James Branch Cabell.

The Jewel Merchants A Comedy in One Act online

. (page 2 of 3)
Online LibraryJames Branch CabellThe Jewel Merchants A Comedy in One Act → online text (page 2 of 3)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


to indulge in recreations which are reputed to be - curious.

GRACIOSA
I do not understand you, Guido.

GUIDO
That is perhaps quite as well. (_Attempting to explain as much as is
decently expressible._) To be brief, madonna, business annoys the Duke.

GRACIOSA
Why?

GUIDO
It interferes with the pursuit of all the beautiful things he asks for
in that song.

GRACIOSA
But how does that make Eglamore indispensable?

GUIDO
Eglamore is an industrious person who affixes seals, and signs treaties,
and musters armies, and collects revenues, upon the whole, quite as
efficiently as Alessandro would be capable of doing these things.

GRACIOSA
So Duke Alessandro merely makes verses?

GUIDO
And otherwise amuses himself as his inclinations prompt, while Eglamore
rules Tuscany - and the Tuscans are none the worse off on account of it.
(_He rises, and his hand goes to the dagger at his belt._) But is not
that a horseman?

GRACIOSA
(_She too has risen, and is now standing on the bench, looking over the
wall._) A solitary rider, far down by the convent, so far away that he
seems hardly larger than a scarlet dragon-fly.

GUIDO
I confess I wish to run no risk of being found here, by your respected
father or by your ingenious cousins and uncles.

GRACIOSA
(_She turns, but remains standing upon the bench._) I think your Duke is
much more dangerous looking than any of them. Heigho! I can quite foresee
that I shall never fall in love with this Duke.

GUIDO
A prince has means to overcome all obstacles.

GRACIOSA
No. It is unbefitting and a little cowardly for Duke Alessandro to shirk
the duties of his station for verse-making and eternal pleasure-seeking.
Now if I were Duke -

GUIDO
What would you do?

GRACIOSA
(_Posturing a little as she stands upon the bench._) If I were duke?
Oh ... I would grant my father a pension ... and I would have Eglamore
hanged ... and I would purchase a new gown of silvery green -

GUIDO
In which you would be very ravishingly beautiful.

_His tone has become rather ardent, and he is now standing nearer to her
than the size of the garden necessitates. So GRACIOSA demurely steps
down from the bench, and sits at the far end._

GRACIOSA
And that is all I can think of. What would you do if you were duke,
Messer Guido?

GUIDO
(_Who is now sitting beside her at closer quarters than the length of the
bench quite strictly demands._) I? What would I do if I were a great lord
instead of a tradesman! (_Softly._) I think you know the answer, madonna.

GRACIOSA
Oh, you would make me your duchess, of course. That is quite understood.
But I was speaking seriously, Guido.

GUIDO
And is it not a serious matter that a pedler of crystals should have dared
to love a nobleman's daughter?

GRACIOSA
(_Delighted._) This is the first I have heard of it.

GUIDO
But you are perfectly right. It is not a serious matter. That I worship
you is an affair which does not seriously concern any person save me in
any way whatsoever. Yet I think that knowledge of the fact would put your
father to the trouble of sharpening his dagger.

GRACIOSA
Ye-es. But not even Father would deny that you were showing excellent
taste.

GUIDO
Indeed, I am not certain that I do worship you; for in order to adore
whole-heartedly the idolater must believe his idol to be perfect.
(_Taking her hand._) Now your nails are of an ugly shape, like that of
little fans. Your nose is nothing to boast of. And your mouth is too
large. I do not admire these faults, for faults they are undoubtedly -

GRACIOSA
Do they make me very ugly? I know that I have not a really good mouth,
Guido, but do you think it is positively repulsive?

GUIDO
No.... Then, too, I know that you are vain and self-seeking, and look
forward contentedly to the time when your father will transfer his
ownership of your physical attractions to that nobleman who offers the
highest price for them.

