A Russian Orphan's Revenge — a play by Henri Rousseau

Henri Rousseau, 1899

Excerpt from A Russian Orphan’s Revenge

Drama in 5 acts and 19 scenes

(Sophie has run away with Henri from her native Russia, leaving her aunt Yadwigha, who was opposed to their marriage. The two lovers arrive in Brussels, where Henri meets his friend Edouard.)

From Act III, scene 2
A room in the Hotel de France. Henri, Sophie, and Edouard are seated at a lavishly spread table.

HENRI (to Sophie) : My dear Sophie, you must be hungry. I have ordered the best wines and the best dishes for this meal, so that you may keep a good memory of this happy day, and so that our friend Edouard will not think us inhospitable.

SOPHIE : Your kindness doesn't surprise me, Henri, coming as it does from you. You are always the perfect gentleman. Never fear I’ll do justice to the dinner, that walk this afternoon gave me a rather good appetite. I hope you and your friend feel the same way about it. (Henri and Edouard nod in agreement. Sophie rings the bell. A waiter brings in the first course and serves it.)

WAITER (aside): And this is only the beginning. They look like hearty eaters to me. Where in the world do they come from, I wonder, ordering so much to eat for three persons. Ah, now I've got it : they've been traveling and couldn't find a place to eat all day, so they're making up for it now. This will go on all night. Ah, me, what a profession what a profession to have to wait on people.

(Sophie, Henri, and Edouard begin to eat.)

HENRI : I see I chose the right place. Everything is excellent. Doesn't it taste good—especially in such pleasant company. How do you find it, dear Sophie?

SOPHIE : Oh you're quite right. The food is exquisite. You can see I'm doing justice to it.

EDOUARD: You'd think I was starved. I haven't had a meal as good as this in a long time.

HENRI : We’ll finish it off with a few glasses of champagne to celebrate our forthcoming marriage and to toast our friend Edouard’s health.

(They clink their glasses of champagne and toast each other. Henri rises from the table to see Edouard out.)

HENRI (to Edouard) : My dear friend, I am very happy to have run across you here. It is probable that I’ll soon be asking you to do me a great favor.

EDOUARD: I am entirely at your disposal. Let me know the moment you need me. (Exit)

( Henri goes back to the table and sits down next to Sophie.)

HENRI : At last we're alone, dear Sophie, quite alone! I'm so happy, now that I can look at you and admire your beauty. My, but you're pretty tonight! Your cheeks are just delicately flushed, your big beautiful eyes are lit up with an inner sparkle, and your bosom is throbbing as your heart beats faster. How I love you like this, dearest one, how lovely you are! Nowhere have I ever found a woman who could match you in any respect. Burning desire is taking possession of me, yes, desire to embrace you tenderly. I beg of you, my beloved, let me kiss those pink cheeks so alive with youth and beauty, do let me!

(He moves closer to Sophie, trying to put his arm around her waist.)

SOPHIE (rising from her seat) : Monsieur, what are you doing? It seems to me that you are not behaving properly. Your conduct is clumsy and rude. If you love me as much as you say, you ought to respect my person. I must ask you to control yourself better than that in the future.

HENRI (also rising): You call it rudeness, that I am burning with love for you? That I cannot sleep at night, no, not a wink, struggling against the wicked thoughts that assail me? No, I don't deserve to be treated this way. I may have failed to control myself, but I'm suffering, I'm losing my mind, alas! a thousand things are rushing through my brain. Oh my Sophie, my beloved, you are my one and only, the one on whom I have pinned all my hopes. Don't treat me so cruelly! Let me be near you, don't send me away. Every fiber in my heart is breaking. I love you, my dear, I adore you. Please, let me have an answer to my appeal, I implore you on my bended knee. (He throws himself at her feet.) Here I am at your feet imploring your forgiveness. My love for you makes me cling to you like this, like ivy around those age-old oak trees, which can only be separated from them by incredible force. My love for you is responsible for this momentary aberration, my love for you made me disrespectful. Forgive me, dear Sophie, let me place one little kiss on your pretty white hands. I love you, Sophie ! My life, my whole being, belongs to you.

(Sophie extends her right hand and he kisses it.)

Oh thank you, Sophie dear, thank you. One little kiss is little enough, I suppose, but it makes me the happiest of men. I couldn't be as happy as I am now if someone gave me millions of francs. How beautiful you are, my beloved. Oh yes, you are beautiful; an air of majesty reigns everywhere in your lovely person.

(Sophie tells him to get up. He seats himself by her side and continues:)

Dear Sophie, you whom I have chosen for my life’s companion, to share with me the ups and downs of life, your charms could hardly be expected not to have conquered my whole being. Let me look into your eyes, let me touch that lovely long hair which is so becoming to you, let me kiss this mouth which once told me “I love you,” and did not lie. Oh, let me, let me press you to my bursting heart. My brain is on fire, I don't know what is going on inside me, I am shivering all over. Oh, Sophie, my beautiful one, my beloved, don't make me go through the tortures of the damned I adore you ! No, I can't stand it any longer, this fever which oppresses me, this desire which is burning and gripping my whole being. (He moves closer to her and embraces her tenderly.) Sophie, darling Sophie, be mine as I am yours!

(They slowly get up, and Sophie leans her head on Henri’s shoulder. They walk slowly out of the room. Curtain.)

HENRI (alone in the café of the Hotel de France) : At last she has yielded to me, and it was not easy, that child. She really thought I was going to marry her, imagine it, a girl without a dowry, without a future. What the devil made her think I would ever be her husband? I, her husband! (He sneers.) With my good record as a bank clerk? Those are the things that matter. I'd be stupid to tie myself down to a girl like that. Thank you, no ! She hasn't a penny what good could she be to me? Penniless! No, I’ll never go through with the marriage, I won't commit such a blunder. Not that she isn't pretty and full of charm, but that’s all. Beauty isn't money. Ah, Money, Money, the great god Money! Nothing is greater than that just seeing it spread out on a table I can't take my eyes away. What is more lovely than the clear ring of those twenty-franc pieces called louis d'or? What a beautiful sound! Oh, Money, god of the whole world whom everyone worships, so often the cause of every crime and contemptible action, I can never adore you and cherish you enough. Money, lovely Money, don't ever leave me you are worth more than all the women in the world. But come to think of it, what am I doing sitting around here? There is no longer any reason. While that foolish Sophie is resting, I can be getting away from this place. I shall make myself scarce now like a little bird I’ll silently steal away.

More about
Henri Rousseau, The ArtistsPortrait of Henri Rousseau

Henri Rousseau

Painting dreams with a child's brush

1844 – 1910

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