A Series of Plays in which it is attempted to delineate The Stronger Passions of the Mind, Volume One/De Monfort Act 4
ACT IV.— SCENE I.
Moon-light. A wild path in a wood, shaded with trees. Enter De Monfort, with a strong expression of disquiet, mixed with fear, upon his face, looking behind him, and bending his ear to the ground, as if he listened to something.)
De Mon. How hollow groans the earth beneath my tread!
Is there an echo here? Methinks it sounds
As tho' some heavy footstep follow'd me.
I will advance no farther.
Deep settled shadows rest across the path,
And thickly-tangled boughs o'er-hang this spot.
O that a tenfold gloom did cover it!
That 'midst the murky darkness I might strike;
As in the wild confusion of a dream,
Things horrid, bloody, terrible, do pass,
As tho' they pass'd not; nor impress the mind
With the fix'd clearness of reality.
(An owl is heard screaming near him.)
(Starting.) What sound is that?
(Listens, and the owl cries again.)
It is the screech-owl's cry.
Foul bird of night! what spirit guides thee here?
Art thou instinctive drawn to scenes of horrour?
I've heard of this.(Pauses and listens.)
How those fall'n leaves so rustle on the path,
With whisp'ring noise, as tho' the earth around me
Did utter secret things!
The distant river, too, bears to mine ear
A dismal wailing. O mysterious night!
Thou art not silent; many tongues hast thou.
A distant gath'ring blast sounds thro' the wood,
And dark clouds fleetly hasten o'er the sky:
O! that a storm would rise, a raging storm;
Amidst the roar of warring elements
I'd lift my hand and strike: but this pale light,
The calm distinctness of each stilly thing,
Is terrible. (Starting.) Footsteps are near—
He comes, he comes! I'll watch him farther on—
I cannot do it here.[Exit.
Enter Rezenvelt, and continues his way slowly across the stage, but just as he is going off the owl screams, he stops and listens, and the owl screams again.
Rez. Ha! does the night-bird greet me on my way?
How much his hooting is in harmony
With such a scene as this! I like it well.
Oft when a boy, at the still twilight hour,
I've leant my back against some knotted oak,
And loudly mimick'd him, till to my call
He answer would return, and thro' the gloom
We friendly converse held.
Between me and the star-bespangl'd sky
Those aged oaks their crossing branches wave,
And thro' them looks the pale and placid moon.
How like a crocodile, or winged snake,
Yon sailing cloud bears on its dusky length!
And now transformed by the passing wind,
Methinks it seems a flying Pegasus.
Ay, but a shapeless band of blacker hue
Come swiftly after.—
A hollow murm'ring wind comes thro' the trees;
I hear it from afar; this bodes a storm.
I must not linger here—
(A bell heard at some distance.)
What bell is this?
It sends a solemn sound upon the breeze.
Now, to a fearful superstitious mind,
In such a scene, 'twould like a death-knell come:
For me it tells but of a shelter near,
And so I bid it welcome.[Exit.
1st Monk. The storm increases: hark how dismally
It howls along the cloisters. How goes time?
2d Monk. It is the hour: I hear them near at hand;
And when the solemn requiem has been sung
For the departed sister, we'll retire.
Yet, should this tempest still more violent grow,
We'll beg a friendly shelter till the morn.
1st Monk. See, the procession enters: let us join.
(The organ strikes up a solemn prelude. Enter a procession of Nuns, with the Abbess, bearing torches. After compassing the grave twice, and remaining there some time, whilst the organ plays a grand dirge, they advance to the front of the stage.)
SONG, BY THE NUNS.
Departed soul, whose poor remains
This hallow'd lowly grave contains;
Whose passing storm of life is o'er,
Whose pains and sorrows are no more!
Bless'd be thou with the bless'd above!
Where all is joy, and purity, and love.
Let him, in might and mercy dread,
Lord of the living and the dead;
In whom the stars of heav'n rejoice,
To whom the ocean lifts his voice,
Thy spirit purified to glory raise,
To sing with holy saints his everlasting praise.
Departed soul, who in this earthly scene
Hast our lowly sister been.
Swift be thy way to where the blessed dwell?
Until we meet thee there, farewell! farewell!
Enter a Lay Sister, with a wild terrified look, her hair and dress all scattered, and rushes forward amongst them.
Abb. Why com'st thou here, with such disorder'd looks,
To break upon our sad solemnity?
Sist. Oh! I did hear, thro' the receding blast,
Such horrid cries! it made my blood run chill.
Abb. 'Tis but the varied voices of the storm,
Which many times will sound like distant screams:
It has deceiv'd thee.
1st Sist. O no, for twice it call'd, so loudly call'd,
With horrid strength, beyond the pitch of nature.
And murder! murder! was the dreadful cry.
A third time it return'd with feeble strength,
But o'the sudden ceas'd, as tho' the words
Were rudely smother'd in the grasped throat;
And all was still again, save the wild blast
Which at a distance growl'd—
Oh! it will never from my mind depart!
