The decor represents one of the queen’s rooms, in Krantz castle. The queen changes castle often and every night her chamber: she never sleeps in the same chamber. When she has abandoned her chamber and occupied several others, she returns. I should rather say that she never sleeps in the same room two nights running.
This room is rather vast. A canopied bed occupies the middle. In the slanted comer right, a high window upon the park with treetops visible. Left comer similar, a huge portrait of the king, and a fireplace lit and casting shadows. Night. Stormy with still lightning. Candelabras. The queen cares for candlelight, only. Downstage, near the fire, a little covered table, only white element in this decor of moving shadows, half-shadows, gleams of fire and lightning. The table is filled with a light repast of wine in an ice-bucket, goat cheese, honey, fruit and country cakes knotted like alphabet letters. A silver candelabra ornaments the table and focuses its light on the tablecloth, the two placesettings across the table and the two armchairs. A little secret door hidden by the king’s picture, left of the bed, gives onto the corridor by which the queen enters. Down right, a twoleaved door. At the raising of the curtain, Edith de Berg, reader to the queen, is about to place the candelabra upon the table.
Felix, Duke of Willenstein, places a log on the fire. Edith wears an evening gown. She carries the candelabra. Felix is in court dress.
EDITH: Felix, you are a clumsy man.
FELIX: (Turning a little, holding the log.) Thanks.
EDITH: What, you don’t even know how to put a log on?
FELIX: I hesitated putting a log on because I don’t find this fire very useful. There’s a storm. We’d suffocate.
EDITH: Your opinion has no importance. Keep it to yourself and put a log on. The queen loves to see fire. She loves fire and open windows.
FELIX: If it were me, I’d close the window and leave the fire alone. With an open window, the fire attracts insects, bats.
EDITH: The queen loves insects, bats. Felix, do you love the queen?
FELIX: (Standing up.) What?
EDITH: What’s come over you? I am asking you if you love the queen and serve her or if you prefer your own tastes and if you hope to convince her?
FELIX: You can’t open your mouth without saying something disagreeable.
EDITH: You bring it on, dear Felix.
FELIX: What must I do to please you, let me know.
FELIX: Oh yes, I’m at pains to learn it.
EDITH: Your duty.
FELIX: Fine, good! I’ve made a mistake?
EDITH: You’ve made mistake after mistake and your inability passes reason. You don’t even know if your head is on. Everyone says you’re always discovering etiquette and decorum.
FELIX: Her Majesty mocks etiquette and decorum.
EDITH: It’s exactly for that reason that the archduchess, her mother-in-law, directs me to carry them out in all circumstances.
FELIX: You’re with the queen by the will of the archduchess her mother-in-law. I’m with the queen by the king’s will.
EDITH: The king is dead, my brave Felix, and the archduchess is alive. Take that as fact. (Pause.)
(Indicating with her head.) ... The armchairs.
FELIX: The armchairs? (Edith shrugs her shoulders.) Ah! Right!...
(He pulls them from the table.)
EDITH: The candelabra...
FELIX: What candelabra?
EDITH: Must I remind you only a duke can touch the queen’s table if the queen sups in her room. You have condescended to place one candelabra in position. Where is the other one?
FELIX: (Looking all around.) What an idiot!
EDITH: You needn’t say that... Felix!
FELIX: (Rushing over.) My God! (He relieves her of the candelabra and puts it on the table.) You looked very beautiful with that candelabra, Edith, and I forgot, looking at you, to take it from you.
EDITH: (Increasingly ironic.) I looked very beautiful with that candelabra?
FELIX: Very beautiful. (Pause. Roll of faroff thunder.) I don’t like bad weather.
EDITH: The queen will be contented. She adores storms and mocks me because I detest them the same as you. One year, you remember the storm, the evening before our departure for Oberwald. The queen was glued to the window. At each lightningflash, I begged her to come back to the room. She laughed and yelled: “Just one more, Edith, just one more!” I took the greatest pains in the world to keep her from running in the park where the trees were getting blasted and uprooted. This morning she told me: “I’m in luck, Edith. On my first night at Krantz, I’ll have my storm!”
FELIX: She loves nothing but violence.
EDITH: Take a tip from her, dear duke.
FELIX: She doesn’t like your violence, Edith.
EDITH: So she says, but if I were weak and submissive, she wouldn’t bear to have me near her one minute.
FELIX: You mean, finding me weak and submissive, she can hardly stand me.
EDITH: For Her Majesty you’re one of the furnishings, a thing, dear Felix. It matters that you be resigned to that role.
FELIX: I was one of the king’s friends.
EDITH: Doubtlessly the only reason she’s so indulgent in your case.
FELIX: While we were coming here, in the carriage, she spoke four times words with me.
EDITH: Her politeness. She employs it like fur gloves for traveling. She talked, about mountains, snow, horses. Whenever she talks with people, she uses only what she has in common with them. Forget a ridiculous exaltation in that.
FELIX: (After a pause and a roll of thunder.) But... Lord forgive me, Edith... are you jealous?
