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A Tragedy in Five Acts
M.A.; Honorary Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford Knight of the Redeemer of Greece, Etc., Etc.
London Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1, Paternoster Square 1886
(The rights of translation and of reproduction are reserved.)
Act I Scene 1 Bosphorus. The King's palace. Scene 2 Outside the palace.
Act II Scene 1 Lamachus' palace, Cherson. Scene 2 Outside the palace of Lamachus. Scene 3 A street in Cherson. Scene 4 The garden without the banqueting-room.
Act III Scene 1 Cherson, two years after. The palace of Lamachus. Scene 2 The same. Scene 3 A room in the palace. Scene 4 Irene's prison. Scene 5 Outside the palace.
Act IV Scene 1 Cherson. Irene's prison. Scene 2 Room in Lamachus's palace. Scene 3 The council chamber of the Senate of Cherson.
Act V Scene 1 Lamachus's palace. Scene 2 The banquet hall. Scene 3 Outside the banquet hall. Scene 4 The Senate-chamber.
Notices of the press
The following Drama was written with a view to Stage representation, and it is therefore rather as an Acting Play than as a Dramatic Poem that it should be judged by its readers.
It follows as closely as possible the striking story recorded by Constantine Porphyrogenitus in his work, "De Administratione Imperii." Nor has the writer had occasion (except in the death of the heroine) to modify the powerful historical situations and incidents to which it is right to say his attention was first directed by his friend the well-known scholar and critic, Mr. W. Watkiss Lloyd.
The date of the story is circa 970 A.D.
PEOPLE OF BOSPHORUS.
The KING OF BOSPHORUS.
ASANDER, Prince of Bosphorus.
LYSIMACHUS, a statesman.
MEGACLES, a chamberlain from the Imperial Court of Constantinople.
Three Courtiers, accompanying Asander and accomplices in the plot.
PEOPLE OF CHERSON.
LAMACHUS, Archon of the Republic of Cherson.
ZETHO, his successor.
THEODORUS, a young noble (brother to Irene), in love with Gycia.
BARDANES, first Senator.
Ambassador to Bosphorus.
The Senators of Cherson.
GYCIA, daughter of Lamachus.
IRENE, a lady—her friend, in love with Asander.
MELISSA, an elderly lady in waiting on Gycia.
Child, daughter of the Gaoler.
SCENE I.—Bosphorus. The King's palace. The KING, in anxious thought. To him LYSIMACHUS, afterwards ASANDER.
Lys. What ails the King, that thus his brow is bent By such a load of care?
King. Lysimachus, The load of empire lies a weary weight, On age-worn brains; tho' skies and seas may smile, And steadfast favouring Fortune sit serene, Guiding the helm of State, but well thou knowest— None better in my realm—through what wild waves, Quicksands, and rock-fanged straits, our Bosphorus, Laden with all our love, reels madly on To shipwreck and to ruin. From the North, Storm-cloud on storm-cloud issuing vollies forth Fresh thunderbolts of war. The Emperor Dallies within his closed seraglios, Letting his eunuchs waste the might of Rome, While the fierce Scythian, in a surge of blood, Bursts on our bare-swept plains. Upon the South, Our rival Cherson, with a jealous eye, Waits on our adverse chances, taking joy Of her republican guile in every check And buffet envious Fortune deals our State, Which doth obey a King. Of all our foes I hate and dread these chiefly, for I fear Lest, when my crown falls from my palsied brow, My son Asander's youth may prove too weak To curb these crafty burghers. Speak, I pray thee, Most trusty servant. Can thy loyal brain Devise some scheme whereby our dear-loved realm May break the mesh of Fate?
Lys. Indeed, my liege, Too well I know our need, and long have tossed Through sleepless nights, if haply I might find Some remedy, but that which I have found Shows worse than the disease.
King. Nay, speak; what is it? I know how wise thy thought.
Lys. My liege, it chances The Archon Lamachus is old and spent. He has an only child, a daughter, Gycia, The treasure of his age, who now blooms forth In early maidenhood. The girl is fair As is a morn in springtide; and her father A king in all but name, such reverence His citizens accord him. Were it not well The Prince Asander should contract himself In marriage to this girl, and take the strength Of Cherson for her dowry, and the power Of their strong fleets and practised arms to thrust The invading savage backward?
King. Nay, my lord; No more of this, I pray. There is no tribe Of all the blighting locust swarms of war, Which sweep our wasted fields, I would not rather Take to my heart and cherish than these vipers. Dost thou forget, my lord, how of old time, In the brave days of good Sauromatus, These venomous townsmen, shamelessly allied With the barbarian hosts, brought us to ruin; Or, with the failing force of Caesar leagued, By subtle devilish enginery of war, Robbed Bosphorus of its own, when, but for them, Byzantium were our prey, and all its might, And we Rome's masters? Nay; I swear to thee, I would rather see the Prince dead at my feet, I would rather see our loved State sunk and lost, Than know my boy, the sole heir of my crown, The sole hope of my people, taken and noosed By this proud upstart girl. Speak not of it; Ruin were better far.
Lys. My liege, I bear No greater favour to these insolent townsmen Than thou thyself. I, who have fought with them From my first youth—who saw my father slain, Not in fair fight, pierced through by honest steel, But unawares, struck by some villanous engine, Which, armed with inextinguishable fire, Flew hissing from the walls and slew at once Coward and brave alike; I, whose young brother, The stripling who to me was as a son, Taken in some sally, languished till he died, Chained in their dungeons' depths;—must I not hate them With hate as deep as hell? And yet I know There is no other way than that Asander Should wed this woman. This alone can staunch The bleeding wounds of the State.
King. Lysimachus, I am old; my will is weak, my body bent, Not more than is my mind; I cannot reason. But hark! I hear the ring of coursers' feet Bespeak Asander coming. What an air Of youth and morning breathes round him, and brings A light of hope again!
Enter ASANDER from the chase.
Asan. My dearest sire and King, art thou thus grave Of choice, or does our good Lysimachus, Bringing unwonted loads of carking care, O'ercloud thy brow? I prithee, father, fret not; There is no cloud of care I yet have known— And I am now a man, and have my cares— Which the fresh breath of morn, the hungry chase, The echoing horn, the jocund choir of tongues, Or joy of some bold enterprise of war, When the swift squadrons smite the echoing plains, Scattering the stubborn spearmen, may not break, As does the sun the mists. Nay, look not grave; My youth is strong enough for any burden Fortune can set on me.
King. Couldst thou, Asander, Consent to serve the State, if it should bid thee Wed without love?
Asan. What, father, is that all? I do not know this tertian fever, love, Of which too oft my comrades groan and sigh, This green-sick blight, which turns a lusty soldier To a hysterical girl. Wed without love? One day I needs must wed, though love I shall not. And if it were indeed to serve the State, Nay, if 'twould smooth one wrinkle from thy brow, Why, it might be to-morrow. Tell me, father, Who is this paragon that thou designest Shall call me husband? Some barbarian damsel Reared on mare's milk, and nurtured in a tent In Scythia? Well, 'twere better than to mate With some great lady from the Imperial Court, Part tigress and all wanton. I care not; Or if the scheme miscarry, I care not. Tell me, good father.
King. Wouldst thou wed, Asander, If 'twere to save the State, a Greek from Cherson?
Asan. From Cherson? Nay, my liege; that were too much. A girl from out that cockatrice's den— Take such a one to wife? I would liefer take A viper to my breast! Nay, nay, you jest, My father, for you hate this low-born crew, Grown gross by huckstering ways and sordid craft— Ay, more than I.
King. It is no jest, my son. Our good Lysimachus will tell thee all Our need and whence it comes.
Lys. My gracious Prince, Thus stands the case, no otherwise. Our foes Press closer year by year, our widespread plains Are ravaged, and our bare, unpeopled fields Breed scantier levies; while the treasury Stands empty, and we have not means to buy The force that might resist them. Nought but ruin, Speedy, inevitable, can await Our failing Bosphorus' unaided strength, Unless some potent rich ally should join Our weakness to her might. None other is there To which to look but Cherson; and I know, From trusty friends among them, that even now, Perchance this very day, an embassy Comes to us with design that we should sink Our old traditional hate in the new bonds Which Hymen binds together. For the girl Gycia, the daughter of old Lamachus, Their foremost man, there comes but one report— That she is fair as good.
Asan. My lord, I pray you, Waste not good breath. If I must sell myself, It matters not if she be fair or foul, Angel or doubly damned; hating the race, Men, maidens, young and old, I would blight my life To save my country.
King. Thanks, my dearest son. There spake a patriot indeed.
Servant. My liege, An embassy from Cherson for the King.
Enter AMBASSADOR, with retinue.
Ambas. Sirs, I bring you a message from Lamachus, the Archon of Cherson.
Lys. Sirs, forsooth! Know ye not the dignity of princes, or does your republican rudeness bar you from all courtesy? I do not count myself equal to the King, nor, therefore, should you.
King. Nay, good Lysimachus, let him proceed.
Ambas. If I am blunt of speech, I beg your forgiveness. I bring to you a letter from the citizen Lamachus, which I shall read, if it be your pleasure.
King. Read on.
