The Lamp and the Bell, by Edna St. Vincent Millay

ACT I

Scene 1

[Scene: A garden of the palace at Fiori; four years later.]

[Discovered seated Laura, Francesca and Fidelio, Laura embroidering,
Fidelio strumming his flute, Francesca lost in thought.]

LAURA. You — Fool! If there be two chords to your lute,
Give us the other for a time!

FRANCESCA. And yet, Laura,
I somewhat fancied that soft sound he made.
’Twas all on the same tone — but ’twas a sweet tone.

LAURA. ’Tis like you. As for myself, let music change
From time to time, or have done altogether.
Sing us the song, Fidelio, that you made
Last night — a song of flowers, and fair skies,
And nightingales, and love.

FIDELIO. I know the song.
It is a song of winter.

LAURA. How is that?

FIDELIO. Because it is a song of summer set
To a sad tune.

FRANCESCA. [Sadly] Ah, well — so that it be not
A song of autumn, I can bear to hear it.

LAURA. In any case, music. I am in a mood for music.
I am in a mood where if something be not done
To startle me, I shall confess my sins.

[Enter Carlotta.]

CARLOTTA. Ha! I will have that woman yet by the hair!

LAURA. What woman, pray, Carlotta?

CAR. Ho! What woman!
Who but that scullery-wench, that onion-monger,
That slatternly, pale bakress, that foul witch,
The coroneted Fish–Wife of Fiori,
Her Majesty, the Queen!

FRA. Hush — hush — Carlotta!
You could be put to death for less than that!

CAR. Not I, my duck. When I am put to death
’Twill be for more! Oh, I will have her yet
By the hair! [For the first time noticing Fidelio.]
Fidelio, if you breathe one word
Of this, I will scratch the Princess into ribbons,
Whom you love better than your wit.

FID. I’ faith,
I did but hear you say you are a fish-wife,
And all the world knows that.

LAU. Fear not, Carlotta,
He is as dumb as a prophet. Every second word
He utters, eats the one before it. Speak,
But softly.

CAR. Nay,’tis nothing. — Nay, by my head,
It is a townful! ’Tis the way she has
Of saying “that should be done like this, and this
Like that”! The woman stirs me to that point
I feel like a carrot in a stew — I boil so
I bump the kettle on all sides!

LAU. My dear,
Were you as plump as I you would not dare
Become so angry. It would make your stays creak.

CAR. Well, I am done. Fidelio, play me a dirge
To put me in good spirits. Merry music
Is sure to make me sad.

[Fidelio plays. Pause.]

CAR. ’Tis curious
A woman like her should have a child like that —
So gentle and so pretty-mannered. Faith —

FID. Hush! Hush! Here come the prettiest pair of birds
That ever sat together on a bough so close
You could not see the sky between. How now,
Snow–White and Rose–Red! Are you reconciled
One to another?

[Enter Beatrice and Bianca, with their arms about one another.]

BIA. Reconciled, Fidelio?
We had not quarrelled! [Laughter from Fidelio and the ladies.]

BEA. Do not listen to him,
Bianca, ’tis but the jingling of his bells.

FIDELIO. Do you make a better jest than that
At once, or have the clappers cut from them.

FID. Alas, alas — all the good jests are made.
I made them yesterday.

CAR. If that be true,
You would best become a wise man for a time,
My friend — there are plenty of wise words not yet said!

FID. I shall say them all tomorrow.

LAU. If you do,
You will be stoned to death.

FID. Not I. No one
Will hear me. — Well, I am off. — I know an old man
Who does not know the road runs past his house;
And yet his bees make honey. [Exit Fidelio.]

CAR. [Looking after him.] ’Tis the one wise fool
We have among us.

[Enter Grazia.]

GRA. Oh, here you are, my ducklings!
Always together, like a beggar and a flea!
I looked for you at lunch-time; I forget now
What for; but then ’twas a matter of more weight
Than laying siege to a city — la, how time
Does carry one on! An hour is like an ocean,
The way it separates you from yourself! —
[To Bianca and Beatrice.] What do you find to talk about all day?

BEA. We do not talk all day.

CAR. Nay, tis you, Grazia,
That talk all day.

BEA. We ride, and play at tennis,
And row on the lake —

GRA. I know who does the rowing!

BEA. Nay, not by any means! Bianca rows
Nearly as well as I.

CAR. And do you ride
Nearly as well as she, Bianca? [All smile.]

