Egmont

From Spanish Haarlem

Egmont by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Act IV, Scene I

A Street, JETTER, CARPENTER

Jetter
Hist! neighbour,—a word!

Carpenter
Go your way and be quite.

Jetter
Only one word. Is there nothing new?

Carpenter
Nothing, except that we are anew forbidden to speak.

Jetter
How?

Carpenter
Step here, close to this house. Take heed! Immediately on his arrival, the Duke of Alva published a decree, by which two or three, found conversing together in the streets, are without trial, declared guilty of high treason.

Jetter
Alas!

Carpenter
To speak of state affairs is prohibited on pain of perpetual imprisonment.

Jetter
Alas for our liberty!

Carpenter
And no one, on pain of death, shall censure the measures of government.

Jetter
Alas, for our heads!

Carpenter
And fathers, mothers, children, kindred, friends, and servants, are invited, by the promise of large rewards, to disclose what passes in the privacy of our homes, before an expressly appointed tribunal.

Jetter
Let us go home.

Carpenter
And the obedient are promised that they shall suffer no injury, either in person or estate.

Jetter
How gracious!—I felt ill at ease the moment the duke entered the town. Since then, it has seemed to me, as though the heavens were covered with black crape, which hangs so low, that one must stoop down to avoid knocking one’s head against it.

Carpenter
And how do you like his soldiers? They are a different sort of crabs from those we have been used to.

Jetter
Faugh! It gives one the cramp at one’s heart to see such a troop march down the street. As straight as tapers, with fixed look, only one step, however many there may be; and when they stand sentinel, and you pass one of them, it seems as though he would look you through and through; and he looks so stiff and morose, that you fancy you see a task-master at every corner. They offend my sight. Our militia were merry fellows; they took liberties, stood their legs astride, their hats over their ears, they lived and let live; these fellows are like machines with a devil inside them.

Carpenter
Were such an one to cry, “Halt!” and to level his musket, think you one would stand?

Jetter
I should fall dead upon the spot.

Carpenter
Let us go home!

Jetter
No good can come of it. Farewell.

Enter SOEST

Soest
Friends! Neighbours!

Carpenter
Hush! Let us go.

Soest
Have you heard?

Jetter
Only too much!

Soest
The Regent is gone.

Jetter
Then Heaven help us.

Carpenter
She was some stay to us.

Soest
Her departure was sudden and secret. She could not agree with the duke; she has sent word to the nobles that she intends to return. No one believes it, however.

Carpenter
God pardon the nobles for letting this new yoke be laid upon our necks. They might have prevented it. Our privileges are gone.

Jetter
For Heaven’s sake not a word about privileges. I already scent an execution; the sun will not come forth; the fogs are rank.

Soest
Orange, too, is gone.

Carpenter
Then are we quite deserted!

Soest
Count Egmont is still here.

Jetter
God be thanked! Strengthen him, all ye saints, to do his utmost; he is the only one who can help us.

Enter VANSEN

Vansen
Have I at length found a few brave citizens who have not crept out of sight?

Jetter
Do us the favour to pass on.

Vansen
You are not civil.

Jetter
This is no time for compliments. Does your back itch again? are your wounds already healed?

Vansen
Ask a soldier about his wounds? Had I cared for blows, nothing good would have come of me.

Jetter
Matters may grow more serious.

Vansen
You feel from the gathering storm a pitiful weakness in your limbs, it seems.

Carpenter
Your limbs will soon be in motion elsewhere, if you do not keep quiet.

Vansen
Poor mice! The master of the house procures a new cat, and ye are straight in despair! The difference is very trifling; we shall get on as we did before, only be quiet.

Carpenter
You are an insolent knave.

Vansen
Gossip! Let the duke alone. The old cat looks as though he had swallowed devils, instead of mice, and could not now digest them. Let him alone, I say; he must eat, drink, and sleep, like other men. I am not afraid if we only watch our opportunity. At first he makes quick work of it; by-and-by, however, he too will find that it is pleasanter to live in the larder, among flitches of bacon, and to rest by night, than to entrap a few solitary mice in the granary. Go to! I know the stadtholders.

Carpenter
What such a fellow can say with impunity! Had I said such a thing, I should not hold myself safe a moment.

