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A Florentine Tragedy--A Fragment 


CHARACTERS:

GUIDO BARDI, A Florentine prince SIMONE, a merchant BIANNA, his wife

The action takes place at Florence in the early sixteenth century.

[The door opens, they separate guiltily, and the husband enters.]

SIMONE. My good wife, you come slowly; were it not better To run to meet your lord? Here, take my cloak. Take this pack first. 'Tis heavy. I have sold nothing: Save a furred robe unto the Cardinal's son, Who hopes to wear it when his father dies, And hopes that will be soon.

But who is this? Why you have here some friend. Some kinsman doubtless, Newly returned from foreign lands and fallen Upon a house without a host to greet him? I crave your pardon, kinsman. For a house Lacking a host is but an empty thing And void of honour; a cup without its wine, A scabbard without steel to keep it straight, A flowerless garden widowed of the sun. Again I crave your pardon, my sweet cousin.

BIANCA. This is no kinsman and no cousin neither.

SIMONE. No kinsman, and no cousin! You amaze me. Who is it then who with such courtly grace Deigns to accept our hospitalities?

GUIDO. My name is Guido Bardi.

SIMONE. What! The son Of that great Lord of Florence whose dim towers Like shadows silvered by the wandering moon I see from out my casement every night! Sir Guido Bardi, you are welcome here, Twice welcome. For I trust my honest wife, Most honest if uncomely to the eye, Hath not with foolish chatterings wearied you, As is the wont of women.

GUIDO. Your gracious lady, Whose beauty is a lamp that pales the stars And robs Diana's quiver of her beams Has welcomed me with such sweet courtesies That if it be her pleasure, and your own, I will come often to your simple house. And when your business bids you walk abroad I will sit here and charm her loneliness Lest she might sorrow for you overmuch. What say you, good Simone?

SIMONE. My noble Lord, You bring me such high honour that my tongue Like a slave's tongue is tied, and cannot say The word it would. Yet not to give you thanks Were to be too unmannerly. So, I thank you, From my heart's core.

It is such things as these That knit a state together, when a Prince So nobly born and of such fair address, Forgetting unjust Fortune's differences, Comes to an honest burgher's honest home As a most honest friend.

And yet, my Lord, I fear I am too bold. Some other night We trust that you will come here as a friend; To-night you come to buy my merchandise. Is it not so? Silks, velvets, what you will, I doubt not but I have some dainty wares Will woo your fancy. True, the hour is late, But we poor merchants toil both night and day To make our scanty gains. The tolls are high, And every city levies its own toll, And prentices are unskilful, and wives even Lack sense and cunning, though Bianca here Has brought me a rich customer to-night. Is it not so, Bianca? But I waste time. Where is my pack? Where is my pack, I say? Open it, my good wife. Unloose the cords. Kneel down upon the floor. You are better so. Nay not that one, the other. Despatch, despatch! Buyers will grow impatient oftentimes. We dare not keep them waiting. Ay! 'tis that, Give it to me; with care. It is most costly. Touch it with care. And now, my noble Lord - Nay, pardon, I have here a Lucca damask, The very web of silver and the roses So cunningly wrought that they lack perfume merely To cheat the wanton sense. Touch it, my Lord. Is it not soft as water, strong as steel? And then the roses! Are they not finely woven? I think the hillsides that best love the rose, At Bellosguardo or at Fiesole, Throw no such blossoms on the lap of spring, Or if they do their blossoms droop and die. Such is the fate of all the dainty things That dance in wind and water. Nature herself Makes war on her own loveliness and slays Her children like Medea. Nay but, my Lord, Look closer still. Why in this damask here It is summer always, and no winter's tooth Will ever blight these blossoms. For every ell I paid a piece of gold. Red gold, and good, The fruit of careful thrift.

GUIDO. Honest Simone, Enough, I pray you. I am well content; To-morrow I will send my servant to you, Who will pay twice your price.

