Olive Tilford Dargan.

Semiramis, and other plays online

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Because the Lombard governor brought bread
Unto her cradle.'... And he is coming back.
... Beautiful Miramar! We'll never leave thee,
Though stars should beckon to a golden world!
To-morrow he'll come! Maximilian!

(Holds out her arms
toward the sea, looking radiantly into distance)

Charles!
(Turns suddenly, laying her hand on his arm)
Look! What men are those? Do you not see them?

Char. There's nothing, cousin, - nothing but the sea.

Car. Oh, look! They wear the Mexican dress!

Char. Come in,
Sweet princess!

Car. Ah yes, they're Mexicans.

Char. Come!
You've had some fever. 'Tis a sick-room vision.

Car. No, no! I'm well! Ah, never in such health!
I see like God! O look! A score of them!
Moving but silent as death! Where are they marching?
The sun gleams on their guns! O see, Charles, see!
There is a prisoner! Poor man! poor man!
I can not see his face. He walks most sadly, -
And proudly too! An upright soul, I know!

Char. Dear cousin, come away!

Car. He's humbly dressed,
And but for that I'd think he might be royal,
Ah, royal as Maximilian! O Charles,
I am so glad he's safe upon the sea!
Safe - safe - and coming to me!

Char. (Most pleadingly) Come, wait within,
Dear princess! Come!

Car. I will not leave him! No!
The poor, sad prisoner! Those cruel weapons!
I fear - I fear - he is condemned to die.
... Perhaps he has a wife. Ah me, I pray not.
Then would be tears! He is a noble man, -
But still his face is from me.... They reach the field.
The soldiers halt and lift their guns. O how they gleam!
... I can not see.... Why is the face so dim?
Will no one save him? Let us pray for him!
We can do that! Down on our knees and pray!
O men, men, men! What sin beneath the sun
Can give excuse for such a deed as this?
O, Heaven, are you looking too? A man
So noble! Oh, he turns - he turns - his breast
Is to the weapons! Now they fire! He falls!
His face! (Gives a wild cry) Oh God! 'tis Maximilian!

(Falls forward on her face)

(CURTAIN)




THE POET


ACT I.

SCENE 1. Helen's room, Truelord house, New York.


ACT II.

SCENE 1. Exterior of Clemm cottage, near Richmond.


ACT III.

SCENE 1. Interior of Clemm cottage.
SCENE 2. The Same.


ACT IV.

SCENE 1. An old book store, New York.
SCENE 2. Poe's cottage, Fordham.


ACT V.

SCENE 1. Poe's lodging, Baltimore.
SCENE 2. A bar-room.




CHARACTERS


EDGAR ALLAN POE
VIRGINIA CLEMM
MRS. MARIA CLEMM
HELEN TRUELORD
MRS. TRUELORD
ROGER BRIDGMORE
NELSON CLEMM
MRS. DELORMIS
DOCTOR BARLOW
MRS. SCHMIDT
GEORGE THOMAS, Barkeeper
HAINES, JUGGERS, SHARP, BLACK, gamblers
BOOKSELLER
MUM ZURIE, TAT, BONY, servants at Clemm cottage.

Gertrude, Mabel, Annie, Sallie, Dora, Gladys, Ethel, Alma, Allie,
friends of Virginia.




THE POET




ACT I.


Scene: Room in the Truelord House. Helen lies on a couch before
large windows, rear, reading by light from a small lamp on table
near couch. She wears a loose robe over night-dress.

A light knock is heard at door, left centre.

Hel. (Sitting up) Mamma?

Voice. Yes, dear.

Hel. (Kissing book and closing it) Good-bye, my poet! (Drops
book on couch and goes to door)

Voice, as Helen opens door.
I saw your light. (Enter Mrs. Truelord) Forgive me,
love. I could not rest. (Helen is closing door) No!
Kate is coming.

Mrs. Delormis. (In door) Yes, I'm here, too, Helen.

Hel. Come in, Cousin Catherine.

(All three advance)

Mrs. Del.
Madela had a feminine version of the
jim-jams - tea-nerves, you know - so must get
us both up.

Hel. (Drawing forward a huge chair for Mrs. Truelord while Mrs.
Delormis takes a smaller one) I was not in bed.