BIA. [Ruefully.] Nay.

GRA. ’Tis an unkind question. There be few in Fiori
Might answer, “Aye.” Her Highness rides like a centaur.

BIA. I’d never dare to mount the horse she rides.

BEA. What, Harlequin? — La, he’s gentle as a kitten!
Though he’s a little young, ’tis true, not settled yet
In his mind.

LAU. As to his mind, ’twere a small matter,
Were he a bit more settled in his legs!

BIA. I’m afraid of horses, anyway, they are so much
Bigger than I am.

BEA. Oh, Bianca, horses
Are just like people! Are you afraid of father? —
He is bigger than you.

BIA. Nay. But I’d never dare
Prod him which way to go!

BEA. Oh, la, I would!
Father, this ditch! This four-foot wall now, father!
And swim the brook beyond!

FRA. And is there naught
In which Bianca carries off the trophies?

BEA. [Ruefully.] Ay, there is tennis.

LAU. She wins from you at tennis?

BEA. She flays me, Laura. She drags me at her racket
Nine times around the court!

CAR. Why, how is that? —
She is not quicker.

BEA. Nay, but she grows cool
Whilst I grow hot, Carlotta, and freezes me
Ere I can melt her!

FRA. Is it true, Bianca?

BIA. ’Tis true I win from her. — Although not always.

GRA. What did I come here for? — I must go back
To where I started, and think of it again! [Exit Grazia.]

CAR. [Calling after her.]
Are you sure that you remember where you started?
—— The woman hath a head like a sieve.

LAU. And yet,
You may be sure ’tis nothing more than the thimble
Of the matter she’s forgotten. I never knew her
Mislay the thread or the needle of a thing.

BIA. We must study now, Beatrice, we really must.
We have not opened a book since yesterday.

LAU. La, as for me, I have not opened a book
Since yesteryear — I’d rather open a vein!

CAR. Lessons — troth, I remember well those lessons.
As for what I learned — troth, that’s a different matter,

FRA. ’Tis curious; the things that one remembers
Are foolish things. One does not know at all
Why one remembers them. There was a blackbird
With a broken foot somebody found and tamed
And named Euripides! — I can see it now.

CAR. Some of the silly rhymes we used to write
In the margins of our books, I still remember!

LAU. And eating sweets behind the covers of them!

FRA. And faces — faces — faces — and a little game
We used to play, all marching in a row
And singing! — I wish I were a child again.

BEA. You are not old, Francesca. You are very young.
And very beautiful!

FRA. I have been beautiful
Too many years to be so very young.

CAR. How now, Francesca! Would you have it said
You are enamoured of some beardless youth,
That so you see the wrinkles suddenly?
Have done! Have done!

BIA. Where shall we study, Bice?

BEA. Indoors. I cannot study out of doors.

[Exeunt Beatrice and Bianca.]

LAU. I vow I never knew a pair of lovers
More constant than those two.

CAR. A pair of lovers?
Marry, I find your figure lacking force!
Since when were lovers true?

FRA. Oh, peace, Carlotta!
You bear too sharp a weapon against the world —
A split tongue full of poison, in a head
That darts at every heel! — I’m going in. [Exit Francesca.]

LAU. You should not say such things when she is with us, Carlotto.

CAR. Is the woman in love?

LAU. In love!
She is so far gone she does not know which way
To sail — all shores are equally out of sight.

[Exeunt Laura and Carlotta.]

[Music off stage. Enter Fidelio, singing.]

FID. “What was I doing when the moon stood above?
What did I do? What did I do?
I lied to a lady that had given me her love —
I swore to be true! I swore to be true!”

[He picks up from the grass a white scarf which Beatrice was
wearing, and which slipped from her shoulders unnoticed as she
went out.]

FID. My mistress!

[He thrusts the scarf under his cloak and continues his song,
just as Guido enters from another direction.]

FID. “And what was I doing when the sun stood above?
What did I do? What did I do? —”

GUI. By my sacred word, Fidelio, I do not like your song.

FID. Faith, and small wonder! — It is a song that sets the evil eye
To staring in upon itself.

GUI. [Stopping in his walk.] What mean you by that, my throaty friend?

FID. I mean to say
That, taking it all in all and by and large,
You do not care for music.

GUI. I do not care
For yours, but it is possible Apollo
Had a better tenor. I never heard him sing.

FID. Nay, and how could you? — He died when you were born!

GUI. He died, that is, in giving birth to me?

