The Flight of the White Eagles: Act 3, Scenes 3-4

SCENE 3: A Forest Clearing

Enter Vasalisa, Angelina, Albina, Vladamir & Vitaly

Vasalisa
This clearing is as good as any space
To build a base from whence to pounce upon
The straggling French bestruggl’d from Smolensk

Natasha
Angelina, you’ve been crying, what for?

Albina
Mother, what is it?

Angelina
It is nothing, well…
I’d hoped to hear my husband’s voice today
I miss you father dearly but am proud
To know he fights the French, I heard him take
The sacred oath upon that mountain height
To never see our faces’ light until
Napoleon defeated & expung’d
From Russia on the spirit of vengeance

***

MY HANDSOME HUSBAND

Angelina
Well my husband is off to the war
O when is it going to end
I miss him each day more & more
He’s my family, lover & friend

& the way that he looks in the morning
When he wakes with a wink & a smile
Makes me bless how my wonderful fortune
Shares his talents, his beauty, his style

My husband’s so champion warlike
Outstanding he fights in the field
But when he’s asleep in the dawn light
All my worryful weepings are heal’d

Then the way that he looks in the morning
When he wakes with a wink & a smile
Makes me bless how my wonderful Husband
Offers talents & beauty & style

Well my husband’s so splendidly handsome
As far as my travels can see
There are multiple men in the country
But none are as handsome as he

***

Vitaly
Such love for the fatherland’s warriors
Empowers the souls & hands to noble feats

Vladamir
& from those feats our triumph shall prevail,
The French have been belittled in battles
The fox escapes across the barren land
Abandoning swords & encampments, flies
Thro’ slain brothers blood, painting ghastly sights,
As all around the woods & mountains shout
‘O victory to Rus, O victory
To the terryifying might of old Rus.’

***

Enter Natasha & Valentina, hurriedly

Natasha
Be quiet everybody, still your sound

Valentina
Two French officers approach us alone

Vasalisa
Hide yourselves as salt’s secret of the seas

The Partisans hide in the undergrowth – enter Vachain & Bodet

Vachain
What is this special enigma, Colonel
Which lures us deep into this creaking wood
Is it some wild pretence

Bodet
This is quite real
As we are both noble officers, sir,
We will share the best table, in this case
A genuine bottle of best vodka
From the Tsar’s very own cellar

Vachain
My God

Bodet
I shall go first, as deem’d by higher rank

Vachain
I defer to that & your gratitude

Bodet
{drinking}
My word, there is the fire, first it burns throat
Then belly, how it feels to feel alive!
Here you are my man – prepare for fierce flame

Vachain drinks with splutters & coughs / Bodet laughs

Vachain
That is a mighty blast, no vulgo draught
For one raw moment lends me forgetting,
From being the most affected ever
At the loss of the effectivity
Of our once supreme sword, how our famous
Columns made now disorder’d, prideless mass
We fools who purchas’d our own mockery,
Who were called all sides ‘Indestructables,’
Who swept all Europe before us, broken
Into myriad ruthless parts, striving
To lives preserve at anyworth expense.

Bodet
So many miseries have crazed my voice
This breakdown of order is challenging
Made thrice as complicated by the theft
& plundering of clothing thro’ all ranks
Confusing insignias meaningless
Rather than attempting to discover
True ranks, comrogean soldiers assume
True officers really enlisted men
& flagrantly refused orders obey’d

Vachain
Such things are the current of time’s river
Which carries to oblivion our deeds
Unfeasible it is to stem its flow
& think of desolation’s fate uncheck’d
If I were to die on this faithless march
My memories shall drift into the snow,
With last breath-whisps, of twenty great battles
Thro’ ten years service with the Emperor

Bodet
Napoloen! He does not give a damn
Soldiers supraconstantly collapsing
Upon the road, dismiss’d without a glance
For the sick & dying offers only
Unstricken unsentimentality.

