Count Alarcos; a Tragedy, by Benjamin Disraeli

Act iii

Scene 1

Interior of the Cathedral of Burgos.
The High Altar illuminated;
in the distance, various Chapels lighted, and in each of which Mass is
celebrating:
in all directions groups of kneeling Worshippers.
Before the High Altar the Prior of Burgos officiates, attended by his
Sacerdotal Retinue.
In the front of the Stage, opposite to the Audience, a Confessional.
The chanting of a solemn Mass here commences; as it ceases,

[Enter ALARCOS.]

ALAR.
Would it were done! and yet I dare not say
It should be done. O, that some natural cause,
Or superhuman agent, would step in,
And save me from its practice! Will no pest
Descend upon her blood? Must thousands die
Daily, and her charmed life be spared? As young
Are hourly plucked from out their hearths. A life!
Why, what’s a life? A loan that must return
To a capricious creditor; recalled
Often as soon as lent. I’d wager mine
To-morrow like the dice, were my blood pricked.
Yet now,
When all that endows life with all its price,
Hangs on some flickering breath I could puff out,
I stand agape. I’ll dream ’tis done: what then?
Mercy remains? For ever, not for ever
I charge my soul? Will no contrition ransom,
Or expiatory torments compensate
The awful penalty? Ye kneeling worshippers,
That gaze in silent ecstacy before
Yon flaming altar, you come here to bow
Before a God of mercy. Is’t not so?

[ALARCOS walks towards the High Altar and kneels.]

[A Procession advances front the back of the Scene, singing a solemn Mass,
and preceding the Prior of Burgos, who seats himself in the Confessional
his Train filing of on each side of the Scene:
the lights of the High Altar are extinguished,
but the Chapels remain illuminated.]

THE PRIOR.
Within this chair I sit, and hold the keys
That open realms no conqueror can subdue,
And where the monarchs of the earth must fain
Solicit to be subjects: Heaven and Hades,
Lands of Immortal light and shores of gloom.
Eternal as the chorus of their wail,
And the dim isthmus of that middle space,
Where the compassioned soul may purge its sins
In pious expiation. Then advance
Ye children of all sorrows, and all sins,
Doubts that perplex, and hopes that tantalize,
All the wild forms the fiend Temptation takes
To tamper with the soul! Come with the care
That eats your daily life; come with the thought
That is conceived in the noon of night,
And makes us stare around us though alone;
Come with the engendering sin, and with the crime
That is full-born. To counsel and to soothe,
I sit within this chair.

[ALARCOS advances and kneels by the Confessional.]

ALAR.
O, holy father
My soul is burthened with a crime.

PRIOR.
My son,
The church awaits thy sin.

ALAR.
It is a sin
Most black and terrible. Prepare thine ear
For what must make it tremble.

PRIOR.
Thou dost speak
To Power above all passion, not to man.

ALAR.
There was a lady, father, whom I loved,
And with a holy love, and she loved me
As holily. Our vows were blessed, if favour
Hang on a father’s benediction.

PRIOR.
Her
Mother?

ALAR.
She had a mother, if to bear
Children be all that makes a mother: one
Who looked on me, about to be her child,
With eyes of lust.

PRIOR.
And thou?

ALAR.
O, if to trace
But with the memory’s too veracious aid
This tale be anguish, what must be its life
And terrible action? Father, I abjured
This lewd she-wolf. But ah! her fatal vengeance
Struck to my heart. A banished scatterling
I wandered on the earth.

PRIOR.
Thou didst return?

ALAR.
And found the being that I loved, and found
Her faithful still.

PRIOR.
And thou, my son, wert happy?

ALAR.
Alas! I was no longer free. Strange ties
Had bound a hopeless exile. But she I had loved,
And never ceased to love, for in the form,
Not in the spirit was her faith more pure,
She looked upon me with a glance that told
Her death but in my love. I struggled, nay,
’Twas not a struggle, ’twas an agony.
Her aged sire, her dark impending doom,
And the overwhelming passion of my soul:
My wife died suddenly.

PRIOR.
And by a life
That should have shielded hers?

ALAR.
Is there hope of mercy?
Can prayers, can penances, can they avail?
What consecration of my wealth, for I’m rich,
Can aid me? Can it aid me? Can endowments?
Nay, set no bounds to thy unlimited schemes
Of saving charity. Can shrines, can chauntries,
Monastic piles, can they avail? What if
I raise a temple not less proud than this,
Enriched with all my wealth, with all, with all?
Will endless masses, will eternal prayers,
Redeem me from perdition?

PRIOR.
What, would gold
Redeem the sin it prompted?

