Olive Tilford Dargan.

Semiramis, and other plays online

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lives long after we have ceased to care for their
friendship. But what one is weary of another is ready to
take up. (To bookseller) May I see the book the gentleman
has just disposed of? (To Poe) Anything you have liked
will be sure to please me.

Poe. O, you are mistaken! I am simply leaving the book to be
duplicated if possible for a friend of mine who has taken
a fancy to my copy. (Gesticulates to bookseller) One
glance, Mrs. Bridgmore, will tell you that the book is not
for sale.

Hel. Ah ... of course not. Pardon the mistake. It seems to be
my fate to blunder where you are concerned. (Icily) Good
morning, Mr. Poe.

(As she is going out she drops her purse. Poe hastens to
pick it up and restores it to her with a bow. In doing so
he forgets his shabby coat and throws back his cloak over
his arm, exposing a badly worn sleeve. He becomes suddenly
conscious of her observation, and straightens up in his
most dignified fashion)

Hel. Thank you. (Goes out)

Poe. (Turning to bookseller) Here! Take your damned silver!
Give me my book!

Bookseller.
A bargain's a bargain, sir.

Poe. Bargain! bargain! Do you call that theft a bargain? You
parasite! you bookgnat! You insect feeding on men's
brains! You worm in the corpse of genius! My book, I say,
or by Hector I'll tear your goose-liver from your body,
you pocket-itching Jacob!

Bookseller.
Here! take it!

Poe. There's your Judas' blood! (Throws down money and starts
out with the book. Enter Brackett)

Brackett. (Stopping Poe) Mr. Poe, I believe.

Poe. Right, sir. And Brackett, I think your name was when I
knew you.

Bra. Quite right, Mr. Poe. I saw you coming in here, and though
you have changed somewhat with the help of years I was
sure it was you.

Poe. And how, Mr. Brackett, may that knowledge be of interest
to you?

Bra. Well, perhaps it does concern you more than myself.

Poe. Kindly tell me in what way that I may regret it.

Bra. Your pen has been supplying matter for _The Comet_, I
believe.

Poe. If you have any doubt of it a perusal of that magazine's
issues for the past two years will satisfy you.

Bra. The returns therefrom have contributed somewhat to your
comfort, I suppose.

Poe. Do you?

Bra. Ah, I am mistaken? Then I have less hesitation to tell you
that the articles recently submitted are unavailable.

Poe. _You_ tell me! What have you to do with it? Who are you?

Bra. I am the present editor of _The Comet_.

Poe. You!

Bra. I! You see I am in a position to speak with
authority, - and it is only just to tell you that your
articles will meet with no further recognition in that
quarter.

Poe. Brackett ... I have been very ill. I wrote those things on
what I believed to be my death bed. My wife....

Bra. I should say then that you are in great need of money.

Poe. God help me, I am! You know I am not one to beg!

Bra. But it's beg or starve with you, eh? (Poe looks at him
silently) Well, I should advise you to make application
without loss of time to some one who does not know you
quite so well as the new editor of _The Comet_. Good
morning.

Poe. (Calling to him as he stands in door) I say, Brackett!
(Brackett turns) _I_ should advise _you_ to change the
name of _The Comet_ as well as its editor. Suppose you
call it _The Falling Star_? Ha! ha! (Exit Brackett) Curse
me for a whining dog - but Virginia -

(Goes out)

Bookseller. (Arranging books) Queer chap. We public men get to
know all sorts. That book will be mine yet. It's a good
seller at ten dollars, and blest if I wouldn't like to
help the wretch out with fifty cents. He'll be back.

(Enter Helen)

Hel. I wish to buy the book the gentleman has just left with
you.

Bookseller.
Why ma'am, he's gone and took it with him.

Hel. Took it with him?

Bookseller.
Yes, ma'am, and thereby I've lost time and trade.
(Aside) She'd give fifteen!

Hel. He needed money?

Bookseller.
Well, I should _guess_ so, ma'am. That's the last
book he had. He told me about it before. He's been
bringin' them all here. I _think_ he'll be back, ma'am,
and I'll keep the book for you.

