Generic Radio Workshop Script Library (BACK)

Series: Royal Gelatin Hour
Show: The Game of Chess
Date: Apr 29 1937

The Royal Gelatin Team:
HOST, Edgar Bergen
ANNOUNCER, Graham McNamee

Dramatis Personae:
ALEXIS
CONSTANTINE
FOOTMAN
BORIS

HOST:

... People who make their way through this world by entertaining you -- and you and you -- have a way of expressing their appreciation for real talent. Behind the greasepaint and make-up of a performer, they look for fine shadings in characterization, the timing of lines, the tempo and pace and heart that a man brings to his work. When they find them in just the right proportion, they say, "That fellow is an actor's actor." Just such a man is our distinguished guest this evening, Mr. Claude Rains, a star of Warner Brothers pictures, currently appearing now in "The Prince and the Pauper." Never in the memory of the oldest member of the Lambs or the Players Club has he given anything but an expert performance. Tonight, Mr. Rains will be assisted by Harold Vermilyea, Roland Hogue, Bradford Kirkbride. Presenting now Mr. Claude Rains as Alexis in "The Game of Chess" by Kenneth Sawyer Goodman.

SOUND:

APPLAUSE

MUSIC:

INTRODUCTION ... THEN BEHIND ANNOUNCER--

ANNOUNCER:

The scene is the luxurious drawing-room in the home of Alexis Alexandrovitch, Russian governor. The time, Russia in the days of the Tsars. Alexis and his friend Constantine are playing chess at a small table in front of an open fire. Constantine speaks--

CONSTANTINE:

Is the hour up, your excellency?

ALEXIS:

No, we still have time to play.

CONSTANTINE:

Your excellency tires of the game, perhaps?

ALEXIS:

I never tire of the game. When I do that, I shall tire of life itself. Chess is as much a gauge of a man's mental development as love or war -- or any other game. When I play bad chess, I shall have ceased to be a competent governor.

SOUND:

DOOR OPENS

FOOTMAN:

Your excellency?

ALEXIS:

Yes?

FOOTMAN:

A man, Boris Ivanovitch, with a letter for your excellency, is waiting in the secretary's room.

ALEXIS:

You may bring him here in two minutes.

FOOTMAN:

Yes, your excellency.

SOUND:

DOOR CLOSES

ALEXIS:

Your move, my dear Constantine. We have exactly one minute to finish the game and one minute for questions.

CONSTANTINE:

Hmmmm. (SOUND: MOVES PIECE) So!

ALEXIS:

(BEAT) One moment! (SOUND: MOVES PIECE) There! What now?

CONSTANTINE:

Mmmmm. (SOUND: MOVES PIECE) This.

ALEXIS:

And this! (SOUND: MOVES PIECE)

CONSTANTINE:

Ah ha! I could checkmate your excellency in, uh - in five more moves.

ALEXIS:

Time is up. Tell me, you are quite certain that your agents made no mistake in the matter of this man, Ivanovitch?

CONSTANTINE:

Quite certain, your excellency. I begged you to have him put under arrest yesterday. The man's entire history is in your hands.

ALEXIS:

And, in spite of all this, I have given explicit orders that he is not to be searched. In short, I must be a fool?

CONSTANTINE:

Oh, I cannot question your excellency's judgment.

ALEXIS:

But I saw something behind your eyes just now when you said you would checkmate me in five more moves. Do you think I've become a coward?

CONSTANTINE:

Your excellency!

ALEXIS:

I sometimes think so, myself; that sometime there may be no flash, that I shall be checkmated once and for all. That's why I am tempted to try another kind of game with this man, Ivanovitch.

CONSTANTINE:

Then you have a definite reason for seeing this man? Oh, but surely it would be safer--

ALEXIS:

Don't speak to me as if you were speaking to a child. I know what you think. "Alexis Alexandrovitch is not what he was." Well, the time is up. You have your orders.

CONSTANTINE:

Shall I take away the chess men?

ALEXIS:

No, leave them as they are. We'll finish the game when I ring for you. (BEAT) Well, well, well! So you think the game won't be finished? We'll see about that.

CONSTANTINE:

Oh, but, your excellency, I beg of you--

SOUND:

DOOR OPENS

FOOTMAN:

Your excellency, here is the man.

ALEXIS:

(APPRAISING) Mm hm. So you are Boris Ivanovitch.

BORIS:

I am.

ALEXIS:

Well, Constantine, what are you waiting for? This man has something important to say to me. He's bashful.

CONSTANTINE:

(NERVOUS) Your excellency, I - I will wait in the passage.

ALEXIS:

Oh, nonsense. Go into the garden and think about your game of chess. Go on!

SOUND:

DOOR CLOSES

ALEXIS:

So, Boris Ivanovitch. There is no one watching us. This room is in a corner of the house -- nothing but windows behind you, no balcony, no hangings. You see, we won't be disturbed. Now, sit down -- and tell me what you want. (NO RESPONSE) Tongue-tied, eh? You don't know how to begin?

BORIS:

I was wondering why your excellency gave me this chance.

