_ ACT I. SCENE I.
Night, in the garden of NAAMAN at Damascus. At the left, on a slightly raised terrace, the palace, with softly gleaming lights and music coming from the open latticed windows. The garden is full of oleanders, roses, pomegranates, abundance of crimson flowers; the air is heavy with their fragrance: a fountain at the right is plashing gently: behind it is an arbour covered with vines. Near the centre of the garden stands a small, hideous image of the god Rimmon. Back of the arbour rises the lofty square tower of the House of Rimmon, which casts a shadow from the moon across the garden. The background is a wide, hilly landscape, with a high road passing over the mountains toward the snow-clad summits of Mount Hermon in the distance. Enter by the palace door, the lady TSARPI, robed in red and gold, and followed by her maids, KHAMMA and NUBTA. She remains on the terrace: they go down into the garden, looking about, and returning to her.
There's no one here; the garden is asleep.
The flowers are nodding, all the birds abed,
And nothing wakes except the watchful stars!
The stars are sentinels discreet and mute:
How many things they know and never tell!
Unlike the stars, how many things you tell
And do not know! When comes your master home?
Lady, his armour-bearer brought us word
An hour ago, the master will be here
At moonset, not before.
He haunts the camp
And leaves me much alone; yet I can pass
The time of absence not unhappily,
If I but know the time of his return.
An hour of moonlight yet! Khamma, my mirror!
These curls are ill arranged, this veil too low,--
So,--that is better, careless maids! Withdraw,--
But warn me if your master should appear.
Mistress, have no concern; for when we hear
The clatter of his horse along the street,
We'll run this way and lead your dancers down
With song and laughter,--you shall know in time.
[Exeunt KHAMMA and NUBTA, laughing. TSARPI descends the steps.]
My guest is late; but he will surely come!
Hunger and thirst will bring him to my feet.
The man who burns to drain the cup of love,--
The priest whose greed of glory never fails,--
Both, both have need of me, and he will come.
And I,--what do I need? Why everything
That helps my beauty to a higher throne;
All that a priest can promise, all a man
Can give, and all a god bestow, I need:
This may a woman win, and this will I.
[Enter REZON quietly from the shadow of the trees. He stands behind TSARPI and listens, smiling, to her last words. Then he drops his mantle of leopard-skin, and lifts his high-priest's rod of bronze, shaped at one end like a star, at the other like a thunderbolt.]
The mistress of the house of Naaman
Salutes the keeper of the House of Rimmon.
[_She bows low before him._]
Rimmon receives you with his star of peace;
[_He lowers the star-point of the rod, which glows for a moment with rosy light above her head._]
And I, his chosen minister, kneel down
Before your regal beauty, and implore
The welcome of the woman for the man.
TSARPI: [_Giving him her hand, but holding off his embrace._]
Thus Tsarpi welcomes Rezon! Nay, no more!
Till I have heard what errand brings you here
By night, within the garden of the man
Who hates you most and fears you least in all Damascus.
REZON: [_Rising, and speaking angrily._]
Trust me, I repay his scorn
With double hatred,--Naaman, the man
Whom the King honours and the people love,
Who stands against the nobles and the priests,
Against the oracles of Rimmon's House,
And cries, "We'll fight to keep Damascus free!"
This powerful fool, this impious devotee
Of liberty, who loves the city more
Than he reveres the city's ancient god:
This frigid husband who sets you below
His dream of duty to a horde of slaves:
This man I hate, and I will humble him.
I think I hate him too. He stands apart
From me, ev'n while he holds me in his arms,
By something that I cannot understand,
Nor supple to my will, nor melt with tears,
Nor quite dissolve with blandishments, although
He swears he loves his wife next to his honour!
Next? That's too low! I will be first or nothing.
With me you are the first, the absolute!
When you and I have triumphed you shall reign;
And you and I will bring this hero down.
But how? For he is strong.
By these, the eyes
Of Tsarpi; and by this, the rod of Rimmon.
Speak clearly; tell your plan.
You know the host
Of the Assyrian king has broken forth
Again to conquer us. Envoys have come
From Shalmaneser to demand surrender.
