Otho The Great - Act Iv - Poem by John Keats
AURANTHE and CONRAD discovered.
Conrad. Well, well, I know what ugly jeopardy
We are cag'd in; you need not pester that
Into my ears. Prythee, let me be spared
A foolish tongue, that I may bethink me
Of remedies with some deliberation.
You cannot doubt but 'tis in Albert's power
To crush or save us?
Auranthe. No, I cannot doubt.
He has, assure yourself, by some strange means,
My secret ; which I ever hid from him,
Knowing his mawkish honesty.
Conrad. Curs'd slave!
Auranthe. Ay, I could almost curse him now myself.
Wretched impediment! Evil genius!
A glue upon my wings, that cannot spread,
When they should span the provinces! A snake,
A scorpion, sprawling on the first gold step,
Conducting to the throne, high canopied.
Conrad. You would not hear my council, when his life
Might have been trodden out, all sure and hush'd;
Now the dull animal forsooth must be
Intreated, managed! When can you contrive
The interview he demands?
Auranthe. As speedily
It must be done as my brib'd woman can
Unseen conduct him to me; but I fear
Twill be impossible, while the broad day
Comes through the panes with persecuting glare.
Methinks, if 't now were night I could intrigue
With darkness, bring the stars to second me,
And settle all this trouble.
Conrad. Nonsense! Child!
See him immediately; why not now?
Auranthe. Do you forget that even the senseless door-posts
Are on the watch and gape through all the house?
How many whispers there are about,
Hungry for evidence to ruin me ;
Men I have spurn 'd, and women I have taunted?
Besides, the foolish prince sends, minute whiles,
His pages so they tell me to enquire
After my health, entreating, if I please,
To see me.
Conrad. Well, suppose this Albert here;
What is your power with him?
Auranthe. He should be
My echo, my taught parrot! but I fear
He will be cur enough to bark at me ;
Have his own say ; read me some silly creed
'Bout shame and pity.
Conrad. What will you do then?
Auranthe. What I shall do, I know not: what L would
Cannot be done; for see, this chain her-floor
Will not yield to the pick-axe and the spade,
Here is no quiet depth of hollow ground.
Conrad. Sister, you have grown sensible and wise,
Seconding, ere I speak it, what is now,
I hope, resolv'd between us.
Auranthe. Say, what is 't?
Conrad. You need not be his sexton too: a man
May carry that with him shall make him die
Elsewhere, give that to him; pretend the while
You will to-morrow succumb to his wishes,
Be what they may, and send him from the Castle
On some fool's errand; let his latest groan
Frighten the wolves!
Auranthe. Alas! he must not die!
Conrad. Would you were both hears'd up in stifling lead!
Auranthe. Conrad, hold! I would not bear
The little thunder of your fretful tongue,
Tho; I alone were taken in these toils,
And you could free me; but remember, sir,
You live alone in my security:
So keep your wits at work, for your own sake,
Not mine, and be more mannerly.
Conrad. Thou wasp!
If my domains were emptied of these folk,
And I had thee to starve
Auranthe. O, marvellous!
But Conrad, now be gone; the Host is look'd for;
Cringe to the Emperor, entertain the Lords,
And, do ye mind, above all things, proclaim
My sickness, with a brother's sadden'd eye,
Condoling with Prince Ludolph. In fit time
Return to me.
Conrad. I leave you to your thoughts. [Exit.
Auranthe (sola) Down, down, proud temper! down,
Why do I anger him when I should kneel?
Conrad! Albert! help! help! What can I do?
wretched woman! lost, wreck'd, swallow'd up,
Accursed, blasted ! O, thou golden Crown,
Orbing along the serene firmament
Of a wide empire, like a glowing moon;
And thou, bright sceptre! lustrous in my eyes,
There as the fabled fair Hesperian tree,
Bearing a fruit more precious! graceful thing.
Delicate, godlike, magic! must I leave
Thee to melt in the visionary air,
Ere, by one grasp, this common hand is made
Imperial? I do not know the time
When I have wept for sorrow; but methinks
I could now sit upon the ground, and shed
Tears, tears of misery. O, the heavy day!
How shall I bear my life till Albert comes?
Ludolph! Erminia! Proofs! O heavy day!
Bring me some mourning weeds, that I may 'tire
Myself, as fits one wailing her own death:
Cut off these curls, and brand this lilly hand,
And throw these jewels from my loathing sight,
Fetch me a missal, and a string of beads,
A cup of bitter'd water, and a crust,
I will confess, O holy Abbot How!
What is this? Auranthe! thou fool, dolt,
Whimpering idiot! up! up! act and quell!
I am safe! Coward! why am I in fear?
Albert! he cannot stickle, chew the cud
In such a fine extreme, impossible!
Who knocks? [Goes to the Door, listens, and opens it.
Albert, I have been waiting for you here
With such an aching heart, such swooning throbs
On my poor brain, such cruel cruel sorrow,
That I should claim your pity! Art not well?
Albert. Yes, lady, well.
Auranthe. You look not so, alas!
But pale, as if you brought some heavy news.
