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Marion Craig Wentworth.

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Arno, who has been talking in low tones to his mother, now rises._]


_Arno:_

Well, Mother, I haven't much time.

[_She clings to his hand._]


_Hedwig:_ [_Starting._]

Arno!


_Arno:_

I am going, too. Get those little things for me, Mother, will you?


_Mother:_ [_Goes to door and calls._]

Amelia! Come. Arno has been called. [_Amelia comes in. Each in turn
embraces him, sadly, but bravely. Then the mother and sister gather
together handkerchiefs, linen, writing-pad and pencil, and small
necessaries._]


_Arno:_

I have only a few minutes.


_Hedwig:_ [_Tenderly._]

Arno, my little brother, oh, why - why must you go? You seem so young.


_Arno:_

I'm a man, like the others; don't forget that, Hedwig. Be brave - to
help me to be brave.

[_They sit on the settle._]


_Hedwig:_ [_Sighing._]

Yes, it cannot be helped. Will you see my Franz, Arno? You look so like
him to-day - the day I first saw him in the fields, the day of the
factory picnic. It seems long ago. Tell him how happy he made me, and
how I loved him. He didn't believe in this war no more than I, yet he
had to go. He dreaded lest he meet his friends on the other side. You
remember those two young men from across the border? They worked all one
winter side by side in the factory with Franz. They went home to join
their regiments when the war was let loose on us. He never could stand
it, Franz couldn't, if he were ordered to drive his bayonet into them.
[_Gets up, full of emotion that is past expression._] Oh, it is too
monstrous! And for what - for what?


_Arno:_

It is our duty. We belong to the fatherland. I would willingly give my
life for my country.


_Hedwig:_

I would willingly give mine for peace.


_Arno:_

I must go. Good-by, Hedwig.


_Hedwig:_ [_Controlling her emotion as she kisses him._]

Good-by, my brave, splendid little brother.


_Amelia:_

I may come to the front, too.

[_They embrace tenderly._]


_Mother:_ [_Strong and quiet, unable to speak, holds his head against
her breast for a moment._]

Fight well, my son.


_Arno:_

Yes, Mother.

[_He tears himself away. The silent suffering of the mother is pitiful.
Her hands are crossed on her breast, her lips are seen to move in
prayer. It is Hedwig who takes her in her arms and comforts her._]


_Hedwig:_

And this is war - to tear our hearts out like this! Make mother some tea,
Amelia, can't you?

[_Amelia prepares the cup of tea for her mother._]


_Mother:_ [_After a few moments composes herself._]

There, I am right now. I must remember - and you must help me, my
daughters - it is for the fatherland.


_Hedwig:_ [_On her knees by the fire, shakes her head slowly._]

I wonder, I wonder. O Mother, I'm not patient like you. I couldn't stand
it. To have a darling little baby and see him grow into a man, and then
lose him like this! I'd rather never see the face of my child.


_Mother:_

We have them for a little while. I am thankful to God for what I have
had.


_Hedwig:_

Then I must be very wicked.


_Mother:_

Are you sleeping better now, child?


_Hedwig:_


No; I am thinking of Franz. He may be lying there alone on the
battle-field, with none to help, and I here longing to put my arms
around him.

[_Buries her face on the mother's knees and sobs._]


_Mother:_

Hush, Hedwig! Be brave! Take care of yourself! We must see that Franz's
child is well born.


_Hedwig:_

If Franz returns, yes; if not - I -

[_Gets up impulsively, as if to run out of the house._]


_Amelia:_

Don't you want your tea, Hedwig?

[_Hedwig throws open the door, and suddenly confronts a man who
apparently was about to enter the house. He is an official, the military
head of the town, known as Captain Hertz. He is well along in years,
rheumatic, but tremendously self-important._]


_Hertz:_ [_Stopping Hedwig._]

Wait one moment. You are the young woman I wish to see. You don't get
away from me like that.


_Hedwig:_ [_Drawing herself up, moves back a step or two._]

What is it?


