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THE BLACK DEATH

OR

TA-UN*

(Plague)

A Persian Tragedy in One Act

By M. E. LEE

CHARACTERS

KASSEM, an old Sheik
AYESHA, his youngest wife
AMMAR, a young sheik, (son of Kassem by a former wife)
BAY-ANA, slave-girl to Ayesha
Servants and Eunuchs.

SCENE

Interior of a Persian Enderoun, or private apartment of an Hareem.

Time, evening.
KASSEM (Kas-am).-An Old Sheik, bent with age, yet powerful.

His garb that of a Persian of great wealth, lends a picturesque ensemble to his wizened countenance and mien. His eyes, suspicious and pitiless, fathom with a glance. A flowing mantle of rich Aleppo wool, white and threaded ins ilver stripes, envelops his figure clothed in a coat of silk and loose trousers, cased-in for riding.

About his waist a gold embroidered sash holding a jewelled scabbard and scimitar, while topping all with lofty dignity is a turban wound high in Persian silk and held with a precious stone.

AMMAR.His Son The Younger Sheik similarly attired presents a contrasting picture. Tall, dark and strikingly handsome, with all the Oriental fire and vigor of youth.

*Copyright 1917 by M. E. Lee. Acting rights reserved by author.

AYESHA (Aye-Shaw).-A young creature of flower-like transparent loveliness, her aquiline features and large dark eyes, seem framed in a halo of glistening hair, of onyx blackness-thickbraided, and falling below the knee. Her robe of bluish-silver cloth moulding her slight form, swings as she moves, revealing a chemise and loose pantaloons of ivory silk, thickly sewn in seed pearls. Her flowing sleeves and "chargat(or Persian cloud of gause") fall from a jewelled cap. Chains, bracelets, and jewelled anklets of ancient workmanship, about her bare feet help to enhance her ravishing beauty.

BAY-ANA (Bay-Ana).---The slave-girl, a mulattress, wears a chemise and silk striped skirt bound with a sash; her bare legs are visible to the thigh. Festooned about her neck, arms, and ankles are vari-colored beads and amulets. A cloth of silk binds her hair.

The Black EUNUCHS, (only to be seen in the homes of wealthy Persians) are simply clad in a silken cloth wound tight about the figure from waist to thigh, the balance of their polished forms are bare. About the neck a turquoise, to ward off evil, is strung, and gleams as they scurry noiselessly about. A cap of felt surmounts each shaven head.

As the scene opens, Ayesha is seen looking through a grilled window at right. Moonlight gradually floods the room, disclosing one of rich and Oriental splendor. The tiled-floor is strewn with silk rugs from the finest looms.

The walls enameled in turquoise and faint reddish-gray relieved at intervals by inlets of ebony and mother-of-pearl, form a resplendent background for the long low ottoman, or divan, silkcovered and piled with embroidered cushions, which stretches the length of the upright walls. At the left opposite the window and corresponding to it in architecture, is a fretted aperture inlaid in finest gold-leaf. This leads to a darkened passageway.

The rare Persian hangings draped between slender columns of pink marble at the back disclose when the scene opens a balcony overlooking an open-court below, where the sound of water trickling in a pool is to be heard. Now and then the moon-light seems caught up by some jewelled hanging-lamp (not lighted) but reflecting a myriad of kaleidoscopic, precious stones. Bay-Ana, busies herself arranging flowers in a metal bowl upon an inlaid table close to a divan placed in the foreground with the inevitable Kalyan, or water pipe at hand, The song of a bird in minor key impresses with languor the silent dreamy atmosphere for some moments before AYESHA slowly speaks.

Ayesha. The air is still as Death,

Another day hath slipped beyond the grove

of chinar trees. (she sighs)
Bay-Ana.- Another morn may bring all that

Thou most desirest.
Ayesha.- Nay! Already thou hast spoken so.

To soothe mine ears, Bay-Ana. Bay-Ana (Placing the flowers to her satisfaction, and smoothing the divan's silken-covering).

Somehow a feeling sweet, my Mistress,
Whispers soft this night.
Hark! Didst thou hear?
(Both listen to the sad notes of a bird which break
the evening silence.)
The self-same bird, that foretold something

strange
Would come to pass
The morn the Young Sheik saw thy face,
When thou stood wedded to his father.
And now! it sings again, this time into the night.
Long since, the other birds have gone to rest.
I know his note.

