Scene One – Homefront, Ella's House
[Enter ELLA WATERSLAGER, who sits down on a chair with a handful of letters. She is dressed cheaply to stay warm. She picks up the first letter, but hesitates to open it. She decides to open it, and begins to read the letter out loud.]
ELLA “Dearest Ella, I mourn every hour I am to be away from you. I have tried and availed many times for the chance to write to you, and I regret that I am only writing to you now. I shall write as frequently as I am able, but the mailing schedule is strange, so I am not sure when they will reach you. So I pray you give me patience and wait humbly for me to write. Feel no need to write back, for seeing your words will only make me miss you more…”
[RICHARD BUCK enters, stepping forward to continue the letter in his own voice.]
RICHARD “...I shall tell you how things are here, so that your mind may be put to rest. In the past week, nothing much has happened. We received a new acting lieutenant, his name is Castor. He’s an odd fellow, he cuts his cigars in half before taking a smoke to ration them. I’m not sure why he thinks that, but he does. Despite his quirks not much has changed. I met this fellow, Charlie Kent. I find it humorous that despite his name, he actually comes from Selsey. He worked on a farm there most his life. Charlie is a great fun too, alas, I would’ve died of boredom long before now had he not been around. He’s very hot to get into battle, though, and he often starts to whittle stakes, which he keeps by him whenever he sleeps. So that’s how it is, really. We’ve been through a few skirmishes, but nothing more major than a raid to or from us. Rest your mind, knowing that I am safe, and forever yours.
Scene Two – The War, Back Trenches
[Richard steps backwards into the next scene. There is a crate that used to carry ammunition being used as a makeshift table for cards. CHARLIE KENT and Richard sit at this table playing the game “War”. Each of Charlie’s cards have the corner cut off.]
CHARLIE Ah! Your luck is as terrible as ever, Rick! Ace high!
RICHARD Oh shove it. You were having a bad bout yourself for a while.
CHARLIE Small bump, a small bump.
RICHARD Damn, don’t we have any other games we can play? It’s just War day in, War day out.
CHARLIE Well, then teach me a new one if you’re so eager to play something else. War’s the only game I know.
RICHARD I only know Beggar-my-Neighbour.
CHARLIE And how do you play bugger-my-neighbour?
RICHARD Beggar. You play it the same as War, except you win by placing pay cards, which cause the other player to have to pay the amount of cards to the middle for whichever card is drawn. So if Ace is drawn, the opponent plays four, and if the Jack is drawn, the opponent plays one, and so on and so forth.
CHARLIE I call him Knave.
CHARLIE The Jack, I call him Knave. I always wondered how he got the nickname Jack.
RICHARD Well, Knave to Ace is one to four cards paid, respectively. And if you put down the pay card, you get the deck. First to lose all their cards loses the game.
CHARLIE What if I place a pay card on your pay card.
RICHARD Then I need to pay.
CHARLIE Seems an awful yellow way to fight a War.
RICHARD But it’s not War. It’s different.
CHARLIE Seems like it’s just hiding the War behind some silly hierarchy. Think of how the numbers feel, since they’re just used to pay the other player until their king retrieves them.
RICHARD Ah, well, the illusion, I prefer to War. This game seems less random.
CHARLIE I don’t think an ounce of it isn’t random.
RICHARD Just split the deck, Chuck.
[Charlie splits the deck, and each take one half. They begin playing. Richard places down a card]
RICHARD That’s a king, pay up.
CHARLIE That’s the queen. It has the ‘Q’ in the corner.
RICHARD It doesn’t really matter, it’s still a pay card. It looked kind of king at first glance.
CHARLIE I counter your queen with Ace of Hearts.
[He plays it down, and Richard pays up. They continue playing.]
CHARLIE How does it look like a king?
RICHARD I didn’t look that closely. The top corners are all cut off so I can’t always tell.
CHARLIE I left the bottom corner on. I just want to make sure people know they’re mine.
RICHARD Great, that’ll show those bullies. King of Spades. [he places it down]
CHARLIE Ace of Clubs. [Likewise] When I become someone, they’ll know that they’re mine, and when I die, they will keep my cards as a memorial to me.
RICHARD You can’t be serious.
CHARLIE Oh, but I am! Ace of Diamonds.
RICHARD King of Diamonds. And so the King finally rids the menace of the Ace from the field.
