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THE TRAITOR 1

A PLAY IN ONE ACT BY PERCIVAL WILDE

CHARACTERS

COLONEL SIR ROBERT ANSTRUTHER, K. C. M. G.
MAJOR MACLAURIN, V. C.

CAPTAIN GRANTHAM.

CAPTAIN BATES.

CAPTAIN PARKER.

CAPTAIN WILLOUGHBY.

LIEUTENANT EDWARDS.

Other officers of the Fusiliers; an Orderly.

THE SCENE-Colonel Anstruther's Tent.

THE PLACE South Africa.

THE TIME-The Boer War.

As the curtain rises Colonel Anstruther and Major MacLaurin are discovered, seated on camp chairs, near a plain deal table. At intervals an orderly is seen passing the door of the tent. It is after nightfall, and a flickering light is cast by a few lamps. There is a long pause. MacLaurin (vehemently). It's hell, Colonel, that's what it is! It's

Anstruther (after a silence). You have n't a suspicion?

MacLaurin. No. . . . He's clever-too clever! Damn him!

Anstruther. There's never been anything like it in the history of the regiment.

MacLaurin. I would n't believe it if you told me. I would n't believe it unless I knew it at first hand. That an Englishman-an English

man

Anstruther. A traitor.

MacLaurin (nodding bitterly). Yes.

Anstruther. There have been traitors before.

MacLaurin. But not in the Fusiliers!

Anstruther. Thank God, no.

MacLaurin. The first thing that made me suspect was a month ago: at Spiesfontein: when the Boers shelled us.

Anstruther. It was queer, was n't it?

1 This copyrighted play must not be produced without the written consent of the author, who may be addressed in care of the Society of American Dramatists, New York City. Used here by permission and special arrangement with the author.

MacLaurin. It was much worse than queer! They knew our position! They knew our strength! There was not a wasted shot!

Anstruther (gravely). It cost us thirty-eight men.

MacLaurin (with a nasty contraction of his under lip). Yes. And more the next day, and the day after. Then they drove us here: bottled us up. And the shooting! Have you ever seen such shooting? Somebody has given them maps.

Anstruther. Yes; that 's pretty clear.

MacLaurin. It was one of our own officers: that 's pretty clear also. Anstruther. I'm afraid so.

MacLaurin. Who was it?

Anstruther (after a pause). I will tell you that in fifteen minutes. MacLaurin. You mean it?

Anstruther (nodding slowly). Yes.

MacLaurin. How I'd love to get my hands around his throat!

Anstruther. You'll have your chance, Cecil.

Do you know the man?

MacLaurin.
Anstruther. I think so.

MacLaurin.

What's his name?

Anstruther (quietly). Wait! Wait! . . . I have sent for the officers. MacLaurin (dejectedly). Then you don't know.

Anstruther. I'm almost sure, Cecil.

Orderly (appearing at the entrance of the tent). Colonel!

Anstruther. Yes?

Orderly. The officers, sir.

Anstruther. Ask them to come in, orderly.

(The Orderly salutes and exits.)

MacLaurin. One of our own officers! What a horrible

Anstruther (interrupting). Sh! (The officers enter, saluting as they do so.) Is Lieutenant Edwards there?

Grantham. He's coming, sir.

Anstruther. Will you sit down, gentlemen? (He turns to Captain Willoughby.) Everything quiet, Captain?

Willoughby (nodding). Just been the rounds, sir.

(Lieutenant Edwards appears. His uniform is torn and soiled, his face haggard, his general appearance that of a man near the end of his strength.)

Anstruther. Ah, here you are. Come in, Lieutenant.

Edwards. I'm sorry if I'm late, sir.

Anstruther. It's all right. Sit down.

(There is a pause. Then he addresses the assembled officers in a low voice.) Gentlemen, I have asked you here to lay a matter before you. The Articles of War prescribe certain rules for our conduct. Those rules are supposed to be followed absolutely. But I am violating no secret if I say that under certain circumstances it

becomes permissible to-to overlook some of them. Whether we do so or not depends upon your judgment. Lieutenant Edwards, as you know, was captured by the enemy four days ago.

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(There is a general murmur of assent.)

Anstruther. Lieutenant Edwards escaped to-day. Lieutenant Edwards told me to-day what took place in the interim. It appears that the Boers wanted information as to the disposition of our forces-as to our strength -as to our plans-information which Lieutenant Edwards could give them.

Parker (to Edwards). You did n't tell them, did you?

Anstruther. He refused to speak, Captain Parker. Then . . . Edwards, tell them what followed.

Edwards. They could n't get anything out of me, so-so they put me to the torture.

A Lieutenant. Good God!

Edwards. They held my feet to the fire-they tied a cord around my forehead

Anstruther (interrupting coldly). The details are of no consequence,

sir.

Edwards. No, sir.

Anstruther. They tortured you to make you tell. Did you tell? Bates. You did n't, man!

Grantham. Of course he did n't!

Anstruther.

Did you tell, sir?

Edwards. They tortured me, sir, they were killing me

Anstruther (insistently). Did you tell?

Edwards (after a tense pause). Yes, sir.

