The Brides’ Tragedy, Act V

SCENE I.

A room in Mordred’s cottage.

The dead FLORIBEL laid upon a couch. LENORA and Boy.

Len.
Why dost thou weep, thou little churl?

Boy.
Alas!
I need not say.

Len.
Boy, boy; thou’rt wicked; thou wouldst have me think
I have no Floribel, but thou shalt see
How I will make her live.
It is the morning,
And she has risen to tend her favourite flowers,
And, wearied with the toil, leans o’er her seat
In silent languor. Now I will steal in,
Softly: perchance she sleeps. It’s plain she hears not,
Or she would leap all-smiling to my arms;
I wish dear Mordred were awake to see
How the sweet girl will start and welcome me,
At my first speaking: but I’ll wait awhile,
And save the pleasure. Ah! thou pretty silence,
I know thou’rt thinking what a happy cot
‘Twill be when our loved patient is quite well.
Yes, you shall take him his first walk; he’ll lean
Upon that arm, and you shall show the plants
New set in the garden, and the grassy path
Down to the church.
Now I will stand behind her,
So,—she must drop her head upon my bosom,
As she looks up. Good-morrow to thee, sweet;
Now for her gentle cry; she’s turning round.
No—for she wont seem startled, but pretend
To have heard my coming. Why art thou so slow?
Sweet little wag, I know thou’rt not asleep.
Soft! ‘Tis the swiftness of my thought outruns
Her proper motions. I’ve this instant spoken,
The air has scarcely yet ta’en up my words;
May be she hears not. But I did not speak;
‘Twas only thought, or whispered. Child, good-morrow;
Yes, she hears that, but will not stir even yet.
I’ll not be frightened, for she surely hears;
Though, if I had not seen her garments move,
And caught the tiny echo of her breath,
‘Twere dreadful. Speak, I pray thee, Floribel,
Speak to thy mother; do but whisper “ay;”
Well, well, I will not press her; I am sure
She has the welcome news of some good fortune,
And hoards the telling till her father comes;
Perhaps she’s found the fruit he coveted
Last night. Ah! she half laughed. I’ve guessed it then;
Come tell me, I’ll be secret. Nay, if you mock me,
I must be very angry till you speak.
Now this is silly; some of those young boys
Have dressed the cushions with her clothes in sport.
‘Tis very like her. I could make this image
Act all her greetings; she shall bow her head,
“Good-morrow mother;” and her smiling face
Falls on my neck.—Oh, heaven, ’tis she indeed!
I know it all—don’t tell me.

SCENE II.

The interior of a prison.

HESPERUS alone.

Hesp.
Hark! Time’s old iron voice already counts
The steps unto the after-world, o’er which
Sleep in her arms hath carried man to-night;
And all it wakes to business or to joy,
Save one; and, mingled with its solemn tone,
I heard the grating gates of hell expand—
Oh! house of agony,
I feel thy scorching flames already near.
Where shall I ‘scape? Is there no hiding place?
Spirit, that guidest the sun, look round this ball,
And through the windows of deep ocean’s vault;
Is there no nook just big enough for me?
Or, when I’m dead, can I not pass my soul
For common air, and shroud me in some cloud?
But then the earth will moulder, clouds evanish;
So Hell, I must unto thee, darksome vale;
For dared I hope, I could not wish, Elysium:
There should I meet the frowns of Floribel;
My father would be there:—black gulph of anguish,
Thou art far better than such paradise.
Why did they teach me there is such a place?
The pang of misery is there; I know
There is a land of bliss, and am not in it;
This, this outstings your lashes, torturers;
He has no lack of punishment who feels it.

Enter Jailor.

Oh! speak not for a moment, speak not, sir,
I know thine errand well; so tell it not.
But let me shut mine eyes, and think a little
That I am what I was. Ay, there he sits,
My good old sire, with his large eye of love.
How well it smiles upon that lovely maid,
A beauteous one, indeed; and yet, they say,
She died most cruelly. Oh! tell me something,
Drive out these dreams.

Jail.
Prisoner, prepare for death.

[Exit.

Hesp.
Death! Death! What’s death? I cannot think.

Enter LENORA.

Who art thou?

Len.
Ha! knowest thou not the wretch thou’st made Lenora?
Alone I’ve found thee, villain.

