Poet Lore/Volume 34/Number 4/The Pistol of the Beg

Poet Lore, vol. 34, winter number (1923)
The Pistol of the Beg
by Karel Matěj Čapek-Chod, translated by Emanuel Deo Schonberger

From the Czech original Begův samokres (1911)

3248431Poet Lore, vol. 34, winter number — The Pistol of the Beg1923Karel Matěj Čapek-Chod


By K. M. Capek

Translated from the Czech by E. D. Schonberger


Karl Burris, lieutenant of the Reserves, and administrator of the Harshaw estate
Lena heiress of Harshaw
Erna, her half sister
Bara, a housekeeper
Dr. Dustin, the family physician
A Nurse
A Postal Messenger
Two Officers, from the infantry regiment

Scene I

The scene is laid at Harshaw Manor, a large country estate on the edge of Bohmerwald, in the time of the Bosnian occupation.

Act I a room in the castle.

Act II same as Act I.

Act III the private office of the administrator.


A room in the castle. The furniture represents no one period, but on the whole it is in good taste. On the walls hang pictures of hunting scenes in thin gilt frames, and antlers with other trophies of the hunt. It is a peculiarly arched chamber, dismal and gloomy, in spite of the fact that it has been recently redecorated in bright colors, which serve only to bring the objects on the walls into sharp relief. Cleanliness rather than order prevails.

At back C. is an arched doorway, with an imposing door, heavily barred. At the right an old fashioned alcove with divan. At left is another alcove effect with door leading to the kitchen. The room is lighted through a large, ornamental bay window at right, with cushioned window seat and chairs. In the center, on a massive table, supper is spread for three. Above this table is a large, ornamental lamp on pulleys. From the rim of the lamp shade hangs a fringe of green paper.

It is twilight of a hot, windy day. Through the bay window the low sun now and then casts a gloomy reflection on the wall opposite as clouds come and go in the crimson west. A loose oval pane in the window rattles ominously whenever a gust of the gradually subsiding wind strikes it.

Erna is seated in the window with a large, profusely illustrated bound volume of a German family magazine out of which she reads in a weary monotone. Lena is reclining on the divan in the alcove. She wears green glasses.

Erna (Reading).—Baron Bodo Von Dunkelhorst hob eine der schweren blonden Prachtflechten, die einer gläzend goldenen Stola gleichend ihre zarte Brust drückten, kusste ihr Haar innig und sagte mit suss verhaucher Stimme: “Willst du die Meiner werden?” “Ja, ewig dein” lispelte kaum vernehmlich im holden Schauer erbebend und jah’ errotend Sofie. . Fortsetzung folgt. (Smothers a yawn.)

Lena.—Well then?

(Erna not to be distracted from her leisurely turning of the pages. She studies the illustrations. The sunshine gradually fades, and then the walls take on a still more gloomy aspect.)

Lena.—Why don’t you read on?

(Erna only slams the book shut and skips down from the window platform into the room.) (Lena, startled, sits upright.)

Erna.—Forgive me! You didn’t used to be so easily frightened.

Lena (Softly)—You did startle me. Why did you stop? What time is it?

Erna (Shivering and wrapping herself closely into her crocheted plaid).—Pretty close to seven. What makes you so excitable tonight, Lena? (She puts her hand on Lena’s forehead.)

Lena (Still more agitated)—I am not so excitable. But I hear you turn the pages, I pateiently wait for you to find the next sentence, and—bang! You know how I love your contralto. Your voice sounds like music. I am sorry that you never read to me in your native tongue.

Erna.—Hm, Gotteswillen! My native tongue? Listen, here, Lena. You know very well that I am German by birth as well as by preference. It is not my fault that we seldom talk German here since my mother died. From the time my father got his honorable discharge he never talked German except when his former colleagues in the service called on him. When they quit coming, he gave up German altogether. Poor man! Since then my native language has grown pretty rusty. But German I am, and what’s more, Lena, I am proud of it. I can talk your language to you, since you cannot talk mine, or don’t want to—but I shan’t read it to you. I’d sooner do—I don’t know what!

Lena.—But Ernie, why this explosion! I only beg you to read on—in German.

Erna.—I can’t see to read any more—it’s too dark.

Lena (Sadly).—Can’t see. (Sighs.) It’s too dark.

Erna (After slight pause, looking at the table)—You ordered supper for three? I wonder if you really thought that Rudolph would honor his sisters so far as to sup with them this evening? I’m thinking he’d rather spend his evening with some pretty waitress in the servants’ hall. (With a meaningful smile.) Or was it some one else you had in mind, dearie?

Lena (Nervously).—Don’t call me dearie. And don’t call me your little one either. It should be the other way. I ought to pet you—I am the older.

Erna (Knowing Lena cannot see her, speaking with evident scorn).—That’s true. Moreover you are the mistress of Harshaw, the legitimate heiress of Pleisse.

Lena (Feeling the sarcasm).—Indeed, Erna, you are much nicer when you are reading. I am sure you must realize my pitiful state. Day by day I become unhappier. Oh, so unhappy! (With a corner of her handkerchief she wipes her eyes under her green glasses. Evidently they are very tender.) But I must not weep. Tears are poison to my eyes. You know that. (With a new tide of self pity.) And you call me the Mistress of Harshaw! (She rises from the divan and feels her way in Erna’s direction. Lifting her glasses a little she sees Erna leaning against the table with her hands behind her back. Approaching, she throws her arms about Erna’s neck.) I want love—a little love—or at least sympathy, Erna!

(Erna does not respond. Lena taker her glasses off.) When I take my glasses off this way in the twilight, I can hardly see the portraits on the wall, just barely distinguish them. And you, too, Erna (Peering into her face.) I see your pretty mouth spoiled by a very unbecoming pout of scorn. I know I am an awful cross to you, and I can appreciate what a tragic existence you drag out with me here at our solitary castle. And on top of it all the trouble with Rudolph.

Erna (Warmly).—Trouble! The lad will soon be himself again. Perhaps even before Christmas he will be sent back to his regiment, Or at any rate transferred to another. You call that a misfortune, I suppose. I’d call it luck. But we, we must stay here the year around. If we could only go to Pilsen for the winter, or even to Sopote! It would be to your advantage, too. You’d have your oculist at hand all the time, while here . . .

Lena.—My eyes, Erna? The longer I live the surer I am that my eyes are gone. . forever. (In a wave of despair.) My heart—something I inherited of my mother’s heart has ruined my eyes.

Erna.—That’s sentimental nonsense! In fact, Harshaw is steeped in sentiment. I have tried my best to stand it, but the cursed old country seat will get me yet. I’ll soon be walking around here like a specter.

Lena (To herself).—Specter indeed! (To Erna.) It’s easy to say Pilsen or Sopote, but you know that the present income from the estate is not equal to such extravagance. We have a hard enough time to make both ends meet right here where our living costs us nothing.

Erna (Stopping her ears).—Please, please, Lena! I know that refrain by heart. (Sarcastically.) The estate is yours because it belonged to your mother, a home-loving widow of the country gentleman, lord Plichtow,—until she fell in love with the handsome cavalier of Pleisse.

Lena (Unwontedly violent) —Erna, you leave my mother alone; I am not saying anything about yours!

Erna.—Mein Gott! How can you! Tu dir keine Gewalt an! My mother was a daughter of the regiment, a real baroness. Through the influence of my grandfather it was that daddy became a staff officer. My mother had nothing to do with all the debts.

Lena.—My God, Erna! It never occurred to me to judge our father in thought even, nor your mother, either. Even when she became my step-mother—just a moment, Erna—I respected her and loved her as if I had been her own child; although, like many another child to whom mother is very dear, I seldom saw her (Suddenly the sun comes out from behind a cloud for the last time before setting.) Oh, my eyes! Erna!

(In an agony of physical pain, she flings herself into Erna’s arms, and hides her face in Erna’s breast.)

Erna (With a pout, forcing herself to pat her hair).—Little one! (After a pause.) Still we have not heard who is to have supper with us.

Lena (Recalling from Erna, calmly and positively).—Only to be invited to have supper, Erna. You know very well who. You read me his letter yourself. He is coming here directly from the station after a hard journey. And he is just out of the military hospital.

Erna.—If he is tired, perhaps he’s more likely. (Calls into the kitchen.) Bara!

Bara (Behind scene).—In a moment, Miss!

Lena.—We must invite him, there’s no other course.

(Erna rings the hand bell. Bara comes in quickly.)

Bara.—Your pleasure, my lady? Annie ran out and I have had my hands full.

Lena.—When Mr. Burris arrives from the station, please tell him that I wish to see him at once.

Erna.—Listen, Bara. Are the administrator’s apartments quite ready?

Bara.—Yes, yes, my lady. His rooms are clean and warm, and all fixed up like a little heaven. You can depend on me. Anything else, my lady?

Erna.—That is all. Please bring the light.

Bara—At once. That is, if Annie . . (Goes out.)

Erna.—I can’t understand why his supper cannot be sent to his rooms.

Lena.—Don’t be cruel, Erna. Can’t you realize what he’s been through? He is coming home after a hard campaign in Bosnia. He’s been severely wounded.

Erna.—But as he is only our administrator, it is not for us to make advances.

Lena.—And this from the daughter of a colonel, the hero of bloody battles—this about an army officer!

Erna.—A reservist.

Lena.—Yes, Mr. Burris went to Bosnia as an officer of the reserves, but one who took part in some important encounters, and who was seriously wounded in battle.

Erna.—That you should talk like that, a daughter of a captain of the cavalry!

(Bara brings a lamp and places it on the side board.)

Lena (Shading her eyes).—Light the table lamp, too, Bara.

Erna.—Of course, he can’t help it that he was wounded. But he lay idle for half a year in a military hospital, and now, although the expedition is still in progress, he is coming home.

Lena.—Fortunately for us, Erna.

Erna (To herself).—Another winter! What a life!

Bara.—That man, my lady! He ought to bring some luck back with him, seeing that he carried it all away. Your father, the baron, undoubtedly caught his death in taking him to the station in that awful weather! And my Tony!—Him he hauled away, and now I can’t see that he is bringing him back. (Weeps.)

Erna (Half audible sarcasm).—What a pity. We might have had him for supper here, too.

Lena.—Don’t cry, Bara. He died a hero.

Bara.—Ah, my lady, how else would he die. He was my little grandson, my little soldier! Of all the men that went from this estate, he is the only one that is never coming back. (Drying her tears with a corner of her apron) And yet our dear administrator promised to look after him for me, and he had him enlisted in his own division.

(The noise of an approaching carriage is heard grinding to a stop on the gravel driveway outside.)

Bara.—Here he is! (She dabs at her eyes with her apron and goes out.)

Lena (Much agitated).—Erna, I beg you . . .

Erna (Scornfully)—You have begged enough; please don’t make yourself ridiculous.

Lena (Vainly trying to master her emotions).—Listen!—Erna, you said something today . . you referred to . . what did you mean by saying you would become a specter?

Erna.—A spook?

Lena.—What did you mean?

Erna.—Wouldn’t I make a dandy “woman in white?”

Lena.—That isn’t it. You said it as if you meant, “who is it that already haunts this house?”

Erna.—You silly, look here. What’s happening to you,—you are all a-tremble.

(Lena jerks off her glasses and flings them on the piano.)

Erna (More gently).—Forgive me—I did not mean . . . (resuming her caustic manner.) I always stand by what I say, and what I say I mean. I don’t mince matters. I speak right from the shoulder. I tell you frankly that green glasses make you look hideous. When you take them off you begin to look like an angel. (Insincere flattery.) Now you are a very kissable angel, Ishould say. You surely decked yourself out today. One might say that you were expecting, not your business administrator, but a veritable heir to your estate come to ask for your hand.

