THE THREE HERON'S FEATHERS.
BY HERMANN SUDERMANN.
|The Queen of Samland.
||The Duke's men.
|The young Prince, her son.
|Anna Goldhair, her attendant.
|Cölestin, her Major-domo.
||Miklas, a peasant.
|Widwolf, Duke of Gotland.
An old fisherman, a page,
councillors, men and women of the
Queen, the Duke's men, the people.
|Hans Lorbass, his servant.
The scene of the first and fifth acts is laid on the coast of Samland;
that of the second, third, and fourth acts in the capital city.
Between the fourth and fifth acts a period of fifteen years elapses.
The coast of Samland. The background slopes upward at right and left
to wooded hills. Between them is a gorge, behind which the sea
glitters. In the right foreground are graves with wooden head-boards
and crosses, overgrown with shrubbery. At the left is a stout
watch-tower with a door in it. Common household furniture stands about
Hans Lorbass seated on a grave with spade and shovel, a freshly dug
mound behind him.
Hans Lorbass [sings].
Behind a juniper bush,
On a night in July warm and red,
Was my poor mother of me brought to bed
[Speaking]. And knew not how.
Behind a juniper bush,
Between cock's crow and morning red,
I struck in drink my father dead,
[Speaking]. And new not who.
Behind a juniper bush,
When all the vermin have had their bite,
I'll stretch myself out and give up the fight
[Speaking]. Still I know not when.
Yet one thing I know: anywhere hereabouts, a mile-stone or a
cross-roads will do very well some day; I do not need a juniper bush.
Let us say a garden hedge, that is a pleasant spot. If some day it
should come into my head to lie down beneath one, in the tall grass,
nearby a grave, and quietly turn my back on this dry, burnt-out old
world, who--a plague upon him--would have aught to say against it? Here
I sit and munch my crusts, and hold carouse--on water; [getting up]
here I stand and dig graves, a free-will servant to weakness. I dig the
graves of the unnamed, unknown, when icy waves toss them rotting on the
shore, tangled in slimy sea-weed. Once all my thoughts were wont to
follow on the foeman's path, to cleave him through with my blithely
swinging sword, to carve my path straight through the solid rock; yet
now I stand here and smile submission at a woman. But I bide my time
until my master comes again knocking to set me free from my graveyard
prison and breathe new life into my frame. Him at whose side I once
stood guardian-like with fiercest zeal, him will I serve again with all
my love and life, and follow like a dog.... Like a dog, yes, but like a
master, too. For it is strength alone that wins the day at last, in all
the brave deeds done upon this earth. And only he who laughs can win.
The victory is never to the weakling whiner, nor to the man whose
rage can master him; as little does it crown the man whose mind is
woman-ruled; but less than these and least of all will it bless him
who dreams away his life. For that I stole and sweated to secure,--his
future good,--for that I sit now fixed firm within his soul,--I his
servant and avenger! Here comes the old one. Never yet have I owned
myself conquered by any soul on earth.... And yet--when she comes
peering into my affairs, I feel as though I might become--I don't know
what! I begin to know what strength is in sweet words; I feel a
readiness for any sort of bout; my spirits swell to bursting
roisteringness,--and yet I have not the shadow of a cause for any such
Burial-wife [entering]. Tell me, my little Hans, hast been
industrious? Hast made a fine soft bed?
Hans. I am no Hans of thine. My name is Hans Lorbass. A knave who
stalks stiff-necked and solemn up and down the world does not much
relish being treated like a child.
Burial-wife. Thou art my dear child none the less. Only grow old and
gray; and then shall thy body bear its scars and thy soul its sins back
to the old wife.
Hans. Not yet.
Burial-wife. Thou hast dug many a deep still grave for me; many a
wanderer will come and find rest, therein. Over the gray path of the
boundless sea will each one come bringing his life's sorrow to lay it
here upon my bosom. I open wide my arms to them as my father bade me,
and blessing them I thus absolve myself from suffering and penance.
Beneath my breath sin and crime straightway disappear;--and smilingly I
bear all my dear children to their rest.
Hans. Not me. What concern hast thou with me? It is true thou holdest
me here within thy grave-yard prison and compellest me to play the
grave-digger with blows and taunts; but let my prince once come this
way again, and not another hour of service shalt thou have.... My
prince, my gold-prince! My sweet lad! How I could burst with a single
leap straight to thy side through all the world, and with my
too-long-idle sword hurl down to hell the coward pack that presses
round thee!... And thou art all to blame,--yes, all. He had already
quite enough agonizing longings, unfulfilled desires; but thou must
needs fan the warmly glowing flames to a devouring blaze. It was thou
that lured him into that adventure, that willed his braving danger
singlehanded; and if he cracks the accursed nut, if I see the foam curl
again about his prow,--even if I clasp him to me and feel him safe
indeed,--who shall tell me that after all his prize is worth his pains?
Where is that woman thou hast showed to him, that pattern of beauty and
purity, that paragon of softness and strength, she who was born to
steal away his other longings,--where is she?--show her to me!
Burial-wife. My little Hans, my son, why stormest thou so?
Hans. Let me curse.
Burial-wife. Hush thee, and lie down here beside me on the straw, and
listen what I tell thee.
Hans. On the grave-straw? [Lies down with a grimace.]
Burial-wife. There landed two men yonder on a golden spring day, and
wandered lost like wild things through the thicket. Who were they?
Hans. I and my master were the two. The villainy of his step-brother
had rent from him his throne and kingdom. He was too young, he was too
weak,--there lay the blame.
Burial-wife. Yet he was blustering and drew his sword and demanded
with storm and threat that I should grant a wish for him. Still thou
knowest him, my dear son?
Hans. Do I know him!
Burial-wife. "Thou desirest the fairest of women for thy bride?" I
said. "She is not here; but if thou dost not shrink before the danger,
I can show thee the way, my son."
Hans. The way to death!
Burial-wife. "There lies an isle in the northern seas, where day and
night are merged in dawn; never more shall he rejoice at sight of home
who loses his path there in a storm. There lies thy path. And there,
where the holy word is never taught, within a crystal house there lives
a wild heron, worshiped as a god. From that heron thou must pluck three
feathers out and bring them hither."
Hans. And if he brings them?
Burial-wife. Then I will make him conscious of miraculous power,
through which he shall find and bind her to himself who awaits him in
night and need; for by this deed he grows a man, and worth the prize.
Hans. And then? When he has got her, and sighs and coos and lies in
her bosom half a hundred years, when he turns himself a very woman, I
shall be the last to wonder at it. Look! [he picks up a piece of
amber] I shovelled this shining glittering bauble out of the
dune-sand. I have heaped up whole bushels of it in my greedy zeal. Now,
as I toss from me this sticky mass of resin, that borrows the name and
place of a stone, so with the act I hurl away in mocking laughter these
many-colored lies of womankind. [He tosses the lump to the ground.]
Now go and brew my evening draught. I will to the sea to seek my
master. [He goes out to the right. The Burial-wife looks after him
grinning and goes into the tower.]
Ottar [sticking his head through the bushes]. Holloa, Gylf!
Gylf [coming out]. What is it? [The others also appear.]
Ottar. Here is the tower, here lie the graves in a sandy spot; run
below to the Duke and tell him; not a man to be seen, not even a worm,
naught but a burying-ground, rooted up and worried as though we had
been haunting it ourselves. [Gylf goes out.]
Sköll. Nay, for we would have saved some of our loved dead for the
raven, we would not have been so stingy as to bury them straightway.
[They all laugh.]
The First [pointing out to sea].--Ho--there!
Ottar. What's the matter?
The First. Does not the boat pass there that yesterday crossed our
path on the high seas, whose steersman threatened fight with our
dragon? How comes the bold rascal here?
The Second [who has raised up the lump of amber]. I tell you,
comrades, let the fellow go, and look what I have found.
Ottar. Death and the devil! Then we are in Amberland.
The Third [staring]. That is amber?
Ottar. Give it to me!
The Second. I found it--it is mine!
Ottar. Thou gorging maw!
The Second. Thieves! Flayers!
Ottar. Dog! I'll strike thee dead!
Sköll. Be quiet, fools, there is plenty more! Go look in the tower,
and you may curse me for a knave if you find the mouse-hole empty.
The First. Come.
The Two Others. Yes, come! [The three go into the tower.]
Sköll. Thou dost not go along?
Ottar. Thou hadst gladly got us out of the way to dig all by thyself?
O, we all know thee, thou filthy fool!
Sköll [slapping him on the back]. More pretty words, my friend? Go
on! When we are our own men on shore again, I will see what I can
do;--but till that time I spare my skin.
[The three come reeling backwards out of the tower, followed by the
Burial-wife with raised fist.]
Sköll. What is this?
Ottar. What do you call this? Seize her!
The First. Seize her! Easy to say! Dost thou court the palsy?
The Second. Or fits, at least!
Ottar. Cowards! [He advances upon her. The others, except Sköll,
follow him yelling.]
Hans [snatches his sword, that hangs on a tree, and throws the
assailants into confusion with a blow or two]. Ho, there! Let her
Sköll. Look! Hans Lorbass!
The Others. Who? Our Hans?
Ottar [rubbing his shoulder]. How comest thou here? Thou still
thy old strength, I find!
Sköll. Tell us, old Hans, what brings thee here? Is she thy latest
All [burst out laughing]. Hans, Hans! Poor old Hans!
Hans. Bandits! Just come on once! [To the Burial-wife.] How is it?
I hope they have not hurt thee.
Burial-wife. None can harm me, none molest me, who has not first
wronged himself and all his hopes.
Ottar [sings]. Ho, Hans is playing with his love!
Hans. Have a care!
[The Burial-wife goes slowly into the tower.]
Hans. It is now scarce three years since we bore within the hall our
master in his ash-hewn coffin. He raised his hand already cold, and
pointed with his pallid, bony finger--not toward the bastard Danish
conqueror, but towards his own true son, Prince Witte; and him he left
his country's lord. The land was poor, the people rude, yet it had
preserved its pride and loyalty un stained through a thousand murderous
brawls. Three years ago as everybody knows, you would have murdered
our young lord at summons of the Bastard and his fair promises; and
now--what are you? Thieves, sand-fleas, loafers, riff-raff, haunting
the moors and hiding in the thickets. Stop! I will build a gallows for
you presently; my brave sword is too good for you. [He throws down his
sword. They laugh.]
Sköll. Hanschen, has thou clean forgot who was the fiercest
bloodhound of us all? Who was it always shouted "I will do it, I!" till
everyone spread sail before him and left him to his work? Then wouldest
thou come, wiping thy bloody hand, and laugh, and say: "My work is
done!" And then one saw no more of thee. Now when we find thee and
rejoice at sight of thee, thou scornest us like a pack of thieves or
birds of such a feather, and playest the judge sitting above us;--fie,
Hanschen, 'tis not kind of thee.
Hans. Quite right! Give us thy fist!... No use to wrangle! [Offers
his hand to one after the other. Looking at one suspiciously.] Thou
hast need of a little scouring first, I think. Children, what fine
fellows you would be, if only you were not such frightful rogues.
[They laugh.] Tell me now, what have you been at so long?
Ottar [awkwardly]. Who? We?
Hans. Yes, you!
Ottar. Thou wouldst draw us out then?
Hans. No need. I know that trade a thousand miles away. You are
All [laughing]. Of course.
Hans [half to himself]. See, see!
Sköll. Only the name is not quite right. We are wreckers hereabouts;
but we chiefly rob upon the high seas.
Hans. And your Duke?
Ottar. There's a man! He stands foremost in the attack. When the
grappling-irons lay hold, when the javelin whistles in the air, when
down upon the rashly canted dragon crashes the boarding-plank, when
above they wait like calves for the slaughter, then rings his
murder-cry: Ho huzzah!
All. Ho huzzah!
Hans [half to himself]. It must be fine. [Aloud.] Then in
battle--how shows he there?
Ottar. In what battle? We have no more battles.
Hans. So, so! I just bethought myself. One question more: How come
Sköll. Hast thou not taken our measure, then? Take notice of my
sparkling glance--its tender fire: observe his air, like to a love-sick
cock's: Do we not smell of myrrh and balm! In short, we go to gaze upon
Hans. Who, then?
Ottar. Who? Dost thou mock at us? Thou livest here and yet thou hast
not heard of the Amberqueen, the marvel of beauty who has sworn to
yield herself and her throne to the man that is victorious in a
tournament for life and death, and bears all her other suitors to the
earth? The fair one is a widow, the heir an orphan; so it is meat and
drink to him who throws the others by the heels.
Hans. Are you so sure of it?
Ottar. Well, where is the man who cares to try conclusions with our
Hans [to himself], I reared one who will strike him down some day.
[Enter Duke Widwolf and more of his men.]
Duke. Why stand you there? Did I send you ahead to chatter? On with
you! What stops your mouths? Clear the way! And if I find you sluggish
I will call out my cat-o'-nine-tails for you.
Hans [aside to the first man, who stands near him]. He drubs you
The First. Past bearing.
Duke. Who is that man that speaks with you? Why have you not already
struck him down?
Sköll. He is so droll, master, he would not let himself be killed.
Duke. Meseems ... Hans Lorbass--do I see aright? What--what?... Thou
knowest I am in thy debt for business secretly done. I love not debts
between master and man.
Hans. No need, my lord, I have my pay.
Duke. At first thou seemedst to serve me diligently; yet thou didst
slip as suddenly from my throne as though thou hadst an ailing
Hans [gazing out to sea.] Perhaps. It may be.
Duke. Where hast thou stayed so long?
Hans [without stirring]. I am a servant. I have served.
Duke. What drivest thou now?
Hans. I drive naught, my lord, I am driven.
Duke [threateningly]. It pleases thee to jest.
Hans. And thee to be galled thereat.
Duke. That fellow's corpse was never found! Now clear thyself from
Hans. Think what thou wilt. Covered with wounds I sunk it in the
Duke. I trust thee. If thou wilt swear thy truth to me, then come.
With me all is feasting and revelry.
Hans [looking out to sea again]. Thank thee, my lord. I care not
do murder, and I can play the robber by myself.
Duke. Seize him.
Sköll [beseechingly]. Master, our dearest companion, who never yet
has played us false.
[Duke draws his sword and makes as if to attack Hans.]
Hans [gripping his sword and flourishing it high in the air.] Thou
art the master and wonted to victory; but come too near, and thou hast
only been the master!
Duke. Well, leave him then upon the path where thou hast found him. I
had wellnigh killed instead of paying him.
[He goes out. The others follow. Some of them shake Hans Lorbass
furtively by the hand.]
Hans [alone]. Then there is something holds his spirit in bonds;
will make his race a race of weaklings, will plunge the land itself in
guilt,--and yet they know not their own shame.... Right! Just now
I saw something. Did I not behold, not far from land a blood-red sail
a-dazzle against the blue night cloud? The keel bore sharply toward the
shore--how gladly would I believe the old wife there, when--truly, it
frets me so I must--[He goes to the tower and is about to open the
door. Prince Witte appears in the background.]
