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Full Online Book HomePlaysJudith - Act 1
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Judith - Act 1 Post by :Andrew_Murray Category :Plays Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :1150

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Judith - Act 1

ACT I

(_A street in the city of Bethulia in Judea. Bethulia is in the hill country, overlooking the great plain of Jezreel to the south-west. Back, the gates of the city, hiding the view of the plain. Right, Judith's house, with a tent on the roof. Left, houses. The street turns abruptly, back left, along the wall of the city. Left centre, a built-up vantage-point, from which the plain can be seen over the gates_.)

TIME: _Fifth century B.C.

(Towards evening_.)

(Ozias _is standing alone in the street, drinking from a leathern bottle. Enter Chabris, _back left_.)


OZIAS _(quickly, but with perfect calmness, hiding the bottle in his garments_). Old man! It is years since I saw you. How came you past the guard, old man?

CHABRIS. Old? Old? I am not yet a hundred. Who are you?

OZIAS. Ozias.

CHABRIS. Ah! So this is Ozias, the son of Ezbon. Before your father could walk I have nursed him on my knee; and he was filled like the full moon--with naughtiness.

OZIAS. What has brought you at last out of your house? Are you come to prophesy once more?

CHABRIS. I have given up prophesying.

OZIAS. A profession full of risks.

CHABRIS. I pass my endless days in meditation and solitude.

OZIAS. That sounds much safer. How comely is the wisdom of old men!

CHABRIS. And what do you do, sprig?

OZIAS. Has none told you?

CHABRIS. I see nobody but my daughter's granddaughter, and her I forbid to speak to me, because being a woman she has the tongue of a woman, and a woman's tongue is unfavourable to meditation. How should I be told?

OZIAS. I am the governor of this great city of Bethulia.

CHABRIS. You are responsible for this city?

OZIAS. I am.

CHABRIS. Now I understand my misfortune. And the truth was in me when I said to your mother as she lay dying: Better it is to die without children than to have them that are ungodly.

OZIAS. Oh! How comely a thing is the judgment of grey hairs!

CHABRIS. You ask me what has brought me at last out of my house. I will tell you. Thirst! Thirst has brought me out of my house. Every morning and every evening my great-grandchild serves me with pulse and water. For five days she has furnished less and less water, and this day--not a drop! Can one eat pulse without water to drink? Half an hour ago I went to her to reason with her, and she lay on her bed cracked, and raved that she herself had not drunk for three days and that there was no water left in all Bethulia. So I came at last out of my house into the streets of this city famous for its cool fountains which never fail. And lo! I meet the governor of this city, and he is Ozias! Ozias! Seven days do men mourn for him that is dead, but for an ungodly man all the days of his life! Why is there no water in Bethulia, sprig?

OZIAS. Old man, meditation is good and solitude is good, but think not because you sit staring all day at your own belly that the sun and stars have ceased to revolve round the earth and the kings of this world to make war. Is it possible that you do not know what has happened?

CHABRIS. I only know that I cannot eat pulse without water to drink.

OZIAS. Bethulia is besieged.

CHABRIS. Who is besieging Bethulia?

OZIAS. Holofernes.

CHABRIS. I have never heard his name. Who is he?

OZIAS. Never heard the name of the chief captain of Nebuchadnezzar? Have you heard the name of Nebuchadnezzar, by chance?

CHABRIS. I seem to remember it.

OZIAS. Come up here. (_They go up the steps to the vantage-point_.) Look! A hundred and twenty thousand foot-soldiers. Twelve thousand archers on horseback. Oxen and sheep for their provisions. Twenty thousand asses for their carriages. Camels without number. Infinite victuals; and very much gold and silver. The like was never seen before.

CHABRIS (_stepping down_.) Why has Nebuchadnezzar set about this thing? What harm has Bethulia done to him?

OZIAS. Much harm. Nebuchadnezzar has decided to be God. He has decreed that all nations and tribes shall call upon him as God. And he has conquered the whole earth, excepting only Judea; and Bethulia is the gate into Judea, and Bethulia has not listened to his decree, and I am the governor of Bethulia. So Nebuchadnezzar the great king is very angry and Holofernes is the tool of his wrath.

CHABRIS (_going up the steps again and gazing_.) How many did you say?

OZIAS. A hundred and twenty thousand foot and twelve thousand horse.

CHABRIS. At any rate this will be the last war.

OZIAS. Why?

CHABRIS. Why! Because plainly war cannot continue on such a scale. Or if it does, mankind is destroyed. Nebuchadnezzar has rendered war ridiculous.

OZIAS _(laughs; then half to himself, sarcastically). What is heavier than lead, and what is the name thereof, but an aged fool?

CHABRIS (_descending again, self-centred_). It remains that I cannot eat pulse without water to drink. (_To Ozias.) And surely Bethulia has more wells than any other city of Judea.

