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Representative Plays by American Dramatists: 1856-1911: Francesca da Rimini by George Henry Boker

Part 3 out of 4

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And if you equal Homer in your song,
Why, roll I must, by sheer compulsion.

PEPE. Nay,
You lack the temper of the fine-eared Greek.
You will not roll; but that shall not disgrace
My gallant ballad, fallen on evil times. [_Sings._]

My father had a blue-black head,
My uncle's head was reddish--maybe,
My mother's hair was noways red,
Sing high ho! the pretty baby!

Mark the simplicity of that! 'Tis called
"The Babe's Confession," spoken just before
His father strangled him.

LANCIOTTO. Most marvellous!
You struggle with a legend worth your art.

PEPE. Now to the second stanza. Note the hint
I drop about the baby's parentage:
So delicately too! A maid might sing,
And never blush at it. Girls love these songs
Of sugared wickedness. They'll go miles about,
To say a foul thing in a cleanly way.
A decent immorality, my lord,
Is art's specific. Get the passions up,
But never wring the stomach.

LANCIOTTO. Triumphant art!

PEPE. [_Sings._]

My father combed his blue-black head,
My uncle combed his red head--maybe,
My mother combed my head, and said,
Sing high ho! my red-haired baby.

LANCIOTTO. Fie, fie! go comb your hair in private.

PEPE. What!
Will you not hear? Now comes the tragedy. [_Sings._]

My father tore my red, red head,
My uncle tore my father's--maybe,
My mother tore both till they bled--
Sing high ho! your brother's baby!

LANCIOTTO. Why, what a hair-rending!

PEPE. Thence wigs arose;
A striking epoch in man's history.
But did you notice the concluding line,
Sung by the victim's mother? There's a hit!

"Sing high ho! your brother's baby!"

Which brother's, pray you? That's the mystery,
The adumbration of poetic art,
And there I leave it to perplex mankind.
It has a moral, fathers should regard,--
A black-haired dog breeds not a red-haired cur.
Treasure this knowledge: you're about to wive;
And no one knows what accident--

LANCIOTTO. Peace, fool!
So all this cunning thing was wound about,
To cast a jibe at my deformity? [_Tears off_ PEPE'S _cap._]
There lies your cap, the emblem that protects
Your head from chastisement. Now, Pepe, hark!
Of late you've taken to reviling me;
Under your motley, you have dared to jest
At God's inflictions. Let me tell you, fool,
No man e'er lived, to make a second jest
At me, before your time!

PEPE. Boo! bloody-bones!
If you're a coward--which I hardly think--
You'll have me flogged, or put into a cell,
Or fed to wolves. If you are bold of heart,
You'll let me run. Do not; I'll work you harm!
I, Beppo Pepe, standing as a man,
Without my motley, tell you, in plain terms,
I'll work you harm--I'll do you mischief, man!

LANCIOTTO. I, Lanciotto, Count of Rimini,
Will hang you, then. Put on your jingling cap;
You please my father. But remember, fool,
No jests at me!

PEPE. I will try earnest next.

LANCIOTTO. And I the gallows.

PEPE. Well, cry quits, cry quits!
I'll stretch your heart, and you my neck--quits, quits!

LANCIOTTO. Go, fool! Your weakness bounds your malice.

PEPE. Yes:
So you all think, you savage gentlemen,
Until you feel my sting. Hang, hang away!
It is an airy, wholesome sort of death,
Much to my liking. When I hang, my friend,
You'll be chief mourner, I can promise you.
Hang me! I've quite a notion to be hung:
I'll do my utmost to deserve it. Hang! [_Exit._

LANCIOTTO. I am bemocked on all sides. My sad state
Has given the licensed and unlicensed fool
Charter to challenge me at every turn.
The jester's laughing bauble blunts my sword,
His gibes cut deeper than its fearful edge;
And I, a man, a soldier, and a prince,
Before this motley patchwork of a man,
Stand all appalled, as if he were a glass
Wherein I saw my own deformity.
O Heaven! a tear--one little tear--to wash
This aching dryness of the heart away!

_Enter_ PAOLO.

PAOLO. What ails the fool? He passed me, muttering
The strangest garbage in the fiercest tone.
"Ha! ha!" cried he, "they made a fool of me--
motley man, a slave; as if I felt
No stir in me of manly dignity!
Ha! ha! a fool--a painted plaything, toy--
For men to kick about this dirty world!--
My world as well as theirs.--God's world, I trow!
I will get even with them yet--ha! ha!
In the democracy of death we'll square.
I'll crawl and lie beside a king's own son;
Kiss a young princess, dead lip to dead lip;
Pull the Pope's nose; and kick down Charlemagne,
Throne, crown, and all, where the old idiot sprawls,
Safe as he thinks, rotting in royal state!"
And then he laughed and gibbered, as if drunk
With some infernal ecstasy.

LANCIOTTO. Poor fool!
That is the groundwork of his malice, then,--
His conscious difference from the rest of men?
I, of all men, should pity him the most.
Poor Pepe! I'll be kinder. I have wronged
A feeling heart. Poor Pepe!

PAOLO. Sad again!
Where has the rapture gone of yesterday?

LANCIOTTO. Where are the leaves of Summer? Where the snows
Of last year's Winter? Where the joys and griefs
That shut our eyes to yesternight's repose,
And woke not on the morrow? Joys and griefs,
Huntsmen and hounds, ye follow us as game,
Poor panting outcasts of your forest-law!
Each cheers the others,--one with wild halloos,
And one with whines and howls.--A dreadful chase,
That only closes when horns sound _a mort!_

PAOLO. Thus ever up and down! Arouse yourself,
Balance your mind more evenly, and hunt
For honey in the wormwood.

LANCIOTTO. Or find gall
Hid in the hanging chalice of the rose:
Which think you better? If my mood offend,
We'll turn to business,--to the empty cares
That make such pother in our feverish life.
When at Ravenna, did you ever hear
Of any romance in Francesca's life?
A love-tilt, gallantry, or anything
That might have touched her heart?

PAOLO. Not lightly even.
I think her heart as virgin as her hand.

LANCIOTTO. Then there is hope.

PAOLO. Of what?

LANCIOTTO. Of winning her.

PAOLO. Grammercy! Lanciotto, are you sane?
You boasted yesterday--

LANCIOTTO. And changed to-day.
Is that so strange? I always mend the fault
Of yesterday with wisdom of to-day.
She does not love me.

PAOLO. Pshaw! she marries you:
'Twere proof enough for me.

LANCIOTTO. Perhaps, she loves you.

PAOLO. Me, Lanciotto, me! For mercy's sake,
Blot out such thoughts--they madden me! What, love--
She love--yet marry you!

LANCIOTTO. It moves you much.
'Twas but a fleeting fancy, nothing more.

PAOLO. You have such wild conjectures!

LANCIOTTO. Well, to me
They seem quite tame; they are my bed-fellows.
Think, to a modest woman, what must be
The loathsome kisses of an unloved man--
A gross, coarse ruffian!

PAOLO. O! good heavens, forbear!

LANCIOTTO. What shocks you so?

PAOLO. The picture which you draw,
Wronging yourself by horrid images.

LANCIOTTO. Until she love me, till I know, beyond
The cavil of a doubt, that she is mine--
Wholly, past question--do you think that I
Could so afflict the woman whom I love?

PAOLO. You love her, Lanciotto!

LANCIOTTO. Next to you,
Dearer than anything in nature's scope.

PAOLO. [_Aside._] O! Heaven, that I must bear this! Yes, and more,--
More torture than I dare to think upon,
Spreads out before me with the coming years,
And holds a record blotted with my tears,
As that which I must suffer!

LANCIOTTO. Come, Paolo,
Come help me woo. I need your guiding eye,
To signal me, if I should sail astray.

