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Rosamund, Queen of the Lombards
by Algernon Charles Swinburne
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This etext was prepared by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk from the 1899 Chatto & Windus edition.



ROSAMUND, QUEEN OF THE LOMBARDS A TRAGEDY

by Algernon Charles Swinburne



PERSONS REPRESENTED

ALBOVINE, King of the Lombards. ALMACHILDES, a young Lombard warrior. NARSETES, an old leader and counsellor.

ROSAMUND, Queen of the Lombards HILDEGARD, a noble Lombard maiden. SCENE, VERONA Time, June 573



ACT I



A hall in the Palace: a curtain drawn midway across it.

Enter ALBOVINE and NARSETES.

ALBOVINE.

This is no matter of the wars: in war Thy king, old friend, is less than king of thine, And comrade less than follower. Hast thou loved Ever—loved woman, not as chance may love, But as thou hast loved thy sword or friend—or me? Thou hast shewn me love more stout of heart than death. Death quailed before thee when thou gav'st me life, Borne down in battle.

NARSETES.

Woman? As I love Flowers in their season. A rose is but a rose.

ALBOVINE.

Dost thou know rose from thistle or bindweed? Man, Speak as our north wind speaks, if harsh and hard - Truth.

NARSETES.

White I know from red, and dark from bright, And milk from blood in hawthorn-flowers: but not Woman from woman.

ALBOVINE.

How should God our Lord, Except his eye see further than his world? For women ever make themselves anew, Meseems, to match and mock the maker. Friend, If ever I were friend of thine in fight, Speak, and I bid thee not speak truth: I know Thy tongue knows nought but truth or silence.

NARSETES.

Is it A king's or friend's part, king, to bid his friend Speak what he knows not? Speak then thou, that I May find thy will and answer it.

ALBOVINE.

I am fain And loth to tell thee how it wrings my heart That now this hard-eyed heavy southern sun Hath wrought its will upon us all a year And yet I know not if my wife be mine.

NARSETES.

Thy meanest man at arms had known ere dawn Blinked on his bridal birthday.

ALBOVINE.

Did I bid thee Mock, and forget me for thy friend—I say not, King? Is thy heart so light and lean a thing, So loose in faith and faint in love? I bade thee Stand to me, help me, hold my hand in thine And give my heart back answer. This it is, Old friend and fool, that gnaws my life in twain - The worm that writhes and feeds about my heart - The devil and God are crying in either ear One murderous word for ever, night and day, Dark day and deadly night and deadly day, Can she love thee who slewest her father? I Love her.

NARSETES.

Thy wife should love thee as thy sire's Loved him. Thou art worth a woman—heart for heart.

ALBOVINE.

My sire's wife loved him? Hers he had not slain. Would God I might but die and burn in hell And know my love had loved me!

NARSETES.

Is thy name Babe? Sweet are babes as flowers that wed the sun, But man may be not born a babe again, And less than man may woman. Rosamund Stands radiant now in royal pride of place As wife of thine and queen of Lombards—not Cunimund's daughter. Hadst thou slain her sire Shamefully, shame were thine to have sought her hand And shame were hers to love thee: but he died Manfully, by thy mightier hand than his Manfully mastered. War, born blind as fire, Fed not as fire upon her: many a maid As royal dies disrobed of all but shame And even to death burnt up for shame's sake: she Lives, by thy grace, imperial.

ALBOVINE.

He or I, Her lord or sire, which hath most part in her, This hour shall try between us.

Enter ROSAMUND.

ROSAMUND.

Royal lord, Thy wedded handmaid craves of thee a grace.

ALBOVINE.

My sovereign bids her bondman what she will.

ROSAMUND.

I bid thee mock me not: I may ask thee Aught, and be heard of any save my lord.

ALBOVINE.

Go, friend. [Exit NARSETES.] Speak now. Say first what ails thee?

ROSAMUND.

Me?

ALBOVINE.

Thy voice was honey-hearted music, sweet As wine and glad as clarions: not in battle Might man have more of joy than I to hear it And feel delight dance in my heart and laugh Too loud for hearing save its own. Thou rose, Why did God give thee more than all thy kin Whose pride is perfume only and colour, this? Music? No rose but mine sings, and the birds Hush all their hearts to hearken. Dost thou hear not How heavy sounds her note now?

ROSAMUND.

Sire, not I. But sire I should not call thee.

ALBOVINE.

Surely, no. I bade thee speak: I did not bid thee sing: Thou canst not speak and sing not.

ROSAMUND.

Albovine, I had at heart a simple thing to crave And thought not on thy flatteries—as I think not Now. Knowest thou not my handmaid Hildegard Free-born, a noble maiden?

ALBOVINE.

And a fair As ever shone like sundawn on the snows.

ROSAMUND.

I had at heart to plead for her with thee.

ALBOVINE.

Plead? hast thou found her noble maidenhood Ignobly turned unmaidenlike? I may not Lightly believe it.

ROSAMUND.

Believe it not at all. Wouldst thou think shame of me—lightly? She loves As might a maid whose kin were northern gods The fairest-faced of warriors Lombard born, Thine Almachildes.

ALBOVINE.

If he loves not her, More fool is he than warrior even, though war Have wakened laughter in his eyes, and left His golden hair fresh gilded, when his hand Had won the crown that clasps a boy's brows close With first-born sign of battle.

ROSAMUND.

No such fool May live in such a warrior; if he love not Some loveliness not hers. No face as bright Crowned with so fair a Mayflower crown of praise Lacked ever yet love, if its eyes were set With all their soul to loveward.

ALBOVINE.

Ay?

ROSAMUND.

I know not A man so fair of face. I like him well. And well he hath served and loves thee.

ALBOVINE.

Ay? The boy Seems winsome then with women.

ROSAMUND.

Hildegard Hath hearkened when he spake of love—it may be, Lightly.

ALBOVINE.

To her shall no man lightly speak. Thy maiden and our natural kin is she. Wilt thou speak with him—lightly?

ROSAMUND.

If thou wilt, Gladly.

ALBOVINE.

The boy shall wait upon thy will. [Exit.]

ROSAMUND.

