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Full Online Book HomePlaysThe Stepmother, A Drama In Five Acts - Act 5
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The Stepmother, A Drama In Five Acts - Act 5 Post by :kids8 Category :Plays Author :Honore De Balzac Date :May 2012 Read :828

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The Stepmother, A Drama In Five Acts - Act 5

ACT V

SCENE FIRST

(The chamber of Pauline as before.)

Pauline, Ferdinand and Vernon.

 

(Pauline lies stretched upon her bed. Ferdinand holds her hand in an attitude of profound grief and despair. It is just before dawn and a lamp is burning.)

Vernon (seated near the table) I have seen thousands of dead men on the field of battle and in the ambulances, yet the death of this young girl under her father's roof moves me more profoundly than all those heroic sufferings. Death is perhaps a thing foreseen on the field of battle--it is even expected there; while here, it is not only the passing away of a single person, but a whole family is plunged in tears and fond hopes vanish. Here is this child, of whom I was so fond, murdered, poisoned--and by whom? Marguerite has rightly guessed the secret of this struggle between two rivals. It was impossible to refrain from communicating at once with the authorities. In the meantime, God knows I have used every effort to snatch this young life from the grave. (Ferdinand raises his head and listens to the doctor) I have even brought this poison, which may act as an antidote to the other; but the princes of medical science should have been present to witness the experiment! No man ought to venture upon such a throw of the dice.

Ferdinand (rises and approaches the doctor) Doctor, when the magistrates arrive, will you explain this experiment of yours; they will be sure to sanction it; and you may be sure that God, yes God, will hear me. He will work some miracle, He will give her back to me!

Vernon I should have ventured upon it before the action of the poison had wrought its full effects. If I did so now, I should be looked upon as the poisoner. No (he places a little flask upon the table), it would be useless now, and to give it with the most disinterested motives would be looked upon as a crime.

Ferdinand (after holding a mirror before Pauline's lips) Anything, everything is yet possible; she still breathes.

Vernon She will not live till daylight.

Pauline Ferdinand!

Ferdinand She has just uttered my name.

Vernon The vitality of a girl of twenty-two is very tenacious! Moreover, she will preserve consciousness, even to her last gasp. She might possibly rise from her bed and talk with us, although the sufferings caused by this terrible poison are inconceivable.

 


SCENE SECOND

The same persons and the General.


The General (outside) Vernon!

Vernon (to Ferdinand) It is the General. (Ferdinand, overcome with grief, falls back on the armchair, where he is concealed by the curtains of the bed.) What do you want?

The General I want to see Pauline!

Vernon If you take my advice, you will wait awhile; she is very much worse.

The General (entering) For that reason I shall come in.

Vernon Do not come in, General. Listen to me!

The General No, no! Ah, how motionless, how cold she is, Vernon!

Vernon Listen! General! (Aside) We must get him away somehow. (Aloud) There is but a faint hope of saving her.

The General You told me--You must have been deceiving me!

Vernon My friend, we have to look this catastrophe in the face, as we had to look towards the batteries through a shower of bullets! On such occasions, when I hesitated, you always went forward. (Aside) That is a good idea! (Aloud) You had better bring to her the consolations of religion.

The General Vernon, I wish to see her, to give her my last kiss.

Vernon Be careful!

The General (kissing her) Oh! How icy cold she is!

Vernon That is a peculiarity of her sickness, General. Hurry to the priest's house, for in case my remedies fail, it is not right that your daughter, who has been reared as a Christian, should be forgotten by the Church.

The General Ah! yes. I will go.

(The General moves towards the bed.)

Vernon (pointing towards the door) This way!

The General I quite lose my head; I am distracted--O Vernon, work a miracle for us! You have saved so many people--and here you cannot save the life of my child!

Vernon Come, come, be off. (Aside) I must go with him, for if he meets the magistrates there will be more trouble still.

(Exit the General and Vernon.)

 


SCENE THIRD

Pauline and Ferdinand.


Pauline Ferdinand!

Ferdinand Ah! My God! Can this be her last sigh? Pauline, you are my very life; if Vernon does not save you, I will follow you, and we shall still be united.

