The Dance To Death;

A poem by Emma Lazarus

A Historical Tragedy in Five Acts.


This play is dedicated, in profound veneration and respect, to the memory of George Eliot, the illustrious writer, who did most among the artists of our day towards elevating and ennobling the spirit of Jewish nationality.




THE PERSONS.

FREDERICK THE GRAVE, Landgrave of Thuringia and Margrave of
Meissen, Protector and Patron of the Free City of Nordhausen.
PRINCE WILLIAM OF MEISSEN, his son.
SUSSKIND VON ORB, a Jew.
HENRY SCHNETZEN, Governor of Salza.
HENRY NORDMANN OF NORDMANNSTEIN, Knight of Treffurt.
REINHARD PEPPERCORN, Prior of Wartburg Monastery.
RABBI JACOB.
DIETRICH VON TETTENBORN, President of the Council.
REUBEN VON ORB, a boy, Susskind's son.
BARUCH and NAPHTALI,Jews.
RABBI CRESSELIN.
LAY-BROTHER.
PAGE.
PUBLIC SCRIVENER.

PRINCESS MATHILDIS, wife to Frederick.
LIEBHAID VON ORB.
CLAIRE CRESSELIN.

Jews, Jewesses, Burghers, Senators, Citizens, Citizen's Wife and Boy, Flagellants, Servants, Guardsmen.


Scene - Partly in Nordhausen, partly in Eisenach. Time, May, 4th, 5th, 6th, 1349.



ACT I. - In Nordhausen.

SCENE I.

A street in the Judengasse, outside the Synagogue. During this Scene Jews and Jewesses, singly and in groups, with prayer-books in their hands, pass across the stage, and go into the Synagogue. Among them, enter BARUCH and NAPHTALI.


NAPHTALI.
Hast seen him yet?


BARUCH.
Nay; Rabbi Jacob's door
Swung to behind him, just as I puffed up
O'erblown with haste. See how our years weigh, cousin.
Who'd judge me with this paunch a temperate man,
A man of modest means, a man withal
Scarce overpast his prime? Well, God be praised,
If age bring no worse burden! Who is this stranger?
Simon the Leech tells me he claims to bear
Some special message from the Lord - no doubt
To-morrow, fresh from rest, he'll publish it
Within the Synagogue.


NAPHTALI.
To-morrow, man?
He will not hear of rest - he comes anon -
Shall we within?


BARUCH.
Rather let's wait,
And scrutinize him as he mounts the street.
Since you denote him so remarkable,
You've whetted my desire.


NAPHTALI.
A blind, old man,
Mayhap is all you'll find him - spent with travel,
His raiment fouled with dust, his sandaled feet
Road-bruised by stone and bramble. But his face! -
Majestic with long fall of cloud-white beard,
And hoary wreath of hair - oh, it is one
Already kissed by angels.


BARUCH.
Look, there limps
Little Manasseh, bloated as his purse,
And wrinkled as a frost-pinched fruit. I hear
His last loan to the Syndic will result
In quadrupling his wealth. Good Lord! what luck
Blesses some folk, while good men stint and sweat
And scrape, to merely fill the household larder.
What said you of this pilgrim, Naphtali?
These inequalities of fortune rub
My sense of justice so against the grain,
I lose my very name. Whence does he come?
Is he alone?


NAPHTALI.
He comes from Chinon, France.
Rabbi Cresselin he calls himself - alone
Save for his daughter who has led him hither.
A beautiful, pale girl with round black eyes.


BARUCH.
Bring they fresh tidings of the pestilence?


NAPHTALI.
I know not - but I learn from other source
It has burst forth at Erfurt.


BARUCH.
God have mercy!
Have many of our tribe been stricken?


NAPHTALI.
No.
They cleanse their homes and keep their bodies sweet,
Nor cease from prayer - and so does Jacob's God
Protect His chosen, still. Yet even His favor
Our enemies would twist into a curse.
Beholding the destroying angel smite
The foal idolater and leave unscathed
The gates of Israel - the old cry they raise -
WE have begotten the Black Death - WE poison
The well-springs of the towns.


BARUCH.
God pity us!
But truly are we blessed in Nordhausen.
Such terrors seem remote as Egypt's plagues.
I warrant you our Landgrave dare not harry
Such creditors as we. See, here comes one,
The greatest and most liberal of them all -
Susskind von Orb.

SUSSKIND VON ORB, LIEBHAID, and REUBEN enter, all pass across the stage, and disappear within the Synagogue.

I'd barter my whole fortune,
And yours to boot, that's thrice the bulk of mine,
For half the bonds he holds in Frederick's name.
The richest merchant in Thuringia, he -
The poise of his head would tell it, knew we not.
How has his daughter leaped to womanhood!
I mind when she came toddling by his hand,
But yesterday - a flax-haired child - to-day
Her brow is level with his pompous chin.


NAPHTALI.
How fair she is! Her hair has kept its gold
Untarnished still. I trace not either parent
In her face, clean cut as a gem.


BARUCH.
Her mother
Was far-off kin to me, and I might pass,
I'm told, unguessed in Christian garb. I know
A pretty secret of that scornful face.
It lures high game to Nordhausen.


NAPHTALI.
Baruch,
I marvel at your prompt credulity.
The Prince of Meissen and Liebhaid von Orb!
A jest for gossips and - Look, look, he comes!


BARUCH.
Who's that, the Prince?


NAPHTALI.
Nay, dullard, the old man,
The Rabbi of Chinon. Ah! his stout staff,
And that brave creature's strong young hand suffice
Scarcely to keep erect his tottering frame.
Emaciate-lipped, with cavernous black eyes
Whose inward visions do eclipse the day,
Seems he not one re-risen from the grave
To yield the secret?

Enter RABBI JACOB, and RABBI CRESSELIN led by CLAIRE. They walk across the stage, and disappear in the Synagogue.


BARUCH (exaltedly).
Blessed art thou, O Lord,
King of the Universe, who teachest wisdom
To those who fear thee!


NAPHTALI.
Haste we in. The star
Of Sabbath dawns.


BARUCH.
My flesh is still a-creep
From the strange gaze of those wide-rolling orbs.
Didst note, man, how they fixed me? His lean cheeks,
As wan as wax, were bloodless; how his arms
Stretched far beyond the flowing sleeve and showed
Gaunt, palsied wrists, and hands blue-tipped with death!
Well, I have seen a sage of Israel.
[They enter the Synagogue. Scene closes.]



SCENE II.

The Synagogue crowded with worshippers. Among the women in the Gallery are discovered LIEBHAID VON ORB and CLAIRE CRESSELIN.
Below, among the men, SUSSKIND VON ORB and REUBEN. At the Reader's Desk, RABBI JACOB. Fronting the audience under the Ark of the Covenant, stands a high desk, behind which is seen the white head of an old man bowed in prayer. BARUCH and NAPHTALI enter and take their seats.


BARUCH.
Think you he speaks before the service?


NAPHTALI.
Yea.
Lo, phantom-like the towering patriarch!
[RABBI CRESSELIN slowly rises beneath the Ark.]