Ambas. "To the King of Bosphorus, Lamachus sends greeting. We are both old. Let us forget the former enmities of our States, and make an alliance which shall protect us against the storm of barbarian invasion which Caesar is too weak to ward off. Thou hast a son, and I a daughter. Thy son is, from all report, a brave youth and worthy. My daughter is the paragon of her sex. I have wealth and possessions and respect as great as if I were a sceptred King. The youth and the maid are of fitting age. Let us join their hands together, and with them those of our States, and grow strong enough to defy the barbarians, and Rome also."
Asan. My liege, I am willing for this marriage. Let it be.
King. My son, we have not yet heard all. Read on, sir.
Ambas. "There is one condition which not my will, but the jealousy of our people enforces, viz. that the Prince Asander, if he weds my daughter, shall thenceforth forswear his country, nor seek to return to it on pain of death. I pray thee, pardon the rudeness of my countrymen; but they are Greeks, and judge their freedom more than their lives."
Asan. Insolent hounds! This is too much. I will have none of them. Take back that message.
King. Thou art right, my son. I could not bear to lose thee, not to win A thousand Chersons. Let us fight alone, And see what fortune sends us.
Lys. Good my liege, Be not too hasty. (To Ambassador) Sir, the King has heard The message which you bring, and presently Will send a fitting answer.
Nay, my liege, I beg your patience. That these fellows make Their friendship difficult is true; but think How great the value of it, and remember How easy 'tis to promise and break faith With insolent dogs like these. This Lamachus Is older than your grace, and feebler far. He will not live for ever, and, he gone, Will not the Prince Asander be as great, The husband of his daughter and his heir, As he is now, and sway the power of Cherson For our own ends, and cast to all the winds This foul enforced compact, and o'erturn This commonwealth of curs? I will stake my life That three years shall not pass ere he is King Of Cherson in possession, and at once Of Bosphorus next heir. "The tongue hath sworn, the mind remains unsworn," So says their poet.
Asan. I'll have none of it. I am not all Greek, but part Cimmerian, And scorn to break my word. Let us face ruin, father, not deceit.
King. My noble son, I love thee.
Lys. Good my liege, And thou, my Lord Asander, ponder it. Consider our poor country's gaping wounds, And what a remedy lies to our hands. I will die willingly if I devise not A scheme to bend these upstarts to your will.
SCENE II.—Outside the palace.
MEGACLES and Courtiers.
Meg. Well, my lords, and so it is all settled. We must all be on board in half an hour. His Altitude the Prince sails at once for Cherson, and with a view to his immediate marriage. Was ever such a rash step heard of? Not twenty-four hours to get ready the marriage equipment of a Prince of Bosphorus. Well, well, I dare say they would be glad enough to take him with no rag to his back. I dare say these rascally republicans would know no better if he were to be married in his everyday suit.
1st Court. I' faith, I should never have dreamt it. Asander, who is the boldest huntsman and the bravest soldier, and the best of good fellows, to go and tie himself to the apron-strings of a Greek girl, a tradesman's daughter from Cherson, of all places on earth! Pah! it makes me sick!
2nd Court. But I hear she is beautiful as Artemis, and——Well, we are all young or have been, and beauty is a strong loadstone to such metal as the Prince's.
3rd Court. Nay, he has never set eyes on her; and, for that matter, the Lady Irene was handsome enough in all conscience, and a jovial young gentlewoman to boot. Ye gods! do you mind how she sighed for him and pursued him? It was a sight to please the goddess Aphrodite herself. But then, our good Asander, who had only to lift up his little finger, was so cold and positively forbidding, that I once came upon the poor lady crying her eyes out in a passion of mortified feeling.
1st Court. Ay, she was from this outlandish Cherson, was not she? Aphrodite was a Greek woman also, remember.
2nd Court. So she was. I had quite forgotten where the lady came from. Well, if she is there now, and cannot get her Prince, and would like a gay, tolerably well-favoured young fellow for a lover, I suppose she need go no further than the present company.
Meg. My lords, I pray you leave these frivolities, and let us come to serious matters. Think, I beg you, in what a painful position I am placed. I am to go, without proper notice, as Master of the Ceremonies of the Court of Bosphorus, to conduct an important Court-ceremonial with a pack of scurvy knaves, who, I will be bound, hardly know the difference between an Illustrious and a Respectable, or a Respectable and an Honourable. I must do my best to arrange all decently and in order, and as near as may be to the Imperial model, and all these matters I have to devise on shipboard, tossed about on that villanous Euxine, with a smell of pitch everywhere, and sea-sickness in my stomach. And when I get to Cherson, if ever I do get there alive, I have not the faintest idea whom I am to consult with—whether there is a Count of the Palace or anybody, in fact. I dare say there is nobody; I am sure there is nobody. A marriage of the heir apparent is a very serious affair, let me tell you. What a comfort it is that I have got the last edition of that precious work of the divine Theodosius on Dignities! If it were not for that, I should go mad.
1st Court. My good Megacles, I warn you the Prince cares as little for etiquette as he does for love-making.
Meg. Very likely, and that makes my position so difficult. Just reflect for a moment. When we go ashore at Cherson, I suppose we shall be received by the authorities?
2nd Court. Surely, good Megacles.
Meg. Then, how many steps should Prince Asander take to meet his father-in-law Lamachus—eh? And how many steps should Lamachus take? You never gave the matter a thought? Of course not. And these are questions to be settled on the spot, and scores like them.
3rd Court. I dare say it won't matter at all, or very little.
Meg. Matter very little, indeed! very little, forsooth! Why, in the name of all the saints, do not alliances fall through for less? Are not bloody wars fought for less? Do I not remember the sad plight of the Grand Chamberlain, when the Illustrious Leo, the Pro-Consul of Macedonia, had a meeting at Court with the Respectable the Vice-Prefect of Pannonia? Now, the Pro-Consul should have taken four steps forward, as being the most noble, the Vice-Prefect five. But, the Vice-Prefect being a tall man, and the Pro-Consul a short one, the Grand Chamberlain did not sufficiently measure their distances; and so when they had taken but four steps each, there were the two Dignitaries bolt upright, face to face, glaring at each other, and no room to take the fraction of a foot pace more.
1st Court. Faith, a very laughable situation, good Megacles. Was it hard to settle?
Meg. I should think it was hard to settle. No one could interfere; the Book of Ceremonies was sent for, and was silent. There was nothing for it but that the Emperor, after half an hour, broke up the Court in confusion, and those two remained where they were till it was quite dark, and then they got away, no one knows how. But what came of it? For fifteen years there was war and bloodshed between the provinces, and but for the invasion of the Goths, there would be to this day. Matter little, indeed! Why, you foolish youngster, ceremony is everything in life. To understand Precedence aright is to know the secrets of nature. The order of Precedence is the order of Creation. It is, in fact, a very cosmogony. Oh, a noble science! a noble science!
1st Court. Right, good Megacles, to magnify your office. Bravery is nothing; goodness is nothing; beauty is a foolish dream. Give us Ceremony, Ceremony, more Ceremony; it is the salt of life.
Meg. A very intelligent youth. But here comes the King.
Enter the KING, ASANDER, and LYSIMACHUS.
Asan. My liege, I do your will, Though with a heavy heart. Farewell, my father. If I must bid farewell to this dear City, Which nourished me from childhood, 'tis to save it, Not otherwise, and thou my sire and King. From thee I do not part, and oftentimes, If the saints will, I yet shall welcome thee, When all our foes are routed and our troubles Fled like some passing storm-cloud, to my hearth, And set thy heir upon thy knees, a Prince Of Bosphorus and Cherson.
King. Good, my son. I pray God keep you, for I dimly fear, So dark a presage doth obscure my mind, That we shall meet no more.
Lys. My honoured liege, These are the figments of a mind which grief Hath part disordered. Thou shalt see thy son, Trust me for it; I swear it. One thing more Remains. I know what 'tis to be a youth As yet untouched by love; I know what charm Lies in the magic of a woman's eyes For a young virgin heart. I pray you, sir, Swear to me by the saints, that, come what may, For no allurement which thy new life brings thee, The love of wife or child, wilt thou forget Our Bosphorus, but still wilt hold her weal Above all other objects of thy love In good or adverse fortune.
Asan. Nay, my lord, There is no need for oaths; yet will I swear it, Here on this soldier's cross.
[Makes a cross with the hilt of his sword.
Farewell, my father, I mar my manhood, staying.
King. Farewell, son. Let my old eyes fix on thee till thou goest Beneath the farthest verge. Good Megacles, And you brave gentlemen, be faithful all To me and to your Prince.
Lys. My Lord Asander, Remember!
END OF ACT I.
SCENE I.—Lamachus' palace, Cherson.
GYCIA and IRENE.
Gycia. Sweetest Irene, What joy it is to see thee once again After so long an absence! We had grown Together on one stalk so long, since first Our girlish lives began to burst to flower, That it was hard to part us. But methinks That something of the rose from off thy cheek Has faded, and its rounded outline fair Seems grown a little thinner.
Ire. Gycia, The flower, once severed from the stalk, no more Grows as before.
Gycia. Thou strange girl, to put on Such grave airs! Ah! I fear at Bosphorus Some gay knight has bewitched thee; thou hast fallen In love, as girls say—though what it may be To fall in love, I know not, thank the gods, Having much else to think of.
Ire. Prithee, dear, Speak not of this.
Gycia. Ah! then I know 'tis true. Confess what manner of thing love is.
