Death’s Jest-Book, Act I

PERSONS REPRESENTED.

MELVERIC; Duke of MUNSTERBERG.

ADALMAR;
ATHULF;
His sons.

WOLFRAM; a knight.
ISBRAND; the court-fool.
Brothers.

THORWALD; Governor in the Duke’s absence.
MARIO; a Roman.
SIEGFRIED; a courtier.
ZIBA; an Egyptian slave.
HOMUNCULUS MANDRAKE; Zany to a mountebank.

SIBYLLA.
AMALA; Thorwald’s daughter.
IOAN.

Knights, Ladies, Arabs, Priests, Sailors, Guards, and other attendants.
The Dance of Death.

SCENE; in the first act at Ancona, and afterwards in Egypt: in the latter acts at the town of Grüssau, residence of the Duke of Munsterberg, in Silesia.

TIME; the end of the thirteenth century.

Scene I.

Port of Ancona. Enter MANDRAKE and JOAN.

Mandr.
Am I a man of gingerbread that you should mould me to your liking? To have my way, in spite of your tongue and reason’s teeth, tastes better than Hungary wine; and my heart beats in a honey-pot now I reject you and all sober sense: so tell my master, the doctor, he must seek another zany for his booth, a new wise merry Andrew. My jests are cracked, my coxcomb fallen, my bauble confiscated, my cap decapitated. Toll the bell; for oh! for oh! Jack Pudding is no more!

Joan.
Wilt thou away from me then, sweet Mandrake? Wilt thou not marry me?

Mandr.
Child, my studies must first be ended. Thou knowest I hunger after wisdom, as the red sea after ghosts: therefore will I travel awhile.

Joan.
Whither, dainty Homunculus?

Mandr.
Whither should a student in the black arts, a journeyman magician, a Rosicrucian? Where is our country? You heard the herald this morning thrice invite all christian folk to follow the brave knight, Sir Wolfram, to the shores of Egypt, and there help to free from bondage his noble fellow in arms, Duke Melveric, whom, on a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre, wild pagans captured. There, Joan, in that Sphynx land found Raimund Lully those splinters of the philosopher’s stone with which he made English Edward’s gold. There dwell hoary magicians, who have given up their trade and live sociably as crocodiles on the banks of the Nile. There can one chat with mummies in a pyramid, and breakfast on basilisk’s eggs. Thither then, Homunculus Mandrake, son of the great Paracelsus; languish no more in the ignorance of these climes, but aboard with alembic and crucible, and weigh anchor for Egypt.

Enter ISBRAND.

Isbr.
Good morrow, brother Vanity! How? soul of a pickle-herring, body of a spagirical toss-pot, doublet of motley, and mantle of pilgrim, how art thou transmuted! Wilt thou desert our brotherhood, fool sublimate? Shall the motley chapter no longer boast thee? Wilt thou forswear the order of the bell, and break thy vows to Momus? Have mercy on Wisdom and relent.

Mandr.
Respect the grave and sober, I pray thee. To-morrow I know thee not. In truth, I mark that our noble faculty is in its last leaf. The dry rot of prudence hath eaten the ship of fools to dust; she is no more sea worthy. The world will see its ears in a glass no longer; So we are laid aside and shall soon be forgotten; for why should the feast of asses come but once a year, when all the days are foaled of one mother? O world, world! The gods and fairies left thee, for thou wert too wise; and now, thou Socratic star, thy demon, the great Pan, Folly, is parting from thee. The oracles still talked in their sleep, shall our grand-children say, till Master Merriman’s kingdom was broken up: now is every man his own fool, and the world’s sign is taken down.

(He sings.)
Folly hath now turned out of door
Mankind and Fate, who were before
   Jove’s harlequin and clown:
For goosegrass-harvest now is o’er;
The world’s no stage, no tavern more,
   Its sign, the Fool’s ta’en down.

Isbr.
Farewell, thou great-eared mind: I mark, by thy talk, that thou commencest philosopher, and then thou art only a fellow-servant out of livery. But lo! here come the uninitiated—

(Enter THORWALD, AMALA, WOLFRAM, Knights and Ladies.)

Thorw.
The turning tide; the sea’s wide leafless wind,
Wherein no birds inhabit and few traffic,
Making his cave within your sunny sails;
The eager waves, whose golden, silent kisses
Seal an alliance with your bubbling oars;
And our still-working wishes, that impress
Their meaning on the conscience of the world,
And prompt the unready Future,—all invite you
Unto your voyage. Prosperous be the issue,
As is the promise, and the purpose good!
Are all the rest aboard?

Wolfr.
All. ‘Tis a band
Of knights, whose bosoms pant with one desire,
And live but in the hope to free their prince:
All hearts beat merrily, all arms are ready.

Mandr.
All, sir Knight; even the very pigs and capons, and poor dear great Mandrake must be shipped too.

Wolfr.
Who is this saucy fellow, that prates between?

