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Never inflicted on their meanest slave
What these endure : shall they have no protection?
Why, if they would petition to the Pope
I see not how he could refuse it-yet
He holds it of most dangerous example
In aught to weaken the paternal power,
Being, as 't were, the shadow of his own.
I pray you now excuse me. I have business
That will not bear delay.
Have the petition; wherefore not present it?
I have presented it, and backed it with
My earnest prayers, and urgent interest;
It was return'd unanswer'd. I doubt not
But that the strange and execrable deeds
Alleged in it-in truth they might well baffle
Any belief-have turn'd the Pope's displeasure
Upon the accusers from the criminal:
So I should guess from what Camillo said.
My friend, that palace-walking devil Gold
Has whispered silence to his Holiness:
And we are left, as scorpions ringed with fire.
What should we do but strike ourselves to death?
For he who is our murderous persecutor
Is shielded by a father's holy name,
Or I would-
What? Fear not to speak your thought.
Words are but holy as the deeds they cover:
A priest who has forsworn the God he serves;
A judge who makes the truth weep at his decree;
A friend who should weave counsel, as I now,
But as the mantle of some selfish guile;
A father who is all a tyrant seems,
Were the profaner for his sacred name.
I would that to my own suspected self
I could address a word so full of peace.
Farewell!-Be your thoughts better or more bold.
I had disposed the Cardinal Camillo
To feed his hope with cold encouragement:
It fortunately serves my close designs
That 't is a trick of this same family
To analyse their own and, other minds.
Such self-anatomy shall teach the will
Dangerous secrets: for it tempts our powers,
Knowing what must be thought, and may be done,
Into the depth of darkest purposes:
So Cenci fell into the pit; even I,
Since Beatrice unveil'd me to myself,
And made me shrink from what I cannot shun,
Show a poor figure to my own esteem,
To which I grow half reconciled. I'll do
As little mischief as I can; that thought
Shall fee the accuser conscience. [After a pause.
Now what harm
If Cenci should be murdered?-Yet, if murdered,
Wherefore by me? And what if I could take
The profit, yet omit the sin and peril
In such an action? Of all earthly things
I fear a man whose blows outspeed his words;
And such is Cenci: and while Cenci lives
His daughter's dowry were a secret grave
If a priest wins her.-Oh, fair Beatrice!
[Stops abruptly. Would that I loved thee not, or loving thee
Could but despise danger and gold and all,
That frowns between my wish and its effect,
Or smiles beyond it! There is no escape-
Her bright form kneels beside me at the altar,
And follows me to the resort of men,
And fills my slumber with tumultuous dreams,
So when I wake my blood seems liquid fire;
And if I strike my damp and dizzy head
My hot palm scorches it: her very name,
But spoken by a stranger, makes my heart
Sicken and pant; and thus unprofitably
I clasp the phantom of unfelt delights,
Till weak imagination half possesses
The self-created shadow, Yet much longer
Will I not nurse this life of feverous hours:
From the unravell'd hopes of Giacomo
I must work out my own dear purposes.
Ask me not what I think; the unwilling brain
Feigns often what it would not; and we trust
Imagination with such phantasies
As the tongue dares not fashion into words,
Which have no words, their horror makes them dim
To the mind's eye-My heart denies itself
To think what you demand.
Is as the inmost cave of our own mind
Where we sit shut from the wide gaze of day,
And from the all-communicating air.
You look what I suspected.
I am as one lost in a midnight wood,
Who dares not ask some harmless passenger
The path across the wilderness, lest he,
As my thoughts are, should be-a murderer.
I know you are my friend, and all I dare
Speak to my soul that will I trust with thee.
But now my heart is heavy and would take
Lone counsel from a night of sleepless care.
Pardon that I say farewell-farewell!
I see, as from a tower, the end of all:
Her father dead; her brother bound to me
By a dark secret, surer than the grave;
Her mother scared and unexpostulating,
From the dread manner of her wish achieved:
And she!-Once more take courage, my faint heart;
What dares a friendless maiden match'd with thee?
I have such foresight as assures success!
Some unbeheld divinity doth ever,
When dread events are near, stir up men's minds
To black suggestions; and he prospers best,
Not who becomes the instrument of ill,
But who can flatter the dark spirit, that makes
Its empire and its prey of other hearts
Till it become his slave-as I will do.
An Apartment in the Cenci Palace.
LUCRETIA; to her enter BEATRICE.
BEATRICE (She enters staggering, and speaks wildly).