My heart is heavier than this heat that weighs With all the weight of June on us. I know not Why. And the feast is close on us. I would This night were now to-morrow morn. I know not Why.

Enter ALMACHILDES.

Ah! What would you?

ALMACHILDES.

Queen, our lord the king Bade me before thee hither.

ROSAMUND.

Truth: I know it. Thou art loved and honoured of our lord the king. Dost thou, whom honour loves before thy time, Love?

ALMACHILDES

Ay: thy noble handmaid, Hildegard. I know not if she love me.

ROSAMUND.

Thou shalt know. But this thou knowest: I may not give thee her.

ALMACHILDES.

I would not take her from the Lord God's hand If hers were given against her will to mine.

ROSAMUND.

A man said that: a manfuller than men Who grip the loveless hands of prisoners. Well It must be with the bride whose happier hand Lies fond and fast in thine. Our Hildegard, Being free and noble as Albovine and we, Born one with us in race and blood, and thence Our equal in our sole nobility, Must well be won by noble works, and love Whose light is one with honour's.

ALMACHILDES.

Queen, may I Perchance not win it? I know not.

ROSAMUND.

Nay, nor I. Soon may we know; they are entering toward the feast. [The curtain drawn discovers a banquet, with guests assembled: among them NARSETES and HILDEGARD.

Re-enter ALBOVINE.

ALBOVINE.

Thine hand: I hold the whitest in the world. Sit thou, boy, there, beside sweet Hildegard.

[They sit.

Bring me the cup. Queen, thou shalt pledge with me A health to all this kingdom and its weal Even from the bowl that here to hold in hand Assures me lord of Lombardy and thine By right and might of battle and of God - The skull that was thy father's: so shalt thou Drink to me with thy father.

ROSAMUND.

Sire, my lord, The life my sire, who gave thee up his life, Gave me, and fostered till thou hadst given him death, Is all now thine. Thy will be done. I drink To thee, who art all this kingdom and its weal, All health and honour that of right should be, With all good things I wish thee. [Drinks.

ALBOVINE.

Wish me well, And God must give me what thou wilt. Good friends, My warriors and my brethren, hath not he Given me to wife the best one born of man And loveliest, and most loving? Silent, sirs? Wherefore?

ROSAMUND.

Thou shouldst not ask it. Bid the cup Go blithely round.

ALBOVINE.

By Christ and Thor, it shall. What ails the boy there? Almachildes!

ALMACHILDES.

King, Nought ails me.

ALBOVINE.

Nor thy maiden?

ALMACHILDES.

King, nor her.

ALBOVINE.

Fall then to feasting. Bear the cup away. Some savour of the dust of death comes from it. Sweet, be not wroth nor sad.

ROSAMUND.

I am blithe and fain, Sire; and I loved thee never more than now.

ALBOVINE.

Nor ever I thee. Now I find thee mine, And now no daughter of mine enemy's.

ROSAMUND.

No. Thou hast no enemy left on earth alive - No soul unslain that hates thee.

ALBOVINE.

That were much. What man may say it? and least of all may kings.

ROSAMUND.

What hast thou done that man should hate thee—man Or woman?

ALBOVINE.

Which of us may answer, Nought?

ROSAMUND.

Thou might'st have made me—me, my father's child - Harlot and slave: thou hast made me wife and queen.

ALBOVINE.

Thee have I loved; ay, and myself in thee, Who hast made me more than king and lord, being thine.

ROSAMUND.

Courtesy sets on kings a goldener crown That sits upon them seemlier.

ALBOVINE.

Courtesy! Truth. Hark thee, boy, and let thy Hildegard Hearken. Is she, thy queen, a peer of mine?

ALMACHILDES.

She wears no crown but heaven's about her head - No gold that was not born upon her brows Transfigures or disfigures them. She is not A peer of thine.

ROSAMUND.

He answers well.

ALBOVINE.

He answers Ill—as the spirit of shamelessness might speak.

ALMACHILDES.

Shameless are they that lie. I lie not.

ALBOVINE.

Boy, Tempt not the rod.

ALMACHILDES.

The rod that man may wield No man may fear: the slave who fears it is not Man.

ALBOVINE.

Art thou crazed with wine?

ALMACHILDES.

Am I thy king?

ALBOVINE.

My thrall thou knowest thou art not, or thy tongue Durst challenge not mine anger.

ROSAMUND.

Thrall and free, Woman and man, yea, queen and king, are born More wide apart than earth or hell and heaven. Sirs, let no wrangling breath distune the peace That shines and glows about us, and discerns A banquet from a battle. Thou, my lord, Hast bidden away the dust of death which fell Between us at thy bidding, and is now Nothing—a dream blown out at waking. Thou, My lord's young chosen of warriors, be not wroth, Albeit thy wrath be noble, though my lord See fit to try my love as gold is tried By fire: it burns not thee. Strike hand in hand: Ye have done so after battle.

ALBOVINE.

Drink again. I pledge thee, boy.

ALMACHILDES.

I pledge thee, king.

ROSAMUND.

My lord, I am weary at heart, and fain would sleep. Forgive me That I can sit no more.

ALBOVINE.

What ails thee?

ROSAMUND.

Nought. The hot and heavy time of year has bound About my brows a band of iron. Sire, Thou wouldst not see me sink aswoon, and mar The raptures of thy revel.

ALBOVINE.

Get thee hence. Go. God be with thee.

ROSAMUND.

God abide with thee. [Exit with attendants.

ALBOVINE.

This is no feast: I will no more of it. Boy, Take note, and tempt not so thy bride, albeit She tempt thee to the trial.

ALMACHILDES.

I shall not, king,

ALBOVINE.

She will not. Sirs, good night—if night may be Good. Hardly may the day be, here. And yet For you it may be—Hildegard and thee. God give you joy.

ALMACHILDES.

God give thee comfort, king. [Exeunt.



ACT II



A room in the Queen's apartments.

Enter ROSAMUND.

ROSAMUND.

