Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

. (page 92 of 198)
Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 92 of 198)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Found Guide there and got the marriage done.
And finally begved pardon at the feet
Of her dear lord and master. Whereupon
Quoth Pietro — ** Let us make the beet of

things!"
** I knew your love would Ucense us," quoth

she:
Quoth Paolo once more, **' Mothers, wives and

maids,
These be the took wherewith priests manage



Now, here take breath and ask,— which bird

o' the brace
Decoyed the other into clapnet ? Who
Was fool, who knave ? Neither and both, per-
chance.
There was a bargain mentally proposed
On each side, straight and plain and fair

enough ;
Mind knew its own mind : but when mind must

speak.
The bargain have expression in plain terms,
There came the blunder incident to words.
And in the clumsjr process, fair turned foul.
The straight backbone-thonght of the crooked

speech
Were just — ** I Ghiido truck my name and rank
For so much money and youth and femide

charms. —
We Pietro and Violante give our child



Digitized by



Google



TERTIUM QUID



461



And wealth to you for a rise i' the world

thereby."
Such naked truth while chambered in the brain
Shocks nowise : walk it forth by way of

tongfue, —
Ont on the ovnical unseemliness !
Hence was the need, on either side, of a lie
To serye as decent wrappaf^ : so, Quido gives
Honey for money, — and they, bride for groom.
Having, he, not a doit, they, not a child
Honestly theirs, but this poor waif and stray.
According to the words, each cheated each ;
But in the inexpressive barter of thoughts.
Each did give and did take the thing designed.
The rank on this side and the cash on that —
Attained the object of the traffic, so.
The w»r of the world, the daily bargain struck
In the first market I 'Why sells Jack his ware ?
** For the sake of serving an old customer."
Why does Jill buy it ? ^' Simply not to break
A custom, pass the old stall the first time."
Why, you snow where the gist is of the ex-
change:
Each sees a profit, throws the fine words in.
Don't be too hard o' the pair 1 Had each pre-
tence
Been simultaneously discovered, stript
From off the body o' the transaction, just
As when a cook (will Excellency forgive ?)
Stripe away those long rough superfiuous legs
From either side as an earnest of despair ! '
Why, we were quits: I had wiped the harm

awayj^
Thought, * The man fears me I ' and foregone

revenge."
We must not want all this elaborate work
To solve the problem why young Fanoy-and-

flesh



Slips from the dull side of a spouse in yean,
Betakes it to the breast of Bnsk-and-bold
Whose love-son4>es famish talk for aU the
town!

Acoordinglv, one word on the other side

Tills over the piled-up fabric of a tale.

Guido says— that is, always, his friends say ^

It is unlikely, from the wickedness,

That any man treat any woman so.

The letter in question was her very own.

Unprompted and unaided : she comd write —

As able to write as ready to sin, or ^e.

When there was danger, to deny both facts.

He bids you mark, herself from first to last

Attributes all the so-styled torture just

To jealousy, ~ jealousy of whom but just

This very Caponsacchi ! How suits here

This with the other alleged motive, Prince ?

Would Guido make a terror of the man

He meant should tempt the woman, as they

charp:e?
Do you fnght your hare that you may catch

vour hare?
Consiaer too, the charge was made and met
At the proper time and place where proo& were

plain —
Heard patiently and disposed of thoroughly
By the nighest powers, possessors of most light.
The Governor for the law and the Archbishop
For the gospel : which acknowledged primacies,
'T is impudently pleaded, he could warp
Into a tacit partnership with crime —
He being the while, believe their own account,
Impotent, penniless and miserable I
He further asks — Duke, note the knotty

point I —
How he — concede him skill to play such part
And drive his vrife into a gallant's arms —
Could bring the gallant to play his part too
And stand with arms so opportunely wide ?
How bring this Caponsacchi, — with whom,

