Poet Lore/Volume 27/Number 4/Whom the Gods Destroy
WHOM THE GODS DESTROY
A ONE ACT DRAMA OF THE WAR OF 1866
Prefaced and Translated from the Bohemian by Charles Recht.
“The Knights are dust,
Their swords are rust
Their souls are with their Gods we trust.”
The incident of this so-called comedy dates from the year 1866 but the similarity to events of our day makes the sketch so timely that with but a change of names and location this terrible farce on patriotic heroism could have been played near the San River or in the environs of Ypres in the year 1915.
It happened in 1866 when Bismarck drove home his coup d’etat by ending forever Austrian interference in German affairs. In April of that year, he entered into an alliance with Italy against Austria. Events moved rapidly after its completion. This alliance was officially to be secret but soon became known abroad. Austria for its protection began mobilization on its Venetian border. Bismarck immediately accused her of insincerity and on June 7, the Prussian army marched into Holstein, then the bone of contention. General mobilization was ordered on June 14 and on June 15, Prussia declared war against Hanover, Saxony, Bavaria, and Austria. On June 27 the Prussians defeated the Hanoverians. On June 24 Austria dealt a severe defeat to the Italians at Custozza. This play however concerns itself with the main events of this war which took place in Bohemia. The Austrian army was commanded by Gen. Ludwig von Benedek and at the outbreak of the war he was stationed in Moravia at Olmütz. The Austrians numbered 240,000 men. The invading Prussian army of 310,000 was commanded by its chief of staff, Gen. von Moltke, but the Crown Prince, and King William himself led the troops. It consisted of three army corps; the first marched into Moravia, the second into the westerly part of Bohemia, and the third corps into Bohemia by way of Trautenau and Nachod. Benedek spread his army to meet the invaders.
At this point it is pertinent to note the position of the Czechs. They had just formed the society of the Sokols (falcon) the national guard of Bohemia and they were rejoicing at their Renaissance. Mindful of the great victories of their forbears, the Hussites over the Germans, the Sokols were anxious to help in the repulse of their ancient enemies the Prussians. They sent a petition to Vienna for permission to fortify the narrow mountain passes. The gentlemen of the Ballplatz at Vienna (as the foreign office was then called) scorned this offer. The Prime Minister told the Bohemian delegates that the conflict was a war of Germans against Germans. University students were told that they had better join the regular army as volunteers. Prince Metternich wrote that the Prussian would be driven out of Austria, “mit einem nassen Fetzen” (with a wet rag). He informed the Embassy in Paris that he was very much occupied in composing a triumphal march for the entry of the Austrian troops into Berlin.
The action in this play relates to the Austrian army sent to oppose the Prussians around Trautenau. While Benedek had not met the main army of the Prussians as yet, his losses in trying to check the advance of the three corps were so heavy that he telegraphed to Vienna to the Emperor advising peace at any price. The official communications are as follows:
Benedek to the Emperor: “I earnestly entreat Your Majesty to conclude peace at any price. A catastrophe to the army is inevitable. Major General Beck is returned immediately.”
Answered by official telegram No 3022, June 30, at 2:10 p. m.
“It is impossible to conclude peace. Has there been a battle? I order that in case nothing else is left you commence a retreat in the best possible order.”
Under such pressure Benedek rallied his army around Jicin, Horitz, Königgrätz, and Sadowa. There on July and he gave desperate battle to the Prussians. This is known as the battle of Königgrätz by the Austrians and Germans, and by the French and English as the battle of Sadowa. It meant a complete defeat of the Austrians and an end of the Austro-Prussian war.
Perhaps the best brief graphic account of the prevailing critical condition of the European imbroglio may be gathered from the correspondence of the contemporary historian John Motley, then American Ambassador to Vienna.
In a letter dated April 23, he writes from Vienna to his daughter Lily:
“P. S. April 24, (to quote from his letter) “Prussia has replied. The note was given in yesterday at 2 p. m. Prussia will disarm in principle au fur et a mesure as Austria disarms.
“Now will come a puzzling problem in Rule of Three, Query: Austria not having armed at all, how much disarming, will be required of Prussia to equal the promised disarming of Austria?”
“The boy who answers that deserves to have a double headed eagle of the first class tied around his neck and I wish that he may get it.
“I have been ponderously chaffing on this subject, my dear child, because I have been boring myself, and the United States State Department with dreary despatches on this dreary Schleswig Holsteinismus once a week this three months: and really I have not put down in the foregoing pages all that I know or anybody knows on the subject. I have felt all along that there would be war, I still feel so. Everybody else says there will be peace. Nobody doubts that Prussia will get the duchies, however. To resume the case between Austria and Prussia, however, in single phrase, 'they won’t fight, and they won’t make up, and they keep nagging.’”
The entire correspondence of Motley is so fascinating that one is at a loss in the choice of quotations. On July 3, 1866, he explains in his letter to Lily:
“You are to remember that Benedek was a good corps commander in Italy. Whether he can handle 200,000 men as well as he did 40,000 there is the whole question, we used to hear occasionally in America. At first sight it looks as if he had been outgeneraled. The Prussians have been as nimble as cats. They have occupied Saxony, Electoral Hesse, Hanover, whisked three potentates off their thrones, neutralized at least 50,000 ‘Deutsche Krieger’ of the B. O. B. (Blessed Old Bund for convenience sake, I will henceforth denominate the Germanic Confederation) and are now in position on the heights of Northern Bohemia.”
In this letter Motley makes the prophecy that Benedek will be defeated and he adds a postscript on the following day “When these humble lines reach you, you will already know the details of yesterday’s great battle. Yet I know absolutely nothing at this moment, save a telegram published this morning from head quarters in an extra, ‘Wiener Zeitung’ and dated 10:50 p. m., 3rd of July, that the Austrian army after having had the advantage up to 2 p. m. was outflanked and forced back and that the headquarters are now at Swiniarek, on the turnpike to Hohenbruck. If you will look on the map you will see that this means I fear, that the Austrian army has retreated across the Elbe and given up its whole position.”
Dr. Servac Heller in describing the incident which forms the subject matter of this drama in his instructive book “War of 1866 in Bohemia, its origin, events and consequences,” published in Prague 1895 recites as follows:
“Steinmetz (Prussian General) did not want to commence an attack on Skalitz until the promised reinforcements of the German Crown Prince’s Guards would arrive. But when it became apparent that the Crown Prince’s army would not come on time, he changed his mind and ordered an attack with whatever forces he had on hand, and this is just about the same time that Benedek ordered the corps which he had stationed at Skalitz to retreat. Archduke Leopold (Austrian) stationed his divisions about Skalitz in such a way that Frangners brigade, was on the left near the north side of the township, Kryessnern formed the centre, which was thrown about the south side of the city back of the railroad depot and Gen. Schulz to the south formed the left wing of the Archduke’s division. To the right and left of the depot was the artillery reserve ready to sweep with fire the heights and groves opposite.”
