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SCENE i. An Apartment in the Cenci Palace. LUCRET1A; to her enter BEATRice.
BEAtrice (She enters staggering, and speaks wildly).
Lucretia. My sweet child, You have no wound; 'tis only a cold dew That starts from your dear brow—Alas! alas! What has befallen
beatrice. How comes this hair undone? Its wandering strings must be what blind me so, And yet I tied it fast.—O, horrible! The pavement sinks under my feet! The walls Spin round! I see a woman weeping there, And standing calm and motionless, whilst I Slide giddily as the world reels—My God! The beautiful blue Heaven is fleck'd with blood' The sunshine on the floor is black ' The air Is changed to vapors such as the dead breathe In charnel-pits! Pah! I am choked! There creeps A clinging, black, contaminating mist About me—'tis substantial, heavy, thick. I cannot pluck it from me, for it glues My fingers and my limbs to one another, And eats into my sinews, and dissolves My flesh to a pollution, poisoning The subtle, pure, and inmost spirit of life! My God! I never knew what the mad felt Before; for I am mad beyond all doubt! [More wildly. No, I am dead! These putrefying limbs Shut round and sepulchre the panting soul Which would burst forth into the wandering air! [A pause. What hideous thought was that I had even now "Tis gone; and yet its burthen remains here O'er these dull eyes—upon this weary heart! O, world! O, life! O. day! O, misery:
LUCRETIA. What ails thee, my poor child? she answers not: Her spirit apprehends the sense of pain, But not its cause; suffering has dried away The source from which it sprung.—
BEATRice (franticly). Like parricide— Misery has kill'd its father: yet its father Never like mine—O, God! What thing am I?
Lucrur-TIA. My dearest child, what has your father done?
She is the madhouse nurse who tends on me:
[To Lucretia, in a slow, subdued voice.
Do you know,
I thought I was that wretched Beatrice
From hall to hall by the entangled hair;
LUCRETIA. Oh! My sweet child, know you—
Yet speak it not: For then if this be truth, that other too Must be a truth, a firm enduring truth, Link'd with each lasting circumstance of life, Never to change, never to pass away. Why so it is. This is the Cenci Palace; Thou art Lucretia; I am Beatrice. I have talk'd some wild words, but will no more. Mother, come near me: from this point of time, I am— [Her voice dies away faintly.
Lucreti.A. Alas! What has befallen thee, child? What has thy father done?
Am I not innocent 1 Is it my crime
Lucretia. He is a violent tyrant, surely, child: We know that death alone can make us free; His death or ours. But what can he have done Of deadlier outrage or worse injury? Thou art unlike thyself; thine eyes shoot forth A wandering and strange spirit. Speak to me: Unlock those pallid hands whose fingers twine With one another.
"I" is the restless life Tortured within them. If I try to speak I shall go mad. Ay, something must be done; What, yet I know not—something which shall make The thing that I have suffer'd but a shadow In the dread lightning which avenges it; Brief, rapid, irreversible, destroying The consequence of what it cannot cure. Some such thing is to be endured or done: When I know what, I shall be still and calm, And never any thing will move me more. But now!—Oh blood, which art my father's blood. Circling through these contaminated veins, If thou, pour'd forth on the polluted earth, |Could wash away the crime, and punishment
By which I suffer—no, that cannot be!
I hide them not.
What are the words which you would have me speak?
The peace of innocence;
Tillin your season you be called to heaven.
Beatrice. Ay, death— The punishment of crime. I pray thee, God, Let me not be bewilder'd while I judge. If I must live day after day, and keep These limbs, the unworthy temple of thy spirit, As a soul den from which what thou abhorrest May mock thee, unavenged—it shall not be ' Self-murder—no, that might be no escape, For thy decree yawns like a Hell between Our will and it:—Oh! in this mortal world There is no vindication and no law Which can adjudge and execute the doom Of that through which I suffer. Enter ORsiNo. (She approaches him solemnly). Welcome, Friend! I have to tell you that, since last we met, I have endured a wrong so great and strange, That neither life nor death can give me rest. Ask me not what it is, for there are deeds Which have no form, sufferings which have no tongue.
orsino. And what is he who has thus injured you?
beatrice. The man they call my father: a dread name.
orts INo. It cannot be— BEATRICE.
