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Title: Clair de Lune - A Play in Two Acts and Six Scenes
Author: Strange, Michael
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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CLAIR DE LUNE

A Play in Two Acts and Six Scenes

by

MICHAEL STRANGE



G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York and London

The Knickerbocker Press
1921

Copyright, 1921
by
G. P. Putnam's Sons

Printed in the United States of America

All acting rights are reserved by the author. Application for the
rights of performing this play should be made to Michael Strange, who
may be addressed in care of the publishers.



CHARACTERS


THE COURT

THE QUEEN                 _Miss Ethel Barrymore_
THE DUCHESS OF BEAUMONT   _Miss Violet Kemble Cooper_
PRINCE CHARLES            _Mr. Henry Daniell_
PHEDRO                    _Mr. Herbert Grimwood_

A Chancellor, Courtiers, Ladies-in-Waiting, Lackeys, Maids


THE MOUNTEBANKS

URSUS--A Philosopher      _Mr. E. Lyall Swete_
DEA--A Blind Dancer       _Miss Jane Cooper_
ANOTHER DANCER            _Miss Olga Barowski_
GWYMPLANE--A Clown        _Mr. John Barrymore_

Drummer Boys, a Sailor



CLAIR DE LUNE


NOTE--Suggestions for the play, also the names of mountebanks and
villain, are taken from _L'Homme qui Rit_, by Victor Hugo.



ACT I



CLAIR DE LUNE



ACT I


SCENE 1

     [_An old park with avenues of trees leading away in all
     directions. Directly in background of stage there is a sheet of
     water fringed by willow and poplar trees. On the right and left
     is a high box hedge formed in curves with the top clipped in
     grotesque shapes mostly of birds. A statue is placed in the
     centre of each hedge, and beneath the statues are seats._

     _When the curtain rises several courtiers are discovered
     wandering or sitting about. There is much laughing and whispering
     behind fans._]

2D COURTIER

What an extraordinary evening! How calm the water is! It makes the
swans look exactly like topaz clouds reflecting in a titanic mirror.

A LADY

Yes. The sky is just as clear as the Queen's ear-rings of aquamarine.
A storm could hardly blow up out of such blueness, so the masque is
bound to be heavenly.

3D COURTIER [_approaching_]

I hate to interrupt your celestial jargon with human speech, but does
anybody know whether Phedro has been able to find the Prince and give
him the Queen's command?

LADY [_answering with frigid distinction_]

Probably not, but the Prince can never be found and is always
forgiven. It is much to be loved in secret by a----

1ST COURTIER [_laying finger on his lips_]

Hush!

2D COURTIER [_reprovingly_]

At court one must try not to think aloud or one is perhaps overheard
by--[_makes the motion of a blade across his throat_].

2D LADY

O nonsense! Why, Phedro confides in everybody, and so nobody ever
believes him. Yet he is always quite right.

2D COURTIER

He puts his nose into the dust that is swept out of great corners.
Indeed he looks in unthinkable places, and finds the incredible.

1ST COURTIER

Do you know what he told me lately?

LADY

I am ailing with curiosity.

1ST COURTIER

It was a fantastic tale about one of our own lot. Indeed about one
wearing strawberry leaves and with two very young sons growing up, and
she, apparently imagining the younger to be the living likeness,
growing plainer every day, of a former indiscretion, gives directions
to her favourite lackey to get rid of this wrong one and he, from
spleen, gives the honest child away. The lady dies shortly after; the
father never suspects anything. The bastard inherits, so the entire
tragedy was in vain.

3D COURTIER

Fear is always absurd. You should be quite sure you are found out
first; even then you have only to look rather sharply at anyone you
fear in order to reduce _Him_. Indeed, the best of defences is
presumption upon the brotherhood of sin.

A LADY

O how true!

PHEDRO

     [_A person of shifty, wizened visage enters. In a jocular tone._]

What is "O how true?" [_He glances about him._] You are all looking
very _en rapport_ with the Almighty. In fact as if He had been telling
you secrets. Did they concern me? I am always a prey to the desire of
hearing what is said--just before and just after I am in a room.

1ST COURTIER

     [_With much pomposity hiding his embarrassment._]

We were commanded to be in attendance on the Queen. Could you find
Prince Charles? You were sent to find him, were you not?

PHEDRO [_nodding to the right_]

I have achieved my significant purpose. The Prince is playing at
croquet with the Duchess, and says when the Queen arrives to let him
know.

1ST COURTIER

He is very casual. How very indiscreet of him!--to show so plainly his
passion for the Duchess.

PHEDRO

Oh no! Mountains cannot knock one another down. They can only be blown
up, from underneath [_smiles enigmatically_].

1ST COURTIER

You are difficult to follow.

PHEDRO

My lord, I am speaking in metaphor. It is a dodge I learned from the
poets.

3D COURTIER

I repeat, you are difficult and poetry is impossible to follow.
However, poetry is no longer the fashion.

     [_Takes a pinch of snuff, and looks with agreeable enmity at 2D
     COURTIER._]

PHEDRO [_deprecatingly_]

I merely try to match my words against your silks and laces, my lord.
But--her Majesty is approaching.

     [_Enter the QUEEN, a sharp-featured, neurotic-looking woman. One
     of her Cabinet is speaking earnestly to her and she is paying him
     scant attention._]

MINISTER

It is vitally necessary that we should discover upon what terms they
would capitulate.

QUEEN

Yes, and they must be heavily taxed for holding out so long. Imagine
other people presuming to be patriotic. It simply draws everything out
to such an absurd length. Ah, how irritable it makes me to think.
Phedro, where is the Prince, where is Prince Charles?

     [_During the last of her speech she withdraws her arm from the
     Minister's, who, seeing there is no further hope of holding her
     attention, withdraws respectfully and quite unobserved._]

PHEDRO

Attending impatiently the arrival of your Majesty upon the other side
of the copse. I go to make him aware of your presence.

     [_He bows himself out, and the QUEEN looking anxiously in the
     direction of the vanishing PHEDRO espies PRINCE CHARLES and the
     DUCHESS upon a lawn._]

QUEEN [_adjusting her lorgnette_]

How silly people look playing croquet. The Duchess appears to me
exactly like a bent hairpin.

2D COURTIER

     [_Looking also in the direction of the DUCHESS and half
     admiringly._]

Indeed, Madame, her Grace is too tall to look well bending down.

QUEEN [_turning upon him_]

I hope you are not hiding a mud-sling in your silk swallow-tail.
Perhaps you forget a courtier's principal duty should be the culture
of tact, and tact is nothing whatever but helping me exaggerate my
humours until I tire of them.

2D COURTIER

Indeed, indeed, Madame, your Majesty's brilliance blinds my eyes with
humility.

     [_Enter PRINCE CHARLES, a slender, exotic-looking gentleman._]

PRINCE

Dear Cousin, how delicious you are looking--so royal and alert. [_He
bends over her hand._] Ah! [_His vitality seems suddenly to leave him
at the thought._] I have just been trying to lessen Josephine's
habitual _ennui_ by making her my victim at croquet.

QUEEN

     [_With a slight lounge into sentimentality._]

I am sure she, like many others, is easily your victim--at croquet.
But come, let us be alone, let us dismiss this chain of faces, they
confine my thoughts. I would like to talk well, I would like to talk
fantastically, that is, I wish you would think of something original
for tonight's entertainment.

     [_She signals to the courtiers that they may leave._]

After all it is the prelude to your nuptials. Let us think of
something to surprise Josephine.

PRINCE

To _surprise_ Josephine! But nothing could surprise Josephine.

QUEEN

You are probably mistaken. I believe any reality would surprise her.
All her life she has watched life passing in a mirror. She has never
touched a thing--I think she has very curious hands. But let us----

     [_She perceives that some of the courtiers are still lingering
     about. Turns to them._]

I have several times intimated that you may disperse.

     [_Courtiers go out swiftly._]

[_Looking at Prince wistfully._] You can imagine that I am a little
sad today. There is a mist between me and everything else, the gardens
are dull, the flowers have lost their fragrance. A sirocco seems
blowing up from the graves of all young people who have never been
given a chance. Tell me, do you care much for Josephine?

CHARLES [_pompously_]

My Cousin, my Sovereign, this marriage has been arranged, I presume in
lieu of my lost brother, the Prince of Vaucluse, and apparently in
order further to quilt your Majesty's exchequer.

QUEEN [_interrupting him_]

Your poor brother; your poor brother; if it had been he, how much
heartbreak I would have been spared.

PRINCE

Which means, your Majesty?

QUEEN

That I have been talking to myself, and you have been listening, which
is ungallant, as if you were to let me put rouge on my nose instead of
on my cheeks without stopping me.

PRINCE

     [_Rather uneasily returning to a favourite subject._]

Well, your Majesty, now I have accustomed myself so long to the idea
of my marriage that it gives me pleasure and calm to dwell on it,
especially when I gaze upon Josephine's tapering regality--then I am
most inclined to think your esteemed father, our former King, was wise
in recommending it, and that Fate was not too unkind in disposing of
my half-brother in her own mysterious way.

     [_He smiles rather unpleasantly._]

QUEEN

     [_Who has not attended the last part of his speech._]

Yes. To provide at one clip for her--the child of his love, and for
me, the result of his duty, proved him a parent, a statesman, and,
tonight, I am a little inclined to think, a blackguard. However, you
know this marriage has none of my command in it and there are many
ways out.

     [_PHEDRO invisible to the QUEEN and the PRINCE slides into the
     shadow of a giant oak tree._]

PRINCE

You mean if either of us----

QUEEN

That if any charge of unworthiness could be brought by either of you
against the other, then it would be my duty even at the last hour----

PRINCE [_suddenly_]

Well, unfortunately, my various dissipations have only rendered me
romantic in the eyes of your court, and as for Josephine----

QUEEN

Ah, her appearance gives no clue to her mind [_with an attempted
lightness_], save occasionally there is too much scent on her cambric.

PRINCE

Why do you dislike Josephine?

QUEEN

I do not dislike her, but she behaves unbecomingly. She is very
arrogant. Arrogance does not become a bastard.

PRINCE [_in a teasing vein_]

You do dislike her. You hate her, even though she is your half-sister,
but I find her enchanting. I adore her cold, slender finger tips and
the perfection of her contemptuous profile. She moves exactly like a
swan.

QUEEN [_trying to control her emotion_]

At last you are giving yourself entirely away. I am hearing what I
know. Ugh! how doubly unpleasant!

PRINCE

Why should I not give myself away to you, Cousin?

QUEEN

You mean I am powerless to harm either of you.

PRINCE

Why should you wish to harm us?

QUEEN

There are many things you might not understand; for instance, there is
a love that is half hatred. It is sprinkled into life in a rather
strange manner--by wounds. However, I am becoming sentimental and I
hate sentimentality. It reminds me of people with colds in their heads
who have lost their pocket handkerchiefs.

PRINCE [_in evident uneasiness_]

Madame, your eloquence is remarkable, but to say that you are
mysterious is all that I dare to say.

QUEEN

You dare to say what you want to say [_bitterly_]. You have courage
enough to satisfy your curiosities like everybody else, but I have
always noticed that when people are not curious their manners become
extraordinary. However, we are forgetting about the fête. Let us call
Phedro.

PRINCE [_bowing_]

With pleasure.

     [_He calls. PHEDRO emerges after a few seconds at an entirely
     different angle from the place where he was concealed._]

PHEDRO

Majesty.

QUEEN

     [_Addressing him in a peremptory voice._]

It is my wish that you should think of something bizarre to be
included in the festivities of tonight. The Prince and myself do not
seem able to put our minds on it.

PHEDRO

I think most certainly, Majesty, there should be something bizarre
about these festivities, but Majesty----

     [_He makes her a low bow._]

QUEEN [_interrogatively_]

Yes?

PHEDRO [_sliding up to her_]

Could I beg a moment alone with your Majesty? For it would be my
humble view that both _fiancés_ share the surprise.

QUEEN

     [_Turning to the PRINCE with a gesture of dismissal._]

Go along, Charles. At any rate you have a sort of sleight-of-hand
manner of looking at your watch that makes me rather nervous.

PRINCE

     [_Taking her hand, and becoming mischievously eloquent with
     relief._]

Then, _au revoir_, my Cousin. When this garish day is drowned in the
sapphire pool of night, and we are all like pallid flowers tossed
upon moody currents of mysterious desire, perhaps--who knows? our
petals may touch in that tender gloom of night and music.

     [_Bends tenderly, whimsically over her hand._]

QUEEN

     [_Gazing after his exit enraptured, once more hopeful, then
     turning to PHEDRO._]

Ah, Phedro, what joy there is in being foolish!

PHEDRO

Pleasure has two extremes, Madame. One is to have your lover in your
arms, the other is to have him in your power.

QUEEN [_pacing up and down_]

I must have one or the other. What can be done. Think for me, advise
me. I am too unstrung to think for myself. When one wants a thing very
much, everything blurs.

PHEDRO

There are many voices whispering all together in my mind. In a little
perhaps one will be louder than the rest--then we may plan.

QUEEN

But the fête. We are continually forgetting about the fête.

PHEDRO

     [_Thinking, with his finger against his lips._]

Out of one purpose often comes another perfected.

QUEEN

You are talking in enigmas, and it is growing late. See how long and
slender the poplar shadows are getting on the grass. When the wind and
sun touch them they look a little like obelisks flashed over with
strange writings.

PHEDRO

Your Majesty is adding the accomplishment of a poet to the genius of a
sovereign.

QUEEN [_shivering_]

No, I would not like to be a poet. They are always dying of _ennui_ or
madness. But, Phedro, to the point.

PHEDRO [_suddenly_]

Majesty, some mountebanks arrived at the park lodge last night. They
crave to play before your Majesty.

QUEEN [_coming out of a reverie_]

Are they dancers, or do they act plays?

PHEDRO

Their performance I understand is peculiar. One of them is blind, the
other is deformed in some way. With them is a doctor of philosophy,
one who heals the scars of flesh or heart with powders or words
befitting the case.