EDITH: (With a laugh.) Jealous? I? Of whom, of what? I say! Jealous? I require you to explain immediately what you mean by that insult, I cannot—you understand—I cannot comprehend.
FELIX: Calm, Edith, calm yourself. Firstly, it is you who are insulting me without pause, I am not. Then, if you want the truth, I rather thought it explained why my irritation at the sight of this empty armchair aggravates you so that you lose your control.
EDITH: You are really stu-pendous! So, I was not mistaken... Do you know, Your Grace the Duke of Willenstein, what the exact date is? It has been ten years, exactly, since King Frederick your employer was assassinated on the morning of his wedding. You were a witness to that murder. Where were the king, the queen and their escort? Right here exactly. You have a short memory. And you scarcely know your queen. It is to be plain the shade of the king Her Majesty dines with tonight in rain in the room that should have been their bridal. And that’s the shady banquet you permit yourself to be jealous of. And that’s the man you are who so permits himself to love the queen, really to love her and be jealous of the king’s shade.
FELIX: You are mad!
EDITH: It is wonderful to hear that from you. I am not mad. I have been. I’ve had the folly to be over you.
FELIX: (Attempting to calm her.) Edith!...
EDITH: Leave me alone. The queen is getting dressed and cannot hear us. I’ve spilled the beans.
FELIX: The archduchess is opposed to our marriage.
EDITH: The archduchess has an eagle eye. She figured you out before I did. And if you want to know why I’ve changed about you, she’s the one who opened my eyes. “This little idiot does not love you, my dear, take a look. He’s looking for any way to be close to the queen.” It was a hard blow. I wanted at first to believe that the archduchess feared having around one of her train one of the king’s friends, one of those friends whom she holds responsible for his wedding to a princess she never liked. I tried being blind and deaf. And still I saw and heard.
FELIX: What have you seen? What have you heard?
EDITH: I’ve seen you looking at the queen. I have seen you blushing like a little girl when she spoke. Concerning me you haven’t even been able to keep lying. In less than one week you have given up acting, you’ve treated me like a rival, like a person whose insight became an obstacle between the queen and yourself. I dare you to tell me different.
FELIX: Why should I have had need of your intervention to be near the queen? I am with her, if I am not deceived, as much as you.
EDITH: As much as I! I am reader to the queen and her sole confidant. Don’t confuse my position with that of a house domestic.
FELIX: We are house domestics.
EDITH: The queen does not love you, Felix. Resign yourself to admit it. She doesn’t love you and I no longer love you.
FELIX: Frankness for frankness, I will confess to you then I don’t like your role of paid spy for the archduchess.
EDITH: Do you dare!...
FELIX: At the point we’ve reached, it’s best to say everything. I loved you, Edith, and maybe I still love you. You tell me I no longer love you because I love the queen. It’s possible. The queen can’t have a shade visiting her, nor can you. My love for her is addressed to a divinity. She is out of reach. I dreamed that we loved her at the same time. That’s impossible, you are a woman and the queen is not. As you refuse to understand me, as the archduchess prevents you from sharing my life, I will not share it with anyone. I shall be content to serve near you and be happy watching for one of the queen’s smiles.
EDITH: You forget that, since the king’s death, I am the only one to whom she shows her face.
FELIX: A veil and a fan cannot prevent her face from going its way right through my heart.
EDITH: One day I asked you if you could love me in the aura of the queen, I foresaw your madness, and you told me you could not love a woman who hid her face, a phantom.
FELIX: (Drawing near Edith, very quietly.) I’ve seen her face, Edith. (Roll of thunder.)
FELIX: I have seen it.
EDITH: Where?... How?...
FELIX: It was at Wolmar. I was crossing the Achilles gallery. I heard a door closing, and only she may dare slam doors in that way. I hid behind the pediment of that statue. Achilles’ legs and ankles made a great lyre of void. Through that lyre, I saw the whole gallery in perspective and the queen at the far end growing bigger as she walked toward me. She walked toward me, Edith, alone in the world. I was the hunter seeing in his sights a game animal that thought it was invisible, that humans did not exist. She came toward me fanless and without a veil. A long, long black gown and her head so lofty, so pale, so small, so detached, it resembled those aristocrats’ heads that crowds in revolutions hoist on the end of a lance. The queen must have been suffering from some terrible pain. Her hands had the air of strongly closing the mouth of a wound while calling for help. She crushed them against her bosom. She shivered. She came near. She looked at my little hidingplace. During one monstrous second she stopped. Was she come to see a souvenir of Frederick and had not the courage? She, the brave, leaned on one of the great mirrors, wavered, straightened, hesitated and, from behind, with that same sleepwalking step turned to the door by which I’d seen her coming. In reality, Edith, I tell you, I saw what is forbidden to see, I saw through that lyre of marble what cannot be seen without dying of love or of shame. My outlaw heart beat so hard, I was afraid. Would she hear, return, discover me and die shouting?