Isbr.
One of the many you have made. Yesterday he was a fellow of my colour and served a quacksalver, but now he lusts after the mummy country, whither you are bound. ‘Tis a servant of the rosy cross, a correspondent of the stars; the dead are his boon companions, and the secrets of the moon his knowledge. But had I been cook to a chameleon, I could not sweeten the air to his praise enough. Suffice it, of his wisdom Solomon knew less than a bee of fossil flowers, or the ambrosian demigods of table beer. We fools send him as our ambassador to Africa; take him with you, or be yourself our consul.

Wolfr.
Aboard then in all speed; and sink us not with thy understanding.

Mandr.
I thank thee, Knight. Twice shalt thou live for this, if I bottle eternity.

[Exit, with JOAN.

Thorw.
These letters yet, full of most weighty secrets:
Wherein, of what I dare but whisper to thee,
Since the dissemblers listen to our speech;
Of his two sons, whose love and dread ambition,
Crossing like deadly swords, teach us affright;
And of the uncertain people, who incline
Daily more to the present influence,
Forgetting all that their sense apprehends not;
I have at large discoursed unto the duke:
And may you find his spirit strong to bear
The bending load of such untoward tidings,
As must press hard upon him.

Amala.
And forget not
Our duke, with gentle greetings, to remind
Of those who have no sword to raise for him,
But whose unarmed love is not less true,
Than theirs who seek him helmed. Farewell, sir knight;
They say you serve a lady in those lands,
So we dare offer you no token else
But our good wishes.

Wolfr.
Thanks, and farewell to all;
And so I take my leave.

Amala.
We to our homes;
You to the homeless waves; unequal parting.

Wolfr.
The earth may open, and the sea o’erwhelm;
Many the ways, the little home is one;
Thither the courser leads, thither the helm,
And at one gate we meet when all is done.

[Exeunt all but WOLFRAM and ISBRAND.

Isbr.
Stay: you have not my blessing yet. With what jest shall I curse you in earnest? Know you this garb, and him who wears it, and wherefore it is worn? A father slain and plundered; a sister’s love first worn in the bosom, then trampled in the dust: our fraternal bond, shall it so end that thou savest him whom we should help to damn? O do it, and I shall learn to laugh the dead out of their coffins!

Wolfr.
Hence with your dark demands: let’s shape our lives
After the merciful lesson of the sun,
That gilds our purpose. See the dallying waves
Caress invitingly into their bosom
My fleet ship’s keel, that at her anchor bounds
As doth the greyhound at her leader’s hand,
Following her eye beams after the light roe.

Isbr.
Away then, away! Thus perish our good Revenge! Unfurl your sails: let all the honest finny folk of ocean, and those fair witty spinsters, the mermaids, follow your luckless boats with mockery: sea serpents and sea-dogs and venomous krakens have mercy on your mercy, and drag you down to the salt water element of pity! What, O! what spirit of our ancestral enemies would dare to whisper through our father’s bones the tale of thy apostacy? Deliver him from the Saracens’ irons, or the coil of the desert snake, who robbed our sire’s grey hairs of a kingdom, his heart of its best loved daughter, and trod him down a despairing beggar to the crowned corpses of our progenitors? Save him, who slew our hopes; who cozened us of our share of this sepulchral planet, whereon our statues should have stood sceptred? Revenge, Revenge lend me your torch, that I may by its bloody fire see the furrows of this man’s countenance, which once were iron, like the bars of Hell gate, and devilish thoughts peeped through them; but now are as a cage of very pitiful apes.

Wolfr.
Should we repent this change? I know not why.
We came disguised into the court, stiff limbed
With desperate intent, and doubly souled
With murder’s devil and our own still ghosts.
But must I not relent, finding the heart,
For which my dagger hungered, so inclined
In brotherly affection unto me?
O bless the womanish weakness of my soul,
Which came to slay, and leads me now to save!

Isbr.
Hate! Hate! Revenge and blood! These are the first words my boys shall learn. What accursed poison has that Duke, that snake, with his tongue, his fang, dropped into thine ear? Thou art no brother of mine more: his soul was of that tune which shall awaken the dead: for thine! if I could make a trumpet of the devil’s antlers, and blow thee through it, my lady’s poodle would be scarce moved to a hornpipe. O fie on’t! Thou my brother? Say when hast thou undergone transfusion, and whose hostile blood now turns thy life’s wheels? Who has poured Lethe into thy veins, and washed thy father out of heart and brains? Ha! be pale, and smile, and be prodigal of thy body’s movements, for thou hast no soul more. That thy sire placed in thee; and, with the determination to avenge him, thou hast driven it out of doors. But ’tis well so: why lament? Now I have all the hatred and revenge of the world to myself to abhor and murder him with.

Wolfr.
Thou speak’st unjustly, what thou rashly think’st;
But time must soften and convince: now leave me,
If thou hast nothing but reproach for pastime.

Isbr.
Be angry then, and we will curse each other. But if thou goest now to deliver this man, come not again for fear of me and our father’s spirit: for when he visits me in the night, screaming revenge, my heart forgets that my head wears a fool’s cap, and dreams of daggers: come not again then!

