Death’s Jest-Book, Act II

Scene I.

The interior of a church at Ancona. The DUKE, in the garb of a pilgrim, SIBYLLA and Knights, assembled round the corpse of Wolfram, which is lying on a bier.

Dirge.

If thou wilt ease thine heart
Of love and all its smart,
      Then sleep, dear, sleep;
And not a sorrow
   Hang any tear on your eyelashes;
      Lie still and deep,
   Sad soul, until the sea-wave washes
The rim o’ the sun to-morrow,
      In eastern sky.

But wilt thou cure thine heart
Of love and all its smart,
      Then die, dear, die;
‘Tis deeper, sweeter,
   Than on a rose bank to lie dreaming
      With folded eye;
   And then alone, amid the beaming
Of love’s stars, thou’lt meet her
      In eastern sky.

Knight.
These rites completed, say your further pleasure.

Duke.
To horse and homewards in all haste: my business
Urges each hour. This body bury here,
With all due honours. I myself will build
A monument, whereon, in after times,
Those of his blood shall read his valiant deeds,
And see the image of the bodily nature
He was a man in. Scarcely dare I, lady,
Mock you with any word of consolation:
But soothing care, and silence o’er that sorrow,
Which thine own tears alone may tell to thee
Or offer comfort for; and in all matters
What thy will best desires, I promise thee.
Wilt thou hence with us?

Sibyl.
Whither you will lead me.
My will lies there, my hope, and all my life
Which was in this world. Yet if I shed tear,
It is not for his death, but for my life.
Dead is he? Say not so, but that he is
No more excepted from Eternity.
If he were dead I should indeed despair.
Can Wolfram die? Ay, as the sun doth set:
It is the earth that falls away from light;
Fixed in the heavens, although unseen by us,
The immortal life and light remains triumphant.
And therefore you shall never see me wail,
Or drop base waters of an ebbing sorrow;
No wringing hands, no sighings, no despair,
No mourning weeds will I betake me to;
But keep my thought of him that is no more,
As secret as great nature keeps his soul,
From all the world; and consecrate my being
To that divinest hope, which none can know of
Who have not laid their dearest in the grave.
Farewell, my love,—I will not say to thee
Pale corpse,—we do not part for many days.
A little sleep, a little waking more,
And then we are together out of life.

Duke.
Cover the coffin up. This cold, calm stare
Upon familiar features is most dreadful:
Methinks too the expression of the face
Is changed, since all was settled gently there;
And threatens now. But I have sworn to speak
And think of that no more, which has been done—
Now then into the bustle of the world!
We’ll rub our cares smooth there.

Knight.
This gate, my lord;
There stand the horses.

Duke.
Then we’re mounted straight.
But, pri’thee friend, forget not that the Duke
Is still in prison: I am a poor pilgrim.

[Exeunt.

Enter ISBRAND and SIEGFRIED attended.

Isbr.
Dead and gone! a scurvy burthen to this ballad of life. There lies he, Siegfried; my brother, mark you; and I weep not, nor gnash the teeth, nor curse: and why not, Siegfried? Do you see this? So should every honest man be: cold, dead, and leaden-coffined. This was one who would be constant in friendship, and the pole wanders: one who would be immortal, and the light that shines upon his pale forehead now, through yonder gewgaw window, undulated from its star hundreds of years ago. That is constancy, that is life. O moral nature!

Siegfr.
‘Tis well that you are reconciled to his lot and your own.

Isbr.
Reconciled! A word out of a love tale, that’s not in my language. No, no. I am patient and still and laborious, a good contented man; peaceable as an ass chewing a thistle; and my thistle is revenge. I do but whisper it now: but hereafter I will thunder the word, and I shall shoot up gigantic out of this pismire shape, and hurl the bolt of that revenge.

Siegfr.
To the purpose: the priests return to complete the burial.

Isbr.
Right: we are men of business here. Away with the body, gently and silently; it must be buried in my duke’s chapel in Silesia: why, hereafter. (The body is borne out by attendants) That way, fellows: the hearse stands at the corner of the square: but reverently, ’tis my brother you carry.

[Exeunt.

