Olive Tilford Dargan.

Semiramis, and other plays online

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(Mrs. Clemm rushes in, followed by Zurie, Tat and Bony)

Mrs. C. My son, what is the matter?

Poe. See what that child has done!

Mrs. C. (With dignity) Your wife, Edgar.

Poe. My wife! Great God! O, Helen! Helen! (Rushes from the
room, left rear)

Bony. I tol' yo' he wah mad! I done tol' yo' Mars Edgah gone
mad! He look at me jes so! (Mimics)

Tat. (Looking through window) Dah he go now troo de orchard jes
a runnin'!

Bony. Obah de fence!

Tat. An' no hat on!

Zu. Stop yo' mouf an' come out o' heah, yo' wussless niggahs!
I make yo' know wha' yo' b'longs!

(Takes them out)

Mrs. C. O, Virginia! What an hour for you!

Vir. What an hour for _him_, mamma!

Mrs. C. Strange child! Not to think of yourself!

Vir. How can I, when he is suffering so?

Mrs. C. My angel daughter!

Vir. (Kissing her) We will be brave, my mother. I hear the
girls. Go to them one moment - do! (Exit Mrs. Clemm) ...
Helen! Dear God above! (Drops on her knees by a chair.
After a moment of agony, rises, goes to table and looks at
papers) What is it I have ruined? (Reads silently) O, what
beauty!... I think I can make this out and copy it for
him. But now he may never finish it. The heavenly moment
is gone ... and I robbed him of it.... I, who should guard
him and keep the world away. That is my little part - too
little, God knows! O, if I could really help him!

(Enter Ethel and Annie)

Eth. O, Virginia, now that we're rid of that troublesome
husband let's have one of our good old-fashioned times!
We'll sit by the fire and tell tales. It's too cold anyway
to go to the woods.

Vir. (Absently) Edgar is there.

Annie. And there let him stay! I'm sure it's better for both of
you. You hang about him too much, Virginia. He'll quit
loving you, mamma says he will, if you're not more
sensible. Help me draw up this sofa, Ethel. (They pull
sofa to the fire. Annie settles herself comfortably) I
feel just like giving you a lecture, Virginia. You must
make Edgar go out more. Anybody will get queer shut up
here. The other day when mamma asked him to come to our
party he wasn't more than half polite when he refused, and
we were going to have Mr. Melrose Libbie to meet him too.
Said his work would keep him at home! Now you know,
Virginia, that poetry isn't work. It's just dash off a
line now and then, and there you are! Mr. Libbie said so.
O, he had the sweetest thing on the woman's page in last
Sunday's paper! Did you see it? You'd better call Edgar's
attention to it. Mamma read it to all of us at the
breakfast table, and -

Eth. O, stop your chatter, Annie, and let Virginia tell us one
of her fairy stories just as she used to do. We'll forget
all about Edgar and make believe she isn't married at all.

Vir. (Painfully) Forgive me, dear girls, but I've some work
that I must do to-day.

Mabel. Must do! Who ever heard the like?

Vir. I was wrong. It is some work that I choose to do - that it
will be my happiness to do.

Ethel. For Edgar?

Vir. Yes.

Annie. You are a little fool!

Vir. Yes ... I am a little fool.

Ethel. O, there's help for you if you know it!

Vir. If I were not a little fool I could be of more help to
Edgar.

Ethel and Annie.
Oh!

Annie. (Jumping up) Then we can't stay to-day!

Vir. I am so sorry - but -

Annie. O, we might as well give you up first as last!
(Exeunt girls)

Vir. (Sits at table and stares at the papers) ... A little fool
... a little fool.

(CURTAIN)


Scene II: Same room as before. Night. Virginia sits motionless in
the dim firelight. Mrs. Clemm comes softly down the stairs)

Mrs. C. Virginia?

Vir. Naughty mamma! You said you would sleep. What a story to
tell your little girl!

Mrs. C. (Advancing) The rain - wakes me. (Comes to fire) Did Edgar
take his cloak, dear?

Vir. No, mother.

Mrs. C. Are you not cold in that dress, darling?

