The stage represents a mountain on the right bank of the Angara. It is a still day.
Ivan: (to a Tartar chief) It’s here we are going to separate from you and your soldiers—and you will faithfully follow all my instructions.
Chief: Count on us, Ivan Ogareff.
Sangarre: Where are we going now?
Ivan: Listen! The energy of the Grand Duke has upset all my calculations, baffled all my plans. Each day he undertakes new sorties of which the next may, perhaps, coincide with the appearance of a relief army and we will thus be caught between two fires! It’s, therefore, necessary that I execute the bold plan I’ve conceived without delay.
Sangarre: And this plan—what is it?
Ivan: Sangarre, I will enter Irkutsk today, alone. The Russians will greet with transports of joy the one who presents himself under the name of Michael Strogoff, the courier of the Czar. So everything is indeed well contrived and my vengeance will be prompt to strike! At the hour agreed between the Emir and me, the Tartars will attack the Tchernaia gate and a friendly hand—mine—will open it for them.
Sangarre: Do you hope that the Russians won’t defend this gate?
Ivan: A terrible diversion will prevent them and attract all to the Angara quarter.
Chief: What will this diversion be?
Ivan: A conflagration.
All: A conflagration?
Ivan: Which you soldiers are going to light up.
Chief: Us—what do you mean?
Ivan: (pointing to the river) See that river which spreads out and cuts through Irkutsk. It’s the Angara. That—that is going to divide Irkutsk.
Sangarre: That river?
Ivan: At a moment agreed on, this river is going to roll a torrent of fire. Some stores of naphtha are drilled three versts from here. We are masters of immense reserves from Baikal, which contain the whole of this inflammable liquid. A section of wall demolished by you, and a torrent of naphtha will spread over the surface of the Angara. And the spark will inflame it and bring the conflagration into the heart of Irkutsk. The houses built on piles, the Palace of the Grand Duke himself will be consumed, annihilated. Ah, cursed Russians. You’ve thrown me into the camp of the Tartars! Well, I make war on your like a Tartar!
Chief: Your orders will be executed, Ivan, but what moment shall we choose to destroy the dam of the reservoirs of Baikal?
Ivan: The hour when the sun shall have disappeared over the horizon.
Sangarre: At that hour the capital of Siberia will be in flames.
Ivan: And, my vengeance will be accomplished. Let’s leave now. (to chief) You will remember?
Chief: I will remember.
(Sangarre and Ivan leave.)
Chief: Let’s rest here for a half hour before the moment we must fulfill our mission.
Sergeant: The men can come and go?
Officer: Yes, but they mustn’t go far. We can’t have too many to overturn the dam of reservoirs of Naphtha. We’ll need all the help we can get. There won’t be one too many for the job.
Sergeant: That’s fine. Go—
(All disappear, after placing their rifles here and there.)
Marfa: (entering from the right, leaning on a stick) My poor child, you whose sight was extinguished staring for the last time at your mother. Where are you? What’s become of you? A young girl they told me—Nadia, without a doubt—is guiding the steps of the blind. Both of them are headed towards Irkutsk and for the last month I’ve followed the great Siberian highway. My beloved son, it is I who betrayed you. I was unable to contain myself in finding you again. There—in front of me—and you were not able to control yourself in seeing the knout raised against me. Ah, why didn’t you let them rip up my shoulders? No torture would have torn your secret from me. Come on, we must start walking again. Here I am, no more that a few versts from Irkutsk. Perhaps it is there I will find him. Come on— (she rises and starts to leave) The Tartars!
Officer: (seeing Marfa) Who is this woman?
Sergeant: Some beggar woman.
Marfa: I am not holding out my hand. I don’t demand any pity from a Tartar.
Officer: You are really that proud? What are you doing here? Where are you going?
Marfa: I am going where those who no longer have a country, who no longer have a home, and who are fleeing invaders go. I am going on, until my strength fails me, until I fall—and until I die.
