Play in Four Acts By EDMOND ROSTAND
Translated By GERTRUDE HALL
CHANTECLER PATOU THE BLACKBIRD THE PEACOCK THE NIGHTINGALE THE GRAND-DUKE THE SCREECH-OWL LITTLE SCOPS THE GAME-COCK THE HUNTING DOG A CARRIER-PIGEON THE WOOD-PECKER THE TURKEY THE DUCK THE YOUNG GUINEA-COCK THE PHEASANT-HEN THE GUINEA-HEN THE OLD HEN THE WHITE HEN THE GREY HEN THE BLACK HEN THE SPECKLED HEN THE TUFTED HEN
A Gander. A Capon. Chickens. Chicks. A Cockerel. A Swan. A Cuckoo. Night-birds. Fancy Cocks. Toads. A Turkey-hen. A Goose. A Garden Warbler. A Woodland Warbler. A Spider. A Heron. A Pigeon. A Guinea-pig. Barnyard animals. Woodland Creatures. Rabbits. Birds. Bees. Cicadas. Voices.
The customary three knocks are heard. The drop-curtain wavers and is rising, when a voice rings out, "Not yet!" and the MANAGER, a gentleman of important mien in evening dress, springing from his proscenium box, hurries toward the stage, repeating, "Not yet!"
The curtain is again lowered. The MANAGER turns toward the audience, and resting one hand on the prompter's box, addresses them:
The curtain is a wall,—a flying wall. Assured that presently the wall will fly—why haste? Is it not charming to delay—and just look at it for a while?
Charming to sit before a great red wall, hanging beneath two gilt masks and a scroll—The thrilling moment is when the curtain thrills, and sounds come from the other side.
You are desired to-night to listen to those sounds and entering the scene before you see it, to wonder and surmise—
Bending his ear, the MANAGER listens to the sounds now beginning to come from behind the curtain.
A footstep—is it a road? A flutter of wings—is it a garden?
The curtain here rippling as if about to rise, the MANAGER precipitately shouts, "Stop!—Do not raise it yet!" Then again bending his ear, continues making note of the noises, clear or confused, single or combined, that from this onward come without stop from behind the curtain.
A magpie cawing flies away. Great wooden shoes come running over flags. A courtyard, is it?—If so above a valley—from whence that softened clamour of birds and barking dogs.
More and more clearly the scene suggests itself—Magically sound creates an atmosphere!—A sheep bell tinkles intermittently—Since there is grazing, we may look for grass.
A tree, too—a tree must rustle in the breeze, for a bullfinch warbles his little native song; and a blackbird whistling the song he has caught by ear, implies, we may presume, a wicker cage.
The rattling of a wagon run out of a shed—the dripping of a bucket drawn up overfull—the patter of doves' feet alighting on a roof—Surely it is a farmyard—unless it be a mill!
Rustling of straw, click of a wooden latch—A stable or a haymow there must be. The locust shrills: the weather then is fine.—Church-bells ring: it is Sunday then.—Chatter of jays: the woods cannot be far!
Hark! Nature with the scattered voices of a fair midsummer day is composing—in a dream!—the most mysterious of overtures—harmonised by evening distance and the wind!
And all these sounds—song of a passing girl—laughter of children jogged by the donkey trotting—faraway gun-reports and hunting-horns —these sounds describe a holiday.
A window opens, a door closes—The harness shakes its bells. Is it not plain in sight, the old farmyard?—The dog sleeps, the cat but feigns to sleep.
Sunday!—Farmer and farmer's wife are starting for the fair. The old horse paws the ground—
A ROUGH VOICE [Behind the curtain, through the horse's pawing.] Whoa, Dapple!
ANOTHER VOICE [As if calling to a laggard.] Come along! We shan't get home till morning!
AN IMPATIENT VOICE Are you ready?
ANOTHER VOICE Fasten the shutters!
MAN'S VOICE All right!
WOMAN'S VOICE My sunshade!
MAN'S VOICE [Through the cracking of the whip.] Gee up!
THE MANAGER The wagon to the jingling of the harness rattles off, jolting out ditties. A turn in the road cuts off the unfinished song.—They are gone, quite gone. The performance can begin.
Some philosophers would say there was not a soul left, but we humbly believe that there are hearts. Man in leaving does not take with him all drama. One can laugh and suffer without him. [He listens again.]
Ardently humming, a velvety bumblebee hovers—then is still; he has plunged into a flower—Let us begin. Pray note that Aesop's hump to-night does duty as prompter's box!
The members of our company are small, but—[Calling toward the flies.] Alexander! [To the audience.] He is my chief machinist. [Calling again.] Let it down!
A VOICE [From the flies.] It's coming, sir!
MANAGER We have lowered between the audience and the stage an invisible screen of magnifying glass—
But there the violins are tuning up: Scraping of crystal bows, picking of strings!—Hush! Let the footlights now leap into brightness, for at a signal from their little leader the crickets' orchestra have briskly fallen to!
Frrrt! The bumblebee emerges from the flower, shaking the yellow dust—A Hen comes on the scene as in La Fontaine's fable. A Cuckoo calls, as in Beethoven's symphony.
Hush! Let the chandelier draw in its myriad lights—for the curious call-boy of the woods has, airily, to summon us, repeated thrice his double call—
And since Nature is one of our performers, and feathered notables are on our staff—Hush! the curtain must go up: A wood-pecker's bill has rapped out the three strokes!
THE EVENING OF THE PHEASANT-HEN
A farmyard such as the sounds from behind the curtain have described. At the right, a house over-clambered with wistaria. At the left, the farmyard gate, letting on to the road. A dog-kennel. At the back, a low wall, beyond which distant country landscape. The details of the setting define themselves in the course of the act.
The whole barnyard company, HENS, CHICKENS, CHICKS, DUCKS, TURKEYS, etc.; THE BLACKBIRD in his cage, THE CAT asleep on the wall, later A BUTTERFLY on the flowers.
THE WHITE HEN [Pecking.] Ah! Delicious!
ANOTHER HEN What are you eating?
ALL THE HENS [Rushing to the spot.] What's she eating?
THE WHITE HEN A small green beetle, crisp and nice, tasting of the rose-leaves he had lived on.
THE BLACK HEN [Standing before the BLACKBIRD'S cage.] Really, the Blackbird whistles amazingly!
THE WHITE HEN Any little street urchin can do as much!
THE TURKEY [Solemnly.] An urchin who had learned of a shepherd in Sicily!
THE DUCK He never whistles his tune to the end—
THE TURKEY That's too easy, carrying it to the end! [He hums the tune the BLACKBIRD has been whistling.] "How sweet to fare afield, and cull—and cull—" You should know, Duck, that the thing in art is to leave off before the end! "And cull—and cull—" Bravo, Blackbird!
[The BLACKBIRD comes out on the little platform in front of his cage and bows.]
A CHICK [Astonished.] Can he get out?
BLACKBIRD Applause is salt on my tail!
THE CHICK But his cage?
THE TURKEY He can come out, and he can go in again. His cage has that sort of spring.—"And cull—and cull—" The whole point is missed if you tell them what you cull!
THE BLACK HEN [Catching sight of a BUTTERFLY alighting on the flowers above the wall at the back.] Oh, what a gorgeous butterfly!
THE WHITE HEN Where?
THE BLACK HEN On the honey-suckle.
THE TURKEY That kind is called an Admiral.
THE CHICK [Looking after the BUTTERFLY.] Now he has settled on a pink.
THE WHITE HEN [To the TURKEY.] An Admiral, wherefore?
THE BLACKBIRD Obviously because he is neither a seaman nor a soldier.
THE WHITE HEN Our Blackbird has a pretty wit!
THE TURKEY [Nodding and swinging his red stalactite.] He has better than wit, my dear!
ANOTHER HEN [Watching the BUTTERFLY.] It's sweet—a butterfly!
THE BLACKBIRD Easy as possible to make! You take a W and set it on top of a Y!
A HEN [Delighted.] A flourish of his bill, and there you have your caricature!
THE TURKEY He does better than execute caricatures! Hen, our Blackbird forces you to think while obliging you to laugh. He is a Teacher in wit's clothing.
A CHICK [To a HEN.] Mother, why does the Cat hate the Dog?
THE BLACKBIRD Because he appropriates his seat at the theatre.
THE CHICK [Surprised.] They have a theatre?
THE BLACKBIRD Where dumb-shows are given.
THE CHICK Eh?
THE BLACKBIRD The hearthstone from whence both alike wish to watch the play of the Fire among the Logs.
THE TURKEY [Delighted.] How aptly he conveys that the hatred of peoples is at bottom a question of wanting the other's territory. There's a brain for you!
THE SPECKLED HEN [To the WHITE HEN, who is pecking.] Do you peck peppers?
THE WHITE HEN Constantly.
THE SPECKLED HEN How can you stand the sting?
THE WHITE HEN It imparts to the feathers a delicate rosy tint.
THE SPECKLED HEN Oh, does it!
A VOICE IN THE DISTANCE Cuckoo!
THE WHITE HEN Listen!
THE VOICE [From a greater distance.] Cuckoo!
THE WHITE HEN The Cuckoo!
A GREY HEN [Comes running excitedly.] Which Cuckoo? The one who lives in the woods, or the one who lives in the clock?
THE VOICE [Still further off.] Cuckoo!
THE WHITE HEN The one of the woods.
THE GREY HEN [With a sigh of relief.] Oh, I was so afraid of having missed the other!
THE WHITE HEN [Going near enough to her to speak in an undertone.] Do you mean to say you love him?
THE GREY HEN [Sadly.] Without ever having set eyes on him. He lives in a chalet hanging on the kitchen wall, above the farmer's great-coat and fowling-piece. The moment he sings, I rush to the spot, but I never get there in time to see anything but his little wicket closing. This evening I mean to stay right here beside the door—[She takes up her position on the threshold.]
A VOICE White Hen!
THE SAME, a PIGEON on the roof, later CHANTECLER.
THE WHITE HEN [Looking about with quick jerks of her head.] Who called me?
THE VOICE A pigeon.
THE WHITE HEN [Looking for him.] Where?
THE PIGEON On the sloping roof.
THE WHITE HEN [Lifting her head and seeing him.] Ah!
THE PIGEON Though I am the bearer of an important missive, I would not miss the opportunity—Good evening, Hen!
THE WHITE HEN Postman, howdedo?
THE PIGEON My duty on the Postal Service of the Air obliging me this summer evening to pass your habitations, I should be most happy if—
THE WHITE HEN [Spying a crumb of some sort.] One moment, please.
ANOTHER HEN [Running eagerly towards her.] What are you eating?
ALL THE HENS [Arriving at a run.] What's she eating?
THE WHITE HEN A simple grain of wheat.
THE GREY HEN [Taking up her conversation with the WHITE HEN.] As I was telling you, I mean to stay right on the door-step there—[Showing the door of the house.]
THE WHITE HEN [Looking at the door.] The door is shut.
