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SCENE I. A.D. 1221-27
Elizabeth's Bower. Night. Lewis sleeping in an Alcove.
Elizabeth lying on the Floor in the Foreground.
Eliz. No streak yet in the blank and eyeless east--
More weary hours to ache, and smart, and shiver
On these bare boards, within a step of bliss.
Why peevish? 'Tis mine own will keeps me here--
And yet I hate myself for that same will:
Fightings within and out! How easy 'twere, now,
Just to be like the rest, and let life run--
To use up to the rind what joys God sends us,
Not thus forestall His rod: What! and so lose
The strength which comes by suffering? Well, if grief
Be gain, mine's double--fleeing thus the snare
Of yon luxurious and unnerving down,
And widowed from mine Eden. And why widowed?
Because they tell me, love is of the flesh,
And that's our house-bred foe, the adder in our bosoms,
Which warmed to life, will sting us. They must know--
I do confess mine ignorance, O Lord!
Mine earnest will these painful limbs may prove.
. . . . .
And yet I swore to love him.--So I do
No more than I have sworn. Am I to blame
If God makes wedlock that, which if it be not,
It were a shame for modest lips to speak it,
And silly doves are better mates than we?
And yet our love is Jesus' due,--and all things
Which share with Him divided empery
Are snares and idols--'To love, to cherish, and to obey!'
. . . . .
O deadly riddle! Rent and twofold life!
O cruel troth! To keep thee or to break thee
Alike seems sin! O thou beloved tempter,
[Turning toward the bed.]
Who first didst teach me love, why on thyself
From God divert thy lesson? Wilt provoke Him?
What if mine heavenly Spouse in jealous ire
Should smite mine earthly spouse? Have I two husbands?
The words are horror--yet they are orthodox!
[Rises and goes to the window.]
How many many brows of happy lovers
The fragrant lips of night even now are kissing!
Some wandering hand in hand through arched lanes;
Some listening for loved voices at the lattice;
Some steeped in dainty dreams of untried bliss;
Some nestling soft and deep in well-known arms,
Whose touch makes sleep rich life. The very birds
Within their nests are wooing! So much love!
All seek their mates, or finding, rest in peace;
The earth seems one vast bride-bed. Doth God tempt us?
Is't all a veil to blind our eyes from him?
A fire-fly at the candle. 'Tis love leads him;
Love's light, and light is love: O Eden! Eden!
Eve was a virgin there, they say; God knows.
Must all this be as it had never been?
Is it all a fleeting type of higher love?
Why, if the lesson's pure, is not the teacher
Pure also? Is it my shame to feel no shame?
Am I more clean, the more I scent uncleanness?
Shall base emotions picture Christ's embrace?
Rest, rest, torn heart! Yet where? in earth or heaven?
Still, from out the bright abysses, gleams our Lady's silver footstool,
Still the light-world sleeps beyond her, though the night-clouds fleet below.
Oh that I were walking, far above, upon that dappled pavement,
Heaven's floor, which is the ceiling of the dungeon where we lie.
Ah, what blessed Saints might meet me, on that platform, sliding silent,
Past us in its airy travels, angel-wafted, mystical!
They perhaps might tell me all things, opening up the secret fountains
Which now struggle, dark and turbid, through their dreary prison clay.
Love! art thou an earth-born streamlet, that thou seek'st the lowest hollows?
Sure some vapours float up from thee, mingling with the highest blue.
Spirit-love in spirit-bodies, melted into one existence--
Joining praises through the ages--Is it all a minstrel's dream?
Alas! he wakes. [Lewis rises.]
Lewis. Ah! faithless beauty,
Is this your promise, that whene'er you prayed
I should be still the partner of your vigils,
And learn from you to pray? Last night I lay dissembling
When she who woke you, took my feet for yours:
Now I shall seize my lawful prize perforce.
Alas! what's this? These shoulders' cushioned ice,
And thin soft flanks, with purple lashes all,
And weeping furrows traced! Ah! precious life-blood!
Who has done this?
Eliz. Forgive! 'twas I--my maidens--
Lewis. O ruthless hags!
Eliz. Not so, not so--They wept
When I did bid them, as I bid thee now
To think of nought but love.
Speak! I will know the meaning of this madness!
Eliz. Beloved, thou hast heard how godly souls,
In every age, have tamed the rebel flesh
By such sharp lessons. I must tread their paths,
If I would climb the mountains where they rest.
Grief is the gate of bliss--why wedlock--knighthood--
A mother's joy--a hard-earned field of glory--
By tribulation come--so doth God's kingdom.
Lewis. But doleful nights, and self-inflicted tortures--
Are these the love of God? Is He well pleased
With this stern holocaust of health and joy?
Eliz. What! Am I not as gay a lady-love
As ever clipt in arms a noble knight?
Am I not blithe as bird the live-long day?
It pleases me to bear what you call pain,
Therefore to me 'tis pleasure: joy and grief
Are the will's creatures; martyrs kiss the stake--
The moorland colt enjoys the thorny furze--
The dullest boor will seek a fight, and count
His pleasure by his wounds; you must forget, love,
Eve's curse lays suffering, as their natural lot,
On womankind, till custom makes it light.
I know the use of pain: bar not the leech
Because his cure is bitter--'Tis such medicine
Which breeds that paltry strength, that weak devotion,
For which you say you love me.--Ay, which brings
Even when most sharp, a stern and awful joy
As its attendant angel--I'll say no more--
Not even to thee--command, and I'll obey thee.
Lewis. Thou casket of all graces! fourfold wonder
Of wit and beauty, love and wisdom! Canst thou
Beatify the ascetic's savagery
To heavenly prudence? Horror melts to pity,
And pity kindles to adoring shower
Of radiant tears! Thou tender cruelty!
Gay smiling martyrdom! Shall I forbid thee?
Limit thy depth by mine own shallowness?
Thy courage by my weakness? Where thou darest,
I'll shudder and submit. I kneel here spell-bound
Before my bleeding Saviour's living likeness
To worship, not to cavil: I had dreamt of such things,
Dim heard in legends, while my pitiful blood
Tingled through every vein, and wept, and swore
'Twas beautiful, 'twas Christ-like--had I thought
That thou wert such:--
Eliz. You would have loved me still?
Lewis. I have gone mad, I think, at every parting
At mine own terrors for thee. No; I'll learn to glory
In that which makes thee glorious! Noble stains!
I'll call them rose leaves out of paradise
Strewn on the wreathed snows, or rubies dropped
From martyrs' diadems, prints of Jesus' cross
Too truly borne, alas!
Eliz. I think, mine own,
I am forgiven at last?
Lewis. To-night, my sister--
Henceforth I'll clasp thee to my heart so fast
Thou shalt not 'scape unnoticed.
Eliz [laughing] We shall see--
Now I must stop those wise lips with a kiss,
And lead thee back to scenes of simpler bliss.
A Chamber in the Castle. Elizabeth--the Fool Isentrudis--Guta singing.
High among the lonely hills,
While I lay beside my sheep,
Rest came down and filled my soul,
From the everlasting deep.
Changeless march the stars above,
Changeless morn succeeds to even;
Still the everlasting hills,
Changeless watch the changeless heaven.
See the rivers, how they run,
Changeless toward the changeless sea;
All around is forethought sure,
Fixed will and stern decree.
Can the sailor move the main?
Will the potter heed the clay?
Mortal! where the spirit drives,
Thither must the wheels obey.
Neither ask, nor fret, nor strive:
Where thy path is, thou shall go.
He who made the streams of time
Wafts thee down to weal or woe.
Eliz. That's a sweet song, and yet it does not chime
With my heart's inner voice. Where had you it, Guta?
Guta. From a nun who was a shepherdess in her youth--sadly plagued
she was by a cruel stepmother, till she fled to a convent and found
rest to her soul.
Fool. No doubt; nothing so pleasant as giving up one's will in
one's own way. But she might have learnt all that without taking
cold on the hill-tops.
Eliz. Where then, Fool?
Fool. At any market-cross where two or three rogues are together,
who have neither grace to mend, nor courage to say 'I did it.' Now
you shall see the shepherdess' baby dressed in my cap and bells.
When I was a greenhorn and young,
And wanted to be and to do,
I puzzled my brains about choosing my line,
Till I found out the way that things go.
The same piece of clay makes a tile,
A pitcher, a taw, or a brick:
Dan Horace knew life; you may cut out a saint,
Or a bench, from the self-same stick.
The urchin who squalls in a gaol,
By circumstance turns out a rogue;
While the castle-bred brat is a senator born,
Or a saint, if religion's in vogue.
We fall on our legs in this world,
Blind kittens, tossed in neck and heels:
'Tis Dame Circumstance licks Nature's cubs into shape,
She's the mill-head, if we are the wheels.