Hans [casting himself at the Prince's feet with a shout of
joy]. Master!--Thou hast come! Art thou safe? Unharmed? Here is thy
nose--both ears--thy arm--and there thy sword! Thy voice alone is lost,
Prince. Let me be silent, friend. The horror I have seen stands black
about me and takes the color from my joy.
Hans. What is that, now thou art here? [Stammering.] And even if
thy journey were in vain, if thou hast not brought the heron's feathers
back with thee, what is--
Prince. I brought not the heron's feathers with me? My nightly
watches, twilight's scanty rest, the morning's ardent fiery prayers,
and more than all, the consecrated labor of the day, wherein what has
been obtained from God with tears, must be besieged anew with fierce
resolve, and conquered by the teeth-set "I will," won by obstinate
unshrinking,--sorrow--doubt--danger--struggle--unsuccess to-day and new
onslaught tomorrow--and so on and on--and always forward--have I all
this behind me, and yet have I returned without the feathers?
Hans. Thou hast the feathers? Are they really heron's feathers, from
the very bird?
Prince. Set thy fears at rest; the wonder is fulfilled, and all our
pains dispersed in thankful prayer.
Hans. Forgive me, dear my lord and master, that I forgot a moment the
bare fact itself, to thee so all-important. I knew thou wouldst never
have returned without them, however my heart thirsted after thee.
Prince. Thou wert right. I knew it well.
Hans. Where are they, master? Dost thou bear them in thy breast? I
feel thou wouldest. Chide me if thou wilt, but show them to me.
Prince. Look at my helmet. I understand thy eagerness. No sword can
cleave them from me, no rush of wind displace them. They are the
standard of my fortunes.
Hans. Thy story, master,--come, tell it to me!
Prince. Wait, Hans. The hour will come, at drinking-time, while the
dull camp-fire flickers to its end, and the fierce thirst of fighting
will not let us sleep,--then will I tell the tale and make it glow
Hans. Master, how changed thou art. Thy fire seems smothered, and thy
passions burn less fiercely, being self-controlled.
Prince. Thou art wrong, my friend; in me there dwells no calm. I stir
and seethe. Death itself, which I have conquered, reanimates in me.
Only henceforth I gain by firmer paths the end which I have chosen. My
country that betrayed me, lies small and half-forgotten in the
distance. I measure myself against the great henceforth. What are they?
Myself shall be the arbiter, and fate shall never again allure me with
her cruel "Take what I offer thee" to a starvation feast.
Hans. I look at thee in wonderment. I left thee a boy, I find thee a
man. And for this, though my sword has itched in my hand to answer to
my thoughts, though I have sat for hours on end in gnawing tedium and
spat into the sea, for this result I bless the old wife there. Once
more I may strike good blows for thee, once more be proud to guard thee
Prince [giving him his hand]. It shall be so.... Yes, yes, my lad.
Since I have been gone--how long is it?
Hans. A good two years, master.
Prince. The old wife now, and quickly, that she may open to me all
the enchantment lurking in the feathers, to which I trusted and
surrendered myself. The time has come for this unmolded life to shape
itself after the law of its own desire. Why dost thou hesitate?
Hans. I will go.
Prince. But yet thou mutterest?
Hans. Do not blame me, master; I know of what I speak. First of all,
mistrust the old one. I fear her not ... but something horrible and
slimy crawled in my throat when I first saw her crouching in a grave,
all stiff, her brows drawn and her staring eyes turned inwards
lifelessly.... When a storm stood coal-black in the heavens and gave
the greedy coffins fresh food--lo, there she stood and bade me dig the
graves; and when the wave cast corpses up on the strand, she bore each
one up the hill pressed mother-like to her breast, shaken meanwhile
with a sly laugh; and thus she laughed until they all lay quietly at
rest beneath. Have a care for thyself!
Prince. Yet why? Her work is pious and she tends it faithfully.
Hans. But if she weaves enchantment, master?
Prince. I am the last from whom on that account a threat is fit. It
has turned to blessing for me. To him who chooses sacrifice for his
fate, there often comes the best of gifts,--to see deep into the
unsearchable, and smilingly to build as though within a pleasure-park,
upon the very boundary of the ideal. Once more--
Hans. And once more I stand broad-legged in thy unhappy path and
shout: Do not destroy thyself! Whoever runs after his desire shall
perish in the race; it only yields to him who hurls it from him. Thou
dost not know as yet the old wife's schemes; thou standest now above
enchantment, a young glowing god confiding in the magic of thine own
strength. What thou dost know is that thy prize is hidden, and that the
broad path of possibilities, on which thou thinkest to glide aloft, may
be choked all at once between black walls and leave thee fevered and
panting with the chase, with desire and loathing, eagerness and
shrinking, to hasten on forever and never gain the end.
Prince [pointing to his helmet with a smile]. Look there!
Hans. Thou hast done well to bring them; if the fatal seed of death
does not draw thee down to eternal failure thou must do well indeed!
For now the secret purpose of thy path is about to reveal itself; now
thy proud and self-poised soul pants to mount aloft,--and here I stand
and counsel thee: Hurl away thy prize!
Prince. Thou ravest.
[The Burial-wife appears in the door of the tower, thrown into lurid
prominence by the fire that burns within on the hearth. It grows dark
Hans. Too late. It has begun. [Whispers.] It looks as if the
hearth-fire glowed straight through her parchment skin and wrapped her
bones in flame.
Prince. Burial-wife! Look me in the face!
Burial-wife. Thou hast come! Welcome, dear son!
Prince. Thy dear son--I am not. Thy creditor I am, and I demand my
Burial-wife. What dost thou ask?
Prince. I forced from thee the words that taught me my way; the deed
thou hast demanded is accomplished, and I claim the prize!
Burial-wife. What I have promised thee, I will faithfully fulfil, my
child. A primal force lies within these white husks. They change their
form according to their owner's will. What, then, is thy desire? A
Prince. A woman? There are enough of women. More than one has borne
me down to earth in the snare of her supple limbs, and hampered my
soul's flight. What is a woman? A downfall and a heaviness, a darkness
and a theft of alien lights, a sweet allurement in the eternal void, a
smile without a thought, a cry for naught.
Hans. Bravo! Bravo!
Prince. What I demand now is that queen of women, after whom I have
thirsted even while drinking, by the side of whom my princely dignity
shall appear but as a herald; for whose voice my soul starves though I
sit in the wisest councils of the world; in whom I see our torturing
human weaknesses healed to a joyous beauty; that woman before whom I,
though mad with victory, must bend my proud knee in trembling and
affright; whose blushes shall bear witness to me how a longing heart
can shield itself in modesty; she who will stand in deepest need and
beg with me at the cross-roads; whose love can make death itself pass
me by; this woman, this deep peace, this calm still world in which when
lost I cannot lose myself, where wrong itself must turn to right,--this
woman,--mine--I now demand of thee.
Burial-wife. Snatch down the prize from thy helmet: I will announce
its promise to thee; unless thou art blind or deaf, thou shalt pierce
to the depth of the riddle. The first of the feathers is but a gleam
from the lights and shadows that brew about thee. When thou throwest it
into the fire, thou shalt behold her image in the twilight. The second
of the feathers,--mark it well--shall bring her to thee in love, for
when thou burnest it alone in the dying glow, she must wander by night
and appear before thee. And until the third has perished in the flame,
thy hand stretched forth shall bless her; but the third burning brings
her death: and therefore guard it well and think upon the end.
Prince. I will. Unwarned, I let them wave aloft in mad presumption;
but now I will hide them safe within my gorget. [To Hans.] Why
shouldst thou look at me so grimly? I know myself to be quite freed
from sorrow; all I lack is a faithful companion on the way.... "When
thou throwest the first into the fire thou shalt behold her image in
the twilight." [He pulls out one of the feathers and hastens toward
Hans [boldly opposing him]. What wilt thou do?
Prince. Out of the way? [He opens the door of the tower.]
Hans. Cursed witch, thou hast-- [A sudden bright blaze within the
tower. A flare of yellow light goes up. The Prince comes back.] Art
Prince [looks about wildly]. I see naught.
[Burial-wife points silently to the background, where on the horizon
above the sea the dark outline of a woman's figure appears and glides
slowly from left to right.]
Prince. I see in the heavens a shadowy form, rosy with flame, pierced
through with light. If it be thou on whom my longing hangs, I pray thee
turn thy face and lighten me! Lift the veil from thine eyes! Remain,
ah, vanish not behind the stars,--step down that I may learn to love
thee!... She does not hear. When we part, say how I may know thee
again!... How shall I--? Her figure sways, it fades with the clouds--
was that the sign?
Hans. Thou hast bewitched him finely.
Prince. Still she is mine, as I know who I am! And should she never
long to come to me, yet my soul's longings shall be stronger than she
herself. Hans Lorbass, my brave fellow-soldier, take thy sword and arm
Hans. I am armed. [To the Burial-wife.] The hangman--
Prince. Spare thy curses. She serves my happiness as best she can.
Farewell! We will seek the world over, and when the first promise is
Hans [grimly]. Farewell!
[They go out to the left.]
The Burial-wife [alone]. Go, my children, face the combat, fight
boldly, wield the feathers unrestrained; when you weary, bring me back
your outworn bodies, cast them here upon my shore. But till the time
shall come when I will plant them like twigs in my garden, go and fight
and love and dance ... for I can wait.... I can wait!
Arcade on the first story of a Romanesque palace, separated in the
background by a row of columns from the court below, to which steps
lead down from the middle to right and left. On the platform between
them, facing the court, is a throne-chair, which later is covered with
a curtain. Walks lead right and left rectangularly toward the
background. On the right are several steps to the back, the principal
path to the castle chapel. On the left side-wall in front is a door
with a stone bench near it, and to the left of that another door. On
the right in front is an iron-bound outside door. Stone benches stand
between the columns. The back of the buildings surrounding the court
form the background of the scene. Early morning.
Sköll with his spear between his knees, asleep on a bench. Cölestin
with a page holding a torch.
Cölestin. Put the link out, my son. It hangs on thy tired arm too
heavily.... Yes, yes, this morning many a one thinks of his bed....
What, an alarm so early? Man and steed armed?
Sköll [in his sleep]. Brother--thy health!
Page. Look! The fellow is still drunk.
Cölestin. How else? Would, though, the filthy wretch and his Duke too
with his dissolute bravery, were smoked out of the country!... Still, I
am not anxious. The Pommeranian prince--there is a man of glorious
Page. I fear, my lord, thou art wrong. The horses of the Pommeranian
snort below. They look as though they were about to start.
Cölestin. Hast thou seen aright? The Pommeranian?
Cölestin. I feel as though the earth itself did sway, as though my
poor old head would burst in pieces. Now falls the Fatherland, which,
kingless, thought it might escape from rapine; yet all the while in its
own breast there stood the powerfullest of robbers. Here where a
continual harvest of peace once smiled, where inborn modesty of soul
once paired joyously with ingrown habit and youth grew guiltless to
maturity, the ruthless hand of tyranny will henceforth rest choking on
our necks, and-- [Blows sound on the door to the right.] Who blusters
at the door? Go look.
Page [looking through the peep-hole]. I see a spear-shaft glitter.
[Calling.] What wilt thou without there?
Hans Lorbass's Voice. Open the door!
Page [calling]. Why didst thou come up the steps? The entrance is
Hans Lorbass's Voice. I know that already. I did not care to sweat
there in the crowd. Open the door.
Page. What shall I do?
Cölestin. I am as wrung as though the fate of the whole country hung
on the iron strength of the lock.... Give him his way.
[The Page opens the door, Hans Lorbass enters.]
Cölestin. Who art thou, and what wouldst thou here? Speak!
Hans. My master, a brave knight and skilled in arms, born far in the
north, where he was betrayed in feud with his stepbrother, to atone has
undertaken a journey to the Holy Sepulchre. We have but just now
entered your kingdom, and crave for God's love, if not a refuge, at
least a resting place.
Cölestin. Thou hast done well, my friend. Every wanderer is a welcome
guest in this castle, for our Queen is one from whose soul there flow
deeds of boundless kindness to all the world. From to-day, alas!...
nay, call thy knight, and if he stands on two such good legs as his
servant, I warrant he has shivered many a spear.
Hans. And I warrant, my lord, that thou hast warranted rightly. [He
goes to the door and motions below. Cölestin and the Page look out
from behind him.]
Sköll [dreaming]. Hans Lorbass--seize him!
[Prince Witte enters.]
Cölestin. Here is my hand, my guest. And though thou comest here in
an unhappy hour, I look within thine eye, I gaze upon thy sword, and
feel as though thou hadst lifted a cruel burden from my oppressed soul.
Prince. I thank thee that thou holdest me worthy thy confidence. Yet
I fear that thou art misled; it was no fate drew us together, but only
chance. Thinkest thou that because I took this path I was sent to thee?
Cölestin. No, no! God forbid!--Well, unarm, my friend, ... so, so.
Hans. Whither then?
Cölestin. We have for our guests--they will show it to thee.
Prince. They crowd in early at your doors,--have I come to a
Cölestin. To a ...? Stranger, there burns in me a fever of speech ...
they chide the doting chatter of old men, and yet--
Prince. Thou hast chosen me for thy confidant ... I listen gladly.
Cölestin. Well then: our King, stricken with years, died and left us
unprotected and afraid, for we had no guide nor saviour. The Queen,
herself a child, carried trembling at her breast the babe she had borne
him.... It is six years ago, and all this time have birds of prey
scented the rich morsel from afar and come swooping down upon this fair
land, where unmeasured riches lie. The danger grows--the people clamor
for a master. And so our Queen, who had sat long sunk in modest grief,
now divined in anguish her soul's call, the echo of the kingly duty,
and guessed the sacrifice her land demanded. She tore in twain her
widow's garlands, and made a vow that he who could bear all other
suitors to her feet in battle, should be her lord and her country's
king. The day has come. The lists are hung, the people crowd into the
tournament. Woe to them! Their tears are doomed to fall, for all the
princes who came hither have fled faint-heartedly before a single one,
a man of terror, who is thus victorious without a struggle.
Prince. And this one--who is he?
[A clamor in the court below. A Noble enters.]
Noble. Sir Major-domo, I beg thee, hasten. The guard is in confusion.
The people are already mounting the newly built lists in a countless
Cölestin [pointing below]. Look, there is the flock; but where is
the shepherd? Wait here, while I press into the thickest of the crowd
and give the people a taste of my severity ... though I doubt much if
it will aught avail. [He hastens down by the middle way with the
Noble and the Page.]
