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Title: The Blood of Rachel - A Dramatization of Esther, and other poems
Author: Noe, Cotton, 1864-1953
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration:
                              "_I will not come
    At his command. I have a royal heart
    And will not thus disgrace the Persian throne._"]



                  The Blood of Rachel

              =A Dramatization of Esther=

                    AND OTHER POEMS

                     BY COTTON NOE
             _Author of "The Loom of Life"_

                    [Illustration]

               JOHN P. MORTON & COMPANY
                     INCORPORATED
                 LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY
                         1916


                    COPYRIGHT 1916
                     BY COTTON NOE

   All producing rights reserved, including photo play.
  Permission to produce must be obtained from the author.


                          To
                HONORABLE MOSES KAUFMAN

    From whom I differ on some political and religious
        questions, but whose warm friendship and
         keen literary appreciation have been a
            source of much inspiration to me,
              particularly in the writing
                    of this drama.



                        CONTENTS.

                                                        PAGE

  The Blood of Rachel                                      1

  The Old Dog Irons                                       79

  The Age Electric                                        82

  Grandmother Days                                        86

  Just to Dream                                           88

  Amnemon                                                 90

  A Romance of the Cumberland                            102

  Morning Glories                                        111

  Christmastide                                          112

  Kinship                                                113

  Precocity                                              114

  The Secret                                             115

  A Rhymeless Sonnet                                     116

  Ambition                                               117

  Opportunity                                            118

  Holiday Thoughts                                       119

  The Old Year and the New                               120

  Fellow Travelers                                       121

  James Whitcomb Riley                                   122

  Cale Young Rice                                        123

  Pilate's Monologue                                     124

  The Virile Spirit                                      128

  Bluebird                                               131

  An Autumn Minor                                        132

  Slabs and Obelisk                                      133

  On Broadway                                            134

  An Ember Etching                                       137

  A Tragedy in Birdland                                  140



                   PERSONS OF THE DRAMA


  AHASUERUS                                 _King of Persia_

  VASHTI                                   _Queen of Persia_

  ESTHER                            _Second Queen of Persia_

  HAMAN                                            _Premier_

  MORDECAI                       _A Jew, afterwards Premier_

  ZERESH                                     _Wife of Haman_

  MEHEUMAN                                   _A Chamberlain_

  ABAGTHA                              _Another Chamberlain_

  AHAFID                                        _Court Poet_

  SMERDIS                                       _Court Fool_

  SAADI                                   _Young Court Poet_

  PARSHANDATHA                   _Lady in Waiting to Zeresh_

  ZETHAR                         _Lady in Waiting to Vashti_

     _Chamberlains_, _Ladies and Gentlemen of the Court_,
        _Heralds_, _Royal Dancers_, _Nubian Slaves_,
                 _Waiters_, _and others_.



  The Blood of Rachel



  ACT I


  SCENE I

  Place--Shushan, the Capital of Persia.

  Time--478 B.C.

          [_A hall in the palace of the king. Enter Smerdis, the
          king's jester, and Ahafid, poet and minstrel to the king,
          from opposite sides of the hall. Ahafid is already an old
          man, with long grey beard and a little stooped with age.
          He carries a golden Persian harp on which he plays and
          accompanies his own song._]

  _Ahafid_

          [_Sings._]

      Now War has doffed his mailed coat
          And Peace forgot her art;
      The lute but not the bugle's note
          Can stir the kingly heart;
      Nights of revel and carp,
          And days of sensuous rust,
      How can a poet's harp
          Intone a song of lust?

    The king is mad. His flight from Salamis
    Was bad enough. But that could be excused.
    For six months now what has he done but drink,
    Carouse and wallow in lascivious ease,
    While subjects driven to despair with tax
    Have fallen on the poisoned sword and cursed
    In death the son of their once goodly king?

  _Smerdis_

    Ahafid, you do seem to think the first
    Great business of a king is war. Now pray
    You, why should Xerxes waste the lusty days
    Of youth in bloody strife? To furnish themes,
    No doubt, for dullard bards and minstrelsy.
    Ahasuerus is the wisest king
    That ever sat upon a Persian throne.
    You graybeard fool, stupid as poets are.
    Can you not see the wisdom of our king
    In substitution of the flight for death,
    Of feast for fight, of wine for blood? Think you
    'Tis wise to wear the plaited mail of Mars
    When Venus bids you to the festival
    Of love?

  _Ahafid_

            You call me then a graybeard fool!
    Though I have dropped the purple bloom of spring
    The autumn's silvery down may indicate
    The ripened fruit of wisdom which your youth
    Has never tasted. Smerdis, you are blind!
    My beard is white, but vision clear. The king
    Does daily waste the substance of his realm,
    And nightly dissipates his energies
    In vices of the blood. Vashti, the queen,
    The idol of her people, is in grief.

  _Smerdis_

    In grief for what? Does she too wish the king
    To take the field? I know our queen is fair
    Of face and most voluptuous of form.
    Perhaps her grief is due to jealousy.
    Would she monopolize his love, because
    Her beauty is surpassing?

  _Ahafid_

                           Vashti does
    Not know that she is beautiful. She loves
    Her country and is brave as well as good.
    I dread the issue of this night. The king
    Has ordered that the queen be brought before
    The court, a target for licentious eyes.
    She will refuse to go because her heart
    Is pure. Ahasuerus, flushed with wine,
    Will brook no opposition to his will.
    A tragedy that never Persia knew
    Will see the rising of to-morrow's sun.

  _Smerdis_

    A tragedy no country ever knew--
    A woman who is beautiful, but doesn't know it's true.

  _Ahafid_

          [_Sings._]

      Oh, for a song to cleanse the heart
        Or touch the sceptred power;
      Oh, might the gods a strength impart
        To meet this tragic hour.

          [_Exeunt Ahafid and Smerdis._]

          [_Enter Vashti and Zethar._]

  _Vashti_

    Oh, Zethar, do you think this night will end
    The revels that dishonor Persia's king?
    To-day unknown I strolled through squalid parts
    Of this old city and observed the poor.
    My lord, unmindful of their misery,
    Has laid a heavy tax for his insane
    Extravagance upon the helpless child
    That begs in Shushan's streets. Not here alone,
    This suffering; but Persia's peasantry,
    The glory of the old empire, the heart
    That once defied the world, is broken on
    The wheel of tax. And all for what?

  _Zethar_

                          O queen,
    Always the world has had its poverty.
    You shall forget the poor. One stoop of wine
    Will bring you happiness. Vashti, drink.

  _Vashti_

    Forgive me, Zethar, but no wine to-night.

          [_Enter Meheuman, Biztha and Abagtha._]

  _Meheuman_

          [_Loftily._]

    Our most imperial queen, the king has laid
    A banquet in the palace garden court,
    The crowning act of that munificence
    Toward prince and people great and small alike,
    Ahasuerus now for many months
    Has shown the loyal subjects of his realm.
    The adornment of the court displays a rich
    Magnificence of taste; the couches are
    Of fretted gold and silver set upon
    A pavement of mosaic inlaid stone.
    The drinking is according to the law--
    None can compel, each vessel is diverse,
    But all of gold. Th' abundance of the wine
    Shows the unstinted bounty of the king.
    Our monarch's heart is merry in the cup,
    And boasts that Vashti's beauty does excel
    In magic power the fabled Helen's charms,
    And bids us bring immediately before
    The court great Persia's matchless queen!

  _Vashti_

    Meheuman, tell Ahasuerus I
    Must thank his majesty since he can still
    Remember Vashti's beauty, though his grace
    Has lost all sense of modesty and shame.
    You say his heart is merry now in wine
    And that he glories with exceeding pride
    Because my face is fair to look upon!
    I do not doubt his tongue is eloquent;
    The fiery phrase is his! Why, often I
    Have heard him praise his horse in language that
    Seemed kindled at the altar of the gods.
    It may be that he holds me higher than
    His hundred concubines.

  _Meheuman_

                        Your majesty,
    The king does hold his queen a goddess.

  _Vashti_

                             Well,
    Perhaps he thinks himself divine. Go tell
    The king I do not wish to be enrolled
    Among divinities. I am the queen--
    He must respect me as the one who wears
    The Persian crown.

                       'Tis scarce three years since he
    Began to reign. He was Darius' son--
    A king of whom the world was proud. He wooed
    Me as a prince of noble blood, and I
    Received his hand with dignity as well
    As love. I was a princess, but I had
    A heart. Long since I found that he had none.
    A hundred eighty days continuous feast
    He has oppressed the people of his rule
    With drunken revels and with wanton waste.
    And now to crown his sensuality
    He sends his vulgar chamberlains to bring
    Me to his palace garden that his lords
    May gaze with unchaste eyes upon my form.
    Meheuman, Biztha, will you tell the king
    That Vashti bids him come to her if he
    Would see the queen.

  _Meheuman_

                           You understand
    The costly hangings of the garden court
    Are blue and green and white?

  _Vashti_

                          Now pray you what
    Significance has that? What if each couch
    Is gold and silver and each goblet set
    With stones?

  _Meheuman_

    The king's great love for Vashti!

  _Vashti_

                           Then
    He has prepared this banquet for his queen?
    And does he think this is an evidence
    Of love. It rather means the king's debauched.
    I will not be a party to his sin.

  _Meheuman_

    The etiquette of court commands you to
    Obey.

  _Vashti_

            Commands! Well, has it come to that?
    But I will not obey. I am a queen!
    Here! Take this purple robe and coronet,
    And tell Ahasuerus to adorn
    Some harlot of his harem. She will grace
    The queenship of his kingdom better than
    A pure and modest wife.

  _Abagtha_

                            You do not know
    The meaning of your words!

  _Vashti_

                         Abagtha, why
    Do you admonish me? Do I not know
    The forfeit? Chamberlains, this message take
    Licentious Xerxes from his virtuous queen:
    I do not fear his wrath. I will not come
    At his command. I have a royal heart
    And will not thus disgrace the Persian throne.
    The king that's halfway worthy of my hand
    Would hate the queen that yielded to his lust.
    My heart, O chamberlains, is broken, not
    That Vashti's crown is lost, but oh, to see
    The regal name of Persia brought so low!
    I weep. The tears are for my country. Go!

          [_Exeunt Vashti, Abagtha, etc._]

          [_Curtain is lowered to denote the passage of six years._]


  SCENE II

          [_Outer hall in palace. Throne room back concealed by
          curtain. Queen Esther, disguised by loose dress thrown
          over royal robe and head and face below the eyes hidden by
          mask, approaches the door where Mordecai, the Jew, is
          standing._]

  _Mordecai_

    Ah, Esther! Though your queenly robe you do
    Conceal, I know that regal gait. Before
    I ever looked upon these palace walls,
    When you were yet a little child beyond
    The purple peaks, where shepherds led their flocks
    In pastures green, I often dreamed that you
    Would one day wear a golden coronet
    And sit in majesty upon a throne.

  _Esther_

          [_Dejectedly._]

    Four years I have been queen, which time I have
    Not heard the voice of any one I love;
    And though disguised, I hardly dare to speak
    My heart even to you. This palace is
    A gloomy prison cell. The Persian crown
    Is meaningless to me. The hundred gems
    That blaze upon its field of gold are dull
    And heavy lead. I would exchange it all
    For but a glint of sunshine on the hills
    Where I was born. But why this interview?

  _Mordecai_

    My royal niece, I know that you are queen.

  _Esther_

    A queen? But what of that? Though of my blood,
    You can not even look upon my face.
    What would you have?

          [_Wailing without._]

  _Mordecai_

                           My daughter, do you hear
    The cries of anguish that disturb the peace
    Of Shushan's streets? Your people everywhere
    Are clothed in sackcloth. Read the king's decree!

          [_Handing her paper._]

  _Esther_

          [_Reads._]

    "It has been written and commanded by
    Ahasuerus, emperor of all
    The East, and sealed in every tongue with his
    Own ring--the royal seal--that governors
    And princes and lieutenants, everyone
    Within the Persian rule, shall make and cause
    To die and perish every Jew, both young
    And old, the women and the children, rich
    And poor alike, and forfeit all their goods.
    This is Ahasuerus' sovereign will
    And shall be done and executed in
    The month of Adar on the thirteenth day."
    Oh, God! It is Ahasuerus' seal.

  _Mordecai_

    But Haman's hand.

  _Esther_

                 Why does the premier hate
    The Jews?

  _Mordecai_

                Because the children of the true
    And living God will never bend the knee
    To heathen pride. He hates the Jews because
    Your uncle is a child of Abraham
    And will not do obeisance to a son
    Of Baal. Esther, though I made you queen,
    I plead not for the life of Mordecai,
    But for the sacred blood of Israel.
    You alone can intervene. Go straight
    Before the king and make demand that he
    Reverse this law that puts the Jews to death.

  _Esther_

    A Persian king can not reverse his own
    Decree. Besides, the queen who goes into
    The presence of her lord unless by his
    Express command, must sacrifice her life,
    Except through some unguarded impulse he
    Extends his golden sceptre that she live.
    I can not go unto the king.

  _Mordecai_

                                   Your life
    Is forfeited already, child; you are
    A Jew.

  _Esther_

             You did conceal my blood nor dare
    Reveal my lineage now. Your own deceit
    Has brought this death upon the house of Israel,
    Nor will Jehovah hold you guiltless in
    The hour of doom.

  _Mordecai_

                      Esther, if you keep
    Your peace when Rachel's children wail and cry
    For help, deliverance will arise
    Unto the Jews but you shall be destroyed
    And all your father's house.

  _Esther_

    Depart.      [_Sound of trumpets within._]

                       The king
    Is on his throne. I go, and if I die,
    I can but perish. Peace to Israel.