QUEEN [_wanly_]

They do not sound original.

PHEDRO

And yet from the effect they stir there must be something. It appears
the clown causes those who are incurably sad to faint with laughter.

QUEEN

It would be charming to laugh, to be unable to help laughing. Have
them sent to my porter in the northern wing and I will interview them
before the masque. Ah, here comes the Duchess leaning upon her
Prince's arm. I must say she looks as if there might be something more
amusing to lean upon.

     [_Enter JOSEPHINE and the PRINCE._]

QUEEN

Well, Josephine.

DUCHESS

Well, my sister.

     [_Sighs and stoops over a bed of heliotrope._]

QUEEN

Why are you so melancholy, Josephine? You are standing in the portals
of joy--I confess they do not appear very much to intrigue you.

DUCHESS

Possibly I am melancholy because I am not curious.

QUEEN [_sarcastically_]

No, rocks could hardly be curious about the waves or the wrecks
washing against them. Come, Phedro.

     [_She goes. PRINCE bows after the QUEEN and then comes back to
     the DUCHESS._]

PRINCE

Beauty like yours is a penance for other women to regard. You are very
like an exquisite temple in which there is no god. Yet I would not put
a god in your temple.

DUCHESS [_rather bored_]

No? What would you put there?

PRINCE

In the very centre of your temple I would place a faun with swift,
strange limbs, crisp, serpentine hair, and the smile of a demon.

DUCHESS [_turning to him slowly_]

The smile of a demon? I think that would be enchanting. Ah, how tired
I am, I think I will go and rest. What in the world is one tired from?
What does one rest for----

     [_She pauses in rather a lost manner._]

PRINCE

Yes, do go and rest, for tomorrow you must be radiant as a new-blown
flower in the first rays of the sun.

DUCHESS

     [_Turning to him with a faint curiosity._]

I suppose that afterwards my appearance will please you, even if my
spirits are never particularly high.

PRINCE

I do not care about your spirits. I do not care about your soul. I
love the pliant rippling motion of your pensive youth. I love your
imperial beauty, for it throws open the last sealed chambers of my own
fancy.

DUCHESS

Fancy--fancy--I have fancied so many things.

     [_The sound of an approaching flute is heard together with the
     creaking of a carriage._]

A strange sound, what can it be?

     [_During the ensuing speeches the creaking and the flute come
     nearer._]

PRINCE

Josephine, our life together will be exquisite. It will be as the
lives of the Romans in Greece--a bacchanale of peculiar formalities.
We will bury conscience in the poppy-haunted air of exhausting
revelry. We will----

DUCHESS

O Charles, you talk exactly like those men who design my dresses, but
look----

     [_Her eyes are riveted upon a curious cavalcade crossing from
     right to left of stage, first a very small house on wheels drawn
     by a large wolf-dog; at its side, walking, an old man, his head
     bent in deep thought. He wears the cap and gown of a doctor of
     philosophy. After him, with dark hair falling almost to the
     ground about her pallid face, is walking a girl of extraordinary
     beauty. She is looking rigidly ahead of her and is being guided
     by a white ribbon suspended from the back of the cart. A few
     paces behind her comes a sinuous, coffee-skinned slave girl with
     that erect majesty of one who has worn crowns or carried water
     pitchers through generations. Behind the slave follows the flute
     player, a mountebank, horribly twisted in some manner not visible
     in the twilight. The PRINCE, who has permitted the carriage to go
     by him in a wonderment intensified by the beauty of the blind
     girl, walks over to the mountebank._]

PRINCE [_arrogantly_]

Who are you all? What are you doing here?

     [_Instead of answering, the mountebank hastily puts his flute
     into his pocket and executes a handspring, the third taking him
     altogether behind the scene, while from the front of the
     cavalcade, comes a high, cracked voice in answer to the PRINCE'S
     question._]

A VOICE

We are players, your Highness, mountebanks commanded for the pleasure
of the Queen.

     [_The DUCHESS has grown very white and is standing with her hand
     pressing her heart._]

DUCHESS

What was that tune he played upon his flute, and what dreadful thing
was the matter with him?

PRINCE

I do not know, but as she walked by her face was beautiful. It was
like a prayer coming into the presence of God.

DUCHESS [_regarding the PRINCE sharply_]

Really? What can be speaking in you? Surely not yourself?

     [_She laughs shrilly and exits. The flute continues to play. The
     PRINCE absorbed, unheeding her departure, stands looking after
     the mountebanks._]


_CURTAIN_


SCENE 2

     [_In the palace grounds at night. Lanterns are suspended
     everywhere from the trees. The front of the players' cart is seen
     protruding up-stage left. The philosopher is seated on the steps
     of the car smoking a pipe. The blind girl with strange, tentative
     footsteps and feeling hands is busy with duties around the
     cart._]

DEA

Think of it; we are in the park of the Queen, and these lilies
and roses are brushed every day by the silken stir of her
ladies-in-waiting.

URSUS

Well, I do not feel much elated at being here. An ambition gained
is an ambition lost, and I am too old to have many ambitions.

DEA

It is wonderful to be in the park of the Queen--to think that the
shade of these same trees darkens her jewels at midday, and that
through them is cast over her a shawl of glittering ribbons upon
moonlight nights.

URSUS [_patting her shoulder and smiling_]

Joy makes poets out of all of us. [_Half to himself_] But it is only a
poet who can sing in the clutches of death and pain.

DEA [_very thoughtfully_]

Yet underneath all my joy I am thinking hard tonight of the beginning
of things. I wonder, I wonder is it because I am nearing the end of
things.

URSUS

Dea, dearest, you are not ill tonight? You have not again those
flutterings in your heart?

DEA

Not more than I can bear. How good Gwymplane has been to me! I wish I
had been old enough to see him on the night he got lost, and found me
in the snow on my dead mother's breast, and God led us to you.

URSUS

I do not wish to think of that night. You were like a tiny, frozen
rose-petal, and he--he was so small himself it didn't seem possible
he could have carried you all the way and God----

     [_URSUS covers his face with his hands and speaks in a low
     voice._]

When you were both under the lamp I asked him what he found to smile
at. I asked him roughly to stop smiling.

DEA [_happily_]

Yes, Gwymplane always smiles, doesn't he? He must have a very
contented spirit. I wish that I could see his smile. How it provokes
other people to laugh!

     [_URSUS looks at her pityingly, and pats her on the shoulder._]

I smile and weep a great deal lately over my love for Gwymplane, and I
am frightened about one thing.

URSUS

What is that?

DEA

That someone is going to make him unhappy.

URSUS

Gwymplane worships you. While you are singing and smiling I do not
think anything could make him unhappy.

DEA

I hope not. You know I feel that he has given his soul into my hands
and that I must take care of it as I would a little child. Yes, I feel
as if Gwymplane were my child, and yet something more than my child
that makes my heart bound and my song tremble into silence.

     [_A nightingale sings in the distance._]

URSUS

My Dea!

DEA

Tell me, Ursus, Gwymplane is so wonderful. He--he attracts everyone
so. Does he never notice any especial person in the audience? Some one
whom he attracts?

URSUS

No, Dea, and you need never worry about that. Gwymplane will never
love or be beloved save by you.

DEA

Ah, how good it is to hear that! How beautiful tonight is! I would
like to sit forever like this, very near to you and talking of
Gwymplane.

     [_A sudden voice almost at their elbow. Enter PHEDRO._]

PHEDRO

But everyone is talking of Gwymplane.

     [_URSUS rising whispers to DEA to go._]

Why do you dismiss your beautiful daughter? Her pallor, her most
haunting stare, have already sown chaos in the heart of a certain
important personage.

URSUS

Leave me, Dea.

     [_DEA silently exits._]

Who are you who visit us so abruptly?

PHEDRO [_whimsically_]

I think I am a cork upon very troubled waters.

URSUS

That does not answer me enough.

PHEDRO

Then I am a web binding men and women while they sleep to unexpected
things.

URSUS

Ah, you are a trouble maker?

PHEDRO

No--but I discover what is unusual in the senses of one person and in
the circumstances of another person--Indeed, I have had a splendid
training.

URSUS

Where?

PHEDRO

I have been--but I was almost showing you the colour of the water I
rose from.

URSUS

Well, I have no curiosity.

PHEDRO

That is exactly why one wishes to talk to you. Curiosity in other
people always makes me terribly suspicious. I remember suddenly the
reasons that can make _me_ curious. Now I can talk to you, for one
feels you might not even listen, so you couldn't possibly care enough
to repeat. I was a lackey once.

URSUS

A sordid position.

PHEDRO

     [_Becomes slightly frenzied during his speech._]

Yes. A servant is something to absorb the spittle of their
irritability. A hand to arrange the pages of their private diary when
they get stuck together with filth; and above all a presence between
them and the mirror during those grey dawn hours when passing it, they
are likely to see themselves as they are. Ah, then one must be armed
with the eloquence of Cato to reassure these sow's ears that they are
still silk purses. Otherwise the devil has to be bought off in the
morning and with three times the effort. One thing they never count
on, however.

URSUS

And that?

PHEDRO

The effect on another human being of their absurdity and the passion
of malice they rouse from a too long concealed contempt.

URSUS [_looking at him curiously_]

Contempt is the armour of snakes.

PHEDRO [_his face undergoing a change_]

Is it truly, my fine gentleman? Well, my mind has been wandering and
stumbled on a _cul-de-sac_ as usual. Ah, the hope of being
understood--it is almost extinct. However, if I cannot be understood,
I shall, nevertheless, be felt.

URSUS

Well, what do you want of me? I am a philosopher and as such am not
occupied with any sort of facts.

PHEDRO

I suppose not. You philosophers are blind men in dark rooms looking
for the footprints of shadows, are you not?

URSUS [_smiling_]

Not at all. We philosophers have merely learned to practice humour in
the presence of what is commonplace. But what is it you do want of
me?

PHEDRO

What everybody wants--to talk about Gwymplane.

URSUS

Well?

PHEDRO

Have you had this gold mine with you long?

URSUS

Years and years.

PHEDRO

You bought him, I suppose, from some travelling show?

URSUS

No, he came to me of his own accord, and yet by accident.

PHEDRO

Was he riding the wind? And did it drop him by chance upon your knees?

URSUS

He came by accident. He remains of his own accord.

PHEDRO

Curious.

URSUS

What is curious?

PHEDRO

The irrelevancy of my mind.

URSUS

Of what were you thinking?

PHEDRO

Tell me, did you--did you--ever hear of the Comprachicos?

URSUS

Yes--why?

PHEDRO

Inhuman people they must have been.

URSUS

Not more so than those who gave them their practice.

PHEDRO

They have provided most of the circuses that roam around the world
with freaks.

URSUS

They had a great knowledge of surgery.

PHEDRO

Yes. They had an amusing way of putting young children into a
press--young children whose existence it would have been very
uncomfortable to admit in certain glittering circles. This press was
shaped like a bottle so that the growth became abnormal, and when the
press was lifted the human form had already attained the shape of a
bottle. They could also print everlastingly rather strange expressions
upon the human countenance.

URSUS [_starts_]

Yes, yes, I have heard of that.

PHEDRO

However, even such people were afraid to die.

URSUS

During the death of the worst person his soul shines through for a
moment.

PHEDRO [_rather uncomfortable_]

Well, well, to go back. A strange story came under my authority
written by one of these Comprachicos.

URSUS

Really, how was that?

PHEDRO

You know I am an official.

URSUS

Of what sort?

PHEDRO

I am the examining magistrate of all the jetsam from the sea that is
washed from anywhere whatever upon our shores.

URSUS

That is an original position!

PHEDRO

It was created for me by the Queen to whom I have rendered much
service. But I was saying that a most extraordinary story happened
along in a medicine bottle that had floated for years upon the sea.

URSUS

Ump!

PHEDRO

Ah--it was a long confession, and it had floated for about fifteen
years in the sea.

     [_He is watching URSUS narrowly._]

URSUS [_starting visibly_]

PHEDRO

What were you about to say?

URSUS

When one has talked to one's self for a great many years it is hard to
hold one's tongue in public.

     [_Enter the PRINCE--debonair and haughty. PRINCE ignores
     PHILOSOPHER and pulls PHEDRO aside._]

PRINCE

Well! What have you arranged?

PHEDRO

My lord--the desires of youth are swifter than my wits. Yet I have
tried.

PRINCE

Nonsense.... No rhetoric.... What is accomplished?

PHEDRO

It will be easily managed. I have your keys.

PRINCE

Is she willing?

PHEDRO

Innocence is always obliging at such a moment.

PRINCE

Neither the Queen nor the Duchess must have an inkling of this.

PHEDRO

No, my lord.

PRINCE

Tonight and tomorrow night.... What contrasts! Two crimes! A secret
and a public one!

PHEDRO

My lord is sardonic.

     [_URSUS after looking at them for a few moments has wandered off
     to the cart, and is seen making preparations for the evening's
     performance. There is the sound of DEA'S singing._]

PRINCE

Ah, how exquisite! I think I shall go and speak with her!

PHEDRO [_detaining him_]

Better not, my lord, much better not.

PRINCE [_shaking him off_]

All right, all right. Only don't insist, don't irritate me or I shall
spite myself.... I cannot bear to take any one's advice.

PHEDRO

Nor do you, my lord. I merely reminded you of the presence of your own
common sense.

PRINCE

     [_A pettish grimace flashing across his countenance_]

I hope this performance may make the Duchess forget herself for a few
moments. She has seemed more than ordinarily bored today.

PHEDRO [_murmuring_]

To be so matchless as her Grace is as bad as being blind. It gives one
nowhere to look.

PRINCE

She is perfection outside; inside--I do not know. Where is that
distorted fellow that bounded away from me in the darkness just before
dinner?

PHEDRO

Oh--Gwymplane--he is probably off somewhere charming the birds awake
with his flute.

PRINCE [_in reverie_]

Yes, Josephine is magnificent. Yet I think there is a strange grimace
upon the face of her soul. I am longing to find out what is at the
bottom of her smile. Ah, I shall be the first to bathe in her
delights. It is a most invigorating thought.

