Michael Strogoff

Act II

Scene IV. The post relay.

The stage represents the court of a post relay on the frontier. To the right, the relay house which is at the same time an inn. To the left, the house of the Chief of Police. In the background, a great highway which disappears into the mountain. A certain number of travelers are grouped in the court of the relay.

Post Master: The routes over the Urals are thronged. I’m hardly able to furnish horses.

First Traveler: And what horses! Old nags on four legs?

Officer: Come on, come on—passports! Passports! They’ll be returned to you after they’ve been stamped.

(The Officer gathers the passports of the travelers and goes back to the left.)

Chief of Police: There’s an obstruction.

Post Master: Yes, Mr. Police Chief—and you’ll have a lot to do to expedite these folks—since it’s too much for me to furnish them horses! All I have left is a single relay—and that one traveled fifty versts the night before last.

Chief of Police: Just one?

Post Master: And it was retained by a traveler who arrived an hour ago.

Chief of Police: Who’s this traveler?

Post Master: A merchant who’s returning to Irkutsk.

Chief of Police: I’m going to endorse the passports and give the go ahead to all these people here. (going back into the house on the left)

Post Master: If we had a hundred horses in the stables, it wouldn’t be enough for all.

Strogoff: The horse I retained?

Post Master: They’re giving it food and drink.

Strogoff: In a half hour it must be harnessed to my droshky.

Post Master: It will be. You’ll be in order with the Chief of Police?

Strogoff: Yes.

Post Master: You can have your passport taken to him in advance. He’ll endorse it with the others.

Strogoff: No. I’ll get it endorsed myself.

Post Master: As you wish, little father.

Strogoff: A bottle of kvass?

Post Master: Right away.

(Strogoff sits at a table to the right, and the Post Master leaves. Jollivet comes on stage from the back. He is worn out and carries a suitcase in each hand.)

Jollivet: Oof! Another hundred steps and I will abandon my suitcases on the highway—especially this one which isn’t mine. (he places one in a corner, keeps the other, and sits at a table facing Strogoff) Excuse me, sir. Hey! Why—I recognize you. You are?

Strogoff: Nicolas Korpanov, merchant.

Jollivet: Merchant—merchant like lightning. It was indeed you who passed me, two hours ago on the highway! You were in a droshky, and I was—or rather−—I no longer was—and a little place in your carriage would have done for me nicely, for I found myself in some distress.

Strogoff: Pardon, sir?

Jollivet: Alcide Jollivet, correspondent with the French newspapers, in quest of reports.

Strogoff: Well, Monsieur Jollivet, I deeply regret not having noticed you! Amongst travelers one must have these little services.

Jollivet: One must, but they don’t always pay! I’ve been twenty versts on foot and I deserved it. A bad action never profits. Heaven punished me for taking a telega instead of a large carriage.

Strogoff: A glass of beer, Monsieur?

(The Post Master re−enters with glasses and pitchers.)

Jollivet: Willingly.

Post Master: (to Jollivet) Should I reserve a chamber and take your suitcases?

Jollivet: Not that one, it’s not mine.

Post Master: Who does it belong to then?

Jollivet: To my intimate enemy, my colleague, Blount—who must at this moment be running after me! But, I hope indeed to be gone before he arrives at the relay. By the way, a carriage and horse in an hour.

Post Master: There are no longer either horses or carriages available.

Jollivet: Good! That’s all I need! Well, reserve for me the first that return from the relay.

Post Master: That’s understood. But, it won’t be until tomorrow. I’m going to get you a room.

Jollivet: Yes, happily I have a nice advance on Blount!

Strogoff: Your enemy?

Jollivet: My enemy, my rival! An English reporter who wants to outrun me on the road to Irkutsk and to tarnish my news! Can you imagine, Mr. Korpanov, that the only way I found to outdistance him, was to steal his carriage which was all harnessed when I arrived at the relay? He didn’t have any other, and while he was paying his bill, I slid a packet of rubles in the pocket of his coachman—say his iemskik to make a little local color—and off we went. Naturally, I carried off my English friend’s valise—but I will return it to him intact. Ah, for goodness sake! But for his carriage I would never see him again.

Strogoff: Why’s that?

Jollivet: Because it is—or rather was—a telega! You know, a telega—a four wheeler.

Strogoff: Perfectly, but I don’t understand.

Jollivet: You are going to. We left, my iemskik on the front seat, and me on the bench at the rear. Three good horses on the shaft. We bolted off like a hurricane. It was hardly necessary to stimulate our three excellent horses with the whip! From time to time a few words cast by my iemskik—Bold my doves! Run my sweet sheep! Hup, my little fathers on the left! Finally the harness strained, indeed so well that, the last night a big jolt was produced. Snap! The two trains of the carriage were separated and my iemskik, without hearing my shouts, continued to run on in the forward carriage, while I remained in distress in the rear. And that’s how I had to make twenty versts on foot, my valise in one hand and that of the Englishman in the other—and that’s why I can’t send him back more than a half carriage.

