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from the December 2016 issue

Love Thy Savior

Part Three

Jerzy Lutowski takes us to Inquisition-era Spain, where intolerance demands a bold choice of a young Jewish woman.
 

House lights down.

The measured peal of a bell.

The doleful tune of a penitential psalm is heard.

From the wings on the right three monks emerge, their cowls lowered over their faces. The middle one is carrying a black gonfalon, the other two carry lighted candles. They stop in mid-stage and turn to face the audience. On the gonfalon the words THE YEAR 1493 can be seen in white lettering.

The monks proceed slowly to the left wing and disappear. The psalm fades. Only the measured peal of the bell is heard.

Curtain rises.

The crypt of a cathedral. Grim, forbidding walls. On the right, in the background, are some stone steps leading up to an ironclad door. On the left, behind a narrow buttress, the outlines of some sarcophagi can be dimly seen. The scene is illuminated by the flickering light of two oil lamps—one standing on the floor, the other hanging on a nail driven into the wall.

Abraham, a short, frail old man with a long, patriarchal beard, is downstage, seated on a plain stool, rocking monotonously to and fro, with his eyes fixed on the floor. He is dressed in black, his attire half orthodox, half secular. He is wearing black shoes and has a small skullcap on his gray head. A little bundle is lying beside him on the stone floor, with a flat hat and a straight stick beside it.

On the right, in the background, Rachel is standing leaning against the buttress. She is staring fixedly at the door. She has long, black plaits and large, almond-shaped eyes. Her eighteen-year-old face has a slight­ly oriental type of beauty. She is dressed in accordance with Spanish fashion: a long dress with pearls sewn into it, and a small white cross round her neck.

A moment of silence is filled only by the muffled, monotonous sound of the bell.

RACHEL        (Without changing her position, keeping her eyes fixed on the door) He ought to be here by now. He was supposed to come as soon as they rang for vespers.

(Abraham continues rocking slowly backward and forward, without raising his eyes).

RACHEL        Perhaps something’s held him up.

(Abraham continues rocking as before.)

RACHEL        No! Nothing could have delayed him. He’ll come!

(Peal of bells fades.)

RACHEL        (Gently, glancing at father) Why don’t you say anything, Father?

ABRAHAM    I’ve said all I had to say to you already, Rachel. Anyway, my words are like birds. They fly away and leave no trace.

RACHEL        I remember them all, Father.

ABRAHAM    If you do, then remember my silence as well.

RACHEL        So you’re still reproaching me in these last moments? 

ABRAHAM    (Shaking his head wearily) I want you to be happy. 

RACHEL        And I will be. Not even the memory of you will cloud the days of happiness now approaching for me.

(After a barely perceptible shudder, Abraham goes on rocking to and fro.)

RACHEL        I suppose you think I’m cruel. 

ABRAHAM   You’re only telling the truth.

RACHEL        Children are always cruel, Father. Even when they grow up. I had to make a choice. When two emotions take hold inside you, you have to tear one of them out. Otherwise you perish.

ABRAHAM   You have torn one of them out, Rachel.

RACHEL        Because I want to live. And be happy. (More warmly, looking at Abraham) Don’t imagine I’ve forgotten what I owe you. Your fate will never be a matter of indifference to me. Even when you’re far away in Flanders, I won’t forget that I was your daughter.

ABRAHAM    You’ll stop being my daughter tomorrow.

RACHEL        (Proudly) That’s true. I’ll become Doña Rosina of the Castillo Vittinia. But even from there, and later on from the castle of the Condes y Collero, my thoughts will often fly to you.

ABRAHAM    (Shaking head) May the Almighty ordain that they fly to me as seldom as possible.

RACHEL        (After a pause) Are you telling me to forget about you?

ABRAHAM    I’m telling you to have no unhappy moments in your life, Rachel.

RACHEL        (Proudly) You’ve no need to worry. At Alonso’s side no moment can be unhappy. You don’t know what love is, Father.

ABRAHAM    (Shuddering again) I don’t know . . .

RACHEL        (Understandingly) You always thought that you loved me, but you only love me half as much as I love him.

ABRAHAM    You never told me anything about it. You were too proud.

(Rachel says nothing.)

ABRAHAM    So you really love him as much as that?

RACHEL        (Erupting) More than I love myself, more than life, more than my own being! He is to me what water is to a thirsty man, air to the lungs, light to the eyes! It’s true I’d never told you about it. But I haven’t seen him for three whole days!

ABRAHAM    (Softly) Tell me about it, Rachel.

RACHEL        Alonso! When I met him a year ago in the little winding streets of Seville I knew that I’d known him for an eternity—he was already mine when the earth was astral dust in the hands of the Creator. When he spoke to me for the first time I was ready to follow him anywhere: to the ends of the earth, or to the gates of Hell. He could be a mule-driver, a galley slave from Cadiz, a beggar, a criminal, an outcast—and I’d love him just the same! (Half closing her eyes) Alonso! How good it is to speak your name, and to wait for you!

ABRAHAM    (Softly) Happy the man who is loved so! May the Almighty ensure that his feelings for you are just as strong, forever.

RACHEL        (Passionately) Alonso’s? If it’s true that a woman can be a man’s whole world, that is what I am to Alonso. He believes in me as if I were a goddess; in my purity, my love for him, and the depth of my conversion. If anyone ever extinguished that faith that is in him, he would perish, too. Like a lamp that has run out of fuel.

ABRAHAM    (As above) I pray it is so, Rachel

RACHEL        It is so! (Looking at her father) Could you ever doubt it?

(Abraham stares at the floor.)

RACHEL        (In a different tone) Answer me!

(Abraham slowly turns his head away.)