     [_He plucks a flower and places it in his buttonhole._]

PHEDRO

My lord finds it enchanting to be the first?

PRINCE

It is the only enchantment. If you were a real man, you would know
that, Phedro, but if you were really a man I could not confide in
you.

PHEDRO [_winces then recovers himself_]

My lord was saying----

PRINCE [_in a mood of reverie_]

That passion yearns for surprises--and love hankers after peace.

PHEDRO

And in your marriage, my lord?

PRINCE

I yearn for surprises. Of course the right sort of surprises.

PHEDRO

You will get them, my lord.

PRINCE

     [_Who is not attending him but listening to Dea's song._]

What?

PHEDRO

My sixth sense whispers to me, my lord, that you are on the eve of
many surprises.

     [_The noise of the wand of the COURT STEWARD is heard pounding
     through the park._]

AN APPROACHING VOICE

The Queen's court is arriving. The Queen's court precedes the Queen.
See that the performance is ready. See that the performance is ready.

     [_The voice dies away. There is the sound of much commotion in
     the vicinity of the cart. The voice of DEA ceases and someone
     calls: GWYMPLANE! GWYMPLANE answering distantly: Yes. URSUS:
     Hurry. GWYMPLANE: I come. The PRINCE and PHEDRO steal quickly
     away._]


_CURTAIN_


SCENE 3

     [_Courtiers entering. A lady looking through her lorgnette._]

A LADY

I hope this is not going to be too boring.

3D COURTIER

Ah, that, Madame, is the pleasure-seeker's prayer. Save me this night
from being bored to death.

2D COURTIER [_a great dandy_]

I hope they have enchanting costumes, and that they are well perfumed.

     [_He smells a scrap of lace._]

LADY

I hear he is remarkable.

2D COURTIER

Who?

LADY

The mountebank, I forget his name. He has a Latin name besides, which
I forget also, but they say that when he appears....

COURT USHER [_announces_]

The Queen.

     [_The Queen arrives surrounded by a brilliant court. JOSEPHINE
     attends her, dressed entirely in silver and wearing immense
     emeralds. Her hair is very formally powdered, and she wears a
     cherry-coloured cloak. A coloured slave in black moiré carries
     her train._]

QUEEN

I am not in a mood for laughing tonight. [_She glances at Josephine._]
At any rate it is always singularly depressing to go anywhere in order
to laugh. And if this clown causes me even to smile he shall have some
rare reward.

     [_Seats herself upon a raised dais. Courtiers group themselves
     around her. Most of the ladies have seats. Many of the gentlemen
     sit at their feet._]

JOSEPHINE

     [_Listlessly fluttering her fan; she is on the left of the QUEEN
     and near the audience._]

How tedious! For what are they delaying?

PRINCE [_standing over her_]

We are scarcely seated.

JOSEPHINE

Waiting is so tedious. It puts me in a bad humour, and I lose my
enthusiasm.

PRINCE

Before you have quite found it, eh?

     [_A gong sounds. Two stalwart men move the cart to left centre of
     stage; with a click the sides of the carriage are flung open and
     a stage about twelve feet wide and four feet above the ground
     appears. In the back is a green curtain, ornamented with
     constellations. Suddenly a grotesque figure completely hooded and
     masked, attended by two small drummer boys, makes its appearance.
     The figure squats upon the floor in direct centre of stage. The
     drummers seat themselves beside it and all three begin to play;
     the attendants upon their drums, the centre figure upon a flute.
     No human part of him can be seen, save his hands which are
     remarkably beautiful, sensitive and pallid. He moves them with
     extraordinary grace. He plays upon his flute an air from India.
     Suddenly upon the stage above him appears a Hindu girl. She
     executes a sinuous pantomimic dance of youth and desire. The
     figure playing upon the flute gradually turns his back to the
     audience and facing the dancer continues to play. Finally the
     dancer, noticing her admirer, commences to dance for him alone.
     The music becomes more breathless; the hooded figure plays a
     screaming tone upon his flute. Immediately a third slave, attired
     as a drummer, rushes out and catches his flute from the green
     masque, who jumps upon the stage, and seizing the dancer,
     savagely--gracefully, about her slim waist, dances with her, at
     once tenderly and primitively._]

QUEEN

What agility and strength the man has got. He has made me catch my
breath already, which is far better than to laugh.

JOSEPHINE

He dances like a demon over burning altars.

PRINCE

What was that, Josephine?

JOSEPHINE

Don't distract my attention.

PRINCE [_laughing_]

Attention? Attention? Why, Josephine, I never knew that gift was among
your talents!

JOSEPHINE

Sh! Sh!

     [_During the dance, the Hindu girl becomes more and more
     enamoured of her partner, who eludes and attacks her in a perfect
     frenzy of grace and passion. Finally she tries to unmask him or
     to pull off his cloak, without success. A chime is heard. The
     drummers play a strange, sinister march. An old man enters--the
     slave owner. He sees his slave in the arms of one whom she
     obviously loves, and rushes at the masked figure with his sword.
     At this the green mask flings the girl away from him, tears off
     his mask, throws open his coat and stands revealed before the
     slave owner, but with his back to the audience. The man is about
     to let fall his sword when he looks upon what he is about to
     kill. Gradually his jaw drops with amazement and he lets out a
     terrible yell of laughter. The slave girl who has stood watching
     him, now creeps round to see what is causing him so much mirth,
     and gazing up suddenly into the face of her partner utters a
     shriek of horror and runs from the stage. The slave owner follows
     her, his sides shaking with laughter. The figure stands rigidly
     transfixed, his back still to the audience._]

JOSEPHINE [_leaning forward eagerly_]

What can he be like! I wish he would turn round.

PRINCE

You seem interested, Josephine. Do these wretched mummers really ...

     [_But JOSEPHINE is leaning forward intently for the music has
     begun again. This time the figure is doing a strange dance of
     loneliness and search for his departed partner, his mask lies
     upon the ground, but he shields himself with his cloak.
     Occasionally in the wildness of his dance it slips a little,
     permitting glimpses of parts of his face._]

QUEEN [_suddenly in a tone of fright_]

What is it the man has upon his face? Is it a great scar?

JOSEPHINE

No! No! It is his mouth that is like that.

     [_Her excitement is obviously gathering to an almost unbearable
     point as the dance proceeds. In a low voice:_]

Oh, he is deformed, he is terribly deformed, his shoulders are not
abreast of one another. Or is it some devil's head squatting upon his
body of an angel.

A VOICE

No, it is his legs; they are bent in opposite directions.

A VOICE

No wonder the lady will not come back to him!

     [_GWYMPLANE'S dance seems to be reaching a climax; he has nosed
     about the floor like a dog; he has tried to leap over the roof
     in order to discover his lost sweetheart, and now he turns facing
     the audience, his arms outstretched in pitiful dejection. There
     is an instant's deep silence, and then a great laugh rings out
     from the audience. The QUEEN herself rocks to and fro, backward
     and forward behind her fan. JOSEPHINE starts forward, in her face
     a mixture of amusement, giving gradually way to some sinister
     thought which makes her gaze fixedly at the mountebank with
     parted lips. Her unswerving glance at length draws his eyes
     towards her and for one single instant their glances seem to pass
     through one another--the exquisite duchess, the grotesque clown.
     No one has seen the look, save PHEDRO, who wipes his lips with an
     expression of intense amusement. Suddenly from behind GWYMPLANE
     steps DEA, and he returns with an almost imperceptible start to
     his act. Seeing this lovely apparition, he throws himself at her
     feet, and she, apparently perceiving him, does not repel him but
     puts her slim hands in his wild hair, and they go through some
     tender motions to an exquisite melody upon the flute. Gradually
     with gestures of pity and love she invites him to go with her,
     and he hardly believing is about to be led away, when suddenly
     the oriental melody begins again. The dancer appears. She glances
     at GWYMPLANE with the hypnotized fascination of utter horror. DEA
     attempts drawing GWYMPLANE away, but he resists, becoming again a
     victim to the old charm. The slave girl, with a wild gesture,
     offers herself to him. Simultaneously, DEA motions him with
     prayer to go with her. He makes some pitiful indecisive motions
     between them. DEA wrings her hands; the slave girl smiles; when,
     with a sudden gesture of despair, GWYMPLANE takes out his knife
     and makes a motion of cutting out his heart, then sinks upon the
     ground, and suddenly holds up his heart dripping with blood in
     his two pale hands. The slave girl tries to snatch it, but he
     gives it to DEA, who presses it against her own. GWYMPLANE
     breathes his last, and the slave, falling at the feet of DEA,
     licks the blood from the heart of her dancer off the floor._

     _Miniature curtain descends to some strange music recalling the
     chimes of a clock._]

QUEEN

What an extraordinary pantomime! I think these mummers act too well.
They will leave a memory, and I have far too many memories already.

JOSEPHINE

     [_Trying to conceal the impression the play has made on her._]

I shall never have any memories. When the door closes I shall forget.

PRINCE

Perhaps you are not so agile as you think. Something of you may catch
in the door when it slams, and go on aching forever.

QUEEN [_tolerantly_]

Inexperience can always afford to be a little ridiculous, can it not?
[_rises_] Well, it has all been very entertaining. I have really
immensely enjoyed myself.

     [_Turning to her courtiers and taking a brooch from her lace._]

I think we should give the clown some token of tonight's amusement.
[_to a servant_] Go and tell Messire Gwymplane to attend us.

PRINCE

The performance of this mountebank has agitated me. [_passing his hand
over his brow._] I want to forget something in motion, in motion.

JOSEPHINE

     [_Looking at him and at the QUEEN, and twinkling with a sort of
     spiteful mischief._]

It will be delicious to dance tonight. The starving should dance, the
replete should dream! Come! [_takes his arm_]

PRINCE

What an exquisite thing for you to say to me--just at this moment.

     [_QUEEN glances at them with an expression of pain and hatred. An
     attendant approaches the QUEEN, who breaks sharply out of her
     reverie._]

QUEEN

You have not brought the clown?

ATTENDANT

The owner of the van begs indulgence of your Majesty. The clown has
wandered off somewhere, as is his habit, and cannot be found.

QUEEN

How annoying! Well, the amusement I should have had in giving him this
is really the only reason for such a gift.

     [_Replaces her brooch and turns to an attendant._]

Tell these mountebanks to leave the palace grounds before dawn.

ATTENDANT

Yes, your Majesty. [_bows himself out_]

JOSEPHINE

I am glad he did not appear. He would have been horrible to look at
closely.

PRINCE

You are cold. Let me arrange your cloak more closely about your
shoulders.

QUEEN

Wrap my dear sister by all means, Charles, but if you can--from the
inside out.

     [_Continues her conversation with a courtier._]

JOSEPHINE [_in a low voice_]

How she dislikes me! But dislike is amusing when the hours are just
ending that make one the slave of its temper.

PRINCE [_bending over her_]

Tomorrow, Josephine.... Tomorrow you will be safe forever from her
rudeness. She will need us; our united fortunes will be the bank for
her gambling.

JOSEPHINE

Ah! tomorrow--tomorrow!

QUEEN

Josephine, take your prince and await me in the ballroom.

JOSEPHINE [_glancing toward the cart_]

It is very pleasant here, your Majesty. The air is cool so far away
from candlelight, and I have an inclination to headache.

QUEEN

Why, a moment ago you said, "Let us dance," to which you added as your
own a quotation from something you had read.

JOSEPHINE

     [_Who has been edging nearer the cart and looking with curiosity
     about her._]

Idle people are moody, your Majesty, but if ...

QUEEN [_sharply_]

It is my pleasure that you should await me in the ballroom.

JOSEPHINE

Your Majesty....

     [_Bowing low and taking the arm of the PRINCE, looks up archly
     into his eyes._]

We will ask the musicians to play one of those new waltzes, that make
me close my eyes quite up with delight.

     [_PRINCE gazing enraptured, leads her out._]

QUEEN

     [_Furiously, turning to PHEDRO who has flitted in and out since
     the cessation of the performance, in a low voice._]

I would speak to you. [_to courtiers_] You are at liberty to precede
me to the ballroom.

     [_Courtiers go out._]

QUEEN [_leaning against a balcony_]

Ah, Phedro!

PHEDRO [_answering her tone_]

My Majesty, my sovereign star.

QUEEN

It is growing late and still nothing has been done. I cannot see that
there is anything to do. Oh what discomfort!

PHEDRO

Your Majesty's eyes are too full of pain to see clearly perhaps.

QUEEN

I am obsessed by a dream, and in this dream my whole life lies snared
and gasping.

     [_DEA appears in the background of the cart, arranging things for
     the night. PHEDRO glances at her quickly and then back at the
     QUEEN._]

PHEDRO

There is a loose stone in every wall if one scratches long enough, yet
in taking one's desire there may be surprises, unpleasant surprises.

QUEEN

But if ever one clutches the echo of one's own heart, what difference
if a pox of madness seize the whole world?

PHEDRO

If you are willing to mean always what you feel now, your Majesty.

QUEEN

Don't talk absurdly, Phedro. Always is never more than now. And now is
ever a part of eternity. Ah, I will make you more than you would dare
ask if there is something to be done and you do it. Only I would
rather not know the means. I would rather not be mixed up in the brew
or it might sicken me afterwards to drink--of the Spring of Life.

PHEDRO

May I beg for the reason of my scheme to be left by your Majesty for a
little?

QUEEN

Yes, yes, I go, Phedro. Oh, I would not have this if I thought it
would deprive him of anything he really wanted, but he is ephemeral,
aesthetic--in fact, he is a poet and doesn't really care for people.
It is only for what they can make him feel that he likes them. Ah, how
fascinating it is in him to be like that!

     [_PHEDRO bows over her hand, and she goes out. Sound of DEA'S
     singing comes very near the stage. PHEDRO hides behind some tall
     shrubbery. DEA steps out, tenderly sniffing the air._]

DEA

At last the Queen is gone; the night is mine. What a fragrance, what
an exciting fragrance! It is as if all the rose petals in the world
were fighting in the air!

