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The Piper by Josephine Preston Peabody

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ALL
( Ay, tell us!
( Who is he? Barbara?
( Art thou mad?--How came ye hither?

JACOBUS
Who is he?

BARBARA
Michael.

PETER the Cobbler
'Tis the Sword-Eater!
A friend o' the Piper's!--Hearken--

ALL
She's bewitched!

HANS' WIFE
This is the girl was vowed to Holy Church,
For us and for our children that are lost!

BARBARA
Ay, and did any have a mind to me,
When I was lost? Left dancing, and distraught?

ALL
We could not. We were spell-bound. Nay, we could not.

JACOBUS
[sagely, after the others]
We could not.

BARBARA
So!--But there was one who could.
There was one man. And this is he.
[turning to Michael]
And I,
I am no more your Barbara,--I am his.
And I will go with him, over the world.
I come to say farewell.

JACOBUS
He hath bewitched her!

MICHAEL
Why did we ever come? Poor darling one,
Thy too-much duty hath us in a trap!

AXEL the Smith
No, no!--Fair play!

OTHERS
Don't let them go! We have them.

PETER the Cobbler
Hold what ye have. Be 't children, rats or mice!

[Hubbub without, and shouts. Some of the burghers hasten out after
this fresh excitement. JACOBUS is cowed. BARBARA and MICHAEL are
startled. The shouts turn savage. The uproar grows. Shouts of
'Ay, there be is! We have him! We have him! Help--help! Hold
fast! Ah! Piper! Piper! Piper!'

How now? What all!--

[The crowd parts to admit the PIPER, haled hither with shouts and
pelting, by MARTIN the Watch and other men, all breathless. His
eyes burn.

MICHAEL
[apart]
Save us!--They have him.

MARTIN
[gaspingly]
Help!
Mark ye--I caught him!--Help,--and hold him fast!

PIPER
I came here,--frog!

MARTIN
Ay, he were coming on;
And after him a squirrel, hopping close!

SECOND MAN
As no man ever saw a squirrel hop--
Near any man from Hamelin! And I looked--

MARTIN
And it was he; and all we rush upon him--
And take him!

PIPER
Loose thy claws, I tell thee I--

ALL
( 'Ware!
( Mercy!
( Let him go!

VOICE FROM CROWD
I have the squirrel!

PIPER
[savagely]
Let the squirrel go!
Or you shall rue it.--Loose him! He's not mine.

[He sees BARBARA and MICHAEL for the first time and recoils with
amazement. BARBARA steps towards him.

BARBARA
Oh, let him go,--let be. His heart is clear,
As water from the well!
[The PIPER gazes at her, open-mouthed.]

ALL
( She talks in her sleep!
( The maid's bewitched!
( Now, will ye hear?

AXEL'S WIFE
He piped and made thee dance!

PETER the Cobbler
'T was he bewitched us!

BARBARA
[serenely]
Whatever was,--it was for love of me.

PIPER
[thunderstruck]
So!

BARBARA
He piped;--and all ye danced and fled away!
He piped;--and brought me back my wandering wits,
And gave me safe unto my Love again,--
My Love I had forgotten. . . .

PIPER
So!

MICHAEL
[with conviction]
Truly said.

BARBARA
[proudly]
Michael.

JACOBUS
Who is he, pray?

BARBARA
My own true love.

PETER the Cobbler
Now, is that all his name?

BARBARA
It is enough.

JACOBUS
--She's mad. Shall these things be?

ALL
( The Children! The Children!
( Where are the Children?
( Piper! Pi-per! Piper!

PIPER
[sternly]
Quiet you. And hear me.
I came to bring good tidings. In good faith,
Of mine own will, I came.--And like a thief
You haled me hither.--
[They hang upon his words]
. . . Your children--live.

ALL
( Thank God! I knew, I knew!
( We could not think them lost.
( Bewitched! Oh, but they live!--
( Piper!--O Piper!

PETER the Cobbler
They're spell-bound,--mark me!

PIPER
Ay, they are,--spell-bound:
Fast bound by all the hardness of your hearts;
_Caged,--in the iron of your money-lust_--

ALL
( No, no, not all! Not I! Not mine, not mine!
( No, no,--it is not true.

PIPER
Your blasphemies,--your cunning and your Fear.

ALL
( No, no!--What can we do?
( News, Piper, news!
( Where are your ridings, Piper?

PIPER
Now hear me. You did make Jacobus swear
To give his child.--What recks it, how he lose her?--
Either to Holy Church--_against her will_!--
Or to this man,--so that he give her up!
He swore to you. And she hath pledged her faith.
She is fast wed.--Jacobus shall not have her.
He breaks all bargains; and for such as he,
You suffer.--Will you bear it?

ALL
No, no, no!

PIPER
Then she who was "Proud Barbara" doth wed
Michael-the-Sword-Eater.--The pledge shall stand.
Shall it?