Lena.—You are cruel, Erna—cruel!

(The altercation is ended by the sound of a quick step on the walk, and a clang of metal.)

Bara (Outside, at first barely audible).—. . Expected a letter. Oh, sir, why did my grandchild—mine—why was mine the only one of allthe youngmen . .

Burris (Outside)—God’s will be done, my dear woman. Yours alone? Why, there are thousands that will never come back.

(Burris enters. Hes a well set up man in the uniform of a first lieutenant. His belt and hat identify him with the field division of infantry. On his breast he wears a gold medal for distinguished service before the enemy. He is pale and worn—evidently just out of a hospital—but just now he is rather particular to make a dignified appearance as befits his rank. His manner is somewhat overdrawn, but not at all offensive. He has a well developed moustache, neatly waxed and turned up according to the latest style. A beard to match. In general he has the effect of a martial, soldierly man. There is just a faint suspicion of the reserve regiment about him. He claps his heels together and salutes impressively. He speaks in a strong voice.)

Burris.—Gracious ladies, I come out of military service into the presence of my most esteemed commandants, to ask that they accept into their most worthy civil service a poor military invalid.

(His appearance seems to make a good impression on Erna. Her proud and scornful bearing gives way to studied affability.)

(Lena goes to meet him, but in her excitement she is less sure of her directions than ordinarily.)

Lena (Holding out hand).—My dear Mr. Burris, you are most welcome. The estate has been waiting for you as its only hope of salvation. Plowing season is at its height and is in urgent need of supervision. Your services are indispensable.

Burris (Lifting cap and kissing her hand).—I noticed that from the train, as far as I could make out by twilight. Most of the fields looked more as if plowing had just barely begun.

Lena (By way of rebuke to herself).—Just think of that,—talking business before the door is closed behind you! What must you think of us? Excuse our rudeness. We never thought to inquire how you stood the trip, Mr. administrator.

Burris.—I began the journey feeling like an invalid, and I finish it . . Well, the nearer the train carried me to Harshaw the fitter I felt. Miss Lena, you can easily understand how it is, seeing it is your native nest, too. Miss Erna would find it more difficult to sympathize with us.

(Erna motions him to a chair. He sits. A short silence.)

Burris (Suddenly rising).—I beg your pardon, dear ladies . . .permit me . . While I was in Bosnia . . I heard it . . Permit me to express my heart-felt sympathy in the death of your father, the colonel, who has always been a father to me also. (His voice breaks for a moment.) My sympathy is a little tardy, to be sure, but it is most sincere, as deeply felt even now as it was when I received the communication on the battlefield. It followed me from place to place until it overtook me at Dubow. I meant to answer at once, I intended to write that very evening. But by evening writing for me was out of the question, as they had me on a transport bound for the hospital.

Erna.—Please be seated, Mr. Burris.

Lena.—We were very sorry for you, although we did not hear of your misfortune until you were almost recovered.

Burris (With a sigh).—It was a hard pull, but thank God I am now as well as ever.

Erna (Pointedly).—Some of us even cried a little, even though it hurt our eyes to do so.


Erna.—You needn’t be ashamed of your feelings, dearie, seeing that you had grown up with Mr. Burris here at Harshaw.

Burris.—That is true, Miss Erna; we did grow up together from childhood. But I must remind you that in all those years we played together I never presumed upon our friendship. Not even my mother, however motherly her feeling for you might have been, ever allowed herself to forget that you belonged to a superior class. (After a short pause, he continues.) Well, then, I believe I have sufficiently introduced myself, and properly paid my respects to my fair employers. With their permission I shall withdraw to where I belong. (To Lena.) May I make so bold, before I go, to ask one simple question?

Lena.—Please ask it.

Burris.—I mean . . . forgive me, gracious ladies, but I should like to know from the beginning just what to expect. You see one hears almost anything around here. What would become of me if Harshaw should be sold out one of the days?

Lena (With energy)—Never! Who on earth could have given you that suspicion?

Burris.—Last night at the casino at Sopot, I heard . . .

Lena.—Such nonsense! As surely as I inherited this beautiful place from my sainted mother, so surely it shall never pass into alien hands. You have my word on it, Mr. Karl.

(She extends her hand with a pitiful lack of sense of direction. She has tried heroically to conceal from Burris her approaching blindness, but her vague movements give her away.)

Burris (Catching her hand with animation).—Gracious lady, this is the best news I have heard yet! Now that this burden is off my heart I may take my leave.

(Lena starts, but Erna is quicker.)

Erna (With a gesture of authority).—This evening you shall take supper with us, Mr. Burris.

Lena (Disappointed).—Please do us the honor, Mr. Karl.

Burris (Moved).—Lady,—gracious ladies . . (He recovers his poise and in the tone of a gallant.) The honor is all on my side.

Erna (Indicating place at head of the table).—If you please, please, Sir.

(Burris takes off his sword with an air of studied elegance. By accident he lets it drop. Stooping to pick it up, he catches his breath in a spasm of pain, and his hand goes to his side. Not until he has knelt by supporting himself on his chair, does he succeed in recovering his sword.)

Erna (As if to help him).—Did it hurt?

Burris.—Just a tiny bit.

Lena.—If you do not feel quite well, Mr. Burris . . .

Burris (Vehemenily).—It is nothing at all, my lady. I am so entirely well that if the weather permits tomorrow I shall make the entire rounds of the estate. My wound is entirely healed. In fact, the surgeons in the hospital hurt me more than the enemy. They took their time about letting me out.

(Rudolph enters. He is a young, distinguished looking cavalry officer in the reserve corps. His uniform is somewhat worn, but still elegant. He has no sword. He uses a monocle, he carries a riding whip, and smokes a cigarette. Before entering, he looks through the door.)

Rudolph.—Das war doch ein Infanteriesabel! (Enters quickly) Na, irren kann man sich doch in dem Falle nicht! (Steps up to Burris.) Was seh’ich? Is that you, Burris? Verdienstkreuz! (He steps back and salutes long and impressively.)

Burris (Bowing).—My lord baron.

Rudolph.—Den Stern und das Militarverdienstkreuz dazu? And I have to rot here! My father’s administrator goes away to the war, a reserve, and returns with a cross for bravery. Meanwhile I monkey around here taking care of his work horses. Das ist doch bitter!

Burris.—I assure you, lord baron . . .

Rudolph.—Was fur Faxen zwischen Kamaraden! (Shakes his hand.) From this day let there be nothing between us but, “Du und du.” (Bitterly.) A lieutenant of the reserves with a cross for distinguished service outweighs an active lieutenant of the dragoons, while he remains on the waiting list. It’s enough to make a man shoot himself. (He coughs.)

Erna (Interested).—What? Is that really a cross for bravery? And here I, a soldier’s daughter, never even noticed. Permit, Mr. Lieutenant. (Very close to him, she studies the cross on his his breast.) Congratulations, Lieutenant.

Lena (Who has been suffering in silence by herself)—I, too, wish you joy, Mr. Karl.

Burris.—They hung it on me at Pilsen. I am not saying that I am ashamed of it, and I frankly admit that as a reminder of Bosnia it pleases me better than this one. (He indicates his side.) But when I think of the terrible struggle they put up to prevent my ever getting this piece of gold! It can never begin to repay the bloodshed—mine as well as that of one half of our regiment that fell there.

Rudolph.—But where was this?

Burris.—In a certain man-made trap where so many of our own dear boys perished.

Erna.—Time enough for all that after supper, gentlemen. Please take your places. (At kitchen door.) Bara, one more place, please. Rudy will do us the honor tonight. The first time this year, brother. (She sits. Lena does not see where to go.)

Burris (Noticing, and with ostentatious matter of factness offers her his arm).—Your servant, my lady. (His intended kindness in not noticing her condition is spoiled. She does not see his offered arm. He takes her hand and places it on his arm.)

Rudolph.—Is it understood that you are to join the active forces?

(For the first time Erna betrays a personal interest.)

Burris.—It never even occurred to me in my dreams, baron.

(Bara brings on the first course.)

Rudolph.—May I suggest that we chuck the baron and lord stuff under the table? At least while you are wearing your uniform. We of the cavalry are somewhat hard-bitted, but we know how to treat a real soldier.

Erna.—If you please, sir. (Passes him his plate.)

Burris.—As you will. I shall try to bear up under it for the rest of the day. But I want you to know that I am looking forward to my humble business outfit. Early in the morning I shall discard these trappings, put on my managerial jacket, and off to the fields! I foresee that it will be a tough job. Last year we had five spans of horses, and now the cavalry has left us only three.

Lena (With a sigh)—So you have learned that already?

Burris.—God forbid that I should presume to reflect upon your highness. I can imagine the need of selling . . . the expenses that followed the death of the old master, which needs called for drawing on our live capital.

Rudolph (Unpleasantly touched).—Let’s forget it for tonight. Tomorrow we get three spans of military remounts as indemnity.

Burris.—That’s a dear compensation. It would take six pairs of their superannuated nags to pay for two of ours. It takes a real horse to budge a plow in this year’s soil. They may not relish our sour hay, either.

Erna.—You’ll get me peeved, gentlemen, if you don’t quit talking business. Rudy, you know that Mr. Burris can put it all over you in matters of farming. Besides, I don’t think you can talk much about matters here without encroaching on Lena’s preserves.

Lena.—Where did this sudden delicacy spring from?

(She tries to ward Rudolph’s cigarette smoke from her eyes.)

(There is a slight pause. Rudolph finishes his cigarette and regards the smouldering stump with a cloudy forehead. After swallowing a few spoonfuls of soup, he puts the spoon down and does not eat more.) (Bara comes in with the second course.)

Erna.—Bara, leave the kitchen door open, lest we freeze in the dining room of Harshaw—a venerable castle, but a trifle holy.

Burris.—Begging your pardon, Miss, Harshaw is as snug as a cage.

Erna.—My sentiments exactly, but as far as cold is concerned I’d as soon live in a hen coop.

Lena.—How you talk, Erna! Don’t forget that we are dining with real officers.

Erna.—Why be sensitive! It’s the truth, and I fear me, the eternal truth. Harshaw is a hen coop, and we two poor hens will perch here for the remainder of our lives. As for the officers, at least one of them is on the verge of clapping his wings and flying off. He is dying to turn his back on Harshaw.

Rudolph.—That’s me!

Erna.—And the other is aching to moult his uniform.

Burris (Joyfully)—Your gracious pardon, but I am no longer a soldier. I am wearing my uniform two or three hours overtime, but I am joyfully anticipating my release. Tomorrow I shall spread myself all over the farm, I shall feel my beloved soil under my feet, and I shall put my hands on the machinery. I don’t need to say any more. My precious Harshaw. From the bottom of my heart I rejoice that it is mine once more. (Softly.) Why, I was born here!

(Lena gratefully extends her hand across table blindly. He seizes it and kisses it.)

Erna.—And now, lieutenant, you may tell us about the glorious deed that won you this enviable distinction on your bosom.

Rudolph.—Ja, wie, ist gekommen?

Burris.—It was last August a few days after a disastrous battle. We were hastily falling back on Zsparin towards Dubow. The Arnauts—the Turks were right after us.

Rudolph.—I’ll wager you didn’t relish it then. Today it’s different, Gott sei Dank!

Burris.—With my division I was on advance guard. Our orders were to discover and make safe a side approach to Tuzle. A Bosnian, who was thoroughly acquainted with the country, acted as our guide. But hardly had we advanced ten kilometers into the wilderness, before we realized that we were trapped. We found ourselves in a sort of basin scarcely big enough to hold all our men. Our captain, not suspecting trickery at once, ordered a halt. We gladly obeyed his orders as we sorely needed rest. But just as we had stacked our pyramids . . .

Lena.—What are pyramids?

