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- Annajanska, the Bolshevik Empress - 3/4 -


STRAMMFEST. Denial, comrade, is useless. It is through that officer that your movements have been traced. [The Grand Duchess is suddenly enlightened, and seems amused. Strammfest continues an a forensic manner.] He joined you at the Golden Anchor in Hakonsburg. You gave us the slip there; but the officer was traced to Potterdam, where you rejoined him and went alone to Premsylople. What have you done with that unhappy young man? Where is he?

THE GRAND DUCHESS [pretending to whisper an important secret]. Where he has always been.

STRAMMFEST [eagerly]. Where is that?

THE GRAND DUCHESS [impetuously]. In your imagination. I came alone. I am alone. Hundreds of officers travel every day from Hakonsburg to Potterdam. What do I know about them?

STRAMMFEST. They travel in khaki. They do not travel in full dress court uniform as this man did.

SCHNEIDEKIND. Only officers who are eloping with grand duchesses wear court uniform: otherwise the grand duchesses could not be seen with them.

STRAMMFEST. Hold your tongue. [Schneidekind, in high dudgeon, folds his arms and retires from the conversation. The General returns to his paper and to his examination of the Grand Duchess.] This officer travelled with your passport. What have you to say to that?

THE GRAND DUCHESS. Bosh! How could a man travel with a woman's passport?

STRAMMFEST. It is quite simple, as you very well know. A dozen travellers arrive at the boundary. The official collects their passports. He counts twelve persons; then counts the passports. If there are twelve, he is satisfied.

THE GRAND DUCHESS. Then how do you know that one of the passports was mine?

STRAMMFEST. A waiter at the Potterdam Hotel looked at the officer's passport when he was in his bath. It was your passport.

THE GRAND DUCHESS. Stuff! Why did he not have me arrested?

STRAMMFEST. When the waiter returned to the hotel with the police the officer had vanished; and you were there with your own passport. They knouted him.

THE GRAND DUCHESS. Oh! Strammfest, send these men away. I must speak to you alone.

STRAMMFEST [rising in horror]. No: this is the last straw: I cannot consent. It is impossible, utterly, eternally impossible, that a daughter of the Imperial House should speak to any one alone, were it even her own husband.

THE GRAND DUCHESS. You forget that there is an exception. She may speak to a child alone. [She rises.] Strammfest, you have been dandled on my grandmother's knee. By that gracious action the dowager Panjandrina made you a child forever. So did Nature, by the way. I order you to speak to me alone. Do you hear? I order you. For seven hundred years no member of your family has ever disobeyed an order from a member of mine. Will you disobey me?

STRAMMFEST. There is an alternative to obedience. The dead cannot disobey. [He takes out his pistol and places the muzzle against his temple.]

SCHNEIDEKIND [snatching the pistol from him]. For God's sake, General--

STRAMMFEST [attacking him furiously to recover the weapon]. Dog of a subaltern, restore that pistol and my honor.

SCHNEIDEKIND [reaching out with the pistol to the Grand Duchess]. Take it: quick: he is as strong as a bull.

THE GRAND DUCHESS [snatching it]. Aha! Leave the room, all of you except the General. At the double! lightning! electricity! [She fires shot after shot, spattering the bullets about the ankles of the soldiers. They fly precipitately. She turns to Schneidekind, who has by this time been flung on the floor by the General.] You too. [He scrambles up.] March. [He flies to the door.]

SCHNEIDEKIND [turning at the door]. For your own sake, comrade--

THE GRAND DUCHESS [indignantly]. Comrade! You!!! Go. [She fires two more shots. He vanishes.]

STRAMMFEST [making an impulsive movement towards her]. My Imperial Mistress--

THE GRAND DUCHESS. Stop. I have one bullet left, if you attempt to take this from me [putting the pistol to her temple].

STRAMMFEST [recoiling, and covering his eyes with his hands]. No no: put it down: put it down. I promise everything: I swear anything; but put it down, I implore you.

