Interior, verandah, garden. There are places to sit in the garden, and a hammock. One setting is intended to serve for Act One.
Speaking of which—Liubov, say something in English for the Baron.
What do you want me to say, Papa?
ALEXANDERAll my daughters have been educated in five languages—call me a liberal if you like, I read Rousseau as a young man, I was there at the storming of the Bastille, not storming it personally but I remember my feelings were decidedly mixed, that’s how liberal I was when I was nineteen. But education for women, yes indeed!—not just piano lessons and Russian grammar pour les filles Bakunin, though mind you, they write better Russian than I do—what a shame there’s nothing worth reading (over his daughters’ protests), apart from . . .
. . . Pushkin. But I tell you, Baron, in choosing my eldest daughter you have chosen the cleverest—
I prefer Kozlov.
—brains before beauty, I wish I’d done the same—
Oh shame!—Shame on you, Papa—I hereby protest on behalf of my beautiful sister—Don’t you listen, Liubov—
Quiet when your father is speaking—
What did your father say?
I take it as a compliment, Papa.
So do I.
The Baron doesn’t think so, do you?
No! No . . . Liubov is as beautiful as your wife is intelligent.
That’s what I said. What a diplomat! Come on, Liubov, my darling, we’re waiting.
I’m sure the Baron doesn’t want . . .
I can, Papa! (She pops up, standing rigid. In “English”) “How do you do, Baron Renne! I say! charming weather, you do not think!”
She sits just as suddenly, and Tatiana follows suit.
TATIANA (in “English”)
“The quality of mercy is not strained, it dropping like the gentle dew from heaven!”
Tatiana sits. Alexander continues imperturbably.
I myself was educated in Italy. My doctorate in philosophy is from the University of Padua.
Jolly good effort, Tatiana.
What did she say?
My dissertation was on worms.
Worms the philosopher?
No, just worms.
I mean Miss Chamberlain, qu’est-ce qu’ele a dit? [What did she say?]
Ah, the philosophy of worms.
EllElle l’a félicitée, Maman, c’est tout. [Good effort, Maman, that’s all.]
Not at all. Worms have no philosophy, as far as is known.
How can you teach them anything if you can’t talk to them?
I’m so sorry, what did your mother say?
ALEXANDRA (in “English”)
“No lessons tomorrow, she said, holiday.”
I think not, see me afterwards.
That’s enough English for now. Anyway, a wife who knows English is not the first consideration for an officer in the Cavalry, otherwise you’d be better off with the governess—No, I only have one serious objection to this marriage, my dear Baron—
Oh, no!—What’s he going to say next?!—Don’t you listen, Liubov!—Father, don’t—!
VARVARA (raps the table)
Thank you. What was I saying? Oh, well, it’s gone.
Actually, I have to be going myself while there’s still light in the sky, if you forgive me, it’s a good ride back to camp—
Yes, you must, it wouldn’t do to break your neck before the happy day, or after, of course.
Noises of arrival and greeting are heard.
What’s going on?
A thousand thanks—(for Liubov, gallantly)—a thousand and one—
It’s Michael, sir, large as life! He’s come home!
Michael Bakunin is nineteen, in uniform. His entry causes an excited and emotional reunion, as “the table” breaks up.
Michael!—Oh my, look at you!—Why didn’t you let us know?—So grown up! Look at his uniform!—Let me kiss you!—You’re not in trouble, are you? I prayed and prayed for you—How long are you staying?—
No, I’m on leave—I came straight from summer exercises!—
It’s my boy, he’s an ensign in the Artillery.
Of course—the famous Michael.
LIUBOV (to Renne)
Thank you for your visit, I’m sorry my family is . . .
Oh no, you’re all so . . . wonderfully unrussian . . .
And congratulations are in order, I believe. Do I have the honour . . . ?
Baron Renne—I present my brother Michael—
You have been at the Artillery School in Peter?
For five years!
ALEXANDER (to Miss Chamberlain)
Run and tell Semyon to bring champagne. “Command Semyon to provision—”
MISS CHAMBERLAIN (running out)
Champagne, champagne, I understand—
Our English governess, do you think she’s pretty?
No, I think you’re pretty.
RENNE (tapping his glass)
Ladies and gentlemen! (addressing Michael) The Cavalry drinks to the Artillery. But a family reunion is a sacred affair, and I was just saying good night—regimental duties, who understands better than you? So farewell! I embrace you, and am proud to call you brother!
Applause from the family. Michael and Renne shake hands and embrace.
Good! Come along, we’ll give you a proper send-off. Semyon!—Pavel!—one of you—his horse—the Baron is leaving!—
A general exodus begins.
ALEXANDER (cont.) (remembering)
Ah, yes. That was it. I have only one serious doubt about this marriage—
Father . . .
VARENKA (to Liubov)
It’s a joke.
. . . and that is the difference in your ages.
But I’m only thirty-six!
A good ten years too young for her! The husband should be at least twice the age of the wife.
But you’re not.
Not now, of course. (to Renne) Beauty before brains.
Are you coming, Michael?
TATIANA (hanging back)
Yes, he’s coming.
MICHAEL (to Liubov)
Do you want to see him off without everybody . . . ?
No, no, let’s all go.
Family on parade! . . . Handkerchiefs for waving and weeping— (to Renne) My wife was eighteen and I was forty-two. See my point?—just when the wife starts getting a mind to kick over the traces, she realises she only has to show a little patience . . .
Michael, Varenka and Tatiana are left alone.
Well! He won’t do! Liubov doesn’t love him, that’s obvious.
We know that.
She won’t go against Papa, and the Baron is a good match, isn’t he?
Semyon enters with a tray of champagne glasses, and Miss Chamberlain with a bottle. Voices outside: “Tatiana! Michael! And where’s Varenka?”
Thank you, Semyon. Leave us be.
Semyon leaves deferentially. Miss Chamberlain, unwisely, approaches gushing.
So you are Michael.
“Go away, please.”
Miss Chamberlain gasps. The girls are shocked and admiring. Miss Chamberlain runs out. From outside “Varenka!” is called. Varenka runs out.
I’m speaking of love and you are speaking of matchmaking. Tata, Tata, don’t you know? Dawn has broken! In Germany the sun is already high in the sky! It’s only us in poor behind-the-times Russia who are the last to learn about the great discovery of the age! The life of the Spirit is the only real life: our everyday existence stands between us and our transcendence to the Universal Idea where we become one with the Absolute! Do you see?
Tell it to me in German.
This marriage cannot take place. We must save Liubov. To give oneself without love is a sin against the inner life. The outer world of material existence is mere illusion. I’ll explain it all to Father.
Tatiana and Michael are being called from outside. She launches herself at Michael to embrace him, and runs out.
God, I’m starving!
Michael pauses to stuff his mouth with food from the table, then follows Tatiana.