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Selections from the Writings of Lord Dunsany, by Lord Dunsany, [1912], at



SCENE: The East. Outside a city wall; three beggars seated on the ground.

OOGNO These days are bad for beggary.

THAHN They are bad.

ULF (an older beggar but not grey) Some evil has befallen the rich ones of this city. They take no joy any longer in benevolence, but are become sour and miserly at heart. Alas for them! I sometimes sigh for them when I think of this.

OOGNO Alas for them. A miserly heart must be a sore affliction.

THAHN A sore affliction indeed, and bad for our calling.

OOGNO (reflectively) They have been thus for many months. What thing has befallen them?

THAHN Some evil thing.

ULF There has been a comet come near to the earth of late and the earth has been parched and sultry so that the gods are drowsy and all those things that are divine in man, such as benevolence, drunkenness, extravagance and song, have faded and died and have not been replenished by the gods.

OOGNO It has indeed been sultry.

THAHN I have seen the comet o' nights.

ULF The gods are drowsy.

OOGNO If they awake not soon and make this city worthy again of our order, I for one shall forsake the calling and buy a shop and sit at ease in the shade and barter for gain.

THAHN You will keep a shop? (Enter Agmar and Slag. Agmar, though poorly dressed, is tall, imperious, and older than Ulf. Slag follows behind him.)

AGMAR Is this a beggar who speaks?

OOGNO Yes, master, a poor beggar.

AGMAR How long has the calling of beggary existed?

OOGNO Since the building of the first city, Master.

AGMAR And when has a beggar ever followed a trade? When has he ever haggled and bartered and sat in a shop?

OOGNO Why, he has never done so.

AGMAR Are you he that shall be first to forsake the calling?

OOGNO Times are bad for the calling here.

THAHN They are bad.

AGMAR So you would forsake the calling.

OOGNO The city is unworthy of our calling. The gods are drowsy, and all that is divine in man is dead. (To third Beggar) Are not the gods drowsy?

ULF They are drowsy in their mountains away at Marma. The seven green idols are drowsy. Who is this that rebukes us?

THAHN Are you some great merchant, Master? Perhaps you will help a poor man that is starving.

SLAG My Master a Merchant! No, no. He is no merchant. My Master is no merchant.

OOGNO I perceive that he is some lord in disguise. The gods have woken and have sent him to save us.

SLAG No, no. You do not know my Master. You do not know him.

THAHN Is he the Soldan's self that has come to rebuke us?

AGMAR (with great pride) I am a beggar, and an old beggar.

SLAG There is none like my Master. No traveller has met with cunning like to his, not even those that come from Aethiopia.

ULF We make you welcome to our town, upon which an evil has fallen, the days being bad for beggary.

AGMAR Let none that has known the mystery of roads, or has felt the wind arising new in the morning, or who has called forth out of the souls of men divine benevolence, ever speak any more of any trade or of the miserable gains of shops and the trading men.

OOGNO I but spoke hastily, the times being bad.

AGMAR I will put right the times.

SLAG There is nothing that my Master cannot do.

AGMAR (to Slag) Be silent and attend to me. I do not know this city, I have travelled from far, having somewhat exhausted the city of Ackara.

SLAG My Master was three times knocked down and injured by carriages there, once he was killed and seven times beaten and robbed, and every time he was generously compensated. He had nine diseases, many of them mortal....

AGMAR Be silent, Slag.... Have you any thieves among the calling here?

ULF We have a few that we call thieves here, Master, but they would scarcely seem thieves to you. They are not good thieves.

AGMAR I shall need the best thief you have.

(Enter two citizens richly clad, Illanaun and Oorander)

ILLANAUN Therefore we will send galleons to Ardaspes.

OORANDER Right to Ardaspes through the silver gates.

(Agmar transfers the thick handle of his long staff to his left armpit, he droops on to it and it supports his weight, he is upright no longer. His right arm hangs limp and useless. He hobbles up to the citizens imploring alms.)

ILLANAUN I am sorry. I cannot help you. There have been too many beggars here, and we must decline alms for the good of the town.

AGMAR (sitting down and weeping) I have come from far. (Illanaun presently returns and gives Agmar a coin. Exit Illanaun. Agmar, erect again, walks back to the others.)