^ends
And foes alike agree, throughout his life
He never interchanged a civil word
Nor lifted courteous cap to — him, how bend
To such observancy of beck and call,
— To undertake this strange and perilons

feat
For the good of Guido, using, as the lure,
Pompilia whom, himself and she avouch,
He had nor Sf>oken with nor seen, indeed,
Beyond sight in a public theatre.
When she wrote letters (she that could not

write I)
The importunate shamelessly-protested love
Which brought him, though reluctant, to her

feet.
And forced on him the plunge which, howsoe'er
She mi^ht swim up i' the whirl, must bury

him
Under abysmal black : a priest contrive
No better, no amour to be hushed up.
But open flight and noonday infamy ?
Try and concoct defence for such revolt 1
Take the wife's tale as true, say she was

wronged, —
Pray, in what rubric of the breviary



Digitized by



Google



TERTIUM QUID



465



Do you find it registered — the part of a

Is — thst to ric^t wrongs from the ohnreh he

skip,
Qo jonmeying with a woman that 's a wife,
Ana be porraed, o ^ertaken and oi4>tQred . . .

how?
In a lay-dress, playing the kind sentinel
Where the wife sleeps (says he who beet shoold

know)
And sleemng, sleepless, both have spent the

nignt r
Conld no one else be found to serve at need —
No woman — or if man, no safer sort
Than this not well-repated torbulence ?

Then, look into his own aooonnt o' the case I
He, beinpr the stranger and astonished one,
Yet reoeiyed protestations of her loye
From lady neither known nor oared about :
Love, so protested, bred in him disgnst
After the wonder, — or inerednlity,
Snoh impudence seeming impossible.^
But, soon assured such mipudenoe might be.
When he had seen with his own eyes at last
Letters thrown down to him i' the very street
From behind lattice where the lady lurked.
And read their passionate summons to her

side —
Why then^ a thousand thou^ts swarmed up

and m, —
How he had seen her onoe, a moment^s space.
Observed she was both young and beautiful.
Heard everywhere report she suffered much
From a jealous husband thrice her age, — in

short.
There flashed the propriety, expediency
Of treating, trying nii|rht thejr come to terms,
— At all events, grantmg the interview
Prated for, one so adi^ted to assist
Decision as to whether he advance.
Stand or retire, in his benevolent mood I
Therefore Uie interview befell at length ;
And at this one and only interview.
He saw the sole and ungle course to take —
Bade her dispose of him, head, heart and hand.
Did her behest and braved the consequence.
Not for the natural end, the love of man
For woman whether love be virtue or vice,
But, please you, altogether for pi^*s sake —
Pity of innocence and helpleasnesB I
And how did he assure himself of both ?
Had he been the house-inmate, visitor,
£ye-witness of the described martyrdom,
So, competent to pronounce its remedy
JSre rush on such extreme and desperate

course —
Involving such enormity of harm.
Moreover, to the husband judjg:ed thus, doomed
And damned without a word m his defence ?
N'ot he I the truth was felt by instinct here,
— Process which saves a world of trouble and



There's the priest's story: what do you say

to it.
Trying its truth by your own instinct too.
Since that 's to be the expeditious mode ?
*"* And now, do hear my version,*' Ghiido cries :
*'* I accept argument and inference both.



It would indeed have been miraculous
Had such a oonfidenoy sprung to birth
With no more fanning fram acquaintanceship
Hian here avowed by my wife and this priest.
Only, it did not : you most substitute
The old stale unromantio way of fault, ^
The conmumplaoe adventure, mere intrigue
In prose form with the unpoetio tricks,
Cheatings and lies: they used the hackney

chair
Satan jaunts forth with, shabby and service-

^ able^^
No gilded jimorack-novelty from below.
To bowl you along thither, swift and sure.
That same officious go-between, the wench
Who gave and took the letters of the two,
Now offers self and service back to me :
Bears testimony to visits night bv niffht
When all was safe, the husband imt and

away,—
To many a timely slipping out at huge
By light o' the morning-star, ere ne should

wake.
And when the fugitives were found at last,
Why, with them were found also, to belie
What protest they might make of innocence.
All documents ^et wanting, if need were.
To establish guilt in them, disgrace in me —
The chronicle o' the convene from its rise
To culmination in this outrage : read !
Letters from wife to priest, fr^nn priest to

vrife, —
Here they are, road and say where they chime

in
With the other tale, superlative purity
O' the pair of saints! I stand or fall by

these.»'

