The woodland meadow,
as in Scene 6. Joseph Keane, Dame Keane, their daughter Bertha;
afterwards, Countryfolk, later the Monk; finally Keane's foster-daughter
Cecilia and Thomas.
Dear mother, I so long to hear the tale
Cecilia often spake of years ago.
Thou dost know all those fairy-tales to tell
Which father brings back with him from the knights
When he comes home, and which with greatest joy
So many friends are always glad to hear.
The soul can find real treasure in those tales.
The gifts which on the spirit they confer
Decay not with the body in the grave,
But bear their fruits in later lives on earth.
Darkly, as through a glass, we glimpse their truth;
And from such darkened sight, our souls can win
Knowledge to serve our needs in daily life.
If only folk could realize the store
Of precious gifts our knights have to bestow
Cecilia and Thomas have, alas,
Deaf ears at present for such things as these;
Since they draw wisdom from another source.
To-day I fain would listen to that tale
Which tells about the Evil and the Good.
Right gladly will I tell it thee; attend.
Once on a time there lived a man who spent
Much time in puzzling over cosmic truths.
That which tormented his poor brain the most
Was, how to learn of Evil's origin;
And to that question he could not reply.
The world was made by God, so he would say,
And God can only have in him the Good.
How then doth Evil spring from out the Good?
Time and again he puzzled over this,
But could not find the answer that he sought.
Now it befell that on a certain day
This seeker on his travels passed a tree
That was engaged in converse with an axe.
Unto the tree the axe did speak these words:
‘That which thou canst not do I can achieve,
I can fell thee; but thou canst not fell me.’
Unto the vain axe thus the tree replied:
‘'Twas but a year ago a man did cleave
The very wood of which thine haft is made
Out of my body with another axe.’
And when the man had listened to these words
A thought was straightway born within his soul
Which he could not set clearly down in words,
But which completely answered his demand:
How Evil could originate from Good.
Think on this story, daughter, and thou'lt see,
How contemplating nature's mysteries
May form fresh knowledge in a human head.
I know how many things I can make clear
Unto myself by spinning out in thought
The tales by which the knights enlighten us.
I know I am a simple little thing,
Without ability to understand
The learned words which clever people use
In setting forth the science they profess.
I have no taste for matters of that kind.
Whenever Thomas tells us of his work
I nearly fall asleep. But I could spend
Unnumbered hours in listening to the tales
Which father brings back home on his return
From visiting the castle, and wherewith
He often weaves a story of his own
As he recounts them to us hour on hour.
(After an interval, the Country folk come across the meadow.)
My uncle yesterday came home again.
He dwelt a long time in Bohemia,
And earned an honest living in the mines.
Full many a bit of news he hath to tell
Picked up by him upon his journeyings;
Excitement and unrest are everywhere;
Attacks are made upon the Spirit-Knights.
Our local brotherhood cannot escape;
Already preparations have been made
And ere long will this castle be besieged.
I hope 'twill not be long 'ere they attack.
Many amongst us will most certainly
Gladly enlist among the fighting-men;
I mean to be among the first myself.
Thou wilt but hurry headlong to thy doom!
How can a man be such a witless fool!
Hast thou forgot how strongly fortified
The castle is? The battle will be grim.
It is no business of the countryfolk
To mix with things they do not understand.
Yet there are many hereabouts to-day
Who do naught else but go from place to place
And fan the embers of revolt and strife.
Things have already come to such a pass
That sick folk have to cry in vain for aid.
The good man who in former days was wont
To help so many in sore need, can now
No more pass out beyond the castle gates,
So cruelly have folk belaboured him.
Of course! For many people were enraged
On hearing from what source the sickness came
That broke out, all at once, among our cows.
The Jew brought this upon them by his spells.
He only seems to make sick people well
In order, by the use of hellish arts,
Better to serve the ends of evil powers.
This empty prattle about heresy
Little availed. Truth is, our countryfolk
Had what they needed. Nought else came of it
Save that with dark mysterious sayings they beguiled
The idle hour; till, with cunning skill
A clever judge of human frailty
Devised this silly tale about the Jew,
How he had laid a spell upon our stock —
And then indeed the storm. began to rise.
I think that every one of you might know
What wars do mean, with all their misery.
Have not our fathers told us all that they
Must needs endure, when all the countryside
Was overrun by bands of soldiery?
I always said that it would come to pass:
Their lordships' rule must shortly fade away.
Already hath a dream revealed to me
How we can be of service to the troops
When they arrive to carry out the siege,
And take good care of all their creature needs.
If dreams to-day are still to be believed,
That is a matter we need not discuss.
The knights have tried to make us cleverer
Than were our fathers. Now they have to learn
How much our cleverness hath been increased.
Our fathers let them in; in our turn we.
Shall drive them out. I know the secret tracks
That yield an entrance to the fortalice.
I used to work within it until rage,
Drove me away; now will I show the knights
How we can make their science serve our ends.
He surely hath no good thought in his heart;
I trembled as I listened to his words.