Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Burgomaster of Stilemonde - A Play in Three Acts
Author: Maeterlinck, Maurice
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Burgomaster of Stilemonde - A Play in Three Acts" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                            The Burgomaster
                             of Stilemonde


                         _A Play in Three Acts_


                                   BY
                          MAURICE MAETERLINCK


                            _Translated by_
                      ALEXANDER TEIXEIRA DE MATTOS

                        [Illustration: Colophon]

                                NEW YORK
                         DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY
                                  1918

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            COPYRIGHT, 1918
                    BY DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY, INC.

                         _All rights reserved_

        All applications for dramatic rights to be addressed to
             Mr. Oscar Osso, 1457 Broadway, New York City.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHARACTERS


                                                             _Age_
      CYRILLE VAN BELLE, _Burgomaster of Stilemonde_          60
      ISABELLE, _his daughter_                                25
      FLORIS, _his son_                                       14
      MAJOR BARON VON ROCHOW                                  45
      LIEUTENANT OTTO HILMER, _the Burgomaster’s son-in-law_  30
      LIEUTENANT KARL VON SCHAUNBERG                          28
      THE MUNICIPAL SECRETARY                                 30
      CLAUS, _the Burgomaster’s head-gardener_                62
      JEAN GILSON                                             30
      THE BURGOMASTER’S FOOTMAN
      A GERMAN SERGEANT
      A GERMAN SOLDIER

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           SCENE OF THE PLAY


_The Scene is laid at the end of August, 1914, at Stilemonde, a small
town in Belgian Flanders._

_The first_ ACT _begins at 10_ A.M. _and ends at 12 noon; the second
begins at 2_ P.M. _and ends at 4_ P.M.; _the third begins at 5:30_ P.M.
_and ends at 7_ P.M. _on the same day._

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           THE BURGOMASTER OF
                               STILEMONDE



                                 ACT I


_The_ BURGOMASTER’S _study, a large and very comfortably furnished room
    on the first floor of the house, used partly as an office, and
    partly as a horticultural laboratory. Leather easy-chairs, a glass
    book-case. A large table laden with papers and with vases, dishes
    and baskets full of flowers and fruit: orchids, peaches, plums and
    magnificent bunches of grapes. In the various corners, a
    grandfather’s clock, garden-tools, pulverizers, retorts,
    test-tubes, bee-hives, etc. At the back, a French window opening on
    a balcony. On the right a heavy door._

_As the_ CURTAIN _rises, the_ MUNICIPAL SECRETARY _is writing at a
    corner of the table_. ENTER, _on the right_, JEAN GILSON. _He is
    dressed in ill-fitting peasant’s clothes, and carries his arm in a
    sling._

                              JEAN GILSON

Good-morning, Mr. Secretary.

                             THE SECRETARY

Good-morning. What can I do for you?

                              JEAN GILSON

(_Going nearer._) Don’t you know me, old friend?

                             THE SECRETARY

Why, it’s you, Jean! The last man I expected to see! Where have you
come from? I say, you’re wounded!

                              JEAN GILSON

Yes, a bullet in the arm.... I got it outside Aerschot. They put me
into hospital at Winkel, but the Germans entered the town yesterday
and, as I could walk, I didn’t wait for them to take me prisoner. I got
into these clothes, cleared out, spent part of the night in a ditch,
tramped three hours across country and here I am at Stilemonde. I must
be off at once, though, and try and catch up my carabineers, who ought
to be somewhere near Overloop.

                             THE SECRETARY

You look tired. Does the arm hurt? And you’re soaked through!

                              JEAN GILSON

Yes. The arm’s not much, or rather it wasn’t. To-day, somehow, I seem
to feel it more.

                             THE SECRETARY

That’s because you’re tired. You must rest a little and have your wound
seen to. We’ll find you a bed somewhere, either at my place or here,
which is God’s own house.

                              JEAN GILSON

It’s not a question of resting, it’s not a question of bed; they’ll be
here before the morning’s over.

                             THE SECRETARY

Who?

                              JEAN GILSON

The Germans! There are Uhlans everywhere along the roads; and I expect
the main body isn’t far behind.

                             THE SECRETARY

Impossible! We’ve heard nothing of that here; but of course the
communications have all been cut.

                              JEAN GILSON

Where’s the Burgomaster?

                             THE SECRETARY

I’m waiting for him. He’s in one of the glass-houses. The storm last
night seems to have done some damage. He’ll be here in a minute: the
man has gone to find him. Would you like to speak to him?

                              JEAN GILSON

I’ve a message from the Burgomaster of Winkel, advising him to be very
careful and, above all, to see that no arms are found in the town.

                             THE SECRETARY

We’ve seen to all that; we’ve done everything. All the arms, even the
trophies and curios, have been put away in the Town-hall and locked up
in a room of which I’ve got the key.... So they’re at Winkel, are they?

                              JEAN GILSON

Yes, three or four hundred. I was told that the master’s son-in-law was
at the head of them.

                             THE SECRETARY

The master? Who?

                              JEAN GILSON

Yours, the Burgomaster of Stilemonde.

                             THE SECRETARY

Otto Hilmer? Impossible!

                              JEAN GILSON

Yes, that was the name: Lieutenant Hilmer. So it’s true then? I
wouldn’t believe it. Did the Burgomaster’s daughter marry a German?

                             THE SECRETARY

Of course she did; why not? We were not very fond of the Germans here;
but, after all, they did us no harm; on the contrary.... It was before
the war, when nobody thought of these things. As luck would have it,
poor Madame van Belle, the master’s wife, died a year before the
wedding. It would never have happened had she been alive, for she
loathed the Prussians; and if she could see what they are doing to-day!
But what a blow it will be to the master! Is Lieutenant Otto likely to
be coming here?

                              JEAN GILSON

Sure to. At least, so he told the Burgomaster at Winkel.... But how did
that marriage come about?

                             THE SECRETARY

In the most natural way. How was one to know that some fine day the
Germans would come and massacre us and do all the dreadful things that
people are talking about ... if they’re true?

                              JEAN GILSON

They’re true enough; and what you’ve heard isn’t the worst.

                             THE SECRETARY

Dreadful! But who could have thought it!... You see, Monsieur van
Belle, our Burgomaster, went to Germany now and again on business. They
made a great fuss of him there and treated him royally. At Cologne they
made him the president of all the local horticultural societies. He had
known the Hilmer family a long time and used to stay with Otto’s
parents whenever he went to Cologne.

                              JEAN GILSON

Are they well off, the Hil—what did you say the name was?

                             THE SECRETARY

The Hilmers. They’ve got a factory in the Rhine Province: electrical
machinery; it’s the biggest factory in the place. Well, young Hilmer,
who’s now Lieutenant Otto, wanted to learn about cultivation of orchids
and hot-house grapes, which happens to be the specialty of Van Belle
and Co. And Monsieur van Belle’s son was keen on electricity only. So
they paired off: young Van Belle went to Cologne and Otto came here.

                              JEAN GILSON

How long ago was that?

                             THE SECRETARY

Nearly two years.

                              JEAN GILSON

And where is young Van Belle now?

                             THE SECRETARY

He was at Cologne when war was declared; but there’s a rumour that he
managed to escape. We’ve heard nothing definite, though, and are very
uneasy.

                              JEAN GILSON

And the other? How did he get back to Germany?

                             THE SECRETARY

I don’t know. He must have got wind of it somehow. He left us suddenly,
at the end of July, gave out that his mother was ill.

                              JEAN GILSON

That shows again that they knew what was going to happen and were
preparing for it. And, as _he_ had been warned, he might at least have
done the same by his father-in-law and still more by his wife’s brother.

                             THE SECRETARY

You see, those people aren’t like us.

                              JEAN GILSON

Or rather we’re not like them, thank Heaven!... Have they been married
long?

                             THE SECRETARY

Close on six months.

                              JEAN GILSON

Are they happy?

                             THE SECRETARY

They worshipped each other. And one’s got to be fair. Otto is a very
pleasant, good-hearted fellow, very kind, and liked doing people a good
turn. Worked very hard. Polite to everybody. Clever too, very. Nothing
really to be said against him.

                              JEAN GILSON

Except that he’s a German; and that’s quite enough.... And how does his
wife take it all?

                             THE SECRETARY

She’s very much upset, of course; and that’s bad, because, as I hear,
she is at this moment—you understand. However, it’s not certain
yet.... She is very restless, very depressed, but she doesn’t say
anything: she was never one to talk much.

                              JEAN GILSON

But he must surely have told her, have prepared her?... She must have
known what was going on?

                             THE SECRETARY

I know nothing about that. I’m not in her confidence.

                              JEAN GILSON

And what does the master say?

                             THE SECRETARY

He’s dreadfully worried. At first, he was quite bowled over. He simply
refused to believe it. Then he was furious, wild, beside himself. But
he calmed down after a bit: you see, he was always something of an
optimist; and now he’s beginning to think that things will be settled
very soon. But here he is.

      (_Enter the_ BURGOMASTER, _carrying a basket filled with prize
          grapes._)

                             THE SECRETARY

(_Rising._) Good-morning, Mr. Burgomaster.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Good-morning, Pierre. How are you?

                             THE SECRETARY

As well as can be, after working all night.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Is everything settled at the Town-hall?

                             THE SECRETARY

Yes, Mr. Burgomaster. All the arms have been stored there; I drew up a
list myself and gave the receipts.... But let me introduce my old
friend Jean Gilson, who’s been wounded at Aerschot. He was in hospital
at Winkel when the Germans entered the town yesterday; he managed to
escape last night.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

(_Shaking hands with_ GILSON.) So you were at Aerschot?

                              JEAN GILSON

Yes, I was a sergeant in the battalion of carabineers which covered the
retreat.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Was it much of a fight?

                              JEAN GILSON

Yes. Two-thirds of the battalion were killed or wounded. There are
always three of them to one of us; and we had no guns. We held our
ground as long as we could; then we were obliged to fall back.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

You look dreadfully tired and must be starving! Pierre, my dear fellow,
why on earth didn’t you...? (_He rings._) I’ll tell him myself. (_Enter
the_ FOOTMAN.) Firmin, bring up some cold meat; bring anything you’ve
got downstairs: bread, butter, eggs, cheese. What cold meat is there?