RABBI CRESSELIN.
Woe unto Israel! woe unto all
Abiding 'mid strange peoples! Ye shall be
Cut off from that land where ye made your home.
I, Cresselin of Chinon, have traveled far,
Thence where my fathers dwelt, to warn my race,
For whom the fire and stake have been prepared.
Our brethren of Verdun, all over France,
Are burned alive beneath the Goyim's torch.
What terrors have I witnessed, ere my sight
Was mercifully quenched! In Gascony,
In Savoy, Piedmont, round the garden shores
Of tranquil Leman, down the beautiful Rhine,
At Lindau, Costnitz, Schaffhausen, St. Gallen,
Everywhere torture, smoking Synagogues,
Carnage, and burning flesh. The lights shine out
Of Jewish virtue, Jewish truth, to star
The sanguine field with an immortal blazon.
The venerable Mar-Isaac in Cologne,
Sat in his house at prayer, nor lifted lid
From off the sacred text, while all around
The fanatics ran riot; him they seized,
Haled through the streets, with prod of stick and spike
Fretted his wrinkled flesh, plucked his white beard.
Dragged him with gibes into their Church, and held
A Crucifix before him. "Know thy Lord!"
He spat thereon; he was pulled limb from limb.
I saw - God, that I might forget! - a man
Leap in the Loire, with his fair, stalwart son,
A-bloom with youth, and midst the stream unsheathe
A poniard, sheathing it in his boy's heart,
While he pronounced the blessing for the dead.
"Amen!" the lad responded as he sank,
And the white water darkened as with wine.
I saw - but no! You are glutted, and my tongue,
Blistered, refuseth to narrate more woe.
I have known much sorrow. When it pleased the Lord
To afflict us with the horde of Pastoureaux,
The rabble of armed herdsmen, peasants, slaves,
Men-beasts of burden - coarse as the earth they tilled,
Who like an inundation deluged France
To drown our race - my heart held firm, my faith
Shook not upon her rock until I saw,
Smit by God's beam, the big black cloud dissolve.
Then followed with their scythes, spades, clubs, and banners
Flaunting the Cross, the hosts of Armleder,
From whose fierce wounds we scarce are healed to-day.
Yet do I say the cup of bitterness
That Israel has drained is but a draught
Of cordial, to the cup that is prepared.
The Black Death and the Brothers of the Cross,
These are our foes - and these are everywhere.
I who am blind see ruin in their wake;
Ye who have eyes and limbs, arise and flee!
To-morrow the Flagellants will be here.
God's angel visited my sleep and spake:
"Thy Jewish kin in the Thuringian town
Of Nordhausen shall be swept off from earth,
Their elders and their babes - consumed with fire.
Go summon Israel to flight - take this
As sign that I, who call thee, am the Lord,
Thine eyes shalt be struck blind till thou hast spoken."
Then darkness fell upon my mortal sense,
But light broke o'er my soul, and all was clear,
And I have journeyed hither with my child
O'er mount and river, till I have announced
The message of the Everlasting God.
[Sensation in the Synagogue.]


RABBI JACOB.
Father, have mercy! when wilt thou have done
With rod and scourge? Beneath thy children's feet
Earth splits, fire springs. No rest, no rest! no rest,


A VOICE.
Look to the women! Marianne swoons!


ANOTHER VOICE.
Woe unto us who sinned!


ANOTHER VOICE.
We're all dead men.
Fly, fly ere dawn as our forefathers fled
From out the land of Egypt.


BARUCH.
Are ye mad?
Shall we desert snug homes? forego the sum
Scraped through laborious years to smooth life's slope,
And die like dogs unkenneled and untombed,
At bidding of a sorrow-crazed old man?


A VOICE.
He flouts the Lord's anointed! Cast him forth!


SUSSKIND VON ORB.
Peace, brethren, peace! If I have ever served
Israel with purse, arm, brain, or heart - now hear me!
May God instruct my speech! This wise old man,
Whose brow flames with the majesty of truth,
May be part-blinded through excess of light,
As one who eyes too long the naked sun,
Setting in rayless glory, turns and finds
Outlines confused, familiar colors changed,
All objects branded with one blood-bright spot.
Nor chafe at Baruch's homely sense; truth floats
Midway between the stars and the abyss.
We, by God's grace, have found a special nest
I' the dangerous rock, screened against wind and hawk;
Free burghers of a free town, blessed moreover
With the peculiar favor of the Prince,
Frederick the Grave, our patron and protector.
What shall we fear? Rather, where shall we seek
Secure asylum, if here be not one?
Fly? Our forefathers had the wilderness,
The sea their gateway, and the fire-cored cloud
Their divine guide. Us, hedged by ambushed foes,
No frank, free, kindly desert shall receive.
Death crouches on all sides, prepared to leap
Tiger-like on our throats, when first we step
From this safe covert. Everywhere the Plague!
As nigh as Erfurt it has crawled - the towns
Reek with miasma, the rank fields of spring,
Rain-saturated, are one beautiful - lie,
Smiling profuse life, and secreting death.
Strange how, unbidden, a trivial memory
Thrusts itself on my mind in this grave hour.
I saw a large white bull urged through the town
To slaughter by a stripling with a goad,
Whom but one sure stamp of that solid heel,
One toss of those mooned horns, one battering blow
Of that square marble forehead, would have crushed,
As we might crush a worm, yet on he trudged,
Patient, in powerful health to death. At once,
As though o' the sudden stung, he roared aloud,

Beat with fierce hoofs the air, shook desperately
His formidable head, and heifer-swift,
Raced through scared, screaming streets. Well, and the end?
He was the promptlier bound and killed and quartered.
The world belongs to man; dreams the poor brute
Some nook has been apportioned for brute life?
Where shall a man escape men's cruelty?
Where shall God's servant cower from his doom?
Let us bide, brethren - we are in His hand.


RABBI CRESSELIN (uttering a piercing shriek).
Ah!
Woe unto Israel! Lo, I see again,
As the Ineffable foretold. I see
A flood of fire that streams towards the town.
Look, the destroying Angel with the sword,
Wherefrom the drops of gall are raining down,
Broad-winged, comes flying towards you. Now he draws
His lightning-glittering blade! With the keen edge
He smiteth Israel - ah!
[He falls back dead. Confusion in the Synagogue.]


CLAIRE (from the gallery).
Father! My father!
Let me go down to him!


LIEBHAID.
Sweet girl, be patient.
This is the House of God, and He hath entered.
Bow we and pray.
[Meanwhile, some of the men surround and raise from the ground the body of RABBI CRESSELIN. Several voices speaking at once.]


1ST VOICE.
He's doomed.


2D VOICE.
ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊDead! Dead!


3D VOICE.
A judgment!


4TH VOICE.
Make way there! Air! Carry him forth! He's warm!

3D VOICE.
Nay, his heart's stopped - his breath has ceased - quite dead.


5TH VOICE.
Didst mark a diamond lance flash from the roof,
And strike him 'twixt the eyes?


1ST VOICE.
Our days are numbered.
This is the token.


RABBI JACOB.
Lift the corpse and pray.
Shall we neglect God's due observances,
While He is manifest in miracle?
I saw a blaze seven times more bright than fire,
Crest, halo-wise, the patriarch's white head.
The dazzle stung my burning lids - they closed,
One instant - when they oped, the great blank cloud
Had settled on his countenance forever.*
Departed brother, mayest thou find the gates
Of heaven open, see the city of peace,
And meet the ministering angels, glad,
Hastening towards thee! May the High Priest stand
To greet and bless thee! Go thou to the end!
Repose in peace and rise again to life.
No more thy sun sets, neither wanes thy moon.
The Lord shall be thy everlasting light,
Thy days of mourning shall be at an end.
For you, my flock, fear nothing; it is writ
As one his mother comforteth, so I
Will comfort you and in Jerusalem
Ye shall be comforted. [Scene closes.]

