Defeat, A Tiny
Drama by John Galsworthy
During the Great War. Evening.
An empty room. The curtains drawn and gas turned low. The
furniture and walls give a colour-impression as of greens and
beetroot. There is a prevalence of plush. A fireplace on the
Left, a sofa, a small table; the curtained window is at the
back. On the table, in a common pot, stands a little plant of
maidenhair fern, fresh and green.
Enter from the door on the Right, a GIRL and a YOUNG OFFICER
khaki. The GIRL wears a discreet dark dress, hat, and veil,
stained yellow gloves. The YOUNG OFFICER is tall, with a
open face, and kindly eager blue eyes; he is a little lame.
GIRL, who is evidently at home, moves towards the gas jet to
turn it up, then changes her mind, and going to the curtains,
draws them apart and throws up the window. Bright moonlight
comes flooding in. Outside are seen the trees of a little
Square. She stands gazing out, suddenly turns inward with a
YOUNG OFF. I say; what's the matter? You were crying when
I spoke to you.
GIRL. [With a movement of recovery] Oh! nothing. The
beautiful evening-that's all.
YOUNG OFF. [Looking at her] Cheer up!
GIRL. [Taking of hat and veil; her hair is yellowish and
crinkly] Cheer up! You are not lonelee, like me.
YOUNG OFF. [Limping to the window—doubtfully] I say, how
did you how did you get into this? Isn't it an awfully hopeless sort
GIRL. Yees, it ees. You haf been wounded?
YOUNG OFF. Just out of hospital to-day.
GIRL. The horrible war—all the misery is because of the war
. When will it end?
YOUNG OFF. [Leaning against the window-sill, looking at her
attentively] I say, what nationality are you?
GIRL. [With a quick look and away] Rooshian.
YOUNG OFF. Really! I never met a Russian girl. [The GIRL
gives him another quick look] I say, is it as bad as they make out?
GIRL. [Slipping her hand through his arm] Not when I haf
anyone as ni-ice as you; I never haf had, though. [She smiles, and
her smile, like her speech, is slow and confining] You stopped
because I was sad, others stop because I am gay. I am not fond of men
at all. When you know—you are not fond of them.
YOUNG OFF. Well, you hardly know them at their best, do
you? You should see them in the trenches. By George! They're simply
splendid—officers and men, every blessed soul. There's never been
anything like it—just one long bit of jolly fine self-sacrifice;
it's perfectly amazing.
GIRL. [Turning her blue-grey eyes on him] I expect you are
not the last at that. You see in them what you haf in yourself, I
YOUNG OFF. Oh, not a bit; you're quite out! I assure you
when we made the attack where I got wounded there wasn't a single man
in my regiment who wasn't an absolute hero. The way they went
in—never thinking of themselves—it was simply ripping.
GIRL. [In a queer voice] It is the same too, perhaps,
YOUNG OFF. Oh, yes! I know that.
GIRL. Ah! You are not a mean man. How I hate mean men!
YOUNG OFF. Oh! they're not mean really—they simply don't
GIRL. Oh! You are a babee—a good babee aren't you?
[The YOUNG OFFICER doesn't like this, and frowns. The GIRL
looks a little scared.]
GIRL. [Clingingly] But I li-ke you for it. It is so good
to find a ni-ice man.
YOUNG OFF. [Abruptly] About being lonely? Haven't you any
GIRL. [Blankly] Rooshian? No. [Quickly] The town is so
beeg. Were you at the concert before you spoke to me?
YOUNG OFF. Yes.
GIRL. I too. I lofe music.
YOUNG OFF. I suppose all Russians do.
GIRL. [With another quick look tat him] I go there always
when I haf the money.
YOUNG OFF. What! Are you as badly on the rocks as that?
GIRL. Well, I haf just one shilling now!
[She laughs bitterly. The laugh upsets him; he sits on the
window-sill, and leans forward towards her.]
YOUNG OFF. I say, what's your name?
GIRL. May. Well, I call myself that. It is no good asking
YOUNG OFF. [With a laugh] You're a distrustful little
soul; aren't you?
GIRL. I haf reason to be, don't you think?