Wolfr.
O think not, brother, that our father’s spirit
Breathes earthy passion more: he is with me
And guides me to the danger of his foe,
Bringing from heaven, his home, pity and pardon.
But, should his blood need bloody expiation,
Then let me perish. Blind these eyes, my sire,
Palsy my vigorous arm, snow age upon me,
Strike me with lightning down into the deep,
Open me any grave that earth can spare,
Leave me the truth of love, and death is lovely.

[Exit.

Isbr.
O lion-heartedness right asinine!
Such lily-livered meek humanity
Saves not thy duke, good brother; it but shines
Sickly upon his doom, as moonbeams breaking
Upon a murderer’s grave-digging spade.
Or fate’s a fool, or I will be his fate.
What ho! Sir Knight! One word—Now for a face
As innocent and lamblike as the wool
That brings a plague.

(Re-enter WOLFRAM.)

Wolfr.
What will you more with me?

Isbr.
Go, if you must and will; but take with you
At least this letter of the governor’s,
Which, in your haste, you dropped. I must be honest,
For so my hate was ever. Go.

Wolfr.
And prosper!

[Exit.

Isbr.
Now then he plunges right into the waters!
O Lie, O Lie, O lovely lady Lie,
They told me that thou art the devil’s daughter.
Then thou art greater than thy father, Lie;
For while he mopes in Hell, thou queen’st it bravely,
Ruling the earth under the name of Truth,
While she is at the bottom of the well,
Where Joseph left her.

Song from the ship.
To sea, to sea! The calm is o’er;
   The wanton water leaps in sport,
And rattles down the pebbly shore;
   The dolphin wheels, the sea-cows snort,
And unseen Mermaids’ pearly song
Comes bubbling up, the weeds among.
   Fling broad the sail, dip deep the oar:
   To sea, to sea! the calm is o’er.

To sea, to sea! our wide-winged bark
   Shall billowy cleave its sunny way,
And with its shadow, fleet and dark,
   Break the caved Tritons’ azure day,
Like mighty eagle soaring light
O’er antelopes on Alpine height.
   The anchor heaves, the ship swings free,
   The sails swell full. To sea, to sea!

Isbr.
The idiot merriment of thoughtless men!
How the fish laugh at them, that swim and toy
About the ruined ship, wrecked deep below,
Whose pilot’s skeleton, all full of sea weeds,
Leans on his anchor, grinning like their Hope.
But I will turn my bosom now to thee,
Brutus, thou saint of the avenger’s order;
Refresh me with thy spirit, or pour in
Thy whole great ghost. Isbrand, thou tragic fool,
Cheer up. Art thou alone? Why so should be
Creators and destroyers. I’ll go brood,
And strain my burning and distracted soul
Against the naked spirit of the world,
Till some portent’s begotten.

[Exit.

Scene II.

The African Coast: a woody solitude near the sea.

In the back ground ruins overshadowed by the characteristic vegetation of the oriental regions.

The DUKE and SIBYLLA; the latter sleeping in a tent.

Duke.
Soft sleep enwrap thee: with his balm bedew
Thy young fair limbs, Sibylla: thou didst need
The downy folding of his arms about thee.
And wake not yet, for still the starless night
Of our misfortune holds its ghostly noon.
No serpent shall creep o’er the sand to sting thee,
No springing tiger, no uncouth sea-monster,
(For such are now the partners of thy chamber,)
Disturb thy rest: only the birds shall dare
To shake the sparkling blossoms that hang o’er thee,
And fan thee with their wings. As I watch for thee,
So may the power, that has so far preserved us,
Now in the uttermost, now that I feel
The cold drops on my forehead, and scarce know
Whether Fear shed them there, or the near breath
Of our pursuing foes has settled on it,
Stretch its shield o’er us.

Enter ZIBA.

What bring’st, Ziba? Hope?
Else be as dumb as that thou bring’st, Despair.

Ziba.
Fruits: as I sat among the boughs, and robbed
The sparrows and their brothers of their bread,
A horde of casqued Saracens rode by,
Each swearing that thy sword should rest ere night
Within his sheath, his weapon in thy breast.

Duke.
Speak lower, Ziba, lest the lady wake.
Perhaps she sleeps not, but with half-shut eyes
Will hear her fate. The slaves shall need to wash
My sword of Moslem blood before they sheath it.
Which path took they?

Ziba.
Sleeping, or feigning sleep,
Well done of her: ’tis trying on a garb
Which she must wear, sooner or later, long:
‘Tis but a warmer lighter death. The ruffians,
Of whom I spoke, turned towards the cedar forest,
And, as they went in, there rushed forth a lion
And tore their captain down. Long live the lion!
We’ll drink his tawny health: he gave us wine.
For, while the Moors in their black fear were flying,
I crept up to the fallen wretch, and borrowed
His flask of rubious liquor. May the prophet
Forgive him, as I do, for carrying it!
This for to-day: to-morrow hath gods too,
Who’ll ripen us fresh berries, and uncage
Another lion on another foe.

Duke.
Brave Arab, thanks. But saw’st thou from the heights
No christian galley steering for this coast?