Erna (Rejoicing in superior knowledge).—Guns stood up this way, see?

Burris.—No sooner had our men seated themselves on the boulders that covered the ground, than we heard a terrible voice as if the angel Gabriel himself came down from heaven to sound ourdoom. “Duro!” shouted a voice from above us. “Stevo,” answered some one below, and before we could recover our wits, we saw our honorable guide scrambling up the side of the cliff.

(Bara comes in from the kitchen and stands listening at the door behind Burris.)

Rudolph.—Der Verrather!

Burris.—He got a bullet and lay hanging across the path. At that instant there was a rattle of musketry from above and not one seemed to miss its goal. We guarded ourselves the best we could; we could easily hide from one another as we lay flat on the ground behind the rocks, but the rebels above us found us an easy mark. They kept picking us off like birds at a shooting match.

Rudolph.—And what about a command, “Auf und forwarts, hurra?

Burris.—It was given, but in vain. The division was completely demoralized. And what good would it have done to try to advance against such a steep wall? Our Tony was lying about twenty paces from me, and suddenly he shrieks, “They’ve got me, too!” Thereupon he begins to wail like a child, then he squeals pitifully, and finally he completely collapses with an unconscious moan.

Bara (Still at door).—My poor darling!

Burris.—All at once Tony speaks once more. With a voice of the dying, he says: “Dear sir, for God’s sake I ask you—take it upon your conscience if you ever get back to Harshaw—Nancy’s child is my child.”

Bara.—Jesu Maria! This cannot be!

Burris.— “Tell my grandmother,” he says, “that anything coming to me for past services on the farm belongs to Nancy and her baby.”

Bara.—And this to his own grandmother!

Burris.—With that word Tony died. But he had time to tell me also that he wished me to beg Nancy’s forgiveness for him, and to say that if it had not been for her grandmother, things would have been different between them.

Bara.—And he had no word of farewell for his grandmother!

Lena.—Poor Bara, don’t cry.

Burris.—Yes, he muttered something about you, but what it was I could not make out. I am sure that he thought of you.

(Bara threatens some unknown distance with clenched fist, then wrings her hands despairingly, and covering her face with her apron goes into the kitchen.)

Lena.—Poor thing.

Rudolph (Impatient at the interruption).—Und was weiter?

Burris.—All at once the rebel guns went silent. The captain understood what it meant; the rebels were attempting to encompass us, get at us from the rear also, in order to leave not one man of us alive. He rose to give the command, but as he opened his mouth to shour, “Freiwillige!”, his cap flew off, he stiffened on his legs, and catching his head in his hands, he fell on his face. He was dead—never so much as stirred. He got the first bullet fired from the rear. We were surrounded. At that I lost all self control. Some unknown power seized me by the collar, yanked me out of my covert, and thrust me forward. In a voice more terrible than I ever hope to command again, I roared: “Sopotians, forward!” You should have seen your fellow townsmen! Half of them fell before they half rose to their feet, but nothing could stop us now. We had only to make a fifty yard dash up to their invested stronghold. It was their last chance to sprinkle us with their lead. The slope we scaled was not so long as it seemed from below. To me, at least, it seemed as if I had been carried up there on winged sandals. Before I knew it, I was kneeling on their ramparts, the first one of them all. Behind the breastwork dangled the tassel of a green turban, the only one among a lot of fezzes. I thought I was swinging my sabre with all my might, but it felt as if I had hit a pillow with a stick. Before my blow fell, however, I beheld a dark skinned face rise like a kettle from behind the rock, I saw the gleam of white teeth, and I felt a dart of pain in my ribs. I dropped my sword and fell. As I hurtled down the slope, I caught at something to break my fall. What was it? In my semi-conscious state, I could not tell. Holding tight, I collapsed at the foot of the ledge. Before I went under completely, I heard the fire from our battery, and then I knew no more. (After an impressive pause.)

They picked me up for dead, but before they could move me they had to remove my would be murderer. He was dead as a door nail. Across my body he lay, strangled with my own hands —no doubt of it, I came to as they were prying my fingers off his throat. My sabre did not cut through his turban even.

(Erna sighs in relieved suspense. Lena shudders.)

Burris.—Both of us were lying stretched across a heap of slain victims of our attempt to storm the slope.

Four charges of our battery, and the enemy was routed. The general and his staff happened on the scene, just as the hospital corps found me. He stopped to stare at the green turban. It was Smail Beg Imam himself. He had remained in Bosnia with the Turk forces, and had gone over to the insurgents as the most daring of guerilla leaders against the armies of occupation. The brigadier himself congratulated me, and it was only when he offered me his hand that I realized I could not move. I also perceived that the side of my uniform was soaked with blood.

In remembrance of the occasion the captain presented me with the pistol of the Beg, out of which I had been shot. It is rather awkward as a firearm, but very valuable as a token. An old fashioned flintlock, richly inlaid with gold.

Rudolph (Eagerly).—Where is it? Das ist mein Fall. I am a connoisseur.

Burris.—I brought it with me. It is a sort of pistol-carbine—two or three times as heavy as our Austrian cavalry rifle.

Rudolph (With growing interest)—I should like to see it. I had a fine collection at Vienna, but had to sell.

Burris.—You shall see it. If you excuse me, I’ll be back in a minute.

Erna.—Mr. Burris, perhaps . . .

Burris.—The slightest wish of the baron is my law.

Rudolph (Relenting)—Aber Kamarad. Time enough tomorrow.

Burris.—At once. (Goes out.)

(Rudolph and Erna exchange mocking glances at the expenses of Lena, recognizing her more than friendly interest in Burris. In pantomime they go over the possibilities and the consequences of a match between the two. Erna steals up to Rudolph and whispers in his ear. Their silent exchange of ideas has not altogether eluded Lena.)

Lena (Sharply).—What did you say, Erna?

Erna.—Nothing, darling, only that Mr. Burris is a man who has few equals. To be sure he had to don a uniform to prove it to us. He may be a little heavy for it, but he has his imposing moments.

Rudolph.—Burris is a man . . a—a husband for one of you two maiden ladies.

Lena.—Rudolph, even sisters may be ladies.

Erna.—Why not?

Lena (Betraying more than she intends).—You, Erna! The daughter of a real baron married to an overseer on my estate!

Erna.—Everything is possible. If he should apply for active service . . .

Rudolph.—In such cases he would be captain Burris at once.

Erna.—I assure you, Lena, rather than to live here the rest of my life like a mummy pickled in vinegar, I should prefer to be Mrs. Burris. Of course, only in the event that he enter active service.

Rudolph.—Nota bene: providing they do not refuse him.

Erna.—In that case it’s all off. I have no dowry. That was squandered for me by my precious little brother. So Lena, don’t be afraid I shall steal your overseer.

Lena (Bitterly).—I take it all back, Rudolph—all sisters are not ladies.

(Erna rises quickly. Rudolph checks her.)

Rudolph.—Silence! He’s coming back.

Burris (With an Albanian pistol in his hands).—I’ve been slightly delayed. The thing had to be unpacked. I beg your pardon.

Rudolph.Ein Prachtstuck. (Studies it.) Albanian work, at least one hundred and fifty years old. Gold inlaid. Value simply beyond computation. What an ornament! A man can afford to sacrifice a rib for a thing like this.

(While still examining the gun, he suddenly pales and looks at Burris with an anxious face.)

Burris.—If it will give you any pleasure, I beg that you consider the antique as your own.

Rudolph.—A gift of such great value is possible only between cavaliers.

Erna.—Permit; a thing like that—we must see it too. (Takes the weapon from Rudolph.) How beautiful, and how heavy!

Rudolph.—Besides that, although it is valuable, and although it would serve as an ornament on the wall, I should not accept the pistol if you paid me to take it. (As they all come close to examine it in Erna’s hands.) On all arms of this kind there is usually here a cipher with the Caliph’s name under it; but on this one there is the name of Iblis, with a conjuring formula directly beneath it.

Erna (Offering it).—See how heavy, Lena.

Lena (Taking it). —To be sure.

Burris.—Iblis is the devil—Satan.

Rudolph.—The Moslem devil.

Lena.—And the formula?

Rudolph.—Pronounces death upon any one who possesses himself of it as a trophy.

(Lena is so startled that she drops the gun with a bang on the table. They all laugh, except Rudolph.)

Rudolph.—The Imperial collection at Vienna has one example of a weapon thus engraved. It dates back to the reign of a Savoyan prince. He took it as a trophy in one of his expeditions. Later he shot himself with it. From his time to this the cursed gun has been a favorite means of suicide in the family. The heirloom has almost become an orphan. (He takes gun and tries to cock it.)

Burris (With forced laugh).—I spoiled the devil’s charm when I captured it and stayed alive.

Rudolph.—By all the wiles of Iblis, the thing has a real lock.

Burris.—Permit me. . .

(Rudolph works a little longer, then gives up and hands it to Burris.)

Burris (Raising trigger with great effort).—If all the devils in . . I beg your pardon. (He holds gun with barrel to ceiling.)

Erna (Playfully jerking it out of his hand).—Now we shall see if Smail Beg was right. First we shall shoot our little one here. (Points at Lena.)

Lena (With terrified scream).—No, no, for God’s sake! Erna! (She hastily feels her way to Erna, and when she accidentally touches the barrel, she utters a hysterical cry.) Jesus!

(Rudolph and Erna laugh with ill natured abandon.)

Burris (To Erna).—Gracious lady, please.

Rudolph.—Keine Dummbheiten, Erna. Don’t you know that the devil’s curse threatens only the possessor?

Erna.—All right then! (She turns the gun on Burris, and pulls the trigger. It falls with such a resounding click that Erna herself is startled. Burris rises, and as the hammer falls, he catches at his side.)

Erna (Throwing away gun, and touching him solicitously).—I didn’t really hurt you, did I!

Lena.—Mr. Karl!

Burris (Dashed by Erna’s caressing touch).—Dear Lady, as long as it is not loaded, no one can discharge it.

Erna (Resuming her frivolous tone).—What then is the use of such a devil’s plaything? It ought to shoot of itself. But why did you catch at your side, Mr. Karl?

Burris (Confused).—Once in a while I still feel a sudden pang.

Erna (Very sweetly) —Mr. Karl, you are not well yet, and you can’t get to work tomorrow. If I had any voice in Harshaw I should not allow it for a minute.

Lena (Embarrassed)—For nothing in the world would I wish . . .

Erna.—What’s the matter, Lena?

Lena.—Nothing—I am a little nervous. I knew you were joking with the pistol, but I couldn’t help myself. I felt as if—Rudolph’s story started it—I was sure for a moment that the old piece had supernatural power.

Burris.—Who would be credulous enough to believe such fairy tales? Only the childish Oriental of the childlike Orient credits such charms and enchantments.

Rudolph.—Still, you dodged, I noticed, as Erna fired.

Burris.—A purely reflex movement. The wounded carry for a long time a certain sensitiveness in the region of the wound. Besides, I am afraid I am somewhat shaken up by the trip.

Rudolph.—Nevertheless, these are not things to joke about, comrade.

Burris (Throwing off his increasing lassitude, and with forced gayety, and tone of renewed humility). Gracious ladies, lord baron—I assure you most respectfully that I am entirely recovered and quite capable of immediate service. When I have had a good night’s rest in my old bed on the other side, I shall feel as good as new. I shall exchange this imperial coat for my overseer’s jacket, and plunge in with a will. There is nothing on earth I should rather have come to me now than this opportunity of taking up my work on this estate, where my ancestors have lived and worked faithfully and respectfully generation after generation for time immemorial.

Lena (Warmly).—No one will even doubt that, Mr. Karl. There is nothing to worry about now except that it is . . . What time is it anyway?

Rudolph (Glancing at watch).—Eleven.

