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Title: King Lear's Wife; The Crier by Night; The Riding to Lithend; Midsummer-Eve; Laodice and Danaë
Author: Bottomley, Gordon, 1874-1948
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "King Lear's Wife; The Crier by Night; The Riding to Lithend; Midsummer-Eve; Laodice and Danaë" ***

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KING LEAR'S WIFE

THE CRIER BY NIGHT

THE RIDING TO LITHEND

MIDSUMMER-EVE

LAODICE AND DANAË

PLAYS BY GORDON BOTTOMLEY

    BOSTON
    SMALL, MAYNARD & COMPANY
    PUBLISHERS



    MADE AND PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY
    CHARLES WHITTINGHAM AND GRIGGS (PRINTERS), LTD. AT THE
    CHISWICK PRESS, TOOKS COURT, CHANCERY LANE.



CONTENTS


                                          PAGE
    KING LEAR'S WIFE                         1

    THE CRIER BY NIGHT                      49

    THE RIDING TO LITHEND                   81

    MIDSUMMER EVE                          131

    LAODICE AND DANAË                      169

    APPENDIX A (KING LEAR'S WIFE)          207

    APPENDIX B (THE CRIER BY NIGHT)        211

NOTE.--_Throughout the stage-directions in the following pages the words
"right" and "left" are used with reference to the actor's right and
left, not the spectator's._


    "REMEMBER THE
    LIFE OF THESE
    THINGS CONSISTS
    IN ACTION."

    JOHN MARSTON: 1606.



BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE


THE plays here collected were originally published separately at various
dates during the past eighteen years, and are now brought together for
the first time. The details of the previous issues, now for the most
part out of print, are appended.

      I. THE CRIER BY NIGHT. (1900.) Published by the
      Unicorn Press, London, 1902. 32 pp. Quarto, boards.
      500 copies.

      II. MIDSUMMER EVE. (1901-2.) Printed and published at
      the Pear Tree Press, South Harting, near Petersfield,
      1905, with decorations by James Guthrie. iv+ 36 pp.
      Large post 8vo, boards. 120 copies.

      III. LAODICE AND DANAË. (1906.) Printed for private
      circulation, 1909. iv + 26 pp. Royal 8vo, wrappers.
      150 copies.

      IV. THE RIDING TO LITHEND. (1907.) Printed and
      published at the Pear Tree Press, Flansham near
      Bognor, 1909, with decorations by James Guthrie. vi +
      40pp. Foolscap 4to, boards. 120 copies (20 of which
      had an extra plate and were hand-coloured.)

      V. KING LEAR'S WIFE. (1911-13.) Published in "Georgian
      Poetry, 1913-1915," pp. 1 to 47. The Poetry Bookshop,
      London, 1915.

      THE CRIER BY NIGHT, THE RIDING TO LITHEND, and LAODICE
      AND DANAË have been reprinted in the United States of
      America, the first in 1909, the second in two separate
      forms in 1910, the third in 1916.



NOTE


APPLICATIONS for permission to perform these plays in Great Britain and
the Colonies should be addressed to the author, care of Messrs.
Constable and Co. Ltd., 10-12 Orange Street, Leicester Square, London,
W.C.2; and in the United States of America to Mr. Paul R. Reynolds, 70
Fifth Avenue, New York.

      KING LEAR'S WIFE _is copyright by Gordon Bottomley in
      the United States of America_, 1915.



KING LEAR'S WIFE



_TO T. STURGE MOORE_


   _THE years come on, the years go by,
    And in my Northern valley I,
    Withdrawn from life, watch life go by.
    But I have formed within my heart
    A state that does not thus depart,
    Richer than life, greater than being,
    Truer in feeling and in seeing
    Than outward turbulence can know;
    Where time is still, like a large, slow
    And lofty bird that moves her wings
    In far, invisible flutterings
    To gaze on every part of space
    Yet poise for ever in one place;
    Where line and sound, colour and phrase
    Rebuild in clear, essential ways
    The powers behind the veil of sense;
    While tragic things are made intense
    By passion brooding on old dread,
    Till a faint light of beauty shed
    From night-enfolded agony
    Shews in the ways men fail and die
    The deeps whose knowledge never cloys
    But, striking inward without voice,
    Stirs me to tremble and rejoice._

   _For twenty years and more than twenty
    I have found my riches and my plenty
    In poets dead and poets living,
    Painters and music-men, all giving,
    By life shut in creative deeds,
    Live force and insight to my needs;
    And long before I came to stand
    And hear your voice and touch your hand
    In that great treasure-house new-known,
    Where in their tower above the Town
    The masters of _The Dial_ sit,
    I loved in every word of it
    Your finely tempered verse that told me
    Of patient power, and still can hold me
    By its authentic divination
    Of the right knowledge of creation,
    Its grave, still beauty brought to day
    Tissue by tissue in nature's way,
    Petal by petal sure to shew
    Imagination's quiet glow
    That burns intenseliest at the core.
    And through that twenty years and more
    I have been envious of your reach
    In speaking form and plastic speech,
    Your double energy of hand
    That puts two arts at your command
    While I must be content with one
    And feel true life but half begun;
    So that by graver as by pen
    You can create earth, stars, and men,
    And prove yourself by more than rime
    A prince of poets in our time._

   _For these delights, and the delight
    Of converse in a Surrey night
    After the deep sound had lapsed by
    Of ocean-haunted poetry,
    For counsel and another zest
    Added to beauty's life-long quest
    I, in acknowledgment, would bring
    The homage of an offering;
    And, being too poor to reach the height
    Of my conception or requite
    Your greater giving equally,
    I search in my capacity
    And, by my self-appointed trade,
    Find something I myself have made,
    That here I offer. Let it be
    A token betwixt you and me
    Of admiration and loyalty._

February 29th, 1916.


PERSONS:

    LEAR, King of Britain.
    HYGD, his Queen.
    GONERIL, daughter to Lear and Hygd.
    CORDEIL, daughter to Lear and Hygd.
    GORMFLAITH, waiting-woman to Hygd.
    MERRYN, waiting-woman to Hygd.
    A PHYSICIAN.
    TWO ELDERLY WOMEN.



KING LEAR'S WIFE


      _The scene is a bedchamber in a one-storied house. The
      walls consist of a few courses of huge irregular
      boulders roughly squared and fitted together; a
      thatched roof rises steeply from the back wall. In the
      centre of the back wall is a doorway opening on a
      garden and covered by two leather curtains; the
      chamber is partially hung with similar hangings
      stitched with bright wools. There is a small window on
      each side of this door._

      _Toward the front a bed stands with its head against
      the right wall; it has thin leather curtains hung by
      thongs and drawn back. Farther forward a rich robe and
      a crown hang on a peg in the same wall. There is a
      second door beyond the bed, and between this and the
      bed's head stands a small table with a bronze lamp and
      a bronze cup on it. Queen HYGD, an emaciated woman, is
      asleep in the bed; her plenteous black hair, veined
      with silver, spreads over the pillow. Her
      waiting-woman, MERRYN, middle-aged and hard-featured,
      sits watching her in a chair on the farther side of
      the bed. The light of early morning fills the room._

    MERRYN.
    MANY, many must die who long to live,
    Yet this one cannot die who longs to die:
    Even her sleep, come now at last, thwarts death,
    Although sleep lures us all half way to death....
    I could not sit beside her every night
    If I believed that I might suffer so:
    I am sure I am not made to be diseased,
    I feel there is no malady can touch me--
    Save the red cancer, growing where it will.

_Taking her beads from her girdle, she kneels at the foot of the bed._

    O sweet Saint Cleer, and sweet Saint Elid too,
    Shield me from rooting cancers and from madness:
    Shield me from sudden death, worse than two death-beds;
    Let me not lie like this unwanted queen,
    Yet let my time come not ere I am ready--
    Grant space enow to relish the watchers' tears
    And give my clothes away and calm my features
    And streek my limbs according to my will,
    Not the hard will of fumbling corpse-washers.

_She prays silently._

_KING LEAR, a great, golden-bearded man in the full maturity of life,
enters abruptly by the door beyond the bed, followed by the PHYSICIAN._

    LEAR.
    Why are you here? Are you here for ever?
    Where is the young Scotswoman? Where is she?

    MERRYN.
    O, Sire, move softly; the Queen sleeps at last.

    LEAR, _continuing in an undertone._
    Where is the young Scotswoman? Where is Gormflaith?
    It is her watch.... I know; I have marked your hours.
    Did the Queen send her away? Did the Queen
    Bid you stay near her in her hate of Gormflaith?
    You work upon her yeasting brain to think
    That she's not safe except when you crouch near her
    To spy with your dropt eyes and soundless presence.

    MERRYN.
    Sire, midnight should have ended Gormflaith's watch,
    But Gormflaith had another kind of will
    And ended at a godlier hour by slumber,
    A letter in her hand, the night-lamp out.
    She loitered in the hall when she should sleep.
    My duty has two hours ere she returns.

    LEAR.
    The Queen should have young women about her bed,
    Fresh cool-breathed women to lie down at her side
    And plenish her with vigour; for sick or wasted women
    Can draw a virtue from such abounding presence,
    When night makes life unwary and looses the strings of being,
    Even by the breath, and most of all by sleep.
    Her slumber was then no fault: go you and find her.

    PHYSICIAN.
    It is not strange that a bought watcher drowses;
    What is most strange is that the Queen sleeps
    Who would not sleep for all my draughts of sleep
    In the last days. When did this change appear?

    MERRYN.
    We shall not know--it came while Gormflaith nodded.
    When I awoke her and she saw the Queen
    She could not speak for fear:
    When the rekindling lamp showed certainly
    The bed-clothes stirring about our lady's neck,
    She knew there was no death, she breathed, she said
    She had not slept until her mistress slept
    And lulled her; but I asked her how her mistress
    Slept, and her utterance faded.
    She should be blamed with rods, as I was blamed
    For slumber, after a day and a night of watching,
    By the Queen's child-bed, twenty years ago.

    LEAR.
    She does what she must do: let her alone.
    I know her watch is now: get gone and send her.

_MERRYN goes out by the door beyond the bed._

    Is it a portent now to sleep at night?
    What change is here? What see you in the Queen?
    Can you discern how this disease will end?

    PHYSICIAN.
    Surmise might spring and healing follow yet,
    If I could find a trouble that could heal;
    But these strong inward pains that keep her ebbing
    Have not their source in perishing flesh.
    I have seen women creep into their beds
    And sink with this blind pain because they nursed
    Some bitterness or burden in the mind
    That drew the life, sucklings too long at breast.
    Do you know such a cause in this poor lady?

    LEAR.
    There is no cause. How should there be a cause?

    PHYSICIAN.
    We cannot die wholly against our wills;
    And in the texture of women I have found
    Harder determination than in men:
    The body grows impatient of enduring,
    The harried mind is from the body estranged,
    And we consent to go: by the Queen's touch,
    The way she moves--or does not move--in bed,
    The eyes so cold and keen in her white mask,
    I know she has consented.
    The snarling look of a mute wounded hawk,
    That would be let alone, is always hers--
    Yet she was sorely tender: it may be
    Some wound in her affection will not heal.
    We should be careful--the mind can so be hurt
    That nought can make it be unhurt again.
    Where, then, did her affection most persist?

    LEAR.
    Old bone-patcher, old digger in men's flesh,
    Doctors are ever itching to be priests,
    Meddling in conduct, natures, life's privacies.
    We have been coupled now for twenty years,
    And she has never turned from me an hour--
    She knows a woman's duty and a queen's:
    Whose, then, can her affection be but mine?
    How can I hurt her--she is still my queen?
    If her strong inward pain is a real pain
    Find me some certain drug to medicine it:
    When common beings have decayed past help,
    There must be still some drug for a king to use;
    For nothing ought to be denied to kings.

    PHYSICIAN.
    For the mere anguish there is such a potion.
    The gum of warpy juniper shoots is seethed
    With the torn marrow of an adder's spine;
    An unflawed emerald is pashed to dust
    And mingled there; that broth must cool in moonlight.
    I have indeed attempted this already,
    But the poor emeralds I could extort
    From wry-mouthed earls' women had no force.
    In two more dawns it will be late for potions....
    There are not many emeralds in Britain,
    And there is none for vividness and strength
    Like the great stone that hangs upon your breast:
    If you will waste it for her she shall be holpen.

    LEAR, _with rising voice._
    Shatter my emerald? My emerald? My emerald?
    A High King of Eire gave it to his daughter
    Who mothered generations of us, the kings of Britain;
    It has a spiritual influence; its heart
    Burns when it sees the sun.... Shatter my emerald!
    Only the fungused brain and carious mouth
    Of senile things could shape such thought....
            My emerald!

_HYGD stirs uneasily in her sleep._

    PHYSICIAN.
    Speak lower, low; for your good fame, speak low--
    If she should waken thus....

    LEAR.            There is no wise man
    Believes that medicine is in a jewel.
    It is enough that you have failed with one.
    Seek you a common stone. I'll not do it.
    Let her eat heartily: she is spent with fasting.
    Let her stand up and walk: she is so still
    Her blood can never nourish her. Come away.

    PHYSICIAN.
    I must not leave her ere the woman comes--
    Or will some other woman....

    LEAR.                         No, no, no, no;
    The Queen is not herself; she speaks without sense;
    Only Merryn and Gormflaith understand.
    She is better quiet. Come....

_He urges the PHYSICIAN roughly away by the shoulder._

    My emerald!

_He follows the PHYSICIAN out by the door at the back._

_Queen HYGD awakes at his last noisy words as he disappears._

    HYGD.
    I have not slept; I did but close mine eyes
    A little while--a little while forgetting....
    Where are you, Merryn?... Ah, it is not Merryn....
    Bring me the cup of whey, woman; I thirst....
    Will you speak to me if I say your name?
    Will you not listen, Gormflaith? ... Can you hear?
    I am very thirsty--let me drink....
    Ah, wicked woman, why did I speak to you?
    I will not be your suppliant again....
    Where are you? O, where are you?... Where are you?

_She tries to raise herself to look about the room, but sinks back
helplessly._

_The curtains of the door at the back are parted, and GONERIL appears in
hunting dress,--her kirtle caught up in her girdle, a light spear over
her shoulder--stands there a moment, then enters noiselessly and
approaches the bed. She is a girl just turning to womanhood, proud in
her poise, swift and cold, an almost gleaming presence, a virgin
huntress._

    GONERIL.
    Mother, were you calling?
    Have I awakened you?
    They said that you were sleeping.
    Why are you left alone, mother, my dear one?

    HYGD.
    Who are you? No, no, no! Stand farther off!
    You pulse and glow; you are too vital; your presence hurts....
    Freshness of hill-swards, wind and trodden ling,
    I should have known that Goneril stands here.
    It is yet dawn, but you have been afoot
    Afar and long: where could you climb so soon?

    GONERIL.
    Dearest, I am an evil daughter to you:
    I never thought of you--O, never once--
    Until I heard a moor-bird cry like you.
    I am wicked, rapt in joys of breath and life,
    And I must force myself to think of you.
    I leave you to caretakers' cold gentleness;
    But O, I did not think that they dare leave you.
    What woman should be here?

    HYGD.                     I have forgot....
    I know not.... She will be about some duty.
    I do not matter: my time is done ... nigh done ...
    Bought hands can well prepare me for a grave,
    And all the generations must serve youth.
    My girls shall live untroubled while they may,
    And learn happiness once while yet blind men
    Have injured not their freedom;
    For women are not meant for happiness.
    Where have you been, my falcon?

    GONERIL.
    I dreamt that I was swimming, shoulder up,
    And drave the bed-clothes spreading to the floor:
    Coldness awoke me; through the waning darkness
    I heard far hounds give shivering aëry tongue,
    Remote, withdrawing, suddenly faint and near;
    I leapt and saw a pack of stretching weasels
    Hunt a pale coney in a soundless rush,
    Their elfin and thin yelping pierced my heart
    As with an unseen beauty long awaited;
    Wolf-skin and cloak I buckled over this night-gear,
    And took my honoured spear from my bed-side
    Where none but I may touch its purity,
    And sped as lightly down the dewy bank
    As any mothy owl that hunts quick mice.
    They went crying, crying, but I lost them
    Before I stept, with the first tips of light,
    On Raven Crag near by the Druid Stones;
    So I paused there and, stooping, pressed my hand
    Against the stony bed of the clear stream;
    Then entered I the circle and raised up
    My shining hand in cold stern adoration
    Even as the first great gleam went up the sky.

    HYGD.
    Ay, you do well to worship on that height:
    Life is free to the quick up in the wind,
    And the wind bares you for a god's descent--
    For wind is a spirit immediate and aged.
    And you do well to worship harsh men-gods,
    God Wind and Those who built his Stones with him:
    All gods are cruel, bitter, and to be bribed,
    But women-gods are mean and cunning as well.
    That fierce old virgin, Cornish Merryn, prays
    To a young woman, yes and even a virgin--
    The poorest kind of woman--and she says
    That is to be a Christian: avoid then
    Her worship most, for men hate such denials,
    And any woman scorns her unwed daughter.
    Where sped you from that height? Did Regan join you there?

    GONERIL.
    Does Regan worship anywhere at dawn?
    The sweaty half-clad cook-maids render lard
    Out in the scullery, after pig-killing,
    And Regan sidles among their greasy skirts,
    Smeary and hot as they, for craps to suck.
    I lost my thoughts before the giant Stones...
    And when anew the earth assembled round me
    I swung out on the heath and woke a hare
    And speared it at a cast and shouldered it,
    Startled another drinking at a tarn
    And speared it ere it leapt; so steady and clear
    Had the god in his fastness made my mind.
    Then, as I took those dead things in my hands,
    I felt shame light my face from deep within,
    And loathing and contempt shake in my bowels,
    That such unclean coarse blows from me had issued
    To crush delicate things to bloody mash
    And blemish their fur when I would only kill.
    My gladness left me; I careered no more
    Upon the morning; I went down from there
    With empty hands:
    But under the first trees and without thought
    I stole on conies at play and stooped at one;
    I hunted it, I caught it up to me
    As I outsprang it, and with this thin knife
    Pierced it from eye to eye; and it was dead,
    Untorn, unsullied, and with flawless fur.
    Then my untroubled mind came back to me.

    HYGD.
    Leap down the glades with a fawn's ignorance;
    Live you your fill of a harsh purity;
    Be wild and calm and lonely while you may.
    These are your nature's joys, and it is human
    Only to recognize our natures' joys
    When we are losing them for ever.

    GONERIL.                          But why
    Do you say this to me with a sore heart?
    You are a queen, and speak from the top of life,
    And when you choose to wish for others' joys
    Those others must have woe.

    HYGD.
    The hour comes for you to turn to a man
    And give yourself with the high heart of youth
    More lavishly than a queen gives anything.
    But when a woman gives herself
    She must give herself for ever and have faith;
    For woman is a thing of a season of years,
    She is an early fruit that will not keep,
    She can be drained and as a husk survive
    To hope for reverence for what has been;
    While man renews himself into old age,
    And gives himself according to his need,
    And women more unborn than his next child
    May take him yet with youth
    And lose him with their potence.

    GONERIL.
    But women need not wed these men.

    HYGD.
    We are good human currency, like gold,
    For men to pass among them when they choose.

_A child's hands beat on the outside of the door beyond the bed._

    CORDEIL'S VOICE, _a child's voice, outside._
    Father.... Father.... Father.... Are you here?
    Merryn, ugly Merryn, let me in....
    I know my father is here.... I want him.... Now....
    Mother, chide Merryn, she is old and slow....

    HYGD, _softly._
    My little curse. Send her away--away....

    CORDEIL'S VOICE.
    Father.... O, father, father.... I want my father.

    GONERIL, _opening the door a little way._
    Hush; hush--you hurt your mother with your voice.
    You cannot come in, Cordeil; you must go away:
    Your father is not here....

    CORDEIL'S VOICE.            He must be here:
    He is not in his chamber or the hall,
    He is not in the stable or with Gormflaith:
    He promised I should ride with him at dawn
    And sit before his saddle and hold his hawk,
    And ride with him and ride to the heron-marsh;
    He said that he would give me the first heron,
    And hang the longest feathers in my hair.

    GONERIL.
    Then you must haste to find him;
    He may be riding now....

    CORDEIL'S VOICE.
    But Gerda said she saw him enter here.

    GONERIL.
    Indeed, he is not here....

    CORDEIL'S VOICE.           Let me look....

    GONERIL.
    You are too noisy. Must I make you go?

    CORDEIL'S VOICE.
    Mother, Goneril is unkind to me.

    HYGD, _raising herself in bed excitedly, and speaking so vehemently
         that her utterance strangles itself._
    Go, go, thou evil child, thou ill-comer.

_GONERIL, with a sudden strong movement, shuts the resisting door and
holds it rigidly. The little hands beat on it madly for a moment, then
the child's voice is heard in a retreating wail._

    GONERIL.
    Though she is wilful, obeying only the King,
    She is a very little child, mother,
    To be so bitterly thought of.

    HYGD.
    Because a woman gives herself for ever
    Cordeil the useless had to be conceived
    (Like an after-thought that deceives nobody)
    To keep her father from another woman.
    And I lie here.

    GONERIL, _after a silence._
    Hard and unjust my father has been to me;
    Yet that has knitted up within my mind
    A love of coldness and a love of him
    Who makes me firm, wary, swift and secret,
    Until I feel if I become a mother
    I shall at need be cruel to my children,
    And ever cold, to string their natures harder
    And make them able to endure men's deeds;
    But now I wonder if injustice
    Keeps house with baseness, taught by kinship--
    I never thought a king could be untrue,
    I never thought my father was unclean....
    O mother, mother, what is it? Is this dying?

    HYGD.
    I think I am only faint....
    Give me the cup of whey....

_GONERIL takes the cup and, supporting HYGD, lets her drink._

    GONERIL.
    There is too little here. When was it made?

    HYGD.
    Yester-eve.... Yester-morn....

    GONERIL.                         Unhappy mother,
    You have no daughter to take thought for you--
    No servant's love to shame a daughter with,
    Though I am shamed--you must have other food,
    Straightway I bring you meat....

    HYGD.                            It is no use....
    Plenish the cup for me.... Not now, not now,
    But in a while; for I am heavy now....
    Old Wynoc's potions loiter in my veins,
    And tides of heaviness pour over me
    Each time I wake and think. I could sleep now.

    GONERIL.
    Then I shall lull you, as you once lulled me.

_Seating herself on the bed, she sings._

    The owlets in roof-holes
    Can sing for themselves;
    The smallest brown squirrel
    Both scampers and delves;
    But a baby does nothing--
    She never knows how--
    She must hark to her mother
    Who sings to her now.
    Sleep then, ladykin, peeping so;
    Hide your handies and ley lei lo.

_She bends over HYGD and kisses her; they laugh softly together._

_LEAR parts the curtains of the door at the back, stands there a moment,
then goes away noiselessly._

        The lish baby otter
        Is sleeky and streaming,
        With catching bright fishes,
        Ere babies learn dreaming;
        But no wet little otter
        Is ever so warm
        As the fleecy-wrapt baby
        'Twixt me and my arm.
        Sleep big mousie....

    HYGD, _suddenly irritable._
                         Be quiet.... I cannot bear it.

_She turns her head away from GONERIL and closes her eyes._

_As GONERIL watches her in silence, GORMFLAITH enters by the door beyond
the bed. She is young and tall and fresh-coloured; her red hair coils
and crisps close to her little head, showing its shape. Her movements
are soft and unhurried; her manner is quiet and ingratiating and a
little too agreeable; she speaks a little too gently._

    _GONERIL, meeting her near the door and speaking in a low voice._
    Why did you leave the Queen? Where have you been?
    Why have you so neglected this grave duty?

    GORMFLAITH.
    This is the instant of my duty, Princess:
    From midnight until now was Merryn's watch.
    I thought to find her here: is she not here?

_HYGD turns to look at the speakers; then, turning back, closes her eyes
again and lies as if asleep._

    GONERIL.
    I found the Queen alone. I heard her cry your name.

    GORMFLAITH.
    Your anger is not too great, Madam; I grieve
    That one so old as Merryn should act thus--
    So old and trusted and favoured, and so callous.

    GONERIL.
    The Queen has had no food since yester-night.

    GORMFLAITH.
    Madam, that is too monstrous to conceive:
    I will seek food--I will prepare it now.

    GONERIL.
    Stay here: and know, if the Queen is left again,
    You shall be beaten with two rods at once.

_She picks up the cup and goes out by the door beyond the bed._

_GORMFLAITH turns the chair a little away from the bed so that she can
watch the far door, and, seating herself, draws a letter from her
bosom._

    GORMFLAITH, _to herself, reading._
    "Open your window when the moon is dead,
    And I will come again.
    The men say everywhere that you are faithless,
    The women say your face is a false face
    And your eyes shifty eyes. Ah, but I love you, Gormflaith.
    Do not forget your window-latch to-night,
    For when the moon is dead the house is still."

_LEAR again parts the door-curtains at the back, and, seeing GORMFLAITH,
enters. At the first slight rustle of the curtains GORMFLAITH stealthily
slips the letter back into her bosom before turning gradually, a finger
to her lips, to see who approaches her._

    LEAR, _leaning over the side of her chair._
    Lady, what do you read?

    GORMFLAITH.             I read a letter, Sire.

    LEAR.
    A letter--a letter--what read you in a letter?

    GORMFLAITH, _taking another letter from her girdle._
    Your words to me--my lonely joy your words....
    "If you are steady and true as your gaze"--

    LEAR, _tearing the letter from her, crumpling it, and flinging it
        to the back of the room._
                                            Pest!
    You should not carry a king's letters about,
    Nor hoard a king's letters.

    GORMFLAITH.                 No, Sire.

    LEAR.
    Must the King also stand in the presence now?

    GORMFLAITH, _rising._
    Pardon my troubled mind; you have taken my letter from me.

_LEAR seats himself and takes GORMFLAITH'S hand._

    GORMFLAITH.
    Wait, wait--I might be seen. The Queen may waken yet.

_Stepping lightly to the bed, she noiselessly slips the curtain on that
side as far forward as it will come. Then she returns to LEAR, who draws
her to him and seats her on his knee._

    LEAR.
    You have been long in coming:
    Was Merryn long in finding you?

    GORMFLAITH, _playing with LEAR'S emerald._
                                    Did Merryn....
    Has Merryn been.... She loitered long before she came,
    For I was at the women's bathing-place ere dawn....
    No jewel in all the land excites me and enthralls
    Like this strong source of light that lives upon your breast.

    LEAR, _taking the jewel-chain from his neck and slipping it over
        GORMFLAITH'S head while she still holds the emerald._
    Wear it within your breast to fill the gentle place
    That cherished the poor letter lately torn from you.

    GORMFLAITH.
    Did Merryn at your bidding, then, forsake her Queen?
                                _LEAR nods._
    You must not, ah, you must not do these masterful things,
    Even to grasp a precious meeting for us two;
    For the reproach and chiding are so hard to me,
    And even you can never fight the silent women
    In hidden league against me, all this house of women.
    Merryn has left her Queen in unwatched loneliness,
    And yet your daughter Princess Goneril has said
    (With lips that scarce held back the spittle for my face)
    That if the Queen is left again I shall be whipt.

    LEAR.
    Children speak of the punishments they know.
    Her back is now not half so white as yours,
    And you shall write your will upon it yet.

    GORMFLAITH.
    Ah, no, my King, my faithful... Ah, no... no...
    The Princess Goneril is right; she judges me:
    A sinful woman cannot steadily gaze reply
    To the cool, baffling looks of virgin untried force.
    She stands beside that crumbling mother in her hate,
    And, though we know so well--she and I, O we know--
    That she could love no mother nor partake in anguish,
    Yet she is flouted when the King forsakes her dam,
    She must protect her very flesh, her tenderer flesh,
    Although she cannot wince; she's wild in her cold brain,
    And soon I must be made to pay a cruel price
    For this one gloomy joy in my uncherished life.
    Envy and greed are watching me aloof
    (Yes, now none of the women will walk with me),
    Longing to see me ruined, but she'll do it....
    It is a lonely thing to love a king....

_She puts her cheek gradually closer and closer to LEAR'S cheek as she
speaks: at length he kisses her suddenly and vehemently, as if he would
grasp her lips with his: she receives it passively, her head thrown
back, her eyes closed._

    LEAR.
    Goldilocks, when the crown is couching in your hair
    And those two mingled golds brighten each other's wonder,
    You shall produce a son from flesh unused--
    Virgin I chose you for that, first crops are strongest--
    A tawny fox with your high-stepping action,
    With your untiring power and glittering eyes,
    To hold my lands together when I am done,
    To keep my lands from crumbling into mouthfuls
    For the short jaws of my three mewling vixens.
    Hatch for me such a youngster from my seed,
    And I and he shall rein my hot-breathed wenches
    To let you grind the edges off their teeth.