I am yet alive to question if I live And wonder what may ever bid me die. But live I will, being yet not dead with thee, Father. Thou knowest in Paradise my heart. I feel thy kisses breathing on my lips, Whereto the dead cold relic of thy face Was pressed at bidding of thy slayer last night, And yet they were not withered: nay, they are red As blood is—blood but newly spilt—not thine. How good thou wast and sweet of spirit—how dear, Father! None lives that knew thee now save one, And none loves me but thou nor thee but I, That was till yesternight thy daughter: now That very name is tainted, and my tongue Tastes poison as I speak it. There is nought Left in the range and record of the world For me that is not poisoned: even my heart Is all envenomed in me. Death is life, Or priesthood lies that swears it: then I give The man my husband and thy homicide Life, if I slay him—the life he gave thee.

Enter HILDEGARD.

Girl, I sent for thee, I think: stand near me. Child, Thou art fairer than thou knowest, I doubt: thou art fair As the awless maidenhood of morning: truth Should live upon thy lips, though truth were dead On all men's tongues and women's born save thine. Dawn lies not when it laughs on us. Thy queen I am not now: thy friend I would be. Tell Thy friend if love sleep or awake in thee Toward any man. Thou art silent. Tell me this, Dost thou not think, where thought scarce knows itself - Think in the subtle sense too deep for thought - That Almachildes loves thee?

HILDEGARD.

More than I Love Almachildes.

ROSAMUND.

Thus a maid should speak. Dost thou love me?

HILDEGARD.

Thou knowest it, queen.

ROSAMUND.

It lies Now in thy power to show me more of love Than ever yet hath man or woman. Swear, If thou dost love me, thou wilt show it.

HILDEGARD.

I swear.

ROSAMUND.

By all our fathers' great forsaken gods Who smiled on all their battles, and by him Who clomb or crept or leapt upon their throne And signed us Christian, swear it, then.

HILDEGARD.

I swear.

ROSAMUND.

What if I bid thee give thyself to shame - Yield up thy soul and body—play such parts As shameless fame records of women crowned Imperial in the tale of lust and Rome?

HILDEGARD.

Thou couldst not bid me do it.

ROSAMUND.

Thou hast sworn.

HILDEGARD.

I have sworn. Queen, I would do it, and die.

ROSAMUND.

Thou shalt not. Yet This must thou do, and live. Thou shalt not be Shamed. Thou shalt bid thine Almachildes come And speak with thee by nightfall. Say, the queen Will give not up the maiden so beloved - And truth it is, I love thee—willingly To the arms of one her husband loves: but were it Shame, utter shame, that he should wed not her, The shamefast queen could choose not. Then shall he Plead. Then shalt thou turn gentler than the snow That softens at the strong sun's kiss, and yield. But needs must night be close about your love And darkness whet your kisses. Light were death. Hast thou no heart to guess now? Fear not then. Not thou but I must put on shame. I lack A hand for mine to grasp and strike with. His I have chosen.

HILDEGARD.

I see but as by lightning. Queen, What should I do but warn the king—or him?

ROSAMUND.

Thou hast sworn. I hold thee by thy word.

HILDEGARD.

My Christ, Help me!

ROSAMUND.

No God can break thine oath in twain And leave thee less than perjured. Thou must bid him Make thee to-night his bride.

HILDEGARD.

I could not say it.

ROSAMUND.

Thou shalt, or God shall smite thee down to hell. What, art thou godless?

HILDEGARD.

Art not thou?

ROSAMUND.

Not I. I find him just and gracious, girl: he gives me My right by might set fast on thine and thee.

HILDEGARD.

For love of mercy, queen—for honour's sake, Bid me not shame myself before a man - The man I love—who gives me back at least Honour, if love he gives not.

ROSAMUND.

Ay, my maid? And yet he loves thee, or thy maiden thought Errs with no gracious error, more than thou Him?

HILDEGARD.

Art thou woman born, to cast me back My maiden shame for shame upon my face? I would not say I loved him more than man Loved ever woman since the light of love Lit them alive together. Let us be.

ROSAMUND.

I will not. Mine are both by God's own gift. I will not cast it from me. Ye may live Hereafter happy: never now shall I.

HILDEGARD.

Have mercy. Nay, I cannot do it. And thou, Albeit thine heart be hot with hate as hell, Couldst say not, nor fold round with fairer speech, Those foul three words the Egyptian woman said Who tempted and could tempt not Joseph.

ROSAMUND.

No. He would not hearken. Joseph loved not her More than thine Almachildes me. But thou Shalt. Now no more may I debate with thee. Go.

HILDEGARD.

God requite thee!

ROSAMUND.

That shall he and I, Not thou, make proof of. If I plead with him, I crave of God but wrong's requital. Go.

[Exit HILDEGARD.

And yet, God help me! Can I do it? God's will May no man thwart, or leave his righteousness Baffled. I would not say, 'My will be done,' Were God's will not for righteousness as mine, If right be righteous, wrong be wrong, must be. How else may God work wrong's requital? I Must be or none may be his minister. And yet what righteousness is his to cast Athwart my way toward right this wrong to me, A sin against the soul and honour? Why Must this vile word of YET cross all my thought Always, a drifting doom or doubt that still Strikes up and floats against my purpose? God, Help me to know it! This weapon chosen of me, This Almachildes, were his face not fair, Were not his fame bright—were his aspect foul, His name dishonourable, his line through life A loathing and a spitting-stock for scorn, Could I do this? Am I then even as they Who queened it once in Rome's abhorrent face An empress each, and each by right of sin Prostitute? All the life I have lived or loved Hath been, if snows or seas or wellsprings be, Pure as the spirit of love toward heaven is—chaste As children's eyes or mothers'. Though I sinned As yet my soul hath sinned not, Albovine Must bear, if God abhor unrighteousness, The weight of penance heaviest laid on sin, Shame. Not on me may shame be set, though hell Take hold upon me dying. I would the deed Were done, the wreak of wrath were wroken, and I Dead.

Enter ALBOVINE.

ALBOVINE.

Art thou sick at heart to see me?

ROSAMUND.

No.

ALBOVINE.

Thou art sweet and wise as ever God hath made Woman. I would not turn thine heart from me Or set thy spirit against the sense of mine For more than Rome's old empire.

ROSAMUND.

That, albeit Thou wouldst, be sure thou canst not. God nor man Could wake within me toward my lord the king A new strange love or loathing. Fear not this.

ALBOVINE.