FID. Aye, if you like — you bear as much resemblance
To him as to your mother’s husband, surely.

GUI. Take care, Fidelio!

FID. [Lightly] So! Then it angers you
Apollo should be deemed your sire! I told you
[Sadly.] You did not care for music!

GUI. You are a sly fool,
My merry friend. What hide you under the cloak?

FID. Why, ’tis a little patch of snow the sun
Would lay too hot a hand on.

GUI. By my life —
And what are you that you can keep the sun
From shining where it will?

FID. Why, by your life —
And a foul oath it is! — why, by your life,
I am a cloud — that is an easy riddle.

Scene 2

[Scene: A garden with a fountain, at Fiori. Beatrice
and Bianca sitting side by side on a low step. Evening.]

BEA. How beautiful it is to sit like this,
Snow–White — to think of much, and to say little.

BIA. Ay, it is beautiful. I shall remember
All my life long these evenings that we spent
Sitting just here, thinking together. [Pause.] Rose–Red,
It is four years today since first we met.
Did you know that?

BEA. Nay, is it?

BIA. Four years today.
I liked you from the moment that I saw you,
Beatrice!

BEA. I you, Bianca. From the very moment!
I thought you were the prettiest little girl
That I had ever seen.

BIA. I was afraid
Of you, a little, at first — you were a Princess,
You see. But you explained that being a Princess
Was much the same as anything else. ’Twas nice,
You said, when people were nice, and when they were not nice
’Twas hateful, just the same as everything else.
And then I saw your dolls, and they had noses
All scratched, and wigs all matted, just like mine,
Which reassured me even more! — I still, though,
Think of you as a Princess; the way you do things
Is much more wonderful than the way I do them! —
The way you speak to the servants, even the way
You pick up something that you drop.

BEA. You goose!
’Tis not because I’m a princess you feel that way —
I’ve always thought the same thing about you! —
The way you draw your gloves on is to me
More marvelous than the way the sun comes up!

[They both burst out laughing.]

BEA. Oh, lud — how droll we are!

BIA. Oh, I shall die
Of laughing! Think you anyone else, Rose–Red,
Was ever half so silly?

BEA. I dare wager
There be a thousand, in this realm alone,
Some even sillier!

BIA. Here comes Fidelio! [Enter Fidelio.]

BEA. Fidelio, sing to us — there is no nightingale
Abroad tonight, save you. And the night cries
For music!

BIA. Sing, Fidelio!

FID. I have no thorn
To lean my breast on. I’ve been happy all day,
And happiness ever made a crow of me.

BEA. Sing, none the less — unless you have a cold,
Which is a singer’s only rock of refuge.
You have no cold, or you would not be happy.
So sing.

FID. [Singing.] “Oh, little rose-tree, bloom!
Summer is nearly over.
The dahlias bleed and the phlox is seed,
Nothing’s left of the clover,
And the path of the poppy no one knows —
I would blossom if I were a rose!

Summer for all your guile
Will brown in a week to autumn,
And launched leaves throw a shadow below
Over the brook’s clear bottom,
And the chariest bud the year can boast
Be brought to bloom by the chastening frost!
Oh, little rose-tree, bloom!”

[As he finishes the song Fidelio goes out, softly strumming
the last chords. Bianca and Beatrice did sit quite
still for a moment.]

BIA. Do you know what I am thinking, Bice?

BEA. You’re wondering where we’ll be ten years from now,
Or something of that nature.

BIA. Ay, I was wondering
Which would be married first, and go away,
And would we still be friends.

BEA. Oh, do you doubt it,
Snow–White?

BIA. Nay, nay — I doubt it not, my dear —
But I was wondering. I am suddenly sad,
I know not why. I do not wish to leave you
Ever.

BEA. I know. I cannot bear
To think of parting. We have been happy these four years
Together, have we not?

BIA. Oh, Beatrice! [She weeps.]

BEA. Nay, do not weep! — Come, you must go to bed.
You are tired tonight. We rode too far today.

[She draws Bianca’s head down to her shoulder.]

Oh, you are tired, tired, you are very tired.
You must be rocked to sleep, and tucked in bed,
And have your eyelids kissed to make you dream
Of fairies! Come, dear, come.

BIA. Oh, I do love you,
Rose–Red! You are so sweet! Oh, I do love you
So much! — so much! I never loved anyone
The way that I love you! There is nobody
In all the world so wonderful as you!

