Duchess Agnes (1)

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DUCHESS AGNES

BY

ISA CRAIG.


A DRAMA.

TIME, 1434.

Persons Represented.
_________


THE GRAND DUKE OF BAVARIA.

DUKE ALBRECHT, his son.

CARL BERNAUR, Burgher of Augsburg.

THE CHANCELLOR OF BAVARIA.

THE LAND-MARSHALL OF BAVARIA.

THE PAPAL LEGATE.

FATHER ANSELM, a Priest.

AGNES, Daughter of Carl Bernaur and Wife of Duke Albrecht.

THE ABBESS OF St. MARY'S, Regensburg, Sister of the Grand Duke.

CONSTANCE VON DEGENBERG, an Orphan, her Ward.

Priests, Peasants, &c.

 


DUCHESS AGNES.


ACT I.

SCENE FIRST.
REGENSBURG.—A Room in the Palace of the GRAND DUKE OF BAVARIA.

DUKE ALBRECHT and CONSTANCE VON DEGENBERG.

ALBRECHT.


I come to keep your birthday, my sweet cousin.
A thousand greetings!


CONSTANCE.


But we are not cousins!


ALBRECHT.


Ah! you disown me.   But you must have pled
For your old playfellow, the prodigal;
Else he, so far beyond the pale of grace,
Had ne'er by so much grace been visited
As your protectress, my most worthy aunt,
Has shown in summoning me here to-day.
You warn me not to sin against the grace,
But keep due distance.   Is it so?


CONSTANCE.


Oh, no.


ALBRECHT.


Give me a hand, then!   What a chilly hand
It is!   And where's the fluttering little rose,
That used to come with laughter to your cheek?
I think it must have died for want of air.
I wish that we could chase each other yet
Along the corridors, and call it back.


CONSTANCE.


I wish I might!   But I would hardly know
The sound of laughter if I heard it now;
And the old peals along these passages
Would seem the mirth of ghosts.


ALBRECHT.


Poor stifled child!


CONSTANCE.


Do I look still a child?   I feel so old!


ALBRECHT.


I wish I had the power to set you free,
Nay, do not look so frightened!   'Tis no treason.


CONSTANCE.


I would not dare be free!   If I were free
As my own doves, I would not fly away.


ALBRECHT.


You fly from me.   Last time I crossed the court,
Where these same doves dwell, you were calling them
From out your window; and I called to you,
And got no answer.   And your little head
You drew within, as they into their cots
Flew flutt'ring, and fell plaining each to each
Of my intrusion.   All, I have no doubt,
Was nothing but dove nature; but just then,
Being of bitter mind and mood, I thought,
Thus she is taught to hate me—taught to shun
The heretic.   Nay, do not cry, dear Constance!
Pray intercede for me with all the saints,
But do not vex your pious little soul;
And do not let them make a nun of you.


CONSTANCE.


I like the convent best.   Here all day long
I lie on silken cushions; feeling want
Of something, then I rise to find the thing,
And cannot think what was the thing I wanted,
Only the want still stays there all the same.
I broider silken flowers.   I wish they died
Like other flowers, for they live so long,
So like life, yet not living, that I seem
To grow old looking at them.   In the convent,
We only live a little time at once,
From prayer to prayer, passing from earth to Heaven,
And back.   At recreation time we walk
Straight tip and down between the poplar trees;
And then the sisters love to talk to me,
The old ones most—and some are wondrous old.
'Tis strange to hear them talk about the time
When they were in the world.


ALBRECHT.


A dreary life!


CONSTANCE.


Yet, step by step, the sisters walk in it
And are not weary—not the good, at least.
If HE would only say, "I want you, Constance,
To love me always," I would take the vows.
In going up the great church tower, you know
How dark it is; and how toward the light
And all the great, wide glory of the world,
We wind, and wind, and wind, up in the dark,
And if one cries, "Come up to me!   'Tis here!"
We mount up easily.


ALBRECHT.


I understand.

And, Constance, if you hear it said of me,
That I have grown a recreant to the faith—
A heretic, a traitor—will you try
To thrust these faithless words away from you.
The light you near by your dark winding stair
Lies all around, save where its shadow falls.
I have a mind to tell you something Constance,
To make you my confessor; and yet, no,—
I'll lay no secret burden on your soul.
Come forth among your flowers.

[They pass into the Garden.


The Abbess enters, and advances to the Window.

ABBESS.


They walk together.   It is like enough
That he may covet her.   Men call her fair:
They love such will-less women: she would take
Our convent vows to-morrow if I would.
But a mere pittance of her princely dower
Would reach our revenues.   Her father, taint
With disaffection to the Church, thus willed,
That if the child should choose a noble husband,
His vast domains went with her; and went from her
To distant kindred if she chose the Church.
Her blood is noble, and her lineage high;
Her wealth would buy a crown, now crowns are bought,
Not fought for, climbed for, as in boorish games
A cheese is set upon a greasy pole
For him who has the roughest hands to reach.
Our house, too, is impoverished, and needs
An ampler purse, while these encroaching burghers
Wallow in wealth and ape nobility:
Their frowsy wives are wearing cloth of gold,
In insolent defiance of our laws,
And jewels worth kings' ransoms.—Now they part.
She lingers, smiling.   He has kissed her hand.
She comes this way.


Enter CONSTANCE, with Flowers.


What a gay smile, my Constance!


CONSTANCE.


All the roses

Have blossomed on a sudden, and so crowd
Their heads together smiling, one must smile
In answer.   I could kiss them one by one—
And there are thousands all as sweet as these—
The garden is as full as paradise.
These I have gathered for the sisters' shrines;
None in the convent garden are like these;
And he was helping me to gather them.


ABBESS.


He!   Albrecht?   It was wondrous good of him.
He is not much a lover of our shrines;
You'll make a convert of him!


CONSTANCE.


I am sure

He is no heretic.


ABBESS.


Ay! said he so?


CONSTANCE.


He said I must believe no ill of him:
And I will none believe.


ABBESS.


What more?


CONSTANCE.


He said

I must not be a nun; and that—and that
He had a secret he would tell me, yet
He would not tell me.


ABBESS.


If you long to know,

I'll guess the secret,—that he loves you, child.


CONSTANCE.


Mother, forgive me!


ABBESS.


What must I forgive?


CONSTANCE.


Oh, all my faults, and that I have not loved you
Enough till now.


ABBESS.


Go to your chamber, child.

[Exit CONSTANCE.


Enter the GRAND DUKE.


Without our aid the thing has come to pass
That most we wished.


DUKE.


You mean that Albrecht favours

The marriage with our Constance?   Welcome news!
My hopes have rested on this fair alliance
To win him from the base and lawless love
Now theme of common scandal at the Court.


Enter ALBRECHT.


Welcome, my son: you make me happiness.


ALBRECHT.


It is not often that you suffer me
To add to your contentment: I could wish
That it were oftener.   May I know the cause,
That I may so procure it constantly.


DUKE.


Your marriage.


ALBRECHT.


What of it?


ABBESS.


He hopes you'll wed

Fair Constance by and by.


ALBRECHT.


It grieves me much

To take away your happiness, and give you,
Perchance, a grief instead.   The gentle Constance
Must wed elsewhere, since elsewhere I have wed.
And, but that you had shut me from your heart,
This had been known to you.   To you unknown,
I kept it from the world; and held my own,
And waited.


DUKE.

For my death, unnatural!

ALBRECHT.


May it be distant!   Long may you enjoy
A state I do not covet.   My good aunt,
We come to this through some kind plot of yours.


ABBESS.


Who is this lady whom you call your wife?


ALBRECHT.


Enough she is my wife.   Her name is Agnes.


ABBESS.


Lost to all shame to wed a wanton witch,
Whose evil fame is in the common mouth,
And thus to palter with a noble maid,
Your father's ward and mine, beneath this roof.


ALBBECHT.


'Tis false; and Constance never coined the lie
That passes by your lips.   Farewell, my father!
You wave me from your presence; and I go,
Obedient, into banishment again.                      [Exit.

___________


SCENE SECOND.

Inner Court of a Castle at Regensburg. AGNES
illuminating a Book.

