Count Alarcos; a Tragedy, by Benjamin Disraeli

Act ii

Scene 1

A Street in Burgos.

[Enter the COUNT OF SIDONIA and the COUNT OF LEON.]

SIDO.
Is she not fair?

LEON.
What then? She but fulfils
Her office as a woman. For to be
A woman and not fair, is, in my creed,
To be a thing unsexed.

SIDO.
Happy Alarcos!
They say she was of Aquitaine, a daughter
Of the De Foix. I would I had been banished.

LEON.
Go and plot then. They cannot take your head,
For that is gone.

SIDO.
But banishment from Burgos
Were worse than fifty deaths. O, my good Leon,
Didst ever see, didst ever dream could be,
Such dazzling beauty?

LEON.
Dream! I never dream;
Save when I’ve revelled over late, and then
My visions are most villanous; but you,
You dream when you’re awake.

SIDO.
Wert ever, Leon,
In pleasant Aquitaine?

LEON.
O talk of Burgos;
It is my only subject — matchless town,
Where all I ask are patriarchal years
To feel satiety like my sad friend.

SIDO.
’Tis not satiety now makes me sad;
So check thy mocking tongue, or cure my cares.

LEON.
Absence cures love. Be off to Aquitaine.

SIDO.
I chose a jester for my friend, and feel
His value now.

LEON.
You share the lover’s lot
When you desire and you despair. What then?
You know right well that woman is but one,
Though she take many forms, and can confound
The young with subtle aspects. Vanity
Is her sole being. Make the myriad vows
That passionate fancy prompts. At the next tourney
Maintain her colours ‘gainst the two Castilles
And Aragon to boot. You’ll have her!

SIDO.
Why!
This was the way I woo’d the haughty Lara,
But I’ll not hold such passages approach
The gentle lady of this morn.

LEON.
Well, then,
Try silence, only sighs and hasty glances
Withdrawn as soon as met. Could’st thou but blush:
But there’s no hope. In time our sighs become
A sort of plaintive hint what hopeless rogues
Our stars have made us. Would we had but met
Earlier, yet still we hope she’ll spare a tear
To one she met too late. Trust me she’ll spare it;
She’ll save this sinner who reveres a saint.
Pity or admiration gains them all.
You’ll have her!

SIDO.
Well, whate’er the course pursued,
Be thou a prophet!

[Enter ORAN.]

ORAN.
Stand, Senors, in God’s name.

LEON.
Or the devil’s.
Well, what do you want?

ORAN.
Many things, but one
Most principal.

SIDO.
And that’s —

ORAN.
A friend.

LEON.
You’re right
To seek one in the street, he’ll prove as true
As any that you’re fostered with.

ORAN.
In brief,
I’m as you see a Moor; and I have slain
One of our princes. Peace exists between
Our kingdom and Castille; they track my steps.
You’re young, you should be brave, generous you may be.
I shall be impaled. Save me!

LEON.
Frankly spoken.
Will you turn Christian?

ORAN.
Show me Christian acts,
And they may prompt to Christian thoughts.

SIDO.
Although
The slain’s an infidel, thou art the same.
The cause of this rash deed?

ORAN.
I am a soldier,
And my sword’s notched, sirs. This said Emir struck me.
Before the people too, in the great square
Of our chief place, Granada, and forsooth,
Because I would not yield the way at mosque.
His life has soothed my honour: if I die,
I die content; but with your gracious aid
I would live happy.

LEON.
You love life?

ORAN.
Most dearly.

LEON.
Sensible Moor, although he be impaled
For mobbing in a mosque. I like this fellow;
His bearing suits my humour. He shall live
To do more murders. Come, bold infidel,
Follow to the Leon Palace; and, sir, prithee
Don’t stab us in the back.

[Exeunt omnes.]

Scene 2

Chamber in the Palace of COUNT ALARCOS.
At the back of the Scene the Curtains of a large Jalousie withdrawn.

[Enter COUNT ALARCOS.]

