jueves, enero 25, 2007


Act II

Scene I

An Apartment in the Cenci Palace.


Lucretia. Weep not, my gentle boy; he struck but me
Who have borne deeper wrongs. In truth, if he
Had killed me, he had done a kinder deed. 5
O, God Almighty, do thou look upon us,
We have no other friend but only thee!
Yet weep not; though I love you as my own,
I am not your true mother.
Bernardo. O more, more, 10
Than ever mother was to any child,
That have you been to me! Had he not been
My father, do you think that I should weep!
Lucretia. Alas! Poor boy, what else couldst thou have done?

Beatrice (in a hurried voice). Did he pass this way? Have you seen him, brother?
Ah! No, that is his step upon the stairs;
’Tis nearer now; his hand in on the door;
Mother, if I to thee have ever been
A duteous child, now save me! Thou, great God, 20
Whose image upon earth a father is,
Dost thou indeed abandon me? He comes:
The door is opening now; I see his face;
He frowns on others, but he smiles on me,
Even as he did after the feast last night. 25
Enter a Servant
Almighty God, how merciful thou art!
’Tis but Orsino’s servant.—Well, what news?
Servant. My master bids me say, the Holy Father
Has sent back your petition thus unopened. [Giving a paper. 30
And he demands at what hour ’twere secure
To visit you again?
Lucretia. At the Ave Mary. [Exit Servant.
So daughter, our last hope has failed; Ah me!
How pale you look; you tremble, and you stand 35
Wrapped in some fixed and fearful meditation,
As if one thought were over strong for you:
Your eyes have a chill glare; O, dearest child!
Are you gone mad? If not, pray speak to me.
Beatrice. You see I am not mad: I speak to you. 40
Lucretia. You talked of something that your father did
After that dreadful feast? Could it be worse
Than when he smiled, and cried, My sons are dead!
And every one looked in his neighbour’s face
To see if others were as white as he? 45
At the first word he spoke I felt the blood
Rush to my heart, and fell into a trance;
And when it passed I sat all weak and wild;
Whilst you alone stood up, and with strong words
Checked his unnatural pride; and I could see 50
The devil was rebuked that lives in him.
Until this hour thus have you ever stood
Between us and your father’s moody wrath
Like a protecting presence: your firm mind
Has been our only refuge and defence. 55
What can have thus subdued it? What can now
Have given you that cold melancholy look,
Succeeding to your unaccustomed fear?
Beatrice. What is it that you say? I was just thinking
’Twere better not to struggle any more. 60
Men, like my father, have been dark and bloody,
Yet never—Oh! Before worse comes of it
’Twere wise to die: it ends in that at last.
Lucretia. O talk not so, dear child! Tell me at once
What did your father do or say to you? 65
He stayed not after that accursèd feast
One moment in your chamber.—Speak to me.
Bernardo. O sister, sister, prithee, speak to us!
Beatrice (speaking very slowly with a forced calmness). It was one word, Mother, one little word;
One look, one smile. (Wildly.) Oh! He has trampled me 70
Under his feet, and made the blood stream down
My pallid cheeks. And he has given us all
Ditch water, and the fever-stricken flesh
Of buffaloes, and bade us eat or starve,
And we have eaten.—He has made me look 75
On my beloved Bernardo, when the rust
Of heavy chains has gangrened his sweet limbs,
And I have never yet despaired—but now!
What could I say? [Recovering herself.
Ah! No, ’tis nothing new. 80
The sufferings we all share have made me wild:
He only struck and cursed me as he passed;
He said, he looked, he did;—nothing at all
Beyond his wont, yet it disordered me.
Alas! I am forgetful of my duty, 85
I should preserve my senses for your sake.
Lucretia. Nay, Beatrice! have courage, my sweet girl,
If any one despairs it should be I
Who loved him once, and now must live with him
Till God in pity call for him or me. 90
For you may, like your sister, find some husband,
And smile, years hence, with children round your knees;
Whilst I, then dead, and all this hideous coil
Shall be remembered only as a dream.
Beatrice. Talk not to me, dear lady, of a husband. 95
Did you not nurse me when my mother died?
Did you not shield me and that dearest boy?
And had we any other friend but you
In infancy, with gentle words and looks,
To win our father not to murder us? 100
And shall I now desert you? May the ghost
Of my dead Mother plead against my soul
If I abandon her who filled the place
She left, with more, even, than a mother’s love!
Bernardo. And I am of my sister’s mind. Indeed 105
I would not leave you in this wretchedness,
Even though the Pope should make me free to live
In some blithe place, like others of my age,
With sports, and delicate food, and the fresh air.
O never think that I will leave you, Mother! 110
Lucretia. My dear, dear children!