          [_Exit Mordecai._]

          [_The curtain back rises and discloses Ahasuerus on his
          throne surrounded by court. Esther approaches to center
          of hall before the king, and extends her hands as
          though supplicating. The king seems dazed for a moment
          and then deeply moved; slowly he lifts the golden
          sceptre and extends it toward the queen who approaches
          and touches it._]

  _Ahasuerus_

    Why did you, Esther, O most beauteous queen,
    Thus dare to come unbidden to the king?
    'Twas jealous Death unbarred the royal door
    That he might claim you for his paramour?
    Your innocence and charms have saved your life!

  _Esther_

          [_Innocently._]

    My lord, how now was I in danger? Ah,
    You know I am your loyal wife? I would
    Not be your queen alone. The crown is naught
    Compared to pleasures of companionship.
    O Xerxes, may not Esther share your joys
    Of wine and song? Too long you have denied
    That which I covet most--to be beside
    My king.

  _Ahasuerus_

               There is no favor, Esther, I
    Would longer hold from you; even to half
    My kingdom, tell me what you most desire,
    And I will give it you.

  _Esther_

                                     My lord, I have
    Already spoke my heart, but you will not
    Believe. To test Ahasuerus' love,
    I have a favor I would ask of you;
    But first that my most gracious lord may know
    His queen has taste and skill as well as charms,
    I will prepare a banquet for the king
    With my own hands. You are a judge of wine,
    And every dish that graces banquet halls.
    To-morrow, let Ahasuerus come,
    And bring his premier Haman, who no doubt
    Can tell a heron from a hawk, and if
    My lord shall praise my art, and I
    Find favor in his sight, I will make known
    My dearest wish.

  _Ahasuerus_

                        Oh, Esther, you have pleased
    Your king already far beyond what he
    Had ever hoped. To-morrow night at six!

          [_Music and revels. Esther retires._]

          [_The king and retinue retire in opposite direction.
          Haman and followers pass out front where Mordecai sits
          by the gate, together with others. All except Mordecai
          salaam, but the Jew remains stiff, looking Haman
          defiantly in the face._]

          [_Curtain._]


  SCENE III

  Home of Haman--two days later.

          [_Enter Haman, Zeresh, and Parshandatha._]

  _Haman_

    My star grows brighter with each setting sun;
    The lowly child of old Hammedetha
    Is first among the servants of the king.
    Ah, Mordecai, you did not know I am
    An Agagite, who fed upon the breast
    Of unrelenting hate toward every child
    Of Israel, who will not bend the knee
    Save to the God of Abraham. Oh, do

          [_Wailing in Street._]

    You, Zeresh, hear that wail of anguish? Love,
    I know that you are proud to be the wife
    Of him who can direct such music.

  _Zeresh_

                        I
    Am proud of Haman's power.

  _Haman_

                           Go call our friends.

  _Zeresh_

    Before the rising sun had touched with gold
    The treetops on the peaks of Zagros, Tesh,
    The son of Zalphon, was abroad
    In Shushan on the errand of my lord.

  _Haman_

    Not only in this city, but, my spouse,
    In every province of the king, the Jews
    In sackcloth mourn because of Haman's might.
    But would you know the secret of my strength?
    This ring! The seal of Xerxes. It is death
    To every drop of Jacob's blood within
    The Domain of Ahasuerus' rule.

  _Zeresh_

    The guests are coming.

  _Haman_

                              Oh, the messages
    Of enmity are swift as shafts of love.
    Now, Zeresh, call the servants of the house
    And set a sumptuous feast, for Haman would
    Take counsel of his friends.

  _Zeresh_

                             My gracious lord,
    The table is already set. Go greet
    The guests and bring them in.

          [_Exit Haman._]

          [_Zeresh continues._]

                           Parshandatha,
    What do you think of Haman? Did you note
    My lord?

  _Parshandatha_

              I did, madam. His happiness
    Is most complete. His rapid rise to power
    Has all but ravished him with joy. And yet,
    Methought that something still he lacked. Perhaps
    The queen's consent has not yet been obtained
    To this decree that puts the Jews to death.

  _Zeresh_

    What do you mean? The queen's consent? My Lord
    Has naught to do with Xerxes' wife, and why
    Should he be troubled for a woman's whim?
    Besides, who knows but Esther does approve
    This slaughter of the Jews?

  _Parshandatha_

                              Approve, madam?
    She is a queen, but still a woman!

  _Zeresh_

                                        So
    Am I, though not a queen! A woman, yes
    But with no stomach for that hated race!

  _Parshandatha_

    'Tis whispered in the court that Esther is
    Herself a Jew.

  _Zeresh_

                    The Persian queen a Jew!
    Then let her perish with her blood.

  _Parshandatha_

                                 But would
    My lord consent to Esther's death?

  _Zeresh_

                              Consent
    Again! Parshandatha, why do you harp
    Upon consent? Now listen to my words.
    But should you e'er disclose one breath
    Of what I say, you are yourself a Jew,
    Nor is there any power in Persia's king
    To save your life. My lord pretends to hate
    The Jews. His hate is only wounded pride.
    The deference of Mordecai is all
    That Haman wants. He does not know the queen
    Is Hebrew blood. This fact must still be kept
    Concealed--concealed, that is, until the day
    Of death. Oh, he shall know who Esther is--
    This Israelite that banquets with my lord!
    You think his rise is due to Esther's power?

  _Parshandatha_

    Madam, I do not know.

  _Zeresh_

                             Not know! not know!
    But what think you, Parshandatha? Of course
    You do not know.

  _Parshandatha_

                         Madam, he often dines
    With Esther and the king. The king no doubt
    Is very fond of your most gracious lord.

  _Zeresh_

    The king!

  _Parshandatha_

                Mayhap the queen also. Your lord
    Is young and handsome still. The king is far
    Beyond the queen in years.

  _Zeresh_

                                I can
    Not catch your drift.

  _Parshandatha_

                    Madam, your husband has
    A ready wit. The queen enjoys life.

  _Zeresh_

                                    Enjoys life!
    And so do I, and likewise death. Now hold
    Your blasted tongue. My husband sups again
    To-morrow with the Jewish queen. They say
    When Haman dines her majesty prepares
    The banquet with her own most dainty hand!
    Parshandatha, whose hand, think you, has laid
    The feast of Adar?

  _Parshandatha_

                    Zeresh! call you death
    A feast!

  _Zeresh_

              A glorious feast on which my soul
    Already feeds, and Esther shall be there!

          [_Re-enter Haman and Friends._]

  _Haman_

    Be seated at the table.

                                     Citizens
    Of Shushan, patriots of Persia, friends,
    The servant of the king has called you here
    To tell you of his triumph and to ask
    Your sage advice. Two days ago the prince
    And I sat down together to a feast
    Within the palace walls and drank your health.
    The royal cup was blushing like the spume
    Of autumn clouds at sunset, when a wail
    Arose in Shushan that has sore perplexed
    The people. Mordecai, the haughty Jew,
    Who sits beside the palace gate, refused
    To bow or do me reverence, although
    Admonished by the king. I was born
    A humble subject in the private ranks
    Of life; but now I wear the signet ring
    Of Xerxes. Friends, the law that dooms the Jews
    To simultaneous slaughter can not be
    Revoked. Last night the queen invited me
    To banquet with her lord. The necklace that
    She wore of iridescent pearls was like
    A rainbow over polar snows. Ah, she
    Was fair to look upon! And now my cup
    Was filled to overflowing--

          [_Zeresh shows great emotion._]

                              (Zeresh, are
    You ill?)--when Esther begged that I would come
    Again to-morrow to another feast
    Her hand would lay for Haman and the king.
    My wealth is multiplied beyond my ken;
    The sceptre is almost within my grasp.
    But all these things avail me naught, so long
    As yonder hated Jew remains unbent.

  _A Friend_

    Destroy the brute at once!

  _Haman_

                                 Oh, that will not
    Suffice. 'Tis not his death, but homage that
    Must sweeten my revenge. Ah, I would see
    Him groveling on the earth as Haman passed.
    My rank and station must be recognized.
    I sit beside the king; I am premier
    Of Persia. Yet this Jewish dog is still
    Unmoved!

  _Zeresh_

              Hang him where the kites will eat
    His eyes!

  _Haman_

                 O Zeresh, you are like the rising sun--
    An inspiration in the hour of gloom.
    We'll build this gallows fifty cubits high,
    And then his Hebrew pride will bite the dust.
    Oh, I can hear him whining like a cur,
    My love, your wisdom is above the head.
    A woman's heart is like an oracle
    Divine. Prepare this gallows. Friends, I go
    At dawn to greet the king. At night we dine
    Alone with Esther, and--

          [_Zeresh faints._]

                                Why Zeresh, are
    You ill again? Send for the leech. Her blood
    Is over wrought with too much happiness.

          [_Curtain._]



  ACT II


  SCENE I

  Place--The palace of the king. Outer room of banquet
  hall. Curtain back.

          [_Enter Meheuman, Biztha, and Smerdis._]

  _Meheuman_

    Ahafid has become most deaf of late;
    Advancing age has wrought a piteous change
    In him. He can not understand our king.

  _Smerdis_

    'Tis not the king but age that makes him groan.
    I mean this age, the age in which we live.

          [_Meheuman and Biztha exeunt on the opposite side of
          stage, as Ahafid enters more stooped, and singing._]

  _Ahafid_

          [_Sings._]

      A country but no king,
        An empire but no throne,
      An upstart wears the signet ring,
        My harp has lost its tone.
      I can no longer sing great Persia's praise.

  _Smerdis_

    The trouble isn't with the harp, the country, king, nor throne;
    Nor that an upstart wears the ring: Ahafid's voice is gone.

  _Ahafid_

    What say you, Smerdis?

  _Smerdis_

                                   Art is marvelous.

  _Ahafid_

    Even Ahasuerus once was king,
    He was a despot, it is true, but still
    A prince.

  _Smerdis_

                      If prince, then why not still a king?

  _Ahafid_

    Eh, Smerdis?

  _Smerdis_

          [_Aloud._]

                     More than prince and less than king.

  _Ahafid_

    Why now the sceptre, aye, almost the crown
    Are worn by Haman, not of noble birth,
    But lowborn, vulgar, raised by royal will
    To first place in a land renowned for blood.

  _Smerdis_

    To first place in a land renowned for fools.

  _Ahafid_

    What's that?

  _Smerdis_

                      This Haman is a cunning fox.

  _Ahafid_

    The exile of the virtuous Vashti was
    A fatal sin.

  _Smerdis_

                   She should have feasted with
    The king.

  _Ahafid_

    I did not hear.

  _Smerdis_

          [_Aloud._]

                                    Old Xerxes lost
    The finest houri in his harem. Oh,
    The royal fool!

  _Ahafid_

                      The Jewess Esther's but
    A girl, as beauteous as a lustrous star,
    But innocent as dawn of dew-washed day.

  _Smerdis_

    As wise as snakes and innocent as doves!

  _Ahafid_

    What, Smerdis, what? You catch my simile?

  _Smerdis_

    Ah, yes, Ahafid, yes, Aurora in
    The bath pool. That was fine. Your poetry
    Like wine improves with age. Go on, go on,
    Let's have another picture of the dawn.

  _Ahafid_

    Her beauty made her queen, but can not save
    Her life.

  _Smerdis_

                  Ahasuerus will attend
    To that.

  _Ahafid_

    [_Not hearing._] Ahasuerus does not seem
    To know a Persian law can not be changed.

  _Smerdis_

    He knows that lawyers can be bribed.

  _Ahafid_

    What's that?

  _Smerdis_

          [_Louder._]

    Just thinking of the lustrous stars of dawn.

  _Ahafid_

    But Mordecai believes that Esther can
    Control the king, and yet may save the Jews.

  _Smerdis_

    I am more interested in fools than Jews.

  _Ahafid_

    The golden sceptre was extended when
    She went into his presence yesterday.
    Last night she banqueted with him but still
    Refused to name the favor that she wished.

  _Smerdis_

    A bathrobe or some new stars for her crown.

  _Ahafid_

          [_Not hearing._]

    The king does not suspect her origin.
    What will he do when he finds out the truth?

  _Smerdis_

    Since when has Xerxes cared for truth?

  _Ahafid_

                                 What say?

  _Smerdis_

    He'll add two extra stars to Esther's crown.

  _Ahafid_

    Beloved Vashti lives in poverty,
    The victim of a lewd and brutal whim.
    And now it seems that Esther's fate was sealed
    When Haman wrote that every Jew must die
    Because the Hebrew Mordecai refused
    Obeisance to his over-bearing pride.

  _Smerdis_

    Watch Esther smash that seal.

  _Ahafid_

                                   I did not hear.

  _Smerdis_

          [_Louder._]

    Still quoting lines upon the innocence
    Of lustrous stars, and dawn of dew-washed day.

  _Ahafid_

          [_Singing._]

      Minstrelsy shall be no more,
        The poet's tongue is still;
      The strings that woke to deeds of yore
        No longer feel the thrill.

  _Smerdis_

    I'm glad no more we'll feel the thrill
    For I, for one have had my fill.

  _Ahafid_

    Eh, Smerdis?

  _Smerdis_

          [_Louder._]

                    Bathing in that simile.

          [_Exeunt Ahafid and Smerdis._]


  SCENE II

          [_The curtain rises, disclosing Ahasuerus, Esther, Haman,
          and attendants at the banquet table._]

  _Ahasuerus_

    Beloved Esther, my most beauteous queen,
    This banquet does surpass in excellence
    Even the feast of yesterday, which you
    Prepared for Haman and the king. Your hand
    Grows deft with practice.