                              THE FOOTMAN

Veal and chicken, sir; ham, tongue.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

All right, bring them all. And as to drink.... (_To_ JEAN GILSON.) What
wine do you like? I’ve a splendid Rudesheimer and an ’82 white port
which you won’t quarrel with. Which would you like? (_To the_ FOOTMAN.)
Look here, bring both, that’s simpler. (_To_ JEAN GILSON.) You can
manage a couple of bottles, I dare say. If necessary we’ll lend you a
hand, eh, Mr. Secretary? It will be so much less left for the Germans.
There’s fruit enough, as you see. These pears, these plums and peaches
are of my own growing; look at the grapes I have just picked; did you
ever see anything like them? They’re my special achievement: a variety
I got by slowly and patiently crossing the Black Alicante, which is
magnificent to look at but hasn’t much flavour, with a Sicilian muscat
that’s very small but delicious. I’ve secured what’s best in both of
them and kept out what’s bad. Just taste them: aren’t they wonderful?
They’re hard and yet they’re juicy; they just melt as you crush them
with your teeth. Each one is like a drop of wine with a touch of snow
in it. I shall be putting over four thousand pounds of these grapes on
the market every week in five years or so. You’ve been the first to
have a taste of them.... So they’re at Winkel, are they?

                              JEAN GILSON

Yes, Mr. Burgomaster; and they’ll be here this morning. I’m just a bit
ahead of them.

                             THE SECRETARY

Jean tells me that they’re led by Mr. Otto, your son-in-law.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

What, Otto? Impossible! Were you told that? Did you see him?

                              JEAN GILSON

I didn’t see him, but that’s what I was told. There were three officers
at Winkel, a major and two lieutenants; Otto Hilmer was one. I hear
that he said he was coming to occupy Stilemonde with a detachment of
the 62nd Foot.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Yes, he was a lieutenant in the reserve. It’s odd that he should have
dared.... But no, in point of fact he’s right. He has done the right
thing, he will arrange matters and we shall have nothing to fear. All
the same, it’s rather extraordinary. My own son-in-law comes into my
town as a conqueror, booted and helmeted, with his sword drawn, after
violating the frontier of his adopted country.... However, it’s war;
and he can’t help it. He’s not responsible and he can’t do what he
likes. Besides, it’s all the better for us: as long as he’s here, we’ve
nothing to be afraid of.... How are they behaving at Winkel? I hope
they haven’t done much harm?

                              JEAN GILSON

They hadn’t when I left. They took the burgomaster, the priest and the
notary as hostages and declared that they would kill them if a single
shot was fired in the village.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

They won’t do that, thanks to Otto. Otto is a kind-hearted chap, who
wouldn’t hurt a soul. Besides, I feel certain that their massacres and
atrocities have been greatly exaggerated; after all, they’re not
savages.

                              JEAN GILSON

I beg your pardon, Mr. Burgomaster, there has been no exaggeration at
all; on the contrary, we haven’t heard everything yet. What they did at
Andenne, at Dinant, at Louvain, at Aerschot and at every town they came
to is simply appalling. As for the massacres at Dinant and Louvain,
I’ve got that at first hand: two of my men saw it with their own eyes.
At Louvain, they executed two hundred and ten innocent people,
including twenty-four women and fourteen children; at Dinant, six
hundred and six, including thirty-nine children and seventy-one women;
at Aerschot, they shot the burgomaster and his son of fifteen, with
many other entirely harmless and defenceless citizens.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Then it’s true that there have been military executions? I didn’t
believe it.... And what excuse did they make?

                              JEAN GILSON

Their colonel had been killed by a stray bullet, fired by one of their
own men.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

The devil! They’re dangerous then! But we must have none of that here.
(_Enter the_ FOOTMAN.) Here’s Firmin with the tray: sandwiches and the
two bottles. (_Filling the glasses._) This is my ’95 Rudesheimer. Tell
me what you think of it.

                              JEAN GILSON

(_Tasting the wine._) It’s remarkably good.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

You’re right. (_Exit the_ FOOTMAN.) This is one of a lot of fifty
dozen, which I bought at the sale of Von Hulthem the notary, who had
the best cellar in these parts.... But what do you mean to do now? You
can’t go off like this, you know. You must have a few days’ rest here;
and we’ll dress your wound properly; it doesn’t do to trifle with a
thing like that.

                              JEAN GILSON

You see, if they catch me here, they’ll send me to Germany, unless they
shoot me as a franc-tireur.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Have no fear of that. I’ll hide you in the house; I’ll tell Otto and
he’ll arrange things.

                              JEAN GILSON

Nothing would suit me better. I’m very tired and I feel I haven’t the
strength to go very far. But I’m afraid of compromising you if they
find me under your roof.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

I assure you, you have nothing to fear. Leave it all to me. Otto can
refuse me nothing; and you’ll see, we’ll settle all this among
ourselves.

      (_Enter the_ FOOTMAN.)

                              THE FOOTMAN

They’re at the gate, sir.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Who?

                              THE FOOTMAN

The Germans, sir: some officers and a dozen Uhlans. Shall I let them in?

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Certainly, let them in at once. Show the officers up; I’ll wait here.
(_Exit the_ FOOTMAN.)

                             THE SECRETARY

Shall I leave you, Mr. Burgomaster?

                            THE BURGOMASTER

No, stay. But first see to your friend’s safety. Take him into the next
room; then, when Firmin comes back, we’ll find him a bed. Good-bye for
the present, Monsieur Gilson. Take the food and wine with you; you have
nothing to fear. (JEAN GILSON _goes into the next room._) And now let
us prepare to face the enemy. I hear their swords clattering on the
stairs.

      (_Enter the_ FOOTMAN, _with_ MAJOR BARON VON ROCHOW, LIEUTENANT
          OTTO HILMER _and_ LIEUTENANT KARL VON SCHAUNBERG.)

                            THE BURGOMASTER

It’s you, Otto! (_Mechanically puts out his hand and then withdraws
it._)

                                  OTTO

Yes. (_Presenting the_ BURGOMASTER _to the_ MAJOR.) Major, this is the
Burgomaster of Stilemonde, my father-in-law. Major Baron von Rochow.
Lieutenant Karl von Schaunberg.

                               THE MAJOR

Mr. Burgomaster, we shall occupy the town until further orders. You
will have to find billets for two hundred and fifty men. For the
present you will not be called upon to feed them. My two officers and I
will ask leave to take up our quarters in your house. I know the ties
that unite you to one of them. I hope that, thanks to these good
relations, there will be no difficulties between us. Nevertheless, as
is customary, considering the bad spirit which the civil population
have hitherto displayed and in accordance with the formal instructions
which I have received, I am obliged to look upon you as a hostage. If
unfortunately—which Heaven forbid—an attempt were made upon the life
of one of my officers or men, your own life would answer for it. But we
need not, I trust, contemplate any such deplorable contingencies. If
the civilians behave properly, they have nothing to fear. Whatever
people may say, we are not barbarians. We are, above all things, just;
but the necessities of war oblige us to be sometimes severe and always
on our guard. In an hour from now I will send for you to the Town-hall
to discuss the question of supplies and to fix the war-levy.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

The war-levy? I cannot see that, so far, we have done anything to
justify a levy.

                               THE MAJOR

I beg your pardon. I may permit you to discuss the amount but not the
principle.

                                  OTTO

(_To the_ BURGOMASTER.) Please give the Major the large bedroom on the
first floor, the one with a balcony overlooking the square, and the
sitting-room leading into it. Lieutenant von Schaunberg and I will take
the other two spare-rooms. Firmin, show the Major and the Lieutenant to
their rooms.

                               THE MAJOR

I must beg you, Mr. Burgomaster, to put forward your luncheon hour by
thirty minutes. We shall have the honour of taking our seats at your
table at twelve o’clock precisely.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Certainly, sir.

      (_Exeunt the_ MAJOR _and_ LIEUTENANT VON SCHAUNBERG, _with the
          Footman leading the way._)

                            THE BURGOMASTER

My poor Otto!

                                  OTTO

Where is Isabelle?

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Upstairs in her room. She can’t have heard you.

                                  OTTO

How is she? Not ill, I hope?

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Not exactly, but dreadfully depressed, extremely tired and very much
affected by all these happenings.... I expect she is still asleep; and
it is better not to wake her.

                                  OTTO

How does she take the war?

                            THE BURGOMASTER

As we all do, with the utmost amazement, indignation and consternation.
But she is naturally more upset than we, who can’t believe our eyes. My
poor Otto, this is an ugly business they’ve let you in for!

                                  OTTO

You need not think that we do it with a light heart. We are acting as
you see, only because we are forced and constrained to do so by the
incredible attitude of your fellow-countrymen.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Of course it was Belgium that began.

                                  OTTO

That’s truer than you think. She began by playing the game of our
enemies; and, if we had not struck the first blow, we should have been
the victims of our confidence in her loyalty.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Look here, Otto, I know you for an intelligent, conscientious and
thoroughly honest man. You have lived among us and you know what sort
of people we are. How can you stand there and seriously utter such—I
don’t know what word to use, or, if I did, it wouldn’t be a pleasant
one. Let them tell that sort of humbug to your wretched soldiers, or to
a pack of Junkers fuddled with pride and stupidity, but not to a man
like yourself! You know the plain, terrible truth as well as I do, just
as you know what to think of the hideous massacres at Vise, Andenne,
Dinant, Aerschot, Louvain and other places.

                                  OTTO

Excuse me, it is not the same thing. I admit that the violation of
Belgium was a regrettable incident; in my opinion it was a mistake,
necessary perhaps, from certain points of view, but one which will cost
us dear. But I do not admit the massacres. There have been executions
of hostages and reprisals necessitated by incessant acts of treachery
committed by the civil population. Here and there, perhaps, there has
been some excess of zeal; that, unfortunately, is inevitable. But I
know the German army better than you do, because I belong to it; and it
is the most highly disciplined army in the world. It is extremely rare,
not to say impossible, for the army to act without orders, or to
overstep the orders which it receives.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

That’s just what I blame it for. To judge by the effects, those orders
are execrable!