    GORMFLAITH, _shaking her head sadly._
    Life holds no more than this for me; this is my hour.
    When she is dead I know you'll buy another Queen--
    Giving a county for her, gaining a duchy with her--
    And put me to wet nursing, leashing me with the thralls.
    It will not be unbearable--I've had your love.
    Master and friend, grant then this hour to me:
    Never again, maybe, can we two sit
    At love together, unwatched, unknown of all,
    In the Queen's chamber, near the Queen's crown
    And with no conscious Queen to hold it from us:
    Now let me wear the Queen's true crown on me
    And snatch a breathless knowledge of the feeling
    Of what it would have been to sit by you
    Always and closely, equal and exalted,
    To be my light when life is dark again.

    LEAR.
    Girl, by the black stone god, I did not think
    You had the nature of a chambermaid,
    Who pries and fumbles in her lady's clothes
    With her red hands, or on her soily neck
    Stealthily hangs her lady's jewels or pearls.
    You shall be tiring-maid to the next queen
    And try her crown on every day o' your life
    In secrecy, if that is your desire:
    If you would be a queen, cleanse yourself quickly
    Of menial fingering and servile thought.

    GORMFLAITH.
    You need not crown me. Let me put it on
    As briefly as a gleam of Winter sun.
    I will not even warm it with my hair.

    LEAR.
    You cannot have the nature of a queen
    If you believe that there are things above you:
    Crowns make no queens, queens are the cause of crowns.

    Gormflaith, _slipping from his knee._
    Then I will take one. Look.

_She tip-toes lightly round the front of the bed to where the crown
hangs on the wall._

    LEAR.
    Come here, mad thing--come back!
    Your shadow will wake the Queen.

    GORMFLAITH.
    Hush, hush! That angry voice
    Will surely wake the Queen.

_She lifts the crown from the peg, and returns with it._

    LEAR.
    Go back; bear back the crown:
    Hang up the crown again.
    We are not helpless serfs
    To think things are forbidden
    And steal them for our joy.

    GORMFLAITH.
    Hush! Hush! It is too late;
    I dare not go again.

    LEAR.
    Put down the crown: your hands are base hands yet.
    Give it to me: it issues from my hands.

_GORMFLAITH, seating herself on his knee again, and crowning herself._

    Let anger keep your eyes steady and bright
    To be my guiding mirror: do not move.
    You have received two queens within your eyes.

_She laughs clearly, like a bird's sudden song. HYGD awakes and, after
an instant's bewilderment, turns her head toward the sound; finding the
bed-curtain dropt, she moves it aside a little with her fingers; she
watches LEAR and GORMFLAITH for a short time, then the curtain slips
from her weak grasp and she lies motionless._

    LEAR, _continuing meanwhile._
    Doff it. (_GORMFLAITH kisses him._) Enough. (_Kiss_)
        Unless you do (_Kiss_) my will (_Kiss_)
    I shall (_Kiss_) I shall (_Kiss_) I'll have you (_Kiss_)
        sent (_Kiss_) to (_Kiss_)----

    GORMFLAITH.             Hush.

    LEAR.
    Come to the garden: you shall hear me there.

    GORMFLAITH.
    I dare not leave the Queen.... Yes, yes, I come.

    LEAR.
    No, you are better here: the guard would see you.

    GORMFLAITH.
    Not when we reach the pathway near the apple-yard.
                                    _They rise._

    LEAR.
    Girl, you are changed: you yield more beauty so.

_They go out hand in hand by the doorway at the back. As they pass the
crumpled letter GORMFLAITH drops her handkerchief on it, then picks up
handkerchief and letter together and thrusts them into her bosom as she
passes out._

    HYGD, _fingering back the bed-curtain again._
    How have they vanished? What are they doing now?

    GORMFLAITH, _outside, singing to a quick, chattering tune._
    If you have a mind to kiss me
    You shall kiss me in the dark:
    Yet rehearse, or you might miss me--
    Make my mouth your noontide mark....

_GORMFLAITH'S voice grows fainter as the song progresses, until all
sound is lost._

    HYGD.
    Does he remember love-ways used with me?
    Shall I never know? Is it too near?
    I'll watch him at his wooing once again,
    Though I peer up at him across my grave-sill.

_She gets out of bed and takes several steps toward the garden doorway;
she totters and sways, then, turning, stumbles back to the bed for
support._

    Limbs, will you die? It is not yet the time.
    I know more discipline: I'll make you go.

_She fumbles along the bed to the head, then, clinging against the wall,
drags herself toward the back of the room._

    It is too far. I cannot see the wall.
    I will go ten more steps: only ten more.
    One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
    Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.
    Sundown is soon to-day: it is cold and dark.
    Now ten steps more, and much will have been done.
    One. Two. Three. Four. Ten.
    Eleven. Twelve. Sixteen. Nineteen. Twenty.
    Twenty-one. Twenty-three. Twenty-eight. Thirty. Thirty-one.
    At last the turn. Thirty-six. Thirty-nine. Forty.
    Now only once again. Two. Three.
    What do the voices say? I hear too many.
    The door: but here there is no garden.... Ah!

_She holds herself up an instant by the door-curtains; then she reels
and falls, her body in the room, her head and shoulders beyond the
curtains._

_GONERIL enters by the door beyond the bed, carrying the filled cup
carefully in both hands._

    GONERIL.
    Where are you? What have you done? Speak to me.

_Turning and seeing HYGD, she lets the cup fall and leaps to the open
door by the bed._

    Merryn, hither, hither.... Mother, O mother!

_She goes to HYGD. MERRYN enters._

    MERRYN.
    Princess, what has she done? Who has left her?
    She must have been alone.

    GONERIL.                  Where is Gormflaith?

    MERRYN.
    Mercy o' mercies, everybody asks me
    For Gormflaith, then for Gormflaith, then for Gormflaith,
    And I ask everybody else for her;
    But she is nowhere, and the King will foam.
    Send me no more; I am old with running about
    After a bodiless name.

    GONERIL.              She has been here,
    And she has left the Queen. This is her deed.

    MERRYN.
    Ah, cruel, cruel! The shame, the pity--

    GONERIL.                              Lift.

_Together they raise HYGD, and carry her to bed._

    She breathes, but something flitters under her flesh:
    Wynoc the leech must help us now. Go, run,
    Seek him, and come back quickly, and do not dare
    To come without him.

    MERRYN.             It is useless, lady:
    There's fever at the cowherd's in the marsh,
    And Wynoc broods above it twice a day,
    And I have lately seen him hobble thither.

    GONERIL.
    I never heard such scornful wickedness
    As that a king's physician so should choose
    To watch and even heal base men and poor--
    And, more than all, when there's a queen a-dying....

    HYGD, _recovering consciousness._
    Whence come you, dearest daughter? What have I done?
    Are you a dream? I thought I was alone.
    Have you been hunting on the Windy Height?
    Your hands are not thus gentle after hunting.
    Or have I heard you singing through my sleep?
    Stay with me now: I have had piercing thoughts
    Of what the ways of life will do to you
    To mould and maim you, and I have a power
    To bring these to expression that I knew not.
    Why do you wear my crown? Why do you wear
    My crown I say? Why do you wear my crown?
    I am falling, falling! Lift me: hold me up.

_GONERIL climbs on the bed and supports HYGD against her shoulder._

    It is the bed that breaks, for still I sink.
    Grip harder: I am slipping!

    GONERIL.               Woman, help!

_MERRYN hurries round to the front of the bed and supports HYGD on her
other side._

_HYGD points at the far corner of the room._

    HYGD.
    Why is the King's mother standing there?
    She should not wear her crown before me now.
    Send her away, she had a savage mind.
    Will you not hang a shawl across the corner
    So that she cannot stare at me again?

_With a rending sob she buries her face in GONERIL'S bosom._

    Ah, she is coming! Do not let her touch me!
    Brave splendid daughter, how easily you save me:
    But soon will Gormflaith come, she stays for ever.
    O, will she bring my crown to me once more?
    Yes, Gormflaith, yes.... Daughter, pay Gormflaith well.

    GONERIL.
    Gormflaith has left you lonely:
    'Tis Gormflaith who shall pay.

    HYGD.
    No, Gormflaith; Gormflaith.... Not my loneliness....
    Everything.... Pay Gormflaith....

_Her head falls back over GONERIL'S shoulder and she dies._

    GONERIL, _laying HYGD down in bed again._
    Send horsemen to the marshes for the leech,
    And let them bind him on a horse's back
    And bring him swiftlier than an old man rides.

    MERRYN.
    This is no leech's work: she's a dead woman.
    I'd best be finding if the wisdom-women
    Have come from Brita's child-bed to their drinking
    By the cook's fire, for soon she'll be past handling.

    GONERIL.
    This is not death: death could not be like this.
    She is quite warm--though nothing moves in her.
    I did not know death could come all at once:
    If life is so ill-seated no one is safe.
    Cannot we leave her like herself awhile?
    Wait awhile, Merryn.... No, no, no; not yet!

    MERRYN.
    Child, she is gone and will not come again
    However we cover our faces and pretend
    She will be there if we uncover them.
    I must be hasty, or she'll be as stiff
    As a straw mattress is.
        _She hurries out by the door near the bed._

_GONERIL, throwing the whole length of her body along HYGD'S body, and
embracing it._

    Come back, come back; the things I have not done
    Beat in upon my brain from every side:
    I know not where to put myself to bear them:
    If I could have you now I could act well.
    My inward life, deeds that you have not known,
    I burn to tell you in a sudden dread
    That now your ghost discovers them in me.
    Hearken, mother; between us there's a bond
    Of flesh and essence closer than love can cause:
    It cannot be unknit so soon as this,
    And you must know my touch,
    And you shall yield a sign.
    Feel, feel this urging throb: I call to you. Come back.

_GORMFLAITH, still crowned, enters by the garden doorway._

    GORMFLAITH.
    Come back! Help me and shield me!
            _She disappears through the curtains._

_GONERIL has sprung to her feet at the first sound of GORMFLAITH'S
voice._

_LEAR enters by the garden doorway, leading GORMFLAITH by the hand._

    LEAR.                      What is to do?

    GONERIL, _advancing to meet them with a deep obeisance._
    O, Sir, the Queen is dead: long live the Queen.
    You have been ready with the coronation.

    LEAR.
    What do you mean? Young madam, will you mock?

    GONERIL.
    But is not she your choice?
    The old Queen thought so, for I found her here,
    Lipping the prints of her supplanter's feet,
    Prostrate in homage, on her face, silent.
    I tremble within to have seen her fallen down.
    I must be pardoned if I scorn your ways:
    You cannot know this feeling that I know,
    You are not of her kin or house; but I
    Share blood with her, and, though she grew too worn
    To be your Queen, she was my mother, Sir.

    GORMFLAITH.
    The Queen has seen me.

    LEAR.
                           She is safe in bed.

    GONERIL.
    Do not speak low: your voice sounds guilty so;
    And there is no more need--she will not wake.

    LEAR.
    She cannot sleep for ever. When she wakes
    I will announce my purpose in the need
    Of Britain for a prince to follow me,
    And tell her that she is to be deposed....
    What have you done? She is not breathing now.
    She breathed here lately. Is she truly dead?

    GONERIL.
    Your graceful consort steals from us too soon:
    Will you not tell her that she should remain--
    If she can trust the faith you keep with a queen?

_She steps to GORMFLAITH, who is sidling toward the garden doorway, and,
taking her hand, leads her to the foot of the bed._

    Lady, why will you go? The King intends
    That you shall soon be royal, and thereby
    Admitted to our breed: then stay with us
    In this domestic privacy to mourn
    The grief here fallen on our family.
    Kneel now; I yield the eldest daughter's place.
    Why do you fumble in your bosom so?
    Put your cold hands together; close your eyes,
    In inward isolation to assemble
    Your memories of the dead, your prayers for her.

_She turns to LEAR, who has approached the bed and drawn back the
curtain._

    What utterance of doom would the king use
    Upon a watchman in the castle garth
    Who left his gate and let an enemy in?
    The watcher by the Queen thus left her station:
    The sick bruised Queen is dead of that neglect.
    And what should be the doom on a seducer
    Who drew that sentinel from his fixt watch?

    LEAR.
    She had long been dying, and she would have died
    Had all her dutiful daughters tended her bed.

    GONERIL.
    Yes, she had long been dying in her heart.
    She lived to see you give her crown away;
    She died to see you fondle a menial:
    These blows you dealt now, but what elder wounds
    Received them to such purpose suddenly?
    What had you caused her to remember most?
    What things would she be like to babble over
    In the wild helpless hour when fitful life
    No more can choose what thoughts it shall encourage
    In the tost mind? She has suffered you twice over,
    Your animal thoughts and hungry powers, this day,
    Until I knew you unkingly and untrue.

    LEAR.
    Punishment once taught you daughterly silence;
    It shall be tried again.... What has she said?

    GONERIL.
    You cannot touch me now I know your nature:
    Your force upon my mind was only terrible
    When I believed you a cruel flawless man.
    Ruler of lands and dreaded judge of men,
    Now you have done a murder with your mind
    Can you see any murderer put to death?
    Can you--

    LEAR.   What has she said?

    GONERIL.
    Continue in your joy of punishing evil,
    Your passion of just revenge upon wrong-doers,
    Unkingly and untrue?

    LEAR.                 Enough: what do you know?

    GONERIL.
    That which could add a further agony
    To the last agony, the daily poison
    Of her late, withering life; but never word
    Of fairer hours or any lost delight.
    Have you no memory, either, of her youth,
    While she was still to use, spoil, forsake,
    That maims your new contentment with a longing
    For what is gone and will not come again?

    LEAR.
    I did not know that she could die to-day.
    She had a bloodless beauty that cheated me:
    She was not born for wedlock. She shut me out.
    She is no colder now.... I'll hear no more.
    You shall be answered afterward for this.
    Put something over her: get her buried:
    I will not look on her again.

_He breaks from GONERIL and flings abruptly out by the door near the
bed._

    GORMFLAITH.
    My King, you leave me!

    GONERIL.                Soon we follow him:
    But, ah, poor fragile beauty, you cannot rise
    While this grave burden weights your drooping head.

_Laying her hand caressingly on GORMFLAITH'S neck, she gradually forces
her head farther and farther down._

    You were not nurtured to sustain a crown,
    Your unanointed parents could not breed
    The spirit that ten hundred years must ripen.
    Lo, how you sink and fail.

    GORMFLAITH.                 You had best take care,
    For where my neck has bruises yours shall have wounds.
    The King knows of your wolfish snapping at me:
    He will protect me.

    GONERIL.            Ay, if he is in time.

_GORMFLAITH, taking off the crown and holding it up blindly toward
GONERIL with one hand._

    Take it and let me go!

    GONERIL.               Nay, not to me:
    You are the Queen's, to serve her even in death.
    Yield her her own. Approach her: do not fear;
    She will not chide you or forgive you now.
    Go on your knees; the crown still holds you down.

_GORMFLAITH stumbles forward on her knees and lays the crown on the bed,
then crouches motionlessly against the bedside._

_GONERIL, taking the crown and putting it on the dead Queen's head._

    Mother and Queen, to you this holiest circlet
    Returns, by you renews its purpose and pride;
    Though it is sullied with a menial warmth,
    Your august coldness shall rehallow it,
    And when the young lewd blood that lent it heat
    Is also cooler we can well forget.

_She steps to GORMFLAITH._

    Rise. Come, for here there is no more to do,
    And let us seek your chamber, if you will,
    There to confer in greater privacy;
    For we have now interment to prepare.

_She leads GORMFLAITH to the door near the bed._

    You must walk first, you are still the Queen elect.

_When GORMFLAITH has passed before her GONERIL unsheathes her hunting
knife._

    GORMFLAITH, _turning in the doorway._
    What will you do?

    GONERIL, _thrusting her forward with the haft of the knife._
                        On. On. On. Go in.

_She follows GORMFLAITH out._

_After a moments interval two elderly women, one a little younger than
the other, enter by the same door: they wear black hoods and shapeless
black gowns with large sleeves that flap like the wings of ungainly
birds: between them they carry a heavy cauldron of hot water._

    THE YOUNGER WOMAN.
    We were listening. We were listening.

    THE ELDER WOMAN.                 We were both listening.

    THE YOUNGER WOMAN.
    Did she struggle?

    THE ELDER WOMAN.
                      She could not struggle long.

_They set down the cauldron at the foot of the bed._

    THE ELDER WOMAN, _curtseying to the Queen's body._
    Saving your presence, Madam, we are come
    To make you sweeter than you'll be hereafter,
    And then be done with you.

    THE YOUNGER WOMAN, _curtseying in turn._
    Three days together, my Lady, y'have had me ducked
    For easing a foolish maid at the wrong time;
    But now your breath is stopped and you are colder,
    And you shall be as wet as a drowned cat
    Ere I have done with you.

    THE ELDER WOMAN, _fumbling in the folds of the robe that hangs on
        the wall._
    Her pocket is empty; Merryn has been here first.
    Hearken, and then begin:
    You have not touched a royal corpse before,
    But I have stretched a king and an old queen,
    A king's aunt and a king's brother too,
    Without much boasting of a still-born princess;
    So that I know, as a priest knows his prayers,
    All that is written in the chamberlain's book
    About the handling of exalted corpses,
    Stripping them and trussing them for the grave:
    And there it says that the chief corpse-washer
    Shall take for her own use by sacred right
    The coverlid, the upper sheet, the mattress
    Of any bed in which a queen has died,
    And the last robe of state the body wore;
    While humbler helpers may divide among them
    The under sheet, the pillow, and the bed-gown
    Stript from the cooling queen.
    Be thankful, then, and praise me every day
    That I have brought no other women with me
    To spoil you of your share.

    THE YOUNGER WOMAN.
    Ah, you have always been a friend to me:
    Many's the time I have said I did not know
    How I could even have lived but for your kindness.

_The ELDER WOMAN draws down the bedclothes from the Queen's body,
loosens them from the bed, and throws them on the floor._

    THE ELDER WOMAN.
    Pull her feet straight: is your mind wandering?

_She commences to fold the bedclothes, singing as she moves about._

    A louse crept out of my lady's shift--
    Ahumm, Ahumm, Ahee--
    Crying "Oi! Oi! We are turned adrift;
    The lady's bosom is cold and stiffed,
    And her arm-pit's cold for me."

_While the ELDER WOMAN sings, the YOUNGER WOMAN straightens the Queen's
feet and ties them together, draws the pillow from under her head,
gathers her hair in one hand and knots it roughly; then she loosens her
nightgown, revealing a jewel hung on a cord round the Queen's neck._

    THE ELDER WOMAN, _running to the vacant side of the bed._
    What have you there? Give it to me.

    THE YOUNGER WOMAN.                   It is mine:
    I found it.

    THE ELDER WOMAN, _seizing the jewel._
                Leave it.

    THE YOUNGER WOMAN. Let go.

    THE ELDER WOMAN.        Leave it, I say.
    Will you not? Will you not? An eye for a jewel, then!

_She attacks the face of the YOUNGER WOMAN with her disengaged hand._

    THE YOUNGER WOMAN, _starting back._
                   Oh!

_The ELDER WOMAN breaks the cord and thrusts the jewel into her pocket._

    THE YOUNGER WOMAN.
    Aie! Aie! Aie! Old thief! You are always thieving!
    You stole a necklace on your wedding-day:
    You could not bear a child, you stole your daughter:
    You stole a shroud the morn your husband died:
    Last week you stole the Princess Regan's comb....

_She stumbles into the chair by the bed, and, throwing her loose sleeves
over her head, rocks herself and moans._

    THE ELDER WOMAN, _resuming her clothes-folding and her song._
        "The lady's linen's no longer neat;"--
        Ahumm, Ahumm, Ahee--
        "Her savour is neither warm nor sweet;
        It's close for two in a winding-sheet,
        And lice are too good for worms to eat;
        So here's no place for me."

_GONERIL enters by the door near the bed: her knife and the hand that
holds it are bloody. She pauses a moment irresolutely._

    THE ELDER WOMAN.
    Still work for old Hrogneda, little Princess?

_GONERIL goes straight to the cauldron, passing the women as if they
were not there: she kneels and washes her knife and her hand in it. The
women retire to the back of the chamber._

    GONERIL, _speaking to herself._
    The way is easy: and it is to be used.
    How could this need have been conceived slowly?
    In a keen mind it should have leapt and burnt:
    What I have done would have been better done
    When my sad mother lived and could feel joy.
    This striking without thought is better than hunting;
    She showed more terror than an animal,
    She was more shiftless....
    A little blood is lightly washed away,
    A common stain that need not be remembered;
    And a hot spasm of rightness quickly born
    Can guide me to kill justly and shall guide.

_LEAR enters by the door near the bed._

    LEAR.
    Goneril, Gormflaith, Gormflaith.... Have you seen Gormflaith?

    GONERIL.
    I led her to her chamber lately, Sir.

    LEAR.
    Ay, she is in her chamber. She is there.

    GONERIL.
    Have you been there already? Could you not wait?

    LEAR.
    Daughter, she is bleeding: she is slain.

    GONERIL, _rising from the cauldron with dripping hands._
    Yes, she is slain: I did it with a knife:
    And in this water is dissolved her blood,

_(Raising her arms and sprinkling the Queen's body)_

    That now I scatter on the Queen of death
    For signal to her spirit that I can slake
    Her long corrosion of misery with such balm--
    Blood for weeping, terror for woe, death for death,
    A broken body for a broken heart.
    What will you say against me and my deed?

    LEAR.
    That now you cannot save yourself from me.
    While your blind virgin power still stood apart
    In an unused, unviolated life,
    You judged me in my weakness, and because
    I felt you unflawed I could not answer you;
    But you have mingled in mortality
    And violently begun the common life
    By fault against your fellows; and the state,
    The state of Britain that inheres in me
    Not touched by my humanity or sin,
    Passions or privy acts, shall be as hard
    And savage to you as to a murderess.

    GONERIL, _taking a letter from her girdle._
    I found a warrant in her favoured bosom, King:
    She wore this on her heart when you were crowning her.

    LEAR, _opening the letter._
    But this is not my hand:

_(Looking about him on the floor)_

    Where is the other letter?

    GONERIL.
    Is there another letter? What should it say?

    LEAR.
    There is no other letter if you have none.

_(Reading)_

    "Open your window when the moon is dead,
    And I will come again.
    The men say everywhere that you are faithless....
    And your eyes shifty eyes. Ah, but I love you, Gormflaith...."
    This is not hers: she'd not receive such words.

    GONERIL.
    Her name stands twice therein: her perfume fills it:
    My knife went through it ere I found it on her.

    LEAR.
    The filth is suitably dead. You are my true daughter.

    GONERIL.
    I do not understand how men can govern,
    Use craft and exercise the duty of cunning,
    Anticipate treason, treachery meet with treachery,
    And yet believe a woman because she looks
    Straight in their eyes with mournful, trustful gaze,
    And lisps like innocence, all gentleness.
    Your Gormflaith could not answer a woman's eyes.
    I did not need to read her in a letter;
    I am not woman yet, but I can feel
    What untruths are instinctive in my kind,
    And how some men desire deceit from us.
    Come; let these washers do what they must do:
    Or shall your Queen be wrapped and coffined awry?

_She goes out by the garden doorway._

    LEAR.
    I thought she had been broken long ago:
    She must be wedded and broken, I cannot do it.

_He follows GONERIL out._

_The two women return to the bedside._

    THE ELDER WOMAN.
    Poor, masterful King, he is no easier,
    Although his tearful wife is gone at last:
    A wilful girl shall prick and thwart him now.
    Old gossip, we must hasten; the Queen is setting.
    Lend me a pair of pennies to weight her eyes.

    THE YOUNGER WOMAN.
    Find your own pennies: then you can steal them safely.

    THE ELDER WOMAN.
    Praise you the gods of Britain, as I do praise them,
    That I have been sweet-natured from my birth,
    And that I lack your unforgiving mind.
    Friend of the worms, help me to lift her clear
    And draw away the under sheet for you;
    Then go and spread the shroud by the hall fire--
    I never could put damp linen on a corpse.

_She sings._

    The louse made off unhappy and wet;--
    Ahumm, Ahumm, Ahee--
    He's looking for us, the little pet;
    So haste, for her chin's to tie up yet,
    And let us be gone with what we can get--
    Her ring for thee, her gown for Bet,
    Her pocket turned out for me.

CURTAIN.



THE CRIER BY NIGHT



    _TO
    MY DEAR SCRIBE_


PERSONS:

    HIALTI, a Northman.
    THORGERD, His Wife.
    BLANID, an Irish Bondmaid.
    AN OLD STRANGE MAN.



THE CRIER BY NIGHT


_The scene is the interior of a cottage near a misty mere and among
unseen mountains on a wild night of late Autumn. In the back wall area
door to the left and a long low window in the middle; the latter is
shuttered on the outside, and on door and window the wind-driven rain
rattles. In the middle of the left-hand wall a door leads into an
outhouse; near it is a loom: toward the front of the right-hand wall
another door leads to a sleeping-chamber; a settle extends along this
wall and in front of it a long table is set. Two rushlights burn on the
table. A round hearth is in the middle of the house; its smoke rises
into a luffer which hangs from the thatched roof between two beams. The
floor is thickly strewn with rushes. There are several wooden stools
about the hearth, on one of which HIALTI is sitting mending harness.
THORGERD is standing near the loom, spinning with a distaff._

    HIALTI.
    THE lass is late about; where is she now?

    THORGERD.
    Let the lass be. What is the lass to you?
    She is my lass to handle as I will--
    My father gave her to me for my own,
    And so I use her as I use my gear....
    "She will not last" say you? Well, what of that?
    I know gear must wear out, being well used;
    Shoes must be trodden under-foot all day,
    Though in the mire they go and to the mire;
    The hearth-fire wastes the irons used to tend it:
    I am the huswife--leave the house to me
    And buy me new gear when the old is rotten.

    HIALTI.
    You drive her over hard. In the cold dark,
    Hours ere the thin late dawn, she was afoot,
    And she has been afoot each moment since:
    The butter will not come now without fire,
    But I was wakened in the frosty night
    By the slow moaning of her weary churn,
    And when I rose she stood here without shoes--
    She said you took them from her; so I sought,
    And gave her them again, and lit the fire.
    She dare not sleep with half your tasks undone,
    But you slept and your sleep was all her rest;
    Yet in her land 'tis you would be the thrall.
    You shut the hens in from the storm all day,
    But she must trudge with peat-mull in a swill
    Up from the water-side and down all day....

    THORGERD
    Spare her and have my firing spoilt? Not I.
    Had it been sodden, how could you light her fires?

    HIALTI.
    You drive her over hard.

    THORGERD.                   What is it to you?
    Fodder and yoke your neats, see to your swine,
    Put them to breed, and leave my stock to me.
    If this is over hard, what will it be--
    Last week she still could smile sometimes, so yet
    She smiles too often for my happiness.
    What money did the calves fetch at the fair?

    HIALTI.
    Where is she now?

    THORGERD.         What money did the calves
    Fetch at the fair last week?

    HIALTI.                      Where is she now?

    THORGERD.
    I spilt the water; she must needs draw more.

    HIALTI.
    The roof-drip at the door would fill her pails.

    THORGERD.
    What money did the calves fetch at the fair?

    HIALTI.
    You need not ask; you had it all to hoard.

    THORGERD.
    You kept some back; who bought them?

    HIALTI.                              He who paid.

_The outside door opens and, as the rain drives in, BLANID enters
carrying two pails of water by a yoke. Her short-sleeved, frayed,
hempen smock is dripping-wet; an old cart-strap is buckled about her
middle; her ankles are bare, but her feet are covered by shapeless
brogues; her matted hair is cut short, and she has an iron collar about
her neck. She sets down her pails, and with difficulty shuts and bolts
the door against the wind. Then she carries her pails into the outhouse;
as she moves about within she is heard to sing to a tired, monotonous
tune._

    BLANID.
    The bird in my heart's a-calling through a far-fled, tear-grey sea
    To the soft slow hills that cherish dim waters weary for me,
    Where the folk of rath and dun trail homeward silently
    In the mist of the early night-fall that drips from their hair like
        rain.

    The bird in my heart's a-flutter, for the bitter wind of the sea
    Shivers with thyme and woodbine as my body with memory;
    I feel their perfumes ooze in my ears like melody--
    The scent of the mead at the harping I shall not hear again.

    The bird in my heart's a-sinking to a hushed vale hid in the sea,
    Where the moonlit dew o'er dead fighters is stirred by the feet of
        the Shee,
    Who are lovely and old as the earth but younger than I can be
      Who have known the forgetting of dying to a life one lonely pain ...

_She returns from the outhouse._

    THORGERD.
    Come here; give me your shoes; quickly, I say.
    Why must you go shod softly? Give me your shoes.

_She takes them and puts them on the fire._

    Is there some joy so deep within you still
    That I have missed it though 'tis bright for singing?
    It shall not be so long; sing while you can.

    BLANID.
    No joy ever sank deep enough for singing;
    Trouble and all the sorrowful ways of men
    Must stir the sad unrest that ends in song.
    Joy seeks but peace and silence and still thought;
    But those who cannot weep must sing for ease,
    And in the sound forget the thought that smote it.

