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The Dance To Death - Act 3 Post by :eheyoka Category :Plays Author :Emma Lazarus Date :May 2012 Read :3459

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The Dance To Death - Act 3

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, Liebhaid, I am calm again,
We must be brave--I who besought my tribe
To bide their fate in Nordhausen, and you
Whom God elects for a peculiar lot.
With many have I talked; some crouched at home,
Some wringing hands about the public ways.
I gave all comfort. I am very weary.
My children, we had best go in and pray,
Solace and safety dwell but in the Lord.

(Exeunt.)

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