Mrs. Tru. (Looking toward bed in alcove, right) But you have
been! You could not sleep either. Ah!

(Sighs deeply)

Hel. (Goes to couch) Now, mamma!

Mrs. Tru. (Embarrassed by Helen's straightforward look)
Helen - I - I've just got to have it out to-night. You are
only my step-daughter, but I've loved you like my own.

Hel. (Quaintly) Yes.

Mrs. Tru.
Haven't I always treated you as if you were my
daughter born?

Hel. (Slowly) You have indeed!

Mrs. Tru.
And I can't bear for you to - to - O, I just can't bear
it, I say!

Hel. Bear what, mamma?

Mrs. Tru.
This - this man -

Mrs. Del.
Edgar Poe, Helen.

Mrs. Tru.
You are going to give up Roger - Roger who has
worshipped you since you were a baby, who has lived under
the same roof and been a brother to you since you were two
years old - you are going to give him up for a strange
man - a man without a penny - a man you have seen but
once - (Almost shrieking) - but once - (Rising)

Hel. (Crosses, and stands before her, speaking calmly) We know
angels at first sight, mamma.

Mrs. Tru. (Grabbing Helen by the shoulders and staring at her)
You have done it already! (Falls to chair as if fainting)

Hel. Soothe her, Catherine. I will get some wine. (Exit)

Mrs. Tru. (Sitting up, at once recovered) She's made up her
mind. When her eyes shine like that it's no use to argue.
And all of Roger's fortune in Mr. Truelord's hands! We've
considered it a family resource for years!

Mrs. Del.
What a fool Roger was to bring Edgar Poe to the house!

Mrs. Tru.
He's crazy about the man. Says he's a genius, and all
that stuff.

Mrs. Del.
Well, he is. But to introduce him to a girl like
Helen! They'll be off before morning!

Mrs. Tru.
Oh-h! Don't, Kate! Roger actually wants me to ask him
to stay in the house.

Mrs. Del.
Idiot! He deserves to lose her.... But your guest!
(Laughs) Poor Madela! How he would upset your nice,
comfortable theories of life! Why, you couldn't hand him a
cup of tea without feeling the planet quake.

Mrs. Tru.
But what are we to do? Kate, you _must_ help me.

Mrs. Del.
I'm going to. You can't tell her father, because Helen
must be persuaded, not opposed. And don't speak about the
money. If she loved a beggar she would trudge barefoot
behind him.

Mrs. Tru. (Despairingly) O, don't I know it?

Mrs. Del.
Now you leave this to me, Madela. I will say a few
things to Helen about meeting Mr. Poe in Europe - and - you
know -

Mrs. Tru. (Kissing her violently) O, Kate! Tell her all - and
more, if necessary! Don't think about your reputation if
you can save Roger's fortune -

Mrs. Del.
Sh! -

(Enter Helen, with wine and a glass)

Mrs. Tru. (Feebly) Thank you, dear, but I'm better now. (Rising)
I'll try to rest. (Goes to door)

Hel. I would see you to your room, mamma, but I'm sure you
would rather have Catherine. (Mrs. Delormis makes no
move to go)

Mrs. Tru.
O, I am quite well - I mean - I need no one - no one at
all! Goodnight, my dears! (Exit)

Hel. (Politely) And is there anything which you must have out
to-night, cousin Catherine?

Mrs. Del.
Sit down, Helen. (Helen takes a chair) You have never
loved me, but I have always had a warm heart for you,
little girl. And you will take a warning from me in good
part, won't you?

Hel. A good warning, yes.

Mrs. Del.
I told you about meeting Mr. Poe last summer in
Normandy. But - I did not tell you how often I met him.
(Helen rises, then Mrs. Delormis rises) Helen, I prove my
love for you by saying what it is so hard to utter to your
pure self. My life has not been - all you would wish it to
be - and Mr. Poe knows more about it than any other man.

Hel. You lie! I have seen his soul!