Ziba.
I looked abroad upon the wide old world,
And in the sky and sea, through the same clouds,
The same stars saw I glistening, and nought else.
And as my soul sighed unto the world’s soul,
Far in the north a wind blackened the waters,
And, after that creating breath was still,
A dark speck sat on the sky’s edge: as watching
Upon the heaven-girt border of my mind
The first faint thought of a great deed arise,
With force and fascination I drew on
The wished sight, and my hope seemed to stamp
Its shape upon it. Not yet is it clear
What, or from whom, the vessel.

Duke.
Liberty!
Thou breakest through our dungeon’s wall of waves,
As morning bursts the towery spell of night.
Horse of the desert, thou, coy arrowy creature,
Startest like sunrise up, and, from thy mane
Shaking abroad the dews of slumber, boundest
With sparkling hoof along the scattered sands,
The livelong day in liberty and light.
But see, the lady stirs. Once more look out,
And thy next news be safety.

[Exit ZIBA.

Hast thou gathered
Rest and refreshment from thy desert couch,
My fair Sibylla?

Sibyl.
Deeply have I slept.
As one who hath gone down unto the springs
Of his existence and there bathed, I come
Regenerate up into the world again.
Kindest protector, ’tis to thee I owe
This boon, a greater than my parents gave.
Me, who had never seen this earth, this heaven,
The sun, the stars, the flowers, but shut from nature
Within my dungeon birthplace lived in darkness,
Me hast thou freed from the oppressor’s chain,
And godlike given me this heaven, this earth,
The flowers, the stars, the sun. Methinks it were
Ingratitude to thank thee for a gift
So measurelessly great.

Duke.
As yet, sweet lady,
I have deserved but little thanks of thine.
We’ve not yet broken prison. This wall of waves
Still towers between us and the world of men;
That too I hope to climb. Our true Egyptian
Hath brought me news of an approaching ship.
When that hath borne thee to our German shore,
And thou amongst the living tastest life,
And gallants shall have shed around thy presence
A glory of the starry looks of love,
For thee to move in, thank me then.

Sibyl.
I wish not
To leave this shady quiet bower of life.
Why should we seek cruel mankind again?
Nature is kinder far: and every thing
That lives around us, with its pious silence,
Gives me delight: the insects, and the birds
That come unto our table, seeking food,
The flowers, upon whose petals Night lays down
Her dewy necklace, are my dearest playmates.
O let us never leave them.

Duke.
That would be
To rob thy fate of thee. In other countries
Another godliker mankind doth dwell,
Whose works each day adorn and deify
The world their fathers left them. Thither shalt thou,
For among them must be the one thou’rt born for.
Durst thou be such a traitress to thy beauty
As to live here unloving and unloved?

Sibyl.
Love I not thee? O, if I feel beside thee
Content and an unruffled calm, in which
My soul doth gather round thee, to reflect
Thy heavenly goodness: if I feel my heart
So full of comfort near thee, that no room
For any other wish, no doubt, remains;
Love I not thee?

Duke.
Dear maiden, thou art young.
Thou must see many, and compare their merits
Ere thou canst choose. Esteem and quiet friendship
Oft bear Love’s semblance for awhile.

Sibyl.
I know it;
Thou shalt hear how. A year and more is past
Since a brave Saxon knight did share our prison;
A noble generous man, in whose discourse
I found much pleasure: yet, when he was near me,
There ever was a pain which I could taste
Even in the thick and sweetest of my comfort:
Strange dread of meeting, greater dread of parting:
My heart was never still: and many times,
When he had fetched me flowers, I trembled so
That oft they fell as I was taking them
Out of his hand. When I would speak to him
I heard not, and I knew not what I said.
I saw his image clearer in his absence
Than near him, for my eyes were strangely troubled;
And never had I dared to talk thus to him.
Yet this I thought was Love. O self deceived!
For now I can speak all I think to thee
With confidence and ease. What else can that be
Except true love?

Duke.
The like I bear to thee,
O more than all that thou hast promised me:
For if another being stepped between us,
And were he my best friend, I must forget
All vows, and cut his heart away from mine.

Sibyl.
Think not on that: it is impossible.

Duke.
Yet, my Sibylla, oft first love must perish;
Like the poor snow-drop, boyish love of Spring,
Born pale to die, and strew the path of triumph
Before the imperial glowing of the rose,
Whose passion conquers all.

Enter ZIBA.

Ziba.
O my dear lord, we’re saved!

Duke.
How? Speak quickly.
Though every word hath now no meaning in’t,
Since thou hast said ‘she’s saved.’

Ziba.
The ship is in the bay, a christian knight
Steps from his boat upon the shore.

Duke.
Blest hour!
And yet how palely, with what faded lips
Do we salute this unhoped change of fortune!
Thou art so silent, lady; and I utter
Shadows of words, like to an ancient ghost,
Arisen out of hoary centuries
Where none can speak his language. I had thought
That I should laugh, and shout, and leap on high:
But see this breath of joy hath damped my soul,
Melted the icy mail, with which despair
Had clad my heart and sealed the springs of weakness:
And O! how feeble, faint, and sad I go
To welcome what I prayed for. Thou art silent;
How art thou then, my love?