PHEDRO [_stepping out, masked_]

Fighting in the air and in the dark, but that is human destiny, my
dear young lady.

DEA [_starting_]

Who are you?

PHEDRO

A deep and disinterested friend of yours.

DEA

It is late.... I must be ... [_attempts to leave_]

PHEDRO

Tell me ... whom would you like to help most in the world?

DEA [_gaily and innocently_]

Him whom I love most in the world.

PHEDRO

Ah, that is Gwymplane.

DEA

How did you guess?

PHEDRO

You are too innocent to understand the keeping of secrets, but if you
wish to render Gwymplane a service ...

DEA

I should like to more than to live ...

PHEDRO

Well, take this letter in your hands tonight ... to where I shall lead
you, and give it to whom I shall appoint to receive it.

DEA

But explain ...

PHEDRO

There is little I may tell you, and much that you will have to
believe. I know of Gwymplane unknown facts that would make him
respected and rich to the end of his days, and of course you would not
wish him always to remain a clown.

DEA

I love him too much to detain him in the little area of my wishes. Yet
why should _I_ carry this note?

PHEDRO

Because it must reach her Majesty by you before dawn.

DEA

Her Majesty? Shall I approach her Majesty?

PHEDRO

You will observe many distinguished persons tonight, and at close
range.

DEA

What shall I say?

PHEDRO

That you know, that you carry proof that Gwymplane is fully entitled
to all the immediate riches and respect this letter begs for him.

DEA

Oh, it will be wonderful to tell the Queen that Gwymplane is entitled
to immediate riches and respect. How happy he shall be made at my
hands!

PHEDRO [_half aside_]

Just so much chance have any of us got at the hands of those who love
us.

     [_Sound of a flute is heard._]

DEA

Gwymplane is coming!

PHEDRO [_walking swiftly to DEA_]

Mind what I tell you. Walk, feel your way down this long avenue of
cypress to your right, and stop at the first white marble door you
touch upon your left. Wait there for me. When I come I shall imitate
the call of a cuckoo in order that the attendants may open to us
immediately.

     [_DEA goes out hurriedly. GWYMPLANE saunters in with his strange,
     twisted walk._]

PHEDRO

You roam late in solitude among the damp grasses. Does that not make
you too melancholy for jests?

GWYMPLANE

My ability to jest was affixed upon me by the gods in one of their
humorous moments; however, anything may be written in the parchment
under the seal.

     [_He attempts to pass on._]

PHEDRO [_intently regarding him_]

You are a curious fellow.

GWYMPLANE

I think it is you who are curious, sir.

PHEDRO

Ah, that was spoken after the manner of your class.

GWYMPLANE

My class, of mountebanks, you mean?

PHEDRO

No, my meaning is gathering slowly. After all, rain does not pour
from the clouds until there has been sufficient mist.

     [_GWYMPLANE looks at him intently, then once more attempts
     departure._]

PHEDRO

One moment.

GWYMPLANE

I beg you, sir, to let me pass. I am a prey tonight to reveries that
make of me a dull companion.

PHEDRO [_experimentally_]

A lady of the court was enraptured by your performance, a lady who for
many years has been aware of nothing but herself.

GWYMPLANE [_starting almost imperceptibly_]

I am glad if my performance pleased.

PHEDRO

It did much more.

GWYMPLANE

In the measure of amusement I may have caused I am not interested.

PHEDRO

Nevertheless, it seemed to me that you were a little burned by the
flame you cast out.

GWYMPLANE

Ah, I see that you enjoy pursuing other people's business;
consequently you free me from the necessity of listening to you.

PHEDRO [_assuming anger_]

Come now, don't offend me. After all I am the steward of the Queen's
court. It was I who obtained your licence to act in the palace
grounds, and so apparently gratify a long-felt ambition of your lovely
fellow artiste.

GWYMPLANE [_softened_]

Ah--Dea, yes. She has always dreamed of playing in the palace park.
No, I do not wish to be rude to you, but I beg of you to cease your
gossip. My task was harder tonight than usual. I am perhaps overtired.

     [_He puts a hand to his head._]

PHEDRO

Come, are you not a man? Is not the admiration of----

GWYMPLANE

Do not talk to me of these things. Do not talk of these things, I beg
of you. [_with a suggestion of sob in his voice_] I am not like other
men.

     [_Unnoticed an equerry enters, and stands at PHEDRO'S side with a
     large, scented and sealed envelope._]

EQUERRY

Your pardon, sirs.

PHEDRO

     [_Going swiftly over to the equerry, and in a low aside._]

For whom is your letter?

EQUERRY [_in a whisper_]

For one Messire Gwymplane.

PHEDRO [_attempts to take the letter_]

I will see he gets it and reads it.

EQUERRY

Who are you?

     [_PHEDRO pulls up his mask._]

O, Messire Phedro.

     [_He bows low and hands him the note._]

PHEDRO [_in a grand voice_]

You may leave. I will deliver your note. [_then in a low voice for the
equerry alone_] Wait behind the hedge and I will give you an answer.

     [_Exit equerry. GWYMPLANE starts to depart. PHEDRO puts his arm
     on his, detaining him, while he opens the letter and reads it. A
     smile of malicious joy crosses his countenance which he quickly
     cloaks with a look of alarm. He speaks aside:_]

How strange this is! Strange as if a precious bird long waited for in
the night were to suddenly fly down and peck at my very gun.
However ...

     [_He returns to himself with a start, walks over to the hedge
     where the equerry is waiting for the reply._]

Say to her Grace that she is understood, and shall be almost instantly
obeyed. [_He turns to GWYMPLANE._]

GWYMPLANE

I beg of you, sir, permit me to depart.

PHEDRO

There is trouble abroad and it concerns you.

GWYMPLANE

Me?

PHEDRO

Still there is probably much time.

GWYMPLANE

Explain.

PHEDRO

What do you call the blind girl?

GWYMPLANE

Dea. It is not anything about Dea? There was not anything about Dea in
that letter, was there?

PHEDRO

It was all about her.

GWYMPLANE

How?

PHEDRO

Listen. Instead of attending to this myself, as I have done in
hundreds of similar cases, I am going to take you into my confidence.

GWYMPLANE

What is it? What is it?

PHEDRO

Your lovely fellow artiste is gone.

GWYMPLANE [_crying out_]

Gone? My Dea! That is impossible. She does not wish to go anywhere
that I am not.

PHEDRO

Perhaps her wishes remained unconsulted. She may have been abducted.

GWYMPLANE [_drawing back_]

What are you saying? It is so monstrous I must laugh or scream if I go
on listening to you. [_shakes PHEDRO by the arm_] Come out with it.
Where has she gone? But she is in bed! Where else?

     [_He runs back to the cart, and is heard calling frantically. The
     voice of URSUS answers him. PHEDRO stands listening, an evil
     smile contorting his mouth._]

GWYMPLANE [_off stage_]

Dea!

     [_There is no answer._]

GWYMPLANE

     [_Re-entering hurriedly. Goes up to PHEDRO in a threatening
     manner._]

I do not understand. There is something moving around me that is foul
and stealthy. Tell me what it is or I'll make you feel as if you were
falling down an abyss of knives.

PHEDRO

Calm, my gentle talker. To consider alternatives, one must keep one's
presence of mind.

GWYMPLANE

I know. I can imagine what these courts are like and I'll usher you
into hell at once if you are trying to spatter any foul scheme upon
what I love.

PHEDRO

Ah, Dea is yours?

GWYMPLANE

No, you squinting rodent. She is mine only as the light is mine, and
she belongs to my soul as my prayers do.

PHEDRO

Be calm. You have misconstrued me and are wasting time hurling
invectives at some unclean figure in your own fancy.

GWYMPLANE

Well, then, speak out quickly.

PHEDRO

The Prince has fallen desperately in love with her. He confided in me
so much. The letter I received informed me that he had prevailed upon
her in some manner to go with him and that I was to meet him in the
palace at the stroke of the quarter to render him some service.

GWYMPLANE

I cannot believe it; let me see the letter.

PHEDRO

     [_Searching his pockets and vest for the letter._]

Gracious, I must have torn it up in my nervousness. Ah yes, there it
is.

     [_He points to some pieces of torn paper lying at his feet in the
     darkness._]

GWYMPLANE [_knocking his fists to his forehead._]

You mean this letter came from him who is to marry the Duchess
tomorrow? He who looks like the Athenian Victory. [_glancing at his
own distorted limbs_] But Dea cannot see this. [_and in a voice almost
of triumph_] And she cannot see him! He must have stolen her.

PHEDRO [_acidly_]

His eloquence would steal the pollen out of a flower.

GWYMPLANE

Ah Dea! But after all--he may have _told_ her.

PHEDRO

What?

GWYMPLANE [_with a strange sad gesture_]

How I am.

PHEDRO

She has never known?

GWYMPLANE

Why should she? [_half to himself_] It was sweet that she should love
what I am--not what I appear.

PHEDRO

Perhaps he has told her, and her hands have travelled over his face
and found that it is very fair.

     [_GWYMPLANE bends his head between his arms._]

But maybe she has gone against her will.

GWYMPLANE

Yes, that is it. I must find out--O, God, take me to where I can find
out.

PHEDRO

Wait for me here a moment and I will prepare for your entrance into
the palace. It may be very difficult to effect an entrance.

     [_He goes out and a few seconds after there is a sound of a
     cuckoo calling, followed by the noise of a slammed door.
     GWYMPLANE walks up and down in distraction._]

URSUS [_from the cart_]

Gwymplane! Gwymplane! Is there anything the matter?

GWYMPLANE

I am nervous and restless. I have never been so restless.

URSUS

Well, walk far into the night, my son, until the iron clamping your
brain with wakefulness melts, fades into that dew of restfulness
falling upon all things before the dawn.

PHEDRO [_returning abruptly_]

Are you ready?

GWYMPLANE

I am dying of readiness.

     [_They go out._]


_CURTAIN_



ACT II



ACT II


SCENE 1

     [_In the bedroom of the DUCHESS--exquisite, fantastic, with walls
     panelled in odd peacock blue. Upon these walls are crystal
     appliqués of a bizarre design, looking like strange ear-rings and
     holding within them amber lights. In the centre of the room falls
     a crystal candelabra with five small slender scarlet candles. On
     stage right a slender bed made entirely of the body of a swan--a
     canopy over it of pale rose net is attached with three blue
     feathers to the ceiling. This canopy drops over the head and foot
     of the bed. On stage left is a dressing mirror and table draped
     in fresh white muslin and rare lace. Below this table is a
     door--another door is directly opposite and behind the bed which
     faces the audience. In direct centre is a tall oblong window
     draped with a daffodil yellow taffeta faintly striped in mauve. A
     little in front, beneath this window, is a directoire sofa
     covered with pillows of exquisite brocade. The chairs and other
     appointments of furniture are cream-colored, bespattered with
     flowers and reminiscent of Venice. On the right, just off centre
     a marble faun with grotesque features on a black onyx pedestal.
     The DUCHESS has set around its throat many of her priceless
     necklaces._

     _A maid is seen preparing for the DUCHESS when the curtain
     rises._

     _Enter the DUCHESS after a few seconds' interval._]

DUCHESS

How is it possible that he is not returned? How long has he been gone?
Did you notice what o'clock it was when I sent him? Answer me, answer
me something. Don't stand about bemused as if you had never heard of a
clock, or Piccolo, or a letter since you were born.

MAID

He cannot have had your note beyond a few minutes, Madame, but I
think----

     [_She bends in an attitude of listening. The DUCHESS is before her
     in opening the door on right._]

     [_PICCOLO, the same equerry seen before, enters bowing low._]

PICCOLO

Your Grace.

DUCHESS [_with unconcealed impatience_]

Did you find the clown?

PICCOLO

Yes, your Grace.

     [_He is obviously disturbed._]

DUCHESS

Could he read my letter? Did he appear to be reading it? [_She walks
swiftly up and down_] Maybe he cannot read.

PICCOLO

He did not receive the letter from me, your Grace.

DUCHESS

How do you mean?

PICCOLO

I think it was he who was standing with Messire Phedro, who took it
from me to give it to him.

DUCHESS

You tasselled ass, why did you let him have it?

PICCOLO [_trying to save himself_]

Nay, your Grace, he gave it at once to the clown, for I know it was
the clown standing with him by the spidery confusion of his limbs.
Messire Phedro said I was to tell your Grace that you were understood
and would be obeyed.

DUCHESS [_half to herself_]

Well, maybe there is some reason. [_she turns to the equerry_] Go
about your business. Don't stand around as if you were expecting the
lash or you will feel it.

     [_The equerry rapidly retires. The DUCHESS turns to her maid._]

DUCHESS

Ugh! Rid me of all this glittering discomfort.

     [_The maid helps her out of the stiff wonderful dress and into a
     lovely azure garment sprayed with silver flowers._]

DUCHESS

     [_Fixing the maid with a peremptory eye._]

I will only consent to be disturbed by one person tonight. He will
come alone or with Messire Phedro. He will be stooped, a little below
the medium height, and will probably be in black. If the Prince
command me I am already at rest. If the Queen command me I am ill. Do
you understand that I will be at home to no one save this one visitor?

MAID

Your Grace is obeyed.

     [_The DUCHESS walks over to the window and throws it wide open.
     Moonlight falls strongly in the garden just outside and water
     splashes noisily from the plump hands of a dancing Cupid, poised
     airily upon a minute Doric column. The DUCHESS turns, frowning
     impatiently as she watches the maid's motions about the room._]

DUCHESS

Go, go. How can you take so long to straighten a pair of slippers.

     [_The maid retires precipitately. The DUCHESS turns once more
     towards the window, glancing across the court._]

There are shadows in Charles's room, wrangling shadows.

     [_She puts her finger to her lip, biting it in a meditative
     manner._]

Ah, somebody is trying to break away. What a bore it would be----

     [_There is a sound of a key clicking in the latch; the door on
     stage left opens. PHEDRO comes swiftly into the room. He checks
     an exclamation of the DUCHESS, speaking hurriedly._]

PHEDRO

I know, I guessed. Listen, Gwymplane has not had your letter. This was
the only possible way. I have told him his blind girl is in the
palace, in order to draw him hither. Play to that, first.