                                  OTTO

It’s lucky that we’re alone. Don’t use words like that: with the best
will in the world, I might not always be able to save you from the
unpleasant consequences.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Very well, we won’t argue about it. We shall never agree on these
points nor on a good many others. I know what I know; and I stick to it.

                                  OTTO

I also know what I know; and history will judge between us.... Let us
try rather to get back to the feeling that united us before this
cataclysm, for which we are not responsible.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

It’s a good thing that you at least do not hold us to be responsible
for the disaster which your people have brought on us. I thank you for
that.

                                  OTTO

Why do you say such things to me? I have absolutely nothing to do with
what has happened. Like the rest of us, I am compelled to obey an
authority which no one can resist. I am a wheel in the machine. I
cannot act otherwise than I do. But my feelings, my affections are just
the same as they were before the war! I persuaded my superiors to send
me here, so that I might prove how grateful I am to you....

                            THE BURGOMASTER

And because you know the country so well!

                                  OTTO

Please don’t continue in that tone: it is not fair and it is extremely
painful to me. I simply wished, as I have told you, to prove my
gratitude by doing all I could to save you, and the town of which you
are the chief authority, from the inconveniences and dangers of an
occupation which I was unable to prevent.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Very well, we won’t talk about it. How long do you reckon to stay here
with your men?

                                  OTTO

We don’t know: perhaps two hours, perhaps two months. It all depends on
events and on the orders which we receive.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

And the Major, what sort of a man is he? He does not look easy to deal
with.

                                  OTTO

He is severe, rather hard, rather dictatorial, rather domineering, a
strict disciplinarian, but absolutely just; taken all round, a good
sort. I repeat, you have nothing to fear, if your people behave
themselves. Besides, in the case of any conflict or misunderstanding, I
hope to use my influence and to smooth matters down. And now let us be
friends, if you will, and allow me to embrace you as I used to.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

(_Stepping back._) Forgive me.... Excuse me.... I can’t just now.

                                  OTTO

That’s strange; I simply can’t understand it. After all, this war is no
business of ours; it’s over our heads; it’s beyond us. However, I
mustn’t take it ill of you; and I can only say, like Antigone, “I take
part in love and not in hatred.” But what’s the time? Eleven o’clock?
Perhaps we might let Isabelle know, if she really isn’t ill? You can
imagine how eager I am to see her after this long separation and after
all that has happened.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

I will send the maid up to her. (_He rings. Enter the_ FOOTMAN, _who
takes the_ BURGOMASTER’S _orders and exit._) Have you any news of my
son?

                                  OTTO

Of Odilon? No, isn’t he here?

                            THE BURGOMASTER

No, they did not let us know of their plans, as they did you; _we_
weren’t told what they were going to do; and so he stopped at Cologne.
We are rather uneasy about him.

                                  OTTO

He is in no danger if he keeps quiet. He will be interned in a
concentration-camp. I’ll write to my people and ask them to see that he
is well treated.... I say, I see on your table one of those Cattleyas
which were rather sickly before I left. How are they doing?

                            THE BURGOMASTER

I believe they’re saved. I found out under the microscope what it was
that was making them wither. It’s a tiny fungus which no orchid-grower
had located before and against which all the ordinary methods of
vaporizing and fumigation are quite useless. I’ve contrived a new
blend; I’ll give you the prescription; it has done wonderfully well so
far. I’m worried about my poor hot-houses, on which I’ve spent the best
part of my life and nearly half my fortune. If only this war doesn’t
turn them into broken glass and scrap-iron! As you know, they contain
nearly half a million valuable flowers; and their destruction would be
an irretrievable disaster, for it would take a whole lifetime to build
up a collection that could compare with mine.

                                  OTTO

Have no fear, there will be no battle or bombardment in this direction;
and while the occupation lasts I shall be able to protect the house of
my wife and my father-in-law, or at least to see that it is protected.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Here is Isabelle.

      (_Enter_ ISABELLE.)

                                ISABELLE

(_Pausing for one moment on the threshold and then rushing into_ OTTO’S
_arms._) You! Is that you? You here; and I did not know!

                                  OTTO

(_Embracing her._) Isabelle!

                                ISABELLE

You’re not wounded? You haven’t been ill?

                                  OTTO

No; and you? I heard you were not very well.

                                ISABELLE

It’s nothing; it was the horror of everything that has happened and the
anxiety of knowing you to be constantly in danger from the enemy....

                            THE BURGOMASTER

What enemy? It’s he and his friends that are the enemy; and he runs no
danger in the midst of them. But I will leave you to yourselves. Call
me when you want me. (_Exit._)

                                ISABELLE

It’s true. I no longer know where I am. I call enemies all who wish you
ill; and that means all the people I love. It is too much for a woman’s
heart to bear. But it is over now, I hope; and the worst is ended.

                                  OTTO

No, the worst is beginning. But I was sure of you and that you at least
would not condemn me unheard.

                                ISABELLE

I condemn the others, but I know that you are no more to blame than I
am. Besides, what does it all matter, when I find you the same as you
were? But shall I have you with me for a few days? That will be
something to set against this awful war!

                                  OTTO

I have no idea. I may have to go away to-morrow.

                                ISABELLE

Are you in the firing-line?

                                  OTTO

It’s all firing-line at the moment. We are advancing like a torrent. I
did not dare tell your father, but the whole of Belgium is invaded.
Antwerp will fall to-morrow and Paris in a week.

                                ISABELLE

And after that?

                                  OTTO

After that, victory; and we shall settle down here, unless you would
rather go with me to Germany.

                                ISABELLE

I shall go where you go.

      (_Enter_ FLORIS.)

                                 FLORIS

Isn’t dad here?

                                  OTTO

Good-morning, Floris! Come and shake hands.

                                 FLORIS

(_Recoiling in horror._) Shake hands with you!

                                ISABELLE

Floris!

                                 FLORIS

Where’s dad?

                                ISABELLE

In the next room. But you might at least be civil and shake hands with
Otto, who wishes us no harm and who has come here to protect us.

                                 FLORIS

I don’t want his protection, thank you!

      (_Exit, slamming the door behind him._)

                                  OTTO

You see the hatred! Amazing! It’s the same everywhere, all the time,
wherever we go. They simply will not listen, they will not understand.
I was conscious of its existence even in the heart of your father, who
is the best-natured, fairest and most tranquil-minded man I know. What
can we do, when they treat us like that?... But we must keep an eye on
the boy. So long as he confines his offensive remarks to me, there’s no
great harm done, but it would be a bad look out for him if he took it
into his head to treat the Major or Lieutenant von Schaunberg in this
way, for they are neither of them very patient. (_A shot is fired in
the distance._) That’s a shot!

                                ISABELLE

Yes, at the bottom of the garden, near the wood.

      (_Enter hurriedly the_ BURGOMASTER _and_ FLORIS.)

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Did you hear? A rifle-shot!

                                 FLORIS

(_Between his teeth._) One less.

                                  OTTO

What do you say?

                                 FLORIS

Nothing. I can say what I like.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

(_Anxiously._) But who fired the shot? It can only have been one of
your men. There’s not a fire-arm left in this house, or anywhere in the
town.

                                  OTTO

It’s probably my brother-officer, Lieutenant von Schaunberg, taking a
stroll in the wood. He’s very fond of shooting; and I told him he’d
find rabbits there.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Yes, the shot came from that side; but there wasn’t a single gun in the
house.

                                  OTTO

He always carries his own among his kit. In any case, if all the arms
are at the Town-hall, you have no cause for alarm. Do you answer for
your servants? Are there no disaffected ones among them?

                            THE BURGOMASTER

What do you call disaffected? They are irritated, incensed, indignant,
exasperated, that’s natural enough; but they know how to restrain
themselves and are not such fools as to attempt a useless murder, which
would entail the destruction of the town and the death of hundreds of
innocent victims, as at Dinant, Andenne, Louvain and Aerschot. I know
them; they will be patient and bide their time.

                                  OTTO

What time?

                            THE BURGOMASTER

The time that will come later.

                                  OTTO

I don’t understand you. Here you are talking like our worst enemies!

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Do you expect me to be one of your friends? Would you insult me by
numbering me among those who.... But I won’t say what I was going to
say, it’s better not.... This incident has unnerved me. For I know that
I am responsible and that if any unpleasantness occurs, it will be on
my head.

                                  OTTO

I hear footsteps outside the house. (_Going to the balcony-window and
opening it._) Is that you, Sergeant Hartung? What is it?

                              THE SERGEANT

(_In the garden below, unseen._) I don’t know, sir. I saw Lieutenant
von Schaunberg go that way.

                                  OTTO

When?

                              THE SERGEANT

A quarter of an hour ago.

                                  OTTO

(_To the_ BURGOMASTER.) It’s what I told you: he has gone shooting in
the wood.

                              THE SERGEANT

Beg pardon, sir, he had no gun with him.

                                  OTTO

Are you sure? That’s odd. Well, run and see what it is, instead of
standing there gaping!

                              THE SERGEANT

Very good, sir. I was just going when you stopped me. But a lot of my
men are there already.

                                  OTTO

I hear shouts. There’s something I don’t like about this. But here’s
one of your men coming back; he’ll tell us what has happened.

                              THE SERGEANT

Hurry up, there! What was it?

                              THE SOLDIER

(_Also in the garden, unseen._) The Lieutenant? Where’s the Lieutenant?

                                  OTTO

Here. What’s the matter? Why don’t you speak?

                              THE SOLDIER

Sir! Lieutenant von Schaunberg! He’s been murdered.

                                  OTTO

What? Who? Come nearer! What are you saying?

                              THE SOLDIER

He’s dead.

                                  OTTO

When? How? Send for a doctor. I’ll come down. Perhaps he’s only wounded.

                              THE SOLDIER

No, sir, he has a bullet through his head. They found him lying in the
bracken.

