Count Alarcos; a Tragedy, by Benjamin Disraeli

Act v

Scene 1

Exterior of the Castle of Alarcos in the valley of Arlanzon.

[Enter the COUNTESS.]

COUN.
I would recall the days gone by, and live
A moment in the past; if but to fly
The dreary present pressing on my brain,
Woe’s omened harbinger. In exiled love
The scene he drew so fair! Ye castled crags,
The sunbeam plays on your embattled cliffs,
And softens your stern visage, as his love
Softened our early sorrows. But my sun
Has set for ever! Once we talked of cares
And deemed that we were sad. Men fancy sorrows
Until time brings the substance of despair,
And then their griefs are shadows. Give me exile!
It brought me love. Ah! days of gentle joy,
When pastime only parted us, and he
Returned with tales to make our children stare;
Or called my lute, while, round my waist entwined,
His hand kept chorus to my lay. No more!
O, we were happier than the happy birds;
And sweeter were our lives than the sweet flowers;
The stars were not more tranquil in their course,
Yet not more bright! The fountains in their play
Did most resemble us, that as they flow
Still sparkle!

[Enter ORAN.]

Oran, I am very sad.

ORAN.
Cheer up, sweet lady, for the God of all
Will guard the innocent.

COUN.
Think you he’ll come
To visit us? Methinks he’ll never come.

ORAN.
He’s but four leagues away. This vicinage
Argues a frequent presence.

COUN.
But three nights —
Have only three nights past? It is an epoch
Distant and dim with passion. There are seasons
Feelings crowd on so, time not flies but staggers;
And memory poises on her burthened plumes
To gloat upon her prey. Spoke he of coming?

ORAN.
His words were scant and wild, and yet he murmured
That I should see him.

COUN.
I’ve not seen him since
That fatal night, yet even that glance of terror —
I’d hail it now. O, Oran, Oran, think you
He ever more will love me? Can I do
Aught to regain his love? They say your people
Are learned in these questions. Once I thought
There was no spell like duty — that devotion
Would bulwark love for ever. Now, I’d distil
Philtres, converse with moonlit hags, defile
My soul with talismans, bow down to spirits,
And frequent accursed places, all, yea all —
I’d forfeit all — but to regain his love.

ORAN.
There is a cloud now rising in the west,
In shape a hand, and scarcely would its grasp
Exceed mine own, it is so small; a spot,
A speck; see now again its colour flits!
A lurid tint; they call it on our coast
‘The hand of God;’ I for when its finger rises
From out the horizon, there are storms abroad
And awful judgments.

COUN.
Ah! it beckons me.

ORAN.
Lady!

COUN.
Yes, yes, see now the finger moves
And points to me. I feel it on my spirit.

ORAN.
Methinks it points to me —

COUN.
To both of us.
It may be so. And what would it portend?
My heart’s grown strangely calm. If there be chance
Of storms, my children should be safe. Let’s home.

Scene 2

An illuminated Hall in the Royal Palace at Burgos;
in the background Dancers.

Groups of GUESTS passing.

1ST GUEST.
Radiant!

2ND GUEST.
Recalls old days.

3RD GUEST.
The Queen herself
Ne’er revelled it so high!

4TH GUEST.
The Infanta beams
Like some bright star!

5TH GUEST.
And brighter for the cloud
A moment screened her.

6TH GUEST.
Is it true ’tis over
Between the Count Sidonia and the Lara?

1ST GUEST.
A musty tale. The fair Alarcos wins him.
Where’s she to-night?

2ND GUEST.
All on the watch to view
Her entrance to our world.

3RD GUEST.
The Count is here.

4TH GUEST.
Where?

3RD GUEST.
With the King; at least a moment since.

2ND GUEST.
They say she’s ravishing.

4TH GUEST.
Beyond belief!

3RD GUEST.
The King affects him much.

5TH GUEST.
He’s all in all.

6TH GUEST.
Yon Knight of Calatrava, who is he?

1ST GUEST.
Young Mendola.