The plot of this play is an incident of the battle of Skalitz. On the evening of the 28th of June a corps of the Austrian army consisting of the 21st, 24th, 77th, and 31st regiments of infantry, the 3rd regiment of Uhlans and several others met the enemy at Skalitz. They were defeated and retreated to Schweinschadel under the protection of the batteries of Gen Rosenzweig. The Prussians followed them and at that point inflicted another defeat. The action takes place on the evening of the 28th of June after the battle of Skalitz and before the dawn of the 29th, on which occurred the defeat of Schweinschadel.
The impression which the defeat at Königgratz left in the popular mind of the newly awakened nation was quite lasting. The Czechs who were defending their own land against their racial enemy fought bravely and desperately, but the proverbial bad leadership of the Austrian Generals made their cause a hopeless one. Many popular songs commemorated the bitter struggle. The following was one of the most popular.
At the battle of Kralove Hradec (Königgrätz)
The shells were flying hot and heavy
And still at his cannon he stood
And kept on loading, loading, loading
And kept on loading
A sharp shell burst right near him
And cut his right arm from his body
And with his left he kept the cannon
Loading—and kept on still loading, loading. . . .
The song which the fife and drum band of the approaching enemy played was then the martial strain of the Prussian army. Even this was converted into the popular song played to the words “When to us come the Prussians a-marching.”
The author of the play is a comparatively young man and his literary efforts have not achieved in Bohemia such a success that he would be likely to receive notice in foreign countries. This, the lack of wide recognition of Hilbert’s works is due to his style and the choice of his subjects. In his plays he introduces an innovation, which departs from the cardinal rules of the drama, but his treatment of the innovation is not sufficiently consistent and strong. In describing the action of a character, he goes into the psychological cause of the action so that his play becomes not only dramatic, but a psychological study as well. Again in describing silences or lack of reply of a person or persons, he mentions the reasons for such silences. Essentially a prose writer, Hilbert was somewhat carried away by his two stage success “Blame” (Vina) produced at the National Theatre in 1896, and the other, “For God’s Sake}}” (O Boha) in 1898. Criticism of the last play was so severe and gave rise to such extended comment by the press and the critics that the author was obliged to change it somewhat and later published it under a different title, "The Fist" (Pest). In 1903 Hilbert published two plays, the first a one-act, called “Baited Ones,” is a very poor production in dialogue, plot and construction. The second, however “Falkenstein” published in 1903, a historical drama, is his best-known work and has achieved some success. Falkenstein is considered by most of the Bohemian critics (notably by Prof. Arne Novak) as the representative play of Hilbert. “The Comedy of 1866,” was written in 1909 and produced that year in Prague.
In spite of all the light shed by the great humanitarians such as Zola and Tolstoy on the subject of modern warfare the popular demand for heroism is as great as in mediaeval times. We read of iron crosses, Decorations of the Legion of Honor and all the inducements offered to those who braved death or plentifully inflicted it upon their fellowmen.
(With no desire to minimize the horrifying misfortunes of the Moloch of Annihilation, the following is offered as an illustration of military heroism). Much more than physical destruction matters the lasting and pernicious result of the war which stamps religion a lie, calls art a fraud, and scatters to the winds the established facts of social science. Ours are the days when to hold aloof from the hue and cry of the maddening crowds is an angelic virtue. No one ever realized how potent and all absorbing was the mob spirit dormant even in the minds of those who condemned it. The author of Jean Christophe and the poet of the Sunken Bell, Haeckel, the noblest exponent of Darwinism, the great philosopher of Chantecler all join in the general chorus of hatred, curses and justification of the present war.
A fair illustration may be gathered from the introduction to a work of science published in America;
“At the present time it would be asking too much of my audience to accept as a scientific truth doctrines which have had their birth in Austria and Germany, where truth appears to be monopolized by professors and divines for academic purposes only of outrage and destruction of civilization and all that civilization means, were it not that I can give assurance that those doctrines have been tested and accepted, by earnest workers and profound thinkers in Switzerland, America and Great Britain. As a matter of fact Freud has no German blood in him, but is a pure Jew, and, after all Science knows no nationality, and the account I present to you is a compromise between and combination of the opinions of many great men.” W. H. B. Stoddart, The New Psychiatry.
But even the religious popular sentiment has undergone such total demoralization that to minds who still cling to vestiges of old morale, the startling phenomena of today offer but a little hope for a better tomorrow. The Jack Cade code of Rev. Billy Sunday the “Gott mit uns” motto of the German army, are ample proofs of it. A shell crashes into a church, tears up and demolishes the handiwork of ages, swerves from its course and falls into a group of soldiers. Twenty innocent men fall dead but a miracle is declared because it swerved from the stone image of a saint. Man who is Nature’s noblest and greatest creation is valued less than the clumsy handiwork of a crude village craftsman. The foundations on which rested the superstructures of our moral institutions have been rudely shaken. Were it not improvident to use the German word, the “Lebenslust” has gone out of the world, and the reminiscent mind finds no consolation anywhere. Reminiscent? Yes; of Robert Burns’ fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. The equality of Karl Marx and the thousand and one dreams woven by the spinners of fiction born out of a mind which knows no evil and a heart that is overflowing with love of one’s neighbor. Today the lyres are mute, the jester’s bells ring out of tune and the shriek of a bullet roars with derision at a mother’s lullaby. To the few to whom it was not given to conceive hate in order to justify murder, who insist on withholding judgment, this is a soul-trying epoch indeed. It seems at times futile to build, to weave, and create what in a moment of fury, an insensible mob will destroy. But the passion for the betterment of the world is a part of our existence and on board of a torpedoed ship, we dream and plan the great dream world to-be and the equality, love and citizenship of all who shall inhabit it.
Characters Of the Play
|Ebner, lieutenant of the 21st regiment of Baron Reichach.|
|Vonka, soldier of the same regiment.|
|Vichodil, soldier of the 5th Jägers.|
|Havlin, soldier of the 4th of Count Grenville.|
|Kovar, soldier of the battery of Brigadier Frangner.|
|Spravil, Uhlan of the 3rd of Archduke Charles.|
|Kloc, soldier of the 4th of Baron Degenfeld.|
|Levinsky, soldier of the 77th of Archduke Charles Ludwig.|
|Soukup, soldier of the 24th Jägers.|
|Svacha||University students, volunteers of 31st Jägers.|
|Anna Petrova, woman of the village, wife of the signal man of the railroad.|
A country church-yard. In its depth is a weed covered wall, about a man’s height. It winds to the right toward the spectator then there is a gate. From the gate a short path in the grass to the door of a little church which is on the left of the scene. The graves are ill-kept but covered with wild blossoming flowers. Near this wall bushes of gooseberry and wild currant are nestling. It is spring-time, June. Before the curtain rises, shots are heard. There is noise, alarm and confusion.