CHARLIE Ah, but all my other aces are in my deck now so they shall return, eventually.
RICHARD This game truly does not have any element of strategy.
CHARLIE The only strategy is that of God’s.
RICHARD Don’t you even start to lecture me on God, you devil.
CHARLIE You really are a sore loser.
RICHARD I don’t want to play anymore.
CHARLIE Just a few more rounds.
RICHARD What difference will a few more rounds make, there’s no point to it all.
[He turns over another card anyways, and admires it.]
RICHARD You’ve left a joker in the deck.
CHARLIE Oh, really? Let me see. [Richard gives the card to Charlie] It matches my other one. Two rooks.
RICHARD What are you, an ornithologist?
CHARLIE It says at the bottom of the card.
RICHARD Just place down your next card.
CHARLIE You just drew the rook, go again.
RICHARD Fine. [They continue]
CHARLIE Ah, Jack of Spades.
RICHARD Wasn’t it knave for you?
CHARLIE I never said Jack about Knaves.
RICHARD Alright, I’m finished with this. I’m going to write another letter.
CHARLIE What a lucky dame.
RICHARD Well, she isn’t royalty, so I need to treat her as such.
[Charlie laughs and nods off after collecting his cards. Richard searches for the supplies to write the letter with in his sack. He finds them and starts to write.]
RICHARD “Dearest Ella, I’m sure you can understand my plight. It’s dreadful to bear even a moment of silence here, and I could die of old age, it seems, before I see another Hun. I have been in this mind for many days now, and I cannot contain myself much longer. I long to return to the battle, for I cannot bear the thought of staying another night in my hole just listening to guns blaring in the distance. I cannot tell whether I miss the guns blazing in my ear or if I am so sick of being out here. Alas! if I were only able to return to you, all my troubles would be solved. But, unfortunately, it appears the only way I could possibly get out of this situation was if I were to end it as soon as possible. Yes, I cannot bear it…”
Scene Three – Homefront, Ella's House
[Enter Ella, who sits on the chair reading the letter, takes over the reading of the letter]
ELLA “...Please keep me in your prayers, belle d’amour, for I am forever yours, no matter who I am nor how I am. I shall be back from the war with people calling my name, one way or another!
Oh, curse the ground he steps on, that rash fool! He thinks with not his head, but with his heart; all men’s greatest weakness is the heart, for it cannot protect the thing it loves without running toward the thing it hates. What is the use in a golden heart, if gold is so tender that it may be pierced with ease? There is no danger in a heart of stone, as it cannot be broken without the greatest powers. Ah! But the tears of women create ruptures in that stone, churning it to pebble. Why can a man’s heart not be made out of diamond, which is harder than any stone, but yet can be fashioned in any way to what a woman desires without destroying it. That’s what a man’s heart should be! But it isn’t, and the fallibility of his heart shall kill him before another man ever could. Oh, Richard, please take arms against your heart and protect your mind from it! Oh! If you are slain, I am thus slain with you, as I shall be doomed and widowed before I ever don the white dress. For my wretched father, whom my many enemies have taught me to hate, has burdened me under inescapable shackles. To think a name could be the thing that would kill someone. They ask to name one thing that is deadlier than the sword, I give them mine! A German father, who spoke better English than that of his England-bred rivals, if only his name were as revered now as it was when he was still alive. No, it now acts as the ax to my head, and the solution to my dilemma is running into battle without a thought of his promise to abolish my name! Richard, his name is stronger than any lion, bringing prosperity to those who are granted its power. For once, neutrality is better than any positive or any negative. How I wish to reach that point of happiness where I be no one's enemy. At the price of being no one's friend. It is fair, for my friends have all become my enemies for such is my name's awful power. I beseech you, father, protect the name, and the deliverer of it, for no post ever reaches a destination when kept in a mailbox, unmanned. O, father! I curse you and all you have given me, for it means nothing to a dead woman. So do my deed for me, so I may praise you once more. A name, a cursed thing to give to one so free of guilt.
Scene Four – The War, a field for shooting.
[Richard and Charlie enter. Richard is smoking a cigarette.]
RICHARD What a beautiful day, unmarred by the stain of blood that was recently spilt.
CHARLIE I pity the woman who has to sit through conversations with you, Wordsworth.
RICHARD I see no problem with conceits and exploring the abstract.