Sibyl.
Now Hope and Fear
Stand by me, masked in one another’s shapes;
I know not which is which, and, if I did,
I doubt which I should choose.

Enter a Knight.

Knight.
Hither, Sir Knight—

Duke.
What knight?

Knight.
What knight, but Wolfram?

Duke.
Wolfram, my knight!

Sibyl.
My day, my Wolfram!

Duke.
Know’st him?

Sibyl.
His foot is on my heart; he comes, he comes.

Enter WOLFRAM, knights and attendants.

Wolfr.
Are these thy comrades?
Then, Arab, thy life’s work and mine is done.
My duke, my brother knight!

Duke.
O friend! So call me!
Wolfram, thou comest to us like a god,
Giving life where thou touchest with thy hand.

Wolfr.
Were it mine own, I’d break it here in twain,
And give you each a half.

Duke.
I will not thank thee,
I will not welcome thee, embrace and bless thee;
Nor will I weep in silence. Gratitude,
Friendship, and Joy are beggar’d, and turned forth
Out of my heart for shallow hypocrites:
They understand me not; and my soul, dazzled,
Stares on the unknown feelings that now crowd it,
Knows none of them, remembers none, counts none,
More than a new-born child in its first hour.
One word, and then we’ll speak of this no more:
At parting each of us did tear a leaf
Out of a magic book, and, robbing life
Of the red juice with which she feeds our limbs,
We wrote a mutual bond. Dost thou remember?

Wolfr.
And if a promise reaches o’er the grave
My ghost shall not forget it. There I swore
That, if I died before thee, I would come
With the first weeds that shoot out of my grave,
And bring thee tidings of our real home.

Duke.
That bond hast thou now cancelled thus; or rather
Unto me lying in my sepulchre
Comest thou, and say’st, “Arise and live again.”

Wolfr.
And with thee dost thou bring some angel back.
Look on me, lady.

Sibyl.
(aside) Pray heaven, it be not
The angel of the death of one of you,
To make the grave and the flowers’ roots amends.
Now turn I to thee, knight. O dared I hope,
Thou hast forgotten me!

Wolfr.
Then dead indeed
Were I, and my soul disinherited
Of immortality, which love of thee
Gave me the proof of first. Forgotten thee!
Ay; if thou be not she, with whom I shared
Few months ago that dungeon, which thy presence
Lit with delight unknown to liberty;
If thou be not Sibylla, she whose semblance
Here keepeth watch upon my breast. Behold it:
Morning and night my heart doth beat against it.
Thou gavest it me one day, when I admired,
Above all crystal gems, a dewdrop globe
Which, in the joyous dimple of a flower,
Imaged thee tremulously. Since that time
Many a secret tear hath mirrored thee,
And many a thought, over this pictured beauty.
Speak to me then: or art thou, as this toy,
Only the likeness of the maid I loved?
But there’s no seeming such a one. O come!
This talking is a pitiful invention:
We’ll leave it to the wretched. All my science,
My memory, I’d give for this one joy,
And keep it ever secret.

Sibyl.
Wolfram, thou movest me:
With soul-compelling looks thou draw’st me to thee:
O! at thy call I must surrender me,
My lord, my love, my life.

Duke.
Thy life! O lives, that dwell
In these three bosoms, keep your footings fast,
For there’s a blasting thought stirring among you.
They love each other. Silence! Let them love;
And let him be her love. She is a flower,
Growing upon a grave. Now, gentle lady,
Retire, beseech you, to the tent and rest.
My friend and I have need to use those words
Which are bequeathed unto the miserable.
Come hither; you have made me master of them:
Who dare be wretched in the world beside me?
Think now what you have done; and tremble at it.
But I forgive thee, love. Go in and rest thee.

Sibyl.
And he?

Duke.
Is he not mine?

Wolfr.
Go in, sweet, fearlessly.
I come to thee, before thou’st time to feel
That I am absent.

[Exit SIBYLLA, followed by the rest.

Duke.
Wolfram, we have been friends.

Wolfr.
And will be ever.
I know no other way to live.

Duke.
‘Tis pity.
I would you had been one day more at sea.

Wolfr.
Why so?

Duke.
You’re troublesome to-day. Have you not marked it?

Wolfr.
Alas! that you should say so.

Duke.
That’s all needless.
Those times are past, forgotten. Hear me, knight:
That lady’s love is mine. Now you know that,
Do what you dare.

Wolfr.
The lady! my Sibylla!
I would I did not love thee for those words,
That I might answer well.

Duke.
Unless thou yield’st her—
For thou hast even subdued her to thy arms,
Against her will and reason, wickedly
Torturing her soul with spells and adjurations,—
Unless thou giv’st her the free will again
To take her natural course of being on,
Which flowed towards me with gentle love:—O Wolfram,
Thou know’st not how she filled my soul so doing,
Even as the streams an ocean:—Give her me,
And we are friends again. But I forget:
Thou lovest her too; a stern, resolved rival;
And passionate, I know. Nay then, speak out:
‘Twere better that we argued warmly here,
Till the blood has its way.