'Tis strangeAyesha (Leaving the window and approaching BAY-ANA in alarm.)

Not an ill omen, say not that?
Bay-Ana (Soothingly). -

Nay! Something—passing-strange.
Ayesha (Sinking amid the cushions and relaxing dreamily). -

They have been gone a full moon now and o'er,
The time seems endless, measured by my throb-

bing heart.
One suffers much, Bay-Ana, from loneliness,

When one knoweth love.
Bay-Ana.- Ah! dream a while and breathe the perfume from

The lotus rare, I waft above thy head.
Ayesha (Idly taking one from the bowl). -

A flower to give one pleasant dreams, but

turneth Black when crushed between my helpless palms. Ah! Sing Bay-Ana a melody of balmy tune

Easing the pain I suffer through monotony. (BAY-ANA sings*. The petals wither and drop about her,

*An oriental lullaby:-If permissible, “Ah Moon,” (Lisa Lehmann's “In a Persian Garden.")

as she opens her hand. Slowly her eyes close. The far-of note of the bird is heard for a moment. The slave-girl continues to wield her fan, singing slowly until roused by a soft step outside the curtained-doorway. A faint shuffle of sandaled feet and the tall figure of the Young Sheik advances swiftly into the room, standing gazing on Ayesha, gently touching her brow. Beholding him, she utters one short cry of joy, springing into his arms, while he holds her, silent, fervent, for some moments kissing her eyes and brow.) Ayesha (Holding him of).

Stay! I am already drunk with ecstacy. (He starts to embrace her again, she half laughing and crying.)

See! Bay-Ana, Thy prophecy hath come to

pass. A light swift! For I must look deep in the face, I've longed to see these many starlit-nights. (Taking his face between her hands.) Thy brow is hot-thy hands too feel-Ammar!

Thou art not ill, with life-there at the hunt?
Ammar.- Ill unto death for this, one sight of thee, My

Own,
Ayesha (Clapping her hands).-

The lamps then, re-light them once again.
And let each flame speak of my happiness,

And thy return.
Ammar (Motioning the slave-girl not to do as she is bid. As
Bay-Ana leaves she carefully draws the hangings together veiling the
open court from view).-

The moon is all the light, we need to show
The joy that fills our hearts, My Nightingale.

(He moves with her to the window.)
Ayesha.- Already it hath paled, (with concern)

Art thou in danger, coming thus?
Speak! The very sight of thee dispelled
My reason for the moment.
Whence came you here?

Alone?
Ammar (Repeating).-

Alone!
Ayesha (In terror).-

Thou art--not (whispering) then-Alone Ammar Ammar (Reassuringly. Holding her to him as he points out of the window).

There! Just beyond that grove and marshy

stretch.
Not far distant-thou can'st see?
For I beheld this jewelled minaret,
Silhouetted against the lapis-sky.
Enclosing all my world, at dusk.
When the first stars began to glitter in the

firmament above.
There rests this night thy husband, the Older

Sheik.
He loitered, as we came near to the outer wall,
Bidding the caravan to halt,
There, for the sunset hours.
Expressing much fatigue, from strain of hunting,

And the chase.
Ayesha.- Thou overheard'st this rightly?
Ammar - He even spoke the same to me,

And soon there-off, retired, beneath the flapping,
White-wings of his sheltering tent,
Whilst I sat by and smoked and dreamed.
Biding my time, until his breathing echoed,
Rythmic on the evening air,
Mingled with vast hordes of insects, flitting all-

about.
He sleeps! Dear heart, outside the moulding

wall,

Until the morning ray. And I-am come. Ayesha.-Aye by thyself? (touching a swinging lamp,

questioning).-
Why shouldst thou fear then light o' this?

I have grown fairer since thou went away.
Ammar.- Impossible!

Thou couldst not be more radiant than the morn.
I saw thy young face waiting, as,
My Father came to claim thee for his bride,
(Hotly) He never knew I saw.
But 'twas enough to kindle hot flames burning
In a young man's breast, to feel such youthful

beauty soon,
Would wither 'neath his aged touch.
From that one piercing, fleeting glance,

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