Night. A lady's bedchamber in Bulgaria, in a small town near the Dragoman Pass. It is late in November in the year 1885, and through an open window with a little balcony on the left can be seen a peak of the Balkans, wonderfully white and beautiful in the starlit snow. The interior of the room is not like anything to be seen in the east of Europe. It is half rich Bulgarian, half cheap Viennese. The counterpane and hangings of the bed, the window curtains, the little carpet, and all the ornamental textile fabrics in the room are oriental and gorgeous: the paper on the walls is occidental and paltry. Above the head of the bed, which stands against a little wall cutting off the right hand corner of the room diagonally, is a painted wooden shrine, blue and gold, with an ivory image of Christ, and a light hanging before it in a pierced metal ball suspended by three chains. On the left, further forward, is an ottoman. The washstand, against the wall on the left, consists of an enamelled iron basin with a pail beneath it in a painted metal frame, and a single towel on the rail at the side. A chair near it is Austrian bent wood, with cane seat. The dressing table, between the bed and the window, is an ordinary pine table, covered with a cloth of many colors, but with an expensive toilet mirror on it. The door is on the right; and there is a chest of drawers between the door and the bed. This chest of drawers is also covered by a variegated native cloth, and on it there is a pile of paper backed novels, a box of chocolate creams, and a miniature easel, on which is a large photograph of an extremely handsome officer, whose lofty bearing and magnetic glance can be felt even from the portrait. The room is lighted by a candle on the chest of drawers, and another on the dressing table, with a box of matches beside it.
The window is hinged doorwise and stands wide open, folding back to the left. Outside a pair of wooden shutters, opening outwards, also stand open. On the balcony, a young lady, intensely conscious of the romantic beauty of the night, and of the fact that her own youth and beauty is a part of it, is on the balcony, gazing at the snowy Balkans. She is covered by a long mantle of furs, worth, on a moderate estimate, about three times the furniture of her room.
Her reverie is interrupted by her mother, Catherine Petkoff, a woman over forty, imperiously energetic, with magnificent black hair and eyes, who might be a very splendid specimen of the wife of a mountain farmer, but is determined to be a Viennese lady, and to that end wears a fashionable tea gown on all occasions.
CATHERINE (entering hastily, full of good news). Raina — (she pronounces it Rah-eena, with the stress on the ee) Raina — (she goes to the bed, expecting to find Raina there.) Why, where — (Raina looks into the room.) Heavens! child, are you out in the night air instead of in your bed? You'll catch your death. Louka told me you were asleep.
RAINA (coming in). I sent her away. I wanted to be alone. The stars are so beautiful! What is the matter?
CATHERINE. Such news. There has been a battle!
RAINA (her eyes dilating). Ah! (She throws the cloak on the ottoman, and comes eagerly to Catherine in her nightgown, a pretty garment, but evidently the only one she has on.)
CATHERINE. A great battle at Slivnitza! A victory! And it was won by Sergius.
RAINA (with a cry of delight). Ah! (Rapturously.) Oh, mother! (Then, with sudden anxiety) Is father safe?
CATHERINE. Of course: he sent me the news. Sergius is the hero of the hour, the idol of the regiment.
RAINA. Tell me, tell me. How was it! (Ecstatically) Oh, mother, mother, mother! (Raina pulls her mother down on the ottoman; and they kiss one another frantically.)
CATHERINE (with surging enthusiasm). You can't guess how splendid it is. A cavalry charge — think of that! He defied our Russian commanders — acted without orders — led a charge on his own responsibility — headed it himself — was the first man to sweep through their guns. Can't you see it, Raina; our gallant splendid Bulgarians with their swords and eyes flashing, thundering down like an avalanche and scattering the wretched Servian dandies like chaff. And you — you kept Sergius waiting a year before you would be betrothed to him. Oh, if you have a drop of Bulgarian blood in your veins, you will worship him when he comes back.
RAINA. What will he care for my poor little worship after the acclamations of a whole army of heroes? But no matter: I am so happy — so proud! (She rises and walks about excitedly.) It proves that all our ideas were real after all.
CATHERINE (indignantly). Our ideas real! What do you mean?
RAINA. Our ideas of what Sergius would do — our patriotism — our heroic ideals. Oh, what faithless little creatures girls are! — I sometimes used to doubt whether they were anything but dreams. When I buckled on Sergius's sword he looked so noble: it was treason to think of disillusion or humiliation or failure. And yet — and yet — (Quickly.) Promise me you'll never tell him.
CATHERINE. Don't ask me for promises until I know what I am promising.
RAINA. Well, it came into my head just as he was holding me in his arms and looking into my eyes, that perhaps we only had our heroic ideas because we are so fond of reading Byron and Pushkin, and because we were so delighted with the opera that season at Bucharest. Real life is so seldom like that — indeed never, as far as I knew it then. (Remorsefully.) Only think, mother, I doubted him: I wondered whether all his heroic qualities and his soldiership might not prove mere imagination when he went into a real battle. I had an uneasy fear that he might cut a poor figure there beside all those clever Russian officers.
CATHERINE. A poor figure! Shame on you! The Servians have Austrian officers who are just as clever as our Russians; but we have beaten them in every battle for all that.