ALAR.
’Tis circumstance makes conduct; life’s a ship,
The sport of every wind. And yet men tack
Against the adverse blast. How shall I steer,
Who am the pilot of Necessity?
But whether it be fair or foul, I know not;
Sunny or terrible. Why let her wed him?
What care I if the pageant’s weight may fall
On Hungary’s ermined shoulders, if the spring
Of all her life be mine? The tiar’d brow
Alone makes not a King. Would that my wife
Confessed a worldlier mood! Her recluse fancy
Haunts still our castled bowers. Then civic air
Inflame her thoughts! Teach her to vie and revel,
Find sport in peerless robes, the pomp of feasts
And ambling of a genet —

[A serenade is heard.]

Hah! that voice
Should not be strange. A tribute to her charms.
’Tis music sweeter to a spouse’s ear
Than gallants dream of. Ay, she’ll find adorers.
Or Burgos is right changed.

[Enter the COUNTESS.]

Listen, child.

[Again the serenade is heard.]

COUN.
’Tis very sweet.

ALAR.
It is inspired by thee.

COUN.
Alarcos!

ALAR.
Why dost look so grave? Nay, now,
There’s not a dame in Burgos would not give
Her jewels for such songs.

COUN.
Inspired by me!

ALAR.
And who so fit to fire a lover’s breast?
He’s clearly captive.

COUN.
O! thou knowest I love not
Such jests, Alarcos.

ALAR.
Jest! I do not jest.
I am right proud the partner of my state
Should count the chief of our Castillian knights
Among her train.

COUN.
I pray thee let me close
These blinds.

ALAR.
Poh, poh! what, baulk a serenade?
‘Twould be an outrage to the courtesies
Of this great city. Faith! his voice is sweet.

COUN.
Would that he had not sung! It is a sport
In which I find no pastime.

ALAR.
Marry, come,
It gives me great delight. ’Tis well for thee,
On thy first entrance to our world, to find
So high a follower.

COUN.
Wherefore should I need
His following?

ALAR.
Nought’s more excellent for woman,
Than to be fixed on as the cynosure
Of one whom all do gaze on. ’Tis a stamp
Whose currency, not wealth, rank, blood, can match;
These are raw ingots, till they are impressed
With fashion’s picture.

COUN.
Would I were once more
Within our castle!

ALAR.
Nursery days! The world
Is now our home, and we must worldly be,
Like its bold stirrers. I sup with the King.
There is no feast, and yet to do me honour,
Some chiefs will meet. I stand right well at Court,
And with thine aid will stand e’en better.

COUN.
Mine!
I have no joy but in thy joy, no thought
But for thy honour, and yet, how to aid
Thee in these plans or hopes, indeed, Alarcos,
Indeed, I am perplexed.

ALAR.
Art not my wife?
Is not this Burgos? And this pile, the palace
Of my great fathers? They did raise these halls
To be the symbols of their high estate,
The fit and haught metropolis of all
Their force and faction. Fill them, fill them, wife,
With those who’ll serve me well. Make this the centre
Of all that’s great in Burgos. Let it be
The eye of the town, whereby we may perceive
What passes in his heart: the clustering point
Of all convergence. Here be troops of friends
And ready instruments. Wear that sweet smile,
That wins a partisan quicker than power;
Speak in that tone gives each a special share
In thy regard, and what is general
Let all deem private. O! thou’lt play it rarely.

COUN.
I would do all that may become thy wife.

ALAR.
I know it, I know it. Thou art a treasure, Florimonde,
And this same singer — thou hast not asked his name.
Didst guess it? Ah! upon thy gentle cheek
I see a smile.

COUN.
My lord — indeed —

ALAR.
Thou playest
Thy game less like a novice than I deemed.
Thou canst not say thou didst not catch the voice
Of the Sidonia?

COUN.
My good lord, indeed
His voice to me is as unknown as mine
Must be to him.

ALAR.
Whose should the voice but his,
Whose stricken sight left not thy face an instant,
But gazed as if some new-born star had risen
To light his way to paradise? I tell thee,
Among my strict confederates I would count
This same young noble. He is a paramount chief;
Perchance his vassals might outnumber mine,
Conjoined we’re adamant. No monarch’s breath
Makes me again an exile. Florimonde,
Smile on him; smiles cost nothing; should he judge
They mean more than they say, why smile again;
And what he deems affection, registered,
Is but chaste Mockery. I must to the citadel.
Sweet wife, good-night.

[Exit ALARCOS.]