OZIAS. The wells are at the foot of the hills, and Holofernes has seized them all.

CHABRIS. That is not fighting.

OZIAS. It is war.

CHABRIS. No, no! In my time soldiers fought fairly.

OZIAS. And killed each other. Why should Holofernes sacrifice thousands of lives to take the heights when he can reach the same result by letting his men sit still and watch?

CHABRIS. I say this is not war. Once I travelled many days to Nineveh. It is a city of extravagance, and when I beheld its mad, new-fangled ways, I knew that the last day was nigh. I was right. Three thousand and five hundred years since Jehovah created Adam, and Eve from his rib ... Too long! Too long! And what is pulse without water? I must have water.

OZIAS. It is thirty-four days since Holofernes took the wells. If you have received water up to yesterday your great-grandchild must indeed have thirsted that you might drink. I have distributed water by measure, but now the cisterns are empty, and women and young men fall down in the streets, and there is no water in Bethulia. We are all in like case, the high and the lowly.

CHABRIS. Then give me your bottle.

OZIAS. What bottle?

CHABRIS. I saw you put it from your lips as I came.

OZIAS. It behoves you to understand, old man, that my solemn duty as governor is to maintain my own strength, for if I fell the city would fall. Without me to inspire them the populace would yield in a moment. What is the populace? Poltroons, animals, sheep, rabbits, insects, lice!

CHABRIS. Give me the bottle.

OZIAS. It is as empty as the cisterns.

CHABRIS. Give it to me, or I will cry through the streets that you are concealing water. (Ozias _gives him the bottle_. Chabris _drinks_. Ozias _snatches the bottle away and conceals it_.) Ah!

(_A figure is glimpsed in the tent on the roof of Judith's _house_. Ozias _starts_.)

CHABRIS. What is that up yonder?

OZIAS. Nothing.

CHABRIS. Whose house is this?

OZIAS. It is the house of Judith, the daughter of Merari.

CHABRIS. Ah! Merari, the son of Ox, the son of Oziel--Oziel and I were little playful boys together--the son of Elcia, the son of Raphaim, the son of Eliab, the son of Nathanael, the son of----

OZIAS. Old man, your memory is terrible. Have pity!

CHABRIS. The draught has revived me. So Merari married and had a daughter. What manner of woman is she?

OZIAS. She is the widow of Manasses, who died of the heat in the barley harvest. And she is childless. And she is very rich; for Manasses left her gold and silver and menservants and maid-servants and cattle and lands. And she has remained a widow in her house three years and four months, and never has she come forth. And there is none to give her an ill word, for she fears the Lord greatly.

CHABRIS. Yes. But what _manner of woman is she?

OZIAS. She is beautiful to behold.

CHABRIS (_to himself_). Oh! _That manner of woman!

OZIAS. And she has fasted all the days of her widowhood, except the eves of the Sabbaths and the Sabbaths, and the eves of the new moons and the new moons, and the feasts and solemn days of the House of Israel.

CHABRIS. You are most deeply versed in her life. Is she exceeding beautiful?

OZIAS. She is exceeding beautiful.

CHABRIS. Then it was she who _peeped (_with a peculiar emphasis on the word_) from the tent a moment since.

OZIAS. Old man, you have eyes.

CHABRIS. It is the draught of water.

OZIAS. She is said to take the air in her tent daily at this hour.

CHABRIS (_accusingly_). And that is why you are here, Ozias.

OZIAS. No! I come here to reflect upon my plans for the saving of the city, and because of this vantage-point, to view the army of the Assyrians.

CHABRIS. This vantage-point is new since my day. You have built it here, not to see the Assyrians, but to see Judith. And that is why you have set a guard to keep the street empty.

OZIAS. And if it be so, what then? Old man, you are so old that to confess in your ear is sweet, like murmuring secrets into the grave. If I do come to this place to watch for the marvellous vision of Judith, what then?

CHABRIS. What then? And the populace of Bethulia dying of thirst?

OZIAS. The populace!... Mice! Rats! Beetles! (_He makes the motion of crushing with his foot_.)

CHABRIS. Yet the city is doomed. You can have no hope.

OZIAS. No hope? Am I then a dead body? Am I a rotting corpse? True, the city will be taken, and when the city is taken I may be killed. But in your meditations, old man, has it not occurred to you that death must be highly interesting? Or I may be seized for a slave. But either I should cease speedily to be a slave, or I should become the most powerful slave in Babylon. (_Reflectively_.) We might be enslaved together.

CHABRIS. Who?

OZIAS. Judith and I. The history of the world is full of miracles. Meanwhile, I live, and the strong savour of life inflames my nostrils; and the ever-increasing magnificence and terror of war is like wine in my mouth. I shake with delight at the vastness and the mystery of the future.... And there is woman!

CHABRIS. I feel I can eat my pulse now.