The curtain rises. There was a light shower in the early part of the afternoon, the grass is wet. Near the gate the body of a dead soldier lies huddled. To the right the sky is red with the glow of the burning village of Skalitz. Now and again the landscape shakes with the thunder of the near-by artillery. During the lull is heard the pattering of the feet of soldiers running on the highway which passes the wall of the church-yard. But these are only stragglers who delay, as the body of the Austrian army defeated at Skalitz has fled by already. Then even the stamping and neighing of horses, the clatter of hurrying cannon is heard. Yelling, shots, the creaking of wheels, grating and rasping, the cracking of whips, a stray shot or two—again the cannon thunders, drowning for the moment the noise of the highway. Now the first soldier appears in the church-yard. The others drop in at various intervals afterward.
All the soldiers are excited and fatigued. They are out of breath, wan, tattered, bloody and muddy. All are quite young.
Vonka (Opens the gate, stops a moment, looks about, then turns back).—Hi! you! Moravian.
(Vichodil comes in followed by Havlin.)
Havlin.—Church-yard—we won’t stay here—in a church-yard——
(Vonka throws down his gun, pays no attention to Havlin. Bends over the dead soldier.)
Havlin.—They were carrying him and threw him in here—but you don’t want to stay here?
Vonka (Bent over the dead body).—The flies, look at them! What a lot there are on him already—Shrapnel struck him under the chin—it took a bit of his shoulder—A Maygar—from the 32nd (he rises.) To cart him with such an injury. (He is restless—he does not know what to do, he chokes with excitement.)
Havlin.—But you are not going to lie down here.
(Vonka mutters through his teeth but is thinking of something else.)
Havlin.—Say something, you are not going to lie down here, are you?
(Vonka says nothing; he goes to the right. Rests his chin on the wall and gazes out.)
Havlin (to Vichodil).—You lie down;—is it just to bandage your foot?
Vichodil (Who the moment he came in, sat down on the grass to attend to his wounded leg).—It scratched me, brother; it burns—it did not before but now it stings.
Vonka (Looking over the wall).—Skalitz is still burning—there, the buildings near the railroad station. (Turns toward the church- yard.) It’s a veritable fortress (To Vichodil) you are in our regiment, Moravian—it scratched you.
Vichodil.—A little bit, brother; it caught me in here in the leg.
Vonka.—This reminds me of the story they tell in our regiment. There are a few old fellows there who served in Italy in the 59th. It was just like this grave-yard. A single company of our men held back a whole regiment of the enemy of French Zouaves. (He stands undecided whether to leave or remain—a cannon shot—he turns a little and listens attentively.)
Vichodil (The removal of his clothes is causing him pain).—Oh! Oh!
Vonka.—It scratched you thoroughly, brother—here my shirt is clean if you want it for a bandage.
Vichodil.—I have one—myself—it is not so bad. It’s just bleeding a bit.
Vonka.—It ought to be washed out; we’ll get some water here. (A momentary pause.) (A shot—Havlin is startled.)
Havlin (Quickly).—At the village there to the left—back of these trees—or at least in a farm house.
(Vonka looks at him, then steps upon a grave, looks over the wall. He does not say a word, but intently watches the highway, suddenly laughter seizes him.)
Havlin (Has quickly moved near him).—He fell over his scabbard——
Vonka (Pays no attention to Havlin, turns to Vichodil. He is nervous, the following is said nervously and brokenly).—You charged all right—I watched you but I knew you were lost when you passed that wood. When a fellow is in it he does not know anything—but we were lying down and we saw you when you ran to the woods with a “hurrah.” We could have shot you down, every single one of you. To let you charge from that wood—the man who led you was stupid—there was fire to the right and left and Prussians—I bet a whole corps—and they were all supported—and then you fellows charge across the bare field. Now picture it. You were like playing schoolboys rolling on the ground and all about you was torn smoke—Oh, it was funny—very funny—and our boys were all on pins and needles, we wanted to be right in it. Our major, he stood there watching it—then he turned to us—I could not watch it any longer so I counted the nervous twitches of the major’s moustache—I tell you, like a bunch of boys rolling around in smoke—and then we started.
Havlin.—I saw one of your majors as I ran through the last village—he escaped with us.
(Vonka startled, his eyes shine angrily as he overcomes his anger.)
Havlin.—Yes, it was even in this village—then to the right—he escaped with us.
Havlin.—Shan’t I say it—he did run? Did not the bigger fellows run? Aren’t we all retreating—!
Vonka.—What—you—well. (He forces conversation.)Then—your turn came—you Moravian. Frangner, he too got it badly and then we got into it—We were on a hill and we rise and charge like mad—I knew nothing at all—just run and leap—then suddenly there is a wall of the black fellows—you feel that they were never there—but that they rose from the earth—that’s how blind you are as you run forward—Every blessed son of them looks like a black giant—and funny, they aren’t any bigger than we—then now you see a thousand barrels aimed at you—and this is the interesting part, you take in the whole thing in a single moment—your lads had already gotten there—for you see thousands crouching dead in gray-green uniform—some horses roll there too—you swallow—(His efforts are in vain, the picture escapes him; what he concentrated in rage struggles and passion breaks out; turns quickly to Havlin.) Away with you.
Vonka.—See that you run——
Havlin.—What do you want?
Vonka.—Away I said—away—coward! (With renewed strength.) Look out, the Prussians will catch you—we were beaten—beaten—the eighth division of the Austrian army—at Skalitz—don’t you know, eh? The men, officers, cannon, horses, everything is fleeing. And the horses, they are not the most stupid—(Beside himself with anger.) Without heart into battle, without heart away from it—They can push them from place to place but that they should feel not that—what do you talk—Czech! How about you Moravian? Czech! How do I talk? Czech! And now we’ll all be Prussians—(Shame and sorrow is choking him.) Sheep!! Animals! Stones!(He falls to the ground and his body shakes convulsively.) (A while passes.) (Vichodil looks at Vonka as if he wanted to say “Well” but nothing more. The church-yard gate grates on its hinges. A soldier appears.)
What are you doing in here? (No one answers.)
Are you wounded? (Again no answer.)
Fools—stop that shouting.
(He goes leaving the gate open. On the Trebesau hills the cannonading is resumed. Rosenzweig is covering the retreat of the Austrian army. Havlin motionlessly follows the shots attentively—but says nothing—now on the road past the gateway two soldiers’ figures bob up. One of them returns presently—looks into the church-yard. It’s Kovar.)
Kovar.—They are ours—one of them might have something—(Kloc follows him in.) Have anyone of you a bit of schnapps—everything is so sticky—(No answer.) I say have you a bit of brandy—the Prussians won’t catch us any more—(Again no answer.) Can’t you answer me at all (To Vonka) are you wounded? (To Havlin.) Not you, long-legged one, why don’t you answer.