*From this point to the end of the scene is a literal translation of the Hebrew burial service.



SCENE III.

Evening. A crooked byway in the Judengasse. Enter PRINCE WILLIAM.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Cursed be these twisted lanes! I have missed the clue
Of the close labyrinth. Nowhere in sight,
Just when I lack it, a stray gaberdine
To pick me up my thread. Yet when I haste
Through these blind streets, unwishful to be spied,
Some dozen hawk-eyes peering o'er crook'd beaks
Leer recognition, and obsequious caps
Do kiss the stones to greet my princeship. Bah!
Strange, 'midst such refuse sleeps so white a pearl.
At last, here shuffles one.

Enter a Jew.

Give you good even!
Sir, can you help me to the nighest way
Unto the merchant's house, Susskind von Orb?


JEW.
Whence come you knowing not the high brick wall,
Without, blank as my palm, o' the inner side,
Muring a palace? But - do you wish him well?
He is my friend - we must be wary, wary,
We all have warning - Oh, the terror of it!
I have not yet my wits!


PRINCE WILLIAM.
I am his friend.
Is he in peril? What's the matter, man?


JEW.
Peril? His peril is no worse than mine,
But the rich win compassion. God is just,
And every man of us is doomed. Alack!
HE said it - oh those wild, white eyes!



PRINCE WILLIAM.
I pray you,
Tell me the way to Susskind's home.


JEW.

Sweet master,
You look the perfect knight, what can you crave
Of us starved, wretched Jews? Leave us in peace.
The Judengasse gates will shut anon,
Nor ope till morn again for Jew or Gentile.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Here's gold. I am the Prince of Meissen - speak!


JEW.
Oh pardon! Let me kiss your mantle's edge.
This way, great sir, I lead you there myself,
If you deign follow one so poor, so humble.
You must show mercy in the name of God,
For verily are we afflicted. Come.
Hard by is Susskind's dwelling - as we walk
By your good leave I'll tell what I have seen.
[Exeunt.]



SCENE IV.

A luxuriously-furnished apartment in SUSSKIND VON ORB'S house. Upon a richly-spread supper-table stands the seven-branched silver candlestick of the Sabbath eve. At the table are seated SUSSKIND VON ORB, LIEBHAID, and REUBEN.


SUSSKIND.
Drink, children, drink! and lift your hearts to Him
Who gives us the vine's fruit.
[They drink.]
How clear it glows;
Like gold within the golden bowl, like fire
Along our veins, after the work-day week
Rekindling Sabbath-fervor, Sabbath-strength.
Verily God prepares for me a table
In presence of mine enemies! He anoints
My head with oil, my cup is overflowing.
Praise we His name! Hast thou, my daughter, served
The needs o' the poor, suddenly-orphaned child?
Naught must she lack beneath my roof.


LIEBHAID.
Yea, father.
She prays and weeps within: she had no heart
For Sabbath meal, but charged me with her thanks -


SUSSKIND.
Thou shalt be mother and sister in one to her.
Speak to her comfortably.


REUBEN.
She has begged
A grace of me I happily can grant.
After our evening-prayer, to lead her back
Unto the Synagogue, where sleeps her father,
A light at head and foot, o'erwatched by strangers;
She would hold vigil.


SUSSKIND.
'T is a pious wish,
Not to be crossed, befitting Israel's daughter.
Go, Reuben; heavily the moments hang,
While her heart yearns to break beside his corpse.
Receive my blessing.
[He places his hands upon his son's head in benediction. Exit Reuben.]
Henceforth her home is here.
In the event to-night, God's finger points
Visibly out of heaven. A thick cloud
Befogs the future. But just here is light.

Enter a servant ushering in PRINCE WILLIAM.


SERVANT.
His highness Prince of Meissen.
[Exit.]


SUSSKIND.
Welcome, Prince!
God bless thy going forth and coming in!
Sit at our table and accept the cup
Of welcome which my daughter fills.
[LIEBHAID offers him wine.]


PRINCE WILLIAM (drinking).
To thee!
[All take their seats at the table.]
I heard disquieting news as I came hither.
The apparition in the Synagogue,
The miracle of the message and the death.
Susskind von Orb, what think'st thou of these things?


SUSSKIND.
I think, sir, we are in the hand of God,
I trust the Prince - your father and my friend.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Trust no man! flee! I have not come to-night
To little purpose. Your arch enemy,
The Governor of Salza, Henry Schnetzen,
Has won my father's ear. Since yester eve
He stops at Eisenach, begging of the Prince
The Jews' destruction.


SUSSKIND (calmly).
Schnetzen is my foe,
I know it, but I know a talisman,
Which at a word transmutes his hate to love.
Liebhaid, my child, look cheerly. What is this?
Harm dare not touch thee; the oppressor's curse,
Melts into blessing at thy sight.


LIEBHAID.
Not fear
Plucks at my heart-strings, father, though the air
Thickens with portents; 't is the thought of flight,
But no - I follow thee.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Thou shalt not miss
The value of a hair from thy home treasures.
All that thou lovest, Liebhaid, goes with thee.
Knowest thou, Susskind, Schnetzen's cause of hate?


SUSSKIND.
'T is rooted in an ancient error, born
During his feud with Landgrave Fritz the Bitten,
Your Highness' grandsire - ten years - twenty - back.
Misled to think I had betrayed his castle,
Who knew the secret tunnel to its courts,
He has nursed a baseless grudge, whereat I smile,
Sure to disarm him by the simple truth.
God grant me strength to utter it.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
You fancy
The rancor of a bad heart slow distilled
Through venomed years, so at a breath, dissolves.
O good old man, i' the world, not of the world!
Belike, himself forgets the doubtful core
Of this still-curdling, petrifying ooze.
Truth? why truth glances from the callous mass,
A spear against a rock. He hugs his hate,
His bed-fellow, his daily, life-long comrade;
Think you he has slept, ate, drank with it this while,
Now to forego revenge on such slight cause
As the revealed truth?


SUSSKIND.
You mistake my thought,
Great-hearted Prince, and justly - for I speak
In riddles, till God's time to make all clear.
When His day dawns, the blind shall see.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Forgive me,
If I, in wit and virtue your disciple,
Seem to instruct my master. Accident
Lifts me where I survey a broader field
Than wise men stationed lower. I spy peril,
Fierce flame invisible from the lesser peaks.
God's time is now. Delayed truth leaves a lie
Triumphant. If you harbor any secret,
Potent to force an ear that's locked to mercy,
In God's name, now disbosom it.


SUSSKIND.
Kind Heaven!
Would that my people's safety were assured
So is my child's! Where shall we turn? Where flee?
For all around us the Black Angel broods.
We step into the open jaws of death
If we go hence.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Better to fall beneath
The hand of God, than be cut off by man.