But then on the other side again, — how sav
Hie pair of saints? That not one wora is

theirs —
No syllable o* the batch or writ or sent
Oryet received by either of the two.
** fV>und,*' says the priest, '^ because he needed

them,
Failing all other proofs, to prove our fault :
So, here they are, just as is natural.
Oh yes —we had our missives^ each of us !
Not these, but to the full as vile, no doubt :
Hers as from me, —she could not read, so

burnt,-—
Bfine as from her, — I burnt because I read.
Who forged and found them? Cut prqfue-

rint!''
(I take the phrase out of your Highness'

mouth)
**He who would gain by her fault and my

fall.
The trickster, schemer and pretender — he
Whose whole career was lie entaUing lie
Sought to be sealed truth by the worst lie

List I"

Ghiido rejoins — "Did the other end o' the

tale
Match this beginpingl 'T is alleged I prove
A murderer at the end, a man of force
Prompt, indiscriminate, effectual : good I



Digitized by



Google



466



THE RING AND THE BOOK



Then what need all this trifling woman Vwork,
Letters and embassies and weak intrigue,
When will and power were mine to end at once
Safely and surely ? Murder had oome first
Not last with such a man, assure yoniselyes I
The silent CLcquetta^ stilling at command —
A drop a da^r i* the wine or soup, the dose, —
The snattering beam that breaks above the

bed
And beats out brains, with nobody to blame
Except the wormy age which eats even oak, —
Nay, the stanch steel or trusty cord, — who

cares
I' the blind old palace, a pitfall at each step.
With none to see, much more to interpose
O' the two, three, oreeping-house-dog«eryaiit-

things
Bom mine and bred mine? Had I willed

cross death,
I had ^und nearer paths to thrust him prev
Than this that goes meandering here and there
Through half the world and calls down in its

course
Notice and noise, — hate, yengeanoe, should it

fail.
Derision and contempt though it succeed I
Moreover, what o' the future son and heir?
The unborn babe about to be called minCj —
What end in heaping all this shame on hmi.
Were I indifPerent to my own black share ?
Would I have tried these crookednesses, say.
Willing and able to effect the straight ? '^

** Ay, would you ! " — one may hear the priest

retort,
** Being as jou are, i* the stock, a man of guile,
And ruffianism but an added graft.
Ton, a bom coward, try a coward's arms.
Trick and chicane, — and <mly when these fail
Does violence follow, and like fox you bite
Caught out in stealing. Also, the disgrace
Tou nardly shrunk at, wholly shrivelled her :
You plunged her thin white delicate hand i'

the flame
Along with your coarse homy brutish fist.
Held them a second there, then drew out both
— Tours roughed a little, ners ruined through

and through.
Your hurt would heal forthwith at ointment's

touch —
Namely, succession to the inheritance
Which bolder crime had lost you: let things

change.
The birth o' the bov warrant the bolder crime.
Why, murder was determined, dared and done.
For me,'' the priest proceeds with his reply,
** The look o' the thmg, the chances of mistake,
All were against me, — that, I knew the first :
But, knowing also wnat my duty was,
I did it : I must look to men more stalled
In reading hearts than ever was the world."

Highness, decide I Pronounce, Her Excellency I

Or . . . even leave this axgonient in doubt.

Account it a fit matter^ taken up

With all its faces, mamfold enough.

To ponder on — what fronts us, the next stage.