    THORGERD.
    I am made glad, hearing your misery;
    Yet all the shapeless, creeping, shivering sounds
    You wail about the house will make me share it.
    Your songs of faëry and nameless kings
    And things that never happened long ago
    And an unknown, impossible, shadowy land
    Are useless as the starlight after moonset
    That will not light men homeward from the fair--
    Nay, useless as its melting down thin water:
    If you must sing, sing truth to gut-strong tunes
    Of Gunnar or of Freya or Andvari,
    Vineland the Good and the old Western sea.

    BLANID.
    Things need not happen that they may be true;
    Although impossible, they may be true--
    The things that matter happen in the heart.
    All earthly truth is true but for a time,
    Whilst ages may be altered by one dream--
    The things that matter happen in the heart ...

    THORGERD.
    Useless as starlight or the aimless wind.

    BLANID.
    The wind is all the souls of those sad dead
    Who will not stay in Heaven for love of earth;
    Hither and thither they surge to find the gate
    They see and know not on its new, strange side,
    For they have learned too much to be let back.
    Ah, some have learned too much before they die.

_As she crosses the house at the back HIALTI turns and, catching her
hands in his, draws her toward him._

    HIALTI.
    Is it too hard, the thought of that lost vale?

    BLANID.
    It is too hard, because I must so love it
    That were I free I should go there no more,
    Lest I should hate it. I must always suffer,
    I only suffer this way rather than that--
    'Tis the eternal suffering of love
    Must search me somehow with love's pitilessness
    To make me know all souls; what matter how?
    O, I am but a troubled dream of God's,
    And even His will can alter not His dreams;
    Yea, He is dreaming me a little while--
    I must be dreamed out to the hardest end,
    Returning then to be unknown in Him;
    I shall be Him again when He awakes.
    Ah, God, awake, and so forget me soon.

_THORGERD, swinging her aside by the collar on her neck._

    Set on the water for the porridge; go.

_BLANID goes into the outhouse; THORGERD continues to HIALTI._

    Why must you hold her hands and hold her eyes?

    HIALTI.
    Under each dark grey lash a long tear slid,
    Like rain in a wild rose's shadowy curve
    Bowed in the wind about the morning twilight.

    THORGERD.
    Have done; I know; you left the fair at noon
    To reach the copse just at the young moon's setting--
    I could not find her till i' the night-hid copse
    A woman's voice sobbed "If he would but come..."

    HIALTI.
    It is not true; you know it is not true.
    Let her alone; you know that I must love you,
    And if she loves me she will know it too
    And hurt herself far more than you can hurt her.

    THORGERD.
    I hear you say it: and afterward?... Perhaps
    My little shears are sharp as any knife.

    HIALTI.
    You would not kill her?

    THORGERD. When have I grown kind-hearted?

_She lays her hand on his shoulder and, leaning her mouth to his ear,
speaks in a low, distinct voice._

    Slit nose and lip and where's her beauty then?

_He starts from his stool._

    Nay, are my kinsfolk as far off as hers?

_He turns away as BLANID enters with an iron pot which she hangs from a
hook over the fire, and a pitcher of milk which she sets on the table._

_THORGERD takes the pot from the fire._

    Here's too much water; it will never boil,
    And if it did the mess would be too thin.

_She pours water from the pot upon the floor, then hangs the pot over
the fire again._

    Set out the bowls, and finger not their lips.

_BLANID goes again to the outhouse, and, returning, sets three bowls
with spoons on the table, and a jar of meal by the hearth._

    Though porridge needs meal you shall not think for me;
    Do nought until I bid you--once. The grain.

_BLANID goes yet again to the outhouse and returns with a bag of
grain._

    You know what grain is for; why do you stand?
    Your feet are mine. Down to the quern. Get down.

    BLANID.
    There's meal in plenty for to-morrow.

    THORGERD, _laying down her distaff to make porridge._
                                          Ay,
    But is there meal in plenty for next month?
    You may be dead then; therefore you must toil,
    That I may need to do no aching tasks
    Until my man can buy another drudge
    From the next herd; for so we shall forget you.

    BLANID, _kneeling by the quern between the window and the door,
        and commencing to grind grain._
    You hate me far too subtly to forget me;
    There is not enough kindness in your heart
    To let you thus forego your joy of hate.
    Then, too, despite the accident of death,
    I cannot go from here against my will.

    THORGERD.
    You shall not die ere I have done with you;
    And death shall only come by suffering
    Until you are too feeble even to suffer.

    BLANID.
    The sound of death is ever in mine ears,
    Monotonous as the night's infinity
    Wherein I was once born where salt winds sweep
    The wailing of the waters of the West.
    I die, but you can ne'er have done with me.

    THORGERD, _the porridge being made._
    Come, drudge, lift off the pot and fill the bowls.

    BLANID, _having filled two bowls._
    The pot is empty.

    THORGERD.         But the bowls are full.

    HIALTI.
    Now give the lass some supper; fill her bowl.

    THORGERD, _pouring milk over the porridge._
    There's but enough for two; I'll make no more.
    Here, take the pot and scrape it at the quern.

_HIALTI and THORGERD draw stools to the table; BLANID carries the pot to
the outhouse and returns to the quern; supper proceeds in silence for a
few moments, then HIALTI rises and offers his bowl to BLANID._

    HIALTI.
    Share with me, lass; I need no more to-night.

_Before BLANID can taste the porridge THORGERD strikes the bowl from her
hand._

    HIALTI, _indignantly, as he reaches to THORGERD'S bowl._
    She shall have yours; go you and make us more ...

_He is interrupted by a distant wailing which is heard through the
storm._

    THE VOICE.
    Ohey! Ohey! Ohohey!

    BLANID.
    Master, I hear one calling in the night.

    HIALTI, _in a subdued voice._
    It is the wind across the chimney-slates.

    THE VOICE.
    Ohey! Ohohey!

    BLANID.
    Master, a man is calling in the night.

    HIALTI.
    An owl, storm-beaten, drowns down the long mere.

    THE VOICE, _sounding nearer on a gust of wind._
    Ohohey! Ohohey!

    BLANID.
    Master, one lost is helpless in the night.

    THORGERD, _gently and with an eager smile._
    Ay, lass, good lass; go, lass, and seek for him--
    Maybe he sinks amid the marshy reeds;
    Bring him to warmth and supper and a bed.
    I'll shut the door; the light will only daze you.

    HIALTI, _leaping to the door in front of BLANID, and setting his
        back to it._
    No, no; back, girl, get back. (_To THORGERD._)
      You murderess,
    You know it is the Crier of the Ford,
    Who wakens when the clashing waters rise
    And the thick night is choked with level rain.
    He is not seen; he was not born; he gathers
    His bodiless being from the treacherous tarn.
    His aged crying gropes about the storm
    To snare the spent wayfarer to the ford,
    Or draw some pitiful helper to the ford,
    And drown them where the unknown water swirls
    And strangle them with long brown water-weed:
    He seeks their souls for his old soul to feed on,
    Because it has no body to nourish it.

    THORGERD, _hastily yet sullenly._
    How should I know?

_She grips BLANID'S shoulder and hurries her to the outhouse._

    Get in with you to your straw.

_She thrusts her into the outhouse and shuts the door upon her; then she
turns to HIALTI._

    Fool, now I know you love her behind your heart.

    HIALTI.
    I have no mind to waste a half-spent thrall
    To prove I love you; and to buy another
    Would need more money than eight red-polled stirks.

    THORGERD.
    Choose between her and me; if you take her,
    I take the land.

    HIALTI.          I love you overmuch
    To set you equally against a thrall.

    THORGERD.
    What, do I touch you when I touch your fields?

    HIALTI.
    To-morrow I must drive the sold ewes home
    And lead more bedding from the bracken-fell
    If the storm clears--it is well stacked and dry;
    So we must be a-stirring by lantern-light,
    Since now you will not have the lass go with me
    To milk, but go yourself although three cows
    Will not let down their milk to you at all,
    You drag their teats so: waking-time comes soon--
    Best get to bed.

    THORGERD.
        And leave you to go to your straw's wench?

    HIALTI, _taking a rushlight in his hand._
    Here are enough of your unfaithful words;
    I'll alter this to-morrow.

    THORGERD.          Ay, to-morrow.

_HIALTI enters the sleeping-chamber; after watching the door close upon
him, THORGERD, her hands clenched and her arms rigid, swiftly steps half
way toward the outhouse; then, suddenly relaxing into a pause and
smiling with tight lips as she shakes her head slightly and sharply, she
turns to the table again, doffs her coif and draws her hair down, blows
out the remaining rushlight, and follows HIALTI into the
sleeping-chamber._

_Henceforth the cottage is only lit by the ever-dying fire. A long,
empty silence ensues, broken only by the tumult of the storm and the
tinkle of the sinking embers._

_Then the outhouse door opens slowly and from it BLANID steps
listeningly across the house, in front of the hearth, to the door of the
sleeping-chamber, remaining there for a little time with her ear against
the door-boards; then she returns noiselessly across the house, behind
the hearth, pausing near the house door._

    BLANID, _in a hushed voice._
    If day were only darkness melting down
    From darkness into darkness like this rain,
    Lost ere 'tis known, then I might always sleep
    And sleep and dream I was a queen once more--
    She does not know I was a jewelled queen,
    For so I spoil her of new heights of joy
    In which she might for haughtiness fondle me.
    O, I would sleep in that old Crier's arms,
    Enduring silence harder than all else,
    A mote shut into one cold, kneaded eyelid
    Of the dead mere; and dream into the wind,
    And cling to stars lest I should slip through space;
    And dream I am the body of him I love,
    Who yields me only kindness, never love--
    O me, that misery of hopeless kindness.
    But I'll not die and leave him to her lips;
    Though I can never have him she shall not;
    For I can use this body worn to a soul
    To barter with that Crier of hidden things
    That, if he tangles him in his chill hair,
    Then I will follow and follow and follow and follow,
    Past where the imaged stars ebb past their light
    And turn to water under the dark world.

_She goes out into the storm, leaving the door open behind her.
Presently she is heard singing to a chant-like, ever-falling melody._

    I stand in the sick night, whose hid shape is my own shape,
    As dazed life in the flickering hearts of old men;
    I think like a lean heron with bald head and frayed nape
    Motionlessly moulting in a flat pool of a grey fen,
    Whose sleep-blinked horny eyes know it can ne'er moult again.

    My age-long cry droops in the hoar unseen stars that shake
    Until their discordant rays make darkness inside the sky;
    My bare cry shivers along the slimy rushes of the drowned lake--
    Weariful waters, do you hear a soul's hair tingling your veiled
        feet nigh?
    I stand outside my keen body, yearning into you as I cry.

    HIALTI, _within._
    Is that the lass sobbing a song in sleep?

    THORGERD, _within._
    The wind, the wind, and so as much as she.

    BLANID, _still out of doors, singing._
    Old father of many waters, can you feel my soul touching yours?
    I know that to greet your calling leaves me no more any yea or nay;
    Yet I too am of kin with lost woods and sedgy shores,
      So come secret as your black wind and take the dark core of my
        heart away,
      Ere you beget me on death to be still-born to an unlit day.
    Ohey! Ohey! Ohohey!

    THE VOICE.          Ohohey! Ohey!

    HIALTI, _within._
    Is there a woman's voice inside the wind?

    THORGERD, _within._
    ... the unclean Crier croaking ... cover your ears ...

_BLANID re-enters the house hurriedly; she shuts and bolts the door,
hardly knowing what she does; she falls on her knees with her back to
the door, breathing quickly and hard, and swaying backward and forward,
her face hid in her hands._

_Again and again a terrible blast of wind strains at the unyielding
door._

    THE VOICE, _close at hand._
    Open, open; I cannot open; open.
    I cannot come to you unless you open.

    BLANID, _muttering behind her hands._
    I will not go ... I can do nothing else ...
    It shall not enter ... O, it is in my heart ...

_She totters fearfully to the door, after many hesitant backward
glances, and opens it slowly and as if she had never known how to open
it. She reels against the wall and stands there motionlessly, clutching
it with flat hands and outspread arms, as a stooping figure swathed in a
rain-coloured, rain-soaked cloak and deep hood enters. Wisps of white
hair flutter in the mouth of the hood, and one flicker of the fire-light
shows in its depths a soft, shrunken, beardless face with an almost
lipless, sunken mouth._

    THIS OLD STRANGE MAN, _speaking always in a low, even, mournful
        voice._
    A spirit calling in an old, old tongue
    Forgotten in lost graves in lonesome places;
    A spirit huddled in an old, old heart
    Like a blind crone crouched o'er a long-dead fire;
    A spirit shrinking in the old, old hills,
    Dreading to step down water or hollow night:
    Some seek me dreaming one last hope of joy;
    Some have been made too wise by too much joy
    And seek me longing for deeper misery,
    Knowing that joy is weary in unending,
    Changeless and one and easy in low perfection,
    While misery has as many shapes as evil
    That all must learn, and is made new for ever
    By fear of pain desired for love of passion;
    But feel, O you who call me through the night,
    I bring you neither joy nor misery
    But only rest so slow and sad and sodden
    You will not know of it--you shall only rest
    And lose your soul in my soul evermore.

_Sounds of heavy breathing are heard from the sleeping-chamber during
his speaking. He is continually reaching to BLANID with his muffled,
unseen hands, but she holds them from her as continually._

    BLANID, _always in an eager, suppressed voice._
    I have known joy--I know not what it was,
    Mead-fumes that filled me cooling to one drop;
    I have known misery--a self-numbed sting
    That showed me but another joy to lose;
    These were too small, I will have only rest,
    And lose my soul in your soul evermore.
    But if I die into your drooping limbs
    I must be mingled there with him I love;
    You may not reach him by your hoary crying,
    But raise some human wail for help and light
    And he will come and I must follow him
    Past where the imaged moon shakes like a soul
    Pausing in death between two unknown worlds.

    THE OLD MAN.
    A sign, a plighting, and I do your will.

    BLANID, _winding her arms about his arms from one side, so that
        he cannot touch her, and burying her face in his hood._
    Kisses. 'Hast drained my soul's blood in each kiss.

    THE OLD MAN.
    I go, I go; make me not come again,
    For I am in you, you must melt to me
    Past where the imaged dark shuts bending lovers'
    Close, unseen-imaged faces within life....

_Keeping his face turned toward BLANID, he recedes to the door, where he
ceases to be seen in the wind that scurries past._

    THE VOICE, _immediately and far away._
    Help; help; the marsh-lights 'wilder us! A light!

_BLANID shuts the door. The fire has now sunk so low that as she crosses
the house she is only visible in the half-dark as a dim shape. She
pauses by the hearth._

    BLANID.
    Nay, but I touch toward my joy at last,
    And Christ and all His Saints go out like candles
    When mass is said and the priest's cup is wiped....

    THE VOICE.
    The water laps our waists! Help, help! A light!

    BLANID, _running to the sleeping-chamber door._
    Master, I hear a calling....

_After an interval she strikes the door, crying loudly._

                                Master! Master!

    HIALTI, _within._
    Has the flood washed into the shippon?

    BLANID.                               Nay;
    There is a pitiful shrieking in the dark.

    HIALTI, _within._
    It is the Crier; break sleep no more for that.

    THORGERD, _within._
    The ox-goad shall reward you when dawn comes ...
    Wake us once more and you shall waken often,
    Ay, very often, until you dread to sleep ...

    BLANID.
    I heard that trailing cry like maddened fir-boughs;
    Now I hear words--is there a woman's wail?

    THORGERD, _within._
    A woman? Let her drown.

    HIALTI, _within._ I come. I come.
    Reach down the lantern and light it, light it, light it.

_Standing on a stool, BLANID lifts a lantern from a nail in one of the
beams and, carrying it to the hearth, kneels there and seeks to light it
with an ember._

    THORGERD, _within._
    You shall not go; it is a lie of hers;
    You shall not go ...

_A brief struggle in the sleeping-chamber is heard._

    HIALTI, _within._ So; stand you from the door.
    Get donned; make up the fire; have water boiling;
    And send the wench to lie in your warm form
    Ready to cherish what stiffening thing I bring.

    BLANID, _to herself, lighting the lantern and smiling mischievously._
    Yea, I shall cherish a stiffening thing for her.
    Lantern, you are as dim as a little soul,
    Yet the least soul can light a man to Heaven,
    And you might lead him home; but I am like God,
    Who makes souls from His aches--I will not ache,
    You shall not have a soul, I suck it back.

_She extinguishes the light. HIALTI hurries in half-dressed._

    HIALTI.
    Canst find a rope?

    BLANID, _pointing._ Behind the settle there.
                                                _To herself._
    'Tis a good rope and has two rotten strands;
    'Twas meant to make good tinder on the morrow.

    THE VOICE.
    Help; help! A light! Come for the woman's sake!

    HIALTI, _holding out his hand for the lantern._
    Hearken and haste; give me the lantern--now!

    BLANID.
    Master, it will not light....

    HIALTI.                     Will the storm pause?

    THE VOICE.
    Ohohey! Ohohey!

    HIALTI.
    Will that dark Crier linger? I must go.

_She catches his outstretched hand and kisses it ere, snatching it away,
he flings the house door wide open and dashes outside. Soon the sound of
his footsteps is lost in the storm._

    BLANID, _relighting the lantern and starting up._
    Master, Master, the light!

_Pausing and sending the lantern crashing on the hearth with both
hands._

    He shall not have it!

_She stands with her hands gripping her breasts, leaning forward toward
the open door; her breathlessness is all that is heard; she stretches
her arms to the night._

    BLANID.
    I feel as if my long, long hands could reach
    Down to the water's heart to pluck him from it.

    THE VOICE.
    Will no one ever come?

    HIALTI, _out of doors._ I come; I am nigh.

    BLANID.
    Ay, he is nigh; but soon he will be far.
    I dare not thus fall through the world for him.
    O, I shall hear him ... do not let me hear him ...

_She throws herself on her face on the floor and, covering her head with
the strewn rushes and clasping her hands over them, lies there
moaning._

    HIALTI, _far off, shouting ever more madly._
    Thorgerd, Thorgerd ... your hands ... the world slips past me ...
    Save ... under ... under ... under ...
        Aa-h ...

_The shouting ceases suddenly at its height._

    BLANID, _muffled and choking._
    Her name ... her name ... why did he not think my name? ...
    But she has lost him, and I kissed his hand ...

    THORGERD, _rushing from the sleeping-chamber in her night-gear._
    Where is the wench?... Make haste--another light:
    I heard him dying. O, this prater's breath
    Will blow his life out ... Kindle a light and come ...

    THE VOICE.
    Ohey! Ohohey! Ohey!

    BLANID.
    Nay! Nay! Nay! I dare not, I dare not ...
    That Crier will drown me too ...

    THORGERD.                     That is nought to me;
    Get to your feet ... What, shall I seek a way
    To supple you?

    BLANID.          O, do not hurt me again ...
    He dies ... it is my deed ... I dare not come ...

    THORGERD.
    You are too mean to stir his life one thought;
    It was the Crafty Crier--I heard that wail ...

_The fire is now wholly out, so that the cottage is absolutely dark and
nothing is visible._

    THE VOICE, _near at hand._
    Ohohey! Ohey!

    THORGERD, _fiercely._
    Where are you?... O, the Crier is heaving o'er ...

_A gust of wind and rain is heard to sweep into the cottage through the
open doorway, shifting the rustling floor-rushes as though feet touched
them. THE OLD STRANGE MAN has entered._

    BLANID, _being heard to start to her feet._
    There is another breathing in the house ...
    He is here ... this darkness is not black enough,
    The darkness at light's core alone could hide me ...
    Grope for my hand--hold fast and take me home ...

_She is heard to sink to the floor again._

    THE OLD STRANGE MAN.
    Sister of that old race dead in the hills,
    Why will you make me come to you once more?
    You know you must go down a long withdrawing
    To reach the unlit places of your heart,
    Which are the night within my unknown eyes
    Beyond all stars; so let me touch you once.

_BLANID is heard to drag her prostrate body through the rushes toward
THORGERD._

    BLANID.
    Mistress, I am your thrall; you will keep your own ...
    I clasp your feet, I kiss your clutching feet,
    I lick your feet all over with my tongue,
    I will tell you somewhat that will yield a vengeance
    For you to work; so do not let me go....

    THE OLD MAN.
    I see you, you white terror with shaking flanks,
    Straining to feel me with your hard-shut eyes,
    But now I need you not; not yet; not yet.
    Your man is drowned and this is it who bargained
    Its death for his; will you not give it to me?

    THORGERD, _laughing._
    I am glad he is dead; now I may only love him,
    And know no more that last distress of stooping
    So far from me as this at my feet must be.
    No vengeancing could pay for thoughts of her:
    I will not know that such can be in life,
    So I will neither yield nor succour her.

_She speaks no more, nor moves._

    THE OLD MAN.
    Give it to me; it is mine, give it to me;
    I cannot take it while it touches you.

_A silence._

    BLANID.
    I have slain him and I fear to go to him ...
    Put out my eyes, and rope me with the dogs--
    Nay, strangle me to-morrow; but save me now.


    THE OLD MAN, _his voice growing fainter and fainter._
    Ah, come, you daughter of an ancient earth,
    Come down among the folk your heart can know,
    You darling of the past, you long-dead queen.
    Your aged soul is strange among these men,
    As strange as it would be in Paradise;
    But once I knew you ere you were begot,
    And in the unchanging silence of my heart
    There waits a star for you to finish it.

_A silence._

    You little trembler of a dew-drop dawn,
    You are as old as water that makes new dew;
    And when the dew falls it runs down to peace.
    The end of sorrow is in sorrow's heart
    With those who loved and knew the unknown end
    Of mothering you a thousand years ago.
    Come, then, from her who shapes new pangs for you,
    And rest and rest and rest for evermore.

_A silence._

    One day you will awake and call to me;
    And I shall listen for the doubting cry
    Until the stars have worn the sky too thin,
    And I am drowned within the light beyond....

_His voice is lost in the gradual wail of a gust of wind; then it is
heard outside and afar._

    Ohey!

    BLANID, _speaking at longer and longer intervals._
    O, you have saved me from such evil things
    As writhed like tangled tree-roots outside space
    Ere God made Himself from them; and for this
    My Virgin shall reach down from God's two knees
    Whereon She sits, and kiss you for Her own.
    My body was yours; now you have saved my soul
    My soul is utterly yours to serve in living,
    To clothe your soul and be your very heart
    In love and soft, unconscious giving of life.
    Mother, I have done evil--punish me;
    Because we loved him, love me and punish me:
    I have sinned, I have parted lovers--be cruel to me
    And cleanse me that I may keep near you two...
    Think in how many ways you can torture me;
    Let me rake up the fire and heat an iron
    For you to have your will upon my body--
    One thigh is yet unseared ... Will you not speak? ...
    I love him, I tell you ... I love him, I love him, I love him ...
    I kissed his hand; do you hear? I kissed his hand--
    Our Hialti's hand ... I'll make you hurt me yet,
    Cold anger is shuddering down your tense thighs;
    Feel, this is your foot upon my upturned face,
    I lift it across my eyes, wide-open eyes--
    Bear down and crush them full of eternal night ...
    Speak to me now ... O, will you never speak?
    You thrust me down into that Crier's bosom;
    For in your heart you make me be unborn
    Within a lonely place you never heard of,
    Yet if I loose your feet he will return
    And I must follow and follow and follow and follow
    Past where my imaged thoughts repeat the world,
    Till shattered waters break the imaged dream ...
    You saved me once; will you undo that greatness?...
    We are the tears that God wipes from His eyes:
    Lone thoughts will thrust me forth--save me from them ...
    Ah, but my lonely love can succour me:
    Think, if I drown, 'tis to my Hialti's arms,
    To cast you from his heart for ever more;
    He will not even know you are forgotten ...
    Sister ... Thorgerd....

_THORGERD draws in a long breath so sharply that it sounds to stab her
repeatedly._

    Ay, you will hate me as you used to do--
    Will you not hate me as you used to do?
    I was so happy when you still could hate me....
    I fear it, but you make me go.... Speak once....

_After a long silence BLANID is heard to rise and go slowly to the
door._

    BLANID
    Ohey! Ohey!

    THE VOICE, _outside._ Ohohey!

_With a laugh of abandonment BLANID is heard to run into the night;
there is a brief silence; then one far-off, long shriek is heard from
her._

    THE VOICE.
    Ohey! Ohohey!

_In the cottage THORGERD is heard to fall heavily to the floor._

_The curtain descends on silence and darkness._



THE RIDING TO LITHEND



_TO EDWARD THOMAS_


    _HERE in the North we speak of you,
    And dream (and wish the dream were true)
    That when the evening has grown late
    You will appear outside our gate--
    As though some Gipsy-Scholar yet
    Sought this far place that men forget;
    Or some tall hero still unknown,
    Out of the Mabinogion,
    Were seen at nightfall looking in,
    Passing mysteriously to win
    His earlier earth, his ancient mind,
    Where man was true and life more kind
    Lived with the mountains and the trees
    And other steadfast presences,
    Where large and simple passions gave
    The insight and the peace we crave,
    And he no more had nigh forgot
    The old high battles he had fought._

    _Ah, pause to-night outside our gate
    And enter ere it is too late
    To see the garden's deep on deep
    And talk a little ere we sleep._

    _When you were here a year ago
    I told you of a glorious woe,
    The ancient woe of Gunnar dead
    And its proud train of men long sped,
    Fit brothers to your noble thoughts;
    Then, as their shouts and Gunnar's shouts
    Went down once more undyingly
    And the fierce saga was put by,
    I told you of my old desire
    To light again that bygone fire,
    To body Hallgerd's ruinous
    Great hair and wrangling mouth for us,
    And hear her voice deny again
    That hair to Gunnar in his pain._

    _Because your heart could understand
    The hopes of their primeval land,
    The hearts of dim heroic forms
    Made clear by tenderness and storms,
    You caught my glow and urged me on;
    So now the tale is once more done
    I turn to you, I bring my play,
    Longing, O friend, to hear you say
    I have not dwarfed those olden things
    Nor tarnisht by my furbishings._

    _I bring my play, I turn to you
    And wish it might to-night be true
    That you would seek this old small house
    Twixt laurel boughs and apple boughs;
    Then I would give it, bravely manned,
    To you, and with my play my hand._

30 JUNE 1908.


I. M.

2ND LIEUT. PHILIP EDWARD THOMAS

    244th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery;
    killed at a forward observation post in the
    battle of Arras, on Easter Monday,
    April 9th, 1917.


PERSONS:

    GUNNAR HAMUNDSSON.
    HALLGERD LONGCOAT, his wife.
    RANNVEIG, his mother.
    ODDNY, ASTRID, and STEINVOR, Hallgerd's house-women.
    ORMILD, a woman thrall.
    BIARTEY, JOFRID, and GUDFINN, beggar-women.
    GIZUR THE WHITE, MORD VALGARDSSON, THORGRIM
      THE EASTERLING, THORBRAND THORLEIKSSON
      and ASBRAND his brother, AUNUND,
      THORGEIR and HROALD, riders.
    Many other Riders and voices of Riders

    In Iceland, A.D. 990.



THE RIDING TO LITHEND


_The scene is the hall of Gunnar's house at Lithend in South Iceland.
The portion shewn is set on the stage diagonally, so that to the right
one end is seen while, from the rear corner of this, one side runs down
almost to the left front._

_The side wall is low and wainscotted with carved panelling on which
hang weapons, shields, and coats of mail. In one place a panel slid
aside shews a shut bed._

_In front of the panelling are two long benches with a carved high-seat
between them. Across the end of the hall are similar panellings and the
seats, with corresponding tables, of the women's daïs; behind these and
in the gable wall is a high narrow door with a rounded top._

_A timber roof slopes down to the side wall and is upheld by cross-beams
and two rows of tall pillars which make a rather narrow nave of the
centre of the hall. One of these rows runs parallel to the side wall,
the pair of pillars before the high-seat being carved and ended with
images; of the other row only two pillars are visible at the extreme
right._

_Within this nave is the space for the hearths; but the only hearth
visible is the one near the women's daïs. In the roof above it there is
a louvre: the fire glows and no smoke rises. The hall is lit everywhere
by the firelight._

_The rafters over the women's daïs carry a floor at the level of the
side walls, forming an open loft which is reached by a wide ladder fixed
against the wall: a bed is seen in this loft. Low in the roof at
intervals are shuttered casements, one being above the loft: all the
shutters are closed._

_Near the fire a large shaggy hound is sleeping; and ORMILD, in the
undyed woollen dress of a thrall, is combing wool._

_ODDNY stands spinning at the far side; near her ASTRID and STEINVOR sit
stitching a robe which hangs between them._

    ASTRID.
    NIGHT is a Winter long: and evening falls.
    Night, night and Winter and the heavy snow
    Burden our eyes, intrude upon our dreams,
    And make of loneliness an earthly place.

    ORMILD.
    This bragging land of freedom that enthralls me
    Is still the fastness of a secret king
    Who treads the dark like snow, of old king Sleep.
    He works with night, he has stolen death's tool frost
    That makes the breaking wave forget to fall.

