CATHERINE. Oh, Paul, can't you spare Sergius for a few moments? Raina has hardly seen him yet. Perhaps I can help you to settle about the regiments.
SERGIUS (protesting). My dear madam, impossible: you —
CATHERINE (stopping him playfully). You stay here, my dear Sergius: there's no hurry. I have a word or two to say to Paul. (Sergius instantly bows and steps back.) Now, dear (taking Petkoff's arm), come and see the electric bell.
PETKOFF. Oh, very well, very well. (They go into the house together affectionately. Sergius, left alone with Raina, looks anxiously at her, fearing that she may be still offended. She smiles, and stretches out her arms to him.)
(Exit R. into house, followed by Catherine.)
SERGIUS (hastening to her, but refraining from touching her without express permission). Am I forgiven?
RAINA (placing her hands on his shoulder as she looks up at him with admiration and worship). My hero! My king.
SERGIUS. My queen! (He kisses her on the forehead with holy awe.)
RAINA. How I have envied you, Sergius! You have been out in the world, on the field of battle, able to prove yourself there worthy of any woman in the world; whilst I have had to sit at home inactive, — dreaming — useless — doing nothing that could give me the right to call myself worthy of any man.
SERGIUS. Dearest, all my deeds have been yours. You inspired me. I have gone through the war like a knight in a tournament with his lady looking on at him!
RAINA. And you have never been absent from my thoughts for a moment. (Very solemnly.) Sergius: I think we two have found the higher love. When I think of you, I feel that I could never do a base deed, or think an ignoble thought.
SERGIUS. My lady, and my saint! (Clasping her reverently.)
RAINA (returning his embrace). My lord and my g —
SERGIUS. Sh — sh! Let me be the worshipper, dear. You little know how unworthy even the best man is of a girl's pure passion!
RAINA. I trust you. I love you. You will never disappoint me, Sergius. (Louka is heard singing within the house. They quickly release each other.) Hush! I can't pretend to talk indifferently before her: my heart is too full. (Louka comes from the house with her tray. She goes to the table, and begins to clear it, with her back turned to them.) I will go and get my hat; and then we can go out until lunch time. Wouldn't you like that?
SERGIUS. Be quick. If you are away five minutes, it will seem five hours. (Raina runs to the top of the steps and turns there to exchange a look with him and wave him a kiss with both hands. He looks after her with emotion for a moment, then turns slowly away, his face radiant with the exultation of the scene which has just passed. The movement shifts his field of vision, into the corner of which there now comes the tail of Louka's double apron. His eye gleams at once. He takes a stealthy look at her, and begins to twirl his moustache nervously, with his left hand akimbo on his hip. Finally, striking the ground with his heels in something of a cavalry swagger, he strolls over to the left of the table, opposite her, and says) Louka: do you know what the higher love is?
LOUKA (astonished). No, sir.
SERGIUS. Very fatiguing thing to keep up for any length of time, Louka. One feels the need of some relief after it.
LOUKA (innocently). Perhaps you would like some coffee, sir? (She stretches her hand across the table for the coffee pot.)
SERGIUS (taking her hand). Thank you, Louka.
LOUKA (pretending to pull). Oh, sir, you know I didn't mean that. I'm surprised at you!
SERGIUS (coming clear of the table and drawing her with him). I am surprised at myself, Louka. What would Sergius, the hero of Slivnitza, say if he saw me now? What would Sergius, the apostle of the higher love, say if he saw me now? What would the half dozen Sergiuses who keep popping in and out of this handsome figure of mine say if they caught us here? (Letting go her hand and slipping his arm dexterously round her waist.) Do you consider my figure handsome, Louka?
LOUKA. Let me go, sir. I shall be disgraced. (She struggles: he holds her inexorably.) Oh, will you let go?
SERGIUS (looking straight into her eyes). No.
LOUKA. Then stand back where we can't be seen. Have you no common sense?
SERGIUS. Ah, that's reasonable. (He takes her into the stableyard gateway, where they are hidden from the house.)
LOUKA (complaining). I may have been seen from the windows: Miss Raina is sure to be spying about after you.
SERGIUS (stung — letting her go). Take care, Louka. I may be worthless enough to betray the higher love; but do not you insult it.
