A Tower in the State Treasury at Kamysyak, near Astrakhan. Enter GROBAG
with FELIX, GINFIZ and two SOLDIERS.
GROBAG: Here ye shall spend the rest o’ your earthly days,
Though they shall not be long, I warrant you,
Coining gold thalers for our treasury.
Your quota is five thousand coins a day:
Make them, and ye shall eat; fail and go hungry.
The soldiers shall show ye the way o’ th’ press:
I care not if ye live, or if ye die. (Exit.)
FELIX (to the SOLDIERS): Is he like that always? He’s a proper Tartar.
FIRST SOLDIER: Aye, and he leadeth us a dismal dance.
We twain be Kalmucks from Siberia
And have no special liking for his people
Though we be all descended from the Hordes.
GINFIZ: I am Mongolian: ye are my cousins,
Far closer than these grubby Tartar folk.
FIRST SOLDIER: Then welcome, kinsman, to our gloomy dwelling;
We cannot offer thee a restful stay.
I fear we may not ease thy sorry lot:
We have our orders, and ’tis death to break them.
Come, we shall show ye how to work the press.
Ye take a metal disc out of this box
And place it, so, upon the lower die,
And spin the weights, and th’ press comes crashing down,
And there ye have ‘t, a fine new-minted thaler.
FELIX: It looks not hard.
FIRST SOLDIER: Nay, not for the first time,
Nor yet the hundredth. But to make five thousand
Will take ye eighteen hours at th’ very least,
And ye shall strike the last more dead than alive;
And then ye have to pack the coins in rolls.
GINFIZ (taking the Coin out of the Press): This thaler is too light to be of
gold. (He bites it.)
Nay, ’tis half copper. What a scurvy trick!
I have seen such coins palmed off on our own folk.
FELIX: And I’ve seen men strung up for passing them.
FIRST SOLDIER: I see ye have the way of ‘t. Master Grobag,
For every ounce of gold sent him by th’ king
Doth steal three hundred grains for his own use,
And foists this worthless coinage on the people.
He is the richest man in the whole region.
SECOND SOLDIER: Aye, and the meanest.
FELIX: Then why not denounce him?
If the king knew o’ the’ fraud, he would be wroth.
FIRST SOLDIER: When kings wax wroth, woe to us little folk!
I’d rather not be in the midst of it.
Now, we shall leave ye to your pressing task.
SECOND SOLDIER: It always breaks me up when thou sayst that.
FELIX: This is a sorry work we must perform,
Stamping bad thalers for a Tartar fraud;
Still, we shall not get fed until we do ‘t.
I’ll start swinging the weights, thou place the coins;
And mind thy fingers as the press comes down.
(They start to stamp Coins.)
O Ginfiz, think’st thou we shall e’er be free,
And I shall see my Tilda once again?
GINFIZ: And shall I breathe the rushing wind o’ th’ plains,
Riding beside my trusty countrymen,
Or shall we perish in this hideous place,
Unknown, unmourned, and probably unburied?
Ah me, how I bemoan my wretched lot. (He stops working.)
FELIX: We shall if thou dost mope; aye, of starvation.
Brace thyself up, we have some coins to make,
And while we toil, let us plan our escape:
I promise thee we shall get out of here,
And thou shalt ride thy horse across the steppes
And I shall hold my Tilda in my arms.
GINFIZ: But how? Dost think we’ll saunter past the guards?
FELIX: Nay, we’ll cut through the iron bars of the window.
GINFIZ: With what? We have no saw, nor yet a file.
FELIX: See’st thou these packages full of new coins?
GINFIZ: Aye, but what of it? Simple rolls of paper.
FELIX: And sealed with glue, and parcelled up with string.
Now, if we put some glue upon this cord
And roll it in the sand, and let it set …
GINFIZ: What use is that? A piece of sandy string?
FELIX: And wrap it round the bar, lo and behold,
We have a saw! I’ll tie the cord t’ the press
So we can stamp the coins and saw the bar
At th’ selfsame time.
GINFIZ: ‘Tis most ingenious;
But even if we cut out both the bars
How shall we climb down sixty feet of wall?
FELIX: We must start stealing master Grobag’s string
Until we have enough to make a rope.
‘Twill take a while, but one thing we’ve aplenty
Is time, the last wealth of the prisoner.
I did not say that we would leave today;
But we have hope, and we shall find a way.
(They continue working.)
© Tachybaptus 2017