YOUNG OFF. Yes. I suppose you're bound to think us all
GIRL. [Sitting on a chair close to the window where the
moonlight falls on one powdered cheek] Well, I haf a lot of reasons
to be afraid all my time. I am dreadfully nervous now; I am not
trusding anybody. I suppose you haf been killing lots of Germans?
YOUNG OFF. We never know, unless it happens to be hand to
hand; I haven't come in for that yet.
GIRL. But you would be very glad if you had killed some.
YOUNG OFF. Oh, glad? I don't think so. We're all in the
same boat, so far as that's concerned. We're not glad to kill each
other—not most of us. We do our job—that's all.
GIRL. Oh! It is frightful. I expect I haf my brothers
YOUNG OFF. Don't you get any news ever?
GIRL. News? No indeed, no news of anybody in my country.
I might not haf a country; all that I ever knew is gone; fader,
moder, sisters, broders, all; never any more I shall see them, I
suppose, now. The war it breaks and breaks, it breaks hearts. [She
gives a little snarl] Do you know what I was thinking when you came
up to me? I was thinking of my native town, and the river in the
moonlight. If I could see it again I would be glad. Were you ever
YOUNG OFF. Yes, I have been—in the trenches. But one's
ashamed with all the others.
GIRL. Ah! Yees! Yees! You are all comrades there. What
is it like for me here, do you think, where everybody hates and
despises me, and would catch me and put me in prison, perhaps. [Her
YOUNG OFF. [Leaning forward and patting her knee]
GIRL. [In a smothered voice] You are the first who has
been kind to me for so long! I will tell you the truth—I am not
Rooshian at all —I am German.
YOUNG OFF. [Staring] My dear girl, who cares. We aren't
fighting against women.
GIRL. [Peering at him] Another man said that to me. But
he was thinkin' of his fun. You are a veree ni-ice boy; I am so glad
I met you. You see the good in people, don't you? That is the first
thing in the world—because—there is really not much good in people,
YOUNG OFF. [Smiling] You are a dreadful little cynic! But
of course you are!
GIRL. Cyneec? How long do you think I would live if I was
not a cyneec? I should drown myself to-morrow. Perhaps there are
good people, but, you see, I don't know them.
YOUNG OFF. I know lots.
GIRL. [Leaning towards him] Well now—see, ni-ice boy—you
haf never been in a hole, haf you?
YOUNG OFF. I suppose not a real hole.
GIRL. No, I should think not, with your face. Well,
suppose I am still a good girl, as I was once, you know; and you took
me to your mother and your sisters and you said: "Here is a little
German girl that has no work, and no money, and no friends." They
will say: "Oh! how sad! A German girl!" And they will go and wash
[The OFFICER, is silent, staring at her.]
GIRL. You see.
YOUNG OFF. [Muttering] I'm sure there are people.
GIRL. No. They would not take a German, even if she was
good. Besides, I don't want to be good any more—I am not a humbug; I
have learned to be bad. Aren't you going to kees me, ni-ice boy?
She puts her face close to his. Her eyes trouble him; he
YOUNG OFF. Don't. I'd rather not, if you don't mind. [She
looks at him fixedly, with a curious inquiring stare] It's stupid. I
don't know—but you see, out there, and in hospital, life's different.
It's—it's—it isn't mean, you know. Don't come too close.
GIRL. Oh! You are fun——[She stops] Eesn't it light. No
Zeps to-night. When they burn—what a 'orrble death! And all the
people cheer. It is natural. Do you hate us veree much?
YOUNG OFF. [Turning sharply] Hate? I don't know.
GIRL. I don't hate even the English—I despise them. I
despise my people too; even more, because they began this war. Oh! I
know that. I despise all the peoples. Why haf they made the world so
miserable —why haf they killed all our lives—hundreds and thousands
and millions of lives—all for noting? They haf made a bad world—
everybody hating, and looking for the worst everywhere. They haf
made me bad, I know. I believe no more in anything. What is there
to believe in? Is there a God? No! Once I was teaching little
English children their prayers—isn't that funnee? I was reading to
them about Christ and love. I believed all those things. Now I
believe noting at all—no one who is not a fool or a liar can believe
. I would like to work in a 'ospital; I would like to go and 'elp
poor boys like you. Because I am a German they would throw me out a
'undred times, even if I was good. It is the same in Germany, in
France, in Russia, everywhere. But do you think I will believe in
Love and Christ and God and all that—Not I! I think we are animals
—that's all! Oh, yes! you fancy it is because my life has spoiled me
. It is not that at all—that is not the worst thing in life. The
men I take are not ni-ice, like you, but it's their nature; and—they
help me to live, which is something for me, anyway. No, it is the
men who think themselves great and good and make the war with their
talk and their hate, killing us all—killing all the boys like you,
and keeping poor People in prison, and telling us to go on hating;
and all these dreadful cold-blood creatures who write in the papers
—the same in my country—just the same; it is because of all of them
that I think we are only animals.