ALL
( It stands.
( Ay, ay!

PIPER
Your word!

ALL
( We swear. We answer for him.
( So much for Jacobus!

AXEL the Smith
An' if yon fellow like an honest trade,
I'll take him!--I'll make swords!
[Cheers. Michael is happy.]

ALL
Quick, quick!--Our children.--Piper!--Tell us all!

PIPER
'T is well begun.--Now have I come to say:
There is one child I may bring back to you,--
The first.

ALL
[in an uproar]
( Mine--mine! Let it be mine!
( Ours'--All of them! Now!
( _Mine--mine--mine!--mine_!

PIPER
[unmoved]
--Oh, Hamelin to the end!
Which of you longed the most, and dared the most?
Which of you--

[He searches the crowd anxiously with his eyes.]

ALL
( I! I! I!
( We searched the hills!
( We prayed four days!
( We fasted twenty hours--
( Mine! Mine!
( Mine--mine--mine--mine!

PIPER
Not yet.--They all do live
Under a spell,--deep in a hollow hill.
They sleep, and wake; and lead a charmed life.
But first of all,--one child shall come again.
[He scans the crowd still]
Where is the wife--of Kurt, the Councillor?

ALL
[savagely]
_No, mine, mine, mine_!

MARTIN'S WIFE
What, that lame boy of hers?

PIPER
Where is the wife of Kurt?

PETER the Cobbler AND OTHERS
--Veronika?
The foreign woman? She is lying ill:
Sore-stricken yonder--
[Pointing to the house.]

PIPER
[gladly]
Bid her come, look out!

[The crowd moves confusedly towards KURT'S house. The PIPER too
approaches, calling]

Ho,--ho, within there!

[ANSELM, the priest, appears in the doorway with uplifted hand,
commanding silence. He is pale and stern. At sight of his face
the PIPER, falters.

ANSELM
Silence here!--Good people
What means this?

PIPER
I have tidings for--the wife
Of Kurt--the Councillor.

ANSELM
You are too late.

PIPER
Bid her--look out!

ANSELM
[solemnly]
Her soul is passing, now.

[The PIPER falls back stricken and speechless.--The crowd, seeing
him humanly overwhelmed, grows brave.

MARTIN'S WIFE
'Tis he has done it!

HANS the Butcher
--Nay, it is God's will.
Poor soul!

PETER the Sacristan
[fearfully]
Don't anger him! 'T was Kurt the Syndic
With his bad bargain.

AXEL the Smith
Do not cross the Piper!

MARTIN
Nay, but he's spent. He's nought to fear.--
Look there.
Mark how he breathes! Upon him! Help, help, ho!--
Thou piping knave!

OTHERS
Tie--chain him!--Kill him!--Kill him!
[They surround him. He thrusts them off.]

PETER the Cobbler and OTHERS
( Bind him, but do not kill him!--Oh, beware!
( What is he saying?--Peace.

PIPER
[brokenly]
The wife of Kurt!
Off! what can you do?--Oh! I came, I came
Here, full of peace, and with a heart of love;--
To give--but now that one live Soul of all
Is gone!--No, no!
--_I say she shall not die_!
_She shall not_!

ANSELM
Hush!--She is in the hands of God.
She is at peace.

PIPER
No, never! Let me by!
[ANSELM bars the threshold and steps out.]

ANSELM
Thou froward fool!--Wouldst rend with tears again
That shriven breath? And drag her back to sorrow?
It is the will of God.

PIPER
--And I say No!

ANSELM
Who dare dispute--

PIPER
I dare!

ANSELM
With death?--With God?

PIPER
I know His will, for once! She shall not die.
She must come back, and live!--_Veronika_!

[He calls up to the lighted window. The people stand aghast:
ANSELM bars the threshold.

I come, I come! I bring your Own to you!
Listen, Veronika!

[He feels for his pipe. It is gone.--His
face shows dismay, for a moment]

Where?--Where?

PEOPLE
( He's lost the pipe.--He's hiding it!
( He cannot pipe them back! 'tis gone--'tis gone.--
( No, 'tis to save his life.--It is for time.

PIPER
[to himself]
--'T is but a voice. What matter?--

CROWD
( Seize him--
( Bind him!

PIPER
[to them]
Hush!
[Passionately he stretches his arms towards the window.

ANSELM
Peace, for this parting Soul!