Vansen
Do not make yourselves uneasy! God in heaven does not trouble himself about you, poor worms, much less the Regent.

Jetter
Slanderer!

Vansen
I know some for whom it would be better if, instead of their own high spirits, they had a little tailor’s blood in their veins.

Carpenter
What mean you by that?

Vansen
Hum! I mean the count.

Jetter
Egmont! What has he to fear?

Vansen
I’m a poor devil, and could live a whole year round on what he loses in a single night; yet he would do well to give me his revenue for a twelvemonth, to have my head upon his shoulders for one quarter of an hour.

Jetter
You think yourself very clever; yet there is more sense in the hairs of Egmont’s head, than in your brains.

Vansen
Perhaps so! Not more shrewdness, however. These gentry are the most apt to deceive themselves. He should be more chary of his confidence.

Jetter
How his tongue wags! Such a gentleman!

Vansen
Just because he is not a tailor.

Jetter
You audacious scoundrel!

Vansen
I only wish he had your courage in his limbs for an hour to make him uneasy, and plague and torment him, till he were compelled to leave the town.

Jetter
What nonsense you talk; why he’s as safe as a star in heaven.

Vansen
Have you ever seen one snuff itself out? Off it went!

Carpenter
Who would dare to meddle with him?

Vansen
Will you interfere to prevent it? Will you stir up an insurrection if he is arrested?

Jetter
Ah!

Vansen
Will you risk your ribs for his sake?

Soest
Eh!

Vansen  (mimicking them)
Eh! Oh! Ah! Run through the alphabet in your wonderment. So it is, and so it will remain. Heaven help him!

Jetter
Confound you impudence. Can such a noble, upright man have anything to fear?

Vansen
In this world the rogue has everywhere the advantage. At the bar, he makes a fool of the judge; on the bench, he takes pleasure in convicting the accused. I have had to copy out a protocol, where the commissary was handsomely rewarded by the court, both with praise and money, because through his cross-examination, an honest devil, against whom they had a grudge, was made out to be a rogue.

Carpenter
Why, that again is a downright lie. What can they want to get out of a man if he is innocent?

Vansen
Oh, you blockhead! When nothing can be worked out of a man by cross-examination, they work it into him. Honesty is rash and withal somewhat presumptuous; at first they question quietly enough, and the prisoner, proud of his innocence, as they call it, comes out with much that a sensible man would keep back! then, from these answers the inquisitor proceeds to put new questions, and is on the watch for the slightest contradiction; there he fastens his line; and, let the poor devil lose his self-possession, say too much here, or too little there, or, Heaven knows from what whim or other, let him withhold some trifling circumstance, or at any moment give way to fear—then we’re on the right track, and, I assure you, no beggar-woman seeks for rags among the rubbish with more care than such a fabricator of rogues, from trifling, crooked, disjointed, misplaced, misprinted, and concealed facts and information, acknowledged or denied, endeavours at length to patch up a scarecrow, by means of which he may at least hang his victim in effigy; and the poor devil may thank Heaven if he is in a condition to see himself hanged.

Jetter
He has a ready tongue of his own.

Carpenter
This may serve well enough with flies. Wasps laugh at your cunning web.

Vansen
According to the kind of spider. The tall duke, now, has just the look of your garden spider; not the large-bellied kind, they are less dangerous; but your long-footed, meagre-bodied gentleman, that does not fatten on his diet, and whose threads are slender indeed, but not the less tenacious.

Jetter
Egmont is knight of the Golden Fleece, who dare lay hands on him? He can be tried only by his peers, by the assembled knights of his order. Your own foul tongue and evil conscience betray you into this nonsense.

Vansen
Think you that I wish him ill? I would you were in the right. He is an excellent gentleman. He once let off, with a sound drubbing, some good friends of mine, who would else have been hanged. Now take yourselves off! begone, I advise you! Yonder I see the patrol again commencing their round. They do not look as if they would be willing to fraternize with us over a glass. We must wait, and bide our time. I have a couple of nieces and a gossip of a tapster; if after enjoying themselves in their company, they are not tamed, they are regular wolves.

The complete text of Egmont on Bartleby

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