Post Master: (re−entering) Your room is ready, Monsieur.

Jollivet: (leaving towards the door) That’s fine. Au revoir, Mr. Korpanov.

Strogoff: Au revoir, Monsieur.

Jollivet: (coming back) Ah, I’ve found it.

Strogoff: What?

Jollivet: The true definition of a telega. It will be the last word in my next report. “Telega—Russian carriage—four wheeler on departure, two wheeler on arrival.” Au revoir Monsieur Korpanov. (goes out to the left)

Strogoff: (rising) Au revoir, Monsieur. A merry companion, this Frenchman!

(Nadia comes in from the right, from the great highway. She is exhausted and half collapses into a bench on the left.)

Nadia: Fatigue overwhelms me! Impossible to go any further. (trying to get up. Sir! Sir!

Strogoff: Is it to me you are speaking, child? (aside) What a charming young girl!

Nadia: Pardon me. I wanted to ask you—where are we here?

Strogoff: We are at the frontier—and this is the police station.

Nadia: Where visas to enter Siberia are issued?

Strogoff: Yes—on that side, the post relay.

Nadia: (rising) The post relay? First, I’m going to be sure—

Strogoff: It’s useless, child. There are neither horses nor carriages—and many hours will slip by before the Post Master can put one at your disposal.

Nadia: Well, I will go on foot, then!

Strogoff: On foot!

Nadia: A wagon brought me to some versts from this relay station and God won’t abandon me to go further.

Strogoff: (aside) Poor child! (aloud) Where are you coming from?

Nadia: From Riga.

Strogoff: And you are going?

Nadia: To Irkutsk.

Strogoff: To Irkutsk! Alone! You are going without friend, without guide? To accomplish such a long, such a difficult voyage—

Nadia: I have no one to accompany me. Of all my family, only my father remains to me, who I am going to rejoin in Siberia.

Strogoff: To Irkutsk, you said! Why, that’s 1500 versts more to do.

Nadia: Yes, it’s there that for a political excuse my father was exiled two years ago. Until then, we lived happily, all three, in Riga, my father, my mother and me—in a humble home, only asking God to allow us to remain there always since it was filled with happiness. But the trial was going to come! My father was arrested and despite our supplication, he was torn from his dwelling and dragged across the frontier. Alas, my mother would never see him again. This separation aggravated her illness. Several months later, she expired, and her last thought was that I was going to be alone in the world.

Strogoff: Wretched child!

Nadia: I was indeed alone in that city, without family, without relatives. Then I asked for and obtained the authorization to go to find the poor exile in the depths of Siberia. I wrote him that I was leaving. He’s waiting for me. Having gathered up the little I can dispose of, I left Riga, and here I am now on the road my father took two years before me.

Strogoff: But, you must cross the Ural Mountains, which have been deadly to travelers.

Nadia: I know it.

Strogoff: And, after the Urals, the interminable Steppes of Siberia. These are exhausting troubles to submit to, terrible dangers to confront.

Nadia: You’ve submitted to these troubles? You’ve confronted these dangers?

Strogoff: Yes, but I am a man. I have my energy, my courage.

Nadia: As for me, I have prayer and hope to support me.

Strogoff: Don’t you know that the country has been invaded by the Tartars?

Nadia: The invasion wasn’t happening when I left Riga. It was only at Ninji that I learned this disastrous news.

Strogoff: And, despite that, you continued on your route?

Nadia: Why, you yourself, have already crossed the Urals?

Strogoff: To go see and embrace my mother again, a valiant Siberian who lives in Kolyvan.

Nadia: Well, as for me, I’m going to see and embrace my father again. You are doing your duty, I’m doing mine, and Duty is everything.

Strogoff: Yes! Everything! (aside) This young girl—so beautiful—alone—with no one to defend her! (to Nadia as she heads towards the left) Where are you going?

Nadia: I’m going to get my visa approved. Delays are always to be feared, and if I don’t leave today, who knows if I can leave tomorrow.

Strogoff: Hold on. I have to get mine done, too. Perhaps I can get the Police Chief to expedite yours right away, before the clock brings a mob of other travelers. Come! We are not destined to ever see each other again, but I will think often of you, and I would like to know your name.

Nadia: Nadia Fedov.

Strogoff: Nadia—

Nadia: And yours?

Strogoff: Me—I—my name is Nicolas Korpanov.

(They go into the Police office. Blount, covered with dust, head enveloped with a veil in the English fashion, and remounted on a donkey arrives from the back by way of the great highway. He comes into the courtyard.)