Scene II.

A hall in the ducal castle of Munsterberg in the town of Grüssau in Silesia. THORWALD, ADALMAR, ATHULF, ISBRAND, SIEGFRIED; the DUKE, disguised as a pilgrim; AMALA; and other ladies and knights; conversing in various groups.

Athulf.
A fair and bright assembly: never strode
Old arched Grüssau over such a tide
Of helmed chivalry, as when to-day
Our tourney guests swept, leaping billow-like,
Its palace-banked streets. Knights shut in steel,
Whose shields, like water, glassed the soul-eyed maidens,
That softly did attend their armed tread,
Flower-cinctured on the temples, whence gushed down
A full libation of star-numbered tresses,
Hallowing the neck unto love’s silent kiss,
Veiling its innocent white: and then came squires,
And those who bore war’s silken tapestries,
And chequered heralds: ’twas a human river,
Brimful and beating as if the great god,
Who lay beneath it, would arise. So sways
Time’s sea, which Age snows into and makes deep,
When, from the rocky side of the dim future,
Leaps into it a mighty destiny,
Whose being to endow great souls have been
Centuries hoarded, and the world meanwhile
Sate like a beggar upon Heaven’s threshold,
Muttering its wrongs.

Siegfr.
My sprightly Athulf,
Is it possible that you can waste the day,
Which throws these pillared shades among such beauties,
In lonely thought?

Athulf.
Why I have left my cup,
A lady’s lips, dropping with endless kisses,
Because your minstrels hushed their harps. Why did they?
This music, which they tickle from the strings,
Is excellent for drowning ears that gape,
When one has need of whispers.

Siegfr.
The old governor
Would have it so: his morning nap being o’er,
He’s no more need of music, but is moving
Straight to the lists.

Athulf.
A curse on that mock war!
How it will shake and sour the blood, that now
Is quiet in the men! And there’s my brother,
Whose sword’s his pleasure. A mere savage man,
Made for the monstrous times, but left out then,
Born by mistake with us.

Adalm.
(to Isbrand) Be sure ’tis heavy.
Once lance of mine a wolf shut his jaws on
But cracked it not, you’ll see his bite upon it:
It lies among the hunting weapons.

Isbr.
Ay,
With it I saw you once scratch out of life
A blotted Moor.

Adalm.
The same; it poises well,
And falls right heavy: find it.

[Exit ISBRAND.

Siegfr.
For the tilt,
My brave lord Adalmar?

Athulf.
What need of asking?
You know the man is sore upon a couch;
But upright, on his bloody-hoofed steed
Galloping o’er the ruins of his foes,
Whose earthquake he hath been, then will he shout,
Laugh, run his tongue along his trembling lip,
And swear his heart tastes honey.

Siegfr.
Nay, thou’rt harsh;
He was the axe of Mars; but, Troy being felled,
Peace trims her bower with him.

Athulf.
Ay; in her hand
He’s iron still.

Adalm.
I care not, brother Athulf,
Whether you’re right or wrong: ’tis very certain,
Thank God for it, I am not Peace’s lap-dog,
But Battle’s shaggy whelp. Perhaps, even soon,
Good friend of Bacchus and the rose, you’ll feel
Your budding wall of dalliance shake behind you,
And need my spear to prop it.

Athulf.
Come the time!
You’ll see that in our veins runs brother’s blood.

A Lady.
Is Siegfried here? At last! I’ve sought for you
By every harp and every lady’s shoulder,
Not ever thinking you could breathe the air
That ducal cub of Munsterberg makes frightful
With his loud talk.

Siegfr.
Happy in my error,
If thus to be corrected.

Re-enter ISBRAND.

Isbr.
The lance, my lord:
A delicate tool to breathe a heathen’s vein with.

The Lady.
What, Isbrand, thou a soldier? Fie upon thee!
Is this a weapon for a fool?

Isbr.
Madam, I pray thee pardon us. The fair have wrested the tongue from us, and we must give our speeches a tongue of some metal—steel or gold. And I beseech thee, lady, call me fool no more: I grow old, and in old age you know what men become. We are at court, and there it were sin to call a thing by its right name: therefore call me a fool no longer, for my wisdom is on the wane, and I am almost as sententious as the governor.