Hel. Thank you. (Turns to go. Sees letter on the floor and
picks it up) Why, 'tis ... he dropped it! I wonder if I
may ... he is suffering ... that shabby coat ... and he is
so proud. I think I ought to read it. I must know where to
find him. (Looks at letter) Fordham! (Reads)

My Dear Son: One last prayer the mother of your
Virginia makes to you. She is dying. Come and sit by
her and she will carry a smile to her grave. Do not
stay away because you can not bear to witness her
suffering, - because you have nothing to give her.
Come, and by your loving presence lessen her pain.
God bless you! Your devoted mother,
MARIA CLEMM.

(Helen stands trembling and holding the letter) ...
And I hurt him ... I hurt him....

(CURTAIN)


Scene II: Poe's cottage, Fordham. A room almost bare. Virginia
sleeping on bed. Poe's cloak over her. Mrs. Clemm kneeling in
prayer beside her. Poe enters, carrying a bundle of broken sticks
which he lays down softly, one by one, on the hearth, looking
anxiously toward the bed. Mrs. Clemm rises and comes to the fire)

Mrs. C. My child, you have been out in the snow without your
cloak! (Brushes snow from his shoulders)

Poe. Could I take the least warmth from yon shivering angel?

Mrs. C. You forget that you, too, are ill. O, my boy, be careful,
or I shall soon be childless in the world. One is already
lost....

Poe. Not lost. See how she sleeps! She is better. I know she is
better.

Mrs. C. Since you came. We will hope so, dear.

Poe. If she would only speak to us! O, why does she not speak?
Not once to-day.

Mrs. C. She is very weak, my son.

Poe. I could bear it so long as she could tell us there was no
pain ... but now she only looks at us.... Oh -

Mrs. C. You will control yourself for her sake.

Poe. Yes, yes, for her sake.

Mrs. C. It will take her last breath to see you disturbed.

Poe. I know! I know! Have no fear, mother. I am strong now.

Vir. Edgar! (He flies to the bed)

Poe. My darling!

Vir. I am better, dear. Mamma! (Mrs. Clemm goes to her) I feel
so rested, mamma.

Poe. I told you! She is better! And you will sit up a little
now, dear? I will carry you to the fire.

Mrs. C. My boy!

Poe. O, mother, don't you see how well she is? Look at her
cheeks - her eyes - how beautiful!

Vir. (Smiling) Hear him, mamma! How proud he is! He must always
have it that his wife is beautiful.

Poe. But it is so true, my dearest!

Vir. Let me believe it, for it is sweet to think that I have
been that, at least, to you.

Poe. O, my darling, you have been everything!

Vir. You think so now, dear, and I love to hear you say it.

Poe. And you will get well for me?

Vir. No, O no! That would bring all your troubles back. You
will live a great life, Edgar, when you have left this
little care-bundle of a wife behind you.

Poe. O, don't, Virginia! I shall do nothing without you!

Vir. You will do everything. I am the wise one now, Edgar. And,
dear, while I can talk ... I must ask you ... must beg you
... I must hear you say that you forgive me.

Poe. Forgive you!

Vir. Yes, dear. I was so young ... I thought I could help you
... and so I let you marry me. I did not know. I thought
because I loved you so much that I could make you happy.
But women who can only love are not the women who help.
They must be wise and strong too, and oh, so many other
wonderful things. If they are not, then all the love only
hurts and makes things go wrong.

Poe. O, little angel!

Vir. Yes ... little angel ... when I ought to have been a
brave, great angel who could bear heaven on her wings.
Long ago I knew it, Edgar. When the truth came I looked
every way and there was no help. Then when I found I was
to die, it seemed that God had pitied and helped me. For
that was the only way.... O, these little women who can do
nothing but love! I wish I could take them all with me.
These tears are for them, not for myself, darling. O, I am
happy, but they must wait ... they can not die. How you
shiver! You must take your cloak. I am warm now. Indeed, I
am quite comfortable.... Don't - don't weep. You must be
happy because I am. Let us smile the rest of the time,
darling, - it - is such a little while.

Poe. (Brokenly) Yes ... yes.... O little flower, little flower,
dropping back to God's bosom, how have I dared to touch
thee!

