Michael Strogoff

Act I

Scene I. The new palace.

A gallery with arcades splendidly lit and decorated, giving on the right to the reception rooms of the palace—to the left, the office of the Governor of Moscow. Doors to the right and left. To the left a vast bay window giving on a large balcony.

(Diverse groups to the right, near the door, watch the dancing. The orchestra can be heard.)

Aide de Camp: The halls can hardly hold the crowd of guests!

General Kizov: Yes, and the groups of dancers will end by overflowing right into the gallery. It’s magnificent.

Jollivet: Who is the traveler who would dare speak of the Russian chill?

General Kizov: The Russia of July is not the Russia of January, Mr. Jollivet.

Jollivet: Surely not, but one would think that the Governor had transported Moscow to the tropics. This winter garden which links the private apartments of His Excellency to the great reception halls is really marvelous!

General Kizov: What do you think of this party, Mr. Reporter?

Jollivet: (opening his notebook) Here’s what I am about to telegraph, General. “The Governor of Moscow’s party given in honor of His Majesty, the Emperor of all the Russias—splendid.”

General Kizov: Marvelous! The French papers are speaking well of us. It will be the same with the English papers, I think, thanks to your colleague, Mr. Blount.

Jollivet: The proud and irascible Mr. Blount, who pretends that England, this queen of the universe, as he calls her, and the Morning Post, the king of newspapers, as he styles it, must always know first all that happens on the terrestrial globe!

General Kizov: Ah, hold on, here he is.

Jollivet: I was speaking just now about you, Mr. Blount.

Blount: Oh, it was a great honor—

Jollivet: Why, no, no!

Blount: —you were doing yourself.

Jollivet: Thanks—he is charming. Admit, Mr. Blount, that if you have, as I don’t doubt, a heart of gold, the mind is extremely tough.

Blount: Mr. Jollivet, when a good English reporter leaves his country, he must bring lots of money, good eyes, good ears, a strong stomach—and leave his heart with his family.

Jollivet: And that’s the way you teach, Mr. Blount?

Blount: Yes! And if you will allow me—

Jollivet: Without the least sympathy for a colleague from across the channel?

Blount: If you will allow me, Mr. Jollivet, and if you don’t allow me, it’s all the same.

Jollivet: You are absolutely frank and good−natured.

(Music outside.)

General Kizov: If I’m not mistaken, gentlemen, these Russians who asked to be heard at the Governor’s ball are beginning their concert. I invite you to listen to this! It’s very curious.

Jollivet: Certainly, certainly, General.

(The General heads towards the salon, and the guests crowd around the door. Blount and Jollivet remain on stage.)

Jollivet: (sitting) My word, it’s hot over there, I’m staying here. (Blount sits on the other side, pulls out his notebook and starts writing) Allow me, Mr. Blount, to risk a phrase completely French. This little party is really “charmante.”

Blount: (coldly) I’ve already telegraphed “splendid” to the readers of the Morning Post.

Jollivet: Very fine. But, in the midst of this splendor, there’s a black spot. They are whispering of a Tartar rising that threatens the Siberian provinces. Also, I thought I must write to my charming cousin.

Blount: (frigidly) Cousin? Ah, Mr. Jollivet corresponds with his cousin?

Jollivet: Yes, Mr. Blount, yes. You correspond with your paper, I with my cousin, Madeleine. It’s more gallant! Besides, she likes to be informed quickly and well, my cousin. I thought it my duty to remark to her that a sort of cloud passed over the face of the Governor.

Blount: On the contrary, his face was radiant.

Jollivet: (laughing) And you made it shine in the columns of the Morning Post.

Blount: (drily) What I telegraph interests my paper and myself alone, Mr. Jollivet.

Jollivet: Your paper and you alone, Mr. Blount? Well! That’s an admission that it doesn’t interest your readers!

Blount: (furious) Mr. Jollivet!

Jollivet: (smiling) Mr. Blount!

Blount: You are always mocking me, and I don’t permit it, understand? I don’t permit it.

Jollivet: Why, no, no!

(The Governor, the General, guests and officers return.)

Governor: Bravo! Bravo! These Gypsies are really unique and deserve their reputation. (to reporters) Ah, gentlemen, you were at your post to hear them!

Jollivet: They are charming, Governor. It’s what my friend and colleague was just now telling me.

Blount: Colleague, yes—friend, no.

