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Title: A Christmas Tale: in One Act
Author: Bouchor, Maurice
Language: English
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  THE WORLD’S BEST PLAYS
  BY CELEBRATED EUROPEAN AUTHORS

  BARRETT H. CLARK
  GENERAL EDITOR



                          A Christmas Tale: in
                           One Act: by Maurice
                         Bouchor: Translated by
                            Barrett H. Clark

                        Samuel French: Publisher
                28-30 West Thirty-eighth Street: New York

                                 LONDON
                           Samuel French, Ltd.
                      26 SOUTHAMPTON STREET, STRAND

                            COPYRIGHT, 1915,
                            BY SAMUEL FRENCH



MAURICE BOUCHOR.


Maurice Bouchor was born at Paris in 1855.

Bouchor is a dramatic poet of rare inspiration and tragic depth. His
best-known long plays, “Tobie,” “Noël,” and “Les Mystères d’Eleusis,”
are, in the words of an eminent French critic, “among the most beautiful
works of our time.” “Conte de Noël”—“A Christmas Tale,” here translated
for the first time into English—is a charming little dramatic episode. It
was first performed at the Comédie Française, in Paris, in 1895.

This play may be elaborately staged, but the detailed stage-directions
need not be faithfully adhered to. The simplest of interiors and costumes
may be used.



A CHRISTMAS TALE


PERSONS REPRESENTED.

    SAINT NICHOLAS
    SAINT ROSE
    PIERRE COEUR       _A sculptor_
    JACQUELINE         _His wife_
  ROSETTE            _Their little girl, asleep in her cradle_

SCENE:—_A room in the home of PIERRE COEUR, Paris._

TIME:—_The Fifteenth Century._



A CHRISTMAS TALE


SCENE:—_A room of considerable size, serving at once as living-room and
studio. Everything is simple, clean, and neat. To the right are wooden
statues of various kinds, some painted in bright colors, but most of them
unfinished. Strewn about the floor are pieces of wood, large blocks,
and the like, together with chisels and other implements. The statues
of SAINT NICHOLAS and SAINT ROSE—actors dressed to represent them—stand
down-stage to the right, close to each other. SAINT NICHOLAS is an old
man with a white beard, who wears the rich costume of a bishop; SAINT
ROSE, little more than a child, with roses in her hair, is dressed like
a saint of FRA ANGELICO. There is a door to the right, just behind these
statues. To the left is a large fire-place, in which are dying embers;
two children’s shoes lie on the hearthstone. Nearby is the cradle—hung
with curtains—in which little ROSE is sleeping. At the center of the
stage is a table, with a meal set on it, and a chair on either side.
Through a bay-window at the back are seen the silhouette of the cathedral
of Notre Dame and the roofs of houses covered with snow. It is night, and
a few stars are out. On the mantel above the fire-place burns a candle;
two other candles, half-burnt, are on the table. As the curtain rises,
JACQUELINE is seated on a chair. She sits listening to a church bell
which strikes five. Then she rises._

    JACQUELINE.—

  ’Tis five o’clock, and Pierre is still away.
  I thought I heard his step—but ’twas not his!
  My dear good husband, once so kind, neglects
  And leaves me all alone. Is it his fault?
  What most I fear is that his weakness will
  Destroy him! Now no doubt he sits and drinks
  In some low wine-shop: thus he spends his nights.
  My Pierre! My genius! Lord in Heaven, hear!

                              (_She looks at ROSETTE’S shoes by the
                              hearth._)

  I fear he’ll bring no presents for Rosette——
  Her Christmas will be sad without her toys.
  He wanted so to buy some toy to make
  Her little eyes grow wide with wonder. See,
  The tiny shoes stand empty Christmas morn,
  And seem to say: “Has Christmas passed us by?”