SUSSKIND.
We are trapped, the springe is set. Not ignorantly
I offered counsel in the Synagogue,
Quelled panic with authoritative calm,
But knowing, having weighed the opposing risks.
Our friends in Strasburg have been overmastered,
The imperial voice is drowned, the papal arm
Drops paralyzed - both, lifted for the truth;
We can but front with brave eyes, brow erect,
As is our wont, the fullness of our doom.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Then Meissen's sword champions your desperate cause.
I take my stand here where my heart is fixed.
I love your daughter - if her love consent,
I pray you, give me her to wife.


LIEBHAID.
Ah!


SUSSKIND.
Prince,
Let not this Saxon skin, this hair's gold fleece,
These Rhine-blue eyes mislead thee - she is alien.
To the heart's core a Jewess - prop of my house,
Soul of my soul - and I? a despised Jew.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Thy propped house crumbles; let my arm sustain
Its tottering base - thy light is on the wane,
Let me relume it. Give thy star to me,
Or ever pitch-black night engulf us all -
Lend me your voice, Liebhaid, entreat for me.
Shall this prayer be your first that he denies?


LIEBHAID.
Father, my heart's desire is one with his.


SUSSKIND.
Is this the will of God? Amen! My children,
Be patient with me, I am full of trouble.
For you, heroic Prince, could aught enhance
Your love's incomparable nobility,
'T were the foreboding horror of this hour,
Wherein you dare flash forth its lightning-sword.
You reckon not, in the hot, splendid moment
Of great resolve, the cold insidious breath
Wherewith the outer world shall blast and freeze -
But hark! I own a mystic amulet,
Which you delivering to your gracious father,
Shall calm his rage withal, and change his scorn
Of the Jew's daughter into pure affection.
I will go fetch it - though I drain my heart
Of its red blood, to yield this sacrifice.
[Exit SUSSKIND.]


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Have you no smile to welcome love with, Liebhaid?
Why should you tremble?


LIEBHAID.
Prince, I am afraid!
Afraid of my own heart, my unfathomed joy,
A blasphemy against my father's grief,
My people's agony. I dare be happy -
So happy! in the instant's lull betwixt
The dazzle and the crash of doom.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
You read
The omen falsely; rather is your joy
The thrilling harbinger of general dawn.
Did you not tell me scarce a month agone,
When I chanced in on you at feast and prayer,
The holy time's bright legend? of the queen,
Strong, beautiful, resolute, who denied her race
To save her race, who cast upon the die
Of her divine and simple loveliness,
Her life, her soul, - and so redeemed her tribe.
You are my Esther - but I, no second tyrant,
Worship whom you adore, love whom you love!


LIEBHAID.
If I must die with morn, I thank my God,
And thee, my king, that I have lived this night.

Enter SUSSKIND, carrying a jewelled casket.


SUSSKIND.
Here is the chest, sealed with my signet-ring,
A mystery and a treasure lies within,
Whose worth is faintly symboled by these gems,
Starring the case. Deliver it unopened,
Unto the Landgrave. Now, sweet Prince, good night.
Else will the Judengasse gates be closed.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Thanks, father, thanks. Liebhaid, my bride, good-night.
[He kisses her brow. SUSSKIND places his hands on the heads of LIEBHAID and PRINCE WILLIAM.]


SUSSKIND.
Blessed, O Lord, art thou, who bringest joy
To bride and bridegroom. Let us thank the Lord.
[Curtain falls.]



ACT II. - At Eisenach.

SCENE I.

A Room in the LANDGRAVE'S Palace. FREDERICK THE GRAVE and HENRY SCHNETZEN.


LANDGRAVE.
Who tells thee of my son's love for the Jewess?


SCHNETZEN.
Who tells me? Ask the Judengasse walls,
The garrulous stones publish Prince William's visits
To his fair mistress.


LANDGRAVE.
Mistress? Ah, such sins
The Provost of St. George's will remit
For half a pound of coppers.


SCHNETZEN.
Think it not!
No light amour this, leaving shield unflecked;
He wooes the Jewish damsel as a knight
The lady of his heart.


LANDGRAVE.
Impossible!

SCHNETZEN.
Things more impossible have chanced. Remember
Count Gleichen, doubly wived, who pined in Egypt,
There wed the Pasha's daughter Malachsala,
Nor blushed to bring his heathen paramour
Home to his noble wife Angelica,
Countess of Orlamund. Yea, and the Pope
Sanctioned the filthy sin.


LANDGRAVE.
Himself shall say it.
Ho, Gunther! (Enter a Lackey.)
Bid the Prince of Meissen here.
[Exit Lackey. The LANDGRAVE paces the stage in agitation.]

Enter PRINCE WILLIAM.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Father, you called me?


LANDGRAVE.
Ay, when were you last
In Nordhausen?


PRINCE WILLIAM.
This morning I rode hence.


LANDGRAVE.
Were you at Susskind's house?


PRINCE WILLIAM.
I was, my liege.


LANDGRAVE.
I hear you entertain unseemly love
For the Jew's daughter.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Who has told thee this?


SCHNETZEN.
This I have told him.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Father, believe him not.
I swear by heaven 't is no unseemly love
Leads me to Susskind's house.


LANDGRAVE.
With what high title
Please you to qualify it?


PRINCE WILLIAM.
True, I love
Liebhaid von Orb, but 't is the honest passion
Wherewith a knight leads home his equal wife.


LANDGRAVE.
Great God! and thou wilt brag thy shame! Thou speakest
Of wife and Jewess in one breath! Wilt make
Thy princely name a stench in German nostrils?


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Hold, father, hold! You know her - yes, a Jewess
In her domestic piety, her soul
Large, simple, splendid like a star, her heart
Suffused with Syrian sunshine - but no more -
The aspect of a Princess of Thuringia,
Swan-necked, gold-haired, Madonna-eyed. I love her!
If you will quench this passion, take my life!
[He falls at his father's feet. FREDERICK, in a paroxysm of rage, seizes his sword.]


SCHNETZEN.
He is your son!


LANDGRAVE.
Oh that he ne'er were born!
Hola! Halberdiers! Yeomen of the Guard!

Enter Guardsmen.

Bear off this prisoner! Let him sigh out
His blasphemous folly in the castle tower,
Until his hair be snow, his fingers claws.
[They seize and bear away PRINCE WILLIAM.]
Well, what's your counsel?


SCHNETZEN.
Briefly this, my lord.
The Jews of Nordhausen have brewed the Prince
A love-elixir - let them perish all!
[Tumult without. Singing of Hymns and Ringing of Church-bells. The LANDGRAVE and SCHNETZEN go to the window.]


SONG* (without).

The cruel pestilence arrives,
Cuts off a myriad human lives.
See the Flagellants' naked skin!
They scourge themselves for grievous sin.
Trembles the earth beneath God's breath,
The Jews shall all be burned to death.

*A rhyme of the times. See Graetz's "History of the Jews," page 374, vol. vii.


LANDGRAVE.
Look, foreign pilgrims! What an endless file!
Naked waist-upward. Blood is trickling down
Their lacerated flesh. What do they carry?


SCHNETZEN.
Their scourges - iron-pointed, leathern thongs,
Mark how they lash themselves - the strict Flagellants.
The Brothers of the Cross - hark to their cries!


