Saint's Tragedy, The - Scene 2

SCENE II.

A Street . E LIZABETH and G UIA at the door of a
Convent. Monks in the Porch .

Eliz . You are afraid to shelter me — afraid.
And so you thrust me forth, to starve and freeze
Soon said. Why palter o'er these mean excuses,
Which tempt me to despise you?
Monks . Ah! my lady,
We know your kindness — but we poor religious
Are bound to obey God's ordinance, and submit
Unto the powers that be, who have forbidden
All men, alas! to give you food or shelter.
Eliz . Silence! I'll go. Better in God's hand than man's.
He shall kill us, if we die. This bitter blast
Warping the leafless willows, yon white snow-storms,
Whose wings, like vengeful angels, cope the vault,
They are God's, — We'll trust to them.
Guta . Mean-spirited!
Fair frocks hide foul hearts. Why, their altar now
Is blazing with your gifts.
Eliz . How long their altar?
To God I gave — and God shall pay me back.
Fool! to have put my trust in living man,
And fancied that I bought God's love, by buying
The greedy thanks of these His earthly tools!
Well — here's one lesson learnt! I thank thee, Lord!
Henceforth I'll straight to Thee, and to Thy poor.
What? Isentrudis not returned? Alas!
Where are those children?
They will not have the heart to keep them from me —
Oh! have the traitors harmed them?
Guta . Do not think it
The dowager has a woman's heart.
Eliz . Ay, ay —
But she's a mother — and mothers will dare all things —
Oh! Love can make us fiends, as well as angels.
My babies! Weeping? Oh, have mercy, Lord!
On me heap all thy wrath — I understand it:
What can blind senseless terror do for them?
Guta . Plead, plead your penances! Great God, consider
All she has done and suffered, and forbear
To smite her like a worldling!
Eliz Silence, girl!
I'd plead my deeds, if mine own character,
My strength of will had fathered them: but no —
They are His, who worked them in me, in despite
Of mine own selfish and luxurious will —
Shall I bribe Him with His own? For pain, I tell thee
I need more pain than mine own will inflicts,
Pain which shall break that will. — Yet spare them, Lord!
Go to — I am a fool to wish them life —
And greater fool to miscall life, this headache —
This nightmare of our gross and crude digestion —
This fog which steams up from our freezing clay —
While waking heaven's beyond. No! slay them, traitors!
Cut through the channels of those innocent breaths
Whose music charmed my lone nights, ere they learn
To love the world, and hate the wretch who bore them!
Guta . This storm will blind us both: come here, and shield you
Behind this buttress.
Eliz What's a wind to me?
I can see up the street here, if they come —
They do not come! — Oh! my poor weanling lambs —
Struck dead by carrion ravens!
What then, I have borne worse. But yesterday
I thought I had a husband — and now — now!
Guta! He called a holy man before he died?
Guta . The Bishop of Jerusalem, 'tis said,
With holy oil, and with the blessed body
Of Him for whom he died, did speed him duly
Upon his heavenward flight.
Eliz . Oh happy bishop!
Where are those children? If I had but seen him!
I could have borne all then. One word — one kiss!
Hark! What's that rushing! White doves — one — two — three —
Fleeing before the gale. My children's spirits!
Stay, babies — stay for me! What! Not a moment?
And I so nearly ready to be gone?
Guta . Still on your children?
Eliz . Oh! this grief is light
And floats a-top — well, well; it hides a while
That gulf too black for speech — My husband's dead!
I dare not think on't.
A small bird dead in the snow! Alas! poor minstrel!
A week ago, before this very window,
He warbled, may be, to the slanting sunlight;
And housewives blest him for a merry singer:
And now he freezes at their doors, like me.
Poor foolish brother! didst thou look for payment?
Guta . But thou hast light in darkness: he has none —
The bird's the sport of time, while our life's floor
Is laid upon eternity; no crack in it
But shows the underlying heaven.
Eliz . Art sure?
Does this look like it, girl! No — I'll trust yet —
Some have gone mad for less; but why should I?
Who live in time, and not eternity.
'Twill end, girl, end; no cloud across the sun
But passes at the last, and gives us back
The face of God once more.
Guta . See here they come,
Dame Isentrudis and your children, all
Safe down the cliff path, through the whirling snow-drifts.
Eliz . Oh Lord, my Lord! I thank Thee!
Loving, and merciful, and tender-hearted,
And even in fiercest wrath remembering mercy
Lo! here's my ancient foe. What want you, Sir?
Hugo . Want? Faith, 'tis you who want, not I, my Lady —
I hear, you are gone a begging through the town;
So, for your husband's sake I'll take you in;
For though I can't forget your scurvy usage,
He was a very honest sort of fellow,
Though mad as a March hare; so come you in.
Eliz . But know you, Sir, that all my husband's vassals
Are bidden bar their doors to me?
Hugo . I know it:
And therefore come you in: my house is mine:
No upstarts shall lay down the law to me;
Not they, mass: but mind you, no canting here —
No psalm-singing; all candles out at eight:
Beggars must not be choosers Come along!
Eliz . I thank you, Sir; and for my children's sake
I do accept your bounty. ( aside ) Down, proud heart —
Bend lower — lower ever: thus God deals with thee
Go, Guta, send the children after me