Then why puzzle and fret, plot and dream?
He that's wise will just follow his nose;
Contentedly fish, while he swims with the stream;
'Tis no business of his where it goes.
Eliz. Far too well sung for such a saucy song.
Fool. Ay, I'll go. Whip the dog out of church, and then rate him
for being no Christian. [Exit Fool.]
Eliz. Guta, there is sense in that knave's ribaldry:
We must not thus baptize our idleness,
And call it resignation: Which is love?
To do God's will, or merely suffer it?
I do not love that contemplative life:
No! I must headlong into seas of toil,
Leap forth from self, and spend my soul on others.
Oh! contemplation palls upon the spirit,
Like the chill silence of an autumn sun:
While action, like the roaring south-west wind,
Sweeps laden with elixirs, with rich draughts
Quickening the wombed earth.
Guta. And yet what bliss,
When dying in the darkness of God's light,
The soul can pierce these blinding webs of nature,
And float up to The Nothing, which is all things--
The ground of being, where self-forgetful silence
Is emptiness,--emptiness fulness,--fulness God,--
Till we touch Him, and like a snow-flake, melt
Upon His light-sphere's keen circumference!
Eliz. Hast thou felt this?
Guta. In part.
Eliz. Oh, happy Guta!
Mine eyes are dim--and what if I mistook
For God's own self, the phantoms of my brain?
And who am I, that my own will's intent
Should put me face to face with the living God?
I, thus thrust down from the still lakes of thought
Upon a boiling crater-field of labour.
No! He must come to me, not I to Him;
If I see God, beloved, I must see Him
In mine own self:--
Eliz. Why start, my sister?
God is revealed in the crucified:
The crucified must be revealed in me:--
I must put on His righteousness; show forth
His sorrow's glory; hunger, weep with Him;
Writhe with His stripes, and let this aching flesh
Sink through His fiery baptism into death,
That I may rise with Him, and in His likeness
May ceaseless heal the sick, and soothe the sad,
And give away like Him this flesh and blood
To feed His lambs--ay--we must die with Him
To sense--and love--
Guta. To love? What then becomes
Of marriage vows?
Eliz. I know it--so speak not of them.
Oh! that's the flow, the chasm in all my longings,
Which I have spanned with cobweb arguments,
Yet yawns before me still, where'er I turn,
To bar me from perfection; had I given
My virgin all to Christ! I was not worthy!
I could not stand alone!
Guta. Here comes your husband.
Eliz. He comes! my sun! and every thrilling vein
Proclaims my weakness.
Lewis. Good news, my Princess; in the street below
Conrad, the man of God from Marpurg, stands
And from a bourne-stone to the simple folk
Does thunder doctrine, preaching faith, repentance,
And dread of all foul heresies; his eyes
On heaven still set, save when with searching frown
He lours upon the crowd, who round him cower
Like quails beneath the hawk, and gape, and tremble,
Now raised to heaven, now down again to hell.
I stood beside and heard; like any doe's
My heart did rise and fall.
Eliz. Oh, let us hear him!
We too need warning; shame, if we let pass,
Unentertained, God's angels on their way.
Send for him, brother.
Lewis. Let a knight go down
And say to the holy man, the Landgrave Lewis
With humble greetings prays his blessedness
To make these secular walls the spirit's temple
At least to-night.
Eliz. Now go, my ladies, both--
Prepare fit lodgings,--let your courtesies
Retain in our poor courts the man of God.
[Exeunt. Lewis and Elizabeth are left alone.]
Now hear me, best beloved:--I have marked this man:
And that which hath scared others, draws me towards him:
He has the graces which I want; his sternness
I envy for its strength; his fiery boldness
I call the earnestness which dares not trifle
With life's huge stake; his coldness but the calm
Of one who long hath found, and keeps unwavering,
Clear purpose still; he hath the gift which speaks
The deepest things most simply; in his eye
I dare be happy--weak I dare not be.
With such a guide,--to save this little heart--
The burden of self-rule--Oh--half my work
Were eased, and I could live for thee and thine,
And take no thought of self. Oh, be not jealous,
Mine own, mine idol! For thy sake I ask it--
I would but be a mate and help more meet
For all thy knightly virtues.
Lewis. 'Tis too true!
I have felt it long; we stand, two weakling children,
Under too huge a burden, while temptations
Like adders swarm up round: I must be led--
But thou alone shall lead me.
Eliz. I? beloved!
This load more? Strengthen, Lord, the feeble knees!
Lewis. Yes! thou, my queen, who making thyself once mine,
Hast made me sevenfold thine; I own thee guide
Of my devotions, mine ambition's lodestar,
The Saint whose shrine I serve with lance and lute;
If thou wilt have a ruler, let him be,
Through thee, the ruler of thy slave. [Kneels to her.]
Eliz. Oh, kneel not--
But grant my prayer--If we shall find this man,
As well I know him, worthy, let him be
Director of my conscience and my actions
With all but thee--Within love's inner shrine
We shall be still alone--But joy! here comes
Our embassy, successful.
[Enter Conrad, with Count Walter, Monks, Ladies, etc.]
Conrad. Peace to this house.
Eliz. Hail to your holiness.
Lewis. The odour of your sanctity and might,
With balmy steam and gales of Paradise,
Forestalls you hither.
Eliz. Bless us doubly, master,
With holy doctrine, and with holy prayers.
Con. Children, I am the servant of Christ's servants--
And needs must yield to those who may command
By right of creed; I do accept your bounty--
Not for myself, but for that priceless name,
Whose dread authority and due commission,
Attested by the seal of His vicegerent,
I bear unworthy here; through my vile lips
Christ and His vicar thank you; on myself--
And these, my brethren, Christ's adopted poor--
A menial's crust, and some waste nook, or dog-hutch,
Wherein the worthless flesh may nightly hide,
Are best bestowed.
Eliz. You shall be where you will--
Do what you will; unquestioned, unobserved,
Enjoy, refrain; silence and solitude,
The better part which such like spirits choose,
We will provide; only be you our master,
And we your servants, for a few short days:
Oh, blessed days!
Con. Ah, be not hasty, madam;
Think whom you welcome; one who has no skill
To wink and speak smooth things; whom fear of God
Constrains to daily wrath; who brings, alas!
A sword, not peace: within whose bones the word
Burns like a pent-up fire, and makes him bold
If aught in you or yours shall seem amiss,
To cry aloud and spare not; let me go--
To pray for you--as I have done long time,
Is sweeter than to chide you.
Eliz. Then your prayers
Shall drive home your rebukes; for both we need you--
Our snares are many, and our sins are more.
So say not nay--I'll speak with you apart.
[Elizabeth and Conrad retire.]
Lewis [aside]. Well, Walter mine, how like you the good legate?
Wal. Walter has seen nought of him but his eye;
And that don't please him.
Lewis. How so, sir! that face
Is pure and meek--a calm and thoughtful eye.
Wal. A shallow, stony, steadfast eye; that looks at neither man nor
beast in the face, but at something invisible a yard before him,
through you and past you, at a fascination, a ghost of fixed
purposes that haunts him, from which neither reason nor pity will
turn him. I have seen such an eye in men possessed--with devils, or
with self: sleek, passionless men, who are too refined to be manly,
and measure their grace by their effeminacy; crooked vermin, who
swarm up in pious times, being drowned out of their earthly haunts
by the spring-tide of religion; and so making a gain of godliness,
swim upon the first of the flood, till it cast them ashore on the
firm beach of wealth and station. I always mistrust those wall-eyed
Lewis. Beware, Sir Count; your keen and worldly wit
Is good for worldly uses, not to tilt
Withal at holy men and holy things.
He pleases well the spiritual sense
Of my most peerless lady, whose discernment
Is still the touchstone of my grosser fancy:
He is her friend, and mine: and you must love him
Even for our sakes alone, [to a bystander] A word with you, sir.
[In the meantime Elizabeth and Conrad are talking together.]
Eliz. I would be taught--
Con. It seems you claim some knowledge,
By choosing thus your teacher.
Eliz. I would know more--
Con. Go then to the schools--and be no wiser, madam;
And let God's charge here run to waste, to seek
The bitter fruit of knowledge--hunt the rainbow
O'er hill and dale, while wisdom rusts at home.
Eliz. I would be holy, master--
Con. Be so, then.
God's will stands fair: 'tis thine which fails, if any.
Eliz. I would know how to rule--
Con. Then must thou learn
The needs of subjects, and be ruled thyself.
Sink, if thou longest to rise; become most small--
The strength which comes by weakness makes thee great.
Eliz. I will.