COUN.
O! misery, misery, misery!
Must we do this? I fear there’s need we must,
For he is wise in all things, and well learned
In this same world that to my simple sense
Seems very fearful. Why should men rejoice,
They can escape from the pure breath of heaven
And the sweet franchise of their natural will,
To such a prison-house? To be confined
In body and in soul; to breathe the air
Of dark close streets, and never use one’s tongue
But for some measured phrase that hath its bent
Well gauged and chartered; to find ready smiles
When one is sorrowful, or looks demure
When one would laugh outright. Never to be
Exact but when dissembling. Is this life?
I dread this city. As I passed its gates
My litter stumbled, and the children shrieked
And clung unto my bosom. Pretty babes!
I’ll go to them. O! there is innocence
Even in Burgos.

[Exit COUNTESS.]

Scene 3

A Chamber in the Royal Palace. The INFANTA SOLISA alone.

SOL.
I can but think my father will be just
And see us righted. O ’tis only honest,
The hand that did this wrong should now supply
The sovereign remedy, and balm the wound
Itself inflicted. He is with him now;
Would I were there, unseen, yet seeing all!
But ah! no cunning arras could conceal
This throbbing heart. I’ve sent my little Page,
To mingle with the minions of the Court,
And get me news. How he doth look, bow eat,
What says he and what does, and all the haps
Of this same night, that yet to me may bring
A cloudless morrow. See, even now he comes.

[Enter the PAGE.]

Prithee what news? Now tell me all, my child,
When thou’rt a knight, will I not work the scarf
For thy first tourney! Prithee tell me all.

PAGE.
O lady mine, the royal Seneschal
He was so crabbed, I did scarcely deem
I could have entered.

SOL.
Cross-grained Seneschal!
He shall repent of this, my pretty Page;
But thou didst enters?

PAGE.
I did so contrive.

SOL.
Rare imp! And then?

PAGE.
Well, as you told me, then
I mingled with the Pages of the King.
They’re not so very tall; I might have passed
I think for one upon a holiday.

SOL.
O thou shalt pass for better than a page
But tell me, child, didst see my gallant Count?

PAGE.
On the right hand —

SOL.
Upon the King’s right hand?

PAGE.
Upon the King’s right hand, and there were also —

SOL.
Mind not the rest; thou’rt sure on the right hand?

PAGE.
Most sure; and on the left —

SOL.
Ne’er mind the left,
Speak only of the right. How did he seem?
Did there pass words between him and the King?
Often or scant? Did he seem gay or grave?
Or was his aspect of a middle tint,
As if he deemed that there were other joys
Not found within that chamber?

PAGE.
Sooth to say,
He did seem what he is, a gallant knight.
Would I were such! For talking with the King,
He spoke, yet not so much but he could spare
Words to the other lords. He often smiled,
Yet not so often, that a limner might
Describe his mien as jovial.

SOL.
’Tis himself!
What next? Will they sit long?

PAGE.
I should not like
Myself to quit such company. In truth,
The Count of Leon is a merry lord.
There were some tilting jests, I warrant you,
Between him and your knight.

SOL.
O tell it me!

PAGE.
The Count Alarcos, as I chanced to hear,
For tiptoe even would not let me see,
And that same Pedro, who has lately come
To Court, the Senor of Montilla’s son,
He is so rough, and says a lady’s page
Should only be where there are petticoats.

SOL.
Is he so rough? He shall be soundly whipped.
But tell me, child, the Count Alarcos —

PAGE.
Well,
The Count Alarcos — but indeed, sweet lady,
I do not wish that Pedro should be whipped.

SOL.
He shall not then be whipped — speak of the Count.

PAGE.
The Count was showing how your Saracen
Doth take your lion captive, thus and thus:
And fashioned with his scarf a dexterous noose
Made of a tiger’s skin: your unicorn,
They say, is just as good.

SOL.
Well, then Sir Leon —

PAGE.
Why then your Count of Leon — but just then
Sancho, the Viscount of Toledo’s son,
The King’s chief Page, takes me his handkerchief
And binds it on my eyes, he whispering round
Unto his fellows, here you see I’ve caught
A most ferocious cub. Whereat they kicked,
And pinched, and cuffed me till I nearly roared
As fierce as any lion, you be sure.