What it can be, or not, Forbear to think. It is, and it has been; Advise me how it shall not be again. I thought to die; but a religious awe Restrains me, and the dread lest death itself
Might be no refuge from the consciousness Of what is yet unexpiated. Oh, speak!
onsino. Accuse him of the deed, and let the law Avenge thee.
BEATRice. Oh, ice-hearted counsellor! If I could find a word that might make known The crime of my destroyer; and that done, My tongue should like a knife tear out the secret Which cankers my heart's core ; ay, lay all bare, So that my unpolluted fame should be With vilest gossips a stale-mouth'd story; A mock, a byword, an astonishment:— If this were done, which never shall be done, Think of the offender's gold, his dreaded hate, And the strange horror of the accuser's tale, Baffling belief, and overpowering speech; Scarce whisper'd, unimagnable, wrapt In hideous hints—Oh, most assured redress!
ORsino. You will endure it then 2
BEAT Rice. Endure?—Orsino, It seems your counsel is small profit. [Turns from him, and speaks half to herself. Ay, All must be suddenly resolved and done. What is this undistinguishable mist Of thoughts, which rise, like shadow after shadow, Darkening each other? orsino. Should the offender live? Triumph in his misdeed! and make, by use, His crime, whate'er it is, dreadful no doubt, Thine element; until thou mayest become Utterly lost; subdued even to the hue Of that which thou permittest ?
BEATRICE (to herself). Mighty Death! Thou double-visaged shadow ! Only judge! Rightfullest arbiter! [She retires absorbed in thought.
LUCRetia. If the lightning Of God has e'er descended to avenge—
Should mock with gold, opinion, law, and power?
ORSINo. Think not But that there is redress where there is wrong,
So we be bold enough to seize it.
LUCRETIA. How 7 If there were any way to make all sure, I know not—but I think it might be good To— orsi No. Why, his late outrage to Beatrice; For it is such, as I but faintly guess, As makes remorse dishonor, and leaves her Only one duty, how she may avenge: You, but one refuge from ills ill endured; Me, but one counsel— Lucretia. For we cannot hope That aid, or retribution, or resource Will arise thence, where every other one Might find them with less need.
(BEATRICE advances.) orsfoo. Then— Beatrice. Peace, Orsino' And, honor'd lady, while I speak, I pray That you put off, as garments overworn, Forbearance and respect, remorse and fear, And all the fit restraints of daily life, Which have been borne from childhood, but which now Would be a mockery to my holier plea. As I have said, I have endured a wrong, Which, though it be expressionless, is such As asks atonement; both for what is past, And lest I be reserved, day after day, To load with crimes an overburthen'd soul, And be—what ye can dream not. I have pray'd To God, and I have talk'd with my own heart, And have unravell'd my entangled will, And have at length determined what is right. Art thou my friend, Orsino False or true ! Pledge thy salvation ere I speak.
orsino. I swear To dedicate my cunning, and my strength, My silence, and whatever else is mine, To thy commands. Lucret I.A. You think we should devise His death? BEATRICE. And execute what is devised, And suddenly. We must be brief and bold. or SINo. And yet most cautious. Lucreti.A. For the jealous laws Would punish us with death and infamy For that which it became themselves to do. BEAtriCE. Be cautious as ye may, but prompt. Orsino, What are the means ? orsino. I know two dull, fierce outlaws, Who think man's spirit as a worm's, and they Would trample out, for any slight caprice, The meanest or the noblest life. This mood Is marketable here in Rome. They sell What we now want.
Lucretia. To-morrow before dawn, Cenci will take us to that lonely rock, Petrella, in the Apulian Apennines. If he arrive there— BEATRice. He must not arrive.
orsino. Will it be dark before you reach the tower?