                                  OTTO

Have they arrested the murderer?

                              THE SOLDIER

They’re hunting in the wood. They’ve seen nobody.

                                  OTTO

(_To the_ SERGEANT.) Have sentries posted at all the gates. Quick!
quick! Shoot any one at sight who attempts to leave the grounds. He
can’t escape. Where’s the Major?

                              THE SERGEANT

I don’t know, sir.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

He’s probably in his room, on the other side of the house. He won’t
have heard.

                                  OTTO

Send and tell him.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

This forebodes no good.

                                  OTTO

Don’t be afraid. The criminal can’t escape; and, when we’ve caught him,
he shall serve as an example that will make them think twice before
they do it again. Stay here, all of you. Let no one leave the room, or
I won’t answer for the consequences. It’s a serious matter, a very
serious matter.


                                (_Exit_)


                                CURTAIN

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                 ACT II


                           _Scene: The same._


_The curtain rises on the the_ MAJOR, _the_ BURGOMASTER, OTTO, _the_
    SECRETARY _and_ ISABELLE.


                               THE MAJOR

Mr. Burgomaster, Lieutenant Karl von Schaunberg has been murdered on
your premises, in your grounds. One of your gardeners has been arrested
near the spot where the crime was committed. We may therefore presume
him to be the culprit. In any case, I shall consider him such, until I
have proof to the contrary; and that is enough. We must make an
example; our safety demands it; and our safety outweighs all other
considerations. In war-time, the best form of justice is the promptest.
Your gardener, therefore, will be shot at seven o’clock precisely,
unless between now and then you hand over the person who, in your
opinion, is the criminal. You know the character and disposition of
your servants better than I do; and you are therefore better able to
discover the malefactor. I have it in my power to command the most
terrible reprisals. Any one else, in my place, would have ordered the
town to be pillaged and set on fire and sentenced a third or a half of
the inhabitants to death. It would have been more regular. Yielding to
the wishes of Lieutenant Otto Hilmer, I will be satisfied with a single
victim. Let me have no cause to regret my clemency and my moderation.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

I repeat what I said to the men who arrested him: it is quite
impossible for old Claus, my head-gardener, to have committed the
crime. He has been in my service for over forty years; and I can answer
for him as I would for myself. He is the gentlest of men, the most
patient, the most harmless. The reason why he was found in the little
wood where the Lieutenant was killed is that the wood contains a
nursery-garden where I myself sent him, this morning, to bud the
rose-trees. He had no weapons on him except his pruning-shears and his
grafting-knife. Besides, I am convinced that, of all my servants and
workmen, Claus is perhaps the only one who has never handled a gun or a
revolver in his life.

                               THE MAJOR

Mr. Burgomaster, you do not seem to perceive that, by exonerating your
head-gardener, you are accusing and condemning yourself. But I will not
argue with you; the enquiry is not my affair. Manage it as you please;
what I have said I have said. I need a culprit; and that culprit has to
be shot at seven o’clock. It shall be whichever of your men you choose
to name; it shall be yourself, if you give me no one else. Meanwhile,
please consider yourself under arrest in your own house. It is guarded;
and any attempt at escape will be pitilessly suppressed. I will let you
know at four o’clock the amount of the fine, over and above the
war-levy, which the town will have to pay before twelve o’clock
to-morrow morning. (_Exit._)

                            THE BURGOMASTER

This is sheer lunacy! To expect me to name the criminal among my
servants, when I know that it is physically impossible for any of them
to be guilty! And, if I do not hand him over before this evening, it
means delivering myself to the firing-party!... You must admit that
this Major of yours, with his “clemency” and his “moderation,” has a
very unpleasant sense of humour. I would rather deal with a brute who
runs amuck and destroys everything with fire and sword: then at least I
should know where I am.

                                  OTTO

What would you have him do? As things are, he can hardly act
differently.

                                ISABELLE

Otto!

                                  OTTO

But, after all, it’s true! You can see for yourself, we are surrounded
by enemies and traitors; we are surrounded by hatred on every side; we
live in a perpetual trap; our lives hang by a thread; and every one of
us can expect a bullet through his head at any moment. It is only
natural that we should protect ourselves, when we are treated like
this! I think the Major’s decision most reasonable, most fair, most
humane. He had the right, it was almost his duty, in fact, to put the
whole town to death; and he is contented with a single victim. Surely
you can’t ask that a crime of this sort should remain unpunished! It
would be the end of us! Besides, you will easily find the criminal; you
have only to confirm the evidence that points to him. The mere fact of
his presence in the wood implies so grave a presumption that you will
never destroy it, however hard you try. All you have to do is to leave
things alone and not interfere. Then, if the Major is wrong, the
mistake will be on his head!

                            THE BURGOMASTER

I can hardly believe my ears, Otto! The war has altered you completely.
You know old Claus as well as I do. You know that, of all men in my
employment, he alone most likely is absolutely incapable of an act of
this kind. If it were any one else, I might have a doubt, I might say:
“Very well, perhaps. In war-time, you can never tell.” But Claus! It’s
as much out of the question as though you suggested that the shot had
been fired by the child which Isabelle is about to bring into the
world!... “A grave presumption!” How dare you say that? You know why
the poor fellow was in the nursery-garden: I sent him there myself,
when he came to take my orders at six o’clock this morning. If I don’t
do all that can be done to prove his innocence, it is as though I
myself were commanding the firing-party....

                                  OTTO

And, if you do prove his innocence, you will be putting yourself in his
place, in front of the firing-party.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Very well, I’d rather have it that way!... But surely that isn’t
possible.

                                  OTTO

It won’t be, unless you want it yourself. We have ample time before us.
It is almost certain that the real criminal will be discovered between
now and this evening.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

The real criminal? Do you know where you’ve got to look for him? Among
your own men! It is simply one of your soldiers who has taken the
opportunity to rid himself of an officer who ill-treated him. You
yourself told me, before the Major came in, that Lieutenant von
Schaunberg was an insufferable lout and that he was generally hated and
loathed.

                                  OTTO

I dare say; but it’s a far cry from that to murder. In any case, I will
myself make enquiries on that side; you, on yours, had better question
Claus; he may give us a clue that will prove useful.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

I don’t mind, but I don’t expect much: the poor man evidently knows
nothing, or he would have told me already. Between ourselves, do you
think the Major was speaking seriously? Does he really mean to place me
in this awful dilemma and condemn me to death if I refuse to surrender
an innocent man?

                                  OTTO

You stand no chance whatever that way. I have never known him to go
back upon a decision which he has once taken. There is no hope of that
at all; but there is every hope elsewhere. We will all of us set to
work. You begin by questioning Claus; I’ll go and see my men.

                                ISABELLE

And may I go out?

                                  OTTO

What for?

                                ISABELLE

You can’t expect me to sit quiet while my father’s life is at stake! I
want to go into the town, to see people, talk to them, ask them
questions, to do something!... Surely our united efforts....

                                  OTTO

Very well, come with me, I’ll get the permit.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Is Claus there?

                                  OTTO

He’s under arrest and guarded by my men; I’ll send him to you. (_Exit
with_ ISABELLE.)

                             THE SECRETARY

I will leave you also, Mr. Burgomaster. I must go and see the sheriffs
and councillors. Perhaps they can take steps or interfere in some
way....

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Yes, my dear Pierre, go. (_Shakes hands with him._) There are bad
moments in a man’s life.... But here is Claus. Leave me with him.

      (_Exit the_ SECRETARY. _Enter_ CLAUS, _with his clothes torn and
          his head covered with bruises and scratches._)

                                 CLAUS

Good-morning, Mr. Burgomaster.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Well, my poor Claus? Why, what have they been doing to you? You’re
bleeding at the mouth and forehead.

                                 CLAUS

There’s no great harm done, Mr. Burgomaster. They knocked me about a
bit, because I didn’t at once understand what they wanted with me; but
there’s no great harm done. Luckily I had on an old shirt and my
third-best trousers.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

You know what you’re accused of?

                                 CLAUS

Yes, Mr. Burgomaster; I didn’t understand at first, but Mr. Otto has
explained.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

You and I have worked together for over forty years, my dear old Claus,
and neither of us has anything to say against the other. Do you trust
me?

                                 CLAUS

Yes, Mr. Burgomaster.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Then tell me all you know. Speak without fear. I give you my word that
whatever you say will remain between ourselves.

                                 CLAUS

I don’t know much, Mr. Burgomaster. I was in the nursery-garden where
you told me to go this morning; I was trimming the rose-trees. They
needed it, Mr. Burgomaster, I can tell you, especially the Paul Nerons,
which had suckers as high as that. And the Malmaisons and Marshal Neils
are getting the blight, Mr. Burgomaster.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

The blight? I’m surprised at that; I didn’t notice any two days ago.
How much of the insecticide have we left?

                                 CLAUS

Only a gallon or so, Mr. Burgomaster.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

That’s not enough. I’ll order some more to-morrow.... And then what
happened?

                                 CLAUS

Then, Mr. Burgomaster, I heard a shot.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

From which side? At what distance?

                                 CLAUS

Not very far, Mr. Burgomaster. Perhaps forty or fifty yards from where
I was working.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

And then?

                                 CLAUS

I went on with my work, Mr. Burgomaster, saying to myself that a shot
more or less in war-time was no reason to make me desert my rose-trees.
Then I heard shouts; I came out of the nursery, to see what was
happening; some German soldiers saw me, fell upon me, shook me, struck
me and kept shouting, “Kaput! Kaput!” Then they dragged me to the
house; and Mr. Otto rescued me from them and locked me up in the
seed-house.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

After the shot was fired, did you see no one near you, no one running
away under the trees? Did you hear nothing, notice nothing?

                                 CLAUS

As you know, Mr. Burgomaster, there’s a thick hedge all the way round
the nursery and you can’t see what happens in the woods.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Now is there any one whom you suspect among the workmen and gardeners?
Is there any one who has let himself go at all and who has said things
that may put us on the right track? Once more, I give you my word that
all this will remain strictly between ourselves.

