Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895
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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895.  1895.
 
From “The Fool’s Revenge”
 
Tom Taylor (1817–80)
 
 
THE JESTER AND HIS DAUGHTER
SCENE.—A room in the house of BERTUCCIO.
[BERTUCCIO stands for a moment fondly contemplating FIORDELISA. He steps forward.

  Ber.  My own!
Fio.  [Turning suddenly, and flinging herself into his arms with a cry of joy.]        My father!  Ber.  [Embracing her tenderly.]  Closer, closer yet!
Let me feel those soft arms about my neck,
This dear cheek on my heart! No—do not stir—        5
It does me so much good! I am so happy—
These minutes are worth years!
  Fio.        My own dear father!
  Ber.  Let me look at thee, darling—why, thou growest
More and more beautiful! Thou’rt happy here?        10
Hast all that thou desirest—thy lute—thy flowers?
She loves her poor old father?—Blessings on thee—
I know thou dost—but tell me so.
  Fio.        I love you—
I love you very much! I am so happy        15
When you are with me. Why do you come so late,
And go so soon? Why not stay always here?
  Ber.  Why not! Why not! Oh, if I could! To live
Where there ’s no mocking, and no being mock’d:
No laughter, but what’s innocent; no mirth        20
That leaves an after bitterness like gall.
  Fio.  Now, you are sad! There ’s that black ugly cloud
Upon your brow—you promis’d, the last time,
It never should come when we were together.
You know, when you ’re sad, I ’m sad too.        25
  Ber.        My bird!
I ’m selfish even with thee—let dark thoughts come,
That thy sweet voice may chase them, as they say
The blessed church-bells drive the demons off.
  Fio.  If I but knew the reason of your sadness,        30
Then I might comfort you; but I know nothing—
Not even your name.
  Ber.        I ’d have no name for thee
But “father.”
  Fio.        In the convent at Cesena,        35
Where I was rear’d, they us’d to call me orphan.
I thought I had no father, till you came.
And then they needed not to say I had one;
My own heart told me that.
  Ber.        I often think        40
I had done well to have left thee there, in the peace
Of that still cloister. But it was too hard!
My empty heart so hunger’d for my child,
For those dear eyes that look no scorn for me,
That voice that speaks respect and tenderness,        45
Even for me!—My dove—my lily-flower—
My only stay in life!—O God! I thank thee
That thou hast life me this at least!  [He weeps.
  Fio.        Dear father!
You ’re crying now—you must not cry—you must not—        50
I cannot bear to see you cry.
  Ber.        Let be!
’T were better than to see me laugh.
Fio.        But wherefore?
You say you are so happy here, and yet        55
You never come but to weep bitter tears.
And I can but weep, too,—not knowing why.
Why are you sad? Oh, tell me—tell me all!
  Ber.  I cannot. In this house I am thy father;
Out of it, what I am boots not to say;        60
Hated, perhaps, or envied—fear’d, I hope,
By many—scorn’d by more—and lov’d by none.
In this one innocent corner of the world
I would but be to thee a father—something
August and sacred!        65
  Fio.        And you are so, father.
  Ber.  I love thee with a love strong as the hate
I bear for all but thee. Come, sit beside me,
With thy pure hand in mine—and tell me still,
“I love you,” and “I love you,”—only that.        70
Smile on me—so!—thy smile is passing sweet!
Thy mother used to smile so once—O God!
I cannot bear it. Do not smile—it wakes
Memories that tear my heart-strings. Do not look
So like thy mother, or I shall go mad!        75
  Fio.  Oh, tell me of my mother!
  Ber.  [Shuddering.]        No, no, no!
  Fio.  She ’s dead?
  Ber.  Yes.
  Fio.  You were with her when she died?        80
  Ber.  No!—leave the dead alone—talk of thyself—
Thy life here. Thou heed’st well my caution, girl,
Not to go out by day, nor show thyself
There at the casement.
  Fio.        Yes; some day, I hope,        85
You will take me with you, but to see the town;
’T is so hard to be shut up here alone—
  Ber.  Thou hast not stirr’d abroad?
  Fio.        Only to vespers—
You said I might do that with good Brigitta;        90
I never go forth or come in alone.