Pauline I shall expire, then, without a single regret.

Ferdinand (takes up the flask) That which would have saved you, if the doctor had arrived earlier, shall deliver me from life.

Pauline No, for you may still be happy.

Ferdinand Never, without you.

Pauline Your words revive me.

 


SCENE FOURTH

The same persons and Vernon.


Ferdinand She speaks; her eyes once more are open.

Vernon Poor child! There she falls asleep again. What shall the waking be?

(Ferdinand sits down again and takes the hand of Pauline.)

 


SCENE FIFTH

The same persons, Ramel, the Investigating Magistrate, a Doctor, a Corporal of Police and Marguerite.


Marguerite M. Vernon, the magistrates are here. M. Ferdinand, you must leave the room.

(Exit Ferdinand.)

Ramel Take care, corporal, that all the entrances of this house are guarded, and observe our orders! Doctor, can we remain here a few moments without danger to the sick lady?

Vernon She is asleep, sir; and it is her last slumber.

Marguerite Here is the cup into which the infusion was poured and which still has traces of arsenic; I perceived it there as soon as I took hold of it.

The Doctor (examining the cup and tasting the contents) It is evident that the liquid contains some poisonous substance.

The Magistrate Please to make an analysis of it. (He sees Marguerite picking up a small piece of paper from the ground.) What paper is that?

Marguerite Oh, it is nothing.

Ramel In such cases as these, nothing is insignificant in the eyes of magistrates! Yes, gentlemen, we shall have to examine this paper later. What can have delayed M. de Grandchamp?

Vernon He is at the priest's house, but he will not stay there long.

The Magistrate (to the doctor) Have you made your examination yet, sir?

(The two physicians converse together at the head of the bed.)

Ramel (to the magistrate) If the General returns, we must deal with him according to the circumstances.

(Marguerite is weeping, kneeling at the foot of the bed; the two physicians, the judge and Ramel are grouped in the front of the stage.)

Ramel (to the doctor) It is therefore of your opinion, sir, that the illness of Mlle. de Grandchamp, whom we saw two days ago full of health, and even of happiness, is the result of a crime?

The Doctor The symptoms of poisoning are undeniable.

Ramel And are the remains of the poison contained in this cup so discernible, and present in such a quantity, as to furnish legal proof?

The Doctor Yes, sir.

The Magistrate (to Vernon) This woman alleges, sir, that yesterday, at four o'clock, you prescribed for Mlle. de Grandchamp an infusion of orange leaves, as a soothing draught for the nervous excitement which followed upon an interview between the stepmother and her stepdaughter; she says, moreover, that Madame de Grandchamp, who had despatched you on an empty errand to a place four leagues away, had insisted upon preparing and giving everything to her daughter herself; is this true?

Vernon Yes, sir.

Marguerite When I persisted in my purpose of attending myself upon my young mistress, my poor master was incensed to the point of reproaching me.

Ramel (to Vernon) Where did Madame de Grandchamp send you?

Vernon Everything is ominous in this mysterious affair. Madame de Grandchamp was so anxious to get me out of the way that she sent me three leagues to visit a sick man, who, I found when I reached his home, was drinking in the inn. I blamed Champagne for deceiving Madame de Grandchamp, and Champagne positively told me that the workman had not appeared at the factory, but that he himself knows nothing about his alleged sickness.

Felix Gentlemen, the clergy are here.

Ramel We can continue our proceedings in the drawing-room.

Vernon This way, gentlemen, this way.


(Scene curtain.)

 


SCENE SIXTH

(The drawing-room.)

Ramel, the Magistrate, the Sheriff's Officer and Vernon.


Ramel Here, then, is the result so far of our inquiry, in accordance with the evidence of Felix and Marguerite. Madame de Grandchamp, in the first place, administered to her stepdaughter a dose of opium, and you, M. Vernon, who were present and saw the criminal attempt, managed to secure and lock up the cup.

Vernon It is true, gentlemen, but--

Ramel How is it, M. Vernon, that when you witnessed this criminal attempt, you did not check Madame de Grandchamp in the fatal course which she was then pursuing?