PAOLO. O! torture, torture! [_Aside._

LANCIOTTO. You and I, perchance,
Joining our forces, may prevail at last.
They call love like a battle. As for me,
I'm not a soldier equal to such wars,
Despite my arduous schooling. Tutor me
In the best arts of amorous strategy.
I am quite raw, Paolo. Glances, sighs,
Sweets of the lip, and arrows of the eye,
Shrugs, cringes, compliments, are new to me;
And I shall handle them with little art.
Will you instruct me?

PAOLO. Conquer for yourself.
Two captains share one honour: keep it all.
What if I ask to share the spoils?

LANCIOTTO. [_Laughing._] Ha! ha!
I'll trust you, brother. Let us go to her:
Francesca is neglected while we jest.
I know not how it is, but your fair face,
And noble figure, always cheer me up,
More than your words; there's healing in them, too,
For my worst griefs. Dear brother, let us in. [_Exeunt._

SCENE II.

_The Same. A Chamber in the Same._ FRANCESCA _and_ RITTA _discovered
at the bridal toilet._

RITTA. [_Sings._]
Ring high, ring high! to earth and sky;
A lady goes a-wedding;
The people shout, the show draws out,
And smiles the bride is shedding.

No bell for you, ye ragged few;
A beggar goes a-wedding;
The people sneer, the thing's so queer,
And tears the bride is shedding.

Ring low, ring low! dull bell of woe,
One tone will do for either;
The lady glad, and beggar sad,
Have both lain down together.

FRANCESCA. A mournful ballad!

RITTA. I scarce knew I sang.
I'm weary of this wreath. These orange-flowers
Will never be adjusted to my taste:
Strive as I will, they ever look awry.
My fingers ache!

FRANCESCA. Not more than my poor head.
There, leave them so.

RITTA. That's better, yet not well.

FRANCESCA. They are but fading things, not worth your pains:
They'll scarce outlive the marriage merriment.
Ritta, these flowers are hypocrites; they show
An outside gayety, yet die within,
Minute by minute. You shall see them fall,
Black with decay, before the rites are o'er.

RITTA. How beautiful you are!

FRANCESCA. Fie, flatterer!
White silk and laces, pearls and orange-flowers,
Would do as much for any one.

RITTA. No, no!
You give them grace, they nothing give to you.
Why, after all, you make the wreath look well;
But somewhat dingy, where it lies against
Your pulsing temple, sullen with disgrace.
Ah! well, your Count should be the proudest man
That ever led a lady into church,
Were he a modern Alexander. Poh!
What are his trophies to a face like that?

FRANCESCA. I seem to please you, Ritta.

RITTA. Please yourself,
And you will please me better. You are sad:
I marked it ever since you saw the Count.
I fear the splendour of his victories,
And his sweet grace of manner--for, in faith,
His is the gentlest, grandest character,
Despite his--

FRANCESCA. Well?

RITTA. Despite his--

FRANCESCA. Ritta, what?

RITTA. Despite his difference from Count Paolo.--
[FRANCESCA _staggers._]
What is the matter? [_Supporting her._

FRANCESCA. Nothing; mere fatigue.
Hand me my kerchief. I am better now.
What were you saying?

RITTA. That I fear the Count
Has won your love.

FRANCESCA. Would that be cause for fear?
[_Laughing._

RITTA. O! yes, indeed! Once--long ago--I was
Just fool enough to tangle up my heart
With one of these same men. 'Twas terrible!
Morning or evening, waking or asleep,
I had no peace. Sighs, groans, and standing tears,
Counted my moments through the blessed day.
And then to this there was a dull, strange ache
Forever sleeping in my breast,--a numbing pain,
That would not for an instant be forgot.
O! but I loved him so, that very feeling
Became intolerable. And I believed
This false Giuseppe, too, for all the sneers,
The shrugs and glances, of my intimates.
They slandered me and him, yet I believed.
He was a noble, and his love to me
Was a reproach, a shame, yet I believed.
He wearied of me, tried to shake me off,
Grew cold and formal, yet I would not doubt.
O! lady, I was true! Nor till I saw
Giuseppe walk through the cathedral door
With Dora, the rich usurer's niece, upon
The very arm to which I clung so oft,
Did I so much as doubt him. Even then--
More is my shame--I made excuses for him.
"Just this or that had forced him to the course:
Perhaps, he loved me yet--a little yet.
His fortune, or his family, had driven
My poor Giuseppe thus against his heart.
The low are sorry judges for the great.
Yes, yes, Giuseppe loved me!" But at last
I did awake. It might have been with less:
There was no need of crushing me, to break
My silly dream up. In the street, it chanced,
Dora and he went by me, and he laughed--
A bold, bad laugh--right in my poor pale face,
And turned and whispered Dora, and she laughed.
Ah! then I saw it all. I've been awake,
Ever since then, I warrant you. And now
I only pray for him sometimes, when friends
Tell his base actions towards his hapless wife.--
O! I am lying--I pray every night! [_Weeps._

FRANCESCA. Poor Ritta. [_Weeping._

RITTA. No! blest Ritta! Thank kind heaven,
That kept me spotless when he tempted me,
And my weak heart was pleading with his tongue.
Pray, do not weep. You spoil your eyes for me.
But never love; O! it is terrible!

FRANCESCA. I'll strive against it.

RITTA. Do: because, my lady,
Even a husband may be false, you know;
Ay, even to so sweet a wife as you.
Men have odd tastes. They'll surfeit on the charms
Of Cleopatra, and then turn aside
To woo her blackamoor. 'Tis so, in faith;
Or Dora's uncle's gold had ne'er outbid
The boundless measure of a love like mine.
Think of it, lady, to weigh love with gold!
What could be meaner?

FRANCESCA. Nothing, nothing, Ritta.
Though gold's the standard measure of the world,
And seems to lighten everything beside.
Yet heap the other passions in the scale,
And balance them 'gainst that which gold outweighs--
Against this love--and you shall see how light
The most supreme of them are in the poise!
I speak by book and history; for love
Slights my high fortunes. Under cloth of state
The urchin cowers from pompous etiquette,
Waiving his function at the scowl of power,
And seeks the rustic cot to stretch his limbs
In homely freedom. I fulfil a doom.
We who are topmost on this heap of life
Are nearer to heaven's hand than you below;
And so are used, as ready instruments,
To work its purposes. Let envy hide
Her witless forehead at a prince's name,
And fix her hopes upon a clown's content.
You, happy lowly, know not what it is
To groan beneath the crowned yoke of state,
And bear the goadings of the sceptre. Ah!
Fate drives us onward in a narrow way,
Despite our boasted freedom.

[_Enter_ PAOLO, _with_ PAGES _bearing torches._]

Gracious saints!
What brought you here?

PAOLO. The bridegroom waits.

FRANCESCA. He does?
Let him wait on forever! I'll not go!
O! dear Paolo--

PAOLO. Sister!

FRANCESCA. It is well.
I have been troubled with a sleepless night.
My brain is wild. I know not what I say.
Pray, do not call me sister: it is cold.
I never had a brother, and the name
Sounds harshly to me. When you speak to me,
Call me Francesca.

PAOLO. You shall be obeyed.

FRANCESCA. I would not be obeyed. I'd have you do it
Because--because you love me--as a sister--
And of your own good-will, not my command,
Would please me.--Do you understand?

PAOLO. Too well! [_Aside._]
'Tis a nice difference.

FRANCESCA. Yet you understand?
Say that you do.

PAOLO. I do.

FRANCESCA. That pleases me.
'Tis flattering if our--friends appreciate
Our nicer feelings.

PAOLO. I await you, lady.

FRANCESCA. Ritta, my gloves.--Ah! yes, I have them on;
Though I'm not quite prepared. Arrange my veil;
It folds too closely. That will do; retire. [RITTA _retires._]
So, Count Paolo, you have come, hot haste,
To lead me to the church,--to have your share
In my undoing? And you came, in sooth,
Because they sent you? You are very tame!
And if they sent, was it for you to come?