The Lady.
Excellent: wilt thou become court-confessor?

Isbr.
Ay, if thou wilt begin with thy secrets, lady. But my fair mistress, and you, noble brethren, I pray you gather around me. I will now speak a word in earnest, and hereafter jest with you no more: for I lay down my profession of folly. Why should I wear bells to ring the changes of your follies on? Doth the besonneted moon wear bells, she that is the parasite and zany of the stars, and your queen, ye apes of madness? As I live I grow ashamed of the duality of my legs, for they and the apparel, forked or furbelowed, upon them constitute humanity; the brain no longer: and I wish I were an honest fellow of four shins when I look into the note-book of your absurdities. I will abdicate.

The Lady.
Brave! but how dispose of your dominions most magnanimous zany?

Isbr.
My heirs at law are manifold. Yonder minister shall have my jacket; he needs many colours for his deeds. You shall inherit my mantle; for your sins, (be it whispered,) chatter with the teeth for cold; and charity, which should be their great-coat, you have not in the heart.

The Lady.
Gramercy: but may I not beg your coxcomb for a friend?

Isbr.
The brothers have an equal claim to that crest: they may tilt for it. But now for my crown. O cap and bells, ye eternal emblems, hieroglyphics of man’s supreme right in nature; O ye, that only fall on the deserving, while oak, palm, laurel, and bay rankle on their foreheads, whose deserts are oft more payable at the other extremity: who shall be honoured with you? Come candidates, the cap and bells are empty.

The Lady.
Those you should send to England, for the bad poets and the critics who praise them.

Isbr.
Albeit worthy, those merry men cannot this once obtain the prize. I will yield Death the crown of folly. He hath no hair, and in this weather might catch cold and die: besides he has killed the best knight I knew, Sir Wolfram, and deserves it. Let him wear the cap, let him toll the bells; he shall be our new court-fool: and, when the world is old and dead, the thin wit shall find the angel’s record of man’s works and deeds, and write with a lipless grin on the innocent first page for a title, ‘Here begins Death’s Jest-book.’—There, you have my testament: henceforth speak solemnly to me, and I will give a measured answer, having relapsed into court-wisdom again.

The Lady.
How the wild jester would frighten us!
Come, Siegfried:
Some of us in a corner wait your music,
Your news, and stories. My lord Adalmar,
You must be very weary all this time,
The rest are so delighted. Come along,

[to Siegfr.

Or else his answer stuns me.

Adalm.
Joyous creature!
Whose life’s first leaf is hardly yet uncurled.

Athulf.
Use your trade’s language; were I journeyman
To Mars, the glorious butcher, I would say
She’s sleek, and sacrificial flowers would look well
On her white front.

Adalm.
Now, brother, can you think,
Stern as I am above, that in my depth
There is no cleft wherein such thoughts are hived
As from dear looks and words come back to me,
Storing that honey, love. O! love I do,
Through every atom of my being.

Athulf.
Ay,
So do we young ones all. In winter time
This god of butterflies, this Cupid sleeps,
As they do in their cases; but May comes;
With it the bee and he: each spring of mine
He sends me a new arrow, thank the boy.
A week ago he shot me for this year;
The shaft is in my stomach, and so large
There’s scarcely room for dinner.

Adalm.
Shall I believe thee,
Or judge mortality by this stout sample
I screw my mail o’er? Well, it may be so;
You are an adept in these chamber passions,
And have a heart that’s Cupid’s arrow cushion
Worn out with use. I never knew before
The meaning of this love. But one has taught me,
It is a heaven wandering among men,
The spirit of gone Eden haunting earth.
Life’s joys, death’s pangs are viewless from its bosom,
Which they who keep are gods: there’s no paradise,
There is no heaven, no angels, no blessed spirits,
No souls, or they have no eternity,
If this be not a part of them.