PIPER
[with fixed eyes]
_It shall not go_.
[To the Window]
Veronika!--Ah, listen!--wife of Kurt.
_He comes . . . he comes! Open thine eyes a moment_!
_Blow the faint fire within thy heart. He comes_!
Thy longing brings him;--ay, _and mine,--and mine_!
Heed not these grave-makers, Veronika.
Live, live, and laugh once more!--_Oh! do you hear_?
Look, how you have to waken all these dead,
That walk about you!--Open their dim eyes;
Sing to them with your heart, Veronika,
As I am piping, far away, outside!
Waken them,--change them! Show them how to long,
To reach their arms as you do, for the stars,
And fold them in. Stay but one moment;--stay,
And thine own Child shall draw thee back again
Down here, to mother him,--mother us all!
_Oh, do you listen?--Do not try to answer_,--
I hear!--I hear. . . .

[A faint sound of piping comes from the distance.--The PIPER is
first watchful, then radiant.--The burghers are awe-struck, as it
sounds nearer.

BARBARA
Listen!

MICHAEL
His very tune,

[The PIPER faces front with fixed, triumphant eyes above the crowd.

MARTIN'S WIFE
O Lord, have mercy!
The Pipe is coming to him, through the air!

ALL
'T is coming to the Piper ;--we are lost.--
The Pipe is coming, coming through the air!

[The PIPER, with a sudden gesture, commands silence. He bounds away
(centre), and disappears. The people, spell-bound with terror,
murmur and fray.

ANSELM
_Retro me, Sathanas_!

[KURT the Syndic appears on the threshold behind ANSELM, whose arm
he touches, whispering.--Their faces are wonder-struck with hope
and awe.

HANS the Butcher
[to the others, pointing]
'T is Kurt the Syndic.

AXEL the Smith
Then she lives!--

HANS' WIFE
Look there!

OTHERS
Look, look! The casement! . . .

[The casement of the lighted window opens wide and slowly.--Reenter
the PIPER with JAN in his arms. The little boy holds the Pipe, and
smiles about with tranquil happiness. The PIPER, radiant with joy,
lifts him high, looking toward VERONIKA'S window.--The awe-struck
people point to the open casement.

VERONIKA'S two white bands reach out; then she herself appears, pale,
shining with ecstasy.

JAN
_'Tis Mother_!

[The PIPER lifts him still before the window, gazing up. Then he
springs upon the bench (outside the lower window) and gives JAN into
the arms of VERONIKA.--KURT and ANSELM how their heads. A hush.
--Then JAN looks down from the window-seat.

PIPER
[to him, smiling wisely]
And all the others?

JAN
They were all asleep.

PIPER
I'll waken them!
[He takes his pipe.--An uproar of joy among the burghers.]

AXEL the Smith, HANS the Butcher, ALL
( Bring lights,--bring lights!
( Oh, Piper--Oh, my lambs!
( The children!--The children!

[Some rush out madly; others go into their houses for lights; some
are left on their knees, weeping for joy.

The PIPER sounds a few notes; then lifts his hand and listens,
smiling.--Uproar in the distance.--A great harking of dogs;--shouts
and cheers; then the high, sweet voices of the Children.

The piping is drowned in cries of joy. The sun comes out, still
rosy, in a flood of light. The crowd rushes in. Fat burghers hug
each other, and laugh and cry. They are all younger, their faces
bloom, as by a miracle.

The Children pour in. Some are carried, some run hand-in-hand.
Everywhere women embrace their own. KURT has his sons.--CHEAT-THE-DEVIL
comes, with a daisy-chain around his neck, all smiles.

An uproar of light and faces.

HANS the Butcher
The treasure for the Piper!

ALL
Ay, ay, Piper!

HANS the Butcher
The thousand guilders!

PIPER
Give them Michael there,
For all us three. I hate to carry things;--
Saving out one!
[He waves his hand to JAN in the window.--VERONIKA appears behind
him, shining with new life. JAN leans out and points to the ground.
_Heja_! What now?--
[Picking up one of JAN'S winged shoes.]

HANS' WIFE
Look! Look!--
And wings upon it! Mercy, what a shoe.--
Don't give it back.--The child will fly away!

PIPER
No, no!
[Looking up at the window soothingly.]
He only wanted one to show--

JAN
To Mother!--See.
[Showing her his other foot, joyously]

PIPER
[to him]
And this,--wilt leave it here?
Here--with--

JAN
The Lonely Man! Oh, make Him smile!

[The PIPER crosses to the Shrine, with the little shoe, and hangs
it up there; then he turns towards the window, waving his hand.

CHILDREN
Where are you going? . . .
[They run and cling.]

PIPER
Ah, the high-road now!

CHILDREN
Oh! why?

PIPER
I have to find somebody there.
Yes, now and every day, and everywhere
The wide world over.--So: good-night, good-morning,
Good-by! There's so much piping left to do,--
I must be off, and pipe.

CHILDREN
Oh! why?

PIPER
I promised,
Look you! . . .

CHILDREN
Who is it?

PIPER
Why,--the Lonely Man.

[He waves them farewells and goes. The Children dance and laugh
and sparkle. Through the hundred sounds of joy, there comes a
far-off piping.

THE END

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