Oh Mrs. Halm! now let me tell it, do!
Well, Mr. Falk, you see— he passed at college
For quite a miracle of wit and knowledge,
Had admirable taste in books and dress —
And acted — privately — with great success.
Yes, wait a bit — he painted, played and wrote —
And don't forget his gift of anecdote
Do give me time; I know the whole affair:
He made some verses, set them to an air.
326 LOVE'S COMEDY [acti
Also his own, — and found a publisher.
O Heavens! with what romantic melancholy
He played and sang his "Madrigals to Molly"!
He was a genius, that's the simple fact.
Hm! Some were of opinion he was cracked.
A gray old stager,* whose sagacious head
Was never upon mouldy parchments fed,
Says "Love makes Petrarchs, just as many lambs
And little occupation, Abrahams."
But who was Molly?
Molly ? His elect.
His lady-love, whom shortly we expect.
Of a great firm her father was a member —
A timber house.
I'm really not aware.
Did a large trade in scantlings, I remember.
' See Notes, page 483.
ACTi] LOVE'S COMEDY 327
That is the trivial side of the affair.
Of vast resources, I'm informed.
You can imagine how the suitors swarm'd;
Gentlemen of the highest reputation. —
Even a baronet made application.
But Molly was not to be made their catch.
Sh£ had met Strawman upon private stages;
To see him was to love him —
The wooing gentry home without their wages ?
Was it not just a too romantic match?
And then there was a terrible old father,
Whose sport was thrusting happy souls apart;
She had a guardian also, as I gather,
To add fresh torment to her tortured heart.
328 LOVE'S COMEDY [act i
But each of them was loyal to his vow;
A straw-thatched cottage and a snow-white ewe
They dream'd of, just enough to nourish two —
Or at the rery uttermost a cow, —
In short, I've heard it from the Hps of both, —
A beck, a byre, two bosoms, and one troth.
Ah yes ! And then — ?
She broke with kin and class.
She broke — ?
Broke with them.
There's a plucky lass!
And fled to Strawman's garret —
How ? Without—
Ahem — the priestly consecration ?
ACT I] LOVE'S COMEDY 329
Fy, fy! my late beloved husband's name
Was on the list of sponsors — !
[To Miss Jay.]
You're to blame
For leaving that important item out.
In a report 'tis of the utmost weight
That the chronology be accurate.
But what I never yet could comprehend
Is how on earth they managed —
The one room
Not housing sheep and cattle, I presume.
O, but you must consider this, my friend;
There is no Want where Love's the guiding star;
All's right without if tender Troth's within.
He loved her to the notes of the guitar,
And she gave lessons on the violin —
Then all, of course, on credit they bespoke —
Till, in a year, the timber merchant broke.
330 LOVE'S COMEDY [act i
Then Strawman had a call to north.
Vowed, in a letter that I saw (as few did),
He lived but for his duty, and for her.
[As if completing her statement.]
And with those words his Life's Romance concluded.
How if we should go out upon the lawn,
And see if there's no prospect of them yet ?
[Draiving on her mantle.]
It's cool already.
Svanhild, will you get
My woollen shawl? — Come ladies, pray!
[To Anna, unobserved by the others.]
[Svanhild goes into the house; the others, except
Falk, go towards the back and out to the left.
LiND, who has followed, stojjs and returns.
My friend !
ACT I] LOVE'S COMEDY 331
Falk, your hand! The tide
Of joy's so vehement, it will perforce
Break out —
Hullo there; you must first be tried;
Sentence and hanging follow in due course.
Now, what on earth's the matter? To conceal
From me, your friend, this treasure of your finding;
For you'll confess the inference is binding:
You've come into a prize off Fortune's wheel!
I*ve snared and taken Fortune's blessed bird!
How ? Living, — and undamaged by the steel ?
Patience; I'll tell the matter in one word.
I am engaged ! Conceive — !
To-day, — with unimagined courage swelling,
I said, — ahem, it will not bear re-telling; —
332 LOVE'S COMEDY [act i
But only think,— the sweet young maiden grew
Quite rosy-red,— but not at all enraged!
You see, Falk, what I ventured for a bride!
She listened, — and I rather think she cried;
That, sure, means "Yes"?
If precedents decide;
And so we really are — engaged ?