GRACIOSA
But we daughters of the poor Valori are compelled to marry - suitably. We
have only the choice between that and the convent yonder.

GUIDO
That is true, and nobody disputes it. Still, you participate in a
monstrous bargain, and I would prefer to have you exhibit distaste for it.

_Bending forward, GUIDO draws from his jewel pack the string of pearls,
and this he moodily contemplates, in order to evince his complete
disinterestedness. The pose has its effect. GRACIOSA looks at him for a
moment, rises, draws a deep breath, and speaks with a sort of humility._

GRACIOSA
And to what end, Guido? What good would weeping do?

GUIDO
(_Smiling whimsically._) I am afraid that men do not always love
according to the strict laws of logic. (_He drops the pearls, and,
rising, follows her._) I desire your happiness above all things, yet to
see you so abysmally untroubled by anything which troubles me is - another
matter.

GRACIOSA
But I am not untroubled, Guido.

GUIDO
No?

GRACIOSA
No. (_Rather tremulously._) Sometimes I sit here dreading my life at
court. I want never to leave my father's bleak house. I fear that I may
not like the man who offers the highest price for me. And it seems as
if the court were a horrible painted animal, dressed in bright silks, and
shining with jewels, and waiting to devour me.

_Beyond the wall appears a hat of scarlet satin with a divided brim,
which, rising, is revealed to surmount the head of an extraordinarily
swarthy person, to whose dark skin much powder has only loaned the hue of
death: his cheeks, however, are vividly carmined. This is all that the
audience can now see of the young DUKE of FLORENCE, whose proximity the
two in the garden are just now too much engrossed to notice._

_The DUKE looks from one to the other. His eyes narrow, his teeth are
displayed in a wide grin; he now understands the situation. He lowers his
head as GRACIOSA moves._

GRACIOSA
No, I am not untroubled. For I cannot fathom you, and that troubles me. I
am very fond of you - and yet I do not trust you.

GUIDO
You know that I love you.

GRACIOSA
You tell me so. It pleases me to have you say it -

GUIDO
Madonna is candid this morning.

GRACIOSA
Yes, I am candid. It does please me. And I know that for the sake of
seeing me you endanger your life, for if my father heard of our meetings
here he would have you killed.

GUIDO
Would I incur such risks without caring?

GRACIOSA
No, - and yet, somehow, I do not believe it is altogether for me that you
care.

_The DUKE laughs. GUIDO starts, half drawing his dagger. GRACIOSA turns
with an instinctive gesture of seeking protection. The DUKE'S head and
shoulders appear above the wall._

THE DUKE
And you will find, my friend, that the most charming women have just these
awkward intuitions.

_The DUKE ascends the wall, while the two stand motionless and silent.
When he is on top of the wall, GUIDO, who now remembers that omnipotence
perches there, makes haste to serve it, and obsequiously assists the DUKE
to descend. The DUKE then comes well forward, in smiling meditation, and
hands first his gloves, then his scarlet cloak (which you now perceive to
be lined with ermine and sable in four stripes) to GUIDO, who takes them
as a servant would attend his master._

_The removal of this cloak reveals the DUKE to be clad in a scarlet satin
doublet, which has a high military collar and sleeves puffed with black.
His tights also are of scarlet, and he wears shining soft black
riding-boots. Jewels glisten at his neck. About his middle, too, there is
a metallic gleaming, for he is equipped with a noticeably long sword and
a dagger. Such is the personage who now addresses himself more explicitly
to GRACIOSA._

THE DUKE
(_Sitting upon the bench, very much at his ease while the others stand
uncomfortably before him._) Yes, madonna, I suspect that Eglamore here
cares greatly for the fact that you are Balthazar Valori's daughter, and
cousin to the late Marquis of Cibo.

GRACIOSA
(_Just in bewilderment._) Eglamore!