  Ber.  That ’s well. I grieve that thou shouldst live so close.
But if thou knewest what poison’s in the air,
What evil walks the streets; how innocence
Is a temptation, beauty but a bait        95
For desperate desires!—no man, I hope,
Has spoken to thee?
  Fio.        Only one.
  Ber.            Ha! who?
  Fio.  I know not—’t was against my will.        100
  Ber.            You gave
No answer?
  Fio.    No—I fled.
  Ber.        He follow’d you?
  Fio.  A gracious lady gave me kind protection,        105
And bade her train guard me safe home.
Oh, father,
If you had seen how good she was, how gently
She sooth’d my fears,—for I was sore afraid,—
I ’m sure you ’d love her.        110
  Ber.        Did you learn her name?
  Fio.  I ask’d it, first, to set it in my prayers,
And then that you might pray for her.
Ber.  Her name?  [Aside.]  I pray!
Fio.        The Countess Malatesta.        115
  Ber.  [Aside.]  Count Malatesta’s wife protect my child!
You have not seen her since?
  Fio.        No, though she urged me
So hard to come to her; and ask’d my name;
And who my parents were; and where I liv’d.        120
  Ber.  You did not tell her?
  Fio.        Who my parents were?
How could I, when I must not know myself?
  Ber.  Patience, my darling; trust thy father’s love,
That there is reason for this mystery!        125
The time may come when we may live in peace,
And walk together free, under free heaven;
But that cannot be here—nor now!
  Fio.        Oh, when—
When shall that time arrive?        130
  Ber.        When what I live for
Has been achiev’d!
  Fio.        What you live for?
  Ber.            Revenge!
  Fio.  Oh, do not look so, father!        135
  Ber.        Listen, girl.
You ask’d me of your mother; it is time
You should know why all questioning of her
Racks me to madness. Look upon me, child;
Misshapen as I am, there once was one,        140
Who seeing me despis’d—mock’d, lonely, poor—
Lov’d me, I think, most for my misery;
Thy mother, like thee—just so pure—so sweet.
I was a public notary in Cesena;
Our life was humble, but so happy: thou        145
Wert in thy cradle then, and many a night
Thy mother and I sate hand in hand together,
Watching thine innocent smiles, and building up
Long plans of joy to come!
  Fio.        Alas! she died!        150
  Ber.  Died! There are deaths ’t is comfort to look back on:
Hers was not such a death. A devil came
Across our quiet life, and mark’d her beauty,
And lusted for her; and when she scorn’d his offers,
Because he was a noble, great and strong,        155
He bore her from my side—by force—and after
I never saw her more: they brought me news
That she was dead!
  Fio.        Ah me!
  Ber.            And I was mad        160
For years and years, and when my wits came back,—
If e’er they came,—they brought one haunting purpose,
That since has shap’d my life,—to have revenge!
Revenge upon her wronger and his order;
Revenge in kind; to quit him—wife for wife!        165
  Fio.  Father, ’t is not for me to question with you;
But think!—revenge belongeth not to man,
It is God’s attribute—usurp it not!
  Ber.  Preach abstinence to him that dies of hunger;
Tell the poor wretch who perishes of thirst        170
There ’s danger in the cup his fingers clutch:
But bid me not forswear revenge. No word!
Thou know’st now why I mew thee up so close;
Keep thee out of the streets; shut thee from eyes
And tongues of lawless men—for in these days        175
All men are lawless. ’T is because I fear
To lose thee, as I lost thy mother.
  Fio.            Father,
I ’ll pray for her.
  Ber.    Do—and for me; good night!        180
  Fio.  Oh, not so soon—with all these sad, dark thoughts,
These bitter memories. You need my love:
I ’ll touch my lute for you, and sing to it.
Music, you know, chases all evil angels.
  Ber.  I must go: ’t is grave business calls me hence—        185
[Aside]  ’T is time that I was at my post.—My own,
Sleep in thine innocence. Good! Good night!
  Fio.  But let me see you to the outer door.
  Ber.  Not a step further, then. God guard this place,
That here my flower may grow, safe from the blight        190
Of look or word impure,—a holy thing
Consecrate to my service and my love!
 

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