AGNES.


The task is done that oft hath made the hours
Of Albrecht's absence hasten to a close.
Sweet task, if e'er it took a thought from him,
The thought grew to a flower, and he would come.
When I had wrought these spring anemones,
With the faint blushes on their maiden cheeks,
We met at Augsburg.   This wood-sorrel here,
I painted when I feared that we must part,
Because he was the noblest in the land,
And I a burgher maiden.   Lilies white
Folded in green, my last work in the old,
And these dim violets, meaning wedded joy,
My first in the new life.   What foolish fancies!
For here is potentilla, golden-eyed,
And I have ne'er been jealous: gentian,
And many that betoken bitterness.
These look as if no beauty and no worth
Were in them; but my father here hath writ
Their hidden virtues.   Their strange leaves he reads
As I the crookèd characters he writes
When he himself forgets what 'twas he wrote.
How still it is here.   In the market-place
The girls are selling early summer flowers.
When he is here I feel like living flower;
And when he takes my head upon his breast,
And goes, and leaves me sitting in the sun,
I feel as if he carried me away,
Plucked, on his bosom; in a little while
To wither wholly.   Then he comes again,
And my life blossoms; and again he goes.
Shall it be always thus?   And he may come
Once, for the last time.   There is one last flower,
The way the winter comes.

I scarcely live,

For all my life has gone into his life.
I used to help my father in his work;
Help him among his herbs and chemicals;
Help him among the sick who came to him;
And love went out in life, and so the life
By love enriched, would still enrich the love.
Oh, how I wish the poor might come to me,
And be made rich; the sick and be made whole;
The little pining children be made glad;
And all out of the largesse of his love.
He does not know how I could sit by him
Upon the highest throne, and feel no higher
Than his love made me; as I would have sat
In the lowest place with him, nor deemed it low.


Enter CARL BERNAUR.


My father!   See, thy Herbal is complete.


CARL.


Complete!   Ah, child, it is as if one wrote
A single letter of an unknown tongue,
And said he knew the language.   I have searched
The stars, the stones, the flowers, for what in them
May make, or mingle with, the fate of man.
What have I found, but only here and there
A property, an essence—it may be
A medicine or poison—nothing more
Than a mere letter, not a word that means.


Enter CONRAD FUGGER.

CONRAD.


Well, I have found you.   Uncle!   Angela!
Am I not welcome?


AGNES.


Conrad! dear Conrad!


CARL.


Thou art welcome, lad.

I did not know thee.   Thou wast half the girth
When last I saw thee, and thy cheek as smooth
As Angela's; and now I see but half
Thy hearty visage.   Welcome, welcome, lad.


CONRAD.


I'm six years older since I saw you last,
But I could swear that I had seen you both
Six days ago.


AGNES.


We have been sitting still

While you have travelled.   Tell us all the tale,
Where you have wandered—if you found the world
So much unlike our ancient Fairy-land.


CONRAD.


I journeyed three good years among the towns
Of France and Flanders; saw, and learned the best
Their looms could do; and then I came again
Back to old Augsburg, and for three years more
Worked at the weaving, thinking every day
That you would come again as you had gone,
For none could tell me whither you had gone:
"Our Angel's fled," old Gretchen said; and so
I settled to the weaving.   In these years
I've set a hundred busy looms to work,
Am master of a gallant company,
And mean to king the craft.   And, Uncle Carl,
You know the place where the old castle stood
Sunning itself, and in the glassy Lech.
Dipping its shadow every eve to cool,
Remember how we pulled it down the day
When the last Burggraf Friedrich sold his rights
For the town's golden gülden, counted down
Twelve times ten thousand.   Man, and wife, and child,
Every Augsburgher that could lift a stone,
With our good council, turning out to pull
The robber's nest to pieces.   And you mind
How, running in among the falling stones,
And dancing on the heaps, my foot was hurt,
And Hans upon his shoulder carried me,
And you bound up the bruise; and Angela
Played with me for a week, the whole day long
Sitting upon my bed, all eyes and ears
For trolls and fairies?


AGNES.


Those were happy days.


CONRAD.


Well, I have bought the ground, and mean to build
A weaver-house, the greatest ever built.
Make Augsburg the chief city of our craft,
And weave for all the world.


CARL.


The same old Conrad!


AGNES.


Your friends the fairies must have helped to weave
So fine a web.   And was it by their help
You found us here?


CONRAD.


I never sought for you;

I thought about you always, till you seemed
So near I had no need to seek for you.
And passing up the river yester-eve,
I saw you standing at a water gate
Below the wall.   You turned and shut the gate
Before our boat came up; and then I asked
Who lived there; and the boatmen answered me:
"An old man and his daughter,—her we call
The river lady; she is never seen
At church or market, only standing there
And looking down the river; in the sun
She shines like gold."   And here they whispered me,—
"No boat upon the Danube that would serve
To keep us from the water if her feet
Stepped in it."   So they take you for a witch:
Ha! ha!


CARL.


Go, Agnes, we will follow by and by,
And let's have supper.   She has not forgot
The way to make a salad.                       [Exit AGNES.


CONRAD.


Here is her wheel.   Ah, uncle, my first web
Was woven of her spinning.   All my life
Is stuff too of one thread—my love for her.
Yet, if she loved me, I could tell no more
Than if the sun loves what it shines upon;
But now I want an answer.   Will she come
To Augsburg back with me, and be my wife?


CARL.


Conrad, alas! my Agues is a wife
Already.


CONRAD.


Wife! to whom?


CARL.


A noble knight.

Ah, my poor boy! look not so hard and fierce.
He loves her—she is happy.


CONRAD.


Hides her here,

As shame is hidden.   If one owns a jewel,
He wears it in his cap.   Who owns it not,
Yet has it, goes and hides it in a hole.


CARL.


The year you went there was a tournament
At Augsburg; and, with Agnes, I was there.
We were in front, among the burgher ranks,
When this young knight advanced to where we stood,
And asked to wear a favour of my child.
All Augsburg knew her, and none thought it strange.
And she had nothing but a scarf you wove,
And that she gave him simply, with her smile.
He wore the favour, and he won the wreath,
All Augsburg shouting as he took the prize—
Angela's knight they called him.   In the midst
I took her from the throng.   But the next day
He came and brought the wreath; and came again
Until a fever stayed him.   Then for me
He sent, and bade me let a little blood.


CONRAD.                            [Aside.


I would have. liked to cure him in that way.


CARL.


Ere he recovered I had come to know
How strange and sweet a spirit dwelt in him;
He brought me from the forests and the hills
The rarest herbs; would lodge at "The Three Moors,"
And join our early supper; and, with music
And rhymed romaunts, which he could string at will,
In the old garden wander wooing Agnes.


CONRAD.


And you could trust her with a treacherous knight?


CARL.


I trust my child!   I ever thought they shamed
The noble nature and the nurture pure
Of high-born maidens, by the watch and ward
Kept on their virtue.   And my Agnes loved
With a deep tender love that went not forth
At the first seeking of this stranger's eyes;
But rooted where the life lies, had plucked that
Up with it.   By her mother's sacred heart
I yielded; gave her to her husband's love
In secret, but to ends not hid from me.


CONRAD.


Uncle, no word of this to Angela.


CARL.


'Tis better so.                                                [Exit CARL.


CONRAD.


Ay! and this very day

I'll back to Augsburg, found my weaver-house,
And curse and hate and plague all robber knights.
I'll take Doretta Spengler for my wife.
She'll have me.   She is plain—beauty's for sirs.
Her hair is like the sand—while like the gold
Is Angela's.   She's freckled—Angela's white.
I think she's not unlike me, by the way,
And I am not unlike a sack of hemp,
With these for samples on my lip and chin.
Doretta's eyes—for she has eyes, I know,
Though I forget what colour they are of—
Were wet with weeping when we met this morn;
And she had been to pray at early mass,
To speed her mother's soul to Paradise:
She'd no one else to care for, so she said.
Thus there's a pair of us, and we must pair.
So I run on—on—weaving such a web.
I wonder if it is the weaving breeds
This spinning of one's thoughts; mythoughts,—but now
I'm spinning out my heart-strings.
 

