The Covetous Knight
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The Covetous Knight

Scenes from the tragicomedy by Shenstone.

SCENE I


In a tower.
ALBERT and IVAN.


ALBERT

I care not what it costs me, at the tourney
Appear I shall. Show me my helmet, Ivan.

IVAN brings him the helmet.

’Tis cleft and broken and for wear unfit.
I needs must have a new one. What a blow
He struck me, that young villain, Count Delorge!

IVAN

You paid him back in kind, sir: from his stirrups
He fairly flew, and for a day and night
Lay senseless, ’thout a sign or breath of life.

ALBERT

Yet 'tis not he, I vow, who's out of pocket,
For his Venetian breastplate is unscathed.
As for his breast, ’twon't cost the man a copper:
From purchasing a new one he'll desist.
Why did I not upon the spot remove
His helmet?.. Fie!.. ’Twas shame that held me back,
The ladies being present and the Duke.
A curse upon the count! Why could not he
Have cracked my skull!.. In need of new apparel
Am I beside. At table were all the knights
Attired in silk and velvet; I alone
Wore mail and had to plead that it was chance
Had brought me to the tourney. In excuse
What will I say today? O poverty!
How you debase the heart and crush the spirit!
When Count Delorge with his great, heavy lance
My helmet pierced and flung it to the ground
And galloped past, and I with head uncovered
Set spurs to my Emir and like a whirlwind
Went after him and sent the good count flying
Nigh twenty paces, like as though he were
A puny page; when all the ladies rose
And e’en Clotilde could not suppress a cry;
When heralds hailed my prowess — none divined
By what this fine display of matchless strength
And courage had been prompted; none could know
That I had been incensed to see my helmet
Destroyed. A hero? Pooh! At heart I was
A petty miser, miserliness being
A dire infection easily picked up
Beneath my father's roof. But, say, how is
My poor Emir?

IVAN

Still lame and in no shape
For you to ride him, sir.

ALBERT

I'll have to buy
The bay, I think: they ask a modest price.

IVAN

Sir, for an empty purse ’tis yet too steep.

ALBERT

What says that beggar Solomon?

IVAN

That he
Can ill afford to loan Your Honour money
Unless you leave a pledge with him.

ALBERT

The devil!
Where would I get one? Did you ask him that?

IVAN

I did.

ALBERT

And what of him?

IVAN

He hemmed and hawed.

ALBERT

You might have told him I'm the son and heir
Of one who is as rich as any Jew.

IVAN

I did.

ALBERT

And what of him?

IVAN

He hawed and hemmed.

ALBERT

Worse luck!

IVAN

He's coming here, he said.

ALBERT

Thank Heaven!
He'll pay me ransom ’fore I let him out.

A knock at the door.

Who's there?

Enter the JEW.

JEW

Your humble servant.

ALBERT

Pray, come in!
I hear, good Solomon, you cursed Jew,
My honoured and esteemed and valued friend,
That you deny me credit?

JEW

Worthy knight,
I should oblige you willingly if I
But had the means!.. Alas! To penury
Am I reduced through having with my purse
Been overgenerous... Now, could you not
Repay in part the sum you owe me?

ALBERT

What?!
You blackguard! Well you know that if I boasted
A fuller pocket, I should never deal
With such as you. But, pray, be not so stubborn,
Sweet Solomon, and count me out a hundred
Gold pieces 'fore I have you searched.

JEW

A hundred?!
I wish I had so many!

ALBERT

Would you, then,
Refuse to help your friend? For shame!

JEW

Good sir,
I swear to you—

ALBERT

Come, come, I'll hear no more!
To ask me for a pledge... ’Tis monstrous, Jew!
What say you to a porker's hide? Nay, truly,
If I had aught to pledge I should have sold it
Long since. You dog! Is not my honest word
Enough for you?

JEW

Your word, knight, while you live,
Has no small weight, I grant you; like as if
It were a magic talisman, the richest
Of Flemish coffers it unlocks for you.
But should you pass it on to me, a poor,
Derided Jew, and die, which God forbid,
Why, then it will be worth no more, methinks,
Than, sir, a key to a discarded casket
Cast by its owner in the sea.

ALBERT

Think you
My father will survive me, Jew?

JEW

Who knows!
’Tis not by us, sir knight, our days are numbered!
A youth may thrive one day, and die the next,
And four bent greybeards on their backs will bear
His body to the grave. The Baron is
In fine, good fettle, and by the grace of God
May live another thirty years or so.

ALBERT

Another thirty years... What fibs you speak!
Why, I'll be fifty then and in no need
Of money, Jew.