THE GREY HEN Yes, but I shall hear the hour striking, and I will catch a look at my Cuckoo by stretching my neck,—
THE PIGEON [Calling, slightly out of patience.] White Hen!
THE WHITE HEN One moment, please! [To the GREY HEN.]—Catch a look at your Cuckoo, by stretching your neck where?—Where?
THE GREY HEN [Pointing with her beak at the small, round opening at the foot of the door.] Through the cat-hole!
THE PIGEON [Raising his voice to a shout.] Am I to be kept here cooling my feet on your rain-pipe? Hi, there, whitest of Hens!
THE WHITE HEN [Hopping towards him.] You were saying?
THE PIGEON I was about to say—
THE WHITE HEN What, bluest of Pigeons?
THE PIGEON That I should consider myself past expression fortunate if—But no! I am abashed at my own boldness!—if I might be so favoured as to be permitted to get a glimpse—
THE WHITE HEN Of what?
THE PIGEON Oh, just a glimpse, the very least glimpse of—
ALL THE HENS [Impatiently.] Of what?—What?
THE PIGEON Of his comb!
THE WHITE HEN [Laughing, to the others.] Ha! ha! he wishes to see—
THE PIGEON [In great excitement.] That's it! Just to see—
THE WHITE HEN There, there, cool down!
THE PIGEON I am shaking with excitement!
THE WHITE HEN You are shaking down the roof!
THE PIGEON You can't think how we admire him!
THE WHITE HEN Oh, everyone admires him!
THE PIGEON And I promised my missis to tell her what he is like!
THE WHITE HEN [Quietly pecking.] Oh, he's a fine fellow, no doubt of that!
THE PIGEON We can hear him crowing from our dove-cote. The One he is whose song is more an ornament to the landscape than the white hamlet to the hill! The One he is whose cry pierces the blue horizon like a gold-threaded needle stitching the hill-tops to the sky! The Cock he is! When you would praise him, call him the Cock!
THE BLACKBIRD [Hopping up and down in his cage.] Tick-tock!—who sets all hearts a-beating, tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock!
A HEN Our Cock!
THE BLACKBIRD [Thrusting his head between the bars of his cage.] My, thy, his, her, our, your, and their Cock!
THE TURKEY [To the PIGEON.] He will soon be coming in from his usual round in the fields.
THE PIGEON You have the honour of his acquaintance, sir?
THE TURKEY [Importantly.] I have known him from a baby. This chick—for to me he is still a chick!—used to come to me for his bugle lesson.
THE PIGEON Ah, indeed? You give lessons in—
THE TURKEY Certainly. A bird who can gobble is qualified to teach crowing.
THE PIGEON Where was he born?
THE TURKEY [Indicating an old covered basket, badly battered and broken.] In that old basket.
THE PIGEON And is the hen who brooded him still living?
THE TURKEY [Again indicating the basket.] She is there.
THE PIGEON Where?
THE TURKEY In that old basket.
THE PIGEON [More and more interested.] Of what breed is she?
THE TURKEY She is just a good old-fashioned Gascon hen, born in the neighbourhood of Pau.
THE BLACKBIRD [Thrusting out his head.] She is the one Henry the Fourth wished to see cooking in every Frenchman's pot!
THE PIGEON How proud she must be of having hatched such a Cock!
THE TURKEY Yes, proud with a lowly foster-mother's pride. Her beloved chick is coming to his inches, that is all she seems to understand or care about. And when you tell her this, her clouded reason gives a momentary gleam— [Calling towards the basket.] Hey, old lady, he is growing!
ALL THE HENS He is growing!
[The lid of the basket is suddenly lifted, and a bristling aged hen's head appears.]
THE PIGEON [To the OLD HEN, gently and feelingly.] Does it make you happy, mother, to think of him grown to a big fine Cock?
THE OLD HEN [Nodding, sententiously.] Happy?—Wednesday's crops do credit to Tuesday! [She disappears, the lid drops.]
THE TURKEY She opens now and then, like that, and ping! shoots at us some such pearl of homely lore—
THE PIGEON [To the WHITE HEN.] White Hen!
THE TURKEY —not always wholly without point!
THE OLD HEN [Reappearing for an instant.] In the Peacock's absence, the Turkey spreads his tail!
[The TURKEY turns quickly around, the lid has already dropped.]
THE PIGEON [To the WHITE HEN.] Is it a fact that Chantecler is never hoarse, never the very least husky?
THE WHITE HEN [Keeping on with her pecking.] Perfectly true.
THE PIGEON [With growing enthusiasm.] Ah, you must be proud Cock who will be numbered among Illustrious Animals and his name remembered five, ten, fifteen years!
THE TURKEY Very proud. Very proud. [To a CHICK.] Who are the Illustrious Animals? Tell them off!
THE CHICK [Reciting a lesson.] Noah's Dove—Saint Rocco's Poodle—The—the Horse of Cali—
THE TURKEY Cali—?
THE CHICK [Trying to remember.] Cali—
THE PIGEON This Cock, now—this Cock of yours—Is it true that his song attunes, inspires, encourages, makes labour light, and keeps off birds of prey?
THE WHITE HEN [Pecking.] Perfectly true.
THE CHICK [Still hunting for his word.] Cali—Cali—
THE PIGEON White Hen, is it true that by his song, defender of the warm and sacred egg, he has frequently kept the lissome weasel from—
THE BLACKBIRD [Looking out between the bars.]—messing his shirtfront with omelette?
THE WHITE HEN Perfectly true.
THE CHICK Cali—
THE TURKEY [Helping him.] Gu?
THE CHICK Gu—
THE PIGEON Is it true—?
THE CHICK [Jumping for joy at having found.] Gula!
THE PIGEON —true that, as report says, he has a secret for his amazing singing, a secret whereby his crow becomes the brilliant burst of red which makes the poppies of the field feel themselves contemptible imitations?
THE WHITE HEN [Weary of this questioning.] Perfectly true.
THE PIGEON That secret, that great secret, is it known to anyone?
THE WHITE HEN No.
THE PIGEON He has not even told his Hen?
THE WHITE HEN [Correcting him.] His Hens.
THE PIGEON [Slightly shocked.] Ah, he has more than one?
THE BLACKBIRD He crows, remember, you only coo.
THE PIGEON Well, then, he has not even told his favourite?
THE TUFTED HEN [Promptly.] No, he has not!
THE WHITE HEN [As promptly.] No, he has not!
THE BLACK HEN [As promptly.] No, he has not!
THE BLACKBIRD [Thrusting out his head.] Hush!—An arial drama! The Butterfly, absorbed in his head of blossom, banquets, all oblivious of—
[A great green gauze butterfly-net appears above the wall, softly coming towards the BUTTERFLY settled on one of the flowers.]
A HEN What is that?
THE TURKEY [Solemnly.] Fate!
THE BLACKBIRD In a thin disguise of gauze!
THE WHITE HEN Oh, a net—at the end of a cane!
THE BLACKBIRD No harm in the cane—it's the kid at the other end of the cane! [Half aloud, watching the BUTTERFLY.] You neat little fop, sailing from rose to rose, to-night you'll be neat as a pin can make you!
ALL [Watching the cautious approach of the net beyond the wall.] Nearer—Nearer—Hush! He'll catch it!—No he won't!—Yes, he will!
SUDDENLY OUTSIDE Cock-a-doodle-doo!
[At the sound, the BUTTERFLY flies off. The NET wavers a moment, with an effect of disappointment, then disappears.]
SEVERAL HENS What?—Eh?—What was it?
A HEN [Who having hopped up on a wheelbarrow can follow the flight of the BUTTERFLY.] He is off and away, over the meadow.
THE BLACKBIRD [With ironical emphasis.] It's Chantecler, practicing knight-errantry!
THE PIGEON [With emotion.] Chantecler!
A HEN He is coming!
ANOTHER HEN He is just outside—
THE WHITE HEN [To the PIGEON.] Now you will see. He's a very fine bird indeed.
THE BLACKBIRD [Thrusting his head between the bars.] Easy as possible to make, a Cock!
THE TURKEY [Admiringly.] Admirable amenity!
THE BLACKBIRD You take a melon—a fine specimen, I will grant,—for the trunk. For the legs, two sticks of asparagus,—prize sticks, of course. For the head, a red pepper,—as handsome as you may find. For the eye, a currant,—exceptionally clear and light. For the tail, a sheaf of leeks, with luxuriant blue-green flags. For the ear, a dainty kidney-bean, —extra, superfine!—And there you have him, there's your Cock!
THE PIGEON [Gently.] One thing you have omitted—His heavenly clarion call!
THE BLACKBIRD [Indicating CHANTECLER, who now appears upon the wall.] Yes, but with the exception of that—slight detail, you must own my portrait is a likeness.
THE PIGEON Not at all. Not in the very least. [Contemplating CHANTECLER with a very different eye from the BLACKBIRD'S.] What I see, beneath that quivering hemlet, is Summer's glorious and favoured knight, who, from a groaning wain at evening borrowing its golden harvest-robe has arrayed himself in this, and lifts it from the dust with a gleaming sickle!
CHANTECLER [On the wall, in a long guttural sigh.] Coa—
THE BLACKBIRD When he makes that noise in his throat, he either is in love, or preparing some poetic outburst.
CHANTECLER [Motionless on the wall, with head high.] Blaze forth in glory!—Dazzle—
THE BLACKBIRD He's letting off hot air!
CHANTECLER Irradiate the world!
A HEN Now he pauses—one claw lifted—
CHANTECLER [In a sort of groan of excessive tenderness.] Coa—
THE BLACKBIRD That, if you please, is ecstasy!
CHANTECLER Thy gold is of all gold alone beneficent! I worship thee!
THE PIGEON [Under breath.] To whom is he talking?
THE BLACKBIRD [Sneering.] To the sun, sonny, the sun!
CHANTECLER O thou that driest the tears of the meanest among weeds And dost of a dead flower make a living butterfly— Thy miracle, wherever almond-trees Shower down the wind their scented shreds, Dead petals dancing in a living swarm— I worship thee, O Sun! whose ample light, Blessing every forehead, ripening every fruit, Entering every flower and every hovel, Pours itself forth and yet is never less, Still spending and unspent—like mother's love!
I sing of thee, and will be thy high priest, Who disdainest not to glass thy shining face In the humble basin of blue suds, Or see the lightning of thy last farewell Reflected in an humble cottage pane!
THE BLACKBIRD [Thrusting out his head.] Can't call it off now, boys, he's started on an ode!
THE TURKEY [Watching CHANTECLER as by a series of stately hops he comes down a pile of hay.] Here he comes, prouder than—
A HEN [Stopping in front of a small tin cone.] See there! The new-fangled drinking-trough! [She drinks.] Handy!
THE BLACKBIRD Prouder than a drum major chanting as he marches: "My country, 'tis of thee!"
CHANTECLER [Beginning to walk about the yard.] Thou smilest on the—
ALL THE HENS [Rushing to the WHITE HEN who is eating something.] What's she eating?