ALEXIS:

This - chance?

BORIS:

To kill your excellency.

ALEXIS:

To kill me? Oh, so that's it, is it? Well, well, well! I thought as much, but of course, I couldn't be sure. You may as well take the pistol out of your pocket.

BORIS:

Your excellency seems amused.

ALEXIS:

Oh, no, no, not amused! I'm only curious to see you handle the thing. Morbid curiosity, if you like. Take the pistol out, man, take it out!

BORIS:

Keep your hand a little farther from that bell.

ALEXIS:

Oh, I shan't ring. You would hardly wait for them to answer the bell, would you? Of course not. I lift my hand -- and you shoot.

BORIS:

Yes.

ALEXIS:

Well, I won't lift my hand.

BORIS:

Nothing on earth can save you, Alexis Alexandrovitch.

ALEXIS:

Nor you, my friend, for that matter. You hardly expect to leave the house, shall we say, unmolested?

BORIS:

I don't expect to leave it alive, excellency.

ALEXIS:

Oh, come, come, come. You must hate me a great deal, my friend, to give your own life for the sake of taking mine.

BORIS:

I don't hate you.

ALEXIS:

How odd! I thought that everyone of your sort hated me. You might at least flatter me to the extent of showing some emotion.

BORIS:

Do you want to pray, excellency?

ALEXIS:

Pray? Pray? Oh, no, no, I'd rather chat with you -- until you gather courage to do what you came for.

BORIS:

It takes no courage to kill a thing like you.

ALEXIS:

It takes a certain kind of courage to kill rats.

BORIS:

I've been, chosen, excellency.

ALEXIS:

Won't you tell me about it?

BORIS:

I'm a peasant. My father and my father's father were peasants. You're a noble. Your line runs back to Tartar princes. It's a matter of centuries of pain and slavery against centuries of oppression and violence. You and I are nothing. It's caste against caste. I gave myself to the revolutionary party, yes! I'm their agent, as you say. I don't know much of their ideas for Russia, but I care less. I only know that the band I belong to represents the struggle which I feel in my own breast! [I do their will because the right of vengeance comes down to me in the blood. It is my order against yours.

ALEXIS:

Ah, your order against mine,] eh? Centuries of pain against centuries of oppression. Well, well! You know, you throw your own little pains and penalties out of the scale on one side, and my little tyrannies and floggings and acts of villainy out on the other? You're exalted by the breath of dead peasants, are you? How grotesque! You're about to commit a fantastic mockery of justice.

BORIS:

I've held my hand too long!

ALEXIS:

Wait! Wait. There is still something to be said; something for you to think of in the moment between the time you take my life and the time you take your own. You are about to kill the man you might have been yourself. I -- not you -- am Boris Ivanovitch.

BORIS:

What rubbish are you talking now?

ALEXIS:

You are Alexis Alexandrovitch!

BORIS:

(TAKEN ABACK) What? Why - why, you're mad.

ALEXIS:

When you were a child, you had a foster-brother. You ran with him in the fields. You slept by his side at night. When you were seven years old, a man on horseback came and took him away. You never knew his true parentage. Can you remember that?

BORIS:

Aye, I can remember that well.

ALEXIS:

Your father deserted your mother the following year. A little later, she died. She told you nothing of the other child. You went to Kieff, to the house of your uncle--

BORIS:

Leave off! You can't mystify me by telling me the story of my own life. It proves nothing. Your agents have ways of knowing such things -- what I was, what I am, everything.

ALEXIS:

Yet we are foster-brothers, you and I.

BORIS:

Then -- give me a sign.

ALEXIS:

Our good mother was endowed with a grim sense of humor. She sent her own boy to be reared as the son of princes, and the little aristocrat, she sent-- Well, uh, you know to what sort of a life she sent him.

BORIS:

(INSISTS) Give me a sign.

ALEXIS:

I have no sign to give you.

BORIS:

(DERISIVE LAUGH) Yeah, what else? What else have you to tell me?

ALEXIS:

I, and not you, am the son of peasants. Do you see now why I call your errand grotesque?

BORIS:

Do you expect me to believe you? Do you expect me to embrace you and throw this pistol out the window and tell you to do what you like with me?

ALEXIS:

I expect nothing. I know that I am one dead man talking to another.

BORIS:

And I know there must be some trick up your sleeve.

ALEXIS:

There is no trick. Do you think I wish to believe myself born a peasant? I, who have sat in high places and given my life to preserving an order of men to which I do not belong, which my blood ought to cry out against. Do you think I would have believed it if the belief had not been forced upon me? You are striking at a man who is dead before you touch him. I have come to the end, I tell you. I would have killed myself today, but I have a horror of taking my own life. You have come just in time to save me from that.

BORIS:

Was that your only reason for seeing me?

ALEXIS:

I admit I was curious to see another man who had been as great a dupe as myself.

BORIS:

Oh, lies! Lies! What else? Have you anything more to say?

ALEXIS:

I only ask you to finish your work. Unless you have a scruple against killing your foster-brother. In which case, the door is still open to you.

