Tilda — A Comedy in Six Acts — 4.4

Tachybaptus, Going Postal
The Dungeon in the Citadel at Allium. PRISONERS, including PRINCE
RAUCUS: And there stood I, in the midst of the foe, and nary a weapon in
my hand but my little penknife, and they armed with halberds and pistols
and crying for my blood.
FELIX: And what happened then?
RAUCUS: They killed me, of course.
PRISONER: Taunt not our little Felix, he’s a lot to learn without thee stuffing
his head with thy taradiddles.
FELIX: Ah, let him be. Old Piffelberg’s tales may smack of the shaggy dog,
yet they pass the time well enough. And I would fain hear of sieges and
investments and bloody routs, and trolls and centaurs. For as ye well know,
my glorious career endured barely an instant, and I must have somewhat to
tell the folk at home … if ever I do see them again.
PRISONER: Be not so downcast, young prince: we are still at life if not at
liberty. Dost thou fancy a game at cards? Me and his sublime and exalted
majesty the Elector of Piffelberg were about to deal a hand of bezique, and
thou’rt welcome to join us.
FELIX: I thank thee, but thou hast already won six rats and my last piece of
green cheese. I do fear I have no more skill at the table than I do at war;
nor at love. Hand me the file, and I shall take a turn at the bar.
PRISONER: The file doth wear away faster than the bar, I trow. ‘Tis not
worth the half pound of tobacco I gave the gaoler for it, the black-avised
lump of corruption.
RAUCUS: Well, he would not want thee to be getting out, would he?
(The PRISONERS begin to play at Cards. FELIX takes the File and begins to
work on the Bar at the Window.)
FELIX: How my whole world is shrunken to this space!
But yet it is a world like any other,
And less constrained than some. We wake and sleep,
We eat our scanty viands day by day,
And I have friends, and pleasant conversation:
‘Tis quite endurable. But O my Tilda!
If thou wert with me, the most noisome cell
Would be more grateful than a gilded palace.
I wonder where thou art, what thou art doing:
Perchance thy pretty fingers are at work
Shaping a brazier for some noble lady;
And mayhap, as thy thoughts flee idly past,
Thou dost remember Felix, as he read thee
The Anabasis and Vegetius,
Probably boring thee almost to death.
RAUCUS: He’s off again.
PRISONER:         Take care! Here comes the warder.
(FELIX conceals the File in his ragged Sark.)
WARDER: Good morning, yer assorted majesties:
‘Tis time to read ye the new transfer list.
There’s only two this month, both to the Turks:
One be Prince Felix of Uraemia,
And t’other the Elector o’ Piffelberg.
Pack up yer gear, we’ll be back in a minute. (Exit.)
FELIX: Alack, for we are sold like cauliflowers!
One moment on the stall, the next borne off
I’ a paper bag, and destined to be boiled.
Tell me, friend Piffelberg, dost thou know the Turks?
What manner o’ men are they? Where will they keep us?
RAUCUS: My brother Pincus was the King of Munster,
And taken by the Turks at Parmesan.
His captors made him row t’ Constantinople
Chained to his oar, and when they came to port
They threw him in the city’s common gaol
With thieves and cutpurses, beggars and whores.
There’s no chance of escape, my brother said:
The gates are manned by massive mamelukes
With yataghans and nasty attitudes.
FELIX: We have but one bare chance: we must try now.
The warder hath the keys: when he comes back
We’ll leap on him and bear him to the ground
And I shall seize his keys, and we shall flee.
RAUCUS: And if we fail, they’ll beat us to a pulp.
FELIX: ‘Tis our last throw: what do we have to lose?
Who wants to fester in a Turkish gaol?
I’ll climb above the door. When he comes in,
I’ll drop on him, and thou take hold o’ his legs.
Ye others, ye need take no part in this:
Lie on the straw, and feign to be asleep.
Quick, for I hear the warder coming back!
(Enter the WARDER. FELIX and RAUCUS assail him.)
FELIX: I have the keys! Come, Piffelberg, away!
(The WARDER seizes RAUCUS and holds a Knife to his Throat.)
WARDER: Run if ye will, but Piffelberg shall die!
FELIX: Old friend, I cannot leave thee thus to die,
Though it should cost my freedom, or my life.
Warder, take back thy keys, we yield to thee
And to the cruel fate that shall befall us.
(He returns the Keys.)
WARDER: Sadly, I cannot mammock thee at all,
Much as ‘twould cheer me; for an thou be marked,
The Turks shall take ten ducats off thy price,
And we be men o’ business, first and foremost.
Now come, the agent do be waiting for thee.
FELIX: Farewell, my friends, and may your ransoms come
Ere ye be shipped to darkest Africa
Or dragged in chains through barren Turkestan.
We’ll meet again in some far happier time
And laugh at how we played bezique for rats.
The galley waits, they have an oar for me:
O for a life upon the rolling sea!
(Exeunt FELIX, RAUCUS and the WARDER.)
© Tachybaptus 2017