James Branch Cabell.

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_The Jewel Merchants_
_A Comedy in One Act_


James Branch Cabell

_"Io non posso ritrar di tutti appieno:
pero chi si mi caccia il lungo tema,
che molte volte al fatto il dir vieti meno."_



_This latest avatar of so many notions
which were originally hers._


Prudence urges me here to forestall detection, by conceding that this
brief play has no pretension to "literary" quality. It is a piece in
its inception designed for, and in its making swayed by, the requirements
of the little theatre stage. The one virtue which anybody anywhere could
claim for _The Jewel Merchants_ is the fact that it "acts" easily and
rather effectively.

And candor compels the admission forthwith that the presence of this
anchoritic merit in the wilderness is hardly due to me. When circumstances
and the Little Theatre League of Richmond combined to bully me into
contriving the dramatization of a short story called _Balthazar's
Daughter_, I docilely converted this tale into a one-act play of which
you will find hereinafter no sentence. The comedy I wrote is now at one
with the lost dramaturgy of Pollio and of Posidippus, and is even less
likely ever to be resurrected for mortal auditors.

It read, I still think, well enough: I am certain that, when we came to
rehearse, the thing did not "act" at all, and that its dialogue, whatever
its other graces, had the defect of being unspeakable. So at each
rehearsal we - by which inclusive pronoun I would embrace the actors and
the producing staff at large, and with especial (metaphorical) ardor Miss
Louise Burleigh, who directed all - changed here a little, and there a
little more; and shifted this bit, and deleted the other, and "tried out"
everybody's suggestions generally, until we got at least the relief of
witnessing at each rehearsal a different play. And steadily my manuscript
was enriched with interlineations, to and beyond the verge of legibility,
as steadily I substituted, for the speeches I had rewritten yesterday,
the speeches which the actor (having perfectly in mind the gist but not
the phrasing of what was meant) delivered naturally.

This process made, at all events, for what we in particular wanted,
which was a play that the League could stage for half an evening's
entertainment; but it left existent not a shred of the rhetorical
fripperies which I had in the beginning concocted, and it made of the
actual first public performance a collaboration with almost as many
contributing authors as though the production had been a musical comedy.

And if only fate had gifted me with an exigent conscience and a turn for
oratory, I would, I like to think, have publicly confessed, at that first
public performance, to all those tributary clarifying rills to the play's
progress: but, as it was, vainglory combined with an aversion to
"speech-making" to compel a taciturn if smirking acceptance of the
curtain-call with which an indulgent audience flustered the nominal author
of _The Jewel Merchants_.... Now, in any case, it is due my collaborators
to tell you that _The Jewel Merchants_ has amply fulfilled the purpose
of its makers by being enacted to considerable applause, - and is a
pleasure to add that this _succès d'estime_ was very little chargeable to
anything which I contributed to the play.

For another matter, I would here confess that _The Jewel Merchants_,
in addition to its "literary" deficiencies, lacks moral fervor. It will,
I trust, corrupt no reader irretrievably, to untraversable leagues beyond
the last hope of redemption: but, even so, it is a frankly unethical
performance. You must accept this resuscitated trio, if at all, very much
as they actually went about Tuscany, in long ago discarded young flesh,
when the one trait everywhere common to their milieu was the absence of
any moral excitement over such-and-such an action's being or not being
"wicked." This phenomenon of Renaissance life, as lived in Italy in
particular, has elsewhere been discussed time and again, and I lack here
the space, and the desire, either to explain or to apologize for the era's
delinquencies. I would merely indicate that this point of conduct is the
fulcrum of _The Jewel Merchants_.

The play presents three persons, to any one of whom the committing of
murder or theft or adultery or any other suchlike interdicted feat, is
just the risking of the penalty provided against the breaking of that
especial law if you have the vile luck to be caught at it: and this to
them is all that "wickedness" can mean. We nowadays are encouraged to
think differently: but such dear privileges do not entitle us to ignore
the truth that had any of these three advanced a dissenting code of
conduct, it would, in the time and locality, have been in radical
irreverence of the best-thought-of tenets. There was no generally
recognized criminality in crime, but only a perceptible risk. So must
this trio thriftily adhere to the accepted customs of their era, and
regard an infraction of the Decalogue (for an instance) very much as we
today look on a violation of our prohibition enactments.