Enter CENCI suddenly
Cenci. What, Beatrice here!
Come hither! [She shrinks back, and covers her face.
Nay, hide not your face, ’tis fair; 115
Look up! Why, yesternight you dared to look
With disobedient insolence upon me,
Bending a stern and an inquiring brow
On what I meant; whilst I then sought to hide
That which I came to tell you—but in vain. 120
Beatrice (wildly, staggering towards the door). O that the earth would gape! Hide me, O God!
Cenci. Then it was I whose inarticulate words
Fell from my lips, and who with tottering steps
Fled from your presence, as you now from mine.
Stay, I command you—from this day and hour 125
Never again, I think, with fearless eye,
And brow superior, and unaltered cheek,
And that lip made for tenderness or scorn,
Shalt thou strike dumb the meanest of mankind;
Me least of all. Now get thee to thy chamber! 130
Thou too, loathed image of thy cursed mother, [To BERNARDO.
Thy milky, meek face makes me sick with hate! [Exeunt BEATRICE and BERNARDO.
(Aside.) So much has past between us as must make
Me bold, her fearful.—’Tis an awful thing
To touch such mischief as I now conceive: 135
So men sit shivering on the dewy bank,
And try the chill stream with their feet; once in…
How the delighted spirit pants for joy!
Lucretia (advancing timidly towards him). O husband! Pray forgive poor Beatrice.
She meant not any ill. 140
Cenci. Nor you perhaps?
Nor that young imp, whom you have taught by rote
Parricide with his alphabet? Nor Giacomo?
Nor those two must unnatural sons, who stirred
Enmity up against me with the Pope? 145
Whom in one night merciful God cut off:
Innocent lambs! They thought not any ill.
You were not here conspiring? You said nothing
Of how I might be dungeoned as a madman;
Or be condemned to death for some offence, 150
And you would be the witness?—This failing,
How just it were to hire assassins, or
Put sudden poison in my evening drink?
Or smother me when overcome by wine?
Seeing we had no other judge but God, 155
And he had sentenced me, and there were none
But you to be the executioners
Of this decree enregistered in heaven?
Oh, no! You said not this?
Lucretia. So help me God, 160
I never thought the things you charge me with!
Cenci. If you dare speak that wicked lie again
I’ll kill you. What! It was not by your counsel
That Beatrice disturbed the feast last night?
You did not hope to stir some enemies 165
Against me, and escape, and laugh to scorn
What every nerve of you now trembles at?
You judged that men were bolder than they are;
Few dare to stand between their grave and me.
Lucretia. Look not so dreadfully! By my salvation 170
I knew not aught that Beatrice designed;
Nor do I think she designed any thing
Until she heard you talk of her dead brothers.
Cenci. Blaspheming liar! You are damned for his!
But I will take you where you may persuade 175
The stones you tread on to deliver you:
For men shall there be none but those who dare
All things—not question that which I command.
On Wednesday next I shall set out: you know
That savage rock, the Castle of Petrella: 180
’Tis safely walled, and moated round about:
Its dungeons underground, and its thick towers
Never told tales; though they have heard and seen
What might make dumb things speak.—Why do you linger?
Make speediest preparation for the journey! [Exit LUCRETIA. 185
The all-beholding sun yet shines; I hear
A busy stir of men about the streets;
I see the bright sky through the window panes:
It is a garish, broad, and peering day;
Loud, light, suspicious, full of eyes and ears, 190
And every little corner, nook, and hole
Is penetrated with the insolent light.
Come darkness! Yet, what is the day to me?
And wherefore should I wish for night, who do
A deed which shall confound both night and day? 195
’Tis she shall grope through a bewildering mist
Of horror: if there be a sun in heaven
She shall not dare to look upon its beams;
Nor feel its warmth. Let her then wish for night;
The act I think shall soon extinguish all 200
For me: I bear a darker deadlier gloom
Than the earth’s shade, or interlunar air,
Or constellations quenched in murkiest cloud,
In which I walk secure and unbeheld
Towards my purpose.—Would that it were done! [Exit. 205

Scene II

A Chamber in the Vatican.

