In the longest scene of the play, Leir and Perillus come to the place of assignation with Ragan, stretch, take out books, and fall asleep. The messenger enters with daggers in either hand, considers killing them immediately, but remembers Ragan’s requirement to show them the letter. He takes their books away, they awake, wonder what happened to Ragan, thinking perhaps they misunderstood the place. Leir then reports a dreadful dream, dismissed by Perillus, in which Leir is stabbed by his elder daughters but then nursed to recovery by Cordella. The assassin reveals himself, clearly threatening. (What happens next is hard to take seriously, and if done right would be quite funny, with both sight and verbal gags.)
Leir and Perillus attempt to buy him off, but he says they have purses too light, which he pockets anyway. They attempt to go, but he restrains them with words. He states his purpose and proposes they commit suicide to save him the trouble. They suggest he not try to scare them, but just get about this business if their deaths be it. He then suggests his duties are earned by their wickedness. Leir asks if he comes from France. The assassin is affronted, pointing to his face and clothing as clearly English. But Leir holds that his injustice to Cordella merits his death. Confused, the assassin disclaims any knowledge of Cordella or France, but agrees that Leir deserves to die. Leir suggests that he is confused then, and has the wrong man. The assassin explains who really sent him.
Perillus thinks they are in a dream, which the assassin assures him is correct, prospectively. Leir then asks him to grant him a last wish, a token of certain evidence that his daughters ordered his death. The assassin swears by heaven, earth and hell, all dismissed by Leir, when thunderbolts roll. Unnerved, the assassin shows the letter, but reconsiders his duties, now with a stricken conscience. Perillus questions God’s justice, but Leir invokes his mystery, forgives the assassin (like any god would do), and says, “strike.” The assassin refuses. Leir asks Perillus to seek forgiveness from Cordella, and says, “dispatch, I pray thee, I have lived too long.” The assassin reminds him the his commission includes Perillus, but Leir denies his power to accomplish it without God’s permission. The assassin shows Leir the money, but Leir argues that the letter only specifies himself (it is the one from Gonorill). Perillus declares his willingness, indeed, proposes himself rather than Leir, which Leir refuses, pleading as he does so for the life of Perillus, surely innocent of the misdeeds of Leir.
He kneels in supplication, which begins to move the assassin. Perillus then becomes practical, pointing out the permanent pangs of conscience, his likely short life considering that his death is the only guarantee of silence, and the ensuring heat of hell. It thunders again, the daggers fall, the assassin admits defeat in the debate, and leaves. Perillus rejoices, but Leir admits that death would be the preferable state. Perillus however convinces him to go to France on grounds that Cordella’s love is appropriate to his state, and his dream does foretell the future.
Enter Leir and Perillus.
PERILLUS: My Lord, you are up today before your hour,
Tis news to you to be abroad so rathe.
LEIR: Tis news indeed, I am so extreme heavy,
That I can scarcely keep my eyelids open.
PERILLUS: And so am I, but I impute the cause
To rising sooner than we use to do.
LEIR: Hither my daughter means to come disguised:
I’ll sit me down, and read until she come.
Pull out a book and sit down.
PERILLUS: She’ll not be long, I warrant you, my Lord:
But say, a couple of these they call good fellows, … [19.10]
Should step out of a hedge, and set upon us,
We were in good case for to answer them.
LEIR: ‘Twere not for us to stand upon our hands.
PERILLUS: I fear, we scant should stand upon our legs.
But how should we do to defend ourselves?
LEIR: Even pray to God, to bless us from their hands:
For fervent prayer much ill hap withstands.
PERILLUS: I’ll sit and pray with you for company;
Yet was I ne’re so heavy in my life.
They fall both asleep. Enter the Messenger or murderer
with two daggers in his hands.
MESS: Were it not a mad jest, if two or three of my … [19.20]
profession should meet me, and lay me down in a ditch, and
play rob thief with me, & perforce take my gold away
from me, whilest I act this stratagem, and by this means
the gray-beards should escape? Faith, when I were at liberty
again, I would make no more to do, but go to the next tree,
and there hang myself. [See them and start.]
But stay, me thinks, my youths are here already,
And with pure zeal have prayed themselves asleep.
I think, they know to what intent they came,
And are provided for another world. He takes their books away. … [19.30]
Now could I stab them bravely, while they sleep,
And in a manner put them to no pain;
And doing so, I showed them mighty friendship:
For fear of death is worse than death itself.
But that my sweet Queen willed me for to show
This letter to them, ere I did the deed.
Mass, they begin to stir: I’ll stand aside;
So shall I come upon them unawares. They wake and rise.
