Imaginary Conversations and Poems, by Walter Savage Landor

The Count Gleichem: The Countess: Their Children, and Zaida.

Countess. Ludolph! my beloved Ludolph! do we meet again? Ah! I am jealous of these little ones, and of the embraces you are giving them.

Why sigh, my sweet husband?

Come back again, Wilhelm! Come back again, Annabella! How could you run away? Do you think you can see better out of the corner?

Annabella. Is this indeed our papa? What, in the name of mercy, can have given him so dark a colour? I hope I shall never be like that; and yet everybody tells me I am very like papa.

Wilhelm. Do not let her plague you, papa; but take me between your knees (I am too old to sit upon them), and tell me all about the Turks, and how you ran away from them.

Countess. Wilhelm! if your father had run away from the enemy, we should not have been deprived of him two whole years.

Wilhelm. I am hardly such a child as to suppose that a Christian knight would run away from a rebel Turk in battle. But even Christians are taken, somehow, by their tricks and contrivances, and their dog Mahomet. Beside, you know you yourself told me, with tear after tear, and scolding me for mine, that papa was taken by them.

Annabella. Neither am I, who am only one year younger, so foolish as to believe there is any dog Mahomet. And, if there were, we have dogs that are better and faithfuller and stronger.

Wilhelm. [To his father.] I can hardly help laughing to think what curious fancies girls have about Mahomet. We know that Mahomet is a dog-spirit with three horsetails.

Annabella. Papa! I am glad to see you smile at Wilhelm. I do assure you he is not half so bad a boy as he was, although he did point at me, and did tell you some mischief.

Count. I ought to be indeed most happy at seeing you all again.

Annabella. And so you are. Don’t pretend to look grave now. I very easily find you out. I often look grave when I am the happiest. But forth it bursts at last: there is no room for it in tongue, or eyes, or anywhere.

Count. And so, my little angel, you begin to recollect me.

Annabella. At first I used to dream of papa, but at last I forgot how to dream of him: and then I cried, but at last I left off crying. And then, papa, who could come to me in my sleep, seldom came again.

Count. Why do you now draw back from me, Annabella?

Annabella. Because you really are so very very brown: just like those ugly Turks who sawed the pines in the saw-pit under the wood, and who refused to drink wine in the heat of summer, when Wilhelm and I brought it to them. Do not be angry; we did it only once.

Wilhelm. Because one of them stamped and frightened her when the other seemed to bless us.

Count. Are they still living?

Countess. One of them is.

Wilhelm. The fierce one.

Count. We will set him free, and wish it were the other.

Annabella. Papa! I am glad you are come back without your spurs.

Countess. Hush, child, hush.

Annabella. Why, mamma? Do not you remember how they tore my frock when I clung to him at parting? Now I begin to think of him again: I lose everything between that day and this.

Countess. The girl’s idle prattle about the spurs has pained you: always too sensitive; always soon hurt, though never soon offended.

Count. O God! O my children! O my wife! it is not the loss of spurs I now must blush for.

Annabella. Indeed, papa, you never can blush at all, until you cut that horrid beard off.

Countess. Well may you say, my own Ludolph, as you do; for most gallant was your bearing in the battle.

Count. Ah! why was it ever fought?

Countess. Why were most battles? But they may lead to glory even through slavery.

Count. And to shame and sorrow.

Countess. Have I lost the little beauty I possessed, that you hold my hand so languidly, and turn away your eyes when they meet mine? It was not so formerly . . . unless when first we loved.

That one kiss restores to me all my lost happiness.

Come; the table is ready: there are your old wines upon it: you must want that refreshment.

Count. Go, my sweet children! you must eat your supper before I do.

Countess. Run into your own room for it.

Annabella. I will not go until papa has patted me again on the shoulder, now I begin to remember it. I do not much mind the beard: I grow used to it already: but indeed I liked better to stroke and pat the smooth laughing cheek, with my arm across the neck behind. It is very pleasant even so. Am I not grown? I can put the whole length of my finger between your lips.

Count. And now, will not you come, Wilhelm?

Wilhelm. I am too tall and too heavy: she is but a child. [Whispers.] Yet I think, papa, I am hardly so much of a man but you may kiss me over again . . . if you will not let her see it.

Countess. My dears! why do not you go to your supper?

Annabella. Because he has come to show us what Turks are like.

Wilhelm. Do not be angry with her. Do not look down, papa!

Count. Blessings on you both, sweet children!

Wilhelm. We may go now.

Countess. And now, Ludolph, come to the table, and tell me all your sufferings.

Count. The worst begin here.

Countess. Ungrateful Ludolph!

Count. I am he: that is my name in full.

Countess. You have then ceased to love me?

Count. Worse; if worse can be: I have ceased to deserve your love.

Countess. No: Ludolph hath spoken falsely for once; but Ludolph is not false.

Count. I have forfeited all I ever could boast of, your affection and my own esteem. Away with caresses! Repulse me, abjure me; hate, and never pardon me. Let the abject heart lie untorn by one remorse. Forgiveness would split and shiver what slavery but abased.