PAOLO. Lady, I do not understand this scorn.
I came, as is my duty, to escort
My brother's bride to him. When next you're called,
I'll send a lackey.

FRANCESCA. I have angered you.

PAOLO. With reason: I would not appear to you
Low or contemptible.

FRANCESCA. Why not to me?

PAOLO. Lady, I'll not be catechized.

FRANCESCA. Ha! Count!

PAOLO. No! if you press me further, I will say
A word to madden you.--Stand still! You stray
Around the margin of a precipice.
I know what pleasure 'tis to pluck the flowers
That hang above destruction, and to gaze
Into the dread abyss, to see such things
As may be safely seen. Tis perilous:
The eye grows dizzy as we gaze below,
And a wild wish possesses us to spring
Into the vacant air. Beware, beware!
Lest this unholy fascination grow
Too strong to conquer!

FRANCESCA. You talk wildly, Count;
There's not a gleam of sense in what you say;
I cannot hit your meaning.

PAOLO. Lady, come!

FRANCESCA. Count, you are cruel! [_Weeps._

PAOLO. O! no; I would be kind.
But now, while reason over-rides my heart,
And seeming anger plays its braggart part--
In heaven's name, come!

FRANCESCA. One word--one question more:
Is it your wish this marriage should proceed?

PAOLO. It is.

FRANCESCA. Come on! You shall not take my hand:
I'll walk alone--now, and forever!

PAOLO. [_Taking her hand._] Sister!

[_Exeunt_ PAOLO _and_ FRANCESCA, _with_ PAGES.

RITTA. O! misery, misery!--it is plain as day--
She loves Paolo! Why will those I love
Forever get themselves ensnared, and heaven
Forever call on me to succor them?
Here was the mystery, then--the sighs and tears,
The troubled slumbers, and the waking dreams!
And now she's walking through the chapel-door,
Her bridal robe above an aching heart,
Dressed up for sacrifice. Tis terrible!
And yet she'll smile and do it. Smile, for years,
Until her heart breaks; and the nurses ask
The doctor of the cause. He'll answer, too,
In hard thick Latin, and believe himself.
O! my dear mistress! Heaven, pray torture me!
Send back Giuseppe, let him ruin me,
And scorn me after; but, sweet heaven, spare her!
I'll follow her. O! what a world is this! [_Exit._

SCENE III.

_The Same. Interior of the Cathedral._ LANCIOTTO, FRANCESCA, PAOLO,
MALATESTA, GUIDO, RITTA, PEPE, LORDS, KNIGHTS, PRIESTS, PAGES, _a
bridal-train of_ LADIES, SOLDIERS, CITIZENS, ATTENDANTS, _etc.,
discovered before the High Altar. Organ music. The rites being over,
they advance._

MALATESTA. By heaven--

PEPE. O! uncle, uncle, you're in church!

MALATESTA. I'll break your head, knave!

PEPE. I claim sanctuary.

MALATESTA. Why, bridegroom, will you never kiss the bride?
We all are mad to follow you.

PEPE. Yes, yes;
Here was Paolo wetting his red lips
For the last minute. Kiss, and give him room.

MALATESTA. You heaven-forsaken imp, be quiet now!

PEPE. Then there'd be naught worth hearing.

MALATESTA. Bridegroom, come!

PEPE. Lord! he don't like it! Hey!--I told you so--
He backs at the first step. Does he not know
His trouble's just begun?

LANCIOTTO. Gentle Francesca,
Custom imposes somewhat on thy lips:
I'll make my levy. [_Kisses her. The others follow._]
[_Aside._] Ha! she shrank! I felt
Her body tremble, and her quivering lips
Seemed dying under mine! I heard a sigh,
Such as breaks hearts--O! no, a very groan;
And then she turned a sickly, miserable look
On pale Paolo, and he shivered too!
There is a mystery hangs around her,--ay,
Paolo knows it, too.--By all the saints,
I'll make him tell it, at the dagger's point!
Paolo!--here! I do adjure you, brother,
By the great love I bear you, to reveal
The secret of Francesca's grief.

PAOLO. I cannot.

LANCIOTTO. She told you nothing?

PAOLO. Nothing.

LANCIOTTO. Not a word?

PAOLO. Not one.

LANCIOTTO. What heard you at Ravenna, then?

PAOLO. Nothing.

LANCIOTTO. Here?

PAOLO. Nothing.

LANCIOTTO. Not the slightest hint?--
Don't stammer, man! Speak quick! I am in haste.

PAOLO. Never.

LANCIOTTO. What know you?

PAOLO. Nothing that concerns
Your happiness, Lanciotto. If I did,
Would I not tell unquestioned?

LANCIOTTO. Would you not?
You ask a question for me: answer it.

PAOLO. I have.

LANCIOTTO. You juggle, you turn deadly pale,
Fumble your dagger, stand with head half round,
Tapping your feet.--You dare not look at me!
By Satan! Count Paolo, let me say,
You look much like a full-convicted thief!

PAOLO. Brother!--

LANCIOTTO. Pshaw! brother! You deceive me, sir:
You and that lady have a devil's league,
To keep a devil's secret. Is it thus
You deal with me? Now, by the light above
I'd give a dukedom for some fair pretext
To fly you all! She does not love me? Well,
I could bear that, and live away from her.
Love would be sweet, but want of it becomes
An early habit to such men as I.
But you--ah! there's the sorrow--whom I loved
An infant in your cradle; you who grew
Up in my heart, with every inch you gained;
You whom I loved for every quality,
Good, bad, and common, in your natural stock;
Ay, for your very beauty! It is strange, you'll say,
For such a crippled horror to do that,
Against the custom of his kind! O! yes,
I love, and you betray me!

PAOLO. Lanciotto,
This is sheer frenzy. Join your bride.

LANCIOTTO. I'll not!
What, go to her, to feel her very flesh
Crawl from my touch?--to hear her sigh and moan,
As if God plagued her? Must I come to that?
Must I endure your hellish mystery
With my own wife, and roll my eyes away
In sentimental bliss? No, no! until
I go to her, with confident belief
In her integrity and candid love,
I'll shun her as a leper. [_Alarm-bells toll._

MALATESTA. What is that?

_Enter, hastily, a_ MESSENGER _in disorder._

MESSENGER. My lord, the Ghibelins are up--

LANCIOTTO. And I
Will put them down again! I thank thee, Heaven,
For this unlooked-for aid! [_Aside._

MALATESTA. What force have they?

LANCIOTTO. It matters not,--nor yet the time, place, cause,
Of their rebellion. I would throttle it,
Were it a riot, or a drunken brawl!

MALATESTA. Nay, son, your bride--

LANCIOTTO. My bride will pardon me;
Bless me, perhaps, as I am going forth;--
Thank me, perhaps, if I should ne'er return. [_Aside._]
A soldier's duty has no bridals in it.

PAOLO. Lanciotto, this is folly. Let me take
Your usual place of honour.

LANCIOTTO. [_Laughing._] Ha! ha! ha!
What! thou, a tilt-yard soldier, lead my troops!
My wife will ask it shortly. Not a word
Of opposition from the new-made bride?
Nay, she looks happier. O! accursed day,
That I was mated to an empty heart! [_Aside._

MALATESTA. But, son--

LANCIOTTO. Well, father?

PEPE. Uncle, let him go.
He'll find it cooler on a battle-field
Than in his--

LANCIOTTO. Hark! the fool speaks oracles.
You, soldiers, who are used to follow me,
And front our charges, emulous to bear
The shock of battle on your forward arms,--
Why stand ye in amazement? Do your swords
Stick to their scabbards with inglorious rust?
Or has repose so weakened your big hearts,
That you can dream with trumpets at your ears?
Out with your steel! It shames me to behold
Such tardy welcome to my war-worn blade! [_Draws._]
[_The_ KNIGHTS _and_ SOLDIERS _draw._]
Ho! draw our forces out! Strike camp, sound drums,
And set us on our marches! As I live,
I pity the next foeman who relies
On me for mercy! Farewell! to you all--
To all alike--a soldier's short farewell! [_Going._]

[PAOLO _stands before him._]

Out of my way, thou juggler! [_Exit._

PAOLO. He is gone!