Ire. Nay, nay, I cannot tell thee (weeping), Gycia; Thou knowest not what thou askest. What is love? Seek not to know it. 'Tis to be no more Thy own, but all another's; 'tis to dwell By day and night on one fixed madding thought, Till the form wastes, and with the form the heart Is warped from right to wrong, and can forget All that it loved before, faith, duty, country, Friendship, affection—everything but love. Seek not to know it, dear; or, knowing it, Be happier than I.
Gycia. My poor Irene! Then, 'tis indeed a misery to love. I do repent that I have tortured thee By such unthinking jests. Forgive me, dear, I will speak no more of it; with me thy secret Is safe as with a sister. Shouldst thou wish To unburden to me thy unhappy heart, If haply I might bring thy love to thee. Thou shalt his name divulge and quality, And I will do my best.
Ire. Never, dear Gycia. Forget my weakness; 'twas a passing folly, I love a man who loves me not again, And that is very hell. I would die sooner Than breathe his name to thee. Farewell, dear lady! Thou canst not aid me.
Gycia. Hapless girl! Praise Heaven That I am fancy-free!
Lama. My dearest daughter, why this solemn aspect? I have glad news for thee. Thou knowest of old The weary jealousies, the bloody feuds, Which 'twixt our Cherson and her neighbour City Have raged ere I was born—nay, ere my grandsire First saw the light of heaven. Both our States Are crippled by this brainless enmity. And now the Empire, now the Scythian, threatens Destruction to our Cities, whom, united, We might defy with scorn. Seeing this weakness, Thy father, wishful, ere his race be run, To save our much-loved Cherson, sent of late Politic envoys to our former foe, And now—i' faith, I am not so old, 'twould seem That I have lost my state-craft—comes a message. The Prince Asander, heir of Bosphorus, Touches our shores to-day, and presently Will be with us.
Gycia. Oh, father, is it wise? Do fire and water mingle? Does the hawk Mate with the dove; the tiger with the lamb; The tyrant with the peaceful commonwealth; Fair commerce with the unfruitful works of war? What union can there be 'twixt our fair city And this half-barbarous race? 'Twere against nature To bid these opposite elements combine— The Greek with the Cimmerian. Father, pray you, Send them away, with honour if you please, And soothing words and gifts—only, I pray you, Send them away, this Prince who doth despise us, And his false retinue of slaves.
Lama. My daughter, Thy words are wanting in thy wonted love And dutiful observance. 'Twere an insult Unwashed by streams of bloodshed, should our City Scorn thus the guests it summoned. Come they must, And with all hospitable care and honour, Else were thy sire dishonoured. Thou wilt give them A fitting welcome.
Gycia. Pardon me, my father, That I spoke rashly. I obey thy will.
Lama. Stay, Gycia. Dost thou know what 'tis to love?
Gycia. Ay, thee, dear father.
Lama. Nay, I know it well. But has no noble youth e'er touched thy heart?
Gycia. None, father, Heaven be praised! The young Irene Was with me when thou cam'st, and all her life Seems blighted by this curse of love—for one Whose name she hides, with whom in Bosphorus She met, when there she sojourned. Her young brother, The noble Theodorus, whom thou knowest, Lets all the world go by him and grows pale For love, and pines, and wherefore?—For thy daughter, Who knows not what love means, and cannot brook Such brain-sick folly. Nay, be sure, good father, I love not thus, and shall not.
Lama. Well, well, girl, Thou wilt know it yet. I fetter not thy choice, But if thou couldst by loving bind together Not two hearts only, but opposing peoples; Supplant by halcyon days long years of strife, And link them in unbroken harmony;— Were this no glory for a woman, this No worthy price of her heart?
Gycia. Tell me, I pray, What mean you by this riddle?
Lama. Prince Asander Comes here to ask your hand, and with it take A gracious dower of peace and amity. He does not ask thee to forsake thy home, But leaves for thee his own. All tongues together Are full of praise of him: virgin in love, A brave youth in the field, as we have proved In many a mortal fight; a face and form Like a young god's. I would, my love, thy heart Might turn to him, and find thy happiness In that which makes me happy. I am old And failing, and I fain would see thee blest Before I die, and at thy knees an heir To all my riches, and the State of Cherson From anxious cares delivered, and through thee.
Gycia. Father, we are of the Athenian race, Which was the flower of Hellas. Ours the fame Of Poets, Statesmen, Orators, whose works And thoughts upon the forehead of mankind Shine like a precious jewel; ours the glory Of those great Soldiers who by sea and land Scattered the foemen to the winds of heaven, First in the files of time. And though our mother, Our Athens, sank, crushed by the might of Rome, What is Rome now?—An Empire rent in twain; An Empire sinking 'neath the unwieldy weight Of its own power; an Empire where the Senate Ranks lower than the Circus, and a wanton Degrades the Imperial throne. But though to its fall The monster totters, this our Cherson keeps The bravery of old, and still maintains The old Hellenic spirit and some likeness Of the fair Commonwealth which ruled the world. Surely, my father, 'tis a glorious spring Drawn from the heaven-kissed summits whence we come; And shall we, then, defile our noble blood By mixture with this upstart tyranny Which fouls the Hellenic pureness of its source In countless bastard channels? If our State Ask of its children sacrifice, 'tis well. It shall be given; only I prithee, father, Seek not that I should with barbaric blood Taint the pure stream, which flows from Pericles. Let me abide unwedded, if I may, A Greek girl as before.
Lama. Daughter, thy choice Is free as air to accept or to reject This suitor; only, in the name of Cherson, Do nothing rashly, and meanwhile take care That nought that fits a Grecian State be wanting To do him honour.
Gycia. Sir, it shall be done.
SCENE II.—Outside the palace of LAMACHUS.
MEGACLES and COURTIERS.
Meg. Well, my lords, and so this is the palace. A grand palace, forsooth, and a fine reception to match! Why, these people are worse than barbarians. They are worse than the sea, and that was inhospitable enough. The saints be praised that that is over, at any rate. Oh, the intolerable scent of pitch, and the tossing and the heaving! Heaven spare me such an ordeal again! I thought I should have died of the smells. And here, can it be? Is it possible that there is a distinct odour of—pah! what? Oils, as I am a Christian, and close to the very palace of the Archon! What a detestable people! Some civet, good friends, some civet!
1st Court. Here it is, good Megacles. You did not hope, surely, to find republicans as sweet as those who live cleanly under a King? But here are some of their precious citizens at last.
Enter Citizens hurriedly.
1st Citizen. I pray you, forgive us, gentlemen. We thought the Prince would take the land at the other quay, and had prepared our welcome accordingly.
Meg. Who are these men?
1st Court. They are honourable citizens of Cherson.
Meg. Citizens! They will not do for me. The Count of the Palace should be here with the Grand Chamberlain to meet my Master.
1st Cit. Your Master? Oh! then you are a serving man, as it would seem. Well, my good man, when comes your Master?
Meg. Oh, the impertinent scoundrel! Do you know, sir, who I am?
1st Cit. Probably the Prince's attendant, his lackey, or possibly his steward. I neither know nor care.
Meg. Oh, you barbarian! Where is the Count of the Palace, I say?
1st Cit. Now, citizen, cease this nonsense. We have not, thank Heaven, any such foolish effeminate functionary.
Meg. No Count of the Palace? Heavens! what a crew! Well, if there is none, where are your leading nobles? where the Respectable and Illustrious? You are certainly not Illustrious nor Respectable; you probably are not even Honourable, or if you are you don't look it.
1st Cit. What, you wretched popinjay of a serving man! You dare address a Greek citizen in that way? Take that, and that! [Beats him.
1st Court. Draw, gentlemen! These are ruffians!
Asan. Put up your swords, gentlemen. Why, fellows, what is this? Is this your hospitality to your guests?
1st Cit. Nay, sir; but this servant of yours has been most insolent, and has abused and insulted our State and its manners. He told us that we were not men of honour; and some of us, sir, are young, and have hot blood, and, as Greek citizens of Cherson, will not bear insults.
Asan. Insolent upstarts, you are not worthy of our swords! Come, my Lord Megacles, heed them not. Here is their master.
Enter LAMACHUS and Senators.
Lama. We bid you heartfelt welcome, Prince, to Cherson. That we have seemed to fail to do you honour Comes of the spite of fortune. For your highness, Taking the land at the entrance of the port, Missed what of scanty pomp our homely manners Would fain have offered; but we pray you think 'Twas an untoward accident, no more. Welcome to Cherson, Prince!
Asan. Methinks, my lord, Scarce in the meanest State is it the custom To ask the presence of a noble guest With much insistance, and when he accepts The summons, and has come, to set on him With insolent dogs like these.
Lama. Nay, Prince, I pray you, What is it that has been?
Asan. Our chamberlain Was lately, in your absence, which your highness So glibly doth excuse, set on and beaten By these dogs here.
Lama. Nay, sir, they are not dogs, But citizens of honour; yet indeed Wanting, I fear, in that deep courtesy Which from a stranger and a guest refuses To take provoked offence. My lord, indeed I am ashamed that citizens of Cherson Should act so mean a part. Come, Prince, I pray you Forget this matter, and be sure your coming Fills me with joy. Go, tell the Lady Gycia The Prince is safe in Cherson.