Prince Witte. That which I long for lies not here. My sober judgment
whispers warningly within my breast of delay and thoughtless dalliance.
[He seats himself on a bench to the right of the stage and looks up at
Sköll [in his sleep]. Quite right.
Hans. What's that? Eh, there, sleepy-head, wake up!
Sköll. Leave me alone! When I sleep I am happy.
Hans [startled]. What--Sköll?
Sköll. Hans Lor--
Sköll. Well, old fellow, what wilt thou in this berth?
Hans. Thy master is here?
Sköll. Well, yes!
Hans. The devil take him! [Looking round at the Prince.] What now?
Sköll. What now? Why now, we will have a drink.
Hans. What draws you here!
Sköll. Thou knowest, thou rogue! We are the jolliest of jolly good
fellows ever found at a wedding.
Hans [to himself]. Has he the strength for this redeeming act, and
would it break the bonds of the madness that holds him?
[Enter a Herald from the left, behind. Then the Queen, holding
young Prince by the hand, and followed by her women. After them,
Herald. Way there, the Queen approaches!
Sköll [standing attention]. We cannot speak when the Queen comes
Hans [looking towards Prince Witte]. His soul dreams. The distance
holds him spellbound.
[The Queen and her attendants approach. She stops near Prince
Witte, who is not conscious of her presence, and gazes at him long.]
The Young Prince [bustling up to him]. Here, thou strange man,
thou not know the Queen? It is the rule that when she comes we all
should rise. I am the Prince, and yet I must do it too.
Prince Witte [rising and bowing]. Then beg, friend, that the Queen
grant me her forgiveness.
The Young Prince. That I will gladly. [He runs back to the Queen.]
[The Queen passes on and turns again at the corner to look at
Prince Witte, who has already turned his back. Then she disappears
with her women into the cathedral, from which the gleam of lights and
the roll of the organ come forth. The door is closed.]
Hans. Well, did she please thee? Hast thou found her worthy to awake
thy idle sword to deeds of battle?
Prince. It would be no less than idleness for me to unsheathe my
sword in her behalf; for my field of battle lies not here.
Hans. Then come. Thy path is hot. Thy path is broad!--Then hasten!
Already far too long hast thou delayed before this tottering throne,
from which an eye in speechless pleading calls for help.
Prince. At first, when my desires pointed from hence, didst thou not
beg me to delay?--and now!--
Sköll [aside to Hans]. Heaven save us! Brother, who is this? I
would know him a thousand miles away!
Hans [with a gesture towards Sköll, to leave him alone].
I wished to test thee, or perhaps--
Sköll. All good spirits praise--
Prince. Whatever it was, I will go gladly.
Sköll [crossing himself]. All good spirits praise the Lord!
[Bursts out through the door to the left.]
Prince. Why, who was that, that went out in such a hurry?
Hans. Who would it have been? Some body-servant about the castle,
Prince. Where are my--?
Hans. Here is thy shield. Quick, take it.
Prince. Where is that ape that just now--
Hans. Let the filthy rascal go, whoever he is, and come!
[Enter Duke Widwolf. Sköll, behind him, pointing to the Prince.]
Duke. Hans Lorbass, thou shalt pay for this!
Hans. For what, my lord? Here are the very bones whereon thine eyes
desired to feast themselves. It is true they are covered with flesh for
the present, but they are there inside, I swear to thee.
Prince. Silence, Hans! This man stands above thy mockery; for though
he stole my inheritance in despicable treachery, yet he wears the crown
of my fathers, and I bow before it. And until heaven's cherubim call on
me loudly to avenge the wrong, in practice for a better thing I bend
before him, and grind my teeth.
[Duke bursts into a loud laugh.]
Prince. I see destruction naming in thine eyes,--thou laughest in
scorn.... Laugh on. For I shall not avenge myself, nor count it my duty
to shatter the fearful edifice of thy throne. So long as it will uphold
thee and thy blood-blinded sword, so long be thou and thy people worthy
of one another. Enough! Hans, set forth!
[Cölestin and the other nobles come up the steps.]
Duke. Behold, ye noble gentlemen! Blood of the cross, what a hero we
have here! He halts here: makes a mighty clamor: naught has or ever can
delay his march of triumph:--and then on a sudden he makes a short
turn, breathes a deep sigh, and like the other poltroons, leaves the
field to me.
Hans [aside]. Control thyself, master, all this can be borne.
Cölestin. What, stranger, art thou also of princely blood?
Prince. Whether princely or not, my blood is mine, and I myself must
be the judge of what suits it. My host, I thank thee.... I would right
gladly have rested here, gladly have sat down at thy hearth as a humble
Cölestin. Thou earnest on the day of the tournament; and therefore
thou hast come to free the Queen.
Prince. Thou callest me stranger, and will pardon me that I had heard
naught of thy Queen.
Cölestin. Still thou sawest her when she and her women--
Prince. I saw her, yes.
Cölestin. And yet thou thinkest of departure? Art thou made of stone
that thou hast not felt a thrust of pity like a knife, at the mere
sight of that pious grace, that spring-like mildness?
Duke. Who speaks of pity, when I myself protect her with my shield?
Pity?--how--wherefore? Have a care!
Cölestin. Thy threat hath no meaning today. Yet all the same I know
that wert thou king, thou wouldst lay my gray head at thy feet.
Duke. Perhaps. And again perhaps, if this braggart who was sent
hither and now crawls away again, did not quite take off that weak old
head of thine, he would just have thee hanged, out of pure pity.
Cölestin. Thou listenest in silence to this unmeasured raving? I ask
not now upon what throne thy father sat, I only ask the weakling: Art
thou a man? Is this body that glows in prideful youth, only a hardly
fed up paunch? Is the angry red painted upon thy brow, and yet canst
thou endure and not wipe out the insult thou hast received?
Hans [aside]. Master, be stronger now than I have strength myself.
I have naught to say, not I. Only say to me: "Hans, we will go"--and I
will gulp down my rage; and never to the last day of my life shall a
look, a word, a motion of an eye-lash, remind thee of what befell
Prince. Your eyes all hang in hopeful question on my broad-edged
sword; and yet I may not tell you why I wear it, but must endure what
ever you think. Still, know one thing; all the shame which he has
heaped today upon my dulled heart I will add to the need by which he
shattered my young days. I will reckon with him for those thirsting
nights wherein I drank the poison of renunciation,--when my trust in
mankind sank to ruin with my blood-defiled rights,--when in despair I
reckoned my coming manhood by my growing beard,--when my fate became a
lot of powerless shame,--and I will grope along the path where my
desires once ranged themselves when the rousing voice of hope rang out
of abyssmal blankness.... And thus the scorn I have received to-day
glides past my closed ears like unwelcome flattery; and silently I go
[The Queen with the young Prince. Anna Goldhair and her other
women come from the cathedral during the last words.]
Queen. O go not, stranger!
A Noble. Listen, the Queen!
Another. She who was never used to address a stranger.
Queen. A most unhappy woman stands before thee, and with streaming
eyes casts away all the shame that modesty and rank combine to weigh
her with, and prays thee: O go not! For behold! As I came to-day to
God's dwelling-house full of tormenting thoughts--I saw thee on the
way, thou scarce didst notice me--while I stood there before thy face
longing within me that a sign might be given me, it seemed as though
there flowed a something like light, like a murmuring through the
spacious place, as on a festal day the sacred miracle of His presence.
And a voice spoke in my heart: have faith, O woman, he came and he is
thine; to thy people whose courage failed them, he shall be a hero, to
thy child a father.... Then I fell thankfully upon my face. And now I
beg thee: O go not!
Duke. And I tell thee, my lady Queen, he goes! I answer for it with
my sword. If there is a prayer within the hero-soul of him, it runs
thus: dear God, graciously be pleased to spare my reputation only as
far as yonder door.
Prince. Thou liest.
Hans [whispers]. Now defend thyself. Treason to thy being's
sanctuary is a half-voluntary deed.
Prince. Forgive me, Lady, if but hesitatingly I have sworn myself
into thy service. Behold, I tread a half-obscured path, and the dim
traces lead me into the far gray distance ... lead me--and I know not
whither. I know not whether that great night which descends upon the
crudest sorrow of our common day, bringing sleep to the wearied soul,
will wrap me also in its folds, or whether as reward for that
unquenched spirit in me that still must trust, endure, and spread its
wings, the sunshine of the heights at last will smile upon me. I am
Desire's unwearied son; I bear her token hidden in my breast, and till
that token fades or disappears, well canst thou say: "Come die for me,"
but never canst thou say: "Remain."
Queen. Then never shalt thou hear that bitter word, that word so full
of weakness, come from my trembling lips. The blessing of this hour
that passes now shall never rise to distract thee on thy path in the
gray distance. Yet there shall be a charm, rising unspoken in the soul
itself, which when thou pausest wearied on thy journey, shall whisper
to thee where a home still blooms for thee.... Where a balsam is
prepared to heal thy wounded feet, bleeding from the sharpness of thy
path ... where a thousand arms reach out to greet their loved one ...
whence those voices rise that call to thee out of the darkness ... and
where there waits a smile, smothered with joy, to say to thee: "I
charmed thee not."--I will be silent, lest thou shouldst be weary of my
speech; since all my words speak only this desire: it rings within
thine ears,--longing must find a resting-place.
Prince. O, that mine lay not so far from here! There, where the
clouds disperse in light, and the eternal sun kisses my brow, there ...
Enough. Since thou hast asked no more than chance has in a measure
forced me to, whether for good or evil I know not, I must needs grant
thy wish. Hans, arm me.
Duke [whispers], Sköll, do not forget ... where are the others?
Sköll. Who knows?
Duke. But was there not a great feast to-night?
Sköll. Yes. But they flung us out just now.
Duke. Listen! And heed me well. As soon as that rascal has had enough
and grovels in the dust, shout out with all thy might "Hail to King
Widwolf!" Dost thou understand?
Sköll. Eh? Yes, indeed.
Anna Goldhair. Oh! dearest Lady, if I might speak I would beg thee to
go. The sight of all the horrors that gather round us will shake thee
Queen. Who stays for me if I will not for him? And is it not fitting
for an unhappy mother to protect the head of her child even with her
own shattered arm? [To the young Prince.] Listen, my darling. Thou
must go. [To Anna Goldhair.] Take him to my waiting-women. Without
this sight his heart will all too soon burn with a thirst for blood.
The Young Prince. Ah, mother!
Queen. Nay, thou must. But nestle once again upon my breast, my dear
The Young Prince [running up to Prince Witte]. Please, thou
man, be so good as to conquer for us!
Prince [smiling]. If thou art good, my Prince!... How clear their
glances sparkle! From those eyes a world of sunshine bursts; alas, I am
not worthy of it! [The young Prince and Anna Goldhair go out.]
[The Chancellor and a train of nobles come up the steps. After them
guards and two trumpeters. The Chancellor makes obeisance and asks
the Queen a question. The Queen assents silently and mounts,
holding by the balustrade, to the platform on which the throne stands,
pushed to one side. The Chancellor makes a sign to the trumpeters,
and they blow a signal, which echoes below, then he raises the sword,
which a page brings upon a cushion.]
Chancellor. Illustrious Lady, honored Queen, as chancellor of thy
appointed realm, I offer thee this sword whereon to take the oath: that
in thy hand, so strong because so weak, what first prevailed as thy
country's law, what now prevails, and what shall prevail again when
violence and lust cease to clutch after our soul's sanctuaries,--that
law on which we have relied, so mild it was, because created by a free
and happy fatherland--will be forever new and vigorous.
Queen. I swear it on the iron sword of my kingdom, and on the runes
carved thereupon; though nature has denied it to a woman to avenge a
violated oath with her own hand, yet I will never rest in my grave
unless all is fulfilled that I have spoken. I swore it solemnly, and on
this sword I will announce and reavow to you, that whosoever conquers
in this fight may claim me for his wife when he desires.... Speak now,
ye who cursed my mourning and my sorrow's backward glance: do I fulfill
your will with shuddering? Do I not give ye the King ye seek?
[The nobles strike their shields with their swords in token of
Chancellor. Now to you who stand prepared to ring the throne and
kingdom with the sharpness of your swords; before the land submits
itself to the victor, give answer who you are!
Duke. Thou knowest me well.
Chancellor. Who knows thee not? Flames spread before thee hither like
a banner, the vulture knows thee that shrieks after carrion, the auk
knows thee on the blood-furrowed sea; yet custom demands, the which
thou knowest not, that thou shalt name thyself at this hour.
Duke. I am the Duke of Gotland!
Hans Lorbass [highly excited, pointing to Prince Witte]. He is the
Duke of Gotland! [Great disturbance and amazement.]
Cölestin. We are groping here in a black riddle.
Chancellor [to Prince Witte]. Witness thyself.
Prince Witte. If there is a man here in whom dwells a spirit of
sacrifice, a worship of the right, and not of power and bloody gain, to
him I speak, as to a stem of that ancient race which still springs from
Gotland's gods; I boldly say: "I am." But to that vicious misbegotten
wight who cringes in the dust and worships tyranny if it but prosper
him, to him I say: "No, I am not."
Chancellor. A lofty mind, bred in the bitterness which deep sorrow
brings, speaks in thy words and gives them weight. But yet--we know not
who stands before us as the Duke of Gotland.
Duke. It seems to me, my lords, that the sword will show.
Chancellor. True enough. If the Queen will.
[The Queen bows her head in assent. The Chancellor gives a sign
the trumpeters and they blow a signal which is answered below in the
court. The nobles make their obeisances to the Queen and go down the
steps to the right and left.]
Hans Lorbass [meanwhile]. Remember that thrust I showed thee once:
at the arm-joint where the leather is easily cut, thou canst--
Prince Witte [alarmed]. Where are the feathers?
Hans. How--what--? That witch-work to distract thee now? Here is thy
sword, and there the foe! Play with him, tickle him, stroke his beard,
till he weeps blood out of his mouth, till--
Prince. They are quite safe.
[Prince Witte goes last behind Duke Widwolf, with a bow to the
Queen in passing. She watches him in agitation and follows him with
Queen. How is the Prince?
Anna Goldhair. As children always are. At first he wept and tried to
slip away. Then he lay still and had his playthings brought. Now he
lies sprawling under a table, playing at dice, though he understands
Queen. While we go to throw upon his life.
[The Queen, Cölestin, the Chancellor, Anna Goldhair, and the
women go out. The guards draw the curtains behind the throne. The
applause of the people greeting the Queen rises from the court. Then
Sköll. Well, my heart's brother, so we are alone again.
[Hans Lorbass without noticing Sköll, tries to pass the First
Guard after Prince Witte.]
First Guard. Back!
[Hans tries on the other side of the curtain.]
Second Guard. Back! The passage is forbidden.
Hans. I am the Prince's servant!
Second Guard. That may all be; but hast thou not seen--
Hans. I counsel thee, take off thy hands!