Enter CAMILLO and GIACOMO, in conversation

Camillo. There is an obsolete and doubtful law
By which you might obtain a bare provision
Of food and clothing— 5
Giacomo. Nothing more? Alas!
Bare must be the provision which strict law
Awards, and aged, sullen avarice pays.
Why did my father not apprentice me
To some mechanic trade? I should have then 10
Been trained in no highborn necessities
Which I could meet not by my daily toil.
The eldest son of a rich nobleman
Is heir to all his incapacities;
He has wide wants, and narrow powers. If you, 15
Cardinal Camillo, were reduced at once
From thrice-driven beds of down, and delicate food,
An hundred servants, and six palaces,
To that which nature doth indeed require?—
Camillo. Nay, there is reason in your plea; ’twere hard. 20
Giacomo. ’Tis hard for a firm man to bear: but I
Have a dear wife, a lady of high birth,
Whose dowry in ill hour I lent my father
Without a bond or witness to the deed:
And children, who inherit her fine senses, 25
The fairest creatures in this breathing world;
And she and they reproach me not. Cardinal,
Do you not think the Pope would interpose
And stretch authority beyond the law?
Camillo. Though your peculiar case is hard, I know 30
The Pope will not divert the course of law.
After that impious feast the other night
I spoke with him, and urged him then to check
Your father’s cruel hand; he frowned and said,
“Children are disobedient, and they sting 35
Their father’s hearts to madness and despair,
Requiting years of care with contumely.
I pity the Count Cenci from my heart;
His outraged love perhaps awakened hate,
And thus he is exasperated to ill. 40
In the great war between the old and young
I, who have white hairs and a tottering body,
Will keep at least blameless neutrality.”

You, my good Lord Orsino, heard those words. 45
Orsino. What words?
Giacomo. Alas, repeat them not again!
There then is no redress for me, at least
None but that which I may achieve myself,
Since I am driven to the brink.—But, say, 50
My innocent sister and my only brother
Are dying underneath my father’s eye.
The memorable torturers of this land,
Galeaz Visconti, Borgia, Ezzelin,
Never inflicted on the meanest slave 55
What these endure; shall they have no protection?
Camillo. 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, 60
Being, as ’twere, the shadow of his own.
I pray you now excuse me. I have business
That will not bear delay. [Exit CAMILLO.
Giacomo. But you, Orsino,
Have the petition: wherefore not present it? 65
Orsino. I have presented it, and backed it with
My earnest prayers, and urgent interest;
It was returned unanswered. I doubt not
But that the strange and execrable deeds
Alleged in it—in truth they might well baffle 70
Any belief—have turned the Pope’s displeasure
Upon the accusers from the criminal:
So I should guess from what Camillo said.
Giacomo. My friend, that palace-walking devil Gold
Has whispered silence to his Holiness: 75
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— (Stops abruptly.) 80
Orsino. 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 Truth weep at his decree;
A friend who should weave counsel, as I now, 85
But as the mantle of some selfish guile;
A father who is all a tyrant seems,
Were the profaner for his sacred name.
Giacomo. Ask me not what I think; the unwilling brain
Feigns often what it would not; and we trust 90
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. 95
Orsino. But a friend’s bosom
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— 100
Giacomo. Spare me now!
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. 105
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 me, that I say farewell—farewell! 110
I would that to my own suspected self
I could address a word so full of peace.
Orsino. Farewell!—Be your thoughts better or more bold. [Exit GIACOMO.
I had disposed the Cardinal Camillo
To feed his hope with cold encouragement: 115
It fortunately serves my close designs
That ’tis 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, 120
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 unveiled me to myself,
And made me shrink from what I cannot shun, 125
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 130
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; 135
And such is Cenci: and while Cenci lives
His daughter’s dowry were a secret grave
If a priest wins her.—Oh, fair Beatrice!
Would that I loved thee not, or loving thee
Could but despise danger and gold and all 140
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. 145
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 150
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 unravelled hopes of Giacomo 155
I must work out my own dear purposes.
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 160
From the dread manner of her wish achieved:
And she!—Once more take courage my faint heart;
What dares a friendless maiden matched with thee?
I have such foresight as assures success:
Some unbeheld divinity doth ever, 165
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 170
Till it become his slave … as I will do. [Exit.


