Olive Tilford Dargan.

Semiramis, and other plays online

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Hel. Then keep your word!

(A knock at the door. Helen is silent)

Voice. Helen?

Hel. It is you, Roger? Come in.

(Roger enters, carrying a lamp. Looks about and sees
Helen.)

Rog. I heard voices.... Who was with you, Helen?... I could not
be mistaken.... (puts lamp on a table, and comes nearer
Helen.) Look at me, Helen.... I am your brother. Who was
here?... I know that Love has laid his mighty hand upon
you, but yet you are an angel. I thought - it was - his
voice.... Tell me what this means.... _He_ was not here!
O, I shall die when I learn that you are but a woman!

Poe. (Leaping out) I am here, sir, to defend that lady's honor!

Rog. (Staggers back, regains composure, and bows ironically) I
rejoice to hear it, sir, for you alone can do it. It is
wholly in your keeping. (Turns to go)

Hel. Roger!

Rog. Madam.

Hel. You forsake me?

Rog. You have forsaken yourself.

Hel. Oh! (Swoons. Poe bends over her wildly affectionate. Roger
stands apart, proud and despairing)

Poe. Helen! Speak! Speak to me!

Hel. Leave me! Leave me!

Poe. It is I, Helen! Your lover! Edgar!

Hel. You, you, I mean! (Rising) Thou wing of hell across my
life! Away from me!

(Poe stands back speechless with bewilderment. Roger goes
to Helen, takes her hand, and leads her from the room)

Poe. Lost! lost! lost! (Looks about the room) This place!...
O, I was mad to come here!... She will never forgive me!
(Falls on the couch and lies motionless. After a moment
enter Mrs. Delormis.)

Mrs. Del.
Where is the wild man?... Oh, he has fainted! The
wine! (Goes to the table and pours wine)

Poe. Oh!

(Mrs. Delormis turns to him. He rises ceremoniously, with
effort) Well?

Mrs. Del.
Well, indeed! Here I am to your rescue, and you reward
me with a 'well' (mimicking) up to ceiling.

Poe. What are they saying to her? I must go to her! I must!

Mrs. Del.
Must _not_! Listen! (Grasps his arm to detain him)

Poe. (Releasing his arm and bowing stiffly) Mrs. Delormis.

Mrs. D. (Copying his manner) Mr. Poe!... Mr. Truelord has not
yet been roused. No one will wake him unless you choose
to do it yourself by increasing the hubbub. Roger defends
you to Mrs. Truelord - says you are ill - out of your
senses - and other complimentary things. Both of them
are soothing and mothering Helen, and - (dropping into
tenderness) I wanted you to have a little mothering, too -

Poe. Do you really want to help me?

Mrs. Del.
O, if you would only let me be your friend!

Poe. You may! Stay here with me till she comes! I know she will
come. She can not let me go without one word. It would be
too terrible. She can not! Stay till she comes. Talk to
me. Do not let me think!

Mrs. Del.
I'll make myself comfortable then, and we'll have a
good chat. You know I've been told that I talk my best
between two and three in the morning.

(Takes pillow from couch to make herself cosy in chair)

Poe. Do not touch that pillow!

Mrs. Del. (Dropping into chair) Well!

Poe. Do not sit in that chair!

Mrs. Del. (Rising) May I stand on the carpet, or shall I take
off my slippers before the burning bush of your love?

Poe. Forgive me! Don't you see that I have lost her?

Mrs. Del.
Well, you _were_ out of your senses to come here and
think Helen would understand it.

Poe. I was not! She did understand! The vision that led me to
her feet was as clear as an archangel's! It is now that I
am mad, and see everything gross and darkened with earth
and flesh! (Overcome, sinks on couch. She hastily brings
wine)

Mrs. Del.
Drink it. You must.

Poe. No! You offer me hell! And you know it. Put it down. If
you want to help me, go to her and bring me one word.

Mrs. Del.
Drink this for me, and I will.

Poe. (Taking glass) You will?... No! (Puts glass down)

Mrs. Del.
My dear boy, you are too weak to stand! It's that old
habit of not eating. I don't believe you have tasted food
for days.

Poe. True ... but.... (Faints. Mrs. Delormis gives him wine. He
rouses)

Mrs. Del.
Now will you kill me?

Poe. (Brightening) No. You were right. 'Twas what I needed. 'T
will keep life in me till she comes. Go to her now. Tell
her I will leave her - I will go away for a year - a
thousand years - if she will only say I may come back some
day. I will live in a desert and pray myself to the bone!
Bring me one word from her - a curse - anything!