Vir. (Rubbing her hand on his arm) 'Tis damp! You have been
out? O, my dear, you must, must take your cloak! I am
quite, quite warm! See, feel my hands! (Smiling)

Poe. (Taking her hands) Little icicles!

Vir. You have been out! O, save yourself for the great things
... now I am going out of your way. Don't let my death be
as vain as my life. Let that count for something, Edgar.
O, promise me you will live for your genius' sake, you
will be true to your heavenly gift! Kneel by me and
promise!

Poe. I ... promise.

Vir. Dear husband ... I.... (faints)

Mrs. C. O, she is gone!

Poe. No! She faints! My beautiful idol! O, some wine! Heaven
and earth for some wine!

Mrs. C. She looks at us! My daughter!

Poe. O, do not try to speak! Let your beautiful eyes do all the
talking!

Mrs. C. She looks toward the fire. She would have you go, Edgar,
and try to keep warm. Come, dear. (Poe kisses Virginia
gently, and goes to fireside, looking back adoringly) Do
not look at her, and she will sleep again.

Poe. Ah, God! It will take more than sleep to help her. And I
can give her nothing - nothing!

Mrs. C. Don't, Edgar! Remember your terrible illness - how you
worked for her when fever was burning your brain - until
your pen fell from your hand.

Poe. I brought her to this land of ice and snow!

Mrs. C. No. Destiny brought her. We lost our home. Your work was
here - and she would not stay behind you.

Poe. A _man_ would have saved her!

Mrs. C. O, my boy, do not take this burden on your soul! For
once spare yourself!

Poe. I can not even give her food!

Mrs. C. (Restraining him) My son, she sleeps.

Poe. Yes ... sleep ... let me not rob her of that too! Be quiet
... just be quiet ... while she dies. (Seats himself with
strange calmness) Come, mother, let us be cheerful. Take
this chair. Let us be rational. Let us think. Death is
strange only because we do not think enough. God must
breathe. Life is the exhalation, death the inhalation of
deity. He breathes out, and the Universe flames forth with
all her wings - her suns and clusters of suns - down to her
mote-like earth, the butterfly of space, trimmed with its
gaudy seasons, and nourishing on its back the parasitical
ephemeran, Man!

Mrs. C. My love -

Poe. Be calm, mother. Be calm. Then the great inbreathing
begins. The creative warmth no longer goes out. The
parasites vanish first, then the worlds on which they
ride, and last the mighty suns, - all sink into the still,
potential unity, and await the recurrent breath which may
bear another universe, unlike our own, where the animate
may control the inanimate, the organic triumph over the
inorganic, - (rising) ay, man himself may dominate nature,
control the relentless ecliptic, and say to the ages of
ice and fire 'Ye shall not tread on me!'

Mrs. C. Edgar!

Poe. I beg your pardon. We must be calm. (Resumes his seat) But
God will not stop breathing (with bitter sarcasm) though
your daughter - and my wife - is dying. (Mrs. Clemm weeps.
He turns to the window) Do you know that elephants once
nibbled boughs out there where the snow is falling? They
ran a mighty race - and died - but no tears were shed. In
the records of the cosmos, if man is written down at all,
I think he will be designated as the 'weeping animal.'

Mrs. C. Are you human?

Poe. I regret that I belong to that feeble and limited variety
of creation, but with the next self-diffusion of the
concentrated Infinite I may be the Sun himself!

Mrs. C. O, my mother-heart!

Poe. Think a little more and you will forget it. The heart
makes the being there on the bed your daughter - my
wife - but the mind makes her a part of the divine force
which has chosen her shape for its visible flower. The
heart is wrung by the falling of the bloom, for it is
endeared to that only, but the mind rejoices in its
reunited divinity. Come.... (Moves a step toward the bed)
I can look on her now ... and be quiet. Sweet rose, I can
watch your petals fall. But they fall early ... they fall
early ... blasted in the May. Not by the divine breath
drawing you home, but by my mortal, shattering hand! I
promised you sun and dew.... I have given you frost and
shadows. O God! O God! let me _not_ think! Keep me a
little, weeping child!

Mrs. C. Dear son, cast out this bitterness. Only your love and
devotion have kept her alive so long.