THE WHITE HEN Corn. Nothing but corn.
CHANTECLER Thou smilest on the sunflower craning after thee, And burnishest my brother of the vane, And softly sifting through the linden-trees Strewest the ground with dappled gold, So fine there's no more walking where it lies.
Through thee the earthen pot is an enamelled urn, The clout hung out to dry a noble banner, The hay-rick by thy favour boasts a golden cape, And the rick's little sister, the thatched hive, Wears, by thy grace, a hood of gold!
Glory to thee in the vineyards! Glory to thee in the fields! Glory among the grass and on the roofs, In eyes of lizards and on wings of swans,— Artist who making splendid the great things Forgets not to make exquisite the small!
'Tis thou that, cutting out a silhouette, To all thou beamest on dost fasten this dark twin, Doubling the number of delightful shapes, Appointing to each thing its shadow, More charming often than itself.
I praise thee, Sun! Thou sheddest roses on the air, Diamonds on the stream, enchantment on the hill; A poor dull tree thou takest and turnest to green rapture, O Sun, without whose golden magic—things Would be no more than what they are!
THE PIGEON Bravo! I shall have something to tell my mate. We shall long talk of this!
CHANTECLER [Seeing him, with noble courtesy.] Young blue-winged stranger, with new-fledged bill, thanks! Pray lay my duty at her coral feet!
[The PIGEON flies off.]
THE BLACKBIRD Jolly your admirers, it pays!
CHANTECLER [In a cordial voice, to the whole barnyard.] To work now, all of you, with a will!
[A FLY darts past, buzzing.]
CHANTECLER Busy and resonant Fly, I love thee! Behold her! What is her flight but the heart-whole gift of herself?
THE TURKEY [Loftily.] Yes.—She has dropped considerably in my esteem, however, since that matter of the—
CHANTECLER Of the what?
THE TURKEY Of the Fly and the—
CHANTECLER I never thought much of that story. Who knows whether the coach would have reached the top of the hill without the Fly? Do you believe that rude shouts "Gee up! Ge' lang!" were more effective than the hymn to the Sun buzzed by the little Fly? Do you believe in the virtue of a blustering oath? Really believe it was the Coachman who made the coach to go? No, I tell you, no! She did much more than the big whip's noisy cracking, did the little Fly, with the music straight from her buzzing heart!
THE TURKEY Yes, but all the same—
CHANTECLER [Turning his back on him.] Come, let us make of labour a delight! Come, all of you!—High time, Ganders my worthies, you escorted your geese to the pond.
A GANDER [Lazily.] Is it quite necessary, do you think?
CHANTECLER [Going briskly towards him, with a look that forbids discussion.] Quite! And let there be no idle quacking and paltering! [The GANDERS go off in haste.] You, Chicken, your task, as you know, is to pick off slugs, your full number before evening being thirty-two.—You, Cockerel, go practise your crow. Four hundred times cry Cock-a-doodle-doo in hearing of the echo!
THE COCKEREL [Slightly mortified.] The echo—?
CHANTECLER That is what I was doing to limber up my glottis before I was rid of the egg-shell sticking to my tail!
A HEN [Airily.] None of this is particularly interesting!
CHANTECLER Everything is interesting! Pray go and sit on the eggs you have been entrusted with! [To another HEN.] You, walk among the roses and verbenas, and gobble every creature threatening them. Ha, ha! If the caterpillar thinks we will make him a gift of our flowers he can stroke his belly—with his back! [To another.] You, hie to the rescue of cabbages in old neglected corners, where the grasshopper lays siege to them with his vigorous battering-ram! [To the remaining HENS.] You—[Catching sight of the OLD HEN, whose shaking, senile head has lifted the basket-lid.] Ah, there you are, Nursie! Good day! [She gazes at him admiringly.] Well, have I grown?
THE OLD HEN Sooner or later, tadpole becomes toad!
CHANTECLER True! [To the HENS, resuming his tone of command.] Ladies, stand in line! Your orders are to peck in the fields. Off at a quick-step, go!
THE WHITE HEN [To the GREY HEN.] Are you coming?
THE GREY HEN Not a word! I intend to stay behind, to see the Cuckoo. [She hides behind the basket.]
CHANTECLER You, little tufted hen, was it just my fancy that you looked sulky falling into line?
THE TUFTED HEN [Going up to him.] Cock—
CHANTECLER What is it?
THE TUFTED HEN I, who am nearest to your heart—
CHANTECLER [Quickly.] Hush!
THE TUFTED HEN It annoys me not to be told—
THE WHITE HEN [Who has drawn near on the other side.] Cock—
THE WHITE HEN [Coaxingly.] I who am your favourite—
CHANTECLER [Quickly.] Hush!
THE WHITE HEN [Caressingly.] I want to know—
THE BLACK HEN [Who has softly drawn near.] Cock—
THE BLACK HEN Your special and tender regard for me—
CHANTECLER [Quickly.] Hush!
THE BLACK HEN Tell me, do—
THE WHITE HEN —the secret—
THE TUFTED HEN —of your song? [Going still closer to him, in a voice thrilled with curiosity.] I do believe that you have in your throat a little copper contrivance—
CHANTECLER That's it, that's what I have, very carefully concealed!
THE WHITE HEN [Same business.] Most likely, like great tenors one has heard of, you gulp raw eggs—
CHANTECLER You have guessed!—A second Ugolino!
THE BLACK HEN [Same business.] My idea is that taking snails out of their shells, you pound them to a paste—
CHANTECLER And make them into troches! Exactly!
ALL THREE HENS Cock—!
CHANTECLER Off with you all! Be off! [The HENS hastily start, he calls them back.] A word before you go. When your blood-bright combs—now in, now out of sight, now in again—shall flash among the sage and borage yonder, like poppies playing at hide-and-seek,—to the real poppies, I enjoin you, do no injury! Shepherdesses, counting the stitches of their knitting, trample the grass all unaware that it's a crime to crush a flower—even with a woman! But you, my Spouses, show considerate and touching thought for the flowers whose only offence is growing wild. The field-carrot has her right to bloom in beauty. Should you spy, as he strolls across some flowery umbel, a scarlet beetle peppered with black dots,—the stroller take, but spare his strolling-ground. The flowers of one same meadow are sisters, as I hold, and should together fall beneath the scythe!—Now you may go. [They are leaving, he again calls them back.] And remember, when chickens go to the—
A HEN —fields—
CHANTECLER —the foremost—
THE HENS ALL TOGETHER —walks ahead!
CHANTECLER You may go! [They are again starting, he peremptorily calls them back.] A word! [In a stern voice.] Never when crossing the road stop to peck! [The HENS bow in obedience.] Now let me see you cross!
A HORN [In the distance.] Honk! Honk! Honk!
CHANTECLER [Rushing in front of the HENS and spreading his wings before them.] Not yet!
THE HORN [Very near, accompanied by a terrific snorting.] Honk! Honk! Honk!
CHANTECLER [Barring the HENS' passage, while everything shakes.] Wait!
THE HORN [Far away.] Honk! Honk! Honk!
CHANTECLER [Standing aside for them to pass.] You can safely go!
THE GREY HEN [From her hiding-place.] He has not seen me!
THE TUFTED HEN You may think this is fun! Now everything we eat will taste of gasoline!
CHANTECLER, the BLACKBIRD in his cage, the CAT still asleep on the wall, the GREY HEN behind the OLD HEN'S basket.
CHANTECLER [To himself, after a pause.] No, I will not trust a frivolous soul with such a weighty secret. Let me try rather to cast off the burden of it myself—forget and [Shaking his feathers.] just rejoice in being a rooster! [He struts up and down.] I am beautiful. I am proud. I walk—then I stand still. I give a skip or two, I tread a measure.—I shock the cart sometimes by my boldness with the fair, so that it raises scandalised shafts in horror to the sky!—Hang care!—A barleycorn—Eat and be merry.—The gear upon my head and under my eye is a far more gorgeous red, when I puff out my chest and strut, than any robin's waistcoat or finch's tie.—A fine day. All is well. I curvet—I blow my horn. Conscious of having done my duty, I may quite properly assume the swagger of a musketeer, and the calm commanding bearing of a cardinal. I can—
A VOICE [Loud and gruff.] Beware, Chantecler!
CHANTECLER What silly beast is bidding me beware?
THE SAME, PATOU.
PATOU [Barking inside his kennel.] I! I! I!
CHANTECLER [Retreating.] Is it you, Patou, good shaggy head starting out of the dark, with straws caught among your eyelashes?
PATOU Which do not prevent my seeing what is plain as that hen-house rrrroof!
CHANTECLER When he rolls his r's like that he is very cross indeed.
PATOU It's my devotion to you, Cock, makes me roll my r's. Guardian of the house, the orchard and the fields, more than all else I am bound to protect your song. And I growl at the dangers I suspect lurking. Such is my humour.
CHANTECLER Your humour? Your dogma, suspicion is! Call it your dogma!
PATOU You can stoop to a pun? From bad to worse! I'm enough of a psychologist to feel the evil spreading, and I've the scent of a rat-terrier.
CHANTECLER But you are no rat-terrier!
PATOU [Shaking his head.] Chantecler, how do we know?
CHANTECLER [Considering him.] Your appearance is in fact peculiar What actually is your breed?
PATOU I am a horrible mixture, issue of every passer-by! I can feel barking within me the voice of every blood. Retriever, mastiff, pointer, poodle, hound—my soul is a whole pack, sitting in circle, musing. Cock, I am all dogs, I have been every dog!
CHANTECLER Then what a sum of goodness must be stored in you!
PATOU Brother, we are framed to understand each other. You sing to the sun and scratch up the earth. I, when I wish to do myself a good and a pleasure—
CHANTECLER You lie on the earth and sleep in the sun!
PATOU [With a pleased yap.] Aye!
CHANTECLER We have ever had in common our love for those two things.
PATOU I am so fond of the sun that I howl at the moon. And so fond of the earth that I dig great holes and shove my nose in it!
CHANTECLER I know! The gardener's wife has her opinion of those holes.—But what are the dangers you discern? All lies quiet beneath the quiet sky. Nothing appears to be threatening my humble sunlit dominions.
THE OLD HEN [Lifting the basket-lid with her head.] The egg looks like marble until it gets smashed! [The lid drops.]
CHANTECLER [To PATOU.] What dangers, friend?
PATOU There are two. First, in yonder cage—
PATOU That satirical whistling.
CHANTECLER What about it?
CHANTECLER In what way?
PATOU In every way!
CHANTECLER [Ironical.] Bad as all that, is it? [The PEACOCK'S squall is heard in the distance: "Ee—yong!"]
PATOU And then that cry, the Peacock's!
[The PEACOCK, further off: "Ee—yong!"]
PATOU More out of tune all by itself than a whole village singing society!
CHANTECLER Come, what have they done to you, that whistler and that posturer?