Erna.—My Lord, how your war stories have made our time spin!

Burris (Heels together, then kissing their hands).—In that case, gracious ladies . . .

Rudolph.—I am off, too. Nothing more for me here.

Lena.—May you sleep soundly under our family roof again, Mr. Karl. Good-night.

(Burris once more kisses Lena’s hand and starts off.)

Erna.—Mr. Karl, please take with you your charmed shooter; something might happen to Lena, if you left it here. We don’t care to be the victims of the fate ordained for you.

(Burris returns and takes the pistol out of Erna’s hands. She holds it back with an air of coquetry. She looks straight into his eyes. Her unexpected favor sweeps Burris off his feet. Blushing, he bows low and then salutes her with a courtly sweep of the hand.)

Rudolph.—Gross Gott! (He goes out followed by Burris. At the door Burris turns and returns Erna’s steady eye.)

(When they have gone out, there is a short silence. Lena sinks into her couch in the darkened alcove and covers her eyes with her palms. Immediately, however, she rises again and puts out the table lamp. There is now only the small lamp on the buffet, and the moon outside.)

Lena.—Erna, are you here? I know you must be, but why don’t you answer? (Receiving no answer, she retires to her alcove.)

Erna (Suddenly in deep voice) Here I am. Want me to go?

Lena.—No, stay.

Erna.—That’s nice of you.

Lena.—And very cruel of you.

Erna.—No, I don’t mean to be cruel; I am only happy. My annual outburst.

Lena.—Your voice sounds gay. I can hear your happiness in it. I can hear you smiling.

Erna.—I don’t know,—yet. But why shouldn’t I be happier than usual? When you think that from one year’s end to another my eyes don’t rest on any face but yours, that I cannot step out of this house the year around—that on top of all this I have to sit and read your “over land and sea” romances with an unending salaam continued from night to night! Now that I get a glimpse of a new—I don’t mean new, but unaccustomed face, you begin to wonder that my voice expresses a little more interest in life.

Lena.—When Mr. Burris left here in February for the Bosnian front you looked at him with a contemptuous sneer. Oh, Lord, how do you say it in your horrid military jargon?—Dampfnudel in Kommismontur—Only a half an hour ago you were saying something entirely different. It took a uniform to demonstrate to you what a man he really is. Does he look so much. . . better than he did . . . when he went away?

Erna.—Oh, so much! A uniform puts the figure into a man. Of your administrator it has made a gentleman whom it would be a pity to waste on menial service here. He must be a captain, as brother suggested a while ago.

Lena.—Never that! You heard him, how happy he seemed to return to the plow. He could hardly wait till tomorrow to begin his work of supervising the hands.

Erna.—The plow! Pshaw! I would never fear such a rival.


Erna.—That’s my name.

Lena.—You, the daughter of a baroness born.

Erna.—Lord! My grandfather was made a nobleman after Schleswig-Holstein in 1864, and with him died the noble race on the spear side of the family.

Lena.—You, a German!

Erna.—I am well on the way to forgetting German in the knightly nest of the Plichts of Plicht manor, the old outlaw castle in our Bohemian woods. Besides, the Army has made of many a Czech a good German, and a real man besides. As to the rest—. I’ll tell you something, Lena. What I have said so far is, of course, in jest. But seriously, I am going to marry Karl Burris, come what may. I’ll marry him even on the gamble that he is to remain in your employ. I shall not eat of your bread any longer on your gift. I am telling you this in advance so that you might be prepared to give your consent when he asks you for it. So a sweet good night, little one. Sleep well.

(Lena would speak, but Erna stops her mouth with a kiss, takes the lamp and goes out. The scene is dark. Lena is barely distinguishable in her cozy corner. The brilliant moon shines through the bay window whenever it comes out from behind the clouds, which a strong wind chases across the sky. Lena finally appears in the stream of light. She feels along the table, then stops and sobs pitifully. She succeeds in finding the kitchen door, opens it, and stands in the flood of light from Bara’s lamp. Through the open door Bara is seen sitting with her elbows on the table and her face in her hands. For a moment Lena stands in the light, shielding her eyes with her hand. Finally she sobs.)

Lena (Brokenly).—Bara, Bara!


Scene: Same as Act I, only slightly re-arranged as to furniture. It ts almost a year after the close of the first act. Erna is now the wife of Burris. It is late afternoon on July 17. At the back may be seen a threatening black cloud, still low in the west. The atmosphere is that of an approaching summer storm. From the court comes the noise of the harvest rush.

As the curtain rises Lena is seated in her nook. Bara is putting things to rights. Voices of the men are heard from without.

The voice of the head steward: “John, how much longer will you make me shout at you? Change those horses at once, and don’t give them more than one measure of oats. Now be back before I miss you again—and don’t drive the poor colts to death. Be human!”

John’s voice.—“No hurry, sir. Last night it looked exactly like this and it went round. And the day before too, and it cleared up before sunset . . . Gee, there! Hell and murder! Damn that bay!”

The clanging of chains and harness, gradually fading in the distance.

Steward’s voice—“The wheat from the uplands must be in today rain or shine. All the devils in hell would be in it if we couldn’t do that much with six teams. Jack, George! Hump yourselves everybody. You are so all-fired slow!”

Bara.—Did you hear that, my lady? How he opened his mouth and made the air blue?


Bara.—Who else but that Jack of mine. His language rose to high heaven.

Lena.—What’s the matter with your Jack?

Bara.—Hm! The rascal thinks he should be promoted to second steward. He says that the present one is getting old and will soon be sent to tend the sheep, and that he, Jack, will be put in his place.

Lena.—And you, as his grandmother, would like to speak a good word for him?

Bara.—Most humbly I beg, my lady—I should not say a word if he really did not need it so much—for her sake.

Lena.—Whose sake? Speak plainly.

Bara (Speaking rapidly, half crying).—Please my lady, but Jack is so headstrong, and he is planning to marry, to bring into the family that hussy and her baby, Nancy, if I may with your kind permission speak out with a free tongue!

Lena.—What have I to do with your plots and intrigues. Let Jack marry where he pleases.

Bara (Busy again).—But the disgrace of any of its retainers reflects on the noble family. Nancy has a son by his late brother, Tony, and Jack would now bring her to me as a respectable bride.

Lena.—Oh, Bara, what do you bother me for?

Bara.—Your ladyship, if he did not get this job he is after, her father would not let her go to him in spite of the fact that he has too many mouths to feed.

Lena.—And that would settle the shame to the family?

Bara.—Settle it? But for thirty years the lad would not hear about a woman, and now he all at once falls for such an one! That is looked down upon even among the nobility, let alone among us common people.

Lena.—Bara, my head is bursting, please don’t torment me. I didn’t know you could be so mean. You know that it is all in the hands of our overseer, and I shan’t poke my nose into his business.

Bara.—He, gracious lady! He is the cause of the whole business. If he had said nothing about Tony’s escapade—who knows how much of it is really true? Nancy would not have got that three hundred dollars of mine, and Jack would never have thought of her for a wife. The overseer is here today and there tomorrow, and before he goes into active service for good with lady Erna . . .

Lena.—Bara, I believe you have one of your talking spells today. I can forgive you many things, but please don’t meddle with the affairs of your superiors.

Bara.—You are right, my lady. But I humbly beg to remind you that it cannot be a trifling matter even to them, or they would not keep shutting me up when I venture to open my mouth on the subject. I have lived through some trying experiences here at Harshaw. I would never have dreamed . . .

Lena—I know what you have suffered, but it is for that very reason that—you should know this—that there is something I cannot stand . . .

(They are interrupted by the entrance of a postal messenger. He is wearing the regulation costume of the country postal clerk. On his coat is pinned a military medal. Over his shoulder he carries a mail bag, and in his hands a large package inscribed “Modes”, and two letters bearing the official stamp.)

Bara.—What’s to do here, Mr. Postman?

Postman.—Well, well, good afternoon, Mrs. Housekeeper. I have here a package for the lady and two letters for her lord. Her ladyship has already seen it from her window.

(Enter Erna. She is clad in a very loose negligee. Her arms are bare to her elbows, her throat is open and her skin is flushed with the heat of the afternoon. She comes in hastily.)

Erna (To postman).—Give it here.

Postman.—To be sure, but only what belongs to her ladyship—this package. The Modiste loaded it on me down below the church in order to save the postage. You see it has a blind knot as if it were something forbidden.

Erna (As Bara takes the package).--And what about—those letters—don’t they belong to the house?

Postman.—They belong here, but they happen to be official papers for his lordship.

Erna.—Give them to me, and don’t waste time; I guess I am his wife.

Postman.—Even so, it would be a mistake to . . .

Erna (With authority).—Will you please hand them over?

Postman.—I know my postal regulations. An official communication like this cannot be turned over except for a receipt signed by the person addressed. I am sorry, but if my lord is not at home, I shall move on. I may find him somewhere yet. (Replaces letters into the mail pouch.) Besides, my lord himself instructed to deliver only into his hands anything addressed to him personally. Having served under him in the war, I know what insubordination means.

Erna.—Go and mind your business then! Dummes Luder!

Postman (Offended, drawing himself into a military pose).—Your ladyship, I am not your servant, not your retainer, I belong to the imperial family. So long as I am in this service, even my superior, the postmaster, must address me with respect. I kiss your hand, madam. (Exit.)

Erna (Running to window).—Steward!

(Bara goes out. The steward’s voice is heard from the court.)

Steward (Outside).—At your service, your ladyship.

Erna.—Where is your master?

Steward (Outside).—Which one?

Erna.—Which one? My husband, of course!

Steward (Outside)—To be sure, I beg your pardon. I humbly beg to inform her ladyship that master has ridden out to the oat fields to see that all hands left off on the oats and got at the wheat.

Erna.—Send to the fields at once and request that he come home right away, that I have sent for him (Leaves window and hurries to Bara). Bara, the scissors, quick. (Seeing that Bara is out, she begins to look for shears herself.)

Steward (Outside).—I say, George—Matt, don’t bale any of that green hay today; that would be worse for the mow than if it had got wet. There must be about thirteen bales of the stuff yet. (His voice sounds farther and farther away.) Matt . . . tell your boss, and see that he gets it straight.

Erna (Having failed to find scissors) —My God! (She tries to untie the package with her fingers and teeth, but fails. She rings the bell violently. No one answers it. Striding to the door, she jerks it open and shouts.) Bara! What the deuce have you done with my sewing basket? You . . . you . . . nitchtswurdige person.

Lena (Clasping her hands pleadingly).—Erna!

(Bara comes in, looks about vainly, then striking herself on the forehead dramatically, hurries into Erna’s chamber.)

Erna.—Lena, you poor little soul, I forgot all about you and your kind heart. Come here to me—come to your humble administratrix. (She leads Erna from the door to her couch.)

(Lena, after a show of resistance, lets Erna treat her as she will. She presses her palms to her temples.)

Lena.—What a head! Dear me!

Erna.—Oh, forgive. I shan’t yell any more. But when they bring a woman a gown, and she cannot untie the twine, nor break it, nor bite it in two, and when she cannot find her scissors, which she had a moment before . . .

Lena (Reviving)—A gown? For the casino this evening? Let me untie it for you. (She feels after the package, finds it, and without effort unties the string.) See there?

Erna.—Well, well! You are better at untying knots than I am. In this case it is because you are cool, seeing it is not your gown. (Takes it out and displays it.)

Bara (Returning with the work basket).—I was sure that I saw your ladyship in your room this morning sewing buttons on your gloves, and I guessed right that you must have left your basket there. But then, I am a nichtswurdige person just the same. (Sees the gown laid out.) My, my, what a beauty! It will make your ladyship look like an angel! Such sleeves, such trimmings!