Havlin (Sharply).—Because I have none.
Kovar.—Then why don’t you say that and well and good.
(Havlin wants to answer him but he is suffering so he just stretches his arm in a striking attitude.)
Havlin.—Don’t you touch me.
Vichodil (Raises himself).—Not so—No quarreling, brethren—there’s nothing to drink in here—we two just ran in here and remained—we two—and this chap is going off—I guess.
Kovar.—Why didn’t you say so at once. You remained—and why? (There is a short pause.) You’re wounded.
Vichodil.—Slightly; badly scratched.
Kovar.—Well, if it’s not much—why don’t you get away? (No answer.) (Pointing at Vonka.) What ails him?
Kovar.—And yet he remains here—(After a while.) I can see why you two are here, that’s plain—and this fellow could run likej wildfire but you will not let him.
Vichodil.—You’re mistaken my friend—no one is keeping him here.
Kovar.—Well, countrymen now you know it I guess—Yes, we all do—(He laughs.) We were sold—sold to the russians! In Olmütz we all cried that we would drive them out with a wet rag but now—we were sold—our country—(The cannon barks—Kovar, an artillery man, listens like an expert.) Boom! that’s Rosenzweig, he's making them believe he is covering our retreat— Now once more, boom! (He laughs for true to his word there is another cannon shot. The noise in the church-yard attracts three soldiers who peer into the yard. These are Spravil, Soukup and Levinsky.)
Levinsky.—Have you a drop of whiskey?
Kovar.—Did you ever see a Silesian who did not ask for whiskey?
Levinsky.—Give me some—I am thirsty.
Kovar (Is moved with a spirit of wild jollity).—A joke—hey—(Turns to Kloc.) Benedek fell.
Kloc (fails to get the point).—He fell?
Kovar (Same vein).—Fell—I tell you he fell—Do you dispute it?
Kloc (Naively anxious).—He fell!
Kovar.—Yes, I am telling you and you are denying it—
Kloc.—You are denying it, not I—you are laughing about it—he did fall near the railroad depot and Kreysnem fell too—A boy from my village, my chum, he fell. You were not there, what do you know?—I hollered to him to get behind a transport van but he did not hear and there was a salvo. The Prussians, they shot him right through his eyes and forehead—that’s how he fell, my poor boy—my chum—and General Benedek was killed too, everybody says; so only you are laughing about it.
Kovar (Amid mad laughter which shakes his whole body).—Fool! all the way you clung to me like a leech and cried and worried if Benedek fell or not (With renewed jollity.) But he fell—you common infantry—even if it was not on the battlefield—he fell—In Jaromer—he fell with all the other generals on a barrel of Rhine wine while you were fighting with nothing in your bellies but broth made of frog-pond water—and today you are still fighting.
Kloc (Moved by this blasphemy—shouts).—He was defending our country.
Kovar (Changed demeanor).—Who was—?
Kloc.—We all were defending it—and Benedek with us—
Kovar.—You—common—yes—but he (His eyes shine with rage. There’s a shot; he reddens, shakes—and leaps to the ground—lying on his back he still says.) He—your country—(Silence.)
Kloc (Helpless, naively to others, to divert).—He is going to sleep. (No one answers—pause.)
Spravil (his voice is clear—calm. He is not addressing anyone. He talks because it is necessary).—We came riding from Nagy-Szeben—in Hungary—six weeks we are in the saddle and we know nothing at all; only when we reached Moravia we learned that there would be war—we are quartered at a mill and sit there whetting our sabres on the millstones and making merry with the country lassies—Last midnight we reach Skalitz and we still know nothing. Since dawn we are lying back of a railroad and sand-heaps and no one is allowed to pass out and see what is happening—we lie here the entire forenoon. Midday comes, then afternoon, then the cannonading furiously breaks loose and we still have the sandpile in front of our noses and must not look out. Then all of a sudden a “Trarara” and we fly out underneath the railroad viaduct. I see nothing, clay is flying all about me, we are galloping across dead potato fields and the horses’ hoofs are kicking up dead stalks—that much I know—but nothing else. Then I hear just one volley of shots—It burst—then I knew nothing whatever. When I come to, I am prone on the ground. My horse is weighing down my foot. The poor beast is cold and stiff, shot through its belly. And all about me there are dead comrades and horses, but it’s quiet and I am all alone. Not a scratch on me but my horse is gone and the battle is over.
(He is silent, the others do not sympathize or listen.)
Levinsky.—I’d like to know if we are going to keep babbling like old women—or what?
Spravil.—We can lie down since everyone else is doing it.
Levinsky.—Well and good but if the Prussians come I’ll surrender.
Soukup (Startled—gloomily).—Not I.
Levinsky.—Well, what then?
(Soukup is silent.)
Levinsky.—It’s easy to reproach—but to advise is hard.
(It’s quiet and gloomy again.)
Levinsky.—It’s idiotic to remain here. Instead of thanking the Lord for permitting us to escape out there, you throw yourself obstinately into some new danger. But what for—for whom—these two?
(For a while there is no answer.)
Spravil.—I have no horse. And what should I do? An unmounted cavalry man.
Levinsky.—Well, in the morning you’ll be captured.
Levinsky.—Then run ahead.
(Quiet once more. Soukup now deliberately throws himself on the ground.)
Spravil.—I’ll do the same. (Slowly he spreads himself on the ground.)
Levinsky (Sneering cynically).—I’ll stay and wait for you—fools. (He sits down in a waiting attitude.) We’ll stay awhile and see. (Only Kloc and Havlin remain standing. It is growing darker now. The fires are dying out though they still color the sky line to the right. The cannonading has ceased and calmness in and about the grave-yard.)
Vichodil (Raising himself on his arm—to Kloc).—Why don’t you either lie down, brother, or go?
Vichodil.—Surely!—Frangner and Kreysnem fell. Benedek did not. Before the battle was over he rode to Jaromer and left us alone to fight it out. There, if you’re not full—here’s a bit of sugar beet—it’s pretty warm—but it will quiet you—here, bite on it.
Kloc (Takes the beet as though in a dream).—Stand by me brothers in blood, stand by me—I am with you—Holy Virgin Mary, stand by me. Stand by me, I beg that of you. (His body is shaking, he crosses himself, then falls to the ground.)
(It’s growing dark now.)
Havlin (Straightens out; is about to say something, then hisses).—I am revenging myself!—(And forthwith as though he was wounded falls to the ground.—Now everyone is lying down. The weak moonlight has now grown full and floods the air.—No word, no murmur, occasional sighs, deep breaths, or sounds of the stirring and stretching soldiers. A short pause.)
Vonka (Half rises and quietly Vichodil).—Hi, you Moravian! Vichodil.—What——
Vonka.—Can you get up?—(Motioning to the corpse near which he is lying.) We’ll have to move him out.