ACT V.

SCENE I. _The Same. The Garden of the Castle. Enter_ PEPE, _singing._

PEPE. 'Tis jolly to walk in the shady greenwood
With a damsel by your side;
'Tis jolly to walk from the chapel-door,
With the hand of your pretty bride;
'Tis jolly to rest your weary head,
When life runs low and hope is fled,
On the heart where you confide:
'Tis jolly, jolly, jolly, they say,
They say--but I never tried.

Nor shall I ever till they dress their girls
In motley suits, and pair us, to increase
The race of fools. 'Twould be a noble thing,
A motley woman, had she wit enough
To bear the bell. But there's the misery:
You may make princes out of any stuff;
Fools come by nature. She'll make fifty kings--
Good, hearty tyrants, sound, cruel governors--
For one fine fool. There is Paolo, now,
A sweet-faced fellow with a wicked heart--
Talk of a flea, and you begin to scratch.
Lo! here he comes. And there's fierce crook-back's bride
Walking beside him--O, how gingerly!
Take care, my love! that is the very pace
We trip to hell with. Hunchback is away--
That was a fair escape for you; but, then,
The devil's ever with us, and that's worse.
See, the Ravenna giglet, Mistress Ritta,
And melancholy as a cow.--How's this?
I'll step aside, and watch you, pretty folks.
[_Hides behind the bushes._

_Enter_ PAOLO _and_ FRANCESCA, _followed by_ RITTA. _He seats himself
in an arbour, and reads._ RITTA _and_ FRANCESCA _advance._

FRANCESCA. Ritta.

RITTA. My lady.

FRANCESCA. You look tired.

RITTA. I'm not.

FRANCESCA. Go to your chamber.

RITTA. I would rather stay.
If it may please you. I require a walk
And the fresh atmosphere of breathing flowers,
To stir my blood. I am not very well.

FRANCESCA. I knew it, child. Go to your chamber, dear.
Paolo has a book to read to me.

RITTA. What, the romance? I should so love to hear!
I dote on poetry; and Count Paolo
Sweetens the Tuscan with his mellow voice.
I'm weary now, quite weary, and would rest.

FRANCESCA. Just now you wished to walk.

RITTA. Ah! did I so?
Walking or resting, I would stay with you.

FRANCESCA. The Count objects. He told me, yesterday,
That you were restless while he read to me;
And stirred your feet amid the grass, and sighed,
And yawned, until he almost paused.

RITTA. Indeed
I will be quiet.

FRANCESCA. But he will not read.

RITTA. Let me go ask him. [_Runs toward_ PAOLO.

FRANCESCA. Stop! Come hither, Ritta.
[_She returns._]
I saw your new embroidery in the hall,--
The needle in the midst of Argus' eyes;
It should be finished.

RITTA. I will bring it here.--
O no! my finger's sore; I cannot work.

FRANCESCA. Go to your room.

RITTA. Let me remain, I pray.
'Tis better, lady; you may wish for me:
I know you will be sorry if I go.

FRANCESCA. I shall not, girl. Do as I order you.
Will you be headstrong?

RITTA. Do you wish it, then?

FRANCESCA. Yes, Ritta.

RITTA. Yet you made pretexts enough,
Before you ordered.

FRANCESCA. You are insolent.
Will you remain against my will?

RITTA. Yes, lady;
Rather than not remain.

FRANCESCA. Ha! impudent!

RITTA. You wrong me, gentle mistress. Love like mine
Does not ask questions of propriety,
Nor stand on manners. I would do you good,
Even while you smote me; I would push you back,
With my last effort, from the crumbling edge
Of some high rock o'er which you toppled me.

FRANCESCA. What do you mean?

RITTA. I know.

FRANCESCA. Know what?

RITTA. Too much.
Pray, do not ask me.

FRANCESCA. Speak!

RITTA. I know--dear lady,
Be not offended--

FRANCESCA. Tell me, simpleton!

RITTA. You know I worship you; you know I'd walk
Straight into ruin for a whim of yours;
You know--

FRANCESCA. I know you act the fool. Talk sense!

RITTA. I know Paolo loves you.

FRANCESCA. Should he not?
He is my brother.

RITTA. More than brother should.

FRANCESCA. Ha! are you certain?

RITTA. Yes, of more than that.

FRANCESCA. Of more?

RITTA. Yes, lady; for you love him, too.
I've said it! Fling me to the carrion crows,
Kill me by inches, boil me in the pot
Count Guido promised me,--but, O, beware!
Back, while you may. Make me the sufferer,
But save yourself!

FRANCESCA. Now, are you not ashamed,
To look me in the face with that bold brow?
I am amazed!

RITTA. I am a woman, lady;
I too have been in love; I know its ways,
Its arts, and its deceits. Your frowning face,
And seeming indignation, do not cheat.
Your heart is in my hand.

PAOLO. [_Calls._] Francesca!

FRANCESCA. Hence,
Thou wanton-hearted minion! hence, I say!--
And never look me in the face again!--
Hence, thou insulting slave!

RITTA. [_Clinging to her._] O lady, lady--

FRANCESCA. Begone! [_Throws her off._

RITTA. I have no friends--no one to love--
O, spare me!

FRANCESCA. Hence!

RITTA. Was it for this I loved--
Cared for you more than my own happiness--
Ever at heart your slave--without a wish
For greater recompense than your stray smiles?

PAOLO. [_Calls._] Francesca!

FRANCESCA. Hurry!

RITTA. I am gone. Alas!
God bless you, lady! God take care of you,
When I am far away! Alas, alas! [_Exit weeping._

FRANCESCA. Poor girl!--but were she all the world to me,
And held my future in her tender grasp,
I'd cast her off, without a second thought,
To savage death, for dear Paolo's sake!
Paolo, hither! Now he comes to me;
I feel his presence, though I see him not,
Stealing upon me like the fervid glow
Of morning sunshine. Now he comes too near--
He touches me--O heaven!

PAOLO. Our poem waits.
I have been reading while you talked with Ritta.
How did you get her off?

FRANCESCA. By some device.
She will not come again.

PAOLO. I hate the girl:
She seems to stand between me and the light.
And now for the romance. Where left we off?

FRANCESCA. Where Lancelot and Queen Guenevra strayed
Along the forest, in the youth of May.
You marked the figure of the birds that sang
Their melancholy farewell to the sun--
Rich in his loss, their sorrow glorified--
Like gentle mourners o'er a great man's grave.
Was it not there? No, no; 'twas where they sat
Down on the bank, by one impulsive wish
That neither uttered.

PAOLO. [_Turning over the book._] Here it is. [_Reads._]
"So sat
Guenevra and Sir Lancelot"--'Twere well
To follow them in that. [_They sit upon a bank._

FRANCESCA. I listen: read.
Nay, do not; I can wait, if you desire.