CHARLIE Good thing you're pretty, or you'd be farewell like Byron.
RICHARD That's rich.
CHARLIE You're Rich, Far be it from me to forget your name, chum.
RICHARD Let's just hope the recruits learn it fast. We just got a draft in from the homeland.
CHARLIE We've been here so long, our homeland's become foreign. You make the recruits sound so young, but I'll bet you one hundred to one that there's more than one of them older than you.
RICHARD But are any of them better acquainted with war than I am?
CHARLIE Yes, I think.
CHARLIE You've actually only fought for about a month, we've been behind lines for most of it, and you're hopelessly prim and untrained.
RICHARD I wasn't planning to go to war.
CHARLIE Who was?
RICHARD According to the posters, the Germans.
CHARLIE Your girl is German, isn't she?
RICHARD Second-generation, you couldn't tell she was ever German.
CHARLIE And how do you tell a German from a Jew, from a Spic, from any of them? They all bled the same when shot through the head.
RICHARD Hear, hear.
[Enter ADAM with a rifle. The boy points it, shoots.]
CHARLIE What a shot! He hit that disc from fifty yards away!
RICHARD First timer's fumble, no doubt. Put him in front of a target that breathes and thinks— see how long he lasts.
[Adam fumbles around trying to reload the gun. He finally manages to do it, and points once more, shooting another good round.]
RICHARD Shame he's dead as soon as we go into battle. There's no way a man so bad at reloading can survive more than a few minutes on the battlefield.
CHARLIE But with a shot like that, he may never have to go into battle. I heard a man up north was kept out of battle because he could hit a flying disc with a throwing knife.
CHARLIE Some Russians killed him, I think. Figured that he was the cause of the unit's successes in their battles.
RICHARD Was he?
CHARLIE Why should I care anymore, he's dead!
RICHARD You morbid fool.
CHARLIE Ah, it's not my sentiment alone.
RICHARD Well try not to kill the ones that agree with you. Ho! New recruit.
RICHARD We couldn't help but notice your skill with the rifle.
ADAM Ah, I'm not very good with this model.
RICHARD Your aim seems just fine, though your reloading could definitely be improved upon.
ADAM Very so...much so....Yes.
CHARLIE Don't be too hard on yourself mate, your aim is fantastic.
ADAM Well, I find this model heavier, which is easier to aim, but it's, well, heavy.
RICHARD Where did you learn? A school?
ADAM Ah, my father taught me when I was young. I've always been fascinated by firearms and such, ever since my dad let me shoot my first fox with his prized J. F. Brown Rifle.
ADAM Our estate holds a bimonthly fox hunt, for friends and family. I've gotten a number of pelts over the years, and made a fantastic coat out of a number of them last summer.
RICHARD (aside to Charlie) His family must be richer than mine. Though I can't think of a single man who would let their son create pelt coats.
CHARLIE (aside to Richard) If we all survive this war, he'd be a good person to have on our side, don't you agreed?
RICHARD I'm not taking advantage of this kid just because he has a lot of money.
CHARLIE Why do you think we're friends? [He laughs, and wanders off.]
RICHARD (to Adam) So you're a sniper?
ADAM I much prefer the hunt, I must admit, but I would be damned if I weren't to come to this war and try my luck.
RICHARD Try your luck?
ADAM I like to say that I'm chosen by the Gods, since my name is...
RICHARD Your name is?
ADAM The same as the first man to be created.
RICHARD I'm not Christian.
ADAM My father is Presbyterian. So he named me Adam.
RICHARD Ah, we haven't introduced ourselves. My name is Richard. Richard Buck that is.
ADAM Like a deer.
RICHARD I suppose.
ADAM I'm Adam, as you know already.
RICHARD A pleasure. That other fellow was Charlie. He's a bit of a cunt, but you'll get to like him.
[Charlie enters again.]
CHARLIE This is it! We're moving out!
CHARLIE Castor just got an urgent message from the French regiment a mile south. Apparently there's some skirmish that's broken out down in Albert, 5 miles from here. We're being sent to relieve the regiment under fire.
RICHARD It's these recruits' lucky day it seems. And possibly their last.
ADAM So I take it Charlie is the fun one?
CHARLIE Ah, don't mind Rick, he's a stiff bugger sometimes, but you get to liking him.