                                 CLAUS

The young men, Mr. Burgomaster, the hot-headed ones, are gone: they
have all joined the army. There’s none left here but old men like you
and me, who know that you can’t fight against God’s will and that any
show of violence only makes things worse for us.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Well, in the town or outside, don’t you know of some reckless fellow
who might have committed the murder?

                                 CLAUS

That’s not so easy to answer, Mr. Burgomaster. But I’ve thought and
thought; and, since the young men are gone, there’s no one I can think
of.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

You’re a Christian, Claus, you’re a religious man; and I’ve always
respected you for it. Do you swear that what you have told me is the
exact truth and that you are keeping nothing from me?

                                 CLAUS

I swear it, Mr. Burgomaster, as I hope to be saved.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

I believe you, my dear old Claus, and there was no need for you to take
that oath. But the fact is that all this is very important to me, for
my life depends upon it....

                                 CLAUS

Your life? How do you mean, Mr. Burgomaster?

                            THE BURGOMASTER

I may as well tell you that, if I declare you to be innocent and if I
don’t produce the criminal, it’s I who will be shot in your place this
evening.

                                 CLAUS

You, Mr. Burgomaster? Why? You’ve done nothing! It’s impossible; people
don’t do such things!

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Yes, they do, my dear Claus: it’s what they did at Aerschot, what
they’ve done everywhere and what they mean to do here as well. Otto
himself told me that nothing could prevent it.

                                 CLAUS

It can’t be possible, Mr. Burgomaster, it would be too unjust!... We
shall find the man who did it, or the man himself when he hears, will
feel ashamed and will give himself up.... Or else you will be able to
escape: Mr. Otto will help you. Something will happen; and I am sure
that God will not permit....

                            THE BURGOMASTER

He permits plenty of other things, my poor Claus; He is permitting
everything to-day. The only thing that will happen is my death; and we
may think ourselves lucky if nothing worse happens. You know as I do
that escape is quite impossible. Otto might try and help me, as a last
resort; but then he would be shot in my place; and that would not be
fair either. But all hope is not lost. Otto is at this moment making
enquiries among his men; that may lead to something. You, in your turn,
must collect our labourers and speak to them. You have great influence
with them; they will listen to you. Explain the position to them; and,
if one of them knows the guilty man, you must arrange things among
yourselves. I do not ask them to betray him or to surrender him. I will
not mix myself up in it. They must settle among themselves what is the
right thing to do.

                                 CLAUS

I will speak to them, Mr. Burgomaster; and you may be sure that, if the
man who did it is one of them, he will do his duty.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Get them to come to the palm-house; say there’s some urgent work to be
done because of the damage last night. I will ask Otto to let you come
and go freely. Ah, here he is!

      (_Enter_ OTTO.)

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Otto, I have questioned Claus; I told you that he was as innocent as
you or I; as I thought, he has no information to give me. Can you take
it upon yourself to let him move about freely, so that he may see the
gardeners and workmen and make enquiries which may lead to the
discovery of the murderer?

                                  OTTO

By all means; I trust him fully. Come with me, Claus; I’ll give the
necessary orders. (_Exit with_ CLAUS.)

                            THE BURGOMASTER

(_Taking out his watch and looking at the clock._) Three o’clock.
There’s not much time to lose. (_Enter_ OTTO.) Well, what have you
learnt on your side?

                                  OTTO

I am feeling a little less uneasy; but everything depends on you. To
begin with, Dr. van Cassel, of this town, has made a hurried
post-mortem examination. It appears that the bullet entered by the back
of the neck, passed through the brain and came out at the forehead. The
bullet has not been found. The wound shows that it was of military
calibre.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

That’s something, at any rate, for it proves that there is no question
of a sporting-gun.

                                  OTTO

Yes, but it may have been a revolver-bullet. Also, I don’t believe it
is possible that one of our men committed the crime. At the time when
the shot was fired, we had only a hundred and fifty men here, in
addition to a dozen Uhlans. The soldiers stacked their rifles in the
square and never left the square. Six men, with their arms, were posted
in the little yard behind the stables and they never left the yard.
These are the men who ran up after the shot was fired. As for the
Uhlans, with the exception of two who were on sentry duty outside the
house, they were grooming their horses in the stable of the Unicorn
Hotel. I have personally examined the arms of those six men. They did
not look as if they had been used this morning at all; the barrels were
oiled and shiny, they might have just come from the gunsmith’s.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

It is easy enough to polish up a rifle-barrel.

                                  OTTO

Of course; but remember that the Major will never admit that one of his
men committed the murder, unless we bring him a concrete and undeniable
proof.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

So there is nothing more to be hoped for in that direction?

                                  OTTO

I fear not.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

That closes one more door against us. Have you seen the Major since?

                                  OTTO

Yes; and I came away with a very hopeful feeling. But, once more,
everything will depend upon yourself.... First of all, though, here is
the proclamation which he handed me for you to sign. I may tell you, it
is already in print and will soon be posted in the town.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Show me the proclamation.

                                  OTTO

I’ll read it to you: “A dastardly attack having been committed on an
officer of the German army, if the culprit is not delivered before
seven o’clock this evening precisely, the Burgomaster of the town of
Stilemonde, being responsible, will be publicly shot at the hour
aforesaid. If any other attempt were made, the town will be looted and
set on fire; and the tenth man of all the male inhabitants will be put
to death.”

                            THE BURGOMASTER

He wants me to sign that, does he?

                                  OTTO

You must. Besides, he has taken your consent for granted, for your
signature already appears at the foot of the sheet.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Then it was scarcely worth while asking me to sign it.

                                  OTTO

It was more regular and more correct.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

And suppose I refuse?

                                  OTTO

You will be no better off; he will do without and will not forgive you
for refusing.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

What more can he do than shoot me?

                                  OTTO

You are not the only one whom he can order to be shot.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

That’s true. After all, I am only signing my own death-warrant and am
wronging nobody. (_Signing the paper._) There, that’s done. But wait:
what about improving the grammar a bit?

                                  OTTO

You had better not try. He is persuaded that it is above criticism.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

My poor Otto, I believe there’s nothing left for me to do but make my
will. It is made; but I should like to revise it and alter a few of the
bequests.

                                  OTTO

Don’t say that and don’t lose courage; you still have several chances
of escape.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Really? I don’t see one.

                                  OTTO

To begin with, there’s this: the Major is so thoroughly convinced of
Claus’s guilt that he is quite capable of having him shot together with
yourself, if you persist in proclaiming his innocence. He has taken it
into his head that you are absolutely determined to save Claus from the
punishment which he deserves. In reality, he is not at all keen on
having you shot; I could see that; he bears you no ill-will....

                            THE BURGOMASTER

That’s very good of him....

                                  OTTO

But he must have an example at all costs; on this point his mind is
fully made up; and I am bound to say that I agree with him. I gathered
that, if need be, he will cease to demand that you should declare Claus
guilty. It will be enough for you to keep quiet, to make no fuss and
not to protest the man’s innocence. You have only to know nothing of
what happens.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Indeed? And you, what would you do in my place?

                                  OTTO

I should not hesitate. After all, as there are two innocent men, why
should you, who are unquestionably the more innocent of the two, be the
one to suffer? We are at war; war brings strokes of good and bad luck
which have nothing in common with the chances of ordinary life. Those
upon whom ill-luck falls can only accept their fate. The others are not
responsible for an injustice in which they have no more share, in which
they take no more part than, let me say, in the injustice of a bridge
that breaks down or a factory-chimney that falls to the ground, burying
a dozen victims in its ruins.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

All this is much too subtle for me. I see and understand one thing
only: Claus is innocent. If I do not declare the fact aloud, by your
Major’s own decision my silence becomes tantamount to a formal
accusation and, to save my own life, I shall be sending a man whom I
know to be innocent to face the firing-party. Is there a name for that
action in German?

                                  OTTO

You refuse to understand. Whatever happens, from your point of view an
injustice is bound to be committed. The question is who shall be the
victim, you or Claus. Why should you die rather than he?

                            THE BURGOMASTER

And why he rather than I?

                                  OTTO

Because he has been appointed by fate, chance, destiny, or whatever you
like to call it. You are not responsible for his death; and there is no
reason why you should shout, like Nisis, “I, I am here, I did it! Let
me die in his stead!” This is not the time and place for theatrical
display or inopportune heroism.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

You are quite right; and, if, in order to save Claus, I went and said
to the Major, “You need look no further, it is I who killed the
Lieutenant,” I should, as you say, be making a display of inopportune
heroism for which I am not at all fitted. There is nothing of the hero
about me; I am just a poor, respectable man, like the other men of this
town; like the other men, I fear death; and I am as much attached to
life as any one else, indeed perhaps more, for my life hitherto has
been happier than I deserved. I should like to end it as calmly as
possible, but even so, I want to end it decently. It is all very well
for you to say that Claus, innocent as he is, must die because he has
been selected by fate and that I am not responsible for what happens to
him. But I too am selected by fate! If an unlucky chance brought him on
the scene of the murder, a similar and equally unlucky chance has
placed me at the head of this town at a moment of terrible
responsibility and danger. Our position, looked at from the point of
view of ill-luck and of the excuse which you are trying to find in
destiny, is absolutely the same. If Claus had in his hands the power
which I have in mine, if my life or death depended on his evidence
alone and if, knowing me to be innocent, he proclaimed me guilty, you
would consider him a monster or the meanest of cowards; yet he would be
doing exactly what you wish me to do. He and I are both marked down, to
the same extent, by the same fatality and we stand an equal chance; but
you are urging me to cheat and to take an unfair advantage against a
decent man who cannot protect himself and who trusts me. I should be
only too glad to be convinced by what you say, but that is out of the
question; and I cannot understand how you yourself do not understand!

                                  OTTO

Very well, let us drop argument, since you will not listen to reason.
Let us admit that the position is the same in both cases; but, as a
choice has to be made between two lives, would you consider your own,
which is useful and necessary to all, of no more value than that of a
poor devil who has no relations, no children, no one to regret him, who
does no public service and who will soon be a burden to the community?