Sköll [takes hold of his arm soothingly]. Come, brother of my
heart, be sensible, stay in thy seat; down below there is just a mob of
women, and thou wouldst be no use at all.
Hans. True enough. [The drums sound.] The third call! Now is the
Sköll. Now I can put my hands in my pockets and let them break each
other's necks; if I only had something to drink, then--[as Hans
clutches him by the arm in excitement at the first clash of swords
sounding from below] Ouch! Whew! The devil, what a grip thou hast!
Hans [accompanying the movements below with dumb-show, which is
accentuated by the noise of the crashing weapons]. There! That was a
blow! Take that! [Alarmed.] Guard thyself! Ah, that was good! Now
after him and strike!... He missed! [To Sköll, threateningly.] I
thought thou didst laugh!
Sköll. What should I do?
Hans. I tell thee, thou brute beast, thou calf, thou knave, thou
thief, as truly as I love thee as my brother, I will kill thee!
Sköll. Not so fierce!
Hans. There, which one of them drives the other in the corner, now?
Sköll. What?... I will stand above both sides and wait to see which
one comes out ahead.
Hans. Ho, ho! How the rascal puffs! Yes, thou wilt learn to run, my
fine fellow! Another blow! He struck him not! Now for thy life!--What
is he thinking of? [Shrieks out.] My master bleeds!
Sköll. Ei, ei!
Hans. Wipe it off! Whisk it away! That little blood-letting but
sharpens the anger, pricks the hate and--
Hans. Now gather all thy powers together, master! And all my love for
thee turn into fire and flame, that--
[Pause. Then a woman's shriek is heard, and the ringing fall of a
man's body. A dull murmur of many voices follows.]
Sköll. That was a blow! [Shouting down.] Hail to King Wid--
Hans [seizes him like lightning and hurls him to the ground, then
springs on the bench, waving his sword above his head and shouting.]
Back from his body! You men below there, is there one that wears a
sword and armor?
Hans Lorbass. He will break through the lists with me and drive away
this robber of Samland!
[Cries of rage, together with the crashing of the lists. Hans Lorbass
storms upon the guards, who retreat to one side, and dashes below.
The Queen comes upon the scene half unconscious, supported by Anna
Goldhair and her other women. The Chancellor and other nobles.
Sköll has squeezed himself behind the corner pillar on the right.]
Cölestin [turning from the Queen to a group of men who stand
gazing down on the tumult below]. How goes it now?
Chancellor. That man whose summons hurled the brand of mutiny among
us, look how great and small, man and woman crowd around him shouting
and hustle the Duke to the door! There, he is gone!--the other left!
Who was the devil?
[The uproar grows fainter and seems to lose itself in the distance.]
Cölestin. I know not whether he was a devil or an angel; for without
his shriek of hate we should still be lying beneath the foot of
tyranny, bleeding and weaponless as he who lies below.
[Chancellor motions to him, pointing towards the Queen, who has
revived and is looking about her wildly.]
Queen. Where is the stranger? Why are you silent? I saw him fall ...
did he not conquer?
A Messenger [comes hurrying up the steps]. Hail to our Queen! I
bring glad tidings: the accursed Duke has fled upon a stolen horse. The
people vent their long-stored spleen upon his rascally followers.
Sköll. Woe is me! Alas! [He slips behind the church door and
Queen. And that youth who smiling received the sacrificial blow for
you--think you his life so valueless that no one even remembers him as
a poor reward? Why are you silent? Will no one speak?
Chancellor. We know not whether he is dead, or lives, though sorely
wounded. In every thrust he far over-reckoned the reach of his sword. A
more grievous trouble than this, my Lady Queen, avails to banish our
rejoicing; a broken oath is here, an unatoned-for--
Cölestin. Look! What a sight!
[Hans Lorbass supports the sorely wounded Prince Witte up the steps,
lets him sink upon the bench to the left, and stands before him with
drawn sword, like a guard.]
Hans. Away from here! Whoever loves his life, whether man or woman,
comes not too near!
Queen [approaching him]. Not even I, my friend?
Hans [embarrassed, yielding]. Thou, Lady,--yes.
Queen [takes off her veil, and wipes the blood from the face of the
Prince]. Send for physicians that he may be saved.
Hans. He is saved! If he were not, I'd spring in the very face of
death for him,--I would spring down death's very throat; death and I,
we know each other well.
Chancellor. Thou who breathest out spume and fire as carelessly as
though hell itself had brought thee forth, I ask thee who thou art,
thou unclean spirit, who hast dared to raise this pious people to
revolt by thy furious onslaught, and taught them to poison for
themselves and the ensuing race the holy fount of justice?
Hans. And I will answer thee: I myself am that justice. I bear it on
my sword's point, I carry it here beneath my cap, I pour it forth in my
master's name, who gave it for his glory and his happiness. [Signs of
anger.] If ye believe it not, then listen trembling to the thousand
toned joy that peals from far away like spring thunder quivering in the
air, and sweeps throughout the land the joyous message of deliverance:
we are free!
Chancellor. Speak, O Queen! Thy soldiers wait below. Methinks this
servant of the defeated one has too much confidence,--he speaks as
though he were instead our lord and victor.
Queen. Let him speak! He has the right! And even were he a thousand
times defeated, this man who lies before us bleeding, if he recover and
seek it from me, shall be our lord and conqueror. [Great confusion and
Prince Witte [rousing from his unconsciousness and looking about him
painfully]. There lies the heron! I have wrung his neck, I snatch my
prize, my salvation ... [feeling on his head and in his breast with
anxious dismay] where are the feathers?
Queen. What seekest thou, dear one?
Hans. Thou seest, O Queen, he speaks in fever. Do not listen, do not
heed his words.
Prince. Hans, Hans!
Hans [close by him]. Take care what thou sayest.
Prince [whispers earnestly]. I will away from here ... [with a
glance at the Queen half complainingly] I must away!
Hans. When thou canst.
A chamber in the castle. The two farther corners slope away from the
front. In the left corner is a bay-window with a platform, to which
steps lead up. Burning torches are stuck in the branches of the pillars
which flank the steps. In the right corner is a fireplace. One can look
beyond into an ante-chamber, and farther on, through a wide door-way
whose curtains are drawn back, into a thickly planted garden, which at
the end of its middle path shows a little of the surrounding wall. In
the middle of the room is a table with seats about it. At the left in
front is a couch with furs and cushions on it. At the right is the door
to the sleeping apartments.
The Queen sits on the platform with her distaff before her, and
gazes dreamily into the red glow, which shines through the window. Two
old women sit spinning before the fire-place, in which a dying fire
glimmers. Anna Goldhair and the young Prince on the steps of the
platform. Through the drawn curtains plays the red evening light.
The Young Prince. Say, mother, will the father come soon?
Queen. Of course.
The Young Prince. Will he come before my bed-time?
Queen. I do not know.
The Young Prince. The wood is full of darkness, is it not?
Queen. Where our King goes, there is always light!... What, Anna, art
thou eavesdropping? Must I blush before thee, because I voiced a cry
out of my soul's longing, which envious time would smother?
Anna Goldhair. Beloved Queen.... I know well that I am too young; my
little thoughts whisk twittering like swallows through my head,--
The Young Prince. And she pretends to me she is so wise!
Queen. Run, run, my child!
The Young Prince. I will get her by the hair first! [He tugs at
Anna's hair. Anna Goldhair pushes him off laughing.] Just wait!
[He runs from her to the spinning-women, and teases them.]
Anna Goldhair. But if thou hast need of any one to whisper to, in
whose breast at the still evening-time to plunge thine overflowing
soul--of anyone who if need were, could go for thee to her death as to
a feast,--thou knowest, dearest Queen, I am that one!
Queen [caressing her]. Yes, deep in my heart I know that thou art
mine. [She rises.] But if it be death here for any human being, I am
Anna Goldhair [frightened]. What troubles thee, beloved Lady?
[Three maidens, young and pretty, have entered shyly.]
Queen. It is nothing,--nothing!... Why, here! What seek you my
children?... What not a word? Have you a favor to be granted, a
complaint to make? If you cannot speak, why then you must go away
Anna Goldhair. Mistress forgive them. They are of thy train, and they
have asked me to plead for them, lest their too eager speech should
lose for them the favor they desire.
Anna Goldhair. Dear Mistress, there is an old custom that runs thus:
when Easter-tide has come into the land, when the thorn bush grows
faintly green, when the blue wave shines bluer, when our desire takes
wing to sport among the flying things of spring,--that then, upon the
coming of the first full moon, the night must be watched out with sport
and dance. In a word they would sing.
Queen [smiling]. Ah, yes!... But tell me, dear children, if you
knew it, then why did this custom vanish from the land so many years?
Anna Goldhair. We honored thy sorrow, my Queen.
Queen. Well, then, go out and dance and frolic and sing together all
night long! Know you the song that you should sing?
[The maidens nod eagerly.]
Queen. Go out and drink the moonlight as it pours down through the
branches; I think we little know how blessed we are.
[The maidens courtesy and kiss her hands and garments.]
Queen [as she turns away smiling]. Why are you old ones shivering?
Why look you so strange? Is it cold? Then you must rake the fire!
One of the Old Women. Mistress, we spin our winding-sheets. Shall we
not be cold?
Queen [drawing the young Prince to her]. Do not listen to
them! [Cölestin enters.]
The Young Prince. Oh, Uncle Cölestin! [Runs to him.] What hast
brought me, Uncle Cölestin?
Cölestin [lifting him up]. A great sandman, and a small goodnight!
Queen. The King is come? Thou wouldst announce him?
Cölestin. No, my Lady. We heard his horn in the distance, but it died
away again. I come before thee a gloomy messenger. In the great hall
beyond there waits the council of the realm....
Queen. Stop! You, my women, seek your rest; my son, to bed!
The Young Prince. And am I not to see the father again till morning?
Ah, mother, please!
Queen. If thou canst not sleep, Anna shall take thee up and bring
thee here. Is it well so, dear one?
The Young Prince. Yes.
Queen. And goodnight!
[The Prince, Anna Goldhair, and the women go out.]
Queen. We are alone ... yet what a pity with too cool reason to chill
the buds of the May evening, which plunges all the waking soul into
sweet sickness.... But speak!
Cölestin. Lady, I know not how I shall begin. The words come
stumbling from my lips. Thou knowest how we love him, and how, since
thou hast given him thyself, there is no single life but stands
prepared to serve him without a thought of self. And how does he reward
us? He shuns our glance, a smouldering suspicion breaks out whenever we
would speak in seriousness to him, and throws its shadows on us darkly.
The people idolize him. They greet him, great and small, with clapping
hands and waving kerchiefs,--why must we stand aloof? Is he ashamed of
us?--or of himself? I know not. A mysterious sadness clouds his eye so
falcon-bright, and even while our hearts still yearn upon him, he grows
a stranger to us, who was never our friend.
Queen. It is your too easily wounded love complains of him.
Cölestin. If that danger--
Queen [without listening to him]. I see it, but I scarce can
blame it. I blame no one. I have built for myself out of dreams and
smiles a strong strong wall, outside of which you wait, thieves of my
happiness--nay, my friend, look not so grieved!--and out of which you
know not how to lure me, either by cunning or by clamor.
Cölestin. Still, hast thou never come upon that knowledge, deep
within thy heart, which tells thee how in everything that is and was
and needs must be throughout our lives, a never expiated wrong must
weigh us down?
Queen. Never, my friend! In my soul there rings but one harp-tone,
one voice, which says: be happy!
Cölestin. And thy oath, Lady?
Queen. My oath?
Cölestin. Didst thou not swear before us all and in the sight of
heaven that he who hurled his rival to the earth, not he who lay there
shameful in defeat, might dare approach thee as thy lord and king?
Queen. But tell me, my dear friend, did he not conquer?
Cölestin. What madness has so blurred events for thee?
Queen. I know he conquered, for he is here!
Cölestin. Here indeed he is, but with what right?
Queen. The right that raised for him in that dark hour when the cruel
wound gaped in his throat, a faithful servant to avenge him; a servant
whose brave shout and lifted blade have taught me this one thing: high
above the right there stands the sword, and high above the sword stands
Cölestin. May this wisdom please the Omnipotent, and may he pity
thee, and all of us!
Queen. It was not given to everyone to know it; but it has brought
the King to me! Hark, do I hear a horn? How near it sounds! My King is
coming! My King is here!
The Same. King Witte, the Chancellor and other councillors and
nobles. Hans Lorbass stands guard at the door, spear in hand, at
King [embraces the Queen and kisses her on the forehead. Comes
forward with her, but turns back irritably]. What do you want?
Chancellor. My lord, while thou didst tread the forest paths,
following the hunt, a fierce onslaught of new trouble came swooping
down upon our land.
King. Trouble, always trouble! Mouldy, gray and blear, it lives far
longer than one's whole life! Must you, even in the daytime, din your
night-song in my ears?
Chancellor. This time--
King [mocking]. "This time "--I wager the state will crack in
pieces! [Turning to the Queen.] If they had naught at which to fear,
I should have naught at which to laugh!
Queen. Dear one--!
King. Hush! It makes me glow with anger, only to look upon these gray
countenances, gloomy as the grave, full of foreboding, heavy with woes,
and yet with that little glint of malice in their half-lowered lids.
Must I suck in these complaints that fall drop by drop upon me? I might
lay about me recklessly--but what am I to dare it?
Queen. All art thou, all darest thou, all hearts bow before thee!
Canst thou not guess their dumb entreaties, not understand their timid
longings? Look, they give thee so much, they give with open hands;
their love enfolds thee, blooms everywhere for thee to pluck! Go down
among them, then, step into their hearts, and speak, I beg thee,
graciously and kindly.
King [softened]. I will try, thanks to thee! Speak, as thou
me: why does this anger and this curse fall daily and hourly over me?
My friends, mislike me not for my impatience, for one thing I know
right well, that I stand deeply in your debt. And now, speak!
Chancellor. My lord, I speak--not trembling, for long necessity has
wonted us to terrors as to daily bread--of the fate which I have long
seen approaching, and which now stands thirsting for blood before us.
King [starting]. Duke Widwolf!
Chancellor. Is mustering an army!
King [feigning calmness]. What then?
Chancellor. He makes his boast that when the ice on the northern sea
has turned to sheeted foam, he will descend with full a hundred ships
and fall upon us like an avenging spirit.
King. The avenging spirit is a worthy part for him to play.
Chancellor. Still thou knowest this once he serves a righteous cause.
King. What sayest thou?
Chancellor. Is not this realm, O King, forfeit to him as a reward of
King. May the word choke thee! As a reward of victory? Oh, stands it
so with you, my lords? Do you stare at me? What means the scorn that
lurks in your eyes? Have I been here too long? Do you already rue your
Chancellor. We rue it not, my King!