     [_The DUCHESS hastily slips on a mask._]

GWYMPLANE [_entering_]

Where are we now?

DUCHESS [_coming forward graciously_]

I believe you seek--

GWYMPLANE [_hastily_]

The blind girl in my troupe. It appears she is in the palace.

DUCHESS

     [_Trying to conceal her joy at his arrival._]

The palace is so amazingly large. Have you an idea in what part of the
palace to look?

GWYMPLANE [_bitterly_]

Some slight idea.

DUCHESS

Then you cannot do better than to send Phedro to the exact spot.

GWYMPLANE

Very well. We both will----

     [_He makes a motion of departure._]

DUCHESS

No, no. [_detaining him with her white arm_] Let him go and discover
where she is and if he cannot bring her here, then he shall return and
take you to her.

GWYMPLANE

But that will lose time, I must----

DUCHESS

Mistakes are so much more disastrous than delay. One can pass
unnoticed where two will be remarked. Trust to my better knowledge of
the court.

GWYMPLANE [_reluctantly_]

Very well, Madame. Only speed, Sir, speed, and return to me.

PHEDRO

I will, dear mummer.

     [_He exits._]

DUCHESS

     [_Turning to GWYMPLANE with gracious triteness._]

Ah, what an unexpected delight that I might tell you what pleasure
your performance gave.

GWYMPLANE [_standing stiffly attentive_]

Then my work is lavishly rewarded, Madame.

DUCHESS

     [_In the tone of one who confers by asking a favor._]

Do unmask. It is so very warm in these rooms.

GWYMPLANE

I consider but your comfort, Madame, in wearing my mask.

DUCHESS [_smiling subtly_]

Nay, you would be surprised at what considers my comfort and what does
not. Your mask, for instance, does not.

     [_She sinks upon her chaise longue, intensely graceful and
     beautiful. GWYMPLANE lets his eyes rest upon her for a moment._]

Your mask, do remove it. I have always heard artists were most gallant
to women. See, I remove mine.

GWYMPLANE

     [_Stifled with surprise and emotion._]

Madame ... Madame....

DUCHESS

Come! I command you to obey me. Pray take off your mask! You can have
no idea how I hate mentioning a desire twice.

     [_GWYMPLANE removes his mask. The DUCHESS looks at him intently
     and sighs._]

DUCHESS

It must be wonderful to be you.

     [_She motions him to a black cushion with golden tassels at the
     foot of her couch._]

GWYMPLANE

     [_Who has by this time mastered himself._]

To be me, Madame? [_bitterly_] But of course your life is a revel of
laughter; so why should not your thoughts be forever jesting through
your words?

DUCHESS

I am not jesting.

GWYMPLANE [_surprised_]

Madame?

DUCHESS

It must be wonderful to be you and wind through forests and across
hills into new cities with your drummers beating attention for you,
through lines of unknown faces, faces over whom you have a rare--a
great power. For you can moisten them with tears--choke away their
breath with laughter. And afterwards, when you have finished your
performance and are walking on the outskirts of some alien city, tell
me, do not certain ones steal out to you and tell you of the
blasphemous fancies you have stirred awake in their souls?

GWYMPLANE

What are you saying, Madame, what are you not saying!

DUCHESS

     [_Leaning forward and taking one of his beautiful hands._]

O, Gwymplane, I am lonely. You can have no idea how lonely. Everything
around me is so false to my desires, is so alien to what I feel myself
to be.

GWYMPLANE

You are so beautiful, Madame. Your loneliness only makes you more so.
It lends the quality of a goddess to what is already earthly majesty.

     [_He is about to press his strange lips to her hands, when
     suddenly he remembers and resists._]

DUCHESS

Ah, you were going to kiss my hand. Why didn't you kiss it? [_She
stretches it out close to his mouth._] See--here--here it is, most
soft and white.

     [_GWYMPLANE draws away, passing his hand across his brow. The
     DUCHESS leans toward him, almost over him._]

I am very lonely, Gwymplane. Give me a few moments of forgetfulness.
O, tell me about your life--tell me about what has happened to you.

     [_She lays her hand upon his shoulder. GWYMPLANE takes it, kisses
     it, and looks up at her with flaming eyes and chalk-pale face._]

Ah, that is nice! The touch of your lips chills, burns me with
forgetfulness. The touch of your lips is like a tide hushing, sucking
my wakefulness down into depths of terrible oblivion. O, listen, you
are grotesque--your limbs are like the coils of nightmare. I love you
because you are so grotesque--because upon your face is stamped the
contorted beauty of your mind--your mind that is surely as amazing as
your face. O, Gwymplane, tell me of what you have thought, tell me of
what you are thinking.

GWYMPLANE

     [_Who is led into rapture by her words, kneels and suddenly
     kisses her feet._]

I am kissing your little white feet. It is like brushing my face
amongst sprays of silken flowers.

DUCHESS

Ah, do not talk beautifully to me, Gwymplane.

GWYMPLANE

But you are beauty! What other language would you understand?

DUCHESS

Do not talk to me beautifully, Gwymplane. Talk to me with the savage
pulsating words of your clown language. Talk to me as if you held a
whip in your hand. [_She catches at his hand_] What marvellous hands
you have! Deceitful hands--for they look unlike the things they
do--the things they must do.

GWYMPLANE

     [_Sitting upon her couch and bending over her lips._]

I think you are something I have stolen out of a temple--a wonderful
wingèd crownèd figure that I have stolen out of a temple and profaned.
I feel as if we were in a black barge upon a scarlet sea, as if in a
moment it would dip over the horizon line and we should be lost
forever together. O, I feel as if all the light in the world were
flowing from behind the chalice of your pale face. I love you, I love
you.

DUCHESS

     [_Drawing away from his straining arms and lips._]

You love me, you love me! But you do not talk to me as if you were a
clown. You do not speak to me with those curiously pungent words that
are flung between men and women in the thickets near the booths.
[_almost pettishly_] You do not talk at all like a clown, Gwymplane.

GWYMPLANE

     [_His eyes slowly travelling over her body._]

I do not understand--I cannot understand why you permit my hands to
touch you. Does not the flame from my hands burn you as they tremble
and hover nearer, nearer to your scorching loveliness? But I think you
are ivory, ivory dyed in hues of dawn and sunset.

DUCHESS

Ah, I wish you would not speak to me beautifully. I tell you beauty is
not so dear to me as ugliness. O, Gwymplane [_with a rather coarse
gesture nudging his arm_], O, Gwymplane, tell me of love as I want to
hear of it, and I will love you better than all the rest!

GWYMPLANE

The rest? [_he presses his hand to his temple_] There are no rest.
There was one--O God! I am lost! Nothing matters now [_in a shrill
voice_]. I--I have found out what I can be!

DUCHESS

     [_Stretching herself and smiling upon him._]

How happy I am with you, my distorted lover! Only I wish you had not
taken the white paint from your face. I wish your lips were
fantastically scarlet as when you danced. I wish you were in your
clown's dress and that the circus dwarfs could be here, playing their
evil music while we talked. Kiss me.

GWYMPLANE

     [_Drawing away and gazing at her in rapture._]

But my heart is here, underneath your slender foot. O, my heart has no
will of its own but is only a reckless fever leaping, shivering after
crumbs of your favour.

     [_He is about to kiss her, when suddenly the DUCHESS turns
     aside--an odd numbness creeping over her features._]

DUCHESS

Something is wrong--terribly wrong. You do not speak to me like a
clown. You are not like a clown. Who are you--what are you really?

GWYMPLANE

My love [_he turns to kiss her shoulder_], I am your lover. What does
any other reality matter tonight?

     [_There is a knock at the door on stage left. GWYMPLANE starts to
     his feet, flinging upon the DUCHESS a look of terror._]

DUCHESS [_biting her lip--calls out_]

Who dares to disturb my rest?

VOICE OF PRINCE CHARLES

It is I.

DUCHESS

Well?

CHARLES

Phedro told me he thought he heard you cry out a moment ago?

DUCHESS

Ah, so it is he--[_her face has grown dark and furious_] or does he
push in some accident to favour me.

GWYMPLANE [_in a low voice_]

Treachery--if I had not been so mad all evening I could have smelt it
on every gust of air.

JOSEPHINE

Hush, don't ruin us.

CHARLES

Did I hear you speak?

JOSEPHINE

No, Charles. I was merely muttering a few imprecations at you for
disturbing my rest.

CHARLES

You want for nothing?

JOSEPHINE

For nothing save to be left in peace.

     [_The footsteps of the PRINCE are heard receding. Suddenly
     through the open French window steps DEA. GWYMPLANE shudders back
     with horror. The DUCHESS looks in amazement and anger at the
     lovely apparition. GWYMPLANE with a gesture of supplication
     implores her to be silent. The DUCHESS returns his look
     contemptuously._]

DEA [_advancing into the room_]

Where am I? Someone took me out of one room and pushed me in here.

DUCHESS

I am the Duchess of Beaumont. You are in my room.

DEA

O, I am glad, Madame. I have been terribly frightened all evening.

     [_GWYMPLANE stands frozenly against the wall._]

DUCHESS

Really? By what?

DEA

I was looking for the Queen. I was being guided to the Queen's
apartment when suddenly I found myself in a room with some gentleman.

DUCHESS

Ah, what gentleman, I wonder?

DEA

I do not know. I am blind and he would not answer me. But I felt his
hand to see if it was the Court Steward's. It was not the Court
Steward's hand, for this man wore a ring with a gigantic stone.

DUCHESS

     [_Always unquestionably upon the right scent of anything damaging
     to her vanity._]

An oblong stone?

DEA [_pausing_]

Yes, your Grace, I am sure it was an oblong stone.

DUCHESS [_her face becoming very malicious_]

Well, what did he wish of you?

DEA

He said many things to me. He told me how I appeared to him in all
things beautiful, and that he wished to steal me away forever from the
troop and for himself because he loved me.

DUCHESS [_starts_]

     [_GWYMPLANE wrings his hands in impotent fury._]

Strange those bundles we possess, that are of no value to us whatever,
should, nevertheless, when they fall into the river, become precious
as gold. [_she snaps her fingers_] So much for faithfulness! And you
answered this gentleman?

DEA [_looking around abstracted_]

Your Grace, is there anyone else in this room?

DUCHESS

I don't think so.

     [_GWYMPLANE starts imperceptibly. The malicious DUCHESS, reading
     his thought, shuts the window and locks it. GWYMPLANE looks at
     her in terror._]

And what did you reply to your preposterous lover, little gipsy thief?

DEA

Madame!

DUCHESS

Unconscious, charming thief of affection that should tonight, if ever,
have been faithful! So [_half to herself_] one can be jealous of a man
without caring a rap for him! Well, it is something to have found out
that vanity is the ruling passion. I shall take more care of its
feelings than ever after this. But--your story, little blind girl.

DEA

O--I stretched my arms out against this gentleman and prayed, and my
prayer was heard, for Phedro came and said he thought he had heard
you call, and this man went out telling me to remain, when a pair of
hands suddenly laid hold upon my wrists and led me out into the air,
then pushed me into this room.

DUCHESS

Think how disappointed your lover will be when he returns and finds
you gone!

DEA

I do not care what he should think.

DUCHESS

Your affections are already a wreath upon some mortal head, eh?

DEA [_modestly_]

Yes, I love, I am beloved.

DUCHESS [_quizzically regarding her_]

By whom, pray?

DEA

Messire Gwymplane of the circus troop.

DUCHESS [_throwing back her head and laughing_]

No? Beloved by Gwymplane, you say?

     [_GWYMPLANE looks at her in a horror of bewilderment, the point
     of her conduct beginning to pierce his heart._]

DEA

O yes, beloved by Gwymplane.

DUCHESS

It seems to me, child, that upon this somewhat fantastic night we have
perhaps changed partners.

DEA

Madame?

     [_GWYMPLANE stands rigidly silent. The DUCHESS plucks a flower
     from a vase, throwing the petals over DEA'S head in a gesture
     half gay, half brutal._]

DUCHESS

At last the whimsy of my soul is outmatched by the turn of events.

DEA

I hang upon your words, Madame, yet I do not understand them.

DUCHESS

Still you and I have proven to each other, with and without intent,
the existence of a quality common to the world at large--faithlessness,
look you.

     [_With an almost violent gesture she drags DEA over to GWYMPLANE
     and places her hand upon the familiar form._]

DEA

     [_Feeling with gradually hurrying, hysterical fingers._]

Gwymplane, my love!

GWYMPLANE

Ah, Dea, yes.

DEA

How wonderful to find you in this terrible nightmare--like a fire
flaming up before snow-lost feet.

GWYMPLANE

My Dea.

     [_She puts her hand upon his shoulder, the DUCHESS regarding them
     through her lorgnette._]

DUCHESS

What an idyl! How it refreshes me to watch. However, come, clown, take
the girl and begone. Here is a crown for your love--it did not please
me, you know, so you are getting far more than your deserts.

DEA [_halting_]

Your love, Gwymplane? She said your love?

GWYMPLANE

Anyone can misuse a word, but my voice is lost in a stammer of shame.

DEA

I do not understand, but for what is love save to pass understanding?
[_She puts her arm through his_] Come, let us go.

DUCHESS [_with furious malice_]

What a charming way of conducting life, little blind girl! When your
lover is tired of pursuing his latest fancy and has been thrown out
[_almost stamping her foot_] he will return and grow warm in the rays
of your faith.

DEA

Gwymplane will not fancy anyone save me. Ursus says so, and besides I
know it--I could not live if I did not know it.

DUCHESS [_laughing_]

     [_GWYMPLANE steps menacingly towards her._]

Clown, clown, you shall not murder me because I do not champion your
deceits. [_to DEA_] Your lover does not care that I should repeat the
poetry of his conversation to me this evening, but it was such rare
poetry--more rare than I wanted in fact. [_mimicking derisively_] "I
feel as if we were in a black barge upon a scarlet sea, as if in a
moment our boat would dip over the horizon line, and we two should be
lost forever," or--here is another pretty line--"I feel as if all the
rays of light in the world were flowing from behind the chalice of
your pale face."