Blount: (calling from the back) Innkeeper! Innkeeper! (coming forward) What a poor condition we were in, this donkey and I! Impossible to continue our voyage. (calling) Innkeeper! I was forced to take this wretched animal because someone stole my carriage and horses. And we’ve had such a long journey. We were both so tired. He can no longer carry me, and as for me, I cannot get off him! (calling) Innkeeper! We were so glued together, this donkey and I, that we are now just a single animal. No, a single person. (calling more loudly) Innkeeper! I am so done up. It was a (speaking to the donkey) how do you say in French? He doesn’t know—a suffering of the joints. But I cannot remain on him forever. (calling very loud) Innkeeper! Innkeeper!

Post Master: (entering, followed by a waiter) Heavens—a traveler?

Blount: Yes. An abandoned traveler—all alone!

Post Master: Why didn’t you call, sir?

Blount: (furious) Why didn’t I call? Why, I’ve been yelling for more than an hour, Mr. Innkeeper!

Post Master: Ah! I was going to tell you—it’s that I was busy in my Post Master role, which kept me from serving you!

Blount: Oh, very droll. So, Mr. Post Master, help me a bit to get down.

Post Master: He’s right here. (he helps him down very carefully)

Blount: All right. Merci!

Post Master: Must I also make up a bed?

Blount: (astonished, looking at the donkey) What are you saying? Make up a bed for (to himself) to make up a bed—

Post Master: A bed for you, sir, for I’m also an hotel.

Blount: Oh, very well, a bed for me, and—

Post Master: (pointing to the donkey) A litter for him?

Blount: (laughing) Yes! (he hugs his donkey as the groom leads him off right) Now, I want lunch first. Then you can give me a carriage and horses.

Post Master: There aren’t any more, sir.

Blount: You don’t have horses?

Post Master: Not before tomorrow or the day after!

Blount: Oh, if I only had the one they stole from me!

Post Master: They stole from you, sir?

Blount: Yes, my carriage and my suitcase—and if I ever discover the rascal of a thief—

Post Master: What do you want for your lunch, sir?

Blount: You’ll serve me there, on that table. — You’ll serve (thinking) You’ll serve lamb chops, beef steak, stockfish, potatoes, plum pudding, port and ale. Have you clearly understood?

Post Master: I’ve understood quite well. You said: beef steak, stockfish, chops—

Blount: Potatoes, plum pudding, ale, port and clout.

Post Master: But, you see, we have none of all that, sir!

Blount: You have nothing, and you ask me what I want?

Post Master: I can offer you koulbat, sir.

Blount: What is this thing—koulbat?

Post Master: A pate made with eggs and crushed meats.

Blount: (writing in his notebook) Oh, very well. Koulbat—write it down c, o, u—

Post Master: No, no, with a k.

Blount: (surprised) Oh, with a k—and it’s good all the same?

Post Master: Excellent

Blount: Then serve koulbat. And what else do you have?

Postmaster: Kvass.

Blount: Cvass—you write c, v, a.

Post Master: No, with a k.

Blount: K again

Post master: Some caviar

Blount: With a k, still?

Post Master: No, with a c.

Blount: With a c now! And, it’s still good?

Post Master: (laughing) It’s very good, all the same.

Blount: (very serious) You are a happy innkeeper. You have a room for my toilette?

Post Master: They’re going to prepare it.

Blount: Wait, wait—I’ll pay in advance to be very sure of it.

Post Master: As you like.

Blount: How much?

Post Master: Two roubles for lunch, two roubles for the room.

Blount: There! Ah, my donkey. Give him some straw. Feed him and water him. I will take him until the next relay. (At this moment, Blount, who turns towards the inn, finds himself before the suitcase left by Jollivet.)

Blount: Ah!

Post Master: What’s wrong?

Blount: This valise, sir, this valise—

Post Master: It belongs to a traveler who left it there when he arrived.

Blount: But, it’s mine.

Post Master: Yours?

Blount: And this traveler?

Post Master: There he is, sir.

Jollivet: (leaving the house) Blount, my enemy—

Blount: (furious) This valise, sir, this valise—

Jollivet: (tranquilly) It’s yours, Mr. Blount. Ah, I had plenty of trouble bringing it.

Blount: Carrying it off, you mean!

Jollivet: Oh, in error. I was going to send it to you—by parcel post.

Blount: (furious) Parcel post. Mister—

Jollivet: (aside) God, how beautiful he is—an angry Englishman!

Blount: And the carriage, sir?

Jollivet: I was going to send you half of it.

Blount: Half?

Jollivet: The other half still works.

Blount: So, that’s the way it is, mister. Well, I will make a criminal complaint against you.

Jollivet: A criminal complaint—bring a criminal complaint against me—in Russia! Why don’t you know the story of that servant who demanded her wages for the nursing of a child? That she gave to his parents?

Blount: I don’t know it.

Jollivet: Well, the nursling was ten months when the suit was filed—and a colonel when it was decided. So, I advise you not to sue me.

Post Master: (to Blount) Your room is ready, sir.

Blount: I’m going to arrange my toilette, and I shall return to settle my score with you shortly.

Jollivet: I am ever ready to reimburse you.

Blount: No, not with money. You will pay another way, Mr. Joly−vet.