AGMAR We shall need fine raiment, let the thief start at once. Let it rather be green raiment.

BEGGAR I will go and fetch the thief. (Exit)

ULF We will dress ourselves as lords and impose upon the city.

OOGNO Yes, yes; we will say we are ambassadors from a far land.

ULF And there will be good eating.

SLAG (in an undertone to Ulf) But you do not know my Master. Now that you have suggested that we shall go as lords, he will make a better suggestion. He will suggest that we should go as kings.

ULF (incredulous) Beggars as kings!

SLAG Ay. You do not know my Master.

ULF (to Agmar) What do you bid us do?

AGMAR You shall first come by the fine raiment in the manner I have mentioned.

ULF And what then, Master?

AGMAR Why then we shall go as gods.

BEGGARS As gods?

AGMAR As gods. Know you the land through which I have lately come in my wanderings? Marma, where the gods are carved from green stone in the mountains. They sit all seven of them against the hills. They sit there motionless and travellers worship them.

ULF Yes, yes, we know those gods. They are much reverenced here; but they are drowsy and send us nothing beautiful.

AGMAR They are of green jade. They sit cross-legged with their right elbows resting on their left hands, the right forefinger pointing upwards. We will come into the city disguised, from the direction of Marma, and will claim to be these gods. We must be seven as they are. And when we sit, we must sit cross-legged as they do, with the right hand uplifted.

ULF This is a bad city in which to fall into the hands of oppressors, for the judges lack amiability here as the merchants lack benevolence ever since the gods forgot them.

AGMAR In our ancient calling a man may sit at one street corner for fifty years doing the one thing, and yet a day may come when it is well for him to rise up and to do another thing, while the timorous man starves.

ULF Also it were well not to anger the gods.

AGMAR Is not all life a beggary to the gods? Do they not see all men always begging of them and asking alms with incense, and bells, and subtle devices?

OOGNO Yes, all men indeed are beggars before the gods.

AGMAR Does not the mighty Soldan often sit by the agate altar in his royal temple as we sit at a street corner or by a palace gate?

ULF It is even so.

AGMAR Then will the gods be glad when we follow the holy calling with new devices and with subtlety, as they are glad when the priests sing a new song.

ULF Yet I have a fear.

AGMAR (to Slag) Go you into the city before us, and let there be a prophecy there which saith that the gods who are carven from green rock in the mountain shall one day arise in Marma and come here in the guise of men.

SLAG Yes, Master. Shall I make the prophecy myself? Or shall it be found in some old document?

AGMAR Let someone have seen it once in some rare document. Let it be spoken of in the market-place.

SLAG It shall be spoken of, Master. (Slag lingers. Enter thief and Thahn)

OOGNO This is our thief.

AGMAR (encouragingly) Ah, he is a quick thief.

THIEF I could only procure you three green raiments, Master. The city is not now well supplied with them; moreover it is a very suspicious city, and without shame for the baseness of its suspicions.

SLAG (to a beggar) This is not thieving.

THIEF I could do no more, Master. I have not practised thieving all my life.

AGMAR You have got something: it may serve our purpose. How long have you been thieving?

THIEF I stole first when I was ten.

SLAG When he was ten!

AGMAR We must tear them up and divide them amongst the seven. (to Thahn) Bring me another beggar.

SLAG When my Master was ten he had already had to slip by night out of two cities.

OOGNO (admiringly) Out of two cities!

SLAG (nodding his head) In his native city they do not now know what became of the golden cup that stood in the Lunar Temple.

AGMAR Yes, into seven pieces.

ULF We will each wear a piece of it over our rags.

OOGNO Yes, yes, we shall look fine.

AGMAR That is not the way that we shall disguise ourselves.

OOGNO Not cover our rags?

AGMAR No, no. The first who looked closely would say 'These are only beggars. They have disguised themselves.'

ULF What shall we do?

AGMAR Each of the seven shall wear a piece of the green raiment underneath his rags. And peradventure here and there a little shall show through; and men shall say 'These seven have disguised themselves as beggars. But we know not what they be.'

SLAG Hear my wise Master.

OOGNO (in admiration) He is a beggar.

ULF He is an old beggar.

Next: Act II