                              (_A pause._)

  He took his mantle with him, he was going
  To Notre Dame for midnight Mass. How tenderly
  He kissed me, when he told me, “Good night, dear!”
  I thought he would be hungry, so I put
  A goodly supper on the table, while the fire
  Glowed bright, and through the windows I could see
  The lights of Notre Dame, and hear the organ
  And the choir. My heart was light with joy
  At thought of his return, when we might talk
  And I might influence and make him good:
  I understand him and can soothe him well.
  Now statues occupy him more than I.
  For days and days his silence is unbearable——

                              (_She looks at the statues of SAINT
                              NICHOLAS and SAINT ROSE._)

  Yet I am proud of these wood images——
  My Pierre is no mere artisan or ’prentice;
  _He_ cuts a living face from living oak.
  I must stand back and silently admire,
  Stand mute with fear. His art is wife and child
  For him. How sad I am that the lost hours
  Spent at the inn cannot be mine! Oh, God!

                              (_She kneels before the statues._)

  Monsieur Saint Nicholas, Madame Saint Rose,
  You whom my Pierre has graven, pardon me
  If I dare speak to you—I suffer so!
  You’ve always been so good, so kind to me!
  Ah, Saints of Paradise, give back my Pierre.
  Comfort, console me, if you value him!

                              (_She rises._)

  He’s not yet home. I am so tired out!

                              (_She goes to ROSETTE’S cradle and
                              looks at the sleeping child._)

  She sleeps a sound soft sleep. Oh, may God grant
  That I be spared you, little one, my sweet!

                              (_She turns toward SAINT ROSE._)

  I give her to your keeping while I rest,
  To you, her patron saint.

                              (_She looks again at ROSETTE._)

                            I dare not kiss her,
  She must sleep on in peace.—Now will I lay
  A pillow for her.

                              (_She carefully arranges the pillow
                              in the cradle._)

  Sleep in peace, my dear!

                              (_A pause._)

  Shall I? Dare I? Yes, I must.

                              (_She kisses ROSETTE._)

  There, my child.

                              (_She sits in a chair at some
                              distance from the cradle, closes
                              her eyes, and is soon fast asleep.
                              A moment later she speaks as in a
                              dream._)

  I see her now the day she was baptized,
  I have not smiled so much since that glad time.
  My Pierre forgets me, spends his nights away
  In drinking——

                              (_A rather long pause._)

                  Dear Saint Nicholas, I pray,
  Oh, give me rest—make me forget awhile——

                              (_The Statue of SAINT NICHOLAS moves.
                              A bright light floods the room.
                                SAINT NICHOLAS comes slowly toward
                                JACQUELINE, and extends a hand to
                              her._)

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

  Poor creature!

    JACQUELINE.—

                What, was I asleep? Protect me!

                              (_She falls asleep again. SAINT
                              NICHOLAS looks at her, smiling
                              benignantly, then turns to the statue
                              of SAINT ROSE._)

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

  Rose, Rose! No answer from her! Rose, I’m speaking!
  You hear me? Come to life!

                              (_He examines the statue, which
                              remains inanimate._)

                            ’Tis surely she!

                              (_He turns round facing the audience,
                              while the statue of SAINT ROSE begins
                              to move. She quietly walks toward
                                SAINT NICHOLAS and listens to him._)

  From Heaven have we come to save Jacques Coeur.
  He ’graved my image for the joy it gave him,
  No gain was his—and yet he leaves his wife!
  I hope that we can save him——

    SAINT ROSE.—

                                  Nicholas?

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

  Ah, Rose! You’re late.

    SAINT ROSE.—

                        Because I’ve been to see
  The children who have never been baptized
  And giv’n them Christmas cakes, and flow’rs and kisses.

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

  But the angels all do that, my dear Saint Rose,
  And one of them stands guard before the gate.

    SAINT ROSE.—

  And pray what difference does that make to me?

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

  But know you not it is forbidden?

    SAINT ROSE.—

                                    Yes——
  But then I know another door.

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—(_Alarmed_)

                                Ah, Rose!

    SAINT ROSE.—

  It’s time, I say, these poor young souls below
  Breathed Heaven’s air and played with angels——

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

                                              Ah,
  You’re daring, little Rose, you should be sent
  To play with dolls. The Lord forbids——

    SAINT ROSE.—

                                        The Lord
  Is not so strict as you would have me think.