But not. I looked, with all my sight and she went away from the statue. Imagine the hunchbacked jockey and the injured thoroughbred he walks lame after racing. Imagine a poor silhouette of a woman dragged by the current of this golden mirrored canal. The slammed door. It was the end. I have seen the queen’s face, Edith. I have seen the queen. You have never seen, no one has ever seen her. (Long pause. Far thunder.)
EDITH: (Between her teeth.) A humpbacked jockey, a lame horse! The way the queen walks is famous throughout the world.
FELIX: She suffered some great pain, Edith. I will never forget that spectacle. She radiated daggers like a Spanish virgin. Her face was so beautiful it made me afraid.
EDITH: Obviously... It’s more serious than I could have expected.
FELIX: The confession of a crime would have cost me less trouble.
EDITH: There shall be a secret at least between us.
FELIX: If the queen learns about it, I will kill myself,
EDITH: She’ll kill you. She is capable of it. She’s a first-class shot.
(A prolonged ringing is heard in the room.)
FELIX: It’s the queen!
EDITH: Leave before the last ring. I have to be alone when Her Majesty is announced. Leave quickly.
FELIX: (Low, going.) I have seen the queen, Edith. She’s a corpse.
EDITH: (Stomping her foot.) Will you leave?
(She opens the door right and recloses it after Felix has gone.)
(Edith goes to the window. A stronger roaring is heard and a lightningflash outlines the trees in the park. The rain begins to fall on the leaves. Edith draws back afraid. Last ringing. She goes to the table, checks the service, armchairs, fire.
The portrait swings open. The queen appears. She hides her face behind a fan of black lace. She wears the grande toilette at court, her decorations, gloves, jewels. She slams the door. Lightning and a breeze on the candles accompanies her entry. Edith bows.)
THE QUEEN: You are alone here?
EDITH: Yes, Ma’am. The Duke of Willenstein left at the first ring.
THE QUEEN: Fine. (She slams shut her fan and throw it on the bed.) What a pitiable fire. (She stoops toward the fireplace.) That’s Felix’s work. He was obliged to watch you and place the logs anyhow. No one but me knows how to make a fire. (She presses a log with her foot.)
EDITH: (About to move.) Ma’am!...
THE QUEEN: You are such a bore, my girl. I shall burn my slipper and incinerate my dress. That is what you were going to say. I know everything you are going to say. (The storm intensifies.) What a storm!
EDITH: Does Madam wish me to close the shutters?
THE QUEEN: Another phrase I should have been surprised not to hear. (She goes to the window.) The shutters! Close the windows, draw the curtains, seal ourselves off, find a cabinet to hide behind. Deprive ourselves of this magnificent spectacle. Trees sleep on their feet breathing anxiety. Afraid of the storm like cattle. It’s my weather for me, Edith, weather for no one. My hair is tingling, my lightning and the sky’s accord. I can breathe. I would like to be on horseback galloping in the mountains. And my horse would be scared and I would mock it.
EDITH: May the lightningbolts spare Your Majesty.
THE QUEEN: Lightningbolts have their whims. I have mine. Let them come in, let them come in, Edith. I’ll drive them away with my riding-crop.
EDITH: Lightning breaks off trees.
THE QUEEN: My family tree wouldn’t interest it. We’re too old. Our tree can perfectly well do the job itself. We don’t need anyone. Since this morning every old twisted branch felt the storm and carried the news to me. The king built Krantz before he knew me. He loved storms too and that’s why he selected this crossroads where fierce combat and cannonfire fill the sky. (Very loud thunderpeals, Edith makes the sign of the cross.) You’re afraid?
EDITH: I have no shame that Your Majesty should be aware of my fear.
THE QUEEN: Fear of what, of death?
EDITH: I’m afraid simply. My fear can’t be analyzed.
THE QUEEN: It’s funny. Only quietude makes me afraid. (The queen goes toward the table.) Nothing missing?
EDITH: No, Ma’am. I oversaw the duke.
THE QUEEN: His name is Felix. It’s so aggravating when you call him the duke.
EDITH: I am following the etiquette.
THE QUEEN: Do you know why I like storms? I like storms because they uproot etiquette and their disorder offends the old ceremony of animals and trees. The archduchess, my mother-in-law, that’s etiquette. Me, I am storms. I know she fears me and fights me and has me under surveillance. You will write to her without doubt that tonight I dine with the king.
EDITH: Oh! Ma’am...
THE QUEEN: Send that. She’ll say: “The poor wretch.” And nevertheless, I am inventing an etiquette. She will be content. You may go to bed, Edith. Tuck yourself in the blankets, say your prayers and try to sleep. You must be very tired of traveling. If I need anything at all, I shall let Tony know. Storms frighten him too. He won’t be going to bed so soon.
EDITH: The archduchess would punish me if she learned the queen has been alone.
THE QUEEN: Are you at the orders of the archduchess, Edith, or mine? I order you to leave me alone, go to sleep.
EDITH: (After a long bow.) I am afraid, alas, upon that second article, of not being able to obey the queen. I shall keep watch. I shall be ready to render her service in case she has need of my presence.