PATOU [Grumbling.] They have done to me—that I know not what they may do to you! They have done to me—that among us simple, kindly folk they have introduced new fashions, the Blackbird of being funny, the Peacock of putting on airs! Fashions which the latter in his grotesque bad taste picked up parading on the marble terraces of the vulgar rich, and the former—Heaven knows where! along with his cynicism and his slang. Now the one, travelling salesman of blighting corrosive laughter, and the other, brainless ambassador of Fashion, their mission to kill among us love and labour, the first by persiflage, the second by display,—they have brought to us, even here in our peaceful sunny corner, the two pests, the saddest in the world, the jest which insists on being funny at any cost, and the cry which insists on being the latest scream! [The BLACKBIRD is heard tentatively whistling, "How sweet to fare afield".] You, Cock, who had the sense to prefer the grain of true wheat to the pearl, how can you allow yourself to be taken in by that villainous Blackbird! A bird who practises a tune!
CHANTECLER [Indulgently.] Come, he whistles his tune like many another!
PATOU [Unwillingly agreeing, in a drawling growl.] Ye-e-es, but he never whistles it to the end!
CHANTECLER [Watching the BLACKBIRD hopping about.] A light-hearted fellow!
PATOU [Same business.] Ye-e-es, but he lies heavy on our hearts. A bird who takes his exercise indoors!
CHANTECLER You must own he is intelligent!
PATOU [In a longer, more hesitant growl.] Ye-e-e-es! But not so very! For his eye never brightens with wonder and admiration. He preserves before the flower—of whose stalk he sees more than of its chalice—the glance which deflowers, the tone which depreciates!
CHANTECLER Taste, my dear fellow, he unmistakably has!
PATOU Ye-e-e-es! But not much taste! To wear black is too easy a way of having taste! One should have the courage of colours on his wing.
CHANTECLER You will admit at least that he has an original fancy. No denying that he is amusing.
PATOU Ye-e-es—No! Why is it amusing to adopt a few stock phrases and make them do service at every turn? Why amusing to miscall, exaggerate, and vulgarise?
CHANTECLER His mind has a diverting, unexpected turn—
PATOU Ready but cheap! I cannot think it particularly brilliant to remark, with a knowing wink, at sight of an innocent cow at pasture, "The simple cow knows her way to the hay!" Nor do I regard it as evidence of notable mental gifts to answer the greeting of the inoffensive duck, "The quack shoots off his mouth!" No, the extravagances of that Blackbird, who makes me bristle, no more constitute wit than his slang achieves style!
CHANTECLER He is not altogether to blame. He wears the modern garb. See him there in correct evening dress. He looks, in his neat black coat—
PATOU Like a beastly little undertaker who, after burying Faith, hops with relief and glee!
CHANTECLER There, there! You make him blacker than he is!
PATOU I do believe a blackbird is just a misfit crow!
CHANTECLER His diminutive size, however—
PATOU [Vigorously shaking his ears.] Oh, be not deceived by his size! Evil makes his models first on a tiny scale. The soul of a cutlass dwells in the pocket-knife; blackbird and crow are of the selfsame crape, and the striped wasp is a tiger in miniature!
CHANTECLER [Amused at PATOU'S violence.] The blackbird in short is wicked, stupid, ugly—
PATOU The chief thing about the Blackbird is—that you can't tell what he is! Is there thought in that head? feeling in that breast? Hear him! "Tew-tew-tew-tew tew—"
CHANTECLER But what harm does he do?
PATOU He tew-tew-tews! And nothing is so mortal to thought and sentiment as that same derisive tew-tewing, disingenuous and non-committal! Day by day, and that is why I roll my rs, I must witness this debasing of language and ideals. It's enough to produce rabies!
CHANTECLER Come, Patou!—
PATOU In their objectionable jargon, they have the ha-ha on all of us! I am no fastidious King Charles, but I dislike, I tell you, being referred to as His Whiskers!—Oh, to be gone, escape, follow the heels of some poor shepherd without a crust in his wallet, but at least, at evening drinking from the glassy pond, to have—oh, better than all marrow-bones!—the fresh illusion of lapping up the stars!
CHANTECLER [Surprised at PATOU'S having lowered his voice to utter the last words.] Why do you drop your voice?
PATOU You see?—If we speak of stars nowadays we must do it in a whisper! [He lays his head on his paws in deep dejection.]
CHANTECLER [Comforting him.] Be not downcast!
PATOU [Lifting his head again.] No, it is too silly and too weak! I'll shout it if I please! [He howls with the whole power of his lungs.] Stars!—[Then in a tone of relief.] There, I feel better!
CHICKENS [Passing at the back, mocking.] Stars!—Ho! Stars for ours! Stars! [They go off, fooling and giggling.]
PATOU Hear them! Our pullets will be whistling soon like blackbirds!
CHANTECLER [Proudly strutting up and down.] What care I? I sing, and have on my side the Hens.
PATOU Trust not to the hearts of Hens—or of crowds. You are too willing to take the price of your singing in lip-service.
CHANTECLER But love—love is glory awarded in kisses!
PATOU Ah! I, too, was young once, I had my wilding devil's beauty,—an inflammatory eye, an inflammable heart. Well, I was deceived. For a handsomer dog?—No, they deceived me for a miserable cur!—[Roaring in sudden wrath.] For whom?—For whom, do you suppose?
CHANTECLER [Retreating.] You alarm me!
PATOU For a low-down dachshund who trod on his own ears!
THE BLACKBIRD [Who has overheard PATOU'S last words, sticking his head between the bars of his cage.] Still harping on the dachshund, is he? What's the odds, old chappie? You were the goat!—How does being the goat matter?
PATOU But you up there, scoffing at everything, who are you, may one ask?
BLACKBIRD I'm the pet of the poultry yard!
PATOU Bad luck is what you'll bring them!
BLACKBIRD A prophecy-sharp?—Say, wisteria, we are twisted up with laughter! [He comes out of his cage and hops to the ground.]
PATOU [As he approaches] Grrrrrrr—
CHANTECLER Hush! He's a friend!
PATOU A false one.
CHANTECLER [To BLACKBIRD.] Fine things we learn when the talk is of you!
THE OLD HEN [Her head protruding from the basket.] Strike rotten wood, and see the wood-lice scatter! [The basket-lid drops.]
PATOU [To CHANTECLER.] He laughs at you behind your back!
BLACKBIRD [To PATOU.] Ha, retriever, you retrieve?
PATOU When you pour forth your heart in your ardent cry, giving it over and over, he calls it the same old saw that your jag-toothed red crest stands for!
CHANTECLER So that's what you say?
BLACKBIRD [Affecting simplicity.] You surely don't mind? How can it affect you? And a joke about you is always so sure of success!
PATOU [To the BLACKBIRD.] Point-blank, do you admire or despise the Cock?
BLACKBIRD I make fun of him in spots, but admire him in lump!
PATOU You always peck two kinds of seed.
THE BLACKBIRD My cage has two seed-cups, you see.
PATOU I am single-minded and downright!
THE BLACKBIRD You—are an old poodle of the year 48! I am an up-to-date bird!
PATOU [Gruffly.] Out of my way! lest I give your black coat red tails! [The BLACKBIRD nimbly gets out of the way, PATOU goes into his kennel grumbling.] I'll show him some up-to-date jaws!
CHANTECLER Be quiet! It's his way. The truth is that if once he stood in the presence of beauty, this very Blackbird would applaud!
PATOU Not with both wings! What can you expect of a bird who, with woodbine and juniper full in sight, prefers to go inside and peck at a musty biscuit?
BLACKBIRD He never seems to suspect that the poacher is a blackguardly sort of brute!
PATOU What I know is that the underbrush is all a delicate golden gloom—
THE BLACKBIRD Yes, but leaden shot can cleave your delicate gold. The quail is such a canny bird, that he lies low lest he make his last appearance on toast. And so, in lack of quail—
PATOU Does the great stag delight any the less in his green forest for turning over among the grass at evening some bit of a rusty cartridge?
THE BLACKBIRD No, old chap—but the stag, you see, is just another kind of a hat-rack!
PATOU Oh, but freedom, freedom, with violets looking on! Love!—
THE BLACKBIRD Antediluvian pastimes! not nearly such good fun as my nice new wooden trapeze. Oh, my cage, let us sign a joyful three-six-nine years' lease! I live like a Duke, I have filtered drinking-water—[At PATOU'S significant start and growl, he springs aside, finishing.] You can sling mud upon me, I have a porcelain bath!
CHANTECLER [Slightly out of patience.] Why not make a practice of talking simply and to the point?
THE BLACKBIRD I like to make you sit up, and watch you blinking.
PATOU Grrrrr—in the plain interest of public decency, I say it behooves us—
THE BLACKBIRD Don't say behooves, say it's up to you, old chap!
CHANTECLER What's all this juggling with words?
THE BLACKBIRD The thing, Chantecler, quite the thing! I knew a city sparrow once, and it's the way they talk in fashionable circles.
CHANTECLER I was well acquainted with a little red-breast, who lived beneath a city poet's eaves; he did not talk like you.
THE BLACKBIRD I belong to my time. Every chap that's a bit of a swell nowadays must be a bit of a tough. It's smart, you know.
PATOU I froth at the mouth! Smart,—there's the Peacock's password!
CHANTECLER Oh, the Peacock, by the way, what is he doing these days?
THE BLACKBIRD Ogling with his tail-feathers!
PATOU Baneful his example has been to many an humble heart.
CHANTECLER What signs do you see of his influence?
PATOU A thousand nothings.
THE OLD HEN [Appearing.] Bubbles floating down the stream tell of laundresses up stream! [The lid drops.]
CHANTECLER I am sure I have not seen the smallest bubble from which—
PATOU [Indicating a GUINEA-PIG, who is passing.] See there, that Guinea-pig—
CHANTECLER [Considering him.] What about him? He is just a yellow Guinea-pig!
GUINEA-PIG [Snippily correcting.] Khaki, if you please!
CHANTECLER [To PATOU.] Kha—?
PATOU A bubble!—And yonder waddling duck—
CHANTECLER [Looking at him.] He is going to take his bath—
THE DUCK [Drily.] My tub!
PATOU A bubble!
[A long grating noise is heard within the house Crrrrrrr, then.]
THE CLOCK Cuckoo!
THE GREY HEN [Leaving her hiding-place and running towards the cat-hole.] His voice!—Now through the kitty's little door I finally shall see him! [She thrusts her head into the hole. The CUCKOO'S call is not repeated.] Oh, deary, deary me! I am too late! [Calling.] Bis! Encore!
CHANTECLER [Turning around at the noise.] Eh?
THE GREY HEN [Desperately, with her head in the cat-hole.] He has stopped!
THE BLACKBIRD It was the half-hour.
CHANTECLER [Close behind the GREY HEN, abruptly.] How does it happen, my love, that we are not in the fields?
THE GREY HEN [Turning, scared.] Goodness gracious!
CHANTECLER What are we doing, my love, in the cat-hole?
THE GREY HEN [Upset.] I was just taking a peep—
CHANTECLER To see whom?
THE GREY HEN [More and more upset.] Oh—!