In fact, we have accorded to the Eighteenth Amendment almost exactly the
status then reserved for Omnipotence. You found yourself confronted by
occasionally enforced if obviously unreasonable supernal statutory
decrees, which every one broke now and then as a matter of convenience:
and every now and then, also, somebody was caught and punished, either in
this world or in the next, without his ill-fortune's involving any
disgrace or particular reprehension. As has been finely said,
righteousness and sinfulness were for the while "in strange and dreadful
peace with each other. The wicked man did not dislike virtue, nor the good
man vice: the villain could admire a saint, and the saint could excuse a
villain, in things which we often shrink from repeating, and sometimes
recoil from believing."

Such was the sixteenth-century Tuscan view of "wickedness." I have
endeavored to reproduce it without comment.

So much of ink and paper and typography may be needed, I fear, to remind
you, in a more exhortatory civilization, that Graciosa is really, by all
the standards of her day, a well reared girl. To the prostitution of her
body, whether with or without the assistance of an ecclesiastically
acquired husband, she looks forward as unconcernedly as you must by
ordinary glance out of your front window, to face a vista so familiar
that the discovery of any change therein would be troubling. Meanwhile
she wishes this sorrow-bringing Eglamore assassinated, as the obvious,
the most convenient, and indeed the only way of getting rid of him: and
toward the end of the play, alike for her and Guido, the presence of a
corpse in her garden is merely an inconvenience without any touch of the
gruesome. Precautions have, of course, to be taken to meet the emergency
which has arisen: but in the dead body of a man _per se_, the lovers can
detect nothing more appalling, or more to be shrunk from, than would be
apparent if the lifeless object in the walkway were a dead flower. The
thing ought to be removed, if only in the interest of tidiness, but there
is no call to make a pother over it.

As for our Guido, he is best kept conformable to modern tastes, I suspect,
by nobody's prying too closely into the earlier relations between the
Duke and his handsome minion. The insistently curious may resort to
history to learn at what price the favors of Duke Alessandro were secured
and retained: it is no part of the play.

Above all, though, I must remind you that the Duke is unspurred by
malevolence. A twinge of jealousy there may be, just at first, to find his
pampered Eglamore so far advanced in the good graces of this pretty girl,
but that is hardly important. Thereafter the Duke is breaking no law,
for the large reason that his preference in any matter is the only law
thus far divulged to him. As concerns the man and the girl he discovers on
this hill-top, they, in common with all else in Tuscany, are possessions
of Duke Alessandro's. They can raise no question as to how he "ought" to
deal with them, for to your chattels, whether they be your finger rings or
your subjects or your pomatum pots or the fair quires whereon you indite
your verses, you cannot rationally he said to "owe" anything.... No, the
Duke is but a spirited lad in quest of amusement: and Guido and Graciosa
are the playthings with which, on this fine sunlit morning, he attempts to
divert himself.

This much being granted - and confessed, - we let the play begin.

_Dumbarton Grange,_
_June, 1921_

* * * * *

["Alessandro de Medici is generally styled by the Italian authors the
first duke of Florence; but in this they are not strictly accurate. His
title of duke was derived from Città, or Cività di Penna, and had been
assumed by him several years before he obtained the direction of the
Florentine state. It must also be observed, that, after the evasion of
Eglamore, Duke Alessandro did not, as Robertson observes, 'enjoy the
same absolute dominion as his family have retained to the present times,'
(Hist. Charles V. book v.) he being only declared chief or prince of the
republic, and his authority being in some measure counteracted or
restrained by two councils chosen from the citizens, for life, one of
which consisted of forty-eight, and the other of two hundred members.
(Varchi, Storia Fior. p. 497: Nerli, Com. lib. xi. pp. 257, 264.)"]