OZIAS. There is still woman.

(_A fracas is heard, back. Enter Rahel, _running, followed by two soldiers and a mixed group of Bethulians, including Charmis, _an elder_.)

RAHEL (_to Chabris, _like a termagant_). Why did you go forth alone, grandad, frightening me when I looked and could not find you? At your age! Come back with me this moment.

CHABRIS. Ay! There is still woman!

OZIAS (_angrily, to first soldier). Did I not give an order to bar the street?

FIRST SOLDIER. My lord, some of these are elders of high authority, and would pass. As for the girl----

RAHEL (_to Chabris). This moment! (_She faints and falls_.)

CHABRIS (_indifferently, as Charmis _moves towards Rahel). Let her lie. She will come to of herself--or not, as God wills.

OZIAS (_to the soldiers, with cold fierceness_). Get back to your places. (_Exeunt soldiers_.)

CHARMIS (_looking at Ozias _and indicating Rahel). She is the fourteenth I have seen faint from thirst in the streets this day.

OZIAS (_soothingly_). Alas! And you or I may be the next. We are all in like case. But what is to be done?

(_Confused feeble exclamations from the group of citizens: 'We want to know. We are come for that. There is but one thing to be done.')

OZIAS (_still soothingly_). Who among you will be the spokesman?

CHARMIS. We are all spokesmen.

OZIAS. Even the children?

CHARMIS. Even the children. In our extremity we are all spokesmen.

OZIAS. But not all at once. Will you begin, honourable Charmis? You know that I am the servant of the citizens.

CHARMIS (_nervously oratorical_). Lord Ozias, may the God of Israel judge between us and you, for you have done us a great injury. (_Looks round for approval. The group approves._)

OZIAS. An injury? I? Have I not said that I am the servant of the citizens?

CHARMIS (_more confidently_). And I say again that you have done us a great injury, in that you have not asked peace of the Assyrians. For we have no helper, and the God of Israel has sold us into the hands of the Assyrians. We are thrown down before them with thirst and with great destruction. Therefore now we demand--(_looks round_)--I say we demand that you call the Assyrians, and deliver the whole city for a spoil to the people of Holofernes and to all his army. For it is better for us to be made a spoil than to die of thirst. We will be the slaves of Holofernes, so that our souls may live and so that we may not see the death of our infants before our eyes, nor our wives nor our children die. (_A mother in the group convulsively seizes her child. Pause_. Ozias _walks about_.) We take to witness against you the heaven and the earth and our God and the God of our fathers, which punishes us according to our sins and the sins of our fathers; and we demand of you that you deliver up the city to Holofernes and his host. (_A silence_.)

(Ozias _ascends solemnly to the vantage-point._)

OZIAS (_dominating the assembly_). Friends, it would seem that Charmis has made an end. His words are excellent and full of pity. Who follows him? Who will speak next? My ear waits. (_A silence_.) Ah! Then give heed. The words of Charmis are full of pity, but I also have pity. Do not I too cherish our women, and our maidens and our young children? And because I pity I would not yield to the monster Holofernes. Yes, the monster! This is not war that he wages. Once our enemy strove fairly with the warriors of Israel. Now he makes our women and children to die of thirst. The magnificence of war is gone from the earth, and Holofernes by the excess of his hosts has rendered war ridiculous. (Chabris _raises his hands_.) The peoples of the earth will perceive that henceforward the institution of war cannot continue, and after this there will be no more war. But meanwhile, if I go crouching to the feet of Holofernes, what will happen and what will come to pass? Surely it will come to pass that the monster who has sat down to watch us die of thirst will slay our little children and our old men, and dishonour our women, and ravish our innocent virgins; for the enslaving of the conquered will not content his anger nor satisfy the lust of his great hosts. Shall these things be? I say they shall not be. But what am I, save the servant of the citizens of Bethulia? And what do I speak, save the thought that is in your hearts? There is no cowardice in you. You are not sheep, nor rabbits, nor beetles, nor lice. You are valiant men, and women lion-hearted. Without you I am naught, and if I defy Holofernes, my fortitude is yours and my resolve springs from you. Charmis has invoked the holy name of the God of Israel. Let Israel not forget its God, for never has the Most High forsaken Israel. Brethren, be of good courage. Let us yet endure five days. Five short days. And if these days pass and the God of Israel turn not his mercy towards us, then will I do according to the word of Charmis. Such is my oath to you. And so it shall be.

(Haggith _enters from the house of Judith.)

HAGGITH. My lord Ozias!

OZIAS (_quickly descending the steps_). What say you?

HAGGITH. My mistress, the lady Judith, will speak with you. She comes.

RAHEL (_half rising_). Water!

OZIAS (_excited_.) The lady Judith comes out of her house after three years.

VOICES IN THE GROUP (_excited and impressed_.) Judith is coming, after three years! Judith! The widow!