  _Esther_

                      But, my lord, you are
    A connoisseur, and can but speak these words
    In flattery. O king, it was my heart,
    And not my hand that flavored every dish
    That lies before you.

  _Ahasuerus_

                         Esther, now it is
    Your tongue that flatters. Still, it does rejoice
    Me much to hear such language from the queen.
    A connoisseur, say you? Haman, can
    You tell me, now, what bay or bight in all
    The salted seas once held this shrimp?

          [_Holding up shrimp._]

  _Haman_

          [_Tasting it meditatively._]

                                       My lord,
    I think it must have been the Persian Gulf.

  _Ahasuerus_

    Ha, ha, Haman, why you do not know
    A wild goose from the Bird of Paradise.
    This crangonoid is found nowhere except
    Along the Red Sea beach not far from where
    The hosts of Pharaoh were engulfed and lost.

  _Esther_

          [_With suppressed emotion._]

    Oh, king, your tongue is most acute. But whence,
    Think you, this tinct of cinnamon that makes
    The savor of the dish.

  _Ahasuerus_

          [_Tasting for a long time._]

                                 I give it up,
    Unless it came from Java or Ceylon.

  _Esther_

          [_Laughing, changing rapidly to deep feeling._]

    My lord, it is not cinnamon at all,
    But spice that grew a thousand years ago
    In hills beyond the Jordon. Haman, can
    You tell the flavor of the grape that fills
    Your goblet?

  _Haman_

          [_Flattered._]

                    Oh, I think it must have grown
    In islands of the blue Aegean Sea.

  _Esther_

          [_Turning to the king._]

    My lord, it is the selfsame cup they drank
    From sacred vessels at Belshazzar's feast
    That night in Babylon.

  _Haman_

                            What means the queen,
    This wine is not that old, and yet, 'tis not
    Excelled at banquets of the gods.

  _Ahasuerus_

          [_Showing effect of wine._]

                                        Nor kings.
    This is a joyous night! Oh, queen, your wit
    Has filled my cup with wine of happiness.
    What think you, Haman, should be done to him
    The king delighteth most to honor now?

  _Haman_

    Bring forth the robe, O king, your majesty
    Does wear, and place it on the one your grace
    Does most delight to honor. Xerxes, set
    This man upon your royal horse, and place
    Your majesty's own jeweled crown upon
    His head, and let him be proclaimed
    Throughout the public streets.

  _Ahasuerus_

          [_Rises. Emphatic._]

                              So let it then
    Be done to Mordecai, the Jew beside
    The palace gate.

  _Haman_

                     What words are these?
    You can not mean the Jew!

  _Ahasuerus_

          [_More emphatic._]

                         The Jew I mean.
    Last night I could not sleep, and so I had
    The book of records read, the chronicles,
    Wherein I learned that this same Mordecai
    The Jew had saved Ahasuerus' life,
    When Teresh and another chamberlain
    Had sought to lay the hand of violence
    Upon your king. Let nothing fail of all
    That you have spoken should be done to him
    The king delighteth now to honor most.
    And Esther, tell Ahasuerus now
    Your dearest wish. On yesterday I begged
    To know the favor you did most desire
    And now it shall be granted unto you,
    Whatever your request, even to half
    My kingdom, it shall be performed.

  _Esther_

          [_With hands extended toward the king._]

                                    Have I
    Found favor in your sight, O king, then let
    My life be given unto me at my
    Petition and my people live at my
    Request! For we are sold to be destroyed--
    To perish and be slain.

  _Ahasuerus_

          [_Surprised and dazed._]

                              O where is he--
    Oh, who is he, that dare presume to lay
    The hand of violence upon my queen!

  _Esther_

    There stands this adversary, O my king,
    The wicked Haman!

  _Ahasuerus_

                          Haman! Haman! What
    Can be the meaning of this speech? This man
    I have advanced to be my premier?

  _Esther_

    I mean this craven whom you have advanced
    To put to death with your own royal seal
    The queen, as well as every other Jew
    That breathes the Persian air, both young and old
    Alike, the laughing child and gray-haired sire.

  _Ahasuerus_

    What! Esther, you a Jew!

  _Esther_

          [_Proudly._]

                                  I am a Jew.
    A daughter of the tribe of Benjamin--
    Pure Hebrew blood!

          [_A dramatic pause. Esther awaits the decision of the
          king, who for a time seems to waver, then extends his
          sceptre toward Esther. Harbonah, the king's high officer,
          appears. Haman throws himself at Esther's feet._]

  _Haman_

          [_Pleading._]

                            Oh, queen, I do beseech
    You, save me from his wrath.

  _Ahasuerus_

          [_Angrily._]

                                    Harbonah, let
    This traitor, Haman, die at once.

  _Harbonah_

                                    My lord,
    You know the scaffold that the premier built
    For Mordecai?

  _Ahasuerus_

                  The premier! What's that,
    Harbonah? You mock your king? Let him
    Be hanged upon this gallows. Call the Jew!
    He holds the first place in my kingdom now.

          [_Exeunt Ahasuerus, Esther, Haman, Harbonah, and attendants._]

  _Zeresh_

          [_Who has been concealed in a corner of the hall, advancing._]

    At Esther's feet! An Aggagite! Ha, Ha!
    A hater of the Jews! You hypocrite!
    A lover of this queen! A paramour
    Of her who boasts that she can trace her blood
    An unpolluted stream a thousand years
    To one who watched his humble flocks on bleak
    Judean hills. A shepherd queen that rules
    The Persian throne, and you, O Haman, you
    That fed on venom for her race, are now,
    Though premier, a cringing, craven wretch,
    Begging this Jewish girl for worthless life.
    "A rainbow over polar snows," ha, ha!
    No doubt her grace was fair to look upon.
    False-hearted queen, O royal prostitute!
    It was your jeweled hand that laid this feast
    But Zeresh's heart that furnished all the wine!

          [_Curtain._]



  ACT III


  SCENE I

  Some time Later. Room in the Palace of Shushan.

          [_Enter Ahafid and Smerdis._]

  _Ahafid_

          [_Singing._]

      In the morning man may flourish
        In the evening be cut down;
      Dawn may find a hero famous,
        Nightfall see him lose renown.

  _Smerdis_

          [_Singing._]

      In his youth Ahafid's singing
        Was the pride of Persia's rule;
      Now that age has come upon him,
        Hear him braying like a mule.

  _Ahafid_

    Still singing like a nightingale, say you?

  _Smerdis_

          [_Aloud._]

    I did. [_Aside_] The long-eared kind that crops the grass.

  _Ahafid_

    Haman's hanged upon the scaffold that
    He built for Mordecai. The Jew now wears
    The signet ring that sealed his nation's life.
    His nation's life? But how can he explain
    The slaughter of the Persian hosts?

  _Smerdis_

    Now if he would, I think he could, and if he should,
    He'd thus explain: "The hosts were slain because my brain
    Was not insane. So I raised Cain, obtained the reign
    Of this campaign, and still remain, though they were slain."

  _Ahafid_

    I think I must be growing deaf. You rhymed?

  _Smerdis_

    I only spoke a little joke. If I could sing, I'd say the ring,
    And not the king explains the thing.

  _Ahafid_

                                But does
    The God of Abraham inspire revenge?
    The worshippers of Moloch would have shrunk
    From such a day of death. I marvel that
    Queen Esther did not intervene. She rules
    The king. But wherefore did I say the king?

  _Smerdis_

    I think it must have been to rhyme with ring.

  _Ahafid_

    Darius' son's a spineless debauchee.

          [_Sings._]

      The Jew the purple robe enfolds
        And eke the royal gown;
      For Mordecai the sceptre holds
        And Esther wears the crown.

          [_Exit Ahafid._]

  _Smerdis_

    Ahafid said he couldn't sing Ahasuerus' praise,
    And that his harp had lost the tone it had in other days.
    But though the Jews are on the throne and Xerxes maudlin full,
    Ahafid once more tunes his lyre and bellows like a bull.

    Look out, here comes the Jew, a cloud upon
    His brow, the weight of empires on his brain.
    What matters does he now revolve? I fear
    The day of Adar troubles Mordecai.
    We'll stand aside and hear the premier.

          [_Exit Smerdis._]

          [_Enter Mordecai meditatively, followed by Zeresh, who is
          unseen by him at first._]

  _Mordecai_

    The name of Haman perish from the earth!
    The seed of Abraham be multiplied
    Until they are as numberless as sands
    Upon ocean's shore! This was my prayer,
    I learned it at my mother's knee. Was I
    Not justified?

  _Zeresh_

          [_Disguised as a Hebrew woman._]

                  The Holy Scripture saith,
    "Vengeance belongs to God."

  _Mordecai_

                                But was I not
    His instrument? Jehovah wrought through me;
    His will, not mine was done.

  _Zeresh_

                                And yet His will
    Was yours?

  _Mordecai_

                The wicked Haman would have slain
    Even the queen herself and every Jew
    That lives within the hundred provinces
    Of Xerxes' weak and vacillating rule.

  _Zeresh_

    Thy action was no more than self-defense?

  _Mordecai_

    Not self-defense of Mordecai alone,
    But of my blood, of Esther and the sons
    Of Jacob, exiled and defenseless else.
    The God of Abraham may chasten, but
    He keeps his promises, nor will forsake.
    Rameses sat upon his haughty throne
    And knew not Joseph, for my people were
    Oppressed with bitter bondage and their lives
    Made hard in mortar and in brick; but still
    They grew in numbers and increased and waxed
    Exceeding mighty, till the land was filled
    With them. And then the king was sore afraid
    And wroth because the Jews had never bent
    The knee at Egypt's shrines. He could enslave
    But not corrupt the children of the true
    And living God. And then he called
    The Hebrew midwives and commanded them
    To slay thereafter every son that might
    Be born to Jacob's sacred blood. God kept
    His covenant with Abraham and raised
    Up Moses, the deliverer, and when
    The plagues had failed to soften Pharaoh's heart,
    The Lord smote every firstborn in the land
    Of Egypt, save where hyssop mixed with blood
    Was sprinkled on the lintel of the door
    And on the two side posts, as Moses had
    Directed. Saviour of his people, son
    Of Amram and of Jochebed, obscure
    Levites, found in an ark of bulrushes
    Afloat among the flags near by the spot
    Where Pharaoh's daughter bathed, and yet, and yet--

  _Zeresh_

    Was Moses not selected by the Lord
    To lead the Israelites into the Land
    Of Promise?

  _Mordecai_

          [_As in soliloquy._]

                 And did he not talk with God
    Upon the Mount of Sinai, when smoke
    Enveloped all the peak, and even priests
    Were not allowed upon that holy ground?
    Was I more lowly than was Amram's child?

  _Zeresh_

    Yet God exalted him until the throne
    Of Egypt was within his grasp.

  _Mordecai_

                                      Though I,
    Like Jesse's son, was once a shepherd's lad,
    To-day I rule ten million souls.
    Now Moses was a vessel of the Lord
    When Death passed over every Hebrew home,
    But slew the firstborn where no blood was found.
    Was this revenge? Not Moses' hand, but God's
    Was red.

  _Zeresh_

                The servant must obey his Lord.

  _Mordecai_

    I did not plot the Persians' death. The plan
    Of God was in it all.

  _Zeresh_

                         Else why were you
    Made premier at the moment when the Jews
    Faced death in every province of the king?

  _Mordecai_

    It was my hand that stopped the massacre,
    But God avenged the awful wrong!

  _Zeresh_

    And Esther! How is it with her? You made
    Her queen. She was a humble Hebrew girl,
    Unknown and friendless, but for Mordecai.

  _Mordecai_

    She should be grateful for the crown I gave.

  _Zeresh_

    But Hatach says her cheeks are often wet
    With tears.

  _Mordecai_

               It may be that she weeps for him
    Who won her girlish heart before we came
    To Shushan or had ever seen the king.

  _Zeresh_

    And yet that can not be. The shepherd's crook
    Is not the golden sceptre of a king.
    I have no doubt that she has long since ceased
    To think of youthful dreams. She rules the king,
    And what more does a woman want?

  _Mordecai_

                                       I did
    Not hope to make her understand at once.
    My reasons were too subtle for her heart.
    And so I kept my counsel, for I knew
    No girl would ever sacrifice her love
    To save the remnant of a nation's life.

  _Zeresh_

          [_Justifying._]

    And why might even Esther not forget
    When once she felt the spell of royal power--
    The tinsel show and glamour of the court?
    No woman lives that would not be a queen.

  _Mordecai_

    I knew Ahasuerus was a brute,
    But what of that? Through Esther I have saved
    A half a million souls.

  _Zeresh_

          [_Aside._]

                             Through Esther you
    Have slain a million souls.

  _Mordecai_

                       When Jepthah vowed
    A vow unto the Lord he kept his pledge
    And slew the only daughter of his flesh
    For a burnt offering unto God, because
    The Ammonites, his enemy, had been
    Delivered to the hands of Israel.
    Now Esther was my only child.

  _Zeresh_

          [_A little sarcastically._]

                                      You have
    Not sacrificed, but elevated her.
    Although she does not understand your heart,
    She can but bless her uncle Mordecai.

  _Mordecai_

    But why should Esther weep? She risked her life
    At my behest, but did she not obtain
    Great favor with the king?

  _Zeresh_

                              And Esther's life
    Was forfeit then through Haman's wicked hate.

  _Mordecai_

    I wear the royal robe of blue and white.

  _Zeresh_

    Does Esther think because her vanity
    Is flattered by the jewels of a queen
    That Mordecai is moved by pomp and show?