Jollivet: Jollivet, if you please.

Blount: (with rage) Joly−vet! Joly−vet! Joly−vet!

(Blount leaves. The Post Mater begins to serve Blount’s lunch.)

Post Master: The gentleman is going away furious.

Jollivet: And he’ll return the same way. He’s right. In his place, I would be beside myself. (to Post Master) What’s that you are serving there?

Post Master: The gentleman’s lunch.

Jollivet: Ah! It’s his lunch? It looks good. (sits down)

Post Master: Excuse me, sir. I told you, this luncheon belongs to the gentleman.

Jollivet: (starting to eat) Well?

Post Master: But, sir, he paid in advance.

Jollivet: Ah! He paid in advance! Then, you risk nothing.

Post Master: But, the gentleman—

Jollivet: We are— It’s very good.

Post master: But, sir, sir—

Jollivet: (eating) Take it easy. I’ll take care of everything! Decidedly, you cook very well, sir.

Post Master: (flattered) Thanks for the compliment, sir.

Jollivet: Ah, we really are connoisseurs of cuisine, we French.

Post Mater: Yes, yes, great connoisseurs.

Jollivet: (eating) And yours, my dear fellow, is exquisite.

Post Master: Exquisite—really! You think that?

Jollivet: Exquisite, I tell you.

Post Master: Well, if you would like to taste this. I think you’ll find it even better. (offering a second plate)

Jollivet: Excellent, indeed. It’s fine, it’s delicate, its—

Post Master: (presenting a third dish) Tell me now what you think of this?

Jollivet: With pleasure. But say, what about the gentleman?

Post Master: Heavens, that’s right! I was forgetting its his lunch. Ah, bah! So much the worse.

Jollivet: By the way, what are they saying about the Tartars?

Post Master: That the country is completely overrun, and that Russian troops from the north won’t be strong enough to repulse them. They expect a battle within two days.

Jollivet: Whereabouts?

Post Master: Near Kolyvan. (At this moment Blount leaves the post house.)

Blount: Ah, my toilet is taken care of, I am dying of hunger. (seeing Jollivet) Arrgh!

Jollivet: To your health, Mr. Blount.

Blount: (to Post Master) And my lunch? You haven’t served my lunch?

Jollivet: (pointing to the empty plates) Indeed, it was served, Monsieur Blount, and that’s what remains of it.

Blount: Then it was my lunch you just ate?

Jollivet: It was excellent.

Blount: It was my koulbat?

Jollivet: Exquisite, the koulbat!

Blount: You will give me satisfaction right here!

Jollivet: No, not here—much later, after the battle which is going to take place and which I have to report to my cousin Madeleine.

Blount: (astonished) The battle?

Jollivet: Learn, my dear colleague, that the Russian and Tartar armies are going to meet in two days.

Blount: Ah, very well! Wait one minute. (writing) Two armies will soon meet, continue, mister. I will follow after you.

Jollivet: Thanks! This battle will take place at Kolyvan.

Blount: (writing) At Kolyvan. Kolyvan—with a k?

Jollivet: With one k—yes.

Blount: Well, thanks. It will be by sword, right?

Jollivet: The battle?

Blount: No, our duel. But I wish to be generous and since you are giving me information for my paper, I will give you the choice of weapons.

Jollivet: Not at all, not at all. I don’t want any favors. What is the weapon you prefer?

Blount: The sword, mister.

Jollivet: Very well! As for me, I prefer the pistol. Then we will choose the sword for you—pistol for me—and we will fight at fifteen paces.

Blount: Yes! How you manage this thing—you said a sword?

Jollivet: A sword for you.

Blount: And a pistol?

Jollivet: The pistol for me—and we will fight at fifteen paces— (he bursts out laughing)

Blount: But you are still mocking, Mr. Jollivet.

Jollivet: Believe me, little father, first we’ll get to Kolyvan, and we will fight after we’ve informed our correspondents of the issue of the battle.

Blount: Yes, I will wait for you there!

Jollivet: If you get there before me! Which I doubt a bit—!

(The clock strikes at this moment and all the travelers run. Nadia leaves the police station, holding her permit in her hands.)

Officer: (shouting) Passports, passports.

First Traveler: They re talking of really bad news, and the least delay will ruin us.

(The agent distributes the passports.)

Nadia: I will go on foot to the next relay.

(At the moment the travelers leave the court, a trumpet is heard. Some Cossacks appear on the highway and block all exits. The Police Chief comes out of the Police Station at the left and stops on the steps by the door. One of the Cossacks gives him a telegram. A roll of drums is heard.)

Police Chief: Silence! Listen everybody. (reading) “By order of the Governor of Moscow, all Russian subjects are forbidden, under whatever pretext, are forbidden to cross the frontier.”

(Cries of disappointment in the crowd.)

Nadia: My God—what’s he say?

Jollivet: (to Blount) That doesn’t concern us.