THE DUKE
For Cibo left many kinsmen. These still resent the circumstance that
the matching of his wits against Eglamore's wits earned for Cibo an
unpleasantly public death-bed. So they pursue their feud against Eglamore
with vexatious industry. And Eglamore goes about in hourly apprehension
of another falling beam, another knife-thrust in the back, or another
plate of poison.

GRACIOSA
(_She comprehends now._) Eglamore!

THE DUKE
(_Who is pleased alike by Eglamore's neat plan and by his own cleverness
in unriddling it._) But if rich Eglamore should make a stolen match with
you, your father - good thrifty man! - could be appeased without much
trouble. Your cousins, those very angry but penniless Valori, would not
stay over-obdurate to a kinsman who had at his disposal so many pensions
and public offices. Honor would permit a truce with their new cousin
Eglamore, a truce very profitable to everybody.

GRACIOSA
He said they must be bought somehow!

THE DUKE
Yes, Eglamore could bind them all to his interest within ten days. All
could be bought at a stroke by marrying you. And Eglamore would be rid
of the necessity of sleeping in chain-armor. Have I not unraveled the
scheme correctly, Eglamore?

GUIDO
(_Smiling and deferential._) Your highness was never lacking in
penetration.

_GRACIOSA, at this, turns puzzled from one man to the other._

GRACIOSA
Are you - ?

THE DUKE
I am Alessandro de Medici, madonna.

GRACIOSA
The Duke!

THE DUKE
A sadly neglected prince, who wondered over the frequent absences of his
chief counselor, and secretly set spies upon him. Eglamore here will
attest as much - (_As GRACIOSA draws away from GUIDO_) - or if you cannot
believe Eglamore any longer in anything, I shall have other witnesses
within the half-hour. Yes, my twenty cut-throats are fetching back for me
a brace of nuns from the convent yonder. I can imagine that, just now, my
cut-throats will be in your opinion more trustworthy witnesses than is
poor Eglamore. And my stout knaves will presently assure you that I am
the Duke.

GUIDO
(_Suavely._) It happens that not a moment ago we were admiring your
highness' portrait.

GRACIOSA
And so you are Count Eglamore. That is very strange. So it was the hand
of Eglamore (_rubbing her hands as if to clean them_) that I touched just
now. I thought it was the hand of my friend Guido. But I forget. There is
no Guido. You are Eglamore. It is strange you should have been capable of
so much wickedness, for to me you seem only a smirking and harmless
lackey.

_The DUKE is watching as if at a play. He is aesthetically pleased by the
girl's anguish. GUIDO winces. As GRACIOSA begins again to speak, they turn
facing her, so that to the audience the faces of both men are invisible._

GRACIOSA
And it was you who detected - so you said - the Marquis of Cibo's
conspiracy. Tebaldeo was my cousin, Count Eglamore. I loved him. We were
reared together. We used to play here in this garden. I remember how
Tebaldeo once fetched me a wren's nest from that maple yonder. I stood
just here. I was weeping, because I was afraid he would fall. If he had
fallen, if he had been killed then, it would have been the luckier for
him. They say that he conspired. I do not know. I only know that by your
orders, Count Eglamore, my playmate Tebaldeo was fastened to a cross, like
that (_pointing to the shrine_). I know that his arms and legs were each
broken in two places with an iron bar. I know that this cross was then set
upon a pivot, so that it turned slowly. I know that my dear Tebaldeo died
very slowly in the sunlit marketplace, while the cross turned, and turned,
and turned. I know this was a public holiday; the shopkeepers took holiday
to watch him die, the boy who fetched me a wren's nest from yonder maple.
And I know that you are Eglamore, who ordered these things done.

GUIDO
I gave orders for the Marquis of Cibo's execution, as was the duty of my
office. I did not devise the manner of his punishment. The punishment for
Cibo's crime was long ago fixed by our laws. All who attack the Duke's
person must die thus.