ALAR.
No, by Heaven!
No, Fate had dowered me with wealth might feed
All but a royal hunger.

PRIOR.
And alone
Thy fatal passion urged thee

ALAR.
Hah!

PRIOR.
Probe deep
Thy wounded soul.

ALAR.
’Tis torture: fathomless
I feel the fell incision.

PRIOR.
There is a lure
Thou dost not own, and yet its awful shade
Lowers in the back-ground of thy soul: thy tongue
Trifles the church’s ear. Beware, my son,
And tamper not with Paradise.

ALAR.
A breath,
A shadow, essence subtler far than love:
And yet I loved her, and for love had dared
All that I ventured for this twin-born lure
Cradled with love, for which I soiled my soul.
O, father, it was Power.

PRIOR.
And this dominion
Purchased by thy soul’s mortgage, still is’t thine?

ALAR.
Yea, thousands bow to him, who bows to thee.

PRIOR.
Thine is a fearful deed.

ALAR.
O, is there mercy?

PRIOR.
Say, is there penitence?

ALAR.
How shall I gauge it?
What temper of contrition might the church
Require from such a sinner?

PRIOR.
Is’t thy wish,
Nay, search the very caverns of thy thought,
Is it thy wish this deed were now undone?

ALAR.
Undone, undone! It is; O, say it were,
And what am I? O, father, wer’t not done,
I should not be less tortured than I’m now;
My life less like a dream of haunting thoughts
Tempting to unknown enormities. The sun
Would rise as beamless on my darkened days,
Night proffer the same torments. Food would fly
My lips the same, and the same restless blood
Quicken my harassed limbs. Undone! undone!
I have no metaphysic faculty
To deem this deed undone.

PRIOR.
Thou must repent
This terrible deed. Look through thy heart. Thy wife,
There was a time thou lov’dst her?

ALAR.
I’ll not think
There was a time.

PRIOR.
And was she fair?

ALAR.
A form
Dazzling all eyes but mine.

PRIOR.
And pure?

ALAR.
No saint
More chaste than she. Her consecrated shape
She kept as ’twere a shrine, and just as full
Of holy thoughts; her very breath was incense,
And all her gestures sacred as the forms
Of priestly offices!

PRIOR.
I’ll save thy soul.
Thou must repent that one so fair and pure,
And loving thee so well —

ALAR.
Father, in vain.
There is a bar betwixt me and repentance.
And yet —

PRIOR.
Ay, yet —

ALAR.
The day may come, I’ll kneel
In such a mood, and might there then be hope?

PRIOR.
We hold the keys that bind and loosen all:
But penitence alone is mercy’s portal.
The obdurate soul is doomed. Remorseful tears
Are sinners’ sole ablution. O, my son,
Bethink thee yet, to die in sin like thine;
Eternal masses profit not thy soul,
Thy consecrated wealth will but upraise
The monument of thy despair. Once more,
Ere yet the vesper lights shall fade away,
I do adjure thee, on the church’s bosom
Pour forth thy contrite heart.

ALAR.
A contrite heart!
A stainless hand would count for more. I see
No drops on mine. My head is weak, my heart
A wilderness of passion. Prayers, thy prayers!

[ALARCOS rises suddenly and exit.]

Scene 2

Chamber in the Royal Palace.

The INFANTA seated in despondency; the KING standing by her side.

KING.
Indeed, ’tis noticed.

SOL.
Solitude is all
I ask; and is it then so great a boon?

KING.
Nay, solitude’s no princely appanage.
Our state’s a pedestal, which men have raised
That they may gaze on greatness.

SOL.
A false idol,
And weaker than its worshippers. I’ve lived
To feel my station’s vanity. O, Death,
Thou endest all!

KING.
Thou art too young to die,
And yet may be too happy. Moody youth
Toys in its talk with the dark thought of death,
As if to die were but to change a robe.
It is their present refuge for all cares
And each disaster. When the sere has touched
Their flowing locks, they prattle less of death,
Perchance think more of it.

SOL.
Why, what is greatness?
Will’t give me love, or faith, or tranquil thoughts?
No, no, not even justice.

KING.
’Tis thyself
That does thyself injustice. Let the world
Have other speculation than the breach
Of our unfilled vows. They bear too near
And fine affinity to what we would,
Ay, what we will. I would not choose this moment,
Men brood too curiously upon the cause
Of the late rupture, for the cause detected
May bar the consequence.

SOL.
A day, an hour
Sufficed to crush me. Weeks and weeks pass on
Since I was promised right.

KING.
Take thou my sceptre
And do thyself this right. Is’t, then, so easy?

SOL.
Let him who did the wrong, contrive the means
Of his atonement.