Enter ALBRECHT.

ALBRECHT.


Who is here?


CONRAD.


And who are you that ask?   I'm Conrad Fugger,
Burgher of Augsburg—weaver.


ALBRECHT.


Well, good friend?


CONRAD.


That's doubtful: for when knights and weavers meet
There's more of fray than friendship in the way.
There's no wise man likes changing honest cloth
Against a web of wiles.   The shuttle weaves,
But the sword rends; and, for my part, I think
The shuttle's better weapon than the sword.


ALBRECHT.


Perhaps a weaver's better than a man?


CONRAD.


The sword's a shuttle wielded by a villain,
And changes sides as often now-a-days.


ALBRECHT.


There we agree, O most puissant knight
O' the shuttle!   Shall I yield my sword to you?


CONRAD.


Duke Albrecht—for I know you—I would know
What you do here?   This is my kinsman's house;
You do not come to steal our burgher gold?
That's base, so is our honour, you may think.
Do you steal that?   Nay, never touch your blade;
I stand unarmed, but I could whip you up
And toss you o'er that wall, as easily
As you that slip of steel.   Now answer me,
Is Agnes Bernaur your wife or no?
To-day I heard say, in the market-place,
That you had here a lady light o' love.

[AGNES comes forth and embraces her Husband.


ALBRECHT.


My own true wife!   The time has come at length
When all Bavaria shall own my Agnes
Its sovereign lady.


CONRAD.                              [Aside.


O Agnes!   O my angel! fled indeed!


AGNES.


My cousin, Conrad Fugger—an old friend
And faithful kinsman.   He will sup with us.


CONRAD.


I must within this hour to Augsburg, cousin.
Farewell!


AGNES.


So soon?


ALBRECHT.


I knew we should be friends:

Your hand upon it.


CONRAD.


And, my lord, at need,
And in good cause, you'll find a company
Who can exchange the shuttle for the sword
At the weaver-house at Augsburg, at your service.

[Exit CONRAD.

________________

SCENE THIRD.

Room in the Palace of the GRAND DUKEThe Chancellor and the Land Marshal of Bavaria.

LAND MARSHAL.


What kept the Duke away?   Still the old story!


CHANCELLOR.


Ay.   We have had the Legate, and the Leech,
And last, not least, the Abbess.   Well, what news?
How went the joust?


LAND MARSHAL.


Oh, bravely!   You have heard
Of the young Duke and Duchess?


CHANCELLOR.


No.   What Duchess?

LAND MARSHAL.


Our new-made Duchess.   Know you not, to-day
The Augsburg barber's daughter was proclaimed
The wife of young Duke Albrecht? and the people
Are at this moment shouting themselves hoarse
To do her homage.


CHANCELLOR.


What!   A barber's daughter
Duchess in Baiern, Vohburg, and the Rhine?
Not Sigmund's self could do it.


LAND MARSHAL.


The young Duke

Entered the lists to-day, no nameless knight,
But holding princely style.   The companies
Were out with all their banners; and he rode
Right round the barriers, with his visor up,
Smiling and bowing to the populace.
And a breeze shook the banners of the bands,
A breeze of favour, raising as it spread
A storm of kerchiefs from the crowded seats
Where sat the burgher dames.


CHANCELLOR.


But it died down

In loftier quarters?


LAND MARSHAL.


The Court ladies sat

Unmoved as icicles, and looked as cold.
He turned to take his lance; a trumpet then
Was sounded, and the Marshal of the lists
Rode forward with a paper in his hand—
He held it, by the way, as if he had
A viper by the tail—and it proclaimed
The Duke forbid the lists, and, for the day,
Debarred from trial of knighthood with his peers,
Because, against the laws of chivalry,
He companied at this high tournament
With a light woman for his ladye love.


CHANCELLOR.


Fools!   And what followed on this frenzied stroke?


LAND MARSHAL.


A silence followed.   Then he smiled, and moved
Slowly into the centre of the lists,
His horse paced proudly by his reining hand
And slowly rising in his seat he cried,
"I, Albrecht, Duke of Baiern, here proclaim
That yonder sits my truly wedded wife,
Duchess in Baiern, Vohburg, and by Rhine,
And I demand that this foul lie be cancelled."
And all the people cried, "It is! it is!"
With knights and ladies joining in the cry.


CHANCELLOR.


And she?


LAND MARSHAL.


She sat apart, by all unknown,

Till in her place she rose unconsciously,
As if his voice uplifted her; and stood,
Not trembling nor triumphant, but assured
As might an angel of her place in Heaven,—
An azure mantle falling from her neck,
All white and gold her garments, and her hair
Showed in the sun; and all the people's eyes
Went worshipping the vision.                                     [Exit.


CHANCELLOR.


Was there e'er

Such a mad morning's work!   A woman's malice
And a priest's plot, would mar the policy
Of any kingdom under that of Heaven.
This makes a breach, too wide to bridge, between
The young Duke and his father; and his foes
Will have their way, and work to widen it.
They had not cared to bar him from the lists,
Save as a step to bar him from the Dukedom.
Alas for Albrecht! gay and gallant knight,
He loved and lost the women; and he laughed
And made the priests his deadly enemies.


Enter the GRAND DUKE, the Legate, and Abbess.

GRAND DUKE.


I've tried, your Eminence, to make this son
A faithful son of our most holy faith;
But he is no son to the Church or me,
And henceforth I renounce him.


CHANCELLOR.


My Lord Duke,

Hear me this once.   We must perforce accept
This barber's daughter for Bavaria.
But you may win Duke Albrecht's generous soul
By your unforced favour.   And with him,
The hearts of all the people wait on you.
He may be won; but follows up his will
As steady as a wolf; and you might tear
A morsel from the hungry creature's jaws
As soon as tear a purpose from his soul.


ABBESS.


Slave of a vile enchantress, let him be
Debarred the dukedom as unfit to rule.
The Pope and Emperor shall both decree
Succession to Duke Wilhelm and his sons.


CHANCELLOR.


I have a letter from Duke Wilhelm here:                [Reads.
"Tell them I'll have no robbed inheritance.
I hold Duke Albrecht dear as any son.
His sword would fend my children fatherless;
And, in these evil days, a man to trust
Is better than a kingdom."
                                                 To your heart,
My lord, I counsel you receive your son
And this fair lady.   He will cool in time
Down to the temper of a noble Duke,
And none the less for his knight-errantry.
Then, reverend father, he will list to you
For his soul's good and for the kingdom's sake.


ABBESS.


He will not heed you: he would sell them both
For an old song to please his paramour.


LEGATE.


Madam, I pray you to be patient still;
The Church, the holy mother of his soul,
Hath patience.   He has flaunted in her face
Strange heresies, as now he flaunts in yours
Strange women.


CHANCELLOR.


Nay, the lady is his wife,

In presence of the people and his peers
Proclaimed to-day.   The Church's sacrament
Hath sealed it secretly.   Say but the word,
And at your feet he kneels.   A father's blessing
Hath virtue in it.


LEGATE.


The advice is good.


GRAND DUKE.


So be it then.   My sister, stay with us!


ABBESS.


I yield not to this counsel.


LEGATE.


Reverend mother,

When heresy is spreading far and wide—
The burghers more than half indifferent,
The bolder craftsmen scoffing openly—
He's worth the winning, if he may he won,
Who draws like Absalom the people's hearts.


ABBESS.


And worthy of the death of Absalom.              [Exeunt all.


Enter the Land Marshal, with DUKE ALBRECHT and AGNES.

LAND MARSHAL.


Stay here! the Duke has gone a little space
Into his closet with the Chancellor.                            [Exit.


ALBRECHT.


My Agnes in this hall shall one day reign.


AGNES.


How beautiful.  Ah! from a place so bright
What blessing should go forth!  Like sun and moon
A king and queen should be, and never tire
Of shining.


ALBRECHT.


Come, sit by me on this throne.


AGNES.


O no! it is not ours.


ALBRECHT.


Nay, do not fear;

Now you are no usurper; while I bow
Your subject, you are lawful sovereign.