Athulf.
This in a Court!
Such sort of love might Hercules have felt
Warm from the Hydra fight, when he had fattened
On a fresh slain Bucentaur, roasted whole,
The heart of his pot-belly, till it ticked
Like a cathedral clock. But in good faith
Is this the very truth? Then have I found
My fellow fool. For I am wounded too
E’en to the quick and inmost, Adalmar.
So fair a creature! of such charms compact
As nature stints elsewhere; which you may find
Under the tender eyelid of a serpent,
Or in the gurge of a kiss-coloured rose,
By drops and sparks: but when she moves, you see,
Like water from a crystal overfilled,
Fresh beauty tremble out of her and lave
Her fair sides to the ground. Of other women,
(And we have beauteous in this court of ours,)
I can remember whether nature touched
Their eye with brown or azure, where a vein
Runs o’er a sleeping eyelid, like some streak
In a young blossom; every grace count up,
Here the round turn and crevice of the arm,
There the tress-bunches, or the slender hand
Seen between harpstrings gathering music from them:
But where she is, I’m lost in her abundance,
And when she leaves me I know nothing more,
(Like one from whose awakening temples rolls
The cloudy vision of a god away,)
Than that she was divine.

Adalm.
Fie sir, these are the spiced sighs of a heart,
That bubbles under wine; utter rhyme-gilding,
Beneath man’s sober use. What do you speak of?

Athulf.
A woman most divine, and that I love
As you dare never.

Adalm.
Boy, a truce with talk.
Such words are sacred, placed within man’s reach
To be used seldom, solemnly, when speaking
Of what both God and man might overhear,
You unabashed.

Athulf.
Of what? What is more worthy
Than the delight of youth, being so rare,
Precious, short-lived, and irrecoverable?

Adalm.
When you do mention that adored land,
Which gives you life, pride, and security,
And holy rights of freedom; or in the praise
Of those great virtues and heroic men,
That glorify the earth and give it beams,
Then to be lifted by the like devotion
Would not disgrace God’s angels.

Athulf.
Well sir, laud,
Worship, and swear by them, your native country
And virtues past; a phantom and a corpse:
Such airy stuff may please you. My desires
Are hot and hungry; they will have their fill
Of living dalliance, gazes, and lip-touches,
Or eat their master. Now, no more rebuking:
Peace be between us. For why are we brothers,
Being the creatures of two different gods,
But that we may not be each other’s murderers?

Adalm.
So be it then! But mark me, brother Athulf,
I spoke not from a cold unnatural spirit,
Barren of tenderness. I feel and know
Of woman’s dignity; how it doth merit
Our total being, has all mine this moment:
But they should share with us our level lives:
Moments there are, and one is now at hand,
Too high for them. When all the world is stirred
By some preluding whisper of that trumpet,
Which shall awake the dead, to do great things,
Then the sublimity of my affection,
The very height of my beloved, shows me
How far above her’s glory. When you’ve earned
This knowledge, tell me: I will say, you love
As a man should.

[He retires.

Athulf.
But this is somewhat true.
I almost think that I could feel the same
For her. For her? By heavens ’tis Amala,
Amala only, that he so can love.
There? by her side? in conference! at smiles!
Then I am born to be a fratricide.
I feel as I were killing him. Tush, tush;
A phantom of my passion! But, if true—
What? What, my heart? A strangely-quiet thought,
That will not be pronounced, doth answer me.

(Thorwald comes forward, attended by the company.)

Thorw.
Break up! The day’s of age. Knights to the lists,
And ladies to look on. We’ll break some lances
Before ’tis evening. To your sports, I pray;
I follow quickly.

[He is left alone with the Duke.

Pilgrim, now your news:
Whence come you?

Duke.
Straightway from the holy land,
Whose sanctity such floods of human blood,
Unnatural rain for it, will soon wash out.

Thorw.
You saw our Duke?

Duke.
I did: but Melveric
Is strangely altered. When we saw him leap,
Shut up in iron, on his burning steed
From Grüssau’s threshold, he had fifty years
Upon his head, and bore them straight and upright,
Through dance, and feast, and knightly tournament.

Thorw.
How! Is he not the same? ‘Tis but three years
And a fourth’s quarter past. What is the change?
A silvering of the hair? a deeper wrinkle
On cheek and forehead?