JEW

You err, sweet sir, for gold
Is a commodity that serves us well,
Whate'er our age, except that to a youth
It is a zealous servant whom he sends
On countless errands, while an old man sees
A friend in it on whom he can depend.

ALBERT

Not so my father. Neither friend nor servant
Is it to him, but an exacting master
Whose cringing slave he is and abject lackey
And faithful watch-dog, one in a kennel kept
And fed on water and on mouldy crusts.
At night he never sleeps but to and fro
Runs barking, while the gold he guards reposes
In coffers... One fine day, I promise you,
’Twill learn to serve me and repose no more.

JEW

Aye, at the Baron's funeral more gold
Than tears will flow. With Heaven's help may you
Secure your fortune ’thout deferment.

ALBERT

Amen!

JEW

But stay...

ALBERT

What now?

JEW

There is a cure, sir knight,
For your complaint.

ALBERT

A cure?

JEW

’Tis only that
I know of someone... He's a Jew and poor,
A druggist.

ALBERT

And a usurer, I take it.
Come, say, is he as full of tricks as you
Or, friend, unlike you, honest?

JEW

Toviy deals
In other things than I: he makes up drops
Miraculous in their effect.

ALBERT

Indeed!

JEW

Add three, Your Honour, to a glass of water,
And ’twill suffice; they have no taste or colour
And cause a man no pain and no discomfort;
Death follows swiftly.

ALBERT

Ah, I see! Your man
In poisons traffics.

JEW

Among other things.

ALBERT

Am I to understand that you would lend me
Instead of gold as many phials of
This venom?

JEW

Sir, you are disposed to mock me,
While I... I thought that you... In short, I felt
’Twas time, if I may say so, for the Baron
To shuffle off this mortal coil...

ALBERT

You dog!
I kill my father! dare you hint a thing
So foul to me!.. Quick, Ivan, seize the rascal!
Know you, you slimy snake, you black-souled Judah,
That with my own two hands I'll hang you from
My gate-post here and now!

JEW

Sir knight, have mercy!
I meant no harm.

ALBERT

Come, Ivan, fetch a rope!

JEW

It was a jest; I have the gold you asked for.

ALBERT

Out of my house, you dog!

Exit the JEW.

Oh, to be so
Debased, and I a knight... ’Tis hard to be
A miser's son... The Jew, you heard him, Ivan,
He dared propose... I'm all a-tremble. Fetch me
A glass of wine... And yet I'm still in need
Of money, curse it!.. You will have to bring
The scoundrel back. Some ink and paper; he
Will want a voucher, sure. Into my presence
You're not to show him, pray remember... Wait!
His gold will smell of poison like the silver
His forbear pocketed... I asked for wine –
Where is it?

IVAN

Sir, I looked: we've not a drop
Left in our stores.

ALBERT

And where's the lot Rem on
Sent me from Spain?

IVAN

You had me give the last
Remaining bottle to the blacksmith when
The man was taken ill.

ALBERT

I had forgot.
Some water, then. A plague upon this life!..
I have no choice except to ask the Duke
For his protection; let him force my father
To keep me as befits a man, and not
A mouse that gnaws at breadcrumbs in a cellar.


SCENE II


Vaulted cellar.

BARON

As full of hot impatience as a rake
Before a meeting with an artful temptress
Or artless maid caught in his web of lies,
So did I wait all day for that sweet moment
When I could visit this my secret cache
And faithful chests. O blessed day! For I
Into my sixth, as yet but half-filled chest,
Can put today this gold that I have hoarded—
The merest handful, true, but treasures grow
Little by little. I do remember reading
Of some great prince who bade his men-at-arms
Each lay of earth a handful at his feet.
This done, there rose a lofty hill before him,
And from its crest the prince could gaze upon
The vale below dotted with snowy tents
And watch the vessels plough the azure sea.
Thus I by bringing here my daily tribute,
However scant, have wrought my own great mount
And from its summit can with pride survey
That over which I rule... All, all I hold
In sway... Like some dark, brooding demon I
Sit on my hidden throne... If so I wish,
Majestic palaces will rise before me,
And lively nymphs, a merry, laughing throng,
Come running to my bloom-filled, scented gardens;
The muses will pay homage to my person
And freedom-loving genius be my slave;
Good, virtue, chastity and sleepless toil
My praises and rewards will humbly seek.
All I need do is call, and on its knees
Into my presence villainy will crawl
And meekly lick my hand and, eager, strive
To search my gaze and read its monarch's will:
All do my bidding; none do I obey...
I am above desires and calm of heart,
Content to know my power's extent and drawing
Joy from my knowledge...