Blount: I will pass everywhere.

Nadia: Sir, sir, my passport is in order. I can pass, isn’t that so?

Police Chief: You are Russian? It’s impossible.

Nadia: Sir, I am going to rejoin my father at Irkutsk. He’s expecting me! Each day of delay is a day of misery for him. He knows I’ve left. He might believe I am lost in this country, in the midst of this Tartar invasion. Let me pass, I conjure you! What does the Governor care about a poor girl like me throwing herself into the Steppes. If I had gone just an hour ago, no one would have stopped me. From pity, sir, from pity!

Police Chief: Useless prayers. The order is precise. (to Cossacks) Place yourselves at the entry to the highway and without at least a special permit, don’t let anyone pass.

Nadia: (holding him by his legs) Sir, sir, I conjure you, hands joined at your knees! Have pity! Don’t condemn us—my father and me—to die, desperate, and so far from one another.

Blount: Oh, I am very moved.

(At this moment, Strogoff emerges from the Police Station.)

Strogoff: (going to Nadia) Why these supplications and these tears, Nadia? What does it matter if your passport is valid or not, since we have mine—which is in order.

Nadia: (aside) What’s he saying?

Strogoff: (showing his permit to the Police Chief) And, no one, do you hear, no one has the right to prevent us from leaving.

Nadia: (joyfully) Ah!

Police Chief: Your permit?

Strogoff: Signed by the Governor General of Moscow himself. Right to pass everywhere—whatever the circumstances and no one can forbid it!

(The tarantas is brought to the middle of the highway.)

Police Chief: You indeed have the right to pass. But she—

Strogoff: (pointing to the permit) Authorization to be accompanied. Well, what is more natural than that—my sister accompany me!

Police Chief: Your—?

Strogoff: (holding Nadia’s hand) Yes, my sister. Come Nadia.

Nadia: (seizing him) I am with you, brother!

Blount: Very proud, this merchant!

Jollivet: And very energetic, friend Blount.

Blount: I will never be your friend, Mr. Joly−vet.

Jollivet: Jollivet!

Blount: Joly−vet! Joly−vet forever!

(Ivan enters, dressed in Russian military uniform like an officer traveling.)

Ivan: (to the Police Chief) Special permit. (showing him his permit)

Police Chief: Another one signed by the Governor of Moscow himself.

Ivan: A horse!

Post Master: There aren’t any more.

Jollivet: And, if there were—

Blount: (to Jollivet) I would have retained them first.

Jollivet: And I would have taken them immediately.

(Blount turns away in rage.)

Ivan: Who owns this tarentas?

Post Master: (pointing to Strogoff) It belongs to that traveler.

Ivan: (to Strogoff) Comrade, I need your carriage and your horse.

Jollivet: (aside) He’s got nerve, this gentleman.

Strogoff: This horse is retained by me, and for me. I cannot, nor do I wish to, cede it to any person.

Ivan: I must have it, I tell you.

Strogoff: And, I tell you, you cannot have it.

Ivan: Be careful. I am a man who might take it.

Strogoff: Take it—from me?

Ivan: Yes, from you. For the last time, do you intend to give me this horse and this carriage?

Strogoff: No, I tell you, no!

Ivan: No? Well, they will belong to those of us who know how to keep them.

Nadia: My God!

Ivan: (drawing his sword) Let this man be given a saber so he can defend himself.

Strogoff: (forcefully) Well! (aside) A duel! And my mission, if I am wounded! (aloud, crossing his arms) I won’t fight.

Ivan: You won’t fight?

Strogoff: No! And you won’t have my horse!

Ivan: (with even greater force) You won’t fight, you say?

Strogoff: No.

Ivan: No—even after this. (strikes Strogoff a blow with the whip) Well, you won’t fight, coward?

Strogoff: (hurling himself on Ivan) Misera—! (stopping and controlling himself) I won’t fight!

All: Ah!

Ivan: You submit to this shame without avenging yourself.

Strogoff: I will submit to it. (aside) For God, for the Czar, for the Fatherland!

Ivan: Come, your horse is mine. (leaps into the carriage) (to Innkeeper) Pay yourself!

(The tarentas leaves by the left.)

Post Master: Thanks, Excellency.

Jollivet: I would not have thought he could swallow such shame.

Blount: Ah! I feel all my blood boiling in my veins.

Strogoff: Ah! That man—I will find him again. (to Post Master) Who is that man?

Post Master: I don’t know him—but he’s a lord who knows how to make himself respected.

Strogoff: (leaping) You will allow me to judge!

Post Master: Yes, for these are things a man of heart never receives without returning them.

Strogoff: (seizing the Post Master violently) Wretch! (coldly) Get out, my friend, get out. I might kill you.

Post Master: Well, truly. I like you better this way.

Jollivet: Me, too. Courage has its seasons.

Blount: Never for English courage! It is always ready, always.