Duke.
I do not think you’d know him,
Stood he where I do. No. I saw him lying
Beside a fountain on a battle-evening:
The sun was setting over the heaped plain;
And to my musing fancy his front’s furrows,
With light between them, seemed the grated shadow
Thrown by the ribs of that field’s giant, Death;
‘Twixt which the finger of the hour did write
‘This is the grave’s.’

Thorw.
How? Looked he sorrowful?
Knows he the dukedom’s state?

Duke.
(giving letters to Thorwald) Ask these. He’s heard
The tidings that afflict the souls of fathers;
How these two sons of his unfilially
Have vaulted to the saddle of the people,
And charge against him. How he gained the news,
You must know best: what countermine he digs,
Those letters tell your eyes. He bade me say,
His dukedom is his body, and, he forth,
That may be sleeping, but the touch of wrong,
The murderer’s barefoot tread will bring him back
Out of his Eastern visions, ere this earth
Has swung the city’s length.

Thorw.
I read as much:
He bids me not to move; no eye to open,
But to sit still and doze, and warm my feet
At their eruption. This security
Is most unlike him. I remember oft,
When the thin harvests shed their withered grain,
And empty poverty yelped sour-mouthed at him,
How he would cloud his majesty of form
With priestly hangings, or the tattered garb
Of the step-seated beggar, and go round
To catch the tavern talk and the street ballad,
And whispers of ancestral prophecies,
Until he knew the very nick of time,
When his heart’s arrow would be on the string;
And, seizing Treason by the arm, would pour
Death back upon him.

Duke.
He is wary still,
And has a snake’s eye under every grass.
Your business is obedience unto him,
Who is your natal star; and mine, to worm,
Leaf after leaf, into the secret volume
Of their designs. Already has our slave,
The grape juice, left the side-door of the youngest
Open to me. You think him innocent.
Fire flashes from him; whether it be such
As treason would consult by, or the coals
Love boils his veins on, shall through this small crevice,
Through which the vine has thrust its cunning tendril,
Be looked and listened for.

Thorw.
Can I believe it?
Did not I know him and his spirit’s course,
Well as the shape and colour of the sun,
And when it sets and rises? Is this he?
No: ’tis the shadow of this pilgrim false,
Who stands up in his height of villany,
Shadowy as a hill, and throws his hues
Of contradiction to the heavenly light,
The stronger as it shines upon him most.
Ho! pilgrim, I have weighed and found thee villain.
Are thy knees used to kneeling? It may chance
That thou wilt change the altar for the block:
Prove thou’rt his messenger.

Duke.
I wait your questions.
The very inmost secret of his heart,
Confided to you, challenge from me.

Thorw.
First,
A lighter trial. If you come from him,
Tell me what friend he spoke of most.

Duke.
Of thee.

Thorw.
Another yet;
A knight?

Duke.
There is no living knight his friend.

Thorw.
O ill guessed, palmer! One, whom Melveric
Would give his life, all but his virtue for,
Lived he no more, to raise him from the dead.

Duke.
Right; he would give his soul; Thorwald, his soul:—
Friendship is in its depth, and secrets sometimes
Like to a grave.—So loved the Duke that warrior.

Thorw.
Enough, his name;—the name?

Duke.
Ay, ay, the name
Methinks there’s nothing in the world but names:
All things are dead; friendship at least I’ll blot
From my vocabulary. The man was called—
The knight—I cannot utter’t—the knight’s name—
Why dost thou ask me? I know nothing of him.
I have not seen or heard of him, of—Well,
I’ll speak of him to no man more—

Thorw.
Tremble then
When thou dost hear of—Wolfram! thou art pale:
Confess, or to the dungeon—

Duke.
Pause! I am stuffed
With an o’erwhelming spirit: press not thou,
Or I shall burst asunder, and let through
The deluging presence of thy duke. Prepare:
He’s near at hand.

Thorw.
Forbid it, Providence!
He steps on a plot’s spring, whose teeth encircle
The throne and city.

Duke.
(disrobing) Fear not. On he comes,
Still as a star robed in eclipse, until
The earthy shadow slips away. Who rises?
I’m changing: now who am I?

