Clay Meredith Greene.

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Helen Clinton


Kathryn & Edna Greiner






Copyright, 1914


This little book is published only because good
friends in The Lambs who liked the plays when
they heard them at club gambols, suggested it. So
I dedicate it to them for what it is worth, in the
hope that their judgment was not misplaced, should
others, not so friendly, happen to read it.

C. M. G.

" The Dispensation " may not be
used for public presentation except
by special arrangement with the







JOSEPH VESTANI, a Missionary Priest of Roumania.


SCENE. Private Audience Chamber of His Holi-
ness the Pope, a dignified solemn room with
hangings of deep red, and embroidered with
the Papal insignia. The Papal throne is on
a low dais on L. of stage, over which is a
heavy canopy of red, emblazoned with, the
Papal insignia in gold. There is an arched
doorway C. with heavy curtains and a door
R. similarly closed with draperies. Above
the R. D. is a small altar, with golden crucifix
and lighted candles. At rise of curtain,
Cardinal Sitelli is discovered kneeling in
prayer at the altar. When the curtain is up,
he rises, crosses himself, and goes a little to L.
At the same time Cardinal Ravenna enters
hastily R. and stops on seeing Sitelli. Sitelli
is of severe and saturnine countenance, while
Ravenna is quite the reverse, being rotund of
form, and pleasant in demeanour.

Ravenna \_somewhat anxiously]. Well, Cardi-

Sitelli [moodily]. You have won.

Ravenna. Then His Holiness has granted an
extraordinary audience with my young friend?


Sitelli. He Has, against my earnest protesta-

Ravenna. And you continued to oppose it,
after the long and painful conference which de-
cided nothing?

Sitelli. I did, earnestly and vehemently,
[Down to L. C.]

Ravenna. Since a tie vote of the Cardinals left
the matter of Joseph Vestani's appeal entirely in
the hands of the Holy Father, may I ask why you
still continue your opposition?

Sitelli. Must I answer now, or will you He so
polite as to first grant me a reply to a question of
my own?

Ravenna [obsequiously]. Politeness, my dear
Cardinal, is so often a cloak for duplicity, that I
shrink from being so impolite as to cavil at any
wish of my superior. [This speech is -finished by
a low bow.]

Sitelli [eyeing him severely]. That's duplicity.

Ravenna [smuing]. Am I so transparent then?
Ah, well! Had I been perfect, who knows but I
might have been mentioned for the Holy See my-

Sitelli [proudly]. I have been so mentioned

Ravenna. I remember that distinctly. But
then you are perfect, my lord Cardinal.

Sitelli [with a searching glance]. I remember
.something else.


Ravenna. Something that I may hear?

Sitetti. Oh, yes. I was not perfect enough
then for you to support me.

Ravenna [as if taken unawares, and trying to
change the subject] . Er the question you
spoke of just now, what was it? I will answer
without reserve.

Sitelli. [Who is this young and obscure Mis-
sionary Priest from Roumania, who can secure a
private audience with His Holiness, when older
and better servants of the Church have been
turned away?

Ravenna. Older perhaps, but there are no bet-
ter servants of the Church than Joseph Vestani,
my Lord Cardinal. And, he is not obscure.

Sitelli. How do you know all that?

Ravenna. So many questions without one re-
ply, cannot but confuse us both. Joseph Vestani
of Bukharest, scion of a noble Catholic family,
which for centuries, has squandered its millions
and shed its blood in the service of the Cross, for-
sook the religion of his fathers, renounced power,
political distinction, military glory, the lust of
the flesh and the lures of fame, to become a priest
of the Church.

Sitelli. Lusts of the flesh? He has them now.

Ravenna. Oh, undoubtedly. That is why he
seeks a dispensation, whereby he may exchange
the vows and vestments of a priest for those of the


SitellL Mirabile 'dictu! And you a confiden-
tial member of the Papal household, actually ap-
proved of it !

Ravenna. Just as sincerely as I dared to re-
gret the last dispensation, permitting two divorced
people to marry.

Sitetti. The woman was an infidel. That kind
of dispensation was instituted by St. Paul himself,
and saved to Rome a great and powerful family,
that otherwise might have united itself with the
Greek Church.

Ravenna. And to have denied it, would have
temporarily at least cast a stigma over the lives
of two children.

Sitelli [with much indignation']. No stigma
can possibly attach to any act of the head of the
Church of Rome.

Ravenna. I did not say so.