Mrs. Del. (Pouring wine) A little more of this then, so I shall
be sure to find you alive when I return.

Poe. (Drinks eagerly) 'Tis life! Life! I've drunk of Cretan
wines against whose fragrant tide the Venus-rose poured
all her flood in vain, but never thrilled my lips till now
with drop so ravishing! And you brought it to me! Helen
left me to die ... cruel ... cruel ... cruel.... (Sits on
couch, taking his head in his hands. Looks up) Florimel!

Mrs. Del.
My Calidore!

Poe. You are a very beautiful devil.

Mrs. Del. (Pouring wine) Thanks. I'm glad you like my style.
(Sips wine) It _is_ good, isn't it?

Poe. 'Tis an enchantment to pilot grief to new and festal
worlds! Another cup! (Drinks) O, 'tis a drink to rouse the
drooping soul for warrier quest till on the conquered
shores of dream man strides a god!... (Pours another
glass) Again? No ... no more!... (Sinks down) O, my bird
of Heaven, come quickly, or I am lost!... Florimel!

Mrs. Del.
My knight of Normandy!

Poe. Since we are going to hell let us be merry about it.

Mrs. Del.
At last you are sensible.

Poe. Wine! wine!

Mrs. Del. (Holding glass) I mean to have my price for this.

Poe. Take my soul!

Mrs. Del.
Something better - a kiss!

Poe. 'Tis yours! (Kisses her) Why not? For but a kiss did Jove
forsake the skies, and jeopard his high realm!

Mrs. Del.
For but a kiss did Dian leave her throne and waste her
goddess dower on shepherd lips! (Sits by him) Now you are
going to tell me something. Why did you fly from Normandy,
and not a word, not a word to me? Come, my Calidore! Why
did you fly from me?

Poe. (Momentarily sober) Because - a woman shall never become
less holy than God made her through me. (Rises and walks
away) Helen ... my amaranth, I may not pluck thee!...
(Staggers) One cup more ... one.... (Pours wine, and holds
up glass apostrophizing as Roger and Helen enter unnoticed)
O, little ruby ocean that can drown all mortal sighs! Call
buried hope to put life's garland on, and limping woes to
trip like Nereids on a moonlit shore! For thee, frail
sickness casts her pallid chrysalis and blooms a rosy
angel! For thee, Death breaks his scythe and owns Life
conqueror! (Drinks) Were this Antonius' cup.... Ha! Are
you there, my devil? Another kiss, sweetheart! (Throws
his arm about Mrs. Delormis. Helen cries out. Poe turns
and faces her)

Hel. (To Poe, speaking slowly and mechanically) I came, sir, to
ask you to forgive me. (Turns to Roger) It is to you,
Roger, that I make my plea.

(Poe looks at her helplessly, then understands, and with a
terrible face, turns and leaps through the open window.
Helen, with a sob, droops, and Roger takes her in his
arms)

(CURTAIN)




ACT II.


Scene: Lawn in front of Clemm cottage, near Richmond. Bony and Tat
on a side porch shelling peas.

Tat. Sho' Mars Edgah come in good time! Pea-vines jes a hangin'
low, an' sweet as honey!

Bony. Mars Edgah hab peas ebry day wha' he came f'om! Big city
hab ebryting!

Tat. Dey can't hab ebryting when it don' grow!

Bony. Sho', dey hab it when it don' grow same lak when he do
grow!

Tat. You nebah did hab no sense!

Bony. I ain't got no sense? Take dat, Tatermally Clemm! (Strikes
at her. They scuffle and bring Zurie to side door)

Zu. Dem chillun' jes kill me! Why de Lawd make ol' Zurie bring
dem two twins to dis heah worl' she nebah could tell! Dey
haint shell 'nuf fo' a hummin' bird's stomach, an' de pot
bilin' mad fo' 'm dis minute! Wha' yo' do, yo' black
niggahs? Come in heah! I make yo' sit still an' do nuffin'
an' yo' ol' mammy wu'kin' hussef to def! (Picks up basket
and drives children into the kitchen. Calls after them
beamingly) Wha' yo' reckon yo' ol' mammy cookin' in dat
ubbin fo' two little no 'count niggahs?

Children. (Within, scampering with delight) Cherry cobblah!
Cherry cobblah!