I should conclude so; but the only way
To be quite certain, is to ask Miss Jay.
O no, I feel so confident, so clear!
So perfectly assured, and void of fear.
[Radiantly f in a mysterious tone.
Hark! I had leave her fingers to caress
When from the coffee-board she drew the cover.
[Lifting and emptying his glass.]
"Well, flowers of spring your wedding garland dress!
[Doing the same.]
And here I swear by heaven that I will love her
Until I die, with love as infinite
As now glows in me,— for she is so sweet!
ACTi] LOVE'S COMEDY 333
Engaged! Aha, so that was why you flung
The Holy Law and Prophets on the shelf!
And you believed it was the song you sung — !
A poet believes all things of himself.
Don't think, however, Falk, that I dismiss
The theologian from my hour of bliss.
Only, I find the Book will not suffice
As Jacob's ladder unto Paradise.
I must into God's world, and seek Him there.
A boundless kindness in my heart upsprings,
I love the straw, I love the creeping things;
They also in my joy shall have a share.
Yes, only tell me this, though —
I have told it, —
My precious secret, and our three hearts hold it!
But have you thought about the future?
SSi LOVE'S COMEDY [act i
I ? — thought about the future ? No, from this
Time forth I Uve but in the hour that is.
In home shall all my happiness be sought;
We hold Fate's reins, we drive her hither, thither,
And neither friend nor mother shall have right
To say unto my budding blossom: Wither!
For I am earnest and her eyes are bright,
And so it must unfold into the light!
Yes, Fortune likes you, you will serve her turn!
My spirits like wild music glow and burn;
I feel myself a Titan: though a foss
Opened before me — I would leap across!
Your love, you mean to say, in simple prose.
Has made a reindeer of you.
But in my wildest flight, I know the nest
In which my heart's dove longs to be at rest!
Well then, to-morrow it may fly con brio;
You're off into the hills with the quartette.
I'll guarantee you against cold and wet —
ACT I] LOVE'S COMEDY 335
Pooh, the quartette may go and climb in trio^
The lowly dale has mountain air for me;
Here I've the immeasurable fjord, the flowers.
Here I have warbling birds and choral bowers,
And lady Fortune's self, — for here is she!
Ah, lady Fortune by our Northern water
Is rara avis, — hold her if you've caught her!
[With a glance towards the house.
Hist — Svanhild —
Well; I go, — disclose to none
The secret that we share alone with one.
*Twas good of you to listen: now enfold it
Deep in your heart, — warm, glowing, as I told it.
[He goes out in the background to the others.
Falk looks after him a moment, and 'paces
up and down in the garden, visibly striving
to master his agitation. Presently Svanhild
comes out with a shawl on her arm, and is
going towards the back. Falk approaches
and gazes at her fixedly. Svanhild stops.
[After a short pause. 1
You gaze so at me ?
[Half to himself. 1
Yes, 'tis there — the same;
The shadow in her eyes' deep mirror sleeping,
336 LOVE'S COMEDY [act i
The roguish elf about her lips a-peeping,
It i s there.
What ? You frighten me.
Is Svanhild ?
Yes, you know it very well.
But do y o u know the name is laughable ?
I beg you to discard it from to-night!
That would be far beyond a daughter's right —
Hm. "Svanhild! Svanhild!"
[With sudden gravity.
With your earliest breath
How came you by this prophecy of death ?
Is it so grim ?
No, lovely as a song,
But for our age too great and stern and strong,
How can a modern demoiselle fill out
ACT I] LOVE'S COMEDY 337
The ideal that heroic name expresses?
No, no, discard it with your outworn dresses.
You mean the mythical princess, no doubt —
Who, guiltless, died beneath the horse's feet.
But now such acts are clearly obsolete.
No, no, I'll mount his saddle! There's my place!
How often have I dreamt, in pensive ease.
He bore me, buoyant, through the world apace.
His mane a flag of freedom in the breeze!
Yes, the old tale. In "pensive ease" no mortal
Is stopped by thwarting bar or cullis'd portal;
Fearless we cleave the ether without bound;
In practice, tho', we shrewdly hug the ground;
For all love life and, having choice, will choose it;
And no man dares to leap where he may lose it.