MacLaurin (rushing at him).

You-you traitor!

Anstruther (arresting him). Stop! (To the others, who have risen.) Sit down, gentlemen!

Edwards (sobbing). I could n't help it! I swear I could n't help it! I stood it for ten hours-for ten livelong hours-I fainted twice, and they waited till I came to, each time and then

MacLaurin. You told!

Edwards. I could n't stand the pain. It was killing me.

MacLaurin. You coward!

Edwards (springing up). Major!

Anstruther (sternly). Sit down, sir!

(There is a pause.) Gentlemen,

I have asked you here to judge this man. Parker. Why, there's nothing to do but-Anstruther (interrupting). Just a minute, Captain. The Articles of War prescribe death. (There is an affirmatory murmur.) Lieutenant Edwards has betrayed military secrets. But whether one man dies or does not die is of no great consequence. This is not a court-martial: no report of what takes place here will ever reach the outside world. Lieutenant

Edwards was compelled to do what he did: it was not a voluntary act. He claims-well, it is not necessary for me to repeat what he said: you can imagine what it was. It is for you to decide what is to be done: it is for you to punish-or not to punish. Gentlemen, the matter is in your hands. (He walks to the door of the tent. The officers rise, and form a group.)

Edwards (seizing Grantham's sleeve as he passes). Billy! (Grantham shakes him off in silence.)

A Lieutenant. What a thing to happen to the regiment!
Edwards (turning to him eagerly). Gerald, if you knew-
The Lieutenant (cutting him short). I don't want to.

(He turns his back.)

MacLaurin. Gentlemen, as senior officer present I put the question

to you

Edwards. But hear me first

MacLaurin. There is nothing you can say, sir. (He turns to the others.) The Articles of War prescribe death for the officer who forgets his oath of allegiance to his Sovereign. I so vote. Gentlemen? (A chorus of "Ayes"; a single "Nay.")

MacLaurin. Again, gentlemen?

(There is still one "Nay.") MacLaurin (frowning). The "ayes" have it.

(He crosses silently to Anstruther.)

Edwards (hysterically). You're not going to see me killed, are you? Why, I could n't do anything else

A Lieutenant. Edwards, you were an officer and a gentleman once. Try to remember it.

Anstruther (returning). I believe you have voted, gentlemen?

MacLaurin. There is only one against, sir.

Anstruther (addressing the officers). And you are still of the same opinion?

(A general murmur of assent.)

Anstruther. Major MacLaurin.
MacLaurin Yes, sir.

Anstruther. Some time to-morrow you will go for a walk with Lieutenant Edwards.

MacLaurin. Yes, sir.

Anstruther. You will go some distance from camp-not less than a mile, I should say.

MacLaurin. Yes, sir.

Anstruther. On this walk there will be an accident. What kind of an accident does not matter. Revolvers have been known to explode while being cleaned. Or, if you prefer, there is a dangerous cliff towards the south. At any rate, there will be an accident.

MacLaurin. Yes, sir.

Anstruther. From this accident Lieutenant Edwards will not recover. And you will make it your business to see that there is such an accident. MacLaurin. Yes, sir.

Anstruther (to Edwards). You may write what letters you please tonight-under Major MacLaurin's supervision. There is to be nothing which would lead persons to suspect the truth. They will be ordinary letters-such as you might write any time-no farewells. You understand, sir? (Edwards does not answer. He repeats the question.) You understand, sir?

Edwards (saluting with an effort). Yes, sir.

Anstruther. That is all.

Good-by, sir.

Edwards (offering his hand).
Anstruther (turning his back). I said that was all, sir.
Captain Willoughby. No, sir, that is not all!
Anstruther (wheeling in surprise). Sir?

Willoughby. It is hellish, what you are doing! It's not right; it's not fair that you should send this poor boy to his death like this! You would have done the same thing if you had been in his place! He told, that is true, but you would have told, too! Just look at him: see the mark of the cord around his forehead: imagine what he went through! He did what he had to, and you, you sanctimonius beggars, you would have done no better!

(Edwards bursts into an hysterical laugh.) Willoughby (continuing excitedly). I was the one who voted against death! You would n't hear him, no, you would n't listen to a word in his defense. And it's murder that you 're doing! Murder! (He pauses as he notices the peculiar expression on Anstruther's face. weakly): You must let him go, sir! You must let him go!

He finishes

Anstruther (after a pause, in a grim tone). Yes.

MacLaurin (voicing a general protest). What are you doing, Colonel? Anstruther (silences him with a gesture).

Willoughby. You will do what is right, Colonel!

Anstruther (emphatically). Yes. (He detains the officers as they start to leave the tent.) Wait a minute, gentlemen. (He pauses; then, quietly): Gentlemen, there has been a traitor amongst you for a long time. I was unable to find out who it was; so Lieutenant Edwards and I put together this story. Lieutenant Edwards was never captured by the enemy: he was never tortured: he never told. But it was sure that one man would be merciful to a traitor: the man who himself might be discovered any day. (He pauses; then, suddenly): Captain Willoughby, at dawn a firing squad will escort you out of camp-and shoot you!

CURTAIN

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