Fiction > Harvard Classics > Percy Bysshe Shelley > The Cenci
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Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822).  The Cenci.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Act II
 
Scene I
 
 
An Apartment in the Cenci Palace.
 
Enter LUCRETIA and BERNARDO
 
  Lucretia.  Weep not, my gentle boy; he struck but me
Who have borne deeper wrongs. In truth, if he
Had killed me, he had done a kinder deed.        5
O, God Almighty, do thou look upon us,
We have no other friend but only thee!
Yet weep not; though I love you as my own,
I am not your true mother.
  Bernardo.                O more, more,        10
Than ever mother was to any child,
That have you been to me! Had he not been
My father, do you think that I should weep!
  Lucretia.  Alas! Poor boy, what else couldst thou have done?
 
Enter BEATRICE
        15
  Beatrice  (in a hurried voice). Did he pass this way? Have you seen him, brother?
Ah! No, that is his step upon the stairs;
’Tis nearer now; his hand in on the door;
Mother, if I to thee have ever been
A duteous child, now save me! Thou, great God,        20
Whose image upon earth a father is,
Dost thou indeed abandon me? He comes:
The door is opening now; I see his face;
He frowns on others, but he smiles on me,
Even as he did after the feast last night.        25
  Enter a Servant
  Almighty God, how merciful thou art!
’Tis but Orsino’s servant.—Well, what news?
  Servant.  My master bids me say, the Holy Father
Has sent back your petition thus unopened.  [Giving a paper.        30
And he demands at what hour ’twere secure
To visit you again?
  Lucretia.                At the Ave Mary.  [Exit Servant.
So daughter, our last hope has failed; Ah me!
How pale you look; you tremble, and you stand        35
Wrapped in some fixed and fearful meditation,
As if one thought were over strong for you:
Your eyes have a chill glare; O, dearest child!
Are you gone mad? If not, pray speak to me.
  Beatrice.  You see I am not mad: I speak to you.        40
  Lucretia.  You talked of something that your father did
After that dreadful feast? Could it be worse
Than when he smiled, and cried, My sons are dead!
And every one looked in his neighbour’s face
To see if others were as white as he?        45
At the first word he spoke I felt the blood
Rush to my heart, and fell into a trance;
And when it passed I sat all weak and wild;
Whilst you alone stood up, and with strong words
Checked his unnatural pride; and I could see        50
The devil was rebuked that lives in him.
Until this hour thus have you ever stood
Between us and your father’s moody wrath
Like a protecting presence: your firm mind
Has been our only refuge and defence.        55
What can have thus subdued it? What can now
Have given you that cold melancholy look,
Succeeding to your unaccustomed fear?
  Beatrice.  What is it that you say? I was just thinking
’Twere better not to struggle any more.        60
Men, like my father, have been dark and bloody,
Yet never—Oh! Before worse comes of it
’Twere wise to die: it ends in that at last.
  Lucretia.  O talk not so, dear child! Tell me at once
What did your father do or say to you?        65
He stayed not after that accursèd feast
One moment in your chamber.—Speak to me.
  Bernardo.  O sister, sister, prithee, speak to us!
  Beatrice  (speaking very slowly with a forced calmness). It was one word, Mother, one little word;
One look, one smile. (Wildly.) Oh! He has trampled me        70
Under his feet, and made the blood stream down
My pallid cheeks. And he has given us all
Ditch water, and the fever-stricken flesh
Of buffaloes, and bade us eat or starve,
And we have eaten.—He has made me look        75
On my beloved Bernardo, when the rust
Of heavy chains has gangrened his sweet limbs,
And I have never yet despaired—but now!
What could I say?  [Recovering herself.
                Ah! No, ’tis nothing new.        80
The sufferings we all share have made me wild:
He only struck and cursed me as he passed;
He said, he looked, he did;—nothing at all
Beyond his wont, yet it disordered me.
Alas! I am forgetful of my duty,        85
I should preserve my senses for your sake.
  Lucretia.  Nay, Beatrice! have courage, my sweet girl,
If any one despairs it should be I
Who loved him once, and now must live with him
Till God in pity call for him or me.        90
For you may, like your sister, find some husband,
And smile, years hence, with children round your knees;
Whilst I, then dead, and all this hideous coil
Shall be remembered only as a dream.
  Beatrice.  Talk not to me, dear lady, of a husband.        95
Did you not nurse me when my mother died?
Did you not shield me and that dearest boy?
And had we any other friend but you
In infancy, with gentle words and looks,
To win our father not to murder us?        100
And shall I now desert you? May the ghost
Of my dead Mother plead against my soul
If I abandon her who filled the place
She left, with more, even, than a mother’s love!
  Bernardo.  And I am of my sister’s mind. Indeed        105
I would not leave you in this wretchedness,
Even though the Pope should make me free to live
In some blithe place, like others of my age,
With sports, and delicate food, and the fresh air.
O never think that I will leave you, Mother!        110
  Lucretia.  My dear, dear children!
 