Two Peasants enter.

1 st Peas . Here's Father January taken a lease of March month, and put in Jack Frost for bailiff. What be I to do for spring-feed if the weather holds, — and my ryelands as bare as the back of my hand?
2 d Peas . That's your luck. Freeze on, say I, and may Mary Mother send us snow a yard deep. I have ten ton of hay yet to sell — ten ton, man — there's my luck: every man for himself, and — Why here comes that handsome canting girl, used to be about the Princess.

G uta enters .

Guta . Well met, fair sirs! I know you kind and loyal,
And bound by many a favour to my mistress:
Say, will you bear this letter for her sake
Unto her aunt, the rich and holy lady
Who rules the nuns of Kitzingen?
2 d peas . If I do, pickle me in a barrel among cabbage.
She told me once, God's curse would overtake me,
For grinding of the poor: her turn's come now
Guta . Will you, then, help her? She will pay you richly
1 st Peas . Ay? How dame? How? Where will the money come from?
Guta . God knows —
1st Peas . And you do not.
Guta . Why, but last winter,
When all your stacks were fired, she lent you gold.
1 st Peas . Well — I'll be generous: as the times are hard,
Say, if I take your letter, will you promise
To marry me yourself?
Guta . Ay, marry you,
Or anything, if you'll but go to-day:
At once, mind.
1 st Peas . Ay, I'll go. Now, you'll remember?
Guta . Straight to her ladyship at Kitzingen.
God and His saints deal with you, as you deal
With us this day.
2 d Peas . What! art thou fallen in love promiscuously?
1 st Peas . Why, see, man; she has her mistress' ear;
And if I marry her, no doubt they'll make me
Bailiff, or land-steward; and there's noble pickings
In that same line.
2 d Peas . Thou hast bought a pig in a poke:
Her priest will shrive her off from such a bargain.
1 st Peas . Dost think? Well — I'll not fret myself about it.
See, now, before I start, I must get home
Those pigs from off the forest; chop some furze;
And then to get my supper, and my horse's:
And then a man will need to sit a while,
And take his snack of brandy for digestion;
And then to fettle up my sword and buckler;
And then, bid 'em all good-bye: and by that time
'Twill be 'most nightfall — I'll just go to-morrow.
Off — here she comes again.

I SENIRUDIS and G UTA enter, with the Children .