Vir. O no - quite comfortable - and Edgar likes me in white, you
know. (A window rattles. Both look anxiously toward the
door)

Mrs. C. What a gust!... I wonder what winter is like at the north.
(Virginia looks at her quickly, and both drop their eyes)
... To think of him out on a night like this! And he has
not been well lately. Had he no purpose? Did he say
_nothing_ when he went out?

Vir. He said he was going to seek Truth.

Mrs. C. And what does he mean by truth, Virginia?

Vir. O, I don't know. When he is talking I understand, but when
he is gone it all fades and I know nothing about it.

Mrs. C. Nor does Edgar, mark me, dear. He is trying to know things
that the wise God decreed should remain unknown to mortals.
That is what makes him so unhappy.... Did he eat his
breakfast this morning, Virginia?

Vir. No, mamma.

Mrs. C. Did he take any food yesterday?... Tell me, daughter. I
can not help you if I do not know. (Virginia begins to
sob) There! there, darling! A little patience and we'll
get him over this.

Vir. O, mother!

Mrs. C. Come here, my little girl. (Takes Virginia in her arms)
Now tell me! Don't let the heart go heavy when mother ears
are waiting.

Vir. He ... goes out at night ... and I follow him because it
kills me to think of him wandering alone. We were on
Burney hill last night.

Mrs. C. Five miles!... Then that is what these pale cheeks and
dark eyes mean! And Edgar let you go!

Vir. No! I _go_! I am not a child, mother. Ah, I knew you would
not understand!

Mrs. C. Yes, yes, I do, Virginia. I know he suffers, but you -

Vir. Don't speak of me! You shame me! Were I to lie down on
those coals my torture would be less than his. Remember
that, mother. When you doubt, as you surely will, remember
that I told you, and I know. His mind is a _living_ thing,
throbbing through his body and leaving him no shield of
flesh. O, mamma, help him! Promise me! You will never
forsake him?

Mrs. C. Never, my love.

Vir. I would not have told you, but my strength is gone, and
somebody must know, - somebody who is strong. (A gust
shakes the window) O, my darling! Out in that blackness
alone! And if I were there I could say nothing. That is
the pity of it, mamma. I have no words, and thought
without tongue is nothing so long as we are mortal and
wear these bodies. Some day it may be enough just to _be_
a soul, but not now - not now!

Mrs. C. O, my daughter!

Vir. Promise me, mamma, that if I die you will find Helen.
_She_ could help him!

Mrs. C. (Rising) Virginia, if you say another word like that I
shall think you are mad - or I am! (Bursts into weeping)

Vir. Darling, darling mother! Now I have given you all my
burdens you will grow weak under them, and I want
strength, strength by my side!

Mrs. C. (Calm) You must go to bed, dear. I will wait for Edgar.

Vir. No, no!

Mrs. C. I will coax him to eat something.

Vir. (Smiling sadly) Coax him, mamma?

Mrs. C. Yes, dear. Go now.

Vir. I can not.

Mrs. C. I command you, my daughter.

Vir. Please do not command me. You have never had to pardon
disobedience in me.

Mrs. C. Nor shall I have cause now. Obey me, Virginia.

Vir. Would you send me into hell, mother?

Mrs. C. Daughter!

Vir. That is what a bed is to me when Edgar is out like this.

Mrs. C. You make too much of these wanderings. Night and day are
alike to him.

Vir. Ah, it is not the night that I fear!... Go, mamma! It is
you who must rest. O, how we need these strong arms - this
clear head! I shall nod in my chair for the thought of you
getting your needed rest will bring the winks to my own
eyes. Come! (Draws her toward stairway) I promise you that
I will sleep in the big chair as snug and tight as kitty
herself. (Kisses her)

Mrs. C. (On the stairs) I can not leave my sick child to watch.
You ask me to do an inhuman thing, Virginia. I will not
go.

Vir. Mother!... Do not let me hurt you ... the dearest, the
most unselfish of mothers ... but it is better for me to
meet my husband alone.

(Mrs. Clemm turns and goes slowly upstairs. Virginia goes
back to fire)

Vir. Watch and pray! I can but watch and pray!... He said 'twas
love he wanted ... and I brought him that ... love that
shakes but with the globe itself. But it does not help ...
'twas all wrong ... all wrong! (Weeps. Rises, and busies
herself about an oven on the hearth) Three times I have
prepared his supper that it might be fresh enough to tempt
him. But now ... I am so tired. I must try to keep this
warm. The sight of it may make him angry ... but I must
try. (Arranges some clothes on a chair) He will be so wet
with the rain. Ah, I can do nothing ... nothing. (Looks
toward door) He is coming! Strength, strength. O my God!

