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.
 
Cromwell and Henrietta Maria
 
William Gorman Wills (1828–91)
 
 
From the Stage Text of “Charles the First”
 
 
SCENE.—Whitehall Palace. CROMWELL discovered seated.

  Cromwell.  On me and on my children!
So said the voice last night! A lying dream!
This blood—this blood on me and on my children.
It is my wont to feel more heartiness
When face to face with action. But this deed        5
Doth wrap itself in doubt and fearfulness.
Do I best to confront him at this hour,
Even when you scaffold waiteth for its victim,
And his pale face doth look like martyrdom?
I will not. Out upon my sinking heart!        10
The standard-bearer fainteth, and my followers
Grow slack. I ’ll hie me to them—
And yet, if by the granting him his life
He abdicate—no shifts—he abdicate!
Then—then this offer of the Prince of Wales—        15
This young Charles Stuart—he in our absolute power,
As he doth promise if we spare his father.
Why, if he come—I had not thought of that—
Both son and father given to our hands:
Then have we scotch’d the snake!        20
 
Enter an Attendant, who hands CROMWELL a letter.
  Attend.  My Lord-General—from the King!  [Exit Attendant.
  Crom.  [Reads the letter.]  “Declines to see me!”
Well—well—
  “His last hour disturb’d!”
        It shall be thy last hour.        25
“As touching the Prince of Wales’ noble offering of himself for me. Look back on my past life, and thou art answer’d!”
Past life! Full of deceit and subtle carriage.
  “I pardon thee and all mine enemies, and may Heaven pardon them!”
What now doth stay to rend away this patch
On our new garment?        30
England! one hour—gray tyranny is dead!
And in this hand thy future destiny.
 
Enter QUEEN.

Madam, my daughter hardly did prevail
That I should grant you this last interview.
It must be brief and private, or I warn you        35
I cannot answer for your safe return.
  Queen.  [Aside.]  Sainte Vierge, aidez-moi! This is the man who holds
My husband’s life within his hands. Ah! could I—Sainte Marie, inspirez-moi, mettez votre force dans mes prières!
I see him as the drowning swimmer sees
The distant headland he can never reach.        40
Sir, do not go. I wish to speak to you.
  Crom.  Madam, I wait.
  Queen.  Oh, sir! the angels wait and watch your purpose:
Unwritten history pauses for your deed,
To set your name within a shining annal,        45
Or else to brand it on her foulest page!
  Crom.  Madam, ’t is not for me to answer you.
And for unwritten history—thou nor I
Can brief it in our cause; ’t will speak the truth.
England condemns the King, and he shall die!        50
  Queen.  Oh, pity! pity! Hast a human heart?
How canst thou look at me so cruelly?
I look for pity on thy stubborn cheek
As I might place a mirror to dead lips
To find one stain of breath.        55
The brightest jewel ever set in crown
Were worthless to the glisten of one tear
Upon thy lid—one faint hope-star of mercy.
Be merciful! a queen doth kneel to thee.
  Crom.  Not to me! Nor am I now        60
A whit more mov’d because thou art a queen!
  Queen.  I am no queen; but a poor stricken woman,
On whom who this dreadful hour is closing in.  [Chimes. The half-hour.
Dost hear the clock? Each second quivering on
Is full of horror for both thee and me:        65
Endless remorse thy doom, and sorrow mine.
  Crom.  Madam, no more. I shall have no remorse
For an unhappy duty well perform’d.
  Queen.  Thou call’st it duty; but all heaven and earth
Shall raise one outraged cry and call it murder;        70
It shall be written right across the clouds
In characters of blood till Heaven hath judged it.
  Crom.  Nay, you forget! the righteous cause doth prosper.
If this be crime, the hand of Heaven not in it,
Then had thy husband flourish’d; on our side        75
God’s heavy judgment fallen, shame and slaughter.
  Queen.  God speaketh not in thunder when he judges,
But in the dying moans of those we treasure,
And in the silence of our broken hearts!
Thou hast a daughter, and her cheek is pale;        80
Her days do balance between life and death,
Whether they wither or abide with thee.
Let him be cruel who hath none to love;
But let that father tremble who shall dare
Widow another’s home! She loves the King.        85
Take now his sacred life, and hie thee home.
Smile on her, call her to thee, she will linger.
Ask for thy welcome, she will give it thee!
A shudder as she meets thee at the door:
A cry as thou wouldst think to touch her lips;        90
A sickening at thy guilty hands’ caress!
The haunting of a mute reproach shall dwell
Forever in her eyes till they be dead!
  Crom.  [Moved.]  Silence! You speak
  you know not what. No more!        95
Thou voice within, why dost thou seem so far?
Shine out, thou fiery pillar! Bring me up
From the dead wilderness—
  Queen.  Oh! yield not to that voice, hearken to mercy,
And I will join my prayers to thine hence-forth        100
That thy Elizabeth may live for thee.
  Crom.  Madam, I came here with intent of mercy,
And with a hope of life.
  Queen.        Of life—of life!
  Crom.  I offer’d him his life—he scorn’d my offer.        105
  Queen.  No—no—he shall not. I am somewhat faint;
The hope thou showest striketh me like lightning.
Life! didst thou say his life? Ask anything.
  Crom.  If he would abdicate and quit the kingdom.
  Queen.  And he shall do it. I will answer for it.        110
Give me but breathing-time to move him, sir.
  Crom.  Stay, madam. If we spare your husband’s life
Your son has offer’d to submit his person
Into our hands, and set his sign and seal
To any proposition we demand.        115
  Queen.  “Thou strikest a fountain for me in the rock,
And ere my lips can touch it, it is dry!”
My husband first must abdicate, and then my son—
What was the answer of the King to thee?
  Crom.  He doth refuse our mercy, and elects        120
To carry to his death the name of King.
  Queen.  When all was lost at Newark, and thy King
Was bought and sold by his own country-men,
’T was thou who with a fawning cozenage
Lur’d thy good master to undo himself,        125
To doubt where all his hope was to confide,
And blindly trust where every step was fatal!
’T was thou, when the repenting Parliament
Were fain for reconcilement, brought thy soldiers—
Thou (jealous stickler for the Commons’ rights)        130
Arrested every true man in the house,
And pack’d the benches with thy regicides!
  Crom.  What, madam, is the purpose of this railing?
  Queen.  Thou think’st to make the mother a decoy,
And, holding the lost father in thy grip,        135
Secure the son who yet may punish thee!  [Chimes. Three quarters.
  Crom.  Madam, the clock! say, what dost thou intend?
  Queen.  To choke my sighs, to hide each bitter tear,
To keep a calm and steadfast countenance,
To mask my anguish from his Majesty.        140
  Crom.  So! it were well; and then—
  Queen.  Then we will both be faithful to ourselves,
Even unto death!
  Crom.  Will you not, madam, use your influence?
  Queen.  Never! My husband, sir, shall die a KING!        145
  Crom.  Thou shadow of a King, then art thou doom’d!
I wash mine hands of it.  [Aside.
What melancholy doth raven on my heart?
Thou child of many prayers, Elizabeth!—
I ’ll to the Generals. Fairfax relents.        150
That not will I. My hand is on the plough;
I will not look behind.  [Exit CROMWELL.
 

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