* * * * *


_"Diamente nè smeraldo nè zaffino."_

Originally produced by the Little Theatre League of Richmond, Virginia,
at the Binford High School Auditorium, 22 February, 1921.

_Original Cast_

GRACIOSA...........................Elinor Fry
Daughter of Balthazar Valori

GUIDO........................Roderick Maybee
A jewel merchant

ALESSANDRO DE MEDICI.........Francis F. Bierne
Duke of Florence

Produced under the direction of Louise Burleigh.

* * * * *


_The play begins with the sound of a woman's voice singing a song
(adapted from Rossetti's version) which is delivered to the accompaniment
of a lute._


Let me have dames and damsels richly clad
To feed and tend my mirth,
Singing by day and night to make me glad.

Let me have fruitful gardens of great girth
Filled with the strife of birds,
With water-springs and beasts that house i' the earth.

Let me seem Solomon for lore of words,
Samson for strength, for beauty Absalom.

Knights as my serfs be given;
And as I will, let music go and come,
Till, when I will, I will to enter Heaven.

_As the singing ends, the curtain rises upon a corner of Balthazar
Valori's garden near the northern border of Tuscany. The garden is walled.
There is a shrine in the wall: the tortured figure upon the crucifix is
conspicuous. To the right stands a rather high-backed stone bench: by
mounting from the seat to the top of the bench it is possible to scale
the wall. To the left a crimson pennant on a pole shows against the sky.
The period is 1533, and a few miles southward the Florentines, after three
years of formally recognizing Jesus Christ as the sole lord and king of
Florence, have lately altered matters as profoundly as was possible by
electing Alessandro de Medici to be their Duke._

_GRACIOSA is seated upon the bench, with a lute. The girl is, to our
modern taste, very quaintly dressed in gold-colored satin, with a short
tight bodice, cut square and low at the neck, and with long full skirts.
When she stands erect, her preposterous "flowing" sleeves, lined with
sky blue, reach to the ground. Her blonde hair, of which she has a great
deal, is braided, in the intricate early sixteenth fashion, under a
jeweled cap and a veil the exact color of this hair._

_There is a call. Smiling, GRACIOSA answers this call by striking her
lute. She pats straight her hair and gown, and puts aside the instrument.
GUIDO appears at the top of the wall. All you can see of the handsome
young fellow, in this posture, is that he wears a green skull-cap and a
dark blue smock, the slashed sleeves of which are lined with green._

Ah, madonna....

Welcome, Ser Guido. Your journey has been brief.

It has not seemed brief to me.

Why, it was only three days ago you told me it would be a fortnight
before you came this way again.

Yes, but I did not then know that each day spent apart from you, Madonna
Graciosa, would be a century in passing.

Dear me, but your search must have been desperate!

(_Who speaks, as almost always hereinafter, with sober enjoyment of the
fact that he is stating the exact truth unintelligibly._) Yes, my search
is desperate.

Did you find gems worthy of your search?

Very certainly, since at my journey's end I find Madonna Graciosa, the
chief jewel of Tuscany.

Such compliments, Guido, make your speech less like a merchant's than a

Ah, well, to balance that, you will presently find courtiers in Florence
who will barter for you like merchants. May I descend?

Yes, if you have something of interest to show me.

Am I to be welcomed merely for the sake of my gems? You were more
gracious, you were more beautifully like your lovely name, on the
fortunate day that I first encountered you ... only six weeks ago, and
only yonder, where the path crosses the highway. But now that I esteem
myself your friend, you greet me like a stranger. You do not even invite
me into your garden. I much prefer the manner in which you told me the
way to the inn when I was an unknown passer-by. And yet your pennant
promised greeting.

(_With the smile of an exceptionally candid angel._) Ah, Guido, I flew
it the very minute the boy from the inn brought me your message!

Now, there is the greeting I had hoped for! But how do you escape your
father's watch so easily?