Lewis. What, still at lessons? Come, my fairest sister,
Usher the holy man unto his lodgings. [Exeunt.]
Wal [alone]. So, so, the birds are limed:--Heaven grant that we do
not soon see them stowed in separate cages. Well, here my
prophesying ends. I shall go to my lands, and see how much the
gentlemen my neighbours have stolen off them the last week,--
Priests? Frogs in the king's bedchamber! What says the song?
I once had a hound, a right good hound,
A hound both fleet and strong:
He ate at my board, and he slept by my bed,
And ran with me all the day long.
But my wife took a priest, a shaveling priest,
And 'such friendships are carnal,' quoth he.
So my wife and her priest they drugged the poor beast,
And the rat's bane is waiting for me.
The Gateway of a Convent. Night.
Con. This night she swears obedience to me! Wondrous Lord!
How hast Thou opened a path, where my young dreams
May find fulfilment: there are prophecies
Upon her, make me bold. Why comes she not?
She should be here by now. Strange, how I shrink--
I, who ne'er yet felt fear of man or fiend.
Obedience to my will! An awful charge!
But yet, to have the training of her sainthood;
To watch her rise above this wild world's waves
Like floating water-lily, towards heaven's light
Opening its virgin snows, with golden eye
Mirroring the golden sun; to be her champion,
And war with fiends for her; that were a 'quest';
That were true chivalry; to bring my Judge
This jewel for His crown; this noble soul,
Worth thousand prudish clods of barren clay,
Who mope for heaven because earth's grapes are sour--
Her, full of youth, flushed with the heart's rich first-fruits,
Tangled in earthly pomp--and earthly love.
Wife? Saint by her face she should be: with such looks
The queen of heaven, perchance, slow pacing came
Adown our sleeping wards, when Dominic
Sank fainting, drunk with beauty:--she is most fair!
Pooh! I know nought of fairness--this I know,
She calls herself my slave, with such an air
As speaks her queen, not slave; that shall be looked to--
She must be pinioned or she will range abroad
Upon too bold a wing; 't will cost her pain--
But what of that? there are worse things than pain--
What! not yet here? I'll in, and there await her
In prayer before the altar: I have need on't:
And shall have more before this harvest's ripe.
[As Conrad goes out, Elizabeth, Isentrudis, and Guta enter.]
Eliz. I saw him just before us: let us onward;
We must not seem to loiter.
Isen. Then you promise
Exact obedience to his sole direction
Henceforth in every scruple?
Eliz. In all I can,
And be a wife.
Guta. Is it not a double bondage?
A husband's will is clog enough. Be sure,
Though free, I crave more freedom.
Eliz. So do I--
This servitude shall free me--from myself.
Therefore I'll swear.
Isen. To what?
Eliz. I know not wholly:
But this I know, that I shall swear to-night
To yield my will unto a wiser will;
To see God's truth through eyes which, like the eagle's,
From higher Alps undazzled eye the sun.
Compelled to discipline from which my sloth
Would shrink, unbidden,--to deep devious paths
Which my dull sight would miss, I now can plunge,
And dare life's eddies fearless.
Isen. You will repent it.
Eliz. I do repent, even now. Therefore I'll swear.
And bind myself to that, which once being light,
Will not be less right, when I shrink from it.
No; if the end be gained--if I be raised
To freer, nobler use, I'll dare, I'll welcome
Him and his means, though they were racks and flames.
Come, ladies, let us in, and to the chapel. [Exeunt.]
A Chamber. Guta, Isentrudis, and a Lady.
Lady. Doubtless she is most holy--but for wisdom--
Say if 'tis wise to spurn all rules, all censures,
And mountebank it in the public ways
Till she becomes a jest?
Isen. How's this?
Lady. For one thing--
Yestreen I passed her in the open street,
Following the vocal line of chanting priests,
Clad in rough serge, and with her soft bare feet
Wooing the ruthless flints; the gaping crowd
Unknowing whom they held, did thrust and jostle
Her tender limbs; she saw me as she passed--
And blushed and veiled her face, and smiled withal.
Isen. Oh, think, she's not seventeen yet.
Guta. Why expect
Wisdom with love in all? Each has his gift--
Our souls are organ pipes of diverse stop
And various pitch; each with its proper notes
Thrilling beneath the self-same breath of God.
Though poor alone, yet joined, they're harmony.
Besides these higher spirits must not bend
To common methods; in their inner world
They move by broader laws, at whose expression
We must adore, not cavil: here she comes--
The ministering Saint, fresh from the poor of Christ.
[Elizabeth enters without cloak or shoes, carrying an empty basket.]
Isen. What's here, my Princess? Guta, fetch her robes!
Rest, rest, my child!
Eliz [throwing herself on a seat] Oh! I have seen such things!
I shudder still; your gay looks dazzle me;
As those who long in hideous darkness pent
Blink at the daily light; this room's too bright!
We sit in a cloud, and sing, like pictured angels,
And say, the world runs smooth--while right below
Welters the black fermenting heap of life
On which our state is built: I saw this day
What we might be, and still be Christian women:
And mothers too--I saw one, laid in childbed
These three cold weeks upon the black damp straw;
No nurses, cordials, or that nice parade
With which we try to balk the curse of Eve--
And yet she laughed, and showed her buxom boy,
And said, Another week, so please the Saints,
She'd be at work a-field. Look here--and here--
[Pointing round the room.]
I saw no such things there; and yet they lived.
Our wanton accidents take root, and grow
To vaunt themselves God's laws, until our clothes,
Our gems, and gaudy books, and cushioned litters
Become ourselves, and we would fain forget
There live who need them not. [Guta offers to robe her.]
Let be, beloved--
I will taste somewhat this same poverty--
Try these temptations, grudges, gnawing shames,
For which 'tis blamed; how probe an unfelt evil?
Would'st be the poor man's friend? Must freeze with him--
Test sleepless hunger--let thy crippled back
Ache o'er the endless furrow; how was He,
The blessed One, made perfect? Why, by grief--
The fellowship of voluntary grief--
He read the tear-stained book of poor men's souls,
As I must learn to read it. Lady! lady!
Wear but one robe the less--forego one meal--
And thou shalt taste the core of many tales
Which now flit past thee, like a minstrel's songs,
The sweeter for their sadness.
Lady. Heavenly wisdom!
Eliz. How? What wrong is mine, fair dame?
Lady. I thought you, to my shame--less wise than holy.
But you have conquered: I will test these sorrows
On mine own person; I have toyed too long
In painted pinnace down the stream of life,
Witched with the landscape, while the weary rowers
Faint at the groaning oar: I'll be thy pupil.
Farewell. Heaven bless thy labours and thy lesson.
Isen. We are alone. Now tell me, dearest lady,
How came you in this plight?
Eliz. Oh! chide not, nurse--
My heart is full--and yet I went not far--
Even here, close by, where my own bower looks down
Upon that unknown sea of wavy roofs,
I turned into an alley 'neath the wall--
And stepped from earth to hell.--The light of heaven,
The common air, was narrow, gross, and dun;
The tiles did drop from the eaves; the unhinged doors
Tottered o'er inky pools, where reeked and curdled
The offal of a life; the gaunt-haunched swine
Growled at their christened playmates o'er the scraps.
Shrill mothers cursed; wan children wailed; sharp coughs
Rang through the crazy chambers; hungry eyes
Glared dumb reproach, and old perplexity,
Too stale for words; o'er still and webless looms
The listless craftsmen through their elf-locks scowled;
These were my people! all I had, I gave--
They snatched it thankless (was it not their own?
Wrung from their veins, returning all too late?);
Or in the new delight of rare possession,
Forgot the giver; one did sit apart,
And shivered on a stone; beneath her rags
Nestled two impish, fleshless, leering boys,
Grown old before their youth; they cried for bread--
She chid them down, and hid her face and wept;
I had given all--I took my cloak, my shoes
(What could I else? 'Twas but a moment's want
Which she had borne, and borne, day after day),
And clothed her bare gaunt arms and purpled feet,
Then slunk ashamed away to wealth and honour.
What! Conrad? unannounced! This is too bold!
Peace! I have lent myself--and I must take
The usury of that loan: your pleasure, master?
Con. Madam, but yesterday, I bade your presence,
To hear the preached word of God; I preached--
And yet you came not.--Where is now your oath?
Where is the right to bid, you gave to me?
Am I your ghostly guide? I asked it not.
Of your own will you tendered that, which, given,
Became not choice, but duty.--What is here?
Think not that alms, or lowly-seeming garments,
Self-willed humilities, pride's decent mummers,
Can raise above obedience; she from God
Her sanction draws, while these we forge ourselves,
Mere tools to clear her necessary path.