SIMONE. My generous Prince! I kiss your hands. And now I do remember Another treasure hidden in my house Which you must see. It is a robe of state: Woven by a Venetian: the stuff, cut-velvet: The pattern, pomegranates: each separate seed Wrought of a pearl: the collar all of pearls, As thick as moths in summer streets at night, And whiter than the moons that madmen see Through prison bars at morning. A male ruby Burns like a lighted coal within the clasp The Holy Father has not such a stone, Nor could the Indies show a brother to it. The brooch itself is of most curious art, Cellini never made a fairer thing To please the great Lorenzo. You must wear it. There is none worthier in our city here, And it will suit you well. Upon one side A slim and horned satyr leaps in gold To catch some nymph of silver. Upon the other Stands Silence with a crystal in her hand, No bigger than the smallest ear of corn, That wavers at the passing of a bird, And yet so cunningly wrought that one would say, It breathed, or held its breath.

Worthy Bianca, Would not this noble and most costly robe Suit young Lord Guido well?

Nay, but entreat him; He will refuse you nothing, though the price Be as a prince's ransom. And your profit Shall not be less than mine.

BIANCA. Am I your prentice? Why should I chaffer for your velvet robe?

GUIDO. Nay, fair Bianca, I will buy the robe, And all things that the honest merchant has I will buy also. Princes must be ransomed, And fortunate are all high lords who fall Into the white hands of so fair a foe.

SIMONE. I stand rebuked. But you will buy my wares? Will you not buy them? Fifty thousand crowns Would scarce repay me. But you, my Lord, shall have them For forty thousand. Is that price too high? Name your own price. I have a curious fancy To see you in this wonder of the loom Amidst the noble ladies of the court, A flower among flowers.

They say, my lord, These highborn dames do so affect your Grace That where you go they throng like flies around you, Each seeking for your favour.

I have heard also Of husbands that wear horns, and wear them bravely, A fashion most fantastical.

GUIDO. Simone, Your reckless tongue needs curbing; and besides, You do forget this gracious lady here Whose delicate ears are surely not attuned To such coarse music.

SIMONE. True: I had forgotten, Nor will offend again. Yet, my sweet Lord, You'll buy the robe of state. Will you not buy it? But forty thousand crowns--'tis but a trifle, To one who is Giovanni Bardi's heir.

GUIDO. Settle this thing to-morrow with my steward, Antonio Costa. He will come to you. And you shall have a hundred thousand crowns If that will serve your purpose.

SIMONE. A hundred thousand! Said you a hundred thousand? Oh! be sure That will for all time and in everything Make me your debtor. Ay! from this time forth My house, with everything my house contains Is yours, and only yours.

A hundred thousand! My brain is dazed. I shall be richer far Than all the other merchants. I will buy Vineyards and lands and gardens. Every loom From Milan down to Sicily shall be mine, And mine the pearls that the Arabian seas Store in their silent caverns.

Generous Prince, This night shall prove the herald of my love, Which is so great that whatsoe'er you ask It will not be denied you.

GUIDO. What if I asked For white Bianca here?

SIMONE. You jest, my Lord; She is not worthy of so great a Prince. She is but made to keep the house and spin. Is it not so, good wife? It is so. Look! Your distaff waits for you. Sit down and spin. Women should not be idle in their homes, For idle fingers make a thoughtless heart. Sit down, I say.

BIANCA. What shall I spin?

SIMONE. Oh! spin Some robe which, dyed in purple, sorrow might wear For her own comforting: or some long-fringed cloth In which a new-born and unwelcome babe Might wail unheeded; or a dainty sheet Which, delicately perfumed with sweet herbs, Might serve to wrap a dead man. Spin what you will; I care not, I.

BIANCA. The brittle thread is broken, The dull wheel wearies of its ceaseless round, The duller distaff sickens of its load; I will not spin to-night.

SIMONE. It matters not. To-morrow you shall spin, and every day Shall find you at your distaff. So Lucretia Was found by Tarquin. So, perchance, Lucretia Waited for Tarquin. Who knows? I have heard Strange things about men's wives. And now, my lord, What news abroad? I heard to-day at Pisa That certain of the English merchants there Would sell their woollens at a lower rate Than the just laws allow, and have entreated The Signory to hear them.

Is this well? Should merchant be to merchant as a wolf? And should the stranger living in our land Seek by enforced privilege or craft To rob us of our profits?