Meg. My Lord Asander, remember what is due to yourself and Bosphorus. Remember, when this merchant's daughter comes, you must not treat her as an equal. Courtesy to a woman is all very well, but rank has greater claims still, especially when you have to deal with such people as these. Now, remember, you must make no obeisance at all; and if you advance to meet her more—(Enter GYCIA, IRENE, MELISSA, and Ladies. IRENE, seeing ASANDER, faints, and is withdrawn, GYCIA supporting her. Confusion.)—than one step, you are lost for ever. These are the truly important things.
Asan. Good Megacles, Forewarned I am forearmed. (Aside) Thou fluent trickster! Fit head of such a State! I would to Heaven I had never come!
Nay, nay, I thank the saints That I have come. Who is this peerless creature? Is this the old man's daughter?
Lama. Prince Asander, This is my daughter, Gycia. Of the prince Thou hast heard many a time, my daughter.
Gycia (confused). Ay!—
Lama. Come, my girl, thou art not used To fail of words.
Asan. Nay, sir, I pray you press her not to speak. And yet I fain would hear her. Artemis Showed not so fair, nor with a softer charm Came Hebe's voice.
Gycia. Nay, sir, I did not know A soldier could thus use a courtier's tongue.
Asan. If being bred in courts would give me power To put my thought in words, then would I fain Be courtier for thy sake.
Gycia. Ah, sir, you jest. The ways of courts we know not, but I bid thee Good welcome to our city, and I prithee Command whatever service our poor Cherson Can give whilst thou art here. (To MEGACLES) Pray you, my lord, Accompany his Highness and our household To the apartments which our serving men Have now prepared. They are but poor, I know, For one who lives the stately life of kings; But such as our poor means can reach they are.
Meg. My lady, I have lived long time in courts, But never, in the palaces of Rome, Have I seen beauty such as yours, or grace More worthy of a crown. (To MELISSA) To you, my lady, I bow with most respectful homage. Surely The goddess Here has not left the earth While you are here, I humbly take my leave For the present of your Highness with a thousand Obeisances, and to your gracious father Humbly I bend the knee. My Lord Asander, I do attend your Highness.
Mel. What a man! What noble manners! What a polished air! How poor to such a courtier our rude Court And humble manners show!
Asan. Good Megacles, Get me to my chamber—quick, ere I o'erpass All reasonable limits. I am sped; I am myself no more.
Lama. Farewell awhile. We will welcome you at supper.
[Exeunt all but LAMACHUS and GYCIA.
Lama. Well, my daughter, What think you of this hot-brained youth? I' faith, I like his soldier's bluntness, and he seemed To be a little startled, as I thought, By something which he saw when thou didst come. Perchance it was the charm of one who came Among thy ladies took him.
Gycia. Nay, my father, I think not so indeed.
Lama. Ah! well, I am old, And age forgets. But this I tell thee, daughter: If in my youth I had seen a young man's gaze Grow troubled, and he should start, and his cheek pale, A young girl drawing near, I had almost thought Him suddenly in love.
Gycia. Oh, nay indeed! Who should be favoured thus? There is no woman In our poor Cherson worthy that his gaze Might rest on her a moment.
Lama. Ah, my girl, Is it thus with thee? They say that love is blind, And thou art blind, therefore it may be, Gycia, That thou too art in love. Tell me how it is. Couldst thou love this man, if he loved thee?
Gycia (throwing herself on her father's neck). Father!
Lama. Say no more, girl. I am not so old as yet That I have quite forgotten my own youth, When I was young and loved; and if I err not, I read love's fluttering signals on thy cheek, And in his tell-tale eyes. But listen! Music! We must prepare for supper with our guests.
SCENE III.—A street in Cherson.
MEGACLES; afterwards MELISSA.
Megacles. Well, it is time for the banquet. Somehow, this place improves on acquaintance, after all. Poor, of course, and rude to a degree. But truly the Lady Gycia is fair—as fair, indeed, as if she was the Emperor's daughter. She is a beautiful creature, truly. But give me that delightful lady-in-waiting of hers, the Lady Melissa. What grace! what rounded proportions! I like mature beauty. She is as like the late divine Empress as two peas, and I thought—I dare say I was wrong, but I really thought—I made an impression. Poor things! poor things! They can't help themselves. We courtiers really ought to be very careful not to abuse our power. It is positive cruelty. The contest is too unequal. It makes one inclined sometimes to put on the manners of a clown, so as to give them a chance. Nay, nay, you might as well ask the Ethiopian to change his skin as a courtier his fine manners. By all the saints! here she comes in propria persona.
Enter the LADY MELISSA.
Mel. Heavens! it is the strange nobleman. I am sure I am all of a flutter.
Meg. (advancing with formal bows). My lady, I am enchanted (bows again; then takes several steps to the right, then to the left, and bows). What a wonderful good fortune! Ever since I had the honour to see you just now, I have only lived in the hope of seeing you again.
Mel. (curtsying). Oh, my lord, you great courtiers can find little to interest you in our poor little Court and its humble surroundings.
Meg. Madam, I beg! not a word! I was just thinking that you exactly resembled the late divine Empress.
Mel. Oh, my lord, forbear! The Empress! and I have never been out of Cherson! You flatter me, you flatter me, indeed. That is the way with all you courtiers from Constantinople. Now, if you had said that my Lady Gycia was beautiful——
Meg. My dear lady, I do not admire her in the least. She has no manners, really—nothing, at any rate, to attract a man of the great world; a mere undeveloped girl, with all the passion to come. No, no, my good lady, give me a woman who has lived. We courtiers know manners and breeding when we see them, and yours are simply perfect, not to say Imperial.
Mel. What a magnificent nature! Well, to say the truth, the Lady Gycia is not at all to my taste. It is a cold, insipid style of beauty, at the best; and she is as self-willed and as straitlaced as a lady abbess. I suppose she is well matched with the Prince Asander?
Meg. Well, he is a handsome lad enough, and virtuous, but weak, as youth always is, and pliable. Now, for myself, I am happy to say I am steadfast and firm as a rock.
Mel. Ah, my lord, if all women saw with my eyes, there would not be such a run after youth. Give me a mature man, who has seen the world and knows something of life and manners.
Meg. What an intelligent creature! Madam, your sentiments do you credit. I beg leave to lay at your feet the assurance of my entire devotion.
Mel. Oh, my lord, you are too good! Why, what a dear, condescending creature!—the manners of a Grand Chamberlain and the features of an Apollo!
Meg. Permit me to enrol myself among the ranks of your humble slaves and admirers (kneels and kisses her hand). But hark! the music, and I must marshal the guests to the banquet. Permit me to marshal you.
[Exeunt with measured steps.
SCENE IV.—The garden without the banqueting-room. Moonlight. The sea in the distance, with the harbour.
ASANDER and GYCIA descend the steps of the palace slowly together. Music heard from within the hall.
Asan. Come, Gycia, let us take the soft sweet air Beneath the star of love. The festive lights Still burn within the hall, where late we twain Troth-plighted sate, and I from out thine eyes Drank long, deep draughts of love stronger than wine. And still the minstrels sound their dulcet strains, Which then I heard not, since my ears were filled With the sweet music of thy voice. My sweet, How blest it is, left thus alone with love, To hear the love-lorn nightingales complain Beneath the star-gemmed heavens, and drink cool airs Fresh from the summer sea! There sleeps the main Which once I crossed unwilling. Was it years since, In some old vanished life, or yesterday? When saw I last my father and the shores Of Bosphorus? Was it days since, or years, Tell me, thou fair enchantress, who hast wove So strong a spell around me?
Gycia. Nay, my lord; Tell thou me first what magic 'tis hath turned A woman who had scoffed so long at love Until to-day—to-day, whose blessed night Is hung so thick with stars—to feel as I, That I have found the twin life which the gods Retained when mine was fashioned, and must turn To what so late was strange, as the flower turns To the sun; ay, though he withers her, or clouds Come 'twixt her and her light, turns still to him. And only gazing lives.
Asan. Thou perfect woman! And art thou, then, all mine? What have I done, What have I been, that thus the favouring gods And the consentient strength of hostile States Conspire to make me happy? Ah! I fear, Lest too great happiness be but a snare Set for our feet by Fate, to take us fast And then despoil our lives.
Gycia. My love, fear not. We have found each other, and no power has strength To put our lives asunder.
Asan. Thus I seal Our contract with a kiss.
Gycia. Oh, happiness! To love and to be loved! And yet methinks Love is not always thus. To some he brings Deep disappointment only, and the pain Of melancholy years. I have a lady Who loves, but is unloved. Poor soul! she lives A weary life. Some youth of Bosphorus Stole her poor heart.
Asan. Of Bosphorus saidst thou? And her name is?
Gycia. Irene. Didst thou know her?
Asan. Nay, love, or if I did I have forgot her.
Gycia. Poor soul! to-day when first we met, she saw Her lover 'midst thy train and swooned away.
Asan. Poor heart! This shall be seen to. Tell me, Gycia, Didst love me at first sight?
Gycia. Unreasonable, To bid me tell what well thou knowest already. Thou know'st I did. And when did love take thee?
Asan. I was wrapt up in spleen and haughty pride, When, looking up, a great contentment took me, Shed from thy gracious eyes. Nought else I saw, Than thy dear self.
Gycia. And hadst thou ever loved?
Asan. Never, dear Gycia. I have been so rapt in warlike enterprises Or in the nimble chase, all my youth long, That never had I looked upon a woman With thought of love before, though it may be That some had thought of me, being a Prince And heir of Bosphorus.
