GENERAL. They have always been princes. This is a great opportunity for the lads of this village.
MAYOR’S WIFE. But how will the Emperor make a choice?
GENERAL. A test will be given every boy who comes. This test will prove his fitness to be guide.
[Enter an AIDE from Emperor’s room.]
AIDE. General, the Emperor would see you.
[The General bows to the ladies and leaves.]
AIDE (turning to the ladies). The Emperor will receive you presently.
[Aide goes. Enter the POOR WOODCUTTER’S WIFE and SON.]
POOR WOODCUTTER’S WIFE (timidly). I heard the Emperor wanted a guide.
MAYOR’S WIFE. The Emperor only wants the boys of the best families, madam.
[Enter the EMPEROR, GENERAL, and CAPTAIN; they remain back; are not seen by the ladies.]
POOR WOODCUTTER’S WIFE (sighing). I suppose that is true, but Pierre is a smart boy. If the Emperor could only see him—
RICH MERCHANT’S WIFE (interrupting). The Emperor wants a boy with proud manners such as our boys have.
EMPEROR (indignantly). Fiddlesticks!
THE LADIES (bowing). Your Highness!
EMPEROR. Fiddlesticks and candles, I say!
POOR WOODCUTTER’S WIFE. I am sorry, your
Majesty. I didn’t know how it was.
[She turns to go.]
EMPEROR. Remain. Pierre shall have the test with the others. Ladies, you shall know whom I have chosen when the test is finished. I bid you good-day.
[The ladies bow and go.]
EMPEROR (turning to the boys). My lads, go through the forest southward, till you come to the river. You may then return. Captain, see that guards go with them. My lads, you must not speak the one to the other until I have again seen you. I must have your word on that. Do you promise?
BOYS. Sire, we promise.
EMPEROR. ’T is well. Captain, they are now in your charge. General, a word with you.
[The Emperor and General go into Emperor’s room. The Captain leads the boys from the tent.]
TIME: two hours later.
PLACE: the Emperor’s tent; the Emperor’s room.
* * * * *
* * * * *
[The EMPEROR is seen sitting at a table looking at maps. Enter an AIDE. He salutes.]
AIDE. The prisoner has returned, sire.
EMPEROR. What prisoner?
AIDE. The one sent out for the test, sire.
EMPEROR. Who was sent?
AIDE. Ludwig, the prisoner who has been ill for so long.