CHANTECLER [Dramatically.] Who is it?
THE GREY HEN Oh—
THE GREY HEN [In the voice of a woman caught in guilt.] The Cuckoo!
CHANTECLER [Amazed.] You love him?—But wherefore?
THE GREY HEN [Drops her eyes, then with emotion.] He is Swiss!
PATOU A bubble!
THE GREY HEN He is a thinker. He takes his airing—
CHANTECLER She loves a clock!
THE GREY HEN —always takes his airing at the same hour, like Kant.
CHANTECLER Like what?
THE GREY HEN Like Kant.
CHANTECLER Did one ever—! Out of my sight!
THE BLACKBIRD Trot, Kant you?
[THE GREY HEN hurries off.]
CHANTECLER Here's a pretty—Wherever did she learn that Kant—?
PATOU At the Guinea-hen's.
CHANTECLER That foolish old party of the crazy cries and the white-plastered beak?
PATOU She has taken a day.
CHANTECLER A day off, do you mean?
PATOU No, a day at home.
CHANTECLER A day at—Where does she receive?
THE BLACKBIRD In a corner of the kitchen-garden.
PATOU Under the auspices of that strawman with the unsavoury old top-hat.
CHANTECLER The scarecrow?
THE BLACKBIRD Yes, his being there makes the affair select.
CHANTECLER [Bewildered.] How is that?
THE BLACKBIRD Don't you see? He scares off all the puny fowl—. Poor relations are not wanted at a function.
CHANTECLER So the Guinea-hen has a day!
PATOU [Phlegmatically.] A bubble!
CHANTECLER A balloon!
THE BLACKBIRD [Imitating the GUINEA-HEN.] Mondays, my dear—
CHANTECLER And what do they do at that feather-brain's parties?
PATOU Cluck and cackle. The Turkey-cock airs his social gifts, the Chick gets into society.
BLACKBIRD [Imitating the GUINEA-HEN.] From five to six—
PATOU No, morning.
THE BLACKBIRD You see, she must take advantage of the time when the garden is deserted, and yet have it a five-o'clock tea. So she chose the hour when the old gardener is at his early potations.
CHANTECLER What nonsense!
THE BLACKBIRD Quite so.
PATOU You needn't talk. You go to her teas.
CHANTECLER He goes—?
THE BLACKBIRD Yes, I am one of their ornaments.
PATOU And I am not so sure but that some day—
CHANTECLER What are you mumbling to your brass-studded collar?
PATOU —some Hen may get you too to go!
PATOU Led by the end of your beak.
CHANTECLER [In high wrath.] Me?—
PATOU For when a new Hen heaves in sight, you can't help yourself, you know—you lose your balance-wheel—
THE BLACKBIRD You slowly circumambulate the fair one—[He imitates the COCK walking around a HEN.] "Yes, it's me.—Here I am!" And you say, "Coa—"
CHANTECLER I never knew a more idiotic bird!
THE BLACKBIRD [Continuing to mimic him.] You let your wing hang, sentimentally—your foot performs a sort of stately jig—[A shot is heard.] Ha! I don't like that!
PATOU [Starts up quivering, and scents the air.] Poaching Julius is at his tricks again!
THE BLACKBIRD Dog, it seems to stimulate you agreeably!
PATOU [With ears up-pricked and shining eyes.] Yes! [Suddenly, as if controlling himself, passionately.] No—!
THE BLACKBIRD What affects you so?
PATOU Oh, horrible, horrible! A poor little partridge perhaps—
THE BLACKBIRD Is that streaming eye, my friend, a result of age or rheumatism?
PATOU Neither! But I have within me several dogs, and there is conflict amidst me. My hunter's nostril twitches at a shot, but, directly, my house-dog's memory raises before me a bleeding wing, the glazing eye of a doe, the pathos of a rabbit's dying look—and I feel the heart of a Saint Bernard waking in my breast! [Another shot.]
THE SAME, A GOLDEN PHEASANT, later BRIFFAUT.
A GOLDEN PHEASANT [Flying suddenly over the wall, and dropping in the yard, mad with fright.] Hide me!
PATOU A golden pheasant!
GOLDEN PHEASANT Is this great Chantecler?
THE BLACKBIRD All over the shop, we're famous!
GOLDEN PHEASANT [Running hither and thither.] Save me, if you are he!
CHANTECLER I am!—Rely on me!
GOLDEN PHEASANT [Jumping and casting himself on CHANTECLER.] Merciful powers!
CHANTECLER But what a nervous bird it is—a golden pheasant!
GOLDEN PHEASANT I have no breath left! I ran too hard!-[Faints.]
THE BLACKBIRD Puff!—Out goes his light!
CHANTECLER [Upholding the PHEASANT with one wing.] How beautiful he is, with drooping neck and softly ruffled throat-feathers! [He runs to the drinking-trough.] Water!—One almost hesitates to dim such beauty with a wetting—[He splashes him vigorously with his other wing.]
THE GOLDEN PHEASANT [Coming to.] I am pursued! Oh, hide me!
THE BLACKBIRD "And the villain still—" Here's melodrama!
[To the PHEASANT.] How the dickens did he manage to miss you?
THE PHEASANT Surprise!—The huntsman was looking for a little grey lark. Seeing me rise, he cried, "Thunder!" He saw but a flash of gold, and I a flash of fire.—But the dog is chasing me, a horrible dog—[Seeing PATOU he quickly adds.] I am speaking of a hunting-dog! [To CHANTECLER.] Hide me!
CHANTECLER The trouble is he is so conspicuous. That increases our dilemma. Where can he lie concealed?—Gentle sir, my lord, most noble stranger, where might we hope to hide the rainbow, supposing it in danger?
PATOU There by the bench with the beehives stands my green cottage, very much at your service.—Go in, I pray! [The GOLDEN PHEASANT goes in, but his long tail projects.] There is too much of this golden vanity!—The tip is still in sight.—I shall have to sit on it.
[BRIFFAUT appears above the wall. Long hanging ears and quivering chops.]
PATOU [To BRIFFAUT, affecting unconcern.] Good afternoon!
BRIFFAUT [Snuffing.] Humph, what a good smell!
PATOU [Pointing to his bowl.] My poor dinner! Soup with seasonable vegetables.
BRIFFAUT [Hurriedly.] Have you seen a pheasant-hen go by?
PATOU [In astonishment, reflecting.] A pheasant-hen,—?
CHANTECLER [Walking about, with an assumption of gaiety.] Impressive, isn't he, Briffaut there? with his look of a thoroughbred old Englishman!
PATOU No, but I saw a pheasant.
BRIFFAUT That was she!
PATOU A pheasant-hen wears dun. This was a golden pheasant He went off towards the meadow.
BRIFFAUT It is she!
CHANTECLER [Going towards him, incredulous.] A pheasant-hen with golden plumage?
BRIFFAUT Ah, you do not know what sometimes happens?
CHANTECLER and PATOU No.
THE BLACKBIRD We are in for a hunting yarn!—Give me chloroform!
BRIFFAUT It sometimes happens—the thing is exceptional, of course—My master knows because he has read about it.—It sometimes happens—An extraordinary phenomenon to be sure! which is likewise observed among moor-fowl.—It happens—
PATOU What happens?
BRIFFAUT That the pheasant-hen—Ah, my dear fellows—!
CHANTECLER [Stamping with impatience.] The pheasant-hen what?—what?
BRIFFAUT Makes up her mind one day that the cock-pheasant goes altogether too fine. When the male in springtime puts on his holiday feathers, she sees that he is handsomer than she—
THE BLACKBIRD And it makes her sore!
BRIFFAUT She leaves off laying and hatching eggs. Nature then gives her back her purple and her gold, and the pheasant-hen proud and magnificent Amazon, preferring to put on her back blue, green, yellow, all the colours of the prism, rather than under a sober grey wing to shelter a brood of young pheasants, flies freely forth—Light-mindedly she sheds the virtues of her sex, and having done it—sees life! [He sketches with his paw a slightly disrespectful gesture.]
CHANTECLER [Dryly.] Pray, what do you know about it?
BRIFFAUT [Astonished.] Is he annoyed?
PATOU [Aside.] Already!
CHANTECLER In short, the pheasant your master missed—
BRIFFAUT Was a she!—[He stops and scents the air.] Oh but!—
PATOU [Quickly, showing his dish.] You know, it's my dinner you smell!
BRIFFAUT It smells very unusually good.
CHANTECLER [Aside.] I don't like that way his nose has of twitching.
BRIFFAUT [Starting upon another story.] Fancy such an instance as the following—
THE BLACKBIRD Holy Smoke! Here comes another!—Oh, I say, hire a hall!
[A distant whistle is heard.]
CHANTECLER [Quickly.] You are whistled for!
BRIFFAUT The deuce! Good evening! [Disappears.]
PATOU Good evening.
CHANTECLER Gone, at last!
BLACKBIRD [Calling.] Briffaut!
CHANTECLER Great Glory, what are you doing?
THE BLACKBIRD [Calling.] I have something to tell you!
BRIFFAUT [His head reappears above the wall.] Well—?
THE BLACKBIRD Look out, Briffaut!
CHANTECLER [Low to the BLACKBIRD.] Do you make sport of our fears?
THE BLACKBIRD You are losing something!
THE BLACKBIRD Time!
BRIFFAUT [Disappearing with a snort of fury.] Wow!
CHANTECLER, THE BLACKBIRD, PATOU, THE PHEASANT-HEN
CHANTECLER [After a moment, to the BLACKBIRD who from his cage, which he has returned, can see off over the wall.] Is he gone?
THE BLACKBIRD He is nearly out of sight!
CHANTECLER [Going toward PATOU'S kennel.] Madam, come forth!
THE PHEASANT-HEN [Appearing at the threshold of the kennel.] Well?—A rebellious, self-freed slave I am—even as that dog was saying! But of great lineage, and proud as I am free—A pheasant of the woods!
THE BLACKBIRD Whew! We hate ourself, don't we!
THE PHEASANT-HEN In the forest where I live there comes a-poaching—
CHANTECLER That madman who would have given to vile lead a jewel for setting!
THE PHEASANT-HEN Beneath foliage—not so thick but a sunbeam may glide in!—I make my home. I am descended, however, from elsewhere. From whence? From Persia? China? None can tell! But of one thing we may be certain: that I was meant to shimmer in the blue among the fragrant gum-trees of the East, and not to be chased through brambles by a hound!—Am I the ancient Phoenix? or the sacred Chinese hen? Whence was I brought to this land? And how brought? And by whom? History is not explicit on the point, and leaves us a splendid choice. Wherefore I choose to have been born in Colchis, from whence I came on Jason's fist. I am all gold. Perhaps I was the Fleece!
THE PHEASANT-HEN The Pheasant!
PATOU [Politely correcting her.] Pheasant-hen.