Gycia. Not for thyself; That could not be. Deceiver!
Asan. Nay, indeed!
Gycia. Oh, thou dear youth!
Asan. I weary for the day When we our mutual love shall crown with marriage.
Gycia. Not yet, my love, we are so happy now.
Asan. But happier then, dear Gycia.
Gycia. Nay, I know not If I could bear it and live. But hark, my love! The music ceases, and the sated guests Will soon be sped. Thou must resume thy place Of honour for a little. I must go, If my reluctant feet will bear me hence, To dream of thee the livelong night. Farewell, Farewell till morning. All the saints of heaven Have thee in keeping!
Asan. Go not yet, my sweet; And yet I bid thee go. Upon thy lips I set love's seal, thus, thus.
[Kisses her. They embrace.
Gycia. Good night!
Enter IRENE unperceived.
Asan. Ah, sweetest, best of women! paragon Of all thy sex, since first thy ancestress Helen, the curse of cities and of men, Marshalled the hosts of Greece! But she brought discord; Thou, by thy all-compelling sweetness, peace And harmony for strife. What have I done, I a rough soldier, like a thousand others Upon our widespread plains, to have won this flower Of womanhood—this jewel for the front Of knightly pride to wear, and, wearing it, Let all things else go by? To think that I, Fool that I was, only a few hours since, Bemoaned the lot which brought me here and bade me Leave my own land, which now sinks fathoms deep Beyond my memory's depths, and scarce would deign To obey thee, best of fathers, when thy wisdom Designed to make me blest! Was ever woman So gracious and so comely? And I scorned her For her Greek blood and love of liberty! Fool! purblind fool! there is no other like her; I glory being her slave.
Irene. I pray you, pardon me, my Lord Asander. I seek the Lady Gycia; is she here?
Asan. No, madam; she has gone, and with her taken The glory of the night. But thou dost love her— Is it not so, fair lady?
Ire. Ay, my lord, For we have lived together all our lives; I could not choose but love.
Asan. Well said indeed. Tell me, and have I seen thy face before? A something in it haunts me.
Ire. Ay, my lord. Am I forgot so soon?
Asan. Indeed! Thy name? Where have I seen thee?
Ire. Where? Dost thou, then, ask?
Asan. Ay; in good truth, my treacherous memory Betrays me here.
Ire. Thou mayest well forget My name, if thou hast quite forgot its owner.
I am called Irene.
Asan. Strange! the very name My lady did relate to me as hers Who bears a hopeless love. Weep not, good lady; Take comfort. Heaven is kind.
Ire. Nay, my good lord, What comfort? He I love loves not again, Or not me, but another.
Asan. Ah, poor lady! I pity you indeed, now I have known True recompense of love.
Ire. Dost thou say pity? And pity as they tell's akin to love. What comfort is for me, my Lord Asander, Who love one so exalted in estate That all return of honourable love Were hopeless, as if I should dare to raise My eyes to Caesar's self? What comfort have I, If lately I have heard this man I love Communing with his soul, when none seemed near, Betray a heart flung prostrate at the feet Of another, not myself; and well I know Not Lethe's waters can wash out remembrance Of that o'ermastering passion—naught but death Or hopeless depths of crime?
Asan. Lady, I pity Thy case, and pray thy love may meet return.
Ire. Then wilt thou be the suppliant to thyself, And willing love's requital, Oh, requite it! Thou art my love, Asander—thou, none other, There is naught I would not face, if I might win thee. That I a woman should lay bare my soul; Disclose the virgin secrets of my heart To one who loves me not, and doth despise The service I would tender!
Asan. Cease, I pray you; These are distempered words.
Ire. Nay, they are true. And come from the inner heart. Leave these strange shores And her you love. I know her from a child. She is too high and cold for mortal love; Too wrapt in duty, and high thoughts of State, Artemis and Athene fused in one, Ever to throw her life and maiden shame As I do at thy feet.
Asan. Rise, lady, rise; I am not worthy such devotion.
Ire. Take me Over seas; I care not where. I'll be thy slave, Thy sea-boy; follow thee, ill-housed, disguised, Through hardship and through peril, so I see Thy face sometimes, and hear sometimes thy voice, For I am sick with love.
Asan. Lady, I prithee Forget these wild words. I were less than man Should I remember them, or take the gift Which 'tis not reason offers. I knew not Thy passion nor its object, nor am free To take it, for the vision of my soul Has looked upon its sun, and turns no more To any lower light.
Ire. My Lord Asander, She is not for thee; she cannot make thee happy, Nor thou her. Oh, believe me! I am full Of boding thoughts of the sure fatal day Which shall dissolve in blood the bonds which love To-day has plighted. If thou wilt not take me, Then get thee gone alone. I see a fire Which burns more fierce than love, and it consumes thee. Fly with me, or alone, but fly.
Asan. Irene, Passion distracts thy brain. I pray you, seek Some mutual love as I. My heart is fixed, And gone beyond recall.
Enter THEODORUS unseen.
Ire. (weeping passionately). Disgraced! betrayed! Rejected! All the madness of my love Flung back upon me, as one spurns a gift Who scorns the giver. That I love him still, And cannot hate her who has robbed me of him! I shall go mad with shame!
Theo. Great Heaven! sister, What words are these I hear? My father's daughter Confessing to her shame!
Come, tell me, woman; I am thy brother and protector, tell me What mean these words?
Ire. Nay, nay, I cannot, brother. They mean not what they seem, indeed they do not.
Theo. They mean not what they seem! Thou hast been long In Bosphorus, and ofttimes at the Court Hast seen the Prince. When he to-day comes hither, Thou swoonest at the sight. I, seeking thee, Find thee at night alone, he having left thee, Lamenting for thy shame. Wouldst have me credit Thy innocence? Speak, if thou hast a word To balance proofs like these, or let thy silence Condemn thee.
Ire. (after a pause, and slowly, as if calculating consequences). Then do I keep silence, brother, And let thy vengeance fall.
Theo. Oh, long-dead mother, Who now art with the saints, shut fast thy ears Against thy daughter's shame! These are the things That make it pain to live: all precious gifts, Honour, observance, virtue, flung away For one o'ermastering passion. Why are we Above the brute so far, if we keep still The weakness of the brute? Go from my sight, Thou vile, degraded wretch. For him whose craft And wickedness has wronged thee, this I swear— I will kill him, if I can, or he shall me. I will call on him to draw, and make my sword Red with a villain's blood.
Ire. (eagerly). Nay, nay, my brother, That would proclaim my shame; and shouldst thou slay him, Thou wouldst break thy lady's heart.
Theo. Doth she so love him?
Ire. Ay, passionately, brother.
Theo. Oh, just Heaven! And oh, confused world! How are we fettered here! I may not kill A villain who has done my sister wrong, Since she I love has given her heart to him, And hangs upon his life. I would not pain My Gycia with the smallest, feeblest pang That wrings a childish heart, for all the world. How, then, to kill her love, though killing him Would rid the world of a villain, and would leave My lady free to love? 'Twere not love's part To pain her thus, not for the wealth and power Of all the world heaped up. I tell thee, sister, Thy paramour is safe—I will not seek To do him hurt; but thou shalt go to-night To my Bithynian castle. Haply thence, After long penances and recluse days, Thou mayst return, and I may bear once more To see my sister's face.
Ire. Farewell, my brother! I do obey; I bide occasion, waiting For what the years may bring.
Theo. Repent thy sin.
END OF ACT II.
SCENE I.—Cherson, two years after. The palace of LAMACHUS.
ASANDER and GYCIA.
Gycia. What day is this, Asander? Canst thou tell me?
Asan. Not I, my love. All days are now alike; The weeks fleet by, the days equivalent gems Strung on a golden thread.
Gycia. Thou careless darling! I did not ask thee of the calendar. Dost think a merchant's daughter knows not that? Nay, nay; I only asked thee if thou knewest If aught upon this day had ever brought Some great change to thee.
Asan. Sweetest, dearest wife, Our marriage! Thinkest thou I should forget, Ay, though the chills of age had froze my brain, That day of all my life?
Gycia. Dost thou regret it? I think thou dost not, but 'tis sweet to hear The avowal from thy lips?
Asan. Nay, never a moment. And thou?
Gycia. Nay, never for a passing thought. I did not know what life was till I knew thee. Dost thou remember it, how I came forth, Looking incuriously to see the stranger, And lo! I spied my love, and could not murmur A word of courtesy?
Asan. Dost thou remember How I, a feverish and hot-brained youth, Full of rash pride and princely arrogance, Lifted my eyes and saw a goddess coming——
Gycia. Nay, a weak woman only.
Asan. And was tamed By the first glance?
Gycia. What! are we lovers still, After two years of marriage?
Asan. Is it two years, Or twenty? By my faith, I know not which, For happy lives glide on like seaward streams Which keep their peaceful and unruffled course So smoothly that the voyager hardly notes The progress of the tide. Ay, two years 'tis, And now it seems a day, now twenty years, But always, always happy.
Gycia. Yet, my love, We have known trials too. My honoured sire Has gone and left us since.
Asan. Ay, he had reaped The harvest of his days, and fell asleep Amid the garnered sheaves.
Gycia. Dearest, I know He loved thee as a son, and always strove To fit thee for the place within our State Which one day should be thine. Sometimes I think, Since he has gone, I have been covetous Of thy dear love, and kept thee from the labour Of State-craft, and the daily manly toils Which do befit thy age; and I have thought, Viewing thee with the jealous eyes of love, That I have marked some shade of melancholy Creep on when none else saw thee, and desired If only I might share it.