Yes! show me but the end, I'll spurn the shore;
But let the end be worth the leaping for!
A Ballarat beyond the desert sands —
Else each will stay exactly where he stands.
I grasp the case; — the due conditions fail.
338 LOVE'S COMEDY [act i
Exactly: what's the use of spreading sail
When there is not a breath of wind astir?
Yes, what's the use of plying whip and spur
When there is not a penny of reward
For him who tears him from the festal board,
And mounts, and dashes headlong to perdition ?
Such doing for the deed's sake asks a knight,
And knighthood's now an idle superstition.
That was your meaning, possibly?
Look at that fruit-tree in the orchard close, —
No blossom on its barren branches blows.
You should have seen last year with what brave airs
It staggered underneath its world of pears.
No doubt, but what's the moral you impute ?
O, among other things, the bold unreason
Of modern Zacharies who seek for fruit.
If the tree blossom'd to excess last season.
You must not crave the blossoms back in this.
ACT I] LOVE'S COMEDY 339
I knew you'd find your footing in the ways
Of old Romance.
Yes, modern virtue is
Of quite another stamp. Who now arrays
Himself to battle for the truth } Who'll stake
His life and person fearless for truth's sake ?
Where is the hero ?
\Looking keenly at her.'l
Where is the Valkyria ?
[Shaking Iter Iiead.]
Valkyrias find no market in this land!
When the faith lately was assailed in Syria,
Did y o u go out with the crusader-band ?
No, but on paper you were warm and willing, —
And sent the "Clerical Gazette" a shilling.
[Pause. Falk is about to retort, but checks him-
self, and goes into the garden.
[After watching him a moment, approaches him and asks
Falk, are you angry ?
No, I only brood, —
340 LOVE'S COMEDY [act i
[With tJwughtful sympathy.]
You seem to be two natures, still at feud, —
I know it well.
But why ?
Why, why ? Because I hate to go about
With soul bared boldly to the vulgar eye,
As Jock and Jennie hang their passions out;
To wear my glowing heart upon my sleeve.
Like women in low dresses. You, alone,
Svanhild, you only, — you, I did believe, —
Well, it is past, that dream, for ever flown. —
[SJie goes to the suminer-house and looks out;
You listen — ?
To another voice, that sings.
Hark! every evening when the sun's at rest,
A little bird floats hither on beating wings, —
See there — it darted from its leafy nest —
And, do you know, it is my faith, — as oft
As God makes any songlcss soul, He sends
A little bird to be her friend of friends.
And sing for ever in her garden-croft.
ACT I] LOVE'S COMEDY 341
[Picking up a stone.]
Then must the owner and the bird be near.
Or its song's squandered on a stranger's ear.
Yes, that is true; but I've discovered mine.
Of speech and song I am denied the power.
But when it warbles in its leafy bower.
Poems flow in upon my brain like wine —
Ah, yes, — they fleet — they are not to be won —
[Falk throivs the stone. Svanhild screams.
O God, you've hit it! Ah, what have you done!
[She hurries out to the right and then quickly
[In passionate agitation.]
No, — but eye for eye,
Svanhild, and tooth for tooth. Now you'll attend
No further greetings from your garden-friend.
No guerdon from the land of melody.
That is my vengeance: as you slew, I slay.
1 slew ?
You slew. Until this very day,
A clear-voiced song-bird warbled in my soul;
See, — now one passing bell for both may toll —
You've killed it!
342 LOVE'S COMEDY [acti
Yes, for you have slain
My young, high-hearted, joyous exultation —
[ Co ntemptuously .
By your betrothal !
How! But pray, explain — !
O, it's in full accord with expectation;
He gets his licence, enters orders, speeds to
A post, — as missionary in the West —
[In the same tone.]
A pretty penny, also, he succeeds to; —
For it is Lind you speak of — ?
You know best
Of whom I speak.
[With a subdued smile.]
As the bride's sister, true,
I cannot help —
Great God ! It is not you — ?
ACT I] LOVE'S COMEDY 343
Who win this overplus of bliss? Ah no!
[With almost childish joy.]
It is not you ! O God be glorified !
What love, what mercy does He not bestow!
I shall not see you as another's bride; —
'Twas but the fire of pain He bade me bear —
[Tries to seize her hand.