Sergeant: She’s a real woman, Captain.
Officer: Who has good eyes and good ears! I don’t like these prowlers who follow our rear guard. They are as good as spies. (to Marfa) Leave, and don’t let me see you again or I’ll have you tied to the foot of a tree and the famished wolves won’t have any mercy on you.
Marfa: Wolf or Tartar, it’s all one. To die by the blow of teeth or gunshot, little matter to me.
Officer: Oh, life has little price in your eyes.
Marfa: Yes, ever since I lost the one I’m vainly seeking—my son, that you cruelly martyred.
(Marfa takes her stick and goes off into the night.)
Sergeant: (to officer) Captain, more refugees, doubtless. (pointing to Strogoff and Nadia who appear in the back)
Marfa: (aside) Here! My son! My son!
Strogoff: (to Nadia, who guides him by the hand) What is it?
Nadia: Some Tartars.
Strogoff: They’ve seen us?
Marfa: (aside) Oh! This time I won’t betray myself before them. (she hides at the back)
Officer: Have those people approach.
Sergeant: Come on, approach. Approach.
Officer: Who are you?
Nadia: My brother is blind, and we’ve wandered, despite terrible sufferings he’s undergone, a road so hard and so long that he can hardly sustain it.
Officer: Where are you from?
Strogoff: From Irkutsk, where we’ve been unable to penetrate, because the Tartars are besieging it.
Officer: And, where are you going?
Strogoff: Toward Lake Baikal where we will wait for Siberia to become tranquil again.
Officer: And it will, under Tartar domination.
Sergeant: (looking at Nadia with effrontery) This girl is pretty, Captain.
Officer: (to Strogoff) It’s true. You’ve got a pretty companion there.
(The Sergeant tries to approach Nadia.)
Nadia: (moving back) Ah! (She grasps Strogoff’s hand)
Strogoff: She’s my sister.
Sergeant: We could get another guide to the blind, and this pretty girl could stay in camp. (he approaches her)
Nadia: Leave me alone, leave me alone!
Strogoff: (aside) Wretches!
Sergeant: The young Siberian is skittish. We will see each other again, later, beautiful.
Soldier: (entering) Captain, by climbing a hill a hundred paces from here, you can see great mists rising in the air, and listening, one can hear the roar of cannon in the distance.
Officer: Those are ours, giving the assault on Irkutsk.
Strogoff: (aside) The assault on Irkutsk!
Officer: Let’s see about that. (to soldier) In an hour, the moment will come to accomplish our task, and that done, we will rejoin the assailants.
(The Officer leaves, the soldiers accompanying him. The Sergeant looks one last time at Nadia and leaves.)
Nadia: They are gone, brother. Now we can continue our route.
Strogoff: No! I said we were going by way of Lake Baikal. They mustn’t see us take another way.
Nadia: We will wait, then, until they’ve gone a long way off.
Strogoff: Today is the 24th of September, and today—I must be in Irkutsk.
Nadia: Let us hope still! These Tartars are going to leave. Tonight, when they can no longer see us, we will try the way of going down by the river—and you can, before tomorrow, enter the city. Try to rest a little while waiting.
(Nadia leads Strogoff to the foot of a tree.)
Strogoff: Me rest? And you, poor Nadia, aren’t you more broken by fatigue than I am myself?
Nadia: No, no. I am strong—whereas you, that wound you received, that fever which consumes you—
Strogoff: Ah, what difference, Nadia? What difference? Let me arrive in time to the Grand Duke, and I’ll have nothing more to ask of you. I wonder if my mother still exists.
Nadia: Before her sons that those barbarians were going to martyr, she fell senseless. But, who told you life was destroyed in her? Who told you she was dead? Brother, I believe you will see her again. (stopping and looking at him sadly) I believe, brother, that you will press her again in your arms and she will cover with kisses and tears those poor eyes whose sight is extinct!