Thorw.
Melveric!
Munsterberg, as I live and love thee!

Duke.
Hush!
Is there not danger?

Thorw.
Ay: we walk on ice
Over the mouth of Hell: an inch beneath us,
Dragon Rebellion lies ready to wake.
Ha! and behold him.

Enter Adalmar.

Adalm.
Lord Governor, our games are waiting for you.
Will you come with me? Base and muffled stranger,
What dost thou here? Away.

Duke.
Prince Adalmar,
Where shall you see me? I will come again,
This or the next world. Thou, who carriest
The seeds of a new world, may’st understand me.
Look for me ever. There’s no crack without me
In earth and all around it. Governor,
Let all things happen, as they will. Farewell:
Tremble for no one.

Adalm.
Hence! The begging monk
Prates emptily.

Duke.
Believe him.

Thorw.
Well, lead on;
Wert thou a king, I would not more obey thee.

[Exit with Adalmar.

Duke.
Rebellion, treason, parricidal daggers!
This is the bark of the court dogs, that come
Welcoming home their master. My sons too,
Even my sons! O not sons, but contracts,
Between my lust and a destroying fiend,
Written in my dearest blood, whose date run out,
They are become death-warrants. Parricide,
And Murder of the heart that loved and nourished,
Be merry, ye rich fiends! Piety’s dead,
And the world left a legacy to you.
Under the green-sod are your coffins packed,
So thick they break each other. The days come
When scarce a lover, for his maiden’s hair,
Can pluck a stalk whose rose draws not its hue
Out of a hate-killed heart. Nature’s polluted,
There’s man in every secret corner of her,
Doing damned wicked deeds. Thou art old, world,
A hoary atheistic murderous star:
I wish that thou would’st die, or could’st be slain,
Hell-hearted bastard of the sun.
O that the twenty coming years were over!
Then should I be at rest, where ruined arches
Shut out the troublesome unghostly day;
And idlers might be sitting on my tomb,
Telling how I did die. How shall I die?
Fighting my sons for power; or of dotage,
Sleeping in purple pressed from filial veins;
To let my epitaph be, “Here lies he,
Who murdered his two children?” Hence cursed thought!
I will enquire the purpose of their plot:
There may be good in it, and, if there be,
I’ll be a traitor too.

[Exit.

Scene III.

A retired gallery in the ducal castle.

Enter ISBRAND and SIEGFRIED.

Isbr.
Now see you how this dragon egg of ours
Swells with its ripening plot? Methinks I hear
Snaky rebellion turning restless in it,
And with its horny jaws scraping away
The shell that hides it. All is ready now:
I hold the latch-string of a new world’s wicket;
One pull and it rolls in. Bid all our friends
Meet in that ruinous church-yard once again,
By moonrise: until then I’ll hide myself;
For these sweet thoughts rise dimpling to my lips,
And break the dark stagnation of my features,
Like sugar melting in a glass of poison.
To-morrow, Siegfried, shalt thou see me sitting
One of the drivers of this racing earth,
With Grüssau’s reins between my fingers. Ha!
Never since Hell laughed at the church, blood-drunken
From rack and wheel, has there been joy so mad
As that which stings my marrow now.

Siegfr.
Good cause,
The sun-glance of a coming crown to heat you,
And give your thoughts gay colours in the steam
Of a fermenting brain.

Isbr.
Not alone that.
A sceptre is smooth handling, it is true,
And one grows fat and jolly in a chair
That has a kingdom crouching under it,
With one’s name on its collar, like a dog,
To fetch and carry. But the heart I have
Is a strange little snake. He drinks not wine,
When he’d be drunk, but poison: he doth fatten
On bitter hate, not love. And, O that duke!
My life is hate of him; and, when I tread
His neck into the grave, I shall, methinks,
Fall into ashes with the mighty joy,
Or be transformed into a winged star:
That will be all eternal heaven distilled
Down to one thick rich minute. This sounds madly,
But I am mad when I remember him:
Siegfried, you know not why.

Siegfr.
I never knew
That you had quarrelled.