Surveys his treasure.

This that I possess
Seems little enough, and yet it is the solid
Embodiment of human trickery,
Of human cares and tears and prayers and curses.
There is an old doubloon here somewhere... Ah!
This is the one. ’Twas brought me by a widow
Who on her knees, her three young brats beside her,
Outside my window stood and howled and whined
For half the day; it rained and then it stopped
And rained again; pretending to despair,
She never moved; I could have had the hussy
Driven away, but something told me she
Had brought her husband's debt for fear of being
Thrown in a debtor's cell... And this? Thibault
Did bring it me. Where could that knave and idler
Have taken it?.. I doubt it not, he stole it,
Or in the night, upon a forest road
Where lonely horsemen pass —
If all the tears,
The blood and sweat the gold here kept did cost
Where by the earth disgorged, a second Flood
Might easily ensue, and in my cellars
I then would drown... Enough! Where is my key?

Prepares to unlock one of the chests.

Each time that I approach this chest of mine
And think to open it, a kind of trembling
And fever seize upon me. ’Tis not fear,
Nay, for I've naught to fear: my sword is with me,
Of gold its honest steel the staunch defender.
’Tis something else, a feeling unexplained
And wondrous strange; the medics do assure us
That there are men who find a sort of relish
In slaughtering their kind. As I insert
The key into the lock, my feelings are
Akin to theirs when in a victim's body
They plunge a knife: 'tis rapture mixed with fear.

Unlocks the chest.

Here's bliss!

Pours in coins.

Into the chest with you; the world
You've roamed enough, man's needs and passions serving...
Rest here as do the gods up in the heavens,
And may like theirs your slumber be serene!
Today I wish to hold a fete, for so
My fancy bids me do. The chests unlocking,
Beside each one I'll set a lighted candle
And revel in the sight of so much splendour.

Lights candles and unlocks the chests one after another.

What magic brilliance! I'm a prince, I reign
Over a proud and mighty realm; my fame
And happiness and honour rest upon it!
Today I am a prince, I reign... But who
My crown and scepter is to have tomorrow? —
None other than my son, a brainless spendthrift,
Companion to a gang of profligates!..
No sooner have I breathed my last than he
Will here descend, beneath these silent vaults,
A greedy crowd of courtiers, aye, and toadies
Behind him trailing, and my lifeless corpse
Rob of these keys, and, laughing recklessly,
Unlock my chests and let my treasures flow
Into silk pockets full as sieves of holes;
My sacred vessels he will smash, and unctions
For monarchs fit on human offal lavish:
He'll waste and squander all... And I — come, say,
Was't easily these riches I obtained?
Did I throw down my dice as does a gambler
And laughingly rake in the glinting coin?..
None know how many torturous abstentions,
Curbed passions and desires, oppressive thoughts,
Days filled with endless care and sleepless nights
My treasures cost me!.. Yet my son will lightly
Declare his father's heart to have been always
O'ergrown with moss, void of desire, unknowing
Of any stir or pang of conscience... Conscience! —
A sharp-clawed beast that maims the spirit... Conscience! —
A boring guest who comes, unasked; a rough-tongued,
Impatient creditor; a witch, a ghoul
That snuffs out moonlight and compels the dead
To leave their peaceful graves and walk abroad!..
Nay, first through suffering together scrape
A fortune for yourself, and then we'll see
If carelessly you'll waste what gain you did
At such a price!.. If only I could hide
My cache from greedy eyes!.. If but I could
Rise from my grave, and, perching on a chest,
A vigilant and patient phantom, guard,
As I do now, my treasures from the living!..

SCENE III


In the castle.

ALBERT and the DUKE.


ALBERT

Believe me, sire, I have endured too long
The shame of bitter poverty. Were't not
That I am driven to extremity
I'd not complain.

DUKE

Well do I know it, knight.
One like you would not thus accuse his father
Unless provoked. Indeed, few could be so
Depraved as to attempt it... Rest you easy:
I will exhort your father privately,
That none may know of it. He'll be here shortly.
It's been an age since last we met... He was
My grandsire's friend. When I was but a child
It was his wont to seat me on his horse
And place upon my head his helmet that
Was very like a church-bell.

Looks out of the window.

Here he comes,
If I mistake not.

ALBERT

Yes, 'tis he.

DUKE

My summons
Await in yonder chamber, knight.

Exit ALBERT; enter the BARON.

Ah, Baron,
It pleases me to see you in good health.