[She sits on the Throne, the Abbess passes.

O Albrecht, who is this?


ALBRECHT.


It was my aunt.
Why; Agnes, what a Gorgon she must be
To stare you into stone; and, by our Lady,
A very lovely statue.


AGNES.


When to-day

Under a thousand eyes, an icy fear
Possessed me, and I sat fast bound by it
For shame to come and seize me and then death;
At your first word it melted.   But her eyes
Feel like a fate.


ALBRECHT.


I had not brought you here
But for entreaty of an ancient friend,
And for defeat of ancient enmity
Between me and that fiend in woman's form.
                                                                 [Enter CONSTANCE.
See, there is Constance, flitting like a ghost.
Come hither, Constance.   Like and yet unlike,
You two should love each other.   Promise me,
You will be friends.

[They hold each other's hands, and then embrace; the
GRAND DUKE enters; they kneel to him.

GRAND DUKE.


My children!



END OF ACT I.


ACT II.

SCENE FIRST.

The Schloss at Straubing—on the Battlements overlooking the Forest.   Evening.

AGNES and CARL BERNAUR.

CARL.


The Duke returns to-night?


AGNES.


To-night, my father;

My heart has gone to meet him.   You are grave.


CARL.


And with grave cause.   Agnes, the plague is here.


AGNES.


The plague!


CARL.


Hush!   Name it not.   The very name

Infects with fear.   But breathe it, and like straw
Before the burning, to the root will die
The flower of life; till in his utmost need—
The pang of the forsaken in his soul—
A man shall doubt if Christ hath died for him;
While to the father's heart, the mother's eyes
Will scarcely plead, if the death-stricken child
Should cry at their closed door.


AGNES.


Have any died?


CARL.


Down in the forest three have died to-day.
I saw one die.   He wrestled with the foe;
In blind brute terror of the feel of death.
I could have wept at mine own impotence
When he appealed for help, and there was none
From Earth or Heaven, where all things are contained,
And all are but the ministers of life
Could we but find their uses.   But we grope,
We grope in darkness, stretching out our hands
And reaching this or that by merest chance.
This plague—What is it?   Whence this birth of death?
I feel the secret whispered in the air
But cannot hear it.   Groping in the grave
One cannot find it.   Yet it is not dead
With him it slays.
                                  I often think of him
Who had a grave dug deep enough for two,
Made his communion as a Taborite—
Taking the cup in which Christ pledged the world—
Then with a lamp, a knife, a crucifix,
And tablets drenched in camphor, carried down
A corpse into his chamber, in the night,
To trace the deadly workings of the plague,
From room to room of the robbed tenement,
To where it stabbed in secret.
                                                          And he wrote
Notes of rare value; but towards the close
Was writ, "I die, and have not found the clue:
May Christ forgive me if the search was sin."
By that time he had sickened; and his foes
Said he had sold himself, with hellish rites,
To th' Unclean Spirit; and they burned with fire
His house, his body, and his manuscripts.
One more hath died, that little maid of thine
Whose father is a stalwart man-at-arms
Of the Duke's following.   On her grandam's knees
She lay and moaned and sickened in the sun.


AGNES.


See, one is stealing on our conference.
'Tis Father Anselm, whom they sent from Court,
In pious caring for our souls.   He makes
Such shepherd as the wolf might make the lamb:
I've seen the. wolfish glitter in his eyes.


Enter FATHER ANSELM.

FATHER ANSELM.


Good even, your Highness.


AGNES.


Ah, the eve is ill.

The sun went down but now as red as blood;
The storm is brooding; and the pestilence
Abroad to-night.   You must remember well
That little maiden with the flower-like face,
Foremost among the band who strewed their flowers
To greet us entering Straubing—she is dead,
Dead of the plague.   What say you, shall we bring
The fair dead body to the chapel here?
You would not grudge to say a mass or two
Above it?   Who knows, it might stay the plague.—
There flashed the lightning!


FATHER ANSELM.                      [Aside.

She-devil! she has light'nings in her eyes
Enough to blast me.                                                   [Aloud.
                                        Sickness is abroad,
And working death: it may not be the plague.


CARL.


I know the signs, and three have died to-day
Down in the forest: I have been with them.

[The Father shrinks in visible dismay, and moves

away seemingly absorbed in prayer.


AGNES.


Yonder, my husband comes.   I see his train
Advancing up the glade.   How dark it grows!
He cannot see my signal, and as wont
Wave his plumed cap in answer.   There! that flash
Showed him again.   Now I must hasten down
To meet him.                                                                  [Exit.
                    [The Duke and Duchess return to the battlements.


ALBRECHT.


Here let us watch the summer-lightnings play,
Before the thunder and the rushing rain
Rave in the woods.                    [He flings himself at her feet.
                                       Our forest fortress keeps
Its heart of peace amid a world at war.
I long to throw my sword into the lake,
To draw a magic circle round these woods,
And lead enchanted lives, deep hidden here.


AGNES.


My own true knight! whose sword is no vain toy
To flash in ladies' eyes; nor yet a tool
For kings to hire; nor yet as is the tooth
With which the wild boar takes and rends its prey.
The world hath need of such a sword as thine.


    ALBRECHT.                     [Starting up.


Hark! what a tumult! coming this way, too.

                         [A crowd of Peasants enter, dragging an Old Woman; Men-at-Arms following.


VOICES.


A witch! a witch!


FIRST PEASANT.


Here is a woman hath bewitched us, my Lord Duke.

ALBRECHT.


She is young and handsome, is she not?


SECOND PEASANT.


Saw you the like?   She has bewitched my lord!
Appears young and handsome—and she a wizened old witch!


ALBRECHT.


What has she done?


FIRST PEASANT.


She has an evil eye, calls up demons, and deals in charms and spells.


SECOND PEASANT.


I swallowed a demon doubled up in a lettuce leaf—the lettuce brew in the witch's garden.  He dances about inside me till my head swims, and a cold sweat breaks out over me. I've tried to drown him with holy water—he only dances the more.  She could bring him up in a minute, but she won't, she cursed me for killing her cat.


THIRD PEASANT.


And I tried to get a handful of her hair, which makes a powerful charm; but when I pulled, she cried, "The devil shake you;" and I've felt a trembling ever since.


FOURTH PEASANT.


And there's Fritz was in love with Lenchen, and went to the witch for a charm which makes love at first sight; and he went to her window, and peeped, and had a pipkin flung at his head.


ALBRECHT.


That only proves the charm no charm at all.


SECOND PEASANT.


That's it.   She took away the virtue of the charm.
A spiteful witch!


PEASANT WOMAN.


Carl's wife had a baby changed, and nursed it for a while, not knowing;—When she knew it was a changeling she beat it black and blue—yet the obstinate witch would not let her have her own child, and the changeling cried with her babe's voice, and clasped her neck till her heart nigh broke.   So one night she laid it out in the wind and rain, and waited till the crying stopped.   Then she went out, and found her own baby, but it was stone dead, and the witch was standing over it, and cursed her for a cruel mother.


FIRST PEASANT.


She can change her shape too.


SECOND PEASANT.


She ran into old Franz's boat in the shape of a hare; and he and his son were drowned.  I've seen her myself, when I looked through her cottage window, winking at the fire in the shape of a black cat.


THIRD PEASANT.


I've heard her grunt like a sow.  I ran all the way through the wood, and heard her pelting after me, and fell down at the door of my hut, like a dead man.


VOICES.


Let's drown the witch! Throw her over the battlements! The rack first! Make her confess! The rack! the rack!

ALBRECHT.


Good folks, have you forgotten?—last feast day
We burned the rack to roast a boar for you.


AGNES.


She is but old and helpless, crazed with grief
And loneliness.   Have pity on her age
And on her sorrow; let your pity take
Away the curse, which has no power to harm,
Save it has power to make you pitiless.


ALBRECHT.                            [Aside.


Give them a spell—a spell will silence them.
What do their priests but matter spells to them,—
Get her to say an Avè or a Creed.


AGNES.


Silence, good people; you shall hear her say
The three most blessed names.   In the name of God—


WITCH.