Our king Benhadad wavers, for he knows
His weakness. All the nobles, all the rich,
Would purchase peace that they may grow more rich:
Only the people and the soldiers, led
By Naaman, would fight for liberty.
Blind fools! To-day the envoys came to pay
Their worship to our god, whom they adore
In Nineveh as Asshur's brother-god.
They talked with me in secret. Promises,
Great promises! For every noble house
That urges peace, a noble recompense:
The king, submissive, kept in royal state
And splendour: most of all, honour and wealth
Shall crown the House of Rimmon, and his priest,--
Yea, and his priestess. For we two will rise
Upon the city's fall. The common folk
Shall suffer; Naaman shall sink with them
In wreck; but I shall rise, and you shall rise
Above me! You shall climb, through incense-smoke,
And days of pomp, and nights of revelry,
Glorious rites and ecstasies of love,
Unto the topmost room in Rimmon's tower,
The secret, lofty room, the couch of bliss,
And the divine embraces of the god.
TSARPI: [_Throwing out her arms in exultation._]
All, all I wish! What must I do for this?
Turn Naaman away from thoughts of war;
Or purchase him with love's delights to yield
This point,--I care not how,--and afterwards
The future shall be ours.
And if I fail?
I have another shaft. The last appeal,
Before the king decides, is to the oracle
Of Rimmon. You shall read the signs!
A former priestess of his temple, you
Shall be the interpreter of heaven, and speak
A word to melt this brazen soldier's heart
Within his breast.
But if it flame instead?
I know the way to quench that flame. The cup,
The parting cup your hand shall give to him!
What if the curse of Rimmon should infect
That wine with sacred venom, secretly
To work within his veins, week after week
Corrupting all the currents of his blood,
Dimming his eyes, wasting his flesh? What then?
Would he prevail in war? Would he come back
To glory, or to shame? What think you?
I do not think; I only do my part.
But can the gods bless this?
The gods can bless
Whatever they decree; their will makes right;
And this is for the glory of the house
Of Rimmon,--and for thee, my queen. Come, come!
The night grows dark: we'll perfect our alliance.
[REZON draws her with him, embracing her, through the shadows of the garden. RUAHMAH, who has been sleeping in the arbour, has been awakened during the dialogue, and has been dimly visible in her white dress, behind the vines. She parts them and comes out, pushing back her long, dark hair from her temples.]
What have I heard? O God, what shame is this
Plotted beneath Thy pure and silent stars!
Was it for this that I was brought away
Captive from Israel's blessed hills to serve
A heathen mistress in a land of lies?
Ah, treacherous, shameful priest! Ah, shameless wife
Of one too noble to suspect thy guilt!
The very greatness of his generous heart
Betrays him to their hands. What can I do?
Nothing,--a slave,--hated and mocked by all
My fellow-slaves! O bitter prison-life!
I smother in this black, betraying air
Of lust and luxury; I faint beneath
The shadow of this House of Rimmon. God
Have mercy! Lead me out to Israel.
[Music and laughter heard within the palace. The doors fly open and a flood of men and women, dancers, players, flushed with wine, dishevelled, pour down the steps, KHAMMA and NUBTA with them. They crown the image with roses and dance around it. RUAHMAH is discovered crouching beside the arbour. They drag her out before the image.]
Look! Here's the Hebrew maid,--
She's homesick; let us comfort her!
KHAMMA: [_They put their arms around her._]
Yes, dancing is the cure for homesickness.
We'll make her dance.
RUAHMAH: [She slips away.]
I pray you, let me go!
I cannot dance, I do not know your measures.
Then sing for us,--a song of Israel!
How can I sing the songs of Israel
In this strange country? O my heart would break
With grief in every note of that dear music.
A stubborn and unfriendly maid! We'll whip her.
[_They circle around her, striking her with rose-branches; she sinks to her knees, covering her face with her bare arms, which bleed._]
Look, look! She kneels to Rimmon, she is tamed.
RUAHMAH: [_Springing up and lifting her arms._]
Nay, not to this dumb idol, but to Him
Who made Orion and the seven stars!
She raves,--she mocks at Rimmon! Punish her!
The fountain! Wash her blasphemy away!