LEIR: I marvel, that my daughter stays so long.
PERILLUS: I fear, we did mistake the place, my Lord. … [19.40]
LEIR: God grant we do not miscarry in the place:
I had a short nap, but so full of dread,
As much amazeth me to think thereof.
PERILLUS: Fear not, my Lord, dreams are but fantasies,
And slight imaginations of the brain.
MESS: Persuade him so; but I’ll make him and you.
Confess, that dreams do often prove too true.
PERILLUS: I pray, my Lord, what was the effect of it?
I may go near to guess what it pretends.
MESS: Leave that to me, I will expound the dream. … [19.50]
LEIR: Me thought, my daughters Gonorill & Ragan,
Stood both before me with such grim aspects,
Each brandishing a Falchion in their hand,
Ready to lop a limb off where it fell,
And in their other hands a naked poniard,
Wherewith they stabbed me in a hundred places,
And to their thinking left me there for dead:
But then my youngest daughter, fair Cordella,
Came with a box of Balsam in her hand,
And poured it into my bleeding wounds, … [19.60]
By whose good means I was recovered well,
In perfect health, as erst I was before:
And with the fear of this I did awake,
And yet for fear my feeble joints do quake.
MESS: I’ll make you quake for something presently.
Stand, Stand. They reel.
LEIR: We do, my friend, although with much ado.
MESS: Deliver, deliver.
PERILLUS: Deliver us, good Lord, from such as he.
MESS: You should have prayed before, while it was time, … [19.70]
And then perhaps, you might have scaped my hands:
But you, like faithful watchmen, fell asleep,
The whilst I came and took your Halberds from you.
Show their Books.
And now you want your weapons of defense,
How have you any hope to be delivered?
This comes, because you have no better stay,
But fall asleep, when you should watch and pray.
LEIR: My friend, thou seemst to be a proper man.
MESS: Sblood, how the old slave claws me by the elbow!
He thinks, belike, to scape by scaping thus. … [19.80]
PERILLUS: And it may be, are in some need of money.
MESS: That to be false, behold my evidence. [Shows his purses.]
LEIR: If that I have will do thee any good,
I give it thee, even with a right good will. [Take it.]
PERILLUS: Here, take mine too, & wish with all my heart,
To do thee pleasure, it were twice as much.
Take his, and weigh them both in his hands.
MESS: I’ll none of them, they are too light for me.
Puts them in his pocket.
LEIR: Why then farewell: and if thou have occasion,
In anything, to use me to the Queen,
‘Tis like enough that I can pleasure thee. … [19.90]
They proffer to go.
MESS: Do you hear, do you hear, sir?
If I had occasion to use you to the Queen,
Would you do one thing for me that I should ask?
LEIR: Aye, anything that lies within my power.
Here is my hand upon it, so farewell. Proffer to go.
MESS: Hear you sir, hear you? pray, a word with you.
Me thinks, a comely honest ancient man
Should not dissemble with one for a vantage.
I know, when I shall come to try this gear,
You will recant from all that you have said. … [19.100]
PERILLUS: Mistrust not him, but try him when thou wilt:
He is her father, therefore may do much.
MESS: I know he is, and therefore mean to try him:
You are his friend too, I must try you both.
AMB: (sic) Prithy do, prithy do. Proffer to go out.
MESS: Stay gray-beards then, and prove men of your words:
The Queen hath tied me by a solemn oath,
Here in this place to see you both dispatched:
Now for the safeguard of my conscience,
Do me the pleasure for to kill yourselves: … [19.110]
So shall you save me labor for to do it,
And prove yourselves true old men of your words.
And here I vow in sight of all the world,
I ne’re will trouble you whilst I live again.
LEIR: Affright us not with terror, good my friend,
Nor strike such fear into our aged hearts.
Play not the Cat, which dallieth with the mouse;
And on a sudden maketh her a prey:
But if thou art marked for the man of death
To me and to my Damien, tell me plain, … [19.120]
That we may be prepared for the stroke,
And make ourselves fit for the world to come.
MESS: I am the last of any mortal race,
That ere your eyes are likely to behold,
And hither sent of purpose to this place,
To give a final period to your days,
Which are so wicked, and have lived so long,
That your own children seek to short your life.
LEIR: Camst thou from France, of purpose to do this?
MESS: From France? zoons, do I look like a Frenchman? … [19.130]
Sure I have not mine own face on; somebody hath changed
faces with me, and I know not of it: But I am sure, my apparel
is all English. Sirra, what meanest thou to ask that question?
I could spoil the fashion of this face for anger. A French face!