LUCREtia. The sun will scarce be set.
Two miles on this side of the fort, the road
orsi No. Before you reach that bridge, make some excuse For spurring on your mules, or loitering Until— be ATRICEWhat sound is that?
LUCR etia. Hark! No, it cannot be a servant's step: It must be Cenci, unexpectedly Return'd–Make some excuse for being here.
BEATRICE (to ORsiNo, as she goes out). That step we hear approach must never pass The bridge of which we spoke. [Ereunt LUCRETIA and BEATRICE
orsino. What shall I do? Cenci must find me here, and I must bear The imperious inquisition of his looks As to what brought me hither: let me mask Mine own in some inane and vacant smile.
Enter GIAcomo, in a hurried manner.
How! Have you ventured thither? know you then That Cenci is from home
Giacomo. I sought him here; And now must wait till he returns.
orsino. Great God
Weigh you the danger of this rashness?
Ay! Does my destroyer know his danger? We Are now no more, as once, parent and child, But man to man; the oppressor to the oppress'd; The slanderer to the slander'd ; foe to foe: He has cast Nature off, which was his shield, And Nature casts him off, who is her shame; And I spurn both. Is it a father's throat Which I will shake, and say, I ask not gold; I ask not happy years; nor memories Of tranquil childhood; nor home-shelter'd love; Though all these hast thou torn from me, and more; But only my fair fame; only one hoard Of peace, which I thought hidden from thy hate, Under the penury heap'd on me by thee, Or I will—God can understand and pardon: Why should I speak with man
G.I.A.COMO. Well, I will calmly tell you what he did. This old Francesco Cenci, as you know, Borrow'd the dowry of my wise from me, And then denied the loan; and left me so In poverty, the which I sought to mend By holding a poor office in the state. It had been promised to me, and already I bought new clothing for my ragged babes, And my wife smiled; and my heart knew repose; When Cenci's intercession, as I found, Conferr'd this office on a wretch, whom thus He paid for vilest service. I return'd With this ill news, and we sate sad together Solacing our despondency with tears Of such affection and unbroken faith As temper life's worst bitterness; when he As he is wont, came to upbraid and curse, Mocking our poverty, and telling us Such was God's scourge for disobedient sons. And then, that I might strike him dumb with shame, I spoke of my wife's dowry; but he coin'd A brief yet specious tale, how I had wasted The sum in secret riot; and he saw My wise was touch'd, and he went smiling forth. And when I knew the impression he had made, And felt my wise insult with silent scorn My ardent truth, and look averse and cold, I went forth too; but soon return'd again ; Yet not so soon but that my wife had taught My children her harsh thoughts, and they all cried, 'Give us clothes, father! Give us better food! What you in one night squander were enough For months!" I look'd, and saw that home was hell. And to that hell will I return no more Until mine enemy has render'd up Atonement, or, as he gave life to me, I will, reversing nature's law—
GIACOMO. What outrage 7 ORSIN0.
That she speaks not, but you may Conceive such half conjectures as I do, From her fix'd paleness, and the lofty grief Of her stern brow bent on the idle air, And her severe unmodulated voice, Drowning both tenderness and dread ; and last From this ; that whilst her stepmother and I, Bewilder'd in our horror, talk'd together With obscure hints; both self-misunderstood And darkly guessing, stumbling, in our talk, Over the truth, and yet to its revenge, She interrupted us, and with a look Which told before she spoke it, he must die.
GIA COMO. It is enough. My doubts are well appeased; There is a higher reason for the act Than mine; there is a holier judge than me, A more unblamed avenger. Beatrice, Who in the gentleness of thy sweet youth Hast never trodden on a worm, or bruised A living flower, but thou hast pitied it With needless tears! Fair sister, thou in whom Men wonder'd how such loveliness and wisdom Did not destroy each other! Is there made Ravage of thee! O heart, I ask no more Justification' Shall I wait, Orsino, Till he return, and stab him at the door?
orsi No. Not so; some accident might interpose To rescue him from what is now most sure ; And you are unprovided where to fly, How to excuse or to conceal. Nay, listen: All is contrived; success is so assured That—
BEATRICE. "Tis my brother's voice! Ye know me not?