Jollivet: ′e will see that at Kolyvan, colleague. (turns towards the inn and goes in)

Nadia: This fury that shone in his eyes at the moment of the insult, this struggle against himself in refusing to fight—and now—this profound despair.

Strogoff: (seated by the table) Ah, I never thought that doing my duty would ever cost me so dearly.

Nadia: (looking at him) He’s crying. There must be a mystery that I do not understand—a secret that chains up his courage. (going to him) Brother, (Strogoff raises his head) there are sometimes insults which elevate, and that one has enlarged you in my eyes. (At this moment Blount lets out a shout. One sees Jollivet leave at the back on Blount’s donkey.)

Blount: Ah! My ass! Stop! He’s making off with my ass!

Jollivet: I will return him to you at Kolyvan, colleague, at Kolyvan.

Blount: (overwhelmed) Ahh!


Scene V.

The stage represents a telegraph station near Kolyvan in Siberia. Door at the back giving on the countryside. To the right a small office with a small gate where the telegraph employee stays. A door to the left. The noise of the battle of Kolyvan can be heard, still dull.

Jollivet: (entering from the back) The affair is hot! A ball in my cap, another in my jacket. The city of Kolyvan is going to be taken by these Tartars. Still, I already have the first of this news. Got to expedite it to Paris. Here’s the telegraph office. (looking) Good! The Employee is at his post and Blount is devil knows where. Things are going well. (to Employee) The telegraph is still functioning?

Employee: It functions to Russia, but the line from Irkutsk is cut.

Jollivet: The despatches still pass?

Employee: Between Kolyvan and Moscow, yes.

Jollivet: For the government?

Employee: For the government if there’s need—for the public for pay. It’s ten kopecks a word.

Jollivet: And what do you know?

Employee: Nothing.

Jollivet: But the despatches that you—

Employee: I transmit the despatches, but I don’t read them.

Jollivet: (aside) A good character. (aloud) My friend, I desire to send my cousin, Madeleine, a despatch relating all the vicissitudes of the battle.

Employee: That’s easy enough. Ten kopecks per word.

Jollivet: Yes, I know. But, once my despatch begins, can you keep my place while I go for news?

Employee: As long as you are at the gate the place belongs to you—at ten kopecks per word, but if you leave the place it belongs to whoever takes it—at ten—

Jollivet: At ten kopecks per word—yes—that’s understood. I am alone. Let’s begin. (writing on the tablet by the gate) Mlle. Madeleine, Montmartre Paris—from Kolyvan, Siberia.

Employee: That’s already up to eighty kopecks.

Jollivet: That’s for nothing. (gives him a bundle of paper roubles and continues to write) Russian and Tartar troops engage. (at this moment a fusillade makes itself heard with great power) Ah! Ah! Something new— there!

(Jollivet leaves the gate and goes to the window at the back to see what’s happening. Blount enters by the door at the back.)

Blount: Here’s the telegraph office. (noticing Jollivet) Jollivet! (he goes to seize him by the collar, but getting near him, he starts to read what he’s written over his shoulder) Ah—he’s transmitting news—more news than mine.

Jollivet: (writing) Eleven o’clock. The battle has been engaged since dawn.

Blount: (aside) Very well. I am going to make my profit. (going to the gate while Jollivet continues to observe what’s happening) (to Employee) The line’s functioning?

Employee: Always.

Blount: All right!

Employee: Ten kopecks per word.

Blount: Good, very good! (writing on the notepad) Morning Post, London, from Kolyvan, Siberia—

Jollivet: (writing on his notebook) Enormous smoke above Kolyvan—

Blount: (writing at the gate) Oh, good! Enormous smoke rises above Kolyvan.

Jollivet: Ah! Oh! Oh! The fortress is in flames!

Blount: (writing) Ah! Ah! The fortress is in flames.

Jollivet: The Russians are abandoning the city—

Blount: (writing) The Russians are abandoning the city.

Jollivet: Let’s continue our despatch.

(Jollivet leaves the window and returns to find his place taken by Blount.)

Blount: Yes. Right now, after my despatch, you will give satisfaction to me and my hate.

Jollivet: But, you took my place.

Blount: The place was free.

Jollivet: My despatch had begun—

Blount: And mine is beginning.

Jollivet: (to Employee) But, you know I was ahead of this gentleman?

Employee: Place free, place taken. Ten kopecks a word.

Blount: (paying) And I will pay for a thousand words in advance.

Jollivet: A thousand words!

(Blount continues writing, and as he writes, passes his despatches to the Employee who transmits them.)

Blount: The noise of the battle grows closer. At the telegraph office, the French Correspondent was watching for my place, but—

Jollivet: (furious) Ah, sir, in the end—

Blount: It hasn’t ended, mister. “Ivan Ogareff, at the head of the Tartars is going to rejoin the—”

Jollivet: Is it finished?

Blount: Never finished.

Jollivet: You have nothing more to say.