2ND GUEST.
What he so rich?

1ST GUEST.
The same.

2ND GUEST.
The Lara smiles on him.

1ST GUEST.
No worthier quarry

3RD GUEST.
Who has the vacant Mastership?

4TH GUEST.
I’ll back
The Count of Leon.

3RD GUEST.
Likely; he stands well
With the Lord Admiral.

[They move away.]

[The Counts of SIDONIA and LEON come forward.]

LEON.
Doubt as you like,
Credulity will come, and in good season.

SIDO.
She is not here that would confirm your tale.

LEON.
’Tis history, my Sidonia. Strange events
Have happened, stranger come.

SIDO.
I’ll not believe it.
And favoured by the King! What can it mean?

LEON.
What no one dares to say.

SIDO.
A clear divorce.
O that accursed garden! But for that —

LEON.
’Twas not my counsel. Now I’d give a purse
To wash good Oran in Arlanzon’s wave;
The dusk dog needs a cleansing.

SIDO.
Hush! here comes
Alarcos and the King.

[They retire: the KING and COUNT ALARCOS advance.]

KING.
Solisa looks
A Queen.

ALAR.
The mirror of her earliest youth
Ne’er shadowed her so fair!

KING.
I am young again,
Myself to-night. It quickens my old blood
To see my nobles round me. This goes well.
’Tis Courts like these that make a King feel proud.
Thy future subjects, cousin.

ALAR.
Gracious Sire,
I would be one.

KING.
Our past seclusion lends
A lustre to this revel.

[The KING approaches the Count of LEON; SOLISA advances to ALARCOS.]

SOL.
Why art thou grave?
I came to bid thee smile. In truth, to-night
I feel a lightness of the heart to me
Hath long been strange.

ALAR.
’Tis passion makes me grave.
I muse upon thy beauty. Thus I’d read
My oppressed spirit, for in truth these sounds
Jar on my humour.

SOL.
Now my brain is vivid
With wild and blissful images. Canst guess
What laughing thought unbidden, but resistless,
Plays o’er my mind to-night? Thou canst not guess:
Meseems it is our bridal night.

ALAR.
Thy fancy
Outruns the truth but scantly.

SOL.
Not a breath.
Our long-vexed destinies — even now their streams
Blend in one tide. It is the hour, Alarcos:
There is a spirit whispering in my ear,
The hour is come. I would I were a man
But for a rapid hour. Should I rest here,
Prattling with gladsome revellers, when time,
Steered by my hand, might bring me to a port
I long had sighed to enter? But, alas!
These are a woman’s thoughts.

ALAR.
And yet I share them.

SOL.
Why not to-night? Now, when our hearts are high,
Our fancies glowing, pulses fit for kings,
And the whole frame and spirit of the man
Prepared for daring deeds?

ALAR.
And were it done —
Why then ’twere not to do.

SOL.
The mind grows dull,
Dwelling on method of its deeds too long.
Our schemes should brood as gradual as the storm;
Their acting should be lightning. How far is’t?

ALAR.
An hour.

SOL.
Why it wants two to midnight yet.
O could I see thee but reenter here,
Ere yet the midnight clock strikes on my heart
The languish of new hours — I’d not ask thee
Why I had missed the mien, that draws to it ever
My constant glance. There’d need no speech between us;
For I should meet — my husband.

ALAR.
’Tis the burthen
Of this unfilled doom weighs on my spirit.
Why am I here? My heart and face but mar
This festive hall. To-night, why not to-night?
The night will soon have past: then ’twill be done.
We’ll meet again to-night.

[Exit ALARCOS.]

Scene 3

A Hall in the Castle of ALARCOS;
in the back of the Scene a door leading to another Apartment.

ORAN.
Reveal the future, lightnings! Then I’d hail
That arrowy flash. O darker than the storm
Cowed as the beasts now crouching in their caves,
Is my sad soul. Impending o’er this house,
I feel some bursting fate, my doomed arm
In vain would ward,

[Enter a MAN AT ARMS.]