VOICE FROM BELOW.
Atone, ye mighty! God is wroth! Expel
The enemies of heaven - raze their homes!
[Confused cries from below, which gradually die away in the
distance.]
Woe to God's enemies! Death to the Jews!
They poison all our wells - they bring the plague.
Kill them who killed our Lord! Their homes shall be
A wilderness - drown them in their own blood!
[The LANDGRAVE and SCHNETZEN withdraw from the window.]


SCHNETZEN.
Do not the people ask the same as I?
Is not the people's voice the voice of God?


LANDGRAVE.
I will consider.


SCHNETZEN.
Not too long, my liege.
The moment favors. Later 't were hard to show
Due cause to his Imperial Majesty,
For slaughtering the vassals of the Crown.
Two mighty friends are theirs. His holiness
Clement the Sixth and Kaiser Karl.


LANDGRAVE.
'T were rash
Contending with such odds.


SCHNETZEN.
Courage, my lord.
These battle singly against death and fate.
Your allies are the sense and heart o' the world.
Priests warring for their Christ, nobles for gold,
And peoples for the very breath of life
Spoiled by the poison-mixers. Kaiser Karl
Lifts his lone voice unheard, athwart the roar
Of such a flood; the papal bull is whirled
An unconsidered rag amidst the eddies.


LANDGRAVE.
What credence lend you to the general rumor
Of the river poison?


SCHNETZEN.
Such as mine eyes avouch.
I have seen, yea touched the leathern wallet found
On the body of one from whom the truth was wrenched
By salutary torture. He confessed,
Though but a famulus of the master-wizard,
The horrible old Moses of Mayence,
He had flung such pouches in the Rhine, the Elbe,
The Oder, Danube - in a hundred brooks,
Until the wholesome air reeked pestilence;
'T was an ell long, filled with a dry, fine dust
Of rusty black and red, deftly compounded
Of powdered flesh of basilisks, spiders, frogs,
And lizards, baked with sacramental dough
In Christian blood.


LANDGRAVE.
Such goblin-tales may curdle
The veins of priest-rid women, fools, and children.
They are not for the ears of sober men.


SCHNETZEN.
Pardon me, Sire. I am a simple soldier.
My God, my conscience, and my suzerain,
These are my guides - blindfold I follow them.
If your keen royal wit pierce the gross web
Of common superstition - be not wroth
At your poor vassal's loyal ignorance.
Remember, too, Susskind retains your bonds.
The old fox will not press you; he would bleed
Against the native instinct of the Jew,
Rather his last gold doit and so possess
Your ease of mind, nag, chafe, and toy with it;
Abide his natural death, and other Jews
Less devilish-cunning, franklier Hebrew-viced,
Will claim redemption of your pledge.


LANDGRAVE.
How know you
That Susskind holds my bonds?


SCHNETZEN.
You think the Jews
Keep such things secret? Not a Jew but knows
Your debt exact - the sum and date of interest,
And that you visit Susskind, not for love,
But for his shekels.


LANDGRAVE.
Well, the Jews shall die.
This is the will of God. Whom shall I send
To bear my message to the council?


SCHNETZEN.
I
Am ever at your 'hest. To-morrow morn
Sees me in Nordhausen.


LANDGRAVE.
Come two hours hence.
I will deliver you the letter signed.
Make ready for your ride.


SCHNETZEN (kisses FREDERICK'S hand).
Farewell, my master.
(Aside.)
Ah, vengeance cometh late, Susskind von Orb,
But yet it comes! My wife was burned through thee,
Thou and thy children are consumed by me!
[Exit.]



SCENE II.

A Room in the Wartburg Monastery. PRINCESS MATHILDIS and PRIOR PEPPERCORN.


PRIOR.
Be comforted, my daughter. Your lord's wisdom
Goes hand in hand with his known piety
Thus dealing with your son. To love a Jewess
Is flat contempt of Heaven - to ask in marriage,
Sheer spiritual suicide. Let be;
Justice must take its course.


PRINCESS.
Justice is murdered;
Oh slander not her corpse. For my son's fault,
A thousand innocents are doomed. Is that
God's justice?


PRIOR.
Yea, our liege is but his servant.
Did not He purge with fiery hail those twain
Blotches of festering sin, Gomorrah, Sodom?
The Jews are never innocent, - when Christ
Agonized on the Cross, they cried - "His blood
Be on our children's heads and ours!" I mark
A dangerous growing evil of these days,
Pity, misnamed - say, criminal indulgence
Of reprobates brow-branded by the Lord.
Shall we excel the Christ in charity?
Because his law is love, we tutor him
In mercy and reward his murderers?
Justice is blind and virtue is austere.
If the true passion brimmed our yearning hearts
The vision of the agony would loom
Fixed vividly between the day and us: -
Nailed on the gaunt black Cross the divine form,
Wax-white and dripping blood from ankles, wrists,
The sacred ichor that redeems the world,
And crowded in strange shadow of eclipse,
Reviling Jews, wagging their heads accursed,
Sputtering blasphemy - who then would shrink
From holy vengeance? who would offer less
Heroic wrath and filial zeal to God
Than to a murdered father?


PRINCESS.
But my son
Will die with her he loves.


PRIOR.
Better to perish
In time than in eternity. No question
Pends here of individual life; our sight
Must broaden to embrace the scope sublime
Of this trans-earthly theme. The Jew survives
Sword, plague, fire, cataclysm - and must, since Christ
Cursed him to live till doomsday, still to be
A scarecrow to the nations. None the less
Are we beholden in Christ's name at whiles,
When maggot-wise Jews breed, infest, infect
Communities of Christians, to wash clean
The Church's vesture, shaking off the filth
That gathers round her skirts. A perilous germ!
Know you not, all the wells, the very air
The Jews have poisoned? - Through their arts alone
The Black Death scourges Christendom.


PRINCESS.
I know
All heinousness imputed by their foes.
Father, mistake me not: I urge no plea
To shield this hell-spawn, loathed by all who love
The lamb and kiss the Cross. I had not guessed
Such obscure creatures crawled upon my path,
Had not my son - I know not how misled -
Deigned to ennoble with his great regard,
A sparkle midst the dust motes. SHE is sacred.
What is her tribe to me? Her kith and kin
May rot or roast - the Jews of Nordhausen
May hang, drown, perish like the Jews of France,
But she shall live - Liebhaid von Orb, the Jewess,
The Prince, my son, elects to love.


PRIOR.
Amen!
Washed in baptismal waters she shall be
Led like the clean-fleeced yeanling to the fold.
Trust me, my daughter - for through me the Church
Which is the truth, which is the life, doth speak.
Yet first 't were best essay to cure the Prince
Of this moon-fostered madness, bred, no doubt,
By baneful potions which these cunning knaves
Are skilled to mix.


PRINCESS.
Go visit him, dear father,
Where in the high tower mewed, a wing-clipped eagle,
His spirit breaks in cage. You are his master,
He is wont from childhood to hear wisdom fall
From your instructed lips. Tell him his mother
Rises not from her knees, till he is freed.


PRIOR.
Madam, I go. Our holy Church has healed
Far deadlier heart-wounds than a love-sick boy's.
Be of good cheer, the Prince shall live to bless
The father's rigor who kept pure of blot
A 'scutcheon more unsullied than the sun.


PRINCESS.
Thanks and farewell.


PRIOR.
Farewell. God send thee peace!
[Exeunt.]



SCENE III.