SOL.
Rude Sancho, he shall sure be sent from Court!
My little Ferdinand — thou hast incurred
Great perils for thy mistress. Go again
And show this signet to the Seneschal,
And tell him that no greater courtesy
Be shown to any guest than to my Page.
This from myself — or I perchance will send,
Shall school their pranks. Away, my faithful imp,
And tell me how the Count Alarcos seems.

PAGE.
I go, sweet lady, but I humbly beg
Sancho may not be sent from Court this time.

SOL.
Sancho shall stay.

[Exit PAGE.]

I hope, ere long, sweet child,
Thou too shalt be a page unto a King.
I’m glad Alarcos smiled not overmuch;
Your smilers please me not. I love a face
Pensive, not sad; for where the mood is thoughtful,
The passion is most deep and most refined.
Gay tempers bear light hearts — are soonest gained
And soonest lost; but he who meditates
On his own nature, will as deeply scan
The mind he meets, and when he loves, he casts
His anchor deep.

[Re-enter PAGE.]

Give me the news.

PAGE.
The news!
I could not see the Seneschal, but gave
Your message to the Pages. Whereupon
Sancho, the Viscount of Toledo’s son,
Pedro, the Senor of Montilla’s son,
The young Count of Almeira, and —

SOL.
My child,
What ails thee?

PAGE.
O the Viscount of Jodar,
I think he was the very worst of all;
But Sancho of Toledo was the first.

SOL.
What did they?

PAGE.
‘Las, no sooner did I say
All that you told me, than he gives the word,
‘A guest, a guest, a very potent guest,’
Takes me a goblet brimful of strong wine
And hands it to me, mocking, on his knee.
This I decline, when on his back they lay
Your faithful Page, nor set me on my legs
Till they had drenched me with this fiery stuff,
That I could scarcely see, or reel my way
Back to your presence.

SOL.
Marry, ’tis too much
E’en for a page’s license. Ne’er you mind,
They shall to Prison by tomorrow’s dawn.
I’ll bind this kerchief round your brow, its scent
Will much revive you. Go, child, lie you down
On yonder couch.

PAGE.
I’m sure I ne’er can sleep
If Sancho of Toledo shall be sent
To-morrow’s dawn to prison.

SOL.
Well, he’s pardoned.

PAGE.
Also the Senor of Montilla’s son,

SOL.
He shall be pardoned too. Now prithee sleep.

PAGE.
The young Count of Almeira —

SOL.
O no more.
They all are pardoned.

PAGE.
I do humbly pray
The Viscount of Jodar be pardoned too.

[Exit SOLISA.]

Scene 4

A Banquet; the KING seated; on his right ALARCOS.
SIDONIA, LEON, the ADMIRAL OF CASTILLE, and other LORDS.
Groups of PAGES, CHAMBERLAINS, and SERVING-MEN.

The KING.
Would’st match them, cousin, ‘gainst our barbs?

ALAR.
Against
Our barbs, Sir!

KING.
Eh, Lord Leon, you can scan
A courser’s points?

LEON.
O, Sir, your travellers
Need fleeter steeds than we poor shambling folks
Who stay at home. To my unskilful sense,
Speed for the chase and vigour for the tilt,
Meseems enough.

ALAR.’
If riders be as prompt.

LEON.
Our tourney is put off, or please your Grace,
I’d try conclusions with this marvellous beast,
This Pegasus, this courser of the sun,
That is to blind us all with his bright rays
And cloud our chivalry.

KING.
My Lord Sidonia,
You’re a famed judge: try me this Cyprus wine;
An English prince did give it me, returning
From the holy sepulchre.

SIDO.
Most rare, my liege,
And glitters like a gem!

KING.
It doth content
Me much, your Cyprus wine. Lord Admiral,
Hast heard the news? The Saracens have fled
Before the Italian galleys.

THE ADMIRAL OF CASTILLE.
No one guides
A galley like your Pisan.

ALAR.
The great Doge
Of Venice, sooth, would barely veil his flag
To Pisa.

ADM.
Your Venetian hath his craft.
This Saracenic rent will surely touch
Our turbaned neighbours?

