Saint's Tragedy, The - Scene 4


A Chamber . G UTA , I SENIRUDIS , 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 bare soft 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.
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 bright looks dazzle me;
As those who long in hideous darkness pent
Blink at the daily light; this room's too gay!
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 —
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 [G UTA 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!
Forgive me!
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.
Eliz . Oh, 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 —
How's this?
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.
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