A mean apartment in one of the Towers of the Landgrave's Palace. PRINCE WILLIAM discovered seated at the window.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
The slow sun sets; with lingering, large embrace
He folds the enchanted hill; then like a god
Strides into heaven behind the purple peak.
Oh beautiful! In the clear, rayless air,
I see the chequered vale mapped far below,
The sky-paved streams, the velvet pasture-slopes,
The grim, gray cloister whose deep vesper bell
Blends at this height with tinkling, homebound herds!
I see - but oh, how far! - the blessed town
Where Liebhaid dwells. Oh that I were yon star
That pricks the West's unbroken foil of gold,
Bright as an eye, only to gaze on her!
How keen it sparkles o'er the Venusburg!
When brown night falls and mists begin to live,
Then will the phantom hunting-train emerge,
Hounds straining, black fire-eyeballed, breathless steeds,
Spurred by wild huntsmen, and unhallowed nymphs,
And at their head the foam-begotten witch,
Of soul-destroying beauty. Saints of heaven!
Preserve mine eyes from such unholy sight!
How all unlike the base desire which leads
Misguided men to that infernal cave,
Is the pure passion that exalts my soul
Like a religion! Yet Christ pardon me
If this be sin to thee!
[He takes his lute, and begins to sing. Enter with a lamp Steward of the Castle, followed by PRIOR PEPPERCORN. Steward lays down the lamp and exit.]
Good even, father!


PRIOR.
Benedicite!
Our bird makes merry his dull bars with song,
Yet would not penitential psalms accord
More fitly with your sin than minstrels' lays?


PRINCE WILLIAM.
I know no blot upon my life's fair record.


PRIOR.
What is it to wanton with a Christ-cursed Jewess,
Defy thy father and pollute thy name,
And fling to the ordures thine immortal soul?


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Forbear! thy cowl's a helmet, thy serge frock
Invulnerable as brass - yet I am human,
Thou, priest, art still a man.


PRIOR.
Pity him, Heaven!
To what a pass their draughts have brought the mildest,
Noblest of princes! Softly, my son; be ruled
By me, thy spiritual friend and father.
Thou hast been drugged with sense-deranging potions,
Thy blood set boiling and thy brain askew;
When these thick fumes subside, thou shalt awake
To bless the friend who gave thy madness bounds.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Madness! Yea, as the sane world goes, I am mad.
What else to help the helpless, to uplift
The low, to adore the good, the beautiful,
To live, battle, suffer, die for truth, for love!
But that is wide of the question. Let me hear
What you are charged to impart - my father's will.

PRIOR.
Heart-cleft by his dear offspring's shame, he prays
Your reason be restored, your wayward sense
Renew its due allegiance. For his son
He, the good parent, weeps - hot drops of gall,
Wrung from a spirit seldom eased by tears.
But for his honor pricked, the Landgrave takes
More just and general vengeance.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
In the name of God,
What has he done to HER?


PRIOR.
Naught, naught, - as yet.
Sweet Prince, be calm; you leap like flax to flame.
You nest within your heart a cockatrice,
Pluck it from out your bosom and breathe pure
Of the filthy egg. The Landgrave brooks no more
The abomination that infects his town.
The Jews of Nordhausen are doomed.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Alack!
Who and how many of that harmless tribe,
Those meek and pious men, have been elected
To glut with innocent blood the oppressor's wrath?


PRIOR.
Who should go free where equal guilt is shared?
Frederick is just - they perish all at once,
Generous moreover - for in their mode of death
He grants them choice.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
My father had not lost
The human semblance when I saw him last.
Nor can he be divorced in this short space
From his shrewd wit. How shall he make provision
For the vast widowed, orphaned host this deed
Burdens the state withal?


PRIOR.
Oh excellent!
This is the crown of folly, topping all!
Forgive me, Prince, when I gain breath to point
Your comic blunder, you will laugh with me.
Patience - I'll draw my chin as long as yours.
Well, 't was my fault - one should be accurate -
Jews, said I? when I meant Jews, Jewesses,
And Jewlings! all betwixt the age
Of twenty-four hours, and of five score years.
Of either sex, of every known degree,
All the contaminating vermin purged
With one clean, searching blast of wholesome fire.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
O Christ, disgraced, insulted! Horrible man,
Remembered be your laugh in lowest hell,
Dragging you to the nether pit! Forgive me;
You are my friend - take me from here - unbolt
Those iron doors - I'll crawl upon my knees
Unto my father - I have much to tell him.
For but the freedom of one hour, sweet Prior,
I'll brim the vessels of the Church with gold.


PRIOR.
Boy! your bribes touch not, nor your curses shake
The minister of Christ. Yet I will bear
Your message to the Landgrave.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Whet your tongue
Keen as the archangel's blade of truth - your voice
Be as God's thunder, and your heart one blaze -
Then can you speak my cause. With me, it needs
No plausive gift; the smitten head, stopped throat,
Blind eyes and silent suppliance of sorrow
Persuade beyond all eloquence. Great God!
Here while I rage and beat against my bars,
The infernal fagots may be stacked for her,
The hell-spark kindled. Go to him, dear Prior,
Speak to him gently, be not too much moved,
'Neath its rude case you had ever a soft heart,
And he is stirred by mildness more than passion.
Recall to him her round, clear, ardent eyes,
The shower of sunshine that's her hair, the sheen
Of the cream-white flesh - shall these things serve as fuel?
Tell him that when she heard once he was wounded,
And how he bled and anguished; at the tale
She wept for pity.


PRIOR.
If her love be true
She will adore her lover's God, embrace
The faith that marries you in life and death.
This promise with the Landgrave would prevail
More than all sobs and pleadings.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Save her, save her!
If any promise, vow, or oath can serve.
Oh trusting, tranquil Susskind, who estopped
Your ears forewarned, bandaged your visioned eyes,
To woo destruction! Stay! did he not speak
Of amulet or talisman? These horrors
Have crowded out my wits. Yea, the gold casket!
What fixed serenity beamed from his brow,
Laying the precious box within my hands!
[He brings from the shelf the casket, and hands it to the Prior.]
Deliver this unto the Prince my father,
Nor lose one vital moment. What it holds,
I guess not - but my light heart whispers me
The jewel safety's locked beneath its lid.


PRIOR.
First I must foil such devil's tricks as lurk
In its gem-crusted cabinet.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Away!
Deliverance posts on your return. I feel it.
For your much comfort thanks. Good-night.


PRIOR.
Good-night.
[Exit.]



ACT III.

A cell in the Wartburg Monastery. Enter PRIOR PEPPERCORN with the casket.


PRIOR.
So! Glittering shell where doubtless shines concealed
An orient treasure fit to bribe a king,
Ransom a prince and buy him for a son.
I have baptized thee now before the altar,
Effaced the Jew's contaminating touch,
And I am free to claim the Church's tithe
From thy receptacle.
[He is about to unlock the casket, when enters Lay-Brother, and he hastily conceals it.]


LAY-BROTHER.
Peace be thine, father!


PRIOR.
Amen! and thine. What's new?


LAY-BROTHER.
A strange Flagellant
Fresh come to Wartburg craves a word with thee.


PRIOR.
Bid him within.
[Exit Lay-Brother. PRIOR places the casket in a Cabinet.]
Patience! No hour of the day
Brings freedom to the priest.

Reenter Lay-Brother ushering in NORDMANN, and exit.