RACHEL        Father! Has old age dimmed your sight? Don’t you trust his feelings? Why not? Can you really doubt them? (Patronizing­ly) Oh, I see. Your gray head wants proof. It doesn’t know how to read a glance; it doesn’t understand the language of a single embrace. The only truth you know is what you can add to yourself or subtract, take hold of like a bar of gold! (Changing her tone) All right then! I’ll give you your proof, just as I’ve given you food for your journey. I know you want it because you’re concerned about me—and I want you to go with your mind at rest. (Leans toward Abraham) Just think: Could he have overcome so many obstacles if his love for me had been less infinite than it is? Would he have brought me into Doña Leonora’s house, made her like a mother to me, and arranged that as from tomorrow I shall become a daughter of the Vittinia household? Could he have managed to find favor for me in the hearts of his proud family, and win the agreement of the Bishop of Seville himself? No! Enough of this! Trying to prove his love this way is to degrade it! But you your­self, who doubt his love—don’t you owe it everything? For whose sake is he hiding you here in the crypt of the cathedral, and sending you to Flanders today? For whose sake is he putting his dear head in danger if not for me, to allay my fears for you?

ABRAHAM    You’re right, Rachel. It’s true. My old eyes must be blind.

RACHEL        If this scheme were to be discovered . . . No, I can’t bear to think of it! But you know, anyway: neither his high lineage nor even the fact that he is the son of the governor of Seville would save him from the wrath of the Holy Office! (Proudly) But he cares nothing for that. He doesn’t weigh his deeds on the meaningless scales of reason! He’s bold, proud, resolute, and confident—he doesn’t know that feeling called doubt! (Gently) Now compare yourself to him, without prejudice: you with your kind, gentle, but fainthearted love, so quick to give up. And he . . . Just compare him, Father . . . It pains you that I had to make a choice . . . Could I have chosen otherwise?

ABRAHAM    Your choice wasn’t simply between the two of us.

RACHEL        (Heatedly) You’re wrong! I was never Jewish! You know that as well as I do! I wasn’t Jewish even when you sat me on your knee and taught me those letters, as black, grim, and sinister as the God of the Jews himself. Oh, how I hated them! Later I learned other letters. They shaped my world. How much closer to me was the joyful psalm of the Resurrection than the despair­ing prayers of the Day of Judgment! How much closer were the sonatas of Juan de Mena than the tales of the Diaspora! No, Father! I’m a Spaniard and always have been. Their language is my language, their country is my country, their past is my past!

ABRAHAM    And the present, Rachel? Are their fires yours, too? And the pincers they tear the flesh with? And the nails they use to pierce their victims’ feet . . . (He resumes his monotonous rocking motion.) Oh Lord, Lord! Let the scream of Rabbi Baruch ben Levi as the flames overcame him fade in my ears! Lord who heard that scream, ordain that the sons of your people never utter such screams again!

RACHEL        (Softly) Father . . .

ABRAHAM    (As above) “And the Lord spake in the wilderness: if thou wilt not harken unto my voice, to observe to do all my commandments, all these curses shall come upon thee and overtake thee. And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, and thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone. And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron. And ash and flame will overtake thee, and fires will be lit . . .” (Plaintively) fires . . .

RACHEL        (Her head turned away) The fires will die down, Father.

ABRAHAM   No . . . They are sowing hatred in people’s hearts. The elders of the community said, when the fires started burning in Madrid, that they would die down. They said the same when the sky turned red over Leon, Castile, and Navarre. And the fire is spreading. The waters of the Guadalquivir didn’t stop it. It’s advancing like a wave. There’s no escape from a wave . . .

(Rachel says nothing.)

ABRAHAM    (Suddenly regaining his self-control; in a subdued voice) Never mind, Rachel. Tomorrow all this will be behind me. You’ll stay here . . . and be happy. Everything is all right, my child. All is as it should be . . .

RACHEL        (Staring straight ahead of her; in a strange tone) As a wave approaches, a man bends his back; when it has passed he straightens up again.

(Abraham shudders and turns toward his daughter.)

RACHEL        (Glancing at her father) Why are you looking at me like that? Isn’t that what the saintly ben Akiba taught his people?

ABRAHAM    (Lowering eyes; growing weary again) That’s true. But that wisdom is for the young. My back is too old for that now. And anyway, what can come of that wisdom? When we bow our heads they despise us, and when we straighten up they start to hate us.

RACHEL        (Angrily) That’s the tragedy of you people! You had too much faith in your wise man. And you

mustn’t bend your back! As the wave approaches you have to be able to meet it with head held high.

ABRAHAM    (Softly) And what do you mean by that, Rachel?

RACHEL        That it’s better to die a hundred times over than let anyone despise you even once.

(Abraham slowly turns his head away.)

RACHEL        (In a changed tone) You don’t answer? I know what you’re thinking. No! Don’t avert your eyes. That thought is an insult to me, and I won’t let you take it away with you. For the last few months you’ve been avoiding the subject like a plague-stricken house! But I want to talk about it. Because I want you to under­stand at last! (In two steps she is standing beside her father.) Admit it! In your view I’m the one who’s given in. You think that what I’m doing is bowing my head, and that I of all people have no right to speak of firmness and pride. Don’t deny it! That’s exactly what you’re thinking! But you’re wrong. You’re wrong, I tell you! I haven’t bowed my head. I’ve simply accepted something, accepted the new. I’ve chosen the only way, the way all of you so stubbornly reject, in your blindness and deafness.

(Abraham’s whole body makes a kind of helpless, defensive gesture.)

RACHEL        (Raising a restraining hand) You say there’s no escape. But there is. Only you prefer not to see it. You hide your eyes from it behind your tallith and block your ears with hurried quotations whose wisdom is as worn as a rag flapping in the breeze. (Bend­ing lower over her father) Why do you cling so desperately to out­moded form and extinct content? Why do you so blindly haul along with you for centuries the curse of your Jewishness?

ABRAHAM    It’s the faith of our ancestors.