Go free--thou art no slave: God doth not own
Unwilling service, and His ministers
Must lure, not drag in leash; henceforth I leave thee:
Riot in thy self-willed fancies; pick thy steps
By thine own will-o'-the-wisp toward the pit;
Farewell, proud girl. [Exit Conrad.]
Eliz. O God! What have I done?
I have cast off the clue of this world's maze,
And, like an idiot, let my boat adrift
Above the waterfall!--I had no message--
Isen. We passed it by, as matter of no moment
Upon the sudden coming of your guests.
Eliz. No moment! 'Tis enough to have driven him forth--
And that's enough to damn me: I'll not chide you--
I can see nothing but my loss; I'll to him--
I'll go in sackcloth, bathe his feet with tears--
And know nor sleep nor food till I am forgiven--
And you must with me, ladies. Come and find him.
A Hall in the Castle. In the background a Group of diseased and
deformed Beggars; Conrad entering, Elizabeth comes forward to meet
Con. What dost thou, daughter?
Eliz. Ah, my honoured master!
That name speaks pardon, sure.
Con. What dost thou, daughter?
Eliz. I have been washing these poor people's feet.
Con. A wise humiliation.
Eliz. So I meant it--
And use it as a penance for my pride;
And yet, alas, through my own vulgar likings
Or stubborn self-conceit, 'tis none to me.
I marvel how the Saints thus tamed their spirits:
Sure to be humbled by such toil, but proves,
Not cures, our lofty mind.
Con. Thou speakest well--
The knave who serves unto another's needs
Knows himself abler than the man who needs him;
And she who stoops, will not forget, that stooping
Implies a height to stoop from.
Eliz. Could I see
My Saviour in His poor!
Con. Thou shall hereafter:
But now to wash Christ's feet were dangerous honour
For weakling grace; would you be humble, daughter,
You must look up, not down, and see yourself
A paltry atom, sap-transmitting vein
Of Christ's vast vine; the pettiest joint and member
Of His great body; own no strength, no will,
Save that which from the ruling head's command
Through me, as nerve, derives; let thyself die--
And dying, rise again to fuller life.
To be a whole is to be small and weak--
To be a part is to be great and mighty
In the one spirit of the mighty whole--
The spirit of the martyrs and the saints--
The spirit of the queen, on whose towered neck
We hang, blest ringlets!
Eliz. Why! thine eyes flash fire!
Con. But hush! such words are not for courts and halls--
Alone with God and me, thou shalt hear more.
Eliz. As when rich chanting ceases suddenly--
And the rapt sense collapses!--Oh that Lewis
Could feed my soul thus! But to work--to work--
What wilt thou, little maid? Ah, I forgot thee--
Thy mother lies in childbed--Say, in time
I'll bring the baby to the font myself.
It knits them unto me, and me to them,
That bond of sponsorship--How now, good dame--
Whence then so sad?
Woman. An't please your nobleness,
My neighbour Gretl is with her husband laid
In burning fever.
Eliz. I will come to them.
Woman. Alack, the place is foul for such as you;
And fear of plague has cleared the lane of lodgers;
If you could send--
Eliz. What? where I am afraid
To go myself, send others? That's strange doctrine.
I'll be with you anon. [Goes up into the Hall.]
[Isentrudis enters with a basket.]
Isen. Why, here's a weight--these cordials now, and simples,
Want a stout page to bear them: yet her fancy
Is still to go alone, to help herself.--
Where will 't all end? In madness, or the grave?
No limbs can stand these drudgeries: no spirit
The fretting harrow which this ruffian priest
Ah! here comes our Count.
[Count Walter enters as from a journey.]
Too late, sir, and too seldom--Where have you been
These four months past, while we are sold for bond-slaves
Unto a peevish friar?
Wal. Why, my fair rosebud--
A trifle overblown, but not less sweet--
I have been pining for you, till my hair
Is as gray as any badger's.
Isen. I'll not jest.
Wal. What? has my wall-eyed Saint shown you his temper?
Isen. The first of his peevish fancies was, that she should eat
nothing which was not honestly and peaceably come by.
Wal. Why, I heard that you too had joined that sect.
Isen. And more fool I. But ladies are bound to set an example--
while they are not bound to ask where everything comes from: with
her, poor child, scruples and starvation were her daily diet; meal
after meal she rose from table empty, unless the Landgrave nodded
and winked her to some lawful eatable; till she that used to take
her food like an angel, without knowing it, was thinking from
morning to night whether she might eat this, that, or the other.
Wal. Poor Eves! if the world leaves you innocent, the Church will
not. Between the devil and the director, you are sure to get your
share of the apples of knowledge.
Isen. True enough. She complained to Conrad of her scruples, and
he told her, that by the law was the knowledge of sin.
Wal. But what said Lewis?
Isen. As much bewitched as she, sir. He has told her, and more
than her, that were it not for the laughter and ill-will of his
barons, he would join her in the same abstinence. But all this is
child's play to the friar's last outbreak.
Wal. Ah! the sermon which you all forgot, when the Marchioness of
Misnia came suddenly? I heard that war had been proclaimed on that
score; but what terms of peace were concluded?
Isen. Terms of peace! Do you call it peace to be delivered over to
his nuns' tender mercies, myself and Guta, as well as our lady,--as
if we had been bond-slaves and blackamoors?
Wal. You need not have submitted.
Isen. What! could I bear to see my poor child wandering up and
down, wringing her hands like a mad woman--I who have lived for no
one else this sixteen years? Guta talked sentiment--called it a
glorious cross, and so forth.--I took it as it came.
Wal. And got no quarter, I'll warrant.
Isen. Don't talk of it--my poor back tingles at the thought.
Wal. The sweet Saints think every woman of the world no better than
she should be; and without meaning to be envious, owe you all a
grudge for past flirtations. As I am a knight, now it's over, I
like you all the better for it.
Wal. When I see a woman who will stand by her word, and two who
will stand by their mistress. And the monk, too--there's mettle in
him. I took him for a canting carpet-haunter; but be sure, the man
who will bully his own patrons has an honest purpose in him, though
it bears strange fruit on this wicked hither-side of the grave.
Now, my fair nymph of the birchen-tree, use your interest to find me
supper and lodging; for your elegant squires of the trencher look
surly on me here: I am the prophet who has no honour in his own
Dawn. A rocky path leading to a mountain Chapel. A Peasant sitting
on a stone with dog and cross-bow.
Over the wild moor, in reddest dawn of morning,
Gaily the huntsman down green droves must roam:
Over the wild moor, in grayest wane of evening,
Weary the huntsman comes wandering home;
If he has one. Who comes here?
[A Woodcutter enters with a laden ass.]
What art going about?
Woodcutter. To warm other folks' backs.
Peas. Thou art in the common lot--Jack earns and Gill spends--
therein lies the true division of labour. What's thy name?
Woodc. Be'est a keeper, man, or a charmer, that dost so catechise
Peas. Both--I am a keeper, for I keep all I catch; and a charmer,
for I drive bad spirits out of honest men's turnips.
Woodc. Mary sain us, what be they like?
Peas. Four-legged kitchens of leather, cooking farmers' crops into
butcher's meat by night, without leave or licence.
Woodc. By token, thou'rt a deer-stealer?
Peas. Stealer, quoth he? I have dominion. I do what I like with
Woodc. Thine own?
Peas. Yea, marry--for, saith the priest, man has dominion over the
beast of the field and the fowl of the air: so I, being as I am a
man, as men go, have dominion over the deer in my trade, as you have
in yours over sleep-mice and woodpeckers.
Woodc. Then every man has a right to be a poacher.
Peas. Every man has his gift, and the tools go to him that can use
them. Some are born workmen; some have souls above work. I'm one
of that metal. I was meant to own land, and do nothing; but the
angel that deals out babies' souls, mistook the cradles, and spoilt
a gallant gentleman! Well--I forgive him! there were many born the
same night--and work wears the wits.
Woodc. I had sooner draw in a yoke than hunt in a halter.
Hadst best repent and mend thy ways.
Peas. The way-warden may do that: I wear out no ways, I go across
country. Mend! saith he? Why I can but starve at worst, or groan
with the rheumatism, which you do already. And who would reek and
wallow o' nights in the same straw, like a stalled cow, when he may
have his choice of all the clean holly bushes in the forest? Who
would grub out his life in the same croft, when he has free-warren
of all fields between this and Rhine? Not I. I have dirtied my
share of spades myself; but I slipped my leash and went self-
Woodc. But what if thou be caught and brought up before the Prince?
Peas. He don't care for game. He has put down his kennel, and
keeps a tame saint instead: and when I am driven in, I shall ask my
pardon of her in St. John's name. They say that for his sake she'll
give away the shoes off her feet.