OZIAS (_sternly to the group_). Get hence, everyone to his own charge. Soldiers! Clear the street! (Two soldiers _advance, running to obey_.) The men to the walls and towers. The women and children to their houses. (_To Rahel, _who has risen, indicating Chabris.) Take the aged fool away, girl. (_Ruthlessly and contemptuously_.) Get home, all of you. Rabble! Insects! Lice!

(_The street is cleared, not without difficulty, and Ozias _is left alone with Haggith.)

(_After a pause_, Judith _enters slowly, in widow's apparel and sackcloth_.)

(_Exit Haggith _into the house_.)

JUDITH. Greetings, Lord Ozias.

OZIAS. Lady, greetings. (_They salute_.)

JUDITH. Where are the people?

OZIAS. I invited them to go away.

JUDITH. Why?

OZIAS. Your waiting-woman said that you would speak with me.

JUDITH. But what I have to say I would have said before them.

OZIAS. Forgive your servant.

JUDITH. No! It is I, the woman, who should ask to be absolved.

OZIAS. I beseech you----

JUDITH (_simply_). Perhaps you dismissed the people because it is not meet for them to see all the workings of the mind which has authority over them.

OZIAS (_warmly responsive_). Ah! Lady! In your wisdom and your understanding you have comprehended what it is to be the governor of a besieged city. You, alone!

JUDITH. This is a day memorable beyond all the days of Bethulia.

OZIAS. It is a day memorable beyond all the days of Bethulia--because Judith, the widow of Manasses, has issued from her house and from her secrecy, and because after long years she has lightened the city with her countenance.

JUDITH (_smiling_). We hold converse with words, but the shadow of destruction is over us, and our hearts are darkened, and we hide our hearts in speech. Ozias, governor of Bethulia, show me your heart.

OZIAS. I dare not.

JUDITH. Dare! I am not afraid.

OZIAS. YOU are more beautiful than aforetime--were it possible.

JUDITH (_accepting the compliment_). And if I am?

OZIAS. That is what is in my heart! Behold my heart, and the depths of my heart. Look deep, and deeper, and still you will see naught therein but the beauty and the subtlety of Judith.

JUDITH. It is no common man that with the parched tongue of thirst can talk thus while unspeakable calamity assails the city.

OZIAS. It is Ozias.

JUDITH (_gently_). I came not to meet Ozias, but the governor of Bethulia. From my tent I hearkened to the words which he spoke to the people, and the Lord said to me: Go down to him, thou, a woman. And I am here.

OZIAS. The Lord reigns! That which I said to the people did not please the ear of Judith?

JUDITH. No.

OZIAS. I spoke to the people according to their understanding. Have you not said it is not meet for the people to know the thoughts of the ruler? Hearken again? And I will speak now to the wise woman. I flattered the people with vain praise of their courage, when they have no courage. I affrighted the people with a prophecy of terror, when there is no terror--for Holofernes is a great warrior, and has compassion in his greatness, for he is a Babylonian. I gave them hope of succour when succour is none--for, with a hundred and twenty thousand footmen and twelve thousand horse against us (_with dry humour_) to count upon the mercy of the Lord is presumption.

JUDITH (_moves aside and returns. Sweetly_). Why then did you speak thus to the people? And to what end did you deceive them? I beseech you yet again to show me your heart, for it is right that I should know.

OZIAS. I saw the vastness of the future as in a vision. If the God of Israel perchance is merciful, and the city is saved at the eleventh hour, then it will be said in Jerusalem that there is none like Ozias of Bethulia for steadfastness, for he alone by his ardour revived the fainting populace and held firm the city; and great will be my recompense.... But that is a dream. Always I have faced the substance of things, and the substance is that Nebuchadnezzar has decreed to rule over the whole earth, and from the east to the west there is no living man that shall not bow down before Nebuchadnezzar. Bethulia will fall. I, the governor, shall be taken captive and shown to Nebuchadnezzar, and in that day Holofernes shall say to Nebuchadnezzar: Lo! Here is Ozias the Israelite who resisted thy mighty armies for thirty-four days and yet five days more. Use him if it seem good to thee. And I shall be lifted up to be a satrap of Nebuchadnezzar, and I shall partake of the bright glory of Nebuchadnezzar. And--(_hesitates_.)

JUDITH (_subtly and sweetly_). And?

OZIAS (_in an outburst_). What am I without you, O Judith? Before Manasses loved you, did I not love you? For three years have I not watched over you in all honour and respect, and troubled you not with my importunity until this day, which is the day of days? What am I without you, and what shall be my dominion and my satrap's throne if you do not sit in majesty by my side, O Rose of Sharon and matchless among women?

Judith (_as before_). My lord, you are like a rushing river.

OZIAS. You have seen my heart.