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Old Claus’s life is worth just as much as mine; and my answer would be
the same if, instead of being the respectable, God-fearing man that he
is, he were the lowest of scoundrels. It is here a question not of
weighing the value or the usefulness of a man’s life, but of knowing
whether or not I am to dishonour my own.

                                  OTTO

You really amaze me! You scarcely seem to be the same man, the wise,
prudent person, the man of tact and discretion, who did me the honour
to entrust me with his daughter!

                            THE BURGOMASTER

I certainly did not realize to what sort of man I was giving her.

                                  OTTO

I will be fairer and more reasonable than you are; and I do not abandon
the hope of saving you in spite of yourself. You have time for
reflection; you have three hours before you; and I shall see that you
are free to make your choice until the very last minute.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

My choice is made. The longer I reflect, the more clearly I shall see
that any decent man in my place would do as I am doing and that I
cannot do otherwise. (_Enter_ CLAUS.) But here comes Claus, bringing us
news, which perhaps will show how futile all this discussion has been.
Well, Claus, what have you heard?

                                 CLAUS

I’ll tell you, Mr. Burgomaster. I called my gardeners into the
palm-house. They were all there except old Decoster, who is ill in bed,
and the young men who left a fortnight ago. I told them what had
happened and what was going to happen. They understood and they were
wild with indignation. I saw quite plainly that they knew nothing and
could do nothing. And I also know that, if the guilty man was among
them, they would have no need to accuse him and to hand him over. He
would have handed himself over. They all had tears in their eyes, Mr.
Burgomaster, and in their hearts something of which I won’t speak, in
Mr. Otto’s presence.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

I was sure of it.

                                 CLAUS

And now, Mr. Burgomaster, may I make a suggestion? I will say this in
Mr. Otto’s presence, for there is no harm in his repeating it to the
Major.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

What is it, Claus?

                                 CLAUS

It’s like this, Mr. Burgomaster; I’ve been thinking things over. I’m an
old man, I shall be sixty-three by the end of next month. I’m a
widower, Mr. Burgomaster, and I have no children. I suffer a good deal;
and my life, which is nearly finished, isn’t worth much, Mr.
Burgomaster. So I said to myself, Mr. Burgomaster, “Claus, old man,
seeing that you were found near the Lieutenant who was killed, it would
perhaps be better if you did not say that it wasn’t you who killed him.”

                                  OTTO

Then you admit that you killed him?

                                 CLAUS

No, Mr. Otto, I can’t admit that I killed him, because I didn’t. I have
only to say nothing next time they accuse me. Or else I will ask the
Major to have me shot instead of the Burgomaster. The Burgomaster’s
life is necessary to everybody here, especially at this time, whereas
mine is no longer of much use to anybody.

                                  OTTO

You see? It’s exactly what I said. There’s no more ground for
hesitation. This good man understands his duty and yours better than
you do. Claus, old fellow, give me your hand.

                                 CLAUS

(_Withdrawing his hand._) No, Mr. Otto, excuse me. I have been digging
up the ground and I should soil your white gloves.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

I not only want to shake both your hands, though they be covered with
earth, but I want to take you in my arms as I would a brother, my dear
old Claus. (_Clasps him in his arms._) And now let there be no more
question of all this. What you propose to do is very beautiful and,
coming from you, does not astonish me at all; but it is not
practicable. To begin with, I have no right to accept your sacrifice.
It is very fine of you to offer it, but it would be mean and hateful of
me to accept it. Besides, if I did accept it, unless you formally
declared yourself guilty, it is pretty nearly certain that the Major on
his side would refuse it. What he wants, in order to make a striking
example, is not your life, but mine, or the murderer’s.

                                 CLAUS

I will say anything that I have to, so as to die in your place, Mr.
Burgomaster.

                                  OTTO

(_To the_ BURGOMASTER.) In that case, the Major will accept; I’ll
answer for him. Leave it to me and look upon yourself as saved.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

But don’t you see that it’s the same thing as before, that it means
handing over an innocent man to execution and that, the more you try to
obscure it, the clearer my duty becomes? If I will not permit Claus to
die voluntarily in my stead while declaring himself innocent, still
less can I allow him to do so by declaring himself guilty, when I know
that he is not. That would be committing two mean actions instead of
one.

                                  OTTO

(_Trying to drag_ CLAUS _away._) Come, Claus, we will save him in spite
of himself. Come along to the Major.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Claus, stay here. You love me, my dear old Claus: you have just given
me the most beautiful and positive proof that one man can give to
another. I will ask you for yet another proof, perhaps even more
trying; it shall be the last. Promise me that, whatever happens, you
will not go to the Major.

                                 CLAUS

Mr. Burgomaster, Mr. Burgomaster, you know what is right better than I
do.... (_Sobbing._) But I meant it with all my heart, Mr. Burgomaster.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

(_Embracing him._) Good-bye, my dear Claus.

                                 CLAUS

Good-bye, Mr. Burgomaster.

                                  OTTO

I can’t understand a syllable of all this. It’s simply a mad craving
for martyrdom.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

No, my dear fellow, it’s only the way decent folk behave in this
country. (_A knock at the door._) Come in! (_Enter the_ FOOTMAN.) What
is it?

                              THE FOOTMAN

Mr. Burgomaster, the Major has sent to ask you and Lieutenant Otto to
go with him to the Town-hall.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Of course, I was forgetting the war-levy and the fine. We shall have a
tough discussion. I’m reckoning on you, Otto.

                                  OTTO

I will do my best, but I can’t promise much: the Major seldom allows
any one to differ from him.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

What’s the time? Past four? And here was I quietly attending to private
matters, as though I were all alone in the world! It is time that we
were thinking of others.


                                CURTAIN

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                ACT III


                           _Scene: The same._

_The curtain rises on the_ BURGOMASTER, _the_ SECRETARY, ISABELLE _and_
    FLORIS.


                            THE BURGOMASTER

As you were not present at the meeting, Mr. Secretary, I will tell you
what was decided. The question of the war-levy and of the fine
inflicted on the town for the death of Lieutenant von Schaunberg is
settled. The Major demanded five hundred thousand francs for the levy
and two millions for the fine....

                                 FLORIS

Two hundred thousand times what he was worth!

                            THE BURGOMASTER

There’s no doubt about that.... I persuaded the Major, not without
difficulty, to agree to a lump sum of a million, which must be paid
before midday to-morrow. I have in my safe fifty thousand francs in
cash, which I place at the disposal of the town. De Cuyper’s Bank will
pay us two hundred and fifty thousand francs, Sheriff van den Bulke
fifty thousand and Councillor de Rudder seventy-five thousand francs.
That makes nearly half a million certain. Sheriff Vermandel will try to
get the rest of the money from the town-councillors and the leading
inhabitants. You will assist him in his efforts. Everything therefore
is more or less settled; and I can go without too much anxiety. The
conditions are hard, but, taken all round, they are better than I
hoped; and Stilemonde will not suffer unduly from the occupation. In
any case, its fate is almost enviable, compared with that of many other
towns. It owes this favour largely to Otto’s presence. He really did
all he could without dangerously compromising himself. I want to
recognize this in your presence and to do him justice.... I have said
good-bye to the sheriffs, the councillors and all my friends at the
Town-hall. I was very much touched; I had no idea that they cared so
much for me. Sheriff Vermandel was really quite distressing: I’ve never
seen a man look so sad. He clung to me, wanted to die in my place. I
had the greatest difficulty in making him understand that it was not
his turn and that his sacrifice would be impossible and useless. Father
de Coninck, the Rector of St. John the Baptist’s, arrived at the end of
the meeting and asked the Major why he had not taken him for a hostage
as well as myself. He said that it was an honour to which he was
entitled. Splendid of him, the way he demanded his share. The Major
replied that he would lose nothing by waiting. Say what you will, there
are good men left in the world. (_Looking at the clock._) Half-past
five. We have an hour and a half before us. But you have no time to
lose, my dear Pierre; go and see to your affairs. I will wait here with
my children until Otto returns. By the way, what has become of our
wounded soldier, your friend Gilson? We have been forgetting him.

                             THE SECRETARY

Firmin put him in the chauffeur’s room. I looked in there a moment ago.
He was sleeping soundly, like a child, and he knows nothing.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

So much the better. Be sure and keep an eye on him when I am gone, for
he might commit some imprudence.

                             THE SECRETARY

Make your mind easy; I’ll see to it. _Au revoir_, Mr. Burgomaster.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

(_Shaking hands with him._) _Au revoir._ Yes, perhaps we shall see each
other again. (_Exit the_ SECRETARY.) Otto has gone to make a last
appeal to the Major. I have no great hope of his succeeding. I shall be
leaving you soon, my dears, and I want to give you my last injunctions.

      (ISABELLE _and_ FLORIS _fling themselves into their father’s
          arms._)

                                ISABELLE

Father!

                                 FLORIS

Dad!

                            THE BURGOMASTER

(_Caressing them tenderly._) Don’t cry, dears; the time has not yet
come. But we must provide for everything. My will is with Van Overloop,
the solicitor. I have added certain safeguards against Otto, who, after
all, is not a member of the family. You will find in the safe, over and
above the fifty thousand francs put aside for the payment of the fine,
ten thousand francs in ready money, which will enable you to live till
better times come. Here, Isabelle, is the key. Don’t mention those ten
thousand francs, either of you, to Otto. Isabelle’s position will be
very difficult after the war. Flemish people have long memories and the
national hatred will be so great that Otto will not be able to show his
face here again.

                                 FLORIS

I should hope not!

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Hold your tongue, Floris; show some pity for your sister; and, whatever
happens, always remember that she is your sister.... But here comes
Otto; he will tell us the latest.

      (_Enter_ OTTO.)

                                ISABELLE

(_Running towards him._) Well? Did you succeed? Have you done it? Did
you make him understand?

                                  OTTO

Not a thing! I begged, entreated, dragged myself at his feet, did and
said what not another German officer would have done. Not a thing, not
a thing! He ended by commanding my silence in such a tone that it was
impossible to insist.