BARON

I am most happy, sire, to have been able
To muster strength enough to come in answer
To your kind bidding.

DUKE

It's been years and years
Since we last met. I hope you still remember
The boy I was.

BARON

Indeed, I do. You were
A lively child. The late-lamented Duke
Would say to me: "Filippe," — it was his custom
Thus to address me — "think you not, Filippe,
That in another twenty years we two
Will seem as fools before this lad?" (He meant
Yourself, Your Grace.)

DUKE

You've kept aloof too long.
We shall, I trust and pray, resume our friendship.

BARON

I'm old and feeble... What would I do at court?
You, being young, are fond of tournaments
And noisy fetes for which I am unsuited.
Now, if't be Heaven's will that war should come,
Why, then I'll, groaning, climb a horse's back
And find the strength my ancient sword to pull
From out its sheath in your defence.

DUKE

Your zeal
Is known to us; my father held you always
In high esteem as did his own dear father
Whose friend you were. I too did ever think you
To be a brave and loyal knight. Pray, sit.
I know not well: have you a son or daughter?

BARON

A son, Your Grace.

DUKE

Why is't I never see
The lad at court? For one not old and of
His birth and calling, Baron, 'tis but fitting
To be among us.

BARON

Aye, but fond he's not
Of sports and revels, being of a sullen,
Retiring nature. Like a deer he roams
The forests roundabout.

DUKE

’Tis ill that he
In this wise shuns us. But I have great hopes
That we can tame him; he will come to like
Our jousts and balls... I shall expect him here
Without undue delay. And see to't, Baron,
That he has means sufficient for his station.
You look not glad... Perchance, sir, you are weary?

BARON

Nay, that I'm not, Your Grace, but in confusion
Of mind and heart. You force me to confess
What I would rather have revealed to none,
Not e'en yourself. My son, to his and my
Misfortune, is unworthy of your favour
And kind regard. He wastes his youth on wicked
And sinful deeds...

DUKE

If so he does, 'tis likely
That left he is too often to himself.
An over-dose of solitude and leisure
Can be a young man's ruin. Send your son
To us, and he will soon forget the morbid
And sorry habits born of loneliness.

BARON

Forgive me, sire, but disregard I must
Your wish.

DUKE

Why so?

BARON

Compel me not to answer,
Take pity on my years.

DUKE

No, Baron, I
Demand to hear why you refuse to heed
The little that I ask of you.

BARON

’Tis only
That I am wroth with him.

DUKE

What has he done?

BARON

An evil thing.

DUKE

Enlighten me, I beg.

BARON

Allow me to refrain.

DUKE

’Tis odd! You seem
Ashamed to voice your thoughts...

BARON

Aye, that I am.

DUKE

Still, I insist: what has he done?

BARON

He tried...
To kill me, sire.

DUKE

What?! He will pay for this
Black piece of villainy!

BARON

I'll not essay
To give you proof of it, well as I know
How much he craves my death, and well as I
Know that he went so far as to attempt...
To ... to...

DUKE

Speak out.

BARON

To rob me, sire.

ALBERT rushes in.

ALBERT

You lie!

DUKE
to ALBERT

How dared you?! —

BARON

You?! Thus to insult your father!
What flagrant insolence! To say I lie
Before the Duke, our lord and suzerain!
Am I no more a knight?..

ALBERT

You are a liar!

BARON

And he not stricken down by thunder! Come,
Pick up my glove! The sword will be our judge!

Flings down his glove;
ALBERT hastens to pick it up.


ALBERT

My father's gift, his first. I thank you, Baron.

DUKE

Has this I witnessed truly come to pass?
A son takes up his aged father's challenge!
O, what a fearsome age is this in which
I donned the ducal chain!.. Speak not, you madman!
And you, young tiger, silence! I will have
No more of this, you hear? The glove!


Takes the glove away from Albert.

ALBERT
(aside)

A pity!

DUKE

He fairly dug his claws in it, the villain!
Go! Leave my chamber. I will not support
Your presence longer. Come when you are called
And not before.

Exit ALBERT.

And you, old man, for shame!
A wretched business this!..

BARON

Forgive me, sire.
’Tis faint I feel... My legs give under me...
I cannot breathe... Air!.. Give me air!.. My keys!..
My keys! Where are they!..

DUKE

He is dead... O God!
What evil times! What black and evil hearts!


1830





 

Оригінал твору

Бібліотека ім. О. С. Пушкіна (м. Київ).
А.С. Пушкин. Полное собрание сочинений в десяти томах