Vachain
So long has Fortune shower’d her favours
He barely believes she deserts him now
& blunders under constant delusion
Proven amply by fatal insistence
That every little thing be brought away
To clog the roads, then lost are in the end

Bodet
The end – what will that be for you & I
When some are murder’d for a pinch of bread
& who shall mourn us here – coldbloodedly
Upon pale, lamenting faces I peer,
This awful war’s dismembrator’d faces,
The wounded, frozen, burn’d – only to turn
Away & think of other trinket things
From all the sad finales I have seen
The worst are those who freeze before a fire
Takes hold & gives out heat, but I have slept
Upon these poor, unfortunate pillows
Too often – enough, let us quaff some more

Bodet drinks & hands the bottle to Vachain

Vachain
So bitter – refuses to taste better

Bodet
Oh lord, look, Captain Vachain, look upwards
Thro’ clearing tops upon a starry sky

Vachain
A hard frost, Colonel,

Bodet
Yes, that might be so
But now is the night’s tremendous disport
Flaring stars, vanishing stars, stars trembling
Star on stars on stars, busy whispering
Gladsome mysteries to one another

Vachain
When gazing on the stars & crystal spheres
From myself I remove myself, become
A portion of all that passes about me
Stirring feelings of the infinite felt
In solitude, where we are least alone

Bodet
This vodka works well, you speak poetry

Vachain
I do? Then let us drink some more

Bodet drinks then passes Vachain the bottle

Bodet
Drink deep

Vachain drinks

Vachain
Still no better, what ingredient does
Russia inject into this burning wine

Enter Vasalisa

Vasalisa
It is a symphony to savour, made
From potatoes, fermented, then distill’d

Bodet
Who are you woman, what is your business?

Vasalisa
I am Vasalisa Kharzina
Of the partisan army of the Tsar
A savage disease needs a savage cure
& leaves befallen from a wither’d tree
Up scoop, you two my captives on parole
& these, these are my country warriors

Enter the partisans, armed – Bodel & Vachain draw their swords

Albina
Put down your swords or we will shoot you dead

Vasalisa
What use are you to anyone that way,
Your roubles’ worth quadruples when alive

Bodet & Vachain drop their swords – they are search’d for more weapons – Vitaly drinks the vodka

Vitaly
It is vodka – it is good

Vladamir
Let me try

Vladmir drinks the vodka

Angelina
Give me a drop Vitaly
{Angelina drinks the vodka}
That is good
Where did you get this from – it is Russian
Who made it murder’d somewhere in these lands

Bodet
I found it deep in the Kremlin’s cellars

Angelina
Found it, stole it, no matter, have a drink

Vasalisa drinks

Vasalisa
The good stuff – Let us dissappear from here
These French are of the Guard, & will send out
No doubt, seach parties, you two , follow us
If refusing you’ll be shot, understand?

Bodet
We understand

Vasalisa
My partisans, depart

Exeunt


SCENE 4: Another Forest Clearing

Bourgogne is alone & struggling through the bad weather. Dead bodies line the road. The ground is covered as far as the eye can see with helmets, shakos, swords, cuirasses, broken chests, empty portmanteaus, bits of torn clothing, saddles & costly schabraques / he reaches a cart

Bourgogne
I curse the snow which hides the azure sphere
& makes an entire army dissappear
It seems as if broad heaven joins the earth
Immelding snowflakes dragging heavy girth
We march without thought, lost & unsteady,
Where whirlwinds of sleet dreadfully eddy
& swarm-drifted snow heap’d up collected
Chasms shyly conceal unexpected
Ingulphing the weakest, whom no more rise
Weak & confounded compounded by sighs
& if standing still we hammer thro the blast
That whips up wild snow, & won’t let us past
With obstinate fury blocking our way
Freezing our clothes with a knife-icy spray
Stiffening tremble-limbs, chattering teeth,
Flat falling in snow the only relief
But only for brief, the skies leaden flight
Buries them in a sepulcher of white,
See how the road to Poland undulates!
Intrepids apathetic to their fates
Hurry by with eyes elsewhere averted
Earth in one vast winding-sheet beshirted!
Dullblank expanse, where only pines emerge
A few gloomy funereals averge
Endless universal desolation,
Where life is but a silly esperance,
Sends instincts pressing self-preservation
Cross-paths down, searching friendly farms, but meet
Screeching Cossacks, peasants gadling in arms,
Who surround us, wound us, strip us to the skin
& leave us expiring with incisive grin
I curse this snow which fills up the traces
Of columns gone before me, just spaces
Of silence, this immense cemetery
That seperates us insalutary
Brings tears to me not shed since I was child,
Now who is this strange creature quite defiled

A wounded French soldier, wrapped in a great fur-lined cloak, crawls on the floor to Bourgogne

Bourgogne
Soldier, what is your name? Your regiment?