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

  I’ll say no more, then. Tell me, now, where are
  The toys you should have brought—Where are they, Rose?

    SAINT ROSE.—

  I’ve given them already, to the poor!

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

                                        But here——

    SAINT ROSE.—

  I pray you, be not angry with me.
  I’ll go at once to Heaven and bring more.

                              (_She goes out._)

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

  By all the twelve Apostles, I declare
  She treats me like a grandpapa—Ah, well!

                              (_He catches sight of the table._)

  Now what is this? A supper? Were I not
  Well nourished on the manna of the angels
  I should be hungry—aye, and thirsty too——
  God bless this meal.

    JACQUELINE.—(_Half-asleep_)

                      Is that you, Pierre? Not yet——

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

      Her heart is weary—sleep again, my child,
  I watch and will give comfort to your soul.
  I heard your prayer ere it left your lips,
  And Rose smiled through her tears. For you
  We’ve come to life. Sleep now, for greater joy
  Is soon to come to you.

                              (_JACQUELINE sighs and then falls
                              into a peaceful sleep. Enter SAINT
                              ROSE, loaded down with toys._)

    SAINT ROSE.—

                          Just see these toys!

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—(_Looking at the toys_)

  How Rosette’s heart will beat!

                              (_SAINT ROSE kneels before the hearth
                              and lays the toys about her. She
                              speaks the following lines as she
                              arranges the toys._)

    SAINT ROSE.—

                                Just see this green one!
  You’ll have to go in this shoe—Now, the other——
  Here’s Saint Cecilia playing on her organ,
  And here three angels.—Saint Médard, come here.
  And next to old Saint Anthony, a pig.
  And now this little cake, an angel made it
  With his Heav’n-bright hands; celestial roses
  Are wreath’d upon it—leave it in the box!

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

  That’s all, I think?

    SAINT ROSE.—(_Rising_)

                      They’re pretty, are they not?
  Those little people all arranged so proudly?

                              (_Going to ROSETTE’S cradle._)

  I’ll look at her——

                              (_She opens the curtains of the
                              cradle._)

                      How sweetly does she sleep!
  I wonder if I looked that way at three?

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

  Ah, Rose, what vanity!

    SAINT ROSE.—

                        That’s true.—Enough!

                              (_She pulls the curtains to._)

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

  Our presents will bring joy to them, I know.

    SAINT ROSE.—(_Listening_)

  I thought I heard——?

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

                        What, Rose?

    SAINT ROSE.—

                                    The father coming!

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

  Yes, I hear him too——

                              (_SAINT NICHOLAS and SAINT ROSE
                              resume their statuesque attitude,
                              standing in front of the hearth,
                              hiding the toys. The bright light
                              dies out. Enter PIERRE. He has
                              evidently been drinking._)

    PIERRE.—

  It’s me—Ho, Jacqueline—it’s not my fault!
  I didn’t really want to stay, but friends——
  How late is it?

                              (_Without waiting for an answer,
                              and not seeing JACQUELINE as she
                              lies asleep, he falls heavily into a
                              chair._)

                  Ah, Saints of Heaven, help!
  I have not drunk so much since Trinity!

                              (_He sees JACQUELINE._)

  You’re not in bed yet?

                              (_He rises and goes to her._)

                        Sleeping? Poor Jacqueline!
  After the Mass in Notre Dame I said:
  “Go home—don’t see your friends—you’ll drink too much——
  You know that Jacqueline, your wife, will weep.
  Not home on Christmas Eve would be too bad.”
  And yet I went to the inn——

                              (_A pause._)

                                Good Lord, what then?
  The rascals were amusing, and that Gringoire,
  The clever chap, a poet too, was there;
  I could not get away.—Now to my saints——
  I rather like Saint Nick, and Rose too, she——

                              (_He raises his head and to his
                              surprise finds that the statues are
                              not in their accustomed position._)

  They stood there when I left—I said Good-night
  The last thing to them——

                              (_He looks around the room._)

                            I’m bewitched, I know!