GRACIOSA
(_Waves his excuses aside._) And then you plan this masquerade. You plan
to make me care for you so greatly that even when I know you to be Count
Eglamore I must still care for you. You plan to marry me, so as to placate
Tebaldeo's kinsmen, so as to leave them - in your huckster's phrase - no
longer unbought. It was a fine bold stroke of policy, I know, to use me
as a stepping-stone to safety. But was it fair to me?

GUIDO
Graciosa ... you shame me -

GRACIOSA
Look you, Count Eglamore, I was only a child, playing here, alone, and
not unhappy. Oh, was it fair, was it worth while to match your skill
against my ignorance?

THE DUKE
Fie, Donna Graciosa, you must not be too harsh with Eglamore -

GRACIOSA
Think how unhappy I would be if even now I loved you, and how I would
loathe myself!

THE DUKE
It is his nature to scheme, and he weaves his plots as inevitably as the
spider does her web -

GRACIOSA
But I am getting angry over nothing. Nothing has happened except that
I have dreamed - of a Guido. And there is no Guido. There is only an
Eglamore, a lackey in attendance upon his master.

THE DUKE
Believe me, it is wiser to forget this clever lackey - as I do - except when
there is need of his services. I think that you have no more need to
consider him -

_He takes the girl's hand. GRACIOSA now looks at him as though seeing him
for the first time. She is vaguely frightened by this predatory beast, but
in the main her emotion is as yet bewilderment._

THE DUKE
For you are very beautiful, Graciosa. You are as slim as a lily, and
more white. Your eyes are two purple mirrors in each of which I see a
tiny image of Duke Alessandro. (_GUIDO takes a step forward, and the DUKE
now addresses him affably._) Those nuns they are fetching me are big
high-colored wenches with cheeks like apples. It is not desirable that
women should be so large. Such women do not inspire a poet. Women should
be little creatures that fear you. They should have thin plaintive voices,
and in shrinking from you should be as slight to the touch as a cobweb.
It is not possible to draw inspiration from a woman's beauty unless you
comprehend how easy it would be to murder her.

GUIDO
(_Softly, without expression._) God, God!

_The DUKE looks with delight at GRACIOSA, who stands bewildered and
childlike._

THE DUKE
You fear me, do you not, Graciosa? Your hand is soft and cold as the skin
of a viper. When I touch it you shudder. I am very tired of women who
love me, of women who are infatuated by my beauty. You, I can see, are not
infatuated. To you my touch will always be a martyrdom, you will always
loathe me. And therefore I shall not weary of you for a long while,
because the misery and the helplessness of my lovely victim will incite
me to make very lovely verses.

_He draws her to the bench, sitting beside her._

THE DUKE
Yes, Graciosa, you will inspire me. Your father shall have all the wealth
and state that even his greedy imaginings can devise, so long as you can
contrive to loathe me. We will find you a suitable husband - say, in
Eglamore here. You shall have flattery and titles, gold and fine glass,
soft stuffs and superb palaces and many lovely jewels -

_The DUKE glances down at the pedler's pack._

THE DUKE
But Eglamore also has been wooing you with jewels. You must see mine,
dear Graciosa.

GRACIOSA
(_Without expression._) Count Eglamore said that I must.

THE DUKE
(_Raises the necklace, and lets it drop contemptuously._) Oh, not such
trumpery as this. I have in Florence gems which have not their fellows
anywhere, gems which have not even a name, and the value of which is
incalculable. I have jewels engendered by the thunder, jewels taken from
the heart of the Arabian deer. I have jewels cut from the brain of a toad,
and from the eyes of serpents. I have jewels which are authentically known
to have fallen from the moon. Well, we will select the rarest, and have a
pair of slippers encrusted with them, and in these slippers you shall
dance for me, in a room that I know of -

GUIDO
(_Without moving._) Highness - !

THE DUKE
It will all be very amusing, for I think that she is now quite innocent,
as pure as the high angels. Yes, it will be diverting to make her as I am.
It will be an atrocious action that will inspire me to write lovelier
verses than even I have ever written.