From thee can I fear nothing. Now I know How high thy heart is, and how true to me.

ROSAMUND.

Thou knowest it now.

ALBOVINE.

I know not if I should Repent me, or repent not, that I tried A heart so high so sorely—proved so true.

ROSAMUND.

Do not repent. I would not have thee now Repent.

ALBOVINE.

By Christ, if God forbade it not, I would have said within mine own fool's heart, Of all vile things that fool the soul of man The vilest and the priestliest hath to name Repentance. Could it blot one hour's work out, A wise thing and a manful thing it were, And profit were it none for priests to preach. This will I tell thee: what last night befell Rejoices not but irks me.

ROSAMUND.

Let it not Rejoice nor irk thee. Vex thou not thy soul With any thought thereon, if none may bid thee Rejoice: and that were harsh and hard of heart.

ALBOVINE.

I will not. Queen and wife, hell durst not say I do not love thee.

ROSAMUND.

Heaven has heard—and I.

ALBOVINE.

Forget then all this foolishness, and pray God may forget it.

ROSAMUND.

God forgets as I. [Exit ALBOVINE. And had repentance helped him? Shall I think It might have molten in my burning heart The thrice-retempered iron of resolve? Yet well it is to know that penitence Lies further from that frozen heart of his Than mercy from the tiger's. Ay, God knows, I had scorned him too had penitence bowed him down Before me: now I do but hate. I am not Abased as wholly, so supremely shamed, As though I had wedded one as hard as he Who yet might think to soften down with words What hardly might be cleansed with tears of blood, The monumental memory graven on steel That burns the naked spirit of sense within me Like the ardent sting of keen-edged ice, which makes The naked flesh feel fire upon it.

Enter ALMACHILDES.

ALMACHILDES.

Queen, I come to crave a word of thee.

ROSAMUND.

I hear.

ALMACHILDES.

Thou knowest I love thy noble Hildegard: And rather would I give my soul to burn Than wrong in thought her flawless maidenhood. And now she hath told me what I dare not think Truth. And I dare not think her lips may lie.

ROSAMUND.

I have heard. And what is this to me? She hath not Said—hath not told thee, nor wouldst thou believe - That I have breathed a lie upon her lips Or taught them shamelessness by lesson?

ALMACHILDES.

No. But she came forth from thee to me—from thee - And spake with quivering mouth and quailing eyes And face whose fire turned ashen, and again Rekindling from that ashen agony Flamed, what no heart could think to hear her speak, Mine least of all, who love her.

ROSAMUND.

Ay?

ALMACHILDES.

Not she, I know it as sure as night is known from day And surelier than I know mine own soul's truth, Spake what she spake in broken bursts of breath Out of her own heart and its love for me.

ROSAMUND.

Didst thou so answer her?

ALMACHILDES.

I might not well Answer at all.

ROSAMUND.

Poor maid, she hath loved amiss. Belike she thought to find in thee a man's Love.

ALMACHILDES.

That she hath found; nought meaner than a man's; No wolfish lust of ravenous insolence To soil and spoil her of her noblest name.

ROSAMUND.

I do not ask thee what she said. I know.

ALMACHILDES.

I knew thou didst.

ROSAMUND.

To make your bridal sure She bade thee make thy bride of her to-night.

ALMACHILDES.

She bade me as a slave might bid the scourge Fall.

ROSAMUND.

Such a scourge no slave might shrink from; nay, No free-born woman, Almachildes.

ALMACHILDES.

Queen, I crave thy queenly mercy though I say My maid, my bride that will be, shrank, and showed In all the rosebright anguish of her face A shuddering shame that wrung my heart. And thou Hast surely set thereon that seal of shame. I know it as thou dost.

ROSAMUND.

Ay, and more she said, Surely: she said I would not yield her up To the arms of one my husband loves and holds Honoured at heart—I hate my husband so, She told thee—were the need avoidable Save by her sacrifice to shame.

ALMACHILDES.

Thou knowest All, as I knew, and lacked not from thy lips Confession.

ROSAMUND.

Warrior though thou be, and boy Though my lord call thee, brainless art thou not - No sword with man's face carven on the heft For mockery more than truth or help in fight. I do not and I durst not play with thee. Thy bride spake truth: I knew not she might need So much of truth to tempt thee toward her. Now Thou knowest, and I know. If this imminent night Make not thy darkling bride of her, by day Thy bride she may be never. She hath sworn.

ALMACHILDES.

Why wouldst thou shame her?

ROSAMUND.

Shamed she cannot be If thou be found not shameless. Plead no more Against thine own love's surety. Doubt thou not I wish thee well, and love her. Make not thou Out of her shamefast maidenhood and fear A sword to cleave your happiness in twain. What if some oath constrain me, sworn in haste, Infrangible for shame's sake, sealed in heaven Inevitable? Ask now no more of me. Nightfall is here upon us. Nought on earth May set the season of your bridal back If thou be true as she must. Wait awhile Here till a sign be sent thee—till a bell Strike softly from this chamber here at hand. I have sworn to her she shall not see thy face, So sore she prayed she might not: and for thee I swore that ere the darkling air grew grey Thou shouldst arise and leave her, and behold Thy midnight bride but when thou art bidden again To meet her here to-morrow. Strange it were, More strange than aught of all, that thou shouldst prove Dishonourable: and except thou be, these things Must all be wrought in this wise, lest her oath And mine, at peril of her soul and life, By passionate forgetfulness of thine Disloyally be broken. Swear to us now Thou wilt not break our oath and thine, or think To look to-night upon thy bride.

ALMACHILDES.

I swear.

ROSAMUND.

I take thine oath. I bid not thee take heed That I or thou or each of us at once, Couldst thou play false, may die: I bid thee think Thy bride will die, shamed. Swear me not again She shall not: all our trust is set on thee. What eyes and ears are keen about us here Thou knowest not. Love, my love and thine for her, Shall deafen and shall blind them. Be but thou A bridegroom blind and dumb—speak soft as love, And ask not answer louder than a sigh - And when to-morrow sets thy bride and thee Here face to face again, thy soul shall stand Amazed: thy joy shall turn to wonder. This Thy queen, whose power may seal her promise fast, Swears for thine oath again to thee. Good night. [Exit.