    ASTRID.
    Best mind thy comb-pot and forget our king
    Before the Longcoat helps at thy awaking....
    I like not this forsaken quiet house.
    The house-men out at harvest in the Isles
    Never return. Perhaps they went but now,
    Yet I am sore with fearing and expecting
    Because they do not come. They will not come.
    I like not this forsaken quiet house,
    This late last harvest, and night creeping in.

    ODDNY.
    I like not dwelling in an outlaw's house.
    Snow shall be heavier upon some eyes
    Than you can tell of--ay, and unseen earth
    Shall keep that snow from filling those poor eyes.
    This void house is more void by brooding things
    That do not happen than by absent men.
    Sometimes when I awaken in the night
    My throbbing ears are mocking me with rumours
    Of crackling beams, beams falling, and loud flames.

    ASTRID, _pointing to the weapons by the high-seat._
    The bill that Gunnar won in a far sea-fight
    Sings inwardly when battle impends; as a harp
    Replies to the wind thus answers it to fierceness,
    So tense its nature is and the spell of its welding;
    Then trust ye well that while the bill is silent
    No danger thickens, for Gunnar dies not singly.

    STEINVOR.
    But women are let forth free when men go burning?

    ODDNY.
    Fire is a hurrying thing, and fire by night
    Can see its way better than men see theirs.

    ASTRID.
    The land will not be nobler or more holpen
    If Gunnar burns and we go forth unsinged.
    Why will he break the atonement that was set?
    That wise old Njal who has the second sight
    Foretold his death if he should slay twice over
    In the same kin or break the atonement set:
    Yet has he done these things and will not care.
    Kolskegg, who kept his back in famous fights,
    Sailed long ago and far away from us
    Because that doom is on him for the slayings;
    Yet Gunnar bides although that doom is on him
    And he is outlawed by defiance of doom.

    STEINVOR.
    Gunnar has seen his death: he is spoken for.
    He would not sail because, when he rode down
    Unto the ship, his horse stumbled and threw him,
    His face toward the Lithe and his own fields.
    Olaf the Peacock bade him be with him
    In his new mighty house so carven and bright,
    And leave this house to Rannveig and his sons:
    He said that would be well, yet never goes.
    Is he not thinking death would ride with him?
    Did not Njal offer to send his sons,
    Skarphedin ugly and brave and Hauskuld with him,
    To hold this house with Gunnar, who refused them
    Saying he would not lead young men to death?
    I tell you Gunnar is done.... His fetch is out.

    ODDNY.
    Nay, he's been topmost in so many fights
    That he believes he shall fight on untouched.

    STEINVOR.
    He rides to motes and Things before his foes.
    He has sent his sons harvesting in the Isles.
    He takes deliberate heed of death--to meet it,
    Like those whom Odin needs. He is fey, I tell you--
    And if we are past the foolish ardour of girls
    For heroisms and profitless loftiness
    We shall get gone when bedtime clears the house.
    'Tis much to have to be a hero's wife,
    And I shall wonder if Hallgerd cares about it:
    Yet she may kindle to it ere my heart quickens.
    I tell you, women, we have no duty here:
    Let us get gone to-night while there is time,
    And find new harbouring ere the laggard dawn,
    For death is making narrowing passages
    About this hushed and terrifying house.

_RANNVEIG, an old wimpled woman, enters as if from a door at the unseen
end of the hall._

    ASTRID.
    He is so great and manly, our master Gunnar,
    There are not many ready to meet his weapons:
    And so there may not be much need of weapons.
    He is so noble and clear, so swift and tender,
    So much of Iceland's fame in foreign places,
    That too many love him, too many honour him
    To let him die, lest the most gleaming glory
    Of our grey country should be there put out.

    RANNVEIG.
    My son has enemies, girl, enemies,
    Who will not lose the joy of hurting him.
    This little land is no more than a lair
    That holds too many fiercenesses too straitly,
    And no man will refuse the rapture of killing
    When outlawry has made it cheap and righteous.
    So long as any one perceives he knows
    A bare place for a weapon on my son
    His hand shall twitch to fit a weapon in.
    Indeed he shall lose nothing but his life
    Because a woman is made so evil fair,
    Wasteful and white and proud in harmful acts.
    I lose two sons when Gunnar's eyes are still,
    For then will Kolskegg never more turn home....
    If Gunnar would but sail three years would pass;
    Only three years of banishment said the doom--
    So few, so few, for I can last ten years
    With this unshrunken body and steady heart.
            (_To ORMILD_)
    Have I sat down in comfort by the fire
    And waited to be told the thing I knew?
    Have any men come home to the young women,
    Thinking old women do not need to hear,
    That you can play at being a bower-maid
    In a long gown although no beasts are foddered?
    Up, lass, and get thy coats about thy knees,
    For we must cleanse the byre and heap the midden
    Before the master knows--or he will go,
    And there is peril for him in every darkness.

    ORMILD, _tucking up her skirts._
    Then are we out of peril in the darkness?
    We should do better to nail up the doors
    Each night and all night long and sleep through it,
    Giving the cattle meat and straw by day.

    ODDNY.
    Ay, and the hungry cattle should sing us to sleep.

_The others laugh. ORMILD goes out to the left; RANNVEIG is following
her, but pauses at the sound of a voice._

    HALLGERD, _beyond the door of the women's daïs._
    Dead men have told me I was better than fair,
    And for my face welcomed the danger of me:
    Then am I spent?

_She enters angrily, looking backward through the doorway._

                    Must I shut fast my doors
    And hide myself? Must I wear up the rags
    Of mortal perished beauty and be old?
    Or is there power left upon my mouth
    Like colour, and lilting of ruin in my eyes?
    Am I still rare enough to be your mate?
    Then why must I shame at feasts and bear myself
    In shy ungainly ways, made flushed and conscious
    By squat numb gestures of my shapeless head--
    Ay, and its wagging shadow--clouted up,
    Twice tangled with a bundle of hot hair,
    Like a thick cot-wife's in the settling time?
    There are few women in the Quarter now
    Who do not wear a shapely fine-webbed coif
    Stitched by dark Irish girls in Athcliath
    With golden flies and pearls and glinting things:
    Even my daughter lets her big locks show,
    Show and half show, from a hood gentle and close
    That spans her little head like her husband's hand.

    GUNNAR, _entering by the same door._
    I like you when you bear your head so high;
    Lift but your heart as high, you could get crowned
    And rule a kingdom of impossible things.
    You would have moon and sun to shine together,
    Snow-flakes to knit for apples on bare boughs,
    Yea, love to thrive upon the terms of hate.
    If I had fared abroad I should have found
    In many countries many marvels for you
    Though not more comeliness in peopled Romeborg
    And not more haughtiness in Mickligarth
    Nor craftiness in all the isles of the world,
    And only golden coifs in Athcliath:
    Yet you were ardent that I should not sail,
    And when I could not sail you laughed out loud
    And kissed me home....

    HALLGERD, _who has been biting her nails._
    And then ... and doubtless ... and strangely ...
    And not more thriftiness in Bergthorsknoll
    Where Njal saves old soft sackcloth for his wife.
    O, I must sit with peasants and aged women,
    And keep my head wrapped modestly and seemly;

_She turns to RANNVEIG._

    I must be humble--as one who lives on others.

_She snatches off her wimple, slipping her gold circlet as she does so,
and loosens her hair._

    Unless I may be hooded delicately
    And use the adornment noble women use
    I'll mock you with my flown young widowhood,
    Letting my hair go loose past either cheek
    In two bright clouds and drop beyond my bosom,
    Turning the waving ends under my girdle
    As young glad widows do, and as I did
    Ere ever you saw me--ay, and when you found me
    And met me as a king meets a queen
    In the undying light of a summer night
    With burning robes and glances--stirring the
    heart with scarlet.

_She tucks the long ends of her hair under her girdle._

    RANNVEIG.
    You have cast the head-ring of the nobly nurtured,
    Being eager for a bold uncovered head.
    You are conversant with a widow's fancies....
    Ay, you are ready with your widowhood:
    Two men have had you, chilled their bosoms with you,
    And trusted that they held a precious thing--
    Yet your mean passionate wastefulness poured out
    Their lives for joy of seeing something done with.
    Cannot you wait this time? 'Twill not be long.

    HALLGERD.
    I am a hazardous desirable thing,
    A warm unsounded peril, a flashing mischief,
    A divine malice, a disquieting voice:
    Thus I was shapen, and it is my pride
    To nourish all the fires that mingled me.
    I am not long moved, I do not mar my face,
    Though men have sunk in me as in a quicksand.
    Well, death is terrible. Was I not worth it?
    Does not the light change on me as I breathe?
    Could I not take the hearts of generations,
    Walking among their dreams? O, I have might,
    Although it drives me too and is not my own deed....
    And Gunnar is great, or he had died long since.
    It is my joy that Gunnar stays with me:
    Indeed the offence is theirs who hunted him,
    His banishment is not just; his wrongs increase,
    His honour and his following shall increase
    If he is steadfast for his blamelessness.

    RANNVEIG.
    Law is not justice, but the sacrifice
    Of singular virtues to the dull world's ease of mind;
    It measures men by the most vicious men;
    It is a bargaining with vanities,
    Lest too much right should make men hate each other
    And hasten the last battle of all the nations.
    Gunnar should have kept the atonement set,
    For then those men would turn to other quarrels.

    GUNNAR.
    I know not why it is I must be fighting,
    For ever fighting, when the slaying of men
    Is a more weary and aimless thing to me
    Than most men think it ... and most women too.
    There is a woman here who grieves she loves me,
    And she too must be fighting me for ever
    With her dim ravenous unsated mind....
    Ay, Hallgerd, there's that in her which desires
    Men to fight on forever because she lives:
    When she took form she did it like a hunger
    To nibble earth's lip away until the sea
    Poured down the darkness. Why then should I sail
    Upon a voyage that can end but here?
    She means that I shall fight until I die:
    Why must she be put off by whittled years,
    When none can die until his time has come?

_He turns to the hound by the fire._

    Samm, drowsy friend, dost scent a prey in dreams?
    Shake off thy shag of sleep and get to thy watch:
    'Tis time to be our eyes till the next light.
    Out, out to the yard, good Samm.

_He goes to the left, followed by the hound. In the meantime HALLGERD
has seated herself in the high-seat near the sewing-women, turning
herself away and tugging at a strand of her hair, the end of which she
bites._

    RANNVEIG, _intercepting him._
                               Nay, let me take him.
    It is not safe--there may be men who hide....
    Hallgerd, look up; call Gunnar to you there:

_HALLGERD is motionless._

    Lad, she beckons. I say you shall not come.

    GUNNAR, _laughing._
    Fierce woman, teach me to be brave in age,
    And let us see if it is safe for you.

_He leads RANNVEIG out, his hand on her shoulder; the hound goes with
them._

    STEINVOR.
    Mistress, my heart is big with mutinies
    For your proud sake: does not your heart mount up?
    He is an outlaw now and could not hold you
    If you should choose to leave him. Is it not law?
    Is it not law that you could loose this marriage--
    Nay, that he loosed it shamefully years ago
    By a hard blow that bruised your innocent cheek,
    Dishonouring you to lesser women and chiefs?
    See, it burns up again at the stroke of thought.
    Come, leave him, mistress; we will go with you.
    There is no woman in the country now
    Whose name can kindle men as yours can do--
    Ay, many would pile for you the silks he grudges;
    And if you did withdraw your potent presence
    Fire would not spare this house so reverently.

    HALLGERD.
    Am I a wandering flame that sears and passes?
    We must bide here, good Steinvor, and be quiet.
    Without a man a woman cannot rule,
    Nor kill without a knife; and where's the man
    That I shall put before this goodly Gunnar?
    I will not be made less by a less man.
    There is no man so great as my man Gunnar:
    I have set men at him to show forth his might;
    I have planned thefts and breakings of his word
    When my pent heart grew sore with fermentation
    Of malice too long undone, yet could not stir him.
    O, I will make a battle of the Thing,
    Where men vow holy peace, to magnify him.
    Is it not rare to sit and wait o' nights,
    Knowing that murderousness may even now
    Be coming down outside like second darkness
    Because my man is greater?

    STEINVOR, _shuddering._ Is it not rare.

    HALLGERD.
    That blow upon the face
    So long ago is best not spoken of.
    I drave a thrall to steal and burn at Otkell's
    Who would not sell to us in famine time
    But denied Gunnar as if he were suppliant:
    Then at our feast when men rode from the Thing
    I spread the stolen food and Gunnar knew.
    He smote me upon the face ... indeed he smote me....
    O, Gunnar smote me and had shame of me
    And said he'd not partake with any thief;
    Although I stole to injure his despiser....
    But if he had abandoned me as well
    'Tis I who should have been unmated now;
    For many men would soon have judged me thief
    And shut me from this land until I died--
    And then I should have lost him.... Yet he smote me....

    ASTRID.
    He kept you his--yes, and maybe saved you
    From a debasement that could madden or kill,
    For women thieves ere now have felt a knife
    Severing ear or nose. And yet the feud
    You sowed with Otkell's house shall murder Gunnar.
    Otkell was slain: then Gunnar's enviers,
    Who could not crush him under his own horse
    At the big horse-fight, stirred up Otkell's son
    To avenge his father; for should he be slain
    Two in one stock would prove old Njal's fore-telling,
    And Gunnar's place be emptied either way
    For those high helpless men who cannot fill it.
    O, mistress, you have hurt us all in this:
    You have cut off your strength, you have maimed yourself,
    You are losing power and worship and men's trust.
    When Gunnar dies no other man dare take you.

    HALLGERD.
    You gather poison in your mouth for me.
    A high-born woman may handle what she fancies
    Without being ear-pruned like a pilfering beggar.
    Look to your ears if you touch ought of mine:
    Ay, you shall join the mumping sisterhood
    And tramp and learn your difference from me.
                    _She turns from_ ASTRID.
    Steinvor, I have remembered the great veil,
    The woven cloud, the tissue of gold and garlands,
    That Gunnar took from some outlandish ship
    And deemed a thing from Greekland or from Hind:
    Fetch it from the ambry in the bower.

_STEINVOR goes out by the daïs door._

    ASTRID.
    Mistress, indeed you are a cherished woman.
    That veil is worth a lifetime's weight of coifs:
    I have heard a queen offered her daughter for it,
    But Gunnar said it should come home and wait--
    And then gave it to you. The half of Iceland
    Tells fabulous legends of a fabulous thing,
    Yet never saw it: I know they never saw it,
    For ere it reached the ambry I came on it
    Tumbled in the loft with ragged kirtles.

    HALLGERD.
    What, are you there again? Let Gunnar alone.

_STEINVOR enters with the veil folded. HALLGERD takes it with one hand
and shakes it into a heap._

    This is the cloth. He brought it out at night,
    In the first hour that we were left together,
    And begged of me to wear it at high feasts
    And more outshine all women of my time:
    He shaped it to my head with my gold circlet,
    Saying my hair smouldered like Rhine-fire through,
    He let it fall about my neck and fall
    About my shoulders, mingle with my skirts
    And billow in the draught along the floor.

_She rises and holds the veil behind her head._

    I know I dazzled as if I entered in
    And walked upon a windy sunset and drank it,
    Yet must I stammer at such strange uncouthness
    And tear it from me, tangling my arms in it--
    I could not so befool myself and seem
    A laughable bundle in each woman's eyes,
    Wearing such things as no one ever wore,
    Useless ... no head-cloth ... too unlike my fellows.
    Yet he turns miser for a tiny coif.
    It would cut into many golden coifs
    And dim some women in their Irish clouts--
    But no; I'll shape and stitch it into shifts,
    Smirch it like linen, patch it with rags, to watch
    His silent anger when he sees my answer.
    Give me thy shears, girl Oddny.

    ODDNY.                       You'll not part it?

    HALLGERD.
    I'll shorten it.

    ODDNY.     I have no shears with me.

    HALLGERD.
    No matter; I can start it with my teeth
    And tear it down the folds. So. So. So. So.
    Here's a fine shift for summer: and another.
    I'll find my shears and chop out waists and neck-holes.
    Ay, Gunnar, Gunnar!

_She throws the tissue on the ground, and goes out by the daïs door._

    ODDNY, _lifting one of the pieces._
                        O me! A wonder has vanished.

    STEINVOR.
    What is a wonder less? She has done finely,
    Setting her worth above dead marvels and shows....

_The deep menacing baying of the hound is heard near at hand. A woman's
cry follows it._

    They come, they come! Let us flee by the bower!

_Starting up, she stumbles in the tissue and sinks upon it. The others
rise._

    You are leaving me--will you not wait for me--
    Take, take me with you....

_Mingled cries of women are heard._

    GUNNAR, _outside._ Samm, it is well: be still.
    Women, be quiet; loose me; get from my feet,
    Or I will set the hound to wipe me clear....

    STEINVOR, _recovering herself._
    Women are sent to spy.

_The sound of a door being opened is heard. GUNNAR enters from the left,
followed by three beggar-women, BIARTEY, JOFRID, and GUDFINN. They
hobble and limp, and are swathed in shapeless nameless rags which trail
about their feet; BIARTEY'S left sleeve is torn completely away, leaving
her arm bare and mud-smeared; the others' skirts are torn, and JOFRID'S
gown at the neck; GUDFINN wears a felt hood buttoned under her chin, the
others' faces are almost hid in falling tangles of grey hair. Their
faces are shrivelled and weather-beaten, and BIARTEY'S mouth is
distorted by two front teeth that project like tusks._

    GUNNAR.        Get in to the light.
    Yea has he mouthed ye? ... What men send ye here?
    Who are ye? Whence come ye? What do ye seek?
    I think no mother ever suckled you:
    You must have dragged your roots up in waste places
    One foot at once, or heaved a shoulder up--

    BIARTEY, _interrupting him._
    Out of the bosoms of cairns and standing stones.
    I am Biartey: she is Jofrid: she is Gudfinn:
    We are lone women known to no man now.
    We are not sent: we come.

    GUNNAR.                   Well, you come.
    You appear by night, rising under my eyes
    Like marshy breath or shadows on the wall;
    Yet the hound scented you like any evil
    That feels upon the night for a way out.
    And do you, then, indeed wend alone?
    Came you from the West or the sky-covering North,
    Yet saw no thin steel moving in the dark?

    BIARTEY.
    Not West, not North: we slept upon the East,
    Arising in the East where no men dwell.
    We have abided in the mountain places,
    Chanted our woes among the black rocks crouching;

_GUDFINN joins her in a sing-song utterance._

    From the East, from the East we drove and the wind waved us,
    Over the heaths, over the barren ashes.
    We are old, our eyes are old, and the light hurts us,
    We have skins on our eyes that part alone to the star-light.
    We stumble about the night, the rocks tremble
    Beneath our trembling feet; black sky thickens,
    Breaks into clots, and lets the moon upon us.

_JOFRID joins her voice to the voices of the other two._

    Far from the men who fear us, men who stone us,
    Hiding, hiding, flying whene'er they slumber,
    High on the crags we pause, over the moon-gulfs;
    Black clouds fall and leave us up in the moon-depths
    Where wind flaps our hair and cloaks like fin-webs,
    Ay, and our sleeves that toss with our arms and the cadence
    Of quavering crying among the threatening echoes.
    Then we spread our cloaks and leap down the rock-stairs,
    Sweeping the heaths with our skirts, greying the dew-bloom,
    Until we feel a pool on the wide dew stretches
    Stilled by the moon or ruffling like breast-feathers,
    And, with grey sleeves cheating the sleepy herons,
    Squat among them, pillow us there and sleep.
    But in the harder wastes we stand upright,
    Like splintered rain-worn boulders set to the wind
    In old confederacy, and rest and sleep.

_HALLGERD'S women are huddled together and clasping each other._

    ODDNY.
    What can these women be who sleep like horses,
    Standing up in the darkness.... What will they do....

    GUNNAR.
    Ye wail like ravens and have no human thoughts.
    What do ye seek? What will ye here with us?

    BIARTEY, _as all three cower suddenly._
    Succour upon this terrible journeying.
    We have a message for a man in the West,
    Sent by an old man sitting in the East.
    We are spent, our feet are moving wounds, our bodies
    Dream of themselves and seem to trail behind us
    Because we went unfed down in the mountains.
    Feed us and shelter us beneath your roof,
    And put us over the Markfleet, over the channels.
    We are weak old women: we are beseeching you.

    GUNNAR.
    You may bide here this night, but on the morrow
    You shall go over, for tramping shameless women
    Carry too many tales from stead to stead--
    And sometimes heavier gear than breath and lies.
    These women will tell the mistress all I grant you;
    Get to the fire until she shall return.

    BIARTEY.
    Thou art a merciful man and we shall thank thee.

GUNNAR _goes out again to the left._

_The old women approach the young ones gradually._

    Little ones, do not doubt us. Could we hurt you?
    Because we are ugly must we be bewitched?

    STEINVOR.
    Nay, but bewitch us.

    BIARTEY.              Not in a litten house:
    Not ere the hour when night turns on itself
    And shakes the silence: not while ye wake together.
    Sweet voice, tell us, was that verily Gunnar?

    STEINVOR.
    Arrh--do not touch me, unclean flyer-by-night:
    Have ye birds' feet to match such bat-webbed fingers?

    BIARTEY.
    I am only a cowed curst woman who walks with death;
    I will crouch here. Tell us, was it Gunnar?

    ODDNY.
    Yea, Gunnar surely. Is he not big enough
    To fit the songs about him?

    BIARTEY.                  He is a man.
    Why will his manhood urge him to be dead?
    We walk about the whole old land at night,
    We enter many dales and many halls:
    And everywhere is talk of Gunnar's greatness,
    His slayings and his fate outside the law.
    The last ship has not gone: why will he tarry?

    ODDNY.
    He chose a ship, but men who rode with him
    Say that his horse threw him upon the shore,
    His face toward the Lithe and his own fields;
    As he arose he trembled at what he gazed on
    (Although those men saw nothing pass or meet them)
    And said.... What said he, girls?

    ASTRID.                       "Fair is the Lithe:
    So fair I never thought it was so fair.
    Its corn is white, its meadows green after mowing.
    I will ride home again and never leave it."

    ODDNY.
    'Tis an unlikely tale: he never said it.
    No one could mind such things in such an hour.
    Plainly he saw his fetch come down the sands,
    And knew he need not seek another country
    And take that with him to walk upon the deck
    In night and storm.

    GUDFINN.              He he he! No man speaks thus.

    JOFRID.
    No man, no man: he must be doomed somewhere.

    BIARTEY.
    Doomed and fey, my sisters.... We are too old,
    Yet I'd not marvel if we outlasted him.
    Sisters, that is a fair fierce girl who spins....
    My fair fierce girl, you could fight--but can you ride?
    Would you not shout to be riding in a storm?
    Ah ... h, girls learnt riding well when I was a girl,
    And foam rides on the breakers as I was taught....
    My fair fierce girl, tell me your noble name.

    ODDNY.
    My name is Oddny.

    BIARTEY. Oddny, when you are old
    Would you not be proud to be no man's purse-string,
    But wild and wandering and friends with the earth?
    Wander with us and learn to be old yet living.
    We'd win fine food with you to beg for us.

    STEINVOR.
    Despised, cast out, unclean, and loose men's night-bird.

    ODDNY.
    When I am old I shall be some man's friend,
    And hold him when the darkness comes....

    BIARTEY.
    And mumble by the fire and blink....
    Good Oddny, let me spin for you awhile,
    That Gunnar's house may profit by his guesting:
    Come, trust me with your distaff....

    ODDNY.                         Are there spells
    Wrought on a distaff?

    STEINVOR.         Only by the Norns,
    And they'll not sit with human folk to-night.

    ODDNY.
    Then you may spin all night for what I care;
    But let the yarn run clean from knots and snarls,
    Or I shall have the blame when you are gone.

    BIARTEY, _taking the distaff._
    Trust well the aged knowledge of my hands;
    Thin and thin do I spin, and the thread draws finer.

_She sings as she spins._

    They go by three,
    And the moon shivers;
    The tired waves flee,
    The hidden rivers
    Also flee.

    I take three strands;
    There is one for her,
    One for my hands,
    And one to stir
    For another's hands.

    I twine them thinner,
    The dead wool doubts;
    The outer is inner,
    The core slips out....

_HALLGERD re-enters by the daïs door, holding a pair of shears._

    HALLGERD.
    What are these women, Oddny? Who let them in?

    BIARTEY, _who spins through all that follows._
    Lady, the man of fame who is your man
    Gave us his peace to-night, and that of his house.
    We are blown beggars tramping about the land,
    Denied a home for our evil and vagrant hearts;
    We sought this shelter when the first dew soaked us,
    And should have perished by the giant hound
    But Gunnar fought it with his eyes and saved us.
    That is a strange hound, with a man's mind in it.

    HALLGERD, _seating herself in the high-seat._
    It is an Irish hound, from that strange soil
    Where men by day walk with unearthly eyes
    And cross the veils of the air, and are not men
    But fierce abstractions eating their own hearts
    Impatiently and seeing too much to be joyful....
    If Gunnar welcomed ye, ye may remain.

    BIARTEY.
    She is a fair free lady, is she not?
    But that was to be looked for in a high one
    Who counts among her fathers the bright Sigurd,
    The bane of Fafnir the Worm, the end of the god-kings;
    Among her mothers Brynhild, the lass of Odin,
    The maddener of swords, the night-clouds' rider.
    She has kept sweet that father's lore of bird-speech,
    She wears that mother's power to cheat a god.
    Sisters, she does well to be proud....

    JOFRID AND GUDFINN.                Ay, Well....

    HALLGERD, _shaping the tissue with her shears._
    I need no witch to tell I am of rare seed,
    Nor measure my pride nor praise it. Do I not know?
    Old women, ye are welcomed: sit with us,
    And while we stitch tell us what gossip runs--
    But if strife might be warmed by spreading it.

    BIARTEY.
    Lady, we are hungered; we were lost
    All night among the mountains of the East;
    Clouds of the cliffs come down my eyes again....
    I pray you let some thrall bring us to food.

    HALLGERD.
    Ye get nought here. The supper is long over;
    The women shall not let ye know the food-house,
    Or ye'll be thieving in the night. Ye are idle,
    Ye suck a man's house bare and seek another.
    'Tis bed-time; get to sleep--that stills much hunger.

    BIARTEY.
    Now it is easy to be seeing what spoils you.
    You were not grasping or ought but over warm
    When Sigmund, Gunnar's kinsman, guested here.
    You followed him, you were too kind with him,
    You lavished Gunnar's treasure and gear on him
    To draw him on, and did not call that thieving.
    Ay, Sigmund took your feuds on him and died
    As Gunnar shall. Men have much harm by you.

    HALLGERD.
    Now have I gashed the golden cloth awry:
    'Tis ended--a ruin of clouts--the worth of the gift--
    Bridal dish-clouts--nay, a bundle of flame.
    I'll burn it to a breath of its old queen's ashes:
    Fire, O fire, drink up....

_She throws the shreds of the veil on the glowing embers: they waft to
ashes with a brief high flare. She goes to JOFRID._

                                There's one of you
    That holds her head in a bird's sideways fashion:
    I know that reach o' the chin.... What's under thy hair?--

_She fixes JOFRID with her knee, and lifts her hair._

    Pfui, 'tis not hair, but sopped and rotting moss--
    A thief, a thief indeed.... And twice a thief....
    She has no ears. Keep thy hooked fingers still
    While thou art here, for if I miss a mouthful
    Thou shalt miss all thy nose. Get up, get up;
    I'll lodge ye with the mares....

    JOFRID, _starting up._ Three men, three men,
    Three men have wived you, and for all you gave them
    Paid with three blows upon a cheek once kissed--
    To every man a blow--and the last blow
    All the land knows was won by thieving food....
    Yea, Gunnar is ended by the theft and the thief.
    Is it not told that when you first grew tall,
    A false rare girl, Hrut your own kinsman said
    "I know not whence thief's eyes entered our blood."
    You have more ears, yet are you not my sister?
    Our evil vagrant heart is deeper in you.

    HALLGERD, _snatching the distaff from Biartey._
    Out and be gone, be gone. Lie with the mountains,
    Smother among the thunder; stale dew mould you.
    Outstrip the hound, or he shall so embrace you....

    BIARTEY.
    Now is all done ... all done ... and all your deed!
    She broke the thread, and it shall not join again.
    Spindle, spindle, the coiling weft shall dwindle;
    Leap on the fire and burn, for all is done....

_She casts the spindle upon the fire, and stretches her hands toward
it._

    HALLGERD, _attacking them with the distaff._
    Into the night.... Dissolve....

    BIARTEY, _as the three rush toward the door._
                                      Sisters, away:
    Leave the woman to her smouldering beauty,
    Leave the fire that's kinder than the woman,
    Leave the roof-tree ere it falls. It falls.

_GUDFINN joins her. Each time Hallgerd flags they turn as they chant,
and point at her._

    We shall cry no more in the high rock-places,
    We are gone from the night, the winds and the clouds are empty:
    Soon the man in the West shall receive our message.