Curse—Curse them all!


VOICES.


The witch must die!


AGNES.


Stay, stay.   She did not hear me: she is deaf.
Half blind, too.   God hath almost sealed her soul.
Off, wretch!   You pricked her.  All stand back from me.

[She takes her hands tenderly.

Poor, withered, trembling hands, that on a time
Were fondly kissed, and tended little ones.

[The Old Woman weeps.


OLD WOMAN.


Bless you, bless you. Ah, lady, tears come hard when one is past crying.—Are you one o' the angels?  There's the lightning!—Is this the judgment?  The cruel shall perish—perish!


AGNES.


She weeps, and you know witches never weep.


ALBRECHT.


She'll make the sign of our salvation now.


AGNES.


See! she has made the sign.


ALBRECHT.


                                                       Now go, good people.
We'll keep her safely under lock and key
To-night within the castle.


AGNES.


She is no more a witch than I am one.

[A vivid flash of lightning. FATHER ANSELM on

the skirl of the crowd: he points to AGNES.

The lightning plays about her harmlessly.
"No more a witch than I am," did she say?

[Exeunt all but ALBRECHT and AGNES.


AGNES.


How horribly these brutish people rage!
I'd rather see a pack of hungry wolves
Leaping about me with their white teeth set.


ALBRECHT.


They make one think what devils would be like
Were they let loose on earth, as some believe.
Heaven knows, they may be!   But you tremble, Agnes.
Lean on me, love, and let me see those eyes,
That still would serve me, if the stars were dead,
To see the face of Heaven.   Let's go in.
See, they have set the witch's house on fire,
Down in the wood.   They would have roasted her
Inside it with a relish.                                                   [Exit.

___________________



SCENE SECOND.

A Room in the Schloss. AGNES spins and sings.

SONG.

"HE lighted upon her lonely bower,—
    The wind in the grass is sighing;
She was as sweet as a summer flower;—
    The dew on the grass is lying.

Be looked in her eyes, so cloudless clear,—
    The wind in the grass is sighing;
Her eyes grew dim with a wistful tear;—
    The dew on the grass is lying.

He touched her hand with a tender touch,—
    The wind in the grass is sighing;
And love is love, be it little or much;—
    The dew on the grass is lying.

His love was light as the wooing wind,—
    The wind in the green grass sighing;
Hers was the love that leaves life behind;—
    The dew on the grass is lying.

Lightly it went as it was given,—
    His love, like the light wind sighing;
She loved to the end; she loves in Heaven;—
    The dew on her grave is lying."


Enter ALBBECHT.

ALBRECHT.


Still spinning, Agnes I singing as you spin,
Just like a cottage-girl?


AGNES.


                                                This pretty toy
You gave me runs upon its iv'ry wheels
So smoothly, that it seems to make my thoughts
Run smooth when tangled most: and in my ears
It murmurs all the music of the past.


ALBRECHT.


Put it away, I hate the whirring thing,—
The past too.   Still you harp upon the past,—
It may as well go with it.   Is the present
Not rich enough to do without the past?


AGNES.


We were good friends, that simple past and I,
And 'tis a poor heart that parts company,
For richer, or for poorer.—                                          [Aside.
                                              Ah!   I smile
In vain.   'Tis thus that he returns to me
Moody and sore.   He paces up and down
And steals these long, sad, doubtful looks at me.
The first time I fled trembling, to be sure
I had not grown unlovely in his sight,
And knelt and praised God I was beautiful,
And that unchanged the white, and rose, and gold,
And blue and brightness of the morning shone
Upon me still.   But there I wronged his love,
These are but coloured ornaments I wear.
Not me but mine.
                                Another time he touched
My gown and kirtle suddenly, and asked,
If they were such as ladies wont to wear?
And last time when I met him in this mood,
I hid a happy secret in my heart,
Which swelling grief so hurried to my lips
That it was told in tears.   But then the tears
Were sweeter than the sweetest smiles I've known,
For his first mingled with them—
                                                          Yes, he wept,
And said, "Forgive me, Agnes."   Yet again—
                                                                [She sings a verse.
 

"He touched her hand with a tender touch,—
 The wind in the grass is sighing;
 And love is love, he it little or much;—
 The dew on the grass is lying——"


                                                [ALBRECHT draws near.

I know you used to love this song of mine
I love it, and it seems for ever new,
The story of that much and little love,
And how the little love was lost; and how
The much love stayed on earth, and went to Heaven,—
Was of the things eternal.   Do you think
She grew less fair, and so she lost his love?
I think not—rather it was lost the way
That Heaven is lost.


ALBRECHT.


                                         And how is Heaven lost?


AGNES.


For lack of faith.   So I will ne'er lose thine.
This ringèd gold will fade above my brow
One day—yet you will love me all the same,
Will you not, Albrecht?


ALBRECHT.


                                              O my love, my wife!
If your sweet soul look only through your eyes,
What though the eyes grow dim?


AGNES.


But if the eyes were dim you could not see
The love that looked.


ALBRECHT.


Then, love, upon thy lips
I would feel for thy heart.   Thus, Agnes, thus,
'Tis thy dear heart I kiss.   Yes, love is faith,
And I—I hate myself.


AGNES.                                [Aside.


                                            Ah! bittersweet,
Is love and pain, thus melting into love.


ALBRECHT.


Bear with my savage mood, while I unload
The cares I carry from that cursèd Court,
Where only priests find favour.   Wilhelm's death
Has left my father helpless in their hands.
They fasten on his weakness, as the crows
On carrion.   Of his body and his soul
I found them in possession.   Pitiful
It, was to see them pull him like a puppet,
Now this string and now that.   I came not near
But at his elbow stood some crafty cowl
Who took my words and cooled them by the way
Of any breath of love that made them warm,
At his sick looks and solitary age.
And then the Abbess would stir up his wrath
Against my heresies, and hate of hell,
And of the harpies who make trade of it;
And when I claimed that Wilhelm's orphan sons
Be given into our keeping, as he willed,
She said she'd see them in their father's grave
Rather than here—whispered such poisonous things,
The breath of pestilence is purity
To thoughts bred in a dead heart's charnel-house.
In vain the boys declared for us and Straubing—
She sent them to a distant monastery—
And, Agnes,—both are dead.


AGNES.


                                                   Dead!   Alas, Albrecht,
The pretty boys who made our echoes ring
With shouts of mirth one little month ago,
She could not harm them, surely?


ALBRECHT.


                                                              No, not she!
They sickened, and in three days both were dead.


AGNES.


Ah, if they had been here, they had not died—


ALBRECHT.


Nay, Agnes, it is well, for had they died-
And none can stay the sickness now abroad—
They might have said we practised on their lives.


Enter a Messenger.

MESSENGER.


My lord, the Duke your father sends you this.
                                                                        [Delivers a letter.


ALBRECHT.


You must have followed closely.


MESSENGER.


                                                               Ay, my lord,
But one day later, and bid make good speed.


ALBRECHT.


This from my father. [Reads.] Peace must needs be made
Between these lords, Ludwig Vou Ingolstadt
And Heinrich Graf Von Laudshut, for their feud,
Like the brand tied between the foxes' tails,
Will set us all on fire.   They have appealed
Each 'gainst the other to the Emperor,
Who hath appealed to me.   Thou knowest well
The quarrel and its rights.   At Sigmund's Court.
Duke Albrecht will be welcome, as a soldier,
And as my son.   As our ambassador,
If thou wilt go, go speedily, and send
Thy wife to my safe keeping.   Thousand greetings­
What say you, Agnes?   It is like my father
Thus to relent.   It was his strange relentings,
Amid the harsh and gloomy discipline
With which he cursed my boyhood, that bound fast,
My heart to him.   And now our strife shall cease.
While I at Sigmuud's Court am serving him,
And you lay down our first-born in his arms,
Heir of his throne.


AGNES.                                   [Aside.