Asan. Nay, my love, I have been happy truly, though sometimes, It may be, I have missed the clear, brisk air Of the free plains; the trumpet-notes of war, When far against the sky the glint of spears Lit by the rising sun revealed the ranks Of the opposing host, the thundering onset Of fierce conflicting squadrons, and the advance Of the victorious hosts. Oh for the vigour And freshness of such life! But I have chosen To sleep on beds of down, as Caesar might, And live a woman's minion.
Gycia. Good my husband, Thou shouldst not speak thus. I would have thee win Thy place in the Senate, rule our Cherson's fortunes, Be what my father was without the name, And gain that too in time.
Asan. What! You would have me Cozen, intrigue, and cheat, and play the huckster, As your republicans, peace on their lips And subtle scheming treaties, till the moment When it is safe to spring? Would you have me cringe To the ignorant mob of churls, through whose sweet voices The road to greatness lies? Nay, nay; I am A King's son, and of Bosphorus, not Cherson— A Scythian more than Greek.
Gycia. Nay, my good lord, Scythian or Greek, to me thou art more dear Than all the world beside. Yet will not duty, The memory of the dead, the love of country, The pride of the great race from which we spring, Suffer my silence wholly, hearing thee. It is not true that men Athenian-born Are of less courage, less of noble nature, More crafty in design, less frank of purpose, Than are thy countrymen. They have met and fought them, Thou knowest with what fate. For polity I hold it better that self-governed men Should, using freedom, but eschewing license, Fare to what chequered fate the will of Heaven Reserves for them, than shackled by the chains The wisest tyrant, gilding servitude With seeming gains, imposes. We are free In speech, in council, in debate, in act, As when our great Demosthenes hurled back Defiance to the tyrant. Nay, my lord, Forgive my open speech. I have not forgot That we are one in heart and mind and soul, Knit in sweet bonds for ever. Put from thee This jaundiced humour. If State-craft please not, by the headlong chase Which once I know thou lovedst. Do not grudge To leave me; for to-day my bosom friend, After two years of absence, comes to me. I shall not feel alone, having Irene.
Asan. Whom dost thou say? Irene?
Gycia. Yes, the same She was crossed in love, poor girl, dost thou remember, When we were wed?
Asan. Gycia, I mind it well. Send her away—she is no companion for thee; She is not fit, I say.
Gycia. What is't thou sayest? Thou canst know nought of her. Nay, I remember, When I did ask thee if thou knewest her At Bosphorus, thou answeredst that thou didst not.
Asan. I know her. She is no fit mate for thee.
Gycia. Then, thou didst know her when thy tongue denied it.
Asan. How 'tis I know her boots not; I forbid My wife to know that woman. Send her hence.
Gycia. Nay, nay, my lord, it profits not to quarrel. Thou art not thyself. Either thou knew'st her name When we were wedded, or unreasoning spleen Doth blind thy judgment since. Thou canst not know her Who has been absent.
Asan. Ask no more, good wife; I give no reason.
Gycia. Nay, indeed, good husband, Thou hast no reason, and without good reason I will not spurn my friend.
Asan. Gycia, forgive me; I spoke but for our good, and I will tell thee One day what stirs within me, but to-day Let us not mar our happy memories By any shade of discord.
Gycia. Oh, my love, Forgive me if I have seemed, but for a moment, To fail in duty. I am all, all thine; I have nought but thee to live for. Childish hands And baby voices lisping for their mother Are not for me, nor thee; but, all in all, We joy together, we sorrow together, and last Shall die, when the hour comes, as something tells me, Both in the selfsame hour.
Asan. Nay, wife, we are young; Our time is not yet come. Let us speak now Of what I know thou holdest near thy heart. I do remember that it was thy wish To celebrate thy father's name and fame By some high festal. If thy purpose hold For such observance, the sad day which took him Returns a short time hence; I will employ Whatever wealth is mine to do him honour, And thee, my Gycia. Honouring the sire, I honour too the child.
Gycia. My love, I thank thee For this spontaneous kindness, and I love thee; I am all thine own again. Come, let us go; Nor spare the wealth wherewith his bounty blest us To do fit honour to the illustrious dead.
SCENE II.—The same.
MEGACLES, COURTIERS; afterwards ASANDER.
Meg. Well, my lords, two years have passed since we left our Bosphorus, and I see no sign of our returning there. If it were not for that delightful Lady Melissa, whose humble slave I am always (Courtiers laugh), I would give all I am worth to turn my back upon this scurvy city and its republican crew. But my Lord Asander is so devoted to his fair lady—and, indeed, I can hardly wonder at it—that there seems no hope of our seeing the old shores again. I thought he would have been off long ago.
1st Court. A model husband the Prince, a paragon of virtue.
2nd Court. Well, there is no great merit in being faithful to a rich and beautiful woman. I think I could be as steady as a rock under the like conditions.
3rd Court. Well, mind ye, it is not every man who could treat the very marked overtures of the fair Lady Irene as he did. And he had not seen his wife then, either. No; the man is a curious mixture, somewhat cold, and altogether constant, and that is not a bad combination to keep a man straight with the sex. Poor soul! do you remember how she pursued him at Bosphorus, and how she fainted away at the wedding? They say she is coming back speedily, in her right mind. She has been away ever since, no one knows where. That solemn brother of hers conveyed her away privily.
1st Court. I hate that fellow—a canting hypocrite, a solemn impostor!
2nd Court. So say we all. But mark you, if the Lady Irene comes back, there will be mischief before long. What news from Bosphorus, my Lord Megacles?
Meg. I have heard a rumour, my lord, that his Majesty the King is ailing.
1st Court. Nay, is he? Then there may be a new King and a new Queen, and we shall leave this dog-hole and live at home like gentlemen once more.
3rd Court. Then would his sacred Majesty's removal be a blessing in disguise.
2nd Court. Ay, indeed would it. Does the Prince know of it?
Meg. I have not told him aught, having, indeed, nothing certain to tell; but he soon will, if it be true. But here his Highness comes.
My Lord Asander, your Highness's humble servant welcomes you with effusion.
Asan. Well, my good Megacles, and you, my lords. There will be ample work for you all ere long. The Lady Gycia is projecting a great festival in memory of her father, and all that the wealth of Cherson can do to honour him will be done. There will be solemn processions, a banquet, and a people's holiday. Dost thou not spy some good ceremonial work there, my good Megacles? Why, thou wilt be as happy as if thou wert at Byzantium itself, marshalling the processions, arranging the banquet, ushering in the guests in due precedence, the shipowner before the merchant, the merchant before the retailer. Why, what couldst thou want more, old Trusty? [Laughs.
Meg. Ah, my Lord Prince, your Highness is young. When you are as old as I am, you will not scoff at Ceremony. This is the pleasantest day that I have spent since your Highness's wedding-day. I thank you greatly, and will do my best, your Highness.
Asan. That I am sure of, good Megacles. Good day, my lords, good day. [Exeunt MEGACLES and Courtiers.
Mess. My Lord Asander, a messenger from Bosphorus has just landed, bringing this letter for your Highness.
Asan. Let me see it. (Reads) "Lysimachus to Asander sends greeting. Thy father is failing fast, and is always asking for his son. Thou art free, and must come to him before he dies. I have much to say to thee, having heard long since of a festival in memory of Lamachus to be held shortly. I will be with thee before then. Be ready to carry out the plan which I have formed for thy good, and will reveal to thee. Remember."
My father ailing? And asks for me, and I his only son Chained here inactive, while the old man pines In that great solitude which hems a throne, With none but hirelings round him. Dearest father, I fear that sometimes in the happy years Which have come since, my wandering regards, Fixed on one overmastering thought, have failed To keep their wonted duty. If indeed This thing has been, I joy the time has come When I may show my love. But I forget! The fetters honour binds are adamant; I am free no more. Nay, nay, there is no bond Can bind a son who hears his father's voice Call from a bed of pain. I must go and will, Though all the world cry shame on my dishonour; And with me I will take my love, my bride, To glad the old man's eyes. My mind is fixed; I cannot stay, I cannot rest, away From Bosphorus. (Summons Messenger) Go, call the Lady Gycia. (Resumes) Ay, and my oath, I had forgotten it. I cannot bear to think what pitiless plot Lysimachus has woven for the feast. What it may be I know not, but I fear Some dark and dreadful deed. 'Twere well enough For one who never knew the friendly grasp Of hands that once were foemen's. But for me, Who have lived among them, come and gone with them, Trodden with them the daily paths of life, Mixed in their pleasures, shared their hopes and fears For two long happy years, to turn and doom Their city to ruin, and their wives and children To the insolence of rapine? Nay, I dare not. I will sail at once, and get me gone for ever. I will not tell my love that I am bound By her father's jealous fancies to return To Bosphorus no more. To break my oath! That were to break it only in the word, But keep it in the spirit. Surely Heaven For such an innocent perjury keeps no pains. But here she comes.
Gycia. Didst send for me, my lord?
Asan. Gycia, the King is ill, and asks for me; He is alone and weak.
Gycia. Then, fly to him At once, and I will follow thee. But stay! Is he in danger?
Asan. Nay, not presently; Only the increasing weight of years o'ersets His feeble sum of force.
