The stage represents a beach on the island. To the left, high cliffs already blanched with snow. To the right ice floes entangled with each other. At the foot of the cliff a miserable hut made of some strips of canvas which support a bit of worn sail cloth. Around the beach, the sea, already encumbered by ice floes. Half day. The horizon is slightly inflamed by the last rays of sun which is about to disappear.
James is stretched out in the hut. Grant, near him, is occupied by engraving on the butt of his rifles a few characters. Both are dressed in rags. A little wood fire is near the hut.
Grant: Come on, courage! Courage!
James: Yes, father.
Grant: Eighteen months abandoned! Eighteen months of unheard of sufferings! (looking at James stretched out) Ah, that wretched Ayrton knew quite well what he was doing by leaving me my son. It multiplies my tortures! My child! My poor child!
James: Father! I’m really thirsty.
Grant: Alas! Fever is devouring him A little melted snow is all I have to appease him. (amasses a little snow, which he places in an iron cup, and melts it over the fire) Drink, James, drink!
James: Thanks, father. (falling back on his couch)
Grant: Each day his strength diminishes. I see it plainly! But he pities me, he hides his tears from me, he doesn’t tell me all that he suffers. Oh, my heart is bursting. (tears choke him, he half falls on a rock, then rises) No more wood! This is our last fire. The winter we have endured in this horrible desert has devoured all that this arid isle could produce. And here’s the second winter beginning, bringing with it this frightful polar night. This four month night. Already the ice floes are piling up in every direction, the ice pack envelops us and is going to imprison us anew, tearing our last hope from us of seeing some ship. What’s going to become of us this time? Ah! God has no pity on us!
James: (who’s got up, dragging himself towards his father) Father, don’t cry! Don’t despair! I feel better. A little nourishment will set me up. There are still some birds on the island.
Grant: I am going to try to bring some back.
James: Yes, father, and promise me not to cry any more! I tell you I have good hope!
Grant: My James!
James: I am certain they will come to our assistance! You know quite well the bottle you cast in the sea! The document it enclosed must have fallen into the hands of generous, brave men! They are perhaps now seeking us. Don’t despair, father! (staggering) Don’t despair.
Grant: (with terror) You are ill—you are staggering.
James: (even more feebly) No—no—I’m not ill—I—I—a bit weak, that’s all.
(James falls into his father’s arms.)
Grant: James! My child! My dear child!
James: I’m going—back to my bed—while you go—hunt for the two of us! But not too far—okay?
Grant: Oh! no, I won’t go too far! I still tremble over that miserable Burch. Several times he came right here to steal what provisions we have. Even this small amount of brandy which I’ve kept—preciously and a few drops of which will be able to revive you, my poor James.
James: Don’t worry! It’s been a long while since he reappeared! Perhaps he left the island on some floating debris—or perhaps he’s dead, alas!
Grant: James, you are shivering.
James: Carry me to our cabin! I—I
Grant: James! My James—o heaven! He’s losing consciousness. My God, is he going to die? Are you doing to tear him from me? Ah! it’s this cold, this horrible cold which is killing him. (takes James into the hut, places him on the bed and takes off his own jacket to cover his son) He seems more calm. Yes, he’s sleeping. Perhaps a few hours of sleep will make this fever that’s preying on him fall! Oh! my poor child, I wanted to associate you in the glory of my discoveries and I have only associated you in my misery and my sorrows. Pardon me, pardon me! Come on, let’s go before the last birds abandon these parts.
James: (in his sleep) Mary! Robert! Yes, yes—it’s you!
Grant: (coming close) He’s dreaming of his brother, of his sister! What are my children doing? Ah! unfortunate father! whose heart at the same time resents the sufferings of the one who is here and all the despair of those who are weeping elsewhere. (casting a last glance on the sleeping James) Let’s go.
(Grant leaves, crossing through the rocks on the left. James, in prey to the delirium of the fever, is turning in his bed and rises.)
James: Father! father! come with me! Ah! we’ve been rescued at last! We are saved! (getting out of his bed) We’ve left this deserted and frozen island! See those trees, those flowers, this fine sunlight which warms us up! It’s spring! It’s spring! (a little snow begins to fall and the light on the horizon diminishes) Ah! There—there’s Mary and Robert! I am seeing you again! I am hugging the two of you! How good it is to find ourselves together! Father! They’ve come and we are going to leave with them! Hurry, father, hurry up! The ship is there! It’s going to take us back to our dear country. (rising and looking around) Father, where are you? Where are you then? The ship is waiting for us! Ah! heaven—it’s going to go away—it’s raising anchor! Stop! Stop! Stop! It’s leaving—it’s leaving without us! It’s disappearing down there—down there! And the ice floe that’s closing and death—death is coming. (falls exhausted)
(Burch enters by the left. He is dressed in skins. A gourd hangs at his side. A hatchet is in his hand. His beard is uncut. He has the appearance of a wild beast. He runs across the stage without seeing the child.)