DEA [_putting her hand to her heart_]

Oh, Gwymplane--the last thing she said--was so like--so like----

DUCHESS

Maybe it is a stanza that he says to all of us. Poets are peculiar
creatures--they have their lines by heart and insist upon repeating
them, even at the wrong moment.

DEA [_staggers_]

Gwymplane, my love--for you are my love--I am terribly hurt
somewhere--Let us go.

GWYMPLANE

     [_Supporting DEA and turning to the DUCHESS._]

You did not have your pleasure, I know, and----

DUCHESS [_pointing imperiously_]

Go, clown. I can add the situation up myself. No, I think I want
another word with you.

     [_GWYMPLANE, unheeding, tries to pass her with DEA upon his
     arm._]

Fool, obey me, or embrace a peril that will choke you and your little
friend of disobedience. Come, she shall await you in my private
conservatory.

     [_She makes a gesture as if to separate them._]

GWYMPLANE

I shall go with her.

DUCHESS

Nay, suspect no more mousetraps. Lead her there yourself; see that she
is comfortable among the candles and flowers, then return to me for
your own interest and for hers.

     [_GWYMPLANE leads DEA out door on left and returns._]

You have had a strange evening for a mountebank--an evening filled
with such events as to strain almost any amount of discretion.

GWYMPLANE

I shall not talk.

DUCHESS

Not of ourselves, of course. No man, not even a clown, but draws a
veil across his rejected flesh.

GWYMPLANE

Well then?

DUCHESS

But in that spiritual condition which follows being repudiated your
muscles will probably be seeking, straining, to express your mind and
the direction will probably be to avenge your blind girl.

GWYMPLANE

All that in my own way, Madame.

DUCHESS

And your way will be? Come.

GWYMPLANE

Ah, Madame, I am weary of your commands. Over my actions you have a
certain power, but, as my mind and what shall come out of it is still
mysterious to me, I am afraid you must share the discomfort of my own
ignorance.

DUCHESS [_in a more kindly tone_]

Listen to me, clown. You were brought to me tonight to relieve me of a
whim, I admit that. And you brought me no relief.

GWYMPLANE [_with sophistication_]

The question interests me dispassionately, Madame. But, considering
you waived my personal defects [_he winces_], just why did I
not--please you?

DUCHESS

But I told you before--I wanted a clown, and you talk like the very
essence of all these lords and poets. But that is aside--I am to be
married tomorrow.

GWYMPLANE

I know,--to him--and you wish him spared the public lash of scandal, I
suppose.

DUCHESS

He need not be spared it entirely--I do not ask that. You can make
plea to the Queen, if you wish, the day after the ceremony--only not
tomorrow. Much rests on that for me.

GWYMPLANE

Madame, with the insolence of your class, you are asking favours of
one whose degradation you have sought and shared.

DUCHESS

Perhaps, but you must remember that I am the sister of the Queen and
can impose obedience to the most insolent favours I choose to demand.

     [_A loud knock from the door leading into the conservatory.
     GWYMPLANE starts towards the door. The DUCHESS holds him back._]

Truly an eventful hour. [_she raises her voice_]

Ah, what now?

VOICE OF THE QUEEN

I heard you were so indisposed you could not come to me even upon the
most urgent matter.

     [_The DUCHESS signifies with a gesture of fury that she is aware
     of being fatally played against. In the meantime the QUEEN is
     putting her own key into the lock. JOSEPHINE turns with
     supplication to GWYMPLANE, at length too afflicted by the
     situation to guard her poise._]

DUCHESS

You would not talk like a clown. Be----I know you--a gentleman. Save
me! Save us!

     [_She points to a door._]

In there--a blind closet. Do not attempt to escape or we shall hear
you.

GWYMPLANE

     [_Bowing low and casting an ironic eye upon the panic of the
     DUCHESS._]

There is at least a peculiar variety in your demands, Madame----

     [_The door barely closes upon him as the QUEEN enters continuing
     her speech._]

QUEEN

Consequently, if you are too ill to attend the Queen, it is but human
for the Queen to await anxiously upon you. But, my dear--

     [_The DUCHESS is biting her lip with ill-concealed rage._]

You do not look ill--you look angry. Have there been disturbing
things?

     [_She plucks the curtain aside, and lets it drop, but continues
     looking about her with assumed carelessness._]

DUCHESS

Nothing more disturbing than being continually interrupted--I do not
speak of your Majesty's visit--when I wished to remain undisturbed.

QUEEN

How annoying to have one's solitary reveries continually scattered by
people hammering at the door. What did they all want? Who were they?

DUCHESS

There was Charles.

QUEEN

And after that?

DUCHESS

O, various people asking ridiculous questions.

     [_She plucks a large bit of heliotrope from the bowl and bites it
     rather vengefully._]

But, my sister, do confide in me the august matter that can
necessitate your being abroad at such an unearthly hour.

QUEEN

There is no one that can overhear us? You have dismissed your
servants?

DUCHESS

O, hours ago. [_rather insolently_] You may feel quite at your ease
with me.

QUEEN

You will forgive my poking about, Josephine? But you are so vague--all
artistic and beautiful natures are vague--you might easily have
forgotten that Piccolo is hanging about somewhere waiting to carry a
last goodnight word to your impatient bridegroom. Why, there is a
strange girl sitting at this very moment in your conservatory. Her
face was somehow familiar.

DUCHESS [_commencing to be rather distracted_]

Ah, yes, a late hamper of my wedding clothes. The girl awaits for me
to repay her pains for coming. But, indeed, your Majesty, I would be
flattered if you would accept my word that we are alone here.

QUEEN

Dear child, naturally, I accept your conviction that there is no one
about, but I do not trust your memory. I admire too much the artist in
you for that. Ah! Do I hear someone scratching apologetically upon the
window? [_smiling_] Really, no wonder your sense of privacy is
outraged tonight.

DUCHESS

Who now?

PRINCE [_in a slightly frantic voice_]

I, Josephine. Did anyone pass in by this window a few minutes ago?

DUCHESS

     [_Looking at the QUEEN, whose ironic countenance struggles with
     real emotion._]

Who should? You perceive the curtains are drawn.

PRINCE

A girl--one of the troupe of mountebanks--a blind girl. Phedro brought
her in with a most important letter for the Queen. He left her a
moment, returned, and she was gone. He hesitated to disturb you at
this late hour; so I told him I would come myself and ask.

QUEEN [_suddenly speaking in a tone of relief_]

Ah, with a note for me. Is it only that? For Heaven's sake, don't go
on talking through a closed window, Charles. It gives such an air of
tension to everything. Josephine, open the window to Charles.

     [_Josephine obeys._]

PRINCE

     [_Stepping into the room so befogged with his own agitation as
     to have no room left for astonishment at the presence of the
     QUEEN._]

Josephine, your Majesty, are you quite sure----

DUCHESS

My dear Charles, do you think I am in the habit of not noticing the
intrusion of perfectly strange women into my apartment at night?

PRINCE

Then you saw no one?

     [_DUCHESS smiles enigmatically._]

QUEEN [_addressing the PRINCE_]

Why are you so anxious that this message from the blind girl is
delayed? Or are you just naturally upset about everything tonight,
being so near the altar?

DUCHESS

Ah, yes, so near the altar. Tell me how have you spent these last free
hours, Charles?

QUEEN

I hope you have spent them romantically, fingering a lute or
something.

DUCHESS

Fingering something--was it a lute, Charles?

     [_CHARLES glances at the DUCHESS in alarm. The QUEEN intercepts
     the look and grows a little uneasy herself._]

QUEEN

You seem to be throwing dirt at one another out of a bonbonnière. I
have a feeling I should extremely dislike to hear you actually explain
yourselves. I wonder where Phedro is. He has hinted to me of
extraordinary news for tonight. [_she opens the window and looks out_]
And now it is almost dawn.

     [_She calls PHEDRO, and opens the door through which she has
     entered the room, calling PHEDRO._]

VOICE OF PHEDRO

Majesty, I come.

     [_He enters. The DUCHESS gives him a fearful look, which he
     returns with a grim smile._]

QUEEN

You promised significant news for me after midnight and in the
apartment of the Duchess. I have come. It is long beyond midnight.
What have you to say?

PHEDRO

We are strictly in private, your Majesty?

QUEEN

Assure yourself. I had some feeling about it myself a few minutes ago.

     [_PHEDRO steps at once to the door where the mountebank is
     concealed, but the DUCHESS with a haughty look actually
     forestalls him, opening the door herself. GWYMPLANE steps into
     the room. The QUEEN pretends to be speechless. The PRINCE is._]

[_stiffly_] Your Grace, the Duchess of Beaumont will please explain.

DUCHESS

Oh, this mountebank was merely seeking the blind girl from his troupe,
who had been admitted, or possibly abducted, into the palace.

QUEEN

Abducted, really? By whom? For whom?

DUCHESS [_with a glance at CHARLES_]

We do not know, but we guess possibly.

     [_At the word "abducted" GWYMPLANE steps menacingly up to the
     PRINCE. The QUEEN catches the look of hauteur and hatred that is
     exchanged between them. She hastily discovers some growing
     discomfort from which she slides away in her usual fashion by
     pursuing another channel of thought._]

QUEEN

Nevertheless, why does he seek his partner in your Grace's closet?

PRINCE

Josephine, good God--what are you?

DUCHESS

What you are or would be, Charles--a star of the nobility, shedding
its single glory for the last time.

QUEEN

Come, come, cease your language. Why was this mountebank in your
Grace's closet?

DUCHESS

He flew to the nearest door in the opposite direction from whence came
your Majesty's voice. I suppose he lost his head in his embarrassment.
That is a quality of the lower classes.

QUEEN

Your answers are tedious evasions. They explain nothing save what you
wish to conceal--your dishonour. [_she turns to GWYMPLANE_]
Mountebank, I think you have ruined and frustrated the life of a most
important personage in our court.

PHEDRO

Hold, hold. A bat has not torn a lily as you suppose, your Majesty.

QUEEN

No? Then what _has_ happened, Phedro? And do drop your metaphor. We
are not wise enough so late to do it justice.

PHEDRO

Two stars have blundered together, that is all. Her Grace the Duchess
of Beaumont and His Highness Prince Ian of Vaucluse.

PRINCE

My brother? Here? But my brother is dead! Where can you have imagined
to have seen my brother?

PHEDRO

     [_Approaches GWYMPLANE making him a low bow._]

Prince Ian of Vaucluse.

     [_GWYMPLANE, as if he saw madness, loses the nervous control of
     his features by which he can efface his terrible grin, and his
     face grows convulsed with it._]

QUEEN [_regarding him and laughing shrilly_]

Here is some monstrous joke devised by Phedro. Why, Josephine, if this
were true, then he--the clown--would be your fiancé, nor have a right
to reject you, since sharing in your rather disreputable offence. Ah,
what folly! [_she places her hand upon her heart, gazing at PRINCE
CHARLES_] But how I would like to credit the wildest phantasy tonight.

     [_The DUCHESS is looking on disdainfully as if witnessing rather
     a boring farce._]

PHEDRO [_looking intensely at the QUEEN_]

When the thing that we have longed for comes true, it may sound like
madness. I have every credential to prove my extraordinary
announcement.

QUEEN

     [_Looking whimsically from one to another._]

Ah, let us suppose for a moment, Josephine, that this were true.
Surely you would be happy in a marriage so fortified by natural
selection, and, as for Charles--the loss of certain things might be
replaced by others.

     [_She gazes at him tenderly._]

DUCHESS

     [_In a sudden outburst of confusion and ennui._]

We are all gone mad. I feel as if we were in a web. I marry with a
clown--the clown a lord--the lord a deformity. [_She shudders_]

GWYMPLANE

O, I cannot stand this hellish whirl another instant. It is biting my
ankles off and blinding my eyes in a red sting of madness.

     [_He attempts to throw open the door. PHEDRO swiftly forestalls
     him with widespread arms and a grim expression; GWYMPLANE turns
     away bowed from his ferocity of pain and bewilderment, while
     PHEDRO, with an incredible, greased swiftness, lets himself out
     the door, and returns almost upon the instant with DEA terrified,
     supported on his arm._]

PHEDRO [_turning suavely to DEA_]

My dear young lady, calm yourself. Where is the letter?

     [_DEA takes it from her breast. GWYMPLANE looks at the letter in
     agonized amazement._]

DEA

You said I was to give it to the Queen.

PHEDRO

You are in the presence of her Majesty.

     [_DEA makes a low curtsey, and holds out the letter. The QUEEN
     takes it from her with a strange, stiff gesture._]

Your Majesty, this is the missive sealing officially my tale.

QUEEN

     [_Reads the letter, her face played upon by expressions varying
     from incredulity to ironic joy. Turning to PHEDRO._]

There is no doubt about this?

PHEDRO [_turning a page_]

You note your Chancellor's signature.

QUEEN

     [_Finishes the letter and stands looking intently ahead of her.
     She suddenly speaks in a rather strange voice._]

I hate to be trite, but my inner laughter is far too loud to be tamed
into wit; so I think I must use the stock phrase, and observe that
truth is never so tedious as fiction. [_she passes her hand over her
brow_] Come, clown, you may go, or rather my lord, you have my earnest
leave to exchange our presence for the open air, while we sit in
judgment over these discoveries. You may take the young lady with you,
who apparently cannot see [_with a bitter look at CHARLES_] the
interest she evokes.

     [_GWYMPLANE drags DEA out half fainting, but turns in the door,
     facing them all._]

GWYMPLANE

Take care. It is dangerous to be marionettes too long--even now your
limbs may be turning into sawdust.