Vernon Believe me, gentlemen, I did everything which I thought could be done with prudence, and all that my long experience suggested was attempted by me.

The Magistrate Your conduct, sir, was peculiar, and you will be called upon to explain it. You did your duty yesterday in preserving the cup as evidence; but why did you not go further?

Ramel Pardon me, M. Cordier, this gentleman is advanced in years; he is an honest and trustworthy man. (He takes Vernon aside) You have found out, I suppose, the cause of this crime.

Vernon It springs from a rivalry between two women, who have been urged on to the most violent extremes by their reckless passions. And I was obliged to keep silence on the subject.

Ramel I know the whole business.

Vernon You! sir?

Ramel Yes, and, like you, I have done everything to prevent this catastrophe; for Ferdinand was to leave this very night. I knew Mlle. Gertrude de Meilhac in former years, having met her at the house of my friend.

Vernon Oh! sir, show clemency! Have pity on an old soldier, crippled with wounds, and enslaved by delusions. He is in danger of losing both his daughter and his wife. Heaven grant he may not lose his honor also!

Ramel We understand each other. So long as Gertrude does not make such admissions as force us to see the real situation, I shall endeavor to persuade the investigating magistrate--who is an extremely sagacious and honest man of ten years' experience--I shall try to make him believe that cupidity alone has influenced Madame de Grandchamp. You must assist me. (The magistrate approaches; Ramel nods to Vernon and puts on an expression of severity.) Why did Madame de Grandchamp wish to drug her stepdaughter? You, who are the friend of the household, ought to know this.

Vernon Pauline was about to confide her secrets to me. Her stepmother thought that I was learning certain things which her interest required should be concealed; and that, sir, is doubtless the reason why she sent me to treat a workman who was in good health, and not to prevent help from being brought to Pauline, for Louviers is not so far off.

The Magistrate What forethought she has! She won't be able to escape if we find the proofs of crime in her desk. She does not expect us here; she will be thunderstruck.

 


SCENE SEVENTH

The same persons, Gertrude and Marguerite.


Gertrude I hear the strains of church music! What, is there another trial going on here? What can be happening? (She goes to the door of Pauline's chamber and starts back terrified, on the appearance of Marguerite.) Ah!

Marguerite They are offering prayers over the body of your victim!

Gertrude Pauline! Pauline! Dead!

The Magistrate And it is you, madame, who have poisoned her.

Gertrude I! I! I! Ah! what is this? Am I asleep or awake? (To Ramel) Ah! How extremely fortunate for me in this meeting! For you know the whole affair, don't you? Do you believe me capable of a crime like this? What! Am I actually accused of it? Do you think that I would have made an attack upon her life? I, the mother of a child, before whom I would not wish to be disgraced? Justice will vindicate me--Marguerite, let no one leave the room. Gentlemen, tell me what has taken place since yesterday evening, when I left Pauline slightly indisposed?

The Magistrate Madame, collect yourself! You stand before the tribunal of your country.

Gertrude You chill me with such words--

The Magistrate The administration of justice in France is the most perfect of criminal procedures. No traps are set, for justice proceeds, acts, and speaks with open face, for she is solely intent upon her mission, which is, the discovery of the truth. At the present moment, you are merely inculpated, and in me you must see your protector. But tell the truth, whatever it may be; the final result will be decided at a higher tribunal.

Gertrude Ah! sir, take me into her chamber, and in presence of Pauline I will cry out, what I cry out before you--I am guiltless of her death!

The Magistrate Madame!

Gertrude Sir, let us have none of those long phrases, with which you blind the eyes of people. I suffer pains unheard of! I weep for Pauline as though she were my child, and--I forgive her everything! What do you want with me? Proceed, and I will answer you.

Ramel What is it that you will forgive her?

Gertrude I mean--

Ramel (in a low voice) Be cautious in your replies.

Gertrude You are right, for precipices yawn on every side!

The Magistrate (to the sheriff's officer) Names and titles may be taken later; now write down the notes of the investigation, and the inquiry. (To Gertrude) Did you yesterday forenoon put opium into the tea of Mlle. de Grandchamp?

Gertrude Ah! doctor--this is you.