Blount: Always something to say—so as not to lose my place. In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth—

Jollivet: Ah, he’s telegraphing the Bible now!

Blount: Yes, the Bible, and it contains two hundred seventy−three thousand words.

Employee: At ten kopecks per—

Blount: I am giving one on account. (he gives a new roll of roubles) The Earth was formed and—


Ah, the beast! I’ll know how to make you decamp. (tearing by the rear)

Blount: Shadows covered the face of the abyss— (continuing) 11:20—mad shouting—redoubled—a furious melee.

(Shouts outside that Jollivet just utters beneath the window.)

Shouts: Death to the English. Kill! Pillage! Down with England.

Blount: Ah. Who’s shouting that? Down with England? England will never fall.

(Blount draws a revolver from his belt and leaves by the door at the back. Jollivet enters by the door at the left and takes Blount’s place at the gate.)

Jollivet: No more difficult than that! Down with England and the English leave the gate. (dictating) At 11:25 the Tartar shells begin to pass over Kolyvan . . .

Blount: (returning) No one! I thought I heard— (seeing Jollivet) Ah!

Jollivet: (bowing) Long live England, monsieur, long live the English.

Blount: You took my place—

Jollivet: It’s like that—

Blount: You are going to give me satisfaction, mister—

Jollivet: When I’m finished.

Blount: And when will you be finished?

Jollivet: Much later, very much later. (dictating) The Russians were forced to fall back again. (imitating Blount’s English accent) The English correspondent is on the watch to take my place at the telegraph, but he won’t succeed.

Blount: Is it finished, mister?

Jollivet: Never finished. (dictating) There was a little man All dressed in gray In Paris—

Blount: (furious) Songs!

Jollivet: By Beranger! After the sacred—the profane—

Blount: Sir, let us fight instantly.

Jollivet: (dictating) Chubby like an apple Not a sou to his name.

Employee: (closing the gate abruptly) Ah!

Jollivet: What is it?

Employee: (leaving his office) The line is cut. It no longer functions! Gentlemen, I have the honor of saluting you.

(The Employee salutes and goes out tranquilly. Great shouts outside.)

Blount: No more despatches are possible. New for us, Mister! Let’s leave.

Jollivet: Yes, let’s leave and—

(They leave together by the rear, provoking each other.)

Sangarre: (coming from the left with a Gypsy) The Tartars are victorious!

Gypsy: Ivan Ogareff led them in the assault on Kolyvan.

Sangarre: Russians and Siberians are all smashed. The village is burning and fugitives are escaping in all directions.

Gypsy: (looking) They are going to reach here.

Sangarre: Yes, but that old Siberian, I finally saw again. That Marfa Strogoff, what’s become of her? She was there looking at her house burning. Then, suddenly, she disappeared! Oh, I’ll find her again and then!— Ah, you denounced me, Marfa, you had me knouted by the Russians. Bad luck to you!

(Great tumult outside. The noise of firing gets closer. Refugees rush into the post.)

First Fugitive: All is lost.

Second Fugitive: The Tartar cavalry are sabering all the unfortunates leaving Kolyvan.

All: Let’s flee. Let’s flee.

(They are going to flee the post in disorder.)

Marfa (appearing at the back): Stop! Stop!

All: Marfa Strogoff!

Sangarre: (aside) Marfa!

Marfa: Cowards, who are fleeing before the Tartars.

Sangarre: (aside) Ah, this time you won’t escape me!

Marfa: Stop, I tell you! Are you no longer the children of Siberia?

First Fugitive: Is there yet a Siberia? Haven’t the Tartars invaded the entire province?

Marfa: (somberly) Alas, yes, since the entire province is devastated.

Second Fugitive: Hasn’t a whole army of barbarians thrown itself on our villages?

Marfa: Yes, since so far as the eye can see, we only see villages in flames.

First Fugitive: And, isn’t that army commanded by the cruel Feofar?

Marfa: Yes, since our rivers roll with waves of blood.

First Fugitive: Well! What can we do?

Marfa: Keep resisting—resist forever—and die if necessary.

First Fugitive: Resist when the father doesn’t come to us and God abandons us.

Marfa: God is indeed high, and the father is very far. He cannot diminish the distances nor hasten the steps of his soldiers! The troops are on the march, they will arrive, but until then we must resist! Even if the life of one Tartar costs the life of ten Siberians, then let those ten die fighting. Don’t let it be said that Kolyvan surrendered while one of its children remained to defend it.

Second Fugitive: These barbarians are twenty against one.

First Fugitive: And now, Kolyvan is in flames!

Marfa: Well, if you cannot reenter the city, fight outside. Each hour gained can give Russian troops time to rally! Barricade this post, fortify it! My friends, listen to the voice of an old Siberian woman who asks to die with you for the defence of our country.

Sangarre: No! It’s not here you’ll die. (to the Gypsy accompanying her) Stay and observe.