Scene I

An Apartment in the Cenci Palace.


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… 5
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? 10
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 15
Slide giddily as the world reels…. My God!
The beautiful blue heaven is flecked 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 20
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 25
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 30
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! 35
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… 40
Beatrice (frantically). Like Parricide…
Misery has killed its father: yet its father
Never like mine … O, God! What thing am I?
Lucretia. My dearest child, what has your father done?
Beatrice (doubtfully). Who art thou, questioner? I have no father. 45
(Aside.) She is the madhouse nurse who tends on me,
It is a piteous office.
(To Lucretia, in a slow, subdued voice.) Do you know
I thought I was that wretched Beatrice
Men speak of, whom her father sometimes hales 50
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, 55
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. 60
But never fancy imaged such a deed
As… (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! 65
Lucretia. Oh!
My sweet child, know you…
Beatrice. Yet speak it not:
For then if this be truth, that other too
Must be a truth, a firm enduring truth, 70
Linked 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 talked some wild words, but will no more. 75
Mother, come near me: from this point of time,
I am… (Her voice dies away faintly.)
Lucretia. Alas! What has befallen thee, child?
What has thy father done?
Beatrice. What have I done? 80
Am I not innocent? Is it my crime
That one with white hair and imperious brow,
Who tortured me from my forgotten years
As parents only dare, should call himself
My father, yet should be!—Oh, what am I? 85
What name, what place, what memory shall be mine?
What retrospects, outliving even despair?
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 90
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. 95
Beatrice. ’Tis 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 suffered but a shadow 100
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, 105
And never any thing will move me more.
But now!—Oh blood, which art my father’s blood,
Circling thro’ these contaminated veins,
If thou, poured forth on the polluted earth,
Could wash away the crime, and punishment 110
By which I suffer … no, that cannot be!
Many might doubt there were a God above
Who sees and permits evil, and so die:
That faith no agony shall obscure in me.
Lucretia. It must indeed have been some bitter wrong; 115
Yet what, I dare not guess. Oh, my lost child,
Hide not in proud impenetrable grief
Thy sufferings from my fear.
Beatrice. I hide them not.
What are the words which you would have me speak? 120
I, who can feign no image in my mind
Of that which has transformed me: I, whose thought
Is like a ghost shrouded and folded up
In its own formless horror: of all words,
That minister to mortal intercourse, 125
Which wouldst thou hear? For there is none to tell
My misery: if another ever knew
Aught like to it, she died as I will die,
And left it, as I must, without a name.
Death! Death! Our law and our religion call thee 130
A punishment and a reward … Oh, which
Have I deserved?
Lucretia. The peace of innocence;
Till in your season you be called to heaven.
Whate’er you may have suffered, you have done 135
No evil. Death must be the punishment
Of crime, or the reward of trampling down
The thorns which God has strewed upon the path
Which leads to immortality.
Beatrice. Ay, death… 140
The punishment of crime. I pray thee, God,
Let me not be bewildered 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 145
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:—O! In this mortal world
There is no vindication and no law 150
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, 155
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? 160
Beatrice. The man they call my father: a dread name.
Orsino. 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. 165
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!
Orsino. Accuse him of the deed, and let the law avenge thee. 170
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 175
So that my unpolluted fame should be
With vilest gossips a stale mouthèd 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 180
And the strange horror of the accuser’s tale,
Baffling belief, and overpowering speech;
Scarce whispered, unimaginable, wrapt
In hideous hints … Oh, most assured redress!
Orsino. You will endure it then? 185
Beatrice. Endure?—Orsino,
It seems your counsel is small profit. (Turns from him, and speaks half to herself.)
All must be suddenly resolved and done.
What is this undistinguishable mist 190
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, 195
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! 200
Rightfullest arbiter! (She retires absorbed in thought.)
Lucretia. If the lightning
Of God has e’er descended to avenge…
Orsino. Blaspheme not! His high Providence commits
Its glory on this earth, and their own wrongs 205
Into the hands of men; if they neglect
To punish crime…
Lucretia. But if one, like this wretch,
Should mock, with gold, opinion, law, and power?
If there be no appeal to that which makes 210
The guiltiest tremble? If because our wrongs,
For that they are unnatural, strange, and monstrous,
Exceed all measure of belief? O God!
If, for the very reasons which should make
Redress most swift and sure, our injurer triumphs? 215
And we, the victims, bear worse punishment
Than that appointed for their torturer?