ADAM Oh! There's my cue to go! See you, chums! [He exits]
RICHARD When you're rich, you can speak however the hell you wish, I suppose.
CHARLIE So you think he'll last the week?
RICHARD Are you certain we will? We're fighting too.
CHARLIE I am definitely the fun one. Well, I'm going to head back now and pack my stuff up. You coming with me?
RICHARD Let me write a letter first.
CHARLIE Do what you like. [He exits.]
[Richard gets out his letter writing materials and begins to write once more.]
RICHARD “Dear Ella, my love, to-day we move out toward Albert to fight, finally. I am certain that I can find peace there someway or another, indeed, this letter is a relief enough to write to you, but it is not a long-lasting feeling and-”
[Richard is cut off by a scene change, and the crackling of fire.]
Scene Five – Homefront, Munition's Factory
[Ella toys with ashes in her hand.]
ELLA Here is my doom, here is my downfall, burnt up in glorious flame. I shall never suffer another letter from him. For he shall kill me as the war kills him, through the plague of the mind. Why does the devil lurk behind the words of love that Richard does shower me with. Showering in brimstone has left me scarred. I feel sick to my stomach reading his words, as if it can only mean ill. But alas, all distraction is gone. I shall have no more worries or trouble until his letters are not written by his hand. No more shall I fret over his instruments of despair, that look to scare me and to cripple my mind. I have achieved freedom from his evil, down with the devil, Dick, and all!
[A WORKER WOMAN enters, dressed like a peasant, but walking with the air of the elite: or so she thinks.]
WORKER Ah, it's Miss Wilhelm herself. Come back to steal our money?
ELLA I am here to work.
WORKER And that you've done, dear. You gone and fucked us all upright. What job you here for, to spy on our noble workers? Kill off one or two?
ELLA I am here to work. Doing factory work.
WORKER Hah! Germans doing honest work, what next! We will keep an eye on you, Miss Pretty Bird.
ELLA I have worked here before, I am a good worker.
WORKER Eh? Well, I have a job for you. A job worthy of Hun scum like yourself.
ELLA I shall do it.
WORKER Of course you will. Here I'll explain it to you slowly.
ELLA All respect Ma'am, I know what I'm doing.
WORKER Ho! Do you now! You know what youse doing she says! Rubbish. Absolute rubbish.
ELLA I impress, I know how to do the job. You can leave me to do the job.
WORKER Leave a German thief alone?
ELLA My mother was English, and I am also English.
WORKER I'll give you credit for your learning of our language, girly. It’s nice to spies taking the extra step.
ELLA Please! You have no right to disrespect me!
WORKER And you have no right at all to be alive, Miss Hun. [She storms off.]
[Ella stands defiant for a second until the woman is gone. Then she collapses in anguish.]
ELLA I raised my voice at her. I'm finished. My name is no longer under suspicion. I am worse than a murder convict from England now, worse than Napoleon here. I would rather my name be Bonaparte, and my fellows Wellington, than to be a Waterslager! It sounds profane to me now, to say my own name. To wish to be someone else is human, to wish to be anyone else is death of the soul. There are better spirits kept lying at the bottom of the seas, as mine is sunk so far that it might fall through the Earth! Such is this extreme prejudice placed upon something that is not even physically part of me. If fate wishes me me to die Waterslager, then so be it! But let the sign come so that I make take myself, so that the name may burn in Hell with me. Oh, if Lucifer were to even accept the name. The name, the name! A sign, oh Lord, oh gods, oh Fate! [She spots a letter on the ground] A letter! [picking it up] From Richard! It must have escaped the fire, and slipped out of my hands. Could this be the sign? Do I dare undergo the tribulation that I had just escaped once more? But why shy away from the hole because you are scared of the sand traps? I am caught in a stunning state of paranoia, surely, for I cannot will myself to move and to open the letter, nor burn it and let it free my mind. Is there a right answer to this, or shall I lose either way? My fate has already been sealed by that cruel woman, and I truly shall soon have nothing left to lose. This letter could mean loss, or it could mean gain, simply. Or not simply. I have already sworn to Fate, So guide me, Fate. I shall open the letter.
[She opens the envelope, and pulls out the letter. She falls silent, and Richard's murmur sounds unintelligibly. Fade to black.]
Scene Six – The War, not far off Albert's front.
[Adam sits smoking a cigarette on top of a crate, playing with a Colt. Richard enters, furious.]