Marfa: My friends, you hear me, me the widow of Peter Strogoff that you knew. Ah, if he was still free, he’d put it in your head. He would lead you to combat! Listen to him, my friends, it is he speaking to you with my voice.

First Fugitive: Peter Strogoff is no more! Perhaps with such a chief we would have been able to rally in the steppe, and harass the soldiers of the Emir.

Refugees: Yes, yes—a chief. We need a chief—

Marfa: (despairing) All is lost.

(Violent detonations are heard outside.)

Jollivet: (entering from the rear) Cannon balls are raining on the highway.

Blount: (following Jollivet) Forced to put off our duel!

Strogoff: (entering from the rear with Nadia) Here, Nadia. Here at least, you will have shelter. But, I am forced to separate myself from you.

Nadia: You are going to abandon me?

Strogoff: Listen, the Tartars are advancing. They are marching on Irkutsk! I have to get there before them. An imperious and sacred duty calls me. I have to pass, even crossing the grapeshot, even at the price of my blood, even at the price of my life.

Nadia: If that’s the way it is, brother, leave, and may God protect you.

Strogoff: Goodbye, Nadia.

(Strogoff rushes towards the door at the back, and finds himself face to face with Marfa.)

Marfa: (stopping him) My son!

Jollivet: Heavens! Nicolas Korpanov!

Marfa: My child. (to Siberians) It’s him, my friends! It’s my son, it’s Michael Strogoff.

All: Michael Strogoff!

Marfa: Ah! You were asking for a chief to lead you in the steppes, a chief worthy of commanding you! There he is! Michael, hug me, take this rifle—kill the Tartars!

Strogoff: (aside) No! No! I cannot. I have sworn!

Marfa: Well, don’t you hear me, Michael? You look at me without answering.

Strogoff: (coldly) Who are you? I don’t know you.

Marfa: Who am I? You ask that? You no longer recognize me? Michael, my son!

Strogoff: I don’t know you.

Marfa: You don’t recognize your mother?

Strogoff: No—I don’t know you!

Marfa: You are not the son of Peter and Marfa Strogoff?

Strogoff: I am Nicolas Korpanov. Here’s my sister, Nadia.

Marfa: His sister? (going to Nadia) You! His sister?

Strogoff: (forcefully) Yes, yes, answer. Answer, Nadia!

Nadia: I am his sister!

Marfa: You are lying! I have no daughter. I have only one son and here he is.

Strogoff: You are mistaken. Leave me alone. (going towards the door)

Marfa: You shall not leave!

Strogoff: Leave me alone, leave me alone.

Marfa: (pulling him back) You shall not leave! Listen, you are not my son. A resemblance carried me away, I am mistaken, I am mad, and you are not my son. For this, God will judge you! But you are a child of our Siberia. Well, the enemy is here, and I offer you this weapon. After having disowned your mother, are you going to disown your country? Michael, you can tear my soul from me, you can break my heart, but the nation is the first mother, and a thousand times more holy and sacred. You can kill me, me, Michael, but for her, you must die.

Strogoff: (aside) Yes, it’s a sacred duty. Yes, but I must neither stop nor fight. I have not an hour, not a minute to lose. (to Marfa) I don’t know you, and I’m leaving.

Marfa: Ah, wretch, you’ve become at once and the same time, an unnatural son and a traitor to the country.

(Heavy explosions outside. A shell falls near Marfa, the wick burning.)

Strogoff: (stepping forward) Take care, Marfa.

Marfa: May this shell kill me, since my son is a coward!

Strogoff: A coward! Me? See if I am afraid! (he takes the shell and hurls it out the window) Goodbye, Nadia! (he rushes out the back)

Marfa: Ah, I said so indeed. He’s my son. He’s Michael Strogoff, the Courier of the Czar.

All: The Courier of the Czar!

Marfa: Some secret mission, doubtless, carries him far from me. We will fight without him! Let’s barricade the door and defend ourselves.

(Rifle shots blaze outside.)

Blount: (putting his hand on his knee) Ah! Wounded!

Jollivet: (bandaging Blount’s wound, despite him) Ah, poor Blount.

Marfa: Courage, my friends! Let each of us know how to die bravely, not just for the well being, but for the honor of Russia!

All: Hurrah for Russia!

(The fight begins with Tartars who appear. A fog of smoke is overwhelming.)


Scene VI. The Battlefield of Kolyvan.

The scene is on fire at sunset. Dead and wounded. The cadavers of horses. Over the battlefield birds of prey hover and alight on the cadavers.

Strogoff: (appearing in the rear and crossing the battlefield) My Mother! Nadia! They are here, perhaps among the wounded and the dead. And implacable duty imposes silence on my heart. And I cannot even search for them or help them. No. No, for God, for my Czar, for the Country!

(Strogoff continues to march toward the right and the curtain falls.)


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Translation and Adaptation Copyright © 2003 by Frank J. Morlock
Copyright © Zvi Har’El
$Date: 2007/12/27 08:12:28 $