RAINA (laughing and sitting down again). Yes, I was only a prosaic little coward. Oh, to think that it was all true — that Sergius is just as splendid and noble as he looks — that the world is really a glorious world for women who can see its glory and men who can act its romance! What happiness! what unspeakable fulfilment! Ah! (She throws herself on her knees beside her mother and flings her arms passionately round her. They are interrupted by the entry of Louka, a handsome, proud girl in a pretty Bulgarian peasant's dress with double apron, so defiant that her servility to Raina is almost insolent. She is afraid of Catherine, but even with her goes as far as she dares. She is just now excited like the others; but she has no sympathy for Raina's raptures and looks contemptuously at the ecstasies of the two before she addresses them.)
LOUKA. If you please, madam, all the windows are to be closed and the shutters made fast. They say there may be shooting in the streets. (Raina and Catherine rise together, alarmed.) The Servians are being chased right back through the pass; and they say they may run into the town. Our cavalry will be after them; and our people will be ready for them you may be sure, now that they are running away. (She goes out on the balcony and pulls the outside shutters to; then steps back into the room.)
RAINA. I wish our people were not so cruel. What glory is there in killing wretched fugitives?
CATHERINE (business-like, her housekeeping instincts aroused). I must see that everything is made safe downstairs.
RAINA (to Louka). Leave the shutters so that I can just close them if I hear any noise.
CATHERINE (authoritatively, turning on her way to the door). Oh, no, dear, you must keep them fastened. You would be sure to drop off to sleep and leave them open. Make them fast, Louka.
LOUKA. Yes, madam. (She fastens them.)
RAINA. Don't be anxious about me. The moment I hear a shot, I shall blow out the candles and roll myself up in bed with my ears well covered.
CATHERINE. Quite the wisest thing you can do, my love. Good-night.
RAINA. Good-night. (They kiss one another, and Raina's emotion comes back for a moment.) Wish me joy of the happiest night of my life — if only there are no fugitives.
CATHERINE. Go to bed, dear; and don't think of them. (She goes out.)
LOUKA (secretly, to Raina). If you would like the shutters open, just give them a push like this. (She pushes them: they open: she pulls them to again.) One of them ought to be bolted at the bottom; but the bolt's gone.
RAINA (with dignity, reproving her). Thanks, Louka; but we must do what we are told. (Louka makes a grimace.) Good-night.
LOUKA (carelessly). Good-night. (She goes out, swaggering.)
(Raina, left alone, goes to the chest of drawers, and adores the portrait there with feelings that are beyond all expression. She does not kiss it or press it to her breast, or shew it any mark of bodily affection; but she takes it in her hands and elevates it like a priestess.)
RAINA (looking up at the picture with worship.) Oh, I shall never be unworthy of you any more, my hero — never, never, never.
(She replaces it reverently, and selects a novel from the little pile of books. She turns over the leaves dreamily; finds her page; turns the book inside out at it; and then, with a happy sigh, gets into bed and prepares to read herself to sleep. But before abandoning herself to fiction, she raises her eyes once more, thinking of the blessed reality and murmurs)
My hero! my hero!
(A distant shot breaks the quiet of the night outside. She starts, listening; and two more shots, much nearer, follow, startling her so that she scrambles out of bed, and hastily blows out the candle on the chest of drawers. Then, putting her fingers in her ears, she runs to the dressing-table and blows out the light there, and hurries back to bed. The room is now in darkness: nothing is visible but the glimmer of the light in the pierced ball before the image, and the starlight seen through the slits at the top of the shutters. The firing breaks out again: there is a startling fusillade quite close at hand. Whilst it is still echoing, the shutters disappear, pulled open from without, and for an instant the rectangle of snowy starlight flashes out with the figure of a man in black upon it. The shutters close immediately and the room is dark again. But the silence is now broken by the sound of panting. Then there is a scrape; and the flame of a match is seen in the middle of the room.)
RAINA (crouching on the bed). Who's there? (The match is out instantly.) Who's there? Who is that?
A MAN'S VOICE (in the darkness, subduedly, but threateningly). Sh — sh! Don't call out or you'll be shot. Be good; and no harm will happen to you. (She is heard leaving her bed, and making for the door.) Take care, there's no use in trying to run away. Remember, if you raise your voice my pistol will go off. (Commandingly.) Strike a light and let me see you. Do you hear? (Another moment of silence and darkness. Then she is heard retreating to the dressing-table. She lights a candle, and the mystery is at an end. A man of about 35, in a deplorable plight, bespattered with mud and blood and snow, his belt and the strap of his revolver case keeping together the torn ruins of the blue coat of a Servian artillery officer. As far as the candlelight and his unwashed, unkempt condition make it possible to judge, he is a man of middling stature and undistinguished appearance, with strong neck and shoulders, a roundish, obstinate looking head covered with short crisp bronze curls, clear quick blue eyes and good brows and mouth, a hopelessly prosaic nose like that of a strong-minded baby, trim soldierlike carriage and energetic manner, and with all his wits about him in spite of his desperate predicament — even with a sense of humor of it, without, however, the least intention of trifling with it or throwing away a chance. He reckons up what he can guess about Raina — her age, her social position, her character, the extent to which she is frightened — at a glance, and continues, more politely but still most determinedly) Excuse my disturbing you; but you recognise my uniform — Servian. If I'm caught I shall be killed. (Determinedly.) Do you understand that?