Countess. Again you embrace me; and yet tell me never to pardon you! O inconsiderate man! O idle deviser of impossible things!

But you have not introduced to me those who purchased your freedom, or who achieved it by their valour.

Count. Mercy! O God!

Countess. Are they dead? Was the plague abroad.

Count. I will not dissemble . . . such was never my intention . . . that my deliverance was brought about by means of ——

Countess. Say it at once . . . a lady.

Count. It was.

Countess. She fled with you.

Count. She did.

Countess. And have you left her, sir?

Count. Alas! alas! I have not; and never can.

Countess. Now come to my arms, brave, honourable Ludolph! Did I not say thou couldst not be ungrateful? Where, where is she who has given me back my husband?

Count. Dare I utter it! in this house.

Countess. Call the children.

Count. No; they must not affront her: they must not even stare at her: other eyes, not theirs, must stab me to the heart.

Countess. They shall bless her; we will all. Bring her in.

[Zaida is led in by the Count.]

Countess. We three have stood silent long enough: and much there may be on which we will for ever keep silence. But, sweet young creature! can I refuse my protection, or my love, to the preserver of my husband? Can I think it a crime, or even a folly, to have pitied the brave and the unfortunate? to have pressed (but alas! that it ever should have been so here!) a generous heart to a tender one?

Why do you begin to weep?

Zaida. Under your kindness, O lady, lie the sources of these tears.

But why has he left us? He might help me to say many things which I want to say.

Countess. Did he never tell you he was married?

Zaida. He did indeed.

Countess. That he had children?

Zaida. It comforted me a little to hear it.

Countess. Why? prithee why?

Zaida. When I was in grief at the certainty of holding but the second place in his bosom, I thought I could at least go and play with them, and win perhaps their love.

Countess. According to our religion, a man must have only one wife.

Zaida. That troubled me again. But the dispenser of your religion, who binds and unbinds, does for sequins or services what our Prophet does purely through kindness.

Countess. We can love but one.

Zaida. We indeed can love only one: but men have large hearts.

Countess. Unhappy girl!

Zaida. The very happiest in the world.

Countess. Ah! inexperienced creature!

Zaida. The happier for that perhaps.

Countess. But the sin!

Zaida. Where sin is, there must be sorrow: and I, my sweet sister, feel none whatever. Even when tears fall from my eyes, they fall only to cool my breast: I would not have one the fewer: they all are for him: whatever he does, whatever he causes, is dear to me.

Countess. [Aside.] This is too much. I could hardly endure to have him so beloved by another, even at the extremity of the earth. [To Zaida.] You would not lead him into perdition?

Zaida. I have led him (Allah be praised!) to his wife and children. It was for those I left my father. He whom we love might have stayed with me at home: but there he would have been only half happy, even had he been free. I could not often let him see me through the lattice; I was too afraid; and I dared only once let fall the water-melon; it made such a noise in dropping and rolling on the terrace: but, another day, when I had pared it nicely, and had swathed it up well among vine-leaves, dipped in sugar and sherbet, I was quite happy. I leaped and danced to have been so ingenious. I wonder what creature could have found and eaten it. I wish he were here, that I might ask him if he knew.

Countess. He quite forgot home then!

Zaida. When we could speak together at all, he spoke perpetually of those whom the calamity of war had separated from him.

Countess. It appears that you could comfort him in his distress, and did it willingly.

Zaida. It is delightful to kiss the eye-lashes of the beloved: is it not? but never so delightful as when fresh tears are on them.

Countess. And even this too? you did this?

Zaida. Fifty times.

Countess. Insupportable!

He often then spoke about me?

Zaida. As sure as ever we met: for he knew I loved him the better when I heard him speak so fondly.

Countess. [To herself.] Is this possible? It may be . . . of the absent, the unknown, the unfeared, the unsuspected.

Zaida. We shall now be so happy, all three.

Countess. How can we all live together?

Zaida. Now he is here, is there no bond of union?

Countess. Of union? of union? [Aside.] Slavery is a frightful thing! slavery for life, too! And she released him from it. What then? Impossible! impossible! [To Zaida.] We are rich. . . .

Zaida. I am glad to hear it. Nothing anywhere goes on well without riches.

Countess. We can provide for you amply. . . .

Zaida. Our husband. . . .

Countess. Our! . . . husband! . . .

Zaida. Yes, yes; I know he is yours too; and you, being the elder and having children, are lady above all. He can tell you how little I want: a bath, a slave, a dish of pilau, one jonquil every morning, as usual; nothing more. But he must swear that he has kissed it first. No, he need not swear it; I may always see him do it, now.

Countess. [Aside.] She agonizes me. [To Zaida.] Will you never be induced to return to your own country? Could not Ludolph persuade you?

Zaida. He who could once persuade me anything, may now command me everything: when he says I must go, I go. But he knows what awaits me.

Countess. No, child! he never shall say it.

Zaida. Thanks, lady! eternal thanks! The breaking of his word would break my heart; and better that break first. Let the command come from you, and not from him.

Countess. [Calling aloud.] Ludolph! Ludolph! hither! Kiss the hand I present to you, and never forget it is the hand of a preserver.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38