Sitetti. You implied it.

Ravenna. Come, come, come, be just, I did
not do that either. What I meant was

Sitelli. I'll listen to no more of your heresies !
[Goes up stage L. and turns.] Such worldliness
as yours has no place here in the Vatican.

Ravenna [shrugging his shoulders, and cross-
ing to JL.]. Nevertheless, the Holy Father has
seen fit to admit the worldly Ravenna into his
family and his councils.

Sitetti. Why one might almost suspect that


you had been a victim of the lusts of the flesh

Ravenna. The lusts, yes, I confess that.
But never once the gratification of them.

Sitelli. I see no difference.

Ravenna. Because your world-vision and mine
are reflected through different lenses, my Lord
Cardinal. There is a difference, broad as the
range of heresy, between the evil thought and the
false step. But you don't know that, because you
have never been, let me be humanly material
and say, in love.

Sitelli. Thanks be to God no !

Ravenna. I have. That is why my heart is
with this young Roumanian in his burning desire
to be absolved from such a life as my priesthood
was as the first.

Sitelli. You regret your priesthood?

Ravenna. No one knows how little, better than
yourself, my dear Cardinal. Think you His
Holiness regrets his? And yet the veins of his
youth-time days were thrilled by love. You heard
him acknowledge it in open council, with reference
to the prayer of Joseph Vestani. [A bell beyond
the draperies C. strikes three, ,]

Sitelli. Hush! It is the hour announced for
the audience. [Ravenna hurries off R. after
making his obefaance at the altar. Sitelli goes
through the curtains of the back opening t there


is a moment's pause, Sitelli returns, the curtains
part disclosing His Holiness, and Sitelli offers his
left arm. His Holiness rests on Sitelli's arm, and
is led slowly to the throne. Arriving at the
throne, Sitelli 'kneels, receives the Papal blessing,
and then His Holiness sits.]

His Holiness. You may rise, my son. [Sitelli
rises.] The young Roumanian Missionary is

Sitelli. Awaiting your august pleasure, Holy

His Holiness. You may announce that I am
ready to receive him.

Sitelli. May I not serve your Holiness in some
way before that?

His Holiness. No, my son. We have had long
and earnest conference, then conference again, and
they availed nothing. I had thought the case was
vital enough to God and the Church, to have made
Him willing to respond to our prayers by unfold-
ing our whole duty before us. This He has not
seen fit to do, for my council was of many minds
and He has left it for me to decide alone.

Sitelli. What else was to be done, Holy
Father? You submitted the case to the Cardinals
and the vote was even.

His Holiness. There were prejudices without
explanation, opinions without reason, statements
without evidence to support them.

Sitelli. Surely, Holy Father, I was


.His Holiness. Best perhaps on one side. Ra-
venna best on the other. For that I have sum-
moned you both, to consider with me the prayer
of the suppliant again. Ah, my son, feeble is
the authority that hesitates on vital things, and I
am feeble, for in my heart I wish that this dis-
pensation might be granted, and yet both God and
my conscience refuse to point me out the way.

Sitetti. Have we not tried

His Holiness. Yes, my son, and failed. You
may call Father Vestani. [Sitelli kneels, receives
the Papal blessing, rises, and backs humbly across
to R. C. when he makes obeisance to the altar and
disappears through the curtains R. His Holiness
crosses himself, folds his hands on his breast, and
his lips move as if in prayer. The curtains R.
part and Sitelli, Vestani and Ravenna enter.
Sitelli takes his place near a chair up L. Vestani
kneels near the door R. and Ravenna stands to his
right dozen stage.~\

Ravenna. Father Vestani, your Holiness.

His Holiness [extending his right hand with a
smile] . Approach, my son. [Vestani rises,
crosses to the throne and kneels at the feet of His
Holiness, who holds out his hand and Vestani kisses
it reverently after having received the blessing.
As the Pope speaks, his face seems to be lighted
by a smile of greater encouragement.] You may


Vestani. You smile, Holy Father. My prayer
is granted after all !

His Holiness. No, my son. For the second
time the Council has disagreed.

Vestani. It is hopeless then?

His Holiness. Before the Sacred Tribunal of
the Holy Church, no wavering cause is hopeless
until judgment has been pronounced. And this
cause must waver until God in his infinite wisdom
shall have disclosed to me what is right. You
may rise. [Vestani rises, and His Holiness turns
to Sitelli.'] A chair for my son, Sitelli.