RACHEL        (With passion) It’s just your obstinacy, Father! That dark, ingrained obstinacy with which you defend the old ways. You say they despise you? That’s not so. All you seek in them is a reflection of your contempt for them, contempt for everything alien, everything not created by your people . . . Oh, it’s not for nothing that I spent my childhood in your house and saw that whole world of yours, even if only with the eyes of a child. Not for nothing did I have to pick my way through the side streets to see Vallerbo, my tutor, because a howling mob of youths from the heder used to pelt me with mud and stones. And what about you? Weren’t you expelled from the community for sending your daughter to lessons in gentile music and poetry? Isn’t that why you had to leave?

ABRAHAM    (Horrified) Rachel . . .

RACHEL        (Screaming) You’ve turned your backs on anything that has life in it! You’re obsessed with the thought that you’re the chosen people. You rejected one wave of change, and now that another one has come, you can’t even meet it with your heads up.

ABRAHAM    Stop this! You’re filled with hatred.

RACHEL        Are you shocked by what I say? No, I won’t stop! You must hear me out. You think I was deaf when you were talking about the fires, that I didn’t realize you had me in mind then? (Pitilessly) You can’t understand how I’ll be able to stay here. Even less how I’ll be able to feel happy with pyres blazing all around, when people who used to be my own call out His name for the last time from the flames . . . But those people were never mine! I can feel sympathy for their misfortune, but they were never my people—do you understand? And it’s not my people stoking the fires either. I have the same horror of those who are filled with contempt as of those who let others despise them. And nobody lets others despise them more than your people! You’ve been living in Spain for centuries, eating the bread and the olives of Spain, but instead of putting down roots in its soil, and adopting its dress and customs, you fling your specialness in its face and offend its ears with your foreign language. You prefer to bow down and straighten up again a hundred times, rather than let the wave carry you along.

ABRAHAM    (Despairingly) The wave doesn’t want us, Rachel!

RACHEL        That’s not true. You don’t want it. You fight it with every word and everything you do. (Muffled organ music) The Church wanted to be a mother to you; Spain reached out its hands to you—but you preferred to accuse it of hatred. (Changing her tone) What blind fools you are! Do you know what joy is brought to Christian hearts by every single soul who finally sees the light? And how much love there is in the religion which is now mine? Listen to that organ. Can you hear any note of hatred in it? Take Brother Angeles, for instance, so pure and saintly that the birds fly onto his hands—could he hate anybody? Or the monk who released me from my retreat so that I could take food to you, a Jew? Does Doña Leonora hate anybody? Does Alonso hate anybody? (Gently) Spain isn’t just stakes and flames. The fires must die down. And you must realize: they’ll die down a lot faster than they flared up. And when the flames go out, the really important things will be left: love and faith in man, a new spirit, and a new life. (Firmly) And that’s why I shall be able to stay here.

(Silence for a moment; the organ is heard more clearly.)

RACHEL        (In a different tone) Now you know everything, Father . . .

ABRAHAM    (Softly) Yes. Now I know everything.

RACHEL        I had to tell you. I couldn’t have let you leave without understanding.

(Slowly walks back to the buttress she was previously leaning against.)

ABRAHAM    (Softly; after a moment) Does he think the same way as you, Rachel?

RACHEL        Alonso? Do you doubt that too? Do you want proof again? He and I are one emotion and one thought in two bodies. (Patiently) No, he’s never spoken to me about it. The subject might be painful for both of us . . . You’re still here in Spain. But I know his exalted soul; he is too noble to despise anybody, and too proud to hate. (In a different tone) Oh Lord! How late it is! When is he going to get here?

(A moment of silence, filled with muffled organ music.)

RACHEL        (Glancing at her father) You’re silent again, Father.

(Abraham continues the rocking motion.)

RACHEL        (Gently) Eat something. You must keep up your strength for the journey.

ABRAHAM    (Faintly) I’m not hungry, Rachel.

RACHEL        Don’t worry. You can eat this. I’ve brought you some feast-day food. I haven’t forgotten that today’s the second day of the Passover.

ABRAHAM    That’s true . . . The second day of the Seder.

RACHEL        (Warmly) Eat, Father, won’t you?

ABRAHAM   (Rocking; staring into the gloom; in a monotone) “And the Lord led his people out of the Land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, and by night in a pillar of fire, that they might go by day and night . . .” Where have you led your people, o Lord? Where have you led your people?

(Rachel says nothing. The organ can be clearly heard.)

ABRAHAM       (Glancing at daughter; timidly) Rachel . . .

(Rachel looks expectantly at her father.)

ABRAHAM   (Averting his eyes; speaking with difficulty, stumbling) I wanted to ask you a favor . . . I suppose I’m a bit silly in my old age, and full of Jewish sentimentality. But I won’t see you tomorrow . . . Perhaps tomorrow before daybreak . . . Do you remember how, when you were little, you used to sit at the table at Passover, in the evening, and ask the ritual “kashot” questions. Those four questions, and you asking them in our house, made the holiday for us. Now I’m leaving all that behind—it’s probably for the best. But there’s one thing I’d like to take away with me: the memory of those evenings, and of your voice during them, Rachel. I know you’re another person now, with different thoughts and feelings—but just for a moment be that little girl again . . . Look the way you looked then . . . and ask me for the last time about the journey out of Egypt.

(Rachel says nothing.)

ABRAHAM   (Still not looking at his daughter, he takes a piece of un­leavened bread from his bundle and raises it between two fingers.) Do you see? This is the bread our fathers ate as they left the land of slavery . . . Well, Rachel? (Prompting) “Ma hishtanah halaylah hazeh mikol halaylot?” How does this night differ from other nights . . . “Shebekhol halaylot . . .” (Breaking off; turning toward his daughter, imploring her) Rachel!

RACHEL        (Firmly) You obviously haven’t understood, Father.

(Abraham looks at Rachel.)