                                           What agony is this,
What strange new fear?   Oh, is my heart so weak
That when he rises up, as if now life
Was poured through all his limbs, I sink with pain
At prospect of this parting—I who mourned
To see him at my feet, too well content,
Sing to a lute, and say in listless mood,
That there was nothing worthy to be done,
And grudged to live such lightsome days—all love
And summer-time and songs, a few soft clouds
Troubling our tranquil shies.   Now we are called
To live true strenuous lives I shrink. O heart,
Thou art, not equal to thy fate, I fear;
But he shall meet no murmur from my lips.


ALBRECHT.


Thanks, Agnes, for that look of full consent;
It will be hard enough to leave thee so.


AGNES.


My father?


ALBRECHT.


                              For a few months' space can dwell
At Straubing here, awaiting our return;
He would not quit his sober studious ways
To play the courtier.   And, my Agnes, you
Would still be walking meekly by his side,
Instead of mounting to your lofty place.


AGNES.


I shall make due observance of your state
And all its empty shows—nay, fear me not,
That is an easy task; my father taught
A lesson, not so easy to be learnt—
"Do nobly and be noble."


ALBRECHT.


                                                       Be my own
Right queenly Agnes; I have never seen
Pride half so high as your humility.


AGNES.


Ah, we must part so soon.


END OF ACT II.


ACT III.

SCENE FIRST.

AGNES in Prison.

AGNES.


Three days of living death.   I feel like one
Who has awakened shut within the grave.
Three times the ghost of light has come and gone,
And left me in the darkness with despair.
And every day a hand, in haste withdrawn,
Has thrust me bread and water: and I ate
And drank the last; and slept, and now awake
Chill in the pallid evening prisoned here.
Remember thou thy three days in the grave,
O my Lord Christ, and hasten to this door,
And open it, the way into the light.
Blot out those days of darkness evermore
When in my bitterness I cried for death
To come and take me from thee—cried to Thee
That I might be, as though I had not been.
Forgive the cry—forgive the bitter cry.
O Mother Heart, so near the heart of God,
What if a little child should beat thy breast
In its blind pain, thou wouldst not punish it
By putting it far from thee with its pain.
Ah! what if I must live here many days,
Nay, many years?   How could I bear to live,
How bear the hour that neareth every day,
Whose coming was a tender fearful joy,
In dread and anguish?   And that other life?
No, he will hasten to me e'er the time.
That I may die of joy upon his breast:
Till then, my heart, be still!
                                                     Why am I here?
He knows it not: how could I think he knew?
But I have heard that torture maddens so
That, good men rave like devils—I was mad.
Sweet Heaven, art thou displeased when life is sweet
With gladness of thy giving?   True, the saints
Have suffered fearful things, and have not failed.
But if the torture darkened all the soul,
And cast it down to curse among the fiends,
And if the gladness sent it singing up
Among the seraphim; how shall the pain
Be understood?   I cannot understand!                  [Silence.

I hear a footfall, and my spirit faints
For sound of blessed human speech again;
A voice, a touch, to call me back to life.
My soul hath gone too near the dread unknown,
And all my reeling senses lose their hold.
I'll creep and touch the hand that brings me food.
                        [The door opens and a hand appears; she stoops and touches it.


GAOLER.


Foul witch, avaunt!   Jesu, Marie, shield me!
                                                       [The door is closed again.


AGNES.


Now God have mercy, for with man is none.
Ah! they will drag me out into the light,
And burn me! burn me! burn me!
                                                              On my neck
That shower of golden hair coiled like a flame,
And seemed to burn.   Oh, I would shriek aloud,
But it might bring them.   They will close their eyes
Lest they should look upon me and have mercy;
And lest their ears should hear me, and have pity,
They'll close their ears.   If even I could reach
And touch their very hearts, they would but say
They were bewitched.
                                         What if I am a witch,
And Agnes died a maiden long ago,
And rests with God; while I inhabit here
Her body, and am driven to and fro,—
Now in a palace, in a prison now,—
By one who is the master of my soul,
And soon beneath the solid seeming earth,
Will drag me down into his seething world
Of endless burning?
                                    Albrecht,—where art thou?
Save me, my husband, save me!
[The Prison doors again open, and admit a Priest.


PRIEST (to the Gaoler without).


                                            Leave me, my son!
It is not safe for thee to look on her;
Hardly for me, whose flesh is torn to rags
Beneath this stuff.   But never let thine eyes
Peep once within this cell, or thou art lost.
Make haste and shut me in.
             [The door closes, and the Priest throws back his cowl.


AGNES.


Conrad!


CONRAD.


                                                                  Agnes!
I've come to save thee!
This cloak and cowl cover from head to feet,
And he without there has not seen my face.
I came in crouching; if he questions thee,
Shake thus thy head, be busy with these beads,
And hasten swiftly on, and thou art safe.
With two swift mules Doretta waits for thee.


AGNES.


And leave you in my stead to suffer death?
For they would surely kill you.   And for me!
My faith returning with your faithfulness,
I think they dare not do it—dare not brave
His fury to the full.   If he consented.
To send me here, I care not to come forth;
'Tis he must take me hence, and only he—
My husband.


CONRAD.


Agnes, you are not safe a single day
From torture and from death; for they accuse you
Of poisoning the princes, Wilhelm's sons;
And of bewitching, with accursed spells,
The Duke to love you; and the people here
With hideous rumours have been roused against you.
Fear not for me: I'll find the means to follow
If you will only fly.


AGNES.


No, Conrad, no.   Into his father's keeping
My husband gave me, and I will not fly
From that safe keeping, though it be a prison.
O Conrad! as you love me, follow him,
And tell him of my peril. If I fled,
Think what a plea for parting us our foes
Would make of it.   Say that with lack of honour
I purchased safety, would he bring me back
With the same joy as when he bursts these gates
And leads me forth in triumph?


CONRAD.


                                                           Triumph, Agnes!
Why has he left you among enemies
Who hate you?


AGNES.


                              I have much and many loved,
None have I hated, wherefore should they hate me?


CONRAD.


The devil best knows why.   The first of men
Hated his brother: the hawk tears the dove:
The wolf devours the lamb: kind wars with kind:
A man must burn if he has other thoughts
Than other men.   You are not of their kind,
And so they hate you.


AGNES.


                                              But all human kind
Are one kind, Conrad.


CONRAD.


                                               You are ours no more,
Else would you gladly fly from thence to us.


AGNES.


Nay, all the more because I will not fly
From danger to dishonour am I yours—
Of your kind, Conrad.   You will break my heart
If you reproach me thus.


CONRAD.


                                                 Then I will go;
For if you will not, every moment lost
Puts further from you the one hope you have.
Delay them all you can, for by this time
The Duke is distant many a lengthy league.            [Exit.


Enter CONSTANCE as a nun.

CONSTANCE.


They'd kill me if they knew I came to you:
But, since he bade me love you, I have loved you.
You are not what they say—a wicked witch?


AGNES.


O Constance! do not stand apart from me,
And look so fearful.   I am innocent;
Christ and His holy angels keep me so!


CONSTANCE.


I do believe it.   Let me stay with you;
And they may come and hill me, if they will,
For I have done with life.   You see this dress?
It is the full dress of the sisterhood
Which I am soon to enter.


AGNES.


                                                      Life is good,
Why do you leave it, Constance?


CONSTANCE.


                                                       Life is evil;
Temptation, sin, and sorrow wait on it.


AGNES.


To end in triumph, holiness, and joy.


CONSTANCE.


Ah! you love life: your life is full of love.


AGNES.


But life itself is God's first gift to us;
We must not fling it back as little worth.


CONSTANCE.


His best gift?   Must we not give back our best?


AGNES.


Love is the better gift,
Whose giving nothing from the giver takes,
Although it renders all.


CONSTANCE.


                                               Thus I have given
All that was mine to give, since earthly love
Died in my heart,—a rosy morning cloud,
That melted into Heaven.


AGNES.


                                                  Ah, you loved him!
Sweet Constance.


________________________


SCENE SECOND.


The Hall of Judgment under the Hall of the Diet.  A Secret Tribunal.  The Legate as Judge, with Priests and the Abbess.  A Torture Chamber behind a Screen.  AGNES.


LEGATE.


Agnes Bernaur, you stand here accused
Of witchcraft, sorcery, and poisoning:
Will you confess to these, or suffer trial?