Ramel Do not accuse the doctor. He has already too seriously compromised himself for you! Answer the magistrate!

Gertrude It is true.

The Magistrate Madame recognizes the cup and admits that she put opium in it. That will be enough for the present, at this stage of the inquiry.

Gertrude Do you accuse me then of something further? What is it?

The Magistrate Madame, if you cannot free yourself from blame with regard to a later event, you may be charged with the crime of poisoning. We must now proceed to seek proofs either of your innocence or of your guilt.

Gertrude Where will you seek them?

The Magistrate From you! Yesterday you gave Mlle. de Grandchamp an infusion of orange leaves, in another cup which contained arsenic.

Gertrude Can it be possible!

The Magistrate The day before yesterday you declared that the key of your desk, in which the arsenic was locked, never left your possession.

Gertrude It is in my dress pocket.

The Magistrate Have you ever made any use of that arsenic?

Gertrude No; you will find the parcel still sealed.

Ramel Ah! madame, I sincerely hope so.

The Magistrate I very much doubt it; this is one of those audacious criminals--

Gertrude The chamber is in disorder, permit me--

The Magistrate No, no! All three of us will enter it.

Ramel Your innocence is now at stake.

Gertrude Gentlemen, let us go in together.

 


SCENE EIGHTH

Vernon (alone) My poor General! He kneels by the bed of his daughter; he weeps, he prays! Alas! God alone can give her back to him.

 


SCENE NINTH

Vernon, Gertrude, Ramel, the Magistrate and the Sheriff's Officer.


Gertrude I scarce can believe my senses; I am dreaming--I am--

Ramel You are ruined, madame.

Gertrude Yes, sir--But by whom?

The Magistrate (to the sheriff's officer) Write down that Madame de Grandchamp having herself unlocked for us the desk in her bedchamber and having herself given into our hands the parcel sealed by M. Baudrillon, this parcel which two days ago was intact is found unsealed and from it has been taken a dose, more than sufficient to produce death.

Gertrude Death!--And I?

The Magistrate Madame, it was not without reason that I took from your desk this torn piece of paper. We have also picked up in Mlle. de Grandchamp's chamber a piece of paper, which exactly fits to it; and this proves that when you reached your desk, in that confusion which crime always brings upon criminals, you took up this paper to wrap up the dose, which you intended to mix with the infusion.

Gertrude You said that you were my protector! And there, see now--

The Magistrate Give me your attention, madame. In face of such suspicions, I feel I shall have to change the writ of summons into a writ of bail or imprisonment. (He signs the document.) And now, madame, you must consider yourself under arrest.

Gertrude Of course, I will do all that you wish! But you told me that your mission was to search for the truth--Ah! Let us search for it here--Let us search for it here!

The Magistrate Certainly, madame.

Gertrude (to Ramel; she is weeping) O M. Ramel!

Ramel Have you anything to say in your defence which would lead us to cancel this terrible sentence?

Gertrude Gentlemen, I am innocent of the crime of poisoning, and yet all is against me! I implore you, give my your help instead of torturing me! And listen to me--Some one must have taken my key,--can you not understand? Some one must have come into my room--Ah! I see it all now-- (To Ramel) Pauline loved as I loved; she has poisoned herself!

Ramel For the sake of your honor, do not say that, without the most convincing proofs, otherwise--

The Magistrate Madame, is it true that, yesterday, you, knowing Doctor Vernon was to dine with you, sent him--

Gertrude Oh! you,--your questions are so many daggers at my heart! And yet you go on, you still go on.

The Magistrate Did you send him away to attend a workman at Pre-l'Eveque?

Gertrude I did, sir.

The Magistrate This workman, madame, was found in a tavern, and in excellent help.

Gertrude Champagne had told me that he was sick.

The Magistrate We have questioned Champagne, and he denies this, averring that he said nothing about sickness. The fact of it was, you wished to preclude the possibility of medical aid.

Gertrude (aside) It was Pauline! It was she who made me send away Vernon! O Pauline! You have dragged me down with yourself into the tomb, to which I sink bearing the name of criminal! No! No! No! (To Ramel) Sir, I have but one avenue of escape. (To Vernon) Is Pauline still alive?