The soldier says nothing, then collapses & dies – Bourgogne goes to see if he is alive when an arm from a second soldier led on the floor, grabs him by the legs

Soldier
Stop! help me! Don’t you know, please don’t forget!
{a maniacal laugh}
Marie, Marie, give me food, I’m dying
{he tries to throw off his coat}

Bourgogne
Stop that, please, you’ll surely die without it
Come on, stand up, I will help your comrade

As Bourgogne tires to lift the soldier by the arm he notices that he wears officer epaulettes

Bourgogne
Ah, you are an officer, what rank, sir
& regiment

Soldier
The regiment needs me
To organise reviews, bolster morale
& perfect parades, let us go at once

The soldier gets up to rise but falls on one side with his face in the snow – Bourgogne passes his hand over the soldier’s face & finds there is no sign of life – Bourgogne finds a few fragments of wood & with great difficulty gets them alight – very soon flames crackle up into quite a large fire – he collects a number of schabraques to sit on, and wrapping in his bearskin cape, with his back against the waggon, arranges himself for the night – a Cossack on all fours crawls into the camp – Bourgogne notices, draws his sword & starts to advance – on reaching the Cossack he points his sword in his back

Bourgogne
Are you bear or a man, growl or answer…

The Cossack looks up – he has a long beard which along with his his thick hair is red and thick – his shoulders are of Herculean proportions

Bourgogne
You are Cossack!

The Cossack throw himself down in supplication, trying to kiss Bourgogne’s feet

Cossack
Dobray Frantsouz

Bourgogne
Get off !!

Cossack
Dobray Frantsouz, Frenchie, Dobray Frantsouz

The Cossack kneels upright & is so tall his head reaches Bourgogne’s shoulders – he shows him a fightful sword-cut he had had on his face. Bourgogne signs the Cossack to come near the fire; the Cossack reveals a ball wound to the stomach then turns on his side to writh & wail in pain, & grind his teeth – Bourgogne settles down by the fire

Bourgogne
I would normally aid your pain’s relief
But am so numb to suffering your wails
Run like water on my ears, like my words
On yours, my Cossack foe, what is that noise
Ah – they are trumpets somewhere in the field
Too far away to find them, & this fire
So mindful of my life, for what it is

With a huge groan Picart emerges from the waggon, holding up the top of the waggon with one hand, and having a drawn sword in the other – Bourgogne draws his sword – Picart is trying, without success, to unfasten the great white cloak it wore with the hand which held the sword, as the other was engaged in holding up the top of the waggon

Bourgogne
Are you a Frenchman?

Picart
Yes, of course I am!
What a damn’d silly question! There you stand
Like a church candle! You see what a fix
I am in, why have you not attempted
To help me out of this coffin. I seem,
My good fellow, to have frightened you white

Bourgogne
You frighten’d me, yes, I thought you might be
{pointing to the Cossack}
Another of these noble beauties

Bourgogne helps Picart out of the waggon, who throws off his cloak

Bourgogne
Picart!

Picart
{examining Bourgogne}
Adrien, Adrien Bourgogne?

Bourgogne
It is me mon pays & you are Picart

Picart
Picart by name & Picard by nation

Bourgogne
What angel or fiend throws us together
I know now I am to make it back home
To speak of this encounter in the snow
With tactile ghost as clean & well as thee

Picart
As clean & well as me! How gruff & rough
Are you & thin to boot, veritable
Robinson Crusoe of the Guard, so strange
I scarcely know my friend, your alter’d mein
So miserable – tell me by what luck
Or misfortune do I find you alone
In the woods with this villainous Cossack
Just look at him! See his eyes! He’s been here
Since yesterday, and then he disappeared,
I cannot think at all why he’s come back,
And also you, sergeant, why are you here

Bourgogne
I am feverish on a lazy ledge
I paus’d to rest a moment, else drop dead
The company moved on & in an hour
The tracks were completely cover’d by snow
Three days I’ve been alone now in these woods
Subkingdom of stravation & despair
Have you a bit of something I can eat

Picart
I have a little biscuit if you care

Picart opens his knapsack and draws out a piece of biscuit the size of his hand, which Bourgogne devours at once

Bourgogne
O what medicine rests in firm friendship
I haven’t tasted bread since October
Twenty seventh – this is heaven to taste
But have you any brandy?