Brother, all hail!
Blessed be thou who comest in God's name!


NORDMANN.
May the Lord grant thee thine own prayer fourfold!


PRIOR.
What is thine errand?


NORDMANN.
Look at me, my father.
Long since you called me friend.
[The PRIOR looks at him attentively, while an expression of wonder and terror gradually overspreads his face.]


PRIOR.
Almighty God!
The grave gives up her dead. Thou canst not be -


NORDMANN.
Nordmann of Nordmannstein, the Knight of Treffurt.


PRIOR.
He was beheaded years agone.


NORDMANN.
His death
Had been decreed, but in his stead a squire
Clad in his garb and masked, paid bloody forfeit.
A loyal wretch on whom the Prince wreaked vengeance,
Rather than publish the true bird had flown.


PRIOR.
Does Frederick know thou art in Eisenach?


NORDMANN.
Who would divine the Knight of Nordmannstein
In the Flagellants' weeds? From land to land,
From town to town, we cry, "Death to the Jews!
Hep! hep! "Hierosolyma est perdita!"
They die like rats; in Gotha they are burned;
Two of the devil brutes in Chatelard,
Child-murderers, wizards, breeders of the Plague,
Had the truth squeezed from them with screws and racks,
All with explicit date, place, circumstance,
And written as it fell from dying lips
By scriveners of the law. On their confession
The Jews of Savoy were destroyed. To-morrow noon
The holy flames shall dance in Nordhausen.


PRIOR.
Your zeal bespeaks you fair. In your deep eyes
A mystic fervor shines; yet your scarred flesh
And shrunken limbs denote exhausted nature,
Collapsing under discipline.


NORDMANN.
Speak not
Of the degrading body and its pangs.
I am all zeal, all energy, all spirit.
Jesus was wroth at me, at all the world,
For our indulgence of the flesh, our base
Compounding with his enemies the Jews.
But at Madonna Mary's intercession,
He charged an angel with this gracious word,
"Whoso will scourge himself for forty days,
And labor towards the clean extermination
Of earth's corrupting vermin, shall be saved."
Oh, what vast peace this message brought my soul!
I have learned to love the ecstasy of pain.
When the sweat stands upon my flesh, the blood
Throbs in my bursting veins, my twisted muscles
Are cramped with agony, I seem to crawl
Anigh his feet who suffered on the Cross.


PRIOR.
O all transforming Time! Can this be he,
The iron warrior of a decade since,
The gallant youth of earlier years, whose pranks
And reckless buoyancy of temper flashed
Clear sunshine through my gloom?


NORDMANN.
I am unchanged
(Save that the spirit of grace has fallen on me).
Urged by one motive through these banished years,
Fed by one hope, awake to realize
One living dream - my long delayed revenge.
You saw the day when Henry Schnetzen's castle
Was razed with fire?


PRIOR.
I saw it.


NORDMANN.
Schnetzen's wife,
Three days a mother, perished.


PRIOR.
And his child?


NORDMANN.
His child was saved.


PRIOR.
By whom?


NORDMANN.
By the same Jew
Who had betrayed the Castle.


PRIOR.
Susskind von Orb?


NORDMANN.
Susskind von Orb! and Schnetzen's daughter lives
As the Jew's child within the Judengasse.


PRIOR (eagerly).
What proof hast thou of this?


NORDMANN.
Proof of these eyes!
I visited von Orb to ask a loan.
There saw I such a maiden as no Jew
Was ever blessed withal since Jesus died.
White as a dove, with hair like golden floss,
Eyes like an Alpine lake. The haughty line
Of brow imperial, high bridged nose, fine chin,
Seemed like the shadow cast upon the wall,
Where Lady Schnetzen stood.



PRIOR.
Why hast thou ne'er
Discovered her to Schnetzen?


NORDMANN.
He was my friend.
I shared with him thirst, hunger, sword, and fire.
But he became a courtier. When the Margrave
Sent me his second challenge to the field,
His messenger was Schnetzen! 'Mongst his knights,
The apple of his eye was Henry Schnetzen.
He was the hound that hunted me to death.
He stood by Frederick's side when I was led,
Bound, to the presence. I denounced him coward,
He smote me on the cheek. Christ! it stings yet.
He hissed - "My liege, let Henry Nordmann hang!
He is no knight, for he receives a blow,
Nor dare avenge it!" My gyved wrists moved not,
No nerve twitched in my face, although I felt
Flame leap there from my heart, then flying back,
Leave it cold-bathed with deathly ooze - my soul
In silence took her supreme vow of hate.


PRIOR.
Praise be to God that thou hast come to-day.
To-morrow were too late. Hast thou not heard
Frederick sends Schnetzen unto Nordhausen,
With fire and torture for the Jews?


NORDMANN.
So! Henry Schnetzen
Shall be the Jews' destroyer? Ah!


PRIOR.
One moment.
Mayhap this box which Susskind sends the Prince
Reveals more wonders.
[He brings forth the Casket from the Cabinet, opens it, and discovers a golden cross and a parchment which he hastily overlooks.]
Hark! your word's confirmed
Blessed be Christ, our Lord! (reads).

"I Susskind von Orb of Nordhausen, swear by the unutterable Name, that on the day when the Castle of Salza was burned, I rescued the infant daughter of Henry Schnetzen from the flames. I purposed restoring her to her father, but when I returned to Nordhausen, I found my own child lying on her bier, and my wife in fevered frenzy calling for her babe. I sought the leech, who counselled me to show the Christian child to the bereaved mother as her own. The pious trick prevailed; the fever broke, the mother was restored. But never would she part with the child, even when she had learned to whom it belonged, and until she was gathered with the dead - may peace be with her soul! - she fostered in our Jewish home the offspring of the Gentile knight. Then again would I have yielded the girl to her parent, but Schnetzen was my foe, and I feared the haughty baron would disown the daughter who came from the hands of the Jew. Now however the maiden's temporal happiness demands that she be acknowledged by her rightful father. Let him see what I have written. As a token, behold this golden cross, bound by the Lady Schnetzen round the infant's neck. May the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob redeem and bless me as I have writ the truth."


PRIOR.
I thank the Saints that this has come betimes.
Thou shalt renounce thy hate. Vengeance is mine,
The Lord hath said.


NORDMANN.
O all-transforming Time!
Is this meek, saintly-hypocrite, the firm,
Ambitious, resolute Reinhard Peppercorn,
Terror of Jews and beacon of the Church?
Look, you, I have won the special grace of Christ,
He knows through what fierce anguish! Now he leans
Out of his heaven to whisper in mine ear,
And reach me my revenge. He makes my cause
His own - and I shall fail upon these heights,
Sink from the level of a hate sublime,
To puerile pity!


PRIOR.
Be advised. You hold
Your enemy's living heart within your hands.
This secret is far costlier than you dreamed,
For Frederick's son wooes Schnetzen's daughter. See,
A hundred delicate springs your wit may move,
Your puppets are the Landgrave and the Prince,
The Governor of Salza and the Jews.
You may recover station, wealth, and honor,
Selling your secret shrewdly; while rash greed
Of clumsy vengeance may but drag you down
In the wild whirl of universal ruin.


NORDMANN.
Christ teach me whom to trust! I would not spill
One drop from out this brimming glorious cup
For which my parched heart pants. I will consider.