(Poe throws door open. Turns and speaks as if to
companions outside)

Poe. Goodnight, goodnight, brave Beauty's fearless angels!
(Comes in) Well, Dame Venus, what thoughts for your
hobbling Vulcan?

Vir. (Brightly) My Hermes, you mean. I'm sure you're
feather-footed, you go so far and fast.

Poe. Why, sweet-mouth, a kiss for that! (Kisses her)

Vir. O, my love, you are dripping with the rain.

Poe. Well, and so are the trees. Not a leaf out there but is
shaking her pearls. Who flies from Nature but man? Let her
be terrible, glorious, worthy of his eyes and his heart,
and forthwith he takes to his hole.

Vir. I hate her to-night. She kept me from following you.

Poe. Virginia! (Seizes her hands, crushing them in his, and
gazing at her with fierce earnestness) Never do that
again! Never again! (Lets her hands fall, and turns toward
door as if he must go out. Her eyes follow him eagerly,
but she tries to speak carelessly)

Vir. Here are your dry things, dear, and I've kept something
hot for your supper.

Poe. (Turning) Yes ... this is a very valuable skin of mine.
Make it comfortable. But what of me, Virginia? That
something here burning with fires that would brighten
Olympos' head! Have you no welcome for me? (Virginia is
silent) Why are you so pale? Light all the lamps! You
should not sit in the dark. There are no stars in this
den!

Vir. (Hurriedly lighting lamp) I'm sorry, love, but last night
you wanted the dark - don't you remember?

Poe. No, I don't remember. Memory is a hyena, always scratching
up our dead selves! You must not remember, Virginia!

Vir. Yes, dear.

Poe. Forgive me, love. O, I am driving myself mad! Selling
myself to the devil of prose that I may bring in that
fool's litter - money, money, money - and for what? That we
may feed the flesh that devours our souls, and hang such
rubbish as this on our backs! (Sweeps garments from chair)
O, Virginia, if you were brave enough we would forget
these rags of the body and go like spirits to meet our
brothers of the night! They are all out there! Will you go
with me, my bride?

Vir. O, Edgar!

Poe. Ha! You would rather ask them in to have something dry and
something hot! But I must have the air! (Throws door open.
Lightning flashes on falling rain. Virginia shrinks from
the wind) Hear those winds! Gathering lost souls to the
bosom of Night! Feel those drops! Every one of them the
tear of a fallen god! O, is it nothing but rain? Ha! ha!
ha! (Virginia coughs. Poe closes the door hastily. She
coughs again)

Poe. Don't, Virginia!

Vir. Yes, dear.

Poe. My angel! (Embraces her. She coughs) O, it is these wet
clothes! (Throws off coat, picks up dressing gown from the
door and puts it on hurriedly)

Vir. (Eagerly) Your slippers too, dear!

Poe. Yes, yes, my slippers! (Puts them on. Sits in big chair,
taking her on his knee, and embracing her tenderly) What
made you cough, Virginia?

Vir. O, 'twas nothing, dear. 'Tis all right now. Everything is
all right.

Poe. Is it, little wisdom? O, ye gods!

Vir. (Concealing anxiety) Darling?

Poe. What, my beautiful earth-bird?

Vir. You will take your supper now?

Poe. (Impatiently) No, no! Is there any wine in the house?

Vir. Yes, love, but -

Poe. I must have it! Quick! I shall faint.

Vir. (Rising) No, Edgar. It is food you need.

Poe. (Rising) Where is it?

Vir. O, my dearest!

Poe. Tell me, Virginia! (Goes toward a closet)

Vir. (Getting before him) If you were reaching for a cup of
poison, Edgar, I would risk my life, ay, risk your love,
to dash it from you. And wine is your poison. I can not
let you drink death.

Poe. Death! It is all the life that is left to me, and you deny
it!

Vir. Be quiet, love. You will wake our mother.

Poe. Down, gods, and let the lady sleep!

Vir. She is not well, Edgar.

Poe. But she will be well to-morrow, and I - I am immortally
sick and you deny me a drop of wine.