_JOFRID'S voice joins the other voices._

    Men reject us, yet their house is unstable....
    The slayers' hands are warm--the sound of their riding
    Reached us down the ages, ever approaching.

    HALLGERD, _at the same time, her voice high over theirs._
    Pack, ye rag-heaps--or I'll unravel you.

    THE THREE, _continuously._
    House that spurns us, woe shall come upon you:
    Death shall hollow you. Now we curse the woman--
    May all the woes smite her till she can feel them.
    Shall we not roost in her bower yet? Woe! Woe!

_The distaff breaks, and Hallgerd drives them out with her hands. Their
voices continue for a moment outside, dying away._

    Call to the owl-friends.... Woe! Woe! Woe!

    ASTRID.
    Whence came these mounds of dread to haunt the night?
    It doubles this disquiet to have them near us.

    ODDNY.
    They must be witches--and it was my distaff--
    Will fire eat through me....

    STEINVOR.                Or the Norns themselves.

    HALLGERD.
    Or bad old women used to govern by fear.
    To bed, to bed--we are all up too late.

    STEINVOR, _as she turns with_ ASTRID _and_ ODDNY
        _to the daïs._
    If beds are made for sleep we might sit long.
                    _They go out by the daïs door._

    GUNNAR, _as he enters hastily from the left._
    Where are those women? There's some secret in them:
    I have heard such others crying down to them.

    HALLGERD.
    They turned foul-mouthed, they beckoned evil toward us--
    I drove them forth a breath ago.

    GUNNAR.                  Forth? Whence?

    HALLGERD.
    By the great door: they cried about the night.

_RANNVEIG follows GUNNAR in._

    GUNNAR.
    Nay but I entered there and passed them not.
    Mother, where are the women?

    RANNVEIG.               I saw none come.

    GUNNAR.
    They have not come, they have gone.

    RANNVEIG.              I crossed the yard,
    Hearing a noise, but a big bird dropped past,
    Beating my eyes; and then the yard was clear.
            _The deep baying of the hound is heard
                    again._

    GUNNAR.
    They must be spies: yonder is news of them.
    The wise hound knew them, and knew them again.
        _The baying is succeeded by one wild howl._
                                            Nay, nay!
    Men treat thee sorely, Samm my fosterling:
    Even by death thou warnest--but it is meant
    That our two deaths will not be far apart.

    RANNVEIG.
    Think you that men are yonder?

    GUNNAR.              Men are yonder.

    RANNVEIG.
    My son, my son, get on the rattling war-woof,
    The old grey shift of Odin, the hide of steel.
    Handle the snake with edges, the fang of the rings.

    GUNNAR, _going to the weapons by the high-seat._
    There are not enough moments to get under
    That heavy fleece: an iron hat must serve....

    HALLGERD.
    O brave! O brave!--he'll dare them with no shield.

    GUNNAR, _lifting down the great bill from the wall._
    Let me but reach this haft, I shall get hold
    Of steel enough to fence me all about.

_He shakes the bill above his head: a deep resonant humming follows. The
daïs door is thrown open, and ODDNY, ASTRID, and STEINVOR stream through
in their night-clothes._

    STEINVOR. The bill!

    ODDNY.            The bill is singing!

    ASTRID.                          The bill sings!

    GUNNAR, _shaking the bill again._
    Ay, brain-biter, waken ... Awake and whisper
    Out of the throat of dread thy one brief burden.
    Blind art thou, and thy kiss will do no choosing:
    Worn art thou to a hair's grey edge, a nothing
    That slips through all it finds, seeking more nothing.
    There is a time, brain-biter, a time that comes
    When there shall be much quietness for thee:
    Men will be still about thee. I shall know.
    It is not yet: the wind shall hiss at thee first.
    Ahui! Leap up, brain-biter; sing again.
    Sing! Sing thy verse of anger and feel my hands.

    RANNVEIG.
    Stand thou, my Gunnar, in the porch to meet them,
    And the great door shall keep thy back for thee.

    GUNNAR.
    I had a brother there. Brother, where are you....

    HALLGERD.
    Nay nay. Get thou, my Gunnar, to the loft,
    Stand at the casement, watch them how they come.
    Arrows maybe could drop on them from there.

    RANNVEIG.
    'Tis good: the woman's cunning for once is faithful.

    GUNNAR, _turning again to the weapons._
    'Tis good, for now I hear a foot that stumbles
    Along the stable-roof against the hall.
    My bow--where is my bow? Here with its arrows....
    Go in again, you women on the daïs,
    And listen at the casement of the bower
    For men who cross the yard, and for their words.

    ASTRID.
    O, Gunnar, we shall serve you.

_ASTRID, ODDNY, and STEINVOR go out by the daïs door._

    RANNVEIG.               Hallgerd, come;
    We must shut fast the door, bar the great door,
    Or they'll be in on us and murder him.

    HALLGERD.
    Not I: I'd rather set the door wide open
    And watch my Gunnar kindling at the peril,
    Keeping them back--shaming men for ever
    Who could not enter at a gaping door.

    RANNVEIG.
    Bar the great door, I say, or I will bar it--
    Door of the house you rule.... Son, son, command it.

    GUNNAR, _as he ascends to the loft._
    O, spendthrift fire, do you waft up again?
    Hallgerd, what riot of ruinous chance will sate you?...
    Let the door stand, my mother: it is her way.
                    _He looks out of the casement._
    Here's a red kirtle on the lower roof.
        _He thrusts with the bill through the casement._

    A MAN'S VOICE, _far off._ Is Gunnar within?

_THORGRIM THE EASTERLING'S VOICE, near the casement._

                    Find that out for yourselves:
    I am only sure his bill is yet within.
                        _A noise of falling is heard._

    GUNNAR.
    The Easterling from Sandgil might be dying--
    He has gone down the roof, yet no feet helped him.

_A shouting of many men is heard: GUNNAR starts back from the casement
as several arrows fly in._

    Now there are black flies biting before a storm.
    I see men gathering beneath the cart-shed:
    Gizur the White and Geir the priest are there,
    And a lean whispering shape that should be Mord.
    I have a sting for some one--
            _He looses an arrow: a distant cry follows._
                                 Valgard's voice....
    A shaft of theirs is lying on the roof:
    I'll send it back, for if it should take root
    A hurt from their own spent and worthless weapon
    Would put a scorn upon their tale for ever.
                    _He leans out for the arrow._

    RANNVEIG.
    Do not, my son: rouse them not up again
    When they are slackening in their attack.

    HALLGERD.
    Shoot, shoot it out, and I'll come up to mock them.

    GUNNAR, _loosing the arrow._
    Hoia! Swerve down upon them, little hawk.
                            _A shout follows._
    Now they run all together round one man:
    Now they murmur....

    A VOICE.   Close in, lift bows again:
    He has no shafts, for this is one of ours.
                    _Arrows fly in at the casement._

    GUNNAR.
    Wife, here is something in my arm at last:
    The head is twisted--I must cut it clear.

_STEINVOR throws open the daïs door and rushes through with a high
shriek._

    STEINVOR.
    Woman, let us out--help us out--
    The burning comes--they are calling out for fire.

_She shrieks again. ODDNY and ASTRID, who have come behind her, muffle
her head in a kirtle and lift her._

    ASTRID, _turning as they bear her out._
    Fire suffuses only her cloudy brain:
    The flare she walks in is on the other side
    Of her shot eyes. We heard a passionate voice,
    A shrill unwomanish voice that must be Mord,
    With "Let us burn him--burn him house and all."
    And then a grave and trembling voice replied
    "Although my life hung on it, it shall not be."
    Again the cunning fanatic voice went on
    "I say the house must burn above his head."
    And the unlifted voice "Why wilt thou speak
    Of what none wishes: it shall never be."

_ASTRID and ODDNY disappear with STEINVOR._

    GUNNAR.
    To fight with honest men is worth much friendship:
    I'll strive with them again.

_He lifts his bow and loosens arrows at intervals while HALLGERD and
RANNVEIG speak._

_HALLGERD, in an undertone to RANNVEIG, looking out meanwhile to the
left._

                             Mother, come here--
    Come here and hearken. Is there not a foot,
    A stealthy step, a fumbling on the latch
    Of the great door? They come, they come, old mother:
    Are you not blithe and thirsty, knowing they come
    And cannot be held back? Watch and be secret,
    To feel things pass that cannot be undone.

    RANNVEIG.
    It is the latch. Cry out, cry out for Gunnar,
    And bring him from the loft.

    HALLGERD.         O, never:
    For then they'd swarm upon him from the roof.
    Leave him up there and he can bay both armies,
    While the whole dance goes merrily before us
    And we can warm our hearts at such a flare.

_RANNVEIG, turning both ways, while HALLGERD watches her gleefully._

    Gunnar, my son, my son! What shall I do....

_ORMILD enters from the left, white and with her hand to her side, and
walking as if she is sick._

    HALLGERD.
    Bah--here's a bleached assault....

    RANNVEIG.            O, lonesome thing,
    To be forgot and left in such a night.
    What is there now--are terrors surging still?

    ORMILD.
    I know not what has gone: when the men came
    I hid in the far cowhouse. I think I swooned....
    And then I followed the shadow. Who is dead?

    RANNVEIG.
    Go to the bower: the women will care for you.

_ORMILD totters up the hall from pillar to pillar._

    ASTRID, _entering by the daïs door._
    Now they have found the weather-ropes and lashed them
    Over the carven ends of the beams outside:
    They bear on them, they tighten them with levers,
    And soon they'll tear the high roof off the hall.

    GUNNAR.
    Get back and bolt the women into the bower.

_ASTRID takes ORMILD, who has just reached her, and goes out with her by
the daïs door, which closes after them._

    Hallgerd, go in: I shall be here thereafter.

    HALLGERD.
    I will not stir. Your mother had best go in.

    RANNVEIG.
    How shall I stir?

    VOICES, _outside and gathering volume._
                       Ai ... Ai ... Reach harder ... Ai ...

    GUNNAR.
    Stand clear, stand clear--it moves.

    THE VOICES.        It moves ... Ai, ai ...

_The whole roof slides down rumblingly, disappearing with a crash behind
the wall of the house. All is dark above. Fine snow sifts down now and
then to the end of the play._

    GUNNAR, _handling his bow._
    The wind has changed: 'tis coming on to snow.
    The harvesters will hurry in to-morrow.

THORBRAND THORLEIKSSON _appears above the wall-top a little past_
GUNNAR, _and, reaching noiselessly with a sword, cuts_ GUNNAR'S
_bowstring._

    GUNNAR, _dropping the bow and seizing his bill._
    Ay, Thorbrand, is it thou? That's a rare blade,
    To shear through hemp and gut.... Let your wife have it
    For snipping needle-yarn; or try it again.

    THORBRAND, _raising his sword._
    I must be getting back ere the snow thickens:
    So here's my message to the end--or farther.
    Gunnar, this night it is time to start your journey
    And get you out of Iceland....

    GUNNAR, _thrusting at_ THORBRAND _with the bill._
                                 I think it is:
    So you shall go before me in the dark.
    Wait for me when you find a quiet shelter.

THORBRAND _sinks backward from the wall and is heard to fall farther.
Immediately_ ASBRAND THORLEIKSSON _starts up in his place._

    ASBRAND, _striking repeatedly with a sword._
    O, down, down, down!

    GUNNAR, _parrying the blows with the bill._
    Ay, Asbrand, thou as well?
    Thy brother Thorbrand was up here but now:
    He has gone back the other way, maybe--
    Be hasty, or you'll not come up with him.

_He thrusts with the bill: ASBRAND lifts a shield before the blow._

    Here's the first shield that I have seen to-night.

_The bill pierces the shield: ASBRAND disappears and is heard to fall.
GUNNAR turns from the casement._

    Hallgerd, my harp that had but one long string,
    But one low song, but one brief wingy flight,
    Is voiceless, for my bowstring is cut off.
    Sever two locks of hair for my sake now,
    Spoil those bright coils of power, give me your hair,
    And with my mother twist those locks together
    Into a bowstring for me. Fierce small head,
    Thy stinging tresses shall scourge men forth by me.

    HALLGERD.
    Does ought lie on it?

    GUNNAR.     Nought but my life lies on it;
    For they will never dare to close on me
    If I can keep my bow bended and singing.

    HALLGERD, _tossing back her hair._
    Then now I call to your mind that bygone blow
    You gave my face; and never a whit do I care
    If you hold out a long time or a short.

    GUNNAR.
    Every man who has trod a war-ship's deck,
    And borne a weapon of pride, has a proud heart
    And asks not twice for any little thing.
    Hallgerd, I'll ask no more from you, no more.

    RANNVEIG, _tearing off her wimple._
    She will not mar her honour of widowhood.
    O, widows' manes are priceless.... Off, mean wimple--
    I am a finished widow, why do you hide me?
    Son, son who knew my bosom before hers,
    Look down and curse for an unreverend thing
    An old bald woman who is no use at last.
    These bleachy threads, these tufts of death's first combing,
    And loosening heart-strings twisted up together
    Would not make half a bowstring. Son, forgive me....

    GUNNAR.
    A grasping woman's gold upon her head
    Is made for hoarding, like all other gold:
    A spendthrift woman's gold upon her head
    Is made for spending on herself. Let be--
    She goes her heart's way, and I go to earth.

AUNUND'S _head rises above the wall near_ GUNNAR.

    What, are you there?

    AUNUND.    Yes, Gunnar, we are here.

    GUNNAR, _thrusting with the bill._
    Then bide you there.

AUNUND'S _head sinks:_ THORGEIR'S _rises in the same place._

                     How many heads have you?

    THORGEIR.
    But half as many as the feet we grow on.

    GUNNAR.
    And I've not yet used up (_thrusting again_) all my hands.

_As he thrusts another man rises a little farther back, and leaps past
him into the loft. Others follow, and GUNNAR is soon surrounded by many
armed men, so that only the rising and falling of his bill is seen._

    The threshing-floor is full.... Up, up, brain-biter!
    We work too late to-night--up, open the husks.

            O, smite and pulse
            On their anvil heads:
            The smithy is full,
            There are shoes to be made
            For the hoofs of the steeds
            Of the Valkyr girls....

    FIRST MAN.
            Hack through the shaft....

    SECOND MAN.
            Receive the blade
            In the breast of a shield,
            And wrench it round....

    GUNNAR.
            For the hoofs of the steeds
            Of the Valkyr girls
            Who race up the night
            To be first at our feast,
            First in the play
            With immortal spears
            In deadly holes....

    THIRD MAN.
            Try at his back....

MANY VOICES, _shouting in confusion._

    Have him down.... Heels on the bill.... Ahui, ahui....

_The bill does not rise._

    HROALD, _with the breaking voice of a young man,
    high over all._
    Father.... It is my blow.... It is I who kill him....

_The crowd parts, suddenly silent, showing GUNNAR fallen._

_RANNVEIG covers her face with her hands._

    HALLGERD, _laughing as she leans forward and
            holds her breasts in her hands._
    O, clear sweet laughter of my heart, flow out!
    It is so mighty and beautiful and blithe
    To watch a man dying--to hover and watch.

    RANNVEIG.
    Cease: are you not immortal in shame already?

    HALLGERD.
    Heroes, what deeds ye compass, what great deeds--
    One man has held ye from an open door:
    Heroes, heroes, are ye undefeated?

    GIZUR, _an old white-bearded man, to the other riders._
    We have laid low to earth a mighty chief:
    We have laboured harder than on greater deeds,
    And maybe won remembrance by the deeds
    Of Gunnar when no deed of ours should live;
    For this defence of his shall outlast kingdoms
    And gather him fame till there are no more men.

    MORD.
    Come down and splinter those old birds his gods
    That perch upon the carven high-seat pillars;
    Wreck every place his shadow fell upon,
    Rive out his gear, drive off his forfeit beasts.

    SECOND MAN.
    It shall not be.

    MANY MEN. Never.

    GIZUR.             We'll never do it:
    Let no man lift a blade or finger a clout--
    Is not this Gunnar, Gunnar, whom we have slain?
    Home, home, before the dawn shows all our deed.

_The riders go down quickly over the wall-top, and disappear._

    HALLGERD.
    Now I shall close his nostrils and his eyes,
    And thereby take his blood-feud into my hands.

    RANNVEIG.
    If you do stir I'll choke you with your hair.
    I will not let your murderous mind be near him
    When he no more can choose and does not know.

    HALLGERD.
    His wife I was, and yet he never judged me:
    He did not set your motherhood between us.
    Let me alone--I stand here for my sons.

    RANNVEIG.
    The wolf, the carrion bird, and the fair woman
    Hurry upon a corpse, as if they think
    That all is left for them the grey gods need not.

_She twines her hands in HALLGERD'S hair and draws her down to the
floor._

    O, I will comb your hair with bones and thumbs,
    Array these locks in my right widow's way,
    And deck you like the bed-mate of the dead.
    Lie down upon the earth as Gunnar lies,
    Or I can never match him in your looks
    And whiten you and make your heart as cold.

    HALLGERD.
    Mother, what will you do? Unloose me now--
    Your eyes would not look so at me alone.

    RANNVEIG.
    Be still, my daughter....

    HALLGERD.     And then?

    RANNVEIG.              Ah, do not fear--
    I see a peril nigh and all its blitheness.
    Order your limbs--stretch out your length of beauty,
    Let down your hands and close those deepening eyes,
    Or you can never stiffen as you should.
    A murdered man should have a murdered wife
    When all his fate is treasured in her mouth.
    This wifely hair-pin will be sharp enough.

HALLGERD, _starting up as_ RANNVEIG _half loosens her to take a hair-pin
from her own head._

    She is mad, mad.... O, the bower is barred--
    Hallgerd, come out, let mountains cover you....
                    _She rushes out to the left._

    RANNVEIG, _following her._
    The night take you indeed....

_GIZUR enters from the left._

    GIZUR.          Ay, drive her out;
    For no man's house was ever better by her.

    RANNVEIG.
    Is an old woman's life desired as well?

    GIZUR.
    We ask that you will grant us earth hereby
    Of Gunnar's earth, for two men dead to-night
    To lie beneath a cairn that we shall raise.

    RANNVEIG.
    Only for two? Take it: ask more of me.
    I wish the measure were for all of you.

    GIZUR.
    Your words must be forgiven you, old mother,
    For none has had a greater loss than yours.
    Why would he set himself against us all....
                            _He goes out._

    RANNVEIG.
    Gunnar, my son, we are alone again.

_She goes up the hall, mounts to the loft and stoops beside him._

    O, they have hurt you ... but that is forgot.
    Boy, it is bedtime; though I am too changed,
    And cannot lift you up and lay you in,
    You shall go warm to bed--I'll put you there.
    There is no comfort in my breast to-night:
    But close your eyes beneath my fingers' touch,
    Slip your feet down, and let me smooth your hands;
    Then sleep and sleep. Ay, all the world's asleep;
    But some will waken.          _She rises._
    You had a rare toy when you were awake--
    I'll wipe it with my hair ... Nay, keep it so,
    The colour on it now has gladdened you.
    It shall lie near you.
    _She raises the bill: the deep hum follows._
                            No; it remembers him,
    And other men shall fall by it through Gunnar:
    The bill, the bill is singing.... The bill sings!

_She kisses the weapon, then shakes it on high._


CURTAIN.



MIDSUMMER EVE



    _TO CLINTON BALMER
    AND THE DEAR MEMORY OF
    JAMES HAMILTON HAY
    FOR THE SUMMER OF 1900
    AT CARTMEL_


    _IN the lost Valley all is still
    To-day: upon the stony hill
    The heat of the late afternoon
    Settles in coppery haze: and soon
    A voice not known to me will call
    Silent obedient cows to stall,
    In the same immemorial cry
    From century to century
    Changing but by the uttering voice.
    And in a while a little noise
    (Hou! Hou!) far off near Newton Head
    Will tell that at another stead
    The browsing cattle pause and turn
    Unwilling heads to seem to learn
    That which they know, and move in train
    Now milking-time has come again.

    In Well Knowe garden now, I know,
    Where the pale larkspur used to grow
    In the far nook, a sound is heard
    (If any is there to hear save bird
    And field-mouse in the strawberries
    Stirring like a local breeze--
    Here, there--the low leaves soundlessly);
    A glistening slender wasp-like fly
    Is using will and wing to stand
    Upon the air as though it spanned
    A chasm with trembling outstretched arms,
    And in the silence of heat-stilled farms
    And heat-veiled wood that seems to shake
    Dim clotted leaves yet does not break
    By sigh or rustle the hush so dear
    Its tiny sting of sound sings clear._

    _Oft have I heard that elfin horn
    Sound suddenly, as cobweb torn
    Must sound in startled elfin ears
    Pricked and on edge with elfin fears;
    And as I upward watched those spare
    Twin shreds of silver like slit air,
    Beating and shining, straight and tense,
    Simulating impotence
    Of motion, enviously I thought
    "Had my half useless flesh been caught,
    Upborn, and for all limit bound
    Between such gossamers of sound,
    Not thus, not thus would I deny
    My spirit's reach and endlessly
    Use all conception and all force
    To limit my short vital course.
    Had I such wings of urgent light
    Insistent not alone on height
    But stretched for sweep and latitude
    I would not evade flight, I would
    Employ my heat and power and sense
    In realising difference,
    And see my world's variety,
    Restricted but by energy."_

    _But Well Knowe garden only shines
    In memory now, and its dear signs
    Only persist and gleam again
    In a shut chamber of my brain:
    While in a distant place I brood
    Upon lost things, and in a mood
    Of longing and remembrance feel
    The wisdom of that immobile
    And senseless mote, and think "Were I
    Carnate in a slim glistening fly,
    I would flash back upon that fair
    Laurel-walled rood, then drop in air
    Till no translucent nerve should stir
    From strained precision, nor wing should whir
    But to maintain one changeless height,
    Nor move nor waver from that sight;
    And think the years have not gone by
    When James and Clinton harboured nigh
    And, working in another art
    Than mine, yet peopled for my heart
    The Valley with the very core
    Of vital beauty for evermore--
    So that when the air is still
    I hear below the meadow-rill
    Clinton singing softlier still
    Entranced by his own moving brush
    Among the stream-side bracken and rush--
    Or James repeats with his long hand
    The distant line of hills that stand
    Between the Valley and the lake
    And yet seem lovelier for his sake."_

    _How many generations past
    Should I be dead had I been cast
    In that small rapid shape of light?
    Though wings may stand, years move in flight;
    And, while I dream, I know, I know
    That it is useless I should go
    To Well Knowe garden again to see
    Things that cannot return to me--
    James dead and Clinton gone away,
    And one whose name I cannot say
    Who built in Cyclopean sound
    Other magic heights around
    That little place, then turned apart,
    Untrue to friendship and to art,
    A man of nothing--vanished things,
    Dead friends, dead hopes, that must remain
    In a shut chamber of my brain;
    While only Clinton far away
    Will in these verses and this play
    See that country of our youth
    And our dead friend and our old troth
    Of friendship fixed in amber light,
    A timeless hour that holds no night._

Summer 1921--Spring 1922.


PERSONS:

    NAN     }
    BET     }
    URSEL   }   Kitchen and Dairy Girls.
    MAUDLIN }
    LIB     }
    ROGER, a Carter.
    MEASE, a Cowherd.



MIDSUMMER EVE

_The scene is the interior of an old barn on a knoll, a long time ago.
At the back the barn's doors are opened widely; outside, a road rises
slightly from left to right in front of the barn; beyond this the knoll
sinks softly yet swiftly to a great meadow, and thence to a wide rich
valley of more meadows and ever more meadows with ancient large cherry
and crab and sloe and bullace and damson trees in their hedges whence
the white and pink thorn-blossom clots are not quite gone, and of
pastures shaded by tall clustering trees. Afar the valley ceases in low,
densely wooded hills._

_A late June twilight is deepening; a faint moist heat-haze hides
nothing, only distinguishing the planes of the distant trees with a
cloudy delicacy. There is no wind, nor any movement; one blackbird sings
somewhere for a little while, then it ceases and there is no sound in
the fields._

_The whole prospect is of a solitary, fruitfully overgrown valley shut
in from everywhere._

_Within the barn, to the left, is a high hay-mow with a ladder leaning
against it; much hay has been tumbled at its foot in forking from the
carts. To the right is a space of floor where the corn is to be heaped
in the ending of summer: as yet, however, it is empty, save for a
wooden plough, a homely rough wooden roller, wooden harrows, an
uptilted, pleasantly shaped cart whence the hay-shelvings have not yet
been removed. In the far corner of the bare walls of undressed stone at
this side is an open door leading into a mistal. Presently a cow is
heard moaning sickly beyond this door._

_The barn is still more dim than the land, so that a stretch of soft
brown darkness is all that is known of the far-off roof. Nearing
footfalls are heard in the road, and a woman's singing grows clearer._

    "HOU, Hou," went the neatherd moaning
    Down along by the pasture's side;
    He turned the cows at the midden-yard loaning,
    The loitering cows in the brown owl-tide:
    Pale rose the last one, munching, droning,
    With wet grass stains on her udder and hide.

    My lantern's rings to the low balks floated
    As Whitey's tail shook the mistal-sneck;
    When I laid my cheek to her belly spotted
    I felt her honey-strong breath i' my neck,
    For she turns her head does the curd-dark throated
    To watch my mouth start her teats with a peck.

_NAN, BET and URSEL ascend the road to the left and enter the barn as
NAN ceases singing._

_They are white-hooded, clumsily shod, gownless; in the right hand NAN
carries a willow frail, the others stoneware greybeards; each holds
several hay-rakes on her left shoulder._

    URSEL.
    September, O, September's in the song--
    I will not have September in my heart,
    The ending of so much deliciousness,
    The year's sad luscious over-ripening.
    Yet here's the haysel done with: how it hurt
    To rake behind the last dim cart; and now
    My soul creeps in me like the low pale night-mist
    To know that in a moment past this moment
    We shall not hear it slowly any more
    Down in the lane where, wisping the close trees,
    It follows us like a mournful sound of change.
    Although the Summer is but newly kindled,
    Tiptoe I over-reach the joy of it
    (Ah, little perfect weeks of fruitfulness)
    Because I tremble lest it be slipping past me
    Before my eagerness will let me feel it.
    Must joy for me be ever in things gone?...

    NAN, _as they set down their burdens to lean
    the rakes against the wall, where four flails are
    hung, on the left of the door._
    Nay, there is comfort in the rainy nights,
    The long moist twilights of the cider time
    When girls hold fitful talk sat in the press-spot
    Among the hid sweet apple heaps that gleam
    In firelight to a humming out of doors
    Of soddening water oozing down the soil;
    And there is comfort too at Candlemas
    From looking through the casement in the dark,
    The last thing ere you chafe your toes in bed,
    On the crisp quiet of the woods and fields,
    Wondering if 'tis snow or all the moonlight,
    Peering so anxiously along the wall
    That shades still ewes and whiter first-dropped lambs....
    Ay, but I'm tired, lasses, tired now
    Because the haysel's over and 'twas fair
    And the land's savour wears me with delight.
    I'm for indoors and resting--and, beside,
    I'm fainest of my supper o' baking days.

    BET.
    Let all times slip to haste the barley week,
    For then our nearest dancing-time will ripen ...
    But I'm for bed to get me doffed and stripped
    To pick much grass seed from my smock and coats.

    URSEL.
    Listen, Bet; no cool sheets are yours to-night.
    The milk-eyed goodies with grey loose-skinned throats,
    Who maunder of rarer girlhoods none can prove,
    Tell that at midnight on Midsummer-Eves
    They waked in some lone shade far from all sleepers
    To feel which should be wedded within the year;
    For the year's unknown husbands' images
    Come then like swoons from some where ... ay, from some where....
    Thoughts shaping for their women's heedless souls,
    And if a maid will watch she sees her own
    And knows her own, seeing her own alone,
    Peering unseen as breath is in June nights.
    Surely such dainties rilled no cow-slow eyes;
    But Nan and I mean watching and have bid
    Maudlin at Grassgarth, Lib at Appletoft
    Under our breath, and hither they steal this eve.
    We knew we must not tell you ere the hour,
    Or ... or ... too many hinds might creep to be
    Their own drowsed leering loutish prophecies.

    BET.
    Am I so old or wistful to be ringed
    That I must feign to be content with one?
    Where is this moon-swayed peeping, then, to be,
    This blest eavesdropping on a mood of fate?

    NAN.
    Here in the barn, where we may crouch un-thought-of
    By moon-estranged eyes in gradual darkness.
    And lest we startle at o'er-expected footfalls
    Or with night-carried voices rouse the farm,
    Maudlin and Lib will warn us by dove-cooings--
    Sometimes I hear a cooing up warm nights
    From dove pairs far too wise to be asleep,
    But mistress bides awake for no such music.

    BET.
    Dove-cooing Lib will be a thing to brood on--
    I'll miss nought here, although you count me least.