Zu. (Shutting the door) Don' want dat wind blowin' on my poun'
cake! It'll fall sho'!

(Virginia comes out at the front door of cottage, and
walks across the lawn to the shade of a bay tree where Poe
lies in a hammock as if asleep. A book on the ground. She
goes up softly and sits on a garden chair near him. He
opens his eyes)

Vir. O, I have waked you!

Poe. No, little houri. I was not asleep. I would not give one
breath of this sweet world to cold, unconscious sleep.

Vir. You are happy, cousin Edgar?

Poe. No, Virginia. This is all too delicious to be called
happiness. Too calm, like the stilling of a condor's wings
above sea-guarding peaks. He flies when he is happy. When
more than happy, it is enough to pause in the blue and
breathe wonders.

Vir. Is it wonderful here, Edgar? It has always seemed so to
me, but I have been afraid to tell anyone. It seems like a
great fairy house with God in it. Is it wonderful, cousin?

Poe. _You_ are wonderful.

Vir. O, no, no, no! I want to tell you too, Edgar, I have never
felt that I quite belong here. It is all too good for
me - so beautiful, and I am not beautiful.

Poe. (Rising) Why, my little aspiring Venus, let me tell you
something. I have wandered somewhat in life - at home and
over sea - and I have never looked upon a woman fairer than
yourself.

Vir. (Springing up in delight) O, I am so happy! You would not
flatter me! You are the soul of truth!

Poe. It is no flattery, little maid, as the world will soon
teach you.

Vir. I have nothing to do with that world, Edgar. My world is
the circuit of our mocking-bird's wing. O, where is he?
(Calls) Freddy! Freddy! He is not near or he would come.
But he never goes farther than the orchard. Freddy!... He
has not sung to me this morning. You haven't heard his
finest song yet. O, 'tis sweeter than -

Poe. (Picking up book) Than Spenser?

Vir. Yes - than Spenser. Though he makes music too, and we were
just coming to the siren's song. Shall I read?

Poe. Do! I knew not how to love him till he warbled from your
tongue.

Vir. 'Tis where the mermaid calls the knight.

(Reads)

O, thou fair son of gentle faery,
That art in mighty arms most magnifyde
Above all knights that ever battle tried,
O, turn thy rudder hetherward awhile!
Here may the storm-bett vessel safely ride;
This is the port of ease from troublous toil,
The world's sweet inn from pain and wearisome turmoyle!

Poe. No more - no more!

Vir. Why, cousin?

Poe. I shall have the water about my ears presently. I thought
I was drowning on a mermaid's bosom. Read no more,
Virginia. One nibble at a time is enough of Spenser. He
ought to be made into a thousand little poems. Then we
should have a multitude of gems instead of a great granite
mountain that nobody can circuit without weariness.

Vir. You know so much, Edgar. Will you teach me while you are
here, if I try very hard to learn?

Poe. (Plucking a flower) My little girl, what lore would you
teach this bud? God makes some people so. Be happy that
you are a beautiful certainty and not a struggling
possibility.

Vir. But the rose has no soul, Edgar - no heart, as I have. It
does not sigh to see you look so pale, and read these
lines of suffering here, (touching his brow) but I - it
kills me, cousin! (He hides his face) Forgive me! O, I am
so unkind!

(Mrs. Clemm comes out of cottage and crosses to them. She
gently takes Poe's hand from his face and kisses him)

Mrs. C. My dear boy!

Poe. (Seizing her hand and holding it) Don't - don't be so kind
to me, aunt! It tells too much of what has never been
mine. Curious interest - passing friendship - love born in a
flash and dead in an hour - these I have had, while my
heart was crying from its depths for the firmly founded
love that shakes but with the globe itself.

Mrs. C. (Taking his head on her breast) My dear Edgar! You will
be my son - Virginia's brother!

Poe. (Lifting his face smiling) I _will_ be happy! No more of
that solitude lighted only by the eyes of ghouls! Here I
have come into the light. I have found the sun. I see what
my work should be - what Art is. She is beauty and joy. Her
light should fall on life like morning on the hills. The
clouds of passion and agony should never darken her face.
O, I can paint her now ready for the embrace of the soul!

Mrs. C. I can not see things with your rapturous eyes, Edgar,
but I know that your work will be noble, and I love you.

Poe. O, aunt, you and this little wonder-witch have enchanted
me back to happiness. I promise you never again shall you
see a tear on my face or a frown on my brow. (Virginia,
looking toward the road, bows as to some one passing)

Poe. Blushing, cousin? Who is worth such a rosy flag? (Stands
up and looks down the road) Brackett! I do believe!