GUIDO
She is a child -

THE DUKE
Yes, yes, a frightened child who cannot speak, who stays as still as a
lark that has been taken in a snare. Why, neither of her sisters can
compare with this, and, besides, the elder one had a quite ugly mole upon
her thigh - But that old rogue Balthazar Valori has a real jewel to offer,
this time. Well, I will buy it.

GUIDO
Highness, I love this child -

THE DUKE
Ah, then you cannot ever be her husband. You would have suited otherwise.
But we will find some other person of discretion -

_For a moment the two men regard each other in silence. The DUKE becomes
aware that he is being opposed. His brows contract a little, but he rises
from the bench rather as if in meditation than in anger. Then GUIDO drops
the cloak and gloves he has been holding until this. His lackeyship is
over._

GUIDO
No!

THE DUKE
My friend, some long-faced people say you made a beast of me -

GUIDO
No, I will not have it.

THE DUKE
So do you beware lest the beast turn and rend you.

GUIDO
I have never been too nice to profit by your vices. I have taken my
thrifty toll of abomination. I have stood by contentedly, not urging you
on, yet never trying to stay you as you waded deeper and ever deeper into
the filth of your debaucheries, because meanwhile you left me so much
power.

THE DUKE
Would you reshape your handiwork more piously? Come, come, man, be content
with it as I am. And be content with the kingdom I leave you to play with.

GUIDO
It was not altogether I who made of you a brainsick beast. But what you
are is in part my handiwork. Nevertheless, you shall not harm this child.

THE DUKE
"Shall not" is a delightfully quaint expression. I only regret that you
are not likely ever to use it to me again.

GUIDO
I know this means my ruin.

THE DUKE
Indeed, I must venture to remind you, Count Eglamore, that I am still a
ruling prince -

GUIDO
That is nothing to me.

THE DUKE
And that, where you are master of very admirable sentiments, I happen to
be master of all Tuscany.

GUIDO
At court you are the master. At your court in Florence I have seen many
mothers raise the veil from their daughters' faces because you were
passing. But here upon this hill-top I can see only the woman I love and
the man who has insulted her.

THE DUKE
So all the world is changed, and Pandarus is transformed into Hector!
Your words are very sonorous words, dear Eglamore, but by what deeds
do you propose to back them?

GUIDO
By killing you, your highness.

THE DUKE
But in what manner? By stifling me with virtuous rhetoric? Hah, it is
rather awkward for you - is it not - that our sumptuary laws forbid you
merchants to carry swords?

GUIDO
(_Draws his dagger._) I think this knife will serve me, highness, to make
earth a cleaner place.

THE DUKE
(_Drawing his long sword._) It would save trouble now to split you like a
chicken for roasting.... (_He shrugs, and sheathes his sword. He unbuckles
his sword-belt, and lays it aside._) No, no, this farce ascends in
interest. So let us play it fairly to the end. I risk nothing, since from
this moment you are useless to me, my rebellious lackey -

GUIDO
You risk your life, for very certainly I mean to kill you.

THE DUKE
Two go to every bargain, my friend. Now, if I kill you, it is always
diverting to kill; and if by any chance you should kill me, I shall at
least be rid of the intolerable knowledge that to-morrow will be just like
to-day.

_He draws his dagger. The two men engage warily but with determination,
the DUKE presently advancing. GUIDO steps backward, and in the act trips
over the pedler's pack, and falls prostrate. His dagger flies from his
hand. GRACIOSA, with a little cry, has covered her face. Nobody strikes
an attitude, because nobody is conscious of any need to be heroic, but
there is a perceptible silence, which is broken by the DUKE'S quiet
voice._

THE DUKE
Well! am I to be kept waiting forever? You were quicker in obeying my
caprices yesterday. Get up, you muddy lout, and let us kill each other
with some pretension of adroitness.

GUIDO
(_Rising, with a sob._) Ah!

