Poet Lore/Volume 34/Number 1/Raduz and Mahulena
RADUZ AND MAHULENA
A SLOVAK TALE IN FOUR ACTS
By Julius Zeyer
Julius Zeyer (1841–1901) occupies a position beside Vrchlický and Svatopluk Cech, as one of the three great poets of Bohemian literature of the later years of the nineteenth century. A thorough romantic in all his work, he resembles to some degree the English Preraphaelites. He is most famous for his long narrative poems, which may perhaps be compared with those of William Morris. His fairy-tale drama, Radúz and Mahulena, though written in prose, is throughout poetic in spirit, with no concessions to modern realism. It is “a tale of old,” of the childhood of the Slovak folk in northern Hungary, a Slavic people who, as the author tells us in his dedication, lived for a thousand years beneath the yoke of the “Huns,” (not Germans, but Magyars), and who now have attained their own national life in union with their kinsmen, the Bohemians.
All Bohemian names are accented on the first syllable. An oblique stroke over a vowel (as in Radúz), indicates the long quantity of the vowel, not the accent of the word.
and to those
who with him so passionately love the Slovak people and with him so bitterly suffer and so stoutly endure
i dedicate this poem of mine
knowing well that I strew my simple flowers not on the grave of a brother people by the Tatra Mountains, but on the threshold of a cavern radiant with the light of a future of salvation, on the threshold of a cavern of mortal tortures, from which this down-trodden people shall come forth into the light as Lazarus of old, whom He called forth to a new life Who said to the suffering for their eternal comfort and hope: “I am the Resurrection and the Life!”
In the thousandth year of the usurpation of the Huns.
|Persons of the Drama|
|Stojmír, King of Tatra.|
|Runa, his wife.|
|Raduz, prince of Magura.|
|Queen Nyola, his mother.|
|Radovid, an old servant of Radúz.|
|Přibina, confidant of Stojmír.|
|Vratko, a woodcutter.|
|People of Magura and of Tatra. Youths and maidens. The body guard of the king.|
A lofty, cloud-capped peak of the Tatra Mountains. Leaning against a crag stands a slender maidenly form in a white robe, playing a simple, touching melody on the violin. Her blond tresses are entwined with a wreath of many-colored flowers; on her forehead shines a star. A veil of glittering rainbow tints flows freely in long undulations from her head to her feet. On her shoulder perches a white dove. The song dies away and the maiden speaks.
I am a tale of old. Whosoe’er will follow me, him will I lead to the blue realms of fable. Here from these gigantic heights, along ancient paths, overgrown with moss and strewn with leaves of ancient autumns, I descend to the sunny fields of the Slovak people. I know the depths of its soul and its ancient dreams live within my bosom. Did I not stand at its cradle! With my enchanted veil I shroud the deeds of bygone ages in the mists of memory. Yet beneath the glistening of its folds the ancient yearnings of the people are spreading their wings; the people’s tenderness glows from beneath its undulations and the people’s tears flow over its gleaming fabric; and fervent, eternally human hearts beat now passionately, now dreamily under its freely fluttering shelter . . . Aloft! . . . Along ancient paths, through rustling forests, around curves of the ocean into the peaceful Slovak lands will I guide you. Through my veil will you see it, the own sister of that Aryan people which drinks from the Ganges. Those Slovak lands which you will see bear not as yet the Turanian yoke; they still know not the sorrow which now for a thousand years has pierced the heavens as changelessly as their mountains eternally tower into the blue sky. The dark cloud, the shadow of cruel fate, does not yet hover over the sunny region where the grass waves in the wind and clear waters bubble forth. A free people still lives amid free mountains. And yet disunion is already accomplishing its own destruction. Two princes have met in hatred before there were born Radúz and Mahulena, of whose sorrows I shall today tell you the story. . .
I am a tale of old, the own sister of those whom the Ganges nursed, and of those who dreamed on the heights of Iran, where burn the brightest stars, and of those who knew the red midnight sun in the Scandinavian wildernesses, and of those who in Grecian groves beside ancient oceans nestled like swallows in the white marble temples, and, last of all, of those who in gloomy forests of oak where the Druids worshipped the pale moon, danced their rounds about the pale mistletoe. . . . I am a tale of old. A mystic smoke is wafted before me and behind me blows the wind of the ages. . . . Who follows me sees the ancient marvels of the fates. . . . And yet what he shall see today is simple as the heart of my people. simple as its quiet cottages beneath green groves.
It is a simple cottage of my people, in very truth—and yet a golden wreath lies there beneath the threshold; its charm is that of the people’s surging poetic spirit! . . .
She descends slowly from the crags, playing the song on the violin. When she has vanished and the song is ended, a wooded valley appears with a large meadow 1n the foreground. On one side a clear spring gushes from the crag. Not far from it Radúz is sleeping in the grass. It is early morning.
Radovid (Approaching).—Here at last have I come forth to God’s day. I had begun to think that there would be no end to the twilight of these trees. But where am I? Whither have I wandered? And I wander vainly! Vainly do I call to all corners of the world: “Prince Radúz! Prince Radúz”! Only the echo laughs in response, and a fierce wind tears the words from my lips to cast them into the void.
Radúz (In his sleep).—Ah, wretched me . . . what have I done!
Radovid.—Is that the raving of a demon or really his voice?
Radúz (In his sleep)—That blood is hot . . . How it spurted into my face! . . .
Radovid (Catching sight of him and running to him).—My Prince! O, my Radúz! So I have found thee, at last!
Radúz (Awakened).—Where shall I wash off the blood? . . . Where am I? What is happening? It is morning! The sun has arisen again, the golden bird! Ah, Radovid, is it really thou?
Radovid.—It is I, yes, dear soul!
Radúz—Welcome, then, welcome! How hast thou found me? And why hast thou sought me?
Radovid.—How have I found thee? By mere chance. So at least it seems—but who knows? Perchance, seest thou, my yearning heart has led me, or some kind fate that wishes thee well. Why havelI sought thee? It is a sin that thou dost ask me such a thing, in very truth. What else could I do, when thou hast been missing from home for two days and thy father and mother have been dying of fear? And all in the palace guessed in vain whither thou couldst have vanished. I was silent, but suspected in what direction thou hadst set out. Have I not so often seen thee, wrapt in thought, in a strange dream gazing hither toward those high mountains which seem everlastingly to threaten Magura from a distance? What lured thee ever into this dangerous distance?
Radúz.—What is it that ever lures us into the distance? That which in it is for us unknown. It is the trees that I was ever drawn by, the mystery of those forests which I had seen eternally black upon the horizon; I was ever drawn by those lofty mountain summits which each morning the young dawn kisses to gold and crimson! I would fain know the stories that the clouds tell them. And I have always envied the clouds and the birds, that they could soar freely from the heavens down to the depths of the ravines and the deep valleys, in that region to me unknown.
Radovid.—That was in thy childish years, methinks. But now? Now thou surely knowest that neither here nor elsewhere wilt thou see aught else than at home.
Radúz.—I am not yet so wise, dear friend. And thou thyself art somewhat to blame that I am not wiser. Didst thou not ever nourish my childish dreams with thy tales? Who was it told me of the sun, that he had a castle somewhere in Tatra, that twelve maidens of eternal youth serve him there? Who pictured to me those black forests full of mystery, which stand mutely around a meadow, a meadow blooming with all sorts of wondrous flowers, on which shimmers the sun’s house of clouds? Thus you eternally awaken in children the longing for that which, alas, does not exist, and of which we then eternally feel the absence!
Radovid.—Thou dost not mean that thou hast set forth for the mountains in search of the sun’s castle of clouds?
Radúz.—That I will not maintain, but what shouldst thou say, friend, if I should confess to thee that I have found it? Amid the black forests last night I saw that meadow and the castle itself, and three of those maidens were standing before the house—
Radovid.—Hast thou dreamed that by this spring, here, where thou hast been sleeping?
Radúz.—Of no dream do I tell thee, Radovid. Do but hear how I came hither. On that day when I disappeared from home I set forth hunting, and had no thoughts of a long journey into the mountains. I was wandering through the forest and suddenly spied a stag white as the fallen snow. It seemed tame and did not flee before me when it saw me from afar. I approached it, but the lovely animal, as though it wished to play, quickly retreated and fled, yet not far. Again it stood still and again lured and enticed me, and continually kept withdrawing deeper into the forest. Thus it went on for a whole day and a whole night! And each time when wearied I dropped on the moss, the stag stood quietly a short distance away and waited for me, as if in mockery, until I should once more set out in pursuit of it! And so it went until last night. Though a hundred times I thought to myself, “This is enough,” yet I ceased not to pursue it.
Radovid.—That is strange! Methinks some demon of the woods has perchance been making sport of thee. But what came to pass last night?
Radúz.—Ah, it came to pass that I overtook the stag . . . But alas, angered by the long, futile chase, I became the slave of my own blind passion! When at last I grasped it by the antlers, Radovid, I plunged my sword into its side! Its hot blood spurted on my face and hands and tears fell from its eyes. It fell and sighed like a human being! My heart sank; I fancied that I had committed murder! I could not endure the accusing look of the dying animal. I cast aside the weapon and fled as if pursued by sin! . . .
Radovid.—Thou art too compassionate and always hast been so; thou hast ever loved animals even to excess.
Radúz.—They are our brothers; the earth is their mother as well as ours. But listen to what happened further. I fled on blindly; I know not how long this lasted. Suddenly the forest became less dense and from its border I saw on a meadow covered with flowers a large, white building. It was silvered by the moon and seemed like a cloud. Three maidens garbed in white were standing among the flowers in the meadow; two of them were singing and each petted a white stag, just such a stag as I had killed but a short time before! The third stood apart and was silent. She was sad and gazed at the moon. Then I saw what an evil deed I had done! It was surely her stag that lay in blood there in the dense forest—and she was sad through my transgression!
Radovid.—Didst thou approach nearer?
Radúz.—How could I have summoned the heart to look into her face? No, I again fled into the forest and sought for water, that I might wash this blood from my hands . . . It burned like fire! Here at last I found a spring. Then I threw myself on the grass; I longed to sleep. But through this willow, which by night seemed like a cloud of greenish-gray mist, the moon looked down upon me, and I imagined that I saw her—that maiden’s pale, sad face gazing upon me through the dark enchantment of the branches that spread broad above me. At last I fell asleep, but into a restless sleep.
Radovid.—Thou art a child! And I, too, am foolish as a child, that I harken and harken to thee and completely forget to urge thee to haste! I have great fear that we are standing on the soil of King Stojmír.
Radúz.—It is likely that we are within the bounds of the Tatra land. Those gigantic mountain peaks are so near! How proudly they raise their heads aloft! And eagles circle all about them!
Radovid.—True, true! But now come quickly! I think that our border line runs in this direction. Come! . . . Why dost thou hesitate?
Radúz.—I hesitate because thy haste too much resembles flight. If the men of Tatra should find out that I had fled from here, to the end of time their posterity would sing mocking songs of me!
Radovid.—But they will never find out—
Radúz.—What? That I fled? O, most surely not, for I shall not do so. Through the consciousness of it I should ever blush for shame.
Radovid.—Thou wouldst rather surrender thyself, it may be, into the cruel hands of thine enemies?
Radúz.—But why is King Stojmír so implacable a foe of my father?
Radovid.—Because at one time they were so good friends that they were like own brothers. That hatred is always fiercest which occupies the place of former love. But now let us go!
Radúz.—Why dost thou hasten so? It is pleasant here. See how those gold-green dragon flies hover above the water . . . So at one time they were like brothers . . .
Radovid.—They went out into the world like brave heroes. There somewhere beyond the mountains stood an old castle; there they saw a maiden and both were fired with passionate love. She chose thy father. Now thou knowest all. I have spoken of thy mother.
Radúz.—That was grievous for King Stojmír. So he remained alone, alone with his hatred.
Radovid.—He did not remain alone with his hatred, for he married a wife of princely race, but evil! She never allowed him to forget. Jealous of the memory of her former rival, she continually inflamed his spite against thy father, against thy mother, against us all! Believe me, they would slay thee if thou shouldst fall into their hands: therefore come—
Radúz.—Well then—but what of that?
Vratko (Singing behind the scenes).—
There were three cherished sisters who loved each other well,
And yet like birds they flew apart in distant lands to dwell;
And one’s beyond the Danube now, and one the Vàh has crossed,
And one doth wander weeping for the lover she has lost.
Radúz.—Why dost thou draw thy sword, Radovid? He is not dangerous.
Radovid.—So it seems, truly.
Vratko (Carrying a load of wood).—“There were three cherished sisters”—(Catching sight of Radúz and Radovid) Good day.
Radúz.—Good day, friend. Thou art gay and singest like a skylark in this golden dawn.
Vratko—Your garb is not that which we wear here; you must be strangers. Good health to you, guests.
Radovid.— Yes, we are strangers. We have gone astray in these forests. Who rules this region? Canst thou tell us?
Vratko (Setting down the wood).—Who else should rule it except our king himself?
Vratko.—King Stojmír, of course.
Radovid (To Radúz).—Didst thou hear? Come, make haste!
Radúz.—And is it far from here to the border?
Vratko.—To Magura, thou wouldst say? That is not far.
Radovid.—And what direction should we take if we wished to go there?
Vratko (Pointing).—Keep that mountain to your right, with the sun at your backs.
Radúz.—Good! Thy directions will be of service until we reach Magura. But tell me, my good man, dost thou know to whom belongs that great, white castle beyond the hill, where the black forest ends in a bright meadow?
Vratko.—Why, to our lord the king: to whom else? He always resides there when the trees are flowering. He has many of them in his beautiful garden.
Radúz.—When the trees are flowering—but that is now! Then no doubt we shall find him in a castle today—if we go thither.
Vratko.—And you will also find Runa his wife and their three daughters.
Radúz.—His three daughters? So there are three? Are they beautiful? Do you know them?
Vratko—How could I not know them? And truly they are as beautiful as the stars. And one of them is as good as Mother Earth, which gives us our daily bread. She has golden hair; when she smiles one fancies that roses bloom on her lips, and when she weeps, that pearls fall from her eyes; and where she stands, golden grass seems to grow! At least that is what my wife has said.
Radúz.—So thou hast seen her both weep and smile?
Vratko.—As near at hand as I see thee, my handsome youth, have I seen her; and I have seen her weep one time, when she entered our hut, when our child was ill; and later I saw her smile, like the morning star rising in the heavens, when our child became well again, and when singing she dandled it. Ah, how fair she is, fairer than the moon! Thou wilt see, thyself, if thou catch sight of her. But thou must not gaze straight at her, suddenly! Thou mightst be struck as if by lightning when it flashes from out the darkness and floods the whole sky with fire! First look merely at her feet, which are like lilies in slippers of gold, then lift thine eyes to her waist, and lastly, when thou hast become wonted to such beauty, gaze at her clear forehead . . . But how I have been talking. I must go home to my wife and little son.
Radúz.—Thou art a good man and hast comforted me much by thy speech. How dost thou earn thy living?
Vratko.—I cut wood in the forest and also have a little field of my own.