Vestani [in a tone of reverent surprise].
What, seated in the presence of the Pope of

His Holiness. It must not be Pope and sup-
pliant now, Joseph, nor judge and petitioner,
but man speaking to man. The Prelate is Nature's
son again, and asks from one of Nature's children,
guidance and instruction.

Vestani. Guidance to where, Holy Father,
instruction in what ?

His Holiness. Man to man, I said, Joseph, and
if there be in your throbbing soul anything that
may teach me my duty, I wish you to open it to
me bravely, fearlessly.

Sitelli. Most unusual, your Holiness.

His Holiness. His cause is unusual. For the
first time since I have been head of the Church, her
Canons and my conscience are in discord. Sit


down, Joseph, I wish it. [Vestani sits m the chair
which Sitelli has placed in front of the throne L. C.
with an expression of wonderment on his face.~\
Speak first, Sitelli, and be brief. Why were you
so bitter in your protest against this dispensation?

Sitelli. I stand upon the letter and the spirit
of the Canons of the Church! I recognise no
other laws, least of all those of Humanity, for I
hold that they are all evil. With my vows died
the heart of material man, and his soul entered my
spiritual body, there to remain, until purged of
sin, it shall be bidden to its seat at the throne of
God. On this ground I stand, Holy Father, now
as I have stood from the first !

His Holiness [to Ravenna], You opposed the
Cardinal in Council, Ravenna. With more ear-
nestness, eloquence, too, than I had noticed in you
before. Why was that?

Ravenna [coming over to the chair on which
Vestani is sitting and placing his hand upon it~\.
Because, Holy Father, I do not believe that ah 1
of Nature's laws are evil, nor that man is neces-
sarily accursed, because in his God-given weakness,
one of those laws moves him to waver in his al-
legiance to those that are wholly spiritual. As no
man is without sin, neither is he free from those
weaknesses born of the flesh, and which it is but
human to encourage. Conscience is the great ruler
of what is material or spiritual in man. So, if
conscience tell him that the flesh is stronger in


the soul than his allegiance to spiritual things, and
he confess it not to God, through the ministers of
God, then he lies to God! On this point I stand,
your Holiness.

His Holiness. Neither of you spoke so con-
vincingly in the Council and yet said more.
Enough, my sons, I thank you. Leave us alone
together. [Sitelli and Ravenna approach the
throne to receive the blessing in turn, after which
they make obeisance to the altar, and bow their way
out R. Vestani sits in the chair, his eyes upon
the ground. His Holiness looks upon him as
though waiting for him to speak first, and when
Vestani's eyes meet his, he makes a sign to him to
indicate that he may speak. ~\

Vestani. Your eyes seem to reflect hope, Holy
Father, just as your words were full of encourage-

His Holiness. Do not misunderstand me, my
son. My words were kindly only, and my eyes re-
flected sympathy rather than hope.

Vestani. My prayer is denied then?

His Holiness. I have not said that. My office
has already made its decision. That commands
me to be unalterably opposed to a recall of the
vows of a priest of God. But, as I have said, for
the first time, my manhood's conscience cries out:
" Be just, humanity too has its rights." This I
say, Joseph, in spite of the holy Canons, whose
chief upholder and adjudicator I am chosen to be.


Vestani. Holy Father, that is hope.

Holiness. Again I warn you not to think so.
I must first be just to the Almighty.

Vestani. I never dared to hope for anything
else, Holy Father. I would not exact it if I

His Holiness. Then speak freely and with
firm courage, son Joseph, remembering my first
injunction: we are man to man now.

Vestani. How can one who is lowliest among
the priests of the Church, presume upon equality
with the mightiest?

His Holiness. It must be man to man, Joseph
Vestani. There is no other way for me to find
rest for the weary and laden one who has come to
me. You wish to marry?

Vestani. I do, Holy Father.

His Holiness. In spite of your vows of abnega-
tion, chastity and obedience?

Vestani. No, Holy Father. I could not be
unchaste without absolution from those vows, I
will never disobey.

His Holiness. And if I deny this dispensation?

Vestani. There will be no defender of the Faith
more loyal or courageous than I.

His Holiness. You are both, already, my son.
The Church can ill afford to lose you.

Vestani. The Church would lose no jot of my
loyalty, Holy Father, and in the new life I seek, I
could do more a hundred times, to strengthen your


spiritual and temporal power and gather infidels
under the banners of the Faith. Priests? I could
educate them and send them out into the world.
Churches ? I could build them ; Soldiers of the
Cross ? I could enlist them and lead them to vic-
tory. But, Holy Father, I cannot conjure away
from my soul that haunting voice, which is ever
near me to warn me that I am only human.