Strogoff: When I placed my lips on her face, I felt her icy. When I felt her heart, it did not beat under my hand.
(Marfa appears and approaches her son.)
Strogoff: Alas, my mother is dead!
Nadia: (noticing Marfa) Ah!
Strogoff: What’s wrong? What’s the matter with you, Nadia?
Nadia: Nothing, nothing!
(Marfa kneels, and makes a sign to Nadia, who is ready to betray her, to keep silent. Then, taking her son’s hand, she takes it weeping to her lips. Strogoff, who has extended his other arm has satisfied himself that Nadia is on his right.)
Strogoff: Oh! Nadia! Nadia! These kisses, these tears. This weeping I hear. It’s she—it’s she—it’s my mother!
Marfa: My son! My son!
(Strogoff and Marfa fall into each other’s arms.)
Marfa: Yes, yes, it’s me, my beloved child, it’s me, my noble and brave martyr. Let me kiss those eyes a thousand times. Those poor extinct eyes. And it’s for me, because he wanted to defend his mother, that he was tortured so. Ah, why didn’t I die before that fatal day? Why didn’t I die? My God!
Strogoff: Die! You, no, no! Don’t cry, my mother, and remember the words I say here: God reserves to those who suffer, ineffable consolations.
Marfa: What consolations are you talking to me about? To me, whose eyes must never again fix on yours without weeping?
Strogoff: Happiness can be found in your soul.
Strogoff: God makes miracles, my mother.
Marfa: Miracles! What’s that signify? Answer, answer—in the name of heaven.
Strogoff: Well—learn then. I—ah! The joy of finding you again, my mother—my—
Marfa: My word. The words die on his lips. He’s growing pale, he’s losing consciousness.
Nadia: It’s the emotion after so much stress.
Marfa: We must revive him! Ah, this gourd. (she takes the gourd that Strogoff wears on his side) Nothing! It’s empty. The water is down there. Go— go—Nadia.
(Nadia takes the gourd and rushes to the rear on the road which rises to the right.)
Marfa: Michael, my child, hear me, speak to me, Michael! Say again that you pardon me for all that you’ve suffered through me.
Strogoff: (in a weak voice) Mother. Mother.
Marfa: Ah! He’s coming to himself. (looking at the back) Nadia! Nadia!
(At this, Nadia, who has filled the gourd, gets up. But at the same time the Tartar Sergeant reappears.)
Sergeant: The beautiful girl belongs to me.
Nadia: Let me alone!
Sergeant: No! You will come willingly or by force. (he intends to drag her)
Nadia: Let me alone! Let me go!
Marfa: (seeing Nadia) The wretch—Nadia. (running to Nadia)
Sergeant: Get back.
(The Sergeant pushes Marfa away and seizing Nadia by her arm, drags her off.)
Nadia: (uttering a scream) Help me! Pity—help me!
(Strogoff comes to himself, rises, then with an irresistible movement, grabs one of the rifles left near the tree, arms it, aims at the Sergeant and fires. The Sergeant falls.)
Marfa and Nadia: Oh!
(After being stupefied for a moment, both Marfa and Nadia rush towards Strogoff.)
Strogoff: May God and the Czar pardon me. This new constraint was beyond my strength.
Marfa: Ah, Michael, my son. Your eyes see the light of heaven.
Nadia: Brother, brother! Then, it’s really true?
Strogoff: Yes, yes, I see you, my mother! Yes, I see you, Nadia.
Marfa: My child, my child! What joy, what happiness, what intoxication! Ah! I understand your words, now. God—God gives the afflicted infallible consolation.
Nadia: But, how has it happened?
Marfa: And where does this miracle come from?
Strogoff: When I thought to see you for the last time, my mother, my eyes were flooded with so many tears that the reddened sword only succeeded in drying them, without burning my sight! And, as I had to save our Siberia, to cross the Tartar lines “I am blind,” I said. “The Koran protects me! I am blind!” and I passed.