[The YOUNG OFFICER gets up, acutely miserable.]
[She follows him with her eyes.]
GIRL. Don't mind me talkin', ni-ice boy. I don't know
anyone to talk to. If you don't like it, I can be quiet as a mouse.
YOUNG OFF. Oh, go on! Talk away; I'm not obliged to
believe you, and I don't.
[She, too, is on her feet now, leaning against the wall; her
dark dress and white face just touched by the slanting
moonlight. Her voice comes again, slow and soft and bitter.]
GIRL. Well, look here, ni-ice boy, what sort of world is
it, where millions are being tortured, for no fault of theirs, at all?
A beautiful world, isn't it? 'Umbog! Silly rot, as you boys call it
. You say it is all "Comrades" and braveness out there at the front,
and people don't think of themselves. Well, I don't think of myself
veree much. What does it matter? I am lost now, anyway. But I
think of my people at 'ome; how they suffer and grieve. I think of
all the poor people there, and here, how lose those they love, and
all the poor prisoners. Am I not to think of them? And if I do, how
am I to believe it a beautiful world, ni-ice boy?
[He stands very still, staring at her.]
GIRL. Look here! We haf one life each, and soon it is over
. Well, I think that is lucky.
YOUNG OFF. No! There's more than that.
GIRL. [Softly] Ah! You think the war is fought for the
future; you are giving your lives for a better world, aren't you?
YOUNG OFF. We must fight till we win.
GIRL. Till you win. My people think that too. All the
peoples think that if they win the world will be better. But it will
not, you know; it will be much worse, anyway.
[He turns away from her, and catches up his cap. Her voice
GIRL. I don't care which win. I don't care if my country
is beaten. I despise them all—animals—animals. Ah! Don't go,
ni-ice boy; I will be quiet now.
[He has taken some notes from his tunic pocket; he puts then
the table and goes up to her.]
YOUNG OFF. Good-night.
GIRL. [Plaintively] Are you really going? Don't you like
YOUNG OFF. Yes, I like you.
GIRL. It is because I am German, then?
YOUNG OFF. No.
GIRL. Then why won't you stay?
YOUNG OFF. [With a shrug] If you must know—because you
GIRL. Won't you kees me once?
[He bends, puts his lips to her forehead. But as he takes
away she throws her head back, presses her mouth to his, and
clings to him.]
YOUNG OFF. [Sitting down suddenly] Don't! I don't want to
feel a brute.
GIRL. [Laughing] You are a funny boy; but you are veree
good. Talk to me a little, then. No one talks to me. Tell me, haf
you seen many German prisoners?
YOUNG OFF. [Sighing] A good many.
GIRL. Any from the Rhine?
YOUNG OFF. Yes, I think so.
GIRL. Were they veree sad?
YOUNG OFF. Some were; some were quite glad to be taken.
GIRL. Did you ever see the Rhine? It will be wonderful
to-night. The moonlight will be the same there, and in Rooshia too,
and France, everywhere; and the trees will look the same as here, and
people will meet under them and make love just as here. Oh! isn't it
stupid, the war? As if it were not good to be alive!
YOUNG OFF. You can't tell how good it is to be alive till
you're facing death. You don't live till then. And when a whole lot
of you feel like that—and are ready to give their lives for each
other, it's worth all the rest of life put together.
[He stops, ashamed of such, sentiment before this girl, who
believes in nothing.]
GIRL. [Softly] How were you wounded, ni-ice boy?
YOUNG OFF. Attacking across open ground: four machine
bullets got me at one go off.