KING.
To the very core,
Granada’s all a-mourning. Good, my Lords,
One goblet more. We’ll give our cousin’s health.
Here’s to the Count Alarcos.

OMNES.
To the Count Alarcos.

[The Guests rise, pay their homage to the KING, and are retiring.]

KING.
Good night, Lord Admiral; my Lord of Leon,
My Lord Sidonia, and my Lord of Lara,
Gentle adieus; to you, my Lord, and you,
To all and each. Cousin, good night — and yet
A moment rest awhile; since your return
I’ve looked on you in crowds, it may become us
To say farewell alone.

[The KING waves his hand to the SENESCHAL— the Chamber is cleared.]

ALAR.
Most gracious Sire,
You honour your poor servant.

KING.
Prithee, sit.
This scattering of the Saracen, methinks,
Will hold the Moor to his truce?

ALAR.
It would appear
To have that import.

KING.
Should he pass the mountains,
We can receive him.

ALAR.
Where’s the crown in Spain
More prompt and more prepared?

KING.
Cousin, you’re right.
We flourish. By St. James, I feel a glow
Of the heart to see you here once more, my cousin;
I’m low in the vale of years, and yet I think
I could defend my crown with such a knight
On my right hand.

ALAR.
Such liege and land would raise
Our lances high.

KING.
We carry all before us.
Leon reduced. The crescent paled in Cordova,
Why, if she gain Valencia, Aragon
Must kick the beam. And shall she gain Valencia?
It cheers my blood to find thee by my side;
Old days, old days return, when thou to me
Wert as the apple of mine eye.

ALAR.
My liege,
This is indeed most gracious.

KING.
Gentle cousin,
Thou shalt have pause to say that I am gracious.
O! I did ever love thee; and for that
Some passages occurred between us once,
That touch my memory to the quick; I would
Even pray thee to forget them, and to hold
I was most vilely practised on, my mind
Poisoned, and from a fountain, that to deem
Tainted were frenzy.

ALAR.

[Falling on his knee, and taking the KING’s hand.]

My most gracious liege,
This morn to thee I did my fealty pledge.
Believe me, Sire, I did so with clear breast,
And with no thought to thee and to thy line
But fit devotion.

KING.
O, I know it well,
I know thou art right true. Mine eyes are moist
To see thee here again.

ALAR.
It is my post,
Nor could I seek another.

KING.
Thou dost know
That Hungary leaves us?

ALAR.
I was grieved to hear
There were some crosses.

KING.
Truth, I am not grieved.
Is it such joy this fair Castillian realm,
This glowing flower of Spain, be rudely plucked
By a strange hand? To see our chambers filled
With foreign losels; our rich fiefs and abbeys
The prey of each bold scatterling, that finds
No heirship in his country? Have I lived
And laboured for this end, to swell the sails
Of alien fortunes? O my gentle cousin,
There was a time we had far other hopes!
I suffer for my deeds.

ALAR.
We must forget,
We must forget, my liege.

KING.
Is’t then so easy?
Thou hast no daughter. Ah! thou canst not tell
What ’tis to feel a father’s policy
Hath dimmed a child’s career. A child so peerless!
Our race, though ever comely, veiled to her.
A palm tree in its pride of sunny youth
Mates not her symmetry; her step was noticed
As strangely stately by her nurse. Dost know,
I ever deemed that winning smile of hers
Mournful, with all its mirth? But ah! no more
A father gossips; nay, my weakness ’tis not.
’Tis not with all that I would prattle thus;
But you, my cousin, know Solisa well,
And once you loved her.

ALAR.

[Rising.]

Once! O God!
Such passions are eternity.

KING.

[Advancing.]

What then,
Shall this excelling creature, on a throne
As high as her deserts, shall she become
A spoil for strangers? Have I cause to grieve
That Hungary quit us? O that I could find
Some noble of our land might dare to mix
His equal blood with our Castillian seed!
Art thou more learned in our pedigrees?
Hast thou no friend, no kinsman? Must this realm
Fall to the spoiler, and a foreign graft
Be nourished by our sap?

ALAR.
Alas! alas!

KING.
Four crowns; our paramount Castille, and Leon,
Seviglia, Cordova, the future hope
Of Murcia, and the inevitable doom
That waits the Saracen; all, all, all;
And with my daughter!