His Holiness. Ah, Joseph, why not do all this
as you are?

Vestani. Would you have me hold to my vows
through fear? Would you have me a priest of
God, to preach chastity and obedience, when my
nature counsels me always to disobey? The world
has become to me a shining lure from which I can-
not turn and be true. It beckons me night and
day, to come to it, to be in it, and with it, and of
it. Would you have me a living lie?

His Holiness. You have said that without this

Vestani. I would still remain an officer in the
army of the Cross. But I have not said that dur-
ing the minutes, the hours, the weeks and the
years that stretch out before me, I would not be
thwarted in my work by the wraith of a memory
that would be with me always.

His Holiness. What memory, my unhappy

Vestani. The memory of a love imprisoned but


not dead. A love whose ghost would never fade
away though I lived through centuries.

His Holiness. A love greater than that for the

Vestani. I have no such love, Holy Father.
But why hold me to the greater one, with the
smaller gnawing away, fibre by fibre, into the roots
of it?

His Holiness. You have not sinned against God
with this woman, by thought 01 deed?

Vestani. As I revere and love that God, no !
My lips have never touched hers; my hand has
never betrayed the thrills in the veins behind it ;
but my eyes, alas! they pierced the thin ve-
neer of righteousness and disclosed my secret.

His Holiness. To her?

Vestani. Yes, Holy Father.

His Holiness. And upon that she spake to

Vestani. Oh, no, Holy Father ! Never one
word from her. Her eyes and mine spake mutely
together in the silence of prayer, as she lay on a
bed of sickness from which she was never expected
to rise.

His Holiness. Does she know of this mission to
Rome ?

Vestani. The mission, yes, but not the purpose
of it. She would never have listened to one word
of what was nearest and dearest to both of us,
without a dispensation from you.


His Holiness. And if I refuse it?

Vestani. I know that she would consecrate the
rest of her life to the Church.

His Holiness. I have said that the Church
could ill afford to lose you. If I grant your plea,
it would lose her too, would it not?

Vestani. Have I not said

His Holiness. It would rob the Church of two
valuable lives, consecrated to her alone.

Vestani. Yes, Holy Father, it would do that.

His Holiness. She is too jealous a mother to
sacrifice her children to selfishness, and where I
pity most I must be merciless.

Vestani. You have decided?

His Holiness. I have decided.

Vestani. And that decision?

His Holiness. Must be, that for the best inter-
ests of our Faith, and that its Canons may always
remain inviolate, to refuse

Vestani. Don't say the rest, Holy Father!
Not yet, in the name of that Heaven whose keys
you hold *

His Holiness. I have heard enough, my son.

Vestani. Not until I have finished, oh, Holy
Father. You consented to that, it was your
own suggestion.

His Holiness. But I gave no consent to dis-
obedience, rebellion.

Vestani. "We are not Prelate and Priest,"
you said. It was to be man to man, and as one


man pleading to another whose power is boundless,
I beg of you to allow me one last question.

His Holiness [after a moment of thought].
The last you say?

Vestani. The last, Holy Father, and upon its
answer let all depend.

His Holiness. You may ask it.

Vestani. As man to man still?

His Holiness. As man to man to the last, I
have promised it.

Vestani [coming from his chair to the throne so
closely, that at times, in his great earnestness, his
hand touches the arm of it, and he leans almost
over if]. Then as man to man tell me this. Has
there not been a time, when with the impulses of
youth surging in your heart, and your soul sighing
for a voice to lure it from its loneliness, you met
the glances of a pair of eyes that thrilled you? In
that hour did not something speak to you in a
sweet language you had never heard before and
yet could understand? Did not your heart beat
the faster to know that it was no longer alone, and
did you not find the accents of that strange tongue
more eloquent than any you ever learned, and re-
spond to it with a fervour that was new to you?
If she lived, tell me that when you parted her last
words are not even now burning in your memory,
and, if she died, will you deny that you never for-
got the agony that came to you, when the cruel
clods of earth shut her out from you forever? Ah,


Holy Father, can you tell me this? [During the
above, His Holiness has become more and more
deeply impressed by the earnestness of the speaker,
and at its close, Vestani looks up to see the Holy
Father's head bowed upon his breast reflec-
tively.] Your answer, Holy Father you prom-
ised it.