Burch: It’s him—down there! There he is, this grant. (waving his axe) Ah! if he were not better armed than I am! Patience, powder and bullets will be exhausted. Ah! you had me whipped till I bled! Oh! I will avenge myself! Perhaps they still have some provisions. I have to have them! (noticing the fire) Fire! They’ve got fire while I’m croaking with cold! (with a violent blow of his foot he disperses the fire) Come warm yourself now! (messing with the hut) Nothing! No provisions! Where are they hiding, then? Ah! ah! a hut for them! I don’t want it! (tears the strips of sail which support the poles, then the poles break) Do I have a shelter to protect me? They shan’t have more than I do. Yes, yes, pillage, pillage, kill, if you meet them! (runs across the stage and stumbles over the child with his foot) The son, the child of my enemy! Ah! how I am going to avenge myself! Yes, the son, while waiting for the father! (approaching James, hatchet raised) Heavens! He’s sleeping. Ah, why no! Wake him up first! I want him to know that it’s I who am killing him, I who will be avenged on him for what Harry Grant did to me. (leaning over James) I want to see the contortions of his face, and hear his last cry of sorrow. I want to feel his quivering flesh, under the pressure of my fingers as mine quivered under the blows of the whip that his father inflicted on me. Wake up, you, come on!
James: (coming to, but still in delirium) Ah, it’s you! you’ve come back, father.
Burch: Me! your father! Ah! you are going to see. Come on, open your eyes. (raises him up by a hand and places the other at the child’s throat) Look—look me carefully in the face and die!
James: Your hand! Yes, give me your hand, father. (takes Burch’s hand) Let me place it on my heart so you can feel its last beat! Father, I am going to die!
Burch: Die? He’s going to die! Well, all the better, fate is doing the job for me! I won’t have the bother of killing him—and with him I will see extinguished the last joy, the last hope of Harry Grant.
James: We will find each other together again in heaven!
Burch: Heaven! Bah! The dumb things they say to kids! (laughing) Ah! ah! heaven! (looking at James) How pale he is. (coming close to him) He’s young, he hasn’t got the strength to suffer, no, he doesn’t have the strength! Havens!—see the tears running from his eyes! Is he truly going to die?
James: Die, yes! but first, we have to forgive, father—forgive everybody.
(James takes Burch’s hand and presses it against his lips.)
Burch: (wanting to withdraw his hand) His lips are burning my hand! Yes! yes! he seems to be suffering greatly. (with rage) Well—what are his sufferings to me? Can this move me, me, Burch? Come off it! One would say he’s choking. (then, softly) After all, he wasn’t the one who had me beaten.
James: Tell me that you forgive all the sailors on the Britannia. Ayrton—and Burch, also, father.
Burch: He’s thinking of me at the moment of dying—of me the enemy of his father—and himself. Ah, sonofabitch! These honest folk! They have secrets to affect your heart.
James: If the two of us die, Burch will remain alone—on this little island—all alone—facing God!
Burch: (moved) God! He’s talking the way my mother talked to me—when I was very little and sick like him! But—what’s going on in me? (taking the child in his arms and supporting him) I’ve seen men murdered a hundred times! But not like this— Oh, no—not like this!
James: Support me! no, on my knees! Put me on my knees so I can make my last prayer.
Burch: On his knees—his—his last prayer— Come on—am I going to start weeping now? (as he puts the child on his knees, he himself kneels) Well, yes—here I am weeping now! I’m weeping.
James: Repeat with me: My God, forgive mf for our trespasses—
Burch: (weeping) Oh! no!
James: Why, repeat, will you! I cannot hear— My God—!
Burch: (hesitating) My—my God!
James: Forgive us our trespasses!
Burch: Forgive us our trespasses!
James: As we pardon those who trespassed against us.
Burch: As we pardon those who trespassed against us!
(James collapses exhausted.)