Governor: (laughing) There are some pretty girls there who will make their fortune. (going towards the left after having taken the arm of General Kizov)

Jollivet: Say, Mr. Blount, he really does have a joyous air, the Governor. He must be terribly uneasy. What do you think of it, Mr. Blount?

Blount: (drily) What I think doesn’t concern you.

(They separate and mix with other groups.)

Governor: (to General Kizov) There’s talk of a Tartar rising, General?

General Kizov: Yes, and perhaps, more than I care for! I wouldn’t be surprised if those two reporters, after leaving this ball, go to exercise their profession of chroniclers on the other side of the frontier.

Governor: They know, without a doubt, this serious news of a rising which is throwing half of Asia on the other—the line is fluctuating between Moscow and Irkutsk?

General Kizov: Yes, Your Excellency can requisition it for the government’s use and deny it to the public.

Governor: That’s unnecessary. The important thing was that the Grand Duke, now at Irkutsk, be warned. He knows that Feofar Khan, the Emir of Bukhara has raised the Tartar population. That at his call, they have invaded Siberia. But he also knows, from our last telegram, that our troops from the Northern Provinces are now on their way to help him. He knows the exact day when this army will arrive in sight of Irkutsk, and when he must make a general sortie to destroy the Tartars.

General Kizov: Our troops will easily teach these hordes of savages.

Governor: What astonishes me is that Feofar was able to conceive the plan of rising, and put it into execution. When he first attempted to invade our Siberian provinces, he had this Colonel Ivan Ogareff to second him—who is now paying for his treason in the Citadel of Polstock—but this time, the Khan of Tartars, left to his own devices, no longer has Ogareff around him—and I cannot figure out—

(Ivan comes from the salon and is approached by the Governor. Sangarre and his gypsies remain at the back. The reporters and the officers talk to each other.)

Ivan: (disguised as a gypsy and speaking in the most horrible tone) Governor, sir—milord.

Governor: What is it? Ah, it’s you—old gypsy! What do you want with me?

Ivan: I want to ask Your Excellency if you are satisfied with the Gypsies for whom you wanted to reserve a place in the program of the festivities?

Governor: Enchanted, and I like to believe, that from your tone, you have no reason to complain. Well refreshed, well paid?

Ivan: Yes, milord, yes! Also, I didn’t want to take leave of Your excellency without having humbly thanked you. Sangarre joins with me.

Governor: Sangarre! Ah, that pretty girl I notice over there?

Ivan: (gesturing for Sangarre to join them) Yes. Sangarre is the real supervisor of the gypsies, Excellency! To her belong the greatest share of the compliments you’ve deigned to address toward them.

(Sangarre remains standing proudly fixed, without saying a word.)

Governor: She doesn’t speak Russian?

Ivan: Alas, no, milord. As for me, an old gypsy—I am their factotum. I organize the concerts, I arrange for parties. Without me, the little troupe would often be embarrassed. It’s on that subject I’ve come to solicit a favor from Your Excellency.

Governor: What about?

Ivan: Tomorrow, the festivities in honor of the Tsar will be finished. We’ll then have nothing more to do here and our intention is to cross the frontier.

Governor: Ah, you want to return to Siberia?

Ivan: It’s almost my country, Excellency. Then the frontier will be crowded with all those merchants of Asiatic origin who are returning to their provinces. They will be stopped at each moment at police posts and—

Governor: Well, isn’t your passport in order?

Ivan: Doubtless, milord—but Your Excellency knows better than I that a passport in order doesn’t exist in Russia. It is always missing some little thing! While if Your Excellency, who has deigned to express satisfaction with us, wished to give me a—special—adorned with his signature—with that precious talisman—no obstacle to fear and I could leave in advance, so as to prepare halting places for our troupe.

Governor: So be it. You and yours are brave folks who have given great pleasure to the new palace and I will refuse nothing to be agreeable to you.

Ivan: I humbly kiss the Hands of Your Excellency.

Governor: And, when do you expect to leave Moscow?

Ivan: Tomorrow—at break of day, milord, before the gates of the city are crowded by the thousands of foreigners who are going to leave.

Governor: Well, tell this pretty girl, your companion, that nothing shall delay your trip or hers. I am going, first of all, to have your passport prepared—and this one—will really be in order.

(The Governor goes to the left. The General goes toward the invited guests.)

Ivan: (straightening up after having looked around to see no one observes him) And in a few days, I shall have crossed the border.

Sangarre: And it’s then, Ivan, you’ll be really free.