Vir. O, my poor boy! I'm so sorry for you!

Poe. And is that all, O Heaven? I'm her poor boy, and she is so
sorry for me! Why, here's a heart that loosens in its
throbs the birth-song of new stars! Come, strike thy chime
with mine, and though all bells upon the planet jingle, in
us will still be music!

Vir. O, Edgar!

Poe. Well?

Vir. I can not speak.

Poe. Virginia, Virginia! I pour out my soul to you! I keep back
no drop of its sea! From the infinite, shrouded sources of
life I rush to you in a thousand singing rivers, only to
waste, to burn, to die on the sands of silence! (She
remains motionless, her head bowed) ... It is so still
upon the eternal peaks. Will you not come up with me and
be the bride of my dreams? You need not speak ... you need
not say a word. Only put the light of poesy in your eyes
and let me _see_ that through the channel of their beauty
course the mysteries that begin with God and end not with
time! (She looks at him. He gazes into her eyes) ... Tears
... only tears. (Turns away) Can a soul's _eyes_ be dumb?
(She sits, weeping silently) ... Come then ... talk of
what you will. Only talk! You have read a little Byron
to-day? The new magazine came? And you have made me a
handkerchief? (She sobs. He looks at her remorsefully,
crosses the room, gets her harp and brings it to the
fireside) Come ... sing to me, Virginia. You can do that.

Vir. (Taking harp) What shall I sing, dear?

Poe. Something to charm the very heart of √Жolus! That will turn
a tempest into a violet's breath!

Vir. Ah, my love!

Poe. O, sing - sing anything!

Vir. (Sings)

Great and calm, cool-bosomed blue,
Take me to the heart of you!
Not where thy blue mystery
Sweeps the surface of the sea,
Leaving in a dying gleam
Living trouble of a dream;
Not where loves of heaven lie
Rosy 'gainst the upper sky
Burning with an ardent touch

Where an angel kissed too much;
But where sight and sound come not,
All of life and love forgot,
All of Heaven forfeited
For thy deep Nirvana bed.
Wide and far enfolding blue,
Take me to the heart -

(Her voice breaks suddenly)

Poe. Virginia! (She coughs) Don't! (Her cough increases. She
puts her handkerchief to her lips. Poe takes it from her
hand and looks at it.) Blood! (Throws handkerchief into
the fire, and stands as if paralyzed, gazing at Virginia.
Falls at her feet and begins kissing her skirt) My angel!
my angel! I have killed my little bride!

Vir. (Urging him gently up) No, dear. I was marked for this
from birth. My doom was written by Heaven, not you.

Poe. Not doom, my Virginia! (Rising) I will save you, my
darling! You shall have everything! With the sickle of a
wish you shall harvest the earth! We will sail southern
seas! We will follow the Spring as she flies! I will knock
at the orient gates and bring thee the health of morning!
I'll make the world so bright for thee, Hyperion's self
shall wear new gold and shame remembered suns from
chronicle! Spring from perfection's heart shall pluck her
buds, and set such gloss on Nature she may laud her old
self in one violet's requiem! O, I'll sing the world into
a flower for thy bosom! My love, my love, my love! (She
coughs restrainedly. He hides his face till she stops)
Even the senseless oak velvets its rude sides to the
tender vine! But I - a man - O, beast too vile for hell! too
low to be damned!

Vir. Edgar!

Poe. Do not touch me! is not the mark here? (Touching his brow)
O, where shall I hide it?

Vir. (Drawing him to her) On my bosom, Edgar. (Presses him to
the large chair and sits on the arm of it, caressing him)
This forehead is as pure as heaven-lit ivory of angels'
brows!

Poe. O, golden heart! (Kisses her over her heart) I will work
so hard, Virginia! We shall be rich, and I will take you
to some wonderful land where beauty can not die! Will you
forgive me then when you are bright and strong in some
happy isle of roses?

Vir. I will forgive you now, dearest, if you will do one thing
for me.

Poe. O, what, my darling?

Vir. Eat the poor little supper I have cooked for you.

Poe. Yes - yes - I'll eat it though it be hell's coals!