JUDITH. I have seen it.

OZIAS. And what say you?

(_There is the sudden sound of a disturbance. Enter, from back, soldiers, holding Achior, _and a group of excited citizens_. Haggith _appears at the house-door._)

OZIAS (_fiercely_). What! Are my commands no more than the wind in the corn, and is there to be naught but tumult within the walls of this city?

VOICES IN THE GROUP. An Assyrian! An Assyrian!

FIRST SOLDIER. Lord Ozias! We saw this man lying bound at the foot of the hill, and we descended and loosed him and brought him privily into Bethulia by the secret way. And now we present him to my lord.

OZIAS Fools! Then no longer is the secret way secret.

VOICES. Slay him! Stone him! Whip the dog!

JUDITH (_nobly scornful, to the crowd_). Oh! Brave! Oh! Men of courage and high valour!

OZIAS (_to Achior). Who are you?

ACHIOR. Achior.

OZIAS. Your condition?

ACHIOR (_with calm, genial candour_). Captain of all the Ammonites in the army of Holofernes.

JUDITH. Let them loose him, Lord Ozias. His eyes are not the eyes of treachery.

OZIAS (_to the soldiers_). Loose him. (_To Achior.) And how come you here? Speak the truth--and fear.

ACHIOR. My mouth shall say truth, but I will not fear.

OZIAS. My hand is terrible.

ACHIOR. Thus it happened. When the children of Israel had shut up the passages of the hill country and had fortified all the tops of the high hills, Holofernes was very angry. And he called the captains of Ammon and said to them: Tell me now, ye sons of Chanaan, who these Israelites are that dwell in the hill country, and wherein is their power and strength, and why they have determined not to come and meet me, more than all the inhabitants of the west? And I, Achior, answered the question of Holofernes.

OZIAS. And what answer gave you?

ACHIOR. I said to Holofernes: This people is descended of the Chaldeans. But they left the way of their ancestors and would not follow the gods of their fathers; and they worshipped the God of heaven. So they were cast out from the face of the gods of Chaldea, and they fled into Mesopotamia. And they came to Chanaan. But when a famine covered all the land of Chanaan they went down into Egypt, and the king of Egypt brought them low with labouring in brick and made them slaves. Then they cried to their God, and he smote all the land of Egypt with plagues.... And God dried the Red Sea for them.

VOICES. It is true. It is true!

ACHIOR. And they came to Chanaan, and drove before them the inhabitants of that land, and they dwelt in that country many days. And while they sinned not before their God they prospered, because the God that hates iniquity was with them.

VOICES. It is true.

ACHIOR. But when they departed from the way which their God appointed, then they were destroyed in many battles very sore, and were led captives into a land that was not theirs, and the temple of their God was cast to the ground.

VOICES. Gentile dog! Shall we not render him to pieces?

JUDITH. There is but one truth, brethren, whether it please or whether it displease.

OZIAS (_to Achior). Make an end.

ACHIOR. And I said to Holofernes: But now this people are returned to their God, and have possessed Jerusalem, and are seated in the hill country. (_With more emphasis_.) And I said further to Holofernes: Now therefore, my lord and governor, if there be any error in this people, let us go up and we shall overcome them. But if there be no iniquity in their nation, let my lord now pass by, lest their Lord defend them and we become a reproach before all the world.

JUDITH. It was well said.

OZIAS. Lady, it was well said--if the slave said it. (_To Achior.) I demanded of you: How came you _here_?

ACHIOR. Thus. When I had finished speaking to Holofernes, all they that were about my lord and governor rose up in wrath and cried: Kill him. And the face of Holofernes darkened, and he said: And who art thou, Achior, that thou hast prophesied among us to-day that we should not make war with the people of Israel because of their God? And who is God but Nebuchadnezzar? Nebuchadnezzar by my hand will destroy the Israelites, and their God shall not deliver them. Their mountains shall be drunken with their blood and their fields shall be filled with their dead bodies. (_The citizens _show alarm_.) And thou, Achior, shalt be delivered up to the Israelites in Bethulia, and when thou seest me again thou shalt fall among the slain.... And he commanded his servants, and they took me, and carried me secretly to the foot of the hill of Bethulia. And here am I!

OZIAS (_after a pause, positively_). It is a wicked device for our undoing.

JUDITH. How so?

OZIAS. Plainly this fellow lies, and he has come subtly with a tale to spy out our strength. Presently he will seek to escape from us again to the Assyrians.

VOICES. Spy! Stone him! Rend him!

ACHIOR (_to Ozias). To Holofernes, my lord and governor, I spoke truth; and to you also I speak truth. Never has my mouth lied, nor my tongue uttered deceit. If death is ordained for my recompense, so be it.

JUDITH (_to Ozias). He is a fair youth, and has spoken truly and feared not.