Wolfr.
Unworthy friend!
My lord—

Duke.
Forget that I am so, and many things
Which we were to each other, and speak out.
I would we had much wine; ‘twould bring us sooner
To the right point.

Wolfr.
Can it be so? O Melveric!
I thought thou wert the very one of all
Who shouldst have heard my secret with delight.
I thought thou wert my friend.

Duke.
Such things as these,
Friendship, esteem, faith, hope, and sympathy,
We need no more: away with them for ever!
Wilt follow them out of the world? Thou see’st
All human things die and decay around us.
‘Tis the last day for us; and we stand bare
To let our cause be tried. See’st thou not why?
We love one creature: which of us shall tear her
Out of his soul? I have in all the world
Little to comfort me, few that do name me
With titles of affection, and but one
Who came into my soul at its night-time,
As it hung glistening with starry thoughts
Alone over its still eternity,
And gave it godhead. Thou art younger far,
More fit to be beloved; when thou appearest
All hearts incline to thee, all prouder spirits
Are troubled unto tears and yearn to love thee.
O, if thou knew’st thy heart-compelling power,
Thou wouldst not envy me the only creature
That holds me dear. If I were such as thou,
I would not be forgetful of our friendship,
But yield to the abandoned his one joy.

Wolfr.
Thou prob’st me to the quick: before to-day,
Methought thou could’st from me nothing demand
And I refuse it.

Duke.
Wolfram, I do beseech thee;
The love of her’s my heaven; thrust me not from her;
I have no hope elsewhere: thrust me not from her;
Or thou dost hurl me into hell’s embrace,
Making me the devil’s slave to thy perdition.

Wolfr.
O, would to heaven,
That I had found thee struggling in a battle,
Alone against the swords of many foes!
Then had I rescued thee, and died content,
Ignorant of the treasure I had saved thee.
But now my fate hath made a wisher of me:
O woe that so it is! O woe to wish
That she had never been, who is the cause!

Duke.
He is the cause! O fall the curse on him,
And may he be no more, who dares the gods
With such a wish! Speak thou no more of love,
No more of friendship here: the world is open:
I wish you life and merriment enough
From wealth and wine, and all the dingy glory
Fame doth reward those with, whose love-spurned hearts
Hunger for goblin immortality.
Live long, grow old, and honour crown thy hairs,
When they are pale and frosty as thy heart.
Away. I have no better blessing for thee.
Wilt thou not leave me?

Wolfr.
Should I leave thee thus?

Duke.
Why not? or must I hate thee perfectly?
And tell thee so? Away now I beseech you!
Have I not cut all ties betwixt us off?
Why, wert thou my own soul, I’d drive thee from me.
Go, put to sea again.

Wolfr.
Farewell then, Duke.
Methinks thy better self indeed hath parted,
And that I follow.

[Exit.

Duke.
Thither? Thither? Traitor
To every virtue. Ha! What’s this thought,
Shapeless and shadowy, that keeps wheeling round,
Like a dumb creature that sees coming danger,
And breaks its heart trying in vain to speak?
I know the moment: ’tis a dreadful one,
Which in the life of every one comes once;
When, for the frighted hesitating soul,
High heaven and luring sin with promises
Bid and contend: oft the faltering spirit,
O’ercome by the fair fascinating fiend,
Gives her eternal heritage of life
For one caress, for one triumphant crime.—
Pitiful villain! that dost long to sin,
And dar’st not. Shall I dream my soul is bathing
In his reviving blood, yet lose my right,
My only health, my sole delight on earth,
For fear of shadows on a chapel wall
In some pale painted Hell? No: by thy beauty,
I will possess thee, maiden. Doubt and care
Be trampled in the dust with the worm conscience!
Farewell then, Wolfram: now Amen is said
Unto thy time of being in this world:
Thou shalt die. Ha! the very word doth double
My strength of life: the resolution leaps
Into my heart divinely, as doth Mars
Upon the trembling footboard of his car,
Hurrying into battle wild and panting,
Even as my death-dispensing thought does now.
Ho! Ziba!

Enter ZIBA.

Hush! How still, how full, how lightly
I move since this resolve, about the place,
Like to a murder-charged thunder cloud
Lurking about the starry streets of night,
Breathless and masked,
O’er a still city sleeping by the sea.
Ziba, come hither; thou’rt the night I’ll hang
My muffled wrath in. Come, I’ll give thee work
Shall make thy life still darker, for one light on’t
Must be put out. O let me joy no more,
Till Fate hath kissed my wooing soul’s desire
Off her death-honied lips, and so set seal
To my decree, in which he’s sepulchred.
Come, Ziba, thou must be my counsellor.

[Exeunt.

Scene III.

A Tent on the sea-shore: sun-set. WOLFRAM and SIBYLLA.

Wolfr.
This is the oft-wished hour, when we together
May walk upon the sea-shore: let us seek
Some greensward overshadowed by the rocks.
Wilt thou come forth? Even now the sun is setting
In the triumphant splendour of the waves.
Hear you not how they leap?