Orsino. Think not
But that there is redress where there is wrong,
So we be bold enough to seize it. 220
Lucretia. How?
If there were any way to make all sure,
I know not … but I think it might be good
Orsino. Why, his late outrage to Beatrice; 225
For it is such, as I but faintly guess,
As makes remorse dishonour, and leaves her
Only one duty, how she may avenge:
You, but one refuge from ills ill endured;
Me, but one counsel… 230
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.)
Orsino. Then… 235
Beatrice. Peace, Orsino!
And, honoured 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, 240
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, 245
And lest I be reserved, day after day,
To load with crimes an overburthened soul,
And be … what ye can dream not. I have prayed
To God, and I have talked with my own heart,
And have unravelled my entangled will, 250
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, 255
My silence, and whatever else is mine,
To thy commands.
Lucretia. You think we should devise
His death?
Beatrice. And execute what is devised, 260
And suddenly. We must be brief and bold.
Orsino. And yet most cautious.
Lucretia. For the jealous laws
Would punish us with death and infamy
For that which it became themselves to do. 265
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, 270
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, 275
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. 280
Beatrice. But I remember
Two miles on this side of the fort, the road
Crosses a deep ravine; ’tis rough and narrow,
And winds with short turns down the precipice;
And in its depth there is a mighty rock, 285
Which has, from unimaginable years,
Sustained itself with terror and with toil
Over a gulph, and with the agony
With which it clings seems slowly coming down;
Even as a wretched soul hour after hour, 290
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,
The melancholy mountain yawns … below, 295
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 300
Is matted in one solid roof of shade
By the dark ivy’s twine. At noonday here
’Tis twilight, and at sunset blackest night.
Orsino. Before you reach that bridge make some excuse
For spurring on your mules, or loitering 305
Beatrice. What sound is that?
Lucretia. Hark! No, it cannot be a servant’s step;
It must be Cenci, unexpectedly
Returned … Make some excuse for being here. 310
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.
Orsino. What shall I do?
Cenci must find me here, and I must bear
The imperious inquisition of his looks 315
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 hither? Know you then
That Cenci is from home? 320
Giacomo. I sought him here;
And now must wait till he returns.
Orsino. Great God!
Weigh you the danger of this rashness?
Giacomo. Ay! 325
Does my destroyer know his danger? We
Are now no more, as once, parent and child,
But man to man; the oppressor to the oppressed;
The slanderer to the slandered; foe to foe:
He has cast Nature off, which was his shield, 330
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-sheltered love; 335
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 heaped on me by thee,
Or I will … God can understand and pardon, 340
Why should I speak with man?
Orsino. Be calm, dear friend.
Giacomo. Well, I will calmly tell you what he did.
This old Francesco Cenci, as you know,
Borrowed the dowry of my wife from me, 345
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, 350
And my wife smiled; and my heart knew repose.
When Cenci’s intercession, as I found,
Conferred this office on a wretch, whom thus
He paid for vilest service. I returned
With this ill news, and we sate sad together 355
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 360
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 coined
A brief yet specious tale, how I had wasted
The sum in secret riot and he saw 365
My wife was touched, 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 returned again; 370
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 looked, and saw that home was hell. 375
And to that hell will I return no more
Until mine enemy has rendered up
Atonement, or, as he gave life to me
I will, reversing nature’s law…
Orsino. Trust me, 380
The compensation which thou seekest here
Will be denied.
Giacomo. Then … Are you not my friend?
Did you not hint at the alternative,
Upon the brink of which you see I stand, 385
The other day when we conversed together?
My wrongs were then less. That word parricide,
Although I am resolved, haunts me like fear.
Orsino. It must be fear itself, for the bare word
Is hollow mockery. Mark, how wisest God 390
Draws to one point the threads of a just doom,
So sanctifying it: what you devise
Is, as it were, accomplished.
Giacomo. Is he dead?
Orsino. His grave is ready. Know that since we met. 395
Cenci has done an outrage to his daughter.
Giacomo. What outrage?
Orsino. That she speaks not, but you may
Conceive such half conjectures as I do,
From her fixed paleness, and the lofty grief 400
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,
Bewildered in our horror, talked together 405
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:… 410
Giacomo. 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 415
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 wondered how such loveliness and wisdom
Did not destroy each other! Is there made 420
Ravage of thee? O, heart, I ask no more
Justification! Shall I wait, Orsino,
Till he return, and stab him at the door?
Orsino. Not so; some accident might interpose
To rescue him from what is now most sure; 425
And you are unprovided where to fly,
How to excuse or to conceal. Nay, listen:
All is contrived; success is so assured