Enter CENCI suddenly
  Cenci.                What, Beatrice here!
Come hither!  [She shrinks back, and covers her face.
              Nay, hide not your face, ’tis fair;        115
Look up! Why, yesternight you dared to look
With disobedient insolence upon me,
Bending a stern and an inquiring brow
On what I meant; whilst I then sought to hide
That which I came to tell you—but in vain.        120
  Beatrice  (wildly, staggering towards the door). O that the earth would gape! Hide me, O God!
  Cenci.  Then it was I whose inarticulate words
Fell from my lips, and who with tottering steps
Fled from your presence, as you now from mine.
Stay, I command you—from this day and hour        125
Never again, I think, with fearless eye,
And brow superior, and unaltered cheek,
And that lip made for tenderness or scorn,
Shalt thou strike dumb the meanest of mankind;
Me least of all. Now get thee to thy chamber!        130
Thou too, loathed image of thy cursed mother,  [To BERNARDO.
Thy milky, meek face makes me sick with hate!  [Exeunt BEATRICE and BERNARDO.
(Aside.) So much has past between us as must make
Me bold, her fearful.—’Tis an awful thing
To touch such mischief as I now conceive:        135
So men sit shivering on the dewy bank,
And try the chill stream with their feet; once in…
How the delighted spirit pants for joy!
  Lucretia  (advancing timidly towards him). O husband! Pray forgive poor Beatrice.
She meant not any ill.        140
  Cenci.                Nor you perhaps?
Nor that young imp, whom you have taught by rote
Parricide with his alphabet? Nor Giacomo?
Nor those two must unnatural sons, who stirred
Enmity up against me with the Pope?        145
Whom in one night merciful God cut off:
Innocent lambs! They thought not any ill.
You were not here conspiring? You said nothing
Of how I might be dungeoned as a madman;
Or be condemned to death for some offence,        150
And you would be the witness?—This failing,
How just it were to hire assassins, or
Put sudden poison in my evening drink?
Or smother me when overcome by wine?
Seeing we had no other judge but God,        155
And he had sentenced me, and there were none
But you to be the executioners
Of this decree enregistered in heaven?
Oh, no! You said not this?
  Lucretia.                So help me God,        160
I never thought the things you charge me with!
  Cenci.  If you dare speak that wicked lie again
I’ll kill you. What! It was not by your counsel
That Beatrice disturbed the feast last night?
You did not hope to stir some enemies        165
Against me, and escape, and laugh to scorn
What every nerve of you now trembles at?
You judged that men were bolder than they are;
Few dare to stand between their grave and me.
  Lucretia.  Look not so dreadfully! By my salvation        170
I knew not aught that Beatrice designed;
Nor do I think she designed any thing
Until she heard you talk of her dead brothers.
  Cenci.  Blaspheming liar! You are damned for his!
But I will take you where you may persuade        175
The stones you tread on to deliver you:
For men shall there be none but those who dare
All things—not question that which I command.
On Wednesday next I shall set out: you know
That savage rock, the Castle of Petrella:        180
’Tis safely walled, and moated round about:
Its dungeons underground, and its thick towers
Never told tales; though they have heard and seen
What might make dumb things speak.—Why do you linger?
Make speediest preparation for the journey!  [Exit LUCRETIA.        185
The all-beholding sun yet shines; I hear
A busy stir of men about the streets;
I see the bright sky through the window panes:
It is a garish, broad, and peering day;
Loud, light, suspicious, full of eyes and ears,        190
And every little corner, nook, and hole
Is penetrated with the insolent light.
Come darkness! Yet, what is the day to me?
And wherefore should I wish for night, who do
A deed which shall confound both night and day?        195
’Tis she shall grope through a bewildering mist
Of horror: if there be a sun in heaven
She shall not dare to look upon its beams;
Nor feel its warmth. Let her then wish for night;
The act I think shall soon extinguish all        200
For me: I bear a darker deadlier gloom
Than the earth’s shade, or interlunar air,
Or constellations quenched in murkiest cloud,
In which I walk secure and unbeheld
Towards my purpose.—Would that it were done!  [Exit.        205
 

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