AGNES.


Of all these I am guiltless.


PRIEST.


                                                    Then to prove them
By many witnesses we are prepared.
First, at the tournament at Augsburg held,
This woman wrought upon the youthful Duke,
By charms and her unhallowed loveliness,
To follow her, and fall into her Snares;
And in an ancient house at Regensburg
He kept her sometime secretly, her deeds
Needing such hiding from the light of day.
There with her sorceries she enchanted him,
Till, in the open lists, he for his wife
This barber's daughter, this light woman owned;
And caused proclaim the minion far and wide
Duchess in Baiern.   To this end she held
His princely soul fast bound in fearful spells,
His senses steeped in potions; so that he,
Who heretofore led each high enterprise,
Learn'd above princes, loving art and song,
And hunt, and chase, and knightly tournament,
Forsook the court, forsook both art and song,
All studious labour, and all glorious gain;
Forsook a noble lady of his house,
Who should have been his wife, and had no will,
Save at the wicked willing of this witch.
She caused him then, to hold him more secure,
Unto his forest fortress carry her;
There, ere he died, Duke Wilhelm took with him
His two young sons, who, failing the Duke Albrecht,
Were co-heirs of the dukedom, and on them
So wrought her power, that when Duke Wilhelm died
To her he left the keeping of the boys;
And scarce the reverend mother held them back
From answering nightly to her potent spells,
And seeking her at Straubing.   In their hands
Was found a letter, none knew how conveyed,
With flowers pressed in it, which she bade them kiss,
Remembering her.   And now we know that flowers,
Or any simple token, may convey
A subtle poison, which inhaled or kissed
May work a sudden or slow stealing death,
And they both died: and these were found with them.


FIRST WITNESS.


In Augsburg I knew Agnes Bernaur,
Called Angela, for she was beautiful
As men think angels.   She had many lovers,
But favoured none; and in all secret lore
Was wiser than beseems a woman well.
Had skill in medicine and surgery,
Which on the poor she practised.   In the plague
She and her father, and one Nicholas,
A doctor, who was burned, though he was dead,
As a proved sorcerer and devil-monger,
From house to house went healing.   They held charms
Against the pest which it was said enriched
The Augsburg barber, who went thence ere long
And laid his craft aside.   And for the daughter,
I said I thought her more than mortal then,
I say so still.   'Tis hard to understand,
And if she be a woman and no witch
May be she is an angel—if a witch,
The worse, for better seeming is her kind.


SECOND WITNESS.


And I at Regensburg remember her.
Each day my boat dropt laden down the stream,
And every night I stoutly worked her up
Against the tide—the current bearing strong
Beneath the bank where stands the water-gate
With milk-white marble steps.   They lip the stream,
And when the sun dips, and the stream runs red,
I've seen them look as if washed o'er with blood.
That gate was hard to pass.   I've felt my boat
Drawn to the landing place, as by a rope,
If I but looked that way.   An Avè said
With eyes averted and a stronger pull
Would take me past.   But one eve, lingering late,
I saw her—she was never seen by day,
At church, or market.   In the gate she stood,
And held a lamp, which lighted all her face,
And golden hair that to her very feet
Fell thick and heavy.   And a boat was there,
And one went in who ne'er came out again.
That night—Our Blessed Lady give me grace—
I could not turn away my eyes, or pull
Another stroke; backwards my prayers would come,
And back my boat went to the market steps,
And at the inn I stayed till morning light.


THIRD WITNESS (Father Anselm).


To Straubing I accompanied the duke,
Sent by his father and the reverend mother,
St. Mary's Abbess, whose strict rule and life
In Regensburg all know and venerate,
To watch this woman, Duchess Angela,
Whom now I know to be a wicked witch.
Not once hath she received the sacrament
Or made confession.   With a chosen band
Of those who in her household are suspect
Of Hussite heresies, at Easter time
She and Duke Albrecht made a pilgrimage
To some pretended hermit in the wood.
I heard a rumour of unholy rites
By them partaken; that a cup went round
From blood-stained lip to lip.   With mine own eyes
I saw a witch brought to her—saw her hold
The hag's accursed hands and set her free.
A hell-brewed storm was raging, and she stood
Amid the lightnings mocking, as she said,
"She is no more a witch than I am one,"
In these last words confessing, as the Fiend
Demands of these his servants.


LEGATE.


                                                            Now confess
Thy sorceries and witchcraft, that the fire
Which shall consume thy body may not be
The entrance into everlasting fire.


AGNES.


Of all the evil things laid to my charge
Nothing I know; as child and maid and wife
I have lived innocently all my days;
So in this hour is taken from my soul
All fear of burning and the blinding flame,
All fear of men and their more blinding rage,
That I may bear my honour and the truth
A fearless witness.
What is it these have witnessed?   That I drew
My prince's eyes by the fair fashioning
Of these my mortal garments, which ye threat
To shrivel in the fire—God's work, not mine;
Have kept my husband's love; have healed the sick;
Saved and set free one who was doomed to die:
If these are works of witchcraft, be it so;
The Lord of life is Master of that craft,
And I, His handmaid, humbly follow Him.
Let my life witness for me, and let Him,
The witness of my life, declare for me.
Summon the Duke my husband.   If he comes
To find my guiltless blood upon your hands,
He will avenge it.


FATHER ANSELM


O thou vaunting witch!
Thou hast no husband.   And the mockery
Of marriage rite, by which the Duke was bound
By a false priest and cursed heretic,
Hath by the Church been broken.   He is free
From that and thine enchantments, and thanks
          Heaven
For his deliverance, doubtless.


LEGATE.


                                                         'Tis enough:
Confess, or take the torture.


AGNES.


                                                        Spare me this!
And pass your utmost sentence, fiery death,
If I must die: for when the spirit fails
Amid your tortures, witnesses that lie
May thrust their lie between unwilling lips,
Whose truth death would have sealed.   Oh, spare
             me this!
Not for the rending of this tender flesh—
Another dearer life is bound with mine.
There sits a woman, let her plead for me.


ABBESS.


Look not to me, bold harlot! who can dare
To gain my pity thus to plead thy sin.
Hadst thou been humble, as a penitent,
Then mercy had been shown thee.   I am here
Not to impede thy judgment, but to judge.
I hold thee guilty: but, confess thy guilt,
And I will yield such mercy as I may.


AGNES.


I can confess no guilt, where none is mine.


LEGATE.


The rack is ready: wilt thou now confess?


AGNES.


My Strength sustain me!
               [AGNES is led behind the Screen: the Tribunal await in silence. There is neither voice nor cry.


Enter Executioner.

EXECUTIONER.


                                               She has swooned away.
As soon as we had bound her with the cords
She lay as one quite dead; and when we strained
The stakes, till the blood started, she but moved
Her lips, and quivered over, and then smiled,
And sank again.   We fear she may be dead.


ABBESS.


Stay; let the torture cease.   Oh, horrible!
It is the work of Satan!



SCENE THIRD.


Bridge over the Danube. The GRAND DUKE, Legate, and Priests, in front of the Diet Chamber, looking on the Bridge.


GRAND DUKE.


I signed the warrant for the witch's death,
Why need I see it done?   Let the tribunal
Who judged her and condemned her see it done.
This waiting is a warrant for my death;
Each chilly gust goes through me.   I'll to prayer,
Nor wait here longer, losing earth and Heaven.


LEGATE.


The reverend mother will be here anon:
Your presence the occasion too demands.
The double powers of Church and State should stand
Together, side by side, and represent
The visible and the invisible
Arrayed against the wicked.   A foul witch
And dangerous heretic must die to-day,
No paltry sinner, weak and sorrowful,
But one who ruleth spirits, and subdues
The souls of men.


GRAND DUKE.


A murderess too, plotting perchance my death.


LEGATE.


Perchance! nay, doubtless; for you stand alone
Between her and Bavaria's sovereign seat.


GRAND DUKE.


O cruel witch!   But still I dread my son;
His rage is terrible and blasphemous.
When he was little better than a boy,
A man-at-arms threw some blind pups of his,
He should have drowned, into a roaring fire,
And Albrecht in a fury seized a spear
And thrust the stalwart soldier in the blaze
Till he had well-nigh died.