How now, hast left thy post?

MAN.
O worthy Castellan, the lightnings play
Upon our turrets, that no human step
Can keep the watch. Each forky flash seems missioned
To scathe our roof, and the whole platform flows
With a blue sea of flame.

ORAN.
It is thy post.
No peril clears desertion. To thy post.
Mark me, my step will be as prompt as thine;
I will relieve thee.

[Exit MAN AT ARMS.]

Let the mischievous fire
Wither this head. O Allah! grant no fate
More dire awaits me.

[Enter the COUNT ALARCOS.]

Hah! the Count! My lord,
In such a night!

ALAR.
A night that’s not so wild
As this tempestuous breast. How is she, Oran?

ORAN.
Well.

ALAR.
Ever well.

ORAN.
The children —

ALAR.
Wine, I’m wearied,
The lightning scared my horse; he’s galled my arm.
Get me some wine.

[Exit ORAN.]

The storm was not to stop me.
The mind intent construes each natural act
To a personal bias, and so catches judgments
In every common course. In truth the flash,
Though it seemed opening hell, was not so dreadful
As that wild glaring hall.

[Re-enter ORAN with a goblet and flagon.]

Ah! this remans me!
I think the storm has lulled. Another cup.
Go see, good Oran, how the tempest speeds.

[Exit ORAN.]

An hour ago I did not dare to think
I’d drink wine more.

[Re-enter ORAN.]

ORAN.
The storm indeed has lulled
As by a miracle; the sky is clear,
There’s not a breath of air; and from the turret
I heard the bell of Huelgas.

ALAR.
Then ’twas nothing.
My spirit vaults! Oran, thou dost remember
The night that we first met?

ORAN.
’Tis graven deep
Upon my heart.

ALAR.
I think thou lov’st me, Oran?

ORAN.
And all thy house.

ALAR.
Nay, thou shalt love but me.
I’ll no divisions in the hearts that are mine.

ORAN.
I have no love but that which knits me to thee
With deeper love.

ALAR.
I found thee, Oran, what —
I will not say. And now thou art, good Oran,
A Prince’s Castellan.

ORAN.
I feel thy bounty.

ALAR.
Thou shalt be more. But serve me as I would,
And thou shalt name thy meed.

ORAN.
To serve my lord
Is my sufficient meed.

ALAR.
Come hither, Oran,
Were there a life between me and my life,
And all that makes that life a thing to cling to,
Love, Honour, Power, ay, what I will not name
Nor thou canst image — yet enough to stir
Ambition in the dead — I think, good Oran,
Thou would’st not see me foiled?

ORAN.
Thy glory’s dearer
Than life to me.

ALAR.
I knew it, I knew it.
Thou shalt share all; thy alien blood shall be
No bar to thy preferment. Hast thou brothers?
I’ll send for them. An aged sire, perchance?
Here’s gold for him. Count it thyself. Contrive
All means of self-enjoyment. To the full
They shall lap up fruition. Thou hast, all have,
Some master wish which still eludes thy grasp,
And still’s the secret idol of thy soul;
’Tis gained. And only if thou dost, good Oran,
What love and duty prompt.

ORAN.
Count on my faith,
I stand prepared to prove it.

ALAR.
Good, good, Oran.
It is an hour to midnight?

ORAN.
The moon is not
Within her midnight bower, yet near.

ALAR.
So late!
The Countess sleeps?

ORAN.
She has long retired.

ALAR.
She sleeps,
O, she must wake no more!

ORAN.
Thy wife!

ALAR.
It must
Be done, ere yet the Castle chime shall tell
Night wanes.

ORAN.
Thy wife! God of my fathers! none
Can do this deed!

ALAR.
Upon thy hand it rests.
The deed must fall on thee.

ORAN.
I will not do it.

ALAR.
Thine oath, thine oath! Hast thou forgot thine oath?
Thou owest me a life, and now I claim it.
What, hast thou trifled with me? Hast thou fooled
With one whose point was at thy throat? Beware!
Thou art my slave, and I have branded thee
With this infernal ransom!