Sibyl.
Nay; we will watch
The sun go down upon a better day:
Look not on him this evening.

Wolfr.
Then let’s wander
Under the mountain’s shade in the deep valley,
And mock the woody echoes with our songs.

Sibyl.
That wood is dark, and all the mountain caves
Dreadful, and black, and full of howling winds:
Thither we will not wander.

Wolfr.
Shall we seek
The green and golden meadows, and there pluck
Flowers for thy couch, and shake the dew out of them?

Sibyl.
The snake that loves the twilight is come out,
Beautiful, still, and deadly; and the blossoms
Have shed their fairest petals in the storm
Last night; the meadow’s full of fear and danger.

Wolfr.
Ah! you will to the rocky fount, and there
We’ll see the fire-flies dancing in the breeze,
And the stars trembling in the trembling water,
And listen to the daring nightingale
Defying the old night with harmony.

Sibyl.
Nor that: but we will rather here remain,
And earnestly converse. What said the Duke?
Surely no good.

Wolfr.
A few unmeaning words,
I have almost forgotten.

Sibyl.
Tell me truly,
Else I may fear much worse.

Wolfr.
Well: it may be
That he was somewhat angry. ‘Tis no matter;
He must soon cool and be content.

Enter ZIBA.

Ziba.
Hail, knight!
I bring to thee the draught of welcome. Taste it.
The Grecian sun ripened it in the grape,
Which Grecian maidens plucked and pressed: then came
The desart Arab to the palace gate,
And took it for his tribute. It is charmed;
And they who drink of such have magic dreams.

Wolfr.
Thanks for thy care. I’ll taste it presently:
Right honey for such bees as I.

Enter a Knight.

Knight.
Up, brave Wolfram!
Arouse thee, and come forth to help and save.

Wolfr.
Here is my sword. Who needs it?

Sibyl.
Is’t the Duke?
O my dark Fear!

Knight.
‘Tis he. Hunting in the forest,
A band of robbers rushed on us.

Wolfr.
How many?

Knight.
Some twelve to five of us; and in the fight,
Which now is at the hottest, my sword failed me.
Up, good knight, in all speed: I’ll lead the way.

Wolfr.
Sibylla, what deserves he at our hands?

Sibyl.
Assist him; he preserved me.

Wolfr.
For what end?

Sibyl.
Death’s sickle points thy questions. No delay:
But hence.

Enter a second Knight.

Wolfr.
Behold another from the field,—
Thy news?

2nd Knight.
My fellow soldiers all
Bleed and grow faint: fresh robbers pour upon us,
And the Duke stands at bay unhelmed against them.

Wolfr.
Brave comrade, keep the rogues before thee, dancing
At thy sword’s point, but a few moments longer;
Then I am with thee. Farewell thou, Sibylla;
He shall not perish thus. Rise up, my men,
To horse with sword and spear, and follow flying.
I pledge thee, lady.

(takes the goblet)

Ziba.
(dashing it to the ground) Flow wine, like Moorish gore.
Ha! it rings well and lies not. ‘Tis right metal
For funeral bells.

Wolfr.
Slave, what hast thou done?

Ziba.
Pour thou unto the subterranean gods
Libations of thy blood: I have shed wine.
Now, will ye not away?

Wolfr.
Come hither, dark one:
Say, on thy life, why hast thou spilt that wine?

Ziba.
A superstitious fancy: but now hence.
‘Twas costly liquor too.

Wolfr.
Then finish it.
‘Twas well that fortune did reserve for you
These last and thickest drops here at the bottom.

Ziba.
Drink them? forbid the prophet!

Wolfr.
Slave, thou diest else.

Ziba.
Give me the beaker then.—O God, I dare not.
Death is too bitter so: alas! ’tis poison.

Sibyl.
Pernicious caitiff!

Wolfr.
Patience, my Sibylla!
I knew it by thy lying eye. Thou’rt pardoned.
I may not tread upon the toothless serpent.
But for thy lord, the Saracen deal with him
As he thinks fit. Wolfram can aid no murderer.

Sibyl.
Mercy! O let me not cry out in vain:
Forgive him yet.

Wolfr.
The crime I do forgive:
And Heaven, if he’s forgiven there, preserve him!
O monstrous! in the moment when my heart
Looked back on him with the old love again,
Then was I marked for slaughter by his hand.
Forgive him? ‘Tis enough: ’tis much. Lie still
Thou sworded hand, and thou be steely, heart.

Enter a third Knight wounded.

3rd Knight.
Woe! woe! Duke Melveric is the Arabs’ captive.

Sibyl.
Then Heaven have mercy on him!

Wolfr.
So ’tis best:
He was o’erthrown and mastered by his passion,
As by a tiger. Death will burst the fetters.

3rd Knight.
They bind him to a pillar in the desart,
And aim their poisoned arrows at his heart.

Wolfr.
O Melveric, why didst thou so to me?
Sibylla, I despise this savage Duke,
But thus he shall not die. No man in bonds
Can be my enemy. He once was noble;
Once very noble. Let me set him free,
And we can then be knightly foes again.
Up, up, my men, once more and follow me.
I bring him to thee, love, or ne’er return.