Enter BEATRICE 430
Beatrice. ’Tis my brother’s voice! You know me not?
Giacomo. My sister, my lost sister!
Beatrice. Lost indeed!
I see Orsino has talked with you, and
That you conjecture things too horrible 435
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, 440
Brotherly love, justice and clemency,
And all things that make tender hardest hearts
Make thine hard, brother. Answer not … farewell. [Exeunt severally.

Scene II

A mean Apartment in GIACOMO’S House.


Giacomo. ’Tis midnight, and Orsino comes not yet. [Thunder, and the sound of a storm.
What! can the everlasting elements
Fell with a worm like man? If so the shaft 5
Of mercy-wingèd 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 if that deed
Be just which was most necessary. O, 10
Thou unreplenished 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, 15
Did I not feed thee, wouldst thou fail 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 20
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 arrayed
In God’s immortal likeness which now stands 25
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; 30
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 35
Orsino. I am come
To say he has escaped.
Giacomo. Escaped!
Orsino. And safe 40
Within Petrella. He past by the spot
Appointed for the deed an hour too soon.
Giacomo. Are we the fools of such contingencies?
And do we waste in blind misgivings thus
The hours when we should act? Then wind and thunder, 45
Which seemed to howl his knell, is the loud laughter
With which Heaven mocks our weakness! I henceforth
Will ne’er repent of aught designed or done
But my repentance.
Orsino. See, the lamp is out. 50
Giacomo. If no remorse is ours when the dim air
Has drank this innocent flame, why should we quail
When Cenci’s life, that light by which ill spirits
See the worst deeds they prompt, shall sink for ever?
No, I am hardened. 55
Orsino. Why, what need of this?
Who feared the pale intrusion of remorse
In a just deed? Altho’ our first plan failed,
Doubt not but he will soon be laid to rest.
But light the lamp; let us not talk i’ the dark. 60
Giacomo (lighting the lamp). And yet once quenched I cannot thus relume
My father’s life: do you not think his ghost
Might plead that argument with God?
Orsino. Once gone
You cannot now recall your sister’s peace; 65
Your own extinguished 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! 70
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 75
Degraded from his post? And Marzio,
That desperate wretch, whom he deprived last year
Of a reward of blood, well earned and due?
Giacomo. I knew Olimpio; and they say he hated
Old Cenci so, that in his silent rage 80
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, 85
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 memorise their flight with death: ere then 90
They must have talked, and may perhaps have done
And made an end…
Giacomo. Listen! What sound is that?
Orsino. The house-dog moans, and the beams crack nought else.
Giacomo. It is my wife complaining in her sleep: 95
I doubt not she is saying bitter things
Of me; and all my children round her dreaming
That I deny them sustenance.
Orsino. Whilst he
Who truly took it from them, and who fills 100
Their hungry rest with bitterness, now sleeps
Lapped in bad pleasures, and triumphantly
Mocks thee in visions of successful hate
Too like the truth of day.
Giacomo. If e’er he wakes 105
Again, I will not trust to hireling hands…
Orsino. Why, that were well. I must be gone; good-night:
When next we meet—may all be done!
Giacomo. And all
Forgotten: Oh, that I had never been! [Exeunt.

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