RACHEL        (As above) Do you want me to humiliate myself and you? Those evenings are dead. And the words I said then have died for me forever. (Making a restraining gesture) I know it’s only a trad­ition, that those words don’t mean anything. But I have only one heart, and only one language, Father. (Not looking at her father, but with her voice still firm) Forgive me, I can’t lie. I can’t ask you those questions.

(Abraham slowly turns away, crumbling the unleavened bread in his fingers.)

RACHEL        Have I hurt you again?

ABRAHAM   (Shaking his head) Once again you’ve only told me the truth. And the truth is in the Scriptures: (Beginning to rock himself again) “Thy sons and thy daughters shall be given unto another people, and thine eyes shall look, and fail with long­ing for them; and there shall be no might in thy hand . . .”

(With the last chord of the organ music, the muffled refrain “A-a-men” reaches the crypt. A moment of silence.)

RACHEL        (With an effort) Your bundle’s come undone . . . (She goes to her father, kneels down, and ties the corners of the bundle. She notices something and pulls out a small package.)

ABRAHAM   That’s only a handful of earth. Put it back where it was.

RACHEL        (Raising her eyes to her father’s face) Would you like me to do anything else for you? Anything you like . . . I want to carry out your wish.

ABRAHAM   (Shaking his head) I’d like time to hurry up and pass.

RACHEL        (Faintly) So would I . . . But time pays us no heed—we have to help it along somehow. If you like I can tell you a story. About anything—no matter what. I can tell you about my walk through the town early this morning. Or about the market women squabbling in the corner of the Plaza del Estado. I can tell you about the gleaming roof of the Alcazar, or about . . . (She breaks off abruptly.)

(Hurried steps are heard. With a gesture commanding silence, Rachel looks expectantly at the door. It creaks; a patch of light appears. In the doorway Alonso appears, tall and slim, in an expensive costume adorned with a gold chain. He is holding his plumed hat in his hand, and has a sword at his side.)

RACHEL        Alonso! (Springing to her feet and running to him.)

ALONSO        Rosina! (Slamming the door behind him he runs down the steps, grasps the girl’s hands, and pulls her to him. The couple stand embracing for a long time.)

RACHEL        No, no! Say nothing! Let me stay like this for a while. (Caressing him) Yes, these are your fingers. Here they join your hand. And this is your shoulder, and your neck—how I love its shape and smoothness! Your hair, soft and sweet-scented . . . Your eyebrows meeting above your nose. And those are your eyes, your cheeks, your mouth, and this is the line of your beard . . . (Leaning back, opening her eyes) Yes, it’s you! (Gripping his hands again) Three days! Three days apart, Alonso!

ALONSO        Call it three eternities, Rosina!                  

RACHEL        Yesterday I saw a white cloud from my chamber window. The sky was clear and blue, and only that lonely cloud was sailing like a ship toward your castle. I wanted so much to be that cloud, so light and fluffy, that your eye might rest on it for a moment.

ALONSO        Yesterday a wild dove flew up from the castle court­yard. It circled once over the gate and sped straight off to­ward the slender spires of the cathedral. I watched it and thought perhaps it would alight at your window.

RACHEL        (Excitedly) That dove had silver plumage. It swooped low over the square of the Madonna del Pilar, and then soared up again.

ALONSO        The cloud was the shape of a caravel, and it sailed due south.

RACHEL        So you saw the cloud, Alonso?

ALONSO        And you saw the dove, Rosina? So we were together after all!

RACHEL        (Burying her face in Alonso’s shoulder) For a moment. For a brief moment. Oh, I don’t want to miss you like that any more!

ALONSO        (Pressing his cheek against Rachel’s hair) I was with you all the time. Precisely because I missed you. Things stop­ped being themselves. They all became memories. When I picked up a glass, I held in my hand the memory of that evening at the Vittinias’s house when we said good-bye. When I mounted my horse, the first time my foot touched the stirrup, it was on one of my rides to see you. I couldn’t bear to hear certain songs because we’d once listened to them together, and I couldn’t go along in silence, because you and I weren’t silent together.

RACHEL        (Raising her eyes to Alonso’s face) I couldn’t collect my thoughts, because they were all about you. When I tried to repeat the psalms after Brother Angeles, I couldn’t, because my every word longed to be your name. Your eyes were looking at me from between the pages of the psaltery, and the pictures of the saints had your form and face. But when good Brother Angeles was teaching me about the essence of godliness, I thought there was no sin in that; if God is love he’ll forgive my inattention.

ALONSO        My love, how your hands are trembling!

RACHEL        My beloved, how your heart is beating! Have you been running?

ALONSO        I was running to you. I was running to end our separation! Look at me. Do you realize? Tomorrow! How happy a man is when he can say “tomorrow”!

RACHEL        Tomorrow means Alonso.

ALONSO        Tomorrow means Rosina. (With his arm round her shoulders he leads her to the buttress of the wall.) Your godmother is already sewing you a dress for tomorrow’s ceremony. How lovely you’ll look in white, with a garland of white roses in your hair!

RACHEL        Oh, how good Doña Leonora is! Have you seen her today?

ALONSO        I was there after mass. (Laughing) She thought I’d come to see her, but I was only looking for your footprints in the garden . . . When I said good-bye she asked me to convey her fondest regards, (Reaching into his wallet) and this cross, her gift to you for your baptism.

RACHEL        Heavens! Isn’t it lovely? It’s one of the Vittinia family treasures, isn’t it?

ALONSO        You’re going to be a daughter of the family, aren’t you? Let me put it round your neck.

RACHEL        (Pushing his hand away) Not now! Do it tomorrow!

ALONSO        But you can wear it today.

RACHEL        I’d love to with all my heart. But let’s let tomorrow be a truly new day.

ALONSO        (Sitting down on the edge of a tomb, stretching out his hands to Rachel) Does tomorrow mean Rosina?