ORAN.
I am thy slave,
And I will be thy slave, and all my days
Devoted to perdition. Not for gold
Or worldly worth; to cheer no aged parent,
Though I have one, a mother; not to bask
My seed within thy beams; to feed no passions
And gorge no craving vanity; but because
Thou gavest me life, and led to that which made
That life for once delicious. O, great sir,
The King’s thy foe? Surrounded by his guards
I would waylay him. Hast thou some fierce rival?
I’ll pluck his heart out. Yea! there is no peril
I’d not confront, no rack I’ll not endure,
No great offence commit, to do thee service —
So thou wilt spare me this, and spare thy soul
This unmatched sin.

ALAR.
I had exhausted suffering
Ere I could speak to thee. I claim thine oath.

ORAN.
One moment, yet one moment. This is sudden
As it is terrible.

ALAR.
The womb is ripe,
And thou art but the midwife of the birth
I have engendered.

ORAN.
Think how fair she is,
How gracious, how devoted!

ALAR.
Need I thee
To tell me what she is!

ORAN.
Thy children’s mother.

ALAR.
Would she were not! Another breast should bear
My children.

ORAN.
Thou inhuman bloody man —
It shall not be, it cannot, cannot be.
I tell thee, tyrant, there’s a power abroad
E’en now that crashes thee. The storm that raged
Blows from a mystic quarter. ’Tis the hand
Of Allah guides the tempest of this night.

ALAR.
Thine oath, thine oath!

ORAN.
Accursed be the hour
Thou sparedst my life!

ALAR.
Thine oath, I claim thine oath.
Nay, Moor, what is it? ’Tis a life, and thou
Hast learnt to rate existence at its worth.
A life, a woman’s life! Why, sack a town,
And thousands die like her. My faithful Oran,
Come let me love thee, let me find a friend
When friends can prove themselves. It’s not an oath
Vowed in our sunshine ease, that shows a friend;
’Tis the tempestuous mood like this, that calls
For faithful service.

ORAN.
Hah! the Emir’s blood
Cries for this judgment. It was sacred seed.

ALAR.
It flowed to clear thine honour. Art thou he
That honour loved so dearly, that he scorned
Betrayal of a foe, although that foe
Had changed him to a bravo?

ORAN.
Let me kiss
Thy garment’s hem, and grovel it thy feet —
I pray, I supplicate — my lord, my lord —
Absolve me from that oath!

ALAR.
I had not thought
To claim it twice. It seems I lacked some judgment
In man, to deem that honour might be found
In hired stabbers.

ORAN.
Hah! I vowed to thee
A life for that which thou didst spare —’tis well.
The debt is paid.

[Stabs himself and falls.]

[Enter the COUNTESS from the inner Chamber.]

COUN.
I cannot sleep — my dreams are full of woe!
Alarcos! my Alarcos! Hah! dread sight!
Oran!

ORAN.
O, spare her; ’tis no sacrifice
If she be spared.

COUN.
Wild words! Thou dost not speak.
O, speak, Alarcos! speak!

ORAN.
His voice is death.

COUN.
Ye Saints uphold me now, for I am weak
And lost. What means this? Oran dying! Nay —
Alarcos! I’m a woman. Aid me, aid me.
Why’s Oran thus? O, save him, my Alarcos!
Blood! And why shed? Why, let us staunch his wounds.
Why are there wounds? He will not speak. Alarcos,
A word, a single word! Unhappy Moor!
Where is thy hurt?
[Kneels by ORAN.]

ORAN.
That hand! This is not death;
’Tis Paradise.

[Dies.]

ALAR.

[advancing in soliloquy]

He sets me great examples.
’Tis easier than I deemed; a single blow
And his bold soul has fled. His lavish life
Enlists me in quick service. Quit that dark corpse;
He died as did become a perjured traitor.

COUN.
To whom, my lord?