That dreadful cry all i'the instant still'd,
For then, so near, some horrid deed was done,
And none to rescue.
Abb. Where didst thou hear it?
Sist.In the higher cells.
As now a window, open'd by the storm,
I did attempt to close.
1st Monk. I wish our brother Bernard were arriv'd;
He is upon his way.
Abb. Be not alarm'd; it still may be deception.
'Tis meet we finish our solemnity,
Nor shew neglect unto the honour'd dead.
Abb. Ha! who may this be? hush!
(Knocking heard again.)
2d Monk. It is the knock of one in furious haste.
Hush, hush! What footsteps come? Ha! brother Bernard.
Enter Bernard bearing a lantern.
1st Monk. See, what a look he wears of stiffen'd fear!
Where hast thou been, good brother?
Bern. I've seen a horrid sight!
(All gathering round him and speaking at once.)
What hast thou seen?
Bern. As on I hasten'd, bearing thus my light,
Across the path, not fifty paces off,
I saw a murther'd corse stretch'd on its back,
Smear'd with new blood, as tho' but freshly slain.
Abb. A man or woman?
Bern.A man, a man!
Abb. Did'st thou examine if within its breast
There yet is lodg'd some small remains of life?
Was it quite dead?
Bern. Nought in the grave is deader.
I look'd but once, yet life did never lodge
In any form so laid.—
A chilly horrour seiz'd me, and I fled.
1st Monk. And does the face seem all unknown to thee?
Bern. The face! I would not on the face have look'd
For e'en a kingdom's wealth, for all the world.
O no! the bloody neck, the bloody neck!
(Shaking his head, and shuddering with horrour. Loud knocking heard without.)
Sist. Good mercy! who comes next?
Bern.Not far behind
I left our brother Thomas on the road;
But then he did repent him as he went,
And threaten'd to return.
2d Monk.See, here he comes.
Enter brother Thomas, with a wild terrified look.
1st Monk. How wild he looks!
Bern. (Going up to him eagerly.) What, hast thou seen it too?
Thom. Yes, yes! it glar'd upon me as it pass'd,
Bern. What glar'd upon thee?
(All gathering Thomas and speaking at once.)
O! what hast thou seen?
Thom. As, striving with the blast, I onward came,
Turning my feeble lantern from the wind,
Its light upon a dreadful visage gleam'd,
Which paus'd, and look'd upon me as it pass'd.
But such a look, such wildness of despair,
Such horrour-strain'd features never yet
Did earthly visage show. I shrunk and shudder'd.
If damned spirits may to earth return
I've seen it.
Bern.Was there blood upon it?
Thom. Nay, as it pass'd, I did not see its form;
Nought but the horrid face.
Bern. It is the murderer.
1st Monk.What way went it?
Thom. I durst not look till I had pass'd it far,
Then turning round, upon the rising bank,
I saw, between me and the paly sky,
A dusky form, tossing and agitated.
I stopp'd to mark it, but, in truth, I found
'Twas but a sapling bending to the wind,
And so I onward hied, and look'd no more.
1st Monk. But we must look to't; we must follow it:
Our duty so commands. (To 2d Monk.) Will you go, brother?
(To Bernard.) And you, good Bernard?
Bern.If I needs must go.
1st Monk. Come, we must all go.
Abb.Heaven be with you, then!
Sist. Amen, amen! Good heaven be with us all!
O what a dreadful night!
Abb. Daughters retire; peace to the peaceful dead!
Our solemn ceremony now is finish'd.
A large room in the Convent, very dark. Enter the Abbess, Lay Sister bearing a light and several Nuns. Sister sets down the light on a table at the bottom of the stage, so that the room is still very gloomy.
Abb. They have been longer absent than I thought;
I fear he has escap'd them.
1st Nun.Heaven forbid!
Sist. No no, found out foul murder ever is,
And the foul murd'rer too.
2d Nun. The good Saint Francis will direct their search;
The blood so near his holy convent shed
For threefold vengeance calls.
Abb. I hear a noise within the inner court,
They are return'd; (listening;) and Bernard's voice I hear:
They are return'd.
Sist.Why do I tremble so?
It is not I who ought to tremble thus.
2d Nun. I hear them at the door.
Bern. (Without.) Open the door, I pray thee, brother Thomas;
I cannot now unhand the prisoner.
(All speak together, shrinking back from the door, and staring upon one another.) He is with them.
(A folding door at the bottom of the stage is opened, and enter Bernard, Thomas, and the other two Monks, carrying lanterns in their hands, and bringing in De Monfort. They are likewise followed by other Monks. As they lead forward De Monfort the light is turned away, so that he is seen obscurely; but when they come to the front of the stage they all turn the light side of their lanterns on him at once, and his face is seen in all the strengthened horrour of despair, with his hands and cloaths bloody)
(Abbess and Nuns speak at once, and starting back.)
Holy saints be with us!
Bern to Abb. Behold the man of blood!
Abb. Of misery too; I cannot look upon him.