Vernon (pointing to the General) Here is my answer.

 


SCENE TENTH

The same persons and the General.


The General (to Vernon) She is dying, my friend! If I lose her, I shall never survive it.

Vernon My friend!

The General It seems to me that there are a great many people here--What must be done? Oh, try to save her! I wonder where Gertrude is.

(They give the General a seat.)

Gertrude (sinking at the feet of the General) My friend! Poor father! I would this instant I might be killed without a trial. (She rises.) No, Pauline has wrapped me in her shroud, I feel her icy hands about my neck. And yet I was resigned. Yes, I would have buried with me the secret of this terrible drama, which every woman should understand! But I am weary of this struggle with a corpse that holds me tight, and communicates to me the coldness and the stiffness of death! I have made up my mind that my innocence of this crime shall come forth victorious at the expense of somebody's honor; for never, never could I become a vile and cowardly poisoner. Yes, I shall tell the whole, dark tale.

The General (rising from his seat and coming forward) Ah! so you are going to say in the face of justice all that for two days you have concealed by such obstinate silence--vile and ungrateful creature, fawning liar!--you have killed my daughter. Are you going to kill me also?

Gertrude Ought I to keep silence?--Ought I to speak?

Ramel General, be kind enough to retire. The law commands.

The General The law? You represent the justice of men, I represent the justice of God, and am higher than you all! I am at once accuser, tribunal, sentence and executioner--Come, madame, tell us what you have to say?

Gertrude (at the General's feet) Forgive me, sir--Yes--I am--

Ramel Oh, poor wretch!

Gertrude (aside) I cannot say it! Oh! for his honor's sake, may he never know the truth. (Aloud) I am guilty before all the world, but to you I say, and will repeat it to my last breath, I am innocent! And some future day the truth shall speak from out two tombs, the cruel truth, which will show to you that you also are not free from reproach, but from the very blindness of your hate are culpable in all.

The General I? I? Am I losing my senses? Do you dare to accuse me? (Perceiving Pauline.) Ah! Ah! My God!

 


SCENE ELEVENTH

The same persons, and Pauline (supported by Ferdinand).


Pauline They have told me all! This woman is innocent of the crime whereof she is accused. Religion has at last taught me that pardon cannot be obtained on high except by those who leave it behind them here below. I took from Madame the key of her desk, I myself sought the poison. I myself tore off the paper to wrap it up, for I wished to die.

Gertrude O Pauline! Take my life, take all I love--Oh, doctor, save her!

The Magistrate Is this the truth, mademoiselle?

Pauline The truth, yes, for the dying alone speak it--

The Magistrate We know then actually nothing about this business.

Pauline (to Gertrude) Do you know why I came to draw you from the abyss which had engulfed you? It is because Ferdinand spoke to me a word which brought me back from the tomb. He has so great a horror of being left with you in life that he follows me, and will follow me to the grave, where we shall rest together, wedded in death.

Gertrude Ferdinand! Ah, my God! At what a price have I been saved!

The General But unhappy child, wherefore must you die? Am I not, have I ceased for one moment to be a good father? And yet they say that I am culpable.

Ferdinand Yes, General, I alone can give the answer to the riddle, and can explain to you your guilt.

The General You, Ferdinand, you to whom I offered my daughter, you who loved her--

Ferdinand My name is Ferdinand Comte de Marcandal, son of General Marcandal. Do you understand?

The General Ah! son of a traitor! What could you bring to my home but death and treachery! Defend yourself!

Ferdinand Would you fight, General, with the dead?

(Ferdinand falls.)

Gertrude (rushes to Ferdinand with a cry) Oh! (She recoils before the General, and approaches his daughter, then draws forth a phial, but immediately flings it away.) I will condemn myself to live for this old man! (The General kneels beside his dying daughter.) Doctor, what will become of him? Is he likely to lose his reason?

The General (stammering like a man who has lost his speech) I--I--I--


Vernon General, what is it?

The General I--I am trying--to pray--for my daughter!


(Final curtain.)


(THE END)
Honore de Balzac's play: Stepmother, A Drama in Five Acts

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