                              (_Clasping his hands in terror._)

  Dear Saints of Heaven, show yourselves, I pray!

                              (_He now sees the statues._)

  Ah, now I see you, statues of my love,
  My masterpieces——

                              (_Noticing their changed position._)

                      Why, you’ve moved, I see!

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

  ’Tis time to speak.

                              (_The light re-appears._)

    PIERRE.—

                      Dear Lord, how light it is!
  The moonlight floods the room from end to end!

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

  Pierre Coeur!

    PIERRE.—(_Trembling_)

                Who spoke my name?

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

                                  I.

    PIERRE.—(_Terrified_)

                                    What, my statue?

                              (_Putting his hand to his forehead
                              and speaking to himself._)

  And yet my eyes are open—who mocks me?

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

  I am Saint Nicholas himself, Pierre Coeur.

    PIERRE.—

                                            You are——?!

                              (_Falling to his knees._)

  Forgive me, oh forgive me, holy Saint!

                              (_He hides his face in his hands._)

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

  Are you not filled with shame, Pierre Coeur, to spend
  Your nights in drinking, while your poor wife sits
  And counts the hours by herself, alone?
  You kill your body and your soul with men
  Who fear nor God nor devil—you, a genius!
  God made of you an artist and you seek
  To kill the gift that is not yours to kill.

    PIERRE.—

  Oh, pardon me!

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

                Then Jacqueline, your wife,
  Your child Rosette, you have forgot them.

    PIERRE.—

                                            I?

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

  You’ve passed the night amid the fumes of wine,
  But did you bring your child a single toy?

    PIERRE.—(_In despair_)

  I did not!

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

            When she wakes up in the morning
  And looks for toys and presents, she will find
  Nothing at all—not even one poor orange!
  What will you tell her? That the Christ-child failed
  To come here, busied as he was with others’ toys?

    PIERRE.—

  Oh, pity me!

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—(_Gently_)

                Does that thought make you sober?——
  Come here, we have for you a sweet surprise.

                              (_PIERRE rises._)

  If you will promise on your honor, Pierre,
  Never to drink as you have drunk to-night,
  I will repair your fault this instant. Come,
  I see you are repentant, tell me, now?

    PIERRE.—(_Solemnly_)

  I promise never to touch wine again!

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—(_Good-naturedly_)

  So much I would not ask of you.
  You may drink, but in moderation, that
  Is good and cheery, but with Jacqueline
  You must remain at home and drink.

    PIERRE.—

                                    I will.

    SAINT ROSE.—

  I know he will.

    PIERRE.—

                  I’ve sinned; my heart is torn.

    SAINT ROSE.—

  No sadness now, or I shall leave. Now see.

                              (_She shows him the toys._)

    PIERRE.—

  What’s this?

                              (_He goes to the fire-place, kneels
                              and examines the toys, which he
                              admires._)

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—(_To JACQUELINE, who is still asleep_)

  Saint Rose and I, while you were sleeping,
  Have taken care of you and yours. Awake,
  Dear Jacqueline, and let your heart be free.

                              (_JACQUELINE opens her eyes, and
                              rises._)

    JACQUELINE.—

  Oh, dear Saint Nicholas, you have kept watch!

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

  Saint Rose and I.

    SAINT ROSE.—(_Pointing to PIERRE_)

                    Look, Jacqueline, he is happy!

                              (_JACQUELINE sees PIERRE, absorbed in
                              examining the toys._)

    JACQUELINE.—

  To you I owe this happiness, Saint Rose.

    SAINT ROSE.—

  I looked at dear Rosette; that’s my reward.

    PIERRE.—(_To himself_)

  The angel who carved this knows well his trade.

    SAINT ROSE.—(_To JACQUELINE_)

  Now speak to him.

    PIERRE. (_To himself_)

                    I should be proud myself——

    JACQUELINE.—

  You’re home at last, Pierre?