LEIR: Because my daughter, whom I have offended,
And at whose hands I have deserved as ill,
As ever any father did of child,
Is Queen of France, no thanks at all to me,
But unto God, who my injustice see.
If it be so, that she doth seek revenge, … [19.140]
As with good reason she may justly do,
I will most willingly resign my life,
A sacrifice to mitigate her ire:
I never will entreat thee to forgive,
Because I am unworthy for to live.
Therefore speak soon, & I will soon make speed:
Whether Cordella willed thee do this deed?
MESS: As I am a perfect gentleman, thou speakst French to me:
I never heard Cordella’s name before,
Nor never was in France in all my life: … [19.150]
I never knew thou hadst a daughter there,
To whom thou didst prove so unkind a churl:
But thy own tongue declares that thou hast been
A vile old wretch, and full of heinous sin.
LEIR: Ah no, my friend, thou art deceived much:
For her except, whom I confess I wronged,
Through doting frenzy, and o’er-jealous love.
There lives not any under heaven’s bright eye,
That can convict me of impiety.
And therefore sure thou dost mistake the mark: … [19.160]
For I am in true peace with all the world.
MESS: You are the fitter for the King of heaven:
And therefore, for to rid thee of suspense,
Know thou, the Queens of Cambria and Cornwall,
Thy own two daughters, Gonorill and Ragan,
Appointed me to massacre thee here.
Why wouldst thou then persuade me, that thou art
In charity with all the world? but now
When thy own issue hold thee in such hate,
That they have hired me t’abridge thy fate, … [19.170]
Oh, fie upon such vile dissembling breath,
That would deceive, even at the point of death.
PERILLUS: Am I awake, or it is but a dream?
MESS: Fear nothing, man, thou art but in a dream,
And thou shalt never wake until doomsday,
By then, I hope, thou wilt have slept enough.
LEIR: Yet, gentle friend, grant one thing ere I die.
MESS: I’ll grant you anything, except your lives.
LEIR: Oh, but assure me by some certain token,
That my two daughters hired thee to this deed: … [19.180]
If I were once resolved of that, then I
Would wish no longer life, but crave to die.
MESS: That to be true, in sight of heaven I swear.
LEIR: Swear not by heaven, for fear of punishment:
The heavens are guiltless of such heinous acts.
MESS: I swear by earth, the mother of us all.
LEIR: Swear not by earth; for she abhors to bear
Such bastards, as are murderers of her sons.
MESS: Why then, by hell, and all the devils I swear.
LEIR: Swear not by hell; for that stands gaping wide, … [19.190]
To swallow thee, and if thou do this deed.
Thunder and lightning.
MESS: I would that word were in his belly again,
It hath frightened me even to the very heart:
This old man is some strong Magician:
His words have turned my mind from this exploit.
Then neither heaven, earth, nor hell be witness;
But let this paper witness for them all. [Shows Gonorill's letter.]
Shall I relent, or shall I prosecute?
Shall I resolve, or were I best recant?
I will not crack my credit with two Queens, … [19.200]
To whom I have already passed my word.
Oh, but my conscience for this act doth tell,
I get heaven’s hate, earth’s scorn, and pains of hell.
They bless themselves.
PERILLUS: Oh just Jehova, whose almighty power
Doth govern all things in this spacious world,
How canst thou suffer such outrageous acts
To be committed without just revenge?
O viperous generation and accurst,
To seek his blood, whose blood did make them first!
LEIR: Ah, my true friend in all extremity, … [19.210]
Let us submit us to the will of God:
Things past all sense, let us not seek to know;
It is God’s will, and therefore must be so.
My friend, I am prepared for the stroke:
Strike when thou wilt, and I forgive thee here,
Even from the very bottom of my heart.
MESS: But I am not prepared for to strike.
LEIR: Farewell, Perillus, even the truest friend,
That ever lived in adversity:
The latest kindness I’ll request of thee, … [19.220]
Is that thou go unto my daughter Cordella,
And carry her her father’s latest blessing:
Withal desire her, that she will forgive me;
For I have wronged her without any cause.
Now, Lord, receive me, for I come to thee,
And die, I hope, in perfect charity.
Dispatch, I pray thee, I have lived too long.
MESS: Aye, but you are unwise, to send an errand
By him that never meaneth to deliver it:
Why, he must go along with you to heaven: … [19.230]
It were not good you should go all alone.
LEIR: No doubt, he shall, when by the course of nature,
He must surrender up his due to death:
But that time shall not come, till God permit.
MESS: Nay, presently, to bear you company.
I have a Passport for him in my pocket,
Already sealed, and he must needs ride Post.