THE QUEEN: We quite agree, yes? Etiquette authorizes you to enter my chamber at any hour of day or night. But my etiquette, mine (Underlines.), my etiquette alone, demands that no one in the world enter this chamber tonight, even if lightning falls on this castle. It is our good pleasure. (Laughs.) Dear good pleasure! There you have the last refuge of sovereigns. Their last bit of luck. Their free will somehow. Goodnight, Miss de Berg. (Laughs.) I was kidding. Goodnight, my dear Edith. My ladies will undress me. They sleep with an eye open. Go and lie down, hide under a table or play chess. You may go. (She waves her hand. Edith curtsies thrice, steps backward and leaves through the door right.)
(Left alone, the queen stands still beside the door. She listens. Then she smells the odor of the stormweltered park and of the rain, from the window. A flash of lightning with thunder consumes the scene. She moves to the table, examines the candles, finds all satisfactory. She pokes the embers. She stops before the king’s portrait. The king, twenty years old, wears a montagnard costume. The queen reaches her hand toward the portrait.)
THE QUEEN: Frederick!... Come, my darling. (She pretends to accompany the king, by the hand, to the table. The whole scene is mimed by the actress as if the king were really in the room.) We have really earned a little tranquility. Alone with a storm unleashed expressly to separate us from the world. The raging sky, a fire blazing and a country meal to go with the hunting o’ the deer.
Drink, my angel. (She lifts the bottle from the ice-bucket and pours out drinks.) Cheers. (She knocks her glass against that of the king.) It’s a real mountain wine. Here’s what does away with frightful ceremony. Frederick, you made such a comic smile.—What? —The crown. It wasn’t made for you, my poor love, and the archbishop was hard put to balance it on your head. You almost burst out laughing. And the archduchess repeated every five minutes: “Stand up straight”. I stood up straight. I passed in a dream through that mob, those cries, those fireworks, that aerial bombing of flowers. They didn’t spare us one single test of that interminable apotheosis.
In the evening, we rode in a post chaise... and here we were. We were no longer a king and a queen. We were a husband and a wife mad for each other and dining together. It’s hard to believe. In that post chaise, I said to myself: It’s not possible. We shall never be alone. (The storm is unleashed.)
And now, Frederick, that you drink, you eat and you laugh, and the archduchess isn’t there to stop me, I’m going to tell your future. When we hunted, we went in secret to have it done by the Bohemians. You recall ... And I became their pupil. And you took me into the palace attic so I could read the cards and no one would know. (She stands up and looks for a deck of cards at the corner of the fireplace, She shuffles it.)
Cut it. (She places the deck on the table and acts as if the king cut. Then she sits and disposes the cards in a fan.)
The great game.
(Through the storm is heard a distant rifle shot, another, another. She lifts her head and is motionless.)
These mob fireworks have followed us to Krantz. There’s shooting, Frederick, there’s shooting. Is that anything new? (She stops laying out cards.) I’d be surprised. You can shuffle and shuffle the cards, cut and vary their placement, they always repeat the same thing, obstinately. I use a black fan to hide my face. Destiny uses a black and red fan to hide his. But his never changes. Look, Frederick. You, me, the traitors, money, difficulties and death. In the mountains, up in the attic or at Krantz, the cards tell you nothing you don’t know. (She counts with her first finger.) One, two, three, four, five—the queen. One, two, three, four, five—the king. One, two, three, four, five... (Another fusillade...) Frederick, listen... (She continues.) One, two, three, four, five. A wicked woman... you recognize her... One, two, three, four, five... a young girl, a brunette: Edith de Berg—one, two, three, four, five—money troubles. (Laughs.) It’s always your pathetic theater and my unfortunate castles. One, two, three, four, five: a wicked man. Welcome, Count de Foëhn, you have never missed your cue. One, two, three, four, five: death. One, two, three, four, five. (Shots closer. The queen’s finger dallies in air as she watches the window. She continues.) One, two, three, four, five. And now the young blond man who so intrigued us. Who, Frederick? I wonder... One two, three four, five...
(Heavier lightning and thunder blast than the others. Intense glow. Suddenly, catching onto the balcony, a form jumps the rail, falls, stands up in the windowframe and enters with a step into the room. A young man, an exact likeness of the portrait of the king. He wears the costume of the montagnards. He is uncombed, drenched, haggard. His right knee is covered with blood.)
THE QUEEN: (Shouting.) Frederick! (She rises all at once, erect behind the table. The young man remains immobile, standing.) Frederick!... (She pushes the table sweeping away the cards. At the moment when she is about to rush to the apparition, the young man falls flat inside the room. Shots and cries are heard. The queen is no longer behind the table. She doesn’t hesitate. She hurries to the fainted young man, turns, crumples up a napkin, plunges it in the ice-bucket, kneels by the young man and smacks his cheeks with it. She raises him up by the shoulders. He opens his eyes and looks around him.)
(In the following scene, the queen employs the decisiveness and the playful energy evident beneath her fragile appearance.)