GUIDO. What should I do With merchants or their profits? Shall I go And wrangle with the Signory on your count? And wear the gown in which you buy from fools, Or sell to sillier bidders? Honest Simone, Wool-selling or wool-gathering is for you. My wits have other quarries.

BIANCA. Noble Lord, I pray you pardon my good husband here, His soul stands ever in the market-place, And his heart beats but at the price of wool. Yet he is honest in his common way.

[To Simone] And you, have you no shame? A gracious Prince Comes to our house, and you must weary him With most misplaced assurance. Ask his pardon.

SIMONE. I ask it humbly. We will talk to-night Of other things. I hear the Holy Father Has sent a letter to the King of France Bidding him cross that shield of snow, the Alps, And make a peace in Italy, which will be Worse than a war of brothers, and more bloody Than civil rapine or intestine feuds.

GUIDO. Oh! we are weary of that King of France, Who never comes, but ever talks of coming. What are these things to me? There are other things Closer, and of more import, good Simone.

BIANCA [To Simone]. I think you tire our most gracious guest. What is the King of France to us? As much As are your English merchants with their wool.

* * * * *

SIMONE. Is it so then? Is all this mighty world Narrowed into the confines of this room With but three souls for poor inhabitants? Ay! there are times when the great universe, Like cloth in some unskilful dyer's vat, Shrivels into a handbreadth, and perchance That time is now! Well! let that time be now. Let this mean room be as that mighty stage Whereon kings die, and our ignoble lives Become the stakes God plays for.

I do not know Why I speak thus. My ride has wearied me. And my horse stumbled thrice, which is an omen That bodes not good to any.

Alas! my lord, How poor a bargain is this life of man, And in how mean a market are we sold! When we are born our mothers weep, but when We die there is none weeps for us. No, not one.

[Passes to back of stage.]

BIANCA. How like a common chapman does he speak! I hate him, soul and body. Cowardice Has set her pale seal on his brow. His hands Whiter than poplar leaves in windy springs, Shake with some palsy; and his stammering mouth Blurts out a foolish froth of empty words Like water from a conduit.

GUIDO. Sweet Bianca, He is not worthy of your thought or mine. The man is but a very honest knave Full of fine phrases for life's merchandise, Selling most dear what he must hold most cheap, A windy brawler in a world of words. I never met so eloquent a fool.

BIANCA. Oh, would that Death might take him where he stands!

SIMONE [turning round]. Who spake of Death? Let no one speak of Death.

What should Death do in such a merry house, With but a wife, a husband, and a friend To give it greeting? Let Death go to houses Where there are vile, adulterous things, chaste wives Who growing weary of their noble lords Draw back the curtains of their marriage beds, And in polluted and dishonoured sheets Feed some unlawful lust. Ay! 'tis so Strange, and yet so. YOU do not know the world. YOU are too single and too honourable. I know it well. And would it were not so, But wisdom comes with winters. My hair grows grey, And youth has left my body. Enough of that. To-night is ripe for pleasure, and indeed, I would be merry as beseems a host Who finds a gracious and unlooked-for guest Waiting to greet him. [Takes up a lute.] But what is this, my lord? Why, you have brought a lute to play to us. Oh! play, sweet Prince. And, if I am too bold, Pardon, but play.

GUIDO. I will not play to-night. Some other night, Simone.

[To Bianca] You and I Together, with no listeners but the stars, Or the more jealous moon.

SIMONE. Nay, but my lord! Nay, but I do beseech you. For I have heard That by the simple fingering of a string, Or delicate breath breathed along hollowed reeds, Or blown into cold mouths of cunning bronze, Those who are curious in this art can draw Poor souls from prison-houses. I have heard also How such strange magic lurks within these shells That at their bidding casements open wide And Innocence puts vine-leaves in her hair, And wantons like a maenad. Let that pass. Your lute I know is chaste. And therefore play: Ravish my ears with some sweet melody; My soul is in a prison-house, and needs Music to cure its madness. Good Bianca, Entreat our guest to play.

BIANCA. Be not afraid, Our well-loved guest will choose his place and moment: That moment is not now. You weary him With your uncouth insistence.