_He catches up the fallen dagger, and attacks the DUKE, this time with
utter disregard of the rules of fence and his own safety. GUIDO drives the
DUKE back. GUIDO is careless of defence, and desirous only to kill. The
DUKE is wounded, and falls with a cry at the foot of the shrine. GUIDO
utters a sort of strangled growl. He raises his dagger, intending to hack
at and mutilate his antagonist, who is now unconscious. As GUIDO stoops,
GRACIOSA, from behind him, catches his arm._

GRACIOSA
He gave you your life.

_GUIDO turns. He drops the weapon. He speaks with great gentleness, almost
with weariness._

GUIDO
Madonna, the Duke is not yet dead. That wound is nothing serious.

GRACIOSA
He spared your life.

GUIDO
It is impossible to let him live.

GRACIOSA
But I think he only voiced a caprice -

GUIDO
I think so, too, but I know that all this madman's whims are ruthless.

GRACIOSA
But you have power -

GUIDO
Power! I, who have attacked the Duke's person! I, who have done what your
dead cousin merely planned to do!

GRACIOSA
Guido - !

GUIDO
Living, this brain-sick beast will make of you his plaything - and, a
little later, his broken, soiled and cast-by plaything. It is therefore
necessary that I kill Duke Alessandro.

_GRACIOSA moves away from him, and GUIDO rises._

GRACIOSA
And afterward - and afterward you must die just as Tebaldeo died!

GUIDO
That is the law, madonna. But what he said is true. I am useless to him,
a rebellious lackey to be punished. Whether I have his life or no, I am a
lost man.

GRACIOSA
A moment since you were Count Eglamore, whom all our nobles feared -

GUIDO
Now there is not a beggar in the kingdom who would change lots with me.
But at least I shall first kill this kingdom's lord.

_He picks up his dagger._

GRACIOSA
You are a friendless and hunted man, in peril of a dreadful death. But
even so, you are not penniless. These jewels here are of great value -

_GUIDO laughs, and hangs the pearls about her neck._

GUIDO
Do you keep them, then.

GRACIOSA
There is a world outside this kingdom. You have only to make your way
through the forest to be out of Tuscany.

GUIDO
(_Coolly reflective._) Perhaps I might escape, going north to Bologna, and
then to Venice, which is at war with the Duke -

GRACIOSA
I can tell you the path to Bologna.

GUIDO
But first the Duke must die, because his death saves you.

GRACIOSA
No, Guido! I would have Eglamore go hence with hands as clean as possible.

GUIDO
Not even Eglamore would leave you at the mercy of this poet.

GRACIOSA
How does that matter! It is no secret that my father intends to market me
as best suits his interests. And the great Duke of Florence, no less,
would have been my purchaser! You heard him, "I will buy this jewel," he
said. He would have paid thrice what any of my sisters' purchasers have
paid. You know very well that my father would have been delighted.

GUIDO
(_Since the truth of what she has just said is known to him by more
startling proofs than she dreams of, he speaks rather bitterly, as he
sheathes the dagger._) And I must need upset the bargain between these
jewel merchants!

GRACIOSA
(_Lightly._) "No, I will not have it!" Count Eglamore must cry. (_Her
hand upon his arm._) My dear unthrifty pedler! it cost you a great deal to
speak those words.

GUIDO
I had no choice. I love you. (_A pause. As GRACIOSA does not speak, GUIDO
continues, very quiet at first._) It is a theme on which I shall not
embroider. So long as I thought to use you as an instrument I could woo
fluently enough. Today I saw that you were frightened and helpless - oh,
quite helpless. And something in me changed. I knew for the first time
that I loved you. And I knew I was not clean as you are clean. I knew
that I had more in common with this beast here than I had with you.

GRACIOSA
(_Who with feminine practicality, while the man talks, has reached her
decision._) We daughters of the Valori are so much merchandise.... Heigho,
since I cannot help it, since bought and sold I must be, one day or


2

Online LibraryJames Branch CabellThe Jewel Merchants A Comedy in One Act → online text (page 2 of 3)