_Hertz:_ [_Turning to the old mother._]

Well, Maria, another son must go - Arno. You are an honored woman, a
noble example to the state. [_Turns to Amelia._] You have lost a very
good husband, I understand. Well, you are a foolish girl. As for you
[_Turning to Hedwig, and eyeing her critically and severely_], I hear
pretty bad things. Yes, you have been talking to the women - telling them
not to marry, not to multiply. In so doing you are working directly
against the Government. It is the express request and command that our
soldiers about to be called to the front and our young women should
marry. You deliberately set yourself in opposition to that command. Are
you aware that that is treason?


_Hedwig:_

Why are they asking this, Herr Captain?


_Hertz:_

Our statesmen are wise. They are thinking of the future state. The
nation is fast being depopulated. We must take precautionary measures.
We must have men for the future. I warn you, that to do or say anything
which subverts the plan of the empire for its own welfare, especially at
a time when our national existence is in peril - well, it is treason.
Were it not that you are the daughter-in-law of my old friend
[_Indicating the Mother_], I should not take the trouble to warn you,
but pack you off to jail at once. Not another word from you, you
understand?


_Hedwig:_ [_Calmly, even sweetly, but with fire in her eye._]

If I say I will keep quiet, will you promise me something in return?


_Hertz:_

What do you mean? Quiet? Of course you'll keep quiet. Quiet as a
tombstone, if I have anything to say about it.


_Hedwig:_ [_Calm and tense._]

I mean what I say. Promise to see to it that if we bear you the men for
your nation, there shall be no more war. See to it that they shall not
go forth to murder and be murdered. That is fair. We will do our
part, - we always have, - will you do yours? Promise.


_Hertz:_

I - I - ridiculous! There will always be war.


_Hedwig:_

Then one day we will stop giving you men. Look at mother. Four sons torn
from her in one month, and none of you ever asked her if she wanted
war. You keep us here helpless. We don't want dreadnoughts and armies
and fighting, we women. You tear our husbands, our sons, from us, - you
never ask us to help you find a better way, - and haven't we anything to
say?


_Hertz:_

No. War is man's business.


_Hedwig:_

Who gives you the men? We women. We bear and rear and agonize. Well, if
we are fit for that, we are fit to have a voice in the fate of the men
we bear. If we can bring forth the men for the nation, we can sit with
you in your councils and shape the destiny of the nation, and say
whether it is to war or peace we give the sons we bear.


_Hertz:_ [_Chuckling._]

Sit in the councils? That would be a joke. I see. Mother, she's a
little - [_Touches his forehead suggestively._] Sit in the councils with
the men and shape the destiny of the nation! Ha! ha!


_Hedwig:_

Laugh, Herr Captain, but the day will come; and then there will be no
more war. No, you will not always keep us here, dumb, silent drudges. We
will find a way.


_Hertz:_ [_Turning to the mother._]

That is what comes of letting Franz go to a factory town, Maria. That is
where he met this girl. Factory towns breed these ideas. [_To Hedwig._]
Well, we'll have none of that here. [_Authoritatively._] Another word
of this kind of insurrection, another word to the women of your
treason, and you will be locked up and take your just punishment. You
remember I had to look out for you in the beginning when you talked
against this war. You're a firebrand, and you know how we handle the
like of you. [_Goes to door, turns to the mother._] I am sorry you have
to have this trouble, Maria, on top of everything else. You don't
deserve it. [_To Hedwig._] You have been warned. Look out for yourself.

[_Hedwig is standing rigid, with difficulty repressing the torrent of
her feelings. Drums are heard coming nearer, and singing voices of men._]


_Amelia:_ [_At door._]

They are passing this way.


_Hedwig:_

Wave to Arno. Come, Mother. Ah, how quickly they go!

[_The official steps out of the door. There is quick rhythm of marching
feet as the departing regiment passes not very far from the house._]

There he is! Wave, Mother. Good-by! good-by!