King. Say yes, say yes! Why so much pains with one who lay in the
dust, whom you so mercifully raised up that everyone might value me as
he chose, not as he must? Was it that I should fawn upon you, stroke
and caress and flatter you, and die, instead of that one death I owed
you, a thousand daily deaths?
Chancellor. Thou hast seen no hatred in us. A reflection of thine own
feeling has deluded thee.
Cölestin. And if thou hast heard the word guilt, it was but thus: let
me be guilty with thee! [Queen nods gratefully to him.]
King. Very fine! Quite beautiful! Accept my thanks! Hans! Come here
and tell me what thou sayest to all this.
Hans Lorbass [comes forward boldly]. Lord Chancellor and Lord
Marshal, you nobles, councillors, and wise men all, who let yourselves
be plagued with doubts like flea-bites,--if you permit it I will say
one thing to you: between sin and punishment, between right and wrong,
between hate and love, and good and bad, between sand and sea, and
swamp and stone, between flesh of women and dead men's bones, between
desire and possession, between field and furrow,--he goes, a man of
men, straight through,--looking to neither right nor left!
King [with a smile of satisfaction]. Good words, for which we
reward him. Yes, if you all thought with him, then I might bravely, out
of the fulness of-- Enough! We each do what befits us and what it was
decreed that we should do. We can no more. Time came upon us undesired
and unasked,--even to-day. Each of us drags listlessly our weight of
humanity unto the grave. Farewell my lords.... Lay by your letters. I
will prove, as it stands I will-- Yes, and give your wisdom air, my
dear friends, for it grows musty! [Cölestin, the Chancellor, and the
other nobles go out.] Hans, stay!
King. Well, my wife?
Queen. Thou lookest at me so earnestly.
King. I am smiling.
Queen. Yet sorrow looks from all thy features. My friend, I fear that
thou canst never learn to yield thyself up to this country.
King. Yield thyself, thou sayest. Belie thyself,--it is the same. To
me it is a polished farce, at which I play and play and play myself
quite out, entangled sleepily in fog and mist. But sometimes comes a
wandering south wind, and plays faintly with its wings upon my wearied
soul, striking vague and half-audible dream tones.
Queen. Thou torturest thyself.
King. And thee, my wife,--forgive! I look at thee and know that thou
hast long hung in imploring anguish on my neck; it shames me, for see,
I love thee!
Queen [repeats half dreamily]. I love thee.
The Voice of the Young Prince. Papa.
King. Art thou still awake, my son?
The Voice of the Young Prince. Papa, may I come in?
King. Thou mayst. [Enter the young Prince with Anna
The Young Prince [running to the King]. Papa, papa!
King. My boy, didst thou do well to leave thy bed and run with such
haste to thy playfellow?
Queen. He begged me, and I let him.
King. So then. [To himself.] Now calm, quite calm!
The Young Prince [running to the door]. Hans, did they shoot much?
King. Thy name is Anna with the golden hair?
Anna Goldhair [shyly]. They call me Goldhair--but--
King. Let it be, it is true. [To the Prince.] Come here!
The Young Prince. Yes, father.
King. Listen! If thou hast that in thee that seethes and bubbles and
strives to burst out, then smother it! When others take to themselves
the cream from off thy cup of life, do not curse and slay them! Smile
and be calm,--quite calm, there still remains in my breast, I fear, a
little of that former passion and unrest; I will employ it to shield
this calmness of thine.
The Young Prince. Have I been bad, father? When thou lookest at me
so, I am afraid.
The Young Prince. The father is angry.
Queen. The father jests.
The Young Prince. Good night!
King. Good night!
Queen. I cannot find the key that harmonizes with thy mood; though
once I knew how to resolve into harmony all the dissonance in the
world. Perhaps the knowledge will come back again.
Queen. And good night! [They clasp hands. The Queen, the
and Anna Goldhair go out.]
King. No statue stands in the cathedral gates as stony as thou art.
Hatred grazes thee, envy seeks to belittle thy worth. But thou smilest
not. Thou movest in silent resignation, so tense, so ... Say, how canst
Hans Lorbass. I serve.
King. Is that the reason?
Hans Lorbass. A servant has no choice. Else had I torn from off its
nail my spear which the worms are conquering, burnished my shield and
mail, and with a shout of righteous anger which has gnawed its chain
for years, I would leap forth--where? Thou knowest, master!
King [smiling bitterly]. What use? He serves a righteous cause.
Hans Lorbass. Master, I will not look longer upon this farce! Lay
about thee, kindle flames, slay, torture, make a harvest of the
people,--but laugh and feel thyself a man once more!
King. A man? A husband! That is the word! That is my office. And my
virtue. Wouldst thou soar? Then load a burden on thy back. Art thou
hungry? Then toss away thy food. Dost thou hear thy heart clamor within
thee after freedom? Seek a prison, and lay thee down therein.
Hans Lorbass. Dost thou hate her so?
King. Hate her? Her--from whose soul a mildness like honey drops on
mine? Her, in whose golden beauty the loveliness about her pales to a
shadow? If I knew a blot which she had hidden from me, a single grain
of dust upon the mirror of her soul, a single pretext however bald or
hollow, then I should have a weapon with which to pierce my shame, to
free me from this need of speaking out my humility--oh, might I hate
her, my God, it would be well for me! But at that glance of sorrowing
goodness with which she smiles on all our faults, all trace of defiant
courage dies in me, and I am weaponless because she is.
Hans Lorbass. Then come, escape!
King [smiling wearily]. True, the door stands open.
Hans Lorbass. And when we have once passed the border, thou canst
learn to forget.
King. Perhaps! It may be! But can I learn to hope again? I went forth
a conqueror; joyous self-confidence was my companion on the way--my
bright horizon stretched itself to the boundless heavens. And now? I
wear a sickly crown, which did not fall to me as victor, but fell upon
me as I fell myself; and this fall has so sweated it to me that neither
help of hands nor curses, but only death itself can tear it from my
Hans Lorbass. Well, at least thou hast it; thou hast a crown, thou
King. King am I? Wilt thou mock me? Dost thou think I am so besotted
as not to know my state? Yea, I might be king, were not the youth
already ripening to maturity for whom I guard his throne from harm
until he occupies it!
Hans Lorbass. But every man holds what he has and hopes to have, in
security, in pawn, as it were, for his children.
King. Yes, for his own, not for a stranger's.
Hans Lorbass. Then get some of thy own.
King. To beg their bread? Thou knowest that in this whole kingdom of
which I am king, there is not a single crust of bread, not a rag, that
I may call my own. It is all his.
Hans Lorbass. What is in thy head?
King. Say naught! A man may wear his shame, may panting draw it
draggled after him, and yet in spite of it he can hunger, thirst, and
draw his sword. But when he must say to himself besides: thou hast
squandered thy own happiness in shameful dalliance,--to whom then, dare
he show his face? Yes, thou canst do all!... Yet one thing thou canst
not do: thou never canst give back to the world its face of bloom. The
great festal day that lay red and golden over all the earth, on which I
closed my eyes when I lay down to rest, which roused me to joyous labor
with its fanfare, which cast on toil itself a glorious light,--that,
thou canst never bring back to me. Never.... Never again. The
spring-time gleams to-day in vain. In vain the blossoms crowd to show
their splendor to me, in vain do autumn's golden apples bow to my hand.
Another hand will pluck them, while I descend my narrow path, hedged in
with poverty, weighed down with despair, shut in with duties as with
graves, and see my own grave stretched across the end. Thus I go on and
on, so quietly,--yet all the time I stifle in my throat a cry, a
shriek,--oh, save me from my daily burden, friend!
Hans [to himself]. A last hope,--but dare I venture it? I must.
Lest he languish and slip hither beneath my eye. [Aloud.] Master, if
thou cherishest a grief, thou hast then forgot the talisman--
King. The what?
Hans Lorbass [watching him]. The feathers thou didst once possess.
King [feeling in his breast. Angrily]. Be still.
Hans Lorbass. Since thou still wearest them on thy heart, why--
King. Be still, I tell thee, churl!
Hans Lorbass [bursts out]. Cursed be the churl that dog-like
himself to thee. Yet I will be thy dog, that I may howl, for at least I
have that right.
King. No one shall speak of them,--neither I nor thou. The door is
closed upon the past. All is done, is spent, and these feathers are
nothing but a mark of my violent downfall, a monument to my dead
Hans Lorbass. It is dead, then? It lives and cries aloud,--so loud
that even the deaf could hear! Have courage, wield the magic power, and
call thy unknown bride to thee.
Hans Lorbass. Where else? I trust in the charm thou hast wrung from
the witch-wife. I remember it well. [Repeating] "The first of the
feathers"--no, it is burned. [Repeating] "The second feather, mark it
well, shall bring her to thee in love; for when thou--burnest--it"--
King. "Alone in the dying glow, she must wander by night and appear
Hans Lorbass. Well?
King [in great agitation]. The thought thou hast thrown out in
faring jest, has lain a last hope, deep within my hearts shrinking
Hans Lorbass. Why hast thou when so devil-ridden, not yielded to the
King. Hast thou forgot what else she said?
Hans Lorbass. What she said--she spoke of the third feather.
King [repeating]. "Until the third has perished in the flame, thy
hand stretched forth shall bless her"--
Hans Lorbass [going on]. "but the third burning brings her
King. Suppose she should come now and vanish again?
Hans Lorbass. But why?
King. Ask thyself what it means--my hand stretched forth shall bless
her--if I have and hold her? Would fate withdraw her gift a second time
and leave me no security? Does a new misery lie in wait behind the dark
disguise of these words? Thus I have delayed the deed, hoping I might
be new-redeemed, by my own strength, without the laming weakness of
enchantment, to see and win the woman of whom my soul has dreamed. All
that is past.... The broken pinion can no longer unfurl itself....
[listening.] I hear laughter outside. What is it?
Hans Lorbass [lifting the curtain]. Only our maidens, who sport
outside, modest and chaste as their land's innocence.
King. I will employ this hour of rest, while they dance there beneath
the birches, to set the charm to work, and call my long-dead happiness
as guest. Now go!
Hans Lorbass. Thou knowest, master, danger often comes from business
such as this.
King. Danger--for whom?
Hans Lorbass. Let me stay with thee! Crouched in the farthest
King. The charm says it must be done alone.
Hans Lorbass. Well then! I will hold a watch outside. [Goes out.]
The King [alone. Looks about distrustfully, then draws the feathers
from his corselet, puts one back and goes toward the fireplace with the
other]. The fire dies down? Then thou canst strive to brighten it, as
thou hast the flames of my will.... Too late! Naught but this lazy,
luke-warm heap of sodden ashes. What is to be done now?--The torch,
a-flicker there! Though thy dim mocking glimmer has often frightened me
in the forest it smiles alluringly at me now. And look, above, the
parchments which so long have made my life a hell--now I know how to
use you! Out of the paper sorrows of my country I will kindle for
myself a glad new morning,--a new sun shall rise for me in their light!
[He hurls the torch among the rolls and they take fire.] And now!
[He tosses the feather into the flames. A violet lightning flashes
high above the stone chimney-piece. A light peal of thunder follows,
with a long roll like the noise of rattling chains. The door on the
right has sprung open. As the King stares wildly about, the Queen
enters, at first not seen by him, and stands with closed eyes near the
King [turning round]. What wilt thou here?
Queen [opening her eyes]. Didst thou not call?
King. I--call thee?... But hush!... No, nothing, nothing! No shadow
climbs the starred blue sky ... no light ... only the moon laughs in
the green water, and laughs ... and laughs.... The world is drained
quite empty. Thou hast done well, Maria ... thou holdest thy watch
faithfully. No spy could have done better.
Queen. I came because thou--
King. Hast called me? Was that it? I knew it well.
Queen. And if thou hadst not called--
King. Thou wouldst still have come, to see that no thief was gliding
up the steps of thy throne [aside] alone, alas, alone--a thief of
fortune, such as pious women like thyself, whose longings form but to
be granted, brew spectre-like in their porridge pots. Wouldst thou not?
Queen. For God's sake, what burns there?
King. My manhood! Let it burn, child, let it burn! While I sat
piously amid thy flock, there came a flame of piety upon me, burning
more fiercely than myself, and burned and burned, until I was consumed
with piety.... But thou, woman, that thou mayst know how in this dark
hour thou hast snatched the cup of freedom from my longing lips,--I ask
thee, woman, what have I done to thee? What have I done, that thy
love-longing--I will not mock, else I had said love-lust--should force
me, who was naught to thee, to grovel in the dust here at thy feet?
Now hast thou what thou wilt. Here stands thy spouse, the second
father of thy son,--thy mock, thy love potion and thy sleeping-draught,
catch-poll of the great, butt of the small, and to both a vent for
every scorn. Yes, gaze upon me in my pride! This am I, this hast thou
made of me!--speak, then, and stand not staring into space! Strike
back, defend thyself; that is the way with happy married folk.... Well?
Queen. Witte, Witte!
Queen. Witte, Witte!
King. So piteously thou callest me, child! Thus piteously stands thy
image in my soul's midst.
Queen. No more.
King. Well, then?
Queen. It is past. It must be past. Alas, how many a night have I
pictured myself thy happiness, thy refuge, thy solace,--oh, pardon me!
I had so much love to give to thee, so wholly lay my trembling soul
within thy hand, such streams of light and glory leaped and played
about me,--how could I know that what was so precious and so dear to me
was naught at all to thee? Now I know how I have deceived myself; it
grieves me sorely, and for many a year must I endure and sorrow. But to
thee I grant the one gift left for me to give,--thy freedom. Take it,
but ah, believe, I love thee!
King. Shall I be free, Maria?
Queen. Free; and more than that; thou shalt be happy. I shall know
thee so glad, so radiant, so buoyantly poised heaven-high above all
black necessity, whether here or far away, so unfalteringly turned
toward the light upon the eagle wing of thy desire, that a reflection
of thy radiance shall laugh into my lonely darkness.
King [takes her head between his hands and gazes at her steadily].
Listen, Maria! Should I say: I thank thee,--how raw 'twould sound!...
And yet I feel thy meaning; as I drank in thy words, there slipped away
and fell from my breast a ... Maria, thou art weeping!
Queen [smiling]. What slipped away, what fell? Thou art silent
King. Look, what thou givest, thou Lady Bountiful, is not thine to
give. But thou hast given so freely of thy kindness, that at thy words
something like happiness itself flowers out of black necessity itself,
whose slave I am. I may not be free in very truth; but thou hast so
generously hidden my chains, so mercifully forborne all blame of my
weak struggle for self-redemption, that freedom's self seems near. I
welcome her, and feel new blood course through my tainted and
Queen. Why should I judge thee, and not rather love? For why else am
I thy wife?
King. Come here! Come to me! Sit down--nay, here!... How strange it
is! I thought to flee before thee, and only fled with all my pain
straight to thy arms.