GIRL. Weren't you veree frightened when they ordered you to
[He shakes his head and laughs.]
YOUNG OFF. It was great. We did laugh that morning. They
got me much too soon, though—a swindle.
GIRL. [Staring at him] You laughed?
YOUNG OFF. Yes. And what do you think was the first thing
I was conscious of next morning? My old Colonel bending over me and
giving me a squeeze of lemon. If you knew my Colonel you'd still
believe in things. There is something, you know, behind all this evil
. After all, you can only die once, and, if it's for your
country—all the better!
[Her face, in the moonlight, with, intent eyes touched up with
black, has a most strange, other-world look.]
GIRL. No; I believe in nothing, not even in my country. My
heart is dead.
YOUNG OFF. Yes; you think so, but it isn't, you know, or
you wouldn't have 'been crying when I met you.
GIRL. If it were not dead, do you think I could live my
life-walking the streets every night, pretending to like strange men;
never hearing a kind word; never talking, for fear I will be known for
a German? Soon I shall take to drinking; then I shall be "Kaput"
veree quick. You see, I am practical; I see things clear. To-night I
am a little emotional; the moon is funny, you know. But I live for
myself only, now. I don't care for anything or anybody.
YOUNG OFF. All the same; just now you were pitying your
folk at home, and prisoners and that.
GIRL. Yees; because they suffer. Those who suffer are like
me—I pity myself, that's all; I am different from your English women.
I see what I am doing; I do not let my mind become a turnip just
because I am no longer moral.
YOUNG OFF. Nor your heart either, for all you say.
GIRL. Ni-ice boy, you are veree obstinate. But all that
about love is 'umbog. We love ourselves, noting more.
At that intense soft bitterness in her voice, he gets up,
feeling stifled, and stands at the window. A newspaper boy
way off is calling his wares. The GIRL's fingers slip between
his own, and stay unmoving. He looks round into her face. In
spite of make-up it has a queer, unholy, touching beauty.
YOUNG OFF. [With an outburst] No; we don't only love
ourselves; there is more. I can't explain, but there's something
great; there's kindness—and—and——-
[The shouting of newspaper boys grows louder and their cries,
passionately vehement, clash into each other and obscure each
word. His head goes up to listen; her hand tightens within
arm—she too is listening. The cries come nearer, hoarser,
shrill and clamorous; the empty moonlight outside seems
crowded with figures, footsteps, voices, and a fierce distant
cheering. "Great victory—great victory! Official! British!
'Eavy defeat of the 'Uns! Many thousand prisoners! 'Eavy
defeat!" It speeds by, intoxicating, filling him with a
joy; he leans far out, waving his cap and cheering like a
madman; the night seems to flutter and vibrate and answer. He
turns to rush down into the street, strikes against something
soft, and recoils. The GIRL stands with hands clenched, and
face convulsed, panting. All confused with the desire to do
something, he stoops to kiss her hand. She snatches away her
fingers, sweeps up the notes he has put down, and holds them
GIRL. Take them—I will not haf your English money—take
Suddenly she tears them across, twice, thrice, lets the bits.
flutter to the floor, and turns her back on him. He stands
looking at her leaning against the plush-covered table, her
down, a dark figure in a dark room, with the moonlight
sharpening her outline. Hardly a moment he stays, then makes
for the door. When he is gone, she still stands there, her
on her breast, with the sound in her ears of cheering, of
hurrying feet, and voices crying: "'Eavy Defeat!" stands, in
centre of a pattern made by the fragments of the torn-up
staring out unto the moonlight, seeing not this hated room and
the hated Square outside, but a German orchard, and herself, a
little girl, plucking apples, a big dog beside her; and a
hundred other pictures, such as the drowning see. Then she
sinks down on the floor, lays her forehead on the dusty
and presses her body to it. Mechanically, she sweeps together
the scattered fragments of notes, assembling them with the
into a little pile, as of fallen leaves, and dabbling in it
her fingers, while the tears run down her cheeks.
GIRL. Defeat! Der Vaterland! Defeat!. . . . One shillin'
[Then suddenly, in the moonlight, she sits up, and begins to
sing with all her might "Die Wacht am Rhein." And outside men
pass, singing: "Rule, Britannia!"]