Erna.—It is not half bad. Madame is only a seamstress in a country town, but her taste is worthy of Vienna. (Before mirror.) Aber um Christiwillen! That’s a pretty note! It’s just about fifteen inches too small round the waist.

Bara.—I beg your pardon, I am unworthy to address your ladyship thus, but permit me humbly to remind her that it is often so—If a woman marries in February, by September it is more than likely that she will need to enlarge her waist band. In this regard a baroness is on the same footing with the housemaid.

Erna.—You may go, housekeeper. If we want you, we shall ring. But be very sure you hear this time.

Bara.—I humbly pray, most gracious baroness, I prefer to have you call me plain Bara. Housekeeper! There was a time at Harshaw when to be called housekeeper was not like calling names, so to speak. Under the old born lady of Plecht, and under the old esteemed Mrs. Burris, the housekeeper did not have to look after the comfort of the whole creation. Today the housekeeper is the lady’s maid, the chamber maid, the nurse, the cook, and errand girl, all in one skin. I am expecting any day to be sent to milk the cow.

(Erna makes a gesture of command.)

Bara (Kissing her hand).—No harm, my lady. (She goes out.)

Erna (Spreading the costume out and examining it).—Ah, I I knew that my dressmaker was not famous for nothing. She allowed for a generous letting out. (She takes her shears eagerly and begins to loosen the folds.) Eine fresche Person, deise Bara! As to the rest of what she said, that is only another indication of my false position here, since I married Karl.

Lena.—But, Erna, please to recall that you did all in your power not to avoid this false position.

Erna.—No, I don’t want you to think I am sorry I married Burris. That part is all right, but you heard Bara—The old Mrs. Burris.” That is his mother. The young Mrs. Burris, that is I—I, your retainer.

Lena (In a bitter monotone).—How much longer can you stand to be my retainer? Your affairs, yours and your husband’s, are surely speeding to a most propitious end. Your husband is being sought by the postman with letters of the utmost importance. No doubt they are the final papers in the hypothecary loan on Harshaw which will advance your pet scheme, and fulfill your ancient dream of being an officer’s wife. With this loan there remains no further obstacle to Karl’s entering active service. Then Mrs. Burris, my retainer, will become Mrs. Captain Burris. There you have the whole thing in a nutshell.

Erna (Joyfully)—Lena! (She sits on the couch beside Lena and throws her arms around her. Lena struggles mildly.)

Lena.—And at Harshaw there will stay the old daughter of the house with the still older housekeeper, lady’s maid, chamber maid, milk maid, all under one skin.

Erna.—Don’t cry, little one, don’t cry! You know how it ruins you.

Lena.—I have forgotten how to cry long ago, dear Erna. But you have not yet learned that I cannot bear to have you call me little one. You can’t seem to get used to my misfortune, either. Not a day passes but you must refer to it in some feeling way.

Erna.—No, no, dear! I realize that I am good for nothing, but I hope I am not mean enough to hurt your feelings intentionally.—No matter what happened you wouldn’t go back on your promise, would you, Lena? It’s a sure thing, isn’t it?

Lena.—You know well enough that I could not back out now if I wanted to. It is not easy to change one’s mind before anotary. No, Erna, you need not be afraid of that. This is the irrevocable, good will tribute—or, if you prefer, penalty—or still better, ransom—of your future happiness. The sooner the better.

Erna (Starts from Lena with a glint of suspicion).—Ah, go on! (She changes her manner at once.) Anyway, you are the best, the noblest,—even though but a step-sister, you have a most generous heart toward me.

Lena (Slowly).—It is very probable that you are mistaken in my sisterly goodness and nobility. Perhaps, Erna . . . I am going to tell you something that no one on earth was to hear me say, and you least of all. . . Well, here I am, completely blind, and yet I can see as by daylight, the ugly, hypocritical expression on your face. Erna! I wanted to carry my secret with me into the dark night of my remaining days on earth. . . . No, wait—let me finish.—And yet I hate to offer you that triumph.

Erna.—For the love of God, what are you driving at? I never even dreamed . . .

Lena.—Yes, I loved Burris.

Erna.—Lord, Lena, what are you talking about?

Lena.—From the very beginning, from as long back as I can remember, when we played together as children. But that it might be really love I never suspected until about the time you came to live with us at Harshaw, and he came home from the University.

Erna.—Lena, listen . . .

Lena.—And when I saw how he responded to your flirtation, and flamed up under your pretenses . . .

Erna.—For me? At that time? I swear that you are telling me absolute news. I never had the slightest presentiment even.

Lena.—Of course not. How could you see a poor overseer’s son just at the time when you were developing such a promising affair with Count Blowitz. How could you have then permitted that a poor farmer volunteer should presume to lift his eyes to a real lady? Even in the way of the most respectful devotion. And he kept his love a secret from you as I have mine a secret from him.

Erna.—Surely I am the only woman on earth whose rival confesses to her that she loves her husband.

Lena (With more than her wonted vehemence).—Rival, Erna? We never were rivals for one minute, and we are not so now. Please, always remember that! (More calmly.) I never allowed myself the luxury of one word, when I could truthfully say that you were married under the blessing of these hands of mine. My own pillow, into which I shed so many silent tears, never heard my lips breathe his name. Never a look of mine betrayed to any one . . . least of all to him . . .

Erna.—Do you want me to tell him? Is that why you are confessing to me?

Lena.—No, not for that. I have already told you why. Your sneering attitude made me . . . your behavior towards me . . . I felt that you must know that I loved Burris with every particle of my soul. He was my first and only, because he was the only man on earth for me. And he never knew it. But you got him, not that you loved him, but because he burst upon you out of a clear sky in the glory of an officer’s uniform, and because there was none better than you might get.


Lena.—I don’t care to pass for nobler than I am, but neither must you think that I am jealous, or in the least bitter.

Erna.—I thank you for your beautiful frankness.

Lena (Not to be interrupted).—And so the sooner you come into your own the better for you. And for me. The sooner by my aid you can leave Harshaw, the better. You can go. I shall remain the sole specter at the castle; I shall haunt it without your assistance.

Erna (After a pause).—In one thing you are entirely mistaken, my dear little Lena. And since we are in the business of settling accounts, we should see to it that they are accurate.

(Burris’s voice from without.)

Burris (Outside).—Don’t stand idle, dear people. The rain is ready to pour. That wheat must get in. Where is Andy? Come here, son, take this horse; walk him around, but don’t unsaddle him. I am going right back.

Erna.—You accuse me of marrying Burris without love. You may be right. Perhaps I did not love him. But, Lena, if you could see how things are now. (She stands in the door as Burris appears, falling into his arms passionately, but at once draws back with a sudden reproach.) It’s a wonder you ever got here.

(Burris is now overflowing with health and spirits. He is clad in the working habit of the country gentleman of the 70's. High boots, with plain spurs, Austrian gaiters, gray sailor pantaloons, a Manchester jacket without vest. A silver watch clamped into his pants pocket. On his head sits an impossible remnant of a hunting cap. The wealthy moustache which we saw in the first act so meticulously waxed and curled upward, now droops in scattered uncouthness. His face is sunburnt, but his forehead is glistening white. His hair is wet with perspiration. His behavior, too, is changed. His humility before Erna has given way to a certain air of mastery. Only for a moment now does he ever allow her to shout at him. Towards Lena he is still respectful and even confidential).

Burris.—For God’s sake what has happened here? I was scared to death lest you had met with some accident. I drove the poor horse until it was bathed in foam.

Erna.—Nothing has happened, but something should be happening right now. This is the seventeenth of August, remember. We are invited to the annual celebration at the armory and later to a colonel’s reception. The retreat is at seven, it is now four, it takes an hour to drive to Sopote, and here you are not even shaved.

Burris (Dazed).—Is this the seventeenth?

Erna.—Surely. When you get into active service you shall have to keep a reminder of these days before your eyes all the while. Otherwise the Regiments befehl will take occasion to remind you.

Burris (Lightly).—That is being read to me every day now—afternoon today, as it happens. Isn’t it, my general? (Chucks her under the chin.) But I am afraid both the celebration and the reception will have to give way today. Tonight, instead of a military display, there will be an electric display. Sopote, the whole Pilsen district, perhaps the entire country may thrill to nature’s fire works. Just look there? (He points to the dark clouds now risen half way to the zenith.)

Erna.—You are mistaken. Not about the clouds, perhaps it will storm—But even if the retreat should need be given up, the colonel’s reception is sure to take place. You could not afford to turn up missing there if it should rain daggers. It would be to your eternal shame if you let it be reported in that company that Captain Burris, who in a rain of bullets won a gold cross for valor, was today scared off by a few drops on his carriage top.

Burris.—That is not the point. Be reasonable, Erna. There are still six loads of wheat waiting for the thresher, six other loads are on the way, and several more are still in shock. A thousand dollars may be washed off by the rain, if I don’t stay to superintend the job. Under these circumstances I am expected to take out a much needed pair of horses and run them to Sopote. I could not look my honest employer in the eye if I did such a thing. Harshaw is not my property, to risk it at my wife’s whim. Here is the lawful proprietor, to whom I must render an honest account.

(Lena, who was about to leave the room at Burris’ entrance, has been arrested against her will by the turn of the conversation. At his appeal she only shrugs her shoulders resignedly.)

Erna.—You see? Lena makes no objection. She realizes that our future is at stake. We must go; we can’t afford not to.

Burris (Speaking out of the window).—My dear man, you didn’t forget the canvases? In case of a sudden downpour, did you boss?

Steward (Outside).—Don’t worry, sir. They are ready to throw across the wagons at a moment’s notice.

Burris (To Erna).—You spoke, dear?

Erna.—I only wish to say that when you applied for active service you practically bound yourself to fulfill this obligation. You owe it to the regiment to whose commander your application was addressed. Your invitation is not “hoflichst eingeladen,” but “anbefehlen.” Just as if you were already in service. Wouldn’t it be fine, after having been married by a field chaplain, after having the colonel himself witness the ceremony, after attending all the official balls—and I saw no one of them all so well spoken of as you—For half a year now we have been driving to Sopote, never missing one anniversary at the casino; while here at Harshaw we have been entertaining military dignitaries . . .

Burris (Darkly).—I am not an active officer yet.

Erna (With force) —My God! How could I forget for one minute. (Triumphantly.) You may be one at this very moment. The postman was here just now with two very important letters. So important, indeed, that he could not leave them with me.

Burris.—He found me out in the field.

Erna.—What about it?

Burris (Evasively).—The hypothecary bank passed on the loan favorably. Sign here. This is something to the purpose, to be sure, but not all.

Erna (Anxiously).—And you speak of it in as detached a way as if you said today is Friday. It would almost seem that you are sorry that we are so near to our goal.

Burris.—I never had any doubt about the loan. Harshaw was not quite ruined under the old regime, and the moment the lawful heiress to the estate gave her written consent, the loan was certain.

Erna.—Oh, you darling!

Lena.—That was the last signature I could see to write.

Erna (Close to Burris).—Now that all this is off our minds, let us make good use of the little time remaining tous. I am not nearly ready myself, and you, my dear hubby, better make haste. Put on your very best. I prescribe the parade uniform. I want to see you looking as swell as you did on our wedding day, see (Kisses him.) That moustache of yours is more of a hindrance than a luxury when it comes to kissing.

Burris (Putting her away gently).—But I still cannot think we should go today. (Thunder in the distance.) Did you hear that?

Erna.—The more need we have to hurry. The storm is still far away. In half an hour we can be in town—long before the storm breaks, if it breaks at all.

Burris (Mystertously obstinate).—You will see that we finish by staying at home. (He walks about room with nervous strides.)

Erna.—You mean that seriously?

Burris (With a profound sigh).—I was never more serious—not even before Dubow.