Ivan: Free! I am free already, thanks to you, who helped me escape from the fortress of Polstock where the Czar, whom I hate, kept me previously. It’s through you, through your devoted gypsies that I’ve been able to correspond with Feofar Khan! It’s thanks to you, finally, that I’ve been able to penetrate the Governor’s palace, and that I am going to obtain this passport without which I’d never be able to cross the border to rejoin the armies of the Emir! Sangarre, I won’t forget it.

Sangarre: Since the day you saved me, during that war in Khiva, when Colonel Ivan Ogareff gave back life to the gypsy the Russians were going to knout as a spy—the gypsy has belonged to him body and soul. She’s become the mortal enemy of these Russians, and she hates them as much as you hate them yourself. Ivan, there’s nothing of the Muscovite in you. How your shoulder still bleeds at the place where they tore off the epaulettes as my shoulder still bleeds where the knout tore it.

Ivan: Fear nothing, my vengeance will march in pair with yours.

Sangarre: Oh—I’ll find that Siberian again. That Marfa Strogoff who denounced me to the Russians. I will find her even if I must go to seize her into Kolyvan which the Tartars will soon seize.

Ivan: As they will seize Irkutsk, led by me to the assault of that capital. Ah, cursed Grand Duke in breaking my soul, in making me prisoner—you made the first rising that I organized fail—But I am free now! Nothing can save Irkutsk, and then you can die an infamous death under the walls of the city in flames.

Sangarre: Yes, but we must avoid all delay, and this passport promised by the governor—

Ivan: In five minutes I will have it, and I will rush in a single bound from Moscow to the outposts of the Emir. Take care—they are coming.

Governor: (returning from the left with a passport in his hand) Here—are you satisfied? (gives passport to Ivan)

Ivan: (after reading it) Ah! Excellency, with such a passport, one can pass anywhere. There’s nothing missing.

Governor: Except my signature, and I am going to sign it right now.

(The Governor goes to the table and takes a pen. An Aide de Camp enters.)

Aide de Camp: A message for his Excellency.

(The Aide de Camp gives a sealed message to the Governor, who reads it.)

Sangarre: But, he isn’t signing it—

Ivan: (low) Patience!

Governor: (to the General whom he leads to the left) General, we were speaking just now of Colonel Ivan Ogareff?

Sangarre: (to Ivan) Your name!

Ivan: (low) Shut up!

General Kizov: That traitor who was deprived of his rank and condemned to death for having fomented a previous rising of the Tartars?

Governor: Yes, Ogareff—whose punishment was commuted by the Emperor to a perpetual detention in the fortress of Polstock. Well, he’s recently escaped from his prison. Here’s what they write me from the cabinet in St. Petersburg: “Ivan Ogareff has fled—we must put all our police on his track.”

General Kizov: We must very strictly watch the frontier, so that, without a passport, he won’t be able to escape.

Governor: (sitting at the table and writing) Let orders be transmitted without delay. It’s necessary that the Grand Duke be warned very soon, for this letter from the Minister reveals, from correspondence seized after Ogareff’s escape, that this traitor’s plan is to penetrate Irkutsk, and if he succeeds in it, it’s death for the Grand Duke, the object of his personal hate.

Ivan: (to Sangarre) Why, do they know everything? Come. (approaching the Governor) Excellency!

Governor: What do you want from me? Who dares to—?

Ivan: Pardon, milord.

Governor: Ah! It’s you! Well! Well! Wait— (he continues to write)

Ivan: (low) What’s he going to decide?

Governor: (rising, to General) Send out this despatch. Thanks to it, that wretch will not cross the frontier—and you (Ivan bows) wait, here’s your permit. No one will hinder your way.

Ivan: (with irony) Milord, you’ll never know all the thanks I owe you.

Governor: That’s fine, that’s fine, go.

Ivan: (aside) Come, Sangarre. Free now, soon avenged.

(Ivan, Sangarre and all the gypsies leave by the door at the left. At the same time as Jollivet and Blount enter from the right.)

Governor: (to guests) Well, gentlemen, don’t you hear the orchestra calling you? Are you going to allow the foreign press to say that a celebration given in honor if His Majesty didn’t last until dawn? We have here, correspondents, who I am sure of it, note our least impression.

Jollivet: Sir, reports are curious, but not indiscreet.

Blount: Curious, always—indiscreet, never—the English reporters—never!

Jollivet: Besides, what concerns me is I count on leaving Moscow after the ball, and I beg Your Excellency to receive my sincere regrets.