OZIAS (_with meaning_). Lady, he is a fair youth, and fearless. But by what sign know you that he has spoken truly?

JUDITH. By the glance of his eyes I know.

OZIAS. It is a sign that suffices not. Shall it be said that Ozias was deceived, and shall Ozias imperil his renown, by reason of the glance of a youth when he looks at a woman--even you?... And if he lies not, then he is a fool and his folly was great.

ACHIOR. I spoke the truth to Holofernes.

OZIAS (_fiercely_). But to speak truth did not content you. Having answered Holofernes, you must needs offer counsel to your lord and governor! Who were you to offer counsel to the greatest of all the captains of the earth? The protection of the mighty conqueror covered you, and lo! in your folly did you estrange yourself from him. Fool!

ACHIOR. I said to Holofernes, my lord and governor, that which I was appointed to say--that, no more and no less.

OZIAS. And who appointed you to say that which you said?

JUDITH. If there be a God in Israel, and if the Lord has not abandoned us, may not this youth be the messenger of the Most High to bring us comfort, and for a warning to the vainglory of Holofernes?

OZIAS (_with irony_). All is possible to the Lord. Yet may his purposes be hidden from us. (_To the soldiers_.) Until the Lord vouchsafe new wisdom to me, his servant, bind fetters about the feet of Achior, and take him to the house of bondage, and set a guard over him, for a spy is not more dangerous than a fool.

CHARMIS (_springing forward_). It shall be done, Ozias.

(_The soldiers begin to put chains on Achior.)

JUDITH (_quietly_). Shame him not with fetters, lord Ozias.

OZIAS (_after a pause, to the soldiers_). Unbind him! (_The soldiers obey_.) Take him off! Speedily! Away! All! Let none remain! Hasten, I say!

(_Exeunt back, all except Ozias _and Judith. _As he goes Achior _kisses Judith's robe_.)

JUDITH (_to Achior, _as he does so_). Truth-teller!

(_At a sign from Judith, Haggith _re-enters the house_.)

OZIAS. Your face is turned from me, because of the youth. Yet you came out to see the governor of the city, and the governor could do no other than I have done.

JUDITH (_looking at him_). Ozias, you have shown me your heart.

OZIAS. Yea!

JUDITH. And in the moment when the youth came you asked of me my counsel.

OZIAS. Yea!

JUDITH. Hear me now, for the words you have spoken before the people this day are not right.

OZIAS. What words?

JUDITH. This promise that you have uttered to deliver the city to our enemies, unless within five days the Lord turn to help. Who are you that seek to stand instead of God among the children of men?

OZIAS. Stand instead of God!

JUDITH. Who are you that have tempted God this day? For you cannot find the depth of the heart of man,--how then shall you search out God or comprehend his purpose? Brother, provoke not the Lord our God to anger. For if he will not help us within these five days, he has power to defend us when he will, even every day. Do not bind the counsels of God. For God is not as man that he may be threatened, neither as the son of man that he should be wavering. Therefore let us wait for salvation from him, and he will hear our voice,--if it please him. Moreover, this city is the key and the gateway to all Judea. If it be obstinate in resistance, Judea is not defiled, but if it be taken the whole land shall lie waste and God will require the profanation of it at our mouth.

OZIAS. All that you have spoken is truth, and there is none to gainsay your words. From the beginning of your days we have known your wisdom, and your understanding is manifest.... (_With significance_.) But we are thirsty.

JUDITH. If we are thirsty, let us give thanks to the Lord our God, who tries us, even as he did our fathers.

OZIAS. The people in the extremity of their thirst compelled me to an oath, which I will not break.

JUDITH. Say you the people, Ozias? As for them, you hold them lightly, and they are as naught in your eyes. So much you have avowed.

OZIAS (_in a new tone_). It is true. This day I hold the people lightly. But when the great madness and desperation of thirst comes at last upon them, who shall hold them? In that day they will seize the things forbidden, and they will drink the wine sanctified and reserved for the priests that serve the Lord. And to avert from me the wrath of Joachim, the high priest of Jerusalem, I have sent already a messenger to Jerusalem to bring a licence that this matter may be lawful.

JUDITH (_shocked_). Nay!

OZIAS. I say it will be so.

JUDITH. It shall not be so.

OZIAS. Then pray you to the Most High for the city, even for all of us, and the Lord will send rain for our cisterns and we shall faint no more. Pray, for you are a godly woman, and the God of Israel shall listen.

JUDITH (_with supreme impressiveness_). Hear me again, Ozias. This night I will do a thing which shall go throughout all the generations to the children of Israel. You shall stand this night in the gate of the city, and I will go forth from the city with my waiting-woman; and within the days that you have promised to deliver the city to our enemies the Lord will visit Israel by my hand.

OZIAS. On what errand will you go?