Vichodil.—Outside of the walls.
Vonka.—Over here is an opened grave.
Vonka.—Give me a hand. Help me! (Levinsky and Spravil raise themselves. Spravil lies down again. Levinsky alone remains sitting.)
Vichodil.—The dead are heavy.
Vonka.—They are. (They drop the corpse into the Subdued.) Sleep, Magyar—you were fighting for a strange country—with your “Eljen” “Czaczar” you fought bravely.
Vichodil.—They are brave men. (It’s quiet now, they should have parted but they are attracted by something.)
Vonka.—I am calling you Moravian. I don’t know your name.
Vonka.—From the country.
Vonka.—I am from Prague. (After a moment.) Rosenzweig, my dear Vichodil, is silent now. The artillery will soon pass by. It is night. The enemy will rest tonight and advance early in the morning. (Suddenly.) These in here, at least most of them—! Attention! Hist. (Strange sound without.) (Carefully and stealthfully he goes to the wall to gaze over. The noise now becomes more distinct. It is the sound of horses’ hoofs on the road toward Skalitz. Levinsky raised his head “What is it?” but Vonka silenced him, “Quiet,” he adds, however, in a moment.)
Vonka.—Riderless horses of our troops running amuck. They are gathered into a group and gallop aimlessly. (Suddenly, without changing his tone.) Comrades, listen. Here are a lot of horses without men. Something frightened them and they are running about. But they’ll quiet down soon, stop and graze in the field. Rosenzweig’s batteries are still between us and the Prussians, but that protection will soon be gone. We don’t know what we are waiting for. Let’s go and catch a horse and follow the army. (No answer.)
Vonka (Continues intently).—I am talking for a purpose and you can hear me. I say those of you who hear how useless it is to remain here, get up and go.
Levinsky.—You go first.
Vonka (Excited).—I’ll remain. You go ahead, you who don’t feel for what reasons you were called.
Levinsky.—Coward and fool.
Soukup (Angrily).—Shut up! (Commotion, everyone rises except—)
Kloc (Who for the past few moments has been in a deep dream and was nervously shuddering, kicking about and sobbing—in his dream).—Get behind that wagon—Jump—Jump over here—Holy Virgin Mary!—I am calling you—Jump over to me—
(Soukup who was lying beside him, jumps up.)
Kloc (Continues).—Where are you putting your head, duck you fool—hide over here—Holy Mary—not there, there they’ll get you. (With sudden fear.) See there! —I told you—what’s that—you see that—(a second later.) Hurrah!
Soukup.—Shut up you.
Soukup (Shakes him until he awakens).—Save that for the Prussians.
Kloc(Jumps up).—What!—Prussians?—Prussians—Brothers stand by me, brothers here——
Soukup (Throws him to the ground).—Coward—cry-baby.
Kloc (On the ground murmuring).—Brother, brother, brother.
(Everyone is on his feet now.)
Levinsky.—You can tell anyone you like, that you’ll be able to stop and rest here. I know you won’t.
Kovar.—I was hardly able to rise from the ground. (He was lying flat on his back—he’s reeling.) Water—somebody get me water—I can’t lie any more. (He is reeling—more impatiently now.) I am going to die—I want to have a drop of water.
Levinsky.—You can say what you like but you cannot sleep here.
Kovar.—Water, get me some water.
Levinsky (Laughing).—What I expected to happen, is taking place and in fifteen minutes you will be out of your grave-yard.
Levinsky.—You are not going to order me about!
Kovar (Commanding tone).—Water! I demand some water! (Levinsky is laughing.)
Spravil.—Let him talk. Well, what now?—Who first wanted to sleep here!
Havlin (Breaks out).—This one!
Havlin (Closing in on Vonka).—This devil, traitor, he!
(Levinsky is laughing.)
Havlin.—He was the first one to lie down in here. Out of revenge, because he was the first to fly from the battlefield. He fled just like all the rest of us and now he wants us all to be hot down because he forgot to remain in the battle and ran away.
Havlin.—Yes. You, you. You can’t fool me—you are getting even. For what, because you were afraid like all the others, afraid of the Prussians you ran away! And for that we all have to be sacrificed so that you will not have to hide your shame. (Vonka approaches him but is speechless—There is a moment of absolute quiet and just then from the road the noise of horsemen and quickly passing cannon is audible.)
Kovar.—These are ours. It’s Rosenzweig’s men.
Havlin (All are silent now. The noise behind the scene is increasing. The excitement has subsided for the moment—but it is about to break loose. The start is made by Havlin who runs to the gate, breaks it open, shouts.) Treason! Over here! Deserters! To the church-yard here. They want to desert the army. Arrest them and shoot them. (Just then.)
Soukup (Springs at him; shuts the gate and throws Havlin down).—Treacherous dog!
Havlin (Under him).—Help.
Soukup.—I’ll choke you, traitor.
Kloc.—Holy Virgin Mary!
Vichodil.—Brothers! Brothers! (He hurries to them and is parting them.) Don’t scuffle—Two Czechs—let them go—we Czechs will stand together.
Soukup.—He is a traitor. (Havlin utters some sounds. Now the noise of the approaching batteries is growing.)
Vonka (Pale, trembling, in an attitude of defiance).—Away! All of you! Away with everyone of you, this moment! I order it!—In ten days the whole country will belong to the Prussians—but I won’t have a single one of you here. Cowards—you fight each other before the battle—but you have forfeited our country, you fools. Oh, poor country of ours, such are your defenders—with such, you are to resist the invading Prussians—away with all of you—not a single one of you will I suffer at my side. I won’t unite with blockheads and I’ll die for my country unaided, alone!
(He finished and all the soldiers stand as though spell-bound—only Havlin remains prostrate. Now Rosenzweig’s battery has reached the church-yard and the noise, creaking and motion has reached its culmination. Those in the church-yard remain motionless. It is night. The clear moonlight with impudent stare brightens up the scene. On the highway the clatter of the passing cannon is growing less and is disappearing toward Jaromer. It’s the last remnant of the Austrian army. Now the handful of this Czech contingent are definitely cut off from the main body of the army. The door which Soukup had slammed during the squabble with Havlin opens now and through this enters Svacha supporting the wounded Suk. All the soldiers turn to them and silently watch the entering pair.)
Svacha.—We were sitting outside the wall—we heard you—(Pointing after the disappearing battery.) We could not follow them any longer—you’ll allow us to stay won’t you?
Svacha (Surprised).—I heard voices and it was just yours I guess—(Quietly.) My chum is wounded—you won’t be hard and deny a wounded soldier the right to rest among his own?
Vonka.—It’s impossible—there’s a village nearby—go over there.
Svacha (After a moment).—I heard you all—yea—I even understood what you were saying—my friend is seriously wounded—and my life does not count—you won’t compel him to struggle on or to lie and suffer in some open field—I am sure you will have pity on him.