RACHEL        Tomorrow means Alonso.

ALONSO        My love, how beautiful you are! And how proud I am that I’ll soon be able to call you my wife. That month in the Vittinia castle will fly by faster than an arrow. And afterward we’ll stay together. Do you understand? Together every day! Our good old Pedro is already preparing our chamber. It looks out into the garden, onto beds of Asturian roses.

RACHEL        Like the ones you bought me.

ALONSO        And the ones you shall have every day. Juana and Maria, whom my mother has assigned to be your maids, already know how you love flowers. You’ll find them everywhere: in your bedroom, in the corridors, in garlands on the castle steps. I’ll decorate our carriage with them when we leave on our journey.

RACHEL        Our journey to Valladolid? Oh, how I look forward to it! We’ll stay at little roadside inns . . .

ALONSO        . . . and in our friends’ castles: with Don Miguel, and Don Diego . . .

RACHEL        We’ll listen to the ballads and romances of wandering minstrels . . .

ALONSO        . . . dance the pavane and the foffa in the Infante’s merry courtyard. And in the morning when the bell summons us to matins, our prayer-desks will stand side by side. And we’ll hear vespers without any fear that the night will part us.

RACHEL        Go on! I beg you! Don’t stop! I’ve missed the sound of your voice so much. And dreamed so much of the moment when at last I’d be able to say “Alonso.”

ALONSO        Say it then. Let me hear it!

RACHEL        Alonso! Alonso! (In a lower voice) My husband!

ALONSO        Rosina. (Still holding Rachel’s hand in both of his, rising from the tomb he has been sitting on) Rosina. (Drawing her to him) My wife! . . .

RACHEL        (Turning her head away) How strange! You’re here with me, but I still miss you. I get so worried about you. You were so long in coming.

ALONSO        You don’t ever have to worry about me. For me your love is a shield that protects me from everything. (Casually) I was a long time? I couldn’t slip unnoticed to the church door. There’s such a crowd in the square . . . After all, today’s . . .

(Rachel looks flustered and hurriedly raises her finger to her lips.)

ALONSO        (Breaks off in mid-sentence, turns round, speaking offhandedly) Oh, it’s old Gedali, is it? My greetings!

ABRAHAM   (With his back to the young couple; softly) Greetings, noble lord.

RACHEL        Is everything all right, Alonso?

ALONSO        (Confidently) I’ve thought the whole thing out thorough­ly. As soon as the crowd disperses, a covered cart will drive up to the porch. A yellow flag will be flying on the roof of it. (Laughing) You needn’t worry. Nobody will come near the cart all the way to Flanders!

ABRAHAM   (Staring straight in front of him; in a hollow voice) A yellow flag. The sign of the plague.

ALONSO        (Over his shoulder) Does that surprise you, Gedali? It’s quite clever, really. They say you Jews are the plague of the country, don’t they?

(Abraham says nothing.)

ALONSO        Well? Do they or don’t they? Answer me!

ABRAHAM       These days we Jews speak by our silences.

ALONSO        (Airily, as before) Out of fear of the Holy Office. But you’ve no need to be afraid of me. I’ve promised to help you, and there’s no power on earth that can make a grandee go back on his word. (Turning to face Abraham) Well, go on! Speak up! Are they utterly wrong to say that?

ABRAHAM   What can I say to you? Right is in the hands of those whose voice has an echo, and whose body has substance and a shadow. Nowadays my voice has no sound, and that bundle and staff are my shadow.

ALONSO        You’re exaggerating! I can hear you perfectly well, and you can see your shadow yourself.

ABRAHAM    No, sir. Only a man in his own country has a body and a shadow.

ALONSO        So you’ve never had either?

ABRAHAM       I used to think differently once. But in those days we Jews hadn’t yet become a plague.

ALONSO        Perhaps that’s putting it too strongly. But you won’t deny—will you?—that for centuries you’ve been ruining Spain economically and politically.

(Abraham says nothing.)

ALONSO        Are you going to say that’s a lie too?

ABRAHAM   (In a monotonous voice) Sixteen years ago, when the crops were blighted in the whole of Castile, my carts took grain and flour there from my granaries. When brave Fernando y Gomez was defending Cadiz against the Moors, our Seville community sent him galleys and arms.

ALONSO        Perhaps so, but what of it?

ABRAHAM       Is that the way to ruin a country, sir? Is that the way a plague behaves?

ALONSO        That’s the way Jews behave when they sniff a good deal in the air. After all, blight, famine, and war make excellent business for you.

ABRAHAM    Has it not occurred to you, sir, that ships can sink and plague makes no distinction between religions? It doesn’t choose its victims.

ALONSO        So? Are you trying to tell me you were guided by your love for Spain? Don’t make me laugh! You know as well as I do that the only thing a Jew really loves is money, clinking gold. That’s your homeland, and your God—every single thing a Jew does he does with gold in mind.

ABRAHAM    You’re right, sir, to say that we Jews appreciate gold.

ALONSO        (Scornfully) Appreciate it? You worship it. It means everything to you.

ABRAHAM    (Like an echo) That’s true too! Everything.

ALONSO        And you can say that without shame?

ABRAHAM   Are we the ones who should feel shame?

(Alonso looks at Abraham, not understanding.)

ABRAHAM    (Rising, stretching out his hand toward Alonso) What’s that you wear at your side, sir? That steel is called a sword. You can strike blows and defend yourself with it. But you never gave us the right to it. So how were we sup­posed to defend ourselves, and our homes and children? How was I supposed to defend even her?

ALONSO        (Shielding Rachel with an outstretched arm; sharply) Silence! She was never your daughter. Three days of penance at church have lifted that shame from her—and tomorrow she’s to be baptized as well! And her baptism will be no more than the seal placed by the Holy Spirit on a soul that belongs to it already! You can talk to me or not talk to me, but don’t involve her. Because there’s no bond between her and you! (Abraham slowly turns away.)