KING.
All a father can,
I have performed.

SOL.
Ah! then there is no hope.
The Bishop of Ossuna, you did say
He was the learnedest clerk of Christendom,
And you would speak to him?

KING.
What says Alarcos?

SOL.
I spoke not to him since I first received
His princely pledge.

KING.
Call on him to fulfil it.

SOL.
Can he do more than kings?

KING.
Yes, he alone;
Alone it rests with him. This learn from me.
There is no other let.

SOL.
I learn from thee
What other lips should tell me.

KING.
Girl, art sure
Of this same lover?

SOL.
O! I’ll never doubt him.

KING.
And yet may be deceived.

SOL.
He is as true
As talismanic steel.

KING.
Why, then thou art,
At least thou should’st be, happy. Smile, Solisa;
For since the Count is true, there is no bar.
Why dost not smile?

SOL.
I marvel that Alarcos
Hath been so mute on this.

KING.
But thou art sure
He is most true.

SOL.
Why should I deem him true?
Have I found truth in any? Woe is me,
I feel as one quite doomed. I know not why
I ever was ill-omened.

KING.
Listen, girl;
Probe this same lover to the core; ‘tmay be,
I think he is, most true; he should be so
If there be faith in vows, and men ne’er break
The pledge its profits them to keep. And yet —

SOL.
And what?

KING.
To be his Sovereign’s cherished friend,
And smiled on by the daughter of his King,
Why that might profit him, and please so much,
His wife’s ill humour might be borne withal.

SOL.
You think him false?

KING.
I think he might be true:
But when a man’s well placed, he loves not change.

[Enter at the back of the Scene Count ALARCOS disguised.
He advances, dropping his Hat and Cloak.]

Ah, gentle cousin, all our thoughts were thine.

ALAR.
I marvel men should think. Lady, I’ll hope
Thy thoughts are like thyself, most fair.

KING.
Her thoughts
Are like her fortunes, lofty, but around
The peaks cling vapours.

ALAR.
Eagles live in clouds,
And they draw royal breath.

KING.
I’d have her quit,
This strange seclusion, cousin. Give thine aid
To festive purposes.

ALAR.
A root, an egg,
Why there’s a feast with a holy mind.

KING.
If ever
I find my seat within a hermitage,
I’ll think the same.

ALAR.
You have built shrines, sweet lady?

SOL.
What then, my lord?

ALAR.
Why then you might be worshipped,
If your image were in front; I’d bow down
To anything so fair.

KING.
Dost know, my cousin,
Who waits me now? The deputies from Murcia.
The realm is ours,

[whispers him]

is thine.

ALAR.
The church has realms
Wider than both Castilles. But which of them
Will be our lot; that’s it.

KING.
Mine own Solisa,
They wait me in my cabinet;

[aside to her]

Bethink thee
With whom all rests.

[Exit the KING.]

SOL.
You had sport today, my lord?
The King was at the chace.

ALAR.
I breathed my barb.

SOL.
They say the chace hath charm to cheer the spirit,

ALAR.
’Tis better than prayers.

SOL.
Indeed, I think I’ll hunt.
You and my father seem so passing gay.

ALAR.
Why this is no confessional, no shrine
Haunted with presaged gloom. I should be gay
To look at thee and listen to thy voice;
For if fair pictures and sweet sounds enchant
The soul of man, that are but artifice,
How then am I entranced, this living picture
Bright by my side, and listening to this music
That nature gave thee. What’s eternal life
To this inspired mortality! Let priests
And pontiffs thunder, still I feel that here
Is all my joy.

SOL.
Ah! why not say thy woe?
Who stands between thee and thy rights but me?
Who stands between thee and thine ease but me?
Who bars thy progress, brings thee cares, but me?
Lures thee to impossible contracts, goads thy faith
To mad performance, welcomes thee with sighs,
And parts from them with tears? Is this joy? No!
I am thine evil genius.

ALAR.
Say my star
Of inspiration. This reality
Baffles their mystic threats. Who talks of cares?
Why, what’s a Prince, if his imperial will
Be bitted by a priest! There’s nought impossible.
Thy sighs are sighs of love, and all thy tears
But affluent tenderness.

SOL.
You sing as sweet
As did the syrens; is it from the heart,
Or from the lips, that voice?

ALAR.
Solisa!

SOL.
Ay!
My ear can catch a treacherous tone; ’tis trained
To perfidy. My Lord Alarcos, look me
Straight in the face. He quails not.

ALAR.
O my soul,
Is this the being for whose love I’ve pledged
Even thy forfeit!