    NAN.
    All works with us; for at the forenoon drinking
    I heard dame Stir-Wench mutter "These kesh-pithed lasses
    Shall sleep no longer three-a-bed beneath
    The dark damp closeness of the garret thatch,
    That nigh their heads leans low upon the floor,
    Until this heat is past; or they will grow
    Yet more slob-cheeked and sodden and dough-limbed
    I never saw maids look more like green sickness."
    And then she bade Giles carry our gear and bedding
    Into the empty meal-webbed granary.
    Nought could have fallen better; now we have
    No moaning ladder's and open doors' groped passing,
    No stocking feet need pad the dairy flags;
    Only a silverly weathered latchless board
    Keeps out the bats that flap toward pale shapes,
    And waits to let us into the large night
    Throughout the holiest of the mothering year.

    BET.
    She said green sickness but she meant green apples.
    The codlin tree that o'er each moonset stretches
    A creeping spider-shadow on the gable
    Fills out its fruit weeks earlier this year,
    And the one bough with apples onion-roped
    Is one the mended ladder will not reach;
    It is weight-arched against our garret window,
    So that the curled leaves finger on the panes
    When midnight winds are sturdy enough to lift it;
    Mam Pantry knows and fears bare orchard-shelves
    And herds us to an outhouse. Girls, those apples
    Will all be basketed before their time,
    Ere threshing heaps the granary once more
    And sharp nights make her yield our loft again
    Because she finds us cuddled on its threshold.

    URSEL.
    Mam Patch-Waist counts more eggs than four--she knows
    Spring wenches' whifts let loose to sniff the night;
    So straightway to the granary Mease she sped
    To oil the lock and drive a staple in.
    Small is our chance of watching now....

    NAN.                          Quick-Pattens
    Even ere she rounded must have been a likely,
    A very likely maid for her to know
    Our scapemell moods howe'er we prim our mouths.

    BET.
    Mease for two kisses left the staple loose.

    URSEL, _laughing with_ NAN.
    Ay, Bet's the market woman, to be sure.

    BET.
    Mouths, even as eyes, were made to earn our wills.

    NAN.
    But how came Bet near Mease up in the corn-spot?
    And if she knows the need o' the staple loose
    Why will she care to watch with us to-night?

    BET.
    To learn which one it is, Nanikin sly.

    NAN.
    Had it been Mease he'd not have chaffered kisses....
    You know more now than you will learn to-night,
    You will wed more than all we see to-night--
    We shall win nought beyond a secret spice
    Of unclipt gossip in a tasty hour....

_A loitering dull sound is heard of cart-wheels and horse-hooves out in
the lane._

    URSEL.
    Hush, Nan--here come the lads....

_They lift their burdens, and stand aside for the cart to enter the
barn; but as it comes in sight it passes along the road from the left to
the right. It is piled with a roped load of hay; ROGER and MEASE, in
long smocks and flapping hats, knee-breeches and ribbed stockings,
accompany it, ROGER leading the horse, MEASE holding to the shelvings
behind with one hand and with the other slanting several hay-forks and a
scythe against his shoulder._

    URSEL, _continuing._ What, Roger, Mease....
    Why bring you not the cart and top the mow,
    To feel in each limb's ebb hay harvest's spent?

    ROGER, _halting._
    As we trailed up from Pear-tree Dale past Sheep-mires
    Under a thick dew-breath we seemed to steal
    As 'tween chill bed-clothes in December nights;
    Into the load it soaked two fingers' length,
    So now we needs must throw it off and spread it
    To wait to-morrow's sun out in the yard
    Ere it is ripe to top the sweating stack.

    MEASE.
    Moreover, we are wetter than the crop;
    Wherefore be homing, russet-apple-faces,
    To take our smocks and dry them off while we
    Drink the mulled cider you are going to make.

_ROGER and MEASE go forward with the horse and cart up the road to the
right._

    URSEL.
    Come, maids, we'd best get in ere mistress seeks us--
    Beside, the longer we do loiter here
    The longer shall we hold the house from sleep;
    There's bowl and bucket rinsing to be done,
    And supper to set out if we would eat it.
    Be neither meek nor eager in your toil,
    Or Mother Dish-Clout in our gust will read
    Some deed afoot; we'll wrangle sluggishly
    Until she drives us off to bed unwashed.
    Then, though we hear the lock shoot and her steps
    Sink down the out-stair as she dips the key
    Down the long pocket of her petticoat,
    Do nought but cast your shoes--there's but one wall
    Between her chamber and the granary--
    Lie dim along the bed, and never whisper;
    But, when we hear her bed-stocks creak and know
    Her ears are well tied up beneath her night-cap,
    Out slip Bet's staple and ourselves as well.
    Seek the pale hollyhocks across the garden
    (They glimmer a little in all Summer darkness),
    And touch behind the hive-house shadow-hung....

    NAN.
    And in the barn make happiness till dawn.

    BET.
    Dare we lie still, inside the dark, and wait
    In such suppression for such unknown things?

_As BET speaks they leave the barn to the right; NAN resumes her song
faintly and more faintly._

    NAN.
    Dusked seemed the eve as the cows trod in
      Under the roof-drip each to her stalling;
    Full udders crusht shagged thighs between
      Were warm to my hands in the chill air's palling;
    And through the wind's drifting of leaves yet green
      "Hou, hou," neared the neatherd's calling....
                    _The song ceases in the distance._

ROGER _turns into the barn with_ MEASE'S _bundle of hay-forks, and lays
them in the empty cart as he sings._

    I get no sleep in lambing nights,
      My woman gets no sleep;
        We fold the ewes if we sniff a thaw,
        And when they yean as we crouch i' their straw
    She takes the lambs by our horn-fogged lights
        While I do handle the sheep.
            _Footsteps are heard within the neat-house._

    ROGER, _calling through the neat-house door._
    Is the sick beast grown easier by now?

    MEASE, _entering from the neat-house._
    Poor Dapple-Back, milk fever's bad on her.
    'Twas her first calf and though 'twas smoothly dropped
    She could not gather, but heaped a shapeless flank
    Like a maid swooning; when the farrier came
    "She'll die, she'll die," he said. "She'll not," said I:
    But nothing served at first--her slackened fell
    Dried hard and never any sweat would stir,
    The udder turned a dull and shivering white;
    Yet now her ears twitch up to greet my voice,
    The hide-hair moistens and the udder shrinks.
    There'll be no need to wake with her to-night--
    I'll not unwrap her till an hour ere dawn.
    Come through and look at her as we wend in....
    When you got up the cider for the meadows
    Was there a butt still left?

    ROGER, _as they go into the mistal together._
                                  Surely there was;
    But the girls say she'll make it wait till harvest.
    I never hired to any stead before
    Where last year's cider trickled into June....

_All is soundless again save for the cow's moaning. The twilight deepens
no farther, and presently its dead gold brownness becomes cooler in
tone; the mist, which had been merged in the nightfall's dimness,
imperceptibly becomes apparent again, being suffused by an oozing of
silveriness through the pervading brownness; moon-rise is evident,
although the moon is hidden by the permeating mist which it fills.
Perhaps a crying of bats is heard, but this is not certain. An owl cries
somewhere--probably from one of the gable-holes, for it sounds both
inside and outside at once; after many tentative Tu-whits it launches a
full Tu-whoo and swings out far and low across the valley: a chirping of
frogs begins in the nearest ditches._

_A closer sound stills all these, being evidently that of a woman's
voice feigning dove-notes; it ceases, light cautious hurried steps are
heard; it sounds again, Maudlin slips round the door corner to the left
and enters the barn. She is white-capped, her gown skirt is bunched
about her waist, her bodice sleeves are turned back beyond her elbows._

    MAUDLIN.
    Nan ... Ursel ... Nan ... Lib ... Appletoft Lib, hast come?
    There's no one here--I wish they might forget
    And sleep, and let me feel a little lonely.
    I need much loneliness wherein to suckle
    The sadness that alone can bring content:
    I am too burdened by long laughing days,
    And as I wavered through this solemn vapour
    Of the worn earth, the comfort-smelling earth,
    Where unexpected trees rose wearily
    And sank again like ashen-bosomed sighs,
    I felt a new, delighting mournfulness
    That made me know where I am sensitive
    To the deep things of life; even the late Maybloom,
    That stays the tiring Spring in this strange valley,
    Loses its too self-conscious hope to-night--
    The pink would fain be white, and the spent white
    Still fog and sink to the moon and make an end.
    I must be much alone in sorrowful nights.
    I should have ease if Summer would but go,
    Its green-lit glory fail; I am so eager
    For overgrown too-mellowness loth to pass,
    For dripping trees o'er soft decaying grass,
    Bare orchards and shorn meadows and stripped gardens,
    Brown cloudy woods that drooping mists make taller
    About washed fields and muffled hills, subduing
    All to a low remote romance and charm....
    Yet soon with other maids I may behold
    A change that comes to snirp these buds in me....

_She lays herself on her back among the tumbled hay; soon she sings in a
low voice._

    Fetch the porridge pot hither to me,
    The porridge pot and the dairy key,
    And bring me a clout to wind my hair
    Or the swarming bees will tangle there:
    They drip from the hive in the orchard long,
    And coil the green-cherried boughs among
    As they follow the tanking tune I ring
    Under the cherry leaves' shivering....
    They settle, they knit--come Ailce with the skep--
    Step along, Mistyhead--Smearycap, step--
    Steady it while I draw the bough
    Warily down and shake it.... Now....
            _After a little silence she resumes._
    The maids went down to dip in the pool
    When the mirrored moon had cooled the water;
    But they never told the farmer's daughter,
    For they knew she would tell her mother, the fool,
    That the girls were out
    And awaking the water,
    With never a clout
    Though the night was cool.

_She hums the latter melody a little while._

_Without premonition URSEL, NAN and BET enter singly and noiselessly
from the right, each holding a hand of the one before her. They are
hoodless, white-capped, and barelegged now._

    URSEL, _in a low voice._
    I bade them hide until we came.... Lib ... Maudlin....

    MAUDLIN, _sitting up._
    Lib is not here: there's no one nigh at all;
    And in the lanes nought moves but squirrel whifts,
    Save that long gazing into the green darkness
    Seems to show boles half stirred by creeping light
    Amid the darker dark of trees impending.

    BET.
    Was it not Lib who was dew-drenched last harvest,
    Hid in a wheat stook till she fell asleep?

    NAN, _as they all seat themselves by_ MAUDLIN.
    Could any watch you as you slipped away?

    MAUDLIN.
    Our lambs and three fat beasts must take the road
    Ere dawn to reach the morrow's far-off fair;
    So I said I would sleep along the settle
    And set the hinds their drinking ere they trudge.
    None smelt me, but I must start home by three....
    What is the moaning through that little door?

    URSEL, _in alarm._
    I had forgot the beast; will Mease sleep with her?

    NAN.
    When I came in to milk soon after seven
    He said the deathly loosening was pinched
    And we should keep her without more sitting up....
    Yet--the other cows pushed in and nosed her
    As cows will do to helpless dying things....
                                _To_ MAUDLIN.
    A heifer has milk fever.

    MAUDLIN, _rising eagerly._ Let me look--
    I have not touched milk fever once, nor seen it;
    I want to know what sense it can be like,
    I am made to know with what sick thought it takes them,
    To watch it wane and learn to handle it.
    Ah, let me feel her, Nan, dear Nannie....

    NAN.                       Nay.
    The neat-house door is open on her stall
    And hints the pool out in the yard beyond
    Dreaming a dew-dull wash of unborn moonlight
    In darkness sinkingly close as a bat's coat,
    And the large stillness of her weary eyes
    Might image that ... although we should not see her....

    MAUDLIN.
    I know, I know.... But we can shut our eyes--
    Nay, fear would lift them--let us enter blindfold;
    My fingers know just what they ought to do.

    BET.
    Nay, she might die ... I saw a cow die once:
    She tried to turn her head across her shoulder
    And looked at me as if 'twas all my doing,
    Then laid it down again with a straight throat ...
    I fear for that old wrong I never did....

_A deep-voiced woman is heard making low dove-sounds._

    Comes Lib....

_They rise to meet the newcomer, but draw back half in laughter, half in
uneasy amazement as she appears to the left. She is stockinged and shod,
but her topmost apparel is nightgown and nightcap._

    BET, _continuing._
                    Lib ... Lib ... is she asleep or dead?

    LIB, _entering the barn._
    Do I not seem the shadow of a husband?
    Am I too late? I could not choose my coming:
    'Tis churning day to-morrow, and nought would serve
    The old one but that we must scald the churn
    And wipe the cream-pots' lips and set them nigh
    Before we slept--she was so cross because
    One cow had broken, one cast before its time,
    Some hens had laid away, farmer had blamed her
    For standing over us to make us strip
    The cows too hard; so she was queer with us.
    That kept us late from bed, and when at last
    Our fallen skirts were cooling on the floor
    I had to lay me down beside Ruth
    Until she slept; for Candle-Face tells tales--
    'Twas she who lost us the low garden-chamber
    Where hang the dry sweet herbs, and earned instead
    One with a lattice up against the stars,
    By peaching of my clambering through the casement
    'Mid dropping plums that night I went somewhere;
    But when I heard her wet mouth on the pillow
    I left her, stuffed my coats within my arm
    And out along the landing. As I neared
    The old one's chamber-door a warped board chirped,
    My limbs went loose and motionless with fear;
    On I slid again and down the stairs,
    And in the kitchen found I had no raiment.
    I dared not grope for it nor make a light;
    So two unmended stockings on the settle,
    My shoes upon the hearth, were all I had:
    But in the warm night it was comforting
    To feel myself half indistinguishable
    From the grey, stirless oats I stood among,
    Or the evasive gleams and thinner places
    Of mist-lit woodlands, or from slim birch boles;
    And when a woman met me by the brook
    I was so pale and slow she ran from me.

_The others laugh as they lead her to crouch with them in the hay._

    Why is there moaning through that little door?

    NAN.
    A heifer has milk fever.      _There is a silence._

    LIB, _in a low voice._ Women have that....
    Why are we thankful for a deal of trouble?...
    My sister Jen was pleased and proud with herself;
    And when her second obedience came to her
    She was well eased--but goody Slippy-Stockings,
    Who went for wisdom-dame, bore the hot jug
    Too brimmed when it was time to draw the milk....
    They had to dry the milk, and it, being eager,
    Went the wrong way and oozed into her head:
    The little one died so soon. She lay there
    Sooing the oldest milking-croon of all--
        "Baby calf-lips nuzzle not nigh you,
        'Tis my fingers firm that try you Knowingly;
        Patch-Eye, Teaty, I'll not wry you,
        Let your warm milk down to me...."
    Then she would wear her wedding gown all night,
    And in the orchard we could hear her sing
    Mall, go, gather a Posy--Lasses turn Grey--
    Wander, Wonder--and, Peg was clouting her Nightcaps;
    She sank heavily to uneasy stillness,
    Then mooed a baby-noise; till, the fourth dawn,
    She hollowed her arms gently across her body,
    "Cold, cold," she said, and then "Cover us up"....
    And she grew colder....

    MAUDLIN. Much strangeness comes in it:
    I've wondered what there is in me to gather
    So secretly, why life can leak such whiteness,
    And if we feel it change, and how in it
    We sow hid things that never were in us--
    Can it be that our thoughts go into it,
    And all we feel and see must alter it
    From white to white that seems but white to us?
    I knew a woman and her daughter once
    Who went together.... The young one's died; she cried,
    O she did cry, until the mother said
    "Here, lass, have mine; I know, and you shall know."
    Girls, she did that quite calmly: ere he would take,
    Mab had to cover his eyes with a warm cloth,
    And even o' nights to wear her mother's clothes.
    'Tis grave to suckle across the brood like that--
    It threads the mind....

    BET.   Mothering, mothering, mothering--
    Cannot we find our lives except that way?

_The moon seems to be high over the mist now, for there is light
everywhere outside; so that, on peering into the night, it is with
surprise all is found obscure and not easily definable or detachable
amid the faint daze of light that feigns to illumine the valley. The
women have become only black shapes upon the square litten patch which
is the doorway surrounded by the blackness of the barn. A dog howls
somewhere far away._

    LIB.
    That dog sounds from some low-set roadside farm;
    What does it hear? _There is a short silence._

    MAUDLIN.    Women, what does it see?
    They say dogs howl when someone's fetch goes by.

    LIB.
    Mayhap it is the husband-shapes a-coming.

    NAN.
    We shall see nought but what is in our thoughts.
    Yet I'd be very fain to see my man....
    When Gib at Hornbeam-Shallows lost his wife
    He had to hire a wench for the first time
    And at next Martimas hiring came to me
    And offered me four pounds for the half year,
    Saying he'd give me his wife's milking coats
    To make it up, ay, and her two best shawls,
    One darned across the neck-place, one loom-new;
    I told him I would liefer have her shoes--
    That frightened him so well he stammered off.
    But Sib had heard; she drew him with her eyes,
    And said she'd go for three pounds and the shawls
    If he would let her use a gown sometimes.
    Then at each hiring she stayed on for less,
    Till in the third year's end he wedded her;
    And so she's gotten shawls and shoes as well.
    I missed a savoury chance, for he is old
    And childless; both stock and land are his:
    Ay, if I had gone quietly to him
    Ere now I might have had him for myself.

    BET.
    I should not wait three years for any man....
    When Sib would hire a lass Gib said his other
    Had done without for seven and thirty years,
    And he had ringed her but to save her wage:
    At first he sent the hind to milk for her,
    But stopped him soon, saying that men's hands
    Made cow-teats horny; then at Whitsun hiring
    He let him go, grutching it was waste
    With such a goodly woman in the yard;
    So now she has to herd and fork and winnow,
    To drive the cart and take a side of thatch....
    Gib says young wives are better worth their fodder
    Than worn ones. Truly she has a gown sometimes,
    For she goes ever in an old woman's wear--
    He says the other's gear will last her days.
    Nan must surely see more than that to-night.

    LIB.
    Ah, but Sib knows him: he does so fondle her;
    He lets her hair down every eve to spread it
    And feel the pleasure of the comb's sleek goings,
    Bidding her "Stand over" as when a cow
    Rubs up against the boust at milking-time;
    While, when they gleaned their harvest fields by moonlight
    To stint the widows, he would bend down as she
    Bobbed up a mouth all blackberry-stains to kiss ...
    Before she is fit for kitchen toil again
    He will so wonder how she has grown the mistress....
                                BET _laughs._

    URSEL, _shivering._
    Hush, do not laugh; it creeps up in the roof,
    And drips on us again like the thick water
    Through the black pulpy thatch-leak in November....
    That laugh sounded as lonely as one flail....
                                _There is a silence._

    MAUDLIN.
    The heifer ceased to moan a moment past--
    It seems as if it holds its breath to listen....
                            _There is a long silence._

    BET.
    I need to speak, but what I have forgotten....

    URSEL.
    Lass, do not make us speak, or we may miss it....

    MAUDLIN.
    O, do not speak to us, or we may miss it....

    LIB.
    We could not hear you for this listening....

    NAN.
    I look so deeply that I cannot see...
    I cannot listen for it for listening....

_There is a long silence which pulses slowly with half-caught heavy
breaths and slight restless rustlings of the hay in which the women seem
motionless._

    BET.
    Do I feel something? Do we feel something growing?...

_Quiet steps are heard to shift the lane's pebbles. The women look
sharply at each other, start soundlessly to their feet and lean toward
the door; they move forward half eagerly, yet each seeks to put the
others before her, so that as they near the door> NAN poises unwillingly
foremost; when the light catches their faces they seem about to laugh._

    NAN.
    Nay, I'll not meet it--perhaps it is not mine ...
    I will not know aforetime to despoil
    The gradual joy of waking to a man--
    I will not lose one feeling of dear change,
    Or slur it by being conscious of the next....
    Yet even then love should be marvellous
    As the surprise of secret lights expected ...
    O, if I meet some one I do not want....
    Come, maids, join hands and let us go together--
    Still, we might make too sure....

_When NAN is across the threshold the others huddle back. The steps come
nearer. In the road beyond NAN a woman appears quietly from the left; so
far as it is possible to see, her features and array are the counterpart
of NAN'S._

    NAN, _continuing._ Hey, here's a woman ...
    Lib, did you tell the slatterns at Cherry-Close mill?
    Nay, 'tis some rag-bag sleeper under hedges....

    BET, _in an undertone of wonder._
    Why are their coats alike?

    NAN, _turning her head and calling._
                                    Ursel, Ursel,
    She's from the farm--our granary has been searched;
    For see, she wears my old plum petticoat--
    Come, let us strip her and pen her in a sty ...
    But ... I have on my old plum petticoat ...
    And how can she come from the farm when she goes to the farm?...

    LIB, _hastily and below her breath._
    Fetches and wraiths ... fetches and wraiths ... fetches and wraiths
        ... _Peering about her._
    Is there no way from here?

    MAUDLIN, _under her breath._
                                    My mother's grandmam
    Saw her own fetch a week before she died....

    BET, _in a low tone._
    Come through the neat-house ere we too see ours--
    Ursel, come ... come....

    URSEL, _in a hushed voice._
                            If all your days are used
    Your fetch can meet you at the neat-house door--
    Ah, stay, for Nan will need us when ... that goes....

_BET, LIB, and MAUDLIN hurry and crowd into the mistal unheedingly.
Meanwhile the woman has passed from left to right along the road,
turning always to NAN and holding out her arms to her._

    NAN, _leaning out toward her with her hands pressed over her heart._
    Her unapparent features make me feel
    How others must feel my face.... The droop of her skirt
    Is creeping on my hips.... I have watched my feet
    Draw sideways so.... Her shadow is long like mine
    About the bosom ... I wish I could touch her hair--
    I know so well the tingle and smell of my hair ...
    Is this a fetch?

_She reaches forward as if she would follow, until she is in the middle
of the road; the woman passes from, sight to the right. NAN'S body
loosens; she turns confusedly to the barn and sees URSEL'S face pale in
the shade._

    NAN, _continuing._ O, Ursly, where have I gone?
    I have lost myself, for I was here but now....
                        _She remembers and shakes._
    Dear soul, what did you see?

    URSEL, _taking her in her arms._
                                  I saw what you saw.

    NAN.
    Was it my fetch?

    URSEL.   I think it was a fetch.

    NAN, _numbly._
    I must be going to die.... I cannot feel so ...
    There's nought I want to do when I am dead ...

_She is silent a moment, then seems startled into sobbing._

    O, Ursel, Ursel, I cannot let me die....

    URSEL.
    Folk say a fetch is seen at its departing
    From a cold house whence it shall lead a soul;
    But this comes like a child-birth closing in,
    And so perchance it does but signify
    The consciousness of death that breaks in all.
    We stand outside the process of the earth
    And watch it as immortals; and consider
    Death, which we think a deeply moving thing
    (Observing eagerly its fine emotions,
    The impressive strangeness of its mean romance,
    Its strong-tanged character and accidents,
    And all the keen new chances it affords
    For sympathy and for imagination),
    But think not to connect it with ourselves--
    So sure we are all's possible to us.
    Then a near comprehension that is love
    Of trees or sheep, songs or some man or woman,
    Shakes us one day and nothing is the same,
    Because we grow aware that we must leave
    The very joy that lights ourselves for us
    And shows where we may greaten for its sake.
    'Tis life's beginning; we perceive the earth
    And go down into it and nestle to it
    Defeatedly before its larger thought:
    Numbly we measure ourselves by all we see,
    We feel uneasily yet willingly
    Each thing that happens may happen to us too,
    And we are cheated by each grief unsuffered--
    Yea, ever we interrogate decay
    To know our own duration; we must touch
    Each lovesome thing lest it or we should fade,
    Until the searching quiver of contact reaches
    And makes us conscious where we can be lovesome;
    We find ourselves in others and thus learn
    How others are in us, and so we creep
    To large experiences we could not think--
    Effectual perfection of ripe life;
    The earth and all the darling ways of it
    Are ours by love, for all that we must leave
    Comes into us and makes us live it swiftly
    Lest we should miss some thing. So that one love
    Insists that every love in earth shall feed it,
    To keep it from the unsafety of ignorance
    And let our brief days yield their sweetness up.
    Such is the consciousness of death--ah, such
    Must be made yours; mayhap this is the way.

    NAN.
    The consciousness of death.... Though that be all,
    It is too much: even if this fetch abides
    Unnumbered years ere I see it depart,
    Yet all is made unsure and I may sink
    Before I have felt half I need to feel.
    I must make every passion in myself,
    Have each emotion of my wilful sowing--
    The pain of sap, the pain of bud and bloom,
    Of hard green fruit sun-bruised to thick gold juice,
    The pain of the sharp kernel in the pulp
    (Transmuter of sweet to inmost bitterness),
    The pain of orderly corruption too--
    Of the withdrawing sap, of the sick falling
    Into long grass beneath the rain-soaked boughs,
    Of gentle decomposing for small roots;
    So that if death's the end, the true completion,
    I could believe myself fulfilled and ripe,
    A sufferer of the topmost joy and grief,
    And past the need of any eternity ...
    O, I desire old age, because old age
    Has more capacity, more ways of joy....

_Her sobs hide her words. URSEL leads her to the hay and seats her among
it again and herself by her, putting her arms about her and drawing her
head down upon her bosom._

    URSEL.
    Old age must sit and wait as we must wait ...
    We can grow old so quickly in our souls....
    One utters a love-call and no answer comes,
    One suffers motherhood within one's heart
    Of cold unconscious children who can render
    A tolerance of affection more remote
    Than strait denial; and such maternity
    Waits not for any bearing through the body--
    When love has come maternity must follow,
    And if the body may not be made fruitful
    The spirit chooses its own fruitfulness:
    All that we miss is happening in others,
    Others are feeling all we yearn to feel,
    And if we will not let ourselves forget
    How love has wrung us we pass through it with them....
    Ah, wonder, joy, of contact that enlarges
    Our bodies' possibilities and times,
    And gathers life for us to nourish....

_A stifled cry from BET is heard from the neat-house._

    BET.                            Aa--h....

    NAN, _sinking back faintly in_ URSEL'S _arms._
    Does ... it return and ... call?...

    URSEL.         Hush, 'tis Bet's voice....

_After a brief interval filled with slight sounds,_ BET _appears in the
neat-house doorway; she peeps before her until she sees the two women in
the hay._

    BET, _in a low eager tone._
    Ursel, Ursel....
                URSEL _rises and goes toward her._
              The cow has died ... in the dark....
    When I returned but now by the yard door
    I missed the boust and groped into her stall--
    And did not know until I heaved and spread
    Up a flat softness that went sick beneath me
    With long stiff shakings, while her unearned wind
    Broke far within, then slid against my cheek ...
    I could have borne it if she had been cold;
    But she was nearly cold, so that I felt
    A thread-thin warmth I could not stay nor make ...

    NAN, _approaching_ BET _swiftly from behind and
    grasping her shoulder._
    Is the cow dead?

    BET, _shrinking from her touch._
                          Nannie, the cow is dead.

    NAN.
    I milked her last of all, and now my fetch
    Has milked her too; will ... it ... take all from me
    I own through love?
    (_To_ BET.) Why did you shrink from me?

    BET.
    I did not shrink from you; what need is there?

NAN _holds out her arms to her; again she draws away from_ NAN.

    Nannie, I cannot help it ... I cannot help it....
    There's more than this world in you, and I know not
    What you might do to me past your own will:
    You have seen your fetch and are not one of us,
    For we know not your being's dim half-conditions ...
    And maybe if you touch ought that has life
    You make it that your fetch can take it too--
    So died the heifer.... Or maybe your least touch
    Draws life from others to win you a few hours;
    Or you are of the dead, and call folk to them
    Through sympathy of the senses' understanding....
    Poor Nannie ... O, poor Nannie ... O, poor Nannie....

_She sobs loudly, stooping to wipe her eyes with her petticoat-hem._

    URSEL, _while seeking to still her._
    Let us turn home to bed: we shall not sleep;
    But once we're stripped we can relax our bodies,
    Lying past thought for misery till insight
    Returns again and brings us the proportion
    Of all ... and us....

    NAN.     I shall bide here till dawn
    To see if ... I return and go out ... out....
            (_To_ BET.)
    Have you left Lib and Maudlin hiding somewhere;
    Or do they home by now?

    BET, _overcoming her tears gradually._
                                We fled from here
    When ... when ... and reached the neat-yard ere we knew;
    We climbed the knoll and passed behind the barn;
    Then through the corn land, dew-wet to our hearts,
    We beat the thick rye down that choked our feet
    Amid its shaggy sighing stilly weight,
    Until the cottages at Damson-Closes
    Hung o'er us like a dark broody-winged hen
    We shunned the watcher's light where the old woman
    Waits for her death, and dripped into the lane
    Soft as cast shadows.... Ever all feared to speak:
    Yet I went with the others through lost fields,
    Straining to see the thing we prayed to miss,
    Because I knew I dared not near the homestead;
    Until I felt that neither should I dare
    A more remote returning by myself--
    When, loitering unnoticed by those trances,
    I sought even you rather than be alone.

    NAN, _rigidly, her head having been long averted to the barn's
        doorway._
    I hear my feet.