Reach me that handkerchief!-My brain is hurt;
My eyes are full of blood; just wipe them for me-
I see but indistinctly.-
My sweet child,
You have no wound; 't is only a cold dew
That starts from your dear brow-Alas! alas!
What has befallen?
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 vapours such as the dead breathe
In charnel-pits! Pah! I am choked! There creeps
A clinging, black, contaminating mist
About me-'t is 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!
From hall to hall by the entangled hair;
At others, pens up naked in damp cells
Where scaly reptiles crawl, and starves her there,
Till she will eat strange flesh. This woful story
So did I overact-in my sick dreams,
That I imagined-no, it cannot be!
Horrible things have been in this wild world,
Prodigious mixtures, and confusions strange
Of good and ill; and worse have been conceived
Than ever there was found a heart to do.
But never fancy imaged such a deed
[Pauses, suddenly recollecting herself.
Who art thou? Swear to me, ere I die
With fearful expectation, that indeed
Thou art not what thou seemest-Mother!
That one with white hair, and imperious brow,
Who tortured me from my forgotten years,
[More wildly. As parents only dare, should call himself
Misery has kill'd its father; yet its father
Never like mine-O, God! What thing am I?
My dearest child, what has your father done?
Who art thou, questioner? I have no father.
She is the madhouse nurse who tends on me :
It is a piteous office.
My father, yet should be!--Oh, what am I?
What name, what place, what memory shall be mine?
What retrospects, outliving even despair?
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.
"T is the restless life
Tortured within them. If I try to speak
I shall go mad. Aye, 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.
[TO LUCRETIA, in a slow, subdued voice. But now!-Oh blood, which art my father's blood,
Do you know,
I thought I was that wretched Beatrice
Men speak of, whom her father sometimes hales
Circling through these contaminated veins
If thou, poured forth on the polluted earth,
Could wash away the crime, and punishment
Aye, deathThe 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 foul 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.
(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 or death can give me rest.
Ask me not what it is, for there are deeds
Might be no refuge from the consciousness Of what is yet unexpiated. Oh, speak!
Accuse him of the deed, and let the law Avenge thee.
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; aye, lay all bare So that my unpolluted fame should be With vilest gossips a stale-mouthed story; A mock, a bye-word, 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, unimaginable, wrapt In hideous hints-Oh, most assured redress!
Which have no form, sufferings which have no tongue. Should mock with gold, opinion, law, and power?
And all the fit restraints of daily life,
Forbearance and respect, remorse and fear,
To-morrow before dawn,
Cenci will take us to that lonely rock,
Petrella, in the Apulian Appenines.
If he arrive there-
Will it be dark before you reach the tower?
The sun will scarce be set.
But I remember
Two miles on this side of the fort, the road
Crosses a deep ravine; 't is rough and narrow,
And winds with short turns down the precipice;
And in its depth there is a mighty rock,
Which has, from unimaginable years,
Sustain'd itself with terror and with toil
Over a gulf, and with the agony
With which it clings seems slowly coming down;
Even as a wretched soul hour after hour,
Clings to the mass of life; yet clinging, leans;
And leaning, makes more dark the dread abyss
In which it fears to fall: beneath this crag
Huge as despair, as if in weariness,
Which have been borne from childhood, but which now The melancholy mountain yawns-below,
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.
You hear but see not an impetuous torrent
Raging among the caverns, and a bridge
Crosses the chasm; and high above there grow,
With intersecting trunks, from crag to crag,
Cedars, and yews, and pines; whose tangled hair
Is matted in one solid roof of shade
By the dark ivy's twine. At noon-day here
"T is twilight and at sunset blackest night.
Before you reach that bridge make some excuse For spurring on your mules, or loitering Until
Hark! No, it cannot be a servant's step;
It must be Cenci, unexpectedly
Returned-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.
[Exeunt LUCRETIA and BEATRICE.
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 then you That Cenci is from home?
And now must wait till he returns.
Weigh you the danger of this rashness?
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
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?
Well, I will calmly tell you what he did.
This old Francesco Cenci, as you know,
Borrow'd the dowry of my wife 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.
That she speaks not, but you may
Conceive such half conjectures as I do,
Be calm, dear friend.. From her fixed 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 step-mother and I,
Bewilder'd in our horror, talked 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.
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 cur 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 wife was touch'd, and he went smiling forth.
And when I knew the impression he had made,
And felt my wife 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-
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?
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
"T is my brother's voice! You know me not?.
My sister, my lost sister!
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,
Ile might return: yet kiss me; I shall know
That then thou hast consented to his death.
Farewell, Farewell! Let piety to God,