Burch: His hand is frozen. Fainted. (bursting out) Ah! Hell’s Bells, I don’t want him to die— I don’t want it! Have to save him—have to save him! What to do! It’s the cold, exhaustion, that he’s dying from! Some Brandy. I have theirs that I stole from them! I can give him back a little. (takes his gourd, half opens James’ lips and makes him drink a few drops) There now, his cheeks are less pale.
James: (coming to) Ah! that serves me! Strength is coming back to me a little!
Burch: (with gentleness) Come on, some courage, kid, courage!
James: Yes—I—I feel I’m better! Thanks, father—thanks— (recognizing Burch) Burch!
Burch: Child!—child! Don’t suspect anything of me—! I am no longer your enemy! No, no—my heart has no more hate—for you at least!
James: Nor for my father, right?
Burch: Nor for (forcefully) Well, yes, neither for you, nor for him! Are you satisfied?
James: (embracing him) Ah! Burch—my friend.
Burch: (weeping) Poor child, poor child. Come on—decidedly—I think it’s good—to be good!
(Grant reappears at the right, rifle in hand and at first doesn’t see James and Burch.)
Grant: Nothing! Nothing more in this island. (noticing Burch) Burch—you here—wretch! (aims at him)
James: (dragging himself before his father) Father! Father! he helped me! He brought me back to life.
Burch: You can kill me, Harry Grant. I won’t defend myself!
Grant: Could heaven have touched your soul? Has it made this miracle? At the moment when it seemed to abandon us completely.
Burch: I am repenting. Do with me what you wish.
Grant: You renounce your past and you have succored my child! Burch, perhaps—I was too severe and too harsh, in punishing you aboard my ship.
Burch: I was culpable—but no, Captain—
Grant: Now, there’s no more captain here nor sailor. There’s only two men equal before God. (Burch, confused, walks away weeping) Burch, you will be our companion, our friend.
Burch: No, captain! Your slave. (kneels)
Grant: Get up! We will struggle together against misery—against death.
Burch: Master, we will struggle against this terrible cold, and this four month long night.
Grant: Alas! heaven made a moment of hope shine in my eyes! Some days ago a whale was stranded on the beach. I attacked it. I struck it with my harpoon.
Burch: Yes, yes, I saw it! I touched that harpoon on which you’d engraved your name and that of our island—Captain Grant, Balker Island, while to finish it you were without doubt—gone to seek another weapon.
Grant: And when I returned, the tide, pushed by a furious wind—was in ahead of time.
Burch: And the whale, set back afloat, was able to escape.
(At this moment the firing of a cannon is heard in the distance. Burch rises and supports James who has not the strength to walk. Grant rushes up the rocks of the cliff.)
Grant: A cannon shot!
(On the horizon, carving its way through the last light from the sky a ship is seen passing slowly.)
Burch: Captain! A ship! A ship!
Grant: God has heard us! We are saved, my friends.
Burch and James: We are saved!
Grant: I will see my children! My country!
James: What joy, what happiness!
Grant: But the boat cannot see us! It’s firing on the ice floe to break a path through the ice. Is it really trying to get close to us?
(Two more cannon shots.)
Burch: A signal. We must make signal!
James: Father—your rifle!
Grant: Yes! yes—
(Grant goes back up on the rock and discharges his rifle twice into the air. But the ship moves away little by little, and the horizon narrows from the displacement of the ice.)
Grant: It didn’t hear us. (shouting) Help!
Burch and James: Help! Help!
Grant: Nothing more.
(The snow falls very abundantly.)
James: Alas! To have glimpsed rescue, safety and happiness! And to fall back into despair and death.
(Four cannon shots.)
Burch: The cannon again?
Grant: And much closer this time.
Burch: Look! Look! Captain! The ice is breaking up—!
James: My god! My God! Could you have had pity on us at last.
The Breaking up of the ice continues. The rear opens, day accentuates and the horizon reflects the first light of the new sun.
Burch: And there the sun’s returning
Grant: The sea is free
James: Ah! look, look, papa
(The ship has appeared between the ice floes. A small boat is approaching the island.)
Robert: (shouting) Father! James! Father!
Grant: It’s them—my children.
James: My sister—my beloved brother!
Grant: Robert! Dear Mary! But how were you able to reach this island?
Arabella: Your document, captain!
Paganel: Yes, your document! But it must be admitted you have a singular manner of correspondence! To take sharks and whales for postmen.
Mary: Father—Lord Glenorvan, your saviour.
Grant: Be thanked and blessed, milord. You’ve returned a father to his children.
Glenorvan: And a great sailor to England.