[_They push her toward the fountain, laughing and shouting. In the open door of the palace NAAMAN appears, dressed in blue and silver, bareheaded and unarmed. He comes to the top of the steps and stands for a moment, astonished and angry._]
Silence! What drunken rout is this? Begone,
Ye barking dogs and mewing cats! Out, all!
Poor child, what have they done to thee?
[_Exeunt all except RUAHMAH, who stands with her face covered by her hands. NAAMAN comes to her, laying his hand on her shoulder._]
RUAHMAH: [_Looking up in his face._]
My lord and master! They have harmed me not.
NAAMAN: [_Touching her arm._]
Dost call this nothing?
Since my lord is come.
I do not know thy face,--who art thou, child?
The handmaid of thy wife. These three years past
I have attended her.
Whence comest thou?
Thy voice is like thy mistress, but thy looks
Have something foreign. Tell thy name, thy land.
Ruahmah is my name, a captive maid,
The daughter of a prince in Israel,--
Where once, in olden days, I saw my lord
Ride through our highlands, when Samaria
Was allied with Damascus to defeat
Asshur, our common foe.
O glorious days,
Crowded with life! And thou rememberest them?
As clear as yesterday! Master, I saw
Thee riding on a snow-white horse beside
Our king; and all we joyful little maids
Strewed boughs of palm along the victors' way;
For you had driven out the enemy,
Broken; and both our lands were friends and free.
Well, they are past, those noble days! The friends
That fought for freedom stand apart, rivals
For Asshur's favour, like two jealous dogs
That snarl and bite each other, while they wait
The master's whip, enforcing peace. The days
When nations would imperil all to keep
Their liberties, are only memories now.
The common cause is lost,--and thou art brought,
The captive of some mercenary raid,
Some profitable, honourless foray,
To serve within my house. Dost thou fare well?
Master, thou seest.
Yes, I see! My child,
Why do they hate thee so?
I do not know,
Unless because I will not bow to Rimmon.
Thou needest not. I fear he is a god
Who pities not his people, will not save.
My heart is sick with doubt of him. But thou
Shalt hold thy faith,--I care not what it is,--
Worship thy god; but keep thy spirit free.
Here, take this chain and wear it with my seal,
None shall molest the maid who carries this.
Thou hast found favour in thy master's eyes;
Hast thou no other gift to ask of me?
My lord, I do entreat thee not to go
To-morrow to the council. Seek the King
And speak with him in secret; but avoid
Why, what is this? Thy wits
Are wandering. Why dost thou ask this thing
Impossible! My honour is engaged
To speak for war, to lead in war against
The Assyrian Bull and save Damascus.
RUAHMAH: [_With confused earnestness._]
Then, lord, if thou must go, I pray thee speak,--
I know not how,--but so that all must hear.
With magic of unanswerable words
Persuade thy foes. Yet watch,--beware,--
RUAHMAH: [_Turning aside._]
I am entangled in my speech,--no light,--
How shall I tell him? He will not believe.
O my dear lord, thine enemies are they
Of thine own house. I pray thee to beware,--
Child, thy words are wild;
Thy troubles have bewildered all thy brain.
Go, now, and fret no more; but sleep, and dream
Of Israel! For thou shall see thy home
Among the hills again.
And may thy slumber be as sweet and deep
As if thou camped at snowy Hermon's foot,
Amid the music of his waterfalls
And watched by winged sentries of the sky.
There friendly oak-trees bend their boughs above
The weary head, pillowed on earth's kind breast,
And unpolluted breezes lightly breathe
A song of sleep among the murmuring leaves.
There the big stars draw nearer, and the sun
Looks forth serene, undimmed by city's mirk
Or smoke of idol-temples, to behold
The waking wonder of the wide-spread world,
And life renews itself with every morn
In purest joy of living. May the Lord
Deliver thee, dear master, from the nets
Laid for thy feet, and lead thee out, along
The open path, beneath the open sky!
Thou shall be followed always by the heart
Of one poor captive maid who prays for thee.
[Exit RUAHMAH: NAAMAN stands looking after her.] _
Read next: ACT 1: SCENE 2
Read previous: DRAMATIS PERSONAE
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