(She goes to door and opens it for Mrs. Delormis to pass
out. Mrs. Delormis sweeps through with an attempt at
majesty)

Hel. (Motionless with clenched hands) Wicked, wicked woman!...
(Goes to window, rear, opens it, draws long breaths as if
stifling, and turns back into room) Edgar! My love! I was
a thing of clay. One look from your eyes has made me a
being of fire and air.... (Lies down on couch and takes up
her book) ... I can not read ... or sleep ... or pray.
There's too much whirling in my heart for prayer....
(Starts) What moan is that?... (Rises, takes light from
table, goes to window, leans out, casting the rays down)
Nothing.... I'm fanciful.... The moon is rising. (Goes
back, putting light on table) O, Edgar! God help me to be
what love must be to thee. Love that can look on miracles
and be sane. What a face when he said goodnight! Like an
angel's whose immortality is his wound.... Poor Roger!...
What will my father say?... (Moonlight floods the window)
Welcome, soft nurse of dreams! (Extinguishes lamp) A
little rest.... Ah, I know _he_ does not sleep.... (She
lies on couch in the moonlight, her eyes closed. Poe
enters by window, gazes at her, and throws up his arms in
gesture of prayer)

Hel. (Looking up, and springing to her feet) Edgar! My God, you
must not come here!

Poe. Is this love's welcome?

Hel. Go! go!

Poe. I was dying out there.

Hel. Leave me!

Poe. Life was passing from my veins. Only your eyes could draw
back the ebbing flood.

Hel. I will light the lamp! (Turns hastily)

Poe. And put out Heaven's! (She drops her hand)

Hel. Go, O go at once!

Poe. Again I am alone! The twin angel who put her hand in mine
is flown!

Hel. Edgar, be calm!

Poe. Calm! With such a look from you burning me as if I were a
devil to be branded? Such words from you hissing like
snakes through my brain?

Hel. O, I beg you -

Poe. I would but touch the hand that soothes my blood - look in
the eyes that wrap my soul in balm - and you cry out as
though some barbarous infidel had trampled you at prayers!

Hel. My father - Roger - they will not understand.

Poe. O, you would bring the world in to say how and when we
shall love! Take note of the hour, and kiss by the clock!
Great love is like death, Helen. It knows no time of day.
If a man were dying at your gates would you keep from him
because 'twas midnight and not noon, and you were robed
for sleep? It was your soul I sought. Must you array that
to receive me? O, these women! On Resurrection day they'll
not get up unless their clothes are called with them from
the dust! 'Excuse me, God, and send a dressmaker!' Ha! ha!
ha! (Walks the floor in maniac humor)

Hel. Edgar, for love's sake hear me!

Poe. Speak loud if you would drown the winds!

Hel. Listen!

Poe. (Turning upon her) If my body bled at your feet you would
stoop to me, but when my spirit lies in flames you cry
'Don't writhe! Don't be a spectacle!'

Hel. (Putting her hands on his shoulders and speaking steadily)
The spirit does not murmur. Only the body cries.

Poe. (Calming) Forgive me, Helen!

Hel. Yes, love. (Draws him to couch and sits by him soothingly)
... O, your forehead is on fire.

Poe. No wonder, when I have just come out of hell.... Keep your
cool hand over my eyes.... O, this is peace!... (Takes her
hand from his forehead and holds it) I made you a song out
there, in the darkness. I was fainting for one gleam of
light when you opened the window and stood as beautiful as
Psyche leaning to the god of love. Listen ... and believe
that my heart was as pure as the lines. (Sings softly)

Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean barks of yore
That gently o'er a perfumed sea
The weary, wayworn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.

On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs, have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece
And the grandeur that was Rome.

Lo, in yon brilliant window-niche
How statue-like I see thee stand,
An agate lamp within thy hand, -
Ah! Psyche, from the regions which
Are holy-land!

(Drops his head to her hand and kisses it gently)

Hel. Edgar, my life shall be my song to thee. (They are silent
for a second. His hand touches her book)

Poe. A book! Who could write for such an hour? (Holds book in
moonlight) Shelley! Lark of the world! You would know!...
You will give me this book, Helen?

Hel. It is precious. You will love it?

Poe. Always! (Kisses book, and puts it inside his coat. Taking
her hand) O, all our life shall be a happy wonder! Wilt
lie with me on summer hills where pipings of dim Arcady
fall like Apollo's mantle on the soul? Dost know that
silence full of thoughts? - and then the swelling earth - the
throbbing heaven? Canst be a pulse in Nature's very body?
(Leaping up) Take forests in thy arms, and feel the little
leaf-veins beat thy blood?