Quick. Make an effort. Get up. (She tries to help him up.) Do you hear me? Get up. Get up right away. (The young man tries to rise, trembles and balances on his knees. The bell rings.)
I will force you to get up. (The queen grasps him under his arms and helps him. The young man pulls himself up like a drunk. She shakes him by his hair. He takes a step.)
(Softly, leading him towards the bed.)
Understand. You have only a second to hide yourself. They’re coming. (Second ring.) Go, go. (She pushes him behind the canopy.) Don’t move. (Knock on door, right.) If you budge, if you fall, you are dead. You have left blood everywhere. (She grabs a fur quilt and flings it on the rug.) (Shout.)
Who’s there? Is it you, Edith?
EDITH: (Through the door.) Ma’am.
THE QUEEN: All right, enter. (Edith enters and closes the door. She is pale, upset. She can hardly speak.) What is the matter? I give you orders and you flout me. Explain yourself. Are you ill?
EDITH: It was so grave. I thought I could permit myself...
THE QUEEN: What’s grave? Have you seen a ghost? What’s wrong with you? What is grave is disobeying me.
EDITH: The queen has heard shots...
THE QUEEN: I leave you dying with fear because of a thunderstorm and I see you again almost fainted because of a gunshot. That’s the height. Now, Miss de Berg, the thunderstorm makes you uneasy, you hear shooting, out in the park, who knows at what and you profit by it to take it upon yourself to disturb me in my room.
EDITH: Let me speak Ma’am.
THE QUEEN: Speak, madam, if that is possible.
EDITH: The police...
THE QUEEN: The police? The police, which?
EDITH: Your Majesty’s police, they’re the ones who were shooting, The men are below.
THE QUEEN: I do not understand your explanations. Try to be perfectly clear. Foëhn is downstairs?
EDITH: No, Ma’am. Count de Foëhn is not with his brigade, but the chief is appointed by the court to be with Your Majesty.
THE QUEEN: What does he want?
EDITH: They have organized a real chase in the mountains for a suspect. The suspect got into the park here. Your Majesty saw nothing suspicious?
THE QUEEN: Go on... go on...
EDITH: The chief requests from Your Majesty the authority to scour the park and grounds.
THE QUEEN: Let them search and shout as much as they like as long as my ears don’t have to put up with these idiocies.
EDITH: Oh! Ma’am... These are not idiocies...
THE QUEEN: And what then, if you please?
EDITH: Let Her Majesty allow me to tell her everything.
THE QUEEN: An hour ago I asked you to do so.
EDITH: I did not dare.
THE QUEEN: You did not dare? Is this concerning me?
EDITH: Yes, Ma’am.
THE QUEEN: Think of that! And who is this singular malefactor the police organize hunts for?
EDITH: (Hiding her face in her hands.) A murderer.
THE QUEEN: He killed a man?
EDITH: No, Ma’am, he was planning to kill.
THE QUEEN: Who?
EDITH: You. (Correcting herself.) Well... the queen.
THE QUEEN: Better and better. The police are well-informed and assassins have second sight. You have forgotten, Edith, that I move from castle to castle without advising anyone. I decided yesterday in Wolmar to spend tonight at Krantz. I made the journey all at once. It’s bizarre that the assassins and the police should be informed of my most secret movements. If I decided to alert my police, a rapid runner could not have gotten there before morning.
EDITH: Here is what the chief told me. A dangerous clique is conspiring against Your Majesty. A young man was chosen to execute the orders. This young man, not knowing where to find the queen, at first went home to his mother’s, a peasant woman in Krantz village. Count de Foëhn—let Your Majesty excuse me—who was aware or foresaw the yearly visit of Your Majesty to Krantz, thought the criminal went to Krantz to find her and pull the job. A brigade followed his trail. But when this brigade surrounded his house, the criminal escaped. He’s free. They’ve searched for him. He’s wandered. He was hiding in the park. Ma’am... my distress is perhaps understandable and my excuse. (She bursts into tears.)
THE QUEEN: I beg you, do not weep. Am I crying? Am I a corpse? No. And Count de Foëhn’s men guard the castle. They’re on guard under my window. (She walks around the room, with her hands behind her back.) More and more strange... Someone prepares an assassination of the queen and the Count de Foëhn isn’t disturbed in person. Sends a brigade! And... may I be informed if the chief possesses a clue to the identity of the suspect?
EDITH: Your Majesty knows the mane
THE QUEEN: Would it be Count de Foëhn?
EDITH: (Shocked.) Your Majesty is joking. The criminal is the author of that poem in a clandestine publication, which the queen was considerate enough to permit, and to learn by heart.
THE QUEEN: (Rapidly.) You’re talking about “Royalty’s End”?
EDITH: I prefer that that title come from Your Majesty than from me.
THE QUEEN: You’re impossible... Ah well! good Edith... You’ve found me alive and well, the weather is improving, the police are on guard, and you can go to sleep, at last. Your face is otherworldly. Offer the men drinks. The chief must follow his own instincts. Disturb me no further. Next time, I should take it very badly.