THE PHEASANT-HEN I refer to my race, for which I stand, by token of my crimson shield. Yes, my ancient fate of being a dead leaf beside a ruby, having appeared to me one day too distinctly dull a lot, I stole his dazzling plumage from the male. A good thing, too, for it becomes me so much better! The golden tippet, as I wear it, curves and shimmers. The emerald epaulette acquires a dainty grace. I have made of a mere uniform a miracle of style!
CHANTECLER She is distractingly lovely, so much is certain!
PATOU He is never going to fall in love with a woman dressed as a man!
THE BLACKBIRD [Who has again hopped down from his cage.] I must go and tell the Guinea-hen that a golden bird has blown into town. She'll have a fit! She will invite her! [Off.]
CHANTECLER So you come to us from the East, like the Dawn?
THE PHEASANT-HEN My life has the picturesque disorder of a poem. If I came from the East, it was by way of Egypt.
PATOU [Aside, heart-broken.] A gypsy, on top of the rest!
THE PHEASANT-HEN [To CHANTECLER, tossing and twisting her head so that the colours ripple at her throat.] Have you noticed these two shades? They are our own especial colours—the Dawn's and mine! Princess of the underbrush, queen of the glade, I am pleased to wear the yellow locks of an adventuress. Dreamy and homesick for my unknown home, I choose my palaces among the rustling flags and withered irises that fringe the pool. I dote upon the forest, and when it smells in autumn of dead leaves and decaying wood—
PATOU [In consternation.] She is mad!
THE PHEASANT-HEN Wild as a tree-bough in a southerly gale, I tremble, flutter, spend myself in motion, till a vast languor overtakes me—
CHANTECLER [Who for a minute or so has been letting his wing hang, now begins slowly circling about the PHEASANT-HEN, in the manner of the BLACKBIRD aping him, with a very gentle, throaty.] Coa—[The PHEASANT-HEN looks at him. Believing himself encouraged, he takes up again louder, while circling about her.] Coa—
THE PHEASANT-HEN My dear sir, I prefer to tell you at once that if it is for my benefit you are doing that—
CHANTECLER [Stopping short.] What?
THE PHEASANT-HEN The eye—the peculiar gait—the drooping wing—the "Coa—"
CHANTECLER But I—
THE PHEASANT-HEN You do it all very nicely, I admit; only, it has not the very slightest effect upon me!
CHANTECLER [Slightly abashed.] Madam—
THE PHEASANT-HEN Oh, I understand, of course. We are the illustrious Cock! Not a Hen in the world but preens her feathers in the hope—the very touching hope, certainly—of offering us a moment's distraction, some day, between two songs. We are so sure of ourself that we never hesitate, not even when the lady is a visitor, and not quite the ordinary short-kirtled Hen whom one can engage without further ceremony by such advances—
THE PHEASANT-HEN I do not bestow my affections quite so lightly. For my taste, anyhow, you are altogether too frankly Cock of the Walk!
THE PHEASANT-HEN Spoiled! The only Cock to my fancy would be a plain inglorious Cock to whom I should be all in all.
THE PHEASANT-HEN Love a celebrated Cock? I am not such a very woman!
CHANTECLER But—well—still—We might, however, Madam, take a little stroll together!
THE PHEASANT-HEN Yes, like two friends.
CHANTECLER Two friends.
THE PHEASANT-HEN Two chickens.
CHANTECLER Very old!
THE PHEASANT-HEN [Quickly.] No, no—not old! Very ugly!
CHANTECLER [Quicker still.] Oh, no, not ugly! [Coming nearer to her.] Will you take a turn in the yard?—Accept my wing!
THE PHEASANT-HEN You shall show me the sights.
CHANTECLER [Stopping before the CHICKENS' drinking-trough.]This, of course, is hideous. It is a model drinking-trough on the siphon principle, made of galvanised iron. But everything excepting that is charming, noble, time and weather worn, from the hen-house roof to the stable door—
THE BLACKBIRD [Returning.] The Guinea-hen is having a fit!
THE PHEASANT-HEN [To CHANTECLER, looking about her.] And so you live here untroubled, and have nothing to fear?
CHANTECLER Nothing whatever. Because the owner is a vegetarian An amazing man, a lover of animals. He calls them by names borrowed from the poets. The donkey there is Midas; the heifer, Io.
THE BLACKBIRD The showman's on the job!
THE PHEASANT-HEN [Indicating the BLACKBIRD.] And that?
CHANTECLER Our humorist.
THE PHEASANT-HEN What does he do?
CHANTECLER Oh, he keeps busy!
THE PHEASANT-HEN Doing what?
CHANTECLER Trying never to appear a fool, and that's hard work.
THE PHEASANT-HEN Possibly—but most unattractive! [They move towards the back.]
THE BLACKBIRD [With a glance at the PHEASANT-HEN'S scarlet breast.] Size up the highfalutin' dame!—Get on to the waistcoat will you?
CHANTECLER [Continuing the round.] The hay-cock. The old wall. The wall, when I sing, is alive with lizards, the hay-cock bends to listen. I sing on the spot where you see the earth scratched up, and when I have sung, I drink in the bowl over there.
PHEASANT-HEN Your song then is a matter of importance?
CHANTECLER [Seriously.] The greatest.
THE PHEASANT-HEN Why?
CHANTECLER That is my secret.
THE PHEASANT-HEN If I should ask you to tell me?
CHANTECLER [Turning the conversation, and showing a pile of brushwood tied in bundles.] My friends, the fagots.
THE PHEASANT-HEN Stolen from my forest!—So what they say is true?—you have a secret?
CHANTECLER [Dryly.] Yes, Madam.
THE PHEASANT-HEN I suppose it would be useless to insist—
CHANTECLER [Climbing on the wall at the back.] And from here you can see the remainder of the estate, to the edge of the kitchen-garden, where they ply at evening a serpent ending like a sprinkling can.
THE PHEASANT-HEN What?—This is all?
CHANTECLER This is all.
THE PHEASANT-HEN And do you imagine the world ends at your vegetable-patch?
THE PHEASANT-HEN Do you never, as you watch, far overhead, the wedge of the south-flying birds, dream of vaster horizons?
PHEASANT-HEN But all these things about you are dreary and poor and flat!
CHANTECLER And I can never become used to the richness and wonder of these things!
THE PHEASANT-HEN It is always the same, you must agree!
CHANTECLER Nothing is ever the same,—nothing,—ever,—under the sun! And that because of the sun!—For She changes everything!
THE PHEASANT-HEN She—Who?
CHANTECLER Light, the universal goddess! That geranium planted by the farmer's wife is never twice the same red! And that old wooden shoe, spurting straw, what a sight, what a beautiful sight! And the wooden comb hanging among the farmer's smocks, with the green hair of the sward caught in its teeth! The pitchfork, stood in the corner, like a misbehaving child, dozing as he stands and dreaming of the hay-fields! And the bowl and skittles there,—the trim-waisted skittles, shapely maids, whose orderly quadrilles Patou in his gambols clumsily upsets! The great worm-eaten bowl whose curved expanse some ant is always crossing, travelling with no less pride than famed explorers,—around her ball in 80 seconds!—Nothing, I tell you, is two instants quite the same!—And I, sweet lady, have been so susceptible ever, that a garden-rake in a corner, a flower in a pot, cast me long since into a helpless ecstasy, and that from gazing at a morning-glory I fell into the startled admiration which has made my eye so round!
THE PHEASANT-HEN [Thoughtfully.] One feels that you have a soul.—A soul then may find wherewithal to grow, so far from life and its drama, shut in by a farmyard wall with a cat asleep on it?
CHANTECLER With power to see, capacity to suffer, one may come Ito understand all things. In an insect's death are hinted all disasters. Through a knot-hole can be seen the sky and marching stars!
THE OLD HEN [Appearing.] None knows the heavens like the water in the well!
CHANTECLER [Presenting her to the PHEASANT-HEN before the basket-lid drops.] My foster-mother!
THE PHEASANT-HEN [Politely approaching.] Delighted!
THE OLD HEN [Slyly winking at her.] He's a fine Cock!
THE PHEASANT-HEN He is a Cock, moreover, for whom that fact is not the only thing in the world!
CHANTECLER [Who has gone toward PATOU.] There, my dear boy, is a Hen with whom one can have a bit of solid conversation.
THE SAME, the GUINEA-HEN, and the whole POULTRY-YARD
Cries outside, nearer and nearer, "Ah!—" Enter all the HENS in tumult, preceded by the agitated GUINEA-HEN.
THE BLACKBIRD [In his cage.] The next course will be Guinea-hen!
THE GUINEA-HEN [Running to the PHEASANT-HEN.] Ah, my dear, my dear, my dear!—A beauty, a very beauty!—We have come to make your acquaintance, my dear!
[General admiration, "Ah!—" The PHEASANT-HEN is surrounded. Conversation, cries, clucking.]
CHANTECLER [Watching the PHEASANT-HEN, aside.] How well she walks, with free and graceful gait!—[He looks at the HENS.] So differently from my Hens! [Irritably, to the HENS.] Ladies, you walk as if you had blisters! You walk as if you trod on your own eggs!
PATOU No mistaking the symptoms! He is very much in love.
THE GUINEA-HEN [Presenting her son to the PHEASANT-HEN.] The Guinea-cock, my son.
THE YOUNG GUINEA-COCK [Looking admiringly at the PHEASANT-HEN.] What a jolly shade of blond!
A HEN [Disparagingly.] Like butter!
CHANTECLER [Turning, dryly to the HENS.] It is time you went indoors.
THE PHEASANT-HEN [Amiably.] So soon?
CHANTECLER They retire early.
A HEN [A little mortified.] Yes, we must turn in.
THE PHEASANT-HEN They go in by a ladder!
THE GUINEA-HEN [To the PHEASANT-HEN.] Let us be great friends, my dear, shall we?
CHANTECLER [Looking at the PHEASANT-HEN, aside.] Her sumptuous court-dress sets her apart from the rest, and removes her far above.—My Hens are dowdies!
THE PHEASANT-HEN [To the GUINEA-HEN, excusing herself.] I return to my forest home to-night.
THE GUINEA-HEN [In excessive grief.] So soon—? [A shot in the distance.]
PATOU They are still after game.
THE GUINEA-HEN You must stay.
CHANTECLER [Eagerly.] That's it! Let us keep her a prisoner among us till to-morrow.
PHEASANT-HEN But where can I spend the night?
PATOU [Indicating his kennel.] There, in my bachelor's quarters.
PHEASANT-HEN I?—Sleep beneath a roof?
PATOU [Insisting.] Go in, I pray.
THE PHEASANT-HEN But you? What shall you do?
PATOU I shall do very well!
THE PHEASANT-HEN [Resigning herself.] I will stay then until to-morrow.
THE GUINEA-HEN [With piercing cries.] Ah! Ah! But to-morrow, my dear! to-morrow—
ALL [In alarm.] What is it?
THE YOUNG GUINEA-COCK To-morrow is my mother's day!