  _Mordecai_

    'Tis not the kingly trappings but the seal--
    Not sceptre merely but the signet ring,
    Not rank, but rule that Mordecai would have.
    I can not understand her tears no more
    Than she knows why I wear the crown. But I
    Am justified. Jehovah wrought through me.

          [_Exit Mordecai._]

  _Zeresh_

          [_Bursting into fury._]

    Jehovah wrought through him! Hell wrought through him!
    I marvel that his tongue is not consumed
    By blasted lies. Wait till he feels the flame
    That rages in my heart. Hell may not burn
    A Jew, but even he can not withstand
    The simoon of a fiery dragon's breath!

  _Parshandatha_

    But Zeresh, was the Jew not justified?

  _Zeresh_

    Justified! gratified! satisfied! Parshandatha,
    Justified in Jepthah; gratified
    That he is like the meek and lowly son
    Of Amram; satisfied that now the crown
    Of Persia presses only Hebrew brows.

  _Parshandatha_

          [_Sarcastically._]

    You do forget my lord, Darius' son.
    You can not think the blood of Jacob flows
    Through Xerxes' veins? Does he not wear the crown?

  _Zeresh_

          [_With contempt._]

    Ahasuerus wears a pigeon's heart.
    The Persian robe's a Jewish gabardine;
    The crown, a Hebrew priest's phylactery.
    But did you say forget? Have you been so
    Long with me, dear, and doubt my memory?
    Forget Ahasuerus, did you say?
    That minion of a Jewish girl, who sealed
    The death of Haman and his sons? His face
    Is seared upon my heart, his image burnt
    Into my brain. I tell you Xerxes is
    No longer king.

  _Parshandatha_

                      But is not Esther queen?

  _Zeresh_

    Parshandatha, why do you taunt me thus?
    Have I not proved your friend? Do I deserve
    Your mockery?

  _Parshandatha_

                     I do but speak to sting
    You to revenge.

  _Zeresh_

                     Let fly your venom then.
    The Persian empire is in arms. To-night
    The king does hold a great carouse. The Jew
    Will sit in state beside the profligate.
    This blade I have prepared against that hour.
    The queen, I understand, will be a blaze
    Of gems. Ahasuerus boasts this night
    Would all but wreck a petty kingdom.

  _Parshandatha_

                                               He
    Should never live to see the rising sun.

  _Zeresh_

    The rising sun! My dear, he shall not see
    The Pleiades again, and they are up
    At nine. When cornet and the trumpet bruit
    The entry of the queen, a hundred blades
    Like this [_disclosing dagger_] shall be unsheathed.
           Parshandatha,
    You know whose blood my blade shall drink!
    My hour has come! Ah, Esther, you shall sup
    Once more with Haman and your drunken lord,
    While Zeresh keeps her lonely watch
    Beneath the silent, glittering stars. Come on!

          [_Exeunt Zeresh and Parshandatha._]

          [_Curtain._]


  SCENE II

  Place--Outer hall to throne room, curtain back.

  Time--The following evening.

          [_Enter Vashti and Esther from opposite sides of the stage._]

  _Esther_

    Ah, here already, Vashti, at my poor
    Request, who dared defy a despot king's
    Command to come before him and his lords?
    Your beauty, radiant and spotless, grows
    Each hour of exiled life more potent still
    Than when it hurled an oriental crown,
    With all its flashing jewels, in the face
    Of brutal Xerxes rather than unveil
    Unto a drunken court of lustful eyes.
    Uncrowned, deposed, you are, yet thrice a queen!

  _Vashti_

    The sting, the sting of your envenomed words!

  _Esther_

    Forgive me, dear, I do not mock your fate;
    No word of mine is spoke in scorn. I would
    Exchange the royal robe and crown I wear
    For just one hour of virtuous freedom that
    Belongs to you.

  _Vashti_

                           I can not understand!

  _Esther_

    I know; 'tis my misfortune, and I called
    You to the palace that I might explain.
    Yet every word seems cruel mockery.
    I do not blame you that your cheek, as chaste
    As lilies, blushes at my seeming shame.
    Yet, Vashti, can you not believe I need
    Your sympathy? I crave your high respect?

  _Vashti_

    You must an explanation.

  _Esther_

                                   Well, did you
    Not sacrifice a queenship for the gem
    That every woman holds above a throne?
    How can we estimate your loss? The pomp
    That follows majesty; the crooking knee;
    Ten thousand minions at your beck and call;
    A thousand sycophantic, fawning lords;
    A hundred gleaming jeweled chandeliers;
    The radiance and rich magnificence
    Of court; long hours of revel and of wine;
    And then above the splendor and the show
    God's finger writing on the wall! Is this
    The precious price that you have paid?

  _Vashti_

                                    This is
    The price.

  _Esther_

          Sweet friend, I thank you. Yes, your loss
    Has been my gain! Yet what reward have I?
    How I do hate the crown that you did spurn!
    O how I love the pearl of greatest price!
    God pardon my great sin!

                               Vashti, I am
    A daughter of Rebecca and the blood
    Of Rachel pulses in my veins! Beyond
    The northern hills, within a valley green,
    A shepherd watches o'er his flocks to-night
    Beside a starlit stream, and dreams of her
    Who gave the promise of her hand when life
    Was young and all the earth was pure and fair.

    His love was constant as the northern star,
    And mine was like the needle pointing true.
    That day is but a sad remembrance now.
    I never knew the ones who gave me life.
    My uncle, Mordecai, who sits in state
    Beside the king instructed me in love
    And knowledge of my people. Every night,
    As well as every day, like Daniel, I
    Was taught to pray, my window open toward
    Jerusalem. God softened Cyrus' heart
    Because of Daniel's prayer. But, Vashti, you
    Must know from Persian Gulf to Caspian Sea,
    The sons of Jacob still in exile groan
    Beneath a tyrant's yoke. I hear the wail
    Of Rachel weeping for her children still;
    I hear my lover playing on his flute,
    Who waits the coming of a faithless bride!
    _But Mordecai has stayed the hand of Death!_

  _Vashti_

    And you did eat your heart to save your blood?

  _Esther_

    You comprehend at last? Your sympathy,
    O Vashti, I must have, if not respect,
    Else can I not return unto the king.      [_Vashti weeps._]
    There, there, I thank you, sister, friend, proud queen!
    The tears that glitter on your cheeks are worth
    A diadem of sparkling Indian stones.
    But weep no more--your hand--for Esther's heart
    Can now endure, since Vashti understands!
    The stars are twinkling in the northern skies;
    They shimmer on the stream beyond the hills;
    The shepherd's reed is wailing on the breeze;
    The revels in the palace now begin;
    The call has come; I must no longer stay.
    The daughter of a Benjamite will lay
    Her heart upon the altar of her blood.
    Hear you the crimson riot in my veins?
    'Tis Rachel's voice! I would that you could know!
            .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
    Forgive me, Vashti, for my brain's distraught!

    The lights die out beyond the palace walls.
    The stars are hid.... I can no longer hear
    The wailing flute.... Return unto your hut.
    Ahasuerus calls with mantling wine.
    My place is yonder by the king. I go!

          [_Exeunt Esther and Vashti._]

          [_Enter Ahafid and Smerdis._]

  _Ahafid_

    The last word has been spoken
      The last true song been sung;
    My country's heart is broken,
      The poet's harp unstrung.

  _Smerdis_

    Ahafid seems to harp upon his strings.

  _Ahafid_

    It seems Ahasuerus means to drink
    The cup of revel to its bitter lees.

  _Smerdis_

        The deeper in the cup he goes
        The sweeter is the wine that flows;
        The closer to the lees, he thinks,
        The purer is the wine he drinks.

  _Ahafid_

    Messengers from every province bring
    Reports of mutterings and dangerous
    Revolt. But Xerxes, heedless still, declares
    This night shall dim the glories of the past.

  _Smerdis_

          [_Sings._]

      The lower in the lamp the oil
      The fewer are the days of toil.
      The brighter burns the wick of life,
      The sooner end the days of strife.
      'Tis not for oil that Xerxes cares,
      But brilliancy of flame that flares.

  _Ahafid_

    I hate the Hebrews and their Jewish God;
    I hate Jehovah for his jealous love,
    But Mordecai refuses to attend
    The feast. The God of Israel must save
    Us now, or Persia perish utterly.

      My hand will pen no ribald verse
        This revel to adorn;
      Ye gods, inspire my tongue to curse
        The day the king was born.

          [_Exit Ahafid._]

  _Smerdis_

    The more he swears the less he sings,
    Then welcome is this news he brings;
    For listening to his song is worse
    Than hearing old Ahafid curse.

          [_Exit Smerdis._]

          [_Re-enter Ahafid._]

  _Ahafid_

          [_Sings._]

      Persia's heart is beating low,
      Thinking of the long ago,
      When the king that wore the crown
      Was a prince of great renown;
      When her name without a peer
      Did inspire the world with fear;
      But to-night her sovereign's lust
      Trails her banner in the dust.

      Now my life is ebbing fast,
      Dreaming of the glorious past;
      Feeling all the shame and smart,
      Dying of a broken heart.

          [_Sinks to floor._]

          [_Curtain._]


  SCENE III

          [_Curtain rises on Ahasuerus and his court._]

  _Ahasuerus_

    Sha-ashgaz, keeper of the concubines,
    Ahasuerus drinks your health
    And bids you bring immediately before
    The court the serpents of the Orient!
    The king would have a night of revelry.

          [_The court fool, Smerdis, dances out before the court._]

  _Ahasuerus_ (_Continues_)

    What, Smerdis, is the office of a fool?

  _Smerdis_

    To charm these serpents of the Orient!
    [_Aside_] But more to furnish brains for idiot kings.

  _Ahasuerus_

    Now tell the chief musicians every one
    To string his harp with golden wire and tune
    His finest Persian reed to touch the heart
    With joy. To-night the emperor of the East,
    The monarch of the world from Babylon
    To India, would show munificence
    Of entertainment never seen within
    The palace walls before.

  _Smerdis_

                             You do forget
    That night six years ago. The palace was
    A blaze of light. The air was fragrant with
    The breath of spice from off the Indian seas.
    Ahasuerus, flushed with flattery
    And wine, was mad with passion....

  _Ahasuerus_

          [_Impetuously._]

                                     Smerdis, charm
    These serpents, if you will, your glittering words
    Are meaningless to me. Carshena, let
    The Jewish Esther come in Tyrian robe,
    In such a gown as never Vashti wore!

  _Smerdis_

          [_Aside._]

    His orders have not always been obeyed.

  _Ahasuerus_

    And I would have my queen adorned with gems,
    That diamond cluster from beyond the Ind,
    Which, sparkling in her aureole of gold, bedims
    The constellation of the Southern Cross.

  _Smerdis_

          [_Aside._]

    And makes the Persian peasants mourn their loss!

  _Ahasuerus_

    I say, Meheuman, this shall be a night
    In which Ahasuerus feasts his friends--
    A banquet for the soul, as well as flesh.

  _Smerdis_

          [_Aside._]

    A famished soul such feasting would refresh!

  _Ahasuerus_

    For who does not delight to look upon
    The rhythmic beauty of voluptuous form?

  _Smerdis_

          [_Aside._]

    Cold-blooded heart a writhing snake can warm!

  _Ahasuerus_

    Whose ear is not enthralled by luscious lute,
    Whose heart is not inspired by festive song!

  _Smerdis_

          [_Aside._]

    The one bowed down by tyranny and wrong!

  _Ahasuerus_

    But why has Mordecai delayed to come?
    The hated sons of Haman are no more;
    That reprobate who would have slain the queen
    Herself to gratify his wounded pride
    Has long since festered in the rain and sun.
    No enemy remains alive who dares
    To touch the people of the Jew that saved
    The life of Persia's king. He wears my ring;
    The purple of my empire is a shield
    Against the world. I do not understand
    Why Mordecai is late. He should be here;
    The tabor and tymbrel sound anon.

  _Smerdis_

          [_Dances and capers before the king, then speaks
          solemnly._]

    O king, I know why Mordecai is late,
    He sits once more beside the palace gate,
    In sackcloth and bemoans his fate.
    He sits and dreams of hills and streams
    That flow through pasture lands and fields.
    He sees a child of golden hair,
    As happy as the vibrant air,
    And hears the notes and pulse of song
    Where birds and sheep and shepherds throng.
    And then he turns to banquet halls
    And scenes like this in palace walls,
    Where lords and queens and fools and kings,
    And concubines and underlings,
    Made one with wine and passion's thrall,
    Throw dice with Death, nor heed the call
    That comes from Persia's bleeding heart,
    [_Aside_] (A fool that can not play his part).
    And this explains why he is late,
    The Jew beside the palace gate.

  _Ahasuerus_

    You are a jester, not a bard. Your cap
    And bells, or else Death wins his throw with you.
    Meheuman, call the poet of the court,
    The great Ahafid. Let him celebrate
    This feast in song. This rhyming fool presumes
    Too much upon the patience of the king.

  _Smerdis_

    Your majesty, I did but rhyme because
    Ahafid's dead.

  _Ahasuerus_

                     Ahafid dead? What caused
    His death?

  _Smerdis_

          [_Aside._]

    A broken heart. [_Aloud._] He broke his harp
    And died of grief. [_Aside again._] The good gray poet could
    Remember real kings.

  _Ahasuerus_

                             Of grief? The fool!
    Well, let the younger minstrel, Saadi sing.

  _Saadi_

          [_Sings._]

      Lift the voice and let us sing,
        The monarch's on his throne;
      Xerxes is the greatest king
        The world has ever known.
      Women, wine and happy song,
        Let the revels ring,
      Lift your voices loud and long,
        For Xerxes is our king.