EDITH: (Just going.) Ma’am... may Your Majesty... at least let me... close the window. You can climb up by the vines. I could not sleep with Your Majesty here with the large window open to the unknown. I ask for this favor.
THE QUEEN: Close the window, Edith. Close it. That has now not the slightest importance. (Edith locks the shutters, closes the window and draws the heavy curtains. Then she makes her three curtsies and quits the room, slowly closing the door.)
(The queen listens to Edith leaving down the hall and her door closing. She takes a few steps into the room.)
THE QUEEN: (Toward the bed.) Come out of there.
(Stanislas comes out from behind the canopy. He remains at the corner of the bedstead, motionless.)
There is nothing to be afraid of.
(Stanislas’ knee bleeds throughout. He does not raise his eyes to the queen who walks up and down.)
And so, kind sir, were you listening? I daresay we have nothing to learn from each other.
(She takes her fan from the bed, but doesn’t open it. She uses it like a baton, for striking the furniture and underlining her words.)
What is your name? (Pause.)
You refuse to tell me your name. I shall tell it to you. The memory of sovereigns is terrifying. You are called Stanislas. Your family name I do not know and do not wish to know. You published under the title ROYALTY’S END, —and with the pseudonym Azrael—a beautiful name!... the angel of death... —a short poem seeking my life and causing a scandal. It was published secretly and passed from hand to hand. I admire that poem, good sir. And, I must say, I know it by heart.
We have seen published interminable poems against us. They were all of a mediocre eloquence. Yours was short and it was beautiful. I remarked, what is more, and I congratulate you, all the scandal arose above all out of the poem’s form and not what it expressed. It was found obscure and, in fact, absurd. It was neither poem nor prose and that—I do not say this—resembles nothing.
It was a reason to be pleased.
To resemble nothing. To resemble no one. There exists no more touching praise to me. For myself, good sir, Stanislas is no more. You’re Azrael, the angel of death, and that’s the name I’m giving you. (Pause.)
Come near. (Stanislas doesn’t budge. The queen stomps her foot.)
Come near! (Stanislas takes one step forward.) Here is the king’s portrait. (She points it out with her fan. Stanislas raises his eyes to the portrait and lowers them immediately.) This portrait was painted when we were affianced. The king wore your dress. He was twenty years old.
What is your age? (Pause.)
...You must have been ten at that time and without doubt you were one of the scamps who threw firecrackers and ran after our carriage.
You can’t miss, I imagine, that extraordinary resemblance? I guess that it’s not unmixed up with your arrival. Don’t lie! —Without doubt your accomplices imagined—exactly so—that the similarity would surprise me, freeze me, and help you to accomplish your aim.
But, good sir, things don’t always happen in the way we imagine them. Am I deceived? (Stanislas says nothing.)
That is the third time the queen asks you something. (Pause.)
So be it. Our circumstances abolish etiquette and oblige us to invent our relations. (A beat.)
You knew I was staying at Krantz castle? (Pause.)
Yes. Your lips are sealed. Nevertheless they love talking in your cliques. How you talked, made speeches and heard speeches!
Well, good sir, in my case, I have kept silent for ten years. It has been ten years I have kept silent and not shown my face to anyone, save my reader. I hide it under a veil or behind a fan.
Tonight, I show my face and speak.
From nine o’clock on (was it the storm or a presentiment) I spoke to my reader. It’s true I only told her what I desired her to repeat.
I spoke to my reader, and later, I spoke all alone. I continue to speak. I speak, I speak to you. I feel perfectly able to accommodate questions and answers. That I should feel sad if it brought nothing new! [The actors must respect the faults of syntax in the spoken language. (J.C.)] There is novelty at Krantz. Something new. I am free. I can speak and show myself. It is magnificent.
(The queen heads for the armchair at the table.) Relate your adventures to me... (She is about to sit and abruptly changes her mind, dips a napkin in the ice-bucket, walks toward Stanislas.) Here... Bandage your knee first, The blood is running on your leggings. (Stanislas steps backward.) Then I must bandage your knee myself. Hold out the leg. (Stanislas moves farther back.) But you’re impossible! Take care of yourself or let yourself be taken care of. (She throws him the napkin.) I can stand silence. But I don’t like the sight of blood. (Stanislas takes the napkin and bandages his knee. The queen returns to sit in her armchair.)
Tell your adventures. (Pause.) What was I thinking of? I forgot it’s for me to tell you. (She relaxes and lightly fans herself.)
You were given the order to kill me. You were armed. They charged you with discovering the castle I was in, for I change residence unceasingly. Maybe they told you Wolmar... maybe Krantz. But, even admitting a secret influence, which I doubt, told you I was here at Krantz tonight, it was impossible to know my room. I have four rooms.
You climbed right into my room. (She fingers the last card on the table.) It is impossible that I should not welcome destiny in you.
(Stanislas has finished tying the bandage. He stands up and remains motionless on the spot.)
You leave my city. You do not doubt the result of your enterprise. It will bring my death and yours.