Isbr.
True: but did you see
My brother’s corpse? There was a wound on’t, Siegfried;
He died not gently, nor in a ripe age;
And I’ll be sworn it was the duke that did it,
Else he had not remained in that far land,
And sent his knights to us again.

Siegfr.
I thought
He was the duke’s close friend.

Isbr.
Close as his blood:
A double-bodied soul they did appear,
Rather than fellow hearts.

Siegfr.
I’ve heard it told
That they did swear and write in their best blood,
And her’s they loved the most, that who died first
Should, on death’s holidays, revisit him
Who still dwelt in the flesh.

Isbr.
O that such bond
Would move the jailor of the grave to open
Life’s gate again unto my buried brother,
But half an hour! Were I buried, like him,
There in the very garrets of death’s town,
But six feet under earth, (that’s the grave’s sky,)
I’d jump up into life. But he’s a quiet ghost;
He walks not in the churchyard after dew,
But gets to his grave betimes, burning no glow-worms,
Sees that his bones are right, and stints his worms
Most miserly. If you were murdered, Siegfried,
As he was by this duke, should it be so?

Siegfr.
Here speaks again your passion: what know we
Of death’s commandments to his subject-spirits,
Who are as yet the body’s citizens?
What seas unnavigable, what wild forests,
What castles, and what ramparts there may hedge
His icy frontier?

Isbr.
Tower and roll what may,
There have been goblins bold who have stolen passports,
Or sailed the sea, or leaped the wall, or flung
The drawbridge down, and travelled back again.
So would my soul have done. But let it be.
At the doom-twilight shall the ducal cut-throat
Wake by a tomb-fellow he little dreamt of.
Methinks I see them rising with mixed bones,
A pair of patch-work angels.

Siegfr.
What does this mean?

Isbr.
A pretty piece of kidnapping, that’s all.
When Melveric’s heart’s heart, his new-wed wife,
Upon the bed whereon she bore these sons,
Died, as a blossom does whose inmost fruit
Tears it in twain, and in its stead remains
A bitter poison-berry: when she died,
What her soul left was by her husband laid
In the marriage grave, whereto he doth consign
Himself being dead.

Siegfr.
Like a true loving mate.
Is not her tomb ‘mid the cathedral ruins,
Where we to-night assemble?

Isbr.
Say not her’s:
A changeling lies there. By black night came I,
And, while a man might change two goblet’s liquors,
I laid the lips of their two graves together,
And poured my brother into hers; while she,
Being the lightest, floated and ran over.
Now lies the murdered where the loved should be;
And Melveric the dead shall dream of heaven,
Embracing his damnation. There’s revenge.
But hush! here comes one of my dogs, the princes;
To work with you.

[Exit Siegfried.

Now for another shape;
For Isbrand is the handle of the chisels
Which Fate, the turner of men’s lives, doth use
Upon the wheeling world.

Enter ATHULF.

There is a passion
Lighting his cheek, as red as brother’s hate:
If it be so, these pillars shall go down,
Shivering each other, and their ruins be
My step into a dukedom. Doth he speak?

Athulf.
Then all the minutes of my life to come
Are sands of a great desart, into which
I’m banished broken-hearted. Amala,
I must think thee a lovely-faced murderess,
With eyes as dark and poisonous as nightshade;
Yet no, not so; if thou hadst murdered me,
It had been charitable. Thou hast slain
The love of thee, that lived in my soul’s palace
And made it holy: now ’tis desolate,
And devils of abandonment will haunt it,
And call in Sins to come, and drink with them
Out of my heart. But now farewell, my love;
For thy rare sake I could have been a man
One story under god. Gone, gone art thou.
Great and voluptuous Sin now seize upon me,
Thou paramour of Hell’s fire-crowned king,
That showedst the tremulous fairness of thy bosom
In heaven, and so didst ravish the best angels.
Come, pour thy spirit all about my soul,
And let a glory of thy bright desires
Play round about my temples. So may I
Be thy knight and Hell’s saint for evermore.
Kiss me with fire: I’m thine.

Isbr.
Doth it run so?
A bold beginning: we must keep him up to’t.

Athulf.
Isbrand!

Isbr.
My prince.