          [_Much revel and dancing. The trumpet sounds._]

  _Ahasuerus_

    Ahafid's death was only Persia's gain.

          [_Meditatively._]

    Could Vashti look upon this gorgeous scene
    The bitter tears would scald her faded cheeks
    At thoughts of her own folly.

          [_Confusion and much disturbance. Ahasuerus, surprised,
          cries in angry passion._]

                             Ho! What means
    This rude confusion? Who has dared disturb
    The king in this unwonted way?

          [_Enter messenger._]

  _Messenger_

                                     Tidings,
    O king, of riot and revolt!

  _Ahasuerus_

                                  Restore
    The court to order. I will hear no news!
    There is no news but this night's joy. What fear
    Need Persia have? The world is safe;
    The emperor lives! Go put the messengers to death!
    This is no time to cloud the royal brow!
    Bring forth the vintage from the deepest vault.
    Here are a hundred irised pearls. They cost
    A million sesterces. Let each man crush
    A lustrous shell and drink it to the health
    Of Esther, beauteous queen of all the East.
    Arise! She comes! A blaze of splendor. Now
    Let every instrument be sounded.
    The revels shall continue till the dawn!

  _Zeresh_

          [_Rushing in with uplifted dagger and thrusting it into
          the heart of Esther, crying as she flourishes it before
          the astonished court._]

    The dawn, O king, is breaking in the east!

          [_Curtain._]


  FINIS



POEMS AND SONNETS


                             To
                      DOCTOR W. W. RAY
            PHYSICIAN, SCIENTIST, POET, MUSICIAN

                           To Whom
                   Whether in Art or Nature
               Truth is Beauty and Beauty Truth,
  To Whose Appreciation and Enthusiasm I Owed my Intellectual
       Awakening in Youth, and Whose Friendship and Love
         have Increased That Obligation Immeasureably
                  as the Years have Passed,

                   I Dedicate these Poems
             With the Affection of a Full Heart

                         COTTON NOE


[Illustration:

  "_Then why not praise the tallow-dip, the dog irons and the crane,
  The kettle singing on the coals, or hanging to a chain?_"]



Poems and Sonnets


  THE OLD DOG IRONS

    Oh, the old, old dog irons! How the picture thrills my soul,
    As I stir the ashes of the past and find this living coal:
    When I blow the breath of memory it flashes into flame,
    That seems to me far brighter than the most undying fame.
    Will you listen to the story of my early childhood days
    When I read the mystic symbols in the embers and the blaze
    Of the old wide-open fireplace, where the backlog, all aglow
    With its shifting scenes of fancy, was a motion picture show?
    I know about your natural gas, your stoves and anthracite,
    Your phonograph and telephone and incandescent light;
    I've heard about the comforts and the use of gasoline,
    And the educative value of a Pathe photo-scene;
    The future of the biplane and the wonders of the press,
    And the blessings of the wireless when a ship is in distress.
    I marvel at invention and its all but magic art,
    But the things that make for happiness concern the human heart.
    Then why not praise the tallow dip, the dog irons and the crane,
    The kettle singing on the coals, or hanging to a chain?
    The children gathered round the hearth to hear of early days--
    The wildcat and the panther, the redman's sneaking ways;
    The bravery of our fathers, the scalping knife and gun,
    The courage of the women folks; I tell you, boys, 'twas fun.
    We roasted sweet potatoes and we talked of Marion's men,
    How they routed all the redcoats, or slew them in the fen.
    We learned to love our country and we swore to tell the truth,
    And do no deed of treachery and never act uncouth;
    To guard the honor of our name, and shield a virtuous home,
    To read the Proverbs and the Psalms and love the sacred tome.
    I know our home was humble then--rag carpet on the floor--
    But the stranger found a welcome there, the latch-string on the door.
    The well-sweep and the woodpile and the ox team in the shed,
    Dried apples hung around the walls, and pumpkins overhead--
    Not sanitary, I'll admit, nor stylish-like, nor rich,
    But health and comfort and content; now tell me, which is which?
    Then who can blame me that I love the good old dog iron days,
    When men had hearts and character that fortune couldn't faze;
    The years before the slitted skirts and the Turkish cigarettes,
    When women wove their linsey clothes instead of devilish nets;
    When children did the chores at night, nor ever heard of gym,
    Or movements such as boy scouts, yet kept in health and trim.
    We spent our evenings all at home, and read and sang and played,
    Or talked of work and feats of strength, or what our crops had made;
    And when we mentioned quilting bees and apple-peeling time,
    We had in mind our sweethearts and we sometimes made a rhyme:
    'Twas then I read my future in the embers and the blaze,
    And this is why I celebrate the good old dog iron ways.


  THE AGE ELECTRIC

    The glory of the good old days has passed from earth away,
    The lumbering loom, the spinning wheel, Maud Muller raking hay;
    The old rail fence, the moldboard plough, the scythe and reaping hook,
    Corn shuckings, and Virginia reel, and young folks' bashful look.
    Now poor old father limps behind his motorcycle son
    And sees the world go whizzing by and knows his race is run.
    With rheumatism in his joints and crotchets in his brain,
    He finds that he can hardly catch th' accommodation train.
    Two dozen bottles of the oil of Dr. Up-To-Date
    Would put to flight the rheumatiz and straighten out his pate;
    But fogy folks don't have the faith, nor interest in the race,
    They'd rather drive a slow coach horse than go at such a pace.
    Efficiency! efficiency! In business, church and school,
    Where Culture in a dunce's cap sits grinning on a stool,
    And wondering where the thing will end, and what the prize will be,
    When Intellect, all geared and greased, is mere machinery.
    Old Homer and the Iliad, the Trojan and the Greek,
    The Parthenon and Phidias, not ancient, but antique.
    Great Cæsar and the Gallic War and Virgil with his rhyme,
    And Cicero have all gone down beneath the wheel of time.
    And Dante now lies buried deep beneath the art debris,
    Where Michael Angelo once wrought for immortality.
    The Swan of Avon's not in school, but on the movie screen,
    The Prince of Denmark can not talk but still he may be seen.
    All history and literature, philosophy and truth
    Would take about three evenings off of any modern youth
    To master through the picture art if he the time could spare,
    From vaudeville shows and joy rides and tango with the fair.
    The problem is to find an hour so busy is the age,
    And so important is the work and tempting is the wage.
    Then what's the use of poetry or history anyhow?
    Best turn your back upon the past and face the present _now_!
    Get busy, and be on the job, the world will pay for skill.
    It says: "Deliver me the goods, and then present your bill."
    The family circle and the talk around the old hearth stone,
    The sage advice, when backlogs glowed and grease lamps dimly shone,
    Are mouldy pictures of the past, mere myths of long ago,
    When grandsires had found out some things that children didn't know.
    How many bushels can you raise upon your plot of ground?
    How many blades of grass now grow where once just one was found?
    Oh! Nature is the proper theme, but better Wordsworth drop,
    San Jose scale and coddling moth will get your apple crop.
    Ben Johnson and Will Shakespeare and Goldsmith all are dead.
    Put nodules in alfalfa roots not dramas in your head.
    Tomato canning's orthodox if done with due dispatch,
    Don't let your daughter dream of fame, just show her how to patch.
    The laws of sanitation soon will put the fly to flight,
    Then stop tuberculosis next and win the hookworm fight.
    If man could live a century it may be in the strife,
    He'd learn to make a _living_ if he didn't make a _life_!
    What matter if the primrose is beside the river's brim,
    A yellow primrose growing there and nothing more to him,
    He's caught the trick of sustenance (but lost his taste for rhyme),
    Though the oxen in the clover fields have had that all the time!


  GRANDMOTHER DAYS

    Ah, Grandmother Young was wrinkled and old
      When she sat by the mantelpiece;
    And she wore a cap with many a fold
    Of ribbon and lace, as rich as gold,
      And worked in many a crease:
    And the billowy clouds of smoke that rolled
    From her little stone pipe whenever she told
      Of the quest of the Golden Fleece,
    Wrought me to think that Grandmother Young
    Was shriveled and gray when Homer sung
      Of the gods of ancient Greece.

    But all of her marvelous mythical lore
      Was naught to her magical power--
    Transforming a house with a puncheon floor
    To a palace of wealth with a golden door
      That lead to a castle tower--
    An attic loft with a wonderful store
    Of things that we feared, but longed to explore--
      Our grandmother's ancient dower.
    Oh, grandmother's charm could change but a base
    Rude vessel of clay to a Haviland vase,
      A weed to a royal flower.

    Ah, grandmother's home was a temple of grace
      And my child-heart worshipped there,
    When Balm-of-Gilead around the place,
    Like incense, for a mile of space,
      Perfumed the glorious air;
    And the song that came from the feathered race
    In the boughs of the tangled interlace
      Of apple and peach and pear,
    Enthralled me like the magic spell
    Of siren music when it fell
      On old Ulysses' ear.

    Last summer I passed where the palace once stood
      Whose beauty my life beguiled;
    It's a cabin now; and the charmed wood
    Of sugar and oak, in brotherhood
      Of walnut and hickory, aisled
    For gathering nuts and the merry mood
    That only our childhood understood,
      By man has been defiled.
    Oh, how can I ever cease to praise
    The fairy enchantment of grandmother days
      When I was a little child!


  JUST TO DREAM

    Just to dream when sapphire skies
    Are as blue as maidens' eyes;
    Just to dream when petals sow
    All the earth with pink and snow;
    Just to sit by youth's bright stream,
    Gazing at its crystal gleam--
    Listening to the wren and dove--
    Hearing only songs of love--
          _Just to dream_.

    Just to dream of sabre's flash
    When the lines of battle clash;
    See the army put to rout--
    Hear the world's triumphant shout;
    Just to dream our name supreme--
    Hero of a poet's theme,
    First among the sons of men,
    Master of the sword or pen--
          _Just to dream_.

    Just to dream when skies grow gray,
    Just to dream the days away--
    Living over childhood's joys,
    Sorrow that no longer cloys;
    Just to muse of days that seem
    Like the sunlight's golden beam,
    Summer nights and winter's snow.
    Just to dream of long ago--
          _Just to dream_.


  AMNEMON

    "Dear, the struggle has been hard and long--
    The wine-press I have trodden,
    Paved with flint and shard;
    And many times my feet have stained
    The flagstones of the street with blood.
    Out yonder in the park where life's rich chalice
    Sparkles with the wine of happiness and love
    The world was always dull and dark to me.
    Hours I have stood upon the beach
    And watched the whitecaps glinting
    In the sunlight and listened to the breakers
    Booming on the sinuous shore,
    While little children clapped their hands
    And shouted out across the waters,
    And gray-haired men and women shook their heads
    In silence and looked toward the sunset.
    But everything was always meaningless to me.
    Season after season I have watched the butterflies
    By millions come and go
    And katydids each year have sung
    The song monotonous and passed away.
    Yesterday the sun arose upon another world.
    Gray skies have turned to brilliant blue;
    The droning hum of beetles on the breeze
    Is like an orchestra of lovely music.
    The air is sweet and fresh as dewdrops in convolvuli.
    For two bright hours I have strolled
    Among the flowering shrubbery near the seashore,
    Listening to a song I had not heard for years.
    And now once more that I am happy,
    May I not confess it all?
    I did you wrong, great wrong.
    There was no stain upon my life,
    No taint of blood within my veins.
    I came of Pilgrim stock, vigorous and strong.
    I did not understand my heart,
    And knowing all the stress you placed upon heredity,
    I told a falsehood, partly as a test of love,
    And part for self-protection.
    I have suffered much, but justly.
    You said my story broke your heart,
    And left me where I stood,
    Pondering on the sin I had committed.
    I had proved your love, but all too late.
    Your talent meant a brilliant future,
    And I knew your great ambition.
    For years I scanned the periodicals
    Where names of most renown in literature are found,
    Expecting always to see my lover's there,
    But always doomed to disappointment.
    And yet I now rejoice
    That you have not achieved great fame,
    For otherwise I could not write this letter.
    Perhaps 'twere best that I should never send it;
    If so, it will not find its way to you.
    It may be that you think me dead,
    Or worse--I may have been forgotten.
    This is April twenty-first;
    The hillsides now are pink with peach and apple bloom.
    I will arrive in Salt Lake City, May the third,
    And be at Hotel Utah.
    If your heart, through all these years,
    Like mine, has hungered, you will be there too.
    Geraldine."

    Alfred Milner read this letter
    While great drops of perspiration
    Stood upon his brow and trembling hand.
    For seven winters he had tried
    To bury in oblivion a face and form
    That always with the dogwood blossoms
    Came again, and each time seemed more fair.
    He had tried for fame and failed.
    But now his book that bore a pen name only
    Was selling daily by the thousands
    And fame and fortune, latter-day twin saints,
    Were building him a shrine.
    But did she know of his success,
    And was her conduct
    Years before base cowardice?
    Had she only told the cruel tale
    Because she knew his theory of insane blood,
    And hid her lack of faith
    By taking refuge in his prejudice?
    Or was her story true?
    If true or false, why had she kept it back
    Until she knew red passion
    Was a-riot in his heart?
    He tore the letter into strips
    And blew them fiercely through the air.
    He had suffered much himself,
    But she was not concerned.
    What if this letter had been sent
    To open healing wounds,
    To win some wager with another man
    To whom she boasted of her power?
    He would not go!

    The air was growing foul and stuffy
    In his suite of rooms,
    And Alfred threw the window open.
    The subway in the distance
    Rumbled like a gathering storm;
    The palisades across the Hudson
    Now were darkling in the falling shadows.