Blount: I beg you to receive mine also, before—

Jollivet: (laughing) Yes, those of this gentleman—before your benevolent greeting.

Governor: Which way does your path take you gentlemen?

Blount: Me—to Siberia.

Jollivet: Same as me. We are going to travel together, dear colleague!

Blount: At the same time, yes—together, no.

Jollivet: Always charming, Mr. Blount!

Governor: Good, I understand. There’s talk of agitation in Tartary, but it’s not worth the trouble of your bothering about.

Jollivet: Pardon, Excellency, my job is to see everything.

Blount: Mine—to see and hear everything—before hand.

Jollivet: And my paper—I mean—my cousin is very greedy of the news which she will receive first.

Blount: The Morning Post will receive—

Jollivet: In advance? Impossible, dear colleague—women are always served first.

Governor: In any case, gentlemen, you belong to me until dawn. Indeed, I intend that having assisted at the official celebration, you shall assist at the popular celebration from the height of this balcony—which will start any minute.

Jollivet: So be it! We will leave tomorrow! If you will allow me, I’ll make you a proposition, Mr. Blount. We are rivals.

Blount: Enemies, sir!

Governor: (laughing) Enemies!

Jollivet: Enemies, it’s agreed.—But, let’s wait to open the hostilities until we are on the battlefield. Once there, everyone for himself—and God for—

Blount: And God for you! For you alone! Very fine. That’s the way it goes? No!—That won’t go.

Jollivet: Then, war immediately—but I’m a good fellow. (taking Blount by the arm and leading him aside) I announce to you, little brother, as the Russians say, that the Tartars have crossed the Irtuki River.

Blount: Ah, you think that the Tartars—

Jollivet: If I tell you so, my dear enemy, it’s because I’ve telegraphed the news to my cousin yesterday evening—at 7:45. (laughs) Ha, ha, ha.

Blount: And as for me, yesterday evening I telegraphed the Morning Post at 7:30. Ha, ha, ha!

Jollivet: I’ll repay you for that, my big Mr. Blount.

Blount: You are still mocking, sir?

Jollivet: Well, no, my good little Mr. Blount. There.

Blount: Still mocking!

Jollivet: No.

Blount: (furious) You’re mocking, I tell you! You mock, sir. You are a bad, villainous man, a nasty piece of work! You are a — (tranquilly) What do you call a person without politeness?

Jollivet: An impertinent.

Blount: (tranquilly) Impertinent. Very well! Thanks. (resuming his furious tone) You are an impertinent. Do you understand?

Jollivet: Very well.

Blount: And if you continue—

Jollivet: And if I continue?

Blount: I’ll end up killing you one day.

Jollivet: Kill me? I don’t understand—

Blount: Yes—kill you with a blade—

Jollivet: A blade? One says—

Blount: No. A blade or a pistol.

Jollivet: A second! They say a sword or a pistol.

Blount: Sword, you say?

Jollivet: Yes.

Blount: And pistol?

Jollivet: Yes.

Blount: Oh, very well, thanks. (in a rage again) Well, well, I will kill you with a blade—sword or pistol.

Jollivet: Right! You’re making progress as a student, Blount. I am satisfied with you.

Blount: (mispronouncing) Mr. Joly−vet.

Jollivet: Jollivet, if you please— Joly−vet is ridiculous.

Blount: Then, I’ll always call you Joly−vet! (forcefully) Joly−vet! Joly−vet! Joly−vet! Ah!

The Governor: (returning) Gentlemen, I hear the first notes of the orchestra. It’s our national dance.

Jollivet: We are at Your Excellency’s disposition.

(As the Governor and the General are about to cross the floor, the Aide de Camp returns precipitously from the left.)

Aide de Camp: (low) Excellency, the telegraph line from Moscow to Irkutsk has been cut!

Governor: What are you telling me?

Aide de Camp: The despatches are stopping at Kolyvan—half way on the Siberian route where the Tartars are masters.

(On a sign from the Governor the door curtains close.)

Governor: So, the despatch we transmitted to the Grand Duke which specified the day the relief army ought to arrive in Irkutsk—?

Aide de Camp: That despatch was unable to reach His Highness.

Governor: So! The Tartars are masters of the route! Eastern Siberia separated from the rest of the Muscovite Empire. The Grand Duke not forewarned of the day he will be relieved—when he must begin his sortie. At all price, we must— (to General) General, isn’t there in the palace a detachment of couriers of the Czar?

