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A short story by Juliana Horatia Ewing
War And The Dead - A Dramatic Dialogue
Title: War And The Dead - A Dramatic Dialogue
Author: Juliana Horatia Ewing [More Titles by Ewing]
A DRAMATIC DIALOGUE.
(_From the French of Jean Mace._)
War. To-day is the 18th of June, the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, the day of a wrath which still mutters, and of a hatred yet unappeased. Let us employ it in re-animating this torpid century, which succumbs to the coward sweetness of an inglorious peace. After forty years of forced repose brighter days seemed at last to have returned to me. Twice did I unfurl the old colours in the breeze; twice I made hearts beat as of old at the magic din of battles; and twice that hateful Peace, rising suddenly before me, snatched the yet rusty sword from my hands.
Up! up! O heroes of great battles! you whom twenty-five years of warfare did not satiate: rise from your graves and shame your degenerate successors. Up! up! Bid some remember that they have a revenge to take, and tell others that they are not yet enough avenged.
Peace. What do you want here, relentless War? Dispute the world of the living with me if you will, but at least respect the peace of the grave.
War. I have a right to summon the Dead when it is in the name of their country.
Peace. The Dead are with God; they have but one country among them.
War. You may dispense with set speeches, most eloquent Peace, for I pay no attention to them. I go forward, and leave talk to chatterers. The world belongs to the brave.
Peace. The world belongs to those who are in the right. Since, however, you will not listen to me, you shall hear the Dead themselves, and see if they agree with you. (_Turns to the_ Dead.) Arise, my children; come and confound those who wish to fight with the bones of the departed.
_The_ Dead _rise_.
Grenadier. I have slept a long time since Austerlitz. Who are you, comrades?
Hussar. I come from the battle-field of Leipsic, where the great German race broke the yoke which your Emperor had laid upon it.
Grenadier. You were left upon the field?
Hussar. I am proud to say so.
Grenadier. And you are right, old fellow; every man owes himself to his country. We others have done just the same. If you had let us alone in '92 we should not have come to you.
Cossack. I was killed under the walls of Paris, where great Russia went to return the insult she had received at Moscow.
Highlander. I fell at Waterloo, avenging the great English people for the threats of the camp at Boulogne. I drowned in my blood the last effort of your Imperial Eagle.
Grenadier. Well! we are well matched. My blood reddened the plain of Austerlitz, where the great French nation was avenged on Brunswick and Souwaroff. We have all perished, buried in a triumph. We can shake hands upon it.
Cossack. Brave men are equals, in whatever dress. Let us shake hands.
Hussar. We have all died for our country. Let us be brothers.
Highlander. Let us be brothers. The hatreds of earth do not extend beyond the grave.
[_They join hands._
Grenadier. And now Peace is proclaimed, let us tell each other what we used to do before we became warriors.
Cossack. I cultivated a piece of ground in the steppes and took care of my old mother.
Highlander. I brought up my daughter by farming a piece of ground which I had cleared on my native heath.
Hussar. I lived with my wife on the piece of land which we cultivated.
Grenadier. I tilled a piece of ground also, and supported my sister. It seems that we were all four of the same way of life. How did we come to kill one another?
Cossack. The Czar spoke, and I marched.
Highlander. Parliament voted for war, and I marched.
Hussar. Our princes cried, "To arms!" and I marched.
Grenadier. As for me, my comrades cried, "To arms!" and I put on my best sabots. But after all, what have we against each other? Where was the quarrel between our respective ploughshares? (_To the_ Hussar.) You, for instance, who began, what did you come into my country for?
Hussar. We came to destroy brigands.
Grenadier. Brigands! That is to say, my unfortunate self, and other labourers like you and me. After this, well might we be made to sing about
"Vile blood soaking our furrows!"
I see now this "vile blood" was yours, my friend, and that of brave men like you. Cursed be those who forced us to fight together!
Hussar. Cursed be the contrivers of War!