Athulf.
Come to me. Thou’rt a man
I must know more of. There is something in thee,
The deeper one doth venture in thy being,
That drags us on and down. What dost thou lead to?
Art thou a current to some unknown sea
Islanded richly, full of syren songs
And unknown bliss? Art thou the snaky opening
Of a dark cavern, where one may converse
With night’s dear spirits? If thou’rt one of these,
Let me descend thee.

Isbr.
You put questions to me
In an Egyptian or old magic tongue,
Which I can ill interpret.

Athulf.
Passion’s hieroglyphics;
Painted upon the minutes by mad thoughts,
Dungeoned in misery. Isbrand, answer me;
Art honest, or a man of many deeds
And many faces to them? Thou’rt a plotter,
A politician. Say, if there should come
A fellow, with his being just abandoned
By old desires and hopes, who would do much,—
And who doth much upon this grave-paved star,
In doing, must sin much,—would quick and straight,
Sword-straight and poison-quick, have done with doing;
Would you befriend him?

Isbr.
I can lend an arm
To good bold purpose. But you know me not,
And I will not be known before my hour.
Why come you here wishing to raise the devil,
And ask me how? Where are your sacrifices?
Eye-water is not his libation, prayers
Reach him not through earth’s chinks. Bold deeds and thoughts,
What men call crimes, are his loved litany;
And from all such good angels keep us! Now sir,
What makes you fretful?

Athulf.
I have lost that hope,
For which alone I lived. Henceforth my days
Are purposeless; there is no reason further
Why I should be, or should let others be;
No motive more for virtue, for forbearance,
Or anything that’s good. The hourly need,
And the base bodily cravings, must be now
The aim of this deserted human engine.
Good may be in this world, but not for me;
Gentle and noble hearts, but not for me;
And happiness, and heroism, and glory,
And love, but none for me. Let me then wander
Amid their banquets, funerals, and weddings,
Like one whose living spirit is Death’s Angel.

Isbr.
What? You have lost your love and so turned sour?
And who has ta’en your chair in Amala’s heaven?

Athulf.
My brother, my Cain; Adalmar.

Isbr.
I’ll help thee, prince:
When will they marry?

Athulf.
I could not wish him in my rage to die
Sooner: one night I’d give him to dream hells.
To-morrow, Isbrand.

Isbr.
Sudden, by my life.
But, out of the black interval, we’ll cast
Something upon the moment of their joy,
Which, should it fail to blot, shall so deform it,
That they must write it further down in time.

Athulf.
Let it be crossed with red.

Isbr.
Trust but to me:
I’ll get you bliss. But I am of a sort
Not given to affections. Sire and mother
And sister I had never, and so feel not
Why sin ‘gainst them should count so doubly wicked,
This side o’ th’ sun. If you would wound your foe,
Get swords that pierce the mind: a bodily slice
Is cured by surgeon’s butter: let true hate
Leap the flesh wall, or fling his fiery deeds
Into the soul. So he can marry, Athulf,
And then—

Athulf.
Peace, wicked-hearted slave!
Darest thou tempt me? I called on thee for service,
But thou wouldst set me at a hellish work,
To cut my own damnation out of Lust:
Thou’ldst sell me to the fiend. Thou and thy master,
That sooty beast the devil, shall be my dogs,
My curs to kick and beat when I would have you.
I will not bow, nor follow at his bidding,
For his hell-throne. No: I will have a god
To serve my purpose: Hatred be his name;
But ’tis a god, divine in wickedness,
Whom I will worship.

[Exit.

Isbr.
Then go where Pride and Madness carry thee;
And let that feasted fatness pine and shrink,
Till thy ghost’s pinched in the tight love-lean body.
I see his life, as in a map of rivers,
Through shadows, over rocks, breaking its way,
Until it meet his brother’s, and with that
Wrestle and tumble o’er a perilous rock,
Bare as Death’s shoulder: one of them is lost,
And a dark haunted flood creeps deadly on
Into the wailing Styx. Poor Amala!
A thorny rose thy life is, plucked in the dew,
And pitilessly woven with these snakes
Into a garland for the King of the grave.

[Exit.