[_The women stand in the doorway, waving their sad farewells, smiling
bravely. The sounds grow less and less, until there is the usual
silence._]

In another month, in another week, perhaps, all the men will be gone. We
will be a village of women. Not a man left.

[_She leads the old mother into the house once more._]


_Hertz:_ [_In the door._]

What did you say?


_Hedwig:_

Not a man left, I said.


_Hertz:_

You forget. _I_ shall be here.


_Hedwig:_

You are old. You don't count. They think you are only a woman, Herr
Captain.


_Hertz:_ [_Insulted._]

You - you -


_Hedwig:_

Oh, don't take it badly, sir. You are honored. Is the name of woman
always to be despised? Look out in those fields. Who cleared them, and
plucked the vineyards clean? You think we are left at home because we
are weak. Ah, no; we are strong. That is why. Strong to keep the world
going, to keep sacred the greatest things in life - love and home and
work. To remind men of - peace. [_With a quick change._] If only you
really were a woman, Herr Captain, that you might breed soldiers for the
empire, your glory would be complete.

[_The old captain is about to make an angry reply when there is a
commotion outside. The words "News from the front" are distinguished,
growing more distinct. The captain rushes out. The women are paralyzed
with apprehension for a moment._]


_Mother:_

Amelia, go and see. Hedwig, come here.

[_Hedwig crouches on the floor close to the mother, her eyes wide with
dread. In a few moments Amelia returns, dragging her feet, woe in her
face, and unable to deal the blow which must fall on the two women, who
stare at her with blanched faces._]


_Amelia:_ [_Falling at her mother's knee._]

Mother!


_Mother:_ [_Scarcely breathing._]

Which one?


_Amelia:_

All of them.


_Mother:_ [_Dazed._]

All? All my boys?


_Amelia:_

Emil, Otto - be thankful Arno is left.

[_The Mother drops her head back against the chair and silently prays.
Hedwig creeps nearer Amelia and holds her face between her hands,
looking into her eyes._]


_Hedwig:_ [_Whispering._]

Franz?


_Amelia:_

Franz, too.

[Illustration: HEDWIG: Franz?

AMELIA: Franz, too.]

[_Hedwig lies prostrate on the floor. Their grief is very silent;
terrible because it is so dumb and stoical. The Mother is the first to
rouse herself. She bends over Hedwig._]


_Mother:_

Hedwig. [_Hedwig sobs convulsively._] Don't, child. Be careful for the
little one's sake. [_Hedwig sits up._] For your child be quiet, be
brave.


_Hedwig:_

I loved him so, Mother!


_Mother:_

Yes, he was my boy - my first-born.


_Hedwig:_

Your first-born, and this is the end.

[_She rises up in unutterable wrath and despair._]

O God!


_Mother:_ [_Anxious for her._]

Promise me you will be careful, Hedwig. For the sake of your child,
_your_ first-born, that is to be -


_Hedwig:_

_My child_? For this end? For the empire - the war that is to be? No!


_Mother:_ [_Half to herself._]

He may look like Franz.

[_Hedwig quickly seizes the pistol from the mantel-shelf and moves to
the bedroom door._

_Amelia, watching her, sees her do it, and cries out in alarm and
rushes to take it from her._]


_Amelia:_ [_In horror._]

Hedwig! What are you doing? Give it to me! No, you must not! You have
too much to live for.

[Illustration: AMELIA: No, you must not! You have too much to live for.]


_Hedwig:_ [_Dazed._]

To live for? Me?


_Amelia:_

Why, yes, you are going to be a mother.


_Hedwig:_

A mother? Like her? [_Looks sadly at the bereaved old mother._] Look at
her! Poor Mother! And they never asked her if she wanted this thing to
be! Oh, no! I shall never take it like that - never! But you are right,
Amelia. I have something to do first.

[_Lets Amelia put the pistol away in the cupboard._] I must send a
message to the emperor. [_The others are more alarmed for her in this
mood than in her grief._]

You said you were going to the front to be a nurse, Amelia. Can you take
this message for me? I might take it myself, perhaps.