GUIDO. Honest Simone, Some other night. To-night I am content With the low music of Bianca's voice, Who, when she speaks, charms the too amorous air, And makes the reeling earth stand still, or fix His cycle round her beauty.

SIMONE. You flatter her. She has her virtues as most women have, But beauty in a gem she may not wear. It is better so, perchance.

Well, my dear lord, If you will not draw melodies from your lute To charm my moody and o'er-troubled soul You'll drink with me at least?

[Motioning Guido to his own place.]

Your place is laid. Fetch me a stool, Bianca. Close the shutters. Set the great bar across. I would not have The curious world with its small prying eyes To peer upon our pleasure.

Now, my lord, Give us a toast from a full brimming cup.

[Starts back.] What is this stain upon the cloth? It looks As purple as a wound upon Christ's side. Wine merely is it? I have heard it said When wine is spilt blood is spilt also, But that's a foolish tale.

My lord, I trust My grape is to your liking? The wine of Naples Is fiery like its mountains. Our Tuscan vineyards Yield a more wholesome juice.

GUIDO. I like it well, Honest Simone; and, with your good leave, Will toast the fair Bianca when her lips Have like red rose-leaves floated on this cup And left its vintage sweeter. Taste, Bianca.

[BIANCA drinks.]

Oh, all the honey of Hyblean bees, Matched with this draught were bitter! Good Simone, You do not share the feast.

SIMONE. It is strange, my lord, I cannot eat or drink with you, to-night. Some humour, or some fever in my blood, At other seasons temperate, or some thought That like an adder creeps from point to point, That like a madman crawls from cell to cell, Poisons my palate and makes appetite A loathing, not a longing.

[Goes aside.]

GUIDO. Sweet Bianca, This common chapman wearies me with words. I must go hence. To-morrow I will come. Tell me the hour.

BIANCA. Come with the youngest dawn! Until I see you all my life is vain.

GUIDO. Ah! loose the falling midnight of your hair, And in those stars, your eyes, let me behold Mine image, as in mirrors. Dear Bianca, Though it be but a shadow, keep me there, Nor gaze at anything that does not show Some symbol of my semblance. I am jealous Of what your vision feasts on.

BIANCA. Oh! be sure Your image will be with me always. Dear Love can translate the very meanest thing Into a sign of sweet remembrances. But come before the lark with its shrill song Has waked a world of dreamers. I will stand Upon the balcony.

GUIDO. And by a ladder Wrought out of scarlet silk and sewn with pearls Will come to meet me. White foot after foot, Like snow upon a rose-tree.

BIANCA. As you will. You know that I am yours for love or Death.

GUIDO. Simone, I must go to mine own house.

SIMONE. So soon? Why should you? The great Duomo's bell Has not yet tolled its midnight, and the watchmen Who with their hollow horns mock the pale moon, Lie drowsy in their towers. Stay awhile. I fear we may not see you here again, And that fear saddens my too simple heart.

GUIDO. Be not afraid, Simone. I will stand Most constant in my friendship, But to-night I go to mine own home, and that at once. To-morrow, sweet Bianca.

SIMONE. Well, well, so be it. I would have wished for fuller converse with you, My new friend, my honourable guest, But that it seems may not be.

And besides I do not doubt your father waits for you, Wearying for voice or footstep. You, I think, Are his one child? He has no other child. You are the gracious pillar of his house, The flower of a garden full of weeds. Your father's nephews do not love him well So run folks' tongues in Florence. I meant but that. Men say they envy your inheritance And look upon your vineyards with fierce eyes As Ahab looked on Naboth's goodly field. But that is but the chatter of a town Where women talk too much.

Good-night, my lord. Fetch a pine torch, Bianca. The old staircase Is full of pitfalls, and the churlish moon Grows, like a miser, niggard of her beams, And hides her face behind a muslin mask As harlots do when they go forth to snare Some wretched soul in sin. Now, I will get Your cloak and sword. Nay, pardon, my good Lord, It is but meet that I should wait on you Who have so honoured my poor burgher's house, Drunk of my wine, and broken bread, and made Yourself a sweet familiar. Oftentimes My wife and I will talk of this fair night And its great issues.