ALONSO        Did you understand what I said?

ABRAHAM   (In hollow voice) Yes, sir.

ALONSO        Then I advise you to remember it.

ABRAHAM   (As above) I will. I have no daughter, and never have had . . . (Glancing at Alonso) But if what you say is true, why then, sir, do you want to rescue me?

ALONSO        Rescue? I simply want you to disappear from Seville, so that no memory, no trace of your existence will remain in this town.

(Abraham sits down heavily on the stool.)

ALONSO        Did you really think otherwise?

ABRAHAM   When will the cart arrive?

ALONSO        What? Don’t you want to argue any more? Oh, of course! You prefer silence these days. But you must admit, it’s embarrassing how meek you’ve become since the Holy Office started its work. 

(Abraham shudders.)

ALONSO        (Raising his hand) Don’t shudder. I’m certainly not one of those who maintain that you Jews should be burned at the stake. It’ll be enough to expel you from Spain. That’ll solve the problem.

(As Alonso finishes his sentence the bell begins to toll, now sounding completely different from its previous sound—heavy, menacing, and penitential.)

(Abraham raises his head suddenly and listens.)

ALONSO        So that’s the end of our conversation, is it?

(Abraham’s face expresses horror.)

ALONSO        Why are you listening so hard?

(Abraham, dazed, steps toward the door.)

ALONSO        What’s the matter? Where do you think you’re going?

ABRAHAM   That bell . . . What’s it for?

ALONSO        That? It’s nothing to do with you. (Contemptuously) Relax. You’re safe.

ABRAHAM       No, no! Answer me, sir! Is a man going to be burned out there?

ALONSO        I said you’re safe.

(Abraham stares wild-eyed at Alonso.)

ALONSO        Control your fear. It’s hideous!

(Abraham turns away; he walks mechanically toward his stool.)

ALONSO        Incidentally, that Jewish cowardice of yours is repulsive. The moment the thought of the stake occurs to you, the fear starts out of your eyes.

(As the peal of the bell fades, joyless monastic chants are heard. Abraham stands with his back to Alonso, fitfully wringing his hands.)

ALONSO        You’re afraid of pain, aren’t you?

ABRAHAM       (Fervently, in a low voice) Oh Lord . . . Protect those who are now being burned. Wrap them in your mantle and let them . . .

ALONSO        What are you muttering under your breath? Your Jewish incantations have no power here. (In a tone of command) Answer me! Are you afraid of pain?

ABRAHAM   (Turning sharply to face Alonso) Aren’t you afraid of pain, sir?

ALONSO        Me? (Lightly) During the siege of Granada, a Moorish arrow pierced my leg and I sang while a soldier pulled the point out and cauterized the wound.

ABRAHAM     I’m not asking about your pain, sir. Aren’t you afraid of our pain?

ALONSO        Your pain? (Scornfully) Oh I see! A sample of your Jewish sophistry. Drop it! Your Jewish wiles have already brought down enough Christian folk!

ABRAHAM     And have you ever thought how many Jews have been reduced to such wiles by the decline of the Christians?

ALONSO        (Sharply) What do you mean by that?

ABRAHAM     “If thou shalt oppress thy neighbour, thy younger brother, or thy bondsman, the spirit of the Lord shall depart from thee, for thou art not following His commandments.”

ALONSO        You dare to quote the words of the Lord? Weren’t you the ones who nailed His Son to the cross? And who was the one who betrayed Him?

ABRAHAM     I’ve read my daughter’s books, and I know that Jesus of Nazareth had thirteen disciples. Twelve of them were Jews and the thirteenth was a heathen. If He had been betrayed by the heathen, you would call him by his name. As it was one of the twelve, you say he was betrayed by a Jew!

ALONSO        Because that’s the truth! Treason is part of your nature. You betray everything and everybody, even yourselves if there’s profit in it. Don’t go too far, because I could tell you more than you’d like to hear! What are all your baptisms these days if not betrayal? And how despicable they are! Even a filthy Moor commands more respect than you. You get baptized so easily. But don’t imagine you can fool us. We know: even if you bathe a Jew in ten fonts of holy water, he always re­mains a Jew. And if he accepts Christ, he does it not for salvation but for base profit: to worm his way into the heart of a foreign people, so as to go on exploiting them.

(Abraham turns slowly away.)

ALONSO        Well? Have you run out of arguments? Come on, tell me that these people are your people, too. Isn’t that what you were saying a moment ago? That this is your land, which you’re now so eagerly leaving. (Scornfully) Gedali! If shame were not alien to your people, you’d burn up with shame on saying that. Would any Spaniard abandon his homeland, even under threat of death? Would a Spaniard get into a cart under a yellow flag to get clear of the Spanish frontier?

(Abraham stands with his head bowed.)

ALONSO        Answer me when I ask you a question.

ABRAHAM   Permit me to remain silent, sir.

ALONSO        Your Jewish silence again? It really is very conven­ient for you, when you realize how well we know you. Don’t fool yourself! We know you better than you could ever imagine. No wonder the priests in their pulpits warn the faithful about you, about your false humility which hides a vengeful spirit, and your air of piety, with hatred seething beneath it. It’s that hatred that makes you kill Christian children, isn’t it, to use their blood for matzohs?

ABRAHAM    (Rounding sharply on Alonso; shouting) That’s untrue! Don’t believe that, sir!

ALONSO        (Sharply) Do you dare to tell me the priests lie?

ABRAHAM    It is written in our Scriptures: “Thou shalt not eat blood, for blood is the soul.” The Scriptures forbid even the blood of animals.

ALONSO        What are these Scriptures of yours? What is your famous Talmud if not a manual of instructions on how to exterminate Christians? Do you acknowledge God? Your inspiration comes from Satan!