Hesp.
Not alone;
Oh! not alone: the world hath burst its ribs,
And let out all the demons in the pit;
Thick; thick they throng: I cannot breathe for them;
The hounds of Lucifer are feeding on me,
Yet I endure; Remorse and Conscience too,
Stirring the dying embers of my heart,
Which Passion hath burnt out, like midnight gossips
Sit idly chattering of the injured dead;
But thou’rt the last and worst; I hoped to hide
Beneath the turf from thee.

Len.
Thou shalt not leave me; stand and hear my curse,—
Oh such a curse! I learned it from a voice
That wandered ‘mid the damned: it burns my tongue,
Listen, wretch, listen;
Thus, thus I curse thee…….No I do revoke it,
My pardon be upon you for your deeds;
Though thou didst stab me through my Floribel,
I think thou once didst love her; didst thou not?

Hesp.
With my whole soul, as now I worship her.

Len.
Alas! say no; I wish thou’dst break my heart;
Now, pr’ythee do; I’ll bless thee for’t again.

Hesp.
What! is it stubborn yet? Then thou canst teach me
How to bear misery—but I need it not,
They’ve dug my grave.

Len.
But, while you still are living,
What say you to some frolic merriment?
There are two grassy mounds beside the church,
My husband and my daughter; let us go
And sit beside them, and learn silence there;
Even with such guests we’ll hold our revelry
O’er bitter recollections: there’s no anguish,
No fear, no sorrow, no calamity,
In the deathful catalogue of human pains,
But we will jest upon’t, and laugh and sing:
Let pitiful wretches whine for consolation,
Thank heaven we despair.

Enter Guards.

Hesp.
See you these men?
They bid me to a strange solemnity.

Len.
Must thou be gone?

Hesp.
I must, alas! for ever.
Live and be blessed, mother of Floribel.

[Exit with Guards.

Len.
Farewell; farewell. They drag him to the scaffold,
My son, the husband of my Floribel:
They shall not slaughter him upon the block,
And to the cursing multitude hold up
The blackened features which she loved; they shall not.

[Exit.

SCENE III.

An apartment in Orlando’s palace.

OLIVIA, VIOLETTA, and Attendants.

Oliv.
Sing me that strain, my gentle Violet,
Which erst we used, in sport and mockery
Of grief, beneath the willow shade at eve
To chaunt together; ’twill allay my woes.

SONG, by two voices

First Voice.
Who is the baby, that doth lie
Beneath the silken canopy
Of thy blue eye?

Second.
It is young Sorrow, laid asleep
In the crystal-deep.

Both.
Let us sing his lullaby,
Heigho! a sob and a sigh.

First Voice.
What sound is that, so soft, so clear,
Harmonious as a bubbled tear
Bursting, we hear?

Second.
It is young Sorrow, slumber breaking,
Suddenly awaking.

Both.
Let us sing his lullaby,
Heigho! a sob and a sigh.

Oliv.
‘Tis well: you must not weep; ’twill spoil your voices,
And I shall need them soon.

Viol.
For what, Olivia?
You were not wont to prize our simple skill
Erewhile so highly: what will please you most?
What lay of chivalry, or rural sport,
Or shepherd love, shall we prepare you next?

Oliv.
My dirge: I shall not tax your music else.
It must be: wherefore weep?

Viol.
I cannot help it,
When you converse so mournfully of death;
You must forgive me.

Oliv.
Death! thou silly girl,
There’s no such thing; ’tis but a goblin word,
Which bad men conjure from their reeking sins
To haunt their slumbers; ’tis a life indeed.
These bodies are the vile and drossy seeds,
Whence, placed again within their kindred earth,
Springs Immortality, the glorious plant
Branching above the skies. What is there here
To shrink from? Though your idle legends tell
How cruelly he treats the prostrate world;
Yet, unto me, this shadowy potentate
Comes soft and soothing as an infant’s sleep,
And kisses out my being. Violetta,
Dost thou regard my wish, perhaps the last?

Viol.
Oh! madam, can you doubt it? We have lived
Together ever since our little feet
Were guided on the path, and thence have shared
Habits and thoughts. Have I in all that time,
That long companionship, e’er thwarted thee?
Why dost thou ask me then? Indeed I know not
Thy wishes from my own, but to prefer them.
Then tell me what you will; if its performance
But occupy the portion of a minute,
‘Twill be a happy one, for which I thank you.