Radúz.—And about how much dost thou earn each day?
Vratko.—Enough, sir, enough. Three whole groats.
Radúz.—And does that suffice for thy support?
Vratko.—Spend three groats a day? No, one supports me, the second I lend, and the third I repay.
Radúz.—What dost thou mean? I do not well understand.
Vratko.—It is like this, sir. I have an old father; he raised me and I repay him now. Then I have a little son, my joy! Well, to him I lend. When I am old and weak, he will repay me as I now repay my father. And the third groat—on that we live.
Radúz.—I like thee, pious man. Here I have three coins. Take this one for thy father, this for thyself, and this for thy son.
Vratko.—They shine, sir . . . They seem to dazzle me, so that I fear I should almost have forgotten to say to thee: “‘I thank thee”! It is like the sun . . . It is like gold. Is it gold?
Vratko.—Verily thou art a rich man! . . . And dost thou really give me this gold?
Radúz.—I do indeed. Vratko.—This seems like a dream. And the head on these coins is like the picture of a king. He has a crown on his head.
Radúz.—It is a picture of my father. And now farewell! (He departs with Radovid.)
Vratko (Gazing after him in amazement).—The picture of my father,” he said. Is his father then a king and he a prince? . . . What surprise and joy will there be at home! . . . I do not even wish to carry the wood with me, in order that I may have nimbler legs and reach home sooner. But stay, here is King Stojmir himself and his bodyguard. From respect for him I dare not cross his path. Well, I will remain here by the spring.
Enter King Stojmir, Runa, and men of the king’s bodyguard, among them Přibina.§§
Runa.—This is a thing unheard of! To slay a stag so near the palace, and at that, one of the three which are white, consecrated to the moon, and on which our daughters are wont to ride! Consider this, king, what every man knows, that here there was an evil plot to insult us and to mock at us! In this I see rebellion!
Stojmír.—Show me the sword once more, Přibina.
Přibina.—Here it is. As thou seest, this is a foreign sword; that workmanship is not of this land.
Stojmír.—And thou sayest that it lay on the ground, cast aside?
Přibina.—Three steps from the pool of blood in which the stag perished.
Stojmír.—What a mystery! But the villain cannot be far far off, since, as thou sayest, the wound on the animal is fresh.
Runa.—Here stands a man: perhaps it is he?
Pribina (To Vratko).—Who art thou? What seekest thou here?
Vratko.—I am on my way home, sire. I went to the forest for wood, and now am carrying it home to my wife.
Runa.—When didst thou go to the forest?
Vratko.—Just at dawn.
Runa.—And thou hast seen no one there, heard no one?
Vratko.—I saw only the does drinking at the brook, and heard the birds singing as they welcomed the day.
Runa.—Art thou a fool, or bold enough to make sport of us? Hast thou seen no man all the morning? That is what I ask thee.
Vratko.—Not in the forest. But a short while ago I saw a lad who was as kind as he was handsome.
Runa.—That was he, the villain!
Vratko.—That he was not, truly. May the sun and the earth reward him! He gave me three coins; they are of gold. I got such a fright at the glitter and the wealth of it that I almost fell off my feet! I have never seen anything like it. (Gazes at the coin in his hand.)
Přibina.—And in which direction did he go?
Vratko (Potinting)—He disappeared yonder. I have a remembrance of him! And on these coins is a picture of his father; he said so himself.
Stojmír.—Let me see thy treasure closer.
Vratko.—With great joy, my lord king. (Shows the money.)
Stojmír.—A coin of the King of Magura! Runa, look!
Runa.—His son here! O, follow him! Blood and vengeance! The cursed enemy is in our hands!
Stojmír.—Přibina, divide up the men; let us encircle the forest: he is ours, he is ours!
Runa.—Even if thou wert as cunning as a winged bird, thou wouldst not now escape, Prince of Magura, but wouldst feel our heavy hand! (All depart swiftly in the direction which Radúz has taken.)
Vratko.—Woe on me, what have I done! O, my free spoken joy, thou hadst ninefold treason beneath thy tongue! That gold now burns my palm. Away from me, traitorous coins! With you misfortune would enter beneath my roof! (Throws the money into the spring and goes out.)
Music is heard behind the scenes; then Prija, Ziva, Mahulena, and a company of maidens and youths come in. All are bedecked with wreaths of many-colored flowers from the meadows.
Prija.—Here it is cool and fragrant, a wide open space with tall, soft grass: here it will be good to hold our sports. We have already twined enough of these wreaths.
Ziva.—And here is the appointed spring where we were to meet our father and mother. It is strange that they have not yet come. They took the shorter path.
Prija.—O, do not fret; they will come in due time. These old forests are not so deep that they should lose themselves in them. So now let us be merry. But why art thou standing apart, Mahulena?
Ziva.—Art thou again dreaming of something that does not exist?
Prija.—That never did exist and never will?
Ziva.—About a prince, perchance, who flies on a silver steed through the clouds?
Mahulena.—Why do you mock at me? How have I offended you?
Prija.—We are evil, are we not? Evil as witches!
Mahulena.—I have never said to you that you were evil.
Ziva.—But thy glances continually reproach us.
Mahulena.—My heart knows nothing thereof. . . . Ah, do not torture me, sisters. I am sad only because my stag has run off into the forest. The animal was clever and affectionate—and yet it left me. It is evident that it cared not for me. (Weeps.)
Prija.—It is ridiculous to weep for so small a cause. When they catch the stag just have it flogged.
Mahulena.—I would rather suffer those blows myself.
Ziva.—Well then, weep or do not weep, as it pleases thee. But we are going to play now.
Prija.—What shall we play, Mahulena; tell us.
Mahulena.—Play? . . . Truly I know not. Perhaps “Welcome the birds,” if you like.
Prija.—We do not want that; that is for children. I knew that thou wouldst say something out of place. Thou art ever-lastingly a little child with little sense.
Ziva.—Let us play “Swans and peacocks,” that is jolly: then we may chase one another wildly as long as we like.
All.—“Swans and peacocks”—yes, yes!
Prija.—Then now let us divide into rows!
The youths stand on one side, holding hands; the maidens stand opposite them, also holding hands.
of Youths (Sings).—
Hoya lalya hoya!
Peacocks we that fly from far,
Hoya lalya hoya!
Where the lakes and wildwoods are,
Hoya lalya hoya!
On this meadow’s dewy breast,
Hoya lalya hoya!
Let us fold our wings and rest:
Hoya lalya hoya!
Chorus of Maidens (Sings).—
Hoya lalya hoya!
We are swans that float on high,
Hoya lalya hoya!
Where the clouds go slipping by:
Hoya lalya hoya!
On that meadow, flower-dressed,
Hoya lalya hoya!
Let us fold our wings and rest:
Hoya lalya hoya!
The two rows advance towards each other; the youths, holding hands, raise their arms; under the arches so formed the maidens pass, letting hands go: then the two rows again stand opposite each other, but not holding hands.
One of the Youths (Sings).—
Yonder swans, who are they,
Within the oak wood green?
Like new-fallen snow flakes
Their stainless pinions’ sheen!
One of the Maidens (Sings).—
Who are yonder peacocks
Within the rustling grove?
Only see, swan sisters,
How each feather glisters
And sparkles as they move!
One of the Youths (Sings).—
Every swan who tarries
In that oak wood carries
A crown upon her brow:
After them, among them:
Catch them, catch them now!
Hoya lalya hoya!
The youths give chase to the maidens now fleeing, and when they catch them take from each either a ring or a nosegay from her belt. Just then an uproar is heard behind the scenes. Frightened, they cease from their game.
Runa (Behind the scenes).—Pull the fetters tighter, tighter, even if blood spurts from beneath his nails!
Mahulena.—My blood runs cold: what does that mean?
Enter King Stojmír, Runa, the bodyguard, and Přibina, leading Raduz in fetters, and Radovid.
Stojmir.—I am sorry to disturb your sport. You gaze upon us in surprise. This is a day of triumph for us. This youth whom you see in fetters is the son of the king of Magura, therefore my enemy and yours.
Runa. And do you know what that villain has done? In his wantonness he has killed the consecrated stag which we thought had gone astray into the forest and was still roaming there.
Mahulena (To herself).—Poor dumb beast! How cruel men are!
Runa.—Confess that thou didst that evil deed. Is this thy sword?
Radúz.—It is my sword. If I had held it when you came upon me I should have sold my life dearly. That I killed the poor beast I reckon as one of my sins. But I did not know that it was yours and that it was consecrated.
Runa.—But, believe me, thou wilt rue that sin bitterly. But thy greatest sin is that thou art the prince of Magura. Thou art silent? So thou wishest to deny that? Look, I will believe thee, that thou art not the son of Queen Nyola, if without delay thou wilt curse her!
Radúz.—Woman, thou art terrible! I am too proud of the name of my father to deny it for an instant. I am Prince Radúz.
Runa.—Thou valiant fool! What hast thou sought here? Art thou a spy? Thou hast come in hatred, confess!
Radúz.—Having lost my way, I came here only unawares. Of great hatred for you I know little. I have always heard that we were enemies, we of Magura and you of Tatra, but I have never felt any malice in my heart. King Stojmír, we should really love each other, since in the wide world so much hatred rages round about us.
Stojmír.—Leave sweet words alone; thy gentleness is forced upon thee by thy misfortune.
Radúz.—That is true; for a man in fetters pride is the one thing becoming.
Runa.—I will humble thy pride, thou wilt soon see. O thou wilt know tortures!
Radúz.—The purple of thy robe is like a stream of blood in which thou swimmest with a face pale from hatred, and thine eyes are as of steel.
Runa.—Of blood speak not too loudly, else thou wilt awaken in me the desire to soak my veil in thine and then to send it to thy mother as a gift.
Radúz.—O, my poor mother!
Runa.—Wouldst thou weep, coward?
Radúz.—Thou art not a woman, though thy form and face may make thee seem one; thou art a she-wolf! O, King Stojmír, thou art a man: why dost thou suffer this mockery of thy captive?
Stojmír.—Enough of this wrangling, Runa. Tell me, Radúz, who is this man here with thee?
Radovid.—I am his old servant, Radovid. Kill me, but let him go! My king will pay thee a boundless ransom.
Stojmír.—Thy name only did I wish to hear, not thy counsel. I will let thee go, that thou mayst bring to Magura the tidings of the prince’s sad fate. Of a ransom speak no word. Perchance later I shall desire the blood of this youth; perchance his death will be more precious to me than gold.
Runa.—Now thou speakest as a king and a man! Why should we bargain over that slave?
Radúz.—Who is a slave here? Tell us, queen!
Runa.—Thou, thou! For I will cast thee into iron fetters and will torture thee to death with the heaviest toil! O, like a wolf thou wilt tear at thy chain and despairingly gnaw it with thy teeth!
Radovid.—Thou viper! O that my hands were not bound! At least have respect for the holy sun, for the holy cloud that floats over thy head, if thou hast no respect for thine own crown and for thine own womanhood, which thou treadest in the dust!
Runa (Striking him).—Miserable slave! Darest thou speak!
Radovid.—Curses upon thee!
Radúz.—O heaven, sun! O breathing winds! Ye are witnesses of our unheard-of wrongs! My Radovid, woe to me that thou sufferest through my fault! And you who stand around, is there not one of you, not one who knows pity?
Ziva.—Why dost thou gaze at me? Am I to weep and beg them to let thee go? Truly it seems to me that thou art nearer tears than I am even when I am most miserable. Why didst thou not stay at home, gloomy hero? Wouldst thou like a distaff?
Radúz.—Thou art beautiful, but cruel. I am sorry for thee that thy heart is so stony. For Radovid I beg mercy, not for myself.
Prija.—Dost thou wish to seem valiant? Why then dost thou breathe so heavily? That does not bear witness to the calm of courage.
Radúz.—I am thirsty, believe me; that is why I breathe so heavily.
Runa.—Quench thy thirst with thy tears.
Stojmír.—Enough of mockery now! Přibina, I will leave Radúz to thy charge. Release Radovid at the border, that he may bring home his news. I am going home now. Take the prisoner and cast him into the depths of that old tower which stands in the dark forest beneath the crag, and which is termed enchanted.
Runa.—Throw him there into the darkness among the vermin.
Radovid.—O Radúz, O my prince, that I must part with thee thus!
Radúz.—Go, Radovid, and torment not my heart by thy complaining. Dost thou wish that my emotion arouse further mockery? Tell my mother—O, Radovid!
Radovid.—Not a word more! I know what thou wouldst say! (He departs with a few of the king’s bodyguard.)
Stojmir.—Now up, let us go. Přibina, fulfill my commands strictly.
(He departs with Runa, followed by all except Mahulena, who remains behind. She approaches Radúz, who stands not far from the spring. Přibina and two men stand at some distance behind him.)
Radúz (To Přibina).—Lead me on. (Seeing Mahulena, who is now standing beside him). Thou, maiden, hast as yet been silent, and hast not mocked at my misfortune. Now wilt thou make up for thy delay?
Mahulena.—Art thou thirsty?
Radúz.—Why dost thou ask?
Mahulena (Dipping up water in her hand).—Drink! (Raises her hand to his lips.)
Radúz.—I cannot. . . . My lips tremble like my heart . . . at thy goodness. . . . I saw thee as in a mist when thou wast standing at a distance, and with anguish I judged that thou wouldst be as evil as were those other two. . . . O, laugh me to scorn!
Mahulena.—How could I laugh, Radúz—since I am weeping!
Radúz.—Why dost thou weep? Tell me.
Mahulena.—Because I can do naught else but weep! . . .
Radúz.—O, never did a more holy dew fall from heaven than that which now falls from the azure of thine eyes! Who art thou?
Mahulena.—I am Mahulena. . . . The king is my father. . . . O, Radúz, hold him not in too great hatred—if thou canst!
Runa (Behind the scenes)—Where art thou lingering, Mahulena?
Mahulena (Alarmed)—My mother’s voice! (To Radúz) O, do not grieve too much . . . my beloved! (Goes out.)
Přibina.—Come, sir! I shall fulfill what my king has commanded me—although unwillingly, believe me.
Radúz—Mahulena! (Goes out wrapt in thought, with Přibina and the rest.)
A spacious old park around the castle of King Stojmír. It is full of bushy shrubs, tall as trees, which form beautiful clusters of all sorts among the trees. On one side is a water basin, surrounded by mossy stones and overshadowed by nodding birches and weeping willows. The morning glow shines through the trees. In the background a portion of the castle is visible. Not far from it Vratko is busy cutting from the bushes flowers and sprouting twigs, which he lays in a basket.
Prija, Ziva, and Mahulena approach from the castle.
Prija and Ziva now lift their hands towards the sun, holding in them strings of pearls and sparkling jewels.
Prija.—O brilliant, clear, holy sun, thou seest all and generously casteth clusters of gold over mountains, valleys, meadows and lakes!
Ziva.—Thou dost illumine deep forests, fertile fields, towering castles, lofty burial mounds!
Prija.—Over all things thou pourest thy pleasing glow: illumine us likewise! Pour thy beauty on us!
Ziva.—Pour thy splendor on us and thy loveliness!
Prija.—Let us bloom as thine own charming morning glow!
Ziva.—Like thy dawn, smiling with gold and joyous!
Prija.—Give us beauty! O sun, hear us!
(Both kneel by the water basin, entwine their hair with pearls, and fasten on their jewels.)
Ziva.—May we shine as our images now glitter from this blue water, which thy youthful beams illumine, O sun!
(Both bedew their faces and hair.)
Prija.—Give unto us dazzling beauty and loveliness, thou golden, bright, holy sun! (They arise.)
Ziva.—Mahulena, why dost thou too not pray and invoke the sun?
Mahulena.—I do invoke the sun. . . . Thou bright light of the heavens, consecrate me and give unto me thine own goodness. . . . Heed my prayer! . . .
Prija.—Thy prayer is short. And thou standest motionless, thou hangest thy head, thine arms droop by thy sides. . . . Dost thou not ask for beauty?
Ziva.—What a stupid question! Today the prince of Croatia will arrive here; his messengers have already come: there will be a great feast in our castle-—Now wouldst thou not care to be beautiful and to please that hero, who is young and powerful, and who is seeking a wife?
Prija.—Mahulena is proud! No doubt she thinks that she is even too beautiful, and does not see that she is as pale as the moon-mother, who sits in a dusky room spinning.
Ziva.—O Mahulena, thou art like a ghost. I assure thee, I am not envious of thy beauty, and there is no fear that the prince will choose thee!
Prija.—Come, Ziva. While the dew still sparkles let us gather flowers; they smell sweetest then. (They go out.)
Mahulena.—The hair on my head . . . how heavy it is! . . . (She loosens her braids, seats herself on the margin of the water basin, and gazes at her image in the water.) What they told me is true—I am pale—(Her hands drop in her lap.) Ah, how sad I feel! How long ago was it? Just what was there before they brought him? Was there anything before that time? Then the trees were in bloom, when they seized him, and now they are faded: so it must have been long ago. What was there before that? . . . I used to sing; at least so it seems. Whither have those old songs of mine flown away? (She is silent; in a moment she begins to sing softly)
Those twelve maidens turned into doves white and soft,
Who mournfully perched on the maple aloft
And said: “Who our piteous plight would betray,
May he be struck dumb—!”
No, that is not right . . . Or perhaps it is . . . But why sing? Ah, I had rather not exist in the world . . . not exist . . . (Bursts into silent tears.)
Vratko (Who has approached timidly).—Maiden! . . . Mahulena! . . . It breaks my heart to see thee weeping so silently.
Mahulena.—ls it thou? Welcome! Is thy babe well?
Vratko.—Nay, do not smile so through thy tears: that pains me even more! I know what tortures thee . . .
Mahulena.—Who told thee?
Vratko.—O, fear not! “Who our piteous plight would betray, may he be struck dumb!” So ran thy song. May I speak; may I?
Mahulena.—What wouldst thou tell me, my good Vratko?
Vratko.—I would fain speak to thee of Radúz.
Mahulena.—O, Vratko, Vratko, whither have they taken him? He is no longer in that tower! Is he alive, is he well?
Vratko.—Thou knowest the unapproachable summits beyond yonder forest . . . There somewhere Radúz is suffering. But the paths are steep and hidden . . .
Mahulena.—O, my hinds have shown me those paths; I know them, and my foot bears me as securely and surely as an eagle is borne by its strong pinions. Where then is he; where does Radúz breathe and suffer?
Vratko.—That I know not; I cannot say for sure.
Mahulena.—Thou art slaying me thus! First thou dost offer me hopes and then thou dost take them back again!
Vratko.—If thou wouldst only listen patiently! I cannot speak with skill, my words seem to roll around in my mouth, I speak too seldom, I whistle more with the birds; but when I see thy sorowful eyes gazing at me so anxiously I do not know what I am saying.
Mahulena.—My good Vratko, speak, and I will be silent and listen patiently.
Vratko.—It is five days since my old father was in the forest clearing. I carry him out into the sun at times, that it may warm his old limbs. Thus he lay in the tall grass as on his own couch, half dozing. Suddenly he heard many footsteps. He has acute sight and acute hearing, though in all else he is as weak as a child. By him, and at no long distance, passed the men who were leading the prince, bound. They did not see father, since he was buried in the grass. And one of them carried a heavy ring and chain; and Queen Runa, thy mother, was with them, and railed at the silent Radúz, and told him that he would be fettered to a rocky crag of the mountain, which, they say, towers even to the sky.
Mahulena.—Each word thou sayest pierces my heart like a spear! It were better if he still lay in the tower! But no, that was worse; there he was in eternal darkness like a blind man!
Vratko.—Yet he was not forsaken as now, maiden. Then I often crept about the tower by night and tried to call words of comfort to him into the darkness . . . And I know that another face, as serene as the heavens, has at times pressed lovingly against the narrow window of his prison! And he himself has told me that three golden hairs from the head most dear to him beneath the sun were caught on the lattice of his window and shone for him like moonbeams into the damp twilight of his dungeon cell.
Mahulena.—He said that—did he say that?
Vratko.—Indeed he sang of it. I heard his song; it rose from the depths and resounded through the silent night like a leaf borne by the wind! Poor Radúz, fair-haired prince! He survived the darkness, and now suffers other tortures!
Mahulena.—So thy father saw him—saw him, thou sayest—?
Vratko.—He saw the direction which they were taking with Radúz, though I know not for sure whither they led him. Perhaps thou wilt discover that thyself. And but one thing I know further, that they have bound an iron belt around his waist and from this hangs a chain, which they have forged into the crag. And the iron of the belt and chain is enchanted; it has this property, that no sword, no hammer, and no file can touch it; and the iron belt is locked with a key. All this the queen triumphantly proclaimed in mockery to Radúz along the way. My father heard it.
Mahulena.—O, woe, woe! Chained like a wolf! And he suffers heat and cold and rain! The lightning may smite him; the wild beasts of the forest may tear him in pieces! . . . Vratko, why are hearts in this world made of stone?
Vratko.—There are others too, such as thine; and through this are all men saved.
Mahulena.—How shall I save him, how? In which direction sayest thou that they led him?
Vratko.—Toward the east, where the mountains rise the highest. But this is not yet all that I can tell thee.
Mahulena.—Speak, then, speak.
Vratko.—I have a child, thou knowest, Mahulena; and I love that boy above all things. Well, that little son of mine has a kid, so charming an animal that thou mightst kiss it; it is a joy to see it gambol, and at times it seems to me that it smiles, believe me, the dumb animal!
Mahulena.—My good Vratko, I gladly believe thee—but do not tell me about that now; it was thy wish to tell me something about Radúz.
Vratko.—That is true! Of what should I tell thee except of him? So, the next day after they had led Radúz through the forest I came home in the evening, and my son was weeping bitterly, bitterly. His kid had wandered away somewhere and my wife said that perhaps a wolf had carried it off! At that the child began crying anew, until his heart was breaking. What was I to do? I went out to seek the kid, through it was very dark, in fact the dead of night . . . Thou knowest the abyss near the castle in the forest, that ghostly ravine in the depths of which the dark, wild waters roar? When I reached there I distinctly heard our kid weeping from out its depths! It had fallen in and yet still lived! I became frightened! Had it fallen to the very bottom? Should I lower myself thither? I thought of the joy of my son when I should bring him the animal safe and sound, and cautiously I began gradually to descend into the abyss.
Mahulena.—Thou torturest me! Why dost thou tell me all this?
Vratko.—Thou shalt see . . . I was-already some distance down; already I held the kid in my arms and was feeling its bruised limbs and kissing the animal compassionately—when suddenly above me footsteps were heard; then clay came sprinkling down on my head, stones were falling: ah, how they crashed into the depths below me! And when I glanced up in fright, there I saw a terrible face! The moon shone brightly upon it, and that pale face bending over the abyss was familiar to me—it was the face of Queen Runa! I was frightened as thou art frightened now, and in the shadow I stood motionless as thou standest now. But her lips opened and an awful curse, a black prayer, poured forth from them—dost thou wish to hear it?
Mahulena.—No, I do not. What anguish I feel!
Vratko.—Then she said: “As nevermore shall anyone on this earth find this key, so nevermore shall that iron circle leave his body! May it hold him as firmly as death holds us when it seizes us; may it hold him until his white bones, washed by the rain, bleached by the sun, shall clatter against the crag, the sport and booty of the winds!”
Mahulena.—Hold! Be silent! She said that of him?
Vratko.—And threw the key into the abyss, where it fell at my feet. O maiden, thou white as the moon, thou good as mother earth—see, here is that key!
Mahulena (Snatching tt from his hand).—O treasure, thou most precious to me of all things beneath the heavens, so firmly, firmly will I clasp thee to my heart that thou wilt enter my bosom, and nevermore shall anyone tear thee from me unless he tear out my heart along with thee!—(Swoons.)
Vratko.—Mahulena, come to thyself! Open thine eyes; if thy sorrow did not torture thee to death, shall thy joy slay thee? Open thine eyes, for his salvation! Ah, now thy breath is returning to thee!
Mahulena.—Vratko, Vratko, who will repay thee for this? Here, here is the key! I am dizzy . . . (Hides the key in her robe.) Vratko, I embrace thy knees . . . (Throws herself at his feet.)
Vratko (Weeping).—Thou dost put me to shame! Arise! Come to thy senses! I have only made amends for my transgression! Thou knowest what treachery I wrought unconsciously! And now I have helped to save him! And they themselves called me into the garden, on account of those guests—there is so much work here—and have sent me to cut flowers . . . and so I could speak with thee! . . . Be discreet and seek to to discover whither they have led him . . .
Mahulena.—O, I shall be as cunning as a bird, which, when caught, escapes from the cage! And Vratko—thou wilt be as my brother! I shall be a sister to thee!
Vratko.—O, speak not so! . . . But now thou must depart before anyone comes . . .
Mahulena.—Then go, Vratko! We shall meet again! I thank thee, dear soul! (Vratko goes out.) Where shall I hide with this precious treasure? Yet I dare not hide; now I must stay with them and observe! Does my joy not stand traitorously written on my forehead? O, my sweet joy! Radúz! I shall save thee; thou shalt see thy home; there thou shalt forget thy sorrows . . . Why am I suddenly sad even in this joy? Ah, he will depart! . . . Then anew sorrow will enter my heart. . . . But vanish, unhappy thought! There is time enough for weeping later—now, heart, beat only joy and hope.
(She goes out. King Stojmír and Runa approach from the other side.)
Runa.—There she flees! She saw us from afar and is avoiding us.
Stojmír.—Thou art too hard and severe, wife; thou dost wrong to Mahulena, believe me.
Runa.—That child I could never truly love.
Stojmír.—That is perhaps because her birth almost cost thee thy life
Runa.—In giving her birth I lost my beauty and my youth; yet they say that mothers love such a child most of all. So that is not the cause. But even while I carried her in the womb it already seemed to me that I carried my future grief, that within me ripened that which would grieve me; and my heart did not tremble with joy when I awaited this new life, but with a kind of uncertain fear that there would be brought into the world that which I should at some day curse!
Stojmír.—No, Runa, thou deceivest thyself; thou didst await a son, and therefore didst not welcome Mahulena with joy.
Runa.—Well, be that as it may, but this I tell thee, that Mahulena is not a child of mine as is Prija or Ziva. She is not of my blood. Hast thou ever seen her flame up with defiance even when her sisters tortured her?
Stojmír.—She is meek and gentle.
Runa.—Finish thy speech: as she of whom thou hast dreamed all thy life and whom thou didst love before our marriage.
Stojmír.—Runa, what is this thou sayest?
Runa.—Only that which is clear to me. But let that pass. I tell thee that a dream has warned me. I fancied that I clasped to my heart a child, quiet, with meek eyes like those of Mahulena, and with a shriek I awoke in horror, for the child had bitten me like a serpent with teeth sharp as needles, deep unto the heart! Ah, I still feel it and a chill runs through my body.
Stojmír.—That was an evil dream, but why dost thou interpret it that Mahulena herself must be that serpent?
Runa.—Because I know what goes on within her! I tell thee this plainly. Dost thou not see how she wastes away in grief? Dost thou not see her pallor and how at times she blushes without cause? . . . Her long sighs, deep and quiet! And since when do I observe all this? Since the month when Prince Radúz became our captive. Does that not suffice thee, fool? And when I tell thee that I have discovered that often by night she has stolen out of the house, that she has run as if distracted thither into the dark forest, that like a ghost she has wandered about the tower where Radúz lay in the dungeon—
.—Why then didst thou not guard her better? However, that is past; Radúz is no longer in the tower.
Runa.—He has been cared for. My love has spread him a bed hard enough indeed. That crag is as sure as my own will; it will not yield: and the iron which holds him is strong as fate. Not in vain am I reputed a sorceress throughout the land. By secret arts his chain is welded.
Stojmír.—What more then dost thou desire? Radúz is in the wilderness, Mahulena knows not where to seek him; and if she found the path to him, yet her frail hand could never remove the fetters from him.
Runa.—No one will remove them. The key that opens them lies in the bosom of the earth—that will never give it up! Yet the mere thought that Mahulena loves Radúz, that she should wish to save him, to preserve him—! (She draws a dagger.) Here, behold this knife! I have fed her with my own milk and yet longingly my hand trembles and aims, aims—whither? Thou hast guessed.
Stojmír.—Thy spectre-like gaze is eloquent enough! Threatening breathes from thee!
Runa.—How weak you are, you men! Hatred and love are alike unknown to you! Dost thou wish to preserve thy child Then kill Radúz and Mahulena will be in security from me.
Stojmír.—No, I shall not stain myself with his blood! How insatiable is thy hatred! I have granted thee enough; not another step will I go! Why so ardently dost thou seek his life?
Runa.—Because I have found the hidden waters of thy mercy for him; because I know whence it springs! I noticed thy pensive gaze when once imprudently thou saidst how like Radúz was to his mother . . . Ha, now dost thou wince? Thou wouldst be glad some day to return that son to Nyola! To that woman thou wouldst wish consolation, to that woman on whose account I have suffered so long and bitterly! During my whole youth! Cool wast thou with me, but by night, when I could not sleep for grief, then in thy dreams thou wouldst ardently whisper her name! . . . And I loved thee then! . . . Curses! . .
Stojmír.—What ails thee, wife? Thou hast never before spoken thus . . . Dismiss the past and its deep shadows; it is buried—
Runa.—It is not buried; it lives! It towers like a mountain into the present! That past means my youth, it means my ruined life! O, they say that I am wicked! I know it, I know. But who ever speaks of this, that bitterness nursed me and that sorrow fed me? O Stojmír, my soul is sick of all things and the whole world is loathsome to me! My soul is parched like a desert; in it there is no kindly water; only devastation watches there; ruin, that is its breath! Thus within me evil, or that which is called such, has outlived kindness. Evil, then, is my element; in it only can I live, as a fish in the water or a bird in the air. Good, evil! One element is like another. So then, if thou wilt have it so, yes, I am evil.
Stojmír.—Thy words grieve and disturb me. Who says that thou art evil? Thou art held in honor.
Runa.—O, they say that thou art good! So they speak, those fools! Can they not see that thou art merely weak and selfish? Thou hast permitted me to chain Radúz there to the hard cliff—perchance thou hast done this from kindness for me? But what became of thy kindness for him? I will tell thee why thou hast permitted me. When thou heardst that the prince of Croatia was to visit us, it was inconvenient for thee that he should find another prince in that old cage in the forest—no, avert not thine eyes; do but confess! Wouldst thou become a whole man in mine eyes? Then submit and give up Radúz to me entirely.
Stojmír.—Thou desirest to kill him! That is impossible, truly! My own people are already murmuring, and should I rid myself of Radúz by violence, all Magura would burst into flame and a terrible war would result—and I should not be certain of the loyalty of my own people!
Runa.—And if he remains alive and thou dost not set him free, then Magura will remain quiet?
Stojmir.—It is weaker than we and therefore hesitates long and continually has hopes that I will agree to a large ransom.
Runa.—O, speak briefly, that thou art afraid!
Stojmir.—I fear not, wife, but I retreat.
Runa.—That cowardice, I infer, is called wisdom! O, wise king! Stojmír the wise! Thus some day will the people style thee. They always find some hypocritical name to conceal the worthlessness of their kings, of which they are ashamed.
Stojmír.—Thou woundest me!
Runa.—As the truth always wounds the secret transgressor. I tell thee that there is wisdom in freeing thyself of Radúz, for while he lives he threatens thee because of that which has already occurred! And I further tell thee that thou art warming a serpent in thy bosom, that Mahulena will betray thee, me, us all! Thou dost not guess what love can make of a woman!
Stojmír.—Thou dost disturb me deeply! Thine every word seems like an arrow! And yet I do not believe in that love of Mahulena for him.
Runa.—Wouldst thou have proofs? Yonder she approaches with her sisters. I will give thee proof! But tell me, thou quivering reed, that thou wilt finally yield me Radúz.
Stojmír..—What wouldst thou do with him—what dost thou intend—?
Runa.—Destroy him! I am acquainted with mysterious charms, thou knowest. I have prepared a potion which like a flash will thrust him into the shadow of the night. Now, speak briefly; if I prove to thee the guilt, the treason of thy daughter, wilt thou give the prince into my hands?
Stojmír.—Whither dost thou urge me? Into what abyss art thou dragging me?
Runa.—Be a man, faint-heart, and briefly answer me yes.
Stojmír.—Well, then be it so, Runa, not—
Runa.—Thou hast said, “Be it so!” So it shall be. But silence now, already they are near. Ziva! Prija! Have you been seeking us?
(Ziva, Prija, and Mahulena have come in.)
Prija.—We were eagerly looking into the distance from the hilltop, to see whether clouds of dust were rising on the horizon, announcing the approach of our guests.
Ziva.—But it has been in vain as yet: now we shall climb the tower, from which one can see farther. How merry it will be in the palace! What songs there will be, what laughter!
Runa.—And thou, Mahulena, art thou not glad?
Prija.—As if without a soul she walks about with us; she speaks not, and where we place her, there she stands.
Runa.—Is this true, Mahulena, what Prija says?
Mahulena.—True? . . . I failed to hear what she said.
Ziva.—Wake up then! (Shakes her.) Of what art thou dreaming?
Mahulena.—I was deep in thought.
Runa.—And about what, child?
Mahulena.—Now . . . in truth, I have already forgotten.
Prija.—She is a ridiculous creature.
Runa.—Well, let her alone, and hear the news yourselves which has just reached us. Your father is extremely grieved by it; as you see, he is sad.
Ziva.—So it is sad news?
Runa.—For the Magurans, yes.
Mahulena (Aside).—For the Magurans, she says?
Runa.—That captive, that fair-haired prince of theirs, that Radúz, who has caused us so much anger—
Prija.—What of him?
Runa.—Is dead. He died suddenly.
Mahulena—Ah! . . .
Stojmir (In a low voice)—O Runa, thou hast killed her! Mahulena! (He supports her.)
Runa.—Why dost thou grow pale, child, and why dost thou totter?
Ziva.—She is dead. . . . She scarcely breathes!
Prija.—Her eyes are fixed. . . . She is mute as a stone.
Runa (In a low voice to Stojmír).—Is her muteness eloquent enough?
Stojmír.—Poor maiden’s heart! . . . Mahulena, seat thyself. Dost thou feel better?
Mahulena (Seating herself on the margin of the water basin).—Is this a terrible dream?
Runa (In a low voice to Stojmír).—Wouldst thou have a farther test?
Stojmír (Also in a low voice).—Torture her not! But with him—do as thou desirest. . . . (Goes out.)
Runa.—Ziva, Prija, follow your father, or go to the tower, if you so desire. But what I told you a moment ago, that was but a jest. That prince is well. I merely for your amusement devised a story. Thou art too compassionate, Mahulena, since thou canst so quickly feel alarm. And now again thou weepest!
Mahulena.—When I heard of death so suddenly—
Runa.—Well, thou art young and fearest death like a child. . . Do but recover thyself . . . You two depart; I will remain with Mahulena, she still trembles all over. (Ziva and Prija go out.) Dost thou already feel better?
Mahulena.—I do. Thou art kind, mother, I thank thee.
Runa.—Why so frightened! What carest thou for that prince? Yet I do not take it ill that thou art so kind. Thou hast touched me, Mahulena. I am harsh, I know. Harsh to thee too, at times; but believe me that I am not evil.
Mahulena.—No, thou art not, mother.
Runa.—And thy sisters do not understand thee! They think of nothing today but of those splendid banquets, of choral dances, song and merriment. Thou carest not for revelry, and thy pale face would be strangely out of keeping there among the others. Thy being is like the song of the lark or the thrush; it is most beautiful in solitude. So I will grant thee that thou come not to the feasts . . . Art thou content?
Mahulena.—How my strength returns! Each word of thine is like a drop of balsam . . . O give me thy hand to kiss!
Runa.—Very well, very well, child . . . One thing more! I am marvelously gentle today . . . That prince—I hate him, it is true; however, to gratify thy deep compassion I wish today even towards him to be less harsh! Since in the whole palace there will be so much merriment—let that prince rejoice too!
Mahulena.—O mother, my mother! How the queen of Magura would bless thee for those words!
Runa.—O, she will bless me, no doubt of it, when she learns what I have done this day.
Mahulena.—Thou sayest that with a strange smile.
Runa.—O, I remembered how harshly I have treated that son of hers and so that doubt occurred to me of her blessing me. Radúz is no longer in the tower. He is chained to the highest summit of the Eagles’ Crag. But five steps can he walk about, and he endures storm, wind, and rain . . . Do not grow pale again; do not weep, my child. Soon I shall relieve him. My revenge is sated. Thou knowest the steep footpath to the summit of the mountain? It is well concealed; only a dumb messenger knows it, he who each day brings to Radúz bread and water. However, dost thou not fear that if thou shouldst go there he would strangle thee? His arms are free.
Mahulena.—Radiz is good as the smiling sunshine of spring, which warms and gilds the whole world! His heart is like a meek dove which knows not what evil is! And that path I know; often have I sat at the foot of that peak: there quiet reigns; only the forests rustle below, and the birds which nest there sing as nowhere else!
Runa.—Very well then. Go to my chamber. In a niche above the hearth thou wilt find a golden vessel. In it is a potion that heals every ill and restores to man his lost peace. It is a precious balsam! Take the vessel and carry it to the Eagles’ Peak and pour out some for Radúz—let him know that Queen Runa wishes him well! Yet take heed that thou spill not a drop, and moisten not with it thine own lips, shouldst thou become thirsty along the road. There is but little of the potion, and each drop that thou wastest means for Radúz an irrevocable loss. Go then, dear Mahulena. When thou returnest, then tell me how thy heart became glad, thy compassionate and tender heart. Take him white bread and honey too, if thou desirest. But give heed that no one see which direction thou takest, for not everyone would praise my weakness if he knew whither thou wert starting with my permission. Now I must follow thy father; the guests will soon arrive . . . Well, am I so evil as perchance I once seemed to thee? (She goes out.)
Mahulena.—Do I dream or am I awake? What is happening to me? Why did a sudden chill run over me when she smiled so strangely? Why could I not confess all to her, even when she seemed so kind? What unknown thing gripped my heart, grasped my throat! . . . That is strange, that is strange indeed . . . But one thing is certain—that I shall save him! O joy unutterable! (She goes out quickly.)
Change of Scene
A rugged mountain peak. Radúz on a huge crag. From the iron band about him hangs a chain, which is forged into the cliff behind Radúz. A single tree grows from the rocks on one side, lower than the crag on which Radúz is half standing, half lying exhausted.
Radúz.—Blow, wind, blow, mighty eagle of God; tear my hair and take my breath: why shouldst thou have more compassion than have men! Thou, tempest art now my only friend, since my feverish cries have already frightened all the birds from their nests! Formerly some one of them would at times brush by chance against my brow with its wing, and it seemed to me then that the loving hand of a mother sought to wipe away the sweat, as in a grievous illness! O, the unutterable anguish of this solitude! An unfathomable void yawns above me, a dizzy gulf yawns below! That measureless space is terrible; it is too great a weight for a weak creature like man; and to gaze without end upon that grandeur, which like a shoreless sea is descending on mine own pettiness—that will at last cause madness! My parched brain burns within my head and terrifies me with a thousand insane notions! The silence of those unfathomable distances is more terrifying than the roaring of the storm! The roaring will at last cease, but the silence never. How terrifying is Nature when one gazes unceasingly upon her face! From all things, phantoms eternally emerge! When after a desolating night, day is born, it seems to me that the heavens are opening with a deep wound and that the world is being flooded with blood and flame! . . . And the treetops of those limitless forests there below, in the abyss at my feet, when the wind sets them moving in waves, are like a lake which, dark and mysterious, will assail my cliff, seeking to overthrow it. . . . Already I feel how it quivers; already the anguish of that fall into the voidhas gripped my vitals. . . . O, terrible dizziness! . . . (Covers his eyes.) Ah, now it has passed again. . . . See, a flock of wild doves has risen from the forest! O birds of heaven, whither do ye fly? Mayhap to that unknown realm where justice abides? . . . O tell them there how here I suffer guiltlessly! And no one, noone feels for me! Ye white clouds who proudly sail through the blue, send your showers down upon me and I shall think that ye have wept! (Is silent for a moment.) Ah, my parents, has your love died too? O, pity no longer lives; it has wholly vanished from the world! . . . And yet, yet, . . . one heart knows it. . . . How beautiful she was, white as the moon and gentle as a bird, when she turned her compassionate eyes towards me and her soft palm, and said to me, “Drink!” “O, do not grieve, my my beloved! . . .” Thus she spoke to me. . . O, Mahulena, the sin of evil men is redeemed by thy gentle pity! . . . Would that I had the strong voice of that wind, that I might shout her name into the wide world; then I should awaken every echo of the world, and forests, mountains, caverns, clouds, all would shout with me: ‘‘Mahulena! Mahulena! Mahulena!
Mahulena (Behind the scenes)—Radúz! Radútz! He is calling me! I come!
Radúz.—The beating of my heart is stilled! O joy unutterable! Is it possible? Is it an illusion? O Mahulena!
Mahulena (Appearing).—Radúz, my own! Radúz!
Raduz (Tugging at the chain).—I am fettered, chained to the rock, and cannot come to thee; with all my strength I tug at the fetters. . . . O, curses, I am weak—(He falls.)
Mahulena (Hastening up towards him).—At thy feet here, here, O my soul! O, place thy foot upon my neck and punish me because they have so tortured thee!
Radúz.—Would that I might die, Mahulena, at this moment, before thou dost depart again—! (Clasps her passionately.)
Mahulena.—I bring thee salvation and freedom!
Radúz.—Ah, do not deceive me! What speaks from thee is pure sympathy and ardent desire! How couldst thou fulfill what thou dost promise?
Mahulena.—I bring the key of thy fetters; behold! . . . I kissit . . . Only my hand trembles too much now; I can scarcely hold it . . . Yet . . . Now it is in the lock and creaks . . . Thy fetters fall! Radúz, thou art free . . . Now flee . . . go, and let me die! (Falls face downward.)
Radúz (Drawing her toward him).—Thou, my salvation! Dearly beloved soul, thou art dying! I shall cast myself headlong from the crags . . .
Mahulena.—Thou art mad with joy, like myself . . . See, I live! . . . But now go and lose no time . . . (Together they descend from the crag.) How uncertain is thy step! . . . Ah, Radúz, how they have tortured thee! O seat thyself beneath a tree for an instant, thou art trembling too much! Thou art pale, my soul. But thou wilt soon regain thy strength. I will lead thee by a hidden path which only I know. Then thou wilt go in the direction which I shall show thee . . . Dost thou hear what I say? Thou wilt return to thy mother, to thy father, home . . . O, thou wilt think of me sometimes, wilt thou not? . . . But now go; I fear that they will follow me. Thou dost not know, friend, how they can hate—those below in the castle . . . They gave me a potion to bring thee here . . . They spoke so sweetly, suddenly so sweetly, that suspicion dimly arose in my thoughts . . . I poured their potion into a crystal goblet, and the crystal, which knows no deceit, cracked in an instant . . . Ah! . . . my hand was to offer that poison of theirs to thy lips as a balsam! . . . In such manner did they aim at my heart, brutally, and treacherously, and at thy youthful life as well!
Radúz.—O unheard-of cruelty! Weep no more, Mahulena.
Mahulena.—In truth, if I should now shed all my tears, what would remain to me when thou dost leave me? O, Radúz, thou wilt never forget me; say, never, never!
Radúz.—O, speak not to me of separation! That word hath no meaning. Mahulena, why should those separate who love each other? I love thee, dost thou hear? Not merely because thou hast preserved me, not merely because thou hast suffered for me, not because of thy great compassion—O, no! no! I love thee because . . . well, I know not why, I know only that I love thee! A short time ago that word was strange to me. Never before now have my lips uttered it, never until now! O, whence hath it arisen? Whence came the star when first it showed its beams in the heavens! Thy dear head I hold in my trembling hands and I would kiss thy bright forehead . . . I, who never before kissed any being save my mother . . . Yet some terror forbids me, I know not of what sort! Thy foot-print, however, here I venture to kiss . . .
Mahulena (Restraining him as he bows to her feet)—My Radúz, what I do in truth I know not; yet a great calm has suddenly stolen over my soul, and I long to rest my head upon thy breast thus, only for a moment, that I may hear how thy heart beats. . . . And on thine eyes receive this kiss of mine, on thy cleare yes. . . . (Kisses him on the eyes.) . . . And on thy lips this second kiss, here. . . .
Radúz.—Mahulena, what powerful charm breathes from thy lips? I am suddenly as if transformed: what has happened to me? I am no longer the man that I have been; I am with thee alone: something new, which never was and which now will endure for evermore, hath awakened in me! Something infinitely better than that which was before! It is as if thou hadst entered into me! Now shall come to see only with thine eyes and to breathe only with thy breath! All my thoughts are thine and one beating unites our hearts. . . . If thou shouldst leave me—here I should vanish into nothingness! Tell me, is that perchance what they call love? O tell me! It seems to me that thou knowest all, all!
Mahulena.—Radúz, I know but this, that I am happy. (Remains silent in his embrace. Suddenly.) But, luckless girl, I forget! O, flee, Radúz, while there is yet time! O, flee!
Radúz.—Without thee? Art thou mad?
Mahulena.—Thou wouldst have me go with thee, abide with thee? . . . Radúz.—Rather than forsake thee I would again be chained to yonder cliff or lie in darkness in a dungeon amid vermin.
Mahulena.—With thee, Radúz, must I remain forever, it is true; live with thee and if need be die with thee! Was that perchance what I wished to say when I kissed thee? It is plainly so; it cannot be otherwise! Come! Let us flee!
Radúz.—Before us is Paradise, behind us perdition. . . But what has so suddenly turned thee into a pillar? Why dost thou become pale? Whither dost thou point in horror? . . . Ruin! Thy mother!
Runa (Standing before them covered with jewels, in purple robes).—My foreboding, my anxiety, my fear did not deceive me! I left behind me the noisy hall, the feast and guests, and rode after thee at the best pace of my swift steed! Breathlessly I ascended the steep summit, and I have arrived in time! O, thou didst outwit me! Thou clever viper, pale ghost! How couldst thou undo that indestructible chain? Thou didst spill the poison? Would that thou hadst drunken it thyself! Yet I still have arrived in time! I did not ride alone, I but sped over the mountains more quickly than those who will come after me! Are you both dumb! Methinks I am addressing pale statues, or sleepers, or corpses! Cursed viper, cursed viper! (Pulls at Mahulena.)
Mahulena.—O mother, mother, do not curse me, thou cruel one! O remember how thou didst desire to torture my heart when thou gavest me thy potion to offer him here! To him, who is so dear to my soul!
Runa.—O, thou shameless as a bitch! Darest thou cast in my face thine own burning shame? How thou wilt atone for this; O how thou wilt atone!
Radúz.—Come, Mahulena, who would believe that thou didst receive thy life from her? From a pestilent swamp how could so bright a sunbeam shine forth? Come, let us hasten, let us preserve ourselves!
Runa.—And dost thou think that I shall let thee pass? Through long suffering thou hast grown weak, while I am as strong as a man! O, I will hold thee!
Mahulena (Throwing herself between her and Radúz).—Flee, flee my soul! Flee alone, I am protecting thee!
Runa (Drawing a dagger).—Here, viper! Die!
Radúz (Snatching the dagger from her).—Dost thou not fear that the lighting will destroy thee? Thou bloodthirsty, accursed woman!
Runa.—Would that I might wield the lightning! But I am hanging to thee and I shall hold thee firmly, thou shalt see! O, stab with the dagger if thou wilt: what matters it to me if thou killest me, if I can but hold thee till they catch thee in the net, thou wolf, wolf, wolf! (Holds him desperately.)
Radúz (Struggling with her, holding her by the arms).—By God himself I swear that I will kill thee! Thou thyself dost desire it: then suffer—(Raising the dagger.)
Mahulena (Restraining his arm).—Radúz, no! . . . That I will not allow. . . . Have pity on me! . . . (Taking the dagger him.)
Runa (Holding him).—Help! My faithful followers, help! Here I hold a murderer, a murderer! O . . . why do you delay! Where are you?
Radúz.—Her voice resounds powerfully: ah, they will hear her far away, and I cannot wrench my arm from her. . . . Give me the dagger, Mahulena, we are lost! . . .
Mahulena.—Radúz, I should die! . . . O, mother, let us pass! Have pity!
Radúz.—Thou pleadest vainly . . . Struggle only will save me—(Struggles with Runa.)
Runa (Struggling)—Thou wilt not overcome me! Help, my faithful followers! Whence dost thou get thy strength? . . . From thy despair? . . . Cursed slaves, why do you delay? . . . Who comes first shall have this crown as a reward! (Tears the diadem from her head with one hand; her hair falls in disorder.)
Radúz (Grasping her by the hair).—Now I have thee in my power—
Runa.—Whence dost thou get thy strength? . . . Coward! . . . Help! Help! O, curses on them! O, they have gone astray in the forest!
Radúz (Clasping her around the waist and dragging her to a tree)—Here thou mayst await thy faithful followers, but we shall find safety in flight . . . (Defending himself, he binds her by the hair to a stout branch which she cannot reach). Thy hair is long, thanks to fate.
Runa.—Curses upon thee, curses! . . . Still no one here! . . . Why did I not choke him . . . and her! . . . Why is it not possible for me to tear this hair? . . .
Radúz. —Now, Mahulena, quickly!
Runa.—Stay, Mahulena, hear yet a word! I am thy mother these hands fondled thee, and from these breasts didst thou suck thy life! Stay, stay, I command thee!
Mahulena.—Let me be Radúz; my feet turn to stone—
Radúz (Clasping her about the waist)—Come! . . . If thou wilt not come I will drag thee away by force!—
Runa.—Listen, Mahulena; but one word—then go!
Mahulena.—That word, mother!
Runa.—I hurl a curse on thee, a heavy curse, a terrible curse!
Runa.—I hurl upon thee a curse most powerful, which will follow thee and hound thee, hound thee until death as a pack of furious dogs pursues a timid fawn! By heaven I curse thee, I curse thee by earth! O earth, thou art a mother too; thou wilt hear me, thou must hear me: destruction to thee if thou remainest deaf! My curse is mighty as the wind, the fire, the sea! As a magic word, full of horror, which drags down the stars from heaven. Even fate itself will not overpower my curse!
Mahulena.—O, cease, cease! . . .
Radúz.—Come, Mahulena! . . . (Pulls her after him.)
Mahulena.—I stumble . . . I cannot . . .
Runa.—May thy heart know all tortures and thy soul all anguish, Mahulena! Thou livest in him and he in thee? Then I curse your love! May Radúz forget thee, may he not even recognize thee, mayst thou become strange to him as thou art now strange to me! Mayst thou die of yearning, perish with sorrow; mayst thou so suffer that thy heart, heavy as a stone, may know but one longing, that it sink into the depths of oblivion! May thy life and all thy thoughts through mighty suffering be involved in one vague prayer; even in that terrible stupefaction may there remain to thee but one consciousness; thine own woe! May sorrow be thy breath, sorrow thy bread, sorrow thy single element!
Radúz.—O Mahulena do not grieve, but come. Love is mightier than hatred, thou shalt see!
Runa.—Thou shalt learn thine error, Radúz. My curse falls on thee as well as on her! No less shall be thy suffering, though it shall be a grievous riddle to thee! As soon as another woman’s loving lips touch thy cheek, then shall my curse upon thee begin! And that instant thou wilt forget her, wilt not recognize her, thine own Mahulena, even if thou shouldst gaze upon her constantly! Of her being no trace will remain in thine enchanted memory! And a wound which thou shalt not detect shall bleed in thy heart, shall bleed until thy reason shall become dazed because of thy grief! O, my curse stands firmly as the Tatras! Thou hast heard it, earth, our mother; thou hast heard it, I have felt thee tremble!
Mahulena (Throwing herself on the ground and kissing it).—As I kiss thee, mother earth, so have pity and mercy on me! Thou art not a mother who curses, thou art a mother full of tenderness for thy children; thou hast heard the curse, now thou hearest also my weeping!
Radúz.—Come, Mahulena! (Leads her away, completely exhausted, in the direction to which she points.) How thou dost tremble, my soul!
Runa.—A curse, a curse, a curse upon you!
Mahulena (Already behind the scenes).—Woe! Woe!
Runa.—Follow them, O my curse! Follow her, follow Radúz! A curse, a curse, a curse!—
A sparse forest in Magura. On one side is a distant view of a hilly region; in its midst extends a delightful meadow and large gardens can be seen, behind which a fantastic city appears on the horizon. Radúz andapproach from the denser portion of the forest and pause by a huge oak in the shade of which lie several large boulders.
Radúz.—O Mahulena, I greet this tree as a friend of my youth! As a child I used to play here, and from these moss-covered stones there is a wide view into regions far away! O, look, look!
Mahulena.—How thine eyes sparkle, my dear one!
Radúz.—Greeting to thee, my beloved home! O Mahulena, greet my native land! That meadow, flooded with sunshine, that gave me birth! Those gardens comforted me with their fragrant shadows; and there, there is my city! ‘That old castle, towering above white ramparts, that was my cradle! O, if thou but knew how delightful is that dwelling! Swallows love it; nest is crowded against nest beneath the old cornice! And there beneath that lofty roof, around which incessantly circle hundreds of white doves, there my mother lives and my father! O blessèd land of my birth, greeting to thee! (Kneels and kisses the ground.)
Mahulena.—Before thee is thy city, Radúz, but behind me is my country: there in silent meditation stand the tall ancient forests, in which dark shadows abide; and the doors of my father’s house I have shut behind me, which shall never again fly open to welcome my entrance!
Radúz.—Mahulena, Mahulena, do not grieve! Is it possible that my joy should make thee sorrowful?
Mahulena.—No, Radúz, not thy joy, but something else. . . . (Seats herself on a stone.) Now for the first time do I feel weariness. Come, sit beside me and let me rest. . . . This is strange! Now methinks that I should wish that those deep forests through which we have wandered for three days might still cover us with their damp twilight. There we were so alone, alone. We belonged to each other so inseparably, so completely. Hand in hand we walked together; and if I fancied that I heard footsteps somewhere on the moss, then frightened I nestled thus to thee, so closely; and when thine arms embraced me, then I firmly believed that for me there was no danger in all the wide world, since thy smile told me so tenderly and so proudly that thou wert protecting me!
Radúz.—But now the danger has all passed by: why then does that pensive shadow lie upon thy forehead? Why dost thou not glow with joy like my sunny meadow?
Mahulena.—Thy land is sunny; yes, dear Radúz, thy land—but I am a stranger in it.
Radúz.—Why with such words dost thou sadden my heart? Thou a stranger, where I am at home?
Mahulena.—Radúz, forgive me. (Throws her arm about his neck.) ‘Thou knowest not what thou art to me, my soul! Thou art my brother, my father, my mother, my all! My heart overflowed with tenderness even from childhood; and nowhere, never did my love find an echo until thou camest, like that star at dusk, like that swallow from afar, which beneath your cornice yonder has its nest! Thou, Radúz, art my whole family, art my home. Though I am an outcast from the bosom of all love, yet thou to me art more than an atonement! Radúz, thou art my breath, mine eyes! Without thee I am as this stone, blind, deaf, dead. To thee I cling for support, my Radúz! The dark cloud of that awful curse—
Radúz.—Cease, Mahulena: that curse belongs to the past and is lost in the twilight of the Tatra forests, which likewise I curse—
Mahulena.—Curse them not! I was born there! O, canst thou too ever be cruel and feel hatred?
Radúz.—Forgive, forgive me! I bless them; thou camest forth, bright one, from them! But now drive from thee all clouds. Art thou rested? My home powerfully draws me to it, and impatiently I long to pass through the gates of the city. Come, Mahulena, let us go home! Dost thou hear? Home! It is a most sweet word.
Mahulena.—A most sweet word to thee—but in me what gloomy forebodings it awakens! Thy father, thy mother! Methinks I see them before me; see how their hands, trembling with joy, reach out for thee, how they draw thee to them, how they weep for happiness that they have found thee again! And then, then their glance will darken, and I shall read in it a silent question, a painful question: “Who is that strange girl and what seeks she here?” How happy are your swallows: them every one welcomes joyously, for they bring the spring with them—but I? I bring only my mother’s curse. (Covers her face.)
Radúz.—Thou breakest my heart, Mahulena! Thou art mistaken! In truth they will love thee dearly, dearly, my parents! For thou art bringing back a son to them, their only child! And what generous gifts hast thou bestowed upon me! Thou hast returned to me my lost liberty; thou hast preserved my life and by thy love hast consecrated that life and so hast given it a crown!
Mahulena.—My Radúz, I kiss thy dovelike eyes; they pour light into my cloudy soul! Thou gazest on me like the bright sky, but with thy glance they will not gaze upon me there in yonder city . . . “Who gave that maiden to that man?” Thus thy father will ask himself, and thy mother in deep thought will say to herself: “We went not to ask her for our son.” And the people in the city, in the palace will whisper: “An unbidden guest has come to them!” Ah, Radúz, my soul trembles with fright: how shall I lift mine eyes? I perish from shame!
Radúz.—Thou too art burdening me with threats! No such thing as thou hast said has ever happened to me . . . Were it possible, Mahulena, that that should occur whereof thou speakest now—then I should love them no longer—those parents of mine!
Mahulena.—O, speak not so! So am I stealing away from them thy heart? I was foolish! Radúz, forget what I have said to thee. No longer do I fear aught, dread aught. Come, come: I hesitate no longer.
Radúz.—No, Mahulena, no! Thou must not enter the palace like a guest whom no one has awaited! Before thee will I go and tell all that thou hast done and suffered for me; and they will come with me here to this oak for thee—my father, my mother, the whole palace and the whole city; and they will bow before thee! Like a queen, like a mighty conqueror thou shalt enter gloriously through the gates of thine own city and under the roof of thy palace! Into the home of thy husband, my Mahulena!
Mahulena.—Thou depart . . . thou desert me here! . . . O, stay, stay! If thou dost depart thou wilt forget me.
Radúz.—That wounds me, Mahulena! Does my love then seem to thee so weak that it could be quenched in one short hour?
Mahulena.—No, I think not that! I speak thoughtlessly; my lips merely uttered those ill-fated words, but my heart knows not of them. It was but anguish that spoke from me, under the pressure of that terrible curse, which constantly rings in mine ears. Yet there is a cloud over thee and thou thou dost not hear my excuse, and thine eyes are darker: is that perchance because thy love is fading away?
Radúz (Kissing her passionately).—Here is my answer! Is my love for thee cold?
Mahulena.—Be patient with me, Radúz. I am so frail, so timid a creature. . . . Now go; I will go with thee, and if they greet me coldly I have thy heart, and there is naught else needful for me in the wide wide, world, Radúz!
Radúz.—I will go alone, and I desire that they come here with me to welcome thee and with due pomp to conduct thee hence!
Mahulena.—Ah, why did I myself awaken alarm in thy mind! Go then, Radúz. I am weak and frail. . . . I am thine and therefore it befits me that I do as thou biddest.
Radúz.—That is cruel, Mahulena; that has the sound of a reproach!
Mahulena.—Then I recall what I have said. Thou art right in all things. Radúz, go. I am calm, behold! Go and return quickly. Here under the oak thou shalt find me. Time will pass by swiftly; I shall dream and sing . . . and yearn too. Go, Radúz. Yet forget not the curse.
Radúz.—That eternally terrifies thee! (The sound of a trumpet is heard; prolonged notes, drawing nearer.)
Mahulena.—How dismal is that music, how terrifying: what means it? Thou art pale!
Radúz.—Something grips me, like a dreadful foreboding. Those are the notes of gloomy trumpets. Thus they sound them when a great calamity has happened in the city—or in the royal house. That mournful trumpeting approaches nearer and nearer; I also hear the voice of the herald, although his words cannot be distinguished. Now I see them; those men are making their way hither! Now they stand still, I recognize them: O, that is Radovid, and he wears robes of mourning! Does he not see me? Now he has turned away; the people are assembling from the fields!—(A trumpet sounds close by. When the note has died away, Radovid’s voice 15 heard behind the scenes.)
Radovid.—Whosoe’er be near, let him harken to my mournful tidings, which I and many others are spreading from mountain to mountain, from village to village, even to the farthest bounds of Magura! I call my sad message to the four corners of the world: Mourn and weep, ye men of Magura! Your good king is dead! Dead is your king! Your king is dead, dead is your king! (Silence: the trumpets sound again, at a greater distance.)
Mahulena.—O speak, Radúz! My Radúz, that silent grief will stifle thee! Thou art pale as a stone, motionless as a stone, cold as a rock!
Raduz (Casting himself on the ground).—My father, my poor father! (In the distance the trumpets are heard again, much more feebly.) O terrible sounds! Mahulena, sorrow is upon us!
Mahulena.—Sorrow! My Radúz, O weep not thus to excess! . . . Arise, hasten home. For thy mother what a consolation it will be when she embraces thee!
Radúz.—Ah, Mahulena, never more to hear words from those lips! . . . Those benignant hands are cold . . . those eyes are closed for ever and ever! . . . Ah, mother, how thy heart is bleeding now!
Mahulena.—Hasten to her arms! . . . But those tears of thine I shall kiss away; thy sorrow is my sorrow, as thy joy was my joy. . . .
Radúz.—Come with me, Mahulena.
Mahulena.—No, Radúz, now I will remain here as thou didst wish. Now it is clear to me what I have to do. Now thou dost belong to her who gave thee birth. At that first moment of meeting, when sorrow at her loss and joy at thy return shall tear her heart asunder, at that moment thou dost belong entirely to her who suffers so bitterly. I will remain, or will follow thee slowly. . . . Go, thine image lies in my soul; it shall be here with me.
Radúz.—I go, Mahulena, as thou hast decreed. And yet in the most bitter grief thou shalt not leave my thoughts for even an instant. Thou art in my soul, and that is more than to have thee before mine eyes, blinded by my tears. (Embraces her.) Now I go.
Mahulena.—But remember the curse!
Radúz (Turning back to her).—I will remember; fear not! How hard it is to part from thee! Even for a moment!
Mahulena.—Thy mother calls; bring her consolation!
Radúz.—I go; thou dost desire it! (Goes out.)
Mahulena.—How gladly would I call: “Stand!” My heart is breaking. He has already disappeared amongthetrees . . . Alone! Without him! (Seats herself beneath the tree.) How gloomy is this forest! How strangely the wind moans and complains here! . . . (From the distance faint trumpet blasts are heard.) Death! O, my heart aches. I was foolish—he will come quickly for me; if he should not come, then I should go after him to the city . . . But still why did I not rather go with him at once? . . . Perchancehe will return quickly . . . If he should not come . . . as in the old song:—
(Is silent; after a moment she sings softly:)
Beneath an oak tree’s shadow her vigil long she kept;
He came not and he came not—she waited and she wept.
When all her tears had flowed away she breathed a parting sigh:
“O sorrow’s me and sorrow; now surely I shall die!”
That is a sad song. Who can have made it? Perhaps such a thing.did happen at some time . . . But that must have been long ago. Why think of it? . . . Perhaps because—my heart is sick unto death . . . (Drops her head on her breast.)
Change of Scene
A large meadow in the park of the royal palace; on one side a group of birch trees rising from shrubbery. In the rear, a part of the palace with a colonnade and closed doors, to which several broad steps lead from the meadow. People of both sexes approach from all sides, making gestures that show grief and agitation.
Men.—The king is dead! He is dead! It came like a bolt of thunder out of a clear sky! He was not even ill.
Others. —So it seemed: yet grief for his son consumed him, as the flame wastes the oil of a lamp.
Old Men.—What will become of us! Every change is fraught with danger; uncertainty itself is a danger.
Others.—Grief is an impartial guest: he enters everywhere; into our lowly huts he makes his way and over the threshold of dwellings overflowing with gold. He sits by the king’s bedside as well as by the beggar’s.
Still Others.—And death makes us all equal, the low and the high; and with justice places us in the ground side by side.
Men.—Happy are they who lie beneath the mound—but what of those who remain behind?
Women.—The queen is a widow; and it is equally sorrowful to be a widow, whether in a palace or in a hut.
Other Women.—Now she is completely bereaved! Neither son nor husband with her! What is a woman without support in the world, where only brutal force and injustice reign?
Maidens.— We have come to weep with her. O, unhappy woman!
Men.—Silence! The heavy doors of the palace have creaked on their rusty hinges. Behold, the widow!
Women.—Beautiful is she still. even in mourning, with the crown on her head.
Other Women.—How pale she is, how pale!
.—Her step is uncertain: see, now she supports herself against a pillar.
Other Maidens.—Poor woman! Now she lifts her head!
Men.—Silence: she will speak.
Queen Nyola has come forth from the palace with the royal suite, which remains in the rear; the queen comes forward a few paces and remains standing at the top of the flight of steps which leads down to the meadow.
Nyola.—My grief has been dumb hitherto, and I have hidden in the deepest shadow, here in the ancient house of your revered kings, my widow’s mourning, the mourning of a mother bereft of her son: but you have come to mingle your tears with my weeping, and therefore have I come forth to meet you; I have left my golden hall that I may seat myself here on the earth in your midst, that I may shake off my grievous dumbness and burst forth into lamentation with you and sprinkle the dust of the road on my luckless head! (Seats herself on the ground.)
Populace.—O woman grieving over thy husband’s bier, mother yearning for thy lost son, comfort thy soul, thrice crying forth thy sorrow!
Nyola.—Sorrow! Woe! Sorrow! O my grief, be dumb no longer, but cry woe into the whole wide world! O people, people weep with me and mourn!
Populace.—Woe! Woe to thee, woe to us! O queen, we weep with thee; and if thou shouldst rend thy veil and tear thy hair and wring thy hands—which of us would marvel and say: “It is too much”? O, woe, woe!
Nyola.—I beat my breast; blinded by my tears I no longer behold the blazing eye of day, since all the light of my soul is extinguished. My husband, alas, why hast thou left me here alone? My son, why hast thou departed from me? Art thou too in the shadow of the grave, deaf and dumb to my cries even as thy father? Art thou too. pale and blind like him, there in the palace on the bier, who but recently was a man and now is a phantom? O, woe, woe, woe to me!
Nyola.—Now the funeral pyre stands ready and the greedy fire already hungers for the remains of him who once was called king and lord of many fates! With its hundredfold tongue, fire, the most rapacious of beasts, hungrily lashes the dead man and consumes him, leaving naught but ashes of my bliss, sad ashes, dead, worthless—like this heart here!
Old Men.—Take heed, woman, that thy righeous mourning turn not into blasphemy! Fire is holy; the ashes of man are sacred.
Nyola.—It is easy for him to rebuke whom no wild anguish scourges until the blood flows! You have lost only a king, but I have lost all! . . . Now once despair has set its talons in my heart! . . . Already I hear in the palace phantomlike steps (arises), the muffled voices of those who lift the bier that they may carry out the body to be the spoil of the flames! I no longer summon you to cry woe or sorrow with me! We must now be reverently silent and follow the coffin and gather together the ashes and heap up a high grave mound: to do all that is now our duty, forgetting ourselves completely! . . . Then only shall I sink again into my living misery and dead nothingness!
Old Men.—We will go with thee, unhappy woman! Let thy tears flow in silence. It is the fate of man to leave all behind him here and to return into the bosom of mother earth. It is wise to submit to fate as silently and peacefully as in autumn a tree fades without a sound. Even the sun sets—can man then live forever?
Nyola.—In thy simple words there is truth. Already I silently bow my head before the eternal order, changeless from the beginning of creation.
Radúz (Behind the scenes) —Mother! Mother!
Nyola—Hark! . . . Why has my heart begun stormily to beat with untimely joy, on the very threshold behind which lies the dead man? Was that the voice of my sonora deception which will melt away and still more terribly remind me of my bereavement?
Radúz (Appearing).— Mother! . . . My knees shake, my step falters, and I totter. . . . So weak am I from joy and sorrow as well! . . .
Nyola (Gazing as if in a dream).—Who advances there and appears as if alive? . . . He is pale as if arisen from the grave, a specter, and measureless grief wraps him as in a dark robe. And he raises his arms . . . Vanish, phantom; torture me not with deceitful illusions and plague not my heart with empty hope! . . .
Radúz.—Mother! (Approaches her.)
Nyola.—Shade, thou proclaimest to me that Radúz no longer lives!
Populace.—Leave thy revery; it is he, thy son! He is alive! Welcome, prince; welcome to us!
Radúz.—People, people! Mother! (He embraces her knees.) O, mother, I am Radúz, thy son! I am alive and happy, revered mother, for I embrace thy precious knees, on which in sweet childhood thou didst rock me! O, bend towards me; dost thou not recognize me? I am rescued; O, as if by miracle! I have saved myself by flight; here I am, here I am, O dearest mother! (Kisses her robe.)
Nyola.—O bliss unutterable, Radúz! Thou art alive, art here! . . . O, joy kills me not;I still live! (Is about to kiss him.)
Radúz.—No, mother mine, dearer than my soul; no, kiss me not. Marvel not at my words; I will tell thee—
Nyola.—I understand, dear Radúz! There in the palace lies thy dead father, and thou dost forbid thyself the wild joy of my kisses; thou dost not desire joy, even the most holy, in this sorrowful and grievous moment. Yet I could not restrain my heart; and, overcome by joy, I exulted when I saw thee once more; nor could I reflect which should be the greater, whether the joy of meeting or the sorrow over our loss. But thou didst reflect and didst think that greater was the loss which thou hadst suffered than the joy of again seeing thy mother. If thy father on his bier knew this, verily he would be at peace—but my heart somewhat repines . . . Well, blame me not for these foolish tears, which I cannot restrain; O, I cannot—
Radúz.—No mother, thou art mistaken! My heart is not cold; I did not reflect as thou hast supposed: I will tell thee all— (A mournful strain is heard from within the palace.)
Nyola.—O, Radúz, not a word more now! Already they are carrying thy father to the funeral pyre—O, Radúz!
The courtiers appear in mourning, carrying the body of the deceased king on a bier, beneath a pall.
Radúz.—O grievous, dark, terrible hour! . . . Set down the bier, I pray, and grant me leave to kiss once more his face and hand . . . Father, my father!
The bier is set down upon the ground.
Nyola (Drawing back the pall).—Behold! Bid him farewell and check not thy tears!
Radúz (Throwing himself on the body).—O my father, press me to thy heart! I am suffering, dost thou hear? I am suffering bitterly! At the moment when I should have embraced thee, I dreamed amid torments . . . And now thy stony arms refuse to embrace me . . . O, I feel as if thou hadst repulsed me in anger! . . . and the ground seems to quake beneath me!
(Sinks, overcome, beside the bier).
Nyola.—Woe, he perishes! How could he die! Radúz, wouldst thou too die as suddenly as he and leave me in sheer bereavement? Why dost thou gaze upon me with glassy eyes as if thou didst not know me? I am thy mother, dear Radúz, and for thee I would contend desperately with death itself. (Kisses him passionately.)
Radúz (Repulsing her violently, with a loud cry) —Woe! Thou dost murder me!
Nyola.—What means that desperate cry and that yet more desperate gesture? And why dost thou feebly grasp thy brow and why dost thou gaze as if wrapt in dreams, in so terrible and unearthly a guise? . . . My child, speak; what is happening to thee?
Radúz.—I myself know not. . . . Here in my head a terrible anguish grasped me, and it seemed as if a string had snapped here, here in my heart, in my very heart. . . . And I feel some unknown, uncertain sorrow. . . . Why? My memory becomes clouded. . . .
Nyola.—Thou weepest for thy father. . . .
Radúz.—Yes; and yet something else now sends burning tears to mine eyes. . . .
Nyola. —Thou art all transformed. The expression of thy face is strange to me. Why didst thou shriek so wildly and why didst thou cast me aside?
Radúz.—I cast thee aside? Nay, in that thou art mistaken, dear mother. (Caressing her) For the comfort of thy lips I thirstily seek. . . . Perchance I had a rush of feverish thoughts such as sometimes great anguish will produce. . . . What happened I know not; but this, alas, is clear to me, that my father lies here on the bier and that my heart is bleeding. . . .
Nyola.—Well, lift once more the precious burden on your shoulders and let us make our way to the funeral pyre. Be thou, Radúz, my support now on this mournful journey. . . . (Hangs on his arm and leans against him. Both bend for a moment over the body, which Nyola again covers with the pall. Just then Mahulena appears in the meadow among the populace.)
Mahulena.—O, let me pass! O, mercifully let me pass! This anguish is killing me! Where is the palace? . . . Where is Radúz? . . . Where is your prince? O, there, there I see him, and my fear is ended!
Populace.—Back, mad girl! What doest thou? Art thou bereft of reason? Whither dost thou force thy way?
Mahulena.—O, gaze not so threateningly and terribly! I do but wish to go to him. . . . I was terrified unto death yonder in the forest and I flew after him. . . . You can see that I have scarcely caught my breath!
Populace.—Thy speech sounds somewhat foreign to us. Yet something like the warbling of birds soothes us in thy voice. . . . We are sorry for thee; thou gazest wanderingly, like one crazed. . . . Recover thy reason and stand quietly.
Mahulena.—No, no! Do but let me pass; you are hard! I wish to go to him; and if you will not let me pass immediately, then I shall struggle with you all! Radúz, hear me! Radúz, protect me, that I may rush to thee in my anguish!
Nyola.—Who disturbs the peace of this sacred hour?
Populace.—Take heed, foolish child, lest thou kindle the anger of those who are powerful!
Mahulena.—That must surely be his mother! . . . She is proud, I think. . . . (Forcing her way through the crowd.) My Radúz! . . . Ah, now for the first time do I behold that bier. . . . Forgive me! . . . I too will follow the funeral train, only behind you; and I will be quiet, dumb, thou wilt see, and humble in the presence of thy haughty mother.
Radúz.—Who is that maiden and what does she wish?
Mahulena.—My blood runs cold! . . . Thou dost question, Radúz, and canst gaze on me as on a stranger? My Radúz, speak; how canst thou? Dost thou not know me?
Radúz.—I know thee? But wherefore? Thou are mistaken.
Mahulena.—The earth shakes and the heavens fall, and no one offers me his hand lest I stumble. . . . Hast thou forgotten our parting yonder beneath the oak? That touching parting as in the old song perchance the very earth wept on which we stood, and the birds also, perching on the oak. . . . Thou didst leave me, and suddenly it seemed as if some one were taking thy heart from me. . . . SoI flew after thee like a fawn; blind, deaf, frenzied with fear . . . and now I am here I, dost thou hear; I am here . . . By all that is dear to thee on earth, by the love of thy mother, by this lifeless body, by the sun, the earth, I adjure thee; by my own torments—O, know me, know me, know me: else I shall perish from sorrow! (Kneels before him.)
Nyola.—Drag her away at once! By what right dares she speak thus?
Mahulena.—Thou dost ask, O queen! Then ask him; let him answer thee. Let him tell thee who rescued him, who led him out of slavery: ah, ask, ask him; for that alone I beg thee! And gaze not on me scornfully. . . . I am of royal birth even as he! Why then are my garments torn? The forest did that, the deep wilderness, the wild, desolate, beloved, mysterious wilderness through which I have led him. . . . There wilt thou find my bloody footprints over sharp stones: those footprints lead back to the haughty palace that I forsook in order to save him . . . my Radúz, for I loved him more than my father, than my own mother, and therefore went with him!
Radúz, my love is true; I am still just as I was in the Tatras and in the deep forest by the springs . . . O, woe to me; thou dost not answer! Ah, rather draw a dagger and slay me!
Nyola.—My son, thou hast heard; therefore reply.
Radúz.—I am sorry for her. How agonized is her face! How confusedly she raves! I have never seen her; I know her not, and I think, poor girl, that she is crazed.
Mahulena.—O, verily, there is great truth in that. I am indeed crazed! For it is impossible that that should really happen which now presents itself to my sight and hearing! Radúz cannot speak thus and gaze thus! Could it be possible that my voice should not penetrate his heart? (Takes him by the hand and speaks tenderly.) Radúz, my beloved soul!
Radúz.—What is this? What is it? Ah, mother, within me is such anguish . . . and my mind is clouded . . . Relieve my fever! . . .
Nyola.—Thou art deadly pale, my poor son. (Kisses him.)
Mahulena (Wildly).—Now I clearly know what I had already guessed! O, kiss him not! Back! Each caress thou givest is a new curse! Each kiss of thine is a new imprecation! . . . I only have the right to kiss him, only I! This soul belongs to me; that cheek is only for my lips—they only will wipe away the traces of thy kissing! . . . (Is about to kiss him.}})
Radúz (Drawing back).—Away from me!
Nyola.—O shamelessness as yet unheard of! I blush for thee, bold girl! Push her back, drag her away at once! (Several men seize Mahulena.)
Mahulena.—Radúz, behold what I am suffering for thee! But one word, one glance!
Radúz.—I know thee not, yet I have pity for thee. (Hides his face.)
Nyola.—Now lift the bier and proceed to the funeral pyre. Dismiss the memory of this frantic scene and plunge yourselves in devout thought, in prayers!
(The music of trumpets is heard.)
Mahulena.—My Radúz! . . . Now my light is setting! . . . Radúz, Nyola, and the whole train pass on.
Mahulena (Faintly).—Ah, Radúz! (Falls face downward.)
The funeral train disappears; the stage remains empty except for a few women and maidens standing about Mahulena.
Women.—Thou hapless maiden . . . arise . . . Quickly depart hence before they return. It is dangerous to anger those in power.
Maidens.—Thou hast suffered much, one can see, and so thy mind has become clouded. Come with us . . . Thou art a foreigner . . . Where is thy home? We will show thee the path through the forest, that thou mayst go to thine own people. Thou shakest thine head?
Mahulena.—I have neither father, mother, nor home. I am like this stone lying here.
Women.—Come with us . . . For a day or two we will grant thee shelter. Again thou shakest thine head. . . What can we do for thee?
Mahulena.—Leave me . . . alone . . . lying . . . on my face . . . thus . . . thus . . .
(Falls face downward.)
Women.—Well, let us leave her . . . Perchance the coolness of the earth will calm her blood and she will follow us. Let us follow the funeral train. (They slowly move on.)
Mahulena (Lifting her head after a moment).—Alone . . . Within me there is darkness, death, cold . . . Can I be myself, and has all this happened to me? . . . It is strange that some beings are bereft of all. I have neither father, mother, nor sisters . . . neither home nor roof . . . not even a grave! And methinks even the light of mine eyes is failing now, that my life is ebbing away . . . Just who has become dead to me? . . . Ah, yes, my love . . . To lie on the earth, that is the only thing that I still desire . . . Ah, mother earth, mother earth, thou art left to me; thou alone art faithful beneath the heavens, thou art the only one who does not thrust me aside . . . Thou art not like those others: we love them, and they curse us: we love them—and they do not wish to know us and they forget us in a moment . . . Upon thee we trample; and thou, thou with unfailing love dost foster us . . . And now, now thou dost lull to sleep my terrible sorrow, and whisperest to me how sweet a lot it is not to think and not to feel, even as the crags which project from thy bosom . . . What thou givest them, that dead, heavy peace, give it to me also; I too am thy child . . . O, give me that which thou givest to the grass here and to thy trees . . . They dare to remain here, here where he breathes who knows me no more! O, hearken to me—or dost thou hear naught but evil curses and fulfil them? . . . I long to cling firmly to thee, mother, as the trees cling with their roots . . . O, hear my prayer! . . . Have pity on me, unhappy girl (Kisses the earth.) But now in my mind a strange mist is arising . . . (Arises.) And my feet are becoming buried in the ground . . . What is this? . . . O, sweet sleep, which hoverest over my eyelids . . . already I see all things only through a gray twilight . . . How strangely my limbs are becoming benumbed? All is vanishing, vanishing . . . except that anguish here, where until now my heart beat . . . Ah, is this death? In my memory there is a buzzing as of a fly . . . Some word is . . . (More and more faintly) Radúz . . . Radúz . . . Radúz . . .
Toward the end of her speech Mahulena gradually changes into a slender poplar, in which her form entirely disappears. The leaves of the tree tremble and in their rustling the word Radúz gradually dies away.
The same setting as at the close of Act III, with the poplar in which Mahulena lives enchanted. It is night: the royal palace is brilliantly lighted within; otherwise the stage is dark. From the palace a chorus of guests is heard singing.
Song in the Palace
O youth, thou art the golden bird of morning
That greets the sun in eager, mounting flight;
But far below the forest darkens, warning
That thou shalt fall into its gloom at last
And learn its depths. Then seldom will the light
Of thine own image flash upon thy sight,
For thou art falling, falling through the night
That we call past.
O youth, why is thy spring of dreams so brief,
When thou must wake so soon to lingering grief?
Why speeds thy ship so fast,
Only to fade more swiftly out of sight?
Alas, that all must vanish into night,
Night and the past!
As the strains of this song gradually die away the moon rises and lights up the park. The trunk of Manulena’s tree becomes transparent and the maiden can be seen in it, apparently half asleep. The leaves rustle as if with an unusually strong gust of wind, and the maiden speaks as if in a trance.
Mahulena.—My heart is a bloody flower. What pains me, what pains me? Why do I continually tremble? When the clouds float above my head, I would follow them—I know not why nor whither. My longing, like my branches, continually aspires afar . . . But yonder to that palace do I most yearn, there where my shadow falls . . . And so my heart forever aches and forever blood drips from it . . . The birds are sweet guests; on my stiffened arms they perch and sing . . . Perchance they would soothe me, if that flower, that bloody flower, that heart would not continually pain me . . . Ah! . . . How deeply mother earth breathes—! . . . How deeply that starry heaven! . . . It is strange; I never before knew that they too breathe! But why does mother earth hold me so: firmly? I thought, when the wind stirred me, that perchance it would overthrow me, that it would break my arms . . . But it merely tore off my leaves, those withered leaves, which fell as my tears . . . once on a time . . . I know not when . . . Then snow fell and a drowsiness came over me, but that heart was forever bleeding . . . Then spring came, new leaves again, and young birds with the old, eternal songs, and all around was changed . . . It is so merry and mother earth breathes so strongly, full of tenderness . . . But my heart, the bloody flower, that continually pains, pains, pains . . . O, O! . . .
She closes her eyes, sighs deeply, and the trunk darkens, so that she is no longer visible. Queen Nyola and Radovid come out of the palace.
Nyola.—Their song should have been joyous, but it is like weeping . . . I marvel not; the very air of that palace is languishing, like the dying autumn, and frightens away joy, like this mourning garment, which perchance I shall wear to the end of my days, as now my grief.
Radovid.—Queen, yield not thus to thy sorrow!
Nyola.—What can I do else? It has continued for the whole year, always the same. For a whole year already my torture continues. At first I thought that it was sorrow over the loss of his father which so tormented and destroyed Radúz, which clouded his once clear mind. But long since it has been plain that he is under the spell of some enchantment. All has proved in vain that I have attempted; no gayety can arouse his grief-stricken mind: why do I prepare festivities; why do I arrange dances and songs! Didst thou see how sad he remained through the whole long banquet? And when I sought his glance amidst their singing to observe how the song affected him, then I saw that his place was empty. Whither has he gone? O, thou wilt see that he will again come to that tree which sprang up here so miraculously at the time of my husband’s burial. How is it that that mysterious poplar lures him with such unheard-of power?
Radovid.—Thou speakest of enchantment, lady, and I think that thou art not mistaken. That poplar is not like other trees. Its sudden growth is as enigmatic as its whole existence. When I see it from afar, it arouses within me the picture of some veiled woman, mourning and waiting somewhere near the road for someone who long has failed to come; and if I glance at it from near by, I imagine that it longs desperately to extend its branches even up to the windows of the room in which Radúz strangely dreams: I have the fancy that the entire poplar is a single eye and continually gazes fervently. And thus it suddenly occurred to my mind that perchance there lingers in that tree the soul of that mysterious maiden about whom I heard on my return from that mournful journey which I made along the border, proclaiming the death of the king.
Nyola.—Dost thou speak of that crazed maiden who at the funeral rites so vexed me? The very next day I had them seek her everywhere, but she had vanished as suddenly and as strangely as this tree suddenly and strangely appeared. I too have already felt the suspicion which thou hast now expressed. O, if I but knew that I were not mistaken, that through enchantment her whole soul were perchance in that poplar—then with my own hand I should overthrow it! This much I know clearly, that all my unhappiness proceeds from that cursed land where Radúz moaned in fetters. That maiden followed him thence, and with her came that evil which I now endure!
Radovid.—Take heed lest thou do her wrong. At least she showed no hatred, as thou thyself has told me. On the contrary she spoke of love, but in tears, despairingly.
Nyola.—It is all a riddle; the whole story is a mystery! But this I know, and everyone suspects, that this tree somehow has a share in my son’s madness. Why then should I long delay! I will have the poplar felled.
Radovid.—O, be not rash, my queen. Who knows what consequences may result from this? Radúz so passionately loves that tree, and all the people believe that it is sacred. No one approaches it without a sign of respect, and Radúz will not even permit that any one approach too near it; he himself crowns it with the most beautiful flowers. Perchance he is walking even now in the garden, to pluck flowers wherewith to adorn it.
Nyola.—Art thou too led astray by enchantment? O, how I hate it, that tree! Verily it already seems to me that I am no longer mistress in my own house nor mother of my own son! The people have more honor for that tree than for me, and my son cleaves to it with almost an idolatrous love, and for that poplar forgets me. When I detain himin the palace, sitting beside him, and speak with him, and kiss his hair; then, Radovid, I observe with agony that in his absent mood he scarcely sees me or hears me, that his eyes do but follow the shadow of the poplar, which like a dark serpent creeps ingratiatingly along the white tiling of the hall to his feet; and should a cloud flit over the sun and the shadow of the tree thus vanish, then Radúz sighs, sighs—O, Radovid, how can I rid myself of this curse? Yet I know the way, I know! Here in this bush lies my salvation; it is a large, heavy axe: it has long been lying in wait here like an executioner—Come, wouldst thou see it? It glitters in the moon light as if it laughed, anticipating its work! (She approaches the shrubbery beneath the birches.)
Radovid.—O, be not rash, my queen! I wring my hands! Some sudden terror seizes me, as it were a foreboding.
Nyola.—Silence! Behold! Radúz! He is wandering through the garden, carrying an armful of flowers. He walks as if in dreams. Let us step aside here and observe him! (They go behind a clump of birches.)
Radúz (Approaching, walking in his sleep). A gray dove perches upon a tomb and laments! In that tomb its happiness is buried . . . Why does it cast upon me its meek glance? . . . Why do those sad eyes reproach me? In some song they sing that the meek dove committed no wrong, that it perched on a cliff and that it drank water—and yet they strangled it . . . Ah, to me also, I think, a white dove used to lift meek glances . . . No, some maiden stood in a terrible desert and to my parched lips offered water from her hand, . . . and I strangled her! O, terrible phantoms! . . . And nowhere peace, nowhere contentment, but continually depression and deceitful visions! But it is not true that I did that—and yet? . . . (Kneels before the tree.) Only here, only here is there relief for that affliction! Here only is sweet slumber possible! Thou whispering, belovèd poplar, O lull me to sleep again! Lo, I bring thee a fragrant offering . . . (Adorns the tree.) In yonder palace it is so sad and desolate, but near thee there is happiness. Mother earth has many, many children; she has men, beasts, and plants. But plants are dearest to her; they hold firmly, firmly to her bosom and never release their hold of her! What a noble child of hers art thou, thou whispering, delicate poplar, thou pensive tree full of tenderness; for I know that only from tenderness dost thou tremble, and not from fear, like mankind. O, grant that I lean my wretched head against thy slender trunk; and whisper to me, whisper, O poplar! . . . (Seats himself beneath the tree and leans his head against it.)
Nyola (Softly).—Is he asleep or awake? Does he speak in a fever or with a clear mind? Let me pass, that I may convince myself.
Radovid.—Stay, lady. Grant him relief; thou seest that the is resting quietly as a child.
Nyola.—Why does he not so lay his head against my bosom? For that I long in tears and anguish.
Radovid.—How strangely the tree trembled but just now! Methinks that something is to happen.
Nyola.—Let us then quietly give heed.
The tree becomes transparent and rustles; and Mahulena, visible within it, speaks.
Mahulena.—My whole being trembles more violently, and with my agony is mingled an unutterable sweetness. It is he, it is he for whom so immeasurably I ever long, thirst, yearn! The mist of my memory is clearing away, and again I know what I am and what I am called! It is Radúz; he lies at my feet as once in the forest long, long ago! Against my trunk he rests his fair head, and with his breath trembles my sore heart, wounded unto death. It is he, it is he! All the stars of heaven have rained down at my feet from on high! . . . To bend over him, what blessedness! To weep over him, what a balm! Alas that more is not given me! If I could but cry out that sweet name into the starry night! . . . Ah, hearing my voice trembling with love, he would regain his memory: that I know, that I know! Yet to speak with him, that is not given me: only when his body is buried in dreams, then my spirit can speak to his spirit—but when he awakens he immediately forgets what he dreamed, and he departs, and straightway I too fall again into the drowsiness of my plant life! Like a spark into ashes, his name falls into forgetfulness with me and mine with him! What a sorrow is that, what a sorrow!
Nyola.—The sound of that tree fills me with horror! Methinks that I heard a human voice amid that rustling! My hand involuntarily grasps the axe—let me pass, Radovid, let me pass: I will break that spell!
Radovid.—Nay, queen, by thy love of Radúz, hold! Something whispers to me that thou wouldst kill him! Look upon his pale face, so white by the light of the moon; now a smile seems to hover around his lips, a dreamy smile, full of happiness!
Mahulena.—O my comforting star, freed from corporeal fetters, my sweet, beloved Radúz, now thou art capable of hearing my voice.and understanding what my spirit whispers to thine! In thy dreams dost thou feel the dew of the tree fall on thy forehead? That is my tears, full of tenderness, O Radúz! And in sweet pain I bow my branches over thee; the breeze of the languishing night aids me . . . My comforting star, I am thy Mahulena: dost thou hear? Thy Mahulena am I! The weight of that terrible curse is now for a moment taken from us; Radúz and Mahulena once more belong to each other, through the bond of sleep!
Radúz (In his sleep) —O sweet name, like the rustling of a tree! So after all thou hast returned to my feeble memory! Now I know all . . . Istand on the summit of the mountain . . . Thou dost approach, my salvation! (Raises his arms into the air.) O, I shall hold thee, hold thee! . . . Never, nevermore shalt thou escape me through my clouded memory!
Mahulena.—Calm thyself, my belovèd soul! Calm thyself and hearken! Salvation is possible for thee! When thou art not near me I am in a drowsy state, more a plant than a human being! Yet in that strange half-consciousness I have confused visions and hear voices which the human ear never hears! To animals, plants and the stars many things are known which cannot be understood by man. From the earth, our mother, good tidings constantly issue, prophetic messages which only the initiated can understand . . . As the sap from the roots, at times something mysteriously gushes to my heart, to my head, from the deepest depths of the prophesying earth . . . Radúz, thus I know something whereof my mother in her curses was silent; I know that thy clouded memory can be restored by my blood! Dost thou hear? My blood! How gladly would I pour it all forth for thy salvation, Radúz! Yet I cannot, I am inflexible as a rock; only the wind can bend me, not my will! O, wound me, wound me, my sweet Radúz! O, take it, that blood, and be healed! Radúz, awaken and take thy remedy, all the blood of my heart!
Radúz.—O, terrible words! . . . Mahulena, Mahulena! (Awakens with a start. The tree darkens.)
Mahulena (In a dying voice). —Ah! . . .
Radúz (Starting to his feet)—Dreams full of horror! . . . Blood . . . her blood? Whose? That name . . . ah, again it is extinguished as a spark on which one tramples. . . . O terrible suffering in my head! . . . There was a thought here, here behind this brow. . . . But again it has flown away; again it is empty here and desolate! O frightful suffering! Grief and woe! (Throws himself on the ground.)
Nyola (Steps forth with Radovid from the hiding place, holding the axe.).—My son Radúz! (Dropping the axe and hastening towards him). What tortures thee and is killing thee? O, torture not thyself, my soul! My comforting star!
Radúz.—Comforting star! Those words, mother, say them once more! . . . I have already heard them at some time! Where and when? O, if thou knowest, then tell me quickly; perchance like a chain I can draw up the rest, which here, here behind this brow has become extinguished! Those words, mother, where have I heard them?
Nyola.—Thou tremblest like a leaf! Those words are simple, and thou mayst have heard them many a time! Perchance I myself have said them to thee many a time when thou wert a child and some childish grief troubled thee.
Radúz.—No, no! O memory, my memory! Mother, do but aid me; I will, I will, I must recover it! My very life and happiness depend upon it! And that name, which the tree whispers me in my dreams! At least tell me that name! Ah, you know it, but you wish to torture me; you know not what compassion means: thou, mother, art hard; and thou too, Radovid!
Radovid.—My prince! (Covers his face.)
Nyola (Weeping).—That thou shouldst do me such injustice, my son! I perish and die, seeing thee suffer so, and I would give my heart’s blood if I could heal thee! Woe upon me!
Radúz.—Forgive me, forgive me, mother! What have I said? I know not what I have said. And yet thy words sounded like an echo. . . . Thou didst speak of blood and of salvation. Hold! Now I know . . . thus the tree also whispered. Blood? It desires my blood? . . . O, I will give it!
Radovid.—Thy mind wanders, prince!
Nyola.—This it is impossible to bear; this it is impossible to endure! My son, go, go hence . . . Cursèd be that tree!
Radúz.—Mother, mother, curse not! It is as if my heart received a wound; I straightway fancy that it is bleeding terribly.
Nyola.—Be it so: no, no, I do not curse. . . . But go hence; it is ghastly here. . . . Go into the palace; there there is song and feasting!
Radúz.—Everywhere I am sad, everywhere depressed and sorrowful; only beneath this tree do I feel relief. Go, mother, go, and leave me here.
Nyola (Seating herself beneath the poplar).—Without thee I will not go, my Radúz. Here on the ground will I seat myself. . . . My grief is like a stone; that too seeks the ground. . . . O Radovid., tell me of tears of ages past, of the suffering of men long ago. . . . Perchance I shall weep over them in compassion and forget my own sorrows.
Radúz.—My good, good mother! (Seating himself beside her) What pains thee? And why art thou sad?
Nyola.—Radovid, he asks that! Dost thou hear?
Radovid;;.—He is like a child, simple, gentle, quiet—
Nyola.—So, lean thy head upon my bosom, Radúz. (Radúz does so.) Art thou calmer? Thus we used often to be together in the garden, when thou wert a child; and thus I soothed thy childish troubles. . . . Thus I would tell thee my fairy tales and sing thee ancient songs. . . .
Radúz.—Those were beautiful times, mother dear! They still live here, in my memory. That has not been extinguished in my thought, like the rest. . . . Come nearer, Radovid . . . nearer, my true, friend. . . .
Radovid (Sinking down beside him) .—My Radúz, give me thy hand . . . so . . . so. . . .
Radúz.—Tell fairy tales! Ah, that is pleasant! . . . But now I will tell them to you. . . . Not fairy tales; no, no. Something else; and perchance I shall thus recall gradually, gradually, bit by bit . . . everything.
Nyola.—No, rather be silent about that, my Radúz! An hundred times thou hast begun, begun . . . and I know how it always ends in despair! Would rather that I were not alive!
Radovid.—Let him speak, my lady. . . . Opposition irritates him; perchance he will yet succeed. . . .
Nyola. —Thou still canst hope? How I envy thee!
Radúz.—Well then, mother, art thou listening?
Nyola.—Yes, child, yes.
Radúz.—And Radovid, thou, thou too? Thou knowest that in the forest yonder, there beyond our border, there we met each other at the spring where I was sleeping peacefully at early dawn. . . . Mother dear, how well I feel! I recollect everything, everything now. . . . O, I still see how the dew sparkled, how the mountains towered over the forest, and how the white doves circled over the tree tops and how a light, white cloud floated through the heavens. . . . I know what form it had; it was like a long, long fish. . . . We were jesting, I think, Radovid and I and someone else. . . . It was a woodcutter, a man whom I liked from the moment that I saw him. . . . And then, then they seized me. . . . And they cruelly thrust me into a tower; there it was dark. . . . But no, before that, before they led me there, there was something more some bright apparition dazzled my sight, something like a beautiful bird. . . . No,a white lily, which was illumined by the early dawn. . . . What was it? My memory becomes clouded! . . .
Nyola.—Thou wilt recall that later; gaze not so sadly, confusedly. . . . Continue thy story. . . . (Aside) O Radovid, how can I endure this, how can I?
Radovid.—They thrust thee into the tower, did they not, my prince?
Radúz.—It was dark there and | lay there a long time . . . but some sunbeam visited me . . . What was that sun-beam? I cannot, I cannot remember. . . . It pains me here, mother; place thy hand on my forehead . . . so . . . so.
Nyola.—Leave recollections alone now, my son. Thou hast come and hast restored to me my life! Thou art my only comfort, O Radúz, my soul!
Radúz.—Then they chained me to the summit of a cliff.—There I went mad! Now ghastly and uncertain phantoms mingle in a feverish tumult of horrible thoughts! . . . A tumult of wild joy and of unutterable griefs agitates my bewildered brain. . . . My very soul deserts me with a threatening laugh . . . it is escaping me . . . I wish to catch it . . . (Jumps up.) Now it has escaped . . . Darkness surrounds me, and again a ruddy fire and heat and cold. . . . You all torture me. . . . I do not wish to be, I do not wish to live, and you hold me back and torture me! . .
Nyola.—My afflicted heart, rather break! O Radúz, thou most cruel child!
Radúz.—Mother, mother! What have I said? I am a wretched creature; I know that I am a madman.
Nyola.—Thou art but ill; soon thou wilt be well once more! O, calm thyself, thou my comforting star!
Radúz.—Now thou speakest again as that dear tree whispered to me! O, now I know positively; I have heard those words! That tree, that tree! (Is about to embrace its trunk.)
Nyola.—Away from it, Radúz! That tree is the source of all thine illness; that is now plain to me! It has an evil, strange power over thee. There is an evil spirit within it, and I know who sent it! It was Runa; she hates me, and when thou didst escape her yoke, then that evil sorceress sent some unholy power to ruin thee! But I will cure thee, my child, and will save thee and myself: I know how! Runa is dead; a message came to the castle this morning and I concealed it, not wishing to speak of death amid a festival. Runa is dead; her witchcraft yonder and that evil spirit which she has sent hither to us, will take their flight—when I but fell this tree! Thus shalt thou be healed!
Radúz.—Whosoever touches that tree—woe unto him! That poplar is more precious to me than my life, and I shall defend it, thou shalt see, with desperation!
Nyola.—This indeed is more than I can bear! Well, then know that I hate that cursèd tree, which robs me of thy love, my due respect! That tree I will fell before thine eyes! By mine own strength I will overcome thine illness, since by my gentleness I have not attained my aim! Thou art a mere child in mind, and therefore it is fitting to act for thee. Here, Radovid, lift the axe and do as I bid thee.
Radovid.—Be calm, my lady; restrain thy passion and act with prudence!
Radúz.—Mother, dost thou speak thus? So harshly? I do not believe my ears!
Nyola.—Thine eyes shall see! (Guests comes forth from the palace.)
Guests.—What is happening? Thy voice, O queen, sounded as if in anger.
Nyola.—O, you have come as witnesses in due time. You have seen me broken in spirit for a whole long year! Now you shall see that I again am mistress of my will and that I know what I wish. Radovid, thou holdest the axe. . . .
Radovid.—Here it is, lady; but consider what thou art beginning. Wouldst thou live in anger with thine own child? And why this anger? For a mere tree!
Nyola.—The hour of peaceful counsel is past, Radovid! Despair has brought me back to duty. If need be, let Radúz hate me, provided only that I cure him! Stand aside, Radúz! And Radovid, go thou and fell the tree, now, directly before his eyes and mine.
Radúz.—Not a step shalt thou take! The king commands!
Nyola.—Thou art king, my lord; but I am thy mother, and if not in the kingdom, in the house I am the first, and it is befitting to do what I command. Wouldst thou overthrow the ancient custom of thy forefathers? Is a child greater than a mother?
Radúz.—Before thee I bow my head, mother mine . . . Yet this tree I will protect with mine own life.
Nyola.—And I will rather give up mine own life than yield in this. Radovid, do what I have commanded.
Radúz.—But I place myself in the way, and woe to him, I say, who as an enemy draws near that tree!
Nyola (Taking the axe from Radovid).—Then woe to me, thy mother! I see that thou hast no weapon. Here is my dagger . . . Well, take it, how else wouldst thou forbid my advance to yonder poplar?
Radúz.—Mother, mother, those frightful words should never have issued from thy lips!
Nyola.—Then stand aside!
Nyola.—Let me pass! That cursèd tree is sucking forth thy soul, thy heart, thy brain; and therefore it shall perish! (She runs towards the tree, lifting the axe with both hands.)
Radúz.— Mother, hold!
Nyola.—To the dust, thou evil spirit! (Strikes the tree.)
Mahulena (Within the tree).—Ah!
Guests.—O dreadful wonder! A human voice sounded from within the poplar!
Radúz.—A sigh! . . . What a sigh was that! . . . It pierced my bosom!
Mahulena (Drowsily and feebly).—O, strike, strike! . . . But do not wound my heart! . . . That bleeds even without thy wounds!
Nyola (Dropping the axe).—Fear and pity seize me against my will . . . O, woe upon me! Now blood spurts from the trunk: what means that, pale moon? Speak from the sky! . . . Thou knowest much . . . we mortals go astray.
Radúz.—My tree, my sacred poplar, my comfort! (Embraces it.) Blood spurted from thee? Shed the blood on my brow and burn it; let me perish through that sorrow! Mother, now the blood has fallen on my head . . . What is this? A sudden joy is within me . . . My soul rejoices . . . What is this?
Mahulena (With a stronger voice).—My Radúz, my sweet Radúz! My blood has healed thee . . . That curse has lost its power! Radúz!
Radúz (Crying in a loud voice)—Mahulena! NowI know the name, and with the name my memory returns!
(The tree bursts open and Mahulena stands before Radúz).
All.—O horror! Horror! A miracle!
Mahulena.—What is happening? Where am I? . . . It is my Radúz! Now I know! Love is stronger than all hatred, and loving more powerful than cursing! Thou didst guess it then, Radúz, on the summit of the mountains!
Nyola.—Who is that marvellously charming maiden, veiled as with an enchantment of dreams?
Radúz.—That is she who loosed my fetters in the Tatra Mountains and led me back to thee, mother . . . O, I will tell thee all, and thou wilt weep, weep! Bless her! Gaze upon her, upon my white dove! . . . Mahulena . . . thou growest ghastly pale!
Mahulena.—I am bleeding . . . (She faints.)
Radúz.—There is blood on thy garment, on thy arm . .
Nyola.—Alas! My hand caused that! I have killed her?
Radúz.—Mahulena! Mahulena! She opens her eyes! And her smile shines bright!
Mahulena.—That voice calls me back to this happy, sweet life! My wound is not so deep as my joy . . . How could I die now, when I am thine?
Nyola.—Thou forgivest me? Radúz, beg for me!
Mahulena (Kneeling).—O mother of my Radúz, revered lady! My mother cursed me because I loved him; then do thou bless me!
Nyola (Embracing her).—Thou meek dove!
Radúz.—Come, mother, to the palace! Mahulena must rest!
Nyola.—I have skill in many remedies and her wound will soon heal!
Radúz.—Mahulena, support thyself on me—
Nyola.—No, rather on me! Lay thy head against my heart.
Radúz.—For thy love my mother and I will contend!
Mahulena.—Mother! Radúz! How is so great happiness possible! (She goes out towards the castle, supporting herself on both of them.)
Radovid (Gazing after them).—O, future generations shall long continue to tell of their faithful love! They are as happy as in a tale of old, Radúz and Mahulena! . . .
- Copyright 1923 by the POET LORE CO. All rights reserved.