Next legal process ? Ghiido, in pursuit,



Coming up with the fugitives at the inn.
Caused both to be arrested then and thm
And sent to Rome for judgment on the case —
Thither, with all his armory of proofe.
Betook himself : 't is there we 'II meet nim now,
Waiting the further issue.

Here yon smile :
**" And never let him henceforth diu« to plead —
Of all pleas and excuses in the world
For any deed hereafter to be done —
His irrepressible wrath at honor's wound !
Passion and madness irrepressible ?
Whv, Count and cavalier, the husband comes
And catches foe i' the very act of shame I
There 's man to man, — nature must have her

way, —
We look he should have cleared things on the

spot.
Yes, then, indeed— even though it prove he

erred —
Though the ambiguous first appearance, mount
Of soud injury, melt soon to mist.
Still, — had he slain the lover and the wife —
Or, since she was a woman and his wife.
Slain him, but stript her naked to the skin.
Or at best left no more of an attire
Than patch sufficient to pin paper to,
Some one love-letter, infamy and aU.
As passport to the Paphos fit for sucn.
Safe-conduct to her natural home the stews, —
Good I One had recognized the power o' the

pulse.
But when he stands, the stock-fish, — sticks to

law —
Offers the hole in his heart, all fresh and warm,
For scrivener's pen to poke and play about —
Can stand, can starci can tell jus beads per-

Oh, let us hear no syllable o' the rage I
Such rage were a convenient afterthought
For one who would have shown his teeth be-
like.
Exhibited unbridled rage enough.
Had but the priest been found, as was to hope.
In serge, not sUk, with crucifix, not sword :
Whereas the gray innocuous grub, of yore.
Had hatched a hornet, tickle to the touch,
The priest was metamorphosed into knight.
And even the timid wife, whose cue was —

shriek.
Bury her brow beneath his trampling foot, —
She too sprang at him like a pytnonees :
So, gulp down rage, passion must be postponed.
Calm be the word f Well, our word is — we

brand
This nart o' the business, howsoever the rest
Befall."

" Nay," interpose as prompt his friends —
" This is the world's way f So you adjudge re-
ward
To the forbearance and legality
Yourselves begin by inculcating — ay.
Exacting from us all with knife at tturoat !
This one wrong more you add to wrong's

amount, —
Yon publish all, with the kind comment here,
* Its victim was too cowardly for revenge.' "
Make it your own case, —you who stand aparti



Digitized by



Google



TERTIUM QUID



467



The husband wakes one mom from heary

sleep,
'Withatasteof poppyinhiBmoath, — rabsereaL
Finds his wife flown, his strong-box ransaoked

too.
Follows as he best can, oyertakes i' the end.
Ton bid him nse his privile^ : well, it seems
He 's scaiee oool-blooded enough for the right

more —
Does not shoot when the game were sure, bat

stands
Bewildered at the critical minnte, — since
He has the first flash of the fact alone
To judge from, act with, not the steady li^ts
Of after-knowledge. — touts who stand at ease
To try conclusions : ne 's in smother and smoke,
Ton outside, with explosion at an end :^
The sulphur may be lightning or a squib —
He 'U know in a minute, but till then, ne doubts.
Back from what you know to what he knew not I
Hear the priest's lofty ** I am innocent,"
The wife^s as resolute "You are guilty I"

Gome!
Are you not staggered ? — pause, and you lose

the move I
Naught left jan but a low appeal to law,
** Coward '' tied to your tail tor compliment I
Another consideration : haye it your way I
Admit the worst : his courage failed the Count,
He 's cowardly like the best o' the burgesses
He *8 grown incorporate with, — a yery cur.
Kick him from out your circle by all means I
Why, trundled down this reputable stair^
Still, the church-door lies wide to take lum in.
And the court-porch also : in he sneaks to

each,—-
''Yes, I haye lost my honor and my wife.
And, being moreoyer an ignoble hound.
I dare not jeopardize my Bfe for them I "
Religion and Law lean forward from their

chairs,
'* Well done, thou good and faithful senrant I "