_Amelia:_ [_Hesitating, not knowing what to say or do._]

Let me give you some tea, Hedwig.

[_Voices are heard outside, and the sounds of sorrow. Some one near the
house is weeping. A wild look and a fierce resolve light Hedwig's
face._]


_Hedwig:_ [_Rushing from the house._]

They have taken my Franz!


_Mother:_

Get her back! I feared it. Grief has made her mad.

[_Amelia runs out. A clamor of voices outside. Hedwig can be heard
indistinctly speaking to the women. Finally her voice alone is heard,
and in a moment she appears, backing into the doorway, still talking to
the women._]


_Hedwig:_ [_A tragic light in her face, and hand uplifted._]

I shall send a message to the emperor. If ten thousand women send one
like it, there will be peace and no more war. Then they will hear our
tears.


_A Voice:_

What is the message? Tell us!


_Hedwig:_

Soon you will know. [_Loudly._] But I tell you now, _don't bear any more
children_ until they promise you there will be no more war.


_Hertz:_ [_Suddenly appearing. Amelia follows._]

I heard you. I declare you under arrest. Come with me. You will be shot
for treason.


_Mother:_ [_Fearfully, drawing him aside._]

Don't say that, sir. Wait. Oh, no, you can't do that!

[_She gets out her work-basket, and shows him the baby things she has
been knitting, and glances significantly at Hedwig. A horrid smile comes
into the man's face. Hedwig, snatches the things and crushes them to her
breast as if sacrilege had been committed._]


_Hertz:_

Is this true? You expect -


_Hedwig:_ [_Proudly, scornfully._]

You will not shoot me if I give you a soldier for your empire and your
armies and your guns, will you, Herr Captain?


_Hertz:_

Why - eh, no. Every child counts these times. But we will put you under
lock and key. You are a firebrand. I warned you. Come along.


_Hedwig:_

You want my child, but still you will not promise me what I asked you.
Well, we shall see.


_Hertz:_

Come along.


_Hedwig:_

Give me just a moment. I want to send a message to the emperor. Will you
take it for me, Herr Captain?


_Mother:_ [_Signing._]

Humor her.


_Hertz:_

Well, well, hurry up!

[_Hedwig sits at table and writes a brief note._]


_Mother:_ [_Whispering._]

She has lost Franz. She is crazed.


_Hedwig:_ [_Rising._]

There. See that it is placed in the hands of the emperor. [_Gives him
the note._] Good-by, Amelia! Never be a war bride, Amelia.

[_Kisses her three times_,] Good-by, Mother.

[_Embraces her tenderly._] Thank you for these.

[_She gathers the baby things in her hands, crosses the room, pressing a
little sock to her lips. As she passes the cupboard she deftly seizes
the pistol, and moves into the bedroom. On the threshold she looks over
her shoulder._]


_Hedwig:_ [_Firmly._]

You may read the message out loud.

[_She disappears into the room, still pressing the little sock to her
lips._]


_Hertz:_ [_Reading the note._]

"A Message to the Emperor: I refuse to bear my child until you promise
there shall be no more war."

[_A shot is fired in the bedroom. They rush into the room. The Mother
stands trembling by the table._]


_Hertz:_ [_Awed, coming out of the room with the baby things, which he
places on the table._]

Dead! Tcha! tcha! she was mad. I will hush it up, Maria.

[_He tears up Hedwig's message to the emperor, and goes out of the
house, shaking his head. Amelia is kneeling in the doorway of the
bedroom, bending over something, and softly crying. The Mother slowly
gathers up the pieces of Hedwig's message and the baby garments, now
dashed with blood, and, sitting on the bench, holds them tight against
her breast, staring straight in front of her, her lips moving
inaudibly. She closes her eyes and rocks to and fro, still muttering and
praying._]




CURTAIN







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Online LibraryMarion Craig WentworthWar Brides: A Play in One Act → online text (page 2 of 2)