Oliv.
Thine hand upon it; I believe thy promise.
When I am gone you must not weep for me,
But bring your books, your paintings, and your flowers,
And sit upon my grassy monument
In the dewy twilight, when they say souls come
Walking the palpable gross world of man,
And I will waft the sweetest odours o’er you;
I’ll shower down acorn-cups of spicy rain
Upon your couch, and twine the boughs above;
Then, if you sing, I’ll take up Echo’s part,
And from a far-off bower give back the ends
Of some remembered airy melody;
Then, if you draw, I’ll breathe upon the banks
And freshen up the flowers, and send the birds,
Stammering their madrigals, across your path;
Then, if you read, I’ll tune the rivulets,
I’ll teach the neighbouring shrubs to fan your temples,
And drive sad thoughts and fevers from your breast;
But, if you sleep, I’ll watch your truant sense,
And meet it in the fairy land of dreams
With my lap full of blessings; ’twill, methinks,
Be passing pleasant, so don’t weep for me.

Viol.
I fear, Olivia, I’m a selfish creature,
These tears drop not for you, but for myself;
‘Tis not that death will have you, but that I
Shall be a lone lost thing without your love.

Oliv.
My love will spread its wings for ever near you;
Each gentler, nobler, and diviner thought
Will be my prompting.

Viol.
Well, I’ll bear it then,
And even persuade myself this intercourse
Of disembodied minds is no conjecture,
No fiction of romance. The summer sun
Will find me on the sod that covers you,
Among the blossoms; I’ll try not to cry;
And when I hear a rustle in the grass,
Or the soft leaves come kissing my bent arm,
I shall not lay it to the empty air,
But think I know thy utterance in the noises
That answer me, and see thy rosy fingers
Dimpling the brooks.

Oliv.
Thou wilt be cheerful, then?

Viol.
Yes, with this hope,
That when, some silent, melancholy night,
I’ve sobbed myself to sleep over your picture,
Or some memorial of your former kindness,
I shall awaken to ethereal music,
And find myself a spirit with Olivia.

[A bell tolls.

Oliv.
Whose summons loads the gale with mournful sound?

Attend.
Dear lady?

Oliv.
I ask who’s dead or who’s to die:
You need not tell me: I remember now,—
It was a thought I wished to keep away.
My love, my Hesperus, unto me thou wert
The gentlest and the kindest; sudden madness
Must have inspired this deed; and why do I,
Wife of the dying, tarry in the world?
I feel already dissolution’s work;
A languor creeps through all my torpid veins;
Support me, maidens.

Viol.
Come unto your couch;
Sleep will recruit thee.

Oliv.
Yes; the breathless sleep;
Come and pray round me, as I fade away;
My life already oozes from my lips,
And with that bell’s last sound I shall expire.

[Exeunt.

SCENE IV.

The place of Execution.

HESPERUS guarded, HUBERT, ORLANDO, Citizens, &c.

Hesp.
Now in the scornful silence of your features
I see my hated self; my friends, I was
The pestilence you think of; but to-night
Angelic ministers have been with me,
And by the holy communings of conscience
Wrought a most blessed change; my soul has wept
And lain among the thorns of penitence;
I ask, (and you will not refuse the boon
To one who cannot crave again) forgiveness
For all that in the noontide of my crimes,
Against you, even in thought, I have committed.

Orl.
And we rejoice to grant it; and if prayers,
In meek sincerity outpoured, avail,
You have them from our hearts.

Hesp.
Thy sister’s soul spake in those words, Orlando;
A wretch’s blessing for them. I’m as one
In some lone watch-tower on the deep, awakened
From soothing visions of the home he loves;
Trembling he hears the wrathful billows whoop,
And feels the little chamber of his life
Torn from its vale of clouds, and, as it falls,
In his midway to fate, beholds the gleam
Of blazing ships, some swallowed by the waves,
Some, pregnant with mock thunder, tossed abroad,
With mangled carcases, among the winds;
And the black sepulchre of ocean, choaked
With multitudinous dead; then shrinks from pangs,
Unknown but destined. All I know of death
Is, that ’twill come. I have seen many die
Upon the battle field, and watched their lips
At the final breath, pausing in doubt to hear
If they were gone. I have marked oftentimes
Their pale eyes fading in the last blue twilight;
But none could speak the burning agony,
None told his feelings. I ne’er dreamed I died,
Else might I guess the torture that attends it.
But men unhurt have lost their several senses,
Grown deaf, and blind, and dumb without a pang,
And surely these are members of the soul,
And, when they fail, man tastes a partial death:
Besides our minds share not corporeal sleep,
But go among the past and future, or perhaps
Inspire another in some waking world,
And there’s another death.
I will not fear; why do ye linger, guards?
I’ve flung my doubts away; my blood grows wild.