Why, what a sword is this. Ferrara's temper, pliant as a snake, And deadlier, I doubt not. With such steel, One need fear nothing in the moil of life. I never touched so delicate a blade. I have a sword too, somewhat rusted now. We men of peace are taught humility, And to bear many burdens on our backs, And not to murmur at an unjust world, And to endure unjust indignities. We are taught that, and like the patient Jew Find profit in our pain.

Yet I remember How once upon the road to Padua A robber sought to take my pack-horse from me, I slit his throat and left him. I can bear Dishonour, public insult, many shames, Shrill scorn, and open contumely, but he Who filches from me something that is mine, Ay! though it be the meanest trencher-plate From which I feed mine appetite--oh! he Perils his soul and body in the theft And dies for his small sin. From what strange clay We men are moulded!

GUIDO. Why do you speak like this?

SIMONE. I wonder, my Lord Guido, if my sword Is better tempered than this steel of yours? Shall we make trial? Or is my state too low For you to cross your rapier against mine, In jest, or earnest?

GUIDO. Naught would please me better Than to stand fronting you with naked blade In jest, or earnest. Give me mine own sword. Fetch yours. To-night will settle the great issue Whether the Prince's or the merchant's steel Is better tempered. Was not that your word? Fetch your own sword. Why do you tarry, sir?

SIMONE. My lord, of all the gracious courtesies That you have showered on my barren house This is the highest.

Bianca, fetch my sword. Thrust back that stool and table. We must have An open circle for our match at arms, And good Bianca here shall hold the torch Lest what is but a jest grow serious.

BIANCA [To Guido]. Oh! kill him, kill him!

SIMONE. Hold the torch, Bianca.

[They begin to fight.]

SIMONE. Have at you! Ah! Ha! would you?

[He is wounded by GUIDO.]

A scratch, no more. The torch was in mine eyes. Do not look sad, Bianca. It is nothing. Your husband bleeds, 'tis nothing. Take a cloth, Bind it about mine arm. Nay, not so tight. More softly, my good wife. And be not sad, I pray you be not sad. No; take it off. What matter if I bleed? [Tears bandage off.]

Again! again!

[Simone disarms Guido] My gentle Lord, you see that I was right My sword is better tempered, finer steel, But let us match our daggers.

BIANCA [to Guido] Kill him! kill him!

SIMONE. Put out the torch, Bianca.

[Bianca puts out torch.]

Now, my good Lord, Now to the death of one, or both of us, Or all three it may be. [They fight.]

There and there. Ah, devil! do I hold thee in my grip?

[Simone overpowers Guido and throws him down over table.]

GUIDO. Fool! take your strangling fingers from my throat. I am my father's only son; the State Has but one heir, and that false enemy France Waits for the ending of my father's line To fall upon our city.

SIMONE. Hush! your father When he is childless will be happier. As for the State, I think our state of Florence Needs no adulterous pilot at its helm. Your life would soil its lilies.

GUIDO. Take off your hands Take off your damned hands. Loose me, I say!

SIMONE. Nay, you are caught in such a cunning vice That nothing will avail you, and your life Narrowed into a single point of shame Ends with that shame and ends most shamefully.

GUIDO. Oh! let me have a priest before I die!

SIMONE. What wouldst thou have a priest for? Tell thy sins To God, whom thou shalt see this very night And then no more for ever. Tell thy sins To Him who is most just, being pitiless, Most pitiful being just. As for myself. . .

GUIDO. Oh! help me, sweet Bianca! help me, Bianca, Thou knowest I am innocent of harm.

SIMONE. What, is there life yet in those lying lips? Die like a dog with lolling tongue! Die! Die! And the dumb river shall receive your corse And wash it all unheeded to the sea.

GUIDO. Lord Christ receive my wretched soul to-night!

SIMONE. Amen to that. Now for the other.

[He dies. Simone rises and looks at Bianca. She comes towards him as one dazed with wonder and with outstretched arms.]

BIANCA. Why Did you not tell me you were so strong?

SIMONE. Why Did you not tell me you were beautiful?

[He kisses her on the mouth.]

CURTAIN

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