My father has no need to watch me in this lonely hill castle. Ever since
I can remember I have wandered at will in the forest. My father knows that
to me every path is as familiar as one of the corridors in his house; and
in no one of them did I ever meet anybody except charcoal-burners, and
sometimes a nun from the convent, and - oh, yes! - you. But descend, friend

_Thus encouraged, GUIDO descends from the top of the wall to the top of
the bench, and thence, via its seat, to the ground. You are thereby
enabled to discover that his nether portions are clad in dark blue tights
and soft leather shoes with pointed turned-up toes. It is also noticeable
that he carries a jewel pack of purple, which, when opened, reveals an
orange lining._

(_With as much irony as the pleasure he takes in being again with this
dear child permits._) That "Oh, yes, you!" is a very fitting reward for
my devotion. For I find that nowadays I travel about the kingdom buying
jewels less for my patrons at court than for the pleasure of having your
eyes appraise them, and smile at me.

(_With the condescension of a great lady._) Guido, you have in point of
fact been very kind to me, and very amusing, too, in my loneliness on
the top of this hill. (_Drawing back the sleeve from her left arm, she
reveals the trinket there._) See, here is the turquoise bracelet I had
from you the second time you passed. I wear it always - secretly.

That is wise, for the turquoise is a talisman. They say that the woman
who wears a turquoise is thereby assured of marrying the person whom she

I do not know about that, nor do I expect to have much choice as to what
rich nobleman marries me, but I know that I love this bracelet -

In fact, they are handsome stones.

Because it reminds me constantly of the hours which I have spent here
with my lute -

Oh, with your lute!

And with your pack of lovely jewels -

Yes, to be sure! with my jewels.

And with you.

There is again my gracious lady. Now, in reward for that, you shall
feast your eyes.

(_All eagerness._) And what have you to-day?

_GUIDO opens his pack. She bends above it with hands outstretched._

(_Taking out a necklace._) For one thing, pearls, black pearls, set with
a clasp of emeralds. See! They will become you.

(_Taking them, pressing them to her cheek._) How cool! But I - poor child
of a poor noble - I cannot afford such.

Oh, I did not mean to offer them to you to-day. No, this string is
intended for the Duke's favorite, Count Eglamore.

(_Stiffening._) Count Eglamore! These are for him?

For Count Eglamore.

Has the upstart such taste?

If it be taste to appreciate pearls, then the Duke's chief officer has
excellent taste. He seeks them far and wide. He will be very generous in
paying for this string.

_GRACIOSA drops the pearls, in which she no longer delights. She returns
to the bench, and sits down and speaks with a sort of disappointment._

I am sorry to learn that this Eglamore is among your patrons.

(_Still half engrossed by the contents of his pack. The man loves jewels
equally for their value and their beauty._) Oh, the nobles complain of
him, but we merchants have no quarrel with Eglamore. He buys too lavishly.

Do you think only of buying and selling, Guido?

It is a pursuit not limited to us who frankly live by sale and purchase.
Count Eglamore, for example, knows that men may be bought as readily as
merchandise. It is one reason why he is so hated - by the unbought.

(_Irritated by the title._) Count Eglamore, indeed! I ask in my prayers
every night that some honest gentleman may contrive to cut the throat of
this abominable creature.

(_His hand going to his throat._) You pray too much, madonna. Even very
pious people ought to be reasonable.

(_Rising from the bench._) Have I not reason to hate the man who killed
my kinsman?

(_Rising from his gems._) The Marquis of Cibo conspired, or so the court
judged -

I know nothing of the judgment. But it was this Eglamore who discovered
the plot, if there indeed was any plot, and who sent my cousin Cibo to
a death - (_pointing to the shrine_) - oh, to a death as horrible as that.
So I hate him.

Yet you have never even seen him, I believe?

And it would be better for him never to see me or any of my kin. My
father, my uncles and my cousins have all sworn to kill him -

So I have gathered. They remain among the unbought.

(_Returning, sits upon the bench, and speaks regretfully._) But they
have never any luck. Cousin Pietro contrived to have a beam dropped on
Eglamore's head, and it missed him by not half a foot -

Ah, yes, I remember.

And Cousin Georgio stabbed him in the back one night, but the coward had
on chain-armor under his finery -

I remember that also.

And Uncle Lorenzo poisoned his soup, but a pet dog got at it first. That
was very unfortunate.