ALMACHILDES.

I cannot think I live. Our Sigurd loved not Brynhild as I love her, and even this hour Shall make us great as they. No spell to break, No fire to pass, divides us. Blind and dumb, Love knows, would I be ever while I live For love's sake rather than forego the joy That makes one godlike power of spirit and sense, One godhead born of manhood. God requite The queen who loves my love and cares for me Thus! How may man or God requite her? Ah!

[Bell rings softly from without.

There sounds the note that opens heaven on me, And how should man dare heaven? But love may dare. [Exit.



ACT III



An eastward room in the Palace.

Enter ALBOVINE.

ALBOVINE.

This sun—no sun like ours—burns out my soul. I would, when June takes hold on us like fire, The wind could waft and whirl us northward: here The splendour and the sweetness of the world Eat out all joy of life or manhood. Earth Is here too hard on heaven—the Italian air Too bright to breathe, as fire, its next of kin, Too keen to handle. God, whoe'er God be, Keep us from withering as the lords of Rome - Slackening and sickening toward the imperious end That wiped them out of empire! Yea, he shall.

Enter HILDEGARD.

HILDEGARD.

The queen would wait upon your majesty.

ALBOVINE.

Bid her come in. And tell her ere she come I wait upon her will. [Exit HILDEGARD.] What would she now?

Enter ROSAMUND.

By Christ, how fair thou art! I never saw thee So like the sun in heaven: no rose on earth Might think to match thee.

ROSAMUND.

All I am is thine.

ALBOVINE.

Mine? God might come from heaven to worship thee. Thine eyes outlighten all the stars: thy face Leaves earth no flower to worship.

ROSAMUND.

How should earth Worship her children? Nought it is in me, My lord's dear love it is, that makes me seem Fair.

ALBOVINE.

How thou liest thou knowest not. Rosamund, What hast thou done to be so beautiful?

ROSAMUND.

The sun has left thine eyes half blind.

ALBOVINE.

I dare not Kiss thee, or stare straight-eyed against the sun.

ROSAMUND.

Kiss me. Who knows how long the lord of life May spare us time for kissing? Life and love Are less than change and death.

ALBOVINE.

What ghosts are they? So sweet thou never wast to me before. The woman that is God—the God that is Woman—the sovereign of the soul of man, Our fathers' Freia, Venus crowned in Rome, Has lent my love her girdle; but her lips Have robbed the red rose of its heart, and left No glory for the flower beyond all flowers To bid the spring be glad of.

ROSAMUND.

Summer and spring May cleanse and heal the heart of man no more Than winter may, or withering autumn. Sire, Husband and lord, I have a woful word To speak against a man beloved of thee, A man well worth all glory man may give - Against thine Almachildes.

ALBOVINE.

Has the boy Transgressed again in awless heat of speech And kindled wrath in thee against him—thee, Who stood'st between my wrath and him?

ROSAMUND

I would His were no more transgression than of speech. He hath wronged—I bid thee ask of me no more - A noble maiden. Till her shame be healed, Her name is dead upon my lips and his, Who is yet not all ignoble.

ALBOVINE.

He shall die Except he wed her, and she will to wed.

ROSAMUND.

That surely will she.

ALBOVINE.

Bid him hither.

ROSAMUND.

See, There strides he through the sunshine toward the shade. How light and high he steps! He sees thee. Bid him - Beckon him in.

ALBOVINE.

He knows mine eye. He comes.

ROSAMUND.

Obedient as a hound is.

ALBOVINE.

As a man That knows the law of loyal manhood.

ROSAMUND.

Ay? God send it be so.

Enter ALMACHILDES.

ALMACHILDES.

Queen and king, I am here. What would you?

ALBOVINE.

Truth. Hast thou not borne thyself Toward any soul on earth disloyally Ever?

ALMACHILDES.

Never.

ALBOVINE.

I would not say thou liest.

ALMACHILDES.

Do not: the lie should burn thy lips up, king.

ALBOVINE.

Thou hast wrought no wrong toward man or woman?

ALMACHILDES.

None.

ALBOVINE.

Speak thou: thou hast heard him answer me.

ROSAMUND.

I have heard. No wrong it may be with the serfs of hell To cast upon a woman for a curse Shame: to defile the spirit and shrine of love, Put out the sunlike eyes of maidenhood And leave the soul dismantled. Has not he So sinned?—Hast thou wrought no such work as this? The king has heard thy silence.

ALMACHILDES.

Queen and king, I have done no wrong, but right. I have chosen my bride, And made her mine by gentle grace of hers Lest wrong should come between us. Now no man May think to unwed us: king nor queen may cross This wedded love of ours: no thwart or stay May sunder us till heaven and earth turn hell.

ALBOVINE.

I deemed not thee dishonourable: and thy queen Now knows thee true as I did. Rosamund, Forgive and give him back his bride.

ROSAMUND.

I will, King.

ALBOVINE.

Boy, thy queen hath shown thee grace; be thou Thankful. I leave thee here to yield her thanks. [Exit.

ALMACHILDES.

Queen, I would die to serve and thank thee.

ROSAMUND.

Die? So young and glad and glorious? Thou shalt not Die. Was thy bride's face bright to look upon When last night's moon and stars illumined it?

ALMACHILDES.

Thou knowest I might not look upon it.

ROSAMUND.

No. Thou hast never loved before?

ALMACHILDES.

I have loathed, not loved, The loveless harlots clasped of all the camp: I have followed wars and visions all my days Even till my love's eyes lit and stung to life The soul within my body. Till I loved, I knew not woman.

ROSAMUND.

Now thou knowest. This love Is no good lord—no gentle god—no soft Saviour. Thou knowest perchance thy bride's name—hers Whose body and soul were one but now with thine?

ALMACHILDES.

How should not I? What darkling light is this That burns and broods and lightens in thine eyes, Queen?

ROSAMUND.

Hildegard it was not.

ALMACHILDES.

Art not thou - Or am not I—sun-smitten through the brain By this mad might of midsummer? Who was it That slept or slept not with me while the night Was more than noon and more than heaven? What name Was hers who made me godlike?

ROSAMUND.