                              (_PIERRE rises quickly, turns, sees
                              his wife, then looks at the floor,
                              ashamed._)

    PIERRE.—

                              Yes, I just came in.

    JACQUELINE.—(_Pointing to the toys_)

  But where did you find all these toys, my dear?

                              (_PIERRE is embarrassed and does not
                              answer._)

    SAINT ROSE.—

  Poor Pierre, he’s blushing!

    PIERRE.—

                              Dear, I am ashamed.
  I have neglected you, while day by day
  You sat in silent sadness, saying nothing;
  At night you waited for me while I drank too deep.
  When I came home you did not say a word,
  Not one reproach. I should fall to my knees
  And ask forgiveness. Dear dear wife, how cruel
  I was, and what I’ve made you suffer, dear——

    SAINT ROSE.—

  One kiss means more to her than pardons asked.

    JACQUELINE.—

  The past have I forgotten; now I’m happy.

    PIERRE.—

  You do forgive me, then? You pardon me?

    JACQUELINE.—(_Smiling_)

  Oh, yes!

    PIERRE.—

            And will forget all else?

    JACQUELINE.—

                                    I will.
  Pierre, doubt it not.

    PIERRE.—

                        My life from now on will
  Be spent in loving you.

                              (_He kisses JACQUELINE’S hands._)

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—(_To SAINT ROSE_)

                          Come Rose, they’re tired;
  See, daylight’s coming, and they must have rest.

    SAINT ROSE.—(_Looking at PIERRE_)

  See, Nicholas, he’s crying!

    SAINT NICHOLAS.—

                              Yes, in Heaven
  There is rejoicing; love and hope have come
  Once more. The Christ is born and Mary sits
  Smiling at Him. Let peace be upon earth!

                              (_Sounds of a choir are heard. After
                              a few moments, SAINT NICHOLAS looks
                              smilingly at SAINT ROSE._)

  We must return, Rose, to our places there.

                              (_They stand as statues where they
                              stood at first._)

  God bless this place! Farewell, and rest in peace!

                              (_The light dies out and the music
                              stops. The statues are immobile.
                              Gradually the daylight creeps
                              in at the window. PIERRE and
                                JACQUELINE awake. They look about
                              in astonishment, then look at the
                              statues._)

    PIERRE.—

  They stand there as before. They have not moved!

                              (_PIERRE and JACQUELINE go to the
                              statues, and kneel before them._)

    JACQUELINE.—

  Dear saints, you’ve wiped away my tears.

    PIERRE.—

  You have brought joy to this our humble home.

    JACQUELINE.—(_To PIERRE_)

  You’ll keep your promise?

    PIERRE.—

                            Yes, dear, it is sacred!

    JACQUELINE.—

  I’ll think no more about it.

    PIERRE.—

                              I could not
  Offend my friends the saints.

    JACQUELINE.—

                                See what I have for you.

                              (_She shows him the supper on the
                              table._)

    PIERRE.—

  The table set?

    JACQUELINE.—

                It’s simple, dear, but good,
  It’s your reward.

    PIERRE.—(_Touched_)

                    My dearest Jacqueline!

    JACQUELINE.—

  You are not hungry, Pierre? Come, tell me, are you?

    PIERRE.—

  This meal is blessed by Heaven; I shall eat.
  But first, a kiss——

                              (_He kisses her._)

    JACQUELINE.—(_Pointing to ROSETTE’S cradle_)

                        We must speak softly, now!

                              (_She takes a step toward the cradle,
                              but PIERRE detains her._)

    PIERRE.—

  She sleeps as softly as a bird at night.

    JACQUELINE.—

  Then let us eat at once, I want to be
  With our Rosette when first she wakens up;
  Her joy must be ours too.

    PIERRE.—

                            It will. Sit down,
  And later, rest.

    JACQUELINE.—

                    We must not miss High Mass.

    PIERRE.—(_As they sit down at the table_)

  No, we shall go together, and thank God
  For this our happiness.

(_The red of the rising sun has touched the towers of Notre Dame, which
are seen through the window at the back._)

CURTAIN.



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