Queen. So shouldst thou! And so long as thou needest me, so long will
I be at thy side.... But when thou sayest: "Enough! I ride abroad to
seek my happiness," then all silently will I vanish from thy path.
King. And thus thou gavest me thy life, without condition or return;
and with sweet service snatched me from the grave. But when I was whole
once more, I felt so confined within the hedge thy tenderness had built
about me, so twined about with thy gentle arms, so dazed by weakness
and by shame, that I seized eagerly, as on a penance, upon thy offered
throne. My deed seems voluntary now, and like a weak submission to the
fate that bore me, the faithless one, here to thy feet. Thou art no
less than I its victim,--then forgive me if for a moment I rebelled at
the sight of my last hope strewn to the winds.
Queen. We sit here hand in hand, and, third in our company sits
King [shaking his head]. Nay, if a man has found a friend whose
voice is gentle, whose soul speaks harmony and keeps sweet accord with
his in that holy hour which turns our griefs to calm, whose love rings
true in sorrow and in joy,--such a man is far from deepest misery.
Queen. Thou speakest so gently now, and yet thou couldst speak so
cruelly before! Nay, I mean no reproach, no blame. I have hung so long
upon the hope of being thy happiness, that even the smallest change
upon thy face has become to me a consciousness of some fault of mine.
And when I saw a laugh in thine eye, a smile, or even a single friendly
beam, the whole broad world lay straightway in sunshine. Yet do not
tell me that I am too fond. It is not that ... or only a very, very
little. For look, I have a child; and my heart has the same gift for
him. Thou canst believe there was a struggle there. And just because I
yearned for thee so deeply, there fell a shadow over thine ... it was
Queen. I thought that he was dear to thee.
King. That he is. Yes.
Queen. How many times hast thou beguiled the time in play and frolic
with him, at all the little dreams that make his. Thou hast poured into
his the strength of thy own soul.
King. Let the child be. I love him, thou knowest it. A little
unwillingly, but what is that? He is not of my blood.... Let be. Speak
of thyself. With every word thou drawest a thorn out of my soul.
Queen. What shall I say? Am I so powerful, then? And yet--I am!
Thou gavest my power to me! Nay, before that--I learned it from a
gray-haired man. Still half a child, I owed my love to him; and gave
it, though as yet I knew not how to love.
[The swinging maidens outside have begun to sing.]
King. Hark! What is that? Some one is singing. How their voices exult
together, as if they mocked the sound!... The air thrills as with the
tremulousness of virgin bells on Sunday from a far-off lonely height.
Queen [who has drawn aside the curtain. On the moonlit sward the
white-robed maidens are singing]. Are they not fair, thy singing land,
thy moonlit house?
King. Come back! Let the curtain fall! Give me thy hand, and I will
drink therefrom a draught of deep forgetfulness. Lay it upon my burning
forehead, ah, so coolingly! So rests the snow upon the slopes in my
childhood's home.... My home ... what is it to me now?... A balmy wind
blows over me ... it rises from a blue flower-besprinkled spot, far,
far away, where happiness begins ... it seems so very long. I have not
slept. I think ... [He sleeps.]
Queen [after she has tenderly pillowed and covered him]. I hold
thee to my breast, beloved prisoner; at this hour thou art mine, even
if tomorrow thou wouldst tread me in the dust. Until tomorrow is a long
respite, to have thee and to hold thee, to give to thee a thousand
golden gifts--if thou desirest them. How many joyous fountains might
leap to the light of day from their deep sleep in my heart's depths.
Alas that no word breaks their enchantment! They must sink back again
from whence they came. Never will sunshine build its seven-hued bridge
between my dream and the reality, between to-day and happiness. Thou
wilt go from me, I must see but cannot hinder it; but tonight thou
still art mine,--I may protect the slumber of my sleeping child.
[Before going out, she draws the curtain so that the moonlight streams
in. Hans Lorbass, spear in hand and quite motionless, is visible for
a moment, and steps aside at the approach of the Queen.]
A vaulted tower in the castle. In the centre of the background is a
landing with stairs going up and down. Beyond, a corridor that loses
itself in the distance. In the left foreground a window, and next to it
a vaulted passage. In the right foreground a door bound with iron, and
next to it a chimney-piece. In the middle of the room is a table with
the remains of a feast upon it. Overturned goblets, burned-out lights,
stringed instruments, garments, etc., about. On the left side of the
stage is the throne, with the King's arms hanging upon it. Night, and
half-darkness. The wind wails faintly in the chimney.
Anna Goldhair cowering with covered face in the shadow of the throne.
Hans Lorbass and Cölestin enter from the landing.
Hans Lorbass. Master!... No answer.
Cölestin. His lair is empty. The hall seems forsaken. Nothing, but
the sighing of the autumn wind. Not even a trace of the women that herd
Hans Lorbass. And before the door, the foe.
Cölestin. We are to suffer for his sins.
Hans Lorbass. Pah!--We!
Cölestin. Since he so far betrayed morality as to draw to his lustful
embraces the young maid with the golden hair, even from the very feet
of his most virtuous spouse, it has gone ill with him and us. For half
a year this shameless wanton bond has blazoned itself beneath this
Hans Lorbass. If I choose to cry him down, why it is my affair. I
advise thee, old man, to let it be.
Cölestin. Have I ever yet mingled with the crowd that boldly raise
their heads against him? But now the foe hangs at our very heels,--and
he, instead of showing fist in need, buries a thorn in our own flesh;--
must I still be silent?
Hans Lorbass. Gabble or not, as thou choosest. Dost thou think the
slime out of thy old mouth can make him slippery enough to--
Cölestin. Hark! [A muffled drum-beat]. The morning signal of the
Hans Lorbass [stretching out his arms]. Come, mighty hour!
Cölestin. There is one way ... some one might ... with more influence
than I ... seek out the King and fetch him here. The tardy day still
lies in heavy sleep . . wilt thou go? [Hans Lorbass nods.]
Cölestin. Good! [Going out.] I am cold.
Hans Lorbass. What? All empty?... Thou shadow there, give answer what
thou art. What, Goldhair, thou? Asleep here on the stones? Where is the
King?... The King, where is he?
Anna Goldhair [gets up trembling]. I do not know.
Hans Lorbass. Is he asleep somewhere?
Anna Goldhair. No.
Hans Lorbass. Where have the women gone, then,--those wanton
flaunting blossoms of his?
Anna Goldhair. He sprang up from the table to-night and drove them
out with scourging.
Hans Lorbass. How was he before that?
Anna Goldhair. His greeting long since stiffened into silence and
sternness. All night long his feet have wandered up and down the
Hans Lorbass. And to-night--which way did he go?
[Anna Goldhair motions towards the left.]
Hans Lorbass. Give me a light.
Anna Goldhair [as she takes a taper from the table and gives it to
Hans Lorbass. Well?
Anna Goldhair. Hans--dost thou know what the Queen says of me?
Hans Lorbass. Queens are no friends of thine; the women will have
none of thee now. Thou'dst best befriend thyself, and be thine own
queen. [He goes out.]
[Anna Goldhair cowers down again in the shadow of the throne. Then,
from behind, the King.]
King [coming forward]. When I was yet a little boy I loved to put
my ear down to the earth and shudder at the danger coming toward me in
the thunder of the horses' hoofs. Even so now, the voice of the north
wind wails aloud in the chimney how grim-visored death stands
threatening upon my outer wall.... Was it for this the sea once rolled
in music to my feet, for this my drawn sword thrilled in my hand, for
this a woman beckoned me from out the clouds,--that here in this corner
my young and lusty body should rot away to naught? Patience yet! I know
my revenge! Though every broil burst out here, though my life itself
were forfeit, though I became a very brute, scurvy and bleeding, goaded
to despair, yet justice should be done! Only wait! I will die right
joyfully, but fight--I will not. [He sees Anna Goldhair.] What,
Goldhair, thou awake? Come here!--Come, I command thee! Thou wast no
joyous guest at the feast, I warrant. Nor I.... Do not speak,
Goldhair.... Hush! Lest they believe I vaunt my sin. But then, what
they believe is naught to me. Come, give me thy hand. Thou art fettered
to me,--yet thou wast only a plaything, only a splinter of glass
wherein I saw my image, only the last string of a broken lute.... Lean
down. I will entrust something to thy care: here, under my doeskin
corselet I carry a treasure. It is not much to see, neither gold nor
precious stone,--only a feather. I won it once, it was a prize,--that
was long since.... Enough, that it was precious to me. If I should come
to harm to-day, take it and throw it in the fire. Wilt thou?
Anna Goldhair. Yes, sire.
King. I thank thee. [Caressing her.] Why dost thou shroud thy
pretty hair with a grey veil? It is still golden. Dost thou thus seek
to shroud dreams of the past? What look'st thou at so? [Whispers.] Is
thy sorrow for thy Queen.
[Anna Goldhair hides her face in her hands, shuddering.]
King. Then cease thy grief ... methinks the sword already clangs
without to bring thee peace.
Hans Lorbass. Master.
King. Thou, Hans, here in my tower, which thou hast so avoided? What
brings thee here?
Hans Lorbass. We are attacked. The Duke has surrounded the castle by
night with a thousand men. The battering-ram and beam had even begun
their cursed work, when suddenly there came a lull, and by the glow
of torches we saw upon the plain a white flag held aloft upon a
lance-point. We held communication a spear's length from the camp.
There he stood, murder in his glance, and there stood Sköll and Gylf,
and all the other vermin that have crawled to his feet; and he rolled
his eyes, gnashing his teeth like a nut-cracker--Heaven send we're not
King. What offer did he make?
Hans Lorbass. A respite until day-break, in which time to yield
thyself and me into his hands.
King. Me, Hans, and alone.
Hans Lorbass And if they yield he will allow his heart to melt with
pity; he will butter on both sides the bread of all the people who will
shout for him. That is his way; all innocence, like the rest of us.
King. And if?
Hans Lorbass. If not? He swore,--and here his spleen burst out--that
let a single sword be raised against him, a single spear be laid in
rest, and he would hang and quarter every living, breathing thing,
without mercy. This he calls choking rebellion in the seed.
King. And what was the decision of the people?
Hans Lorbass. The people will fight.
King. Will fight? Will fight? This flock of nestlings, lacking in
every sort of strength, inspired by no courage-breeding fire, wanting
in power, in discipline,--
Hans Lorbass. Like their King himself.
King. Like their King himself. Quite true. The shadow of a King, set
on the throne by woman's love, is not the man to lead a forlorn hope.
Hans Lorbass. Though his people offer themselves to the sword for
King. Take care; I have outgrown thy scorn. [Knocking on the door to
Cölestin [outside]. Open the door for the King's son.
Hans Lorbass. Shall I?
King. Thou must. This house is his; and if he chose to, he could
drive me hence.
[Cölestin enters, leading in the young Prince by the hand. It is
gradually growing light.]
The Young Prince [running to Anna Goldhair]. Anna! Ah, Anna, art
thou here? The mother told me thou wast dead. Say. Anna, art thou vexed
with me? I eat my supper all alone, I say my prayers and go to bed all
alone. I sing alone, I play alone,--and oh, the mother weeps so much!
They said my father had been cruel to her,--how sorry he would be to
see her weep! Anna, dear Anna, come and help us, for we are so sad!
[Anna Goldhair kneels down before him and sobs on his neck.]
King. What now?
Cölestin. My Prince, my little Prince!
Cölestin. Nay, with her thou canst have no concern. Thou knowest to
whom thy mother sent thee, and what she graved so deep upon thy heart.
The Young Prince [timidly approaching the King]. My mother called
me very early, and bid me come to thee before my breakfast with Uncle
Cölestin, and kneel down here before thee, and ask thee--something,--I
Cölestin. Then, my lord, according to the measure of my wisdom I must
speak here for this child, who in his innocence cannot comprehend how
basely thou hast forsaken thy people. I must embolden myself to speak a
last warning to thee. I speak not of the sins that now already weigh
thee down: eternal God shall judge them, for thou mayst not sin and not
atone. But even now thy spirit, corroded with rancorous spite, hast
turned the edge of our ancestral sword against thy honor and thy
manhood. Lo, there it glistens in thy burning grasp; and to that
all-avenging sword I make my prayer: to the arm where still resides
our safety: to the eyes from which looks out an unquenched thirst of
fighting: that thou wilt lead to victory thy broken people, who
surround the tower and call upon thee in their need.
King. The sword that I unthinking raised--led thereto by occasion
only--I will lay down still clean. Thou callest it the all-avenging;
and it shall win that praise itself. Let the foe mow you down in
sheaves, it shall be naught to me,--it comes too late.
Cölestin. Good! Though thou so hatest thy people--
King. I hate ye not.
Cölestin. As to appease thy long-cherished revenge by scornful
laughter in their hour of need, yet one thing I shall never think, sir
King,--that thou wilt yield without a struggle, and give up thy
weaponless body to the slaughter.
King. What can I otherwise? In whose blood shall I dip this body to
make it consecrate? With what right shall I plunge this sword into
fiery service? He who stands without there serves a righteous cause. So
sayest thou. The Chancellor, likewise. You all agree. Therefore I
counsel thee: be wise, rescue your country and make clean your house.
There is still time ... the storm yet lulls. The Duke has need of me;
deliver me to him.
Cölestin. All my strength is broken against this madness, which
destroys itself.... And the hour presses.... What can I do? The crowd
shrieks lamentations in my ear. Kneel down, my child, stretch out thy
arms,--perhaps, that silent picture will reach this heart. [He makes
the young Prince kneel down.]
King. Stand up. . . Come here. . . Thou hast stood in my way, and yet
I loved thee. A madness, an absurdity! [Aside.] Suppose: if thou wert
not,--if in this coming hour I might but strike a blow for my own
throne.... Where now?
The young Prince [clinging to Hans]. I am afraid.
Hans Lorbass [gazing at the King]. There is the pinch. [Going
to him, aside]. And if---
Hans Lorbass. If through some chance, quite unforseen, this land
should all at once become thine own, entirely thine?
King [bewildered]. What dost thou mean?
Hans Lorbass. Well then, if that should disappear that stands in thy
way? [Bursting out.] Then wouldst thou take thy sword in both thy
hands and storm exulting on the foe?... Well?
King. I understand thee not.
Hans Lorbass. Then--
King. Silence, silence! Thou knowest I have quenched the last embers
of my desires. Thinkest thou to kindle a new blaze thereon by victory
and sin? A fire must run from heaven, must mount from hell, to light a
new life in my fading course. A thing of horror must first come to
pass; whence it came would be as naught to me, if it could but rise
wonder-like upon my sight. Alas, from out these ashes no miracle can
rise for me! I can no longer hope and struggle.... The door stands open
to the upper room.... Once more I mount up to the height, once more
behold the gray dawn turn to gold in rosy glory--
Hans Lorbass. Wilt thou come back?