Rosamund.

ALMACHILDES.

Thine? was it thou? It was not.

ROSAMUND.

It was I.

ALMACHILDES.

Does the sun stand in heaven? Or stands it fast As when God bade it halt on high? My life Is broken in me.

ROSAMUND.

Nay, fair sir, not yet. Thy life is now mine—as the ring I wear That seals my hand a wife's. Die thou shalt not, But slay, and live.

ALMACHILDES.

Slay whom?

ROSAMUND.

Thy lord and mine.

ALMACHILDES.

I had rather go down quick to hell.

ROSAMUND.

I know it. I leave thee not the choice. Keep thou thy hand Bloodless, and Hildegard, whom yet I love, Dies, and in fire, the harlot's death of shame. Last night she lured thee hither. Hate of me, Because of late I smote her, being in wrath Forgetful of her noble maidenhood, Stung her for shame's sake to take hands with shame. This if I swear, may she unswear it? Thou Canst not but say she bade thee seek her. She Lives while I will, as Albovine and thou Live by my grace and mercy. Live, or die. But live thou shalt not longer than her death, Her death by burning, if thou slay not him. I see my death shine in thine eyes: I see My present death inflame them. That were not Her surety, Almachildes. Thou shouldst know me Now. Though thou slay me, this may save not her. My lines are laid about her life, and may not By breach of mine be broken.

ALMACHILDES.

God must be Dead. Such a thing as thou could never else Live.

ROSAMUND.

That concerns not thee nor me. Be thou Sure that my will and power to serve it live. Lift now thine eyes to look upon thy lord.

Re-enter ALBOVINE.

ALBOVINE.

By this time hath he thanked thee not enough?

ROSAMUND.

More hath he given than thanks.

ALBOVINE.

What more may be?

ROSAMUND.

His plighted faith to heal the wrong he wrought Faithfully.

ALBOVINE.

Boy, strike then thy hand in mine. Thou art loyal as I knew thee.

ALMACHILDES.

King, I may not Touch hands with thee.

ALBOVINE.

Thou art false, then, ha? Thou hast lied?

ALMACHILDES.

King, till the wrong I have wrought be wreaked or healed I clasp not hands with honour. Nay, and then Perchance I may not.

ALBOVINE.

Boy I called thee: child I call thee now. But, boy, the child thou art Is noble as our sires.

ALMACHILDES.

Would God it were! [Exit.

ALBOVINE.

What ails him?

ROSAMUND.

Love and shame.

ALBOVINE.

No more than these?

ROSAMUND.

Enough are they to darken death and life.

ALBOVINE.

Thou art less than gentle towards his love and him.

ROSAMUND.

I would not speak ungently. Her I love, Poor child, and him I hate not.

ALBOVINE.

Thou shalt live To love him too.

ROSAMUND.

This heaviness of heat Kills love and hate and life in me. I know not Aught lovesome save the sweet brief death of sleep.

ALBOVINE.

I am weary as thou. Good night we may not say - Good noon I bid thee. Sleep shall heal us.

ROSAMUND.

Ay; No healing and no help for life on earth Hath God or man found out save death and sleep. [Exeunt.



ACT IV



The same Scene.

Enter ALMACHILDES and HILDEGARD.

HILDEGARD.

Hast thou forgiven me?

ALMACHILDES.

I have not forgiven God.

HILDEGARD.

Wilt thou slay thy soul and mine?

ALMACHILDES.

Wilt thou Madden me? God hath given us up to her Who is deadlier than the fiery fang of death - Us, innocent and loyal.

HILDEGARD.

Nay, if I Forgive her love of thee—though this be hard, Canst thou forgive not?

ALMACHILDES.

Sweet, for thee and me Remains no rescue save by death or flight From worse than flight or death is.

HILDEGARD.

Worse is nought But shame: and how may shame take hold on us, On us who have sinned not? Me she bound to play thee False, and betray thee to her arms: I might not Choose, though my heart should rend itself in twain And cleave with ravenous anguish: yet I live. Vex not thy soul too sorely: me, not her, Thy spirit embraced, thine arms and lips made thine Me, not my darkling wraith, my changeling foe, My thief of love, our traitress. This I bid thee, Forget thy fear and shame to have wronged me: night Breeds treacherous dreams that can but poison day If thought be found so base a fool as dares Fear. Did I doubt thy love of me, I durst not Live or look back upon thee.

ALMACHILDES.

Wilt thou then Fly?

HILDEGARD.

Dost thou know what flight means—thou? It means Fear. And is fear a new-born friend of thine?

ALMACHILDES.

God help us! if he live, and hate not man - If Satan be not God. We will not fly.

Enter ALBOVINE and ROSAMUND.

ALBOVINE.

Fly? What should love at height of happiness Or youth at height of honour fear and fly? Would ye take wing for heaven? take shame on earth To wed in peace and honour?

ALMACHILDES.

No, my king. No, surely.

ROSAMUND.

Weep not, maiden. Dost not thou, Man, that we thought her bridegroom sealed of love, Love her?

ALMACHILDES.

No saint loved ever God as I Her.

ROSAMUND.

And betray her to shame thou wouldst not? See, My lord, the silent answer flash aloud From cheek and eye a goodly witness. Thou, My maiden, dost thou love not him? Nay, speak.

HILDEGARD.

I cannot say it—I cannot strive to say.

ROSAMUND.

Thou shalt. Are all we not fast bound in love - My lord and thine, my maiden and her queen, A fourfold chain of faith twice linked of love? Speak: let not shame find place where shame is none.

HILDEGARD.

I will not. King and queen and God shall hear. I love him as our songs of old time say Men have been loved of women akin to gods By blood as they by spirit, albeit in me Nought lives that woman or man or God could say Were worth his love, if mine by grace of love Be found not all unworthy. Mine am I No more: mine own in no wise now, but his To save or slay, to cherish or cast out, Crown and discrown, abase and comfort. Shame Were more to me than honour if his will It were that shame should clothe me round, and life Were the only death left fearful if he bade me Die. Could his love be turned from me, and set On one less loving but more fair than I, A thrall more base than treason or a queen Too high for shame to brand her shameful, even Though sin had stamped and signed her foul as fraud And loathsome as a masked adulterous lie, Hers would I make him if I might, and yield To her the hatefullest of hell-born things The man found lovelier by my love than heaven.