Nadia: But, why didn’t you tell me?
Strogoff: Because only a moment of imprudence or forgetfulness would have ruined you, along with me, Nadia.
Marfa: Silence! They are returning.
(The Captain, followed by soldiers, arrives from the back. They raise the Sergeant’s body.)
Captain: Who killed this man?
Soldier: (pointing to Strogoff) There’s only this beggar here.
Officer: Let him be seized. We will take him to camp.
Strogoff: (aside) Take me! And my mission! All is lost.
Nadia: Do you know that my brother is blind?
Marfa: And that he cannot use that weapon?
Officer: Blind? We are going to indeed know if he really is.
Marfa: What’s he going to do?
Officer: Your eyes are sightless, you said? Well, I want to see you walk without a guide, without support. Separate from these two women and you—march. (raising his sword)
Strogoff: Which way?
Officer: (holding his sword towards Strogoff’s breast) Straight before you.
Nadia: My God!
Marfa: (screaming as she places her hand over her mouth) Ahhh!
(Strogoff marches on the sword and stops when the point enters his breast.)
Strogoff: Ah, you’ve wounded me!
Marfa: (rushing to him) Michael! My poor son!
Marfa: (to the Officer) You die a murderer!
Officer: Then, it’s one of these two women who killed the soldier!
Marfa: It was I!
Strogoff: (to Marfa) No, mother, I don’t wish—I—I don’t wish it.
Marfa: (aside to Strogoff) To save our Siberia, it’s necessary that you be free. I forbid you to speak.
Officer: Seize that woman! Tie her to that tree and let her be shot.
Strogoff: Shot! You!
Nadia: Mercy—for her.
Marfa: God has counted my days. They belong to him.
(Some Soldiers tie Marfa to the tree. Others drag off Strogoff and Nadia.)
Strogoff: My mother! My mother!
(At the moment the Tartars are going to shoot Marfa, a raft, coming from the left appears on the Angara.)
Jollivet: A woman that the Tartars want to murder. Stop, wretches!
Strogoff: Help me—my friends.
Officer: (to Tartars) Fire!
Blount: Jollivet, fire on the soldiers! I will take care of the Captain myself. (firing)
Officer: (wounded) Ah!
Blount: Good shot, wasn’t it?
Jollivet: Very good shot, friend Blount.
(The Tartars surround their chief. Meanwhile, Strogoff and Nadia untie Marfa.)
Officer: Take me to the reservoir. Those are Ogareff’s orders.
(The Tartars carry the Officer off.)
Blount, Jollivet: Long live France! Long live England! Hurrah! Hep! Hep!
Jollivet: Heavens, Michael Strogoff—
Strogoff: Thanks, Mr. Jollivet! Thanks, Mr. Blount!
Blount: It was us, unfortunate blind man!
Strogoff: Let’s not lose a moment! The raft is taking you—?
Jollivet: To Irkutsk!
Strogoff: To Irkutsk! It was heaven that sent you.
Blount: Yes, always very malicious, heaven.
Marfa: Will you take us with you?
Jollivet: Sure! By following the course of the Angara, we’ll get to Irkutsk under cover of darkness.
Strogoff: Let’s embark.
Jollivet: He is not blind.
Marfa: His filial tenderness saved my child. His eyes, in sending me a last adieu, were flooded with so many tears—.
Blount: Ah, good, very good. I understand, and I want to inform the Academy of Medicine about this matter.
Jollivet: Yes, yes, Blount. Red hot iron is excellent for drying tears.
Blount: But, insufficient to burn out sight.
All: Let’s embark.
The panorama at the rear moves little by little, while the raft remains still. One sees several sites on the shores of the river.
Night has come. The current of Naphtha inflames the surface of the river. The raft, vigorously pushed, passes through.
Irkutsk is in flames. The population rushes on the banks of the river. Strogoff appears and rushes through a blazing gate.