King. Nay, didst thou not think so? I--[As Cölestin with the young
Prince puts himself in the way.] Away with the child!--I must die!
Hans Lorbass [to himself]. "A thing of horror must first come to
pass." And then, "If I might strike a blow for my own throne." "If thou
wert not." And looked at him with such eyes!--Cölestin, if I had
something to ask--thou knowest, perhaps, the King will yield to
me--more than--in short, I am beloved by him--
Cölestin. Good reason for it.
Hans Lorbass. Yes. Then what if I knew how to goad him into harness,
so that even before the hour had struck, he had the Bastard by the
throat with your all-avenging sword?
Cölestin. It would be possible? Thou couldst?
Hans Lorbass. Yes. But I need the Prince.
Cölestin. The Princeling,--why?
Hans Lorbass. With him by the hand I would sit there on the landing
and hold watch till he came down.
Cölestin. And then?
Hans Lorbass. Then, Major-domo,--that is my affair.
Cölestin. The Queen left him in my care. But I know, Hans Lorbass
that thou lovest him. Wilt thou, my little Prince?
The Young Prince. Dost thou ask me? I love to stay with him,--he
teaches me to fight. [He runs to him.]
Cölestin. And may God bless thee in thy task.
Hans Lorbass. Much thanks. [Turning to Anna Goldhair.] I do not
want her. Take her with thee.
Cölestin. Come, poor wench.
The Young Prince. May Anna stay here, too?
[Hans Lorbass hushes him.]
Anna Goldhair. Oh, Cölestin, if I could hide somewhere, and see my
dear Queen pass by just once!
Cölestin. Spare me thy plaints.... Well, wait, I will hide thee here
behind the curtains of the door; stay there, and do not move, and when
she goes to the cathedral--come, come!
[Cölestin and Anna Goldhair go out.]
Hans Lorbass [grimly]. My Prince!
The Young Prince [tenderly]. My Hans!
Hans Lorbass. And still it grips me cruelly hard.
The Young Prince. What is it thou grumblest in thy beard? Come, let
Hans Lorbass. Let us fight, child! If thou knewest how to fight
The Young Prince. How strange thou art to-day? Say, Hans, is it true
that a cruel enemy stands before the gate?
Hans Lorbass. Quite true.
The Young Prince. Will he come inside?
Hans Lorbass. Not yet. Before long.
The Young Prince. How long?
Hans Lorbass. Until the drums sound the attack.
The Young Prince. Soon?
Hans Lorbass. Very soon.
The Young Prince. Oh, that is splendid! And why did the father go up
to his tower?
Hans Lorbass. Because ... If I knew whether this young blood would be
poured out in vain. To every foulness God created he has given a tongue
to shriek: "Behold my purpose!" And such a deed as this to-day ... but
no! "If thou wert not!"
The Young Prince. If I were not,--what then?
Hans Lorbass. Wha--? Why? His sick desires, his failing deeds, the
dreams that mock his brain, that make the right seem wrong,--if he
might see a wish of his become a fact, as if by magic power, perhaps
that knowledge of renewed strength might scatter his gloom to its
accursed source and set him free. Now show thy worth and bleed here
quietly on my breast--what dost thou there!
The Young Prince [playing about meanwhile has drawn the sword from
its sheath]. I am learning to carry the King's sword. Forward! Hasten,
the foe will come! Very well. Then I shall be the victor.
Hans Lorbass. Put it down!
The Young Prince. Ah, no!
Hans Lorbass. Put it down!
The Young Prince. Oh-oo! That is sharp!
Hans Lorbass. Thou knowest who alone may carry that?
The Young Prince. The King.
Hans Lorbass. Well then.
The Young Prince. But he left it there!
Hans Lorbass [sternly]. To take it up again. [Draws his sword.]
The Young Prince. Wait! I will kill thee! [He has grasped the sword
in both hands, and thrusting at Hans, who does not see him, he wounds
him on the hand.]
Hans Lorbass [laughing grimly]. The fiend torment--
The Young Prince. Thou bleedest--O me!
Hans Lorbass. The very weakness of this child avenges itself in
The Young Prince. Wilt thou not scold me! [Unfastening his
neckerchief] Take my kerchief,--ah, please! Wrap it about thy hand.
Hans Lorbass. Is it intended for a sign to me to turn back in my
path? The wish was there, but who knows when he cherished it, whether
he was not so rent by torment, so quite unmanned as to harbor a thought
that sprang therefrom? He must ... Yea, and I must. The hour will slip
away.... [Drums sound in the distance.] Hark, hark! There it is,--the
time has come. [Drums.] Again!
The Young Prince. Is that the signal?
Hans Lorbass. What signal?
The Young Prince. For the attack?
Hans Lorbass. Yes. For the attack and--
The Young Prince. What happiness! Is it not, Hans! If I were grown!
If I were a man!
Hans Lorbass. Come here!
The Young Prince. Why dost thou look at me so sternly? Just like the
father.... Wouldst thou strike me? No, thou shalt not.... I am a king's
Hans Lorbass. Come here!
The Young Prince. I am not afraid. [Goes to him.] Just think, the
people say the father hates me. I believe it not. Whatever he should
do, I know right well he loves me,--even as much as thou, my Hans.
[Throws his arms around him.]
Hans Lorbass. How dost thou know?
The Young Prince. What, Hans?
Hans Lorbass. About the father.
The Young Prince. Listen! One night, quite lately, when I had been a
little while in my bed, and was all alone, only think!--he came very
softly within my chamber. I was afraid, because I had not seen him in
so long, and all the people said: "The King is wicked." But he stood
there before my bed and looked at me,--Hans, what is all that noise?
Hans Lorbass. Hasten,--thou knowest not what it means to thee!
The Young Prince. And looked at me so stern and wild that I was
frightened and pretended that I slept. Then he leaned over me, so low
that I had nearly died of fright, and then,--only think, my Hansel,--he
kissed me. Here on my forehead, on my hair and both my cheeks, and then
very softly went away.
Hans Lorbass. Thy good angel put the words into thy mouth! Could he
do so, my little man, then 'twas a fever in his blood that spoke
to-day,--no hate of thee!... It seems as though thou wert even dearer
to me now,--and yet my thoughts have scarce deserved it. [Clasps him
to him.] Now let me, let ... There below they call upon thy father,
and he ... I have it! I will take thee in my arms and show thee to the
leaderless throng below, him who shall lead them when his form rears
itself kinglike and his brow darkens. Come then! Friend, if thy King
fights not for thee to-day, then fight thou for thy King! [He raises
him in his arms and hurries with him down the steps.]
Anna Goldhair comes timidly from the right, pushed into the room.
After her, the Chancellor, Cölestin, nobles and ladies, who stand so
as to form a passage. Then, the Queen. After her, other ladies. Anna
Goldhair in a shrinking attempt to hide herself, crouches near the
door, behind those coming in.
Chancellor. Away, lest the Queen see thee! Out of the way, wench!
Queen [observing that someone is concealed from her]. Who--? [She
motions them to let her see. The group separates. She looks silently
down upon the kneeling Anna, whose face is bowed to the earth, and
strokes her hair.] Much evil has come upon us both; therefore be it
unto thee according to thy sorrow, not according to thy deed. [She
raises her and gives her over to her women.]
Chancellor [meanwhile aside to Cölestin]. Send above to the King
straightway. I cannot yet forbear to hope that when he--dost thou hear?
Cölestin [who is looking in anxious search toward the background].
Where is the Prince?
Murmur of Voices. The King comes.
[The King comes down the steps.]
King [startled, bewildered]. Why do ye stand there so amazed? Do
not know me? I am he, your King, your much-loved King, he with whose
hero-tread treason has entered in your flock, into your hearts.
Queen [coming forward]. My King!
King [reeling back]. Thou! Thou hast come here,--into this den
where lust holds sway? Burst open all the windows wide! Perfume the air
with fine resin! Fetch sage and thyme and peppermint, that the fumes of
this place may not attaint her breath! Hasten! Faded and withered, let
Cölestin [whispers]. My lord, where hast thou left the Prince?
King. What? Who? The--the--am I the Prince's keeper?
Queen. My King, the battle rages now already about the castle walls.
The door still holds. The people wait, counting their heart-throbs till
thou comest, trusting in thee still. There is yet time. There lies the
kingly sword and waits for thee.
King [to himself]. If Hans understood me rightly--
Queen. Stoop to it. It is worth the stooping for.
King. Thinkest thou?... Still?... And that this hand is worthy, too,
to raise it?
Queen. I trust in it as in immortal life.
King. Believest thou also that miracles still come to pass?
Queen. I believe in thee.
King. Then--[he stoops, but starts back with a shriek.] Blood!
There is blood on it! Cölestine! Approach, lean down. Nearer. Thou hast
asked me just now, only in pretence, where I ... I ask thee, with whom
hast thou left the Prince?
Cölestin. Hans Lorbass was with him.
King. Yes?... It is well.... See how the red shines bright on the
gray steel! The life that coursed within this blade cannot die--it
lives--it lives and drags me down, a death-devoted man, unto a doubly
Chancellor [to the Queen]. Speak again before this madness gains
Queen. My King.
King. Ha! The angel of destruction broods over us.... Where is thy
child? Where is thy child?
Queen. I know that he is safe, for the most faithful of the faithful
guards him. Think of thyself and of thy sword.
King. An hour since was this blade still clean.... I seemed too
great--nay, nay, too small--to wield it; doubted and cursed myself and
you and all the world. And yet defiance still blazed high in me; I
could be a warrior, perhaps a hero, and knew it not ... ah, cursed
fool!... Now I gaze in envy at that man, could even kiss his feet, who
with accusing conscience and hand yet free from blood-guiltiness, stood
a transgressor here within this hall. O were this sword still clean,
how might I wield it! What miracles exultingly perform! But for me now
no saving miracle can come to pass ...
[The smothered tumult in the court becomes suddenly louder.]
Two Nobles [at the window]. God be merciful! Fly!--Save
[Hans Lorbass, the young Prince in his arms, rushes up the steps.]
Hans Lorbass [breathless]. Here--take the child! The foe is close
at hand--within the court!
King [in frenzied joy throwing himself upon the Prince]. My
Hans Lorbass. If you would save yourself, barricade this door,
strengthen it ten-fold with beams, break off stones from the roof, roll
them down and heap them up--
King. Thou art wrong, my friend. The door--fling open!
[Hans Lorbass tears open the door with a joyous shout. They hear the
approaching battle-cry of the enemy.]
King [who has seized the sword and shield]. To me, man of the
[The Duke rushes on the King with a shout of laughter, behind
his men, among them Sköll, Ottar, Gylf, held in check by Hans with
upraised sword, stand crowded together at the door. Short conflict.
The Duke falls.]
King [to the crowd, his foot upon the prostrate body]. On your
knees. [The foremost sink upon their knees, the rest shrink back.]
King [during a long silence looks furtively at the Queen, and
councillors. Then to the crowd]. Carry this man's body outside the
door.... Let everyone submit himself unto the peace of God, which
henceforth only he who courts his death will violate. Before we part, I
will come down to you, and under the free air of heaven I, your Duke,
will receive your oath and your allegiance. Away!
[The Duke's men seize the body and hurry out.]
Hans Lorbass [tickling Sköll under the nose with his
sword-blade]. Who has it now, thou clown?
Chancellor [approaching hesitatingly]. My gracious Lord and King,
would say: Forgive us, but the strength of all our words must break
against thy glorious victory. I only say: We are returned to thee. No
reproaches or regrets shall cheapen our return; we only ask [with a
glance at the Queen] that honor be spared, and once again, after the
cruel conflict of to-day, we offer thee our country's throne in faith
King. I thank you noble lords, and put it from me.
Chancellor. A second time thou turnest thy happiness and ours to
King. Stay! Let not a poisoned word pollute this moment, for now at
last the riddling clouds of fate prepare to fall. I may slip the
fetters from my body, which weakness, shame, unwilling gratitude,
sorrow, and mistaken kindnesses, combined to weave about me. I dare to
speak, for now the sword has freed me.... For that I have shrunk from
thee, my wife, forgive me. Didst thou know how shudderingly I sent
myself into an exile of inexpiable guilt! From thence I now return,
love-empty; and still the harmony of thy grace, the breath of thy
self-forgetful love, wafts like a summer breeze about my head, heavy
with blessings. Yes, if I dared to stay, how much of all I have ...
Hush!... I know not the path that I must choose. I only know the end. I
only know that faint and far away there sounds a voice reproaching my
delay. It calls me back into the eternal gray,--that boundless country
where thy blessing ends, where no guiding star rises to lead me on.
Farewell. Forgive me if thou canst. If not ... I know no word to say
that can lift the load of guilt from off my soul.... I must endure and
bear it with me silently.
Queen. Nay, my friend.... If thou hast laden thy life with guilt so
heavily, then must thou give me of thy burden a share to bear. I think
that all we leave unspoken to-day will burn our souls forever; and
therefore I make free confession: I have failed thee sorely. I saw thy
misery, I saw the torture growing on thy pale brow, and yet I had but
one thought; one alone; how to beguile him from that path on which his
soul delays and hesitates, but whither his stumbling feet turn of
themselves,--that he might leave me never again, whether in love or
hate ... this was my thought ... and as a bridal pair stand at the
altar and exchange their rings, while the deep church-bells lull them
into a smiling dream, so we in parting near each other, and offer,
smiling, guilt for guilt. [She reaches out her hand to him with a
faint smile, and sinks back into the arms of her women.]
King [kissing her hand, overcome with feeling]. I thank thee.
The Young Prince [timidly]. Papa!
King [recovering himself]. Thou too, my son! Come here! I made
poor return--and had he not [motioning toward Hans] known me better
than I myself ... give him thy hand; for thanks to him, I lay down
undefiled this borrowed sword. [Gives the sword over to the
Hans Lorbass. Here, master! [He hands the King his old sword,
which he seizes eagerly.]
The scene of the first act. Early spring. March. The trees and bushes
are still bare, but tipped with the delicate red of young leaf-buds. In
the background, upon the slopes, is still snow, in the foreground fresh
young grass. The church-yard has grown larger. The crosses and
headboards reach back to the sand-hills. Sun-set. A blue haze hangs
over the sea.
Out of a freshly dug grave on the right an invisible hand throws clods
of earth, but stops as Cölestin enters on the right, led by two young
men. Behind them, Miklas and an old Fisherman.
Fisherman. This is the place, my lord.
Cölestin [much aged and broken]. I thank thee, friend! That is the
Fisherman [nodding]. And above it cross on cross.
Cölestin. Let me rest a little, I am dizzy. The way hither was hard.
Yet I rejoice to know that worn-out as I am, I still may serve our
young Prince. And more than him, our dear and holy lady, our Queen.