Albert. You know full well what makes me look so pale.
Auranthe. No! Do I? Surely I am still to learn
Some horror; all I know, this present, is
I am near hustled to a dangerous gulph,
Which you can save me from, and therefore safe,
So trusting in thy love; that should not make
Thee pale, my Albert.
Albert. It doth make me freeze.
Auranthe. Why should it, love?
Albert. You should not ask me that,
But make your own heart monitor, and save
Me the great pain of telling. You must know.
Auranthe. Something has vexed you, Albert. There are times
When simplest things put on a sombre cast;
A melancholy mood will haunt a man,
Until most easy matters take the shape
Of unachievable tasks; small rivulets
Then seem impassable.
Albert. Do not cheat yourself
With hope that gloss of words, or suppliant action,
Or tears, or ravings, or self-threaten 'd death,
Can alter my resolve.
Auranthe. You make me tremble;
Not so much at your threats, as at your voice.
Untun'd. and harsh, and barren of all love.
Albert. You suffocate me! Stop this devil's parley,
And listen to me; know me once for all.
Auranthe. I thought I did. Alas! I am deceiv'd.
Albert. No, you are not deceiv'd. You took me for
A man detesting all inhuman crime;
And therefore kept from me your demon's plot
Against Erminia. Silent? Be so still;
For ever! Speak no more; but hear my words,
Thy fate. Your safety I have bought to-day
By blazoning a lie, which in the dawn
I expiate with truth.
Auranthe. O cruel traitor!
Albert. For I would not set eyes upon thy shame;
I would not see thee dragg'd to death by the hair,
Penanc'd, and taunted on a scaffolding!
To-night, upon the skirts of the blind wood
That blackens northward of these horrid towers,
I wait for you with horses. Choose your fate.
Auranthe. Albert, you jest; I'm sure you must.
You, an ambitious Soldier! I, a Queen,
One who could say, Here, rule these Provinces!
Take tribute from those cities for thyself!
Empty these armouries, these treasuries,
Muster thy warlike thousands at a nod !
Go! conquer Italy!
Albert. Auranthe, you have made
The whole world chaff to me. Your doom is fix'd.
Auranthe. Out, villain! dastard!
Albert. Look there to the door!
Who is it?
Auranthe. Conrad, traitor!
Albert. Let him in.
Do not affect amazement, hypocrite,
At seeing me in this chamber.
Albert. Talk not with eyes, but speak your curses out
Against me, who would sooner crush and grind
A brace of toads, than league with them to oppress
An innocent lady, gull an Emperor,
More generous to me than autumn's sun
To ripening harvests.
Auranthe. No more insult, sir!
Albert. Aye, clutch your scabbard; but, for prudence sake,
Draw not the sword; 'twould make an uproar, Duke,
You would not hear the end of. At nightfall
Your lady sister, if I guess aright,
Will leave this busy castle. You had best
Take farewell too of worldly vanities.
Albert. To-morrow, when the Emperor sends
For loving Conrad, see you fawn on him.
Good even !
Auranthe. You'll be seen!
Albert. See the coast clear then.
Auranthe (as he goes). Remorseless Albert! Cruel,
[She lets him out.
Conrad. So, we must lick the dust?
Auranthe. I follow him.
Conrad. How? Where? The plan of your escape?
Auranthe. He waits
For me with horses by the forest-side,
Conrad. Good, good! he dies. You go, say you?
Conrad. Be speedy, darkness! Till that comes,
Fiends keep you company! [Exit.
Auranthe. And you! And you!
And all men! Vanish!
[Retires to an inner Apartment.
SCENE II. An Apartment in the Castle.
Enter LUDOLPH and Page.
Page. Still very sick, my Lord; but now I went
Knowing my duty to so good a Prince;
And there her women in a mournful throng
Stood in the passage whispering: if any
Mov'd 'twas with careful steps and hush'd as death;
They bid me stop.
Ludolph. Good fellow, once again
Make soft enquiry; prythee be not stay'd
By any hindrance, but with gentlest force
Break through her weeping servants, till thou com'st
E'en to her chamber door, and there, fair boy,
If with thy mother's milk thou hast suck'd in
Any diviner eloquence ; woo her ears
With plaints for me more tender than the voice
Of dying Echo, echoed.
Page. Kindest master!
To know thee sad thus, will unloose my tongue
In mournful syllables. Let but my words reach
Her ears and she shall take them coupled with
Moans from my heart and sighs not counterfeit.
May I speed better! [Exit Page.
Ludolph. Auranthe! My Life!
Long have I lov'd thee, yet till now not lov'd:
Remembering, as I do, hard-hearted times
When I had heard even of thy death perhaps,
And thoughtless, suffered to pass alone
Into Elysium! now I follow thee
A substance or a shadow, wheresoe'er
Thou leadest me, whether thy white feet press,
With pleasant weight, the amorous-aching earth,
Or thro' the air thou pioneerest me,
A shade! Yet sadly I predestinate!