Mrs. C. You know him, Edgar? He is staying with my
brother-in-law, Nelson Clemm, for a short time, and has
asked to call on us - on Virginia, I mean, for of course I
don't count, now that my little girl is suddenly turned
woman.

Poe. Don't for Heaven's sake!

Mrs. C. You don't like him, Edgar?

Poe. Like him! We were at West Point together. He refused to
accept a challenge after slandering me vilely, and I was
obliged to thrash him. That's all. (Turns suddenly to
Virginia) And you were blushing for him!

Vir. It was not because I like him, Edgar.

Poe. (Looking into her eyes) You are a wise little piece.

Mrs. C. This is painful, Edgar. Of course he must not call.

Poe. Call! Let him but look toward the house again, and I'll
give him a drubbing that will make him forget the first
one! The coward! He wouldn't meet me - after -

Vir. How about the frowns, Edgar?

Poe. (Smiling) Let him go!

Mrs. C. You should not make such bitter enemies at the beginning
of life, my boy.

Poe. He can not touch me. He is not of my world.

Mrs. C. We are all of one world, Edgar, and never know when we
may lap fortunes with our foes. Mr. Brackett is going into
literature too.

Poe. Yes. The trade and barter part of it. I shall be in the
holy temple while he keeps a changer's table on the steps.
(Shrugging) Brackett! Pah!... But goodbye for half an
hour. I'm going to the orchard to take counsel with the
birds on my new philosophy. (Starts away) Come, (turning
to Virginia) my mocking bird, there won't be a quorum
without you! (Virginia goes to him. Zurie puts her head
out of a window and calls.)

Mum Zurie.
Mars Nelson comin' up de lane!

Mrs. C. Come back, Virginia, you must see your uncle. Edgar,
won't you wait and meet him?

Poe. Thank you aunt, but I don't think it would give him any
pleasure. (Exit)

Vir. (Coming back reluctantly) O mama, we _will_ make him
happy!

Mrs. C. We'll try, my dear. But you must get ready for the picnic.
The girls will be here soon. Is Edgar going with you?

Vir. No, mother. He said he would go to a picnic only with
nymphs and naiads.

Mrs. C. Here is uncle.

(Enter, from the road, Nelson Clemm)

Mr. C. How d' do, Maria! Howdy, girl! Go get your hat.

Mrs. C. What now, Nelson?

Mr. C. Nothin'. Only I'm tired o' foolin' and talkin' about that
girl's education. I've come to take her this time.

Vir. To send me to school?

Mr. C. High time, ain't it? I couldn't make up my mind before
whether 'twas to be the seminary at Bowville or Maryburg.
But I had a letter this morning which settled it for
Bowville. Suits me exactly - suits me _exactly_. So get
your hat and come along. I drove across the ridge and left
my trap at Judge Carroll's.

Mrs. C. Her clothes, Nelson! There's nothing ready -

Mr. C. You mean to say! When we've been talkin' this thing a
whole year? And you a thrifty woman tell me her clothes
ain't ready? Well, she'll come without 'em, that's all.
You can send 'em along afterwards. I've got it all
fixed up, I tell you. My brother's child shall have her
chance - she shall have her chance, so long as I've got
a dollar in my pocket and she walks exactly to please
me - walks _exactly_ to please me. It's for you to say,
Maria, whether you'll stand in the way o' your own flesh
and blood or not.

Mrs. C. Of course, Nelson, I am very grateful, and do not dream
of depriving Virginia of this opportunity, only -

Mr. C. That's all there is to it then. No onlys about it. Go get
your hat, girl. (Virginia goes slowly into the house. At
the door she meets Zurie who turns back and goes in with
her)

Mrs. C. Now, Nelson?

Mr. C. It's just this. My brother's child shan't stay another
hour in the same house with Edgar Poe. That's the plain
tale of it, Maria.

Mrs. C. Nelson Clemm!

Mr. C. O, I've been hearin' things - I've been hearin'! He didn't
cover all his tracks at West Point - or New York either!

Mrs. C. Lies! All lies! Every one of them! He is the soul of
honor! Already Virginia loves him like a brother! I trust
her instinct! I trust my own!

