Great Catherine/The Third Scene

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In a terrace garden overlooking the Neva. Claire, a robust young English lady, is leaning on The river wall. She turns expectantly on hearing the garden gate opened and closed. Edstaston hurries in. With a cry of delight she throws her arms round his neck.

CLAIRE. Darling!

EDSTASTON [making a wry face]. Don't call me darling.

CLAIRE [amazed and chilled]. Why?

EDSTASTON. I have been called darling all the morning.

CLAIRE [with a flash of jealousy]. By whom?

EDSTASTON. By everybody. By the most unutterable swine. And if we do not leave this abominable city now: do you hear? now; I shall be called darling by the Empress.

CLAIRE [with magnificent snobbery]. She would not dare. Did you tell her you were engaged to me?

EDSTASTON. Of course not.


EDSTASTON. Because I didn't particularly want to have you knouted, and to be hanged or sent to Siberia myself.

CLAIRE. What on earth do you mean?

EDSTASTON. Well, the long and short of it is—don't think me a coxcomb, Claire: it is too serious to mince matters—I have seen the Empress; and—

CLAIRE. Well, you wanted to see her.

EDSTASTON. Yes; but the Empress has seen me.

CLAIRE. She has fallen in love with you!

EDSTASTON. How did you know?

CLAIRE. Dearest: as if anyone could help it.

EDSTASTON. Oh, don't make me feel like a fool. But, though it does sound conceited to say it, I flatter myself I'm better looking than Patiomkin and the other hogs she is accustomed to. Anyhow, I daren't risk staying.

CLAIRE. What a nuisance! Mamma will be furious at having to pack, and at missing the Court ball this evening.

EDSTASTON. I can't help that. We haven't a moment to lose.

CLAIRE. May I tell her she will be knouted if we stay?

EDSTASTON. Do, dearest.

He kisses her and lets her go, expecting her to run into the house.

CLAIRE [pausing thoughtfully]. Is she—is she good-looking when you see her close?

EDSTASTON. Not a patch on you, dearest.

CLAIRE [jealous]. Then you did see her close?

EDSTASTON. Fairly close.

CLAIRE. Indeed! How close? No: that's silly of me: I will tell mamma. [She is going out when Naryshkin enters with the Sergeant and a squad of soldiers.] What do you want here?

The Sergeant goes to Edstaston: plumps down on his knees: and takes out a magnificent pair of pistols with gold grips. He proffers them to Edstaston, holding them by the barrels.

NARYSHKIN. Captain Edstaston: his Highness Prince Patiomkin sends you the pistols he promised you.

THE SERGEANT. Take them, Little Father; and do not forget us poor soldiers who have brought them to you; for God knows we get but little to drink.

EDSTASTON [irresolutely]. But I can't take these valuable things. By Jiminy, though, they're beautiful! Look at them, Claire.

As he is taking the pistols the kneeling Sergeant suddenly drops them; flings himself forward;  and embraces Edstaston's hips to prevent him from drawing his own pistols from his boots.

THE SERGEANT. Lay hold of him there. Pin his arms. I have his pistols. [The soldiers seize Edstaston.]

EDSTASTON. Ah, would you, damn you! [He drives his knee into the Sergeant's epigastrium, and struggles furiously with his captors.]

THE SERGEANT [rolling on the ground, gasping and groaning]. Owgh! Murder! Holy Nicholas! Owwwgh!

CLAIRE. Help! help! They are killing Charles. Help!

NARYSHKIN [seizing her and clapping his hand over her mouth]. Tie him neck and crop. Ten thousand blows of the stick if you let him go. [Claire twists herself loose: turns on him: and cuffs him furiously.] Yow—ow! Have mercy, Little Mother.

CLAIRE. You wretch! Help! Help! Police! We are being murdered. Help!

The Sergeant, who has risen, comes to Naryshkin's rescue, and grasps Claire's hands, enabling Naryshkin to gag her again. By this time Edstaston and his captors are all rolling on the ground together. They get Edstaston on his back and fasten his wrists together behind his knees. Next they put a broad strap round his ribs. Finally they pass a pole through this breast strap and through the waist strap and lift him by it, helplessly trussed up, to carry him of. Meanwhile he is by no means suffering in silence.

EDSTASTON [gasping]. You shall hear more of this. Damn you, will you untie me? I will complain to the ambassador. I will write to the Gazette. England will blow your trumpery little fleet out of the water and sweep your tinpot army into Siberia for this. Will you let me go? Damn you! Curse you! What the devil do you mean by it? I'll—I'll—I'll— [he is carried out of hearing].

NARYSHKIN [snatching his hands from Claire's face with a scream, and shaking his finger frantically]. Agh! [The Sergeant, amazed, lets go her hands.] She has bitten me, the little vixen.

CLAIRE [spitting and wiping her mouth disgustedly]. How dare you put your dirty paws on my mouth? Ugh! Psha!

THE SERGEANT. Be merciful, Little angel Mother.

CLAIRE. Do not presume to call me your little angel mother. Where are the police?

NARYSHKIN. We are the police in St Petersburg, little spitfire.

THE SERGEANT. God knows we have no orders to harm you, Little Mother. Our duty is done. You are well and strong; but I shall never be the same man again. He is a mighty and terrible fighter, as stout as a bear. He has broken my sweetbread with his strong knees. God knows poor folk should not be set upon such dangerous adversaries!

CLAIRE. Serve you right! Where have they taken Captain Edstaston to?

NARYSHKIN [spitefully]. To the Empress, little beauty. He has insulted the Empress. He will receive a hundred and one blows of the knout. [He laughs and goes out, nursing his bitten finger.]

THE SERGEANT. He will feel only the first twenty and he will be mercifully dead long before the end, little darling.

CLAIRE [sustained by an invincible snobbery]. They dare not touch an English officer. I will go to the Empress myself: she cannot know who Captain Edstaston is—who we are.

THE SERGEANT. Do so in the name of the Holy Nicholas, little beauty.

CLAIRE. Don't be impertinent. How can I get admission to the palace?

THE SERGEANT. Everybody goes in and out of the palace, little love.

CLAIRE. But I must get into the Empress's presence. I must speak to her.

THE SERGEANT. You shall, dear Little Mother. You shall give the poor old Sergeant a rouble; and the blessed Nicholas will make your salvation his charge.

CLAIRE [impetuously]. I will give you [she is about to say fifty roubles, but checks herself cautiously]— Well: I don't mind giving you two roubles if I can speak to the Empress.

THE SERGEANT [joyfully]. I praise Heaven for you, Little Mother. Come. [He leads the way out.] It was the temptation of the devil that led your young man to bruise my vitals and deprive me of breath. We must be merciful to one another's faults.