Ay,
Not only applaud him that he scorned the world.
But punish should he dare do otherwise.
If the case be clear or turbid, — you must say I

Thus, anyhow, it mounted to the stage

In the law-coivts, — let 's see clearly from this

point! —
Where the priest teDs his storjr true or false.
And the wife her story, and the husband his,
All with result as happy as before.
The courts would nor condemn nor jet acquit
This, that or the other, in so distinct a sense
As end the strife to eiUier's absolute loss :
IVonounced, in place of something definite,
** Each of the parties, whether goat or aheep^
I' the main, has wool to show and hair to hide.
Each has brought somehow trouble, is somehow



Of pains enough, — eyen though no worse were

proyed.
Here is a husband, cannot rule his wife
Without proyoking her to scream and scratch
And scour the fields, —causelessly, it may be :
Here is that wife, — who makes her sex our

plague.



Wedlock, our bugbear, — periiaps with cause

enough:
And here is the truant priest o' the trio, worst
Or best — each <raality being coaeeiyable.
Let us impose a little mulct on each.
We punish youth in state of pupils^
Who talk at hours when youth is bound to



sleep,
ur the prattle turn upcm
Or Donna Olimpia of the Vatie



Whether Uie prattle turn upon Saint Rose



*T is talk, talked wisely or unwisely talked,
I* the dormitory where to talk at all
Transgresses, and is mulct : as here we mean.
For the wife, — let her betake herself, for rest.
After her run, to a House of Conyertiies —
Keep there, as good as real imprisonment :
Being sick and tired, she will recoyer so.
For Uie priest, spritely strayer out of bounds.
Who made Arexaso hot to hold him, — Rome
Profits by his withdrawal from the scene.
Let him be relegate to Ciyita,
Circumscribed by its bounds till matters mend :
There he at least lies out o* the way of harm
From foes — perhaps from the too mendly fair.
And finally for the husband, whose rash rule
Has but itself to blame for this ado, —
If he be yexed thai, in our judgments dealt.
He fails obtain what he accounts his right,
Let him go comforted with the thought, no less,
That, turn each sentence howsoeyerne may.
There *s satisfaction to extract therefrom.
For, does he wish his wife proved innocent ?
Well, she 's not guilty^ he may safely urge.
Has missed the stripes dishonest wives en-
dure —
This being a fatherl:^ pat o' the cheek, no more.
Does he wish her gtmty ? Were she otherwise
Would she be locked up, set to say her prayers,
Prevented intercourse with the outside world.
And that suspected priest in banishment.
Whose portion is a further help i' the case ?
Oh, ay, you all of you want the other thing.
The extreme of law, some verdict neat, com-
plete,—
£3ther. the whole o' the dowry in your poke
With full release from the false wife, to boot.
And heading, hanging for the priest, beside —
Or, contrary, claim freedom for the wife,
Repayment of each penny paid her spouse,
Amends for the past, releiBBe for the future!

Such
Is wisdom to the children of this world ;
But we 've no mind, we children of the light.
To miss the advantafire of the golden mean.
And' push things to the steel point.'' Thus the
courts.

Is it settled so far ? Settled or disturbed,
Console yourselves : H is like ... an instance,

now I
You've seen the puppets, of Place Navona,

play, —
Punch and his mate, — how threats pass, blows

are dealt.
And a crisis comes : the crowd or clai> or hiss
Accordingly as disposed for man or wife —
When down the actors duck awhile perdue.
Donning what novel rag^and-f eather trim



Digitized by



Google



468



THE RING AND THE BOOK



Bast raiti the next adTentare^ new effect :
And, — by the time the mob is on the more.
With eooieUitn^ like • judgment joro and con, —
There *• • whirtle, up esain the aoton pop
In t* other tatter with firedi-tinaelled ataTett
To r»-engaflre in one last worst fig^t more
8haU show, what yon thoneht tragedy was iaioe.
Note, that the elimax ana the erown of things
Inranably is, the deril appears himself,
Armed and aoooutxed, noma and hoofii and

tail!
Jnst so, nor otherwise it prored — yon H see :
MoTO to the mnrder, never mind the rest I