Else surely I had--remained at home.
Fisherman [has meantime shaken the door of the tower]. The tower
seems empty. The door is barred. There was a storm quite late.... Who
knows where she wanders now, scouting for new graves.
Cölestin. Who speaks of graves? Fie! The hour will ripen all too soon
for us to yield our withered sinful bodies to the worms. Build a fire
for me, since we must wait. The evening lowers and this March wind
blows cold on me. Make haste. [To the old Fisherman.] Run thou to our
sovereign Lady, who so honored thee as to share thy hut, and tell her I
beg her wait therein until we come to fetch her as she said.
Fisherman. Yes, my lord. [Goes out.]
Cölestin [to Miklas while the young men build the fire].
thou, Miklas, tell us thy story again and on thy faith. It was last
night the strangers knocked at thy door?
Miklas. Yes, my lord.
Cölestin. How many?
Cölestin. And thou didst open it?
Miklas. Yes. I had lain a long time in bed, but I arose. The
moonlight fell bright through the window-bars. I saw them and was
Miklas. The first had long white hair hanging all wild and shaggy
about a gloomy brow. One leg was hacked off, and a wooden one replaced
Cölestin. Thou will still--?
Miklas. Whoever looked into that eye, must know, my lord: Hans
Lorbass stood before me.
Cölestin. And the other?
Miklas. It is hard to say.
Cölestin. Still thou knowest him?
Miklas. As I know myself, my lord.
Cölestin. Consider. Full fifteen years have flown since that hour
when he slew the cruel Duke.
Miklas. Yes, my lord. His step indeed was heavier, his face was
paler; and a gnawed and ragged beard hung about his mouth, stiffened
with blood and sweat. Yet it was he, our King, our star, at very
thought of whom our hearts must leap, to whose heroic deed we sing
triumphant songs,--it was he, and that I swear by God the Father.
Cölestin. Go on.
Miklas. Yet, mindful of what happened once, I made as though I had
never seen the two; and when they asked whether there was a path that
led to the sea and to the Burial-wife, and did not touch at town or
capital, I said: "Oh, yes; yet it is difficult to follow it, and not
wander lost by night among the bushes. Come in and sleep beside my
hearth, and I will play the host and spread the straw for you, and
early in the morning, for your sake and for God's sweet service my son
will lead you to the witch-wife." It was said and done. The fire of
pine chips had scarcely burned to ashes,--heigho!--I ran to the stable
and flung the saddle on the horse; and when the early dawn of the March
morning lay abroad white and misty on the hedges, I held my rein before
your castle,--"To the Queen" my cry. Thou wert with me for the rest.
Cölestin. Thinkest thou thy son--?
Miklas. Set thyself at rest, My son has always been a clever youth
and I answer for it they will be upon the spot before the sun there
dips beneath the sea. Yes, if I mistake not ... but wait! [He runs to
the top of the hill, looks to the right and motions furtively.] Come
here! But crouch down well, that they may not spy us.
Cölestin. My God, my God, how my old limbs do tremble! It is joy!
[He goes up the slope, assisted by his attendant.] I see three
Miklas. The small one is my boy. The other two--thou knowest them?
Cölestin. My eyes have failed me a little, else I might. [Coming
back down.] My God, if it were they! If the evening of my life might
shine so clear that before I closed my eyes in death they might rest
upon the Queen, their heart, their light, pleasured in happiness
without alloy! At such a sight I think I could not die.... Come, come!
Let us announce what we have seen; then may that bond once so
shamefully severed in wrong and need, be solemnly renewed, before we
turn our joyous bark toward home. Come, come! [They all go out at the
[The King and Hans Lorbass come in at the right from above,
unkempt and in rags like two wayfarers. King grown gray, lean, and
sallow, comes down forward silent and gloomy.]
Hans Lorbass [with hair grown quite white, and a wooden leg,
carrying a sack on his back, calls into the wing]. There, take it,
rascal, it is the last! And leave! [Coming down.] The clown has led
us twelve whole hours without a path through bushes and morass. He knew
well enough why he did it!
King. Dost thou think--
Hans Lorbass. Oh let it be, no matter!
King. Here is a fire. Is there corn in the sack?
Hans Lorbass [opening the sack]. Wait.... Yes.
King. Good! I am hungry.
Hans Lorbass. I am not, too?
King. The corn was dear. Sometimes it costs us money, sometimes
Hans Lorbass. We do not pay the blood.
King. We pay more. We give out bit by bit from our own souls for our
lives' nakedest necessities, and pay for each mouthful with a shred of
joy--if indeed there be joy in clinging like a pitiable miser to one's
last vacant remnants of hopeless hope.
Hans Lorbass. If it be not happiness it is life.
King. What a life!
Hans Lorbass. Our wants are over now. I wager if I climbed up to the
top of the hill, I should find not one but three ships to take us to
King. Cook us our supper first.
Hans Lorbass. Good, good! [During the foregoing he has been fetching
cooking utensils, partly from the sack and partly from the outer wall
of the tower, where they lie among tree-stumps, etc.]
King. I shall come soon enough to Gotland, and soon enough shall see
that refuge whence I once bore to save them those most daring wishes of
my powerless youth.
Hans Lorbass. Until a heron came.
King. Hans, be still!
Hans Lorbass. How can I, here in this place, where the sea and
churchyard, yes, even the sea-wind itself, that strips the boughs with
knife-like tongue, all vie with each other to tell us of that day when
an old doting witch-wife with her cursed chatter, betrayed thee from
thy confident path, to pause and play the hero?
King. Where is she hiding, that I may rip that shriveled skin of hers
about her ears?
Hans Lorbass. She who played our fate in the world is not at home
when we come back so worsted by it.
Hans Lorbass [laughs mockingly]. Yes, call away, my friend!...
here instead and sit down on this tub. The fire is singing,--the water
will soon boil; come warm thyself.
King. Thou art right. This cold sea wind pants like a bloodhound
through the gorge. [He sits down by the fire.] The country-people say
that spring is coming. Is it true, I wonder?
Hans Lorbass. What?
King. Why, that spring is coming.
Hans Lorbass. Then I believe it, for my leg that I lost begins to
King. Listen! Back in the hedge a shepherd pipes upon his willow
whistle. The streams are beginning to thaw and run down hill.... Brown
buds come out on all the branches. The very sunsets are different.
Look, high up in the blue the wild geese fly in their triangle.
Northward they go. Not I.... I must. We both must, Hans, for we have
Hans Lorbass. Because our heads are white? Thou art wrong, master. I
dare venture many a conflict lies in our path before thou goest to thy
fathers' lofty house, and anointest thyself with thy fathers' honors.
King. Honors are the mail-coat of the weary. I have need of them.
Hans Lorbass. Thou?
King. More than thou thinkest for. [Goes up, laughing bitterly.]
Hans Lorbass. Whither now?
King. Do not ask.
Hans Lorbass. Thou lookest toward the south,--what seekest thou
there? Hast thou not known it all long since? That sunny land, those
blue, flower-sown havens, whither thy hasting step once fled? Thou
knowest they are full of stench and lamentation. Those beauteous women,
fairest of the fair,--or passing as the fairest,--to bow in whose
impious slavery once compassed all thy thoughts? Thou knowest they are
all as empty as drained-out casks. And so, because the desire was
lacking in thee to fill them with thy own soul, thou hast sourly turned
away and sought perfection farther on. Thou hast come hither over lands
and seas, and climbest up into the star-teeming void. Yet thou wilt
never, never reach thy star. And that vailed enchanting distance
itself, if it would once unmask and let thee reach it, how miserable it
would look! Every conflict there would seem only a wrangle, every woman
but a doll! Come now, lay aside thy shoulder-belt stretch thyself out
and eat thy supper.
King. Let be, old grumbler! I seek naught in the distance.... But
near by, floating in the haze of the spring evening, I think I see a
dim shape of white battlements.
Hans Lorbass. It may well be. The town is only three miles farther
on, and the air is clear. Still I advise thee, do not think upon the
Hans Lorbass. It was an evil-omened year. The worst of all, I think.
It taught thy wild untrammeled spirit to circle-hopping in a cage, to
limp instead of fly.
King. Thou art wrong, my friend. Something wakes in me at sight of
those roofs.... There the wings of happiness once grazed my cheek,
there, though in the midst of torture joy ripened to summer in my
heart. Let me gaze on the place where imploring trustfulness once
confessed itself to me by joyous sacrifice, and the purest of womankind
yielded herself up in sweet urgency, and an oppressed country confided
in me as a master; where even victory surrendered me her standard; let
me gaze upon the spot, and then, instead of stretching forth my kingly
hand in love and gratitude, I must slip past it outlawed, like a beggar
or a thief. I stand here now and gaze through tears at that white glow
of light, and gnaw my lips to bleeding.
Hans Lorbass. Master!
King. It is nothing,--nothing! All I have ever desired, all my soul's
treasure, all I could not attain, can be spoken in one word. And that I
may not speak. In silence I decide, and put it from me. I tear it from
my breast, where it has clung so long; and with it all my longing pain
blows like a faded leaf a world away.--Now I will lie down and sleep;
for I am weary.
Hans Lorbass. And do thy pains and desires all come to an end thus?
Look! Above there, where the sandy turf broadens among frozen clods
past the sun-pierced snow. The wisest of womankind has prepared a bed
for pilgrims such as we. Look!
King [going toward the open grave]. I see. It is just suited to a
guest like me. Here, where--[He starts back in alarm.] Hans!
Hans Lorbass. What is the matter?
King. Come here. The grave is ready, but it is not empty. Look down
and tell me what thou callest it, crouched there gray in the sand, that
leers at me with staring eyes. Is it a corpse? Is it a spirit?
Hans Lorbass. Oh look at it! The badger is at work. Thou hast her
King. The Burial-wife? [Hans Lorbass nods.]
King. Out with her!
Hans Lorbass [stopping him]. Listen to me. Thou knowest I have
known her longer than thou. Leave her alone. She was wont to lie thus
for hours and days, and heed no words nor prayers; but seemed as dead.
She is proof then against all summons and all blows; but when her time
comes, then her limbs will stir, and she will come up out of the grave.
[Cölestin and the train with the young Prince enter.]
Cölestin. There they stand!
King [turning fiercely and raising his sword]. What do you want? A
quarrel? We two are snarling dogs. We blindly seize on everybody near.
Now come on! Speak!
The Young Prince. My father!
The Young Prince. My King!
King You would mock the man that fled from you?
The Young Prince. Down on your knees and honor him as I do!
King [dazed]. Hans!... But stand up!... Am I King? A hapless
wretch,--naught but my man, my sword, and that pot of soup there, to
call my own. I have no more. My very crown, the gloomy throne of
Gotland must be fought for anew; stand up my son. [He raises him, and
will embrace him, but suddenly pales, staring past the men in great
agitation.] Hans! Dost thou see who stands there in the twilight of
the wood--how spirit-like, how severed from this world--[He shrieks.]
[Enter the Queen. Behind her at a short distance, two of her
King. Go! I know thee not. And yet--I know thee. Thou art my--peace.
Thou art ... Naught art thou more for me.... My body withers and my
strength is fallen asunder. Therefore I may not say: "Thou art." ...
Only "Thou wast." Still thou wast once of a surety--my wife.
Queen. I am to-day--I am a thousandfold! Hast thou forgot what I
promised thee the day thou gavest thyself with hesitation to my
service? I search thy face. I know thou turnest wearied back to thy
northern home. Dost thou forget then where a balsam is prepared to heal
thy bruised feet, dost thou forget where a thousand arms reach out to
greet their loved one? Knowest thou not where thy home stands and calls
to thee? Knowest thou not how well-nigh breathless with its joy my
smile says unto thee: "I charm thee not?"
King. Nay, charm me not. I am not worthy. Life has seared me, and put
a shameful kiss upon my brow.
Queen. Then let me cool it with my health-bringing hand, and thou
wilt never feel the scar again.
King. How can I feel that scar or even the happiness after which I
longed, now that those hours are past which knew thy love for me?
Queen. In no other have I trusted. I guarded thy son for thee; and
still thy throne stands empty, waiting its master.
King. Then thou hast waited fifteen years and sorrowed not. So shalt
thou learn my mystery. Two kingdoms I have won, to pleasure me; the
first has vanished into air, the second is my shame. Justice became a
mock,--all gifts a usury; and everywhere I turned a murderous laugh
pursued me. Then purity plunged in the mire, then honor mocked its own
best gift: all this the magic of the heron wreaked upon me.... Yea, now
thou knowest; a charm was all my crime and all my fate, year after
year. It blinded me to love and life, to wife and child; it hunted me
away from thee, and drove me from place to place; and when a lucent
flight of happiness sprang up from heaven after my downfall, it drowned
its glory in a flood of tears. Behold! [He tears open his gorget and
draws out the last of the heron's feathers.] The enchantment's last
beguiling pledge I hold here in my hand. When this feather shrivels in
the flame there sinks an unblessed woman to her death, that woman whose
wraith stood in the heavens for me to gaze upon,--that woman whom I
sought and never found! Behold! I bury the madness in its grave, and
with the act I put the longing from me. [He tosses the feather into
the flames. There is a flash of lightning, and a roll of thunder
Queen [sinks down, whispering with failing strength]. Now are we
two protected from all mischance.... I still ... have been thy
happiness ... even in ... death. [She dies.]
Prince. Mother! Speak one word to me!
King. It was thou? It was thou? [He throws himself upon her body.]
The Young Prince [in tears]. Ah, Mother!
Cölestin. She has gone, and I, the shadow of a shadow, stay behind.
The Men [murmur among themselves]. His is the blame! Tear him from
off her body! [They draw their swords to attack the King.]
Hans Lorbass [blocking the way with drawn sword]. Away there!
[The Burial-wife mounting solemnly out of the open grave.]
Burial-wife. Children, cease your strife! Can you not see his spirit
wanders far? He is wrapped about with the whisperings of eternity. The
message of death is on the way, the stone of sacrifice doth reek for
blood. Long has this man belonged to me; and now--[she raises her arm
and lets it fall]--I come into my own. [The King breathes heavily,
stirs, and dies.]
Hans Lorbass [kneels down beside him with a cry]. Master, master!
Burial-wife. Thus from lust and guilt and sorrow have I cleansed his
soul. To both of them it shall be as though they had not been. Wrap
them about with linen, bear them to my dark abode; then go in silent
thought from hence, for my work is done.
Hans Lorbass [rises, in anguished bitterness]. Mine must begin
anew. How gladly have I ever braved fresh dangers as my darling's
slave! That service, too, is past; but now his kingdom calls loudly on
my sword for aid. [Pointing seaward.] Northward there lies a land
debauched, crying from out its shame for justice, for a righteous law,
for vengeance, for salvation; for a master,--and that shall the man
Translated by Helen Tracy Porter.