Saint's Tragedy, The - Scene 7


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.
1 st Voice . Ay, give, give, give! God knows, we're long past earning
2 d Voice . Our skeleton children lie along in the roads —
3 d Voice . Our sheep drop dead about the frozen leas —
4 th 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 W ALTER , 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.

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 W ALTER .
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.

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!
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