Onido, at soch a general dnok-down,

r the breathini^spaoe, — of wife to oonTent

herej
Priest to his relegation, and himself
To AreBO, — haa resigned his part peiforoe
To brother Abate, who bustled, did his best,
Betrieyed things somewhat, managed the three



Since, it should seem, there were three snits-ai-

law
Beloved him look to, still, lest bad grow worse :
First dvil suit, — the one the parents brought,
Impugning the legitimacy of his wife.
Affirming thence the nullity of her rights :
This was before the Rota, — Moling,
That 's judse there, made that notable decree
Which paruy leaned to Quido, as I said, —
But Pietro IumI appealed against the same
To the yery court will judge what we judge

now —
Tommati and his fellows, — Suit the first.
Next ciyil suit, — demand on the wife's part
Of separation nom the husband's bed
On piea of cruelty and risk to life ^
CUums restitution of the dowry paid.
Immunity from pmng any more :
This second, the Vicegerent has to judge.
Third and last suit, — this time, a criminal

one, —
Answer to, and protection from, both these, —
Guide's complaint of guilt against his wife
In the Tribunal of the Ooyemor,
Venturini, also judge of the present cause.
Three suits of all importance plaguing him
Beside a little priyate enterprise
Of Ouido's, — essay at a shorter cut.
For Paolo, knowing the right way at Rome,
Had, eyen while superintending these three

suits
I' the regular way^ each at its proper court.
Ingeniously made interest with the Pope
To set such tedious regular forxns aside.
And, acting the supreme and ultimate jud^.
Declare for the husband and against the wife.
Well, at such crisis and extreme of straits, —
The man at bay, buffeted in this wise, —
Happened the strangest accident of all.
*'Then," sigh friends, ** the last feather broke

fajsback,
Made him forget all possible remedies
Saye one — he rushed to, as the sole relief
From horror and the abominable thing."
" Or rather," Uugh foes, ''then did there be-

faU



The luckiest of oonoeiyable eyents^

Most pregnant with impunilj for him,

Whien henceforth turned tne flank of all at-

tacl^
And bade him do his wickedest and wotst."

— The wife's withdrawal from the Conyertitea,
Visit to the yilla y^iere her parents Hyed,
And birth there of his babe. Diyergenoe here/
I sinqdy take the facts, ask what tbsy ^w.

First comes this thunderclap of a snrpnse :
Then follow all the signs and silences
Premonitory of earthquake. Paolo first
Vanished, was swept off somewhere, lost to

Rome:
(Wells dry up^ while the sW is sunny and blue.)
Then Guido girds himself tor enterprise,
Hies to Vittiano, counsels with his steward.
Comes to terms with four peasants young and

bold.
And starts for Rome the Ho^, reaches her
At yery holiest, for 't is Christinas fiye.
And inakes straight for the Abate's oried-i^

font.
The lodge where Paolo ceased to work the

pipes.
And theoi, rest taken, obserration made
And plan completed, all in a grim week.
The fiye proceed in a body, reisch tiiie place,

— Pietro^ at the Paolina, silent, lone,
And stupefied by the propitious snow.

'Tis one i' the eyening: knock: a Toice.

"Who »s there?"
"ftiends with a letter from the priest your

friend.'»
At the door, straight smiles old Vlolante's self.
She falls, — her son-in-law stabs through and

throufi^

Reaches through her at Pietro — " With your

son
This is the way to settle suits, good sire I "
He bellows, " Mercy for heayen, not for earth I
Leaye to confess and saye my sinful soul,
Thdn do your pleasure on the body of me ! "

— " Nay, father, soul with body must take its



Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 92 of 198)