ROSAMUND.

Great love is this to brag of: great and strange.

HILDEGARD.

Love is no braggart: lust and fraud and hate Vaunt their vile strength when shame unveils them: love Vaunts not itself. I spake not uncompelled, And blushed not out the avowal.

ALBOVINE.

Boy, I held And hold thee noblest of my lords of war, And worthier than thine elders born and tried Ere battle found thee ripe and glad at heart To stem and swim the tide of spears: but this I know not if thou be or any man Be worthy of.

ALMACHILDES.

Of all men born on earth I am most unworthy of it. None might be Worthy.

ROSAMUND.

He weeps: thy boy is humble.

ALMACHILDES.

Queen, I weep not. Shamed with no ignoble shame Thou seest me: but I weep not. Yea, God knows, Humbled I am, and humble; not to thee.

ALBOVINE.

Chafe not: and thou, queen though thou be, and mine, Tempt not a true man's wrath with words that bear Fangs keener than thou knowest of.

ROSAMUND.

King, henceforth, Being warned, I will not. Dangerous as the sea A true man's wrath is—and a true man's love: A woman's hath no peril in it: her tears Wash wrath and peril away.

ALBOVINE.

I have never seen thee Weep.

ROSAMUND.

How should I weep—I, thy wife?

ALBOVINE.

I have heard thee Laugh; and thy smiles were always bright as fire.

ROSAMUND.

Well were it with me—ay, and reason found For me to live and do the living world Some service—could my husband warm thereat His heart as winter-stricken hands in frost Are warmed at winter fires.

ALBOVINE.

No need, no need: The sun thou art warms all our year with love, And leaves no chill on winter.

ROSAMUND.

Albovine, Love now secludes us not from sight of man - From sight of this my maiden and the man Who shines but as the battle's boy for thee But lives for me my maiden's lover—true As truth is—Almachildes.

ALBOVINE.

How thy lips Hang lingering on his name as though 'twere thou That loved him! Thou shouldst love thy maiden well.

ROSAMUND.

As she loves me I love her. Hildegard, Leave us. Thou knowest I love thee.

HILDEGARD.

Queen, I know. [Exit.

ALBOVINE.

What ails the boy? what rapturous agony Torments and glorifies his glance at her As with delight in torture? Cheer thee, man: Thou art not thus all unworthy.

ROSAMUND.

Spare him, king. A king may guess not how a man's heart yearns With all unkingly sense of love and shame Not all unmanly.

ALBOVINE.

Shame is none to be Loved, and to deem that love exceeds our due Who may not well deserve it. Sick at heart He seems, and should be gladder than the sea When wind and sun strike life in it.

ALMACHILDES.

I am not So stricken, king. I thank thy care of me.

ALBOVINE.

Heart-stricken or shame-stricken art thou?

ROSAMUND.

King, Spare him. Thou knowest not love like his. It burns And rends and wrings the spirit.

ALBOVINE.

No. And thou, Dost thou then?

ROSAMUND.

Eyes and heart and sense are mine As weak and strong as woman's can but be; As weak in strength and strong in weakness. Men, Being wise, and mightier than their mates on earth, Need no such knowledge born of inborn pain As quickens all the spirit of sense in us. Worms know what eagles know not.

ALBOVINE.

Like enough. Rede me no redes and riddles. Never yet I have loved thee more, and yet I have loved thee well, Than now that loving-kindness borne toward love Makes thee so gracious, pleading for it.

ROSAMUND.

Love Sees all things lovely: thine, if praise there be, Not mine the praise is: thee, not me, these twain Must love and worship as their lord of love.

ALBOVINE.

Well, God be good to them and thee and me! I would this fierce Italian June were dead, So hard it weighs upon me.

ROSAMUND.

Now not long Shall we sustain or sink aswoon from it: It has but left a day or two to die.

ALBOVINE.

And well were that, if summer died with June. Two red months more must set on sense and soul The branding-iron stamped of summer: nay, The sea is here no sea to cherish man: It brings no choral comfort back with tides That surge and sink and swell and chime and change And lighten life with music where the breath Dies and revives of night and day.

ROSAMUND.

Be thou Content: a God hath driven us hither.

ALBOVINE.

Yea: A God of death and fire and strife, whose hand Is heavy on my spirit. Be not ye Troubled, if peace be with you.

ROSAMUND.

Peace to thee.

[Exit ALBOVINE.

Now follow: smite him now: thou art strong, but yet Thy king is stronger—mightier thewed than thou. Thou couldst not slay him in fight.

ALMACHILDES.

I cannot slay him Thus.

ROSAMUND.

Canst thou slay thy bride by fire? He dies, Or she dies, bound against the stake. His death Were the easier. Follow him: save her: strike but once.

ALMACHILDES.

I cannot. God requite thee this! I will. [Exit.

ROSAMUND.

And I will see it. And, father, thou shalt see. [Exit.



ACT V



The Banqueting-hall.

Enter ALBOVINE and ROSAMUND.

ALBOVINE.

This June makes babes of men; last night I deemed When thou hadst wished me peace as I passed forth A footfall pressed behind me soft and fast, And turning toward it I beheld nought: thee I saw, and Almachildes hard at hand Turned back toward thee: nought stranger: yet my heart Sprang, and sank back. I laughed against myself, That manhood should be girlish, when the heat Burns life half out within us. Even thine eyes, Like stars before the wind that brings the cloud, Look fainter. Ere they fill the banquet full And bid the guests about us where we sit, Tell me if aught be worse than well with thee.

ROSAMUND.

Nought.

ALBOVINE.

Wilt thou swear it, sweet?

ROSAMUND.

By what thou wilt - By God and man—by hell and earth and heaven. I know what ails thy loyal heart of love And binds thy tongue for fear to bid me know. The cup we drank of when we feasted last Tastes bitter on it yet. Thou wilt not bid me Pledge thee therein again. If I bid thee, Pledge me thou shalt—and seal thy pardon.

ALBOVINE.

Be not Too sweet for woman.

ROSAMUND.