Woodc. I would not stand in your shoes for all the top and lop in
the forest. Murder! Here comes a ghost! Run up the bank--shove
the jackass into the ditch.
[A white figure comes up the path with lights.]
Peas. A ghost or a watchman, and one's as bad as the other--so we
may take to cover for the time.
[Elizabeth enters, meanly clad, carrying her new-born infant;
Isentrudis following with a taper and gold pieces on a salver.
Elizabeth passes, singing.]
Deep in the warm vale the village is sleeping,
Sleeping the firs on the bleak rock above;
Nought wakes, save grateful hearts, silently creeping
Up to the Lord in the might of their love.
What Thou hast given to me, Lord, here I bring Thee,
Odour, and light, and the magic of gold;
Feet which must follow Thee, lips which must sing Thee,
Limbs which must ache for Thee ere they grow old.
What Thou hast given to me, Lord, here I tender,
Life of mine own life, the fruit of my love;
Take him, yet leave him me, till I shall render
Count of the precious charge, kneeling above.
[They pass up the path. The Peasants come out.]
Peas. No ghost, but a mighty pretty wench, with a mighty sweet
Woodc. Wench, indeed? Where be thy manners? 'Tis her Ladyship--
Peas. The Princess! Ay, I thought those little white feet were but
lately out of broadcloth--still, I say, a mighty sweet voice--I wish
she had not sung so sweetly--it makes things to arise in a body's
head, does that singing: a wonderful handsome lady! a royal lady!
Woodc. But a most unwise one. Did ye mind the gold? If I had such
a trencherful, it should sleep warm in a stocking, instead of being
made a brother to owls here, for every rogue to snatch at.
Peas. Why, then? who dare harm such as her, man?
Woodc. Nay, nay, none of us, we are poor folks, we fear God and the
king. But if she had met a gentleman now--heaven help her! Ah!
thou hast lost a chance--thou might'st have run out promiscuously,
and down on thy knees, and begged thy pardon for the newcomer's
sake. There was a chance, indeed.
Peas. Pooh, man, I have done nothing but lose chances all my days.
I fell into the fire the day I was christened, and ever since I am
like a fresh-trimmed fir-tree; every foul feather sticks to me.
Woodc. Go, shrive thyself, and the priest will scrub off thy
turpentine with a new haircloth; and now, good-day, the maids are a-
waiting for their firewood.
Peas. A word before you go--Take warning by me--avoid that same
serpent, wisdom--Pray to the Saints to make you a blockhead--Never
send your boys to school--For Heaven knows, a poor man that will
live honest, and die in his bed, ought to have no more scholarship
than a parson, and no more brains than your jackass.
The Gateway of a Castle. Elizabeth and her suite standing at the
top of a flight of steps. Mob below.
Peas. Bread! Bread! Bread! give us bread; we perish.
1st Voice. Ay, give, give, give! God knows, we're long past earning.
2d Voice. Our skeleton children lie along in the roads--
3d Voice. Our sheep drop dead about the frozen leas--
4th Voice. Our harness and our shoes are boiled for food--
Old Man's Voice. Starved, withered, autumn hay that thanks the scythe!
Send out your swordsmen, mow the dry bents down,
And make this long death short--we'll never struggle.
All. Bread! Bread!
Eliz. Ay, bread--Where is it, knights and servants?
Why butler, seneschal, this food forthcomes not!
Butler. Alas, we've eaten all ourselves: heaven knows
The pages broke the buttery hatches down--
The boys were starved almost.
Voice below. Ay, she can find enough to feast her minions.
Woman's Voice. How can she know what 'tis, for months and months
To stoop and straddle in the clogging fallows,
Bearing about a living babe within you?
And then at night to fat yourself and it
On fir-bark, madam, and water.
Eliz. My good dame--
That which you bear, I bear: for food, God knows,
I have not tasted food this live-long day--
Nor will till you are served. I sent for wheat
From Koln and from the Rhine-land, days ago:
O God! why comes it not?
[Enter from below, Count Walter, with a Merchant.]
Wal. Stand back; you'll choke me, rascals:
Archers, bring up those mules. Here comes the corn--
Here comes your guardian angel, plenty-laden,
With no white wings, but good white wheat, my boys,
Quarters on quarters--if you'll pay for it.
Eliz. Oh! give him all he asks.
Wal. The scoundrel wants
Three times its value.
Merchant. Not a penny less--
I bought it on speculation--I must live--
I get my bread by buying corn that's cheap,
And selling where 'tis dearest. Mass, you need it,
And you must pay according to your need.
Mob. Hang him! hang all regraters--hang the forestalling dog!
Wal. Driver, lend here the halter off that mule.
Eliz. Nay, Count; the corn is his, and his the right
To fix conditions for his own.
Mer. Well spoken!
A wise and royal lady! She will see
The trade protected. Why, I kept the corn
Three months on venture. Now, so help me Saints,
I am a loser by it, quite a loser--
So help me Saints, I am.
Eliz. You will not sell it
Save at a price which, by the bill you tender,
Is far beyond our means. Heaven knows, I grudge not--
I have sold my plate, have pawned my robes and jewels.
Mortgaged broad lands and castles to buy food--
And now I have no more.--Abate, or trust
Our honour for the difference.
Mer. Not a penny--
I trust no nobles. I must make my profit--
I'll have my price, or take it back again.
Eliz. Most miserable, cold, short-sighted man,
Who for thy selfish gains dost welcome make
God's wrath, and battenest on thy fellows' woes,
What? wilt thou turn from heaven's gate, open to thee,
Through which thy charity may passport be,
And win thy long greed's pardon? Oh, for once
Dare to be great; show mercy to thyself!
See how that boiling sea of human heads
Waits open-mouthed to bless thee: speak the word,
And their triumphant quire of jubilation
Shall pierce God's cloudy floor with praise and prayers,
And drown the accuser's count in angels' ears.
[In the meantime Walter, etc., have been throwing down the wheat to the mob.]
Mob. God bless the good Count!--Bless the holy Princess--
Hurrah for wheat--Hurrah for one full stomach.
Mer. Ah! that's my wheat! treason, my wheat, my money!
Eliz. Where is the wretch's wheat?
Wal. Below, my lady;
We counted on the charm of your sweet words,
And so did for him what, your sermon ended,
He would have done himself.
Knight. 'Twere rude to doubt it.
Mer. Ye rascal barons!
What! Are we burghers monkeys for your pastime?
We'll clear the odds. [Seizes Walter.]
Wal. Soft, friend--a worm will turn.
Voices below. Throw him down.
Wal. Dost hear that, friend?
Those pups are keen-toothed; they have eat of late
Worse bacon to their bread than thee. Come, come,
Put up thy knife; we'll give thee market-price--
And if thou must have more--why, take it out
In board and lodging in the castle dungeon.
[Walter leads him out; the Mob, etc., disperse.]
Eliz. Now then--there's many a one lies faint at home--
I'll go to them myself.
Isen. What now? start forth
In this most bitter frost, so thinly clad?
Eliz. Tut, tut, I wear my working dress to-day,
And those who work, robe lightly--
Isen. Nay, my child,
For once keep up your rank.
Eliz. Then I had best
Roll to their door in lacqueyed equipage,
And dole my halfpence from my satin purse--
I am their sister--I must look like one.
I am their queen--I'll prove myself the greatest
By being the minister of all. So come--
Now to my pastime, [aside] And in happy toil
Forget this whirl of doubt--We are weak, we are weak,
Only when still: put thou thine hand to the plough,
The spirit drives thee on.
Isen. You live too fast!
Eliz. Too fast? We live too slow--our gummy blood
Without fresh purging airs from heaven, would choke
Slower and slower, till it stopped and froze.
God! fight we not within a cursed world,
Whose very air teems thick with leagued fiends--
Each word we speak has infinite effects--
Each soul we pass must go to heaven or hell--
And this our one chance through eternity
To drop and die, like dead leaves in the brake,
Or like the meteor stone, though whelmed itself,
Kindle the dry moors into fruitful blaze--
And yet we live too fast!
Be earnest, earnest, earnest; mad, if thou wilt:
Do what thou dost as if the stake were heaven,
And that thy last deed ere the judgment-day.
When all's done, nothing's done. There's rest above--
Below let work be death, if work be love! [Exeunt.]
A Chamber in the Castle. Counts Walter, Hugo, etc., Abbot, and
Count Hugo. I can't forget it, as I am a Christian man. To ask for
a stoup of beer at breakfast, and be told there was no beer allowed
in the house--her Ladyship had given all the malt to the poor.
Abbot. To give away the staff of life, eh?
C. Hugo. The life itself, Sir, the life itself. All that barley,
that would have warmed many an honest fellow's coppers, wasted in
Abbot. The parent of seraphic ale degraded into plebeian dough!
