And that was all? It’s light—
—and aims to be.
There must be brief, light tunes for birthday fetes—
Most especially when the world has such news.
(explaining to Natalya)
The progress of the war.
The latest is
A genius Major General—they claimed—
He’s taken hostage, too. In Chechnya.
Natalya goes and gets a wrapped box. She gives it to Pushkin. He opens it. Inside are black kid gloves.
Thank God, it’s not a hat!
He puts the gloves on. Gogol and Delvig applaud,and Natalya and Pushkin kiss. Gradually, as they continue talking, Delvig and Gogol also hand him wrapped gifts.
Include the Chechens in the next installment?
Why offend Nicholas by doing that?
I must hold my tongue. I talk far too much.
I’m sure my wife thinks so.
But Sasha, no,
What if our Onegin fought there—and bravely—
I can’t critique the conduct of the war—
I don’t want him to mock the Tsar. My god!
I’m just suggesting we might see the deaths—
He has the Tsar’s affection and concern—
Obedience is best.
I think. Let’s drink.
Pushkin indicates his thanks to Gogol for his gift.
(affectionate, trying to smooth things over)
You don’t have any doubts, do you, Pushkin?
(smiling and taking and stroking his wife’s hand)
You’re wrong, my friend; most so regarding love.
As Helen was once said to be, she is.
(smiling at the others in attendance but talking to her husband)
Stop teasing me.
(indicating her swelling waist within which lies their child)
Your other present’s here.
I’m lucky: I’m aware.
But what of others?
You won’t forget those lacking advantages?
One night let’s just have toasts.
You do still write critiques of all that’s wrong?
They’re wrong to think my words inspired revolt;
As I’m observed though, I must show some sense.
…You’ve written secretly about the war?
Pushkin proceeds to gesture his appreciation to Delvig for his gift.
I gave the Tsar my oath of loyalty.
So I toast him.
They drink again.
We’re all just slaves? That’s cliché.
(suddenly more serious)
Is it? In what ways are you free, Gogol?
In what way are you free on your birthday?
Pushkin looks at Delvig. He thinks.
(sotto voce to Natalya)
The serving-maid can’t stay.
(to the maid)
You’ll get more wine.
Natalya walks over to the serving-maid and whispers in her ear. The serving-maid promptly goes out and places herself at the crack of the door.
There are some things I write which are…private—
Not lines to circulate—
—What are you saying?
It’s verse I look someday to read to him.
The day you know he’s fully on our side?…
Will you read it to us—your gift to us?
Pushkin hesitates but then yields to the request.
We wake to news of killings, losses
In Chechnya and with the Kurds
As if we've had not enough crosses
On sacred grounds, with priests' mute words.
Rare—blossoms on a desert field -
Is grace—right use of Hebrew Psalm;
The medieval carillons pealed
But brought not warring nations calm.
More often is the tale or scene
Like Judgement Day at His return;
Rome’s greatest Christian, Constantine,
Spread Word by making cities burn.
Christ’s sermons ended with His grave;
Today no King pauses seeking lands
To aid a supplicant or free a slave;
The modern Pilates wash their hands.
Pushkin suddenly stops, walks to the door and opens it. He finds the serving-maid listening, and at once violently slams the door shut. There is an extremely uncomfortable pause. Natalya then approaches her husband.
Last night she cleaned my desk.
I asked her to.
You thought she spied?
That’s it. I’ve said too much.
(to his wife)
My love, you will dismiss her tomorrow.
I asked her if she’d wait behind the door;
She’s not a spy; your attitude’s absurd;
She has four boys and is a widow; please.
(After a moment)
I swear to you. She’s just a serving-maid.
She’s no more prone to bring you harm than is
Your love of me. What kind of man are you?
If you say then.
(though adding quickly)
But watch her every step.
There is a pause, sparked by Pushkin’s white-hot temper.
Whatever it meant, I’m glad you talked of God.
Christ’s ethics, not belief in him, my dear.
Natalya grasps his hand and turns him towards the icon lamp. She attempts to lead him to it.
All right. But still—you’ll come to Mass again?
Come with me, love. The Tsar is there. He goes.
If you wish to persuade him on the serfs—
I’m making progress week by week. I am.
You’ll have him soon enough.
(unapologetic but returned to being a guest at his own party)
We must just drink.
(going over and taking Natalya’s hand)
Returned to this small town where I was schooled,
Such work to do, such beauty mine—with child—
How could all here not augur happy hours?
They all drink. Lights out.