Peas. Bread! Bread! Bread! give us bread; we perish.
1st Voice. Ay, give, give, give! God knows, we’re long past earning.
2d Voice. Our skeleton children lie along in the roads—
3d Voice. Our sheep drop dead about the frozen leas—
4th Voice. Our harness and our shoes are boiled for food—
Old Man’s Voice. Starved, withered, autumn hay that thanks the scythe! Send out your swordsmen, mow the dry bents down, And make this long death short—we’ll never struggle.
All. Bread! Bread!
Eliz. Ay, bread—Where is it, knights
Why butler, seneschal, this food forthcomes not!
Butler. Alas, we’ve eaten all ourselves:
The pages broke the buttery hatches down—
The boys were starved almost.
Voice below. Ay, she can find enough to feast her minions.
Woman’s Voice. How can she know what ’tis,
for months and months
To stoop and straddle in the clogging fallows,
Bearing about a living babe within you?
And then at night to fat yourself and it
On fir-bark, madam, and water.
Eliz. My good dame—
That which you bear, I bear: for food, God knows,
I have not tasted food this live-long day—
Nor will till you are served. I sent for wheat
From Koln and from the Rhine-land, days ago:
O God! why comes it not?
[Enter from below, Count Walter, with a Merchant.]
Wal. Stand back; you’ll choke me, rascals:
Archers, bring up those mules. Here comes the corn—
Here comes your guardian angel, plenty-laden,
With no white wings, but good white wheat, my boys,
Quarters on quarters—if you’ll pay for it.
Eliz. Oh! give him all he asks.
Wal. The scoundrel wants
Three times its value.
Merchant. Not a penny less—
I bought it on speculation—I must live—
I get my bread by buying corn that’s cheap,
And selling where ’tis dearest. Mass, you need it,
And you must pay according to your need.
Mob. Hang him! hang all regraters—hang the forestalling dog!
Wal. Driver, lend here the halter off that mule.
Eliz. Nay, Count; the corn is his, and his the
To fix conditions for his own.
Mer. Well spoken!
A wise and royal lady! She will see
The trade protected. Why, I kept the corn
Three months on venture. Now, so help me Saints,
I am a loser by it, quite a loser—
So help me Saints, I am.
Eliz. You will not sell it
Save at a price which, by the bill you tender,
Is far beyond our means. Heaven knows, I grudge not—
I have sold my plate, have pawned my robes and jewels.
Mortgaged broad lands and castles to buy food—
And now I have no more.—Abate, or trust
Our honour for the difference.
Mer. Not a penny—
I trust no nobles. I must make my profit—
I’ll have my price, or take it back again.