PAOLO. My dagger frets me; let me take it off. [_Rises._]
In thoughts of love, we'll lay our weapons by.
[_Lays aside his dagger, and sits again._]
Draw closer: I am weak in voice to-day. [_Reads_]
"So sat Guenevra and Sir Lancelot,
Under the blaze of the descending sun,
But all his cloudy splendours were forgot.
Each bore a thought, the only secret one,
Which each had hidden from the other's heart,
Both with sweet mystery well-nigh overrun.
Anon, Sir Lancelot, with gentle start,
Put by the ripples of her golden hair,
Gazing upon her with his lips apart.
He marvelled human thing could be so fair;
Essayed to speak; but in the very deed,
His words expired of self-betrayed despair.
Little she helped him, at his direst need,
Roving her eyes o'er hill, and wood, and sky,
Peering intently at the meanest weed;
Ay, doing aught but look in Lancelot's eye.
Then, with the small pique of her velvet shoe,
Uprooted she each herb that blossomed nigh;
Or strange wild figures in the dust she drew;
Until she felt Sir Lancelot's arm around
Her waist, upon her cheek his breath like dew.
While through his fingers timidly he wound
Her shining locks; and, haply, when he brushed
Her ivory skin, Guenevra nearly swound:
For where he touched, the quivering surface blushed,
Firing her blood with most contagious heat,
Till brow, cheek, neck, and bosom, all were flushed.
Each heart was listening to the other beat.
As twin-born lilies on one golden stalk,
Drooping with Summer, in warm languor meet,
So met their faces. Down the forest walk
Sir Lancelot looked--he looked, east, west, north, south--
No soul was nigh, his dearest wish to balk:
She smiled; he kissed her full upon the mouth."
[_Kisses_ FRANCESCA.]
I'll read no more! [_Starts up, dashing down the book._

FRANCESCA. Paolo!

PAOLO. I am mad!
The torture of unnumbered hours is o'er,
The straining cord has broken, and my heart
Riots in free delirium! O, Heaven!
I struggled with it, but it mastered me!
I fought against it, but it beat me down!
I prayed, I wept, but Heaven was deaf to me;
And every tear rolled backward on my heart,
To blight and poison!

FRANCESCA. And dost thou regret?

PAOLO. The love? No, no! I'd dare it all again,
Its direst agonies and meanest fears,
For that one kiss. Away with fond remorse!
Here, on the brink of ruin, we two stand;
Lock hands with me, and brave the fearful plunge!
Thou canst not name a terror so profound
That I will look or falter from. Be bold!
I know thy love--I knew it long ago--
Trembled and fled from it. But now I clasp
The peril to my breast, and ask of thee
A kindred desperation.

FRANCESCA. [_Throwing herself into his arms._] Take me all,
Body and soul! The women of our clime
Do never give away but half a heart:
I have not part to give, part to withhold,
In selfish safety. When I saw thee first,
Riding alone amid a thousand men,
Sole in the lustre of thy majesty,
And Guido da Polenta said to me,
"Daughter, behold thy husband!" with a bound
My heart went forth to meet thee. He deceived,
He lied to me--ah! that's the aptest word--
And I believed. Shall I not turn again,
And meet him, craft with craft? Paolo, love,
Thou'rt dull--thou'rt dying like a feeble fire
Before the sunshine. Was it but a blaze,
A flash of glory, and a long, long night?

PAOLO. No, darling, no! You could not bend me back;
My course is onward; but my heart is sick
With coming fears.

FRANCESCA. Away with them! Must I
Teach thee to love? and reinform the ear
Of thy spent passion with some sorcery
To raise the chilly dead?

PAOLO. Thy lips have not
A sorcery to rouse me as this spell. [_Kisses her._

FRANCESCA. I give thy kisses back to thee again:
And, like a spendthrift, only ask of thee
To take while I can give.

PAOLO. Give, give forever!
Have we not touched the height of human bliss?
And if the sharp rebound may hurl us back
Among the prostrate, did we not soar once?--
Taste heavenly nectar, banquet with the gods
On high Olympus? If they cast us, now,
Amid the furies, shall we not go down
With rich ambrosia clinging to our lips,
And richer memories settled in our hearts?
Francesca.

FRANCESCA. Love?

PAOLO. The sun is sinking low
Upon the ashes of his fading pyre,
And gray possesses the eternal blue;
The evening star is stealing after him,
Fixed, like a beacon, on the prow of night;
The world is shutting up its heavy eye
Upon the stir and bustle of to-day;--
On what shall it awake?

FRANCESCA. On love that gives
Joy at all seasons, changes night to day,
Makes sorrow smile, plucks out the barbed dart
Of moaning anguish, pours celestial balm
In all the gaping wounds of earth, and lulls
The nervous fancies of unsheltered fear
Into a slumber sweet as infancy's!
On love that laughs at the impending sword,
And puts aside the shield of caution: cries,
To all its enemies, "Come, strike me now!--
Now, while I hold my kingdom, while my crown
Of amaranth and myrtle is yet green,
Undimmed, unwithered; for I cannot tell
That I shall e'er be happier!" Dear Paolo,
Would you lapse down from misery to death,
Tottering through sorrow and infirmity?
Or would you perish at a single blow,
Cut off amid your wildest revelry,
Falling among the wine-cups and the flowers,
And tasting Bacchus when your drowsy sense
First gazed around eternity? Come, love!
The present whispers joy to us; we'll hear
The voiceless future when its turn arrives.

PAOLO. Thou art a siren. Sing, forever sing;
Hearing thy voice, I cannot tell what fate
Thou hast provided when the song is o'er;--
But I will venture it.

FRANCESCA. In, in, my love! [_Exeunt._

PEPE _steals from behind the bushes._

PEPE. O, brother Lanciotto!--O, my stars!--
If this thing lasts, I simply shall go mad!
[_Laughs, and rolls on the ground._]
O Lord! to think my pretty lady puss
Had tricks like this, and we ne'er know of it!
I tell you, Lanciotto, you and I
Must have a patent for our foolery!
"She smiled; he kissed her full upon the mouth!"--
There's the beginning; where's the end of it?
O poesy! debauch thee only once,
And thou'rt the greatest wanton in the world!
O cousin Lanciotto--ho, ho, ho! [_Laughing._]
Can a man die of laughter? Here we sat;
Mistress Francesca so demure and calm;
Paolo grand, poetical, sublime!--
Eh! what is this? Paolo's dagger? Good!
Here is more proof, sweet cousin Broken-back.
"In thoughts of love, we'll lay our weapons by!"
[_Mimicking_ PAOLO.]
That's very pretty! Here's its counterpart:
In thoughts of hate, we'll pick them up again!
[_Takes the dagger._]
Now for my soldier, now for crook-backed Mars!
Ere long all Rimini will be ablaze.
He'll kill me? Yes: what then? That's nothing new,
Except to me; I'll bear for custom's sake.
More blood will follow; like the royal sun,
I shall go down in purple. Fools for luck;
The proverb holds like iron. I must run,
Ere laughter smother me.--O, ho, ho, ho! [_Exit, laughing._

SCENE II.

_A Camp among the Hills. Before_ LANCIOTTO'S _tent. Enter, from the
tent,_ LANCIOTTO.

LANCIOTTO. The camp is strangely quiet. Not a sound
Breaks nature's high solemnity. The sun
Repeats again his every-day decline;
Yet all the world looks sadly after him,
As if the customary sight were new.
Yon moody sentinel goes slowly by,
Through the thick mists of evening, with his spear
Trailed at a funeral hold. Long shadows creep,
From things beyond the furthest range of sight,
Up to my very feet. These mystic shades
Are of the earth; the light that causes them,
And teaches us the quick comparison,
Is all from heaven. Ah! restless man might crawl
With patience through his shadowy destiny,
If he were senseless to the higher light
Towards which his soul aspires. How grand and vast
Is yonder show of heavenly pageantry!
How mean and narrow is the earthly stand
From which we gaze on it! Magnificent,
O God, art thou amid the sunsets! Ah!
What heart in Rimini is softened now,
Towards my defects, by this grand spectacle?
Perchance, Paolo now forgives the wrong
Of my hot spleen. Perchance, Francesca now
Wishes me back, and turns a tenderer eye
On my poor person and ill-mannered ways;
Fashions excuses for me, schools her heart
Through duty into love, and ponders o'er
The sacred meaning in the name of wife.
Dreams, dreams! Poor fools, we squander love away
On thankless borrowers; when bankrupt quite,
We sit and wonder of their honesty.
Love, take a lesson from the usurer,
And never lend but on security.
Captain!

_Enter a_ CAPTAIN.

CAPTAIN. My lord.

LANCIOTTO. They worsted us to-day.