Poe. No! I touched her like a wing of doom, and she fell
blasted! (She tries to soothe him) No, no! Call devils
from hell to curse me!

(A knock at the door. Mrs. Clemm opens it and a basket is
delivered to her. Poe, deep in agony, does not notice. She
takes things from the basket)

Mrs. C. O, Edgar! Wine, and soft blankets!

(He looks up, and rushes across to her)

Poe. Wine! wine! O, spirit that bendest from pitying clouds, a
mortal thanks thee! Quick, mother, these drops of strength
will give her back to us!

Mrs. C. She sleeps, my son, which is ease more precious than
these drops can give.

Poe. (Taking bottle) Give it to me!

Mrs. C. Edgar, Edgar, do not wake her!

Poe. Lenore, Lenore, out of thy dream, though 't were the
fairest ever blown to mortal from Elysium! This will put
thee to such smiles that dreams -

Mrs. C. Be quiet, for God's sake!

Poe. Quiet! 'Tis a word for clods and stones! You'd hold me
from her when my hand brings life? (Rushes to cupboard and
gets a glass which he fills)

Mrs. C. Just a little, Edgar. Too much would -

Poe. She shall drink it all, by Heaven! I will save her!

(Mrs. Clemm sinks to a chair, helpless and sobbing. A
knock at the door which neither hears. Enter Helen. As Poe
turns to approach the bed he faces her, stares, and lets
the glass drop shivering)

Poe. You!

Hel. I, Edgar. You see I can remember my friends - and I've come
to scold you for not - letting me know -

Poe. It was you who sent -

Hel. Some blankets soft as summer clouds for the most beautiful
lady in the world? And wine delicate enough for a fairy's
throat? I knew you would not have it else. (Turns to Mrs.
Clemm) You do not know me, but -

Mrs. C. (Taking her hand) I know you are a good woman reaching a
hand to me in my sorrow.

Hel. (Embracing her) No ... my arms!

(Poe goes to bed and kneels by Virginia. Speaks softly to
her, then rises and brings a little wine)

Poe. Just a drop, dear, - a butterfly's portion.

(Virginia drinks)

Hel. (To Mrs. Clemm) How is she?

Mrs. C. She will have but one more word for us - goodbye.

Hel. Can I - may - O, you must let me do something for her - for
you! Do not make me miserable by saying there is nothing I
can do.

Mrs. C. There is ... something. I have never begged -

Hel. Do not use such a word. It is you who give - make me happy.

Mrs. C. But I will beg this. Some linen for her last robe.

Hel. God bless you for telling me!

Poe. (Rising from his knees by Virginia) Helen, Virginia would
speak to you.

Hel. O, save the precious breath! (Approaches bed) Ah ... how
lovely ... I understand....

Vir. (Lifting her head) Helen ... help my Edgar. (Sinks back.
Poe lays his head on her pillow. Helen stands with her arm
about Mrs. Clemm. Curtain falls, and rises on same room at
night. Virginia's body lies on the bed. Poe watches alone.
A candle burns on table)

Poe. (Standing by bed) ... So low in sleep, little girl?... I
took thee mid thy roses. O, broken gentleness, little
saint-love, move but a hand, a finger, to tell me thou art
still my pleading angel!... Not one breath's life. Still
... quite still. O, might such rest be mine! (Turns away)
I'll write. (Goes to table) I promised. Yes ... I'll
write. Behind the glorious chancel of the mind still
swings the incense to the deathless gods!... (Sits and
writes) ... No. (Rising) No rhymes - for Poesy must mourn
to-night. (Goes toward bed) Too much of her is dead.
(Gazes at Virginia) Cold ... cold. What art thou death? Ye
demons of a mind distraught, keep ye apace till I have
fathomed this!... Ha! What scene is that? (Stares as at
visions) A valley laid in the foundations of darkness! The
unscalable cliffs jut to heaven, and on the amethystine
peaks sit angels weeping into the abyss where creatures
run to and fro without escape! Some eat, some laugh, some
weep, some wonder. Now they make themselves candles whose
little beams eclipse the warning stars ... and in the
pallid light they dance and think it sun! But on the revel
creeps a serpent, fanned and crimson, with multitudinous
folds lapping the dancing creatures in one heaving
carnage! The candles die.... The stars cannot pierce the
writhing darkness.... Above on the immortal headlands sit
the angels, looking down no more, for the dismal heap no
longer throbs.... I must write this! Now! While I see it!
That moaning flood ebbing to silence ... those rosy
promontories lit with angel wings ... and over all as
large and still as heaven, the cold, unweeping eyes of
God!... (Writes.... A tapping at the door. He does not
hear. Another tapping. He looks up) Who's there?... This
is my vigil. Nor devil nor angel shall share it!...
(Listens. Tapping. He goes to door and throws it open) ...
Nothing ... nothing ... but darkness. (Stands peering, and
whispers) Lenore!... (Closes door, bolts it, returns to
table and writes silently. Utter stillness, then a
rattling at the window. Poe leaps up) What's that? (The
shutter is blown open. Poe stands watching. A raven flies
in and perches above door) Out, you night-wing! (He looks
at raven silently) You won't? Why, sit there then! You're
but a feather! (Sits and writes. After a moment rises and
reads)