(Suk exhausted—seriously wounded; is hardly able to stand—he sighs.)
Svacha (On whose shoulders he is supported, makes a few steps as though he were looking for a place where Suk could be set down—but the soldiers are indifferent to them and silent).—You would not have the heart!
Vichodil (Turning to Vonka).—Perhaps it will not turn out as badly as you think, my friend; it might all turn out all right. But if it does not, well, one of them is wounded. (To Suk.) Let him lie down here—has anyone something for his head? (There is no answer.) Something to put under his head, who has something?
Spravil (Has taken off his knapsack).—Here you are——
Vichodil.—Give it to him—(The wounded man is laid on the ground.)
Svacha.—Are you resting well?—Are you resting, well Jean?
Svacha.—Something to drink—I put a wet handkerchief to his mouth. If we had something that would strengthen him—(They are all helpless.)
Spravil.—There’s nothing here.
Vonka.—Wait. (Goes off thru centre—the soldiers follow him silently then.)
Levinsky.—He ran away.
Soukup.—No. (They all turn back.)
Svacha (Kneeling over Suk).—He fainted.
Vichodil.—He might be asleep. Leave him alone. Let him rest.
Svacha (Rises. Moved but quietly).—He will not last very long—I just wanted him to feel that he is among his own—After that—it’s the end of everything anyhow—(No one answers.) We were at the railroad depot and he was wounded there. I wanted to surrender with him but he didn’t want it—it was because of that hatred, that led us into the war, that hatred against them or perhaps it was something else—The wound didn’t seem to be serious and at first we walked quite well—then we met the transports and they picked us up and we went part of the way, but further down the road he fell off—on the way it got to be worse—until—and now he is—(Pause.)
Spravil.—You are students?
Svacha.—Not yet—he was to have been a Doctor of Laws—
Spravil.—You were volunteers (Svacha nods.) Patriotism—
Svacha (Warmly).—Yes, our country is in great danger. (Pause.) We were at the Sokol meeting where Dr. Gregr spoke—and that was how we enlisted. I had a premonition—I never believed that assurance about the Austrian strength and the Prussian weakness—He believed it less than I—he with his patriotism! We felt that our country was at this time in a greater danger than at the time of Frederick the Great, so against the consent of our parents he joined the army and I went with him. About me it doesn’t matter but he—he is the only son of Dr. Suk. I am poor and I have no one and I would remain while he—this—he was their pride, their baby—and has a sister—God, what a wonderful woman! (Is silent, then suddenly with a feverish resolution.) I am in despair—I don’t know what to do—there’s nothing to keep me here but him and he won’t last long—and our cause—our country is lost. (The soldiers moved—are silent. Just then the gate creaks and the men turn—They were expecting Vonka but Levinsky utters “Woman” and surely enough a poor woman appears—she is Anna Petrova the wife of the railroad watchman, past forty. She didn’t expect anybody in the grave-yard but is too simple-minded to show surprise. She stands quietly, arms akimbo, looking at the soldiers and then breaks in with an explanation.
Anna Petrova.—The Prussians are in Skalitz: there is no staying there (and as no one is answering her, she adds.) They took away my man—he was the railroad watchman. They led him away. (Again there is no answer and then Petrova, noticing that a few soldiers are paying some attention to her, continues in a voice that is quiet, dry and without a show of feeling.) We were in watch-house 164—When everybody ran away, my man and I we stayed—my man, he said: “What can they take away from us, we are poor.” Then the Prussians came over the hill with cannon and they started to talk German to my man. Something that he must come along with them and he said he wasn’t afraid, he was an honest man and he would go. Then he started to look for his cap and they pulled him around so that he should hurry and my man he fell on his knees and begged the head man to let him go. He begged in Bohemian but the Prussian started to holler that he would shoot him and one fellow raised his gun. Then I began to make out that they said that my man was a spy and that he was signalling to our soldiers but my man he got up and he hollered “Si Vatr, ich Vatr—Si Kinder ich Kinder—Si Ehrlich ich Ehrlich—” but they grabbed him and led him away to the hill where they had the cannon—
Spravil.—They’ll never give him back to you, Mother.
Petrova.—Good God! (None of the soldiers are paying any attention to her except Spravil and Levinsky.) My youngest boy, he who is home, was in the house so I gave him a loaf of bread and a shilling and sent him out after them—I couldn’t go—There was shooting all around—Right at the door-step one poor lad was lying—I wanted to get him in the house but he was too heavy so I go for the wheelbarrow to put him on it but when I come back there were four or five there already. One fellow’s hand was shot away and he came and sat at the door—I gave him a pail to put his hand into. Then I started to wheel them in, I got fourteen of them into the room and then I couldn’t—The room is full of them and I can’t do anything for them and all the time the shells were bursting and one took away part of the house and set it on fire—then ours went away and the Prussians came in—I went to Skalitz to the church to pray but the Prussians got all of their wagons round the church—there’s no staying there—(In as simple a manner as she said this, she goes to the cross near the church wall, kneels down and prays, entirely indifferent to what is going on around her—There is a pause.)
Kovar (Deeply moved, with great impulse).—We were sold—betrayed—alone—without help. But we’ll all perish; all of us—we’ll be swept off—for they’re a thousand times stronger—but I’ll remain and defend my country—and I’ll fight along with him who does. (There is a momentary pause.)
Levinsky.—I am going. (Has pulled the knapsack from under Suk’s head.)
(Suk, whose head has fallen on the ground, sobs with pain.)
Svacha.—Jean—Jean—(A momentary pause.)
Levinsky.—I am going off.
Kovar.—I will fight along with him. We shan’t yield. Our country is betrayed—And we still remain—it’s the end of us all and even of us, the chosen ones—yes, chosen ones for we were chosen——
Svacha.—Silence please! Silence just for a second—Jean, I am here. Jean do you want to say anything to me? (The dying Suk now in Svacha’s arms gazes but does not recognize him. Immediately then.)
Havlin (Who was lying squarely on his back terrified in his sleep shouts with a choked voice).—Back you go—I’ll stab—back. (In a dream he makes a motion as though he were stabbing.) You at me from the back? Bayonet? There you are!
Kloc (Listlessly, quietly).—Virgin Mary—he’s lost his senses—
Havlin.—It’s in your belly now—you’re down—down—your eyes are turning. There—there.
Spravil.—He is crazy.
(Havlin has now awakened fully—he jumps up and screams.)
Svacha.—Dear Jean—do you want anything—it is I—do you know me, Jean—(The wounded man opens his eyes, his lips move, he recognizes Svacha. With difficulty he is about to say something, when again—)
Kovar.—The chosen ones to defend—the chosen ones to die, chosen to die but die for our country. It is most sacred to die for the country. There is nothing greater.
Svacha (Despairing, forgetting Suk’s condition).—Quit—for God’s sake—can’t you see he is dying? (Then.)