Show a bag of money.
LEIR: The letter which I read, imports not so,
It only toucheth me, no word of him.
MESS: Aye, but the Queen commands it must be so, … [19.240]
And I am paid for him, as well as you.
PERILLUS: I, who have born you company in life,
Most willingly will bear a share in death.
It skilleth not for me, my friend, a whit,
Nor for a hundred such as thou and I.
MESS: Mary, but it doth, sir, by your leave; your good days
are past: though it be no matter for you, tis a matter for me,
proper men are not so rife.
PERILLUS: Oh, but beware, how thou dost lay thy hand
Upon the high anointed of the Lord: … [19.250]
O, be advised ere thou dost begin:
Dispatch me straight, but meddle not with him.
LEIR: Friend, thy commission is to deal with me,
And I am he that hath deserved all:
The plot was laid to take away my life:
And here it is, I do entreat thee take it:
Yet for my sake, and as thou art a man,
Spare this my friend, that hither with me came:
I brought him forth, whereas he had not been,
But for good will to bear me company. … [19.260]
He left his friends, his country and his goods,
And came with me in most extremity.
Oh, if he should miscarry here and die,
Who is the cause of it, but only I?
MESS: Why that am I, let that ne’re trouble thee.
LEIR: O no, tis I. O, had I now to give thee
The monarchy of all the spacious world
To save his life, I would bestow it on thee:
But I have nothing but these tears and prayers,
And the submission of a bended knee. [Kneel.] … [19.270]
O, if all this to mercy move thy mind,
Spare him, in heaven thou shalt like mercy find.
MESS: I am as hard to be moved as another, and yet me
thinks the strength of their persuasions stirs me a little.
PERILLUS: My friend, if fear of the almighty power
Have power to move thee, we have said enough:
But if thy mind be movable with gold,
We have not presently to give it thee:
Yet to thyself thou mayst do greater good,
To keep thy hands still undefiled from blood: … [19.280]
For do but well consider with thyself,
When thou hast finished this outrageous act,
What horror still will haunt thee for the deed:
Think this again, that they which would incense
Thee for to be the Butcher of their father,
When it is done, for fear it should be known,
Would make a means to rid thee from the world:
Oh, then art thou for ever tied in chains
Of everlasting torments to endure,
Even in the hottest hole of grisly hell, … [19.290]
Such pains, as never mortal tongue can tell.
It thunders. He quakes, and lets fall the Dagger next to Perillus.
LEIR: O, heavens be thanked, he will spare my friend.
Now when thou wilt come make an end of me.
He lets fall the other dagger.
PERILLUS: Oh, happy sight! he means to save my Lord.
The King of heaven continue this good mind.
LEIR: Why stayst thou to do execution?
MESS: I am as willful as you for your life:
I will not do it, now you do entreat me.
PERILLUS: Ah, now I see thou hast some spark of grace.
MESS: Beshrew you for it, you have put it in me: … [19.300]
The parlosest old men, that ere I heard.
Well, to be flat, I’ll not meddle with you:
Here I found you, and here I’ll leave you:
If any ask you why the case so stands?
Say that your tongues were better than your hands.
PERILLUS: Farewell. If ever we together meet,
It shall go hard, but I will thee regreet.
Courage, my Lord, the worst is overpast;
Let us give thanks to God, and high us hence.
LEIR: Thou are deceived; for I am past the best, … [19.310]
And know not whither for to go from hence:
Death had been better welcome unto me,
Than longer life to add more misery.
PERILLUS: It were not good to return from whence we came,
Unto your daughter Ragan back again.
Now let us go to France, unto Cordella,
Your youngest daughter, doubtless she will succor you.
LEIR: Oh, how can I persuade myself of that,
Since the other two are quite devoid of love;
To whom I was so kind, as that my gifts, … [19.320]
Might make them love me, if ’twere nothing else?
PERILLUS: No worldly gifts, but grace from God on high,
Doth nourish virtue and true charity.
Remember well what words Cordella spake,
What time you asked her, how she loved your Grace.
She said, her love unto you was as much,
As ought a child to bear unto her father.
LEIR: But she did find, my love was not to her,
As should a father bear unto a child.
PERILLUS: That makes not her love to be any less, … [19.330]
If she do love you as a child should do:
You have tried two, try one more for my sake.
I’ll ne’re entreat you further trial make.
Remember well the dream you had of late,
And think what comfort it foretells to us.
LEIR: Come, truest friend, that ever man possessed,
O know thou counsel’st all things for the best:
If this third daughter play a kinder part,
It comes of God, and not of my desert. Exeunt.