ALAR.
Ah! ye should have blasted
My homeward path, ye lightnings!

KING.
Such a son
Should grudge his sire no days. I would not live
To whet ambition’s appetite. I’m old;
And fit for little else than hermit thoughts.
The day that gives my daughter, gives my crown:
A cell’s my home.

ALAR.
O, life, I will not curse thee
Let hard and shaven crowns denounce thee vain;
To me thou wert no shade! I loved thy stir
And panting struggle. Power, and pomp, and beauty
Cities and courts, the palace and the fane,
The chace, the revel, and the battle-field,
Man’s fiery glance, and woman’s thrilling smile,
I loved ye all. I curse not thee, O life!
But on my start; confusion. May they fall
From out their spheres, and blast our earth no more
With their malignant rays, that mocking placed
All the delight of life within my reach,
And chained me film fruition.

KING.
Gentle cousin,
Thou art disturbed; I fear these words of mine,
Chance words ere I did say to thee good night,
For O, ’twas joy to see thee here again,
Who art my kinsman, and my only one,
Have touched on some old cares for both of us.
And yet the world has many charms for thee;
Thou’rt not like us, and thy unhappy child
The world esteems so favoured.

ALAR.
Ah, the world
III estimates the truth of any lot.
Their speculation is too far and reaches
Only externals, they are ever fair.
There are vile cankers in your gaudiest flowers,
But you must pluck and peer within the leaves
To catch the pest.

KING.
Alas! my gentle cousin,
To hear thou hast thy sorrows too, like us,
It pains me much, and yet I’ll not believe it,
For with so fair a wife —

ALAR.
Torture me not,
Although thou art a King.

KING.
My gentle cousin,
f spoke to solace thee. We all do hear
Thou art most favoured in a right fair wife.
We do desire to see her; can she find
A friend becomes her better than our child?

ALAR.
My wife? would she were not!

KING.
I say so too,
Would she were not!

ALAR.
Ah me! why did I marry?

KING.
Truth, it was very rash.

ALAR.
Who made me rash?
Who drove me from my hearth, and sent me forth
On the unkindred earth? With the dark spleen
Goading injustice, that ’tis vain to quell,
Entails on restless spirits. Yes, I married,
As men do oft, from very wantonness;
To tamper with a destiny that’s cross,
To spite my fate, to put the seal upon
A balked career, in high and proud defiance
Of hopes that yet might mock me, to beat down
False expectation and its damned lures,
And fix a bar betwixt me and defeat.

KING.
These bitter words would rob me of my hope,
That thou at least wert happy.

ALAR.
Would I slept
With my grey fathers!

KING.
And my daughter too!
O most unhappy pair!

ALAR.
There is a way.
To cure such woes, one only.

KING.
’Tis my thought.

ALAR.
No cloister shall entomb this life; the grave
Shall be my refuge,

KING.
Yet to die were witless,
When Death, who with his fatal finger taps
At princely doors, as freely as he gives
His summons to the serf, may at this instant
Have sealed the only life that throws a shade
Between us and the sun.

ALAR.
She’s very young.

KING.
And may live long, as I do hope she will;
Yet have I known as blooming as she die,
And that most suddenly. The air of cities
To unaccustomed lungs is very fatal;
Perchance the absence of her accustomed sports,
The presence of strange faces, and a longing
For those she has been bred among: I’ve known
This most pernicious: she might droop and pine,
And when they fail, they sink most rapidly.
God grant she may not; yet I do remind thee
Of this wild chance, when speaking of thy lot.
In truth ’tis sharp, and yet I would not die
When Time, the great enchanter, may change all,
By bringing somewhat earlier to thy gate
A doom that must arrive.

ALAR.
Would it were there!

KING.
‘Twould be the day thy hand should clasp my daughter’s,
That thou hast loved so Ion; ‘twould be the day
My crown, the crown of all my realms, Alarcos,
Should bind thy royal brow. Is this the morn
Breaks in our chamber? Why, I did but mean
To say good night unto my gentle cousin
So long unseen. O, we have gossiped, coz,
So cheering dreams!

[Exeunt.]

END OF THE SECOND ACT.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/disraeli/benjamin/count-alarcos/act2.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19