(Abraham backs away.)

ALONSO        (More and more heatedly; outside the doleful chant of the monks swells in volume with his voice) You’re a reptilian tribe, plotting the extinction of the Church! That’s your only reason for living; that’s what you raise your children for. Your daughters are harlots, wanton and lascivious, sent by you among Christians to provoke sin in their hearts. Your sons are the seeds of decay: you scatter them among other peoples to bring about their downfall! To you any means are all right as long as they lead to that end. There’s no vow, no law a Jew wouldn’t break—even calling up the spirits of Hell by the light of your Sabbath candles—to realize your dream: the dominion of Israel over the world. And when your intrigues come to light, when you put a foot wrong, you run away like rats from a sinking ship, (pointing) just as you’re running away now, you old Jew!

(Still backing away, Abraham bumps his back against some tombs and puts his hand on them.)

ALONSO        Hands off! Those are the tombs of my ancestors! Your touch defiles them!

(Abraham steps aside, his eyes fixed on the floor.)

ALONSO        The mortal remains of the Colleros are too sacred to bear the slightest touch of a cowardly hand.

ABRAHAM    (Raising his eyes, with a martyred look) Haven’t you said enough to humiliate me, sir?

ALONSO        Humiliate you? Is it possible to humiliate you? Wouldn’t you endure any insult, just to save your skin? There’s no price you wouldn’t pay for your wretched life! (Pointing behind him) You dare to call her your daughter. But haven’t you risked her neck? Weren’t you prepared to sacrifice her just so that you could flee from Spain?

ABRAHAM   (Turning sharply to face Alonso) You people have succeeded in taking everything from me, sir—money, position, and homeland. But the one thing I won’t let you take away is my child’s respect.

ALONSO        What respect can a proud Spanish girl have for a contemptible coward?

ABRAHAM   You say I’m sacrificing her. But I’m leaving for her sake!

ALONSO        (Scornfully) For her sake? You’re fleeing from the stake. You’re afraid of pain, you old Jew!

ABRAHAM       That’s true. I am afraid of pain! Pain is something alien to the body, something contrary to nature. But my body is old, I might as well give it up to the flames. However, I don’t want my daughter to have the image of that fire left in her eyes and have to live with the memory of her father burning like a rag at the stake.

ALONSO        (In a mocking tone) Is that the only reason?

ABRAHAM   No, sir, it is not! There’s one other: a base, Jewish reason, which you will no doubt despise. (Stretching his hand out to walls) If I were burned by the fires of the Inquisition, my houses, granaries, and capital would pass into the hands of the Inquisition. That, sir, is the law! But if I disappear from Spain it will all fall to my daughter. It will go to the Monte Blanco, to the treasure house of the Colleros. It will open the castle gates to her, just as it opened the hearts of your proud family. Because they despise Jews, but appreciate Jewish gold!

ALONSO        (Shouting) Be silent! (Slowly approaches Abraham and stands facing him) Do you know what you have said?

ABRAHAM   I’ve told you the truth, sir! You might not have known it, but ask your father!

ALONSO        Enough! (Choking in fury, after a pause) Retract that calumny!

(Abraham is breathing heavily.)

ALONSO        (As above) You dare to insult my family, Jew? (Shouting) Take your words back! At once!

(Abraham turns head away, still breathing heavily. At this moment a despairing cry of “Adonai!” rises above the monotonous chanting outside the cathedral walls.)

ALONSO        (In a different tone) Do you hear? Somebody like you is burning out there now! You know how the flames roast, how the smoke blocks the nostrils . . . If you don’t take back everything you said, at once . . . (Losing self-control, shouting) On your knees, down! Beg for mercy! Get down in the dust, Jew! Kneel at my feet!

(Abraham’s fists clench convulsively. In the silence Rachel’s cool, controlled voice is heard.)

RACHEL        Do you hear? Kneel at his feet, Jew!

(Abraham stares in horror at his daughter. Rachel stands erect, pointing at the floor. Abraham sways, then falls with a groan at Alonso’s feet.)

RACHEL        (In the same tone) And now kneel at my feet!

(Abraham cringes, as if he had suddenly shrunk. A moment of silence, measured only by the muffled chanting of the monks, as he crawls inch by inch to his daughter’s feet and lowers his forehead in obeisance.)

RACHEL        (To Alonso, proudly) You see! Now the whole reptilian race lies at my feet. The tribe that is the plague of Spain, the tribe that must perish! Shall I make a worthy wife for you? One with enough pride and dignity to bear the name of Doña Collero?

ALONSO        (Horrified) Leave him alone, Rosina!

RACHEL        No! I want you to look and remember the sight. See how those old shoulders tremble, see that head groveling in the dust. What can I have in common with this coward, this fool who prefers to wander homeless in the world, rather than renounce his faith? But even if he did renounce it, what profit would it bring him? Not all Jews have the good fortune to find their way into a powerful family of grandees. Not all can exchange their Jewishness for a heraldic shield!

(Alonso knits his brows, not understanding.)

RACHEL        Why are you looking at me like that? I’m not talking about myself. I was guided by love—I love you, Alonso. I love your eyes, your cheeks, your mouth, and the line of your beard. (Coldly) And I also love your castle, the humility of my future servants, the opulence of the castle chambers, and the weight of the name of Collero. My love hasn’t been blind; it chose carefully! Even if I have betrayed my own people, I have got a good price for it.

ALONSO        (Astonished) Rosina, what are you talking about?

RACHEL        I’m talking about our love. About you and me, about us. Did you think otherwise? No, you didn’t! (Calmly) Just think about it: if you were a nobody, a commoner, a beggar, an outcast—could you have asked me to marry you and be baptized for the sake of a beggar? But you’re a grandee! You’ll give me all I ever wanted! I’ve had the sense to build my future on sure foundations.

ALONSO        Wait a minute . . . I don’t follow . . .