Out - out are the lights - out all!
And over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm -
And the angels all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling affirm
That the play is the tragedy 'Man!'
And its hero the Conqueror Worm!

Ah! the thought pales from these lines like light from
dying cinders. Poetry is but ashes telling that a fire has
passed. (Sits gloomily. Suddenly remembers the raven,
turns and stares at it) You bird of damnation, leave me in
peace with my dead!... O, dreaming fool, 'tis nothing....
My mind's a chaos that surges up this fancy. (Tries to
write, stops, goes on, trembles, and looks up) ... Can I
know fear? I, the very nursling of dreams? Who have lived
in a world more tenanted with ghosts than men? I can not
be afraid.... (Tries to write. Drops pen. Shudders,
looking with furtive fear at the raven) ... I am ... I am
afraid.... Virginia! (Creeps toward bed) Stay with me,
little bride. My little rose-bride! (Fingers along
coverlet, looking at raven) Do not leave me. Quick, little
love! Give me life in a kiss! (Touches her hand, shrinks,
and springs up) Dead!... (Leans against foot of bed,
wildly facing the raven) Speak, fiend! From what dim
region of unbodied souls hast come? What hell ungorged
thee for her messenger? What sentence have the devils
passed upon me? To what foul residence in some blasted
star am I condemned? Speak! By every sigh that poisons
happy breath! - by every misery that in me rocks and
genders her swart young! - by yonder life that now in
golden ruin lies! - I charge thee speak! How long shall I
wander without rest? How long whirl in the breath of
unforgiving winds? Or burn in the refining forges of the
sun? When will the Universe gather me to her heart and
give me of her still, unthrobbing peace? Speak! When - O
when will this driven spirit be at home?

(Silence. Poe listens with intense expectation and fear.
The raven flies out) It spoke! (Hoarsely) It spoke! I
heard it! (Whispers) Nevermore! (He falls in a swoon.
Candle flickers in the wind and goes out. Darkness)

(CURTAIN)




ACT V.


Scene I: Poe's lodging, Baltimore. Small room. Cot, table, and one
chair. Poe writing)

Poe. (Pressing his temples) Throb - throb - but you shall finish
this. (Writes) You, too, rebel, old pen? On, on like a
lusty cripple, and we'll scratch out of this hole.
(Lifting pen) Why, old fellow, this will buy bread. O,
bread, bread, bread, for one sweet crumb of thee to feed
an angel here! (Touching his forehead) Gordon will not
fail me. His letter will come to-day. And with his help
I'll get on good ground once more. And _then_!... (Writes.
Drops pen with a groan) ... Gordon's letter _must_ come
to-day. O, I would live, would live, for seeds are
gendering in my mind that might their branches throw above
the clouds and shake immortal buds to this bare earth!...
(Looks at writing) Words! Ye are but coffins for
imagination! No more of you! (Crushes paper) Eternity's in
labor with this hour! (Leaps up) I could make Time my page
to carry memories from star to star! O Heaven, wouldst


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Online LibraryOlive Tilford DarganSemiramis, and other plays → online text (page 16 of 17)