                                ISABELLE

You must try again! You give in too soon: that’s not the way to obtain
what one wants! If you had let me go with you, as I implored you, he
would have ended by yielding, I know he would! After all, he may be a
German, but he’s a man, for all that! Come along. I want to go with
you. If you won’t come, I’ll go alone!

                                  OTTO

It’s no use, he won’t see us.

                                ISABELLE

Did you say all there was to say? You have influence in Germany; your
family is rich and powerful; you’ve told me so again and again. You
must frighten him, make him feel uneasy, threaten him, anything!

                                  OTTO

Threaten him! You don’t realize; you don’t know what things are. I saw
that his patience was exhausted.... But I haven’t told you everything.
There’s something else, something worse.

                                ISABELLE

Something worse? Worse than what? What can be worse than death?

                                  OTTO

Yes, he has discovered something worse; and perhaps it is not his
fault. He is, as we all are, the slave of discipline and of the
military regulations. He does not like me as much, perhaps, as he liked
von Schaunberg, for I don’t belong to his class. But I do not believe
that he wishes me any ill. He was always a little distant to me,
perhaps, but on the whole, up to now, he has been very just. He is not
a bad sort of man; he is one of our most humane officers; but what he
wants to make me do is terrible.

                                ISABELLE

But what is it, what? There is nothing more for us to fear. Nothing
worse can happen than what has happened already. He is not going to
revive torture, I suppose? Does he want more victims? There are no
lives more precious than our father’s. Does he want you and me? I would
rather have that. We will all die together. Of what good will life be,
after this?

                                  OTTO

He does not ask for other victims, but his orders are.... No, I can’t
say it, I daren’t say it, to you!

                                ISABELLE

But what is it that he wants? Do speak, speak, tell us! Why all this
mystery? What can you say, worse than already is? If I lose my father,
I shall have nothing left to lose.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

She is right; it is cruel of you to keep her on tenterhooks like this.
You see how upset she is. Say what you have to say; tell us. You cannot
add much to what we know already.

                                  OTTO

You are right. Very well, he orders, he demands that I myself shall
command the firing-party.

                                ISABELLE

The firing-party, the men who are to shoot my father?

                                  OTTO

Yes.

                                 FLORIS

The scoundrel, the villain!

                                ISABELLE

You, Otto, you? It’s not true! He can’t have dared! It’s impossible!
And you didn’t rebel, you didn’t lash him across the face, you didn’t
cut him down with your sword, your eyes said nothing of what was
passing in your soul? I refuse to believe it! There has been nothing
like this in any war in history! Why, it’s not possible! It’s only a
test! He wanted to find out how far he could go; but he knows quite
well that no man, no man in the world, not even a German, could agree
to that!... Well, what did you answer? I hope that by this time he
knows what to expect and that, though you have had the misfortune to be
born in Germany, you are still different from the rest of them!

                                  OTTO

The worst of it is that he is obliged to do what he is doing. I am the
only officer he has with him. It’s the regulation: he can’t act
differently.

                                ISABELLE

He can’t act differently!... And you dare tell me that, just as though
you approved!... But you, you, what did you say, what did you do and
what do you intend to do?

                                  OTTO

I told him it was impossible.

                                ISABELLE

That’s something, at last! It’s the first word which was worthy of you,
which was worthy of the man I married!... And what did he reply? He
didn’t insist, of course?

                                  OTTO

He told me that he would give me till seven o’clock to think it over.
If at seven o’clock precisely I am not at the head of my men in the
little yard behind the stables, he will have me arrested, place me
against the wall beside your father and will himself command the party
which will execute both sentences.

                                ISABELLE

Good! I shall go and stand between the two of you. He will order three
volleys and it will be finished. After all, life has become impossible.

                                 FLORIS

I shall go too.

                                ISABELLE

And “the man is not a bad sort,” you say! “He’s one of your most humane
officers!”

                                  OTTO

It’s war!

                                ISABELLE

And who started the war?

                                  OTTO

As far as you Belgians were concerned, you did! And many of us were
sore at heart when we found that we had to march against you. But you
wanted it! Ah, that beloved king of yours did a fine stroke of work, on
the day when he blocked the way to a peaceful army of men, who merely
asked to pass through the country as friends.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Silence! Our king’s wishes were the wishes of every one of us; and if
to-morrow we had to do once more what we have done to-day, you would
find us in the same place, among our ruins, our martyrs and our dead,
ready to begin all over again.

                                 FLORIS

Tell your horrible Kaiser to put that in his pipe and smoke it!

                                  OTTO

(_Suddenly drawing himself up, in a threatening attitude._) Mind what
you’re saying!

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Come, come, stop this fooling and let us talk sense. We must not lose
our self-control. The Major is a monster, a brute, anything you please;
but, placed as he is, he’s right. He’s obeying the regulations; and,
again in his position, he can’t act differently.... I will ask Otto
once again, is it quite certain that he will not reconsider his
decision? People often change their minds at the last moment; and even
the most obstinate man will let himself think.

                                  OTTO

As I know him—and I have known him for more than ten years—he will
have everything carried out exactly as he has decided.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Can’t he have the firing-party commanded by a sergeant?

                                  OTTO

He won’t do it. In anything relating to the army orders, he is
inflexible. Besides, on second thoughts, I am not sure that I did not
go too far just now when I said that he had nothing against me. I have
sometimes observed a certain ill-will, almost a certain animosity,
where I was concerned. I don’t quite know to what to ascribe it. It may
be that the plebeian prosperity of my family offends his patrician
poverty. It may be that, as I took my wife from this country, he
suspects me of being too fond of its inhabitants. Or, more likely
still, he may have other reasons into which I do not care to enter. The
fact remains that he would not be sorry to find me at fault or at least
to put me to the test and to make that test a striking example, which
will teach our soldiers once more what German discipline can do.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

And if I asked him to grant me the favour of giving the word to fire?

                                  OTTO

I thought of that. He refused peremptorily, refused as a matter of
course, said that it was an honour which could not be shown to a rebel
and a traitor.

                                 FLORIS

A traitor?

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Yes, Floris, they call traitors all those who do not betray their
country for Germany’s benefit.

                                  OTTO

He added that it was also against all the regulations, so it became
useless for me to insist.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Very good. What do you intend to do?

                                  OTTO

Whatever Isabelle decides.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

And what will you have him do, Isabelle?

                                ISABELLE

Refuse to obey.

                                 FLORIS

Why, of course!

                            THE BURGOMASTER

And, if you refuse to obey, Otto, do you think that your refusal will
alter my fate at all?

                                  OTTO

I am convinced—I am sorry to say it—that nothing could alter it in
any way whatever.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

On the other hand, if he refuses to obey, do you, Isabelle, fully
realize the consequences? He will at once be arrested and shot by my
side. That is so, Otto, is it not?

                                  OTTO

There is not the least doubt of it.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Is that what you wish, Isabelle? He will die at the same time that I do.

                                ISABELLE

And at the same time that I do.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

It is not sure that they will permit you to die with us.

                                ISABELLE

It would certainly be the first time that they had spared a woman. You
need have no fear on that score. In any case, this is my affair; and we
need say no more about that.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Do you accept, Otto?

                                  OTTO

I accept, in so far as I am concerned, that is to say, I shall refuse
to obey; but I do not agree to letting my death involve Isabelle’s.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Therefore, by ordering you to disobey, Isabelle is sending you to face
the firing-party. She has no right to do that, unless she is absolutely
determined not to survive you. If a woman deliberately and of her own
free will—for that is what you are doing, Isabelle—sends a man to his
death and does not go with him, after explicitly promising to share his
fate, then she is guilty of one of the most odious and cowardly acts of
treachery which she could possibly commit. Reflect, both of you. It is
a question of taking, in my presence, a solemn and irrevocable pledge.

                                ISABELLE

I have thought it all out. The pledge is taken.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Then Otto will die in an hour’s time and you with him? Is that exactly
what you wish?

                                ISABELLE

It is exactly what I wish and all that I wish.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Do you accept, Otto?

                                  OTTO

I accept, since Isabelle wishes it.

      (_A pause._)

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Good. Each of you is worthy of the other. You have proved to me that
you love me and that you love each other better than life.... Now that
the proof is established and your sacrifice fulfilled as much as though
death had come to you, we have nothing more to fear and we can speak
freely. In all this nightmare there is only one death which is
necessary and inevitable; and that is mine. Your own deaths depend only
upon ourselves, that is to say, they must not take place.... Isabelle,
my darling, if I were lying on my death-bed at this moment, you would
not refuse to hear and carry out my last wishes. I am before you now,
standing on my feet, but as near to my end as though I were stretched
upon a bed of sickness. (_The clock strikes six._) Hark! Six o’clock!
You see how close it is. Besides, I have what dying men, whose minds
are often dulled, do not always have, the full possession of my mental
faculties. The wish which I am about to express, the request which I am
about to make of both of you, must therefore be all the more sacred. Do
you promise me, Isabelle, as you would promise a dying man, to perform
piously what I am going to ask of you?

                                ISABELLE

I know beforehand what you are going to ask; and I cannot promise you
to order the man I married to become the murderer of his father and
mine.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Isabelle, at a moment like this we must not juggle with words which do
not express what they say and which distort the truth most dreadfully.
Otto has revealed to us the only truth that counts, by proving that he
is ready to sacrifice his life not only to save mine, if that were
possible, but even to spare you the pain of seeing him become the
instrument—to some extent the accidental, involuntary, irresponsible
instrument—of my death. It is for you and me to show ourselves worthy
of that sacrifice by not accepting it.

                                ISABELLE

If I did not accept it, I should not be worthy of being your daughter.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Words, more words, Isabelle, which do not touch the truth. We have no
time to waste on sentences which do not say the things that have to be
said. The minutes are slipping by, there are very few left; and I
should not like to die before convincing you. Otto—you know it as well
as I do—is caught in the cogs of the machine and cannot extricate
himself. This is enough to justify him. He is no more responsible for
the harm which he will do me than the sword which he carries or the
twelve rifles which will discharge their bullets at me. We must look at
things as they are and rise above hackneyed phrases and theories which
show things to us as they are not. If his refusal could delay my
execution for a day, for an hour, I could in the last resort understand
your decision; but it will not delay it for three minutes. Whether it
be he or another who gives the word of command, the ten or twelve
bullets that enter my body will do it the same hurt.