Before you go on your way, you kiss your mother. She is a peasant in Krantz. The police follow you. They surround the chalet. You know its tiniest hidingplaces. You escape. The storm helps you. And, then begin the pursuings, the hunt, the rocks, the bramblebushes, the dogs, the fire of men and gods you call down. This tiring race of a tracked beast leads you to the castle. (A beat.)
In this chamber—you imagine—I celebrate an anniversary. The anniversary of the king’ s death. The empty armchair was his. This honey and goat cheese, the kind of meal he liked.
Down there, in the dark, your wound bleeds. You feel almost sick with fatigue. A shot. The dogs bark. One more try. An open window.
You climb up the vines, catch hold, leap, and here you are.
I tell you, I thought I saw the king’s ghost. I thought that your blood was his. I shouted his name. —Then you fainted. But ghosts don’t faint like that. They only fade away at the crowing of the cock.
(The queen closes her fan and snaps it. She rises.)
Get warm. Go near the fire. Your clothes must be soaked.
(As if hypnotized, Stanislas crosses the room and crouches before the fire. The queen walks around the table and stands behind the king’s armchair.)
The king—you know—was assassinated in a post chaise. We were coming to Krantz, after the ceremony. A man leaped onto the footboard, with a bouquet. I thought he was crushing the flowers against Frederick’s bosom. I laughed.
The flowers hid a knife. The king died before I understood.
For instance, what you couldn’t know, he was wearing a montagnard costume, and when the knife was pulled out, blood dripped, on his knees.
(The queen goes to the table.)
Eat. Drink, You must be hungry and thirsty.
(Stanislas stays crouched before the fire, face tightly clenched.)
You don’t have to speak to me. Please sit down. You have lost blood. Take this chair. It is the king’s chair. And if I offer you a seat, it’s because I have decided—de-ci-ded—to treat you as an equal among equals. As far as that goes, I can no longer imagine you as a man.
What? You ask me who you are? But, good sir, you are my death.
It is my death I save. It’s my death I hide. It’s my death I warm. It’s my death I take care of. Don’t kid yourself.
(Stanislas stands up, comes to the armchair and slides into it.)
Perfect. You’ve understood me. (She pours herself a drink.)
The king was assassinated because he desired a theater and I am to be killed because I build castles.
Why not? Our upbringing was filled with the love of art. By dint of writing mediocre poesy, of painting mediocre pictures, my husband’s father, my father’s brothers and my cousins grew weary and changed style. They wanted to become spectacles.
Myself, I dream of becoming a tragedy. It’s not easy, it must be said. You cannot create anything good in tumult. So, I hide myself in my castles.
Since the king died, I have been dead. But the most severe mourning is not a real death. I must be as dead as the king. And don’t mistake, for death, a haphazard behavior in which I would risk losing myself and not reach him.
(The queen shows Stanislas a medallion she wears on her neck.)
I even obtained from my apothecaries a poison I hang on my neck and which is wondrous. The capsule is long to dissolve. It soaks in. Your reader sees your smiles. You carry your end yourself and no one suspects it. You dress in riding habit. You mount horses. You leap barriers. You gallop and gallop. You are exalted. A few minutes later, you jump off the horse. It follows you. The game is over.
I have kept this capsule by a whim. I shall never use it, I quickly understood that destiny must act alone.
And so for ten years I have questioned a dark mouth that keeps silent. Ten years without anything being explained. Ten years I’ve lied to myself. Ten years when everything that happened to me came from me and I decided it. Ten years of waiting. Ten years of horror. I had reason for liking the storm. To like the thunderbolt and its frightening pranks. The thunderbolt hurled you into my room. And you are my destiny. This destiny pleases me.
(Stanislas opens his mouth as if to speak.)
What is it?
(Stanislas closes his mouth again. He curls up in his silence.)
Well say it then, stonehead! Your veins are bursting. Your fists are bursting. Your neck is bursting. Break your silence that’s killing you. Who beside me can understand you? Cry! Stamp your feet! Insult me. Stonehead! Stonehead! Do you even know what is happening?
(The queen dashes to the window. She turns back and speaks planted erect, before the curtain.)
In place of tottering there where you found me, in place of getting exhausted by your running and your wound, if you had recognized me and struck me down, what then? Eh? Tell me what you would have been? Tell me? Tell me the name out of your own mouth, written on a banner. —An assassin. You fainted. Is that my fault? I picked you up, hid you, saved you, I made you sit to my table. I have broken, in your honor, with all the rules, all the protocols that govern the conduct of princes. Killing me will be still harder, I grant you that. That is another matter. You are going to just miss being a hero. This will be no killing by surprise, by passion. To kill with a cool head and hot hands calls for a different kind of grip. You are unable to draw back from your act. It is in you. It is you. Your will works on you. No human strength can hide from you the end. None! Save the worst of all! Cowardice. And I don’t do you the injury of thinking you prone to such a ridiculous failure. And thought it would displease me to be the victim of an assassin, I should be pleased if a hero killed me.
(Stanislas glued to the table pulls the tablecloth and pulls along everything on it.)