Indeed, Sir, we have no right to lessen wantonly the amount of human
C. Wal. In heaven's name, what would you have her do, while the
people were eating grass?
C. Hugo. Nobody asked them to eat it; nobody asked them to be there
to eat it; if they will breed like rabbits, let them feed like
rabbits, say I--I never married till I could keep a wife.
Abbot. Ah, Count Walter! How sad to see a man of your sense so led
away by his feelings! Had but this dispensation been left to work
itself out, and evolve the blessing implicit in all heaven's
chastenings! Had but the stern benevolences of providence remained
undisturbed by her ladyship's carnal tenderness--what a boon had
this famine been!
C. Wal. How then, man?
Abbot. How many a poor soul would be lying--Ah, blessed thought!--
in Abraham's bosom; who must now toil on still in this vale of
tears!--Pardon this pathetic dew--I cannot but feel as a Churchman.
3d Count. Look at it in this way, Sir. There are too many of us--
too many--Where you have one job you have three workmen. Why, I
threw three hundred acres into pasture myself this year--it saves
money, and risk, and trouble, and tithes.
C. Wal. What would you say to the Princess, who talks of breaking
up all her parks to wheat next year?
3d Count. Ask her to take on the thirty families, who were just
going to tramp off those three hundred acres into the Rhine-land, if
she had not kept them in both senses this winter, and left them on
my hands--once beggars, always beggars.
C. Hugo. Well, I'm a practical man, and I say, the sharper the
famine, the higher are prices, and the higher I sell, the more I can
spend; so the money circulates, Sir, that's the word--like water--
sure to run downwards again; and so it's as broad as it's long; and
here's a health--if there was any beer--to the farmers' friends, 'A
bloody war and a wet harvest.'
Abbot. Strongly put, though correctly. For the self-interest of
each it is which produces in the aggregate the happy equilibrium of
C. Wal. Well--the world is right well made, that's certain; and He
who made the Jews' sin our salvation may bring plenty out of famine,
and comfort out of covetousness. But look you, Sirs, private
selfishness may be public weal, and yet private selfishness be just
as surely damned, for all that.
3d Count. I hold, Sir, that every alms is a fresh badge of slavery.
C. Wal. I don't deny it.
3d Count. Then teach them independence.
C. Wal. How? By tempting them to turn thieves, when begging fails?
By keeping their stomachs just at desperation-point? By starving
them out here, to march off, starving all the way, to some town, in
search of employment, of which, if they find it, they know no more
than my horse? Likely! No, Sir, to make men of them, put them not
out of the reach, but out of the need, of charity.
3d Count. And how, prithee? By teaching them, like our fair
Landgravine, to open their mouth for all that drops? Thuringia is
become a kennel of beggars in her hands.
C. Wal. In hers? In ours, Sir!
Abbot. Idleness, Sir, deceit, and immorality, are the three
children of this same barbarous self-indulgence in almsgiving.
Leave the poor alone. Let want teach them the need of self-
exertion, and misery prove the foolishness of crime.
C. Wal. How? Teach them to become men by leaving them brutes?
Abbot. Oh, Sir, there we step in, with the consolations and
instructions of the faith.
C. Wal. Ay, but while the grass is growing the steed is starving;
and in the meantime, how will the callow chick Grace stand against
the tough old game-cock Hunger?
3d Count. Then how, in the name of patience, would you have us
C. Wal. We cannot alter them, Sir--but they will be altered, never
Omnes. How? How?
C. Wal. Do you see this hour-glass?--Here's the state:
This air stands for the idlers;--this sand for the workers.
When all the sand has run to the bottom, God in heaven just turns
the hour-glass, and then--
C. Hugo. The world's upside down.
C. Wal. And the Lord have mercy upon us!
Omnes. On us? Do you call us the idlers?
C. Wal. Some dare to do so--But fear not--In the fulness of time,
all that's lightest is sure to come to the top again.
C. Hugo. But what rascal calls us idlers?
Omnes. Name, name.
C. Wal. Why, if you ask me--I heard a shrewd sermon the other day
on that same idleness and immorality text of the Abbot's.--'Twas
Conrad, the Princess's director, preached it. And a fashionable cap
it is, though it will fit more than will like to wear it. Shall I
give it you? Shall I preach?
C. Hugo. A tub for Varila! Stand on the table, now, toss back thy
hood like any Franciscan, and preach away.
C. Wal. Idleness, quoth he [Conrad, mind you],--idleness and
immorality? Where have they learnt them, but from your nobles?
There was a saucy monk for you. But there's worse coming.
Religion? said he, how can they respect it, when they see you,
'their betters,' fattening on church lands, neglecting sacraments,
defying excommunications, trading in benefices, hiring the clergy
for your puppets and flatterers, making the ministry, the episcopate
itself, a lumber-room wherein to stow away the idiots and
spendthrifts of your families, the confidants of your mistresses,
the cast-off pedagogues of your boys?
Omnes. The scoundrel!
C. Wal. Was he not?--But hear again--Immorality? roars he; and who
has corrupted them but you? Have you not made every castle a weed-
bed, from which the newest corruptions of the Court stick like
thistle-down, about the empty heads of stable-boys and serving
maids? Have you not kept the poor worse housed than your dogs and
your horses, worse fed than your pigs and your sheep? Is there an
ancient house among you, again, of which village gossips do not
whisper some dark story of lust and oppression, of decrepit
debauchery, of hereditary doom?
Omnes. We'll hang this monk.
C. Wal. Hear me out, and you'll burn him. His sermon was like a
hailstorm, the tail of the shower the sharpest. Idleness? he asked
next of us all: how will they work, when they see you landlords
sitting idle above them, in a fool's paradise of luxury and riot,
never looking down but to squeeze from them an extra drop of honey--
like sheep-boys stuffing themselves with blackberries while the
sheep are licking up flukes in every ditch? And now you wish to
leave the poor man in the slough, whither your neglect and your
example have betrayed him, and made his too apt scholarship the
excuse for your own remorseless greed! As a Christian, I am ashamed
of you all; as a Churchman, doubly ashamed of those prelates, hired
stalking-horses of the rich, who would fain gloss over their own
sloth and cowardice with the wisdom which cometh not from above, but
is earthly, sensual, devilish; aping the artless cant of an
aristocracy who made them--use them--and despise them. That was his
Abbot. Paul and Barnabas! What an outpouring of the spirit!--Were
not his hoodship the Pope's legate, now--accidents might happen to
him, going home at night; eh, Sir Hugo?
C. Hugo. If he would but come my way!
For 'the mule it was slow, and the lane it was dark,
When out of the copse leapt a gallant young spark.
Says, 'Tis not for nought you've been begging all day:
So remember your toll, since you travel our way.'
Abbot. Hush! Here comes the Landgrave.
Lewis. Good morrow, gentles. Why so warm, Count Walter?
Your blessing, Father Abbot: what deep matters
Have called our worships to this conference?
C. Hugo [aside]. Up, Count; you are spokesman.
3d Count. Exalted Prince,
Whose peerless knighthood, like the remeant sun,
After too long a night, regilds our clay,
Late silvered by the reflex lunar beams
Of your celestial lady's matron graces--
Abbot [aside]. Ut vinum optimum amati mei
3 Count. Think not we mean to praise or disapprove--
The acts of saintly souls must only plead
In foro conscientiae: grosser minds,
Whose humbler aim is but the public weal,
Know of no mesh which holds them: yet, great Prince,
Some dare not see their sovereign's strength postponed
To private grace, and sigh, that generous hearts,
And ladies' tenderness, too oft forgetting
That wisdom is the highest charity,
Will interfere, in pardonable haste,
With heaven's stern providence.
Lewis. We see your drift.
Go, sirrah [to a Page]; pray the Princess to illumine
Our conclave with her beauties. 'Tis our manner
To hear no cause, of gentle or of simple,
Unless the accused and the accuser both
Meet face to face.
3d Count. Excuse, high-mightiness,--
We bring no accusation; facts, your Highness,
Wait for your sentence, not our praejudicium.
Lewis. Give us the facts, then, Sir; in the lady's presence,
Her nearness to ourselves--perchance her reasons--
May make them somewhat dazzling.
Abbot. Nay, my Lord;
I, as a Churchman, though with these your nobles
Both in commission and opinion one,
Am yet most loth, my Lord, to set my seal
To aught which this harsh world might call complaint
Against a princely saint--a chosen vessel--
An argosy celestial--in whom error
Is but the young luxuriance of her grace.
The Count of Varila, as bound to neither,
For both shall speak, and all which late has passed
Upon the matter of this famine open.