SOL.
Alarcos, dear Alarcos,
Look not so stern! I’m mad; yes, yes, my life
Upon thy truth; I know thou’rt true: he said
It rested but with thee; I said it not,
Nor thought it.

ALAR.
Lady!

SOL.
Not that voice!

ALAR.
I’ll know
Thy thought; the King hath spoken?

SOL.
Words of joy
And madness. With thyself alone he says
It rests.

ALAR.
Nor said he more?

SOL.
It had found me deaf,
For he touched hearings quick.

ALAR.
Thy faith in me
Hath gone.

SOL.
I’ll doubt our shrined miracles
Before I doubt Alarcos.

ALAR.
He’ll believe thee,
For at this moment he has much to endure,
And that he could not.

SOL.
And yet I must choose
This time to vex thee. O, I am the curse
And blight of the existence, which to bless
Is all my thought! Alarcos, dear Alarcos,
I pray thee pardon me. I am so wretched:
This fell suspense is like a frightful dream
Wherein we fall from heights, yet never reach
The bottomless abyss. It wastes my spirit,
Wears down my life, gnaws ever at my heart,
Makes my brain quick when others are asleep,
And dull when theirs is active. O, Alarcos,
I could lie down and die.

ALAR.

[Advancing in soliloquy.]

Asleep, awake,
In dreams, and in the musing moods that wait
On unfulfilled purposes, I’ve done it;
And thought upon it afterwards, nor shrunk
From the fell retrospect.

SOL.
He’s wrapped in thought;
Indeed his glance was wild when first he entered,
And his speech lacked completeness.

ALAR.
How is it then,
The body that should be the viler part,
And made for servile uses, should rebel
‘Gainst the mind’s mandate, and should hold its aid
Aloof from our adventure? Why the sin
Is in the thought, not in the deed; ’tis not
The body pays the penalty, the soul
Must clear that awful scot. What palls my arm?
It is not pity; trumpet-tongued ambition
Stifles her plaintive voice; it is not love,
For that inspires the blow! Art thou Solisa?

SOL.
I am that luckless maiden whom you love.

ALAR.
You could lie down and die. Who speaks of death?
There is no absolution for self-murder.
Why ’tis the greater sin of the two. There is
More peril in’t. What, sleep upon your post
Because you are wearied? No, we must spy on
And watch occasions. Even now they are ripe.
I feel a turbulent throbbing at my heart
Will end in action: for there spiritual tumults
Herald great deeds.

SOL.
It is the church’s scheme
Ever to lengthen suits.

ALAR.
The church?

SOL.
Ossana
Leans much to Rome.

ALAR.
And how concerns us that?

SOL.
His Grace spoke to the Bishop, you must know?

ALAR.
Ah, yes! his Grace, the church, it is our friend.
And truly should be so. It gave our griefs,
And it should bear their balm.

SOL.
Hast pardoned me
That I was querulous? But lovers crossed
Wrangle with those that love them, as it were,
To spite affection.

ALAR.
We are bound together
As the twin powers of the storm. Very love
Now makes me callous. The great bond is sealed;
Look bright; if gloomy, mortgage future bliss
For present comfort. Trust me ’tis good ‘surance.
I’ll to the King.

[Exeunt both.]

Scene 3

A Street in Burgos.

[Enter the COUNT OF LEON, followed by ORAN.]

LEON.
He has been sighing like a Sybarite
These six weeks past, and now he sends to me
To hire my bravo. Well, that smacks of manhood.
He’ll pierce at least one heart, if not the right one.
Murder and marriage! which the greater crime
A schoolman may decide. All arts exhausted,
His death alone remains. A clumsy course.
I care not. Truth, I hate this same Alarcos,
I think it is the colour of his eyes,
But I do hate him; and the royal ear
Lists coldly to me since this same return.
The King leans wholly on him. Sirrah Moor,
All is prepared?

ORAN.
And prompt.

LEON.
’Tis well; no boggling;
Let it be cleanly done.

ORAN.
A stab or two,
And the Arlanzon’s wave shall know the rest.

LEON.
I’ll have to kibe his heels at Court, if you fail.

ORAN.
There is no fear. We have the choicest spirits
In Burgos.

LEON.
Goodly gentlemen! you wait
Their presence?

ORAN.
Here anon.

LEON.
Good night, dusk infidel,
They’ll take me for an Alguazil. At home
Your news will reach me.

ORAN.
And were all your throats cut,
I would not weep. O, Allah, let them spend
Their blood upon themselves! My life he shielded,
And now exacts one at my hands; we’re quits
When this is closed. That thought will grace a deed
Otherwise graceless. I would break the chain
That binds me to this man. His callous eye
Repels devotion, while his reckless vein
Demands prompt sacrifice. Now is’t wise this?
Methinks ’twere wise to touch the humblest heart
Of those that serve us? In maturest plans
There lacks that finish, which alone can flow
From zealous instruments. But here are some
That have no hearts to touch.