CAPTAIN. Not much, my lord.

LANCIOTTO. With little loss, indeed.
Their strength is in position. Mark you, sir.
[_Draws on the ground with his sword._]
Here is the pass; it opens towards the plain,
With gradual widening, like a lady's fan.
The hills protect their flank on either hand;
And, as you see, we cannot show more front
Than their advance may give us. Then, the rocks
Are sorry footing for our horse. Just here,
Close in against the left-hand hills, I marked
A strip of wood, extending down the gorge:
Behind that wood dispose your force ere dawn.
I shall begin the onset, then give ground,
And draw them out; while you, behind the wood,
Must steal along, until their flank and rear
Oppose your column. Then set up a shout,
Burst from the wood, and drive them on our spears.
They have no outpost in the wood, I know;
'Tis too far from their centre. On the morrow,
When they are flushed with seeming victory,
And think my whole division in full rout,
They will not pause to scrutinize the wood;
So you may enter boldly. We will use
The heart to-day's repulse has given to them,
For our advantage. Do you understand?

CAPTAIN. Clearly, my lord.

LANCIOTTO. If they discover you,
Before you gain your point, wheel, and retreat
Upon my rear. If your attack should fail
To strike them with a panic, and they turn
In too great numbers on your small command,
Scatter your soldiers through the wood:
Let each seek safety for himself.

CAPTAIN. I see.

LANCIOTTO. Have Pluto shod; he cast a shoe to-day:
Let it be done at once. My helmet, too,
Is worn about the lacing; look to that.
Where is my armourer?

CAPTAIN. At his forge.

LANCIOTTO. Your charge
Must be at sunrise--just at sunrise, sir--
Neither before nor after. You must march
At moonset, then, to gain the point ere dawn.
That is enough.

CAPTAIN. Good-even! [_Going._

LANCIOTTO. Stay, stay, stay!
My sword-hilt feels uneasy in my grasp; [_Gives his sword._]
Have it repaired; and grind the point. Strike hard!
I'll teach these Ghibelins a lesson. [_Loud laughter within._]
Ha!
What is that clamour?

_Enter hastily_ PEPE, _tattered and travel-stained._

PEPE. News from Rimini! [_Falls exhausted._

LANCIOTTO. Is that you, Pepe? Captain, a good-night!
[_Exit CAPTAIN._]
I never saw you in such straits before.
Wit without words!

PEPE. That's better than--O!--O!-- [_Panting._]
Words without wit.

LANCIOTTO. [_Laughing._] You'll die a jester, Pepe.

PEPE. If so, I'll leave the needy all my wit.
You, you shall have it, cousin.--O! O! O! [_Panting._]
Those devils in the hills, the Ghibelins,
Ran me almost to death. My lord--ha! ha! [_Laughing._]
It all comes back to me--O! Lord 'a mercy!--
The garden, and the lady, and the Count!
Not to forget the poetry--ho! ho! [_Laughing._]
O! cousin Lanciotto, such a wife,
And such a brother! Hear me, ere I burst!

LANCIOTTO. You're pleasant, Pepe!

PEPE. Am I?--Ho! ho! ho! [_Laughing._]
You ought to be; your wife's a----

LANCIOTTO. What?

PEPE. A lady--
A lady, I suppose, like all the rest.
I am not in their secrets. Such a fellow
As Count Paolo is your man for that.
I'll tell you something, if you'll swear a bit.

LANCIOTTO. Swear what?

PEPE. First, swear to listen till the end.--
O! you may rave, curse, howl, and tear your hair;
But you must listen.

LANCIOTTO. For your jest's sake? Well.

PEPE. You swear?

LANCIOTTO. I do.

PEPE. Next, swear to know the truth.

LANCIOTTO. The truth of a fool's story!

PEPE. You mistake.
Now, look you, cousin! You have often marked--
I know, for I have seen--strange glances pass
Between Paolo and your lady wife.--

LANCIOTTO. Ha! Pepe!

PEPE. Now I touch you to the quick.
I know the reason of those glances.

LANCIOTTO. Ha!
Speak! or I'll throttle you! [_Seizes him._

PEPE. Your way is odd.
Let go my gullet, and I'll talk you deaf.
Swear my last oath: only to know the truth.

LANCIOTTO. But that may trouble me.

PEPE. Your honour lies--
Your precious honour, cousin Chivalry--
Lies bleeding with a terrible great gash,
Without its knowledge. Swear!

LANCIOTTO. My honour? Speak!

PEPE. You swear?

LANCIOTTO. I swear. Your news is ill, perchance?

PEPE. Ill! would I bring it else? Am I inclined
To run ten leagues with happy news for you?
O, Lord, that's jolly!

LANCIOTTO. You infernal imp,
Out with your story, ere I strangle you!

PEPE. Then take a fast hold on your two great oaths,
To steady tottering manhood, and attend.
Last eve, about this hour, I took a stroll
Into the garden.--Are you listening, cousin?

LANCIOTTO. I am all ears.

PEPE. Why, so an ass might say.

LANCIOTTO. Will you be serious?

PEPE. Wait a while, and we
Will both be graver than a church-yard. Well,
Down the long walk, towards me, came your wife,
With Count Paolo walking at her side.
It was a pretty sight, and so I stepped
Into the bushes. Ritta came with them;
And Lady Fanny had a grievous time
To get her off. That made me curious.
Anon, the pair sat down upon a bank,
To read a poem;--the tenderest romance,
All about Lancelot and Queen Guenevra.
The Count read well--I'll say that much for him--
Only he stuck too closely to the text,
Got too much wrapped up in the poesy,
And played Sir Lancelot's actions, out and out,
On Queen Francesca. Nor in royal parts
Was she so backward. When he struck the line--
"She smiled; he kissed her full upon the mouth;"
Your lady smiled, and, by the saints above,
Paolo carried out the sentiment!
Can I not move you?

LANCIOTTO. With such trash as this?
And so you ran ten leagues to tell a lie?--
Run home again.

PEPE. I am not ready yet.
After the kiss, up springs our amorous Count,
Flings Queen Guenevra and Sir Lancelot
Straight to the devil; growls and snaps his teeth,
Laughs, weeps, howls, dances; talks about his love,
His madness, suffering, and the Lord knows what,
Bullying the lady like a thief. But she,
All this hot time, looked cool and mischievous;
Gave him his halter to the very end;
And when he calmed a little, up she steps
And takes him by the hand. You should have seen
How tame the furious fellow was at once!
How he came down, snivelled, and cowed to her,
And fell to kissing her again! It was
A perfect female triumph! Such a scene
A man might pass through life and never see.
More sentiment then followed--buckets full
Of washy words, not worth my memory.
But all the while she wound his Countship up,
Closer and closer; till at last--tu!--wit!--
She scoops him up, and off she carries him,
Fish for her table! Follow, if you can;
My fancy fails me. All this time you smile!

LANCIOTTO. You should have been a poet, not a fool.

PEPE. I might be both.

LANCIOTTO. You made no record, then?
Must this fine story die for want of ink?
Left you no trace in writing?

PEPE. None.

LANCIOTTO. Alas!
Then you have told it? Tis but stale, my boy;
I'm second hearer.

PEPE. You are first, in faith.

LANCIOTTO. In truth?

PEPE. In sadness. You have got it fresh?
I had no time; I itched to reach your ear.
Now go to Rimini, and see yourself.
You'll find them in the garden. Lovers are
Like walking ghosts, they always haunt the spot
Of their misdeeds.

LANCIOTTO. But have I heard you out?
You told me all?

PEPE. All; I have nothing left.

LANCIOTTO. Why, you brain-stricken idiot, to trust
Your story and your body in my grasp! [_Seizes him._

PEPE. Unhand me, cousin!

LANCIOTTO. When I drop you, Pepe,
You'll be at rest.

PEPE. I will betray you--O!