Erna.—Karl Burris, I don’t understand you at all. You put me completely to sea. (She puts her arms about his neck. He repulses her rather rudely.)

Burris.—I mean just this: we do not drive to Sopote today. I mean this: we shall never drive to Sopote again. I mean once and for all that the military society of that place has ceased to exist for us from this time on.

Erna.—Have you taken leave of your senses? (Laughing wildly.) Lena, did you hear that? Your esteemed overseer has had a sun stroke. You say that we don’t go?

Burris (After an impressive pause).—I don’t, and you particularly not. (Pacing floor, finally stopping in front of Erna.) Today’s mail brought another letter. (He takes out of his pocket a folded sheet and offers it to Erna. She reads eagerly.) Be careful! That piece of paper contains such an antidote to all your dreams and aspirations that it might easily prove an overdose. You’d better pull yourself together pretty thoroughly before you read it.

Erna (Reading)—Vom K. U. K. Commando des Infanterie regiments Numero—(Turns page nervously and reads on.) {{lang|de|Was? . . . laut Superarbitratsbefundes derzeit ganzlich invalid . . .

Burris (Rubbing his hands together).—Yes, according to the findings of the medical corps, I am plainly an invalid.

Erna.— . . . nicht einmal zu Lokaldiensten geeignet . . .

Burris.—That’s it, I never wished for anything more ardently.

Erna.—Dir Invaliditat des Petenten ist bedingt . .

Burris—I know it by heart, for it is the most welcome announcement of my life. My invalidism is caused by a projectile lodged beneath my breast bone, snugly between the sixth and seventh ribs, and its removal is possible only through a serious operation, the result of which cannot be predicted, although its present position does not in any way endanger the life, nor seriously interfere with the health—“den relativen Gesundheitszustand des Petenten.” Thank God!

Erna (Angrily flinging the letter on the table).—So it’s still that rebel shot in your body, is it?

Burris.—It is. (Striking his right side.) Thanks to the Smail Beg, and to the surgeons at the military hospital at Dubow. Otherwise, I should have to go to war again. As a confirmed invalid, I shall not even have to go to training. (Thunder sounds closer.)

Erna (Vehemently reproachful).—But you said nothing about this when you boasted of your heroic deeds before Dubow, and that, Sir was . . . that was . . . fraud.

Burris (Shocked).—Fraud! My dear lady, no one ever asked me about this matter. Fraud? You are wrong. The question at that time was simply whether I was strong enough to undertake my duties here at Harshaw. It might have been called fraud, had I deceived anyone in regard to my fitness for my position. I hope that the rebel shot between my ribs has in no way impaired my usefulness here. (Laughing.) Neither the one nor the other of your esteemed ladyships can complain on that score.

Erna.Dazu noch diese Gemeinheit!

Burris.—I never felt better or stronger in my life.

Erna.—Invalid! Ganzlich! (She studies the letter.)

Burris.—And I should ask for no better fortune than that my present state of health continue to the end of my life.

Erna (Bursting into tears)—Was fur ein Ungluck!

Lena.—Erna, remember!

Burris.—On the contrary, my dear. You should bless your good luck and mine. (Approaching Lena, he takes her hand and and kisses it.) A new life shall come to Harshaw, dear Miss Lena, if you will permit me to call you by that intimate name again. There is no need now to place an additional mortgage on the old estate. This year has been so prosperous that we can pay off a considerable portion of our old indebtedness, and begin to look forward to a debt free future. (He leads Lena to Erna.) Erna herself will grow more reasonable; the sweet promise of motherhood will prepare for her a glorious reparation for her broken dreams of vain military honors.

Erna (Backing away from him).—Never! Our accounts are somewhat more complicated than all that, my confirmed invalid overseer!

Burris.—I can well stand even your abuse now. Just relieve your burdened heart of all its sudden bitterness. When you are holding in your arms a bouncing boy, you will realize the folly of what you say and feel now.

Erna.—Don’t come near me. Can’t you comprehend how I must loathe you? You knew all the time how your application would be received, and yet you made it, as far as you let me know, in good faith. Now you dare talk of forgiveness.

Burris (Trying to regain his cheerful manner).—I couldn’t say that I knew—rather say, expected, hoped, gambled on. After all, any man will do for his bride whatever her eyes ask him to do.

Erna.—That is the mean and cowardly element in your behavior, Sir! You have robbed me of the life I dreamed of all my days, and now I am doomed to drag out a miserable existence here at Harshaw, hateful Harshaw—now doubly hateful because I must stay here forever as a retainer to her ladyship, as a humble wife of my lord overseer, as “esteemed lady” of all these miserable servant folk.

Burris (Stung).—Very well! I fell in love with you, in spite of your weakness for the military life, because I regarded it as curable. And I still regard so, my dear Erna. I married you, a born lady, in order to administer this cure. Once before, this weakness of yours, humored by the late colonel, your father, has cost Harshaw dear.

Erna (Vehemently).—I shall not permit . . .

Burris.—My profoundest respect to the late colonel, but it was a never-to-be-forgotten day, wasn’t it, when the charming Captain Blowitz brought his squadron to the castle in honor of Lady Erna’s birthday! He had his bugles sound for the delectation of baroness Erna, to whom he presented the whole squadron as a token of esteem. Transfer orders carried Blowitz off to Halitz, and with him a goodly slice of the estate. The best section was sold, and the sale price just barely paid the expenses of the pompous birthday celebration.

Erna.—You still remember that! That still sticks in your crop! You are jealous and you are not ashamed to show it. Who would have looked for such spirit in a yearling volunteer! I assure you, Captain Blowitz is a cavalier in my estimation still, compared with you.

Burris.—I have no doubt. I never pretended to be more than a humble manager of a country estate. And on the other hand I want to impress upon you that I should never have dared to aspire to the hand of a lady from the manor had she not given me to understand . . .

Lena (Interested). —What?

Burris.—That my attentions would be more than welcome.

Erna.—You could not forbear to throw this into my face, could you? You owed it to me, didn’t you? I deeply regret now that I ever showed a sign of interest in you. If I only could have foreseen! If I could only have known how I should loathe when you opened my eyes. I repeat, I deeply regret! And before you, Lena, I testify that I am horribly ashamed of the whole sordid transaction! (Her voice breaks and she covers her face with her hands.)

Burris (Falling at her feet).—Erna, forgive, forgive! I realize what brutal things I have said, but it was my state of mind. I was for the moment off my guard. Your own emotion took me off my feet. I humbly plead, not for myself, but for our happiness, our future life together, which I never represented to myself as you have. There are cases of old soldiers with bullets in their bodies living useful lives—living to a hale and hearty four score years and ten . . .

Erna (After a moment’s struggle with herself).—Listen, Karl Burris, (She gives him her hand ) you are going to have an operation.

Burris—What? Erna, would you really wish that I let them open my chest again and tempt Fate?

Erna.—That would indeed be an act of heroism far more glorious than that of Dubow. On such a token of your love for me I could look with pride.

Burris.—My love for you might make me capable of anything. But for the sake of the little one—I cannot! I cannot bear the thought that . . . there is the risk . . . he might easily be born without a father.

Erna.—Such volubility! It seems you are really glad you are a cripple.

Burris (Striding the floor with gathering emotion).—Yes, you are right! I am glad! I am sincerely happy that Fate opposed my physical condition against this vain wish of yours. Our poor child may profit by it.

Erna.— Excuses are cheap!

Burris (Almost exploding).—It was sheer folly for me to dream that the blessed state of motherhood would conquer in you your one obsession—your inordinate thirst for military honors which has been stimulated in your system by reminiscenses of early childhood and youth.

Erna.—To your shamelessness you add impertinence! You don’t know the first principles of gentlemanly behavior, your gracious managership!

Burris (Stung to the quick).—I see—you thought you wanted me simply because I happened on you suddenly in a coat of that texture your eyes had looked upon since girlhood.

Erna.—I could not foresee then that you would prove so basely unworthy of that coat. You never talked about it so slightingly before.

Burris (Trying to control his feelings) I . . . perhaps I should have waited until you began to feel beneath your heart . . . But what’s the use of talking! In place of the serious and noble resolutions a mother makes in preparation for her crowning state, you plan, you scramble after the hectic life of military banquets and receptions! Your longing after the society of these men is so . . . so unregardful that . . . even your looking glass has failed to suggest to you the impropriety. . . . You seem to forget that your natural state carries with it certain obligations of decorum which every considerate mother wishes to observe.

Erna.—I am going to Sopote. I am going without you!

Burris.—You will not leave this place today, I can manage to prevent you some way . . .

Erna.—I have no doubt that you are quite capable of more boorishness. As luck would have it, I am not entirely helpless in your hands. (Rings the bell.) Bara! (The bell falls to the floor.)

(Until Bara appears, no one speaks.) (Lena rises as if to go, but cannot see her way. She stumbles on the bell, and Burris who has seemed paralyzed by Erna’s vehement outburst, or hypnotized by her masterful gesture, picks up the bell and places it back on the table.)

Bara (Entering).—At your service, gracious baroness.

Burris (Without looking up, in matter of fact tone).—My wife is not a baroness, Bara; remember that once and for all.

Lena.—(Anxiously) Mr. Karl! (Thunder is coming nearer.)

Erna (Rendered incoherent by this last indignity).—Bara please . . . run up and ask the baron . . . tell Rudolph to come here right away . . . that he must take me to Sopote, to the casino. . . (Bara quickly goes out.)

Burris (Pacing floor thunderingly, pausing before Erna now and then, unable to speak, finally clasping his hands dramatically in a plea to her as she stands with her back to the audience).—Erna, for the love of God see me plead with you for the last time . . .

Bara (Entering breathless)—My lady, the baron has just returned from hunting and will be here directly he . . .

Burris (Breaking in like a thunder clap).—You shall not stir astep! They shall not hitch the horses! I forbid . . .

Erna (Deliberately calm).—We shall go on foot then, but we shall go!

Lena.—Erna, have you lost your reason?

Erna (Flinging off her kimona and taking her evening gown).—Bara!

(Bara hastens to help her, but just as she has got the gown over Erna’s head, Burris loses control of himself, snatches the gown and tears it off in two or three strips. He wads it in his hands, dashes it to the floor and stamps upon tt. For one moment all are shocked dumb and motionless. Erna gazes with bulging eyes, and with her arms still raised in the position they were in when Bara lifted the gown over her head, she clenches her fists and throws herself on Burris with an insane screech.)

Erna (Striking him with her fists)—Du, du, Bohmischer.

Burris (Shouting).—Stop, you wretch or . . . (He lifts his arms threateningly but does not touch her.)

(Erna, with a heartrending scream catches at her waist and is about to fall. Burris catches her in his arms and eases her to the floor.)

Burris (Hopelessly)—Erna! (Before losing consciousness she struggles to free herself from his arms.)

Bara.—Christ in heaven have mercy!

(Lena utters an inarticulate wail, and makes a helpless movement of the utterly blind. Erna is groaning audibly.)

Burris.—Help, Bara! Water!

Bara.—My gracious baroness! My dear and only darling, wake up! (In a calm tone of experience in emergency.) We can’t do anything with her here. We must get her to her room, to her lounge. First to loosen the lacing . . .

Lena (Having found her way to the door).—Mary, some water, quick!

(Enter Rudolph and behind him a maid with a glass of water.)

Rudolph (Not entirely dressed)—Was ist? What’s happened here? It looks like murder!

Bara (At window).—Steward, steward! Hurry, get the nurse! Our lady has fainted! Be quick!

Rudolph (From Erna’s room).—But what has happened?

Erna (Unseen from her lounge, in weak voice).—Rudolph, du glaubst nicht, wie schamlos! (Her voice dies off.)

Burris (Coming in from Erna, at the window).—Steward, the cart out of the shed, quick, and hitch up the colts. To Sopote for the doctor . . . I’ll go myself!