[She throws her arms about Beatrice and clings to her.]

Scene 3

[A room in the palace at Fiori. Lorenzo and Beatrice playing
chess. Twilight.]

LOR. You’ll not be able to get out of that,
I think, my girl, with both your castles gone.

BEA. Be not so sure! — I have a horse still, father,
And in a strong position: if I move him here,
You lose your bishop; and if you take my bishop,
You lose your queen.

LOR. True, but with my two rooks
Set here, where I can push them back and forth,
My king is safe till worms come in and eat him.

BEA. What say you then to this? — Will you take this pawn,
Or will you not?

LOR. [Studying the board.] Od’s bones! — where did that come from?

[Enter Octavia.]

OCT. La, would you lose your eyesight, both of you? —
Fumbling about those chessmen in the dark?
You, Beatrice, at least, should have more wit!

LOR. “At least”— hm! — Did you hear her say, “at least,”
Bice, my daughter?

BEA. Ay. But it is true
The twilight comes before one knows it.

LOR. Ay.
’Tis true, but unimportant. Nevertheless,
I am a tractable old fellow. — Look you,
I will but stay to map the lay of the pieces
Upon this bit of letter. ’Tis from a king
Who could not tell the bishop from the board —
And yet went blind at forty. — A little chess
By twilight, mark you, and all might have been well.

[Enter Bianca.]

BIA. Oh — I’ve been looking everywhere for you?

OCT. [Drily.] For me?

BIA. Nay, mother — for Beatrice. Bice,
The rose is out at last upon that bush
That never blossomed before — and it is white
As linen, just as I said ‘twould be!

BEA. Why, the bud
Was redder than a radish!

BIA. Ay, I know.
But the blossom’s white, pure white. Come out and see!
[Politely.] Would you like to see it, mother?

OCT. Nay, not now, child.
Some other time.

BEA. Father, we’ll end the game
Tomorrow; and do you not be scheming at it
All night!

LOR. Nay, I will not unfold the chart.

BEA. But you remember well enough without;
Promise me not to think of it.

LOR. I’ faith,
You are a desperate woman. Ay, I promise.

[Exeunt Bianca and Beatrice. Octavia seats herself. Pause.]

OCT. I tell you, as I’ve told you often before,
Lorenzo, ’tis not good for two young girls
To be so much together!

LOR. As you say,
Octavia. For myself, I must confess
It seems a natural thing, enough, that youth
Should seek out youth. And if they are better pleased
Talking together than listening to us,
I find it not unnatural. What have we
To say to children? — They are as different
From older folk as fairies are from them.

OCT. “Talking together,” Lorenzo! What have they
To talk about, save things they might much better
Leave undiscussed? — you know what I mean — lovers,
And marriage, and all that — if that is all!
One never knows — it is impossible
To hear what they are saying; they either speak
In whispers, or burst out in fits of laughter
At some incredible nonsense. There is nothing
So silly as young girls at just that age. —
At just Bianca’s age, that is to say.
As for the other — as for Beatrice,
She’s older than Bianca, and I’ll not have her
Putting ideas into my daughter’s head!

LOR. Fear not, my love. Your daughter’s head will doubtless,
In its good time, put up its pretty hair,
Chatter, fall dumb, go moping in the rain,
Be turned by flattery, be bowed with weeping,
Grow grey, and shake with palsy over a staff —
All this, my love, as empty of ideas
As even the fondest mother’s heart could wish.

OCT. You mock me, sir?

LOR. I am but musing aloud,
As is my fashion. — And indeed, my dear,
What is the harm in lovers-and-all-that
That virtuous maidens may not pass the time
With pretty tales about them? — After all,
Were it not for the years of looking forward to it
And looking back upon it, love would be
Only the commonest bird-song in the hedge —
And men would have more time to think — and less
To think about.

OCT. That may be. But young girls
Should not be left alone too much together.
They grow too much attached. They grow to feel
They cannot breathe apart. It is unhealthy.

LOR. It may be true. But as for me, whom youth
Abandoned long ago, I look on youth
As something fresh and sweet, like a young green tree,
Though the wind bend it double. —’Tis you, ’tis I,
’Tis middle age the fungus settles on.

OCT. Your head is full of images. You have
No answers. I shall do as I spoke of doing,
And separate them for a little while,
Six months, maybe a year. I shall send Bianca
Away within a fortnight. That will cure them.
I know. I know. Such friendships do not last.

CURTAIN

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09