RACHEL        It’s all very simple, Alonso. In a month’s time I shall be your wife. When the bell rings for matins our prayer-desks will stand side by side. Does it really matter what brought me to that prayer-desk?

ALONSO        (Shocked) Rosina!

RACHEL        (Raising hand) I’m not Rosina yet. I’m not being baptized until tomorrow. Not until tomorrow will the Holy Spirit place its kiss on my soul that so yearns for it. But perhaps a monk’s kiss is sufficient to strip away the shame of Jewishness? Tell me! As a devout Christian, you ought to know.

(Alonso stands rooted to the spot, staring at Rachel.)

RACHEL        Are you shocked? Why is that? My behavior was proper, after all. In order to gain access to her Lord, Saint Martha surrendered her body. I, in my religious penance, made the sacrifice for a monk.

(Alonso’s expression is all horror.)

RACHEL        Don’t you believe he could want me? Look at me: Am I not beautiful? Can’t I awaken desire, even in a body clothed in a habit? (Steps provocatively toward Alonso) Don’t back away! Touch my breasts! See how round and firm they are. And how my belly strains beneath my dress. Feel the heat of my loins . . .

ALONSO        (Shouting) That’s enough! Stop it! You’re mad!

RACHEL        Are you really more virtuous than a monk? Good Brother Angeles knew how to accept my Christian humility.

ALONSO        (Shouting) It’s a lie! It’s all untrue!

RACHEL        (Calmly) Why should I lie? Have I done anything wrong? I thought that was what I had to do . . . But if I didn’t, forgive me. Perhaps my soul still holds the taint of the past. After all, I was created to provoke sin in the hearts of Christians.

ALONSO        It’s a lie! (Falling to his knees and pressing his brow against the hem of her dress) You’re lying, Rosina!

RACHEL        What’s the matter with you? Where’s your pride? Your Spanish grandee’s pride? Is that really you, in the dust at the feet of a Jewess? Control yourself! It’s revolting. (Pulling in the folds of her dress) Your touch defiles me!

ALONSO        (Raising his head; despairingly) Rosina!

RACHEL        (Firmly) I’ve told you I’m not Rosina. Today I’m still Rachel. My soul is still filled with darkness, still the abode of devils. I can even feel them within myself: Balaam and Abaddon, Dybbuk, Gog and Magog . . . Belial, and Behemoth! You don’t believe me? Look, here’s a cross! It burns my hand. I only have to squeeze it in my hand for it to turn into the Star of David. Or if I fling it against the wall, the cathedral walls will burst asunder.

(Alonso slowly rises from his knees while Rachel is speaking; his face expresses horror.)

RACHEL        (In a soothing tone) No! No! I won’t do that! Those walls would crush us, too! And after all, we have to live and be happy together! I must bear children for you, children with the same pride and dignity as we have. And it won’t be my fault if the voice of Israel comes to life again in some generation of your descendants, the voice that is sounding within me now—a sinister Jewish malediction! (At the top of her voice) “Ma hishtanah halaylah hazeh mikol halaylot. Shebekhol halaylot anu okhleem hamatsot u mayem, halaylah hazeh . . .”

ALONSO        (Shouting) Silence! Silence, Jewess!

RACHEL        (Relieved) I’m glad you said that. You would have said it eventually—in a month, a year, or in five years. Eventually I would have heard that word from your lips. You’re right. Now I’m a Jewess! But it’s you and your kind who make Jews of us, with your limitless contempt and your animal hatred. Your wave doesn’t want to sweep us along; it only wants to destroy us! So go on—destroy us! What are you waiting for now? Your people are out there, outside the walls! Call in the guard of the Holy Brotherhood! (Changing tone) You hesitate? Have you suddenly understood? Yes! If they light fires for us, there’ll be one for you beside us! But then, you’re not afraid of pain, or smoke, or flames! So go on—do your duty! Here is a Jew who has insulted Spain, and a Jewess who has entered a covenant with the Devil! What else are you waiting for, gentile?

(Under the onslaught of Rachel’s words, Alonso backs away in confusion toward the door; then he turns sharply, intending to run out.)

RACHEL        Wait! You’ve forgotten your word! The word of a Spaniard and a grandee! And there’s no power in the world that can make him go back on it. You promised to save him, and marry me. Do you wish to sully the name of Collero?

(At Rachel’s call, Alonso stops in midstride and turns his unseeing eyes toward her.)

RACHEL        You can choose one of two paths: disgracing your honor or betraying the Church. Choose! But whichever you choose, you are doomed. (Points to door with sudden movement) Fly to your doom!

ALONSO        (Rushing away) Guard! (Stumbles and falls on the steps) Guard! (Running out of crypt.)

(Through the wide-open door the rippling melody of the penitential psalm is heard.)

RACHEL        (Calling after Alonso) Run! Run, my darling! Certain as fate that you are! Run to end our parting! Alonso! . . . My love! . . . My husband!

(Chant of monks. Alonso’s retreating steps and his fading, despairing cries.)

ABRAHAM       (Crouching all this time beside the buttress, now reaches out and embraces his daughter’s knees; despairingly) You’ve destroyed us, Rachel!

RACHEL        (Standing in same position as at the beginning of the act—with her eyes fixed on door; her voice is calm and even) I’VE SAVED US, Father!

Curtain

(The psalm continues to sound. Its rippling melody changes—trumpets are heard, and the sounds of a march then change into raucous singing in chorus. The separate elements begin to interlace, changing faster and faster, overlapping, becoming deafening, now sounding only like a hideous cacophony, from which a high-pitched whistle, like that of a jet plane, suddenly rises; for a moment it pierces the ears, growing louder, unbearable; then SILENCE. House lights come on.)


“Szkoła dobroczyńców” © Jerzy Lutowski. Translation © 2016 by Kevin Windle. All rights reserved.

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