Rudolph (Coming in).—If you have done anything brutal . . .

Burris (Furious, takes Rudolph by the arms and dashes him aside).—Look out, I am ina hurry! Out of my way!

Rudolph.—You will pay for this with your blood! You may expect my seconds in the morning.

(Enter the nurse, a small active person. She glides in like a shadow. She catches Rudolph’s hand, and before he can prevent, kisses it.)

Nurse.—I kiss your hand, baron. (Kissing Lena’s hand.) And yours my lady. (She glides into Erna’s room.) I fear, my precious people that we have something worse than bad here, if I may venture to say so. The gracious little lady must first of all into her little bed.

Burris (From the court).—The whip, the whip! Where is it? (Lightning.)

Steward (Outside).—God be with you, and with us, gracious sir!

(The rain begins to beat as the curtain descends. Then a deafening peal of thunder.)


Scene: The Administrator’s apartments. A massive, somewhat faded cabinet into which are crammed all manner of unnecessary odds and ends. There are all kinds of fishing tackle and hunting pieces—a gun, a pouch with muzzle-loading ammunition, a powder horn, etc. An iron folding bed with a bare mattress. On the wall is an old time table. Above it are arranged Burris’s trophies around the flint lock pistol, which forms an emphatic center. Directly beneath the pistol is his medal on a conspicuous scarlet cushion. A writing table of the old Frankish period. On it are spread surgical instruments, cotton, tape. Near the table is a camp cot, on which Burris is sitting. Near by is a chair with a wash bowl and towel. It is early morning of the day following the time of the preceding act. Cocks are crowing in the courtyard, and farther off also. Dr. Dustin is busy with Burris.

Dr. Dustin is an old man, rather old fashioned and homely in his speech and manner. He has just completed a bandage on Burris, and is winding up his tape.

Doctor.—No need to hang you head, Mr. Burris, you have no occasion for that. It might have been much worse, and with you worst of all. ’Sdeath, what a fall! I see you now, how you slid from the coach box and took your leave into the dark. That was a veritable saltus mortalis. Upon my soul, but I’d hate to drive with you again in a storm like that and behind such spirited colts.

Burris (Depressed).—The swiftest we have. We needed to be swift.

Doctor.—I saw you by a lightning flash, as you executed a sort of parabola, and I commended you to God. With him, says I to myself, I shall have no more business. He, says I, belongs to the minister and the undertaker. For a minute I thought to jump off the cab; but then, that would be suicidal, and, says I, it would be more Christian to allow myself to be killed. Just as I was breaking out all over with goose flesh, we struck into the gate. In the yard the colts halted of their own accord, and became as tractable as lambs. Some horses, those! They could carry one to eternity without any trouble. The steward at once perceived that his master was missing. Steward, says I, go look for him. You will find him in mortal agony, if indeed you find him at all in one piece. And, ’Sdeath! Here you were already coming to meet him! Alive and sound, by God! The trifling contusion you suffered was not worth a bandage, much less talking about. In a week you will not remember what portion of your body you struck the road with. But of course, for another reason, it is hardly necessary to impress upon you that absolute quiet is essential.

Burris (Heavily).—It is not a case of myself, but, Doctor, you have not told me about . . .

Doctor.—Oh, on the other side of the house. Ah, everything is in fine shape! Finest possible! Or at least as fine as may be expected under the circumstances. (Facetiously.) It is an incredible thing, but I have noticed it in any number of instances: As I am sitting at the tavern, playing cards of an evening—just as I am to take the last stitch in a badly lacerated hand, or just as I am about to dig up a golden score with a trump of spades—so sure am I still that evening something to do in the way of my obstetric practice. (Laughing loudly at the thought that he had broken the news without betraying the seriousness of the case.) Tonight as I was laying down a card, I says to the innkeeper, says I: You’ll see that I am called out tonight to attend a woman . . . (correcting himself) a lady, as it happens in this case. And presto! The door is flung open and a servant yells: “Here is the Herr from Harshaw, and in a tremendous sweat! ’Sdeath, says I, that would be too bad! I noticed her highness Sunday . . . (Unnoticed by Burris he makes an explanatory gesture to indicate he said more than he meant.)

Burris.—And thanks to your skill . . .

Doctor (Taking his pulse)—As to that . . . Hm! Some slight temperature, as it seems. We shall measure it at once. (Placing thermometer under his arm.) I should have been with you sooner, but they needed me on the other side. Ah, please, please—let’s be calm before all else! And one word of warning. Since there seems to have been on the other side a trifling misunderstanding, I most humbly advise that my lord does not venture there until my lady herself sends for him.

Burris.—Ah, Doctor, the misunderstanding was not trifling. (Bitterly.)

Doctor.—Ha, ha, ha! I know them! I have not been coming to Harshaw thirty years for nothing. It was just such carryings on as this that cut down the life expectancy of the late owner of Harshaw. He spent many a night in this office when his lady began to get obstreperous up yonder. And a beautiful woman she was! Lady Erna has inherited her beautiful features and figure . . . and something else to boot. On the other hand Miss Lena, daughter of the first marriage . . . She had an angel for a mother! And the young lady has her disposition. She has always been here, a regular Cinderella, in spite of the fact that she is mistress here. Please don’t take me ill, sir. We two must speak out to each other without beating about the bush. Pity that she should have taken from her mother also something besides disposition . . . her eyes. That is something as deep as the heart. I shall say no more, sir, but just that hers is the stubbornest case that has come before local practice. Luckily, however, Harshaw is in no danger of becoming an orphan. (Takes thermometer.) Hm, a little fever certainly. As things stand, I advise resolutely that my lord go to bed, and preferably right here in his own cozy room, at once. I shall send that busy body from the other side to make your bed.

Burris (Somewhat more interested)—To bed? What are you thinking of, now in the midst of harvest!

Doctor.—Of course, if you had broken your neck yesterday, your good for nothing men would let the oats and barley rot in the field! You would have done better if you had gone to bed at once, instead of parading around the premises all night.

Burris.—But why should I go to bed? There is nothing the matter with me, except perhaps a trifling irritation of the skin where I fell. There is very little pain, and that only when I move a certain way. I can’t feel even my old bullet wound.

Doctor——I am prone to believe that, ha, ha, ha! That’s exactly what surprises me. I was about to pass it over in order not to excite you unnecessarily.

Burris.—Please Doctor, what is it you’re keeping up your sleeve?

Doctor.—By thunder, you shall see! But don’t be too violent.

(He takes from the washbowl a piece of lead about the size of a hazel nut, and shows it to Burrris.)

Burris.—What is it?

Doctor.—You ought to know better than anyone. You carried it around long enough. That’s what I took out of your back just half an hour ago. Talk of luck! You have by accident got rid of a host here that might have poisoned many a wee hour of your existence.

Burris (Joyfully embracing the doctor)—Doctor Dustin! You can not possibly understand how happy this makes me! It was this cursed piece of lead . . .

Doctor (Interrupting).—I know, I know! Last night, when your lady was asleep, Miss Lena gave me the whole tangled history, with the climax of yesterday. So you will know how I felt when that damn rebel shot fell out of your back into my hand without any probing. Sometimes it would seem that the Fate in control of our destinies is not so blind as she is represented.

Burris.—And for that reason what you are telling me might do Erna a lot of good.

Doctor.—Please be seated and calm yourself, or things may go worse. Don’t go a step from here, unless you wish to kill the lady.

Burris.—For God’s sake, is she so bad as that?

Doctor.—Not so bad if she is not excited. Moreover, it is quite possible that you are worse than she is. I should not have mentioned to you this ball yet, if it had not seemed necessary to convince you. Now we have to consider that we havea lesion in the back, and that it may be more important than it feels. Qh, not deep, to be sure—the thing was on the very surface—right under the skin, soto speak. It stuck out like a raisin from a bun, as it were. Had I struck you on the chest with the flat of my hand last night it might have popped out.

Burris.—Near the back bone under the rib, they said it was lodged—somewhere beneath the sternum.

Doctor.—That was a year ago. Since that time nature has wrought wonders. You must have ridden horseback quite a lot lately?

Burris.—Everyday since spring.

Doctor.—That’s it! Nature helped herself. But be careful, my lord, careful, I say! Be easy on yourself, and easy on others. I tell you right here, it might have gone much worse over on the other side.

Burris.—For the love of God . . .

Doctor.—Tst, tst, tst! No excitement! Neither here nor there, and all will be well in time. Promise?

Burris.—Gladly! I can almost believe that all will be well again. I promise all you think is advisable. I shall lie curled up in my little hole like a badger, until the sun shines again until it comes to look for me here of its own accord.

Doctor.—Fine! Well said! Only a bit too talkative. A trifle less conversation, and I hope I shall be able to bring you the best of news right soon. Now good-bye. It will soon be seven. I must think a little of my patients in town, and a little also of myself. I must find a moment to snatch a little nap. Till this evening, then. No, no, no, keep your seat! Now nicely to bed, and ice. (Goes out.)

(For a long time Burris sits as in a dream. Then with a joyful start he takes the bullet from the washstand. He rises, his face beaming. He weighs it in his hand, seems amazed, and loses himself in thought. He crooks his back slowly to test the wound, then stratghtens quickly with a twitch of pain. He places the bullet on the writing desk and again gives himself to painful memories. He seats himself on the cot, where the firstray of the morning sun finds him. He rises to meet it, but on his way to the window he pauses at the desk and plays with the lead. Finally he throws it aside in disgust, and goes to the window. There is tumult in the courtyard. The pump is squeaking, the gates are slamming, the horses are neighing, there is the noise of racks being fitted on to the wagons.

Bara enters with an armful of bedclothes, which she dumps on the bed. She utters a tired sigh of relief, sits a moment to rest, and then falls to making the bed. She ts emphatic in her effort to do the thing well. She thumps the pillow vigorously, wishing to attract Burris’s attention to herself. But he is too far away in spirit.)

Bara (Breaking out unexpectedly).—Let him who can stand such a life! My old bones say, this is too much. I am expected to stay up all night with two patients, Jesu Maria! And I might have had it easy now, if that boy . . . (She finishes by shaking her fist at an imaginary culprit somewhere in the neighborhood. Suddenly remembering, she crosses herself piously.) And now that old stick . . . for years he would not hear of any woman, and now he loses his eyes to that disgrace . . . they say—(Suddenly changing front). And would you believe it my lord,—the steward had to take the rope out of his hand to save him from hanging himself. And just because the hussy would not consent to take him on the dot. Now she had relented, and there is to be a wedding. I ought to send her in to wait on you, seeing how neatly you fixed her up with poor Tony’s four hundred gold pieces. (All this is more to herself than to him, as he does not listen to her.) The rascal says he is doing it for the sake of the little one . . . but I don’t know . . . I don’t know.

(Burris has been standing at the window facing the sun. Suddenly it hides behind a cloud. This seems to startle him out of his reverie.)

Burris.—Bara, listen! How is everything on the other side?

Bara.—You mean the gracious lady? So far it is all right, if only no infection sets in. And if it were not for the grief she feels. If she would only let some one take the babe out of her arms! But she holds on to it like grim death. The doctor tried to persuade her to let it go, but she fought like a tigress.

Burris.—A child? A babe? What do you mean?

Bara.—Is it possible that they have not told you? It was thanks to the doctor, and your bringing him. It came at halt past two. It would have been a fine boy.


Bara.—How else, at this time?

Burris (With gesture of despair, sinking to the lounge. He covers his face with his hands and weeps.)

Bara.—I must look in on the other side again. Don’t take it so to heart, my lord. If you had heard the names she called you! Such screaming and swearing! Her mother all over again! She too, knew how to warm it up for the late colonel.