    April thirtieth at noon.
    The Rocky Mountains looked like towers
    On the Chinese Wall a hundred miles away.
    Would he make connection at Pueblo?
    The gray monotony of grass and cacti
    Had begun to wear upon his nerves.
    He longed to see the Royal Gorge--
    The steep and jagged heights of hills.
    They spoke of giant strength
    He needed for the coming struggle.
    It might be that the air
    From off eternal snows
    Would cool the fever in his brain.

    "May second, and yonder lies the Great Salt Lake,
    Or else a mirage on the desert's rim."

    Alfred put his pen upon the register
    Of Hotel Utah,
    And read the list of names above.
    She was there, "Geraldine Mahaffy."
    Finally he scrawled a signature,
    But wrote his _nom de plume_.
    The clerk thrust out his hand and beamed.
    Two porters swooped upon his grips,
    And soon the lobby hummed.
    But Alfred Milner sat alone within his room
    Battling with emotions he could neither
    Overcome nor understand.
    He did not know the stir his name upon the register
    Had made below, or knew what name he wrote.
    At last: "Geraldine Mahaffy:
    This is May the third and I am here."
    Thoughtfully he creased the sheet
    And rang: "Room ten, and answer, please."

    The smell of brine was heavy on the air
    That blew across the lake.
    The mountains to the north were white with snow above
    And dogwood petals on the southern slopes.
    But winter was forgotten in the plains,
    For rivulets imprisoned long in cataracts
    Were leaping over waterfalls
    And shouting like a red bird,
    In an April cedar tree.

    Milner drew a long deep breath of spring
    And walked into the parlor.
    "Alfred!"
              "Geraldine!"

    "Last night I dreamed of Cornell days,
    And saw the redbuds blooming in the hills
    Behind the cliffs of Ithaca!"

    "The ice in Cascadilla Creek is gone.
    All night I heard the roaring of the falls!"

    "The call of flickers sounded through the canyons
    Of Old Buttermilk, and peckerwoods were beating
    Reveilles before the sun was up!"

    "Two blue birds built a mansion
    In a dead oak trunk
    And called the world to witness!"

    "Alfred!"
                "Geraldine!"

    "The train for California leaves at nine!"

    Some hours out from Great Salt Lake,
    The sand dunes stretching southward
    O'er a waste of shrubbery and alkali
    Were shimmering in the sunshine
    Like copper kettles on a field of bronze.

    "Dear Alfred, can you still recall
    Those afternoons upon the cliffs above Cayuga Lake?
    The little city, Ithaca,
    Was like a jewel on the breast of Nature.
    The lake a band of silver, stretching northward.
    A hundred waterfalls were visible
    From where we used to sit.
    We often thought the lime-washed houses
    Far to west, resembled whited decks
    Upon a sea of emerald;
    And wondered if our own good ship
    Would one day cast its anchor in the harbor.
    Over to the right the Cornell towers,
    Like mediæval castles beetling o'er the precipice,
    Were keeping silent watch above it all.
    The memory of those blessed days alone
    Has kept my heart alive."

    "But Geraldine, our vessel richly laden
    Has at last come in
    Nor ever will put out to sea again.
    Happy as those moments were,
    Forget the past, so fraught with bitterness to me."

    The desert now a hundred miles behind
    Was fading like a crescent sea beach
    In the setting sun.
    Slowly like a giant serpent
    The Sunset Limited climbed the great Sierras
    And started down the western slope at dawn.
    The valley of the Sacramento
    Never bloomed so beautiful before.
    The blue Pacific through the haze
    Was like a canvas sea.
    Peace permeated all the earth.
    The sun at last was resting on the ocean's rim.
    The turquoise waters turned to liquid gold.

    "Life, O my beloved, is like eternal seas--
    Emerald in the morning, changing into opal,
    Amethyst and pearl, but ruby red at last.
    Behold the Golden Gate!
    The seas beyond are all like that!"

    Morning in the Sacramento!
    Petals, dew and fragrance--indescribable!
    Plumage, song and sunshine,
    And over all a California sky!

    "O Alfred, could it only be like this forever!
    Back yonder in New York,
    The world is built of brick and mortar,
    And men forget the handiwork of God.
    How can a poet hope to win a name
    Where men are mad for gold?"

    "A name! Why Geraldine! I had forgot
    To tell the story of my fame.
    The ecstacy of these three days
    Had blotted all earthly fortune from my memory.
    I am Ralph Nixon, author of the _Topaz Mystery_."

    "Ralph Nixon! You! Then who am I?"
    A heavy tide of blood swept over
    All the tracery of the bitter past,
    And in a moment more
    She lay unconscious on a bed of thorny cactus.

    The _City Argentina_ blew a long loud blast
    And anchored in the bay.
    The woman opened wondering eyes
    And looked at Milner.
    "Why do you call me Geraldine?
    My Christian name's Amnemon.
    We never met before.
    I am Major Erskine's wife.
    We live in Pasadena.
    I do not know your name or face,
    Nor how I came to be with you.
    I never saw this place before,
    But those are California hills
    And yonder is the great Pacific.
    The mystery of who you are,
    And where I am, I can not solve.
    I only know I wish to see my home and child;
    Little Alfred never has been left alone,
    And may be calling for his mother now.
    You seem to be a gentleman.
    Please show me to the nearest train
    That goes to Pasadena."

    Half in fright and half in rage
    Milner looked at Geraldine and tried to speak.
    The mountains reeled and pitched into the sea.
    A clevage in the brain! But whose?
    This was insanity, but whether his
    Or hers he was unable to decide.
    The memory of the Cornell days came back--
    The cliffs above the lake, the emerald farms,
    The gorges and the waterfalls,
    And finally the wild, weird light
    That played in iridescent eyes
    That last day on the hills--
    The story of the tainted blood and what it meant
    For future generations.
    Milner saw an eagle soaring high above the park
    And then he heard a scream
    As though a ball had pierced its heart.
    The bird careened and dropped a hundred feet,
    Then spreading broad its wings again,
    Shot upward to the heights.

    The train for Pasadena speeded onward
    Toward its destination.
    A poet sat within his room
    That opened on the Golden Gate
    And as the sun dropped into the wave,
    He wrote a Requiem to Hope,
    That filled the earth with fame.


  A ROMANCE OF THE CUMBERLAND

    Early in the day they passed the pinnacle,
    And now the shadow of each human form
    Was lengthening backwards like Lombardy poplars
    Fallen toward the east.
    For days the fairest maiden of the caravan
    Had fevered--whether from malaria and fatigue,
    Or more because of one whom they had left behind,
    Beyond the wooded mountains,
    Neither sire nor matron could agree.
    But Martha Waters, as they laid her stretcher down
    And prepared the camp for coming night,
    Declared unless they rested here for days to come,
    Her bones must bleach beside the trail
    That led into the Dark and Bloody Ground.

    And so they waited for the fever to abate,
    But when they thought her strong enough,
    A score of hardy pioneers trudged down
    The slope and launched canoes and dug-outs
    And a flatboat in the turgid waters
    Of the Cumberland, for heavy rains had fallen
    And all the mountain streams were swollen
    In these early days of June.
    But the air was sweet with the odor
    Of wild honeysuckle and the ivy
    With its starry clusters fringed
    The milky way of elder bloom
    That filled each sheltered cove
    Like constellations on a summer night.
    But now the rains had ceased, the air
    Was fresh and bracing, and each glorious day
    Out-rivaled all the rest in beauty.
    Lying on her pallet on the flatboat,
    The maiden breathed the fragrant atmosphere,
    And drank refreshing whiffs of air
    That drove the fever from her blood
    And wakened dreams of conquest
    In the wilderness toward which
    Her life was drifting rapidly.
    But how could she find heart for conquest?
    Why seek this new land anyway, where only
    And forever to card the wool and spin the flax
    Would be the woman's portion?
    Would ever in the forest or beyond it
    In the rolling bluegrass,
    Return the vision that was hers,
    When only a few brief months ago
    She watched the sea gulls battling with the storm
    Above the waves of Chesapeake Bay?
    Oh, how that day was filled with meaning
    For her now! For as the birds disported
    With the whirlpools of the air,
    A lover's magic words were whispered in her ear,
    How that storm and stress of life to those that love
    Are little more than winds to swallows of the sea.
    But now, if hardship meant so little,
    Why had he remained behind, when she
    Was forced to go upon the long and weary journey?
    Ah! Could it be he cared no longer for her love?
    His arm was strong. Then was his heart
    Not brave enough to conquer this new world,
    Where savage lurked and wild beast made
    The darkness dreaded by the most courageous soul?

    For days the fleet had drifted down the river,
    But now her boat was anchored to a tree
    That grew upon an island in the Cumberland,
    And every man and woman but the convalescent
    Had gone ashore to stalk a deer or gather berries
    That everywhere were found along the river bank.
    But Martha Waters lay upon her bed and pondered--
    Dreaming day dreams, as she watched
    A golden oriole who fed her young
    In boughs that overhung the water,
    And a vague unhappiness arose
    Within her heart, until she tossed
    Again in fever on her couch.
    She could hear the roaring falls
    A mile below, but she thought the sounding
    Cataract the sickness booming in her ears again.
    When she looked to eastward where the mountain
    Rose a thousand feet, she saw a crown of wealth
    Upon its crest of which no pioneer yet had dreamed.
    Long she lay and marveled at its beauty,
    Wondering how many ages would elapse before
    The god of Mammon would transport its treasures
    To his marts beside the sea.
    Feverish she mused and pondered until at last she slept.
    And then upon the little island,
    A city rose as from the ocean wave--
    A city of a thousand streets, and every house
    Was made from trees that grew upon the mountain.
    Many were the palaces of wealth and beauty,
    But those who dwelt therein she did not recognize.
    Strange were their faces and their manners haughty,
    And while they lived in luxury and ease,
    Others toiled at mill and furnace. Oh! The awful din
    Of sledge and hammer, beating in her ears.
    She woke. A storm seemed just about to burst in fury,
    So loud and terrible was the roaring!
    But the sky was clear. It is the booming
    Of the falls, for her boat has broke its moorings,
    And now is rapidly drifting toward the cataract,
    But four hundred yards away!

    She leaped upon her feet and screamed for help.
    It was impossible for her to swim ashore,
    And her fever-wasted frame could find no strength
    With which to steer the boat.
    Again she saw the crown of wealth
    Upon the mountain top, untouched by human hands.
    But the island city now had faded from her vision,
    The mountain lowered and the world grew dark.
    Onward the boat shot faster toward the roaring falls.
    But look! A race is on! A birch canoe,
    Driven by as swift a hand as ever gripped
    An oar, is leaping o'er the waves in mad pursuit.
    With every stroke the Indian bark is gaining twenty feet.
    Will it reach the flatboat soon enough to save the girl?
    But who is he that rides the fleet canoe?
    No red man ever had an arm like that,
    For already he has reached the speeding raft,
    And with gigantic strength he steers it toward the shore.
    But no! The current is too swift!
    A moment more and all will be engulfed within
    The swirling flood. It is too late! Too late?
    But love is swifter than the angry tide,
    For like a mighty porpoise, wallowing in the wave,
    The valiant hero leaps into the stream,
    And holding Martha Waters in his strong right arm
    High above the water, reaches shore
    A hundred feet above the deadly precipice.

    The air was growing chilly even on this summer night,
    And the emigrants had gathered round a crackling fire,
    Discoursing of the past, and listening to a modest tale of love.
    Simply and unfaltering James Hunt related
    How his heart had hungered back beside the old Potomac,
    Till he found he could no longer brook the passion
    That grew stronger as the days of summer lengthened.
    At last he started, and following every night
    The blazing dogstar, and resting through the day till evening,
    In just three weeks he reached the river
    Where he found the birch canoe that rode
    The seething waters like a greyhound of the ocean.
    Then the maiden told her vision of the island city,
    How its palaces and mansions, rich as gold and beautiful as crystal,
    Were constructed by her people, toiling hundreds,
    Sore and weary, of times cold and hungry.
    She had seen them fell the forests,
    Hew and mill and dress the lumber,
    Till the soil and reap the harvests, gathering into others' garners.
    Stalwart were these men and women, pure of heart
    And strong of muscle, fitted for the tasks before them.
    She had seen her brothers laboring at the forge and sounding anvil;
    Sisters toiling at the wheel and distaff, heard them at the loom
    While flying shuttle threaded warp with web of beauty;
    Watched them till they fell asleep with weariness,
    While the sons of leisure feasted.
    Thus the maiden told her story, saying:
    "Shall we undertake the journey? Plows are waiting
    In the furrows back in Maryland, my people,
    Back beyond the rugged mountain. There are harvests
    Yet ungarnered, waiting for scythe and sickle.
    Calculate the cost, and weigh it, for my vision is prophetic.
    For my part, I choose this lover, for my guide and valiant leader.
    He shall point the way forever,
    Though he take the road that's darkest."

    Then James Hunt, the hero lover,
    Who had never quailed at danger,
    Trembling for his happy passion,
    Rose and pointed toward the westward,
    Toward the Pleiades descending,
    Deep behind the gloomy forest.
    "Let us face toward dark Kentucky, fell its forests,
    Build its roads and bridge its rivers,
    Give our children to the nation.
    What though others reap our harvests,
    Hoard the wealth we have created?
    Ours shall be the nobler portion.
    Blessed is the one that suffers,
    If he spends himself for others.
    Should the toiling millions falter,
    Though they work for others' comfort,
    Building homes they can not enter?
    Christ was born within a manger,
    May we not produce a leader,
    Who shall save our nation's honor?
    At to-morrow morning's dawning,
    Ere the sunrise gild the treetops,
    Let us take the darkling pathway."