Suk (Takes him about the neck, exclaims).—I don’t want to die.
Suk.—I don’t want to die—! Hold me back—! I don’t want to die—!
Svacha.—You won’t die—no, you don’t have to die—you won’t die—you are barely wounded—do not excite yourself—Jean, you’ll be well again.
Suk.—I don’t want to die—Charl—(Blood fills his chest again and he sinks back into Svacha’s arms.)
Svacha.—Water! He’ll bleed away.
Spravil.—Let’s raise him a little.
Spravil.—There’s none here.
Svacha.—My God—God—! (It is in vain. Suk is in the throes of the death agony. Petrova has now come over to him. She is holding his head in her lap. But it is the end— Petrova slowly deposits the dead body on the ground and begins to pray in an unintelligible monotonous tone. The soldiers remain standing about. Just then Vonka enters. He is carrying a pitcher, gives the scene a glance and with energy approaches the group. On his features it is apparent that he has ascertained in the meantime the hopelessness of the position of the isolated group and is determined to die. The moon has now become full and its light illumines the church-yard brightly.)
Vonka.—Here is a drop of water— it is all I could find. (With a glance at Suk.) He died——
Vonka (Depositing pitcher).—Do not permit the dead to stay with us too long.
Svacha, who is still kneeling.) Let us raise him—(Soukup hastens to help. They raise the body.).—He is dead—(To
Vonka (Pointing to the grave where they had deposited the Magyar).—There! (Two soldiers quietly walk over carrying the body—the others watch silently—Svacha seizes the hand of the dead man and follows—then Petrova joins them.)
Svacha (At the grave).—Wait please—(He himself deposits the dead body in the grave. Pause. In the meantime the gate has opened and Lieutenant Ebner enters—he watches the scene a moment.)
Ebner.—What does this mean? (All soldiers turn. Even Vonka has noticed the officer but goes over to Petrova, who is kneeling at the grave.)
Vonka.—Throw a clod of clay after him, mother, and then let’s go— —
Ebner.—What does this mean? (There’s no answer. Svacha crawls out of the grave.)
Vonka (Now approaching the officer).—Please go away from here.
Vonka.—None such here.
Ebner.—Who is the oldest?
Vonka.—Please go away.
Ebner.—I don’t understand what is going on here.
Vonka.—I am asking you clearly to go away from here and I repeat it. You don’t belong to the army any more and have no business here. Be kind enough to leave before we use force.
Ebner (Unsheathing his sword).—Is that your way of talking to your officer, you cur—(But he has just then been seized from the back by Kovar and Spravil and overpowered.)
Vonka.—Leave him alone—free him—he will go——
Soukup.—No, let us get him out of here——
Vonka.—No. (They free him but Soukup and Kovar remain as though guarding him.) You’ve seen what’s threatening you and I say again to you that you should not try to engage in an uneven struggle. But if you must know before you go something about us, then let me tell you that we do not remain here in order to surrender to the Prussians. All the same, our fate is decided. Unless you feel as we do, that now it is not the question how this forced and lost war will end, but a question of the sacred ground we stand on—our country.
Vonka.—My patience is at an end. (He suppresses his anger.) For the last time I urge you to go. For the last time I want to make clear to you that we shall from this spot where our fate has thrown us, defend our Fatherland—the Fatherland which you have betrayed and deserted. Now go at once.
Ebner (With emphasis).—The five of you will defend the whole country.
All Shouting.—The five of us.
Ebner (Taken aback a moment, then again defiantly).—You five—against the entire Prussian army which today defeated our whole eighth division—have you escaped a madhouse, or are you in such a hurry to be killed—the whole of Bohemia could not defend itself without the help of Austria—and you five will dare it. You will undertake it.
Ebner.—Madmen—but I don’t recognize any such tomfoolery. You are soldiers of the Austrian army. If there is a mutiny here it is my duty to stop it. Your place is with the army. There you will get your orders. I order that you fall in line—at once—(Soukup with a shout "At you" seizes him. He is again surrounded.)
Ebner.—Let me go—traitors.
Soukup.—We will give orders now.
Ebner.—Let me go, you traitors—I command you—your oath, you cowards—you dare to attack an officer (When he realizes how vain his struggle is.) Wait, I’ll see what you’ll get—in the morning when the Prussians move on. When they’ll get at you—even before that—when you will only hear the fife and drum of the vanguard—you’ll lose your heroic appetite. Let me go—I order you—I command it.
Soukup.—Give me a strap or a rope.
Svacha.—Don’t kill him.
Soukup.—Give me a rope.
Svacha (To Vonka).—Don’t let them kill him.
Ebner.—I order you to let me go.
Soukup.—A rope! He’ll live but he’ll be a witness to what we are.
Levinsky.—This is great. Here are knapsack straps. (Handing them over to Soukup, Ebner struggles, but is overcome and bound.)
Soukup.—You’ll stay with us.
(Soukup puts a bayonet to Ebner’s chest. Pause then.)
Vonka.—Quiet now—it is night throughout—quiet here—what we’ll accomplish he shall witness—the rest is not in our hands. Here we are and shall not yield a step. About us sleeps our Bohemian Fatherland—sleeps, overcome with the horror of the Prussian. The land of our childhood, the country we dreamt about and sang about—our homeland—which now shall be the homeland of the Prussians—the prey of our enemies. But we are still here—we shall not surrender or run away—is there anyone here who would want to go?
All the soldiers.—No one.
Vonka.—Anyone who would desert his homeland?
(Answer.) No one.
Vonka.—Our country is in danger and almost lost—dependent for defense on others who have forsaken her—is there a Czech here who would surrender it without a struggle to the Germans? (Again, jointly.) No one!
Vonka.—Swear faith to her!
Vonka.—Swear that you will keep her for the sake of our children!
Vonka.— —that in her great hour of need you will not forsake her!
Vonka.—Join hands on our oath!
(Excepting Havlin who stands aside, they all join hands and orm an irregular chain. Ebner is lying on the ground.)
Vonka.—Beloved mother country of ours! In your moment of sorrow we who have sworn faith to thee will defend thee to the last drop of our blood—to our last breath—we are mindful all of the pledge that we made in our national songs—our hymn—— (Irregularly, monotonously they do not sing but speak the Bohemian National hymn):
“O Homeland mine. O Homeland, mine
Streams are rushing through thy meadows
’Mid thy rocks sigh fragrant pine groves
Orchards decked in Spring’s array
Scenes of Paradise portray
And this land of wondrous beauty
Is the Czechland Homeland mine
Is the Czechland Homeland mine.
Vonka.—Now we are sworn into a bond—(They loosen their hold. Vonka now turns to Petrova who is in the background.Leave us—you’d better go now—
Petrova (Going over to him).—Let me bless you before I go, for your mother’s sake. (She makes a cross on his forehead.)