O hear me, Svanhild, hear me then —
[Pointing quickly to the background.]
[She goes towards the house. At the same
moment Mrs. Halm, Anna, Miss Jay,
GuLDSTAD, Stiver, and Lind emerge from
the background. During the previous scene
the sun has set; it is now dark.
The Strawmans may be momently expected
Where have you been ?
[After glancing at Falk.]
Your colour's very high.
A little face-ache; it will soon pass by.
344 LOVE'S COMEDY [act i
And yet you walk at nightfall unprotected ?
Arrange the room, and see that tea is ready;
Let everything be nice; I know the lady.
[SvANHiLD goes in.
What is the colour of this parson's coat?
I guess bread-taxers would not catch his vote.
How if one made allusion to the store
Of verses, yet unpublished, in my drawer?
It might do something.
Would to heaven it might!
Our wedding's imminent; our purses light.
Courtship's a very serious affair.
Just so: " Quallais-tu /aire dans cette galere?"
Is courtship a "galere ?"
No, married lives; —
All servitude, captivity, and gyves.
ACT I] LOVE'S COMEDY 345
[Seeing Miss Jay approach.]
You little know what wealth a man obtains
From woman's eloquence and woman's brains.
[Aside to Stiver.]
Will Guldstad give us credit, think you?
Am not quite certain of it yet: I'll try,
[They withdraw in conversation; Lind and
[Aside to Falk.]
I can't endure it longer; in post-haste
I must present her —
You had best refrain,
And not initiate the eye profane
Into your mysteries —
That would be a jest! —
From you, my fellow-boarder, and my mate.
To keep concealed my new-found happy state!
Nay, now, my head with Fortune's oil anointed —
346 LOVE'S COMEDY [act i
You think the occasion good to get it curled?
Well, my good friend, you won't be disappointed;
Go and announce your union to the world !
Other reflections also weigh with me.
And one of more especial gravity;
Say that there lurked among our motley band
Some sneaking, sly, pretender to her hand;
Say, his attentions became undisguised, —
We should be disagreeably compromised.
Yes, it is true; it had escaped my mind,
You for a higher oflBce were designed.
Love as his young licentiate has retained you;
Shortly you'll get a permanent position;
But it would be defying all tradition
If at the present moment he ordained you.
Yes if the merchant does not —
What of him ?
Oh, it is Lind's unreasonable whim.
Hush; I've a deep foreboding that the man
Will rob me of my treasure, if he can.
ACT I] LOVE'S COMEDY 347
The fellow, as we know, comes daily down,
Is rich, unmarried, takes you round the town;
In short, my own, regard it as we will.
There are a thousand things that bode us ill.
Oh, it's too bad; to-day was so delicious.
[Sympathetically to Lind.]
Don't wreck your joy, unfoundedly suspicious.
Don't hoist your flag till time the truth disclose —
Great God! Miss Jay is looking; hush, be still!
[She and Lind icithdraw in different directions.
[Loolcing after Lind.]
So to the ruin of his youth he goes.
\Who has meantime been conversing on the steps with
Mrs. Halm and Miss Jay, approaches Falk and
slaps him on the shoulder.
Well, brooding on a poem ?
No, a play.
The deuce; — I never heard it was your line.
348 LOVE'S COMEDY [act i
O no, the author is a friend of mine.
And your acquaintance also, I daresay.
The knave's a dashing writer, never doubt.
Only imagine, in a single day
He's worked a perfect little Idyll out.
With happy ending, doubtless!
No curtain falls but on a plighted pair.
Thus with the Trilogy's First Part we've reckoned;
But now the poet's labour-throes begin;
The Comedy of Troth-plight, Part the Second,
Thro' five insipid Acts he has to spin.
And of that staple, finally, compose
Part Third, — or Wedlock's Tragedy, in prose.
The poet's vein is catching, it would seem.
Really ? How so, pray ?
Since I also pore
And ponder over a poetic scheme, —
An actuality — and not a dream.
ACT I] LOVE'S COMEDY 349
And pray, who is the hero of your theme ?
I'll tell you that to-morrow — not before.
It is yourself!
You think me equal to it ?
I'm sure no other mortal man could do it.
But then the heroine ? No city maid,
I'll swear, but of the country, breathing balm ?