LANCIOTTO. Not till the judgment day. [_They struggle._

PEPE. [_Drawing_ PAOLO'S _dagger._] Take that!

LANCIOTTO. [_Wresting the dagger from him._] Well meant,
But poorly done! Here's my return. [_Stabs him._

PEPE. O! beast! [_Falls._]
This I expected; it is naught--Ha! ha! [_Laughing._]
I'll go to sleep; but you--what will you bear!
Hunchback, come here!

LANCIOTTO. Fie! say your prayers.

PEPE. Hark, hark!
Paolo hired me, swine, to murder you.

LANCIOTTO. That is a lie; you never cared for gold.

PEPE. He did, I say! I'll swear to it, by heaven!
Do you believe me?

LANCIOTTO. No!

PEPE. You lie! you lie!
Look at the dagger, cousin--Ugh!--good-night! [_Dies._

LANCIOTTO. O! horrible! It was a gift of mine--
He never laid it by. Speak, speak, fool, speak!
[_Shakes the body._]
How didst thou get it?--speak! Thou'rt warm--not dead--
Thou hast a tongue--O! speak! Come, come, a jest--
Another jest from those thin mocking lips!
Call me a cripple--hunchback--what thou wilt;
But speak to me! He cannot. Now, by heaven,
I'll stir this business till I find the truth!
Am I a fool? It is a silly lie,
Coined by yon villain with his last base breath.
What ho! without there!

_Enter_ CAPTAIN _and Soldiers._

CAPTAIN. Did you call, my lord?

LANCIOTTO. Did Heaven thunder? Are you deaf, you louts?
Saddle my horse! What are you staring at?
Is it your first look at a dead man? Well,
Then look your fill. Saddle my horse, I say!
Black Pluto--stir! Bear that assassin hence.
Chop him to pieces, if he move. My horse!

CAPTAIN. My lord, he's shoeing.

LANCIOTTO. Did I ask for shoes?
I want my horse. Run, fellow, run! Unbarbed--
My lightest harness on his back. Fly, fly! [_Exit a SOLDIER._]
[_The others pick up the body._]
Ask him, I pray you, if he did not lie!

CAPTAIN. The man is dead, my lord.

LANCIOTTO. [_Laughing._] Then do not ask him!
[_Exeunt_ SOLDIERS _with the body._]
By Jupiter, I shall go mad, I think!
[_Walks about._

CAPTAIN. Something disturbs him. Do you mark the spot
Of purple on his brow? [_Apart to a SOLDIER._

SOLDIER. Then blood must flow.

LANCIOTTO. Boy, boy! [_Enter a_ PAGE.] My cloak and riding staff. Quick, quick!
How you all lag! [_Exit_ PAGE.] I ride to Rimini.
Skirmish to-morrow. Wait till my return--
I shall be back at sundown. You shall see
What slaughter is then!

CAPTAIN. Ho! turn out a guard!--

LANCIOTTO. I wish no guard; I ride alone.
[_Re-enter PAGE, with a cloak and staff._]
[_Taking them._] Well done!
Thou art a pretty boy.--And now my horse!

_Enter a_ SOLDIER.

SOLDIER. Pluto is saddled--

LANCIOTTO. 'Tis a damned black lie!

SOLDIER. Indeed, my lord--

LANCIOTTO. O! comrade, pardon me:
I talk at random. What, Paolo too,--
boy whom I have trotted on my knee!
Poh! I abuse myself by such a thought.
Francesca may not love me, may love him--
Indeed she ought; but when an angel comes
To play the wanton on this filthy earth,
Then I'll believe her guilty. Look you, sir!
Am I quite calm?

CAPTAIN. Quite calm, my lord.

LANCIOTTO. You see
No trace of passion on my face?--No sign
Of ugly humours, doubts, or fears, or aught
That may disfigure God's intelligence?
I have a grievous charge against you, sir,
That may involve your life; and if you doubt
The candour of my judgment, choose your time:
Shall I arraign you now?

CAPTAIN. Now, if you please.
I'll trust my cause to you and innocence
At any time. I am not conscious--

LANCIOTTO. Pshaw!
I try myself, not you. And I am calm--
That is your verdict--and dispassionate?

CAPTAIN. So far as I can judge.

LANCIOTTO. 'Tis well, 'tis well!
Then I will ride to Rimini. Good-night! [_Exit._

_The others look after him amazedly, and exeunt._

SCENE III.

_Rimini. The Garden of the Castle. Enter_ PAOLO _and_ FRANCESCA.

FRANCESCA. Thou hast resolved?

PAOLO. I've sworn it.

FRANCESCA. Ah, you men
Can talk of love and duty in a breath;
Love while you like, forget when you are tired,
And salve your falsehood with some wholesome saw;
But we, poor women, when we give our hearts,
Give all, lose all, and never ask it back.

PAOLO. What couldst thou ask for that I have not given?
With love I gave thee manly probity,
Innocence, honour, self-respect, and peace.
Lanciotto will return, and how shall I--
O! shame, to think of it!--how shall I look
My brother in the face? take his frank hand?
Return his tender glances? I should blaze
With guilty blushes.

FRANCESCA. Thou canst forsake me, then,
To spare thyself a little bashful pain?
Paolo, dost thou know what 'tis for me,
A woman--nay, a dame of highest rank--
To lose my purity? to walk a path
Whose slightest slip may fill my ear with sounds
That hiss me out to infamy and death?
Have I no secret pangs, no self-respect,
No husband's look to bear? O! worse than these,
I must endure his loathsome touch; be kind
When he would dally with his wife, and smile
To see him play thy part. Pah! sickening thought!
From that thou art exempt. Thou shalt not go!
Thou dost not love me!

PAOLO. Love thee! Standing here,
With countless miseries upon my head,
I say, my love for thee grows day by day.
It palters with my conscience, blurs my thoughts
Of duty, and confuses my ideas
Of right and wrong. Ere long, it will persuade
My shaking manhood that all this is just.

FRANCESCA. Let it! I'll blazon it to all the world,
Ere I will lose thee. Nay, if I had choice,
Between our love and my lost innocence,
I tell thee calmly, I would dare again
The deed which we have done. O! thou art cruel
To fly me, like a coward, for thy ease.
When thou art gone, thou'lt flatter thy weak heart
With hopes and speculations; and thou'lt swear
I suffer naught, because thou dost not see.
I will not live to bear it!

PAOLO. Die,--'twere best;
Tis the last desperate comfort of our sin.

FRANCESCA. I'll kill myself!

PAOLO. And so would I, with joy;
But crime has made a craven of me. O!
For some good cause to perish in! Something
A man might die for, looking in God's face;
Not slinking out of life with guilt like mine
Piled on the shoulders of a suicide!

FRANCESCA. Where wilt thou go?

PAOLO. I care not; anywhere
Out of this Rimini. The very things
That made the pleasures of my innocence
Have turned against me. There is not a tree,
Nor house, nor church, nor monument, whose face
Took hold upon my thoughts, that does not frown
Balefully on me. From their marble tombs
My ancestors scowl at me; and the night
Thickens to hear their hisses. I would pray,
But heaven jeers at it. Turn where'er I will,
A curse pursues me.

FRANCESCA. Heavens! O, say not so!
I never cursed thee, love; I never moved
My little finger, ere I looked to thee
For my instruction.

PAOLO. But my gentleness
Seems to reproach me; and, instead of joy,
It whispers horror!

FRANCESCA. Cease! cease!

PAOLO. I must go.

FRANCESCA. And I must follow. All that I call life
Is bound in thee. I could endure for thee
More agonies than thou canst catalogue--
For thy sake, love--bearing the ill for thee!
With thee, the devils could not so contrive
That I would blench or falter from my love!
Without thee, heaven were torture!