Vonka.—The Lord will repay you, mother.
Kloc (Very quietly now).—And for mine too.
Petrova.—And even for thine—(Makes a cross on Kloc’s forehead.)
Spravil.—And mine too——
Petrova.—Yes, and thine. (She goes over to the others)—and thine—and thine—and for thine—(Now she has finished) and for all of ours at home—and those whom we are shielding—the whole of our country—may the Lord bless ye—Good-bye soldiers—(goes.)
Vonka.—Let’s lie down and rest until dawn and then we’ll all rise—get your guns ready—now be quiet all and sleep——
Svacha.—Who will be the sentry—
Vonka.—We are all sentinels—our country’s sentinels. (The soldiers silently are lying down—pauses.)
Levinsky.—I am going off too—I can’t stand it here—Good bye. (He tarries still a moment but does not notice Soukup who was half-lying on the ground but now jumps up and seizes a gun.)
Levinsky.—I do not feel the way you do. (Goes off.)
(He has barely left when Soukup follows him and a second later a shot is heard on the highway. The soldiers silently follow the sound of the shot with a motion of the head. Soukup presently returns bringing in two guns. He sits down and silently loads both weapons; then he edges near the other and lies down. Havlin was standing near the gate prepared to escape. As the shot is fired his face shows what a blow it is to him he slides down and dejectedly sits in the grass against the wall and gazes into space.) (There is a long pause.) (All the other soldiers are lying on the ground and attempting sleep. For a long time the impatient moving about and forced efforts to sleep are audible—then again a compelled silence—loud breathing, sighing—feverish rest—at times a snatched word can be discerned—the real sleep is slow in coming. Finally, it is apparent that they will sleep although their slumber is disturbed. Havlin remains motionless. He gazes into space, murmurs a few words and then is silent again. The moonlight is dying away and the bright summer night is rapidly changing into the greyness of an early dawn. The grave-yard now assumes a different aspect. The haggard faces of the soldiers show their dishevled condition, on their uniforms the mud and stains predominate, in the daylight the grotesque side of the scene is apparent. The only familiar sight is the usual friendly approach of a summer morning.
It is the dawn of the twenty-ninth of June, 1866. The victorious Prussian hordes will now move onward. In the distance, hardly audible at first but increasing in nearness and volume, comes the familiar sound of the fife and drum. The melody is the one which was later converted into a folk-song “When to us came the Prussians a-marching——” etc. It means that the vanguard is near the scene and that the invasion of Bohemia is continuing. The sound gains about a third in volume and designates thereby how rapidly the soldiers are approaching. Even Ebner, overcome and exhausted, sleeps. Havlin is the only one to hear—he starts. His face is the face of a frightened madman.)
Havlin (Whispers).—They’re here—(More loudly.) They’re here—(Then victoriously.) No surrender—no surrender—(While he is saying this he creeps along the wall to the right over the bodies of the sleeping soldiers. He gazes out—now the fifes are quite near—then.)The officer! (He shouts this. Raises gun, rests it on the wall—aims—shoots.) Hst! The officer fell! (Now he jumps upon the wall and madly waving his gun calls out.) The officer’s hit! The officer fell! No surrender! No surrender! The officer! The officer! (The fifes have immediately stopped, then a shot from the enemy’s side rings out and Havlin like a dead bird is dashed to the ground. But now they’ve all awakened and they seem to realize in a moment, their conversation is sharp, quiet but hushed.)
Spravil.—I have no other weapon than a sword.
Svacha.—Here is Suk’s gun.
(The gun is however torn out of his hand by Kovar.)
Kovar.—I have none myself and I want to shoot——
Spravil.—But what about me— I have none.
Soukup.—Here is another one—take this.
Ebner (Awakening).—Prussians?—Prussians here already. Let me go, loosen me—damn you!
(No one pays any attention to him.)
Svacha.—There’s only one here to lead, that’s he.
Vichodil.—Surely he’s the one.
Vonka (The moment he awoke he jumped to the wall and was peering out—now he returns to their midst).—How about yesterday’s oath. Swear over.
All the soldiers.—We swear.
Vonka.—In the defense of brothers.
All the soldiers.—And brotherhood in death.
Vonka.—Yesterday we fought with words, now we shall fight only in deeds.
Ebner (Desperately, on the ground).—Let me go.
Vonka.—We have only one round of shot left. After that we’ll fall, they’ll have us covered. But that one shot shall be fired and see to it each one that it is fired with result. Now from behind this wall and when I give you a sign—fire. (The soldiers take their places back of the wall and aim without.)
Vonka.—Are you ready?
Vonka.—Fire! (A volley knells.)
Ebner.—This is your finish, before you load again they’ll storm this place.
Vonka.—Let’s out at them before they get here. (To the gate.) With me—all. (The soldiers gather about him.)
Vonka.—Are you all here?
Vonka.—The shooting was fine, now try the bayonet. In the name of our country. For the sake of our country. We are its only guardians. Altogether now with me. (With a shout.) For the country, hurrah! (Flings the gate wide open and rushes out; the others after him, their shouting can be heard.)
Ebner.—They’ll sweep you off—madmen—run on with it. (A volley—back of scene—from the Prussians’ side—then for a second quiet reigns—the church-yard is deserted.)
Ebner.—Swept off—How could they help it—swept off all—(But not quite; Vonka’s “For the country—hurrah” suddenly sounds in the distance;) No? (The others’ shouts now follow Vonka’s lead.)
Ebner (who has been listening).—Did they escape those devils—but its only a question of moments now. (Trying to free himself.) Damned lunatics! (He is listening again.) Are they fighting? (A distant report of the fray. The voices are indistinguishable. But then suddenly for the third time clearly resounds Vonka’s “For the country—hurrah”)
Ebner (Straightens up).—Who the devil’s with them—the victors, madmen!! And I am powerless—Powerless—And now—death—!
- Copyright 1916, by Charles Recht. All rights reserved.Copyright 1916, by the Poet Lore Company. All rights reserved.
- That the Austrian army was unprepared for a war at this time was well-known to everyone and that the accusation of her mobilizing was false was an open secret. Count Mensdorff then Minister of Foreign Affairs published his memoirs in the Neues Wiener in 1872 and mentioned there that he personally urged the Emperor to grant all the demands of Prussia and to cede Venice to Italy because the Austrian army was in such a position then that it was not “Schlagfertig”.
- Not until May 1916 and long after this manuscript went to press, did we learn that the early reports of the war about M. Romaine Rolland were false. Not only did he not participate in the general chorus of songs of hate, on the contrary because of his clear vision and deep sympathy with all humanity, he found his stay in France impossible. He is now engaged in the International Bureau for the Assistance of War Prisoners of all Nations Switzerland.
- The translation of this song is by Rev. Dr. Vincent Pisek, who published it in his collection of Bohemian Songs.