Vir. Now that's a compliment to your cook, isn't it? (Takes
food from oven and puts it on table. Poe eats, at first
reluctantly, then hungrily)

Poe. It is late - so late! O, my Lenore, you kept up for me!
Your weary eyes would not close until they had found their
lover! O, can you forgive me, and take me back to your
heart? You will love me again?

Vir. Ah, Edgar, if love were enough we should always be happy.

Poe. Love me, love me, dear! I want no more! And this cough ...
we shall stop all that, darling! O, how weary you must be,
and you tried to have everything so beautiful for me! How
pretty your dress is! You look like a Naiad smiling out of
a lily. But it's too cold! Here, I will wrap you! (Puts
shawl about her) Ah, little wife, little wife, what evil
power locked your gentle heart with mine? Bear with me,
love. It will all be different soon. I shall try so hard
the gods for pity will not let me fail! See how I have
eaten! You may give me more, love. You did not cook this,
I know. You stole it from Jove's kitchen.

Vir. (Getting food) Yes, I did, and Jove caught me, but he let
me go when I told him it was for a poet.

Poe. Little witch! (Kisses her) How happy we shall be,
Virginia, as soon as I have money. I shall go to New York
for a year. It will take only a year. Then I shall come
back bringing the lady Fame with me, and you must not be
jealous of her.

Vir. (Slowly) You - would not - take me?

Poe. Why, the north-wind would blow the Spring from my little
girl's cheek! Just a year! That is the first step - a cruel
one - but we shall be happy when it is over. Just a year,
sweetheart! I must take no chances now! I _must_ win!

Vir. You shall not leave me! A year will not hurt me, Edgar!
But it would kill me to be left here ... and not know ...
every minute....

Poe. Do you care so much, Lenore? Then we will both stay here.
It will take longer, but I will work harder -

Vir. Enough for to-night. We are too happy for to-morrows,
Edgar. Now you must have a long, long sleep -

Poe. No, no! No bed for me to-night! I must work!

Vir. No bed, indeed! I did not say bed, my lord! You are going
to sit down here (Places him on footstool) and I shall sit
here, (settles in chair) and your head in my lap - my hands
on your head - and the crooningest of little songs will
bring you the sweetest snatch of sleep that you ever, ever
had!

Poe. O, 'tis heaven, Virginia! But you are too tired, my angel.
_You_ must sleep.

Vir. And so I shall when my lord shows me the way.

(Poe drops his head on her lap. She turns down light. He
falls asleep as she sings softly)

Like a fallen star on the breast of the sea
My lover rests on the heart of me;
The lord of the tempest hies him down
From his billow-crest to his cavern-throne,
And 'tis peace as wide as the eye can see
When my lover rests on the heart of me.

(Silence. Virginia droops in sleep. No light but dull red
coals.)

(CURTAIN)




ACT IV.


Scene I: An old bookstore, New York. Bookseller arranging books.
Helen at one side looking over shelves. Poe enters. He wears a
military cloak and jaunty cap. Throws book on table and whistles
carelessly.

Bookseller. (Looking book over doubtfully)
Forty cents.

Poe. (Loudly) Forty devils! (Helen turns and recognizes him. He
does not see her) Look at that binding. You can't get a
Shelley put up like that for less than ten dollars.

Hel. (Aside) My book!

Bookseller.
It's badly marked.

Poe. Marked! Of course it's marked. And every mark there worth
its dollar. In ten years you'll wish the marks were as
thick as the letters.

Bookseller.
Say fifty, and strike off. Not a cent more.

Poe. Take it.

Hel. To sell my book! (Moves slowly to door) How pale he is!
But he is neatly dressed. He can not need fifty cents. To
sell my book! I'll speak to him and see if he is past
shame. (Steps before Poe as he turns to go out)

Hel. Mr. Poe! Don't you remember me? 'Tis delightful to meet an
old friend.

Poe. (Bowing low) Mrs....

Hel. Yes, I am Mrs. Bridgmore.

Poe. My dear Mrs. Bridgmore! The pleasure of years gathers in
this happy moment. Are you making holiday purchases?

Hel. No ... just poking about. I love these old stores. I see
you've made a sale. 'Tis a relief to get rid of old books
when we've lost our love for them, isn't it? They take up
good room on our shelves pretty much as people do in our


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Online LibraryOlive Tilford DarganSemiramis, and other plays → online text (page 15 of 17)