C. Wal. Why, if I must speak out--then I'll confess
To have stood by, and seen the Landgravine
Do most strange deeds; and in her generation
Show no more wit than other babes of light.
First, she has given away, to starving rascals,
The stores of grain she might have sold, good lack!
For any price she asked; has pawned your jewels,
And mortgaged sundry farms, and all for food.
Has sunk vast sums in fever-hospitals,
For rogues whom famine sickened--almshouses
For sluts whose husbands died--schools for their brats.
Most sad vagaries! but there's worse to come.
The dulness of the Court has ruined trade:
The jewellers and clothiers don't come near us;
The sempstresses, my lord, and pastrycooks
Have quite forgot their craft; she has turned all heads
And made the ladies starve, and wear old clothes,
And run about with her to nurse the sick,
Instead of putting gold in circulation
By balls, sham-fights, and dinners; 'tis most sad, sir,
But she has swept your treasury out as clean--
As was the widow's cruse, who fed Elijah.
Lewis. Ruined, no doubt! Lo! here the culprit comes.
Come hither, dearest. These, my knights and nobles,
Lament your late unthrift (your conscience speaks
The causes of their blame); and wish you warned,
As wisdom is the highest charity,
No more to interfere, from private feeling,
With heaven's stern laws, or maim the sovereign's wealth,
To save superfluous villains' worthless lives.
Lewis. Not I, fair, but my counsellors,
In courtesy, need some reply.
Eliz. My Lords;
Doubtless, you speak as your duty bids you:
I know you love my husband: do you think
My love is less than yours? 'Twas for his honour
I dare not lose a single silly sheep
Of all the flock which God had trusted to him.
True, I had hoped by this--No matter what--
Since to your sense it bears a different hue.
I keep no logic. For my gifts, thank God,
They cannot be recalled; for those poor souls,
My pensioners--even for my husband's knightly name,
Oh! ask not back that slender loan of comfort
My folly has procured them: if, my Lords,
My public censure, or disgraceful penance
May expiate, and yet confirm my waste,
I offer this poor body to the buffets
Of sternest justice: when I dared not spare
My husband's lands, I dare not spare myself.
Lewis. No! no! My noble sister? What? my Lords!
If her love move you not, her wisdom may.
She knows a deeper statecraft, Sirs, than you:
She will not throw away the substance, Abbot,
To save the accident; waste living souls
To keep, or hope to keep, the means of life.
Our wisdom and our swords may fill our coffers,
But will they breed us men, my Lords, or mothers?
God blesses in the camp a noble rashness:
Then why not in the storehouse? He that lends
To Him, need never fear to lose his venture.
Spend on, my Queen. You will not sell my castles?
Nay, you must leave us Neuburg, love, and Wartburg.
Their worn old stones will hardly pay the carriage,
And foreign foes may pay untimely visits.
C. Wal. And home foes, too; if these philosophers
Put up the curb, my Lord, a half-link tighter,
The scythes will be among our horses' legs
Before next harvest.
Lewis. Fear not for our welfare:
We have a guardian here, well skilled to keep
Peace for our seneschal, while angels, stooping
To catch the tears she sheds for us in absence,
Will sain us from the roaming adversary
With scents of Paradise. Farewell, my Lords.
Eliz. Nay,--I must pray your knighthoods--You must honour
Our dais and bower as private guests to-day.
Thanks for your gentle warning; may my weakness
To such a sin be never tempted more!
[Exeunt Elizabeth and Lewis.]
C. Wal. Thus, as if virtue were not its own reward, is it paid over
and above with beef and ale? Weep not, tender-hearted Count!
Though 'generous hearts,' my Lord, 'and ladies' tenderness, too oft
forget'--Truly spoken! Lord Abbot, does not your spiritual eye
discern coals of fire on Count Hugo's head?
C. Hugo. Where, and a plague? Where?
C. Wal. Nay, I speak mystically,--there is nought there but what
beer will quench before nightfall. Here, peeping rabbit [to a Page
at the door], out of your burrow, and show these gentles to their
lodgings. We will meet at the gratias. [They go out.]
C. Wal [alone]. Well:--if Hugo is a brute, he at least makes no
secret of it. He is an old boar, and honest; he wears his tushes
outside, for a warning to all men. But for the rest!--Whited
sepulchres! and not one of them but has half persuaded himself of
his own benevolence. Of all cruelties, save me from your small
pedant,--your closet philosopher, who has just courage enough to
bestride his theory, without wit to see whither it will carry him.
In experience, a child: in obstinacy, a woman: in nothing a man,
but in logic-chopping: instead of God's grace, a few schoolboy saws
about benevolence, and industry, and independence--there is his
metal. If the world will be mended on his principles, well. If
not, poor world!--but principles must be carried out, though through
blood and famine: for truly, man was made for theories, not
theories for man. A doctrine is these men's God--touch but that
shrine, and lo! your simpering philanthropist becomes as ruthless as
a Dominican. [Exit.]
Elizabeth's bower. Elizabeth and Lewis sitting together.
Eliz. Oh that we two were Maying
Down the stream of the soft spring breeze;
Like children with violets playing
In the shade of the whispering trees!
Oh that we two sat dreaming
On the sward of some sheep-trimmed down
Watching the white mist steaming
Over river and mead and town!
Oh that we two lay sleeping
In our nest in the churchyard sod,
With our limbs at rest on the quiet earth's breast,
And our souls at home with God!
Lewis. Ah, turn away those swarthy diamonds' blaze!
Mine eyes are dizzy, and my faint sense reels
In the rich fragrance of those purple tresses.
Oh, to be thus, and thus, day after day!
To sleep, and wake, and find it yet no dream--
My atmosphere, my hourly food, such bliss
As to have dreamt of, five short years agone,
Had seemed a mad conceit.
Eliz. Five years agone?
Lewis. I know not; for upon our marriage-day
I slipped from time into eternity;
Where each day teems with centuries of life,
And centuries were but one wedding morn.
Eliz. Lewis, I am too happy! floating higher
Than e'er my will had dared to soar, though able;
But circumstance, which is the will of God,
Beguiled my cowardice to that, which, darling,
I found most natural, when I feared it most.
Love would have had no strangeness in mine eyes,
Save from the prejudice which others taught me--
They should know best. Yet now this wedlock seems
A second infancy's baptismal robe,
A heaven, my spirit's antenatal home,
Lost in blind pining girlhood--found now, found!
[Aside] What have I said? Do I blaspheme? Alas!
I neither made these thoughts, nor can unmake them.
Lewis. Ay, marriage is the life-long miracle,
The self-begetting wonder, daily fresh;
The Eden, where the spirit and the flesh
Are one again, and new-born souls walk free,
And name in mystic language all things new,
Naked, and not ashamed. [Eliz. hides her face.]
Eliz. O God! were that true!
[Clasps him round the neck.]
There, there, no more--
I love thee, and I love thee, and I love thee--
More than rich thoughts can dream, or mad lips speak;
But how, or why, whether with soul or body,
I will not know. Thou art mine.--Why question further?
[Aside] Ay if I fall by loving, I will love,
And be degraded!--how? by my own troth-plight?
No, but my thinking that I fall.--'Tis written
That whatsoe'er is not of faith is sin.--
O Jesu Lord! Hast Thou not made me thus?
Mercy! My brain will burst: I cannot leave him!
Lewis. Beloved, if I went away to war--
Eliz. O God! More wars? More partings?
Lewis. Nay, my sister--
My trust but longs to glory in its surety:
What would'st thou do?
Eliz. What I have done already.
Have I not followed thee, through drought and frost,
Through flooded swamps, rough glens, and wasted lands,
Even while I panted most with thy dear loan
Of double life?
Lewis. My saint! but what if I bid thee
To be my seneschal, and here with prayers,
With sober thrift, and noble bounty shine,
Alone and peerless? And suppose--nay, start not--
I only said suppose--the war was long,
Our camps far off, and that some winter, love,
Or two, pent back this Eden stream, where now
Joys upon joys like sunlit ripples pass,
Alike, yet ever new.--What would'st thou do, love?
Eliz. A year? A year! A cold, blank, widowed year!
Strange, that mere words should chill my heart with fear--
This is no hall of doom,
No impious Soldan's feast of old,
Where o'er the madness of the foaming gold,
A fleshless hand its woe on tainted walls enrolled.
Yet by thy wild words raised,
In Love's most careless revel,
Looms through the future's fog a shade of evil,
And all my heart is glazed.--
Alas! What would I do?
I would lie down and weep, and weep,
Till the salt current of my tears should sweep
My soul, like floating weed, adown a fitful sleep,
A lingering half-night through.