JUDITH. Enquire not of my act, for I will not declare it until the things are finished that I do. But this I declare, that the Lord has inclined himself to me, and now he has sent Achior for a sign.

OZIAS. You go to Holofernes!

JUDITH. To Holofernes.

OZIAS. Do not go!

JUDITH. But why shall I not go?

OZIAS. The perils of the heathen will surround you, and harm will surely befall you, for Holofernes will work lamentable evil upon you. And I cannot suffer it.

JUDITH (_smiling_). Did not Ozias say that Holofernes was a great warrior and had compassion in his greatness?

OZIAS (_insistent_). I cannot suffer it, for if any shame come upon you I will not live.

JUDITH. God will not see his handmaid shamed. Moreover I regard not myself in this thing, but the welfare of the people of Israel.

OZIAS (_kneeling_). Judith, I entreat you! For you are the light of my eyes, and without you the world is not.

JUDITH (_softly_). I know it. Think you that in these years I have not seen the depths of your heart, Ozias? Think you that I was blind in my tent? Think you that I watched not upon you? You were comely in my sight. But this day you have revealed your pride. For you seek not God, but the vanity of the earth, and you would make all Israel the instrument of your glory, denying the Lord. And I am sad.

OZIAS. Forgive me, Rose of Sharon.

JUDITH (_softly_). Who am I, to forgive my brother? Peace be upon you! (_She turns towards her house_.)

OZIAS (_rising,_). Stay!

JUDITH. I go to prepare myself for that which I have to do. (_Exit into the house_.)

(_A soldier shows himself, back._)

OZIAS. Friend!

FIRST SOLDIER (_approaching and saluting_). Lord! Your command!

OZIAS. Send to me the officer of the watch.

FIRST SOLDIER. Lord, the honourable lieutenant lies sick.

(Haggith _appears at the door of the house_.)

OZIAS. Thirst has overcome him?

FIRST SOLDIER (_bowing_). He raves on the bed, lord, and his tongue is like the tongue of a dog.

OZIAS. Who then commands the watch by the watchfires this night?

FIRST SOLDIER. I, lord. The watchfires wait the torch.

OZIAS. Will you, too, faint, and will your tongue be like the tongue of a dog?

FIRST SOLDIER (_grimly_), Not mine, lord.

OZIAS. DO the people complain?

FIRST SOLDIER. Lord, they whine and snivel mightily.

(_Enter Haggith _with a small sack._)

OZIAS. Is the secret way shut?

FIRST SOLDIER. Shut and barred, lord.

OZIAS. It must be opened.... Stand! I will see to it.

FIRST SOLDIER. AS my lord wills.

OZIAS. Has the watch aught to drink?

FIRST SOLDIER. My lord knows that no drop is left in the gourds.

(Ozias _waves him away, and he retires_.)

OZIAS (_to Haggith, _who is busy with the sack_). Woman, has the lady Judith perchance dreamed a dream?

HAGGITH (_enigmatically_). My mistress has dreamed no dream. Why does the lord Ozias ask?

OZIAS. It seemed to me--(_stops_)

HAGGITH. Dreams lift up fools. (_Exit into the house_.) (_Exit Ozias, L_.)

(_The soldier strolls forward. Twilight begins to fall_.)

(_Enter Haggith _from the house with more baggage_.)

HAGGITH (_to the soldier; curtly; not looking at him_). So thou hast no water?

FIRST SOLDIER (_with genial freedom_). Yea, Haggith, we have still a little.

HAGGITH. Then thou has lied to the governor?

FIRST SOLDIER. _Him_? (_With a jerk of the shoulder_!) _He knows! In truth now, thinkest thou he would expect us soldiers to keep guard without water? _He knows! But he is a great lord, and in seemliness he asks for a lie, and that which he asks is given to him--in seemliness.

HAGGITH. But the officer raving as thou hast said with thirst?

FIRST SOLDIER. Ah! It is the business of a worshipful officer to scorn deceit and to suffer.

HAGGITH. And all the people?

FIRST SOLDIER. The people are the people. But we soldiers are soldiers--and must drink, or we cannot guard. (_Yawns_.) Eh! I could lie down and snore for seven years, but I am appointed to watch all night.

HAGGITH (_suddenly caressing_). Sweet warrior! Would I could rest thee!

FIRST SOLDIER (_startled by the change in her demeanour_). Haggith! Thou art marvellously and desirably changed.

HAGGITH. I am practising to thy profit for that which lies before me and my mistress.

FIRST SOLDIER. What meanest thou?

HAGGITH. Chut! If thou hast heard a word, let it die with thee--it will not burst thee.

FIRST SOLDIER. Lord! turn away from me vain hopes and concupiscence.

HAGGITH. And so thou sleepest not this night!... Neither do I sleep.

FIRST SOLDIER. What?

HAGGITH. I go with my mistress upon a journey.