    URSEL, _in alarm._ Nan, do not go....

    NAN.                                  I must.

    BET, _wildly._
    Again.... Wherever shall I go alone?...

_She tugs her cap-strings loose and her cap over her eyes; she breathes
so deeply that her trembling is heard by her breath as she fumbles her
way into the mistal. The quiet steps are heard again; as_ NAN
_approaches the threshold the woman reappears to the right and passes
down the lane to the left, always holding out her arms to_ NAN, _whose
arms hang tensely at her sides while her fingers twitch at her petticoat
as she holds back and back from meeting the embrace._ URSEL _tries to go
to_ NAN, _but she cannot trail her feet after her nor draw down her
hands that cover her face._

    NAN.
    How have I parted?... Where am I in deed?...
    What of me is unseen?... Go....

_The woman having disappeared to the left, still opening her arms to_
NAN, NAN _turns and totters to the door's edge on that side; thence she
feels her way supportedly along the door, but when she comes to its end
she slides to her knees; after moving a little farther so, she sinks
forward on her face and crawls blindly toward_ URSEL'S _feet. At the
fall_ URSEL'S _hands drop; she reaches to_ NAN, _kneels by her, feels
her heart and hands, holds her own hand before_ NAN'S _mouth and
nostrils; then with one swift movement she loosens her own raiment
nearly to her waist, and, lying against_ NAN, _clasps her in her arms
and gathers her into her bosom._

    URSEL.          Nan.... O, Nan....

_The two lie quite still; the stirred dust settles on them slowly and
greyly in the moonlight._


CURTAIN.



LAODICE AND DANAË



    _"And, O, perchance it is the fairest lot
    At once to be a queen and be forgot;
    For queens are oft remembered by the weighed
    Wild dusky peacock-flashing sins they played,
    But queens clean-hearted leave us and grow less,
    Lost in the common light of righteousness."_
                  From KING RENÉ'S HONEYMOON: A MASQUE, Scene vii.



_TO B. J. FLETCHER_


    _O RARE Ben Fletcher, oft I bless
    Your rotund Jacobean name;
    If the great crew could still express
    Their hearts in their dim place of Fame,
    As once at Globe or Mermaid-ales,
    With love your liking they would greet
    For country things and queens' mad tales
    And lines with sounding feet._

    _But in this troublous newer time
    Such fellows have not filled your days,
    So it is left for me to chime
    These quieter verses of your praise:
    For a fair theme I need not strive
    While manhood knows as boyhood knew
    The joys of art, the joys of life,
    I have received from you._

    _What days could ever be so long
    As those our pristine Summers poised
    O'er a charmed valley isled among
    Their bright slow-breaking tides unnoised?
    Then _Dials_ were new and came to stir
    A passionate thirst within the eyes;
    Each dawn was a discoverer
    Of poets unearthly wise._

    _First-comer of my friends, the years
    Behold much friendship fade and set;
    The shrunken world imparts its fears,
    Most men their early power forget.
    But art stays true for us, and we
    In it are steadfast: for a sign
    Its wonder joins us changelessly
    Your name stands here with mine._

March 8th, 1909.


ARGUMENT

      Antiochus Theos, one of the Hellenic Kings of the East
      of the line of Seleucus, reigned in Antioch. He had
      espoused Laodice his kinswoman, according to the usage
      of his race; but after many years he put her from him,
      and took to wife Berenice, daughter and sister of
      Ptolemys of Egypt, for reasons of state.

      Laodice withdrew to Ephesus and kept court there: long
      affection, resurgent, sent Antiochus thither to join
      her. Shortly afterward he died at Ephesus in Laodice's
      care.

      Berenice and Laodice then warred, each to gain the
      kingdom for her child: the infant son of Berenice
      disappeared, and eventually Seleucus II., the son of
      Laodice, held the throne of Antiochus.

      In the course of their wars Laodice retired from
      Ephesus on finding that Sophron, the governor of the
      city, secretly trafficked with the party of Berenice.
      While she sat in some adjacent city Sophron
      unsuspiciously rejoined her counsels; she immediately
      devised his death, but he, being warned by his old
      love Danaë, the queen's favourite, saved himself by
      flight.


PERSONS:

    LAODICE, a Queen of the Seleucid House in Asia.
    DANAË, MYSTA, RHODOGUNE, BARSINE, and other Waiting-Women.
    Three Women-Musicians.
    SOPHRON, Seleucid Governor of Ephesus.

    _In Smyrna._ B.C. 246.



LAODICE AND DANAË


_Behind the curtain a woman sings to the accompaniment of a harp and a
bell._

    I WILL sing of the women who have borne rule,
    The severe, the swift, the beautiful;
    I will praise their loftiness of mind
    That made them too wise to be true or kind;
    I will sing of their calm injustice loved
    For the pride it fed and the power it proved.

    Once in Egypt a girl was queen
    Ashamed that her womanhood should be seen;
    She wore a beard, she called herself king,
    She was uneasy with governing;
    She believed a king was greater than she,
    So she found a king and his mastery.

    In Smyrna sits a queen to-night
    Who does not shine by another's light;
    She has laid her husband on time's dust-heap,
    But for that she holds not her title cheap;
    New radiance comes on woman by her,
    New force in woman is seen to stir.

    She has taken the land and the sea from men;
    She has shewn men the power of their source again....

_The curtain rises._

_A lofty chamber of mingled Hellenic and Asiatic architecture is seen.
The walls are of black stone: on the right a portal toward the front of
the stage is concealed by a curtain embroidered with parrots and
Babylonian branch-work; high and toward the back is a double window,
with open cedar lattices, of an inner room: high in the opposed wall is
a short arcade with a projecting gallery. An open colonnade extends
across the rear wall at two-thirds of its height; its pillars support
the roof: the platform of this colonnade is accessible by an open stair
recessed in the wall._

_QUEEN LAODICE reclines on a great divan set toward the left centre of
the chamber. The musicians whose singing and playing have just ceased
kneel on a Persian carpet before her: between them and the portal stands
a tall brazier whence a wavering heat rises. A golden evening sky is
visible through the colonnade, where DANAË leans against a pillar._

    LAODICE.
    BE silent now; I let you sing too much.
    I am awaiting now too many things
    To bear this fret of waiting till you end
    And I can think again. Be quietly gone.
                            _The women go out._

    DANAË.
    You bade them sing to make one moment brief.

    LAODICE.
    What are you watching like a larger cat,
    Sweetheart, little heart, noiseless and alert?
    You shall not watch me like a prim wise cat.

    DANAË.
    I watch a girl sway slightly, near the tide,
    As if rehearsing dance-steps in her heart;
    She hangs lit snakes of sea-weed down her bosom;
    She takes a letter from her bunchy hair....

_She laughs and leans over, holding the pillar._

    LAODICE.
    Find me a ship, ships; dark ones, strange ones.
    I must have ships, so find them, little heart;
    And, more than all, a ship of Antioch.

    DANAË.
    How tiny a girl looks under these deep rocks....
                               LAODICE _yawns._
    Madam, I have searched well; yet until now
    No deep-sea ship has passed the promontory;
    Now a great ship with tawny sails comes on,
    An ocean-threatening centaur for its prow.

    LAODICE.
    That is from Ephesus, not Antioch....
    I purge one thought thereby and make repayment.
    I am taken with an inward shivering:
    Perhaps I am cold with night--come down and warm me.

_DANAË descends and reclines by LAODICE._

    Haughty and passive and obedient,
    May not my queen's bosom receive your head?
    When I worked empery in Ephesus
    That Sophron, governor--did he not love you?

    DANAË.
    He said he did.

    LAODICE. And you?

    DANAË.            I said he did.
    Thereon he made too sure of me too soon:
    It is unwise to let men be too sure,
    And for that reason I hung up my silks
    On a swart Nabatæan, having smeared her
    With my rare private unguent, and concealed her
    In his choice corner--where she bit his lip,
    Then let her laughing teeth take light of moon.
    There was no more of Sophron afterward....
    Although I looked at him almost penitently....

    LAODICE.
    No more? Was there no more, my little one?

    DANAË.
    Ah, yes.... When he would never look at me
    I felt I could not live outside his arms.
    I went to him at night in a slave's skirt,
    And by humiliating actions soothed
    His wincing mind, until he stooped to me.
    I had him soon. And then I tired of him.

    LAODICE.
    And then, indeed, there was no more at all?

    DANAË.
    I have not seen him since. We left that city.
    You have my faith. You know I am all yours.

    LAODICE.
    That is quite well. He has no years for you;
    He is found treasonous, and must be undone.
    O, he goes out.... Dear, I am very cold.
    Is it because my heart is cold? Men say it.

    DANAË.
    Your heart is warm to me.

    LAODICE.          What do men say?

    DANAË.
    They say you fled to Sardis and to Smyrna
    Because you poisoned him at Ephesus
    And heard his feet when a room echoed.

    LAODICE.                    Him?

    DANAË.
    Antiochus the God, your king and spouse.

    LAODICE.
    Why do they so consider me the cause?

    DANAË.
    You hold the physician Smerdis in more favour.

    LAODICE.
    And did I poison him, my Danaë?

    DANAË.
    Dear lady, surely.

    LAODICE.    Surely.... It is sure.
    Was I not made the Sister, natural wife?
    Did he not change me for a daughter of Egypt
    Robed with a satrapy, crowned by an isle?
    She laved her body daily in Nile water,
    Which can make fruitful even stones and virgins;
    It soon brought forth the mud's accustomed spawn,
    A valuable heir of all the lands.
    How could she keep him? Needing me he turned:
    Was it not best for him to die still needing me
    And leave the amount of kingdoms to my boy,
    The climbing vine of gold up Shushan's front,
    The cedar palaces of Ecbatana,
    Though Berenice sits in Antioch
    Safe with her suckling, in her suckling's name?
    Winds, bring to me a ship from Antioch.
    Since that dread night when Mysta stept not down
    With all you speechless ones to disarray me,
    Have you not dreamed that I did poison her?
    Her love is more than yours, for she had crept
    To Antioch to sell herself in bondage
    Where Berenice buys, that she may nurse
    The child for Berenice--and for me,
    While uncle Egypt plucks my crown for it.

    DANAË.
    Which fingers mixed the poison? See, I kiss them,
    Trust them ever to do their will with me.
    There is no poison in a poppy-seed;
    The seedling draws its venom from the earth--
    'Tis the earth's natural need for such event.

    LAODICE.
    Ay, but the disposition is in the seed;
    I poison by a motion of the heart.

_RHODOGUNE, a Parthian waiting-woman, enters._

    RHODOGUNE.
    Madam, the governor of Ephesus
    Comes newly from the harbour to your will.

    DANAË.
    Sophron!

    LAODICE. Lie still.          _A silence._

    RHODOGUNE.            Madam, must I go down?

    LAODICE.
    Bid this Ephesian governor to me.

RHODOGUNE _goes out._ LAODICE _lays a hand on_ DANAË'S _heart._

_It is now twilight._ SOPHRON _enters._

    SOPHRON.
    Queen, am I swift enough to your commanding?

    LAODICE.
    I am ever rich in your discerning service.
    Why came you by the sea?

_She sees that_ SOPHRON'S _gaze is fixed on_ DANAË, _who does not look
at him._

    Girl, stand behind me.

DANAË _obeys._

    Why came you by the sea?

    SOPHRON.          Lady ... the sea?...

    LAODICE.
    Does not the way by land still fit mine urgence?

    SOPHRON.
    Your safety's urgence made it seem most good
    To search the straits for masts of Ptolemy.

    LAODICE.
    Ha.... Yes.... And did you speak with any such?

_DANAË looks at SOPHRON and shakes her head._

    SOPHRON.
    The seas were void of alien keels to-night.

    LAODICE.
    Are there Egyptians seen in Ephesus?

    SOPHRON.
    None since the aged men who mummied the king.

    LAODICE.
    Tell me the common talk of Egypt's plan;
    And what device to handle Ptolemy
    Is in your friendly mind.

    SOPHRON.
    There's but a common fear of Egypt's secret.
    We cannot meet him yet unless the cities,
    Yes, all these cities of men, take hands with us.

    LAODICE.
    Must I keep house in Smyrna still, my man?
    Play queen in a corner harmlessly?

    SOPHRON.                 Madam,
    The coast is safer here than at Ephesus,
    Retreat on Sardis safer and more ready.

    LAODICE.
    I more withdrawn apart from my main kingdom,
    Baffled from drainage of the unended East.
    I have required you here because a word,
    Perhaps a word malicious, has crept here:
    It has been said that some Ephesian men
    Have bartered for my town with Ptolemy--
    Do you know any of these? Do they live?

    SOPHRON.
    There are none known: such could not sell past me.

    LAODICE.
    They use my palace: examine those about you.

    SOPHRON.
    There is no need: I know them to be clean.

_DANAË again shakes her head, but more eagerly._

    LAODICE, _turning her head and looking up at
    DANAË suddenly._
    Why do you tremble, girl? There's nought to fear.

_As she begins to speak_ DANAË'S _hair is shaken loose; a rose falls
from it and breaks on_ LAODICE'S _shoulder._ LAODICE _laughs and plays
with the petals, continuing without pause._

    LAODICE.
    Do you drop me a sleepy kiss, maiden, my rare one?
    But, O, you have so tumbled your hair to cull it--
    Come hither, kneel, and I will bind it up.

    DANAË, _obeying._
    Lady, I coiled it carelessly.... Indeed
    Such ministration is my precious pardon.

    LAODICE.
    Silk, silky silk so delicious to finger....
    Rose I held; ruby-glows; then dark hair in my hands....
    Nay, I am hot; I burn; stay there and fan me....
    Dear, do not cease at all.
                            _To_ SOPHRON.
                                Well, my captain?

    SOPHRON.
    You shall have men's minds searched in Ephesus.

    LAODICE.
    I like your mind. Also, I have considered
    You must shut up your port, let out no ship;
    Then Ptolemy shall be more sure each night
    That he has wiped the seas ... till you slip out.

    SOPHRON, _in stupefaction._
    Slip ... out?

    LAODICE.
                   Ay, Sophron, fall on him.

    SOPHRON, _eagerly._       Yes, yes:
    These things shall be, and you shall not complain.

    LAODICE.
    Nay, go not now; be my great guest this night.
    The tide will take you not until more day,
    And in the dawn, white hour of clearest thought,
    I need more counsel from you for my deeds.

_She claps her hands:_ BARSINE, _a Persian, enters._

    Let this strong captain be well feasted now
    In winy webs of my embroidering--
    Or--no--a purple suits his temper best;
    And send a slave to him for him to rule.

    SOPHRON.
    Graciousness, yours: let me but stay my seamen.

    LAODICE.
    Haretas the Pisidian shall go down
    Into the place of ships, but not my guest:
    Entrust your ring to this, and she will bear it.


_BARSINE and SOPHRON go out. LAODICE nods to herself._

    I saw his ring: it was a new green scarab.

_DANAË ceases fanning without LAODICE heeding._

    RHODOGUNE, _outside._
    She-dog, come back and you shall have but whips.

_A dirty woman runs in, bearing a bundle within her ragged robe;_
RHODOGUNE _follows her._

    LAODICE, _slowly._
    I have not need of rinds and lees to-night;
    Come, take these out and burn them.

    THE WOMAN.                 Ay, come.

    LAODICE, _starting up._
    Mysta, Mysta, my joy! What have you there?
    The thing a mother called Antiochus?

_To RHODOGUNE._

    Do you not know your fellow and my hand?

_RHODOGUNE retires._

    MYSTA.
    I was the handmaid of a displaced queen;
    I am dry nurse to the undoubted queen,
    Come back merely to boast and make display
    How lusty a baby grows in careful hands,
    How noble I to carry a living king.

    LAODICE, _leaping to her._
    Unwind, dishevel, give it up to me.
                            _Clapping her hands._
    Let there be lights above: I must see closely.
    If I embrace you I shall touch it too.

_A woman hangs a lamp from long chains over the gallery on the left,
then withdraws. After a moment she passes along the colonnade from left
to right and disappears. A moment later she leans from the latticed
windows on the right to light two lamps suspended from the roof to a
point immediately below her. The lights are such that, when the twilight
has gone, the figures of the persons are more definite than their
features, and the upper part of the chamber is almost unlit. In the
meantime_ Mysta _has continued._

    MYSTA.
    Nay, we are but harbour-drift from Antioch:
    Come, take us out and burn us.

    LAODICE.                  Aha, Mysta.

    MYSTA.
    Touch not my hair; 'tis foul from many ships.

    LAODICE.
    I have ached by watching ships that were not yours.
    Were you in Sophron's vessel? Did he know?

    MYSTA.
    She did not trust me soon to tend her child,
    Returning oft like the uneasy cat:
    When I had slipt these rags on it and me
    I herded with night-women by the shore.
    Ere there, I passed a rift in palaces,
    Moment of empty street and Berenice
    Marching with hunger in her bright fixed eyes,
    Champing her golden chain--one hand on it
    Tugged her mouth downward--one hand smote a spear
    Upon the stones as she stepped on and on
    Toward the house of Cæneus your known friend.
    They spied the harbour; I must leave by land;
    Then was some tale of fishers, trading sloops:
    Sophron knows not the thief like a fierce mother
    Whose hard feet last left ship at Ephesus--
    Where Ptolemy is looked for eagerly.

_As she speaks LAODICE has drawn a scarf from her shoulders, twisted it
and strained it in her hands; it tears and she throws it down._

_MYSTA holds out the child to her._

    'Twas warm and quiet so long. Let it live.

    LAODICE, _taking the child and scanning it._
    Let me read here:
    This is the mould, wrongly retouched and spent--
    It is his child and yet I have not known it....

_Clasping it closely to her._

    I am the changeless mother of this race,
    And this a younger seed. By the opened womb
    I have decided being: and I decide.
    Much Asia has been spanned to leave it here,
    More Asia will be narrowed by her searchers;
    Mysta might die next time. It must die.
    I reached my hand and took it to make sure
    My order and number of children still were true.
    I have looked on it--its purport is completed.

    MYSTA.
    It could be hid for ever: let it live.

    LAODICE.
    Mysta shall need my ritual bath and wardrobe;
    Serve me by delicate sleep. Mysta must go.

_She kisses_ MYSTA _and leads her to the portal._ MYSTA _goes out
passively._

    LAODICE.
    Danaë, pile me cushions and hollow them--
    There in the shadowed seat beyond the breeze.
    No; larger cushions with no rough gold in stitchings.
    One softer for his head--now hold it there
    Till I can kneel and lay him in the dimmest,
    For he may sleep a little yet. Ay, so....
    I had well-nigh forgotten to appoint
    Sophron a chamber.

    DANAË.          Madam, I will go.

    LAODICE.
    You speak too loudly. Madam, you will remain:
    I need you to cast gums upon the censer
    To make me drowsy--I must sleep some moments.

    DANAË.
    Storax alone, or juniper?

    LAODICE.                 O, storax.

_DANAË goes to a recess in the wall near the portal, and takes out a
painted bowl. She pours grains from it slowly upon the brazier; brief
cloudy flames illumine her face._

    Did the Silk-People shape that bowl?

    DANAË.                    Maybe....
    I could burn up the world like this to-night,
    To make an end of conflicts and of burdens.

_As_ LAODICE _claps her hands_ BARSINE _hurries in breathlessly._

    BARSINE.
    Queen, Queen....

    LAODICE, _watching_ DANAË.
                      Make ready fragrantly and freshly
    Chamber for Sophron next to that of Smerdis.
    Then send Smerdis with knives and drugs to me.

_DANAË opens her mouth as if to speak--the flames fall as she holds the
bowl poised motionlessly._

    BARSINE.
    Sophron--none can find him; he has gone.

_DANAË lets the contents of the bowl slide into the brazier; a shaft of
flame flares high, she averts her face._

    LAODICE.
    Ho, are we dropping roses all the time?
    Men; bring me men and torches and sharp spears--
    A boat to cut the Centaur's rudder-ropes--
    I will go down and take him back.... Hui....

_She sweeps out followed by_ BARSINE.

    DANAË.
    O, Sophron, out by the land! Nay, he knows more--
    And she, and she; watch-towers divide this earth,
    Horses go here; and he may save a ship.
            _She draws aside the curtain to look beyond._
    May women's skirts impede you, ravening queen.
            _She ascends swiftly to the colonnade: a
            starry night shows her form dimly._
    Fishers' small lights, be drenched--you show too much
    At height of settling gulls above the water....
    Ah ... h, nothing, nothing. Something will not happen,
    And let this life go on again. Nothing.
    Yet ... yet ... the air is beating on my temples
    As though a rabble murmured beyond hearing.

_RHODOGUNE enters._

    RHODOGUNE.
    Danaë, are you here?

    DANAË.          I am here.

    RHODOGUNE.
    Where is the Queen?

    DANAË. Nearing the shore by now.

    RHODOGUNE.
    I have a drunken woman with nine snakes
    That follow her as freshets a drowned body,
    Then lift wise sibilant heads in guardian swaying;
    Her lair could well be traced by emptied streets.
    She is too drunk to speak, but sings the better
    A praise of poisonous snakes and the fools of wine,
    While in the night they circle and streak for answer
    Like wine-cups' lines of light, black rubies' gleams.
    Shall I not bring her for the Queen to use,
    Who loves delights like dangers come too near?

    DANAË.
    Put her away in a safe place till morning--
    The Queen is smouldering again to-night,
    And, if she sees your epileptic mummer,
    Will make us tie her up with her own serpents....
    Babble no more to me--I must be watching.

    RHODOGUNE.
    You are not the Queen, although the Queen's plaything;
    Deign not your high commandments unto us.

_She goes out._

    DANAË.
    Sophron, your bare grand neck's a tawny pillar
    To lean a cheek against in burning noons;
    Your careless eyes look deeplier than you know;
    You must be kept in life.... Down there, down there
    Is something darker, swifter than the sea....
    An unseen smoky glare is mirrored now....
    That was his boat: he is gone.... Sophron, Sophron!
    The sea is suddenly empty--and all places.
    I have given him to mine enemies. She'll not kill him.
    Now I must waken and repent my dreams:
    Ay, Sophron, get you gone--I am whole again;
    I am the Queen's--and O, farewell, farewell.

_She descends the stair slowly._

    I am the Queen's indeed. Is she yet mine?
    Ditizele--

_A VOICE, from within the cedar lattice._

                Who is it calls me?

    DANAË.                         Danaë.

    THE VOICE.                             Yes?

    DANAË.
    The queen has spoilt my rose--throw me a young one.

_A rosebud falls from the lattice: DANAË sets it in her hair._

    Thanks, dear.... She has put up my hair awry--
    It will remind her she put up my hair.

_She shakes down her hair and knots it again, holding the rose-stalk in
her mouth until she can replace it._

    These Asiatic nights ruin the hair,
    Their humid heat puts out its inner lights--
    Mine waves with gleams no more than manes of Irân....
    Now she has left the shore--now she will set
    Her feet upon the stairs like setting-of teeth....

_The child cries a little once: DANAË goes to it._

    O, baby, the old silence of palaces
    Is settling on you steadily. Your crying
    Is shut within--and shall be farther enclosed.
    One light small cry shows all so much too quiet.

_LAODICE, who has entered noiselessly and come close behind DANAË._

    Ay, do you consort with mine enemies?

    DANAË, _wailing._
    Ah ... Ah ... I sickened with the secret thing,
    The too faint sound that crept about my neck.

    LAODICE, _slipping an arm about her._
    Nay, Rose-Locks, calm thy heart; I did but tease
    Thy mothering this lost child, kings' waif and surplus.
    Rare nurses his: the next will be the last:
    Some treachery will ever draw toward him.
    Rest you again upon the Persian couch,
    And I will sit with you and comfort you.

_Leading her to the divan._

    Do not forget the cherishing of a queen:
    I could not catch your Sophron for you, child.

    DANAË.
    I did not want him: he is better gone.

    LAODICE.
    Yet such delight to lead him to your arms:
    You said you looked at him almost penitently.

    DANAË.
    Madam, you mock me; I have passed from him.

    LAODICE.
    Yes, yes; but rapture, for your mind severe,
    Lies in the nearness of wise and powerful men--
    As once for famous high Leontion,
    That philosophic courtesan your mother.
    Let be; but tell me of his quietest scheme.

    DANAË.
    I know him not: I never knew his mind.

_Several women appear dimly at the latticed windows and the gallery._

    LAODICE.
    Ah, well ... I am tired, and it is your dear turn
    To open your arms. Hold me and I will nestle,
    Will murmur for you to hear along your neck.
    What shall we do to-morrow, Danaë?

    DANAË.
    Fair mistress, I can dance for you to-morrow.

    LAODICE.
    Yes, but my dainty cannot dance all day--
    She must have long, long quiet for her thoughts.

    DANAË.
    Then shall I wing the bright and silken birds
    About the border of your Persian mantle?

    LAODICE.
    How should I do without you so many hours?

    DANAË.
    Your Parthian has a witch of snakes for you--

    LAODICE.
    I can charm snakes and even pith their fangs.

    DANAË.
    This is a rare one and, if she is drunken,
    Does uncouth things delicious to the senses.
    Steep in her wine the herb that makes insane--

    LAODICE.
    The herb....?

    DANAË.
      The viscous plant that grows i' your chamber:
    Strange longer serpents shall be swiftly snared
    And mixt untamed with hers, for you to read
    Her gaping and ridiculous tragedy
    As the cold perils sober her to pallor.

    LAODICE.
    It is not novel: with a secret call
    I have turned snakes upon such things before.
    I am learned and I need some graver pang--
    Something as unsuspected as to tell you
    That I had poisoned you three hours ago,
    And see you disbelieve--begin to believe.

    DANAË.
    But you did not.

    LAODICE.       There is the disbelief.

_A pause._

    If I had done so I should here avouch
    I could not do it--then await a sign.

    DANAË.
    Ah, I am yours.... You have not doomed me yet.
    Queen with the wells of night for human eyes,
    Let us descend upon the sea to-morrow,
    Rule your own kingdom by your cedarn barge:
    We will recline together, hushed as here--
    Save for the waters' converse just beneath,
    Permeant as my pulse veiled by your cheek.

    LAODICE.
    I am uneasy now and should disturb you--
    And thence your restlessness would chafe me more.
    I must make sure that you will lie quite still:
    May I so still you? Then you shall to sea.
    We'll sail about the limit of the lands
    Until you reach the river of Babylon.

    DANAË.
    So much in one rapt day?
    The days of life can never compass that.

    LAODICE.
    Not in a day, but in a day and night:
    Conceive the night, my Danaë, the night--
    It is the natural state of being and space,
    Briefly interrupted by casual suns.
    Much unknown empires are attained in night--
    Perhaps not Babylon, yet far enough.
    One night can be a very proper length.

    DANAË.
    You mean that I am poisoned after all.

    LAODICE.
    Indeed, my Danaë, it is not so.
    In this barbaric land, this bright harsh dye-pot,
    Peopled by camels and cynocephali
    And hairy men of soiled uncertain hue,
    O, do you not remember nights of Athens
    Built well about with marbles and clear skies,
    Wherein your mother and such noble women
    Conversed with poets and heroes in lit groves,
    And life subtled? Have you not longed for them?
    I am sending you to such a farther country,
    Away from this shrunk mummy of live earth.

    DANAË.
    Madam, I know you not--when must I leave you?

    LAODICE, _clapping her hands._
    It is the hour, and you shall launch to-night.
    Women, women, come hither every woman.

_The faces disappear from the upper windows: eleven women appear on the
colonnade, some from each side, and descend the stair rapidly._

    Get to your knees about us--both knees.
    Stand up, my Danaë, be overbearing.
    Women, when any woman has a kingdom
    And is a regnant being, does it not suit
    That in the disposition of her state
    Women should figure her and power afar?
    This kingdom I control has thrones of cities,
    So many that I, when I would sit therein,
    Must cast my shadow there: and chief of these
    Is Babylon the nest of bygone things.
    'Tis to that Babylon I now appoint
    My bosom's clasp, my Danaë, for satrap;
    She shall oppress among dead queens and gods,
    Keep house where sheer dominion walks, command
    Enamelled palaces with copper roofs,
    Pillars with gardens for their pediments--
    Staircase for Anakim in Babylon:
    And when ye are as dear to me as she
    Ye shall advance upon such larger ways.

    DANAË.
    O, what is this you do? I am lost in it.

    A WOMAN.
    But how? The duplicate queen holds Babylon.

    LAODICE.
    It shall be mine again ere Danaë's advent....
    Danaë, sister of pearls, do I displease you?

    DANAË.
    Tell out your purpose, though I wreck by it.

    LAODICE.
    Could higher estate persuade such disbelief?
    Barsine, now disburden of its store
    The old brass coffer in my inner house--
    The gems, the flower-striped silks, the mousse-lines
    Worn by such royal girls of Babylon;
    So rare a satrap as we do devise
    Must be as Babylonish as her earth.

_BARSINE goes out._

    Put out your hand, young princess, dip your hand
    Among these herded common indiscretions,
    And gratefully they'll mouth it. Nay, I'll lead you.