Sibyl.
A thousand tearful thanks for this. O Wolfram!

[Exeunt severally.

Scene IV.

A forest: the moonlit sea glistens between the trees. Enter Arabs with the DUKE.

1st Arab.
Against this column: there’s an ancient beast
Here in the neighbourhood, which to-night will thank us
For the ready meal.

[they bind the Duke against a column.

2nd Arab.
Christian, to thy houris
Boast that we took thy blood in recompense
Of our best comrades.

1st Arab.
Hast a saint or mistress?
Call on them, for next minute comes the arrow.

Duke.
O Wolfram! now methinks thou lift’st the cup.
Strike quickly, Arab.

1st. Arab.
Brothers, aim at him.

Enter WOLFRAM and knights.

Wolfr.
Down, murderers, down.
2nd Arab.
Fly! there are hundreds on us.

(Fight—the Arabs are beaten out and pursued by the knights.

Wolfr.
(unbinding the Duke) Thank heaven, not too late! Now you are free.
There is your life again.

Duke.
Hast thou drunk wine?
Answer me, knight, hast thou drunk wine this evening?

Wolfr.
Nor wine, nor poison. The slave told me all.
O Melveric, if I deserve it from thee,
Now canst thou mix my draught. But be’t forgotten.

Duke.
And wilt thou not now kill me?

Wolfr.
Let us strive
Henceforward with good deeds against each other,
And may you conquer there. Hence, and for ever,
No one shall whisper of that deadly thought.
Now we will leave this coast.

Duke.
Ay, we will step
Into a boat and steer away: but whither?
Think’st thou I’ll live in the vile consciousness
That I have dealt so wickedly and basely,
And been of thee so like a god forgiven?
No: ’tis impossible .. Friend, by your leave—;

[takes a sword from a fallen Arab.

O what a coward villain must I be,
So to exist.

Wolfr.
Be patient but awhile,
And all such thoughts will soften.

Duke.
The grave be patient,
That’s yawning at our feet for one of us.
I want no comfort. I am comfortable,
As any soul under the eaves of Heaven:
For one of us must perish in this instant.
Fool, would thy virtue shame and crush me down;
And make a grateful blushing bondslave of me?
O no! I dare be wicked still: the murderer,
My thought has christened me, I must remain.
O curse thy meek, forgiving, idiot heart,
That thus must take its womanish revenge,
And with the loathliest poison, pardon, kill me:
Twice-sentenced, die!

[Strikes at Wolfram.

Wolfr.
Madman, stand off.

Duke.
I pay my thanks in steel.
Thus be all pardoners pardoned.

[Fight: Wolfram falls.

Wolfr.
Murderer! mine and my father’s! O my brother,
Too true thy parting words..Repent thou never!

Duke.
So then we both are blasted: but thou diest,
Who daredst to love athwart my love, discover,
And then forgive, my treachery. Now proclaim me.
Let my name burn through all dark history
Over the waves of time, as from a light-house,
Warning approach. My worldly work is done.

ZIBA runs in.

Ziba.
They come, they come; if thy thought be not yet
Incarnate in a deed, it is too late.
Is it a deed?

Duke.
Look at me.

Ziba.
‘Tis enough.

Duke.
See’st? Know’st? Be silent and be gone.

[ZIBA retires: the knights re-enter with SIBYLLA.

Knight.
O luckless victory! our leader wounded!

Sibyl.
Bleeding to death! and he, whom he gave life to,
Even his own, unhurt and armed! Speak, Wolfram:
Let me not think thou’rt dying.

Wolfr.
But I am:
Slain villanously. Had I stayed, Sibylla—;
But thou and life are lost; so I’ll be silent.

Sibyl.
O Melveric, why kneel’st not thou beside him?
Weep’st not with me? For thee he fell. O speak!
Who did this, Wolfram?

Wolfr.
‘Tis well done, my Sibylla:
So burst the portals of sepulchral night
Before the immortal rising of the sun.

Sibyl.
Who did this, Melveric?

Duke.
Let him die in quiet.
Hush! there’s a thought upon his lips again.

Wolfr.
A kiss, Sibylla! I ne’er yet have kissed thee,
And my new bride, death’s lips are cold, they say.
Now it is darkening.

Sibyl.
O not yet, not yet!
Who did this, Wolfram?

Wolfr.
Thou know’st, Melveric:
At the last day reply thou to that question,
When such an angel asks it: I’ll not answer
Or then or now.

[Dies.

(Sibylla throws herself on the body; the Duke stands motionless; the rest gather round in silence. The scene closes.)

A voice from the waters.

The swallow leaves her nest,
The soul my weary breast;
But therefore let the rain
   On my grave
Fall pure; for why complain?
Since both will come again
   O’er the wave.

The wind dead leaves and snow
Doth hurry to and fro;
And, once, a day shall break
   O’er the wave,
When a storm of ghosts shall shake
The dead, until they wake
   In the grave.