PRIOR.
Pardon me now, if I break off our talk.
Let all rest as it stands until the dawn.
I have many orisons before the light.


NORDMANN.
Good-night, true friend. Devote a prayer to me.
(Aside.) I will outwit you, serpent, though you glide
Athwart the dark, noiseless and swift as fate.
[Exit].



SCENE II.

On the road to Nordhausen. Moonlit, rocky landscape. On the right between high, white cliffs a narrow stream spanned by a wooden bridge. Thick bushes and trees. Enter PRINCE WILLIAM and PAGE.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Is this the place where we shall find fresh steeds?
Would I had not dismounted!


PAGE.
Nay, sir; beyond
The Werra bridge the horses wait for us.
These rotten planks would never bear their weight.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
When I am Landgrave these things shall be cared for.
This is an ugly spot for travellers
To loiter in. How swift the water runs,
Brawling above our voices. Human cries
Would never reach Liborius' convent yonder,
Perched on the sheer, chalk cliff. I think of peril,
From my excess of joy. My spirit chafes,
She that would breast broad-winged the air, must halt
On stumbling mortal limbs. Look, thither, boy,
How the black shadows of the tree-boles stripe
The moon-blanched bridge and meadow.


PAGE.
Sir, what's that?
Yon stir and glitter in the bush?


PRINCE WILLIAM.
The moon,
Pricking the dewdrops, plays fantastic tricks
With objects most familiar. Look again,
And where thou sawst the steel-blue flicker glint,
Thou findst a black, wet leaf.


PAGE.
No, no! O God!
Your sword, sir! Treason!
[Four armed masked men leap from out the bush, seize, bind, and overmaster, after a brief but violent resistance, the Prince and his servant.]


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Who are ye, villains? lying
In murderous ambush for the Prince of Meissen?
If you be knights, speak honorably your names,
And I will combat you in knightly wise.
If ye be robbers, name forthwith your ransom.
Let me but speed upon my journey now.
By Christ's blood! I beseech you, let me go!
Ho! treason! murder! help!
[He is dragged off struggling. Exeunt omnes.]



SCENE III.

Nordhausen. A room in SUSSKIND's house. LIEBHAID and CLAIRE.


LIEBHAID.
Say on, poor girl, if but to speak these horrors
Revive not too intense a pang.


CLAIRE.
Not so.
For all my woes seem here to merge their flood
Into a sea of infinite repose.
Through France our journey led, as I have told,
From desolation unto desolation.
Naught stayed my father's course - sword, storm, flame, plague,
Exhaustion of the eighty year old frame,
O'ertaxed beyond endurance. Once, once only,
His divine force succumbed. 'T was at day's close,
And all the air was one discouragement
Of April snow-flakes. I was drenched, cold, sick,
With weariness and hunger light of head,
And on the open road, suddenly turned
The whole world like the spinning flakes of snow.
My numb hand slipped from his, and all was blank.
His beard, his breath upon my brow, his tears
Scalding my cheek hugged close against his breast,
And in my ear deep groans awoke me. "God!"
I heard him cry, "try me not past my strength.
No prophet I, a blind, old dying man!"
Gently I drew his face to mine, and kissed,
Whispering courage - then his spirit broke
Utterly; shattered were his wits, I feared.
But past is past; he is at peace, and I
Find shelter from the tempest. Tell me rather
Of your serene life.


LIEBHAID.
Happiness is mute.
What record speaks of placid, golden days,
Matched each with each as twins? Till yester eve
My life was simple as a song. At whiles
Dark tales have reached us of our people's wrongs,
Strange, far-off anguish, furrowing with fresh care
My father's brow, draping our home with gloom.
We were still blessed; the Landgrave is his friend -
The Prince - my Prince - dear Claire, ask me no more!
My adored enemy, my angel-fiend,
Splitting my heart against my heart! O God,
How shall I pray for strength to love him less
Than mine own soul?


CLAIRE.
What mean these contrary words?
These passionate tears?


LIEBHAID.
Brave girl, who art inured
To difficult privation and rude pain,
What good shall come forswearing kith and God,
To follow the allurements of the heart?


CLAIRE.
Duty wears one face, but a thousand masks.
Thy feet she leads to glittering peaks, while mine
She guides midst brambled roadways. Not the first
Art thou of Israel's women, chosen of God,
To rule o'er rulers. I remember me
A verse my father often would repeat
Out of our sacred Talmud: "Every time
The sun, moon, stars begin again their course,
They hesitate, trembling and filled with shame,
Blush at the blasphemous worship offered them,
And each time God's voice thunders, crying out,
On with your duty!"

Enter REUBEN.


REUBEN.
Sister, we are lost!
The streets are thronged with panic-stricken folk.
Wild rumors fill the air. Two of our tribe,
Young Mordecai, as I hear, and old Baruch,
Seized by the mob, were dragged towards Eisenach,
Cruelly used, left to bleed out their lives,
In the wayside ditch at night. This morn, betimes,
The iron-hearted Governor of Salza
Rides furious into Nordhausen; his horse,
Spurred past endurance, drops before the gate.
The Council has been called to hear him read
The Landgrave's message, - all men say, 'tis death
Unto our race.


LIEBHAID.
Where is our father, Reuben?


REUBEN.
With Rabbi Jacob. Through the streets they walk,
Striving to quell the terror. Ah, too late!
Had he but heeded the prophetic voice,
This warning angel led to us in vain!


LIEBHAID.
Brother, be calm. Man your young heart to front
Whatever ills the Lord afflicts us with.
What does Prince William? Hastes he not to aid?


REUBEN.
None know his whereabouts. Some say he's held
Imprisoned by the Landgrave. Others tell
While he was posting with deliverance
To Nordhausen, in bloody Schnetzen's wake,
He was set upon by ruffians - kidnapped - killed.
What do I know - hid till our ruin's wrought.
[LIEBHAID swoons.]


CLAIRE.
Hush, foolish boy. See how your rude words hurt.
Look up, sweet girl; take comfort.


REUBEN.
Pluck up heart:
Dear sister, pardon me; he lives, he lives!


LIEBHAID.
God help me! Shall my heart crack for love's loss
That meekly bears my people's martyrdom?
He lives - I feel it - to live or die with me.
I love him as my soul - no more of that.
I am all Israel's now - till this cloud pass,
I have no thought, no passion, no desire,
Save for my people.

Enter SUSSKIND.


SUSSKIND.
Blessed art thou, my child!
This is the darkest hour before the dawn.
Thou art the morning-star of Israel.
How dear thou art to me - heart of my heart,
Mine, mine, all mine to-day! the pious thought,
The orient spirit mine, the Jewish soul.
The glowing veins that sucked life-nourishment
From Hebrew mother's milk. Look at me, Liebhaid,
Tell me you love me. Pity me, my God!
No fiercer pang than this did Jephthah know.


LIEBHAID.
Father, what wild and wandering words are these?
Is all hope lost?


SUSSKIND.
Nay, God is good to us.
I am so well assured the town is safe,
That I can weep my private loss - of thee.
An ugly dream I had, quits not my sense,
That you, made Princess of Thuringia,
Forsook your father, and forswore your race.
Forgive me, L

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'The Dance To Death;' by Emma Lazarus

comments powered by Disqus

Home | Search | About this website | Contact | Privacy Policy