Bara (As Burris does not respond).—Miss Lena is there alone with the nurse. (Goes out.)

(Burris sits quiet a moment, then rises, sits at the table, yielding to his grief. He plainly shows that his wound is painful at times. He rises again, and paces the room. Makes as tf to open the door, takes two or three steps across the threshold, pauses, and returns.)

Burris (In a tone charged with agony).—“Bohmischer Lummel Hund.”

(At the memory of Erna’s abuse, he grows quiet again, only a deep sigh now and then shaking his breast. He stops walking, sits, and fixes his eyes wnto one spot. His eyes begin to bulge out as afin memory of some horrible experience. His eyes turn to the pistol on the wall, and then rest on the bullet on the table. Picking it up he taps the desk uith it as tf ina palsy. He lets it lie and walks. Some resolve is shaping in his mind. Presently he begins to act with decision. He pauses before the decorations on the wall, then quickly takes down the flint lock. Taking it to the desk, he tries the bullet to the bore. It fits. He blows into the barrel to see if it is through. He is satisfied. The trigger, too, he finds in working order. He opens the pouch and takes out several instruments. Takes the powder horn down, and pours some powvder into the barrel, wadding it with a ramrod. He sees that the powder is through the touch hole. He puts in the bullet and primes it. While he is thus engaged, he hears a familiar tapping at the door. He hastens to bolt it, but is too late. Lena has entered.)

Lena (Struck by a sound she remembers from the first night when the gun was dropped).—Mr. Karl, what’s the matter?

Burris—I? I am dead! I am more dead than alive!

Lena (Feeling about for a chair).—Please Mr. Karl, are you here?

(Burris finally comes to himself sufficiently to take her by the hand and lead her to a chair.)

Lena.—We ladies of poor eyesight make a strong demand on a man’s gallantry. But it seems that you are very ill; your hand is burning hot!

Burris.—What’s the difference, hot or cold. Soon we shall all be cold. Even then I shall not be so cold as I am now. The chills are grinding my bones to powder. (He frees his hand from her grasp.)

Lena.—We have all suffered much since last night. Perhaps now we may say that our troubles, in the main, are behind us. (Sighs.) I came to see how you are. The doctor told me late this morning that you sustained some bruises, but he seemed to talk with double meaning. In one breath he would say that you are not at all seriously ill, and in the next that you must stay in a week or more. And Bara comes in with the report that there is nothing at all the matter with you. I came to see—just listen to me, see—I can’t even guess where you are. (Anxiously.) Mr. Kar!!

(He only groans.)

Lena.—If you are ill, perhaps I did wrong to come. I am very anxious—oh, so anxious . . . (With assumed spirit.) Just think! I have not been in this office since . . . do you remember how we used to come here as children to console father when he was not permitted to sleep over there? Why don’t you speak, Mr. Karl?

Burris.—Miss Lena, any one who has spoken as much as I have . . . as much as I spoke yesterday . . . has enough to think about for the rest of his life.

Lena.—I hear tears in your voice—you have heard?

Burris—Yes, I know I am a murderer—of my own child! Oh, Miss Lena!

Lena.—You poor man! Dr. Dustin asked me to break it to you gradually and here you already know!

Burris.—They got ahead of you—your duty has been discharged.

Lena.—Not my whole duty, however. I want to console you somehow.

Burris.—Perhaps my consolation has been arranged for, too; who knows. (To himself.) So to singe one’s wings. Such a flood of abuse! And she is my wife. No son could live beneath a heart that could so loathe its father!

Lena.—Poor, poor Karl!

Burris.—No, no, no! I do not deserve pity. I’ll tell you why, now that I have confessed so far. When I realized that it took a uniform, and a campaign, and the part of a hero to make her acknowledge me worthy of her condescension, when these seemed to make her willing to accept my love, which I had never betrayed even by a quiver of an eyelash, I made up my mind that I should take her and tame her,—win her first, and then force her to love me for myself, alone. It was after our first ride together that I received her first kiss on the promise that I should apply for active service. I never planned to violate that promise, but I determined to let things take their natural course. I loved her terribly. Here on this couch I was afraid to move my lips lest I should lose the fragrance of that first kiss. I loved her insanely, but at the same time I loathed the thought of military service. I knew that if I let things take their course, I should never be accepted for service. I permitted myself to marry her with military pomp at Sopote, obediently I kept taking her to official gatherings, and ostentatiously I welcomed the visits of officers here.

Lena.—Yes, all turned out exactly as in my father’s case.

Burris.—All this in the assurance that my day of triumph would come. It came, with a vengeance!

Lena.—It does seem that you overdid it.

Burris.—I overdid it.

Lena.—But you must know that while you were preparing your triumph, she manipulated you as a plaything in her hands. Mr. Karl, I never meant to tell you, but I see that it is necessary. You must know that she, too, had her plans for your capture well laid beforehand. As early as that first evening when you had supper with us. After you had left she jokingly, although as she proved afterwards, with a perfectly serious mind, asked me for my consent to marry you.

Burris.—Don’t think that surprises me! (With sudden grief.) But what does all this signify in comparison with the fact that over there a mother presses to her heart a dead babe! Whom I through my thoughtlessness killed before he was born! I imagined yesterday that the time for action had come, but I realize now that I should have waited till after the safe arrival of that little colleague of mine. I could have delayed a little longer, I could have dissembled farther, I could have promised; but the main thing is that I should have gone with her yesterday to Sopote . . . I feared the operation lest he should be born without a father; but now it is evident it would have been better so.

Lena.—Mr. Karl, for all that’s dear on earth, I beg you . . . Where are you? I am so frightened—please give me your hand. (Holds out her hand.)

Burris (Taking it).—And you are not entirely without blame in this matter either.

Lena.—I, Mr. Karl? What in God’s name have I done?

Burris——You should not have signed your consent to the loan.

Lena.—And you say that? Who placed the contracts before me? You never gave me a hint that you . . .

Burris—How could I? Was I to hand you the blanks and say, sign here, and at the same time suggest that you do not sign?

Lena.—At the same time you carried in your body a sufficient obstacle.

Burris.—Yesterday, Erna called that deceit. Today, the obstacle is no longer valid. That obstacle has been removed.

Lena.—I don’t understand.

Burris.—So the doctor didn’t tell you? This morning he took from beneath my shoulder blade that cursed Bosnian ball, and so easily that, as he puts it, it practically dropped out of its own accord into his hand. There was really no ground for their refusing my application. The fall that might have killed one less sound than I only served to show that their diagnosis was out of date. The doctor says that in a week I shall be better than ever. (Shivers with fever.)

Lena.—Is it possible? Let me see it?

Burris (As she holds out her hand, impulsively reaches for the pistol and steps in Lena’s way).—I don’t know where it is. I got rid of it forever. There is no longer any thing to stand in the way of lady Erna’s wish.

Lena.—She’ll never breathe it to you again. If you had heard her last night, it would never occur to you to dream of the possibility. I can’t imagine how or when you two can ever come together again. You ought to know . . . When Dr. Dustin heard her raving last night, he said that the only thing that was keeping her alive was her intense hatred of you.

Burris (Pacing floor).—Du Bohmischer . . . did she ever finish that phrase?

Lena.—At least a hundred times.

Burris—What did she say? Bohmischer . . . what?

Lena.—Don’t ask me to tell you; I can’t repeat it.

Burris (Pausing from his pacing).—Fate, kismet! How directly the finger points! For every one of us it is fixed and no resistance can avail. Welcome every aid to its fulfillment. My Fate, be assured that I shall aid thee to the uttermost.

Lena (Frightened).—Mr. Karl, what’s that you are muttering?

Burris.—The curse of Iblis is about to take effect. Smail Beg, you are well avenged! First you destroyed my offspring and now you destroy me. Fate! Surely Fate! Or is it my own incompetence? Perhaps . . . Miss Lena, I took good care of your colts, but my own I destroyed. (Pausing close to her.) And now most gracious lady . . .

Lena (Seizing his arms with a grip that he cannot shake off).—Mr. Burris, I know what you are planning . . . (Struggles with him.) Madman!

Burris.—Gracious lady, I give you notice to take effect today. I beg you to release me from your service . . . now . . . today.

Lena.—I can’t let you off so easily. You have an account to render me yet.

Burris.—My accounts are square, I swear, and you have nothing more to demand of me.

Lena.—I have, much more. I demand your life, Mr. Karl!

Burris.—Miss Lena, please let me go, you hurt me.

Lena.—And no one ever asks about my pain. (Burris tries with supreme effort to free himself, and grows momentarily rigid with pain.) I shall not let you go. You shall stay here with me, or you must take me with you.

Burris.—How do you mean, take you away? I am going away with Erna.

Lena.—You can’t deceive me, Mr. Karl, and don’t try to deceive yourself. I know what road you mean to take. Please, Mr. Karl, all is not lost. If you have been disappointed in one love—another may . . . Harshaw will remain true to you till death.

Burris.—You are mistaken in your fears. I confess that for a moment I thrilled under the thought of what you suggest, but now I have a different plan. I mean to fulfill Erna’s ambition. I am determined to win back her heart. Please, let go.

Lena.—You two can never take another step together on earth. Over there all is lost for you.

Burris.—Very well then. No one has any further claim on me, neither she nor you. What I am to do henceforth shall be of my own free will. Somewhere perhaps I may be able to forget.

Lena.—You shall never leave me, and if I hold you in my arms today it is not the first time in my life. Do you remember that evening last year just before you went away? We met in the corridor of the pavillion . . . that was more than a brotherly embrace. It was not only farewell, but till we meet again.

Burris (Retreating under her passionate appeal until he reaches the writing desk).—I swear to you, Miss Lena, that I never dared to let myself feel for you anything but the most guarded respect.

Lena (As her side touches the desk she lets him go and catches the pistol. She starts for the door, but stumbles against a chair. She stands with her back to the wall.) I knew all the time what you intended to do . . . It must not be.

Burris (Cautiously approaching and catching the barrel of the gun).—Not you, Miss Lena, but I alone stand as the victim of the curse. I alone am guilty.

Lena.—No, no, Mr. Burris, Karl! Don’t go without me! (She holds on to the stock.) It was I, from earliest childhood—she never—I gave you my heart, even as a child.

Burris (Now by brutal force attempts to gain possession of the gun).—Now then! (There its a shot. He lets Lena go, staggers backward two steps and falls upon his face, never so much as quivering.)

Lena (Screaming involuntarily).—Burris. My God! It is impossible! (She is feeling for the body. She succeeds in finding at and with great effort attempts to turn him face upward. Hurried footsteps are heard.)

Rudolph (Without)—Who fired that shot? (Entering.) What’s this? Burris! (Helps Lena turn the body.)

(Bara enters. Lena feeling for the wound, touches the blood, screams and faints.)

Bara.—Jesu Maria!

Rudolph.—You attend to Miss Lena. (Helps carry her to the couch.)

Bara.—My gracious baron, it seems to me she does not breathe.

(Lena suddenly rouses herself, and plainly shows that she has lost her reason.)

Rudolph.—Take her away! (Leads her off with Bara.)

Steward (At the door).—For the love of Christ, not my lord?

Rudolph (Taking him by the shoulders and turning him to Lena).—There is where you can be of service. (Having sent all out, he takes up the pistol.) So? (He stands over Burris, then with a sob takes the cross for distinguished service off the wall and pins it on him.)

Forgive Burris, our score is even now.

(Through the open door enter two officers accompanied by the steward. They enter, but remain near the threshold.)

Rudolph (To officers).—Unser Gegner, meine Herren!

(Both salute and step in. Finally Erna, clad in her night robes, her hair down, plainly in delirium, staggers in.)


  1. Copyright 1924 by THE POET LORE CO. All rights reserved.

 This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1927, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 96 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse