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Ethelbert. You again, Duke? Justice, most noble Otho! You-go to your sister there and plot again,
A quick plot, swift as thought to save your heads;
For lo! the toils are spread around your den,
The world is all agape to see dragg'd forth
Two ugly monsters.
What means he, my lord?
Best ask your lady sister,
Conrad. I cannot guess.
Whether the riddle puzzles her beyond
The power of utterance.
The Princess faints!
Stab him! O, sweetest wife!
[Attendants bear off AURANTHE.
Ethelbert. Wife! so soon!
Ay, Satan! does that yerk ye?
Thou bitter mischief! Venomous bad priest !
How dar'st thou lift those beetle brows at me?
Me-the prince Ludolph, in this presence here,
Upon my marriage day, and scandalize
My joys with such opprobrious surprise?
Wife! Why dost linger on that syllable,
As if it were some demon's name pronounc'd
To summon harmful lightning, and make yawn
The sleepy thunder? Hast no sense of fear?
No ounce of man in thy mortality?
Tremble! for, at my nod, the sharpen'd axe
Will make thy bold tongue quiver to the roots,
Those gray lids wink, and thou not know it, monk!
Ethelbert. O, poor deceived Prince! I pity thee!
Great Otho! I claim justice-
Thou shalt have 't!
Thine arms from forth a pulpit of hot fire
Shall sprawl distracted! O that that dull cowl
Were some most sensitive portion of thy life,
That I might give it to my hounds to tear!
Thy girdle some fine zealous-pained nerve
To girth my saddle! And those devil's beads
Each one a life, that I might, every day,
Crush one with Vulcan's hammer!
You far outstrip my spleen in this affair.
Let us be calm, and hear the abbot's plea
For this intrusion.
I am silent, sire.
Otho. Conrad, see all depart not wanted here.
[Exeunt, Knights, Ladies, &c.
Ludolph, be calm. Ethelbert, peace awhile.
This mystery demands an audience
Of a just judge, and that will Otho be.
Ludolph. Why has he time to breathe another word?
Otho. Ludolph, old Ethelbert, be sure, comes not
To beard us for no cause; he's not the man
To cry himself up an ambassador
I'll chain up myself.
Otho. Old abbot, stand here forth. Lady Erminia,
Sit. And now, abbot! what have you to say 7?
Our ear is open. First we here denounce
Hard penalties against thee, if't be found
The cause for which you have disturb'd us here,
Making our bright hours muddy, be a thing
Of little moment.
See this innocent!
Otho! thou father of the people call'd,
Is her life nothing? Her fair honor nothing?
Her tears from matins until even-song
Nothing? Her burst heart nothing? Emperor!
Is this your gentle niece-the simplest flower
Of the world's herbal-this fair lily blanch'd
Still with the dews of piety, this meek lady
Here sitting like an angel newly-shent,
Who veils its snowy wings and grows all pale,-
Is she nothing?
What more to the purpose, abbot?
Ludolph. Whither is he winding?
No clue yet!
Ethelbert. You have heard, my Liege, and so, no doubt, all here,
Foul, poisonous, malignant whisperings;
Nay open speech, rude mockery grown common,
Against the spotless nature and clear fame
Of the princess Erminia, your niece.
I have intruded here thus suddenly,
Because I hold those base weeds, with tight hand,
Which now disfigure her fair growing stem,
Waiting but for your sign to pull them up
By the dark roots, and leave her palpable,
To all men's sight, a lady innocent.
The ignominy of that whisper'd tale
About a midnight gallant, seen to climb
A window to her chamber neighbor'd near,
I will from her turn off, and put the load
On the right shoulders; on that wretch's head,
Who, by close stratagems, did save herself,
Chiefly by shifting to this lady's room
A rope-ladder for false witness.
Otho. Ethelbert, proceed.
For, in the healing of one wound, I fear
To make a greater. His young highness here
To-day was married.
Yet why do I delay to spread abroad
The names of those two vipers, from whose jaw
A deadly breath went forth to taint and blast
This guileless lady?
Abbot, speak their names.
Ethelbert. A minute first. It cannot be but may
I ask, great judge, if you to-day have put
A letter by unread?
Conrad. Out with their names!
Ludolph. Out, hideous monk!
Bold sinner, say you so?
Confess, or by the wheel
Ethelbert. My evidence cannot be far away;
And, though it never come, be on my head
The crime of passing an attaint upon
The slanderers of this virgin.
Speak aloud! Ethelbert. Auranthe! and her brother there. Amaze!
Throw them from the windows!
Otho. Do what you will!
What shall I do with them?
Something of quick dispatch, for should she hear,
My soft Auranthe, her sweet mercy would
Prevail against my fury. Damned priest!
What swift death wilt thou die? As to the lady,
I touch her not.
Ethelbert. Illustrious Otho, stay!
An ample store of misery thou hast,
Choke not the granary of thy noble mind
With more bad bitter grain, too difficult
A cud for the repentance of a man
Gray-grownig. To thee only I appeal,
Not to thy noble son, whose yeasting youth
Will clear itself, and crystal turn again.
A young man's heart, by Heaven's blessing, is
A wide world, where a thousand new-born hopes
Empurple fresh the melancholy blood:
But an old man's is narrow, tenantless
Of hopes, and stuff'd with many memories,
Which, being pleasant, ease the heavy pulse-
Painful, clog up and stagnate. Weigh this matter
Even as a miser balances his coin;
And, in the name of mercy, give command
That your knight Albert be brought here before you.
He will expound this riddle; he will show
A noon-day proof of bad Auranthe's guilt.
Otho. Let Albert straight be summon❜d.
[Exit one of the Nobles. Impossible!
I cannot doubt-I will not-no-to doubt
Is to be ashes!—wither'd up to death!
Otho. My gentle Ludolph, harbor not a fear;
You do yourself much wrong.
O, wretched dolt!
Now, when my foot is almost on thy neck,
Wilt thou infuriate me? Proof! Thou fool!
Why wilt thou tease impossibility
With such a thick-skull'd persevering suit?
Fanatic obstinacy! Prodigy!
Monster of folly! Ghost of a turn'd brain!
You puzzle me,—you haunt me,—when I dream
Of you my brain will split! Bold sorcerer!
Juggler! May I come near you? On my soul
I know not whether to pity, curse, or laugh.
Enter ALBERT, and the Nobleman.
Here, Albert, this old phantom wants a proof!
Give him his proof! A camel's load of proofs !
Otho. Albert, I speak to you as a man
Whose words once utter'd pass like current gold;
And therefore fit to calmly put a close
To this brief tempest. Do you stand possess'd
Of any proof against the honorableness
Of Lady Auranthe, our new-spoused daughter ?
Albert. You chill me with astonishment. How's this? My liege, what proof should I have 'gainst a fame Impossible to slur?