THE GUINEA-HEN [Impetuously.] My dear, would you care to come to-morrow quite informally, and take a simple snail with us? The Peacock—
CHANTECLER [Mounting the ladder, from whence he can inspect the scene.] Quiet, if you please! Evening has blown its smoke across the sky—[In a tone of command.] Is every one in his accustomed place?
THE GUINEA-HEN [Lower, to the PHEASANT-HEN.] The Peacock is coming. We shall hold our little gathering among the currant-bushes.
CHANTECLER Are the turkeys on their roost?
THE GUINEA-HEN [Same business.] From five to six.
CHANTECLER Are the ducks in their pointed house?
THE GUINEA-HEN [Same business.] The Tortoise has kindly said we may expect her.
CHANTECLER [On the last rung of the ladder.] Is every one under cover?—Every chick under a wing?
THE GUINEA-HEN [Still insisting with the PHEASANT-HEN that she come on the morrow.] The Tufted Hen has promised to bring the Cock.—[To CHANTECLER.] Charmed, I am sure.
THE TUFTED HEN [Looking out of the hen-house.] You will come, won't you, dear?
THE PHEASANT-HEN [At the foot of the ladder, looking up at him.] Oh, but you will?
THE PHEASANT-HEN Because you said "No!" to the other!
CHANTECLER [Wavering.] Ah!
PATOU Humph! I beseech you—
CHANTECLER [Still wavering.] I—
PATOU Humph! He is weakening.—They will make him pay dear if he yields!
THE OLD HEN [Appearing.] Make a reed into a pipe and play a tune upon it! [The basket-lid drops.]
[Night is thickening.]
CHANTECLER [Still hesitating.] I—
A VOICE Let us go to sleep—
THE TURKEY [On his roost, solemnly.] Quandoque dormitat—
THE BLACKBIRD [In his cage.] Dormittimus!
CHANTECLER [Very firmly to the PHEASANT-HEN.] I will not go. Good night.
THE PHEASANT-HEN [Slightly offended.] Good night! [With a curt hop she enters the dog-kennel.]
PATOU [Falling asleep, stretched in front of his kennel.] Let us sleep until the sky grows pink—pink as—as—a puppy's tummy—
THE GUINEA-HEN [Dropping off.] From five to six—
THE BLACKBIRD [Likewise dropping off.] Tew—tew—[He nods.] tew—
CHANTECLER [Still at the top of the ladder.] All sleeps.—[He spies a CHICK stealing out.] Is that a chick I see?—[Springing after him and driving him in.] Let me catch you!—[In driving back the CHICK, he finds himself near the kennel. He calls very softly.] Pheasant-hen!
THE PHEASANT-HEN [Lost among the straw, sleepily.] What do you want?
CHANTECLER [After a moment's hesitation.] Nothing.—Nothing! [He goes back to the top of his ladder.]
THE PHEASANT-HEN Shall I be able to sleep, I wonder—
PATOU [Falling sound asleep.] A puppy's tum—
THE PHEASANT-HEN [Indistinctly, overcome by slumber.] To sleep under a roof?—I, with my gypsy tastes?
CHANTECLER I am going in. [He disappears in the hen-house. He is heard saying in a dreamy voice.] It is time to shut my—my—
THE PHEASANT-HEN [In a last effort.]—gyp—sy—tastes.—[Her head nods and disappears among the straw.]
CHANTECLER [His voice, sleepier and fainter.]—to shut my eyes—[Silence. He sleeps. Two green eyes are seen suddenly kindling at the top of the wall.]
THE CAT And to open mine! [Immediately two more yellow eyes shine forth from the darkness above the hay-cock.]
A VOICE And mine! [Two more yellow eyes on the wall.]
ANOTHER VOICE And mine! [Two more yellow eyes.]
ANOTHER VOICE And mine!
The POULTRY-YARD asleep. The CAT awake. Three SCREECH-OWLS, later the MOLE and the VOICE of the CUCKOO.
FIRST VOICE Two green eyes?
THE CAT [Sitting up on the wall, and looking at the other phosphorescent eyes.] Six golden eyes?
FIRST VOICE On the wall?
THE CAT On the rick?—[He calls.] Owls!
THE OWLS Cat!
THE BLACKBIRD [Waking up.] What's this?
THE SCREECH-OWL [To the CAT.] Great plot against him!
THE CAT To-night?
THE THREE OWLS To-night, too-whit!
THE CAT Pfitt!—Where?
THE OWLS The hollies, too-whoo!
THE CAT What o'clock?
THE OWLS Eight, too-whit! too-whoo!
FIRST OWL Bats weaving soft black snares of flight—
THE CAT Are they with us?
THE THREE OWLS They are!
FIRST OWL Mole, burrowing from nether to upper night—
THE CAT Is she with us?
THE THREE OWLS She is!
THE CAT [Talking toward the house-door.] You, strike your eight strokes bravely, Cuckoo of the little clock!
THE SCREECH-OWL Is he with us?
THE CAT He is!—And I am pleased to tell you, silent night-watchers that some of the day-birds are likewise with us.
THE TURKEY [Coming forward surrounded by a number of the barnyard constituents, obsequiously.] So it is settled for this evening, dear Round Eyes? You will be there?
THE OWLS We will be there! All the Round Eyes of the neighbourhood will be there!
THE BLACKBIRD That's a show I'd like to see!
PATOU [In his sleep.] Grrrrrrr—
THE CAT [To the startled NIGHT-BIRDS.] The dog is dreaming.—He growls in his sleep.
CHANTECLER [Inside the hen-house.] Coa—
THE OWLS [Frightened.] Himself!
THE TURKEY Fly!
FIRST OWL No need. The night is dark. We can vanish by merely closing our eyes. [They shut their luminous eyes. Darkness. CHANTECLER appears at the top of the ladder.]
CHANTECLER [To the BLACKBIRD.] Did you hear anything, Blackbird?
THE BLACKBIRD I did, indeed, old chap.
THE OWLS [Frightened.] What's this?
THE BLACKBIRD A black conspiracy—
THE BLACKBIRD [With melodramatic emphasis.] Against you!—Tremble!
CHANTECLER [Going in again, unalarmed.] Joker!
THE OWLS He has gone in.
THE BLACKBIRD I have betrayed no one!
AN OWL The Blackbird then is with us?
THE BLACKBIRD No—but may I come and look on?
AN OWL A Night-bird never eats a black bird. You can come.
THE BLACKBIRD The password?
THE OWL Terror and Talons!
THE PHEASANT-HEN [Putting her head out of the dog-kennel.] I can't breathe in that stifling, low-roofed little house, and—[Catching sight of the NIGHT-BIRDS.] Oh!—[She darts aside, behind the kennel, and watches.]
THE OWLS Hush! [They close their eyes. THE CAT does the same. After a time, hearing no further sound, they open them again.] It was nothing. Let us be off.
THE GROUP OF THE DISAFFECTED [With fawning obsequiousness to the NIGHT-BIRDS.] Success to you, Owls,—success!
THE OWL Thanks! But how is it that you are with us?
THE CAT Ah, night brings out what daylight will not own to! I do not like the Cock because the Dog does.—There you have it!
THE TURKEY I do not like him, for the reason that having known him as a Chick I cannot admit him as a Cock!
A DUCK I do not like the Cock because, not being web-footed, he marks his passage by a track of stars!
A CHICKEN I do not like the Cock because I'm such a homely bird!
ANOTHER CHICKEN I do not like the Cock because he has his picture painted in purple on all the plates!
ANOTHER CHICKEN I do not like the Cock because on all the steeples he has his statue in gilt-bronze!
AN OWL [To a big overgrown CHICKEN.] Well, well!—And you, Capon?
THE CAPON [Dryly.] I do not like the Cock!
THE CUCKOO [Beginning to strike eight inside the house.] Cuckoo!
FIRST OWL The hour!
SECOND OWL Let us go!
THE CUCKOO Cuckoo!
FIRST OWL The moon!
THE CUCKOO Cuckoo!
FIRST OWL Silently cleave the blue air—
THE CUCKOO Cuckoo!
THE MOLE [Suddenly pushing up through the ground.]—the dark earth!
FIRST OWL There comes the Mole!
THE CUCKOO Cuckoo!
FIRST OWL [To the MOLE.] And you, why do you hate him?
THE MOLE I hate him because I have never seen him!
THE CUCKOO Cuckoo!
FIRST OWL And you, Cuckoo, do you know why you hate him?
THE CUCKOO [On the last stroke.] Because he does not have to be wound up! Cuckoo!
FIRST OWL And we do not love—
SECOND OWL [Hurriedly.] We are keeping the others waiting—
ALL —the Cock, because—[They fly off. Silence.]
THE PHEASANT-HEN [Coming slowly from behind the kennel.] I am beginning to love him!
THE MORNING OF THE COCK
Wild hillside, moss-grown and ferny, overlooking a valley with scattered villages and winding river. Ruined wall, fragment of some vanished terrace. Gigantic chestnut tree, rank hollies and foxgloves. Litter suggesting neglected corner of a park: gardening implements lying on the ground, fagots, broken flower-pots.
The NIGHT-BIRDS, of all sorts and sizes, form a great circle, perching in tiers on the branches, the briers, the stones; the CAT crouches in the grass; the BLACKBIRD hops hither and thither on a fagot.
At the rise of the curtain the NIGHT-BIRDS are discovered, motionless, black shapes with closed eyes. The GRAND DUKE is perched upon a tree branch above the rest. The SCREECH-OWL'S phosphorescent eyes alone are wide open. He proceeds with the roll-call, and at every name two great round eyes brighten in the dark.
THE SCREECH-OWL [Calling.] Strix! [Two eyes light up.] Scops! [Two more eyes light up.] Grand-Duke! [Two more eyes.] Metascops! [Two more eyes.] Minor! [Two more eyes.]
ONE NIGHT-BIRD [To the other.] The Great Bubo presides.
THE SCREECH-OWL [Calling.] Owl of the Wall! Of the Belfry! Of the Cloister! Of the Yew! [At every name two more eyes have opened wide.]
A NIGHT-BIRD [To another just arriving.] The roll is called!
THE OTHER I know. All there is to do is to open our eyes.
THE SCREECH-OWL Asio! Nictea! Nyctalis! [Three more pairs of eyes have opened.] Brachyotus! [No eye opening at the name, he repeats.] Brachyotus!
ONE OF THE NIGHT-BIRDS He will be here directly. He stopped to eat a linnet.
BRACHYOTUS [Arriving.] Present!
THE SCREECH-OWL Not one of them would miss, when the meeting relates to the Cock!
BRACHYOTUS Not one!
THE SCREECH-OWL Carine! [Two eyes open.] Caparacoch! [No eye opening, he repeats emphatically.] Ca-pa-ra-coch!—Well?—Well?
CAPARACOCH [Arriving out of breath, opens his eyes, faltering an excuse. ] I live a long way off!
THE SCREECH-OWL [Dryly.] You should have started the earlier! [Looking around.] We are all present, I believe. [Calling.] Flammeolus! And Flammeoline! [All the eyes are now open.]
THE GRAND-DUKE [Solemnly.] Before beginning, let us give, but not too loud, the cry which makes us all as one!