LOUKA (demurely). Not for the world, sir, I'm sure. May I go on with my work please, now?
SERGIUS (again putting his arm round her). You are a provoking little witch, Louka. If you were in love with me, would you spy out of windows on me?
LOUKA. Well, you see, sir, since you say you are half a dozen different gentlemen all at once, I should have a great deal to look after.
SERGIUS (charmed). Witty as well as pretty. (He tries to kiss her.)
LOUKA (avoiding him). No, I don't want your kisses. Gentlefolk are all alike — you making love to me behind Miss Raina's back, and she doing the same behind yours.
SERGIUS (recoiling a step). Louka!
LOUKA. It shews how little you really care!
SERGIUS (dropping his familiarity and speaking with freezing politeness). If our conversation is to continue, Louka, you will please remember that a gentleman does not discuss the conduct of the lady he is engaged to with her maid.
LOUKA. It's so hard to know what a gentleman considers right. I thought from your trying to kiss me that you had given up being so particular.
SERGIUS (turning from her and striking his forehead as he comes back into the garden from the gateway). Devil! devil!
LOUKA. Ha! ha! I expect one of the six of you is very like me, sir, though I am only Miss Raina's maid. (She goes back to her work at the table, taking no further notice of him.)
SERGIUS (speaking to himself). Which of the six is the real man? — that's the question that torments me. One of them is a hero, another a buffoon, another a humbug, another perhaps a bit of a blackguard. (He pauses and looks furtively at Louka, as he adds with deep bitterness) And one, at least, is a coward — jealous, like all cowards. (He goes to the table.) Louka.
SERGIUS. Who is my rival?
LOUKA. You shall never get that out of me, for love or money.
LOUKA. Never mind why. Besides, you would tell that I told you; and I should lose my place.
SERGIUS (holding out his right hand in affirmation). No; on the honor of a — (He checks himself, and his hand drops nerveless as he concludes, sardonically) — of a man capable of behaving as I have been behaving for the last five minutes. Who is he?
LOUKA. I don't know. I never saw him. I only heard his voice through the door of her room.
SERGIUS. Damnation! How dare you?
LOUKA (retreating). Oh, I mean no harm: you've no right to take up my words like that. The mistress knows all about it. And I tell you that if that gentleman ever comes here again, Miss Raina will marry him, whether he likes it or not. I know the difference between the sort of manner you and she put on before one another and the real manner. (Sergius shivers as if she had stabbed him. Then, setting his face like iron, he strides grimly to her, and grips her above the elbows with both bands.)
SERGIUS. Now listen you to me!
LOUKA (wincing). Not so tight: you're hurting me!
SERGIUS. That doesn't matter. You have stained my honor by making me a party to your eavesdropping. And you have betrayed your mistress —
LOUKA (writhing). Please —
SERGIUS. That shews that you are an abominable little clod of common clay, with the soul of a servant. (He lets her go as if she were an unclean thing, and turns away, dusting his hands of her, to the bench by the wall, where he sits down with averted head, meditating gloomily.)
LOUKA (whimpering angrily with her hands up her sleeves, feeling her bruised arms). You know how to hurt with your tongue as well as with your hands. But I don't care, now I've found out that whatever clay I'm made of, you're made of the same. As for her, she's a liar; and her fine airs are a cheat; and I'm worth six of her. (She shakes the pain off hardily; tosses her head; and sets to work to put the things on the tray. He looks doubtfully at her once or twice. She finishes packing the tray, and laps the cloth over the edges, so as to carry all out together. As she stoops to lift it, he rises.)
SERGIUS. Louka! (She stops and looks defiantly at him with the tray in her hands.) A gentleman has no right to hurt a woman under any circumstances. (With profound humility, uncovering his head.) I beg your pardon.
LOUKA. That sort of apology may satisfy a lady. Of what use is it to a servant?
SERGIUS (thus rudely crossed in his chivalry, throws it off with a bitter laugh and says slightingly). Oh, you wish to be paid for the hurt? (He puts on his shako, and takes some money from his pocket.)
LOUKA (her eyes filling with tears in spite of herself). No, I want my hurt made well.