Guta . I warned you of it; I knew she would not stay
An hour, thus treated like a slave — an idiot.
Isen . Well, 'twas past bearing: so we are thrust forth
To starve again. Are all your jewels gone?
Guta . All pawned and eaten — and for her, you know,
She never bore the worth of one day's meal
About her dress. We can but die — No foe
Can ban us from that rest
Isen . Ay, but these children! — Well — if it must be,
Here, Guta, pull off this old withered hand
My wedding-ring; the man who gave it me
Should be in heaven — and there he'll know my heart.
Take it, girl, take it. Where's the Princess now?
She stopped before a crucifix to pray;
But why so long?
Guta . Oh! prayer, to her rapt soul,
Is like the drunkenness of the autumn bee,
Who, scent-enchanted, on the latest flower,
Heedless of cold, will linger listless on,
And freeze in odorous dreams.
Isen . Ah! here she comes.
Guta . Dripping from head to foot with wet and mire!
How's this?

E LIZABETH entering .

Eliz . How? Oh, my fortune rises to full flood:
I met a friend just now, who told me truths
Wholesome and stern, of my deceitful heart —
Would God I had known them earlier! — and enforced
Her lesson so, as I shall ne'er forget it
In body or in mind.
Isen . What means all this?
Eliz . You know the stepping-stones across the ford.
There as I passed, a certain aged crone,
Whom I had fed, and nursed, year after year,
Met me mid-stream — thrust past me stoutly on —
And rolled me headlong in the freezing mire.
There as I lay and weltered, — " Take that, Madam,
For all your selfish hypocritic pride
Which thought it such a vast humility
To wash us poor folk's feet, and use our bodies
For staves to build withal your Jacob's-ladder.
What! you would mount to heaven upon our backs?
The ass has thrown his rider " She crept on —
I washed my garments in the brook hard by —
And came here, all the wiser.
Guta . Miscreant hag!
Isen . Alas, you'll freeze.
Guta . Who could have dreamt the witch
Could harbour such a spite?
Eliz . Nay, who could dream
She would have guessed my heart so well? Dull boors
See deeper than we think, and hide within
Those leathern hulls unfathomable truths;
Which we amid thought's glittering mazes lose.
They grind among the iron facts of life,
And have no time for self-deception.
Isen . Come —
Put on my cloak — stand here, behind the wall.
Oh! is it come to this? She'll die of cold
Guta . Ungrateful fiend!
Eliz . Let be — we must not think on't.
The scoff was true — I thank her — I thank God —
This too I needed. I had built myself
A Babel-tower, whose top should reach to heaven,
Of poor men's praise and prayers, and subtle pride
At mine own alms. 'Tis crumbled into dust!
Oh! I have leant upon an arm of flesh —
And here's its strength! I'll walk by faith — by faith
And rest my weary heart on Christ alone —
On him, the all-sufficient!
Shame on me! dreaming thus about myself.
While you stand shivering here.
Art cold, young knight?
Knights must not cry — Go slide, and warm thyself.
Where shall we lodge to-night?
Isen . There's no place open,
But that foul tavern, where we lay last night.
Elizabeth's Son ( dinging to her ). Oh, mother, mother! go not to that house —
Among those fierce lank men, who laughed, and scowled,
And showed their knives, and sang strange ugly songs.
Of you and us. Oh mother! let us be!
Eliz . Hark! look! His father's voice! — his very eye —
Opening so slow and sad, then sinking down
In luscious rest again!
Isen . Bethink you, child —
Eliz . Oh yes — I'll think — we'll to our tavern friends;
If they be brutes, 'twas my sin left them so.
Guta . 'Tis but for a night or two: three days will bring
The Abbess hither.
Isen . And then to Bamberg straight
For knights and men-at-arms! Your uncle's wrath —
Guta ( aside ). Hush! hush! you'll fret her, if you talk of vengeance.
Isen . Come to our shelter.
Children . Oh stay here, stay here!
Behind these walls.
Eliz . Ay — stay a while in peace. The storms are still
Beneath her eider robe the patient earth
Watches in silence for the sun: we'll sit
And gaze up with her at the changeless heaven,
Until this tyranny be overpast.
Come ( aside ) Lost! Lost! Lost!
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