General Kizov: Yes, Excellency.

Governor: (sitting down to write) Do you know a man in that detachment—a man who could, despite a thousand dangers, bear a letter to Irkutsk?

General Kizov: There’s one I’ll answer for to Your Excellency who has several times successfully fulfilled difficult missions.

Governor: In foreign parts?

General Kizov: Even in Siberia.

Governor: Let him come. (the General whispers to the Aide de Camp, who leaves by the right) He must have intelligence, courage, self−control.

General Kizov: He has everything required to succeed where others would fail.

Governor: His age?

General Kizov: Thirty

Governor: A vigorous man?

General Kizov: He’s already proven that he can bear to the last limits hunger, cold, fatigue. He has a body of iron and a heart of gold.

Governor: His name?

General Kizov: Michael Strogoff.

Governor: This courier must get to the Grand Duke or Siberia is lost!

(Michael Strogoff enters and remains motionless, military. The Governor observes him for a moment without speaking.)

Governor: Your name is Michael Strogoff?

Strogoff: Yes, Excellency.

Governor: Your rank?

Strogoff: Captain in the Czar’s courier corps.

Governor: You know Siberia?

Strogoff: I was born at Kolyvan.

Governor: Do you still have relatives in that town?

Strogoff: Yes—my mother!

Governor: How long has it been since you last saw her?

Strogoff: Two years! But, I’ve just obtained a leave to go see her—and I am going to leave—

Governor: It’s no longer a question of leave! It’s no longer a question of your mother. I am going to entrust to you a letter which I charge you, Michael Strogoff, to deliver to the Grand Duke, the Czar’s brother.

Strogoff: I will deliver this letter.

Governor: The Grand Duke is in Irkutsk.

Strogoff: I will go to Irkutsk.

Governor: But, you are unaware that the country has been invaded by the Tartars who will be interested in intercepting the letter—and you must get across that country.

Strogoff: I will get across it.

Governor: Will you pass through Kolyvan?

Strogoff: Yes, since it is the most direct route.

Governor: But, if you see your mother, you risk being recognized!

Strogoff: I won’t see her!

Governor: You will be provided money and furnished a passport in the name of Nicolas Korpanov, Siberian Merchant. This passport will allow you to requisition post horses. It will authorize, amongst other things, Nicholas Korpanov to have himself accompanied by one or more persons as he sees fit—and he will be respected, even in the case where any governor or police chief intends to interrupt your message. You will travel, then, under the name of Korpanov.

Strogoff: Yes, Excellency

Governor: Here’s the letter on which depends the life of the Grand Duke and the safety of Siberia.

Strogoff: It will be delivered to His Highness.

Governor: It may happen, that in some grave, desperate circumstance, you may be compelled to destroy it! You must, thereupon, know what it contains, so you’ll have the power to repeat it to the Grand Duke if you can get to him.

Strogoff: I am listening.

Governor: Colonel Ivan Ogareff has escaped from the fortress of Polstock. He intends to penetrate the town of Irkutsk and to deliver it to the Tartars. It is necessary, then, to be on guard against this traitor. If, as we hope, this message arrives in time to be useful to His Highness, the Grand Duke is advised that a relief army will be within sight of Irkutsk on the 29th of September, and that a general sortie executed on that day will crush—between two lines— (he reseals the letter) You heard, and you will remember?

Strogoff: I’ve heard and I will remember.

Governor: You’ll get through the Tartar lines. You’ll cross them, no matter what!

Strogoff: I shall cross them or they will kill me.

Governor: The Czar needs you to live.

Strogoff: I will live and I will get through.

Governor: Swear to me nothing can make you admit either who you are or where you are going.

Strogoff: I swear it.

Governor: Leave, then, and when it’s a question of overcoming the greatest obstacles or braving the most threatening perils, repeat these sacred words to yourself: “For God, for the Czar.”

Strogoff: “For the Nation.”

(Strogoff leaves by the right after giving a military salute. The door curtains are pulled back and the guests reenter the salon.)

Governor: The celebration is going to take place, ladies—take your places on the balcony.

(All go to the balcony.)


Scene II. Moscow illuminated.

A great concourse of people on the square dominated by the balcony.



Scene III. The retreat to the torches.

The horse guards of the Preobrajenski Regiment retreat to torches, drums, fifes and trumpets.


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Translation and Adaptation Copyright © 2003 by Frank J. Morlock
Copyright © Zvi Har’El
$Date: 2007/12/27 08:12:28 $