Gycia. Keeps he his bed?
Asan. Not yet as I have known.
Gycia. Well then, dear heart, We yet may be in time if we should tarry To celebrate the honours we have vowed To my dead father. This day sennight brings The day which saw him die.
Asan. Nay, nay, my sweet; 'Twere best we went at once.
Gycia. My lord, I honour The love thou bearest him, but go I cannot, Until the feast is done. 'Twould cast discredit On every daughter's love for her dead sire, If I should leave this solemn festival With all to do, and let the envious crowd Carp at the scant penurious courtesy Of hireling honours by an absent daughter To her illustrious dead.
Asan. (earnestly). My love, 'twere best We both were far away.
Gycia. My lord is pleased To speak in riddles, but till reason speaks 'Twere waste of time to listen.
Asan. Nay, my wife, Such words become thee not, but to obey Is the best grace of woman. Were I able, I would tell thee all, I fear, for thee and me, But cannot.
Gycia. Then, love, thou canst go alone, And I must follow thee. The Archon Zetho Comes presently, to order what remains To make the solemn festival do honour To the blest memory of Lamachus. Doubtless, he will devise some fitting pretext To excuse thy absence.
Asan. Nay, thou must not ask him; Breathe not a word, I pray.
Gycia. My good Asander, What is it moves thee thus? See, here he comes.
Enter ZETHO and Senators.
Gycia. Good morrow, my Lord Zetho! We were late, Debating of the coming festival, And how my lord the Prince, having ill news From Bosphorus, where the King his sire lies sick, Can bear no part in it.
Zetho. I grieve indeed To hear this news, and trust that Heaven may send Swift comfort to his son, whom we all love.
Asan. I thank thee, Archon, for thy courtesy; And may thy wish come true.
Gycia. And meantime, since my husband's heart is sore For his sire's lonelihood, our purpose is That he should sail to-morrow and go hence To Bosphorus, where I, the festival Being done, will join him later, and devote A daughter's loving care and tender hand To smooth the old man's sick-bed.
Zetho. Nay, my daughter, I grieve this cannot be. The Prince Asander, Coming to Cherson only two years gone, Did pledge his solemn word to thy dead father That never would he seek, come foul or fair, To turn from Cherson homewards, and I marvel That never, in the years that since have passed Amid the close-knit bonds of wedded lives, He has revealed this secret. We who rule Our Cherson know through what blind shoals of fortune Our ship of state drives onward. And I dare not, Holding the rule which was thy father's once, Release him from the solemn pledge which keeps Our several States bound fast in amity, But each from the other separate, and each Free from the perils tangled intercourse Might breed for both. Indeed, it cannot be; I grieve that so it is.
Gycia. My Lord Asander, Are these things so indeed?
Asan. They are, my wife. A rash and heedless promise binds me fast, Which, in all frankness, I had never dreamt Could thus demand fulfilment. Who is there More loyal to the State than I? Who is there Bound by such precious chains of love and faith As is thy husband? If I said no word Of this before, it was that I would fain Forget this hateful compact. Sir, I beg you Let me go hence, and when the old man's sickness Is done, as Heaven will have it, take my word That I will be a citizen of Cherson Again, whate'er may come.
Zetho. If the King dies, Then art thou straightway King of Bosphorus, Knowing the strength and weakness of our State, And having bound to thee by closest friendship Our chiefest citizens. Nay, nay, I dare not Relieve thee from the pledge.
Asan. Thou hoary trickster, Speakest thou thus to me?
Gycia (interposing). Great heavens! Asander, Knowest thou what thou dost? (To ZETHO) Pardon him, sir. He is not himself, I think, but half distraught, To bear himself thus madly.
Zetho. Daughter, the State Knows to protect itself from insolence And arrogant pride like this, and it is certain 'Twas a wise caution led thy honoured father To stipulate that such ungoverned passion Should be cut off from those conspiring forces From which combined came danger.
Asan. Gycia, Hearest thou this schemer? Dost thou know indeed That I am prisoned here, while my loved father Lies on the bed of death? Dost thou distrust me, That thou dost speak no word?
Gycia. My lord, I cannot. The measure which my father's wisdom planned For the safety of the State, I, a weak woman, Am too infirm to judge. Thou didst not tell me, Asking that I should fly with thee, the bonds By which thy feet were fettered. Had I known I never had consented. Had I gone, Breaking the solemn ordinance of State, I should have left with thee my former love, And sailed back broken-hearted. That thou grievest There is none knows as I, but oh, my love! Though it be hard to bear, yet is grief lighter Than broken vows, and blighted honour, and laws Made to sustain the State, yet overset By one man's will. Dearest, we cannot go— Nor thou; the State forbids it. I will pray Thy father may grow strong again, and sit Here at our hearth a guest; but this is certain— To Bosphorus we go not. And I pray you Make to my lord, who fills my father's place, What reparation thy ungoverned rage And hasty tongue demand.
Asan. Thou cold Greek woman! Of this, then, 'twas they warned me—a smooth tongue And a cold heart; a brain by logic ruled, And not at all by love. Thou hast no pity, For pity shapes not into syllogisms; Nor can affection ape philosophy, Nor natural love put on the formal robe Of cold too-balanced State-craft. Hear me, old man, And thou too, wife. 'Twere better, ay, far better, That I should get me gone, and my wife with me, Than be pent here unwilling; but were it better Or were it worse, be sure I will not stay When duty calls me hence. Wife, wilt thou come?
Gycia. My lord, I cannot.
Asan. Then, I go alone.
Zetho. Nay, thou shalt not. Ho there! arrest the Prince.
[Guards arrest ASANDER.
Asan. Unhand me. At your peril.
Gycia. Oh, my husband!
SCENE III.—A room in the palace.
IRENE; afterwards GYCIA.
Ire. What! am I mad, or does some devilish power Possess me heart and soul? I once loved Gycia; I love Asander with o'ermastering love, And yet these frequent rumours of dissensions Marring the smooth course of their wedded life Bring me a swift, fierce joy. If aught befell To separate those lovers, then might Fate And Chance open for me the golden doors That lead to Love's own shrine; and yet I know not If any power might melt to mutual love That too-cold heart. But still, no other chance Is left but this alone: if I should force Those loving souls apart, then 'twere my turn. Am I a monster, then, to will this wrong? Nay, but a lovesick woman only, willing To dare all for her passion. Though I loathe Those crooked ways, yet love, despite myself, Drives me relentless onward.
Dearest lady, Why art thou thus cast down? Some lovers' quarrel, To be interred with kisses?
Gycia. Nay, Irene, This is no lovers' quarrel.
Ire. Tell me, Gycia, What was the cause?
Gycia. The King of Bosphorus Is ailing, and desires to see his son, Who fain would go to him.
Ire. And thou refusedst To let thy lover go?
Gycia. Nay, 'twas not so; But politic reasons of the State forbad The Prince's absence.
Ire. Well, whate'er the cause, The old man fain would see his son, and thou Deniedst.
Gycia. I denied him what the State Denied him, and no more.
Ire. The State denied him! What does it profit thee to be the daughter Of Lamachus, if thou art fettered thus In each wish of thy heart? If it were I, And he my love, I would break all bonds that came Between me and my love's desire.
Gycia. Irene, Thou know'st not what thou say'st.
Ire. It may be so; I do not love by halves.
Gycia. I do not need That thou shouldst tutor me, who am so blest In love's requital. I have nought to learn From thee, who bearest unrequited love For one thou wilt not name.
Ire. Wouldst thou that I Should name him? Nay, it were best not, believe me, For me and thee.
Gycia. Why, what were it to me, Thou luckless woman?
Ire. What were it to thee? More than thou knowest, much.
Gycia. And therefore 'tis That thou dost dare to tutor me to deal With the man I love, my husband.
Ire. Gycia, Love is a tyrannous power, and brooks no rival Beside his throne. Dost thou, then, love indeed, Who art so filled with duty?
Gycia. Do I love? Ay, from the depths of my enamoured heart! I am all his own to make or break at will. Only my duty to the State my mother And the thrice-blessed memory of my sire Forbids that I should sink my soul in his, Or, loving, grow unworthy. But, indeed, Thou pleadest his cause as if thyself did love him.
Ire. As if I loved!—as if!
Gycia. Indeed, 'tis well Thou didst not, were he free, for he, it seems, Has known of thee, and speaks not kindly words. I know not wherefore.
Ire. Did he speak of me?
Gycia. Ay, that he did.
Ire. And what said he?
Gycia. I think 'Twere best thou didst not know.
Ire. Tell me, I prithee; I can bear to hear.
Gycia. 'Twas but a hasty word, And best forgotten.
Ire. But I prithee tell me, What said he?
Gycia. That 'twere best I were alone Than commercing with thee, since thou wert not My fit companion.
Ire. Said he that, the coward?
Gycia. I am his wife, Irene.
Ire. What care I? I have loved this man too well, before he saw thee. There, thou hast now my secret. I have loved him, And he loved me, and left me, and betrayed me. Was it for him to brand me with this stain? Unfit for thy companion! If I be, Whose fault is that but his, who found me pure And left me what I am?
Gycia. What! dost thou dare Malign my husband thus? I have known his life From his own lips, and heard no word of thee.
Ire. He did confess he knew me.
Gycia. Ay, indeed, Not that he did thee wrong.