Holy Father. I did, and it is ready, for my
conscience has cleared again, and doubt no longer
clouds my duty. First, since you have asked
it, let me confess to you that there was such a
time, I knew such a face, heard such a voice, and
responded with an eloquence that was new. But
as she died and was buried, so, with the cruel clods
of earth, was laid away a heart all dead to worldly

Vestani. But can you say that no shadow of
her memory followed you through the desolate
years from then until now?

His Holiness [smiling]. There were no deso-
late years. A month, perhaps, and then the
Church, contentment, peace, power. The same
blessed compensation awaits you now, my son.

Vestani. Where would my service to the
Church profit without contentment? Where the
potency of power without peace? Mercy, Holy
Father, mercy, pity, justice! [Stretching out his
hands in an agony of supplication.]

His Holiness [with some show of asperity]. I
forbid you to question my sense of Justice, Vestani.


I cannot be just to the Canons of the Church and
extend this kind of sympathy to you. [Vestani
makes another pleading gesture.] Enough!
God hath spoken in my soul at last and my decision
is formed.

Vestani. One word more, Holy Father, this
one indeed the last !

His Holiness. No, my son, you have already
said more than I should have permitted myself to
hear. But, for a time, the Almighty awoke the
man within me, and bade him, not the Pope, to

Vestani. Let my soul and my conscience cry
out again and again for justice and mercy! Not
for myself, but the persecuted soldiers of the
Cross whom I could protect. The armies of the
Turks are even now preparing to spread their
power into the West and the North, and unless
Rome aids it, the Greek Church will fly from them,
instead of going out to fight them.

His Holiness. That was your plea in the Coun-
cil, my son. You could not prove it.

Vestani. Nevertheless, it is as certain as that
the needs of the Church in Roumania, Servia, and
Macedonia, demand this dispensation !

His Holiness. I'll hear no more, Vestani!

Vestani. As man to man you said!

His Holiness. It is Prelate and Priest now!
The audience has ended! [The Pope stands with
uplifted hand, while Vestani kneels before the


throne with bowed head.] Say to the Cardinals,
Sitelli and Ravenna, that I am ready to announce
my decision ! [ Vestani rises with an expression of
resignation, backs away from the throne, turns at
the altar to make obeisance, and then bows himself
out through the curtains R. with hands crossed on
his breast. After a moment's pause, Vestani re-
enters with Sitelli and Ravenna. Vestani stands
near his chair and the two Cardinals take positions
down R. C.]

His Holiness. My Lords Cardinal, the sup-
pliant and I have ended our conference. In it I
have permitted more freedom of thought and ut-
terance than any other of my tenure of office. Jo-
seph Vestani has failed, as his friends in Council
failed, to show just cause for this dispensation.

Ravenna [extending his arms~\. Holy Father

His Holiness. Well, my son?

Ravenna. Before decision is rendered, let your
humblest servant urge one more moment's delay.

His Holiness. There has been too much al-
ready. My duty is clear and I will perform it.

Sitetti. But delay now is of vital importance,
Holy Father, and it is for duty's sake, duty to
sore needs of the Church that suffer keenly, which
compels one who has opposed this dispensation
from the first, to urge it now.

His Holiness. And you say this, Sitelli ? Then
must your reason be vital indeed. [To Ravenna.]
Speak fully and without reserve, Ravenna.


Ravenna. News has just reached the Vatican
that the Duke of Plevna is dead !

Vestani [startled, but with a face full of hope}.
Dead! [Each of the four crosses himself rev-

Ravenna. Killed in battle, leading the Soldiers
of the Cross against the Moslem invaders. His
estates are laid waste, his wealth confiscated, the
Church's most powerful Eastern dynasty is penni-
less, leaderless!

Vestani. And do not forget that the influence
of Rome in Roumania is waning, Your Holiness.
[There is an impressive pause of a few moments.
The Pope's head is bent on his breast in deep
thought, and the other three regard him anxiously
as if awaiting a decision from him. Finally a sud-
den inspiration seems to seise him and he looks
smilingly at Vestani, at the same time extending
his hand.}

His Holiness. Joseph Vestani?

Vestani. Yes, Holy Father.

His Holiness. Surely the Almighty has sent
you to me in this hour of travail and tribulation.

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Online LibraryClay Meredith GreeneThe dispensation, and other plays → online text (page 1 of 4)