Hel. (Rising) Yes - yes - I know. Come to the window, love. The
soft Spring air begins to stir.

(They move to window)

Poe. O, what a night! 'Tis like a poem flowing to the sea. Here
I shake death from my garments. Oh, had my soul a tongue
to trumpet thought, men from yon planets now would stare
and lean to earth with listening ears!... Hark! 'Tis
music!

Hel. (Looking down) A serenade.

Poe. Canst call it that? I hear nothing that comes not from the
stars. 'Tis Israfel! The angel whose lute is his own
heart!

If I could dwell
Where Israfel
Hath dwelt, and he where I,
He might not sing so wildly well
A mortal melody,
While a bolder note than his might swell
From my lyre within the sky!

Some day we shall live there, Helen, and then I will sing
to thee!

Hel. But now - my love - you must rest - you must sleep.

Poe. Sleep! Nothing sleeps but mortality!

Hel. And you are mortal, Edgar.

Poe. I! Nay, thy love has given me kinship with the deities!
Sleep? Ay, when Nature naps, and God looks for a bed! When
yonder moon forgets her starry whirl and nodding falls
from heaven! When Ocean's giant pulse is weary and grows
still! When Earth heaves up no seasons with their buds!
No, no, we will not sleep! But see - there gleams the
river - and yonder rise the hills touched new with Spring!
Wilt go there with me, Helen? Now!

Hel. Now?

Poe. To-night!

Hel. To-night?

Poe. Why not? You say it as though night and day were not the
same to the soul - except that night is more beautiful! Why
not go?

Hel. I will tell you, love. (Drawing him back to the large
chair) Come, listen. (She sits in chair, and he kneels by
her, the moonlight covering them) Because I love you more
than you love beauty, God or night, and you must live for
me. And to live means - rest - sleep -

Poe. Do you love me so much? O, 'tis like cool waters falling
about me to hear you say it.

Hel. I will help you, Edgar. Already I feel my strength. Where
I may serve you I'll not meekly go, but go exultant. The
thorns and stones so harsh to human feet, I'll press as
they were buds, and leave my blood for kisses.

Poe. Oh, go on.

Hel. Yes, I've more to tell you. It is - that you must help me,
too. To-day - before you looked at me the first time - I was
dying. Ah, more, - I was about to set the seal of death on
my soul. My mother, who died at sea when I was born, gave
me a heritance with winds and waves and stars. But I was
nursed by hands through whose clay ran no immortal
streams. Cradled in convention, fed on sophistries, I wove
a shroud about my soul, and within that hardening
chrysalis it was dying away when you called it forth in
time to live - dear God, in time to live! Now you see how
much you are to me, Edgar. I must not lose you. But you
must be careful and patient with me, for my newly-bared
soul shrinks from the wonders so familiar to you, and I
may fly back to my chrysalis to escape the pain.

Poe. I am not afraid. Would a mother leave her babe? And I am a
child now, Helen. This strange, new rest you give me is
like a gentle birth. I have been old all my life. Now the
longing comes for a little of the childhood that was never
mine. The years fall from me, and I have no wish but to
lie on a mother's bosom and hear her voice prattling above
me.

Hel. (Archly, leaning over him as he sits at her feet) Does my
little boy want a story?

Poe. (Smiling) About the fairies, mama?

Hel. About the fairies - and a big giant - and a little girl lost
in a wood -

Poe. And a little boy too?

Hel. Yes, a little boy, too! And the little girl was crying -

Poe. And the little boy found her?

Hel. Yes, and he told her not to cry, that he could kill the
big giant, and he hid the little girl in a cave -

Poe. Was it a dark cave, mama?

Hel. No-_o-o_! It was a cave - with - windows in it! And by and
by he heard the giant coming -

Poe. Oh! (Hides his face on her breast. She holds him to her,
her hands on his hair) And when the little boy heard the
leaves rustling closer and closer he climbed a great
tree -

Poe. (Lifting his head) But he wasn't afraid, mama?