Ire. My Lady Gycia, Did ever man confess he wronged a woman? If thou believe not me, who am indeed Disgraced, and by his fault, thou once didst love My brother Theodorus—send for him. He is without, and waits me. Ask of him, Who has long known my secret.
Gycia. I will ask him. Thou wretched woman, since thou art polluted, Whate'er my love may be, go from my sight, And send thy brother. Then betake thyself To a close prison in the haunted Tower, Till I shall free thee. Out of my sight, I say, Thou wanton!
What have I done, how have I sinned, that Heaven Tortures me thus? How can I doubt this creature Speaks something of the truth? Did he not say At first he never knew that wanton's name? Did he not afterwards betray such knowledge Of her and of her life as showed the lie His former words concealed? And yet how doubt My dear, who by two years of wedded love Has knit my soul to his? I know how lightly The world holds manly virtue, but I hold The laws of honour are not made to bind Half of the race alone, leaving men licensed To break them when they will; but dread decrees Binding on all our kind. But oh, my love, I will not doubt thee, till conviction bring Proofs that I dare not doubt!
Theo. My Lady Gycia, I come at thy command.
Gycia. Good Theodorus, Thou lovedst me once, I think?
Theo. I loved thee once! Oh, heaven!
Gycia. I am in great perplexity And sorrow, and I call upon thy friendship To succour me, by frank and free confession Of all thou knowest.
Theo. I can refuse thee nothing, Only I beg that thou wilt ask me nought That answered may give pain.
Gycia. Nay, it is best That I know all. I could not bear to live In ignorance, and yet I fear to grieve thee By what I ask. Thy sister late has left me——
Theo. Ask not of her, I pray; I cannot answer.
Gycia. Nay, by thy love I ask it. Answer me.
Theo. Have me excused, I pray.
Gycia. Then, I am answered. My husband, she affirms, betrayed her honour In Bosphorus, and now denies the crime. Thou knowest it true.
Theo. Alas! I cannot doubt it. I have known all for years.
Gycia. Ye saints of heaven! Is there no shame or purity in men, Nor room for trust in them? I am a wife Who thought she did possess her husband wholly, Virgin with virgin. I have thought I knew His inmost heart, and found it innocent; And yet while thus I held him, while I lay Upon his bosom, all these happy hours The venom of a shameful secret lurked Within his breast. Oh, monster of deceit, Thou never lovedst as I! That I should give The untouched treasure of my virgin heart For some foul embers of a burnt-out love, And lavish on the waste a wanton left My heart, my soul, my life! Oh, it is cruel! I will never see him more, nor hear his voice, But die unloved and friendless.
Theo. (kneeling at her feet). Dearest Gycia, Thou canst not want a brother, friend, and lover While I am living. Oh, my love, my dear, Whom I have loved from childhood, put away This hateful marriage, free thee from the bonds Of this polluted wedlock, and make happy One who will love thee always!
Enter LYSIMACHUS unperceived.
Gycia. Rise, Theodorus. I have no love to give. I am a wife. Such words dishonour me.
Theo. Forgive me, Gycia. I know how pure thy soul, and would not have thee Aught other than thou art.
Gycia. I do forgive thee. 'Twas love confused thy reason; but be brave. Set a guard on thy acts, thy words, thy thoughts. 'Tis an unhappy world!
[THEODORUS kisses her hand and exit.
Lys. Most noble lady, Forgive me if at an unfitting time, Amid the soft devoirs of gallantry, I thus intrude unwilling; but I seek The Prince Asander.
Gycia. I have nought to hide My husband might not know.
Lys. Then, thou art, doubtless, His wife, the Lady Gycia. Good my lady, With such a presence to become a crown, We would you were at Bosphorus.
Gycia. 'Tis clear Thou art a stranger here, or thou wouldst know That never would I leave my native city To win the crown of Rome.
Lys. Madam, 'tis pity.
Gycia. Sir, this is courtly talk. You came to see My husband; I will order that they send him At once to you.
Lys. That was indeed good fortune brought me hither When her lover knelt to her. I do not wonder That kneel he should, for she is beautiful As Helen's self. There comes some difference Between her and Asander, and 'twere strange If I might not so work on't as to widen The breach good fortune sends me, and to bind, Through that which I have seen, the boy her husband To execute my will.
Asan. Lysimachus, I am rejoiced to see thee.
Lys. Good my lord, How goes the world with thee? Thou art in mien Graver than thou wast once.
Asan. I am ill at ease! I am ill at ease! How does the King my father?
Lys. Alas! sir, he is ailing, and I fear Will never mend.
Asan. Is he in present danger?
Lys. Ay, that he is. A month or less from this May see the end.
Asan. Keeps he his bed as yet?
Lys. Nay, not yet, when I left him; but his mind Turns always to his absent son with longing, And sometimes, as it were 'twixt sleep and waking I hear him say, "Asander, oh, my son! Shall I not see thee more?"
Asan. Oh, my dear father! And dost thou love me thus, who have forgot thee These two long years? Beloved, lonely life! Beloved failing eyes! Lysimachus, I must go hence, and yet my honour binds me. O God, which shall I choose? They do forbid me— The ruler of this place and that good woman Who is my wife, but holds their cursed State More than my love—to go.
Lys. My prince, I come To find a way by which thou mayst go free From that which binds thee fast. This festival To the dead Lamachus will give the occasion To set thee free. If thou dost doubt to break Thy word, yet doth a stronger, straiter chain Bind thee—thy oath. Thou hast not forgot thy oath To Bosphorus?
Asan. Nay, I forget it not. But what is it thou wouldst of me?
Lys. Asander, The night which ends the festival shall see us Masters of Cherson.
Asan. Nay, but 'twere dishonour To set upon a friendly State from ambush— 'Twere murder, and not battle.
Lys. Art thou false To thy own land and to thy dying father?
Asan. That I am not; but never could I bear To play the midnight thief, and massacre Without announcement of legitimate war Whom daily I have known. My wife I love With all the love of my soul. If she seem cold When any word is spoken which may touch The safety of the State, think you she would love The husband who destroyed it? All my heart Is in her keeping.
Lys. It is well indeed To have such faith. Doubtless the Lady Gycia Returns this pure affection.
Asan. I would doubt The saints in heaven sooner than her truth, Which if I doubted, then the skies might fall, The bounds of right and wrong might be removed, The perjurer show truthful, and the wanton Chaste as the virgin, and the cold, pure saint More foolish than the prodigal who eats The husks of sense—it were all one to me; I could not trust in virtue.
Lys. Thou art changed Since when thy ship set sail from Bosphorus; Thou didst not always think with such fond thought As now thou dost. Say, didst thou find thy bride Heart-whole as thou didst wish? Had she no lover Ere yet thou camest?
Asan. Nay, nay; I found my wife Virgin in heart and soul.
Lys. My Lord Asander, Art thou too credulous here? What if I saw her On that same spot, not half an hour ago, In tears, and kneeling at her feet a gallant Noble and comely as a morn in June, Who bade her break, with passionate words of love, Her hateful marriage vows, and make him blest Who must for ever love?
Asan. Thou sawest my wife Gycia, my pearl of women, my life, my treasure? Nay, nay, 'tis some sick dream! Thou art mistaken. Who knelt to her?
Lys. She called him Theodorus.
Asan. Irene's brother! Who was it who said He loved her without hope? Lysimachus, What is it that thou sawest? Come, 'tis a jest! Kneeling to Gycia, praying her to fly! Nay, nay, what folly is this?
Lys. My lord, I swear It is no jest indeed, but solemn earnest. I saw him kneel to her; I heard the passion Burn through his voice.
Asan. And she? What did my lady? She did repulse him sternly?
Lys. Nay, indeed, She wept; was greatly moved, and whispered to him, "I am a wife."
Asan. Peace, peace! I will not hear Another word. How little do they know thee, My white, pure dove! My Lord Lysimachus, Some glamour has misled thee.
Lys. Well, my lord, I should rejoice to think it, but I cannot Deny my eyes and ears. Is not this noble The brother of the lady who was once At Bosphorus at Court, and now attends The Lady Gycia?
Asan. Ay, indeed he is.
Lys. Well, she is near at hand; if thy belief Inclines not to my tale—which yet is true— Couldst thou not ask of her if ere your marriage Her brother was enamoured of your wife, And she of him?
Asan. That might I do indeed. But, sooth to say, I would not speak again With her you name; and it may be indeed, Since well I know her, that the Lady Gycia, Who is angered with her for what cause I know not, Might well resent the converse.
Lys. Prince Asander, There is no man so blind as he who closes His eyes to the light and will not have it shine, As thou dost now.
Asan. Then will I see this lady, Though knowing it is vain.
Lys. I do not know What he will hear, but this at least I know: That woman loves him, and will lie to sow Dissension 'twixt these lovers—which accomplished, The rest is easy, and I hold this Cherson In the hollow of my hand. Ha! a good thought. I will send a message to the Lady Gycia Which shall ensure't. If she mislikes her friend, It is odds of ten to one some jealous humour Has caused it, or may grow of it.
"Dear lady, Thou art wronged; the Prince Asander presently Is with Irene alone. Seek them, and wring Confession of their fault."
[Summons a Messenger.
Ho there! convey These to the Lady Gycia, but stay not To tell her whence they come.
Mess. I go, my lord.
SCENE IV.—IRENE'S prison.
IRENE; afterwards ASANDER and GYCIA.