PAOLO. I must go. [_Going._

FRANCESCA. O! no--Paolo--dearest!-- [_Clinging to him._

PAOLO. Loose thy hold!
'Tis for thy sake, and Lanciotto's; I
Am as a cipher in the reckoning.
I have resolved. Thou canst but stretch the time.
Keep me to-day, and I will fly to-morrow--Steal
from thee like a thief. [_Struggles with her._

FRANCESCA. Paolo--love--
Indeed, you hurt me!--Do not use me thus!
Kill me, but do not leave me. I will laugh--
long, gay, ringing laugh--if thou wilt draw
Thy pitying sword, and stab me to the heart!

[_Enter_ LANCIOTTO _behind._]

Nay, then, one kiss!

LANCIOTTO. [_Advancing between them._] Take it: 'twill be the last.

PAOLO. Lo! Heaven is just!

FRANCESCA. The last! so be it. [_Kisses_ PAOLO.

LANCIOTTO. Ha!
Dare you these tricks before my very face?

FRANCESCA. Why not? I've kissed him in the sight of heaven;
Are you above it?

PAOLO. Peace, Francesca, peace!

LANCIOTTO. Paolo--why, thou sad and downcast man,
Look up! I have some words to speak with thee.
Thou art not guilty?

PAOLO. Yes, I am. But she
Has been betrayed; so she is innocent.
Her father tampered with her. I--

FRANCESCA. 'Tis false!
The guilt is mine. Paolo was entrapped
By love and cunning. I am shrewder far
Than you suspect.

PAOLO. Lanciotto, shut thy ears;
She would deceive thee.

LANCIOTTO. Silence, both of you!
Is guilt so talkative in its defense?
Then, let me make you judge and advocate
In your own cause. You are not guilty?

PAOLO. Yes.

LANCIOTTO. Deny it--but a word--say no. Lie, lie!
And I'll believe.

PAOLO. I dare not.

LANCIOTTO. Lady, you?

FRANCESCA. If I might speak for him--

LANCIOTTO. It cannot be:
Speak for yourself. Do you deny your guilt?

FRANCESCA. No! I assert it; but--

LANCIOTTO. In heaven's name, hold!
Will neither of you answer no to me?
A nod, a hint, a sign, for your escape.
Bethink you, life is centred in this thing.
Speak! I will credit either. No reply?
What does your crime deserve?

PAOLO. Death.

FRANCESCA. Death to both.

LANCIOTTO. Well said! You speak the law of Italy;
And by the dagger you designed for me,
In Pepe's hand,--your bravo?

PAOLO. It is false!
If you received my dagger from his hand,
He stole it.

LANCIOTTO. There, sweet heaven, I knew! And now
You will deny the rest? You see, my friends,
How easy of belief I have become!--
How easy 'twere to cheat me!

PAOLO. No; enough!
I will not load my groaning spirit more;
A lie would crush it.

LANCIOTTO. Brother, once you gave
Life to this wretched piece of workmanship,
When my own hand resolved its overthrow.
Revoke the gift. [_Offers to stab himself._

PAOLO. [_Preventing him._] Hold, homicide!

LANCIOTTO. But think,
You and Francesca may live happily,
After my death, as only lovers can.

PAOLO. Live happily, after a deed like this!

LANCIOTTO. Now, look ye! there is not one hour of life
Among us three. Paolo, you are armed--
You have a sword, I but a dagger: see!
I mean to kill you.

FRANCESCA. [_Whispers to_ PAOLO.] Give thy sword to me.

PAOLO. Away! thou'rt frantic. I will never lift
This wicked hand against thee.

LANCIOTTO. Coward, slave!
Art thou so faint? Does Malatesta's blood
Run in thy puny veins? Take that! [_Strikes him._

PAOLO. And more:
Thou canst not offer more than I will bear.

LANCIOTTO. Paolo, what a craven has thy guilt
Transformed thee to! Why, I have seen the time
When thou'dst have struck at heaven for such a thing!
Art thou afraid?

PAOLO. I am.

LANCIOTTO. O! infamy!
Can man sink lower? I will wake thee, though:--
Thou shalt not die a coward. See! look here!
[_Stabs_ FRANCESCA.

FRANCESCA. O!--O!-- [_Falls._

PAOLO. Remorseless man, dare you do this,
And hope to live? Die, murderer!
[_Draws, rushes at him, but pauses._

LANCIOTTO. Strike, strike!
Ere thy heart fail.

PAOLO. I cannot. [_Throws away his sword._

LANCIOTTO. Dost thou see
Yon bloated spider--hideous as myself--
Climbing aloft, to reach that wavering twig?
When he has touched it, one of us must die.
Here is the dagger.--Look at me, I say!
Keep your eyes from that woman! Look, think, choose!--
Turn here to me: thou shalt not look at her!

PAOLO. O, heaven!

LANCIOTTO. 'Tis done!

PAOLO. [_Struggling with him._] O! Lanciotto, hold!
Hold, for thy sake! Thou wilt repent this deed.

LANCIOTTO. I know it.

FRANCESCA. [_Rising._] Help!--O! murder!--help, help, help!
[_She totters towards them, and falls._

LANCIOTTO. Our honour, boy. [_Stabs_ PAOLO; _he falls._

FRANCESCA. Paolo!

PAOLO. Hark! she calls.
I pray thee, brother, help me to her side.

[LANCIOTTO _helps him to_ FRANCESCA.

LANCIOTTO. Why, there!

PAOLO. God bless thee!

LANCIOTTO. Have I not done well?
What were the honour of the Malatesti,
With such a living slander fixed to it?
Cripple! that's something--cuckold! that is damned!
You blame me?

PAOLO. No.

LANCIOTTO. You, lady?

FRANCESCA. No, my lord.

LANCIOTTO. May God forgive you! We are even now:
Your blood has cleared my honour, and our name
Shines to the world as ever.

PAOLO. O!--O!--

FRANCESCA. Love,
Art suffering?

PAOLO. But for thee.

FRANCESCA. Here, rest thy head
Upon my bosom. Fie upon my blood!
It stains thy ringlets. Ha! he dies! Kind saints,
I was first struck, why cannot I die first?
Paolo, wake!--God's mercy! wilt thou go
Alone--without me? Prithee, strike again!
Nay, I am better--love--now--O! [_Dies._

LANCIOTTO. [_Sinks upon his knees._] Great heaven!

MALATESTA. [_Without._] This way, I heard the cries.

_Enter with_ GUIDO, ATTENDANTS, _etc._

GUIDO. O! horrible!

MALATESTA. O! bloody spectacle! Where is thy brother?

LANCIOTTO. So Cain was asked. Come here, old men! You shrink
From two dead bodies and a pool of blood--
You soldiers, too! Come here!
[_Drags_ MALATESTA _and_ GUIDO _forward._

MALATESTA. O!--O!--

LANCIOTTO. You groan!
What must I do, then? Father, here it is,--
The blood of Guido mingled with our own,
As my old nurse predicted. And the spot
Of her infernal baptism burns my brain
Till reason shudders! Down, upon your knees!
Ay, shake them harder, and perchance they'll wake.
Keep still! Kneel, kneel! You fear them? I shall prowl
About these bodies till the day of doom.

MALATESTA. What hast thou done?

GUIDO. Francesca!--O! my child!

LANCIOTTO. Can howling make this sight more terrible?
Peace! You disturb the angels up in heaven,
While they are hiding from this ugly earth.
Be satisfied with what you see. You two
Began this tragedy, I finished it.
Here, by these bodies, let us reckon up
Our crimes together. Why, how still they lie!
A moment since, they walked, and talked, and kissed!
Defied me to my face, dishonoured me!
They had the power to do it then; but now,
Poor souls, who'll shield them in eternity?
Father, the honour of our house is safe:
I have the secret. I will to the wars,
And do more murders, to eclipse this one.
Back to the battles; there I breathe in peace;
And I will take a soldier's honour back.--
Honour! what's that to me now? Ha! ha! ha! [_Laughing._]
A great thing, father! I am very ill.
I killed thy son for honour: thou mayst chide.

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