Cross me not in this.

ALBOVINE.

Mine old fast friend Narsetes hath my word Plighted. All funeral reverence shall inter The royal relic, and all thought therewith Of strife between thy father's child and me Or less than love and honour.

ROSAMUND.

Nay, my lord, Let the dead thing live as a lifelong sign Of perfect plight in love and union. This Were no dishonour done to fatherhood But honour shown to wedlock. Here is spread The feast, the bride-feast of my love and thine, Whereat the cup of death shall serve our lips To drink forgetfulness of all but love. Herein thou shalt not thwart me.

ALBOVINE.

God forbid.

ROSAMUND.

God hath forbidden: and God shall be obeyed. Bid thy Narsetes play the cup-bearer, And I will pour the wine: my hand shall fill The sacramental draught of love that seals Our eucharist of wedlock.

ALBOVINE.

Yea, I know To drink with thee is even to drink with God. Thou art good as any God was ever.

ROSAMUND.

Ay? We know not till we die.

ALBOVINE.

Thou art wise and true As ever maid was born of the oldworld north In the oldworld years of legend. Bid Narsetes Bring thee the chalice: thou shalt mix the draught Whence we will drink life, if true love be life, Even from the lipless mouth of bone that speaks Death.

ROSAMUND.

I will mix it well with honey and herb Sweet as the mead our fathers drank, and dreamed Their gods so drank in heaven—draughts deep and strong As life is strong and death is deep. I go To bid Narsetes hither. [Exit.

ALBOVINE.

Nay, by God, Whoever God be, never Christ or Thor Beheld or blessed a nobler wife, whose love Was found through proof of purity by fire More like our northern stars and snows and suns, And sane in strong sufficiency of soul As womanhood by godhead from the womb Elected and exalted.

Enter NARSETES.

NARSETES.

King, thy wife Hath given me back thy message given her.

ALBOVINE.

Ay? And thou hast given her back my cup, then?

NARSETES.

King, I have given it. Loth to give it if I were, Ye know: she knows as thou: thou knowest as she.

ALBOVINE.

What ails thee to distaste thy duty? Man, Thou shouldst be glad, being loyal. Knowest thou not Her will it was that we should pledge therein To-night, this hour, our lifelong love, and seal it More surely so than priest or prayer can seal?

NARSETES.

Her will it was, I know, not thine. I would Thou hadst not yielded up to hers thy will.

ALBOVINE.

Thou liest: I have not yielded it: I have given Love, willing as the springtide sea gives up Her will to the eastern sea-wind's.

NARSETES.

Love should give No more than love should crave of love: and this Is such a gift as hate might crave of death Or priests of God when angered.

ALBOVINE.

Hark thee, man. Thou art old, and when I loved thee first and found thee My lord and leader down the ways of war, My master born by right of manfulness And steersman through the surf of battle, time Gaped as a gulf between us: sire and son We might be: now I bid thee hold thy peace, Lest all these memories perish, and their death Give life more strong than theirs to wrath, and leave thee Shelterless as a waif of the air when storm Drives bird and beast to deathward. What I bade thee I bid thee do, and leave me.

NARSETES.

King, I go. [Exit.

ALBOVINE.

What, have I played the Berserk with my friend? So should not kings. What meant he? Men wax old, And age eats out the natural sense of love Which gives the soul sight of such nobler things As trust may see by grace of truth more fair Than doubt would fear to dream of. Rosamund Knows more by might of faith and love than he. And yet I would, and yet I would not, fool As even in mine own eyes I am, she had not Given me this proof, desired of me this sign, How clear her soul is toward me save of love, To attest her pardon of me. Would it were Sunrise to-morrow!

Enter ALMACHILDES and HILDEGARD.

Whence come these, to bring Sunrise about me? Nay, I bade you be Here. Does thy memory too not fail thee, boy, Burnt out by stress of summer

ALMACHILDES.

No.

ALBOVINE,

Nor hers?

HILDEGARD.

How might it, king? Thou art good to us.

ALBOVINE.

All things born Seem good to lovers in their spring of love, And all men should be. Maiden, God doth well To give us foresight of the sight of heaven By looking in such eyes as love like thine Kindles and veils for love's sake. Fain was I To see my boy's bride and her bridegroom here Before the feast broke in on us, and bless Their love with mine—if mine be blessing.

HILDEGARD.

Sire, As the earth gives thanks in spring for the April sun I would and cannot yield you thanks for this.

ALMACHILDES.

I cannot thank at all. I cannot thank God.

ALBOVINE.

Art thou mazed with love? For her thou canst not Thank God? What feverish doubt of love or life Crazes or cramps thy spirit?

ALMACHILDES.

I cannot say. My heart, if any heart be left in me, Is as it was not thankless: yet, my king, I know not how to thank thee.

ALBOVINE.

Thank me not: I did not bid thee thank me. Love thy love, And God be with you: so may God be found Thankworthier. Keep some heart in thee awhile For God's and her sake.

ALMACHILDES.

All I may I will.

Re-enter ROSAMUND, followed by NARSETES and Guests.

ALBOVINE.

Sit, friends and warriors: thou, my boy, next me, And by my wife thy bride. This night, that leaves But two days more for June to burn and live, Plights with my queen's troth mine in life and death This last one time for ever, in the cup Whence none shall drink hereafter. Not in scorn, Sirs, but in honour now the draught is pledged Between us, ere this relic stand enshrined And hallowed as a saint's on the altar. Queen, I drink to thee.

ROSAMUND.

I thank thee. Good Narsetes, Give him the chalice. Women slain by fire Thirst not as I to pledge thee. [As ALBOVINE is about to take the cup, ALMACHILDES rises and stabs him.

ALBOVINE.

Thou, my boy? [Dies.

ROSAMUND.

I. But he hears not. Now, my warrior guests, I drink to the onward passage of his soul Death. Had my hand turned coward or played me false, This man that is my hand, and less than I And less than he bloodguilty, this my death Had been my husband's: now he has left it me. [Drinks. How innocent are all but he and I No time is mine to tell you. Truth shall tell. I pardon thee, my husband: pardon me. [Dies.

NARSETES.

Let none make moan. This doom is none of man's.

THE END

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