    SECOND WOMAN.
    Madam, remember me when you are mighty.

    THIRD WOMAN.
    And, O, forget not me.

    LAODICE.
    Arise, you humbled ones, jealous too long;
    Take off her Greekish marks of my poor service,
    Make ready her precious body to be tangled
    In clotted skeins of her affiliate province.

_The women strip DANAË of all but her under-robe._

    O friend, I do reproach you, for your gay heart
    Has surely turned from me too easily
    When something in you fades and alters so....
    I have done this--my cherished, still keep mine....

_BARSINE enters, her arms heaped with robes: LAODICE fingers them._

    These are your pretties. Greeks know not how to use
    Layers of denial--you Persian, can you say?

_BARSINE, attiring DANAË in the new garments._

    These silken trousers tied above the knees,
    Yet falling to the feet, are first.

    LAODICE.                          Ay, so.

    BARSINE.
    And now this inner gown shrinks close.

    LAODICE.                          Ay, so.

    BARSINE.
    Then this brocady robe with fan-flung train
    And widening muffling sleeves.

    LAODICE, _holding up a sleeve._ Can it be so?
    Pure Greeks conceive not slavery of sleeves.

    BARSINE.
    The pointed citron shoes.

    LAODICE.                Not even sandals?

    BARSINE.
    There needs a shawl like gardens for a girdle,
    But none was hoarded.

    LAODICE.         Put your own on her.
    Give me the jewels: I wish to play with the jewels.

    BARSINE.
    In the horn sphere: press on the metal hands.
    The strings of golden tears and yellow stones
    Hang hidy in the hair. I will unbind
    Your lady's locks and shew you.

    LAODICE.          Keep off: I must unloose them,
    It is my custom.

    DANAË, _in a low voice._ O, what are you doing?

    BARSINE.
    Round to the temples, so: this drops upon the brow....
    That breast of gold--pierced roses, diamond dew--
    Curves on the head, no heavier than your hand....
    Coils chime upon the ankles--the East walks slowly.

    LAODICE.
    We come to the necklace.

    BARSINE.          Yes, but it is lacking.

    LAODICE, _to the_ SECOND WOMAN.
    You white-faced marvel, body of straight lines,
    Give me your necklace dropt inside your chiton.

    SECOND WOMAN.
    O, do you see it? I cannot let it go--
    It was my sister's, and she is dead since.... Ah ... h ...

    LAODICE, _snatching the necklace roughly._
    'Tis well for you it did not strangle you
    When caught: but ye are all so envious yet.
    There, Danaë, my hands shall finish you.
    A painted wonder this I have created--
    I am no better than the rest before it,
    And I will do my homage, knees and lips.

    DANAË, _faintly._
    What is the end, ah me!

    LAODICE.          But in true Asia
    Great ladies must live veiled; they are too choice
    For foreign casual sight.

    BARSINE, _veiling_ DANAË. This is the veil.

    _LAODICE, peeping behind the veil._
    Bound so beneath the eyes? Show slipper-tips?
    Indeed you are ended, Danaë, and shall part.
    Farewell! Farewell! Fare delicately! Fare swiftly!
    Will you go down by Ephesus, my rose;
    Or all the sea?

    FIRST WOMAN. Not Babylon by sea!

    LAODICE.
    If not to Babylon, yet far enough.
    Tie up these arms and bind these feet together;
    Bear to the columns and cast her forth to sea,
    Where she shall be my satrap of the darkness.
    She has been dying many moments now,
    She shall have burial as one who ceases
    In a strange ship, unfriended on the deeps.

_The women laugh._

    FIRST WOMAN.
    Joy--but wherewith, O Light?

    LAODICE.                   Your sandal-thongs:
    You are good enough to obey me on bare feet.

_Several of the women hastily untie their sandals._

    FOURTH WOMAN, _kneeling to bind DANAË'S feet._
    Forget not me to heel, my mighty lady.

    VARIOUS WOMEN, _clustering about_ DANAË _and seizing her._
    Come on, come on to Babylon, dread Madam....
    Up and down to Babylon, cold Highness....
    I'll be her coiffing slave and tend her head....
    I'll be her nurse and hold her in my breast....
    More humbly I will take her feet in mine....
    What honour to be trusted with such life--
    priceless load.... Ah, do not let it fall....

    DANAË, _to_ LAODICE.
    Yet I have served you well.

    LAODICE.                  Yea, very well.
    Whereto did Sophron flee?

    DANAË.               I do not know.

    LAODICE.
    Tell me why Sophron fled, and what he knew.

_A pause._

    Tell even where your thoughts are following him.

_A pause._

    Even at what point of my research in him
    Your heart lifted, and I will keep you back.

_A pause._

    Then are you both completed and concluded.
    Knot elbows too, and lift her to the columns.

    DANAË.
    Yet I have loved you.

    LAODICE.
    You are not mine: this earth shall not contain you.
    I could unmake the stars to ensure darkness,
    To cheat me of the places that have known you.

    DANAË.
    Must I go out?

    Then pay me for my spent devotion first.
    Let not these spittly weeds close in and choke me;
    Undrape these silk and Asiatic jeers;
    Let me go loose, and I will go indeed
    As far as your desire--serving you yet.

_LAODICE, severing DANAË'S bonds with her dagger, then rending away her
veil and upper garments._

    Your rigid mortal bonds, ...
    Your isolating veil, ...
    Your scarf of earthly flowers, ...
    Your robe that once was royal, ...
    Your chill, worn-out simarre,
    Slide as the world slides....
    Put off your useless shoes
    To enter a holy place....
    Get to your high estate.

    DANAË, _standing in her under-garment._
    Gather your jewels.

    LAODICE.          You trifle to gain moments.

    DANAË.
    Give me one kiss.

    LAODICE.         You have not time. These wait.

_Indicating the surrounding women._

    DANAË.
    Your house shall be the firmer by your sentence.

_She takes the sleeping child in her arms, and mounts the stair
quickly._

    SEVERAL WOMEN.
    The child; she has the child.

    LAODICE.                  Yes. And then?

    _DANAË, pausing by a column._
    The common run of men make small account
    Of high religion; and they are very right.
    I saved my lover, and I now receive
    This recognition from the Powers who still
    Dispose of us: Laodice killed hers,
    And she is held deserving of all that honour.

    LAODICE, _pointing at the_ FOURTH WOMAN.
    Thrust her down, you.

_DANAË disappears while the FOURTH WOMAN stealthily mounts the stair.
LAODICE has thrown herself on the divan, with her back to the
colonnade._

                            To-morrow will be soon.
    To-morrow I will sit with men in council,
    And muster men to leaguer Ephesus.
    These fretting hens, these women, burden me--
    I know their eyes too well; let them keep hid.
    To-morrow I will walk upon the harbour,
    And board my ships and see them manned and ready--
    No, no, I will not step toward the sea....

    SEVERAL WOMEN, _as_ LAODICE _speaks._
                    Ai! Ai! Is she down? Not yet....
    I cannot see.... No one can see.

    SECOND WOMAN, _sobbing in the corner near the stair._
                                      My necklace
    Save my dear gems!

    FOURTH WOMAN, _from the colonnade._
                                    She is not here. She falls.

    LAODICE.
    Is that hoarse dashing how the surge receives her?

    FOURTH WOMAN.
    It is the old recession of the waves;
    The rocks are bare. No movement could be seen;
    No pallor could emerge. There is no sound.

    LAODICE, _in a dull voice._
    She was as false as all the rest of you;
    But she was brave. Remember that she died;
    Be cowards still, and so be false and safe.
    She had a lulling hand.... Put me to sleep.

_RHODOGUNE goes toward her._


CURTAIN.



APPENDICES



APPENDIX A

"KING LEAR'S WIFE" was performed for the first time on 25 September 1915
at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, with the following cast:

    Lear                   Mr. E. Ion Swinley.
    Hygd                   Miss Cathleen Orford.
    Goneril                Miss Margaret Chatwin.
    Cordeil                Miss Betty Pinchard.
    Merryn                 Miss Dorothy Taylor.
    Gormflaith             Miss Mary Merrall.
    Physician              Mr. Ivor Barnard.
                          {Miss Betty Pinchard.
    Two Elderly Women     {Miss Maud Gill.

Costumes and decoration designed by Mr. Barry V. Jackson.

Production by Mr. John Drinkwater.

In the course of the production the song of the Elder Woman, toward the
close of the play, was fitted with so appropriate a melody, by a
fortunate modification of a folk-tune, that it seems well to continue
the connexion by printing the arrangement here.



[Illustration: music]

    The louse made off unhappy and wet--
    A-humm, A-humm, A-hee--
    He's looking for us, the little pet;
    So haste, for her chin's to tie up yet,
    And let us be gone with what we can get--
    Her ring for thee, her gown for Bet,
    Her pocket turned out for me ... me....

This represents the extension of the melody used for the final stanza of
the song: it can be adapted to the forms of the first and second stanzas
by the omission of the sections A-C and B-C respectively. The Coda is
intended for use with the final stanza only.


First performed in London on 19 May 1916 at His Majesty's Theatre, under
the direction of Miss Viola Tree.

    Lear                   Mr. Murray Carrington.
    Hygd                   Lady Tree.
    Goneril                Miss Viola Tree.
    Cordeil                Miss Odette Goimbault.
    Gormflaith             Miss Julia James.
    Merryn                 Miss Beatrice Wilson.
    Physician              Mr. H. A. Saintsbury.
                          {Miss Ada King
    Two Elderly Women     {Miss Bertha Fordyce.

Play produced by Mr. John Drinkwater, and mounted by Mr. Purcell Jones:
music by Mr. Ivor Novello.

SONGS

For the London performance of "King Lear's Wife."

I (p. 43)

    Mother, it is my wedding morn,
    Come, bring the linen fine,
    And wash my face with milk so warm
    Drawn from the young white kine.
    The blackbird in the apple-tree
    Was waking ere the day;
    But I was ready sooner than he,
    For I watched the night away.

II (p. 44)

    The Queen has gone to bed
    In the middle of the day;
    But what about her bedfellow?
    No one dares to say.

    She cannot sleep at night:
    She does not care to try;
    The darkness makes her restless,
    And nobody knows why.

III (p. 48)

    O, merry, merry will my heart be
    When I can sit me down and rest:
    If you would live to make old bones
    Keep your knees off the kitchen-stones,
    And go like a lady, warmly drest.



APPENDIX B

"THE CRIER BY NIGHT" was first performed by Mr. Stuart Walker's
Portmanteau Theatre Company in Wyoming, U.S.A., in September 1916, and
in New York at the Princess Theatre on 18 December 1916, with the
following cast:

    Hialti                 Mr. McKay Morris.
    Thorgerd               Miss Judith Lowry.
    Blanid                 Miss Florence Buckton.
    An Old, Strange Man    Mr. Edgar Stehli.

Play produced by Mr. Stuart Walker and mounted by Mr. W. J. Zimmerer.



_SOME PRESS OPINIONS OF_


KING LEAR'S WIFE AND OTHER PLAYS. 1920. 4to. With binding design by
Charles Ricketts. Pp. 209. 15_s._ net. (_Out of print._)

A special edition of 50 copies signed by the author, in white and gold
binding. 31_s._ 6_d._ net. (_Out of print._)

       *       *       *       *       *


Mr. Lascelles Abercrombie (Lecturer in Poetry at the University of
Liverpool) in _The Liverpool Daily Post and Mercury_.

      This volume has been long overdue. It was the great
      good fortune of "Georgian Poetry" that it was
      permitted to give this remarkable tragedy of "King
      Lear's Wife" to the world, and thus to have the
      privilege of pioneering Mr. Bottomley's reputation
      among those who are unable to do much experimental
      reading. It was obviously not only a dramatic poem but
      an actable play; so actable, indeed, that it had the
      extraordinary fortune of being acted; and what was
      perhaps even more remarkable of a poetic play
      nowadays, it showed itself capable of being acted
      precisely and entirely as it had been written, the
      technique of the poet contriving to be, with a
      completeness not to be paralleled anywhere to-day
      except in Italy, simultaneously the technique of the
      playwright.

      The other plays contained in this volume are still to
      be staged. They would certainly be not less effective
      than "King Lear's Wife" ... the cunning elaboration of
      supernaturalism in "The Crier by Night" and "The
      Riding to Lithend," its combination in the former with
      the elemental humanities, in the latter with vivid
      character and strangely heroic passion; the deft
      lucidity of "Laodice and Danaë," which might serve as
      a type of dramatic suspense passing at the exact
      moment into inevitable catastrophe: these things, one
      would think, should be eminently practical politics
      for the theatre. If any manager wants plays in which
      exciting action is at the same time profound
      significance, here they are.

      However, we are only able to speculate on this aspect
      of Mr. Bottomley's work. But we can console ourselves
      by simply reading the plays as poetry.... In the days
      when theurgy was still an honourable profession,
      Apollonius of Tyana said "Knowing what people say is
      nothing; I know what people don't say." That might be
      put as motto for such poetry as Mr. Bottomley writes.
      It is the art of exhibiting realities. What people
      don't say is what they really are; and they don't say
      it because they can't get hold of it. But he can, and
      he can make them say it ... they speak and act as
      unconstrainedly as the folk of the everyday world; yet
      every word and every gesture is a flashing revelation
      of spiritual destiny. And not only men and women, but
      nature also: tarns and mountains, winds and the night,
      trees and stars--of these, too, Mr. Bottomley "knows
      what they don't say."

      To the technical beauty of Mr. Bottomley's poetry I
      have not alluded. It is extraordinary; but, as in all
      great poetry, it is no more than the sign that the
      reality of things is being successfully exhibited.


Mr. John Drinkwater in "The Nature of Drama" ("Prose Papers": London,
Elkin Mathews, 1917, p. 220).

      I do say that the capital power of the commercialised
      theatre in England to-day is so great that it has been
      able to impose its standard on nearly all the people
      who are habitually in contact with its merchandise ...
      so that one piece of catchpenny insincerity after
      another is extolled by what passes for expert opinion
      as a valuable contribution to the great art of the
      dramatist, while a piece of work like Mr. Gordon
      Bottomley's "King Lear's Wife," which ... is for
      vigour of imagination, poetic eagerness, and dramatic
      passion not to be excelled by anything that has been
      put on to the English stage since the Elizabethans, is
      met with a clamour of ignorance ... in most cases
      (1915-16) we find no standard whatever being brought
      to the judgment of an original work of art other than
      a spurious morality.


Solomon Eagle in _The Outlook_.

      The various societies which desire to regenerate the
      theatre talk a good deal about the poetic drama of the
      future, but they do not seem to take much trouble to
      find it.... Of Mr. Gordon Bottomley's fine plays only
      one, to the best of my knowledge, has yet been
      produced in this country.... There is certainly the
      possibility of a great play in their author, and one
      at least of them is better than any play in verse
      which has been staged for many years, and is likely to
      live longer than most of the so-called masterpieces of
      our time. If "Midsummer Eve" had been by Claudel, or
      "The Riding to Lithend" by some German (a most
      unlikely supposition) all the coteries would have been
      talking about them years ago....

      "Midsummer Eve" is original, and the work of a
      poet.... There is fine meditative poetry in it,
      poetry, moreover, not grafted or glued on to its main
      structure, but growing out of the dialogue naturally,
      in an inevitable manner.... "Laodice and Danaë" is
      equally good reading, and it is dramatic. But none of
      these plays is equal to the two latest, "The Riding to
      Lithend" and "King Lear's Wife."...

      Enough has been written about the grimness of "King
      Lear's Wife," the fine bursts of poetry in it, and the
      remarkable character of Goneril.... "The Riding to
      Lithend" is, up to the present, the best of Mr.
      Bottomley's plays; and its superiority is a
      superiority which, I think, would be still more
      evident on the stage than it is in print.... It comes
      straight out of an old tale; the characters are
      recreated and enriched.... The diction is, as a rule,
      perfect in its propriety and often striking in its
      beauty. And, above all, Gunnar is a hero, his fight a
      heroic fight, his courage, his generosity, his
      humanity (a few sentences to wife and hound are
      wonderfully chosen), and even his weaknesses are such
      as to move the heart. His fall is like the fall of all
      noble and fighting things; the sense of defeat comes
      with it, but above that a feeling of exultation. On
      the stage the end, I fancy, would be profoundly
      moving, and the fight exciting to a degree, though
      there is no obvious rhodomontade about it.


Mr. John Freeman in _The Bookman_.

      This comely volume at last makes public what has been
      too long a fugitive and cloistered pleasure.... These
      five plays show the author in the most powerful
      exercise of his faculties. Imagination here is free
      and moves with growing ease, music enlarges like a
      splendid wind through the verse; and the common
      reproach of mere "poetic plays" has been avoided in
      these, where character and action develope as surely
      as music itself. Gordon Bottomley has remembered that
      his plays can have no life except in the activity of
      his characters.... Fine careless raptures alone will
      not produce a play like "The Riding to Lithend" ...
      you may quote almost any lines from this fierce
      Icelandic play and find that what you are reading is
      vital and essential to the expression of character and
      action. And in this poetry, too ... the beautiful
      images flow in and out with the ease of light on
      water; the rhythms have the natural movement of
      thought, and the secret discipline of masculine habit.
      "King Lear's Wife" will be familiar to many readers,
      but to others it will come with the delicious shock of
      a new creation.... The new play is a beam of light
      crossing the darkness of the old. Few passages of
      modern verse reach the beauty of Goneril's
      hunting-narration; and it is no isolated beauty.


Mr. William Rose Benèt in The Literary Review of the _New York Evening
Post_.

      "The Crier by Night" is one of the most powerful and
      eerie poetic dramas of the supernatural that have been
      written in the last two decades. To me the best-known
      translations of Maeterlinck pale beside it.... I hold
      "The Riding to Lithend" his greatest achievement. To
      me it is like a piece of gorgeous tapestry blurred by
      wood-smoke and sea-mist and hung on a granite wall.
      The dramatic structure is knit as compact as a rock.
      Across the shimmering imagery of the diction blows a
      chill and foreboding wind of the spirit.... The verse
      is nobly distinguished. "King Lear's Wife" is also a
      notable piece of work.... It possesses convincing
      reality.... Again the dramatic structure satisfies
      completely. "Midsummer Eve" is packed with fragrant
      beauty ... that creeps around the heart.... The
      atmosphere is the important thing about this play and
      is unforgettable. "Laodice and Danaë" is more usual
      (for Bottomley, for very few other writers), but it is
      the work of a sure dramatic craftsman with an
      enthralling tale to tell.... There is a splendid
      artistic austerity about his work ... yet mixed with
      this there is an entirely full-blooded love of the
      earth, a delight in intensely human detail.... He has
      indeed displayed many gifts imperishably bright. His
      name should stand high in the roster of modern English
      verse.


_The Morning Post._

      The rare beauty and distinction of these works have
      been ungrudgingly acclaimed by many critics, but they
      have hitherto lacked that wider recognition for which
      they are indubitably destined.... But now the bringing
      of them together in one volume permits us all to
      appraise the quality of what is the most significant
      accomplishment of our Georgians. It is impossible to
      be impervious to the strength and beauty, knit
      together, of these dramas.... Criticism may note with
      admiration the unerring skill of dramatic structure;
      with delight the mastery of language, which constrains
      the simplest words to the greatest needs; with wonder
      the reading of the human heart.... The man who can
      handle character and emotion with such mastery both of
      language and imagination is indeed a poet.... In Mr.
      Bottomley the Georgian era has found an authentic
      voice--a veritable interpreter.


_The Times Literary Supplement._

      We must honour the devoted writers who keep alive the
      desire for the poetic drama, and none more than Mr.
      Gordon Bottomley.... He is a poet and justifies his
      use of poetic speech; he is eloquent, incisive, has a
      blank verse of his own which he writes with increasing
      mastery.... In "The Riding to Lithend" he rises with
      his story ... the death of Gunnar is well done; you
      read it breathlessly, for he makes it the death of
      Gunnar indeed; and even the slayers feel the greatness
      of it. Mr. Bottomley, in a more fortunate age, might,
      we think, have been a dramatic poet like Fletcher; he
      has Fletcher's eloquence though not his fun,... but
      not, of course, Fletcher's familiarity with the
      stage.... If he had been bred in the theatre, he
      might, we think, have had Fletcher's real and
      delightful success.


_John O' London's Weekly._

      The cumulative effect of a re-reading of Mr.
      Bottomley's work is to convince one that he is a real
      poet who can write real drama. In the matter of
      construction these plays approach perfection; the
      building up is masterly, and the verse is full of
      variety and imagination.... The finest as drama is
      "King Lear's Wife," though for sheer beauty and
      spiritual significance I should be inclined to place
      "Midsummer Eve" first. Only one of these plays has
      been acted in England. If we had a live stage they
      would all be acted.


_The New Statesman._

      Mr. Gordon Bottomley's plays are good art. There are
      moments in "King Lear's Wife" when he approaches
      greatness.... It contains passages of very rare force,
      and the dramatic power ... is of a very high quality.
      In this play and in "The Crier by Night" he recalls to
      us not the late Elizabethans so much as that strange
      uneasy genius Thomas Lovell Beddoes.... He is a purer
      poet, dramatically, than was Beddoes, and his song has
      a clearer richer quality, more imaginative, though
      not quite so fantastic; but he resembles Beddoes in
      his stern saddened preoccupations with the passing of
      mortals. Few plays have a greater unity of atmosphere
      or a more boding one than has "The Riding to Lithend."
      In all the plays, however, one finds a real poet who
      is also a real dramatist; there is little of
      decoration in any of the plays, and nothing of that
      windy seasonal rhetoric which is so common in some
      poetic plays.


I. B. in _The Manchester Guardian_.

      It is an excellent thing that these plays, the
      earliest of which was published twenty years ago,
      should have been brought together and given a new
      lease of public life.... It is indeed quite
      extraordinary that, with so much publishing of poetry
      during the last few years, work of such high
      distinction should have remained under cover. Mr.
      Gordon Bottomley's art of tragedy, as well as his
      craftsmanship in verse, can be seen ripening through
      this series until it comes to a rich maturity in "King
      Lear's Wife." Here ... austerity and compassion are
      compounded, and so create the tragic atmosphere in
      which small words are big with infinite meaning and
      hints develope the power of hammer-blows.... It is the
      best of the group, and it is significant, as showing
      the inherent union between matter and form, that when
      the poet writes his best play he also writes his best
      verse.... He is admirably master of himself and of his
      medium.


_The Spectator._

      Neither in the setting of the scene of "King Lear's
      Wife," the conduct of the story, or its embellishment
      and illustration, is there a wasted word.... But amid
      the abundance of this most rich, most ample of little
      plays, there is surely nothing--nothing, we mean, that
      can be detached from its setting--that surpasses
      Goneril's two speeches to her mother.... Whether Mr.
      Gordon Bottomley--though calling his creations by
      their Shakespearean names in his heart--would not have
      done better to call his monarch Cole or Cadwallader in
      print is a question with which controversy will
      probably long be busy. It is a play which would not be
      spoiled if, in a pet, he had called the protagonists
      Smith, Jones, and Robinson. We recommend this test, by
      the way, to those who are called upon to pronounce
      judgment upon the poetic drama. There is more in it
      than meets the eye.


_The London Mercury._

      It is some years since the public was surprised to
      learn that Mr. Gordon Bottomley had written a prelude
      to "King Lear," which not only offered some solution
      of the problems of that work, but was also in itself a
      play of considerable beauty, originality, and power.
      This piece now serves for the title of a volume of
      collected plays.... It was effective and moving on the
      stage, and it makes its effect, though perhaps a
      different one, when it is read in the study.... An
      extract will serve to illustrate the flexible,
      elastic, and individual versification. We should do
      wrong, however, if we were to give the impression that
      his plays are only for the study, valuable for such
      passages, and lacking in the harder bones of dramatic
      merit. The action is not an excuse for decorative
      poetry, but is the immediate and all-important
      thing.... These are the creations of a dramatist who
      has no need of descriptive decoration to conceal the
      weakness of his prime conceptions.


_The Nation._

      The wave of poetic drama has now ebbed, and this form
      is practised very little to-day, lyrical and
      experimental verse having almost entirely supplanted
      it. Mr. Bottomley's plays are the only ones which,
      with the going-out of the tide, have managed to escape
      its "long withdrawing roar" and retain a place on the
      shore.... Without any doubt they express a singular
      power of mysterious evocation.... They are not at all
      vague and inchoate--on the contrary, these towering
      shadows are remarkably and firmly differentiated....
      We find "The Crier by Night" and "The Riding to
      Lithend"--especially the former--the most darkly and
      magically impressive of all the plays.... An image in
      the former positively makes you jump as Donne makes
      you jump with his imagery.... But perhaps his most
      striking achievement is the way he can make these
      shapes of an intensely brooding ... imagination speak
      out in taut, muscular, even gruffly vivid language. He
      has avoided, and very properly avoided, the tenuous
      chantings, effeminate imagery, and listless monochrome
      of the Celtic drama. Mr. Bottomley's plays, in fact,
      are peculiar and esoteric, but they undoubtedly
      achieve a strong success in their own character.


_The Athenæum._

      Mr. Gordon Bottomley is one of the few writers of
      poetical plays whom it is necessary to take very
      seriously: his blemishes are minor and few in number;
      his poetical qualities very much outweigh his defects.
      He is at his best in expressing subtle states of mind,
      and in formulating generalizations. His real
      distinction lies in his dramatic power. His characters
      have solidity and life ... they are not mere symbols,
      but human beings. His plays are marked by the economy
      of construction of stage plays. It is significant to
      note that Mr. Bottomley's pieces are excellent in
      proportion as they are actable.


_The Saturday Westminster Gazette._

      Of their kind, Mr. Bottomley's plays are remarkably
      good. They have atmosphere and action; they are
      exquisitely wrought; they are moving and dramatic.
      They will surely be among the most delightful
      discoveries of future generations; and if by the
      beginning of the twenty-first century our successors
      have contrived to establish a national or folk
      theatre, it is fairly safe to prophesy that three at
      least of them will find a place in its repertory.


_The Observer._

      Since the issue of "The Crier by Night" in 1902, Mr.
      Bottomley has worked with a sincerity and devotion
      which are more commendable than the more frequent
      essays of less conscientious artists. We remember one
      considerable and beautifully produced book of
      miscellaneous verse, "The Gate of Smaragdus," and
      there have been other plays issued semi-privately,
      until the publication of "King Lear's Wife" gave him a
      wider public, and reminded younger readers of his very
      definite and dignified talent.... If as a _tour de
      force_, the latter is the greatest, we still prefer,
      for sheer poetic beauty, for propriety of phrase and
      for directness of action, the earlier "Riding to
      Lithend." Hallgerd is an exceptionally fine creation,
      and she is given to speak passages of rare force and
      beauty. This play, too, has a fierce dramatic quality.

Mr. R. Ellis Roberts in _The Daily News_.

      Mr. Bottomley's plays have all one merit without which
      poetical drama is a thing indefensible. There is
      always in them a definite note of necessity.... Not
      only does Mr. Bottomley choose subjects which make his
      decision to write in verse seem natural and right, he
      writes blank verse of a dignity and worth which
      responds at once to the needs of natural, and the
      convention of poetic, speech. His poetry is in the
      full English tradition; he enjoys his vocabulary with
      that careful, inventive joy which is the privilege of
      all who are sensitive to the individual word. He can
      use rhetoric; but he rarely allows himself to be drawn
      away into mere hectic luxury of language. The best of
      his plays is, I think, "The Riding to Lithend," a
      rendering of the old life of Iceland, which really
      represents for us the passionate, hasty life of the
      old Sagas, while it is free from the pedantry which
      spoils so many efforts to reproduce Scandinavian
      heroics. Hallgerd is a genuine piece of dramatic
      creation. "Midsummer Eve," with its quiet, wind-blown
      pathos, is equally notable; and the quality of its
      verse shows Mr. Bottomley's talent at its highest and
      simplest.

_The Actor._

      In these plays, the public is reminded of Mr. Gordon
      Bottomley's almost unique power, as among his
      contemporaries, of presenting the sinister, the grim,
      the tragic, or the merely weird, in a poetic garment
      of power and beauty ... in dramatic force and verse
      charm.

_The Journal of Commerce_, Chicago, U.S.A.

      These plays are put into a format and style of book
      that honour the contents, and when you know the
      contents of this remarkable dramatic poetry that is
      praise indeed. They hold you strangely.... The
      dialogue is skilfully modulated, it is a veritable
      song-speech, illuminated by luminous pauses, by the
      speaking silences that can invest, if rightly used,
      the static with so much more dramatic feeling than the
      more obviously emotional action. The plays are
      impressive even in the reading of them, then how much
      more effective they would be if acted and
      declaimed--but in a manner worthy of their high art.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

Varied hyphenation was retained. This includes things such as
bed-clothes, bedclothes and bed-time, bedtime.

Page 9, repeated word "the" removed from text (from the body estranged)

Page 39, "gradully" changed to "gradually" (she gradually forces)

Page 107, "dais" changed to "daïs" (by the daïs door)





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