    Still the Pleiades are circling,
    Still the dogstar glows in heaven,
    But the oak and pine and poplar
    All have gone from off the mountain--
    Passed into the marts of Mammon,
    By the hands of toil and labor.
    Silent are the loom and distaff,
    In the cabin and the cottage,
    And the songs of scythe and sickle
    Gathering in the golden harvests.
    But the pain of drudgery lingers,
    And the heart still longs and hungers
    For the fruitage it shall gather,
    Yet beyond the wooded westward.


  MORNING GLORIES.

    A roguish laugh, a rustling vine,
      I turn my eager eye;
    Big drops of dew in bells of blue
      And red convolvuli.

    But nothing more; I hold my breath
      And strain my eager eye;
    A yellow crown, two eyes of brown,
      And pink convolvuli!

    The golden curls, the elfish laugh,
      Rose cheeks and glittering eye
    Are glories, too, like bells of blue
      And red convolvuli.


  CHRISTMASTIDE

    Evergreen and tinsel'd toys,
    Drums and dolls, and bursting joys--
    Blessed little girls and boys!

    Holly, bells, and mistletoe,
    Tinkling sledges, here we go--
    Youth and maiden o'er the snow.

    Chilling winds and leaden days,
    Vesper songs and hymns of praise
    Silver hair and dying blaze!

    Christmas morn and yuletide eve,
    Dear Lord, help us to believe--
    Naught but blessings we receive.


  KINSHIP

    Oh, little children, ye who watch the trains go by,
      With yearning faces pressed against the window panes,
    You do not know the reason why
    Your lingering image dims my eye
      Though I have passed beyond the hills into the rolling plains.

    Dear little children, I once watched the trains go by,
      And hungered, much as when I feel the silent stars;
    And then I saw the cold gray skies,
    And felt the warm tears in my eyes,
      When far beyond the distant hills I heard the rumbling cars.


  PRECOCITY

    "Oh, grandfather, what are the stars?
         Stones on the hand of God?
    I heard you call that red one Mars
         And those three Aaron's rod;
    And these are great Orion's band!"
    "My child, you are too young to understand!"

    "Oh, grandfather, what are the winds
         That sough and moan and sigh?
    Does God grow angry for men's sins
         He lifts the waves so high?
    And blows his breath o'er sea and land?"
    "My boy, you are too young to understand!"

    "Oh, grandfather, what are the clouds
         In yonder sunset sky?
    They look to me like winding shrouds
         For men about to die!
    Dear grandfather, your trembling hand!"
    "My son, you are too young to understand!"


  THE SECRET

    Old Santa Claus came with his pack
    On his back
      Right down the chimney flue;
    His long flowing beard was ghostlike and weird
      But his cheeks had a ruddy hue;
    And his jacket was as red as a woodpecker's head
      But his breeches, I think, were blue.

    I heard a soft step like a hoof
    On the roof,
      And I closed my outside eye;
    Then played-like I slept, but the other eye kept
      A watch on the jolly old guy;
    And I caught him in the act with his bundles all unpacked,
      But I'm not going to tell, not I.

    When Santa comes again this year
    With his deer
      And a sled full of toys for me,
    I don't mean to keep either eye from its sleep
      While he climbs my Christmas tree;
    For I don't think it's right to the happy old wight
      To spy on his mystery.


  A RHYMELESS SONNET

    Sardonic _Death_, clothed in a scarlet shroud,
      Salutes his minions on the crumbling thrones
      Of Tyranny, and with malicious leer,
    He points a fleshless finger toward the fields
    Of Belgium: "No harvest since the days
      Of Bonaparte and Waterloo hath filled
      My flagons with a wine of such a taste;
    Your crowns ye hold by rights divine indeed!"

    But _One_ has entered in at lowly doors
      And sits by every hearthstone where they will:
      "My _Word_ enthron-ed in Democracy
    Has twined the holly round Columbia's brow--
      A crown of 'Peace on earth, good will to men.'
      I am the _Resurrection_ and the _Life_!"


  AMBITION

    I covet not the warrior's flashing steel
      That drives the dreaded foe to headlong flight;
      I envy not the czar his ruthless might
    That grinds a state beneath an iron heel;
    I do not ask that I may ever feel
      The thrill that follows fame's uncertain light;
      And in the game of life I do not quite
    Expect always to hold a winning deal.

    Grant me the power to help my fellow man
      To bear some ill that he may not deserve;
      Give me the heart that I may never swerve,
    In scorn of Death, to do what good I can;
      But most of all let me but light the fires
      Upon the altar of the _youth's_ desires.


  OPPORTUNITY

    I often met her in the days of youth
      Along the highway where the world goes by;
      And sometimes when I caught her wistful eye
    I wondered that it seemed so filled with ruth.
    She was a modest maiden, plain, in truth,
      And unattractive, and I thought, "Now why
        Should one seek her companionship; not I--
    At least, until I've had my fling, forsooth!"

    And so I passed her by and had my day,
      And met a thousand whom I thought more fair
      In tinsel gowns beneath electric glare--
    A thousand, but they went their primrose way.
    Now she's a queen, and boasts a score of sons--
    Her consort he who shunned my charming ones!


  HOLIDAY THOUGHTS

    The night was like some monster omen ill,
      Whose shrieking froze the marrow of my bones;
      But day dawned calm, though white as polar zones,
    The bluebird shouting "Spring!" from every hill.
    The world lay parching in the noonday grill,
      And blades of corn were twisting into cones;
      But night brought rain, and now, like golden thrones,
    The fruited shocks deride October's chill.

    Dear Lord, I would that we might live by faith,
      However cold and dark the day may seem,
    And trust that every cloud is just a wraith,
      And every shadow but a fading dream.
    Oh, grant our eyes may see the beacon lights
    That blaze forever on the peaks and heights!


  THE OLD YEAR AND THE NEW

    Good-bye, Old Year; our journey has been brief;
      I'm sorry now to leave thee dying here,
      For thou hast borne my burdens with good cheer,
    And never murmured, but assuaged my grief.
    When buds of promise never came to leaf;
      When broken resolutions, doubt, and fear
      Did mock at my defeat, O good Gray Year,
    Thy reassuring smile restored belief.

    Good-bye--farewell! I trust thy dear young child,
      Who greets me at the gateway of the dawn,
      Will deal as gently with me and my friends,
    And lead our footsteps through the springtime mild,
      O'er summer's lawn, down autumn's slopes, and on
      To where the path of chill December ends.


  FELLOW TRAVELERS

    Old comrade, must we separate to-day?
      Sometimes my feet have faltered, sore and tired,
      And sometimes in the sloughs and quicksands mired,
    But it has always helped to hear you say,
    "The road is fine a little further on."
      Your optimism and your hearty cheer
      Have made the journey pleasant, good Old Year,
    And I, in truth, regret to see you gone.

    Young New Year whom you leave me as a guide,
      In doubt, would have me pledge a lot of things
      Before we start, and make some offerings
    To gods whose love, I fear, will not abide.
      And yet I like my new companion's face.
      Old Year, lend him your wisdom and your grace.


  JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY

    Beloved Poet, thou hast taught our heart
      A sympathy it hardly knew before--
      A yearning kinship and a spirit lore
    Of humble folk, a love transcending art!
    The pulse of brotherhood throbs in thy song.
      No mystic, blindly groping on the shore
      Of dark uncertainty; unlike Tagore,
    Thy faith is pure and definite and strong.

    Consumpted Jim and thriftless Coon-dog Wess,
      The Girly Girl with eyes of limpid blue,
      The Raggedy Man that Orphant Annie knew;
    The Little Cripple, glad, though motherless;
      Poor hare-lip Joney and the Wandering Jew--
    All these thy pen doth glorify and bless!


  CALE YOUNG RICE

    He loves the boom of breakers on the shore,
      And winds that lash the billows into foam;
      He loves the placid seas beneath the dome
    Of blue infinitudes--not less, but more;
    He loves to brood upon the mystic lore
      Of silent stars above the silent seas,
      And feel the passion of infinities
    Beyond, where only Faith would dare explore.

    Thus groping after God has helped him find
      Divinity in man (where only sin
      And brutal lusts have seemed to hedge him in),
    And taught his heart that Fate is never blind.
      That somehow, somewhere, now beyond our ken,
      One day we'll understand the wrongs of men.


  PILATE'S MONOLOGUE

  [_This monologue of Pilate to Herod takes place a few
  days after the resurrection at the home of Pontius
  Pilate. Pilate and Herod are standing on the east porch
  of the Governor's mansion in Jerusalem, looking toward
  the Mount of Olives. The time is just at sunset._]

    Oh! Herod, couldst thou find no fault in Him--
    The Man of Galilee? Clearly He
    Belonged within thy jurisdiction. Didst
    Thou fear to do thy duty? Still I blame
    Thee not--the mob was clamorous for blood!
    I questioned Him, but like a lamb before
    His shearers He was dumb and answered me
    No word. Was not His silence proof of guilt?
    But even then I offered to release
    Him, till the rabble shouted, "Crucify
    This Man: set free Barabbas, if thou wilt,
    But we demand the life of Jesus whom
    They call the _Christ_." Oh! dost thou think His blood
    Can be upon my head? I washed my hands
    Before the multitude and told them I
    Was innocent of any crime toward Him.
    I scourged Him, it is true, but that was all.
    They stripped Him and bedecked Him with a robe
    Of scarlet cloth, and placed a crown of thorns
    Upon His head, and then they mocked and jeered
    And spat upon Him, hailing Him as _King_!
    I can not think that this was right, but still
    They say He blasphemed and deserved to die.
    But what Is blasphemy?
                             Oh, Herod, I
    Can never rid my dreams of Jesus' look.
    He turned His eyes upon me as I dipped
    My fingers in the bowl--a glance that seemed
    More fraught with love and pity than with hate.
    He blessed the people as He hung upon
    The cross in agony of pain, and prayed
    His God to pardon them because they knew
    Not what they did. Thou canst not, Herod, think
    This Nazarene was more than man? It can't
    Be possible that He whom Pilate scourged
    Was _Christ_ indeed! But could a _man_ forgive
    His murderers? They say the tomb is burst
    And that His body is no longer there!
    I might endure His curse. My pen has stabbed
    To death a thousand men and never felt
    Compunction for the deed, because I knew
    They hated me. But now the voice that haunts
    My sleep asks only blessings on my head.
    They say He wept for men because of sin,
    And yet no guile was found in Him. If I
    Could close my eyes and see that face no more
    I might find peace again.
                               Three nights I have
    Not slept. I hear that Judas hanged himself!
    And now no guard that watched before
    The sepulchre can anywhere be found.
    Had I but set the Galilean free!
    But did he not insult my majesty?
    He must have known I ruled in Cæsar's stead.
    What if my wife was troubled in a dream
    And suffered many things on His account?
    A Roman governor must be a man!
    They say the temple's veil was rent in twain--
    The sky was darkened and the sun was hid.
    He said I had no power to crucify
    Except that it be given from above.
    He did not know the strength of Pilate's arm!
    'Tis said He cried, "My God, my God, why hast
    Thou now forsaken me?" The earth did quake,
    The tombs were cracked, and then the shrouded dead
    Stalked ghost-like through the fields and open streets!
    Look! Look! What is yon robe of shining white?
    Behold the Man--the Man of Galilee!
    With outstretched arms He stands on Olivet,
    The shadows purpling o'er Gethsemane.
    I hear Him cry in agony of soul,
    "How often would I, O Jerusalem,
    Have gathered unto Me thy children as
    A hen her brood beneath her wing, but ye
    Would not come." Herod, canst thou hear His voice?
    It is impossible! It can not be!
    He must not know that I am Pilate! Still
    He calls my name! I can not, dare not go!
    What would the people think? I will
    Be free. There is no blood upon my hands.
    See, I wash them clean and am myself
    Again. Oh! Now the spell is gone. Though not
    The king, I am governor of the Jews!


  THE VIRILE SPIRIT

  [_Written after reading a letter in which the writer
  said: "I covet for our country a great war--one that
  will stir our virile spirits and send forth our youth
  to fight and die for our country."_]

    What is courage? To face the bursting shell
    When rhythmic sheets of fire discover gulfs
    Of death, yet rather steel than daunt the heart;
    When comrades fall beneath the knapsack's weight,
    Foot froze and bleeding on the icy road,
    To hear the blasts from towering snow-crowned Alps
    Sing only martial airs that stir the blood!
    It is a noble thing to die in war--
    To sacrifice the breath of life; to feel
    The pain of hunger and of cold, yet flinch
    Not that one's country may be great or free.
    Many a generation yet unborn
    Will bless the name of Valley Forge, and hold
    In reverence the field of Gettysburg.
    But war is not the only thing that tries
    The bravest soul. To live does sometimes take
    More courage than to close with death; and oft
    The coward shrinks from living when the brave
    Man scorns to die. We need no bugle note
    To rouse our manhood's strength. The call to men
    Is clear and strong. It is not to repel
    The Hun, the Teuton, or the Slav, nor yet
    To drive the Yellow Peril from the seas.
    We must send forth our men to live, not die--
    We need to save, not kill our fellow man,
    To smite the Minotaur of Sin, and stop
    The tribute greater now than all the tolls
    Of war. The beast in man is ravenous
    And must be slain. He feeds upon the fruits
    Of toil, and blights the home with poverty;
    He drags the innocent to dens of shame
    To satisfy his brute carnality.
    No fiery dragon in the days of myth
    Laid waste a land or blasted life with breath
    More foul or appetite insatiate.
    This is the enemy that we must fight.
    No dreadnaughts now afloat, no submarines,
    No legions that may ever bivouac on
    Our shores, no Zeppelins disgorging fire
    Portend the dire disasters wrought upon
    Our nation's strength by Avarice and Lust.
    The sword of Theseus is too dull a blade,
    The arm of Beowulf not strong enough
    To battle with Cupidity and Sin.
    We need the breastplate of a righteous life,
    Our loins must be girt about with truth,
    The heart protected by the shield of faith,
    And in the right hand there must ever be
    The spirit's sword, which is the Word of God!
    And even clothed and weaponed thus it takes
    A heart as fearless as the dauntless Dane's
    To strike the Mammon of Unrighteousness--
    To grapple with this Grendel that invades
    The mead-halls still and ravishes our youth.


