The Novice of St Benedict

Miss Vardill

One of the purchasers at the auction of Positive House found this fragment of a drama in his lot. Perhaps a member of the Attic Society may complete it as the subject appears to be taken from the celebrated tradition that Sophia, Princess of Wurtemberg (presumptive heiress to the Prussian throne after her brother Ivan’s death) took refuge in an Italian convent from whence Empress Catharine’s agents were employed to decoy her for the purpose of assassination.

The 1st Act of the Novice of St Benedict

Scene, a woody glen in Calabria with a near view of a convent by moonlight. Stephano and Menzikoff discovered in the dress of Calabrian goatherds.

Steph. Nay, never deny it, man! It’s not shame to prowl round a cloister for a fair lady! — Besides, they say she is a wise and a witty one; and as for her parentage — 

Menz. Go to! Have better thoughts of me, Stephano! Look I like one to be made a vane for the top of Love’s summerhouse! To be blown from point to point by the breath of a fair Muscovite!

Steph. Marry, if she is from Muscovy thou art like to have a cold northerly gale.

Menz. We Russians, Stephano, think no more of a lady’s scorn than our cousin the bear thinks of an icicle on his coat. Look you, my honest comrade, is this gold?

Steph. By St Mark! A bag of double ducats!

Menz. What would a Calabrian do for this?

Steph. Do! He would climb the Appennines like a chamois — follow a friend to the top, or bury an enemy under them — ay, marry, or steal a fair nun from the cloister-walls yonder.

Menz. Thou hast hit the mark like a true Calabrian. There is in that cloister a princess of the best Russian blood, hid in the white veil of a novice. Help me to lodge her in a safe place and half these ducats are thine.

Steph. Help her out of a safe place, thou would’st say! The cloister walls are too high to be climbed for half a bag of ducats.

Menz.    Most noble Lady,
My signet is his ring — this ruby yet
Dim with the kiss which hallow’d it! I come
To guide thy footsteps thro’ the tangled path
Where foes and felons lurk.

Paulowna.    Is this the path?
Are foes in ambush here? What sees thine eye
That thus it glares? Thy livid brow is damp — 
Thy lip grows bloodless — Soldier, fear me not!
I will not vex thy ear with shrieks; my heart
Can better brook the dagger in they hand
Than guile in him I trusted.

Menz.    How her eye
Darts lightning thro’ my breast! I will not look in’t
And I shall melt and tremble — Lady, pause!
This babbling brook is cool, and these arch’d elms
Give welcome shade — rest, and thy faithful guide
Shall sentinel thy sleep.

Paulowna.    Ah! these are shades
Where if my soul had peace, I might repose
And dream of blissful days — ’Twas such a brook
Crept thro’ the windings of my native vale
Making sweet music with enamell’d rocks
Whose loneliest clefts my gentle brother lov’d.
Then, while I slept, he heap’d my bed with flow’rs
And tun’d his mountain-pipe, or stretch’d like thee,
Mus’d on the glassy stream.

Menz.    No! not like me!
I hate the whispering wave — the gaudy flow’r
Which mocks my wasted youth. O noble lady,
I am a wretch whom guilt has doom’d to woe
But cannot teach to flatter. I have struck
Foes in the dark but cannot murder smiling — 
Demetrius has deceived thee — he has sworn
To lead thee captive hence, and rich reward
Whets the assassin’s knife!

Paul.    He is my husband!
Our hands are link’d by vows — the friar mock’d thee,
Hid in Sophia’s garb he bade me wait
Thy guidance thro the gloom, and thy false lord
Has spun his snares in vain.

Menz.    Who art thou, then?
I had a sister once, and that dear thought
Wins me to pity thee — 

Paul.    My noble Brother!
Paulowna has this holy refuge yet

(Embracing him, he drops his torch)

Menz. Hence — shun me! — hate me! — that extinguish’d torch
Gave signal for thy death — the ruffian-band
Bought by a traitor’s gold are prowling round
Thirsty to seize their prey — My wretched sister!
My hand has dug thy grave!

Paul.    Be calm and silent!
See’st thou this phial drugg’d with potent juice
From sleepy herbs distill’d? — Give me thy cup — 
Its pow’r shall tinge my cheeks with leaden hue,
Freeze up my glowing blood and touch my lips
With Death’s own coldest seal. I will drink this — 
And when the wolves of slaughter seek their food
Shew them my seeming corpse and they shall deem
Their work well-finish’d and thine oath fulfill’d.
Sophia from the web of danger freed
Shall bless thy name — O this is glorious vengeance
Worthy a soldier’s daring!

Menz. Sister, too generous Sister! Nature lodg’d
Man’s greatness in thy breast, and hid in mine
A woman’s coward soul — Abhorred Demetrius!
My life hangs on his breath, but I will brave
The tiger in his den ere thou shalt sport
With deadly drugs to save me — 

Paul.    Lo! ’tis done — 
The opiate draught is taken — lay me here
Smoothly upon this turf and hide my face.
With these fresh lily-leaves — Why art thou sad?
I could be well content with such a grave
In this sweet wild — sweet as the lonely dell
Dear to our childish days — thus by thy side
I ever wish’d to die — thy gentle hand
Closing my eyelids thus — 

Menz. O vengeance! — vengeance!

Scene closes.