War (_advancing_). Shame on you, degraded warriors! Your very wives would disown you. (_The_ Dead _gaze fixedly._) You are silent! What have you to answer?
Peace. The Dead do not reply. (_Points with her hand to the stage entrance._) These shall answer for them.
_Enter_ Four Veiled Women.
[_One of the_ Veiled Women _slowly advances. When in front of the stage she lifts her veil, and is seen by the audience. The others afterwards do the same._
First Woman. Oh, my brother! where are you now? If you are ill, who nurses you? If you are wounded, who watches over you? If you are a prisoner, who comforts you? If you are dead--Alas! every night I go to rest weeping, because I have had no news of you; and every morning I awake dreading to receive it. We were so happy! We lived so comfortably together! and now I sit at our little table, with your empty place before me, and cannot eat for looking at it. Yet I made you promise to come back when we said good-bye. Ah! unkind! Why are you so long in fulfilling your promise?
[_She closes her veil and crosses to one side of the stage. The others afterwards do the same._
Grenadier. It is my sister, friends. She is repeating the words of our last adieu.
Second Woman. Oh, my father! why have you left your child? Alas! when you went away I played--poor fool!--with your brilliant uniform. (Dark livery of death, would that I had never seen thee!) I said I should be proud of you when you came back to me, having killed a great many of your enemies. Child that I was to speak of killing, not knowing what it meant! And now, when will you return? What have they done with you, dear Father? What has become of that revered head, which my lips never approached but with respect? Perhaps at this very moment it is dragged, all stained and livid, through the dust or in the mud. Oh, God! if my prayers may still avail for him, withdraw him speedily from those frightful conflicts, where every blow falls upon a father, a son, a brother, or a husband. Pity the many tears that flow for every drop of blood!
Highlander. It is my daughter! I yet hear the last farewell her innocent mouth sent after me.
Third Woman. Oh, my beloved! where can I go to look for you? Little did we think, when we vowed before God never in this life to forsake each other, that War would come and carry you away as a leaf is driven before the wind. Perhaps at this moment you are stretched upon an armful of bloody straw, and other hands than mine dress your glorious wounds. Ah, miserable me! of what does my tender jealousy complain? Who knows if you are not by this time safe from wounds for ever? Oh, my God! if Thou hast taken him, take me also. I promised to follow him when I received his parting kiss.
Hussar. It is my wife beyond a doubt! I recognize the words her sweet voice murmured that very day in my ear.
Fourth Woman. I said, "Go, and bear yourself like a man." He went, and he has not returned. Ah, merciless tigers! we rear our children with fear and weeping. We pass whole nights bent over their little cradles, and when we have made men of them you come and take them away from us that you may send them to death. And we, miserable women! must encourage them to die if we would not have them dishonoured. Poor dear boy! so strong! so handsome! so good to his mother! Ah! if there be a God of vengeance, surely the cries of desolate mothers will allow no sleep to those who provoke such massacres. They will haunt them to the grave, and rise behind them to the foot of that throne where the great Judge of all awaits them.
[_She buries her face in her hands._
Cossack. It is my mother! I recognize her last words. (_He springs towards her_.) It is I, Mother, it is I! (_She raises her head_.) What do I see? A stranger! and it is an Englishwoman!
Highlander (_raising the daughter's veil_). Good heavens! She is a German.
Hussar (_raising the wife's veil_). It is not she! It is a Frenchwoman.
Grenadier (_raising the sister's veil_). She is a Russian! It is not for us that they are weeping; perhaps it is for some of those whom we have killed. How could we be so deceived?
Peace (_advancing_). There are sisters, wives, daughters, and mothers everywhere, my children, and Nature has but one language in all countries. (_To WAR_.) As for you, go and sound your trumpet in barracks and drinking-houses, but invoke the Dead no more, and do not reckon upon women.
Note.--The battle of Austerlitz was fought December 2, 1805. The battle of Leipsic, August 16-19, 1813. The Allies took Paris March 30, 1814.
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