FIRST SOLDIER. What journey? There can be no journey for thee, unless thou leave the city and wend to the Assyrians.

HAGGITH (_curt again_). Nevertheless we go upon a journey.

FIRST SOLDIER. It is madness.

HAGGITH. It may be.

FIRST SOLDIER. Who can tell the heart of a master? Not I! When dost thou depart?

HAGGITH. My mistress is attiring.

FIRST SOLDIER. Thou dost not attire her?

HAGGITH. I! I, who have charge over all that is hers! Wilt thou tell me, then, what is the task of her tiring-women? Idle sluts!

FIRST SOLDIER. And this is thy baggage?

HAGGITH (_matter-of-fact_). A cruse of oil, a bag of parched corn, fine bread, three lumps of figs--and a bottle of wine--yea, the last!

FIRST SOLDIER (_drawing in his lips_). Ah! But thou wilt need an ass for this cargo.

HAGGITH (_drily_). I am the ass.

(_Enter Judith, _magnificently dressed_.)

(_The soldier _retires, back_.)

JUDITH. Is all prepared?

HAGGITH. All is prepared, mistress.

(_Enter Ozias, _L_.)

OZIAS (_ecstatic at the sight of Judith's _splendour_). O, loveliness! O, lily of the field! Who shall withstand you, and who shall say you nay?

JUDITH (_smiling_). I am ready to depart.

OZIAS. The secret way is opened. I will lead you to it.

JUDITH (_gently_). The secret way? I will take no secret way.

OZIAS. But hear me, lady. The peril from the archers far off--

JUDITH. What did I say to you, lord Ozias? I said: You shall stand this night in the gate of the city, and I will go forth. My desire is that you command the gatemen to open the gates, so that I and my waiting-woman may pass out before all men, and in the sight of the Lord. (_She bends to examine Haggith's _baggage_.)

OZIAS (_moved. Calling to the soldiers). Ho! Let the gates of the city be opened, that the lady Judith may go forth.

FIRST SOLDIER. Yea, lord. (_Calling to others, off._) Gatemen!

(_The gatemen man the gate-chains, and citizens rush in with cries_: 'What shall happen to us? The lady Judith leaves the city? At night-fall? What is it?')

OZIAS (_fiercely, to the crowd_). Get hence! Dogs!

JUDITH (_softly_). Let them stay, Lord Ozias, for that which I do, I do not in secret, neither shall it be hidden.

OZIAS (_to the crowd_). Make a way clear to the gates.

JUDITH. Before I go, I will look into the valley whither I descend. (_She mounts to the vantage-point_).

VOICES. Water! Water! Or we die!

JUDITH (_from the vantage-point_). Brethren, bewail not! Remember what things the Lord did to Abraham, and how he tried Isaac, and what happened to Jacob in Mesopotamia. For the Lord has not tried us in the fire as he did them, neither has he taken vengeance upon us. But the Lord scourges them that come near to him, to admonish them. (_She kneels. Following her example, everybody kneels_.) O Lord God of my father Simeon, the Assyrians are multiplied in their power; they trust in shield, and spear, and bow, and sling; and know not that thou art the Lord which breakest battles; the Lord is thy name. Behold their pride, and send thy wrath upon their heads; give into my hand, which am a widow, the power that I have conceived. For thy power standeth not in multitude, nor thy might in strong men. Smite the Assyrians by the deceit of my lips; break down their stateliness by the hand of a woman. And make my speech and deceit to be their wound and stripe, who have purposed cruel things against thy covenant and against the top of Zion. And make every nation and tribe to acknowledge that thou art the God of all power, and that there is none other that protecteth the people of Israel but thou. (_She rises. The crowd murmurs: 'Amen.' _All rise. Judith _comes down from the vantage-point. Silence_.)

OZIAS (_moved_). Open the gates.

JUDITH (_to Haggith). Nothing is forgotten?

HAGGITH. Nothing.

(Judith _moves a step towards the gates._)

OZIAS. The soul of my soul goes with you into the valley.

JUDITH (_to Haggith, _solemnly_). And the knife?

(Haggith _gives a gesture. At the same moment a woman comes from the house with a knife, which she hands to Haggith, _who hands it to Judith, _who takes it ceremoniously, and hides it in her dress. The gates are now opened, and the distant plain under the setting sun is seen covered with the tents of the Assyrian army_.)

(Judith _goes slowly through the gates, followed by Haggith _carrying the baggage_.)

VOICES (_as Judith _passes_). Water! Water!

OZIAS (_with deep emotion_). Close the gates. Light the watchfires.

(_The gates begin slowly to close. The glow of the watchfires is seen_.)

(CURTAIN.)

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This play was presented for the first time at the Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne, on Monday, April 7th, 1919, with the following cast:Judith LILLAH MCCARTHYHaggith ESME HUBBARDRahel MADGE MURRAYOzias
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