At last! Tear it off! Spill everything! Break it all! You’re a storm! (She walks toward him.)
A queen! “What do I know about a queen? What she tells me and she’s probably lying. Do I see a queen here? A woman in a court dress who is trying to win time.
“This opulence, these candelabras, these gems insult me and my comrades. You despise the mob. I’m going.”
(The queen stomps her foot.)
Never mind! Never mind! or I’ll hit your face.
(The queen rubs her brow.)
What do you know about the people?
I mount the dais. The people acclaim me.
I go into hiding. The people adopt the politics of the archduchess and Count de Foëhn.
(The queen sits on the edge of the bed.)
About Count de Foëhn, there is much to tell. He is my chief of police. Do you know him, little man? He has an extremely ugly face. He conspires. He dreams of a regency and being at the helm. The archduchess pushes him. I think she is in love with him.
It would be amusing if all unknown you were to be his secret weapon. That would explain to me your escape, the brigade’s incompetence, and how easily you have slipped into my hands. Customarily Foëhn never misses his man. It’ s true he has not condescended to be bothered when the queen’s life was at question.
Stupid count! If he only suspected the service he is about to render me...
(During the preceding, Stanislas’ eyes have lighted on the room, more or less everywhere. He returns them to the table and lowers them.)
But let’s forget that person and take care of our own business. (With a commanding voice.) You are my prisoner. A free prisoner. Do you have a knife? A pistol?... You may keep them, I give you three days to render me the service I am waiting for. If, unfortunately, you spare me, you will not be spared. I hate the weak.
You shall not have contact with me. You will meet Miss de Berg and the Duke of Willenstein who hire my personal staff. That will be the worst of it.
Miss de Berg is my reader. No one reads worse. I shall tell her that you are my new reader and that, to introduce you here, I devised this dramatic night. Coming from me, nothing surprises them.
They’ll hate you, but they will respect you, since I am the queen. On the day after tomorrow. Miss de Berg, the archduchess’ informer, will have noised the scandal abroad. We have not, as you see, a single day to lose. I repeat: if you don’t crush me, I shall crush you.
(While the queen is talking, without noticing Stanislas, like a commander, the following happens: Stanislas, by dint of interior tension, has nearly passed out. He has tottered, has leaned on the armchair,. He has rubbed his brow and fallen sitting like a heavy weight. The queen has misunderstood and thinks Stanislas forced himself into a vulgarity. She now shakes her head from right to left sorrowfully looking at him.)
No, thank you sir. I never feel tired. Please suffer me to stay here standing up.
(The queen turns again toward the window and draws the curtains. She opens the window, unlocks the shutters, spreads them. Calm night. A night of glaciers and stars.)
The storm is over. Peace. Tree perfume. The stars. And promenading her ruins around our ruins, the moon. Snow. The glaciers.
How brief the storms are! How brief the violence is! All falls down again and goes to sleep.
(The queen looks at the stars for a long time. She slowly recloses the shutters, the window and the curtains, When she turns again, she thinks Stanislas has gone to sleep. His head leans almost to the table. One hand hangs. The queen takes a candle and brings it to his face, illumines it, looks at it closely. She places the back of her hand, whose glove she has removed, lightly on his brow.
Then she opens the secret door. Tony is there. He is a black in the uniform of a mameluke. He bows on the threshold. Deaf-mute. The queen moves her lips. Tony bows. The queen is now behind Stanislas’ armchair. She picks up her fan from the table and strikes him on the shoulder. He doesn’t budge. She walks around the armchair and shakes him gently. She shakes him harder.)
But... God forgive me!... Tony! Since you can’t hear me, I will tell you the truth! This boy is in a bad way because he’s almost dead from hunger.
(She calls to him.) Sir!... Sir!...
(Stanislas stirs. He opens his eyes. He blinks. He pulls himself up standing, looking haggard.)
STANISLAS: (In a madman’s voice.) What is it? What is it? What’s the matter? (He looks around him and perceives Tony in the dark.) Oh God!
THE QUEEN: What’s the matter with you?... Come now, little man. Tony scares you? He’s not to be afraid of. He is the only person in whom I can have confidence. He is a deaf-mute, truly a deaf-mute. (She laughs with a ravishing laugh.)
We chat with signs. He reads the words on my lips, I was able to give him orders without disturbing your sleep.
(Stanislas begins to faint again. With his head tilted back he leans backward on the table which begins to slide.)
Oh there!!... you’re not at all well. (She holds him up. With a maternal grace:) I know what’s wrong with you, stonehead. And since you refuse what is on this table. Tony will serve you in your room. He will lead you there. He’s strong. He’ll take care of you, he’ll stuff you, put you to bed, tuck you in. And tomorrow, he will dress you.
(Tony goes to the table, takes a lit candelabra and makes for the little door. He opens it and disappears in the corridor. Stanislas tries to follow him. He turns to look back before disappearing.)
Nourish yourself and go to bed. Store up strength... Goodnight. The morning will be a rude one. Until tomorrow.