What pity did they show him for a day? (Vera falls in a chair.) Oh! you could talk glibly enough then of vengeance, glibly enough of liberty. When you said you would come to Moscow, your old father caught you by the knees and begged you not to leave him childless and alone. I seem to hear his cries still ringing in my ears, but you were as deaf to him as the rocks on the roadside; as chill and cold as the snow on the hill. You left your father that night, and three weeks after he died of a broken heart. You wrote to me to follow you here. I did so; first because I loved you; but you soon cured me of that; whatever gentle feeling, whatever pity, whatever humanity, was in my heart you withered up and destroyed, as the canker worm eats the corn, and the plague kills the child. You bade me cast out love from my breast as a vile thing, you turned my hand to iron, and my heart to stone; you told me to live for freedom and for revenge. I have done so; but you, what have you done?
Vera. Let the lots be drawn! (Conspirators applaud.)
Prince Paul (aside). Ah, the Grand Duke will come to the throne sooner than he expected. He is sure to make a good king under my guidance. He is so cruel to animals, and never keeps his word.
Mich. Now you are yourself at last, Vera.
Vera (standing motionless in the middle). The lots, I say, the lots! I am no woman now. My blood seems turned to gall; my heart is as cold as steel is; my hand shall be more deadly. From the desert and the tomb the voice of my prisoned brother cries aloud, and bids me strike one blow for liberty. The lots, I say, the lots!
Pres. Are you ready. Michael, you have the right to draw first; you are a Regicide.
Vera. O God, into my hands! Into my hands! (They draw the lots from a bowl surmounted by a skull.)
Pres. Open your lots.
Vera (opening her lot). The lot is mine! see the bloody sign upon it! Dmitri, my brother, you shall have your revenge now.
Pres. Vera Sabouroff, you are chosen to be a regicide. God has been good to you. The dagger or the poison? (Offers her dagger and vial.)
Vera. I can trust my hand better with the dagger; it never fails. (Take dagger.) I shall stab him to the heart, as he has stabbed me. Traitor, to leave us for a ribbon, a gaud, a bauble, to lie to me every day he came here, to forget us in an hour. Michael was right, he loved me not, nor the people either. Methinks that if I was a mother and bore a man-child I would poison my breast to him, lest he might grow to a traitor or to a king. (Prince Paul whispers to the President.)
Pres. Ay, Prince Paul, that is the best way. Vera, the Czar sleeps to-night in his own room in the north wing of the palace. Here is the key of the private door in the street. The passwords of the guards will be given to you. His own servants will be drugged. You will find him alone.
Vera. It is well. I shall not fail.
Pres. We will wait outside in the Place St. Isaac, under the window. As the clock strikes twelve from the tower of St. Nicholas you will give us the sign that the dog is dead.
Vera. And what shall the sign be?
Pres. You are to throw us out the bloody dagger.
Mich. Dripping with the traitor’s life.
Pres. Else we shall know that you have been seized, and we will burst our way in, drag you from his guards.
Mich. And kill him in the midst of them.
Pres. Michael, you will head us?
Mich. Ay, I shall head you. See that your hand fails not, Vera Sabouroff.
Vera. Fool, is it so hard a thing to kill one’s enemy.
Prince Paul (aside). This is the ninth conspiracy I have been in in Russia. They always end in a “voyage en Siberie” for my friends and a new decoration for myself.
Mich. It is your last conspiracy, Prince.
Pres. At twelve o’clock, the bloody dagger.
Vera. Ay, red with the blood of that false heart. I shall not forget it. (Standing in the middle of the stage.) To strangle whatever nature is in me, neither to love nor to be loved, neither to pity nor to be pitied. Ay! it is an oath, an oath. Methinks the spirit of Charlotte Corday has entered my soul now. I shall carve my name on the world, and be ranked among the great heroines. Ay! the spirit of Charlotte Corday beats in each petty vein, and nerves my woman’s hand to strike, as I have nerved my woman’s heart to hate. Though he laughs in his dreams, I shall not falter. Though he sleep peacefully I shall not miss my blow. Be glad, my brother, in your stifled cell; be glad and laugh to-night. To-night this new-fledged Czar shall post with bloody feet to Hell, and greet his father there! This Czar! O traitor, liar, false to his oath, false to me! To play the patriot amongst us, and now to wear a crown; to sell us, like Judas, for thirty silver pieces, to betray us with a kiss! (With more passion.) O Liberty, O mighty mother of eternal time, thy robe is purple with the blood of those who have died for thee! Thy throne is the Calvary of the people, thy crown the crown of thorns. O crucified mother, the despot has driven a nail through thy right hand, and the tyrant through thy left! Thy feet are pierced with their iron. When thou wert athirst thou calledst on the priests for water, and they gave thee bitter drink. They thrust a sword into thy side. They mocked thee in thine agony of age on age. Here, on thy altar, O Liberty, do I dedicate myself to thy service; do with me as thou wilt! (Brandishing dagger.) The end has come now, and by thy sacred wounds, O crucified mother, O Liberty, I swear that Russia shall be saved!
End Of Act III.