     [_They exit without paying the QUEEN respect._]

QUEEN

     [_Turning to PRINCE CHARLES and then to the DUCHESS._]

How very uncomfortable he will make the House of Lords. Artists are
terrible people, especially when they get out of their _métier_, and
even if they were born gentlemen. [_she takes a hand of the DUCHESS
and of CHARLES_] I request you both to be in my cabinet tomorrow
morning as early as you can manage to rouse yourselves after this
rather full evening, and we shall see what it is fair to do in love
[_she glances softly and rather whimsically at the PRINCE_] and war.
[_looking fixedly at JOSEPHINE_]

     [_She throws both their hands away from her as if they had stung
     her. An equerry opens the door, and she exits abruptly._]
     _PRINCE and the DUCHESS [bowing low to her departing back and
     murmuring_]:

Your Majesty is obeyed.


_CURTAIN_


SCENE 2

     [_It is night upon the deck of a small schooner, whose sails are
     outlined against leaden streaks, commencing to herald the dawn._

     _DEA lies extended upon a low couch, beside the chair of URSUS.
     In the dim light her form possesses the eternal majesty of
     sculpture. From afar the voices of sailors chanting some sad
     litany of the sea. URSUS leans back in his chair, looking up into
     the face of departing night. GWYMPLANE paces in and out,
     anguished with unrest._]


URSUS [_to GWYMPLANE, who hardly heeds him_]

Nothing follows us. It never occurred to them that a man should want
to escape good fortune. They never think to bolt the door when they
have gilded the walls. O, how profitably one can surprise these people
who think the entire world reflects their contemplation of self.

GWYMPLANE

     [_Who has not heard the preceding speech at all, comes in,
     halting abruptly._]

Life, life. It has suddenly burst its leash--torn in among us like a
mad dog and wounded us, mortally, I think, [_glances at DEA_] O, the
pain, the tragedy that can come out of nonsense. Will Dea live, can
Dea live?

URSUS [_sighing heavily_]

Perhaps, perhaps. How quiet and smiling she looks. There is some great
pathos about her peacefulness as if Heaven were restoring to her
something cruelly lost in this world.

GWYMPLANE

     [_Walking over to her couch and wringing his hands._]

My love, my little love.

     [_URSUS rising and soothing his agonized posture with a gentle
     hand, which GWYMPLANE shakes off._]

GWYMPLANE

Oh, there seems no corner in myself into which I can creep, pull down
the blinds, and shut out those horrible, jeering, grotesque, indecent
processionals that I joined and made last night.

URSUS

My poor son! You threw your body to the jackals for an hour. You
forgot there was a soul in your body to get mangled along with the
rest.

GWYMPLANE

Oh, my soul was not in all that.

URSUS

Most people perish from thinking like you. [_earnestly_] Somewhere in
you is a blinding, transfigured face, struggling up out of the
sprawled, coiling limbs of infinite pasts, yet put it in certain
conditions and it retains its fearful stamp of former bestiality. But
during death, death the last condition we follow, what a likeness unto
God appears upon the features of the worst of us.

GWYMPLANE [_who is too tortured to hear_]

Oh, how can I ever again catch at her lovely virginal hands? [_he
lifts one very gently_] Her hands have the sudden beauty and strange
fragrance of flowers that bloom among shadows. How can I ever press
my lips against them again without bruising their dear shy softness by
this weight of unworthiness I carry within me?

URSUS

Only through hope.

GWYMPLANE

Hope is for people who have not such keen noses as I. I can smell the
decay in myself far too well to go near the person I love with it.
Only to sleep, to sleep, and not have to make my way any more, through
these biting, malicious, stifling memories. How can a man's soul exist
after he knows what sodden morasses the body can clamp him into!

URSUS

Stumbling may teach a man to hold his lantern nearer the ground.

GWYMPLANE

My arms are broken. They cannot hold anything except despair.

DEA [_stirring faintly_]

     [_URSUS is immediately at her side and bends over her. GWYMPLANE
     stands looking down over the back of her couch._]

How fast we are going! What are we on that is moving so swiftly?

URSUS

We are sailing away, Dea, you, Gwymplane, and I, toward happiness and
safety.

DEA

I have always been happy, until----

     [_She puts her hand on her heart. GWYMPLANE winces._]

URSUS [_speaking gently_]

Let me put my hand across your forehead and smooth you back into
dreams as I used to when you were a child. That will be best.

DEA

I wonder, have I not passed what is best. You say that I am on a boat,
but it seems to me I am going somewhere by myself, swiftly, eagerly,
and that I am carrying my love for Gwymplane like a sheaf of lilies
under my arm.

     [_GWYMPLANE bends over, whispering her name out of the bursting
     anguish of his heart._]

Gwymplane, I feel your breath across my cheek. I feel your tears upon
my face. Oh, why are you crying?

GWYMPLANE

My love, my dear love, there is too much beauty about you. You are an
answer to the last wish of a man's heart that blows him over the gates
of Paradise. Anyone would weep if the face of God were to shine out
suddenly through their prayers.

DEA

Oh, I understand all that. I have felt that so often about you.

     [_She puts her hand tenderly on his. Suddenly she raises herself
     on her elbow._]

Gwymplane! Ursus! I think--I think I am about to see! There are bright
stretches of colour beginning behind my eyes.

     [_She lifts herself into a sitting position, stretching out her
     arms. There is a long pause._]

O, I do see, I see!

     [_She is looking up into the sky, which is becoming radiant with
     streaks of dawn._]

I see a million pale ribbons fluttering through grey vapour. They are
widening into rivers of colour, into vast dazzling spaces and some
divine form is shining through now and sweeping all the darkness away
off the world, with his golden wings.

GWYMPLANE [_turning ecstatically to URSUS_]

I believe she sees.

     [_He suddenly cringes away from her, and speaks in a whisper to
     URSUS._]

Maybe she will see me at last.

URSUS

She sees the sky of heaven.

     [_DEA drops back upon GWYMPLANE'S arm._]

GWYMPLANE [_with anguished apprehension_]

Oh, darling, do you still see? Do not stop speaking. Tell me more.

DEA

I cannot wait, I think, any longer.

GWYMPLANE

My love, then, if you are going before me, [_a strange look passes
over his face--he straightens himself_] just a little before me, will
you let fall some bright flowers from your breast that will make a
track of light for me to follow in, so that we may perhaps waken
together? O, love, how remote your beautiful face is becoming. Do you
even hear me, I wonder.

DEA [_very low_]

I do hear. Gwymplane, come nearer. That night I tried to understand,
but I thought with so much pain that I could not seem to understand.
Now the pain is gone out of any thought and I understand now how
little cause there was for pain.

GWYMPLANE

Beloved.

DEA

I know I am your beloved. Hold me close.

     [_He wraps her frantically in his arms._]

I want the blessing of your arms to be the last thing in my life.

     [_Suddenly a look of recognition and joy floods her face, and
     her eyes seem to follow some divine approach. She murmurs_]:

How beautiful! How right!

     [_And fluttering in GWYMPLANE'S arms she is dead. He lays her
     gently back, lifts one of her hands, kisses it, looks at her as
     if the last agony had been drawn out of his soul, then passes his
     hand across his brow, tries to speak, and after a long pause:_]

GWYMPLANE

It appears we have made good our escape.

URSUS [_raising his head from his arms_]

The tide is with us.

GWYMPLANE

We are bound--where?

URSUS

Westward.

GWYMPLANE [_with tenderness_]

Dear Ursus, you were leaving your country and going to face old age
among customs, languages, peoples, strange to you, and to save us from
the talons of a pack of cards.

URSUS

You and I are going now, Gwymplane.

GWYMPLANE

I think I have no more knack for wearing costumes and masks, and I
could not ask human beings to accept me as I am, either inside or out.
Any reality is like a row of knives and each minute drags me backward
and forward across them.

     [_He seems to commune upon and decide something within himself.
     His voice breaks clearly over a long pause._]

Good-night, Ursus, I am going up into the prow to seek some fresher
air.

     [_URSUS sits with his head on his arms, which are resting on
     DEA'S coverlet. There is a faint shrill of sighing wind, with the
     voices of the sailors rising beneath it, and the ascending sun
     commences to throw red bars across the water._

     _Suddenly the singing voices cease abruptly and a sailor hurries
     in._]

SAILOR

Sir, sir, a man has fallen into the sea!

URSUS

     [_Starting out of his lethargy and speaking in a strange, numb
     voice._]

Then put the ship about. We return.

SAILOR

Shall we not lower boats and make search for this man--[_he shudders
and crosses himself_] for this man who has fallen into the sea?

URSUS [_half to himself_]

Let a man rest where he has gone by his own will.


_CURTAIN_


SCENE 3

     [_An antechamber communicating with the QUEEN'S bedroom._]

1ST COURTIER

The air is very heavy this morning.

2D COURTIER

It is as if the clouds had dropped down out of the sky, entered into
this palace, and turned into leaden wheels, running over one, no
matter where one hides.

3D COURTIER

You are lucky to be able to talk. I am too depressed even to breathe.

1ST COURTIER

I am terribly depressed,--but I am still curious. What do you suppose
it is all about?

2D COURTIER

It is all about passions. There have been several conflicting kinds
rushing through the atmosphere lately. Naturally the sea is a bit
choppy for our painted sort of barks.

     [_He nods about him rather contemptuously._]

3D COURTIER

You can at least talk no matter what happens.

1ST COURTIER

Well, we don't seem any nearer knowing the truth.

     [_Enter two ladies in a state of great excitement._]

1ST LADY

What could you have possibly expected? I suppose the marriage is off.
Josephine could never be interested in anything, and as for the
Prince----

2D LADY

His self-interest would push anything else out of him.

1ST LADY

Of course, if it _is_ off, Josephine must have made him appear
unbecoming and _she_ probably brought all the candles in the palace
to help illuminate Josephine's mistake. Phew! they are all quite
dreadful.

1ST COURTIER

Sh! It is unwise to be so indiscreet, even in a crisis. Remember, we
have to face each other, and all of these others every day for years.
Perhaps the memory of your candour will make you feel a little
ridiculous later.

     [_Hand bell tinkles._]

1ST LADY

The Queen's bell.

     [_She goes to a door on right and timidly knocks._]

THE QUEEN'S VOICE [_off stage_]

Is the Duchess attending me yet?

1ST LADY

No, Majesty.

QUEEN

Have me informed immediately upon her arrival. Until then, I wish you
would discuss your absorbing trifles in a lower tone. My room is
exactly like a sounding board for your idle conversation. However, I
tell you all this with a recurring regularity that none of the rest of
my life seems to possess.

1ST LADY

Your Majesty is obeyed, and our most humble apologies to your Majesty.

     [_She closes the door softly._]

QUEEN

You haven't shut the door. You haven't shut it tight. Oh, for Heaven's
sake, slam it!

     [_The court lady bangs the door with discretion._]

1ST COURTIER [_whispering_]

What a humour she is in! What a woman of moods!

2D COURTIER

She is illusive. She is like a succession of masks, seen at dawn. In
her there always appears a terrible wanness, right upon the heels of a
wonderful freshness.

3D COURTIER

I don't wish to seem unpleasant, but I wonder if you could talk a
little less or say something.

2D COURTIER [_regarding him witheringly_]

I should advise you to go off by yourself and drink some _fleur
d'oranger_ and bathe your temples in _eau de cologne_. Isolation is
the only resolution for such ill-humour.

1ST LADY

Wasn't the Duchess radiant last night? If the marriage is not off I
hear she will give a dance, a very small one, to celebrate the first
month of her marriage.

     [_Suddenly she looks rather uncomfortable._]

2D LADY

Ah, you are wondering, shall we be invited, considering we are the
Queen's favourite ladies?

1ST COURTIER

If everything is all right, when the Duchess comes let us think of
something especially charming to say to her. Something that will hint,
without asserting, our warmer attachment. [_both ladies nod their
approval_] Sh! Here's Phedro.

PHEDRO

     [_Enters, looking for the first time during the play as if a
     ghost had sucked his blood._]

Is the Queen up?

1ST COURTIER

She is awake, but wishes to remain undisturbed until the Duchess
arrives.

PHEDRO

Ah, then I shall go and polish my bullet a little more officially.

     [_They all stare at him in amazement._]

But has not her Grace been tearing the Queen's curtains back at dawn?

1ST LADY

No, why should she be? What has happened?

     [_They all crowd around him._]

A LADY

The air seems sizzling with lightning. Tell us, has the Queen done her
some rudeness again? We were just saying how charming she was and
thinking of how to express our admiration to her on her arrival.

PHEDRO

Don't disturb your vocabulary for the sake of the Duchess.

LADIES AND COURTIERS [_in one voice_]

Why, what has happened?

PHEDRO

The Duchess does not exist any longer.

A COURTIER

She is dead?

2D COURTIER

Artemis has risen to hunt, but in heaven--

3D COURTIER

Good God! [_he gradually recovers himself_] What a shame the classics
are taught. It lends a pulpit to such tedious people.

A LADY

Oh, we must know, if we are to live. What has happened to the
Duchess?

PHEDRO [_grimly--with finality_]

She has become _déclassée_.

     [_Everybody grows gradually stupefied._]

A LADY [_only partially recovering_]

You mean that she left the door open? Or mislaid one of her jewels
somewhere?

OTHER LADY [_just able to murmur_]

You would suggest that she permitted herself to be--discovered?

PHEDRO

Yes, her apartment was honeycombed with indiscretions.

1ST COURTIER [_sharply_]

But what did that matter? Who plucked them out?

PHEDRO

The Queen.

3D COURTIER

What an appalling mischance!

A LADY

It is an outrage! People who are lazy enough to be found out are a
menace to all of us.

3D COURTIER

A gentleman will hardly know where he is safe when the Duchess of
Beaumont can allow such an occurrence.

PHEDRO

I am afraid I must make my exit from this troubled surface and
scrutinize more silent things. [_Pause. Half to himself_] I wonder how
a man looks who has slept well among the touch and glide of fishes.

A LADY

What sort of horrible, wriggly thing are you saying, Phedro?

PHEDRO

I am tasting my own cooking. It is delicious. However, enough public
reverie. When the Duchess comes, announce her to the Queen in whatever
manner fits your inclination. Take a good breath of bad manners. It
will refresh you all. [_he glances at his watch_] Ah, I shall be late
for a certain melancholy addition of facts.