Hub.
The hour appointed is not yet arrived,
Some moments we must wait; I pray you, patience.

Enter LORD ERNEST in the dress of a peasant, followed by CLAUDIO.

Clau.
My lord, where dost thou hurry?

L. Ern.
To Despair;
Away! I know thee not. Henceforth I’ll live
Those bitter days that Providence decrees me,
In toil and poverty. Oh son, loved son,
I come to give thee my last tear and blessing;
Thou wilt not curse the old, sad wretch again?

Hesp.
(Falling upon the ground and covering himself with the
loose earth.)
Oh trample me to dust.

L. Ern.
(Lying down beside him) My own dear child;
Ay, we will lie thus sweetly in the grave,
(The wind will not awake us, nor the rain,)
Thou and thy mother and myself; but I,
Alas! I have some tearful years to come,
Without a son to weep along with me.

Hesp.
Father, dear father!
And wilt thou pray for me? Oh, no! thou canst not,
Thou must forget or hate me.

L. Ern.
Sirs, have pity;
Let him not use me thus. Hesperus, Hesperus,
Thou’rt going to thy mother; tell her, son,
My heart will soon be broken; so prepare
To have me with you. Bless thee, boy, good night.

[Exit.

Hesp.
My father, heaven will curse thee if I bless;
But I shall die the better for this meeting.

[Kneeling.

Oh, Floribel! fair martyr of my fury,
Oh, thou blessed saint! look down and see thy vengeance,
And, if thy injured nature still can pity,
Whisper some comfort to my soul. ‘Tis done;
I feel an airy kiss upon my cheek;
It is her breath; she hears me; she descends;
Her spirit is around me. Now I’ll die.

Enter LENORA.

Len.
Where’s Hesperus? Not gone? Speak to me loud,
I hear not for the beating of my heart.
We’re not both dead? Say thou hast ‘scaped the headsman,
Nor felt the severing steel fall through thy neck.

Hesp.
I stay one moment for the signal here,
The next I am no more.

Len.
Then we have conquered.
Friend, leave us: I would speak a private word
Unto thy prisoner. Look upon these flowers;
They grew upon the grave of Floribel,
And, when I pulled them, through their tendrils blew
A sweet soft music, like an angel’s voice.
Ah! there’s her eye’s dear blue; the blushing down
Of her ripe cheek in yonder rose; and there
In that pale bud, the blossom of her brow,
Her pitiful round tear; here are all colours
That bloomed the fairest in her heavenly face;
Is’t not her breath?

Hesp.
(smelling them.) It falls upon my soul
Like an unearthly sense.

Len.
And so it should,
For it is Death thou’st quaffed:
I steeped the plants in a magician’s potion,
More deadly than the scum of Pluto’s pool,
Or the infernal brewage that goes round
From lip to lip at wizards’ mysteries;
One drop of it, poured in a city conduit,
Would ravage wider than a year of plague;
It brings death swifter than the lightning shaft.

Hesp.
‘Tis true: I feel it gnawing at my heart,
And my veins boil as though with molten lead.
How shall I thank thee for this last, best gift?

Len.
What is it rushes burning through my mouth?
Oh! my heart’s melted.—Let me sit awhile.

Hub.
Hear ye the chime? Prisoner, we must be gone;
Already should the sentence be performed.

Hesp.
On! I am past your power.
(To Lenora.) How farest thou now?

Len.
Oh! come with me, and view
These banks of stars, these rainbow-girt pavilions,
These rivulets of music—hark, hark, hark!
And here are winged maidens floating round,
With smiles and welcomes; this bright beaming seraph
I should remember; is it not—my daughter?

[Dies.

Hesp.
I see not those; but the whole earth’s in motion;
I cannot stem the billows; now they roll:
And what’s this deluge? Ah! Infernal flames!

[Falls.

Hub.
Guards, lift him up.

Hesp.
The bloody hunters and their dogs! Avaunt—
Tread down these serpents’ heads. Come hither, Murder;
Why dost thou growl at me? Ungrateful hound!
Not know thy master? Tear him off! Help! Mercy!
Down with your fiery fangs!—I’m not dead yet.

[Dies.

THE END.

[Kelsall, 1851]