BORIS:

(CHUCKLES) Very pretty! Very touching! Go back, eh? And tell my comrades that I let Alexis slip through my fingers because he told me a child's story of changeling foster-brothers? (LAUGHS) No.

ALEXIS:

Kill me, then! (BEAT) Go on. Pull the trigger. (BEAT) You can't.

BORIS:

No. I can't. There's a chance that what you've said may be true after all. And yet, I can't live if it's false. And I can't live if it's true!

ALEXIS:

In either case, we must both die.

BORIS:

I dare not kill you. I tell, you, I dare not! There must be some other way out.

ALEXIS:

Are you brave enough to take poison? (BEAT) Yes? Good! Do you see this ring? I press a spring, so. There is a fine powder under the stone. I drop a few grains into one of these glasses. We draw lots. One of us drinks the wine and the other still has your pistol to use.

BORIS:

Ah! Now I see the trick. Ha! Yeah, you're very clever with your sleight-of-hand, but I don't draw lots for poison with the likes of you.

ALEXIS:

But, see, there's more than enough for both. Take the glass in your own hands, divide it yourself, pour the wine yourself, and then, to satisfy you, I'll drink first.

BORIS:

Yeah, you carry the bluff to the bitter end, do you? Well, we'll see.

SOUND:

WINE POURED INTO TWO GLASSES

ALEXIS:

(A TOAST) To your easy death, brother.

SOUND:

ALEXIS LIFTS GLASS AND DRINKS ... SETS GLASS DOWN BEHIND--

BORIS:

(IMPRESSED) Hm! Yeah, so you're a brave man after all! What if I were to leave you now, eh?

ALEXIS:

My men have orders to seize you the moment you leave the room.

SOUND:

BORIS LIFTS GLASS

BORIS:

Yeah, well, in that case. To your final redemption, brother!

SOUND:

BORIS DRINKS ... SETS GLASS DOWN

ALEXIS:

Shall we sit?

BORIS:

How - how long have we got to wait?

ALEXIS:

Oh, perhaps five minutes. It's a Chinese concoction. They call it the draught of final oblivion. I'm told that one becomes numb. Do you find yourself becoming numb?

BORIS:

No. My senses seem to be more alert. Your voice sounds very sharp and clear.

ALEXIS:

Try to move your arms.

BORIS:

I - I don't seem to be able to. That's strange. I - I can't feel anything.

ALEXIS:

Can you get out of your chair?

BORIS:

I might move by a great effort, but - I haven't the will. I - I don't feel pain. Only a ringing in my head.

ALEXIS:

Can you still hear perfectly?

BORIS:

Yes, yes, I can still hear. Now, tell me, on your hope of redemption, was what you said to me just now the truth?

ALEXIS:

On my hope of redemption, Boris Ivanovitch, everything I told you -- was lies! Lies! Lies!

BORIS:

You--! You fiend! You liar! (CHUCKLES) Ah, at least you can't escape! No need for me to strike you! You're - you're feeling the agony too, Alexis Alexandrovitch. You - you can't deny it.

ALEXIS:

I'm not dying, Boris Ivanovitch.

BORIS:

But, I know! I saw you drink!

ALEXIS:

And your eye wasn't off me an instant, was it? And you didn't lift your cup till I'd drained the last drop of mine, did you? Well?

BORIS:

I saw you drink what I drank!

ALEXIS:

Yes, I did drink it, Boris Ivanovitch. But what is sending you down to fry in Hell with the stupid ghosts of your bestial ancestors is only embarrassing me with the slightest of headaches.

BORIS:

It - it's not possible!

ALEXIS:

An oriental trick. A man in constant fear of poison may accustom himself, little by little, to a dose that would blast the life of an ordinary man.

BORIS:

Why? Why have you done this thing to me?

ALEXIS:

Body of St. Michael! You're a terrorist, a Red; the blood of my brother, shot down in the streets of Kronstadt, the lives of my friends, the preservation of the sacred empire -- are these nothing? Nothing beside your dirty petitions of right! You have been delivered into my hands. Can you still hear me, Boris Ivanovitch?

BORIS:

(WHISPERS WEAKLY) Yes!

ALEXIS:

Then one thing more. Why did I risk my own life to get yours? Well, it was because men were thinking that Alexis Alexandrovitch wasn't what he used to be; because I was beginning to think so myself. I had to look into the muzzle of your pistol, to pit my life against yours, with no other weapon, no other help, but my own wits. (TRIUMPHANT) Now I think it unlikely that Constantine will checkmate me in five more moves.

BORIS:

(A LAST EFFORT) You fiend! You fiend-- You-- (DYING) You fiend--

SOUND:

BODY COLLAPSES TO FLOOR

ALEXIS:

Ah ha. So, it's over, is it? Well, well, well! Peace be with you, brother.

SOUND:

BELL RINGS ... DOOR OPENS

FOOTMAN:

Your excellency rang?

ALEXIS:

Yes. Go into the garden and find Mr. Constantine. Tell him I am ready to finish our game of chess.

MUSIC:

CURTAIN

SOUND:

APPLAUSE ...