ALL Long live the Night!
And in a weird, savage, hurried chorus, interspersed with hoots and flapping of wings, all talking together and rocking themselves in hideous glee.
THE GRAND-DUKE Praise the Night, discreet, propitious, When with wadded wing and muted O'er the sleeping world we fly, And the partridge in the bracken Ne'er suspects the hovering presence Till we pounce without a cry.
THE SCREECH-OWL Praise the Night, convenient, secret, When in slaughtering baby rabbits We can do it at our ease, Daub the grass with blood in comfort, Spare the pains to look like heroes, Be ourselves where no one sees!
AN OLD HORNED-OWL Praise the density of darkness!
A WOOD-OWL The intensity of stillness Letting crunching bones be heard!
A BARN-OWL Freshness pleasantly contrasting With the genial warmth of blood drops Spurting from a strangled bird!
THE WOOD-OWL Praise the black rock oozing terror!
THE SCREECH-OWL And the cross-roads where our screeches, Furrowing the startled air, Our demoniac yelling, hooting, Make the hardened unbeliever Cross himself and fall to prayer!
THE GRAND-DUKE Praise the snares of the great Weaver, Night, whose only fault or weakness Is her tolerance of stars!
THE SCREECH-OWL For spectators are not wanted At the work of plucking fledglings— Be they Jupiter and Mars!
THE GRAND-DUKE Praise the Night, when we take vengeance On the goldfinch for his beauty, On the titmouse for his grace! When the darkness takes possession Let them tremble, those confiding Hostages of Day's!
THE WOOD-OWL For there is a choice in murder!
THE GRAND-DUKE And the inkier the blackness All the clearer do we see To select the whitest pigeon In the dove-cote, and the bluest Blue jay on the shuddering tree!
THE BARN-OWL Praise the hour and taste and relish Of the eggs we suck, destroying Hopes of many a haughty line!
THE SCREECH-OWL And the councils where in whispers We prepare what shall resemble Accidents by every sign!
THE GRAND-DUKE Praise the shadow's grim suggestions! The advantage over others We inherit through their fright!
THE SCREECH-OWL For our grisly cachinnations Give the very eagle goose-flesh—
ALL TOGETHER Praise our patroness, the Night!
THE GRAND-DUKE And now let the Screech-Owl in his russet robe take the floor.
SEVERAL VOICES Silence!
THE BLACKBIRD [On his fagot.] What an awf'ly lovely evening party!
THE SCREECH-OWL [Oratorically.] Brethren of the Night—
THE GRAND-DUKE [To the OWL next to him.] The meeting-place seems to me particularly well chosen. The blackest spot, the moldiest tree. To the right, old postherds. To the left, in the dark between the hollies—the view!
THE SCREECH-OWL Brethren of the Night!—
AN OWL There comes the Mole!
SEVERAL VOICES Silence!
THE OWL She must have taken, to come here, a route below the roots of the daisies—
THE BLACKBIRD The subway, what else?
THE GRAND-DUKE [To his neighbor.] Is that the Blackbird?
THE BLACKBIRD [Coming forward.] Yes, your Grace. And the two agate balls over there are the Cat.
THE GRAND-DUKE I can hear him licking his paws.
THE SCREECH-OWL [Resuming.] Brethren of the Night! Inasmuch as everybody here—and we plume ourselves upon it!—is possessed of the evil eye—
ALL THE BIRDS [Chuckling and rocking in their peculiarly disgusting and characteristic fashion.] Ha, ha!
THE GRAND-DUKE [Spreading his wings to demand silence.] Hush! [All return to their appalling stillness.]
THE BLACKBIRD My eye is merely roguish. I am here to look on, you know, without taking sides,—in the artist spirit, that's all.
AN OWL If you are not taking sides, then you are siding with us!
THE BLACKBIRD Oh, I say, what a primitive notion!
THE SCREECH-OWL [Completing his sentence.] Let us express ourselves with simple and direct malevolence: the Cock is a robber!
ALL A robber! He robs us!
THE BLACKBIRD Now, what the—Robs you of what?
THE GRAND-DUKE Of health! Gladness!
THE BLACKBIRD How is that?
THE SCREECH-OWL By his crowing!
THE GRAND-DUKE His crowing brings on enlargement of the spleen and pericarditis! For it heralds—
THE BLACKBIRD [Hopping about.] Oh, I see—The light!
[All make a violent motion in his direction; the BLACKBIRD frightened, hides among the fagots.]
THE GRAND-DUKE [Emphatically.] Never speak that word! When that word is spoken, Night at the horizon feels a crawling discomfort, a titillation underneath her wing.
THE BLACKBIRD [Cautiously correcting himself.] The brightness of—[General start of dismay repeated; the BLACKBIRD again dodges behind the fagots.]
AN OWL [Hurriedly.] Never utter that horrible grating word, which so hatefully suggests the scratching of a match!
THE SCREECH-OWL You should express yourself: The Cock heralds the folding back of the pall—
THE BLACKBIRD But the day—[Start and threatening gesture from all.]
ALL [In voices of unspeakable anguish.] Not that word!
THE GRAND-DUKE You must refer to it as "that which will be!"
THE BLACKBIRD What difference does it make whether or not he heralds the—
ALL [Stopping him.] Ha!
THE BLACKBIRD —the folding back of the pall, since that which will be—will be!
THE GRAND-DUKE [In tones of despair.] Simple torture it is to hear a brazen throat forever reminding you of what you know to be only too true!
ALL [Writhing in pain.] Too true! Too true!
THE GRAND-DUKE He begins while the night is still pleasant and cool—
CRIES ON ALL SIDES He is a robber, a thief!
THE GRAND-DUKE He cheats us!
ALL THE OWLS He cheats us! Cheats us!
THE GRAND-DUKE Of the good bit of night there still is left.
AN OWLET He compels us to leave our posts beside the warrens—
THE SCREECH-OWL Our feasts of steaming flesh!
THE WOOD-OWL The witches' routs where we ride perched on the fist of a hag!
THE GRAND-DUKE After cock-crow an Owl is no longer in his normal state—
THE SCREECH-OWL He does evil in a hurry!
THE GRAND-DUKE And bungles it in consequence!
THE OLD HORNED-OWL As soon as the Cock has crowed all becomes temporary provisional—
THE BARN-OWL Though the Night be still black, we are painfully aware of it growing less and less black!
THE SCREECH-OWL When his metallic voice has cleft the night, we squirm like a worm in a fruit that is cut in two.
THE BLACKBIRD [On his fagot, mystified.] The other Cocks, however—
THE GRAND-DUKE Their song creates no uneasiness. It is his song which must be silenced.
ALL THE NIGHT-BIRDS [Flapping their wings, in a long lament.] Silenced! Silenced!
AN OWL How can it be accomplished?
THE SCREECH-OWL The Blackbird here has worked in our cause.
THE BLACKBIRD Who—I?
THE SCREECH-OWL Yes, you laughed at him.
ALL [Cackling.] Ha, ha!
THE GRAND-DUKE [Spreading his wings.] Hush! [They resume their sinister stillness.]
THE SCREECH-OWL But his song has not acted any the less directly on our gall-bladders for the fun that has been made of him. He has grown stronger than ever since he was found ridiculous.
ALL What shall we do?
THE SCREECH-OWL The Peacock, that great booby—
ALL [Cackling and rocking.] Ha, ha!
THE GRAND-DUKE [Opening his wings.] Hush! [All instantly motionless.]
THE SCREECH-OWL Through the Peacock, likewise working in our cause, the Cock came out of fashion. But his song is just as inconvenient, in fashion or out of it. He is all the more proudly uncompromising for no longer being in style.
ALL What shall we do?
AN OWL Cut his throat!
CRIES Death to the Cock!
AN OWL Death to that aristocrat posing as a democrat and socialist!
ANOTHER With spurs on his heels, but a liberty cap on his head!
THE GRAND-DUKE Night-birds all, arise!
[ALL, arising with outspread wings and glaring eyes, increase enormously in size. The night appears doubly dark.]
THE BLACKBIRD [With unabated lightness.] Midnight to the fore!
THE SCREECH-OWL Kill him! But how can we, when our eyes cease to see the moment he comes out?
ALL [Wailing like an ancient chorus.] Woe!
THE OLD HORNED-OWL [Craftily.] How kill—from afar?
THE GRAND-DUKE By means of what secret spring?
A VOICE [From the tree.] Duke, may I lay a plan before the assembly?
THE GRAND-DUKE Scops! Let us hear!
ALL [At sight of a small OWL dropping from a bough, and coming forward with tiny hops.] Scops, dear little Scops!
SCOPS [Bowing before the GRAND-DUKE.] You are aware, mighty Blind-by-day-and-seer-by-night, that in pleasant gardens up yonder hill a breeder of birds—termed aviculturist, raises for exhibitions—termed agricultural, the most magnificent Cocks of the most extraordinary varieties. Now, that great discoverer of rare birds, the Peacock, who, possessing a voice which pierces the ear-drum cannot abide a voice which pierces the darkness—the Peacock, whose specialty it is to confer celebrity upon every strange beast—
THE GRAND-DUKE [To his neighbour.] From every strange region!
SCOPS Cherishes the dream of presenting these same Cocks to-morrow, in the kitchen garden, at the—
ALL TOGETHER [Laughing.] Guinea-hen's!
SCOPS And launching among her set these Birds whose glory will be the finishing blow to the glory of Chantecler.
THE BLACKBIRD Flatten him out like a pan cake!
THE SCREECH OWL But those Cocks are always locked in!
SCOPS I am coming to that. This evening, when a maid, having entered their wire-netted close, was scattering corn in a golden shower, I started up suddenly from the hollow of a pollard willow, and the girl—
AN OWL [To his neighbour.] What a bright mind, our little Scops!
SCOPS At sight of the ill-omened bird—
ALL [Cackling and rocking.] Ha, ha!
THE GRAND-DUKE [Spreading his wings.] Hush! [All suddenly still.]
SCOPS Fled, with one arm across her eyes! The cage was left open, and the whole fantastic host will meet Chantecler to-morrow at the—
ALL [With peals of laughter.] Guinea-hen's!
THE BLACKBIRD He is not going. He has refused.
SCOPS The devil!
THE CAT [Quietly.] Go on, Scops. He will be there.
THE BLACKBIRD [Looking at him from a distance.] What do you know about it, pocket panther?
THE CAT I saw a Pheasant-hen exciting his admiration, and I saw that he would go.
THE BLACKBIRD It's when you're sound asleep that you see everything!
THE GRAND-DUKE [To SCOPS.] Very well, then, let us suppose him going.
SCOPS Chantecler, for all his fame, has retained his bluff country squire's frankness. When he sees this—
THE BLACKBIRD [Prompting.] Tea-fight—
SCOPS And the contortions of those—
THE BLACKBIRD [Same business.] Snobs—
SCOPS In the presence of those—
THE BLACKBIRD [Same business.] Big guns—