Picart
No, mon pays

Bourgogne
I thought I smelt something rather like it

Picart
You are right! Yesterday, when we pillag’d
This waggon there was a brandy bottle
The source of a detestable quarrel
Which sharded glass & snow-wards hard stuff spill’d,

Bourgogne
I should like to see the place where it happened

Picart
Behind the back right wheel snow turns golden gold
There was the scuffle & your nectar find

Bourgogne goes to the wagon, picks up a clump of snow & holds it up to check

Bourgogne
The water of life, frozen in a ball
We’ll melt it in a pan & get quite drunk

Picart
I never thought of doing that, we shall
Surely be drunk, several bottles worth
Were smash’d in ugly distraughtation
{Bourgogne puts snow in the pan – it begins to melt}
An alchemist, alcohol alchemy

Bourgogne
Just flames & a pan, no sorcery here

Picart
You are a great magician all the same

Bourgogne
Do you remember the day of Eylau
When we were stood on the right of the church?’

Picart
Of course, we had weather just like to-day

Bourgogne
I have good reason to remember it,
A brutal Russian bullet carried off
My saucepan. Have you forgotten it,

Picart
No
Certainly not, no more than the far heads
Of Gregoire and Lemoine it swept off too

Bourgogne
How the devil do you recall their names?

Picart
I cannot forget them, they were both good friends

Bourgogne
That day I had haricots in the pan
With a little biscuit

Picart
I remember
They ended up splashed all over us both

Bourgogne
{drinking}
Great God! what a day that was!’
Drink, my friend, this liquid asterism

Picart
{drinking}
I curse the God of Russia & the Conscript

Bourgogne
Conscript?

Picart
Our emperor is nothing but
A regular fool to dally so long
In Moscow, a fortnight was long enough
To eat and drink everything we found there;
But thirty-four days waiting for winter
I call that folly & If he were here,
I’d tell him as much to his regal face
This is not the way to lead men, good God
Plodding like the pen of a bad poet
The dances he has led me sixteen years
We suffered enough in Syrian sands
They were nothing to these deserts of snow

Picart begins blowing on his hands

Bourgogne
But who on earth would be our interrex
Napoleon we need now more than ever

A bugle sounds in the distance

Picart
What was that

Bourgogne
That was a Russian bugle

Picart
Are you sure

Bourgogne
It’s rings unmistakable
Haunt thro’ my dreams or wake me from those dreams

Picart
It sound like the Horse-Grenadiers’ reveille
To the air ‘Fillettes, auprès des amoureux
Tenez bien votre serieux,’

Bourgogne
Not so
That would be most impossible, mon pays
There has been not one first bugle or reveille
For the last fortnight; our cavalry’s cull’d
No, it is Russian – they will be here soon

Picart
Very well, we had better put our arms
In order, first of all my musket find
I have never, ever lost it before
Have carried it six years, all hours of night
I’ll know it by mere touch – even the noise
It makes in falling

Bourgogne
There, beside that log
Is that it?

Picart
It is, good man

The Cossack starts rolling about in the snow in the most terrible sufferings, with his head almost in the fire

Picart
Let us melt
More of this precious snowbrandy, enough
For a bottle each, then reach a safe spot

Bourgogne
& what about our wounded bear

Picart
I doubt
He’ll live another hour, best leave him be

Bourgogne
At least help him to die comfortably
Pass me some schabraques

Picart & Bourgogne lay the cossack on some sheepskin schabraques

Picart
He’ll not die just yet
Look at his eyes: they shine like candle twins

The Cossack is placed sitting up, they holds by his arms / as soon as we let him go he fell down again, his face in the fire / they drag him out only just in time to prevent his being burnt – they lean him the other way

Bourgogne
Now let us leave
With rapid steps towards the setting sun
Thro’ this silent and lonely old forest

Picart
An idea has occurred to me, man
You shall be the rear-guard, and I the van
A double eagle, with two eyes in front
& two behind espial, if we meet
The foe, you load, allow me to engage
To bring them down like fat ducks that they are

Bourgogne
France is that way, mon pays, let us fly home,
Swift-scurried like a hurried polatouche


THE CONCHORDIA FOLIO

“Its worth a pop, right, to try & knock that Shakespeare
Off his feffin’ perch!”

 

 

 

 

Interview: Damian Beeson Bullen

Posted on May 8, 2020, in Conchordia, White Eagles. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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