                                ISABELLE

Enough, enough!

                            THE BURGOMASTER

No, it is not enough: you have not yet promised me.

                                ISABELLE

I can’t promise.

                                 FLORIS

Isabelle!

                                ISABELLE

What is it?

                                 FLORIS

(_Flinging himself into his sister’s arms._) I don’t know!

                            THE BURGOMASTER

I have done my duty, Isabelle, and you have approved. I have made the
sacrifice of my life; and I have made it much more easily than I dared
hope, for I did not know that I had so much courage. But I am no hero;
I am only a poor man who was quite unprepared to do what I am going to
do to-day. You must not ask too much of me. There are limits to my
strength. I am not used to suffering, I have not been in the habit of
braving misfortune. I can bear my own unhappiness, but not that of
others; and I feel that I shall not hold out to the end without
breaking down, if my death is to involve the loss of the most precious
of the lives which I thought I had ransomed. You must spare me one
intolerable sorrow that can still move me. You ought to understand
this. You ought to help me. And, instead of helping me, you are both of
you making it more difficult for me! Don’t you want your father to hold
up his head when he faces the enemy? I was not afraid of death for
myself, but I am for you. Do not weaken the strength which I shall need
very soon. I have made the sacrifice of my own life, but not of your
two lives: that would mean a twofold death to me and threefold
suffering; and the courage which I have called up will not be enough if
I see you fall by my side.

                                ISABELLE

(_Sobbing and throwing herself into her father’s arms._) Father!

                            THE BURGOMASTER

I thought that there would be tears for me, Isabelle. They prove that
you are becoming reasonable and will no longer resist me.

                                ISABELLE

I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I shall never be able to do it!

                            THE BURGOMASTER

But you must. Time presses; and you are making the last few minutes of
my life seem even more cruel than death.

                                ISABELLE

There are chances still. There is flight.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Flight?... Whither?... How?... The house is guarded.

                                ISABELLE

The men who guard it are under Otto’s orders. He has only to give a
command.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Otto is answerable for my safe custody. If I run away, he will take my
place against the wall.

                                ISABELLE

He can run away too.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

And both of us be caught before we have gone two hundred yards? The
tragedy would be the same; only it would be less seemly. And, if I did
succeed in escaping, too many others would pay the penalty. Of all the
chances of safety, this obviously is the only one that must on no
account be attempted. No, I am driven into a corner, I am marked down;
it is all over; and you must look upon me as dead. I have come to the
end of my days; those which were worth living are past. I am not dying
too soon; I had nothing more to wait for. Instead of a lingering,
troublesome death, a painful, miserable death on a bed, I am offered a
quick and sudden end, an honourable end, free from thought or
suffering, and one which perhaps will save half the town. I should be
mad to hesitate or to regret not dying in my bed. I too have been
afraid of death. If any one had ever told me that one evening I should
have to face it as I am doing now, I should not have dared to go on
living. Whereas now I hardly give it a thought; I have to make an
effort, to force myself, to concentrate my mind upon it in order to
realize that, after all, perhaps it is somewhat serious and not what we
had expected. Looked at from a distance, death seems like some horrible
mountain, which shuts out the horizon; but, as we draw near, it
dwindles and sinks away; and, when we are face to face with it, it is
nothing.

                                ISABELLE

Well, if it is nothing, let us die with you.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

It is nothing to me, because I was nearing my end; and, above all, it
is nothing because it is necessary. But to you two it is everything,
because it is purposeless and because your life is beginning.

                                ISABELLE

Our life is beginning. Ah, a beautiful life, a life that begins like
this!

                            THE BURGOMASTER

It will be what you make of it. But enough! I have begged, entreated
and argued. The seconds are flying and I am wasting the last of them in
quarrelling with you instead of pressing you to my heart. Yes or no,
will you do what I ask? I appeal to Otto: his silence shows that he
understands. He sees things now as you will see them later, as I see
them and as we are bound to see them. One day you will thank us both
for not listening to you to-day. But we must have done with this; and
there are certain precautions which we must take to protect you against
yourself and the strain of the final moment. I am going to lock you in
this room and I shall give the key of the door to Otto, who will let
you out when all is over.

                                ISABELLE

Lock me in here, while...? I won’t have it, I won’t have it!

                            THE BURGOMASTER

You surely will not compel Otto and me to use violence, to push you
back by force, to struggle with you? That would be too dreadful! Look
at me! Can’t you see that I am using up all my strength, my last atom
of strength, that I am dying ten deaths, rather than one, because of
you? Look! I can scarcely hold myself up! It is more than I can bear,
it is too much for me: will you not understand?

                                ISABELLE

(_Falls sobbing into her father’s arms._) I too cannot bear it any
more.... Do what you will!... I promise whatever you ask of me!

                            THE BURGOMASTER

At last my own daughter has come back to me! And now let me give you
one long, long kiss, free from any thought of pain or sorrow. You will
both of you live. I feel as I might if I had been reprieved. But
remember that you have given your promise to a dying man. And, my dear
one, I want something more. I am not asking you to forget: that does
not depend on yourself. Nor to forgive Otto: there is nothing to
forgive. I simply ask you not to shut him out from your heart. Is that
a promise also?

                                ISABELLE

(_Faintly._) Yes.

                            THE BURGOMASTER

Come and kiss her, Otto.

                                ISABELLE

(_Starting._) No, no!... Not now!...

                            THE BURGOMASTER

He is more to be pitied than either of us two. He is bearing the chief
burden of this dreadful ordeal; and I doubt if, in his place, I should
have the strength to bear that burden. We must have pity. You will
learn, slowly, to love him once more as you have loved him until this
day.... Besides, you will probably soon become a mother. The child that
is to be born must not become the last and most sorrowful victim of
this tragedy. I know that, at first, life will be very sad for you and
very difficult. Wait patiently. Listen humbly to what it says. Life is
always right. It is full of indulgence and good-will and very soon
forgets what should be forgotten. (_The clock strikes seven._) Seven
o’clock. I hear some one knocking at the door. My time is up. They have
come to fetch us, Otto. Let us embrace each other for the last time,
Isabelle. Come to my arms, Floris. You’re a man now. I entrust your
sister to you. We have been very fond of one another.... Come, Otto, we
must not keep them waiting. (_He turns to the door._)

                                ISABELLE

(_Clinging to his clothes._) No, no!... Not yet!... I can’t bear it!...
I want to go with you!...

                            THE BURGOMASTER

(_Releasing himself._) Not a word!... Not a cry!... I could not endure
more than I am doing.... Floris, look to your sister.

      (_He pushes_ ISABELLE _away and goes out with_ OTTO, _locking the
          door behind him. A pause._ ISABELLE _falls to the floor,
          where she lies half-supported by_ FLORIS _and sobbing._)

                                 FLORIS

(_Caressing her._) Don’t cry, dearest. We shall be revenged, we shall
be revenged!... We shall be revenged!

                                ISABELLE

(_Draws herself up, looks around her and suddenly rises and runs to the
door._) No, no, I can’t have it!

                                 FLORIS

(_Catching her up._) What are you doing? What do you want to do?

                                ISABELLE

I want ... I want to call out, to cry, to throw myself at his feet, to
kill myself in front of him.... One never knows.... There are things
left to try.... (_She shakes the door._) They’ve locked it!... (_She
runs to the window, opens it, measures the height with her eyes and
instinctively steps back._ FLORIS, _who has followed her, throws his
arms round her waist and drags her into the room._)

                                 FLORIS

You see, it’s too high.

                                ISABELLE

(_Returning to the door and shaking it violently._) I can’t open it!...
I can’t open it!... Ah, if I were only there!... One never knows until
the last moment!... I must get to him, I must get to him!... (_A volley
is fired. She steps back in horror._) It’s done, it’s done, it’s
done!... They’ve killed him!... They’ve killed what was best in the
wide world!... I shall never see him again, I shall never see him again!

      (_Supported by_ FLORIS, _she staggers to a chair, where she sits
          huddled, staring before her, dry-eyed._ FLORIS _puts his arms
          round her and, with his cheek against hers, rocks her to and
          fro, whispering, “Dearest, dearest, dearest!” A pause. The
          door opens and the_ MAJOR _and_ OTTO _appear on the
          threshold._)

                               THE MAJOR

(_Ceremoniously._) Madam, I have done your father the honour of myself
taking command of the firing-party. All I wanted was that your husband
should prove his respect for discipline to the end! I give him back to
you; you have nothing to blame him for. Everything went off very well,
in a most correct and satisfactory manner. Your father died like a
hero.... And now, Lieutenant Hilmer, go and embrace your wife....

                                ISABELLE

(_Suddenly drawing herself to her full height._) Go away!... Go away,
both of you!...

                                  OTTO

What, I too, Isabelle?... But you don’t understand....

                                ISABELLE

I understand everything, I understand too much, it’s you who will never
understand anything!...

                                  OTTO

(_Coming towards her._) But, Isabelle!...

                                ISABELLE

(_Shrinking back._) Don’t touch me!... Go away!... Don’t touch me!...
Go! It’s over ... for good!...

                                 FLORIS

(_Stamping his foot._) She’s right! She’s right! She’s right!... Kiss
me, kiss me! Let me kiss you!... It’s we two now, you and I!...

                               THE MAJOR

(_To_ OTTO.) Let them be; I want you. I hear they’re attacking on the
Oostwinkel side.... You’ve done your duty, Hilmer. This is
incomprehensible. But they’re all more or less mad in this country....


                                CURTAIN

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           Transcriber’s Note


Punctuation has been normalized.

Repeated titles in the front of the book have been deleted.

Italicized words and phrases are presented by surrounding the text with
_underscores_.

The author’s use of mixed-size capital letters to identify the
characters is presented by the use of all capital letters.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Burgomaster of Stilemonde - A Play in Three Acts" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home