Mr. C. O, I'm not arguin', I'm just doin'. You can't turn him
out, of course. Wouldn't do it myself. Nobody'll ever say
Nelse Clemm was an inhospitable dog! But I can look out
for Virginia, and I will. She goes with me now, or I'm
done with you and yours - and you know that mortgage ain't
paid off yet.

Mrs. C. Yes, she shall go. She ought to be in school and again
I thank you for helping us. But you are wronging my
nephew, - one of the noblest of men. You don't know him!

Mr. C. It's plain enough _you_ don't!

Mrs. C. Has Mr. Brackett -

Mr. C. Mr. Brackett is a guest in my house. Now, Maria, say what
you please. (Virginia comes out of cottage carrying a
small satchel) That's a good girl! We'll fix up a fine
trunk and send it after her, won't we, mother?

Vir. (Putting her arms about her mother's neck) He - wasn't in
the orchard, mama. Won't you say goodbye to him for me?

Mr. C. Come, come now! (Leads her away) Don't worry, Maria. I'll
drive you over to Bowville every Sunday Doctor Barlow
doesn't preach. (Half turning) By the by, I saw him down
the lane at the widow Simson's. Reckon he'll be along here
pretty soon. Seems to be on his widow's route to-day. Good
morning! (Exeunt)

Mrs. C. (Looking after them) I shall go to her myself to-morrow.
My little daughter! A stately woman now, but always my
little daughter! (Starts into the house, pausing on steps)
Poor Edgar! How he is misjudged! (Goes in)

(Zurie, Tat following, comes out of the side door and sets
to work digging up a shrub)

Zu. (Muttering) Wha' Mis' Clemm gwine ter say ter all dem
young ladies comin' heah fo' de picnic? An' who gwine ter
eat dem pies Zurie been two days makin'? An' sech a poun'
cake! It ought to be a weddin' cake, deed it ought! (Bony
comes out of kitchen with a knife in his hand) Heah,
niggah, gimme up dat knife an' don' be so slow-back! Dis
heah bush done grow an' bloom till yo' get heah!

(Enter Poe, left, singing)

Old winter is a lie
As every spring doth prove,
And care is born to die
If we but let in love -

Hey Mum Zurie, what are you doing?

Zu. I's diggin', honey.

Poe. That rosebay is the most graceful shrub in the yard. You
kill one leaf of it, if you dare!

Zu. Miss Virginia she say how her bru'r Edgah lub dis heah
tree, an' she want it under her window.

Poe. Oh! Can't I help you, Zurie? Tenderly now!

Zu. Miss Babylam' ax me to move it yistiddy but I don't git no
time, an' I ain' gwine to leab it now jes cause she's gone
away.

Poe. Gone away?

Zu. O Lawd, I forgot you don' know! Why, honey, Mars Nelson he
come jes now an' frisk her off to school. Zip! an'
Babylam' gone! An' law, ef you seen dat po' chile cryin'!

Poe. She cried, Zurie?

Zu. Deed she did, and she ax me twenty hundred times to tell
her bru'r Edgah goodbye.

Poe. Virginia gone?

Zu. I done tol' yo, Mars Edgah! Sho' yo' don't think ol' Zurie
know how ter tell lies, does yo', honey?

Poe. No, Zurie, I know she is gone. The birds have all stopped
singing.

Zu. Law, Mars Edgah, dey jes be a chipperin'! Heah dat now?

Poe. That is not a song, Zurie. It is a wail from Stygian
boughs.

Zu. O, yo' go way!

Poe. Gone! I'll not permit it! My aunt must bring her back!
(Hurries into house)

Zu. Wha' make him ac' so now? An' wha' make Miss Babylam' cry
hussef sick when she's gwine away ter be a fine lady? Mars
Nelson he mighty good to gib her eddication, but true fo'
sho he might jes' well gib it to my Tatermally fer all de
thanks he's gittin'. Ol' Zurie reckon it a sin to cry ober
de goodness ob God!

(Mrs. Clemm and Poe come out of cottage, both disturbed)

Poe. But, aunt, how are we going to live without her?

Mrs. C. My dear Edgar, we must not let our affections root so
deep in mortal things.

Poe. Mortal? Virginia mortal! She is a sister to Psyche,
immortal as the breath that blew her into beauteous bloom!

Mrs. C. While I am glad, my son, to see you so devoted to your
sister -

Poe. Sister! Thank Heaven she is not my sister! Aunt, Virginia
must be my wife!


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Online LibraryOlive Tilford DarganSemiramis, and other plays → online text (page 13 of 17)