LADIES

What facts?

PHEDRO

You shall see. I have only read you the prologue.

     [_He exits, almost bumping into the DUCHESS, who sweeps by him
     into the room. The courtiers stand about perfectly limp, enjoying
     their indifference._]

DUCHESS

I am present. [_half turning_] Kindly acquaint her Majesty with that
fact.

A LADY

     [_Starts to courtesy, but suddenly remembers that she doesn't
     have to._]

Very well, you can wait here.

     [_The DUCHESS looks at her with incredulous amazement. Suddenly
     the voice of the QUEEN is heard._]

QUEEN

Is that the Duchess?

THE LADY

It is, your Majesty.

QUEEN

Tell her to wait where she is. I shall be with her presently.
Meanwhile you may disperse without formalities.

LADY

Your Majesty is obeyed.

     [_She comes back into the room and together with all the rest
     gazes insolently at the DUCHESS as they file out. The DUCHESS
     stands, staring frigidly ahead of her and looking supremely
     beautiful._]

DUCHESS [_clenching her hands slightly_]

Fools! They would look better without their heads.

     [_Enter the QUEEN, looking extremely pale and serious, evidently
     on the verge of some personal climax._]

QUEEN

My sister.

DUCHESS

Your Majesty?

     [_They bow formally to one another, then remain silent a
     little._]

QUEEN

O, what is the sense of trying to carry a meeting like this off? I
have been too astonished lately to hold on to my _savoir faire_. Here
are my explosions in a nutshell. The announcement that the clown
Gwymplane is the Prince of Vaucluse I am satisfied is authentic. He is
in consequence your _fiancé_.

DUCHESS [_losing her wits in a temper_]

You must be mad to suppose I should really marry with a mountebank, a
deformity, no matter what he has been born.

QUEEN

Evidently you forget the position you enjoy entails implicit
obedience.

     [_The DUCHESS is about to break out._]

Please don't be banal. I couldn't bear to hear you say that your life
was slavery. Your life is merely idiotic. Slaves were sturdy,
magnificent people who understood massage, and you look as if a powder
puff could blast you off the earth.

DUCHESS

You hate me!

QUEEN

But you know that I knew you knew that.

DUCHESS

When Charles comes, or perhaps you don't permit him to come--possibly
it would annoy you to see the anguish he will be in over me.

QUEEN

Vain people have the most curious faith in the unselfishness of
everybody else. Ah, here comes the bone of contention, looking
remarkably bright.

     [_Enter PRINCE. He bends over the QUEEN'S hand and gazes up into
     her eyes, speaking with a new thrill in his voice._]

PRINCE

My gracious cousin, I hope your health matches this exquisite
morning.

QUEEN [_abruptly pointing_]

There is Josephine. Give her some of your after-breakfast optimism.

PRINCE

Ah!

     [_He bows rather distantly over JOSEPHINE'S hand that is extended
     with unusual cordiality._]

DUCHESS

Charles, my dear, don't let us be absurd. Last night was a fantastic
heaping of mischance.

PRINCE

You are neat in phrases, Josephine, but exactly what do they mean? And
please don't sulk--only well-loved people can afford to do that.

DUCHESS

If you dare to presume to criticize me, I will----

QUEEN

     [_Looks nervously at PRINCE, who interposes quickly._]

PRINCE

My dear Josephine, I could not bear to have you hold me responsible
for these grotesque discoveries of last night. Apparently he is my
brother, and it should have been me who suffered those terrible
deformities save for the mischievous meddling of a malicious servant;
but certainly now you are his lawful bride, and I have no other name
than one the Queen's mercy can devise.

JOSEPHINE

But your Majesty will do something for us, after all, we love each
other!

PRINCE

     [_Looks at JOSEPHINE over the edge of his buttonhole, into which
     his nose becomes completely submerged._]

Do you love me this morning, Josephine?

DUCHESS

You loved me last night.

PRINCE [_sighing_]

I think there has always been something a little angular in our
relations and now that it has become my duty to relinquish you, I
rather fancy there is no harm in assuring you it is also my pleasure.

     [_A momentary look of pity for JOSEPHINE crosses the QUEEN'S
     countenance, replaced by an obvious flow of childish joy._]

QUEEN

You have not really cared, but----

PRINCE

Save for--but it is so very early and bright, and we are not alone.

DUCHESS

So sorry to be in the way. I shall hope to be dismissed presently. I
can hear you are tuning up, Charles. Ah, well, I shall have a clown
for a husband. What more should a married woman wish for? And plenty
of time to catch the roses and the sighs wafting up from my gardens.
But Charles, where is your little blind girl?

PRINCE

How should I know? She found the Queen and delivered her note.

QUEEN

How did you know she had a note to deliver?

PRINCE

I ran into her with Phedro coming through the garden. He went to see
if all was right with Josephine, while I----

DUCHESS

Mingled hands, at least, for she said: "He told me that he wanted me
for himself and forever, nor was he the Court Steward, for he wore a
great oblong stone upon his hand." I hope she comes back with my
intended, and tells to your Majesty the story of Charles's little
lapse into the romantic. O, listening to her one must believe her, for
she has all that obvious lack of fancy only to be found among rarely
good people. Her face is quite open and classic, unbroken by the
slightest hint of imagination. A lie couldn't possibly twist up
through such regular lines.

QUEEN

     [_Over her face has gradually grown a singular change._]

Mingling hands, ah, that was why--[_she bites her lip, passing her
hand across her brow._] However, to that later. Josephine--[_in a
kinder tone_] I have made you acquainted with our disposition. Go now
and prepare to become the Duchess of Vaucluse.

     [_JOSEPHINE is about to exit, when PHEDRO enters hurriedly._]

PHEDRO

Your Majesty.

QUEEN

Oh, what an air of rush there is about everything this morning. Well,
speak, speak.

PHEDRO

Her Grace cannot become the Duchess of Vaucluse.

QUEEN

Ah, why not?

PHEDRO

He is beyond us.

QUEEN

Do you mean that he has sought for himself, the only satisfactory
rest!--a sleep without dreams. He is dead!--How?

PHEDRO

The philosopher and the blind girl escaped with him at dawn; long
before sunrise an old, disused hulk was seen going down the river, and
in the blaze of this morning has returned with only the philosopher
and his hired oarsmen. Apparently the blind girl died from the tremors
of escape, and the clown in his grief found nothing left in himself to
face life with, so he threw his distressed person into the sea.

QUEEN

So, Josephine, your second bridegroom has been seduced away from you
by Destiny. Charles, your fortune, which was at any rate confiscate to
your brother, now passes to the Crown. I wonder just how you will
manage.

     [_CHARLES throws her a tender, confident look which she evades._]

But one thing at a time. Josephine, what occurs to you in this fitful
moment?

DUCHESS

Life nauseates me so at the moment that it is difficult to imagine any
corner where I would not be too dizzy with hatred to stand. If you
will permit me, I shall return to my rooms to think. There are some
agreeable things scattered through my rooms that may possibly inspire
direction.

QUEEN

Your sensations, Josephine, they have always been so much more acute
than your emotions. I wonder if you could not turn with a certain
surprising equanimity from regarding the marble forms of your Greeks
to the Gothic saints of wood and ivory, then one would detect incense
in the fold of your shroud instead of patchouli in the pleats of your
cambric. You know, probably you could find in the distortions of
religious mania a perfect _pendant_ to your taste for deformities in
life.

DUCHESS

You are cruel, and you are irreverent.

QUEEN

Ah, my dear, in that last epithet speaks your extreme desirability for
the vocation, superstition, which is nothing more nor less than fear
of reason, or possibly a certain instinct that the truth would make
everything look rather second class--if one is second class one's
self.

DUCHESS

I suppose it is not incumbent upon me to stand here in order that my
character inspire you with further Socratic comment.

QUEEN

Not at all, my dear sister; by all means seek your fauns and draperies
and forgive me for prattling on quite regardless of sowing the tragic
seed--_ennui_.

     [_At this juncture it is only the intense refinement of the
     DUCHESS which prevents her from falling into the unbecoming
     posture of powerless invective. PHEDRO, who has listened to the
     foregoing, presumes here to interrupt._]

PHEDRO

Your Majesty, have I your permission to retire?

QUEEN [_turning vaguely toward him_]

Certainly, certainly, Phedro. It must be extremely fatiguing to keep
on hitting, one after another, so many peculiar facts.

PHEDRO [_bowing low_]

My position in your Majesty's service is far too exhilarating to
permit of fatigue. To breathe is occasionally difficult [_his voice
lowers to something resembling a hiss_], consequently to rest does not
occur.

     [_He glances about him as if at a group of neatly despatched
     marionettes--a glare of furtive hatred distorting his features,
     which is hastily veiled by his usual laconic humility._

     _The QUEEN precipitates his departure with a wave of her hand, to
     which he instantly submits._]

     [_Exit PHEDRO._]

DUCHESS

     [_Resuming in a voice of excessive boredom._]

Well, adieu, Charles, I suppose you will go on alternating between
vice and sentimentality until the curtain drops. You know, one reason
why you never attracted me?

PRINCE

Josephine, is this quite in taste?

DUCHESS

Taste is something one uses on arranging one's rooms, not upon human
beings.

QUEEN

Well hit, Josephine. You have at least the satisfaction of going out
to the ringing of the bull's eye.

DUCHESS

Possibly.

     [_She exits after courtseying to the QUEEN, who returns it in
     proper measure. There is a silence. PRINCE looks tenderly at the
     QUEEN, who moves about in a rather staccato manner, disturbing
     perfectly placed bibelots and pieces of furniture._]

PRINCE

We are alone at last.

QUEEN

That word should sound like the fold of wings around one's exhausted
body.

PRINCE [_archly_]

Substitute arms for wings, and could for should, if I may be permitted
to correct----

QUEEN

Oh, Charles, don't woo me with this poetic verbosity to take the place
of feeling. It is so exactly what you would say to the brewer's
daughter, had you selected her to save your estate and pay your bills.

PRINCE

Ah, Anne, Anne, why will you be so ironic?

QUEEN

Once or twice I thought of not being ironic, of looking into some
person's eyes, and not finding that I had to look away, of resting
with someone in a long silence full of exchanged beauties.

PRINCE [_approaching her_]

Anne, dear, how----

     [_The QUEEN laughs and backs away from him, where he stands with
     his arms stretched out towards her. In her laugh suddenly there
     is a slight sob._]

QUEEN

Stand that way another instant, Charles. Ah, here is everything I have
wanted, schemed for, wept about, in the position I have dreamt of it.
[_She glances out at the park._] The back drop is perfect also.
Birds' song, the freshness of morning, sunlight, youth,--youth to be
gotten through somehow. However, here it all is, a dream--and not
turning pale as all the others did in daylight. Yet, strangely enough,
I cannot find a self in me to come forward and take these things as
they are now.

PRINCE

Anne, Anne, for God's sake--I swear to you I can explain everything.

QUEEN

Try not to let your fear of personal consequences intercept the pity
you should feel for me.

PRINCE

Anne, I love you, I love you.

QUEEN

Why, why is it that people cannot watch anything die in silence? I
suppose after all you are not sufficiently ruthless to carry off your
own selfishness with any sort of dignity.

PRINCE [_sulkily_]

You do not believe me. You credit the report of a woman who has every
reason to hate me.

QUEEN

No, I credit intuition, instinct that is always stinging past what one
wants to think and flinging some dismantled idol across one's feet.
Somehow, from looking down at a lie one can never look up to that
particular thing again.

PRINCE

It was the lie you minded more than what I did.

QUEEN

I think a truth, no matter of what kind, would have given me some
point of exhilaration upon which to try you out.

PRINCE

Oh, Anne, I do not understand you.

QUEEN

It is as well we found out. How jocosely casual we are about our
spirits. We tie them into some bondage of eternity for the security of
a night's lodging, and then wonder that life grows sour upon our
palate. [_she smiles over at CHARLES'S bewilderment_] Which means, in
the literal terms of those who credit reincarnation, that if we
married, those things you would have to do to keep your heart up would
cause your next showing to degenerate into a slight motion of slime at
the base of mountains. Think of the distance lost, Charles, for such a
little mincing forward step. Come, the morning wanes. Fortunately
there are things to do, no matter what cannot be done. I shall return
you half of your fortune, which, you will remember, is wholly
confiscate to the Crown, but upon the condition that you pass the
fleeting future from well under my nose. I could not bear to be
incessantly reading my past, which is printed all over you in large
letters. Really, Charles, you are a shifting mass of monuments to the
hope of a ridiculous person.

PRINCE

You have broken my heart. I may as well go, I suppose.

QUEEN

Thank God, I have a literal mind, for what you have said, as you have
said it, literally means, "I see you have found me out, so I suppose
there is no use wasting any more time around here."

PRINCE

You are impossible. You think too quickly.

QUEEN [_smiling broadly_]

Charles, Charles, go now, now, while I am smiling at you. It will be
nice to remember our saying good-bye and smiling.

     [_She comes to him, takes his hand, looks up at him, but he will
     not let his face be natural. She smooths his face, apparently
     looking for some effect of Nature. Finally his features do relax
     into a rather sheepish, furtive smile._]

Ah, now, I see you do not want to talk about it any more, and you do
want to get right away. There, go.

     [_She pushes him toward the door, and out through it, and he is
     heard remonstrating with her down the hallway. In a few seconds
     she re-enters with his boutonnière in her hand. She looks rather
     strangely about her, and presses his flower to her mouth._]

QUEEN

My child, my love, it had to be good-bye this time.

     [_Far in the distance the air of "Clair de Lune" is being played
     upon myriad guitars and flutes._]


_CURTAIN_



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's Notes

   On page 74, the opening bracket in: [GWYMPLANE _with a strange sad
   gesture_] was moved: GWYMPLANE [_with a strange sad gesture_]

   Stage directions indented in the original book are shown as
   blockquotes.

   Quaint and inconsistent spelling and punctuation have been retained
   from the original book.





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