Bern to Nuns. Nay, holy sisters, turn not thus away.
Speak to him, if, perchance, he will regard you:
For from his mouth we have no utt'rance heard,
Save one deep and smother'd exclamation,
When first we seiz'd him.
Abb. to De Mon. Most miserable man, how art thou thus?
Thy tongue is silent, but those bloody hands
Do witness horrid things. What is thy name?
De Mon. (Roused; looks steadfastly at the Abbess for some time, then speaking in a short hurried voice.) I have no name.
Abb. to Bern. Do it thyself: I'll speak to him no more.
Sist. O holy saints! that this should be the man,
Who did against his fellow lift the stroke,
Whilst he so loudly call'd.—
Still in mine ear it sounds: O murder! murder!
De Mon. (Starting.) He calls again!
Sist. No, he did call, but now his voice is still'd.
De Mon. (In great anguish.) 'Tis past!
Sist. Yes it is past, art thou not he who did it?
(De Monfort utters a deep groan, and is supported from falling by the Monks. A noise is heard without.)
Abb. What noise is this of heavy lumb'ring steps,
Like men who with a weighty burden come?
Bern. It is the body: I have orders given
That here it should be laid.
(Enter men bearing the body of Rezenvelt, covered with a white cloth, and set it down in the middle of the room: they then uncover it. De Monfort stands fixed and motionless with horrour, only thatsudden shivering seems to pass over him when they uncover the corps. The Abbess and Nuns shrink hack and retire to some distance; all the rest fixing their eyes steadfastly upon De Monfort. A long pause.)
Bern, to De Mon.
See'st thou that lifeless corps, those bloody wounds,
See how he lies, who but so shortly since
A living creature was, with all the powers
Of sense, and motion, and humanity?
Oh! what a heart had he who did this deed!
1st Monk. (Looking at the body.) How hard those teeth against the lips are press'd,
As tho' he struggled still!
Monk. The hands, too, clench'd: the last efforts of nature.
(De Monfort still stands motionless. Brother Thomas then goes to the body, and raising up the head a little, turns it towards De Monfort.)
Thom. Know'st thou this gastly face?
De Mon. (Putting his hands before his face in violent perturbation.) Oh do not! do not! veil it from my sight!
Put me to any agony but this!
Thom. Ha! dost thou then confess the dreadful deed?
Hast thou against the laws of awful heav'n
Such horrid murder done? What fiend could tempt thee?
(Pauses and looks steadfastly at De Monfort.)
De Mon. I hear thy words but do not hear their sense—
Hast thou not cover'd it?
Bern, to Thom. Forbear, my brother, for thou see'st right well
He is not in a state to answer thee.
Let us retire and leave him for a while.
These windows are with iron grated o'er;
He cannot 'scape, and other duty calls.
Thom. Then let it be.
Bern. to Monks, &c. Come, let us all depart.
(Exeunt Abbess and Nuns, followed by the Monks. One Monk lingering a little behind.)
De Mon. All gone! (Perceiving the Monk.)
O stay thou here!
Monk.It must not be.
De Mont. I'll give thee gold; I'll make thee rich in gold,
If thou wilt stay e'en but a little while.
Monk. I must not, must not stay.
De Mon.I do conjure thee!
Monk. I dare not stay with thee.(Going.)
De Mon.And wilt thou go?
(Catching hold of him eagerly.)
O! throw thy cloak upon this grizly form!
The unclos'd eyes do stare upon me still.
O do not leave me thus!
[Monk covers the body, and Exit.
De Mon. (Alone, looking at the covered body, but at a distance.) Alone with thee! but thou art nothing now.
'Tis done, 'tis number'd with the things o'erpast,
Would! would it were to come!
What fated end, what darkly gath'ring cloud
Will close on all this horrour?
O that dire madness would unloose my thoughts,
And fill my mind with wildest fantasies,
Dark, restless, terrible! ought, ought but this!
(Pauses and shudders.)
How with convulsive life he heav'd beneath me,
E'en with the death's wound gor'd. O horrid, horrid!
Methinks I feel him still.—What sound is that?
I heard a smother'd groan.—It is impossible!
(Looking steadfastly at the body.)
It moves! it moves! the cloth doth heave and swell.
It moves again.—I cannot suffer this—
Whate'er it be I will uncover it.
(Runs to the corps and tearsthe cloth in despair.)
Nought is there here but fix'd and grizly death.
How sternly fixed! Oh! those glazed eyes!
They look me still.
(Shrinks back with horrour.)
Come, madness! come unto me senseless death!
I cannot suffer this! Here, rocky wall,
Scatter these brains, or dull them.
(Runs furiously, and, dashmg his head against the wall, falls upon the floor.)
Enter two Monks, hastily.
1st Monk. See; wretched man, he hath destroy'd himself.
2d Monk. He does but faint. Let us remove him hence.
1st Monk. We did not well to leave him here alone.
2d Monk. Come, let us bear him to the open air.
Exeunt, bearing out De Monfort.