Then when the mocking bells did wake
My hollow eyes to twilight gray,
I would address my spiritless limbs to pray,
And nerve myself with stripes to meet the weary day,
And labour for thy sake.
Until by vigils, fasts, and tears,
The flesh was grown so spare and light,
That I could slip its mesh, and flit by night
O'er sleeping sea and land to thee--or Christ--till morning light.
Peace! Why these fears?
Life is too short for mean anxieties:
Soul! thou must work, though blindfold.
I must turn robber.--I have begged of late
So soft, I fear to ask.--Give me thy purse.
Lewis. No, not my purse:--stay--Where is all that gold
I gave you, when the Jews came here from Koln?
Eliz. Oh, those few coins? I spent them all next day
On a new chapel on the Eisenthal;
There were no choristers but nightingales--
No teachers there save bees: how long is this?
Have you turned niggard?
Lewis. Nay; go ask my steward--
Take what you will--this purse I want myself.
Eliz. Ah! now I guess. You have some trinket for me--
You promised late to buy no more such baubles--
And now you are ashamed.--Nay, I must see--
[Snatches his purse. Lewis hides his face.]
Ah, God! what's here? A new crusader's cross?
Whose? Nay, nay--turn not from me; I guess all--
You need not tell me; it is very well--
According to the meed of my deserts:
Lewis. Ah, love!--look not so calm--
Eliz. Fear not--I shall weep soon.
How long is it since you vowed?
Lewis. A week or more.
Eliz. Brave heart! And all that time your tenderness
Kept silence, knowing my weak foolish soul. [Weeps.]
O love! O life! Late found, and soon, soon lost!
A bleak sunrise,--a treacherous morning gleam,--
And now, ere mid-day, all my sky is black
With whirling drifts once more! The march is fixed
For this day month, is't not?
Lewis. Alas, too true!
Eliz. Oh break not, heart!
Ah! here my master comes.
No weeping before him.
Lewis. Speak to the holy man:
He can give strength and comfort, which poor I
Need even more than you. Here, saintly master,
I leave her to your holy eloquence. Farewell!
God help us both! [Exit Lewis.]
Eliz [rising]. You know, Sir, that my husband has taken the cross!
Con. I do; all praise to God!
Eliz. But none to you:
Hard-hearted! Am I not enough your slave?
Can I obey you more when he is gone
Than now I do? Wherein, pray, has he hindered
This holiness of mine, for which you make me
Old ere my womanhood? [Conrad offers to go.]
Stay, Sir, and tell me
Is this the outcome of your 'father's care'?
Was it not enough to poison all my joys
With foulest scruples?--show me nameless sins,
Where I, unconscious babe, blessed God for all things,
But you must thus intrigue away my knight
And plunge me down this gulf of widowhood!
And I not twenty yet--a girl--an orphan--
That cannot stand alone! Was I too happy?
O God! what lawful bliss do I not buy
And balance with the smart of some sharp penance?
Hast thou no pity? None? Thou drivest me
To fiendish doubts: Thou, Jesus' messenger?
Con. This to your master!
Eliz. This to any one
Who dares to part me from my love.
Con. 'Tis well--
In pity to your weakness I must deign
To do what ne'er I did--excuse myself.
I say, I knew not of your husband's purpose;
God's spirit, not I, moved him: perhaps I sinned
In that I did not urge it myself.
Eliz. Thou traitor!
So thou would'st part us?
Con. Aught that makes thee greater
I'll dare. This very outburst proves in thee
Passions unsanctified, and carnal leanings
Upon the creatures thou would'st fain transcend.
Thou badest me cure thy weakness. Lo, God brings thee
The tonic cup I feared to mix:--be brave--
Drink it to the lees, and thou shalt find within
A pearl of price.
Eliz. 'Tis bitter!
Con. Bitter, truly:
Even I, to whom the storm of earthly love
Is but a dim remembrance--Courage! Courage!
There's glory in't; fulfil thy sacrifice;
Give up thy noblest on the noblest service
God's sun has looked on, since the chosen twelve
Went conquering, and to conquer, forth. If he fall--
Eliz. Oh, spare mine ears!
Con. He falls a blessed martyr,
To bid thee welcome through the gates of pearl;
And next to his shall thine own guerdon be
If thou devote him willing to thy God.
Eliz. Have mercy!
Con. Wilt thou? Sit not thus
Watching the sightless air: no angel in it
But asks thee what I ask: the fiend alone
Delays thy coward flesh. Wilt thou devote him?
Eliz. I will devote him;--a crusader's wife!
I'll glory in it. Thou speakest words from God--
And God shall have him! Go now--good my master;
My poor brain swims. [Exit Conrad.]
Yes--a crusader's wife!
And a crusader's widow!
[Bursts into tears, and dashes herself on the floor.]
A street in the town of Schmalcald. Bodies of Crusading troops
defiling past. Lewis and Elizabeth with their suite in the
Lewis. Alas! the time is near; I must be gone--
There are our liegemen; how you'll welcome us,
Returned in triumph, bowed with paynim spoils,
Beneath the victor cross, to part no more!
Eliz. Yes--we shall part no more, where next we meet.
Enough to have stood here once on such an errand!
Lewis. The bugle calls.--Farewell, my love, my lady,
Queen, sister, saint! One last long kiss--Farewell!
Eliz. One kiss--and then another--and another--
Till 'tis too late to go--and so return--
O God! forgive that craven thought! There, take him
Since Thou dost need him. I have kept him ever
Thine, when most mine; and shall I now deny Thee?
Oh! go--yes, go--Thou'lt not forget to pray,
With me, at our old hour? Alas! he's gone
And lost--thank God he hears me not--for ever.
Why look'st thou so, poor girl? I say, for ever.
The day I found the bitter blessed cross,
Something did strike my heart like keen cold steel,
Which quarries daily there with dead dull pains--
Whereby I know that we shall meet no more.
Come! Home, maids, home! Prepare me widow's weeds--
For he is dead to me, and I must soon
Die too to him, and many things; and mark me--
Breathe not his name, lest this love-pampered heart
Should sicken to vain yearnings--Lost! lost! lost!
Lady. Oh stay, and watch this pomp.
Eliz. Well said--we'll stay; so this bright enterprise
Shall blanch our private clouds, and steep our soul
Drunk with the spirit of great Christendom.
[Men-at-Arms pass, singing.]
The tomb of God before us,
Our fatherland behind,
Our ships shall leap o'er billows steep,
Before a charmed wind.
Above our van great angels
Shall fight along the sky;
While martyrs pure and crowned saints
To God for rescue cry.
The red-cross knights and yeomen
Throughout the holy town,
In faith and might, on left and right,
Shall tread the paynim down.
Till on the Mount Moriah
The Pope of Rome shall stand;
The Kaiser and the King of France
Shall guard him on each hand.
There shall he rule all nations,
With crozier and with sword;
And pour on all the heathen
The wrath of Christ the Lord.
Christ is a rock in the bare salt land,
To shelter our knights from the sun and sand:
Christ the Lord is a summer sun,
To ripen the grain while they are gone.
Then you who fight in the bare salt land,
And you who work at home,
Fight and work for Christ the Lord,
Until His kingdom come.
[Old Knights pass.]
Our stormy sun is sinking;
Our sands are running low;
In one fair fight, before the night,
Our hard-worn hearts shall glow.
We cannot pine in cloister;
We cannot fast and pray;
The sword which built our load of guilt
Must wipe that guilt away.
We know the doom before us;
The dangers of the road;
Have mercy, mercy, Jesu blest,
When we lie low in blood.
When we lie gashed and gory,
The holy walls within,
Sweet Jesu, think upon our end,
And wipe away our sin.
[Boy Crusaders pass.]
The Christ-child sits on high:
He looks through the merry blue sky;
He holds in His hand a bright lily-band,
For the boys who for Him die.
On holy Mary's arm,
Wrapt safe from terror and harm,
Lulled by the breeze in the paradise trees,
Their souls sleep soft and warm.
Knight David, young and true,
The giant Soldan slew,
And our arms so light, for the Christ-child's right,
Like noble deeds can do.
[Young Knights pass.]
The rich East blooms fragrant before us;
All Fairyland beckons us forth;
We must follow the crane in her flight o'er the main,
From the frosts and the moors of the North.
Our sires in the youth of the nations
Swept westward through plunder and blood,
But a holier quest calls us back to the East,
We fight for the kingdom of God.
Then shrink not, and sigh not, fair ladies,
The red cross which flames on each arm and each shield,
Through philtre and spell, and the black charms of hell,
Shall shelter our true love in camp and in field.
[Old Monk, looking after them.]
The burying place of God!
Why gay and bold, in steel and gold,
O'er the paths where Christ hath trod?
[The Scene closes.]
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