[Lifting his finger. 1
Ah, — that's the point, and must not be betrayed! —
[Changing his tone.
Pray tell me your opinion of Miss Halm.
O you're best able to pronounce upon her;
My voice can neither credit nor dishonour, —
But just take care no mischief-maker blot
This fine poetic scheme of which you talk.
Suppose I were so shameless as to balk
The meditated climax of the plot ?
350 LOVE'S COMEDY [act i
Well, I would cry "Amen," and change my plan.
Why, you see, you are a letter'd man;
How monstrous were it if your skill'd design
Were ruined by a bungler's hand like mine!
[Retires to the background.
[In passing, to Lind.]
Yes, you were right; the merchant's really scheming
The ruin of your new-won happiness.
[Aside to Anna.]
Now then you see, my doubting was not dreaming;
We'll go this very moment and confess.
[Theij approach Mrs. Halm, who is standing
with Miss Jay hy the house.
[Conversing with Stiver.]
'Tis a fine evening.
A man's disposed —
Very likely, — when
ACT I] LOVE'S COMEDY 351
What, all not running smooth
In true love's course ?
Not that exactly —
With your engagement ?
That's about the truth. *
Hurrah! Your spendthrift pocket has a groat
Or two still left, it seems, of poetry.
I cannot see what poetry has got
To do with my engagement, or with me.
You are not meant to see; when lovers prove
What love is, all is over with their love.
But if there's matter for adjustment, pray
Let's hear it.
Soi LOVES COMEDY [acti
I*ve been pondering all day
Whether the thing is proper to disclose.
But still the Ayes are balanced by the Noes.
I'll ricrht tou in one sentence. Ever since
As plighted lover you were first installed.
You've felt yourself, if I may say so, galled —
And sometimes to the quick.
Y'ou've had to wince
Beneath a crushing load of obHgations
That vou'd send packing, if good form permitted.
That's what's the matter.
My legal debts I've honestly acquitted;
But other bonds next month are falling due;
When a man weds, you see, he gets a wife —
Now vour vouth's heaven once again is blue.
There rang an echo from your old song-life I
That's how it is: I read you thro' and thro';
Wings, wings were all you wanted, — and a knife!
A knife ?
ACT I] LOVE'S COMEDY 358
Yes. Resolution's knife, to sever
Each captive bond, and set you free for ever.
To soar —
Nav. now vou're insolent bevond
Endurance! Me to charij^e with violation
Of law. — me. me with plotting to abscond!
It's libellous, malicious defamation.
Insult and calumnv —
Are you insane ?
What is all this about? Explain! Explain!
[Laugln'ngh/ to Stiver.]
Yes, clear your mind of all this balderdash!
What do vou want ?
[Pulling himself together.]
A trifling loan in cash.
[Hurrirdly to Guldstad.]
That is, I mean to sav, vou know,
A voucher for a ten pouml note, or so.
354 LOVE'S COMEDY [act i
[To LiND and Anna.]
I wish you joy! How lovely, how delicious!
[Going up to the ladies. \
Pray what has happened ?
This was unpropitious.
[Throws his arms about Stiver's neck.]
Hurrah! the trumpet's dulcet notes proclaim
A brother born to you in Amor's name!
[Drags him to the others.
[To the gentlemen.]
Think ! Lind and Anna — think ! — have plighted
[With tears of emotion.]
'Tis the eighth in order
Who well-provided from this house departs;
Seven nieces wedded — always with a boarder —
[Is overcome; presses her handkerchief to her
ACTi] LOVE'S COMEDY 355
Well, there will come a flood of gratulation !
[Caresses her with emotion.
[Seizing Falk's hand.]
My friend, I walk in rapt intoxication:
Hold! As a plighted man you are a member
Of Rapture's Temperance-association.
Observe its rules; — no orgies here, remember!
[Turning to Guldstad sympathetically.
Well, my good sir!
[Beaming with pleasure.]
I think this promises
x\ll happiness for both.
[Staring at him.]
You seem to stand
The shock with exemplary self-command.
What do you mean, sir?
356 LOVE'S COMEDY [act i
That inasmuch as you appeared to feed
Fond expectations of your own —
At any rate, you were upon the scent.
You named Miss Halm; you stood upon this spot
And asked me —