Hel. O, _no-o_!

Poe. Because that little boy was me!

Hel. Yes. And when you got to the top of the tree -

Poe. O, what did I do then?

Hel. Why, you see this was the biggest giant that _e-v-e-r_
lived - and his head was just as high as the top of the
tree - so when he came by -

Poe. I know! I know! I just out with my sword, and off went his
head!

Hel. So it did! And then you climbed down from the tree -

Poe. And the little girl came out of the cave -

Hel. And you went off together happy ever after!

Poe. What was that little girl's name, mama?

Hel. Why, I don't think you ever told me that, did you?

Poe. I was just thinking -

Hel. What, darling?

Poe. That I wish you weren't my mama, so you could be that
little girl!

Hel. O, I can, dear. For there were the fairies. We forgot the
fairies. They gave me this pretty ring, so that when I put
it on I can be whoever I please, and I please to be just
whoever my little boy likes best.

Poe. (Rises, and speaks in his own manner) Madonna, Oh,
Madonna! You will save me. (Kisses her forehead)
Good-night. To-morrow I will tell you about my work - our
work. There are miracles yet to be. And Poesy shall speak
them.

Hel. But do not try to write out all your soul, Edgar. That
cannot be. Poetry is but one gate. The soul goes out by a
thousand ways.

Poe. True. And we will find those ways together, Helen. We will
gather truth in every path, - truth that flowers out of the
struggle and carnage of life like the bloom of song on the
crimson of war.

Hel. But we may not know all. Man's greatest knowledge is but
the alphabet of the eternal book. We must be content with
the letters, and not unhappily strive to read.

Poe. I will remember. But what mortal can attain shall be mine.
Already thoughts that fled my agony come to me as gently
as the alighting of birds. Truths open about me like the
unfolding of roses yet warm with God's secret. Good-night.
(Takes her hand) I am not the greatest genius, Helen, for
I can not stand alone. (Drops her hand and goes to window.
Hesitates and turns back) One kiss. (Kisses her) O, look
at me! I lose divinity when you close your eyes! Look at
me, and I can not fall for Heaven bears me up!

Hel. (In sudden alarm) I hear a step!

Poe. (Looking at her reproachfully) Listen better, you will
hear God's footfall.

Hel. Some one is up.

Poe. And do you care? Would you put a stain upon this hour?
This flower of love blown perfect from the skies?

Hel. Ah, it is gone.

Poe. (Wildly) O, you will leave me, Helen! You can not stay!
For I will play the madman to thy sense when I am sanest,
and like a shivering Atlas shake thy world when most thou
wouldst be still. This body wraps more lives then one, my
girl. When I was born no pitying angel dipped my spirit-fire
in Lethe. I weep with all the dead as they my brothers
were, and haunt the track of time to shudder with his
ghosts. Wilt fare with me, brave Helen? Wilt tread the
nadir gloom and golden paths of suns? Canst gaze with me
into the fearful, grey infinitude -

Hel. That grey infinitude is yet the circle of your being. The
mind can not leave itself. You are always in your own
country. Why should you fear?

Poe. The mind that can not leave itself knows nothing. Not the
'I am' but 'Thou art' is God. O, there is a realm of which
imagination is but a shadow - where the mind is burnt away
in His vision's fire, and thought becomes celestial angel
of itself! And you turn back with the first step - already
I am alone -

Hel. No! I, too, have hung upon the boundaries of the world to
catch God's flying dreams! O, trust me! Thou shalt fling
no lance but I will cast it on to gleam in a farther sun!
Bring me roses from Jupiter, I'll bring thee lilies from
Uranus! O, -

Poe. Mine, by Heaven! (Catches her to him) Here we'll begin the
immortal pilgrimage! We need not wait for death! From
world to world -

Hel. (Springing from him) It _is_ a step!
Go, Edgar! Go!

Poe. No! By the god in my bosom, you are mine from this moment!

Hel. My father! my father! He will tear me from you - You do not
know him!

Poe. I know he's mortal. Heaven could not part us. I will not
move!

(He is standing in the window. She hastily draws the
curtain before him)


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Online LibraryOlive Tilford DarganSemiramis, and other plays → online text (page 12 of 17)