ALAR.
To all Castille perchance.
Come hither, wife. Before the morning breaks
A lengthened journey waits thee. Art prepared?

COUN.

[springing to ALARCOS]

I will not go. Alarcos, dear Alarcos,
Thy look is terrible! What mean these words?
Why should’st thou spare me? Why should Oran die?
The veil that clouds thy mind — I’ll rend it. Tell me —
Yea! I’ll know all. A power supports me now —
Defies even thee.

ALAR.
A traitor’s troubled tongue
Disturbs thy mind. I tell thee, thou must leave
This castle promptly.

COUN.
Not to Burgos — say
But that. I will not go. That fatal woman —
Her shadow’s on thy soul.

ALAR.
No, not to Burgos.
’Tis not to Burgos that thy journey tends.
The children sleep?

COUN.
Spite of the storm.

ALAR.
Go — kiss them.
Thou canst not take them with thee. To thy chamber —
Quick to thy chamber.

[The COUNTESS as if about to speak, but ALARCOS stops her.]

Nay, time presses, wife.

[The COUNTESS slowly reenters her Chamber.]

ALAR.
I am alone — with Death. And will she look
Serene as this? The visage of a hero
Stamped with a martyred end! Thou noble Moor!
What if thy fate were mine! Thou art at rest:
No dark fulfilment waits o’er thee. The tomb
Hath many charms.

[The COUNTESS calls.]

COUN.
Alarcos!

ALAR.
Ay, anon.
Why did she tell me that she lived? Methought
It was all past. I came to confront death;
And we have met. This sacrificial blood —
What, bears it no atonement? ’Twas an offering
Fit for the Gods.

[The midnight bell.]

She waits me now; her hand
Extends a diadem; my achieveless arm
Would wither at her scorn. ’Tis thus, Solisa,
I gain thy heart and realm!

[ALARCOS moves hastily to the Chamber, which he enters;
the stage for some seconds is empty; a shriek is then heard;
ALARCOS reappears, very pale, and slowly advances to the front of the stage.]

’Tis over and I live. I heard a sound;
Was’t Oran’s spirit?
I’ll not rest here, and yet I dare not back.
The bodies? Nay, ’tis done — I’ll not shrink now.
I have seen death before. But is this death?
Methinks a deeper mystery. Well, ’tis done.
There’ll be no hour so dark as this. I would
I had not caught her eye.

[A trumpet sounds.]

The Warder’s note!
Shall I meet life again?

[Another trumpet sounds.]

[Enter the SENESCHAL.]

SEN.
Horsemen from Court.

ALAR.
The Court! I’m sick at heart. Perchance she’s eager,
And cannot wait my coming.

[Enter two COURTIERS.]

Well, good sirs!

1ST COURT.
Alas, my lord.

ALAR.
I live upon thy words.
What now?

1ST COURT.
We have rode post, my lord.

ALAR.
Bad news
Flies ever. ’Tis the King?

1ST COURT.
Alas!

ALAR.
She’s ill.
My horse, my horse there!

1ST COURT.
Nay, my lord, not so.

ALAR.
Why then I care for nought.

1ST COURT.
Unheard-of horror!
The storm, the storm —

ALAR.
I rode in it.

1ST COURT.
Methought
Each flash would fire the Citadel; the flame
Wreathed round its pinnacles, and poured in streams
Adown the pallid battlements. Our revellers
Forgot their festival, and stopped to gaze
On the portentous vision. When behold!
The curtained clouds reopened, and a bolt
Came winged from the startling blue of heaven,
And struck — the Infanta!

ALAR.
There’s a God of Vengeance.

1ST COURT.
She fell a blighted corpse. Amid the shrieks
Of women, prayers of hurrying multitudes,
The panic and the stir we sought for thee;
The King’s overwhelmed.

ALAR.
My wife’s at least a Queen,
She reigns in Heaven. The King’s o’erwhelmed — poor man
Go tell him, sirs, the Count Alarcos lived
To find a hell on earth; yet thus he sought
A deeper and a darker.

[Falls.]

The End

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