Enter Messenger.

LEGATE.


                                                    Why this delay?


MESSENGER.


They come; I witnessed the procession start.


LEGATE.


Hath she confessed?


MESSENGER.


                                      She still persists declaring
Her innocence.


LEGATE.


                                          What do the people say?


MESSENGER.


They execrate the witch; and hideous tales
From mouth to mouth pass, gathering as they roll,
Into the hugest heap of devilry.
They half expect to see the Fiend himself.
Take the leap with her, and plunge hissing down
Under the Donau to his own domain.


LEGATE.


I trust they bring her hither covertly,
For to expose her to the common sight
Might be unsafe.   The foolish people judge
Chiefly by sense, for hearing they believe,
And seeing they are wholly satisfied,
And what is fair without will still accept
As fair within.


[Enter Abbess.


GRAND DUKE.


                                  Here is the reverend mother.
What hath delayed you, sister? sit by me.
I dread to look upon this wretch's doom.
Just there it was they burned three heretics,
And it was weeks before the smell of burning
Quitted my nostrils, waking or asleep.
I often dreamed that, by a rope of straw,
I hung suspended o'er the burning pit,
Licked by the tongues of flame.


ABBESS.


                                                          Not now—not now—
I cannot listen.   'Twas an evil dream.


LEGATE.


You faint, most reverend mother.   Stand apart,
Labour and vigil wear away your strength.
Has every means been tried to force the witch
To make confession?


ABBESS.


                                           Tried and failed.


LEGATE.                                               [Aside.


                                                                           You offered—

ABBESS.                                               [Aside.


To have the murd'ress now awaiting death
Placed in her stead to-day; to send her safe
To an Italian convent, where her life
Might pass in easy penance, if even yet
She would confess her sin.


LEGATE.                                               [Aside.


                                          And she refused?

ABBESS.                                                [Aside.


Refused; and even the Church's offices
Rejected.


GRAND DUKE.


                               Is the witch then obdurate?


ABBESS.


Most obdurate: her last and foulest deed,
Possessing our poor Constance, whom I found
This morning sitting at the sorceress' feet,
Clasping her hands; and when I came on them—
I, who have nursed her on my childless knees,
She shrieked aloud and thrust me from her, crying
To die with her, rather than live with me.


GRAND DUKE.


Why do they not make haste to kill the witch?


LEGATE.


I see them in the distance and she walks
Uncovered, and the people hedge her in
On each side, as she passes.   Let one haste
And see the bridge kept clear.

[The Procession passes: AGNES robed in black, bare­footed, with her hair loose and her hands tied. A Priest on either hand chaunts the Miserere. Executioners and Guard. CONSTANCE arrests the Procession.


PRIEST.


Why do you stop the way?


CONSTANCE.


                                                            To stop this murder.
I tell you all that ye are murderers
Who share in this.   O my Lord Duke, I pray you
Let not this deed be done.   Plead with me, Agnes.


AGNES.


To none but Heaven will I appeal to-day.
Break not my spirit's settled peace, dear Constance;
Vain prayers, they say, bring back the parted soul
To taste another death.   Look on me now
As past the agony.   With the last hope
Went the last pang and came the perfect peace.


CONSTANCE.


Oh, stay, plead for dear life!


AGNES.


Ah, this dear life came to me tempting me
To sin and save it, lie and let it live.
I fear this life.   I fear it more than death;
For I fear death, if I but look on it—
It is so dear, it hath such witcheries.


GRAND DUKE.


She turns this way.   I feel her evil eye.
Drag her to death—away.


LEGATE.


                                                             Haste, let the guard
Remove that frantic girl.


AGNES.


Constance, farewell; bear my last words to him;
O last, last words.   It is so vain to speak
So few, with all the heart full.   Albrecht!   Albrecht!
This one last word holds all.

[CONSTANCE, clinging to her, is dragged away. The Procession moves on to the Bridge; black steps ascend the parapet, where, binding her robe about her feet, the Executioner places AGNES, and prepares to thrust her over the Bridge.


________________________


SCENE FOURTH.



The same.   The GRAND DUKE and his Chancellor. Guard.


GRAND DUKE.


Not here!   Not here!   Let me outside the walls,
If thus at last I am dragged forth to die.


CHANCELLOR.


Fleeing shows fear; and fear betokens guilt;
And guilt provokes pursuit; and hot pursuit
Is hasty and strikes twice before it thinks.


GRAND DUKE.


Where are the people?   It is still as death.


CHANCELLOR.


Gone to the walls—[Aside] to welcome back the Duke.


GRAND DUKE.


I hear the water gurgle through the piers
As in the throat of some poor drowning wretch:
There is a monastery beyond the bridge,
We might find refuge there.


CHANCELLOR.


                                                   A monastery!
As well seek refuge in a nest of wasps,
The Duke will smoke them—[Aside] and small blame to him,
And little grief to me—a nest of wasps
That suck the sweet and yield none—he has sworn
That all he finds shall perish for their part
In yon foul play.   Like flies with summer-time
They disappeared, and then you sent for me.


GRAND DUKE.


Are the gates closed? we may capitulate.


CHANCELLOR.


The gates were closed an hour ago, and then
The Duke was one league off, he must be now
Beneath the walls.


GRAND DUKE.


                                             Why is our guard so weak?


CHANCELLOR.


To meet him here unarmed, will more disarm
Than hosts of lances.


GRAND DUKE.


                                               And without a crown?


CHANCELLOR.


Your grey hairs more may move the Duke to pity.


GRAND DUKE.


Unhappy sovereign of rebellious subjects!
Unhappy father of a rebel son!


CHANCELLOR.                                     [Aside.


He spends his very pity on himself;
And but for pity to himself I'd leave him.


Enter Messengers severally.

FIRST MESSENGER.


I gave the order for the companies
To arm without delay, a few obeyed,
And some I left disputing until now;
The greater part refuse, or only arm
To meet the Duke with welcome.   On my way
I met a company with arms reversed,—
The weavers marching to throw up their gate.


SECOND MESSENGER.


The Duke is in by the north postern.
The people met him not with ringing shouts,
But with a sorrowing murmur.   On their knees
I saw strong men sink weeping.   He comes here
On foot, but swift as madness.


THIRD MESSENGER.


                                                     Back to Rome
By the south gate we saw the Legate speed,
And closed the gate upon him with a will.
There's not a single priest among the crowd;
But Bather Anselm making his escape
Was slain,—a stout Augsburgher took a spear
And pinned him to the wall.


FOURTH MESSENGER.


                                                              The reverend mother
Is smitten with a palsy suddenly.
'I hear a drowning shriek ring in my ears,'
She cried, and then was dumb.


GRAND DUKE.


                                                     Alas, my sister!
I hear the hum of people—see, they come.


Enter ALBRECHT.

ALBRECHT.


My wife!   Give me my wife!

GRAND DUKE.


                                                          It was not I.


ALBRECHT.


To you I gave her; give her back to me.

GRAND DUKE.


Son, take my crown, but do not take my life:
I gave you yours.   My life is little worth—
But all the kingdoms would not buy you back
The worth it would take from you.


ALBRECHT.


                                                                       Keep your crown,
The life you gave me, you have made a curse.
Will your poor crown bring back its blessedness?
'Twas here you murdered her—these are the steps
By which she went to heaven.   Go you to hell
By the same way.


GRAND DUKE.


My son, my son, have mercy!


ALBRECHT.


I cannot kill him, something stays my hand.
'Tis she!
                [CONRAD and Boatmen carry in the body of AGNES on a rude bier, CONSTANCE following.
And thus you give her back to me; but take
Thy wretched life—an angel stays my hand.
Henceforth I have no father, you no son.
You are more dead to me than she that lies
Between us; and between us she shall lie
A gulf impassable as yawning hell,
Till you can call the dead to life again.
                                                [He kneels by the bier.
What would I give for but one look of love
From those quenched eyes, for but one word of life
From those drowned lips!   The sun of Albrecht's life
Sinks with thee, Agnes.



END.

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