O unbenignest Love, why wilt thou let
Darkness steal out upon the sleepy world
So wearily; as if night's chariot wheels
Were clog'd in some thick cloud. O, changeful Love,
Let not her steeds with drowsy-footed pace
Pass the high stars, before sweet embassage
Comes from the pillow 'd beauty of that fair
Completion of all delicate nature's wit.
Pout her faint lips anew with rubious health
And with thine infant fingers lift the fringe
Of her sick eyelids ; that those eyes may glow
With wooing light upon me, ere the Morn
Peers with disrelish, grey, barren, and cold.
Enter GERSA and Courtiers.
Otho calls me his Lion should I blush
To be so tam'd, so
Gersa. Do me the courtesy
Gentlemen to pass on.
Courtier. We are your servants.
Ludolph. It seems then, Sir, you have found out the man
You would confer with; me?
Gersa. If I break not
Too much upon your thoughtful mood, I will
Claim a brief while your patience.
Ludolph. For what cause
Soe'er I shall be honour 'd.
Gersa. I not less.
Ludolph. What may it be? No trifle can take place
Of such deliberate prologue, serious 'haviour.
But be it what it may I cannot fail
To listen with no common interest
For though so new your presence is to me,
I have a soldier's friendship for your fame
Please you explain.
Gersa. As thus for, pardon me,
I cannot in plain terms grossly assault
A noble nature ; and would faintly sketch
What your quick apprehension will fill up
So finely I esteem you.
Ludolph. I attend
Gersa. Your generous Father, most illustrious Otho,
Sits in the Banquet room among his chiefs
His wine is bitter, for you are not there
His eyes are fix'd still on the open doors,
And every passer in he frowns upon
Seeing no Ludolph comes.
Ludolph. I do neglect
Gersa. And for your absence, may I guess the cause?
Ludolph. Stay there! no guess? more princely you must be
Than to make guesses at me. ‘Tis enough,
I'm sorry I can hear no more.
Gersa. And I
As griev'd to force it on you so abrupt;
Yet one day you must know a grief whose sting
Will sharpen more the longer 'tis concealed.
Ludolph. Say it at once, sir, dead, dead, is she dead?
Gersa. Mine is a cruel task : she is not dead
And would for your sake she were innocent
Ludolph. Thou liest! thou amazest me beyond
All scope of thought; convulsest my heart's blood
To deadly churning Gersa you are young
As I am ; let me observe you face to face ;
Not grey-brow'd like the poisonous Ethelbert,
No rheumed eyes, no furrowing of age,
No wrinkles where all vices nestle in
Like crannied vermin no, but fresh and young
And hopeful featured. Ha! by heaven you weep
Tears, human tears Do you repent you then
Of a curs'd torturer's office! Why shouldst join
Tell me, the league of Devils? Confess confess
Gersa. Lie!- but begone all ceremonious points
Of honour battailous. I could not turn
My wrath against thee for the orbed world.
Ludolph. Your wrath, weak boy? Tremble at mine unless
Retraction follow close upon the heels
Of that late stounding insult: why has my sword
Not done already a sheer judgment on thee?
Despair, or eat thy words. Why, thou wast nigh
Whimpering away my reason: hark ye, Sir,
It is no secret; that Erminia,
Erminia, Sir, was hidden in your tent;
O bless 'd asylum! comfortable home!
Begone, I pity thee, thou art a Gull
Erminia's last new puppet
Gersa. Furious fire!
Thou mak'st me boil as hot as thou canst flame!
And in thy teeth I give thee back the lie!
Thou liest! Thou, Auranthe's fool, a wittol
Ludolph. Look! look at this bright sword;
There is no part of it to the very hilt
But shall indulge itself about thine heart
Draw but remember thou must cower thy plumes,
As yesterday the Arab made thee stoop
Gersa. Patience! not here, I would not spill thy blood
Here underneath this roof where Otho breathes,
Thy father almost mine
Ludolph. O faltering coward
Stay, stay, here is one I have half a word with
Well What ails thee child?
Page. My lord,
Ludolph. Good fellow
Page. They are fled!
Ludolph. They who?
Page. When anxiously
I hasten 'd back, your grieving messenger,
I found the stairs all dark, the lamps extinct,
And not a foot or whisper to be heard.
I thought her dead, and on the lowest step
Sat listening; when presently came by
Two muffled up, one sighing heavily,
The other cursing low, whose voice I knew
For the Duke Conrad's. Close I follow'd them
Thro' the dark ways they chose to the open air;
And, as I follow'd, heard my lady speak.
Ludolph. Thy life answers the truth!
Page. The chamber's empty!
Ludolph. As I will be of mercy! So, at last,
This nail is in my temples!
Gersa. Be calm in this.
Ludolph. I am.
Gersa. And Albert too has disappeared;
Ere I met you, I sought him everywhere ;
You would not hearken.
Ludolph. Which way went they, boy?
Gersa. I'll hunt with you.
Ludolph. No, no, no. My senses are
Still whole. I have surviv'd. My arm is strong
My appetite sharp for revenge! I'll no sharer
In my feast; my injury is all my own,
And so is my revenge, my lawful chattels!
Terrier, ferret them out! Burn burn the witch!
Trace me their footsteps! Away!
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