[Enter Four BRAVOs.]

How now, good senors.
I cannot call them comrades; you’re exact,
As doubtless ye are brave. You know your duty?

1ST BRAVO.
And will perform it, or my name is changed,
And I’m not Guzman Jaca.

ORAN.
You well know
The arm you cross is potent?

2ND BRAVO.
All the steel
Of Calatrava’s knights shall not protect it.

3RD BRAVO.
And all the knights to boot.

4TH BRAVO.
A river business.

ORAN.
The safest sepulchre.

4TH BRAVO.
A burial ground
Of which we are the priests, and take our fees;
I never cross a stream, but I do feel
A sense of property.

ORAN.
You know the signal:
And when I boast I’ve friends, they may appear
To prove I am no braggart.

1ST BRAVO.
To our posts
It shall be cleanly done, and brief.

2ND BRAVO.
No oaths,
No swagger.

3RD BRAVO.
Not a word; but all as pleasant
As we were nobles like himself.

4TH BRAVO.
’Tis true, sir;
You deal with gentlemen.

[Exeunt BRAVOs.]

[Enter COUNT ALARCOS.]

ALAR.
The moon’s a sluggard,
I think, to-night. How now, the Moor that dodged
My steps at vespers. Hem! I like not this.
Friends beneath cloaks; they’re wanted. Save you, sir?

ORAN.
And you, sir?

ALAR.
Not the first time we have met,
Or I’ve no eye for lurkers.

ORAN.
I have tasted
Our common heritage, the air, today;
And if the selfsame beam warmed both our bloods,
What then?

ALAR.
Why nothing; but the sun has set,
And honest men should seek their hearths.

ORAN.
I wait
My friends.

[The BRAVOs rush in, and assault COUNT ALARCOS, who,
dropping his Cloak, shows his Sword already drawn, and keeps them at bay.]

So, so! who plays with princes’ blood?
No sport for varlets. Thus and thus, I’ll teach ye
To know your station.

1ST BRAVO.
Ah!

2ND BRAVO.
Away!

3RD BRAVO.
Fly, fly!

4TH BRAVO.
No place for quiet men.

[The BRAVOs run off.]

ALAR.
A little breath
Is all they have cost me, tho’ their blood has stained
My damask blade. And still the Moor! What ho!
Why fliest not like thy mates?

ORAN.
Because I wait
To fight.

ALAR.
Rash caitiff! knowest thou who I am?

ORAN.
One who I heard was brave, and now has proved it.

ALAR.
Am I thy foe?

ORAN.
No more than all thy race.

ALAR.
Go, save thy life.

ORAN.
Look to thine own, proud lord.

ALAR.
Perdition catch thy base-born insolence.

[They fight: after a long and severe encounter,
ALARCOS disarms ORAN, who falls wounded.]

ORAN.
Be brief, dispatch me.

ALAR.
Not a word for mercy?

ORAN.
Why should’st thou give it?

ALAR.
’Tis not merited,
Yet might be gained. Who set thee on to this?
My sword is at thy throat. Give me his name,
And thine shall live.

ORAN.
I cannot.

ALAR.
What, is life
So light a boon? It hangs upon this point.
Bold Moor, is’t then thy love to him who fees thee
Makes thee so faithful?

ORAN.
No; I hate him.

ALAR.
What
Restrains thee, then?

ORAN.
The feeling that restrained
My arm from joining stabbers — Honour.

ALAR.
Humph!
An overseer of stabbers for some ducats.
And is that honour?

ORAN.
Once he screened my life,
And this was my return.

ALAR.
What if I spare
Thy life even now? Wilt thou accord to me
The same devotion?

ORAN.
Yea; the life thou givest
Thou shouldst command.

ALAR.
If I, too, have a foe
Crossing my path and blighting all my life?

ORAN.
This sword should strive to reach him.

ALAR.
Him! thy bond
Shall know no sex or nation. Limitless
Shall be thy pledge. I’ll claim from thee a life
For that I spare. How now, wilt live?

ORAN.
To pay
A life for that now spared.

ALAR.
Swear to thy truth;
Swear by Mahound, and swear by all thy gods,
If thou hast any; swear it by the stars,
In which we all believe; and by thy hopes
Of thy false paradise; swear it by thy soul,
And by thy sword!

ORAN.
I swear.

ALAR.
Arise and live.

THE END OF THE THIRD ACT.

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