Giaco Mio. My sister, my lost sister!
BEATriCE. Lost indeed! I see Orsino has talk'd with you, and That you conjecture things too horrible To speak, yet far less than the truth. Now, stay not, He might return: yet kiss me; I shall know That then thou hast consented to his death.
Farewell, farewell? Let piety to God,
Brotherly love, justice and clemency,
And all things that make tender hardest hearts,
Make thine hard, brother. Answer not—farewell. [Ereunt severally.
SCENE II. A mean apartment in GIAcomo's house. Giacomo, alone.
GIACOMO. "Tis midnight, and Orsino comes not yet. - [Thunder, and the sound of a storm. What can the everlasting elements Feel with a worm like man? If so, the shaft Of mercy-winged lightning would not fall On stones and trees. My wife and children sleep: They are now living in unmeaning dreams: But I must wake, still doubting is that deed Be just which was most necessary. O, Thou unreplenish'd lamp' whose narrow fire Is shaken by the wind, and on whose edge Devouring darkness hovers! Thou small flame, Which, as a dying pulse rises and falls, Still flickerest up and down, how very soon, Did I not seed thee, wouldst thou sail and be As thou hadst never been ' So wastes and sinks Even now, perhaps, the life that kindled mine: But that no power can fill with vital oil That broken lamp of flesh. Ha! 'tis the blood Which fed these veins that ebbs till all is cold: It is the form that moulded mine that sinks Into the white and yellow spasms of death: It is the soul by which mine was array'd In God's immortal likeness which now stands Naked before Heaven's judgment-seat! [A bell strikes. One: Two! The hours crawl on ; and when my hairs are white My son will then perhaps be waiting thus, Tortured between just hate and vain remorse; Chiding the tardy messenger of news Like those which I expect. I almost wish He be not dead, although my wrongs are great; Yet—'tis Orsino's step— Enter ORsiNo. Speak! Orsino. I am come To say he has escaped. GIACOMO. Escaped! orsino. And safe Within Petrella. He pass'd by the spot Appointed for the deed an hour too soon.
Are we the fools of such contingencies 1
thunder, Which seem'd to howl his knell, is the loud laughter With which Heaven mocks our weakness! I hence.
forth Will ne'er repent of aught design'd or done But my repentance.
Why, what need of this?
Giacomo (lighting the lamp).
And yet once quench'd I cannot thus relume
ORsino. Once gone, You cannot now recall your sister's peace; Your own extinguish'd years of youth and hope; Nor your wife's bitter words; nor all the taunts Which, from the prosperous, weak misfortune takes; Nor your dead mother; nor—
GIACOMO. O, speak no more! I am resolved, although this very hand Must quench the life that animated it
ORsino. There is no need of that. Listen: you know Olimpio, the castellan of Petrella In old Colonna's time; him whom your father Degraded from his post And Marzio, That desperate wretch, whom he deprived last year Of a reward of blood, well earn'd and due
Giacomo. I knew Olimpio; and they say he hated Old Cenci so, that in his silent rage His lips grew white only to see him pass. Of Marzio I know nothing. Orsino.
Marzio's hate Matches Olimpio's. I have sent these men, But in your name, and as at your request, To talk with Beatrice and Lucretia.
GIACOMo. Only to talk! Orsino. The moments, which even now Pass onward to to-morrow's midnight hour, May memorize their flight with death; ere then They must have talk'd, and may perhaps have done. And made an end. Giacomo.
Listen! what sound is that? orsino. The house-dog moans, and the beams crack: naught else. GIA Como.
It is my wife complaining in her sleep:
Orsino. Whilst he
Who truly took it from them, and who fills