RICHARD Castor...that bastard!
ADAM Castor; where have I heard that name?
RICHARD He's the lieutenant. He also is in charge of our letters. He hasn't let a single letter be sent, and it doesn't seem like he's planning to do so any time soon.
ADAM And what do you plan to do about it?
RICHARD I'm going to sneak into his quarters and find out where he stored the letters. Then, I'll mail all of them. Mine, the rest of my unit's mail. Do you have any mail you wish to be delivered, I'll mail it personally.
ADAM Richard, you're mad! You can't do that, they'll suspect you of abandoning your post. It's criminal. If you get caught, those letters are not going to Ella. They're going back to Castor.
RICHARD I can't stand that you're right about this. But those letters need to get to her.
ADAM And they will, don't give up, just rethink the problem.
RICHARD Can you hit me?
ADAM Sure. [He hands Richard a cigarette, and lights it.] When I was young and I was furious with my family or friends, I would always smash something I knew was valuable to them. So they had a nanny watch over me whenever I was out of my room. But when I was in my room, she would just sit outside and breathe heavily. I'm sure she slept on the job. Anyways, one day, I found a solution to my nanny problem. Our house back then had an easy way to climb on top of the roof. So I would climb on top of the roof, and find an open entrance into the rest of the house. Then I could wreck the place with selfish abandon.
RICHARD I really do not want to hear about your rich boy exploits, Adam.
ADAM I mean, what I'm saying is that there's always another way, even if you can't find one at first glance.
RICHARD Seriously Adam. Stop now.
ADAM But all I mean to say is-
RICHARD You can't use your brain for one minute can you? This isn't about finding another solution, it's about getting the problem dealt with now. I live by certain rules of honour that you in your naïve foolishness cannot even scratch the surface of. Plague to you, selfish brat! [He starts off]
ADAM I cannot understand male conceits, or honour. But what I can understand is that naivety is not foolishness. To be naïve is to-
RICHARD Male conceits?
ADAM I mean, I personally don't have any, which is why I referred to it. As that.
RICHARD I was suspicious, but I feel confirmed. Your name isn't actually Adam, is it?
ADAM It is, it is!
RICHARD Answer truthfully! I'm not going to be played as an idiot!
ADAM When I said before that I was named after the first man, I lied, to cover the fact that my name was that of a Greek Goddess: Hera. I thought changing my name would help me escape being noticed, and for the most part it worked well. Yes, I am actually a female, but I have as much right to be here as any man or child in this war. My father is fascinated by Greek mythos and epics, and so that was how I was named.
RICHARD But why would you do it, disguise yourself to go to war?
HERA (ADAM) The selfish desire for the one thing my brother had that I could get too. Glory in the war. He is a sloth, and will become nothing, and even my father prefers me, but he is the eldest, and male, so I am deprived of the life I should have. So I took advantage of my similarities to my brother and took his place secretly, with only his knowledge.
RICHARD You went to war because of jealousy? You have so much you could do, and you give in to meek jealousy?
HERA Please. Don't tell anyone. I need to stay here. I cannot go back now. I'll do anything.
[Richard doesn't answer, and walks briskly off stage. Hera looks after him sorrowfully, then pounds the ground in dismal frustration. She doesn't notice Charlie enter the scene. He lets her wallow for a moment. ]
CHARLIE So is it true? Are you indeed a woman?
HERA You...you heard!
CHARLIE It's okay! It's okay. I'll keep the secret.
HERA You will?
CHARLIE Moreover, I'll make sure Richard doesn't say a word about it.
HERA Thank you so much! I owe my life-
CHARLIE Of course, I wouldn't keep it for free.
CHARLIE You were just saying that you would do anything to keep your secret unannounced, so why should I keep quiet unless you were able to...give me something.
HERA Like what? [He approaches her and caresses her face with his hand slowly.]
CHARLIE I'm sure you'll figure it out.
[He slowly starts to unbutton her uniform and a look of alarm crosses her face. Taking a breath to protest, she is yet cut off by Charlie, who gags her with his hand. Forcing her down, he unbuttons himself and thrusts into her. She whimpers. He thrusts again, and she whimpers once more.]
CHARLIE Your voice disgusts me.
[He gags her with a dirty rag, and thrusts once more, and she sobs silently to blackout.]
...to be continued...