  BLUEBIRD.

    Bluebird in the cedar bush--
    Fresh and clean as the evergreen,
    Through a rift of leaves,
    Or my eye deceives.
    But silent! Hush!
    He calls, he calls!
    The first spring note
    From a feathered throat
    My heart enthralls;
    And my pulses leap
    As a child from sleep
    On Christmas morn, at the blast of horn,
    To meet, to greet,
    The choral sweet
    From bluebird in the cedar bush:
    _At last, at last
    The snow and sleet
    Of winter's blast
    Have passed, have passed,
    And spring is here, good cheer, good cheer!_
    The call comes ringing in to me
    From Bluebird in the cedar tree.


  AN AUTUMN MINOR

    Russet and amber and gold,
      Crimson and yellow and green,
    And far away the blue and gray,
      A twinkling silver sheen.

    Violet, scarlet and red,
      Purple and dark maroon,
    And over it all the music of fall--
      A weird prismatic tune.

    An opera serious and grand,
      An orchestra mystic and sad--
    A symphony alone of color and tone
      To drive a mortal mad.


  SLABS AND OBELISK

    Hollyhocks were blooming in the backyard near the barn,
    Proud as rhododendrons by a regal mountain tarn,
    Purple, white and yellow, blue and velvet red--
    Humble little cottage, but a royal flower bed.
    Pink and crimson roses and carnations took your breath--
    Dark-eyed little pansies looking like the Head of Death;
    Golden-rayed sunflowers, lifting discs of hazel brown,
    Filled the heart with wonder and the garden with renown.

    Little Harold, born a poet, watched the petals blow,
    Read the mystic cryptographs his elders didn't know;
    Heard the music in the wind like sirens on the shore,
    Far beyond the sunset in the land Forevermore.
    Oft the village sages saw him lying in the shade,
    Gazing where the sun and vapor wrought a strange brocade--
    Tapestries of gold and silver on a field of blue,
    Heard him murmur softly riddles no one ever knew.

    All the people pitied Harold, thinking of the end
    In the cold, unfeeling world he couldn't comprehend--
    Seeing nothing else but lilies, living in a trance,
    In an age of facts and figures, dreaming wild romance.
    But the sages now are sleeping on the little hill,
    Modest slabs are keeping watch with rue and daffodil.
    Harold has an obelisk that towers toward the sky,
    Hollyhocks upon his mound to bless and glorify.


  ON BROADWAY

    Even as to-night on Broadway
    Long ago I wandered down
    The Great White Way of childhood,
    Mystified, enchanted, as I watched
    The million butterflies
    That tilted through the air in rhythmic flight,
    And pulsed above the petaled sweets,
    And sipped the nectar of the purple thistle bloom,
    Until at last they staggered down the dusty Road to Death.



POSTSCRIPT



Postscript


  AN EMBER ETCHING

    An old man sat before his great log fire
    And gazed dreamily into the dying blaze.
    His eyes were red as though with weeping.
    The long, thin locks of hair
    Were spotless as the snow
    Silently mantling the earth
    That last sad night of the dying year.
    Four days and nights
    He had sat beside the bed
    Of his life-companion.
    But now the watchers by the bier
    In the adjoining room,
    Were dozing in their chairs.
    The cold night
    Had driven the mice from their hiding,
    And the loud tick of the clock
    No longer frightened them
    As they scampered over the hearth.

    The man was breathing heavily,
    Although his eyes were open,
    And his stare fixed upon the fire:
    _Down by a gnarled oak near the spring
    Two children played.
    Rebecca had dipped a dock leaf
    In the water,
    And now whisked it in the sunlight.
    Against the trunk of the tree
    There was a playhouse made of broken boughs.
    The girl's dolls were lying on the green moss bed,
    And a little cracked slate lay upon the ground.
    An almost illegible scrawl was written on the slate.
    Two childish hands had traced their names:
    "Rupert--Rebecca."
    And the words were linked together by lines
    That looked like twisted ropes.
    The boy and girl sat down before the playhouse,
    And crossed their hands in imitation
    Of the lines that bound their names together.
    And then they smiled
    And looked upon the dolls
    Asleep in the fresh June morning._

    A chunk broke and fell in the ashes.
    The blaze died into a glow of coals.
    In the gray beyond the dog irons
    The old man saw two figures
    Sitting before an awning:
    _Two golden haired children
    Slept in a little bed.
    The man and woman who sat beside the shelter
    Were old and bent,
    Their faces thin and white.
    They clasped their hands
    And looked into each other's face.
    And then they turned and looked
    Upon the children.
    A coal dropped into the picture,
    And the fitful fire died
    Into deepening shadows._

    Next day the pall-bearers
    Bore two bodies away
    And lowered a single coffin
    Into a grave
    Beneath the snow-laden cedar.


  A TRAGEDY IN BIRDLAND

    A little maiden blue-jay,
    Fresh from her April morning bath,
    Sat on the limb of a weeping willow,
    Preening her shining feathers
    And dreaming of a song
    To which she had listened
    On the afternoon of the preceding day.
    A wild joy was in her heart
    And yet it took all the sunshine and song
    From a hundred other throats
    To withstand the gloom
    That seemed hovering just above her.
    She was conscious of the threatening cloud,
    But her heart beat furiously
    And hope thrilled her bird-being
    With an unwonted light.
    And yet she knew,
    When she dared to think at all,
    That it was a hopeless hope
    That flooded her soul with love--
    A hope that must ere long
    Change to a black despair.
    She lifted her crested head
    And looked toward the old beech tree
    Where her blue-jay lover now sat
    In melancholy gloom.
    Why not raise her voice
    And gladden his heart?
    He had been true and faithful
    For many weeks,
    And his suit would long since
    Have won another's love.
    Why had she thrilled
    At the alien voice of another throat?
    She had been a foolish maiden
    To have entertained so wild a thought.

    But hark! Again the song!
    On the topmost spire
    Of yonder Gothic poplar
    Sits a cardinal fop,
    In a coat of matchless red,
    And a beak of shining ivory.
    He lifts his sumach plume
    Into the glinting sunlight
    And sends a Cupid shaft
    From his beaded eye
    Into the trembling breast
    Of little maiden blue-jay.
    Poor little mademoiselle!
    Once more the notes
    Come whistling and glittering
    Like a shower of pearls
    Through the sunshine:
    "Oh! my true love is a little blue-jay--
        Mademoiselle, my bird gazelle,
    My little gazelle, and I love her well.
    Fresh and sweet from her morning spray
    She sits on the willow and her crest is gay--
        Mademoiselle, my little gazelle I love so well."

    Down from his commanding height
    Flashed the cardinal flame
    And perched on another limb
    Of the weeping willow.
    And then he strutted and pranced
    And capered and danced
    And shot his fiery glances
    Toward the modest little maiden
    Whose heart was now fluttering
    Beyond all control. Master blue-jay
    Over on the beech bough
    Saw the terrible tragedy
    That would follow in the wake of betrayal
    And was desperate to save this Psyche
    To whom he had often poured out his soul
    In amorous vows,
    Swearing by all the gods in birdland
    That there was none other beside her.
    But like many another lover
    Of larger experience and better advantage,
    He forgot that the very way
    To lose his loved one
    Was to berate his rival,
    And lifting his reed
    To the upper register of a clarinet,
    He almost screamed:

    "He's a liar, he is, by the god of all birds,
        A master of villainous art--
    A hypocrite, a varlet, believe not his words,
    This dandy, this fop, deceiver, betrayer,
    A coward, seducer, a murderous slayer--
        He'll crush thy innocent heart."

    Poor little maiden blue-jay
    Heard his screams of anger and despair
    But heeded not the warning.
    She only fluttered over
    To where the cardinal sat
    And threw herself under his protecting arm,
    Declaring her perfect faith
    In his undying love.

    The red prince lifted
    His burning plume triumphantly
    Into the sunlight,
    And shot a contemptuous glance
    Toward the old beech tree.
    Master Blue-Jay unable
    Longer to control himself,
    Darted like a lance of blue steel
    At the red coat.
    But the high churchman was a skilled fencer,
    And stepped aside just in time
    To send his antagonist
    With terrible momentum
    Into the thorn tree
    Beyond the willow,
    Where a moment later he writhed and fluttered,
    Pinioned through his body
    By a sword-like thorn
    That projected from the trunk of the spiny tree.
    It was a sight to touch the heart
    Of the most abandoned denizen of birdland.
    But Mademoiselle Blue-Jay,
    Who would ordinarily have wept
    At so sad a fate of one of her kind,
    Was just now too happy
    In the love of her wooer
    To notice another;
    And unmindful of the ebbing life-blood
    That was fast turning her unfortunate lover's coat
    Of bright and shining blue
    To one of dark and dull maroon,
    She nestled close
    To the false-hearted ecclesiastic
    And sighed the lovelorn sigh
    That has come from the maiden heart
    Since the foundation of the world.

    The low cedar
    In which Madam Blue-Jay-Cardinal now sat
    On such a nest of eggs
    As no blue-jay had ever brooded over before,
    Wondering, fearing, doubting, longing--
    Was only a rod or so from the spiny thorn
    Where the dried body of the fated lover
    Still hung.
    But where now was the supercilious fop
    Whose seductive vows of love
    Had won the little maiden's confidence
    And robbed her true and faithful lover
    Of that incense that belonged of right
    Only to him?
    For more than a week
    She had not seen him.
    Surely he would return on the morrow,
    For he must remember
    That soon the little brood
    Would need his protecting love.
    Yes, he would return again
    To praise her slender form and shining crest
    And call her once more his little gazelle.

    But the cardinal came not.
    The brood had hatched,
    And the little birds were covered now
    With tiny feathers.
    Strange sight!
    All the blue-jays in the woods around
    Had gathered to witness
    What no mortal bird had ever seen before--
    Little birdling blue-jays
    With crimson stains on wings and breasts!
    And the poor little mother,
    Madam Blue-Jay-Cardinal,
    No longer mademoiselle, the bird gazelle,
    But an outcast and disgraced mother
    Of a mongrel offspring,
    Left alone in this hour of shame,
    Remembered now the words of him
    Who had warned against this sad hour.

    But the memory brought her only bitter grief,
    And she watched her brood in broken-hearted sorrow,
    As they looked with wondering eyes
    At the strange panorama in birdland.
    And all the blue-jays sat in silent condemnation
    Of the unpardonable sin.
    There was no mercy
    To be found in all the land of birds
    For either the forsaken mother
    Or her little brood.
    The deserted wife and widowed mother blue-jay
    Suddenly threw her wings
    Over the astonished little children,
    As though to wipe the stain of sin
    From their innocent lives,
    And as she did so,
    The crested cardinal
    With a fresh crimson bride flashed by,
    And perched upon the old beech limb.
    And there he sat
    In undisturbed and cynical silence,
    While all the court
    Of high crimes and misdemeanors
    Praised his sacerdotal coat and shining mitre.
    The mother felt the birdlings stir beneath her wing,
    And their scarlet stain suffuse her being.
    She looked toward the thorn tree
    But no word was spoken.
    A wise old owl that moped and moaned
    On the limb of a sycamore tree
    That overhung the little stream
    Suddenly lifted his voice and cried:

    "Let him who is without stain of sin,
    Lift the first note of song
    Against the little blue-jay."

    But all the woods were still.
    Only the thorn tree swayed slightly in the breeze,
    And then a flute-like note floated out
    Upon the wondering air:
    "Oh! my little blue-jay, my little bluebell,
        I would I could come to thee;
    I would find all the food for thy sin-stained brood,
        And thy bridegroom I should be.
    That villainous fop on the old beech limb
    And the arrogant wife that sits by him
    Have broken the heart of my little bluebell,
    The little gazelle, the bird gazelle he loved so well,
        And they laugh in their cynical glee.
    Oh! I would heal thy deep chagrin,
    Forgive thy blood-stained life its sin,
    And thou shouldst be my beauteous bride,
    Forever happy at my side.
    My hope, my joy, my love, my pride,
        If I could only come to thee,
        If I could only come to thee."

    Again the air was silent as the tomb.
    The little mother bird
    Moved with her frightened children
    Toward the old thorn tree.
    And when she at last stood
    Beneath the sword
    Upon which her faithful lover was pinioned
    Behold the miracle that was enacted
    Before her wondering eyes.
    The crimson dyes
    That streaked the birdlings' wings and breasts
    Turned suddenly to a dull and dark maroon,
    And not a jay in all birdland
    But would swear that her little children
    Now resembled in every line and stain
    The dead body of her valiant lover
    Who had shed his blood
    To save his little bluebell from betrayal.


       *       *       *       *       *

TRANSCRIBER NOTES:


Minor Puncutuation errors have been corrected without comment.

Stage directions have been placed at uniform indentation, regardless
of where they appeared in the original text.


Spelling corrections:

p. 60, "syncophantic" to "sycophantic" (A thousand sycophantic, fawning
lords;)

p. 96, "shubbery" to "shrubbery" (O'er a waste of shrubbery and alkali)


Word Variations:

"Agagite" (1) and "Aggagite" (1)
"ghost-like" (1) and "ghostlike" (1)





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