Yes, the dog seemed to think so, I remember.

However, perseverance is always rewarded. So I still hope that one or
another of my kinsmen will contrive to kill this Eglamore before I go to

(_Sits at her feet._) Has my Lord Balthazar yet set a day for that

Not yet.

I wish to have this Eglamore's accounts all settled by that date.

But in three months, Guido, I shall be sixteen. My sisters went to court
when they were sixteen.

In fact, a noble who is not rich cannot afford to continue supporting a
daughter who is salable in marriage.

No, of course not. (_She speaks in the most matter-of-fact tone possible.
Then, more impulsively, the girl slips down from the bench, and sits by
him on the around._) Do you think I shall make as good a match as my
sisters, Guido? Do you think some great rich nobleman will marry me very
soon? And shall I like the court! What shall I see there?

Marvels. I think - yes, I am afraid that you will like them.

And Duke Alessandro - shall I like him?

Few courtiers have expressed dislike of him in my presence.

Do you like him? Does he too buy lavishly?

Eh, madonna! some day, when you have seen his jewels -

Oh! I shall see them when I go to court?

Yes, he will show them to you, I think, without fail, for the Duke loves
beauty in all its forms. So he will take pleasure in confronting the
brightness of your eyes with the brightness of the four kinds of sapphires,
of the twelve kinds of rubies, and of many extraordinary pearls -

(_With eyes shining, and lips parted._) Oh!

And you will see his famous emerald necklace, and all his diamonds, and
his huge turquoises, which will make you ashamed of your poor talisman -

He will show all these jewels to me!

(_Looking at her, and still smiling thoughtfully._) He will show you the
very finest of his gems, assuredly. And then, worse still, he will be
making verses in your honor.

It would be droll to have a great duke making songs about me!

It is a preposterous feature of Duke Alessandro's character that he is
always making songs about some beautiful thing or another.

Such strange songs, Guido! I was singing over one of them just before
you came, -

Let me have dames and damsels richly clad
To feed and tend my mirth,
Singing by day and night to make me glad -

But I could not quite understand it. Are his songs thought good?

The songs of a reigning duke are always good.

And is he as handsome as people report?

Tastes differ, of course -

And is he - ?

I have a portrait of the Duke. It does not, I think, unduly flatter him.
Will you look at it?

Yes, yes!

(_Drawing out a miniature on a chain._) Here is the likeness.

But how should you - ?

(_Seeing her surprise._) Oh, it was a gift to me from his highness for a
special service I did him, and as such must be treasured.

Perhaps, then, I shall see yon at court, Messer Guido, who are the friend
of princes?

If you do, I ask only that in noisy Florence you remember this quiet

(_Looks at him silently, then glances at the portrait. She speaks with
evident disappointment._) Is this the Duke?

You may see his arms on it, and on the back his inscription.

Yes, but - (_looking at the portrait again_) - but ... he is ... so ...

You are astonished at his highness' coloring? That he inherits from his
mother. She was, you know, a blackamoor.

And my sisters wrote me he was like a god!

Such observations are court etiquette.

(_With an outburst of disgust._) Take it back! Though how can you bear to
look at it, far less to have it touching you! And only yesterday I was
angry because I had not seen the Duke riding past!

Seen him! here! riding past!

Old Ursula told me that the Duke had gone by with twenty men, riding down
toward the convent at the border. And I flung my sewing-bag straight at
her head because she had not called me.

That was idle gossip, I fancy. The Duke rarely rides abroad without
my - (_he stops_) - without my lavish patron Eglamore, the friend of all
honest merchants.

But that abominable Eglamore may have been with him. I heard nothing to
the contrary.

True, madonna, true. I had forgotten you did not see them.

No. What is he like, this Eglamore? Is he as appalling to look at as the

Madonna! but wise persons do not apply such adjectives to dukes. And wise
persons do not criticize Count Eglamore's appearance, either, now that
Eglamore is indispensable to the all-powerful Duke of Florence.


It is thanks to the Eglamore whom you hate that the Duke has ample leisure

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