THE GRAND DUCHESS [throwing it on the table]. There!

STRAMMFEST [uncovering his eyes]. Thank God!

THE GRAND DUCHESS [gently]. Strammfest: I am your comrade. Am I nothing more to you?

STRAMMFEST [falling on his knee]. You are, God help me, all that is left to me of the only power I recognize on earth [he kisses her hand].

THE GRAND DUCHESS [indulgently]. Idolater! When will you learn that our strength has never been in ourselves, but in your illusions about us? [She shakes off her kindliness, and sits down in his chair.] Now tell me, what are your orders? And do you mean to obey them?

STRAMMFEST [starting like a goaded ox, and blundering fretfully about the room]. How can I obey six different dictators, and not one gentleman among the lot of them? One of them orders me to make peace with the foreign enemy. Another orders me to offer all the neutral countries 48 hours to choose between adopting his views on the single tax and being instantly invaded and annihilated. A third orders me to go to a damned Socialist Conference and explain that Beotia will allow no annexations and no indemnities, and merely wishes to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth throughout the universe. [He finishes behind Schneidekind's chair.]

THE GRAND DUCHESS. Damn their trifling!

STRAMMFEST. I thank Your Imperial Highness from the bottom of my heart for that expression. Europe thanks you.

THE GRAND DUCHESS. M'yes; but--[rising]. Strammfest, you know that your cause--the cause of the dynasty--is lost.

STRAMMFEST. You must not say so. It is treason, even from you. [He sinks, discouraged, into the chair, and covers his face with his hand.]

THE GRAND DUCHESS. Do not deceive yourself, General: never again will a Panjandrum reign in Beotia. [She walks slowly across the room, brooding bitterly, and thinking aloud.] We are so decayed, so out of date, so feeble, so wicked in our own despite, that we have come at last to will our own destruction.

STRAMMFEST. You are uttering blasphemy.

THE GRAND DUCHESS. All great truths begin as blasphemies. All the king's horses and all the king's men cannot set up my father's throne again. If they could, you would have done it, would you not?

STRAMMFEST. God knows I would!

THE GRAND DUCHESS. You really mean that? You would keep the people in their hopeless squalid misery? you would fill those infamous prisons again with the noblest spirits in the land? you would thrust the rising sun of liberty back into the sea of blood from which it has risen? And all because there was in the middle of the dirt and ugliness and horror a little patch of court splendor in which you could stand with a few orders on your uniform, and yawn day after day and night after night in unspeakable boredom until your grave yawned wider still, and you fell into it because you had nothing better to do. How can you be so stupid, so heartless?

STRAMMFEST. You must be mad to think of royalty in such a way. I never yawned at court. The dogs yawned; but that was because they were dogs: they had no imagination, no ideals, no sense of honor and dignity to sustain them.

THE GRAND DUCHESS. My poor Strammfest: you were not often enough at court to tire of it. You were mostly soldiering; and when you came home to have a new order pinned on your breast, your happiness came through looking at my father and mother and at me, and adoring us. Was that not so?

STRAMMFEST. Do YOU reproach me with it? I am not ashamed of it.

THE GRAND DUCHESS. Oh, it was all very well for you, Strammfest. But think of me, of me! standing there for you to gape at, and knowing that I was no goddess, but only a girl like any other girl! It was cruelty to animals: you could have stuck up a wax doll or a golden calf to worship; it would not have been bored.

STRAMMFEST. Stop; or I shall renounce my allegiance to you. I have had women flogged for such seditious chatter as this.

THE GRAND DUCHESS. Do not provoke me to send a bullet through your head for reminding me of it.

STRAMMFEST. You always had low tastes. You are no true daughter of the Panjandrums: you are a changeling, thrust into the Panjandrina's bed by some profligate nurse. I have heard stories of your childhood: of how--


Annajanska, the Bolshevik Empress - 3/4

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